August 2012

Siberian ice age flower is reborn

No word yet on whether they plan to try and extract dinosaur DNA from a mosquito preserved in amber.

 About 32,000 years ago in Siberia, a squirrel industriously hoarded a whole lot of seeds and fruits in a river bank. Last winter, a team of Russian scientists coaxed some of the seeds into blooming in the lab, and an ancient white flower has been brought back to life.

In 1995, Russian researchers studying ancient soil composition ran across about 70 squirrel burrows from Upper Pleistocene rodents. Each burrow was packed full of stored seeds, nuts, and fruits - some burrows held up to 800,000 ancient treats. The squirrels never returned to claim their spoils, but the researchers found that some of the buried plant material was still viable.
The burrows were located below the permafrost line, where the ground remains frozen year round. In the burrow chambers the conditions were stable: they were 125 feet below the ground level, and kept at a constant temperature of about 20 degrees. It was perfect storage conditions, cool and dry and dark, except for one thing: the rock walls around the burrow contain radioactive elements, which would have slowly bombarded the seeds with radiation over the eons. Not much radiation, granted, but 32,000 years is enough time for a lot to accumulate.

Natalie Wood's death no longer ruled accidental

What really happened on the yacht with Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken?

The death of Hollywood star Natalie Wood has long been the subject of bitter conspiracies. In a surprising move, after nine months of investigation, today the Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner has stricken the word "accidental" from Wood's death certificate, and ruled her cause of death as "drowning and other undetermined factors." It's a small move, but for many, it is a move in the right direction.

Some of the facts are clear. On November 28, 1981, Natalie Wood boarded a boat along with her husband Robert Wagner, Christopher Walken and the captain of the boat. They were celebrating the end of filming the movie "Brainstorm," which starred Wood and Walken. All three of them reportedly got quite drunk at a restaurant before heading out on Wood's yacht to Catalina Island.
En route to Catalina, Wood went overboard during the night. The next morning, authorities found her body a mile away. A small inflatable boat was beached nearby. Wagner speculated that Wood had been annoyed by the sound of the dinghy banging against the side of the yacht, went out in the darkness to try and fix the noise, and instead slipped into the water and was lost.

Cat ladies more likely to commit suicide?

Toxoplasmosis infection correlates to higher suicide rate in women.

As a cat lady myself, I have long been fascinated with the strange puzzle that is the toxoplasma parasite. Alarmingly, a new study shows a strong correlation between toxoplasmosis in women and suicide attempts. Odder still, women with toxoplasmosis are more likely to commit suicide by violent means (stabbing, gunshot, jumping) than non-infected women.

Scientifically known as Toxoplasma gondii, this parasite is communicated to humans through the cat's waste, typically by cleaning the litter box. (Not only is it a gross job, it's also potentially parasitic!) In its normal life cycle, the toxoplasma parasite infects rats and mice. It makes them unafraid of the smell of cat urine, and more likely to take crazy risks. By subtly controlling the behavior of infected rodents, toxoplasma positions them to be eaten by cats, which are crucial for its next life stage.
But when cats came to live with us, so did the toxoplasma parasite. Clinically, toxoplasmosis (the disease caused by infection with the parasite) is relatively harmless in non-pregnant adults with a healthy immune system. (Because it can cause spontaneous miscarriages in pregnant women, women who are or wish to be pregnant are advised to stay away from the litter box.) You might come down with vaguely flu-like symptoms for a little while. No big deal.

eBay bans spells and magic potions

As of August 30, magic spells and potions will be added to eBay's list of prohibited items.

eBay is continually updating their rules, and continually ticking off huge segments of their community. This time, they are ticking off the magickal community, and you have to wonder if this wasn't a particularly unwise move on their part.

From eBay's perspective, listings for things like "I will cast a spell for you" and "I will send you a magical potion" have a high rate of complaints. What eBay calls a "bad user experience." Meaning, a lot of people get fleeced by these listings, or think they do, and contact eBay to complain about it.
As of August 30, magic spells and potions will be added to eBay's list of prohibited items. To quote eBay, "transactions in these categories can be difficult to verify and resolve." After all, if a seller advertises an iPad and sells you a block of wood painted with an apple, you can complain to eBay under the "item not as described" policy. But what if you are buying a bottle of "magical demon destroyer potion"? How is eBay going to be able to determine whether or not the tiny dropper bottle actually contains magical demon destroyer potion, versus plain old tap water?

Can you really retire on a cruise ship?

It's true, but would you really want to?

This is something that has been floating around on the Internet along with all the other crazy-ass chain mail email letters that your grandma forwards to you. I was reminded of it last night when I was watching a "King of the Hill" re-run, of all things. When Megalo-Mart buys out the organic food co-op, the co-op's butcher takes early retirement and reportedly buys a condo on a cruise ship.

