In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.
Revisiting the currency question will not be a problem for the SNP. Or for that part of the independence movement which doesn’t simply accept the media’s version of events. The currency thing was never a real issue anyway. The Scottish Government's position was perfectly sensible. But the media were steadfast in refusing to inform people of that position. And even more steadfast in their refusal to question the British parties' joint threat to abolish the currency union.
Maintaining the currency union, at least as an interim measure, was always the best option for both rUK and Scotland. Arguably not the ideal option for either. But the most acceptable compromise for both.
There would almost inevitably come a point where economic divergence would make currency union infeasible. But that point was almost certainly years, and erhaps decades, down the line. In the meantime, the priority for both governments should have been the avoidance of massively disruptive changes.
Why do the media never ask why the British parties' chose to ignore that imperative?
Why were they never asked what priority was so great as to supersede the need to maintain some measure of economic stability?
Why was the UK Government never asked exactly when the decision to threaten abolition of the currency union was made?
Why were they never asked whether such a hugely important decision was discussed in cabinet?
Why were they never asked whether the Bank of England had been consulted?
Why were they never asked whether business organisations such as the CBI were consulted?
Why were they never asked who actually took the decision to threaten abolition of the currency union?
Why were they never asked about the findings of an impact assessment - assuming one was even carried out?
If no impact assessment was carried out, why wasn't the UK government quizzed regarding this failure?
As ever, Alex Salmond knows exactly what he is doing. The British establishment will be keeching its breeks at the prospect of an open and informed debate about currency. They will be dreading the possibility that, this time around, the awkward questions will be asked.
NOTE: THE BBC PERSISTS IN PROHIBITING COMMENTS ON ITS SCOTTISH NEWS AND POLITICS STORIES IN AN ACT OF BLATANT CENSORSHIP, INEXCUSABLE DISCRIMINATION - AND COWARDICE.
Are we alone in the universe? To answer this question, astronomers have been using a variety of methods in the past decades to search for habitable planets and for the signals from extraterrestrial observers.
The first part of this venture has been highly successful: More than 2,000 planets around distant stars — so called exoplanets — have been found so far. The second part, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), has not yet been successful.
Maybe the search strategy has not been optimized until now, said researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Göttingen, Germany, and from McMaster University in Canada. They suggest that future searches focus on that part of the sky in which distant observers can notice the yearly transit of Earth in front of the Sun.
Observers in this zone could have discovered Earth with the same techniques that are used by terrestrial astronomers to discover and characterize exoplanets. According to the researchers, the probability that extraterrestrials are already deliberately sending us signals is much higher in this part of the sky.
This strategy reduces the region that needs to be searched to about two thousandths of the sky, drastically reducing the amount of data to be analyzed.
When a planet passes in front of its host star, it causes a small transient dimming of the star. This so called transit can be measurable, depending on the size on the planet and the sensitivity of the instrument. In fact, the majority of the exoplanets known to us today have been discovered with this transit method. A similar technique, called transit spectroscopy, might enable astronomers in the future to scan the atmospheres of exoplanets for gaseous indicators of life.
In a first step, the two researchers identified the region in the sky from which one sees the transits less than half a solar radius from the center of the solar disk. The possible exoplanetary systems that offer this perspective are all located in a small strip in the sky, the projection of Earth’s orbit around the Sun (the ecliptic) onto the celestial sphere. The area of this strip amounts only to about two thousandths of the entire sky.
“The key point of this strategy is that it confines the search area to a very small part of the sky. As a consequence, it might take us less than a human life span to find out whether or not there are extraterrestrial astronomers who have found the Earth. They may have detected Earth’s biogenic atmosphere and started to contact whoever is home,” said René Heller from MPS.
Not every star is equally well suited as a home of extraterrestrial life. The more massive a star, the shorter is its life span. Yet, a long stellar life is considered a prerequisite for the development of higher life forms. Therefore the researchers compiled a list of stars that are not only in the advantageous part of the sky, but also offer good chances of hosting evolved forms of life, that is, intelligent life. The researchers compiled a list of 82 nearby Sun-like stars that satisfy their criteria. This catalog can now serve as an immediate target list for SETI initiatives.
