Tuesday, October 21, 2014

China's Economic Growth Down to 7.3 Percent

China's economic growth waned to 7.3 percent last quarter, the lowest rate since early 2009, resuming a slowdown that had been eased by mini-stimulus measures earlier in the year.

The 7.3 percent year-on-year growth reported Tuesday by China's National Bureau of Statistics was down from 7.5 percent in the second quarter, which had been bolstered by stimulus spending on infrastructure. Growth in the first quarter was 7.4 percent.

Communist leaders are trying to steer China toward growth based on domestic consumption instead of trade and investment, but the slowdown raises fears of politically dangerous job losses. The latest figures put China on course for annual growth somewhat lower than the rate of 7.5 percent targeted by Chinese leaders.

Chinese growth reached 14 percent in 2007, but took a hit from the global recession of 2008-2009 and has declined steadily since 2012.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Government of China Conducting Man-in-the-Middle Hacking on Apple I-Cloud and Microsoft Using Great Firewall

After previous attacks on Github, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, the Chinese authorities are now staging a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack on Apple’s iCloud.

We have posted previously about MITM attacks on Google and Github and broke the news about the recent attack on Yahoo. Refer to the appendix at the end of this post to see technical evidence of the attack.

This case is different, however, for a few of reasons.

Wikipedia defines a man-in-the-middle-attack in the following way:

The man-in-the-middle attack...is a form of active eavesdropping in which the attacker makes independent connections with the victims and relays messages between them, making them believe that they are talking directly to each other over a private connection, when in fact the entire conversation is controlled by the attacker.

This is clearly a malicious attack on Apple in an effort to gain access to usernames and passwords and consequently all data stored on iCloud such as iMessages, photos, contacts, etc. Unlike the recent attack on Google, this attack is nationwide and coincides with the launch today in China of the newest iPhone. While the attacks on Google and Yahoo enabled the authorities to snoop on what information Chinese were accessing on those two platforms, the Apple attack is different. If users ignored the security warning and clicked through to the Apple site and entered their username and password, this information has now been compromised by the Chinese authorities. Many Apple customers use iCloud to store their personal information, including iMessages, photos and contacts. This may also somehow be related again to images and videos of the Hong Kong protests being shared on the mainland.

Active Control Theory Applied to Quantum Based Technologies?

What does a 1980s experimental aircraft have to do with state-of-the art quantum technology? Lots, as shown by new research from the Quantum Control Laboratory at the University of Sydney, and published in Nature Physics today.

Over several years a team of scientists has taken inspiration from aerospace research and development programs to make unusually shaped experimental aircraft fly.

"It always amazed me that the X-29, an American airplane that was designed like a dart being thrown backwards, was able to fly. Achieving this, in 1984, came through major advances in a discipline called control engineering that were able to stabilise the airplane," said Associate Professor Michael Biercuk, from the School of Physics and director of the Quantum Control Laboratory.

"We became interested in how similar concepts could play a role in bringing quantum technologies to reality. If control engineering can turn an unstable dart into a high-performance fighter jet, it's pretty amazing to think what it can do for next-generation quantum technologies."

The result is that the researchers have been able to turn fragile quantum systems into useful pieces of advanced tech useful for everything from computation and communications to building specialised sensors for industry. The trick was figuring out how to protect them from their environments using control theory.

Anyone for Quidditch?

In many sports, mastery of the ball is crucial to success. But what happens if the ball disobeys the laws of physics? Researchers at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory and the University of Tokyo are working on just such a device: HoverBall.

HoverBall is a 90-millimeter-wide quadcopter enclosed in a cage a bit bigger than a bocce ball. It is designed to hang in the air, change location and modify its behavior during play. The 10-gram, battery-powered device can fly for five minutes at a time, and although the most recent version relies on a remote control to guide its four rotors, future iterations might be programmed to operate autonomously. HoverBall’s surprise midair maneuvers introduce a new level of spontaneity to game play via “artificial physical laws” that follow “imaginary dynamics,” the researchers said in a study they presented earlier this year at the Augmented Human Conference in Kobe, Japan.

Beyond introducing erratic flight, the Sony team would like the ball to compensate for differences in player abilities and therefore make games more inclusive for children, the elderly and people with physical disabilities, according to Jun Rekimoto, Sony CSL deputy director.

RoboLaw Consortium Posts Guidelines to the Legal Aspects of the Robopocalypse

If a self-driving car causes an accident or a surgical robot kills a patient, whose fault is it? These are some of the questions a recent report funded by the European Union sought to answer.

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov famously wrote about the "three laws of robotics." Essentially, the laws state that a robot may not injure a human being, that it must obey orders given by humans and that it must protect its own existence when this doesn't conflict with the first two laws.

Similarly, the newly released RoboLaw guidelines aim to set down basic principles for governing robot behavior in real life. The guidelines also aim to determine whether existing laws are adequate to regulate new robotic technologies, ranging from self-driving vehicles to robot caretakers.

src link.

pdf of RoboLaw Consortium recommendations.

Echoes of the Cold War? Or Opening Strains of a new one? Swedish Naval Forces Hunt Sub in Baltic

Elements of the Swedish Navy spent the weekend searching for evidence of “foreign underwater activity,” following a Friday announcement from the Swedish Ministry of Defense, ahead of two days of naval maneuvers around the Stockholm archipelago.

Reports from Swedish press outlets have suggested the object is a damaged Soviet submarine, with one report in newspaper Svenska Dagbladet claiming to have intercepted a distress call in Russian.

The Swedish Ministry of Defense did not confirm any of the reports.

Russia defense officials have denied involvement in the incident.

Photos of the J-31 Chinese Stealth Fighter


Profiling a Paleogene Orogen in Western North America

Profile of a paleo-orogen: High topography across the present-day Basin and Range from 40 to 23 Ma


Cassel et al


Records of past topography connect Earth's deep interior to the surface, reflecting the distribution of heat and mass, past crustal structure, and plate interactions. Many tectonic reconstructions of the North American Cordillera suggest the presence of an Altiplano-like plateau in the location of the modern Basin and Range, with conflicting timing and mechanisms for the onset of surface-lowering extension and orogen collapse. Here we show, through a paleotopographic profile, that from the Eocene to the Oligocene a high, broad orogen stretched across Nevada, with a distinct crest that divided a continuous westward-draining slope extending to central California from an internally drained eastern Nevada plateau. This paleo-orogen maintained demonstrably higher-than-modern elevations, reaching 3500 m in the late Oligocene. Despite the long-term high gravitational potential energy of the crust supporting this topography, surface-lowering extension did not occur until the transition to a transform margin changed the external kinematic framework of the system. Maximum surface lowering was spatially decoupled from brittle upper crustal extension, requiring a large component of mid-crustal flow.

Was Uranus' Moon Miranda Resurfaced by Convection?

Global resurfacing of Uranus's moon Miranda by convection


Hammond et al


Miranda, an icy moon of Uranus, is one of the most visually striking and enigmatic bodies in the solar system. Three polygonal-shaped regions of intense deformation, dubbed "coronae," dominate the surface of Miranda. Here we use numerical methods to show that sluggish-lid convection in Miranda's ice shell, powered by tidal heating, can simultaneously match the global distribution of coronae, the concentric deformation pattern, and the estimated heat flow during formation. The expected rheological conditions in Miranda's ice shell lead to the development of low-order convection that produces surface deformation patterns similar to those observed. We find that satellite core size strongly controls convection geometry and that low-order convection patterns are much more stable for core radii less than half the satellite radius.

Searching for Archaeological Sites Underwater

A specialist group of European researchers are studying the remains of prehistoric human settlements which are now submerged beneath our coastal seas. Some of these drowned sites are tens of thousands of years old. From the progressive discovery and analysis of these prehistoric remains, a new scientific field has emerged, combining the expertise from many disciplines including archaeology, oceanography and the geosciences. The new field is called Continental Shelf Prehistoric Research.

