Wayward squirrel cuts power to over 45,000 residents in San Diego

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A humble squirrel went on a blaze of glory on Tuesday last, after interfering with high-voltage cables, roasting itself, and causing a power outage that affected over 45,000 in the north area of San Diego, California.

The squirrel’s actions shut down an electrical substation yesterday afternoon, local time. Power was restored shortly afterwards, and the squirrel was granted its own Viking funeral.

Fifty shades of red, green, and blue: Black and white TV was banished 50 years ago this month

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Two short years before mankind set foot on the Moon for the very first time, the world of terrestrial television enjoyed its own quantum leap forward.

1967 became a very significant year indeed, as thousands of people across the European continent
watched in awe at the color images displayed on their TV sets.

And just like that, the black and white images of yesteryear were about to be banished forever.

A monochrome vision of the world

If you are of a certain vintage, the viewing habits of your childhood (misspent or not, that’s a story for another day) were likely dominated by a lumbering hulk of metal and plastic, featuring a gigantic cathode ray tube (CRT), a phosphorescent screen, and buttons and dials the size of oven controls.

This totemic item and the arcane arts that made it work often became the center of family life during dark winter evenings. Yet, for all its merits, the trusty TV set would sit ugly atop a robust table and cast its magic in untrue-to-life black and white tones.

Funny thing was, though Europe still lived in a monochrome vision of the world circa 1966, the technology to broadcast color images had existed for quite some time. The first tentative proposals date back to the previous century, in fact. Early attempts at patenting color TVs happened in the early 1900s, but it would still be some decades before technological advances enabled the development of the first monochrome TV sets, circa 1936, right at the threshold of World War 2. That year, Germany used fifteen rudimentary transmitters sited across Berlin to broadcast the Olympic Games to a few selected receivers across Berlin and Hamburg.

The advent of war would put a halt to any further development of civilian technology, as all efforts were diverted into the war machine. It would take another three decades for color transmissions to become the norm across Europe.

Let there be color: The advent of a new era

The first practical demonstration of color TV would take place in 1940 in the United States. The concept was shown to work, with a few caveats. The cost was astronomical, and thus not yet financially viable at a mass scale. And the quality of the images was questionable, to say the least. The hue, while undeniably there, was too dim. Technology still had some way to go.

Regular color broadcast would begin in the United States during the mid-50s. Yet, the first color-enabled TV sets would set you back a whopping $1,300, the equivalent of about $11,000 in 2016 money. Thus, most people would stick to black and white for another while, until units became more affordable.

Color TV would not arrive in Europe until 1967. July 1, 1967, to be precise, when BBC2 began broadcasting color images with PAL encoding, making history in the process. The BBC actually beat West Germany by a whisker. West Germans (remember, this was the height of the Cold War) would get their first color transmission just a month later.

Viewers enjoying 1967’s Wimbledon Tournament on BBC2 were certainly in for a visual treat. They were pioneers of sorts. Witnesses of history in motion, inside their very own living rooms.

Color TV had arrived, and like a bachelor cousin overstaying his Christmas day pass, was there to stay.

Put your faith in new technological terrors: The future is in 4k, and multiples of that

CRTs gave way to flat screens. Soon, flat screens turned to plasma and HD. HD evolved into 4k, and 4k will soon bestow the throne unto 8k UHD. Technology moves fast these days. Gone are the pioneering days of those first transmissions in dodgy colors and dim pictures. The future of TV is digital, and digital is good.

4k, also known as Ultra HD, defines the image resolution, and it’s fast becoming the de facto standard. 4K features a screen resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. That’s way up from the 1,920 x 1,080 pixels found on a HD TV.

In layman terms, 4k images look really cool and life-like. And the bigger the screen, the bigger the awe factor. Watch The Force Awakens on a 4k, 65-incher, and you are in for a treat indeed .

And the TV gurus out there are already conjuring up plans for 8k overkill. That is a fair amount of pixels packed on a screen. It is already technologically possible, though much like those first color monstrosities shown in 1940, the cost is currently prohibitive. You’d want to have a deep pocket, and frankly, a TV fetish, to have an 8k demigod reigning inside your living room.

