Sunday, 13 September 2015

Richard III DNA: Infidelity surprise

Analysis of Richard III's DNA has thrown up surprising evidence of infidelity somewhere in his family tree. 
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Why the government should fund research into finding a replacement for alcohol

Research into recreational drugs still carries a bad rap, following the anti-drug crusades of the Reagan years and beyond. But such research may be one of the most important scientific investigations happening today.

Here's why: the most popular recreational drugs, particularly alcohol, are atrocious. If pharmaceutical chemists could invent a less toxic replacement for alcohol, the social benefits could be enormous.

Despite the common phrase "drugs and alcohol," which seems to imply that alcohol is merely in a related category, alcohol is definitely a drug. Indeed, as Mark Kleiman writes, alcohol is more like the ur-drug: the oldest, most common, and most widely abused drug in the world.

It's also very often terrible. It can be extremely hard on the body. Heavy long-term use damages practically every organ, especially the heart, the brain, and the liver. Chronic overuse can cause slew of different kinds of brain damage; severe memory loss; cardiovascular disease and strokes; cirrhosis of the liver; cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast; high blood pressure; pancreatitis; and dozens of other problems.

Contrast that with another hard drug, heroin. Though heroin is very addictive, and a lot easier to overdose on, long-term use is largely non-toxic to the body (setting aside the risk of contaminants). Even its infamous withdrawal is not as bad. Indeed, alcohol withdrawals are perhaps the worst of any drug, with the possible exception of some benzodiazepines. Heroin withdrawal is excruciating, but severe alcoholics in withdrawal often simply die of seizures or delirium tremens.

Roughly 18 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder, and about half the country has a close family member with a current or previous alcohol addiction.

Something like a third of convicted people in jail or prison were drinking when they committed their crime, and nearly 40 percent of violent criminals. Two-thirds of domestic violence victims report alcohol was involved. That doesn't necessarily mean all those crimes would not have happened without alcohol, but given its effects on impulse control, it's safe to say it was a big factor.

Worldwide in 2012, according to the World Health Organization, alcohol caused 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9 percent of the total. But alcohol was responsible for about a quarter of all deaths among people aged 20 to 39. In the U.S., alcohol accounts for almost 90,000 deaths yearly; it is the third-place finisher among causes of preventable death.

Alcohol also has many benefits. In minor doses it has some protective effects on the cardiovascular system, and may reduce the risk of kidney stones and gallstones.

Its primary benefits are probably social, however. Alcohol lubricates gatherings. Loosened inhibitions help people strike up conversations and become friends. Dedicated communities get great pleasure out of the complex flavors of scotch, beer, wine, and other drinks. And as I will be the first to testify, a nice buzz feels pretty good! I am certainly not in favor of reinstating full-scale prohibition.

But that brings us to the question: would it be possible to discover another drug with similar properties to alcohol, but without its toxic side effects? Dr. David Nutt is working on that question right now. Like the famed drug chemist Alexander Shulgin, who developed more than 200 new psychedelic drugs, Nutt has filed for patents on some 85 different compounds, and claims to have a new one called "alcosynth" that mimics alcohol's buzz without the long-term damage. He's got another that can apparently help people sober up quickly and prevent hangovers.

Of course, any new drug needs extensive study before it could possibly be used on a wide scale. And as we've seen with alcohol or tobacco, setting up a giant profitable industry dedicated to pushing drugs on people is highly problematic. As with marijuana, stiff regulations to deliberately keep such a business small and inefficient would be a good start. The idea would be to make it cheap and available enough to stop a black market from developing, but only just barely, as cheap drugs enable addiction.

But as I argued with respect to MDMA and psychedelics, alcohol replacement is some of the lowest-hanging scientific fruit out there. Dr. Nutt is currently looking for funding to do studies on his new drugs; private foundations and governments everywhere should pony up the cash, and look for more candidates. And while there will undoubtedly be some risk involved, it's important to remember that our current situation is already very bad, with millions of people suffering and dying. A replacement drug doesn't have to be a miracle drug — just better than booze.

