Crocs Uncover

Bizarre Species

viernes, 9 de diciembre de 2011

Pits add to Stonehenge mystery

Researchers say they've found two pits to the east and west of Stonehenge that may have played a role in an ancient midsummer ceremony. The discovery suggests that the 5,000-year-old circle of stones we see today may represent just a few of the pieces in a larger geographical, astronomical and cultural puzzle.

The previously undetected pits could provide clues for solving the puzzle.

"These exciting finds indicate that even though Stonehenge was ultimately the most important monument in the landscape, it may at times not have been the only, or most important ritual focus, and the area of Stonehenge may have become significant as a sacred site at a much earlier date," Vince Gaffney, an archaeology professor at the University of Birmingham, said in a news release issued over the weekend.

The pits, which measure about 16 feet (5 meters wide) and at least 3 feet (1 meter) deep, have been covered over for centuries and can't easily be spotted on the ground. But they showed up in a survey that was conducted using non-invasive mapping techniques such as ground-penetrating radar and magnetometry. The survey is part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project, which was initiated last year with backing from the University of Birmingham's IBM Visual and Spatial Technology Center and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Vienna.

The placement of the pits is intriguing: They were found on the eastern and western sides of the Cursus, a racetrack-style enclosure north of Stonehenge itself that spans 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) from east to west and is up to 100 yards (meters) wide. From the perspective of an observer standing at the Heel Stone, a massive upright stone just outside Stonehenge's main circle, the sun would rise just above the eastern pit on the day of the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year. The same observer would see the sun set that evening in line with the western pit.

National Geographic

A map of the Stonehenge area shows the placement of the stone circle and the Cursus, as well as another monument known as Woodhenge and a suggested ceremonial route between the monuments.

Archaeologists have previously noted that the Cursus was apparently created several hundred years before Stonehenge's 5,000-year-old stone circle was erected. The newly detected pits may have been part of a grand layout that guided the placement of the standing stones.

But to what end?

Gaffney, who led the survey project, speculated that the Cursus was the central stage for a midsummer ritual that was enacted long before Stonehenge's heyday. "The perimeter of the Cursus may well have defined a route guiding ceremonial processions which took place on the longest day of the year," he said.

In addition to the pits, Gaffney and his colleagues found a previously undetected gap in the middle of the northern side of the eroded earthwork that defines the sides of the Cursus. They propose that ceremonial leaders entered the Cursus through that gap, and then gathered at the eastern pit to conduct sunrise rituals. Over the course of the day, participants in the rituals might have made their way westward, ending up at the western pit at sunset.

"Observers of the ceremony would have been positioned at the Heel Stone, [with] which the two pits are aligned," Gaffney said.

Henry Chapman, another archaeologist at the University of Birmingham, said Stonehenge's position would have added to the symbolism. "If you measure the walking distance between the two pits, the procession would reach exactly halfway at midday, when the sun would be directly on top of Stonehenge," he said in the news release. "This is more than just coincidence, indicating that the exact length of the Cursus and the positioning of the pits are of significance."

The researchers suggested that the pits may have contained tall sighting stones, or wooden posts, or even fires to symbolize the sun. Just imagine how it would feel to watch the sun rise from a fire lit before dawn, follow its movement across the sky in time with a daylong procession, and then see it fall into the flames at sunset.

"Stonehenge may have been emerging as an important area for quite a long time, and sometimes you can't necessarily see that in the standing archaeology," Gaffney said in an MP3 podcast provided by the University of Birmingham. "The stones themselves, which are generally later, don't give you that information. You have to infer it from relationships between multiple monuments."

The researchers aren't anywhere close to finishing the puzzle: Gaffney figures there's at least another two years' worth of survey work to do. Even then, the full story of Stonehenge and its environs may remain wrapped in mystery. How much can stones and earth tell? Stay tuned ...

Tech Firm Implements Employee ‘Zero Email’ Policy

Tech Firm Implements Employee ‘Zero Email’ Policy (ABC News)

(Hannelore Foerster/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

You’ve got mail–not. Employees of tech company Atos will be banned from sending emails under the company’s new “zero email” policy.

CEO Thierry Breton of the French information technology company said only 10 percent of the 200 messages employees receive per day are useful and 18 percent is spam. That’s why he hopes the company can eradicate internal emails in 18 months, forcing the company’s 74,000 employees to communicate with each other via instant messaging and a Facebook-style interface.

Caroline Crouch, a spokeswoman for the company, told ABC News the goal is focused on internal emails rather than external emails with clients and partners. Atos has already reduced the number of internal emails by 20 percent in six months.

When asked how employees have responded to the policy, Crouch told ABC News the overall response “has been positive with strong take up of alternative tools.”

