Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fortean / Oddball News - 8/31/2010



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Acoustic Archaeology: The Secret Sounds of Stonehenge

newscientistJust after sunrise on a misty spring morning last year, my fellow acoustician at the University of Salford, Bruno Fazenda, and Rupert Till of the University of Huddersfield, UK, could be found wandering around Stonehenge popping balloons. This was not some bizarre pagan ritual. It was a serious attempt to capture the "impulse response" of the ancient southern English stone circle, and with it perhaps start to determine how Stonehenge might have sounded to our ancestors.

An impulse response characterises all the paths taken by the sound between its source – in this case a popping balloon – and a microphone positioned a few metres away. It is simply a plot of the sound pressure at the microphone in the seconds after the pop. The first, strongest peak on the plot represents the sound that travelled directly from the source to the microphone. Later, smaller peaks indicate the arrival of reflections off the stones. The recording and plot shows the impulse response Bruno and Rupert measured with a microphone positioned at the centre of Stonehenge and a popping balloon at the edge of the circle.

This impulse response represents an acoustic fingerprint of the stones. Back in the lab, it can be used to create a virtual rendition of any piece of music or speech as it would sound within the stone circle. All that is needed is an "anechoic" recording of the raw music or speech – a recording made in a reflection-free environment such as the open air or, better, a specialist anechoic chamber such as we have at Salford. The anechoic recording and the impulse response can then be combined using a mathematical operation called convolution.

NOTE: read more at Echoes of the past: The sites and sounds of prehistory...Lon


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Battle Royale: Crop Circle Experts Lock Horns!

By David Haith - The croppie world awaits with bated breath the next move in a controversy which has arisen between two
top researchers of the phenomena, Nancy Talbott of the BLT group and Colin Andrews.

Colin says some of the conclusions of BLT's researcher William Levengood are plain wrong and the group should admit the mistake.

He claims to have filmed proof that circle plants Levengood said showed good evidence of the genuine "crop circle making energy" were in fact from a fake circle made by Nancy's own plant samplers.

Nancy sparked the dispute in a piece she wrote for the Report a Crop Circle Facebook page responding to questions about published papers by her BLT group.

She suggested "No reputable professional scientist would challenge already published work without having carried out research replicating the research they are challenging"

She adds: "And if some of the lay-people involved in the crop circle situation are themselves raising questions about the scientific work, such questions are basically insignificant...precisely because these lay-people do not have the academic or scientific training needed to correctly understand what the published material actual says."

But weighing in with his own statement headed: "BLT got it wrong and should admit it and move on", Colin argues: "It does not always necessitate replication of a finding to prove the scientist is heading down the wrong road".

He claims he filmed Nancy's crop circle samplers making a crop circle, sending samples to her from it and then finally viewing Levengood's findings back to them.

Writes Colin: "Mr. Levengood concluded that the plants from this circle were among the best examples of the real phenomenon and showed the highest crop circle making energy. But the team and I knew differently. Whatever the science and protocols, whatever his findings, the plants came from a man made crop circle. The results showed whatever they showed but the interpretation was wrong".

He adds that downed plants from wind and rain in the same field were also judged by Levengood to show a "very high level" of the mysterious energy.

In an email exchange, I asked Colin why Nancy's team were making their own crop circle.

Colin responded: "It was a legitimate blind test of BLT analysis. I asked the sampling team to join me to blind test Levengood. BLT received samples as normal as they would from any other crop circle. I have it all on video and sent Nancy a copy. I've not wanted to make it bad for Levengood but its important to get some balance back into this."

I have forwarded Colin's Facebook statement to Nancy and will report further her reaction if she chooses to respond.

