The soldier who removed his own bladder stone, and other medical history marvels


This post is by Jennifer Ouellette from Ars Technica


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A patient receiving dental treatment, circa 1892. There were several cases of "exploding teeth" in the 19th century that remain unexplained to this day.

Enlarge / A patient receiving dental treatment, circa 1892. There were several cases of “exploding teeth” in the 19th century that remain unexplained to this day. (credit: Oxford Science Archive/Getty Images)

While researching his 2017 book on the history of heart surgery, medical journalist Thomas Morris perused hundreds of journals from the 19th century. One day, a headline on the page opposite the one he was reading caught his eye: “sudden protrusion of the whole of the intestines into the scrotum.” It was a bizarre case from the 1820s, involving a laborer run over by a brick-laden cart. The resulting hernia forced his intestines into his scrotum, and yet the laborer made a full recovery.

Once he got over his initial amused revulsion, Morris was struck by the sheer ingenuity displayed by doctors in treating the man’s condition. And he found plenty of other similar bizarre cases as he

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Shipwreck on Nile vindicates Greek historian’s account after 2500 years


This post is by Jennifer Ouellette from Ars Technica


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The hull of so-called "Ship 17," a wreck discovered in the sunken port city of Thonis-Heracleion.

Enlarge / The hull of so-called “Ship 17,” a wreck discovered in the sunken port city of Thonis-Heracleion. (credit: Christoph Gerigk/Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)

Nearly 2500 years ago, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus described an unusual type of river boat he saw along the Nile while visiting Egypt. Many archaeologists doubted his account, because there wasn’t any evidence it ever existed.  But Herodotus is getting some posthumous revenge. The discovery of just such a ship has vindicated his account. The details appear in a new published monograph, Ship 17: a Baris from Thonis-Heracleion, by archaeologist and shipwreck specialist Alexander Belov.

Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian, often called the “father of history” because his nine-volume work, Histories, essentially founded the field. Around 450 BCE, he traveled to Egypt and wrote about seeing construction of a type of cargo boat called a baris. The passage is a fragment, just

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US computer science grads outperforming those in other key nations


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


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A chocolate cake is decorated by the plastic figurine of a celebratory graduate, complete with diploma and mortarboard.

Enlarge (credit: David Goehring / Flickr)

There’s a steady flow of reports regarding the failures of the US education system. Read the right things and you’ll come away convinced that early grades fail to teach basic skills, later grades fail to prepare students for college, and colleges students fail so much that they can’t cope with the world outside the campus walls. But this week brought a bit of good news for one particular area: college-level computer science programs appear to be graduating some very competitive students.

This comes despite the fact that US students enter colleges behind their peers in other countries.

The work, done by an international team of researchers, compares US college seniors to those of three countries where US companies have outsourced some of their work: China, India, and Russia. All of these countries have a reputation for first-rate computing talent, with India and China

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Those Midwestern floods are expected to get much, much worse


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HAMBURG, IOWA - MARCH 20:  Homes and businesses are surrounded by floodwater on March 20, 2019 in Hamburg, Iowa.

Enlarge / HAMBURG, IOWA – MARCH 20: Homes and businesses are surrounded by floodwater on March 20, 2019 in Hamburg, Iowa. (credit: Scott Olson | Getty Images)

The record-setting floods deluging the Midwest are about to get a lot worse. Fueled by rapidly melting snowpack and a forecast of more rainstorms in the next few weeks, federal officials warn that 200 million people in 25 states face a risk through May. Floodwaters coursing through Nebraska have already forced tens of thousands of people to flee and have caused $1.3 billion in damage.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its spring flood outlook Thursday, predicting that two-thirds of the country is at risk of “major to moderate flooding,” from Fargo, North Dakota on the Red River of the North down to Nashville, Tennessee, on the Cumberland River. The floods from the past two weeks have compromised 200 miles of

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Building megasocieties didn’t require divine intervention, study says


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Studying a societal chicken and egg situation?

Studying a societal chicken and egg situation?

A new study in Nature claims that big, complex societies arose before people started believing in major gods or powers that enforced social rules. That’s a new twist in the debate over whether such “moralizing” religions were a prerequisite for social expansion.

A common theme in most of the world’s major religions today is that some supernatural power will enforce a set of rules that do two things: proscribe how people worship and dictate how they relate to each other. This can be enforced via an omnipotent god or a mechanism like karma.

