Science & Technology
- 26 April 2007
"Later this year, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee hope to take a big step toward solving America's nuclear-waste woes. Pending clearance from the Department of Energy, they will demonstrate a new toxic-waste recycling process. The aim of the demo -- part of a controversial $405-million government project called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) -- is to transform nuclear leftovers into fuel for a new breed of reactors. The new reactor/fuel combo, GNEP officials say, could produce up to 100 times as much energy as conventional reactors and could generate 40 percent less waste. The initiative is a key part of the Bush administration's long-term strategy to meet America's rising demand for electricity -- according to the DOE, it's expected to jump by 45 percent from 4,000 billion kilowatt-hours in 2005 to 5,800 billion kilowatt-hours in 2030 -- without creating more greenhouse gases. 'Nuclear energy is the biggest source we have for meeting our energy needs without contributing to global warming,' says Sherrell Greene, director of the nuclear-technology program at Oak Ridge, one of the 13 potential recycling sites selected earlier this year by the DOE." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 25 April 2007
"The first known planet beyond the solar system that could harbor life as we know it has been discovered, scientists report. The most Earthlike planet yet found, it orbits a red dwarf star and likely contains liquid water, said the European astronomers who made the discovery. The planet is estimated to be only 50 percent larger than Earth, making it the smallest planet yet found outside the solar system, according to a team led by Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland. Known as Gliese 581 c, the newfound world is located in the constellation Libra, some 20.5 light-years away. The planet is named after the red dwarf star it orbits, Gliese 581, which is among the hundred closest stars to Earth. Because the planet is 14 times nearer to its star than Earth is to the sun, a year there lasts just 13 days. Gravity on the planet's surface, though, may be twice as strong as Earth's gravity." Learn more in National Geographic News.
- 24 April 2007
"What is happening to the bees? More than a quarter of the country’s 2.4 million bee colonies have been lost — tens of billions of bees, according to an estimate from the Apiary Inspectors of America, a national group that tracks beekeeping. So far, no one can say what is causing the bees to become disoriented and fail to return to their hives. As with any great mystery, a number of theories have been posed, and many seem to researchers to be more science fiction than science. People have blamed genetically modified crops, cellular phone towers and high-voltage transmission lines for the disappearances. Or was it a secret plot by Russia or Osama bin Laden to bring down American agriculture? Or, as some blogs have asserted, the rapture of the bees, in which God recalled them to heaven? Researchers have heard it all. The volume of theories 'is totally mind-boggling,' said Diana Cox-Foster, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University. With Jeffrey S. Pettis, an entomologist from the United States Department of Agriculture, Dr. Cox-Foster is leading a team of researchers who are trying to find answers to explain 'colony collapse disorder,' the name given for the disappearing bee syndrome." Learn more in the New York Times.
- 23 April 2007
"Someone peering over your shoulder as you browse the Internet would probably make you uncomfortable. But what if the situation were reversed? Broadcasting your clickstream--a record of the Web sites you've visited--used to be considered a privacy violation. Now, some companies are trying to turn such broadcasts into just another way to squeeze value from what seems to be one of our most precious assets: the things we pay attention to. I came across a service called AttenTV last week at a tech meetup and was both repulsed and fascinated by what founder Seth Goldstein had created. AttenTV offers people a visual depiction of the Web sites that others are clicking on, with the expectation that the browsing habits of those individuals will be interesting enough to watch, and even spur the 'watchers' to check out some of the same sites." Learn more at News.com.
- 19 April 2007
"Tiny 'smart' devices that can be borne on the wind like dust particles could be carried in space probes to explore other planets, UK engineers say. The devices would consist of a computer chip covered by a plastic sheath that can change shape when a voltage is applied, enabling it to be steered. Details were presented at the National Astronomy Meeting in Preston. Dr John Barker, from the University of Glasgow, said the particles could use wireless networking to form swarms. The idea of using millimetre-sized devices to explore far-flung locations is nothing new, but Dr Barker and his colleagues are starting to look in detail at how it might be achieved. The professor at Glasgow's Nanoelectronics Research Centre told delegates at the Royal Astronomical Society gathering that computer chips of the size and sophistication required to meet the challenge already existed." Learn more at the BBC.com.
- 18 April 2007
"As a cure for our addiction to oil, ethanol turns out to have some nasty side effects. Concerns that the nation’s cars are contributing to global warming have led automobile manufacturers and policy makers to promote ethanol as the fuel of the future, since it is made from crops such as sugar beet. Pollution from gasoline engines accounts for 10,000 deaths in the US each year, along with thousands of cases of respiratory disease, and even cancer. The widely touted ethanol-based fuel E85 (15% gasoline, 85% ethanol) could result in similar numbers of deaths, or even make matters worse, according to a new study. Mark Jacobson at Stanford University in California, US, modelled emissions for cars expected to be on the road in 2020. An E85-fuelled fleet would cause 185 more pollution-related deaths per year than a petrol one across the US the model predicted - most of them in smoggy Los Angeles, California." Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 17 April 2007
"Observed in the wild and tested in captivity, chimpanzees invite comparison with humans, their close relatives. They bear a family resemblance that fascinates people, and scientists see increasing evidence of similarities in chimp behavior and skills, making some of them think on the vagaries of evolution. For some time, paleontologists and evolutionary biologists have known that chimp ancestors were the last line of today’s apes to diverge from the branch that led to humans, probably six million, maybe four million years ago. More recent examination shows that despite profound differences in the two species, just a 1.23 percent difference in their genes separates Homo sapiens from chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes. And certain similarities between the two species, scientists say, go beyond expressive faces and opposable thumbs." Learn more in the New York Times.
- 16 April 2007
"Watching disturbing news footage on television may exacerbate post-traumatic stress and nightmares, according to a study which reviewed dream journals kept by students in the weeks before and after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the US. The research revealed that people were most likely to have dreams with imagery directly related to the attacks – such as smoke and explosions – if they spent many hours watching television reports of the attacks. This type of dream content indicated a difficulty coping with the events, the authors of the study claim. The researchers say their dream analysis shows that viewing television coverage of a traumatic event can intensify stress and trauma. Some psychologists, however, object to this conclusion, contending that dreams do not necessarily reflect a person's mental state. Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 12 April 2007
"Cancer treatment could be on the brink of a revolution following a study showing that it may be possible significantly to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs without causing side effects. Scientists have conducted a series of pioneering experiments demonstrating a new way of making tumour cells far more susceptible to attack with extremely low doses of anti-cancer drugs. The development offers hope that the gruesome side effects of chemotherapy, suffered by tens of thousands of cancer patients, may at some point become a thing of the past." Learn more at the UK's Independent.
- 10 April 2007
"To look at a typical newsstand, Pakistan's press appears vibrant and diverse. There are more than 100 national and regional newspapers -- several dozen in English -- and judging by the oft-fiery editorial pages, columnists and journalists are free from shackles. Compare this to other Muslim nations where journalists are routinely jailed, or worse, for the slightest slights against the ruling institutions. Egypt. Morocco. But according to local blogger Mohammad Khan, 'it's one of the biggest hoaxes there is -- the belief that the (Pakistani) press is free.' Indeed. Reporters Without Borders ranks Pakistan 157th out of 168 countries in terms of press restrictions. The Pakistan Press Foundation reported that 33 journalists were recently 'detained' for protesting police action against a broadcaster in Islamabad. So far, bloggers like Khan have managed to fly below the government's radar, but the internet is coming quickly to this nation that borders not just India, but also China, Afghanistan and Iran. A growing middle class already has DSL at home. Internet cafes, though still limited, offer decent connections for just 20 rupees (33 cents) an hour." Learn more in Wired News.
