Top 10 Secret Ways Animals Help Humans

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Top 10 Secret Ways Animals Help Humans


Who doesn’t love animals? We all know the beauty of the adorable creatures that live with us, like cute puppies and fuzzy kittens, but animals can do more than just make us laugh with the clumsy mistakes they make. Animals are used in almost every scientific field from medicine to the aerospace industry, and they play a crucial role in the advancement of human life.

Scientists continuously study animals and their unique qualities and find ways to apply those qualities to problems humans face every day. This includes utilizing our most intelligent and trainable animals but also the evolved chemical traits of smaller, lesser-known animals. So, here are ten ways animals help us out that you may never have realized even existed.

10Keyhole Limpet Proteins

Keyhole limpets are sea snails with, wide, conical shells that feature a small hole at the top, and they have a secret superpower. They contain a protein known as keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH), which is used in a wide array of medicines, ranging from cancer and Alzheimer’s medications to vaccinations for animals and humans. The complex structure of hemocyanin makes it a perfect candidate for fighting disease, because it contains many binding sites, which allows other particles bind to it easily.

Limpets aren’t the only sea organisms that are used in unexpected ways by humans. For example, kelp is used to create a creamy texture in a myriad of products ranging from ice cream to toothpaste. However, keyhole limpet proteins are used in medications for very serious diseases, and entire companies specialize in the production and sales of KLH. Industries such as this are constantly growing as we find more uses for KLH in medications. Since limpets are invertebrates with no true brain, using them in the medical field has the added bonus of eliminating the question of morality involved when using animals for scientific testing.

9Cancer-Sniffing Dogs

Dogs will make a few appearances on this list, as they’re so intelligent and easily trained, not to mention adorable. Dogs have about 60 times as many sensory nerves in their noses compared to humans. For years, scientists have known of their ability to sniff out cancer. If you have seen this in headlines, you may think, “Aww, how cute,” and move on. However, there is actually a lot of scientific evidence to back this up.[2] Back in the early 1990s, trained dogs were tested on their ability to smell cancer using various urine samples from patients with and without cancer. The canines could correctly identify samples from cancer patients about 95 percent of the time. Types of cancer they could identify ranged from liver to lung to breast cancer.

Although it is unlikely that dogs alone would ever be used to detect cancerin new patients (as much as having dogs around might make the doctor’s office more pleasant), scientist have found a way to implement their olfactory sense into diagnostic machines. They’ve created a device that can “smell” the chemicals being picked up by dogs that are linked to cancerous cells. While this area of study needs more funding before it is viable, the science is all there.

8Diabetes Dogs

While this topic started out as purely anecdotal and charming stories to make headlines, it has become fact. Cases of dogs predicting low blood sugar in diabetes patients have occurred regularly enough that it became clear they could smell something we could not. Scientists began to look into these cases and studied the exhaled breath of diabetes patients. They discovered that when blood sugar drops to dangerously low levels, the amount of a chemical called isoprene nearly doubles. Humans would never be able to notice such a thing, but the incredible noses of our noble pups can.

This is, of course, very impressive and could save even save lives. Dogs are trained to alert owners of this change, giving them time to eat and stabilize their glucose levels to stop themselves from passing out or even having a seizure. These diabetes alert dogs (DADs) are for sale right now. The only downfall? The dogs are hard to train and can cost up to $20,000 to purchase, and this does not even take into account the $1,000 per year it will cost to feed them, on average.

7Airport Falconry

If you’ve seen the movie Sully, about a pilot whose plane suffers duel engine loss, causing him to perform an emergency water landing on the Hudson River in New York, this entry will sound familiar. The movie was based on a real event, in which birds flew into both engines of a plane soon after takeoff, causing them to break and stopping the plane from flying. You might think there should be a simple way to stop problems like this from occurring. It turns out there is.

Trained falcons are used at airports to scare away smaller flocking birds from flying straight into planes during takeoff by using specific warning calls. This is widely practiced in the United States, where damages caused by birds flying into planes can cost more than $500 million per year. If even one engine is ruined, it can cost up to $2 million. Training falcons seems like a small price to pay for flight safety, especially in light of those numbers. Scientists calculate that there is about a one-in-four chance of a bird hitting a plane when falconry isn’t employed. So, next time you fly, be sure to be on the lookout and to thank your bird trainer!

6Growing Human Organs In Animals

As of January 2017, almost 80,000 people in the US alone were awaiting some kind of organ transplant. It is apparent that not all of these people will find viable organs before it is too late. In lieu of transplantation, scientists have been searching for a way to grow healthy human organs independently. There has been some amount of success, even though the process still has a long way to go before it is commercially available.

Scientists have successfully grown human organs inside large animals, such as pigs. Stem cells are taken from the transplant patient’s skin, and because they do not have determined growth, they can still grow into any type of organ or tissue. The main issue facing the medical community is that of morality. In order for the stem cells to grow into a needed organ, the animals must be engineered to develop without that organ so that the body can signal the undetermined cells to generate the required structure. There is currently a ban on using the procedure due to overwhelming complaints over the morality of using animals as vessels for human organ growth.

5Cancer Immunity In Sharks

For all of us who fear sharks above all else and wish we could go for a swim in the ocean without the threat of shark attacks, just know that they may have genes that could save countless human lives. Recent studies have shown that sharks have an increased immunity to cancer due to their overall highly evolved immune systems. The scariest sharks out there, hammerheads and great whites, are the species which exhibit these extraordinary genes. The genes, known as “legumain” and “Bag1,” are remarkably similar to genes that humans carry.

