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What Lies Beneath

"With 3 million ships and their treasures still below the surface of the sea, a clash between nautical archeologists and treasure hunters is just beginning.

As the modern legend goes, Kip Wagner was searching for something special among the sand and debris on the east Florida bluffs two days after a storm. The year was 1955 and Wagner, a building contractor from Ohio, had spent months regularly walking the shoreline of Sabastian Inlet as a beachcomber. Though he had found nothing of note, Wagner heard rumors from friends that there was a sunken fleet of ships in the area and remained hopeful. Extreme weather, like hurricanes, is known to unearth things hidden among the waves and sand.

The trail Wagner usually took down to the shore had been wiped away by the storm and seaweed was flung across the beach like discarded party streamers, making the place look unfamiliar. But, as he glanced across the sand, something caught Wagner’s eye. It was a piece of “eight”, also known as a Cobb, a silver Spanish coin dating back to the 1700s. That single coin would drastically change his life...

Why Does Anything Exist at All?

"Some physicists think they can explain why the universe first formed. If they are right, our entire cosmos may have sprung out of nothing at all

People have wrestled with the mystery of why the universe exists for thousands of years. Pretty much every ancient culture came up with its own creation story - most of them leaving the matter in the hands of the gods - and philosophers have written reams on the subject. But science has had little to say about this ultimate question.

However, in recent years a few physicists and cosmologists have started to tackle it. They point out that we now have an understanding of the history of the universe, and of the physical laws that describe how it works. That information, they say, should give us a clue about how and why the cosmos exists...

Jon Stewart on 'Rosewater,' Springsteen and 'Sexual Tension' With Bill O'Reilly

"Jon Stewart has a week off from The Daily Show, but as he walks into a tiny conference room at the show's midtown Manhattan headquarters late on a Monday afternoon, it's clear he's completely exhausted. He slumps in a chair and admits he's spent the entire day doing press for his new movie, Rosewater, and is beginning to grow hoarse. But he's determined to promote his passion project, and soon enough he perks up. Writing and directing Rosewater is unlike anything Stewart has attempted in his career. It's the true story of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian Newsweek reporter, who was interviewed by Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones in 2009. During the show, Bahari joked around that he was a spy; the Iranian government didn't see the humor and believed Bahari was working for the CIA. He was detained and tortured for 118 days by the police in Iran.

After he was freed, Bahari came to New York and struck up a friendship with Stewart. "He told me he was going to write a book and then turn it into a movie," says Stewart. "He asked if I'd be interested in helping. Having never done that before, I said, 'Of course!'"...

'We simply survive': What life is like for Ukrainian prisoners of war

"Ruslan Tinkalyuk cut a forlorn figure as he took a long, slow drag on a Chesterfield cigarette. Dirty and unkempt, he was curled up by a small barrel fire amid the rubble of an apartment destroyed by a rocket in this war-torn eastern Ukrainian town.

He should have been with his family in Ivano-Frankivsk, a charming provincial city nestled at the edge of the Carpathian Mountains, watching autumn turn the sprawling forests their vibrant seasonal hues.

Instead he was here –- a prisoner of war, being closely watched by gun-toting, pro-Russian rebels...

Why Synthetic Biology Could Be the Key to Space Travel

"Here’s one reason why space missions are so expensive: For every pound of payload launched into space, you’ve got to launch another 99 pounds, mostly in the form of fuel. As a result, it can cost $10,000 to put a pound of payload into Earth orbit.

That’s a big problem for a long-term space missions to Mars or beyond, which would require bringing along incredible amount of fuel and supplies. No surprise, then, that the hot topic among many space exploration experts is to make as much use as possible of the materials available at your destination so explorers don’t have to bring everything with them.

According to a new study investigating this idea, synthetic microorganisms could help make this a reality. Scientists reasoned that synthetic biology might help missions save costs by using these organisms to recycle waste and harvest useful materials at the destination, reducing the supplies that astronauts have to bring with them. The researchers investigated the potential impact of what they call "space synthetic biology" on a hypothetical six-person, 916-day round trip to Mars, involving 210 days of travel each way and a 496-day stay on a Martian surface habitat...

