Researchers close in on solving American chestnut blight

American-chestnut

The American chestnut once dominated Eastern North America, with the total number of trees estimated at 4 billion a little more than a century ago.

They were the prevailing species in many areas, particularly in the Appalachia region, where 25 percent of trees were chestnuts.

“Entire communities in Appalachia depended on the chestnut for everything,” said Marshal Case, former president of the Asheville, NC-based American Chestnut Foundation. The nonprofit has been leading the effort to re-establish the trees.

Chestnut trees were integral to everyday life in Appalachia and were known as “cradle to grave trees,” Case told National Geographic.

“Craftsmen made baby cradles and coffins from the rot-resistant hardwood. The trees were also used to build houses, telephone poles, and railroad ties,” he said. “Wildlife thrived on the trees, which each year produced bumper crops of nuts.”

The American chestnut was dealt a near-death blow with the introduction of Chinese chestnuts into the New York Botanical Gardens, now known as the Bronx Zoo. The Chinese chestnut brought with it a blight that, while it didn’t affect its carrier, was devastating to the American chestnut.

First identified in 1904, the blight, a fungus, infected and killed about 99.9 percent of the American chestnuts from Georgia to Maine and west to the Ohio Valley within 50 years.

New shoots often sprout from the roots when the main stem dies, so the species has not yet become extinct. However, the stump sprouts rarely reach more than 20 feet in height before blight returns.

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Ancient Pictish fort found off the coast of Eastern Scotland

Pictish-Fort

An essential aspect of older forts was their inaccessibility to enemies. The harder it was for foes to get at those inside, the easier it was for defenders to hold out.

It appears that this need was recognized quite early on. A recently discovered fort off the coast of Scotland sits atop a sea stack and can only be accessed using ropes at low tide, according to the BBC.

The Pictish fort was uncovered during an archaeological dig on the Aberdeenshire coast and is believed to be Scotland’s oldest, dating back to as early as the third century AD.

Archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen needed help from experienced mountaineers to scale the rugged cliffs in order reach the site, which is perched precariously on the top of a sea stack called Dunnicaer, with sheer drops on all sides, according to the Edinburgh Evening News.

“The team found evidence of ramparts, floors and a hearth on the small outcrop,” the publication added. “It is believed the fort would have comprised a timber house or hall, surrounded by an outer defensive rampart built from stone.”

The fort was especially impressive given the materials used in its construction.

“The stone is not from the local area so it must have been quite a feat to get it, and the heavy oak timbers, up to such an inaccessible site,” said lead researcher Gordon Noble, a senior lecturer at the University of Aberdeen.

Results of carbon dating suggest that use of the fort was relatively short-lived, and it is assumed the Pictish communities who inhabited it moved on to the larger site of Dunnottar Castle to the south.

The Picts were descendants of indigenous Iron Age people of northern Scotland.

“Pict” was a blanket term applied to an agglomeration of different people in the northern Scotland, probably with different cultures and languages, according to the website Orkneyjar, which details the heritage of the Orkney Islands.

The word “Pict” means “painted people,” likely referring to the Pictish custom of either tattooing their bodies or embellishing themselves with war paint.

Prior the arrival of the Romans in Britain the Picts were probably fragmented tribes who spent much of their time fighting among themselves.

The Roman threat appears to have forced them together. This allowed the tribes to resist the continental invaders, forcing cooperation in the face of invaders. By the time the Romans departed from Britain in the fifth century AD, the northern tribes had begun to form into what would later become the Pictish Kingdom.

By the 11th century the Pictish identity had been incorporated into the amalgamation of peoples known as “Scots.”

(Top: Researchers seen working atop Dunnicaer sea stacks off coast of Scotland, where an ancient Pictish fort was recently discovered.)

Iran, Middle East, ‘basking’ in center-of-the-sun heat

heat map

Pity the average Iranian: Not only are they citizens of a nation where significant conservative and religious elements play a leading role in governance; double-digit inflation has eroded savings; and women have seen their place in society significantly diminished over the past 40 years, Iranians are living in what, at present, is about as close to hell-like conditions as exist on Earth.