Bag1 plays a role in what is known as apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Programmed cell death is much better than it sounds. The system evolved in order to get rid of defective cells, including cancerous ones. In the case of cancer, this system has broken down or been overwhelmed by mutated cells. Scientists believe Bag1 plays a role in the regulation of apoptosis.

Sharks have an amazingly fast healing rate for open wounds as well as a shockingly low infection rate, especially when you factor in the constant contact with various bacteria that live in the ocean. It’ll still be a while before we figure out exactly how they heal so well, but specific genes found in sharks and rays but not bony fish appear to be a factor.

4Dogs Sniffing For Science

Okay, this is the last dog fact, I promise. Sure, dogs are used to sniff out cancer or diabetes, but their noses can also help us indirectly. Scientists, ever thrifty, have found a low-cost and effective way to weed out invasive plant species: dogs trained to track them down in an effort to keep our nature beautiful and safe. Companies that specialize in this kind of conservational science are currently thriving.

Imagine this as your career: spending all day with a lovable dog, training it to find the scent of a particular plant, and then walking out into an open field and letting it roam free until it comes across the scent for you. This is a real job, and I may need to consider a career change. Teams of eight to ten dogs at a time will go out and reveal about two times as many invasive plants as humans can find, just by sniffing. The method is effective, not to mention inexpensive, since the scientists involved don’t need to buy $20,000 dogs. They can often just train their own.

3Algae Used In Biofuels

Photo credit: Fred Hsu

Yes, algae aren’t technically animals, but they still have some powerful uses that shock many people. Algae are now being developed as a source of renewable energy. From tiny single-celled organisms to giant kelp, their ability to photosynthesize can help save us from our energy crisis. There are thousands of different types of photosynthetic algae, all with unique properties. Using these organisms as fuel would be as cost-effective as the algae would be cheap to produce. This could be the next step in sustainable, affordable energy.

The process is somewhat confusing for those of us not boasting a PhD, but it includes extracting lipids from the algae and subjecting them to high-intensity heat and pressure conditions, a procedure known as hydrothermal liquefaction. This will concentrate the amount of energy created by the algal cells and could ultimately be used in products from jet fuel to gasoline to ethanol. Big oil companies such as ExxonMobil have even been taking notice of the science behind algae. The development of this technology is still underway, but however you feel about big oil, there’s no denying the power of these tiny plants.

2Oysters Removing Nitrogen

ExxonMobil started a project in 2014 which is planned to take until 2030 to complete and involves adding one billion oysters to the coastal ecosystem in New York. In the past three years since its inception, about 20 million oysters have already been placed. This is clearly a gigantic undertaking, taking up copious time, resources, and workers. However, it does ultimately serve a purpose. Mollusks, including oysters, retain nitrogen in their systems in order to maintain homeostasis. This will allow for a healthier marine ecosystem in surrounding areas, where too much nitrogen may be causing harmful algae to flourish.

Marine animals must find ways of dealing with nitrogen if they are to survive. Fish, mollusks, and other marine animals excrete ammonia through urine, which is highly toxic. Oysters, however, will store nitrogen and excrete waste in other forms. Ammonia carries only one nitrogen molecule, whereas releasing uric acid or urea will expel higher levels of nitrogen. In the case of New York Harbor, oysters will essentially pull in water with high nitrogen levels, filter it, and convert the nitrogen into less toxic forms, making the water safer and healthier.

1Plastic-Devouring Worms

One of the world’s largest pollution problems is plastic. It accumulates all over the planet and is constantly ending up in the ocean. If you walk along a polluted beach, you can find plastic from all over the world, some of which may have traveled thousands of miles from another continent. This problem claims the lives of thousands of sea creatures each year, and humans are always trying to come up with creative and cost-effective ways of reducing plastic use and pollution. Luckily, there is an animal that has already figured out a way to break down our plastic bag problem.

The larvae of wax moths, which are often used as bait by fisherman, have the ability to eat plastic without being harmed. Since learning this, scientists have been studying these little worms to determine if they can really have a strong impact on lessening human waste. We know they have the ability to digest plastic, but it is unknown whether or not they can survive and thrive on plastic alone. The worms are also only a few centimeters long, so there would need to be a copious amount of them to make a dent. However, if they do indeed love plastic, they may in the near future be bred to be set loose on human trash.


Top 10 Fascinating Facts About Eagles

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Top 10 Fascinating Facts About Eagles


Eagles are known worldwide as majestic aerial predators. Their hunting expertise and legendary awe have earned them both respect and fear from humanity. Behold the astonishing aspects of their intense lives and intricate relationship with us.

10Haast’s Eagle

Photo credit: John Megahan

At present, golden eagles are capable of dragging adult mountain goats off cliffs with a bone-crushing grip strength of 750 psi, more than a lion’s bite force. However, a golden eagle would have no chance against the prehistoric man-eating eagle of New Zealand.

Before human colonization by the Maori people, the island only had three species of bat to greet them as fellow mammals. Uncontested, birds became the dominant class, growing into giants. The 3.6-meter (12 ft) flightless moas filled the niche of grazing herbivores and were the main food source of the largest, most powerful eagle ever.

Haast’s eagle, flying on a 3-meter (10 ft) wingspan, easily claimed the title of New Zealand’s apex predator. Diving with 1,000-psi, 9-centimeter (4 in) talons at 50 miles per hour (80 kph), it was wholly capable of killing a human, as described in Maori oral tradition.

