Friday, July 31, 2015

ten words you need to stop misspelling

The Best Tips for the Best Cookies

  1. Ooey-gooey: Add 2 cups more flour.
  1. Crispy with a soft center: Use 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
  1. A nice tan: Set the oven higher than 350 degrees (maybe 360). Caramelization, which gives cookies their nice brown tops, occurs above 356 degrees, says the Ted video.
  1. Chewy: Substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour.
  1. Just like store-bought: Trade the butter for shortening. Arias notes that this ups the texture but reduces some flavor; her suggestion is to use half butter and half shortening.
  1. Thick (and less crispy): Freeze the batter for 30 to 60 minutes before baking. This solidifies the butter, which will spread less while baking.
  1. Cakey: Use more baking soda because, according to Nyberg, it “releases carbon dioxide when heated, which makes cookies puff up.”
  1. Butterscotch flavored: Use 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (instead of the same amount of combined granulated sugar and light brown sugar).
  1. Uniformity: If looks count, add one ounce corn syrup and one ounce granulated sugar.
  1. More. Just, more: Chilling the dough for at least 24 hours before baking deepens all the flavors, Arias found.

Bonus Tip: Use your nose, instructs the Ted Talk. That delicious cookie smell signifies cookie doneness as effectively as a timer.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Testing By AP Finds Water At 2016 Olympic Sites 'Rife With Human Sewage'

It's no secret that the water at some of the 2016 Olympic venues in Rio de Janeiro has some problems.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro got a whiff of one in April. But the AP has just put some science into it by commissioning tests over a five month period.

What the wire service found is pretty gross. In short, the water is "rife with human sewage," teeming with high levels of viruses and bacteria. Not a single Olympic venue, the AP testing found, is fit for swimming or boating.

The AP reports:

"Brazilian officials insist the waters will be safe, but the AP testing over five months found not one venue fit for swimming or boating, according to international experts, who say it's too late for a cleanup.
"'What you have there is basically raw sewage,' said John Griffith, a marine biologist at the independent Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. Griffith examined the protocols, methodology and results of the AP tests. 'It's all the water from the toilets and the showers and whatever people put down their sinks, all mixed up, and it's going out into the beach waters.'
"In the U.S., Griffith said, areas with such levels of contamination 'would be shut down immediately.'"

The raw numbers? In one venue, the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, the AP found 14 million adenoviruses per liter to 1.7 billion per liter.

For comparison, authorities in Southern California would be concerned if that level was at 1,000 adenoviruses per liter. npr

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Alzheimer's Drugs In The Works Might Help Parkinson's, Too

Efforts to find a treatment for Alzheimer's disease have been disappointing so far. But there's a new generation of drugs in the works that researchers think might help not only Alzheimer's patients, but also people with Parkinson's disease and other brain disorders.

Previous efforts to treat Alzheimer's have focused on a single target — usually the protein called beta-amyloid, says Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer's Association. "The one-target approach is probably not going to be the answer," Carrillo says.

Instead, several teams of scientists reporting their work at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Washington D.C. this week are targeting a process in the brain that leads to toxins involved in several different diseases.

The biotechnology company Treventis is working on one of these potential drugs.

"Our ultimate goal is to discover a pill that can be taken once a day that could either stop or slow Alzheimer's disease," says Marcia Taylor, the company's director of biological research. Treventis hopes to do that with a drug that prevents the build-up of two toxic proteins.

These toxic substances, called beta-amyloid and tau, are the result of a process that begins when a healthy protein inside a brain cell somehow gets folded into the wrong shape.

In this colorized image of a brain cell from a person with Alzheimer's, the red tangle in the yellow cell body is a toxic tangle of misfolded "tau" proteins, adjacent to the cell's green nucleus.

"Sometimes it gets what I call a kink," Taylor says. Then, when the misfolded protein meets another protein floating around in the cell, "It kind of grabs onto that protein and they both kink up together," she says.

That can trigger a chain reaction that produces clumps of misfolded beta-amyloid and tau proteins that damage brain cells.

"And our compound — because it targets protein misfolding — is actually able to prevent both beta-amyloid and tau from making these clumps," Taylor says. The compound works in a test tube and is currently being tested in animals, she says.

