Watch Out Below: Wasps Battle Ants by Dropping Them

8:55:49 AM, Thursday, March 31, 2011

"As anyone who has been stung by one would know, wasps have anger management issues. The yellow jacket wasp is no different, but when it wants to bully something small, it eschews the stinger for something more creative. When a wasp comes upon a swarm of ants on food it wants, it will simply pick the pests up and fling them away: a previously undocumented way of dealing with a competitor that is reported for the first time in Biology Letters today.

This inventive wasp, Vespula vulgaris, is native to the Northern Hemisphere; when it invaded New Zealand 30 years ago, it saddled the country with the highest density of wasps in the world. "It's a big ecological problem here," says biologist Julien Grangier of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. With these large numbers of wasps suddenly wanting access to limited protein sources, Grangier was curious whether they would compete directly with native species such as ants.

So he set up a cage match. He placed little piles of canned tuna fish on plates in beech forests where the ants and wasps live and trained cameras on the dishes. When a wasp approached a swarm of ants on the tuna bait, the ants would begin charging at it, spitting acid and trying to bite the insect, which is 200 times larger. Often this was enough to make the poor wasp flee in a panic, but in rare bursts of bravery, it would occasionally grab a Napoleonic ant in its mandibles, fly backward a few centimeters with the insect twitching in its jaws, open its mandibles, and let gravity do its work. The dazed ant generally didn't come back after that. But the wasp seemed to weigh its odds carefully and when it did approach a swarm, the more ants there were, the farther away they were flung. Grainger says the video evidence didn't show either insect winning in the end: both ultimately maintained a presence around the tuna.

"It's very intriguing," says behavioral ecologist Monica Raveret-Richter of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. "I didn't know who to root for." Richter says it's surprising that wasps would get so aggressive when the food was already swarming with ants, spending time and energy removing the food competitors rather than just abandoning the meal. Grangier says that under natural conditions, the wasps would more likely prefer to disable a single scout before it could recruit its friends.

Dropping ants seems an unusual way of accomplishing this. "Wasps are massive and could crunch them, but on the other hand, ants are walking chemical factories," says behavioral biologist Robert Jeanne of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "I'd guess the wasps pick them up gingerly and drop them quickly because if they crush them, they'd get a mouthful of something pretty distasteful..."

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Obama Signed Secret Libya Order Authorizing Support For Rebels

1:29:38 AM, Thursday, March 31, 2011

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Obama signed the order, known as a presidential "finding", within the last two or three weeks, according to four U.S. government sources familiar with the matter.

Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorize secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA and the White House declined immediate comment.

News that Obama had given the authorization surfaced as the President and other U.S. and allied officials spoke openly about the possibility of sending arms supplies to Gaddafi's opponents, who are fighting better-equipped government forces.

The United States is part of a coalition, with NATO members and some Arab states, which is conducting air strikes on Libyan government forces under a U.N. mandate aimed at protecting civilians opposing Gaddafi.

In interviews with American TV networks on Tuesday, Obama said the objective was for Gaddafi to "ultimately step down" from power. He spoke of applying "steady pressure, not only militarily but also through these other means" to force Gaddafi out.

Obama said the U.S. had not ruled out providing military hardware to rebels. "It's fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could. We're looking at all our options at this point," the President told ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer.

U.S. officials monitoring events in Libya say that at present, neither Gaddafi's forces nor the rebels, who have asked the West for heavy weapons, appear able to make decisive gains.

While U.S. and allied airstrikes have seriously damaged Gaddafi's military forces and disrupted his chain of command, officials say, rebel forces remain disorganized and unable to take full advantage of western military support..."

-- Typical and not at all unexpected... If we are friends on Facebook you know exactly how I feel about this war and the blatant lies that were supposed to sell it to the US public as a humanitarian effort. I won't say much more, because I feel like the blog has been too political recently as it is, but if anyone is up for discussing anything you can always friend me on Facebook.

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Taxpayers Pony Up $1.4M A Day For Cancelled Program

11:32:58 PM, Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Taxpayers are paying $1.4 million a day for a NASA program the agency doesn’t even want. Congress and the White House decided to cancel the program last October but because of the erratic way Congress has budgeted for this fiscal year, taxpayers remain on the hook for millions. With the passage of the most recent continuing resolution (CR), which funds the government through April 8th, the government failed to remove a funding provision for NASA’s Constellation moon program.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

It all started last summer, when Congress failed to pass a budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Instead, it approved a continuation of the 2010 budget — and has kept extending it while struggling to reach agreement on a spending plan for the rest of this fiscal year.

