quinta-feira, 23 de abril de 2009

Ecstasy not worse than riding

February 2009

Taking the drug ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse, a senior advisor has suggested. Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), outlined his view in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

The council, which advises the government, is expected next week to recommend that ecstasy is downgraded from a class A drug to a class B one.

Ministers have outlined their opposition to any such move.

Professor Nutt wrote: "Drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life. There is not much difference between horse-riding and ecstasy."

Organ failure

The professor said horse-riding accounted for more than 100 deaths a year, and went on: "This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates - indeed encourages - certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others such as drug use."

Ecstasy use is linked to around 30 deaths a year, up from 10 a year in the early 1990s. Fatalities are caused by massive organ failure from overheating or the effects of drinking too much water.

The ACMD last night distanced itself from Prof Nutt's comments.

A spokesman for the body said: "The recent article by Professor David Nutt published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology was done in respect of his academic work and not as chair of the ACMD.

"Professor Nutt's academic work does not prejudice that which he conducts as chair of the ACMD."

'No safe dose'

David Raynes, of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, told the Daily Telegraph: "He is entitled to his personal opinion, but if his personal view conflicts so very strongly with his public duties, it would be honourable to consider his position. "If he does not, the home secretary should do it for him."

Last September a Home Office spokesman said the government believed ecstasy should remain a Class A drug. "Ecstasy can and does kill unpredictably. There is no such thing as a 'safe dose'," he said.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk

Programmable Tattoos

April 2009
by Gregory Daigle

Squid and octopi do it. They change their skins to blend into the color and textural patterns of their environment. Specialized skin cells, called chromatophores, allow them to change color, reflection or even refraction. This also allows them to communicate with other octopi for mating or to warn competitors away.

Humans do it too. They change their skins with tattoos. Body decorations such as tattoos can be expressive and alluring or even a little scary. But tattoos are also permanent. If we could display tattoos that were transient (even animated!) it would be yet another way to express ourselves, our thoughts or even our health.

I've Got You Under My Skin

Gina Miller (also known as "nanogirl") is an artist who last year produced images on a concept first developed by Robert A. Freitas, Jr., a senior research fellow at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing in Palo Alto, Calif. In his futuristic treatise, a display would be implanted just below the surface of the epidermis so that its light was visible through the translucent skin on the back of one's hand or forearm.

Dermal display depicting various medical conditions.
Gina Miller & Robert A. Freitas, Jr.

©2005 Gina Miller & Robert A. Freitas, Jr.

This "dermal display" (featured on the winter 2006 cover of Cryonics magazine) would consist of about three billion light-emitting nanorobots capable of rearranging themselves to spell out words and numbers and produce animations for the display. To turn on and control the display, you simply tap it with your finger.

The idea was first mentioned in "Nanomedicine," a series of books Freitas wrote describing possible future uses of nanorobotic medical systems. However, these display nanorobots and their sensing/networking kin have yet to be created. In the meantime, we may have to rely upon more traditional means to achieve such intimate displays.

Inventor Andrew Singer, working for Paul Allen's Interval Research Corporation, had a similar medical application in mind in his 1997 patent for a "programmable subcutaneous visible implant." Also a display chip, it was designed to be implanted just under the skin and display bio-sensing readouts monitoring medical conditions such as diabetes -- though sans nanorobots. The device was designed to save precious time in an emergency.

For under-the-skin implants, the thinner and more flexible the better. A "nano-skin" polymer film was recently shown by scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). This flexible polymer infused with billions of carbon nanotubes is seen as making possible incredibly thin and flexible displays. Nanotubes are excellent electrical conductors and several research organizations are exploring their use in flexible screen displays.

The nanotube-infused polymer is flexible enough to wrap around the end of a pipette.

©2006 Rensselaer/Yung Joon Jung

Finally, a technique for modifying subcutaneous tattoos using special inks has also been patented. It relies upon microencapsulated spheres injected under the skin. Such microencapsulation is typified by eInk's "digital ink" technology for use in electronic paper. A set of drive electrodes manually applied to the skin manipulates the tattoo image electrically.

A preferable design would be for programmable tattoos that were both continuously dynamic and tied into digital data displays. And if we could only avoid the needle!

Topical Tattoos

Take a photograph of yourself and paint a "digital tattoo" on to it with Photoshop or another paint program. It is an easy and painless way to judge if a real tattoo is "you." Better to make the mistake here than on your body.

There are also tattoo appliques that can be digitally printed and applied on top of the skin, like the water-soluble decals available to children for decades. So why not apply programmable tattoos to the skin rather than implant or inject them underneath?

In a speculative design that first appeared in Popular Science, tattoos are applied to the skin surface in three successive applications of a breathable cyanoacrylate film matrix similar to Liquid Bandage. First a matrix with conductive microrods is applied. Then a powered pad that aligns the microrods with an electromagnetic field is placed over the skin for a minute until the matrix is dry. This is followed by the application of a layer of digital ink matrix followed by another layer of conductive microrod matrix aligned at right angles to the first.

Micro-scale rod matrix and digital ink matrix applied in layers.

©2003 Greg Daigle and Steve Campbell

When suspended between the electrically charged grids the ink spheres can be made to display as either white, black or gray. Digital ink uses very low power and displays an image even when the power is turned off. Each sphere is about the diameter of a human hair and contains positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles suspended in a clear fluid.

Programmable digital tattoos would be the display component of a low-power Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN). The WPAN's pocket-sized server would be capable of synchronizing with a Wi-Fi enabled PDA and allow for uploading of new calendar data, display drivers and display imagery icons.

