Motorcyclist wearing barbecue fined for careless driving

Michael Wiles, 29, was seen on Melbourne’s busy Eastern Freeway effectively “wearing” the barbecue as he carried it home after finding it by the side of the road.

He had inserted his body through the wooden frame and was peering through a protruding steel grate to see his way as he drove along at speeds of up to 46mph.

Police investigated after his antics were photographed from a passing car. The picture later found its way on to the internet and was widely circulated in emails.

Mr Wiles, a New Zealander who lives in the Australian city of Melbourne, admitted the charge when he appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court on Wednesday.

Paul McClure, his defence lawyer, said Mr Wiles’s excuse was “lack of thought processes” at the time and poverty…

Mr McClure said his client had been approached by a barbecue company to appear in an advertisement after his photograph was published but he had declined to do so.

Lionel Winton-Smith, the presiding magistrate, said he could not recall a case like it in his years on the bench. “I’m trying to think of a word to describe it,” he said.

“Ridiculous?” suggested Mr McClure.

“Ridiculous. That will do,” agreed the magistrate.

He fined Mr Wiles A$800 and disqualified him from driving for one month.

Having done similar silliness I can’t really criticize Mr. Wiles for what he did.

No – it wasn’t any brighter when I did it. But, then, I wasn’t caught.

Seventy-two bodies found at Mexican ranch

Mexican marines found 72 dead bodies at a remote ranch near the U.S. border, the Mexican navy said on Wednesday, the biggest single discovery of its kind in Mexico’s increasingly bloody drug war.

The marines came across the bodies of 58 men and 14 women on Tuesday at the ranch outside a town near the Gulf of Mexico in Tamaulipas state, some 90 miles from the Texas border, after a firefight with drug hitmen in which three gunmen and a marine died, a spokesman for the navy said.

One suspected trafficker was arrested, the navy said, and several escaped in SUVs.

The bodies were dumped about the ranch and were not buried. We are still investigating how long they had been there,” the spokesman said. He declined to give more details.

Marines guarding a nearby checkpoint reached the ranch after a wounded man approached them and asked for help. The soldiers came under fire as they neared the ranch, the navy said in a statement.

After the firefight, marines seized assault rifles, bullets, uniforms and vehicles from the ranch — including one with forged army license plates…

Tamaulipas has become one of Mexico’s bloodiest drug flashpoints since the start of the year as rivals from the Gulf cartel and a spinoff group, the Zetas, fight over smuggling routes into the United States…

The Zetas were members of Mexico’s elite special forces trained to fight drug cartels, but they switched sides in the 1990s and became one of the country’s most feared gangs led by Heriberto Lazcano, known as “The Executioner.”

Of course, the Zetas are one of the most dangerous groups of criminals in Mexico. Like the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, they were trained to a large extent by the United States.

Great job of qualifying recruits, guys.

A surfboard gets an onboard computer

Computers are everywhere these days – even on surfboards. University of California, San Diego mechanical engineering undergraduates outfitted a surfboard with a computer and accompanying sensors — one step toward a structural engineering Ph.D. student’s quest to develop the science of surfboards.

The UC San Diego mechanical engineering undergraduates installed a computer and sensors on a surfboard and recorded the speed of the water flowing beneath the board. While the students surfed, the onboard computer sent water velocity information to a laptop on shore in real time…

This is part of Benjamin Thompson’s quest to discover if surfboards have an optimal flexibility – a board stiffness that makes surfing as enjoyable as possible. Thompson is a UC San Diego structural engineering Ph.D. student studying the fluid-structure interaction between surfboards and waves…

Each of the eight sensors embedded into the bottom of the board is a “bend sensor.” The faster the water beneath the board moves, with respect to the board, the more the sensors bend, explained Trevor Owen, the other surfer on the four-person mechanical engineering team…

Even though the team has finished their class project, Ferguson plans to keep working with Thompson. “This project is going to apply some science that most likely [board] shapers understand pretty well…it’s going to settle the debates. It’s going to be black and white hard data to let them know for sure which ideas work, which concepts work, and why they work…”

Yes, it’s always easy to joke about Kalifornia Kulture. But, this project fits better into Geeks in Action.

Surfing is a worldwide sport, big business. Applying cyber-mechanical analysis, fluid dynamics, to construction makes all the sense in the world. Something major manufacturers should already have been doing.

Study of Gulf oil spill finds new oil-eating bacteria


Collecting deepwater samples from the oil plume

In the aftermath of the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, a dispersed oil plume was formed at a depth between 3,600 and 4,000 feet and extending some 10 miles out from the wellhead. An intensive study by scientists with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) found that microbial activity, spearheaded by a new and unclassified species, degrades oil much faster than anticipated. This degradation appears to take place without a significant level of oxygen depletion.

