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Tesla to unveil ‘mystery’ life changing product tonight!



Tesla's expected home battery announcement could spark energy revolution. SolarCity has already installed 300 Tesla-made batteries in California homes.


 Excerpt from CBC News 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is set to make an announcement later tonight. There's been speculation that a large-scale battery announcement is expected, but it's not clear if that will be the case.



The man behind the electric car revolution is expected to unveil a large-scale battery capable of powering an entire house, during an announcement at Tesla Motors headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.
While the battery will likely slash power bills for consumers, some say it's also a move toward democratizing energy systems.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, teased the announcement on Twitter a month ago, saying a major new Tesla product line will be unveiled at Hawthorne Design Studio at 8 p.m. local time Thursday. "Not a car," he wrote, sparking speculation that it may be a home battery.

Musk, who moved to Canada from South Africa and who briefly studied at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, is also chairman of SolarCity, a solar power provider.

SolarCity has already run a pilot program where it installed 300 home batteries made by Tesla in California homes. Another 130 systems were being installed in early 2015, according to the company's website.

The product will be available again in late summer, the company says, as it's working on "the next phase" of the program.

Tesla is also in the midst of building its gigafactory, which has added to the speculation that the company is unveiling a home battery. Musk says that by 2020, the factory will produce more lithium-ion batteries than all the current factories producing them today. 

A home battery attaches to a home's electrical system and collects energy gathered by solar panels when the sun is out, Michael Ramsey, a Wall Street Journal automotive reporter, told CBC's The Current. That energy can then be used when the sun is no longer out.
'This is this shift away from very large centrally operated plants towards everybody owning their own little power grid or part of a small power grid in a condo building.'-— Warren Mabee, of Queen's University
"The idea is that you purchase this system and it allows you effectively to cut the cord," he says of a consumer's ability to forgo energy from the grid. The consumer's electricity bills would be significantly reduced because they would be paying for less electricity from the grid.

This innovation could move the world toward a future where power is generated where we need it and where we use it, says Warren Mabee, director of the Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy.

"This is this shift away from very large centrally operated plants towards everybody owning their own little power grid or part of a small power grid in a condo building," Mabee says.

In this system, centralized power generation becomes more of a backup than a driver, he says.

Costs remain high

However, the current systems are still very expensive, says Ramsey. The 300 home batteries installed in California cost upward of $20,000, he says.

"It would take years and years and years to cover the utility costs," he says. "It doesn't make sense unless the costs come down."

Ramsey views businesses as having the highest possible economic advantage from this development. The battery could offer businesses a surge of electricity when they have a high demand for power and cut their bills.

Mabee compares the cost of solar panels to cellphones. Smartphones were once very expensive, but each new generation has brought the cost down, he said.

Each year, solar panels become better and cheaper. Solar panels are getting close to their grid parity moment — when the cost of generating solar power is the same or cheaper than buying energy off the grid.

Another grid parity moment may be close, says Mabee. It won't be long before the cost of a solar panel and battery system will match the cost of purchasing electricity from the grid, he estimates.
"That magic grid parity moment is coming faster and faster," he said.

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Seattle Company Raises Minimum Wage to $70,000 a Year For All Employees!






Excerpt from nytimes.com

The idea began percolating, said Dan Price, the founder of Gravity Payments, after he read an article on happiness. It showed that, for people who earn less than about $70,000, extra money makes a big difference in their lives.

His idea bubbled into reality on Monday afternoon, when Mr. Price surprised his 120-person staff by announcing that he planned over the next three years to raise the salary of even the lowest-paid clerk, customer service representative and salesman to a minimum of $70,000.

“Is anyone else freaking out right now?” Mr. Price asked after the clapping and whooping died down into a few moments of stunned silence. “I’m kind of freaking out.”

If it’s a publicity stunt, it’s a costly one. Mr. Price, who started the Seattle-based credit-card payment processing firm in 2004 at the age of 19, said he would pay for the wage increases by cutting his own salary from nearly $1 million to $70,000 and using 75 to 80 percent of the company’s anticipated $2.2 million in profit this year.

Employees reacting to the news. The average salary at Gravity Payments had been $48,000 year. Credit Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times

The paychecks of about 70 employees will grow, with 30 ultimately doubling their salaries, according to Ryan Pirkle, a company spokesman. The average salary at Gravity is $48,000 year.

Mr. Price’s small, privately owned company is by no means a bellwether, but his unusual proposal does speak to an economic issue that has captured national attention: The disparity between the soaring pay of chief executives and that of their employees.

The United States has one of the world’s largest pay gaps, with chief executives earning nearly 300 times what the average worker makes, according to some economists’ estimates. That is much higher than the 20-to-1 ratio recommended by Gilded Age magnates like J. Pierpont Morgan and the 20th century management visionary Peter Drucker.

“The market rate for me as a C.E.O. compared to a regular person is ridiculous, it’s absurd,” said Mr. Price, who said his main extravagances were snowboarding and picking up the bar bill. He drives a 12-year-old Audi, which he received in a barter for service from the local dealer.

“As much as I’m a capitalist, there is nothing in the market that is making me do it,” he said, referring to paying wages that make it possible for his employees to go after the American dream, buy a house and pay for their children’s education.

