Monday, April 25, 2011


-HHZ Commentator

Friday, April 2, 2010

Can Toads Predict Earthquakes?

Scientists can't predict earthquakes. But toads might be able to.

In the spring of 2009, Rachel Grant, a doctoral candidate in life sciences at London's Open University, was studying a population of toads in a large dry lake in central Italy. Common toads reproduce once a year, sometimes traveling great distances to gather at their breeding grounds, and Grant was looking at whether her subjects were using the cycles of the moon to coordinate their romantic encounters.

In the previous three years, she had watched the toads increase in number with the waxing of the moon. But last year was different. The moon grew from crescent to gibbous, and suddenly the toads were gone. "It went from there being 90 to 100 toads down to six, and then to one, and then zero," says Grant. A few mating pairs hung around, but after two days, they too left. "It was so dramatic, I was trying to think of reasons why they might have gone," she says. "I was at a loss. Did somebody come and disturb them? Did somebody run through with a tractor? But that didn't seem right. Toads get run over by cars all the time, and that doesn't make them run away."

Five days after the toads disappeared, she had a possible answer: an earthquake struck in the middle of the night. The 6.3-magnitude quake was the deadliest to hit Italy in nearly 30 years, killing roughly 300 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

Read more....

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ocean Geoengineering Scheme May Prove Lethal


  • One type of phytoplankton that feeds on iron could sequester carbon, but may also produce a potent neurotoxin.
  • The neurotoxin can and has killed or weakened fish, birds and people.
  • Other geoengineering schemes may have similar, unintended consequences.

Although phytoplankton may prove an unlikely ally in the effort to reduce the impact of climate change, enlisting these microorganisms to sequester carbon could have deadly consequences.

One proposed method to combat climate change is to dump iron in regions of the ocean where the growth of marine phytoplankton -- tiny organisms that grow via CO2-absorbing photosynthesis -- is limited by the amount of iron available.

Adding iron is intended to cause a bloom of phytoplankton growth, sucking up CO2 in the process.

But new findings, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that one type of phytoplankton that thrives under such circumstances makes domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin. This neurotoxin can move up the food chain as other animals eat the phytoplankton, harming sea life. The toxin can kill or weaken birds, fish, sea mammals or even humans who eat seafood that contains the toxin.

Read more....

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New leopard species caught on film

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – The Sundaland clouded leopard, a newly identified and little understood species of big cat in Borneo, has been filmed for the first time.

The leopard, a healthy-looking animal a metre long (3 feet) and weighing about 40 kilos (90 pounds) was caught on video at night at the Dermakot Forest Reserve in Malaysian Borneo's Sabah state.

"What surprised us was that while clouded leopards are very elusive cats, this one was not scared at all," said Azlan Mohamed, a field scientist with University Sabah Malaysia.

"Despite our powerful spot lights and the roar of our vehicle's engine, it walked around our vehicle calmly," he told AFP.

"It is rare to see the big cat in the wild. These cats are usually shy of humans, it was by chance we caught it on video."

Read more....

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dinosaur had flamboyant, multi-colored feathers

A study of a 150 million year old dinosaur fossil has revealed it had multi-coloured feathers.

The research, published in the journal Science, compared the structures which determine colour in living bird feathers with those in the fossil.

"This would be a very striking animal if it was alive today," said Yale University's Professor Richard Prum, co-author of the report.

It is believed the colours would have helped the dinosaur attract a mate.

Anchiornis huxleyi is a four-winged dinosaur which lived in the late Jurassic Period in China. Researchers chose this particular fossil to work on because the feathers were so well preserved.

Read more....

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

45-foot Ancient Snakes Devoured Crocs

The largest snake the world has ever known likely had a diet that included crocodile, or at least an ancient relative of the reptile.

Scientists have discovered a 60-million-year-old ancient crocodile fossil, which has been named a new species, in northern Columbia, South America. The site, one of the world's largest open-pit coal mines, also yielded skeletons of the giant, boa constrictor-like Titanoboa, which measured up to 45 feet long (14 m).

Crocodyliforms are extinct reptiles that are distant relatives of modern crocodiles and alligators.

"We're starting to flesh out the fauna that we have from there," said study author Alex Hastings, a graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Read more....

US encyclopedia apologizes for old Irish Civil War goof

DUBLIN – Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. apologized Wednesday for mangling the history of the Irish Civil War in past editions, but stressed that Ireland's 4,000 schools have access to the corrected version.

Irish radio stations received irate calls this week complaining that the Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia describes Ireland's civil war as a 1919-21 fight between the Catholic south and Protestant north. The war actually happened in 1922-23, took place entirely within the south, and was fought between the Irish army and Irish rebels.

The Chicago-based publisher launched an investigation Tuesday after hearing of the complaints. It determined the errors exist only on older versions of its concise edition, and survive today chiefly on handheld electronic devices.

Earlier, the managing director of the encyclopedia's London office, Ian Grant, said the company's "editors have been up all night looking at this. It's important to get this thing right."

Read more....

