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Modern Human Ancestors found in SE Asia

Skull Found in the "Cave of the Monkeys"

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Oldest Modern Human Ancestor in SE Asia Found

Portions of a Modern Human Skull Found in Laos

oldest human skull SE Asia
Skull Discovered Tam Pa Ling
F. Demeter

It has been speculated for some time that our modern human ancestors arrived in Southeast Asia within the last 60,000 Years as both genetic and archaeological data supports this theory.  However until 2009 when the limestone cave Tam Pa Ling (Cave of the Monkeys), located in Laos, was found there was little to back this up.

The skull has modern human features including facial bones and teeth and was determined to be at least 46,000 years old.

Researchers were unwilling to remove teeth from the complete skull and instead dated the sediments it was buried in.  The maximum determined age of the fossil is 63,000 years old giving the skull an age range of 46,000 to 63,000 years old.
Cave of the monkey excavation
Tam Pa Ling Excavation 

There are a number of other sites in the region that have produced stone tools that date considerably older but with no skeletal remains surrounding these sites.

cave of the monkeys location
Site of "The Cave of the Monkeys" 
There is still some concern over the fact that within the cave there has not been significant archaeological evidence found indicating that humans resided within the cave therefore it has been speculated that the person died outside the cave and was washed in and buried by quickly running water.  

One other interesting note is that the top half of the soil in the cave has been washed out and replaced with substantially younger soil causing the soil age to go from 51,000 years old to 2700 years old within one meter.

Very interesting yet still a puzzle, and that is why science is so great!

Full report and information can be found here at PNAS's website.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Penny4NASA Dare Mighty Things

NASA slated to receive .48 % of the National Budget, Lets round that up to 1.00%!

Pennies for NASA is a NASA advocacy site for just that purpose! Please visit this site (once you have finished reading the article below of course) and sign their petition...but why you might ask?

Pre-Micro Computer
Ok, exactly why should we spend more money on NASA?  Do we really need to send more probes, satellites, or people in to space?  The answer is YES!  Digital Imagery, Micro Computing, CAT Scans, Solar Power, Light Emitting Diodes, Improved Radial Tires, are all technologies that have either been created or improved upon due to NASA's influence.  For every 1 dollar we as taxpayers spend on NASA 10 dollars are returned to our economy because of new technologies or techniques are developed by NASA and employed by our industries.  This opens new markets and creates new jobs.

NASA Budget % of Nat'l Budget
We have been enjoying global technological dominance due in great part to the advancements made by NASA and employed by creative individuals who have established new companies and even new sectors of industry. There is even a section of NASA's website devoted to so-called NASA Spin-offs showcasing the technology stemming from various NASA missions.  

We hear politicians and news commentators warning of the upcoming Chinese influence in world markets as their economy grows and will eclipse ours as the largest in the world.    The only way that the US economy can stay within grasp of the staggering increase seen in China is through pure science public research and development.  For every 1 US citizen there are 4 PRC citizens, so it stands to reason their economy will continue to rise as their population continues shifting toward an industrial and mechanized labor force.  China will continue to see organic growth numbers similar to those the US saw during the industrial revolution or greater.

I am not anti-China or anti-chinese, I am pro-Homo Sapiens.  If we are unable to progress to the point at which we are able to navigate our own small solar system with ease, how are we going to find methods to reliably travel to other stars?  And if we do not travel beyond our own Sol we will find out species at an abrupt end in another 5 billion years.  Granted 5 billion years is a long time, but our own rock, Terra, is already 4.5 billion years old.  We are not just in space research to learn, we are quite literally in it for the survival of the species.

