HIV is totally selling out, becoming less deadly in bid to gain mainstream acceptance

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Scientists report that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) may be rapidly evolving into a less deadly, less communicable form. However, they say, this does not mean the virus is no longer dangerous.
According to the BBC, a University of Oxford team has found that HIV is getting “watered down” as it makes adaptations to the human immune system. The very mutability and adaptability that makes the virus so elusive to eradication efforts, these scientists say, is costing it in terms of its ability to reproduce itself.
The Oxford team published a paper regarding the rapid evolution of HIV in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and presented their findings on Dec. 1 to mark World AIDS Day, 2014.
HIV is a retrovirus, the first of its kind ever discovered. Retroviruses have a freakish ability to adapt and mutate, which is why they are so diabolically hard to treat and to prevent by way of vaccines.
Every time the body throws a new immunological weapon its way, HIV mutates to overcome it. The virus has even found a way to “hide” inside dormant cells for years, enabling it to return years later in patients who appeared to have been completely cleared of the virus.
As it travels from host to host, however, the virus occasionally encounters someone with a particularly hardy immune system.
Oxford’s Prof. Philip Goulder said, “[Then] the virus is trapped between a rock and hard place, it can get flattened or make a change to survive and if it has to change then it will come with a cost.”
That “cost” is a compromised ability to replicate itself, which means that not only is it less able to cause full-blown AIDS, it’s less able to spread to new hosts.
Furthermore, antiretroviral drug cocktails appear to be most effectively killing and slowing down the deadliest and most aggressively infectious strains of HIV.
The Daily Mail reported that the Oxford team tracked 2,000 women with HIV in Botswana and South Africa.
Women in Botswana had a high occurrence of a gene called HLA-B*57. HIV reproduces more slowly in the bodies of patients with HLA-B*57 and therefore progresses less rapidly to AIDS and is less easily spread.
In order to survive in those patients’ systems, said Goulder, it had to make some compromises, shedding certain traits — i.e., its ability to rapidly replicate itself — in order to stay alive.
Cardiff University infectious disease specialist Andrew Freedman said, “By comparing the epidemic in Botswana with that which occurred somewhat later in South Africa, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the effect of this evolution is for the virus to become less virulent, or weaker, over time.”
Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, told the BBC, “If the trend continues then we might see the global picture change — a longer disease causing much less transmission.”
“HIV adaptation to the most effective immune responses we can make against it comes at a significant cost to its ability to replicate,” said Goulder. “Anything we can do to increase the pressure on HIV in this way may allow scientists to reduce the destructive power of HIV over time.”

HIV evolving 'into milder form'

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HIV is evolving to become less deadly and less infectious, according to a major scientific study.
The team at the University of Oxford shows the virus is being "watered down" as it adapts to our immune systems.
It said it was taking longer for HIV infection to cause Aids and that the changes in the virus may help efforts to contain the pandemic.
Some virologists suggest the virus may eventually become "almost harmless" as it continues to evolve.
More than 35 million people around the world are infected with HIV and inside their bodies a devastating battle takes place between the immune system and the virus.
HIV is a master of disguise. It rapidly and effortlessly mutates to evade and adapt to the immune system.
HIV, in red, has infected a cell in the immune system, yellow.

However, every so often HIV infects someone with a particularly effective immune system.
"[Then] the virus is trapped between a rock and hard place, it can get flattened or make a change to survive and if it has to change then it will come with a cost," said Prof Philip Goulder, from the University of Oxford.

The "cost" is a reduced ability to replicate, which in turn makes the virus less infectious and means it takes longer to cause Aids.
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Prof Dausey, Mercyhurst University: "We have to be cautiously optimistic about this study"
This weakened virus is then spread to other people and a slow cycle of "watering-down" HIV begins.

The team showed this process happening in Africa by comparing Botswana, which has had an HIV problem for a long time, and South Africa where HIV arrived a decade later.
Prof Goulder told the BBC News website: "It is quite striking. You can see the ability to replicate is 10% lower in Botswana than South Africa and that's quite exciting.
"We are observing evolution happening in front of us and it is surprising how quickly the process is happening.
"The virus is slowing down in its ability to cause disease and that will help contribute to elimination."

Drug bonus
The findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also suggested anti-retroviral drugs were forcing HIV to evolve into milder forms.
It showed the drugs would primarily target the nastiest versions of HIV and encourage the milder ones to thrive.
Prof Goulder added: "Twenty years ago the time to Aids was 10 years, but in the last 10 years in Botswana that might have increased to 12.5 years, a sort of incremental change, but in the big picture that is a rapid change.
"One might imagine as time extends this could stretch further and further and in the future people being asymptomatic for decades."
The group did caution that even a watered-down version of HIV was still dangerous and could cause Aids.

HIV originally came from apes or monkeys, in which it is frequently a minor infection.
Prof Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, told the BBC: "If the trend continues then we might see the global picture change - a longer disease causing much less transmission.
"In theory, if we were to let HIV run its course then we would see a human population emerge that was more resistant to the virus than we collectively are today - HIV infection would eventually become almost harmless.
"Such events have probably happened throughout history, but we are talking very large timescales."
Prof Andrew Freedman, a reader in infectious diseases at Cardiff University, said this was an "intriguing study".
He said: "By comparing the epidemic in Botswana with that which occurred somewhat later in South Africa, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the effect of this evolution is for the virus to become less virulent, or weaker, over time.
"The widespread use of antiretroviral therapy may also have a similar effect and together, these effects may contribute to the ultimate control of the HIV epidemic."
But he cautioned HIV was "an awfully long way" from becoming harmless and "other events will supersede that including wider access to treatment and eventually the development of a cure".

