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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Woman sleeping

Sleep is one of the richest topics in science today: why we need it, why it can be hard to get, and how that affects everything from our athletic performance to our income. Daniel Kripke, co-director of research at the Scripps Clinic Sleep Center in La Jolla, Calif., has looked at the most important question of all. In 2002, he compared death rates among more than 1 million American adults who, as part of a study on cancer prevention, reported their average nightly amount of sleep. To many, his results were surprising, but they've since been corroborated by similar studies in Europe and East Asia. Kripke explains.

Q: How much sleep is ideal?

A: Studies show that people who sleep between 6.5 hr. and 7.5 hr. a night, as they report, live the longest. And people who sleep 8 hr. or more, or less than 6.5 hr., they don't live quite as long. There is just as much risk associated with sleeping too long as with sleeping too short. The big surprise is that long sleep seems to start at 8 hr. Sleeping 8.5 hr. might really be a little worse than sleeping 5 hr..

Morbidity [or sickness] is also "U-shaped" in the sense that both very short sleep and very long sleep are associated with many illnesses—with depression, with obesity—and therefore with heart disease—and so forth. But the [ideal amount of sleep] for different health measures isn't all in the same place. Most of the low points are at 7 or 8 hr., but there are some at 6 hr. and even at 9 hr. I think diabetes is lowest in 7-hr. sleepers [for example]. But these measures aren't as clear as the mortality data.

I think we can speculate [about why people who sleep from 6.5 to 7.5 hr. live longer], but we have to admit that we don't really understand the reasons. We don't really know yet what is cause and what is effect. So we don't know if a short sleeper can live longer by extending their sleep, and we don't know if a long sleeper can live longer by setting the alarm clock a bit earlier. We're hoping to organize tests of those questions.

One of the reasons I like to publicize these facts is that I think we can prevent a lot of insomnia and distress just by telling people that short sleep is O.K. We've all been told you ought to sleep 8 hr., but there was never any evidence. A very common problem we see at sleep clinics is people who spend too long in bed. They think they should sleep 8 or 9 hr., so they spend [that amount of time] in bed, with the result that they have trouble falling asleep and wake up a lot during the night. Oddly enough, a lot of the problem [of insomnia] is lying in bed awake, worrying about it. There have been many controlled studies in the U.S., Great Britain and other parts of Europe that show that an insomnia treatment that involves getting out of bed when you're not sleepy and restricting your time in bed actually helps people to sleep more. They get over their fear of the bed. They get over the worry, and become confident that when they go to bed, they will sleep. So spending less time in bed actually makes sleep better. It is in fact a more powerful and effective long-term treatment for insomnia than sleeping pills.

Original here

Sunshine may be nature's disease fighter


A sun bather enjoy the unusually hot May weather near the sea side city of Dhermi, Albania. A study found that men who are deficient in the so-called sunshine vitamin -- vitamin D -- have more than double the normal risk of suffering a heart attack.

Men lacking in vitamin D have more than double the normal risk of a heart attack, a study says, one of many suggesting the vitamin is crucial to good health.
Medical researchers are homing in on a wonder drug that may significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and many other diseases -- sunshine.

A study released today found that men who are deficient in the so-called sunshine vitamin -- vitamin D -- have more than double the normal risk of suffering a heart attack.

Just last week, another study found that low levels of vitamin D increased the risk of diabetes, and a study last month linked deficiencies to an increased risk of dying from breast cancer.

The findings join a growing body of evidence indicating that an adequate level of the vitamin, which many people can get from 20 minutes in the sun, is crucial to maintaining good health.

Not every scientist agrees that vitamin D is so crucial to well-being, and there is controversy about what should be considered an adequate level of the compound in the blood. But sentiment is gradually shifting toward a higher intake.

"We don't have a cause and effect relationship here yet" proving that higher doses of vitamin D prevent such diseases, said biochemist Hector DeLuca of the University of Wisconsin, who was the first to demonstrate how the vitamin interacts with the endocrine system, which manages the body's hormonal balance.

But the links are so suggestive "that we have to pay attention to keeping blood levels up where they will protect," he said. Until the protective effect is proved, he added, "what's wrong with keeping an adequate level of vitamin D in the blood in case it is?"

Until recently, vitamin D was viewed primarily as a protective agent against diseases of the bone, such as osteomalacia (known as rickets in children) and osteoporosis. Current recommendations for the vitamin are based on preventing these disorders and call for a relatively small intake -- a minimum of 400 international units, or IUs, per day, and perhaps twice that for the elderly, who may not get outdoors as often.

The vitamin is produced from natural precursors in the body by exposing skin to ultraviolet B in sunlight. Caucasian sunbathers can get 20,000 IUs in 20 minutes at noon in summer. But any further exposure simply damages skin.

Darker-skinned people need three to five times the exposure to produce the same amount. Sunblock interferes with production by screening out ultraviolet light.

The primary sources of vitamin D in the diet are milk, which is fortified to yield about 100 IUs per glass, and oily fishes, which have a high content.

To have an adequate intake, most people must take supplements or spend more time in the sun -- a recommendation that dermatologists generally oppose because of the risk of skin cancer.

Current guidelines call for blood levels of about 30 nanograms per milliliter. By that definition, perhaps 10% to 15% of white people in the U.S. and 50% of the black population is deficient in summer, with the percentages rising in winter when there is less sunlight.

Many researchers say that people should be striving for average blood levels of 50 to 60 nanograms per milliliter, at which level the bulk of the U.S. population would be considered deficient.

Most researchers in the field now take supplements of at least 1,500 IUs per day. Most recommend taking no more than 4,000 IUs because of potential toxicity.

Experts attribute the vitamin D deficiency, in part, to modern lifestyles, which have taken people off the farm and into offices and factories. Video games and computers have brought children indoors from the playing field, minimizing their exposure to sunlight. Fear of cancer and increasing use of sunblock may also have contributed.

In the new analysis, Dr. Edward Giovannucci of the Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues studied 18,225 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, a subgroup of a much larger ongoing study. The men all submitted blood samples when they enrolled in the study, mostly in 1993 to 1995, and the samples were stored.

In 10 years of follow-up, the team identified 454 men who had a heart attack. They carefully matched these men with about 900 other study members who did not have an attack, then measured vitamin D levels at study entry.

They reported in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine that men with blood levels below 15 nanograms per milliliter had 2 1/2 times the risk of having an attack or dying.

When they controlled for all other possible factors, such as hypertension, obesity and high lipid levels, the risk was still twice as high as it was for the controls.

Men with levels between 15 and 29 nanograms per milliliter also had an increased risk. Unfortunately, Giovannucci said, there were not enough men in the group with levels above 35 nanograms per milliliter to determine whether higher levels are more protective.

The findings are "not out of left field," he said. Many epidemiological studies have found a higher rate of heart attacks at higher latitudes, lower altitudes and in winter -- all of which correlate to decreased exposure to sunshine.

About 869,000 Americans die of heart disease each year, according to the American Heart Assn.

"They certainly have made the link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Mason Weiss, a cardiologist at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, who was not involved in the study. "Now the research must be on what the mechanism is."

Giovannucci speculated that several mechanisms could be responsible. Previous studies have suggested, for example, that low vitamin D levels lead to a buildup of calcium in atherosclerotic plaques on the walls of arteries, increasing the risk of heart attacks.

It could also affect blood pressure, or even have a direct effect on functioning of heart muscles, making them more susceptible to arrhythmias.