21 Lutetia
My final argument for spending additional money on NASA is that we are on the cusp of the next extreme technological advance.  We are on the precipice of the sea of knowledge.  We are standing on the very edge of eternity looking out at what we should be touching.  We are the great voyeurs.  Peering at places like Titan, Enceladus, or 21 Lutetia though our peephole.  These are places where we should be walking...touching...experiencing.  We must step up to the task, we must explore, and learn and seek out new resources and new horizons.
Water Jets from Enceladus

So whether you take the economic viewpoint and want to see new technologies and new jobs,  or you want the US to remain world's largest economy, or finally if we want to continue and become a truly great species, rather than one that has been measured by natural selection and found wanting.  Do your part, encourage congress to act, encourage the President to act.  Let them know you will vote for them on the basis for which they support scientific research.

I'll end with this.  Millions of people (myself included) had the privileged to watch the happenings at JPL while Curiosity made her touch down successfully.  And all of us saw as the first thumbnail images came back.

Let us go forward and Dare Mighty Things

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Kingsoft Office(free)

Kingsoft Office(free) (0.00)

Googl Play - Apple App Store unavailable

Open Page
Where to begin!  This is an excellent app.  I have mentioned in the past that I would only award apps 5 stars if I were blown away and this app blew me away.  

There are a plethora (do you know what plethora means? wink, wink)  of options.  Far too many to go over individually so we'll hi-light some of the real standouts.  

First the interface is clean and unobtrusive.  The icons are self explanatory and even on a relatively small phone screen I found Kingsoft Office easy and intuitive to navigate.  Opening documents is very simple. First common documents appear at the opening screen and you can swipe left or right to go through them.  You can of course browse folders, or even cloud storage. 

Cloud Storage
 The cloud storage options lead you to either your Dropbox, Google Drive or BOX.NET folders.  Hopefully in the future Sky drive and Evernote will be supported.  However when I popped in my Dropbox credentials I was easily able to open documents and files immediately.

Viewing files is crisp and clean and it renders PDF files startlingly fast.  There are no options for editing PDF files at this point, but viewing options are very utilitarian.  

All Documents

It is definitely a great and FREE alternative to quick office which still costs 15 clams but that may change now that Google has acquired quick office.  In fact I would expect it to change.  Google wants to offer a full suite of products for it's app products for mobile devices and although they are nearly there as far as maturity there has been some issues.
Editor Interface

In the mean time I will be sticking with Kingsoft Office.  The all documents options shows all of the documents currently available on your device(as its name implies).  Although I normally do not like these types of views this one was laid out in such a way that it was easy to find the document I was looking for.  I did not run into clunky interface issues, everything navigated smoothly and effortlessly.  I have run into other utilities (as I am sure you, observant reader, have as well) that do not seem to be designed around a touch interface and whilst using these sorts of apps you almost feel trapped.

Editing documents is also very simple and even on a small screen, in fact,  it is almost enjoyable!  No i am not an employee of Kingsoft, and since it is free I can't expect any kickbacks but this is an excellent product and I would say this is company to watch.

Overall, The interface is clean and fast.  Documents render nicely and zoom options work well in viewing modes.  The editor interface is easy to use even on small screens.  The app fared well on larger tablet screens as well making it even more useful.  The cloud drive option is simply awesome. 

Blown away by the interface 5 of 5 stars from DevSkep,

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Science: Curiosity Tally Ho!

Curiosity's first joy ride 

Curiosity took her first test drive today, moving forward 15 feet then rotating 120 degrees and returning 8 feet.  Curiosity is now approximately 20 feet from her landing site which has been named Bradbury Landing in honor of the late great science fiction writer Ray Bradbury.  

Marks on either side of the rover's tracks were left by the sky crane as it lowered Curiosity to the Martian surface.

More details here on Curiosity's Mission page.

Tech: Screenshot? no i said Greenshot!

Greenshot, screenshot, bleemshot.

Ever needed a screen shot and the print screen + ms paint option just isn't appealing?  I know I have certainly run into this issue in the past.

I know what you may be thinking:  The snipping tool will fix this, after all it is packaged with Windows 7 and it is a great little tool, however for a mere 545 KB download you can obtain your own copy of a wonderful little program: Greenshot.

