Colored snow falls in Russia

The Beeb reports:

Oily yellow and orange snowflakes fell over an area of more than 1,500sq km (570sq miles) in the Omsk region [on January 31st], Russian officials said ... "So far we cannot explain the snow, which is oily to the touch and has a pronounced rotten smell," said Omsk environmental prosecutor Anton German, quoted by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass ... Vladimir Gurzhey, an official with the civil defence ministry in Omsk, told the Russia TV channel that the snow had four times the normal levels of iron in it.

Yahoo! follows with:

"Yellow snow that fell on Omsk region ... poses no threat to people's health," Vladimir Gurzhei, a regional emergency official, told Interfax news agency ... Russia's weather watchdog said it may have been caused by a rare dust hurricane in neighboring Kazakhstan. Alexei Yablokov of the Russian Academy of Science told Ekho Mosvky radio station it may have been polluted by a chemical accident in Siberia.


Mud, skulls, and dead fish a chapel makes

The Guardian reports:

Gothic architecture and contemporary art have become unlikely bedfellows [at the Seo cathedral in Palma, on the island of Majorca] after the artist Miquel Barceló was commissioned to cover one of its chapels with a vast ceramic tableau of cracked mud, dead fish and human crania. The result ... "is a mysterious cave, full of skulls and monsters".

8,000 year old footprints preserved on Welsh beach?

icWales reports:

Steve Maitland Thomas was walking on Kenfig Beach, Porthcawl, with his friend John Blundell, when they found a number of ancient size-eight footprints ... "We found the first on January 19, the day after storms had whipped up the sand revealing the bedrock below. The peat beds were formed from the floor of a vast forest, which once stretched right across the valley which now forms the Bristol Channel, until sea levels rose approximately 8,000 years ago."


Eat toxic toads and become poisonous reports:

A new study shows that the Asian snake Rhabdophis tigrinus becomes poisonous by sequestering toxins from its prey which consists of venomous toads. The research is published in the current issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ... The study also found that snake mothers with high concentrations of the toxin are able to pass bufadienolide toxin on their offspring helping protect them from predators.


Lost your keys? Or the Spear that pierced Jesus?

The Catalog of Missing Objects:

The Catalog of Missing Objects (COMO) database should be live before the end of February 2007 and will eventually list thousands of objects and pieces of information sought by scholars all over the world. Come back and follow the stories of these searches as discoveries are made and history is uncovered!

Current objects include Benjamin Franklin's 'chess' table, the Ark of the Covenant, William Bartram's Observations Manuscript and Hats Off Starring Laurel and Hardy. It shouldn't be long before the Spear of Longinus or the real life Daily Show God Machine becomes part of its scrutiny:

October 1853, on a hilltop in Lynn, Massachusetts, a group assembled to create the New Messiah. They had not come to pray or to praise God: they were actually going to build Him out of metal and wood under the supervision of spirits. When the body was complete, they believed it would be infused with life to revolutionise the world and raise mankind to an exalted level of spiritual development.

Ball Lightning Solved? Frankenstein was Right?

From National Geographic News, January 22, 2007:

Physicist Antonio Pavão and doctoral student Gerson Paiva of the Federal University of Pernambuco have created orbs of electricity about the size of golf balls that mimic natural ball lightning ... Most of the artificial orbs lasted two to five seconds, but at least one has survived as long as eight seconds - approximating natural ball lightning and far exceeding previous efforts to create the phenomenon in the lab.

More about ball lightning, and similar occurrences, at Sean B. Palmer's

The Informnauka Agency also released a press release in early February which, translated into English from its native Russian, was entitled "Could lightning give rise to life?":

Specialists of the Institute of Geology of Komi Research Center of Ural Branch and the Institute of Natural Resources, Ecology and Cryology, Siberian Branch have for the first time described the formation that results from a stroke of lightning into a plant - phytofulgurite ... When the owner raked away the ashes [caused by a lightning strike], he noticed a small flat, blue-black, fibrous, glassy piece of unknown substance ... The main elements making part of [the substance] are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and sulfur, the rest - approximately a third - being oxygen and trace elements ... At that, 95 percent of [the substance's] amino acids belonged to left isomers, as it occurs in living organisms. Nevertheless, these amino acids could not be remains of grass – at such temperature all organic matter burns down completely.