By James Gallagher
Health editor, BBC News website

Human DNA Could Store All the World's Data

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What's the Latest Development?
 Researchers at European Bioinformatics Institute near Cambridge, UK, have sketched workable plans to encode hard data onto strands of human DNA, rather than use the magnetic tape or hard disks used by computers. "[The system] should, think the researchers, be easily capable of swallowing the roughly 3 zettabytes (a zettabyte is one billion trillion or 10²¹ bytes) of digital data thought presently to exist in the world and still have room for plenty more. It would do so with a density of around 2.2 petabytes (10¹⁵) per gram; enough, in other words, to fit all the world’s digital information into the back of a lorry."

Anonymous Hacks U.S. Government Site, Threatens Supreme 'Warheads'

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The hacktivist group Anonymous hacked the U.S. federal sentencing website early Saturday, using the page to make a brazen and boisterous declaration of "war" on the U.S. government.
The group claims mysterious code-based "warheads," named for each of the Supreme Court Justices, are about to be deployed.
As of midnight Pacific time, the front page of — the Federal agency that establishes sentencing policies and practices for the Federal courts — is filled with a long screed in green on black, together with this YouTube video:

All areas of other than the front page appear to be functioning normally. In other words, there's no denial of service attack or widespread vandalism. (Update, an hour later: it's getting a little slow and has all the hallmarks of a DDoS.)
At the bottom of the page is a series of nine files, mirrored three times. Each file is named for a current U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
The statement opens with a lament for Aaron Swartz, the Reddit programmer and Internet activist who committed suicide earlier this month. Promising revenge for his treatment at the hands of a federal prosecutor, the screed veers into some of the most inflammatory — dare we say hyperbolic — language we've seen on a simple front page hack.
The group talks of planting "multiple warheads" on "compromised systems" on various unnamed websites, and encourages members to download a given file from that is "primed, armed and quietly distributed to numerous mirrors." It has given the warhead "launch" the name of "Operation Last Resort," the text said:

There has been a lot of fuss recently in the technological media regarding such operations as Red October, the widespread use of vulnerable browsers and the availability of zero-day exploits for these browsers and their plugins. None of this comes of course as any surprise to us, but it is perhaps good that those within the information security industry are making the extent of these threats more widely understood.
Still, there is nothing quite as educational as a well-conducted demonstration...
Through this websites and various others that will remain unnamed, we have been conducting our own infiltration. We did not restrict ourselves like the FBI to one high-profile compromise. We are far more ambitious, and far more capable. Over the last two weeks we have wound down this operation, removed all traces of leakware from the compromised systems, and taken down the injection apparatus used to detect and exploit vulnerable machines.
We have enough fissile material for multiple warheads. Today we are launching the first of these. Operation Last Resort has begun...
Here's the list of files the group is encouraging its followers to download:

What's in the files, and does it have anything to do with the recent "Red October" series of security breaches, thought to be prevalent in China and Russia? Anonymous plays coy:

The contents are various and we won't ruin the speculation by revealing them. Suffice it to say, everyone has secrets, and some things are not meant to be public. At a regular interval commencing today, we will choose one media outlet and supply them with heavily redacted partial contents of the file. Any media outlets wishing to be eligible for this program must include within their reporting a means of secure communications.
We have not taken this action lightly, nor without consideration of the possible consequences. Should we be forced to reveal the trigger-key to this warhead, we understand that there will be collateral damage. We appreciate that many who work within the justice system believe in those principles that it has lost, corrupted, or abandoned, that they do not bear the full responsibility for the damages caused by their occupation.
It is our hope that this warhead need never be detonated.
What "collateral damage" is the hacktivist group talking about — and is there anything to their threats? We're continuing to update this story, but give us your take in the comments.



10 Richest Criminals of All Time

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Anyone who says crime doesn’t pay should take a look at these men and women. This collection of bank robbers, drug dealers, crime lords and general scumbags shows that if you want to get ahead, sometimes it helps to chop off a few heads… (Note: white collar criminals like Bernard Madoff weren’t considered for this list; our focus was criminals of a more hardcore caste.)

10. Joseph Kennedy ($200-400 million, a billionaire figuring in today’s inflation)
Joseph Kennedy was the harmless-looking patriarch of one of the most powerful families in America, a corporate big shot… and strongly connected to the bootleggers who made millions selling alcohol during the Prohibition Era — if not a bootlegger himself. He is widely thought to have had dealings with Frank Costello, the head of the Luciano crime family, to facilitate smuggling alcohol into the country for easy distribution during the post-WWI period. Not only did Kennedy make a profit on his river of illicit booze, but he was also credibly accused of framing one of his rivals for rape in order to acquire his business (not to mention of being a gross anti-Semite and a major supporter of Hitler). Still, with his fortune measuring in the billions in today’s money (in 1957 he was named one of America’s richest people by Fortune magazine) it probably wouldn’t have been wise for the rest of the Kennedys to have disowned him completely…

9. Meyer Lansky ($300-400 million)

The suave, well-dressed “Mob’s Accountant,” Meyer Lansky had a formidable illegal gambling empire in America from the 1930s onwards, with branches stretching from Florida to Las Vegas. Much of the rest of his fortune was generated through his ultra-close links with the Mafia, particularly Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. He was such a compelling criminal that several movie gangsters were allegedly based on him, including Michael Corleone in The Godfather series and Max Bercovicz from the epic Once Upon a Time in America. Even after his retirement, Lansky still made Forbes’ list of the 400 richest people in America, and at the time of his death in 1983, the FBI reckoned he had hundreds of millions in concealed back accounts.  Now that’s good investing…

8. Griselda Blanco, “The Godmother” ($500 million)

The Miami-based “Godmother,” Griselda Blanco was arguably the most ruthless gangster working in the drug trade in the ’70s and ’80s. She was known equally for her good business sense as she was for her sociopathic tendencies (at the age of 11 she took a fellow child hostage, demanded a ransom and eventually killed him with a bullet to the head). Nothing like learning your job skills early in life… Blanco was also suspected of murdering her three husbands, ordering more than 200 hits during her time as a mob boss, and forcing men to have sex with her at gunpoint. She went into hiding in the mid-2000s and was last seen in 2007. If she is still alive, she is believed to be one of the wealthiest self-made women on the planet… If the glass ceiling was going to crack, why did it have to be here?

