Friday, January 30, 2015

Neutrality on the Robopocalypse

I’ve had a few posts in the past few months (here and here) about the consequences of mechanization for the future of work. In short, what will we do when the robots take our jobs?

I wouldn’t call myself a techno-optimist. I don’t think the arrival of robots necessarily makes everything better. But I do not buy the strong techno-pessimism that comes up in many places. Richard Serlin has been a frequent commenter on this blog, and he generally has a gloomy take on where we are going to end up once the robots arrive. I’m not bringing up Richard to pick on him. He writes thoughtful comments on this subject (and lots of others), and it is those comments that pushed me to try and be more clear on why I’m “techno-neutral”.

Ukrainian War Causes Problems for new Russian Frigates

The Ukrainian military equipment embargo to Russia could cause delays in the construction of the Russian Navy’s new class of frigates and slow a planned modernization effort of Russia’s northern fleet, according to a Monday report in Jane’s Defence Weekly.

Russia’s 4,500 ton Admiral Gorshkov-class frigates (Project 22350) is powered – in part – by two M90FR gas turbines built by with Ukrainian manufacturer Zorya-Mashproekt.

With the embargo in place the task has shifted to Russian manufacturer NPO Saturn without the aid of the Ukrainians.

“Under the Russian government’s import substitution [program], it is understood that NPO Saturn is supposed to develop the capability to produce and test the M90FR by 2017,” reported Jane’s.

The shift could lead to delivery delays for the third and fourth ships in the class – Admiral Golovko and Admiral Isakov – both currently under construction by the Severnaya Verf shipyard in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The lack of Ukrainian cooperation could also affect the supply of spare parts and the Russian plans for maintenance and sustainment of the turbines.

US Army's Future Vertical Lift now has Five Types

And then there were five. There were already going to be four different aircraft in the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) family, from light to medium to heavy to “ultra.”

Now it’s almost certain that the medium FVL will be split into two separate versions: a smaller attack/reconnaissance aircraft and a larger troop-carrying assault craft. What’s more, the Army’s aviation chief said today, they might even end up using entirely different forms of propulsion, for example with one being a tiltrotor (like the V-22 Osprey) and the other being a “compound” helicopter with a pusher propeller and coaxial blades (like the Sikorsky X2 or the Eurocopter X-3).

“Really, the medium category is going to be two aircraft with two capability sets,” Maj. Gen. Michael Lundy, commanding general of the Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker told an Association of the United States Army aviation symposium. The logic of splitting the medium lift category into different aircraft will be discussed Friday at a meeting of an FVL executive steering group that includes officers from all the armed services, Lundy added.

“We’re going to talk about where we’re heading,” Lundy said, emphasizing that no decisions are being made at this stage: Much will depend on the results of flight tests in 2017 and 2018 of technology demonstrator aircraft being developed by Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. — the tiltrotor — and a team of Boeing Company and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. — the coaxial rotors — under the Joint Multirole (JMR) program. An industry official, however, said the Army briefed Bell and the Boeing/Sikorsky team earlier this week on the fact that service leaders think the attack and assault versions of the medium-lift FVL will need to be two different aircraft.

The JMR is one of the first concrete steps in the long-range FVL initiative, which aims to develop new, far faster and more agile vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft for all the services in four different sizes: light, medium, heavy and ultra.

The initial requirements for the JMR Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) call for attack and utility versions of an aircraft that weighs about 30,000 pounds at takeoff, can fly faster than 230 knots (about 265 miles per hour), can carry as many as 12 troops about 230 miles in the utility version and then loiter for half an hour before returning to base without refueling.

Evidence for Four Climatic Events During Eocene Paleogene

Paleoceanographic, and Paleoclimatic Constraints on the Global Eocene Diatom and Silicoflagellate Record


Barron et al


Eocene diatom and silicoflagellate biostratigraphy are summarized and correlated with the most recent geologic time scale as well as with the global oxygen isotope and eustatic sea level curves. The global distribution of Eocene diatom/silicoflagellate-bearing sediments varies considerably, reflecting changing oceanic gateways and paleoceanography with changing patterns that are punctuated by four major depositional events.

Event 1 (~ 49 million years ago, Ma), at the end of the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum (EECO), saw the cessation of diatom/silicoflagellate deposition in epicontinental regions of the North Sea region and in the northern Russia and the onset of biosilica deposition in the Arctic. Event 2 (~ 46 Ma), which coincided with intensification of the Middle Eocene cooling trend, marked the widespread expansion of diatom/silicoflagellate deposition in both the North and South Atlantic. A shift of diatom/silicoflagellate deposition from the Atlantic to the Pacific began at Event 3, at the end of the Middle Eocene Climatic Optimum (MECO)(~ 40 Ma), that was likely tied to the initial opening of the Drake Passage between Antarctica and South America. Event 4 (~ 39 Ma) coincided with a major sea level fall and a widespread deep-sea hiatus in the latest Middle Eocene. Late Eocene diatom/silicoflagellate deposition became more concentrated in middle-to-high latitude regions and coastal upwelling regions, particularly in the Pacific Ocean.

Tabulation of the first and last occurrences of 132 biostratigraphically-important diatoms suggests increased species turnover during latest Paleocene to earliest Eocene that may be in part due to a monographic effect. An increasing rate of evolution of new diatom species between ~ 46 and 43 Ma and after ~ 40 Ma coincides respectively with the widespread expansion of diatom deposition in the Atlantic and with an increased pole-to-equator thermal gradient that witnessed the expansion of diatoms in high latitude oceans and coastal upwelling settings.

Uranian Moon Ariel is Warmer Than it Should be

Elastic thickness and heat flux estimates for the uranian satellite Ariel


Peterson et al


The surface of Ariel, an icy satellite orbiting Uranus, shows extensional tectonic features suggesting an episode of endogenic heating in the satellite’s past. Using topography derived from stereo-photoclinometry, we identified flexural uplift at a rift zone suggesting elastic thickness values in the range 3.8–4.4 km. We estimate the temperature at the base of the lithosphere to be in the range 99–146 K, depending on the strain rate assumed, with corresponding heat fluxes of 28–92 mW/m2. Neither tidal heating, assuming Ariel’s current eccentricity, nor radiogenic heat production from the silicate core are enough to cause the inferred heat fluxes. None of three proposed ancient mean-motion resonances produce equilibrium tidal heating values in excess of 4.3 mW/m2. Thus, the origin of the inferred high heat fluxes is currently mysterious.

Humans Drove Caribbean Island Bats to Extinction

Sharing caves with millions of bats, the Caribbean's first humans may have driven some species of the winged mammals to extinction.

The new study appearing online today in Scientific Reports rejects previous research that directly connected climate change and the loss of land with the disappearance of bat populations.

Knowing when and how Caribbean bats went extinct could contribute to better understanding biodiversity and how to save modern-day wildlife from meeting the same fate, said co-author David Steadman, a University of Florida ornithologist.

"Ours are the first radiocarbon dates for bat fossils in the whole West Indies," said Steadman, curator of ornithology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. "The new dates prove that certain bat populations were still in existence much later than previously thought—around the same time humans arrived."

The new dates demonstrate that at least five species of bats withstood this climate change and reduced land area, only to be wiped out at a time when climate conditions were largely similar to those of today, said lead author J. Angel Soto-Centeno, a post-doctoral researcher at the American Museum of Natural History who began the research as a doctoral student studying mammalogy at the Florida Museum.

"Prehistoric and modern humans have had considerable impacts on island species and ecosystems, including the early Amerindians who settled in the Bahamas and altered the natural fire regimes on a large scale," Soto-Centeno said. "We found that the demise of bat populations in the Bahamas coincides with similar land mammal, reptile and bird losses on other Caribbean islands."

