Antarctic Region Once As Hot As California, Florida

antarctica“Parts of ancient Antarctica were as warm as today’s California coast, and polar regions of the southern Pacific Ocean registered 21st-century Florida heat, according to scientists using a new way to measure past temperatures.

The findings, published the week of April 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, underscore the potential for increased warmth at Earth’s poles and the associated risk of melting polar ice and rising sea levels, the researchers said.

Led by scientists at Yale, the study focused on Antarctica during the Eocene epoch, 40-50 million years ago, a period with high concentrations of atmospheric CO2 and consequently a greenhouse climate. Today, Antarctica is year-round one of the coldest places on Earth, and the continent’s interior is the coldest place, with annual average land temperatures far below zero degrees Fahrenheit…”


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What Makes an Alien Intelligent?

dolphins“On Thursday, astronomers announced that they’d reached a new milestone in the search for Earth’s ‘twin,’ or a planet much like ours that orbits in what’s known as the Goldilocks Zone—not too close to its star, nor too far away. In the five years since NASA launched the Kepler satellite to look for such worlds, the best we’ve been able to find is a portly cousin that is forty per cent larger than Earth. But the new discovery, called Kepler-186f, is only ten per cent bigger than Earth. Though it’s not exactly a twin, it’s a much closer relative. And so, despite its distance (five hundred light years from Earth), it automatically becomes a candidate in any future search for life. Earth, after all, is the only example we have of a life-producing world, so for decades we have sought its mirror image—a rocky world that’s neither too hot nor too cold to have liquid water on its surface. The search for intelligent alien life has proceeded along similar lines—it began with radio telescopes trained skyward to detect the sort of signals that we make.

Yet, even as the Kepler mission gets closer to finding a mirror image of our own planet, many scientists have ceased believing that we should be looking for ourselves in space. There are other ways for a planet to support life, they argue—and there are other ways for life to be intelligent…”



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The Tyranny of the Mirror

mirrors“It is very difficult to see your own reflection in a puddle. I tried it in the park the other day: what you get is a silhouette of yourself against the sky. Even if there was enough light falling on your face to fill in the details, you’d still get the view from underneath, looking up the nostrils; not a good angle, especially as the years march on. To see yourself full-face, albeit with the equally unflattering tug of gravity, you’d have to lean quite far over the puddle and tilt your head forward, at which point you run the risk of overbalancing. Perhaps Narcissus couldn’t swim, and that is how he met his end?

For millennia, such an imperfect, low-angle, high-risk glimpse was all that was available to Homo sapiens. Can you imagine not knowing what you look like? Today we are not only surrounded by mirrors, everywhere from the bathroom to the gym to the lift, but also by incidentally reflective surfaces. Car windows, computer screens, the oven door, vast cityscapes of plate-glass. It’s hard to avoid your own reflection, even if you want to…”


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Want to Reboot Civilization? What You’ll Need

reboot_civilization“Most of us are ready for small-scale disasters. We’ve done fire drills and filled out the ‘emergency contact’ field on forms. But few of us have emergency plans for after we have to flee an asteroid impact that lights an entire continent on fire, or to cope with the complete social breakdown that would follow in the wake of a global radiation disaster or a deadly pandemic. We’re haunted by the idea of these mega-catastrophes, because they’re not implausible. It’s just that preparing for them isn’t as simple as building a bomb shelter.

When you’re looking down the barrel of a civilization-erasing event, you have to plan for a world where humanity has lost everything. Canned goods might be nice, but you’d better have brought along a can opener—or know how to make one. In the event that life as we know it is truly upended, the survivors will have to rebuild our civilization. Given everything humanity has learned over the past hundred thousand years, what information should we leave them? And how do we store it so they can actually make use of it?

In recent years, these questions have jumped from the pages of science fiction novels and onto the research agendas of a range of thinkers, from physicists to philosophers to agricultural engineers to librarians. As humans become increasingly aware of our impact on the planet and the gravity of the disasters that have struck Earth in the past, it’s starting to seem wise to consider how we would reboot in the event of a system failure. Our best shot at clawing our way out of a new dark age may be to start curating and preserving caches of the most useful and important information, tools, and biological samples from today’s world. And the things we’re trying to save say as much about what we value in the world we’ve already built as they do about our hopes for the future…”


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Recycling Tokyo Crows Build Their Nests Out of Coat Hangers

nest_coat_hangers“Crows are known to be highly intelligent birds, and it looks like they can now teach us a thing or two about recycling and stealing. The Asian Jungle Crow, a large-billed crow, actually builds its nest out of coat hangers that it steals from people’s homes!

Crows make use of pretty much anything they find lying around to build their hardy nests. House Crows generally build crude structures, made of interlocking twigs gathered from surrounding trees and shrubs. They weave the twigs together with little pieces of metallic wire that strengthen the nest structure. In some nests, the clever crows incorporate knotted lengths of thick plastic instead.

But perhaps the most amazing crow nests are the ones built around Tokyo, Japan. Twigs and other natural materials are hard to come by in the busy metropolis, so the birds settle for the next best thing, and that seems to be coat hangers. You have got to see pictures to believe it! A blogger had posted some of these images way back in 2005, after solving the mystery of the missing hangers from her back yard. But it isn’t just the one nest – it seems that Japanese Jungle Crows are compulsive collectors of hangers…”


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The Rise of Big Data Brings Tremendous Possibilities and Frightening Perils

big data“Today, data are accumulating at exponentially increasing rates. There are more than 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, and even more video is being collected worldwide through the surveillance cameras that you see everywhere. Mobile-phone apps are keeping track of our every movement: everywhere we go; how fast we move; what time we wake. Soon, devices that we wear or that are built into our smartphones will monitor our body’s functioning; our sequenced DNA will reveal the software recipe for our physical body.

The NSA has been mining our phone metadata and occasionally listening in; marketers are correlating information about our gender, age, education, location, and socioeconomic status and using this to sell more to us; and politicians are fine-tuning their campaigns.

This is baby stuff compared to what lies ahead. The available tools for analyzing data are still crude; there are very few good data scientists; and companies such as Google still haven’t figured out what is the best data to analyze. This will surely change rapidly as artificial-intelligence technologies evolve and computers become more powerful and connected. We will be able to analyze all data we have collected from the beginning of time—as if we were entering a data time machine…”


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“Plastic Bag” Featuring Werner Herzog – Futurestates

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