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Kyoto Protocol program may have boosted waste greenhouse gas production

A recent paper published in Nature Climate Change describes how some Russian projects operating under the auspices of Kyoto Protocol's Joint Implementation mechanism have increased waste greenhouse gas generation to unprecedented levels. These findings indicate that perverse incentives created by an emissions credit system are undermining some of the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol's initiatives. Better regulatory oversight is needed to ensure that the intent of the agreement is adhered to.

In 2005, the Kyoto Protocol established two project-based initiatives, the Clean Development Mechanism for emission reductions projects in developing countries, and the Joint Implementation for projects in industrialized countries. The latter covers Russia and most European Union countries, as well as a few others.

These initiatives provide emission reduction credits to companies if they eliminate any greenhouse gasses that are produced as waste. But revenues that companies receive from these credits can easily exceed the cost of reducing the waste in the first place. Ironically, this creates incentives for companies to increase production of these gases beyond the market demand for them, provided those gasses are not vented into the environment.

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Summer Sparkle With Taittinger Champagne

girl in red dress
taittinger champagne party

Who is ready for a crisp, cold bubbly? The festive folks at Taittinger Champagne demonstrated the proper way to celebrate the holidays in July. The Champagne party took place at a gorgeous East Village townhouse featuring a fantastic collection of temporary art and elaborate moldings.

For those of us who don't have a multi-story townhouse filled with art, there were certainly other party tips to be replicated. There were big golden paper circles that were stuck all over the walls, a budget-friendly way to make the stuffiest location fun. The champagne "tree" was achieved with lots of bottles with an acrylic circle in between. If you don't have the budget for that, you can substitute some bottles with water, wine, etc.

The purpose of the soiree, of course, was to taste and learn about Taittinger champagne. Their "basic" party bottle was a Brut La Francaise which was anything but. It is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It was a perfect summer sparkler with peach, vanilla and white flower notes. I loved this with the divine shrimp rillettes of the night (see recipe below).

Their Taittinger Nocturne was introduced as their holiday party vintage. The bottle looks like it was carved out of a disco ball (see the top photo). It tasted sweeter and paired well with rich desserts like champagne truffles and French macarons.

The prize of the evening was the Taittinger Comte de Champagne, Blanc de Blancs. I was told to taste the one "in the funny bottle". This Cuvee was exceptional. It was aged 8-10 years. I learned that Blanc de Blancs means the blend is 100% Chardonnay grapes. This particular champagne is made in smaller batches. When the bartenders cracked open fresh oysters on the ice next to my flute, I was in heaven.

Serve up the Shimp Rillettes with your next bottle of Taittinger Champagne:

canape recipeIngredients
1 T. canola oil
4 shallots, chopped
2 bay leaves, fresh
1 lb. shrimp, shelled and deveined
½ c dry white wine
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
3 T unsalted butter, softened
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice plus 1 t lemon zest
1 T chopped chive

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and bay leaf. Cook until
translucent, about 3 minutes. Add shrimp and wine. Season with salt and white
pepper and cook until shrimp are pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes.
Remove and discard bay leaf; let cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor with
metal blade.
Add butter and cream cheese. Puree until smooth. Add the lemon zest, juice, and
chives. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer to a non-metallic bowl. Press plastic wrap on surface of rillettes. Cover the
bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 hours.
Pipe onto toast or crackers to serve.
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An Underground WWII Bomb Shelter in London Has Been Converted Into the World’s Largest Subterranean Hydroponic Farm

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Over 100 feet below the bustling streets of London is a cavernous, abandoned space. Originally built to serve as a bomb shelter during World War II, it was designed to house and protect the lives of nearly 8,000 people. The space remained abandoned for close to 70 years until entrepreneurs Richard Ballard and Steven Dring decided to turn it into the world's first subterranean farm called Growing Underground. And surprisingly, where the sun doesn't shine turns out to be an ideal setting for a garden.

