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some news items are of interest, but not rated by abelard as convincing or significant enough for placement in abelard’s main news archives. Such items may be found here.

New translation, the Magna Carta

K 'Y


article archives at abelard's news and comment zone previous news-lite items may be accessed from the news archives (click button on left)
I-2006: 04 06 11 13 29 | II-2006: 17 22 26 | III-2006: 10 15 29 30 | IV-2006: 13 15 27 28

prosper and live long - the auroran sunset

Short light item by John Nunn (a British chess Grandmaster) on life expectancy and the incredible improvements in standards of living over the last century or less (as well as examples of some old chess players).

“The highest life expectancy for human beings is in Japan (81), the lowest in Zambia (37). The oldest confirmed age for an individual human being is 122 years. The Encyclopædia Britannica gives the following historical averages:

Neanderthal, Neolithic 20
Classical Greece, Rome 28
Medieval England 33
End of 19th Century 37
Early 20th Century 50
Circa 1940 65
Western world 1961 77-81

Life expectancy world map
Life expectancy world map

[lead from Jon Levitt - another British chess Grandmaster]

the web address for the article above is
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pretty world from satellite

See the lights coming on as the the shadow of night advances across Europe.

As Europe moves from day to night

Note the higher density of electric lighting in Europe relative to Africa.

The linked page has many large, more unusual shots of our planet from space. The images are not credited, but are probably from NASA.

Lead thanks to Aurora in America.

the web address for the article above is

slow steady progress on laser weapons page 2 page 3

test-firing of solid-state laser. Image credit: Lawrence Livemore National Laboratory
Image credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

During an approximately quarter-second, five-pulse test-firing of the
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory solid-state laser,
an aluminum target succumbs to a 10-kilowatt laser blast

“[...] Out in the New Mexico desert at the White Sands Missile Range, the U.S. Army’s Tactical High Energy Laser shot down dozens of Katyusha rockets and mortars. In 2004, Air Force contractors began test-firing the chemically powered beam weapon for a retrofitted 747, the Airborne Laser.”

“But if chemical lasers can’t cut it, what will make beam warfare a reality? The answer is twofold. First, the Pentagon is slowly realizing that if it wants results, it has to lower its expectations. Shoot down mortars first, for example, then missiles. More important, however, is the reemergence of two technologies of the Star Wars past - solid-state and free-electron lasers - in the energized, promise-filled labs of two former colleagues who thought their dreams of laser triumph had died years ago.”

Click to slideshow from this page.

the web address for the article above is

city rankings: where do you want to live? - the auroran sunset

For those strange people who like to live overcrowded lives:

Rank 2006 Rank 2005 City Country Index 2006 Index 2005
1 1 ZURICH Switzerland 108.2 108.0
2 2 GENEVA Switzerland 108.1 107.9
3 3 VANCOUVER Canada 107.7 107.4
4 3 VIENNA Austria 107.5 107.4
5 8 AUCKLAND New Zealand 107.3 106.5
6 5 DUSSELDORF Germany 107.2 107.0
7 6 FRANKFURT Germany 107.0 106.8
8 7 MUNICH Germany 106.8 106.7
9 9 BERN Switzerland 106.5 106.4
9 9 SYDNEY Australia 106.5 106.4
11 11 COPENHAGEN Denmark 106.2 106.2
First eleven from a list of 215 countries

“The overall quality of living ranking is based on an evaluation of 39 quality of living criteria. New York has been used as the base score for quality of living which has a total index equal to 100.

“Mercer's study is based on detailed assessments and evaluations of 39 key quality of living determinants, grouped in the following categories:

Full city reports can be bought for $360 each (!) from the Mercer site, which is long on advertising, short on content.

Mercer’s measure clearly does not factor political freedom very highly: Singapore and Hong Kong both do well compared to other Asian cities.

related material
GDP and other quality of life measurements
freedom in the world

the web address for the article above is

keeping up item - physical brain correlate with iq claimed

“The scans showed that children with the highest IQs began with a relatively thin cortex -- the folded outer layer of the brain that is involved in complex thinking -- which rapidly grew thicker before reaching a peak and then rapidly becoming thinner, said Philip Shaw, the lead investigator. Children of average intelligence had a thicker cortex around age 6, but by around 13 it was thinner than in children of superior intelligence.” [Quoted from]

marker at

“Shaw's team tracked a group of more than 300 children as they aged from 6 to 19, running them through a series of cognitive tests — IQ is determined by combining scores from tests of a range of verbal and non-verbal abilities. The team also measured the size of brain structures using magnetic resonance imaging at roughly two-year intervals: more than half the children had at least two scans, and around a third were scanned three or more times.”

“The study is likely to prompt discussion of the possible social applications of such results, but these are limited. The trend identified by Shaw was significant when results from all the subjects were combined, but would probably be too small to predict how an individual child is likely to fare in school, for example.” [Quoted from]

the web address for the article above is

down with black holes

“ "[...] if a quantum critical phase transition happened on the surface of a star, it would slow down time and the surface would behave just like a black hole's event horizon."

“With this idea in mind, they - along with Emil Mottola at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Pawel Mazur of the University of South Carolina in Columbia and colleagues - analysed the collapse of massive stars in a way that did not allow any violation of quantum mechanics. Sure enough, in place of black holes their analysis predicts a phase transition that creates a thin quantum critical shell. The size of this shell is determined by the star's mass and, crucially, does not contain a space-time singularity. Instead, the shell contains a vacuum, just like the energy-containing vacuum of free space. As the star's mass collapses through the shell, it is converted to energy that contributes to the energy of the vacuum.

“The team's calculations show that the vacuum energy inside the shell has a powerful anti-gravity effect, just like the dark energy that appears to be causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. Chapline has dubbed the objects produced this way "dark energy stars". ”

“ The most intriguing fallout from this idea has to do with the strength of the vacuum energy inside the dark energy star. This energy is related to the star's size, and for a star as big as our universe the calculated vacuum energy inside its shell matches the value of dark energy seen in the universe today. "It's like we are living inside a giant dark energy star," Chapline says. There is, of course, no explanation yet for how a universe-sized star could come into being."

the web address for the article above is

transcription genes evolving at a faster rate than other genes in humans relative to other close species

"They used new gene-array technology to compare the level of expression of 1,056 genes in the four species.

“When we looked at gene expression, we found fairly small changes in 65 million years of macaque, orangutan and chimpanzee evolution," said Dr Yoav Gilad of the University of Chicago, lead author of the study.”

“They found about 60 percent of the genes had consistent levels of expression in humans and the primates.

“But genes for transcription factors were more likely to have changed their expression patterns than the genes they regulate.

“ "Specifically in the human lineage the transcription factors are changing or evolving in their expression at a faster pace than in the other lineages, particularly as compared with chimps," White said.

“The researchers do not know what caused the shift in gene expression in humans but they suspect it could be due to changes in the environment, the acquisition of fire and a preference for cooked food.”

Transcription genes turn on or off the genes we share with our other family members. The speculation is that transcription genes are most of why humans are different to other apes, despite having so many genes in common.

Suggestions are being made that this rate of change is similar to the rate of change undergone by food sources during the process of domestication. Current speculations include adaptations to food changes during the out-of-Africa phase and adaptations to new pathogens as humans crowded into larger communities, such as towns. This amounts to changes in culture driving genetic changes.

the web address for the article above is
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