7. Anthony Salerno ($600 million)

The real life “Fat Tony” wasn’t nearly as cuddly as his Simpsons counterpart. Easily distinguishable by his trademark cigar and fedora, Anthony Salerno worked his way up to Consigliere of the Genovese family in the 1970s, having spent the previous few decades practicing his skills in illegal gambling, loan sharking and protection rackets. In the ’60s, his New York numbers empire was generating $50 million annually. Salerno was also notable for sending his close personal friends Christmas cards with pictures of himself in pyjamas on the front. Come to think of it, that is pretty cuddly… Nevertheless, he died at the age of 80, having spent the fading years of his life in jail.

6. Joaquín Loera ($1 billion)

Mexican criminal Joaquín Loera is a dark horse compared to more flamboyant drug dealers like Pablo Escobar, but that doesn’t make him any less influential. On the contrary. Loera, who made most of his billion dollars selling drugs from Mexico — and goes by a number of nicknames, including El Chapo and Crystal King — is currently a fugitive in his own country but is believed to be the most powerful drug dealer on Earth — meaning that the reported figure for his wealth could be a big under-estimate (he might be worth closer to $5 billion). The man who was listed as the the 937th richest man in the world by Forbes in 2010 was last heard from leaving a taunting message for the police near the bullet-riddled corpses of two military officers: “You’ll never get ‘El Chapo’, not the priests, not the government.” Well, he’s gotten away with it so far.

5. Al Capone (nearly $1.3 billion per year in income, allowing for inflation)

Iconic gangster Al Capone was practically the Bill Gates of the criminal world in his heyday. Capone supplied America with a river of bootleged alcohol in the 1920s and 1930s, and was frankly the real “untouchable” in Chicago. His iron-fisted (although certainly not iron-chinned!) rule over his city netted him a substantial income. Although there are no exact figures, it is estimated that in 1929 his criminal activities brought in more than $100,000,000 per year, over a billion dollars in today’s money. The cigar-chomping one even found the time to be a noted philanthropist and public figure… All that before he was brought down on tax evasion charges and syphilis. What a way to go for Chicago’s Godfather.

4. Susumu Ishii ($1.5 billion)

Scary tattooed Yakuza Godfather Susumu Ishii was a member of a manned suicide torpedo unit during World War II. However, after making it through the war alive, he fought his way into a new position as a gangster (sadly, one of the only jobs with long-term prospects as bad as his previous one) and worked his way up the career ladder in the Inagawa-kai gang. He made his estimated billion-and-a-half dollars primarily through loans, banking deals and real estate scams, but lost most of it when Japan’s bubble economy burst at the end of the 1980s. The gangster was so popular that when he died in 1991, his funeral was attended by over 5,000 people. How many bosses, mob or not, can say that?

3. Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas ($2.7 billion)

Carlos Lehder was one of the co-founders of the infamous Medellín cartel, the group of South America-based drug barons who at their peak were responsible for shipping $60 million of illegal substances per day (and another of whose leaders, José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, made Forbes‘ annual list of billionaires, in 1988). Described as a megalomaniac, this criminal spared no expense on the transportation of his precious cocaine, even buying a private plane and a Bahamian island to help him smuggle the substance into the US. How many legitimate businessmen could afford that? After amassing a fortune that would make ‘Scarface’ blush, he was eventually imprisoned in the 1980s and is still in jail in the US to this day. Hmm, on second thought, maybe crime doesn’t pay after all…

2. Pablo Escobar ($9-25 billion)

From being born in a village in Columbia with no electricity, Pablo Escobar worked his way up to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world. Now that’s a self-made man. At the peak of their operations, he and his associates in the Medellín cartel smuggled around 15 tons of cocaine every day, and protected their shipments by offering snooping officials “lead or silver” — lead for bullets or silver for a bribe. In 1989, Forbes magazine estimated that he was the world’s seventh richest man, with assets of close to $25 billion, and control of 80 percent of the global cocaine market. Despite being a ruthless, murderous drug lord, Escobar was also a compassionate family man (he once reportedly burned $1 million in cash to keep his daughter warm while on the run) but that doesn’t make his illegal exploits any less ominous.

1. Amado Carrillo Fuentes (around $25 billion)

Hans Gruber lookalike and cocaine baron Amado Fuentes was practically a real life James Bond villain. He had the whole package: a vast, drug-based Mexican empire; incredible hardware (including a fleet of 727 jets to transport his product); he even had plastic surgery to alter his appearance. And he was rich. At the time of his death from medical complications, his net worth was estimated to be around $25 billion, which would make him the richest criminal of all time on record. That may be quite an accomplishment, but it’s not exactly a career that is going to earn you much respect… except amongst other drug barons, of course.

10 Strange Things About The Universe

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The universe can be a very strange place. While groundbreaking ideas such as quantum theory, relativity and even the Earth going around the Sun might be commonly accepted now, science still continues to show that the universe contains things you might find it difficult to believe, and even more difficult to get your head around. 