For Guccifer, Hacking Was Easy. Prison Is Hard.

"He reveled in tormenting members of the Bush family, Colin L. Powell and a host of other prominent Americans, and also in outfoxing the F.B.I. and the Secret Service, foiling their efforts to discover even his nationality, never mind his identity. Early this year, however, the elusive online outlaw known as Guccifer lost his cocky composure and began to panic.

He smashed his hard drive and cellphone with an ax.

That spasm of precautionary destruction, at his home in Romania’s rural Transylvania region, did not help him much — especially as he left pieces of what would later become evidence scattered in the mud...

What’s Up With That: Why Are Smells So Difficult to Describe in Words?

"Try to describe that awesome Bordeaux you had with dinner last night, and unless your name is Robert Parker, you’re probably going to come up short. That’s because smells (which contribute heavily to what we commonly call taste) are notoriously hard to put into words.

Recently, researchers have gained some interesting insights into this phenomenon. One new study points to a communication breakdown between the brain’s olfactory and language systems. At the same time, linguists working with indigenous populations in Southeast Asia have reported new findings that challenge the notion that all people are equally bad at describing smells. The difficulty in describing a scent, these researchers say, depends on what language you speak.

Psychologists have consistently found that people without any special training can correctly identify common odors like coffee or peanut butter, only about half the time. If someone performed that poorly on a test that required them to identify common objects by sight, they’d get a referral to see a neurologist, says Jay Gottfried, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University. “It’s almost like we have a neurological deficit for naming smells”...

How to make a diamond from scratch - with peanut butter

"Understanding the way diamonds are formed deep in the Earth could explain how life evolved on our planet. So a team in Germany are attempting to forge the gemstones themselves, from carbon dioxide – and peanut butter. David Robson reports.

Every so often, Dan Frost hears a dull thud and his office floor vibrates. It can only mean one thing: one of his experiments has exploded again. Making his way downstairs to his lab, he finds the shock is written on the faces of his colleagues still in the lab. From where they were working, it felt like a small bomb had exploded, and their pupils are still dilated with fear. “It sounds horrific,” he says apologetically. “But it’s not dangerous – everything is protected.”

The odd explosion is part of the job. A scientist at the Bayerisches Geoinstitut in Germany, Frost is attempting to mimic the conditions of the Earth’s lower mantle, thousands of kilometres below our feet. That involves crushing rocks to some of the highest pressures known to humankind; little wonder there are the odd mishaps...

The Bloodiest Gangster in Beirut

"Amid an endless war, a writer returns to the Middle East to find that his Syrian friend has escaped the bombs only to be trapped on the front line between fact and fantasy.

"This is an interview with the future gangster of one of the bloodiest gangs in Beirut,” says Habib, and laughs when I place the recorder in front of him. His phone rings. “Allo, eh? Kifak?” and I sit back in my chair.

It is the end of May 2014, and we are outside the Tomate Cerise café, shaded by a ficus tree from the late-morning sun. I can hardly recognize the man across the table as the friend I have known for two years, as if, while I was away from Lebanon, a vortex opened within him and he has been sucked into it...

Why a Physics Revolution Might Be on Its Way

"The field of physics may be turned on its head soon, said renowned physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed during a live lecture from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.

For one, he said, the tried and true physics of relativity and quantum mechanics don't get along well. The problem is that in some sense, the principles behind these theories seem to be impossible when physicists dig a little deeper into them, Arkani-Hamed said. Scientists run into a lot of problems when they try to apply these theories to the entirety of space and time.

The two ideas are also incredibly constraining, and they make it challenging for physicists to think outside the box and develop new ideas and theories, Arkani-Hamed said...

The Man Who Disobeyed His Boss And Opened The Berlin Wall

"To many Germans, Harald Jaeger is the man who opened the Berlin Wall. It's a legacy that still makes the former East German border officer uncomfortable 25 years after he defied his superiors' orders and let thousands of East Berliners pour across his checkpoint into the West.

"I didn't open the wall. The people who stood here, they did it," says the 71-year-old with a booming voice who was an East German lieutenant colonel in charge of passport control at Bornholmer Street. "Their will was so great, there was no other alternative but to open the border."