- 9 April 2007
"The plan is simple: Within a decade, we go back to the moon. By 2030, reach to Mars. This week an estimated 7,000 government officials, corporate representatives and space enthusiasts will converge at the annual National Space Symposium here to hash out the technological, cultural and political issues surrounding the next decade's push for manned exploration of space. As recently as a few years ago, the very topic of manned missions beyond Earth orbit was virtually forbidden within serious space circles. But today supporters find a serious plan in place to send manned expeditions to the moon for the first time since the Apollo program. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia, which once competed in a space race, have become frequent partners with one another and with the European Union, while China and India work to one-up each other in celestial achievement. The various political, technical and national forces have aligned to make the latest push for space the real thing, said Vincent Sabathier, senior fellow and director of space initiatives at the Center for Strategic & International Studies." Learn more in Wired News.
- 6 April 2007
"The unprecedented drought that has gripped the southwestern United States isn't almost over, researchers say, it may have only just begun. That's the consensus of all but 1 of the 19 climate models used as the basis for this week's upcoming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), according to a new analysis. Richard Seager, a senior research scientist with the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, and co-authors report their findings today in the online advance version of the journal Science. Based on the climate models, the U.S. Southwest and parts of northern Mexico could become as arid as the North American Dust Bowl conditions of the 1930s, the study authors report. 'If these models are correct, the levels of aridity of the recent multiyear drought … [will] become the new climatology of the American Southwest,' the team writes. n general the computer models all predict decreasing precipitation in the subtropics in both hemispheres." Learn more in the National Geographic.
- 5 April 2007
"'I just know God is with me. I can feel Him always,' a young Haitian woman once told me. 'I've meditated and gone to another place I can't describe. Hours felt like mere minutes. It was an indescribable feeling of peace,' recalled a CNN colleague. 'I've spoken in languages I've never learned. It was God speaking through me,' confided a relative. The accounts of intense religious and spiritual experiences are topics of fascination for people around the world. It's a mere glimpse into someone's faith and belief system. It's a hint at a person's intense connection with God, an omniscient being or higher plane. Most people would agree the experience of faith is immeasurable. Dr. Andrew Newberg, neuroscientist and author of 'Why We Believe What We Believe,' wants to change all that. He's working on ways to track how the human brain processes religion and spirituality. It's all part of new field called neurotheology." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 4 April 2007
"'This thing has immense potential for social and human destruction.' Startling words - but spoken by the father of the Green Revolution, Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, they are not easily dismissed. An infection is coming, and almost no one has heard about it. This infection isn't going to give you flu, or TB. In fact, it isn't interested in you at all. It is after the wheat plants that feed more people than any other single food source on the planet. And because of cutbacks in international research, we aren't prepared. The famines that were banished by the advent of disease-resistant crops in the Green Revolution of the 1960s could return, Borlaug told New Scientist. The disease is Ug99, a virulent strain of black stem rust fungus (Puccinia graminis), discovered in Uganda in 1999. Since the Green Revolution, farmers everywhere have grown wheat varieties that resist stem rust, but Ug99 has evolved to take advantage of those varieties, and almost no wheat crops anywhere are resistant to it." Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 3 April 2007
"Over the last few decades, as scientists have intensified their study of the human effects on climate and of the effects of climate change on humans, a common theme has emerged: in both respects, the world is a very unequal place. In almost every instance, the people most at risk from climate change live in countries that have contributed the least to the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases linked to the recent warming of the planet. Those most vulnerable countries also tend to be the poorest. And the countries that face the least harm — and that are best equipped to deal with the harm they do face — tend to be the richest. To advocates of unified action to curb greenhouse gases, this growing realization is not welcome news. 'The original idea was that we were all in this together, and that was an easier idea to sell,' said Robert O. Mendelsohn, an economist at Yale. 'But the research is not supporting that. We’re not in it together.'" Learn more in the New York Times.
- 2 April 2007
"Flotillas of jumbo squid are invading the length of the eastern Pacific Ocean, and the voracious predators may be upsetting ocean ecosystems and threatening fisheries, scientists warn. At their largest, jumbo, or Humboldt, squid (Dosidicus gigas) can extend to six feet (two meters) in length and weigh more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) each. The squid have earned the nickname 'red devils' for their powerful arms and tentacles, razor-sharp beaks, and insatiable appetites. The animals were already known to exist in large concentrations in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California. Scientists estimate that more than ten million squid may be living in a 25-square-mile (65-square-kilometer) area near the town of Santa Rosalia." Learn more in the National Geographic.
- 28 March 2007
"More research on the potential health and environmental hazards of nanotechnology is needed to ensure public confidence in the fast-growing industry, UK experts warned on Wednesday. Nanotechnology, which involves manipulating materials on the scale of a few billionths of a metre, has significant potential in fields ranging from computing to cosmetics to fuel. But experts warn that nanoparticles may sometimes be dangerous if they interact with the human body or the environment in unexpected ways. For example, gold particles less than 2 billionths of a metre in size have been found to bind to DNA. The UK government's top-level advisory body, the Council for Science and Technology (CST), says the UK took an early lead by commissioning a 2004 report on nanotechnology but had failed to follow through with necessary research funding." Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 27 March 2007
"China and the US are the countries most vulnerable to damage from future asteroid impacts, according to preliminary new research. Sweden also ranks surprisingly high in this first attempt at quantifying the risks of impact effects, such as tsunamis, on individual nations. Scientists have been able to simulate the propagation of tsunamis, earthquakes, and debris from virtual asteroid impacts for years. But previously, there has been no software to quantify the human toll on particular countries. Now, researchers have combined impact effects with data on population density and infrastructure location in a computer model to produce the first global ranking of countries based on their vulnerability to impact damage. Nick Bailey of the University of Southampton, UK, led the development of the new software. The team used the model to simulate thousands of impacts at points all over the Earth, building up statistics on which countries tended to be the worst affected the most often." Learn more at the New Scientist.
