Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An Alarming Historical Period

Humans nearly wiped out 70,000 years ago, study says

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Human beings may have had a brush with extinction 70,000 years ago, an extensive genetic study suggests.

Geneticist Spencer Wells, here meeting an African village elder, says the study tells "truly an epic drama."

The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis released Thursday.

The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated that the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age.

"This study illustrates the extraordinary power of genetics to reveal insights into some of the key events in our species' history," said Spencer Wells, National Geographic Society explorer in residence.

"Tiny bands of early humans, forced apart by harsh environmental conditions, coming back from the brink to reunite and populate the world. Truly an epic drama, written in our DNA."

Wells is director of the Genographic Project, launched in 2005 to study anthropology using genetics. The report was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Studies using mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down through mothers, have traced modern humans to a single "mitochondrial Eve," who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago.

The migrations of humans out of Africa to populate the rest of the world appear to have begun about 60,000 years ago, but little has been known about humans between Eve and that dispersal.

The new study looks at the mitochondrial DNA of the Khoi and San people in South Africa, who appear to have diverged from other people between 90,000 and 150,000 years ago.

The researchers led by Doron Behar of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, and Saharon Rosset of IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, and Tel Aviv University concluded that humans separated into small populations before the Stone Age, when they came back together and began to increase in numbers and spread to other areas.

Eastern Africa experienced a series of severe droughts between 135,000 and 90,000 years ago, and researchers said this climatological shift may have contributed to the population changes, dividing into small, isolated groups that developed independently.

Paleontologist Meave Leakey, a Genographic adviser, asked, "Who would have thought that as recently as 70,000 years ago, extremes of climate had reduced our population to such small numbers that we were on the very edge of extinction?"

Today, more than 6.6 billion people inhabit the globe, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The research was funded by the National Geographic Society, IBM, the Waitt Family Foundation, the Seaver Family Foundation, Family Tree DNA and Arizona Research Labs.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Um, is posting to a blog considered "publishing"?!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Back from Vacation

Well, my wife and I are back from our vacation in Hawaii. It was nothing short of awesome. Right now, we're slowly wrestling with how to get life back on track. We also have a great need to tackle the nearly 1000 pictures/videos we took, creating an appropriate file system for the digital copies, making scrapbooks, and posting blog entries on the whole thing -- all while re-learning how to be parents and getting the household chores done that so desperately need to be done.

The lawn really needs to be mowed, the garden really needs to be harvested, turned over, and re-planted; the laundry really needs to be finished, and all the men in the house really need haircuts. This needs to be done tomorrow while at the same time getting one child to a birthday party, and my wife to a shin-dig at her work to which she's committed. On top of that, I'm now two weeks late digitizing a scrapbook for a friend I promised to tackle.

Sunday will be a nightmare of church meetings for me, Monday I have to go to Monrovia for a work meeting, Tuesday I've got to work late. And in less than two weeks I fly to Germany for a conference. All this must be done when really all we want to do is hang out with the kids, whom we missed so very much. We're in for interesting times ...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pre-Vacation To Do List

My wife and I are big-time into lists. We both usually have so much stuff going on in our heads that we have to write things down in order to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. We also tend to be very organized and prepared for upcoming events. To that end, I dedicate this blog entry to our "to do" list prior to our departure for Hawaii next week.

Mow lawn (done this morning)
Finish our oldest son's pine wood derby car (to be finished today)
Spray weed killer on weeds around the house (done)
Change out the camera batteries for fresh ones
Clear the memory cards for the camera
Turn the household water off (to be done right before we leave)
Lower the thermostat (ditto)
Lower the water heater temperature (ditto)
Return a tree we decided we don't want so it doesn't die while we're gone (done)
Get an estimate on the van for repairs incurred during an accident in January (done)
Stop the delivery of the newspaper while we're gone (done)
Stop the delivery of the mail while we're gone (done)
Gather the household keys for those who will be watching the kids
Get our updated wills signed
Look up where church is in Hawaii (done)
Print out the maps of our primary destinations
Get TV converter boxes due to (delayed until after the trip as the deadline isn't until June)
Set the VCR to record the few television shows we watch while we're gone
Clean up the backyard, putting away the tools (done) and the toys (not done)
Buy tickets for some of the major entertainment destinations for our trip (done)
Clean out the van (done)
Clean out the refrigerator
Find any phone cards we have laying around the house (done)
Do the laundry
Fertilize the lawn (done)
Adjust the sprinklers since it's getting hot

This is it. Clearly, it doesn't include packing, for both us and the kids, and I'm sure we'll think of more things to do before we go. Nevertheless, so far this list seems pretty stable.