Those people had come to his crossing at Bornholmer Street after hearing Politburo member Guenther Schabowski say — mistakenly, as it turns out — at an evening news conference on Nov. 9, 1989, that East Germans would be allowed to cross into West Germany, effective immediately...

On the Hunt for Hackers, but Not the Spotlight

"Lawrence Baldwin is a dark hero of the Internet whom you have probably never heard of — and for good reason.

A decade ago, Mr. Baldwin made a name for himself and his Atlanta-based security firm, myNetWatchman, by collecting and analyzing digital scourges like malware, and alerting companies to them. He was a fixture on the security conference circuit and was often quoted in the press about security threats.

And then he seemed to disappear. Beyond a bare-bones website and a LinkedIn profile where his only listed interest is “chasing down cybercriminals and smacking them upside the head,” Mr. Baldwin largely vanished from the web...

The Man Who Got America High

"He chartered the Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead in private jets, while smuggling planeloads of Pablo Escobar’s drugs on the side. After disappearing for decades, Alfred Dellentash Jr. finally shares his unbelievable life story—for the very first time.

It is seven o'clock on a humid Los Angeles evening, and business is winding down at a suburban car showroom. I walk past a team of guys polishing Japanese hybrids with bright white rags, past the twenty-five-cent gumball machines and into the air-conditioned office. An attorney has arranged this meeting with one of America’s most mysterious men — who has reportedly had surgery to change his identity — at his place of work.

His name is Alfred Dellentash. When I first punched his name into Google, six months ago, the results were simply baffling. First, there is an archived People magazine article from 1978, titled: ‘TOURING ROCK STARS GO TO AL DELLENTASH WHEN THEY REALLY WANT TO GET HIGH.’ The headline is a clever joke, you see, because the story is about his multi-million-dollar private jet-leasing business, which he built in his twenties: “Among the acts that have chartered Dellentash's three Convairs, two helicopters and a Boeing 707 are the Rolling Stones, KISS and the Grateful Dead”...

How a Pakistani Village Found and Sold a Crashed American Drone

"For many years I've wanted to report on the Taliban and al Qaeda bomb-making camps near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. After much difficulty, I got the chance to visit a Taliban camp in the mountains of North Waziristan in February 2014, but my trip did not go as expected. Though I arrived hoping to learn about bomb production, the discussion quickly morphed into a story about a tribal elder who'd discovered a fallen American drone.

A few days after I set foot in the camp, a talib student took me to a nearby market so I could stock up on supplies. The sky was studded with small clouds and showed clear blue against the high mountains. It was a beautiful view, but the menacing sound of drones humming through the air quickly reminded me where I was.

The market was about ten minutes from the camp and consisted of three shops in mud-brick buildings. About 20 people were assembled outside, deeply immersed in conversation. As we approached, the villagers rose and shook our hands. They were friendly, quickly offering tea and asking us to join them. We agreed. The talib introduced me as a journalist, heightening the locals' interests even more. In the tribal areas, journalists are held in high regard, yet there is very little media presence here because of the highly hostile environment...

North Korea: surfing the net in the world's most isolated nation

"What's the point of a computer in a hermit country sealed off from the internet? What use can a smartphone be if the smartest uses are blocked? And why would anyone learn computer coding in a country closed off from the world-wide-web?

These are the conundrums at the core of the puzzle about technology in North Korea. If the south is the most teched-up nation in the world, the north ought to be the least - except it's not.

At least one in 12 people there have smartphones. Not only that but North Korea has some very sophisticated computer programmers designing clever applications...

Revolutionary New Antibiotic Alternative Could Save the World From Superbug 'Apocalypse'

"Scientists have developed a new alternative to antibiotics that could revolutionise the way we treat superbugs and avoid a scenario where common medical procedures become life-threatening due to bacteria becoming immune to conventional drugs...

Mark Offerhaus, the CEO of the Dutch Biotech company Micreos, which developed the drug, has said that the advance signals “a new era in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria." "Millions of people stand to benefit,” he said. “That’s very exciting and gratifying.”