This rapidly evolving research field is the focus of a new European Marine Board (EMB) position paper titled 'Land Beneath the Waves: Submerged Landscapes and Sea-Level Change.' The paper describes how during the successive ice ages of the last 1 million years, the sea level dropped at times by up to 120m, and the exposed area of the continental shelf added 40% to the land area of Europe; a terrain occupied by vegetation, fauna, and people. Consequently, many of the remains and artefacts of Europe's prehistory are now underwater. Considering that pre-humans inhabited the Black Sea coast 1.8 million years ago, the coast of northern Spain over 1 million years ago and; the coast of Britain at least 0.8 million years ago, the drowned land includes some of the earliest routes from Africa into Europe, and the areas where people survived during the multiple Ice Ages.

More than 2,500 submerged prehistoric artefact assemblages, ranging in age from 5,000 to 300,000 years, have been found in the coastal waters and open sea basins around Europe. Only a few have been properly mapped by divers, or assessed for preservation or excavation. These remains contain information on ancient seafaring, and the social structures and exploitation technologies of coastal resources before the introduction of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. To understand how prehistoric people responded to changing sea level, researchers combine examinations of these deposits with palaeoclimate models, reconstructions of ice-cap and sea level curves, and sophisticated survey and excavation techniques.

Frost on Venus?!?!

Venus is hiding something beneath its brilliant shroud of clouds: a first order mystery about the planet that researchers may be a little closer to solving because of a new re-analysis of twenty-year-old spacecraft data.

Venus's surface can't be seen from orbit in visible light because of the planet's hot, dense, cloudy atmosphere. Instead, radar has been used by spacecraft to penetrate the clouds and map out the surface – both by reflecting radar off the surface to measure elevation and by looking at the radio emissions of the hot surface. The last spacecraft to map Venus in this way was Magellan, two decades ago. One of the Venusian surprises discovered at that time is that radio waves are reflected differently at different elevations on Venus. Also observed were a handful of radio dark spots at the highest elevations. Both enigmas have defied explanation.

"There is general brightening upward trend in the highlands and then dark spots at the highest locations," explained Elise Harrington, an Earth sciences undergraduate at Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia, who revisited the Venus data during her internship at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, under the direction of Allan Treiman. Brightening, in this case, means the radio waves reflect well. Dark means the radio waves are not reflected. In other words, the higher you go on Venus, the more radio reflective the ground gets until it abruptly goes radio black.

"Like on Earth, the temperature changes with elevation," Harrington explained. And the cooler temperatures at altitude lead to ice and snow, which create a similar pattern of brightening for Earth – but in visible light. "Among the possibilities on Venus are a temperature dependent chemical weathering process or heavy metal compound precipitating from the air – a heavy metal frost."

Getting to the bottom of these mysteries has been very hard because Venus has not been revisited since Magellan and no better data is available.

So Harrington and Trieman made do by re-purposing the old data. They used recently-available stereo radar elevation data (from Dr. R. Herrick, University of Alaska) rather than using the lower resolution radar altimetry. That increased their altimetry resolution from seeing patches 8 by 12 kilometers to just 600x600 meters. They also used Magellan's Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), with its 75x75-meter footprint, to look at radio reflectance, rather than the data on radio emissions from the surface, which had a coarser 15 by 23 kilometer resolution.

They applied these to two areas in the Odva Regio highlands region of Venus where they confirmed the same pattern of radar reflections brightening with increasing elevation, as was found by previous researchers. The radar reflection was low at the lower 2,400 meter (7,900 foot) elevation, then rapidly brightens up to 4,500 meters (14,700 feet). But they also found a lot more of those strange black spots, with a precipitous drop in the reflections at 4,700 meters (15,400 feet).

"The previous author saw a few dark spots," said Harrington. "But we see hundreds of them."

I didn't say it was water frost, did I?

A new Elasmosaurid Pleisosaur Found in Santonian Cretaceous Israel

A late Cretaceous elasmosaurid of the Tethys Sea margins (southern Negev, Israel), and its palaeogeographic reconstruction


Rabinovich et al


Recent research on the late Cretaceous (Santonian), Menuha Formation of the southern Negev, Israel, has revealed several unconformities in its exposures, spatial changes in its lithofacies, agglomerations of its carbonate concretions and nodules at a variety of localities. At Menuha Ridge Site 20, portions of a new elasmosaurid skeleton were found within deposits of laminated bio-micritic muddy limestone with thin phosphatic layers. The sediments are rich in microfossils – foraminifera and ostracods preserved in the carbonate mud. Planktic foraminifera species (e.g. Dicarinella asymetrica, D. concavata, Sigalia decoratissima carpatica) appear as well as species indicative of opportunistic life strategies typical of a forming upwelling system in the region. Marine ostracods (e.g. Brachycythere angulata, Cythereis rosenfeldi evoluta) and many echinoid spines suggest an open marine environment. Using a multidisciplinary approach, we offer here a reconstruction of the micro-regional palaeogeography along a segment of the ancient shoreline of the Tethys Sea during the Santonian, and explain the environmental conditions under which the various fauna lived. This new elasmosaurid is examined in light of the above and compared with evidence from the adjacent areas along the margins of the southern Tethys Sea.

Crosbysaurus: Another Occurrence of an Engimatic Norian Triassic Archosaur

The first occurrence of the enigmatic archosaur Crosbysaurus (Heckert 2004) from the Chinle Formation of Southern Utah


Gay et al


Originally identified as an ornithisichian dinosaur, Crosbysaurus has been found in New Mexico, Arizona, and the type locality in Texas, the genus has been reassessed by other workers in light of revelations about the postcrania of another putative Triassic ornithischian, Revueltosaurus. The understanding of Triassic dental faunas has become more complicated by the extreme convergence between pseudosuchian archosaurus and ornithichian dinosaur dental morphologies. This new specimen does not help resolve the affinities of Crosbysaurus but does extend the range of this taxon into southern Utah. This specimen may also represent the youngest-known member of this genus

Evolution of the Eyes of Two Very Different Trilobites

Eyes and vision in the coeval Furongian trilobites Sphaerophthalmus alatus (Boeck, 1938) and Ctenopyge (Mesoctenopyge) tumida Westergård, 1922, from Bornholm, Denmark


Schoenemann et al


The two olenid species Sphaerophthalmus alatus (Boeck, 1838) and Ctenopyge (Mesoctenopyge) tumida Westergård, 1922, occur together in the Ctenopyge tumida Zone (Zone 19) of the Furongian of Scandinavia. Material from Bornholm, Denmark, forms the basis of this study of the morphology and partial ontogeny of the eyes. The eyes of both species are directed laterally and have virtually panoramic vision, looking out sideways like those of a rabbit. The eye of S. alatus is comparatively smaller, with fewer lenses and a larger eye parameter; calculations show that this trilobite was adapted for dim light intensity, possibly suggesting a vagrant benthic habit. Ctenopyge (Mesoctenopyge) tumida, with a smaller eye parameter, was adapted for a higher light intensity, and this trilobite was most likely a pelagic swimmer. The two species, although preserved together, inhabited different levels in the water column.

Winter Bird Communities are Changing due to Climate Change

Over the past two decades, the resident communities of birds that attend eastern North America's backyard bird feeders in winter have quietly been remade, most likely as a result of a warming climate.

Writing this week in the journal Global Change Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison wildlife biologists Benjamin Zuckerberg and Karine Princé document that once rare wintering bird species are now commonplace in the American Northeast.

Using more than two decades of data on 38 species of birds gathered by thousands of "citizen scientists" through the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch, the Wisconsin researchers show that birds typically found in more southerly regions are gradually pushing north, restructuring the communities of birds that spend their winters in northern latitudes.

To the causal observer of backyard birds, the list of species becoming more common includes the readily familiar: cardinals, chipping sparrows and Carolina wrens. These birds and other warm-adapted species, according to Princé and Zuckerberg, have greatly expanded their wintering range in a warmer world, a change that may have untold consequences for North American ecosystems.

"Fifty years ago, cardinals were rare in the northeastern United States. Carolina wrens even more so," explains Zuckerberg, a UW-Madison assistant professor of forest and wildlife ecology.

An estimated 53 million Americans maintain feeding stations near their homes, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, suggesting that increases in some species may be attributable to more readily available sources of food. However, that figure has remained constant, reflecting only a slight decline since 1991, indicating that environmental factors beyond the availability of food sources are at play.

