Scientists Say The Asteroid That Killed The Dinosaurs Almost Wiped Us Out Too

HughPickens.com writes: Conventional wisdom states that mammalian diversity emerged from the ashes of the Cretaceous/Tertiary mass extinction event, ultimately giving rise to our own humble species. But Joshua A. Krisch writes at This Week that the asteroid that decimated the dinosaurs also wiped out roughly 93 percent of all mammalian species. “Because mammals did so well after the extinction, we have tended to assume that it didn’t hit them as hard,” says Nick Longrich. “However our analysis shows that the mammals were hit harder than most groups of animals, such as lizards, turtles, crocodilians, but they proved to be far more adaptable in the aftermath.” Mammals survived, multiplied, and ultimately gave rise to human beings.

So what was the great secret that our possum-like ancestors knew that dinosaurs did not? One answer is that early mammals were small enough to survive on insects and dying plants, while large dinosaurs and reptiles required a vast diet of leafy greens and healthy prey that simply weren’t available in the lean years, post-impact. So brontosauruses starved to death while prehistoric possums filled their far smaller and less discerning bellies. “Even if large herbivorous dinosaurs had managed to survive the initial meteor strike, they would have had nothing to eat,” says Russ Graham, “because most of the earth’s above-ground plant material had been destroyed.” Other studies have suggested that mammals survived by burrowing underground or living near the water, where they would have been somewhat shielded from the intense heatwaves, post-impact. Studies also suggest that mammals may have been better spread-out around the globe, and so had the freedom to recover independently and evolve with greater diversity. “After this extinction event, there was an explosion of diversity, and it was driven by having different evolutionary experiments going on simultaneously in different locations,” Longrich says. “This may have helped drive the recovery. With so many different species evolving in different directions in different parts of the world, evolution was more likely to stumble across new evolutionary paths.”

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Amazon Makes It Almost Impossible To Calculate Their “Virtual CPU” Equivalent

dkatana writes: AWS started out defining its virtual CPUs as being composed of EC2 compute units, or ECUs, which it defined as an equivalent to a physical Xeon processor. However, a virtual CPU now looks suspiciously variable… A virtual CPU is whatever Amazon wants to offer in an instance series. The user has no firm measure to go by. From the article:

[B]y doing a little math, you could actually compare what you were getting in virtual CPUs in EC2 versus Azure. Also by doing a little math, you knew how to compare one Amazon instance to another based on the ECU count in each virtual CPU. Microsoft didn’t look too bad in the comparison.

That is one of the casualties of the nomenclature change.

I have searched for updated information on how a virtual CPU is measured and found nothing comparable to the definition of the 2012 ECU measure. I have questioned Amazon representatives three times between Oct. 27 and Dec. 21, and don’t have much of an answer.”

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PHP 7.0 Nearing Release, Performance Almost As Good As HHVM

An anonymous reader writes: PHP 7.0 RC2 was released on Friday. In addition to the new language features, PHP 7.0 is advertised as having twice the performance of PHP 5. Benchmarks of PHP 7.0 RC2 show that these performance claims are indeed accurate, and just not for popular PHP programs like WordPress. In tests done by Phoronix, the PHP performance was 2~2.5x faster all while consuming less memory than PHP 5.3~5.6. Facebook’s HHVM implementation meanwhile still held a small performance lead, though it was consuming much more memory. PHP 7.0 is scheduled to be released in November.

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First Almost Fully-Formed Human Brain Grown In Lab

Though not conscious the miniature brain, which resembles that of a five-week-old fetus, could potentially be useful for scientists who want to study the progression of developmental diseases. It could also be used to test drugs for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, since the regions they affect are in place during an early stage of brain development.
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Breathing Beijing’s Air Is the Equivalent of Smoking Almost 40 Cigarettes a Day

iONiUM writes: The Economist has a story about how bad the air quality is in Beijing. Due to public outcry the Chinese government has created almost 1,000 air quality monitoring stations, and the findings aren’t good. They report: “Pollution is sky-high everywhere in China. Some 83% of Chinese are exposed to air that, in America, would be deemed by the Environmental Protection Agency either to be unhealthy or unhealthy for sensitive groups. Almost half the population of China experiences levels of PM2.5 that are above America’s highest threshold. That is even worse than the satellite data had suggested. Berkeley Earth’s scientific director, Richard Muller, says breathing Beijing’s air is the equivalent of smoking almost 40 cigarettes a day and calculates that air pollution causes 1.6m deaths a year in China, or 17% of the total. A previous estimate, based on a study of pollution in the Huai river basin (which lies between the Yellow and Yangzi rivers), put the toll at 1.2m deaths a year—still high.”

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