Monthly Archives: September 2012

Windows 8: The Boldest, Biggest Redesign In Microsoft’s History

THIS FALL, A BILLION PC USERS WILL WAKE UP TO A NEW DESKTOP–WINDOWS 8. COULD IT SIGNAL A DESIGN REVOLUTION AT MICROSOFT?

A pair of leggy, lipsticked models stop short outside a casting call at Milk Studios, a cavernous space in Hollywood known for art shows and photo shoots. They edge forward in 4-inch heels, intrigued by the sidewalk scene: a snaking line of balding reporters and backpacked bloggers sweating in the June afternoon heat. Not exactly the red carpet at Fashion Week. “It’s for Microsoft,” an attendee mumbles when asked about the commotion. Thick-framed Ray-Bans do nothing to hide the models’ puzzled looks.

A good 40 minutes after the crowd began to form, the doors open and more than a hundred reporters shuffle into the space and take their seats. The room darkens, the caffeinated stares of live-bloggers lit only by the glow of MacBook Airs. (Not for crew members, who joke that their instructions are “No fruit allowed”; Microsoft higher-ups had forbidden them from bringing iGadgets to the event.) A bass-heavy pop song blasts over the speakers as CEO Steve Ballmer stomps out in front of the crowd, his Shrek-like stature dominating the stage, to unveil the star of the show: the Surface tablet, the first PC device that Microsoft has manufactured in its 30-year history.

In the center is Sam Moreau, who led the Windows user experience team.

The buzz, the secrecy, the horde of reporters–one might expect this from Apple, not the corporate giant responsible for Clippy and blue screens of death. The attention was warranted, too. The Surface, with its ultrathin magnesium casing and integrated kickstand, might be the iPad’s most compelling competitor yet.

But what was really revolutionary at Milk Studios that day was the software driving the Surface: Windows 8, which aims to change the way we’ve been interacting with computers for the past three decades. Windows 8 could also transform the nature of the software giant’s competition with home-run king Apple, potentially reversing a string of embarrassing defeats, especially in the mobile market. Even more improbably, Microsoft is building this comeback attempt not on its traditional strength–engineering–but on, of all things, design.

IT’S NOT ABOUT ADORNMENTS. IT’S ABOUT TYPOGRAPHY, COLOR, MOTION. THAT’S THE PIXEL.

Microsoft has united around a set of design principles that it dubbed Metro, a slick, intuitive, and playful visual language that is seeping into the company’s product portfolio, from Office to Bing to Windows Phone to Xbox, creating a common platform for hardware of all types. You won’t be seeing the word Metro in Microsoft’s branding because of a reported last-minute naming conflict with a European partner. But as manifested in Windows 8, these principles embody what the company has called an “authentically digital” experience. Gone are the icon-studded toolbars and drop-down menus and artificial glassy reflections; Windows 8 emphasizes a stripped-down user interface that’s flat and without flourish. “It’s not about adornments,” says Sam Moreau, the director of user experience for Windows. “It’s about typography, color, motion. That’s the pixel.”

NOTE

The Innovation by Design Awards on October 16 will celebrate the controversial ideas, new products, business ventures, and wild ideas highlighted every day on Co.Design. Award Winners in nine categories will be unveiled at the event. Register today.

With 1 billion users of its operating system, Microsoft’s novel approach to interface design could cause tectonic shifts in the way software of all sorts is conceived. And therein lies the risk. Windows has long been Microsoft’s bread and butter: 336 million Windows PCs were sold in 2011–roughly 10 per second–a large chunk of which went to corporate customers, who are constitutionally resistant to change. The Surface could add to the disruption, as third-party hardware makers will soon be in the awkward position of having to compete with the company they support. But Microsoft has no choice other than to bet on its new software design. For if Apple has proved anything, it’s that design has become big business in the technology world. 

“It’s the ultimate design challenge,” Moreau says. “You’ve got 25 years of Windows behind you. There’s a responsibility to preserve it but also to evolve–knowing that when you change something, you’re changing how computing works.”

Live tiles display real-time updates for email, weather, and more, giving immediate context without having to dive into a web page or widget.

 

Visually, at least, Windows 8 is the simplest version of the operating system ever. For years, software has followed the same formula: The user interface mimics a real-life desktop, with documents filed in folders and pictographic icons that act as visual metaphors of a software program’s function. It’s a legacy of the graphical user interface (GUI) popularized in the 1980s by Apple. Operating systems have largely seen only incremental innovations since Windows 1.0 and the original Macintosh. They do many more tricks than before, but the underlying blueprint is the same.

METRO HAS A NOBLE PROVENANCE: THE BAUHAUS SCHOOL, THE GERMAN MODERNIST MOVEMENT OF THE 1920S AND 1930S.

Windows 8 rips that blueprint to shreds. The new face of Windows is a Mondrianesque grid of tiles colored like Skittles. Clicking on a tile will bring up your news or your inbox or your documents. Within these Metro-style apps are no toolbars or framed windows–just an immersive full-screen experience. The UI is minimal, featuring only clean typography, basic icons, and intermittent animations that provide real-time updates for, say, a new email or calendar appointment. Even the famous start button–the icon occupying the lower left corner since Windows 95–is gone. (Users can still access the old desktop-based UI if they wish, but it’s been relegated to an application within Windows 8.)

Metro has a noble provenance: the Bauhaus school, the German modernist movement of the 1920s and 1930s. Its central ethos was that materials must be treated in ways that speak to their essential nature. “Reducing down to the most beautiful form and function–that’s what the Bauhaus was all about,” Moreau says. Fashioning metal to look like wood, for example, was tantamount to a crime. These standards have driven architects and graphic designers ever since.

The Bauhaus ideal came to permeate life in all sorts of everyday objects–chairs, lamps, teapots–and by the 1960s, utilitarian design was helping passengers navigate city streets, highways, and transit hubs. Indeed, the language of Metro was initially sparked by way-finding systems in subways and airports. Jeff Fong, principal design lead for Windows Phone and a founder of the Metro principles, cites among his inspirations the signage at Heathrow’s 1961 Oceanic Terminal (now Terminal 3) for its crisp typography and no-fuss iconography, and Italian designer Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 New York City subway map. “That structure, that order, that grid system–there’s something so clear and direct about it,” he says of the lucidity of both. “Before we called it Metro, we actually called it Airport.”

 

EDITOR’S NOTE

For a harsh critique of Apple’s reliance on skeuomorphism, voiced by former Apple designers,click here.

 

As in Bauhaus design, with its fidelity to the essence of materials, the most innovative element of Metro is its shift away from visual metaphors. That imitative system, called skeuomorphism, is another legacy of GUI. Before users were accustomed to working with computers, designers had to make on-screen applications legible–for example, a digital Rolodex to denote where contacts were stored. Skeuomorphism has since flooded into all areas of UI design–most prevalently (and jarringly, to some) in Apple’s software, where digital calendars have faux-leather stitching and bookshelves an Ikea-like veneer. “We think stuff like leather stitching is just a useless distraction,” says Moreau, who seems genuinely repulsed by excessive GUI, as if it were actually gooey and not just pronounced that way. Team Microsoft believes consumers have developed a fluency for digital interfaces and no longer need those kitschy translations. In Bauhaus-speak, software designers can finally let the pixel be a pixel. 

That Microsoft would come to invoke the Bauhaus is an unlikely turn of events. The impetus isn’t coming from a Ministry of Design or an aesthetics-obsessed CEO. “Unlike other companies that maybe have one person at the top, we don’t have a [design] czar at Microsoft,” says Julie Larson-Green, VP of program management for Windows. Of Metro, she adds, “It’s not like Steve [Ballmer] decreed it.” One former longtime Microsoft manager put it bluntly: “I don’t think Steve could even spell the word design.” And unlike Steve Jobs, who was infamous for meddling in every detail of Apple’s product launches, Ballmer didn’t go to any of the rehearsals at Milk Studios for the unveiling of the Surface; his part was played by a stand-in till he arrived on the day. 

So if the brass were so indifferent to design, how did this thinking emerge at Microsoft at all?

In May 2009, Julie Larson-Green corralled 150 thought leaders from various Microsoft groups (Office, Phone, Bing, Xbox) in the Redmond, Washington, campus conference center to kick off planning for Windows 8. MC Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit” boomed throughout the auditorium, and the crowd watched as Sam Moreau and fellow Windows designer Jensen Harris rifled through then-and-now pictures of Jodie Foster. They wanted to demonstrate how much the world had changed since 1992, when baggy pants and The Silence of the Lambs were in and the first memo circulated at Microsoft about a new kind of UI that would go into Windows 95.

The new social app corrals your fragmented networks–Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn–into one simple hub of status updates.

But the PowerPoint presentation took a serious turn when Moreau and Harris, self-described partners in crime, began displaying images of revolutionary products followed by their disruptive successors: Sony’s PlayStation 2 controller replaced by Nintendo’s Wii remote, Yahoo’s home page supplanted by Google’s search box. They didn’t want to wait for Windows to be shunted aside. As Larson-Green says, “It’s a risk to do something new, but it’s also a risk to sit where we are. There’s always an opportunity to think different.”