Nevertheless, man prevailed. Five or six centuries ago, the Maori had finally hunted the moa to extinction, which correspondingly caused the extinction of Haast’s eagle. Having discovered the eagle in 1871, Julius von Haast was laughed at for the fearsome tall tale he brought back to his companions . . . until he brought back the bones as well.

9Hunting With Eagles

Photo credit:

Though Haast’s eagle feasted on the Maori in ancient times, the golden eagle has been trained throughout history to hunt for our food rather than our flesh. Using seven different techniques depending on the nature of prey, the golden eagle was reserved for the falconry of kings in medieval Europe. The ancestral eagle hunting traditions of Turkic people, most notably the Mongolians, continue today.

Taken from the nest as eaglets, they are raised by only one master to form a powerful personal bond. After being treated as family for a decade, they are released into the wild for natural reproduction. Eagle hunters ride on horseback to follow the attacks on various prey items such as the wolves, foxes, and hares of the Eurasian steppe.

8Police Eagles vs. Criminal Drones

Photo credit:

In First World civilizations, the lifestyle of an eagle hunter is unwelcome. Amazingly, though, the eagle is the perfect solution for an advanced technological threat: drones.

With the ubiquity and accessibility of drones in the modern world, not all tech enthusiasts are using them for recreational purposes. These drones can be used to covertly spy on buildings and people for later theft as well as to deliver and drop illegal substances or explosives.

Reports have found drugs attached to criminal drones in prison grounds, confirming our worst suspicions. Praised as “a low-tech solution for a high-tech problem,” specialized drone-catching eagles were first trained by Dutch police as a safer alternative to bullets and nets in the presence of crowds.

Eagles view the drones as other birds of prey invading their airspace. (As an aside, the wedge-tailed eagles of Australia also view hang gliders and paragliders as rival threats. Attacking the gliders, the wedge-tailed eagle seems to live up to his old New Zealand brother’s disdain for humanity.)

Much like avoiding the beak and talons of a competitor, the trained eagles are naturally able to strike the drone in the center while avoiding the rotors. The police and military in modern nations across the world, such asScotland Yard and the French Air Force, are highly interested in replicating Dutch success.

7The DDT Danger Myth

Eagles have also been used as a major political force before—in the politics of the DDT ban. The popular conception is that DDT is a dangerous poison in addition to a powerful pesticide that ruins wildlife.

The bald eagle is a special focus due to its bioaccumulation after consuming many fish. Adults are killed and eggshells are thinned to the point of being crushed during incubation. But did you ever ask if this was scientific truth?

The truth is that DDT isn’t even marginally dangerous to humans. For bald eagles, the cause of decline was almost entirely due to shooting and habitat loss. After the Bald Eagle Protection Act, eagle numbers soared even during the peak of DDT spraying.

US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists even “fed large doses of DDT to captive bald eagles for 112 days” to no adverse effect, and none of the hundreds of dead eagles found between 1961 and 1977 were killed by DDT or its residue. Despite the unpopular facts, environmentalists repetitively pushed to outlaw DDT for decades. Eventually, the government relented.

The suppression of a genuinely harmless and incredibly useful chemical proved to be only a demonstration of rising environmentalist political power. Though this is beneficial for the well-being of the world, the question remains: Does the end justify the means?

6Bald Eagles Are Scavenging Cowards

You may have learned about Benjamin Franklin’s laughable proposal for the humble turkey to be America’s national bird instead of the fierce bald eagle. But the beautiful, grand American symbol is not the glorious predator you think it is.

Respected naturalists often noted that the bald eagle was not a hunter but instead a scavenger and thief. It used its size to bully food from the highly successful fish-hunting osprey.

Sarcastically quoted by Meriwether Lewis in his adventures during the Lewis and Clark Expedition, “We continue to see a great number of bald eagles. I presume they must feed on the carcasses of dead animals, for I see no fishing hawks to supply them with their favorite food.”

This occurs because the bald eagle is not a true eagle. It is a sea eagle related to the African vulture lineage, with no will to kill for itself. Its only “hunting” is in catching the salmon that have nearly tired themselves to death during migration, if it isn’t picking up the ones that are already dead.

Franklin described the bald eagle as a “rank coward,” fleeing from an aggressive kingbird, a bird as large as a sparrow. Even its classic screech is a lie. The noise is from a red-tailed hawk. Bald eagles, unimpressively, chirp.

There is no courage, no honor, in the bald eagle. The more powerful, truly noble golden eagle would have been chosen if not for the fact that it is distributed across the world. As a native of America that was much more physically attractive than the turkey, the unjust bald eagle was selected byThomas Jefferson to become the country’s national symbol.

5Love And Home

Photo credit: National Geographic

The beauty of the bald eagle is undeniable and never so magnificently expressed as in the daring display of the death spiral. Two eagles clasp theirtalons together and fall, swinging through the skies until they break off at the last moment.

For bald and white-tailed eagles, the behavior is the ultimate courtship, a vital expression of the health (and romantically, the trust and love) of a mate. Eagles are purely monogamous and, unlike other birds in “monogamy,” do not roost with other eagles while away from the aerie.

Sharing a loyal monogamy, bald and white-tailed eagles have another household trait in common: massive multigenerational aeries. Built in the trees as usual, these nests accumulate through reuse over generations of descendants. One white-tailed eagle home in Iceland has existed for 150 years, and the weight of a 1,814-kilogram (2 ton) bald eagle nest is enough to crunch a tree (and, unfortunately, fall off).

4Females And Fratricide

Once the lifetime partner is chosen and the home is built (or perhaps, refurbished), eagles lay between one and five eggs. One parent is present nearly all the time and is extremely protective.

