Thursday, October 23, 2014

Should France Sell the Russian Mistrals to European Union to Form Nucleus of EU Navy?

Selling warships to Russia doesn't seem like a great idea right now. But there's someone else that could buy them -- and make it a win-win for European security.

China Manufacturing Almost Flat

A gauge of the health of China's manufacturing industry inched higher in October but factory output was at a five-month low in a sign of slowing domestic and foreign demand.

HSBC said Thursday the preliminary version of an index based on a survey of factory purchasing managers rose to 50.4 from 50.2 in September. Figures above 50 on the 100-point scale indicate expansion.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Walking Deinocheirus Rendering

Oakland's Coliseum City Development Gets an Extension


A Bold Statement on India's Urban Development


Someone really ought to take a picture of India from orbit during Diwali though.

Heno Hoverboard: do you actually believe this?

Its a slick video, but IDK.... 

Oh and Marty and Doc Brown want royalties.  

Lockheed Behind on F-35 Deliveries, in Danger of not Meeting Delivery of 36 Jets in 2014

Lockheed Martin Corp on Monday confirmed that it had delivered just 22 of 36 F-35 fighter jets promised to the U.S. government this year, but had a plan to complete work on the remaining 14 warplanes over the next two months.

"We are not giving up on delivering 14 more aircraft this year," Lockheed spokesman Mike Rein told Reuters when asked about delays in deliveries. "We'll get there."

A source familiar with the $399 billion Joint Strike Fighter program, the Pentagon's costliest weapons project, said slower-than-expected deliveries had sparked concern about whether Lockheed would meet its delivery target of 36 jets for the full year. The company could lose incentive fees if it does not, said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The Pentagon's F-35 program office had no immediate comment on the issue.

OCTOBER SURPRISE! Revealed Chinese JF-17 Pictures Show With HYPERSONIC Anti Ship Missiles

Recent images of two China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) CM-400AKG high-speed air-to-surface missiles fitted to an airborne Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) FC-1/JF-17 fighter suggest that China continues to develop the missile.


Chinese sources indicate the CM-400AKG is derived from the SY-400 tactical ballistic missile. The CM-400AKG has been promoted as a 'hypersonic' anti-ship-capable missile since its unveiling at the November 2012 Zhuhai Airshow.


Time to trot out the lasers, guys.

(arms race!  arms race!  arms race!)

Parasitism & Symbosis From Coral Reefs From Cenomanian Cretaceous Israel

Bivalve borings, bioclaustrations and symbiosis in corals from the Upper Cretaceous (Cenomanian) of southern Israel


Wilson et al


Specimens of the small compound coral Aspidiscus cristatus (Lamarck, 1801) containing evidence of symbiosis with bivalves have been found in the En Yorqe'am Formation (Upper Cretaceous, early Cenomanian) of southern Israel. The corals have paired holes on their upper surfaces leading to a common chamber below, forming the trace fossil Gastrochaenolites ampullatus Kelly and Bromley, 1984. Apparently gastrochaenid bivalve larvae settled on living coral surfaces and began to bore into the underlying aragonitic skeletons. The corals added new skeleton around the paired siphonal tubes of the invading bivalves, eventually producing crypts that were borings at their bases and bioclaustrations at their openings. When a boring bivalve died its crypt was closed by the growing coral, entombing the bivalve shell in place. This is early evidence of a symbiotic relationship between scleractinian corals and boring bivalves (parasitism in this case), and the earliest record of bivalve infestation of a member of the Suborder Microsolenina. It is also the earliest occurrence of G. ampullatus.

Titan’s Emission Spectrum

Titan’s emission processes during eclipse


Lavvas et al


Observations of Titan’s emissions during its 2009 eclipse by Saturn revealed a weak airglow around the moon, as well as a brighter emission from its disk (West et al. [2012]. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39 (1), 18204). We explore here the potential mechanisms that could generate these emissions and more specifically the role of magnetospheric plasma and cosmic rays in the upper and lower atmosphere, respectively. We consider excitation of N2 by these energy sources and calculate the resulting emissions through a detailed model of N2 airglow followed by careful radiation transfer of the emitted photons through the atmosphere, and into the UVIS and ISS instruments. Our results indicate that the observed limb emissions are consistent with magnetospheric plasma energy input, while emissions instigated by cosmic ray excitation are very weak and cannot explain the observed disk emissions. We discuss possible contributions from other sources that could potentially explain the disk observations. The most likely scenario is that of scattered stellar light from Titan’s disk.

45,000 Year Old Siberian Man had Significantly More Neandertal Genes Than Modern People

Genome sequence of a 45,000-year-old modern human from western Siberia


Fu et al


We present the high-quality genome sequence of a ~45,000-year-old modern human male from Siberia. This individual derives from a population that lived before—or simultaneously with—the separation of the populations in western and eastern Eurasia and carries a similar amount of Neanderthal ancestry as present-day Eurasians. However, the genomic segments of Neanderthal ancestry are substantially longer than those observed in present-day individuals, indicating that Neanderthal gene flow into the ancestors of this individual occurred 7,000–13,000 years before he lived. We estimate an autosomal mutation rate of 0.4 × 10−9 to 0.6 × 10−9 per site per year, a Y chromosomal mutation rate of 0.7 × 10−9 to 0.9 × 10−9 per site per year based on the additional substitutions that have occurred in present-day non-Africans compared to this genome, and a mitochondrial mutation rate of 1.8 × 10−8 to 3.2 × 10−8 per site per year based on the age of the bone.

Now we know when Neandertals got the Sapiens drunk enough for the first beer goggles.  

Evolution Has Stopped?! Agriculture's Impact Over 6150 Years on Lower Limb Skeletal Biomechanics

Lower limb skeletal biomechanics track long-term decline in mobility across ∼6150 years of agriculture in Central Europe


Macintosh et al


Central Europe is a region with a rich agricultural history that dates back to the emergence of the first Neolithic cultures here during the second part of the 6th millennium BC. The effects of prolonged cultural change on the skeletal morphology of agricultural populations in this region have not yet been fully reported. This study investigates diachronic trends in lower limb cross-sectional geometry among preindustrial Central Europeans spanning over 6000 years from the initial spread of agriculture in the region (∼5300 cal BC) to the Early Medieval (∼850 AD). Midshaft diaphyseal cross-sectional geometric (CSG) properties were derived from 443 three-dimensional laser scans of femora and tibiae. Results documented temporal change that was particularly pronounced in the tibia relative to the femur, indicative of declining compressional strength (males), bending and torsional rigidity (males), and increasingly more circular cross-sections (both sexes). When examined chronologically by cemetery, a major shift towards lower tibial rigidity was identified in the Late Bronze Age among males, after which time sexual dimorphism also declined. Regional variation in tibial rigidity was identified among males, being consistently low in males from modern-day Vojvodina (Serbia) relative to contemporaneous males elsewhere in Central Europe. In contrast, female temporal trends by cemetery were indicative of progressive but gradual declines in tibial loading. Results report systematic change in lower limb cross-sectional geometry among preindustrial Central European agriculturalists that are likely indicative of declining terrestrial mobility through 6000+ years of cultural change in the region.

Deinocheirus mirificus Resolved to be Another Whackidillosaurus (Giant, Cretaceous Hump/Sailback MegaOmnivore Dinosaur)

Resolving the long-standing enigmas of a giant ornithomimosaur Deinocheirus mirificus


Lee et al


The holotype of Deinocheirus mirificus was collected by the 1965 Polish–Mongolian Palaeontological Expedition at Altan Uul III in the southern Gobi of Mongolia. Because the holotype consists mostly of giant forelimbs (2.4 m in length) with scapulocoracoids , for almost 50 years Deinocheirus has remained one of the most mysterious dinosaurs. The mosaic of ornithomimosaur and non-ornithomimosaur characters in the holotype has made it difficult to resolve the phylogenetic status of Deinocheirus. Here we describe two new specimens of Deinocheirus that were discovered in the Nemegt Formation of Altan Uul IV in 2006 and Bugiin Tsav in 2009. The Bugiin Tsav specimen (MPC-D 100/127) includes a left forelimb clearly identifiable as Deinocheirus and is 6% longer than the holotype. The Altan Uul IV specimen (MPC-D 100/128) is approximately 74% the size of MPC-D 100/127. Cladistic analysis indicates that Deinocheirus is the largest member of the Ornithomimosauria; however, it has many unique skeletal features unknown in other ornithomimosaurs, indicating that Deinocheirus was a heavily built, non-cursorial animal with an elongate snout, a deep jaw, tall neural spines, a pygostyle, a U-shaped furcula, an expanded pelvis for strong muscle attachments, a relatively short hind limb and broad-tipped pedal unguals. Ecomorphological features in the skull, more than a thousand gastroliths, and stomach contents (fish remains) suggest that Deinocheirus was a megaomnivore that lived in mesic environments.

