Monday, 29 September 2008

A Night-time GP

Formula One racing held it’s first ever night-time Grand Prix on a new street circuit in Singapore at the week-end.

They say that if a Formula One car didn’t have all its wings to generate downforce it would be impossible to keep it on the ground – it would fly. Fisichella showed in free practice that it can fly even with its wings! The engineers worked like mad to get him out He then drove into the barriers in the first qualifying session although, in fairness, his throttle appeared to have stuck open. I enjoy Martin Brundle’s down to earth views, “He couldn’t drive a nail into a piece of wood,” was his comment on the one-time F1 driver Luca Badoer.

Alonso’s engine did the opposite and died. So he went out in the second qualifying session. As a result he started near the back and adopted a different strategy which paid off when his team-mate hit the wall and brought out the safety car.

Massa, who had had an unassailable lead, tried to see how the Ferrari would go with a fuel hose attached. While Massa was assaulting his engineers Raikkonen was busy queuing. Neither Ferrari scored a point. Massa spun a couple of times, did his stop go penalty and generally got fed up while Raikkonen lost concentration with four laps to go and stuck his car in the barrier. In theory Lewis Hamilton might have made it to the top of the podium but then got stuck in traffic and ended up third behind winner Alonso and Rosberg who managed second despite a stop and go penalty.

Alonso deserved his win (he wrote, grudgingly). But Hamilton says he feels comfortable heading into the final three races of the Formula One season with a seven-point championship lead. Perhaps he's forgotten that this time last year he had a sixteen point lead!

Bornean clouded leopard

A rare and reclusive leopard that hunts among the dense island forests of Borneo and Sumatra in south-east Asia was identified eighteen months ago as an entirely new species of great cat.

Genetic tests and pelt examinations have revealed that the animal, now called the Bornean clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi), is as distinct from other clouded leopards that roam mainland Asia as lions are from panthers.

On the islands the clouded leopard is the top predator, preying on monkeys, deer, wild pigs and lizards, and has a crucial influence on the regional ecosystems. At their largest they reach just over 1m long, and for their size sport the largest canine teeth of the cat family. Their name comes from the mottled white patches that cover their skin.

Clouded leopards were first described in 1821 by the British naturalist Edward Griffith, but few of the animals have ever been sighted and from the sparse information available scientists suspected they were either all one species, or possibly divided into four sub-species.

By testing DNA from clouded leopard populations across Asia and the islands, scientists at the US National Cancer Institute in Maryland identified 40 genetic differences between the island cats and those found elsewhere, confirming them as two distinct species whose evolutionary paths divided 1.4m years ago.

There are estimated to be only 5,000 to 11,000 of the leopards on Borneo and 3,000 to 7,000 on Sumatra. The island species has small cloud markings, a double stripe down its back, and its grey fur is darker than the mainland species. The leopards are extremely agile and can hunt by staging ambushes from the trees. Little else is known about their behaviour.

Ian Sample, science correspondent The Guardian

Friday, 26 September 2008

Magpies are no bird brains

LONDON (Reuters - By Ben Hirschler) - Magpies can recognise themselves in a mirror, highlighting the mental skills of some birds and confounding the notion that self-awareness is the exclusive preserve of humans and a few higher mammals.

It had been thought only chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants shared the human ability to recognise their own bodies in a mirror. But German scientists reported on Tuesday that magpies -- a species with a brain structure very different from mammals -- could also identify themselves.

"It shows that the line leading to humans is not as special as many thought," lead researcher Helmut Prior of the Institute of Psychology at Goethe University in Frankfurt told Reuters.

"After finding this kind of intelligence in apes, many people thought it had developed once in one evolutionary line with humans at the end. The bird studies show it has developed at least twice."

The discovery of self-awareness in magpies follows a 2002 study in which a crow stunned researchers with its tool-making skills, by twisting a wire into a hook to lift food from a tube. Prior and his colleagues tested their magpies by marking the birds' bodies with a red or yellow dot that could only be seen in a mirror. They found the birds regularly scratched the mark on their body, proving they recognised the image in the mirror as themselves and not another animal. To ensure they were actually seeing and reacting to the mark, and not just investigating what had been done to them, a "sham" black mark was used as a control that was invisible on the birds' dark feathers.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Is This Actually Illegal?

And another old one I have just come across.. If mating with a hedgehog is questinably legal, what about driving backwards?

Friday, October 06, 2006
Scott William Poulton, an Australian man in his early 20s, was arrested for driving backwards on an empty highway in the Outback. Police were heading out onto the road when they saw a car coming towards them. They aimed their radar gun to check it out but were not astonished when they saw the car was approaching at a mere 56 km/hour (35 mph). They stopped the car when they realized it was "going the wrong way." The driver told them his transmission had "stuffed up" and the only gear he could use was reverse. So he did ... for about 20 km in an attempt to make it to the closest town.

Police gave the man a breathalyser to determine sobriety which he, of course, passed. The driver was charged with reckless driving and driving while under suspension. It is unfortunate his license was suspended but I wonder what he had done wrong otherwise. Is it illegal to drive in reverse? If so, why are manufacturers allowed to put an illegal gear into a car?

For the record, this occurred on the Great Eastern Highway. The man was driving eastward. The cops were driving westward. Aren't the cops the ones who were going the wrong way?

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Man Lacerates Penis with Hedgehog

This is actually old news, but I never heard about it. And you just can't make this stuff up!
Friday, October 20, 2006

A Serbian man needed emergency surgery after he had sex with a hedgehog on a witchdoctor's advice. Zoran Nikolovic, 35, from Belgrade, says the witchdoctor told him it would cure his premature ejaculation. The witchdoctor also guaranteed discretion and confidentiality. Unfortunately for Zoran the local hospital didn't! He ended up in an operating theatre after the hedgehog's needles left his penis severely lacerated.
A hospital spokesman said: "The animal was apparently unhurt and the patient came off much worse from the encounter. We have managed to repair the damage to his penis."