10. Negative energy
Theoretically, the lowest temperature that can be achieved is absolute zero, exactly ?273.15°C, where the motion of all particles stops completely. However, you can never actually cool something to this temperature because, in quantum mechanics, every particle has a minimum energy, called “zero-point energy,” which you cannot get below. Remarkably, this minimum energy doesn’t just apply to particles, but to any vacuum, whose energy is called “vacuum energy.” To show that this energy exists involves a rather simple experiment– take two metal plates in a vacuum, put them close together, and they will be attracted to each other. This is caused by the energy between the plates only being able to resonate at certain frequencies, while outside the plates the vacuum energy can resonate at pretty much any frequency. Because the energy outside the plates is greater than the energy between the plates, the plates are pushed towards each other. As the plates get closer together, the force increases, and at around a 10 nm separation this effect (called the Casimir effect) creates one atmosphere of pressure between them. Because the plates reduce the vacuum energy between them to below the normal zero-point energy, the space is said to have negative energy, which has some unusual properties.

One of the properties of a negative-energy vacuum is that light actually travels faster in it than it does in a normal vacuum, something that may one day allow people to travel faster than the speed of light in a kind of negative-energy vacuum bubble. Negative energy could also be used to hold open a transversible wormhole, which although theoretically possible, would collapse as soon as it was created without a means to keep it open. Negative energy also causes black holes to evaporate. Vacuum energy is often modeled as virtual particles popping into existence and annihilating. This doesn’t violate any energy conservation laws as long as the particles are annihilated shortly afterwards. However, if two particles are produced at the event horizon of a black hole, one can be moving away from the black hole, while the other is falling into it. This means they won’t be able to annihilate, so the particles both end up with negative energy. When the negative energy particle falls into the black hole, it lowers the mass of the black hole instead of adding to it, and over time particles like these will cause the black hole to evaporate completely. Because this theory was first suggested by Stephen Hawking, the particles given off by this effect (the ones that don’t fall into the black hole) are called Hawking radiation. It was the first accepted theory to unite quantum theory with general relativity, making it Hawking’s greatest scientific achievement to date.

9. Frame Dragging

One prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity is that when a large object moves, it drags the space-time around it, causing nearby objects to be pulled along as well. It can occur when a large object is moving in a straight line or is rotating, and, although the effect is very small, it has been experimentally verified. The Gravity Probe B experiment, launched in 2004, was designed to measure the space-time distortion near Earth. Although sources of interference were larger than expected, the frame-dragging effect has been measured to an uncertainty of 15%, with further analysis hoping to reduce this further.

The expected effects were very close to predictions: due to the rotation of the Earth, the probe was pulled from its orbit by around 2 meters per year, an effect purely caused by the mass of the Earth distorting the space-time surrounding it. The probe itself would not feel this extra acceleration because it is not caused by an acceleration on the probe, but rather on the space-time the probe is traveling through–analogous to a rug being pulled under a table, rather than moving the table itself.

8. Relativity of Simultaneity

The relativity of simultaneity is the idea that whether two events occur simultaneously or not is relative and depends on the observer. It is a strange consequence of the special theory of relativity, and applies to any events that happen that are separated by some distance. For example, if a firework is let off on Mars and another on Venus, one observer traveling through space one way might say they happen at the same time (compensating for the time light takes to reach them), while another observer traveling another way might say the one on Mars went off first, and yet another might say the one on Venus went off first. It is caused by the way different viewpoints become distorted compared to each other in special relativity. And because they are all relative, no observer can be said to have the correct viewpoint.

This can lead to very unusual scenarios, such as an observer witnessing effect before cause (for example, seeing a bomb go off, then later seeing someone light the fuse). However, once the observer sees the effect, they cannot interact with the cause without traveling faster than the speed of light, which was one of the first reasons faster-than-light travel was believed to be forbidden, because it is akin to time travel, and a universe where you can interact with the cause after the effect makes no sense.

7. Black Strings
One of the longest outstanding mysteries in physics is how gravity is related to the other fundamental forces, such as electromagnetism. One theory, first proposed in 1919, showed that if an extra dimension is added to the universe, gravity still exists in the first four dimensions (three space dimensions and time), but the way this four dimensional space curves over the extra fifth dimension, naturally produces the other fundamental forces. However, we cannot see or detect this fifth dimension, so it was proposed that the extra dimension was curled up, and hence became invisible to us. This theory was what ultimately led to string theory, and is still included at the heart of most string theory analysis.

Since this extra dimension is so small, only tiny objects, such as particles, can move along it. In these cases, they ultimately just end up where they started, since the extra dimension is curled up on itself. However, one object that becomes much more complex in five dimensions is a black hole. When extended to five dimensions, it becomes a “black string,” and unlike a normal 4D black hole, it is unstable (this ignores the fact that 4D black holes eventually evaporate). This black string will destabilize into a whole string of black holes, connected by further black strings, until the black strings are pinched off entirely and leave the set of black holes. These multiple 4D black holes then combine into one larger black hole. The most interesting thing about this is that, using current models, the final black hole is a “naked” singularity. That is, it has no event horizon surrounding it. This violates the Cosmic Censorship Hypothesis, which says that all singularities must be surrounded by an event horizon, in order to avoid the time-travel effects that are believed to happen near a singularity from changing the history of the entire universe, as they can never escape from behind an event horizon.