However, the greatest threat is within the nest itself and it is one that the parents let naturally play out. The fluffy eaglets hold a vicious, dark secret. It is common for an older eaglet, generally female due to its larger size, to kill its sibling. Nothing is done to stop the fittest from demonstrating their fitness.

But why are females larger than males across all eagle species, demonstrating the rare reversed sexual size dimorphism in birds? Nothing is conclusive, but the standing explanations are that the larger size is more useful in assisting the maternal instinct for nest building, incubation, protection, and (albeit unnecessary) defense from the male.

Meanwhile, the male partner is faster and more agile in his hunting due to his lighter weight and size.

3Mythical Foundation

Eagles have made themselves into the mythology of mankind as well as its history. The legend of the thunderbird, a giant magical bird controlling the thunder and lightning of a storm, is thought to have originated from the sighting of an eagle riding storm winds.

In the famed Middle Eastern story of Sinbad the Sailor, the massive roc is plausibly based on the existence of two animals: the now-extinct Malagasy crowned eagle and the elephant bird, cousin of the moa. The presence of the 2-meter (7 ft) eagle and the giant eggs of the elephant bird were likely exaggerated to the epic proportions of the roc.

Founder of an empire, the eagle is also respected in the origin of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. The myth is that an eagle perched upon a cactus and preyed on a snake, signifying to travelers the place of their settlement. It would later become the most powerful empire in Mesoamerica.

Representing various sky gods, most notably the Greek god Zeus, the eagle captured the imagination of past peoples as both a noble king and a thunderous force to be reckoned with.

2The Legal Eagle

Nations across the world looked to the eagle for symbolic representation, with eagles of all species honored as 18 national birds and in 25 nationalcoats of arms. However, their previous mythical prestige fell to the materialism wrought by the Industrial Revolution.

With guns available and livestock to protect, people shot down eagles as a nuisance predator. As an example, from 1917 to 1953, more than 100,000 bald eagles were killed because they were falsely perceived as a threat by Alaskan salmon fishermen.

Fortunately, since then, laws have been made worldwide in defense of eagles, with fines up to $250,000 for American bald and golden eagles. Violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act are literally down to the feather, with possession warranting arrest.

Injuring or killing a Philippine eagle, a critically endangered, monkey-eating apex predator endemic to its namesake, could involve punishment of up to 12 years in jail and a 1-million-peso fine. “Unfortunately, one person with a gun thinks he can shoot anything,” the Philippine Eagle Foundation states after an eagle previously rehabilitated from a shot was found shot dead later on.

We hope that people shall continue to become more informed and respect eagles as well as the rest of nature.

1Eagle’s-Eye View

No description of the eagle is complete without mentioning its outstandingvision, a requisite for excellent talon-eye coordination. Seeing four times farther than our view, as the most accomplished birds of prey, eagles boast 20/4 vision and 100x better night vision.

They are even able to see ultraviolet light for detection of UV-reflecting urine from prey. Living thousands of feet in the air and swooping down at hundreds of miles per hour for a swift, accurate kill, eagles are animals of perfect precision. When they see what they want, they fearlessly look to strike.

As noted in the Encyclopedia of Life, “They have at least one singular characteristic. It has been observed that most birds of prey look back over their shoulders before striking prey (or shortly thereafter); predation is, after all, a two-edged sword. All hawks seem to have this habit, from the smallest kestrel to the largest ferruginous—but not the eagles.”

Damian Black is an American nationalist interested in perfection and happiness. Visit his nascent personal site: The Black Decree.

Pennsylvania’s New Body Camera Policy Would Allow Officers Unrestricted Access to Film in Homes

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Pennsylvania’s New Body Camera Policy Would Allow Officers Unrestricted Access to Film in Homes

Today 3:15pm

Image: AP

Pennsylvania state senators are pushing for a new bill that would amend the state’s body camera policy to allow officers to record in private residences and exempt all footage from the state’s “Right to Know” act—making it muchharder for the public to request recorded video. If it passes, it would be among the nation’s most restrictive and invasive body camera policies.

Senate Bill 560, introduced by Senator Stewart Greenleaf in December, amends the state’s Wiretap Act—which bars law enforcement from recording conversations in residences—to allow police to use the cameras to record footage inside private homes. The bill passed the senate unanimously on May 10th. (There’s no precise timetable for approval going forward, but it would need to happen before the session ends this November.)

In a memo announcing his sponsorship, Greenleaf said the measure is necessary “because so much [officer] work involves responding to incidents taking place inside a residence.” The language of the new bill permits officers to record in people’s homes without notifying citizens they’re being recorded, even if none of the residents are suspects in a crime. Residents, suspected of a crime or not, aren’t granted authority to compel officers to stop recording them.

Andrew Hoover, the communication director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says the bill relies entirely too much on officer discretion about when to record.

“This is really broad language,” Hoover told Gizmodo. “There may be narrow circumstances in which an officer can and should be recording, such as a search warrant or arrest warrant … but this bill, the way it’s written, basically allows recording in a residence carte blanche.” (The Wiretap Act requires two-party consent for recording conversations, and this bill exempts footage from that requirement.)

There’s no single, federal body camera policy, and departments are free to create whichever policy they feel suit the needs of their own community. However, that means regulation is scattershot across departments, and many privacy concerns, protection for minors and assault victims and rules on retaining footage, go unaddressed until after an issue arises.

