Thursday, April 17, 2014

Most Earth-like Planet Yet...Kepler Discovery

It’s just one more on a long laundry list of exoplanets. But it’s the first on a list of  really Earth-like exoplanets. NASA’s Kepler mission announced the discovery of Kepler-186f — the smallest and most Earth-like planet found to date — in a press conference today. Only minutes after the embargo lifted, the media worldwide gleamed with fantastical headlines about this potentially habitable planet. But readers in the know may already have an inkling that these headlines suggest a bigger breakthrough than the research shows.
“Some people call these habitable planets, which of course we have no idea if they are,” says exoplanet expert Stephen Kane (San Francisco State University). “We simply know that they are in the habitable zone, and that is the best place to start looking for habitable planets.”
Here’s the problem: the crippled Kepler space telescope has unleashed a windfall of exoplanets over the years and we’ve been talking about habitable ones ever since. There’s one here, here, and three more here. Oh and we’ve even talked about habitable moons (but of course we haven’t had much luck on that front yet).
The discovery of habitable exoplanets and even extraterrestrial life is quite possibly the Holy Grail of science. Every astronomer wants to be the one to make the discovery and every reporter wants to be the first to write about it. So we throw around the term Earth-like like it’s a frisbee. But by definition, to be Earth-like, a planet must be both Earth-sized (less than 1.25 times Earth’s girth and less than twice Earth’s mass) and must circle its host star within the habitable zone — the band around a star where water could potentially exist in its liquid state, an essential component for life.
Of the nearly 1,800 confirmed exoplanets found in the past two decades, approximately 10 orbit their host star in the habitable zone. Before today, the smallest exoplanet on this list was Kepler-62f. But at 1.4 times the size of Earth, this exoplanet isn’t Earth-like at all (at least not by our regimented standards). It’s a super-Earth, which could mean it’s a rocky planet with oceans and an atmosphere, or it could be completely gaseous. Without a solar system analogue, the nature of any given super-Earth is hard to pin down.
Kepler-186f sizes in at 1.11 times the girth of Earth. But as with quite a few of Kepler’s planets, the system is too distant and therefore too faint to perform follow-up radial velocity observations, which would show the planet’s gravitational tug on its host star, and therefore reveal its mass. The team has to estimate its weight based on some pretty big assumptions.
A diagram of planets in the habitable zone. NASA
K-186f circled in red

The planet’s small size is a telltale sign that the composition is solid; it will have a hard time holding on to even the lightest elements, such as hydrogen and helium, so it probably doesn’t have a thick gaseous atmosphere either. But its composition could range from pure ice to pure iron, which results in a mass ranging from 0.32 to 3.77 times Earth’s mass. We may find in future years that this planet actually weighs more than twice as much as Earth, making astronomers re-classify it as a super-Earth after all.
Even so, there’s a huge difference between finding an Earth-like exoplanet and finding Earth’s twin. Kepler-186f’s orbit takes it along the outer edge of the star’s habitable zone so any liquid water on the surface would still be in danger of freezing. However, the team hopes that if the exoplanet is a little more massive than the Earth, this extra mass would result in a thicker atmosphere and therefore better insulation.
While Kepler-186f is a first, “it’s not a record we wish to keep,” Quintana says. “We want to find more of these.”
" I fully think that if Earth 2.0 is floating somewhere in the nearby cosmos, we’ll find it. Just not today."

Live free or die: New Hampshire moves to decriminalize adultery

New Hampshire lawmakers on Thursday voted to scrap an ancient law that makes cheating on your spouse a criminal offense in the New England state whose motto is "Live Free or Die."
Governor Maggie Hassan is expected to sign the bill into law, making adultery legal in the Granite State for the first time in hundreds of years.
Back in 1791, being unfaithful in New Hampshire earned you an hour of public embarrassment on the gallows, as many as 39 lashes, a one-year prison sentence, and a big fine.
That punishment has gradually been ratcheted back to an unenforced fine, but lawmakers on Thursday said even that was too much.
A spokesman for the state Senate said the bill to repeal the crime of adultery passed Thursday with a voice vote.
More than 20 states still have laws against adultery, and some, including Michigan and Wisconsin, still consider it a felony offense.
While opinions about states policing the bedroom may be mixed, a CNN poll in January showed that 93 percent of Americans think cheating is morally wrong.