 

SO IF THE BRASS WERE SO INDIFFERENT TO DESIGN, HOW DID THIS THINKING EMERGE AT MICROSOFT AT ALL?

Call it a Freudian slip that Larson-Green would invoke Apple’s famous slogan to describe the innovator’s dilemma faced by Microsoft. If anything, the warning came late; the company had already become the complacent incumbent and fallen behind in music players, e-readers, and smartphones. The PowerPoint presentation did include a slide for the iPhone (conveniently compared to a BlackBerry), the perfect symbol of the disruption Microsoft suffered in mobile operating systems, where it once owned a 42% market share. Apple’s iPad now generates more revenue than Windows does; iPhone sales alone eclipsed Microsoft’s total revenue of about $74 billion for the fiscal year ending in June.

So Microsoft embraced design not because Ballmer suddenly discovered beauty or started futzing around with typefaces, but because Apple showed that good design can be obscenely profitable. “We have recognized the value of [design],” says P.J. Hough, head of Microsoft’s Office division, “and we have decided to make it a much higher priority.” A former senior-level Microsoft source who advised Ballmer puts it a touch more tartly: “They’re placing an emphasis on design because the dollars sit there. They’re looking at Apple’s market cap.”

Still, the Windows 8 designers can’t quite pinpoint the origins of the company’s new religion, not least because they have worked without attention from top management. According to insiders, Ballmer offered no direction to the Windows 8 team on the features of the new user interface. Windows president Steven Sinofsky kept him abreast of the team’s progress, but Ballmer met with Larson-Green only twice during the development process, and he never got together with the team to green-light the design.

Now, after a long, hard slog, the company’s top designers have a wider field of play. At 41, Moreau is young for Microsoft’s leadership team; he joined the company only in 2006. (“Internally, that’s code for ‘Vista isn’t my fault,’ ” he has joked.) With a boyish grin, he speaks eagerly but unpretentiously about Swiss graphic design and Josef Mueller-Brockmann, its exemplar; you imagine the documentary Helvetica sitting atop his Netflix queue. Moreau has teamed up with veterans such as Windows Phone SVP Joe Belfiore, who joined Microsoft in 1990 as an engineer, to provide downfield blocking for designers. Sources praise the pair for “lowering barriers” and “putting a lot on the line and really battling with management.”

Their work has let Microsoft steal a beat on Apple, winning the company some unfamiliar praise. “I think Microsoft is ahead of everyone else,” argues Gadi Amit, founder of design agency NewDealDesign. “They’re no longer chasing Apple; they’re actually making Apple look old. That’s a really unexpected turn of events in design and the competition between these two powerhouses.”

Microsoft and Apple have long been at odds over software design. If any company has exemplified skeuomorphism, it’s Apple. As Microsoft flattens its interface, Apple continues to push its software toward more glossiness, more 3-D, more bevel. Apple recently demonstrated a feature in iOS 6, the next version of its mobile operating system, that will delete used e-tickets and coupons with an animated paper shredder.

Inside Apple, tension has built up between supporters and detractors of these digital trompe l’oeils. Scott Forstall, Apple’s SVP of iOS, is a big supporter of the skeuomorphic approach. But industrial design SVP Jonathan Ive and other top Apple staff are said to despise the trend, according to several former senior Apple designers who wished not to be identified. “You could tell who did the product based on how much glitz was in the UI,” says one source familiar with Apple’s design process.

One former senior UI designer who worked closely with Jobs traces skeuomorphism back to the Apple cofounder himself. “Steve pushed it hard,” the source says. “The iCal’s leather stitching was taken directly from a texture in his Gulfstream jet. There was lots of internal email among UI designers at Apple saying this was just embarrassing, just terrible.” Apple declined to comment for this story.

Much of the criticism of Apple’s software design hasn’t made its way into the mainstream consciousness partly because, as industrial designer Yves Behar puts it, “People think that everything Apple does is sent from God.” But its software, once as widely praised for its polish as Microsoft’s was (and still is) derided for its glitches, clunkiness, and vulnerability to malware, now faces a legitimate rival in Windows. “My teenage daughter has never seen some of these GUI metaphors,” says Amit. “She doesn’t use a Rolodex or the calendar my grandmother used 50 years ago. Microsoft finally broke through this paradigm.”

Behar agrees and is surprised that Apple, so renowned for its Bauhaus approach to hardware and the beauty of its devices, would tolerate such embellishments in its software. “It’s distasteful because it’s inherently confusing,” he says. “The digital bookshelf doesn’t really work like a bookshelf. Microsoft is showing the way to higher, cleaner, more functional design.”

Even so, it may be too early to declare that Microsoft has turned over a new leaf, especially in terms of commitment from its leadership. “If the importance and value and DNA of design aren’t trickling down, they sure as hell are going to have a hard time trickling up,” says Ian Sands, the former senior director of Microsoft’s product long-term vision and strategy, who left the company in 2010. Louis Danziger, an independent graphic designer who has consulted with Microsoft since 1995 and taught many of its top designers, also has doubts. “The software engineers and product managers there often think of design as lipstick,” he writes via email, “something applied at the end to enhance appearance rather than an enabler of their activity, which it is.”

NO MATTER HOW LOVELY THE NEW FACE OF WINDOWS 8, THE SUSPICION IS THAT THE OLD MICROSOFT IS HIDDEN ONE LAYER BENEATH.

At Apple, by contrast, design is embedded in the culture. One former top designer who has worked at both Apple and Microsoft recalls visiting the Apple shipping unit and discovering workers carefully loading boxes so the logos all faced the same direction. “I asked why and one guy explained that he loved the look on people’s faces when he threw open the truck doors and revealed all the boxes perfectly aligned,” the director says. “They weren’t instructed to do that. I know that’s just a simple example, but I mean, it’s the guys in shipping and receiving!”

It was 2010 when Moreau and Larson-Green laid eyes on the first mock-up of Windows 8, named “Pocahontas” to reflect their journey into a new world of design. Since then, Metro has worked its way into other products and software applications. The Xbox features a dashboard of tiles branded with modern typography. Bing touts a Spartan design that fuses social networking with search. And in the next version of Office, blue, green, and red ribbons will slide out from the left side of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint when users, say, print or save a document, providing a simplified interface for navigation. Most menus will seamlessly refresh rather than disgorge clunky pop-up boxes, and all files will be stored in the cloud by default. Much of the clutter will be gone–fewer buttons, no drop shadows–and, like Windows 8, Office will be touch-screen ready.

On October 26, Microsoft will release Windows 8 to the world, and the company will finally learn if its bet on design has paid off. Microsoft knows that it faces a stern test in the market, especially with corporate customers, for whom elegant design has never been a decisive factor, as Apple could tell you. But whether or not users love Windows 8, Moreau and his team have done something new; they have taken it to Apple; they have won a little respect.

And yet… inside Windows 8, past its novel and beautiful skin, lie many elements of the past. Just one click away, in the desktop app, is the old world of Microsoft–toolbars, task bars, drop-down menus, cluttered folder systems. Even the company’s flagship browser, Internet Explorer, once a key to Microsoft’s future on the web, remains a symbol for the addiction to this bygone era. Two versions of Explorer come installed on Windows 8, one pre- and one post-Metro. No matter how lovely the new face of Windows 8, the suspicion is that the old Microsoft is hidden one layer beneath–all you have to do is scratch the surface.

In late March, I spoke with Moreau about this legacy on a visit to Soho House, a pricey, members-only club in Manhattan’s meatpacking district. In the fifth-floor library, framed by elements he banished from Windows–leather-bound books, wood paneling–I asked him whether Windows would ever be free of all the cobwebs.

“I have no idea,” he says, swirling the ice in his glass. “We haven’t even started thinking about what’s after this. It’s enough just to build this thing.” He adds, “It’s true that people don’t like change. But we don’t do things frivolously. I don’t want someone to be frustrated or mad–that hurts my heart.”

And who knew Microsoft had a heart?

A version of this article appears in the October 2012 issue of Fast Company.

Paris’ Louvre Museum unveils Islamic Art wing

Paris’ Louvre Museum unveils Islamic Art wing

PARIS — The Louvre Museum is unveiling a new wing and galleries dedicated to the arts of Islam, culminating a nearly $130 million, decade-long project coming to fruition amid tensions between the Muslim world and the West.

The new dragonfly-shaped building marks the famed Paris museum’s greatest development since its iconic glass pyramid constructed 20 years ago. The Department of Islamic Art will exhibit much of the Louvre’s 18,000 works, hoping also to foster cultural understanding.

Mosaics from the Damascus mosque and a 15th-century Mamluk porch are among works spanning from 632 to 1800 A.D. Donors included Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and Saudi Prince Waleed Bin Talal’s foundation.

Louvre director Henri Loyrette says the galleries aim to showcase “the radiant face of a civilization.”

The wing, with its mission of heightening cross-cultural understanding, is opening at a tense — and perhaps opportune — time.

France stepped up security Wednesday at its embassies across the Muslim world after a French satirical weekly published lewd caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were firebombed last year, was brandishing its right to free speech. But the publication raised concerns that France could face violent protests like the ones targeting the United States over an amateur video produced in California ridiculing the prophet that have left at least 30 people dead.

