Sunday, June 30, 2013

Positive Quiddity: Superb Animation

Running Man
Zach Hugh (Banjo Ginga) is the titular "Running Man," the undefeated champion of the "Death Circus" racing circuit and has raced for 10 years. Competitors race in high-speed Formula One-like craft, and spectators bet on the lives of these people for huge winnings. A Marlowe-esque reporter (Masane Ksukayama/Michael McConnohie) is sent to interview the mysterious Zach outside of the track and watches one of his races. He soon discovers Hugh has telekinetic abilities which he uses to destroy the other racers, after quietly observing him in the dark chronically over-using an interface console inside Hugh's penthouse.

As the race ends in his favor, Hugh begins to see the spirits of racers who perished on the track and he continues the race until his vehicle goes up in flames. The Death Circus ends shortly afterwards, the reporter believes it was because spectators wanted to see how long Hugh could outlast death.

[This is one of the three segments of the film Neo Tokyo, released in 1987]

The film premièred on September 25, 1987, at that year's Tōkyō International Fantastic Film Festival. Other than festival screenings, distributor the Toho Company originally relegated the film direct-to-video, releasing a VHS on October 10, 1987, but did eventually give it a general cinema release in Japan, on April 15, 1989. In English, the film was licensed, dubbed and released theatrically (as a double feature with the first Silent Mobius film) and to VHS in North America by Streamline Pictures, the license later being taken up by the now also out of business ADV Films.

Running Man
"Running Man" is adapted and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, with character design and animation direction by Kawajiri, mechanical design by Takashi Watabe and Satoshi Kumagai, key animation by Shinji Otsuka, Nobumasa Shinkawa, Toshio Kawaguchi and Kengo Inagaki and art direction by Katsushi Aoki. The segment also appeared on Episode 205 of Liquid Television [aired October 20, 1992, the fifth episode of season 2 of Liquid Television] with a different voice actor, Rafael Ferrer, than Michael McConnohie’s Streamline dub.

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Note by the Blog Author
The blog author considers the Liquid Television presentation of Running Man as narrated superbly by Rafael Ferrer to be the finest animated cartoon ever produced, anywhere, by anyone.
It appears that the Liquid Television version has never been available or released at any time. It was not part of the Liquid Television consumer released compiled summaries from MTV.

The blog author considers The Sinking of the Lusitania, a silent cartoon released in 1918, as the next-best animated cartoon ever produced.
It is available from YouTube at . The history of this animated film is described in detail at .
The blog author considers the greatest opus of animation to be the Warner Brothers "Merrie Melodies" and "Looney Tunes" cartoons from the 1930s until the cartoon shop closed in 1962.
Nearly all voices were performed by Mel Blanc, allowing the viewer to understand, pre-conciously, that the story involved universal truths about human nature, since all voices were ultimately, factually, one. These cartoons form the definitive art presented anywhere, at any time, involving the humor that can be evoked by the omnipresence of human cruelty. As such, they were never properly short features for the amusement of children.

See also: the earlier Daily Quiddity blog entry for Mel Blanc. See also: the Daily Quiddity blog entry for Jack Benny, with whom Mel Blanc worked regularly.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Poison Foods

We human beings continue to eat poison things, even though they can be profoundly dangerous, as Melissa Breyer of Mother Nature Network notes in an article online. Here are eight things that it is unwise to injest.
1. Lima beans when eaten raw (they contain cyanide)

2.  Pufferfish

3.  Castor beans

4.  Almonds

5.  Casava

6.  Rhubarb leaves

7.  Potato and tomato leaves and stems

8.  Mushrooms, especially the death cap (Amanita phalloides) and
the destroying angel (Amanita ocreata) varieties

Friday, June 28, 2013

Heavy Bias Is Built Into Search Engines

By the Blog Author

There’s an alarming tendency by search engines such as Google to take you on a train ride to hell (formally, philosophically, through the fallacious philosophical preferences of deconstructionism.)

What Google, for example, does is guess your preferences and attitudes, then filters your search to suck up to you and give you back clickable selections that you will find to be groovy and which appeal to your mindset.

That’s cheating. That’s irrational. It’s also a lousy way to do research. What you want, instead, in accordance with good debating technique, good argumentation and good science, is an authoritative, unbiased, disinterested search engine that gives you the best matching and most relevant responses.

Google flunks these criteria of fair-mindedness. So do most other search engines.  And they are not telling you that they are filtering their findings to flatter you.

Odd things fall out of this. You might get a "C" instead of an "A" on your next research paper, because you were directed to a goofball cult instead of a scientific laboratory. You might think you don’t have to bother to save an article or website, because you can always search for it later and find it. But over a year, your searches skew differently, such that when you finally go back to find that website, you’re identical search doesn’t work! You have to flail around trying to remember snappy key words that will somehow bring it back up (this has happened to me fairly often).

Here’s a website that explains this manipulation, with examples, and then offers a link to its own favoritism-free search engine:

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There is a current events topic that is tangential to this. Out there in Intellectual Village, there is a legally fallacious argument behind the fog machine that says that the NSC hasn’t broken any constitutional requirements, because it is obtaining telephone numbers and visited websites rather than listening to telephone calls or reading your entire emails (scanning them for key concepts and words used by terrorists is supposedly not the same as a search or seizure.)

But the power of modern computing and the mathematical power of association elevate data minting to a search and a seizure. So NSC is, with certainty, conducting a searches without warrant and lacking probable cause. Be careful.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How and Why Social Critters Swarm

By the Blog Author

Ants swarm to gather food. Bees swarm when creating a new hive. Fish swarm to confuse predators and minimize mortality. Caribou swarm to avoid wolves.

These critters have small brains – too small to organize a swarming strategy. If they aren’t smart – and they aren’t – what are they doing to come up with such a brilliant strategy? None of them grasp the big picture, yet all can act simultaneously for their survival.

Let’s take bees swarming and moving to build a new hive. Scouts go out looking for a new location. Eventually, FIFTEEN scouts will find a particular location. They know each other are present. At the magic number, they all leave together to return to the swarm and tell it where to relocate. The first location to attract fifteen scouts is the "winner" of the new location.

The bee’s rules for decision making:

Seek a diversity of opinions
Encourage a free competition among ideas
Use an effective mechanism to narrow choices (the swarm moves with the first group of 15 scouts to return unanimously approving a particular location)

Another example – pigeons in Washington DC. The birds rest on ledges. Something disrupts them, and suddenly they are all off together in synchronized flight. These pigeons

Avoid crowding nearby birds
Fly in the average direction of nearby birds
Stay close to nearby birds

The bees and birds are using simple, universally-followed, hard-wired survival techniques that don’t require a large brain.

How did I find out about the bird, bee, ant and fish synchronous rules? I was bored! In a waiting room at a medical facility this morning. I picked up a five year old National Geographic and started reading. And I couldn’t put it down.

It’s still on the net – here is the link:

These are generally superior, follower-based, ego-free wilderness survival techniques.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ten Great Ideas of Science

Science advances through new ideas and concepts which provide a more accurate method of looking at the world, making things work and furthering knowledge as well as the scientific method itself. But there are some ideas that are so profound and stunning that they may last as particularly sturdy advances in knowledge. A book published in 2003, Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science, by Peter Atkins, lists ten lasting ideas – though a disproportionate number of these ten ideas are from the 19th and 20th centuries:

Evolution Occurs by Natural Selection

DNA Encodes Heritable Information

Energy is Conserved

Entropy: The Universe Tends Toward Disorder

Matter Is Made of Atoms

Symmetry Quantifies Beauty

Classical Mechanics Fails to Describe Small Particles

The Universe Is Expanding

Spacetime Is Curved by Matter

Mathematics Is the Limit of Reason

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Normal Gamers Can Detect Mentally Ill Players Over the Internet

The subtle hallmarks of psychiatric illness
can reveal themselves even remotely
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Roanoke, Virginia – April 9, 2013

Healthy study subjects playing an anonymous online game with people with borderline personality disorder were able to detect the erratic behavior that characterizes the disorder.