Kanzi the amazing bonobo..builds fires...cooks food

Kanzi is a bonobo ape living at the 'Great Ape Trust' in Des Moines Iowa and he is amazing. Why? Well, for starters, he has learned how to build a fire, light it using matches and toast marshmallows on it. But on top of that, he can also use a smartphone and knows how to order food on it himself. Now, we don’t know about the rest of you, but even we would struggle building a fire and don’t even get us started on using a smartphone.

Anyone who's ever seen "Planet of the Apes" or the recent "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," knows this is exactly how it starts. And it's all downhill from here. Kanzi, a very intelligent  male bonobo,( our closest relatives)  has figured out how to cook food with fire.  That is quite a concept to grasp.

Bonobos are also known as pygmy or dwarf chimpanzees, and listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List due in large part to poaching.  According to the Daily Mail report, this is the first time a bonobo ape has developed this skill, which Dr Savage-Rumbaugh, of the Great Ape Trust, links to early human development.
"When humans learned to control fire and to domesticate dogs we began to feel a new level of safety which freed us to become creative and to create more sophisticated cultures," .
Kanzi's skills have also transcended food groups: not only can he cook hamburgers in a pan over the fire, but he can roast marshmallows at the end of a stick, too.
The curious bonobo first learned to use fire by lighting matches, which the Mail's David Derbyshire described as "eerie," and "remarkably human." Adding to his short order cook resume, Kanzi also understands 3,000 spoken words and can "say" close to 500 words by pointing to symbols known as lexigrams.
This isn't the first time apes have displayed uniquely human behavior. The report "Spontaneous Prosocial Choice By Chimpanzees," published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the primates are as cooperative as humans, especially when their partners are patient with them.
"For me, the most important finding is that like us, chimpanzees take into account the needs and wishes of others," researcher Dr. Victoria Horner told LiveScience following the study.
Previous studies have also found that monkeys can doubt themselves, and even show disappointment and regret.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ask Maxy

Dear Maxy,
My best friend  invited  me  to go on vacation with her and her family this summer,  free of charge . She knows that my funds are limited  and that I could never pay for this trip myself . I think that it's really nice  hat she would  make such a generous  invitation, but I feel weird  about it . I will hardly have money for incidentals  during  the trip . It feels weird to be a freeloader, even if  it is my friend . Her parents are cool about it . I know they have taken friends on trips with them before, like when we were in college, but we've been out of school  for two years  now . They are not showy people, so I don't think  they will make me feel bad . They love me . We have been friends  for 10 years  . What do  you think I should do ?
Broke  Guest
Dear Broke  Guest ,
Given the way  you describe  your friend and her parents, it seems  that they genuinely want to include  you in their  family vacation . Indeed, it sounds like they  are including  you as a family member .
In order  for  you to say yes, though  you have to make peace with the idea and put aside your pride. Then speak to your friend and thank her for the invitation . Be clear  about  how happy  you are  that they are being so generous . Admit to her that you will likely  not have much spending money  because  your finances  are very tight at the moment . If she understands, and I think she will, go and  have a great time .

Dear  Maxy ,
My daughter applied  to 11 colleges  and she was accepted to all of them . The  colleges are  mostly on theEast Coast, and we are trying  to figure  out which  college will be best suited for our child . It is  such a blessing to know that my husband  and I do not  have to take out  additional  loans, but we are concerned  because  we want  to make the right decision  regarding  our daughter's  education . How do we decide  where  she  should go ?
Going to College
Dear  going to College,
Congratulations on so many acceptances  . You should be very proud that your daughter is so desirable to these schools . I will caution you, however,  that unless each acceptance came with an official  scholarship offer, you cannot assume that you  will not  have to pay  for her education . Acceptance  and admission  represent only the first  steps  in this process . Next is paying  for it .
Read  the paperwork  carefully  and identify which schools are offering  financial  support . If you need the support, weed out  any schools  that  are not offering  your  daughter money . Of the ones that are left, review  the curriculum  of each school  with your  daughter  to identify  which ones have  courses in her areas of  interest . To the best of  your  ability, help  your daughter  select  a school that will educate her based  on what she believes  she wants to study . This  will help ensure  that she has  a successful  college experience. And I am sure it will be wonderful.
Best of luck,