French officials said the weekly was throwing “oil on the fire” and urged calm. France has western Europe’s largest Muslim population.

In a sign of the political importance of the new Louvre exhibit, French President Francois Hollande attended an opening ceremony Tuesday, calling it a “political gesture in the service of respect for peace.” The Saudi prince and the president of Azerbaijan, accompanied him.

Hollande criticized those who “destroy the values of Islam by resorting to violence and hate.”

“The best weapons for fighting fanaticism that claims to be coming from Islam are found in Islam itself,” he said. “What more beautiful message than that demonstrated here by these works.”

The Louvre opened a department of Islamic art in 2003, under former President Jacques Chirac, who said he wanted to highlight the contributions of Muslim civilizations on Western culture. Chirac, who vigorously opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, constantly pushed for the idea of a “dialogue of cultures” to break down the misunderstandings between the West and the Muslim world.

But its gallery could initially display only a fraction of the thousands of pieces of art from the Muslim world, so it decided under Chirac on an ambitious expansion.

The museum opens to the public Saturday.


Top 30 Aphrodisiac Foods

Top 30 Aphrodisiac Foods

If you seek an all-natural way to improve your lovemaking skills,

 you need to only look into the bounty of Nature. Nature provides a host of aphrodisiacs that are scientifically proven to ward off boudoir blues. Read on!

1. Maca Roots

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If you are unfazed by its humble appearance, don’t let its unattractiveness fool you. Sworn by the Peruvians to be the most powerful aphrodisiac ever, Maca roots boost sexual strength and libido. A confirmed super food, Maca roots not only add zing to any given dish, but also improve immunity and functionality.

2. Cacao

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Do you ever wonder why women deem chocolates to be the next best thing to sex? It is because dark chocolate contains enough natural stimulants to fuel physical agility during the act. Just one bite is enough to release enough endorphins to delay the climax and provide enough strength to engage in a never-ending night of passion. Besides, nothing can be sexier than licking melted dark chocolate off her naked skin.

3. Chillies

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When people talk of chillies setting their hearts on fire, they don’t mean it lightly. Capsaicin, the essential compound that gives heat, is responsible for an influx of endorphins. This results in heightened blood circulation, stimulated nerves and an increased heart rate. A mere bite can imitate the state of arousal and make you sweaty and excited.

4. Cardamom

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With its roots in the Indian Vedas, Cardamoms are proven aphrodisiacs. Rich in cineole, a small pinch of cardamom powder is enough to release nerve stimulants to keep fuelling your passions all night long.

5. Ginger

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The acrid heat of ginger not only makes for a fine cup of spiced tea, but also adds spice to your sex life. Ginger extracts induce elevated heart rates and higher body temperatures. What more can one need?

6. Pumpkin Seeds

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If you hate pumpkins, then you cannot afford to hate the delicious little seeds within. These seeds are the key to let loose your inner sexual beast. Complete with large quantities of zinc and essential fatty acids, these seeds are a go-to for people seeking a raging sex life.

7. Oysters

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It is easy to be judgmental about oysters because of their slimy appearance and pungent taste. But ask a Frenchman and he’d swear by its aphrodisiacal properties that can send women into an uncontrollable sexual frenzy. Loaded with zinc and monounsaturated oils, oysters aid in an unparalleled sexual experience.

8. Hemp

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Hemp can easily be deemed as the magical ingredient for booming sexual health. Its multifarious uses have been aiding sexual fervour in men ever since ancient times. Extracts from its seed, sap and vine have been said to contain sufficient quantities of monounsaturated fatty acids and essential oil to aid in an electrifying sexual experience.

9. Almonds

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Almonds are replete in essential oils that aid in testosterone production. The increased levels help in sustaining better intercourse and prolonged copulation. A handful of almonds consumed daily will help sustain raging libidos.

10. Garlic

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Do not judge the mean little clove by its stench. Garlic contains a surprisingly high amount of allicin, which helps to regulate the flow of blood to the sexual organs. A daily dose of garlic will help boost the libido and prevent sexual fatigue.

11. Bananas

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Bananas are rightfully shaped so suggestively. With the abundant content of Vitamin B6, a healthy intake of bananas helps in regulating hormones and serotonin secretion. Serotonin is mainly responsible for the euphoric feeling of complete satisfaction after intercourse. The sugar content is a careful balance of complex and simple sugars that provide you with enough energy to last all night.

12. Pomegranate Juice

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If you suffer from erectile dysfunction, grab a glass of pomegranate juice immediately. The health benefits of pomegranate have been celebrated for its tendency to improve circulation and aid in proper organ development, but its aphrodisiacal qualities have been sorely undermined. A cup of pomegranate juice contains enough antioxidants to abolish free radicals from the body. This leads to better blood circulation and lasting erections.

13. Goji Berries

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The deemed super foods of South East Asia, Goji Berries are natural wonders in the guise of aphrodisiacs. These sweet little nubs are packed with essential vitamins to boost testosterone and sperm production. Not only do they alter moods but also aid in better sexual arousal.

14. Ginseng

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Ginseng is literally called the root of desire. Ginseng extracts have been known to initiate sexual attraction by stabilising hormone levels. A regular dose is guaranteed to set the bedroom ablaze with desire and passion.

15. Celery

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Celery is a storehouse of andesterone, a pheromone that arouses sexual attraction in women. Including enough of this crunchy vegetable into your diet will ensure a raging sex life for as long as you live.

16. Gingko Biloba

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This oriental herb is a natural boon for sexual productivity. Gingko Biloba is packed with essential nutrients that help in increasing fertility and aid in sexual arousal.

17. Guava

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If you love guavas, then you’re in for a treat! Guavas are rich in Vitamin C and help in improving blood circulation. They also promote lasting erections. Besides, can there be anything sexier than sharing a bowl of frozen fruit salad on a sweltering summer afternoon?

18. Salmon

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The wild variety is an extremely good source of Omega-3 fatty acids. These essential oils help in proper glandular development and lead to increased response to arousal. Roll up some salmon sushi, pour a glass of wine and let passions take over.

19. Avocado

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Also known as butter fruit, avocadoes are extremely rich sources of monounsaturated fats. These fats help in proper testosterone synthesis and maintain energy levels during intercourse.

20. Green Leafy Vegetables

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Green leafy vegetables are fresh sources of zinc, iron and the essential vitamins that aid in proper physical development and sexual sustenance.

21. Asparagus

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Asparagus has had its aphrodisiacal properties proven, ever since its use in 16th century France. Rich in potassium, thiamine, folic acid, Vitamins A, C and E, asparagus helps boost orgasms with its histamine properties.

22. Basil

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A sprinkle of dried basil in your pasta is sure to send your sweetheart into a passionate frenzy. Basil is the most common, and therefore, the most effective of all aphrodisiacs. With its enchanting aroma and stimulating taste, it is said to induce passionate lovemaking. The heat from the aroma leads to the productions of powerful pheromones that build up sexual attraction in men.

23. Figs

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Figs are steeped in Biblical references and historical origins and are known as the oldest aphrodisiac known to man. Not only do they improve health, they also stimulate lasting erections, delayed climaxes and increased fertility.

24. Foie Gras

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This decadently exotic food is an extremely stimulating aphrodisiac at its best. Made from the liver of a fattened duck, foie gras contains sufficient quantities of iron and zinc to boost blood circulation and nerve sensitivity. This results in lasting erections and delayed orgasm.

25. Pine Nuts

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Rich in essential fatty acids and iron, pine nuts have been a constant solution for men, since the medieval times. Their fatty acids help in maintaining sexual fertility, and enhancing testosterone and sperm production, resulting in overall sexual well-being.

26. Truffles

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Although completely exotic and exceedingly rare, truffles are among the best dietary aphrodisiacs known to man. A small quantity grated on to your pasta will not only call for good taste, but also for raging intercourse post-consumption. Truffles heighten the skin’s sensitivity to touch, thereby making sure that the passion never dies out.

27. Wine

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A glass of red wine is desire personified. The essential nutrients in wine help reduce stress, lower heart rate and stabilise hormones. Drinking a glass of red wine dulls your inhibitions and increases your libido, ensuring that the sun never sets on your passionate coupling.

28. Strawberries

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These beautiful morsels are an excellent source of Vitamin C. The enchanting aroma and scintillating taste is what makes them such a powerful aphrodisiac. Try eating strawberries together; you’ll soon be consumed by a flood of passion.

29. Saffron

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The extremely exotic spice is exactly what you need to stroke the flame of passion. When taken with warm milk, it is said to boost sexual energies and help you keep going all night long.

30. Honey

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A fantastically rich source of boron, the sweet nectarine goodness of honey is said to boost the sex drive and induce delayed orgasms. Its rich Vitamin B content helps in producing testosterone to aid in better sexual health.

Now, one can blissfully get rid of their vials of miracle pills. With this list in hand, one might never need to surface from their eternal coitus.

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4 Top Foods that boost male fertility

Foods that boost male fertility

Foods like pumpkin seeds, pomegranate juice, oysters, asparagus, fruits and vegetables help increase fertility in men. Read on

Almost 40% of the current male population is reported to suffer from problems relating to infertility.