Greenleaf acknowledged the privacy concerns, saying in the memo, “measures can be taken to protect the privacy of the occupants of the residence,” presumably referring to redaction software that can blur out people’s faces and distort or remove audio so they can’t identified. Redaction software protects the identity of those recorded, but can be a lengthy process—agencies usually only redact footage before it’s released to the public.

That leads to our second concern: SB560 would exempt body camera footage from the Right to Know law. With most public records, the Right to Know law designates an officer to coordinate with the public for most records requests. But, instead of filing a traditional records request, body camera footage would have its own request process.

Per Pennsylvania’s Courier Times, here’s how SB560 would require people to request footage (emphasis ours):

Greenleaf’s bill, however, puts a time limit of 20 days to file a request for a body camera recording and also requires the person to identify his or her connection to the footage they are requesting. If a request is denied, according to Greenleaf’s bill, the requester has 30 days to file an appeal with the court of common pleas in the county where the police activity happened and also pay a $125 filing fee.

By exempting body camera footage from the Right to Know act, officers gain the ability to outright deny requests if the agency determines they’re part of an investigation. Of course, that creates leeway to deny requests for that very reason, to stall, or to force the filing fee.

Hoover took issue with the time limit. “If there’s a dispute between an officer or a person or there’s a use of force incident, 20 days is completely arbitrary,” he said, pointing out that agencies retain the footage for much longer than 20 days—so why pick that as a cutoff date? Another problem is charging people to access footage, which would likely disproportionately impact the poor.

“The filing fee to appeal a denial could price people out of being able to get the video,” Hoover said, noting that many use of force incidents occur in poor communities. “They may have a legitimate argument to make…but if they can’t come up with the hundred twenty five dollars, they’re out of luck.”

Hoover points out that police departments could add their own amendments to the bill—reigning some of this in should they choose to—but SB560 would put that entirely at their discretion. Now that the bill has passed the Senate, it’s on its way to the House Judiciary Committee—where Hoover said it may find a sympathetic audience.

“Our sense right now is that this has a strong chance of passage,” he said.

[Courier Times]

Taser’s Latest Body Cams Push Is Unregulated, Unprecedented, and Disturbing

Gif: YouTube

On Wednesday, Axon (formerly “Taser”) announced its offer to outfit every cop in the US with a free body camera, with rollout beginning as soon as the end of the month. About 20% of police departments use body cameras. The overwhelmingly majority of all police departments have no policies about how best to use the cameras, what to do with footage, or even when to record.

Privacy experts are concerned that embracing this technology without regulation only undermines its original goals of transparency and accountability. What’s more, unregulated introduction of technology into the police force would result in a variety of unprecedented legal and safety issues.

Harlan Yu is a principal researcher for Upturn, a tech policy nonprofit that produced the Body Worn Camera scorecard—a 2016 report rating body camera policies for different police departments. Upturn found that for the few existing body camera policies in the United States, there is no consistent standard. Additionally, the majority of police departments only vaguely address crucial aspects of body camera use, such as personal privacy concerns, and some—such as unnecessary footage retention—are barely addressed at all.

“Axon’s offer creates a perverse incentive for departments to rush into deploying body worn cameras without taking the necessary time to engage with the community and think through many of these hard policy trade-offs before making the snap judgment to go with this free offer,” Yu told Gizmodo. When constructing the necessary regulations, the police departments need to be aware that for every new policy, there is a benefit and a loss.

When to record

The first policy hurdle is deciding simply when the cameras record. Yu is opposed to continuous recording, in which officers simply keep their cameras on throughout every shift, because it picks up so much mundane, public data—people walking on sidewalks and sitting in traffic, for example.Departments should instruct officers to record the overwhelming majority of public interactions, Yu proposed. He emphasized that the police should also clearly communicate to civilians that they’re being recorded. But, even that has caveats.

When not to record

“I think there should be particular sensitivity for victims to be able to opt out,” Yu said, referring to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Jay Stanley is a senior policy analyst with the ACLU and the co-author of the organization’s 2015 policy recommendations for police departments utilizing body cams. Stanley agrees that in cases where officers respond to domestic violence and sexual assault, particularly when children are involved, officers should defer to victims for consent to be filmed. Similarly, informants and witnesses, who can endanger themselves by helping police, should have similar privileges. The federal grant program for body cameras encourages police departments to contact victims rights’ groups when creating body camera policies, though Axon’s offer has no such requisite.

“Officers ought to not have very much discretion over when to or not to record,” Yu said. Officers shouldn’t individually decide when cameras their cameras should be on or off—there should be policy for every scenario.

Recording “malfunctions”

When to record is one problem, but what happens when officers don’t record when they should? In practice, officers have time and again reported that the cameras have either “fallen off” or spontaneously stopped recording before a fatal incident. How should these officers be held responsible? How should they be punished? Most departments don’t have clear-cut guidelines.

“Different departments will have different ways of going about it, but it should be an escalating process,” Yu offered. The ACLU suggests specific guidelines, which also encourage a punishment scale that gets worse for the officer depending on severity of the incident or whether it is a repeated offense.

Reviewing footage before submitting police reports

Some policies require officers to submit their reports before seeing footage; some actually encourage officers to view footage before completing their report.

Yu suggests a two-step process. First, the civilian and officer involved both provide a written statement immediately following an incident, before seeing the footage. Second, both the civilian and the officer view the footage of the incident and provide written statements addressing the discrepancies between the original statement and what is depicted in the footage.

This process would partially level the playing field. It would also, for example, prevent officers from tailoring their reports to the footage so that any inconsistencies in their statements are not exposed.