Tulsa's time capsule car gets unearthed June 15th, 2007

From, January 25th, 2007:

The car, which was buried in brand-new condition under the lawn of the Tulsa County Courthouse in 1957, is scheduled to be unearthed June 15 as part of the Oklahoma Centennial ... When the car was buried, a contest was announced to award the car and a $100 savings account to the person who came closest to guessing Tulsa's population in 2007.

More from the official website:

The car was seen as a method of acquainting twenty-first century citizens with a suitable representation of 1957 civilization. According to event chairman Lewis Roberts Jr., the Plymouth was chosen because it was "an advanced product of American industrial ingenuity with the kind of lasting appeal that will still be in style 50 years from now."


4 Winged Birds and a European Stegosaurus

Dinosaur news!

The Times Online reports on January 23rd, 2007:

Scientists reconstructing the fossilised remains of a Microraptor gui have concluded that its legs were aerodynamically feathered and acted as a second set of wings to help it to glide between trees. ... [Researchers] said: "Aircraft designers have mimicked many of nature's flight inventions, usually inadvertently. Now it seems likely that Microraptor invented the biplane 125 million years before the Wright 1903 Flyer." ... Analysis of the fossil indicated that the bird was incapable of launching itself from the ground into flight or getting into the air from a running start. Instead, it would have launched itself from trees.

And LiveScience reports on the first appearance of a stegosaurus outside North America:

The scientists unearthed the new Stegosaurus fossils--which included a tooth and parts of the animal's spinal column and leg bones--near the city of Batalha, in central Portugal. Preliminary analyses show the fossils to be indistinguishable from a species previously found only in North America, called Stegosaurus ungulatus. ... The only other dinosaur for which bones have been found in both North America and Europe is a species of Allosaurus, a large meat-eating dinosaur similar to Tyrannosaurus rex, but without the latter's stubby meat-fork arms.

Loren Coleman's excellent Cryptomundo reports on it too, as well as its potential Pangaea confirmation, whilst throwing in the Cambodian stego carving that was recently uenearthed:

Perhaps it is nothing more than a rhinoceros? There is speculation that at one time or another Cambodia had Indian, Javan, and Sumatran rhinos living in the country. Or have Stegosaurs roamed Cambodia, less than 1000 years ago and Angkor's master artists created a representation of one, on a temple?


Mind Games: 200 Years of Mind Control

From Sharon Weinberger's Washington Post article, January 14th, 2007:

The callers frequently refer to themselves as TIs, which is short for Targeted Individuals, and talk about V2K -- the official military abbreviation stands for "voice to skull" and denotes weapons that beam voices or sounds into the head. In their esoteric lexicon, "gang stalking" refers to the belief that they are being followed and harassed: by neighbors, strangers or colleagues who are agents for the government.


In 2002, the Air Force Research Laboratory patented precisely such a technology: using microwaves to send words into someone's head. That work is frequently cited on mind-control Web sites. Rich Garcia, a spokesman for the research laboratory's directed energy directorate, declined to discuss that patent or current or related research in the field, citing the lab's policy not to comment on its microwave work.

David Hambling responds on Defense Tech with a claim from 1810, "as described ... by John Haslam, the apothecary at the notorious 'Bedlam' ... the original lunatic asylum":

One case from London was James Matthews, who said he was being influenced by an implant in his head by a gang using a weird electromagnetic device. This group, one of many, he called the Air Loom Gang, and among the tortures they inflicted on him were implanting thoughts ('kiteing'), stopping him from speaking ('fluid locking'), cutting his circulation ('sudden death squeezing') and 'brain lengthening' which would 'cause good sense to appear as insanity, and convert truth to libel'.

Wikipedia includes an illustration and the following gem in its entry on James Tilly Matthews:

In 1810 John Haslam, the apothecary at Bedlam, decided to publish a book entitled Illustrations of Madness: Exhibiting a Singular Case of Insanity, And a No Less Remarkable Difference in Medical Opinions: Developing the Nature of An Assailment, And the Manner of Working Events; with a Description of Tortures Experienced by Bomb-Bursting, Lobster-Cracking and Lengthening the Brain. Embellished with a Curious Plate.

