Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Half-billion-year-old creature discovered - 520 million years old newfound species, Helicocystis moroccoensis -

Half-billion-year-old creature discovered - 520 million years old newfound species, Helicocystis moroccoensis - 

A fossilized, cigar-shaped creature that lived about 520 million years ago has been unearthed in Morocco.
The newfound species, Helicocystis moroccoensis, has "characteristics that place it as the most primitive echinoderm that has fivefold symmetry," said study co-author Andrew Smith, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, referring to the group of animals that includes starfish and sea urchins. Modern echinoderms typically have five-point symmetry, such as the five arms of the starfish or the sand dollar's distinctive pattern.
The primitive sea creature, described June 25 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, could even change its body shape from slender to stumpy. Researchers say it is a transitional animal that could help explain how early echinoderms evolved their unique body plans, Smith said. [Photos of Newfound Species & Other Cambrian Creatures]
Cambrian explosion
In 2012, Smith and his colleagues were excavating in sediments dating to about 520 million years ago in the Anti-Atlas Mountains in Morocco, when they uncovered several specimens of the strange fossil.
The creature lived on the ancient supercontinent called Gondwana during the Cambrian Explosion, a period when all creatures inhabited the seas and life on the planet diversified dramatically.
One of the oldest known echinoderms, Helicoplacus first unearthed in the White Mountains in California had a spiral but asymmetrical body plan. And all modern echinoderms start off as larvae with bilateral symmetry, raising the question of how and when the creatures' distinctive five-point body plan originated.
New creatures
H. moroccoensis, named after the country where it was found, had a cylindrical body that extended up to 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) long. The echinoderm's mouth was on the top of its body, and it sported a cup made of checkered plates with a small stem at its base. It had a latticelike skeleton made of calcite.
"It's a cigar-shaped beast, and it was able to expand and contract that cigar shape," Smith told LiveScience. "Sometimes it could be short and fat, and sometimes it could be long and thin."
The tiny sea creatures changed shape using a spiraling arrangement of five ambulacra, or grooves coming from the mouth that opened and closed to capture bits of food floating in the water.
The newly discovered species is the oldest known echinoderm with five ambulacra, and could shed light on how echinoderms evolved their unique body plans, Smith said.
H. moroccoensis was also found in sediments containing several other bizarre echinoderms, many of which had wacky body plans, ranging from completely asymmetrical to bilaterally symmetrical. That wide variety suggests the creatures were going through a period of dramatic diversification around that time period, Smith said.
"The important thing about the whole fauna is that there is already, by this time, a remarkable diversity in body form," Smith said. "And yet this is only 10 [million] to 15 million years after the calcite skeleton evolved."

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A new iPhone app called "Heard" (as in "I heard you) - records all audio all the time -

A new iPhone app called "Heard" (as in "I heard you) - records all audio all the time - 

A new iPhone app called Heard (as in "I heard you), is taking audio recording to a new level and raising some eyebrows in the process.

The app automatically records everything within earshot of the iPhone's microphone and keeps it in the device's memory for five minutes. If the user wants to keep the audio, it can be saved, or it will automatically be erased.

Tech expert Shelly Palmer says he doesn't think it's a good app.

The heard app was available for downloading this week, but an Apple representative told us it is offline because of technical issues, though there is high demand for it and it will be available again soon.

The app's creator explained to Fox 5 why a person needs it when the iPhone already has recording options.

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Three new super-Earths that could support life, relatively nearby -

Three new super-Earths that could support life, relatively nearby - 

A team of astronomers has announced that a star in the (relatively) nearby Scorpion constellation hosts a system of six planets -- three of which are super-Earths sitting in the habitable zone where liquid water, and therefore life, could exist.

The discovery sets a new record: astronomers have never before found three planets like this all in the habitable zone of the same system. Super-Earths are planets with more mass than our Earth but less than a planet like Uranus or Neptune.

