Friday, February 28, 2014

Ukraine: This Island Crimea


Even more wild developments.

The Russian troops which held the airport then spread out.  The Russians have flown in Spetznaz (2000 worth) from Sochi.  

Last heard the "36th brigade" of the Ukrainian military had Russian troops show up and attempt to disarm them.  I think this is the Ukrainian Marines based in Feodosia.  They regularly trained with the USMC, but they're very, very small.  3 to 4 companies.  They may be the only military force on the ground in Crimea right now on the Ukrainian side.

The Russian UN ambassador claims the troops movements are legal citing the Black Sea Fleet basing accord signed by Ukraine and Russia.

The Russians have also said the Yatsenyuk et al government is illegitimate. 

IBM's Watson Developer Challenge to Bring Cognitive Apps to Main Stream

Of IBM’s efforts to transform itself over the last few years, few have captured the public’s imagination like the company’s Watson supercomputer.

Since its first appearance on “Jeopardy” in 2011, many have pointed to Watson as an indicator of where we’re headed with technology like Apple’s Siri.

If fed enough data, Watson can become an expert on a seemingly unlimited number of topics. Using probabilities, it’s able to work out how different concepts relate to each other and find solutions to problems.

The company has even said that the next generation will be able to reason and debate. Now it’s pushing to get developers to build that power into the apps you use everyday on your smartphone.

IBM first opened up Watson for development as a cloud platform back in November. To encourage its adoption, the company today announced the Watson Developer Challenge, a three-month-long competition in which developers can submit ideas and prototypes for so-called cognitive apps, or “cogs,” that could benefit from Watson’s natural language processing capabilities.

At the end of the three-month challenge, IBM will help three winners turn their ideas into commercial apps by providing them with seed funding, design consulting, and support from IBM Interactive Experience, its new global consulting practice.

IBM has already received pitches for apps utilising Watson from over 1,500 individuals and organisations, according to a press release sent out earlier today.

B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Upgrade "may" be Controversial

The Air Force released pictures this week of the new guided tail kit installed on the B61-12 nuclear bomb that improves the bomb’s accuracy. Along with upgrades that allow the U.S. military to lower the warhead’s yield, one analyst said the U.S. is breaking a key nuclear treaty.

Carried by U.S. and NATO nuclear-capable bombers and fighter jets, the B61-12 is an upgraded version of the B61, which was designed in 1963. The thermonuclear bomb is guided by an Internal Guidance System and can glide to its target. The B61-12 version has four selectable yields — 0.3, 5, 10 and 50 kilotons — according to the Federation of American Scientists.

The U.S. has started an expensive program to upgrade the B61 that Air Force leaders have been spent years requesting from Congress. The upgrades will cost about $10 billion for 400–500 bombs.

Along with stockpiles in the U.S., the Air Force has B61s deployed across Europe in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. The B61-12s will replace the 200 older versions currently in those countries.

At least one nuclear weapons analyst is questioning whether the upgrades to the B61 may be in violation of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review that states the life extension programs for nuclear munitions can “not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”


How do you Hunt Russian, Chinese and Other Stealth Fighters?

On Feb. 11, a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter flew for the first time with a new infrared sensor fitted to its underbelly fuel tank.

And a year ago in the spring of 2013, War is Boring contributor David Cenciotti spotted the same heat sensor fitted to the air intake of an Air Force F-16 at a war game in Nevada.

Around the same time, the Air National Guard wrapped up air-to-air testing of the Sniper IR targeting pod on an F-15C.

The near-simultaneous appearance of a range of new infrared sensors on Navy and Air Force fighters is no coincidence. It’s apparently all part of the Pentagon’s preparations for the first possible stealth air war, potentially involving radar-evading jets from the U.S., Russia and China.

Japan, South Korea and India are also working on stealth fighters. The proliferation of new warplanes able to avoid radar detection—thanks to their special shaping and coatings—compels the Americans and others to find new ways to detect enemy planes.

Hence infrared. Fighter heat sensors aren’t exactly new—the Russians have been using them for decades. But they are becoming more important in the current era of stealthy air warfare.

It ought to be noted that other versions of stealth aircraft (not the US, at least for the B-2 & F-22) don't have IR as carefully as we do.

If Government or Other American Networks are Destroyed, This is an Act of War

On the day that China’s president took personal charge of his country’s new cyber body, pledging to make the People’s Republic of China a “cyber power,” the outgoing head of America’s Cyber Command laid out a clear red line that, if crossed, could lead to war.

“If it destroys government or other networks, I think it would cross that line,” Army Gen. Keith Alexander, head of both Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee today when asked what level of cyber “attack” would potentially cause America to go to war.

The Indian Monsoon Through the Quaternary

A glimpse of the Quaternary monsoon history from India and adjoining seas


Saraswat et al


The evolution of the monsoon is briefly summarized taking into account previous studies conducted on both terrestrial and marine records recovered from the Indian subcontinent and the adjoining seas. While the initiation of the monsoon is debated, it seems clear that a major intensification of the summer monsoon occurred at ~ 8.2 Ma. A seasonal monsoon circulation with distinct summer and winter monsoon phases was established at ~ 2.8 Ma. In the Late Quaternary, the summer monsoon weakens during glacial periods as compared to interglacial periods. The centennial to sub-centennial scale changes in the monsoon during both glacial and interglacial periods suggest strong links between high latitude processes and the tropical monsoon and its role in modulating northern hemispheric climate. The glacial terminations are marked by weak monsoon activity. The summer monsoon weakened during the Middle Holocene after the Early Holocene optimum. A change in the monsoon intensity though alters the salinity of the seas surrounding India, the quantitative paleosalinity reconstructions still have large associated uncertainties and an effort should be made to lower them.

Mars' Gusev Crater had an Ephemeral Lake During the Noachian Age

Evidence for a Noachian-aged ephemeral lake in Gusev crater, Mars

Ruff et al


Gusev crater has long been considered the site of a lake early in Martian history, but the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit found no apparent evidence of lake deposits along its 7 km traverse from 2004 to 2010. Although outcrops rich in Mg-Fe carbonate, dubbed Comanche, were discovered in the Noachian-aged Columbia Hills, they were inferred to result from volcanic hydrothermal activity. We now find evidence that the alteration of the Comanche outcrops is consistent with evaporative precipitation of low-temperature, near-surface solutions derived from limited water-rock interaction with rocks equivalent to nearby outcrops called Algonquin. Additional observations show that the Algonquin outcrops are remnants of volcanic tephra that covered the Columbia Hills and adjacent plains well before emplacement of basalt flows onto the floor of Gusev crater. Water-limited leaching of formerly widespread Algonquin-like tephra deposits by ephemeral waters, followed by transport and evaporative precipitation of the fluids into the Comanche outcrops, can explain their chemical, mineralogical, and textural characteristics.

Native Americans Were in Beringia Since at Least 25,000 Years ago

Genetic and environmental evidence indicates that after the ancestors of Native Americans left Asia, they spent 10,000 years in shrubby lowlands on a broad land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska. Archaeological evidence is lacking because it drowned beneath the Bering Sea when sea levels rose.

University of Utah anthropologist Dennis O'Rourke and two colleagues make that argument in the Friday, Feb. 28, issue of the journal Science. They seek to reconcile existing genetic and paleoenvironmental evidence for human habitation on the Bering land bridge – also called Beringia – with an absence of archaeological evidence.

O'Rourke says cumulative evidence indicates the ancestors of Native Americans lived on the Bering land bridge "in the neighborhood of 10,000 years," from roughly 25,000 years ago until they began moving into the Americas about 15,000 years ago once glacial ice sheets melted and opened migration routes.

O'Rourke co-authored the Science Perspective column – titled "Out of Beringia?" – with archaeologist John Hoffecker of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Scott Elias, a paleoecologist at the University of London. Perspective columns in Science don't feature research by the authors, but instead are meant to highlight and provide context for exciting new research in a field or across fields.

