Monday, 2 June 2014

The Pentagon Has A Zombie Apocalypse Emergency Plan

You read the headline right, The Pentagon has created a plan for what to do in the zombie apocalypse. We'll leave it up to you whether you now feel safer, or a whole lot less safe.

Not surprisingly, this isn't something the US military establishment is keen to talk about, but Foreign Policy Magazine dug up the document, which helpfully tells us, "Because zombies pose a threat to all non-zombie human life, [Strategic Command] will be prepared to preserve the sanctity of human life and conduct operations in support of any human population -- including traditional adversaries." 
CONOP 8888, as the document is known, is dated April 30, 2011, not 29 days earlier (or 28 days later for that matter). The authors are keen to assure us the document is not a joke, but nor is it entirely serious, saying, “The hyperbole involved in writing a 'zombie survival plan' actually provided a very useful and effective training tool.”
"Planners ... realized that training examples for plans must accommodate the political fallout that occurs if the general public mistakenly believes that a fictional training scenario is actually a real plan," the authors wrote, adding: "Rather than risk such an outcome by teaching our augmentees using the fictional 'Tunisia' or 'Nigeria' scenarios used at [Joint Combined Warfighting School], we elected to use a completely-impossible scenario that could never be mistaken for a real plan." 
It's encouraging that the people capable of creating a real apocalypse haven't made the grave mistake of moving from believing in WMD to Zombies of Mass Destruction. Sadly, we think they may be misjudging just what people will believe.
The plan involves various levels of threat, including one where zombie-ism turns out to be highly transmissible, with low human immunity. Disappointingly, it does not include any suggestions on how to tackle Zombie Economics, which seems a slightly more realistic threat. It does however, warn of “Chicken Zombies”, which are described as “the only proven class of zombies that actually exists” when aged hens are incompletely euthanized and dig their way out of their graves.
Pentagon planners are rather more creative than Hollywood scriptwriters, it seems, with the the subtypes of zombies they are prepared for including vegetarians, “zombie life forms originating from any cause but pose no direct threat to humans because they only eat plant life”. Symbiant-Induced Zombies by are also on the list, as are evil magic zombies, as opposed presumably to zombies produced through good magic and zombies from space.
Foreign Policy quotes one defense official joking “I hope we've invested a similar level of rigor against dragon egg hatching contingencies.”
Unfortunately, while the world's most powerful military is free to produce plans against vampires, werewolves or Cthulu there is one thing against which we are very much on our own. Just last week the US House of Representatives passed an amendment that explicitly bars the Department of Defense from any actions to prepare for the effects of Anthropogenic Global Warming, be they conflicts over increasingly rare water resources or flooding of low lying military bases.

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Stunning Hubble Image Of The Birth Of A Star

NASA has released a truly striking Hubble Space Telescope image depicting the ferocious birth of a star within the Circinus Molecular Cloud Complex which is located some 2,280 light-years away.

The star, which has been named IRAS 14568-6304, can be seen underneath a stunning veil of golden gas and dust. The star also dons a protostellar jet; this tail-like object below the star is some of the leftover dust and gas used in the formation of the star that has been spewed into space at supersonic speeds.
Stars form within clouds of dust and gas that have collapsed under their own gravity. During this collapse, a hot and dense core forms called a protostar which will eventually give rise to the star. This core collects gas and dust from the cloud and although most of this will be used to form the star, some may go on to give rise to planets or asteroids.
As you can see from the image, IRAS 14568-6304 is located within a swirl of darkness. This is the Circinus Molecular Cloud, which is a region rich in dust, gas and young stars that has a mass approximately 250,000 greater than the Sun. 

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Scientists Selectively Erase And Restore Memories

In a groundbreaking new study, researchers at the University of California, San Diego erased and then reactivated memories by stimulating neurons in the brains of genetically engineered rats with a series of light pulses that have been previously shown to strengthen or weaken the connections between brain cells. This is the first study to be able to directly show that the strengthening or weakening of these connections, called synapses, is the underlying basis for memory. The study has been published in Nature.

Neurons communicate with each other via synapses, which are the tiny gaps between cells that permit the flow of information in the form of a chemical or electrical signal. Early research found that repeated electrical stimulation of neurons within a brain region called the hippocampus enhanced the ability of these cells to communicate with neighbors. This process is called long-term potentiation (LTP), and it has long been suspected that this is the underlying basis of memory formation. Despite decades of research, however, no one has unequivocally demonstrated that this is the case.
For this study, a team of researchers led by UCSD neuroscientist Roberto Manilow first engineered rats so that their brain cells produced a light sensitive protein which could be activated by a pulse of light delivered by an optical fiber implanted into the brain. They then used this optogenetics to condition the rats to associate pain with optical stimulation by delivering light pulses to certain neuronal populations and then shocking the rats. The rats quickly began to associate the optical stimulation with pain and displayed fear responses when the neurons were stimulated. The scientists were able to demonstrate telltale signs of LTP by looking at chemical changes in the neurons. 

Next, the team stimulated the same neurons but with a different, low-frequency sequence of light pulses that had been previously demonstrated to reverse LTP by weakening the synaptic connections, which is known as long-term depression (LTD). When the mice were given the optical stimulation that they originally associated with pain they no longer elicited a fear response, suggesting that the original memory was erased. The team was able to then reactivate the memories by delivering high-frequency light pulses that triggered LTP, and then erase them again. “We were playing with memory like a yo-yo,” Manilow said in a news-release.

The results of this study are therefore finally able to demonstrate a causal link between LTP, LTD and memory. “We can cause an animal to have fear and then not have fear and then to have fear again by stimulating the nerves at frequencies that strengthen or weaken the synapses,” said lead author Sadegh Nabavi in a news-release.

