Monthly Archives: November 2013

My, why big fused-together teeth you have for digging chunks of flesh out of sea creatures before quickly swimming away like it wasn’t even you. Photo courtesy George Burgess

Marathon swimmer Mike Spalding was 10 hours into an epic 33-mile voyage between Maui and the Big Island when his escort boat lost sight of him. Being the middle of the night and all, the captain was forced to fire up his lights to reestablish contact with the kayaker at Spalding’s side.

This, ironically enough, is the absolute last resort when you get lost swimming in the darkness. With the kayak’s light now blazing as well, the creatures of the nighttime sea began to take notice. Squid amassed around Spalding as he slogged on, forming a slowly moving bait ball. He took a hit from one, and then another and another. After the fourth bump, Spalding felt a sharp pain in his chest.

It was the first bite, albeit just a nibble. The 62-year-old (that’s not a typo) Spalding broke for the kayak.

“As I was eggbeatering to get into the kayak with my legs perpendicular to the surface of the water, I felt this sharp hit on my leg,” he told WIRED. “It wasn’t painful, but it was like you got punched or something. And so I ran my fingers down my calf and I felt this hole.

“It’s a bigass hole.”

Spalding had earned the dubious title of first living human confirmed to have been attacked by a cookiecutter shark, which gored a 3-inch-wide crater in his leg. At no more than two feet long, this diminutive terror nevertheless packs a set of teeth that are bigger than any other shark relative to body size, according to George Burgess, an ichthyologist and director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History. It’s a glow-in-the-dark evolutionary marvel of the open ocean that takes on beasts hundreds of times its size, including submarines. And it almost always wins.

The cookiecutter shark doesn’t set out to kill its prey. Instead, it makes sneak attacks, using its fleshy lips to suction like a Nerf dart onto a whale or tuna or pretty much any other large critter. Its saw-like teeth easily tear through flesh as it “rotates its body in a 360-degree fashion around and around and around like a drill,” said Burgess. “And as it’s digging in, it gradually closes its jaw little by little, thereby making the crater wound as opposed to just a cylinder.”

Jesus, Mike. Why are you smiling? The cookiecutter’s first attack on Spalding, above, and its decidedly more successful strike, below. Photo courtesy Mike Spalding

Burgess, who authored a paper on Spalding’s attack, likens the action to using a melon baller, and in so doing has forever ruined melon for me. It all happens in no more than a second or two, and just like that, the cookiecutter is gone. It’s an ambush predator of the highest order.

The creature’s lower teeth are exceedingly sharp, even for a shark, and thus excavate very clean wounds. They’ve evolved to fuse together into what looks like a white picket fence of grave bodily injury, but like any other shark, the cookiecutter will lose these in its day-to-day gougings, perhaps as often as every two weeks, according to Burgess. But waiting in that jaw are row after row of beautiful new chompers.

In addition to such handy hunting tools as electroreceptors and a good sense of smell that come with being a shark, the cookiecutter has enormous eyes and a green bioluminescent glow, suggesting the creature is primarily a nighttime hunter.

This bioluminescence comes from light-emitting organs in its skin called photophores, Burgess says. “The control over showing or not showing the light is done by use of little cells called melanophores that are sort of masking organs,” he said. “And so they use these dark-colored cells to go over the top of the light or move away from the light.” In this way the cookiecutter can flash like a strobe, perhaps to communicate with its own species.

Interestingly, though, whereas the deep-sea anglerfish attracts smaller prey with its glowing lure, the cookiecutter may use a riskier strategy: luring big predators that could easily swallow it whole, only to juke around at the last second and torpedo their flanks.

This behavior might seem … really, really dumb. But animals obviously don’t evolve to die prematurely. Genes that aid in survival get passed along. Those that don’t will end up dissolving in the stomachs of predators. So if the cookiecutter is indeed playing chicken of the sea, it’s been doing it right for a real long time. Just call it the ocean’s James Dean.

A cookiecutter shark gets ready for its first day of school. Photo: NOAA

“I’ve never seen a cookiecutter in the stomach of any other animal,” said Burgess. “Which means that they’re pretty wily, and they must be pretty fast and reclusive at the same time.”

Burgess reckons that like a lot of marine creatures, the cookiecutter patrols near the surface in the evening, then retreats deeper during the day, a behavior called diel vertical migration, diel being a fancy 10-dollar word meaning 24 hours. Its hunting tactics have never been observed, apart from poor Spalding observing the hole in his leg, but Burgess notes that the cookiecutter is often associated with bioluminescent squid, which also flash flamboyantly.

“We think that probably they simply stay close to these other critters,” he said, “and wait for predators to come in who are cognizant of the flashing pattern usually meaning a good meal at the other side. And when the animal, the larger fish, comes in to grab the prey items, out from the abyss or the darkness comes the cookiecutter to make a sneak grab and bite on the side of the animals.”

Don’t worry, cookiecutter. This is an awkward picture for all of us. Photo: NOAA

It’s also widely believed that the cookiecutter may be essentially cloaking itself to mimic a smaller prey item. Seen from below, the glow of its underside matches the light filtering down from the surface, so the cookiecutter would seem to disappear — save for a non-luminescent band around its neck that makes it a dead giveaway to predators.

