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MoEnzyme
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Has evidence for alien life been found?
« on: 2011-03-06 21:43:04 »
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I know this has been ALL over the internet and mainstream media for the last 24 hours and I've been holding off on this for clearly skeptical reasons. First off let me state that I'm an ideological believer. I personally think that it's likely we will find evidence within our lifetimes of extra-terrestial life of the the microbial sort. So I know I'm naturally inclined to say "yes". However, I know that we've already shot down one very strong claim for this evidence in the 1990's and I also know the pitfalls related to gathering actual extraterrestrial evidence (which hasn't fallen to earth) and ESPECIALLY in gathering terrestrial evidence claimed to be extra-terrestrial. So with those caveats, I'm going to lead this Church of Virus post with PZ Meyers, the most prominent skeptic on this new claim:

Did scientists discover bacteria in meteorites?
Category: Kooks
Posted on: March 6, 2011 9:44 AM, by PZ Myers


No.


No, no, no. No no no no no no no no.

No, no.

No.

Fox News broke the story, which ought to make one immediately suspicious — it's not an organization noted for scientific acumen. But even worse, the paper claiming the discovery of bacteria fossils in carbonaceous chondrites was published in … the Journal of Cosmology. I've mentioned Cosmology before — it isn't a real science journal at all, but is the ginned-up website of a small group of crank academics obsessed with the idea of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe that life originated in outer space and simply rained down on Earth. It doesn't exist in print, consists entirely of a crude and ugly website that looks like it was sucked through a wormhole from the 1990s, and publishes lots of empty noise with no substantial editorial restraint. For a while, it seemed to be entirely the domain of a crackpot named Rhawn Joseph who called himself the emeritus professor of something mysteriously called the Brain Research Laboratory, based in the general neighborhood of Northern California (seriously, that was the address: "Northern California"), and self-published all of his pseudo-scientific "publications" on this web site.

It is not an auspicious beginning. Finding credible evidence of extraterrestrial microbes is the kind of thing you'd expect to see published in Science or Nature, but the fact that it found a home on a fringe website that pretends to be a legitimate science journal ought to set off alarms right there.

But could it be that by some clumsy accident of the author, a fabulously insightful, meticulously researched paper could have fallen into the hands of single-minded lunatics who rushed it into 'print'? Sure. And David Icke might someday publish the working plans for a perpetual motion machine in his lizardoid-infested newsletter. We've actually got to look at the claims and not dismiss them because of their location.

So let's look at the paper, Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites: Implications to Life on Comets, Europa, and Enceladus. I think that link will work; I'm not certain, because the "Journal of Cosmology" seems to randomly redirect links to its site to whatever article the editors think is hot right now, and while the article title is given a link on the page, it's to an Amazon page that's flogging a $94 book by the author. Who needs a DOI when you've got a book to sell?

Reading the text, my impression is one of excessive padding. It's a dump of miscellaneous facts about carbonaceous chondrites, not well-honed arguments edited to promote concision or cogency. The figures are annoying; when you skim through them, several will jump out at you as very provocative and looking an awful lot like real bacteria, but then without exception they all turn out to be photos of terrestrial organisms thrown in for reference. The extraterrestrial 'bacteria' all look like random mineral squiggles and bumps on a field full of random squiggles and bumps, and apparently, the authors thought some particular squiggle looked sort of like some photo of a bug. This isn't science, it's pareidolia. They might as well be analyzing Martian satellite photos for pictures that sorta kinda look like artifacts.

The data consists almost entirely of SEM photos of odd globules and filaments on the complex surfaces of crumbled up meteorites, with interspersed SEMs of miscellaneous real bacteria taken from various sources — they seem to be proud of having analyzed flakes of mummy skin and hair from frozen mammoths, but I couldn't see the point at all — do they have cause to think the substrate of a chondrite might have some correspondence to a Siberian Pleistocene mammoth guard hair? I'd be more impressed if they'd surveyed the population of weird little lumps in their rocks and found the kind of consistent morphology in a subset that you'd find in a population of bacteria. Instead, it's a wild collection of one-offs.

