Thursday, June 30, 2005

Scientists put melting mystery on ice - LiveScience -

"Until now, scientists could not explain why ice cubes in your drink melt. They've known the basics, but the details remained elusive.

A breakthrough new study, announced today, supports a leading theory that melting starts when the fundamental structure of matter begins to crack."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Study: Baby dolphins, killer whales never sleep - Science -

"Sleep-deprived mothers of newborn babies should spare a thought for bottlenose dolphins and killer whales.

A study has shown the young of those two species do not sleep at all during the first month of life. They are active 24 hours a day -- and their mothers have learned to cope.

'Somehow these seafaring mammals have found a way to cope with sleep deprivation, facilitating rather than hindering a crucial phase of development for their offspring,' Dr Jerome Siegel, a neuroscientist at the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA), said in a statement."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

France Chosen As Site for Nuclear Reactor

"France was chosen Tuesday as the home for an experimental $13 billion nuclear fusion project scientists say will produce a boundless source of clean and cheap energy.

A consortium of United States, the European Union, China, Russia, Japan had been divided over whether to put the test reactor in France or Japan, and competition was intense. The U.S. had favored placing the plant in Japan. At stake was billions of dollars for research, construction and engineering.

The threat of global warming has brought nuclear power - currently available only through fission and long out of favor - back to the forefront as a way of generating energy because it creates no so-called greenhouse gases, a cause of global warming."

Lake-like feature spotted on Saturn moon - -

"You might have thought Saturn's moon Titan was a somewhat dead issue after the Cassini spacecraft did not find convincing evidence for methane seas that scientists had predicted would exist.

But the smoggy moon is back in the news today as a new Cassini image reveals a dark feature that scientists speculate might be a lake.

The feature is 'remarkably lake-like,' according to a NASA statement that noted the appearance of smooth, shore-like boundaries unlike any seen previously on Titan."

Starbucks to Release CD of Dylan Bootlegs

"Bob Dylan made his mark playing in one cafe. Soon, he'll be in thousands. Starbucks Coffee Co. has reached a deal to produce and exclusively release a CD of 10 Dylan recordings from New York's Gaslight Cafe in 1962, when he was just finding himself as a songwriter. The Gaslight, in Greenwich Village, was a focal point of the folk revival in the early '60s.

'Bob Dylan: Live at the Gaslight 1962' will be available at Starbucks stores in the United States and Canada on Aug. 30. It includes the earliest known recordings of 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' and 'Don't Think Twice, It's All Right,' as well as folk standards 'Barbara Allen' and 'The Cuckoo.'

Fans have circulated bootlegs of Dylan's Gaslight performances over the years, but these are the first to be professionally produced and remastered, Starbucks said Tuesday.

The CD's release will coincide with the release of director Martin Scorsese's feature-length film about Dylan, 'No Direction Home.' Starbucks will also sell the two-CD soundtrack for the movie, though the soundtrack will be available through other stores."

Monday, June 27, 2005

US NSF - News - Ultra-Fast Camera Captures How Hummingbirds Hover

"June 22, 2005

Hummingbirds are masters of the air--unique among birds for their ability to hover for long periods of time. Using a sophisticated digital imaging technique, scientists have now determined the aerodynamics of hummingbird flight. These latest data disprove conclusions from numerous earlier studies that hummingbirds hovered like insects despite their profound muscle and skeletal differences.

The team found that hummingbirds support 75 percent of their weight during the wing's down stroke and 25 percent on the up stroke--in contrast to insects, which produce equal amounts of lift during their down and up strokes.

Researchers from Oregon State University, University of Portland and George Fox University published the new findings in the June 23 issue of the journal Nature."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Grandfather kills leopard with his hands

"A 73-year-old Kenyan grandfather reached into the mouth of an attacking leopard and tore out its tongue to kill it, authorities said Wednesday.

Peasant farmer Daniel M'Mburugu was tending to his potato and bean crops in a rural area near Mount Kenya when the leopard charged out of the long grass and leapt on him.

M'Mburugu had a machete in one hand but dropped that to thrust his fist down the leopard's mouth. He gradually managed to pull out the animal's tongue, leaving it in its death-throes.

'It let out a blood-curdling snarl that made the birds stop chirping,' he told the daily Standard newspaper of how the leopard came at him and knocked him over.

The leopard sank its teeth into the farmer's wrist and mauled him with its claws. 'A voice, which must have come from God, whispered to me to drop the panga (machete) and thrust my hand in its wide open mouth. I obeyed,' M'Mburugu said.

As the leopard was dying, a neighbor heard the screams and arrived to finish it off with a machete.

