Why flights actually take longer now than 50 years ago

We like to think that long distance travel times are getting shorter as modern technology enables planes to travel faster. But via Andrea James I came cross this fascinating video explanation put together by someone who looked at old flight schedules from fifty years ago and found that travel times are actually longer now than they were back then. Why is this? Part of the reason is that the increased congestion in the air and at airports means that there is longer time spent waiting for clearance and taxiing on the runways than was the case before.
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LUCA’s origins pushed back further in time

I wrote a month ago about the finding of 45 specimens of fossils of deuterostomes that date back to 540 millions years ago, the earliest from the Cambrian period. These form part of the fascinating search for LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor that we all share, even though the search might never actually yield it because when we go back far enough, the ‘tree of life’ that could point to a unique organism could become a ‘web of life’ where such an entity ceases to be identifiable.
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Handle is an impressive robot

According to the information on the YouTube website that had the video below, this impressive robot was made by Boston Dynamics:

Handle is a research robot that stands 6.5 ft tall, travels at 9 mph and jumps 4 feet vertically. It uses electric power to operate both electric and hydraulic actuators, with a range of about 15 miles on one battery charge. Handle uses many of the same dynamics, balance and mobile manipulation principles found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only about 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex. Wheels are efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs Handle can have the best of both worlds.

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The great scientist you never heard of

The myth that Columbus proved that the world was round is not something that I encountered in my education in Sri Lanka. It seems to be a largely American creation, likely for all the reasons that cartomancer and jkrideau list. My first experience with hearing it was when one of the undergraduates in my class casually inserted it as an element in the argument he was making about something else, if it was the most obvious thing in the world. I stepped in to question him and was astounded in the ensuing discussion to find that quite a few members of the class believed the same thing. They said that they had learned it in elementary school.
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Measuring the circumference of the Earth, over 2000 years ago

One of the things that really annoy me is when some people say that it was Columbus who proved that the world was round. Not only did the peoples of the Mediterranean region know that it was round nearly two thousand years before that, one of them Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c. 276 BCE – c. 195/194 BCE) did a remarkably accurate job of calculating the circumference of the Earth.
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Film review: Arrival (2016)

I just watched this critically acclaimed film and have to admit that I was highly disappointed. The central plot line is something that really appealed to me, as to how the world might react if spaceships were to suddenly arrive on Earth. What would the extra-terrestrials look like? What might their intentions be towards us? How could we communicate to find out? What science and technology do they have that enables them to overcome the massive barriers to interplanetary, let alone interstellar, travel that we face? This is a topic that is a staple of science-fiction writers, in classics like Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.
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If it tastes good, it is good

A couple of recent posts on tea (see here and here) generated lively discussions about the many myths surrounding how to make a good cup of tea. I have also in the past mentioned that there are a lot of similar myths surrounding wine, compounded in that case by an order of magnitude greater level of pretentious vocabulary surrounding the topic. One thing I have noticed is that people who fancy themselves as connoisseurs of tea or wine or anything else refuse to be swayed by studies that suggest that the fine distinctions they claim to detect have no objective basis. Persuading them otherwise seems to be harder than persuading religious believers that there is no god.
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A quick primer on the basic forces in physics

There was an interesting question posed by Marcus Ranum about the nature of the WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) that are being looked for as the constituents of dark matter, and which are proving to be so elusive. He wondered why their presence could not be detected via gravity since it was to explain the gravitational effects of galaxies that they were postulated in the first place. I thought the question merited a quick primer for those interested in understanding it in a little more depth.
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Dark matter continues to be elusive

A month ago, I had a post about how the search for dark matter was proving to be frustrating with one negative result after another, prompting increased speculation that an alternative theory might be necessary. The hope had been that experiments using more sensitive detectors might prove successful. But the LUX (Large Underground Xenon) experiment in a deep underground mine in South Dakota failed to find evidence of dark matter in the form of WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles), the theoretically favored dark matter candidate. The abstract of the paper published on January 11, 2017 in Physical Review Letters says:
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