There is one other kind of datum in the article: they also analyzed the mineral content of the 'bacteria', and report detailed breakdowns of the constitution of the blobs: there's lots of carbon, magnesium, silicon, and sulfur in there, and virtually no nitrogen. The profiles don't look anything like what you'd expect from organic life on Earth, but then, these are supposedly fossilized specimens from chondrites that congealed out of the gases of the solar nebula billions of years ago. Why would you expect any kind of correspondence?

The extraterrestrial 'bacteria' photos are a pain to browse through, as well, because they are published at a range of different magnifications, and even when they are directly comparing an SEM of one to an SEM of a real bacterium, they can't be bothered to put them at the same scale. Peering at them and mentally tweaking the size, though, one surprising result is that all of their boojums are relatively huge — these would be big critters, more similar in size to eukaryotic cells than E. coli. And all of them preserved so well, not crushed into a smear of carbon, not ruptured and evaporated away, all just sitting there, posing, like a few billion years in a vacuum was a day in the park. Who knew that milling about in a comet for the lifetime of a solar system was such a great preservative?

I'm looking forward to the publication next year of the discovery of an extraterrestrial rabbit in a meteor. While they're at it, they might as well throw in a bigfoot print on the surface and chupacabra coprolite from space. All will be about as convincing as this story.

While they're at it, maybe they should try publishing it in a journal with some reputation for rigorous peer review and expectation that the data will meet certain minimal standards of evidence and professionalism.

Otherwise, this work is garbage. I'm surprised anyone is granting it any credibility at all.

Want more dismissive reviews? Read David Dobbs and Rosie Redfield. We have concensus!

--------------------

[Mo] go to PZ Meyers blog post for links and enriched text which references ALL of his claims http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/03/did_scientists_discover_bacter.php
It's well worth your time.

Now that I have discharged my intellectual duties, I'll now go on to paste in a "fair and balanced" link which better reflects the possibilities for my ideological bias, however improbable at this point . . .

--------------------

HAS EVIDENCE FOR ALIEN LIFE BEEN FOUND?
Analysis by Ian O'Neill
Sat Mar 5, 2011 08:38 PM ET


Fossilized alien microbes have been discovered in a sample extracted from a meteorite, according to research carried out by a NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center astrobiologist. What's more, he has challenged any scientist to investigate his work.

Published in the online Journal of Cosmology, Richard Hoover's paper claims to have made the discovery after finding "large complex filaments" inside "freshly fractured internal surfaces" of carbonaceous chondrite meteorite samples (including new fragment samples from the famous French Orgueil meteorite).

SLIDE SHOW: Top 10 Places to Find Alien Life

Some of the "alien" fossils appear to resemble bacteria found on Earth (such as types of cyanobacteria, a microorganism that helped make early-Earth hospitable to life by producing oxygen), whereas others don't look so familiar.

"The exciting thing is that they are in many cases recognizable and can be associated very closely with the generic species here on earth," Hoover told Fox News in an "exclusive" interview.

"There are some that are just very strange and don't look like anything that I've been able to identify, and I've shown them to many other experts that have also come up stumped."

This discovery could have huge implications for the genesis of life on Earth. If there are microbes that originated inside a meteorite that was found on Earth, did life originate from space? If so, did life on Earth get "seeded" by a meteorite? Perhaps Earth-Brand™ Life is actually an evolved form of Cosmic-Brand™ Life?

ANALYSIS: Life on Earth Spawned by Dead Alien Microbes?

The hypothetical mechanism where life "hops" from one planet to the next is known as "panspermia," so Hoover's research, if confirmed, would be a huge slab of gold-plated evidence for this mechanism.

ANALYSIS: Directed Panspermia: Moral Obligation or Bio-Pollution?

This research is certainly exciting, but my first reaction was skepticism even before I'd looked at the paper. Why has this research been published in the Journal of Cosmology? Why isn't the news plastered across the front page of NASA's website?

Surely something that claims to be of this groundbreaking, historic significance should be published in a major science journal (not a troubled online journal that has announced it is going out of business this year)? Did the most reputable journal of all, Science, turn this research away? If so, why?

Undoubtedly, the NASA researcher might be aiming to prevent this news from being blown out of proportion, like the 1996 discovery of microscopic features resembling fossilized bacteria in the notorious ALH 84001 meteorite sample.