Tuzki Bunny Emoticon Emotional Bunny Says: "...And just how many editor's do I employ? What's that? Enough to wrap around the world? Twice?...."

(Image credit:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Haiti's Signal FM: The Little Radio Station that Could

In Haiti's devastation and upheaval since the Jan. 12 earthquake there has been one constant: the sound of Signal FM, the only radio station in the country that remained on the air after the quake hit, broadcasting through the following tumultuous days. "I cannot tell you how this happened, but our antennae did not fall down," the station manager Mario Viau told TIME by phone on Friday. "We stayed here and just kept going." With telephone and electricity lines down, and fuel scarce, Signal FM has been a lifeline for Haitians — one of the few sure ways people have had to relay details of where needs are most urgent, and to broadcast information about the missing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

U.S. texting raises $10 million and counting for Haiti

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Cellphone users in the United States have contributed more than $10 million to Haitian earthquake relief through text messages in what is being hailed as an unprecedented mobile response to a natural disaster.

Jim Manis, CEO of the foundation helping to manage cellphone donations, said it was receiving up to 10,000 text messages per second, he said. The foundation said more than $10 million has been donated.

Cellphone users can donate $5 to Haiti-born hip-hop musician Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund by texting the word "Yele" to 501501, or they can donate $10 to other nonprofit organizations, such as the American Red Cross, by texting the word "Haiti" to a specified number, like 90999.

The donation is charged to a user's cellphone bill.

Read more....

A note from the Homeschool Hangout Zone Commentator:

Teen readers with cell phones (like me) who can text (unfortunately, not like me) - DONATE NOW! Don't text your usual $10 worth of texts this week - send it to Haiti instead! The American Red Cross text code is 90999. Give!

US sending 10,000 troops to earthquake-hit Haiti

Up to 10,000 US troops will be on the ground or off the coast of Haiti by Monday to help deal with the earthquake aid effort, US defence officials say.

Tuesday's earthquake has left as many as 50,000-100,000 people dead.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said more than 15,000 bodies had already been recovered and buried, French news agency AFP reported.

The UN has launched a flash appeal for $562m (£346m), saying three million people would need help for six months.

US President Barack Obama described the scale of the devastation as extraordinary and the losses suffered as "heartbreaking".

Read more....'

(Image credit:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dubai opens world's largest half-mile-high tower

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Dubai opened the world's tallest skyscraper Monday in a blaze of fireworks, then added a final flourish: It renamed the half-mile-high tower for the head of neighboring Abu Dhabi, whose billions bailed out Dubai amid last year's financial crisis.

Long known as Burj Dubai — Arabic for "Dubai Tower" — the building rises 2,717 feet (828 meters) from the desert. The $1.5 billion "vertical city" of luxury apartments and offices and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani also plans to have the world's highest mosque (158th floor) and swimming pool (76th floor).

Its backers wanted the skyscraper to be a monument to the boundless, can-do spirit of Dubai — one of a federation of seven small sheikdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates — but the timing could not be worse. Property prices in parts of Dubai collapsed by nearly half in the past year, the result of easy credit and overbuilding during a real estate bubble that has since burst.

Read more....

Monday, December 21, 2009

Female Reindeer Pull Santa's Sleigh

Jeanna Bryner at Live Science today points out some interesting facts about reindeer.

Mixing fact with fiction, she argues that all of the reindeer mentioned in stories about Santa Claus had to have been female. Here's why:

  • Females keep their antlers throughout the winter, but males shed theirs in early December. Illustrations of Santa's sleigh pullers uniformly show reindeer with antlers.
  • The mating season depletes males of body fat, leaving them with just 5 percent on their scrawny frames around Christmas time. Females, on the other hand, retain 50 percent of their body fat. They'd be in shape to haul Santa.
Read more....

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Major volcanic eruption feared in Philippines
"within days"

LEGAZPI, Philippines – The Philippines' most active volcano could have a huge eruption within days, officials warned Sunday after detecting a drastic surge in earthquakes and eerie rumbling sounds in surrounding foothills. Tens of thousands of villagers have been evacuated as a precaution.

Scientists raised the alert level for the Mayon volcano after 453 volcanic earthquakes were detected in a five-hour span Sunday, compared to just over 200 Saturday, said Renato Solidum, chief of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

The five-step warning system was raised to level four, meaning a hazardous eruption "is possible within days." Level five is when a major eruption has begun.

Read more....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Report: White House Security Breached 91 Times

Secret Service report reveals dozens of security breaches since 1980 surrounding U.S. presidents.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi may be the most famous party crashers after sneaking into President Obama's first state dinner last month, but they're by no means the first to elude the Secret Service and breach White House security.

A report compiled by the Secret Service reveals security surrounding the president has been breached at least 91 times since 1980, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

A summary of the secret 2003 report, along with descriptions of more recent breaches by federal homeland security officials, details scores of breaches, including a family who was mistakenly allowed onto White House grounds in a minivan, a woman allowed in despite already having falsely claimed a "special relationship" with former president Bill Clinton and a celebrity hunter who joined Harrison Ford's entourage to get near Clinton.