6. Geon

As is best shown in the equation E=MC2, energy and matter are fundamentally connected. One effect of this is that energy, as well as mass, creates a gravitational field. A geon, first investigated by John Wheeler, in 1955, is an electromagnetic or gravitational wave whose energy creates a gravitational field, which in turn holds the wave itself together in a confined space. Wheeler speculated that there may be a link between microscopic geons and elementary particles, and that they might even be the same thing. A more extreme example is a “kugelblitz” (German for “ball lightning”), which is where such intense light is concentrated at a particular point that the gravity caused by the light energy becomes strong enough to collapse into a black hole, trapping the light inside. Although nothing is thought to prevent the formation of a kugelblitz, geons are now only believed to be able to form temporarily, as they will inevitably leak energy and collapse. This unfortunately indicates that Wheeler’s initial conjecture was incorrect, but this has not been definitively proven.

5. Kerr Black Hole

The type of black hole most people are familiar with, which has an event horizon on the outside acting as the “point of no return” and a point singularity of infinite density on the inside, actually has a more specific name: a Schwarzschild black hole. It is named after Karl Schwarzschild, who found the mathematical solution of Einstein’s field equations for a spherical, non-rotating mass in 1915, only a month after Einstein actually published his general theory of relativity. However, it wasn’t until 1963 that mathematician Roy Kerr found the solution for a rotating spherical mass. Hence, a rotating black hole is called a Kerr black hole, and it has some unusual properties.

At the centre of a Kerr black hole, there is no point singularity, but rather a ring singularity—a spinning one-dimensional ring held open by its own momentum. There are also two event horizons, an inner and outer one, and an ellipsoid called the ergosphere, inside which space-time itself rotates with the black hole (because of frame dragging) faster than the speed of light. When entering the black hole, by passing through the outer event horizon, space-like paths become time-like, meaning that it is impossible to avoid the singularity at the centre, just like in a Schwarzschild black hole. However, when you pass through the inner event horizon, your path becomes space-like again. The difference is this: space-time itself is reversed. This means gravity near the ring singularity becomes repulsive, actually pushing you away from the centre. In fact, unless you enter the black hole exactly on the equator, it is impossible to hit the ring singularity itself. Additionally, ring singularities can be linked through space-time, so they can act as wormholes, although exiting the black hole on the other side would be impossible (unless it was a naked singularity, possibly created when the ring singularity spins fast enough). Traveling through a ring singularity might take you to another point in space-time, such as another universe, where you could see light falling in from outside the black hole, but not leave the black hole itself. It might even take you to a “white hole” in a negative universe, the exact meaning of which is unknown.
4. Quantum Tunneling

Quantum tunneling is an effect where a particle can pass through a barrier it would not normally have the energy to overcome. It can allow a particle to pass through a physical barrier that should be impenetrable, or can allow an electron to escape from the pull of the nucleus without having the kinetic energy to do so. According to quantum mechanics, there is a finite probability that any particle can be found anywhere in the universe, although that probability is astronomically small for any real distance from the particles expected path.

However, when the particle is faced with a small-enough barrier (around 1-3 nm wide), one which conventional calculations would indicate is impenetrable by the particle, the probability that the particle will simply pass through that barrier becomes fairly noticeable. This can be explained by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which limits how much information can be known about a particle. A particle can “borrow” energy from the system it is acting in, use it to pass through the barrier, and then lose it again.

Quantum tunneling is involved in many physical processes, such as radioactive decay and the nuclear fusion that takes place in the Sun. It is also used in certain electrical components, and it has even been shown to occur in enzymes in biological systems. For example, the enzyme glucose oxidase, which catalyses the reaction of glucose into hydrogen peroxide, involves the quantum tunneling of an entire oxygen atom. Quantum tunneling is also a key feature of the scanning tunneling microscope, the first machine to enable the imaging and manipulation of individual atoms. It works by measuring the voltage in a very fine tip, which changes when it gets close to a surface due to the effect of electrons tunneling through the vacuum (known as the “forbidden zone”) between them. This gives the device the sensitivity necessary to make extremely high resolution images. It also enables the device to move atoms by deliberately putting a current through the conducting tip.

 3. Cosmic Strings

Shorty after the Big Bang, the universe was in a highly disordered and chaotic state. This means that small changes and defects didn’t change the overall structure of the universe. However, as the universe expanded, cooled, and went from a disorderly state to an orderly one, it reached a point where very small fluctuations created very large changes.

This is similar to arranging tiles evenly on a floor. When one tile is placed unevenly, this means that the subsequent tiles placed will follow its pattern. Therefore, you have a whole line of tiles out of place. This is similar to the objects called cosmic strings, which are extremely thin and extremely long defects in the shape of space-time. These cosmic strings are predicted by most models of the universe, such as the string theory wherein two kinds of “strings” are unrelated.  If they exist, each string would be as thin as a proton, but incredibly dense. Thus, a cosmic string a mile long can weigh as much as the Earth. However, it would not actually have any gravity and the only effect it will have on matter surrounding it would be the way it changes the form and shape of space-time. Therefore, a cosmic string is, in essence, just a “wrinkle” in the shape of space-time.

Cosmic strings are thought to be incredibly long, up to the order of the sizes of thousands of galaxies. In fact, recent observations and simulations have suggested that a network of cosmic strings stretches across the entire universe. This was once thought to be what caused galaxies to form in supercluster complexes, although this idea has since been abandoned. Supercluster complexes consist of connected “filaments” of galaxies up to a billion light-years in length. Because of the unique effects of cosmic strings on space-time as you bring two strings close together, it has been shown that they could possibly be used for time travel, like with most of the things on this list. Cosmic strings would also create incredible gravitational waves, stronger than any other known source. These waves are what those current and planned gravitational wave detectors are designed to look for.

