Jun 232013

National Geographic has a great article on the discovery and further research related to our cousins the Denisovans. Everyone knows about the Neandarthals, and at this point I think most people know that large portions humans living today have some percentage of Neanderthal DNA. I was completely in the dark about the prospect of another subspecies of Homo sapiens which moved out of Africa and is carried in the DNA of some modern humans – The Denisovans:

A third kind of human, called Denisovans, seems to have coexisted in Asia with Neanderthals and early modern humans… Although the Denisovans’ genome showed that they were more closely related to the Neanderthals, they too had left their mark on us. But the geographic pattern of that legacy was odd. When the researchers compared the Denisovan genome with those of various modern human populations, they found no trace of it in Russia or nearby China, or anywhere else, for that matter—except in the genomes of New Guineans, other people from islands in Melanesia, and Australian Aborigines. On average their genomes are about 5 percent Denisovan. Negritos in the Philippines have as much as 2.5 percent.

What is amazing about this discovery is that it was all discovered from two teeth and part of a finger bone. Three separate individuals who died in a remote cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, a cave which has also been inhabited by Neanderthals and modern humans. Thus far the Denisovians have been found no where else, however, as the article points out the southern climates mean DNA is unlikely to survive. In fact the cool temperature in a Siberian cave is likely the only reason they were able to pull significant DNA out of the finger bone. Genetics and the ability to pull DNA from very old remains is such an incredible change to the way our history is studied – we no longer have to guess at what fragments mean, we can read the history directly from their essence.

Mar 042008

Just in case I didn’t already think Nixon and Kissinger were complete mental bastards: The Nukes of October: Richard Nixon’s Secret Plan to Bring Peace to Vietnam

Nixon decided to try something new: threaten the Soviet Union with a massive nuclear strike and make its leaders think he was crazy enough to go through with it. His hope was that the Soviets would be so frightened of events spinning out of control that they would strong-arm Hanoi, telling the North Vietnamese to start making concessions at the negotiating table or risk losing Soviet military support.

Interesting, a year before and in a political race for the presidency, Nixon intervened to persuade South Vietnam to avoid the talks. This potentially stopped an early peace deal. Nice one, dick.

Codenamed Giant Lance, Nixon’s plan was the culmination of a strategy of premeditated madness he had developed with national security adviser Henry Kissinger. The details of this episode remained secret for 35 years and have never been fully told. Now, thanks to documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, it’s clear that Giant Lance was the leading example of what historians came to call the “madman theory”: Nixon’s notion that faked, finger-on-the-button rage could bring the Soviets to heel.

That’s about the stupidest plan I’ve ever heard of.

Nov 012005

Some folks claim to have found a Bosnian stairs-like pyramid, about 12,000 years old. Photos of the research here.

Scientific sleuth cracks code to $54,000 treasure

Ants in the Amazon rain forest labor to keep their territory free by using formic acid as a herbicide.

The remains of a massive Gold Rush-era sailing ship dating to the early 1800s have been discovered at the site of a large construction project in downtown San Francisco.

MIT professor sacked for fabricating data, investigations into other papers about immune response.

Oct 252005

The Long Now Orrery, photo by Jacob Appelbaum

I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while, but finally got around to it after reading at Boing Boing that the Long Now project unveiled their prototype, the Orrery clock. Jacob Appelbaum has some great photos of the event.

What is all this fuss over a clock? Discover has a lot of good info about The Long Now project.

While nearly every mechanical clock made in the last millennium consists of a series of propelled gears, this one uses a stack of mechanical binary computers capable of singling out one moment in 3.65 million days. Like other clocks, this one can track seconds, hours, days, and years. Unlike any other clock, this one is being constructed to keep track of leap centuries, the orbits of the six innermost planets in our solar system, even the ultraslow wobbles of Earth’s axis.

Made of stone and steel, it is more sculpture than machine. And, like all fine timepieces, it is outrageously expensive. No one will reveal even an approximate price tag, but a multibillionaire financed its construction, and it seems likely that shallower pockets would not have sufficed.

Still, any description of the clock must begin and end with that ridiculous projected working life, that insane, heroic, incomprehensible span of time during which it is expected to serenely tick.

Ten thousand years.