NOTE: by all means, go to the link and read the comments, etc. - Two Crop Circle Experts Lock Horns...Lon

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New Honeybee Breed Key to Combating Colony Collapse Disorder

treehugger - A British beekeeper has been working on creating a new strain of honeybee resistant to the varroa mite, a prime suspect in colony collapse disorder (CCD), and it looks like he's hit a high note after 18 years of careful observation and selective breeding. Ron Hoskins found that bees in one of his hives figured out what a great idea mutual grooming can be -- they learned to clean the mites off one another. Hoping that this learned behavior is hereditary, he spread the genes of bees from this colony to his other hives. It worked. Now, combating CCD could be linked in no small part to how quickly the new strain of bee spreads across the country.

Daily Mail reports that the British Beekeepers Association is excited about the work Hoskins has done, and the hope is the drones from his "grooming" bees will mate with wandering female queens to spread the heartier genes across Britain. It could take quite a long time, and a lot of generations of bees before the behavior becomes normal, but if it's a way to combat the mites that wipe out entire colonies, then it's quite an exciting evolution to witness.

Hoskins, who is from Swindon, has named the new strain the "Swindon Honeybee" and all his colonies consist of this new breed. And the behavior might be the only thing that can save honeybees from the verroa mite:

Martin Smith, president of the British Beekeepers' Association, said: "The varroa mite is probably the single most important factor that has caused the reduction in bee numbers worldwide. It has now become resistant to chemicals we have used in the past so we are being forced to look into other methods."

The evolution of natural behaviors is certainly a good method to fall back on, with a little nudge from beekeepers. It might not be a silver bullet for CCD -- the cause of which is still under hot debate -- but it certainly doesn't hurt to have bees taking care of mite infestations on their own.

NOTE: here we go again...mucking with Mother Nature. Splice and dice to solve one problem than create another that's ten times worse...Lon

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Mother and Newborn in Critical Condition After Doctors Brawl During Delivery


guardian - Police were yesterday questioning staff at a hospital in Sicily where a child was born with suspected brain damage after two doctors attending his mother allegedly came to blows over the need for a caesarean as she went into labour. Laura Salpietro, 30, had her womb removed following the birth. Her husband claims this took place almost an hour and a half late because of the brawl. Her son had two heart attacks shortly after the birth and is still in a drug-induced coma.

Both doctors have been suspended, and the incident, at the Policlinico hospital, in Messina, last Thursday, is the subject of four investigations – by the hospital authorities, a local prosecutor, the regional health authority, and the ministry of health in Rome. One of the doctors involved and the head of the hospital's obstetrics department have denied a link between the fight and the subsequent events. But the woman's husband, Matteo Molonia, said there had been no previous hint of complications. "The sonographic scans and clinical examinations had ruled out any health problems for my wife and son," he said.

"My wife was already in the labour room when her gynaecologist, who followed her pregnancy, and another doctor began to argue. The dispute erupted when her personal gynaecologist suggested a caesarean and the other objected." Italy has one of the world's lowest rates of maternal mortality, but also has one of the highest rates of caesarean section, amounting to 38% of all births. According to Italian media accounts, Salpietro's gynaecologist, Antonio De Vivo, punched his hand through a window after his collar was grabbed by the second doctor. Asked for a comment De Vivo later said: "I merely say that in this matter I am the wronged party and I was attacked."

Molonia, 37, a private detective, was quoted as saying he saw De Vivo leave the labour room with blood dripping from his hand. "There is a gap that goes from 7.40 [in the morning], when the row blew up, to nine o'clock, when they operated on my wife. Why did all that time go by?" The other doctor, Vincenzo Benedetto, said there had been "exaggeration by the media", and that "everything happened with the greatest speed". He said the complications at the birth were due to a "pre-existing pathology". The head of the obstetrics unit, Domenico Granese, said that the complications at the birth of Salpietro's child occurred "not because of the row or because of any delay".

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Survive the Apocalypse

independent - Are you terrified of earthquakes, floods or tsunamis? Does the prospect of terrorist attack or nuclear holocaust fill you with dread? Or does it take that ancient Mayan stuff about 2012 to get your juices flowing? Whatever your paranoia, fear not: if the End Times really are coming, then a small financial investment is all it will take for you to survive it.

