Thursday, September 29, 2005

BBC NEWS | Liars 'possess more white matter'

... on the *other* hand....

"A University of Southern California team studied 49 people and found those known to be pathological liars had up to 26% more white matter than others.

White matter is the brain's thinking part - grey matter the wiring - and may provide the capacity to lie, it said. "

Bigger Brains Make Smarter People

....on the other hand.....

"For more than a century some of the biggest minds in science have debated whether brain size has anything to do with intelligence. A new study suggests it does.

Bigger brains make for smarter people, says Michael McDaniel, an industrial and organizational psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University.
'For all age and sex groups, it is now very clear that brain volume and intelligence are related,' McDaniel said."

Big Brains Not Always Better

"Nearly three million years ago, our ancestors had brains about as big as modern chimps. Since then the brain that would become human grew steadily, tripling in size. But this extra cranium capacity may not have resulted in smarter hominids.

As far as tool-making is concerned, there is little evidence of improvement over much of the period that the brain was growing.
'Archaeology has found that brain size grew gradually, but cleverness took steps,' said William Calvin, a neurobiologist from the University of Washington."

Brain areas disconnect during deep sleep - LiveScience -

"Your brain never stops working. But it does cease talking to itself when you lose consciousness, a new study shows.

Scientists have long wondered what the brain does and doesn't do during deep sleep. It remains active, they know. So what's the difference between consciousness and the lack of it?"

Biologists Observe Gorillas Using Tools

"For the first time, biologists have documented gorillas in the wild using simple tools, such as poking a stick in a swampy pool of water to check its depth.

Until now, scientists had seen gorillas use tools only in captivity. Among the great apes, tool use in the wild was thought to be a survival skill reserved for smaller chimpanzees and orangutans.

The research in the Republic of Congo's rainforests was led by Thomas Breuer of the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo, which released details of his study. Breuer is in Africa and was not immediately available for an interview.

'This is a truly astounding discovery,' he said in a statement. 'Tool usage in wild apes provides us with valuable insights into the evolution of our own species and the abilities of other species.'"

Can't Lie To An MRI

"A scientist at the Medical University of South Carolina has found that magnetic resonance imaging machines also can serve as lie detectors.

The study found MRI machines, which are used to take images of the brain, are more than 90 percent accurate at detecting deception, said Dr. Mark George, a distinguished professor of psychiatry, radiology and neurosciences.

That compares with polygraphs that range from 80 percent to 'no better than chance' at finding the truth, George said.

His results are to be published this week in the journal Biological Psychiatry. "

Scientists Capture Giant Squid in Photos

"The giant squid can be found in books and in myths, but for the first time, a team of Japanese scientists has captured on film one of the most mysterious creatures of the deep sea in its natural habitat.

The team led by Tsunemi Kubodera, from the National Science Museum in Tokyo, tracked the 26-foot long Architeuthis as it attacked prey nearly 3,000 feet deep off the coast of Japan's Bonin islands.

'We believe this is the first time a grown giant squid has been captured on camera in its natural habitat,' said Kyoichi Mori, a marine researcher who co-authored a piece in Wednesday's issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

The camera was operated by remote control during research at the end of October 2004, Mori told The Associated Press on Wednesday."

Dispelling a myth of dangerous Navy dolphins

'Countdown' investigates report of marine mammals armed and on the loose on the Gulf coast, and 'apparently' dispels earlier news reports. Click the link above to see a video on the subject.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Great optical illusion

If your eyes follow the movement of the rotating pink dot, you will only see one color, pink.

If you stare at the the black + in the center, the moving dot turns to green.

Now, concentrate on the black + in the center of the picture. After a short period of time, all the pink dots will slowly disappear, and you will only see a green dot rotating.

It's amazing how our brain works. There really is no green dot, and the pink ones really don't disappear. This should be proof enough, we don't always see what we think we see.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Armed and dangerous - Flipper the firing dolphin let loose by Katrina

"It may be the oddest tale to emerge from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Armed dolphins, trained by the US military to shoot terrorists and pinpoint spies underwater, may be missing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Experts who have studied the US navy's cetacean training exercises claim the 36 mammals could be carrying 'toxic dart' guns. Divers and surfers risk attack, they claim, from a species considered to be among the planet's smartest. The US navy admits it has been training dolphins for military purposes, but has refused to confirm that any are missing.

Dolphins have been trained in attack-and-kill missions since the Cold War. The US Atlantic bottlenose dolphins have apparently been taught to shoot terrorists attacking military vessels. Their coastal compound was breached during the storm, sweeping them out to sea. But those who have studied the controversial use of dolphins in the US defence programme claim it is vital they are caught quickly.