Reconstructing the Evolving PaleoEcology of Mesozoic Gondwana

Gondwanan Mesozoic biotas and bioevents


McLoughlin et al


This special issue draws together presentations and related studies arising from both the symposium on “Mesozoic bioevents and Gondwanan biotas” at the 34th International Geological Congress in Brisbane, 2012, and the “Southern Hemisphere floras: unique insights into the biology and ecology of Southern Hemisphere ecosystems” meeting of the joint 13th International Palynological Congress and 9th Palaeobotanical Conference held in Tokyo, 2012. The theme also builds upon recent specialist compilations of similar works on Mesozoic biotas from the Northern and Southern hemispheres (Vajda and Turner, 2009; McLoughlin and Kear, 2010), and emphasizes the continuing high level of interest in events and processes that shaped the world’s faunas and floras between two of the greatest mass extinctions in Earth’s history.

The Mesozoic (251–66 Ma) is arguably one of the most spectacular intervals of biotic evolution in the Phanerozoic. The era began in the depths of Earth's most severe biotic crisis – the end-Permian extinction event, which was followed by prolonged and climatically harsh hothouse conditions of the Early Triassic (Retallack, 2013; Metcalfe et al., 2013). New radiometric data are now providing a precise means of calibrating the individual stages of decline and recovery associated with this mass extinction event (Metcalfe et al. in press). The slow recuperation of biotic diversity through the Middle and Late Triassic saw the rise of two animal groups that would compete for dominance of the terrestrial faunas for the remainder of the Phanerozoic –dinosaurs and mammals. Further mass extinctions and marine anoxia events at the end of the Triassic and in the Toarcian punctuated the evolution of life through the mid-Mesozoic (Hesselbo et al., 2002; Huang and Hesselbo, 2014). The Jurassic was also marked by episodic asteroid impacts, regionally intensive volcanism and the early stages of continental rifting (Vajda and Wigforss-Lange, 2009). Nevertheless, the mild, equable climates and broad connections between landmasses in the Jurassic saw the development of relatively cosmopolitan floras and faunas during the dinosaurian ‘heyday’ (Meyen, 1987; Novas, 2009). The subsequent, Late Jurassic–Cretaceous fragmentation of Pangaea and of Gondwana (Chatterjee et al., 2013; Torsvik and Cocks, 2013) saw progressive isolation of biotas, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, and had a major influence on endemism and overall levels of biodiversity (Lloyd et al., 2008). Accompanying this fragmentation, new groups of vertebrates evolved to take advantage of niches arising through the constantly changing environmental pressures. These changes are evident not only on land, where new groups of dinosaurs (including birds), squamates, and mammals thrived, but also in the oceans where there were major radiations amongst coccolithophorids, dinoflagellates and centric diatoms, where modern lamniform sharks and teleosts rose to the fore, and gigantic mosasaurid lizards ultimately claimed dominance as the ocean’s apex predators (Cloudsley-Thompson, 2005).

Within the terrestrial flora, one insignificant and possibly aquatic group – the flowering plants – made their first appearance in the Early Cretaceous. These opportunistic colonizers possessed seeds protected in ovaries, and in many cases developed showy appendages to encourage a special relationship with insects as pollination vectors. During their rapid diversification and rise to dominance through the mid-Cretaceous, the flowering plants evolved a bewildering array of forms, from minute single-leafed floating plants to some of the world's tallest trees. By the end of the Cretaceous, these formerly obscure plants had claimed dominance of the vegetation and had transformed the face of the landscape (Friis et al., 2011). In turn, the new vegetation types, including closed damp forests, offered opportunities for other plant lineages, such as polypodialean ferns, to undergo evolutionary radiations of their own (Pryer et al., 2004).

The end of the Cretaceous saw another of Earth's great catastrophes – the impact of an asteroid in the Yucatan Peninsula region. This event witnessed the demise of the great (non-feathered) dinosaurs and radically altered life in both the seas and the terrestrial forests, thus bringing the final chapter of the Mesozoic to an abrupt close (Schulte et al., 2010).

Paracus diepenbroeki: A new Placodont Sauropterygian From Anisian Triassic Netherlands

A new placodont sauropterygian from the Middle Triassic of the Netherlands


Klein et al


A new genus and species of a non-cyamodontoid placodont is described on the basis of an incomplete and disarticulated skeleton from Winterswijk, the Netherlands, dated as early Anisian (Lower Muschelkalk). The new taxon is unique in a ventrolateral expansion of the neural arches of the posterior presacral and sacral vertebrae, in which the transverse process is incorporated. It has a round, plate-like pubis and ischium, and the only preserved long bone indicates elongated limbs. The holotype, which is relatively large (>1.35 m) for a basal sauropterygian, has still un-fused halves of neural arches and no distinct neural spine developed yet. The new taxon is assigned to non-cyamodontoid placodonts based on its round girdle elements, the morphology of dorsal-, sacral-, and caudal ribs, the straight medial and mediolateral elements of gastral ribs, and the presence of un-sutured armour plates. In spite of the large size of the holotype, there is evidence that the animal was not yet fully grown, based on the paired neural arches, and general poor ossification of the bones. The un-fused halves of neural arches are interpreted as skeletal paedomorphosis, which is typical for vertebrates with a secondary marine life style. The sacral region seems to be highly flexible.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Brain to Brain Communication is Here

CO US 7th Fleet: Japan should start patrolling the South China Sea

The commander of U.S. 7th Fleet said Japan should start patrolling the South China Sea and said China’s claims in the region are resulting in, “unnecessary friction” with neighbors.

In a Thursday interview with new service Reuters, Vice Adm. Robert Thomas said Japan could provide a, “stabilizing function” as tensions resulting from overlapping regional claims rise and China’s fishing and naval fleets continue to grow.

“I think that [Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces] operations in the South China Sea makes sense in the future,” he said.
“In the South China Sea, frankly, the Chinese fishing fleet, the Chinese coastguard and the (navy) overmatch their neighbors.”

An expansion of JMSDF patrols from the East China Sea into the South China Sea could be seen by Beijing as a provocative move on the behalf of Tokyo.

US Air Force's new Long-Range Standoff (Hypersonic? Stealthy?) Cruise Missile Moves Ahead

Maintaining the shroud of secrecy surrounding the US Air Force's (USAF's) new Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), the general in charge of the USAF's nuclear forces would only tell reporters that advances in air defence technology drove the development of the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) cruise missile being designed to arm the US bomber fleet.

"As we look around the world, air defences are getting more and more sophisticated as technology improves," said Lieutenant General Stephen Wilson. "We'll need a missile that can penetrate more sophisticated air defences."

He added that a conventional variant of the LRSO would be built after a nuclear-tipped missile is first developed.

The general said the USAF has completed its analysis of alternatives (AoA) and is now waiting on senior Pentagon leadership to allow the acquisition effort to proceed.

"We've finished the analysis of alternatives except for the Office of the Secretary of Defense coming forward, but we are proceeding on track," he said. "We're proceeding with an LRSO, working on the phasing and the timing and the funding for that going forward."

The USAF studied "a variety of options - different capabilities, different speeds, lots of different options", he added. "We narrowed our focus to what we currently have. Beyond that, I can't get into specifics."

In December 2012, the Pentagon announced plans to issue separate contracts to Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman for the technology development (TD) phase of the LRSO programme. A request for information released just ahead of that announcement contained no details about whether the USAF was seeking a subsonic, a supersonic, or even a hypersonic weapon.

Only a small amount of information about what the USAF is seeking in an LRSO missile is in the public domain.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee in 2012, Lt Gen Wilson's predecessor described the LRSO as a stealth cruise missile. He was earlier on the record as saying that the weapon's range would be longer than the 500 n mile (c.900 km) range of the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended-Range (JASSM-ER) and "closer to the current air-launched cruise missile [ALCM] range". The maximum range of the legacy nuclear-armed AGM-86B ALCM is 2,500 km. The maximum range of the conventionally armed AGM-86C and D models is 1,200 km.

The warhead for the nuclear-tipped LRSO is also unknown.

