Hidden Archaeology of Stonehenge Revealed

Stonehenge,_Condado_de_Wiltshire,_Inglaterra,_2014-08-12,_DD_09Ever since it was first uncovered, Stonehenge has remained a mystery for archaeologists, historians and folklorists alike. First constructed in the Neolithic Era, the purpose and function of these standing stones – set within a dense complex of burial mounds and monuments – are still a matter of speculation and debate. But now, researchers have revealed hundreds of previously unknown features which might shed light on this mysterious site.

As part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, the researchers used a comprehensive array of remote sensing technology and non-invasive geophysical survey equipment to scan deep beneath the ground. These finds include images of dwellings that date from the Iron and Bronze Ages, as well as details of buried Roman settlements that have never before been seen.

Stonehenge_renderIncluded in the findings are many dozens of burial mounds, including a long barrow entombment structure that predate the construction of Stonehenge itself. Revealed in great detail by the team’s geophysical instruments, the structure appears to have been a very large timber building. The researchers believe this may have been a preparation room where the dead were defleshed before burial, a popular practice amongst tribes inhabiting the area at the time.

Later structures that were built around the well-known circular form were also revealed by this new research, with seventeen previously unidentified ritual monuments being discovered and mapped. These types of results show how new applications of geophysical technology can add to the understanding of archaeological sites; in this case, it is shedding light on the hidden landscape of a site that is 11,000 years in the making.

stonehenge-2As British project leader Professor Vincent Gaffney of the University of Birmingham explained:

Despite Stonehenge being the most iconic of all prehistoric monuments and occupying one of the richest archaeological landscapes in the world, much of this landscape in effect remains terra incognita. This project has revealed that the area around Stonehenge is teeming with previously unseen archaeology and that the application of new technology can transform how archaeologists and the wider public understand one of the best-studied landscapes on Earth.

The techniques included magnetic gradiometer systems, ground and airborne laser-scanning, and ground-based radar, all of which were mapped to GPS systems to provide total GIS (Geographic Information System) coverage. The research also revealed that the Durrington Walls “super henge,” located just two miles (3.2 km) north-west of Stonehenge, had once been surrounded by a circle of massive posts or standing stones.

stonehenge-4Believed to have consisted of up to 60 posts or stones some 12 ft (3 m) tall, the geophysical mapping suggests that some of these may still even be intact somewhere under the enormous earthen banks surrounding the monument. Viewable only through the advanced technology used in the project, this discovery and mapping work has already added yet another dimension of knowledge to this vast and mysterious edifice. According to Professor Gaffney:

New monuments have been revealed, as well as new types of monument that have previously never been seen by archaeologists. All of this information has been placed within a single digital map, which will guide how Stonehenge and its landscape are studied in the future.

What’s more, the project uncovered large burial tombs containing more gold and jewelry than graves anywhere else in Britain, indicating that the area was a cemetery for the rich and powerful. Some of the treasures found by archaeologists were made with materials and techniques originating from the European continent. All of the findings are explored in “Stonehenge Uncovered”, the season premiere of CBC’s The Nature of Things that will be airing on Oct. 9.

stonehenge-0British and U.S. versions of the film will air on BBC and the Smithsonian Channel respectively. Terence McKeown, president of Lightship Entertainment and the film’s Canadian executive producer, said that before working on the film, he had the impression that Stonehenge was always an isolated monument in a landscape populated by little more than a “handful of monks.”

The Hidden Landscapes Project – and the new film – reveal a very different picture. As McKeown put it:

What Stonehenge appears to have been was the spiritual centre of a sophisticated culture. The population around Stonehenge clearly included accomplished engineers, surgeons, artisans, and there’s evidence they had close ties to Europe that advanced their skills.

To check out the episode, either bookmark the CBC link here for live streaming, or tune in to The Nature of Things on CBC-TV on Oct. 9th at 8pm (EDT). And be sure to check out the video below, produced by the University of Birmingham, shows the research team and their instruments in action at Stonehenge.


Source:
cbc.ca, gizmag.com

Climate Crisis: Present Changes and Coming Impacts

climate-changeThis Tuesday, the Whitehouse received the latest draft of the Climate Assessment Report, a scientific study produced by the National Climate Assessment to determine the impacts of Climate Change. In addition to outlining the risks it poses to various regions in the US, the report also addresses the apparent increase in the number of severe weather events that have taken place in the past few years, and how these events affect local economies and communities.

According to the 840-page report, America is fast becoming a stormy and dangerous place, with rising seas and disasters effecting regions from flood-stricken Florida to the wildfire-ravaged West. The report concluded that Climate change’s assorted harms “are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond.” It also emphasized how warming and its all-too-wild weather are changing daily lives, even using the phrase “climate disruption” as another way of saying global warming.