Leo Sheridan, 72, a respected accident investigator who has worked for government and industry, said he had received intelligence from sources close to the US government's marine fisheries service confirming dolphins had escaped.

'My concern is that they have learnt to shoot at divers in wetsuits who have simulated terrorists in exercises. If divers or windsurfers are mistaken for a spy or suicide bomber and if equipped with special harnesses carrying toxic darts, they could fire,' he said. 'The darts are designed to put the target to sleep so they can be interrogated later, but what happens if the victim is not found for hours?'

Usually dolphins were controlled via signals transmitted through a neck harness. 'The question is, were these dolphins made secure before Katrina struck?' said Sheridan.

The mystery surfaced when a separate group of dolphins was washed from a commercial oceanarium on the Mississippi coast during Katrina. Eight were found with the navy's help, but the dolphins were not returned until US navy scientists had examined them.

Sheridan is convinced the scientists were keen to ensure the dolphins were not the navy's, understood to be kept in training ponds in a sound in Louisiana, close to Lake Pontchartrain, whose waters devastated New Orleans.

The navy launched the classified Cetacean Intelligence Mission in San Diego in 1989, where dolphins, fitted with harnesses and small electrodes planted under their skin, were taught to patrol and protect Trident submarines in harbour and stationary warships at sea.

Criticism from animal rights groups ensured the use of dolphins became more secretive. But the project gained impetus after the Yemen terror attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Dolphins have also been used to detect mines near an Iraqi port." Bob Dylan : Bob Dylan Looks Back

"Sitting through a three-and-a-half-hour documentary about an ex-boyfriend isn't most women's idea of fun. But Bob Dylan's early girlfriend Suze Rotolo says she enjoyed No Direction Home, the new Martin Scorsese-directed Dylan film that includes a rare on-camera interview with her. 'It was nice because the movie did not perpetuate that god myth,' says Rotolo, who inspired numerous Dylan songs and appears with him as a nineteen-year-old on the cover of 1963's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. 'It wasn't a fan talking about someone they mythologize -- it was coming from everybody's own story.'

The film, which airs tonight and tomorrow night on PBS and is also available on DVD, combines unearthed archival footage and fresh interviews -- with the likes of Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, Pete Seeger and Dylan himself -- to illuminate the first and most trailblazing part of Dylan's career, beginning with his Hibbing, Minnesota, childhood and ending with his 1966 Woodstock, New York, motorcycle accident. No Direction Home shows Dylan evolving at an unfathomable pace: In a span of just four years, he conquers the Greenwich Village folk scene, becomes the artistic voice of the civil-rights movement (Dylan is seen on the podium before Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I have a dream' speech) and then abandons it all to reinvent rock & roll with 'Like a Rolling Stone' and everything that followed. 'It's an artist at the absolute peak of his talent,' says Nigel Sinclair, one of the producers. 'The challenge was making a film worthy of the subject.'"

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Journal Gazette | Einstein, Bob Dylan, Sherlock Holmes among PBS fall programs

"Public broadcasting has again survived - for now - political attempts to cripple it with budgets cuts, which makes it either fitting or ironic that a long-planned centerpiece of PBS' fall season concerns those rollicking, politically contentious 1960s.

And in the middle of that is one of the highest-profile pieces PBS has aired in some time: Martin Scorsese's enthralling 3 1/2 -hour documentary on Bob Dylan called 'No Direction Home.'

The film, to be aired over two nights at 9 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, focuses on the singer-songwriter's life from 1961 to 1966, the years of his rise as folk singer and cultural icon, and it is nothing short of fascinating - not just because Scorcese instills it with life and fills it with music, but because Dylan is a fascinating subject.

Scorsese tells the story with reams of archival footage (much of it contributed by the Dylan camp), through new and old interviews with people such as Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and Alan Ginsberg and through a series of fresh, and often candid interviews with Dylan, who does not seem comfortable with his status as the touchstone for a generation.

What emerges is a picture of a Dylan who is almost a savant, a genius at understanding the fundamentals of being human and at putting that to words and music, and of a Dylan who is contrarian by nature, always wanting to move forward, to achieve something different, to challenge himself and everyone."

Friday, September 23, 2005

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | New 'Hobbit' disease link claim

"Scientists are to present new evidence that the tiny human species dubbed 'The Hobbit' may not be what it seems.

The researchers say their findings strongly support an idea that the 1m- (3ft-) tall female skeleton from Indonesia is a diseased modern human.

Their claims have been aired in a BBC Horizon programme screened on Thursday.

