Archive for December, 2009

China's New Bullet Train Breaks Speed Record; Makes Amtrak Cry

By Brett Israel | December 31, 2009 11:30 am

China’s Harmony train can now boast of being the fastest long distance passenger train on the planet. The Harmony express raced 1,100 km in less than three hours on Saturday, travelling from Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong province, to the central city of Wuhan. The journey previously took at least 11 hours [Financial Times]. That’s almost like traveling from New York City to Indianapolis by train in three hours.  Even if you encountered a two and a half hour delay, which happened to one unlucky load of Harmony riders this week, you’d still make great time.

See the train in action in the video below:

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MORE ABOUT: China, transporation

Study: Forget Ginkgo for Slowing Memory Loss

By Andrew Moseman | December 31, 2009 7:00 am

GinkgoThis week, a eight-year double-blind study of the nutritional supplement ginkgo biloba finally reached the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Many health food stores sell ginkgo supplements to people who are hoping to improve their wits and memory, and particularly to elderly people worried about cognitive decline and dementia. But the conclusion by lead researcher Steven DeKosky? Save your money.

In the GEM [Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory] study, participants aged 72-96 years with little or no cognitive impairment were recruited from four communities in the eastern United States and received either a twice-daily dose of 120-milligrams of extract of G biloba or an identical-looking placebo [AFP]. For the more than 3,000 study participants, researchers found no difference in age-related cognitive decline—including the incidence of dementia or Alzheimer’s—between ginkgo takers and placebo takers.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

GPS Tracks Brutus the Wolf on Marathon Hunts Around the Arctic

By Brett Israel | December 30, 2009 3:07 pm

Brutus_spaghettimap-400-webA lone wolf named Brutus is helping U.S. Geological Survey scientists study Arctic wolf migrations in remote regions of Canada. These migrations can traverse hundreds of miles in 24-hour winter darkness at temperatures that reach 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

There’s no way humans can physically follow the wolves under these brutal conditions, so Brutus is sporting a GPS collar that beams his coordinates back to a satellite every 12 hours. As it turns out, the wolves are covering a lot of ground, as can be seen in the map above. Now, the fjords visible in the summer image above have frozen and can be crossed on foot. In one trip, the wolf and his pack traveled 80 miles from Ellesmere Island to Axel Heiberg Island and back in just 84 hours. Just through November 30, Brutus has traveled 1,683 miles [].

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MORE ABOUT: Arctic, satellites, wolves

Russia Is Developing a Secret Plan to Divert a Non-Threatening Asteroid

By Andrew Moseman | December 30, 2009 11:34 am

apophis_orbitYou may remember back in October that NASA scientists downgraded the threat of the asteroid Apophis slamming into the Earth from remote to even more remote. Thanks to refined computation of the object’s motion, astronomers changed their estimate of the chances for a 2036 collision from an already unlikely 1 in 45,000 chance to a further long shot of 1 in 250,000. Well, that wasn’t enough to ease the head of Russia’s space program, Anatoly Perminov, who today said his nation would plan an ambitious space program to spare the Earth from certain doom, and would eventually ask other world powers to join Russia on this quest.

Without mentioning NASA findings, Perminov said that he heard from a scientist that Apophis is getting closer and may hit the planet. “I don’t remember exactly, but it seems to me it could hit the Earth by 2032,” Perminov said [AP]. Truly, Perminov didn’t remember exactly: Apophis makes a close but harmless pass of our planet in 2029, when it could come within 20,000 miles of Earth, and then swings by again in 2036 (the visit for which NASA downgraded the danger to the remote four-in-a-million).

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MORE ABOUT: asteroids, NASA, Russia

Why, Oh Why, Did San Francisco's Famous Sea Lions Disappear?

By Andrew Moseman | December 30, 2009 10:36 am

Sea LionsAfter 20 years in one spot, anyone can get restless. That goes for the famous sea lions of San Francisco’s Pier 39. They swelled to their largest population ever just a couple months ago and then almost totally disappeared this month, baffling local marine experts.