Under a financial overhaul passed by Congress in 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission was supposed to require all publicly held companies to disclose the ratio of C.E.O. pay to the median pay of all other employees, but it has so far failed to put it in effect. Corporate executives have vigorously opposed the idea, complaining it would be cumbersome and costly to implement.

Mr. Price started the company, which processed $6.5 billion in transactions for more than 12,000 businesses last year, in his dorm room at Seattle Pacific University with seed money from his older brother. The idea struck him a few years earlier when he was playing in a rock band at a local coffee shop. The owner started having trouble with the company that was processing credit card payments and felt ground down by the large fees charged.

When Mr. Price looked into it for her, he realized he could do it more cheaply and efficiently with better customer service.

The entrepreneurial spirit was omnipresent where he grew up in rural southwestern Idaho, where his family lived 30 miles from the closest grocery store and he was home-schooled until the age of 12. When one of Mr. Price’s four brothers started a make-your-own baseball card business, 9-year-old Dan went on a local radio station to make a pitch: “Hi. I’m Dan Price. I’d like to tell you about my brother’s business, Personality Plus.”

His father, Ron Price, is a consultant and motivational speaker who has written his own book on business leadership.

Dan Price came close to closing up shop himself in 2008 when the recession sent two of his biggest clients into bankruptcy, eliminating 20 percent of his revenue in the space of two weeks. He said the firm managed to struggle through without layoffs or raising prices. His staff, most of them young, stuck with him.

Aryn Higgins at work at Gravity Payments in Seattle. She and her co-workers are going to receive significant pay raises. Credit Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times

Mr. Price said he wasn’t seeking to score political points with his plan. From his friends, he heard stories of how tough it was to make ends meet even on salaries that were still well-above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

“They were walking me through the math of making 40 grand a year,” he said, then describing a surprise rent increase or nagging credit card debt.

“I hear that every single week,” he added. “That just eats at me inside.”

Mr. Price said he wanted to do something to address the issue of inequality, although his proposal “made me really nervous” because he wanted to do it without raising prices for his customers or cutting back on service.

Of all the social issues that he felt he was in a position to do something about as a business leader, “that one seemed like a more worthy issue to go after.”

He said he planned to keep his own salary low until the company earned back the profit it had before the new wage scale went into effect.

Hayley Vogt, a 24-year-old communications coordinator at Gravity who earns $45,000, said, “I’m completely blown away right now.” She said she has worried about covering rent increases and a recent emergency room bill.

“Everyone is talking about this $15 minimum wage in Seattle and it’s nice to work someplace where someone is actually doing something about it and not just talking about it,” she said.

The happiness research behind Mr. Price’s announcement on Monday came from Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist. They found that what they called emotional well-being — defined as “the emotional quality of an individual’s everyday experience, the frequency and intensity of experiences of joy, stress, sadness, anger, and affection that make one’s life pleasant or unpleasant” — rises with income, but only to a point. And that point turns out to be about $75,000 a year.

Of course, money above that level brings pleasures — there’s no denying the delights of a Caribbean cruise or a pair of diamond earrings — but no further gains on the emotional well-being scale.
As Mr. Kahneman has explained it, income above the threshold doesn’t buy happiness, but a lack of money can deprive you of it.
Phillip Akhavan, 29, earns $43,000 working on the company’s merchant relations team. “My jaw just dropped,” he said. “This is going to make a difference to everyone around me.”

At that moment, no Princeton researchers were needed to figure out he was feeling very happy.

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Guiding Our Search for Life on Other Earths


The James Webb Telescope


Excerpt from space.com

A telescope will soon allow astronomers to probe the atmosphere of Earthlike exoplanets for signs of life. To prepare, astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger and her team are modeling the atmospheric fingerprints for hundreds of potential alien worlds. Here's how:
The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018, will usher a new era in our search for life beyond Earth. With its 6.5-meter mirror, the long-awaited successor to Hubble will be large enough to detect potential biosignatures in the atmosphere of Earthlike planets orbiting nearby stars.
And we may soon find a treasure-trove of such worlds. The forthcoming exoplanet hunter TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), set to launch in 2017, will scout the entire sky for planetary systems close to ours. (The current Kepler mission focuses on more distant stars, between 600 and 3,000 light-years from Earth.) 

Astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger




While TESS will allow for the brief detection of new planets, the larger James Webb will follow up on select candidates and provide clues about their atmospheric composition. But the work will be difficult and require a lot of telescope time.
"We're expecting to find thousands of new planets with TESS, so we'll need to select our best targets for follow-up study with the Webb telescope," says Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer at Cornell University and co-investigator on the TESS team.
To prepare, Kaltenegger and her team at Cornell's Institute for Pale Blue Dots are building a database of atmospheric fingerprints for hundreds of potential alien worlds. The models will then be used as "ID cards" to guide the study of exoplanet atmospheres with the Webb and other future large telescopes.
Kaltenegger described her approach in a talk for the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Director Seminar Series last December.
"For the first time in human history, we have the technology to find and characterize other worlds," she says. "And there's a lot to learn."