This has been credited to the lifestyle that men nowadays lead accompanied by a not so healthy dose of fertility busting foods like junk food, caffeinated drinks and alcohol. Instead of indulging in such harmful foods here are foods that will increase your odds of becoming a parent.


Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds contain a good dose of zinc which is said to increase the sperm count. They also contain essential fatty acids like Omega-3 which enhance the blood flow to sexual organs. Other good sources of Omega-3 acids are almonds, sardines, salmon and flaxseed.

Pomegranate

Foods That Boost Male Fertility

Pomegranate contains a huge amount of antioxidants which help prevent damage against sperms that leads them to becoming sluggish and losing the ability to fertilize an egg. Drinking pomegranate juicealso increases the sperm count as well as fight against erectile dysfunction.

Oysters

Foods That Boost Male Fertility

Oysters are well-known as aphrodisiacs which are famous for boosting one’s sexual drive. Likepumpkin seeds, oysters are also rich in zinc. Consuming a mere 15mg of oysters a day, reportedly helps you to repair the sperm damage caused by environmental and chemical factors.

Asparagus

Foods That Boost Male Fertility

Asparagus is one food that has been celebrated since the medieval ages for its ability to rev up the sexual drive in both men and women. In fact, asparagus was used by people of medieval ages to treat infertility. It contains Vitamin C which aids in raising your testosterone and sperm count.

Other Fruits and Vegetables

Foods That Boost Male Fertility

There are many other fruits and vegetables that can increase you chances of preventing fertility. An apple a day is said to keep the sperm count increasing. Another fruit banana is known as a “sexual super food” since it is a rich source of protein, magnesium, Vitamin A, B1 and C. Tomatoes are said to contain an antioxidant called carotenoid lycopene which helps in increasing the sperm count since men struggling with infertility generally have low lycopene levels in the body. (HealthMensXP.com)

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New Mineral Surprise From Space

NASA : Four-billion-year-old surprise from space


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A group of NASA scientists have discovered a new mineral of space origin in one of the most historically significant celestial objects – a meteorite found in Antarctica in 1969.

 

The new mineral was discovered by NASA scientists inside the meteorite known as Yamato 691, according to NASA’s official report. The meteorite was among the first nine meteorites discovered by the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition in the ice-fields of Antarctica in 1969. The analysis has shown that it is over 4.5 billion years old and originated from an asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.

 

Latest discoveries by NASA scientists and their co-researchers from Japan and South Korea revealed small inclusions of an unknown mineral in the meteorite specimen. It was discovered surrounded by other materials of unidentified nature that are now being investigated as well.

 

The newly discovered mineral is made up of sulfur and titanium molecules that form an intricate crystal lattice. The characteristics of the lattice have yet to be defined. The mineral makes up only a tiny fraction of the sample (50 x 450 nanometers, or less than one-hundredth width of human hair). Yet it is an important integral part of its chemical composition.

 

The finding was named Wassonite in honor of Prof. John Wasson (UCLA) known for his unrivaled achievements in meteorite research. The research team, headed by NASA scientist Keiko Nakamura-Messenger, added the mineral to the list approved by the International Mineralogical association. Wassonite is unlikely to be found on Earth; therefore the discovery is quite outstanding.

 

Wassonite is probably not the only mineral that for billions of years has remained unknown to scientists. Meteorites from Antarctica hold many mysteries that fascinate researchers worldwide. ‘More secrets of the universe can be revealed from these specimens using 21st century nano-technology,’ said Nakamura-Messenger, once again emphasizing the pivotal role of the nano-technology equipment available at NASA facilities.

 

All in all the searches in Antarctica resulted in recovering over 40,000 specimens of celestial materials including Martian and Lunar meteorites. The co-discoverer of Wassonite, Lindsay Keller underlined the importance of studying meteorites for further research on formation of our solar system: ‘Through these kinds of studies we can learn about the conditions that existed and the processes that were occurring then’.

 

Meteorites have been constantly providing geologists with research material. Extreme conditions are created when meteorites pass the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with the surface. This results in the appearance of new chemical elements on the surface of meteorites. Lonsdaleite is one example of such elements. Being almost two times harder than diamonds, it is one of the hardest minerals known to scientists.

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Top 10 Health Benefits of Tea

Top 10 Health Benefits of Drinking Tea

There are lots of reasons why I enjoy a hot cup of tea: I love the aroma of various flavors of tea; holding onto a hot tea mug warms my hands on a cold winter morning; sipping tea in front of the fireplace is a great way to relax. And those are just the feel-good reasons. If you’re not drinking tea yet, read up on these 10 ways tea does your body good and then see if you’re ready to change your Starbucks order!

1. Tea contains antioxidants. Like the Rust-Oleum paint that keeps your outdoor furniture from rusting, tea’s antioxidants protect your body from the ravages of aging and the effects of pollution.

2. Tea has less caffeine than coffee. Coffee usually has two to three times the caffeine of tea (unless you’re a fan of Morning Thunder, which combines caffeine with mate, an herb that acts like caffeine in our body). An eight-ounce cup of coffee contains around 135 mg caffeine; tea contains only 30 to 40 mg per cup. If drinking coffee gives you the jitters, causes indigestion or headaches or interferes with sleep –switch to tea.

3. Tea may reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Unwanted blood clots formed from cholesterol and blood platelets cause heart attack and stroke. Drinking tea may help keep your arteries smooth and clog-free, the same way a drain keeps your bathroom pipes clear. A 5.6-year study from the Netherlands found a 70 percent lower risk of fatal heart attack in people who drank at least two to three cups of black tea daily compared to non-tea drinkers.

4. Tea protects your bones. It’s not just the milk added to tea that builds strong bones. One study that compared tea drinkers with non-drinkers, found that people who drank tea for 10 or more years had the strongest bones, even after adjusting for age, body weight, exercise, smoking and other risk factors. The authors suggest that this may be the work of tea’s many beneficial phytochemicals.

5. Tea gives you a sweet smile. One look at the grimy grin of Austin Powers and you may not think drinking tea is good for your teeth, but think again. It’s the sugar added to it that’s likely to blame for England’s bad dental record. Tea itself actually contains fluoride and tannins that may keep plaque at bay. So add unsweetened tea drinking to your daily dental routine of brushing and flossing for healthier teeth and gums.

6. Tea bolsters your immune defenses. Drinking tea may help your body’s immune system fight off infection. When 21 volunteers drank either five cups of tea or coffee each day for four weeks, researchers saw higher immune system activity in the blood of the tea drinkers.

7. Tea protects against cancer. Thank the polyphenols, the antioxidants found in tea, once again for their cancer-fighting effects. While the overall research is inconclusive, there are enough studies that show the potential protective effects of drinking tea to make adding tea to your list of daily beverages.

8. Tea helps keep you hydrated. Caffeinated beverages, including tea, used to be on the list of beverages thatdidn’t contribute to our daily fluid needs. Since caffeine is a diuretic and makes us pee more, the thought was that caffeinated beverages couldn’t contribute to our overall fluid requirement. However, recent research has shown that the caffeine really doesn’t matter — tea and other caffeinated beverages definitely contribute to our fluid needs. The only time the caffeine becomes a problem as far as fluid is concerned is when you drink more than five or six cups of a caffeinated beverage at one time.

9. Tea is calorie-free. Tea doesn’t have any calories, unless you add sweetener or milk. Consuming even 250 fewer calories per day can result in losing one pound per week. If you’re looking for a satisfying, calorie-free beverage, tea is a top choice.

10. Tea increases your metabolism. Lots of people complain about a slow metabolic rate and their inability to lose weight. Green tea has been shown to actually increase metabolic rate so that you can burn 70 to 80 additional calories by drinking just five cups of green tea per day. Over a year’s time you could lose eight pounds just by drinking green tea. Of course, taking a 15-minute walk every day will also burn calories.


Brain Tapeworm Afflicts Californians Eating Pork

Brain Parasites, California’s Hidden Health Problem

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Sara Alvarez was afraid.

The doctors told her she needed surgery — brain surgery. Operations on such a complex organ are never simple, but this procedure was exceptionally difficult. There was a high risk of complications, of debilitation, of post-op problems. Alvarez might wake up paralyzed. She might wake up legally blind. Worse still, there was a chance she might not wake up at all.

Her mad dash to the emergency room had all begun with a walk in the park four days earlier. It was December 20, 2010, in Sunnyvale, Calif., a town that lives up to its name. The West Coast winter, not as long or as harsh as seasons in the East, gave her the opportunity to take her youngest child out for an afternoon stroll.

In the fading light of dusk, Alvarez, too, began to fade. She lost the feeling in her right leg. Her right foot followed suit. She couldn’t lift or move her right hand. She was weak, and her body was numb.

There was fear then, too.

At 10:15 p.m., Alvarez says her husband drove her to Redwood City. That night she became a patient at Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Hospital. She says the doctors batted diagnoses back and forth. It was a tumor. No, it was cancer.

It was Christmas, and Alvarez’s children cried and prayed, terrified that an unknown affliction would steal their mother away. Finally a CT scan revealed the malady. Alvarez had neurocysticercosis — a calcified tapeworm lodged in her brain.