Induan/Olenekian Triassic South African Proterosuchid Archosauriforms Revised

Figure 11. Skull and lower jaw reconstructions of Proterosuchus species from the Lystrosaurus AZ of South Africa. A, juvenile of Proterosuchus fergusi (based on RC 59 and BP/1/4016); B, adult of Proterosuchus fergusi (based on BSPG 1934 VIII 514, GHG 231, RC 846); C, Proterosuchus alexanderi; and D, Proterosuchus goweri in left lateral views. Abbreviations: a1, a2, a4, diagnostic characters 1, 2 and 4 of Proterosuchus alexanderi; P1–3, diagnostic characters 1–3 of Proterosuchus; g1–7, diagnostic characters 1–7 of Proterosuchus goweri; f1–6, diagnostic characters 1–6 of Proterosuchus fergusi. Characters with asterisks indicate autapomorphies. All scale bars represent 20 mm.

Taxonomy of the proterosuchid archosauriforms (Diapsida: Archosauromorpha) from the earliest Triassic of South Africa, and implications for the early archosauriform radiation


Ezcurra et al


Proterosuchidae is one of the first clades of Archosauriformes (archosaurs and closely related species) to appear in the fossil record, with the richest sample of the group coming from the Lystrosaurus Assemblage Zone (earliest Triassic) of South Africa. Four nominal proterosuchid species were described from South Africa during the twentieth century (Proterosuchus fergusi, Chasmatosaurus vanhoepeni, Chasmatosaurus alexanderi and Elaphrosuchus rubidgei), but interpretations of their taxonomy have been widely disparate. The most recent taxonomic revision concluded that P. fergusi is the only valid species and that the other nominal species are junior subjective synonyms of this taxon. This proposal was based on the interpretation that anatomical differences between the nominal species could be explained as a result of ontogenetic changes and/or post-mortem deformation. The recent discoveries of multiple new South African proterosuchid specimens provide an impetus to revisit their taxonomy. Based upon a comprehensive re-examination of all known specimens, as well as examination of other proterosuchid taxa in collections worldwide, we conclude that the holotype of Proterosuchus fergusi is undiagnostic. As a result, we propose a neotype (RC 846) for the species. ‘Chasmatosaurus vanhoepeni’ and ‘Elaphrosuchus rubidgei’ are considered subjective junior synonyms of P. fergusi. ‘Chasmatosaurus’ alexanderi is considered a valid species, for which we propose the new combination P. alexanderi comb. nov. A third species, P. goweri sp. nov., is erected on the basis of a single specimen (NMQR 880). All three species recognized here are taxonomically distinct from a previously described archosauriform maxilla from the lower Lystrosaurus AZ. As a result, we recognize a minimum of four archosauriform species following the Permo-Triassic mass extinction in South Africa. Our results suggest a greater species richness of earliest Triassic archosauriforms than previously appreciated, but that archosauriform morphological disparity remained low and did not expand until the late Early Triassic – early Mid-Triassic.

Paleoecological Study of the Burgess Shale Tulip Beds is Recommended



O'Brien et al


Burgess Shale–type deposits represent exceptional preservational windows for examining the biodiversity and ecological structure of some of the earliest metazoan communities that evolved during the Cambrian Explosion. While much attention has been paid to the original Burgess Shale locality, the Walcott Quarry on Fossil Ridge, temporal and regional variations of the depositional environment of the Burgess Shale biota as a whole are still poorly understood. Here we present the first comprehensive taphonomic and sedimentological study of the Tulip Beds on Mount Stephen (Campsite Cliff Shale Member, Burgess Shale Formation), based on a time-averaged assemblage of nearly 10,000 specimens. The taphonomic characteristics—size sorting, resistance to decay, and potential flow alignment—and mode of deposition of this assemblage are compared specifically to those of the nearby and stratigraphically younger Walcott Quarry assemblage. Like other Burgess Shale–type deposits, the Tulip Beds consist of millimeter-laminated, event-derived claystone, but lack the thicker claystone layers and prominent carbonate interbeds that occur in the Walcott Quarry. These differences suggest a depositional environment lower in energy and possibly more distal to the Cathedral Escarpment. Overall, taphonomic analyses suggest no significant decay biases, transport, or sorting of the assemblage, and most specimens, benthic taxa in particular, appear to have been buried close to their living environments. Single bedding planes with large accumulations dominated by a single taxon, e.g., isolated claws of Anomalocaris, suggest short time-averaged assemblages with limited background sedimentation. Overall the Tulip Beds locality is environmentally and taphonomically comparable to the Walcott Quarry and biotic variations between the two sites are likely to be primary in nature, thus paving the way for more detailed paleoecological investigations in the future.

El Niño Strongly Influences Flooding Around the World

Strong influence of El Niño Southern Oscillation on flood risk around the world


Ward et al


El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the most dominant interannual signal of climate variability and has a strong influence on climate over large parts of the world. In turn, it strongly influences many natural hazards (such as hurricanes and droughts) and their resulting socioeconomic impacts, including economic damage and loss of life. However, although ENSO is known to influence hydrology in many regions of the world, little is known about its influence on the socioeconomic impacts of floods (i.e., flood risk). To address this, we developed a modeling framework to assess ENSO’s influence on flood risk at the global scale, expressed in terms of affected population and gross domestic product and economic damages. We show that ENSO exerts strong and widespread influences on both flood hazard and risk. Reliable anomalies of flood risk exist during El Niño or La Niña years, or both, in basins spanning almost half (44%) of Earth’s land surface. Our results show that climate variability, especially from ENSO, should be incorporated into disaster-risk analyses and policies. Because ENSO has some predictive skill with lead times of several seasons, the findings suggest the possibility to develop probabilistic flood-risk projections, which could be used for improved disaster planning. The findings are also relevant in the context of climate change. If the frequency and/or magnitude of ENSO events were to change in the future, this finding could imply changes in flood-risk variations across almost half of the world’s terrestrial regions.

 One of the potential outcomes of global warming is a permanent el nino.

Is India's Prime Minister a Modernizer, not a Liberal Reformer?

THOSE who hoped that Narendra Modi would prove a busy liberal reformer as prime minister have so far been disappointed. But that, says Gurcharan Das, a writer and former businessman who now advises the government, is to judge the man by the wrong measure. Rather than being mad about markets, he says, Mr Modi is a strong-willed moderniser, a man who thinks a capable bureaucracy can fix much of what ails India. It is the lesson of Mr Modi’s running of Gujarat, where he relied heavily on his civil service and got public-sector firms to flourish.

But the bureaucracy is very far from capable. Lant Pritchett of Harvard University has described India as a “flailing state” thanks to its rotten administration. Bureaucrats are incompetent and corrupt when they are not simply absent. India struggles to implement even well-found policy. India’s head, in Mr Pritchett’s metaphor, is not reliably connected to its limbs.