Yu discussed concerns of a “chilling effects” on civilians, where they may feel uncomfortable reporting officer abuse because of the veneer of objectivity the legal system gives video footage. If a policy is firmly in place allowing the civilian to give a statement, regardless of the footage, these effects could be partially alleviated.

Retaining the footage

How long should police departments keep footage they aren’t using? If, for example, 100 patrolling officers record an hour of footage daily, that’s 100 hours of footage to review. It’s not always easy to say “keep what’s important,” because it takes so long to review all that footage.

Departments should be clear in how long data can be kept before deletion. Yu recommends six months, as it “limits the privacy risks of having all that footage around.”

Mining the footage with AI

Placing firm time limits on footage retention “would also limit the ability of departments to mine that footage, especially when were seeing AI technology coming down the pike,” Yu added.

In February, Axon announced it had acquired a computer vision startup, Dextro Inc, which allowed for AI-powered object detection and unprecedented video data search capabilities. There were a number of privacy concerns, such as the technology’s capability for automated public surveillance and biometric tracking. Yu says police departments should make immediate headway in regulating AI and similar metadata analytics with such dangerous potential.

“[It’s] not what communities probably were expecting when they said ‘OK, let’s adopt body cams,” Yu said of AI-enabling features like face and object recognition. “This is a feature that is going to get snuck in with body cam technology that I think is a very dangerous combination.”

Stanley says that any type of analytics should only be used for footage flagged for use of force or a specific complaint.

Too much, too soon

Potentially as many as 14,000 police departments are being offered this technology without any regulatory framework in place and no training beyond that which is offered by the private company.

Police body cameras were originally presented as a solution for persistent and urgent issues, such as lack of transparency and accountability involving incidents of police brutality and fatal shootings, and the subsequent community mistrust of the police force. Yu and Stanley both underscore that body cameras are not a replacement for substantive police reform.

Moreover, adding these cameras before the difficult work of deciding how to balance privacy, safety and security can do more harm than good.

The Secret to Cubans’ Homemade Wine: Condoms

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The Secret to Cubans’ Homemade Wine: Condoms
In this photo, taken on March 30, 2017, winemaker Orestes Esteves moves a jug of wine, at his house in Havana, Cuba.

Credit: Ramon Espinosa/AP

Cubans have found a homemade solution to making wine without high-tech fermentation tools: They use condoms.

Homemade wine is an affordable spirit for Cubans, where a bottle of imported wine in state-run liquor stores sells for at least half of the average person’s monthly salary of $25, reported Associated Press. One backyard winemaker, Orestes Estevez, has hundreds of fruit-filled glass jugs capped with condoms. Estevez told the AP he uses the condoms to signal when the juices are ready to be bottled.

To ferment grapes into wine, yeast feeds on the sugars found in the fruit and carbon dioxide (CO2) is subsequently released, Kathleen Arnink, a viticulture (science of wine) and enology (study of wine) lecturer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, told Live Science. The gas inflates the condoms as the fruit ferments, and when the condoms become limp again, Estevez said they signal that fermentation is complete. [Photos: Amazing Microscopic Views of Italian Cocktails]

Putting a condom on a bottle is just like with a man,” Estevez told the AP. “It stands up, the wine is ready, and then the process is completed.”

Estevez, who turned his backyard winemaking into a winery, told the AP he sells an average of 50 bottles a day for about 40 cents each. The tiny winery has become a neighborhood attraction, the AP reports, thanks to the affordable local vino and bizarre sight of condom-capped jugs of wine.

In commercial operations, winemakers use fermentation locks that allow the CO2 to escape while still sealing off the wine from oxygen, Arnink said. Winemakers monitor the sugar concentration of the wine during fermentation to determine when the process is complete.

Trapping CO2 in a condom does help protect the wine from oxygen, though waiting for the inflatable to deflate is not a precise measure of the fermentation process, according to Arnink. And though it may look strange, at-home winemakers have used inflatables, such as balloons, for their concoctions before.

“I have seen balloons used, but anything that will fit on the neck of the carboy [wine jugs] and trap the gas would work,” Arnink told Live Science in an email. “I guess manufacturing birth control has been more important in Cuba than making balloon animals, so they had more condoms available than balloons.”

Though there are better tools available for winemaking, Arnink said using balloons or condoms is an acceptable method for a makeshift fermentation operation at home.

Original article on Live Science.

Bizarre Superfluid with Negative Mass Created in a Lab

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Bizarre Superfluid with Negative Mass Created in a Lab
Force equals mass times acceleration.

Credit: Shutterstock

Scientists have created a new superfluid that has a negative mass, meaning that if it’s pushed to the right, it accelerates to the left and vice versa.

The bizarre behavior may sound like a freakish violation of nature, but it is a phenomenon that physicists have seen hints of before. However, this is the first time that negative mass has been demonstrated without ambiguity in a lab, said Han Pu, a theoretical physicist at Rice University who was not involved in the new research.

The newly created material with negative mass is a type of Bose-Einstein condensate, in which individual atoms move as one object, the scientists wrote in the new study. [The 18 Biggest Unsolved Mysteries in Physics]

The new findings could hold clues to the behavior occurring in the heart of ultracold neutron stars, which also act as superfluids, said study co-author Michael Forbes, a physicist at Washington State University.

One of the first things that students learn in high school physics is that force is equal to mass times acceleration, or F= m*a. Called Newton’s second law of motion, the equation dictates what everyone experiences daily: If you push an object (barring other forces at play), it accelerates away from you.

Yet, for a long time, scientists have known that — theoretically, at least — there are certain conditions in which acceleration could be negative.