Still, we might all be pioneers again one day, when the next quantum leap in TV viewing occurs. But I bet it won’t be as significant as it was back in 1967.

Two American M4-Sherman tanks salvaged from the Barents Sea

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A team of specialist divers deployed with Russia’s Northern Fleet have salvaged two World War 2-era American M4 Sherman tanks from the bottom of the Barents Sea.

The tanks were inside the Thomas Donaldson, a steam-propelled Liberty EC2-S-C1 class cargo ship sunk near Kildin Islan by U-968 on March 20, 1945, shortly before the official end of the war.

The Sherman tank was mass-produced by the American war machine from 1942 onwards. Though technically inferior than the German heavy tanks such as the Panther and Tiger, the Sherman was manufactured in great numbers (some 50,000 were produced, as opposed to just under 500 German heavy tanks), allowing the allies to easily replace losses, something that the German army could not ever hope to achieve.

The Thomas Donaldson was part of convoy JW-65 at the time of her demise. Nowadays, divers attached to the Russian Navy use the ship’s wreckage as a training facility to simulate emergency situations for submarine crews.

Roswell: The truth may still be out there

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It’s been seven decades since a small, nondescript town out in the New Mexico desert entered history books and popular culture for the most peculiar of reasons.

Half myth, half cover-up, it is one hell of a story.

Welcome to Roswell.

A rancher’s tale of strange objects in the desert

Temperatures in New Mexico hover around the 80F (26F) mark in early July, with little to no precipitation. It is hot out there.

Seventy years ago today, a local rancher named William Brazel returned from the blazing desert heat and contacted County Sheriff George Wilcox to report something rather unusual.

The 48-year-old rancher claimed that he had found some strange-looking debris out in the arid, wild terrain. An aircraft of some kind, he said. But an odd one, if it was an aircraft at all. The site, Brazel said, was located far out into the wasteland, about 40m from the town of Corona in the neighbouring state of Texas. By some accounts, Brazel had already collected some pieces of debris -including a ‘flying disc’- from the site and brought them back to his ranch.

Intrigued by the rancher’s claims, Sheriff Wilcox contacted army officials at the local airfield. Major Jesse Marcel, a military intelligence officer based at Roswell Air Force Base, headed out to the’crash’ site to investigate.

Things get a bit murky as to exactly what happened from there on. Whatever the truth may be, Major Marcel and other personnel showed up at Brazel’s home to retrieve the items found in the desert.

The local press picked up on the story. Brazel told a local newspaper about what he had found, saying it was some kind of ‘bright wreckage’.

The army released an official statement on July 9 to say that the military had recovered a ‘flying disc’ from a site north of Roswell, New Mexico. The statement deemed this disc to be a ‘weather balloon.’

The Roswell Incident: Half-truths, conspiracy theories, and an alien autopsy that never happened

The weather balloon story had the desired effect. By trivializing the find, the Government effectively suppressed interest, and the Roswell Incident went largely forgotten for about thirty years.

Everyone got on with their lives around Roswell and elsewhere, but the secret hidden outside that little town out in the desert simmered just beneath the public’s attention.

The 70s brought about a marked social shift. Issues like the Watergate, and particularly the deeply unpopular Vietnam war, created an atmosphere of distrust in the Government.

Fuelled by this new anti-Government trend, rumours and stories began to circulate about what really happened at Roswell. The ‘weather balloon’ was in fact an alien craft that had crashed out there, some said. Conspiracy theorists even postulated that the ship’s crew had been found to be dead inside it, and that the bodies had been taken to a place that’s also not supposed to exist, Area 51. The weather balloon story was simply a smoke screen concocted by the scheming US Government, many claimed.

As the buzz around Roswell’s UFO story grew, so did the efforts to refute it. Hundreds of ‘witnesses’ were interviewed by a multitude of magazines, newspapers, radio stations, and other media outlets, national and international. All of a sudden, townfolk recalled seeing ‘aliens’ around Roswell, some saying that ‘rescue UFOs’ had been seen flying around the area of the original crash site, presumably searching for the missing crew.