Another potential new treatment could help people with Parkinson's and a disease called Lewy body dementia, as well as those with Alzheimer's. npr

Friday, July 17, 2015

How Air Pollution May Have Caused Catastrophic Flooding In China

Air pollution isn't just bad for your health. It can have dramatic effects on weather and climate. In fact, a team of scientists believes that air pollution from industries and traffic could have caused the extreme floods that devastated southwest China in 2013.
In July of that year, China's Sichuan province was racked with floods from the worst storms it had seen in 50 years. The greatest damage occurred in a mountainous region northwest of the Sichuan Basin, where nearly 30 inches of rain fell over several days. A combination of flooding and a landslide triggered by the rain left over 50 people dead, more than 100 missing and thousands without homes. 

Watching news coverage of the flooding, atmospheric scientist Jiwen Fan noticed a pattern: The mountains with the worst flooding were downwind of the Sichuan Basin, a valley with air that's highly polluted from factories and cars. Surrounding mountains rise steeply from the valley floor, trapping polluted air over the basin. She suspected that the lingering cap of soot had something to do with the heavy rainfall that fell in the mountains, but not the valley.
Where did this soot come from? Soot is a type of pollutant called black carbon, which is produced by burning biomass or fossil fuels. When these fuels are burned, the process can release byproducts like carbon monoxide and very fine particles of black carbon. The black carbon particles are suspended in the atmosphere as an aerosol, which we call soot. Black carbon as soot affects climate and temperature by absorbing the sun's radiation before it gets to the earth. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, this can mean increasing temperatures, faster melting of snow and ice, and changes in clouds.
And, as Fan knew, soot can affect weather systems.
Fan, who researches at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, gathered a team of scientists to figure out the cause of the extreme weather. Their results were published in June in Geophysical Research Letters. The scientists built computer models of the weather in the Sichuan Basin, both with the current amount of air pollution, caused by decades of industrialization, and with clean air as it had been 40 years previously. In both models, they ran simulations of the weather on the day before and the days of the storm.
When they compared the two models, they saw a dramatic difference.
Without pollution, Fan says, the basin would have experienced mild rain during the day before the storm hit. Moist air would have moved in from the Indian Ocean over the land, risen and formed a cloud. Moisture condenses inside clouds to form droplets of water, which, when they get heavy enough, fall to the ground as rain. In this scenario, by the time that air rose over the mountains, it would have already lost a lot of its moisture, and extremely heavy rains wouldn't form.
Instead, she says, the soot prevented rain from forming over the basin. The pollution particles absorbed heat from the sun, warming the air higher up while blocking that warmth from getting to the surface. The moist air at ground level couldn't rise and form storms. It was stuck beneath the soot during the day, where it gathered moisture and energy, traveling downwind and reaching the mountains at night. As it rose, following the contours of the land below, it finally formed into clouds and released all that pent-up power. The result: massive storms that flooded the region.
"So basically," Fan says, "the pollution transformed this mild rain over a very large area of the basin during the daytime into a heavy rain, focused on a narrow area over the mountains." According to the team's calculations, the presence of air pollution made it rain up to 60 percent harder over the mountains than it would have without the pollution effect. So more rain fell in less time.
"We were surprised at the scale of the pollution effect," Fan says. The scientists suggest that in areas with similar geography, pollution might exacerbate weather in similar ways, leading to more extreme weather events.
Geeta Persad, a Ph.D. student in Princeton University's Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences program, thinks this study is compelling. "It does a neat job of giving a concrete example of how air pollution in these systems can have detectable effects," she says. And in Persad's opinion, studies that link mechanisms with real-world events — such as air pollution causing flooding — are more useful to people making policy decisions than more general studies.
But, she says, it's important not to generalize too much. "The conditions they're pointing out may not be universal," Persad says. The soot layer in other regions, for instance, might be at a different height — either above or below the rain cloud. Also, other locations might not get the same kind of moist air inflow, or might have different topography or be polluted with a different aerosol.
Fan is aware of these limitations. Right now, she says, her team is working to understand the weather effects of different types of aerosol pollutants in several locations. In the meantime, she thinks weather reports should take into consideration the aerosols in the atmosphere. Since air pollution particles have a short life span, cutting down on pollution could have immediate effects in preventing severe weather events. npr

