A lot of people, even self-proclaimed foodies, do not know who Luther Burbank was. I find this odd not only because of his legacy, an almost supernaturally prolific career in plant breeding that gave us many of the foods we eat today, but because in his lifetime the man was the horticultural equivalent of a rock star, and counted among his admirers Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, John Muir, and Helen Keller. Burbank was charismatic, brilliant, tireless, and despite an elementary school education, possessed of an almost mystical ability to conjure plant life. Everyone knew who he was.
Burbank was born in Lancaster, Mass., in 1849. He was the 13th of 18 children. After the death of his father he used his inheritance to purchase a few farm acres and went to work on developing a potato that would have a natural resistance to the blight that sparked the catastrophic crop failures in mind-19th century Ireland. The result was the Idaho or Burbank Russet, which is now one of our dominant agricultural crops and the source of practically every French fry you have ever eaten. He moved to northern California, where the growing season was longer, with the money he made selling the rights to the Burbank Russet.
It sold for $150. If that sounds wild to you, don’t worry—it did to him, as well. As it turns out, there are serious difficulties with making money as an inventor when your inventions are living, reproducing plants. More on that in a minute.
A lot of scientists will tell you that horticulturalist Luther Burbank was not one. In a way, I think that’s probably right—and he might not have minded the exclusion, though it bothered him when people called him a “wizard.” (He felt it smacked of “hocus-pocus,” which he’d have hastened to note was not his thing either.) A devoted acolyte of Darwin, he happened to be a non-scientist who developed over 800 varieties of plants in a 50-year career. Many of them never went to market, some became unfashionable and faded away, some—like the white blackberry and the spineless prickly pear—were flops. But he’s the man you can thank not only for Idaho potatoes, but also for the pluot, most of the plums you’ve ever eaten (including the ubiquitous Japanese hybrid Santa Rosa), rainbow Swiss chard, red sorrel, and a huge number of apples, pears, peaches and nuts.
A new study tracked the eyes of dogs when shown the photos of humans and other dogs. (University of Helsinki/PlosOne)
Man’s best friend has a clear strategy for dealing with angry owners — look away.
New research shows that dogs limit their eye contact with angry humans, even as they tend to stare down upset canines. The scientists suggest this may be an attempt to appease humans, that evolved as dogs were domesticated and benefited from avoiding conflicts with humans.
To conduct the tests the University of Helsinki researchers trained 31 dogs to rest in front of a video screen. Facial photos — showing threatening, pleasant and neutral expressions — were displayed on the screen for 1.5 seconds. Nearby cameras tracked the dogs’ eye movements.
Dogs in the study looked most at the eyes of humans and other dogs to sense their emotions. When dogs looked at expressions of angry canines, they lingered more on the mouth, perhaps to interpret the threatening expressions. And when looking at angry humans they tended to avert their gaze. Dogs may have learned to detect threat signs from humans and respond in an appeasing manner, according to researcher Sanni Somppi. Avoiding conflicts may have helped dogs — which are the most popular pet in the United States — develop better bonds with humans.
Text A. (Trustees of the British Museum/Mathieu Ossendrijver)
The medieval mathematicians of Oxford, toiling in torchlight in a land ravaged by plague, managed to invent a simple form of calculus that could be used to track the motion of heavenly bodies. But now a scholar studying ancient clay tablets suggests that the Babylonians got there first, and by at least 1,400 years.
The astronomers of Babylonia, scratching tiny marks in soft clay, used surprisingly sophisticated geometry to calculate the orbit of what they called the White Star — the planet Jupiter.
These tablets are quite incomprehensible to the untrained eye. Thousands of clay tablets — many unearthed in the 19th century by adventurers hoping to build museum collections in Europe, the United States and elsewhere — remain undeciphered.
Virginia Madsen to Co-Star in CBS’ ‘American Gothic’ (Exclusive)
Courtesy of CBS
‘Fargo’ and ‘The Good Wife’ alum Matt Shakman will direct the pilot for the summer 2016 drama.
CBS’ American Gothic is adding to its cast.
The straight-to-series drama has enlisted Virginia Madsen to co-star, The Hollywood Reporter has learned, with Matt Shakman set to direct the pilot.