An Overview of Mesozoic PaleoClimate With Hints of Impact Winters

Mesozoic paleogeography and paleoclimates – a discussion of the diverse greenhouse and hothouse conditions of an alien world




The Mesozoic was the time of the break-up of Pangaea, with profound consequences not only for the paleocontinental configuration, but also for paleoclimates and for the evolution of life. Cool greenhouse conditions alternated with warm greenhouse and even hothouse conditions, with global average temperatures around 6 to 9°C warmer than the present ones. There are only sparse and controversial evidence for polar ice; meanwhile, extensive evaporitic and desertic deposits are well described. Global sea levels were mainly high, and the content of atmospheric O2 was varying between 15 and 25%. These conditions make the Mesozoic Earth an alien world compared to present-day conditions. Degassing from volcanism linked to the rifting process of Pangaea and methane emissions from reptilian biotas were climate-controlling factors because they enhanced atmospheric CO2 concentrations up to 16 times compared to present-day levels. The continental break-up modified paleopositions and shoreline configurations of the landmasses, generating huge epicontinental seas and altering profoundly the oceanic circulation. The Mesozoic was also a time of important impact events as probable triggers for “impact winters”; and for the Era at least nine huge (diameter greater than 20km) impact structures are known. This paper presents an abridged but updated overview of the Mesozoic paleogeographic and paleoclimatic variations, characterizing each period and sub-period in terms of paleoclimatic state and main tectonic and climatic events, and provides a brief geologic, stratigraphic, paleoclimatic and taphonomic characterization of dinosaur occurrences as recorded in the Brazilian continental basins.

Ancient Martian Shorelines Formation Required Minimum Atmospheric Pressure

Winds, waves and shorelines from ancient martian seas


Banfield et al


We consider under what environmental conditions water waves (and thus eventually shorelines) should be expected to be produced on hypothetical ancient martian seas and lakes. For winds and atmospheric pressures that are too small, no waves should be expected, and thus no shorelines. If the winds and atmospheric pressure are above some threshold, then waves can be formed, and shorelines are possible. We establish these criteria separating conditions under which waves will or will not form on an ancient martian open body of water. We consider not only atmospheric pressure and wind, but also temperature and salinity, but find these latter effects to be secondary. The normal criterion for the onset of water waves under terrestrial conditions is extended to recognize the greater atmospheric viscous boundary layer depth for low atmospheric pressures. We used terrestrial wave models to predict the wave environment expected for reasonable ranges of atmospheric pressure and wind for end-member cases of ocean salinity. These models were modified only to reflect the different fluids considered at Mars, the different martian surface gravity, and the varying atmospheric pressure, wind and fetch. The models were favorably validated against one another, and also against experiments conducted in a wave tank in a pressure controlled wind tunnel (NASA Ames MARSWIT). We conclude that if wave-cut shorelines can be confirmed on Mars, this can constrain the range of possible atmospheric pressures and wind speeds that could have existed when the open water was present on Mars.

55,000 Year Old Modern Human Found in Pleistocene Quaternary Levant With Occiptal Bun

The discovery of a 55,000-year-old partial skull in Northern Israel provides new insights into the migration of modern humans out of Africa. The rare find is reported in the journal Nature this week by an international team of Israeli, North American and European researchers.

A key event in human evolution was the expansion of modern humans of African origin across Eurasia, replacing all other forms of hominin (humans and their predecessors), around 40,000-60,000 years ago. However, due to the scarcity of human fossils from this period, these ancestors of all present-day non-African modern populations have largely remained a mystery.

Now, researchers describe a partial skull that dates to around 55,000, which was found at Manot Cave in Israel's Western Galilee. The Manot Cave was discovered in 2008 during construction activities that damaged its roof. Rock falls and active stalagmites had apparently blocked the initial entrance to the cave for at least 15,000 years. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Cave Research Center conducted an initial survey of the cave and reported the findings of archaeological remains.

Prof. Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University led the anthropological study of the skull, and led the excavation together with archaeologists Dr. Ofer Marder of Ben-Gurion University, and Dr. Omry Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The skull has a distinctive "bun"-shaped occipital region at the back. In this way its shape resembles modern African and European skulls, but differs from other anatomically modern humans from the Levant. This suggests that the Manot people could be closely related to the first modern humans that later colonized Europe.

The specimen also provides evidence that both modern humans and Neanderthals inhabited the southern Levant during the late Pleistocene, close in time to the likely interbreeding event between modern humans and Neanderthals.

I actually have an occipital bun.  IIRC, my father did too.  However, my son appears not to.  Though, honestly, I wonder if its something which gets emphasized as men get older (I am given to understand the bun shows up in men more than women).  Once upon a time, Lyudmila exploring my skull, just tracing and feeling.  And, truth be told, it unnerved her a bit: not only do I have the bun and what I call the 'german brow,' I have a bony crest (very modest) at the top of my head. It seemed odd to her a bit: the men she'd dated before had very smooth feeling skulls, without the ridges and bun.    That fit with what I saw in Ukraine.  I've met Ukrainians and Russians before, but when I went to Kiev the first time, it struck me how differently men's heads were shaped.  At the time, I noticed the forehead and jaw.

An Upper Jurassic Lagerstätte Found in Mongolia

Upper Jurassic Lagerstätte Shar Teg, southwestern Mongolia


Ponomarenko et al


One of the most interesting Mesozoic Lagerstätten, Shar Teg in southwestern Mongolia, is reviewed. The geological structure and oryctocoenoses of Shar Teg are described. Shar Teg is one of the most diverse Jurassic Lagerstätten in terms of fossils represented. Fossils from Shar Teg include aquatic and terrestrial plants, mollusks, crustaceans, insects, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Insects are the most diverse group. To date, a total of 297 species of 161 families and 22 orders have been described or recorded in Shar Teg, making it possible to reconstruct comprehensively the Jurassic biota of the locality. The oryctocoenosis composition is peculiar; it includes only six species described from other localities. The oryctocoenosis appears to link the faunas of eastern Asia, Central Asia, and Europe. A total of 31 new species are described.

Vetulicola: a Road not Taken From the Cambrian Explosion

New observations on morphological variation of genus Vetulicola with quadrate carapace from the Cambrian Chengjiang and Guanshan biotas, South China


Li et al


Vetulicolians are enigmatic fossils with a debated phylogenetic position; they first appeared during the Cambrian evolutionary explosion. The early Cambrian Chengjiang and Guanshan biotas from South China exhibit the highest taxonomic diversity of vetulicolians, with ten species described to date. Here we conduct a comparative study on the most common members of Genus Vetulicola that bear a quadrate carapace from these two biotas. Two morphotypes are recognized both within Vetulicola rectangulata from the Chengjiang Biota and within a new undetermined species, Vetulicola sp. from the Guanshan Biota. In both localities morphotypes differ from each other in the presence/absence of a posteroventral projection in the anterior body, and this is interpreted to possibly represent sexual dimorphism. These two Vetulicola species from the Chengjiang and Guanshan biotas also exhibit other morphological differences. Most notable is the position of the junction between the anterior and posterior parts of the body which is further towards the anterior in the specimens from the Guanshan Biota than those from the Chengjiang Biota. In addition, the expansion of the distal portion of the posterior body occurs from the third segment in the Chengjiang specimens but from the fourth segment in the Guanshan specimens. The most likely interpretation of these differences is that they reflect evolutionary adaption of the swimming ability of Vetulicola with a quadrate carapace from the Chengjiang to the Guanshan Biota.

If you are a Brit, mentally ill and do something to annoy the Americans...

Make sure you are white


(note: autism isn't the mental illness above)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

First Academic Study on Bitcoin Scams Reveals Minimum $11 Million Worth of Fraud Over Past Four Years

Fraudulent schemes have scammed at least $11 million in Bitcoin deposits from unsuspecting cyber customers over the past four years, according to new cyber security research from Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

Bitcoin is the digital world's most popular virtual currency, with millions in circulation.