"We obviously need to understand the mechanism better," he said. "But that requires randomized trials, which is a big undertaking."

Weiss joined the growing chorus of researchers calling for changes in federal guidelines to reflect the new data.

"The next time they review the daily requirements, they should look at all these articles," he said.

Increasing the recommended intake of vitamin D "could have a significant health benefit" and would be a cost-effective change.

thomas.maugh@latimes.com

Original here

The 10 Most Terrifying Guides to Sex


We're not saying sex is something to be ashamed of, and far be it from us to declare any activity between consenting adults to be unnatural or immoral. It's just that some types of sex are weird and yes, even terrifying to us.

But, if you're going to do something that would make a dominatrix flinch, you might as well do it right. Thus we offer these sex guides that you'll either find helpful or nightmarish, depending on your personal preferences.

#10.
The ToyBag Guide to Erotic Knifeplay

The Book Says:

"A shiny blade against smooth soft skin is terrifying, of course, but for many people also highly erotic."

Reviews Say:

"This was an amazing read, and it really got me thinking about lots of new and fun play ideas."

We Say:

We're assuming that "erotic knifeplay" is like that scene in The Animatrix where the couple slash each other's clothes off with swords. We're thinking this is one of many things that looks like fun in a cartoon, but should probably be avoided in real life.

So on that count, we have mixed feelings about The ToyBag Guide to Erotic Knifeplay. On one hand, we don't like the idea of a book legitimizing the whole knife-sex thing. On the other hand, if you're going to start practicing a sex act where you whip out both your dong and a razor sharp blade at the same time, you better damned well study up on how to do it right.

#9.
Sex in the Golden Years

The Book Says:

"Now that more people are living to be 70, 80, 90 and 100, research shows quite clearly that sex is as important as ever."

Reviews Say:

"Our sex life has truly changed and is now the best we've ever had - even though we are both in our early seventies!"

We Say:

The above quote scares the shit out of us. If the best sex you've ever had is in your 70s, you may have ruined your life somehow.

Now, understand, being the lovers of freedom and individual rights that we are, we're not suggesting senior citizens shouldn't have sex. We're just suggesting it never be talked about or acknowledged openly in any way whatsoever because it horrifies us.


Now picture them porking.

Horrifies us like watching Satan kill Santa Claus, then burning down Disneyland while drinking the last beer ever. But apparently that feeling isn't held by a small, but determined population of internet porn shoppers and the authors of this book who figured people who had most likely been having sex for seven decades now need a guide on how to do it.

#8.
Paying for Sex: The Gentlemen's Guide to Web Porn, Strip Clubs, Prostitutes & Escorts -- Without Humiliation, Job Loss, Bankruptcy, Infection, Bloodshed or Incarceration

The Book Says:

"How to buy great online porn, have a naked stripper gyrating in your lap or get laid by an erotic professional without putting your life, wallet or reputation at risk."

Reviews Say:

"... It's a guide for being a faceless sexually frustrated man."

We Say:

While this book promises to show you how to buy porn online, get a stripper in your lap and engage in nefarious acts with an "erotic professional" which we think means either Dr. Drew or a hooker, we're pretty sure we know how to pull off all three of those things, minus the Dr. Drew part.

Pay for it: Pay for porn, pay the stripper, pay the hooker. Look, that's nine words. This guy's book is 134 pages. We win.

Based on reader reviews the book actually doesn't offer anything more complicated than that as advice, beyond using a fake name. All of which makes us wonder what manner of sad, shameful individual is sitting at home thinking, "How do I buy porn online?" and, after wracking their brain for some manner of succor and coming up with the porn goose egg decides to order this book. Which in turn begs the question: How did they know how to order this book if they can't piece together how to order porn?

#7.
Va-Va-Voodoo: Find Love, Make Love & Keep Love

The Book Says:

"You'll meet a few of Voodoo's most helpful spirits in matters of love and happiness-Erzulie, Ogoun, La Sirene, Baron, and Legba--and learn how to work with their energy to attract a lover, find 'the one,' keep a relationship steamy, or recover from heartbreak."

Reviews Say:

"I was pleasantly surprised to find a range of magical techniques that would be useful to women (and men!) in a variety of love situations."

We Say:

Voodoo--the loosely organized set of beliefs best known to Western culture as involving chicken blood and tiny dolls you poke with pins--is about as unsexy as your average slaughterhouse visit.


Hot.

But all that aside, we're thinking affection born from some magic spell you created with the head of a chicken and the blood of a virgin goat isn't the most promising foundation for a healthy sex life.

Also, if your relationship has decayed to the point where you find yourself perusing Amazon for a book to spice up your sex life, and Voodoo is the best option you can come up with, it may be time to move on.

#6.
The ToyBag Guide to Dungeon Emergencies and Supplies

The Book Says:

"An essential quick reference guide to minor and major emergencies that can take place during play--from scrapes to freakouts to fires--plus how to set up a cost-effective first aid kit and other emergency supplies for the sexually adventurous."

Reviews Say:

"The book's second (and largest section) deals with a wide range of BDSM emergencies, things like allergic reactions, burn care, bleeding, fainting, etc to 'personal emergencies,' like defusing arguments or emotional upsets, to what to do in case of a power failure or a visit by the authorities."

We Say:

These are some of the scariest scenarios we've ever imagined. Why did the authorities get called to your home? How the hell do you start a fire with sex?

Once again, we're not trying to judge: Even the best of us enjoys dressing up like the Thundercats and being fellated by the vacuum. But that rarely requires an emergency supply kit. If your sex does require an emergency supply kit, and ends up with someone passed out, covered in hives and bleeding while the fire department is kicking your door in, we humbly suggest you just seriously did something wrong. Like really wrong. Whatever you were doing, don't do it again. For the love of God, don't do it again.


This shouldn't happen.

Wait a second ... this appears to be written by the same people who published that book on erotic knifeplay. And now here's their guide to dealing with bedroom disasters. We're thinking they're playing both sides of the market here.

#5.
Make Your Own Sex Toys: 50 Quick and Easy Do-It-Yourself Projects

The Book Says:

"Ranging from the kinky to the cozy, these simple and budget-friendly toys can all be made from materials found at home, the hardware store, or the supermarket."

Reviews Say:

"I rather struggled with the hydraulic probe, but there was an intense burst of satisfaction on completion!"

We Say:

A This Old House approach to sex with the addition of foreign objects is probably best saved for only the most penny-pinching couples ... and even then, only if one of them is an absolute master craftsman. Approaching your lovers genitals with something you made yourself out of a bicycle pump, electrical tape and party balloons is a recipe for a hilarious story the emergency room staff will definitely retell later, again and again.

As a fun side note, the writer of this book also wrote a book called What Shat That?: A Pocket Guide To Poop Identity, meaning it may behoove you to think twice about following his directions in designing something meant to be inserted in your body.

#4.
More Family Jewels: Further Explorations in Male Genitorture

The Book Says:

"The word genitorture might bring some frightening images to mind, but in reality it is not always about pain. It can incorporate a full range of sensations from sensual to painful."

Reviews Say:

"How many TV shows and movies tantalize us with the exciting threat? Everyone from James Bond to Jack Bauer has hooked our viewing to scenes of men getting their privates worked over."

We Say:

Genitorture is a word that only exists in dictionaries found in the bowels of Hell.

Also, we're not at all comforted by the book's assertion that it's not always about pain. As soon as you start throwing around a word that combines "genital" and "torture," we don't hear anything else you have to say. We're too busy crossing our legs and avoiding anything that looks like an alligator clamp.

