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Archive for December 8th, 2012

Man shoots girlfriend over likelihood of a zombie outbreak

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Police in New York state said a man shot his girlfriend during a fight about whether a zombie outbreak as seen on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” could actually occur.

Nassau County Detective Lt. Raymond Cote said Jared Gurman…argued via text messages with his girlfriend, Jessica Gelderman…just after 2:30 a.m. Monday about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse as depicted on the AMC series…

“He feels strongly about the possibility that some military mishap could occur. She thinks it’s ridiculous,” ABC News quoted Cote as saying. “She was not taking him seriously or taking the show as seriously as he does.”

Cote said Gelderman became worried about Gurman as the argument became heated and decided to go to his Williston Park home to calm him down, the report said.

Gelderman attempted to talk to Gurman and enter his home, but he shot her in the back with a .22-caliber rifle, police said.

Gurman drove Gelderman to the hospital, where she was treated for a shattered rib, a pierced lung and a pierced diaphragm.

Gurman was charged with attempted murder.

Ever know anyone who couldn’t see the difference between movies and TV show – and reality?

When I was still involved with competitive racquet sports back East, I used to work out with a guy who was getting ready to change his name to Conan the Barbarian. Part of his preparation for metamorphosis. Till Arnold beat him to it.

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Written by Ed Campbell

December 8, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Pic of the Day

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Pearl Harbor survivor Stan Swartz bows his head after the national anthem at the 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor at the WW II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Honolulu, Hawaii December 7, 2012.

Let us remember absent friends.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm

We all have hundreds of DNA flaws waiting to do us in! Or not.

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The price of silent mutations

Everyone has on average 400 flaws in their DNA, a UK study suggests…Most are “silent” mutations and do not affect health, although they can cause problems when passed to future generations…Others are linked to conditions such as cancer or heart disease, which appear in later life, say geneticists.

The evidence comes from the 1,000 Genomes project, which is mapping normal human genetic differences, from tiny changes in DNA to major mutations.

In the study, 1,000 seemingly healthy people from Europe, the Americas and East Asia had their entire genetic sequences decoded, to look at what makes people different from each other, and to help in the search for genetic links to diseases.

The new research, published in The American Journal of Human Genetics, compared the genomes of 179 participants, who were healthy at the time their DNA was sampled, with a database of human mutations developed at Cardiff University.

It revealed that a normal healthy person has on average about 400 potentially damaging DNA variations, and two DNA changes known to be associated with disease.

“Ordinary people carry disease-causing mutations without them having any obvious effect,” said Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, a lead researcher on the study from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge.

He added: “In a population there will be variants that have consequences for their own health.”

The research gives an insight into the “flaws that make us all different, sometimes with different expertise and different abilities, but also different predispositions in diseases,” said Prof David Cooper of Cardiff University, the other lead researcher of the study.

“Not all human genomes have perfect sequences,” he added. “The human genome is packed with pervasive, architectural flaws.”

It has been known for decades that all people carry some genetic mutations that appear to cause little or no harm. Many are only damaging if they are passed on to children who inherit another copy of the faulty gene from the other parent.

In others – around one in ten of those studied – the mutation causes only a mild condition, appears to be inactive, or does not manifest itself until later life.

Databases of human mutations, like the one at Cardiff University, will have increasing importance in the future, as we move into the era of personalised medicine…But as DNA sequencing becomes more widespread, ethical dilemmas will arise about what to tell people about their genes, especially when many risks are uncertain.

We all understand the range of dead ends available for time-wasting by ethicists. Especially those with one or another superstition to justify. I come down – in advance – on the side of the simplest and most democratic premise: knowledge is always useful. I don’t care if someone decides if it’s scary or silly – I have the right to know.

America’s hope against hope

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Illustration by Matt Wuerker

After a hard-fought election campaign, costing well in excess of $2 billion, it seems to many observers that not much has changed in American politics: Barack Obama is still President, the Republicans still control the House of Representatives, and the Democrats still have a majority in the Senate. With America facing a “fiscal cliff” – automatic tax increases and spending cuts at the start of 2013 that will most likely drive the economy into recession unless bipartisan agreement on an alternative fiscal path is reached – could there be anything worse than continued political gridlock?