In the first empirical study of its kind, SMU researchers found that hucksters used four different types of schemes through authentic-looking web-based investment and banking outlets to lure customers and heist deposits, said computer security expert Marie Vasek, lead researcher on the study.

"Our calculation of $11 million is almost certainly at the low-end," said Vasek. "The amount of Bitcoin that depositors have lost to these scams is probably many millions more."

Typically the scams succeed by exploiting not only people's greed, but also the urge to "get rich quick," coupled with the inability to judge the legitimacy of web services to decide which financial sites are good or bad, said Bitcoin and cyber security expert Tyler W. Moore, co-researcher on the study.

"Because the complete history of Bitcoin transactions are made public, we have been able to inspect, for the first time, the money flowing in and out of fraudulent schemes in great detail. It's like having access to all of Bernie Madoff's books for many of these scams," said Moore, director of the Economics and Social Sciences program of the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security in SMU's Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering.

Special Forces Defend TALOS Powered Armor Project

A Pentagon plan to build a real-life "Iron Man" suit has taken some lumps from fiscal hawks on Capitol Hill, but US Special Operations Command's acquisitions chief defended it Wednesday as a way to protect troops using cutting-edge technologies.

In October, the final "wastebook" from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., listed the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) program among 100 federal programs he called wasteful. The report knocked TALOS' estimated $80 million budget as a fraction of the projected cost to produce a prototype.

TALOS, although intended as an exoskeleton that allows the wearer to tote heavy gear and an internal computing system, is also an effort to develop a new framework for inventing technologies and fielding them quickly, SOCOM acquisition executive James Geurts said at an industry conference here.

"TALOS to me isn't the Iron Man suit as it is protecting the guy or gal at his most vulnerable point, to give them the capabilities and protection they need to get their mission done," Geurts said. "Just doing an incremental approach to that isn't going to get us where we need to get to. Our collective challenge is to come up with new operating models that make sense."

SOCOM's director of science and technology, Anthony Davis, acknowledged the skeptical press surrounding the program, but said the program's goals are more modest than the "Iron Man" nickname suggests.

"That program is not about putting a nuclear cell on someone's chest and having them fly off to battle," Davis said at the conference. "It's about protecting the operator. The first guy going through the door is our most vulnerable operator."

Armed Chinese Drone Crashed in Nigeria: Who Owns it?

The wreckage of an armed drone appeared in northeast Nigeria on Tuesday near the heart of the West African country’s fight against a violent Islamist insurgency, raising questions about the extent of global drone proliferation.

Pictures of the wreckage posted on Twitter show an unmanned combat aerial vehicle that closely resembles the CH-3 drone made by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. Missiles connected to two hardpoints and a sensor payload are visible in the images.

Reports place the crash near the village of Dumge in Nigeria’s northeast Borno state.

US Air Force/ US Navy officially Starting Sixth Generation Fighter Procurements in FY 2016 Budget

The United States will begin serious development of prototypes for so-called sixth generation fighters — successors to the F-35 and F-22 — for the Navy and the Air Force in the 2016 budget, says the head of Pentagon acquisition, Frank Kendall.

The Aviation Innovation Initiative is a new effort, not an agglomeration of existing DARPA programs, Kendall told me during a vote break at today’s hearing. He declined to say how much money the new initiative is getting, only calling it “significant.” I would assume that means between $150 million and $500 million or so for the first few years, given the fact they are developing airframe and engine prototypes. Developing several bleeding edge prototypes — which is what a DARPA effort like this would presumably target — could not be done for peanuts.

The main goals of this effort — aside from developing and proving technologies — is to preserve the defense industry design teams that are crucial to building aircraft (and who don’t have much work right now) reduce lead times and reduce program risk, Kendall told us.

Craters From Two Subglacial Lakes Found in Greenland

Researchers who are building the highest-resolution map of the Greenland Ice Sheet to date have made a surprising discovery: two lakes of meltwater that pooled beneath the ice and rapidly drained away.

One lake once held billions of gallons of water and emptied to form a mile-wide crater in just a few weeks. The other lake has filled and emptied twice in the last two years.

Mars had its own mini, Iron Theia

The two hemispheres of Mars are more different from any other planet in our solar system. Non-volcanic, flat lowlands characterise the northern hemisphere, while highlands punctuated by countless volcanoes extend across the southern hemisphere. Although theories and assumptions about the origin of this so-called and often-discussed Mars dichotomy abound, there are very few definitive answers. ETH Zurich geophysicists under Giovanni Leone are now providing a new explanation. Leone is the lead author of a paper recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Using a computer model, the scientists have concluded that a large celestial object must have smashed into the Martian south pole in the early history of the Solar System. Their simulation shows that this impact generated so much energy that it created a magma ocean, which would have extended across what is today's southern hemisphere. The celestial body that struck Mars must have been at least one-tenth the mass of Mars to be able to unleash enough energy to create this magma ocean. The molten rock eventually solidified into the mountainous highlands that today comprise the southern hemisphere of Mars.

Australopithecus africanus Used its Hand Like a Modern Human

Human-like hand use in Australopithecus africanus


Skinner et al


The distinctly human ability for forceful precision and power “squeeze” gripping is linked to two key evolutionary transitions in hand use: a reduction in arboreal climbing and the manufacture and use of tools. However, it is unclear when these locomotory and manipulative transitions occurred. Here we show that Australopithecus africanus (~3 to 2 million years ago) and several Pleistocene hominins, traditionally considered not to have engaged in habitual tool manufacture, have a human-like trabecular bone pattern in the metacarpals consistent with forceful opposition of the thumb and fingers typically adopted during tool use. These results support archaeological evidence for stone tool use in australopiths and provide morphological evidence that Pliocene hominins achieved human-like hand postures much earlier and more frequently than previously considered.

pop sci write up.

New Discoveries at From the Jehol Biota Lagerstatte

The Jehol Biota, an Early Cretaceous terrestrial Lagerstätte: new discoveries and implications




The study of the Early Cretaceous terrestrial Jehol Biota, which provides a rare window for reconstruction of a Lower Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystem, is reviewed with a focus on some of the latest progress. A newly proposed definition of the biota based on paleoecology and taphonomy is accepted. Although the Jehol fossils are mainly preserved in two types of sedimentary rocks, there are various types of preservation with a complex mechanism that remains to be understood. New discoveries of significant taxa from the Jehol Biota, with an updated introduction of its diversity, confirm that the Jehol Biota represents one of the most diversified biotas of the Mesozoic. The evolutionary significance of major biological groups (e.g. dinosaurs, birds, mammals, pterosaurs, insects, and plants) is discussed mainly in the light of recent discoveries, and some of the most remarkable aspects of the biota are highlighted. The global and local geological, paleogeographic, and paleoenvironmental background of the Jehol Biota have contributed to the unique composition, evolution, and preservation of the biota, demonstrating widespread faunal exchanges between Asia and other continents caused by the presence of the Eurasia–North American continental mass and its link to South America, and confirming northeastern China as the origin and diversification center for a variety of Cretaceous biological groups. Although some progress has been made on the reconstruction of the paleotemperature at the time of the Jehol Biota, much more work is needed to confirm a possible link between the remarkable diversity of the biota and the cold intervals during the Early Cretaceous. Finally, future directions for the study of the Jehol Biota are proposed that highlight the great potential of more comprehensive and multidisciplinary studies to further our understanding of the biological and geological implications of the Jehol Lagerstätte.

Were Amniote Lungs Basally Complex?

Lungs of the first amniotes: why simple if they can be complex?