The Hobbit's discoverers are adamant it is an entirely separate human species, which evolved a small size in isolation on its remote island home of Flores.

The bones were unearthed during a dig at Liang Bua, a limestone cave deep in the Flores jungle. The discovery caused a sensation when it was announced to the world in 2004.

Analysis of the 18,000-year-old remains showed the Hobbit had reached adulthood, despite her diminutive size.

Long arms, a sloping chin, and other primitive features suggested affinities to ancient human species such as Homo erectus.

And Homo floresiensis, as science properly calls the creature, seems to exhibit other oddities, such as lower premolar teeth with twin roots. In most modern humans, the lower premolars have a single root.

Ancient roots

Australian anthropologists Peter Brown, Mike Morwood, Bert Roberts and others involved in the find, proposed that the Hobbit was a descendent of erectus or some other ancient species that reached Flores just under a million years ago.

Cut off from the rest of the world on this island, the species evolved small stature, much like the pygmy elephants it is thought to have hunted.

Sophisticated stone tools found nearby suggest they were not lacking in intelligence, even though the Hobbit specimen's brain was no larger than a chimpanzee's.

But it was not long before some scientists began to ask serious questions about the discovery team's conclusions.

Indonesian anthropologist Teuku Jacob controversially took possession of the remains and declared them to be those of a modern human with the condition microcephaly.

This disorder is characterised by a small brain, but it can also be associated with dwarfism, as well as abnormalities of the face and jaw. For this reason, some scientists believe the condition could cause a modern human to look primitive in evolutionary terms.

Jacob was soon joined by a handful of researchers in the belief that the discovery team had happened upon nothing more than a member of our own species with a rare disease.

Professor Bob Martin, one of the team that is set to publish new evidence challenging the discovery team's original interpretation, says the Hobbit's brain is "worryingly" small and contradicts a fundamental law of biology.

"What this law says in simple terms is that if you halve body size, brain size is only reduced by 15%," he told the BBC's Horizon programme.

"So if you halve body size you don't halve brain size, the brain is reduced far less than that."

Biological laws

Working under the assumption that the Hobbit was basically a shrunken form of Homo erectus, Professor Martin used this law to find out how big the Hobbit's brain should have been.

Starting with a height of 1.75m and a brain size of 990 cubic centimetres for Homo erectus, Professor Martin used the standard scaling formula to calculate that, given a height of 1m, the Hobbit's brain size should have been about 750 cubic centimetres.

"You can calculate what body height the Hobbit would need to get its brain down to this size, and the answer is... about the size of a meerkat," he said.

However, researchers who carried out the excavation at Liang Bua argue that island isolation can play strange evolutionary tricks.

"If they'd been isolated on this island for 800,000 years by themselves, genetically cut off from the rest of the world, where very few other animals could get to, we'd expect strange things," Mike Morwood of the University of New England, Australia, told Horizon.

But another piece of evidence challenging the discoverers' claims has come from one of the oldest anatomical collections in the world.

More remains

Ann MacLarnon of Roehampton University, UK, has discovered the skull of a microcephalic in the vaults of London's Royal College of Surgeons with a brain that matches that of the Hobbit for size.

"It showed that we really could demonstrate with a specimen that [microcephaly] could explain the Hobbit's small brain," she told Horizon.

But there's a problem with the sceptics' version of the story. The Hobbit team has found more human remains. These include a lower jaw with the same unusual features as the original find (including twin roots to the molars).

"Let's buy into [the sceptics'] argument just for a bit of fun," said Professor Bert Roberts of the University of Wollongong, Australia, a member of the discovery team.

"We've got a complete lower jaw that's identical to the first so there we have a situation where we've now got to have two really badly diseased individuals.

"We've got a diseased population like some sort of leper colony, living in Liang Bua 18,000 years ago. The probabilities have got to be vanishingly small."

The Hobbit team is now looking in other caves on Flores for more evidence of this ancient population.

The sceptics intend to publish their concerns in a scientific journal."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ananova - Artists erect giant pink bunny on mountain

"An enormous pink bunny has been erected on an Italian mountainside where it will stay for the next 20 years.

The 200-foot-long toy rabbit lies on the side of the 5,000 foot high Colletto Fava mountain in northern Italy's Piedmont region.

Viennese art group Gelatin designed the giant soft toy and say it was "knitted by dozens of grannies out of pink wool".

Group member Wolfgang Gantner said: "It's supposed to make you feel small, like Gulliver. You walk around it and you can't help but smile."

And Gelatin members say the bunny is not just for walking around - they are expecting hikers to climb its 20 foot sides and relax on its belly.