The span of time from the invention of agriculture to the present. Twice as long as the Great Pyramid of Giza has stood. Four hundred human generations…

I find the whole thing amazing. Thinking about humans in this sort of timeline is really unheard of in our culture. They plan to put the clock into a man made cave near Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada. The area is dry, remote, stable, and surrounded by bristlecone pines. Rather appropriate, I think.

There are just so many things about this clock that I find great. The clock is mechanical, and thus will not be a black box to an outsider. It uses the solar system to show the time, something that is easily understood to all people. It has solar synchronization: A sunbeam striking a precisely angled lens at noon triggers a reset by heating, expanding, and buckling a captive band of metal. They plan to make the clock charismatic, and easy to interact with – to even require attention from people. There are also plans to include a library of sorts to the project. This will include things like the Rosetta Project (publicly accessible online archive of ALL documented human languages) and the Long Server (pervasive server and email infrastructure, open source Timeline tools, and file format conversion).

The project is massive, and threatens to become a Library of Alexandria for the future. I love it.

Jul 122005

Human footprints discovered beside an ancient Mexican lake have been dated to 40,000 years ago. Hopefully this will finally make people take a closer look at the Clovis and pre-Clovis viewpoints. Oh, we finally are getting some results on the Kennewick Man after a long legal battle.

Newton’s alchemy manuscript rediscovered in the vaults of the Royal Society.

Stack Rock Fort, about 800 yards off the west Wales coast near Milford Haven, is for sale for £150,000. The 19th Century fort – complete with a couple of cannons – dates back from the time of Napoleon, when it was initially built as a defence for the river Haven. But it has nowhere to sleep at present, and the new owner will have to sort out sewage, water and power.

Underground Ozarks takes a look at D. M. Oberman Manufacturing Company, an abandoned building in Springfield. They also got a tour of Lipscomb Feed Mill, former home of Houn’ Dawg dog food. The mill reminds me of old grain elevators in Alberta.

Another Minsk is a site featuring photos of urban exploration and decay of Minsk in Belarus. Good stuff, just run it through babelfish for the RU to EN translation. Gotta love technology.

Jun 212005

Great urban exploration site: Russian photos and text of abandoned soviet infrastructure

Long-Lost Da Vinci Masterpiece Found Behind Palazzo Walls

“A high-tech art sleuth finds a hollow space behind an Italian palazzo’s murals, and believes he may have discovered a Da Vinci masterpiece not seen since 1563. In a case of life imitating art, Maurizio Seracini, an internationally recognized expert in high-technology art analysis, has done just that – and, in an odd twist, he does indeed appear, as himself, in Dan Brown’s popular bestseller about secrets hidden in Leonardo’s work – the book’s only non-fictional character… Seracini, 55, an alumnus of the University of California, San Diego and a native Florentine, thinks he may be close to finding the lost fresco “Battle of Anghiari” behind murals by Giorgio Vasari in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. Using radar, x-rays and other devices, he discovered a narrow cavity behind the Vasari fresco “Battle of Marciano,” and believes that the latter artist, an admirer of the great Leonardo, intentionally created the space to preserve the master’s work.”

“Archaeologists have discovered Europe’s oldest civilization, a network of dozens of temples, 2,000 years older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. More than 150 gigantic monuments have been located beneath the fields and cities of modern-day Germany, Austria and Slovakia. They were built 7,000 years ago, between 4800BC and 4600BC. Their discovery, revealed today by The Independent, will revolutionize the study of prehistoric Europe, where an appetite for monumental architecture was thought to have developed later than in Mesopotamia and Egypt.”

Interesting book review from the NYT – Forget the Founding Fathers.

“Observed from across the Atlantic, the story of the Revolution looks very different from the one every American child grows up with. To see that story through British eyes, as Stanley Weintraub’s ”Iron Tears: America’s Battle for Freedom, Britain’s Quagmire: 1775-1783” enables us to do, is to see an all-too-familiar tale reinvigorated. Weintraub reminds us that justice did not necessarily reside with the rebels, that the past can always be viewed from multiple perspectives. And he confronts us with the fact that an American triumph was anything but inevitable. History of course belongs to the victors. If Britain’s generals had been more enterprising, if the French had failed to supply vital military and financial assistance, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and the rest would be known to us not as political and philosophical giants but as reckless (and hanged) losers, supporting players in a single act of Britain’s imperial drama. We would all be Canadians now, with lower prescription drug costs and an inordinate fondness for winter sports.”

Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out – Neal Stephenson (I like his books by the way) has some great thoughts on the new Star Wars and geek culture.

“All such content – as well as the long, beautiful, uncluttered shots of desert, sky, jungle and mountain that filled the early episodes – was banished in the first of the prequels (“Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” 1999). In the 16 years that separated it from the initial trilogy, a new universe of ancillary media had come into existence. These had made it possible to take the geek material offline so that the movies could consist of pure, uncut veg-out content, steeped in day-care-center ambience. These newer films don’t even pretend to tell the whole story; they are akin to PowerPoint presentations that summarize the main bullet points from a much more comprehensive body of work developed by and for a geek subculture.”

Careful Google.. power corrupts: Google plans pay service to rival PayPal

Jun 072005

The photos are older (2002), but the subject is quite fascinating – Jason Levine explores the high line. I had never heard of the high line, but I don’t live in NYC. The high line is an elevated set of tracks that span 22 blocks, from 34th Street to Gansevoort Street. Having long been abandoned by trains, there is 6.7 acres of raised space in NYC that was just sitting there, overgrown. It has been threatened with demolition since the 80’s, but now it looks like they will be converting it to public open space. This could be really cool for New York.

Underground Ozarks visits an abandoned Nike missile site near Pleasant Hill, Missouri. This is a really great read, its amazing some of the stuff is still working. Long live UE!

Photos of digital camera dealers in Brooklyn. A lot of these are bigger names, and if you have ever done a pricegrabber search on a camera, you will recognize them. It is surprising how small and dank some of them are.

Selected Civil War Photographs Collection – A great collection of photos and text from a time when photos weren’t so easy.
Images of the American Civil War – Some more photos of the Civil War
American Civil War submarine found near Panama – A unique boat from 1864 may have inspired Jules Verne to create Captain Nemo’s vessel
Is this Blackbeard’s pirate ship?
The mega list: UNESCO’s World Heritage List sorted by country. It is interesting to browse through them all. Surprisingly, I’ve actually been to a few of them.

May 292005

(All photos for this are posted here)

Friday, May 13th. Anna and I went to see John Prine at Spreckels Theatre. I wasn’t very familiar with his music, but Anna convinced me I would like him. She wasn’t wrong. John Prine has a Dylan-esque voice. In other words, not the best in the world. But it perfectly fits his great story-style of song writing. I really enjoyed the concert.

I also really enjoyed the venue. Spreckels is an amazing location. The old offices wrap around a very grand old theatre. The offices themselves are quite cool. Glass doors, tiny hexagon tile hallways, original bathrooms, and huge windows that actually open. The offices could easily pass the set test for a film noir/detective movie. Curiously, a lot of these great offices seem to be vacant. I wonder why there was so much prime office space left unused. My only guess is that they are less desirable since the building has no central air. But with a almost steady breeze from the bay, I think it would be just fine to work here. I wish I could get away from the AC in my office. Makes one tempted to set up shop, the building and location are quite amazing.

The theatre is definitely the star of the building. The decor is very extravagant and has some great plaster work. The paintings aren’t fantastic, but their scope and setting set them apart. I am very impressed this has survived in downtown San Diego, where everything seems to be torn down to make way for condos. If you ever get a chance to see a show here, do not pass it up.

Lots of links here for info on J Spreckels. A brief bio from here:

In the first six years of the new century, San Diego would recover the population it lost in the crash of 1889. John D. Spreckels, the sugar heir who had invested heavily in San Diego, would remain a San Francisco resident during those years, and pour millions of the Spreckels family money into a city he would dominate, sometimes in absentia, for the next two decades. Spreckels owned the streetcar system, two of the town’s three newspapers (The San Diego Union and the Evening Tribune), most of Coronado and North Island and the landmark Hotel del Coronado, which had been built at a cost of more than $1 million in 1888 and which Spreckels had taken over when its builder had been unable to repay a loan of $100,000.

Interesting how boom and bust San Diego has been and continues to be.