Neurocysticercosis, which is common around the world but is not recognized as a major health concern in the U.S., has taken root in California, some health officials say. The disease is easy to prevent and relatively inexpensive to treat if caught early on. But once in the advanced stages, these brain parasites are costly to both patient and government.

The problem is that, due to a lack of education, most of the population doesn’t know that there’s a parasite wriggling within them, says Patricia Wilkins, a scientist with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Latinos, the community most afflicted by the disease, do not receive outreach or education about how to avoid or treat the potentially life-threatening organism, Wilkins adds.

Neurocysticercosis “primarily exists in marginalized populations, Hispanic immigrants,” Wilkins adds.

The National Institutes of Health classifies neurocysticercosis as the leading cause of epilepsy worldwide, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that tapeworms infect 50 million people globally. The CDC says an estimated 1,900 people are diagnosed with neurocysticercosis within the United States yearly.

According to a January 2012 study in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, California bears much of the burden with 304 hospitalized cases in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics exist. Eighty-five percent of patients in California were identified as Latino, and 72 percent were reported in the southern half of the state.

The high percentage of Latino cases is not surprising. Neurocysticercosis is common within third-world countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The disease’s telltale symptoms of paralysis, extreme headaches and chronic seizures present themselves in mass form. Individuals contract neurocysticercosis after becoming infected by tapeworm carriers. Immigrants traveling between countries, such as migrant workers, are often unwitting tapeworm hosts, transporting the disease across borders in their guts.

Scientists aren’t quite sure how it works, but tapeworm larvae seem to have developed a chemical secretion that keeps the human body’s immune system from barging in on their banquet. People can live for decades without any symptoms of neurocysticercosis because the tapeworm larvae break down natural defenses. Unfortunately, tapeworm larvae can’t live forever.

“While it’s alive, it’s a problem, but when it starts to die it’s a bigger problem,” Despommier says.

When the larvae die, the chemical balance is restored, and the immune system begins to attack, causing headaches, seizures and paralysis. Alvarez says she experienced debilitating headaches for 20 years before her diagnosis, but she probably consumed tapeworm eggs much earlier than that. When Alvarez immigrated to the United States in
the late 1980s she complained to American doctors of a pain so absolute it blinded her and made her vomit.

They gave her Tylenol.

“That’s a very typical story,” says Darvin Scott Smith, chief of infectious disease at the Kaiser Hospital.

Many physicians, even those in highly populated areas sizable immigrant populations, are unaware of the disease and how to diagnose it, he adds. Even many of the health organizations that target Latinos had never heard of neurocysticercosis and said their institutions were not funding research or community outreach.

Nobody cares about this disease, and they should, if not from a humanitarian point of view than from a fiscal aspect, says Wilkins, a scientist with the CDC.

Drugs such as Ablendazole and certain steroids, which are used to treat tapeworms and brain swelling, are relatively inexpensive — a maximum of a few hundred dollars. Wait until it’s a serious problem, though, and the dollar amount rises dramatically.

The CDC reports the average cost of neurocysticercosis at $37,600 per hospitalization.

The most common form of payment is Medicaid, a tax-funded public service. In Los Angeles County, the economic impact is even more pronounced, costing $66,000 on average, the increase likely due to the high cost of health care in the state, says Frank Sorvillo, a University of Los Angeles professor of epidemiology.

Despite a marked decrease in immigration over the past few years, the number of neurocysticercosis cases has remained relatively constant since 2001, when there were 386 recorded hospitalizations in California. This suggests that the parasite has taken hold in the U.S., Sorvillo says.

These numbers are likely underestimated. Only five states — New York, California, Texas, Oregon and Illinois — report the disease, and the data is inconsistent. Oftentimes, departments rely on each other to deal with paperwork, and the numbers are never recorded, Smith says. As a result, not much is known about tapeworm outbreaks in the U.S. — or the parasites themselves. Scientists still consider much of their life cycle a mystery.

Pork tapeworms, or Taenia solium, are complex organisms. They exist in three life stages: egg, larvae and adult, but their growth is not a straight progression from one form to the next. Tapeworm larvae enter the body when humans eat contaminated pork.

The babies, about the size of peas, fight their way into the small intestine and attach, using rows of grappling hook-like teeth to make tiny slices into the soft flesh of the intestinal walls. The parasites cling to the slippery surfaces of their new homes and begin draining nutrients from their host. If all goes well, adults can grow up to 20 feet long.

It sounds unpleasant, but if you’re going to contract a tapeworm, dealing with 20 feet of invertebrate is really the way to go. Researchers say that adult Taenia solium is relatively harmless and asymptomatic. The real trouble starts when they begin to reproduce within their human host.

Tapeworm adults are made up of hundreds of segments called proglottids. The parasite grows like a fingernail, the newest addition at the head and old material at the tip. The senior proglottids contain eggs — thousands of them. During the course of a natural lifecycle, the proglottids are discarded through their host’s anus. A family member, friend or restaurant cook infected with an adult tapeworm can secrete tens of thousands of tapeworm eggs daily, which can be easily ingested by others.

Being infected with the eggs, however, doesn’t result in an adult tapeworm. The eggs just develop into larvae—and grow no further. According to parasitologist Judy Sakanari at the University of California, San Francisco, no one really knows why. Unlike most animals whose lifecycle follows a child-adolescent-adult pattern, these eggs will never mature into adulthood. Their development is stunted at the larvae stage, which allows them to ride the bloodstream. They use their hooks to rip apart tissue and gain access to nutrient-rich hotspots. Some of these miniature reapers ultimately find their way into the brain. That’s where the trouble starts — and stops.

While alive, the larvae are not as dangerous as they are when they’re dead. The brain calcifies the dead larvae, and, oftentimes, surgery is necessary to remove them. This ramps up costs for the hospital and drains Medicaid funds. The State of California is not responding to the issue, Wilkins says, because there isn’t enough funding to tackle every bug that infiltrates a community. Health officials must pick and choose which diseases require the most resources. So far, neurocysticercosis has not been one of them.

In a 2000 proposal filed by the WHO, doctors called for international monitoring of neurocysticercosis. They argued that surveillance was key to eradication, that statistics were paramount if governments across the globe had any hope of reducing epilepsy and increasing quality of life. So far, the petition has not experienced much success.

In early January 2011, Dr. Smith of Redwood City, Calif. celebrated his birthday in the operating room of Kaiser Hospital, observing Sara Alvarez’s brain surgery. Medical professionals trimmed Sara’s hair, gingerly peeled away layers of skin and cut through a portion of her skull. Hours later, the chief of infectious disease watched as a neurosurgeon plucked a calcified tapeworm larvae from Sara’s head.

Before she was diagnosed, Alvarez had never heard of neurocysticercosis, and she still isn’t sure who gave her the eggs. It could have been a chance encounter, or one of her loved ones might be a carrier. She’ll never know for sure. The host may remain undetected and contagious, spreading the disease — thousands of eggs at a time.

 

 Story and images by permission of Sara Alvarez and Dr. Darvin Scott Smith

Watch the video:

 

Brain Parasite Surgery from Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato on Vimeo.

Brain Parasite Surgery from Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato on Vimeo.

Mollie Bloudoff-IndelicatoAbout the Author: Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato is an environmental reporting fellow at E&E Publishing, covering the impact of climate change on everything from the international chocolate industry to methane hydrates in Antarctica. She has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with concentrations in science journalism and radio reporting. She is searching for a full-time position with a science-oriented publication that is interested in developing their social media presence and expanding their multimedia department. Contact her at news@mbloudoff.com, and follow her on Twitter at @mbloudoff. Follow on Twitter @mbloudoff.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

 

Waiting for the Space Elevator

 

Space Elevator Enthusiasts Push On despite Lengthy Time Frames and Long Odds

A space-travel technology, simple in concept, has been frustratingly difficult to realize

 

 

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Space elevatorA LONG CLIMB: An artist’s conception shows a climber pod ascending a space elevator’s tether to deploy a satellite.Image: ISEC

SEATTLE—“I think building an elevator to space is maybe the best thing I could do in the world,” Michael Laine says.

His company, Liftport, has just raised over $62,000 on Kickstarter to build robot climbers on a skyward cable—an early step toward his eventual goal of putting a space elevator on the moon. A space elevator is just what it sounds like—a capsule that travels to and from space along a track or tether to provide reliable access to orbit.

Behind Laine is the cavernous Great Gallery at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, where dozens of aircraft are on display, chronicling the human adventure of flight. Meeting in a nearby conference room are about 40 space enthusiasts, in town for the annual Space Elevator Conference hosted by ISEC, the International Space Elevator Consortium. Some of them have sacrificed their careers, credit ratings or savings accounts—all in pursuit of a simple concept that has thus far proved impossible in practice.

None of the conference participants could be accused of thinking small, whether the discussion is about a 100,000-kilometer tether made of carbon nanotubesspace-based solar power, or man’s ultimate destiny to seed the galaxy.

Peter Swan, retired from over 40 years building space systems and now serving as ISEC’s vice president, calls a space elevator a way to “make the human condition better.” His altruism was shared by many of the conference attendees.

But it’s not all starry-eyed optimism. “I’m trying to tackle a project that a lot of people think is science fiction,” says Laine, who has gone into foreclosure seven times over nearly a decade to keep his company, and his dream, alive. “It’s appropriate to be skeptical, even at this stage.”