Mr Modi appears bent on changing that. In office for only five months, he spends a lot of time with civil servants, preferring to meet them instead of ministers. He and they have been looking for fixes, such as shifting the paperwork needed to open a business onto the internet, or freeing firms from petty inspections. Meetings are said to have a corporate air, with Mr Modi as chief executive. Dates for specific targets—the “deliverables” of corporate jargon—are set. Resistant bureaucrats are transferred. On October 16th Mr Modi announced a big reshuffle, with a liberal reformer from Rajasthan becoming the finance ministry’s top bureaucrat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

After Cell Transplant, Paralyzed Man Can Walk

A paralysed man has been able to walk again after a pioneering therapy that involved transplanting cells from his nasal cavity into his spinal cord.

Darek Fidyka, who was paralysed from the chest down in a knife attack in 2010, can now walk using a frame.

The treatment, a world first, was carried out by surgeons in Poland in collaboration with scientists in London.

Details of the research are published in the journal Cell Transplantation.

The Leaders who Freed, Broke, Stabilized and Will Fix Africa

Russian Needs "Beltway Bandit" to map out Path Forward to Terminators for Military Robopocalypse

The Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade (Minpromtorg) has announced the publication of a tender opportunity to create a roadmap for the development of robot systems and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) by the country's military industrial base.

In a statement on its website Minpromtorg said the aim was to "create a road map for military robotics for the period up to 2030. The winner will examine domestic and foreign experience [and] predict the development of appropriate industrial technology".

LX(R) Next Gen Amphibious Ship Probably Going to be Based off LPD-17 San Antonio Hull

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has signed an internal memo recommending the service base its next generation amphibious warship (LX(R)) on the existing San Antonio-class (LPD-17) warship design, first reported by the Inside the Navy newsletter on Monday.

Mabus’ approval of the memo, which he signed last week, validates more than a year of Marine Corps lobbying for a new amphibious ship based on the existing 25,000-ton San Antonio design.

“Through a focused and disciplined process that analyzed required capabilities and capacities, as well as cost parameters, it has been determined that a derivative of the Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD-17) hull form is the preferred alternative to meet LX(R) operational requirements,” read the document.

The lead ship of a San Antonio derived LX(R) would cost about $1.64 billion with follow-ons costing about $1.4 billion for a total of 11 ships, according to information from the service.

USS Detroit (LCS 7) Christened, Launched

A seventh Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) for the US Navy (USN) was launched on 18 October.

Christened Detroit (LCS 7), the ship entered the water for the first time at Marinette Marine Corp's construction facilities in Marinette, Wisconsin.

The 118.6 m steel monohull is the fourth Freedom variant LCS being built by a team led by Lockheed Martin. Detroit is the second ship in a batch of 10 LCS currently in serial production at the Marinette Marine shipyard. It is expected to be ready for handover in November 2015, according to Naval Sea Systems Command.

Paleoclimate Evidence From Campanian Cretaceous Mexico

Wood Anatomy Reveals High Theoretical Hydraulic Conductivity and Low Resistance to Vessel Implosion in a Cretaceous Fossil Forest from Northern Mexico


Martínez-Cabrera et al


The Olmos Formation (upper Campanian), with over 60 angiosperm leaf morphotypes, is Mexico's richest Cretaceous flora. Paleoclimate leaf physiognomy estimates indicate that the Olmos paleoforest grew under wet and warm conditions, similar to those present in modern tropical rainforests. Leaf surface area, tree size and climate reconstructions suggest that this was a highly productive system. Efficient carbon fixation requires hydraulic efficiency to meet the evaporative demands of the photosynthetic surface, but it comes at the expense of increased risk of drought-induced cavitation. Here we tested the hypothesis that the Olmos paleoforest had high hydraulic efficiency, but was prone to cavitation. We characterized the hydraulic properties of the Olmos paleoforest using theoretical conductivity (Ks), vessel composition (S) and vessel fraction (F), and measured drought resistance using vessel implosion resistance and the water potential at which there is 50% loss of hydraulic conductivity (P50). We found that the Olmos paleoforest had high hydraulic efficiency, similar to that present in several extant tropical-wet or semi-deciduous forest communities. Remarkably, the fossil flora had the lowest , which, together with low median P50 (−1.9 MPa), indicate that the Olmos paleoforest species were extremely vulnerable to drought-induced cavitation. Our findings support paleoclimate inferences from leaf physiognomy and paleoclimatic models suggesting it represented a highly productive wet tropical rainforest. Our results also indicate that the Olmos Formation plants had a large range of water conduction strategies, but more restricted variation in cavitation resistance. These straightforward methods for measuring hydraulic properties, used herein for the first time, can provide useful information on the ecological strategies of paleofloras and on temporal shifts in ecological function of fossil forests chronosequences.

The Origin and Meaning of the Ice Blocks of Enceladus

Spatial distribution of ice blocks on Enceladus and implications for their origin and emplacement


Martens et al


We have mapped the locations of over 100,000 ice blocks across the south polar region of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, thus generating the first quantitative estimates of ice-block number density distribution in relation to major geological features. Ice blocks were manually identified and mapped from twenty of the highest resolution (4–25 m per pixel) Cassini Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) narrow-angle images using ArcGIS software. The 10–100 m-diameter positive-relief features are marginally visible at the resolution of the images, making ice-block identifications difficult but not impossible. Our preliminary results reveal that ice blocks in the southern hemisphere are systematically most concentrated within the geologically active South Polar Terrain (SPT) and exhibit peak concentrations within 20 km of the tiger-stripe fractures as well as close to the south pole. We find that ice blocks are concentrated just as heavily between tiger-stripe fractures as on the directly adjacent margins; although significant local fluctuations in ice-block number density do occur, we observe no clear pattern with respect to the tiger stripes or jet sources. We examine possible roles of several mechanisms for ice-block origin, emplacement, and evolution: impact cratering, ejection from fissures during cryovolcanic eruptions, tectonic disruption of lithospheric ice, mass wasting, seismic disturbance, and vapor condensation around icy fumeroles. We conclude that impact cratering as well as mass wasting, perhaps triggered by seismic events, cannot account for a majority of ice-block features within the inner SPT. The pervasiveness of fracturing at many size scales, the ubiquity of ice blocks in the inner SPT, as well as the occurrence of linear block arrangements that parallel through-cutting crack networks along the flanks of tiger stripes indicate that tectonic deformation is an important source of blocky-ice features in the SPT. Ejection during catastrophic cryovolcanic eruptions and condensation around surface vents, however, cannot be ruled out. Further, sublimation processes likely erode and disaggregate ice blocks from solid exposures of ice, especially near the warm tiger-stripe fractures. The relative paucity of blocks beyond the bounds of the SPT, particularly on stratigraphically old cratered terrains, may be explained in part by mantling of the surface by fine particulate ice grains that accumulate over time.

Academic Bun Fight: Whether or not There is Archaelogical Evidence of People in Uruguay 30,000 Years Ago

Extraordinary Claim!

Arroyo del Vizcaíno, Uruguay: a fossil-rich 30-ka-old megafaunal locality with cut-marked bones


Fariña et al


Human–megafauna interaction in the Americas has great scientific and ethical interest because of its implications on Pleistocene extinction. The Arroyo del Vizcaíno site near Sauce, Uruguay has already yielded over 1000 bones belonging to at least 27 individuals, mostly of the giant sloth Lestodon. The assemblage shows some taphonomic features suggestive of human presence, such as a mortality profile dominated by prime adults and little evidence of major fluvial transport. In addition, several bones present deep, asymmetrical, microstriated, sharp and shouldered marks similar to those produced by human stone tools. A few possible lithic elements have also been collected, one of which has the shape of a scraper and micropolish consistent with usage on dry hide. However, the radiocarbon age of the site is unexpectedly old (between 27 and 30 thousand years ago), and thus may be important for understanding the timing of the peopling of America.

Pffle: Bad! Science! Bun thrown!

Archaeological evidences are still missing: a comment on Fariña et al. Arroyo del Vizcaíno site, Uruguay


Suárez et al


Fariña et al. suggest the possibility of human presence ca 30 ka in the Arroyo del Vizcaíno site (AVS) (southern Uruguay). This is based mainly on the record of cutmarks made by human artefacts on Pleistocene animal bones. They also inform of the finding of a single tiny stone tool and few other possible lithic artefacts. Nevertheless, their research has serious methodological problems and important interpretative errors.