The Government stuck to its guns, saying that it was nothing more than a weather balloon. Later, military officials admitted that the object was in fact a device for monitoring nuclear explosions. Remember, this was back in 1947. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had happened less than 24 months prior. People’s resolve to find aliens in their backyard only grew stronger.

Then, in 1995, footage surfaced of an ‘alien autopsy’ being performed on some of the dead bodies of the Roswell UFO crew. TV networks around the world showed it with great fanfare, taking a huge boost in their ratings.

The footage was provided by a London-based videographer and entrepeneur by the name of Ray Santilli, who claimed that the footage was original and had been given to him by a military cameraman who was present when the autopsy supposedly took place, circa summer of 1947.

The program ‘Alien autopsy’ aired worldwide on August 28, 1995.

Soon debunked as a hoax, Santilli made admissions that his footage was a ‘reconstruction’ and that only a ‘few frames’ of the original autopsy actually remained. The whole thing had been shot in an improvised set inside an empty London apartment, as it turned out. Still, a version of the documentary was released on DVD in 2006.

The (financial) truth is out there: Alien business is big

Whoever’s truth you choose to believe, the UFO story was the best thing that could ever happen to a small desert town like Roswell.

Back in 1947, Roswell was little more than a tiny geographical point on ordnance maps. Sparsely dotted with ranches and a couple of diners for transient farmhands to get greasy food in, Roswell grew to a current population of around 50,000. Today, the town’s economy is largely based on two very disparate things: agriculture to feed people, and alien lore to attract tourism.

And the latter it does, very efficiently, too. Ufologists, conspiracy theorists, or simply curious tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of an alien creature wandering around the desert flock to Roswell year after year. The town’s UFO Museum recorded a bumper year in terms of numbers in 2016, for example, with 200,000 unique visitors recorded.

Roswell’s tourism industry is a thriving one, largely due to an event that happened 70 years ago. Local business have embraced the alien gig much like the Irish Government has taken to the trough: With quasi-religious fervor. You can even get Alien Burgers and most local diners, and stickers and balloons in the shape of the Little Green Men are only a convenience store away. Or why not drop by the Alien Zone, where you can get your picture taken next to aliens in just about every setting you can think of.

The town’s tourist centerpiece is the UFO Festival, which takes place the first weekend in July every year.

2017 marks the 70th anniversary of Roswell’s notorious UFO incident, and the locals are in for a bumper alien-themed spending spree. This year’s festival is expected to be worth in the region of $6m.

Conspiracy theories and stories circulate to this day. Some say that the Government bought Brazel’s silence, going as far as threatening his life if he ever revealed the ‘truth’. The rancher died in 1963, coincidentally the same year as the Kennedy assassination.

Be it as it may, the Roswell legacy lives on, and for some shopkeepers around town, it’s big alien business as usual.

Rise of the machines: Russian-made robot taught markmanship skills, can hit targets wielding dual guns

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FEDOR (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research) is a Russian-made, humanoid robotic entity with a lot of skills under its metallic belt, so to speak.

FEDOR’s objective is to fly on a solo mission into space in 2021, but until such time comes, he is learning a lot.

FEDOR’s knows how to use keys, is skillfull with a variety of tools, and can drive vehicles. And his latest skill is shooting.

Videos have emerged of FEDOR wielding dual guns and hitting targets dead on at a shooting range, raising concerns that an army of autonomous, fully-automated, intelligent robotic warriors may be closer to reality that we’d perhaps like to think.

Developed by Android Technics and the Advanced Research Fund in Russia, FEDOR’s creators initially envisaged it as a machine to replace humans in high-risk rescue work.

Soon, however, a series of potential military applications for FEDOR became apparent.

FEDOR will have its time to shine in 2021, when he goes into space by itself. Between now and then, however, it is going to learn a lot more.

Robotic armies will eliminate human life in a few hundred years, according to leading astrophysicist

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Movie lore explains that Skynet became self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th, 1997. In a panic, its creators attempt to pull the plug, but it is already too late. Skynet uses its nuclear arsenal to launch a preemptive strike against the Soviet Union, knowing that a retaliatory response will wipe out most of Skynet’s perceived human threat.