UNOBTAINIUM
The idea of a space elevator has set the heart of many engineers aflutter. But all eventually run into the same obstacle—the so-called unobtainium problem, or the need for a material that does not exist.

A space elevator is a theoretical structure that reaches from the Earth’s surface into space, balanced by its own mass and the outward centrifugal force from the spinning Earth. The physics is sweet—complicated enough to be interesting, simple enough to seem doable, and the space elevator’s intrigue has grown exponentially since Arthur C. Clarke gave it a fictional treatment in his 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise.

The problem is the construction material, which must be superstrong yet very light. Equations worked out decades ago by Russian engineer Yuri Artsutanov and, independently, by American space scientist Jerome Pearson, found that the ideal tether should be tapered, widest at the geosynchronous orbit altitude of 35,800 kilometers, and narrowest at Earth’s surface and at its far end. The tether should extend far past geosynchronous orbit, where a counterweight would help provide the needed tension.

The rub is that the tether must have sufficient tensile strength to hold up its own large mass. Any material works in principle, but even for stainless steel the tether would need to be 1043 times wider at geosynchronous orbit than at the ground.

The only known material that offers the required strength-to-density ratio is a carbon nanotube, a cylindrical chickenwire lattice of carbon atoms. The problem is that nanotubes exist in a form akin to a pile of soot, and no one knows how to fashion them into an extended rope, braid, cable or ribbon. In the view of elevator enthusiasts, carbon nanotubes, or CNTs are the last major “if only.”

BETTING ON A LONG SHOT
Bryan Laubscher has staked his career on carbon nanotubes and the space elevator. A former physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he formed Odysseus Technologies in 2009, and has four other investors, including Ted Semon, president of ISEC. From his garage shop Laubscher works with CNTs with the goal of drawing them into a tether. While he has mostly learned what does not work, he filed for a patent on a so-called nanotube detangler in May, and a second patent for a CNT growth technology that he keeps under wraps.

“The space elevator breaks the rocket paradigm” because it does not carry its own fuel, Laubscher says. He believes chemical technology is near its limit, bound by theTsiolkovsky rocket equation to deliver only about 5 percent of its initial mass into Earth orbit. Those inefficiencies meant that it cost $64,000 for the space shuttle to put one kilogram into low-earth orbit (LEO); an elevator, Laubscher calculates, could do it with 17.2 kilowatt-hours of electricity—about two dollars’ worth.

He sees the space elevator as the future analogue of the Transcontinental Railway that opened the American West—once the infrastructure has been put in place at great effort and expense, transport becomes cheap, and new opportunities abound. “Once you’re at LEO,” Laubscher says, “you’re half the way to anywhere.” Still, he was clear that “the space elevator is far in the future.”

Peter Swan sees space-based solar power as the ultimate savior of a world starved for energy, and the space elevator as the only way to economically place the required infrastructure in space. The vision is of satellites in orbit, above clouds, weather and the atmosphere, collecting sunlight and beaming power to small surface dishes via microwaves. “Africa could skip the 20th century for telecom and power wires,” he says, and emergency power could be beamed anywhere to the surface.

“The space elevator would be a nonlinear event in history,” Swan says. He and colleagues are even designing organization charts for elevator operations at its presumed ocean-based floating anchor station (the community favors a low-lightning spot near the equator in the eastern Pacific ocean) and its on-shore marine base in San Diego.

But not everyone is as confident about the elevator’s fruition. Brad Edwards, who co-authored the 2003 book, The Space Elevator, that has since served as a template for all elevator discussions, dropped out of the field after years spent trying to make it a reality. “Technologically we could do this in the next 10 or 15 years,” he recently told the magazine Seattle Met. “But realistically it’s going to take much longer, and I had to ask myself whether I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”

DENTAL FLOSS
Arthur C. Clarke famously said the space elevator would be built 50 years after everyone stopped laughing. “I think we’ve quieted the people who are outright laughing,” says Laine, a former U.S. Marine and investment adviser who continues to put personal funds into his company. “We haven’t quieted the skeptics, and there should be people asking questions.”

Laine’s Liftport Group, formed in 2003 after he worked with Edwards on a NASA Innovative Advanced Studies (NIAC) grant to study the space elevator, once had 14 employees. Liftport unsuccessfully tried to produce carbon nanotubes and carried out some balloon and tether tests in an effort to sell weather data for revenue. The crash of the economy put them out of business for five years, but Laine sees the enthusiastic and unexpected response to his Kickstarter campaign—his goal was only $8,000—as a sign of optimism.

Like all the conference attendees, he is buoyed by the privatization of space, seen recently in SpaceX launches, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems, and the two test modules for expandable habitats that Bigelow Aerospace has placed in orbit. Laine is promoting an elevator from the lunar surface to a point in space between Earth and the moon, because the physics is kinder and at least five existing materials meet its requirements, including Zylon and Kevlar. A lunar tether would have the dimensions of dental floss, he says, and would be feasible with commercial, off-the-shelf technology—and perhaps $800 million.

One speaker at the conference said the elevator would be driven by those most prosaic of human motivations, greed and the opportunities to make money. Laine might once have agreed. “Eleven years ago when I started this, I was far more rational about it,” he says of his elevator quest. “But over time the making money part really dwindled, and it’s become a mission,” a way to change the global standard of living with ubiquitous energy and access to resources such as raw minerals from asteroids, helium-3 from the moon, or oxygen, water and other lunar materials for space- or Mars-based habitats.

“But,” he concedes, “I’m well past rational at this point.” That stubborn persistence may be just what it takes if an elevator is ever to ferry humans into outer space.

Mamata Banerjee’s Politricks Berated in Muslim Officer’s Book

Sharp Criticism for Mamata Banerjee in Muslim Officer’s Book

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addressing a gathering of Muslim community members in Kolkata, West Bengal in this April 3, 2012 file photo.Piyal Adhikary/European Pressphoto AgencyWest Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee addressing a gathering of Muslim community members in Kolkata, West Bengal in this April 3, 2012 file photo.

KOLKATA — In just over a week since its launch, Musalamander Koroniyo (What Muslims Should Do), a book in written in Bengali by a senior police officer, has attracted national attention and raised new questions about intolerance in West Bengal, where Mamata Banerjee is chief minister.

The police raided the College Street office of the book’s Kolkata publisher, Mitra & Ghosh, on Friday, closing it for hours and sparking fresh allegationsof Ms. Banerjee’s “autocratic style of functioning.”

The book cover of senior police officer Nazrul Islam's book "Musalamander Koroniyo" or "What Muslims Should Do."Anuradha SharmaThe book cover of senior police officer Nazrul Islam’s bookMusalamander Koroniyo or “What Muslims Should Do.”

The book, a mere 102 pages, written in a straightforward and proscriptive style, is unsparing in its criticism of the policies of Trinamool Congress, Ms. Banarjee’s party, regarding Muslims. It particularly criticizes new promises that Ms. Banerjee has made, including stipends for imams and muezzins, who give the call to prayer, and the state’s plan to recognize 10,000 madrasas , which would allow the religious schools to get some state benefits.

“She knows Muslims are uneducated, unaware and unorganized,” the book says of these policies. “Therefore, they will not be able to understand the trick.”

The author, Nazrul Islam, is a senior Indian Police Service officer, currently serving as the additional director general of the West Bengal police. (Check back with India Ink later today for an interview with Mr. Islam).

The government has “tried to intimidate us in different ways,” Indrani Roy, a director at Mitra & Ghosh, the book’s publisher, said in an interview at her Selimpur home. First, the head of a rival publisher, who publishes books by Ms. Banerjee, called up Ms. Roy’s father, who used to run the business, she said.

“He said that the book has not gone down well with the higher-ups,” she said. On Thursday evening, an officer from the enforcement branch of the police called her father and asked him not to circulate the books. On Friday a team from the enforcement branch raided the College Street shop, she said, forcing it to shut for three hours, “manhandled our staff” and demanded copies of the books. We asked them to give us a seizure list, they offered to buy the books and took with them five copies.”

Ms. Roy said she believes the raid, the first in the publisher’s 80-year history, stems from Ms. Banerjee’s intolerance to criticism. “It is rather unnerving,” she said. “We are actually very scared. Our freedom is at stake and who knows what will happen tomorrow.”

Still, it has been good for business. Already, the book has sold over 450 copies, a high figure for this type of publication.

Here are some translated excerpts from “What Muslims Should Do:”

Chapter: What Needs to Be done?
Page 54

We need to form one society that will include not just Muslims, but also the low-caste Hindus—those belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and others. It needs to be given a name that is easy, concise and acceptable to all, such as Adhijan Samity, Bhupiputra Samity and Mulnibasi Samity.

We will have to take the organization from the state level to the district level, from the district level to the block, and from block level to the village level. Our principal focus will be education. We have to lay stress on proper education at the pre-primary and primary levels. If the government can set up schools in the villages, then it’s fine. Otherwise, we must build private schools in the villages.