- 26 March 2007
"When climate scientist Andrew Weaver considers the idea of tinkering with Earth's air, water or sunlight to fight global warming, he remembers the lessons of a favorite children's book. In the book, a cheese-loving king's castle is infested with mice. So the king brings in cats to get rid of the mice. Then the castle's overrun with cats, so he brings in dogs to get rid of them, then lions to get rid of the dogs, elephants to get rid of the lions, and finally, mice to get rid of the elephants. That scenario in 'The King, the Mice and the Cheese,' by Nancy and Eric Gurney, should give scientists pause before taking extreme measures to mess with Mother Nature, says Weaver of the University of Victoria. However, in recent months, several scientists are considering doing just that. Scientists are exploring global warming solutions that sound wholly far-fetched, including giant artificial 'trees' to filter carbon dioxide out of the air, a bizarre 'solar shade' created by a trillion flying saucers that lower Earth's temperature, and a scheme that mimics a volcano by spewing light-reflecting sulfates high in the sky." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 23 March 2007
"They are still a long way from returning to the moon, but NASA is already thinking about sending astronauts to an asteroid. Such a mission could be accomplished using the same spacecraft and launch vehicle being designed to take Americans back to the moon. 'This would be the first time that humans go outside of the Earth-moon system,' says Paul Abell of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. About two years ago, NASA started work on a new crew capsule and rocket to send astronauts to the moon by 2020 (New Scientist, 11 August 2005, p 6). Now, Abell and his team say that the Orion capsule and Ares rocket could also take humans to one of the many asteroids with orbits that bring them near Earth. The team's analysis shows that the mission would require less fuel than going to the moon, because the vastly weaker gravity of an asteroid means hardly any effort is needed to escape its tug on the way back. Also, because of the weaker gravity, Orion would be able to simply hover close to the asteroid, and thus dispense with a lander, making for a lighter mission overall." Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 22 March 2007
"X-ray images taken from a new international spacecraft show that the sun's magnetic field is much more turbulent than scientists knew, NASA reported Wednesday. They saw twisting plumes of gas rising from the sun's corona and reacting with the star's magnetic field, a process that releases energy and may power solar storms and coronal mass ejections, which in turn affect the Earth. A turbulent magnetic field would, in theory, generate more energy than a steady-state field. 'Theorists suggested that twisted, tangled magnetic fields might exist,' Leon Golub, senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement. 'With the X-Ray Telescope, we can see them clearly for the first time.' The spacecraft, named Hinode from the Japanese word for sunrise, was launched in September with an array of carefully designed instruments, each looking at a different layer of the sun. It is a joint project of the U.S., European and Japanese space agencies and Britain's Particle Physics Astronomy Research Council." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 21 March 2007
"At least 70% of new small-molecule drugs introduced worldwide over the past 25 years came from a natural source, researchers reveal. They say the findings show that biodiversity is key to drug discovery and could be vital in finding the next blockbuster drug. Small molecules make up the bulk of new drug candidates since they target enzymes or receptors on the body's cells more accurately and specifically than large molecules like antibodies or proteins. David Newman at the US National Cancer Institute looked with colleagues at the role of natural products in new drugs authorised for use in patients in recent decades. They found that over two-thirds of new small-molecule drugs were plant or animal-based. However, in 2004, there was a dip in newly discovered drugs – the lowest number of compounds for 24 years, they found. The dip was due in part to the international Convention on Biodiversity rules covering exploitation of natural resources, says Danna Leaman of the World Conservation Union's medicinal plant specialist group." Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 20 March 2007
"Researchers have developed a malaria-resistant mosquito, a step that might one day help block the spread of an illness that has claimed millions of lives around the world. When they fed on malaria-infected mice, the resistant mosquitoes had a higher survival rate than nonresistant ones, meaning they could eventually replace the ones that can carry the disease, according to a report in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Jason Rasgon of the department of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University cautioned that the research so far is only a proof of principle and any field tests remain far away. Nonetheless, it's a goal eagerly sought by scientists in hope of developing a practical way of blocking the spread of malaria. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 700,000 to 2.7 million people die of malaria each year, 75 percent of them African children." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 19 March 2007
"After toiling for years as an investment banker, David Stoller made a bundle in solid waste management. Now he wants to make another with giant bales of shrink-wrapped trash. Stoller's company, TransLoad America, ships municipal solid waste by rail. TransLoad operates rail yards in Michigan, Rhode Island and New Jersey, and owns landfills in Ohio and Utah. Last November, TransLoad acquired a proprietary waste-disposal technology developed by German firm Roll Press Pack. Stoller plans to use that technology to create a vertically integrated trash-disposal service that will take a bite out of the United States' $45 billion solid waste management business in an environmentally responsible way. TransLoad's equipment compresses tons of garbage into dense cylindrical bales and seals them hermetically in several layers of plastic film. The company intends to load those bales into boxcars, and ship them to its landfills. TransLoad claims that the combination of compaction, shrink-wrapping and rail-based shipping makes the system cost-effective and eco-friendly." Learn more in Wired News.
- 16 March 2007
"Over the past several decades, the promise of the "car of tomorrow" has remained unfulfilled, while the problems it was supposed to solve have only intensified. The average price of a gallon of gas is higher than at any time since the early 1980s. The Middle East seems more volatile than ever. And even climate skeptics are starting to admit that the carbon we're pumping into the atmosphere might have disastrous consequences. To these circumstances, automakers have responded with a fleet of cars that averages 21 miles per gallon, about 4 mpg worse than the Model T. Yet hope is coming faster than that hydrogen economy you've been hearing about. Several small companies are developing new engine technologies and advanced automotive designs that promise to deliver 100 miles from a single gallon of gas. The proposals run from the simple -- reduce weight, improve aerodynamics -- to the incredible (one company wants to borrow a few tricks from jet engines)." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 15 March 2007
"In 1998, just after he won a share of the Nobel prize for physics, Robert Laughlin of Stanford University in California was asked how his discovery of 'particles' with fractional charge, now called quasi-particles, would affect the lives of ordinary people. 'It probably won't,' he said, 'unless people are concerned about how the universe works.' Well, people were. Xiao-Gang Wen at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Michael Levin at Harvard University ran with Laughlin's ideas and have come up with a prediction for a new state of matter, and even a tantalising picture of the nature of space-time itself. Levin presented their work at the Topological Quantum Computing conference at the University of California, Los Angeles, early this month. The first hint that a new type of matter may exist came in 1983. 'Twenty five years ago we thought we understood everything about how matter changes phase,' says Wen. 'Then along came an experiment that opened up a whole new world.'" Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 14 March 2007
"Air pollution blowing over the western US from Asia has been a growing environmental concern for several years. Now, it seems, it's giving winter storms added punch as well. Tiny aerosols and soot from burning wood and coal in winter, especially in China, appear to be seeding clouds in large winter storms that churn thousands of miles east across the northern Pacific, says a team of US scientists. The pollution is turning relatively routine marine rain clouds into towering thunderheads, much like those seen above land. Previous studies have shown that during the last half of the 20th century, northern Pacific winter storms have become steadily more frequent and stronger, based on tracking wind speeds and atmospheric pressure. The latest results, published last week, indicate that ill winds blowing out of Asia are adding muscle to the types of clouds these stronger winter cyclones carry." Learn more in the Christian Science Monitor.
- 13 March 2007
"If you're at home, go check your mailbox. Not your electronic one, your meatspace mailbox. Sift the personal correspondence and bills from the junk mail. It's the junk we're interested in. Bills are simple; they just want your money, which is as good as anyone else's. Letters are also simple; they treat you as a unique individual. But junk mail goes to the place in between 'everybody' and 'me' -- your group identity, your micro-class. Geo-demographic software puts you into a group you may not even know the name of. Are you a Corporate Chieftain or a Dignified Dependent? Asda Woman or Mondeo Man? What links your habitus -- your voting behavior, preferences, aspirations, characteristics -- to your geographical location? Geo-demographic market research, the kind that targets the right junk mail to the right people, literally puts you in your place. It also, some say, creates junk space and junk politics." Learn more in Wired News.
- 12 March 2007
"NASA can find and track most of the nearby asteroids that could hit and damage the Earth, but there is not enough money in its budget to finish the project within a 15-year deadline mandated by Congress, according to a new report. The agency's report, released Friday, said there are about 20,000 asteroids and comets orbiting relatively close to our planet that could deliver blows ranging from destroying cities to ending all life. These objects, 150 yards to more than a mile in diameter, represent about 20 percent of the asteroids and comets whose paths routinely pass between the Sun and the Earth's orbit, it said. Rather than trying to detect, track, catalog and characterize all of the more than 100,000 'near Earth objects,' as Congress asked in a 2005 NASA authorization bill, the study said it would be more realistic to focus on those representing a real potential hazard." Learn more at News.com.
- 9 March 2007
"The energy source of the future may lie beneath the ocean floor and under Arctic permafrost, scientists say. Both places are sources of gas hydrates, strange icelike substances that trap methane—the primary component of natural gas. 'It's not frozen gas,' explained Timothy Collett of the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver. 'It's [formed] from the interaction of gas and water.' The hydrates were discovered in 1983, and no one knows how many of them exist. But there appear to be enough hydrates to represent a larger energy source than all of the word's gas, oil, and coal combined, Collett said at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Denver, Colorado, on March 5. Twenty-three percent of the Earth's surface is covered by permafrost and may have hydrates beneath it, he said, and most of the world's oceans are deep enough for hydrates to exist just under the seabed. Most deep-sea hydrates are likely to be found near the margins of continents, he added." Learn more in National Geographic News.
