September 13, 2013 9:40 am
Last May, Google sent 13 camera-equipped researchers to capture the beauty of the Galapagos Islands, both on land and in the surrounding sea. Now, Google has unveiled the results: the newest addition to Street View is a tour of the islands Darwin made famous after he first visited them, 178 years ago this week.
The researchers set about following in the famous biologist’s footsteps, starting on San Cristobal Island and then venturing to Floreana Island and North Seymour Island. Here’s a starting point for exploring the islands:
Google’s LatLong Blog explains that, more than beautiful imagery, the project aims to give scientists a much-needed research boost:
The extensive Street View imagery of the Galapagos Islands will not only allow armchair travellers to experiences the islands from their desktop computer, but it will also play an instrumental role in the ongoing research of the environment, conservation, animal migration patterns, and the impact of tourism on the islands.
Those who wish to get involved in the science themselves can check out the citizens science program Darwin for a Day, which Google and its Galapagos partners developed to help identify the multitude of plants and animals caught on camera during the filming of Street View.
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August 14, 2013 12:31 pm
Ten years ago today, 50 million people in the United States lost power. The great New York City blackout started at a power plant in Ohio, where a failed power line started a chain of failures that took out the power grids of the Northeastern United States and Canada for days and cost the economy something like $10 billion.
Scientific American spoke with experts on whether this kind of blackout could happen today. The answer is probably. Not a ton has changed in the actual power grid since 2003, says Jeff Dagle, a specialist in power-grid resilience based at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory:
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided some grant money for smart-grid technologies. But in terms of the grid itself, not so much. There were no fundamental changes in the way the grid is operated. You still have power lines and transformers and, mostly, central generation [power plants]. At the transmission level, it’s pretty similar technology to what we had 10 years ago.
But there are some good signs. When the blackout happened, grid-reliability rules were not mandatory. Companies that didn’t comply to standards weren’t punished. Now, the government can fine them $1 million per violation, per day, to those who don’t comply. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the biggest change has been in organizing different companies that plug into the grid:
The greatest innovation in the management of the power grid in the past 10-15 years is the regional Independent System Operator, or ISO. The ISO is coordinator of grid planning and operations for the area served by its member companies. Generators and utilities interact through the ISO to coordinate and transact their business. When mature, an ISO also consolidates the otherwise fragmented practices over a wider area, creating immediate savings in shared reserves, and aggregate and smooth variability of wind energy.
When it comes to performance, the grid’s actually doing quite well. PA Consulting Group notes that U.S. customers only lose power 1.2 times per year, for a total of 112 minutes, not counting disruptions from weather (more on that later). FERC notes that high-voltage transmission lines have been available for normal use 99.6% of the time over the past three years, not including planned outages. Major transmission lines caused power losses only twice in 2012, after averaging nine times a year from 2008 to 2011.
So, we might not have to deal with the inconvenience and economic cost of blackouts. But neither we will have the experience of cities like New York just dealing, as Gothamist remembered the crisis, “with people helping direct traffic, throwing impromptu parties (thanks to restaurants who gave out food since it’d have to be thrown away anyway), being buddies during walks home and offering to let friends and co-workers crash at their place.”
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July 12, 2013 11:59 am
These days, it can seem like a no brainer to include DNA evidence in a court case. But, of course, it wasn’t always this way: it was 25 years ago this month that the first person ever was convicted of a murder through DNA evidence.
At PLoS Blogs, Ricki Lewis notes that in July of 1988 George Wesley was convicted of murdering Helen Kendrick, an elderly, developmentally disabled woman. The conviction was based on DNA—Kendrick’s—found in a blood stain on Wesley’s shirt. In the court’s opinion, a judge wrote, “the conclusion was that the DNA print pattern on the defendant’s T-shirt matched the DNA print pattern from the deceased and that the DNA print pattern from the blood of the defendant was different from that of the decedent.”
The trial lasted for months and included testimony from Richard J. Roberts, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1993 for discovering split genes. Eventually, the team of expert witnesses convinced the presiding judge, Joseph Harris, to admit the DNA evidence. When it was all over, Wesley was convicted and sentenced to 38 years in prison.
In 1994, New York State’s highest court upheld the use of DNA evidence in Wesley’s case. His lawyers had appealed the ruling, saying that the DNA evidence used against him was not reliable enough. The New York Times reported at the time:
State law-enforcement officials praised the ruling, saying the Court of Appeals had definitively given its approval to a process in wide use here and around the nation that had nonetheless been clouded by debate about the risks of misidentification. They predicted that the techniques, called DNA fingerprinting or DNA typing, will now be used more in criminal trials and may prod development of a statewide genetic database similar to automated fingerprint databases.