Temperatures in the Middle Eastern nation have soared to nearly 160 degrees Fahrenheit, thanks to a recent heat wave.

In Iran’s city of Bandar Mahshahr the heat index last week was among the highest ever recorded, at 163 degrees.

A group of astonished weather experts believe the country could be enduring some of the hottest urban temperatures ever endured by mankind, according to The Telegraph.

“That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,” AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani said in a statement.

The heat index in Bandar Mahshahr were just a few degrees lower than the highest-ever recorded heat index, which was 178 Fahrenheit, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia in July 2003.

The heat forced officials in nearby Iraq to call a four-day public holiday because it was too hot to work, the result of a “heat dome” that is leaving the Middle East sweltering.

“A strong ridge of high pressure has persisted over the Middle East through much of July, resulting in the extreme heat wave in what many would consider one of the hottest places in the world,” Sagliani said.

The dome is a type of high pressure ridge and has exacerbated electricity and water supply issues, adding to the miserable conditions, according to The Telegraph.

By comparison, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the United States is a relatively balmy 134 degrees Fahrenheit, in Death Valley, Calif., on July 10, 1913. No word on what the heat index was on that day more than a century ago.

(Top: Graphic showing temperatures in the Middle East late last week.)

Waste not want not, or eat only the best? You can’t have both

hot dogs

Mmm, snouts and jowls!

Actually, they had me windpipes and tails, so the snouts and jowls are just an extra treat.

A couple of thoughts come to mind regarding these sorts of graphics. First, what is a meat producer supposed to do with the parts that aren’t considered “prime,” which in the case of a pig would be, say, those that aren’t the ribs, shoulder or loin?

If they toss the less desirable parts of the animal into the refuse bin, there are those who will accuse them of being wasteful, particularly when there’s a sizeable segment of the world’s population that doesn’t have enough to eat.

Americans are already derided by many, and not necessarily incorrectly, for being adherents of a disposable society, where only the best is retained and all else is thrown away, rather than being used or reused.

But, in the case where animal products without attractive names such as “tenderloin” and “porkchop” are concerned, there are those who try to impart a “ick” factor by trotting out by name the parts being used, such as, yes, windpipes and snouts.

So pork processing companies are essentially damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Which, I suspect, is the ultimate aim of creations such as that above.

The other point one might make is that many of the same people who decry meat processors for making as much use of all parts of an animal as possible also hold the American Indian of past centuries in high regard for their purported ability to make use of nearly all parts of animals they killed.

“Tribes learned to use virtually every part of the animal, from horns to tail hairs,” according to one PBS article. “The Indian was frugal in the midst of plenty. When the buffalo roamed the plains in multitudes, (the Indian) slaughtered only what he could eat and these he used to the hair and bones.”

Yet, if a meat processor does the same, they’re effectively accused of attempting to taint consumers with sub-standard products.

Eat hot dogs, don’t eat hot dogs; the choice is yours. But for those of you who dislike “big pork” or any other big animal processing industry, don’t veil your biases behind some Internet meme – in this case a cute, freckle-face kid eating “carcass trimmings” – that makes you look like you’ve got the best interests of the common man at heart.

The Bugatti Veyron: What I won’t be driving this summer

2006 bugatti veyron

For those saving up your nickels for a nice used car, keep your eyes peeled for a prize coming on the market this summer.

RM Sotheby’s will hold an auction Aug. 13 at Pebble Beach in Monterey, Calif., that will feature several high-performance vehicles, among them a 2006 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 that bears the chassis number 001.

The vehicle, whose owner is unidentified, was last auctioned in 2008 by Gooding & Company for $2.9 million.

“Given the unchecked appreciation of Veyrons – engineering showcases producing in excess of 1,000 horsepower – it seems safe to say the first in the Veyron line would bring significantly more,” according to the BBC.

The Veyron features an 8.0-litre, quad-turbocharged, W16 cylinder engine, equivalent to two narrow-angle V8 engines bolted together. The engine features four turbochargers and displaces nearly 488 cubic inches.

The vehicle has an astounding 10 radiators: three heat exchangers for the air-to-liquid intercoolers; three engine radiators; one for the air conditioning system; one transmission oil radiator; one differential oil radiator; and one engine oil radiator.

