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17 Aug 14:42

Researchers Discover New Plant "Language"

by samzenpus
An anonymous reader writes A Virginia Tech scientist has discovered a potentially new form of plant communication, that allows them to share genetic information with one another. Jim Westwood, a professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, found evidence of this new communication mode by investigating the relationship between dodder, a parasitic plant, and the flowering plant Arabidopsis and tomato plants to which it attaches and sucks out nutrients with an appendage called a haustorium. Westwood examined the plants' mRNA, the molecule in cells that instructs organisms how to code certain proteins that are key to functioning. MRNA helps to regulate plant development and can control when plants eventually flowers. He found that the parasitic and the host plants were exchanging thousands of mRNA molecules between each other, thus creating a conversation.

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09 Jul 20:50

Habitation of the Blessed

by LadyGlutter

The Habitation of the Blessed (A Dirge for Prester John, #1)The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorgeous. A beautiful mythos, interesting and compelling narrative. The book is filled with wonder and joy. Through the lyric prose, Valente shares with the reader her obvious love of language, philosophy, history, theology, and mythology. Intertwined stories of Pentexore, a land of creativity, humor, love, sensuality, and immortality, contrast with an ascetic mindset. It’s challenging and layered, and writing this review freshly after reading it is difficult because I want to give the book its due but I’m still in awe and joy at what I just read.

Some people will probably dislike this story intensely. It’s not for people with little patience for poetic, lyric language, or for those who don’t enjoy trippy, dream-sequence style creativity. If you like direct, to the point, straightforward plots, be warned. This book meanders and dallies and teases the reader, playfully inviting you to suspend your disbelief to an extreme. It’s not for skimming, either; even though it’s a short read, it’s not a quick one because your whole attention needs to be focused to truly get the most out of this book.

The story and references will make much more sense to someone familiar with Christianity. I did a fair amount of research on the creatures in the book as I read, but I think anyone could roll with the descriptions in the story and be fine without that. Valente does a fine job of filling in those details you don’t understand, but it does help to have some of that knowledge, and might serve to frustrate those who don’t want to wait.

I enjoyed it so much. I can’t wait to read more.

View all my reviews

21 May 00:00


Recently, some exoplanet astronomers have managed to use careful analysis of reflected light to discover Earth during the day.
15 Apr 03:03


by LadyGlutter

Duncan and I had a blast helping with this. Ian Cunningham is an awesome person and talent, and we’re proud to support him and our city. We’re at roughly 3:15 or so, and a few other times here and there. It was filmed on International Happiness Day, and will be a memory we’ll always have. “Happy” was just starting to get on my nerves, too. This renewed my love of the tune.

We’re at Railroad Park. Lots of friends participated in this film. It makes me happy.

10 Apr 16:42

More from The Portlandia Activity Book

15 Mar 20:00

How to open a book

by Cory Doctorow

Here's a lovely old advisory from William Matthews Bookseller, explaining how to open a book for the first time, which was a major operation in the age of hand-sewn hardcover bindings.

Unfortunately, Mr Matthews did not include any notes on how to close the books, which was a bit awkward for his customers.

(via That Book Smell)


17 Mar 00:00


The most ridiculous offender of all is the sudoers man page, which for 15 years has started with a 'quick guide' to EBNF, a system for defining the grammar of a language. 'Don't despair', it says, 'the definitions below are annotated.'
04 Mar 13:04