According to the announcement, this star, Gliese 667c, is very well studied -- three planets had already been discovered orbiting it, one of which sits in the habitable zone. 

But the new discovery occurred after a team led by researchers in Germany and the U.K. re-examined the star using data from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile; the Magellan II telescope, also in Chile; the Keck telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii; and other pre-existing research.

"Instead of looking at ten stars to look for a single potentially habitable planet, we now know we can look at just one star and find several of them,” said co-author Rory Barnes of the University of Washington in a statement. In theory, that means there could be a higher number of habitable planets in the solar system.

Gliese 667c is a third of the mass of our sun and sits 22 light years away in a triple star system -- so anyone sitting on one of the newly-discovered planets and looking up would see a regular sun and two very bright stars that, at night, would provide as much light as a full moon, according to the announcement.

The discovery of the new planets means the system is so chock-full it could not support the orbit of another planet.

The research will appear in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.


25% Of Chicago Workforce Called In Late, Sick Following Blackhawks' Victory... -

25% Of Chicago Workforce Called In Late, Sick Following Blackhawks' Victory... - 

The Blackhawks were the talk of Chicago on Tuesday, but all that celebrating might not be good for business.

CBS 2′s Mai Martinez takes a look at how the big win means a big loss in productivity.

For companies like the Sports Authority, the win is certainly good business.

However, if hawking Blackhawks gear is not your business, Monday night’s championship win might be bad for your bottom line.

Monday night’s celebrations in Chicago gave way to a wave of sick calls, late starts and half days.

“I got in about 2 a.m.,” said Bill Baran. “Don’t tell my boss.”

He didn’t call in, but others did.

How many?

It’s too early to tell, but estimates are in.

John Challenger, the CEO Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said: “In Chicago, 25 percent of the workforce is coming in late.”

Challenger says that means big losses for companies.

“We see millions of dollars in productivity losses.”

Challenger says national post-Super Bowl numbers are a good gauge.

“Up to $242 million in lost productivity for every 10 minutes of unproductive work time,” he said.


The Trigger Has Been Pulled And The Slaughter Of The Bonds Has Begun -

The Trigger Has Been Pulled And The Slaughter Of The Bonds Has Begun - 

What does it look like when a 30 year bull market ends abruptly?  What happens when bond yields start doing things that they haven’t done in 50 years?  If your answer to those questions involves the word “slaughter”, you are probably on the right track.  Right now, bonds are being absolutely slaughtered, and this is only just the beginning.  Over the last several years, reckless bond buying by the Federal Reserve has forced yields down to absolutely ridiculous levels.  For example, it simply is not rational to lend the U.S. government money at less than 3 percent when the real rate of inflation is somewhere up around 8 to 10 percent.  But when he originally announced the quantitative easing program, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that he intended to force interest rates to go down, and lots of bond investors made a lot of money riding the bubble that Bernanke created.  But now that Bernanke has indicated that the bond buying will be coming to an end, investors are going into panic mode and the bond bubble is starting to burst.  One hedge fund executive toldCNBC that the “feeling you are getting out there is that people are selling first and asking questions later”.  And the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries just keeps going up.  Today it closed at 2.59 percent, and many believe that it is going to go much higher unless the Fed intervenes.  If the Fed does not intervene and allows the bubble that it has created to burst, we are going to see unprecedented carnage.

Markets tend to fall faster than they rise.  And now that Bernanke has triggered a sell-off in bonds, things are moving much faster than just about anyone anticipated…

Wall Street never thought it would be this bad.

Over the last two months, and particularly over the last two weeks, investors have been exiting their bond investments with unexpected ferocity, moves that continued through Monday.

A bond sell-off has been anticipated for years, given the long run of popularity that corporate and government bonds have enjoyed. But most strategists expected that investors would slowly transfer out of bonds, allowing interest rates to slowly drift up.

Instead, since the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, recently suggested that the strength of the economic recovery might allow the Fed to slow down its bond-buying program, waves of selling have convulsed the markets.