Lambertz et al


We show—in contrast to the traditional textbook contention—that the first amniote lungs were complex, multichambered organs and that the single-chambered lungs of lizards and snakes represent a secondarily simplified rather than the plesiomorphic condition. We combine comparative anatomical and embryological data and show that shared structural principles of multichamberedness are recognizable in amniotes including all lepidosaurian taxa. Sequential intrapulmonary branching observed during early organogenesis becomes obscured during subsequent growth, resulting in a secondarily simplified, functionally single-chambered lung in lepidosaurian adults. Simplification of pulmonary structure maximized the size of the smallest air spaces and eliminated biophysically compelling surface tension problems that were associated with miniaturization evident among stem lepidosaurmorphs. The remaining amniotes, however, retained the multichambered lungs, which allowed both large surface area and high pulmonary compliance, thus initially providing a strong selective advantage for efficient respiration in terrestrial environments. Branched, multichambered lungs instead of simple, sac-like organs were part and parcel of the respiratory apparatus of the first amniotes and pivotal for their success on dry land, with the sky literally as the limit.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Robopocalypse is Coming for Cooks: Baxter is Learning to Cook via Youtube

How’s this for a dystopian future: You finally receive your personal robot assistant, delivered to your door by Amazon drone. You unpack the shiny new machine, dust off the Styrofoam peanuts, and charge up the batteries. Then you switch it on and lead it to the kitchen so it can cook you dinner. The robot points its camera at you, waiting. Suddenly you realize in horror that your assistant doesn’t know how to cook, either—you’re supposed to teach it.

To prevent this nightmare dinnertime scenario, computer scientists are working on a robot that can teach itself to cook. It learns by watching YouTube videos.

This is much harder for a robot than it is for you, no matter how inept a cook you are. Imagine a mind that’s stumped by CAPTCHAs (“Letters with a squiggle through them? I’m out!”) trying to follow a video host who’s chatting and chopping at the same time. To tackle the task, University of Maryland graduate student Yezhou Yang and his coauthors broke it down into a few simpler pieces.

First, their robot would look at the person’s hands. For each hand, it would decide what type of grip the person was using. Was it a powerful grasp, as when holding a knife or a jar lid? Or was it a more delicate, precise grasp, maybe to lift a slice of bread from the counter? How wide was the object? The scientists taught the robot to recognize six grasps in all.

Next, the robot would try to identify the objects in the video. The researchers taught it 48 objects, including tools (such as spatula, bowl, and brush) and foods (meat, lettuce, yogurt, and so on).

After the robot had matched what the video host was holding in each hand came the crucial step—actually doing something.

“Due to the huge variation in human actions,” Yang says, it’s not yet possible for the robot to deduce what someone’s doing just by watching. So the researchers taught their robot to guess instead. Given the objects in its hands, the robot picked the most likely verb from 10 options: cut, pour, transfer, spread, grip, stir, sprinkle, chop, peel, or mix?

The authors chose 88 cooking videos from YouTube and used most of them to train their robot. The last dozen video clips—each showing just one cooking action—were the robot’s final exam.

The aspiring robot chef performed pretty well. After watching the test videos, it chose the right kind of grasp about 90% of the time. It correctly identified the objects about 80% of the time, and did equally well at guessing the action. Some of its mistakes happened when the videos included objects it hadn’t been trained on. When it saw a person using a knife to slice tofu, for example, the robot guessed that it was supposed to slice up a bowl.

make sure he stays focused on the right videos.  Otherwise you might end up with some funky results.

India may get American EMALS (Eletro Magnetic Launch System) Catapult for Aircraft Carriers

India and the United States are likely to expedite during US President Barack Obama's visit discussions on joint production of electromagnetic system to smoothen takeoff and landing of fighter jets on board India's indigenously developed aircraft carrier.

Officials said India is keen to jointly develop Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) with the US for the aircraft carrier that is under production in Kochi.

Frank Kendall, the US undersecretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics, who is arriving ahead of Obama, will discuss with his Indian counterparts the possibility of joint production of defence items including EMALS, officials said, adding there is a possibility that EMALS might be one of the items where chances of joint production are high.

JLTV Prototypes hit Rough Seas: Cannot Deploy Fast Enough for US Marines due to Weight

Pentagon testers have found that Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) prototypes are slow to deploy from ship to shore and, therefore, leaves US Marine Corps (USMC) units "vulnerable to threats".

The Director of Operational Test and Evaluation annual report on the previous year's testing, released on 20 January, found that during developmental test/operational test (DT/OT) events, USMC units with JLTVs were able to execute amphibious assault missions, but were hampered by the new trucks' lack of deployability.

Anoxia was Gradual in Appalachian During Frasnian–Famennian Kellwasser Event



Boyer et al


The Frasnian–Famennian boundary is correlated with one of several Late Devonian extinction pulses that resulted in a significant decrease in diversity as well as ecological restructuring. This event is recognized within the globally correlated Upper Kellwasser interval that is well exposed and biostratigraphically well constrained in shale units of western New York State. The ichnological and geochemical signals of the interval stratigraphically below the Upper Kellwasser event at these localities provides insight into the onset of this important extinction event. Detailed analysis of ichnogeneric composition, relative size of burrow populations, amount of bioturbation, and trace metal concentrations vary in concert. Deep-penetrating, pyritized Skolithos burrows terminate abruptly at a thin, laminated black shale interval with enriched Mo levels, up to 31 ppm, and are overlain by an interval of gray-green bioturbated shales dominated by Chondrites. These textural and chemical shifts reveal that bottom-water oxygen levels decrease rapidly below the base of the Upper Kellwasser interval. Relative oxygen levels are interpreted to remain low through the Chondrites-dominated interval, with protracted stressed conditions followed by a gradual decrease to anoxic conditions within the Upper Kellwasser interval. These results suggest that, at least locally in the Appalachian Basin, bottom-water oxygen stress and/or fluctuating oxygen conditions were present leading up to the extinction event. This evidence does not support an instantaneous onset of anoxia as causal mechanism for extinction.

No New Large Bright Objects in the Kuiper Belt, 32% Chance of one in the Galactic Plane



Brown et al


We use seven yearʼs worth of observations from the Catalina Sky Survey and the Siding Spring Survey covering most of the northern and southern hemisphere at galactic latitudes higher than 20° to search for serendipitously imaged moving objects in the outer solar system. These slowly moving objects would appear as stationary transients in these fast cadence asteroids surveys, so we develop methods to discover objects in the outer solar system using individual observations spaced by months, rather than spaced by hours, as is typically done. While we independently discover eight known bright objects in the outer solar system, the faintest having $V=19.8\pm 0.1,$ no new objects are discovered. We find that the survey is nearly 100% efficient at detecting objects beyond 25 AU for $V\lesssim 19.1$ ($V\lesssim 18.6$ in the southern hemisphere) and that the probability that there is one or more remaining outer solar system object of this brightness left to be discovered in the unsurveyed regions of the galactic plane is approximately 32%.
Brown's own pop sci write up.

Penghu 1: An Archaic, Robust, Late Surviving Hominin From Ionian (Late) Pleistocene Quaternary Taiwan

The first archaic Homo from Taiwan


Chang et al


Recent studies of an increasing number of hominin fossils highlight regional and chronological diversities of archaic Homo in the Pleistocene of eastern Asia. However, such a realization is still based on limited geographical occurrences mainly from Indonesia, China and Russian Altai. Here we describe a newly discovered archaic Homo mandible from Taiwan (Penghu 1), which further increases the diversity of Pleistocene Asian hominins. Penghu 1 revealed an unexpectedly late survival (younger than 450 but most likely 190–10 thousand years ago) of robust, apparently primitive dentognathic morphology in the periphery of the continent, which is unknown among the penecontemporaneous fossil records from other regions of Asia except for the mid-Middle Pleistocene Homo from Hexian, Eastern China. Such patterns of geographic trait distribution cannot be simply explained by clinal geographic variation of Homo erectus between northern China and Java, and suggests survival of multiple evolutionary lineages among archaic hominins before the arrival of modern humans in the region.