But despite that popular view, the collar does in fact glow, Burgess says. And he suggests that by flashing, the band may help draw would-be predators to the “business end” of the shark. Plus, attracting big nasty teeth specifically from below is probably a silly idea, as the lady from the Jaws poster would no doubt tell you if she hadn’t been eaten by a shark or was even real in the first place.

Mike Spalding, luckily, has fared much better. He’s made a full recovery.

“When people [swim] channels, nobody has ever identified a cookiecutter as a threat. Now they do,” says the man who attempted yet another swim between Maui and the Big Island just a year after the attack.

He finished it in 19.5 hours. The cookiecutters, perhaps out of reverence, let him pass unmolested.

References:

Castro, Jose (2011). The Sharks of North America. Oxford University Press

Martin, R. Aidan. Cookiecutter Shark. ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research. http://www.elasmo-research.org/education/ecology/deepsea-cookiecutter.htm

Nov 29, 2013

Wispy Irregular Galaxy

This sprinkling of cosmic glitter makes up the galaxy known as ESO 149-3, located some 20 million light-years away from us. It is an example of an irregular galaxy, characterised by its amorphous, undefined shape — a property that sets it apart from its perhaps more photogenic spiral and elliptical relatives. Around one quarter of all galaxies are thought to be irregular-type galaxies. In this image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope ESO 149-3 can be seen as a smattering of golden and blue stars, with no apparent central nucleus or arm structure. The surrounding sky is rich in other more distant galaxies, visible as small, colourful streaks and dashes. A version of this image was submitted to the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Luca Limatola.

Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA Acknowledgement: Luca Limatola [high-resolution]

Caption: Hubble Heritage Team

It has been reported by GameInformer that the ground-breaking title in the GTA series Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas will be coming to iOS, Android, Windows, and Kindle Mobile Devices sometime next month.

It will also have controller support to make your thug life in San Andreas a little easier to…..control.

No specific release date has been announced, but there’s no doubt that most gamers with mobile devices will be eagerly awaiting this game’s release, whenever it comes. All we know is it can’t come soon enough!

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The ultimate sports tournament since nothing else.

Best Buy is hosting the largest Madden 25 tournament of the year, stretching out across nine cities. The tournament will start December 2nd in New York and San Francisco, then to Boston and Los Angeles December 4th, Detroit and Chicago December 10th and Minneapolis and Atlanta December 12th.

The tournament will culminate in Dallas at AT&T Stadium December 16th, where the finalist of the tournament will compete on the largest HD display in the world. The Madden tournament also will host special guest NFL football players in the cities they play such as Brandon Jacobs (Giants), Mario Manningham (49ers) and Dez Bryant (Cowboys).

Specifics on the tournament:

  • Registration for store tournament events will be on a first-come first-served basis, and stores will only accept registrations in person on the day of each event. Events will feature 64 people in single player elimination, bracket-style format.
  • No purchase or entry fee is required.
  • Contestants must be 18 or older (except Alabama and Nebraska residents who must be 19 or older).
  • The winner in each market will receive a $1,000 Best Buy gift card and a trip for two (2) to Dallas to compete in the finals, and the runner-up will receive a $500 Best Buy gift card.
  • During the store events, customers can stop by to cheer on their friends, witness play-by-play commentary by professional shout casters, meet pro gamers and enter for a chance to win Best Buy gift cards and additional prizes, including the hottest games and newest consoles.
  • The Dec. 16 finals at the world famous AT&T stadium will feature special guest appearances to be announced. The contestant who wins the finals competition will receive a $1,500 Best Buy gift card.
  • For more information on the Best Buy ULTIMATE GAMERS SHOWDOWN competition, please check www.bby.com in the coming weeks and/or follow #GamersShowdown on Twitter
[embedded content]

On a final note Best Buy will be using PS4 exclusively the entire tournament. Should be interesting to see if this boosts Sony’s sales.

Wade Payne, The News Sentinel/AP

There are literally thousands of deals on Black Friday, and consumers line up to get killer bargains on everything from kitchen supplies to HDTVs. Problem is, not all of these deals are good. In fact, a lot of them are crummy. We combed through every deal we could find and selected that are worth standing around in the cold to get. Good luck!
One note: We’ve added links for your information, but you’ll probably have to go to actually a store to get these deals. Bundle up!

Accessories | Active | Audio | Computers | Gaming | HDTV | Home | Mobile | Photo

Braun 7-790cc Shaving System
Stop mistletoe rash before it happens.

Accessories

Deal: $149.99
Reg: $299.99
Save: $150

Best Buy

Sanus Fixed Wall Mount for 40”-50” TVs
Sturdy, adjustable in four directions.

Accessories

Deal: $29.99 Reg: $69.99

Save: $40

Best Buy

Toshiba 500Gb USB 3.0 Hard Drive
Fast connection is great for music and movie libraries.