Set to air in the summer, American Gothic centers on a prominent Boston family attempting to redefine itself in the wake of a chilling discovery that links their recently deceased patriarch to a string of murders spanning decades, amid mounting suspicion that one of them may have been his accomplice.
She joins a cast that also includes Justin Chatwin, Megan Ketch, Antony Starr, Juliet Rylance, Stephanie Leonidas and Gabriel Bateman.
Corinne Brinkerhoff (The Good Wife) will pen the script and executive produce alongside Amblin’s Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank (The Americans, Under the Dome, Extant), James Frey and Todd Cohen.
As we look deeper into our galaxy for signs of extraterrestrial life, we keep drawing a blank. Does this mean life on Earth is unique and we’re the only ones out here? Or could it just mean that all the aliens are dead?
In new research published in the journal Astrobiology, astronomers of The Australian National University (ANU) pondered this scenario and realized that young habitable planets can become unstable very quickly. What once was a life-giving oasis becomes a hellish hothouse or frozen wasteland very quickly.
“The universe is probably filled with habitable planets, so many scientists think it should be teeming with aliens,” said Aditya Chopra, lead author of the paper. “Early life is fragile, so we believe it rarely evolves quickly enough to survive.”
“Most early planetary environments are unstable. To produce a habitable planet, life forms need to regulate greenhouse gases such as water and carbon dioxide to keep surface temperatures stable,” he said.
Unlike Earth, most worlds will likely not find this balance, ultimately succumbing to being cooked by a runaway greenhouse effect (like Venus) or frozen by a thinning atmosphere (like Mars). Life will often not be fortunate enough to win the race against environmental fluctuations to become a stabilizing factor.
Rob Spence lost eyesight in right eye from a shotgun accident when he was nine. Photo: Brian Zak
As a kid, Toronto filmmaker Rob Spence played with a “Six Million Dollar Man” action figure. At 43, he’s turned himself into a real-life version of the bionic hero.
A shotgun accident at age 9 (he held the gun incorrectly, against his eye, while shooting a pile of cow dung) left him legally blind in one eye. Twenty-six years later, Spence had the eye removed and got the idea to replace it with a camera.
“Literally everybody [said] it as a joke — people doing the surgery say, ‘Oh, you should get an eye camera.’ The idea is so out-there in pop culture and science fiction,” he tells The Post.
Spence — who calls himself the Eyeborg — is featured in Thursday’s episode of the new Showtime true-life series “Dark Net,” which examines the fringes of society where virtual and physical lives collide. In Spence’s case, as a documentarian, his eye-cam gives him the ability to conduct intimate interviews without the intrusion of bulky lenses or camera crews.
“It’s the same deal as ‘Taxicab Confessions’ — you get amazing footage if you get the release form after you do the interview,” he says.
The technology raises ethical questions, however — just as it did with Google Glass, which failed to gain traction due to privacy and safety concerns about the ability to record anyone and everyone within eyesight.
“The two reactions are, ‘Wow, that’s so cool’ — and, after a few moments’ reflection, ‘but that’s so creepy,’ ” Spence says. “I’ve actually started wondering, do we want to have constant video of our lives? It’s just another data set. And I don’t know the answer, but I think no, we don’t want that. But it’s coming anyway.”
Fairy tale origins thousands of years old, researchers say
Researchers found Beauty and the Beast was about 4,000 years old / PA
Fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast can be traced back thousands of years, according to researchers at universities in Durham and Lisbon.
Using techniques normally employed by biologists, academics studied links between stories from around the world and found some had prehistoric roots.
They found some tales were older than the earliest literary records, with one dating back to the Bronze Age.
The stories had been thought to date back to the 16th and 17th Centuries.
Durham University anthropologist Dr Jamie Tehrani, said Jack and the Beanstalk was rooted in a group of stories classified as The Boy Who Stole Ogre’s Treasure, and could be traced back to when Eastern and Western Indo-European languages split more than 5,000 years ago.
Analysis showed Beauty And The Beast and Rumpelstiltskin to be about 4,000 years old.