I miss book titles like that, I do.

The Air Loom was recently recreated "by artist Rod Dickinson in collaboration with Tyne and Wear Museum and technical team and Headway community theatre group. The Air Loom is installed at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle until January 5th 2003."


Giving up the Ghost: Is SETI Futile?

Seth Shostak, the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, had an article published at on January 18th 2007 entitled When Does SETI Throw in the Towel?, wherein he writes about the search for extraterrestrial life:

Indeed, my personal feeling is that if SETI hasn't turned up something by the second half of this century, we should reconsider our search strategy, rather than assume that we've failed because there is nothing–or no one–to find. Would I ever conclude that we've searched enough? Would I ever truly give up on SETI's bedrock premise, and tell myself that the extraterrestrials simply aren't out there? Not likely. That would be to assume that we've learned all there is to know about our universe, a stance that is contrary to the spirit of explorers and scientists alike. We might yearn, or even need to believe that we are special, but to conclude that Homo sapiens is the best the cosmos has to offer is egregious self-adulation.

Michael Anissimov, on the other hand, suggests:

Believers will never abandon the search. If the aliens aren't swallowing stars right in front of our face, they must be broadcasting on the electromagnetic spectrum. If they aren't broadcasting on the electromagnetic spectrum, they must be sending each other neutrino bursts. If they aren't sending neutrino bursts, they must be somehow manipulating the fabric of spacetime itself to covertly send messages. Like theists, they're willing to bend over backwards to get the assumptions they need to give their belief any chance of success.

Why we've yet to be legitimately contacted is merely due to lack of time, a possible solution to the Fermi paradox, "the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence of contact with such civilizations". Rasmus Bjørk, a physicist at the Niels Bohr institute in Copenhagen, comments in The Guardian about a computer simulation he designed:

Extra-terrestrials have yet to find us because they haven't had enough time to look ... if the alien ships could hurtle through space at a tenth of the speed of light, or 30,000km a second ... it would take 10bn years, roughly half the age of the universe, to explore just 4% of the galaxy.

And even should self-replicating and intelligent probes propagate throughout the galaxy, creating more and more copies of themselves in hopes of finally accomplishing something, anything, these Man's Best Friend may not be entirely loyal. Adam Crowl suggests:

Many assume that as soon as intelligences can make autonomous self-replicating robots then that's what they'll do, sending them forth with a 'mission' to colonise the galaxy with their kind of intelligent life. A self-replicator smart enough to be called 'intelligent life' is a 'person' in my view, but an arguably important aspect of personal identity is freedom and creativity, and I suspect even the longest-lived 'persons' will fatigue in the face of a task like colonising every star in the Galaxy ... And why should self-replicating probes colonise at all? They're intelligent enough to decide that for themselves, but such vastly long-lived entities may well develop a wholly different set of motivations to us organic beings.

These quotes are a backdrop to a tough decision I've recently made: stopping my SETI@home client which has been using my computer processing power to analyze radio telescope data for the last five years. My first contribution was December 24th, 2001, shortly after I purchased a new PowerMac and, with the rise of the new software, BOINC, I received the illustrious user account #123456. I'm saddened to be doing this but, even though I'd shake my fist at the sky should we discover something tomorrow, I won't regret the choice.

I'm still a believer and I revel at the thought of what proof positive would do to our little civilization. I don't think, however, that we'll be the ones to find communicable life within my lifetime, nor do I think I'll win the lottery anytime soon (especially since I don't play it, the same attitude "aliens don't exist"ers cop). Just as the people who don't have the money to spend on said tickets continue to waste it on a hopeful chance of a lifetime, my processing power is becoming more and more valuable as I do more and more concurrently. A lottery win and an alien "sup?" will certainly change lives, but finding life wouldn't truly affect my day to day. No alien emissary would be allowed to wander the populace, nor would I be able to shake, or do something else suitably naughty, to its tentacle. Dying at the hands of an alien invasion isn't entirely the contact I'd like to make, nor do I want the self-doubt inherent in an encounter no other sane person believes.

Good bye, SETI@home: It's been five good years, but I need to make differences where I can, not where I hope.



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