Accessories

Deal: $39.99
Reg: $99.99
Save: $60

Best Buy

Insignia 8′ HDMI Cable
Put the money you save towards next month’s NetFlix bill.

Accessories

Deal: $14.99
Reg: $39.99
Save: $25

Best Buy

Courtesy of Escort

Escort Radar/Laser detector
Buy a bunch of them and make your next family vacation a Cannonball Run.

Accessories

Deal: $199.99
Reg: $399.99
Save: $200

Best Buy

Courtesy of GoPro

GoPro Hero3 HD
The new wireless controller helps you better catalog your dumbest moments.

Active

Deal: $249.99
Reg: $329.99
Save: $80

Best Buy

Garmin Forerunner 610 GPS Heartrate Monitor
The Billy Blanks Jr. of fitness trackers.

Active

Deal: $240
Reg: $400
Save: $160

REI

Rosetta Stone Spanish: Latin America
No seas un turista grosero.

Active

Deal: $125
Reg: $179.99
Save: $54.99

Office Max

REI Brand two-person tent
A well-designed 2-person tent with ample headroom and a door for each camper.

Active

Deal: $99.99
Reg: $159.99
Save: $60

REI

NordicTrack C 950 Pro Treadmill
Use the savings to buy extra turkey next year; use the treadmill to burn it off.

Active

Deal: $997.49
Reg: $1499.99
Save: $502.50

Sears

Denon 85W 5.1-Ch.Passthrough A/V Home Theater Receiver Ditch that hand-me-down home theater in a box.

Audio

Deal: $274.99
Reg: $399.99
Save: $125

Best Buy

Samsung – 2.1 Channel Soundbar w/ Wireless Subwoofer
Minimal wires and maximum bass make for an ideal gaming setup.

Audio

Deal: $167.99
Reg: $269.99
Save: $102

Best Buy

Courtesy of Klipsch

Klipsch Icon Dual 8” 2-way Floor Speaker (Each)
Low distortion and wide range perfect for reviewing the Oscar contenders at full blast.

Audio

Deal: $174.99
Reg: $449.99
Save: $275

Best Buy

Beats by Dre Pill Portable Speaker
Take the red pill or don’t, but do take fifty bucks off.

Audio

Deal: $149.99
Reg: $199.99
Save: $50

Best Buy

Jawbone Jambox
When Bluetooth’s connected to the Jawbone, the hip bones will be connected to the beat.

Audio

Deal: $99.99
Reg: $149.99
Save: $50
Available in all colors.

Best Buy

Pulse Wireless Stereo Headset
Cordless, so you won’t get tangled when a headshot from a 13-year-old throws you into histrionics.

Audio

Deal: $79.99
Reg: $149.99
Save: $70
Friday only

GameStop

Skullcandy Skullcrusher
A decent, attractive over-ear phone that’s finally priced what it’s worth.

Audio

Deal: $29.97
Reg: $99.99
Save: $70.02

Radioshack

HP Pavilion Touch Screen All-In-One 4Gb 500Gb HD
Echoes of Apple in this stylish PC desktop.

Computers

Deal: $399.99
Reg: $599.99
Save: $200

Best Buy

HP Split 2-in-1 13.3” Touch Screen 4GB 128GB Drive
The screen says party; the keyboard means business.

Computers

Deal: $499.99
Reg: $699.99
Save: $200

Best Buy

Courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo G500 15.6 inch 4GB 1Tb HD
A solid workhorse with more drive than you probably need.

Computers

Deal: $399.99
Reg: $649.99
Save: $250

Best Buy

LG 27” IPS LED HD
In-plane stitching makes it ideal for clear gaming or group viewing.

Computers

Deal: $189.99
Reg: $349.99
Save: $160

Best Buy

Elder Scrolls Anthology Make New Year’s Eve plans that you’ll actually enjoy.

Gaming

Deal: $39.99
Reg: $79.99
Save: $40

GameStop

BattleField 4 PS3
No better way to get out those holiday frustrations.

Gaming

Deal: $29.99
Reg: $59.99
Save: $30

GameStop

Courtesy of Xbox

Borderlands 2 Xbox and PS3
The best thing about those new consoles is that games for the previous generation are finally getting affordable.

Gaming

Deal: $29.99
Reg: $59.99
Save: $30

GameStop

Grand Theft Auto V for XBOX360
“Gonna have to ask you to step out of the car, Ma’am.”

Gaming

Deal: $39.99
Reg: $59.75
Save: $19.76

Kmart

Courtesy of LG

LG 55″ Class LED 1080p
A sick TV for $500.

HDTV

Deal: $499.99
Reg: $999.99
Save: $500

Best Buy

Insignia 24” LED 1080p 60Hz
Discounted deal on discontinued display.

HDTV

Deal: $79.99
Reg: $169.99
Save: $90

Best Buy

RCA 42” Class 1080p LED HDTV
Remember when 42-inch flat-screens were thousands of dollars?

HDTV

Deal: $299.99
Reg: $499.99
Save: $200

Kmart

Sharp Aquos 80” LC-80LE650U LED 3 Color 120Hz
Probably your best chance at getting a Bond-villain-worthy TV.