Most people are so attuned to the nuances of social interaction that they can detect clues to mental illness while playing a strategy game with someone they have never met.

That was the finding of a team of scientists led by Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. The researchers discovered that healthy people and those with borderline personality disorder displayed different patterns of behavior while playing an online strategy game, so much so that when healthy players played people with borderline personality disorder, they gave up on trying to predict what their partners would do next.

For their large neuroimaging study, the scientists used a multiround social interaction game, the investor-trustee game, to study the level of strategic thinking in 195 pairs of subjects. In each pair, one player played the investor and the other the trustee. The investor chose how much money to send the trustee, and the trustee in turn decided how much to return to the investor. Profit required the cooperation of both players.

"This classic tit-for-tat game allows us to probe people’s responses to the social gestures of others," said Montague, who also directs the Computational Psychiatry Unit, an academic center that uses computational models to understand mental disease. "It further allows us to see how people form models of one another.
These insights are important for understanding a range of mental illnesses, as the ability to infer other people’s intentions is an essential component of healthy cognition."

The scientists classified the investors according to varying levels of strategic depth of thought. The healthy subjects fell into three categories: about half simply responded to the amount the other player sent; about one-quarter built a model of their partner’s behavior; and the remaining quarter considered not just their model of their partner, but also their partner’s models of them. Not surprisingly, the depth-of-thought style of play correlated with success, with the players who looked deeper into interactions making considerably more money than those who played at a shallow level.

When healthy subjects played people with borderline personality disorder, though, they were far less likely to exhibit depth of thought.

"People with borderline personality disorder are characterized by their unstable relationships, and when they play this game, they tend to break cooperation," said Montague. "The healthy subjects picked up on the erratic behavior, likely without even realizing it, and far fewer played strategically."

Notably, the functional magnetic resonance imaging of the subjects’ brains revealed that each category of player showed distinct neural correlates of learning signals associated with differing depths of thought. The scientists used hyperscanning, a technique Montague invented that enables subjects in different brain scanners to interact in real time, regardless of geography. Hyperscanning allows scientists to eavesdrop on brain activity during social exchanges in scanners, whether across the hallway or across the world.

"We’re always modeling other people, and our brains have a substantial amount of neural tissue devoted to pondering our interactions with other people," Montague said. "This study is a start to turning neural signals into numbers – not just theory-of-mind arguments, but actual numbers. And when we can do that across thousands of people, we should start to gain insights into psychopathologies – what circuits are involved, what brain regions are engaged, and how injuries, congenital disorders, and genetic defects might play into psychiatric illness."

Montague believes the study represents a significant contribution to the field of computational psychiatry, which seeks to bring computational clout to efforts to understand mental dysfunction. "Traditional psychiatric categories are useful yet incomplete," said Montague, who delivered a TED Global talk on the growing field of computational psychiatry last year. "Computational psychiatry enables us to redefine with a new lexicon – a mathematical one – the standard ways we think about mental illness."

Computationally based insights may one day help psychiatry achieve better precision in diagnosis and treatment, Montague said. But until scientists have the right instruments, they cannot even begin to make those connections.

"The exquisite sensitivity that most people have to social gestures gives us a valuable opening," Montague said. "We’re hoping to invent a tool – almost a human inkblot test – for identifying and characterizing mental disorders in which social interactions go awry."

The study appeared in PLoS Computational Biology in the article "Computational Phenotyping of Two-Person Interactions Reveals Differential Neural Response to Depth-of-Thought," by Ting Xiang, a doctoral candidate in neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas; Debajyoti Ray, a doctoral candidate in computation and neural systems at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena; Terry Lohrenz, a research assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute; Peter Dayan, director of the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at University College London; and Montague, the corresponding author, who is a professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, a professor of physics in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, and a professor at the Wellcome Trust Centre for
Neuroimaging at University College London.

The research was supported by grants to Montague from the Wellcome Trust, the Kane Family Foundation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute on Aging, as well as funding to Ray and Dayan from The Gatsby Charitable Foundation.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Brain Protein Tied to Psychiatric Disorders

Psychiatric disorders linked to a protein involved in the formation of long-term memories
Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists discover a protein that regulates synaptic ion channels that have been tied to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
By Ken Kingery, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Roanoke, VA – May 20, 2013 -- Researchers have discovered a pathway by which the brain controls a molecule critical to forming long-term memories and connected with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The discovery was made by a team of scientists led by Alexei Morozov, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

The mechanism – a protein called Rap1 – controls L-type calcium channels, which participate in the
formation of long-term memories. Previous studies have also linked alterations in these ion channels to certain psychiatric disorders. The discovery of the channels’ regulation by Rap1 could help scientists understand the physiological genesis of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

"People with genetic mutations affecting L-type calcium channels have higher rates of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia," said Morozov. "This suggests that there might be a relationship between the activation of L-type calcium channels and these psychiatric disorders. Understanding how these ion channels are controlled is the first step to determining how their functioning or malfunctioning affects mental health."

A single neuron in the brain can have thousands of synapses, each of which can grow, strengthen, weaken, and change structurally in response to learning new information. Electric signals traveling from neuron to neuron jump across these synapses through chemical neurotransmitters. The release of these chemicals is caused by the flow of electrically charged atoms through a particular subset of ion channels known as voltage-gated calcium channels.

Previous studies have shown that blocking these ion channels inhibits the formation of long-term memories. Although it was known that L-type calcium channels are activated in response to learning, how they are controlled was a mystery.

In the experiment, Morozov and colleagues knocked out the gene responsible for coding the enzyme Rap1, which he suspected played a role in activating L-type calcium channels. The researchers then used live imaging techniques to monitor the release of neurotransmitters and electron microscopy to visualize L-type channels at synapses. They discovered that, without Rap1, the L-type calcium channels were more active and more abundant at synapses all the time, increasing the release of neurotransmitters. The results showed that Rap1 is responsible for suppressing L-type calcium channels, allowing them to activate only at the proper moments, possibly during long-term memory formation.

"Our next step is to determine whether this new signaling pathway is altered in cases of mental disease," said Morozov. "If so, it could help us gain a better understanding of the molecular underpinnings of channel-related psychiatric disorders, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Such knowledge would go a long way toward developing new therapeutic methods."

The study appeared in The Journal of Neuroscience in the article "Rap1 Signaling Prevents L-Type Calcium Channel-Dependent Neurotransmitter Release," by Jaichandar Subramanian, now a research
fellow at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Louis Dye, a staff scientist at the Microscopy and Imaging Core of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and Morozov, who is also an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Suspicion Resides in Two Regions of the Brain

Suspicion Resides in Two
Regions of the BrainOur baseline level of distrust is distinct and
separable from our inborn lie detector
Virginia Polytechnic and State University – Roanoke, Virginia – May 20, 2013

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on my parahippocampal gyrus.

Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have found that suspicion resides in two distinct regions of the brain: the amygdala, which plays a central role in processing fear and emotional memories, and the parahippocampal gyrus, which is associated with declarative memory and the recognition of scenes.

"We wondered how individuals assess the credibility of other people in simple social interactions," said Read
Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, who led the study. "We found a strong correlation between the amygdala and a baseline level of distrust, which may be based on a person’s beliefs about the trustworthiness of other people in general, his or her emotional state, and the situation at hand. What surprised us, though, is that when other people’s behavior aroused suspicion, the parahippocampal gyrus lit up, acting like an inborn lie detector."

The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to study the neural basis of suspicion. Seventy-six pairs of players, each with a buyer and a seller, competed in 60 rounds of a simple bargaining game while having their brains scanned. At the beginning of each round, the buyer would learn the value of a hypothetical widget and suggest a price to the seller. The seller would then set the price. If the seller’s price fell below the widget’s given value, the trade would go through, with the seller receiving the selling price and the buyer receiving any difference between the selling price and the actual value. If the seller’s price exceeded the value, though, the trade would not execute, and neither party would receive cash.

