Paleontologists find 1st feathered dinosaur fossils in Americas

In 2008, a fossil hunter named Frank Hadfield went for a walk among the hoodoos of Drumheller, Alberta. Up on one of these chunky sandstone minarets studding the southern Albertan badlands, Hadfield spied what appeared to be the remains of a small carnivorous dinosaur. He made a few calls and soon his colleague Francois Therrien, a paleontologist at the nearby Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, to come have a look…

While they were working on the outcropping, a chunk of it split off the main block. Examining it, Therrien saw it was laced with black streaks. The streaks looked familiar. Like all modern paleontologists, Therrien was acquainted with the spectacular feathered-dinosaur fossils of the Liaoning beds in China, where the idea that dinosaurs are the ancestors of birds got its biggest boost, thanks to the preservation of feathers–both the thread-like ones known as “dinofuzz” and the more familiar shafted kind–in the silky mud of an ancient lake bottom. “If we were in China,” he cracked, “we’d call those feathers.”

Interest piqued, the scientists changed the way they’d usually prepare the fossil, cleaning it to the level of its skin, rather than down to the bone, to see whether more of the curious features could be found. The work was not in vain. The 2008 specimen, along with another found in 2009, have just been announced in this week’s issue of Science as the first feathered dinosaurs to be found in the Americas. The finds may suggest new places to look for feathered dinosaurs, since these were found in stone previously thought to be too coarse for the preservation of feathers. And they may also, along with a newly re-examined specimen found in 1995, provide insight into what role feathers played for animals that did not use them for flight…

The search for more feathery fossils has already begun. “I’ve been out this summer looking for more, and the museum is probably looking as well. I’m sure lots of people will be looking once this paper comes out,” Zelenitsky says. “And I think people will start looking through their collections, and start preparing fossils that haven’t been prepared.”

At least now we know that you can find feathered dinosaurs anywhere, Therrien says. And he emphasizes that people will have to be careful: “If it hadn’t been for that lucky break, I’m convinced that we would have never found those feathers. We would have just prepared through them.” In this case, preparing through them would have meant losing them–and losing a discovery too.

Another unintended consequence – though motivated by curiosity about what might be found by varying the technique.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Time lapse illustration of where the air sickness came from…

It may be uncomfortable viewing for anyone afraid of flying, but a video showing the extent to which airplanes are tossed around by winds as they come into land at Heathrow Airport has become an internet hit.

The time-lapse video shows the huge aircraft bobbing around as if on rough seas as they descend towards the runway. The YouTube user who posted the video said he wanted to show how close planes get to each other as they come into land. But some will be more impressed by the effect of air currents during the descent.

Good thing I don’t drink and fly.

Neuroscience reveals brain differences between Republicans and Democrats

With the U.S. presidential election just days away, new research from the University of South Carolina provides fresh evidence that choosing a candidate may depend more on our biological make-up than a careful analysis of issues.

That’s because the brains of self-identified Democrats and Republicans are hard-wired differently and may be naturally inclined to hold varying, if not opposing, perceptions and values. The USC study, which analyzed MRI scans of 24 USC students, builds on existing research in the emerging field of political neuroscience…

The study focused on the mirror neuron system, a network of brain areas linked to a host of social and emotional abilities. After declaring their political affiliation, The subjects were given questionnaires designed to gauge their attitudes on a range of select political issues. Next, they were given “resting state” MRIs which made it possible to analyze the strength of connections within the mirror neuron system in both the left and right hemispheres of their brains…

The results found more neural activity in areas believed to be linked with broad social connectedness in Democrats (friends, the world at-large) and more activity in areas linked with tight social connectedness in the Republicans (family, country). In some ways the study confirms a stereotype about members of the two parties — Democrats tend to be more global and Republicans more America-centric — but it actually runs counter to other recent research indicating Democrats enjoyed a virtual lock on caring for others…

The research also suggests that maintaining an open mind about political issues may be easier said than done. In fact, bridging partisan divides and acting contrary to ideological preferences likely requires going against deeply ingrained biological tendencies. And while there is evidence that mirror neuron connections can change over time, it’s not something that happens overnight…

Here we go, again.

I’ve maintained for a long time – as have many sociologists – that you can keep on learning well beyond the typical 26-year-old threshold. Which means to me you can reevaluate, make decisions afresh from acquired knowledge.

I understand where the good doctor is going with the hard-wired portion of the dialectic. I just think the redirective capabilities of the human mind make it possible for someone to move beyond social reflexes.

But, then, I look at George W. Bush getting re-elected in 2004 and wonder, “what the hell do I know?”

Gen X overtaking baby boomers on obesity – in Oz – and probably here, as well

New research from the University of Adelaide shows that Generation X is already on the path to becoming more obese than their baby boomer predecessors.