Counterattack! Bad! Paper! Bunn Thrown Back!

Among others, cut-marks are archaeological evidence: reply to ‘Archaeological evidences are still missing: a comment on Fariña et al. Arroyo del Vizcaíno Site, Uruguay’ by Suárez et al.


Fariña et al


In Fariña et al. [1], we claimed that a rich fossiliferous locality, Arroyo del Vizcaíno (hereafter, AdV), with marked bones that are much older than widely accepted for human presence in the Americas, deserved ‘to be included in the agenda of early American peopling, either as a not foreseeable discovery … or as an example of natural processes mimicking human presence’. The comments by Suárez et al. [2] fail to offer a hypothesis of such a process. Instead, they mention we incur in ‘serious methodological problems and important interpretative errors’ that remain mostly unexplained.

THAGOMIZED! Fossil Evidence a Stegosaur Killed an Allosaur

Stegosaurs might be portrayed as lumbering plant eaters, but they were lethal fighters when necessary, according to paleontologists who have uncovered new evidence of a casualty of stegosaurian combat. The evidence is a fatal stab wound in the pubis bone of a predatory allosaur. The wound – in the conical shape of a stegosaur tail spike – would have required great dexterity to inflict and shows clear signs of having cut short the allosaur's life.

"A massive infection ate away a baseball-sized sector of the bone," reports Houston Museum of Natural Science paleontologist Robert Bakker and his colleagues, who present a poster on the discovery on Tuesday at the meeting of the Geological Society of America in Vancouver, B.C. "Probably this infection spread upwards into the soft tissue attached here, the thigh muscles and adjacent intestines and reproductive organs." The lack of any signs of healing strongly suggests the allosaur died from the infection.

Similar wounds are seen in rodeo cowboys or horses when they are gored by longhorns, Bakker said. And since large herbivores – like longhorn cattle, rhinos and buffalo – today defend themselves with horns, it's reasonable to assume spiky herbivorous dinos did the same. A big difference is that stegosaurs wielded their weapon on their tails rather than their heads. Skeletal evidence from fossil stegosaurs suggests their tails were more dextrous than most dinosaur tails.

"They have no locking joints, even in the tail," Bakker explained. "Most dinosaur tails get stiffer towards the end." But stegosaurs had massive muscles at the base of the tails, flexibility and fine muscle control all the way to the tail tip. "The joints of a stegosaur tail look like a monkey's tail. They were built for 3-dimensional combat."

In order to deliver the mortal wound to the allosaur, a stegosaur would have had to sweep its tail under the allosaur and twist the tail tip, because normally the spikes point outward and backward. That would have been well within the ability of a stegosaur, Bakker said.

Tsagandelta dashzevegi: a new Carnivorous Deltatheroidan Metatherian From Cenomanian/Campanian Cretaceous Mongolia

A deltatheroidan mammal from the Upper Cretaceous Baynshiree Formation, eastern Mongolia


Rougier et al


Deltatheroidans are a specialized group of basal metatherians with a long fossil history and a broad geographic distribution across Asia and North America. The group was among the first Mesozoic mammals known by relatively complete cranial material, recovered from the Gobi Desert by the American Museum expeditions in the 1920s. Deltatheroidans exhibit trends in their dentition towards apparent specializations for carnivory, including strongly developed postmetacrista, pronounced postvallum-prevallid shear, and a reduction of the ultimate molar. While the oldest undisputed deltatheroidans hail from the Early Cretaceous of North America, Upper Cretaceous rocks in central Asia have yielded the best preserved specimens and the bulk of the diversity. Here we describe a new deltatheroidan, Tsagandelta dashzevegi, gen. et sp. nov., from the Upper Cretaceous Baynshiree Formation of eastern Mongolia. This taxon adds to the diversity of the group in central Asia and provides further evidence of uniformity among the Late Cretaceous vertebrate faunas across the Gobi Desert.

Late Triassic Non-mammaliaform Cynodont Brasilitherium riograndensis had Mammal-like Nasal Cavity

Nasal Anatomy of the Non-mammaliaform Cynodont Brasilitherium riograndensis (Eucynodontia, Therapsida) Reveals New Insight into Mammalian Evolution


Ruf et al


The mammalian nasal cavity is characterized by a unique anatomy with complex internal features. The evolution of turbinals was correlated with endothermic and macrosmatic adaptations in therapsids and in early mammals, which is still apparent in their twofold function (warming and moistening of air, olfaction). Fossil evidence for the transformation from the nonmammalian to the mammalian nasal cavity pattern has been poor and inadequate. Ossification of the cartilaginous nasal capsule and turbinals seems to be a feature that occurred only very late in synapsid evolution but delicate ethmoidal bones are rarely preserved. Here we provide the first µCT investigation of the nasal cavity of the advanced non-mammaliaform cynodont Brasilitherium riograndensis from the Late Triassic of Southern Brazil, a member of the sister-group of mammaliaforms, in order to elucidate a critical anatomical transition in early mammalian evolution. Brasilitherium riograndensis already had at least partially ossified turbinals as remnants of the nasoturbinal and the first ethmoturbinal are preserved. The posterior nasal septum is partly ossified and contributes to a mesethmoid. The nasal cavity is posteriorly expanded and forms a distinctive pars posterior (ethmoidal recess) that is ventrally separated from the nasopharyngeal duct by a distinct lamina terminalis. Thus, our observations clearly demonstrate that principal features of the mammalian nasal cavity were already present in the sister-group of mammaliaforms.

Cathayasian Block may Have Been Part of Gondwana During Cambrian

The Gondwana connection of South China: Evidence from monazite and zircon geochronology in the Cathaysia Block


Zhang et al


The tectonic evolution of the Cathaysia Block in South China has been debated, with limited information to constrain the early Paleozoic geodynamics and paleogeography in the context of the global Gondwana supercontinent. In this study, we report the petrology of mafic magmatic suites and metamorphic units, together with zircon and monazite U − Pb ages from several key areas in Cathaysia. Combined with a comprehensive synthesis of the data reported in previous studies, we argue that the Cathaysia was an early Paleozoic collisional orogen, and speculate the possible linkage of South China with the Gondwana supercontinent. The monazite and zircon U − Pb data presented in this study including the metamorphic ages of the rocks in the Gaozhou complex in Yunkai massif, the Wanquan Group in central Wuyi massif, the garnet-sillimanite gneiss from the Chencai Group, and the garnet amphibolite from the Longyou Group in the northeastern section of Wuyi massif show ages ranging from 447 Ma to 430 Ma. Gabbroic intrusions in the Longyou Group and pyroxenites in the Chencai Group in northeastern Wuyi massif were emplaced at ca. 425 Ma and 470 Ma, respectively. Furthermore, the ca. 470 Ma pyroxenite was overprinted by hydrothermal alteration at ca. 400 Ma. Whole-rock geochemistry and mineral compositions show that the Chencai pyroxenite possesses features similar to that of the Alaskan-type mafic intrusions, whereas the 420 Ma gabbroic intrusions in the Long Group exhibit post-collision signature, which are consistent with the broadly coeval voluminous post-collision granites in Cathaysia. Comprehensive synthesis of zircon and monazite U − Pb ages of the metamorphic rocks and granites in Cathaysia lead us to suggest that the transition from collision to post-collision occurred at ca. 430 Ma.

The early Paleozoic structures, metamorphism and magmatic activity suggest that the NE-extending Cathaysia was a typical collisional orogenic belt rather than an intraplate type. The predominance of late Neoproterozoic – Cambrian detrital zircons in the early Paleozoic granites and pre-Devonian metamorphic rocks in Cathaysia indicates that the at least some clastics of the lower Paleozoic rocks in Cathaysia were derived from the Gondwana continents, suggesting that South China was at the fringe of the Gondwana supercontinent. The Nanhai terrane (including the Hainan massif) could represent the missing link between South China and Gondwana, with the Zhenghe − Dapu fault marking the suture zone between South China and the Nanhai Terrane.