The Tully Monster, an oddly configured sea creature with teeth at the end of a narrow, trunk-like extension of its head and eyes that perch on either side of a long, rigid bar, has finally been identified.
A Yale-led team of paleontologists has determined that the 300-million-year-old animal — which grew to only a foot long — was a vertebrate, with gills and a stiffened rod (or notochord) that supported its body. It is part of the same lineage as the modern lamprey. “I was first intrigued by the mystery of the Tully Monster. With all of the exceptional fossils, we had a very clear picture of what it looked like, but no clear picture of what it was,” said Victoria McCoy, lead author of a new study in the journal Nature. McCoy conducted her research as a Yale graduate student and is now at the University of Leicester.
For decades, the Tully Monster has been one of the great fossil enigmas: It was discovered in 1958, first described scientifically in 1966, yet never definitively identified even to the level of phylum (that is, to one of the major groups of animals). Officially known as Tullimonstrum gregarium, it is named after Francis Tully, the amateur fossil hunter who came across it in coal mining pits in northeastern Illinois.
Thousands of Tully Monsters eventually were found at the site, embedded in concretions — masses of hard rock that formed around the Tully Monsters as they fossilized. Tully donated many of his specimens to the Field Museum of Natural History, which collaborated on the Nature study along with Argonne National Laboratory and the American Museum of Natural History.
The Tully Monster has taken on celebrity status in Illinois. It became the state fossil in 1989, and more recently, U-Haul trucks and trailers in Illinois began featuring an image of a Tully Monster. “Basically, nobody knew what it was,” said Derek Briggs, Yale’s G. Evelyn Hutchinson Professor of Geology and Geophysics, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and co-author of the study. “The fossils are not easy to interpret, and they vary quite a bit. Some people thought it might be this bizarre, swimming mollusk. We decided to throw every possible analytical technique at it.”
Using the Field Museum’s collection of 2,000 Tully Monster specimens, the team analyzed the morphology and preservation of various features of the animal. Powerful, new analytical techniques also were brought to bear, such as synchrotron elemental mapping, which illuminates an animal’s physical features by mapping the chemistry within a fossil.
The researchers concluded that the Tully Monster had gills and a notochord, which functioned as a rudimentary spinal cord. Neither feature had been identified in the animal previously.
“It’s so different from its modern relatives that we don’t know much about how it lived,” McCoy said. “It has big eyes and lots of teeth, so it was probably a predator.”
Some key questions about Tully Monsters still remain unanswered, however. No one knows when the animal first appeared on Earth or when it went extinct. Its existence in the fossil record is confined to the Illinois mining site, dating back 300 million years.
In constructor theory, physical laws are formulated only in terms of which tasks are possible (with arbitrarily high accuracy, reliability, and repeatability), and which are impossible, and why – as opposed to what happens, and what does not happen, given dynamical laws and initial conditions. A task is impossible if there is a law of physics that forbids it. Otherwise, it is possible – which means that a constructor for that task – an object that causes the task to occur and retains the ability to cause it again – can be approximated arbitrarily well in reality. Car factories, robots and living cells are all accurate approximations to constructors.
For constructors that survive for long, information in the recipe must be digital, to make reliable error correction possible after copying: if not, there would be a fundamental limit to how well an error can be detected, which would lead to a build up of errors and a limit to the accuracy and resiliency achievable. A self‑reproducing cell must do all this, too. The parent cell contains a recipe – DNA – with all the instructions to construct a new cell (recipe excluded). This means that accurate self‑reproduction can occur only in two steps. Using letter-by-letter replication and error-correction, the parent cell makes a high-fidelity copy of the recipe to be inserted in the new cell; then it constructs the copying mechanism plus the rest of the cell afresh, following the recipe. It was the Hungarian-born physicist John von Neumann who first discovered this logic in the 1940s. He was exploring cellular automata – discrete computational models used, for instance, in Conway’s Game of Life, which rely on unphysical dynamical laws. Constructor theory shows that this is the only possible logic for accurate self-reproduction given any no-design laws.