Reduce, Reuse, Remove The Cellophane: Recycling Demystified

Taylor's number one tip: don't recycle plastic bags, even if they're full of newspaper. They gum up the whole processing system. Every few hours Taylor has to shut down the machines to remove all the plastic. Take your plastic bags back to the grocery store, Taylor says. And don't just throw your flip flops, bowling balls, and Christmas lights into the blue bin because you think they should be recyclable. Below are five more of his responses to readers' questions.
Q. Does washing containers help? Or is it a waste of water? - Robert Kisling, Stillwater, Okla.
A. In some instances it is actually helpful because a jar of jelly or a half-empty soda bottle will contaminate the other material. So, we prefer that the food containing the materials get rinsed before it gets put in the recycling bin.
Q. Light bulbs, of all kinds. Can't put them in curbside recycling, recycling centers won't take them, so what should I do? - Michelle Rafter, Portland, Ore.
A. (A lightbulb) is not recyclable because it's a different type of a glass than a glass jar. And they'll break anyway... We don't take plate glass either, like a window glass. That also is a different kind of glass than a regular food container or a beverage container.
Q. Styrofoam! Why don't we recycle this? - Love Lulu, Philadelphia, Pa.
A. (Styrofoam) contaminates everything else when it breaks apart and comes through the plant.
Q. Can you recycle the thick plastic overwrap that comes on cases of bottled drinks? What about the cardboard bakery boxes that have a large plastic window on them? - Deirdre Gabriel, Alexandria, Va.
A. While that plastic wrap may be recyclable, at this particular operation, we're not capable of recycling that material. It's actually a hazard to us... it gets wrapped in all the mechanical moving parts that we use to separate the recyclable materials.
We prefer that the cellophane be removed from the package before it gets recycled... Too much of a particular item will (create) a circumstance where a container can go all the way to China and get rejected and have to be returned.
Q. Is it true that recycling plants are so harmful on the environment that it sort of cancels out the act of recycling itself? - Jeffrey Sartor, Clinton, Ms.
A. In this particular circumstance, a recycling plant like this, absolutely not. We are using high efficiency electric motors to drive the plant, to separate the material. We are basically taking a homogenous mix of recyclable material from a recycling bin and separating it into its components. If you look back over time, the value of the material that you separate is worth more than the process it costs to operate. In terms of harm to the environment, we are actually saving resources and putting things back in a more efficient way because of the recovery. npr

Science Confirms 2014 Was Hottest Yet Recorded, On Land And Sea

For the past quarter-century, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been gathering data from more than 400 scientists around the world on climate trends.
The report on 2014 from these international researchers? On average, it was the hottest year ever — in the ocean, as well as on land.
Deke Arndt is a climate scientist with the agency and an author of the State of the Climate in 2014 report, released Thursday. It's the lower atmosphere that's warming, not the upper atmosphere, he points out — just as the total of greenhouse gases in the lower atmosphere continues to increase. That's not a coincidence.
"The changes that we see in the lower part of the atmosphere are driven by a change in the composition of the atmosphere," Arndt says. "If an external forcing — such as the sun or some orbital phenomenon — would be driving the warming, we would see a warming across the board in most of the atmosphere. And we don't."
This year's hottest-ever record is the third time that's happened in the past 15 years.
The annual spike in ocean temperature — specifically, in the upper 2,000 feet of water in most of the world's oceans — was especially big last year, the scientists say.
"You can sort of think of ocean warming as being global warming, since that's where most of the global warming goes," says Greg Johnson, an ocean scientist at NOAA.
A lot of extra heat has been trapped in the lower atmosphere over the past several decades, Johnson says. And the ocean is going to continue to suck up that heat and get warmer.
Moreover, the oceans expand when they get warmer. That raises sea levels, which — again, no coincidence — reached their highest point last year, as well.
Floodwaters from rising sea levels have submerged and killed trees in Bedono village in Demak, Central Java, Indonesia. As oceans warm, they expand and erode the shore. Residents of Java's coastal villages have been hit hard by rising sea levels in recent years.
Glaciers continued to melt. And the extent of Arctic sea ice kept shrinking as well.
On the temperature front, Europe was hotter than ever. But it wasn't hotter than blazes everywhere. The eastern U.S. got a break. The winter there was especially cold, which led some climate skeptics to question the whole idea of climate change.
Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist and report author who consults for NOAA, says the weather in the East was an outlier.
"For example, the lower latitudes of eastern North America and parts of Russia were well below average during this period — up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit below average," Blunden says. "But then in the higher latitudes, Alaska, for example, was super warm for this time of year — 18 degrees above average in late January.
So the eastern U.S. got lucky — if you consider record-breaking snow, and cold weather lucky. Keith Seitter, head of the American Meteorological Society, which published the report, found that ironic.
"I'm here in Boston," he says. "We had an incredibly tough winter, but that doesn't change the fact that the globe is getting warmer. And 2014 really represents some kind of landmark year in that respect."
As the climate report shows, weather is local. Climate is global. npr

Monday, July 13, 2015

Turns out nobody is perfect! Peer reviewed humor in geoscience journals.