“These types of negative-mass conditions can arise in a variety of contexts,” Forbes told Live Science. “They don’t occur out in the middle of space, as far as we know.”

However, there have been hints of this behavior occurring spontaneously in systems where light is traveling through nonlinear materials with special electrical properties, as well as in certain types of crystals. However, in these systems, it was hard to control or predict where the negative mass occurred, so it was difficult to say whether the behavior was actually occurring, Forbes said.

In the new study, which was published April 10 in the journal Physical Review Letters, Forbes and his colleagues eliminated this uncertainty. They cooled rubidium atoms to near absolute zero (minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 273.15 degrees Celsius) while the atoms were squished inside a tiny horizontal tube. At these bone-chilling temperatures, the atoms move glacially slow, and their motion is correlated such that the material made up of the rubidium atoms acts more like a wave than a particle. In essence, it is as if the collection of supercool atoms behaves as one particle.

Then, the researchers shined lasers at the tube, which changed the state of the atoms inside. Based on the angle of the laser, it pushes the particles either one way or the other. Next, the researchers opened up the ends of the tube holding the atoms. Normally, the laser light would push the cloud of atoms to expand outward toward the ends of the tube. But in this instance, a shock wave built up on one side of the cloud, causing the cloud of atoms to contract away from the wave.

“If you try to push [the cloud of atoms] away, it’s effectively the lasers that are causing it to push backward,” Forbes said. “At a microscopic level, that’s what’s happening.”

Though the new demonstration may seem to violate the laws of physics, it actually doesn’t.

“I wouldn’t say it’s unexpected,” Pu told Live Science.

That’s because the effective negative mass of the system here is inertial mass, which dictates how an object accelerates in response to an applied force; in this instance the study simply means that in certain narrow, dynamic conditions, the sign on the mass term in the equation is flipped. But energy is still conserved and the gravitational mass of the system, meaning the amount of gravitational pull the atom cloud exerts and experiences, has not changed. So Newton’s law of universal gravitation, which describes the gravitational attraction between two masses, has not been violated. (This law is what dictates that, in a vacuum without air resistance, a feather and a lead ball will fall toward Earth at the same rate.)

Because the gravitational mass of the Bose-Einstein condensate is still positive,  the individual atoms in the material are still pulled together by gravity. So if the same experiment were flipped so it were in a vertical tube, the force of gravity could cause the atom cloud to fall toward the floor and expand, just as ordinary intuition would expect, Forbes added.

(If, somehow, an experiment created conditions in which gravitational mass turned negative, that would likely violate fundamental physics laws, and things would get weird — fast. For instance, if there were a negative gravitational mass particle and a positive mass particle in proximity, one would be attracted to the other, while the other would be repelled. So one particle would essentially chase the other one forever, reaching infinitely high speeds, Forbes said.)

The new findings are interesting from a purely theoretical point of view, but they could also help scientists understand what’s going on inside neutron stars, Forbes said. For instance, cold clouds of lithium atoms filled with fermions have almost identical energetic properties to neutron stars, so they could be used to create “experiments” that otherwise never could have been done on the massive interstellar objects in space, Forbes said.

Originally published on Live Science.

Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week

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Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week

Top 10 Facts That Prove Ants Are Evil

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Top 10 Facts That Prove Ants Are Evil


With species numbering in the ten thousands, ants are all around us. Ant populations are highest in tropical rain forests, but they can be found anywhere the world. While ants are incredibly organized and successful creatures, they’re also just plain evil.

10Ants Kill Old Zombie Friends


Photo credit: David P. Hughes

In South America, there is a species of carpenter ant that can become infected with the spores of a fungus. As the spore grows, it controls the ant’s brain, turning it into a kind of zombie. The fungus forces the ant to climb a leaf, chomp down on the leaf, and then die. This action allows the fungus to grow from the ant’s body onto the leaf.[1]

In a study of this fungus, researchers found that healthy ants will keep the spores away from the colony by getting rid of infected ants. Healthy ants carry diseased ants far away from the colony and strand them, or they destroy the body of a dead ant with the disease. These ants also look out for their interests by sending the older ants of the colony to do all the scary work in the outside world, while younger, fitter ants look after the babies in the nest. We can safely conclude that ants force their elderly to risk their lives to gather food for the entire colony, and then destroy any ants that fall ill.

9They Destroy Electrical Devices

Nothing creates fear like the name “crazy ant.” The name may sound silly, but the yellow and Tawny varieties of these ants are horrific. Yellow crazy ants took root on Christmas Island, near Australia, and caused an overwhelming infestation. To this day, they’re a threat to the red crabs that migrate on this island.[2]

Tawny crazy ants, also deemed “Raspberry” ants after Tom Raspberry, are just as fearful. Raspberry is an exterminator who discovered the ants. He has campaigned for government help with the infestation in the Houston area, but has had no luck. Both types of crazy ants create “super-colonies” with multiple queens, making them nearly impossible to exterminate. Even when the ants are dead, piles of these ants have been found in every nook and cranny of homes and businesses. They can also kill animals. The ants’ odd attraction to electricity has ruined television sets, wiring and several otherelectrical devices. No wonder they’re called crazy.

8They Own Slaves


Photo credit: Adrian A. Smith

Slavery is illegal, brutal, and inhumane, as we all know, but who would have thought insects participated in it? There are ants known as “slave makers,” whose jaws are large and created for fighting, not feeding. As such, they cannot feed themselves. These ants will invade a different colony of regular ants, kidnap newborn ants from the queen, and raise them to be their servants.[3] These are insects that can barely see, who depend mostly on scent for communication, but they’re intelligent enough to get someone else to feed them while they lounge around.

