Author Archive | majestic

Mystery of Darwin’s Strange South American Mammals Solved

“We have resolved one of the last unresolved major problems in mammalian evolution,” claims Ian Barnes of London’s Natural History Museum, as reported by the Guardian:

To 19th century British naturalist Charles Darwin, they were the strangest animals yet discovered, one looking like a hybrid of a hippo, rhino and rodent and another resembling a humpless camel with an elephant’s trunk.

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“Toxodon platensis” by Robert Bruce Horsfall

 

Ever since Darwin first collected their fossils about 180 years ago, scientists had been baffled about where these odd South American beasts that went extinct just 10,000 years ago fit on the mammal family tree. The mystery has now been solved.

Researchers have revealed that a sophisticated biochemical analysis of bone collagen extracted from fossils of the two mammals, Toxodon and Macrauchenia, demonstrated that they were related to the group that includes horses, tapirs and rhinos.

Some scientists previously thought the two herbivorous mammals, the last of a successful group called South American ungulates, were related to mammals of African origin like elephants and aardvarks or other South American mammals like armadillos and sloths.

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DARPA’s Solution to Ebola (and all other Infectious Diseases)

It’s tempting to think of DARPA as the US Government’s evil technology agency, but Alexis Madrigal has discovered one DARPA program that might just be an incredible solution to infectious diseases, reporting for Fusion:

Saving the world from Ebola suddenly sounds so simple, as the solution spills from Colonel Dan Wattendorf’s mouth, up on the stage in the windowless banquet hall of this Marriott hotel south of San Francisco.

“We’re going to take the genetic code and put it into a format where you go to your drug store or doctor and get a shot in the arm,” Wattendorf told a room full of medical researchers and technologists. “There’s a low-cost of goods, no cold chain, and we would produce the correct antibody in [any] individual directly.”

DARPA

Wattendorf, a clean-cut, angular triathlete, is a program manager for the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the military’s far-out research wing. On this day, he’s speaking at a DARPA-sponsored conference called Biology Is Technology.

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New York Times Tech Writer on Dangers of Mobile Phones

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White AppleWatch with Screen by Justin14 (CC)

Nick Bilton has reached the rarefied level of tech writers who matter. He is one of the big dogs of Silicon Valley tech reporting, plying his trade for the New York Times. His latest post, The Health Concerns in Wearable Tech, has him concluding:

“After researching this column, talking to experts and poring over dozens of scientific papers, I have realized the dangers of cellphones when used for extended periods, and as a result I have stopped holding my phone next to my head and instead use a headset.”

That’s exactly the message Kevin Kunze has been pushing via his excellent documentary Mobilize. For anyone who wants more depth on the dangers of cell phone radiation, you should check out Kevin’s film.

Here’s how Bilton starts his article:

In 1946, a new advertising campaign appeared in magazines with a picture of a doctor in a lab coat holding a cigarette and the slogan, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” No, this wasn’t a spoof.

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The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

To all the AA people out there, this post is here because debate on the best way to treat addiction is healthy, but the negative sentiments towards Alcoholics Anonuymous are those of Gabrielle Glaser. Her essay was published at the Atlantic, so direct your complaints to them, please!

…The debate over the efficacy of 12-step programs has been quietly bubbling for decades among addiction specialists. But it has taken on new urgency with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which requires all insurers and state Medicaid programs to pay for alcohol- and substance-abuse treatment, extending coverage to 32 million Americans who did not previously have it and providing a higher level of coverage for an additional 30 million.

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“Logo AA” by Anamix (CC)

 

Nowhere in the field of medicine is treatment less grounded in modern science. A 2012 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University compared the current state of addiction medicine to general medicine in the early 1900s, when quacks worked alongside graduates of leading medical schools.

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Here’s What Happens When You Open a Gun Store in the Middle of NYC

Guns on sale in New York? Unthinkable, right?

nyc guns store

The gun store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

 

Check out this PSA from Grey Advertising, via Adweek:

States United to Prevent Gun Violence and its agency, Grey New York, have teamed up for some truly hard-hitting PSAs, including 2013’s famous “Ed” spot, which won a Silver Lion in Film at Cannes. Now, they’ve moved on to a new tactic—a social experiment set in the real world.

They did what they’re calling “the unthinkable”—opened a real-looking gun store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and invited first-time gun buyers to check it out, with hidden cameras rolling.