M'Mburugu was toasted as a hero in his village Kihato after the incident earlier this month. He was also given free hospital treatment by astonished local authorities.

'This guy is very lucky to be alive,' Kenya Wildlife Service official Connie Maina told Reuters, confirming details of the incident.


Brain Cells 'Recognize' Famous People

"NEW YORK (AP) - Halle Berry? Jennifer Aniston? Everybody knows them. And now a surprising study finds that even individual cells in your brain act as if they recognize them.

The work could help shed light on how the brain stores information, an expert said.

When scientists sampled brain cell activity in people who were scrutinizing dozens of pictures, they found some individual cells that reacted to a particular celebrity, landmark, animal or object.

In one case, a single cell was activated by different photos of Berry, including some in her 'Catwoman' costume, a drawing of her and even the words, 'Halle Berry.'

The findings appear in a part of the brain that transforms what people perceive into what they'll eventually remember, said Dr. Itzhak Fried of the University of California, Los Angeles, a senior investigator on the project."

Read the entire article for several important caveats.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

In Chess, Masters Again Fight Machines - New York Times

"It has been eight years since Garry Kasparov, then the world chess champion, lost a match to the computer Deep Blue."

Note: I attended part of that match in Manhattan. My clearest image is of the sheer animal power that Kasparov exuded when he came on the stage to answer a few questions after a game. He was actually frightening -- from 20 feet away! I can't imagine sitting across a chessboard from him for a game (not a likely eventuality in any case), and understood how he has intimidated so many of his grandmaster opponents.

"In the wake of Deep Blue's victory, it would not have been surprising if elite players stopped competing against computers. After all, if the world's best player could not beat a computer, how could lesser ones? The possibility, even probability, of losing - and perhaps losing badly - to a machine could have particularly discouraged grandmasters, who are known to have egos that match their abilities and who sometimes have difficulty accepting defeat.

But, rather than being the final word in the battle of man vs. machine, the Kasparov-Deep Blue match spurred the competition. More grandmasters are taking up the challenge posed by computers.

Today, at the ABC studios in Times Square, Rustam Kasimdzhanov of Uzbekistan, who is reigning champion of the World Chess Federation and ranked 32nd in the world, will play a one-game match against a chess program developed by Accoona Corporation. Accoona is a Web-based search engine and its chess program is part of a tool bar that searches the Web and personal computers.

Also today, Michael Adams, a British player ranked No. 6, will begin a six-game match against Hydra, a super chess computer developed by the Pal Group in the United Arab Emirates. The match is to take place at the Wembley Conference Center in London.

Then, in early July, Jaan Ehlvest, an Estonian who once ranked in the world Top 10 but is now 103rd, will play a four-game match against a program called Zappa. That match is to be at Estonian House, 243 East 34th Street, in Manhattan.

There are financial rewards for the human competitors, but they say that is not their primary motive.

As reigning champion of the World Chess Federation, Mr. Kasimdzhanov was paid to play in a number of big-purse tournaments over the last year. For the match against the computer, he said he would receive a five-figure sum but insisted that he was playing to promote chess and that he was interested in the challenge as a sportsman.

Mr. Ehlvest, who is being paid $500 and could earn an additional $1,500 if he wins or $750 if he ties, said that he also wanted to promote chess and that the timing of the match was convenient.

Mr. Adams, like Mr. Kasimdzhanov, also regularly plays in tournaments in which he is paid to play. In his computer match, he has the most at stake. For each game he wins he will receive $25,000, and a draw is worth $10,000. Mr. Adams could come away with $150,000, if he wins all six games, or nothing, if he loses them all. Mr. Adams said he hoped "to show that it is possible to play against Hydra, and that it has weaknesses that can be exploited."

These are not the first matches between men and machines since Mr. Kasparov faced Deep Blue in 1997.

In 2002, Vladimir Kramnik, who beat Mr. Kasparov in 2000 to become world champion, played an eight-game match against a program called Deep Fritz. It ended in a tie.

In 2003, Mr. Kasparov, still ranked No. 1, played matches against the computer programs Deep Junior and X3D Fritz. Both ended in ties. Also in 2003, Evgeny Bareev, ranked No. 12, drew a match against a commercial program called Hiarcs.

The task before the men in the current matches is daunting. Computers are becoming faster and programmers keep improving their programs.

Last October in Bilbao, Spain, three grandmasters - Vaselin Topalov of Bulgaria, now the world's No. 2 player, Ruslan Ponomariov of Russia, No. 19, and Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine, No. 63, who became the youngest grandmaster in history three years ago at 12 - played a tournament against three computers, Hydra, Deep Junior and Fritz 8, a commercially available program. The final scores: Hydra and Fritz, 3.5 out of 4; Mr. Topalov and Deep Junior, 1.5; Mr. Ponomariov and Mr. Karjakin, 1.