- 8 March 2007
"A suite of photo-authentication tools under development by Adobe Systems could make it possible to match a digital photo to the camera that shot it, and to detect some improper manipulation of images, Wired News has learned. Adobe plans to start rolling out the technology in a number of photo-authentication plug-ins for its Photoshop product beginning as early as 2008. The company is working with a leading digital forgery specialist at Dartmouth College, who met with the Associated Press last month. The push follows a media scandal over a doctored war photograph published by Reuters last year. The news agency has since announced that it's working with both Adobe and Canon to come up with ways to prevent a recurrence of the incident. 'Fundamentally, our values as a company requires us to build tools to detect tampering, not just create tampering,' said Dave Story, vice president of product engineering at Adobe. Photo manipulation is nothing new. During the Stalin era, Soviet officials frequently vanished from official photographs after falling out of favor at the Kremlin. But the advent of Photoshop and its variety of tools has made it easier for photographers to tinker with images after they're captured. By the same token, the internet has allowed skeptical bloggers around the world to analyze photos in depth, and expose chicanery." Learn more in Wired News.
- 7 March 2007
"Pollution in Asia is altering global weather patterns by creating larger clouds and more intense storms, a new study says. The findings are the first definitive link between human activities and significant shifts in storm patterns that influence weather worldwide, the researchers write. The affected weather system, known as the Pacific storm track, spins off tropical cyclones and typhoons, the authors point out. Even more significantly, the storms affect global air and heat circulation and may be linked to warming in the polar regions. 'The intensified Pacific storm track likely has profound implications on climate,' said lead researcher Renyi Zhang, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M University. The research is presented in this week's online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.Previous research has found that smoke from wildfires in the Amazon rain forest delays the onset of storms in the region. When the storms do arrive, they're fiercer. And urban pollution has been blamed for intensified electricity and lightning in storms over cities." Learn more in National Geographic News.
- 6 March 2007
"Microsoft is set to launch a blistering attack on rival Google on Tuesday for what the software giant argues is the Web search leader's 'cavalier' approach to copyright protection. In prepared remarks to be delivered to the Association of American Publishers, Microsoft Associate General Counsel Thomas Rubin argues that Google's move into new media markets has come at the expense of publishers of books, videos and software. The Microsoft attorney's comments echo arguments at the heart of a 16-month-old copyright lawsuit against Google brought by five major book publishers and organized by the Association of American Publishers, an industry trade group. 'Companies that create no content of their own, and make money solely on the backs of other people's content, are raking in billions through advertising revenue and IPOs,' says Rubin, who oversees copyright and trade secret law at Microsoft. 'Google takes the position that everything may be freely copied unless the copyright owner notifies Google and tells it to stop,' said Rubin, noting that Microsoft takes the position of seeking the copyright owner's consent before they copy." Learn more at News.com.
- 5 March 2007
"Simultaneous warming on Earth and Mars suggests that our planet's recent climate changes have a natural—and not a human- induced—cause, according to one scientist's controversial theory. Earth is currently experiencing rapid warming, which the vast majority of climate scientists says is due to humans pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Mars, too, appears to be enjoying more mild and balmy temperatures. In 2005 data from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions revealed that the carbon dioxide 'ice caps' near Mars's south pole had been diminishing for three summers in a row. Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of the St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun. 'The long-term increase in solar irradiance is heating both Earth and Mars,' he said." Learn more in the National Geographic News.
- 2 March 2007
"A team of search-and-rescue robots capable of collaborating to form a single larger robot when faced with certain challenges have been developed in Germany. Each of the robot's three detachable modules can function independently, to explore rubble for survivors, for example. When brought together, however, the modules function as a single larger and more complex robot. The modules have two tank-like caterpillar treads each that allow them to climb stairs and negotiate uneven surfaces. A suite of onboard sensors including a camera, a touch sensor, a gyroscope and a GPS module, help them negotiate their surroundings and accurately determine their position. The units fit together using a novel conical docking mechanism developed by Houxiang Zhang and colleagues at the University of Hamburg, in Germany, along with a team from Beihang University in Beijing, China." Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 1 March 2007
"Scientists are to sail to the mid-Atlantic to examine a massive 'open wound' on the Earth's surface. Dr Chris MacLeod, from Cardiff University, said the Earth's crust appeared to be completely missing in an area thousands of kilometres across. The hole in the crust is midway between the Cape Verde Islands and the Caribbean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The team will survey the area, up to 5km (3 miles) under the surface, from ocean research vessel RRS James Cook.
The ship is on its inaugural voyage after being named in February. Dr MacLeod said the hole in the Earth's crust was not unique, but was recognised as one of the most significant. He said it was an 'open wound on the surface of the Earth', where the oceanic crust, usually 6-7km thick (3.7-4.3 miles), was simply not there. 'Usually the plates are pulled apart and to fill the gap the mantle underneath has to rise up. As it comes up it starts to melt. That forms the magma,' he said." Learn more at the BBC.com.
- 28 February 2007
"An international panel of scientists presented the United Nations with a sweeping, detailed plan on Tuesday to combat climate change -- a challenge, it said, 'to which civilization must rise.' Failure would produce a turbulent 21st century of weather extremes, spreading drought and disease, expanding oceans and displaced coastal populations, it said. 'The increasing numbers of environmental refugees as sea levels rise and storm surges increase will be in the tens of millions,' panel co-chair Rosina Bierbaum, a University of Michigan ecologist, told reporters here. After a two-year study, the 18-member group, representing 11 nations, offered scores of recommendations: from pouring billions more dollars into research and development of cleaner energy sources, to mobilizing U.N. and other agencies to help affected people, to winning political agreement on a global temperature 'ceiling.' Their 166-page report, produced at U.N. request and sponsored by the private United Nations Foundation and the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society, was issued just three weeks after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an authoritative U.N. network of 2,000 scientists, made headlines with its latest assessment of climate science." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 27 February 2007
"Europe has a new flagship agency to fund the brightest ideas in science. The European Research Council (ERC) has been given a budget of 7.5bn euros (£5bn) to 2013, and will focus solely on fundamental, or 'blue skies', study. It is hoped the initiative can find the breakthrough thinking - and eventually new products and services - to keep the EU's economy globally competitive. The ERC was formally inaugurated at a meeting in Berlin attended by the German Chancellor, Dr Angela Merkel.
She said the Council would become 'a champion's league for research', giving scientists the freedom to be creative and innovative. 'We know that research and new technologies can be driving motors for a new economic dynamic, they can even provide a basis for growth in Europe, for keeping and increasing our prosperity and competitiveness,' she observed. 'We expect those who work in the research areas selected by the ERC will fulfil their potential.'" Learn more at the BBC.com.
