Daily Archives: March 27, 2008

Brightest Gamma-Ray Burst Evah!


NASA astronomers were blown away last week by what was far and away the strongest gamma-ray burst (GRB) ever observed. GRB 080319B, shown here in x-ray [left] and optical/ultraviolet [right] views captured by the Swift satellite, burned so brightly that its afterglow was briefly visible to the naked eye from its origin 7.5 billion light-years (or half a universe) away. If placed side-by-side with the brightest supernova ever seen, the burst would still outshine it by a factor of 2.5 million, researchers calculated. GRBs typically occur when the explosion of a dying star gets channeled into twin high-speed jets. Astronomers are mystified why this one shined so intensely. The burst may simply have been extra powerful or its very narrow jets may have pointed directly at Earth.

More photos of this event and other interesting stuff here.

Early, somewhat controversial hominid walked like an Australopith

ResearchBlogging.orgi-68d5312667866fe9103d6f046f7c6dff-orrorin_hip.jpgThe ape human split is a bit of a moving target. In the 1970s and early 1980s, there were geneticists who placed it at very recent (close to 4 million years ago) and palaeoanthropologists, using fossils, who placed it at much earlier. During the 1980s, the ape-human split moved back in time because of the importance of sivapithecus, then later in time when Sivapithecus slipped and fell out of the hominid/hominin (human ancestor) family tree. Meanwhile the geneticists were moving towards a more and more recent split. At one point not too long ago, all the evidence converged with the split being around five million years ago. The fossils and the genes agreed, and there were rumors (but nothing published) saying that palaeoanthropologists working in Ethiopia were prepared (soon) to announce that one of the fossils dating to this time had “less then fully developed” bipedalism.But science marches on, and the kinds of questions we are asking of the human fossil record are more detailed than the fossil record usually gives up in a mere few decades of research. So new finds came along and everything changed again. Now, there is a new paper by Richmond and Jungers suggesting that one of the earliest hominid, Orrorin tugenensis, was just as bipedal as any australopith, yet is much farther back in time than, and in many ways, different from our genus (Homo). Continue reading Early, somewhat controversial hominid walked like an Australopith

Neil Turok: 2008 TED Prize wish: An African Einstein

Accepting his 2008 TED Prize, physicist Neil Turok speaks out for talented young Africans starved of opportunity: by unlocking and nurturing the continent’s creative potential, we can create a change in Africa’s future. Turok asks the TED community to help him expand the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences by opening 15 new centers across Africa in five years. By adding resources for entrepreneurship to this proven model, he says, we can create a network for progress across the continent — and perhaps discover an African Einstein.

Continue reading Neil Turok: 2008 TED Prize wish: An African Einstein

Classic Shell Scripting

Having examined Learning the bash Shell (In a Nutshell (O’Reilly)) (see here, here, and here), it is now time to turn to a more advanced reference to help you geek out on your Linux computer. If you want to have only one book on bash, get Classic Shell Scripting by Robbins and Beebe. This book has an excellent mixture of history, philosophy, rigorously described details and creative solutions.For instance, after giving a brief history of Unix (required in all such books) the authors layout the basic principles of what is considered good Unix programming. It is so good I’d like to summarize parts of it for you. Continue reading Classic Shell Scripting

Jolly ol’England

Old books can be wonderful sources of information, ideas, and even inspiration. I collect them and sometimes even read them. Reading a 100 year old book in your field of interest is a challenge and can be a rewarding experience.It is a challenge because it is dangerous. I worry that I might accidentally learn something that is no longer true. What if I remember it at some later time, like at a cocktail party or while giving a lecture, but don’t remember the source: “… As is well known, flies spontaneously generate from certain forms of mud …” Continue reading Jolly ol’England

The earliest well dated human fossil in Europe

ResearchBlogging.orgLet us begin by noting that “Europe” is an arbitrarily defined geographical unit occupied for the last few hundred years or so by people who believe that “Europe” is the Center of the Universe. Therefore, this statement: “The earliest hominin occupation of Europe is one of the most debated topics in palaeoanthropology” is more about European Ego than it is about human prehistory.Nonetheless, there is an interesting find … of a hominid mandible … reported in the current issue of Nature that relates to human prehistory in the region of Western Eurasia. Continue reading The earliest well dated human fossil in Europe