 2. Antimatter Retrocausality
Antimatter is the opposite of matter. It has the same mass but with an opposing electrical charge. One theory about why antimatter exists was developed by John Wheeler and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman based on the idea that physical systems should be time-reversible. For example, the orbits of our solar system, if played backwards, should still obey all the same rules as when they are played forwards. This led to the idea that antimatter is just ordinary matter going backwards in time, which would explain why antiparticles have an opposite charge, since if an electron is repelled while going forwards in time, then backwards in time this becomes attraction. This also explains why matter and antimatter annihilate. This isn’t a circumstance of two particles crashing into and destroying each other; it is the same particle suddenly stopping and going back in time. In a vacuum, where a pair of virtual particles are produced and then annihilated, this is actually just one particle going in an endless loop, forwards in time, then backwards, then forwards, and so on.

While the accuracy of this theory is still up for debate, treating antimatter as matter going backwards in time mathematically comes up with identical solutions to other, more conventional theories. When it was first theorized, John Wheeler said that perhaps it answered the question of why all electrons in the universe have identical properties, a question so obvious that it is generally ignored. He suggested that it was just one electron, constantly darting all over the universe, from the Big Bang to the end of time and back again, continuing an uncountable number of times. Even though this idea involves backwards time travel, it can’t be used to send any information back in time, since the mathematics of the model simply doesn’t allow it. You cannot move a piece of antimatter to affect the past, since in moving it you only affect the past of the antimatter itself, that is, your future.

1. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems
It is not strictly science, but rather a very interesting set of mathematical theorems about logic and the philosophy that is definitely relevant to science as a whole. Proven in 1931 by Kurt Gödel, these theories say that with any given set of logical rules, except for the most simple, there will always be statements that are undecidable, meaning that they cannot be proven or disproven due to the inevitable self-referential nature of any logical systems that is even remotely complicated. This is thought to indicate that there is no grand mathematical system capable of proving or disproving all statements. An undecidable statement can be thought of as a mathematical form of a statement like “I always lie.” Because the statement makes reference to the language being used to describe it, it cannot be known whether the statement is true or not. However, an undecidable statement does not need to be explicitly self-referential to be undecidable. The main conclusion of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems is that all logical systems will have statements that cannot be proven or disproven; therefore, all logical systems must be “incomplete.”

The philosophical implications of these theorems are widespread. The set suggests that in physics, a “theory of everything” may be impossible, as no set of rules can explain every possible event or outcome. It also indicates that logically, “proof” is a weaker concept than “true”; such a concept is unsettling for scientists because it means there will always be things that, despite being true, cannot be proven to be true. Since this set of theorems also applies to computers, it also means that our own minds are incomplete and that there are some ideas we can never know, including whether our own minds are consistent (i.e. our reasoning contains no incorrect contradictions). This is because the second of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems states that no consistent system can prove its own consistency, meaning that no sane mind can prove its own sanity. Also, since that same law states that any system able to prove its consistency to itself must be inconsistent, any mind that believes it can prove its own sanity is, therefore, insane.

Story of Sinterklaas

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Sinterklaas Saint Nicholas (later known as Sinterklaas) lived from 271 to December 6, 342 A.D. in Myra, Asia Minor. He became the patron saint of fishermen and as a priest, was known for good deeds all through the Mediterranean area. He is the patron saint of Amsterdam. As Dutch trade grew, so grew the tradition of Sinterklaas.

Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Spain and rides through the streets on a white horse. He is accompanied by his Moorish servant, Piet, and many helpers. Sinterklaas rides over roof tops listening at chimneys to check children’s behavior. Wooden shoes are left by the fireplace with carrots or hay for the horse. Piet exchanges the carrots and hay for a small gift or candy.

Sinterklaas Eve, December 5, and Sinterklaas Day, December 6, are days of festivity and merriment. Sinterklaas parties consist of jokes, rhymes, simple gifts camouflaged in strange wrappings and lots of festive fun and laughter. Traditional spice cookies, hot chocolate, apple fritters and Dutch donuts are served. Chocolate letters are special Sinterklaas Day treats.


9 Crazy Things People Found Inside Their Walls

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The Ballad of the Walled-Up Wife chronicles the story of hapless masons who are incapable of building a wall that will last. After years of failure, they learn that in order to make their work last, they must offer up a sacrifice. Once, as their master’s wife passed by, they grabbed her and entombed her in the wall they were building. According to some versions of the ballad, the wall still stands.

While immuring wives in walls is strictly outlawed (and largely fictional), the practice of hiding things behind sheetrock or brick is pervasive. From the illegal to the superstitious to the just plain insane, here are 9 crazy things found stashed inside walls.

1. Babies

In 1850, a mummified baby tumbled out from between the walls of a Parisian apartment. The couple living in the apartment were charged with murder; they were later cleared when a physician used insects to determine the time of death. This case marked the first time in French forensic science that entomology was used in a criminal trial. And 28 years later, French pathologist Edmond Perrier Megnin used insects to calculate the time of death of a mummified infant in a similar case.

Mummified infants have been found in walls as recently as 2007, when contractor Bob Kinghorn discovered the body of a child wrapped in newspaper in the walls of a home in East Toronto. Police investigated the infant’s death, but were unable to determine the cause.

2. Urine and Fingernail Clippings

Filled with urine, hair, nail clippings or red thread, Witch Bottles were hidden in walls and buried in the thresholds of homes to counteract a witch’s curse. One was found in Greenwich in 2009 that dates back to the 17th century. Researchers were even able to analyze urine found in the bottle, which contained traces of nicotine.

The bottle also contained a piece of leather cut into the shape of a heart and pierced with a leather nail. Scientists are unsure of the symbolism, but in similar finds the bottles have contained heart-shaped cloth pierced by brass pins.

A court record from 1682 documents that a husband who believes his wife to be a witch should boil in a pipkin a quart of her urine, fingernail clippings and hair.