I guess it goes to show that witchdoctors still hold a lot of power in some places of the world...

Monday, 22 September 2008

Bill Gates Digs Algae

Bill Gates' Cascades Investments has backed algal biofuel maker Sapphire Energy, bringing the total amount raised by the startup to over $100 million. The San Diego, Calif., company is one of a slew of startups developing processes for harvesting fuels from algae. In May, the one-year-old company said it had raised over $50 million from Arch Venture Partners, the Wellcome Trust and Venrock.

Sapphire CEO Jason Pyle told the Wall Street Journal Wednesday that the company plans to build a production plant capable of generating 10,000 barrels of algal oil a day. Biofuel is not a new field of investment for Cascade, which put money in Pacific Ethanol, a public company in Sacramento, Calif. But the investment firm sold all of its shares in Pacific earlier this year after the company reported losses and suspended construction of a planned ethanol plant . Pacific Ethanol said it was on track to complete a new plant last month even as it posted further losses.

From Mainstreet.

Rubber ducks and Global warming

Rubber ducks are being used to help scientists understand global warming and melting glaciers.

Nasa researchers have dropped 90 ducks into holes in Greenland's fastest moving glacier, the Jakobshavn Glacier in Baffin Bay, between Greenland and Canada. The toys have each been labelled with the words "science experiment" and "reward" in three languages, along with an e-mail address. If they are found scientists will be able to track how the water moves through the ice and provide information about the movement of glaciers. Scientists are still unsure about why glaciers speed up in summer and head towards the sea.

One theory is that the summer sun melts ice on top of the glacier's surface, creating pools that flow into tubular holes in the glacier called moulins. These moulins carry some water to the bottom of the glacier, where it acts as a lubricant to speed the movement of ice toward the coast.

The Jakobshavn Glacier is believed to be the source of the iceberg that sank the Titanic in 1912 and is important to researchers because it discharges nearly 7 per cent of all the ice coming off Greenland.

Alberto Behar of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California said none of the ducks had been reported yet.

"We haven't heard back but it may take some time until somebody actually finds it and decides to send us an e-mail that they have found it," he said. "These are places that are quite remote so there aren't people walking around."

"Octosquid" found off Hawaii

In 2007 a curious cephalopod creature that appeared to be half octopus, half squid was found in waters at Keahole Point in Hawaii. Local biologists thought that it could possibly be a new species.
The creature is believed to have been sucked up in a deep seawater pipeline at the Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaii Authority at Keahole. This pipeline pumps colde water up from 3,000 feet below sea level, and occassional deep-sea marine life gets caught in a filter in the line. Workers who discovered the creature call it an "octosquid" because it has the body of a squid and the tentacles of an octopus.
The octosquid stayed alive for three days once it was found by researchers. It was then shipped to the University of Hawaii Manoa campus for evaluation.
Sadly, it turned out that the creature was simply a rare species of squid which had lost two tentacles!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Beaver in Devon

For a great picture of a beaver in Devon see UK Safari's picture of the month.
Ben Lee took this photo using a Nikon D80 at Escot Park in Devon.
A pair of beavers were introduced there as part of a carefully monitored experiment. Recently the beavers set about making a house a home by adding the ultimate must-have feature in every beaver habitat – a dam. It's probably the first beaver dam to be built in the south west for 800 years.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Ancient trees recorded in mines

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, Liverpool

Spectacular fossil forests have been found in the coal mines of Illinois by a US-UK team of researchers. The group reported one discovery last year, but has since identified a further five examples. The ancient vegetation - now turned to rock - is visible in the ceilings of mines covering thousands of hectares.

These were among the first forests to evolve on the planet, Dr Howard Falcon-Lang told the British Association Science Festival in Liverpool.

"These are the largest fossil forests found anywhere in the world at any point in geological time," he told reporters.
"It is quite extraordinary to find a fossil landscape preserved over such a vast area; and we are talking about an area the size of Bristol." The forests grew just a few million years apart some 300 million years ago; and are now stacked one on top of another. It appears the ancient land experienced repeated periods of subsidence and flooding which buried the forests in a vertical sequence. They have since become visible because of the extensive mining operations in the border area between the states of Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.

Scientists look up to see what would have been the forest floor

Once the coal seams have been removed (what were, essentially, the compacted soils of the forests), it is possible to go into the tunnels and look up at what would have been lying on the forest floors.

"It's a really exciting experience to drive down into these mines; it's pitch black," the Bristol University research said. "It's kind of an odd view looking at a forest bottom-up. You can actually see upright tree stumps that are pointed vertically up above your head with the roots coming down; and adjacent to those tree stumps you see all the litter. "We found 30m-long trunks that had fallen with their crowns perfectly preserved."

Some of the preservation is exquisite

The researchers believe their study of these ancient forests could give hints to how modern rainforests might react in a warmer world. The six forests straddle a period in Earth history 306 million years ago that saw a rapid shift from an icehouse climate with big polar ice caps to a greenhouse climate in which the ice caps would have melted.

"The fascinating thing we've discovered is that the rainforests dramatically collapse approximately coincident with the greenhouse warming," explained Dr Falcon-Lang. "Long-lived forests dominated by giant club moss trees almost overnight (in a geological sense) are replaced by rather weedy fern vegetation." The next stage of the research is to try to refine the timings of events all those years ago, and work out the exact environmental conditions that existed. The thresholds that triggered the ancient collapse can then be compared with modern circumstances.