The second illustration shows an expressive icon, or emoticon, being displayed on the cheek. Knowing the emotional state of others is an important social skill. Some individuals excel at the subtle art of reading expression in the face and body. But to others less attuned or individuals with Asperger's syndrome (high functioning autism) expressions may be completely unreadable. This display provides those clues.

Programmable tattoo applique with emoticons and messages.

©2003 Greg Daigle and Steve Campbell

Beyond displaying emoticons to represent emotional state, it is also possible to have the system recognize your emotional state. Sensor-transponders employing fuzzy logic chips could be attached to the skin and sense medical conditions or interpret neural signatures (Lusted & Knapp) related to specific emotions. In this way, readings during emotional events can be stored, recalled and redisplayed. Users can review the date or place (using Wi-Fi mapping) where they last felt exhilarated, fearful, joyous or sad -- an emotional memory.

The WPAN server uses wireless technology such as Bluetooth or UWB (ultra-wide band) to connect the components. But Korean firm KAIST reported this year the use of WPAN chips to achieve data rates of up to 2 megabits a second by sending data signals through the body itself rather than using either Bluetooth or other radio technologies.

In addition to displaying emoticons, other uses could range from simple reminders to communicating in locations where ambient auditory noise interferes with normal communication. So for those who go "clubbing" in noisy nightclubs, you could communicate your mood, interest, disinterest or even favorite pickup line without saying a word!

By connecting your PDA wirelessly to the Internet, it would also be possible for people to send you messages that you could then display on your skin. Or, rent your face to Nike during the local basketball game and display the "swoosh"!


Artwork revisions courtesy of Gary Brandenburg.

Lusted, H. & Knapp, R. (1996, Oct.). Controlling computers with neural signals. Scientific American, 275, 82-87.

Gregory Daigle is a consultant in social technologies and e-learning and a former professor industrial design. He does not have any tattoos


Source: http://english.ohmynews.com

Mother complex

April 10, 2009
By Ran Shapira

The Egyptian researchers who, in early January, entered the burial room in the latest pyramid to be discovered in Saqqara, south of Cairo, labored for five hours before they could lift the lid of the sarcophagus within. Inside was a mummy wrapped in a flax shroud. In addition to pottery shards, gold wrappings were also found in the sarcophagus, which apparently were used to cover the fingers of the mummified body. Although no inscriptions were found in the tomb, the researchers assume, with a high level of probability, that it contains the body of the mother of the founder of the Egyptian Sixth Dynasty: Pharaoh Teti.

The pyramid in which the queen, Sesheshet, was buried, was discovered in November 2008 - it is the 118th found in Egypt. Its discovery in Teti's burial compound surprised the researchers to some extent, since the site had been thoroughly combed through over the past 150 years. In addition to the pyramid where the king himself was buried, two "satellite pyramids" were found, the tombs of his two principal wives: The one belonging to Iput I was discovered about 100 years ago; the second, of Khuit, was discovered in 1994.

Information about the queen herself is very meager.

In a papyrus document that includes medical prescriptions, her name is mentioned alongside a request for a preparation that was supposed to strengthen thin hair. Nevertheless, it is possible that the "pharmacists" used her name to lend a bit of prestige to the prescription, and did not necessarily prepare it for her. Another inscription mentions her as being the mother of the king, and in several reliefs of the same area the name "Sesheshet" appears. However, these do not contribute substantial information about the king's mother. Scholars believe she played a very important role in her son's ascent to the throne, thanks, among other things, to her success in mediating between two rival factions within the royal family.

Dr. Deborah Sweeney, an expert on ancient Egypt from the archaeology department of Tel Aviv University, says researchers assume that Sesheshet belonged to the close circle of the last king of the Fifth Dynasty, Unas. He had no sons to inherit the throne and Teti may have been his grandson. Since it is not known when she died, researchers can only guess that the pharaoh's mother was alive during almost 20 years of his reign, which extended from 2323 to 2291 B.C.E.

"Queens were identified with the goddesses that accompany the sun god, protect him and give him strength," Sweeney explains. "The king needed a queen at his side. There were periods when the queens played a political role, but that was an exception. There was a need for that, for example, when a king ascended to the throne as a child. Usually in those cases there was a queen mother, who took charge of governing until her son grew up."

Dr. Rachel Shlomi-Chen, of Hebrew University's department of Ancient Near Eastern history, says Manetho, a Greek historian from the 3rd century B.C.E., wrote about a conspiracy in Teti's court. Furthermore, archaeologists excavating the cemetery near Teti's pyramid in Saqqara have found evidence that may point to a plot: The inscriptions on the tombs of high-ranking officials in the court were damaged, in what does not seem to be a random way, scholars claim: It may have been deliberately done to the tombs of officials belonging to the conspiracy.

The queen mother may have helped Teti in his struggle against the conspirators, but in any case, according to Manetho, he was murdered by his bodyguards not long after she died. His dynasty, the Sixth, ruled Egypt until 2184 B.C.E., almost 1,000 years before the period of Rameses II, the king during whose reign the Exodus from Egypt took place.

Egyptian scholars, headed by Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the country's Supreme Council of Antiquities, stress that Sesheshet's pyramid is more impressive in terms of its dimensions than the structures usually built by ancient Egyptian rulers for their wives and mothers. Discovered beneath seven meters of sand, this pyramid in its prime was 14 meters high and the width of its square base was 22 meters.

There is no question that Teti wanted to express respect for his mother by building the structure, but this in itself was not so unusual, Shlomi-Chen emphasizes: In ancient Egypt, the royal family also played an important religious role, and its members were considered to be the earthly incarnations of gods. The pharaoh was identified with Horus, god of the sky and the sun. The queen was both the spouse of the most important god and the mother of the god-king who was to succeed him. She was also identified with the goddess Hathor, the mother of Horus and the wife of the sun god, Ra. One of Hathor's symbols was a noisemaker, which is called sistrum in Greek and sesheshet in Egyptian.