Somewhat more unsettling than the very premise of the book is the reviewer's reaction to filmed torture scenes which are meant to demonstrate some seriously awful, crippling, horrifying shit.

The kind of people who get turned on watching James Bond have his nuts mashed into paste at the end of Casino Royale are the kinds of people who give innocent perverts like furries and adult babies a bad name.

#3.
How to be the Best Lover: A Guide for Teenage Boys

The Book Says:

"Best Lover introduces teenagers to the heart of relationships--not shying away from telling them about oral sex or making love ..."

Reviews Say:

"I purchased the book online and read it immediately. I have since insisted that my husband read it, all three of my daughters have read it, and it has since moved on to the boys they are involved with."

We Say:

What teenage boy doesn't want to learn about sex? Now what teenage boy doesn't want this man to teach them to be the best lover?

Those two questions have distinctly different answers.

A sex guide for teens isn't inherently odd. But there's something unsettling about proclaiming your sex guide will turn the 14-year-old boys of the world into the best lovers ever, which up until this point has been one of those nefarious NAMBLA goals most people don't discuss in polite company, or outside of the special wing of the prison in which they're held.

Sure, you're setting them up to peak awfully early. But mostly you're just being creepy. The realm of creep has expanded in the hands of readers, like the reviewer, who apparently hands this book to their daughters' potential boyfriends as something of a how-to guide in pleasing them, something you really don't want to discuss with your girlfriend's mom unless you're living in a porno.

#2.
Intimate Invasion: The Erotic Ins & Outs of Enema Play

The Book Says:

"Author and experienced practitioner M. R. Strict addresses issues of psychology, physiology, and personal safety with regard of using enemas for foreplay."

Reviews Say:

"There are two kinds of enema lovers--those who find enemas erotic in a regressive/submissive setting, and those who eschew such settings in favor of purely 'cleansing' or 'erotic' activities."

We Say:

Apparently there's no end to the things someone is willing to write a how-to book about, even topics that are generally covered in the "directions" panel on the sides of enema packages the world over.

Somehow the author of this book took that information, which we assume amounts to "squirt this thing in your ass" and stretched it to 144 pages.

It's possible those extra 143 and 4/5 pages are filled with the eroticism promised in the title, tips like telling your lover how positively glowing they look as you fill their anal cavity with Fanta or whatever passes for a sexy enema elixir these days. Or maybe doing it on a bed of rose petals and a sensual tarp to manage any overflow.

Or maybe they added a subplot about diamond smugglers or something, we really don't care what's on the rest of the pages as long as it's not pictures.

#1.
A Hand in the Bush: The Fine Art of Vaginal Fisting

The Book Says:

"This long-awaited guide by Deborah Addington has been approved by three fisting-positive physicians."

Reviews Say:

"I would say this is a great book for details regarding how to put one's whole hand into a vagina."

We Say:

How many patients do you think those three fisting-positive physicians see in the average day? Were there any additional fisting-positive physicians who did not approve of this book? Like how in toothpaste commercials only 4 out of 5 dentists agree that Crest is best for preventing cavities. Is it possible there's a mystery fourth fisting-positive physician out there who read this book and just couldn't in good conscience lend his support to it and is biding his time until a book on fisting comes out that meets his exceedingly high standards?

Not that it matters, as the review provided by an enthusiast who assures us he's "super into fisting" pretty much cuts to the heart of the matter and confirms this book indeed explains how to get one's hand into a vagina. And we suppose it's better that people discover how from this book rather than, say, as the result of a very awkward accident.

Find more of Ian's stuff at ScenicAnemia.com.

Original here

Highest-Quality Luxury Cars

Mercedes-Benz E Class buyers enjoy a burl walnut interior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power-adjustable front seats and rain-sensing intermittent windshield wipers.

They also get the satisfaction of knowing they are behind the wheel of one of the industry's highest-quality cars.

That's because the E-Class is among the 15 luxury cars named to J.D. Power's annual Initial Quality Study. The Infiniti M-Series, Audi A6, Lexus ES350 and Porsche Cayman also make the list.

In Pictures: Highest-Quality Luxury Cars

In the study, released last week, J.D. Power and Associates, a global marketing information company headquartered in Westlake Village, Calif., surveyed 81,500 purchasers and lessees of new 2008 model-year cars and trucks, after 90 days of ownership, between February 2008 and April 2008. Vehicles with less than 100 respondents were not ranked.

The largest reported problems were design-related. Though luxury cars boast some of the industry's most technologically advanced innovations, including wireless communication devices, and navigation and audio systems, this roster of gizmos has resulted in design flaws automakers are working to address.

"Minimizing design problems remains a major challenge for the industry," says David Sargent vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates, "particularly since new technology, such as navigation and entertainment devices, is becoming increasingly common in today’s new vehicles."

What's more, "issues with difficult-to-use audio and entertainment controls and voice command recognition failure are among the top ten problems most frequently reported by customers," says Sargent of the trade-off that manufacturer’s face of introducing new technology and maintaining quality.

The silver lining, however, is that luxury automakers are heeding the call. The study found that overall quality improvements in the luxury car segment have remained in-line with long-term trends, increasing by 6 % this year over the year prior.

It's no surprise then that luxury brands top J.D. Power’s list of cars with the fewest problems per 100 vehicles. Customer qualms may range from paint chips to inadequate lighting of the dashboard in daylight. Porsche is ranked highest for the third consecutive year averaging 87 (the industry average is 118.) Infiniti occupies second with 98; its EX-Series is the No. 1 entry premium vehicle in the J.D. Power study. This is no mean feat according to Sargent, as in past years "automakers have frequently struggled to achieve very high initial quality with new models."

Infiniti also takes second place in the entry premium vehicle category with its G-Series. The Acura TSX and the Volvo S40 tie in third and fourth to complete the group.

What amenities do you look for in a new car? Weigh in. Post your thoughts in the Readers' Comments section below.

In the compact premium sporty car category the Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class tops the list, while the Porsche Cayman takes second and the Volvo C70 third.

Infiniti claims its second award with its M-Series tying with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class for the highest-ranked midsize premium car. The Audi A6 and the Lexus ES 350 rounded out the group.

The Lexus LS tops the large premium car segment followed by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Cadillac DTS. The Mercury Sable and the Mercury Grand Marquis complete the large car segment led by the Pontiac Grand Prix Sedan.

Increased quality, says Sargent, will lead to greater owner loyalty, a long-term benefit as new users are more likely to criticize than loyal customers.

And given the ubiquity of high technology in vehicles today, he continues, luxury cars can no longer use this to differentiate themselves and instead use pricing and brand image to maintain their premium status.

Original here

TRANSPORTATION TUESDAY: Super Slim Lumeneo Smera EV

With oil prices at a record high, it comes as no surprise to find alternative vehicles such as the Lumeneo Smera catching the eye of car enthusiasts everywhere. The Smera is a two seat, four wheel electric vehicle that is narrow enough to maneuver as a motorcycle. We’ve heard of small vehicles, but the Smera is taking thin to a new transportation extreme.

The Smera is 2.4 metres (8 feet) long, and 80 cm (less than 3 feet) wide. It can hit a top speed of 80mph, and will take you 93 miles on one charge. The vehicle is quite narrow, and handles more like a motorcycle than a car, tilting around curves rather than turning. The wheels are powered by dual electric 20hp motors, which according to the manufacturers, will last you for 200,000 km. It is powered by a 144 volt lithium ion battery, which can be charged in a few hours.