Three Oldest Known Snake Fossils Found From Jurassic Bathonian Jurassic Britain, Kimmeridgian Jurassic Portugal

Fossilized remains of four ancient snakes have been dated between 140 and 167 million years old - nearly 70 million years older than the previous record of ancient snake fossils - and are changing the way we think about the origins of snakes, and how and when it happened. The findings have been published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications.

"The study explores the idea that evolution within the group called 'snakes' is much more complex than previously thought," says lead author and professor Michael Caldwell in the Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta. "Importantly, there is now a significant knowledge gap to be bridged by future research as no fossils snakes are known from between 140 to 100 million years ago."

The oldest known snake, from Southern England, near Kirtlington, Eophis underwoodi, is known only from very fragmentary remains and was a small individual, though it is hard to say how old it was at the time it died. The largest snake, Portugalophis lignites, from coal deposits in Portugal, near Guimarota, was a much bigger individual at nearly a meter or more in length. Several of these ancient snakes (Eophis, Portugalophis and Parviraptor) were living in swampy coastal areas on large island chains in western parts of ancient Europe, while the North American species, Diablophis gilmorei, is found in river deposits from some distance inland in Western Colorado.

This new study makes it clear that the sudden appearance of snakes, some 100 million years ago, reflects a gap in the fossil record, not an explosive radiation of early snakes. From 167 to 100 million years ago, some 70 million years, snakes were radiating and evolving towards the elongate, limb-reduced body plan characterizing the now well known, ~100-90 million year old, marine snakes from the West Bank, Lebanon, and Argentina, that still possess small but well developed rear limbs. As is always the case, the distribution of these newer oldest snakes, and the anatomy of the skull and skeletal elements, makes it clear that even older snake fossils are waiting to be found.

"Based on the new evidence and through comparison to living legless lizards that are not snakes," explains Caldwell, "the paper explores the novel idea that the evolution of the characteristic snake skull and its parts appeared long before snakes lost their legs."


paper link.

New Kannemeyeriiforme Dicynodonts From Middle Triassic China

New discoveries from the Sinokannemeyeria-Shansisuchus Assemblage Zone: 1. Kannemeyeriiformes from Shanxi, China




Recently, some new tetrapod fossils were collected along the Yellow River in Shanxi Province. From the Member I of the Tongchuan Formation at Baidaoyu in Linxian County, at least one species of Parakannemeyeria, and one new species of Sinokannemeyeria, S. baidaoyuensis, are identified. The new species is characterized by prefrontal anterior extension level to posterior margin of postnarial excavation. From the Ermaying Formation in Liulin County, a third kannemeyeriid genus is identified for the Sinokannemeyeria-Shansisuchus Assemblage. The new findings increase the content and time extension of the Sinokannemeyeria-Shansisuchus Assemblage.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Robopocalypse Comes for the Shopping Cart

(they seriously need a marketing person to help here)

At the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas, 5 Elements Robotics demonstrated a robot assistant called Budgee Bot designed to help with one specific task: carrying stuff.

Budgee uses a combination of wireless Zigbee and sonic technologies to track its owner and follow him or her around. Designed in particular to help the elderly or disabled, Budgee can carry up to 50 pounds at a time. Watch the video above to see it in action.

Your own follow-me robot assistant will cost $1400, and will start shipping in March.

Another Sign North Korea is Trying to Develop a Nuclear Missile Submarine

North Korea is attempting to put nuclear weapons to sea, according to a longtime regime watcher.

Joseph Bermudez—an expert on North Korean weapons—believes the evidence is commercial satellite imagery showing a submarine with possibly two vertical launch tubes. The regime also appears to have constructed a test stand for launching sea-based ballistic missiles.

Littoral Combat Ships' Survivability Questioned Again

Less than a month after U.S. Navy leaders announced modified versions of both variants of the Littoral Combat Ship would be the Navy’s pick for its for a more lethal and survivable small surface combatant, one of the chief LCS critics said the upgrades would do little to improve the survivability of the class.

Chief Pentagon weapon tester Michael Gilmore still remains fundamentally dissatisfied with the survivability of the Navy’s littoral combatant ship (LCS) and its upgraded follow-on, the small surface combatant (SSC).

“Notwithstanding reductions to its susceptibility” compared with the design of the first 32 ships, he told Bloomberg on Jan. 8.
“The minor modifications to the LCS will not yield a ship that is significantly more survivable.”

It remains to be seen, however, how the Navy can improve the other legs of the “survivability triangle” of a hull displacing 3,000 tons and is less than 425 feet in length.

Small ships have been historically unsurvivable. Modern small warships are not in any way the equivalent of the World War II predecessors. Every warship is a compromise in armament, endurance, speed and survivability. This is especially true of the LCS, as its modular operational profile demands absolute adherence to weight limitations.

Small warships are historically unsurvivable in combat. They have a shorter floodable length, reduced reserve buoyancy and more likely to be affected by fire and smoke damage than larger combatants. In both World Wars, losses in ships below 3000 tons in displacement far exceeded those of larger vessels.

In World War II, for example, the U.S. lost a total of 71 destroyers and 11 destroyer escorts — all under 3400 tons displacement and less than 400 feet in length.

By comparison, only 23 larger ships were lost. Part of that figure is undoubtedly due to their operational employment, but in simple terms of engineering and physics, larger ships are inherently more survivable than their smaller counterparts.

link. and again.

Marine Productivity and Redox Conditions During Ordovician Hirnantian Glaciation

Changes in marine productivity and redox conditions during the Late Ordovician Hirnantian glaciation


Zhou et al


Changes in marine productivity and redox conditions during the end-Ordovician (Hirnantian) glaciation and Ordovician–Silurian transition were investigated through Mo-isotope and major- and trace-element analyses of the Wangjiawan (Hubei Province) and Nanbazi (Guizhou Province) sections from the Yangtze Platform of South China. Katian shales of the Wufeng Formation, which yield the graptolites Dicellograptus complanatus, Dicellograptus complexus, and Paraorthograptus pacificus, were deposited under euxinic conditions at both localities, as shown by high MoEF, UEF, and δ98Mo values. A major sea-level regression during the Hirnantian glaciation resulted in shallowing and a shift toward better-oxygenated conditions within the Yangtze Sea, as well as deposition of thin-bedded siliceous sediments, calcirudite debris flows, and limestone turbidites of the Kuanyinchiao Formation, the base of which correlates with the first phase of the end-Ordovician mass extinction. The termination of the Hirnantian glaciation at the top of the Kuanyinchiao Formation was associated with a major sea-level transgression, a rapid expansion of euxinia in the Yangtze Sea (as documented by a return of high MoEF, UEF, and δ98Mo values), and the second phase of the mass extinction, during which the cool-adapted Hirnantian Fauna went extinct.

The long-term cooling trend of the Middle and Late Ordovician, which culminated in the Hirnantian glaciation, was driven by enhanced burial of organic carbon, as documented by δ13Ccarb, δ13Corg, and δ34Spy records. Increased organic carbon burial was linked to high rates of marine productivity, as shown by high TOC and biogenic Ba concentrations especially at the deeper, less-restricted Wangjiawan locale, producing the HICE (Hirnantian Isotopic Curve Excursion) δ13Ccarb excursion. The locus of organic carbon burial during the Hirnantian crisis shifted to deeper-water environments that were located outside the study region. The relatively rapid onset and termination of the Hirnantian glaciation were probably due to crossing of tipping points in the Late Ordovician climatic–oceanic system.