A step up

The transition between the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties was accompanied by significant changes in religion and ritual. Dr. Sweeney explains that the kings of the Fifth Dynasty built their pyramids at Abu Sir rather than Saqqara. Alongside their pyramids, in addition to pyramids for their wives and mothers, they also built a sun temple, symbolizing their belief in Ra. During the Fifth Dynasty, the cult of Ra constituted the state religion, but there were changes during the reign of the last two kings in the dynasty: Alongside the pyramids of Unas and his predecessor, there were no sun temples, nor were there any in the burial compound of Teti and his family.

"It is possible that Teti and Unas built huge temples in the capital city of Memphis, but nothing remains of them," Sweeney suggests.

Unas also built his pyramid in Saqqara, which shows that after living elsewhere, he returned to the ancient burial site where the most famous type of step pyramid, that of Djoser, was constructed. Another innovation relating to Unas' pyramid, according to Shlomi-Chen, is the fact that the walls bear inscriptions - spells designed to accompany the king in the Land of the Dead. In the inscriptions, Unas is identified for the first time with Osiris, king of the Land of the Dead, and not only with the sun god. The Osiris cult, which came to symbolize the resurrection of the dead and was identified with the cycles of nature, had been started two generations earlier by the nobility.

Teti ascended the throne on the backdrop of profound changes in Egyptian religion and culture, and became part of them. Further research into his mother's tomb will likely shed more light on him and on the events of that period of antiquity.

Source: http://www.haaretz.com

DNA, Hemp & Marijuana


New DNA 'fingerprinting' technique separates hemp from marijuana

Using new DNA "fingerprinting" techniques, two University of Minnesota researchers have become the first to unequivocally separate hemp plants from marijuana plants with genetic markers. Hemp, a crop grown for durable fiber and nutritious seed, and marijuana, the most abundant illegal drug of abuse in the United States, both belong to the species Cannabis sativa.

They differ in levels of the psychoactive drug tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but are otherwise difficult to tell apart. The technique holds promise for distinguishing different cultivars (domesticated plant lines) in U.S. criminal cases. It may also prove useful in countries where the cultivation of hemp is permitted but marijuana is illegal, as in Canada and Europe. The work appears in the March issue (volume 51, No. 2) of the Journal of Forensic Science.

The new technique is an improvement on previous means of separating the two types of Cannabis, said author George Weiblen, an assistant professor of plant biology in the university's College of Biological Sciences and College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. For decades it has been possible to identify THC chemically, but the drug is not present in all plant tissues or throughout a plant's life cycle. And other researchers have found that genetic markers known as "short tandem repeats," which are used to identify individuals in paternity and criminal cases, lack the power to distinguish Cannabis cultivars unequivocally.

In tests with three different cultivars of hemp and one of marijuana, the DNA fingerprints of all the cultivars were distinct and nonoverlapping. Weiblen and Shannon L. Datwyler, a postdoctoral associate who is now on the faculty of California State University, Sacramento, found that the AFLP (amplified fragment length polymorphism) technique generated hundreds of genetic markers that together established separate identities for each of the four cultivars.

"We think this technique has the potential to distinguish marijuana varieties as well," said Weiblen. "It has implications not just for separating hemp from marijuana in countries where hemp cultivation is permitted, but in establishing origins of seized drugs and, therefore, conspiracy in drug distribution networks. It also could be used in criminal defenses against claims of conspiracy."

The technique chops up DNA and generates numerous fragments of DNA, each defined by particular "marker" DNA sequences that act like bookends. The lengths of the fragments within the bookends were found to vary according to the cultivar. Thus, the pattern of fragment lengths adds up to a composite picture of each cultivar.

"With this technique, we find hundreds of markers scattered across the genome," said Weiblen. "The larger number of markers, compared to other techniques, gives us the power to separate the cultivars."

The Cannabis plant has been cultivated for millennia and is important in the global economy as both a licit and an illicit crop, said Weiblen. Hemp is a source of durable fiber that provides an alternative to cotton fabric, among other uses. Cotton requires pesticide application and a hot climate, whereas hemp does not, which makes it suitable for local Minnesota agriculture. Weiblen seeks to screen a wider range of Cannabis cultivars to refine the technique. He is also working to identify regions of the Cannabis genome responsible for drug content in marijuana. If enough can be learned about the genome, it may one day be possible to produce an entirely drug-free hemp plant that looks different from marijuana. Currently, all hemp products are imported into the United States. Developing a new variety that could be cultivated in the United States would reduce American dependence on foreign products while creating a new alternative crop for American farmers.


Source: http://news.bio-medicine.org

segunda-feira, 20 de abril de 2009

Ancient diatoms lead to new technology for solar energy

April 2009
Greg Rorrer

Engineers at Oregon State University have discovered a way to use an ancient life form to create one of the newest technologies for solar energy, in systems that may be surprisingly simple to build compared to existing silicon-based solar cells.

The secret: diatoms

These tiny, single-celled marine life forms have existed for at least 100 million years and are the basis for much of the life in the oceans, but they also have rigid shells that can be used to create order in a natural way at the extraordinarily small level of nanotechnology.

By using biology instead of conventional semiconductor manufacturing approaches, researchers at OSU and Portland State University have created a new way to make "dye-sensitized" solar cells, in which photons bounce around like they were in a pinball machine, striking these dyes and producing electricity. This technology may be slightly more expensive than some existing approaches to make dye-sensitized solar cells, but can potentially triple the electrical output.