So why are the grandmasters tilting at windmills? After all, the world's fastest runners and horses stopped racing cars years ago.

All of the participants in the current matches admit that the odds are against them.

Mr. Kasimdzhanov will face particular difficulties. Although Mr. Adams and Mr. Ehlvest will play under normal tournament conditions, which allow about three hours per player per game, Mr. Kasimdzhanov and the Accoona tool bar will have 60 minutes per player per game with 10 seconds added after each move. Experts and players agree that the faster pace favors computers, which calculate hundreds of millions of moves a second, and undercuts the human advantage of strategic planning.

Still, the grandmasters say they think they have a chance.

Mr. Adams said he appreciated how difficult it would be to play Hydra: "Kasparov is a stronger player than I am. And Hydra is stronger than Deep Blue. If I lose the match, it is not going to bother me that much." But he added, "Unless I completely lose it, it shouldn't be six-nil."

Mr. Ehlvest expects to do well. "I think that I can make four draws," he said. "I don't believe that I will lose all four games."

Mr. Kasimdzhanov also expressed optimism. "The difference between the playing strength of a human being and a computer," he said, "is not as serious as the difference between a person running against a car."

Whatever the prospects, he said it was important to compete against the computers: "Sports are not about reaching a result. Sport is about developing your inner qualities."

Bob Dylan amazes Maryland - Silver Chips Online

"Emma Zachurski, Online Entertainment Editor

From the very start of his career, Bob Dylan has captured audiences everywhere with his extraordinary music. Now, at the age of 64, Dylan is still a fascinating musician as well as a great performer who continues to deliver excellent concerts to thankful fans. The night of June 14 at Prince George's stadium in Bowie, Maryland was no exception to Dylan's remarkable streak of crowd-pleasing performances. Dylan's concert brought a mixed group of fans together to sing along, dance and cheer throughout yet another amazing show by the incomparable artist.

Prior to Dylan's set there were two opening acts: the bluegrass group The Green Cards and country-star Willie Nelson. I arrived about thirty minutes late, thus missing The Green Cards' brief performance. While I'm not sure whether or not I was fortunate to miss the first act, I do know I wish I had missed Nelson's set.

Though Nelson is by no means an untalented musician, I have never been terribly fond of Nelson's country music styling, so enduring his set was quite an uncomfortable experience. I wasn't alone in my disenchantment either. As Nelson covered all of his hits from 'On the Road Again' to ' Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,' there was a clear distinction between the Nelson fans, who yelled 'We love you Willie' at the end of each song, and the Dylan fans, who politely clapped during the set trying to hide bemused faces as they grew anxious for Dylan's appearance.

After going through a handful of other famous songs, performing covers of songs like the classic 'Georgia on my Mind,' handing over the spotlight to his son to play a few blues songs and featuring his back-up guitarist on a few Merle Haggard covers, Nelson left the stage.

As roadies took down Nelson's Texas flag backdrop and instruments from the stage to set up for Dylan, the audience grew extremely eager and excited. Unfortunately, the crowd wasn't about to see Dylan anytime soon.

While waiting for Dylan, the crowd passed time by throwing around balloons, lighting up cigarettes, inching up closer to the stage, sipping their drinks and, of course, filling the air with pleas of "We want Bob!"

About 45 minutes later, the audience's requests were fulfilled. As Dylan emerged on stage decked out in a black and red ensemble and a black cowboy hat with a few graying curls peeking out, the crowd's applause rose into a roar of delight.

Upon Dylan assuming his position at the keyboards of the stage's left side and his back-up band picking up their instruments, the lights tinted the stage blue and the crowd danced as Dylan and company played an energetic, rearranged version of "Drifter's Escape" from "John Wesley Harding."

While at first it was a bit odd to hear the tempos, instrumentation and style of some of Dylan's biggest hits completely revamped, it was more interesting listening to how he reinvented the tunes. Dylan pulled off his reinterpreted songs with the help of his talented back-up band and, most importantly, his own musical dexterity, which enabled him to articulate his lyrics well in his now raspy voice and deliver some marvelous harmonica solos on center stage.

Being a mere few feet away from Dylan only made the effort and talent involved in the show all the more noticeable and awing for me, as well as for many other people ranging from young to old, who were closely squished together in front of the stage.