Chapter: Why Government Doles for Imams and Muezzins?
Page 78

The announcement of the leader of the ruling party will deprive the namazis of their right to decide who will be the imam at a particular time. To get the allowance the imam’s name has to be registered in the government records. Those who have seen the activities of the leaders of the ruling party will have no doubt that they will not select the eligible person, but the one who supports them. This supporter can be the most detestable person in the eyes of the namazis, and worse, once his name is registered, whether he remains an imam or not will not depend on the namazis but the leaders of the ruling party through the government employees. Even if he commits a thousand sins and loses the right to be imam, it will not be possible to remove him without the wish of the ruling party leaders. Such a situation is not desirable for devoted Muslim namazis. 

Page 81

For a government, to use the taxpayer’s money to financially help practitioners of a particular religion violates the fundamental right to equality guaranteed by Articles 16, 15 and 14 [of the Indian Constitution].

So, this announcement is bound to overruled. In that case, why did the leader of the ruling party make this announcement? The announcement’s immediate aim is Muslim votes. Muslims respect imams. The aim is to win Muslim votes by supporting imams.

Even if the announcement is overruled, it’s not a loss to them. Rather, it’ll be good. Government funds will not have to be given out. And you can even tell the Muslims: “See, we really wanted to give. The opposition conspired to foil the plans. So identify those who opposed the move.” 

The long-term aim of the announcement is even more damaging. Let Muslims get stuck on grants of  2,500 rupees per month. Let them send their children to the madaras. Brahmin-Baidya-Kayasthas [Hindu upper castes] do not want Muslim children to be educated under a modern system and compete for jobs with monthly salaries of 250,000 rupees. They want Muslims to concentrate more on reading namaz, performing roza and sending their children to the madrasas so that they produce more and more imams or madrasa employees, earn 2,000 to 3,000 rupees in salary and live unfed or half-fed. While, the children of the Brahmin-Baidya-Kayasthas become leaders and ministers, join services such as the I.A.S [Indian Administrative Service], I.F.S [Indian Foreign Service], I.P.S. [Indian Police Service] and I.R.S. [Indian Revenue Service] to become cabinet secretary, chief secretary, home secretary, D.G. [director general], C.P. [chief commissioner], D.M. [district magistrate] and S.P. [superintendent of police]. Then someday, we’ll all say: “Madrasas are breeding grounds of terrorists.” And then before the elections, we’ll give recognition to one or two madrasas, instead of opening schools, in the Muslim areas. And we’ll say: “They did not do anything for the Muslims in the past 34 years. We will do.” And after coming to power, without having done anything, within a few days, we will say: “We’ve accomplished 90 percent of the work. That has to be accepted.” Do the Muslims understand all this? That something needs to be done for them? We’ve punctuated our speeches with ‘Khuda-Hafiz-Inshallah’ at all the wrong places, we’ve been to the iftaar parties. We’ve posed for pictures with Haj-bound pilgrims. If all this is not enough, should we need, we have some people on hire; two or three bearded men. We will make them come in their [skull] caps to some function. We have designers to ensure appropriate clothing at such a function. And we will pull a cloth over our heads and say, ‘Khuda-Hafiz-Inshallah’. That will surely do it!

Page 84

On the other hand, such announcements give [pro-Hindu communal] outfits like R.S.S. [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] a chance to say that the ruling party is appeasing the Muslims. “Hindus second class citizens in Hindustan.” This has to be stopped. Hindus must protest. And this leads to communal riots. As a result, the Brahmin-Baidya-Kayastha leaders gain from both sides.

Chapter: Why Government Recognition for 10,000 Madrasas?

Page 86

Actually, the one who is making these announcements does not know much. She does not think it is necessary to know. She knows Muslims are uneducated, unaware and unorganized. Therefore, they will not be able to understand the trick. As it is Muslims have a soft corner for the word “madrasa.” The announcement of 10,000 madrasas, with a sprinkling of Khuda-Hafiz-Inshallah is sure to buy off a Muslim and make him a slave.

Therefore, Muslims must become aware and organized. They must say:

  1. Publish the list of 10,000 madrasas.
  2. How many of them have been recognised? Which institution has recognized them?
  3. How many more will be recognized? Who will do that?
  4. What are the terms of recognition?
  5. What is the gain from the recognition?
  6. What is the loss for not being recognized?
  7. Without doing anything really for Muslims, why is so much song and dance over recognizing 10,000 madrasas?

 

Researchers discover “Anternet”

Stanford researchers discover the ‘anternet’

A collaboration between a Stanford ant biologist and a computer scientist has revealed that the behavior of harvester ants as they forage for food mirrors the protocols that control traffic on the Internet.

Katherine DecktarHarvester ant foragers waiting inside the nest

Harvester ant foragers waiting inside the nest.

On the surface, ants and the Internet don’t seem to have much in common. But two Stanford researchers have discovered that a species of harvester ants determine how many foragers to send out of the nest in much the same way that Internet protocols discover how much bandwidth is available for the transfer of data. The researchers are calling it the “anternet.”

Deborah Gordon, a biology professor at Stanford, has been studying ants for more than 20 years. When she figured out how the harvester ant colonies she had been observing in Arizona decided when to send out more ants to get food, she called across campus to Balaji Prabhakar, a professor of computer science at Stanford and an expert on how files are transferred on a computer network. At first he didn’t see any overlap between his and Gordon’s work, but inspiration would soon strike.

“The next day it occurred to me, ‘Oh wait, this is almost the same as how [Internet] protocols discover how much bandwidth is available for transferring a file!'” Prabhakar said. “The algorithm the ants were using to discover how much food there is available is essentially the same as that used in the Transmission Control Protocol.”

Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP, is an algorithm that manages data congestion on the Internet, and as such was integral in allowing the early web to scale up from a few dozen nodes to the billions in use today. Here’s how it works: As a source, A, transfers a file to a destination, B, the file is broken into numbered packets. When B receives each packet, it sends an acknowledgment, or an ack, to A, that the packet arrived.

This feedback loop allows TCP to run congestion avoidance: If acks return at a slower rate than the data was sent out, that indicates that there is little bandwidth available, and the source throttles data transmission down accordingly. If acks return quickly, the source boosts its transmission speed. The process determines how much bandwidth is available and throttles data transmission accordingly.

L.A. CiceroDeborah Gordon

Biologist Deborah Gordon has been studying ants for more than 20 years.

It turns out that harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) behave nearly the same way when searching for food. Gordon has found that the rate at which harvester ants – which forage for seeds as individuals – leave the nest to search for food corresponds to food availability.

A forager won’t return to the nest until it finds food. If seeds are plentiful, foragers return faster, and more ants leave the nest to forage. If, however, ants begin returning empty handed, the search is slowed, and perhaps called off.

Prabhakar wrote an ant algorithm to predict foraging behavior depending on the amount of food – i.e., bandwidth – available. Gordon’s experiments manipulate the rate of forager return. Working with Stanford student Katie Dektar, they found that the TCP-influenced algorithm almost exactly matched the ant behavior found in Gordon’s experiments.

“Ants have discovered an algorithm that we know well, and they’ve been doing it for millions of years,” Prabhakar said.

They also found that the ants followed two other phases of TCP. One phase is known as slow start, which describes how a source sends out a large wave of packets at the beginning of a transmission to gauge bandwidth; similarly, when the harvester ants begin foraging, they send out foragers to scope out food availability before scaling up or down the rate of outgoing foragers.

Another protocol, called time-out, occurs when a data transfer link breaks or is disrupted, and the source stops sending packets. Similarly, when foragers are prevented from returning to the nest for more than 20 minutes, no more foragers leave the nest.

Prabhakar said that had this discovery been made in the 1970s, before TCP was written, harvester ants very well could have influenced the design of the Internet.

Gordon thinks that scientists have just scratched the surface for how ant colony behavior could help us in the design of networked systems.

There are 11,000 species of ants, living in every habitat and dealing with every type of ecological problem, Gordon said. “Ants have evolved ways of doing things that we haven’t thought up, but could apply in computer systems. Computationally speaking, each ant has limited capabilities, but the collective can perform complex tasks.

“So ant algorithms have to be simple, distributed and scalable – the very qualities that we need in large engineered distributed systems,” she said. “I think as we start understanding more about how species of ants regulate their behavior, we’ll find many more useful applications for network algorithms.”

The work is published in the Aug. 23 issue of PLoS Computational Biology.

Media Contact

Deborah Gordon, Biology:  (650) 725-6364dmgordon@stanford.edu

Balaji Prabhakar, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science: To arrange an interview with Prabhakar, contact Andrea Kuduk:  (650) 723-4731akuduk@stanford.edu

Bjorn Carey, Stanford News Service:  (650) 725-1944bccarey@stanford.edu

Dan Stober, Stanford News Service:  (650) 721-6965dstober@stanford.edu

Indo-European Languages came from Turkey?

Tracing the Origins of Indo-European Languages – Graphic – NYTimes.com

Tracing the Origins of Indo-European Languages

A new study suggests that the sprawling Indo-European family of languages originated in Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey. Related Article »

Anatolian

Tocharian

Armenian

Greek

Albanian

Balto-

Slavic

Italic

Germanic

Insular
Celtic

RUSSIA

FRANCE

Black Sea

UKRAINE

CHINA

ANATOLIA

EGYPT

INDIA

IRAN

Indo-Iranian

Researchers studied the evolution of words across 103 modern and extinct languages from the Indo-European language family, and created a tree showing the relationships among the different languages, at right.