Once installed (and set to run on start-up) the small icon pictured to the left will appear in your systray.  This contains various settings but all you have to do is press the Print Screen button.  once you do you will see cross-hairs and a transparent green box.  With these cross-hairs you can draw a border around the item you want a screen shot of by clicking and dragging around the object you wish to capture.   

Additionally while dragging you will see the dimensions of the captured image in pixels, which comes in handy if you are looking for particular dimensions in your screenshot.
Greenshot Editor

Once you release the mouse button you will see the image in a rudimentary image editor.  And although it is simple it is also powerful.  You can easily highlight, annotate, or obfuscate  portions of the captured image.  

There are also a myriad of other options,output to email or clipboard,  optimize for printing, capture the mouse pointer or not, and so on.

It is also possible to capture portions of the screen or selected windows.   And of course options you would expect, like image format default, file name pattern, and storage location.

With a price tag of free and and full features and utility Greenshot is top notch on my list and normally one of those programs I immediately install on  a new computer.

You can find it's website here

This little program comes highly recommended  by the Devoted Skeptic

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

RBSP Ready for Launch

RBSP Ready for Early Friday Morning Launch

NASA is kicking the weekend off right.  If the weather cooperates, (so far there is a 60% chance that it will) NASA will be launching the RBSP.

Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) Designed to study the Earth's radiation belts and how the Sun affects them.  Booster engine actuator testing was completed and we are on schedule for launch August, 22 at 4:07AM

More details here

App Review: Pix'N Love Rush

Pix'N Love Rush (.99-1.99)

Google Play (1.99) - Apple App Store (.99)

Ads :(
UntitledPix'N Love is surprisingly fun to play, that is after muting the harsh music.   When first loading the app you are presented with a screen that markets other Apps.  This would be understandable if it were a free app but for 99 cents on Apple's store and a little better than twice that on the Google Play store I would not expect to be advertised to.  

This was a bit of a turn off but once I continued on to the game I found that this one game is actually 4 games packed under one title.  

There is the Classical Rush, Cursed Rush, Rainbow Rush and On-Off Rush.  All have slightly different game play from Classical which includes directional arrows, jumping and shooting to On-Off rush where you simply tap the screen to jump. 

ON/OFF game
 Your character jumps around avoiding bad things and collecting good things, it is basic and fun.  Another one of those casual games that are fun to play and easy to control.
Custom Controls

Control. If however you don't like where the controls are placed you do have the option to move the controls to custom locations which could be handy.

The game looked great on both my phone as well as my 8" tablet.

Overall, the game is fun, there are options to keep you from getting bored on the first play through and it looks good on multiple aspect ratios.  There doesn't seem to be much as far as online support other than score keeping but pvp wouldn't fit well in this format.

The only negatives I saw were the music which to me was too grating and not enjoyable and the ads at the opening screen for a paid app.

4 stars from the devoted skeptic.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bug + Light = Energy, Curiosity Charges Lasers, and LHC News

Bugs Turn Sunlight to Food, Curiosity Sets Phasers to cook, and the LHC heats up 560 Trillion Protons!

Science is so cool!

Bug Photosynthesis 

As reported on some bugs may be able feed off sunlight.  Entomologist Alain Robichon and his colleagues have suggested that pigments called carotenoids that aphids are able to synthesize naturally may be used by the aphids to absorb solar energy.  Full details in this nature article and also this one.

chargin_mah_laser_curiosityLighting Up Mars
Curiosity is chilling out on Mars, well that was until yesterday.  Curiosity charged up her lasers and blasted a fist sized rock with 30 pulses over a 10 second period.  Each pulse consisted of over 1 million watts of power over 5 billionths of a second each.  All of this energy excites atoms in the rock causing it to emit an ionized glowing plasma that can be analyzed with the ChemCam.  With ChemCam we hope to be able to determine how the surface of Mars may have been altered by water, and contain chemicals necessary for life.  Here is a short fun video about how ChemCam works.