The authors found, as detailed in a previous paper, that buyers fell into three strategic categories: 42 percent were incrementalists, who were relatively honest about the widget’s value; 37 percent were conservatives, who adopted the strategy of withholding information; and 21 percent were strategists, who were actively deceptive, mimicking incrementalist behavior by sending high suggestions during low-value trials and then reaping greater benefits by sending low suggestions during high-value trials.

The sellers had a monetary incentive to read the buyers’ strategic profiles correctly, yet they received no feedback about the accuracy of the information they were receiving, so they could not confirm any suspicions about patterns of behavior. Without feedback, the sellers were forced to decide whether they should trust the buyers based on the pricing suggestions alone. "The more uncertain a seller was about a buyer’s credibility," Montague said, "the more active his or her parahippocampal gyrus became."
The authors believe a person’s baseline suspicion may have important consequences for his or her financial success. "People with a high baseline suspicion were often interacting with fairly trustworthy buyers, so in ignoring the information those buyers provided, they were giving up potential profits," said Meghana Bhatt, the first author on the research paper. "The ability to recognize credible information in a competitive environment can be just as important as detecting untrustworthy behavior."

The findings may also have implications for such psychiatric conditions as paranoia and anxiety disorders, said Montague. "The fact that increased amygdala activation corresponds to an inability to detect trustworthy behavior may provide insight into the social interactions of people with anxiety disorders, who often have increased activity in this area of the brain," he said.

The research appeared in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on May 10 in the article "Distinct contributions of the amygdala and parahippocampal gyrus to suspicion in a repeated bargaining game" by Meghana Bhatt, PhD, an assistant research professor at the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, Calif.; Terry Lohrenz, PhD, a research assistant professor in the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute; Colin F. Camerer
, PhD, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics at the California Institute of Technology; and Montague, PhD, the corresponding author, who is a professor at the VTC Research Institute and in the Department of Physics at the College of Science at Virginia Tech. The research was supported by grants to Read Montague from the Wellcome Trust and the National Institutes of Health.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

France Seeks to Protect the French Language

There is a government organization in Paris called the French Academy (L’Academie Francaise) that seeks to keep the French language pure. It’s been around since the sixteenth century. It tries to stamp out English words like le weekend, email, le web and le telephone. It assists with enforcement of an absurd French law that forbids French rock and roll stations from playing mostly English-language music.

This is very different from the arguments in America about bi-lingual education and the importance for fully learning English in order to be economically competitive as an adult. The French who learn French and nothing else are locking themselves out of technological changes and computer advances. And they are not attracting English-speaking foreign students (which is an economic mistake since there are millions upon millions of English-speaking young adults in, for example, India).

Vivienne Walt, a correspondent for Time in Paris, saw this French language attitude come to a boil recently. She reports in the June 21, 2013 Time:

On May 21, France’s Minister of Higher Education introduced a bill in parliament aimed at overhauling universities, with one of its most controversial proposals a measure markedly expanding the use of English, the global lingua franca for the sciences and business, not to mention the Internet. Until now, the government has allowed classroom English, from kindergarten to graduate school, only in lessons that teach English language and literature. So, for example, reading Harvard Business School case studies in their original is, by the strict letter of the law, interdit. Hollande’s government argues that the restriction risks leaving French universities increasingly isolated.
This proposal created a furious fight among French intellectuals:

Logical as it sounds, the proposal, part of a much broader attempt to make French universities more competitive in the world, has ignited a firestorm. Last month’s debate in parliament raged for 29 hours, and barely squeaked through, with 289 to 248 votes.
Walt herself has a child in a French school in Paris. It was suggested that the English and American children at the school have a class in English. Ultimately the school denied the request because there was no spare room available. "Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose."

Details are at:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Most Americans Use Prescription Drugs

Nearly 7 in 10 Americans Take Prescription Drugs, Mayo Clinic & Olmsted Medical Center FindGerm fighters, antidepressants, opioids top list; women, elderly likelier to have prescriptionsThe Mayo Clinic, Wednesday, June 19, 2013

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and more than half take two, Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center researchers say. Antibiotics, antidepressants and painkilling opiods are most commonly prescribed, their study found. Twenty percent of patients are on five or more prescription medications, according to the findings, published online in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The findings offer insight into prescribing practices. The statistics from the Rochester Epidemiology Project in Olmsted County, Minn. are comparable to those elsewhere in the United States, says study author Jennifer St. Sauver, Ph.D, a member of the Mayo Clinic Population Health Program in the Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery..

"Often when people talk about health conditions they're talking about chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes," Dr. St. Sauver says. "However, the second most common prescription was for antidepressants — that suggests mental health is a huge issue and is something we should focus on. And the third most common drugs were opioids, which is a bit concerning considering their addicting nature."

Seventeen percent of those studied were prescribed antibiotics, 13 percent were taking antidepressants and 13 percent were on opioids. Drugs to lower lipids, such as cholesterol, came in fourth (11 percent) and vaccines were fifth (11 percent). Drugs were prescribed to both men and women across all age groups, except high blood pressure drugs, which were seldom used before age 30.

Overall, women and older adults receive more prescriptions. Vaccines, antibiotics and anti-asthma drugs are most commonly prescribed in people younger than 19. Antidepressants and opioids are most common among young and middle-aged adults. Cardiovascular drugs are most commonly prescribed in older adults.

Women receive more prescriptions than men across several drug groups, especially antidepressants: Nearly 1 in 4 women ages 50-64 are on an antidepressant.

For several drug groups, use increases with advancing age.

"As you get older you tend to get more prescriptions, and women tend to get more prescriptions than men,"
Dr. St. Sauver says.

Prescription drug use has increased steadily in the U.S. for the past decade. The percentage of people who took at least one prescription drug in the past month increased from 44 percent in 1999-2000 to 48 percent in 2007-08. Spending on prescription drugs reached $250 billion in 2009 the year studied, and accounted for 12 percent of total personal health care expenditures. Drug-related spending is expected to continue to grow in the coming years, the researchers say.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and he Mayo Clinic Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

NASA Wants Volunteer Astronomers

Small Asteroids That Approach
Close to Earth Remain Untracked

Amateur astronomers with their own telescopes and scientists from fields other than astronomy are being asked by NASA to help track asteroids that come close to the Earth.

Deborah Zabarenko of Reuters reports from Washington that NASA has already identified 95 percent of the large near-earth objects that have a diameter of a kilometer or more (.62 miles); these are the rocks big enough to do what the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago accomplished.

But now NASA wants individuals, government agencies, international partners and academics to "find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them." There is a website available at: .

The Reuters article notes that even smaller rocks that don’t hit the Earth can be dangerous. In February of this year, one that was about 19 yards in diameter exploded above Russia, damaging buildings, shattering glass and injuring about 1,200 people.
The initiative aims to detect all NEOs of 33 yards or larger, [one expert] said.
Here’s what the Reuters article says about these near-Earth objects NEOs):

"Estimates suggest less than 10 percent of NEOs smaller than 328 yards across have been detected, and less than 1 percent of objects smaller than 109 yards in diameter have been detected, NASA said in a statement."
The entire Reuters article is online at:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Flames Form Spheres in Orbit

Strange Flames on the
International Space Station

By Dr. Tony Phillips, NASA, June 18, 2013
Fire, it is often said, is mankind's oldest chemistry experiment.

For thousands of years, people have been mixing the oxygen-rich air of Earth with an almost endless variety of fuels to produce hot luminous flame. There's an arc of learning about combustion that stretches from the earliest campfires of primitive humans to the most advanced automobiles racing down the superhighways of the 21st century.

Engineers study burning to produce better internal combustion engines; chemists peer into flames looking for exotic reactions; chefs experiment with fire to cook better food.

You would think there's not much more to learn. Dr. Forman A. Williams, a professor of physics at UC San Diego, would disagree. "When it comes to fire," he says, "we're just getting started."

Flames are hard to understand because they are complicated. In an ordinary candle flame, thousands of chemical reactions take place. Hydrocarbon molecules from the wick are vaporized and cracked apart by heat. They combine with oxygen to produce light, heat, CO2 and water. Some of the hydrocarbon fragments form ring-shaped molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and, eventually, soot. Soot particles can themselves burn or simply drift away as smoke. The familiar teardrop shape of the flame is an effect caused by gravity. Hot air rises and draws fresh cool air behind it. This is called buoyancy and is what
makes the flame shoot up and flicker.