There are bajillions of scientific papers published every year. Some are great, most are OK, and a handful are awful. That is just my opinion of course, but it simply a statement of fact that very few papers are ever published that make you chuckle. And I mean chuckle in a good way, not in a “I can’t believe they published this crap” way. Not that geologists aren’t funny people, but the form makes it tough. Think about it, you have an awesome joke that would actually fit into a paper you are writing. That is rare enough! Then you must convince your co-authors to include it (at least one of whom is likely cheerless, stodgy, or already annoyed by the writing process), then convince some reviewers (who will likely only like the joke if they love the rest of the paper), and finally an editor (who’s responsible for dozens of mediocre manuscripts and just wants to get back to his or her own research without being the person who made the journal appear unserious). And all of that comes after you have convinced yourself that it won’t harm your career in some way, seeing as how publishing papers is the one skillset that academia cares the most about, and it therefore seems a little to much of a gamble, especially if you’ve ever had a joke fall pancake-flat in front of a live audience. Live jokes are at least finished with quickly, published jokes, including the terrible ones, will live on forever.
For that and many other reasons it is rare to find funny things, even in conference abstracts. Rare, but awesome. I love these papers and abstracts, and I’ve started collecting them. I thought I might make this a semi-regular feature on the blog, and I’ll start with my favorite. Suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
So here is my favorite of all time.
Rosholt, J. N., Emiliani, C., Geiss, J., Koczy, F. F., & Wangersky, P. J. (1963). Absolute Dating of Deep-Sea Cores by the Pa 231/Th 230 Method” and Accumulation Rates: A Reply. The Journal of Geology71(6), 810–810.
I was pointed to this one by a Ph.D. student a few years ago when I was a post-doc, and it remains my all-time favorite. The story is that the authors had written a paper, and another group of scientists had pointed out a small error in their data handling. The error didn’t alter the conclusions significantly, but was still a goof. The comment corrected the oversight, and then the authors of the original paper had a chance to respond, as is the custom with discussions and replies. Their response is perfect, “Oh, well, nobody is perfect.” In addition to being a great response, this now gives me an actual reference to cite if I ever want to state that no one is perfect. Like this:
It has been well established that nobody is perfect (Rosholt et al., 1963).
Ideally samples would have been collected from the entirety of the range, however nobody is perfect (Rosholt et al., 1963).
They even acknowledge the sources of financial support used to fund the reply! And the USGS director authorized it! Incidentally, that was Thomas Nolan, and the official USGS write up of his tenure as director fails to mention this contribution. He presided over the discovery that nobody is perfect for god’s sake!
This was the 1960’s, a time when science budgets and research groups were still expanding in the post-war boom. I wonder if you could get away with this nowadays? Perhaps this speaks to a different time when funding wasn’t as cut-throat? When maybe people (which for 60’s science I of course mean dominantly white American men) weren’t so worried about their H-factorsimpact factors, and appearing squeaky-clean perfect?
I don’t know any of the authors, and I understand little of the science, but I appreciate the contribution.

Now You See It, Some Day You Won't: Scientists Get Closer To Invisibility

Using lenses and meta-materials, science is finding new ways to bend or reroute light. Like Harry Potter's cloak or H.G. Wells' chemical concoction, it could make an object impossible to see.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Scientists Discover One Of The Oldest Horned Dinosaurs: Wendiceratops

Scientists have found a "new" horned dinosaur that lived about 79 million years ago — and they say the discovery helps them understand the early evolution of the family that includes Triceratops.

The new dinosaur, which was named Wendiceratops pinhornensis after a famous fossil hunter who discovered the bone bed in Canada where these fossils were buried, is one of the oldest known horned dinosaurs.

Its distinctive feature is a highly decorated frill around its neck, says paleontologist David Evans from the Royal Ontario Museum.

"The frill is sort of ornamented by a pretty spectacular wave of gnarly hooks that project forward," Evans says.

He adds that it probably had big horns above its eyes and had a big one over its nose — the earliest occurrence of a prominent nose horn in this dinosaur family.

"It's a significant discovery in that it tells us a lot of new information about the early evolution of skull ornamentation, the hooks and horns, that characterize this iconic group of dinosaurs," Evans says.

A few decades ago, scientists knew of only 25 to 30 horned dinosaurs. Now, there are more than 60 and new ones keep turning up all the time.