This discovery may also have applications in the field of Alzheimer’s research since, according to Manilow, the beta-amyloid protein fragment that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients also weakens synapses in a similar manner to how the low-frequency stimulation in this study removed memories. “So this line of research could suggest ways to intervene in this process,” he added.
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Friday, 30 May 2014

The Moon Gets Broadband Wireless Connection

Working from moon? Forget dial-up speeds. A team of MIT and NASA researchers is demonstrating a laser-based data communication technology that provides space workers (or maybe even dwellers) with the connectivity we have on Earth. That means large data transfers and high-definition video streaming from and on the lunar surface.
Last fall, the on-orbit performance of their moon-to-Earth uplink shattered previous transmission speed records. Now they’ve got the underlying physics sorted out, and they think the technology could even extend into deep-space missions to Mars.

The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) transmitted over 384,633 kilometers between here and the moon at a download rate of 622 megabits per second. They also sent data from Earth to the moon at 19.44 megabits per second. That’s 4,800 times faster than the best radio frequency uplink ever used.

Source: Robert LaFon, NASA/GSFC

“Communicating at high data rates from Earth to the moon with laser beams is challenging because of the 400,000-kilometer distance spreading out the light beam,” Mark Stevens of MIT Lincoln Laboratory says in a news release. “It’s doubly difficult going through the atmosphere, because turbulence can bend light -- causing rapid fading or dropouts of the signal at the receiver.”

To avoid a fading signal over such a distance, they employed several techniques to help overcome a wide range of atmospheric conditions, in both darkness and light, and through clouds in our atmosphere.

A ground terminal (pictured below) at White Sands, New Mexico, uses four telescopes to send the uplink signal to the moon. Each telescope is about 15 centimeters in diameter and fed by a laser transmitter that sends information coded as pulses of infrared light. The four separate transmitters combined results in 40 watts of power.
Source: NASA

Each telescope transmits light through a different column of air experiencing different bending effects from the atmosphere. This increases the chance that at least one of the laser beams will interact with the receiver mounted on a satellite that’s orbiting the moon.

The receiver (top photo) collects the light using a narrow telescope. The light is focused into an optical fiber (like the ones used in our fiber optic networks), and the signal is amplified 30,000 times. The pulses of light are converted into electrical pulses, and these, finally, are converted into data bit patterns that carry the transmitted message.

Of the 40-watt signals sent by the transmitters, less than a billionth of a watt is received at the satellite. “But that’s still about 10 times the signal necessary to achieve error-free communication,” Stevens says.

The work will be presented at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) next month.
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Wednesday, 28 May 2014


The Metropolitan Museum has just announced that more than 400,000 high-resolution digital images of public domain works in the Museum’s world-renowned collection may be downloaded directly from the Museum’s website for non-commercial use—including in scholarly publications in any media—without permission from the Museum and without a fee. The number of available images will increase as new digital files are added on a regular basis. In making the announcement, Mr. Campbell said: “Through this new, open-access policy, we join a growing number of museums that provide free access to images of art in the public domain. I am delighted that digital technology can open the doors to this trove of images from our encyclopedic collection.”

Browse and search All the images here.
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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Slow cooker roast chicken recipe

This slow cooker roast chicken can be popped into the pot before you head to work and you can come home to a delicious meal. I like to serve this with potato mash and chicken gravy.

Prep Time:

10 mins

Cook Time:

8-10 hours


  • 1 whole chicken (1.2-1.5kg)
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • freshly ground black pepper and salt
  • 1 cup water


Wash your fresh chicken inside and out and place the halved lemon and the onion inside the birds cavilty.
Rub the paprika all over the bird so it has a nice colour.
Give it a liberal sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Ball up 6 balls of aluminium foil and place them in the bottom of the slow cooker.
Pour the water around the aluminium balls.
Place the bird on top of the foil so it isn't touching the bottom.
Place the slow cooker on high for 1 hour and then reduce to low for 8-10 hours. Alternately leave it on high for a total of 5-6 hours.


You can add a cup of white wine instead of the water if you would like the wine flavour through your bird.
I sometimes like to add a few garlic cloves into the cavity as well.
This recipe was created by Jennifer Cheung for Kidspot, Australia's best recipe finder.

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Tzatziki recipe


  • 1 1/2 cups of Greek style yoghurt
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 Lebanese cucumbers, peeled, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 15 mint leaves, finely chopped


Combine all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours to develop flavours.


  • This tzatziki is a great Greek dish that goes perfectly with lamb.
  • It has simple fresh flavours that cut oily food with a nice acidic finish.
  • It works as a great dip with crudites and can also be great poured over lamb or chicken kebabs.
  • If this recipe is a little too wet you can strain it over a bowl in some clean muslin or a new Chux that has been rinsed in clean water.
  • I find if the Tzatziki is best left overnight for the garlic flavours to develop.
  • This recipe was created by Jennifer Cheung for Kidspot, Australia's best recipe finder.
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Cheese and bacon scones recipe

Prep Time:
15 mins

Cook Time:

25 minutes


  • 2 cups self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 slices shortcut bacon, diced
  • 1 cup tasty cheese, grated
  • 3/4 cup milk


Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper and set aside.
In a bowl, sift the flour and add the salt and sugar.
Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips. Add the bacon and cheese and combine.
Using a blunt knife, stir in the milk until you have made a dough.
Lightly knead the dough on a floured surface. Pat dough out to 2cm thick.
Cut out using a scone cutter that has been dipped in flour and place, touching together on the baking tray.
Brush a little milk on the tops.
Bake for 20-25 minutes.


  • Depending on your dough you may need a little more milk.
  • These scones are perfect served with a nice soup or great just to pop into a lunch box.
  • This recipe was created by Jennifer Cheung for Kidspot, Australia's best recipe finder.
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