Three days and counting!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Getting Ready for a Vacation

My wife and I are going to Hawaii on vacation. We're leaving the kids with some very good friends (whom we will owe big-time) and escaping parental duties for some well-delayed frolicking-on-the-beach time. The last time we took a vacation without the kids was in August of 2003.

My wife is our own travel agent, finding the good deals, planning the agendas, and making all the arrangements for airplane tickets (that's been fun lately, let me tell you, with airlines declaring bankruptcy and flights canceled due to hardware concerns), hotel stays, rental cars, and tickets for various excursions. We're spending about four days on Oahu doing all the touristy stuff and an additional 4 days on Maui doing the not-so-touristy stuff.

My wife, not so surprisingly, is growing more frantic by the day as the time between now and our departure contracts. Her list of things to do is slowly getting shorter, but the list of things to pack is growing at about the same pace. We're taking so much stuff, that I think we'll probably have to check the water heater on our flights rather than taking it carry-on.

The funny thing is that she believes that my life is a veritable party -- that I'm sitting back watching her make all the preparations, biding my time and just waiting for the credit card bill to show up. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My life at work is a nightmare. I'm writing this blog entry in a self-imposed moratorium from work because I needed some sanity time. At work, we're frantically trying to get ready for the arrival of the next lander, called Phoenix, at Mars. It arrives on May 25th (a Sunday on a holiday weekend -- darn those navigators!). Before that time, we've got tests to run on our spacecraft (the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter), tests to run on the ground system, training exercises to finish, paperwork to finalize, agreements to finish, procedures to practice, and members of management to reassure. It ain't exactly a picnic.

So, this vacation is putting a big gore in the amount of time I have available to take care of things. To make matters worse, I'm committed to go to a conference in Germany two weeks after I get back from Hawaii. Looking at the calendar, this means that between now and the time of landing (not including today), I have 13 working days. Wow. I'm in trouble.

So, yes, as far as my wife can see, I'm just waving the credit card around and saying, "It'll all work out ..." And I have no doubt that our vacation will work out just fine -- and I know that because my wife is on the task -- everything she touches turns out just fine.

Now, whether or not the lander will crater on Mars, on the other hand, is an entirely different story ...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I Got A Bite!

So my other blog, my highly experimental and under-maintained family history blog, isn't exactly a big hit. I don't spend much time at it (okay, hardly none), but I have high hopes for it. I usually get one visitor a day -- usually some internet stumbler who mis-typed a keyword in their search engine and had a finger spasm on their mouse.

Nevertheless, a few weeks ago, I actually had a bite! Somebody emailed me and told me that they are related to me and that they really enjoyed the family history they had read. Wow! So, after a quick investigation, I found out that the person is my third half-cousin once removed (he is my great, great grandfather's first wife's great grandson). He's probably the same age as my father, which means he may or may not be very internet savvy, but if he was looking for family histories, maybe he has some to share, as well? Time will tell -- the dialog has begun ...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


My daughter was playing Endless Ocean on the Wii the other day. There's a part of the game where you encounter a dolphin, which you can name and "train." She named hers "Emma." It pleased me greatly that she actually came up with a name on her own for the dolphin. You see, my daughter never names things. When she does, she typically just calls them by what they are; a stuffed animal cat, for example, is simply named "Cat", a dog is simply called "Dog", etc.

One other thing she's been doing lately is reading -- a lot. Yesterday, she literally read for over two hours. It was astonishing! She's suddenly discovered a whole world of literature and her ability to absorb it on her own, without adult intervention, has become a great joy to her. The other day she actually uttered the long-awaited phrase, "I like to read!" My wife and I were ecstatic.