The giant rabbit is expected to remain on the mountain side until 2025."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Displaced dolphins are rescued off Mississippi

Although I have real mixed feelings about the fact that these were, and are, captive dolphins, I do appreciate the fact that so many were concerned with their welfare and set about to do their best to rescue them...especially as three had been born in captivity, and most likely would not have fared well in the wild (as exemplified by their weight-loss).

Here's a link to my own experience swimming with a wild dolphin who had been truly rescued, due to injuries suffered in the wild.

"JACKSON, Miss. - The last of eight trained dolphins were rescued from the Mississippi Sound after spending weeks in the wild since Hurricane Katrina struck.

The dolphins who lived in captivity at the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport were swept out to sea and scientists have been concerned about their safety ever since, said Connie Barclay, spokeswoman for the National Marine Fisheries Service. The four remaining dolphins were rescued Tuesday.

'I think it's been good news for a lot of people who have had a lot of bad news lately,' Barclay said. 'We have gotten calls and letters from all over the country.'

Before the hurricane hit the coast, the dolphins were moved to a pool at the Marine Life Oceanarium that had withstood the destruction of Hurricane Camille in 1969. Katrina destroyed that pool and pulled the mammals out to sea.

“Three of the dolphins were born at the facility, and had never been in the wild, compacting our concern for their well-being,” said Moby Solangi, owner and director for the Marine Life Aquarium."

Karpov ready to play against Fischer

"BUENOS AIRES, September 21 (RIA Novosti, Yury Nikolayev) - Multiple world chess champion Anatoly Karpov is ready to face Bobby Fischer, the Russian chess grandmaster told RIA Novosti Wednesday.

Karpov said the possibility of such a match depended solely on Fischer and getting sponsors. 'Fischer is hardly predictable. It depends on him, and of course, on the sponsors. Fischer is always interesting, but he wants to play his chess. That's no problem - we can play his chess.'

Karpov, who is currently the guest of honor at a chess festival in Argentina, said 'Fischer's chess' envisioned the initial position of the chess pieces defined by a computer. The pawns remain in their places, and a computer determines the other chess pieces' positions. "

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Rover Tracks Seen from Orbit

"Wheel tracks left by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, and even the rover itself, are visible in this image from the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter. North is up in this image. The tracks and rover are in the area south of a crater informally named 'Bonneville,' which is just southeast of the center of the image. The orbiter captured this image with use of an enhanced-resolution technique called compensated pitch and roll targeted observation. It took the picture on March 30, 2004, 85 martian days, or sols, after Spirit landed on Mars. The rover had driven from its landing site to the rim of Bonneville and was examining materials around the crater's rim. "

NASA estimates $104 billion for return to moon

"Despite a stalled space shuttle program, NASA is confident it can launch and sustain human exploration of the moon by 2018, the space agency's top official said Monday.

The $104 billion plan calls for an Apollo-like vehicle to carry crews of up to four astronauts to the moon for seven-day stays on the lunar surface. The spacecraft, known as the Crew Exploration Vehicle or CEV, could even carry six-astronaut crews to the international space station or fly automated resupply shipments as needed, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said.

'Think of it as Apollo on steroids,' Griffin said as he unveiled the agency's lunar exploration plan during a much-anticipated press conference at its Washington headquarters. 'Unless the U.S. wants to get out of manned spaceflight completely, this is the vehicle we need to be building.'"

Friday, September 16, 2005

Two dolphins retrieved in Gulf, six to go

"JACKSON, Miss. - Two anemic dolphins that were swept from their aquarium tanks into the Gulf of Mexico by Hurricane Katrina were retrieved Thursday, but six others remained at sea.

Steve Helber / AP
Specialists on Thursday work with and feed several of the bottlenosed dolphins they hope to retrieve. Earlier in the day, two dolphins were retrieved and taken to a swimming pool.

The two retrieved dolphins were captured after scientists in a boat coaxed the trained animals into sliding onto mats.

The dolphins had cuts and appeared to be the worst injured of the eight, Jeff Foster, a marine specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They were immediately moved to a hotel swimming pool."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Pen production halts by May

"FORT MADISON --- After pausing to honor the grandson of the historic pen factory's founder, workers at the Sheaffer plant here were told to expect a complete plant closure by May.

Linda Kwong of Bic Corp., Sheaffer's Paris-based parent company, said production at the plant will be transferred to third-party manufacturing plants in Europe and Asia, a transition that will begin in the fourth quarter.

The pen point assembly department will be transferred to Bic's fountain pen facility in South Carolina, and nib making will be sourced to an outside European vendor, she said.