In January, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin urged “immediate action” to stop the spending on Constellation, much of which goes to Utah-based solid-rocket manufacturer ATK. Martin said it would cost an estimated $215 million through the end of February.

Since then, though, Congress has passed two “continuing resolutions” — each with the Shelby language.

This so-called “Shelby provision” — named for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, who inserted it into the 2010 budget — is expected to cost NASA roughly $29 million during the three-week budget extension through April 8. It has already cost the agency nearly $250 million since Oct. 1.

More than two months ago, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., vowed to cut the language: “Given that every dime counts in our space program right now, we can’t afford to be wasting money,” Nelson said Jan. 13. He repeated the promise during a NASA hearing last week.

But the language is still there. Asked why, a Nelson spokesman blamed “partisan politics.”"

-- Another side effect of Washington's erratic budgeting this year? Taxpayers are on the hook for $1.4 million a day for a cancelled space program that should have not been discontinued in the first place. So we are not just not getting a replacement for the shuttle anytime soon, but money is also being wasted with nothing to show for it at the end...

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NSX

10:01:16 PM, Wednesday, March 30, 2011

-- Even if you're not a fan of the NSX (WHATTT?!), if you can appreciate good music, good camera and photography work, this deserves a watch. Inspired by Ayrton Senna.

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Why The World Is Running Out Of Helium

9:42:42 PM, Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"It is the second-lightest element in the Universe, has the lowest boiling-point of any gas and is commonly used through the world to inflate party balloons. But helium is also a non-renewable resource and the world's reserves of the precious gas are about to run out, a shortage that is likely to have far-reaching repercussions.

Scientists have warned that the world's most commonly used inert gas is being depleted at an astonishing rate because of a law passed in the United States in 1996 which has effectively made helium too cheap to recycle.

The law stipulates that the US National Helium Reserve, which is kept in a disused underground gas field near Amarillo, Texas – by far the biggest store of helium in the world – must all be sold off by 2015, irrespective of the market price.

The experts warn that the world could run out of helium within 25 to 30 years, potentially spelling disaster for hospitals, whose MRI scanners are cooled by the gas in liquid form, and anti-terrorist authorities who rely on helium for their radiation monitors, as well as the millions of children who love to watch their helium-filled balloons float into the sky.

Helium is made either by the nuclear fusion process of the Sun, or by the slow and steady radioactive decay of terrestrial rock, which accounts for all of the Earth's store of the gas. There is no way of manufacturing it artificially, and practically all of the world's reserves have been derived as a by-product from the extraction of natural gas, mostly in the giant oil- and gasfields of the American South-west, which historically have had the highest helium concentrations.

Liquid helium is critical for cooling cooling infrared detectors, nuclear reactors and the machinery of wind tunnels. The space industry uses it in sensitive satellite equipment and spacecraft, and Nasa uses helium in huge quantities to purge the potentially explosive fuel from its rockets.

In the form of its isotope helium-3, helium is also crucial for research into the next generation of clean, waste-free nuclear reactors powered by nuclear fusion, the nuclear reaction that powers the Sun.

Despite the critical role that the gas plays in the modern world, it is being depleted as an unprecedented rate and reserves could dwindle to virtually nothing within a generation, warns Nobel laureate Robert Richardson, professor of physics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York..."

-- Not the most recent, but National Geographic recently ran a similar article and nothing much has changed since this was published. Since most have never even heard of this occurring, here it is.

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A First Look at Mercury’s Surface

8:36:43 PM, Tuesday, March 29, 2011

-- "It is the first photo from the first spacecraft to orbit the first rock from the Sun.

On Tuesday morning, NASA’s Mercury Messenger took this photograph of the surface of Mercury. The bright pockmark in the upper half of the image is a 50-mile-wide crater called Debussy. (Craters on Mercury are named after artists, musicians and writers.)

The spacecraft then took 363 more photographs before sending the images to Earth; more will be released to the public on Wednesday, when NASA will hold a news conference about what it sees on Mercury.