The Wisconsin researchers measured the changes over time in the abundance of 38 bird species at feeders in eastern North America, specifically looking at the influence of changes in winter minimum temperature over a 22-year period on the flocks of birds that gather at backyard feeding stations.

"We conclude that a shifting winter climate has provided an opportunity for smaller, southerly distributed species to colonize new regions and promote the formation of unique winter bird assemblages throughout eastern North America," Princé and Zuckerberg write in their Global Change Biology report.

India Tests 1000 km Cruise Missile

India's Nirbhay (Fearless) long-range cruise missile successfully completed a test-flight for the first time on 14 October, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) said in a statement.

The 1,000 km-class cruise missile, which the DRDO describes as "India's first indigenously designed and developed long-range sub-sonic cruise missile", was launched from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Balasore in Odissa state at 10:05 h local time.

The flight lasted a little over 1 hour and 10 minutes and covered a distance of more than 1,000 km. "The entire mission, from lift-off until the final splash down, was a perfect flight achieving all the mission objectives," the DRDO statement said.

DRDO chief Avinash Chander said that the missile had achieved an accuracy of more than 10 m. "The successful indigenous development of the Nirbhay cruise missile will fill a vital gap in the warfighting capabilities of our armed forces," he added.

The Nirbhay's first flight on 12 November 2012 had to be cut short when a glitch in the cruise missile's inertial navigation system caused the missile to stray from the planned flightpath after it had flown a distance of 250 km at Mach 0.7: about a quarter of the planned distance.

China, Russia Considering Moscow-Beijing High Speed Rail Link

China and Russia are considering building a high-speed rail line thousands of kilometres from Moscow to Beijing that would cut the journey time from six days on the celebrated Trans-Siberian to two, Chinese media reported Friday.

The project would cost more than $230 billion and be over 7,000 kilometres (4,350 miles) long, the Beijing Times reported -- more than three times the world's current longest high-speed line, from the Chinese capital to the southern city of Guangzhou.

The railway would be a powerful physical symbol of the ties that bind Moscow and Beijing, whose political relationship has roots dating from the Soviet era and who often vote together on the UN Security Council.

They have strengthened their relationship as Western criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin mounts over Ukraine and other issues.

The two signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this week during Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Moscow in which Beijing expressed interest in building a fast rail link between the Russian capital and Kazan in the oil-rich Tatarstan region, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

The 803-kilometre line would be the first stage of the route to Beijing, CCTV said.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Oil Prices Should Worry Putin More Than Western Sanctions

This week, as falling oil prices have hammered the Russian economy, President Vladimir Putin has warned repeatedly that his country, a nuclear superpower, must not be "blackmailed." He was talking about economic sanctions, but there is a different lesson he should be drawing right now and it has nothing to do with the U.S. or the European Union.

Putin's response to the sanctions, imposed to dissuade him from further aggression in Ukraine, has been to shore up the big state companies and banks most affected. To compensate these businesses for their losses, as sanctions have squeezed them out of international credit markets, the government has raided the state budget, the pension fund and privately held companies. Smaller businesses are being crushed, accelerating a long-term trend under Putin in which Russia's economy has become ever more concentrated in state hands and reliant on natural resources -- especially oil and natural gas.

When times are good, these resources are a source of immense power and wealth. They were the engine that drove Russia's extraordinary 7 percent average annual growth from 2000 to 2008, cementing Putin's popularity. An abundance of natural gas, in particular, has also allowed Russia to punish or reward other countries by imposing high or low prices, or by simply cutting them off.

That pipelines game continues unabated. On his way to today's talks on the Ukraine crisis in Milan, Putin attended a military parade in Serbia celebrating Belgrade's liberation from German occupation in World War II. He used the occasion to discuss building the South Stream gas pipeline, which the EU has blocked since the Ukraine crisis developed but is popular in Serbia and other countries that would gain by hosting it. He also warned that the European Union may lose its gas supply this winter.

The flipside to all this energy wealth, however, is that Russia's economy has remained too dependent on energy prices: The sector accounts for about half of government revenues and a quarter of gross domestic product.

Russia's annual budget loses about $2 billion for every dollar fall in the price of oil -- a hit that couldn't come at a worse time. Sanctions, a falling ruble, rising inflation and rapid capital flight are already helping to push the economy toward recession. Although Putin himself will survive -- he has $450 billion in reserves and a population thrilled by his annexation of Crimea -- Russia is not getting any stronger. No wonder Finance Minister Anton Siluanov recently said Russia "simply cannot afford" its ambitious $500 billion rearmament program.

Watch the SpaceX Falcon9 Reenter and do a "Powered" Landing

NASA's Sunjammer Mission Canceled

Citing a lack of confidence in its contractor’s ability to deliver, NASA has abandoned plans to fly a solar-sail mission in 2015 after investing four years and more than $21 million on the project.

The Sunjammer mission, including the spacecraft and a deployable 1,200-square-meter solar sail, was being developed by L’Garde Inc. of Tustin, California, under a contract awarded in September 2011. The contract is slated to expire this coming December, and NASA has no plans to continue the work, according to an internal memo circulated at NASA headquarters here the week of Oct. 7.

“NASA is working with L’Garde to de-scope the existing contract to close out the documentation and deliver completed work to the Agency by the end of 2014,” the memo reads.

NASA spokesman David Steitz said problems with the program surfaced a year ago. “During the annual review last October NASA identified key integration issues that increased the schedule risk,” he said via email Oct. 7.

Nathan Barnes, president of L’Garde, said in an Oct. 17 phone interview that the company’s final delivery to NASA will be a design for a spacecraft module and solar sail that in theory could propel a small spacecraft by harnessing the energy of photon strikes. L’Garde will turn over its design in a Critical Design Audit scheduled for Nov. 7, he said.

After that, L’Garde will lay off about 16 employees, all of them in Tustin, cutting the company’s head count roughly in half. L’Garde employed some 35 people when the Sunjammer project was in full swing.

The mission had been manifested as a secondary payload aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Falcon 9 rocket scheduled to launch the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Deep Space Climate Observatory in 2015.

Reality Can be Weirder Than Fiction: Ebola Toys Selling Like Hot Cakes

It may be the only time you will find these words in the same sentence: "Ebola" and "Add to Wishlist."

Giantmicrobes Inc., which makes a line of plush toys based on viruses and other microscopic organisms, has sold out its entire Ebola stock, including the small Ebola doll for $9.95, a Gigantic Ebola doll for $29.95 and an Ebola Petri Dish toy for $14.95, according to the company's website.

"Since its discovery in 1976, Ebola has become the T. Rex of microbes," says the Stamford, Connecticut-based maker of the "uniquely contagious toy" on its website, which promotes them as gag gifts that also have educational value.

With the latest Ebola outbreak, which already killed more than 4,500 people, mostly in West Africa, customers have snapped up the toy, which looks like half a pretzel.

"You do not want to get Ebola," warns the website. "A short incubation period of 2 to 21 days presages symptoms which include fever, aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, and both internal and external bleeding. And then, for between 50-90 percent of victims, death."

Giantmicrobes lists the World Health Organization as one of its largest customers, along with pharmaceutical companies and the American Red Cross.

Anyone disappointed by the current shortage of the Ebola toys can click on "Add to Wishlist" and wait for more stock to arrive. Or make a different selection from the company's array of other plush toys, including Anthrax, Botulism, Cholera and Dengue Fever.

X-37B Returns From Orbit After 675

The U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane has returned to Earth after spending nearly two years on a hush-hush orbital mission.

The X-37B space plane touched down at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday (Oct. 17) at 9:24 a.m. local Pacific time (12:24 p.m. EDT; 1624 GMT), ending a mission that kicked off in December 2012 and saw the unmanned vehicle circle Earth for an unprecedented 675 days.

"I'm extremely proud of our team for coming together to execute this third safe and successful landing," said Col. Keith Balts, commander of the 30th Space Wing, which is headquartered at Vandenberg, in a statement. "Everyone from our on-console space operators to our airfield managers and civil engineers take pride in this unique mission and exemplify excellence during its execution."

Just what the space plane was doing up there for so long remains unclear; details about X-37B missions — including the payloads carried to orbit — are officially classified.