Detecting life from space  

In its 1990 flyby of Earth, the Galileo spacecraft took a spectrum of sunlight filtered through our planet's atmosphere. In a 1993 paper in the journal Nature, astronomer Carl Sagan analyzed that data and found a large amount of oxygen together with methane — a telltale sign of life on Earth. These observations established a control experiment for the search of extraterrestrial life by modern spacecraft.
"The spectrum of a planet is like a chemical fingerprint," Kaltenegger says. "This gives us the key to explore alien worlds light years away."
Current telescopes have picked up the spectra of giant, Jupiter-like exoplanets. But the telescopes are not large enough to do so for smaller, Earth-like worlds. The James Webb telescope will be our first shot at studying the atmospheres of these potentially habitable worlds.
Some forthcoming ground-based telescopes — including the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), planned for completion in 2020, and the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), scheduled for first light in 2024 — may also be able to contribute to that task. [The Largest Telescopes on Earth: How They Compare]
And with the expected discovery by TESS of thousands of nearby exoplanets, the James Webb and other large telescopes will have plenty of potential targets to study. Another forthcoming planet hunter, the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO), a planned European Space Agency mission scheduled for launch around 2022-2024, will contribute even more candidates.
However, observation time for follow-up studies will be costly and limited.
"It will take hundreds of hours of observation to see atmospheric signatures with the Webb telescope," Kaltenegger says. "So we'll have to pick our targets carefully."

Giant Magellan Telescope
Set to see its first light in 2021, The Giant Magellan Telescope will be the world’s largest telescope.

Getting a head start

To guide that process, Kaltenegger and her team are putting together a database of atmospheric fingerprints of potential alien worlds. "The models are tools that can teach us how to observe and help us prioritize targets," she says.
To start, they have modeled the chemical fingerprint of Earth over geological time. Our planet's atmosphere has evolved over time, with different life forms producing and consuming various gases. These models may give astronomers some insight into a planet's evolutionary stage.
Other models take into consideration the effects of a host of factors on the chemical signatures — including water, clouds, atmospheric thickness, geological cycles, brightness of the parent star, and even the presence of different extremophiles.
"It's important to do this wide range of modeling right now," Kaltenegger said, "so we're not too startled if we detect something unexpected. A wide parameter space can allow us to figure out if we might have a combination of these environments."
She added: "It can also help us refine our modeling as fast as possible, and decide if more measurements are needed while the telescope is still in space. It's basically a stepping-stone, so we don't have to wait until we get our first measurements to understand what we are seeing. Still, we'll likely find things we never thought about in the first place."
 

A new research center

The spectral database is one of the main projects undertaken at the Institute for Pale Blue Dots, a new interdisciplinary research center founded in 2014 by Kaltenegger. The official inauguration will be held on May 9, 2015.
"The crux of the institute is the characterization of rocky, Earth-like planets in the habitable zone of nearby stars," Kaltenergger said. "It's a very interdisciplinary effort with people from astronomy, geology, atmospheric modeling, and hopefully biology."
She added: "One of the goal is to better understand what makes a planet a life-friendly habitat, and how we can detect that from light years away. We're on the verge of discovering other pale blue dots. And with Sagan's legacy, Cornell University is a really great home for an institute like that."

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17 Surprising Reasons You’re Stressed Out





Excerpt from huffingtonpost.com
By Amanda MacMillan


You're probably all too aware of the major sources of stress in your life -- money, your terrible commute, the construction workers who start jackhammering at 5 a.m. But stress and anxiety don't have to just come from obvious or even negative sources. "There are plenty of chronic strains and low-grade challenges that don't necessarily overwhelm you in the moment, but almost take more of a toll in the long run," says Scott Schieman, Ph.D., professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. These are some of unexpected reasons why you might feel anxious or agitated. By recognizing them for what they are, says Schieman, you can better prepare to cope.

1. Your Significant Other
Even if you have a blissfully happy relationship with your live-in partner or spouse, you're both bound to do things that get on each other's nerves. "Early in the relationship, it's usually about space and habits -- like whether you squeeze the toothpaste from the middle or the bottom of the tube," says Ken Yeager, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "Later on, you might clash over parenting style or financial issues, and finding a unified front to face these issues together." So what's the key to surviving and thriving in your life together? Finding balance, says Yeager: spending the right amount of time together (not too much and not too little), making compromises, keeping communication open and honest, and remembering to acknowledge what you love about each other on a daily basis.


2. Everyday Annoyances
We're told not to sweat the small stuff, but sometimes it's the little things that have the biggest impact on our mood: the never-ending phone calls with your insurance company, the rude cashier at the grocery store, the 20 minutes you lose looking for a parking space. "We let these things bother us because they trigger unconscious fears," says Yeager -- fears of being seen as irresponsible, of being bullied or embarrassed, or of being late all the time, for example. "Sometimes you need to take a step back and realize that you're doing the best you can given the circumstances." 


3. Other People's Stress
Stress is contagious, according to a 2014 German study: In a series of experiments, most participants who simply observed others completing a stressful task experienced an increase themselves in production of the stress hormone cortisol -- a phenomenon known as empathic stress. You can also experience stress when someone you know is affected by a traumatic event, like a car crash or a chronic illness. "You start to worry, 'Oh my gosh, could that happen to me?'," says Yeager. "We tend not to think about these things until they hit close to home."


4. Social Media social media
It may seem like Facebook is the only way you keep up with the friends you don't see regularly -- which, during particularly busy times, can be just about all of them. The social network also has a downside, according to a 2015 study from the Pew Research Center: It can make you aware of stressful situations in your friends' lives, which in turn can add more stress to your life. The Pew report didn't find that social media users, overall, had higher levels of stress, but previous studies have suggested that frequent social-media use can be associated with negative body image and prolonged breakup pain.