HDTV

Deal: $2999.99
Reg: $4999.99
Save: $2,000

Sears

HDTV

Deal: $849.99
Reg: $1499.99
Save: $650

Sears

Vizio E701i-A3e 70” 1080p 120Hz Razor
Available in-store only, this crystal clear beauty might be worth a gouged eyeball.

HDTV

Deal: $998
Reg: $1698
Save: $700

WalMart

Cuisinart 5-in-1 GR-4N Griddler
The Evander Holyfield of indoor grillers.

Home

Deal: $83.99
Reg: $185
Save: $101.01

Amazon

Courtesy of Kitchen Aid

Home

Deal: $1568
Reg: $2098
Save: $530

Lowe’s

KitchenAid KV25GOXOB Professional 5 qt. Stand Mixer
The only drawback is you’ll still have to make this years mashed potatoes by hand.

Home

Deal: $199.99
Reg: $349.99
Save: $150

Sears

Craftsman 10” Table Saw with Laser Trac
Just make sure your Obamacare covers amputations before you go all in.

Home

Deal: $249.99
Reg: $349.99
Save: $1,000

Sears

Medal Sports 7ft Ice Hockey Table
Good: 7ft table. Bad: You’ll have to lunge fast to pull your opponents jersey over their head.

Home

Deal: $199.99
Reg: $323.99
Save: $124

Sears

LG Optimus F3 4G
The best deal for bargain LTE.

Mobile

Deal: $89.99
Reg: $179.99
Save: $90
Virgin Mobile, no contract

Best Buy

Courtesy of HTC

HTC One 4g LTE 32GB
The first smartphone to feature stereo speakers.

Mobile

Deal: $29.99
Reg: $199.99
Save: $170
W/ 2 year contract

Best Buy

Apple Ipad 2 with WiFi 16gb
Not the lightest or most powerful iPad, but a solid deal.

Mobile

Deal: $299.99
Reg: $399.99
Save: $100

Best Buy

Microsoft Surface RT 32Gb
A workhorse for business and travel.

Mobile

Deal: $199.99
Reg: $349.99
Save: $150
Keyboard sold separately

Best Buy

Kindle Fire HD
The best tablet you can get for a hundred bucks.

Mobile

Deal: $99.99
Reg: $199.99
Save: $100

Best Buy

Kindle Fire HD 7 16gb
There’s a joke somewhere here about burning books, but you definitely won’t be burning money.

Mobile

Deal: $99.99
Reg: $199.99
Save: $100

Best Buy

Insignia Flex 8” Tablet 8Gb
Best Buy tablet brand has some decent muscle.

Mobile

Deal: $79.99
Reg: $199.99
Save: $120

Best Buy

Samsung Galaxy S4 16 Gig
Big screen, innovative features, bangin’ deal.

Mobile

Deal: $49.99
Reg: $199.99
Save: $150
2-year contract

Staples

Panasonic DMC-G5KK 16megapix Compact System Camera w/ 14-42 lens and 3-inch LCD
No mirrors and many lens options make this point-and-shoot a purse-sized powerhouse.

Photo

Deal: $399.99
Reg: $699.99
Save: $300

Amazon

Photo

Deal: $399.99
Reg: $699.99
Save: $300

Amazon

Canon Vixia HF R400 HD Flash Memory camcorder
Versatile camera can cover Black Friday riots and Christmas morning with equal ease.

Photo

Deal: $129.99
Reg: $269.99
Save: $140

Best Buy

Photo

Deal: $499.99
Reg: $799.99
Save: $300

Best Buy

Courtesy of Nikon

Nikon D7000 w/ af-s Dx Nikkor 18-140mm VR Lens
If you’re ready to grow out of Instagram, this camera will gently guide you into photographic maturity.

Photo

Deal: $699.99
Reg: $1599.99
Save: $900

Best Buy

Stephen Colbert is already getting mad about Hanukkah’s next encroachment on Thanksgiving 75,000 years from now. Image: The Colbert Report

Happy Thanksgivukkah everyone! As you’ve probably heard, Thanksgivukkah is the collision of a secular American holiday, Thanksgiving, with a historical and religious Jewish one, Hanukkah.

This festive overlap is rarer than a planetary alignment, having occured just a couple times in history. And because of some strange calendar properties, this is basically the last Thanksgivukkah that will happen for more than 75,000 years. For humans, that’s an unfathomably long time. And it got us thinking: What can we say scientifically about how the world will look that far in the future?

Will the stars in the sky still be familiar? Will the continents have shifted? Will our cities be drowned below 1,000 feet of sea level rise? Some of these questions are easier to answer than others.

But first, let’s get into just what is causing Thanksgivukkah. This isn’t the first time that a Thanksgiving/Hanukkah holiday alignment has happened historically. Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official national holiday in the U.S. in 1863. And back then, Turkey Day wasn’t confined to falling on the 4th Thursday in November (that rule was instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 to move Christmas shopping a bit earlier). Instead, it appeared on the last Thursday in November.