Molding will wind down by the end of the month, she added.
Bic announced it would be closing the Fort Madison landmark in March 2004, closing the plant two years shy of its 100th anniversary.

Sheaffer pens were a groundbreaking invention, with the lever-filling pen patented by Walter Sheaffer in 1908.

The company was family-owned until it was sold in 1966 to Textron. In 1976, Textron merged Sheaffer with Eaton Paper Co. in 1976 and, 11 years later, sold Sheaffer-Eaton to Genifor, which returned the plant to the original name of Sheaffer Pen Co.

Over the past century, the fountain pens have become an iconic Iowa product, with governors traditionally signing state bills into law with Sheaffers.

Between five and 10 of the company's 120 employees will be laid off by the end of 2005, although Kwong said that number may change due to the seasonality of Sheaffer's business.

'That's our guess-timate,' she added.

The majority of the layoffs will come in waves during the first quarter of 2006, she said.

'All work force reductions will be made according to the unions' collective bargaining agreement," Kwong said. "This means that displaced union employees with seniority will be able to 'bump' into the remaining jobs as depart–ments/functions are shut down."

Production workers at the plant are represented by United Auto Workers Local 1551.

Bic officially put the 301 Avenue H plant, located at the north end of Fort Madison's downtown, on the market last week.

Kwong said administrative functions like customer service, finance and purchasing will be transferred to Bic facilities in Milford, Conn., and Charlotte, N.C., with more details on those transitions expected in the next few months.

Final assembly, packaging, warehousing and distribution also will be relocated to Charlotte.

"During the meeting, Sheaffer management thanked employees for their continued support and patience throughout this difficult transition process and said they would provide further updates as plans were finalized," Kwong added.

She noted that workers at the Sheaffer plant observed a moment of silence to mark the passing of Walter A. Sheaffer II, the grandson of the company's founder.

The younger Sheaffer was named chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the company in 1960. He also served as president of company divisions Sheaffer Western Hemisphere and Sheaffer International.

The U.S. Army veteran, who died at age 83, served in World War II. He also was a former trustee at Iowa Wesleyan College, a member of the Iowa College Foundation board of governors and, at the time of his death, was serving as president of the board of trustees of the W.A. Sheaffer Memorial Foundation."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Is Octopus Ink Similar to Fountain Pen Ink?

"By Nancy King

What Is Octopus Ink?
The ink of the octopus, or any cephalopod, is composed of highly concentrated melanin. This is the same dark pigment that we humans have, and which is responsible for skin color and the color of dark hair. It is a natural dye that cephalopods manufacture in an ink sac. Most, but not all octopuses have an ink sac and produce ink, but a few, such as the deep-sea octopuses, have lost this ability.

When the need arises, octopuses squirt this ink together with a jet of water and are able to guide the direction of the squirt. The result is a cloud of ink, which is used defensively as a visual screen or a distraction to predators. The ink also contains a compound, tyrosinase, which irritates predators' eyes and paralyzes their sense of smell temporarily.

The color of the ink (melanin) is red, but when it is more concentrated, it becomes darker, changing to brown and even to black. Since red appears black in low-light, many night active or deep-sea cephalopods produce only red or brown ink.

An interesting discussion of octopus ink and the ink of other cephalopods can be found in Cephalopods, a World Guide.

What is Fountain Pen Ink?
The ink that we use in fountain pens or ball-point pens today bears little resemblance to octopus ink. In it's simplest form, the ink we write with is a pigment or dye and a binder. The first ink for writing and drawing was invented simultaneously in China and Egypt, around 2500 BC. This first ink was made of lampblack (soot) mixed with aqueous binders. In the middle ages and up through the nineteenth century, ink was made from such ingredients as gum arabic, copperas (vitriol), gall apples (source of tannin), and water. Occasionally soot was used for making the ink black, or minerals and other pigments could be used for color. In this century, ink has become more sophisticated and is now usually made of synthetic dyes and compounds. Ink today may combine tannic, Gallic and dilute hydrochloric acid with an iron salt, phenol, and a blue or black dye. The composition may optionally include a drying agent, an adhesion promoter, a color developer and/or a preservative. Some inks are made thicker, such as printing ink.

Sepia Ink
There is one ink that is related to cephalopods: the historical artists' ink sepia, one of the brown inks used by artists for their pen and ink drawings. Sepia is a red-brown ink made from the ink sacs of cuttlefish, which are dried and ground to a fine powder, then mixed with shellac. (The ink takes is name from the cuttlefish species Sepia officinalis.) This ink came into use in the eighteenth century and was quite popular in the nineteenth century. It is sometimes difficult to identify a true sepia ink drawing, since other brown inks were in use as well. True sepia ink is still available from specialized artists' supply houses on the Internet. The term sepia now also applies to any red-brown color similar to the color of sepia ink."