But what happens when you light a candle, say, on the International Space Station (ISS)?

"In microgravity, flames burn differently—they form little spheres," says Williams.

Flaming spheres on the ISS turn out to be wonderful mini-labs for combustion research.

Unlike flames on Earth, which expand greedily when they need more fuel, flame balls let the oxygen come to them. Oxygen and fuel combine in a narrow zone at the surface of the sphere, not hither and yon throughout the flame. It’s a much simpler system.

Recently, Williams and colleagues were doing an ISS experiment called "FLEX" to learn how to put out fires in microgravity when they came across something odd. Small droplets of heptane were burning inside the FLEX combustion chamber. As planned, the flames went out, but unexpectedly the droplets of fuel continued burning.

"That's right—they seemed to be burning without flames," says Williams. "At first we didn't believe it ourselves."

In fact, Williams believes the flames are there, just too faint to see. "These are cool flames," he explains.
Ordinary, visible fire burns at a high temperature between 1500K and 2000K. Heptane flame balls on the ISS started out in this "hot fire" regime. But as the flame balls cooled and began to go out, a different kind of burning took over.

"Cool flames burn at the relatively low temperature of 500K to 800K," says Williams. "And their chemistry is completely different. Normal flames produce soot, CO2 and water. Cool flames produce carbon  monoxide and formaldehyde."

Similar cool flames have been produced on Earth, but they flicker out almost immediately. On the ISS, however, cool flames can burn for long minutes.

"There are practical implications of these results," notes Williams. "For instance, they could lead to cleaner auto ignitions."

One of the ideas that auto companies have worked on for years is HCCI--short for "homogeneous charge compression ignition." In the automobile cylinder instead of a spark there would be a gentler, less polluting combustion process throughout the chamber.

"The chemistry of HCCI involves cool flame chemistry," says Williams. "The extra control we get from steady-state burning on the ISS will give us more accurate chemistry values for this type of research."

Just getting started, indeed.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Is the Earth Getting Heavier?

By Dave Goldberg
Except for the occasional earthquake or volcano eruption, the Earth seems like a fairly stable place. But if you believe that YOU COULD NOT BE MORE WRONG. We are under constant bombardment. From space! And how does all of this cosmic debris affect the earth? In this week's "Ask a Physicist" we'll find out.

Jehal90 (Jesper to his friends) asked:
Considering that planet Earth is being bombarded with energy from the sun, approximately how much mass does our planet gain from sunlight in say, a million years?

This is a fun question because it connects almost directly (and somewhat surprisingly) with how the Higgs works. We're all familiar with Einstein's great equation, E=mc2, but the Higgs particle gives mass to others by virtue of the fact that the equation can be inverted:


Just as you can get energy out of annihilating mass, you can also create mass from whole cloth by producing energy. If you pour enough energy into the earth in the form of sunbeams, presumably the earth will get more and more massive, right? Wrong, but to understand why, we need a strict accounting of where all of the energy goes.

The Sun is Falling Apart
As you probably know, the sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace. There's no question that the sun is losing mass over time. It radiates at a rate of about about 4x1026 W. To make that much energy, huge amounts of hydrogen are fused into a huge (but slightly smaller) amount of helium, with a deficit of about 4 billion kilograms every second, or about 370 billion tons a day.

We don't see most of that. The earth is a very tiny target (unlike, say, a Dyson Sphere). If we covered the whole earth with perfect solar panels, we'd only gain about 2 kilograms each second, or about 60,000 tons a year. That's still quite a lot, but we don't get to keep it, contrary to Jesper's working assumption. For the most part, energy in equals energy out.

When these two effects aren't in balance, we get global warming, and while that spells disaster for people, it has only the most marginal effect on the mass of the planet. An increase of 1 degree Celsius throughout the entire atmosphere only adds about 60 tons to the terrestrial scale.

But Jesper's question got me thinking. There are a lot of other effects that feed the earth.

We would, in principle, get a much bigger deposit from the Solar Wind. One of the dangers of being an astronaut is that the sun (and space generally, but let's focus on the local problems) is throwing out protons and electrons at speeds of several hundred kilometers per second. The sun is blowing off enough material that if the earth were still around in a few trillion years (it won’t be), we'd slowly spiral away as the sun loses its gravitational pull.

For our purposes, we're much more concerned about what happens to all of that wind. If we didn't have a giant magnet in the middle of the earth, about 20,000 tons a year of high energy charged particles would fly through the atmosphere, knocking out most of our technology.

Fortunately, we do have a magnet to deflect the solar wind, which means that we get beautiful Aurora Borealis rather than stone age technology.

Small Stuff in Space
So if the sun isn't feeding earth, what is?

I'll tell you what it's not (at least for the most part): big giant rocks from space.

As io9 readers, you undoubtedly know the ostensible odds of successfully navigating an asteroid belt. The reality is far different. Even in the heart of the asteroid belt, large asteroids are about a million miles away from one another. In our region of the solar system, large objects are even less common. A kilometer scale meteor only hits the earth every half million years or so.

But there is a lot of smaller stuff out there, on the scale of pebbles and grains of dust, basically the detritus left over from the formation of the solar system. As the earth flies around in its orbit, it gobbles them up.

Roughly 40,000 tons of material fall to earth every year. Supposing it were uniform, that would mean that the radius of the earth is growing by about 0.02 nanometers every year, roughly a billion times slower than the continents are moving.

Of course, every now and again we get a whopping huge event. Those kilometer scale meteors? They can deliver a couple of billion tons of material all at once and in spectacularly explosive fashion.

So yes, the earth is definitely gaining weight, or would, except for the fact that it has a slow leak.

We’re Also Evaporating
                      The Sun Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune

Behold! The Solar System! Take a good look, and you may notice that the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Nuts to you, Pluto) are giants, with huge envelopes of gas and ice. The inner planets, including us, are also rocky and quite small.

Why is that?

Because it's hot in the inner solar system, and if you heat up gas, it tends to fly around fast enough to achieve escape velocity from its home planet. The lighter the gas, the quicker it boils away, and hydrogen is the lightest of them all. We lose about 3 kg of hydrogen per second, which if you do the mass comes out to about 100,000 tons per year. Incidentally, though it's a slow leak, but only for now. As the sun heats up, the pounds are just going to melt off the planet.

Put another way, Jesper asked a great question because he got it exactly wrong. The sunlight isn't really bloating the earth at all. Gaea may have a hearty appetite, but when nature calls, she calls collect.

Dave Goldberg is a Physics Professor at Drexel University

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Movie Review: Man of Steel

By the blog author

It is difficult to write a review of a motion picture possessed of frequent special effects. Film is a visual medium, and modern special effects command and alter what is seen and how the audience feels about it. Man of Steel is a triumph of costly special effects, and yet its dialog commands attention in a manner that demands that it be thought of as a drama full of action sequences.

The first triumph of Man of Steel is that the plot is clever enough, the dialog believable enough, and the acting competent enough to shout down the special effects and put them in their place – as spectacular background. This is a victory of David S. Goyer, the writer, and for Christopher Nolan, who shares a credit for the story and also served as one of the producers.

We get used to special effects early on, because the beginning of the story is on another planet, one blessed with advanced technology. This sets us up to be unsurprised by powerful events and visual scenes on earth once the locale changes.

The second triumph is in casting. Cooper Timberline plays Clark Kent as a boy, Dylan Sprayberry plays Kent as an adolescent, and Henry Cavil has the make-or-break role of Clark Kent as an adult. They look alike, their mannerisms are alike, there is no difficulty in suspending one’s disbelief.

Amy Adams does a splendid job as young but ambitious Lois Lane, a Pulitzer winner who knows how to dig for the big story underlying contradictory eyewitness testimony. Her portrayal of competence and determination is attractive and believable.