3d Modeling of Pluto's Atmosphere

An Atmospheric General Circulation Model for Pluto with Predictions for New Horizons




Results are presented from a 3-D Pluto general circulation model (PGCM) that includes a subsurface model and volatile cycle. Conductive heating and cooling are present, as is non-local thermodynamic equilibrium (non-LTE) heating by methane at 2.3 and 3.3 microns, non-LTE cooling by heating by methane at 7.6 microns, and LTE CO rotational line cooling. This model is novel in that it has both detailed subsurface and atmospheric model components. Yet, there is little dependence of the model results on surface albedo, emissivity, or conductivity. Predictions are also provided for the Alice and REX instruments on New Horizons and for ground-based stellar occultations. Due to the weak temperature gradients, Alice (both solar and background star consultations) and REX are predicted to observe nearly the same temperature profiles on immersion and emersion. In the stratosphere, differences of up to 20 K are possible, while at higher altitudes (100-350 km), the differences are as large as 10 K. For both methane concentration and initial surface pressure, it should be possible to distinguish between the 0.2 and 1.0 methane concentrations and 8 and 24 microbar initial surface concentrations used here. For the ground-based stellar occultation, there is a detectable difference between light curves with the different methane concentrations used here, but not for the initial surface pressures.

The Impact of Climate on Language

Climate, vocal folds, and tonal languages: Connecting the physiological and geographic dots


Everett et al


We summarize a number of findings in laryngology demonstrating that perturbations of phonation, including increased jitter and shimmer, are associated with desiccated ambient air. We predict that, given the relative imprecision of vocal fold vibration in desiccated versus humid contexts, arid and cold ecologies should be less amenable, when contrasted to warm and humid ecologies, to the development of languages with phonemic tone, especially complex tone. This prediction is supported by data from two large independently coded databases representing 3,700+ languages. Languages with complex tonality have generally not developed in very cold or otherwise desiccated climates, in accordance with the physiologically based predictions. The predicted global geographic–linguistic association is shown to operate within continents, within major language families, and across language isolates. Our results offer evidence that human sound systems are influenced by environmental factors.

DNA of Extinct Pleistocene Quaternary Macropod (kangaroos, wallabies) Studied

Late Pleistocene Australian Marsupial DNA Clarifies the Affinities of Extinct Megafaunal Kangaroos and Wallabies


Llamas et al


Understanding the evolution of Australia’s extinct marsupial megafauna has been hindered by a relatively incomplete fossil record and convergent or highly specialized morphology, which confound phylogenetic analyses. Further, the harsh Australian climate and early date of most megafaunal extinctions (39–52 ka) means that the vast majority of fossil remains are unsuitable for ancient DNA analyses. Here, we apply cross-species DNA capture to fossils from relatively high latitude, high altitude caves in Tasmania. Using low-stringency hybridization and high-throughput sequencing, we were able to retrieve mitochondrial sequences from two extinct megafaunal macropodid species. The two specimens, Simosthenurus occidentalis (giant short-faced kangaroo) and Protemnodon anak (giant wallaby), have been radiocarbon dated to 46–50 and 40–45 ka, respectively. This is significantly older than any Australian fossil that has previously yielded DNA sequence information. Processing the raw sequence data from these samples posed a bioinformatic challenge due to the poor preservation of DNA. We explored several approaches in order to maximize the signal-to-noise ratio in retained sequencing reads. Our findings demonstrate the critical importance of adopting stringent processing criteria when distant outgroups are used as references for mapping highly fragmented DNA. Based on the most stringent nucleotide data sets (879 bp for S. occidentalis and 2,383 bp for P. anak), total-evidence phylogenetic analyses confirm that macropodids consist of three primary lineages: Sthenurines such as Simosthenurus (extinct short-faced kangaroos), the macropodines (all other wallabies and kangaroos), and the enigmatic living banded hare-wallaby Lagostrophus fasciatus (Lagostrophinae). Protemnodon emerges as a close relative of Macropus (large living kangaroos), a position not supported by recent morphological phylogenetic analyses.

Dongusuchus efremovi: an Archosauriform Reevaluated From Anisian Triassic Russia

The osteology and systematic position of Dongusuchus efremovi Sennikov, 1988 from the Anisian (Middle Triassic) of Russia


Niedźwiedzki et al


European Russia has yielded several fragmentary but potentially important archosauriform specimens from the Middle Triassic, but these have been only briefly described in the literature. One of these puzzling taxa is Dongusuchus efremovi Sennikov, 1988, described from the Donguz Svita. We present a redescription of Dongusuchus efremovi, which includes the first photographic atlas and thorough anatomical description of the holotype and referred specimens. This taxon is shown to be a gracile, probably fast-running species with elongate and slender limbs. A phylogenetic analysis recovers Dongusuchus efremovi as an early-diverging, non-archosaurian archosauriform. Previous work had suggested that this taxon was a ‘rauisuchid’. The gracile proportions of the femur and somewhat wedge-shaped head, however, are unusual for basal archosauriforms and are similar to the plesiomorphic state in crocodile and avian-line crown archosaurs. Several Early-Middle Triassic basal archosauriforms and early members of the crocodile and avian lineages were gracile with elongate, slender limbs. This suggests that the limb morphology of Dongusuchus efremovi may be plesiomorphic for Archosauria and proximal clades.

Friday, January 23, 2015

2030: Privacy's Dead. What happens next?

Africa is Going to Experience a Chinese Surge, a Chinese /Military/ Surge

Chinese activities in Africa have expanded massively during the last decade. To be sure, most of this has been purely economic—such as bartering access to natural resources in exchange for loans.

But these money-making activities have grown so much in recent years, China is realizing it can’t keep relying on African governments to protect them—and the thousands of Chinese nationals who’ve moved to the continent.

Beijing isn’t giving up on making business deals in Africa. Far from it. It’s just that protecting those economic ties is turning into a job for the Chinese military.

Despite Reports, Significant Disputes Remain Between Russia & India Over FGFA Stealth Fighter

India and Russia agreed on 21 January to expedite their joint military programmes, particularly the delayed Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project.

"We discussed all issues, including the FGFA, and have decided to fast-track many of them as there are apprehensions about the slow pace in their execution," Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar said in New Delhi.

Speaking after jointly chairing the Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IGC-MTC) with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, Parrikar said the two sides would hold regular "interactions" to maintain project deadlines.

Official sources told IHS Jane's that differences persisted on the FGFA's preliminary design features despite a 10 January Russian media report claiming that the two sides had managed to resolve them following a four-year delay.

Quoting FGFA project director Andrev Marshankin, the Sputnik news agency had reported agreement between Indian and Russian officials on the specifications of the 30-tonne fighter, which is based on the Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA. Enduring Indian reservations over the FGFA programme include those over the fighter's AL-41F1 engine and its stealth and weapon-carrying capability.

India is also insistent on Russia restoring its workload in the USD10.5 billion developmental programme after recently reducing it from 25% to 13% without consulting Delhi. It is also seeking greater access to the fighter's design configuration, which it claims it is denied.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) plans on acquiring around 130 FGFA, down from an earlier projected requirement of around 220.

Long Range Strike-Bomber Details may Emerge When US Air Force Selets Contractor

In late spring or early summer, the US Air Force will decide who will build its next-generation bomber. Yet, despite all the hype and public interest, the program remains shrouded in mystery.

The Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) program is stealthy, literally and figuratively. Few details are actually known about the bomber's capabilities or design. But the program's impact is already being widely felt throughout the Pentagon and its industry partners.

The half a dozen analysts and experts interviewed by Defense News for this piece all agree on one thing: the LRS-B has the chance to shape American military aerospace for the next 20 years. Whichever competitor wins will reap a windfall of development money; the loser could find itself out of the military attack airframe business entirely.

And while the program appears to be on track, Congress is waiting in the wings for any sign of cost overrun or technological problems.


The program is targeting a production line of 80-100 planes. It will replace the fleet of B-52 and B-1 bombers. It will be stealthy, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, and optional manning has been discussed. A down-selection will be made this spring or early summer, with initial operating capability planned for the mid-2020s. Nuclear certification will follow two years after that.

The target price, set by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is $550 million a copy. To keep the price down, the Air Force is looking to use mature technologies that are available now, rather than launching new developments. At the same time, the program will have an open architecture approach for future technologies.

Unless there is a secret competitor still unknown — highly unlikely, but like many things with the program, impossible to rule out — there are two teams are bidding for the contract. One is Northrop Grumman, which developed the B-2 stealth bomber. The other is a team of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Together, those companies represent three of the top five defense firms in the nation.

