Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fortean / Oddball News - 8/10/2010

Man Completes 4,000 Mile Trek of the Amazon River

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BBC - A Leicestershire man has completed a 4,000-mile (6,400 km) trek along the length of the Amazon.

Former soldier Ed Stafford dodged vipers, electric eels, and was wrongly accused of murder during his epic journey, which began in April 2008.

The 34-year-old, of Mowsley, walked from Peru to the coast of Brazil.

A spokeswoman for Mr Stafford said he had become the first person to have walked the entire length of the South American river.

He began his 859-day journey at the summit of Mount Mismi, and has since suffered hundreds of wasp stings and endured an estimated 50,000 mosquito bites, while raising money for charity and increasing awareness of the river.

He said: "The endurance, both mental and physical, has been the thing that's been the most wearing.

"I've been quite humbled by how much I've had to rely on other people and I've benefited greatly from the generosity of the people I've met along the way.

"The interest in the expedition has been mind blowing and all the messages of support have kept me going - that and the desire to bring life in the Amazon to the wider world."

"I started walking with Ed at first because I felt a responsibility to try and help this crazy man”

Five months into the trip Mr Stafford was joined by Peruvian forestry worker Gadiel "Cho" Sanchez Rivera who pledged to complete the expedition with him.

The ex-soldier wrote on Twitter: "Job done. 28 months and Cho and I have finished walking the Amazon. I always knew it was possible."

The pair have walked every day along the banks of the river living off piranha, rice and beans.

Mr Sanchez Rivera said: "I started walking with Ed at first because I felt a responsibility to try and help this crazy man through a very dangerous area with drugs traffickers and hostile tribes.

"But as the days went on I really enjoyed the simple life and Ed and I became good friends. It was not long before I knew that I wanted to complete the whole trip and walk with Ed right to the finish."

Mr Stafford said he was sometimes met with looks of "absolute terror" by locals who feared white people would harm them, and in one instance was detained by a village chief because he arrived shortly after a local man went missing.

The final leg of the trek proved one of the most challenging, with Mr Stafford collapsing at the side of the road a few hours before reaching the final destination.

British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has described both men's efforts as "truly extraordinary".

They reached the shores of the Maruda Beach in Belem at about 1300 BST.


Book: 'Why Beliefs Matter'

newscientist - Albert Einstein once asked, does the moon exist when no one is looking at it? Such questions had been the preserve of philosophers, but with the discovery of quantum mechanics in the 1920s they became legitimate queries for physicists, too.

Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, did not believe that science grants us access to an objective reality and insisted that the task of physics was not to find out "how nature is" but only "what we can say about nature". Einstein, on the other hand, maintained an unshakeable belief in a reality that exists out there. Otherwise, he said, "I simply cannot see what it is that physics is meant to describe".

Einstein based his view of quantum mechanics on his belief in an independent reality - the moon does exist when no one is looking at it. In contrast, Bohr used the theory to construct and underpin his belief that the atomic realm has no independent reality. The two agreed on the equations but disagreed on what they meant.

"Scientists, like everyone else, have beliefs," writes distinguished mathematician E. Brian Davies in Why Beliefs Matter. He is not only referring to religious beliefs but to philosophical ones, too. While religious beliefs can be easy to leave at the laboratory door, philosophical beliefs are much harder to sideline.

Some mathematicians, for instance, subscribe to a Platonic view in which theorems are true statements about timeless entities that exist independent of human minds. Others believe that mathematics is a human enterprise invented to describe the regularities seen in nature. The very idea that nature has such regularities which render it comprehensible is itself a belief, as is the idea that the world we perceive is not some sort of delusion or practical joke.