Michael Shannon portrays General Zod, the leader of Krypton’s military forces and post-destruction expeditionary force. He’s cold and supercilious and suspicious – as he should be in a villainous role.

But the great achievement in casting was obtaining Russell Crow and Kevin Costner to play the Krypton father and earthling foster father of Clark Kent. These two personae understand the pacing of life and the difficulty of raising the next generation. They represent deft and wise fatherhood without themselves looking ridiculous [as Liam Neeson nearly does as the poorly-scripted Zeus in the 2011 Clash of the Titans]. The best of the good fatherly moments may be the scene where a tornado hits Kansas and Costner, as the senior Kent, risks death to return to the car to free the family dog. He lets the dog loose to rejoin his wife and foster child, but holds up his hand to prevent Clark Kent from saving him, since those actions would give away the boy’s superpowers prematurely.

The third triumph is the exact matching of good and evil in the city-smashing special effects spectacular fight scene between Zod and his forces against Clark Kent and the American military machine. At length, Zod himself runs out of good air, since he hasn’t had his entire upbringing on earth getting used to the poisonous oxygen and contaminants.

Zod and his forces want to colonize earth and recreate Krypton society. It is an inflexible and non-negotiable mission. They wouldn’t risk anything for any other species other than themselves. Their community is everything to them. They would never do anything crazy and wasteful like risking a Krypton life for another species such as a dog.

All of this is presented without any long speeches or posturing – as an action film. It’s a film for young people to enlighten them without boring them. It works, because Superman is displayed cleverly as a young Hercules or Atlas who learns by experience.

One other thing: there are some major critics, such as the Washington Post, that hated this movie and were bored by the cast. "Too bad for them."
Major credits to Man of Steel

Directed by Zack Snyder

Written by David S. Goyer
Story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan

Major cast members

Henry Cavil Clark Kent
Cooper Timberline Clark Kent age 9
Dylan Sprayberry Clark Kent age 13
Amy Adams Lois Lane
Michael Shannon General Zod
Diane Lane Martha Kent
Russell Crowe Jor-El
Kevin Costner Jonathan Kent
Laurence Fishburne Perry White

Produced by

Wesley Coller
Christopher Nolan ....producer Jon Peters ....executive producer Lloyd Phillips ....executive producer Charles Roven ....producer Deborah Snyder ....producer Emma Thomas ....producer Thomas Tull ....executive producer
Original Music by Hans Zimmer

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Realizations about Fathers

Ten More Things We’ve
Learned About Dads, June 14, 2013

I like Father’s Day as much as the next father, but face it–it is and always will be a Mother’s Day wannabe.

Sure, everyone loves Dad, in that quick man-hug way, but they gush over Mom. Mother’s Day became an official U.S. holiday in 1914; it took almost another 50 years before we got around to formally celebrating that other parent.

Just a few weeks ago, there was much ado and even spasms of outcry over the Pew survey reporting that in 40 percent of American households, the mother is now the sole or primary breadwinner. Meanwhile, an earlier report that the number of stay-at-home dad has doubled in the past 10 years stirred nary a ripple. So it goes.

Fortunately, there are scientists out there who still consider fathers a subject meriting further investigation. Here are 10 studies of dads that have been published since last Father’s Day.
  1. And just when you’d mastered "Cause I said so":
Recent research suggests that it’s a good idea for dads to ask for feedback on what kind of job they’re doing. The reason, says San Francisco State psychology professor Jeff Cookston, is that kids, particularly teenagers, can read a father’s actions differently than how it was meant. Explains Cookston: "You may think that you’re being a good parent by not being harsh on your kid, for instance, but your child may view that as ‘you’re not invested in me, you’re not trying.’" The study also found that girls tend to attribute a father’s good deeds to his "enduring aspects," whereas boys are more likely to see them as being tied to specific situations.
2) Like father, like daughter: Dads who are open-minded about sexual roles are more likely to raise more ambitious daughters. So concludes a University of British Columbia study, which found that the fewer gender stereotypes a father holds, the more likely his daughters will want to develop professional careers.
3) Testosterone is so overrated:
A Notre Dame study published last fall claimed to find a correlation between how close a father slept to his children and his testosterone level. It concluded that those dads who slept nearer to where his kids slept tended to have a lower testosterone level than those dads who slept farther away. Previous research has found that dads with higher testosterone levels tend to be less engaged with their kids.
4) My stress is your stress:
It’s only been found to occur in mice so far, but scientists at the University of Pennsylvania say that stress that a father experiences during his lifetime, even in his youth, can be passed on to his children in a way that affects how they respond to stress. The father’s stressful experience apparently leaves a genetic marker in his sperm that can cause his children to have low reactivity to stress, which may sound like a good thing to inherit from the dear old dad, but actually can lead to emotional disorders.
5) Thanks Dad, you shouldn’t have:
While we’re on the subject of mouse fathers, another study, this one from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, determined that mouse sons with less affectionate fathers tended to be equally distant from their own children, suggesting that paternal behavior can be passed from fathers to sons across multiple generations.
6) What a little shot of love can do:
Not only does a little dose of oxytocin help fathers become more engaged with their babies, it also makes the kids more responsive. So contends a study at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, which reported that after the dads were given a hit of the so-called love hormone, they were more likely to touch and seek out the gaze of their child. And the baby’s own oxytocin level rose in response.
7) Ripple effects:
Research at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom found that girls whose fathers weren’t around the first five years of their lives were more likely to struggle with depression when they were teenagers. Other studies have shown that the stronger negative impact of an absent father on the mental health of teenage girls could be because girls are more vulnerable to negative family events.

8) And now a word about happy teenagers:
The more time teenagers spend alone with their dads, the higher their self-esteem, a 2012 Penn State study reported. It also concluded that the more time they spend with their fathers in a group setting, the better their social skills. The researchers didn’t see the same impact from one-on-one time with moms and speculated that it might be because fathers who choose to do things alone with their kids "go beyond social expectations to devote undivided attention to them."
9) Everyone’s a winner:
According to research at the University of Houston, fathers who are more physically engaged with their children—they play with them, they read to them–are less likely to be depressed or stressed. Which, according to the researchers, reinforces the notion that a father being active in his children’s lives isn’t just good for the kids.
10) Surely you don’t mean Homer Simpson:
The portrayal of dads on TV and in books as "feckless," and "incompetent" and little more than "sperm donors" is damaging children’s perceptions of fatherhood, says a study commissioned by the British parenting site, Almost half of those surveyed agreed that cartoons, in particular, show dads as "lazy or stupid." Said Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard: "The type of jokes aimed at dads would be banned if they were aimed at women, ethnic minorities or religious groups."

So cut us a break. At least for a day.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Peter Schiff Says USA Is Broke

Schiff: 2/3 of America to Lose Everything Because of This CrisisBy Money Morning Staff Reports

A record breaking stock market is distorting a frightening reality: The U.S. is being eaten alive by a horrific cancer that will ultimately destroy the economy and impoverish the vast majority of its citizens.

That's according to Peter Schiff, the best-selling author and CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, who delivered his harsh warning to investors in a recent interview on Fox Business.

"I think we are heading for a worse economic crisis than we had in 2007," Schiff said. "You're going to have a collapse in the dollar...a huge spike in interest rates... and our whole economy, which is built on the foundation of cheap money, is going to topple when you pull the rug out from under it."

Schiff says that, despite "phony" signs of an economic recovery, the cancer destroying America stems from a lethal concoction of our $16 trillion federal debt and the Fed's never ending money printing.

Currently, Bernanke and company is buying $1 trillion of Treasury and mortgage bonds a year.

That's about $85 billion per month against a budget deficit that is about the same level.

According to Schiff, these numbers are unsustainable. And the Fed has no credible "exit strategy."

Eventually interest rates will rise... and when they do, Schiff says, stocks will tank and bonds dip to nothing. Massive new tax hikes will be imposed and programs and entitlements will be cut to the bone.

"The crisis is imminent," Schiff said. "I don't think Obama is going to finish his second term without the bottom dropping out. And stock market investors are oblivious to the problems."