Breton, the French finance minister from 2005 to 2007, told the Wall Street Journal he has not sent an email in the three years since he became chairman and CEO of Atos in November 2008.

“We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives,” he said in a statement when first announcing the policy in Feburary. “At [Atos] we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.”

Atos had revenue last year of of EUR 8.6 billion, or $11.5 billion, and has offices in 42 countries, according to the company website.

The company says by 2013, more than half of all new digital content will be the result of updates to, and editing of existing information. Middle managers spend more than 25 percent of their time searching for information, according to the company.

Crouch said Atos is evaluating a number of new tools to replace internal email including collaborative and social media tools. Those include the Atos Wiki, which allows all employees to communicate by contributing or modifying online content, and Office Communicator, the company’s online chat system which allows video conferencing, and file and application sharing.

A Smarter & Smoother Robot Arm

If someone tells you that you move l ike a robot it's not a compliment, unless you're doing the dan ce, just ask Al Gore. Robots have always been famous for making very rigid and stiff movements and there's a reason for that. While it's simple for a human to move their hand from the keyboard, pick up a cup of coffee, take a sip and put it back down, it's extremely difficult to come up with an equation for a robot to do the same thing.

The task of making a robot move more naturally may have scared away others in the past, but researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Laboratory of Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) have attacked the dilemma head on. By combining two innovative Algorithms they have built a new robotic motion-planning system that calculates more efficient and human like paths for robot arms.

And what does all this mean? If robots are ever going to interact with humans it's critical that they're able to make efficient and predictable movements, which you can finally start to see with this system

Strange Security: Hackers Could Set Your Printer on Fire from a Distance

It takes a creative mind to turn an otherwise innocent gadget into a looming security threat, but what's a hacker if not exactly that? You might not be particularly concerned that your printer could spell your demise, but a research team at Columbia University has demonstrated that not only can vulnerable printers be hacked remotely to snag personal information like credit card and Social Security numbers - they could even be made to self destruct...literally.

The research team, helmed by Columbia Professor Salvatore Stolfo and student Ang Cui, demonstrated the design flaw in a number of models of LaserJet printer manufactured by Hewlett Packard. They showed how infiltrating a printer remotely and flooding it with commands could overheat the part of a printer that dries ink, causing it to smoke, melt down, and potentially even start a fire. In another test, the group swiped a Social Security number from a scanned document and auto-published it to a Twitter feed, all by controlling the compromised device remotely.

To show how real the threat is, the team reverse-engineered the printer software - essentially breaking it down and building it back up. They discovered that the automated firmware updates on some older models essentially left the devices wide open. Firmware is the software that controls the internal workings of an electronic device, and it needs to be updated occasionally. The printers in question scan for new firmware through an automated process known as a remote firmware update, but they aren't discerning about what they download. By skipping a critical step for security known as digital signing, the calling card of safe, manufacturer-approved software, any able hacker could push malicious software onto a device by disguising it as a firmware update attached to a print request.

After lacing a document with malicious code, a hacker could install a custom built version of operating software in roughly 30 seconds. And as printers operate on such remedial software (compared to a computer or a smartphone), the bait and switch would be impossible to detect without dismantling the infected device. Once compromised, there's no simple way to un-hack a printer.

The researchers briefed HP on the vulnerability last week, and the company is likely scrambling to come up with a fix that will address the exploit. HP claims that post-2009 models require the crucial digital signature step, and pointed out that since the hack applies to laser printers, which are more common in office settings for bulk black and white printing, many home users would be unaffected. The researchers are now looking into printer models made by other manufacturers, and expect to be able to replicate the hack well beyond HP's pre-2009 LaserJet line.

While the hack might be alarming, the security community has been well aware of firmware loopholes like this one for years now. According to Brandon Creighton, a security researcher at Veracode with over a decade of experience, "You can find published research going back at least ten years. At the same time, the study they're presenting is significant because they've done the work in building a proof-of-concept exploit that actually demonstrates the vulnerabilities. That's a fair amount of effort, and most people don't do that."

And printers aren't unique targets: home routers, Voice Over IP (VoIP) devices, and ISP cable and DSL boxes are among the gadgets potentially exposed to the same method. While nothing is failproof, keeping your devices up to date with software directly from the manufacturer's website is a good measure against clever exploits like this one

Expert: Mexico glyphs don't predict apocalypse

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The end is not near.

At least that's according to a German expert who says his decoding of a Mayan tablet with a reference to a 2012 date denotes a transition to a new era and not a possible end of the world as others have read it.