Climate_Change_vulnerability_USHenry Jacoby, co-director of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change at the MIT, was joined by other scientists and White House officials when he claimed that this is the most detailed and U.S.-focused scientific report on global warming. Above all, the most chilling claim contained within is the fact that “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.”

The report also examined the effects at the regional and state-level, compared with recent reports from the UN that examined North America as a single case study. In a recent interview with CBC’s The Lang & O’Leary Exchange, Jacoby pointed to a range of impacts of global warming that people see everyday, from the change in the growing season, to extreme heat, severe Atlantic storms and drought in some areas.

climate_change_variableweatherAs he explained, these changes are far more than just variable weather:

If you look at what’s happening to the Arctic ice at your northern border, you are seeing changes to the ice like you haven’t seen in hundreds of years. We’re seeing change on a scale that’s going beyond variability.

A draft of the report was released in January 2013, but this version has been reviewed by more scientists, the National Academy of Science, 13 other government agencies, and was subject to public comment. It is written in a bit more simple language so people could realize “that there’s a new source of risk in their lives,” said study lead author Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Even though the nation’s average temperature has risen by as much as 1.9 degrees since record keeping began in 1895, it’s in the big, wild weather where the average person feels climate change the most. As the report’s co-author Katharine Hayhoe – a Texas Tech University climate scientist – put it, extreme weather like droughts, storms and heat waves hit us in the pocketbooks and can be seen by our own eyes. And it’s happening a lot more often lately.

climate_change_precipThe report says the intensity, frequency and duration of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes have increased since the early 1980s. Winter storms have increased in frequency and intensity and shifted northward since the 1950s, with heavy downpours increasing by 71 per cent in the northeast alone. Heat waves are projected to intensify nationwide, with droughts in the southwest expected to get stronger. Sea levels have risen 20 centimetres since 1880 and are projected to rise between 0.3 meters and 1.2 metres by 2100.

The report was also clear that the 2010’s have been a record-setting decade. For example, since January 2010, 43 of the lower 48 states have set at least one monthly record for heat, such as California having its warmest January on record this year. In the past 51 months, states have set 80 monthly records for heat, 33 records for being too wet, 12 for lack of rain and just three for cold, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal weather records.

climate_change_tempsAs she described it, America is basically in a boxing match, and is currently on the ropes:

We’re being hit hard. We’re holding steady, and we’re getting hit in the jaw. We’re starting to recover from one punch, and another punch comes.

John Podesta, an adviser to President Barack Obama, said on Monday that the report includes “a huge amount of practical, usable knowledge that state and local decision-makers can take advantage of.” The report also stressed that climate change threatens human health and well-being in a number of ways. Those include smoke-filled air from more wildfires, smoggy air from pollution, more diseases from tainted food, water, mosquitoes and ticks.

climate_change_lossAnd then there’s more pollen because of warming weather and the effects of carbon dioxide on plants. Ragweed pollen season has lengthened by 24 days in the Minnesota-North Dakota region between 1995 and 2011, the report says. In other parts of the Midwest, the pollen season has gotten longer by anywhere from 11 days to 20 days. And all of this has associated costs, not the least of which is in damages, insurance costs, and health care expenses.

Flooding alone may cost $325 billion by the year 2100 in one of the worst-case scenarios, with $130 billion of that in Florida, the report says. Already the droughts and heat waves of 2011 and 2012 added about $10 billion to farm costs, the report says. Billion-dollar weather disasters have hit everywhere across the nation, but have hit Texas, Oklahoma and the southeast most often, the report says. And there is the impact on agricultural producers, which is also stressed:

Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience.

Climate_Change_vulnerability1Still, it’s not too late to prevent the worst of climate change, says the 840-page report, which the White House is highlighting as it tries to jump-start often stalled efforts to curb heat-trapping gases. However, if the U.S. and the world don’t change the way they use energy, the current effects will continue to intensify to the point where property damage, wildfires, storms, flooding and agricultural collapse will become untenable.

Already, the report has its detractors, many of whom appeared together for a Special Report segment on Fox News. In addition to commentator George Will questioning the scientific consensus – which accounts for 97% of the scientific community – Charles Krauthammer compared to the findings to a bargaining process, and ultimately condemned it as “superstition”. As he put it:

What we’re ultimately talking about here is human sin, through the production of carbon. It’s the oldest superstition around. It was in the Old Testament. It’s in the rain dance of the Native Americans. If you sin, the skies will not cooperate. This is quite superstitious and I’m waiting for science that doesn’t declare itself definitive but is otherwise convincing.

climate_change_denialNot to belabor the point, but superstition is what happens when people trust in rituals and practices that have no discernible effect whatsoever on a problem to protect themselves from said problem. Conducting research, performing field studies, and compiling statistics that cover hundreds, thousands, and even millions of years – this is called the scientific method. And Krauthammer would do well to realize that it is this same method that has done away with countless superstitious rituals throughout history.