People have believed in, and worshipped, supernatural powers for a very long time, but the gods they worshipped haven’t always done both these things. Many early ones didn’t always care whether humans played nicely with each other as long as the gods got their prescribed due. If any supernatural entity

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To rival Amazon, UPS enters healthcare—with doorstep nurse delivery


This post is by Beth Mole from Ars Technica


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A United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) logo is displayed on the door of a truck

Enlarge / A United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) logo is displayed on the door of a truck (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

UPS is crossing the threshold into healthcare, with plans for a new service that will deliver vaccine-toting nurses to customers’ doorsteps.

A test for the new service is scheduled for later this year, but UPS didn’t name where it will take place or which vaccine it will offer, only saying that it would be an immunization for adults against a viral illness. Vaccine-maker Merck & Co is reportedly considering partnering with UPS on the service.

News of the plan was first reported by Reuters. Ars confirmed the report with UPS, but a UPS spokesperson specifically working on the project did not immediately get back to us. This post will be updated with any additional information we receive.

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You can help “rescue” weather data from the 1860s


This post is by Scott K. Johnson from Ars Technica


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The wreck of the Royal Charter in 1859 led to systematic weather observations in the UK—but researchers need help reading them all.

Enlarge / The wreck of the Royal Charter in 1859 led to systematic weather observations in the UK—but researchers need help reading them all. (credit: Wikimedia)

“Weather Rescue” sounds like it could be a Baywatch-style TV show about the adventures of an emergency response team. But the Weather Rescue project led by University of Reading researcher Ed Hawkins is actually focused on data that need rescuing.

The UK Met Office has an incredible trove of historical weather data in its archives that is trapped on paper. While it’s safe there, scientists need it in digital form in order to do anything interesting with it. The collection goes all the way back to 1860 and includes the first weather forecasts coordinated by Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy—the same Robert FitzRoy who captained the HMS Beagle on Charles Darwin’s historic trip.

After a storm sunk 200 ships off the coast of Wales (including

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Earth is (always has been) round, so why have the flat-out wrong become so lively?


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For posterity’s sake, here’s Ars’ recent look at reality vs. belief about the shape of the Earth. Click for a full transcript.

Until the 17th century, the Fens—a broad, flat swath of marshland in eastern England—were home only to game-hunters and fishermen. Eventually, though, their value as potential agricultural land became too enticing to ignore, and the Earl of Bedford, along with a number of “gentlemen adventurers,” signed contracts with Charles I to drain the area, beginning in the 1630s. A series of drainage channels were cut, criss-crossing the wetlands of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. The plan was a qualified success; a vast area was now farmable, though wind-powered pumps were needed to keep the water at bay.

The most notable feature of the Fens is their pancake-like topography. It’s said that if you climb the tower of Ely Cathedral on a clear day, you can make out the silhouette of

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Rocket Report: SpaceX scraps costly tooling, Vandenberg lull, Starliner slip


This post is by Eric Berger from Ars Technica


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The Rocket Report is published weekly.

Enlarge / The Rocket Report is published weekly. (credit: Arianespace)

Welcome to Edition 1.41 of the Rocket Report! This week we definitely have an international flavor, with news about spaceflight efforts from Brazil, Italy, Japan, the UAE, and the United States. There also is a fun story about hypersonic launch completing some initial tests with evidently promising returns.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Brazilian spaceport wins key US agreement. Brazil’s decades-long effort to launch satellites from its underused Alcântara Launch Center could finally be bearing fruit, Parabolic Arc reports. On Monday, Brazil and the

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Vice President may tell NASA to accelerate lunar landings


This post is by Eric Berger from Ars Technica


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Vice President Mike Pence, center in Mission Control Houston, will oversee all space decisions made by the Trump administration.

Enlarge / Vice President Mike Pence, center in Mission Control Houston, will oversee all space decisions made by the Trump administration. (credit: NASA)

One of the panelists who will appear at a National Space Council meeting next Tuesday said to expect “a few fireworks” during the discussion, which will focus on NASA’s efforts to return humans to the Moon. The meeting of this council that oversees US spaceflight policy will be held in Hunstville, Ala., and led by Vice President Mike Pence.

University of Colorado Boulder astrophysicist Jack Burns, one of six speakers scheduled for the meeting, said the current timeline for NASA to send humans to the Moon lacks urgency. NASA has talked about landing its astronauts on the Moon before the end of the 2020s, and the president’s budget proposal for the coming fiscal year allows for this to happen as early as 2028.

“The timeline

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Why “chickenpox parties” are a terrible idea—in case it’s not obvious


This post is by Beth Mole from Ars Technica


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 A child with chicken pox.