In particular, junk bonds are getting absolutely hammered.  Money is flowing out of high risk corporate debt at an astounding pace…

The SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond exchange-traded fund has declined 5 percent over the past month, though it rose in Tuesday trading. The fund has seen $2.7 billion in outflows year to date, according to IndexUniverse.

Another popular junk ETF, the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond, has seen nearly $2 billion in outflows this year and is off 3.4 percent over the past five days alone.

Investors pulled $333 million from high-yield funds last week, according to Lipper.

While correlating to the general trend in fixed income, the slowdown in the junk bond business bodes especially troubling signs for investment banks, which have relied on the debt markets for fully one-third of their business this year, the highest percentage in 10 years.

The chart posted below comes from the Federal Reserve, and it “represents the effective yield of the BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield Master II Index, which tracks the performance of US dollar denominated below investment grade rated corporate debt publically issued in the US domestic market.”  In other words, it is a measure of the yield on junk bonds.  As you can see, the yield on junk bonds sank to ridiculous lows in May, but since then it has been absolutely skyrocketing…

Junk Bonds

So why should the average American care about this?

Well, if the era of “cheap money” is over and businesses have to pay more to borrow, that is going to cause economic activity to slow down.

There won’t be as many jobs, part-time workers will get less hours, and raises will become more infrequent.

Those are just some of the reasons why you should care about this stuff.

Municipal bonds are being absolutely crushed right now too.  You see, when yields on U.S. government debt rise, they also rise on state and local government debt.

In fact, things have been so bad that hundreds of millions of dollars of municipal bond sales have been postponed in recent days…

With yields on the U.S. municipal bond market rising, local issuers on Monday postponed another six bond sales, totaling $331 million, that were originally scheduled to price later this week.

Since mid-June, on the prospect that the Federal Reserve could change course on its easy monetary policy as the economy improves, the municipal bond market has seen a total of $2.6 billion in sales either canceled or delayed.

If borrowing costs for state and local governments rise, they won’t be able to spend as much money, they won’t be able to hire as many workers, they will need to find more revenue (tax increases), and more of them will go bankrupt.

And what we are witnessing right now is just the beginning.  Things are going to get MUCH worse.  The following is what Robert Wenzel recently had to say about the municipal bond market…

Thus, there is only one direction for rates: UP, with muni bonds leading the decline, given that the financial structures of many municipalities are teetering. There is absolutely no good reason to be in municipal bonds now. And muni ETFs will be a worse place to be, given this is relatively HOT money that will try to get out of the exit door all at once.

But, as I wrote about yesterday, the worst part of the slaughter is going to be when the 441 trillion dollar interest rate derivatives time bomb starts exploding.  If bond yields continue to soar, eventually it will take down some very large financial institutions.  The following is from a recent article by Bill Holter…

Please understand how many of these interest rate derivatives work.  When the rates go against you, “margin” must be posted.  By “margin” I mean collateral.  Collateral must be shifted from the losing institution to the one on the winning side.  When the loser “runs out” of collateral…that is when you get a situation similar to MF Global or Lehman Bros., they are forced to shut down and the vultures then come in and pick the bones clean…normally.  Now it is no longer “normal,” now a Lehman Bros will take the whole tent down.

Most people have no idea how vulnerable our financial system is.  It is a house of cards of risk, debt and leverage.  Wall Street has become the largest casino in the history of the planet, and the wheels could come off literally at any time.

And it certainly does not help that a whole host of cyclical trends appear to be working against us.  Posted below is an extended excerpt from a recent article by Taki Tsaklanos and GE Christenson…


Charles Nenner Research (source)

Stocks should peak in mid-2013 and fall until about 2020.  Similarly, bonds should peak in the summer of 2013 and fall thereafter for 20 years.  He bases his conclusions entirely on cycle research.  He expects the Dow to fall to around 5,000 by 2018 – 2020.