He and other so-called skeptics (though a more accurate term is deniers) would also do well to understand the difference between superstition and a little thing known as cause and effect. For example, avoiding black cats, not walking under ladders, or sacrificing human beings to make the sun rise or the crops grow is superstition. Pumping thousands of tons of carbon dioxide into the air, which is known to have the effect of absorbing the sun’s thermal energy (aka. radiant forcing), is cause and effect.

See? Easily distinguished. But if there’s one thing that the “denial machine” has shown an affinity for, its remaining divorced from the scientific consensus. Luckily, they have been in full-retreat for some time, leaving only the most die hard behind to fight their battles. One can only hope their influence continues to diminish as time goes on and the problems associated with Climate Change get worse.

You can read the  full Climate Assessment Report here.

Sources: cbc.ca, abcnews.go.com, IO9.com, (2), nca2014.globalchange.gov

British Columbia Map Recreates Game of Thrones

british-columbia-as-game-of-thrones-westerosWhat would your town be if it happened to fall within the A Song of Ice and Fire universe? That’s the question British Columbia resident Andrew Cuthbert asked himself when he created a map trying parallel the geography from Game of Thrones to his (and my) home province. Specifically, the map has been repitched using locations from Westeros, the setting of much the story, with townships that bear the greatest geographical and cultural resemblances becoming their Westerosi equivalent.

For example:

  • Vancouver (BC’s largest city, though not the capitol) stands in for King’s Landing, the seat of power in Westeros
  • Victoria, the true provincial capitol and second largest city, is Highgarden, the regional capitol of the lush and fertile land known as “The Reach”
  • Fort Nelson, the last stop on the long road to the Tundra, becomes Castle Black – the last stop before The Wall and the frozen wastelands of the north in the series
  • Kelowna, a town of well-to-do people, becomes Lannisport, home of the “rich as a Lannister” Lannisters
  • Kamloops, a town in the “Riverlands” of BC (where it sits at the mouth of two arms of the Thompson River) becomes Riverrun
  • Osoyoos, a town surrounded by desert and some damn good vineyards, becomes Sunpsear, the capitol of Dorne (the desert region of Westeros)
  • Prince Rupert, the gateway to the northern Pacific and a salty city, becomes Pyke, the seat of the Ironborn
  • and Whistler, a place famous for rich people, leisure, and riding things, becomes Dragonstone

As Cuthbert was sure to admit during an interview with CBC Radio’s Rick Cluff on The Early Edition, his comparisons are entirely tongue-in-cheek. As he put it, “The whole map is supposed to be a joke, so it’s meant to be taken in good faith.” Hard to imagine anyone would be offended by something like this, but I certainly understand his point. When it comes to matters of city comparisons and civic pride, one must tread carefully.

And his timing couldn’t have been better, since season four is set to premier in just under two weeks time! After last seasons blood bath, fans are hoping for something a bit more cheerful no doubt. Too bad they won’t get their wish 😉 And I do hope to see more maps like this in the near future. In fact, here’s hoping it becomes a full-fledged meme, with people drawing up maps that compare their home province, state, or territory to the geography from Game of Thrones!

Source: cbc.ca

News From Space: UrtheCast Cameras Blast Off!

space_cameraTwo High-Definition cameras designed to stream detailed views of Earth from the International Space Station blasted off into space yesterday. The cameras are the work of UrtheCast, a Vancouver-based company that distributes operational software for publicly accessibly HD cameras and broadcasts. Once installed, they will provide a view of Earth that is usually reserved for astronauts.

The cameras – one still and one video camera – launched at 3:52 p.m. ET from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan on an unmanned Russian Progress spacecraft aboard a Soyuz rocket. The two cameras will be attached to a platform on the underside of the space station that was brought up by a previous Progress flight in July and installed by Russian cosmonauts during a spacewalk.

Urthecastcam_UCThe cameras will be able to view a large band of the Earth between the latitudes of 51 degrees north and 51 degrees south, covering everything from the Canadian Prairies and the southern tip of Chile and Argentina. What’s more, their resolution will be high enough that people will be able to see things as small as cars, boats, their own homes, and even small groups of people.