3. Live Children

Two years after he disappeared with his mother, 6-year-old Richard Chekevdia was discovered hidden in the walls of his grandmother’s home in Illinois.

Ricky disappeared in 2007 after a contentious custody dispute between his mother, Shannon Wilfong, and his father, Michael Chekevdia. His grandmother, Diane Dobbs, insists that the boy lived most of his life outside the walls of the home, only hiding when necessary. However, police reports state the boy had rarely been allowed outside. And a judge found that the boy had been denied access to medical care, education and contact with his peers. The police found the boy and his mother crouched in a hiding place behind a bedroom dresser.

4. Cash

In Ohio, contractor Bob Kitts found $182,000 in Depression-era money inside the walls of a bathroom he was renovating. The contractor called the homeowner, Amanda Reece, who offered him 10 percent of the find. He demanded 40 percent and the situation devolved from there.

When the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on the case, descendants of the home’s original owner, Patrick Dunne — a wealthy businessman who hid the money during the Great Depression — also filed claim to the money. After the costly court proceedings, all of the people laying claim to the money received only a fraction of the find.

5. Priceless Artwork

In 1502, Italian statesman Piero Soderini commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint a scene from the famous Battle of Anghiari. The painting is thought to be 20 feet long and 10 feet high. In the 1550s, Giorgio Vasari was commissioned to paint over the mural, but the painter reportedly couldn’t bring himself to destroy it.

Maurizio Seracini, an art diagnostician at the University of California, San Diego, has been looking for the lost Leonardo da Vinci work for 36 years. Seracini is convinced that Vasari hid it in the wall — and he might be onto something.

His first big break came in 1970, when he discovered the words “cerca trova” painted on a flag on Vasari’s mural. Seracini believes that the phrase, which means “seek and you will find,” indicates that Vasari built a false wall over the painting in order to preserve the mural. Recent technology has enabled researchers to take pictures of the hollow between Vasari’s mural and the wall, where they discovered black pigment believed to be similar to the pigment used in other Leonardo da Vinci paintings. Unfortunately, bureaucracy and political protest have stymied the investigation.

6. Ill-Gotten Gains

In the walls of his home in Oak Brook, Illinois, mobster Frank Calabrese hid jewelry, fire arms and, of course, cash money. Lots of it.

During Calabrese’s 2007 trial, authorities learned that the long-time hit man liked to stash money and weapons into the nooks and crannies in his homes. After the trial, federal agents procured a search warrant and discovered Calabrese’s stash of loot and taped recordings with other mobsters behind the basement’s wood-paneled
walls. Calabrese’s lawyer told the Chicago Tribune that he was “concerned” that these items hadn’t been discovered in previous searches of the home.

7. Shoes

A collection of 300-year-old shoes was found in the wall of the Gothic Liedberg Palace in Korschenbroich, Germany. In Lubenham, England, a pair of shoes was built into the wall of Papillion Hall in order to rid a family of decades of misfortune brought on by a curse. And in cottages and churches across Europe and the United States, hundreds of shoes have been found tucked inside the walls. The practice is so common that the Northhampton Borough Council collects recorded instances of concealed footwear. If you find any, let them know.

Some scholars theorize that the practice of immuring shoes is done for good luck and to ward off evil spirits from entering a home.

8. Cats

The practice of hiding cats in walls was an ancient ritual to ward off evil spirits. All over the UK, mummified cats are frequently toppling out from between the walls of 17th and 18th century buildings. One of the most famous instances was in Pendle, Lancashire, when a mummified cat was discovered in the wall of an ancient cottage. The cottage is presumed to be the location at which one of England’s most famous witch covens met. In 1612, 11 men and one woman from the coven were accused of witchcraft and hanged.

9. Unmentionables

The only thing worse than discovering dirty underwear hidden in your home is discovering centuries-old dirty underwear in your walls. Across Western Europe, unsuspecting home owners often find caches of garments (under and over) inside the walls of their homes. In fact, the finds are so common that they are not often reported.

Evidence indicates that the practice of hiding your knickers in the walls dates back to the Middle Ages. The clothes hidden are often worn and contain hidden objects like documents and coins. According to the website for the Deliberately Concealed Garments Project:

“The tradition of concealing clothes can be related to the practice of concealing other objects such as dried cats, witch bottles and charms in buildings. These types of objects have been discovered hidden in similar places. The concealing of these items including garments can be related to folklore and superstitious traditions relating to the ritual protection of a household and its inhabitants.”

Build a Mars base with a box of engineered bugs

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The next time humans set foot on an alien world, they may not travel alone. Small, lightweight "bug boxes" packed full of engineered microbes could make life on hostile planets a lot more liveable.

Pioneering settlers on a distant world will require food, fuel and shelter if they are to survive, but bringing bulky supplies from Earth is far too costly. Synthetic biology offers another option. Microbes weigh precious little, and would take up next to no space on a spacecraft, but once the mission lands - on Mars, say - they could multiply by feeding on the materials available there. The products of their labour could provide the building blocks essential for a human settlement.

NASA has already begun research to realise this dream, says Lynn Rothschild at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Rothschild is leader of NASA's new Synthetic Biology Initiative, which aims to build designer microbes for future crewed space missions. She shared her vision at last week's BioDesign Forum in Cambridge, UK.

Synthetic biology lies at the crossroads of biology and engineering. Its practitioners have built a biological toolkit consisting of chunks of genes, called biobricks, each of which performs a specific function - making a bacterium generate natural antifreeze molecules, for example. Biobricks can be inserted into other microbes to give them that function.

Using the approach, a microbe with the potential to survive on an alien world can become one that could sustain human life there.