So in the late 19th century, two Hanukkahs actually fell on Thanksgiving: Thursday, Nov. 29, 1888 was the first day of Hanukkah in that year and Thursday, Nov. 30, 1899 was actually the fourth day of the Jewish festival of lights.

But now, vagaries in the Jewish calendar have conspired to make this year’s Hanukkah the earliest possible Hanukkah for a few centuries. To understand why, we need to think about what exactly it is that various calendars are measuring.

A table of the months of Adar II between 1927 and 1948. Image: Wikimedia

What is a year? It’s the time it takes the Earth to go once around the sun. Ancient people determined that a year had passed by checking to see that the sun had come back to the same position in the sky on a particular day. But that takes 365 and one-quarter days to achieve. A much easier way to note the passing of time is by looking at the phases of the moon. Going from one full moon to the next – a process typically taking about 29 to 30 days – is called a month. This happens roughly 12 times a year, so if you waited for the moon to go from full to new back to full again 12 times, you could be reasonably sure that a year had gone by.

The Jewish calendar is a lunar one and so takes its cues from the moon. The problem is that 12 moon-turns don’t actually quite add up to 365 days (they’re shy by about 11 days) so a lunar calendar will tend to shift just a bit earlier each year. The key dates in this calendar – holidays and such – will start to drift relative to the solar Gregorian calendar used worldwide for civil and administrative purposes. This is what happens to Jewish and Islamic holidays, and it’s why they don’t appear on the same solar-calendar day each year. Hanukkah typically starts mid-December though it can start anywhere from late-November to late-December.

But the ancient Jews figured out a correction to their calendar to get it back on track with the sun. Just like the solar Gregorian calendar has to add a leap day every four years, the Jewish calendar adds a leap month every two or three years1. This extra month comes after the last month of the Jewish year, called Adar, and is creatively called Adar II. (To make things really screwy, when there is an Adar II, it is actually considered the “real” Adar so holidays are scheduled during it and not the first Adar). As long as you add seven leap months every 19 years, the lunar calendar lines up pretty well with the solar one.

But still the alignment isn’t perfect. The leap month fix introduces another problem, where the Jewish year is now just slightly too long, by about 6.2 minutes. Every 231 years, it adds up to an extra day. And that causes the range of dates within which the Jewish holidays can fall to drift very slightly later in the year over very long periods of time. Right now we’re living in a time when this drift has pushed Hanukkah so that the it can start no earlier than Nov. 28, allowing it to just barely overlap with Thanksgiving. Left unchecked, the Jewish holiday drift will continue. Hanukkah will arrive later and later in the year, eventually starting in January, then February, then late spring, then summer, fall, and finally, after more than 75,000 years, will once again have a chance to overlap with Thanksgiving2.

So what will the world look like in the year 77,094, when Thanksgivukkah comes again?

Animation from Dutch, S. I.;The Earth Has a FutureGeosphere; May 2006; doi: 10.1130/GES00012.1

Well, to begin with, the night sky will be quite different. Our planet wobbles around on its axis like a top, with our north pole making a complete circle every 26,000 years. In 75,000 years, the Earth will be pointing toward the star Vega, which will supplant Polaris as the North Star. The sun will also have moved through the galaxy, changing the positions of many stars in the night sky and rendering the constellations unrecognizable. Several hundred bright supernovas will have made appearances in the sky over this period.

On 97,000-year timescales, the Earth’s tilt also shifts, meaning that in the far future it will have changed a few degrees, altering the amount of sunlight each part of the ground receives. Changing the Earth’s axial tilt will likely alter the seasons and could kick our planet back into a global ice age. We are currently sitting pretty after the end of the last glaciation period, but some models suggest that a new one will start in about 50,000 years. Historically, ice ages last an average of 100,000 years. Global warming could delay the coming of this icy era. If humans stop adding new carbon into the atmosphere by 2200, some models suggest the delay could be 5,000 years.

In about 50,000 years, gravitational friction from the moon will have slowed the Earth enough to lengthen the day on Earth by about a second (meaning more calendar headaches to anyone around). By the year 77,094, many asteroids and comets of significant size will have hit Earth. Impacts comparable to the Tunguska event that flattened trees over 2,000 km2 of Siberia in the early 1900s are expected roughly once a millennia, or possibly even more frequently. An object roughly half a kilometer or larger in diameter – probably the minimum size needed to cause a large-scale global catastrophe – should, statistically speaking, hit Earth at least once in the next 100,000 years.

The Earth’s crust will have shifted a little before the next Thanksgivukkah. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is producing new ocean crust at a rate of 2.5 centimeters a year. At that rate, the Atlantic Ocean would be just under two kilometers wider in 70,000 years. The Pacific plate is moving even faster, as much as 9 cm a year near Hawaii. In 75,000 years, Hawaii will have shifted almost 7 kilometers to the northwest.

