Feb 28 2009

Saharan cheetahs

The first camera-trap photographs of the cheetah, taken as part of a systematic survey of 1,750 square miles of the central Sahara, are providing scientists with information on population numbers, movement and how it interacts with its environment.

…and their precise expressions at the exact moment of stepping down on something funny and unexpectedly triggering flood lights and a whirring, clicking camera machine.

Seriously though, it’s an interesting little article, and a lovely cat. Don’t miss the second photo — you have to hit the teeny “next” above the first one.

If the thought of another dwindling species threatens to immobilize you with despair, do something! Give Panthera (a wonderful wildcat conservation organization) your pocket change! And enjoy the gorgeous photos on their website.

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Jan 10 2009

H.M. revealed

People who don’t travel but enjoy reading about it are called armchair travellers, so I guess that makes me an armchair neurologist. (!!!) Anything brain-related and I’m there. So I was amazed to read this in the New York Times recently. It’s the obituary of a man written about extensively in the literature of neuroscience, but always, for confidentiality of course, know as H.M. Somehow, it’s just really odd to see a photo of him and know his name: Henry Gustav Molaison.

…He developed a syndrome neurologists call profound amnesia. He had lost the ability to form new memories.

For the next 55 years, each time he met a friend, each time he ate a meal, each time he walked in the woods, it was as if for the first time.

And for those five decades, he was recognized as the most important patient in the history of brain science.

(Don’t miss Oliver Sacks’s website, it’s full of interesting things and book recommendations!)

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Dec 27 2008

Non-Realism in 75 words or less…

So, very briefly: realists think that mathematical truth is discovered, whereas non-realists about maths think that maths is a complex collection of useful games invented by us. Realists think that scientists discover ‘the laws of Nature’, readymade and out there, whereas non-realists think that scientists invent theories that help us to tell stories about why things go the way they do, and to predict outcomes successfully….

Realism tries to turn cultural fictions into objective facts.

For more on non-realism and its application to world views, religion and atheism, read the full article the above was quoted from or listen to the “Philosophy Bites” podcast interview with Don Cupitt.

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Nov 8 2008

The African continent is slowly splitting apart –

– along the East African Rift, a 3,000 kilometre-long series of deep basins and flanking mountain ranges. An enormous plume of hot, partially molten rock is rising diagonally from the core-mantle boundary, some 2,900 kilometres beneath Southern Africa, and erupting at the Earth’s surface, or cooling just beneath it, in the Afar region of Ethiopia. It is the rise of this plume that is stretching the Earth’s crust to breaking point.

In September 2005, a series of fissures suddenly opened up along a 60-kilometre section as the plate catastrophically responded to the forces pulling it apart. [ read article ]

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Nov 6 2008

Ancient trees recorded in mines

This story is amazing!

Spectacular fossil forests have been found in the coal mines of Illinois by a US-UK team of researchers. The ancient vegetation - now turned to rock - is visible in the ceilings of mines covering thousands of hectares.

… Once the coal seams have been removed (what were, essentially, the compacted soils of the forests), it is possible to go into the tunnels and look up at what would have been lying on the forest floors. [ read the whole article ]

And scroll down to the second half of this page for more incredible details like these:

… a unique snapshot of what tropical rainforests were like 300 million year ago, at a time when gigantic woodlice, several feet across, crawled on the forest floor and equally large dragonflies flew through its branches…

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