The company stressed though that individual people would not be discernible as the resolution is simply not high enough to make out facial features. The fixed, still camera will take a continuous video panorama of Earth 50 kilometres wide as the space station orbits Earth 16 times each day. Meanwhile, the other camera will be pointable and able to be directed at specific points on the globe.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????And while many of the images they take will be available free online just a few hours after they were captured, customers will also have access to specific footage captured by the second, pointed camera. So for a small fee, people will be able to take part in what the company likes to call the “world’s first near-live HD video feed of Earth.”

The company expects customers to include governments, non-governmental organizations and corporations that would like particular types of live and archival images for purposes such as monitoring the environment. As Chris Carter, director of wealth management for ScotiaMcLeod and CBC Radio’s Vancouver business columnist, claims that this expectation is valid since UrtheCast’s business model allows it avoid a major hurdle.

urthecaste.gifBasically, the greatest impediment to providing space-based footage of the Earth is the astronomical (no pun!) cost of getting cameras into space. UrtheCast has gotten around this hurdle by partnering with Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, who transported their cameras in exchange for free access to images that it might otherwise have to pay for.

According to a statement made by the company earlier this month, as of Sept. 30, the company – which trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange – had annual purchase commitments worth $21 million:

Although these purchase commitments cannot be considered binding prior to the cameras being installed on the ISS, UrtheCast has already begun the process of converting these purchase commitments into binding commercial agreements.

The democratic space age is looming, people. Between regular updates on social media and webcasts from NASA rovers and space satellites, to live feeds from publicly-accessible cameras, we are entering an age where exploration and research are accessible like never before. Add to this the dream of telexploration, and we could be looking at a future where astronauts do NOT get to have all the fun!

Sources: cbc.ca, urthecast.com

Want to See Your Home from the ISS?

ISSA Vancouver-based company recently announced that it would be streaming images from the ISS to Earth, giving people a rare glimpse of what astronauts in orbit see on a daily basis. In an age where space travel is becoming increasingly public, thanks in part to social media, it now appears that at least one company want to get in on the ground floor of making space more accessible.

Scott Larson, CEO of Urthecast (get it?), said in a recent interview with CBC’s Curt Petrovich how his company is making this happen. This past Sunday, Urthecast launched a platform to the space station aboard the unmanned Russian Progress M-20M spacecraft as part of a delivery of 2.4 tonnes of supplies – including food, water, fuel and scientific equipment.

urthecaste.gifThis platform will soon be attached to the outside of the station and augmented with two HD cameras that will allow people to see things on Earth as small as one meter wide. One will be fixed will take a continuous video panorama of Earth 50 kilometers wide as the space station orbits Earth while the other will be a pointable one that customers will be able to aim at a particular spot on Earth, for a price.

These cameras will be launched aboard a different Progress flight on Nov. 20 and attached to the platform upon arrival. Though Urthecast has not specified what kind of fees will be involved for those looking to download pics of Earth, it has claimed that it intends to sell the video to corporations, governments and non-governmental organizations such as the United Nations for a wide range of need.

urthecaste_cameraHowever, these customers will not include the military since the apparatus will be on the International Space Station, which by law can only be used for “peaceful purposes”. Canadian law also requires the company to shut off the cameras as they pass over sensitive targets, if requested to do so by the federal government. Nevertheless, at least some investors are confident the company will make money of this idea. Since it first went public last month, Urthecast has raised some $46 million.

As part of what the company calls the “world’s first near-live HD video feed of Earth”, their cameras are expected to cover the planet between the latitudes of 51 degrees north (covering northern Canada, Russia and Scandinavia) and 51 degrees south (the southern tip of Chile and Argentina, South Africa and Australia). Once captured, the images will be downloaded to ground stations on Earth and be made available just a few hours later.

earth-from-ISSSo, between the accuracy of the cameras and the range they have to survey the planet, people will be able to capture images of their homes, neighborhoods, and even people that are accurate to a single meter. My advice? Get a portable device, lie down in your driveway, and then punch in your coordinates. And be sure to wave for a long time, so that when you download your images, you can see you waving back at yourself!

In the meantime, check out this video produced by Urthecast, and be sure to check out the company’s website to see how you can get in on this.

Sources: cbc.ca, extremetech.com, urthecast.com

The Future is Here: Liver-Cells Made With 3D Printer

bioprinterOngoing developments in 3D printing have allowed for some amazing breakthroughs in recent years. From its humble beginnings, manufacturing everything from 3D models and drugs to jewelry, the technology is rapidly expanding into the realm of the biological. This began with efforts to create printed cartilage and skin, but quickly expanded into using stem cells to create specific types of living tissues. And as it happens, some of those efforts are bearing some serious fruit!