Constructor theory gives the ‘recipe’ an exact characterisation in fundamental physics. It is digitally coded information that can act as a constructor and has resiliency – the capacity, once it is instantiated in physical systems, to remain so instantiated. In constructor theory, that is called knowledge – a term used here without the usual connotation that it is known by someone: it merely denotes this particular kind of information with causal power and resiliency. And an essential part of the explanation of all distinctive properties of living things (and of accurate constructors in general) is that they contain knowledge in that sense.
Moreover, it is a fundamental idea of constructor theory that any transformation that is not forbidden by the laws of physics can be achieved given the requisite knowledge. There is no third possibility: either the laws of physics forbid it, or it is achievable. This accounts for another aspect of the evolutionary story. Ever better constructors can be produced, without limit, given the relevant knowledge, instantiated in digital recipes.
The early history of evolution is, in constructor-theoretic terms, a lengthy, highly inaccurate, non-purposive construction that eventually produced knowledge-bearing recipes out of elementary things containing none. These elementary things are simple chemicals such as short RNA strands, which can perform only low-fidelity replication, and so do not bear the appearance of design, and are therefore allowed to exist in a pre-biotic environment governed by no-design laws.
Thus the constructor theory of life shows explicitly that natural selection does not need to assume the existence of any initial recipe, containing knowledge, to get started. It shows that, whatever recipes we might find in living things, they do not require ad‑hoc, biocentric or mysterious laws of physics in order to come into existence from elementary initial components. They need only the laws of physics to permit the existence of digital information, plus sufficient time and energy, which are non-specific to life. This adds another deep reason why a unification in our understanding of the phenomena of life and physics is possible. Whatever the laws of physics do not forbid us, we can do. Whether or not we will, depends on how much knowledge we create. It is up to us.
The rules on the voting age have now changed meaning that, for the first time, 16 and 17 year olds will be eligible to take part in elections to the Scottish Parliament and at local elections in Scotland. Starting today, the Electoral Commission is running a campaign to raise awareness of this change and encourage young people to register to vote. In this guest blog Robbie Nicoll, a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, talks about the change and the importance of young people engaging in politics.
orn, bred and resident in London, Andrew Chevis might seem an unlikely recruit to the Scottish National party. Yet at a time when the SNP is planning to spread its message beyond Scotland, the former Labour party activist is one of an increasing trickle of English people who have gone a step further and signed up as members.
“There are thousands of us in England for whom the SNP’s core message on the economy is a very attractive one,” says Chevis, a one-time branch secretary for Labour in Battersea who joined the SNP after the independence referendum.
Macroeconomic analyst Rob Kirby thinks that everybody should take notice of what is happening with the Greek debt crisis drama. Kirby contends, “What has occurred in Greece, make no mistake, it is a financial coup. It is not a bailout. It’s a takeover by force. The leader of Greece has obviously been told, and effectively has a gun to his head, the way it’s going to be. The Greek people voted for what they want, and we know what the Greek people’s wishes are, and they don’t want more austerity. They want to divorce themselves from the IMF and the European Central Bank (ECB). We know that clear as day, but that is not acceptable to the global elitists and the globalist bankers. They have said we don’t really care what you think. It’s going to be the way we say. The rest of Europe should sit up and take note of this because there are other countries whose finances are also not in good shape, namely, Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. . . . If global bankers are allowed to get away with this, then this is what you can expect in your country real soon.”
An image of a gold chip that traps ions for use in quantum computing has come first in EPSRC's third science photography competition.
‘Microwave ion-trap chip for quantum computation’, by Diana Prado Lopes Aude Craik and Norbert Linke, from the University of Oxford, shows the chip’s gold wire-bonds connected to electrodes which transmit electric fields to trap single atomic ions a mere 100 microns above the device’s surface. The image, taken through a microscope in one of the university's cleanrooms, came first in the Eureka category as well as winning overall against many other stunning pictures, featuring research in action, in the EPSRC competition – now in its third year.
