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Sat, 23 Jul 2016
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Cell Phone

Neuroscientists find multitasking literally drains brain's energy reserves

© Reuters/ Yuya Shino
Constantly checking your phone is a drain on productivity.
Does your morning routine consist of checking emails, browsing Facebook, downing coffee, heading to the train while Googling one last idea, checking notifications, more coffee, and going through your work email? The myriad activities crammed into your morning, and the constant switching between them, is likely making you very tired.

When we attempt to multitask, we don't actually do more than one activity at once, but quickly switch between them. And this switching is exhausting. It uses up oxygenated glucose in the brain, running down the same fuel that's needed to focus on a task.

"That switching comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing," says Daniel Levitin, professor of behavioral neuroscience at McGill University. "People eat more, they take more caffeine. Often what you really need in that moment isn't caffeine, but just a break. If you aren't taking regular breaks every couple of hours, your brain won't benefit from that extra cup of coffee."

Studies have found that people who take 15-minute breaks every couple of hours end up being more productive, says Levitin. But these breaks must allow for mind-wandering, whether you're walking, staring out the window, listening to music or reading. "Everyone gets there a different way. But surfing Facebook is not one of them," he says. Social networks just produce more fractured attention, as you flit from one thing to the next.

Black Magic

Man's best friend - reborn: South Korean cloning facility promises to bring back your dead dog


Sooam Biotech Research Foundation has cloned over 800 dogs since 2006, offering the service to bring your dead dog back for $100,000. Apart from their popular dog cloning service, they also clone cattle and pigs for medical research and breed preservation.


GRIEF RELIEF


The Sooam Biotech Research Foundation can reincarnate your dead dog, a service that would delight pet lovers—for $100,000.

"These people have very a strong bond with their pets... and cloning provides a psychological alternative to the traditional method of just letting the pet go and keeping their memory," said Sooam researcher and spokesman Wang Jae-Woong.

Comment: The shady past of wolves in sheep's cloning


Galaxy

World's potentially biggest telescope discovers 13,000 new galaxies at only 25% capacity

© ska.ac.za
South Africa's MeerKAT radio telescope has proven its potential, releasing its first images, which reveal some 1,300 galaxies in a far-off corner of the universe where only 70 were known to exist before.

"Based on the results being shown today, we are confident that after all 64 dishes are in place, MeerKAT will be the world's leading telescope of its kind," said Professor Justin Jonas, Chief Technologist at the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, which manages MeerKAT. SKA is an international effort to build the world's largest and most precise radio telescope.

Magnify

Megathrust: Giant Bangladesh earthquake possible putting 140 million lives at risk, says study

© Ashikur Rahman / Reuters
Up to 140 million lives could be at risk from a potentially massive earthquake in Bangladesh, according to a new study. The research found that pressure is building along a fault line situated underneath the most densely-populated nation on Earth.

The research, published in the journal Nature Geoscience on Monday, found that a juncture between major tectonic plates in the region is locked and mounting with stress.

Citing data collected using GPS devices since 2003, the paper states that measurements found convergence of tectonic plates at a rate of 13-17mm "on an active, shallowly dipping and locked megathrust fault."

One plate is moving under the other deep beneath the surface, and two plates are stuck together at the upper layers of the fault. The plates are covered in layers of sediment more than 20 meters thick.

The situation could result in a magnitude 8.2 to 9.0 earthquake in Bangladesh.

Galaxy

Australian physicist proposes theory that building blocks of life are information, not chemicals

Among all the extraterrestrial species featured in the late Douglas Adams' excellent Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels there is one called a Hoovooloo, described as "a super intelligent shade of the colour blue".

Oddly enough, this utterly abstract sort of alien might yet turn out to be the author's most perspicacious invention.

A leading Australian physicist has co-authored a new paper proposing a radical new theory of life.If a new paper co-written by prominent Australian physicist Professor Paul Davies is on the money, every other fictitious ET, from Star Trek's Vulcans to Star Wars' Yoda, are the products of depressingly limited imaginations.

Pretty much all cinematic aliens - think Dr Who's Sontarans, the bubble-headed things from Mars Attacks!, the giant worms from Dune - have something recognisably "life-like" about them: they have a chemical structure broadly similar to those found in earth species, and (it is implied) some kind of DNA-ish apparatus that facilitates reproduction.

They are reasonable enough assumptions to make, but what if they are plain wrong?

Davies and co-author Dr Sara Imari Walker, both from the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at the Arizona State University, suggest that fleshiness and double-helixes might be things confined only to life on Earth. Life in the rest of the universe, they venture, could be based on something much more unlikely: information.

Comment: Further reading:


Eye 1

Iris scans may soon replace fingerprints

© Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock
Could iris scans replace fingerprints?
An FBI pilot program to record prisoners' eyes is under way in California, Texas and Missouri.

FBI officials have scanned the irises of nearly 460,000 people in a pilot program that may soon replace fingerprints. While iris-scanning technology has been around for more than 25 years, it's just now getting to where it's fast, easy and relatively bug-free.

"It's a powerful biometric," said Patrick Grother, a computer scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., who has been developing algorithms and software for iris scanning. "It's fast to process, it has discriminative power -- my iris doesn't look like your iris, and it has reasonable permanence."