2nd Foreign Buyer for V-22 Tilt Rotor to be Announced in Next Six Months

A second foreign country is expected to announce plans within six months to buy the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor plane built by Boeing Co (BA.N) and Textron Inc's (TXT.N) Bell Helicopter unit, the top general in the U.S. Marine Corps said.

Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos declined to name the country that would join Israel in buying the large aircraft, but said this week that the deal should be announced during the next half year.

Sources familiar with the program said Japan would likely be that second buyer, noting that Japan's defense budget released in August requested funds for tilt-rotor aircraft. Over the longer-term, Japan is interested in 20 to 40 V-22s, according to the sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

U.S. officials have also provided briefings on the V-22 to the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Italy, Brazil, Colombia, Singapore, and Australia.

Did the Carbon Cycle Drive the Pleistocene Quaternary Glacial-Interglacial Periods?

The Carbon Cycle as the Main Determinant of Glacial-Interglacial Periods


Jiménez de la Cuesta et al


An intriguing problem in climate science is the existence of Earth's glacial cycle. We show that it is possible to generate these periodic changes in climate by means of the Earth's carbon cycle as the main source factor. The carbon exchange between the Ocean, the Continent and the Atmosphere is modeled by means of a Lotka-Volterra three species system and the resulting atmospheric carbon cycle is used as the unique radiative forcing mechanism. It is shown that the carbon dioxide and temperature paths that are thus obtained have the same qualitative structure as the 100 kyr glacial-interglacial cycles depicted by the Vostok ice core data, reproducing the asymmetries of rapid heating--slow cooling, and short interglacial--long glacial ages.

Understanding Mars' LARLE Craters

Origin of the outer layer of Martian low-aspect ratio layered ejecta craters


Boyce et al


Low-aspect ratio layered ejecta (LARLE) craters are one of the most enigmatic types of Martian layered ejecta craters. We propose that the extensive outer layer of these craters is produced through the same base surge mechanism as that which produced the base surge deposits generated by near-surface, buried nuclear and high-explosion detonations. However, the LARLE layers have higher aspect ratios compared with base surge deposits from explosion craters, a result of differences in thicknesses of these layers. This is probably caused by the addition of large amounts of small particles of dust and ice derived from climate-related mantles of snow, ice and dust in the areas where LARLE craters form. These deposits are likely to be quickly stabilized (order of a few days to a few years) from eolian erosion by formation of duricrust produced by diffusion of water vapor out of the deposits.

Evolution of Cultural Traits Occurs at Similar Relative Rates?

Evolution of cultural traits occurs at similar relative rates in different world regions


Currie et al


A fundamental issue in understanding human diversity is whether or not there are regular patterns and processes involved in cultural change. Theoretical and mathematical models of cultural evolution have been developed and are increasingly being used and assessed in empirical analyses. Here, we test the hypothesis that the rates of change of features of human socio-cultural organization are governed by general rules. One prediction of this hypothesis is that different cultural traits will tend to evolve at similar relative rates in different world regions, despite the unique historical backgrounds of groups inhabiting these regions. We used phylogenetic comparative methods and systematic cross-cultural data to assess how different socio-cultural traits changed in (i) island southeast Asia and the Pacific, and (ii) sub-Saharan Africa. The relative rates of change in these two regions are significantly correlated. Furthermore, cultural traits that are more directly related to external environmental conditions evolve more slowly than traits related to social structures. This is consistent with the idea that a form of purifying selection is acting with greater strength on these more environmentally linked traits. These results suggest that despite contingent historical events and the role of humans as active agents in the historical process, culture does indeed evolve in ways that can be predicted from general principles

Psychohistory?  Is that you?

Eocene Paleogene Anthracobunids are Stem Perissodactyls

Anthracobunids from the Middle Eocene of India and Pakistan Are Stem Perissodactyls


Cooper et al


Anthracobunidae is an Eocene family of large mammals from south Asia that is commonly considered to be part of the radiation that gave rise to elephants (proboscideans) and sea cows (sirenians). We describe a new collection of anthracobunid fossils from Middle Eocene rocks of Indo-Pakistan that more than doubles the number of known anthracobunid fossils and challenges their putative relationships, instead implying that they are stem perissodactyls. Cranial, dental, and postcranial elements allow a revision of species and the recognition of a new anthracobunid genus. Analyses of stable isotopes and long bone geometry together suggest that most anthracobunids fed on land, but spent a considerable amount of time near water. This new evidence expands our understanding of stem perissodactyl diversity and sheds new light on perissodactyl origins.

Pennsylvanian Carboniferous Synapsid Ianthodon schultzei Revisited

New information on the cranial and postcranial anatomy of the early synapsid Ianthodon schultzei (Sphenacomorpha: Sphenacodontia), and its evolutionary significance


Spindler et al


Newly identified material belonging to the holotype specimen of Ianthodon schultzei substantially increases our knowledge of this poorly known basal sphenacodont synapsid from the fossil site in Garnett, Kansas (Missourian, Late Pennsylvanian). The original description, based on a partial dermal skull roof, is augmented with information on the palate and braincase, together with data on the mandible and a few postcranial elements. The known skeletal morphology resembles that of Haptodus garnettensis, another synapsid taxon known from this locality, but with fewer marginal, distinctly recurved teeth and smaller teeth on the transverse flange of the pterygoid. Although recognizing that the holotype and only known specimen represents a juvenile individual, Ianthodon appears to reflect a more basal sphenacodontian condition than H. garnettensis. A restricted phylogenetic analysis based on previous work and newly scored characters for Ianthodon, Cutleria and Pantelosaurus supports this hypothesis. The Garnett locality appears to preserve an assemblage of synapsids (Haptodus, Ianthasaurus, Ianthodon) that are close to the base of the large clade that includes Edaphosauridae and Sphenacodontia, suggesting that an initial diversification of this clade occurred well within the Carboniferous Period.

The Alxa Geological Block and North China Cration Were Connected in the NeoProterozoic

LA-ICP-MS zircon U-Pb dating of the Langshan Group in the Northeast margin of the Alxa block, with tectonic implications


Hu et al


The relationship between the Alxa block and the North China Craton (NCC) is one of the controversial tectonic issues in China. The age spectra of detrital zircons from sedimentary rocks may help resolve the tectonic affinity of the Alxa block. The Langshan terrane is located in the northeast margin of the Alxa block which is connected to the northwest margin of the NCC. Detailed U-Pb dating of zircon from the meta-volcanic rocks and meta-sedimentary rocks of the Precambrian Langshan group shows that the Langshan Group formed in the Neoproterozoic. The evidences include the zircon age of 804.1 ± 3.5 Ma for the meta-volcanic rocks and the youngest detrital zircon age peak at 810-1187 Ma for the meta-sedimentary rocks. The detrital zircon age patterns of the Langshan group and Precambrian strata of the Alxa block and the NCC are similar. The older and younger detrital zircon age peaks of the Langshan group are comparable to those of the NCC and the Alxa block, respectively. The 1.5-1.7 Ga detrital zircons in the Langshan Group, which might be derived from the “Zhaertai-Bayan Obo-Huade” Mesoproterozoic rift system in the northern margin of the NCC, are not found in the Precambrian strata of the Alxa block. The detrital zircon age peaks of the Langshan group are well correlated to the known Precambrian tectono-thermal events that affected both the Alxa block and the NCC. The development of the Langshan Neoproterozoic rift system is shown by the contemporaneous magmatism in the Alxa block and the adjacent NCC. The results from this study indicate that the Alxa block and the NCC were together in the Neoproterozoic.