Dear Maxy ,
I'm a high school student  in a small town  and I'm really scared  for my health .
My maternal grandmother  died of  breast cancer  and she left behind  three daughters  two of  whom have  daughters of  their own . There's a high chance that my mother, aunts , cousin or I  will have breast cancer as well .
I'm scared to  the bone of this disease and I'm always  nervous  that my self-exams  aren't terribly accurate . I've talked to  my mom about getting  a professional  exam or  even a mammogram, but I always  feel like  she avoids  the subject  . Is there  anyway  I can get an exam  without my  mother knowing ? If not , how can I convince  her to get me one ?
Dear  Worried ,
While having a close relative  who has had  breast cancer can increase your risk factor, it  doesn't necessarily  mean  that anyone else in your family  will get it . A small percentage of the population  carries  the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene and if  Grandma had this, your mother  should  speak  to her  doctor  about genetic testing . Otherwise your  risk is no greater  than any girl your age .
But  I agree  that an exam  might put your mind at ease . Ask your mother  to make an appointment  for you with a gynecologist . If she  refuses, you can talk to your  pediatrician  about this at your next appointment, or  contact Planned Parenthood  ( for information . Most adult women get a mammogram every one or two years. Keep up the self exams; they are important and you would notice any prominent abnormality. Survival rates from breast cancer have been steadily climbing since 1989. This is the result of earlier detection through screening and increased awareness among women. Also the treatment has improved in leaps and bounds.
Don't be frightened,

Who are the 55 bodies buried at the Dozier school, Florida ?

Young boys with administrators. Courtesty of State Archives of Florida/Florida Memory_Image DSB0310
Children at the School for Boys pose with administrators in this photo from the 1950s

Forensic anthropologists are disinterring the remains of children at a Florida reform school. Former students hope the dig will provide answers about alleged child abuse within the school's walls.

Within the past year, anthropologists working for the University of South Florida (USF) have exhumed the remains of 55 children on the grounds of the now-shuttered Arthur G Dozier School for Boys.  The boys were buried in simple coffins in the Boot Hill cemetery section of the school. The remains were recovered along with items like belt buckles, buttons, and in one case, a marble.

From 1900-2011, the Dozier School in Marianna, Florida, was a state-run reform school for boys who found themselves in trouble - whether stealing cars, skipping school, or in the case of some children as young as one, needing an orphanage when none was available.

In the past decade, hundreds of men have come forward alleging abuse and neglect on the part of the school - specifically, horrible beatings given out at a small white building on campus.
"There was blood on the walls, blood on the mattress I was on, blood on the pillow," says Alan Sexton of his time in the building the boys called the White House.
"It smelled to high heaven. They turned on a great big industrial fan to keep people from passing by hearing the screams."
Sexton was a student at the Dozier School in 1957. He was only taken to the White House once, and given 37 licks for making unapproved phone calls. But other men, like Jerry Cooper, the president of an advocacy group called White House Boys, reportly received over 100 lashes. It was the stories told by the White House Boys, who mainly attended the school during the 1950s and 1960s, that drew attention to Dozier and helped attract Erin Kimmerle, a USF forensic anthropologist, to the site.
Specifically, she was drawn to the stories of family members desperate to locate their loved ones'

Composite image
  A facial recognition image created by the University of South Florida. The boy is between 10 and 12 years old.

Most of the records of deaths at the school did not list a cause. Boys died in a fire and a flu epidemic, and sometimes the poor and poorly educated parents were told that their sons died in accidents or in fights.
Often, the remains were sent home to be buried with families. But sometimes, families were notified of a relative's death and told that the body had been interred at the school. When they went to visit, the school did not provide the exact location of the plots nor give details about the deaths.
According to Kimmerle, the school did not keep a master list for the burial ground. There was no policy for its upkeep and care.

Erin Kimmerle examines an object in the field
  Erin Kimmerle examines an object in the field

"It's their desire to have the remains back to bury them next to their parents," says Kimmerle of the surviving relatives. "It wasn't something that was an option in the past when the deaths occurred. We feel it's very important to support them in that effort."
Using archaeological field methods, Kimmerle and her team estimated that about 50 students (55 have been found so far) would be buried at the site - an increase from the 31 estimated by the state in 2009.
"In terms of that initial work, we were close," she says.
"Who they are specifically and what happened to them, we just don't know that."

