Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Stuff We've Left In Space

In 1957, humans launched a satellite into orbit, Sputnik-1.
The same mission also created our first piece of space junk: the rocket body that took Sputnik into space.
By the year 2000, there were hundreds of satellites in orbit — and thousands of pieces of space junk, including leftover rockets and pieces of debris.

And today? According to the Royal Institution in London, there are about 20,000 pieces of tracked space debris, ranging from larger than an apple to as big as a school bus. (There are far more objects smaller than that, including millions of pieces of debris too tiny to track, according to NASA.)
Stuart Grey of University College London created a visualization showing how those larger pieces of junk proliferated over time — and how single events, like a Chinese test launch in 2007 or the collision of two satellites in 2009, could create thousands of pieces of space trash.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

comprehensive auto coverage

The Mississippi Swim

On December 29th, 1930, Fred Newton emerged from the water in New Orleans, Louisiana after completing a swim down the length of the Mississippi River. Newton's journey had begun five months earlier when he dove into the river at the Ford Dam in Minnesota. He swam 1,826 miles in 742 hours. To combat water temperatures that fell to 47° F, Fred lubed up in axel grease and petroleum jelly. When he emerged in New Orleans he had set the world record at the time for the longest swim by anyone who is not a fish.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Our Parasites And Vermin Reveal Secrets Of Human History

They look like tiny tubes with stumpy legs. They can nestle snugly into pores, right at the base of small hairs. And there are probably hundreds on your face.
The harmless mite Demodex folliculorum, seen here in an electron microscope image, lives in the follicles of eyelashes.

We're taking about Demodex folliculorum, the mite that calls your hair follicles home. "Probably if you've ever gotten a gross gunky plug out of a nose pore, that's what it looks like," says Michelle Trautwein, an evolutionary biologist at the California Academy of Sciences. "When you get to know them, they're actually pretty adorable."
Trautwein and her colleagues have peeled the mites off microscope slides that they super-glued to their faces. They've scraped the little guys off people's foreheads with the curved end of a bobby pin. They've even ferreted out the insects' DNA from tiny spatulas of face grease." They've probably been with us since the origin of our species," she says.
And Trautwein thinks the mites could help answer questions about human migrations through history, perhaps more than genetics or archaeology could alone because of how they're shared among humans.
The mites are the latest in a not-so-regal lineage of parasites and vermin that could help pin down how human ancestors behaved and moved across the continents. When archaeological evidence is scant or human genetic data is too messy, sometimes these millennia-old frenemies — from rats to tapeworms — are the next best option.
"You don't share them with strangers when you give them a hug hello," she says of the mites. They're mostly shared between sexual partners and members of the same nuclear family. Because of that tight bond, the mites can be a pretty good measure of where people came from.
In an exploratory study published this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers collected mites from the faces of about 70 people with different origins, most of them living in the U.S., and sequenced the mites' mitochondrial DNA. They found that people from different continents harbor different varieties of mites on their faces. Even generations after a family leaves one geographic region for another, Trautwein and her colleagues found, their descendants can retain those original mite populations. Think of them as family heirlooms.
"Basically, as all humans evolved in Africa our mites evolved with us," says Trautwein. "And as populations became isolated they evolved into their own lineages, just like humans did."
"They are potentially gross and they do infect us and take things from us, but to understand ourselves, it's a really great potential tool to use," says George Perry, an anthropologist and biologist at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved with the study. "It's an amazing, largely untapped area to learn about our own history."
Perry's group is researching how tapeworms, which live in the intestines of mammals, could help show when hominins — human ancestors and their relatives — started consistently eating meat. The archaeological evidence is pretty meager — just a few scratched up animal bones from a couple of million years ago. It's assumed that human ancestors first got tapeworms when they domesticated pigs and cows sometime in the last 12,000 years and started routinely eating undercooked meat, which is how the worms would transfer over.
But, he says, the three species of tapeworm that currently inhabit humans are actually most similar to those of lions and hyenas. Perry says the similarity suggests that hominins picked them up long before the domestication of herbivores, when they were consistently chowing down on the same animals as lions and hyenas. He's now studying tapeworm adaptations to heat stress to see if it yields hints about when humans started cooking meat.
Rodents also have been useful tools in piecing together human travel routes. Rats helped corroborate the hypothesis that indigenous Taiwanese people first colonized Polynesia about 3,000 years ago. There isn't much evidence left of the first generations of people to colonize New Zealand, but there is archaeological evidence of a rat population that arrived on the island and was well established by about 700 years ago. That suggests that humans brought them there on their boats.
Lice might take the cake when it comes to vermin that have revealed the most snippets of human history. Scientists have used louse DNA to determine when human ancestors lost their fur and started wearing clothes. Human ancestors picked up pubic lice from gorilla ancestors some 4 million years ago, meaning that by that point the islands of head hair and pubic hair were far enough apart to provide two different environments for their parasite guests. This change suggests to anthropologists that our modern way of regulating body temperature may have come about early in our evolutionary history. (It also suggests some unexpected cavorting between gorilla and human ancestors.)
DNA analysis showed that body lice diverged genetically from head lice somewhere between 30,000 and 114,000 years ago, giving archaeologists a minimum date for when people first started wearing clothes. Before clothes, there wouldn't have been an environment separate enough for a group of lice to inhabit and evolve separately from the ones on people's heads.
"We're really just a habitat for all sorts of natural life," says Trautwein. "People think that evolution and wildlife are these remote things, but it's happening all over us."
If it weren't, pieces of deep human history might still be hidden. npr