"We're broke, Schiff added. "We owe trillions. Look at our budget deficit; look at the debt to GDP ratio, the unfunded liabilities. If we were in the Eurozone, they would kick us out."

Schiff points out that the market gains experienced recently, with the Dow first topping 14,000 on its way to setting record highs, are giving investors a false sense of security.

"It's not that the stock market is gaining value... it's that our money is losing value. And so if you have a debased currency... a devalued currency, the price of everything goes up. Stocks are no exception," he said.

"The Fed knows that the U.S. economy is not recovering," he noted. "It simply is being kept from collapse by artificially low interest rates and quantitative easing. As that support goes, the economy will implode."

A noted economist, Schiff has been a fierce critic of the Fed and its policies for years. And his warnings have proven to be prophetic.

In August 2006, when the Dow was hitting new highs nearly every day, Schiff said in an interview: "The United States is like the Titanic, and I'm here with the lifeboat trying to get people to leave the ship... I see a real financial crisis coming for the United States."

Just over a year later, the meltdown that became the Great Recession began, just as Schiff predicted.

He also predicted the subprime mortgage bubble burst, nearly a year before the real estate market fully crashed.

His recent warnings, however, have been even more alarming. Will they also prove to be true?

In his most recent book, "The Real Crash" How to Save Yourself and Your Country", Schiff writes that when the "real crash" comes," it will be worse than the Great Depression.

Unemployment will skyrocket, credit will dry up, and worse, the dollar will collapse completely, "wiping out all savings and sending consumer prices into the stratosphere."

Schiff estimates this "cancer" could consume a trillion dollars from consumers this year.

"Today we're the world's greatest debtor nation. Companies, homeowners and banks are so highly leveraged, rising interest rates will be devastating."

According to polls, the average American is indeed sensing danger. A recent survey found that 61% of Americans believe a catastrophe is looming - yet only 15% feel prepared for such a deeply troubling event.

Is Devastation The Ultimate Cure?
Despite its bleak outlook, Schiff's book has become a real wake-up call for millions of readers.
While Schiff's predictions can be grim, he also offers step-by-step solutions that average Americans can follow to protect their wealth, investments and savings.

According to Schiff, "the crash and what follows" can be beneficial. But only for those who understand beforehand what is happening and have time to prepare for the devastation.

"All we can do now is prepare for the crash," Schiff said. "If we brace ourselves properly and control the impact, we will survive it."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Spiritual" and "Religious" Young Adults

"Spiritual" Young People Are More Likely to Commit Crimes than "Religious" Ones, Baylor Study Finds
Baylor University, Waco, Texas (June 12, 2013) -- Young adults who deem themselves "spiritual but not
religious" are more likely to commit property crimes -- and to a lesser extent, violent ones -- than those who identify themselves as either "religious and spiritual" or "religious but not spiritual," according to Baylor University researchers.

The sociologists' study, published in the journal Criminology, also showed that those in a fourth category -- who say they are neither spiritual nor religious --are less likely to commit property crimes than the "spiritual but not religious" individuals. But no difference was found between the two groups when it came to violent crimes.

"The notion of being spiritual but not associated with any organized religion has become increasingly popular, and our question is how that is different from being religious, whether you call yourself 'spiritual' or not," said Sung Joon Jang, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences. He is lead author of the study, "Is Being 'Spiritual' Enough Without Being Religious? A Study of Violent and Property Crimes Among Emerging Adults."

He noted that until the 20th century, the terms "religious" and "spiritual" were treated as interchangeable.

Previous research indicated that people who say they are religious show lower levels of crime and deviance, which refers to norm-violating behavior.

The researchers analyzed data from a sample of 14,322 individuals from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. They ranged in age from 18 to 28, with an average age of 21.8.

In the confidential survey, participants were asked how often they had committed crimes in the previous 12 months -- including violent crimes such as physical fights or armed robbery -- while property crimes included vandalism, theft and burglary.

Past research shows that people who report themselves as spiritual make up about 10 percent of the general population, Jang said.

"Calling oneself 'spiritual but not religious' turned out to more of an antisocial characteristic, unlike identifying oneself as religious," said Baylor researcher Aaron Franzen, a doctoral candidate and study co-author.

In their study, the Baylor researchers hypothesized that those who are spiritual but not religious would be less conventional than the religious group -- but could be either more or less conventional than the "neither" group.

"We were thinking that religious people would have an institutional and communal attachment and investment, while the spiritual people would have more of an independent identity," Franzen said.

Theories for why religious people are less likely to commit crime are that they fear "supernatural sanctions" as well as criminal punishment and feel shame about deviance; are bonded to conventional society; exercise high self-control in part because of parents who also are likely to be religious; and associate with peers who reinforce their behavior and beliefs.

Significantly, people who are spiritual but not religious tend to have lower self-control than those who are religious. They also are more likely to experience such strains as criminal victimization and such negative emotions as depression and anxiety. They also are more likely to have peers who use and abuse alcohol, Franzen said. Those factors are predictors of criminal behavior.

"It's a challenge in terms of research to know what that actually means to be spiritual, because they self-identify," he said. "But they are different in some way, as our study shows."

In their research, sociologists included four categories based on how the young adults reported themselves.

Those categories and percentages were:

• Spiritual but not religious, 11.5 percent
• Religious but not spiritual, 6.8 percent
• Both spiritual and religious, 37.9 percent
• Neither spiritual nor religious, 43.8 percent

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Odd Material Becomes Spongy Under High Pressure

Discovery of new material state counterintuitive to laws of physicsBy Tona Kunz, June 11, 2013

LEMONT, Ill. – When you squeeze something, it gets smaller. Unless you’re at Argonne National Laboratory.

At the suburban Chicago laboratory, a group of scientists has seemingly defied the laws of physics and found a way to apply pressure to make a material expand instead of compress/contract.

"It’s like squeezing a stone and forming a giant sponge," said Karena Chapman, a chemist at the U.S. Department of Energy laboratory. "Materials are supposed to become denser and more compact under pressure. We are seeing the exact opposite. The pressure-treated material has half the density of the original state. This is counterintuitive to the laws of physics."

Because this behavior seems impossible, Chapman and her colleagues spent several years testing and retesting the material until they believed the unbelievable and understood how the impossible could be possible. For every experiment, they got the same mind-bending results.

"The bonds in the material completely rearrange," Chapman said. "This just blows my mind."

This discovery will do more than rewrite the science text books; it could double the variety of porous framework materials available for manufacturing, health care and environmental sustainability.

Scientists use these framework materials, which have sponge-like holes in their structure, to trap, store and filter materials. The shape of the sponge-like holes makes them selectable for specific molecules, allowing their use as water filters, chemical sensors and compressible storage for carbon dioxide sequestration of hydrogen fuel cells. By tailoring release rates, scientists can adapt these frameworks to deliver drugs and initiate chemical reactions for the production of everything from plastics to foods.

"This could not only open up new materials to being porous, but it could also give us access to new structures for selectability and new release rates," said Peter Chupas, an Argonne chemist who helped discover the new materials.

The team published the details of their work in the May 22 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society in an article titled "Exploiting High Pressures to Generate Porosity, Polymorphism, and Lattice Expansion in the Nonporous Molecular Framework Zn(CN)2."

The scientists put zinc cyanide, a material used in electroplating, in a diamond-anvil cell at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne and applied high pressures of 0.9 to 1.8 gigapascals, or about 9,000 to 18,000 times the pressure of the atmosphere at sea level. This high pressure is within the range affordably reproducible by industry for bulk storage systems. By using different fluids around the material as it was squeezed, the scientists were able to create five new phases of material, two of which retained their new porous ability at normal pressure. The type of fluid used determined the shape of the sponge-like pores. This is the first time that hydrostatic pressure has been able to make dense materials with interpenetrated atomic frameworks into novel porous materials.

Several series of in situ high-pressure X-ray powder diffraction experiments were performed at the 1-BM,
11-ID-B, and 17-BM beamlines of the APS to study the material transitions.

"By applying pressure, we were able to transform a normally dense, nonporous material into a range of new porous materials that can hold twice as much stuff," Chapman said.