NASA Forgets How To Talk To ICE/ISEE-3 Spacecraft

by Unknown Lamer
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Randall Munroe's XKCD cartoon on the ICE/ISEE-3 spacecraft inspired me to do a little research on why Nasa can no long communicate with the International Cometary Explorer. Launched in 1978 ISEE-3 was the first spacecraft to be placed in a halo orbit at one of Earth-Sun Lagrangian points (L1). It was later (as ICE) sent to visit Comet Giacobini-Zinner and became the first spacecraft to do so by flying through a comet's tail passing the nucleus at a distance of approximately 7800 km. ICE has been in a heliocentric orbit since then, traveling just slightly faster than Earth and it's finally catching up to us from behind, and will return to Earth in August. According to Emily Lakdawalla, it's still functioning, broadcasting a carrier signal that the Deep Space Network successfully detected in 2008 and twelve of its 13 instruments were working when we last checked on its condition, sometime prior to 1999. Can we tell the spacecraft to turn back on its thrusters and science instruments after decades of silence and perform the intricate ballet needed to send it back to where it can again monitor the Sun? Unfortunately the answer to that question appears to be no. 'The transmitters of the Deep Space Network, the hardware to send signals out to the fleet of NASA spacecraft in deep space, no longer includes the equipment needed to talk to ISEE-3. These old-fashioned transmitters were removed in 1999.' Could new transmitters be built? Yes, but it would be at a price no one is willing to spend. 'So ISEE-3 will pass by us, ready to talk with us, but in the 30 years since it departed Earth we've lost the ability to speak its language,' concludes Lakdawalla. 'I wonder if ham radio operators will be able to pick up its carrier signal — it's meaningless, I guess, but it feels like an honorable thing to do, a kind of salute to the venerable ship as it passes by.'"

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28 Feb 17:22

Water Filtration With a Tree Branch

by Soulskill
Taco Cowboy writes "Dirty water is a major cause of mortality in the developing world. 'The most common water-borne pathogens are bacteria (e.g. Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, Vibrio cholerae), viruses (e.g. adenoviruses, enteroviruses, hepatitis, rotavirus), and protozoa (e.g. giardia). These pathogens cause child mortality and also contribute to malnutrition and stunted growth of children.' People have been working on engineering cheaper and cheaper filtration systems for years, but now a group of researchers has found a promising and simple solution: a tree branch. 'Approximately 3 cm^3 of sapwood can filter water at the rate of several liters per day, sufficient to meet the clean drinking water needs of one person.' 'Before experimenting with contaminated water, the group used water mixed with red ink particles ranging from 70 to 500 nanometers in size. After all the liquid passed through, the researchers sliced the sapwood in half lengthwise, and observed that much of the red dye was contained within the very top layers of the wood, while the filtrate, or filtered water, was clear. This experiment showed that sapwood is naturally able to filter out particles bigger than about 70 nanometers.' The team tested E. coli-contaminated water, and the branch was able to filter out 99 percent of the bacterial cells."

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24 Feb 00:00


Let me just scroll down and check behind that rock. Annnnd ... nope, page copyright year starts with '19'. Oh God, is this a WEBRING?
26 Feb 00:00


This image stays roughly in sync with the day (assuming the Earth continues spinning). Shortcut:
06 Feb 05:00

February 06, 2014

Hey geeks! I did another EXCLUSIVE COMIC over at The Nib.
11 Feb 23:32

A Softer World

17 Feb 00:00


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13 Feb 17:36

Vikings' Secret Code Cracked

by timothy
sciencehabit writes "What may look like mere scratches is much more. A 900-year-old Viking code known as jötunvillur has been cracked. The code-cracker, runologist Jonas Nordby from the University of Oslo, deciphered the system after realizing he needed to replace the original runic character with the last sound used to pronounce it. For instance, the runic character 'k' is pronounced 'kaun,' so k becomes n. Nordby believes secret messages were created by the Vikings for entertainment. One piece of wood reads: 'Kiss me.'"

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12 Feb 14:00

At Least She's Strong-Willed

vegans,how i met your mother,TV,funny

Submitted by: Unknown

05 Feb 03:12

India To Build World's Largest Solar Plant

by Soulskill
ananyo writes "India has pledged to build the world's most powerful solar plant. With a nominal capacity of 4,000 megawatts, comparable to that of four full-size nuclear reactors, the 'ultra mega' project will be more than ten times larger than any other solar project built so far, and it will spread over 77 square kilometres of land — greater than the island of Manhattan. Six state-owned companies have formed a joint venture to execute the project, which they say can be completed in seven years at a projected cost of US$4.4 billion. The proposed location is near Sambhar Salt Lake in the northern state of Rajasthan."