The UK’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, warned in January 2013 that the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs could lead to an “apocalyptic scenario” in which people would die of minor infections and basic operations would become deadly. She equated the threat of antibiotic resistance to terrorism and natural disasters, and called on parliament to place it on the government’s official register of national emergencies...

The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit

"For nearly thirty years, a phantom haunted the woods of Central Maine. Unseen and unknown, he lived in secret, creeping into homes in the dead of night and surviving on what he could steal. To the spooked locals, he became a legend—or maybe a myth. They wondered how he could possibly be real. Until one day last year, the hermit came out of the forest.

The hermit set out of camp at midnight, carrying his backpack and his bag of break-in tools, and threaded through the forest, rock to root to rock, every step memorized. Not a boot print left behind. It was cold and nearly moonless, a fine night for a raid, so he hiked about an hour to the Pine Tree summer camp, a few dozen cabins spread along the shoreline of North Pond in central Maine. With an expert twist of a screwdriver, he popped open a door of the dining hall and slipped inside, scanning the pantry shelves with his penlight.

“Candy! Always good. Ten rolls of Smarties, stuffed in a pocket. Then, into his backpack, a bag of marshmallows, two tubs of ground coffee, some Humpty Dumpty potato chips. Burgers and bacon were in the locked freezer. On a previous raid at Pine Tree, he'd stolen a key to the walk-in, and now he used it to open the stainless-steel door. The key was attached to a plastic four-leaf-clover key chain, with one of the leaves partially broken off. A three-and-a-half-leaf clover...

How Gravity Explains Why Time Never Runs Backward

"We can’t avoid the passing of time, even at the DMV, where time seems to come to a standstill. And daylight savings notwithstanding, time always ticks forward. But why not backward? Why do we remember the past and not the future? For a group of physicists, the answers to these deep and complex questions may arise from a familiar source: gravity.

Even though time is such a fundamental part of our experience, the basic laws of physics don’t seem to care in which direction it goes. For example, the rules that govern the orbits of planets work the same whether you go forward or backward in time. You can play the motions of the solar system in reverse and they look completely normal; they don’t violate any laws of physics. So what distinguishes the future from the past?

“The problem of the arrow of time has been boggling minds forever,” said Flavio Mercati of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada...

Why the US is the only country in the world to have elections so often

"Our leaders claim to be democratically legitimate because they were elected by the people—and can be ousted from office once they lose popular support. And yet, we mostly take for granted the answer to one of the most fundamental questions about elections: Just how often should the people get to vote?

In most countries, the answer is: not very often. Every four or five years, the electorate is called to vote for a new parliament or president. There may be a smattering of local or regional elections in between, but for those four or five years, there is no real opportunity to oust the country’s most powerful leaders. Democracy promises the rule of the people, but in reality it only affords them a chance to “throw the bums out” once in a long while.

Alone among large democratic nations, the US allows voters to clip the government’s wings more regularly. Though the president is elected for four years, midterm elections serve as a very real check on his power. All seats in the House of Representatives are up for election every two years, as are about a third of the seats in the Senate. Even a president who is elected on an overwhelming mandate (as Barack Obama was in 2008) can effectively lose his ability to govern within two years if public opinion turns against him (as it did in 2010)...

The 36 People Who Run Wikipedia

"Wikimedia, the “movement” that includes Wikipedia and all the other Wiki-things, shouldn’t really exist. Its basic operating procedure defies our strongest convictions about incentives, work, and community: It is made with no form of payment, has a very thin formal hierarchy, and users lack any real common history other than their participation.

And yet it not only exists, it almost is the Web: Wikipedia is the sixth most popular website in the world, with 22.5 million contributors and 736 million edits in English alone. It’s as if the entire population of Australia (23.6 million) each contributed 30 times. Last year Wikimedia sites overall (which includes the likes of Wikiquote and Wiktionary, as well as Wikipedia itself) averaged 20 billion pageviews per month.