Enlarge / A child with chicken pox. (credit: Getty Images | Dave Thompson)

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin made headlines Tuesday after revealing in a radio interview that he had purposefully exposed his nine unvaccinated children to chickenpox, drawing swift condemnation from health experts.

In case anyone needs a refresher on why you shouldn’t deprive children of safe, potentially lifesaving vaccines or purposefully expose them to serious, potentially life-threatening infections, here’s a quick rundown.

Chickenpox is nothing to mess with

Though most children who get the itchy, highly contagious viral disease go on to recover after a week or so of misery, chickenpox can cause severe complications and even death in some. Complications include nasty skin infections, pneumonia, brain inflammation, hemorrhaging, blood stream infections, and dehydration.

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Half the species in a new Cambrian fossil site are completely new to us


This post is by John Timmer from Ars Technica


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Very highly detailed impression of a segmented, many legged organism.

Enlarge / The level of detail in some of the fossils is astonishing. (credit: Dongjing Fu et. al.)

The first signs of complex animal life begin in the Ediacaran Period, which started more than 600 million years ago. But it’s difficult to understand how those organisms relate to the life we see around us today. Part of this issue is that those fossils are rare, as many rocks of that period appear to have been wiped off the Earth by a globe-spanning glaciation. But another problem is that the organisms we do see from this period aren’t clearly related to anything that came after them.

With the arrival of the Cambrian Period about 550 million years ago, all of that changed. In fossil beds like the famed Burgess Shale, we can see organisms that clearly have features of the major groups of life that have persisted to this day.

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US nuclear is dying, but it produced more electricity in 2018 than ever before


This post is by Megan Geuss from Ars Technica


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US nuclear is dying, but it produced more electricity in 2018 than ever before

(credit: Photograph by tva.com)

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the US nuclear fleet produced more electrical energy than ever before in 2018. Last year, it produced 807.1 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, barely beating its 2010 peak of 807TWh. But the US nuclear industry has been in a well-documented decline. So what gives?

(credit: Energy Information Administration)

The EIA says the explanation comes from a combination of scheduling serendipity and what’s called “uprating,” where older nuclear plants are permitted to output more power. In a post this morning, the administration wrote that we shouldn’t expect this much nuclear power output from the industry again—at least not in the near future.

Since the last peak in 2010, more than 5 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity has been retired. Some of that was offset by a new reactor addition: another 1.2GW of capacity came online in

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Scientists think they’ve solved one mystery of Easter Island’s statues


This post is by Jennifer Ouellette from Ars Technica


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Moai statues in a row, Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile.

Enlarge / Moai statues in a row, Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile. (credit: De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images)

Chile’s Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is famous for its giant monumental statues, called moai, built by early inhabitants some 800 years ago. The islanders likely chose the statues’ locations based on the availability of fresh water sources, according to a recent paper in PLOS One.

Scholars have puzzled over the moai on Easter Island for decades, pondering their cultural significance, as well as how a Stone Age culture managed to carve and transport statues weighing as much as 92 tons. They were typically mounted on platforms called ahu. According to co-author Carl Lipo, an anthropologist at Binghamton University, you can have ahu (platforms) without moai (statues) and moai without ahu, usually along the roads leading to ahu; they were likely being transported and never got to their destination.

Back

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Starship tests in South Texas will be broadcast, but temper your expectations


This post is by Eric Berger from Ars Technica


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Artist's conception of 21st-century rocket ship.

Enlarge / The Starship test vehicle, currently under assembly in South Texas, may look similar to this illustration when finished. (credit: Elon Musk/Twitter)

What a world we live in. As SpaceX gears up to begin preliminary testing of its Starship vehicle along the South Texas coast, nearby South Padre Island has set up a camera to broadcast the proceedings. More than 2,700 people were watching as of 11:30am ET Thursday.

It’s a clever tourism marketing ploy for the island but also great for spaceflight fans to get unprecedented views of real-time testing.

With that said, it’s worth tempering expectations at least for the next few weeks. For now, SpaceX has attached a single Raptor engine to the test vehicle—which is nicknamed Starhopper because it was designed to make “hop” tests to varying altitudes to test Starship’s landing capabilities. Eventually Starhopper will have three engines on the vehicle.

Read 4

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The Air Force will soon take bids for mid-2020s launches. It’s controversial


This post is by Eric Berger from Ars Technica


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A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy lifts the NROL-71 payload on Jan. 19, 2019.