That, at least, is what they're telling customers of the apocalypse industry, a small section of the American economy which, after years in abeyance following the end of the Cold War, has once more started growing again.

Robert Vicino, the founder of Vivos, a Californian company building a "survival network" of upscale underground bunkers across the United States, will travel to London this week to announce the opening of his firm's first nuclear-bomb-and-asteroid-proof property in Europe.

It is understood to be a former military facility, though its exact location, like all Vivos bunkers, is secret, since they don't want non-residents over-running the place when the Big One does strike. It will be stocked with all the food, water, fuel and clothing that its residents need to survive for a year.

"London is of course on the radar of terrorism, and nuclear attacks," Mr Vicino said. "You're closer to the Middle East than we are here in California. And where the divine decides to drop the next asteroid is anyone's guess. Now is the time to prepare if you value your life." You'll have to have a few spare pennies, though. Investors seeking to buy part ownership of one of the Vivos bunkers must stump up $50,000 (£32,000) per adult, and $25,000 for each child. Nonetheless, Vicino claims already to have 5,000 Americans on his books.

He says he's so far built 300,000sq ft of bunker space in the US. Though Europeans have traditionally been more reluctant to buy into the impending apocalypse, he believes the explosion in London's population of high-net-worth individuals has left the British market ripe for exploitation.

"People have life insurance
. We are selling something better: life assurance," he said. "Our places can survive a 50 megatonne blast 10 miles away; they can be submerged to a depth of 500ft, they can survive shockwaves, and electromagnetic pulses. They have medical facilities, libraries, security offices, gymnasiums, even prisons."

Potential residents don't just have to pony up cash for their stake in a Vivos bunker. They also have to undergo a psychological evaluation and criminal background check to weed out individuals who would be unsuited to the strained conditions of an extended stay underground.

Some of those who passed met reporters recently at a press tour of a bunker near Barstow, in the desert east of Los Angeles. "We're not crazy people, but these are fearful times," said one of them, Steve Kramer. "My family wants to survive. You have to be prepared."

Jason Hodge, a father of four who also counts himself a "future survivor," to use the jargon of the apocalypse industry, added: "It's an investment in life. I want to make sure I have a place I can take me and my family if that worst-case scenario were to happen."

Critics have accused Mr Vicino and similar businessmen of exploiting the public's irrational fears. Kenneth Rose, the author of One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture, recently told the Los Angeles Times that bunker culture leads to "a society of fear, a society obsessed with its own survival. I don't think that's any way to live a life".

There is more than a whiff of snake oil about the Vivos website. It lists various scenarios under which life as we know it might cease, including "Planet X", "Solar Flares" and "Super Volcano". Mr Vicino reacts angrily, however, to allegations that he's preying on fear. "If anyone's doing that, it's you guys in the media," he says. "You guys are reporting fear every day. We are not promoting that fear, but we are selling the solution to it."

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Thorium May Be Energy 'Silver Bullet'


telegraph - We could then stop arguing about wind mills, deepwater drilling, IPCC hockey sticks, or strategic reliance on the Kremlin. History will move on fast.

Muddling on with the status quo is not a grown-up policy. The International Energy Agency says the world must invest $26 trillion (£16.7 trillion) over the next 20 years to avert an energy shock. The scramble for scarce fuel is already leading to friction between China, India, and the West.

There is no certain bet in nuclear physics but work by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) on the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors may be the magic bullet we have all been hoping for, though we have barely begun to crack the potential of solar power.

Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal – named after the Norse god of thunder, who also gave us Thor’s day or Thursday - produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. A mere fistful would light London for a week.

Thorium eats its own hazardous waste. It can even scavenge the plutonium left by uranium reactors, acting as an eco-cleaner. "It’s the Big One," said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA rocket engineer and now chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering.

"Once you start looking more closely, it blows your mind away. You can run civilisation on thorium for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s essentially free. You don’t have to deal with uranium cartels," he said.