This nightmare scenario has not yet come to pass, though it is an inevitability, according to Astronomer Royal Lord Rees, an Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge who has postulated that mankind’s days on the planet are numbered.

After humans are gone, robots will then begin colonizing Earth, heralding a new era in the planet’s already deeply troubled history.

According to Lord Rees, the dominance of robotic overlords could last for billions of years, turning the human imprint on Earth into a mere footnote.

Medieval horror uncovered in Yorkshire, as villagers desecrated corpses to prevent hordes of ‘living dead’ from rising

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The quaint and idyllic village of Wharram Percy, north Yorkshire, is now believed to have borne witness to some appalling and wanton treatment of the recently deceased.

According to research conducted by members of Historic England and the University of Southampton, parts of Yorkshire became heathen ground between the 11th-14th centuries.

Scientists studied 137 fragments of human skeletons found in the area over 50 years ago and discovered charring and cut marks from wounds likely inflicted post-mortem.

Contemporary scribes around 11th century Yorkshire talked about ‘restless corpses’ belonging to men, women, and children who committed heinous deeds in life.

And these malevolent folk were believed to carry on with their wicked activities after death, so villagers took executive action and hacked and burned the corpses before they could rise.

Beheading, crushing bones, and burning the bodies was thought to be a surefire way to quell the living dead rebellion.

The remains found around Wharram Percy seem to prove that such misguided beliefs went on around Yorkshire back in Medieval times.

Sirtuins: Miracle protein or Pandora’s Box?

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It seems that the answer to that quandary would depend on your point of view. Sirtuins are the talk of the town these days. Fierce controversy rages on about whether or not they do (or could do) what some scientists speculate they do.

Because you see, sirtuins could prolong life.

Longevity, and the curse of aging that we’re all stuck with from the moment of our birth, have for centuries been a subject of fervent research and heated discussion, both from the scientific and religious fields. People just do not want to get older, it seems.

Enter sirtuins, the fulcrum upon which may swing the next step of human evolution.

But what exactly are sirtuins?

Without descending into purely academic territory, sirtuins are a class of proteins that regulate some important biological pathways in certain organisms. The name “sirtuin” is a portmanteau of the name for the yeast gene ‘silent mating-type information regulation 2’, the gene that is responsible for cellular regulation in yeast.

Scientific research has associated sirtuins (sirtuin 6, SIRT6, in particular) with influencing certain cellular processes, including aging. SIRT6 has been proved to lengthen the lifespan of male mice by as much as 15.8%, for instance

But don’t go planning your 250th birthday bash just yet. While initial results are encouraging, we still are a long way off from opening a new chapter in the very definition of human life as we know it. The strain of mice used in such research is prone to tumours, for instance, specially the males. Since SIRT6 may also have an anti-cancer effect, it is conceivable that the test mice may have lived longer because they did not become ill, as opposed to not aging.

Sirtuins also do not prevent aging, only appear to slow it down (in test male mice, remember. This thing has yet to be tested on humans, assuming it ever does). Thus, you shall not stay forever looking as you did when you were 19, nor will eternal life be granted unto you, thus challenging all known laws of Nature. Your lifespan may be extended, by how much (if at all), nobody knows.

These musings do pose some interesting questions and challenges, however.

If society were to become a huge community of 200-plus year old geriatrics, how, and when and for how long would our pensions be funded, for example? What would the legal retirement age be, then? 90? 150? 300? Or how about the prison system? Would our jails be inhabited by 400 year old undying ‘old timers’, languishing in 3×3 cells, and wishing they had never set their thieving eyes on those blue pills a couple of hundred years earlier? Perhaps prison authorities could introduce a mandatory prisoner cull, anyone over the age of 275, let’s say, if only to make room for the next batch of walking mummies.

And what about the holy institution of marriage? Take the vows and you’re doomed to have sex with the same person for the next 400 years. How does that sound? Though perhaps some legislation could be introduced to force a mandatory divorce every hundred years or so, if only to keep the statistics of spousal murder rate at an acceptable level.