The interpretation of the hieroglyphs by Sven Gronemeyer of La Trobe University in Australia was presented for the first time Wednesday at the archaeological site of Palenque in southern Mexico.

His comments came less than a week after Mexico's archaeology institute acknowledged there was a second reference to the 2012 date in Mayan inscriptions, touching of another round of talk about whether it predicts the end of the world.

Gronemeyer has been studying the stone tablet found years ago at the archeological site of Tortuguero in Mexico's Gulf coast state of Tabasco.

He said the inscription describes the return of mysterious Mayan god Bolon Yokte at the end of a 13th period of 400 years, known as Baktuns, on the equivalent of Dec. 21, 2012. Mayans considered 13 a sacred number. There's nothing apocalyptic in the date, he said.

The text was carved about 1,300 years ago. The stone has cracked, which has made the end of the passage almost illegible.

Gronemeyer said the inscription refers to the end of a cycle of 5,125 years since the beginning of the Mayan Long Count calendar in 3113 B.C.

The fragment was a prophecy of then ruler Bahlam Ajaw, who wanted to plan the passage of the god, Gronemeyer said.

"For the elite of Tortuguero, it was clear they had to prepare the land for the return of the god and for Bahlam Ajaw to be the host of this initiation," he said.

Bolon Yokte, god of creation and war, was to prevail that day in a sanctuary of Tortuguero.

"The date acquired a symbolic value because it is seen as a reflection of the day of creation," Gronemeyer said. "It is the passage of a god and not necessarily a great leap for humanity."

Last week, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology said a second inscription mentioning the 2012 date is on the carved or molded face of a brick found at the Comalcalco ruin, near the Tortuguero site. It is being kept at the institute and is not on display.

Many experts doubt the second inscription is a definite reference to the date cited as the possible end of the world, saying there is no future tense marking like there is in the Tortuguero tablet.

The institute has tried to dispel talk of a 2012 apocalypse, the subject of numerous postings and stories on the Internet. Its latest step was to arrange a special round table of Mayan experts this week at Palenque, which is where Gronemeyer made his comments.

Endangered crocodile finds new life at nuclear power plant

t sounds like the plot for a Syfy movie of the week, but the moral of the story is more heartwarming than terrifying: There's an unexpected newfound harmony between a nuclear power plant and a 15-foot-long endangered species of crocodile.

The Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant in southeastern Florida has been so good to the American crocodile that the reptile was recently taken off the endangered species list. But the croc's newly thriving condition has nothing to do with nuclear power itself; rather the species has cottoned to the 168 miles of manmade cooling canals that surround the plant, adopting the system as a new natural breeding ground.

"The way the cooling canal system was designed actually turned out to be pretty good for crocodile nesting," said John Wrublik, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It wasn't designed for crocodiles, but they've done a very good job of maintaining that area."

The recirculating water system at Turkey Point works by pumping water from the canals through a condenser, somewhat like a car's cooling system. The canals and berms used in the process have unintentionally become a nesting habitat for the crocodiles, that has helped lower their risk status from "endangered" to "threatened."

Federal wildlife officials say the crocodiles have experienced a five-fold population increase since the late 70's. And the crocs living in the canals are doing even better than their counterparts at the state's other two official sanctuaries, which still classify the enormous reptile as threatened. In 1997, the American crocodile population was down to just 300, while today, it's estimated to be more than 1,500 and growing.

"We wouldn't advise people to normally make those types of impacts," Wrublik said of removing wetlands to make way for a nuclear power plant. "But this just so happens to have benefited the crocodile population."

What's more, it's not just the crocodiles that are thriving in the power plant canals; dozens of other protected species are booming there as well, including the manatee and loggerhead turtle.

Aside from the canals themselves, the plant's remote location has given the creatures a safety zone rarely found in the state after years of development destroyed most of their natural habitats. And even though humans regard the crocodiles are fierce creatures, they're actually very gentle and intelligent, according to researcher Mario Aldecoa.

"They are very misunderstood. All reptiles are," Aldecoa said. "They are a lot smarter than people think. And they just look like dinosaurs, and that's pretty neat."

Experts stumped by ancient Jerusalem markings AP In this photo taken on Dec. 1, 2011, Israel's Antiquities Authority archeologist Eli Shukron sweeps

JERUSALEM (AP) — Mysterious stone carvings made thousands of years ago and recently uncovered in an excavation underneath Jerusalem have archaeologists stumped.

Israeli diggers who uncovered a complex of rooms carved into the bedrock in the oldest section of the city recently found the markings: Three "V'' shapes cut next to each other into the limestone floor of one of the rooms, about 2 inches (5 centimeters) deep and 20 inches (50 centimeters) long. There were no finds to offer any clues pointing to the identity of who made them or what purpose they served.