5. Distraction
A distraction can be a good thing then when it takes your mind off of a stressful situation or difficult decision, like when you take a break from work to meet a friend for lunch. But it works the other way, as well: When you're so busy thinking about something else that you can't enjoy what's going on around you, that kind of distraction can be a recipe for stress. Practicing mindfulness gives you brain the refresh it needs, says Richard Lenox, director of the Student Counseling Center at Texas Tech University. Paying full attention to your surroundings when you're walking and driving can help, he adds. "Stress and anxiety tend to melt away when our mind is focused on the present." 


6. Your Childhood
Traumatic events that happened when you were a kid can continue to affect your stress levels and overall health into adulthood. A 2014 University of Wisconsin-Madison study found that these childhood experiences may actually change parts of the brain responsible for processing stress and emotion. The way you were raised can also have a lasting impact on your everyday angst, suggests a 2014 Johns Hopkins University study. Researchers found that children of parents with social anxiety disorders are more likely to develop "trickle-down anxiety" -- not simply because of their genes, but because of their parents' behaviors toward them such as a lack of warmth and emotion, or high levels of criticism and doubt.


7. Tea And Chocolate
You probably know to take it easy on the coffee when you're already feeling on edge. "Caffeine is always going to make stress worse," says Yeager. But you may not think as much about drinking several cups of tea at once, or chowing down on a bar of dark chocolate -- both of which can contain nearly as much caffeine as a cup of joe. "Chocolate is a huge caffeine source," says Yeager. "I know people who don't drink coffee but they'll eat six little candy bars in a two-hour period because they want the same kind of jolt." Too much caffeine, in any form, can cause problems with sleep, digestion, and irritability. 


8. Your Expectations woman trail running
When things don't go the way you've planned, do you tend to get upset and act defensively, or do you roll with the punches and set off on a new plan? If it's the former, you could be contributing to a mindset of pessimism and victimization that will slowly wear you down, even when things may not be as bad as they seem. "Your level of serenity is inversely proportionate to your expectations," says Yeager. That doesn't mean you shouldn't set ambitious goals for yourself or settle for less than what you want, of course, but being realistic about what's truly possible is important, as well.


9. Your Reaction To Stress
If you tend to deal with stressful situations by working long hours, skipping your workouts, and bingeing on junk food, we've got some bad news: You're only making it worse. "We know that physical activity and healthy foods will help your body better deal with stress, and yet we often avoid them when we need them the most," says Yeager. "People really need to think about this downward spiral we get into and work harder to counteract it."


10. Multitasking
Think you're being super efficient by tackling four tasks at once? Chances are you're not -- and it's only decreasing your productivity while increasing your stress. A 2012 University of Irvine study, for example, found that people who responded to emails all day long while also trying to get their work done experienced more heart-rate variability (an indicator of mental stress) than those who waited to respond to all of their emails at one time. Focusing on one task at a time can ensure that you're doing that job to the best of your abilities and getting the most out of it, so you won't have to worry about or go back and fix it later, says Schieman. And don't worry: You'll have enough time to do it all. In fact, you may discover you have more time than you thought.


11. Your Favorite Sport
Watching a tight game of college hoops can stress you out -- even if your alma mater wins. "The body doesn't distinguish between 'bad' stress from life or work and 'good' stress caused by game-day excitement," says Jody Gilchrist, a nurse practitioner at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Heart and Vascular Clinic. Watching sports can even trigger the body's sympathetic nervous system, releasing adrenaline and reducing blood flow to the heart. Those temporary consequences aren't usually anything to be concerned about, but over time, chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and increased disease risk. And, of course, it doesn't help if you're adding alcohol and binge-eating to a situation that's already stressful on your body. You may not be able to control the outcome of the game, says Gilchrist, but you can limit its effects on your own body. 


12. Digital Devices laptop in bed
Whether you're using it for work or play, technology may play a large role in your mental health, says Yeager. Using computers or e-readers too close to bedtime could lead to sleep problems, he says, and spending too much time virtually socializing can make real-life interactions seem extra stressful. (Plus, texting doesn't trigger the same feel-good hormones as face-to-face talk does.) Then there's the dreaded "work creep," says Schieman, when smartphones allow employees to be tethered to their jobs, even during off-hours. "People say they're only going to check email for an hour while they're on vacation, but the problem with email is that they're filled with responsibilities, new tasks, and dilemmas that are going to be hard to compartmentalize and put out of your head once that hour is up."


13. Your (Good) Health
While it may not be as stressful as having a chronic illness or getting bad news at the doctor's office, even people in the best shape of their lives worry about their bodies, their diets, and their fitness levels. In fact, people who take healthy living to an extreme may experience some rather unhealthy side effects. People who follow low-carb diets, for example, are more likely to report being sad or stressed out, while those on any kind of restrictive meal plan may feel more tired than usual. And it's not unheard of for someone to become obsessed with healthy eating (known as orthorexia) or working out (gymorexia). Like any form of perfectionism, these problems can be stressful at best, and extremely dangerous at worst.