High On The Highway: Scientists Try To Build A Marijuana Breath Test

A quartet of Western states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and voters in a half-dozen more states may vote on pot legalization in 2016. That's leading law enforcement officials and entrepreneurs to try to come up with better ways of testing for driving while stoned.
Police usually spot impaired drivers by noting driving behavior, coordination, mannerisms and physical cues. But while a handheld breath test can quickly determine whether someone is legally drunk based on ethanol in the breath, there's no instant test for marijuana intoxication.
In Washington state, which is one of 18 states that has set limits on marijuana intoxication while driving, law enforcement can seek a warrant for a blood draw to test for THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana. But it can take weeks for results to come back from the toxicology lab.
With more Washington state drivers being arrested with marijuana in their systems since the state legalized recreational marijuana, there's growing need for a fast way to identify impaired drivers and get them off the road.
Herb Hill, a chemistry professor at Washington State University in Pullman, heard about the challenges of nailing drug-impaired drivers from a colleague who was a political science professor. "I said, 'Why don't we have a Breathalyzer for that?' He said none exists," Hill said. "I said, 'We can probably make one.' "
So Hill and his colleagues are trying to develop a hand-held device that police officers can use to detect THC in breath. Preliminary field testing with 30 human subjects this spring established that the device can detect THC in breath, Hill said. Much more testing is ahead to look at potential variations among gender, race, body types and amount of use.
Hill's team recruits volunteers who buy their own weed, smoke it at their homes and then blow into the prototype.
"We had to go through institutional board review," Hill said, referring to federal restrictions on research involving marijuana. "It took us almost a year to get permission to do this."
"It wasn't very hard to find the volunteers," Hill added. "We have a waiting list of volunteers."
The human guinea pigs get paid just over minimum wage to smoke their pot.
Hill said the portable device may look like an alcohol Breathalyzer but works differently inside. His team is modifying existing sniffers used at airports to detect explosives and by the military to alert to the presence of chemical warfare agents. The technology is called ion mobility spectrometry.
"In the beginning at least this would not be used as evidential information," Hill explained. "It would be used as screening information to help the officer say he should take a blood sample now."
Jake Yancey, a police officer in Tumwater, Wash., said he would be "super excited" to get a detector that he hopes could "drastically speed up" the process of confirming or ruling out a person's possible marijuana impairment. But a pot breath test must prove itself highly accurate before Washington state would adopt it, according to Lt. Rob Sharpe, head of the impaired driving section at the Washington State Patrol.
"Even if it is a preliminary device, we still need that level of accuracy and reliability for trust and confidence," Sharpe said. "Regardless where it comes into play in that arrest decision, we're talking about people's rights, their liberties and freedoms. We need to be accurate."
All of which points to it being several years at the earliest before you'd see a roadside breath test to identify stoned drivers.
Sharpe said a pot breath test might not even be the chosen answer. He said other companies and research teams are working on alternatives, including cheek swabs or a saliva test, a smartphone-based eye scan, or analyzing sweat on a person's skin.
Since legalizing marijuana use for adults, Washington and Colorado have both set legal limits for THC intoxication at 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Oregon and Alaska have not established a legal THC limit beyond which a driver is presumed to be impaired.
Some marijuana activists have expressed fears that this technology could lead to unimpaired drivers getting unfairly arrested. They point out that THC persists in the body long after the high has worn off. The effects of weed are also different in different people, including between infrequent versus chronic smokers.
Indeed, there is no universal agreement on how much THC is impairing — countries in Europe have set legal limits at 2 to 7 nanograms.
As part of the next rounds of human testing of the marijuana breath tester, the Washington state researchers want to correlate breath readings of THC with simultaneous blood draws and measurements. This could help to establish how long THC lingers in the breath after initial consumption.
Early on, the WSU professors took their idea to Chemring, a Falls Church, Va., instrument maker that agreed to pay for the R&D and will have the commercialization rights.
The Chemring-WSU team is by no means alone in trying to perfect a marijuana breath test. Competitors include Lifeloc Technologies of Colorado, which already makes alcohol testers, and Cannabix Technologies Inc. of Vancouver, British Columbia, has shown off an initial prototype at conferences. There are reportedly several research teams at work in Europe as well.  npr