Doctoral student Diana Prado Lopes Aude Craik, explained how the chip works: “When electric potentials are applied to the chip’s gold electrodes, single atomic ions can be trapped. These ions are used as quantum bits (‘qubits’), units which store and process information in a quantum computer. Two energy states of the ions act as the ‘0’ and ‘1’ states of these qubits.
Slotted electrodes on the chip deliver microwave radiation to the ions, allowing us to manipulate the stored quantum information by exciting transitions between the ‘0’ and ‘1’ energy states. “This device was micro-fabricated using photolithography, a technique similar to photographic film development. Gold wire-bonds connect the electrodes to pads around the device through which signals can be applied. You can see the wire-bonding needle in the top-left corner of the image. The Oxford team recently achieved the world’s highest-performing qubits and quantum logic operations.”
The development of the ion-trap chip was funded jointly by the EPSRC and the US Army Research Office.
The competition’s five categories were: Eureka, Equipment, People, Innovation, and Weird and Wonderful. Winning images feature:
A spectacular 9.5 meter wave created to wow crowds at the FloWave Ocean Energy Research Facility at the University of EdinburghAn iCub humanoid robot learning about how to play from a baby as part of robotics research taking place at Aberystwyth UniversityThe intense, blinding light of plasma formed by an ultrafast laser being used to process glass at the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Ultra Precision at the University of CambridgeA beautiful rotating jet of viscoelastic liquid water resembling a spinning dancer that demonstrates the effect of adding a tiny amount of polymer to water and an example of fluid dynamics research at Imperial College London
One of the judges was Professor Robert Winston, he said: “This competition helps us engage with academics and these stunning images are a great way to connect the general public with research they fund, and inspire everyone to take an interest in science and engineering.”
George Osborne, a man of no fixed common sense, delivered another of his lame budgets telling the nations of the United Kingdom that disabled people are to lose some benefits.
Emotionally disabled Tories shocked the population by punching the air in triumph, and leaping for joy as a way of showing what the disabled cannot do, those in our society who supposedly exploit reserved parking bays, wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, crushed spines, and crutches for sympathy.
Resident evil Tory, Iain Duncan Smith, resigned over the cuts, but no one knows why exactly because it is assumed he has a brick where his heart should be.
Three trillion: the latest estimate of the planet’s tree population, published in this issue of Nature (201), exceeds the number of stars in the Milky Way.
At more than 7 times the previous estimate of 400 billion, the figure is impressive, but it should not necessarily be taken as good news. The forest-density study — which combined satellite imagery with data from tree counts on the ground that covered more than 4,000 square kilometrers — also estimated that 15 billion trees are cut down each year. And in the 12,000 years since farming began spreading across the globe, the number of trees on our planet has fallen by almost half.
What created these bright spots on Ceres? The spots were first noted as the robotic Dawn spacecraft approached Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, in February, with the expectation that the mystery would soon be solved in higher resolution images. However, even after Dawn arrived at Ceres in March, the riddle remained. Surprisingly, although images including the featured composite taken in the last month do resolve many details inside Occator crater, they do not resolve the mystery. Another recent clue is that a faint haze develops over the crater's bright spots. Dawn is scheduled to continue to spiral down toward Ceres and scan the dwarf planet in several new ways that, it is hoped, will determine the chemical composition of the region and finally reveal the nature and history of the spots. In several years, after running out of power, Dawn will continue to orbit Ceres indefinitely, becoming an artificial satellite and anenduring monument to human exploration.
Previous ground-based spectra suggested that water ice, hydrated or NH4-bearing clays and brucite, as well as ammoniated mineral species, could account for Ceres’ 3.05-3.1 micrometer spectral band.
The best fit of Ceres’ spectrum, however, was obtained by supplementing magnetite, antigorite and carbonate with ammoniated phyllosilicates, inferring that this type of mineral indeed composed the Ceres’ surface. Additionally, researchers further postulates that ammonia may have incorporated into Ceres’ clays during its formation.