LHC Records 5.6 Inverse Femtobarns
Cern - This equates to 560 Trillion proton-proton collisions.  But that was last year.  This summer as of August Third there were 100 Trillion collisions recorded for the LHCb experiment alone with 10 times that recorded for ATLAS and CMS.  The LHC is making good progress on it's goal of 1500 Trillion proton-proton collisions in 2012
The LHCb collaboration seen inside the LHCb cavern

App Review: Galaxy Ninjas!

Galaxy Ninjas! (0.00)

Googl Play - Apple App Store (not available)

Opening Screen
Galaxy Ninjas!  What to say about it.  Well other than many apps with similar game play and similar controls. It is at least pretty to look at.  

Game Play
You are a Galaxy Ninja which is not fully explained, I suppose I am a galaxy writer because I happen to live on the Earth in the Solar System within the Milky Way Galaxy and I write things...but I digress.  The mission you are presented with is to jump to the top of the screen with no apparent regard for gravity to avoid evil death spinning things or fire things as well as monsters that you can shoot with a variety of weapons that can be purchased in the Dojo at the opening screen.  Upgraded weapons do not appear to make your character more powerful they just look a bit different.  The scrolls however do allow you to score more points and also change the animations but other than this there is no real advantage to them either. 

There is also a leveling system that makes almost no sense because the player is not informed as to how far along in a level they or what moves you further along on the level, points or distance. Yet levels are breakpoints at which you can purchase new weapons or scrolls.
Galaxy Ninja Tablet boss
Oh No a Boss!!!

Additionally you can earn the Endless mode or the Insane mode with in game points.

Occasionally there are Bosses that will appear and depending on the boss there are different tactics for defeating or avoiding them.  The boss pictured is bugged in that if you are playing endless mode and you stay either on the top or bottom of the screen you can run endlessly racking up points and the boss cannot hit you and no other obstacles will appear.
Galaxy Ninja Tablet Menu
Cropped Tablet Display
Other than the mediocre game play this game is not formatted properly for play on an 8" tablet display.  As you can see on the select mode screen both the Classic and Insane buttons are partially cropped.  And if you look at he boss screen the pause button is partially obscured.

Overall game play is common and uninspired, the leveling system is silly and unexplained, It is not properly formatted for tablet screens (at least not my tablet) and it is repetitive.  However it is free.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

App Review: Run In Crowd

Run In Crowd (0.00)

Run In CrowdThis is the inaugural app review for devoted skeptic and it happens to be a cute little game with very simple design and controls.

You play the part of a large one eyed cube, prancing through a grey dystopian environment sparsely populated by trees and, apparently lethal crates filled with evil.
Online Play
Multiplayer Running

The crowd part comes in whilst connected to a data network random users join you on the run.  Controls are very simple and consist of  tapping to jump and then tapping again midair to double-jump. 

Offline Play
Solo Offline Run
If you happen to live in, or commute through a signal No Man's land as this reviewer does, you will find that you are still able to play in single user mode, which is a little less than running in a crowd and more like a bit of running by yourself.

A few settings
Settings are extremely spartan, but really for a very simple game it stands to reason that they would be.  The only option I can think of that would be nice to add would be the option to play offline even with a signal.

The customize screen allows you to support the developers by buying an outfit for your running cube and although 99 cents may seem high for a such an addition to your cubed avatar, the game itself is probably worth 99 cents and you got it for free and it is ad free.

It is a very simple game and it is not one that I would expect most users will spend more than a few minutes at a time on, which makes it perfect for a few rounds while on the bus or commuting on the subway but probably not for a marathon gaming session.  Tested on both a phone form factor and a 8" tablet and the screen responded and looked good on both.  I did not have a chance to test this on my iphone however I would expect similar results.

Overall - For an ad free app that is fun for a few minutes at a time it seems to be suited perfectly for what it is meant to be.

I give it 4 out of 5 stars because although it is fun and a great little app I was not blown away, however it will probably remain on my devices much longer than the average app I have tried and then discarded!