- 26 February 2007
"Spindly orange sea stars, fan-finned ice fish and herds of roving sea cucumbers are among the exotic creatures spied off the Antarctic coast in an area formerly covered by ice, scientists reported Sunday. This is the first time explorers have been able to catalog wildlife where two mammoth ice shelves used to extend for some 3,900 square miles over the Weddell Sea. At least 5,000 years old, the ice shelves collapsed in two stages over the last dozen years. One crumbled 12 years ago and the other followed in 2002. Global warming is seen as the culprit behind the ice shelves' demise, said Gauthier Chapelle of the Polar Foundation in Brussels. 'These kind of collapses are expected to happen more,' he said. 'What we're observing here is probably going to happen elsewhere around Antarctica.' Melting ice shelves are not expected to directly contribute much to global sea level rise, but glaciologists believe these vast swaths of ice act like dams to slow down glaciers as they move over the Antarctic land mass toward the coast. Without the ice shelves, glaciers may move over the water more quickly, and this would substantially add to rising seas." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 23 February 2007
"A fishing crew has caught a colossal squid that could weigh a half-ton and prove to be the biggest specimen ever landed, a fisheries official said Thursday. If calamari rings were made from the squid they would be the size of tractor tires, one expert said. The squid, weighing an estimated 990 pounds and about 39 feet long, took two hours to land in Antarctic waters, New Zealand Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said. The fishermen were catching Patagonian toothfish, sold under the name Chilean sea bass, south of New Zealand 'and the squid was eating a hooked toothfish when it was hauled from the deep,' Anderton said. The fishing crew and a fisheries official on board their ship estimated the length and weight of the squid: Detailed, official measurements have not been made. The date when the colossus was caught also was not disclosed. Colossal squid, known by the scientific name Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, are estimated to grow up to 46 feet long and have long been one of the most mysterious creatures of the deep ocean. If original estimates are correct, the squid would be 330 pounds heavier than the next biggest specimen ever found." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 22 February 2007
"Start-up Citizenre thinks the solar power industry is ready for a radical new way of doing business: rent out panels, rather than sell them. The company has devised a plan that essentially would allow individual homeowners to lease solar electric panels installed on their roofs. That way, they would avoid hefty up-front costs--a perennial barrier to widespread use of solar power. But there's a hitch: Citizenre does not yet have a product to sell and has not named financial backers. Next month, though, the company intends to announce its lineup of investors, who are expected to put $650 million into the operation. It will also disclose the location of a planned manufacturing plant. The absence so far of these crucial details has brought skepticism from solar electric industry incumbents, who fear that Citizenre could set solar power adoption back by promising too much. But even critics admit that one of the big ideas behind Citizenre--letting people rent rather than buy solar power--is compelling." Learn more at News.com.
- 21 February 2007
"European environment ministers have agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. Ministers agreed to adopt binding targets for cutting emissions at the first meeting of the European Commission's Environment Council, held on 20 February. The decision is not final it needs approval by the governments of European Union member states. Yet it reflects the European Commission's determination to push through an international agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012. It also shows that binding targets forcing countries to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases are seen as crucial to such a post-Kyoto treaty. German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel says the target could eventually be boosted to 30%, if other developed nations can be persuaded to agree similar cuts. The deal was first proposed earlier this year. The 15 EU states that were members before the bloc expanded to a total of 27 countries by 2007 are already collectively bound to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8% by 2012, compared to 1990 levels, by the Kyoto protocol. That percentage was split unequally between the 15 states, based on a variety of factors, under the so-called 'burden sharing agreement.'" Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 20 February 2007
"It's not often you can compare Internet addresses with clothing, but a growing practice comes close, contributing to a global shortage in good names. Entrepreneurs have been taking advantage of a five-day grace period to sample millions of domain names, keeping the relative few that might generate advertising revenues and dropping the rest before paying. It's akin to buying new clothes on a charge card only to return them for a full refund after wearing them to a big party. The grace period was originally designed to rectify legitimate mistakes, such as registrants mistyping the domain name they are about to buy. But with computer automation and a burgeoning online advertising market, entrepreneurs have turned the return policy into a loophole for generating big bucks. Experts believe spammers and scam artists are also starting to use the grace period as a source of free, disposable Web addresses. With up to 6 million names tied up at any given time through a practice known as domain name tasting, individuals and businesses are having even greater difficulty finding good names, particularly in the already-crowded '.com' space." Learn more in Wired News.
- 16 February 2007
"Health-care provider Kaiser Permanente has launched a massive study into the complex interplay of genetics, environment and lifestyles that cause many common diseases. Kaiser researchers are sending detailed surveys to its 2 million adult members asking about their habits, family medical histories and many other factors that influence health. In a second phase it hopes to start next year, Kaiser will ask members to donate genetic material through cheek swabs or blood draws. The plan is to combine that information with the company's massive medical history records in a database that researchers can use to gain a deeper understanding of disease causes and develop treatments. 'This is a vital and important effort to improve the health of people everywhere,' said Dr. David Kessler, head of the University of California, San Francisco medical school who attended Wednesday's news conference announcing the endeavor." Learn more in Wired News.
15 February 2007
"It's no secret that the servers behind every Web 2.0 company, bank Internet site and corporate e-mail system are consuming ever larger amounts of power. But now a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study to be released Thursday has quantified exactly how much. Servers in the United States and their attendant cooling systems consumed 45 billion kilowatt-hours of energy in 2005. That's more than Mississippi and 19 other states, according to study author Jonathan Koomey, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and consulting professor at Stanford University. And the computers' electricity appetite is still growing fast. 'Over a five-year period from 2000 to 2005, there has been about a doubling,' Koomey said. Most of the growth is from the widespread adoption of lower-end servers costing less than $25,000, he said. Server power demand has moved high up customer priority lists--especially with rising power costs and overstuffed data centers--and hardware makers are responding." Learn more at News.com.
- 14 February 2007
"Close your eyes for a minute and envision all the romantic parts of the human body. Her beautiful eyes. His strong shoulders. We'll stop there, but you go right ahead and think about all the body parts you want. Bet you didn't think about the caudate and the ventral tegmental areas, did you? These areas of the brain, while little known to most people, are helping scientists explain the physiological reasons behind why we feel what we feel when we fall in love. By studying MRI brain scans of people newly in love, scientists are learning a lot about the science of love: Why love is so powerful, and why being rejected is so horribly painful. In a group of experiments, Dr. Lucy Brown, a professor in the department of neurology and neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and her colleagues did MRI brain scans on college students who were in the throes of new love. While being scanned, the students looked at a photo of their beloved. The scientists found that the caudate area of the brain -- which is involved in cravings -- became very active. Another area that lit up: the ventral tegmental, which produces dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that affects pleasure and motivation." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 13 February 2007
"Isaac Daniel calls the tiny Global Positioning System chip he's embedded into a line of sneakers 'peace of mind.' He wishes his 8-year-old son had been wearing them when he got a call from his school in 2002 saying the boy was missing. The worried father hopped a flight to Atlanta from New York where he had been on business to find the incident had been a miscommunication and his son was safe. Days later, the engineer started working on a prototype of Quantum Satellite Technology, a line of $325 to $350 adult sneakers that hit shelves next month. It promises to locate the wearer anywhere in the world with the press of a button. A children's line will be out this summer. 'We call it a second eye watching over you,' Daniel said. It's the latest implementation of satellite-based navigation into everyday life -- technology that can be found in everything from cell phones that help keep kids away from sexual predators to fitness watches that track heart rate and distance. Shoes aren't as easy to lose, unlike phones, watches and bracelets. The sneakers work when the wearer presses a button on the shoe to activate the GPS. A wireless alert detailing the location is sent to a 24-hour monitoring service that costs an additional $19.95 a month." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 12 February 2007
"International rules allowing the burial of greenhouse gases beneath the seabed have come into force in what could be a step toward fighting global warming, if the costs of the technology is reduced and the risk of leaks can be averted. The new rules will mean carbon dioxide emitted from power stations and industrial plants can be entombed offshore. This would slow warming while allowing continued use of fossil fuels. 'Storage of CO2 under the seabed will be allowed from 10 February 2007 under amendments to an international agreement governing the dumping of wastes at sea,' said the UN's International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in a statement. The new rules, agreed upon in November, amend the UN's London Convention on dumping at sea. Its text had been unclear about whether CO2 was classified as a pollutant. The changes apply to oceans worldwide and could clear the way to more investment in sub-sea carbon storage by governments and companies. 'This removes a lack of clarity and doubt for investors,' said Tore Torp, CO2 storage adviser at Norwegian oil group Statoil, which opened the world's first commercial store of CO2 under the North Sea in 1996." Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 9 February 2007
"After letting computer users soar over Mount Kilimanjaro's melting snows and peer down on illegal logging in Asia, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) is exploring how the latest technology can help it reach more people, an official said on Wednesday. It hopes to copy the success of a venture with Google Inc. that made an atlas of before-and-after satellite images of environmental change available to more than 100 million viewers through the interactive mapping program Google Earth. Now UNEP is seeking similar partnerships with firms including Microsoft, Oracle Corp., Cisco Systems and ESRI, a California-based computer mapping company, UNEP program officer Michael Wilson told Reuters. 'A lot of effort is going into developing these sorts of partnerships and finding alignment of interests,' he said on the sidelines of a U.N. environment conference in Kenya. UNEP's 'Atlas of Our Changing World' was first published in hardback in June 2005 and features high-resolution images of changes ranging from dramatic deforestation in South America to retreating glaciers in the North Pole, oil exploration in Canada and the huge growth of greenhouses in southern Spain." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 8 February 2007
"Oren Rubin says you can help wean America off oil imports by going to Long John Silver's more often. The deep fat fryers and waste oil containers of America house a large, untapped source of transportation fuel, says Rubin, business development general manager for BiOil, a biodiesel company based in Sausalito, Calif. Namely, billions of gallons of animal fat and waste vegetable oil that can be converted into domestically produced, cleaner-burning biodiesel, says Rubin, among others. BiOil's plan--which will require sizable funding--is to build a national network of disposal centers, with help from biodiesel producer Pacific Biodiesel, based in Kahului, Hawaii, to collect a substantial portion of the 3.9 billion gallons of waste vegetable oil produced at fast-food eateries, refine it and then sell it to trucking companies and drivers. 'We rely on people to eat Chinese food, fast food, whatever,' Rubin said. More significantly, big agribusiness has its eye on the grease bucket too. Last November, chicken giant Tyson Foods announced it has formed a renewable-fuel division. Rival Perdue has said it is exploring the idea as well." Learn more at News.com.