The debate continues over ALH 84001, but shortly after NASA's chief astrobiologist David McKay published an article in Science in 1996 indicating these features could be fossils of alien microbes from Mars, President Clinton addressed the nation! Can we expect President Obama to be doing the same thing over the coming days? Probably not... but why not?

The paper is very clear: a NASA scientist is claiming to have found aliens and he has written a paper titled "Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites" -- that is a groundbreaking claim, why wouldn't Obama "do a Clinton" and get on the telly to tell us about this amazing news?

Well, we've been here before, and the past claims of alien life discoveries (whether it be in a meteorite sample or on the Martian surface) have been notoriously difficult to confirm. Also, this isn't the first time Hoover has announced such discoveries. I think there will be a far more measured response to this new research, and it will probably take years and dozens of follow-up studies to confirm or deny this extraordinary claim.

Confusion to one side, in a statement that accompanies Hoover's paper, Rudy Schild, the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Cosmology and Center for Astrophysics, Harvard-Smithsonian, says:

Dr. Richard Hoover is a highly respected scientist and astrobiologist with a prestigious record of accomplishment at NASA. Given the controversial nature of his discovery, we have invited 100 experts and have issued a general invitation to over 5000 scientists from the scientific community to review the paper and to offer their critical analysis.
So it looks like the Journal of Cosmology paper is just the beginning. By having a scientific, transparent debate, perhaps a consensus can be reached about what these tiny features really are.

Special thanks to Kieran Mulvaney, Discovery News writer, for bringing my attention to this fascinating news.

UPDATE: Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy has also written about this announcement and reached similar conclusions to me. He does however have more details about his personal dealings with the Journal of Cosmology and Hoover's history.

--------------------

be sure to go to http://news.discovery.com/space/has-evidence-of-extraterrestrial-life-been-found-110305.html to get link-rich text and images to go along with this last story. And of course I should repaste PZ Meyers' blog link here just to be intellectually fair and balanced after you read the last text. That would be http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/03/did_scientists_discover_bacter.php

--------------------

Okay, I'll end this with some chatty text from IRC #virus logs covering my live discussions about this with Sat and Lucifer today. That may put the rest of this in context, but compared to the above selections only counts as minor side commentary. So enjoy . . .

--------------------

http://www.churchofvirus.org/bbs/index.php?board=5;action=chatlog2;channel=%23virus;date=2011-03-06;time=11:15;start=0;max=109 with some editing for spelling and extraneous channel noise deleted. see the previous link for the unedited text and I'll refine it for easier reading below.