This paradox of its success is most striking at the top of the Wikimedia food chain. Running this huge enterprise is a little-known hierarchy of volunteer leaders, effectively each working an extra part-time job to police the site, battle vandals, seek out spammers and sock puppets, and clean and control what you see. Thousands of people around the world actually apply to do more work for free as a Wikimedia administrator, autopatroller, rollbacker, or bureaucrat...

Christopher Nolan: the man who rebooted the blockbuster

"He is one of the few directors who can walk into a Hollywood studio with an idea and come out with $200m. So will Nolan’s latest epic, Interstellar, reinforce his reputation as the auteur who thinks big?

In early spring of 2013, Christopher Nolan and his crew were scouting for locations in Iceland – looking for glaciers that could stand in for the icy wastes of a distant planet in Nolan’s new film, Interstellar. They were on foot, the terrain proving inaccessible by car through freezing rain. The glacier they were heading towards, the sixth or seventh of the day, did not seem to be coming any closer. Finally, after hiking four or five kilometres, they were forced to stop; in front of them stretched an ice-cold lake. There seemed to be no way around it.

“We were all gathered around staring at this lake,” the cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema recalled, “and Chris took his shoes and socks off and just strode out into the water, going straight towards that gigantic chunk of ice. Everyone was standing around looking at one another. ‘What do we do here?’ Then everybody starts doing the same – peeling off their shoes and socks and wading in. Nobody thinks that he’s crazy, they just go, ‘OK, this is important, this has to be done’.” After the crew had scouted the glacier, which turned out to be too small for Nolan’s purposes, they all walked back, their wet shoes squelching. “He’s a man on a mission,” Hoytema told me. “He assigns all his time and all his effort to serving that mission”...

Why Did It Take So Long For Complex Life To Evolve On Earth? Blame Oxygen.

"Life seems to have started on Earth almost as soon as the surface cooled off enough to make it possible. However, complex animal life—everything from insects to fish to humans—took a lot longer to show up. Given that modern animals are a phenomenally diverse group that evolved relatively quickly, why were they so slow to get going?

The answer may be that animals are greedy: they need a lot of oxygen to grow big and complicated. Early Earth didn’t have much oxygen, but microbes changed the chemical content of the atmosphere over time from something alien and poisonous to us into the breathable air we have today. A new paper showed that the oxygen level as recently as 800 million years ago was only a tiny fraction of today’s—far too low to support oxygen-breathers like our ancestors and their relatives.

Life on Earth has always belonged mainly to microorganisms. Clouds are full of microbes; they have been found in deep mines and on the ocean floor. They outnumber and may even outweigh all other forms of life. If all animals vanished, most bacteria would still live on, but if all bacteria disappeared, we would die quickly...

The True Story of ‘The Elephant Man’

"Joseph Carey Merrick’s facial disfigurement made him a human oddity in Victorian England. As Bradley Cooper plays him on Broadway, we look back at Merrick’s life of pain and bravery.

On April 11, 1890, Joseph Carey Merrick was found dead in his bed at the age of 27. Though the exact cause is unclear, it is believed that he died as a result of the weight of his head, due either to spinal dislocation or asphyxiation from pressure on his airway. Measured by doctors at the time as having a circumference of 36 inches, Merrick’s malformed head was one of many deformities that people came to gape at as he toured England as a human oddity.

Billed at the time as “Half-a-Man and Half-an-Elephant,” Merrick’s life entered the American popular consciousness when “The Elephant Man” debuted on Broadway in 1979. A movie based about Merrick was released the next year, starring John Hurt in the title role as Merrick and Anthony Hopkins as Frederick Treves, the kindly London doctor who cared for him after gawking at “freaks” fell out favor in Victorian England...

Scientists reverse ageing process in mice; early human trials showing 'promising results'

"Scientists from Harvard and the University of New South Wales say they have discovered how to reverse the ageing process.

The research has focused on mice, but early clinical trials have also been conducted on humans. The scientists said they switched youthful genes on and older genes off, using naturally occurring proteins and molecules.

Professor of genetics at Harvard and UNSW, David Sinclair, led the research team. "We've discovered genes that control how the body fights against ageing and these genes, if you turn them on just the right way, they can have very powerful effects, even reversing ageing - at least in mice so far," he said...