Semi Arid Climates may be Resistant to Climate Change

Climate change predictions for the Middle East, like other arid regions of the world, are alarming. In an area known for its water scarcity, rainfall is expected to decrease even further in the near future, spelling disaster for the functioning of unique ecosystems — hotspots of biodiversity and rich genetic fodder for essential crops.

To test these dire predictions, Prof. Marcelo Sternberg of the Department of Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants at Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Life Sciences, together with ecologists from the University of Tübingen in Germany, subjected natural ecosystems to an experimental drought over the course of nine years, simulating predicted future climate scenarios.

In the course of their experiment, conducted in four different ecosystems ranging from desert (3.5 inches of annual rainfall) to moist Mediterranean woodland (30.7 inches of annual rainfall), the researchers found that, contrary to predictions, no measurable changes in annual vegetation could be seen. None of the crucial vegetation characteristics — neither species richness and composition, nor density and biomass (particularly important for ecosystems traditionally used as rangelands) — had changed appreciably in the course of the rainfall manipulations.

"Based on our study, the going hypothesis that all semiarid regions will react strongly to climate change needs to be revised," states Prof. Sternberg. The surprising results of the study were recently published in Nature Communications.

Wil Russia Sell S-400 Missiles, Su-35 Fighters to China Next?

IA Regnum military observer Leonid Nersisyan recently took a stab at preparing Russian public opinion for the eventual sale of S-400 SAMs and Su-35S fighters to China. A major arms deal with China should be expected, especially given Moscow’s turn further east in the wake of Western sanctions.

Nersisyan aims to refute usual complaints about exporting Russia’s most advanced weaponry to China, i.e. that Beijing will quickly copy and sell it more cheaply. He dials back to the early 1990s.

China's Economic Growth Down to 7.3 Percent

China's economic growth waned to 7.3 percent last quarter, the lowest rate since early 2009, resuming a slowdown that had been eased by mini-stimulus measures earlier in the year.

The 7.3 percent year-on-year growth reported Tuesday by China's National Bureau of Statistics was down from 7.5 percent in the second quarter, which had been bolstered by stimulus spending on infrastructure. Growth in the first quarter was 7.4 percent.

Communist leaders are trying to steer China toward growth based on domestic consumption instead of trade and investment, but the slowdown raises fears of politically dangerous job losses. The latest figures put China on course for annual growth somewhat lower than the rate of 7.5 percent targeted by Chinese leaders.

Chinese growth reached 14 percent in 2007, but took a hit from the global recession of 2008-2009 and has declined steadily since 2012.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Government of China Conducting Man-in-the-Middle Hacking on Apple I-Cloud and Microsoft Using Great Firewall

After previous attacks on Github, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, the Chinese authorities are now staging a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack on Apple’s iCloud.

We have posted previously about MITM attacks on Google and Github and broke the news about the recent attack on Yahoo. Refer to the appendix at the end of this post to see technical evidence of the attack.

This case is different, however, for a few of reasons.

Wikipedia defines a man-in-the-middle-attack in the following way:

The man-in-the-middle a form of active eavesdropping in which the attacker makes independent connections with the victims and relays messages between them, making them believe that they are talking directly to each other over a private connection, when in fact the entire conversation is controlled by the attacker.

This is clearly a malicious attack on Apple in an effort to gain access to usernames and passwords and consequently all data stored on iCloud such as iMessages, photos, contacts, etc. Unlike the recent attack on Google, this attack is nationwide and coincides with the launch today in China of the newest iPhone. While the attacks on Google and Yahoo enabled the authorities to snoop on what information Chinese were accessing on those two platforms, the Apple attack is different. If users ignored the security warning and clicked through to the Apple site and entered their username and password, this information has now been compromised by the Chinese authorities. Many Apple customers use iCloud to store their personal information, including iMessages, photos and contacts. This may also somehow be related again to images and videos of the Hong Kong protests being shared on the mainland.

Active Control Theory Applied to Quantum Based Technologies?

What does a 1980s experimental aircraft have to do with state-of-the art quantum technology? Lots, as shown by new research from the Quantum Control Laboratory at the University of Sydney, and published in Nature Physics today.

Over several years a team of scientists has taken inspiration from aerospace research and development programs to make unusually shaped experimental aircraft fly.

"It always amazed me that the X-29, an American airplane that was designed like a dart being thrown backwards, was able to fly. Achieving this, in 1984, came through major advances in a discipline called control engineering that were able to stabilise the airplane," said Associate Professor Michael Biercuk, from the School of Physics and director of the Quantum Control Laboratory.

"We became interested in how similar concepts could play a role in bringing quantum technologies to reality. If control engineering can turn an unstable dart into a high-performance fighter jet, it's pretty amazing to think what it can do for next-generation quantum technologies."

The result is that the researchers have been able to turn fragile quantum systems into useful pieces of advanced tech useful for everything from computation and communications to building specialised sensors for industry. The trick was figuring out how to protect them from their environments using control theory.

Anyone for Quidditch?

In many sports, mastery of the ball is crucial to success. But what happens if the ball disobeys the laws of physics? Researchers at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory and the University of Tokyo are working on just such a device: HoverBall.

HoverBall is a 90-millimeter-wide quadcopter enclosed in a cage a bit bigger than a bocce ball. It is designed to hang in the air, change location and modify its behavior during play. The 10-gram, battery-powered device can fly for five minutes at a time, and although the most recent version relies on a remote control to guide its four rotors, future iterations might be programmed to operate autonomously. HoverBall’s surprise midair maneuvers introduce a new level of spontaneity to game play via “artificial physical laws” that follow “imaginary dynamics,” the researchers said in a study they presented earlier this year at the Augmented Human Conference in Kobe, Japan.

Beyond introducing erratic flight, the Sony team would like the ball to compensate for differences in player abilities and therefore make games more inclusive for children, the elderly and people with physical disabilities, according to Jun Rekimoto, Sony CSL deputy director.

RoboLaw Consortium Posts Guidelines to the Legal Aspects of the Robopocalypse

If a self-driving car causes an accident or a surgical robot kills a patient, whose fault is it? These are some of the questions a recent report funded by the European Union sought to answer.

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov famously wrote about the "three laws of robotics." Essentially, the laws state that a robot may not injure a human being, that it must obey orders given by humans and that it must protect its own existence when this doesn't conflict with the first two laws.

Similarly, the newly released RoboLaw guidelines aim to set down basic principles for governing robot behavior in real life. The guidelines also aim to determine whether existing laws are adequate to regulate new robotic technologies, ranging from self-driving vehicles to robot caretakers.

src link.

pdf of RoboLaw Consortium recommendations.

Echoes of the Cold War? Or Opening Strains of a new one? Swedish Naval Forces Hunt Sub in Baltic

Elements of the Swedish Navy spent the weekend searching for evidence of “foreign underwater activity,” following a Friday announcement from the Swedish Ministry of Defense, ahead of two days of naval maneuvers around the Stockholm archipelago.

Reports from Swedish press outlets have suggested the object is a damaged Soviet submarine, with one report in newspaper Svenska Dagbladet claiming to have intercepted a distress call in Russian.

The Swedish Ministry of Defense did not confirm any of the reports.

Russia defense officials have denied involvement in the incident.

Photos of the J-31 Chinese Stealth Fighter


Profiling a Paleogene Orogen in Western North America

Profile of a paleo-orogen: High topography across the present-day Basin and Range from 40 to 23 Ma


Cassel et al


Records of past topography connect Earth's deep interior to the surface, reflecting the distribution of heat and mass, past crustal structure, and plate interactions. Many tectonic reconstructions of the North American Cordillera suggest the presence of an Altiplano-like plateau in the location of the modern Basin and Range, with conflicting timing and mechanisms for the onset of surface-lowering extension and orogen collapse. Here we show, through a paleotopographic profile, that from the Eocene to the Oligocene a high, broad orogen stretched across Nevada, with a distinct crest that divided a continuous westward-draining slope extending to central California from an internally drained eastern Nevada plateau. This paleo-orogen maintained demonstrably higher-than-modern elevations, reaching 3500 m in the late Oligocene. Despite the long-term high gravitational potential energy of the crust supporting this topography, surface-lowering extension did not occur until the transition to a transform margin changed the external kinematic framework of the system. Maximum surface lowering was spatially decoupled from brittle upper crustal extension, requiring a large component of mid-crustal flow.