Fact Check: Did Obama Withdraw From Iraq Too Soon, Allowing ISIS To Grow?

Like everyone else, the Republican candidates talk about ISIS a lot. And what they — at least Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — charge is that ISIS is President Obama's fault, because he withdrew troops from Iraq in 2011 — when he should have kept them there to keep a lid on the insurgency.
Let's Break It Down:
The Claim:
"Barack Obama became president, and he abandoned Iraq. He left, and when he left al Qaida was done for. ISIS was created because of the void that we left, and that void now exists as a caliphate the size of Indiana." — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
The Big Question:
OK, maybe it's actually two questions:

  1. Is Obama responsible for the timing of the troop withdrawal from Iraq?
  1. Did that withdrawal cause the rise of ISIS?

And there are answers for both, though not simple ones.
The Long Answer:
First, we have to decide on a starting point.
Many Democrats, and even a few Republicans, say we should look back to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. That, and the dismantling of the entire security force, created an angry, mainly Sunni demographic, which fueled the insurgency that would later become ISIS.
Others go back further, pointing out the strong links between Saddam Hussein's brutal Baathist regime, and the structure, methods and, indeed, commanders of ISIS.
But if we take the invasion as a given, and Saddam Hussein as history, we can begin the answer to the first question —
Was Obama responsible for the timing of the withdrawal?
It was President George W. Bush who signed the Status of Forces agreement in 2008, which planned for all American troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
"The agreement lays out a framework for the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq — a withdrawal that is possible because of the success of the surge," he said in a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki at the time.
Moments later, an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the president. It is important to remember most Iraqis saw the Americans as occupiers and blame them for civilian deaths.
Maliki summed up the sentiment at the time, thus:
"The incomplete sovereignty and the presence of foreign troops are the most dangerous, most complicated and most burdensome legacy we have faced since the time of dictatorship. Iraq should get rid of them to protect its young democratic experiment."
Thousands of American troops had died, and by the time Obama announced the withdrawal, fully three-quarters of Americans supported the withdrawal (though a majority of Republicans did not).
Still, many had real concerns al Qaeda wasn't done for. And there were some, including U.S. senators, saying the troops should stay just in case things went downhill. They say Obama should have sold the idea, hard, to Maliki.
Iraq analyst Kirk Sowell said Obama never really tried.
"This is one of the criticisms of Obama — that he sort of wanted the negotiations to fail," Sowell said, "and, so, he didn't even talk to Maliki until it was basically all over."
The State Department's lawyers said troops couldn't stay in Iraq unless the Iraqi parliament authorized them to do so, including granting them immunity from Iraqi law. The Iraqi parliamentarians would never OK such a decision, with Iraqi popular opinion staunchly against U.S. troops staying.
Sowell saw State's decision as a deliberately insurmountable obstacle.
"It was a barrier that was very high," he said, "and there was no way it was going to be jumped over."
But, does Obama bear responsibility for the timing of the troop withdrawal? On balance, no.
He was following through on an agreement made by Bush and abiding by the will of the Iraqi and American people.
Alright so, onto the next question —
Did the withdrawal of troops lead to the rise of ISIS?
Back then, in 2011, there was no ISIS. The group didn't exist under that name yet. There was just their predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, which had been at the forefront of the terrible insurgency in Iraq. But many thought it was licked.
"All of the intelligence that we had gathered, all of the results of the surge, all of the detainees we had in our detention system, all of the information we had coming to us from people on the ground, from the tribes indicated that al Qaeda in Iraq was defeated," said Ret. Col. Peter Mansoor, who served in Iraq.