The USF investigation is focused on finding those who had family members buried at Dozier so they can collect DNA and try to match remains, a task done in collaboration with the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center.

Abandoned building 
The school closed in 2011. Some buildings are maintained by the state, but others have fallen into disrepair
To this end, they have put out a list of known boys buried in the cemetery. So far, they have been able to track down relatives of 18 of these boys. This week, they released a composite sketch based on the skull of one of the bodies they recovered, to put a human face on their efforts, Kimmerle says.

In 2010 a state investigation into the school found "no tangible physical evidence" to "either support or refute allegations of physical or sexual abuse" during the White House boys era.

The following year, the government shut down the Dozier school, citing economic factors. Around the same time, the US Department of Justice released a report which says it found "harmful practices... that threatened the safety and wellbeing of youth" at Dozier and another reform school in Jacksonville, Florida. ( Just what did that mean, exactly?)
Before the property could be sold, Kimmerle and her team won the right to excavate the grounds. She has until next August to search the ground relying on radar, dogs, old maps, and the testimony of former students.

Boys work repairing shoes
A 1958 guide to the school showed children working jobs, playing sports and taking classes

Thus far no bodies have been discovered outside the loose bounds of the Boot Hill burial ground. But Cooper, president of the White House Boys, says that the 55 bodies already found "are just the tip of the iceberg".
He believes the excavation at Dozier may be one of the last chances to prove the allegations they have been making for years.  In February, crews were observed excavating the ground behind the White House but had found no remains.
Still, says Kimmerle, it is too early to rule out foul play in regards to any of the 55 sets of remains recovered. She also notes that their investigation indicates that the children who died in the fire were locked in their rooms with no means of escape, while those who died in the flu epidemic were abandoned by the staff without food or medicine.

Dogs and their handlers
  Canine recovery teams search the woods on the Dozier campus

No matter what else is found, the excavation and the continued attention brought to Dozier means that the story of what happened to Cooper and the other boys remains in the headlines and the story of life at the Dozier school continues to spread.
"I want it out there, what happened to us," says Cooper, who has spent years advocating for the White House Boys. It was largely thanks to his organization, along with dedicated reporting from the St Petersburg Times, that the story has remained in the public eye.
"Don't feel sorry for us," he says.
"Feel proud that we brought it out into the open."

I think we should also be grateful that some of the boys survived that hell on earth, to tell their story.
Why don't we have frequent, random checks and thorough investigations of all institutions charged with the permanent care and welfare of  children; be they homeless, orphaned, physically or mentally challenged or delinquent?  Because of the cost? Is that the reason?



Time can be a gentle thief; you barely feel his passage as he trails his fingers across
your cheek to write the story of your journey and offer wisdom in his message.
No science can remove his stamp, nor can your travels be erased. He marches forward
with resolve and writes the truth upon your face and steals away your youthful grace.
Don't leave your fate to providence but take it firmly in your hands and mould
it in an honorable way to brave the capricious whims of destiny and so the test of time withstands.
 Fill your days with generosity, make your smile a gift; and time will be a steadfast
friend and make your hours of sadness swift and bring you peaceful resolution and in
all ways will uplift. Live each experience with joy and passion: make every moment count,
Don't spend them on contrition or regret; remember, there is little that love cannot surmount.
And  though the universe is timeless and your place in it so small, he does not forget you. 
He awaits us all and steals away our days, quietly discreet,  then comes to write that
final line upon the balance sheet.

A tribute to Nana
The Genie

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Calgary Alberta - Mass Stabbing of Students..

In the wake of the Pittsburgh, high school, mass stabbing, less than a week later, a similar tragedy occurred to the north, in Calgary Alberta. A university student at a party, stabbed five of his classmates multiple times with a knife.
It was a last-day-of-school celebration with close to 30 young people gathered in the backyard of a northwest Calgary home. Many were University of Calgary students and some were wearing Bermuda shorts, a school tradition on the final day of classes.
As Monday evening came, most everyone moved inside the bi-level house to warm up from the chill and continue a party that was so quiet the neighbours weren’t even aware it was going on.
Video: Police officer's son suspected in Calgary's worst ever mass murder