Take the need for energy. Many earthly microbes would die in extraterrestrial atmospheres rich in carbon dioxide and nitrogen - the two main constituents of Martian air. An ancient cyanobacterium called Anabaena thrives in those conditions, though, metabolising both gases to make sugars. "As long as it has warmth and some shielding from ultraviolet light radiation, it should do well on gases in the Mars atmosphere," says Rothschild.

Naturally enough, Anabaena uses most of the energy it produces from CO2 and nitrogen, but synthetic biologists can encourage the cyanobacteria to share its supplies. Last year, at a synthetic biology competition - International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) - a team from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Stanford University in California showed how inserting genetic machinery from E. coli makes Anabaena excrete more of its energy as sugar. The team even showed that they could support colonies of other bacteria on the sugar. In theory, such microbial colonies could make oil, plastics or fuel for the astronauts.

The team, led by recent Brown graduate André Burnier and advised by Rothschild, has also come up with a way to supply human settlers on Mars with bricks and mortar. They began with a bacterium called Sporosarcina pasteurii, which, unusually, breaks down urea - the principle waste product in urine - and excretes ammonium. This makes the local environment alkaline enough for calcium carbonate cements to form.

The idea is that the waste produced by astronauts could feed the microbes. The microbes, in turn, would help cement together fine rocky material on a planet's surface to create bricks.

As a proof of principle, Burnier's team confirmed in experiments that loose material can be cemented together in about two weeks to create a house brick with the compressive strength of concrete. They also managed to isolate the cement-building genetic component of the bacterium, creating a biobrick that they have inserted into E. coli to give this hardy bacterium the same cement-enabling properties.

The proposals are compelling, says Jim Haseloff, a synthetic biologist working on plants at the University of Cambridge.

"Every gram delivered to Mars or other planets translates into huge additional costs and energy demands," says Paul Dear at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. "Biology rather than physical engineering is the only realistic way to do things on a planetary scale."

Dear cautions that it would be cavalier to introduce earthly bugs into alien environments before we know whether such planets have, or have ever had, microbes of their own. But it will be decades before a bug box is used by astronauts, says Rothschild, making the contamination point moot for now.

"The most appropriate way forward would be tests on robotic missions," she says. Only after they've been tested successfully by the robots would bug boxes be considered for crewed missions.

Dear agrees with the robot-first approach. "It takes a lot of faith to trust your life to a bacterium."

Scientists Invent Vanishing Electronics That Dissolve in the Body

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Scientists have created ultra-thin electronic devices that can "melt away" in the body once their job is done.

A new study, published in the journal Science, details how scientists have created a tiny, fully functional electronic device capable of vanishing within their environment, like in the body or in water, once they are no longer needed or useful. There are already implants that dispense drugs or provide electrical stimulation but they do not dissolve.
(Photo : Beckman Institute, University of Illinois and Tufts University) Scientists have created a tiny, fully functional electronic device capable of vanishing within their environment once they are no longer needed or useful.
The latest creation is an early step in a technology that may benefit not only medicine, like enabling the development of medical implants that don't need to be surgically removed or the risk of long-term side effects, but also electronic waste disposal.

Researchers led by John Rogers, a materials scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Fiorenzo Omenetto, a biomedical engineer at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and Youggang Huang of Northwestern University have already designed an imaging system that monitors tissue from inside a mouse, a thermal patch that prevents infection after a surgical site is stitched up, solar cells as well as strain and temperature sensors.

While most electronic devices are built to last, the latest device is made up of silicon and a tiny magnesium oxide circuit encapsulated in a protective layer of silk that can easily and harmlessly be absorbed by body fluids.

"We refer to this type of technology as transient electronics," Rogers, a professor of engineering at the University of Illinois, said in a statement. "From the earliest days of the electronics industry, a key design goal has been to build devices that last forever -- with completely stable performance. But if you think about the opposite possibility -- devices that are engineered to physically disappear in a controlled and programmed manner -- then other, completely different kinds of application opportunities open up."

The researchers, who have already developed "electronic tattoos," sensors that bend and stretch with the skin, say that they can now make just about any kind of dissolving high-performance electronic or optical device using transient electronics, according to Nature News.

In the latest experiment, researchers had created tiny computer chip-like devices that were designed to generate heat to kill germs and fight infection after surgery. They found that the devices worked in mice for more than a week until their silk coating dissolved enough for bodily fluids to break down key parts of the device. They found that after three weeks, the tiny gadgets had completely vanished.

The latest technology could also be used to develop cell phones and other common gadgets that dissolve after a number of years rather than ending up in landfills, according to researchers.

"These electronics are there when you need them, and after they've served their purpose they disappear. This is a completely new concept," Huang said.



Google Launches A New Tablet-Optimized User Interface For Flight Search

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Google just announced an update to its Flight Search feature that makes it easier for tablet users to search for and book travel from the couch. According to a recent study, 47 percent of all U.S. tablet owners who search for travel on their tablets also end up making 
purchases on the device. Starting today, travelers who use their iPads or Nexus 7s to use Flight Search will get to see this new tablet-optimized user interface.

This new UI, says Google, will allow you to “easily explore places to visit on the map and see prices updated in real-time for each destination.” All of the usual Flight Search features are available through the tablet interface, including the ability to find the cheapest dates to travel (something Google does faster than any other flight search tool), as well as the ability to see your flight on a map and filter by number of stops, airline (and airline alliance), price, duration, and connecting airports.


Google launched its long-awaited Flight Search feature last September after the U.S. Justice Department cleared the company’s acquisition of flight search and airline logistics specialist ITA Software in April 2011. The first version of Flight Search was somewhat limited (and rightly labeled as a beta), but since then, Google has continuously improved the service. Earlier this year, for example, it finally added international destinations.


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