Kress Cycles by Clif Droke (source)

The major 120 year cycle plus all minor cycles trend down into late 2014.  The stock market should decline hard into late 2014.

Elliott Wave Cycles by Robert Prechter (source)

He believes that the stock market has peaked and has entered a generational bear-market.  He anticipates a crash low in the market around 2016 – 2017.

Market Energy Wave (source)

He sees a 36 year cycle in stock markets that is peaking in mid-2013 and down 2013 – 2016.  “… the controlling energy wave is scheduled to flip back to negative on July 19 of this year.”  Equity markets should drop 25 – 50%.

Armstrong Economics (source)

His economic confidence model projects a peak in confidence in August 2013, a bottom in September 2014, and another peak in October 2015.  The decline into January 2020 should be severe.  He expects a world-wide crash and contraction in economies from 2015 – 2020.

Cycles per Charles Hugh Smith (source)

He discusses four long-term cycles that bottom roughly in the 2010 – 2020 period.  They are:  Credit expansion/contraction cycle;  Price inflation/wage cycle; Generational cycle;  and Peak oil extraction cycle.

Harry Dent – Demographics (source)

Stock prices should drop, on average for the balance of this decade.  Demographic cycles in the United States (and elsewhere) indicate a contraction in real terms for most of this decade.


I was stunned when I originally read through that list.

Is it just a coincidence that so many researchers have come to such a similar conclusion?

The central banks of the world could attempt to “kick the can down the road” by buying up lots and lots of bonds, but it does not appear that is going to happen.

The Federal Reserve may not listen to the American people, but there is one institution that the Fed listens to very carefully - the Bank for International Settlements.  It is the central bank of central banks, and today 58 global central banks belong to the BIS.  Every two months, the central bankers of the world (including Bernanke) gather in Basel, Switzerland for a “Global Economy Meeting”.  At those meetings, decisions are made which affect every man, woman and child on the planet.

And the BIS has just come out with its annual report.  In that annual report, the BIS says that central banks “cannot do more without compounding the risks they have already created”, and that central banks should “encourage needed adjustments” in the financial markets.  In other words, the BIS is saying that it is time to end the bond buying…

The Basel-based BIS – known as the central bank of central banks – said in its annual report that using current monetary policy employed in the euro zone, the U.K., Japan and the U.S. will not bring about much-needed labor and product market reforms and is a recipe for failure.

“Central banks cannot do more without compounding the risks they have already created,” it said in its latest annual report released on Sunday. “[They must] encourage needed adjustments rather than retard them with near-zero interest rates and purchases of ever-larger quantities of government securities.”

So expect central banks to start scaling back their intervention in the marketplace.

Yes, this is probably going to cause interest rates to rise dramatically and cause all sorts of chaos as the bubble that they created implodes.

It could even potentially cause a worse financial crisis than we saw back in 2008.

If that happens, the central banks of the world can swoop in and try to save us with their bond buying once again.

Isn’t our system wonderful?


How About Meat-Scrap Ice Cream with Animal Waste? - “Animal protein hydrolysates” -

How About Meat-Scrap Ice Cream with Animal Waste? - “Animal protein hydrolysates” -  

If you have a “sweet tooth” or are under the age of 15, an ice cream shop can seem like heaven on earth—coolers filled with tubs of the cold, smooth, sweet stuff, in countless different flavors and colors. Sometimes ice cream makers reach a little too far in their flavor creations, and recent developments in meat processing could push that envelope way too far, in using animal meat waste as an ice cream ingredient.

Up to 50% of animal tissues, bones, and the like are “wasted” in the meat processing industry. These proteins are usually composted or burned because there simply isn’t anything else that can be done with them. Until now. Researchers have been looking for ways to minimize this waste and are in the process of developing protein-rich powders and products that can be reintroduced into the food marketplace.

“Animal protein hydrolysates” are liquid or powdered protein blends that can be added to supplements and food to boost their protein and nutritional content. As of now, developers see this waste-slurry as being a gold mine for the protein supplement industry and for people who are in need of supplemental nutrition due to illness or disease.