Studies show that boomers currently have the highest level of obesity of any age group in Australia. However, new research by University of Adelaide PhD student Rhiannon Pilkington has revealed some alarming statistics. As part of her research, she has compared obesity levels between the two generations at equivalent ages.

Using data from the National Health Survey, Ms Pilkington compared Generation X in 2008 to boomers at the same age, in 1989…

At the same age, Gen X males have nearly double the prevalence of obesity: 18.3% compared with 9.4% for boomers. There is a smaller but still significant difference in females, with 12.7% of Gen X women being obese in 2008 and 10.4% of boomer females obese in 1989.

“This does not bode well for the future health of Generation X,” she says…

“Boomers and Gen X together make up more than 75% of Australia’s workforce. Their health and the role of the workplace in promoting a healthy, or unhealthy, environment is of critical importance to the Australian economy, to society and to people’s quality of life,” Ms Pilkington says.

“Obesity has become the new smoking – it’s a major driver of ill health, with coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes highest on the list of preventable illnesses. Obesity also costs billions of dollars to our economy each year. Anything we can do to mitigate the damage being done to both generations of Australians by obesity will be hugely important for the future of our nation.”

Happens to be something I’ve been reflecting on, lately – especially with the advent of the Advantage programs added to Medicare by Obama. Though I’ve been an advocate of healthy exercise and nutrition for years, I took kind of a late start at reforming my own lifestyle after years of living on the road, so to speak. I certainly didn’t avail myself of the minimal health checkups I had access to.

Now, part of the new programmatic approach to a longer healthier life is access to testing, exams, exercise programs as good as anything I ever devised – and nutritional counseling. Though everything worked out by my honey and me is sufficient, I have to admit the prompting keeps me conscious of working a bit more at growing a longer, healthier life.

I like it.

Gandalf, the agoraphobic owl, lives in his own brick house

Gandalf the Great Grey Owl gets scared flying out in the open so his owners have built his aviary inside a brick shed.

He now spends his days watching the world go by out of his window.

“He is a bit of a wuss as he doesn’t like flying in big open spaces,” said owner Janet Southard, who runs the Wild Arena photography company, based inside Knowsley Safari Park near Liverpool.

“When we moved here we put him in the shed temporarily while we built his aviary outside.

“But he didn’t want to move so now he has an aviary inside the lovely red brick shed.

He loves sitting at the window and watching the other birds.”

Amateur photographer Mark Bridger, 44, from Kent, had quite a fright when he saw the big round face at the window.

“I looked around and saw this face at the window, then suddenly realised it was an owl. It gave me quite a shock.

“You don’t normally expect to see an owl in a house. He looked quite ghostly.”

As I imagine you all know – I don’t expect to see a ghost in a house. OTOH, discovering an owl living in someone’s home wouldn’t surprise me at all.

One of the best architects here in Santa Fe has a large well-trained, parrot that roams his offices. Not at all uncommon for him to fly over and light upon the shoulder of someone he’s never met before. Peering into your face and wondering – probably – do you have a spare biscuit?

Nest with the birds in your very own Cocoon Tree

The modern tree house is not just for wannabe Johnny Weissmullers, they’ve now become a luxury item…The aptly-named Cocoon Tree pod is not so much a house as a bed. It can be suspended amid the trees or erected on legs, assembled and installed without any particular skillset and comes in Beach and Jungle varieties.

The Cocoon Tree is described as a modern tree house and its makers say that it can be placed on the ground with the help of adaptable feet, or attached to a suitably-sized floating ring, installed on a platform, suspended from above, or from ropes threaded through the 12 fixing points around the circumference. The Basic model is three meters (9.84 ft) in diameter, weighs 120 kg (264 pounds), and features a spherical T6 aluminum frame covered with waterproofed white tarpaulin with mosquito nets over the openings…

If the pod is suspended close enough to the ground, users can just climb in through any of the three access points. Higher up in the canopy, the Cocoon Tree can be accessed via supplied black polyester netting installed as a walkway, which can also act as trampoline-like safety net should the support ropes give…

More permanent installations would no doubt provide an excellent excuse to put some carpentry skills to good use by creating some wooden access ramps/stairs.

The Basic Cocoon Tree pod is priced at US$7,991, with options like the hanging pack and fixing stand adding to the overall cost. It is shipped from Vietnam.

A deluxe model is also offered, which differs only in the higher grade “Ferrari” tarpaulin cover, and is priced at $8,966.

This has got to be something I could make on my own. If I wanted to.

Which reminds me of that old saw about how do you capture a squirrel?

You climb a tree and make a noise like a nut!