- 7 February 2007
"Indonesia, which has had more human cases of avian flu than any other country, has stopped sending samples of the virus to the World Health Organization, apparently because it is negotiating a contract to sell the samples to an American vaccine company, a W.H.O. official said yesterday. The strains of the H5N1 virus circulating in Indonesia are considered crucial to developing up-to-date vaccines and following mutations in the virus. The official, Dr. David L. Heymann, said the agency was 'clearly concerned' about the development and was in talks with Indonesia. Dr. Heymann, the agency’s chief of communicable diseases, said he was not blaming the company involved, Baxter Healthcare of Deerfield, Ill. 'But now that this has happened,' he said, “we have to sit down and figure out how to rectify it.” Indonesia signed a memorandum of agreement with Baxter today. A Baxter spokeswoman said the company had not asked Indonesia to stop cooperating with the W.H.O. She added that the agreement under negotiation would not give it exclusive access to Indonesian strains. The virus has not yet mutated into a strain easily transmitted among humans. But it has infected 81 people in Indonesia, 63 of them fatally. It killed more people in 2006 than in any previous year and is out of control in poultry in Indonesia, Egypt and West Africa, so experts fear it as much as ever." Learn more in the New York Times.
- 6 February 2007
"For decades, space experts have worried that a speeding bit of orbital debris might one day smash a large spacecraft into hundreds of pieces and start a chain reaction, a slow cascade of collisions that would expand for centuries, spreading chaos through the heavens.In the last decade or so, as scientists came to agree that the number of objects in orbit had surpassed a critical mass — or, in their terms, the critical spatial density, the point at which a chain reaction becomes inevitable — they grew more anxious. Early this year, after a half-century of growth, the federal list of detectable objects (four inches wide or larger) reached 10,000, including dead satellites, spent rocket stages, a camera, a hand tool and junkyards of whirling debris left over from chance explosions and destructive tests. Now, experts say, China’s test on Jan. 11 of an antisatellite rocket that shattered an old satellite into hundreds of large fragments means the chain reaction will most likely start sooner. If their predictions are right, the cascade could put billions of dollars’ worth of advanced satellites at risk and eventually threaten to limit humanity’s reach for the stars. Federal and private experts say that early estimates of 800 pieces of detectable debris from the shattering of the satellite will grow to nearly 1,000 as observations continue by tracking radars and space cameras. At either number, it is the worst such episode in space history." Learn more in the New York Times.
- 5 February 2007
"I’m standing on a steel barge in the center of Ootsa Lake, a 154-square-mile reservoir in northwestern British Columbia. A chafing wind blows from the west, where the snowy, nearly treeless slopes of the Kitimat Range vanish into overcast skies. I jump as a voice booms over the outdoor PA system: “Clear to cut!” A few seconds later, a massive spruce tree erupts from the murky water. Two hundred feet below, a remotely operated vehicle dubbed the Sawfish is wielding a 54-inch-long chain saw. On the deck of the barge, an operator sits inside a cramped, dimly lit control room made from a shipping container. He’s maneuvering the Sawfish with a joystick, and his eyes are locked on a video feed of footage from eight underwater cameras embedded in the contraption. A generator delivers power to the sub through a 720-foot-long high-voltage cable that also encloses a set of fiber-optic lines to transmit guidance commands from the pilot. If you’re on the shoreline or live nearby, underwater timber harvesting is remarkably quiet: no screaming chain saws or smoke-belching heavy machinery...By some estimates, there is $50 billion worth of marketable timber at the bottom of these man-made lakes." Learn more in Wired News.
- 2 February 2007
"Global warming is here, it's human-caused, and it will continue for centuries even if greenhouse-gas emissions are stabilized, an international panel of climate experts said in a report issued today. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) used its strongest language yet to link human activity to Earth's warming temperatures, rising seas, more intense storms, and a host of other environmental maladies. 'Fossil fuel use, agriculture, and land-use change are fundamentally affecting the systems on our planet,' Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said at a press briefing in Paris, France. The United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization oversee the IPCC. Hundreds of climate experts and government representatives from 113 countries labored all week in Paris to reach unanimous agreement on the wording of each sentence in the 20-page summary for policymakers released today. 'Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperature since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [human-caused] greenhouse gas concentrations,' the report reads." Learn more in the National Geographic.
- 1 February 2007
"Rafi Yoeli has an unconventional solution to saving people from burning high-rises or rescuing soldiers trapped behind enemy lines: a flying car. Yoeli already has gotten a rudimentary vehicle off the ground -- about three feet -- and hopes to see a marketable version of his X-Hawk flying car by 2010. Although his dream might seem far-fetched, Textron Inc.'s Bell Helicopters is taking a serious look, teaming with Yoeli's privately held Urban Aeronautics to explore X-Hawk's potential. Think of the people trapped in the World Trade Center. Think of ground patrols in Iraq blown up by roadside bombs. Think of New Orleans residents stranded on rooftops after Hurricane Katrina. X-Hawk and its smaller version, Mule, might one day offer the same capabilities as helicopters, but without the serious operating limitations -- like exposed rotors -- that helicopters face in urban terrain. 'The reality is that we have not been designing helicopters to operate in urban environments,' said M.E. Rhett Flater, executive director of the American Helicopter Society, a professional group." Learn more at CNN.com.
- 31 January 2007
"The growth of tiny plants at the base of the ocean food chain is tightly linked to changes in the climate, according to a recent study. The finding shows that as temperatures warm, the growth of single-celled ocean plants called phytoplankton slows at Earth's mid and low latitudes. The plants' growth increases when the climate cools. While the findings are related to short-term changes in climate, they help scientists predict how the ocean will respond to long-term climate change, according to Jorge Sarmiento, an atmospheric and ocean scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey. 'This is telling us we can expect reduced biological production [the ability to support life such as plants, fish, and wildlife] with global warming in many regions of the world,' he said. Sarmiento is a co-author of the study, which was published last month in the science journal Nature.Michael Behrenfeld, a botanist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, was lead author of the study. He said the research demonstrates a solid link between climate change and marine life. The growth of phytoplankton, for example, influences how much food fish have to eat, which in turn affects the marine birds that eat the fish." Learn more in the National Geographic.