"Nobody disputes that the ancestors of Native American peoples came from Asia over the coast and interior of the land bridge" during an ice age called the "last glacial maximum," which lasted from 28,000 to at least 18,000 years ago, O'Rourke says,

The ice sheets extended south into the Pacific Northwest, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Ohio. Large expanses of Siberia and Beringia were cold but lacked glaciers.

The absence of archaeological sites and the inhospitable nature of open, treeless landscape known as tundra steppe mean that "archaeologists have not given much credence to the idea there was a population that lived on the Bering land bridge for thousands of years," he adds.

O'Rourke and colleagues say that in recent years, paleoecologists – scientists who study ancient environments – drilled sediment cores from the Bering Sea and Alaskan bogs. Those sediments contain pollen, plant and insect fossils, suggesting the Bering land bridge wasn't just barren, grassy tundra steppe but was dotted by "refugia" or refuges where there were brushy shrubs and even trees such as spruce, birch, willow and alder.

"We're putting it together with the archaeology and genetics that speak to American origins and saying, look, there was an environment with trees and shrubs that was very different than the open, grassy steppe. It was an area where people could have had resources, lived and persisted through the last glacial maximum in Beringia," O'Rourke says. "That may have been critical for the people to subsist because they would have had wood for construction and for fires. Otherwise, they would have had to use bone, which is difficult to burn."

New Paper: Was There a Significant PaleoTemperature Drop 300,000 Years Before the KT/K-Pg Boundary?

Environmental change across a terrestrial Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary section in eastern Montana, USA, constrained by carbonate clumped isotope paleothermometry


Tobin et al


The Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction has been attributed to the impact of a large bolide at the end of the Cretaceous Period, although other potential causes have also been proposed, most notably climate change caused by Deccan Traps (India) flood volcanism. Reconstructing paleoclimate, particularly in terrestrial settings, has been hindered by a lack of reliable proxies. The recent development of carbonate clumped isotope paleothermometry has contributed to temperature reconstructions using geochemical proxies in terrestrial settings. We employ this method, along with new stratigraphic constraints, in the Hell Creek (Cretaceous) and overlying Fort Union (Paleogene) Formations (Montana, USA) to examine changes in temperature leading to and across the K-Pg boundary. We demonstrate that well-preserved ca. 66 Ma aragonitic bivalves serve as suitable paleoclimate archives. Although there are limitations in the stratigraphic availability of fossil bivalves for clumped isotope analysis, we record an apparent 8 °C decrease in summer temperatures over the last 300 k.y. of the Cretaceous that corresponds broadly with patterns observed in other paleotemperature proxies. This observed decrease plausibly could be explained by an absolute temperature decrease or by other environmental stresses on the organisms, but in either case suggests changing living conditions over the interval. Previously documented declines in vertebrate and invertebrate biodiversity occur over the same stratigraphic interval at this study location. These results are consistent with published models of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction in which destabilized ecosystems become more susceptible to an abrupt event like a bolide impact.

I have a few issues with this paper.  I'll see if I have time to write up.   A difference of 8 C ought to have driven the crocs away.  They were not, iirc.  Secondly, flood volcanism is tied to temperature increases (re Permian), but decreases.  Finally, a temp drop is expected after the impact.  I have to wonder how careful they were with the analysis of the stratigraphy of the bivalves they were using.

Aenigmastropheus parringtoni: a new Basal Wuchiapingian Permian Archosauromorph of Tanzania

The Origin and Early Evolution of Sauria: Reassessing the Permian Saurian Fossil Record and the Timing of the Crocodile-Lizard Divergence


Ezcurra et al


Sauria is the crown-group of Diapsida and is subdivided into Lepidosauromorpha and Archosauromorpha, comprising a high percentage of the diversity of living and fossil tetrapods. The split between lepidosauromorphs and archosauromorphs (the crocodile-lizard, or bird-lizard, divergence) is considered one of the key calibration points for molecular analyses of tetrapod phylogeny. Saurians have a very rich Mesozoic and Cenozoic fossil record, but their late Paleozoic (Permian) record is problematic. Several Permian specimens have been referred to Sauria, but the phylogenetic affinity of some of these records remains questionable. We reexamine and review all of these specimens here, providing new data on early saurian evolution including osteohistology, and present a new morphological phylogenetic dataset. We support previous studies that find that no valid Permian record for Lepidosauromorpha, and we also reject some of the previous referrals of Permian specimens to Archosauromorpha. The most informative Permian archosauromorph is Protorosaurus speneri from the middle Late Permian of Western Europe. A historically problematic specimen from the Late Permian of Tanzania is redescribed and reidentified as a new genus and species of basal archosauromorph: Aenigmastropheus parringtoni. The supposed protorosaur Eorasaurus olsoni from the Late Permian of Russia is recovered among Archosauriformes and may be the oldest known member of the group but the phylogenetic support for this position is low. The assignment of Archosaurus rossicus from the latest Permian of Russia to the archosauromorph clade Proterosuchidae is supported. Our revision suggests a minimum fossil calibration date for the crocodile-lizard split of 254.7 Ma. The occurrences of basal archosauromorphs in the northern (30°N) and southern (55°S) parts of Pangea imply a wider paleobiogeographic distribution for the group during the Late Permian than previously appreciated. Early archosauromorph growth strategies appear to be more diverse than previously suggested based on new data on the osteohistology of Aenigmastropheus.

She's 9

At exactly now.

Happy birthday, Avrora!

During the Late Hadean 3.9 Billion Years ago, Impacts Smashed, Repaved the World

The impact environment of the Hadean Earth


Abramov et al


Impact bombardment in the first billion years of solar system history determined in large part the initial physical and chemical states of the inner planets and their potential to host biospheres. The range of physical states and thermal consequences of the impact epoch, however, are not well quantified. Here, we assess these effects on the young Earth's crust as well as the likelihood that a record of such effects could be preserved in the oldest terrestrial minerals and rocks. We place special emphasis on modeling the thermal effects of the late heavy bombardment (LHB) – a putative spike in the number of impacts at about 3.9 Gyr ago – using several different numerical modeling and analytical techniques. A comprehensive array of impact-produced heat sources was evaluated which includes shock heating, impact melt generation, uplift, and ejecta heating. Results indicate that ∼1.5–2.5 vol.% of the upper 20 km of Earth's crust was melted in the LHB, with only ∼0.3–1.5 vol.% in a molten state at any given time. The model predicts that approximately 5–10% of the planet's surface area was covered by less than 1 km deep impact melt sheets. A global average of ∼600–800 m of ejecta and ∼800–1000 m of condensed rock vapor is predicted to have been deposited in the LHB, with most of the condensed rock vapor produced by the largest (greater than 100-km) projectiles. To explore for a record of such catastrophic events, we created two- and three-dimensional models of post-impact cooling of ejecta and craters, coupled to diffusion models of radiogenic Pb*-loss in zircons. We used this to estimate what the cumulative effects of putative LHB-induced age resetting would be of Hadean zircons on a global scale. Zircons entrained in ejecta are projected to have the following average global distribution after the end of the LHB: ∼59% with no impact-induced Pb*-loss, ∼26% with partial Pb*-loss and ∼15% with complete Pb*-loss or destruction of the grain. In addition to the relatively high erodibility of ejecta, our results show that if discordant ca. 3.9 Gyr old zones in the Jack Hills zircons are a signature of the LHB, they were most likely sourced from impact ejecta.

Does the European Union Neighborhood Policy Need to Change?

WHEN the European Union expanded to take in eight former Communist countries, leaders faced a conundrum: they did not want to keep extending the club eastward, neither did they want to tell Ukraine and others that they would be shut out forever. So they devised a middle way: the EU would offer to extend large parts of its single market to countries in eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Mediterranean rim, without making any promises of membership.

This European Neighbourhood Policy was meant to create “a ring of friends”. Ten years on, Europe's borderlands look more like a ring of fire. Libya has been in violent chaos since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi. In Egypt one military ruler was replaced by another after a brief interlude with an elected president. Syria is suffering an appalling civil war. Georgia has lost territory after a war with Russia. Belarus languishes under the dictatorial Alexander Lukashenko. Two small countries, Tunisia and Moldova, are the closest thing to success.