Elevated Carbon dioxide Changes the Plant Ecology

Long-term exposure to elevated CO2 enhances plant community stability by suppressing dominant plant species in a mixed-grass prairie


Zelikova et al


Climate controls vegetation distribution across the globe, and some vegetation types are more vulnerable to climate change, whereas others are more resistant. Because resistance and resilience can influence ecosystem stability and determine how communities and ecosystems respond to climate change, we need to evaluate the potential for resistance as we predict future ecosystem function. In a mixed-grass prairie in the northern Great Plains, we used a large field experiment to test the effects of elevated CO2, warming, and summer irrigation on plant community structure and productivity, linking changes in both to stability in plant community composition and biomass production. We show that the independent effects of CO2 and warming on community composition and productivity depend on interannual variation in precipitation and that the effects of elevated CO2 are not limited to water saving because they differ from those of irrigation. We also show that production in this mixed-grass prairie ecosystem is not only relatively resistant to interannual variation in precipitation, but also rendered more stable under elevated CO2 conditions. This increase in production stability is the result of altered community dominance patterns: Community evenness increases as dominant species decrease in biomass under elevated CO2. In many grasslands that serve as rangelands, the economic value of the ecosystem is largely dependent on plant community composition and the relative abundance of key forage species. Thus, our results have implications for how we manage native grasslands in the face of changing climate.

Russian Air Force Moving MiG-31s to Arctic

Starting from 2017, the Russian Air Force will base MiG-31 interceptor jets and tactical aircraft at a Russian Arctic airfield in the urban settlement of Tiksi in northernmost Sakha Republic, Commander Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said Wednesday.

"Reconstruction of the Tiksi airfield will certainly begin next year. A formation of tactical aircraft and MiG-31 interceptors will be based at the airfield in 2017. MiG-31 will be also based at an airfield in Anadyr [the capital of Chukotka Autonomous Area]," Bondarev said during an inspection visit to Air Force facilities under construction.

Did the Japanese Consumption Tax Hurt the Economy?

WAS the decision to raise a key tax this year a big mistake? For years, the political consensus has been that Japan’s consumption (ie, value-added) tax needs to go up in order to control a ballooning public debt. In April the government of Shinzo Abe carried out a decision made by the previous government and lifted the tax from 5% to 8%. That is still low by developed-country standards, but it seems to have inflicted more pain than most predicted. Reports from Tokyo’s brothel districts to the country’s rural regions suggest the move has hurt an already limp recovery.

The last time politicians dared raise the consumption tax was back in 1997. It helped push a recovering economy back into recession. Then, however, the move coincided with a financial storm in Asia and a bad-loans crisis at home. This time, politicians seemed surer that people would soon head back to the shops. Yet the fall in household demand has proven even sharper than in 1997 (see chart), and a recession is again on the cards. The economy shrank by an annualised 7.1% in the second quarter of the year. Economists are growing nervous about Japan’s third-quarter GDP, to be published on November 17th.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lockheed Fusion Announcement is Being met With Strong Skepticism by Fusion Community

Experts were skeptical of Lockheed Martin Corp.‘s claims this week that it plans to build a fusion reactor small enough to fit on the back of a truck over the next decade.

The Bethesda, Maryland-based company — the world’s largest defense contractor, known for its stealth fighter jets and guided missiles — on Wednesday announced that it would test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year, build a prototype in five years and deploy the system in 10 years.


“I’m surprised that a company like this would release something that doesn’t have much context,” said Steven Cowley, a professor in plasma physics at the Imperial College London, director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, and a leading expert in magnetic fusion energy.

“Normally, if someone says they’re doing well in fusion, they would quote some data, ‘We got a temperature of x and a confinement of y,’” he said, referring to how long a reactor can hold the heat of a reaction before it escapes. “There’s no such information.”

Robopocalypse! Tesla Adding Self Driving Capabilities to Model S

Tesla is also adding semi-automomous driving features to its cars that will allow owners to leave some of the driving to the car's on-board computers. The features will come standard, and the automaker has been building them into cars on the assembly line for the past two weeks.

These systems use sensors and cameras to help keep the car in its lane on highways while maintaining a safe following distance behind cars ahead.

The car will be able to automatically change lanes while avoiding other vehicles when the driver uses the turn signal. It will also change the car's speed automatically to adjust to different speed limits as determined by cameras that read speed limit signs.

While using these "autopilot" features, drivers will not be required to keep their hands on the steering wheel.

The car will be able to park itself and, when on private property, an owner will be able to summon the car. The car will also be able to connect with the owner's calendar so that it can be ready when needed.

Is Karem Aircraft Working on a Secret Tilt Rotor VTOL for the US Military?

The owner of Karem Aircraft, which was passed over by the US Army for a spot in the joint multi-role technology demonstration (JMR-TD) programme, says the company could still contribute to the future of US military rotorcraft.

“When things are not in the public domain, I don’t go first. I let the government go first,” Abe Karem tells Flightglobal about future US government business opportunities beyond JMR. “I’m not confirming, denying or saying anything. I put $25 million after tax – that’s $50 billion in Sikorsky speak. So yes, we are fully committed to that. This is not something that will be brushed aside. I can say that for me. I am not saying anything for the government.”

ATK to Finish XM-25 Development, Expected to Begin Production in 2016

The US Army is further developing its 25 mm XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) system as the service considers possible procurement in 2016.

Prime contractor ATK was awarded a USD33.4 million contract in September to complete the weapon's engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase within the next two years, company spokesman Jarrod Krull told IHS Jane's on 14 October at the Association of the United States Army's (AUSA's) annual conference.

Sea Level Rose as Much as *5* Meters per Century During Pleistocene Interglacials

Land-ice decay at the end of the last five ice-ages caused global sea-levels to rise at rates of up to 5.5 metres per century, according to a new study.

An international team of researchers developed a 500,000-year record of sea-level variability, to provide the first account of how quickly sea-level changed during the last five ice-age cycles.

The results, published in the latest issue of Nature Communications, also found that more than 100 smaller events of sea-level rise took place in between the five major events.

Dr Katharine Grant, from the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, who led the study, says: "The really fast rates of sea-level rise typically seem to have happened at the end of periods with exceptionally large ice sheets, when there was two or more times more ice on the Earth than today.

"Time periods with less than twice the modern global ice volume show almost no indications of sea-level rise faster than about 2 metres per century. Those with close to the modern amount of ice on Earth, show rates of up to 1 to 1.5 metres per century."

Co-author Professor Eelco Rohling, of both the University of Southampton and ANU, explains that the study also sheds light on the timescales of change. He says: "For the first time, we have data from a sufficiently large set of events to systematically study the timescale over which ice-sheet responses developed from initial change to maximum retreat."

"This happened within 400 years for 68 per cent of all 120 cases considered, and within 1100 years for 95 per cent. In other words, once triggered, ice-sheet reduction (and therefore sea-level rise) kept accelerating relentlessly over periods of many centuries."

Searching for Hydrogen peroxide in the Martian Atmosphere

Search for hydrogen peroxide in the Martian atmosphere by the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer onboard Mars Express


Aoki et al


We searched for hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) in the Martian atmosphere using data measured by the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) onboard Mars Express during five Martian years (MY27–31). It is well known that H2O2 plays a key role in the oxidizing capacity of the Martian atmosphere. However, only a few studies based on ground-based observations can be found in the literature. Here, we performed the first analysis of H2O2 using long-term measurements by a spacecraft-borne instrument. We used the ν4 band of H2O2 in the spectral range between 359 cm-1 and 382 cm-1 where strong features of H2O2 are present around 362 cm-1 and 379 cm-1. Since the features were expected to be very weak even at the strong band, sensitive data calibrations were performed and a large number of spectra were selected and averaged. We made three averaged spectra for different seasons over relatively low latitudes (50°S–50°N). We found features of H2O2 at 379 cm-1, whereas no clear features were detected at 362 cm-1 due to large amounts of uncertainty in the data. The derived mixing ratios of H2O2 were close to the detection limits: 16 ± 19 ppb at Ls = 0–120°, 35 ± 32 ppb at Ls = 120–240°, and 41 ± 28 ppb at Ls = 240–360°. The retrieved value showed the detection of H2O2 only for the third seasonal period, and the values in the other periods provided the upper limits. These long-term averaged abundances derived by the PFS generally agreed with the ones reported by ground-based observations. From our derived mixing ratio of H2O2, the lifetime of CH4 in the Martian atmosphere is estimated to be several decades in the shortest case. Our results and sporadic detections of CH4 suggest the presence of strong CH4 sinks not subject to atmospheric oxidation.

tRNA Look-alike Encoding Permeates Human Genome: More tRNA? Pseudogenes? or Something Completely new?