"This counterintuitive discovery will likely double the amount of available porous framework materials, which will greatly expand their use in pharmaceutical delivery, sequestration, material separation and catalysis."

The scientists will continue to test the new technique on other materials.

The research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

An Hypothesis for Dark Matter

New, simple theory may explain
mysterious dark matter
By David Salisbury, Monday, Jun. 10, 2013

Most of the matter in the universe may be made out of particles that possess an unusual, donut-shaped electromagnetic field called an anapole.

This proposal, which endows dark matter particles with a rare form of electromagnetism, has been strengthened by a detailed analysis performed by a pair of theoretical physicists at Vanderbilt University: Professor Robert Sherrer and post-doctoral fellow Chiu Man Ho. An article about the research was published online last month by the journal Physics Letters B.

"There are a great many different theories about the nature of dark matter. What I like about this theory is its simplicity, uniqueness and the fact that it can be tested," said Scherrer.

Elusive Particle
In the article, titled "Anapole Dark Matter," the physicists propose that dark matter, an invisible form of matter that makes up 85 percent of the all the matter in the universe, may be made out of a type of basic particle called the Majorana fermion. The particle’s existence was predicted in the 1930’s but has stubbornly resisted detection.

A number of physicists have suggested that dark matter is made from Majorana particles, but Scherrer and Ho have performed detailed calculations that demonstrate that these particles are uniquely suited to possess a rare, donut-shaped type of electromagnetic field called an anapole. This field gives them properties that differ from those of particles that possess the more common fields possessing two poles (north and south, positive and negative) and explains why they are so difficult to detect.
Common Magnetism, not Exotic Forces
"Most models for dark matter assume that it interacts through exotic forces that we do not encounter in everyday life. Anapole dark matter makes use of ordinary electromagnetism that you learned about in school – the same force that makes magnets stick to your refrigerator or makes a balloon rubbed on your hair stick to the ceiling," said Scherrer.

"Further, the model makes very specific predictions about the rate at which it should show up in the vast dark matter detectors that are buried underground all over the world. These predictions show that soon the existence of anapole dark matter should either be discovered or ruled out by these experiments."

Fermions are particles like the electron and quark, which are the building blocks of matter. Their existence was predicted by Paul Dirac in 1928. Ten years later, shortly before he disappeared mysteriously at sea, Italian physicist Ettore Majorana produced a variation of Dirac’s formulation that predicts the existence of an electrically neutral fermion. Since then, physicists have been searching for Majorana fermions. The primary candidate has been the neutrino, but scientists have been unable to determine the basic nature of this elusive particle.

Invisible to telescopes
The existence of dark matter was also first proposed in the 1930’s to explain discrepancies in the rotational rate of galactic clusters. Subsequently, astronomers have discovered that the rate that stars rotate around individual galaxies is similarly out of sync. Detailed observations have shown that stars far from the center of galaxies are moving at much higher velocities than can be explained by the amount of visible matter that the galaxies contain. Assuming that they contain a large amount of invisible "dark" matter is the most straightforward way to explain these discrepancies.

Scientists hypothesize that dark matter cannot be seen in telescopes because it does not interact very strongly with light and other electromagnetic radiation. In fact, astronomical observations have basically ruled out the possibility that dark matter particles carry electrical charges.

More recently, though, several physicists have examined dark matter particles that don’t carry electrical charges, but have electric or magnetic dipoles. The only problem is that even these more complicated models are ruled out for Majorana particles. That is one of the reasons that Ho and Scherrer took a closer look at dark matter with an anapole magnetic moment.

"Although Majorana fermions are electrically neutral, fundamental symmetries of nature forbid them from acquiring any electromagnetic properties except the anapole," Ho said.

The existence of a magnetic anapole was predicted by the Soviet physicist Yakov Zel’dovich in 1958. Since then it has been observed in the magnetic structure of the nuclei of cesium-133 and ytterbium-174 atoms.
Particles with familiar electrical and magnetic dipoles, interact with electromagnetic fields even when they are stationary. Particles with anapole fields don’t. They must be moving before they interact and the faster they move the stronger the interaction. As a result, anapole particles would have been have been much more interactive during the early days of the universe and would have become less and less interactive as the universe expanded and cooled.

The anapole dark matter particles suggested by Ho and Scherrer would annihilate in the early universe just like other proposed dark matter particles, and the left-over particles from the process would form the dark matter we see today. But because dark matter is moving so much more slowly at the present day, and because the anapole interaction depends on how fast it moves, these particles would have escaped detection so far, but only just barely.

The research was funded in part by Department of Energy grant DE-FG05-85ER40226.


David Salisbury, (615) 322-NEWS


Clever First Novel with a Dog Hero

Related to dogs and to end of the world survival, there’s also a new novel out there called "The Dog Stars" by Peter Heller: 
Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2012:

Adventure writer Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars is a first novel set in Colorado after a superflu has culled most of humanity. A man named Hig lives in a former airport community—McMansions built along the edge of a runway—which he shares with his 1956 Cessna, his dog, and a slightly untrustworthy survivalist. He spends his days flying the perimeter, looking out for intruders and thinking about the things he’s lost—his deceased wife, the nearly extinct trout he loved to fish.

When a distant beacon sparks in him the realization that something better might be out there, it’s only a matter of time before he goes searching. Poetic, thoughtful, transformative, this novel is a rare combination of the literary and highly readable. --Chris Schluep 

Amazon Exclusive: Author Peter Heller on the Star of The Dog Stars

Our Hero, Hig, lives at a little country airstrip which he shares with his beloved blue heeler Jasper, and a mean gun nut named Bangley. It's nine years after a super-flu has killed 99.7% of the people on the planet. Hig sleeps out under the open sky at night with Jasper. He does it because he loves to see the stars, and because it's safer: if marauders come he won't be trapped in one of the nearby houses.

He used to have a book of the stars, but now he doesn't, so when he's lying out at night he makes up constellations. Mostly they are animals, and he makes one for his best friend Jasper. The Dog Stars. It's Hig's way of reinventing the lost world, and keeping in touch with the things he loves.

Jasper, to me, is the star of the book. He is fiercely loyal, and he gives Hig something to live for when there is not much else to hold on to.

Quotes Amazon posted from various published reviews –

"Extraordinary. . . . One of those books that makes you happy for literature." —Junot Díaz, The Wall Street Journal

"This end-of-the-world novel [is] more like a rapturous beginning. . . . Remarkable." —San Francisco Chronicle

"For all those who thought Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the last word on the post-apocalyptic world—think again. . . . Make time and space for this savage, tender, brilliant book." —Glen Duncan, author of The Last Werewolf

"Heart-wrenching and richly written. . . . The Dog Stars is a love story, but not just in the typical sense. It’s an ode to friendship between two men, a story of the strong bond between a human and a dog, and a reminder of what is worth living for." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"A dreamy, postapocalyptic love letter to things of beauty, big and small." –Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl
"Heartbreaking" —The Seattle Times

"A brilliant success." —The New Yorker

"Beautifully written and morally challenging" –The Atlantic Monthly

"A book that rests easily on shelves with Dean Koontz, Jack London or Hemingway." —The Missourian
"Dark, poetic, and funny." —Jennifer Reese, NPR

"Terrific. . . . Recalling the bleakness of Cormac McCarthy and the trout-praising beauty of David James Duncan, The Dog Stars makes a compelling case that the wild world will survive the apocalypse just fine; it’s the humans who will have the heavy lifting." —Outside

"A post-apocalyptic adventure novel with the soul of haiku." —The Columbus Dispatch
"An elegy for a lost world turns suddenly into a paean to new possibilities. In The Dog Stars, Peter Heller serves up an insightful account of physical, mental, and spiritual survival unfolded in dramatic and often lyrical prose." —The Boston Globe

"Take the sensibility of Hemingway. Or James Dickey. Place it in a world where a flu mutation has wiped out ninety-nine percent of the population. Add in a heartbroken man with a fishing rod, some guns, a small plane. Don’t forget the dog. Now imagine this man retains more hope than might be wise in such a battered and brutal time. More trust. More hunger for love—more capacity for it, too. That’s what Peter Heller has given us in his beautifully written first novel." —Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan and The Ruins

"With its evocative descriptions of hunting, fishing, and flying, [The Dog Stars], perhaps the world’s most poetic survival guide, reads as if Billy Collins had novelized one of George Romero’s zombie flicks." Publishers Weekly (starred)

"The Dog Stars can feel less like a 21st-century apocalypse and more like a 19th-century frontier narrative (albeit one in which many, many species have become extinct). There are echoes of Grizzly Adams or Jeremiah Johnson in scenes where Heller lingers on the details of how the water in a flowing stream changes color as the sun moves across the sky." —The Dallas Morning News

"Full of action and hope…. One you’ll not soon forget." — The Oklahoman

"A heavenly book, a stellar achievement by a debut novelist that manages to combine sparkling prose with truly memorable, shining, characters." —The New York Journal of Books
"Gruff, tormented and inspirational, Heller has the astonishing ability to make you laugh, cringe and feel ridiculously vulnerable throughout the novel that will have you rereading certain passages with a hard lump in the pit of your stomach.