One such example comes to us from California, where the San Diego-based firm Organova announced that they were able to create samples of liver cells using 3D printing technology. The firm presented their findings at the Experimental Biology conference in Boston this past April. In a press release, the company said the following:

We have demonstrated the power of bioprinting to create functional human tissue that replicates human biology better than what has come before.

3dstemcellsThe company’s researchers used a gel and “bioink” to build three types of liver cells and arranged them into the same kind of three-dimensional cell architecture found in a human liver. Although not fully functional, the 3D cells were able to produce some of the same proteins as an actual liver does and interacted with each other and with compounds introduced into the tissue as they would in the body.

This latest breakthrough places Organovo, indeed all biomedical research firms, that much closer to the dream of being able to synthesize human organs and other complex organic tissues. And they are hardly alone in narrowing the gap, as doctor’s at the University of Michigan made a similar advancement last year when they used a 3D printer to build a synthetic trachea for a child with a birth defect that had collapsed her airway.

bioprinted heartAs scientists get more familiar with the technology and the process of building shaped, organic cells that are capable of doing the same job as their natural counterparts, we are likely to be seeing more and more examples of synthetic organic tissue. In addition, its likely to be just a few more years before fully-functional synthetic organs are available for purchase. This will be a boon for both those looking for a transplant, as well as a medical system that is currently plagued by shortages and waiting lists.

And be sure to check out this CBC video of Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo, explaining the process of bioprinting:


Sources:
cbc.ca, wired.com

Cyberwars: The Credit Card Info Stealing App

theft_creditcard1Want to steal someone’s credit card information? There’s an App for that! Yes, it seems that smartphones are the latest tool in the identity and info thief’s arsenal, just a few years after it was reported that laptops were being used for to read people’s passports. And the worst part of it is, it can be done using a technology that is perfectly legal, and worse, was designed to make the life of consumers that much easier.

MasterCard calls the App PayPass, while Visa calls it payWave. Simply wave your credit card over a sensor and you’ve made a transaction, without the hassle of having to remember or enter a PIN number. But one of the unintended downsides is that it also makes it that much easier for a third party to steal your credit card information, and just as quickly and conveniently.

theft_creditcard3An investigative report was recently performed by CBC News and Mandy Woodland, a St. John’s lawyer who specializes in technology and privacy law. Using a Samsung Galaxy SIII, one of the most popular on the market today, the team downloaded a free app from the Google Play store to read information such as a card number, expiry date and cardholder name simply holding the smartphone over a debit or credit card.

According to their report, a thief can simply walk by, pause and read the information through an unwitting person’s coat and wallet, and then the information can be sent to another phone. The entire process only takes five minutes to download the App, and just seconds to obtain the credit card info. After conducting the process with a team members credit card, they used the stolen information to buy a coke.

??????????????Naturally, the process could be used to pay for gas, a new computer, or plane tickets to a vacation paradise! And as Woodlands said in an interview with CBC:

It’s always a concern when a stranger could obtain my personal information and my banking and financial information just from a simple walk by, particularly the fact that that worked so quickly.

Furthermore, Michael Legary, who runs a security company called Seccuris Inc., claims they have investigated cases where phones paired with these apps were used to commit credit card fraud. Legary also claims that the app has become a tool for organized crime in Europe:

They don’t even need to talk to you or touch you, they can get information about who you are. That may make you more of a target for certain types of crime.

theft_creditcardBut of course, credit card companies would like their clients not to worry. In a written statement, Visa claimed that there have been no reports of fraud perpetrated by reading its payWave cards, in the manner shown by the CBC. Citing the many layers of protection and identity security, Visa points to its record, which it claims shows historic lows of fraud. Mastercard similarly claimed that its customers are protected, specifically their MasterCard’s Zero Liability Policy. My only answer to that is, wait a while…

At the same time, Google has announced, in response to this investigation, that it would remove any app that violated Google’s developer distribution agreement or content policies. However, the app in question is still available on Google’s download site.

In conjunction with other forms of identity theft and RFID skimming, this latest revelation only adds to the growing concern that technologies which are designed for convenience are being abused to make our lives more harassed and insecure. It also raises an important issue about corporate security in the digital age.

Much like with internet security and hackers, there appears to be a constant back and forth between thieves and credit card companies, the one erecting more and more barriers of security and the other coming up with more elaborate ways to beat them. As for the rest of us, it seems we can only be vigilant. But if possible, it might be smart to purchase an Faraday pouch for your personal effects!

In the meantime, here is a demonstration of the credit card “skimming” at work.


Sources: CBC.ca, huffingtonpost.ca