For a time it looked as if Ukraine would join the list of failures. Last November, ahead of a summit in Vilnius of the EU and ex-Soviet countries, President Viktor Yanukovych caved in to Russia and refused to sign an association agreement with the EU that included a “deep and comprehensive” free-trade deal. This was a pyrrhic victory for Russia. Pro-European protesters took to the streets of Kiev and, after weeks of confrontation that culminated with the shooting of protesters, Mr Yanukovych ran away.

Opinions around Europe are divided about the meaning of events in Kiev. A recent paper by Stefan Lehne, a former Austrian diplomat, argues that the neighbourhood policy has failed. Modelled on the enlargement process, it “does not work for countries that do not want close association with the EU, and the absence of the carrot of future membership frustrates those who do”, writes Mr Lehne in his paper for Carnegie Europe, a think-tank. The slow process of enacting European standards, on everything from the environment to food safety, was designed for a stable world, not tumultuous revolutionary change. Others, though, are convinced that the victory of Ukraine’s Maidan protesters is proof that Europe's soft power can still trump Russian bullying.

President Xi Takes Personal Leadership of Chinese Cyber Forces

President Xi Jinping will head the central Internet security and informatization leading group, according to a statement released after the first meeting of the group on Thursday.

Xi presided over the meeting, stressing that Internet security and informatization is a major strategic issue concerning a country's security and development as well as people's life and work.

"Efforts should be made to build our country into a cyber power," he said.

India Prototypes First Manned Space Capsule, Plans Unmanned Flight Before 2017

India is about to take one small step towards human space flight. Last week the country’s space agency unveiled a prototype of its first crew capsule, a 4-metre-high module designed to carry two people into low Earth orbit.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning a test flight for later this year – even though it still awaits government approval and funding for a human space-flight programme. The unpiloted capsule will fly on the maiden launch of a new type of rocket that would otherwise have carried a dummy payload.

“We thought it better to gain some confidence in the design of our crew module,” says Sundaram Ramakrishnan, director of ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

Built by Hindustan Aeronautics in Bangalore, the prototype capsule cannot be hermetically sealed and so cannot take people into space. But if the rocket launch is a success, ISRO should be able to remotely test some in-flight controls and see how the module survives the stresses of re-entry and landing at sea.

The capsule will fly on a new variant of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, with its first test in a few months. When fully operational the rocket will loft satellites of about 4 tonnes to geosynchronous orbit, or place up to 9 tonnes into low Earth orbit. It could even be used to launch a future robotic moon mission.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ukraine: A Deeper, Browner Storm Coming?

Craziness continues in Ukraine.  The Euromaidan is making progress in stabilizing the government.

Crimea remains recalcitrant and has cops everywhere (see video below).  The Russian flag flies.

Turchynov is on his way to Crimea to reach a settlement.

Yatsenyuk has reported over $70 billion has been transferred out of the country.  $37 billion were from the state coffers.  Where it went is being tracked down.

Yanukovich has returned!  Sorta.  He was in Russia.  It seems he was in Moscow and has been flown to Rostov-on-Don.  He had a fighter escort from the Russian air force.  He will be holding a news conference tomorrow.

The Russian military has stepped up their 'exercise.'  They are now flying combat patrols on the Ukrainian border.  General Shoigu is in charge of the exercises.  The reported size of the army is 150,000.  Yes, DC, its an army.

Putin claims he will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.  The question is whether he will respect her in the morning.

Russia still considers Yanukovich to be Ukraine's President.

Yatsenyuk is Prime Minister officially.

The US and Europe and the IMF are all offering aid to Ukraine.

China is condemning the West for "Cold War thinking" over Ukraine.

My concern here is that Yanukovich will be riding at the head of an army to restore him.  Ukraine will be "independent," but with Russian puppet strings.  I give it a 50:50 chance. 

Autism is Inherited From Mom

When it comes to developmental disorders of the brain, men and women are not created equal.

Decades of research have shown that males are at far greater risk for neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than females. Boys, on average, are five times more likely to have autism than girls . What causes this disparity has largely remained unknown.

Now scientists have uncovered compelling genetic evidence to explain why the biological scales aren’t balanced.

According to a team of geneticists in the U.S. and Switzerland, it all boils down to what’s called the “female protective model.” This suggests that girls have a higher tolerance for harmful genetic mutations and therefore require a larger number of them than boys to reach the diagnostic threshold of a developmental disorder. With identical genetic mutations, then, a boy could show symptoms of ASD while a girl could show none.

But because the female mutation threshold is higher, when girls are diagnosed with ASD, they tend to fall on the more severe end of the spectrum.

Researchers believe the same dynamic could explain why more boys are diagnosed with ADHD, intellectual disabilities and schizophrenia. The findings were published Thursday in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

The Future of Chinese Military Expeditionary Forces

China’s top maritime priorities will remain in the East and South China Seas. Nevertheless, extended expeditionary ambitions are real. However, more assertive Chinese behavior on blue-waters does not mean that great power conflict is inevitable. Coming East Asia Summits may be a forum for finding solutions.

China does not seek an overseas presence as the Soviets did in the 1980s. They simply cannot do it yet. The USSR needed decades to establish a global naval presence. For China, it would not be different. However, the world is watching how China is on the march to reach the status of a ‘medium global force projection navy’, comparable to the British and French. In terms of numbers, but not in terms of quality, Beijing’s navy has already surpassed Paris’ and London’s and the naval armament goes on:

“During 2013 alone, over fifty naval ships were laid down, launched, or commissioned, with a similar number expected in 2014. Major qualitative improvements are occurring within naval aviation and the submarine force, which are increasingly capable of striking targets hundreds of miles from the Chinese mainland.” (Source: USNI)

Moreover, ‘medium global force projection navy’ does not necessarily mean that there are warships in all oceans. It means that China could globally project power in one or two theaters simultaneously, if its political masters so decide. Besides the question of whether a Chinese naval presence outside the Pacific really would have a serious impact, political prestige must also be taken into account. Britain’s Indian Ocean presence does not make a difference. However, London decides to go there just because they can, and to pretend that Britain is still a global power. Beijing’s political and military elites might feel the same way. Often criticized is China’s military bureaucracy and corruption. However, for naval power projection, it does not matter whether Chinese officers in Xingjang or Tibet are corrupt Maoist bureaucrats.


Why is the US Navy Scaling Back the Littoral Combat Ship? Because it Needs a Frigate, not a Corvette

The U.S. Navy has a nearly silent TV commercial that notes 70 percent of the world is covered by water, 80 percent of the people in the world live near water and 90 percent of all trade around the world travels by water.

The ad concludes with a massive aircraft carrier cruising past. Get the message?

But the Navy and the Marine Corps have both acknowledged that a lot of those people living near water reside in cities on the coast or along rivers where big ships can’t go. In future conflicts that could pose an access problem.

The solution was supposed to be the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) – a vessel small and light enough to naviagte shallow coastal waters, but carrying enough armament to do the jobs of chasing submarines and clearing away mines in “premissive environments” where the opposition isn’t packing a lot firepower: think pirate strongholds and failed states without an air force or missile batteries.

Since the $32 billion program began in 2002, the LCS development has encountered numreous problems including cost overruns and a complex competition that led to construction of two separate designs by Lockheed Martin and Austal (an Australian company). There have also been firepower, crew manning and vulnerability issues. Critics say it is too lightly armed and armored to survive battle in a contested area, like the waters off China or North Korea.

“LCS is not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat, according to a 2013 report by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, because the design requirements do not include “survivability features necessary to conduct sustained combat operations in a major conflict as expected for the Navy’s other surface combatants.”

Facing severe budget constraints, the Pentagon wants to stop acquisition of both versions of the ship – at 32 vessels instead of the planned for 52.


“Given continued fiscal restraints, we must direct future shipbuilding resources toward platforms that can operate in every region and along the full spectrum of conflict,” Hagel concluded.

So he’s directed the Navy to submit alternative proposals for procuring “a capable and lethal small surface combatant, generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate.”