"Most existing solar cell technology is based on silicon and is nearing the limits of what we may be able to accomplish with that," said Greg Rorrer, an OSU professor of chemical engineering. "There's an enormous opportunity to develop different types of solar energy technology, and it's likely that several forms will ultimately all find uses, depending on the situation."

Dye-sensitized technology, for instance, uses environmentally benign materials and works well in lower light conditions. And the new findings offer advances in manufacturing simplicity and efficiency.

"Dye-sensitized solar cells already exist," Rorrer said. "What's different in our approach are the steps we take to make these devices, and the potential improvements they offer."

The new system is based on living diatoms, which are extremely small, single-celled algae, which already have shells with the nanostructure that is needed. They are allowed to settle on a transparent conductive glass surface, and then the living organic material is removed, leaving behind the tiny skeletons of the diatoms to form a template.

A biological agent is then used to precipitate soluble titanium into very tiny "nanoparticles" of titanium dioxide, creating a thin film that acts as the semiconductor for the dye-sensitized solar cell device. Steps that had been difficult to accomplish with conventional methods have been made easy through the use of these natural biological systems, using simple and inexpensive materials.

"Conventional thin-film, photo-synthesizing dyes also take photons from sunlight and transfer it to titanium dioxide, creating electricity," Rorrer said. "But in this system the photons bounce around more inside the pores of the diatom shell, making it more efficient."

The physics of this process, Rorrer said, are not fully understood – but it clearly works. More so than materials in a simple flat layer, the tiny holes in diatom shells appear to increase the interaction between photons and the dye to promote the conversion of light to electricity, and improve energy production in the process.

The insertion of nanoscale tinanium oxide layers into the diatom shell has been reported in ACS Nano, a publication of the American Chemical Society, and the Journal of Materials Research, a publication of the Materials Research Society. The integration of this material into a dye-sensitized solar cell device was also recently described at the fourth annual Greener Nanoscience Conference.

The work is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Safer Nanomaterials and Nanomanufacturing Initiative, a part of the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

Diatoms are ancient, microscopic organisms that are found in the fossil record as far back as the time of the dinosaurs. They are a key part of the marine food chain and help cycle carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But in recent years their tiny, silica shells have attracted increasing attention as a way to create structure at the nano level. Nature is the engineer, not high tech tools. This is providing a more efficient, less costly way to produce some of the most advanced materials in the world.

Editor's Note

The professional publication this story is based on can be found at this URL: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/nn800470x

Source: http://www.eurekalert.org

Honda connects brain thoughts with robotics

Mar 31, 2009

Opening a car trunk or controlling a home air conditioner could become just a wish away with Honda's new technology that connects thoughts inside a brain with robotics.

Honda Motor Co. (HMC) has developed a way to read patterns of electric currents on a person's scalp as well as changes in cerebral blood flow when a person thinks about four simple movements - moving the right hand, moving the left hand, running and eating.

Honda succeeded in analyzing such thought patterns, and then relaying them as wireless commands for Asimo, its human-shaped robot.

In a video shown Tuesday at Tokyo headquarters, a person wearing a helmet sat still but thought about moving his right hand - a thought that was picked up by cords attached to his head inside the helmet. After several seconds, Asimo, programmed to respond to brain signals, lifted its right arm.

Honda said the technology wasn't quite ready for a live demonstration because of possible distractions in the person's thinking. Another problem is that brain patterns differ greatly among individuals, and so about two to three hours of studying them in advance are needed for the technology to work.

The company, a leader in robotics, acknowledged the technology was still at a basic research stage with no immediate practical applications in the works.

"I'm talking about dreams today," said Yasuhisa Arai, executive at Honda Research Institute Japan Co., the company's research unit. "Practical uses are still way into the future."

Japan boasts one of the leading robotics industries in the world, and the government is pushing to develop the industry as a road to growth.

Research on the brain is being tackled around the world, but Honda said its research was among the most advanced in figuring out a way to read brain patterns without having to hurt the person, such as embedding sensors into the skin.

Honda has made robotics a centerpiece of its image, sending Asimo to events and starring the walking, talking robot in TV ads. Among the challenges for the brain technology is to make the reading-device smaller so it can be portable, according to Honda.

Arai didn't rule out the possibility of a car that may some day drive itself - even without a steering wheel.

"Our products are for people to use. It is important for us to understand human behavior," he said. "We think this is the ultimate in making machines move."

Source: http://apnews.myway.com

quarta-feira, 15 de abril de 2009

'Hidden Truths' Are in Those Dreams

March 5, 2009

Many Think Dreams Are More Reliable Than Conscious Thought, Research Shows

Here's the scene: You wake up after dreaming about a horrible plane crash, and you're scheduled to board an aircraft later in the day for a long-awaited trip. Will that nightmare have any effect on whether you continue with your plans?

dream accident
A new study explores how dreams affect our behavior. If you dreamed about a plane crash, would you board a plane the next day?
(ABC News/Getty)

Possibly, according to a new multi-cultural study involving nearly 1,100 people around the world. You may not cancel your trip, but your dream will probably weigh as heavily on your thoughts as if there had been a real plane crash that day, not just a dream, according to the study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The study suggests that humans from a wide range of cultures believe their dreams are a window into the inner workings of the mind and that they may even influence our activities while we're awake. Dreams are serious stuff.

"Most people understand that dreams are unlikely to predict the future, but that doesn't prevent them from finding meaning in their dreams, whether their contents are mundane or bizarre," said psychologist Carey Morewedge of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, lead author of the study.

Do Dreams Really Mean Anything?