14. Housework
Does folding laundry help you feel calm, or does it make your blood boil? If you're in a living situation where you feel you're responsible for an unfair share of work, even chores you once enjoyed may start to feel like torture. "Dividing up housework and parenting responsibilities can be tricky, especially if both partners work outside the home," says Schieman. "And whether you define that division of labor as equal or unequal can really change your attitude toward it."


15. Uncertainty
Stress can be defined as any perceived or actual threat, says Yeager, so any type of doubt that's looming over you can contribute to your anxiety levels on a daily basis. "When you know something could change at any minute, you always have your guard up and it's hard to just relax and enjoy anything." Financial uncertainty may be the most obvious stressor -- not being sure if you'll keep your job during a round of layoffs, or not knowing how you'll pay your credit card bill. Insecurities in other areas of life, like your relationship or your housing status, can eat away at you too.


16. Your Pet bulldog puppy
No matter how much you love your furry friends, there's no question that they add extra responsibility to your already full plate. Even healthy animals need to be fed, exercised, cleaned up after, and given plenty of attention on a regular basis -- and unhealthy ones can be a whole other story. "Pets can be the most positive source of unconditional love, but at the same time they require an extreme amount of energy," says Yeager. People also tend to underestimate the stress they'll experience when they lose a pet. "I've had people in my office tell me they cried more when their dog died than when their parent died. It's a very emotional connection."


17. Your Education
Having a college degree boosts your odds of landing a well-paying job, so although you're less likely to suffer from money-related anxiety, your education can bring on other types of stress, according to a 2014 study by Schieman and his University of Toronto colleagues. His research found that highly educated people were more likely to be stressed out thanks to job pressures, being overworked, and conflicts between work and family. "Higher levels of authority come with a lot more interpersonal baggage, such as supervising people or deciding whether they get promotions," says Schieman. "With that type of responsibility, you start to take things like incompetency and people not doing their jobs more personally, and it bothers you more."

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Did natural selection make the Dutch the tallest people on the planet?

Dutch national women's field hockey team



Excerpt from news.sciencemag.org
ByMartin Enserink

AMSTERDAM—Insecure about your height? You may want to avoid this tiny country by the North Sea, whose population has gained an impressive 20 centimeters in the past 150 years and is now officially the tallest on the planet. Scientists chalk up most of that increase to rising wealth, a rich diet, and good health care, but a new study suggests something else is going on as well: The Dutch growth spurt may be an example of human evolution in action.
The study, published online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows that tall Dutch men on average have more children than their shorter counterparts, and that more of their children survive. That suggests genes that help make people tall are becoming more frequent among the Dutch, says behavioral biologist and lead author Gert Stulp of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

"This study drives home the message that the human population is still subject to natural selection," says Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University who wasn't involved in the study. "It strikes at the core of our understanding of human nature, and how malleable it is." It also confirms what Stearns knows from personal experience about the population in the northern Netherlands, where the study took place: "Boy, they are tall."

For many years, the U.S. population was the tallest in the world. In the 18th century, American men were 5 to 8 centimeters taller than those in the Netherlands. Today, Americans are the fattest, but they lost the race for height to northern Europeans—including Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, and Estonians—sometime in the 20th century.

Just how these peoples became so tall isn't clear, however. Genetics has an important effect on body height: Scientists have found at least 180 genes that influence how tall you become. Each one has only a small effect, but together, they may explain up to 80% of the variation in height within a population. Yet environmental factors play a huge role as well. The children of Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, for instance, grew much taller than their parents. Scientists assume that a diet rich in milk and meat played a major role.

The Dutch have become so much taller in such a short period that scientists chalk most of it up to their changing environment. As the Netherlands developed, it became one of the world's largest producers and consumers of cheese and milk. An increasingly egalitarian distribution of wealth and universal access to health care may also have helped.

Still, scientists wonder whether natural selection has played a role as well. For men, being tall is associated with better health, attractiveness to the opposite sex, a better education, and higher income—all of which could lead to more reproductive success, Stulp says.
Yet studies in the United States don't show this. Stulp's own research among Wisconsinites born between 1937 and 1940, for instance, showed that average-sized men had more children than shorter and taller men, and shorter women had more children than those of average height. Taken together, Stulp says, this suggests natural selection in the United States pulls in the opposite direction of environmental factors like diet, making people shorter instead of taller. That may explain why the growth in average American height has leveled off.

Stulp—who says his towering 2-meter frame did not influence his research interest—wondered if the same was true in his native country. To find out, he and his colleagues turned to a database tracking key life data for almost 100,000 people in the country's three northern provinces. The researchers included only people over 45 who were born in the Netherlands to Dutch-born parents. This way, they had a relatively accurate number of total children per subject (most people stop having children after 45) and they also avoided the effects of immigration.

In the remaining sample of 42,616 people, taller men had more children on average, despite the fact that they had their first child at a higher age. The effect was small—an extra 0.24 children at most for taller men—but highly significant. (Taller men also had a smaller chance of remaining childless, and a higher chance of having a partner.)  The same effect wasn't seen in women, who had the highest reproductive success when they were of average height.  The study suggests this may be because taller women had a smaller chance of finding a mate, while shorter women were at higher risk of losing a child.