Since ammonia ice is only stable at very cold temperatures characteristic of the outer Solar System, this suggested that Ceres formed either outside of the Solar System, or that small objects were transported from that region and incorporated the main asteroid belt.
So there will be another war. Last night, the House of Commons decided, by 397 votes to 223, to carry out airstrikes in Syria. After the result had been announced, after the morbid spectacle as hundreds of overstuffed suits cheered the news that people would shortly be dying at their hands, the Speaker and a few MPs congratulated each other on an orderly and decorous debate, on being sensible and well-mannered as they discussed whether or not to throw dynamite at people from out of the sky. We will bomb Syria, not because it'll make anything better, but for purely symbolic and autotelic reasons: to be seen to be bombing, to kill for the sake of having killed. (Who else behaves like this?) So it's not surprising that as the eternal war continues to spin out forever, all anyone wants to talk about is how great Hilary Benn's speech was.
When our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago, only eight percent of the potentially habitable planets that will ever form in the universe existed, according to an assessment of data collected by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescopeand Kepler space observatory and published today (Oct. 20) in an open-access paper in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
In related news, UCLA geochemists have found evidence that life probably existed on Earth at least 4.1 billion years ago, which is 300 million years earlier than previous research suggested. The research suggests life in the universe could be abundant, said Mark Harrison, co-author of the research and a professor of geochemistry at UCLA. The research was published Monday Oct. 19 in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The data show that the universe was making stars at a fast rate 10 billion years ago, but the fraction of the universe’s hydrogen and helium gas that was involved was very low. Today, star birth is happening at a much slower rate than long ago, but there is so much leftover gas available after the big bang that the universe will keep making stars and planets for a very long time to come.
Based on the survey, scientists predict that there should already be 1 billion Earth-sized worlds in the Milky Way galaxy. That estimate skyrockets when you include the other 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. Kepler’s planet survey indicates that Earth-sized planets in a star’s habitable zone — the perfect distance that could allow water to pool on the surface — are ubiquitous in our galaxy. This leaves plenty of opportunity for untold more Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone to arise in the future — the last star isn’t expected to burn out until 100 trillion years from now.
The researchers say that future Earths are more likely to appear inside giant galaxy clusters and also in dwarf galaxies, which have yet to use up all their gas for building stars and accompanying planetary systems. By contrast, our Milky Way galaxy has used up much more of the gas available for future star formation.
A big advantage to our civilization arising early in the evolution of the universe is our being able to use powerful telescopes like Hubble to trace our lineage from the big bang through the early evolution of galaxies.
Regrettably, the observational evidence for the big bang and cosmic evolution, encoded in light and other electromagnetic radiation, will be all but erased away 1 trillion years from now, due to the runaway expansion of space. Any far-future civilizations that might arise will be largely clueless as to how or if the universe began and evolved.
Peter Behroozi and Molly Peeples. On The History and Future of Cosmic Planet Formation. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2015 DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stv1817 (open access)Elizabeth A. Bell, Patrick Boehnke, T. Mark Harrison, and Wendy L. Mao. Potentially biogenic carbon preserved in a 4.1 billion-year-old zircon. PNAS, October 19, 2015 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1517557112 (open access)
The one part of the speech that grated, of course, was the disingenuous, rabble-rousing attack on the SNP. The Labour left, to their intense discredit, appear to have settled on the 'Big Lie' approach to taking on Nicola Sturgeon - they think they can somehow convince people that she opposes the living wage, is plotting the privatisation of CalMac, and was responsible for the privatisation of ScotRail (even though the latter took place in the 1990s under John Major, and before the Scottish Parliament even existed!). Most voters don't pay attention to the detail, so it's not totally inconceivable that they might fall for some of this garbage. But the snag is that they won't buy into the headline summary, namely that the SNP are pro-austerity or austerity-neutral (implied by McDonnell's assertion that Labour are now the only anti-austerity party in Scotland). Who, seriously, is going to believe that claim after the events of the general election campaign? If your main attack line doesn't ring true to people, it's simply not going to get you anywhere.