It is certainly a small vehicle, and a powerful one for its size. Here’s hoping that this vehicle, which at the moment is but a concept, does make it into production by 2009. The expected cost will be between 20-30,000 Euros.

+ Lumeneo Smera

Original here

Customer Review

By Charles Moore
"Trapped under a beam with the countdown ticking away, the monster just on the other side of the battered door, and my friends are trying to free me, I look up at them and yell, "Go on without me. I'll be alright. I'll hold him off while you escape!" And my friends, because they know my sacrifice won't be in vain, make their getaway and when the monster breaks through just as the explosives go off, I know I died saving the lives of my dearest friends."

That pretty much sums up my experience reading Aaron Rayburn's novel, THE SHADOW GOD. I took one for the team, so the rest of you would NEVER have to be subjected to this beast. I beg you, don't let my selflessness be for nothing. Heed my warning. This is the worst book ever written.

The back cover copy reads "Craig Johnson had two best friends, two caring parents, a hot girlfriend, and a nice truck--not bad for a twenty-year-old." Already we're in trouble. The author photo shows Rayburn in all his mid-20s virginal glory. Manson contacts, a black cap turned backwards with a red 666 monogrammed on it, he's posing next to what looks like a rubber demon. His bio includes the line "He also says that he owes a great deal of gratitude to the Devil . . . for filling his mind with such horrific images."

If this book is the most horrific thing the devil can come up, I think humanity is safe from the threat of hell.

There are so many things wrong with this book, I decided to keep notes so I could present them in an orderly fashion, with quotes to back me up. I don't want you to take my word for this novel's horridness, I'm going to let Rayburn speak for himself. We'll start with the plot.

Craig Johnson was cursed at birth when his parents left the town church led by the possibly-evil Father Spiers. Spiers then tricked Craig's father Matt into strangling him, only in the end, Matt had killed, not Father Spiers, but one of the doctors. So Matt's been in jail Craig's entire life. Shortly after Craig's 20th birthday he begins to notice a blue light emanating from his bedroom closet. He calls for his mommy (I'm not making that up, it's on page 14), but she doesn't see any light, so he plays it off like he'd seen a rat, and asks her to check in his closet. After she leaves, Craig is compelled to enter the light, which takes him to the Dark World, which is sometimes like a vast black void, paved of course cuz you have to have something to walk on in a void, and sometimes is like Craig's own neighborhood, complete with the houses of his friends. Those friends, Todd and Mark, are also pulled into the Dark World, but they make their escape and then begins the action as the three try to solve the mystery of the blue light and the dark world. To sum up--this book is 454 pages, okay?--Craig is the reincarnation of Abel, the Shadow God is Cain, and Father Spiers is Cain's acolyte, sent to prepare for his return to the real world. In the midst of all this Mark is killed and resurrected by Ridley, a club owner/satanist (he runs The Satanist Group Association. Again, I wish I was making this up!) and servant to Spiers and the Shadow God.

Craig's girlfriend, his mother, his father, as well as Mark's sister Margie and Todd's parents, are all killed and the cops think Craig did it. One cop does, anyway, Detective Jim Underwood, son of the doctor Craig's father Matt strangled to death 20 years earlier. DUN-DUN-DUN!!! There's a showdown where Craig is sucked into another portal to face Cain, who then becomes a dragon, and Todd jumps in to help his friend, they all die--except Craig--and we live happily ever after.

Okay, I know it doesn't seem THAT bad from the plot. But I haven't begun quoting yet. Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

Rayburn wasn't even close.

"Spiers's eyes popped extraneously from their sockets, as his face turned from a deep red to a sickly purple."

"Extraneous" means "irrelevant." I don't think that's what he meant. At least, I hope not.

Here's my favorite:

"The lamp's glow was very weak compared to the blue glow emancipating from the basement."

Emanating, Rayburn, EMANATING. When will people learn never to trust their SpellCheck without verifying it's the word they meant??? There are, in total, 11 instances of Rayburn using the wrong word, and believe me, each one is funnier than the last.

Okay, one more.

"It infiltrated his lungs, filling them with a kind of innovativeness he had never felt before."

To be honest, I don't know what word he meant, but I keep seeing Craig's lung filing patents for a dozen new inventions, getting promotions for discovering an even newer formula for Tide laundry detergent, or finding the cure for cancer.

Then there are the characters. Craig and his buddies are all 20, they're in college, and they have cars and money. Craig bribes the guard with hundred dollar bills when he's trying to get in to see his father in
prison. Yet never in the entire book do these men go to class, nor to a job. Where did Craig get his "nice truck"? His mother works "odd jobs", so I doubt she co-signed the loan.

And the dialogue. Oh dear, the dialogue.

"That's probably the fiercest dragon known to man," Craig tells Todd toward the end. Because, you know, we have so many different kinds of dragons in the world with which to compare.

Okay, so he uses the wrong word and his characters are morons. You can overlook a misused word here and LOTS of writers are horrible with characters. Hell, I'm guilty of this myself. But sometimes he just
plain gets his facts WRONG:

"The stranger was beastly in size with thick, bushy eyebrows, a prominent protruding forehead, and a thick, black coarse beard. His gait was that of a mammal--a Neanderthal."

I know I never went to college, but um . . . do you think Rayburn knows HUMAN BEINGS are mammals as well?

And later we learn that Cain and Abel were Neanderthals who lived in the stone age, feared dinosaurs, and that Cain was kicked out of the Garden of Eden for slaying his brother. Dude, Cain and Abel weren't born until a LONG time after Adam and Eve--the only two people who ever lived in the Garden of Eden--were kicked out.

And not only is this the worst book ever written, it's also the worst-written book ever.

Behold:

"Of all the things to think, he never thought he'd think that."

And:

"Already, he knew he wouldn't be able to do it. In fact, he KNEW he wouldn't."

???

Wasn't that already established in the previous sentence?

"Eubanks looked annoyed. He exhaled annoyingly and said..."

You know what? I could do this all night.

THE SHADOW GOD is the perfect example of everything that's wrong with publishing in today's world. Anyone with the notion--talent or not--can write a "book", then contact a place like AuthorHouse ("publisher" of this fine volume and, I'm sure, Rayburn's second novel which I don't care enough to look up the title to), and unleash this mess on an unsuspecting world. And then we wonder why no one reads anymore. Why should they? If this is the kind of stuff they're being subjected to.

Used to be a writer had to learn to WRITE before they could get published. Now, all you need is a couple thousand dollars and you got yourself a book. Talent? Who needs it? Skill? What for? Learning to write? Are you kidding me? Forget about it, I've got this here manyooscript and an address I can get it printed, I'mma be one of dem novelists. Riches, here I comes!!!

It's enough to make aspiring writers want to give up seeking legitimate publishing venues. Please don't. Just be sure to write better than this guy. God knows it won't be difficult. Or should I say, God knows it won't be deficit.




Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2008 June 11

Dextre Robot at Work on the Space Station
Credit: STS-124 Crew, Expedition 17 Crew, NASA

Explanation: What's the world's most complex space robot doing up there? Last week, Dextre was imaged moving atop the Destiny Laboratory Module of the International Space Station (ISS), completing tasks prior to the deployment of Japan's Kibo pressurized science laboratory. Dextre, short for the Canadian-built Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator, has arms three meters in length and can attach power tools as fingers. Behind Dextre is the blackness of space, while Earth looms over Dextre's head. The Kibo laboratory segment being deployed during space shuttle Discovery's trip to the ISS can be pressurized and contains racks of scientific experiment that will be used to explore many things, including how plants brace themselves against gravity, and how water might be inhibited from freezing in cells under microgravity.