11:15:53   Sat   http://news.discovery.com/space/has-evidence-of-extraterrestrial-life-been-found-110305.html
11:16:38   Sat   "Fossilized alien microbes have been discovered in a sample extracted from a meteorite, according to research carried out by a NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center astrobiologist. What's more, he has challenged any scientist to investigate his work."
11:17:01   Lucifer   http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/03/did_scientists_discover_bacter.php
11:35:14   MoEnzyme   yeah, I've been watching that news on the fossilized microbes in the meteorite. Interesting, but this isn't the first time someone has claimed to find alien microbial fossils in a meteorite. The last time the consensus was inconclusive.
11:35:41   MoEnzyme   I'm wondering why it will be different this time.
11:37:09   n00dle   Watch for more "xtian" frenzy: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/03/06/judgment.day.caravan/index.html
11:37:17   Lucifer   PZ's argument is that if there was good evidence the paper would be published in Science or Nature. Modus tollens, it is likely BS.
11:38:13   Sat   * Sat nods
11:39:01   MoEnzyme   "Undoubtedly, the NASA researcher might be aiming to prevent this news from being blown out of proportion, like the 1996 discovery of microscopic features resembling fossilized bacteria in the notorious ALH 84001 meteorite sample." --> http://news.discovery.com/space/have-you-heard-the-one-about-life-on-mars.html
11:40:09   MoEnzyme   A 13,000 year old meteorite from Mars, found in 1984 in the Allan Hills Region of Antarctica, is back in the news. The rock caused quite a stir when NASA announced during an August 1996 press conference that it contained evidence of past life on Mars.
11:40:16   MoEnzyme   The first paper in Science described micrometer-sized carbonate deposits, shaped like pancakes, along tiny cracks and crevices in the meteorite, known as ALH84001. Researchers theorized that the carbonates were deposited from carbon dioxide-saturated fluids that were no more than 100 degrees Celsius -- the temperature around which microorganisms on Earth flourish.
11:40:38   MoEnzyme   They also found nanometer-sized iron sulfide and iron oxide grains (which they theorized were produced by bacteria) and organic compounds known at polyaromatic hydrocarbons, or PHAs, which they suggested were the organic remains of Martian organisms.
11:40:48   MoEnzyme   The clincher, however, was the discovery of “worm-shaped objects” within the meteorite’s fractures, which scientists proposed were the fossilized remains of the organisms themselves.
11:40:59   MoEnzyme   The results were controversial from the start and were quickly followed by a flurry of papers that refuted every leg of the argument including the life-friendly temperature of the water; the biological origin of the iron grains; and the prospect that the organic PAHs actually came from Antarctica, not Mars.
11:42:05   MoEnzyme   "A quiet consensus has emerged that the ALH84001 meteorite contains no evidence of past Martian life," wrote Georgia Tech’s John Bradley.
11:42:10   Sat   I'd like to see irrefutable proof of extra terrestrial life.
11:42:33   Sat   It'd be a nice refutation of those anthropocentric religious asshats.
11:42:54   MoEnzyme   I think it will probably come some day, Sat. Probably in our lives, if you are talking about microbial life.
11:43:07   Sat   any life
11:43:39   MoEnzyme   The chances are good for that even within our solar system, IMO, but finding the proof will probably take some time.
11:44:25   Lucifer   I believe irrefutable evidence will come from detecting atmospheric content in extrasolar systems that points to bacterial life
11:45:32   Sat   well in any case the real nut jobs will just blame Satan. "The Devil Plated that evidence!"
11:45:33   Sat   lol
11:45:37   Sat   * Sat grins
11:45:40   Lucifer   no doubt
11:45:42   MoEnzyme   I think there are good possibilities for extremophile bacteria in the seas of Europa, but we have to get some good probes under that thick ice sheet first.
11:46:03   Sat   that almost sounded sexual Mo.
11:46:03   Lucifer   I don't expect any evidence for et civs in my lifetime
11:46:15   Sat   * Sat nods
11:46:31   Sat   given the vastness of things it seems unlikely
11:46:40   Lucifer   though I do expect we are not alone in the universe
11:46:41   MoEnzyme   right, I don't think we will find intelligent ET's in our lifetimes. But I think we'll find life.
11:47:04   Sat   however, maybe we'll get lucky and stumble across some evidence.
11:47:20   Sat   it does seem hugely improbable, however.
11:47:29   n00dle   That is, unless the LHC "phones home", ET shows up and smacks the controls out of the hands of the physicists and says "You're doing it wrong."
11:47:33   Lucifer   possible, yes. probable, no.
11:47:46   Lucifer   Maybe we'll detect a Dyson sphere
11:47:50   MoEnzyme   well, evidence like that would probably be a radio transmission.
11:48:32   MoEnzyme   And it probably wouldn't be directed at us, but rather something ambient within a few hundred light years if at all.
11:49:15   MoEnzyme   like Hitler's first TV broadcast
11:49:29   Sat   It's unlikely to be directed I assume. I think we might catch a very faint bleed.
11:49:33   Sat   ya what Mo said
11:49:42   Lucifer   the aliens saw Hitler and the warships are their way
11:50:14   Sat   the aliens saw Hitler and their sending thier tailors to meet with ours.
11:50:28   MoEnzyme   yeah, unfortunately many such technological leaps like that are first fueled by warfare.
11:51:42   Sat   Mo everyone knows that the laws of natural selection don't apply to aliens. They're all like benevolent angels.
11:51:46   Sat   * Sat snickers
11:53:14   MoEnzyme   Certainly most of our early voyages into space were militarily inspired to compete with the Soviets.
11:53:57   Lucifer   I visited the Kennedy Space Center a few days ago
11:54:01   Sat   I remember reading or seeing a short science fiction story where aliens arrive at earth and hang there in the sky...
11:54:16   Sat   governments all get together to try to figure out a response
11:54:31   Sat   the soviets say we should send fighters to attack
11:54:33   Lucifer   apparently the space program has only the noblest of goals
11:54:53   Sat   everyone else says, No aliens are benevolent. How could they be anything else...
11:54:59   Sat   so we don't attack.
11:55:24   n00dle   ...and consequently get wiped from the face of the earth?
11:55:25   Sat   and because of that the aliens wipe us out, because we're a failed project to breed warriors.
11:55:26   Sat   lol
11:55:36   n00dle   
11:55:38   Lucifer   heh
11:55:41   MoEnzyme   I'd think if we discovered intelligent ET's within a few hundred light years, we would probably want to just listen for a while first long before we attempt any contact. A few hundred light years would slow us down anyways, so we shouldn't be in a hurry.
11:56:09   Lucifer   I don't think we would have a choice, Mo
11:57:04   MoEnzyme   right, even if we started transmission now, it would still take hundreds of years anyway. So we should be careful before making such a time investment anyways, regardless of safety issues.
11:58:24   Sat   We're likely awsh in subtle FTL communication from alien civs, but are too primative to even recognize it.
11:58:26   Sat   * Sat chuckles
11:58:32   MoEnzyme   I would think sending a probe/reciever/transmitter would be the first order of business to strenthen the connection, and that would take thousands of years at least.
11:58:59   Sat   it'd be ironic to find that much of the white noise out there is actually heavily encrypted data.
11:59:20   Sat   Lucifer used to recieve transission from alien intelligences.
11:59:22   MoEnzyme   probably multiple relays should be sent, to better listen and direct the signal back to us.
11:59:23   Sat   * Sat scoots
11:59:35   Lucifer   true, I did
11:59:45   Sat   * Sat channels cthulu
12:00:35   Lucifer   just like this http://toolshed.down.net/lyrics/10kdayslyrics.php#08
12:00:38   Sat   when in doubt probe.
12:01:36   Sat   Cthulu says we don't get the encrption key until we're found worthy.
12:02:28   Lucifer   that's fair
12:02:29   Sat   And that it's hidden in pi,phi.
12:02:43   Lucifer   all encryptions keys are in pi and phi
12:02:48   Lucifer   * Lucifer scoots
12:02:52   Sat   * Sat nods
12:03:14   Lucifer   brb