Enlarge / A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy lifts the NROL-71 payload on Jan. 19, 2019. (credit: United Launch Alliance)

Within the next 10 days, the US Air Force may issue an opportunity for rocket companies to bid on contracts for about 25 launches between 2022 and 2026. Although a “request for proposals” may not sound all that provocative, this particular government solicitation is filled with intrigue—and will have major implications for all of the big US rocket companies.

At present, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX launch rockets for the Air Force, lofting powerful spy cameras, communication satellites and other sensitive payloads into various orbits for the government. In recent years, the military has sought to modernize its contractor base for the coming decade, encouraging new launch competitors and new ideas. This forthcoming solicitation for launch contracts in the mid-2020s, however, may effectively end that effort.

It was

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Judge orders government to redo climate analysis on Wyoming oil leases


This post is by Megan Geuss from Ars Technica


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A natural gas facility stands on the Pinedale Anticline on May 3, 2018 in Pinedale, Wyoming. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

Enlarge / A natural gas facility stands on the Pinedale Anticline on May 3, 2018 in Pinedale, Wyoming. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

On Tuesday, a federal judge wrote that the Department of the Interior must complete a thorough climate change analysis when considering leasing public land for oil and gas extraction.

The opinion included an order to halt all new oil and gas leases on more than 300,000 acres of publicly managed land in Wyoming until the DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can complete a proper review.

The case was initially brought in 2016 in the US District Court for the District of Columbia against former President Barack Obama’s DOI. The plaintiffs, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility, argued that the DOI made oil and gas lease sales in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming without taking into account the

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About a third of medical vaccine exemptions in San Diego came from one doctor


This post is by Beth Mole from Ars Technica


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A nurse prepares to administer the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine as well as a vaccine used to help prevent the diseases of diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and polio at Children's Primary Care Clinic in Minneapolis, MN.

Enlarge / A nurse prepares to administer the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine as well as a vaccine used to help prevent the diseases of diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and polio at Children’s Primary Care Clinic in Minneapolis, MN. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

A single San Diego doctor wrote nearly a third of the area’s medical vaccination exemptions since 2015, according to an investigation by the local nonprofit news organization Voice of San Diego.

The revelation follows growing concern that anti-vaccine parents are flocking to doctors willing to write dubious medical exemptions to circumvent the state’s vaccination requirements. Since California banned exemptions based on personal beliefs in 2015, medical exemptions have tripled in the state. The rise has led some areas to have vaccination rates below the levels necessary to curb the spread of vaccine-preventable illnesses. Moreover, it signals a worrying trend for other states working to

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Physicists “flip the D” in tokamak, get unexpectedly good result


This post is by Chris Lee from Ars Technica


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Image of a room with metallic tiles and a large central pillar.

Enlarge / “Small” isn’t necessarily all that small when it comes to tokamaks like the DIII-D. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In the world of fusion physics, two letters say it all: ‘L’ and ‘H’. All the cool kids play with the H-mode, which is hot and fiery and is our best prospect for achieving useable fusion energy. The L-mode, which is neither hot nor fiery, has been largely abandoned. But by changing the shape of the L-mode, researchers have been able to get unexpectedly high pressures. High enough for fusion? Maybe.

To understand what all that means, we need a quick refresher on what a tokamak is.

We’ve covered fusion physics before, but in short, a tokamak reactor uses a series of twisted magnetic fields to confine a fluid of charged particles (called a plasma) in a donut shape. The temperature and pressure of the plasma is the key

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Feasts near Stonehenge drew people from the far corners of Britain


This post is by Kiona N. Smith from Ars Technica


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Prehistoric stone circle in the English countryside.

Enlarge / Feasts at nearby Durrington Walls drew attendees from all over Britain. (credit: Stefan Kühn / Wikimedia)

The remnants of prehistoric monuments still dot the modern British landscape. Around 4,500 years ago, people gathered at these sites or in nearby communities for annual winter feasts where the main delicacy on the menu was pork. Chemical analysis of the pig bones left behind after feasts at four major henge sites in southern Britain reveals a surprisingly far-flung network of Neolithic travel.

This little piggy went to Stonehenge…

Mount Pleasant Henge is a stone circle about 70km (44 miles) southwest of Stonehenge, near the coast of the English Channel. West Kennet Palisaded Enclosures is a set of circular ditches and palisades near the famous stone circle at Avebury, about 39km (24 miles) north of Stonehenge, while Marden Henge, between Avebury and Stonehenge, is a 14-hectare site surrounded by ditches and

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