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►  There’s a Corner of the Web Just for Final Texts

Question: “You never came. Why?“ Answer: “Because I don’t love you anymore.“ That’s just one example of the heartbreaking and heartbreakingly awkward posts shared on the latest Tumblr craze: The Last Message Received, reports Mashable. Curated by 15-year-old Emily Trunko, the Tumblr serves as a way for people to share final texts sent from exes, former besties, and love ones who’ve passed away. Emily, who also runs a Tumblr where people post anonymous letters, says the Last Message blossomed out of her fascination “with glimpses into the lives of other people,“ per Buzzfeed. “I thought that the last message sent before a breakup or before someone passed away would be really poignant.“ She was right.

One user posts the last words from her grandmother, who she says died hours later during heart surgery: “Don’t worry. I’ll be OK. Love you more,“ per Hello Giggles. A text from a 22-year-old who was later hit by a drunk driver reads: “I’m not gonna drive drunk. I promise. I’ll talk to you later, love.“ The Last Message isn’t entirely depressing, though. People also use it as a place to vent. After sharing a last text from his or her apparently less-than-admirable father, one user writes, “You aren’t a father. You are a poor excuse for a man and a human being.“ Emily says the Tumblr has inspired her to communicate with others differently. “Every message I send to them could be the last one I ever exchange, and every message I receive could be the last one I receive,“ she says. Submit your own last message here.


►  New Postal Service: Emails About Your Mail

The US Postal Service has started emailing people about their mail. Under a pilot program called “Informed Delivery,“ the USPS is emailing people photographs of the front side of their mail every morning before it’s delivered, reports Quartz. The free service will send up to 10 black-and-white photos of mail per day. People who get more than that will be able to check their mail online in the same place they track their packages, according to the USPS fact page, which notes that the service will help people see their mail—or at least the exterior of it—even when they’re traveling.

The USPS has been photographing every letter and package sent in the US for tracking and security reasons since at least 2013. The email service, which was launched in seven Virginia zip codes beginning in 2014, was introduced to the New York City metro area last month, reports Quartz. Direct Marketing News reports that the Virginia test “boded well for paper mail’s digital future,“ with a much higher rate of response to direct-mail appeals. This may be because it helped bypass the person—or “mail CEO”—that tends to deal with the mail in the average household before other members have a chance to see it, DM News notes.


►  After 4 Tries, ‘Santa on His Way’ to Space Station

A US shipment of much-needed groceries and other astronaut supplies rocketed toward the International Space Station for the first time in months on Sunday, reigniting NASA’s commercial delivery service. If the Orbital ATK capsule arrives at the space station Wednesday as planned, it will represent the first US delivery since spring. “Santa is on his way!“ tweeted Tory Bruno, president of rocket maker United Launch Alliance. To NASA’s relief, the weather cooperated after three days of high wind and cloudy skies that kept the Atlas V rocket firmly on the ground. Everything came together on the fourth launch attempt, allowing the unmanned Atlas to blast off with 7,400 pounds of space station cargo, not to mention some Christmas presents for the awaiting crew.

The space station astronauts—two of them, including commander Scott Kelly, deep into a one-year mission—have gone without US shipments since April. Two private companies contracted for more than $3.5 billion by NASA to replenish the 250-mile-high lab are stuck on Earth with grounded rockets. Orbital ATK bought the United Launch Alliance’s rocket, the veteran Atlas V, for this supply mission. Orbital’s previous grocery run, its fourth, ended in a fiery explosion seconds after liftoff in October 2014. SpaceX, the other supplier, suffered a launch failure in June on its eighth trip. Russia also lost a supply ship earlier this year. But it picked up the slack and has another resupply mission scheduled just before Christmas; Japan has chipped in as well. NASA normally likes to have a six-month stash of food aboard the space station, but it’s down to a couple of months because of the three failed flights.


►  Finally, a Clear View of ‘Flying Boat’ Sunk at Pearl Harbor

New images of a large US Navy seaplane that sank in Hawaii waters during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor show a coral-encrusted engine and reef fish swimming in and out of a hull. The video and photos are the clearest images taken of the Catalina PBY-5 wreckage to date, says Hans Van Tilburg, a maritime archaeologist with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. The seaplane had a wing span of 100 feet, about comparable to a modern-era Boeing 727 commercial jet. It now sits in pieces 30 feet below the surface in Kaneohe Bay next to a Marine Corps base, about 20 miles east of Pearl Harbor on the other side of Oahu. There were an estimated six of these planes—also called “flying boats”—in the bay at the time of the attack, but Van Tilburg says nobody is sure what happened to the others.