Was Uranus' Moon Miranda Resurfaced by Convection?

Global resurfacing of Uranus's moon Miranda by convection


Hammond et al


Miranda, an icy moon of Uranus, is one of the most visually striking and enigmatic bodies in the solar system. Three polygonal-shaped regions of intense deformation, dubbed "coronae," dominate the surface of Miranda. Here we use numerical methods to show that sluggish-lid convection in Miranda's ice shell, powered by tidal heating, can simultaneously match the global distribution of coronae, the concentric deformation pattern, and the estimated heat flow during formation. The expected rheological conditions in Miranda's ice shell lead to the development of low-order convection that produces surface deformation patterns similar to those observed. We find that satellite core size strongly controls convection geometry and that low-order convection patterns are much more stable for core radii less than half the satellite radius.

Searching for Archaeological Sites Underwater

A specialist group of European researchers are studying the remains of prehistoric human settlements which are now submerged beneath our coastal seas. Some of these drowned sites are tens of thousands of years old. From the progressive discovery and analysis of these prehistoric remains, a new scientific field has emerged, combining the expertise from many disciplines including archaeology, oceanography and the geosciences. The new field is called Continental Shelf Prehistoric Research.

This rapidly evolving research field is the focus of a new European Marine Board (EMB) position paper titled 'Land Beneath the Waves: Submerged Landscapes and Sea-Level Change.' The paper describes how during the successive ice ages of the last 1 million years, the sea level dropped at times by up to 120m, and the exposed area of the continental shelf added 40% to the land area of Europe; a terrain occupied by vegetation, fauna, and people. Consequently, many of the remains and artefacts of Europe's prehistory are now underwater. Considering that pre-humans inhabited the Black Sea coast 1.8 million years ago, the coast of northern Spain over 1 million years ago and; the coast of Britain at least 0.8 million years ago, the drowned land includes some of the earliest routes from Africa into Europe, and the areas where people survived during the multiple Ice Ages.

More than 2,500 submerged prehistoric artefact assemblages, ranging in age from 5,000 to 300,000 years, have been found in the coastal waters and open sea basins around Europe. Only a few have been properly mapped by divers, or assessed for preservation or excavation. These remains contain information on ancient seafaring, and the social structures and exploitation technologies of coastal resources before the introduction of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. To understand how prehistoric people responded to changing sea level, researchers combine examinations of these deposits with palaeoclimate models, reconstructions of ice-cap and sea level curves, and sophisticated survey and excavation techniques.

Frost on Venus?!?!

Venus is hiding something beneath its brilliant shroud of clouds: a first order mystery about the planet that researchers may be a little closer to solving because of a new re-analysis of twenty-year-old spacecraft data.

Venus's surface can't be seen from orbit in visible light because of the planet's hot, dense, cloudy atmosphere. Instead, radar has been used by spacecraft to penetrate the clouds and map out the surface – both by reflecting radar off the surface to measure elevation and by looking at the radio emissions of the hot surface. The last spacecraft to map Venus in this way was Magellan, two decades ago. One of the Venusian surprises discovered at that time is that radio waves are reflected differently at different elevations on Venus. Also observed were a handful of radio dark spots at the highest elevations. Both enigmas have defied explanation.

"There is general brightening upward trend in the highlands and then dark spots at the highest locations," explained Elise Harrington, an Earth sciences undergraduate at Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia, who revisited the Venus data during her internship at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, under the direction of Allan Treiman. Brightening, in this case, means the radio waves reflect well. Dark means the radio waves are not reflected. In other words, the higher you go on Venus, the more radio reflective the ground gets until it abruptly goes radio black.

"Like on Earth, the temperature changes with elevation," Harrington explained. And the cooler temperatures at altitude lead to ice and snow, which create a similar pattern of brightening for Earth – but in visible light. "Among the possibilities on Venus are a temperature dependent chemical weathering process or heavy metal compound precipitating from the air – a heavy metal frost."

Getting to the bottom of these mysteries has been very hard because Venus has not been revisited since Magellan and no better data is available.

So Harrington and Trieman made do by re-purposing the old data. They used recently-available stereo radar elevation data (from Dr. R. Herrick, University of Alaska) rather than using the lower resolution radar altimetry. That increased their altimetry resolution from seeing patches 8 by 12 kilometers to just 600x600 meters. They also used Magellan's Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), with its 75x75-meter footprint, to look at radio reflectance, rather than the data on radio emissions from the surface, which had a coarser 15 by 23 kilometer resolution.

They applied these to two areas in the Odva Regio highlands region of Venus where they confirmed the same pattern of radar reflections brightening with increasing elevation, as was found by previous researchers. The radar reflection was low at the lower 2,400 meter (7,900 foot) elevation, then rapidly brightens up to 4,500 meters (14,700 feet). But they also found a lot more of those strange black spots, with a precipitous drop in the reflections at 4,700 meters (15,400 feet).

"The previous author saw a few dark spots," said Harrington. "But we see hundreds of them."

I didn't say it was water frost, did I?

A new Elasmosaurid Pleisosaur Found in Santonian Cretaceous Israel

A late Cretaceous elasmosaurid of the Tethys Sea margins (southern Negev, Israel), and its palaeogeographic reconstruction


Rabinovich et al


Recent research on the late Cretaceous (Santonian), Menuha Formation of the southern Negev, Israel, has revealed several unconformities in its exposures, spatial changes in its lithofacies, agglomerations of its carbonate concretions and nodules at a variety of localities. At Menuha Ridge Site 20, portions of a new elasmosaurid skeleton were found within deposits of laminated bio-micritic muddy limestone with thin phosphatic layers. The sediments are rich in microfossils – foraminifera and ostracods preserved in the carbonate mud. Planktic foraminifera species (e.g. Dicarinella asymetrica, D. concavata, Sigalia decoratissima carpatica) appear as well as species indicative of opportunistic life strategies typical of a forming upwelling system in the region. Marine ostracods (e.g. Brachycythere angulata, Cythereis rosenfeldi evoluta) and many echinoid spines suggest an open marine environment. Using a multidisciplinary approach, we offer here a reconstruction of the micro-regional palaeogeography along a segment of the ancient shoreline of the Tethys Sea during the Santonian, and explain the environmental conditions under which the various fauna lived. This new elasmosaurid is examined in light of the above and compared with evidence from the adjacent areas along the margins of the southern Tethys Sea.

Crosbysaurus: Another Occurrence of an Engimatic Norian Triassic Archosaur

The first occurrence of the enigmatic archosaur Crosbysaurus (Heckert 2004) from the Chinle Formation of Southern Utah


Gay et al


Originally identified as an ornithisichian dinosaur, Crosbysaurus has been found in New Mexico, Arizona, and the type locality in Texas, the genus has been reassessed by other workers in light of revelations about the postcrania of another putative Triassic ornithischian, Revueltosaurus. The understanding of Triassic dental faunas has become more complicated by the extreme convergence between pseudosuchian archosaurus and ornithichian dinosaur dental morphologies. This new specimen does not help resolve the affinities of Crosbysaurus but does extend the range of this taxon into southern Utah. This specimen may also represent the youngest-known member of this genus

Evolution of the Eyes of Two Very Different Trilobites

Eyes and vision in the coeval Furongian trilobites Sphaerophthalmus alatus (Boeck, 1938) and Ctenopyge (Mesoctenopyge) tumida Westergård, 1922, from Bornholm, Denmark


Schoenemann et al


The two olenid species Sphaerophthalmus alatus (Boeck, 1838) and Ctenopyge (Mesoctenopyge) tumida Westergård, 1922, occur together in the Ctenopyge tumida Zone (Zone 19) of the Furongian of Scandinavia. Material from Bornholm, Denmark, forms the basis of this study of the morphology and partial ontogeny of the eyes. The eyes of both species are directed laterally and have virtually panoramic vision, looking out sideways like those of a rabbit. The eye of S. alatus is comparatively smaller, with fewer lenses and a larger eye parameter; calculations show that this trilobite was adapted for dim light intensity, possibly suggesting a vagrant benthic habit. Ctenopyge (Mesoctenopyge) tumida, with a smaller eye parameter, was adapted for a higher light intensity, and this trilobite was most likely a pelagic swimmer. The two species, although preserved together, inhabited different levels in the water column.