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05 Feb 16:29

Should Nuclear and Renewable Energy Supporters Stop Fighting?

by Unknown Lamer
Lasrick writes "A debate is happening in the pages of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that started with their publication of 'Nuclear vs. Renewables: Divided They Fall,' an article by Dawn Stover that chides nuclear energy advocates and advocates of renewable energy for bickering over the deck chairs while climate change sinks the ship, and while the fossil fuel industry reaps the rewards of the clean energy camp's refusal to work together. Many of the clean energy folks took umbrage at the description of nuclear power as 'clean energy,' so the Civil Society Institute has responded with a detailed look at exactly why they believe nuclear power will not be needed as the world transitions to clean energy."

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04 Feb 19:45

Turning a source of noise into an error-correcting qubit

by John Timmer
A device for accessing the nitrogen vacancies of a diamond.

When you set a bit in a normal computer, you expect it to stay set; computers rely on a variety of technologies to ensure it does. The challenge of maintaining a bit is substantially harder in a quantum computer, where any interactions between a qubit and its environment can change the value stored in the qubit. As a result, most quantum bits have a lifetime on the order of milliseconds or less.

Now, researchers have figured out how to turn a source of noise into a solution for maintaining quantum memory. By individually addressing some of the atoms surrounding a qubit, they've turned each into an additional form of storage. By storing a single value in the qubit and its neighbors, they've created a form of error correction for quantum memory.

The research team, a collaboration between Delft University of Technology and the University of Iowa, was focusing on one of the standard forms of qubit storage: a nitrogen vacancy in diamond. Since nitrogen can only form three covalent bonds (instead of carbon's four), it ends up with unpaired electrons when present in the regular matrix of a diamond. Those electrons can then be addressed as qubits, with their state set and read using light of the appropriate wavelength.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments


04 Feb 19:00

Kim Stanley Robinson on science fiction and California: "California is a terraformed space"

by Cory Doctorow

In this interview with Boom Magazine, Kim Stanley Robinson discusses the relationship of California to the future. Robinson is a profound ecological thinker, and two of his books in particular, Pacific Edge (the best utopian/optimistic novel I've ever read) and 2312 (a dazzling work of environmentally conscious, wildly imaginative eco-futurism) are both important works for thinking about a way out of our current dire situation.

In this interview, Robinson's analysis is particularly cogent, making a microcosm out of California for the whole world, and making important points about the way that good technology is key to any answer to questions about humanity's future on and off Earth. Especially worth reading are his views on the relationship of science to capitalism:

"Capitalism’s effect on humanity is not at all what science’s effect is on humanity. If you say science is nothing but instrumentality and capitalism’s technical wing, then you’re saying we’re doomed. Those are the two most powerful social forces on the planet, and now it’s come to a situation of science versus capitalism. It’s a titanic battle. One is positive and the other negative. We need to do everything we can to create democratic, environmental, utopian science, because meanwhile there is this economic power structure that benefits the few, not very different from feudalism, while wrecking the biosphere. This is just a folk tale, of course, like a play with sock puppets, like Punch and Judy. But I think it describes the situation fairly well."

Pacific Edge was my first attempt to think about what would it be like if we reconfigured the landscape, the infrastructure, the social systems of California. I think eventually that’s where we’ll end up. It may be a five hundred year project. I thought of it as my utopian novel. But the famous problem of utopian novels as a genre is that they are cut off from history. They always somehow get a fresh start. I thought the interesting game to play would be to try to graft my utopia onto history and presume that we could trace the line from our current moment to the moment in the book. I don’t think I succeeded. I wish I had had the forethought to add about twenty pages of expository material on how they got to that society. Later I had a lot of dissatisfactions with Pacific Edge. You can’t have this gap in the history where the old man says, well, we did it, but never explains how. But every time I tried to think of the details it was like—well, Ernest Callenbach wrote Ecotopia, and then explained how they got to it in Ecotopia Emerging. And there’s not a single sentence in that prequel that you can believe. So, Pacific Edge was my attempt, a first attempt, and I think it’s still a nice vision of what Southern California could be. That coastal plain is so nice. From Santa Barbara to San Diego is the most gorgeous Mediterranean environment. And we’ve completely screwed it. To me now, it’s kind of a nightmare. When I go down there it creeps me out. I hope to spend more of my life in San Diego, which is one of my favorite places. But I’ll probably stick to west of the coast highway and stay on the beach as much as I can. I’ll deal, but we can do so much better.