US Air Force to Issue RFP for Long-Range Strike Bomber in Fall 2014

The US Air Force intends to issue a request for proposal (RFP) on its new long-range strike bomber this fall, according to the service’s top civilian official.

“We expect that there will be a full RFP, a final RFP and a competition probably in the fall timeframe,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said at a Feb. 26 event, hosted by Bloomberg.

James also told the audience that there are “two teams at present who are working on pre-proposal types of activities, preparing to take the next step in competition on the long-range strike bomber.”

While not identifying the two teams, it has been widely assumed for months that the two competitors for the program are Northrop Grumman and the team of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

The news came as something of a surprise, as the bomber program has been shrouded in mystery. James also promised more details would come out during next week’s budget rollout.

Lotus Occurance in the Fossil Record has Paleoclimatological Implications

Paleobiogeography of the lotus plant (Nelumbonaceae: Nelumbo) and its bearing on the paleoclimatic changes


Li et al


The historical reconstruction of the origin and dispersal of plant taxa in space and time facilitates a better understanding of their modern distribution patterns. However, most studies of paleobiogeography have focused on terrestrial plants, and the distribution changes of aquatic plants are less well understood. Here we study the lotus plant Nelumbo (Nelumbonaceae), an aquatic perennial herb, with a disjunctive distribution across East, South and Southeast Asia-North Australia and North America. The reproductive organs of Nelumbo changchangensis He et Jin from the Eocene of Hainan, China are supplementarily described. Analysis of the spatial and temporal distributions of Nelumbo in the geologic past indicates that the genus first occurs in mid-latitude area of Laurasia in the Early Cretaceous, then becomes widespread in North America and Eurasia and expands into South America during the Late Cretaceous, and reaches its maximum northern limit during the Eocene. The genus persists and thrives in North America and Eurasia until the Pliocene. The Pleistocene ice age causes the extinction of Nelumbo in Europe and central Asia, and its populations in North American and Asia are also restricted to refuges of lower latitude. Like the terrestrial plants Metasequoia (Cupressaceae) and Nordenskioeldia (Trochodendraceae), the fluctuations of Nelumbo distribution ranges are also linked to climatic changes in the Cenozoic. The cooling climate and increasing seasonality in the Eocene of East Asia may favor the origin of tubers and the differentiating of the ecotypes in lotus, which allow the deciduous type to survive in cold winters.

Rocky Marbles: Comparing Some of the Terrestrial or Smaller Worlds of the Solar System

Nitrogen Fixing Cyanobacteria Colonized Open Oceans During the Cryogenian Neoproterozoic

It has long been believed that the appearance of complex multicellular life towards the end of the Precambrian (the geologic interval lasting up until 541 million years ago) was facilitated by an increase in oxygen, as revealed in the geological record. However, it has remained a mystery as to why oxygen increased at this particular time and what its relationship was to 'Snowball Earth' – the most extreme climatic changes the Earth has ever experienced – which were also taking place around then.

This new study shows that it could in fact be what was happening to nitrogen at this time that helps solve the mystery.

The researchers, led by Dr Patricia Sanchez-Baracaldo of the University of Bristol, used genomic data to reconstruct the relationships between those cyanobacteria whose photosynthesis in the open ocean provided oxygen in quantities sufficient to be fundamental in the development of complex life on Earth.

Some of these cyanobacteria were also able to transform atmospheric nitrogen into bioavailable nitrogen in sufficient quantities to contribute to the marine nitrogen cycle, delivering 'nitrogen fertiliser' to the ecosystem.

Using molecular techniques, the team were able to date when these species first appeared in the geological record to around 800 million years ago.

Dr Sanchez-Baracaldo, a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow in Bristol's Schools of Biological and Geographical Sciences said: "We have known that oxygenic photosynthesis – the process by which microbes fix carbon dioxide into carbohydrates, splitting water and releasing oxygen as a by-product – first evolved in freshwater habitats more than 2.3 billion years ago. But it wasn't until around 800 million years ago that these oxygenating cyanobacteria were able to colonise the vast oceans (two thirds of our planet) and be fertilised by enough bioavailable nitrogen to then produce oxygen – and carbohydrate food – at levels high enough to facilitate the next 'great leap forward' towards complex life.

"Our study suggests that it may have been the fixing of this nitrogen 'fertiliser' in the oceans at this time that played a pivotal role in this key moment in the evolution of life on Earth.

I'll post the paper when it becomes available at my usual 6 am Precambrian post slot.  

Diversification of Mammals in Miocene Neogene Spain

Diversification of mammals from the Miocene of Spain


Domingo et al


The mammalian fossil record of Spain is long and taxonomically well resolved, offering the most complete record of faunal change for the Neogene of Europe. We evaluated changes in diversification, composition, trophic structure, and size structure of large mammals over the middle and late Miocene with methods applied to this record for the first time, including ordination of fossil localities to improve temporal resolution and estimation of confidence intervals on taxa temporal ranges. By contrast, analysis within the traditional Mammal Neogene (MN) biochronology obscures important aspects of diversification. We used inferred temporal ranges of species and evaluated per capita rates of origination, extinction, diversification, and turnover over 0.5-Myr time intervals.

Three periods of significant faunal change occurred between 12.0 and 5.5 Ma: (1) From 12.0 to 10.5 Ma, elevated origination rates led to an increase in diversity without significant change in ecological structure. Immigrants and geographic-range shifts of species to lower latitudes during an interval of global cooling contributed to these faunal changes. (2) From 9.5 to 7.5 Ma, high extinction rates followed by high origination rates coincided with significant changes in taxonomic composition and ecological structure. These changes represent the Vallesian Crisis, with replacement of a fauna of forest affinities (with frugivores and browsers) by a fauna of open woodlands (with grazers and mixed feeders). (3) From 6.5 to 5.5 Ma, high extinction rates reduced diversity without substantial changes in ecological structure, and large mammal faunas became highly endemic across the northern Mediterranean region. This interval includes the Messinian Salinity Crisis, the desiccation of the Mediterranean basin. Extinction may have been caused by geographic isolation and aridification, with evolution of endemic lineages giving rise to new species in the early Pliocene. These distinct macroevolutionary patterns of faunal change correspond to different geographic scales of inferred climatic and tectonic drivers.

New Fossils of Barremian/Aptian Cretaceous Pterosaur Feilongus Found

New Material of Feilongus (Reptilia: Pterosauria) from the Lower Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of Western Liaoning


Wang et al


Based on a new nearly naturally preserved skull and four cervical vertebrae of the pterosaur Feilongus sp. from the lower Cretaceous Jiufotang Formation of Beipiao, western Liaoning province, northeastern China, the diagnosis of Feilongus is amended. The revised diagnosis notes long, curved, needle-shaped teeth that are confined to the jaw far anterior to the nasoantorbital fenestra; posterior teeth that are slightly smaller than the anterior teeth; cervical vertebrae elongated with a ratio of length to width greater than 5; tooth number of about 78; and two cranial sagittal crests.

Small Shelly Fossils From the Lower Cambrian of China

Small shelly fossils from the early Cambrian Yanjiahe Formation, Yichang, Hubei, China


Guo et al


Abundant data have been acquired on the lower Cambrian small shelly fossils (SSFs) of the Yangtze platform during the last three decades, demonstrating that these fossils are an important piece of evidence for the Cambrian radiation and are useful biostratigraphic tools for correlating the lower Cambrian. Here we report SSF associations from the Yanjiahe Formation in the Three Gorges area, South China. The Yanjiahe Formation is well exposed near the Yanjiahe village, and its 40-m-thick sequence can be subdivided on the basis of lithology into five stratigraphic intervals (beds). Small shelly fossils occur mainly in Beds 2 and 5, but abundant SSFs were discovered in thin sections of siliceous–phosphatic nodules from Bed 3 for the first time. No skeletal fossils were discovered in the basal siliceous rock interval (Bed 1), but the negative δ13Ccarb excursion and the occurrence of the acritarch Micrhystridium regulare indicate that it belongs to the basal Cambrian. The SSF associations are somewhat similar to those of East Yunnan, and can be differentiated into three biozones (in ascending order): the Anabarites trisulcatus–Protohertzina anabarica assemblage zone (Bed 2), the Purella antiqua assemblage zone (Bed 3), and the Aldanella yanjiaheensis assemblage zone (Bed 5). The occurrence of A. yanjiaheensis in Bed 5 probably indicates that Bed 5 belongs to Cambrian Stage 2, but the Stage 2/Stage 1 boundary is uncertain since Bed 4 lacks fossils. SSF biostratigraphy indicates that the Yanjiahe Formation is pretrilobitic Meishucunian in age (equivalent to the Nemakit–Daldynian to Tommotian of Siberia, Terreneuvian). Five SSF genera occur in Bed 2, more than six genera in Bed 3, and twenty-three genera in Bed 5. The stepwise increase in generic diversity through the Yanjiahe Formation is comparable with the global diversity increase through the Nemakit–Daldynian to early Tommotian interval.