The base, which was then a naval air station, was among several Oahu military installations attacked by Japanese planes on the morning of December 07, 1941. Van Tilburg says a mooring cable is still attached to the plane, but there are signs someone started the port engine before the plane sank. This indicates a crew may have died while attempting to take off as the aerial assault began. The Catalina PBY-5 could hold an eight-man crew, and four 500-pound bombs. Standard practice was to keep someone on the seaplanes at night to make sure the aircraft didn’t drift off. There were aviator casualties in the water, but it’s not known which planes they were on or when they got off, Van Tilburg says. “That’s one of the mysteries of the story,“ he says.


►  A Sophomoric Prank Lurks on the Periodic Table

There’s nothing funny about plutonium. After all, it’s the stuff that makes nuclear weapons go boom. Nonetheless, the man credited with discovering the element named for the dwarf planet Pluto did manage to use the occasion to sneak a little levity onto the periodic table of elements, National Geographic reports. Rather than choosing the obvious abbreviation of “Pl” for plutonium, Berkeley chemist Glenn Seaborg “suggested Pu, like the words a child would exclaim, ‘Pee-yoo!‘ when smelling something bad,“ according to an account in Los Alamos Science. Seaborg and his team discovered plutonium between 1940 and 1941, per Live Science, but the discovery was kept under wraps until WWII ended. Once it did, however, Seaborg submitted the name, which a naming committee inexplicably accepted “without a word,“ wrote two colleagues.

Scientists have a reputation for being stuffy. But, as “Pu” demonstrates, the quest for knowledge and the search for laughs are not mutually exclusive. Two more cases:

  • On April 01, 1976, per the Guardian, British astronomer Patrick Moore told television audiences that a “unique astronomical event” would occur at 9:47am. The Earth’s gravity would be momentarily reduced, and anyone who jumped at that moment would experience a floating sensation. Plenty of people reportedly bought the April Fool’s Day gag.
  • Famed physicist Richard Feynman, while working to develop the atomic bomb at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1940s, once discovered the combination to a colleague’s filing cabinets, per Real Clear Science. He left notes in the filing cabinet, resulting in his colleague fearing that the secrets of the atomic bomb had been compromised.

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►  Yearbook Photos Show Our Smiles Have Changed

“These days we take for granted that we should smile when our picture is being taken.“ So write University of California Berkeley researchers, who note that photographers used to tell their subjects to say “prunes” instead of “cheese.“ That’s because it was more fashionable to keep the mouth small in photos 100 years ago. But the so-called “smile intensity metric” has indeed gone up in the decades since, a fact they established after analyzing 37,921 high school yearbook photos dating back to 1905, creating average male and female images, and watching lip curvature change over time, reports Engadget. After computing changes in lip curvature, they found a “rapid increase in the popularity and intensity of smiles in portraiture from the 1900s to the 1950s.“

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At Smithsonian, Marissa Fessenden isn’t particularly surprised by the findings, pointing out that early photography required subjects to hold a pose during what was a long exposure period, and holding a serious expression was easier than holding a smile. What is perhaps surprising is that the researchers found that women “significantly and consistently” smile more than their male counterparts, which gels with previous research that identified larger smiles among women in posed photos. The Sydney Morning Herald points out that, per the study, men registered a -0.5-degree lip curvature in 1905, meaning they were actually slightly frowning. The researchers next hope to use their visual historical dataset to study things like the actual “cycle-length of fashion fads.“


►  Weighty Find: 5 Most Incredible Discoveries of the Week

An intriguing genetic discovery and a study that’s not kind to Deepak Chopra make the list:

  • Your Father’s Sperm Might Be Making You Fat: Having trouble maintaining your ideal weight? Blame your dad’s sperm. That may sound odd, but a study in Cell Metabolism found that a man’s weight—not just his genes—at the time of conception can predispose his children to obesity. Even guys who had weight-loss surgery showed telltale genetic signs of it.
  • Scientists Finally Know Why Snakes Have No Legs: A 90 million-year-old skull and advanced CT scan technology may have solved one of science’s oldest mysteries. It’s been long theorized that snakes lost their limbs when they evolved to live in the sea, but researchers now think the reason is all about making them better hunters on land. A major clue turned up in a modern reptile’s inner ear.
  • One of Our Favorite Fruits Looks Doomed: If you like bananas, it’s time to start savoring them while you still can. A deadly fungus that’s been killing the plant since the 1960s has jumped continents, moving from where it ravaged crops for decades in Southeast Asia to parts of South Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and Africa—and that’s just since 2013. There’s only one way to fight “Panama” disease that scientists are aware of.
  • Sugar-Free Drinks Also Bad for Your Teeth: Worried about tooth decay? Switching to sugar-free drinks won’t save you from the acids that destroy enamel and wear down tissues in your teeth, a new study says. Your sugar intake will do down, but not the harm of something called “dental erosion.“
  • Scientists Figure Out What Type of Person Believes BS: Researchers at the University of Waterloo studied “pseudo-profound bull——“ and found that those who are “more receptive” to BS have lower “verbal and fluid intelligence” and are more likely to believe in the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and alternative medicine. One major target of the study: Yes, Deepak Chopra.

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►  Artist Who Etched Ancient Rock Broke All the Rules

A picture of what’s believed to be crudely drawn huts on a stone slab has scientists excited, despite its seemingly rudimentary style—or, rather, because of it. Archaeologists say the rock etching found at the Moli del Salt site in Spain is about 13,800 years old and breaks all the conventional rules of art from the Paleolithic era, the Los Angeles Times reports. “We think that someone was experimenting with new themes, focusing for the first time on the social realm,“ Marcos Garcia-Diez and Manuel Vaquero, co-authors of the paper describing the find, tell the Times. What exactly appears on the 7-inch-wide, 3-inch-high rock: what look to be seven semi-circular huts at a campsite, etched—“probably with another rock or a pointed flint artifact,“ the paper notes—into three rows on the stone to perhaps create depth in the image, per the authors. The rock was unearthed in 2013 at the site about 30 miles west of Barcelona, though nothing seemed special about it initially, notes the Times.

But once the dirt and debris was wiped off the specimen, they realized they might have something more on their hands. The study, published in PLOS One, notes that “landscapes and features of the everyday world were scarcely represented” during that hunter-gatherer time period; instead, animals, symbols, and “figurative motifs,“ especially those linked to that society’s religious and magical beliefs, were de rigueur. “Unlike other purported examples of landscape depictions, it mainly represents a human landscape, suggesting that the human world was the main concern of the artist,“ the authors write, per the Christian Science Monitor. But not everyone is so sure that the Paleolithic artist was a true rebel: An archaeology professor from the UK’s Durham University says that, because that era’s art is often hard to decipher, the scribblings may symbolize nothing more than what the New Scientist labels “highly stylized animals.“


►  New Security Flaws in Wi-Fi Barbie May Be Hackers’ Delight

One of the hot toys this holiday season is sure to be Orwellian Dystopia Barbie—sorry, we mean Hello Barbie. The $75 Internet-connected doll uses an app to record kids and talk back to them. But Slate reports hackers can turn the Hello Barbie’s Wi-Fi connection into “spying hardware” and—like other Internet-ready toys—use it to collect “an astonishing” amount of personal data. Researchers from security firm Bluebox announced Friday that hackers could bypass Hello Barbie’s safety controls to access recordings of children talking to the doll, according to CNET. One big problem is the use of “outmoded encryption technology,“ reports Gizmodo. Last week, a different researcher found hackers could possibly use Hello Barbie to find the home addresses of its owners.

“Such security concerns could give parents second thoughts about buying the Internet-connected toys on their children’s holiday wish lists,“ observes CNET. “The timing is especially critical for Hello Barbie, which was released last month just in time for the holiday shopping season.“ Slate says the makers of most toys with Internet connections either don’t know how to protect users’ privacy or don’t care to try. But Mattel and ToyTalk—the makers of Hello Barbie—tell CNET they had a cybersecurity company review the doll before it was released and are continuing to upgrade its security features. “Security has been a major focus throughout the entire process, and I think we’ve done a very good job of it,“ one executive says. “I’m very proud of the [doll].“


►  Astronaut to Run Marathon in Space

A British astronaut will attempt to become the first man to run a marathon in space, sort of. Tim Peake will run a digital version of next year’s London Marathon on a treadmill as the International Space Station orbits the Earth, at the same time as more than 37,000 people run in the race on the ground. To combat weightlessness, Peake will wear a harness that tethers him to the treadmill as he runs, and he will watch a video of the London course on a big screen in front of him. He’ll be the first man but not the first astronaut: NASA’s Sunita Williams, a woman, ran on a treadmill in 1997 at the same time as the Boston Marathon. The London Marathon is on April 24.