[below= An electron microscope image of an actual Titanospirillum velox, which is NOT what was actually found in the meteorite]
 TitanspirillumVelox.jpg
« Last Edit: 2011-03-06 22:00:22 by MoEnzyme »
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Re:Has evidence for alien life been found?
« Reply #1 on: 2011-03-06 22:38:48 »
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Quote from: MoEnzyme on 2011-03-06 21:43:04   

I know this has been ALL over the internet and mainstream media for the last 24 hours and I've been holding off on this for clearly skeptical reasons. First off let me state that I'm an ideological believer. I personally think that it's likely we will find evidence within our lifetimes of extra-terrestial life of the the microbial sort. So I know I'm naturally inclined to say "yes". However, I know that we've already shot down one very strong claim for this evidence in the 1990's and I also know the pitfalls related to gathering actual extraterrestrial evidence (which hasn't fallen to earth) and ESPECIALLY in gathering terrestrial evidence claimed to be extra-terrestrial. So with those caveats, I'm going to lead this Church of Virus post with PZ Meyers, the most prominent skeptic on this new claim: <snip>

more reading
http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/03/aliens-riding-meteorites-arsenic-redux-or-something-new/


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Not sure what to make of this, other then it doesn't help the credibility of JOC.

Cheers

Fritz


http://daviddobbs.posterous.com/journal-of-cosmology-going-out-with-big-bang
<snip>Journal of Cosmology Going Out with Big Bang
Mar 6, 2013 update: You'll find a longer post on this at my main blog, Neuron Culture: Aliens Riding Meteorites: Arsenic Redux, or Something New?

The J of Cosmology has been quite a ride. It's ending.

Their press release, received today:

    Feb 14, 2011

    Journal of Cosmology To Stop Publishing--Killed by Thieves and Crooks

    JOC will publish its last edition in May of 2011.