A 75,000-year period is also a long enough timescale for plenty of animals to have gone extinct, either through natural processes or because of human influence. Remember that 75,000 years ago, Northern Europe was covered in far different fauna, including woolly mammoths, cave lions, tarpans, and other Pleistocene animals. It’s entirely possible that turkeys will have long gone the way of the dodo by the next Thanksgivukkah (alternatively, they could breed into super-turkeys and overrun the globe). It also seems probable that new species will have evolved to occupy the niches left open by extinct creatures, though exactly when new organisms will appear or what they will look like is basically impossible to predict.

But really, in all likelihood, there won’t be Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, America, or Judaism at all. You can nitpick with me here since we have no idea how long any particular religion or country will last and maybe these will stick around much longer than I expect them to. But it’s only been something like 10,000 years since people started to organize themselves into complex societies. That’s 10,000 years for every single empire ever to have risen and fallen, every organized religion to have been born and died, every civilized idea to have come and gone. Are we going to go through that another seven or eight times? Who knows. Maybe the niche exploited by the super-turkeys will be the one left open by us.

If humans don’t survive the changes that Earth will go through in the coming millennia, most of the things we built will also be gone. Over thousands of years, cities will crumble, rivers will overflow and break their dams, and satellites will fall from their orbits. The Arecibo message, beamed to stars 25,000 light-years away, will have reached its destination and, if anyone is there to hear it, could have made its way back to Earth. A few spacecraft, like Voyagers 1 and 2, will still be out there floating. Rock monuments, like Mount Rushmore, would not yet have completely eroded away. One day, there will basically be nothing left to testify that humans were ever here at all.

But, hey, nothing lasts forever.

1In the old days, the priests had a useful check on their calendar with reality by seeing if the first month of the year (called “Aviv” or spring) came when spring started. If Adar, the last month, was ending and spring had not yet come, the priests would just say “Okay. Do over. Adar II, guys,” and get the calendar back in sync.

2This is only sort of true. Hanukkah, like all Jewish holidays, starts when the sun goes down the day before the “first” day of the holiday. So even though Hanukkah will start at the earliest on Nov. 29 in the future, the candles for the first night will be lit on the 28th (when Thanksgiving is also happening) in 2070 and 2165. Perhaps the Thanksgivukkah meme will be dusted off again in those years for nostalgia’s sake. Also, since Jewish law requires that Passover appear in spring, it seems likely that at some point they will fix the calendar to prevent this drift from going too far.

In the past year, Steam has gained almost 30% more members. That’s quite a bit of new people. While some were present for the Steam Summer Sale that occurred just under six months ago, some are completely new to the ideas and ways of Valve’s digital service spectacular. While we will be posting constantly about the Steam Autumn (and Winter) Sales, there are some important things that you should know about each Steam Sale. So here are some tips to help all the newcomers as the next Steam Sales are rumored to show up possibly even tomorrow.

Fill up your Wishlist


One of the easiest ways to make sure you get some excellent deals is to get the games you want to save money on into your wishlist. To get started, just search for a game like you normally would on Steam, then to the right of where you would normally purchase the game should be the option to add it to your wishlist. Now you will be alerted VIA email when one of your games goes on sale. Also, if you have generous friends, they can see what you have in your wishlist and they might just gift the game to you.

Daily Deals, Flash Deals, Community Deals, and Consistent Deals

Steam has three different types of deals that you can take advantage of during any big Steam Sale. While you are almost guaranteed to save money compared to purchasing games while a Steam Sale is not taking place (which DOES happen), you can always save more money if you are patient enough to wait just a few more days (or sometimes even just a few more hours).

Daily Deals happen at about 12pm CST each day of the sale. These deals are the headliners of the Steam Sale. During the last Summer Sale, Valve tossed out Bioshock Infinite for $25 as a daily deal when it had only been out for just a quarter of a year.  Each day, shortly after the new deals are announced, we’ll post with opinions about each game, if it can/has been found cheaper, and if it’s worth your hard-earned coin.

Flash Deals aren’t games that run only on Adobe Flash. So you can breathe easy now. Flash Deals are like Daily Deals just… quicker. Not only are they quicker, but they are usually some of the best deals you can find during the Steam Sales if that game you really wanted wasn’t part of the Daily Deal party. These sales run for hours at a time and usually feature three games/bundles. Sometimes, these deals aren’t perfect. Don’t worry, we will help you. This is where people who really love to make their pennies count show up (including myself). These deals do happen even during the late hours of the night, but don’t worry, we will still have you covered!

Community Deals are the last resort deals that you can find. As it sounds, the community votes on which of three deals to apply. Whichever deal gets the most votes, becomes a special that everyone can enjoy. While every once in awhile these can be good deals, usually they are just filler. Nevertheless, be sure to vote each time as Steam has a habit of rewarding you with things later for voting. We will be here to suggest which items to vote on and which ones to boo at as you stare into your monitor.

Consistent Deals are just deals that stick around for the duration of the Steam Sale. These deals aren’t the best but they are plentiful as any game that has been out for over six months gets a 25%-75% discount. DO NOT buy a game that has been a Consistent Deal unless it is the last day. Many people hop onto Steam on the first day and see that Portal/Portal 2 bundle for $10 and snatch it up only to find out a day later that it has become part of a flash-deal for only $5.