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Bringing it all back

One of the best 'reviews' of Dylan's career that I've read.


AS NATURE turns to reveal its autumnal hues, and the chill in the wind forces shoulders to hunch themselves against the elements, we find ourselves in what can only be described as Bob Dylan season, a momentously high-profile flurry of activity that finds rock'n'roll's most enigmatic songwriter on an unprecedented mission to explain himself to us.

This month his publishers are putting out The Bob Dylan Scrapbook 1956-66, based on his personal archive and including a reproduction from his high school yearbook, facsimiles of handwritten lyrics and even his platform pass from when he sat a few feet away from Martin Luther King as he made his 'I have a dream' speech in Washington in 1963. Not only that, but a three-week season of films honouring Dylan is under way at the National Film Theatre in London, and next week a month-long exhibition of rare photographs opens at London's Proud Gallery. The man himself embarks on a new British tour in November.

All that's needed to crown the celebration is the Nobel Prize for Literature - and don't rule that out. This year's winner is due to be announced in October, and the bookmaker's have him down among the favourites to be the recipient.

Last year, Dylan published Chronicles Volume 1, the first instalment of the autobiography he had promised he would never write. On Tuesday, it will be reissued on paperback. To promote the book, he gave his first television interview in 20 years. Now comes No Direction Home, a two-part, four-hour documentary about his early life, made by Martin Scorsese with Dylan's full co-operation. It is accompanied by a double CD of rarities from his vaults, including his earliest and never previously heard recording, made in 1959 when he was still in school.

Dylan's songs may be famous for their searing honesty, but the man has been telling lies about himself all his life. You can call it self-mythologising or protecting his privacy, if you like. But throughout his long career, Dylan has deliberately laid a trail of half-truth, obfuscation and pure fiction that has fostered a highly marketable sense of mystery and intrigue around the man and his body of work.

At various times he has told us that he ran away from school to join a carnival, was descended from Sioux Indians, was an orphan and had been a hobo. In fact, at the time of all these stories, he had been growing up quietly with his Jewish parents in a small mining town in Minnesota. He lied about his name, denying that it was taken from Dylan Thomas but came from his mother, when her family name was actually Stone.

The deceptions continued into his later career. Some were major untruths, others simply mischievous inexactitudes. When he released a retrospective of his recorded work in the early 1990s, he included a photo of his driving licence in the liner notes but impishly altered his date of birth, turning himself with the stroke of a forger's pen from a Gemini to a Taurus. Perhaps he just did it to confuse the professional Dylan nutters who read his stars in an attempt to discern the secrets of his life.

For most of his career, his rare interviews have been exercises in verbal jousting, characterised by vague and often surreal answers. If that failed to throw them off his scent, he'd resort to mumbling. When asked what his songs were about, he once answered: "Some are about four minutes. Some are about five. And some, believe or not, are about 11 or 12.''

Then there was his preposterous claim that Blood On The Tracks, one of his greatest albums and a raw and emotional collection of songs about his divorce from his first wife, was not autobiographical at all but based on a collection of short stories by Chekhov. Right, Bob. Pull the other one.

"These so-called connoisseurs of Bob Dylan music, I don't feel they know a thing or have any inkling of who I am or what I am about,'' he declared four years ago on the occasion of his 60th birthday. And he made it clear that he intended to keep it that way, adding, "My life is private and personal and completely filled up." Churchill said of Stalin's Russia that it was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Dylan has spent years happily adding several more layers of conundrum and confusion to the equation.

Yet it is clear that something has dramatically changed. He hasn't made a new record since 2001's Love And Theft. So why has Dylan - a man so secretive that the world didn't even know he had married again in the 1980s until more than a decade later, by which time he was once more divorced - decided finally to set the record straight?

First, it would not be unreasonable to question to what extent he really is coming clean. Given his track record, are the book and the film not further episodes in his endless self-mythologising?

Perhaps. But we do genuinely learn much about Dylan and his art from No Direction Home. If the story is familiar, never before have we felt ourselves inside it, as we do here. Via an extended interview that runs in snippets throughout the film, Scorsese in effect uses Dylan as the narrator of his own life story - and he's not only a uniquely insightful observer but a surprisingly candid one, too. On the subject of his many lies, he admits that as a young man he felt like someone who didn't have a past - so he made one up. There's a similar honesty to the interviews with those who know him in the 1950s and 1960s, from old Minnesota friends (including one who accuses Dylan of stealing his record collection) to early lovers such as Suze Rotolo and Joan Baez.