India Successfully Tests Akash Surface to Air Missile

Akash, the indigenously designed developed and produced Surface to Air missile for the Indian Army, was once again successfully flight tested today at the Integrated Test Range (ITR), Chandipur.

These were part of a series of trials being conducted in various engagement modes from the first of Production Model system being produced to equip two regiments of Indian Army.

Both today’s flight destroying a target in receding ting mode, as well as the one conducted on 21st Feb 2014 destroying an approaching target, fully met the mission objectives and few more trials are planned in different engagement modes.

“Development and production of Akash weapon system with the active participation of DRDO labs, Public Sector Units (PSUs), Ordnance Factories, National R&D Laboratories, academic Institutions and about 200 private industries is yet another symbol of India’s strength in making indigenous weapon systems”, stated Shri Avinash Chander, Scientific Adviser to Raksha Mantri and Secretary Dept of Defence R&D, congratulating the production agencies, Indian Army and DRDO team. “The successful trials show the continuing excellence of Indian weapon systems”.

Akash is India’s first indigenously designed, developed and produced air defence system Surface to Air missile capable of engaging aerial threats upto a distance of approximately 25 kms. The multi target, multi directional, all weather air-defense system consisting of surveillance and tracking radars, control centers and ground support systems mounted on high mobility vehicles for the “Army” version of Akash is designed to enable integration with other air defense command and control networks through secured communication links.

Russians Have Made Little Progress on Aircraft Carrier Design

The general director of Russia's Nevskoe Design Bureau has acknowledged that Russia has made few design decisions to date on its planned future aircraft carrier programme.

In a February interview with state news agency RIA Novosti, Sergey Vlasov said his bureau could design a nuclear-powered or conventional carrier, displacing between 55,000 and 85,000 tonnes, and embarking 50 to 70 aircraft. However, he was not certain what aircraft the ship would carry, or whether the design would include catapults or a ski-jump.

He indicated that a new carrier could cost USD3-7 billion, depending on its specifications, and that the process from design to commissioning would take around 10 years.

Indian Navy Admiral Joshi Resigns

Taking moral responsibility for the accidents and incidents which have taken place during the past few months, the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral DK Joshi today resigned from the post of CNS. The Government has accepted the resignation of Admiral Joshi with immediate effect, says a release issued from MoD. The Vice Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral RK Dhowan will be discharging the duties of officiating CNS, pending appointment of regular CNS.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ukraine is not Yet Dead

Events continue to unfold and they ahve taken some good, but also frightening turns.

Good news first.

Yatsenyuk is pretty much going to be interim prime minister.  This goes along with the US preferences.

The US is ready with a billion dollars of aid to Ukraine if Ukraine works out a deal with the IMF.

The Berkut have been disbanded.

With a single exception, the Euromaidan revolution is accepted in every region (province).

Bad news.

The Russians are saber rattling: they are conducting military exercises just across the Ukrainian border with tens of thousands of troops.   General Shoigu is even there, running the show.  This has echoes of Georgia.

The Russians also have been stating the government is illegitimate and they will not do business with them.  This means the $ (or rubles) promised are not coming.  

Crimea is the single region which is not accepting the new central government.  They have brought out the Russian flag and have it over the parliament building in Simferopol.  A recent demonstration in support of Russia was met and overrun by a counter demonstration by the Crimean Tatars in support of Kyiv.  The city government of Sevastopol has pulled together the funding to keep their Berkut.

Minor bad news is Yanukovich is playing Where's Waldo.  Last seen in Crimea.  Not seen since.  A couple reports place him in Moscow.

The Ukrainians are pulling things together.  Its not easy, especially with the personalities and passions now involved.  However, the Russians are perched like a hawk, ready to swoop on their border.  If that were to happen, it would do so in the next month.  The longer the Russians wait, the more prepare the Ukrainians will be, not necessarily militarily, but might broker something with the West which would prevent the Russians from being overly a military exercise around Mariupol ought to do it.  Preferably French and British troops.  American might be too provocative and the French and Brits have nukes so as to counter that bully stick.

Kurzweil has Infected Google

It's hard to know where to start with Ray Kurzweil. With the fact that he takes 150 pills a day and is intravenously injected on a weekly basis with a dizzying list of vitamins, dietary supplements, and substances that sound about as scientifically effective as face cream: coenzyme Q10, phosphatidycholine, glutathione?

With the fact that he believes that he has a good chance of living for ever? He just has to stay alive "long enough" to be around for when the great life-extending technologies kick in (he's 66 and he believes that "some of the baby-boomers will make it through"). Or with the fact that he's predicted that in 15 years' time, computers are going to trump people. That they will be smarter than we are. Not just better at doing sums than us and knowing what the best route is to Basildon. They already do that. But that they will be able to understand what we say, learn from experience, crack jokes, tell stories, flirt. Ray Kurzweil believes that, by 2029, computers will be able to do all the things that humans do. Only better.

But then everyone's allowed their theories. It's just that Kurzweil's theories have a habit of coming true. [ed: not] And, while he's been a successful technologist and entrepreneur and invented devices that have changed our world – the first flatbed scanner, the first computer program that could recognise a typeface, the first text-to-speech synthesizer and dozens more – and has been an important and influential advocate of artificial intelligence and what it will mean, he has also always been a lone voice in, if not quite a wilderness, then in something other than the mainstream.

And now? Now, he works at Google.


Senator Manchin Demands America Ban Bitcoin

A US senator is asking the federal government to take this remarkable step: completely ban Bitcoin.

Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator representing West Virginia, sent a letter Thursday to the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, and other regulators characterizing the virtual currency as encouraging "illicit activity" as well as being "highly unstable and disruptive to our economy."

Manchin, who is a member of the Senate banking committee, suggested in the letter -- titled "Manchin Demands Federal Regulators Ban Bitcoin" -- that a complete prohibition was appropriate because Thailand, China, and South Korea have already enacted severe restrictions or bans of their own.

It's unlikely that the Federal Reserve and the executive branch possess the statutory authority to prohibit Bitcoin without a new law enacted by Congress and signed by the president -- making Manchin's letter something of a publicity stunt. On the other hand, regulators likely do have the authority to levy more rules and restrictions on Bitcoin-related companies that would increase costs, decrease interest among investors, and, at the margin, put some startups out of business.

China has or is Developing an Object Individual Combat Weapon


F-35 Faces Another Six Month Delay

F-35 activities planned to take place after the program’s development phase ends in 2016 could slip by up to six months, according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, program executive officer for the stealthy fighter.

Work leading up to completion of development of the multinational, $398 billion program is largely on track, he told an audience hosted by Credit Suisse/McAleese & Associates Feb. 25. “I’m measuring the days I’m off in those milestones by days and weeks,” he said.

The Marines are slated to declare initial operational capability with the F-35B, optimized for short-takeoff and vertical landing, as early as June 2015, with the U.S. Air Force to follow as early as August 2016. Both require the 2B software while only the Air Force is awaiting delivery of new processing hardware with the 3i package for its declaration. Thus, if such a delay does take place, it will have the most dramatic effect on the Navy, which is slated to declare IOC as early as August 2018.