- 30 January 2007
"The port of Iberia has never been busier. Situated on a narrow canal leading to the Louisiana coastline, the docks here throb with the sound of tugboats towing oil platforms to and from their anchorages in the Gulf of Mexico. When a drilling site is depleted, the platforms return to port; the docks are littered with rusting steel hulks waiting for their next run. In December, though, one of these platforms, stripped and refurbished by a local startup, returned to sea with a new mission. The first of a flotilla to come, it carried wind-monitoring equipment as well as radar for tracking migratory birds. Those that follow will be topped not by drilling rigs but by windmills. The turbines are bound for an 18-square-mile area roughly 10 miles off the coast of Galveston, Texas, where the first offshore wind farm in the US is under construction. That’s right: The flower of sustainable energy is blooming in oil country. Get ready for the Great Texas Wind Rush." Learn more in Wired News.
- 29 January 2007
"Patients who suffer from disease or injury that leave them unable to move have little hope of independent mobility. But that may be about to change. Researchers are developing a thought-controlled robotic wheelchair. Spanish scientists have begun work on a new brain-computer interface, or BCI, capable of converting thought into commands that a wheelchair can execute. Other researchers have already had some success with hard-wired brain computer interfaces, but they're powered by large computers and are physically plugged into the brain. The Spanish researchers hope to develop a small, mobile interface that works with electroencephalogram electrodes, or EEG, placed on the scalp. 'We are planning to use non-invasive devices to record the rhythms from the surface of the skull,' says Javier Minguez, a researcher at the University of Zaragoza in Spain. 'We also plan to use this system with a school for disabled children that we collaborate with and (we) prefer to use non-invasive techniques with these children.'" Learn more in Wired News.
- 26 January 2007
"A Canadian airport has found a unique use for traditional radar that puts it to work scouring the ground -- instead of the sky -- for hazardous objects. Vancouver International Airport has just installed a system of networked radar meant to help keep runways clear of potentially dangerous foreign object debris, or FOD. The Tarsier system, developed by security and defense company QinetiQ (pronounced 'kinetic'), uses powerful radar scans trained at the ground to detect FOD as small as a 2-inch bolt. 'We thought this would be the ideal technology to address the (debris) problem,' said Paul Levy, vice president of airport operations at Vancouver International. 'We've always had the crews go out and make visual checks of the runways and taxiways, but it can be extremely difficult to do at night or in bad weather.'" Learn more at Wired News.
- 25 January 2007
"Websites around the world are getting a new computerized visitor among the Googlebots and Yahoo web spiders: The taxman. A five-nation tax enforcement cartel has been quietly cracking down on suspected internet tax cheats, using a sophisticated web crawling program to monitor transactions on auction sites, and track operators of online shops, poker and porn sites. The 'Xenon' program -- a reference to the super-bright auto headlights that light up dark places -- was started in The Netherlands in 2004 by the Dutch equivalent of the IRS, Belastingdienst. It has since been expanded and enhanced by international group of tax authorities in Austria, Denmark, Britain and Canada, with the assistance of Amsterdam-based data mining firm Sentient Machine Research. Xenon is primarily a spider: a program that downloads a web page, then traverses its links and downloads those as well, ad infinitum." Learn more in Wired News.
- 24 January 2007
"Gene tests on a sample of 'indigenous' Englishmen have thrown up a surprise black ancestry, providing new insight into a centuries-old African presence in Britain. The tests identified a rare West African Y chromosome in a group of men from Yorkshire who share a surname that dates back at least as far as the mid-14th century and have a typical European appearance. They owe their unusual Y chromosome to an African man living in England at least 250 years ago and perhaps as early as Roman times, the researchers say. Mark Jobling at the University of Leicester, UK, and colleagues recruited 421 men who described themselves as British and analysed their genes as part of a survey of British Y chromosome diversity. To the researchers’ surprise, they found that one individual in the study carried a very rare Y chromosome, called hgA1. This particular variant has previously been identified in only 26 people worldwide, three African Americans and 23 men living in West African countries such as Guinea-Bissau and Senegal." Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 23 January 2007
"Wouldn't it be nice if airline pilots turned on the "fasten seat belt" sign before the person standing in the aisle toppled onto your lap because of turbulence? NASA researchers are on the job. They are developing a pair of technologies that will give pilots several minutes' warning so they can steer clear of the erratic, gusty winds. "That's enough time to get everybody seated and carts stowed if you're in the meal phase of the flight," said Jim Watson, an engineer at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. 'And it also allows you to contact air traffic control and get a route diversion if necessary,' added Watson, who is project manager for NASA's Turbulence Prediction and Warning Systems. The system's technologies aim to prevent injuries and save airlines millions of dollars. Of the 58 turbulence-related injuries that occur on average in the United States each year, 98 percent happen because people don't have their seat belts fastened, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration." Learn more in the National Geographic.
- 22 January 2007
"More than 30 percent of fish species in the Yellow River have gone extinct, Chinese government officials reported this week. 'There used to be more than 150 species of fish living in the Yellow River, but one-third have disappeared for good,' an unnamed Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) official told China's People's Daily newspaper. The MOA official also reported that the Yellow River's fish catch has declined by about 40 percent and emphasized a human role—such as disruptive dams and pollution—in the environmental catastrophe. 'Overfishing, persistent dumping, and hydropower projects along the river have degraded the underwater ecological environment,' he said. The Chinese government estimates that 66 percent of the Yellow River's water is so polluted that it is undrinkable. Jennifer Turner, head of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., said that the river's fouled waters mirror a nationwide problem that threatens wildlife as well as human health." Learn more in the National Geographic.
- 19 January 2007
"On the vanguard of venture capital, the buzzwords of late have been 'alternative energy' and 'China.' Are the two worlds about to collide? Seed investors are financing, or considering financing, start-ups in China that are developing equipment for wind and solar power, clean water and food alternatives and technology to promote energy efficiency. While this may seem to be an arbitrary combination of two of the hottest trends in venture capital — sort of like the first person who mixed peanut butter and chocolate — there is a growing number of investors who believe that the potential reward in China is worth the tremendous risk. China has voracious energy needs and 'the most serious environmental problem in the world,' said Jerry Li, a consultant in Beijing who matches venture capitalists with entrepreneurs. 'There is a huge demand for investment' in alternative solutions, he said. Mr. Li is the first director of Cleantech China, a joint venture beginning this month between Tsinghua University in Beijing and the Cleantech Venture Network, a blossoming North American trade and research group for venture capitalists investing in alternative energy technology." Learn more in the New York Times.
- 18 January 2007
"Alaska's Aleutian Islands chain is a geologic, fire-breathing dragon with dozens of active volcanoes. To prevent a Vesuvius-style disaster, researchers at the Alaska Volcano Observatory have begun channeling eruption data into Google Earth. 'We had many tools, but we needed a way to bring them all together -- all the animation, hot-spot and plume data -- to give us a better perspective on the whole situation,' said project leader John Bailey. Last month at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, Bailey showed off a mini-program he wrote using Google-developed KML, or keyhole markup language, an XML grammar and file format that allows Google Earth to display custom images. The program analyzes the data, assesses a threat level and displays the result as a triangular icon. An orange triangle, for instance, indicates an elevated threat level, while a red triangle means a greater threat, namely a current or upcoming eruption or other activity." Learn more in Wired News.