Transfer RNAs (tRNAs) are ancient workhorse molecules and part of the cellular process that creates the proteins, critical building blocks of life that keep a cell running smoothly. A new discovery suggests that the number of human genomic loci that might be coding for tRNAs is nearly double what is currently known. Most of the newly identified loci resemble the sequences of mitochondrial tRNAs suggesting unexpected new links between the human nuclear and mitochondrial genomes, links that are not currently understood.

Transfer RNAs (tRNAs) represent an integral component of the translation of a messenger RNA (mRNA) into an amino acid sequence. TRNAs are non-coding RNA molecules and can be found in all three kingdoms of life i.e., in archaea, bacteria and eukaryotes.

At the DNA level, a triplet of consecutive nucleotides known as the "codon" is used to encode an amino acid. Frequently, a given amino acid can be encoded by more than one codon: in fact, there are 61 distinct codons encoding the 20 standard human amino acids. During translation, each of the codons contained in the coding region of the mRNA at hand is recognized by its matching tRNA and the corresponding amino acid added to the nascent amino acid sequence. It has been known for many years that each of these 61 tRNAs has multiple copies spread throughout the genome that is found in the human nucleus. The presence of multiple genomic loci from which the same molecule can be made is a fairly standard trick of genomic organization: processing these loci in parallel can ensure that adequate amounts of each tRNA can be generated quickly enough to meet the high demand that the amino acid translation process imposes on the cell. In addition to the 61 tRNAs that are found in the human nuclear genome, 22 more tRNAs are encoded in the genome of the cellular organelle known as the mitochondrion: the mitochondrion, originally a bacterium itself, uses these 22 tRNAs to make proteins out of the just-over-a-dozen mRNAs that are encoded in its genome.

Recent research efforts have shown that tRNAs can have other roles, which go beyond their involvement in protein synthesis. For example, tRNAs can affect the physiology of a cell, they can modulate the abundance of important molecules, etc. These and other unexpected findings have revived interest in looking at tRNAs, this time under a different prism. But, how many tRNAs are actually encoded by the human genome and could be potentially involved in amino acid translation and other processes?

A team led by Isidore Rigoutsos, Director of the Computational Medicine Center at Thomas Jefferson University (TJU), set out to tackle this question and they have reported their findings in a study that was just published in the journal Frontiers in Genetics. "What we found, frankly, surprised us," said Rigoutsos.

The team searched the 3 billion base pairs of the human genome for DNA sequences that resembled the 530 known nuclear and mitochondrial tRNAs. Even though they used very stringent criteria in their searches, they found 454 "lookalike" loci, i.e., sequences that look like tRNA, but haven't yet been experimentally confirmed as such. The researchers found nearly as many as the known ones with which they started: 81% of these tRNA-lookalikes had not been reported previously. Rather unexpectedly, the team found that most of these new loci resembled some of the 22 mitochondrial tRNAs.

Interestingly, the discovered tRNA lookalikes are not spread uniformly across the 24 chromosomes. Instead, they have penetrated preferentially some chromosomes and have avoided others. For example, chromosomes 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 claim the lion's share of the discovered tRNA-lookalikes. On the other hand, chromosome 18 contains no lookalikes. Also, some of the codons are particularly over-represented among the lookalikes whereas other codons are absent.

The surprises did not stop there. The team also discovered that in the chromosomes where the tRNA-lookalikes are found their locations are not accidental either. Instead, the lookalikes are positioned in close proximity to known nuclear tRNAs. This of course begs the question whether the tRNA-lookalikes are transcribed, just like the known tRNAs. By examining public repositories, the team found evidence of transcription for more than 20% of the discovered tRNA-lookalikes: the transcriptional profiles appear to depend on cell type, which suggests that more of the look-alikes will be found to be transcribed as data from more cell types become available. On several occasions, the public data revealed evidence for molecules whose endpoints matched exactly the endpoints of the tRNA-lookalikes discovered by the team. "This is certainly exciting, but it is currently unclear whether these molecules participate in translation as tRNAs, or have entirely different roles," said Rigoutsos.

Did Giant Short Faced Kangaroos Walk Like Theropods?

Locomotion in Extinct Giant Kangaroos: Were Sthenurines Hop-Less Monsters?


Janis et al


Sthenurine kangaroos (Marsupialia, Diprotodontia, Macropodoidea) were an extinct subfamily within the family Macropodidae (kangaroos and rat-kangaroos). These “short-faced browsers” first appeared in the middle Miocene, and radiated in the Plio-Pleistocene into a diversity of mostly large-bodied forms, more robust than extant forms in their build. The largest (Procoptodon goliah) had an estimated body mass of 240 kg, almost three times the size of the largest living kangaroos, and there is speculation whether a kangaroo of this size would be biomechanically capable of hopping locomotion. Previously described aspects of sthenurine anatomy (specialized forelimbs, rigid lumbar spine) would limit their ability to perform the characteristic kangaroo pentapedal walking (using the tail as a fifth limb), an essential gait at slower speeds as slow hopping is energetically unfeasible. Analysis of limb bone measurements of sthenurines in comparison with extant macropodoids shows a number of anatomical differences, especially in the large species. The scaling of long bone robusticity indicates that sthenurines are following the “normal” allometric trend for macropodoids, while the large extant kangaroos are relatively gracile. Other morphological differences are indicative of adaptations for a novel type of locomotor behavior in sthenurines: they lacked many specialized features for rapid hopping, and they also had anatomy indicative of supporting their body with an upright trunk (e.g., dorsally tipped ischiae), and of supporting their weight on one leg at a time (e.g., larger hips and knees, stabilized ankle joint). We propose that sthenurines adopted a bipedal striding gait (a gait occasionally observed in extant tree-kangaroos): in the smaller and earlier forms, this gait may have been employed as an alternative to pentapedal locomotion at slower speeds, while in the larger Pleistocene forms this gait may have enabled them to evolve to body sizes where hopping was no longer a feasible form of more rapid locomotion.

How Rails Radiated in the Eocene Paleogene

Eocene Diversification of Crown Group Rails (Aves: Gruiformes: Rallidae)


Garcia et al


Central to our understanding of the timing of bird evolution is debate about an apparent conflict between fossil and molecular data. A deep age for higher level taxa within Neoaves is evident from molecular analyses but much remains to be learned about the age of diversification in modern bird families and their evolutionary ecology. In order to better understand the timing and pattern of diversification within the family Rallidae we used a relaxed molecular clock, fossil calibrations, and complete mitochondrial genomes from a range of rallid species analysed in a Bayesian framework. The estimated time of origin of Rallidae is Eocene, about 40.5 Mya, with evidence of intrafamiliar diversification from the Late Eocene to the Miocene. This timing is older than previously suggested for crown group Rallidae, but fossil calibrations, extent of taxon sampling and substantial sequence data give it credence. We note that fossils of Eocene age tentatively assigned to Rallidae are consistent with our findings. Compared to available studies of other bird lineages, the rail clade is old and supports an inference of deep ancestry of ground-dwelling habits among Neoaves.

Was Norian Triassic Sauropodomorph Unaysaurus tolentinoi Quadrapedal or Bipdeal?

Functional and biomechanic aspects of the scapular girdle and forelimbs of Unaysaurus tolentinoi Leal et al., 2004 (Saurischia: Sauropodomorpha)


Vargas-Peixoto et al


This study presents evidence about the biomechanics and forelimbs functionality of the basal sauropodomorph Unaysaurus tolentinoi (upper portion of the SM2 sequence, Santa Maria Supersequence, Upper Triassic from southern Brazil). Maximum and minimum motion angles were inferred in the joints, disregarding the presence and/or thickness of cartilage. Furthermore, processes and external structures of the bones were analyzed in attributing the functionality of forelimbs. Unaysaurus tolentinoi had well-developed grapple ability. However, the preserved elements and their osteological features are not conclusive about strictly bipedalism or quadrupedalism in U. tolentinoi.