Winter Bird Communities are Changing due to Climate Change

Over the past two decades, the resident communities of birds that attend eastern North America's backyard bird feeders in winter have quietly been remade, most likely as a result of a warming climate.

Writing this week in the journal Global Change Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison wildlife biologists Benjamin Zuckerberg and Karine Princé document that once rare wintering bird species are now commonplace in the American Northeast.

Using more than two decades of data on 38 species of birds gathered by thousands of "citizen scientists" through the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch, the Wisconsin researchers show that birds typically found in more southerly regions are gradually pushing north, restructuring the communities of birds that spend their winters in northern latitudes.

To the causal observer of backyard birds, the list of species becoming more common includes the readily familiar: cardinals, chipping sparrows and Carolina wrens. These birds and other warm-adapted species, according to Princé and Zuckerberg, have greatly expanded their wintering range in a warmer world, a change that may have untold consequences for North American ecosystems.

"Fifty years ago, cardinals were rare in the northeastern United States. Carolina wrens even more so," explains Zuckerberg, a UW-Madison assistant professor of forest and wildlife ecology.

An estimated 53 million Americans maintain feeding stations near their homes, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, suggesting that increases in some species may be attributable to more readily available sources of food. However, that figure has remained constant, reflecting only a slight decline since 1991, indicating that environmental factors beyond the availability of food sources are at play.

The Wisconsin researchers measured the changes over time in the abundance of 38 bird species at feeders in eastern North America, specifically looking at the influence of changes in winter minimum temperature over a 22-year period on the flocks of birds that gather at backyard feeding stations.

"We conclude that a shifting winter climate has provided an opportunity for smaller, southerly distributed species to colonize new regions and promote the formation of unique winter bird assemblages throughout eastern North America," Princé and Zuckerberg write in their Global Change Biology report.

India Tests 1000 km Cruise Missile

India's Nirbhay (Fearless) long-range cruise missile successfully completed a test-flight for the first time on 14 October, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said in a statement.

The 1,000 km-class cruise missile, which the DRDO describes as "India's first indigenously designed and developed long-range sub-sonic cruise missile", was launched from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Balasore in Odissa state at 10:05 h local time.

The flight lasted a little over 1 hour and 10 minutes and covered a distance of more than 1,000 km. "The entire mission, from lift-off until the final splash down, was a perfect flight achieving all the mission objectives," the DRDO statement said.

DRDO chief Avinash Chander said that the missile had achieved an accuracy of more than 10 m. "The successful indigenous development of the Nirbhay cruise missile will fill a vital gap in the warfighting capabilities of our armed forces," he added.

The Nirbhay's first flight on 12 November 2012 had to be cut short when a glitch in the cruise missile's inertial navigation system caused the missile to stray from the planned flightpath after it had flown a distance of 250 km at Mach 0.7: about a quarter of the planned distance.

China, Russia Considering Moscow-Beijing High Speed Rail Link

China and Russia are considering building a high-speed rail line thousands of kilometres from Moscow to Beijing that would cut the journey time from six days on the celebrated Trans-Siberian to two, Chinese media reported Friday.

The project would cost more than $230 billion and be over 7,000 kilometres (4,350 miles) long, the Beijing Times reported -- more than three times the world's current longest high-speed line, from the Chinese capital to the southern city of Guangzhou.

The railway would be a powerful physical symbol of the ties that bind Moscow and Beijing, whose political relationship has roots dating from the Soviet era and who often vote together on the UN Security Council.

They have strengthened their relationship as Western criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin mounts over Ukraine and other issues.

The two signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this week during Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Moscow in which Beijing expressed interest in building a fast rail link between the Russian capital and Kazan in the oil-rich Tatarstan region, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

The 803-kilometre line would be the first stage of the route to Beijing, CCTV said.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Oil Prices Should Worry Putin More Than Western Sanctions

This week, as falling oil prices have hammered the Russian economy, President Vladimir Putin has warned repeatedly that his country, a nuclear superpower, must not be "blackmailed." He was talking about economic sanctions, but there is a different lesson he should be drawing right now and it has nothing to do with the U.S. or the European Union.

Putin's response to the sanctions, imposed to dissuade him from further aggression in Ukraine, has been to shore up the big state companies and banks most affected. To compensate these businesses for their losses, as sanctions have squeezed them out of international credit markets, the government has raided the state budget, the pension fund and privately held companies. Smaller businesses are being crushed, accelerating a long-term trend under Putin in which Russia's economy has become ever more concentrated in state hands and reliant on natural resources -- especially oil and natural gas.

When times are good, these resources are a source of immense power and wealth. They were the engine that drove Russia's extraordinary 7 percent average annual growth from 2000 to 2008, cementing Putin's popularity. An abundance of natural gas, in particular, has also allowed Russia to punish or reward other countries by imposing high or low prices, or by simply cutting them off.

That pipelines game continues unabated. On his way to today's talks on the Ukraine crisis in Milan, Putin attended a military parade in Serbia celebrating Belgrade's liberation from German occupation in World War II. He used the occasion to discuss building the South Stream gas pipeline, which the EU has blocked since the Ukraine crisis developed but is popular in Serbia and other countries that would gain by hosting it. He also warned that the European Union may lose its gas supply this winter.

The flipside to all this energy wealth, however, is that Russia's economy has remained too dependent on energy prices: The sector accounts for about half of government revenues and a quarter of gross domestic product.

Russia's annual budget loses about $2 billion for every dollar fall in the price of oil -- a hit that couldn't come at a worse time. Sanctions, a falling ruble, rising inflation and rapid capital flight are already helping to push the economy toward recession. Although Putin himself will survive -- he has $450 billion in reserves and a population thrilled by his annexation of Crimea -- Russia is not getting any stronger. No wonder Finance Minister Anton Siluanov recently said Russia "simply cannot afford" its ambitious $500 billion rearmament program.

Watch the SpaceX Falcon9 Reenter and do a "Powered" Landing

NASA's Sunjammer Mission Canceled

Citing a lack of confidence in its contractor’s ability to deliver, NASA has abandoned plans to fly a solar-sail mission in 2015 after investing four years and more than $21 million on the project.

The Sunjammer mission, including the spacecraft and a deployable 1,200-square-meter solar sail, was being developed by L’Garde Inc. of Tustin, California, under a contract awarded in September 2011. The contract is slated to expire this coming December, and NASA has no plans to continue the work, according to an internal memo circulated at NASA headquarters here the week of Oct. 7.

“NASA is working with L’Garde to de-scope the existing contract to close out the documentation and deliver completed work to the Agency by the end of 2014,” the memo reads.

NASA spokesman David Steitz said problems with the program surfaced a year ago. “During the annual review last October NASA identified key integration issues that increased the schedule risk,” he said via email Oct. 7.

Nathan Barnes, president of L’Garde, said in an Oct. 17 phone interview that the company’s final delivery to NASA will be a design for a spacecraft module and solar sail that in theory could propel a small spacecraft by harnessing the energy of photon strikes. L’Garde will turn over its design in a Critical Design Audit scheduled for Nov. 7, he said.

After that, L’Garde will lay off about 16 employees, all of them in Tustin, cutting the company’s head count roughly in half. L’Garde employed some 35 people when the Sunjammer project was in full swing.

The mission had been manifested as a secondary payload aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Falcon 9 rocket scheduled to launch the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Deep Space Climate Observatory in 2015.