If you miss a Daily Deal or Flash Sale, just wait. The best Daily Deals and Flash Sales show back up on the last day for everyone to get another chance at cheap gaming goodness.

Buying a game you aren’t sure you want

There will be times when you see a game you have been slightly interested in but just don’t want to drop money on, even if it is 75% off. What happens if you buy it and you end up regretting it later? Well, there is a small thing you can do to extend that time of thought while still cashing in on the sale. When purchasing the game, buy it as a gift and toss it into your inventory. While the game is in your inventory you can ponder as to whether or not you want to play it. If you install the game, it’s yours to keep but if you decide not to install it and that you just aren’t interested anymore then you can send it off to someone or maybe use it for trade.

Conclusion

That about sums up everything you need to know about the way of Steam Sale purchasing. Will your bank account deflate some or your wallet feel suddenly lighter after the next few weeks? Of course. But you’ll thank us for it when you realize how much more you saved after these tips are put to use. See you tomorrow where we will be posting the first set of deals for the Steam Autumn Sale which is rumored to run from Nov. 27 through Dec. 3 and then the Steam Winter Sale which is also rumored to run from Dec. 19 til Jan. 2.

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Steam users now have the ability to review the games they play, giving their opinions for others to take into account before they purchase their own copy.  The review program is an augmentation of the Recommendation system – where players were able to suggest games to their friends – but here you write up your own review for the games you have played through the Steam client, and anyone interested can read through them.  Any recommendations you have written in the past will already be converted to the new reviewing system, which you can revisit and edit if you wish.

Steam will not censor the reviews, so both negative and positive assessments will be posted for all to see.  In order to prevent trolling or abuse of the system, others can rate reviews that have been posted either favorably or unfavorably, as well as flag poor reviews as spam if necessary.  In addition to writing your own reviews and reading multiple reviews for a particular game, you will have the option to follow any writers that may be of interest to you.  These reviews will not take the place of the Metacritic scores that are currently representative of a game’s rating in Steam, and at present the user reviews do not have any sort of standardized scoring system that can pool everyone’s opinions into a rating that is easy to access.  However, Valve does plan on putting something like that into effect before the end of the beta.

One particular feature I find pretty cool is that when you read a review by a particular user, it will tell you how many hours they have played.  So ideally the reviews of those that have played the game longer will have more weight behind them than reviews from people that only played for an hour or so.  All in all, this seems like a worthwhile endeavor from Steam to allow more direct interaction within the player community in terms of recommending games to each other.  We should see soon enough whether this type of system will be more useful or beneficial to players than review websites are currently.  Take a look at the FAQ or look through the discussion boards for any more information on the reviewing system.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 with the SES-8 satellite sitting on the launch pad Monday. Photo: SpaceX

The SpaceX launch team isn’t taking a break for Thanksgiving. The Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket was set to lift off on Monday from Cape Canaveral in Florida with the company’s first geostationary satellite payload, but a trifecta of hiccups forced an abort of the launch. And the Federal Aviation Administration says because of busy holiday air travel, they won’t allow another launch attempt until the skies are quiet on Thanksgiving day.

The 224 foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket sat ready on the launch pad, loaded with fuel and the liquid oxygen that serves as the propulsion source for the nine Merlin engines that power the first stage. But around 13 minutes before the scheduled launch, the first of three holds occurred after an issue related to a relief valve within the LOX system. A second hold was the result of a minor electrical issue.

After careful analysis, launch controllers were confident each of the first two issues had been resolved and the countdown continued. But the oxidizer relief valve problem appeared on their screens once again, so Monday’s launch was scrubbed.

“We observed unexpected readings with the first stage liquid oxygen system, so we decided to investigate,” was the short explanation provided by SpaceX in a statement.

Company founder and CEO Elon Musk added on Twitter the team saw “pressure fluctuations” in the first stage oxidizer tank, and they wanted to be “super careful” before proceeding.

Unfortunately, the FAA, which controls the airspace for rockets as well as airplanes, had already determined that launch opportunities on Tuesday and today might interfere with busy holiday airline schedules due to the airspace closure around Cape Canaveral during launch windows. So SpaceX announced the next opportunity to fly their rocket would be at 5:38 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving day. If the launch does occur tomorrow, it will be the first Thanksgiving launch from Cape Canaveral since 1959.

The payload is significant for SpaceX because it’s the first time the company will launch a satellite into geostationary orbit. Earlier Falcon 9 launches delivered payloads into low-earth orbit including the company’s Dragon spacecraft that has made three trips delivering cargo to the ISS, and a Canadian research satellite launched earlier this year.

The SES-8 satellite being prepared for its ride to geostationary orbit. Photo: SpaceX

During the satellite launch on September 30, SpaceX tested the Falcon 9′s second stage rocket by attempting a restart of the engine once payload had been delivered to the proper orbit. This was part of its development of a second stage that could deliver payloads to a geostationary orbit.