The title of Davies's book, significantly, is a statement, not a question. For him, beliefs do matter. Davies offers a series of snapshots of how various philosophical views inform science, rather than a systematic inquiry into the nature of belief. Along the way he discusses the scientific revolution, the mind-body problem, machine intelligence, string theory and the multiverse. The result is a wide-ranging, thought-provoking meditation rather than a populist read. Beliefs, it seems, are a serious business, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

"At the highest level, beliefs become world views, fundamental beliefs that we use to evaluate other beliefs about the world," says Davies. World views can be evaluated, compared and changed, but you cannot avoid having one. Davies is a self-proclaimed pluralist. That is, he believes that humans have a limited mental capacity and will always need a multiplicity of ways of looking at the world in order to understand it. There may be two or more equally valid and complementary descriptions of the same phenomenon, he says - not unlike the concept of wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics. That does not mean that all world views are equally good - some simply don't hold up under the scrutiny of experiment.

The scientific revolution that began in the 16th century was a triumph of rationality and experiment over the superstition and speculation of the Middle Ages. Even so, nearly 40 per cent of Americans believe that God created humans some time within the last 10,000 years.

World views are not founded on logic, so the most that one can demand is that they should be consistent with what science has discovered. Yet, as the writer C. S. Lewis noted, some arguments are impossible to refute. "A belief in invisible cats cannot be logically disproved," he said, although it does "tell us a good deal about those who hold it".


SETIcon Starts Friday, August 13th

sfgate - Frank Drake, the famed astronomer who started looking for signals of intelligent beings in distant space 50 years ago, has inspired generations of starstruck seekers to join the hunt, and many of them will gather in the Bay Area next week to let the public in on what they're up to.

Their venture is known as SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. If E.T. or any other aliens are really Out There, they may just be listening in to what promises to be a unique event with lectures, demonstrations and even a music performance.

Drake, now 80, will be among the prominent astronomers, astronauts and science fiction writers at the event - called SETIcon - to explain how the search for alien life is going and what it means.

The event is also scheduled to honor Drake formally as the inspiration for what is now a global search for alien life. The effort has expanded rapidly over the years, most recently as part of a project called seti@home, in which more than 5 million enthusiasts lend the processing power of their home computers to help catch signals from distant galaxies.

Drake began his imaginative quest as a young physicist running a radio telescope in Green Bank, W.Va. He searched for radio signals coming from the region near two sun-like stars and called the effort Project Ozma, after the princess in "The Wizard of Oz" books. That burgeoned into a full-scale, continuing search.

"Every time I go to an astrobiology meeting now, I sit there amazed at how far the search has come, how it's now a real scientific discipline and how it's become a cutting-edge part of NASA science," he said Friday.

Among the many scientists speaking at the event is UC Berkeley astrophysicist Alex Filippenko, who explores how exploding stars called supernovae reveal the nature of black holes and the dark matter of the universe. Debra Fischer, a Yale astronomer who used to teach at S.F. State, will discuss her hunt for Earth-like planets around distant stars.

There will even be an audiovisual concert led by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, previewing his composition called "Rhythms of the Universe" that he is developing with SETI astronomer Jill Tarter and with George Smoot, the UC Berkeley astrophysicist who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for confirming the "big bang" theory of the origin of the universe.
If you go

SETIcon is sponsored by the SETI Institute in Mountain View. It will start Friday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Santa Clara and ends Aug. 15. For tickets or to learn more, go to www.seticon.com


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Woman Freaks Out When Told No Chicken McNuggets Available

A woman lost her cool after finding out she couldn't order chicken McNuggets at an Ohio McDonalds.

Twenty-five year-old Melodi Dushane flipped out at the drive up window when employees wouldn't serve her McNuggets.

She was told she couldn't get them because they were still serving breakfast.

Hungry and outraged, Dushane hit the employee in the face.

The manager rushed over, and Dushane threw a few more punches but the manager fought back and started pulling the angry customer's hair!

Eventually the window was closed and Dushane broke it with an object from her car.

Dushane was charged with vandalism.

NOTE: reminds me of a woman who wanted Fresca with her order in the Burger King I worked at when I was in high school in the early 70's. We didn't have it, so she went ape shit and decided to grab a shotgun and shoot out the lighted sign out front. True story...Lon


I hope these two have a wonderful life together....

Fortean / Oddball News - 8/10/2010
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