Bogdan’s warning is twofold. A potential choke point in testing the software is what is concerning him. In the 3F package, Lockheed Martin is required to deliver an unprecedented level of fusion among various data feeds for the aircraft. Among them are inputs from offboard sensors, including other aircraft and satellites.

Even if the 2B/3i work is finished as planned, Bogdan is worried that the time it takes to outfit the test aircraft, labs and simulators with the new 3F software will eat into time needed to actually test it. This was a concern pointed out in the fiscal 2013 testing report provided to Congress by Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s chief tester.

But it is the “complexity of the software that worries us the most,” Bogdan says. “Software development is always really, really tricky,” he says. “We are going to try and do things in the final block of this capability that are really hard to do.” Among them is forming software that can share the same threat picture among multiple ships across the battlefield, allowing for more coordinated attacks.

Meanwhile, Bogdan says the latest software release for the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) has addressed some of the data shortfalls of the earlier version; these forced maintainers to handle too much information manually, resulting in excessive time to turn around sorties of the single-engine jet.

Previous adds to ALIS were taking “one step forward and two steps back,” he said. “This time we took a step forward and didn’t take a step back.”

Lower Cretaceous of Liupanshan Basin had a Semi Arid or Seasonal Arid Climate

Discovery of Pseudofrenelopsis from the Lower Cretaceous of Liupanshan Basin and its paleoclimatic significance


Du et al


The Lower Cretaceous strata are well developed and widely distributed in the Liupanshan Basin, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, NW China. A variety of spores and pollen have been discovered, whereas few megafossil plants have been reported. In the present study, a new cheirolepidiaceous species, Pseudofrenelopsis liupanshanensis, is described from the Lower Cretaceous Naijiahe Formation of the Liupanshan Basin based on the leaf morphological and cuticular features. The specimens are characterized by cylindrical leafy shoots with spirally and loosely arranged triangular leaves. The cuticles are strongly cutinized with very developed papillae and the absence of hairs or trichomes on the epidermis of the leaves and internodes. The stomata are longitudinally arranged in uniseriate files and irregularly oriented and commonly surrounded by 5–6 subsidiary cells. The present species is morphologically and micromorphologically distinct from other Pseudofrenelopsis species. A seasonal and arid or semi-arid climate is represented in the Liupanshan Basin during the late Early Cretaceous, which is indicated by fossil plant taxa and the leafy shoot morphological and epidermal structures of the present Pseudofrenelopsis. Furthermore, the dominant Classopollis, occurrence of gypsum layers and evidence of the carbon and oxygen isotopes also support these findings.

Indus Valley/Harappan Civilization Fell due to Climate Change 4,100 Years ago

Scientists from the University of Cambridge have demonstrated that an abrupt weakening of the summer monsoon affected northwest India 4,100 years ago. The resulting drought coincided with the beginning of the decline of the metropolis-building Indus Civilisation, which spanned present-day Pakistan and India, suggesting that climate change could be why many of the major cities of the civilisation were abandoned.

The research, reported online on 25 February, 2014, in the journal Geology, involved the collection of snail shells preserved in the sediments of an ancient lake bed. By analysing the oxygen isotopes in the shells, the scientists were able to tell how much rain fell in the lake where the snails lived thousands of years ago.

The results shed light on a mystery surrounding why the major cities of the Indus Civilisation (also known as the Harappan Civilisation, after Harappa, one of the five cities) were abandoned. Climate change had been suggested as a possible reason for this transformation before but, until now, there has been no direct evidence for climate change in the region where Indus settlements were located.

Moreover, the finding now links the decline of the Indus cities to a documented global scale climate event and its impact on the Old Kingdom in Egypt, the Early Bronze Age civilisations of Greece and Crete, and the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, whose decline has previously been linked to abrupt climate change.

"We think that we now have a really strong indication that a major climate event occurred in the area where a large number of Indus settlements were situated," said Professor David Hodell, from Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences. "Taken together with other evidence from Meghalaya in northeast India, Oman and the Arabian Sea, our results provide strong evidence for a widespread weakening of the Indian summer monsoon across large parts of India 4,100 years ago."

Hodell together with University of Cambridge archaeologist Dr Cameron Petrie and Gates scholar Dr Yama Dixit collected Melanoides tuberculata snail shells from the sediments of the ancient lake Kotla Dahar in Haryana, India. "As today, the major source of water into the lake throughout the Holocene is likely to have been the summer monsoon," said Dixit. "But we have observed that there was an abrupt change, when the amount of evaporation from the lake exceeded the rainfall – indicative of a drought."

At this time large parts of modern Pakistan and much of western India was home to South Asia's great Bronze Age urban society. As Petrie explained: "The major cities of the Indus civilisation flourished in the mid-late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC. Large proportions of the population lived in villages, but many people also lived in 'megacities' that were 80 hectares or more in size – roughly the size of 100 football pitches. They engaged in elaborate crafts, extensive local trade and long-ranging trade with regions as far away as the modern-day Middle East. But, by the mid 2nd millennium BC, all of the great urban centres had dramatically reduced in size or been abandoned."

Many possible causes have been suggested, including the claim that major glacier-fed rivers changed their course, dramatically affecting the water supply and the reliant agriculture. It has also been suggested that an increasing population level caused problems, there was invasion and conflict, or that climate change caused a drought that large cities could not withstand long-term.

ITER Fusion Project Gets Slammed by Review

ITER, the international fusion reactor project in France, is reeling from an assessment that found serious problems with the project’s leadership, management, and governance. The report is so damning, Science has learned, that after a 13 February special session that reviewed and accepted the report’s conclusions and recommendations, the ITER Council—the project’s governing body—restricted its readership to a small number of senior managers and council members. “We feared that if [the assessment] leaked to people who don’t know about the ITER agreement, the project could be interpreted as a major failure, which is not what the management assessor intended,” says nuclear engineer Bob Iotti of the consulting firm CH2M HILL, who chairs that council.

Backed by China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, ITER aims to build a testbed for fusion energy. Under construction at Cadarache in southern France, it is often described as the most complex machine ever built. In its cavernous doughnut-shaped vacuum vessel, the reactor will heat heavy hydrogen to 150 million °C so that the nuclei will fuse to form helium, releasing energy.

Since the project began in earnest in 2006, the expected completion date has slipped from 2016 to 2018 to 2020, the estimated cost has tripled to at least €16 billion, and there’s been a major change of leadership. “ITER had to create a project, a design, a laboratory, and an institutional culture. That’s very many things to create at once,” says Steve Cowley, head of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in the United Kingdom.

The ITER agreement requires management assessments every 2 years. The previous two were critical, but nothing like the latest, conducted by Bill Madia, former director of the Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge national laboratories. “It didn’t mince words,” Iotti says. “It could be read as an indictment of the current director general [Osamu Motojima], but one should also look at the obstacles in his path. Some are not under his control.”

Macroevolution of Ungulates in North America

The fossil record and macroevolutionary history of North American ungulate ungulate mammals: standardizing variation in intensity and geography of sampling




The record of the taxonomic evolution of North American ungulates is critical to our understanding of mammalian evolution and environmental change throughout the Cenozoic. The distribution of sampling in the ungulate fossil record over time and geographic space and the degree to which this biases the observed patterns of taxonomic evolution is poorly understood. To address these issues, I placed fossil collections and occurrences drawn from the Paleobiology Database into 2-Myr time intervals between 55 and 1 Ma. I determined the variation in numbers of fossil collections and occurrences, using three metrics to measure geographic variation: first, the area of the convex hull containing all collections in an interval, to determine the areal coverage of sampling; second, the mean pairwise geographic distance among collections as a measurement of the dispersion of collections within that area; and third, the interval-to-interval migration of the geographic centroid of all collections, to calculate changes in the geographic location of sampling. Each of these showed considerable variation over the Cenozoic, and both the area of the convex hull (ACH) encompassing all collections in an interval, and mean pairwise distance (MPWD) among them showed increasing trends over time.