Thorium is so common that miners treat it as a nuisance, a radioactive by-product if they try to dig up rare earth metals. The US and Australia are full of the stuff. So are the granite rocks of Cornwall. You do not need much: all is potentially usable as fuel, compared to just 0.7pc for uranium.

After the Manhattan Project, US physicists in the late 1940s were tempted by thorium for use in civil reactors. It has a higher neutron yield per neutron absorbed. It does not require isotope separation, a big cost saving. But by then America needed the plutonium residue from uranium to build bombs.

"They were really going after the weapons," said Professor Egil Lillestol, a world authority on the thorium fuel-cycle at CERN. "It is almost impossible make nuclear weapons out of thorium because it is too difficult to handle. It wouldn’t be worth trying." It emits too many high gamma rays.

You might have thought that thorium reactors were the answer to every dream but when CERN went to the European Commission for development funds in 1999-2000, they were rebuffed.

Brussels turned to its technical experts, who happened to be French because the French dominate the EU’s nuclear industry. "They didn’t want competition because they had made a huge investment in the old technology," he said.

Another decade was lost. It was a sad triumph of vested interests over scientific progress. "We have very little time to waste because the world is running out of fossil fuels. Renewables can’t replace them. Nuclear fusion is not going work for a century, if ever," he said.

The Norwegian group Aker Solutions has bought Dr Rubbia’s patent for the thorium fuel-cycle, and is working on his design for a proton accelerator at its UK operation.

Victoria Ashley, the project manager, said it could lead to a network of pint-sized 600MW reactors that are lodged underground, can supply small grids, and do not require a safety citadel. It will take £2bn to build the first one, and Aker needs £100mn for the next test phase.

The UK has shown little appetite for what it regards as a "huge paradigm shift to a new technology". Too much work and sunk cost has already gone into the next generation of reactors, which have another 60 years of life.

So Aker is looking for tie-ups with the US, Russia, or China. The Indians have their own projects - none yet built - dating from days when they switched to thorium because their weapons programme prompted a uranium ban.

America should have fewer inhibitions than Europe in creating a leapfrog technology. The US allowed its nuclear industry to stagnate after Three Mile Island in 1979.

Anti-nuclear neorosis is at last ebbing. The White House has approved $8bn in loan guarantees for new reactors, yet America has been strangely passive. Where is the superb confidence that put a man on the moon?

A few US pioneers are exploring a truly radical shift to a liquid fuel based on molten-fluoride salts, an idea once pursued by US physicist Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee in the 1960s. The original documents were retrieved by Mr Sorensen.

Moving away from solid fuel may overcome some of thorium’s "idiosyncracies". "You have to use the right machine. You don’t use diesel in a petrol car: you build a diesel engine," said Mr Sorensen.

Thorium-fluoride reactors can operate at atmospheric temperature. "The plants would be much smaller and less expensive. You wouldn’t need those huge containment domes because there’s no pressurized water in the reactor. It’s close-fitting," he said.

Nuclear power could become routine and unthreatening. But first there is the barrier of establishment prejudice.

When Hungarian scientists led by Leo Szilard tried to alert Washington in late 1939 that the Nazis were working on an atomic bomb, they were brushed off with disbelief. Albert Einstein interceded through the Belgian queen mother, eventually getting a personal envoy into the Oval Office.

Roosevelt initially fobbed him off. He listened more closely at a second meeting over breakfast the next day, then made up his mind within minutes. "This needs action," he told his military aide. It was the birth of the Manhattan Project. As a result, the US had an atomic weapon early enough to deter Stalin from going too far in Europe.

The global energy crunch needs equal "action". If it works, Manhattan II could restore American optimism and strategic leadership at a stroke: if not, it is a boost for US science and surely a more fruitful way to pull the US out of perma-slump than scattershot stimulus.

Even better, team up with China and do it together, for all our sakes.

Fortean / Oddball News - 8/31/2010
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