“Our findings show that the influx of oil profoundly altered the microbial community by significantly stimulating deep-sea psychrophilic (cold temperature) gamma-proteobacteria that are closely related to known petroleum-degrading microbes,” says Terry Hazen, a microbial ecologist with Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division and principal investigator with the Energy Biosciences Institute, who led this study. “This enrichment of psychrophilic petroleum degraders with their rapid oil biodegradation rates appears to be one of the major mechanisms behind the rapid decline of the deepwater dispersed oil plume that has been observed…”

Analysis by Hazen and his colleagues of microbial genes in the dispersed oil plume revealed a variety of hydrocarbon-degraders, some of which were strongly correlated with the concentration changes of various oil contaminants. Analysis of changes in the oil composition as the plume extended from the wellhead pointed to faster than expected biodegradation rates with the half-life of alkanes ranging from 1.2 to 6.1 days…

“We deployed on two ships to determine the physical, chemical and microbiological properties of the deepwater oil plume,” Hazen says. “The oil escaping from the damaged wellhead represented an enormous carbon input to the water column ecosystem and while we suspected that hydrocarbon components in the oil could potentially serve as a carbon substrate for deep-sea microbes, scientific data was needed for informed decisions…”

Hazen and his colleagues attribute the faster than expected rates of oil biodegradation at the 5 degrees Celsius temperature in part to the nature of Gulf light crude, which contains a large volatile component that is more biodegradable. The use of the COREXIT dispersant may have also accelerated biodegradation because of the small size of the oil particles and the low overall concentrations of oil in the plume. In addition, frequent episodic oil leaks from natural seeps in the Gulf seabed may have led to adaptations over long periods of time by the deep-sea microbial community that speed up hydrocarbon degradation rates.

The scientists whose analysis and discussion will determine the real state of affairs following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may not prompt the sort of thrills required by ideologues and pundits. But, there is a chance that useful information will be discovered – helpful both towards preventing and alleviating future accidents.

Not that it means much for the Fall election spectacle. Not that much attention will be paid by science-challenged skeptics.

Out-of-date FDA bureaucrats rejected Salmonella vaccine

Faced with a crisis more than a decade ago in which thousands of people were sickened from salmonella in infected eggs, farmers in Britain began vaccinating their hens against the bacteria. That simple but decisive step virtually wiped out the health threat.

But when American regulators created new egg safety rules that went into effect last month, they declared that there was not enough evidence to conclude that vaccinating hens against salmonella would prevent people from getting sick. The Food and Drug Administration decided not to mandate vaccination of hens — a precaution that would cost less than a penny per a dozen eggs.

Now, consumers have been shaken by one of the largest egg recalls ever, involving nearly 550 million eggs from two Iowa producers, after a nationwide outbreak of thousands of cases of salmonella was traced to eggs contaminated with the bacteria.

The F.D.A. has said that if its egg safety rules had gone into effect earlier, the crisis might have been averted. Those rules include regular testing for contamination, cleanliness standards for henhouses and refrigeration requirements, all of which experts say are necessary.

However, many industry experts say the absence of mandatory vaccination greatly weakens the F.D.A. rules, depriving them of a crucial step that could prevent future outbreaks.

Salmonella bacteria is passed from infected hens to the interior of eggs when they are being formed. The salmonella vaccines work both by reducing the number of hens that get infected and by making it more difficult for salmonella bacteria to pass through to the eggs…

The F.D.A. said it considered mandatory vaccination very seriously. “We didn’t believe that, based on the data we had, there was sufficient scientific evidence for us to require it,” said Dr. Nega Beru, director of the agency’s Office of Food Safety…

Unfortunately, no one decided to look beyond the prelimary studies from 1999. That seems to be as much a political decision as anything else.

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Mother of all humans lived 200,000 years ago

The most robust statistical examination to date of our species’ genetic links to “mitochondrial Eve” — the maternal ancestor of all living humans — confirms that she lived about 200,000 years ago. The Rice University study was based on a side-by-side comparison of 10 human genetic models that each aim to determine when Eve lived using a very different set of assumptions about the way humans migrated, expanded and spread across Earth.

“Our findings underscore the importance of taking into account the random nature of population processes like growth and extinction,” said study co-author Marek Kimmel, professor of statistics at Rice. “Classical, deterministic models, including several that have previously been applied to the dating of mitochondrial Eve, do not fully account for these random processes.”

The quest to date mitochondrial Eve (mtEve) is an example of the way scientists probe the genetic past to learn more about mutation, selection and other genetic processes that play key roles in disease.

“This is why we are interested in patterns of genetic variability in general,” Kimmel said. “They are very important for medicine…”

Mitochondria — the tiny organelles that serve as energy factories inside all human cells — have their own genome. Besides containing 37 genes that rarely change, they contain a “hypervariable” region, which changes fast enough to provide a molecular clock calibrated to times comparable to the age of modern humanity. Because each person’s mitochondrial genome is inherited from his or her mother, all mitochondrial lineages are maternal…

“We wanted to see how sensitive the estimates were to the assumptions of the models,” Kimmel said. “We found that all of the models that accounted for random population size — such as different branching processes — gave similar estimates. This is reassuring, because it shows that refining the assumptions of the model, beyond a certain point, may not be that important in the big picture.”

RTFA. Informative details in this brief from Rice University.

Computational analysis rocks!

Polish man finds bullet in head 5 years after drunken party

A Polish man living in Germany spent five years with a bullet in the back of his head having forgotten he was shot because he was drunk when it happened.

Police in the western city of Bochum said doctors had found a .22-calibre round after the 35-year-old asked them to remove what he thought was a cyst.

They said the man recalled receiving a blow to the head around midnight at a New Year’s Eve party “in 2004 or 2005″…

“It may have been a shot fired up in the air which entered his head on the way down,” a police spokesman told reporters on Tuesday.

“He told us he remembered having a sore head, but that he wasn’t really one for going to the doctor.”

Should qualify as the dumbest something-or-other; but, I’m not sure what?