That surge was the influx of American soldiers, and the way the U.S. military organized Sunni tribes to fight against insurgents. The Americans paid them, helped arm them and gave them air cover.
One of those tribal leaders, Sheikh Hamid Taees, told me: "In May of 2006, I worked closely with the American side to rid Anbar of terrorism and al Qaeda, and actually we killed a large number of al Qaeda fighters."
But by the time of that comment, early in 2014, al Qaeda was beginning to get a grip on Sunni areas again, including that province of Anbar.
Many Sunni sheikhs say once the American soldiers left, the minority Sunni population of Iraq suffered under a government dominated by the Shiite majority. That government stopped paying most of them, and even arrested many.
(As an aside, we should note that there was a political, as well as a military, dimension to American influence in Iraq: Obama continued to support the government even as Sunni fear and anger grew. "We were encouraged," he said in 2013, "by the work that Prime Minister Maliki has done in the past to ensure that all people inside of Iraq — Sunni, Shia and Kurd — feel that they have a voice in their government."
(But they did not feel that. Sheikh Zeidan al-Jabri led a series of Sunni protests and sit-ins in Anbar, which were eventually violently dispersed by security forces at the end of 2013.
("For a year, we did not attack anyone; we were an example of democracy on an international level," he told me from exile in Jordan. "And what did the world do? The world simply turned its face from us and gave Maliki the permission to attack the demonstrations and kill hundreds of innocent demonstrators.")
So some Sunnis were drawn back to the insurgency. ISIS found supporters and gained ground. And, yes, much of that could have been prevented by a big U.S. troop presence.
The other thing that happened after the American military left was that the Iraqi army deteriorated dramatically.
"They really did become relatively complacent, and then flat out just didn't train," said Major-General Paul E. Funk II, speaking after abruptly returning to Iraq on a training mission 2014. "Just didn't spend the money to do it, didn't maintain the systems and therein lies the problem."
And corruption was running rampant. Supplies were stolen; soldiers were paid, who never reported for duty. And, so, when ISIS came rushing into the city of Mosul last year, the military collapsed.
I met one of the defeated Iraqi troops, named Bahr Ibrahim, shortly afterward, sitting dejectedly next to an injured friend in a hospital not far from Mosul.
"We fought," he said. But ISIS had more men and bigger weapons.
So, yes, the withdrawal of U.S. troops helped ISIS. If they'd stayed, they could have bolstered Iraq's security forces and tamped down Sunni anger.
But the Republicans' claim that ISIS grew because Obama withdrew troops from Iraq still glosses over many other factors beyond America's control — like the fact that the rift between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq has been going on for centuries. And that wasn't going to be permanently solved by American troops.
Another crucial thing is Syria. For reasons completely beyond Obama's control, after 2011, Syria sank into civil war. Suddenly, just over Iraq's borders were vast ungoverned spaces and lots of weapons. It became a safe haven for ISIS to grow in.
The Republican candidates have the benefit of hindsight now, but they couldn't have predicted all the things that contributed to the growth of ISIS back then. And neither could Obama.
The Short Answer:
1. No, Obama shouldn't shoulder the full burden for the timing of the withdrawal of troops;
2. Yes, a significant American troop presence would have helped slow the growth of ISIS
But with the significant caveat that there were many other factors that enabled ISIS to become strong — and they weren't all predictable in 2011. npr
This story is part of NPR's fact-checking series, "Break It Down," in which we try to cut through the spin and put things in context. Have something you want us to fact check? Put it in the comments section or send us an email at

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015

fact check the presidential cadidates with politifact (especially Donald Trump)

irving penn

Nude No. 58, New York

Woman in Moroccan Palace
(Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn),

Woman in Moroccan Palace
(Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn),

Frozen Food, New York

Bee, New York