The reason for the extra boost is because geostationary satellites must travel much, much further before they are deployed. Unlike most satellites in low-earth orbit that circle around the earth and cover most of the non-polar regions of the planet over the course of several orbits, geostationary satellites live up to their name by staying fixed over a particular location. They’re able to do this thanks to an orbital period of 23 hours and 56 minutes (and 4 seconds), the same time it takes the earth to spin one time. In order to stay in a fixed location (most of them are communication or broadcast satellites) they must reside at much higher altitudes of 22,236 miles compared to around 200-300 miles for many low-earth orbiting satellites. The ISS is at roughly 250 miles with an orbital period of 93 minutes.

But to take advantage of some orbital mechanics, the satellite is actually boosted to a much higher, and very elliptical “transfer” orbit before onboard propulsion delivers it to its final circular orbit. So SpaceX will boost the satellite to more than 49,000 miles at the high point — or apogee — of its transfer orbit (80,000km x 295km).

In order to log the extra frequent flier miles, SpaceX’s second stage will make two burns separated by a long coasting phase. The first will last five minutes and 20 seconds and will be followed by an 18 minute coast. Then the second stage Merlin engine — which is optimized for operating in the vacuum of space — will be restarted with the second burn lasting just one minute.

The SES-8 satellite will park itself over south Asia, China and India and will provide communication and broadcast signals for the region. In an interesting twist, the satellite was built by Orbital Sciences, the Virginia based company that also is competing with SpaceX for payload contracts to the International Space Station. Orbital has been building satellites, as well as launch vehicles for decades.

SpaceX has one more launch on its docket for this year, scheduled for late December. Its third of 12 cargo missions to the ISS is planned for early 2014. After Orbital’s successful demonstration and docking to the ISS back on September 30, the company is planning its first contracted cargo delivery for next month.

Dustin Trammell. Photo courtesy of Dustin Trammell

Israeli academics Dorit Ron and Adi Shamir thought they may have uncovered an intriguing link between the anonymous creator of the bitcoin digital currency and the illicit online drug marketplace the Silk Road. But it turns out the idea was bunk.

This past weekend, the two researchers published an article describing what they thought might be a transaction between Bitcoin’s founder — who is known only by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto — and the founder of The Silk Road, which was shutdown by the feds earlier this year. But now an Austin, Texas man has come forward to claim ownership of the bitcoin account they thought was Nakamoto’s.

It’s an object lesson in the perils of jumping to conclusions in the world of bitcoin, which has suddenly become a rather popular digital money and payment system. This world is a paradoxical place that is both transparent and very murky.

Here’s how things went wrong. The researchers spotted a bitcoin address that had made a March 2013 transfer to another address known to belong to Dread Pirate Roberts — the creator of the Silk Road, who federal authorities have identified as a man named Ross Ulbricht. And by examining the blockchain — the public ledger of all bitcoin transactions — the researchers then linked that address to an account that was active within a week of Bitcoin’s creation, back in 2009.

Because this account was active so early on, it might have belonged to Nakamoto, the researchers speculated. “The short path we found…suggests (but does not prove) the existence of a surprising link between the two mysterious figures of the bitcoin community,” wrote Ron and Shamir, both of the Weizmann Institute of Science, in their paper. The idea was quickly picked up by media around the world.

On Tuesday, however, a Texas security researcher named Dustin Trammell came forward to thoroughly debunk the theory. The early account was his. Soon after Nakamoto announced the project on cryptography mailing lists, Trammel started mining bitcoins — i.e. helping to operate the worldwide software system that drives bitcoin in exchange for some of the digital money.

The Israeli researchers had linked this account — via several steps — to an address that sent money to the Dread Pirate, and this address, it turns out, was controlled by a Japanese bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox. Trammel used the address to sell 1,000 bitcoins (worth $60,000 at the time; $1 million today) on the exchange. But anyone could have subsequently bought those bitcoins on the Mt. Gox exchange and then moved them to the Dread Pirate Roberts’ address.

“I hope this puts to rest any further speculation regarding whether or not I am Satoshi Nakamoto and whether or not I have had any involvement with the Silk Road,” Trammell wrote on his blog. “I am not and have not.”

Dustin Trammell is a noted security researcher with a love of cryptography and a penchant for all the color green, says Dragos Ruiu, the organizer of the CanSec West security conference, where Trammell has spoken in the past. Ruiu doesn’t believe that he’s Satoshi Nakamoto.

That the early bitcoin address belonged to Trammell and not Satoshi Nakamoto was already a matter of public record, Trammell said in his blog post. “I am a security researcher and fan of cryptography as well as a Libertarian and a fan of alternative currencies. Being both of these, Bitcoin hit my radar almost immediately when Satoshi posted his original white paper about Bitcoin on October 31 2008,” he wrote.

Reached via email, Trammell declined to comment further on the matter.

Meanwhile, the researchers have retracted their claims after reading Trammel’s post. “We find this post completely believable, and thus we no longer believe that the very early Founder account we identified in the full bitcoin transaction graph belongs to Satoshi Nakamoto,” Adi Shamir said in an email message. “We will revise our paper accordingly.”