Michael Ryan, a paleontologist with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, says that Triceratops may have used its horns to fend off Tyrannosaurus rex in the late Cretaceous. But all these weird skull decorations in other dinosaurs likely had more to do with impressing the ladies.

"The horned dinosaur with the biggest horns may have been able to out-compete its rivals to control the biggest harem for breeding purposes," Ryan says.

He and Evans describe their new dinosaur in the journal PLOS ONE.

Despite this — and all the other new discoveries — Triceratops will likely continue to reign as the quintessential horned dinosaur, even though it is "actually a relatively boring horned dinosaur in many ways," Evans says.

But it was discovered over a century ago and has had time to get firmly lodged in the public's imagination. What's more, the fact that it lived in the time of T. rex means that children can play out epic battles between them.

"When I was a kid, Triceratops certainly loomed large in our household," says Evans, who recalls that it was his sister's favorite, while he preferred T. rex. "So, we kind of had the classic argument about which one was better when I was maybe 5 years old."

And he isn't the only one with such vivid Triceratops memories. Ryan recalls that his kindergarten teacher once read a children's book called The Enormous Egg.

"Because it was all about Triceratops and horned dinosaurs," Ryan says, "that probably set me on my path to where I am today." npr

Confederate's Descendant's Scathing Address In S.C. Flag Debate

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Apple Tops Greenpeace Clean Energy Index

In the latest Clean Energy Index published by Greenpeace, Apple topped all technology companies when it comes to running its worldwide operations on renewable energy. Apple topped all of its peers in the index including – Microsoft, Facebook, Google, HP, IBM, Amazon, Oracle, Yahoo, among others.
Through its Clean Energy Index, Greenpeace has been evaluating the energy requirements and the consequent energy choices of the top internet and internet-related companies since 2010. The index evaluates companies’  energy dependence on clean, nuclear, coal, and natural gas.

Greenpeace segmented Apple’s internet-related activities into: iCloud and iTunes. Both of these internet-based services of Apple function on 100% renewable energy. The organisation also lauded Apple’s efforts in terms of building the largest privately owned solar farms at its North Carolina data center, working with its utility in Nevada to power its upcoming data center there with solar and geothermal energy, and purchasing wind energy for its Oregon and California data centers.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

From Ashes To Ashes To Diamonds: A Way To Treasure The Dead

Diamonds are supposed to be a girl's best friend. Now, they might also be her mother, father or grandmother.
Most of the diamonds synthesized from cremated remains come out blue, due to trace amounts of boron in the body. These diamonds, made from the ashes of animals, were created through the same process used to make diamonds from human remains.

Swiss company Algordanza takes cremated human remains and — under high heat and pressure that mimic conditions deep within the Earth — compresses them into diamonds.
Rinaldo Willy, the company's founder and CEO, says he came up with the idea a decade ago. Since then, his customer base has expanded to 24 countries.
Each year, the remains of between 800 and 900 people enter the facility. About three months later, they exit as diamonds, to be kept in a box or turned into jewelry.
Most of the stones come out blue, Willy says, because the human body contains trace amounts of boron, an element that may be involved in bone formation. Occasionally, though, a diamond pops out white, yellow or close to black – Willy's not sure why. Regardless, he says, "every diamond from each person is slightly different. It's always a unique diamond."
Most of the orders Algordanza receives come from relatives of the recently deceased, though some people make arrangements for themselves to become diamonds once they've died. Willy says about 25 percent of his customers are from Japan.
At between $5,000 and $22,000, the process costs as much as some funerals. Theprocess and machinery involved are about the same as in a lab that makes synthetic diamonds from other carbon materials.
The basic process reduces the ash to carbon, then slides it into a machine that applies intense heat and pressure — for weeks. That's at least several hundred million years faster than diamonds are made in nature.
"The more time you give this process, the bigger the rough diamond starts to grow," Willy says. After the new diamond cools off, the crystal is ground and cut to shape, and sometimes engraved with a laser.
It only takes about a pound of ashes to make a single diamond, Willy says. His company has created up to nine diamonds from one individual's ashes.
Algordanza isn't the only company blinging out the afterlife, either. An American company called LifeGem offers the same services, and there are a number of U.S. patents for similar procedures.
Most of the time, Willy says, people take the diamonds to a jeweler to be made into rings or pendants.
"I don't know why, but if the diamond is blue, and the deceased also had blue eyes, I hear almost every time that the diamond had the same color as the eyes of the deceased," says Willy, who personally delivers the diamonds to his Swiss customers.
Each time, he says, the family is happy that their loved one has, in a sense, returned home. And in sparkling form to boot. npr