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Fri, 19 Jul 2019
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Octopus arms found to make decisions without input from their brains

Pulpo octopus
© Stuart Westmorland / www.globallookpress.com
With the ability to use tools, solve complex puzzles, and even play tricks on humans just for funsies, octopuses are fiercely smart. But their intelligence is quite weirdly built, since the eight-armed cephalopods have evolved differently from pretty much every other type of organism on Earth.

Rather than a centralised nervous system such as vertebrates have, two-thirds of an octopus's neurons are spread throughout its body, distributed between its arms. And now scientists have determined that those neurons can make decisions without input from the brain.

"One of the big picture questions we have is just how a distributed nervous system would work, especially when it's trying to do something complicated, like move through fluid and find food on a complex ocean floor," said neuroscientist David Gire of the University of Washington.

Comet 2

Giant asteroid contains enough heavy metals to make everyone on Earth a billionaire - and NASA is heading there in 2022

psyche 16
Psyche 16 is nestled between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and is made of solid metal.

As well as gold, the mysterious object is loaded with heaps of platinum, iron and nikel.

In total, it's estimated that Psyche's various metals are worth a gargantuan £8,000 quadrillion.

Comment: See also:


Evil Rays

The 5G Dragnet: Backbone of Totalitarian Surveillance

5G Dragnet
Telecom companies are currently scrambling to implement fifth-generation cellular network technology. But the world of 5G is a world where all objects are wired and constantly communicating data to one another. The dark truth is that the development of 5G networks and the various networked products that they will give rise to in the global smart city infrastructure, represent the greatest threat to freedom in the history of humanity.

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Bulb

Homeostasis: How the active maintenance inherent in biological processes showcases Intelligent Design

sleep
Nature is filled with processes that maintain an ordered state. Perhaps you have seen magnetic toys that keep an object suspended in the center of a space, such that any slight movement makes it snap back into position. Gravity keeps planets in orbits, and compresses stars into spheres. The gyroscopic effect keeps a bicyclist upright. Sand dunes maintain their shape due to the angle of repose of piled sand grains. Centripetal force keeps hurricanes and tornadoes circling around a center. The Coriolis effect maintains wind patterns. These familiar examples can be explained with reference to natural laws.

There's a different kind of maintenance in biology, called homeostasis. It is the subject of biologist Scott Turner book, Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something "Alive" and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It. This kind of "dynamic equilibrium" is maintained by machinery acting on other machinery. No natural law can maintain that kind of order. Indeed, natural laws would lead to decay and death if it were not for programmed responses able to overcome what would happen naturally. Here are some examples of that kind of active maintenance.

Bug

'Flying salt shakers of death': How a zombie fungus affects cicadas

cicada
© Matt Kasson
A cicada clings to a blade of grass.
If cicadas made horror movies, they'd probably study the actions of their counterparts plagued by a certain psychedelic fungus.

West Virginia University researchers have discovered that a cicada fungus called Massopora contains chemicals similar to those found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The fungus causes cicadas to lose their limbs and eccentric behavior sets in: Males try to mate with everything they encounter, although the fungus has consumed their genitals and butts.

Despite the horrid physical state of infected cicadas, they continue to roam around freely as if nothing's wrong, dousing other cicadas with a dose of their disease.

You've heard of "The Walking Dead." This is "The Flying Dead."

"They are only zombies in the sense that the fungus is in control of their bodies," said Matt Kasson, assistant professor of forest pathology and one of the study's authors.

Flashlight

'Extinct' creatures found alive deep within Honduras rainforest

honduras rainforest

Rainforest, Honduras
A team of scientists have discovered an ecosystem filled with rare and endangered species, including species that were thought to be extinct, in a "lost city" deep within a rainforest in Honduras.

The conservation team spent three weeks exploring an ancient settlement, known as the "Lost City of the Monkey God" or "White City", in the Mosquitia rainforest and found a diverse hub of wildlife, including hundreds of species of butterflies, bats and reptiles.

Scientists also rediscovered three species that were thought to be no longer living in Honduras: the pale-faced bat, the False Tree Coral Snake and a tiger beetle which had only been recorded in Nicaragua and was believed to be extinct.