The previously unseen footage is equally revelatory. Scorsese ends the film in the summer of 1966, with Dylan at the conclusion of his monumental, drug-fuelled world tour during which audiences booed his electric set and, on one infamous occasion, shouted "Judas!" at him. Haggard, frayed and cadaverously pale with his eyes sunk somewhere deep in the back of his skull, in the final scene he looks like someone who is about to die. Incapable of rational speech, he whines: "I just wanna go home."

When he got back to Woodstock shortly afterwards, he had the motorcycle crash that enabled him to get off the merry-go-round that was killing him. In retrospect, we can see that the crash probably saved his life.

So why did Dylan allow the film to be made? Presumably, for the same reason he wrote Chronicles and has sanctioned the publication of Scrapbook. Now in his sixties, he has come to reflect upon his place in history and, like many struck by the realisation that a time is coming when they're no longer going to be around, felt the need to get his version of his life and times on the record for posterity - and to do so on his own terms. For the brilliance of the film, like Chronicles, is that although we get an endlessly fascinating portrait of Dylan in which so much is revealed, at the same time the mystery, essential to an appreciation of any great art, is retained.

Should Dylan now cap his long career by lifting the Nobel Prize for literature, surely few could begrudge him the honour. Born Robert Zimmerman in Hibbing, Minnesota, in May 1941, like Shakespeare growing up in the dull Elizabethan backwater of Stratford-upon-Avon, there was nothing in his background or upbringing to suggest the mark he would go on to leave on the world. In No Direction Home, he describes his life-long journey as a songwriter and musician as "trying to get home". The phrase helped to inspire the film's title (lifted from the lyrics of 'Like A Rolling Stone') and what Dylan thinks of as home is a subject for endless speculation. Yet for all the ups-and-downs and inconsistencies of his career, there has been an underlying integrity that can be seen as constituting an uninterrupted search and a continuing odyssey.

When he arrived as a would-be folk singer in New York in early 1961, he unashamedly copied Woody Guthrie while he sought his own voice. Yet one of the most fascinating aspects of No Direction Home is its depiction of how swiftly he found that voice and how fast Dylan was travelling in the 1960s. Within a year he was the one being copied. He was a product of his times, shaped and moulded by the civil rights struggle and cold war fears of nuclear holocaust.

But he then articulated those times via some of the most potent and coruscating protest songs ever written that made him - in a phrase he hated - the voice of his generation. Some of them were written with the precision of news reports. Others, such as 'Blowin' In The Wind', 'The Times They Are A-Changin', 'Masters Of War' and 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall', had a universal quality that made them anthems not just of their time but for all time.

Within a couple of years he had left protest behind for the broader poetic vision of songs such as 'Mr Tambourine Man', influencing the Beatles among others to begin writing lyrics more meaningful than the Tin Pan Alley banalities of 'She Loves You'.

When Dylan himself decided to make the transition from folk hero to electric messiah, he found himself at the centre of a storm of protest. Yet by marrying lyrics that name-checked Ezra Pound and TS Eliot as well as Ma Rainey and Beethoven to a rock'n'roll backbeat, he revolutionised popular music.

In just 16 months between 1965-66, he released arguably the greatest trilogy of rock albums ever made, in Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. They included such classic songs as 'Subterranean Homesick Blues', 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue', 'Desolation Row', 'Ballad Of A Thin Man', 'Visions Of Johanna' and 'Like A Rolling Stone'.

Then came the inevitable burn-out. He retired from the road for eight years, released a country album and then a deliberately terrible record (Self Portrait) in an effort to shed his image as the leader of the counter-culture. There followed a born-again period, a mid-life crisis in the 1980s in which he lost the plot and then his reinvention via the Never Ending Tour, in the course of which he has played some 1,700 shows since 1989, averaging more than 100 per year - even in 1997 when he was hospitalised with a potentially fatal disease and quipped that he thought he was going to meet Elvis. That same year he released one of the best albums of his career in Time Out Of Mind, the most profound response to mortality and the ageing process that rock music has yet mustered.

His influence on modern culture remains all-pervasive. When asked how he had been influenced by Dylan, Pete Townshend replied that it was like asking how he had been affected by being born. Dylan's songs changed the world and there is not a songwriter on the planet who has not been influenced by him. Even those who may claim they've never listened to a Dylan record will find they were inspired or affected by others who fell under his dancing spell.