And a folk tale called The Smith And The Devil, about a blacksmith selling his soul in a pact with the Devil in order to gain supernatural abilities, was estimated to go back 6,000 years to the Bronze Age.
LATE IN THE summer of 2014, surveillance footage of Syria’s Tabqa air base showed up on YouTube. That it was taken by ISIS forces is unremarkable. That it was shot with a DJI Phantom FC40—a popular consumer drone at the time, the kind you might have found under the Christmas tree—certainly was.
In the intervening year and a half, small quadcopter drones have become even more affordable and more broadly available. That’s enabled them to find all sorts of positive new purposes, from agriculture to inspecting cell towers. That increased accessibility, though, has also inspired a proportionate amount of concern about the misuse of drones. A new report (PDF) from the non-profit group Open Briefing lays bare just how far the threat from hobbyist drones has evolved, and how seriously we should take it.
The Threat Abroad
Let’s start with a healthy dose of perspective. Consumer drones aren’t currently a major part of the ISIS arsenal. There aren’t roaming packs of DJI Phantoms or Parrot Bebops terrorizing the streets of Ramadi. Even that first public incident, the 2014 Tabqa footage, “appeared to be for propaganda purposes only,” according to the Open Briefing report.
That perspective need also include, though, the swift evolution of the uses ISIS forces have found for these quadcopters. “The range of scenarios that threat groups have or are likely to use drone in can be broadly divided into two types of threat: intelligence gathering or attack,” says Chris Abbott, founder and executive director of Open Briefing.
His group’s report details multiple instances of the former. ISIS used a hobbyist UAV in April of last year to help coordinate its attack on Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery complex. The following month, Kurdish forces shot down an ISIS drone that had been monitoring their positions. And these are just the times they’ve been caught.
Part of a man’s skeleton found lying in the lagoon. The skull has multiple lesions on the front and left side consistent with wounds from a blunt implement. Photograph: Marta Mirazón Lahr
Some 10,000 years ago a woman in the last stages of pregnancy met a terrible death, trussed like a captive animal and dumped into shallow water at the edge of a Kenyan lagoon. She died with at least 27 members of her tribe, all equally brutally murdered, in the earliest evidence of warfare between stone age hunter-gatherers.
The fossilised remains of the victims, still lying where they fell, preserved in the sediment of a marshy pool that dried up thousands of years ago, were found by a team of scientists from Cambridge University.
The evidence of their deaths was graphic and unmistakable: the remains, which include at least eight women and six children, show skulls smashed in, skeletons shot through or stabbed with stone arrows and blades, and in four cases, hands almost certainly bound.
CBS is rounding out the cast of its 13-episode summer series American Gothic, adding The Knick‘s Juliet Rylance and Defiance‘s Stephanie Leonidas as series regulars, TVLine has learned exclusively.
Gabriel Bateman, best known as Dylan McDermott’s son on Stalker, has also boarded the mystery thriller.
The trio join the previously cast Antony Starr (Banshee), Justin Chatwin (Shameless) and Megan Ketch (Jane the Virgin).
From Good Wife/Jane the Virgin scribe Corinne Brinkerhoff and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television, the drama — which bears no connection to the short-lived, Shaun Cassidy-produced American Gothic series that aired on CBS in the mid-’90s — centers on a prominent Boston family that is attempting to redefine itself in the wake of a chilling discovery that links their recently deceased patriarch to a string of murders spanning decades, all amid the mounting suspicion that one of them may have been his accomplice.
Politicians sometimes wear them, and so do a few chief executives. Urban hipsters have become synonymous with them, yet rugged outdoorsmen have been sporting them for years.
Beards — having become so popular that they’ve even had an annual movement (“no shave November,” now more or less a year-round display) named after them — are part of a growing category of the male grooming market, which sees more than $6 billion in sales annually, according to Euromonitor data.
The slow decline of clean-shaven faces has given rise to a new male archetype, one that’s becoming a coveted market demographic in its own right and spurring the rise of small businesses that cater to pampering hairy faces.
The movement to “kill the shave” has had the added effect of overshadowing razor blade sales. In a 2015 research report, Euromonitor said men’s toiletries — which include new products such as beard balms, oils, shampoos and conditioners — grew by 4 percent to $3.4 billion. Meanwhile, shaving grew at half that rate, to $2.9 billion. In recent years, some analysts have also attributed stagnating razor blade sales to the rise of beards.
