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Large Hadron Collider resumes collisions after upgrade
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 06 May 2015 16:03

 

 

The world's largest particle smasher resumed colliding protons Tuesday as it gradually reboots following a two-year upgrade, Europe's physics lab CERN said.

The low-energy collisions took place in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) Tuesday morning, CERN said in a statement.

The protons collided at an energy of 450 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), allowing the scientists to fine tune LHC's detectors as they prepare to crank the power up to allow collisions at an unprecedented 13 teraelectronvolts (TeV), it said.

Experiments at the collider are aimed at unlocking clues as to how the universe came into existence by studying fundamental particles, the building blocks of all matter, and the forces that control them.

In 2012, the LHC was used to prove the existence of Higgs Boson, the particle that confers mass, earning the 2013 Nobel physics prize for two of the scientists who, back in 1964, had theorised the existence of the so-called "God particle".

Tuesday's collisions at the giant lab, housed in a 27-kilometre (17-mile) tunnel straddling the French-Swiss border, are part of preparations for the next experiments to delve into the mysteries of the universe.

 

 
T.Rex's 'bizarre' vegetarian cousin puzzles scientists
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 28 April 2015 17:39

 

 

Tyrannosaurus rex, one of history's most dreaded carnivores, had an odd-looking vegetarian cousin with a tiny head, long neck and stubby fingers, scientists said Monday, admitting its anatomy had them puzzled.

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi had a bird-like beak with leaf-shaped teeth, evidence that it feasted on plants, but with hind leg features similar to theropod dinosaurs, the group into which it was slotted with notorious killers like T. Rex, Velociraptor and the horned Carnotaurus.

"Chilesaurus constitutes one of the most bizarre dinosaurs ever found," Fernando Novas of Argentina's Natural History Museum in Buenos Aires told AFP of a study published in the journal Nature which he co-authored.

"At the beginning, I was convinced that we had collected three different dinosaurs, but when the most complete skeleton was prepared, it (became) evident that all the elements pertained to a single dinosaur species."

The bizarre creature was named after the South American country where its fossilised remains were found, and the seven-year old boy, Diego Suarez, who discovered the first bones in 2004 while exploring the Andes mountains with his geologist parents.

About a dozen Chilesaurus specimens have since been dug up.

Theropods like T. Rex tended to have relatively short necks, big heads and strong, muscled hind legs much bigger than their arms, vicious claws and jaws brimming with razor-sharp teeth.

But Chilesaurus cuts an altogether less threatening figure.

 

- 'Jigsaw puzzle' dinosaur -

 

 

 
Amazon tribe's antibiotic resistance concerns experts
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 18 April 2015 18:55

 

 

A remote tribe in the Venezuelan Amazon appears to be resistant to modern antibiotics, even though its members have had barely any contact with the outside world, researchers said Friday.

The people, known as the Yanomami, were first spotted by air in 2008, and were visited a year later by a Venezuelan medical team that took samples from 34 of them, including skin and mouth swabs and stool samples.

To protect their privacy, the name of their village was withheld from publication.

Scientists found that the tribespeople's microbiome -- the community of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live in and on the body -- was far more diverse than seen in comparison communities of rural Venezuelans and Malawians. Their microbiome was twice as diverse as observed in a reference group of Americans.

The remote villagers are generally healthy, and that may be thanks to a microbiome that "contains perhaps the highest levels of bacterial diversity ever reported in a human group," said the study in the journal Science Advances.

While the Yanomami had some T-shirts, machetes and metal cans, suggesting some limited contact with civilization, they have not been exposed to the many elements of contemporary life that can cut down on microbes, such as eating processed foods, taking antibiotics, hand sanitizing and delivering babies by Caesarean section, scientists said.

Some microbes seemed to have a protective effect on their health, such as preventing the formation of kidney stones.

 

 

 
Activists file Facebook class action suit in Austria
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 09 April 2015 18:26

 

 

An Austrian law graduate spearheading a class action case against Facebook for alleged privacy breaches officially filed the suit in a Vienna court on Thursday.

In a closely-watched case, Max Schrems and 25,000 other users are suing the social media giant for various rights violations, ranging from the "illegal" tracking of their data under EU law to Facebook's involvement in the PRISM surveillance programme of the US National Security Agency (NSA).

"Basically we are asking Facebook to stop mass surveillance, to (have) a proper privacy policy that people can understand, but also to stop collecting data of people that are not even Facebook users," 27-year-old Schrems told AFP in an interview this week.

 

 

The case has been brought against Facebook's European headquarters in Dublin, which registers all accounts outside the United States and Canada -- making up some 80 percent of Facebook's 1.35 billion users.

Schrems was able to file his action against the Irish subsidiary at a civil court in Vienna because under EU law, all member states have to enforce court rulings from any other member state.

Among other issues, judges will have to rule on Facebook's objection that the class action is inadmissible under Austrian law -- an objection dismissed by Schrems' lawyer as lacking "any substance".