As bad as this practice is, the ants being raided can be just as terrible. Other ants have to be able to imitate the colony’s particular smell, otherwise the ants will know that there is an intruder and attack. Ants protecting their nest will surround, sting, and then paralyze the intruder, before ripping it to shreds with their powerful jaws.

7They Trap Victims And Chop Them


Photo credit: Wikimedia

One species of ant found in the Amazon is able to create booby traps for larger insects. These ants use leaves to weave a net with large holes. Once their prey steps into the holes of the net, the ants attack the insect’s limbs with their jaws and hold the creature in place.[4]

Other workers then come in and sting the victim to make absolutely sure it won’t get away, because ripping the insect’s limbs off is apparently not enough. These ants have been known to capture locusts and other insects that are several times their own size. After cutting the victim into bite-size pieces, the ants carry their prize back to the colony for a feast.

6They Steal Our Warmth


Photo credit: Wikimedia

While many ants die in colder temperatures, Pharaoh ants have found a way to survive during the winter months. From their point of view, why freeze to death outside when humans have perfectly functional heating and ventilation systems? Pharaoh ants are notorious for inhabiting heating systems, as well as other crevices in homes.[5]

Some of the ants we have read about create “super-colonies” with multiple queens, but Pharaoh ants can do that and move an entire colony quickly away from a nest that has been compromised. These ants can wreak havoc in public places like hospitals by contaminating tools and surgical areas. Though the little beasts are certainly clever by taking advantage of artificial heat, they’re also definitely evil.


5Fire Ants Take Down Deer


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Of all the terrible ants in the world, probably the most awful is the fire ant. Woe to the unfortunate animal or human that disturbs a fire ant nest because these demons attack with a vengeance. Fire ants can climb vertical surfaces very fast, so stepping on a fire ant nest can literally leave a person with ants in their pants. These ants leave a painful sting, often raising a white bump on the skin. In rare cases, fire ant stings can kill or send a victim into shock, but most of the time they just leave a person very sore and unhappy.[6]

However, animal victims of fire ants are not so lucky. Wild animals such as birds, lizards, and even deer have been killed by many fire ant stings. Measures have been taken to subdue these ants and protect the animals they kill, but the ants are so numerous and widespread that their populations are difficult to control.

4Army Ants Scare Elephants


Photo credit: Mehmet Karatay

Army ants are among the most notorious ants in the world. Inhabiting rain forest areas in South America and Africa, these ants do not settle in one place like most types of ants. They make a temporary nest by linking their bodies together to create a protective covering for the queen while she lays eggs.[7] When the babies are ready to move, these ants go on the rampage, fanning out in a destructive line that eats anything in the way. Army ants have long, scary mandibles that can literally shred flesh.

Singly, the ants cannot do much, but in a large group, they can take down prey several hundred times bigger than themselves. Large animals and even people have been murdered by these ants. The elephant, one of the largest land mammals in the world, has been known to flee the face of army ants. A few African tribes control the pests by dousing the front lines with gas or kerosene and setting them on fire. This tactic creates confusion for the ants further back on the lines, but nothing will eradicate them completely. The best policy is usually just to run away as fast as possible.

3Ghost Ants End Whole Ecosystems


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Like the Pharaoh ant, ghost ants live indoors or outdoors and can create massive nests with multiple queens, making them very difficult to eliminate. The main vice of this species is their ability to disrupt or even destroy entireecosystems. Because they’re so good at food hunting, these ants might drive other animals from their habitat or wipe out entire populations of plants.[8]

Named for their ghostly looking exoskeleton, these tiny ants also invade human habitats and food sources. Apparently, they like bags of potato chips, which could be really gross for whoever gets the unlucky bag. Another lovely habit of this species is their tendency to nest in flowerpots or under things left out on the lawn, that could make for a nasty surprise when doing yard work.

2Leaf-Cutter Ants Farm Their Prey


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Pesticides are taken off the market due to expensive relabeling procedures, making the leaf-cutter ant very difficult to control in the United States. Thankfully, these ants are not carnivores, but the leaves they take from plants can destroy home gardens or landscaping shrubs. These ants are hoarders, so they take leaf cuttings back to their nests and leave them there to be eaten by fungus. This fungus then becomes food for the entire colony.[9]

Because of the unique structure of leaf-cutter nests, these nests can cause areas of a lawn to cave in, or create massive mounds that disrupt the growth of greenery. If these ants manage to get under the foundation of a house, they could crack the cement and undermine the entire structure. Leaf-cutters seem to enjoy red flowers or anything highly scented, so it is a good idea to keep those away from a house or out of a garden.

1Carpenter Ants Collapse Houses


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Probably the most common ant pest is the carpenter ant. Properly named for their love of wood, these ants typically live in any kind of wooden structure. Since most houses are made of wood, carpenter ants can become a big problem for homeowners. These pests burrow into wood, much like termites, and can easily damage an entire home.[10]

The only way to get rid of these ants is to track down the nest, but that’s definitely easier said than done. One way is to feed some stray ants and follow them home, which can get boring really fast. Another way is to search for wood that might be damp, like window or door frames or spaces behind appliances, and tap it to listen for a crackling or hollow sound. Even if the nest can be located, a person would have to further damage the walls by drilling holes to pump insecticide into the nest. Carpenter ants are hard to find and hard to kill, making them most definitely evil.

Brittiany West is a self-published author and freelance writer. Check out her work atBrittiany West Books.