Original here

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2008 June 10

A Fire Rainbow Over New Jersey
Credit & Copyright: Paul Gitto (Arcturus Observatory)

Explanation: What is that inverted rainbow in the sky? Sometimes known as a fire rainbow for its flame-like appearance, a circumhorizon arc is created by ice, not fire. For a circumhorizon arc to be visible, the Sun must be at least 58 degrees high in a sky where cirrus clouds are present. Furthermore, the numerous, flat, hexagonal ice-crystals that compose the cirrus cloud must be aligned horizontally to properly refract sunlight like a single gigantic prism. Therefore, circumhorizon arcs are quite unusual to see. Pictured above, however, a rare fire rainbow was captured above trees in Whiting, New Jersey, USA in late May.

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Tip of the Tongue Learning

When you can't quite remember a tricky word or somebody's name, trying to excavate it from your memory might be the worst thing you can do, according to new psychology research. This ScienCentral News video explains.

[If you cannot see the youtube video below, you can click here for a high quality mp4 video.]


Interviewee: Karin Humphreys, McMaster University
Length: 1 min 24 sec
Produced by Jessica Tanenbaum
Edited by Jessica Tanenbaum and James Eagan
Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc., with additional footage courtesy University of Michigan Health System

How to Remember What You’re Always Forgetting

In a classic “Seinfeld” dilemma, Jerry draws a blank on his new girlfriend’s name, and the relationship has become too intimate for him just to ask. Throughout the half hour episode, Jerry’s various ploys to jog his memory bear no fruit, and the denouement comes too late to salvage the nascent romance. By the end of the show, the girlfriend has discovered his predicament, become irate, and stormed out of his apartment. And that’s when it hits him: Dolores.

Now, two psychologists from McMaster University are shedding light on the cause of Jerry’s mental block. According to a new study by Amy Beth Warriner and Karin Humphreys, the longer you try to come up with the word that’s on the tip of your tongue, the more likely you’ll be to get stuck on that word in the future.

For years, Humphreys herself endured a Seinfeld-like struggle with the word 'obsidian,' the term for black, shiny volcanic glass. Instead of saying 'obsidian,' Humphreys would think, “It’s like oblong, but no, it’s not oblong. I know that it’s not oblong but that’s the only word coming to mind,” she says.

But out of this protracted mental battle came an idea: maybe by straining her memory on that stubborn vocabulary word, she was making it even harder to remember the answer later on. To test out this hypothesis, she and Warriner brought 30 undergraduates into the psychology laboratory. Through their experiment, they found that “by actually getting into a tip of the tongue state, I’ve actually dug myself into a hole, and I’ve made this wrong learning. And the next time I go to do that, I’m going to get into this wrong state again,” says Humphreys.

The result has implications for the classroom, she says. “If the student can’t learn something or can’t remember something… then you often see the teacher encouraging them to work through it. 'Just keep trying. It’ll come to you.' And what we’re seeing is that perhaps that really isn’t the best technique,” she explains. Instead of trying to remember, students should look up the correct answer. And when you’re grinding your mental gears but have no way research the answer immediately? For those situations, Humphreys’ advises that you “don’t keep trying. Just stop."

Keyboard Choices
After seeing a question, volunteers responded that they either knew the answer, didn't know, or had it stuck on the tip of their tongue (TOT).

For the study, published in the “Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,” Humphreys and Warriner had volunteers play a simple vocabulary game. A computer screen would flash a question, such as “What is the name of a spear-like object that is thrown during a track meet?” (Hint: it starts with a J). Volunteers responded by pressing one of three buttons: know, don’t know, or TOT (tip of tongue). For TOT questions, the volunteers were assigned either ten or thirty seconds to agonize, before being shown the correct answer.

To make sure volunteers were staying on task, the researchers asked them vocalize their thoughts. Humphreys says the volunteers mumble things like, “‘Oh, I’m thinking. It sounds like something. I can’t quite remember. Oh! I think it starts with the letter K. I can’t quite get it.’ They actually talk aloud the whole time, so we know they’re keeping on trying to do this.”

Humphreys says the volunteers were motivated to relieve themselves of the tortured feelings that come with the tip of tongue condition. “It’s incredibly annoying, and there’s nothing more that you want in the world than to actually try and get this word out,” she says.

During the experiment, mental mining sometimes produced results. Other times, the established ten or thirty-second interval would elapse and the volunteers would still be stuck. That’s when the right answer would appear.

Two days later, volunteers came back for another go at the same questions. The finding: people who had twenty seconds longer to endure the TOT state were more likely to get stuck again on the second test. In their study, the authors describe those twenty seconds as “incorrect practice” time, where volunteers are practicing the erroneous stuck condition, rather than the answer.

The experiment has answered a question—why we repeat our mistakes—that’s been difficult for psychologists to test until now, says Humphreys. “The problem in studying this is that it’s very hard to get people to make mistakes on the spot… It’s very difficult to tease apart whether this repeated error is due to learning it, or that you’ve always had problems with this particular item,” she explains.

“What’s new about this is that we’re not trying to manipulate whether someone makes the mistake or not. We just have to wait for them to make a mistake all on their own, but what we can do instead is manipulate how long they spend” in the mistaken tip-of-tongue state, she says.

The research doesn’t stop there though. Humphreys and Warriner are following up by investigating the best way to correct your tip of tongue errors, and by studying the phenomenon in bilingual people. The research could also lead to new ways to help people who have difficulty remembering words, a problem that plagues people as they age.

So remember, if you’re trying to help out somebody who’s stuck, you should give them the answer. Humphreys also says you should “get them to repeat it back to you. But don’t leave them in this state where they just have to keep trying, because they’re just going to be digging themselves into that error again."

So does Humphreys still get stuck when she finds herself discussing that shiny black volcanic glassy stuff? “I’ve actually practiced obsidian a great deal so I’m no longer in trouble on that particular one anymore,” she says.

This study was published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychiatry and received funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Original here

How The Brain Can Protect Against Cancer

Scientists have been aware for many years that if cancer patients are not able to deal with the stress associated with being sick, the cancer will progress faster than in calmer patients. To counteract this phenomenon, physicians encourage treatments that help cancer patients handle their stress. Scientists theorized that the stress relief may have come as a result of increased beta-endorphin peptide (BEP), the "feel good" hormones in the brain that are released during exercise, a good conversation, and many other aspects of life that give humans pleasure.

Researchers at Rutgers hypothesized that BEP producing neurons do not just make us feel good, but also play roles in regulating the stress response and immune functions to control tumor growth and progression. In a paper published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Dr. Dipak K. Sarkar and his colleagues demonstrate the physical mechanisms that support their hypothesis.

"Our findings show promise for future therapeutic treatments for bolstering the immune function," said Sarkar, professor of animal sciences and director of the Endocrinology Program at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, and principal investigator of the research project.

Previous research has shown that too few, or inactive, BEP neurons are associated with various diseases. For example, low numbers of BEP neurons have been identified in the brains of patients with depression and schizophrenia. Neurons that produce too little BEP are found in many obese patients. In both these cases the patients also had higher levels of infection and more incidence of cancer.

To test their hypothesis about the role of BEP in controling tumor growth and progression, the Rutgers scientists took neural stem cells, transformed them into BEP neurons by treating them with particular chemicals, and then transplanted them into brains of live rats. The authors studied tumor growth in the rats that had been given carcinogens to induce prostate tumors. The authors noted that the BEP neurons boosted the immune system by increasing the activity of particular immune cell types and decreasing inflammation.