- 17 January 2007
"Flying over snow-capped peaks and into a thick fog, the helicopter set down on a barren strip of rocks between two glaciers. A dozen bags of supplies, a rifle and a can of cooking gas were tossed out onto the cold ground. Then, with engines whining, the helicopter lifted off, snow and fog swirling in the rotor wash. When it had disappeared over the horizon, no sound remained but the howling of the Arctic wind. 'It feels a little like the days of the old explorers, doesn’t it?' Dennis Schmitt said. Mr. Schmitt, a 60-year-old explorer from Berkeley, Calif., had just landed on a newly revealed island 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle in eastern Greenland. It was a moment of triumph: he had discovered the island on an ocean voyage in September 2005. Now, a year later, he and a small expedition team had returned to spend a week climbing peaks, crossing treacherous glaciers and documenting animal and plant life." Learn more at the New York Times.
- 16 January 2007
"Do extraterrestrials sweep their skies with radar to scan for incoming missiles? If so, Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, thinks he can find the radio signals leaked from warring alien civilizations. He might also be able to catch their version of reality TV and talk radio. The concept is different than other radio programs in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) that look for high-frequency signals deliberately beamed across space to make contact with distant civilizations. Extraterrestrials may not emit such beacons, Loeb theorizes. 'However, our own civilization is transmitting power unintentionally through radio and TV broadcasting and military radars,' he said in a videotaped presentation played Wednesday to reporters at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington. 'An interesting question is whether we can eavesdrop on another civilization at the frequencies that we are ourselves transmitting in,' he said." Learn more in the National Geographic.
- 12 January 2007
"The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives approved a bill on Thursday to lift the current limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Lawmakers voted 253-174 in favour of the bill, largely along party lines. But the president says he will veto any resulting legislation. 'Today, by passing legislation to expand stem cell research, the House gave voice to the hopes of more than 100 million Americans and their families,' said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing the promise of such research to help people with a number of diseases, including diabetes and cancer. The text of the newly-approved Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act is similar to one approved by Congress in 2006. In July 2006, President George W Bush vetoed the earlier bill – the only time in his six years in office he used this executive power. The US Senate is expected to vote on an identical version of the new House measure within weeks. But the president says he will veto any resulting bill that would loosen funding restrictions, arguing that embryonic stem cell research is unethical and immoral because it involves destroying human embryos." Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 11 January 2007
"Earth's home galaxy, the Milky Way, has at least eight more galactic neighbors than previously known, scientists announced yesterday—and dozens more finds are expected in the coming years. The discoveries, made over the past two years, nearly double the number of Milky Way neighbors found in the prior 70 years. 'Seven of them are new dwarf galaxies [bound to] the Milky Way, ranging in distance from roughly 100,000 to 700,000 light-years from us,' Daniel Zucker, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge in England, said at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Seattle, Washington. The new dwarfs are extremely faint and diffuse and contain at most a few million stars each, Zucker noted. In fact, they are so small that he suggested calling them 'hobbit galaxies.' In contrast, the Milky Way, around which the newly discovered dwarfs orbit, contains at least 200 billion stars." Learn more in the National Geographic.
- 10 January 2007
"A lot of government scientists have said it. But until yesterday, it appeared that no news release on annual climate trends out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the Bush White House had said unequivocally that a buildup of greenhouse gases was helping warm the climate. The statement came in a release that said 2006 was the warmest year for the 48 contiguous states since regular temperature records began in 1895. It surpassed the previous champion, 1998, a year heated up by a powerful episode of the periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean by El Niño. Last year, another El Niño developed, but this time a long-term warming trend from human activities was said to be involved as well. 'A contributing factor to the unusually warm temperatures throughout 2006 also is the long-term warming trend, which has been linked to increases in greenhouse gases,' the release said, emphasizing that the relative contributions of El Niño and the human influence were not known." Learn more in the New York Times.
- 9 January 2007
"As they dig out from under thick snow dropped by back-to-back holiday blizzards, residents of Colorado, northern and central New Mexico, and several Plains states may wonder what the rest of winter holds for them. But at least the patterns behind such weather are predictable. They're typical of the long arm of El Niño, which now reigns in the tropical Pacific. For residents of the East Coast - not to mention Europe - it's a different story. Record-setting warmth, which gave Muscovites near shirt-sleeve weather, has everyone scratching their heads. Is global warming responsible? Researchers aren't sure. They point instead to a seesaw climate pattern that occurs over the North Atlantic, called the North Atlantic Oscillation or NAO. Less publicly known than El Niño, and certainly less understood, the NAO is getting increasing attention from scientists. Their goal is twofold: to develop useful forecasts of the oscillation and to better estimate whether global warming is exaggerating its effects." Learn more in the Christian Science Monitor.
- 5 January 2007
"The most damaging earthquake in Australia's history was caused by humans, new research says. The magnitude-5.6 quake that struck Newcastle, in New South Wales, on December 28, 1989, killed 13 people, injured 160, and caused 3.5 billion U.S. dollars worth of damage. That quake was triggered by changes in tectonic forces caused by 200 years of underground coal mining, according to a study by Christian D. Klose of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. The quake wasn't enormous, but Australia isn't generally considered to be seismically active and the city's buildings weren't designed to withstand a temblor of that magnitude, Klose said. All told, he added, the monetary damage done by the earthquake exceeded the total value of the coal extracted in the area. Klose presented his findings at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California last month." Learn more in National Geographic.
- 4 January 2007
"The downfall of the one of the greatest Chinese dynasties may have been catalysed by severe changes in climate. The same climate changes may have simultaneously led to the end of the Maya civilisation depicted in Mel Gibson's new film Apocalypto. So says Gerald Haug of the GeoForschungsZentrum in Germany and colleagues, who studied geological records of monsoons over the past 16,000 years. They have found a startling correlation between climate extremes and the fall of two great civilisations: the Tang dynasty in China and the Maya of South America. 'It blew me away,' says Haug. The records show that around the time that these civilizations went into decline, they experienced stronger than average winds in the winter and weaker summer monsoon rains. These weak rains would have reduced crop yields. Records of monsoons beyond the last 50 years are difficult to obtain. Looking for signs of monsoon trends in geological records going back thousands of years can help solve this problem." Learn more in the New Scientist.
- 3 January 2007
"The nation's soon-to-be largest telephone company may have caved to certain Net neutrality commitments for the sake of a merger blessing, but a renewed push for more sweeping rules could return to Capitol Hill as soon as this month. Breaking months of partisan deadlock among the four voting members of the Federal Communications Commission over AT&T's roughly $86 billion union with BellSouth, the telecommunications giant made a last-minute pledge last week to abide by a series of antidiscrimination principles supported by Internet content companies like Google and eBay, and consumer advocacy groups. Although some FCC commissioners have asserted that the agreement is not a public policy mandate, it could serve as a blueprint for members of Congress preparing to reintroduce bills intended to bar network operators like AT&T from charging extra fees to content providers for added perks." Learn more at News.com.
- 2 January 2007
"A huge Canadian ice shelf 500 miles (800 kilometers) from the North Pole has disintegrated, leaving a large floating island of ice stranded 30 miles (48 kilometers) offshore, scientists reported yesterday. The entire 25.5-square-mile (66-square-kilometer) Ayles Ice Shelf broke free from the northern coast of Ellesmere Island on August 13, 2005. The event registered as a small earthquake on instruments stationed 150 miles (250 kilometers) away, Warwick Vincent of Quebec's Laval University told the CanWest News Service. 'It's like a cruise missile came down and hit the ice shelf,' Vincent said. 'It no longer exists.' The breakup was spotted on satellite photos shortly after it occurred, but scientists have held back until now to make an announcement. 'We've spent the last year reconstructing exactly what happened,' said Luke Copland, a geographer with the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada." Learn more in the National Geographic.
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