Correlations of Atmospheric water ice and dust in the Martian Polar regions

Correlations of atmospheric water ice and dust in the Martian Polar regions


Brown et al


We report on the interannual variability of the atmospheric ice/dust cycle in the Martian polar regions for Mars Years 28-30. We used CRISM emission phase function measurements to derive atmospheric dust optical depths and data from the MARCI instrument to derive atmospheric water ice optical depths. We have used autocorrelation and cross correlation functions in order to quantify the degree to which dust and ice are correlated throughout both polar regions during Mars Years 28-29. We find that in the south polar region, dust has the tendency to "self clear", demonstrated by negative autocorrelation around the central peak. This does not occur in the north polar region. In the south polar region, dust and ice are temporally and spatially anti correlated. In the north polar region, this relationship is reversed, however temporal correlation of northern dust and ice clouds is weak - 6 times weaker than the anticorrelation in the south polar region. Our latitudinal autocorrelation functions allow us to put average spatial sizes of event cores and halos. Dust events in the south are largest, affecting almost the entire pole, whereas dust storms are smaller in the north. Ice clouds in north are similar in latitudinal extent to those in the south (both have halos < 10{\deg}). Using cross-correlation functions of water ice and dust, we find that dust events temporally lag ice events by 35-80 degrees of solar longitude in the north and south poles, which is likely due to seasonality of dust and ice events.

Did Stone Tools Help Drive Human/Hominin Evolution?

Two and a half million years ago, our hominin ancestors in the African savanna crafted rocks into shards that could slice apart a dead gazelle, zebra or other game animal. Over the next 700,000 years, this butchering technology spread throughout the continent and, it turns out, came to be a major evolutionary force, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Liverpool and the University of St. Andrews, both in the UK.

Combining the tools of psychology, evolutionary biology and archaeology, scientists have found compelling evidence for the co-evolution of early Stone Age slaughtering tools and our ability to communicate and teach, shedding new light on the power of human culture to shape evolution.

To be reported Jan. 13 in the journal Nature Communications, the study is the largest to date to look at gene-culture co-evolution in the context of prehistoric Oldowan tools, the oldest-known cutting devices. It suggests communication among our earliest ancestors may be more complex than previously thought, with teaching and perhaps even a primitive proto-language occurring some 1.8 million years ago.

"Our findings suggest that stone tools weren't just a product of human evolution, but actually drove it as well, creating the evolutionary advantage necessary for the development of modern human communication and teaching," said Thomas Morgan, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at UC Berkeley.

"Our data show this process was ongoing two and a half million years ago, which allows us to consider a very drawn-out and gradual evolution of the modern human capacity for language and suggests simple 'proto-languages' might be older than we previously thought," Morgan added.

The Evolution of Mesozoic Mammals in China

Mesozoic mammals of China: implications for phylogeny and early evolution of mammals


Meng et al


All Mesozoic mammaliaforms reported from China are briefly documented herein. These forms can be divided into at least five major assemblages: Lufeng, Yanliao (Daohugou), Jehol, Fuxin and Bayan Mandahu, ranging from the Early Jurassic to the Late Cretaceous periods. Although the temporal and geographic distributions of these mammaliaforms are not dense, the records do reveal a pattern that is generally consistent with patterns that have been recognized globally. The initial stage of mammalian evolution was represented by stem mammaliaforms or primitive ‘triconodonts’ from the Lufeng. This was followed by the Middle-Late Jurassic Yanliao episode that showed a high diversity and disparity of mammaliaforms in which terrestrial, swimming, arboreal and gliding species were present. The disparity, at least in molar morphology and types of locomotion, decreased but the diversity persisted into the Cretaceous, a period that was dominated by eutriconodontans, multituberculates and trechnotherians. The superb specimens from nearly all major groups of Mesozoic mammals in China provided a great amount of information that contributed to our understanding on some major issues in phylogeny and the early evolution of mammals, such as divergences of mammals and the evolution of the mammalian middle ear. A hypothesis on the transformation of the allotherian tooth pattern is proposed as an example to illustrate the potential for future studies of mammalian evolution.

More Information About the Hettangian Jurassic/Post Triassic-Jurassic Mass Extinction Sponge Bob World

Andean sponges reveal long-term benthic ecosystem shifts following the end-Triassic mass extinction


Ritterbush et al


Thick cherts and cherty dolomites in the basal Jurassic Aramachay Formation of Peru preserve a thriving continental shelf community dominated by siliceous sponges that followed the end-Triassic collapse of metazoan-rich carbonate accumulation. Similar Hettangian and Sineumurian deposits from Nevada, U.S.A., Austria, and Morocco suggest that an Early Jurassic siliceous sponge takeover was a widespread phenomenon that persisted for ~ 2 m.y. until metazoan-driven carbonate sedimentation recovered. The post-extinction dominance of siliceous sponges likely resulted from the confluence of metazoan carbonate reef collapse (removal of incumbents) and geochemical conditions that fostered the success of the siliceous sponge-dominated ecosystem. Simple mass balance calculations suggest the siliceous sponge takeover was likely permitted by an increased silica flux as a consequence of weathering Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) basalts. The CAMP basalts alone could supply all the silica needed to sustain the sponge takeover, although contributions were also likely from increased hot-climate weathering of other silicates and possible reductions in dissolved silica demand by radiolarians. Detailed sedimentological, fossil, and microfacies analyses were conducted at six field sites across a shallow shelf system recorded in the central Peruvian Andes (Yauli Dome), focusing on the metazoan contribution to sedimentation. Sedimentary structures at all six sites demonstrated on-shelf deposition, similar to the underlying upper Triassic Chambará Formation (in contrast to the black shale-rich facies of the Aramachay Formation in other areas of Peru). Examination of up to 147 m of cherty dolomite from the Aramachay Formation revealed a siliceous sponge-dominated ecosystem, including sponge body fossils, compressed in situ sponge materials, and abundant transported spiculite sediments. Siliceous sponges, mostly demosponges and rare hexactinellids, account for the chert lithology and apparently dominated the local ecology for approximately two million years. The role of metazoan biocalcifiers in sediment production and ecological structure was profoundly reduced compared to the under- and overlying formations, representing a clear ecological state shift from pre-extinction carbonate to post-extinction siliceous dominated ecosystems before the carbonate system recovered ~ 2 m.y. after the extinction.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Microsoft Hololens



Wired's review.

An easy to use developer toolkit is really, really key.  Otherwise this will be another Google Glass.

US Soldiers to Deploy to Ukraine as Trainers

American soldiers will deploy to Ukraine this spring to begin training four companies of the Ukrainian National Guard, the head of US Army Europe Lt. Gen Ben Hodges said during his first visit to Kiev on Wednesday.

The number of troops heading to the Yavoriv Training Area near the city of L'viv — which is about 40 miles from the Polish border — is still being determined, however.

The American training effort comes as part of a US State Department initiative "to assist Ukraine in strengthening its law enforcement capabilities, conduct internal defense, and maintain rule of law" Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Vanessa Hillman told Defense News.

After meeting with commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Lt. Gen. Anatoliy Pushnyakov and acting commander of the National Guard Lt. Gen. Oleksandr Kryvyenko during his visit, Hodges said he was "impressed by the readiness of both military and civil leadership to change and reform."

The training was requested by the Ukrainian government "as they work to reform their police forces and establish their newly formed National Guard," Hillman added. Funding for the initiative is coming from the congressionally-authorized Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF), which was requested by the Obama administration in the fiscal 2015 budget to help train and equip the armed forces of allies around the globe.

The training mission has been the subject of plenty of discussion among US policy makers for months, and the United States has already earmarked $19 million to help build the Ukrainian National Guard.


In other news, the Ukrainian army has retreated from the Donetsk Airport.  Cyborgs no more.  :(