The neurons also protected the rats against prostate cancer 90 percent of the time. The researchers discovered that the "natural killer," or NK cells that typically attack cancer cells in the body, are activated by the inserted BEP neurons. The NK cells reduced inflammation around the cancer cells, which slowed down caner cell growth and killed many of these cells.

"We are optimistic that this research can be applied to human medicine," said Sarkar. "Instead of transplanting cells, we will investigate whether we can increase BEP using a chemical approach."

Original here

Woolly Mammoths Existed in Two Distinct Groups

Two genetically distinct groups of woolly mammoths once roamed northern Siberia, a new study suggests, with one group dying out long before humans showed up.

The finding suggests humans were not the only reason for the beasts' demise, as some have suggested.

Scientists had long thought that woolly mammoths were one large homogeneous group, but an international group of scientists studied the mitochondrial DNA — the DNA in the genes of the mitochondria structures within cells — to paint a new picture of the ancient pachyderms.

They extracted the DNA from frozen hair samples obtained from individual woolly mammoth specimens, found throughout a wide swath of northern Siberia. They compared 18 complete genomes of mitochondrial DNA and found evidence of two genetically distinct clades, or groups of the elephant-like beasts.

"The population was split into two groups, then one of the groups died out 45,000 years ago, long before the first humans began to appear in the region," said study team leader Stephan C. Schuster of Penn State University.

Schuster and his team also found that each group had a low genetic diversity — in other words, individuals within each of the woolly-mammoth groups were very closely related to one another.

"This low genetic divergence is surprising because the woolly mammoth had an extraordinarily wide range: from Western Europe, to the Bering Strait in Siberia, to North America," said study team member Webb Miller, also of Penn State. He added that this low genetic diversity "may have degraded the biological fitness of these animals in a time of changing environments and other challenges."

The research, funded by Penn State, Roche Applied Science and a private sponsor, indicates that the diversity of the two woolly-mammoth groups was as low centuries ago as it is now in Asian elephants living in southern India, which has been suggested as contributing to the problem of maintaining thriving groups of Asian elephants, Schuster said.

In their paper, which appears in the June 9 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers note that the smaller clade appears to have died out before the larger clade, possibly as a result of genetic drift, or the frequencies with which certain forms of a gene are passed to later generations, purely as a matter of chance. Because the population had such a small range, the lack of diversity could have left them vulnerable to a sudden change in their environment.

"This discovery is particularly interesting because it rules out human hunting as a contributing factor, leaving climate change and disease as the most probably causes of extinction," Schuster said.

Original here

Lake bursts bank and disappears: 'It was . . . full of life, now it's gone'

Jim Downs poses Tuesday with a catfish left stranded in the bed of what remains of Lake Delton after heavy rains caused the 267-acre lake to escape its banks near the Wisconsin Dells. (Tribune photo / E. Jason Wambsgans / June 10, 2008)

LAKE DELTON, Wis. - One of the most scenic getaways for Chicagoans is devastated.

Weekend rains of biblical proportions dumped so much water into Lake Delton that it literally burst its banks.

Tens of thousands of gallons of lake water barreled through the woods, taking with it a roadway, several houses, boats, fish and lake bed. It emptied into the nearby Wisconsin River and was gone in hours.

On Tuesday morning, some 24 hours after the catastrophe, the massive lake is nearly drained. The lake is a muddy moonscape of cracked earth. Fish bake in the sun, flopping until their deaths. Mounds of dead fish are piled high. The shoreline is jagged and cracked. Boats hang in the air suspended by what is left of the docks. In parts, the little water that is left meanders like a silent brook. The roadway and earth that held the river back is now a grand canyon.

"Just this weekend it was full of fish, full of boaters, full of life and now it's gone," said Harland Tourdoy who has been fishing these waters for a half-century.

Standing on beachhead, where lake waters used to lap at his feet, Tourdoy watched as a lone canoeist attempted to navigated a narrow channel that was left of the lake center. "I wonder if it'll ever be the same," he said.

Lake Delton is nature's signature landscape for the Wisconsin Dells. While the region draws thousands to its indoor and outdoor water parks, Delton was the natural draw for water skiing, fishing and other recreation.

Condominiums, hotels, and mom and pop homes dot the jagged shoreline that offered serene vistas of the lakes. State officials vow to refill the lake as soon as possible. But locals are skeptical.

"When will I ever get my view back?" asked Sue Schultz, who lives on a bluff above the lake.

Up until Monday morning, residents were worried about flooding. Schultz's neighbors were furiously sandbagging, worrying that a nearby dam could bust, sending the lake to high levels. Instead, Schultz watched incredulously as the lake drained Monday morning.

"I was in a state of shock," she said. "I wondered where it was all going."

Within hours, Schultz's view was of a giant mud pit.

"Never in my wildest imagination could I dream of seeing this," she said.

With summer tourist season in full swing, residents worry about the impact.

At the gorge that only hours ago was a roadway, several locals scampered into the riverbed pulling out dead fish and walking along the sticky riverbed.

"At fist it will be a novelty that people will want to come and see," said Jim Downs, who fished a dead perch out of the mud.

"But soon it will begin to stink here pretty bad and it will drive people away," he said. "I don't see this lake coming back for years."

Original here

Did hyperactivity evolve as a survival aid for nomads?

Impulsivity and a short attention span may be the bane of every parent with a hyperactive toddler, but those same traits seem to help Kenyan nomads keep weight on.

A gene mutation tied to attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) is also associated with increased weight among a chronically undernourished group of nomads called the Ariaal. Notably, the mutation offers no such benefit to a cousin population that gave up the nomadic lifestyle in the 1960s.

The nomads' active and unpredictable life centred on herding might benefit from spontaneity, says Ben Campbell, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, US, who was involved in the new study.

"If you are a nomad then you ought to be little more impulsive than if you are settled," he says. "You should be a little quicker on the trigger."

Different lifestyles

The Ariaal are an isolated group of nomads who wander around northern Kenya, herding cows, camel, sheep and goats. Encouraged by Christian missionaries in the 1960s, some members settled in the same region and started relying on agriculture for some of their food.

The nomads and the settled groups still interact and intermarry, but they live drastically different lifestyles. "The nomads are always doing something. They are always walking to herd their animals," Campbell says, while settled Ariaal tend to be sedentary.

A previous study found that nomadic cultures around the world tend to have the same mutations, which determines the brain's response to a pleasure-delivering chemical called dopamine and is linked to impulsivity and ADHD.

Campbell and his colleague Daniel Eisenberg, of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, US, looked for the mutation in 87 settled and 65 nomadic Ariaal men.

About a fifth of the men from each group had the mutation. However, their physiques differed. Nomads with the mutation, which is in the gene called DRD4, tended to have slightly higher body-mass indexes and more muscles than nomads without the mutation – though both would be considered undernourished by Western standards. No such difference existed in the settled Ariaal.

Lean times

Why the mutation isn't more common is a mystery, says Eisenberg. Another study found the impulsive variation in about 60% of native South Americans, but only 16% of Caucasian Americans. "It might be that there is a niche for a few people with more impulsive behaviour, but when there are too many of them those niches are filled," he says.

Also unexplained is how a gene linked to ADHD promotes greater body weight in nomads, and not village dwellers. Campbell speculates that a short attention span and penchant for risk taking could benefit nomads who don't know where the next meal will come from.