Because tall men are likely to pass on the genes that made them tall, the outcome suggests that—in contrast to Americans—the Dutch population is evolving to become taller, Stulp says. "This is not what we've seen in other studies—that's what makes it exciting," says evolutionary biologist Simon Verhulst of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who was Stulp's Ph.D. adviser but wasn't involved in the current study. Verhulst points out that the team can't be certain that genes involved in height are actually becoming more frequent, however, as the authors acknowledge.

The study suggests that sexual selection is at work in the Dutch population, Stearns says: Dutch women may prefer taller men because they expect them to have more resources to invest in their children. But there are also other possibilities. It could be that taller men are more resistant to disease, Stearns says, or that they are more likely to divorce and start a second family. "It will be a difficult question to answer.”

Another question is why tall men in Holland are at a reproductive advantage but those in the United States are not. Stulp says he can only speculate. One reason may be that humans often choose a partner who's not much shorter or taller than they are themselves. Because shorter women in the United States have more children, tall men may do worse than those of average height because they're less likely to partner with a short woman.

In the end, Stearns says, the advantage of tall Dutchmen may be only temporary. Often in evolution, natural selection will favor one trend for a number of generations, followed by a stabilization or even a return to the opposite trend. In the United States, selection for height appears to have occurred several centuries ago, leading to taller men, and then it stopped. "Perhaps the Dutch caught up and actually overshot the American men," he says.

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Huge Alien Planet Bathes in the Light of Four Suns



30 Ari with its newly discovered companion stars
Karen Teramura

Excerpt from nbcnews.com


Astronomers have spotted a fourth star in a planetary system called 30 Ari, bringing the number of known planet-harboring quadruple-sun systems to two. 

"Star systems come in myriad forms. There can be single stars, binary stars, triple stars, even quintuple star systems," study lead author Lewis Roberts, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. "It's amazing the way nature puts these things together." 

30 Ari lies 136 light-years from the sun in the constellation Aries. Astronomers discovered a giant planet in the system in 2009; the world is about 10 times more massive than Jupiter and orbits its primary star every 335 days. There's also a pair of stars that lie approximately 1,670 astronomical units away. (One AU is the distance between Earth and the sun — about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers).

The newfound star circles its companion once every 80 years, at a distance of just 22 AU, but it does not appear to affect the exoplanet's orbit despite such proximity. This is a surprising result that will require further observations to understand, researchers said. 

To a hypothetical observer cruising through the giant planet's atmosphere, the sky would appear to host one small sun and two bright stars visible in daylight. With a large enough telescope, one of the bright stars could be resolved into a binary pair. 

The discovery marks just the second time a planet has been identified in a four-star system. The first four-star planet, PH1b or Kepler-64b, was spotted in 2012 by citizen scientists using publicly available data from NASA's Kepler mission. 

Planets with multiple suns have become less of a novelty in recent years, as astronomers have found a number of real worlds that resemble Tatooine, Luke Skywalker's home planet in the Star Wars films. 

The research was published online this month in the Astronomical Journal.

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Why the U.S. Gave Up on the Moon

Moon nearside


Excerpt from spacenews.com


Recently, several space advocacy groups joined forces to form the Alliance for Space Development. Their published objectives include a mention of obvious near-term goals such as supporting the commercial crew program, transitioning from use of the International Space Station to future private space stations and finding ways to reduce the cost of access to space.  What is notably missing from these objectives and those of many other space agencies, companies and advocacy groups is any mention of building a permanent settlement on the moon. It’s as if the lunar surface has become our crazy uncle that we all acknowledge exists but we’d prefer not to mention (or visit).  What made the next logical step in mankind’s progression beyond the bounds of Earth such a taboo subject?  If, as the Alliance for Space Development suggests, our nation wishes to move toward a path of permanent space settlements, the most logical step is our own planet’s satellite.

Lunar base conception
A 2006 NASA conception of a lunar base. Credit: NASA


A base on the lunar surface is a better place to study space settlement than a space station or Mars for many reasons. Unlike a space station, the base does not have to contend with aerodynamic drag, attitude control issues or contamination and impingement from its own thrusters. Unlike a space station, which exists in a total vacuum and resource void, a lunar base has access to at least some surface resources in the forms of minerals, albeit fewer than might be available on Mars.  Many people naturally want to go directly to Mars as our next step. Even SpaceX has publicly stated this as its ultimate goal, with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell noting that “we’re not moon people.” However, Mars makes sense only if we think the technology is ready to safely support humans on another surface for long periods of time. Furthermore, budget restrictions make an ambitious goal like going immediately to Mars an unlikely prospect. Why are we afraid to take the seemingly necessary baby steps of developing the technology for a long-term base on a surface that can be reached in mere days instead of months?  The tendency to want to skip a lunar settlement is not a new phenomenon. Even before the first landing on the moon, U.S. and NASA political leadership was contemplating the future of manned space, and few of the visions involved a lunar base. The early space program was driven by Cold War competition with Moscow, and the kinds of ideas that circulated at the time involved milestones that seemed novel such as reusable spaceplanes, nuclear-powered rockets, space stations and missions to Mars. 