Cambrian Reefs and Their Implications

Formative mechanisms, depositional processes, and geological implications of Furongian (late Cambrian) reefs in the North China Platform


Chen et al


The Cambrian Series 3–Furongian successions of the North China Platform contain various microbial–metazoan and microbial reefs. This study focuses on Furongian reefs of the platform in order to understand formative processes and the evolution of the reefs during Cambrian Epoch 3 and the Furongian. Three types of Furongian reefs were differentiated in the Shandong region, China: maceriate reefs, columnar stromatolitic reefs, and small-scale microbial reefs. Maceriate reefs show dm- to m-scale domal or flat-bedded geometry, and consist of cm-scale maze-like maceria structures made of siliceous sponges and microbial components (microstromatolites, Girvanella, and Tarthinia). Columnar stromatolitic reefs are characterized by stromatolite columns of 10–100 cm in height and 5–50 cm in diameter. They consist dominantly of Girvanella, with less conspicuous, poorly preserved sponge spicule networks. Small-scale microbial reefs commonly show cm- to dm-scale, domal macrostructures, and were constructed mainly by calcimicrobes, Girvanella and Renalcis. These three types of Furongian reefs were deposited in various shallow-marine settings in response to relative sea-level changes.

The Furongian reefs are markedly different, in terms of macro- and micro-fabrics, from the Cambrian Series 3 reefs that are dominated by thrombolites and dendrolites and were constructed mainly by Epiphyton in the Shandong region. This difference is also recognized in the Beijing region, ca. 500 km away. The abrupt transition from the Cambrian Series 3-type to Furongian-type reefs, coincidently with a decrease in calcified microbe diversity, was most likely due to global euxinic oceanic conditions and a possible eustatic sea-level drop, rather than the highly diachronous, platform-wide drowning event (i.e., drowning of the Cambrian Series 3 carbonate platform). The abundant occurrence of sponge spicule networks in the Furongian reefs suggests that metazoan reef builders (i.e., sponges) resurged and became actively involved in the reefal systems prior to the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event. This study may provide an important basis for further investigation into the evolution of reefal systems during the middle to late Cambrian when metazoan reef-builders were known to be scarce.

US Military's Plan for Adapting to Climate Change


What is China Doing in South Sudan's Civil War?

South Sudan relapsed into war on December 15, 2013, primarily due to the power struggle between South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar. China once again found one of its sizable foreign investments—particularly in the oil sector—embroiled in local political turbulence. This serves as a painful reminder to Beijing that independence not only endowed South Sudan with 70 percent of unified Sudan’s total oil output, but also daunting political and security risks.

Beijing’s conflict resolution efforts in South Sudan were widely applauded by the international community until the delivery of the first consignment of a $38 million order of arms from China North Industries Group (NORINCO) to Juba, South Sudan’s capital, in June, which called into question China’s neutrality in the peace process. The reported statement by the Chinese embassy in Juba on September 20 that NORINCO would halt the remainder of its arms contract, in addition to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s announcement of the deployment of a full infantry battalion to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), signals a renewed—and hopefully more consistent—commitment to the uneasy peace process. An independent South Sudan, just as the unified Sudan before, is likely to remain a testing ground for China on how to balance its policy of non-interference and the urgent need to protect fast-growing overseas interests.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

More on Lockheed's Fusion Reactor From Aviation Week

Hidden away in the secret depths of the Skunk Works, a Lockheed Martin research team has been working quietly on a nuclear energy concept they believe has the potential to meet, if not eventually decrease, the world’s insatiable demand for power.

Dubbed the compact fusion reactor (CFR), the device is conceptually safer, cleaner and more powerful than much larger, current nuclear systems that rely on fission, the process of splitting atoms to release energy. Crucially, by being “compact,” Lockheed believes its scalable concept will also be small and practical enough for applications ranging from interplanetary spacecraft and commercial ships to city power stations. It may even revive the concept of large, nuclear-powered aircraft that virtually never require refueling—ideas of which were largely abandoned more than 50 years ago because of the dangers and complexities involved with nuclear fission reactors.

Yet the idea of nuclear fusion, in which atoms combine into more stable forms and release excess energy in the process, is not new. Ever since the 1920s, when it was postulated that fusion powers the stars, scientists have struggled to develop a truly practical means of harnessing this form of energy. Other research institutions, laboratories and companies around the world are also pursuing ideas for fusion power, but none have gone beyond the experimental stage. With just such a “Holy Grail” breakthrough seemingly within its grasp, and to help achieve a potentially paradigm-shifting development in global energy, Lockheed has made public its project with the aim of attracting partners, resources and additional researchers.

Lockheed Skunkworks Claims Fusion Power Breakthrough

Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready in a decade.

Tom McGuire, who heads the project, said he and a small team had been working on fusion energy at Lockheed's secretive Skunk Works for about four years, but were now going public to find potential partners in industry and government for their work.

Initial work demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet, which could fit on the back of a large truck, and is about 10 times smaller than current reactors, McGuire said.

Related video from a year and a half ago.

Interesting if True: Machine Learning Used on Quantum Computer

Experimental Realization of Quantum Artificial Intelligence


Li et al


Machines are possible to have some artificial intelligence like human beings owing to particular algorithms or software. Such machines could learn knowledge from what people taught them and do works according to the knowledge. In practical learning cases, the data is often extremely complicated and large, thus classical learning machines often need huge computational resources. Quantum machine learning algorithm, on the other hand, could be exponentially faster than classical machines using quantum parallelism. Here, we demonstrate a quantum machine learning algorithm on a four-qubit NMR test bench to solve an optical character recognition problem, also known as the handwriting recognition. The quantum machine learns standard character fonts and then recognize handwritten characters from a set with two candidates. To our best knowledge, this is the first artificial intelligence realized on a quantum processor. Due to the widespreading importance of artificial intelligence and its tremendous consuming of computational resources, quantum speedup would be extremely attractive against the challenges from the Big Data.

pop sci write up.

BAe Shows off its Prototype Ground Combat Vehicle at AUSA


Bell Helicopter Unveils V-280 Valor at AUSA

Bell Helicopter is beginning to manufacture parts for its new V-280 Valor tilt-rotor aircraft, a next-generation helicopter being developed as part of the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator, or JMR TD program.

The program is an Army-led joint program designed to replace the Army’s current fleet of helicopters.

Bell unveiled a full-scale mock-up of the V-280 Valor on the floor at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., in order to showcase the configuration and design of its new high-speed platform.

Slated to fly by 2017, the V-280 is engineered to reach speed of 280 knots, achieve a combat range up to 800 nautical miles and perform in what’s called “high-hot” conditions — described as 95-degrees Fahrenheit and 6,000-feet.

Bell plans to leverage the technological gains made by its construction of the V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft now in service which was first produced in the late 1980s.

More info here.

Evidence of Seasonal Change in Eocene Paleogene Paleoclimate

Stable isotope patterns found in early Eocene equid tooth rows of North America: Implications for reproductive behavior and paleoclimate


D'Ambrosia et al


Reproductive behaviors of early Eocene equids were likely different from their modern-day counterparts as a result of their small body size and warmer global temperatures. To better understand the paleoenvironment and ecology of these early horses, teeth of Protorohippus montanum jaws from a single stratigraphic locality in early Eocene sedimentary deposits of Wyoming were sampled for oxygen and carbon isotope analysis. These enamel data along with an inferred body mass of ~ 7.5 kg suggests that adult teeth formed over a matter of months, with the final tooth erupting at ~ 1.3 years of age. Thus, average isotopic values from each tooth likely represent environmental conditions from a single season. Results indicate two isotopic patterns. In the case of isotopic “pattern A,” the second forming molars (m/2s) have significantly lower isotopic ratios compared to other teeth within the jaw. This suggests the first forming molars (m/1s) formed during a cooling fall season, followed by formation of the m/2s during the cooler winter. In the case of isotopic “pattern B,” results suggest that m/1s formed during a warming spring season, while the m/2s formed during the following warmer summer season. Isotopic ratios of m/1s may represent an individual's birth season (or in utero season, depending on timing of initial formation), implying that early equids experienced at least two birth seasons per year. These results suggest that temperatures and reduced seasonality of the early Eocene played a strong role in early equid birth cycles. Lastly, the mean and variance in carbon and oxygen isotope ratios was not significantly different across tooth positions of all jaws when all individuals were grouped together, regardless of their pattern assignment. Such results indicate that isotopic data from fourth premolars, first molars, second molars, and third molars can be combined for purposes of temporal reconstructions of paleoclimate, thus increasing the potential sample sizes for these types of studies.

