Thursday, August 12, 2010
On of the most inspiring 15 minutes on religion I've heard in a long time, so I now want to hear the entire story in detail. I can't wait to get the book. After this post, I'm heading to audible.com, to check availability. I love that someone else has realized that cafeteria religion is the only way to practice religion in the modern world.
Imagine you suddenly discovered part of your umbilical cord was still attached. Scientists just did that for the planet Earth. What's been found is a clear sign that beneath the crust in northern Canada there is a chunk of pristine, undisturbed rock from the time when Earth was nothing but molten rock.
The evidence comes in the form of lava rocks that, themselves, are a mere 60 million years old. But these rocks contain an early Earth mixture of helium, lead and neodymium isotopes which suggest the mantle rock beneath the crust that yielded them is a virgin pocket of Earth's original material.
That pocket had survived for 4.5 billion years under Baffin Island without being mixed by plate tectonics or erupted onto the surface.
"I was surprised that any of the (original) mantle survived," said geoscientist Matthew Jackson of Boston University. He is the lead author on a paper announcing the discovery in this week's issue of the journal Nature. "Finding a piece of the original mantle has been a holy grail. The original Earth was a big ball of magma. That's our (planet's) original composition."
The discovery has surprised other researchers as well.
"Even if a vestige of such material remained, it seems unlikely that it would be found in any samples from Earth's surface or the shallow subsurface that are available to geologists," observed David Graham of Oregon State University in Corvallis, who wrote a commentary in the same issue of Nature. "Yet that is what (this) new evidence suggests."
One of the obstacles in finding rocks from such ancient mantle, up to now, has been that researchers had assumed an early Earth was composed of rocks with helium and lead isotope matching those of a type of ancient meteorite called a chondrite.
That may be true up to a point, said Jackson. Some recent research by scientists at the Carnegie Institution of Washington has suggested that the Earth's early mantle would also have tell-tale neodymium isotopes that are unlike chondrites.
"That turns out to be the same as we find in these lavas (from Baffin Island)," said Jackson.
The other signs of untouched ancient mantle material -- which has not before lost any of its material to Earth's surface or been otherwise tainted -- is large amount of the isotopes helium-3 relative to helium-4. There is also an very old lead-isotope signature. It was these three criteria -- the helium, lead and neodymium -- that led Jackson and his team to the conclusion Baffin Islands massive volcanic cliffs are made of the oldest material on the planet.
As for how much of this original mantle might be around, the only way to tell is to look at lava rocks and see if they came from such stuff, said Jackson.
"We have no idea how common it might be," Jackson told Discovery News. Models suggest that up to 10 percent of the early mantle might still be around. But the new discovery could change those models and their predictions. "It turns everything on its head."
I don't know if this parallel DB25 to serial DE9 to serial Mini DIN-8 to USB converting ghetto chain works, but a reader says it does, and I really, really want to believe him. Here's the alleged proof:
It can be doctored, but the world would be a better place if it were real—even if it probably breaks the laws of quantum physics. [Thanks Mike!]
Send an email to Jesus Diaz, the author of this post, at email@example.com://digg.com/d31ZOUF
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Think you're going to ace freshman year? Want to put money on that?
A website called Ultrinsic is taking wagers on grades from students at 36 colleges nationwide starting this month.
Just as Las Vegas sports books set odds on football games, Ultrinsic will pay you top dollar for A's, a little less for the more likely outcome of a B average or better, and so on. You can also wager you'll fail a class by buying what Ultrinsic calls "grade insurance."
CEO Steven Wolf insists this is not online gambling, which is technically illegal in the United States, because wagers with Ultrinsic involve skill.
"The students have 100 percent control over it, over how they do. Other people's stuff you bet on — your own stuff you invest in," Wolf says. "Everything's true about it, I'm just trying to say that the underlying concept is a little bit more than just making a bet — it's actually an incentive."
Your mother may disagree, however, that it's a smart way to spend money — never mind that it's legal. And a California gambling law expert says she may be right, once you take into account the factors besides skill that contribute to academic performance.
Here's how Wolf says the website works: A student registers, uploads his or her schedule and gives Ultrinsic access to official school records. The New York-based site then calculates odds based on the student's college history and any information it can dig up on the difficulty of each class, the topic and other factors. The student decides how much to wager up to a cap that starts at $25 and increases with use.
Alex Winter, a 20-year-old about to start his junior year majoring in economics at the University of Pennsylvania, says he placed wagers through Ultrinsic after getting a flier on campus.
"I said, 'OK, that sounds like an easy way to make money,' so I signed up," says Winter, who bet $20 to $50 each on six of the 10 classes he took last year and cleared $150 overall.
Students at Penn and New York University could play at Ultrinsic last year. Its expansion this month to 34 more campuses comes with new funding, Wolf says. He wouldn't name the investors or say how much they put in.
Ultrinsic saves its longest shots for fresh-faced high school graduates: If you wager $20 that you'll finish college with a 4.0 GPA and follow through, you'll get $2,000 when you graduate. At 100-1 odds, that's about like a typical seven-team football parlay bet in Sin City. Instead of picking the right side in seven games, though, a student has to win in every class over an entire college career.
Winter, who says his GPA is 3.7, says he never thought about whether his wagers were illegal because he liked being pushed to work harder.
"That never really crossed my mind," he says. "Looking back, if there were to be any legal issues, I wouldn't feel that bad because it's for a good cause."
Ultrinsic's lawyers say it has nothing to worry about because getting good grades takes skill and students are betting on themselves, Wolf says.
Legal definitions of gambling usually list three elements — chance, some sort of fee or wager and a prize, says I. Nelson Rose, a gambling law expert and professor at Whittier Law School in California.
Carnival games offer prizes for a fee, but skill is ostensibly required to win. Contests advertised on cereal boxes offer prizes and winners are chosen by chance, but the box always says "no purchase necessary."
With Ultrinsic, things are less clear.
"It's not entirely within the control of the (player)," Rose says, offering the example of a professor of his who gave everyone A's after learning he wouldn't be considered for tenure. Another teacher could be equally capricious in handing out C's. "But it is mostly within their control."
And Winter questions how well Ultrinsic's algorithms set odds: Ultrinsic bet 2-to-1 that he wouldn't get an A-minus or better in an African history class he's heard most students ace.
"I shouldn't have made $100 on top of the $50 I got back," Winter says.
Still, a common test to determine the role of skill — whether you can purposely lose — seems to apply to Ultrinsic, Rose says.
"Certainly, you could have crappy grades."
Given the role of skill, Ultrinsic might be legal under both federal and state law, Rose says. Tell that to Internet poker players, who have been fighting a 2006 federal ban on online gambling, hoping to get online card rooms legalized.
Even with a series of court decisions, the law remains vague. A Congressional committee this summer approved legislation to legalize and regulate online gambling, but the bill has a long road ahead.
Rose asked who will ensure the company makes good on bets or guard against students cheating. And he suggested that laws governing insurance — which was once considered gambling — could apply to students betting on bad outcomes.
But colleges may not be able to limit use of Ultrinsic, just as they face significant obstacles steering students away from other potential dangers outside class, like binge drinking or unsafe sex.
A spokesman for Penn declined comment, as did a spokeswoman for the University of California, Berkeley. An NYU spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment.
Wolf hopes to attract about 100 students per school — 3,600 in all — this academic year. Whether they win will be their choice, he says.
"There's definitely a lot of variables, but the biggest variable is how much effort the student wants to put in," Wolf says. "In general, if anybody would study 10 hours a day consistently for one class, they would get whatever grade they wanted to get."