When the United States was on the verge of a series of landings on the moon, building a permanent base just didn’t seem like much of a new giant leap. NASA's ConstellationNASA’s Constellation program, featuring the Orion manned capsule set atop the Ares 1 launch vehicle, was meant to send astronauts back to the moon. Credit: NASA  The idea of a lunar landing mission was not reintroduced seriously until the George W. Bush administration and the introduction of the Constellation program. This program came at a complex time for NASA: The space shuttle was recovering from the Columbia disaster, the space station was in the midst of construction and the United States found itself with large budget deficits. However, despite its budgetary and schedule problems, which are common in any serious aerospace development project from space programs to jumbo-jet development, it provided NASA with a vision and a goal that were reasonable and sensible as next steps toward a long-term future of exploration beyond Earth. 

Constellation was nevertheless canceled, and we have since returned to a most uncommon sense.  The decision to avoid any sort of lunar activity in current space policy may have been biased by the Obama administration’s desire to move as far away as possible from the policies of the previous administration. 

Regardless of the cause, discussion of returning to the moon is no longer on the table.  Without the moon, the only feasible mission that NASA could come up with that is within reach given the current technology and budget is the Asteroid Redirect Mission.  
Even planetary scientists have spoken out against the mission, finding that it will provide little scientific value. It will also provide limited engineering and technology value, if we assume that our long-term goal is to permanently settle space. The experience gained from this sort of flight has little applicability to planetary resource utilization, long-term life support or other technologies needed for settlement.  

If we are to have a program of manned space exploration, we must decide what the long-term goals of such a program should be, and we should align our actions with those goals. When resources such as funding are limited, space agencies and political leaders should not squander these limited resources on missions that make no sense. Instead, the limited funding should be used to continue toward our long-term goals, accepting a slower pace or slight scale-back in mission scope.  Establishing a permanent human settlement in space is a noble goal, one that will eventually redefine humanity. Like explorers before us, it is also not a goal that will be achieved in a short period of time. We would be wise to keep our eyes on that goal and the road needed to get us there. And the next likely stop on that road is a permanent home just above our heads, on the surface of the brightest light in the night sky.  

Paul Brower is an aerospace systems engineer on the operations team for the O3b Networks satellite fleet. He previously worked in mission control at NASA for 10 years.
Recently, several space advocacy groups joined forces to form the Alliance for Space Development. Their published objectives include a mention of obvious near-term goals such as supporting the commercial crew program, transitioning from use of the International Space Station to future private space stations and finding ways to reduce the cost of access to space.
What is notably missing from these objectives and those of many other space agencies, companies and advocacy groups is any mention of building a permanent settlement on the moon. It’s as if the lunar surface has become our crazy uncle that we all acknowledge exists but we’d prefer not to mention (or visit).
What made the next logical step in mankind’s progression beyond the bounds of Earth such a taboo subject?
If, as the Alliance for Space Development suggests, our nation wishes to move toward a path of permanent space settlements, the most logical step is our own planet’s satellite.
Lunar base conception
A 2006 NASA conception of a lunar base. Credit: NASA
A base on the lunar surface is a better place to study space settlement than a space station or Mars for many reasons. Unlike a space station, the base does not have to contend with aerodynamic drag, attitude control issues or contamination and impingement from its own thrusters. Unlike a space station, which exists in a total vacuum and resource void, a lunar base has access to at least some surface resources in the forms of minerals, albeit fewer than might be available on Mars.
Many people naturally want to go directly to Mars as our next step. Even SpaceX has publicly stated this as its ultimate goal, with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell noting that “we’re not moon people.” However, Mars makes sense only if we think the technology is ready to safely support humans on another surface for long periods of time. Furthermore, budget restrictions make an ambitious goal like going immediately to Mars an unlikely prospect. Why are we afraid to take the seemingly necessary baby steps of developing the technology for a long-term base on a surface that can be reached in mere days instead of months?
The tendency to want to skip a lunar settlement is not a new phenomenon. Even before the first landing on the moon, U.S. and NASA political leadership was contemplating the future of manned space, and few of the visions involved a lunar base. The early space program was driven by Cold War competition with Moscow, and the kinds of ideas that circulated at the time involved milestones that seemed novel such as reusable spaceplanes, nuclear-powered rockets, space stations and missions to Mars. When the United States was on the verge of a series of landings on the moon, building a permanent base just didn’t seem like much of a new giant leap.
NASA's Constellation
NASA’s Constellation program, featuring the Orion manned capsule set atop the Ares 1 launch vehicle, was meant to send astronauts back to the moon. Credit: NASA
The idea of a lunar landing mission was not reintroduced seriously until the George W. Bush administration and the introduction of the Constellation program. This program came at a complex time for NASA: The space shuttle was recovering from the Columbia disaster, the space station was in the midst of construction and the United States found itself with large budget deficits. However, despite its budgetary and schedule problems, which are common in any serious aerospace development project from space programs to jumbo-jet development, it provided NASA with a vision and a goal that were reasonable and sensible as next steps toward a long-term future of exploration beyond Earth.
Constellation was nevertheless canceled, and we have since returned to a most uncommon sense.
The decision to avoid any sort of lunar activity in current space policy may have been biased by the Obama administration’s desire to move as far away as possible from the policies of the previous administration. Regardless of the cause, discussion of returning to the moon is no longer on the table.
Without the moon, the only feasible mission that NASA could come up with that is within reach given the current technology and budget is the Asteroid Redirect Mission.
Even planetary scientists have spoken out against the mission, finding that it will provide little scientific value. It will also provide limited engineering and technology value, if we assume that our long-term goal is to permanently settle space. The experience gained from this sort of flight has little applicability to planetary resource utilization, long-term life support or other technologies needed for settlement.
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If we are to have a program of manned space exploration, we must decide what the long-term goals of such a program should be, and we should align our actions with those goals. When resources such as funding are limited, space agencies and political leaders should not squander these limited resources on missions that make no sense. Instead, the limited funding should be used to continue toward our long-term goals, accepting a slower pace or slight scale-back in mission scope.
Establishing a permanent human settlement in space is a noble goal, one that will eventually redefine humanity. Like explorers before us, it is also not a goal that will be achieved in a short period of time. We would be wise to keep our eyes on that goal and the road needed to get us there. And the next likely stop on that road is a permanent home just above our heads, on the surface of the brightest light in the night sky.