More interesting concepts: How long would females remain fertile? Until they’re in their hundreds, perhaps? Would centuries pass between siblings? It is conceivable that women could be churning out babies for hundreds of years. The nappy industry would collapse with the demand. If one follows that train of thought, what would the nurseries of this topsy-turvy world of unprecedented longevity look like? Mega-locales where thousands of screaming and shitting babies would have to be looked after for decades, since they age slowly (assuming they are given the wonder pill at birth, that is)? The same concept applies to schools all over the world. How long would you be on your teens? A firestorm of raging hormones lasting 15, 25 years, who knows.

The nursery idea raises the question, would everyone be given sirtuins at birth (i.e., would it be a right, a natural entitlement like your individual freedom), or would the privilege of ancestral longevity have to be ‘earned’, somehow, or paid for? If it’s the latter, would only the richest in society be able to live until well past their sell-by date? Where is the moral demarcation?

Pharmaceutical companies would sell their souls to be the first to commercialize a sirtuin-based drug that really prolonged longevity. The profits would rank in the hundreds of billions. And indirectly, the very raison-de-etre for those same companies would become their leitmotif. The equation would go somewhat like this: Humans would live longer. A lot longer. Longevity means more time and frequency to become ill. Frequent and abundant morbidity requires plenty medicinal drugs output. K-ching!

It is unlikely that any of us will see any significant development in the sirtuin front in our lifetime. But one day, mankind may rise to challenge the very immortality of the gods.

The question, however, is, do we want to?

 

Life finds a way: Ancient fossils dating back 4.2bn years prove that life thrived on Earth much earlier than previously thought, and may also hint at living organisms in Mars’ distant past

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Life finds a way, mathematician Ian Malcolm utters in Jurassic Park.

Though a scientific fantasy, the film -based on a bestselling novel by Michael Crichton- did postulate on the dangers of genetic tinkering, and how such transgression may endanger our very survival.

But life does indeed find a way, no matter how adverse the environmental conditions might be, as recently found fossils seem to prove.

The fossils, dating back 4.2 billion years, are the oldest ever found on Planet Earth, and show that life thrived even back then, when our planet was little more than a swirling cauldron of magma.

These fossilized organisms were found inside rock formations in Quebec, Canada, and have shocked scientists as they date back hundreds of millions of years earlier than the lifeforms known thus far.

A research team from University College London, partly funded by NASA, made the fascinating discovery.

They released a statement saying “Early Mars and early Earth are very similar places, so we may expect to find life on both planets at this time”.

“We know that life managed to get a foothold and evolve rapidly on Earth. So if we have life evolving in hydrothermal vent systems maybe even 4.2 billion years ago when both planets had liquid water on their surface, then we would expect both planets to develop early life.

“If we do future sample returns from Mars and look at similarly old rocks and we don’t find evidence of life then this certainly may point to the fact that Earth might have been a very special exception, and life may just have arisen on Earth.”

The evidence seems to point out that these organisms may prove that life once existed on Mars. Though a dead planet now, it is thought that Mars once had an atmosphere and contained vast oceans, both conditions favorable for life to thrive.

The next step would be to search for similar fossils around Mars, to prove beyond doubt that alien life does -or at least, did- exist in the distant past. Such endeavor however, may prove a challenging undertaking.

But if such evidence were to be found, it would potentially suggest that life on Earth actually originated in Mars, or elsewhere in the Universe, and that the building blocks were deposited here by comets or other celestial bodies.

We may all be from Mars, after all.

Indonesian man says goodbye to 2016 celebrating his 146th birthday

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Saparman Sodimejo has so far defied all odds, and turned 146 last night.

Yes, you read right. 146. According to the local birth register, Mr. Sodimejo was born on December 31st, 1870.

While Indonesian authorities do back up the claim, there isn’t yet an independent verification to categorically say that the man is indeed of such extreme age. If it turns out to be authentic though, he’d instantly become the oldest person alive, and by quite a margin too. The current record for human longevity is held by Jeanne Calment, who passed away August 4, 1997, at the good age of 122.

Mr. Sodimejo, who has seen off four wives, ten siblings, and all of his children, is said to be in relatively good health, and even allowed himself to have a slice of cake during his birthday celebration in central Java.

His secret for such a long life? Patience.