However, the mutation could also make food more gratifying, or it might affect how the body converts calories to kilograms. "We really don't know," Campbell says.

The mutation "predisposes you to be more active, more demanding, and not such a pleasant person," says

Henry Harpending, an anthropologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, also in the US. "You probably do better in a context of aggressive competition." In other words, in lean times, violent men may feast while passive men starve.

Journal reference: BMC Evolutionary Biology (DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-8-172)

Human Evolution - Follow the incredible story in our comprehensive special report.

Evolution – Learn more about the struggle to survive in our comprehensive special report.

Genetics – Keep up with the pace in our continually updated special report.

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GM plans humorous 'Dear Oil' ad

The U.S's biggest automaker is expected to promote cars not dependent on petroleum in an upcoming TV spot.


GM takes 'drastic measures'

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- As part of a green marketing bid, automotive giant General Motors plans to unveil a lighthearted television ad that begins "Dear Oil," and proceeds to suggest a cooling off of its "relationship" with petroleum products.

GM marketing executive Kathryn Benoit spoke about the ad in a panel discussion at the American Advertising Federation conference Monday, said Kelly Cusinato, GM (GM, Fortune 500) spokeswoman.

While discussing green marketing, Benoit cited the company's plans for the new spot, which is aimed at promoting alternative fuel, said Cusinato.

In the ad, the "Dear Oil" letter continues: "We've had this great relationship for many years. We think we will both be a lot happier and healthier if we see less of each other."

The ad spot is still in the planning phase, but the target date for release is June 22nd during NBC's Meet the Press, according to Cusinato. The ad will also appear on the Discovery Channel's new environmental TV channel, Planet Green.

"The message in this creative spot is that we need to move beyond fuel and look to other options," said Cusinato.

The ad is an attempt to communicate the corporation's commitment to move beyond petroleum products, Cusinato said. The spot is still being developed and could change between now and the targeted release date, she said.

GM's plans for the ad was first described on AdAge.com Tuesday.

GM's ad plan comes as gas prices hit record levels, pinching consumers at the pump. The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline rose to $4.043, up 2 cents from the previous day's mark of $4.023, AAA's Web site showed on Tuesday. Crude oil prices, on the other hand, slipped Tuesday.

Original here

Experts Ask: What Will Happen to Biodiversity When the World Becomes A Giant City?

A new study outlines the uncomfortable question of what happens to the planet’s biodiversity when cities take over the world. Cities are growing, and they’re growing fast. It is projected that urban growth will create an additional 350,000 square miles of cities roads, buildings and parking lots—covering a combined area the size of Texas—by 2030. Every week humans create the equivalent of a city the size of Vancouver. What will this staggering growth mean for both nature and people? According to the study, co-authored by Conservancy scientists Robert McDonald and Peter Kareiva McDonald, it means significant species loss and a further decline of natural resources like fresh water. They say we need to prepare—now.

“While the effects of urbanization are very localized, cumulatively it is a big threat to biodiversity,” says McDonald, lead-author of the study. “Our urban footprint covers much of the globe and is coming closer to stomping out many endangered species and posing new risks to protected areas and parks.”

According to McDonald, governments and conservation organizations need to start planning for these trends immediately. Why? Because its a lot easier to design urban growth well in the first place, then it is to try and change it after the infrastructure has already been laid. By then it’s usually too late.

According to the United Nations, humans officially became an urban species in 2007 when a milestone was reached. Over half of the world’s population now live in cities. By 2030, 60 percent of the world’s citizens, including nearly 2 billion from rural migration, will be living in cities.

“As a species we have lived in wild nature for hundreds of thousands of years, and now suddenly most of us live in cities—the ultimate escape from nature,” says Kareiva. “If we do not learn to build, expand and design our cities with a respect for nature, we will have no nature left anywhere.”

Indeed, biocide is occurring at an alarming rate. Experts project that at least half of the world’s current animal species will be completely gone by the end of the century. Wild plant-life is also disappearing. Most biologists say that we are in the midst of an anthropogenic mass extinction that is at least partially caused by human encroachment on more and more areas of the planet. Numerous scientific studies confirm that this phenomenon needs to be addressed quickly.

McDonald’s study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, confirms what other experts have found: Wildlife is in trouble. The research projects urban growth scenarios, including how these models could affect ecoregions, rare species, and protected areas up until 2030. Here is a summary of some of their findings:

· Around 25 percent of the world’s protected areas will be only a half-hour drive from an urban metropolis. Such proximity will increase the pressures on fragile natural resources and intensify the threats to protected ecosystems.

· As cities start to creep up on protected areas and parks, they will likely change fire patterns as more people accidentally or intentionally start fires, as well as engage in more ecologically damaging attempts to hamper fires that threaten human structures. For example, Tijuca National Park near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil averages 75 wildfires a year. Nearly all of them are caused by humans living near the edge of the park.

· Invasive species will increasingly take over native flora and fauna. In Table Mountain National Park, South Africa, for example, invasive plants are usually introduced from backyard gardens bordering the park.

· Poaching and illegal timber harvesting will also increase as nearby towns respond to regional and/or global market demands, such as is now occurring in the Barisan I Nature Reserve in West Sumatra.

· Water quality and quantity will continue to decline due to nearby urban growth, such as is currently happening in Donana National Park in Spain where dirty water from Sevilla, which is 30 miles upstream, pollutes the parks formerly pristine waters.

“This is yet another vivid example of why conservation cannot simply be about sequestering nature in parks and reserves,” says Kareiva.

“We can set up all the reserves we want, but if we do not take care in where we place our cities, how we grow our cities, and how we live in our cities, then we will fail in our mission to protect biodiversity.”

On the bright side, McDonald says that urban growth is following a fairly predictable trend, so it’s not too late to start mitigating certain effects in advance.

“Governments, city-planners and conservationists can work together to predict and plan in advance for some of these threats to nature,” he says. “Some species just have the bad luck of living where cities have been built. But by knowing our impact to these endangered species and protected areas, planners can start to shape the growth of cities to be more environmentally-friendly.”

One challenge, especially in developing countries, is the lack of funds allocated towards smart planning practices. But regardless of where the threats are occurring, continued biodiversity is something the entire world needs to stand behind.

According to McDonald, “Only by addressing this growing conflict between cities and biodiversity can society achieve genuine conservation in an urbanizing world.”

Posted by Rebecca Sato

Original here

World's First Renewable Gasoline


The title might sound impossible, but Sapphire Energy, a California-based company, has been working away to create actual gasoline from a renewable, carbon neutral source: algae. While we've heard of many different processes for making fuels from algae, this one certainly tops the list. They've managed to produce 91-octane, ASTM certified gasoline, ready to be pumped into your car. They stress that it is not ethanol, and not biodiesel.

Move over Brent Crude, it's Green Crude's turn.

The company, they say, started with 3 friends discussing a very interesting question: "Why is the biofuel industry spending so much time and energy to manufacture ethanol — a fundamentally inferior fuel?" A very good question indeed, and one they sought to answer on their own terms. The friends - a bioengineer, a chemist, and a biologist - set out to recruit the best minds they could find to collaborate with them on the project, and the results are staggering. "The company has built a revolutionary platform using sunlight, CO2 and microorganisms such as algae" to produce the fuel, without the use of arable land, and while we haven't yet seen any data, they claim it to be very water efficient.