So far, the social media company has not been available for comment on the matter.

Interest in the case has been overwhelming. Within days of launching the suit in August last year, thousands of people -- mostly based in Europe but also in Asia, Latin America and Australia -- had signed up.

In the end, Schrems limited the number of participants to 25,000 but a further 55,000 have already registered to join the proceedings at a later stage.

Each of the plaintiffs is claiming a "token amount" of 500 euros ($540) in damages.

 

 
Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 02 April 2015 19:38

 

 

It doesn't turn into Prince Charming, but a new species of frog discovered in Ecuador has earned the nickname "transformer frog" for its ability to change its skin from spiny to smooth in five minutes.

The tiny frog, which measures about two centimeters (three-quarters of an inch), was found in the misty forests of the Andes mountains, and lives in a mossy habitat where its shape-shifting powers likely help it to camouflage itself, researchers said.

"The strangest, most outlandish thing is that this species can change the texture of its skin," said Ecuadoran biologist Juan Manuel Guayasamin, who led the research team that announced the discovery.

The species, dubbed Pristimantis mutabilis, is described in the April issue of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

While some octopuses, an invertebrate animal, can change the color and structure of their skin, "no one had ever described a vertebrate species that changes skin texture," Guayasamin told AFP.

"Reptiles that change skin color have been documented, like chameleons, but never had such dramatic changes in skin texture been seen," he said.

Other frog species change the texture of their skin over the course of a season, but never had a frog been found that could transform its skin so quickly, Guayasamin and four co-authors wrote in their article.

They clocked the tiny green-and-brown frog's transformation at 330 seconds.

Photos of the experiment show the frog at zero seconds with rough skin covered in spiny protuberances, which gradually morphs into a smooth, slippery surface.

The trait may help the frog escape from danger, said Guayasamin, the director of the Center for Research on Biodiversity and Climate Change at Ecuador's Universidad Tecnologica Indoamerica.

 

 

 
Google Maps lets you play Pac-Man
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 01 April 2015 15:21

 

 

Google's mapping service rolled out a gamefied version inspired by the classic Pac-Man, turning the real streets of a city into a labyrinth to gobble up pellets and ghosts.

A Google spokeswoman said the game was an early April Fool's joke. It allows users to play the game featuring the popular character created in 1980 in select locations.

If there are not enough roads at a given site, the game cannot be played, and Google alerts users that "it looks like Pac-Man can't play here."

It was unclear how long the feature would be available.

 

 
Britain to create world's biggest protected marine reserve
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 29 March 2015 12:39

 

 

Britain said it intended to create what will be the world's biggest fully-protected marine reserve, covering an area nearly the size of France and Germany put together in the Pacific Ocean.

The reserve will be based around the remote Pitcairn Islands archipelago, a British overseas territory that is inhabited by descendants of the sailors who staged a famous mutiny on the Bounty ship in 1789.

"The government intends to proceed with designation of a MPA (Marine Protected Area) around Pitcairn," read the budget unveiled by finance minister George Osborne in parliament.

But the government said a final deal would depend on agreements for satellite monitoring of the vast area, preventing ports from landing illegal fish catches and naval patrols.

 

The Pew Charitable Trusts, the US charity that has led the campaign for the reserve, said the area would cover 834,334 square kilometres (322,138 square miles).

It is home to at least 1,249 species of marine mammals, seabirds and fish and includes the world's deepest known living plant -- a species of encrusting coralline algae found at a depth of 382 metres.

"The new reserve protects some of the most near-pristine ocean habitat on Earth," Pew said in a statement.

In 2013, Pew, National Geographic and the local elected body on the remote archipelago, the Pitcairn Island Council, submitted a proposal for the creation of the reserve.

"The Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve will build a refuge of untouched ocean to protect and conserve a wealth of marine life," said Matt Rand, director of Pew's Global Ocean Legacy project.

Pitcairn was settled in 1789 by mutineers from the British naval ship the Bounty, who famously set their captain William Bligh adrift in the South Pacific.

Many of the families of the mutineers moved from Pitcairn, a five-square-kilometre island midway between New Zealand and Chile, to the larger Norfolk Island in 1856.

 

 

 
Gun drills and discipline at S.Africa anti-poaching school
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 20:08

 

 

Gripping a semi-automatic rifle in his muscular right hand, anti-poaching instructor Simon Rood berates his students for not taking their gun lessons seriously.

"The problem with you is you don't want to grasp what we're trying to teach you," says Rood, an imposing man with a buzz cut and a Glock pistol on his belt.

"This thing is like your wife, you will treat it with respect," he stresses. "If you do not treat a firearm with respect, you can't be a ranger."

The students, a group of 19 dressed in forest-green fatigues with black military boots, nod their heads to show they understand.

Rood is one of a handful of entrepreneurs in South Africa specialising in producing armed anti-poaching rangers who patrol public and private nature reserves protecting rhinos.

"Unfortunately it's the kind of business where you have to fight fire with fire," said the 50-year-old owner of Nkwe Wildlife and Security Services.