Peake ran the London Marathon in 1999 in 3 hours, 18 minutes, 50 seconds. He said he is not expecting to beat that time next year because his medical team will be monitoring his preparations and run carefully to ensure he is at optimum fitness for his return from space eight weeks later. He hopes to finish in under 4 hours.

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►  Modern science detects disease in 400-year-old embalmed hearts

In the ruins of a medieval convent in the French city of Rennes, archaeologists discovered five heart-shaped urns made of lead, each containing an embalmed human heart.

Now, roughly four centuries after they were buried, researchers have used modern science to study these old hearts. It turns out three of them bore tell-tale signs of a heart disease very common today.

“Every heart was different and revealed its share of surprises,“ anthropologist Rozenn Colleter of the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research said on Wednesday.

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A heart-shaped lead urn with an inscription identifying the contents as the heart of Toussaint Perrien, Knight of Brefeillac, found during excavation of the ruins of the medieval Jacobins convent in Rennes, France is shown in this handout photo provided by Rozenn Colleter


“Four of these hearts are very well preserved. It is very rare in archaeology to work on organic materials. The prospects are very exciting.“

One heart appeared healthy, with no evidence of disease. Three others showed indications of disease, atherosclerosis, with plaque in the coronary arteries. The fifth was poorly preserved.

“Only one heart belonged to a women, and was totally degraded, permitting no study,“ said radiologist Dr. Fatima-Zohra Mokrane of Rangueil Hospital at the University Hospital of Toulouse.

One of hearts belonged to a nobleman identified by an inscription on the urn as Toussaint Perrien, Knight of Brefeillac, who died in 1649.

His heart had been removed upon his death and was later buried with his wife, Louise de Quengo, Lady of Brefeillac, who died in 1656. Her wonderfully preserved body was found in a coffin at the site, still wearing a cape, wool dress, bonnet and leather shoes with cork soles.

The earliest of the urns was dated 1584. The latest was dated 1655.

Mokrane said an important aspect of the study was the finding that people hundreds of years ago had atherosclerosis.

It is a disease in which plaque made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances builds up inside the arteries. Plaque hardens over time and narrows the arteries. Atherosclerosis can trigger heart attacks and strokes.

“Atherosclerosis is not only a recent pathology, because it was found in different hearts studied,“ Mokrane said.

The researchers cleaned each of the hearts, removed the embalming material and examined them with MRI imaging, CT scans and other methods.

Archaeologists excavated the Jacobins convent in Rennes from 2011 to 2013. It was constructed in 1369 and became an important pilgrimage and burial site from the 15th to 17th centuries. About 800 graves were found, Colleter said.

The research was presented at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.


►  Seal of Biblical-Era King Discovered

Archaeologists in Jerusalem say they’ve made a first-of-its kind discovery: the seal of an ancient Israelite king—one that may have been made by his own hand. Researchers digging in Old Jerusalem think the seal impression, or bulla, comes from King Hezekiah, who ruled in the 8th century BC, reports the Times of Israel. The find is significant in part because it’s the first such seal from an Israelite king found by archaeologists, notes CNN. While similar seals featuring the king’s name can be found on the antiquities market, only this one has the authenticity of scientists behind it. It’s also notable because Hezekiah himself was “one of the most famous of the Israelite kings” given how he “rooted out idol worship, spruced up the decrepit temple, and centralized power,“ according to LiveScience. The seal is just half-an-inch wide, suggesting it was made by the king’s ring.

“It’s hard to believe that anyone else had the permission to use the seal,“ says Eilat Mazar of the University of Hebrew, who led the excavations. “Therefore, it’s very reasonable to assume we are talking about an impression made by the king himself.“ The seal was actually found in an ancient dump in 2009, but it wasn’t until this year that a researcher deciphered its inscription to reveal the royal origins, notes the Times of Israel. Early in his reign, Hezekiah used a symbol of a creature with its arms outstretched, but the arms of the “two-winged sun” on this seal are facing downward. That suggests it came later in his reign as a nod to mortality after he survived a scare with a mortal illness, say the researchers, per LiveScience.

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