 

The map above shows where each major branch probably arose, before spreading and diversifying to other regions.

 

A competing hypothesis places the point of origin in the steppes of modern-day Ukraine and Russia, north of the Black Sea.

Slovenian

Armenian

Tadzik

Lithuanian

Friulian

Lusatian

Waziri

Old Church Slavonic

Scots Gaelic

Persian

Macedonian

Breton

Italian

Afghan

Belarusian

Icelandic

Provençal

Bihari

Oscan

Greek

Swedish

Danish

Luxembourgish

Old Irish

Ossetic

Kashmiri

Polish

Old English

Welsh

Latin

Flemish

Riksmal

Old Norse

Hittite

Classical Armenian

Slovak

Romansh

Urdu

Marwari

Romanian

Avestan

Ukrainian

Bengali

Czech

Spanish

German

Dutch

Kurdish

Vlach

Nepali

Gujarati

Ancient Greek

Albanian

Lahnda

Russian

Hindi

French

Irish

Cornish

Umbrian

Bulgarian

Luvian

Lycian

Oriya

Catalan

Vedic Sanskrit

Old Prussian

Marathi

Old High German

Romani

Faroese

Sindhi

Latvian

Serbo-Croatian

Ladin

Assamese

Gothic

Indo-

Iranian

Insular
Celtic

Italic

Germanic

Balto-Slavic

Albanian

Greek

Armenian

Anatolian

Tocharian

Tocharian

Singhalese

Wakhi

Frisian

Old Persian

Sardinian

Portuguese

Baluchi

ENGLISH

Walloon

8,000

years ago

7,000

6,000

5,000

4,000

3,000

2,000

1,000

TODAY

Terran Radioactivity and the Sun? What is the connection?

From the Annals of the Impossible (Experimental Physics)

Updated below.

Photons only slowly emerge from the Sun’s core. Neutrinos just pass through once produced.

Radioactive decay is supposed to be the ultimate random process, immutably governed by an element’s half life and nothing else.  There is no way to determine when a single radioactive atom will spontaneously decay, nor any way to speed-up or slow down the process.  This iron clad certainty has always been the best argument of opponents to conventional nuclear fission power generation, as it means that the inevitable nuclear waste will have to be kept isolated from the biosphere for million of years (notwithstanding recent research attempts at stimulated transmutation of some of the longer lasting waste products.)

When plotting the activity of a radioactive sample you expect a graph like the following, a smooth decrease with slight, random variations .

Detected activity of the 137Cs source. The first two points correspond to the beginning of data taking. Dotted lines represent a 0.1% deviation from the exponential trend. Residuals (lower panel) of the measured activity to the exponential fit. Error bars include statistical uncertainties and fluctuations.

(This graph stems from a measurement on the Beta decay of 137CS and was takendeep underground).

What you don’t expect are variations that follow a discernible pattern in the decay rate of a radioactive element, nor any correlation with outside events. But this is exactly what Jere H. Jenkins et al. found:

Plot of measured 36Cl decays taken at the Ohio State University Research Reactor (OSURR). The crosses are the individual data points, and the blue line is an 11-point rolling average. The red curve is the inverse of the square of the Earth–Sun distance. (Error bars are only shown for a limited number of points).

And now this surprising result of the sun’s influence has been corroborated.

The latest research was a collaboration of Stanford and Purdue University with the Geological Survey of Israel, rather reputable research power-houses that make these results difficult to dismiss. Their paper contains the following contour graph for the  measured gamma decay during the day plotted over several years. When comparing this with the same kind of graph of the sun’s inclination during the observed date range the correlation is quite obvious:

Gamma measurements as a function of date and time of day. The
color-bar gives the power, S , of the observed signal (top).
Solar elevation as a function of date and time of day. The color-bar
gives the power, S , of the observed signal (bottom).

There is a video talk on this phenomenon available online.  It takes some patience to sit through, but gives a more complete picture in explaining how these observed patterns can be correlated to the the Sun’s core activity with surprising accuracy.

The evidence for the reality of this effect is surprisingly good, and that is rather shocking. It does not fit into any established theory at this time.

Update and Forums Round-Up

This was the second blog post from this site that has been picked up on slashdot (this was the first one). Last time around WordPress could not handle the load (dubbed slashdot effect). Subsequently I installed the W3 Total Cache plug-in. So before getting back to the physics, I want to use this space to give them a big shout-out.  If you operate a WordPress blog I can highly recommend this plug-in.

This article received almost 30,000 views over two days, the resulting discussions fleshed out some great additional information, but also highlighted what can be easily misread or misconstrued. Top of the list was the notion that this might undermine carbon dating.  For all practical purposes, this can be categorically ruled out. For this to have a noticeable effect, this phenomenon would have to be much more pronounced.  The proposed pattern is just slightly outside the error bars and only imposes a slight variation on top of the regular decay pattern.  Archaeologists should not lose sleep over this. An unintended side-effect was that this attracted creationists. If you adhere to this belief please don’t waste your time commenting here.  This is a site dedicated to physics, and off-topic comments will be treated like spam and deleted.

Another source of confusion was the difference between induced radioactive reactions and spontaneous decay. The latter is what we are supposed to see when measuring the decay of a radioactive isotope in the lab and this is what these papers address. Induced transmution is what can be observed when matter is, for instance, irradiated with neutrons.  This process is pretty well understood and happens as a side effect within nuclear reactors (or even a nuclear warhead before the fission chain reaction overwhelms all other neutron absorption).  The treatment of nuclear waste with a neutron flux is what I hinted at in the last sentence of the first paragraph.  This emerging technology is very exciting and merits its own article, but it is an entirely different story. The news buried in the papers discussed here is that there may be a yet unknown neutrino absorption reaction influencing decay rates that were believed to be only governed by the half-life time interval.  At this point an inverse beta decay is known to exist, but the reaction rate is much smaller than what is required to explain the phenomenon that these papers claim.

The spontaneous decay of a radioactive isotope is regarded as the gold standard for randomness in computer science, and there are some products that rely on this (h/t toDennis Farr for picking up on this).  I.e. if the decay rate of a lump of radioactive material is no longer governed by the simple function N(t)=N02t/t1/2 then the probability distribution that these random number generators rely on is no longer valid (the decay constant used in the distribution function at the link relates to the half-life time vie t1/2=ln2λ.

There were various thoughtful critical comments on the methodology and experimental set-up. The most prominent point that came up was the contention that this was essentially the outcome of data-mining for patterns and then hand-picking results that showed some discernible patterns.  Ironically, this approach is exactly the kind of data processing that spawned a billion dollar industry catering to the commercial Business Intelligence market.  To me, this actually looks like a pretty smart approach to get some more mileage out of old data series (assuming the authors didn’t discard results detrimentally opposed to their hypothesis). The downside of this is the lack of information on the care that went into collecting this data in the first place.  I.e. it was repeatedly pointed out that experimenters should run a control to capture the background radiation and needed to understand and control for the environmental impact on their measuring devices. Relying on third party data means also relying on the reputation of the researchers who conducted the original experiments.

When the original claims were made they triggered follow-up research. Some of it was inconclusive, some of it contradicted the findings and a measurement performed on the Cassini probe’s 238Pu thermonuclear fuel clearly ruled out any sun-distance related influence on that alpha emitter.

Inevitably with controversial results like this the old moniker that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof” is repeatedly dragged out.

I always thought this statment was cut off a bit short and should really read: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and merit extraordinary attention.

Because without the latter, sufficient proof may never be acquired even if it is out there.  The experiments required to test this further are not expensive. An easy way to rule out seasonality it to perfom these measurements closer to the equator or have them performed at the same time in a north and south American lab as one slashdot poster suggested.

Ultimately, a Beta emitter measurement on another space probe could lay this to rest and help to conclusively determine if this is a real effect.  It would be very exciting if this can be confirmed but it is certainly not settled at this point.

Muslim Ulama support save Ganges campaign

Muslim clerics support save Ganga campaign

 

LUCKNOW: Muslim clerics and scholars in Lucknow have offered their full support to save river ganga campaign. The assurance was given at a meeting of Hindu seers with Muslim leaders. Another meeting will be called soon to draft joint working plan and visit the areas on the banks of the river to create public awareness. Convenor of Ganga Mukti Sangram Acharya Pramod Krishnan told reporters that he has got assurance from various Muslim leaders of their full support in save ganga campaign. He said that various projects to make river ganga pollution-free have failed because of rampant corruption in government machinery.

He said involvement of common people of the country and their pressure on the government can save the river and the support of Muslims in this task is equally important. Pledging support in save ganga campaign, member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangimahli said that Ganga is a national river. Both and Muslims live on its banks and earn livelihood, hence it is the duty of all to protect and save it, he added. He also appealed Muslims to support and contribute in campaign. He demanded the central government to create a new ministry for conservation of rivers.

Describing the drive to clean the river as a holy campaign, Maulana Saeedur Rehman, principal of Centre of Islamic Studies, said that ganga is associated with the faith of Hindus but it is not any less important for Muslims. He said that he would do whatever was required to save ganga.