The Martian Ionosphere near the Terminator

Topside of the Martian Ionosphere near the Terminator: Variations with Season and Solar Zenith Angle and Implications for the Origin of the Transient Layers


Zhang et al


In this paper, the morphological variations of the M2 layer of the Martian ionosphere with the Martian seasons and solar zenith angle (SZA) at the terminator are investigated. The data used are the MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) measurements (approximately 5,000 ionograms) that were acquired from 2005 to 2012, which have a SZA ⩾ 85° and detect the topside transient layers. A simple, effective data inversion method is developed for the situation in which the upper portion of the height profile is non-monotonic and the observed data are insufficient for adequate reduction. The inverted parameters are subsequently explored using a statistical approach. The results reveal that the main body of the M2 layer (approximately 10 km below the first topside layer) can be well-characterized as a Chapman layer near the terminator (SZA = 85° – 98°), notwithstanding the high SZA and the presence of the topside layers. The height of the first topside layer tends to be concentrated approximately 60 km (with a standard deviation of ∼20 km) above the main density peak. The peak density and height of the first topside layer are positively correlated to the density and height of the main peak, respectively. The density and height of the first topside layer appear to be independent of the SZA, but possess seasonal variations that are similar to those of the main layer. The height of the topside layer is greater (by ∼10 km on average) in the southern spring and summer than in the southern autumn and winter, coinciding with the observation that, in the southern spring and summer, the underlying atmosphere is warmer due to dust heating [e.g., Smith, 2004. Interannual variability in TES atmospheric observations of Mars during 1999–2003. Icarus 167, 148–165]). The statistical regularities of the parameters suggest a possibility that the formation of the topside layers are closely related to the processes of photoionization and diffusion that occur on the topside of the M2 layer. We propose that development of beam-plasma instabilities in the transitional region (between the lower Chapman region and the upper transport-dominating region) is possibly a mechanism that is responsible for the occurrences of the topside layers.

Genetic Variants IDed for Heavy Coffee Drinkers

In a new study, scientists identified eight genetic variants that could partly explain why some people drink coffee by the pot, while others avoid the stimulating beverage altogether. By outlining the genetic foundation for coffee consumption, scientists believe they can find firmer evidence to support the positive — and negative — health effects of the popular beverage.

Java Genes

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital investigated the genomes of 120,000 European and African American coffee drinkers along with data on how many cups a day they consumed, using findings from dozens of previous studies. Their statistical analysis revealed six new gene variants that governed coffee consumption, and reaffirmed the presence of two others previously discovered by the same group of researchers.

The team identified variants in or near genes that play roles in learning, caffeine metabolism, blood pressure regulation and addiction. Two newly discovered variants, near the genes BDNF and SLC6A4, reinforce the positive effects of coffee’s molecular properties. For example, BDNF is involved in the release of pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

Earliest Eocene Paleogene Bird Tracks Found in China

First Record of Bird Tracks from Paleogene of China (Guangdong Province)


Xing et al


The record of Paleogene bird traces is quite scarce, especially when compared with the Mesozoic. Avian tracks have been reported mainly from western North America and the Middle East, with some sites also present in Europe and Sumatra. Here the first record of Eocene bird tracks from East Asia is reported. The track bearing level is recorded at the upper part of the Huayong Formation (lower Eocene), one of the continental units of the Sanshui Basin.

More than 350 footprints were documented from three collected slabs. Many footprints were found in trackways, five morphotypes were identified and assigned to four ichnotaxon: Gruipeda sp., Aviadactyla sp., Avipeda sp., and Fuscinapeda sp. The ichnotaxonomical identifications are supported by canonical variate analysis (CVA) based on the better preserved traces. These surfaces show a varied ichnofaunal assemblage composed of small and medium shorebirds, large “game” birds, crane-like birds and heron-like birds, providing a more complete picture than was previously known of Early Eocene avian faunal assemblages in Asia

Gorgonopsia Revision Begun With Reexamination of Arctognathus curvimola

Cranial osteology of Arctognathus curvimola, a short-snouted gorgonopsian from the Late Permian of South Africa




Gorgonopsia is one of the major clades of nonmammalian therapsids and includes the dominant vertebrate predators of the Late Permian. Unfortunately, gorgonopsian taxonomy is extremely problematic, due in large part to the lack of thorough descriptions and clear differential diagnoses for most nominal species. Here, the South African gorgonopsian species Arctognathus curvimola is redescribed based on a well-preserved skull. Autapomorphies identified for A. curvimola include a characteristic curvature to the alveolar margin of the snout, extremely reduced lacrimal, lengthy upper postcanine tooth row and a unique vomerine morphology. The nominal gorgonopsian species Arctognathoides breviceps and Lycaenodontoides bathyrhinus are considered junior synonyms of A. curvimola. Other referred species of Arctognathus (A. whaitsi, A.? cookei and A.? nasuta) share no unique characters with A. curvimola and are removed from the genus; their generic placement is uncertain at present. Previous reports of Arctognathus from Tanzania and the Middle Permian of South Africa are not referable to this taxon. At present, definitive specimens of A. curvimola are restricted to the Upper Permian Cistecephalus and Dicynodon assemblage zones of South Africa.

Cambrian Radiation Linked to an Iapetus-Pacific Oceanic Connection?

Cambrian transgression and radiation linked to an Iapetus-Pacific oceanic connection?




The geologically abrupt appearance in the fossil record of almost all animal phyla is referred to as the Cambrian radiation or "explosion" of life on Earth. Also known as "Darwin's dilemma," because it seemingly posed a major problem for his theory of gradual evolution, it coincided with the initiation of the first of the two principal global marine transgressions of the Phanerozoic. Although now seen as more protracted, it is still one of the most striking and critical events in the history of the biosphere. Almost all paleogeographic reconstructions for the early Cambrian feature a previously isolated Laurentia, the core of ancestral North America. Yet geological evidence from five continents, integrated here for the first time, indicates that the present-day "southern cone" of Laurentia was still attached to the newly amalgamated supercontinent of Gondwanaland into Cambrian times. Laurentia was then isolated by the development of a major deep oceanic connection between the opening Iapetus Ocean basin and the already well-developed paleo-Pacific. As the marine transgression advanced, major changes in ocean chemistry occurred, upwelling generated phosphorite deposits, and the number of fossilized metazoan phyla "exploded" with morphologic disparity between Laurentia and Gondwanaland already established. The development of this deep oceanic gateway, and of an ocean floor–consuming and arc-generating subduction zone along virtually the entire margin of Gondwanaland shortly thereafter, need to be taken into account in consideration of the global environmental and biotic changes associated with the Neoproterozoic-Phanerozoic transition.

Are Amphibians Especially Vulnerable to Climate Change?

Evolution of climatic niche specialization: a phylogenetic analysis in amphibians


Bonetti et al


The evolution of climatic niche specialization has important implications for many topics in ecology, evolution and conservation. The climatic niche reflects the set of temperature and precipitation conditions where a species can occur. Thus, specialization to a limited set of climatic conditions can be important for understanding patterns of biogeography, species richness, community structure, allopatric speciation, spread of invasive species and responses to climate change. Nevertheless, the factors that determine climatic niche width (level of specialization) remain poorly explored. Here, we test whether species that occur in more extreme climates are more highly specialized for those conditions, and whether there are trade-offs between niche widths on different climatic niche axes (e.g. do species that tolerate a broad range of temperatures tolerate only a limited range of precipitation regimes?). We test these hypotheses in amphibians, using phylogenetic comparative methods and global-scale datasets, including 2712 species with both climatic and phylogenetic data. Our results do not support either hypothesis. Rather than finding narrower niches in more extreme environments, niches tend to be narrower on one end of a climatic gradient but wider on the other. We also find that temperature and precipitation niche breadths are positively related, rather than showing trade-offs. Finally, our results suggest that most amphibian species occur in relatively warm and dry environments and have relatively narrow climatic niche widths on both of these axes. Thus, they may be especially imperilled by anthropogenic climate change.