As Dylan's set continued, he kept the energy flowing and the audience engaged with various rock-infused variations of both his classic and more recent songs. Older, rearranged and especially memorable songs performed included the classics "Highway 61 Revisited," "Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" and "Chimes of Freedom." More recent tracks included the ballad "Shooting Star" from 1980's "Oh Mercy" and "Bye and Bye" from 2001's "Love and Theft." Other songs performed during Dylan's set were "Señor (Tale of Yankee Power)," "John Brown" and "This Wheel's on Fire."

Dylan proceeded to finish his set with the spirited "Summer Days," leaving the crowd to wait eagerly and cheer hopefully for his return. The audience's hopes were satisfied and then some when Dylan stepped out to give a magnificent encore consisting of "Masters of War" and a true-to-form "Like a Rolling Stone." Voices from all over the enormous stadium chimed in to the two landmark songs, making for an incredible closing to a great concert.

Overall, Dylan's concert once again proved that his musical ingenuity, energy and spirit are all still intact, and gave fans hope that he won't be retiring from the stage any time soon."

Monday, June 20, 2005

Neutrino ripples spotted in space - Universal lumpiness is imprinted in mysterious particles.

"Astronomers have spotted a signature of neutrinos created just seconds after the Big Bang.

The find supports current models of the origins of our Universe, and may provide a glimpse of its birth.

The fundamental particles called neutrinos are difficult to study, because they interact so weakly with normal matter - trillions whizz straight through your body every second. But Roberto Trotta, an astrophysicist from Oxford University, UK, and his colleague Alessandro Melchiorri of the University of Rome 'La Sapienza', Italy, say that the signature of primordial neutrinos is written in the cosmic microwave background (CMB).

Friday, June 17, 2005

No Sign Of Long-Lost Nuke

"The first government search in decades for a nuclear bomb lost off the Georgia coast in 1958 failed to uncover any trace of the sunken weapon, the Air Force said in a report Friday.

The report released nine months after scientists tested radiation levels in waters off Tybee Island concluded the 7,600-pound bomb cannot explode and should be left at sea. "

CBS News | As TVs Grow, So Do Electric Bills

"Not long ago, Andrew Fanara was shopping with his wife for a new big-screen television. Everything was going fine, until the sales clerk discovered Fanara was an energy watchdog for the federal government. Pulling Fanara aside, the clerk confessed: His own new 61-inch TV gulped electricity the way a big SUV guzzles gasoline.

'The month after he got it, he got a call from his landlord, who noticed a big jump in the utility bill,' recalls Fanara, team leader of the Energy Star program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 'It was the kid's big-screen television.'"

NASA Chief Says Schedule for Shuttles Is Unrealistic - New York Times

Published: June 17, 2005

WASHINGTON, June 16 - Dr. Michael D. Griffin, the new administrator of NASA, said Thursday that there was no way the space shuttle fleet would be able to complete the 28 flights now planned before its retirement in 2010.

A reduced schedule will lead to significant changes in how the International Space Station is assembled and supplied, he said. The station depends largely on the shuttle fleet to ferry equipment, supplies and crew members, but the shuttles have been grounded since the loss of the Columbia and its crew in February 2003."

Monday, June 13, 2005

‘Earth's bigger cousin' detected - -

"Astronomers announced today the discovery of the smallest planet so far found outside of our solar system. About seven-and-a-half times as massive as Earth, and about twice as wide, this new extrasolar planet may be the first rocky world ever found orbiting a star similar to our own.

'This is the smallest extrasolar planet yet detected and the first of a new class of rocky terrestrial planets,' said team member Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. 'It's like Earth's bigger cousin.'"

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Found: Europe's oldest civilisation

"By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

11 June 2005

Archaeologists have discovered Europe's oldest civilisation, a network of dozens of temples, 2,000 years older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids.

More than 150 gigantic monuments have been located beneath the fields and cities of modern-day Germany, Austria and Slovakia. They were built 7,000 years ago, between 4800BC and 4600BC. Their discovery, revealed today by The Independent, will revolutionise the study of prehistoric Europe, where an appetite for monumental architecture was thought to have developed later than in Mesopotamia and Egypt."

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Hubble Telescope to View Comet Collision

"Jun 10, 11:28 PM (ET)


BALTIMORE (AP) - The Hubble Space Telescope will be watching when the University of Maryland's Deep Impact space probe crashes into a comet July 4, setting off a cosmic firework that may be visible on Earth.

The best view is expected to be had by the Deep Impact probe itself, but officials at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which coordinates Hubble's use, say they are ready for anything."