To create drama, they put disturbing tags on each weapon, indicating which models were used in particular mass shootings, unintentional shootings, homicides and suicides. Needless to say, the fresh-faced buyers end up looking rather pallid by the end, and aren’t quite as excited to head home with a firearm.

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How to Set Up a Clinton-Style Home Email Server

“The crazy thing is that the private configuration actually worked,” writes Mike Murphy at the Atlantic:

Responding to mounting questions, Hillary Clinton—the former U.S. secretary of state and a presumptive presidential candidate—said this week that she “opted for convenience” by using a personal email account instead of her official one.

Server stuff

Photo: Lee Bennett (CC)

 

But let’s be real: There’s absolutely nothing convenient about setting up a private email server, as Clinton says she did in her Chappaqua, New York, home. And security experts say her system may have had vulnerabilities that could have exposed correspondence to hackers and government snooping.

Setting up a server is no simple task. “It’s a pretty big job to maintain a server like that and make sure it’s properly configured,” says Peter Firstbrook, an Internet security researcher at Gartner. Firstbrook says such an endeavor is “highly unusual.” He has not heard of any companies whose executives had set up personal servers for work emails, let alone government officials.

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Cows Are Deadlier Than You Ever Knew

Can “Cow Week” be far behind the now played-out Shark Week? Cows are definitely more dangerous to humans according to io9:

Every year, cows kill more people than sharks. And yet nobody ever makes a horror movie about them, and there’s no Cow Week. These deadly beasts have managed to stay completely under the radar… until now. Find out just why cows are so deadly.

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Photo: Mmemichi (CC)

 

Deliberate Attacks on People

In the United States, the CDC estimates that about twenty-two people are killed by cows each year, and of those cow attacks, seventy-five percent were known to be deliberate attacks. One third of the killings were committed by cows that had previously displayed aggressive behavior.

People know that bulls are dangerous, and it’s true. When animal behaviorists analyzed 21 cases that occurred across a four-state area, they found that bulls were responsible for ten of the deaths.

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The Church of TED

Do you love or hate TED, or both? Megan Hustad suggests that it may depend on your liking for organized religion, writing at the New York Times:

… I grew up among Christian evangelicals and I recognize the cadences of missionary zeal when I hear them. TED, with its airy promises, sounds a lot like a secular religion. And while it’s not exactly fair to say that the conference series and web video function like an organized church, understanding the parallel structures is useful for conversations about faith — and how susceptible we humans remain. The TED style, with its promise of progress, is as manipulative as the orthodoxies it is intended to upset.

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A great TED talk is reminiscent of a tent revival sermon. There’s the gathering of the curious and the hungry. Then a persistent human problem is introduced, one that, as the speaker gently explains, has deeper roots and wider implications than most listeners are prepared to admit.

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Was Stonehenge an Ancient Mecca on Stilts?

Julian Spalding, a prominent museum director in Britain, has a new theory about the famous megalithic site: it was an ancient Mecca on Stilts. From the Guardian:

Whether it was a Druid temple, an astronomical calendar or a centre for healing, the mystery of Stonehenge has long been a source of speculation and debate. Now a dramatic new theory suggests that the prehistoric monument was in fact “an ancient Mecca on stilts”.

Through Mists Of Time - Stonehenge

Stonehenge photo by Simon and his Camera

 

The megaliths would not have been used for ceremonies at ground level, but would instead have supported a circular wooden platform on which ceremonies were performed to the rotating heavens, the theory suggests.

Julian Spalding, an art critic and former director of some of the UK’s leading museums, argues that the stones were foundations for a vast platform, long since lost – “a great altar” raised up high towards the heavens and able to support the weight of hundreds of worshippers.

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Stingray: A Police Gadget Tracks Phones? Shhh! It’s Secret

I’m sure it won’t be a surprise to disinfonauts to learn that US police forces and various federal agencies can track mobile phones, but for the New York Times it’s front page news (note, the ACLU is all over this; click here for an interactive map showing which police forces have the “secret” Stingray tracking devices):

A powerful new surveillance tool being adopted by police departments across the country comes with an unusual requirement: To buy it, law enforcement officials must sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing them from saying almost anything about the technology.

City of Chicago Emergency Management Surveillance Vehicle

City of Chicago Emergency Management Surveillance Vehicle. Photo: Seth Anderson (CC)

 

Any disclosure about the technology, which tracks cellphones and is often called StingRay, could allow criminals and terrorists to circumvent it, the F.B.I. has said in an affidavit. But the tool is adopted in such secrecy that communities are not always sure what they are buying or whether the technology could raise serious privacy concerns.

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