The Messenger began its trip through the inner solar system six and a half years ago, and it entered orbit around Mercury on March 18. Since then, engineers have been checking out the spacecraft before turning on the instruments, including the camera. During the mission, expected to last at least a year, the Messenger is to take 75,000 more photographs, allowing scientists to map out the planet’s entire surface and study its geology and atmosphere in detail."

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The 2011 Miss Reef Calendar - Pacific Side of Panama

5:10:20 PM, Tuesday, March 29, 2011

-- A fact not that well known: Panama, especially the Panama Canal Zone area, has become a popular retirement spot for those from the U.S. who seek warmer climate, inexpensive living and a much more leisurly way of life, but it also has other attractions, for which watch the video...

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The Future of Manufacturing Is Local

2:55:30 PM, Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Think manufacturing, and most likely your brain defaults to abandoned factories, outsourcing and economically devastated regions like the Rust Belt. So strong is our tendency to focus on American manufacturing as something that’s been lost that a chorus has risen up to decry the prevalence of “ruin porn” — those aestheticized versions of the decidedly un-pretty, with a particular focus on the once-triumphant automotive center of the universe, Detroit.

But there are many parts of this country where manufacturing is very much alive, albeit in a different form. The monolithic industry model — steel, oil, lumber, cars — has evolved into something more nimble and diversified. As this country continues to figure out how to crawl out of its economic despair, we could benefit from focusing on the shift.

President Obama, looking for ideas for job creation, came to San Francisco last month to pick the brains of tech-industry giants like Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg. He would have done well to include Kate Sofis as well — and not only to right the gender imbalance at the dinner table. Sofis, executive director of SFMade, is helping breathe new life into a forgotten potential economic driver: manufacturing.

“Manufacturing isn’t dead and doesn’t need to be preserved,” she says. “Let’s stop fixating on what’s lost. Let’s see what we have here, what’s doing well, and let’s help those folks do better.”

Industries like the record business, publishing and technology are constantly evolving in order to survive. Both SFMade and its New York cousin, Made in N.Y.C., are increasingly able to share success stories of how manufacturing has developed new models for doing business in the 21st century. The monolithic single-industry model has evolved as manufacturers see the benefits of being smaller and paying attention to how patterns of consumption, ownership and use are shifting..."

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Why Are Spectres and Warthogs Attacking Gaddafi’s Forces Now?

11:34:10 AM, Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"In case you had any doubts about where the war in Libya is going, the Pentagon has confirmed today that two new weapons are now part of the coalition forces: The A-10 Warthog and the AC-130 Spectre. What does this mean?Vice Admiral "Shortney" Gortney said that they "have been employed" according to the UN resolution but they are not being used "in direct support of the opposition."

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II aka Warthog is a twin-engine jet designed to provide close air support for ground forces. It eats tanks and any armored vehicles for breakfast, lunch and dinner thanks to its GAU-8 Avenger heavy automatic cannon. These beasts can take an entire Libyan armored column and blow it to smithereens in a few passes.

The Lockheed AC-130 Spectre is a gigantic flying gunship, that vomits hell down to the ground in the form of 25mm, 40mm and 105mm cannon projectiles, some of them of the depleted uranium kind. The main use of the AC-130 is close air support, force protection, and bombing raids.

But, according to the Pentagon, these aircraft are "not being used in direct support of the opposition" forces. Really? Did they just sent them there on target practice? No. The Pentagon may pretend that these ships are not providing close air support to the rebel forces but the fact is that, when you take one of Gaddafi's tank out of the way, you are directly supporting the opposition. Perhaps not in a coordinated way, but in a definitive way nonetheless.

And while the rebels aren't necessarily calling coalition planes in when they need support, I think it's safe to assume that recon units—drones and special operations units on the ground—are guiding these attacks to the places and battles where they are most needed."

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Digging for Riches in the World’s Deepest Gold Mine

11:07:34 AM, Tuesday, March 29, 2011

-- "The Mponeng gold mine in South Africa is the world’s deepest mine, extending more than 2 miles below the surface. Not surprisingly, conditions at its depths are hellish. The commute down takes more than an hour. The rock itself can reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit and occasionally explodes. But there’s also a pair of gold reefs down there, the lowest of which is 3 feet thick. It costs about $550 an ounce to extract the bling—not too bad when gold is selling for $1,300 an ounce. AngloGold Ashanti, which runs Mponeng, can keep well in the black by recovering just 0.35 ounce of gold from each ton of rock, and Mponeng pulls up 6,000 tons a day. AngloGold and its chief rival, GoldFields, dug the first ultradeep mines decades ago, but only recently has technology made the operations (sort of) safe. Here’s how they do it..."