Scientists Unlock the Mystery of Chauvet Caves Paintings in France
by Henri Neuendorf
The abstract red daubs were previously thought to be abstract paintings. Photo: JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images
Following a new discovery, the abstract details in France’s Chauvet Caves paintings, created by early humans 36,000 years ago, are thought to depict a volcanic eruption, scientists say.
Although the paintings were discovered back in 1994, a recent geological survey conducted in the Bas-Vivarais region in France, where the cave is located, has led to a new interpretation of the paintings.
Scientists discovered that a volcanic eruption took place in Bas-Vivarais at around the same time as the paintings were created between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago.
The findings give new significance to the abstract daubs of red and white pigment which were found next to figurative depictions of lions, woolly mammoths, and other animals, and provide new insights into the level of understanding that early humans had of their surroundings.
Famous Wow! signal might have been from comets, not aliens
To appear in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences
On 15 August 1977, radio astronomers using the Big Ear radio telescope at Ohio State University picked up a powerful signal from space. Some believe it was our first interception of an alien broadcast. Now it seems something closer to home may have been the source: a pair of passing comets.
The signal – known as the “Wow! signal” after a note scribbled by astronomer Jerry Ehman, who detected it – came through at 1420 megahertz, corresponding to a wavelength of 21 centimetres. Searchers for extraterrestrial transmissions have long considered it an auspicious place to look, as it is one of the main frequencies at which atoms of hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, absorb and emit energy. What’s more, this frequency easily penetrates the atmosphere.
But in the 40 years since, we’ve never heard anything like it again. Analysis of the signal ruled out a satellite, and a reflected signal from the Earth’s surface is unlikely because regulations forbid transmission in that frequency range.
The signal’s intensity rose and fell over the course of 72 seconds, which is the length of time that the Big Ear could keep an object in its field of view due to the rotation of the Earth. That meant it was clearly coming from space. So what was it?
LA store’s shirts flying off shelves after drug kingpin El Chapo wears design
Before he was captured, Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán was photographed wearing a paisley shirt from the Barabas boutique. Now ‘sales are skyrocketing’
A most-wanted shirt after a most-wanted man was caught wearing it. Composite: REX FEATURES and Handout
Vito Corleone had a tuxedo, Al Capone a cigar and overcoat, and Pablo Escobar a white blazer and blue tie. Their spiritual successor in organized crime, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, has chosen a style inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt and Coco Chanel, and designed by two Jewish Iranian brothers from Los Angeles.
The shirt was, apparently, a design from the Barabas boutique in Los Angeles’ Fashion District.
“It’s not about that he’s an international criminal,” store owner Shawn Esteghbal told the Guardian. “But we’re excited because he could buy anything, he could buy Versace, any other brand, but to choose our brand, our designs!
New US space mining law to spark interplanetary gold rush
by Luc Olinga
Illustration of a water-rich asteroid – a new US law legalizes the extraction of minerals and other materials, including water, from asteroids and the moon
Flashing some interplanetary gold bling and sipping “space water” might sound far-fetched, but both could soon be reality, thanks to a new US law that legalizes cosmic mining.
In a first, President Barack Obama signed legislation at the end of November that allows commercial extraction of minerals and other materials, including water, from asteroids and the moon.
That could kick off an extraterrestrial gold rush, backed by a private aeronautics industry that is growing quickly and cutting the price of commercial space flight.
The US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015 says that any materials American individuals or companies find on an asteroid or the moon is theirs to keep and do with as they please.
While the Space Act breaks with the concept that space should be shared by everyone on Earth for scientific research and exploration, it establishes the rights of investors to profit from their efforts, at least under US law.
Christopher Johnson, a lawyer at the Secure World Foundation, which focuses on the long-term sustainable use of outer space, said the law sets the basis for the next century of activity in space.
“Now it is permissible to interact with space. Exploring and using space’s resources has begun,” he said.
The US move conjured visions of the great opening of the United States’ Western frontier in the 19th century, which led to the California Gold Rush of 1849.