And although the story may be approaching its concluding chapters, it is still far from over. The Beatles played their last concert in 1966 and Elvis is long gone. The Rolling Stones are touring again, but are essentially a nostalgia act, coasting on past glories. Dylan is still up there doing it night after night on his 'never ending tour', reinventing the songs that changed the world and minting them anew before our very eyes."

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Genes Show Signs Brain Still Evolving

"The human brain may still be evolving. So suggests new research that tracked changes in two genes thought to help regulate brain growth, changes that appeared well after the rise of modern humans 200,000 years ago.

That the defining feature of humans - our large brains - continued to evolve as recently as 5,800 years ago, and may be doing so today, promises to surprise the average person, if not biologists.

'We, including scientists, have considered ourselves as sort of the pinnacle of evolution,' noted lead researcher Bruce Lahn, a University of Chicago geneticist whose studies appear in Friday's edition of the journal Science.
'There's a sense we as humans have kind of peaked,' agreed Greg Wray, director of Duke University's Center for Evolutionary Genomics. 'A different way to look at is it's almost impossible for evolution not to happen.'"

Wednesday, September 07, 2005 - Chess News - Judit Polgar � preparing one by one with both colours

"Judit Polgar, the only woman among seven men for this World Chess Championship San Luis 2005, spoke to the Press Office of the event. "It is going to be an extremely difficult and exhausting event from mental and physical point of view", she said, and that's why she is carrying on a very important physical training. "Every game can be extremely hard", she stated, revealing one of her training methods: "I am preparing against my opponents one by one with both colors".

Short biography of Judit Polgar

Grandmaster. She is one of the greatest attractions of the World Chess Championship: the strongest woman in chess history. She will be the only woman in a men’s environment, but she lives it as a normal situation and doesn’t care. She is the only woman who has defeated the great Garry Kasparov and also the only one to make it to the top ten (Elo: 2735). Polgar has achieved her success by abstaining from participating in tournaments where there is a sex based separation.

Source: Press Office of the WCC San Luis 2005"

See what her older sister has been doing, in the post below!

Susan Polgar breaks all records

"On August 1, 2005, Susan Polgar attempted to break the Guinness World Records by playing against 350 players simultaneously at the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

After everything ended, the following four records were broken:

Most Simultaneous Games Played: official record against 326 players: 309 wins, 14 draws and 3 losses = 96.93% in 16 hours and 30 minutes (the previous record was 321 games, with 294 wins, 26 draws, 1 loss = 95.64%, by IM Andrew Martin, England).

Most games won: 309 (Andrew Martin: 294)

Highest percentage: 96.93% (Andrew Martin: 95.64%)

1,131 Consecutive Games Played: Overall statistics which included 551 opponents: 1,112 wins, 16 draws and 3 losses = 99.03% (previous record: 1102 games by WGM Anna-Maria Botsari, Greece)"

See my previous post about Susan here.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Changes in Saturn Rings Baffle Scientists

"New observations by the international Cassini spacecraft reveal that Saturn's trademark shimmering rings, which have dazzled astronomers since Galileo's time, have dramatically changed over just the past 25 years.

Among the most surprising findings is that parts of Saturn's innermost ring - the D ring - have grown dimmer since the Voyager spacecraft flew by the planet in 1981, and a piece of the D ring has moved 125 miles inward toward Saturn.

While scientists puzzle over what caused the changes, their observations could reveal something about the age and lifetime of the rings."

Dark matter highlights extra dimensions --Three new 'directions' could explain astronomical puzzle.

"Welcome to the fourth dimension. And the fifth, and the sixth. A team of astrophysicists claims to have identified evidence that space is six-dimensional.

Joseph Silk of the University of Oxford, UK, and his co-workers say that these extra spatial dimensions can be inferred from the perplexing behaviour of dark matter. This mysterious stuff cannot be seen, but its presence in galaxies is betrayed by the gravitational tug that it exerts on visible stars."

Saturday, September 03, 2005 -- Rocky Mountain High: Spirit Rover Surveys its Surroundings

"NASA's Mars rover Spirit is experiencing the robotic high life--literally--now that it has reached to top of Husband Hill after a slow, year-long climb.

Perched some 270 feet--about the height of the Statue of Liberty--above the plains of its Gusev Crater landing site, Spirit has returned images of stunning new vistas that include a potential winter refuge as the Martian seasons progress, mission scientists said Thursday during a press conference at NASA's Washington, D.C. headquarters.

"That's no Mt. Everest, but it's a heck of a climb for our little rover," Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the rover's science mission at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, told reporters. "When we first touched down at Gusev Crater on Jan. 4, 2004, the Columbia Hills looked impossibly far away.'"