In fact, the election had several salutary effects – beyond showing that unbridled corporate spending could not buy an election, and that demographic changes in the United States may doom Republican extremism. The Republicans’ explicit campaign of disenfranchisement in some states – like Pennsylvania, where they tried to make it more difficult for African-Americans and Latinos to register to vote – backfired: those whose rights were threatened were motivated to turn out and exercise them. In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor and tireless warrior for reforms to protect ordinary citizens from banks’ abusive practices, won a seat in the Senate…

The Republicans should not have been caught off-guard by Americans’ interest in issues like disenfranchisement and gender equality. While these issues strike at the core of a country’s values – of what we mean by democracy and limits on government intrusion into individuals’ lives – they are also economic issues. As I explain in my book The Price of Inequality, much of the rise in US economic inequality is attributable to a government in which the rich have disproportionate influence – and use that influence to entrench themselves. Obviously, issues like reproductive rights and gay marriage have large economic consequences as well…

…Here is what Americans should hope for: a strong “jobs” bill – based on investments in education, health care, technology, and infrastructure – that would stimulate the economy, restore growth, reduce unemployment, and generate tax revenues far in excess of its costs, thus improving the country’s fiscal position. They might also hope for a housing program that finally addresses America’s foreclosure crisis…

America – and the world – would also benefit from a US energy policy that reduces reliance on imports not just by increasing domestic production, but also by cutting consumption, and that recognizes the risks posed by global warming. Moreover, America’s science and technology policy must reflect an understanding that long-term increases in living standards depend upon productivity growth, which reflects technological progress that assumes a solid foundation of basic research…

Americans should hope for all of this, though I am not sanguine that they will get much of it.& More likely, America will muddle through – here another little program for struggling students and homeowners, there the end of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires, but no wholesale tax reform, serious cutbacks in defense spending, or significant progress on global warming.

With the euro crisis likely to continue unabated, America’s continuing malaise does not bode well for global growth. Even worse, in the absence of strong American leadership, longstanding global problems – from climate change to urgently needed reforms of the international monetary system – will continue to fester. Nonetheless, we should be grateful: it is better to be standing still than it is to be heading in the wrong direction.

Optimist that I am – still as cynical as Joe Stiglitz the author of this piece – we have 2014 and 2016 to look forward to. Americans may just be bright enough, confident enough, to push the House back to solid enough Democrat control at the mid-term to enable progressive legislation to be funded. I expect no miracles from our voters or elected officials – but, I think we’ll have the market on our side.

At this moment, I’m confident in Hillary running in 2016 – and her added experience in foreign policy [as tawdry as that has continued to be] better equips her for the battles for the presidency.

Should be fun. We may get a little further along the road to solvency and modernity.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 8, 2012 at 8:00 am

KickSat to launch sprites into space

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It’ll look like hundreds of postage stamps fluttering toward Earth — each an independent satellite transmitting a signal unique to the person who helped send it to space.

A Cornell-based project called KickSat is set to launch more than 200 of these tiny satellites, nicknamed “sprites,” into low-Earth orbit as part of a routine NASA-administered mission in 2013 to the International Space Station. And unlike traditional, big government space exploration, KickSat is truly a launch by the people.

Several years ago…Zac Manchester…now a graduate student in aerospace engineering, dreamt up the idea of crowd-sourced, personal space exploration. He and Ryan Zhou…and Justin Atchison…designed and built a prototype spacecraft that fits in the palm of the hand and costs just a few hundred dollars to make. The sprites are a type of micro-satellite called a “ChipSat…”

Manchester’s goal, he says in his blog about the mission, “is to bring down the huge cost of spaceflight, allowing anyone from a curious high school student or basement tinkerer to a professional scientist to explore what has until now been the exclusive realm of governments and large companies. By shrinking the spacecraft, we can fit more into a single launch slot and split the costs many ways. I want to make it easy enough and affordable enough for anyone to explore space.”

Sprites are the size of a cracker but are outfitted with solar cells, a radio transceiver and a microcontroller (tiny computer). KickSat, which is the name of the sprites’ launching unit, is a CubeSat, a standardized cubic satellite the size of a loaf of bread, frequently used in space research.

Using Kickstarter.com to find sponsors for the mission, Manchester raised nearly $75,000 as more than 300 people sponsored a sprite that will transmit an identifying signal, such as the initials of the donor. In 2013, about 250 sprites will be sent into space. One person, who donated $10,000, Manchester added, will get to “push the big red button” on the day of the launch.

A delightful dedication to citizen science. A special tradition centuries-old.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 8, 2012 at 2:00 am

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