The animals have been a fixture on Pier 39 since 1990, when a big herring run lured the sea lions into San Francisco Bay. The Marine Mammal Center gets so many questions about the 1,000-pound creatures that the nonprofit staffs a small kiosk on Pier 39; the pier’s insignia includes the silhouette of a sea lion [San Francisco Chronicle]. In October more than 1,700 sea lions laid about on Fisherman’s Wharf. But the exodus began the day after Thanksgiving, and by yesterday only 10 remained hanging out near the docks.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
MORE ABOUT: california, mammals, ocean

Are Digital Strip Searches Coming Soon To Every Airport Near You?

By Brett Israel | December 29, 2009 5:54 pm

tsa-release-images-400-webThe Christmas Day airplane bombing attempt has renewed the debate over full body scanners at airports. The Transportation Security Administration in recent years has tried out a series of “whole-body imagers” to look for threats that typical metal detectors can’t find. These systems are the only way that smuggled explosives, like the one officials say was brought on the Christmas flight, can be reliably found [].

Privacy advocates are calling the full body scanners a “digital strip search” (take a look at this TSA image of a full body scan and you’ll get the idea). But some security advocates say that either patting down every passenger or taking full body scans are the only options to ensure certain dangerous items are kept off airplanes.

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Near the Edge of the Solar System, Voyager 2 Finds Magnetic Fluff

By Andrew Moseman | December 29, 2009 4:40 pm

voyager2After three-plus decades of exploring the gas giants, passing the orbit of Pluto, and reaching points beyond, Voyager 2 has found something interesting near the edge of the solar system: surprisingly magnetic fluff. Researchers document their findings in this week’s Nature.

Of course, this fluff isn’t made from the dust bunnies you find under your bed, the ‘Local Fluff’ (a nickname for the Local Interstellar Cloud) is a vast, wispy cloud of hot hydrogen and helium stretching 30 light-years across [Discovery News]. Astronomers already knew this fluff was out there near the boundary area between our solar system and interstellar space. What surprised them is that the fluff is much more magnetized than they’d expected.

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Code Protecting 80 Percent of Cellphone Convos Finally Cracked

By Andrew Moseman | December 29, 2009 2:39 pm

cellphonemanAre your phone conversations about to become less secure? A German encryption expert says he’s cracked the two-decade-old algorithm that protects most of the world’s cellphones: GSM (Global System for Mobile communication).

Karsten Nohl says his intentions were noble; he wanted to show the world that though GSM protects 80 percent of the cellphones in the world, it’s far from invincible.  “This shows that existing G.S.M. security is inadequate,” Mr. Nohl, 28, told about 600 people attending the Chaos Communication Congress, a four-day conference of computer hackers that runs through Wednesday in Berlin. “We are trying to push operators to adopt better security measures for mobile phone calls” [The New York Times].

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Specially Modified Music Can Rewire Brain & Alleviate Tinnitus

By Brett Israel | December 29, 2009 2:36 pm

ear-ipod-webTinnitus, the perceived ringing and buzzing in one’s ears, may not be fully understood, but what is known is that it can severely disrupt a person’s life. Treatment for the condition has been unreliable, but now scientists are reporting a new way to turn down the ringing by turning up music, according to a new study.

Scientists altered participants’ favourite music to remove notes which matched the frequency of the ringing in their ears. After a year of listening to the modified music, individuals reported a drop in the loudness of their tinnitus [BBC News]. Participants who listened to music in which notes of a different frequency were removed reported no such improvement. The treatment could be a cheap way to help the three percent of the population that suffers from tinnitus, say the researchers, who published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: hearing, music, PNAS, senses

Nevada Begins Wild Horse Roundup; Willie Nelson Cries Foul

By Andrew Moseman | December 29, 2009 10:13 am

wildhorsesThe big roundup in Nevada has begun. But rather than being fodder for a old-fashioned Western, this one is kicking up a fight. Yesterday the Bureau of Land Management launched its mission to capture 2,500 wild horses from public and private lands across the state.

Contractors in helicopters and on horseback herded some of the mustangs into corrals in the Black Rock Range, a chain of mountains 100 miles north of Reno, according to a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management. Heather Emmons said she did not know how many horses were captured on the first day of the roundup, which will take two months and stretch across 1,750 square miles in the Calico Mountains Complex [Los Angeles Times].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

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