They also announced that they raised $50 million from Arch Rock Ventures, Venrock, and the Wellcome Trust. It is evident that Sapphire will become a major player in the coming years for alternative fuel production, and one cannot help but be inspired with confidence when Arch Rock says: "We realized at that point we could change the world, so we sat them down and told them, 'the checkbook is completely open; tell us what you need'." Not a statement you hear everyday from a venture capital firm.

We will have more on this story as it develops; we are eager for more info and will pass it on as soon as we get it.

Original here

World’s Largest Solar Farm Operational Later This Year

High on the Alantejo Plain, near the small town of Mouro in Eastern Portugal, the world’s biggest solar photovoltaic farm is nearing completion. When the £250 million ($500 million) farm is fully operational later this year, it will be twice as large as any project of its kind in the world. It is expected to supply 45MW of electricity every year, enough to power 30,000 homes.

The farm, located in an area with the highest annual sunshine per square meter in Europe, is made up of 2520 giant solar panels, positioned at a 45 degrees angle, to track the sun through 240 degrees every day.Portugal, with no oil, coal or gas reserves and no expertise in nuclear power, has some of the most ambitious targets for renewables in Europe, and aims to become a leader in the European clean-tech revolution. According to economics minister Manuel Pinho, “We have to reduce our dependence on oil and gas. What seemed extravagant in 2004 when we decided to go for renewables now seems to have been a very good decision.” By 2020, he expects Portugal to generate 31% of its energy from renewables.

The rate of progress is certainly impressive. In less than three years the country has trebled hydropower capacity, quadrupled wind power and invested in flagship solar projects like the one at Mouro. Crucially, this progress has been achieved on the back of a favorable economic and political climate. The government has guaranteed price-levels for the long-term and projects are not delayed by state indecision or hold-ups in the planning system. By 2012, companies are expected to invest £10 billion ($20 billion) in renewables, rising to up to £100 billion ($200 billion) by 2020.

While this project is to be of record-holding size, it will be overshadowed eventually by a plant here in the US currently in the planning stage, which is expected to produce 500MW - far more than this plant. The current largest solar farm in the US is well below Portugal's upcoming farm, sitting at 14MW. Of course, it seems as if lots of "world's largest" solar farms are in the works, so it's nice to see at least this one will be a reality.

Via The Guardian; photo credit Teri Pengilley

Original here

Tallying the Toll on an Elder of the Sea

MILFORD, Conn. — Horseshoe crabs may look ancient and alien and battery-operated, they may look like Wilma Flintstone’s idea of a Roomba vacuum cleaner, yet to the sixth-grade students from Columbus School in nearby Bridgeport, the most outrageous thing about the bronze-helmeted creatures crawling clumsily along the beach was not their appearance but their size — or rather sizes.

One boy pointed to a linked pair of horseshoe crabs, a relatively compact specimen maybe seven inches across clinging to the tail end of a much larger companion. A kid crab hitching a ride on its mother? No, explained Jennifer H. Mattei, head of the biology department at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, who led the expedition. They were both full-grown, a male and a female, and the female was the bruiser out front.

Among horseshoe crabs, Dr. Mattei explained, adult females are a good 25 to 30 percent bigger than their mates, a fact that the girls greeted with hoots of triumph, boys of indignation. Why are the females bigger? a boy demanded. It’s supposed to be the other way around!

As it turned out, the answer to that question was closely tied to the reason the students from Cheryl Crevier’s class had ventured out on a flawless June morning to the shores of Long Island Sound. With clipboards purposefully in hand and tape measures jauntily around neck, the 22 children were there to help catch, measure and tag as many specimens as they could find of the American horseshoe crab, or Limulus polyphemus, one of the oldest and most tenacious species on Earth. Fossils found this year in Manitoba reveal that the animal’s architecture has hardly changed in 445 million years.

The student project is part of a major effort now under way from Maine to Florida, as researchers and volunteers race to take advantage of the spring spawning season, when the crabs lumber from their wintering seabeds on the continental shelf and head inward to the shoreline to breed, and thus can be readily counted (www.projectlimulus.org). Experts are desperate to know whether their suspicions are correct — that as a result of being harvested en masse for use as fishing bait, horseshoe crab populations are beginning to crash.

The loss of the horseshoe crab would be tragic, researchers said, not only because the creatures are fascinating and cute and predate the dinosaurs by 200 million years, but also because so many contemporary life forms depend on them. Their annual spawns draw hundreds of species of migratory birds, predatory fish, reptiles, amphibians and various other alimentary canals eager to brunch on the freshly deposited Limulus eggs. “Horseshoe crab eggs are like filet mignon around here,” Dr. Mattei said. “They’re a very popular item on the menu.”

A bounteous one, too. “A single female horseshoe crab can put down 80,000 eggs a year, four million in her lifetime,” said John T. Tanacredi, a professor of earth and marine sciences at Dowling College in Oakdale, N.Y.

We, too, are multiply tethered to the ancient mariners. From their blood we extract a protein that is exquisitely sensitive to bacterial toxins and is used to test surgical instruments and intravenous drugs to ensure they are safe. The relatively simple visual circuitry of the horseshoe crab has proved an ideal model system for decoding the basis of sight. “Only with the horseshoe crab eye is it possible to predict what each nerve fiber in the retina will send to the brain as it sees,” said Robert B. Barlow, a professor of ophthalmology at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University.

The Columbus School students, after being assured that the crab was harmless and surmounting their squeamishness at holding something that, when turned over, looks very much like a large version of the scorpions and spiders to which the horseshoe crab is more closely related than it is to standard crabs like the Dungeness, took to their task with gusto.

They scooped the crabs out of the water carefully and held them, as instructed, like bowls of soup. They punctured small holes in the hard, chitinous shell with special tools designed by Dr. Mattei and her colleagues Mark Beekey and Barbara Pierce. And before a crab could ooze more than a spot of its distinctive blue blood — the color the result of the crab’s blood using copper as an oxygen ferrier rather than iron, as we do — they inserted the white numbered tag.

While they worked, the students learned about the horseshoe crab, how it uses its ice-pick-like tail, or telson, to steer in the water and to right itself should it be overturned in the sand, how the crab is a generalist willing to feed on plankton, bits of fish and worms, and how it lacks jaws for chewing and so grinds up its food with the help of bristles on its legs and an internal gizzard that contains bits of sand and gravel.

Dr. Mattei explained that in the ever-shifting tidal environment, the solid crabs are coveted real estate. “Over 20 species of organisms can be found living on their shells,” she said, including barnacles, slipper shells, blue mussels, sponges, flatworms and leeches, a baggage sum that, if not helpful to the crabs, doesn’t usually hurt them either.

She described the crab’s life cycle, how the animals shed their shells some 17 times before reaching adult size at around nine years of age. The males emerge from that final shell-shucking with a distinguishing pair of “boxing gloves” on their front claws, which they use for the all-important task of clinging to the back of a female for months at a time. While conjoined, the couple doesn’t have sex. But whenever the female lays a clutch of eggs, the male is well positioned to fertilize them by releasing a spermic plume.

“Females are bigger just for the physics of carrying all those eggs,” Dr. Mattei said. Sperm, by contrast, is gossamer, and male-male combat rare. “It’s whoever gets there first,” Dr. Mattei said, a reproductive strategy that may, in fact, reward the petite.

Alas, sometimes the first comer is a large warm-blooded crab with opposable thumbs. In the last few years, the Asian market for North American eel and conch meat has soared, and it seems that gravid female horseshoe crabs make the best bait. Even the stalwart Limulus can’t last if all its eggs end up in one basket — shaped like a fisherman’s boat.

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