The archaeologists in charge of the dig know so little that they have been unable even to posit a theory about their nature, said Eli Shukron, one of the two directors of the dig.

"The markings are very strange, and very intriguing. I've never seen anything like them," Shukron said.

The shapes were found in a dig known as the City of David, a politically sensitive excavation conducted by Israeli government archaeologists and funded by a nationalist Jewish group under the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in east Jerusalem. The rooms were unearthed as part of the excavation of fortifications around the ancient city's only natural water source, the Gihon spring.

It is possible, the dig's archaeologists say, that when the markings were made at least 2,800 years ago the shapes might have accommodated some kind of wooden structure that stood inside them, or they might have served some other purpose on their own. They might have had a ritual function or one that was entirely mundane. Archaeologists faced by a curious artifact can usually at least venture a guess about its nature, but in this case no one, including outside experts consulted by Shukron and the dig's co-director, archaeologists with decades of experience between them, has any idea.

There appears to be at least one other ancient marking of the same type at the site. A century-old map of an expedition led by the British explorer Montague Parker, who searched for the lost treasures of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem between 1909 and 1911, includes the shape of a "V'' drawn in an underground channel not far away. Modern archaeologists haven't excavated that area yet.

Ceramic shards found in the rooms indicate they were last used around 800 B.C., with Jerusalem under the rule of Judean kings, the dig's archaeologists say. At around that time, the rooms appear to have been filled with rubble to support the construction of a defensive wall.

It is unclear, however, whether they were built in the time of those kings or centuries earlier by the Canaanite residents who predated them.

The purpose of the complex is part of the riddle. The straight lines of its walls and level floors are evidence of careful engineering, and it was located close to the most important site in the city, the spring, suggesting it might have had an important function.

A unique find in a room beside the one with the markings — a stone like a modern grave marker, which was left upright when the room was filled in — might offer a clue. Such stones were used in the ancient Middle East as a focal point for ritual or a memorial for dead ancestors, the archaeologists say, and it is likely a remnant of the pagan religions which the city's Israelite prophets tried to eradicate. It is the first such stone to be found intact in Jerusalem excavations.

But the ritual stone does not necessarily mean the whole complex was a temple. It might simply have marked a corner devoted to religious practice in a building whose purpose was commonplace.

With the experts unable to come up with a theory about the markings, the City of David dig posted a photo on its Facebook page and solicited suggestions. The results ranged from the thought-provoking — "a system for wood panels that held some other item," or molds into which molten metal would could have been poured — to the fanciful: ancient Hebrew or Egyptian characters, or a "symbol for water, particularly as it was near a spring."

The City of David dig, where the carvings were found, is the most high-profile and politically contentious excavation in the Holy Land. Named for the biblical monarch thought to have ruled from the spot 3,000 years ago, the dig is located in what today is east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in 1967. Palestinians claim that part of the city as the capital of a future state.

The dig is funded by Elad, an organization affiliated with the Israeli settlement movement. The group also moves Jewish families into the neighborhood and elsewhere in east Jerusalem in an attempt to render impossible any division of the city in a future peace deal.

Palestinians and some Israeli archaeologists have criticized the dig for what they say is an excessive focus on Jewish remains. The dig's archaeologists, who work under the auspices of the government's Israel Antiquities Authority, deny that charge.

military drone was shot down over Iranian airspace,

On Wednesday November 30th an unmanned United States military drone was shot down over Iranian airspace, about 140 miles from the border of Afghanistan. The fallen drone, packed with guarded US military secrets, highlights the Obama administrations growing reliance on unmanned aircraft to fight its wars.

Unmanned drones have been a signature of the United States fight against terrorism; according to the Washington Post, U.S. drone strikes have killed twice as many suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban members than were ever imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. President Obama has found them particularly useful, authorizing more drone strikes in the first nine months in office than President George W. Bush did in his final three years in office.

If the recovered drone is in good shape it could provide Iran, and their allies including China and Russia, with highly guarded US military secrets, causing a fair amount of anxiety in Washington.

However, pursuing the enemy while keeping soldiers off the battle field is not a new strategy. The practice began in the 1940's when the U.S. started using unmanned rockets, and has evolved to the point where military drones are an integral part of any modern arsenal.

The United States has flown over 300 drone missions as of October of 2011, and while they're a crucial tool in modern warfare, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism believed they are to blame for hundreds of civilian casualties; a number the Pentagon denies.

Looking forward, what's the future of this joystick warfare, and is it legal? On Around the World, Christiane Amanpour is joined by Peter Singer, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and author of Wired for War to talk about the future of drones.