Robinson: California is a terraformed space. I think we have accidentally become terraformers, but of course we are not gods. We don’t actually know enough about ecology, or even about bacteria, to do what we want to do here. We could make environmental changes that could do damage that we can’t recover from, so it’s dangerous. We’re more like the sorcerer’s apprentice. We can do amazing things on this planet, out of hubris, and partial ignorance, and yet we are without the powers to jerk the system back to health if we wreck it. If ocean acidification occurs, we don’t have a chance to shift that back. So we’ve accidentally cast ourselves into this role by our scientific successes, but we don’t have the power to do what we need to do, so we need to negotiate our situation with the environment. The idea that we’re living in the Anthropocene is correct. We are the biggest geological impact now; human beings are doing more to change the planet than any other force, from bedrock up to the top of the troposphere. Of course if you consider twenty million years and plate tectonics, we’re never going to match that kind of movement. It’s only in our own temporal scale that we look like lords of the Earth; when you consider a longer temporality, you suddenly realize we’re more like ants on the back of an elephant. By no means do we have godlike powers on this planet. We have a biological system we can mess up, a thin wrap on the planet’s surface, like cellophane wrapping a basketball. But there is so much we don’t know. You can do cosmology with more certainty than ecology.

Planet of the Future [The Boom]

(Image: Kim Stanley Robinson at Worldcon 2005 in Glasgow, August 2005, Szymon Sokół/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA)


03 Feb 21:07

New laser-printed material is lighter than water, as strong as steel

by Akshat Rathi
Jens Bauer

Materials shape human progress—think Stone Age or Bronze Age. The 21st century has been referred to as the molecular age, a time when scientists are beginning to manipulate materials at the atomic level to create new substances with astounding properties.

Taking a step in that direction, Jens Bauer, at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), and his colleagues have developed a bone-like material that is less dense than water but as strong as some forms of steel. "This is the first experimental proof that such materials can exist," Bauer said.

Material world

Since the Industrial Revolution, our demand for new materials has outstripped supply. We want these materials to do many different things, from improving the speed of computers to withstanding the heat when entering Mars' atmosphere. However, a key feature of most new materials remains in their strength and stiffness—that is, how much load can they carry without bending or buckling.

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03 Feb 22:10

Steam Music beta will soon let you play your music… through Steam

by Kyle Orland

Steam's ever-expanding list of features will soon include a music player. The company recently announced an upcoming beta test for the new music features, designed to integrate local file playback while in a Steam game. Steam users who join the Steam Music community group will be invited into the beta in waves in the near future, according to the announcement.

The features being discussed for the beta so far are about what you'd expect: add a library of local music files, then view them by directory, album, artist, or track. Users will be able to manage playlists and a queue of tracks to play from inside the Steam overlay without having to switch over to an external app. Big Picture and/or SteamOS users can bring up playback options quickly by tapping the guide button, but keyboard-and-mouse users can also manage their music through a menu.

Thus far, Steam Music is slated to only support songs in MP3 format, though a short FAQ states that "this will change over time." The community forums are already brimming with expansion requests, from lossless FLAC and OGG to streaming services like Spotify,, and Google Music.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments


02 Feb 05:00

February 02, 2014

This also works on children.
27 Jan 13:48

The "Triple Package" Explains Why Some Cultural Groups Are More Successful

by samzenpus
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Yale Law School professors Amy Chua, the self-proclaimed 'Tiger Mom,' and her husband Jed Rubenfeld write in the NYT that it may be taboo to say it, but certain ethnic, religious and national-origin groups are doing strikingly better than Americans overall and Chua and Rubenfeld claim to have identified the three factors that account some group's upward mobility. 'It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success,' write Chua and Rubenfeld. 'The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you've done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.' Ironically, each element of the Triple Package violates a core tenet of contemporary American thinking. For example, that insecurity should be a lever of success is anathema in American culture. Feelings of inadequacy are cause for concern or even therapy and parents deliberately instilling insecurity in their children is almost unthinkable. Yet insecurity runs deep in every one of America's rising groups; and consciously or unconsciously, they tend to instill it in their children. Being an outsider in a society — and America's most successful groups are all outsiders in one way or another — is a source of insecurity in itself. Immigrants worry about whether they can survive in a strange land, often communicating a sense of life's precariousness to their children. Hence the common credo: They can take away your home or business, but never your education, so study harder. 'The United States itself was born a Triple Package nation, with an outsized belief in its own exceptionality, a goading desire to prove itself to aristocratic Europe and a Puritan inheritance of impulse control,' conclude Chua and Rubenfeld adding that prosperity and power had their predictable effect, eroding the insecurity and self-restraint that led to them. 'Thus the trials of recent years — the unwon wars, the financial collapse, the rise of China — have, perversely, had a beneficial effect: the return of insecurity...America has always been at its best when it has had to overcome adversity and prove its mettle on the world stage. For better and worse, it has that opportunity again today.'"

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24 Jan 14:33

More Bad News For the F-35

by Soulskill
schwit1 sends this news from Aviation Week: "A new U.S. Defense Department report warns that ongoing software, maintenance and reliability problems with Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 stealth fighter could delay the Marine Corps' plans to start using its F-35 jets by mid-2015. It said Lockheed had delivered F-35 jets with 50 percent or less of the software capabilities required by its production contracts with the Pentagon. The computer-based logistics system known as ALIS was fielded with 'serious deficiencies' and remained behind schedule, which affected servicing of existing jets needed for flight testing, the report said. It said the ALIS diagnostic system failed to meet even basic requirements. The F35 program, which began in 2001, is 70 percent over initial cost estimates, and years behind schedule, but top U.S. officials say it is now making progress. They have vowed to safeguard funding for the program to keep it on track. Earlier this week, the nonprofit Center for International Policy said Lockheed had greatly exaggerated its estimate (PDF) that the F-35 program sustained 125,000 U.S. jobs to shore up support for the program."

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24 Jan 15:49

MSNBC anchor shuts up congresswoman to cut to Bieber

by Rob Beschizza

Yesterday, Biebs was arrested and charged over a drunken driving incident. The unfolding saga was so important that MSNBC host Andrea Mitchel silenced the longtime congresswoman she was interviewing (about NSA domestic spying) to report a preliminary court appearance.

Jane Harman, a Democrat, represented California's 36th district until 2011. [via r/nottheonion]


24 Jan 00:00


'You see the same pattern all over. Take Detroit--' 'Hold on. Why do you know all these statistics offhand?' 'Oh, um, no idea. I definitely spend my evenings hanging out with friends, and not curating a REALLY NEAT database of temperature statistics. Because, pshh, who would want to do that, right? Also, snowfall records.'
24 Jan 00:01


by aaron


23 Jan 02:00

For sale: water-tank castle

by Cory Doctorow
Chris Chandler

$500?! Do what now!?

If you're in New Zealand and want to have the coolest playhouse/LARP-prop south of the equator, this Trademe ad is offering a concrete water-tank converted to a castle for a surprisingly reasonable $500 (you have to pay to move it, though).

This one off creation from an old concrete water tank makes a unique playhouse.

Downstairs dungeon with gate.

Ladder leads to timber & ply 1st. floor.

Painted roof to form turrets.

Perspex windows.

Pictures do not do it justice.

Castle Playhouse (Thanks, Edwin!)

23 Jan 06:00

C3PO and Stormtrooper onesies

by Cory Doctorow

The C3PO onesie isn't quite a kigurumi, but it sure does look cozy. $70, sizes S to XXX-L. Pair it with a Storm Trooper armor onesie and order now to get it in time for a Valentine's Day game of "Naughty droid and stern Imperial foot-slogger."

[Insert "droid you're looking for" joke here.]

Star Wars C-3PO Costume Hooded Union Suit (via Geeks Are Sexy)