No doubt even the earliest humans were perplexed and fascinated by dreams that can sometimes seem as real as the world around us. Do they really mean anything? Scholars tended to dismiss them as little more than mental fireworks until the latter part of the 19th century. But when Sigmund Freud published "The Interpretation of Dreams" in 1899, he introduced science to the complex and bizarre world hidden in the human mind.

Freud called dreams the "royal road to the unconscious," and for more than a century now, researchers have tried to travel down that road. We know now that dreams do mean something, and they are universal. The most common dream, according to some studies, occurs in all cultures, and it's virtually certain that anyone reading this article has experienced the same dream. Someone, or something, is in hot pursuit, and if the dreamer can't escape, the consequences will be deadly.

That universal dream usually means the person feels threatened, or under attack, or is recalling a time when an attack was real.

Dreams Contain 'Hidden Truths'

Nearly as common is that old dream of showing up in public and discovering that you forgot to put your pants on before leaving the house. It can mean different things, but usually the person feels exposed or vulnerable.

The interpretation of dreams is still a fuzzy area, and may always be so, but Morewedge and Michael I. Norton of Harvard University and a large team of associates wanted to move dream research into a new arena that is difficult to study: Do dreams actually influence our behavior?

The researchers carried out six studies in both Eastern and Western cultures (the United States, South Korea and India) that led them to conclude that people place considerable importance in their dreams, because dreams come from within the brain, not from outside sources, and thus contain "hidden truths."

Here are just a few of their findings:

A majority of 182 commuters in Boston reported that dreams affected their daily behavior. Some 68 percent said that dreams foretell the future, and 63 percent said at least one of their dreams had come true. "Participants were more likely to report that a dream of a plane crash would affect their travel plans than a conscious thought of a crash or a warning from the government," the study found.

Three-hundred forty-one pedestrians were surveyed in Cambridge, Mass., and people who believed in the Freudian theory of the subconscious were more influenced by their dreams than were nonbelievers, but "regardless of the theory of dreams that they endorsed, participants considered dreams to be more important than similar thoughts occurring to them while awake..." the study found.

Sixty undergraduate psychology students at Rutgers University were asked whether they believed in God on a five-point scale ranging from definitely to doubtful. "Not surprisingly, believers rated dreams in which God spoke to them as more meaningful than did agnostics," the study found. Also, not surprisingly, "agnostics reported that dreams were more meaningful when God suggested that they should take a year off to travel the world than when God suggested they should take a year off to work in a leper colony."

The Role of Dreams in Our Waking Lives

Consistent throughout the study is the thread that dreams do play a role in the waking lives of most people. They come from within and, thus, contain "hidden truths" that could be useful in real life, or so most of us believe.

The researchers end their report by cautioning that dreams can cause a bit of mischief.

"Dreams of spousal infidelity may lead to suspicious accusations, alienating one's spouse and potentially provoking actual infidelity," they cite as one example. But they go on to add that dreams of infidelity may also be based on fact.

"Dreams may integrate seemingly unrelated evidence -- unexplained credit card charges, smudges of lipstick, distant behavior -- into a correct diagnosis of infidelity," the study suggested.

But they are still just dreams. Not many psychologists would embrace the idea that dreams are a clear window into the inner self, and that they can predict the flight you are supposed to take later today is going to crash.

"We close by noting that, although dreams are unlikely to predict future world events, it is possible that they may provide some hidden insight into diurnal life in the way that laypeople believe they do," the study concluded.

Source: http://abcnews.go.com

You are being lied to about pirates

April 11, 2009
Johann Hari

Who imagined that in 2009, the world’s governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates? As you read this, the British Royal Navy - backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the U.S. to China - is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains. They will soon be fighting Somalian ships and even chasing the pirates onto land, into one of the most broken countries on earth.

But behind the arrr-me-hearties oddness of this tale, there is an untold scandal. The people our governments are labeling as “one of the great menaces of our times” have an extraordinary story to tell - and some justice on their side.

Pirates have never been quite who we think they are. In the “golden age of piracy” - from 1650 to 1730 - the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage thief that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: Pirates were often rescued from the gallows by supportive crowds. Why? What did they see that we can’t?

In his book “Villains of All Nations,” the historian Marcus Rediker pores through the evidence to find out. If you became a merchant or navy sailor then - plucked from the docks of London’s East End, young and hungry - you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off for a second, the all-powerful captain would whip you with the cat o’ nine tails. If you slacked consistently, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.

Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world. They mutinied against their tyrannical captains - and created a different way of working on the seas. Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls “one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the 18th century.”

They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed “quite clearly - and subversively - that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal navy.” This is why they were popular, despite being unproductive thieves.

The words of one pirate from that lost age - a young British man called William Scott - should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: “What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirating to live.”

In 1991, the government of Somalia - in the Horn of Africa - collapsed. Its 9 million people have been teetering on starvation ever since - and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Somali pirates

In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters … We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.”

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no cleanup, no compensation and no prevention.”

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by over-exploitation - and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300 million worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia’s unprotected seas.

The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”

This is the context in which the men we are calling “pirates” have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a “tax” on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coast Guard of Somalia - and it’s not hard to see why.

In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters … We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.” William Scott would understand those words.

No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters - especially those who have held up World Food Program supplies. But the “pirates” have the overwhelming support of the local population for a reason. The independent Somalian news site WardherNews conducted the best research we have into what ordinary Somalis are thinking - and it found 70 percent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defense of the country’s territorial waters.”

During the revolutionary war in America, George Washington and America’s founding fathers paid pirates to protect America’s territorial waters, because they had no navy or coast guard of their own. Most Americans supported them. Is this so different?