One of the most powerful reads in years." —Playboy
"The Dog Stars is a wholly compelling and deeply engaging debut." —Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted
"Beautiful, haunting and hopeful. . . . Makes your breath catch and your heart ache." —Aspen Daily News

"At times funny, at times thrilling, at times simply heartbreaking and always rich with a love of nature, The Dog Stars finds a peculiar poetry in deciding that there’s really no such thing as the end of the world—just a series of decisions about how we live in whatever world we’ve got." —Salt Lake City Weekly

"What separates Heller’s book from other End of Days stories is that it doesn’t rely on the thematic fail-safes to tell the story—The Dog Stars is quite simply the story of what it’s like to be alone." —The Stranger

"Proves a truth we know from our everyday nonfictional lives: Even when it seems like all the humans in the world are only out for themselves, there are always those few who prove you absolutely wrong—in the most surprising of ways." —

"Heller has created a heartbreakingly moving love story. . . . It’s an ode to what we’ve lost so far, and how we risk losing everything." —Cincinnati City Beat

"A stunning, hope-riddled end-of-the-world story. . . . Bound to become a classic." —Flavorwire
"Heller’s writing gives you a heartbreaking jolt, like a sudden wakening from a dream." —The Seattle Times
"Heller is a masterful storyteller and The Dog Stars is a beautiful tribute to the resilience of nature and the relentless human drive to find meaning and deep connections with life and the living." —Julianna Baggott, author of Pure
"Terrific . . . With echoes of Moby Dick, The Dog Stars . . . brings Melville’s broad, contemplative exploration of good and evil to his story." —Shelf Awareness

"Heller’s surprising and irresistible blend of suspense, romance, social insight, and humor creates a cunning form of cognitive dissonance neatly pegged by Hig as an
‘apocalyptic parody of Norman Rockwell’—a novel, that is, of spiky pleasure and signal resonance." —Booklist (starred)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How Trained Dogs Heal People

The Possibility Dogs: What a Handful of "Unadoptables" Taught Me About Service,
Hope, and Healing [Hardcover]
By Susanna Charleson
Book Description
Release date: June 4, 2013
An inspiring story that shows how dogs can be rescued, and can rescue in return.

With her critically acclaimed, bestselling first book, Scent of the Missing, Susannah Charleson was widely praised for her unique insight into the kinship between humans and dogs, as revealed through her work in canine search and rescue alongside her partner, golden retriever Puzzle.

Now, in The Possibility Dogs, Charleson journeys into the world of psychiatric service, where dogs aid humans with disabilities that may be unseen but are no less felt. This work had a profound effect on Charleson, perhaps because, for her, this journey began as a personal one: Charleson herself struggled with posttraumatic stress disorder for months after a particularly grisly search. Collaboration with her search dog partner made the surprising difference to her own healing. Inspired by that experience, Charleson learns to identify abandoned dogs with service potential, often plucking them from shelters at the last minute, and to train them for work beside hurting partners, to whom these second-chance dogs bring intelligence, comfort, and hope.

Along the way she comes to see canine potential everywhere, often where she least expects it – from Merlin the chocolate lab puppy with the broken tail once cast away in a garbage bag, who now stabilizes his partner’s panic attacks; to Ollie, the blind and deaf terrier, rescued moments before it was too late, who now soothes anxious children; to Jake Piper, the starving pit bull terrier mix with the wayward ears who is transformed into a working service dog and, who, for Charleson, goes from abandoned to irreplaceable.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = purchaser review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
Canine Psychological Assistants 
By Robert B. Richey May 2, 2013

I personally think that most dogs are really neat people. I have a few dog friends who I think would enjoy this book, but maybe they would not care to read it because they already know most of what this book is about. That is good, I guess because one result of reading this book is that I now think that I understand some of the things that dogs have attempted to teach me in the past.

This book is about a set of dogs with a specialized purpose in life - they spend their lives in taking care of their humans. These are service dogs. Now you probably know what service dogs are, they are `seeing eye' dogs, deaf assistance dogs, search and rescue dogs and avalanche rescue dogs. That list does not even scratch the surface of the specializations of service dogs. A lot of what this book is about is the psychiatric service dogs. They are vital dogs which provide the services for persons who are handicapped in a way that may not be obvious to the population at large. They help make life worth living for depressed, traumatized, or suicidal persons. If that was what this book was about, it is well worth reading, but...

This book is about service dogs that have their own needs. If you have ever been around a rescue dog, a dog which has been abandoned, a dog which nobody wants to adopt because they are ugly, because they are blind, because they are the wrong color then you know that those are the dogs that most appreciate their adopter and are fiercely loyal to them. In this book, the author discusses the training of these `unadoptable' dogs to be very effective service dogs, especially in the service of psychiatrically needy humans.

A wonderful book to help you understand the need for these dogs even if you do not care for dogs.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Facebook Can Damage Relationships

Using Facebook too much can lead
to cheating, breakup and divorce
Nathan Hurst, University of Missouri

COLUMBIA, Mo., June 6, 2013 — Facebook and other social networking web sites have revolutionized the way people create and maintain relationships. However, new research shows that Facebook use could actually be damaging to users’ romantic relationships. Russell Clayton, a doctoral student in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, found that individuals who use Facebook excessively are far more likely to experience Facebook–related conflict with their romantic partners, which then may cause negative relationship outcomes including emotional and physical cheating, breakup and divorce.

In their study, Clayton, along with Alexander Nagurney, an instructor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, and Jessica R. Smith, a doctoral student at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, surveyed Facebook users ages 18 to 82 years old.

Participants were asked to describe how often they used Facebook and how much, if any, conflict arose between their current or former partners as a result of Facebook use. The researchers found that high levels of Facebook use among couples significantly predicted Facebook-related conflict, which then significantly predicted negative relationship outcomes such as cheating, breakup, and divorce.

"Previous research has shown that the more a person in a romantic relationship uses Facebook, the more likely they are to monitor their partner’s Facebook activity more stringently, which can lead to feelings of jealousy," Clayton said.

"Facebook-induced jealousy may lead to arguments concerning past partners.
Also, our study found that excessive Facebook users are more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners, which may lead to emotional and physical cheating."

Clayton says this trend was particularly apparent in newer relationships.

"These findings held only for couples who had been in relationships of three years or less," Clayton said.

"This suggests that Facebook may be a threat to relationships that are not fully matured. On the other hand, participants who have been in relationships for longer than three years may not use Facebook as often, or may have more matured relationships, and therefore Facebook use may not be a threat or concern."

In order to prevent such conflict from arising, Clayton recommends couples, especially those who have not been together for very long, to limit their own personal Facebook use.

"Although Facebook is a great way to learn about someone, excessive Facebook use may be damaging to newer romantic relationships," Clayton said. "Cutting back to moderate, healthy levels of Facebook usage could help reduce conflict, particularly for newer couples who are still learning about each other."

This study is forthcoming in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.