One thing that ties these two items together is that my daughter reads the scriptures at night before going to bed. Not strictly the scriptures, actually, but illustrated books that tell scriptural stories. She is currently reading one about the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which contains stories about the Doctrine and Covenants and early church experiences. Of course, in these stories are many about the prophet Joseph Smith, and some about his wife, Emma. Yes, that's where she got her dolphin's name. I was pleased by that, too. It's a good name, from a good woman.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Day In (Very) Brief Review

Slept in - really!
My wife went garage saling - bought a big kid bike for my daughter
Fed the kids
Watched 1st session of general conference - solemn assembly - witnessed my family sustaining the new prophet
Kids did well
Afterwards, my wife took my daughter to a makeup gymnastics class
Fed the boys
Picked peas
Put my youngest down for a nap
My wife and daughter came home - daughter played Wii - endless ocean
Next session
Tougher to focus
Folded laundry and shelled peas
Afterwards, mowed the lawn and sprayed weed killer
Afterwards, my wife left to go shopping
Kids played endless ocean for 15 minutes
Kids went down street to play, returned early since other kids couldn't play
Played Paper Mario on Wii to console my youngest who was sad to be left behind
Got ready to go to priesthood session
Forgot about signs I was supposed to make to put on church windows about conference tomorrow - rushed to put them together
Left and made it during opening song

Notes from conference:

Elder Cook - Quorum of the 12 - Santa Ana winds and brave firefighters compared to personal danger - usually less spectacular, heed the words of the prophets, Willie Handcart rescue story, Naaman, word of wisdom, Elder Monson prepared from youth to be prophet - youngest to be called as apostle in last 98 years, great testimony

David Burton - Presiding Bishop - humanitarian briefing, wow statistics, the things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone but the things you do for yourself are your legacy

Dean Burgess - 1st Counselor in Young Men's Presidency - do you know who you are? You are the son of reid burgess, ammon's service and proclamation that he was a servant of god, do you know you are a son of god?, pray and know that you are a child of god, do you know who you are in god's plan?, honor and respect the names you bear, do you know who you are as a member of christ's church?, you are part of a quorum, honor your priesthood

John Madsen - Quorum of the 70 - pres hinckley was once a deacon, read from biography, learned then that JS was a prophet, statue of 5 deacons, silly boys are more than that but have divine potential to be great - they are a chosen generation, remember Jesus at 12, when tempted by satan he was protected by his absolute obedience to his father

President Uchtdorf - 2nd Counselor in 1st Presidency - told of his experience as he was called as 2nd counselor, story of pilots subject to nav error that crashed and killed everyone, a small error had tragic consequences, similar to our lives where small errors can lead to great misery, story of Saul, great telling of his story of him offering sacrifice erroneously and losing his divine promises, small error online can have bad consequences, don't put computer in private room, we can be forgiven no matter how far off course we are

President Eyring - 1st Counselor in 1st Presidency - have confidence that we can fulfill oath and covenant of the priesthood, challenge seems daunting, but we should have confidence by simply trying and god promises us power and success if we have faith, god has foreknowledge about us and the fact we even have the priesthood suggests he already knows we can wield it well, god promises forgiveness as we use the priesthood to share the gospel and bless others, our wives are immortal and eternal gifts given us as companions and help meets for eternity, pres of u.s. called to thank pres hinckley for all good priesthood holders who helped after a hurricane - their effectiveness is not mostly attributable to our organization, but rather because of the good men who were keeping the oath and covenant of the priesthood, study the word of god to bring back the lost sheep

President Monson - President of the Church - we've been placed on earth in troubled times, we can make a difference in the name of god, strengthened by the truth, we are entitled to the lord's help if we are on the lord's errand, are we clean and qualified to wield the priesthood at all times?, deceit wears the mask of tolerance, be not deceived, every one of us has been foreordained to accomplish a good purpose, wiggled his ears! Very funny, kids will imitate us - we should do nothing we don't want our chidren to do, no young man in the church should be without the influence of good priesthood holders, Jesus Christ is the ultimate example, He turned His back to the sophistries of Satan and turned His face to the tasks of His Father, moving story of cancern stricken missionary

Went home and helped put the kids to bed
Watched Stargate with the wife
Had some nice quiet time
Stayed up too late thinking about Hawaii trip
Had trouble sleeping

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ah hah! I knew there was a reason I was still alive

Research debunks health value of guzzling water

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The notion that guzzling glasses of water to flood yourself with good health is all wet, researchers said on Wednesday.