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn’t act on those crimes - but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, we begin to shriek about “evil.” If we really want to deal with piracy, we need to stop its root cause - our crimes - before we send in the gunboats to root out Somalia’s criminals.

The story of the 2009 war on piracy was best summarized by another pirate, who lived and died in the fourth century BC. He was captured and brought to Alexander the Great, who demanded to know “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.” The pirate smiled and responded: “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.”

Once again, our great imperial fleets sail in today - but who is the robber?


Some commentators seem bemused by the fact that both toxic dumping and the theft of fish are happening in the same place - wouldn’t this make the fish contaminated? In fact, Somalia’s coastline is vast, stretching 3,300km (over 2,000 miles). Imagine how easy it would be - without any coast guard or army - to steal fish from Florida and dump nuclear waste on California, and you get the idea. These events are happening in different places but with the same horrible effect: death for the locals and stirred-up piracy. There’s no contradiction.

sábado, 11 de abril de 2009

Archaeologist: Jesus took a different path

April 10, 2009
By Ben Wedeman

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- It's Good Friday, the day that Christians believe Jesus was crucified. Jerusalem's Old City is crowded with the faithful, retracing the steps of Jesus along the Via Dolorosa -- the Way of Suffering -- to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christians believe he was crucified.

Shimon Gibson, outside the Old City of Jerusalem, believes he has found the site of Jesus' trial.

Shimon Gibson, outside the Old City of Jerusalem, believes he has found the site of Jesus' trial.

But they're all taking the wrong route, according to Israeli archaeologist Shimon Gibson. In a new book, titled "The Final Days of Jesus," Gibson says he has found the location of Jesus' trial, where Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, condemned him to death by crucifixion.

Traditionally it is believed that the trial took place at the Antonia Fortress, outside the Temple Mount, near Lion's Gate. But Gibson believes the trial was actually conducted in an area just outside what is now the western wall of the Old City.

"You have a courtyard and a pavement and a rocky outcrop on one side," he says of the site. Watch more about Gibson's claim.

"In the Gospel of John, you have a description of the trial taking place at the Lithostratus, Greek for pavement, at a place called Gabata, which is the word for an ancient hillock or a rocky outcrop, and this is what we have here."

So if the trial was outside the Old City, as Gibson believes, and not in the Antonia Fortress, then the traditional Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus took to his crucifixion, is wrong.

I retraced with Gibson the route of his new Via Dolorosa, which begins in a nondescript parking lot in the Armenian Quarter. It skirts the Ottoman walls of the Old City, next to what is known as the Tower of David near Jaffa Gate, then heads toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

As we walked, it occurred to me that all the shops that have made a living for generations because of their proximity to the Via Dolorosa might suffer if Gibson's theory catches on. But his findings don't dispute the basis for Christian faith, just the generally accepted geography of critical chapters of the New Testament.

Gibson blames the Crusaders, who conquered Jerusalem in 1099, for the confusion.

"When they conquered the city, they effectively turned it into a ghost town," he says.

"They slaughtered the Muslims, the Jews and the local Christians, and as a result there was a shifting of tradition ... from one side of the city to another."

Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, does not reject Gibson's ideas outright, but insists that tradition cannot be brushed aside.

"I respect all of the archaeological excavations, but at the same time I have to follow what our forefathers and foremothers taught us," says the energetic but soft-spoken man in his late 50s, standing outside the Austrian Hospice in the Old City, which is on what most people know as the Via Dolorosa.

Surveying the street around him, full of Muslims, Christians and Jews, he says, "For me, the Via Dolorosa is this one."

I've been based in Jerusalem for three years and have seen plenty of new theories about various aspects of Biblical accounts come and go. While I do believe Gibson's account makes sense, I also know that when it comes to faith, tradition is a powerful glue that holds religion together.

And I suspect that the crowds of faithful walking through the Old City this Good Friday will most likely cleave to tradition and ignore the latest theory.

Source: http://edition.cnn.com

Humans and Aliens Might Share DNA Roots

April 07, 2009
By Brandon Keim

That's the tantalizing implication of a pattern found in the formation of amino acids in meteorites, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and simulations of primordial Earth. The pattern appears to follow basic thermodynamic laws, applicable throughout the known universe.

"This may implicate a universal structure of the first genetic codes anywhere," said astrophysicist Ralph Pudritz of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

There are exactly 20 standard amino acids — complex molecules that combine to form proteins, which carry out instructions specified by RNA and DNA, its double-stranded and self-replicating descendant.

Ten were synthesized in the famous 1953 Miller-Urey experiments, which modeled conditions believed to exist in Earth's early atmosphere and volcano-heated pools. Those 10 amino acids have also been found in meteorites, prompting debate over their role in sparking life on Earth and, perhaps, elsewhere.

Pudritz's analysis, co-authored with McMaster University biophysicist Paul Higgs and published Monday on arXiv, doesn't settle the former debate, but it does suggest that basic amino acids are even more common than thought, requiring little more than a relatively warm meteorite of sufficient size to form. And that's just the start.

If the observed patterns of amino acid formation — simple acids require low levels of energy to coalesce, and complex acids need more energy — indeed follow thermodynamic laws, then the basic narrative of life's emergence could be universal.

"Thermodynamics is fundamental," said Pudritz. "It must hold through all points of the universe. If you can show there are certain frequencies that fall in a natural way like this, there is an implied universality. It has to be tested, but it seems to make a lot of sense."

Aminoacids1Pudritz and Higgs tabulated the types and frequencies of amino acids found in primordial Earth experiments, then correlated the results on a graph of temperature versus atmospheric pressure at which the acids likely formed.