The appeals case here made New York the thirtieth state to uphold DNA testing in some form. Since then, a lot has changed. Just last month, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers could take DNA from anyone under arrest, regardless of whether DNA is relevant to the crime.
Later this month, a plaque will be put up outside Judge Harris’s old courtroom to commemorate the landmark decision, according to WNYT.
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July 8, 2013 10:30 am
In 1948, Presdient Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which allowed women to enlist directly in the military. That same year, the U.S. Air Force let the first female members into its ranks. The first recruit to the Women in the Air Force (known as WAF) was Esther Blake,who enlisted on the first day it was possible for women to do so—65 years ago today. The first commissioner of the WAF was Geraldine Pratt May, who was the first Air Force woman to become a colonel.
The women of the WAF didn’t see the same kind of action as Air Force men: they were generally relegated to clerical and medical tasks. Their first uniforms were men’s uniforms with neckties, until Pratt May ordered women’s uniforms, modeled them after the garb of airline stewardesses, to be made.
The WAF also had a well known band. The U.S. WAF Band Story has the history of the group from one of the founding members, Alma Billet Jentsch:
The ﬁrst attempt to organize a dance band occurred in September of 1951. The original members were Edith Carson, Tenor Sax; Elaine Lilley, Alto Sax; Ann Marie Reznak, Trombone; Jean Ford, Drums; Betty Emerson, Trumpet; and Jean Billett, Piano and Director. We became the “Harmony Hoboes” and wore red plaid shirts, blue denim skirts and handkerchiefs around the neck. Our theme song was “Tenderly.” We played four songs to a set, which usually consisted of a song, a waltz, a polka and a mamba.
The Women of the Air Force website suggests that these women still get together for reunions (although it hasn’t been update in a few years). The Air Force Reserve has a video remembering the women of the WAF, a program that existed until 1976, when women were accepted into the Air Force as equal members. In 1967, Johnson signed a law that lifted further restrictions on women in the military, like lifting grade and strength limitations. Today, the top-ranking woman in the Air Force is Lieutenant General Janet Wolfenbarger, the first female four-star general in Air Force history. According to the Air Force, women make up just 9.1 percent of the general officer ranks. There are only four female lieutenant generals, twelve major generals and eleven brigadier generals.
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July 5, 2013 9:06 am
As summer ramps up in the northern hemisphere, so do rates of bikini sightings. The skimpy bikini is a summer staple, the suit of choice for many women. And today, it turns 67 years old.
The name bikini was coined by Louis Reard, and it actually refers to Bikini Atoll, where atomic bomb testing took place. He chose the name because he hoped that the raunchy two-piece would elicit the same shock and horror that the atomic bomb did. Reard’s bikini rival, Jacques Heim, a fashion designer, was also designing a tiny suit; he wanted to name it “Atome,” in honor of the recently discovered atom. Seriously.
As we know now, Reard won out, but not before Heim bought a skywriter to announce that “the world’s smallest bathing suit” was now on sale. Reard’s version was actually much smaller, made of just 30 inches of fabric. In fact, it was so small that Reard had trouble finding anybody to model it. History.com says that he had to hire an exotic dancer named Micheline Bernardini who worked at the Casino de Paris to don the suit. Reard knew that the bikini would be a splash, so the first version that Micheline Bernardini wore had newspaper type printed on it—he was that sure his invention would make headlines. It did, and legend has it that he received 50,000 fan letters—mostly from men.
On July 5th, 1946, the bikini hit the shelves. In the Mediterranean, women quickly snatched up the suits. One year later it was introduced to the United States. Random History says that the bikini wasn’t an immediate success:
While consumers were certainly curious about the scandalously small amount of fabric that comprised the bikini, initial sales of the swimsuit were slow. Many Americans were shocked by its scantiness, and the bikini was even outlawed as a form of public attire in many U.S. cities (Alac 2001). It would be nearly 20 years, at the dawning of the sexual and moral revolution in the late 1960s, before American women truly embraced the bikini. But after that, there would be no turning back. American women–and men–began a love affair with the bikini that has lasted to this day.
Of course, like everything, the bikini was invented in Rome first. Illustrations from the 4th century in Rome show women wearing two piece athletic garments as early as 1400 B.C. So technically today is something like the 1700th anniversary of the bikini. But the Romans certainly didn’t have Reard’s gift for salesmanship. In the 1950s, he put out advertisements saying that it wasn’t a true bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.” In the 1960′s, pop singer Brian Hyland immortalized the suit in song, and today they appear as soon as the weather heats up.
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