Dr. Stanley Goldfarb and Dr. Dan Negoianu of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia reviewed the scientific literature on the health effects of drinking lots of water.

People in hot, dry climates and athletes have an increased need for water, and people with certain diseases do better with increased fluid intake, they found. But for average healthy people, more water does not seem to mean better health, they said.

Their scientific review, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, is the latest to undercut the recommendations advanced by some experts to drink eight glasses of 8 ounces (225 ml) of water a day.

Dr. Heinz Valtin of Dartmouth Medical School in 2002 also put those recommendations to the test, finding them to be more urban myth than medical dogma and lacking in scientific basis.

Goldfarb and Negoianu examined what Goldfarb called "four major myths" regarding claims of a benefit for extra water drinking: that it leads to more toxin excretion, improves skin tone, makes one less hungry and reduces headache frequency.

"Our bottom line was that there was no real good science -- or much science at all -- behind these claims, that they represent probably folklore," Goldfarb said.

As far as facilitating toxin excretion, Goldfarb said that was not verified by any sort of scientific study.

"The kidneys clear toxins. This is what the kidneys do. They do it very effectively. And they do it independently of how much water you take in. When you take in a lot of water, all you do is put out more urine but not more toxins in the urine," Goldfarb said.

No studies showed any benefit to skin tone as a result of increased water intake, they found. They also found evidence lacking that drinking water wards off headaches.

As far as lots of water serving to limit appetite, he said there was no consistent evidence, adding it was "a little unclear exactly whether that was true."

"What no one looked at is whether anyone really loses weight over the long haul if they go under this regimen of drinking lots of water," Goldfarb said. "We just expressed uncertainty in that area."

While it may not help a person to drink lots of water, it may not harm them much either, Goldfarb said.

"If someone enjoys it, I say that's wonderful, keep doing it. They're not doing anything that's going to hurt them."

"A little mild dehydration for the most part is OK, and a little mild water excess for the most part is OK. It's the extremes that one needs to avoid," he said.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Peter Cooney)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Very Funny

5th-grader finds mistake at Smithsonian

ALLEGAN, Mich. - Is fifth-grader Kenton Stufflebeam smarter than the Smithsonian? The 11-year-old boy, who lives in Allegan but attends Alamo Elementary School near Kalamazoo, went with his family during winter break to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

Since it opened in 1981, millions of people have paraded past the museum's Tower of Time, a display involving prehistoric time. Not one visitor had reported anything amiss with the exhibit until Kenton noticed that a notation, in bold lettering, identified the Precambrian as an era.

Kenton knew that was wrong. His fifth-grade teacher, John Chapman, had nearly made the same mistake in a classroom earth-science lesson before catching himself.

"I knew Mr. Chapman wouldn't tell all these students" bad information, the boy told the Kalamazoo Gazette for a story published Wednesday.

So Kevin Stufflebeam took his son to the museum's information desk to report Kenton's concern on a comment form. Last week, the boy received a letter from the museum acknowledging that his observation was "spot on."

"The Precambrian is a dimensionless unit of time, which embraces all the time between the origin of Earth and the beginning of the Cambrian Period of geologic time," the letter says.

The solution to the problem would not involve advanced science but rather simply painting over the word "era," the note says.

"We did forward a copy of the comment and our paleobiology department's response to the head of the exhibits department," said Lorraine Ramsdell, educational technician for the museum.

While no previous visitors to the museum had brought up the error, it has long rankled the paleobiology department's staff, who noticed it even before the Tower of Time was erected 27 years ago, she said.

"The question is, why was it put up with that on it in the first place?" Ramsdell said.

Excited as he was to receive the correspondence from museum officials, he couldn't help but point out that it was addressed to Kenton Slufflebeam.

In Allegany.


** gasp ** ** wheeze ** Too ... much ... to do ...

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