To minimize the effect of variation in numbers of fossil samples over time, I used standard sample-standardization procedures. To minimize the effect of geographic variation in sampling over time, I standardized the area of sampling among intervals. I also employed both standardizations sequentially. Each standardization procedure had surprisingly little effect on observed patterns of taxonomic richness and rates. This indicates that, for North American ungulates, neither variation in number nor geographic distribution of fossil samples exerts an overwhelming influence on perceived macroevolutionary patterns. These results confirm the ungulate fossil record as a critical and faithful record for our understanding of Cenozoic environmental change and the mammalian evolutionary response.

Did DInosaurs Grow Like Very big Ectotherms?

Allometries of Maximum Growth Rate versus Body Mass at Maximum Growth Indicate That Non-Avian Dinosaurs Had Growth Rates Typical of Fast Growing Ectothermic Sauropsids


Werner et al


We tested if growth rates of recent taxa are unequivocally separated between endotherms and ectotherms, and compared these to dinosaurian growth rates. We therefore performed linear regression analyses on the log-transformed maximum growth rate against log-transformed body mass at maximum growth for extant altricial birds, precocial birds, eutherians, marsupials, reptiles, fishes and dinosaurs. Regression models of precocial birds (and fishes) strongly differed from Case’s study (1978), which is often used to compare dinosaurian growth rates to those of extant vertebrates. For all taxonomic groups, the slope of 0.75 expected from the Metabolic Theory of Ecology was statistically supported. To compare growth rates between taxonomic groups we therefore used regressions with this fixed slope and group-specific intercepts. On average, maximum growth rates of ectotherms were about 10 (reptiles) to 20 (fishes) times (in comparison to mammals) or even 45 (reptiles) to 100 (fishes) times (in comparison to birds) lower than in endotherms. While on average all taxa were clearly separated from each other, individual growth rates overlapped between several taxa and even between endotherms and ectotherms. Dinosaurs had growth rates intermediate between similar sized/scaled-up reptiles and mammals, but a much lower rate than scaled-up birds. All dinosaurian growth rates were within the range of extant reptiles and mammals, and were lower than those of birds. Under the assumption that growth rate and metabolic rate are indeed linked, our results suggest two alternative interpretations. Compared to other sauropsids, the growth rates of studied dinosaurs clearly indicate that they had an ectothermic rather than an endothermic metabolic rate. Compared to other vertebrate growth rates, the overall high variability in growth rates of extant groups and the high overlap between individual growth rates of endothermic and ectothermic extant species make it impossible to rule out either of the two thermoregulation strategies for studied dinosaurs.

Carbon-13 Fluctuations From Cambrian Explosion to Canglangpuian Mass Extinction

The δ13C excursions spanning the Cambrian explosion to the Canglangpuian mass extinction in the Three Gorges area, South China


Ishikawa et al


A remarkable increase of the animal genera and a subsequent mass extinction in the late Early Cambrian are well known as the “Cambrian explosion” and the “Botomian–Toyonian crisis.” A composite global curve of the carbon isotope ratios for inorganic carbon (δ13Ccarb) shows multiple fluctuations during the evolution events, and it indicates significant changes of the oceanic carbon cycle at that time. This study reveals a new continuous isotopic chemostratigraphy for inorganic carbon (δ13Ccarb) from the bottom of the Shipai to the base of the Shilongdong formations in Three Gorges area, South China. This section covers the Canglangpuian to the Longwangmiaoian stages in the Lower Cambrian. The δ13Ccarb variation exhibits three negative excursions: a remarkably negative excursion down to ca. − 12‰ in the middle Canglangpuian stage, a negative excursion to ca. − 1.0‰ in the upper Canglangpuian stage, and a negative excursion to ca. − 1.0‰ in the Longwangmiaoian stage, respectively. The largest negative δ13Ccarb excursion and a positive excursion before the excursion are definitely consistent with the δ13Ccarb negative shift (AECE) during the mass extinction and the δ13Ccarb positive values (MICE) during the increase of animal genera, respectively. However, the minimum values of the negative shifts among South China, Siberia, and Canada sections are different from each other. The positive δ13Ccarb excursion at the bottom of the Canglangpuian stage indicates that primary productivities and organic carbon burial were enhanced. A sea level rise in the Qiongzhusian to bottom of the Canglangpuian stages in South China corresponds to the Sinsk transgression event in Siberia and Canada. A eutrophication due to higher continental weathering during the transgression after the long-term retrogression enhanced the high primary production and consequently promoted the significant increase of animal diversity.

On the other hand, deposition of laminated black shales without bioturbation signatures and a decline of trilobite diversity are observed during the negative δ13Ccarb excursion in the Canglangpuian stage, indicating that the shallow water environment became anoxic at that time. The negative δ13Ccarb shift indicates an influx of abundant 12CO2 due to oxidation of organic carbons in seawater. The difference of the minimum values among sections implies the local difference in size of the organic carbon reservoirs and extent of the degradation of the carbons. The largest δ13C anomaly in South China suggests the presence of the largest OCPs due to higher activity of primary production and high degree of oxidation of the OCPs because of higher activity of animals. The coincidence of the timing of the negative δ13C excursions in the Canglangpuian stage among the sections indicates a global event, and suggests that the onset was caused by increase of oxygen contents of seawater and atmosphere. Abundant oxygen yielded by the increased primary productivity in the Atdabanian and the Qiongzhusian stages caused onset of the oxidation of OCP, and possibly led to the shallow water anoxia and the mass extinction of benthic animals in the Botomian and the Canglangpuian stage.

Ukraine: A Confrontation of Russia and America???

The long telephone conversation between United States President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the earliest hours of last Saturday was remarkable in its surrealistic detachment from the real events in Ukraine, which were the main topic of the exchange. Obama sought to ensure Russia’s involvement in the “quick implementation” of the agreement reached in Kyiv last Friday between then-president Viktor Yanukovych and the leaders of the opposition under the mediation of foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland. Putin emphasized the importance of working with the radical opposition, which in his opinion had driven the confrontation in Ukraine to a dangerous stage. Both leaders probably knew that the agreement could not be implemented, because Yanukovych had to flee from mutinous Kyiv as they spoke and could not possibly deliver on his part of the deal, while the victorious Maidan protest movement would not accept any diplomatic compromises.

Russian Military Procurements are not Under Financial Threat

There’s no imminent threat to funding a rejuvenated Russian military. The current pace of development, achieved in 2012, will continue while Russia’s economic and political system can bear it.

But the NG articles may foreshadow even tighter budgets. Independent media are debating how to lift a stagnating economy still based on hydrocarbon rents. The Sochi Olympic hangover may have just begun. Government (and military) budget parameters are set, but they never really feel firm. The MOD just focuses on the money it has now.

In Soviet central planning, overfulfillment usually meant sacrificing quality to meet quantitative targets and time schedules, to make careers, and to earn bonuses. Today it means more demand, less supply, tighter markets, and rising prices. And even in the post-Serdyukov MOD, it means more opportunities for corrupt scheming.


Does US Military's Air-Sea Battle Strategy Provoke China?

All throughout Air-Sea Battle (ASB) week, CIMSEC hosted articles about the ASB Concept. Each is well worth the time to read and digest for different views about U.S. military efforts to defeat the growing challenges presented by anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities. Interestingly, several of the articles discussed the same scenario—a future U.S.-China conflict. Such a scenario seems almost natural, given U.S. concerns over whether China has the means to obstruct the U.S. military’s ability to project power in the Asia-Pacific. Unfortunately, it also neglects to take into consideration larger U.S. foreign policy objectives in the region.

By portraying ASB as a means to defeat China in a military conflict, these articles represent a view that is ultimately at odds with the U.S. “Rebalance to Asia” strategy (yes, it is a strategy!). A key focus of the U.S. rebalance from the beginning has been to ensure that U.S. efforts to reinvigorate its approach to the region do not unnecessarily provoke China. As then-National Security Advisor Tom Donilon stated in 2013, building a “constructive relationship with China” is one of the main pillars of the U.S. rebalance strategy.[1]

Unfortunately, as these articles demonstrate, ASB is frequently seen as a U.S. military effort specifically developed to defeat China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This is despite frequent official U.S. statements to the contrary.[2] As the official document on ASB stated, the ASB concept is agnostic in both scenario and opponent.[3] Though this point cannot be stressed enough, it continues to elude many.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Found While Fishing With the Kids on Saturday

A raccoon, I think.