 

 

 

"We've got armed 'terrorists' coming through our border with weapons to shoot our national heritage."

According to the South African government, a record 1,215 rhinos were poached in the country last year, fuelled by the booming demand in East Asia for their horns which have supposed medicinal qualities. Estimates vary but some say rhino horn can fetch up to $65,000 on the Asian black market.

Supported by international crime syndicates, poachers -- many of them based in neighbouring Mozambique -- are killing rhinos with increasingly sophisticated weapons and tactics.

"If you look at Kruger National Park -- South Africa's largest wilderness area -- they're coming across poachers carrying heavy calibre rifles or fully automatic military weapons," said Kevin Bewick, the Durban-based head of the Anti-Poaching Intelligence Group of Southern Africa, a non-profit organisation.

"The danger is very real."

 

 

 
Britain to create world's biggest protected marine reserve
Written by Administrator   
Saturday, 21 March 2015 19:52

 

 

Britain on Wednesday said it intended to create what will be the world's biggest fully protected marine reserve, covering an area nearly the size of France and Germany put together in the Pacific Ocean.

The reserve will be based around the remote Pitcairn Islands archipelago, a British overseas territory that is inhabited by descendants of the sailors who staged a famous mutiny on the Bounty ship in 1789.

"The government intends to proceed with designation of a MPA (Marine Protected Area) around Pitcairn," read the budget unveiled by finance minister George Osborne in parliament.

But the government said a final deal would depend on agreements for satellite monitoring of the vast area, preventing ports from landing illegal fish catches and naval patrols.

 

 

The Pew Charitable Trusts, the US charity that has led the campaign for the reserve, said the area would cover 834,334 sq km.

It is home to at least 1,249 species of marine mammals, seabirds and fish and includes the world's deepest known living plant - a species of encrusting coralline algae found at a depth of 382m.

"The new reserve protects some of the most near-pristine ocean habitat on Earth," Pew said in a statement.

In 2013, Pew, National Geographic and the local elected body on the remote archipelago, the Pitcairn Island Council, submitted a proposal for the creation of the reserve.

"The Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve will build a refuge of untouched ocean to protect and conserve a wealth of marine life," said Matt Rand, director of Pew's Global Ocean Legacy project.

Pitcairn was settled in 1789 by mutineers from the British naval ship the Bounty, who famously set their captain William Bligh adrift in the South Pacific.

Many of the families of the mutineers moved from Pitcairn, a 5 sq km island midway between New Zealand and Chile, to the larger Norfolk Island in 1856.

Enric Sala, National Geographic's explorer-in-residence, a member of a scientific expedition that visited the islands, said the move "will protect the true bounty of the Pitcairn Islands - the array of unique marine life in the surrounding pristine seas."

Pew said the area would be monitored with a satellite monitoring system known as the "Virtual Watch Room" that will allow the detection of illegal fishing activity in real time.

"This is the first time any government has combined creation of a marine reserve with the most up-to-date technology for surveillance and enforcement of a protected area," Pew said.

Pitcairn would be the largest continuous protected area of ocean around the world.

 

 
In Japan, robot dogs are for life - and death
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 25 February 2015 14:06

 

Incense smoke wafts through the cold air of the centuries-old Buddhist temple as a priest chants a sutra, praying for the peaceful transition of the souls of the departed.

It is a funeral like any other in Japan. Except that those being honoured are robot dogs, lined up on the altar, each wearing a tag to show where they came from and which family they belonged to.

The devices are "AIBOs", the world's first home-use entertainment robot equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and capable of developing its own personality.

"I believe owners feel they have souls as long as they are with them," said Nobuyuki Narimatsu, 59, who heads an electronics repair company specialising in fixing vintage products.

Sony rolled out the first-generation AIBO in June 1999, with the initial batch of 3,000 selling out in just 20 minutes, despite the hefty 250,000 yen (more than $2,000) price tag.

 

 

Over the following years, more than 150,000 units were sold, in numerous iterations, ranging from gleaning metallic-silver versions to round-faced cub-like models.

The dog came with an array of sensors, a camera and microphone. The final generation could even talk.

By 2006, Sony was in trouble; its business model was broken and it was facing fierce competition from rivals in all fields. The AIBO, an expensive and somewhat frivolous luxury, had to go.

The company kept its "AIBO Clinic" open until March 2014, but then -- politely -- told dedicated and loving owners that they were on their own.

For Hideko Mori, 70, that nearly spelled disaster.

- 'Beautiful noise' -

Mori has had her AIBO for around eight years. She enjoys the conversations she has with it, and thinks it far more convenient than a real puppy.

 

"He doesn't require feeding and he doesn't pee... actually he does pee by cocking his leg, making an indescribably beautiful tinkling sound." But, she said, nothing actually comes out.

"I never thought there was a limit to his life."

But in May last year her beloved AIBO, whose name is simply "Aibo", became immobile.

 

 
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