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Syringe

As above, so below? Horseshoe crabs harvested for their blue blood

horseshoe crabs
© PBS
A still from the PBS Nature documentary Crash
The thing about the blood that everyone notices first: It's blue, baby blue. The marvelous thing about horseshoe crab blood, though, isn't the color. It's a chemical found only in the amoebocytes of its blood cells that can detect mere traces of bacterial presence and trap them in inescapable clots.

To take advantage of this biological idiosyncrasy, pharmaceutical companies burst the cells that contain the chemical, called coagulogen. Then, they can use the coagulogen to detect contamination in any solution that might come into contact with blood. If there are dangerous bacterial endotoxins in the liquid - even at a concentration of one part per trillion - the horseshoe crab blood extract will go to work, turning the solution into what scientist Fred Bang, who co-discovered the substance, called a "gel."

"This gel immobilized the bacteria but did not kill them," Bang wrote in the 1956 paper announcing the substance. "The gel or clot was stable and tough and remained so for several weeks at room temperature."

If there is no bacterial contamination, then the coagulation does not occur, and the solution can be considered free of bacteria. It's a simple, nearly instantaneous test that goes by the name of the LAL, or Limulus amebocyte lysate, test (after the species name of the crab, Limulus polyphemus). The LAL testreplaced the rather horrifying prospect of possibly contaminated substances being tested on "large colonies of rabbits." Pharma companies didn't like the rabbit process, either, because it was slow and expensive.
Robot

Robots are set to conduct National Security clearance interviews

Robot
© NCAA
The US government robot that will be asking you about your drug abuse.

Advancing a career in the US government might soon require an interview with a computer generated head who wants to know about that time you took ketamine.

Psychologists at the National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA) are developing an interview system that uses a responsive on-screen avatar for the first stage of the national security clearance process.

Initial screening for a variety of government jobs currently requires applicants to fill out a form disclosing past drug use, criminal activity, and mental health issues, which is then reviewed during an interview - with a human.

But a recent NCCA study published in the journal Computers and Human Behavior asserts that not only would a computer-generated interviewer be less "time consuming, labor intensive, and costly to the Federal Government," people are actually more likely to admit things to the robot.

The study used US Army basic trainees as volunteer subjects for a mock national security clearance interview. The trainees were not told that the questions would be asked by a robot. After being hooked up to electrodes for cardiographic and electrodermal (heart and skin) responses the volunteers were told that the interview would be with a computer avatar, and were left alone in a chamber with their on-screen interrogator.

The program used for the study was capable of responding to vocal cues and taking multiple conversation paths depending on the subject's answers. The researchers were hoping to leverage the power of presence: the idea that people recognize another sentient being in the environment, and are more responsive as a result.
Bulb

Transition phase: NASA's Fermi finds a 'transformer' pulsar

© NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
These artist's renderings show one model of pulsar J1023 before (top) and after (bottom) its radio beacon (green) vanished. Normally, the pulsar's wind staves off the companion's gas stream. When the stream surges, an accretion disk forms and gamma-ray particle jets (magenta) obscure the radio beam.
In late June 2013, an exceptional binary containing a rapidly spinning neutron star underwent a dramatic change in behavior never before observed. The pulsar's radio beacon vanished, while at the same time the system brightened fivefold in gamma rays, the most powerful form of light, according to measurements by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

"It's almost as if someone flipped a switch, morphing the system from a lower-energy state to a higher-energy one," said Benjamin Stappers, an astrophysicist at the University of Manchester, England, who led an international effort to understand this striking transformation. "The change appears to reflect an erratic interaction between the pulsar and its companion, one that allows us an opportunity to explore a rare transitional phase in the life of this binary."

A binary consists of two stars orbiting around their common center of mass. This system, known as AY Sextantis, is located about 4,400 light-years away in the constellation Sextans. It pairs a 1.7-millisecond pulsar named PSR J1023+0038 -- J1023 for short -- with a star containing about one-fifth the mass of the sun. The stars complete an orbit in only 4.8 hours, which places them so close together that the pulsar will gradually evaporate its companion.

Comment: For a lot more information about our 'electric universe' including solar cycles, plasma phenomenon, the Sun's dark companion and the cyclical impact on humanity, read: Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection: The Secret History of the World - Book 3

Robot

The third machine age could destroy us

Robot Caregiver
© American Psychological Association
There have been one and a half machine ages already. The first began in the nineteenth century, with machines taking over manual labor. Then in the twentieth century machines began taking over mental labor (they still are). When the third age comes, says one sociologist, we're doomed.

Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci has written an interesting article in response to the idea that we need robots to do "emotional labor" like caring for children and the elderly. She identifies the third machine age as one where machines take over the realm of emotional labor, whether that's teaching Kindergarten or working as a nurse.

Basically, she's using emotional labor as shorthand to describe a broad range of caretaking professions, especially in heath and medicine, that are currently booming.

Though she worries about handing over this deeply human kind of work to machines, she makes a deeper point about why this third machine age may be the last. Because it continues in the tradition of our previous machine ages, which have all eliminated jobs and created massive unemployment and social unrest.
Magnify

Are sterile neutrinos lurking in the Universe?

Universe
© WGBH Educational Foundation
searching the Universe for sterile neutrinos

A completely new subatomic particle - one so reclusive and strange that it passes undetected through ordinary matter - could be lurking in the universe.


If so, a detector set to turn on later this year could find the first convincing evidence for the particle, called a sterile neutrino. The new experiment, whose 30-ton detector was recently lowered into place at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, will look for traces of this elusive particle transforming into another type of neutrino.

Unlike the Higgs boson, the particle thought to explain why other particles have mass and which most physicists predicted should exist for decades, sterile neutrinos would be in the realm of completely unknown physics that only some physicists believe exist, said Bonnie Fleming, the experiment's spokeswoman and a physicist at Yale University. "It would be completely revolutionary," Fleming said.
Cookie

Canvas fingerprinting: The online tracking device virtually impossible to block

man and code
© www.veooz.com
Researchers found canvas fingerprinting computer code, primarily written by a company called AddThis , on 5% of the top 100,000 websites.
A new, extremely persistent type of online tracking is shadowing visitors to thousands of top websites, from WhiteHouse.gov to YouPorn.com.

First documented in a forthcoming paper by researchers at Princeton University and KU Leuven University in Belgium, this type of tracking, called canvas fingerprinting, works by instructing the visitor's Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user's device a number that uniquely identifies it.
Like other tracking tools, canvas fingerprints are used to build profiles of users based on the websites they visit - profiles that shape which ads, news articles, or other types of content are displayed to them. But fingerprints are unusually hard to block: They can't be prevented by using standard Web browser privacy settings or using anti-tracking tools such as AdBlock Plus.
The researchers found canvas fingerprinting computer code, primarily written by a company called AddThis, on 5 percent of the top 100,000 websites. Most of the code was on websites that use AddThis' social media sharing tools. Other fingerprinters include the German digital marketer Ligatus and the Canadian dating site Plentyoffish. (A list of all the websites on which researchers found the code is here).

Rich Harris, chief executive of AddThis, said that the company began testing canvas fingerprinting earlier this year as a possible way to replace "cookies," the traditional way that users are tracked, via text files installed on their computers.

Comment: You are being tracked online and offline by email addresses given at walk-in retail stores, advertisers tracking your real name through onboarding services, routine purchase tracking, and matching online and offline identities by data brokers. These are some of the known mechanisms. What else are they doing? A BIG OPT-OUT anyone? Here's one: AddThis opt-out

Galaxy

Mysterious dance of dwarf galaxies may force a cosmic rethink

© NASA/JPL-Caltech
At approximately 2.5 million light-years away, the Andromeda galaxy, or M31, is our Milky Way's largest galactic neighbor.
The discovery that many small galaxies throughout the universe do not 'swarm' around larger ones like bees do but 'dance' in orderly disc-shaped orbits is a challenge to our understanding of how the universe formed and evolved.

The finding, by an international team of astronomers, including Professor Geraint Lewis from the University of Sydney's School of Physics, is announced today in Nature.

"Early in 2013 we announced our startling discovery that half of the dwarf galaxies surrounding the Andromeda Galaxy are orbiting it in an immense plane" said Professor Lewis. "This plane is more than a million light years in diameter, but is very thin, with a width of only 300,000 light years."

The universe contains billions of galaxies. Some, such as the Milky Way, are immense, containing hundreds of billions of stars. Most galaxies, however, are dwarfs, much smaller and with only a few billion stars.