Folding DNA into the shape of a tiny bunny rabbit is now easier than ever, according to a study published in Nature today. Folding DNA isn’t new — it’s known as DNA origami — but automating the process is. Thanks to a set of computer algorithms, researchers have developed a way to streamline the design phase that comes before the DNA assembly — a substantial step toward 3D printing at the nanoscale.
This has not been done before, it is novel and surprising," says Thorsten Schmidt, a chemist at the Dresden University of Technology who didn't work on the study. "In fact, we have a very related study under review at the moment and the only bad aspect of Björn Högberg’s study is that they were faster than us."
The bunny, while cute, wasn’t the point of the study. Rather, it’s a demonstration that scientists can automatically generate a DNA sequence to form a complex shape — the closest thing to 3D printing on a very tiny scale. "It’s almost a one-click procedure," Högberg says. And if scientists can fully automate the process, they’ll have a real DNA printer at their disposal — one that could, among other things, make drugs easier to deliver to the right places in the body.
Actually, there are a lot of ideas about how these techniques could be used. In addition to drug delivery, researchers are working on coating the DNA structures with non-biological materials, like gold, that react when the structure comes in contact with light.
But at this point, the bunny and the bottle don't do all that much. "We're not really concerned with the genetic information," Högberg says. "We're using DNA purely as a construction material."
Now that the study has been published, the researchers want to find a way to make their own construction materials. That may mean using natural DNA — taken from a plant or bacteria that they cultivate themselves — instead of synthetic DNA, Högberg says. "We're getting very good at making structures at the nanoscale," Högberg says. Researchers just need to find a way to make lots tiny DNA bunnies cheaply — and all at once.
A NON-PROFIT independent energy company has been set-up in Scotland and aims to cut heating bills by up to 10 per cent for 200,000 homes by 2020, presenting a challenge to the ‘big six’ energy companies that have been criticised for making extortionate profits while fuel poverty rises.
In every single country on the planet, women live longer than men. In response to this unpleasant fact, men are fond of replying, "That's because we have to put up with women." Humorous though it may be, that's not the actual reason women live longer than men. In fact, it wasn't until the beginning of the 20th Century that the "mortality gap" between men and women became so striking.
To investigate the underlying reason for the gender gap in life expectancy, a team of researchers examined mortality data for people born between 1800 and 1935 in 13 developed countries. Using this data, they were able to determine changes in the male-female mortality ratio, as well as determine when and why women began to outlive men.
In the figure above, each birth cohort is represented by a single colored line. For example, people born between 1800 and 1819 are represented by 20 different lines, each of which is colored black; people born between 1920 and 1935 are represented by 16 colored lines, each of which is colored red. The chart plots age on the X-axis (i.e., "age at time of death") against the male-female mortality rate ratio on the Y-axis.
The figure shows that the relative mortality rate for men gets worse in subsequent years. Compare the mortality rates at age 60, for instance. The mortality rate ratio for people born between 1800 and 1839 (black and gray lines) hovers roughly around 1.2; that means that about 120 men died for every 100 women who died at age 60. Just a few decades later, a dramatic shift occurs: the male-female mortality rate ratio for people born between 1880 and 1899 (green lines) skyrockets to 1.6, meaning that 160 men died for every 100 women who died at age 60. Then it goes from bad to worse. For the 1920-1935 birth cohort, the ratio is a shocking 2.1 at age 60, meaning that 210 men died for every 100 women.
Why is this the case? The authors' analysis suggests two major factors: The first is smoking, which is more common among men. (With smoking factored out, the pattern of an increasing male-female mortality ratio still persists but to a lesser extent, as shown above.) The second is cardiovascular disease, a condition to which men seem to be more vulnerable than women. This may be due to gender differences in diet, lifestyle, and even genetics. Indeed, the researchers found that cardiovascular disease was the major factor causing excess deaths among men as compared to women.
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