Click on the headline to read the full article, and for further details from NASA click here.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Chinese watermelon carvings

One of my customers was kind enough to send me these incredible photos, which look good enough not to eat.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Leading Scientists Rank Endangered Dolphins, Porpoises Most In Need of Immediate Action

"Washington - Leading marine scientists for the first time have assessed dolphin and porpoise populations around the world which are severely threatened by entanglement in fishing gear and recommended nine urgent priorities for action in a report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund. These nine projects highlight species threatened by bycatch that are the most likely to benefit from immediate action but are languishing without intervention.

The list of dolphins and porpoises that could recover if changes to fishing methods and other conservation efforts are made includes harbor porpoises in the Black Sea, where thousands of porpoises are killed each year; Atlantic humpback dolphins off the coast of west Africa; and franciscana dolphins in South America. Most of the species on the list are threatened by the widespread use of one type of fishing gear -- gillnets. These nets are difficult for dolphins and porpoises to spot visually or detect with their sonar, so they may become tangled in the netting or in the ropes attached to the nets.

'Almost 1,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die every day in nets and fishing gear. Some species are being pushed to the brink of extinction,' said Karen Baragona of WWF's species conservation program. 'We developed this ranking to help governments and aid agencies target their investments for the best return.'"

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Britain Weighs Road Charge for Drivers

"Jun 7, 5:25 PM (ET)


LONDON (AP) - In an attempt to unblock Britain's congested roads, the government is considering the world's first satellite-based system to charge motorists for every mile they drive. But the idea drew scorn from both motorists and environmentalists.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling has proposed charging drivers the equivalent of up to $2.30 for every mile traveled on the nation's most congested highways. He said over the weekend that he would consider introducing national 'road pricing' by 2014."

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Coming in out of the cold: Cold fusion, for real |

In addition to the exciting cold fusion claims, this short article provides a very clear exposition of just what fusion is. Although the experiments cited are nowhere near passing the 'breakeven' point (where more energy is produced than is put in to the experiment), it's still an exciting development.

"By Michelle Thaller |
PASADENA, CALIF. – For the last few years, mentioning cold fusion around scientists (myself included) has been a little like mentioning Bigfoot or UFO sightings.

After the 1989 announcement of fusion in a bottle, so to speak, and the subsequent retraction, the whole idea of cold fusion seemed a bit beyond the pale. But that's all about to change.

A very reputable, very careful group of scientists at the University of Los Angeles (Brian Naranjo, Jim Gimzewski, Seth Putterman) has initiated a fusion reaction using a laboratory device that's not much bigger than a breadbox, and works at roughly room temperature. This time, it looks like the real thing."

Dolphins Protect Their Snouts With Sponges

"Jun 6, 10:48 PM (ET)


WASHINGTON (AP) - A group of dolphins living off the coast of Australia apparently teach their offspring to protect their snouts with sponges while foraging for food in the sea floor. Researchers say it appears to be a cultural behavior passed on from mother to daughter, a first for animals of this type, although such learning has been seen in other species.

The dolphins, living in Shark Bay, Western Australia, use conically shaped whole sponges that they tear off the bottom, said Michael Kruetzen, lead author of a report on the dolphins in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

'Cultural evolution, including tool use, is not only found in humans and our closest relatives, the primates, but also in animals that are evolutionally quite distant from us. This convergent evolution is what is so fascinating,' said Kruetzen.

Researchers suspect the sponges help the foraging dolphins avoid getting stung by stonefish and other critters that hide in the sandy sea bottom, just as a gardener might wear gloves to protect the hands."

Sunday, June 05, 2005 - Mystery road metal baffles Japan

"TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Thousands of sharp-edged pieces of metal have been found protruding from roadside guardrails around Japan and authorities are investigating the bizarre phenomenon, officials and media said on Saturday."

Saturday, June 04, 2005

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Extinct cave bear DNA sequenced

"Scientists have extracted and decoded the DNA of a cave bear that died 40,000 years ago.

Skull of the cave bear, Ursus speleaus

They plan to unravel the DNA of other extinct species, including our closest ancient relatives, the Neanderthals.

But they say the idea of obtaining DNA from dinosaurs, depicted in the film Jurassic Park, remains science fiction.

It is highly unlikely that viable genetic material will ever be recovered from fossils that are hundreds of millions of years old.

But the scientists hope to be able to sequence the DNA of ancient humans, which lived at the same time as cave bears, raising the prospect of perhaps one day being able to "build" a Neanderthal from their genetic blueprint."

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Camera sees behind objects

"Researchers from Stanford University and Cornell University have put together a projector-camera system that can pull off a classic magic trick: it can read a playing card that is facing away from the camera.

The dual-photography system gains information from a subject by analyzing the way projected patterns of light bounce off it. "

Stanford University