The 10 amino acids synthesized in primordial Earth experiments tended to arise at relatively low temperatures and pressures, and are chemically simple. Other, more complex acids formed less frequently, and require more temperature and pressure. Their distribution follows a clear, possibly thermodynamic, curve.

"The most frequent amino acid that forms is the one that's least-demanding, energetically. There's less and less amino acids that require more energy to form. That's very sensible, from a thermodynamic point of view," said Pudritz.

Internal conditions of meteorites are unknown, but some scientists believe that certain large meteorites are both warm and hydrated, making them roughly analogous to the relatively temperate environment of Earth's youth.

"There's a theory," said Pudritz, "that they could be made in the warm interiors of large-enough meteorites."

This is necessarily speculative, but it would explain why the 10 amino acids most common in primordial Earth experiments are also the most common acids found in meteorites.

Pudritz and Higgs speculate that these 10 common amino acids met the needs of the earliest replicating molecules, with other, rarer acids used by the nascent genetic code as they formed or arrived — a process called "stepwise evolution," culminating in the genes that gathered 3.6 billion years ago in a common ancestor of all complex life.

If simulations of interactions between these 10 acids indeed support molecules that can copy themselves, said Pudritz, then it's possible that they could support an ur-genetic code on Earth and elsewhere.

"There's a possible universality," he said, "for any code that would use amino acids."

Harvard University systems biologist Irene Chen, who specializes in the evolution of molecules, called the work "interesting," but noted that "in the absence of some experimental backup, it's generally difficult to know if this kind of analysis is a Panglossian argument."

The ultimate experimental backup, of course, is finding aliens. In the meantime, the ending of Battlestar Galactica seems a bit less implausible.


"A thermodynamic basis for prebiotic amino acid synthesis and the nature of the first genetic code."

By Paul G. Higgs, Ralph E. Pudritz.
arXiv, April 6, 2009.

See Also:

Images: 1. Case University, Valadkhan Lab/Chesley Bonestell. 2,3. arXiv

Brandon Keim's Twitter stream and Del.icio.us feed; Wired Science on Facebook.

Source: blog.wired.com

Bone-repairing stem cell jab hope

6 April 2009
By Michelle Roberts

Doctors may soon be able to patch up damaged bones and joints anywhere in the body with a simple shot in the arm

A team at Keele University is testing injectible stem cells that they say they can control with a magnet. Once injected these immature cells can be guided to precisely where their help is needed and encouraged to grow new cartilage and bone, work on mice shows. The aim is to treat patients with injuries and arthritis the UK National Stem Cell Network conference heard.

Professor Alicia El Haj, working with Professor John Dobson, also of Keele University, says the technology, patented by Magnecell, could be tested in humans within five years. It would provide a way to treat disease without invasive surgery or powerful drugs. The injection would use the patient's own stem cells, harvested from their bone marrow. These mesenchymal cells would be treated in the lab to give them a coating of minute magnetic particles.

Use in scans

These same magnetic nanoparticles are already approved in the US where they are routinely used as an agent to make MRI scans clearer to read.

Targeted magnetic fields could then move the cells around the body to the desired place and switch them into action without the need for drugs or other biochemical triggers.

Professor Al Haj said: "The ultimate aim is to repair cartilage and bone. We have been able to grow new bone in mice. Now we will look at whether we can repair damaged sites in goats. "We should be able to move to human trials within five years."

Professor Jon Tobias of the Bone Research Society said: "Stem cells capable of regenerating diseased bones and joints can now been isolated and grown up outside the body, but the difficulty is in getting them to exactly the right place.

"The technique developed by the team at Keele University, in which small magnetic particles are introduced into cells in the laboratory, represents an interesting approach to this problem, by raising the prospect of using magnets outside the body to manoeuvre cells into position."

Meanwhile, experts at the University of Southampton, led by Professor Richard Oreffo, have treated four patients with hip joint problems using stem cell therapy.

The technique combines the patients own bone marrow stem cells with donor bone cells to patch-repair damaged bones that would otherwise need treatment with metal plates and pins.

They say it is only a matter of years before their method could be used routinely to treat some of the 60,000 people who fracture a hip in the UK each year.

Source: news.bbc.co.uk

The Coming of the Sky Dancers

April 06, 2009

The message is increasingly clear: auroras can be extremely violent events

The northern lights, sketched by a member of the Chukchi nation, Siberia (1889-1899 CE).

Today’s auroras are a relatively peaceful phenomenon – whether they take the form of gently dancing curtains of light, a quiescent, reddish ‘cloud’, or spectacular rays of light, they are more likely to enthrall than terrorise the people watching from polar latitudes. Appearances can be misleading, as scientists are finding out in recent years.

Modern research on the potential effects of intense solar Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) on the earth and an ever-growing awareness of the possibility of extreme geomagnetic storms seem to rekindle interest in the so-called ‘Carrington Event’ of 1859, when “skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras”, causing severe damage to the telegraph networks of the time. Between then and 1958, altogether 6 well-documented auroras were strong enough to be visible within 30º or indeed 20º of the equator.

Crucially, various peoples have preserved memories of the potential intensity of the polar lights. Motifs that specialists in folklore and religions routinely dismiss as quaint curiosities of a superstitious past can equally be read as cultural adaptations of genuine and reliable recollections of natural events. Such motifs typically postulate an intimate connection of the auroras with divine beings or ‘ancestors’ and times when the world passed through a phase of destruction and renewed creation.