Several companies are in on the product development. After all, if 50% of animal weight is currently wasted, this could prove to be a cash-cow if it can be exploited.

The technology for the project is being tested by a Belgian food company, called PROLIVER. It is hoping to enhance the nutritional quality of its protein hydrolysates, already sold in dietary, health and sports food supplements. A project partner, Mobitek-M of Russia, specializes in the production of protein-enriched processed foods. They are spearheading the effort to get the meat-waste slurry added to ice cream. A plant has already been built that will transform the waste into useable protein at a rate of one hundred tons per day when at capacity.

We are admittedly a world of excess consumption and waste. Bucking this wasteful attitude is just one of the reported advantages of using the blood, bones, tendons, and other animal parts. But, for the processed food industry, the availability of cheap protein that can be labeled “natural” and not synthetic is also alluring. If scientists can show that these protein-powders and liquids can be absorbed more quickly or better than regular protein sources, they can be marketed as beneficial dietary supplements on a global scale. And it’s not a stretch of the imagination to foresee wealthy companies and governments feeding the hungry in poorer countries this meat-trash soup and patting themselves on the backs for it.
While it isn’t in circulation yet, it’s only a matter of time. And one has to wonder if we’ll be made aware of the presence of these meat-leftovers in our foods or if our next venture into a new ice cream flavor will have us ignorant to the tendons, fat, and organs that made it possible.


Baby Wipes Clogging Sewer Systems In Smaller MN Towns -

Baby Wipes Clogging Sewer Systems In Smaller MN Towns - 

Cleaning wipes for babies are becoming increasingly popular, and some are even labeled “flushable.”

But for a number of small communities in Minnesota, so many wipes are getting flushed that they are clogging up local sewer systems.

In the tiny town of Avon, Utilities Superintendent Jon Forsell checks the sewer pumps every day. The reading on this day is good. Many times, Forsell has had to open up the sewer cover, bring in a crane and pull away wipes that are clogging pumps. Forsell said the wipes are difficult to extract.

“When these are wet and wound around something they are incredibly strong. You cannot tear them with your hands,” Forsell said.

A representative for Kimberly Clarke said it manufactures both flushable and non-flushable wipes, and that their flushable wipes are safe to flush.

But Bob Brand, the director of external communications for Kimberly Clarke, went onto say consumers need to read labels of the wipes they buy to see if they really can be flushed down the toilet.

The City of Avon has sent out a flyer to all residents telling them not to flush any of their wipes. Officials said replacing one of their sewage pumps costs $16,000. The city administrator said especially for small communities, the stakes are high.

“If you have ongoing unexpected expenses, it blows the budget for a small community,” Jim Thares said.

Forsell’s advice is simple.

“The only product that should be going down the toilet is toilet paper,” he said.

The City of Avon said if left unchecked, the wipe problem could get so bad it could shut down their entire sewer system.


Orders for Paula Deen cookbook surge - by nearly 1,300% in the last 24 hours -

Orders for Paula Deen cookbook surge - by nearly 1,300% in the last 24 hours - 

Advance orders for Paula Deen’s new cookbook have surged since the Food Network and Smithfield Foods axed her for using a racial slur.
Orders for “Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up” surged on Amazon by nearly 1,300% in the last 24 hours.
The cookbook was ranked 115th on Tuesday, compared to a ranking of 1,592nd on Monday
“Paula Deen’s New Testament” is not available until October. Deen’s agent did not immediately return a message from CNNMoney about the book sales.
Scripps Networks Interactive’s Food Network announced June 21 that it would not renew Deen’s contract after reports emerged that she admitted, during a court deposition in May, using racial slurs.
“Yes, of course,” said Deen, when asked by a lawyer if she had ever used the “N word.”
Deen’s television contract expires at the end of June.
Pork producer and former Deen sponsor Smithfield Foods cut its ties on Monday.

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