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Safe Nuclear Does Exist, And China Is Leading The Way With Thorium

11:53:01 PM, Monday, March 28, 2011

"This passed unnoticed –except by a small of band of thorium enthusiasts – but it may mark the passage of strategic leadership in energy policy from an inert and status-quo West to a rising technological power willing to break the mould.

If China’s dash for thorium power succeeds, it will vastly alter the global energy landscape and may avert a calamitous conflict over resources as Asia’s industrial revolutions clash head-on with the West’s entrenched consumption.

China’s Academy of Sciences said it had chosen a “thorium-based molten salt reactor system”. The liquid fuel idea was pioneered by US physicists at Oak Ridge National Lab in the 1960s, but the US has long since dropped the ball. Further evidence of Barack `Obama’s “Sputnik moment”, you could say.

Chinese scientists claim that hazardous waste will be a thousand times less than with uranium. The system is inherently less prone to disaster.

“The reactor has an amazing safety feature,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA engineer at Teledyne Brown and a thorium expert.

“If it begins to overheat, a little plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. There is no need for computers, or the sort of electrical pumps that were crippled by the tsunami. The reactor saves itself,” he said..."

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Astronomy Picture of the Day: MWC 922, The Red Square Nebula

10:46:09 PM, Monday, March 28, 2011

-- "What could cause a nebula to appear square? No one is quite sure. The hot star system known as MWC 922, however, appears to be embedded in a nebula with just such a shape. The above image combines infrared exposures from the Hale Telescope on Mt. Palomar in California, and the Keck-2 Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. A leading progenitor hypothesis for the square nebula is that the central star or stars somehow expelled cones of gas during a late developmental stage. For MWC 922, these cones happen to incorporate nearly right angles and be visible from the sides. Supporting evidence for the cone hypothesis includes radial spokes in the image that might run along the cone walls. Researchers speculate that the cones viewed from another angle would appear similar to the gigantic rings of supernova 1987A, possibly indicating that a star in MWC 922 might one day itself explode in a similar supernova."

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Boogie Boarding Down a Dam in Australia

1:40:29 PM, Monday, March 28, 2011
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The Black Keys - Howlin' For You (Official Video)

6:44:11 PM, Sunday, March 27, 2011

-- Also, if you haven't seen Limitless yet then you definitely should. Super fun movie.

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High-Temperature Superconductor Spills Secret: A New Phase of Matter?

3:46:27 PM, Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Scientists have found the strongest evidence yet that a puzzling gap in the electronic structures of some high-temperature superconductors could indicate a new phase of matter. Understanding this "pseudogap" has been a 20-year quest for researchers who are trying to control and improve these breakthrough materials, with the ultimate goal of finding superconductors that operate at room temperature.

"Our findings point to management and control of this other phase as the correct path toward optimizing these novel superconductors for energy applications, as well as searching for new superconductors," said Zhi-Xun Shen of the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Science (SIMES), a joint institute of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. Shen led the team of researchers that made the discovery; their findings appear in the March 25 issue of Science.

Superconductors are materials that conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency, losing nothing to resistance. Currently used in medical imaging, highly efficient electrical generators and maglev trains, they have the potential to become a truly transformative technology; energy applications would be just one beneficiary. This promise is hampered by one thing, though: they work only at extremely low temperatures. Although research over the past 25 years has developed "high-temperature superconductors" that work at warmer temperatures, even the warmest of them -- the cuprates -- must be chilled half-way to absolute zero before they will superconduct.

The prospect of being able to dramatically increase that working temperature, thus making superconductors easier and cheaper to use, has kept interest in the cuprates at the boiling point. But to change something you have to understand it, and a puzzle called the pseudogap has stood in the way.

One hallmark of a superconductor is a so-called "energy gap" that appears when the material transitions into its superconducting phase. The gap in electron energies arises when electrons pair off at a lower energy to do the actual job of superconducting electric current..."

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