Iris scanning has replaced retinal scans, a method that has been pretty much abandoned since it turned out to be uncomfortable for people to endure, Grother explained. Iris scan technology was featured recently in the AMC mini-series The Night Manager, based on a John LeCarre spy novel. The lead character used an iris scan camera on his smartphone to access his Swiss bank account (just before a big truck blew up).

Grother says that kind of quick reading ability isn't far away, and several banks are looking at using it. Windows' Lumia Nokia and Fujitsu both have iris scanners to unlock their phones, (similar to the iPhone fingerprint pad) but it's not ready to authenticate other sorts of apps or accounts.

Info

Populations in the ancient Fertile Crescent are the ancestors of modern day South Asians but not Europeans

© JGU Palaeogenetics Group
Analysis of ancient DNA in the laboratory.
An international research team led by Mainz palaeogeneticists demonstrates that populations in the ancient Fertile Crescent are the ancestors of modern day South Asians but not of Europeans.

Sedentism, farming, and agriculture was invented some 10,000 years ago in a region between southeastern Anatolia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, an area traditionally labeled as the Fertile Crescent. Most of the technology and culture associated with farming including domestic sheep, goat, cattle, and pig originated here.

The transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture and sedentism was considered such a radical change in human ecology that the term Neolithic revolution was coined for it. Some 2,000 years later, the new Neolithic lifestyle appeared in southeastern Europe and shortly afterwards in Central and Mediterranean Europe.

This week, an international research team led by palaeogeneticists of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) published a study in the journal Science showing that the earliest farmers from the Zagros mountains in Iran, i.e., the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent, are neither the main ancestors of Europe's first farmers nor of modern-day Europeans.

"This came as a surprise," said Farnaz Broushaki, first author of the study and a member of the JGU Palaeogenetics Group. "Our team had only recently shown that early farmers from across Europe have an almost unbroken trail of ancestry leading back to northwest Anatolia. But now it seems that the chain of migration into Europe breaks somewhere in eastern Anatolia."

According to the team's previous study, Neolithic settlers from northern Greece and the Marmara Sea region of western Turkey reached central Europe via a Balkan route and the Iberian Peninsula via a Mediterranean route. These colonists brought sedentary life, agriculture, and domestic animals and plants to Europe. New research shows that some of the world's earliest farmers from Iran were a genetically distinct group and only very distantly related to the first farmers of western Anatolia and Europe.

Bulb

Osmotic power: Highly efficient electricity generating system developed using water and a membrane just 3 atoms thick

© gertrudda / Fotolia
Researchers have developed a new way to generate electricity using water and a very thin membrane. The concept is fairly simple. A semipermeable membrane separates two fluids with different salt concentrations. Salt ions travel through the membrane until the salt concentrations in the two fluids reach equilibrium. That phenomenon is precisely osmosis.
Proponents of clean energy will soon have a new source to add to their existing array of solar, wind, and hydropower: osmotic power. Or more specifically, energy generated by a natural phenomenon occurring when fresh water comes into contact with seawater through a membrane.

Researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology have developed an osmotic power generation system that delivers never-before-seen yields. Their innovation lies in a three atoms thick membrane used to separate the two fluids. The results of their research have been published in Nature.

The concept is fairly simple. A semipermeable membrane separates two fluids with different salt concentrations. Salt ions travel through the membrane until the salt concentrations in the two fluids reach equilibrium. That phenomenon is precisely osmosis.

If the system is used with seawater and fresh water, salt ions in the seawater pass through the membrane into the fresh water until both fluids have the same salt concentration. And since an ion is simply an atom with an electrical charge, the movement of the salt ions can be harnessed to generate electricity.

Solar Flares

Massive hole in the sun could lead to disruption of earth's electronics

© NASA
Known as a 'coronal hole', the black mass creeping across the sun's surface has the potential to cause chaos on Earth.

A coronal hole appears on the sun's corona, or atmosphere, when the sun's magnetic field opens and allows heat from the corona to be expelled.

The lower temperature of these areas causes them to appear darker than the rest of the sun's surface. They also have lower energy and gas levels, adding to its dark appearance.

While this sounds pretty terrifying, given the Earth's dependence on the sun to survive, scientists say this discovery is not a sign of impending doom for either our star or our planet.

Coronal holes appear regularly on the sun's surface, but this one is much larger than usual. The holes can last for months and can grow to cover up to a quarter of the sun's surface, according to NASA.


Comment: If this coronal hole is much larger than usual, is it just a random occurrence, or might it have appeared due to some 'new' influence within the solar system? In other words, what is driving the seemingly abnormal behavior of our sun? For some possible explanations, see Pierre Lescaudron's Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.


Bad Guys

The militarized mind: Biodiversity, GMOs, & gene drives

© Elizabeth Weller/flickr/cc
"Amaranth, Amaranto, love-lies-bleeding, tassel flower, Joseph's coat, or ramdana (gods own grain) is the grain of well-being," Shiva writes.
A recent report from the National Academy of Science of The United States, titled "Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values," warns:
"One possible goal of release of a gene-drive modified organism is to cause the extinction of the target species or a drastic reduction in its abundance."
Gene Drives have been called "mutagenic chain reactions," and are to the biological world what chain reactions are to the nuclear world. The Guardian describes Gene Drives as the "gene bomb."