The vertically stacked hydroponic beds are best for growing small, leafy greens that have a short growth cycle like watercress, Thai basil and Japanese mizuna. And with a state-of-the-art computer controlling temperature, lighting and nutrients the subterranean farm can deliver consistent produce without sunlight (or pesticides!) and with 70% less water than conventional farms, hence the company's parent name: Zero Carbon Food.

With the help of chef Michel Roux, the operation is now partnering with local restaurants to deliver farm-to-table produce in under 4 hours. Once fully operational, it's estimated Growing Underground will be able to produce between 11,000-44,000 pounds of crops annually. (via Bloomberg)

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Soaking Up Carbon Dioxide and Turning it into Valuable Products

A molecular system that holds great promise for the capture and storage of carbon dioxide has been modified

The post Soaking Up Carbon Dioxide and Turning it into Valuable Products has been published on Technology Org.

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Babies have a better moral compass when their parents are fair and just, too

University of Chicago Child Neurosuite

Understanding the difference between right and wrong is part of a cognitive toolkit that starts out early in life and grows in complexity. There are still countless mysteries about that growth: how much of the moral toolkit are babies born with? What pieces fall into place at what age? How does a baby's environment affect its moral cognition, and how does moral cognition affect behaviour?

A paper in this week's issue of PNAS builds on previous studies of infant morality to explore what happens in babies' brains while they watch social interactions. The authors also determine how these neural signals match up with their own behaviours and their parents' beliefs.

For the study, babies were shown animated characters that either helped or hindered each other. The researchers found that the babies had different neural readings depending on whether the interaction between the animated characters was prosocial or antisocial. They also found that the strength of this difference was linked to their parents' beliefs about justice. Children with a larger difference in their neural patterns were also more likely to reach for a toy of the helpful character later.

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#NYFW: Nicole Miller Celebrates Street Art

This was a fun show, Nicole Miller was one of favorites as a student at Parsons.  I love seeing how her brand has made a big comeback as a trendsetter rather than being the prom dress staple. 

To me, she was always the Queen of fabric prints. She single handedly owned the "conversational print" category back in the 1980s and 1990s. At her Spring 2016 show, Nicole Miller is still killing it. This was a street art inspired collection. The clothing patterns ranged ranged from graffiti to more intricate mural patterns to a subtle monochromatic dripping paint. More red carpet worthy were the fully beaded and sequined gowns head to toe street art colors.

Nicole Miller brings out lots of celebrity fans of course, but it was a particular treat to see the ladies of Orange is the New Black glammed up and having a great time together. 

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Artist Nelson Makamo’s Dynamic Portraits of Johannesburg Children


With a dizzying flurry of oil paints, watercolors, silkscreen & monotype printing techniques, charcoal, and ink, artist Nelson Makamo captures the daily life of South African children as reflected in their charismatic faces. Based in Johannesburg, Makamo prefers to refer to himself as a storyteller or narrator of what he encounters everyday. "I document each day visually because for me each day is a blessing, being able to capture movements and feelings of people who live around me." His portraits depict hopeful faces filled with laughter and confidence, awash in spirited dashes of color. Via Salon Ninety One:

Key themes informing Makamo's practice include the city of Johannesburg with its dizzying dynamism, portraiture, the narrative of the artist's personal history – an unpolitical archive of personal experience, as well as themes of migration, urbanization, identity, masquerade and the transition from childhood to adulthood. Makamo ultimately strives to communicate a universal experience, which viewers can relate to and access through his artwork.

Makamo has exhibited in numerous group and solo shows in South Africa, France, Italy, the U.S., The Netherlands and Scotland over the last few years. You can see more of his artwork at Candice Berman Fine Art or follow him on Instagram. And just in case you were wondering, his shoes. (via Lustik)









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Smart home heating and cooling

Smart temperature-control devices — such as thermostats that learn and adjust to pre-programmed temperatures — are poised to increase

The post Smart home heating and cooling has been published on Technology Org.

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Defusing photobombs: Researchers find ways to remove distractions from photos

Researchers have found an automated way to identify and eliminate those stray soda cans, roaming cars and photobombing

The post Defusing photobombs: Researchers find ways to remove distractions from photos has been published on Technology Org.

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