But can you really retire to live on a cruise ship? It seems so plausible, and yet so unlikely. I am put in mind of another Fox show, a Simpsons episode from last season when Bart, seeing how much fun his family is having on their cruise ship vacation, engineers the vacation to last forever. It sounds fantastic on the face of it: imagine endless shrimp buffets! Exotic ports of call your whole entire life! So much better than being stuck in a boring old folk's home (excuse me, RETIREMENT COMMUNITY).
But as Bart discovered, retiring on a cruise ship may be a case of "be careful what you wish for."

The fleet of Chinese zombie ships

These unlicensed, rotting, illegal fishing vessels are crewed with slave labor

A lot of complicated diplomatic negotiations go into the laws that dictate which countries can take which fish from which international waters. But the business of high seas fishing is as lucrative as it is difficult to police. And who can say which fish really came from which waters? Many officials are inclined (with bribes) to look the other way. Others may not even realize there is a problem with a load of fish that are actually from mixed sources.

These are the market forces that drive the "Chinese zombie ships." These ships are former fishing vessels which were abandoned by their original owners, sold, or simply stolen. They chug slowly through the planet's oceans, fishing illegally, and selling their catch to unscrupulous "real" fishing vessels.
These pirate ships ply international waters, or anchor just off the coast of countries like Guinea with no effective navy or Coast Guard equivalent to police ships anchored in her waters. The ships are rotting away - maintenance costs money - and all safety measures have long since been abandoned. Leaking fuel and oil, fishing illegally, these ships rarely dock in port. Docking in port raises too many questions, and exposes the ships to the authorities.

UFOs depicted In petroglyphs

Throughout the world, petroglyphs that seem to depict alien contact can be found.

Last week I ran across a mention of UFOs and aliens as depicted in petroglyphs, and I have been utterly smitten with the topic ever since. Petroglyphs abound throughout the world, with many found right here in the United States. Petroglyphs themselves are fascinating, being a record of someone's doodle (or religious ceremony, or depiction of real life events, or whatever other meaning you want to assign to them - most likely, "all of the above, depending on the petroglyph") from tens of thousands of years ago. 

Petroglyphs are art that was carved or chiseled directly into rock in prehistoric times. Unlike other forms of prehistoric art (like cave paintings), petroglyphs would have been both extremely difficult to create and permanent. Think about how hard it would be to carve a drawing into a rock face: obviously you would only do it if you had a real, burning need to do so. Petroglyphs are the ultimate form of permanent art, communicating across the space of thousands of years.

7,500 sq. miles of rock found floating on ocean

Sailor calls it "the weirdest thing I've seen in 18 years at sea."

Described by a witness as "the weirdest thing I've seen in 18 years at sea," the New Zealand Royal Navy is currently investigating a vast swath of white pumice found floating atop the South Pacific Ocean. 

Pumice is a lightweight stone that you may have encountered as a food scrub. This lava rock's light weight and sharp microscopic edges make it perfect for this purpose. Pumice is formed when lava cools very quickly, as might happen when a lava flow encounters the ocean, or from an underwater volcano. The super-fast cooling causes the rock to puff up, in principle not unlike a marshmallow in the microwave. When the rock cools, this puffed-up shape causes it to be incredibly light and buoyant. Which explains why it is floating atop the ocean.

The Possession: Is the Dybbuk Box real?

As always, it depends on who you ask.

I recently saw a trailer for a new Sam Raimi movie coming out this fall called "The Possession." It purports to be "based on a true story," that of the infamous Haunted eBay Dybbuk Box. But how real is it all?

Well, as always, it depends on who you ask. The Dybbuk Box itself is real, in that it is a literal object which you could (in theory) pick up and touch. It is a small wooden box which was put up for sale on eBay in 2004 with an amazing story behind it. How true is that story? It's hard to say for sure.
According to the lore of the box, it had belonged to a Holocaust survivor who purchased it before fleeing Europe for the United States. She kept the box in her sewing room, and strictly ordered everyone (including her granddaughter, who sold it upon her demise) never to touch it because it contained a dybbuk.

The Louisiana Pizza Parlor Ghost

This Louisiana pizza parlor claims to be haunted, and they have published the videos to prove it. But despite - or perhaps because - of the national attention Stocky's Pizza has received, many people in the paranormal community are convinced that these videos are simply hoaxes.

For years, employees of Stocky's have reported experiencing objects moving when no one was around. However, none of these accounts (that I have heard, at any rate) involves an object moved farther than it would have if it had simply fallen on its own. Even aside from objects that may not have been placed as securely as the person thought, rats and mice are a sad fact in many commercial kitchens, and they can certainly knock things over as they go foraging at night.
But in this case, the restaurant is completely covered by security cameras. After several weeks of high activity, the manager got fed up and started checking the cameras. In the first video, two metal ice scoops appear to fly across the kitchen. In a second video, a bottle of bleach falls to the floor.