Malware Designed to Mine Bitcoins

A team of computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego, has taken an unprecedented, in-depth look at how malware operators use the computers they infect to mine Bitcoin, a virtual currency whose value is highly volatile.

Researchers examined more than 2,000 pieces of malware used by Bitcoin mining operations in 2012 and 2013. They were able to estimate how much money operators made off their operations and which countries were most affected. The computer scientists report that the revenue of 10 of the mining operations they studied reached at least 4,500 Bitcoin over two years. This may not seem like much, but Bitcoin's value increased from about $10 to about $1,000 during that time, with a peak of $1,100 in November 2013. One Bitcoin is currently worth about $618.

Bitcoin mining is particularly attractive for malware operators because of its low cost and because it requires little to no investment in any kind of infrastructure. "At the current stratospheric value of Bitcoin, miners with access to significant computational horsepower are literally printing money," said Danny Huang, a Ph.D. student in computer science and the first author on the study.

This has the potential to change the game in malware, explained Alex Snoeren, a professor of computer science at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, and one of the paper's co-authors. "If it ever becomes very profitable, it could reinvigorate the malware industry," he said.

The study is part of a larger effort by computer scientists at UC San Diego to better understand how malware operators make money, from sending spam to stealing personal information, such as credit card numbers. "These transactions show how society and technology shape each other," said Huang. Researchers will present their paper, "Botcoin: Monetizing Stolen Cycles," at the Network Distributed System Security conference Feb. 23 to 25 in San Diego. To track down transactions, researchers used techniques developed by their colleague and co-author, Sarah Meiklejohn, a Ph.D. student at the Jacobs School of Engineering.

The study was conducted in partnership with George Mason University, UC Berkeley and the International Computer Science Institute.

US Army Looking to Replace Medium Trucks by mid 2020s

In the next few years, the Army may be ramping up new-start programs for a medium truck as well as a boat designed to transport supplies on inland waterways.

The currently unnamed medium truck, which would be created jointly with the Marine Corps, could be fielded in the mid-2020s, said Kevin Fahey, the Army’s program executive officer for combat support and combat service support.

“We're already working with the Sustainment Center of Excellence and the [research and development] centers, both Army and Marine Corps, because we need to right now start structuring a [medium truck] program like” the joint light tactical vehicle, he told reporters during a Feb. 19 media roundtable at the Association of the U.S. Army Winter Symposium and Exposition.

The new truck could take the place of the family of medium tactical vehicles, the palletized load system and the heavy expanded mobility tactical truck, he said.

A technology development phase could begin as early as 2018, he said.

I sure hope they are going to make this optionally manned. The statement within the article they want to make it beefy like the JLTV and MRAP does not fill me with confidence.

Q-Warrior: Google Glass for the Battlefield

Walking around Silicon Valley with an augmented reality display on your face makes you a glasshole. On the battlefield, though, similar technology will soon turn U.S. soldiers into a lethal cross between the Terminator and Iron Man.

Q-Warrior, the newest version of helmet-mounted display technology from BAE Systems’ Q-Sight line, is a full-color, 3D heads-up display designed to provide soldiers in the field with rapid, real-time “situational awareness.”

With a high-resolution transparent display, Q-Warrior overlays data and a video stream over the soldier’s view of the world. Q-Warrior also includes enhanced night vision, waypoints and routing information, and the ability to identify hostile and non-hostile forces, track personnel and assets, and coordinate small unit actions.

“Q-Warrior increases the user’s situational awareness by providing the potential to display ‘eyes-out’ information to the user, including textual information, warnings and threats,” Paul Wright, the soldier systems business development lead at BAE Systems’ Electronic Systems, said in a statement. “The biggest demand, in the short term at least, will be in roles where the early adoption of situational awareness technology offers a defined advantage.”

This technology is not the stretch you might think. Specialty work-related applications for everyone from cops to doctors are increasingly considered the future of wearable computing. BAE clearly wants to be the Google of the warzone.
Image: BAE Systems

Evidence of a Silurian to Triassic Gondwana Origin Superfan Formation in the Eastern Mediterranean

The dispersal of the Gondwana Super-fan System in the eastern Mediterranean: New insights from detrital zircon geochronology


Kydonakis et al


We report here new LA-ICPMS detrital zircon U–Pb ages of a quartzite from the autochthon of Peloponnesus (Feneos locality), southern Greece. The rock classifies as a mature quartz arenite and belongs to an original shale–sandstone succession now metamorphosed into a phyllite–quartzite unit. Zircon age clusters at 0.52–0.75, 0.85, 0.95–1.1, 1.75–2 and 2.4–3 Ga point at the Saharan Metacraton and the Transgondwanan Supermountain as contributing sources; the youngest concordant grain is 522 Ma old. Our data collectively suggest deposition during the Cambro-Ordovician in a collisional setting and are in excellent agreement with those of the virtually intact Cambro-Ordovician sandstone–shale sequences of Libya (Murzuq and Kufrah basins) and the Middle East (Israel and Jordan), interpreted to have been deposited in the Gondwana Super-fan System which draped the northern Gondwanan periphery from ~ 525 to 460 Ma. By contrast, re-evaluating the available zircon age-distribution pattern and depositional setting of an analogous sequence forming the autochthon of north-central Crete (Galinos beds) we demonstrate that it was originally deposited in a completely different setting, i.e. in an accretionary/fore-arc complex outboard of the south Laurussian active margin (Pelagonia) during the Late Carboniferous. Comparing similar Cambro-Ordovician metasiliciclastic rocks from north-eastern Crete (Sfaka paragneiss), north-central continental Greece (Vertiskos terrane), north-western Turkey (central Sakarya terrane) and the Romanian Carpathians we show that their detrital zircon distribution patterns testify to an original depositional setting similar to that of Peloponnesus (Feneos), Libya and the Middle East. Using key time-frames from previously published palaeogeographic reconstruction models we are able to trace in space and time the Palaeozoic–Early Mesozoic wondering paths of the aforementioned sequences. Thus, time- and facies-equivalent rocks presently cropping out in the eastern Mediterranean share a common provenance from the Gondwana Super-fan System which was diachronously dispersed between Early Silurian and Early Triassic.

Bitcoin Exchange MT Gox is Hacked, Toast

What was once the world's largest trading platform for bitcoins is now a blank page.

The Bitcoin-trading website Mt.Gox was taken offline late Monday, putting at risk millions of dollars put there by investors who gambled on the digital currency. The exchange also deleted all of its tweets, and Mt.Gox CEO Mark Karpeles resigned from the Bitcoin Foundation's board of directors on Sunday.

The news frightened Bitcoin investors elsewhere, knocking the price down about 3% to $490 -- its lowest level since November.

For now, there's no telling what's behind the shutdown. Mt.Gox did not respond to requests for comment.

However, an unverified document called "Crisis Strategy Draft" that is being circulated online claims Mt.Gox has lost 744,408 of its users' bitcoins, worth nearly $367 million. It also claims Mt.Gox is planning to rebrand itself as Gox.

Using Spare Cycles in Data Centers to Mine Bitcoin Does not pay

Can data centers tap unused server capacity to mine for Bitcoins? The question occurred to the team at the online backup service iDrive, which performs most of its customer backup jobs overnight, leaving its 3,000 quad-core servers idle for much of the day. So the company ran a test with 600 servers to see whether Bitcoin mining could become a secondary revenue stream.

The result: running Bitcoin mining software on those 600 quad-core servers for a year would earn about 0.43 Bitcoin, worth a total return of about $275.08 at current prices on major Bitcoin exchanges.

“Its a waste of time, so any other company thinking about mining with their infrastructure, learn from us,” said iDrive’s Matthew Harvey. “Don’t do it. You need custom machines to effectively mine bitcoins and generate a real ROI.”

The iDrive test-drive reinforced a common theme on Bitcoin mining forums: To earn money by mining, you need to invest in highly-customized computers using ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) to crunch data for creating and tracking bitcoins.