Everything changed with the late arrival of an invited guest who police say didn’t leave until he had stabbed five people, killing them all in what the city’s chief of police called the “worst mass murder in Calgary’s history.”
Police officers, investigators and EMS personnel responded en masse early Tuesday morning after receiving a 911 call from someone at the scene of the tragedy, only minutes away from the university. As soon as they got there, police found three people dead and two others who would die later from their wounds. Four of the victims were men; the other a woman. All of them were in their 20s.
Police deployed their canine unit and quickly tracked down Matthew de Grood, 22. Police allege Mr. de Grood fled the house and threw away the knife used in the slayings of his fellow party-goers. The son of a 33-year veteran police inspector, he was charged Tuesday night with five counts of first-degree murder.
“He’s heartbroken, as his wife is,” Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson said of Insp. Douglas de Grood. “He asked me to please pass on to the families our sorrow and condolences. They [the de Grood family] are devastated.”
How something as joyous as a school’s-out party could turn so deadly was a question that wasn’t answered Tuesday. It appeared there had been no warning of the attack, no apparent reason for Matthew de Grood to do what police allege – turn on people he knew and go after them, one by one, stabbing them repeatedly.
Police did not officially release the names of the five who died, saying only that the woman was 23 years old and from Calgary, while three of the four men were from Calgary and one hailed from Priddis, Alta. The men ranged in ages from 22 to 27.
Two of the men were identified by friends as Josh Hunter and Zackariah Rathwell. They were both part of a local band, Zachariah and The Prophets.
The band had a release party for their EP on Saturday, said friend Suzanne Alexander. “Zack just always knew how to say the stupidest, funniest things at just the perfect time,” she said. He attended Alberta College of Art and Design, she added
Mr. Hunter was “quieter, but had this great smile,” Ms. Alexander said. “He would ask you what’s going on in your life.”
The other three were later identified by media reports as Jordan Segura, Lawrence Hong and Kaitlin Perras.
There were no reasons to think the worst of the students who were renting the Brentwood community home. Their neighbours never had to complain. John Pruzinsky said he drove by and saw people both outside and inside the house at about 10 p.m. Monday night. Mr. Pruzinsky, who moved into the neighbourhood in 1976, said not many students live on the crescent and most people are homeowners.
“It’s very quiet, very nice,” he said.
The landlord who rented the home to the students said he had no problems with them. He wasn’t sure how many people were living there – four or five – and he didn’t have names signed to a lease. But that never became an issue.
“Every month I’d go and grab the rent cheques,” said the landlord, who declined to give his name. “They always paid. … They were really nice guys to me. They seemed like they were industrious and hardworking.”
Not one of the renters, or even Mr. de Grood, had experienced any prior run-ins with the police. The victims, in the words of Chief Hanson, were “good kids. They did nothing wrong … At this point in time, we can’t say the reason why [they were killed].”
Mr. De Grood was a former U of C student and had been working at a grocery store on Monday. He arrived after the party had moved indoors. Police allege that he carried a “weapon,” but grabbed a knife from inside the house and used it against his victims.
Chief Hanson described the crime scene as “horrific. It’s extremely difficult, regardless of who the perpetrator is, to go into a scene like that with young people who have been murdered.”
The news of the killings brought about statements from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Southern Alberta MP Jason Kenney, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta premier Dave Hancock. All expressed their condolences.
Asked if there was something the provincial government could do regarding the stabbing incidents, Mr. Hancock said: “I think it’s really too early to speculate on what happened. I suggest we let the police do their work and find out what was behind it. We have to be able to look at events like that and learn from them.”
The University of Calgary scheduled a gathering Tuesday in honour of the five who died. Students signed a U of C banner when they walked into the hall. The university’s Wellness Centre director Debbie Bruckner said students and their families had been coming in throughout the day.
“What we’re doing right now is ensuring we’re responsive to students who are feeling grief or trauma or confusion,” she said, noting chaplains, psychologists and nurses are all available, as well as a meditative room. “It impacts the community because [the neighbourhood] is across the street from the university.”
Third-year Greek and Roman Studies student Sarah Robb had celebrated in the sun during Bermuda Shorts Day, a 54-year-old tradition that now includes an on-campus beer garden, bands and DJs. In stark contrast, she said the mood at the university was gloomy and somber on the Tuesday following the tragedy.
“It’s just a shocker. It’s brought a shadow over the U of C,” she said.