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The mystery of the fossil spider footprints

How scientists figured out that a set of 260 million-year-old footprints were probably made by an arachnid and why those footprints are still shrouded in mystery. Maggie 6

Pterosaurs: Winged, awesome, and surprisingly rare

Pterosaurs weren't birds. They weren't dinosaurs, either. And they are definitely more than just pterodactyls. As an order, the pterosaurs contained a huge amount of diversity. Sordes pilosus looked like a flying monkeyduck. Quetzalcoatlus northropi was an extra in The Dark Crystal. Thalassodromeus sethi looked like something your brain would invent after watching Froot Loops commercials on acid.

But, despite that wide variety (and, from what scientists can tell, their ubiquity on every continent), it's incredibly rare to find pterosaur fossils. In fact, all the freaky pterosaurs we can recreate in pictures probably only represent a fragment of the order's true diversity. There are many more pterosaurs whose fossil remains aren't well-preserved or numerous enough for us to get a good idea of what they looked like. Why? This video from the American Museum of Natural History explains it.

Bonus: The museum has a whole pterosaur exhibit opening April 5.

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Excerpt: first two chapters of Karl Schroeder's Lockstep

Yesterday, I reviewed Karl Schoeder's first YA novel, Lockstep, which combines genuinely brilliant techno-social speculation with a driving, exciting adventure plot.

Today I'm delighted to present the first two chapters of Lockstep, courtesy of Tor Books, so you can get a taste for this book yourself. As I wrote yesterday: Buy a copy for your favorite kid -- and another for yourself. And remember, Schroeder is launching the book at Toronto's Bakka Phoenix Books this Saturday at 3PM.

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Sen Lamar Alexander: if shills have to tell Congress who's paying them, it will "chill speech"

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is one of many Republican legislators who've objected to a new policy at OSHA that requires experts to disclose when they have been funded by parties with an interest in the outcome of regulatory proceedings. According to Alexander, he and his colleagues are "very concerned about OSHA's attempt to have commenters disclose their financial backers," because "the chilling effect the financial disclosure could have seems counter to the idea of robust inclusion of a diverse set of ideas and views to inform the rule-making." The current proceeding is about whether silica in cement poses a health hazard, and OSHA wants to know if the experts it's hearing from have been paid to have an opinion one way or another. Cory 23

Liquid water discovered on the surface of Minnesota

Next up, searching the area for extremophile life forms. Maggie 15

What we lose if we lose antibiotics

This is about more than just the ability to treat an infection, important as that is, writes Maryn McKenna. If antibiotics no longer work, we also lose organ transplantation, cancer treatments, kidney dialysis, safe childbirth, many types of surgery, and cheap meat. Maggie 20

Autism linked to second-trimester fetal brain development

Scientists found differences in the brain structures of kids with autism compared to kids who don't have autism. Those specific structures form during the second trimester of pregnancy, suggesting that autism is something that is present long before birth. Maggie 22

Two new discoveries, one space object: Planetoids in the news

Our solar system has eight planets (again, sorry Pluto). But it has many, many more planetoids — more than 600,000 at last count. It's a broad category. The word planetoid covers anything that isn't a true planet (objects with enough mass that they have taken on a mostly round shape and have become the dominate gravitational force in their orbit) and that also isn't a comet.

Planetoids are big news this week, with two new discoveries that will teach us more about the structure of objects in space and about our solar system, as a whole.

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Lockstep: Karl Schroeder's first YA novel is a triumph of weird science, deep politics, and ultimate adventure

As I've written before, Karl Schroeder is one of the sharpest, canniest thinkers about technology and science fiction I know. In the nearly 30 years I've know him, he's introduced me to fractals, free software, Unix, listservers, SGML, augmented reality, the Singularity, and a host of other ideas -- generally 5-10 years before I heard about these ideas from anyone else. What's more, he's a dynamite novelist with a finely controlled sense of character and plot to go with all those Big Ideas.

Now he's written his first young adult novel, Lockstep, and it is a triumph.

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Jimmy Wales tells "energy workers" that Wikipedia won't publish woo, "the work of lunatic charlatans isn't the equivalent of 'true scientific discourse'"

The Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP) set up a petition asking Wikipedia to make it easier to post crazy pseudo-science to Wikipedia, specifically information about "Energy Medicine, Energy Psychology, and specific approaches such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques, Thought Field Therapy, and the Tapas Acupressure Technique."

In response, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales said "no," very emphatically. He told the petitioners that Wikipedia would continue to accept material published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, but would not "pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of 'true scientific discourse.' It isn't."

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Electricity decentralization, here we come

Small-scale, rooftop solar power is starting to seriously destabilize the future of electric utility business plans. What will be the utility's role? Will we even need an electric grid? At Scientific American, David Biello reports on how companies and customers are navigating the shift to a different model of energy production. Maggie 29

The bad science behind brain training

Why (and other workouts for your brain) are unlikely to actually make you smarter or help you think better. Maggie 11

Invasion of the mind-altering parasites

This year, science writer Ed Yong went from being a noted critic of the TED conference science coverage to being part of the TED conference science coverage. And he nailed it.

Here's Ed's talk — all about the wonders of mind-controlling parasites — which manages to tie awesome scientific facts back to a larger idea without overselling that Big Idea so much as to become misleading. May it be a model for all science TED talks to come.

Also: I particularly love the video Ed shows at about 2:47 into the talk. It features a worm that drives a cricket to suicide and then uses the death as an opportunity to crawl out of said cricket and continue on its merry way through the worm life cycle. In other words, it's got everything a good mind-control parasite story should have.

Video Link

Kickstarting Lifeform: a fun, educational game about evolution

Michael writes, "I'm launching a Kickstarter campaign for a new game founded in the basics of genetics and physics. You're a cell in a 2d underwater universe, and you must reproduce to gain traits that dictate what you can do. Resources found around the map can be used to construct machines and tools to aide in your evolution. Not only is Lifeform the genetics game we've long been searching for, but it's going to be extremely powerful in classrooms all across the world. Science teachers can use it for genetics lessons, physics, studying the elements, and much more."

This looks really cool (and the prototype is great)! One caveat is that Michael's development projects are pretty thinly detailed, though it sounds like he's had some relevant experience, and the prototype bodes well for the project's future. As with all Kickstarters, you might get nothing for your money! A $15 minimum contribution gets you a copy of the game when and if.

Lifeform: A game of genetic and biomechanical evolution (Thanks, Michael!)

Washington disaster site has a long history of landslides

Last weekend, a landslide buried/destroyed a neighborhood in Oso, Washington. That location has been the site of many landslides in the past — so many, that a 1967 Seattle Times article called it "slide hill". At The Landslide blog Dave Petley has more on the history and geology behind this disaster. Maggie 6