Read more....

Why Has Taiwan's Birthrate Dropped So Low?

In a society where the cost of living is high, the notion that kids are an unwelcome burden — taboo in many cultures — has become an accepted idea.

In a research poll administered by Kun Shan University in 2007, students interviewed 100 residents of Taiwan between the ages of 20 and 40 about their family plans. One-third didn't plan to have any children for fear of losing two precious things: money and freedom.

Balancing work and family life has proven to be a challenge for both men and women in Taiwan. According to the Swiss-based International Institute of Management Development, Taiwanese work some of the longest hours in the world, averaging nearly 44 hours a week, and Taiwan's women are very career-oriented. "Most women are afraid of losing their jobs" by taking time out to have a child, says Liu. He says Taiwan should follow the lead of European countries like Germany, where women are entitled to up to three years of maternity leave by law. Taiwan has been making progress in this area; in 2002, the government passed a law requiring companies to allow their employees two-year parental leaves without pay. This year, a policy came out that enables parents to take six months of parental leave while receiving 60% of their salary. But many say these changes only look good on paper, as most bosses discourage people from taking the time off.

Read more....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hip Berlin: Europe's Capital of Cool

Time Magazine - A chill wind is blowing through Mitte, the once drab district in central Berlin that is fast becoming hangout central for the world's creative types. Davide Grazioli, used to warmer climes, pulls his black woolly hat over his head and strides up Kastanien Allee — now dubbed Casting Alley because of all the wannabe film directors and actors who frequent its cafés.

Germany has a lot of fine qualities, but being hip isn't usually thought to be one of them. Up-and-coming artists, especially ones from abroad, used to flock to London, Amsterdam or New York City rather than Hamburg, Munich or Cologne. As for Berlin, it hasn't been on the international cool list since Christopher Isherwood lived in the city in the early 1930s and chronicled the demise of its rambunctious culture under the Nazis.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

YouTube University

Newsweek - YouTube has built a global reputation as the place to go for video clips of singing cats, laughing babies, reckless drivers, and raucous wedding processionals. But there's more to the site than pointless entertainment; there is a growing collection of university lectures available, including one by a Harvard Business School professor talking about consumer psychology in the recession, and Cambridge University historian David Starkey discussing the history of the British monarchy. Earlier this year YouTube launched a new home for education, YouTube EDU, which started as a volunteer project by company employees seeking a better way to aggregate educational content uploaded by U.S. colleges and universities.

One need not be a student to reap the benefits of higher education anymore. In addition to YouTube EDU, Web sites like iTunes U, TED, and Academic Earth allow millions of people to download lectures by some of the world's top experts—for free. Known as open educational resources—or OER—the movement is turning education into a form of mass entertainment.

Read more....

Emotional Bunny Says: "Guess who's taking free online chemistry courses from MIT?"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Students create countries in social studies class

World geography classes typically don't stray from the 195 established countries that circle the globe.

Some new nations, though, emerged Tuesday: Aquatopia, an underwater country off the coast of Florida; Timpatoint, an arctic nation northeast of Canada; and Marinya, an island nation near the Philippines.

Of course, the countries aren't real. Fifth-graders in Andrea Hollan's gifted class at Allen Park Elementary spent six weeks exploring forms of government, finances, culture, geography and climates of existing nations.

"We looked at what's real, and went from there," Hollan said.

Students then created their own countries, complete with a flag, currency, food and landscape. Students even developed the first steps of a new language, creating words for hello and goodbye.

Read more....

(Image credits:

First U.S. Tsunami Shelter Planned as Earthquake Looms

When a major earthquake triggers a giant tsunami in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, as experts predict, one coastal town will be ready. Residents of the small Oregon town of Cannon Beach are preparing to build the first tsunami-resistant shelter in the U.S. (Get tsunami facts.)

The Pacific Northwest is one of the most dangerous earthquake and tsunami zones in the world—capable of producing magnitude 9 earthquakes followed within minutes by deadly, 50-foot (15.2-meter) high waves.

The next big earthquake could happen tomorrow or in several hundreds of years—no one knows for sure.

Read more....

How Hawaii's Budget Crunch Led to Furloughed Kids

At Noelani Elementary, the small school near Honolulu where President Obama learned to read and write, the next generation of Hawaii's leaders learned a new word this week: "furlough."

The Noelani students joined nearly 170,000 other children across Hawaii whose teachers on Friday began an unprecedented state furlough program that will close classrooms 34 days over the next two years. The "furlough Fridays" are part of a controversial effort by Gov. Linda Lingle to deal with a projected budget deficit of nearly $1 billion. The cost-cutting measure has angered parents, lawmakers and children. Popular musician and Hawaii public school graduate Jack Johnson sang at a rally Friday morning at the state Capitol to protest the furloughs. During the rally, parents handed a petition bearing thousands of signatures protesting the furloughs to the governor, whose office is on the fifth floor of the state Capitol.

Read more....