For example, in North America, the northern lights are commonly conceived as a display of the gods dancing across the firmament. The Ottawa people, of Michigan, Ontario, and Oklahoma, regard the auroras as a sign of the presence of the creator, Nanahboozko, who retreated to his “permanent home farther north” in the wake of the creation. For the Klamath, of southern Oregon, the polar region was also the place whence the creator had come originally:

“Long, long ago Kemush created the world. Morning Star called him from the ashes of the Northern Lights and told him to make the world.”

The original inhabitants of southeast Australia, when interviewed during the 19th century, displayed a marked fear of the southern lights. To the Wotjobaluk, of central-western Victoria, as well as the Ngarigo, closer to Canberra, the aurora “signified … that, at some great distance, a number of blacks were being slaughtered, and that the Aurora colour is the blood rising up to the sky.”

Upon its appearance, the Kurnai, of the Gippsland region, would be “shouting such words as ‘Send it away; do not let it burn us up.’” Far from being overly imaginative fantasies arising from the red hue of the Aurora Australis, such visceral reactions rooted in traumatic memories of a time when the aurora “filled the whole space between the earth and the sky”, precipitating floods, collective madness and the final departure of the creator from the earth.

The latter, known as Mungan-ngaua or ‘our father,' “long ago … lived on the earth”, but when the ancestors of the Kurnai provoked him, “he sent his fire, the Aurora Australis, which filled the whole space between the earth and the sky. Men went mad with fear, and speared each other, fathers killing their children, husbands their wives, and brethren each other. Then the sea rushed over the land and nearly all mankind was drowned. … Mungun left the earth, and ascended to the sky where he still remains.”

Like the Ottawa, the Kurnai regard the contemporary, tranquil auroras as signs of the god’s ongoing watch, explaining it as “Mungan’s fire”.

Francis Eagle Heart Cree (1920/1921-2007), elder and song keeper of the Ojibwe, North Dakota, often used to tell about the northern lights – that his people referred to them as the ‘ancestors’; that our day corresponds to their night and vice versa; and that many ancestors had been literally drawn up into the sky in order to live on in the lights.

In June 2003, during the preparations for the so-called ‘Thirsty Dance’ performed in the Turtle Mountains, Francis revealed that there had been a time when the northern lights were all over, much larger and all-encompassing, and would come closer to the ground, touching it frequently. According to him, today’s thunders, lightning and northern lights are what remain from a time “when the Thunderbirds hovered overhead and carried away the ancestors if you threatened or got too close to them. … the earliest songs came from them, not the animals. The pulsing, reverberant, humming, chanting Ooowwwmmm, hiii, heyyy, . . . is the sound the Thunderbird auroras made.”

During this era, the whole atmosphere was active and animate, and the few plasma phenomena we see today are mere remnants of the “Sky Dancers” of olden times. Coming from a man who was never exposed to formal western education and stood in an age-old, unbroken lineage of cultural continuity, this testimony forms a striking parallel to the Australian belief that the polar lights used to be much more powerful in the past.

At a time when scientists begin to ponder in earnest the possibility of extremely violent solar storms triggering geomagnetic disturbances on a scale that is hard to imagine, human traditions such as the ones cited above deserve to be heard. Elsewhere we have argued that many familiar motifs of global creation mythology are explicable as aspects of a high-energy density auroral storm that took place in the early Holocene. To this indirect evidence one could add these direct reports of increased auroral activity during the age traditional societies would call that of ‘creation’ and of ‘the gods’.

In memoriam

Francis Eagle Heart Cree.
With thanks to Nicholas Vrooman.
Contributed by Rens Van der Sluijs


Further Reading

The Mythology of the World Axis;
Exploring the Role of Plasma in World Mythology


The World Axis as an Atmospheric Phenomenon


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Source: thunderbolts.info

A $6 Solar Cooker to Save the World

April 10th, 2009
by Rachel Cernansky
Image: John Bohmer

The Kyoto Box, a $6 solar cooker made from cardboard, has won the Financial Times-sponsored Climate Change Challenge contest for innovative ways to decrease the human impact on the environment. Its capacity to not only cook food but also sterilize water could help three billion people reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The Kenya-based Norwegian creator of the cooker, Jon Bøhmer, has been awarded $75,000 to put the idea into production.
Named after the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol, the cooker is made from two cardboard boxes, one inside the other, with either paper or straw insulation placed in between; an acrylic cover on top lets in and traps sunlight. Black paint on the inner box, and silver foil on the outer one, help concentrate the heat. The trapped rays make the inside hot enough to cook casseroles, bake bread and boil water [CNN]. Covering the cooking pot with a transparent cover retains heat and water [BBC], and temperatures inside the pot can reach about 175 degrees Fahrenheit.
With as many as 3 billion people dependent on firewood for fuel, it is hoped that the cooker will eliminate the small-scale deforestation that has cumulatively become a major contributor to global warming worldwide. By allowing users to boil water, the simple device could also potentially save the millions of children who die from drinking unclean water [CNN]. The Kyoto Box was chosen from five finalists; the other four included a garlic-based feed additive to cut methane emissions from livestock, an indoor cooling system using hollow tiles, a cover for truck wheels to reduce fuel use and a “giant industrial microwave” for creating charcoal [Reuters].
The box can be produced in standard cardboard factories, and Bøhmer is already working with one factory in Nairobi. Bøhmer, who has started a design firm called Kyoto Energy, also designed a sturdier version made of recycled plastic, which he says would also be extremely cheap to produce. His next step is to conduct trials with 10,000 cookers in 10 countries, including India, Indonesia, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda [GreenBiz.com]. “We’re saving lives and saving trees” [Reuters], he said. “I don’t want to see another 80-year-old woman carrying 20 kilos of firewood on her back. Maybe we don’t have to” [CNN].

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Source: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com