Reality Can be Weirder Than Fiction: Ebola Toys Selling Like Hot Cakes

It may be the only time you will find these words in the same sentence: "Ebola" and "Add to Wishlist."

Giantmicrobes Inc., which makes a line of plush toys based on viruses and other microscopic organisms, has sold out its entire Ebola stock, including the small Ebola doll for $9.95, a Gigantic Ebola doll for $29.95 and an Ebola Petri Dish toy for $14.95, according to the company's website.

"Since its discovery in 1976, Ebola has become the T. Rex of microbes," says the Stamford, Connecticut-based maker of the "uniquely contagious toy" on its website, which promotes them as gag gifts that also have educational value.

With the latest Ebola outbreak, which already killed more than 4,500 people, mostly in West Africa, customers have snapped up the toy, which looks like half a pretzel.

"You do not want to get Ebola," warns the website. "A short incubation period of 2 to 21 days presages symptoms which include fever, aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, and both internal and external bleeding. And then, for between 50-90 percent of victims, death."

Giantmicrobes lists the World Health Organization as one of its largest customers, along with pharmaceutical companies and the American Red Cross.

Anyone disappointed by the current shortage of the Ebola toys can click on "Add to Wishlist" and wait for more stock to arrive. Or make a different selection from the company's array of other plush toys, including Anthrax, Botulism, Cholera and Dengue Fever.

X-37B Returns From Orbit After 675

The U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane has returned to Earth after spending nearly two years on a hush-hush orbital mission.

The X-37B space plane touched down at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday (Oct. 17) at 9:24 a.m. local Pacific time (12:24 p.m. EDT; 1624 GMT), ending a mission that kicked off in December 2012 and saw the unmanned vehicle circle Earth for an unprecedented 675 days.

"I'm extremely proud of our team for coming together to execute this third safe and successful landing," said Col. Keith Balts, commander of the 30th Space Wing, which is headquartered at Vandenberg, in a statement. "Everyone from our on-console space operators to our airfield managers and civil engineers take pride in this unique mission and exemplify excellence during its execution."

Just what the space plane was doing up there for so long remains unclear; details about X-37B missions — including the payloads carried to orbit — are officially classified.

2nd Foreign Buyer for V-22 Tilt Rotor to be Announced in Next Six Months

A second foreign country is expected to announce plans within six months to buy the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor plane built by Boeing Co (BA.N) and Textron Inc's (TXT.N) Bell Helicopter unit, the top general in the U.S. Marine Corps said.

Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos declined to name the country that would join Israel in buying the large aircraft, but said this week that the deal should be announced during the next half year.

Sources familiar with the program said Japan would likely be that second buyer, noting that Japan's defense budget released in August requested funds for tilt-rotor aircraft. Over the longer-term, Japan is interested in 20 to 40 V-22s, according to the sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

U.S. officials have also provided briefings on the V-22 to the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Italy, Brazil, Colombia, Singapore, and Australia.

Did the Carbon Cycle Drive the Pleistocene Quaternary Glacial-Interglacial Periods?

The Carbon Cycle as the Main Determinant of Glacial-Interglacial Periods


Jiménez de la Cuesta et al


An intriguing problem in climate science is the existence of Earth's glacial cycle. We show that it is possible to generate these periodic changes in climate by means of the Earth's carbon cycle as the main source factor. The carbon exchange between the Ocean, the Continent and the Atmosphere is modeled by means of a Lotka-Volterra three species system and the resulting atmospheric carbon cycle is used as the unique radiative forcing mechanism. It is shown that the carbon dioxide and temperature paths that are thus obtained have the same qualitative structure as the 100 kyr glacial-interglacial cycles depicted by the Vostok ice core data, reproducing the asymmetries of rapid heating--slow cooling, and short interglacial--long glacial ages.

Understanding Mars' LARLE Craters

Origin of the outer layer of Martian low-aspect ratio layered ejecta craters


Boyce et al


Low-aspect ratio layered ejecta (LARLE) craters are one of the most enigmatic types of Martian layered ejecta craters. We propose that the extensive outer layer of these craters is produced through the same base surge mechanism as that which produced the base surge deposits generated by near-surface, buried nuclear and high-explosion detonations. However, the LARLE layers have higher aspect ratios compared with base surge deposits from explosion craters, a result of differences in thicknesses of these layers. This is probably caused by the addition of large amounts of small particles of dust and ice derived from climate-related mantles of snow, ice and dust in the areas where LARLE craters form. These deposits are likely to be quickly stabilized (order of a few days to a few years) from eolian erosion by formation of duricrust produced by diffusion of water vapor out of the deposits.

Evolution of Cultural Traits Occurs at Similar Relative Rates?

Evolution of cultural traits occurs at similar relative rates in different world regions


Currie et al


A fundamental issue in understanding human diversity is whether or not there are regular patterns and processes involved in cultural change. Theoretical and mathematical models of cultural evolution have been developed and are increasingly being used and assessed in empirical analyses. Here, we test the hypothesis that the rates of change of features of human socio-cultural organization are governed by general rules. One prediction of this hypothesis is that different cultural traits will tend to evolve at similar relative rates in different world regions, despite the unique historical backgrounds of groups inhabiting these regions. We used phylogenetic comparative methods and systematic cross-cultural data to assess how different socio-cultural traits changed in (i) island southeast Asia and the Pacific, and (ii) sub-Saharan Africa. The relative rates of change in these two regions are significantly correlated. Furthermore, cultural traits that are more directly related to external environmental conditions evolve more slowly than traits related to social structures. This is consistent with the idea that a form of purifying selection is acting with greater strength on these more environmentally linked traits. These results suggest that despite contingent historical events and the role of humans as active agents in the historical process, culture does indeed evolve in ways that can be predicted from general principles

Psychohistory?  Is that you?

Eocene Paleogene Anthracobunids are Stem Perissodactyls

Anthracobunids from the Middle Eocene of India and Pakistan Are Stem Perissodactyls


Cooper et al


Anthracobunidae is an Eocene family of large mammals from south Asia that is commonly considered to be part of the radiation that gave rise to elephants (proboscideans) and sea cows (sirenians). We describe a new collection of anthracobunid fossils from Middle Eocene rocks of Indo-Pakistan that more than doubles the number of known anthracobunid fossils and challenges their putative relationships, instead implying that they are stem perissodactyls. Cranial, dental, and postcranial elements allow a revision of species and the recognition of a new anthracobunid genus. Analyses of stable isotopes and long bone geometry together suggest that most anthracobunids fed on land, but spent a considerable amount of time near water. This new evidence expands our understanding of stem perissodactyl diversity and sheds new light on perissodactyl origins.

Pennsylvanian Carboniferous Synapsid Ianthodon schultzei Revisited

New information on the cranial and postcranial anatomy of the early synapsid Ianthodon schultzei (Sphenacomorpha: Sphenacodontia), and its evolutionary significance


Spindler et al


Newly identified material belonging to the holotype specimen of Ianthodon schultzei substantially increases our knowledge of this poorly known basal sphenacodont synapsid from the fossil site in Garnett, Kansas (Missourian, Late Pennsylvanian). The original description, based on a partial dermal skull roof, is augmented with information on the palate and braincase, together with data on the mandible and a few postcranial elements. The known skeletal morphology resembles that of Haptodus garnettensis, another synapsid taxon known from this locality, but with fewer marginal, distinctly recurved teeth and smaller teeth on the transverse flange of the pterygoid. Although recognizing that the holotype and only known specimen represents a juvenile individual, Ianthodon appears to reflect a more basal sphenacodontian condition than H. garnettensis. A restricted phylogenetic analysis based on previous work and newly scored characters for Ianthodon, Cutleria and Pantelosaurus supports this hypothesis. The Garnett locality appears to preserve an assemblage of synapsids (Haptodus, Ianthasaurus, Ianthodon) that are close to the base of the large clade that includes Edaphosauridae and Sphenacodontia, suggesting that an initial diversification of this clade occurred well within the Carboniferous Period.