Paul Brower is an aerospace systems engineer on the operations team for the O3b Networks satellite fleet. He previously worked in mission control at NASA for 10 years.
- See more at: http://spacenews.com/op-ed-why-the-u-s-gave-up-on-the-moon/#sthash.czfTscvg.dpuf

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MRSA superbug killed by 1,100-year-old home remedy, researchers say


MRSA attacks a human cell. The bacteria shown is the strain MRSA 252, a leading cause of hospital-associated infections. (Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH)


Excerpt from washingtonpost.com
By Justin Wm. Moyer 

Even in the age of AIDS, avian flu and Ebola, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, is terrifying.

The superbug, which is resistant to conventional antibiotics because of their overuse, shrugs at even the deadliest weapons modern medicine offers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated MRSA contributed to the deaths of more than 5,000 people in the United States in 2013. It even attacked the NFL, and some say it could eventually kill more people than cancer. And presidential commissions have advised that technological progress is the only way to fight MRSA.

But researchers in the United Kingdom now report that the superbug proved vulnerable to an ancient remedy. The ingredients? Just a bit of garlic, some onion or leek, copper, wine and oxgall — a florid name for cow’s bile.

This medicine sounds yucky, but it’s definitely better than the bug it may be able to kill.

“We were absolutely blown away by just how effective the combination of ingredients was,” Freya Harrison of the University of Nottingham, who worked on the research, told the BBC.

The oxgall remedy, billed as an eye salve, was found in a manuscript written in Old English from the 10th century called “Bald’s Leechbook” — a sort of pre-Magna Carta physician’s desk reference. Garlic and copper are commonly thought to have antibiotic or antimicrobial properties, but seeing such ingredients in a home remedy at Whole Foods is a far cry from researchers killing a superbug with it.

According to Christina Lee, an associate professor in Viking studies at Nottingham, the MRSA research was the product of conversations among academics of many stripes interested in infectious disease and how people fought it before antibiotics.

“We were talking about the specter of antibiotic resistance,” she told The Washington Post in a phone interview. The medical researchers involved in the discussions said to the medievalists: “In your period, you guys must have had something.”

Not every recipe in Bald’s Leechbook is a gem. Other advice, via a translation from the Eastern Algo-Saxonist: “Against a woman’s chatter; taste at night fasting a root of radish, that day the chatter cannot harm thee.” And: “In case a man be a lunatic; take skin of a mereswine or porpoise, work it into a whip, swinge the man therewith, soon he will be well. Amen.”

Though the Leechbook may include misses, it may help doctors find a solution to a problem that only seems to be getting worse.

If the oxgall remedy proves effective against MRSA outside of the lab — which researchers caution it may not — it would be a godsend. Case studies of MRSA’s impact from the CDC’s charmingly named Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report seem medieval.

In July 1997, a 7-year-old black girl from urban Minnesota was admitted to a tertiary-care hospital with a temperature of 103 F.” Result: Death from pulmonary hemorrhage after five weeks of hospitalization.

In January 1998, a 16-month-old American Indian girl from rural North Dakota was taken to a local hospital in shock and with a temperature of 105.2 F.” Result: After respiratory failure and cardiac arrest, death within two hours of hospital admission.

In January 1999, a 13-year-old white girl from rural Minnesota was brought to a local hospital with fever, hemoptysis” — that’s coughing up blood — “and respiratory distress.” The result: Death from multiple organ failure after seven days in the hospital.

“We believe modern research into disease can benefit from past responses and knowledge, which is largely contained in non-scientific writings,” Lee told the Telegraph. “But the potential of these texts to contribute to addressing the challenges cannot be understood without the combined expertise of both the arts and science.”

Lee stressed that it was the combination of ingredients that proved effective against MRSA — which shows that people living in medieval times were not as barbaric as popularly thought. Even 1,000 years ago, when people got sick, other people tried to figure out how to help.

“We associate ‘medieval’ with dark, barbaric,” Lee said. “… It’s not. I’ve always believed in the pragmatic medieval ages.”
The research will be presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology in Birmingham. In an abstract for the conference, the team cautioned oxgall was no cure-all.

“Antibacterial activity of a substance in laboratory trials does not necessarily mean the historical remedy it was taken from actually worked in toto,” they wrote.

Lee said researchers hope to turn to other remedies in Bald’s Leechbook — including purported cures for headaches and ulcers — to see what other wisdom the ancients have to offer.

“At a time when you don’t have microscope, medicine would have included things we find rather odd,” she said. “In 200 years, people will judge us.”

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