For decades astronomers have used computer models to predict how these dwarf galaxies should orbit large galaxies. They had always found that they should be scattered randomly.
Bulb

Brain power: It's a myth that we only use 10% of our brains

© Alamy
It's a common conversation starter to assert that we only use 10% of our brains. In Lucy, the soon-to-be-released thriller about a woman forced to work as a drug mule for the Taiwanese mob, Professor Norman lectures, "It is estimated most human beings only use 10% of their brain's capacity. Imagine if we could access 100%. Interesting things begin to happen."

Now, I know Morgan Freeman is well versed in playing the wise sage, and I know that I haven't earned my PhD yet - but professor, I beg to differ. You see, we all access 100% of our brains every day. And we don't have to be telekinetic or memorise an entire deck of cards to do it.

In the film, the drugs implanted into Lucy (played by Scarlett Johansson) leak into her system, allowing her to "access 100%" of her brain. Among other things, Lucy can move objects with her mind, choose not to feel pain, and memorise copious amounts of information. In a way, the idea that we only use 10% of our brains is rather inspiring. It may motivate us to try harder or tap into some mysterious, intact reservoir of creativity and potential. There are even products that promise to unlock that other 90%.

As ludicrous as the claim is, however, two-thirds of the public and, get this, half of science teachers reportedly still believe the myth to be true. The notion is so widespread that when University College London neuroscientist Sophie Scott attended a first aid course, her instructor assured the class that head injuries weren't dangerous because "90% of the brain [doesn't] do anything".

Comment: While it certainly is true that we use more than 10% of our brain just to maintain normal body processes, it is also true that humanity has been dumbed down and is not living up to its potential. Instead the populace tolerates incessant lies, senseless wars and the progressive destruction of our planet with a mere shrug. If looked at from this angle, one can very well argue, that we only use "10% of our brain".

Red Flag

Trashing our Oceans? First of its kind map reveals extent of plastic debris

When a research team set sail on a nine-month, worldwide expedition in 2010 to study the impact of global warming on Earth's oceans, one of their projects was to locate the accumulations of plastic.

They found plenty. They explored the five huge gyres, which collectively contain tens of thousands of tons of plastic. The result was the creation of a compelling, first-of-its-kind map of this debris.

But in the process, they realized that the plastic in the gyres didn't begin to account for the enormous amount of plastic that's been manufactured since the mass production of plastic began in the mid 1940s.

In a National Geographic report, marine biologist Andres Cozar Cabañas, who was part of the Malaspina expedition led by the Spanish National Research Council, said:
"Our observations show that large loads of plastic fragments, with sizes from microns to some millimeters, are unaccounted for in the surface loads. But we don't know what this plastic is doing. The plastic is somewhere - in the ocean life, in the depths or broken down into fine particles undetectable by nets."

Comment: Additional reading about the Plague of Plastic killing the world's oceans:

Pi

The multiverse hypothesis: Can the idea of other universes be scientifically tested?

© Reuters
Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) has produced a new, more detailed picture of the infant universe shown in this image released on March 16, 2006. Colors indicate "warmer" (red) and "cooler" (blue) spots. The white bars show the "polarization" direction of the oldest light. This new information helps to pinpoint when the first stars formed and provides new clues about events that transpired in the first trillionth of a second of the universe.
The question of the size and limits of our universe can fry our mind without reading into it. Still more amazing, some among us always believed that we live in multiple, parallel universes. Now scientists think they can prove the fantastic hypothesis.

There is testable science, and then there is fantasy and beautiful fairytales. Mathew Johnson of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, has a mission to take on one of the most impossible beliefs of the latter and place it firmly in the former category.

Johnson's tactic is quite simply to establish a way of testing for different scenarios of how universes might collide, if they exist. He develops a computer model that simulates collision of physical bubble-like objects on a small, workable scale.

The metaphor for the multiverse used in the study is then quite similar to ordinary, observable processes here on Earth.

Imagine watching a pot of boiling water slowly simmer and form bubbles. Some of these bubbles grow into bigger ones, others split up, bump into each other, interact etc. This is what proponents of the multiverse theory believe about the vacuum, which they say came before the Big Bang: an empty field full of energy that had nowhere to go, and thus began creating bubbles - universes, that began to collide with each other and interact in different ways. They represented the totality of every dimension we have come to know - space, time, all the constants and physical laws.

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