Osama bin Laden's DNA

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From this New Scientist article:

John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said the DNA evidence provided a match with "99.9 per cent confidence". That would require the comparison of DNA from the body with that of people known to be related to bin Laden. Bin Laden had no full siblings, but more than 50 half-siblings and up to 24 children.

Using DNA from many half-siblings could produce a DNA match of greater than 90 per cent confidence, but it would be difficult to get as high as 99.9 per cent without a closer relative says Rhonda Roby, a forensic geneticist at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth. Roby, who led the team using DNA evidence to identify the remains of people killed in the 9/11 attacks in 2001, says that the statistical analysis based on DNA from half-siblings is more complex and less reliable than analysis based on DNA from a closer relative like a parent or child.

Words for keyboard symbols

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! : Common: bang; pling; excl; shriek; exclamation mark. Rare: factorial; exclam; mash; cuss; boing; yell; wow; hey; wham; eureka; [spark-spot]; soldier, control.

# : Common: number sign; pound; pound sign; hash; sharp; crunch; hex; [mesh]. Rare: grid; crosshatch; octothorpe; flash; square, pig-pen; tictactoe; scratchmark; thud; thump; splat.

@ : Common: at sign; at; strudel. Rare: each; vortex; whorl; [whirlpool]; cyclone; snail; ape; cat; rose; cabbage; commercial at.

Sometimes used in the hacker community. More available in the Jargon File.

Concerning Nature

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The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life

From an article at the guardian concerning the book Enhancing Human Capacities:

Drugs that affect our moral thinking and behaviour already exist, but we tend not to think of them in that way. [Prozac] lowers aggression and bitterness against environment and so could be said to make people more agreeable. Or Oxytocin, the so-called love hormone ... increases feelings of social bonding and empathy while reducing anxiety ...

A nice article in Mother Jones sums up the evidence.

Scientific evidence is highly susceptible to misinterpretation. Giving ideologues scientific data that's relevant to their beliefs is like unleashing them in the motivated-reasoning equivalent of a candy store.

Why we run

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Astounding video where a man literally runs down a kudu, chasing it for 8 hours until it drops from exhaustion.

There is also an episode of This American Life that discusses this phenomenon. I haven't listened to it yet.

The wikipedia article on persistence hunting offers more illumination.

Once again: a tip of the hat to tywkiwdbi for finding this.

Long Pepper

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Long pepper (Piper longum), sometimes called Indian or Indonesian long pepper, is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. Long pepper has a similar, but hotter, taste to its close relative Piper nigrum - from which black, green and white pepper are obtained.
The Romans knew of both and often referred to either as just piper; Pliny the Elder erroneously believed dried black pepper and long pepper came from the same plant.
Today, long pepper is a rare ingredient in European cuisines, but it can still be found in Indian vegetable pickles, some North African spice mixtures, and in Indonesian and Malaysian cooking. It is readily available at Indian grocery stores, where it is usually labeled pippali.

More at wikipedia.

not found

From Today I Found Out:

Anatoli Petrovich Bugorski, a Russian scientist who has the distinction of being the only person to ever stick their head in a running particle accelerator. Shockingly, he also managed to survive the ordeal and all things considered, come out without too much damage.

Bugorski was a researcher at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino. Specifically he worked with the Soviet particle accelerator the synchrotron U-70. On July 13, 1978, Bugorski was checking a malfunctioning piece of equipment. As he was leaning over the piece of equipment he stuck his head through the part of the accelerator that the proton beam was running through. Supposedly, he saw a flash that was “brighter than a thousand suns” at this point. Interestingly, he did not feel any pain when this happened.

Ray Kurzweil Cannot See the Future

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Kurzweil also stands by his claim that computer displays built into eyeglasses would project images into users' eyes because some such systems do exist, and says, "The prediction did not say that all displays would be this way or that it would be the majority, or even common." Similarly, he defends his claim that translation software would be "commonly used" to allow people speaking different languages to communicate by phone by pointing to smartphone apps that emerged at the end of 2009. He allows that one could quibble about how "common" their use is.

"So far, I haven't seen Kurzweil straight-up admit that he was wrong. I think he would benefit from doing so on some of these points," says the blog post by Anissimov, who seems to admire the man but thinks futurists should be accountable for their statements.

Kurzweil's reply asserts that he is all for futurist accountability, "but such reviews need to be free of bias, fair, and not subject to selection bias and myopic interpretations of both the words used and the current reality." Still, it is hard to square his objection to "myopic," literal interpretations with his lawyerly defenses of his predictions that hinge on their precise wording and creative interpretations of the meaning of everyday words.

More at IEEE Spectrum.

Crazy ideas kill

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Everyone seems to think that those wacky cultists who made the film What the #$*! Do We Know!? are harmless. Unfortunately it seems that they are wrong. A couple who belong to the Ramtha's School of Enlightenment (the cult that produced the aforementioned movie) shot and killed a police officer.

Apparently they were concerned about the 2012 phenomenon and they planned to live on a farm in the bush after the apocalypse. When officers came to evict them from the farm they turned violent.