    The Journal of Cosmology (JOC) was founded in the summer of 2009, published its first edition in October, and immediately became a success. Within one year it was receiving nearly 1 million hits a month and dozens of news articles were appearing regularly about its content--a phenomenal achievement for a scientific journal.

    Naturally, JOC's success posed a direct threat to traditional subscription based science periodicals, such as "science" magazine; just as online news killed many newspapers. Not surprisingly, JOC was targeted by science magazine and others who engaged in illegal, criminal, anti-competitive acts to prevent JOC from distributing news about its online editions and books.

    Because JOC's editorial policy was to publish all peer reviewed science-based theory, including articles which directly challenged the "sacred cows" of "conventional wisdom", its success posed a direct threat to the entire scientific establishment and the "gate-keepers" who wish to protect easily disproved myths and crush dissenting views. Suddenly, here was this upstart, highly successful scientific journal, with a prestigious editorial board, which was directly challenging the status quo and their control over science.

    JOC also threatened the status quo at NASA. <snip>
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MoEnzyme
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Re:Has evidence for alien life been found?
« Reply #2 on: 2011-03-09 13:36:01 »
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http://www.churchofvirus.org/bbs/index.php?board=;action=chatlog2;channel=%23virus;date=2011-03-09;time=11:15;start=0;max=30

11:16:39   MoEnzyme   So I think that pretty much covers the more interesting updates on the BBS today.
11:16:53   Sat   thanks Mo.
11:16:59   Sat   back to you googlebot
11:17:03   googlebot   lucky charms!
11:18:07   MoEnzyme   * MoEnzyme wonders what's up with that meteorite with the alleged ET bacteria . . .
11:20:11   MoEnzyme   * MoEnzyme googles news about that.
11:21:45   MoEnzyme   Alien Life In Meteorites Worth Getting Excited About - Meteroite Disproven But Discussion Continues --> http://www.ecanadanow.com/science/2011/03/08/alien-life-in-meteorites-worth-getting-excited-about/
11:22:24   MoEnzyme   Last week, scientist Richard Hoover made the proclamation that he had discovered an alien bacteria within a meteorite, but is it something that we should immediately be excited about? Realistically, the answer is no. Hoover had been so strong in his convictions, that he has opened his findings to the scientific community to debunk.
11:22:43   MoEnzyme   Within hours of the information being put online researches flocked to pour through his claims and the response has not been positive. The first major concern is that meteor itself has been on this planet for over a century, so how can Hoover be assured that the fossilized bacteria found within the meteor is foreign?
11:23:00   Sat   well any scientist should look to has results verified or disproven
11:23:04   Sat   what idiots!
11:23:14   Sat   THATS THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD!
11:23:14   Sat   lol
11:26:03   MoEnzyme   yeah. Well at least it's still in google news search. I'm guessing that unless something which seriously distinguishes it from the 1996 claim surfaces in the next couple of weeks, it's going into the news dustbin.
11:26:16   Sat   * Sat nods
11:27:44   MoEnzyme   Actually the 1996 claim was more credible because the meteorite was found in Antarctica where most of your typical lifeforms take more time to infect new material.
11:29:01   MoEnzyme   I'm not hearing anything like that to make this new claim even remotely plausible, so I'm predicting that's the last time I'm going to google search this one.
11:29:49   MoEnzyme   Of course the 1996 claim was ultimately proven inconclusive months later, so I'm thinking this particular story is already over.
11:30:12   MoEnzyme   not even as interesting as 1996.
11:30:39   MoEnzyme   I may post that article to the BBS thread just for closure purposes.
11:32:01   MoEnzyme   Actually I think I just post this excerpt from the #virus logs. That will be faster. So do you have any last thoughts on this Sat?
11:32:33   Sat   post away man!
11:32:47   MoEnzyme   What do you think about that, googlebot?
11:32:50   googlebot   exactly
11:32:58   Sat   we have a quorum
11:33:02   MoEnzyme   amen.
11:33:38   MoEnzyme   * MoEnzyme goes to the logs to begin his extraction/paste procedure.
« Last Edit: 2011-03-09 13:37:47 by MoEnzyme » Report to moderator   Logged

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