The Veyron’s average top speed was 253.81 mph during test sessions in April 2005.

By comparison, the fastest official speed recorded by a NASCAR driver is nearly 213 mph, by Bill Elliott at Talladega Superspeedway during qualifying in 1987, while the fastest speed run by an Indy car is just over 236 mph, set by Eddie Cheever at the 1996 Indianapolis 500.

Whoever comes away with this trophy better have a little extra cash on hand.

The Veyron uses special Michelin PAX run-flat tires that cost $25,000 per set. In addition, the tires can be mounted only in France, a service which costs $70,000, according to Car and Driver magazine.

If interested parties can’t land the Veyron, there are a number of other outstanding vehicles going up for sale at the August auction, including another Veyron, four Ferraris (288 GTO, F40, F50 and Enzo), a Lamborghini Reventon, a Maserati MC12, a Mercedes SLR McLaren, a Porsche 959 and a McLaren F1.

I wonder what they charge to allow plebeians to come and drool?

Technique allows ‘peek’ beneath surface of works of Old Masters

the madonna and child

Non-invasive surgery is often embraced by patients – especially the squeamish – as potential benefits include minimal discomfort and trauma, reduced recovery time and no scars or post-operative complications.

Now researchers in England are applying the same non-invasive concept to the examination of the works of Old Masters.

Officials from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology and The National Gallery in London have developed an instrument capable of capturing high-resolution details from beneath the surface of works by such luminaries as Vermeer, Rembrandt and Van Eyck.

The instrument, detailed in a paper in Optics Express, will allow conservators and conservation scientists to more effectively peek beneath the surface of paintings to learn not only how the artist built up the original composition, but also what coatings have been applied to it over the years.

The latter is important because many great works of western art are covered with several coats of varnish, applied at different times over the centuries. Varnish was applied to protect the paint and make colors appear more vivid but over time it can break down.

The goal is to carefully clean off the old varnish and replace it with new, but to do this safely it helps to understand the materials and structure of the painting beneath the surface. Analyzing the hidden layers of paint and varnish can aid conservation scientists in gathering this information.

Until recently, analyzing the layers of a painting required taking a very small physical sample – usually around a quarter of a millimeter across – for viewing under a microscope. Doing so enables researchers to see a cross-section of the painting’s layers, which can be imaged at high resolution and analyzed to gain detailed information on the chemical composition of the paint.

Because it requires removing some of the original paint, conservation scientists had to operate very carefully, usually only taking minute samples from an already-damaged area of the work.

However, non-invasive imaging techniques researchers such as Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), originally developed for medical imaging, have proven useful in art conservation.

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SC man upset he can’t get health insurance after getting sick

Luis lang

When discussing cases such as those of Fort Mill, SC, resident Luis Lang it’s difficult to do so in a dispassionate manner without sounding at least somewhat heartless.

Consider:

The 49-year-old self-employed handyman, who works with banks and the federal government on maintaining foreclosed properties, has bleeding in his eyes and a partially detached retina caused by diabetes. An area ophthalmologist who examined Lang said he will go blind without care.

Lang, however, has no health insurance. He told the Charlotte Observer that he has prided himself on paying his own medical bills.

Apparently, he’s done well for himself, too. His wife hasn’t had to work and the pair live in a 3,300-square-foot home valued at more than $300,000.

Lang’s pay-as-you-go approach to medical care worked fine while he was healthy, but this past February he suffered through 10 days of nonstop headaches and ended up going to the emergency room.

He told the Observer he was informed that he’d suffered several ministrokes.

Lang ran up $9,000 in bills, exhausted his savings, saw his vision worsen and now he can’t work, he told the Observer.

After consuming his savings, Lang turned to the Affordable Care Act exchange, known colloquially in the US as “Obamacare,” after President Barack Obama, who promoted the concept of a health insurance exchange as a key component of his health care reform initiative.

However, Lang found himself out of luck because 2015 enrollment had closed earlier that month. Also, because Lang is unable to work and his income has dried up, he earns too little to get a federal subsidy to buy a private policy.

Lang isn’t exactly owning up to having played a role in his predicament.

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