Comment: There's no denying that life on our planet is under strain right now and that it's undergoing many shifts, including extinction level events, but there does appear to be a trend of declaring extinctions far too prematurely: See also:


Info

Earth hit by highest energy photons ever recorded from the Crab Nebula

Crab Nebula
© NASA
The Tibetan Plateau is a vast elevated plain almost five kilometers above sea level, sometimes called the Roof of the World. It is bordered to the south by the world's highest mountain range and to the north by desert lands. It is one of the most isolated places on Earth.

But the extreme altitude makes it a useful place for scientists. In 1990, they built an observatory here to study the showers of subatomic particles that rain down from the upper atmosphere whenever it is hit by a high-energy cosmic ray. This work is better done at high altitude because there is less atmosphere to absorb the particles.

Since then, the so-called Tibet Air Shower Array has recorded vast numbers of high-energy cosmic rays, particles accelerated to huge energies by astrophysical phenomena such as supernovas, active galactic nuclei, and mysterious as-yet-unidentified sources.

But the array also picks up air showers caused by a different source-high-energy photons. These mysterious photons are also created by astrophysical phenomena such as the interaction between high-energy particles and the cosmic microwave background. Consequently, they can provide a unique insight into these processes and the environments in which they occur.

Comet 2

ESA puts comet mission on fast track

Montezuma observing a comet.
© DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/Getty Images
A sixteenth century illustration showing Montezuma observing a comet. The European Space Agency has a different plan.
Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) are working on a new "fast" mission to make the first flyby of a pristine comet - meaning one that has never before passed close to the sun.

Since the first comet mission, all the way back in 1978, numerous space agencies have made more than a dozen comet flybys, including one rendezvous and landing.

But never before has a mission attempted to visit a comet on its first plunge toward the sun, when its never-before-heated surface is almost unchanged from when it formed at the dawn of the solar system, some 4.5 billion years ago.

The recently approved mission, called Comet Interceptor, will also be unique in what it does as it nears its target.

Rather than simply flying by, it will split into four parts, each of which will whizz past the comet on a slightly different trajectory.

Three of these will be tiny instrument packages, which will view the comet from different angles. This will allow scientists back on Earth to create detailed 3D models not only of its surface, but of the gas, dust, and plasma surrounding it.

The fourth will be the mother ship, which will collect data from the smaller probes and relay it back to Earth.

"It's a novel concept," says Fabio Favata, head of the Strategy, Planning, and Coordination Office in ESA's Directorate of Science.

Details of the mission have yet to be determined, but the use of the word "fast" in its description doesn't mean it will be traveling at warp speed.

HAL9000

Google's Chrome web browser "has become spy software"

chrome vs firefox
Google's Chrome is essentially spy software according to Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler, who spent a week analyzing the popular browser and concluded that it "looks a lot like surveillance software."

Fowler has since switched to Mozilla's Firefox because of its default privacy settings, and says that it was easier than one might imagine.
My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker "cookies" that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality.

Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you would think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service's log-in pages.

And that's not the half of it.

Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you're logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web activity to target ads. Don't recall signing in? I didn't, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail. -Washington Post

Comment: See also:


Calculator

China builds world's fastest supercomputer without US chips

chinese supercomputer
China on Monday revealed its latest supercomputer, a monolithic system with 10.65 million compute cores built entirely with Chinese microprocessors. This follows a U.S. government decision last year to deny China access to Intel's fastest microprocessors.

There is no U.S.-made system that comes close to the performance of China's new system, the Sunway TaihuLight. Its theoretical peak performance is 124.5 petaflops, according to the latest biannual release today of the world's Top500 supercomputers. It is the first system to exceed 100 petaflops. A petaflop equals one thousand trillion (one quadrillion) sustained floating-point operations per second.

The most important thing about Sunway TaihuLight may be its microprocessors. In the past, China has relied heavily on U.S. microprocessors in building its supercomputing capacity. The world's next fastest system, China's Tianhe-2, which has a peak performance of 54.9 petaflops, uses Intel Xeon processors.