Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ancient palace linked to legendary Ajax

"Among the ruins of a 3,200-year-old palace near Athens, researchers are piecing together the story of legendary Greek warrior-king Ajax, hero of the Trojan War.

Archaeologist Yiannis Lolos found remains of the palace while hiking on the island of Salamis in 1999 and has led excavations there for the past six years.
Now he's confident he's found the site where Ajax ruled, which has also provided evidence to support a theory that residents of the Mycenean island kingdom fled to Cyprus after the king's death.

"This was Ajax's capital," excavation leader Lolos, professor of archaeology at Ioannina University, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"It was the seat of the maritime kingdom of Salamis — small compared to other Mycenaean kingdoms — that was involved in trade, warfare and piracy in the eastern Mediterranean."

Ajax was one of the top fighters in the legendary Greek army that besieged Troy to win back Helen, the abducted queen of Sparta. Described in Homer's Iliad as a towering hero protected by a huge shield, Ajax killed himself after a quarrel with other Greek leaders."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Smart Kids' Brains May Mature Later

"Very smart children may seem advanced in many ways, but a new study shows they actually lag behind other kids in development of the 'thinking' part of the brain.

The brain's outer mantle, or cortex, gets thicker and then thins during childhood and the teen years. The study found that in kids with superior intelligence, the cortex reaches its thickest stage a few years later than in other children.

Nobody knows what causes that or how it relates to superior intelligence. But researchers said the finding does not rule out a role for environment - such as intellectual stimulation - in affecting a child's level of intelligence.

In fact, the delay may promote higher intelligence because it means a child is older, and processing more complex experiences, while the cortex is building up, said study co-author Dr. Judith Rapoport.

Rapoport, with researcher Dr. Philip Shaw and others at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., followed development of the cortex in 307 children. They used repeated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans from childhood to the latter teens.

Results appear in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

The findings are especially strong for cortex development in the front part of the brain and in a strip over the top of the head, areas where complex mental tasks are done, Shaw said.

One analysis found the cortex in kids with the highest IQs - 121 to 149 - didn't reach maximum thickness until age 11. Children who were just slightly less bright reached that point at age 9, and those with average intelligence at around 6. In all cases, the cortex later thinned as the children matured.

Nobody knows what's happening within the cortex to make it get thicker or thinner, Shaw said, so it's impossible to say why those changes would be related to intelligence. Brain development is influenced by intellectual stimulation, so that probably plays a role, he said.

The study findings are "certainly not a recipe for how to change intelligence," he said. Nor do they suggest that MRI scans can reveal how intelligent an individual child is, he said.

Elizabeth Sowell of the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied cortex thickness in children, said she found the results convincing.

While the findings show that the pattern of cortex development is related to high intelligence, they can't show which is causing the other, she said.

She also said that by tracing out patterns of normal development, such studies help scientists understand what goes wrong in children with brain disorders."

Read further here

Next, he should try finding the Great Wall

"A drunk driver just 100 yards from Australia's iconic giant monolith once known as Ayers Rock stopped police to ask the way to the 1,100-foot-high rock.

The headlights of the man's car were actually shining on Uluru, which has a 5.8-mile circumference, Northern Territory police said.

The 44-year-old man, whose car was also towing an aluminum boat, has been charged with drunk driving and unlicensed driving."

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Scientists build virtual version of real-life virus

"This is no ordinary computer virus. Using a real-life virus as a model, researchers have built a virtual version using more than a million digital atoms.

Scientists have previously simulated small pieces of living cells, but researchers say this is the first digital simulation of an entire life form.

The achievement could lead to a better understanding of the inner workings of viruses and improvements in human health, the researchers say. It could also be used to help build nanomachines surrounded by shells similar to the protein capsid shell that protects viruses and helps them determine when to latch onto potential host cells.

For their project, the researchers chose to digitally reverse engineer the satellite tobacco mosaic virus due to its small size and simplicity."

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Remarkable Life: Tortoise Dies at 250

"One of the world's oldest creatures, a giant tortoise believed to have been about 250 years old, has died in the Calcutta zoo where it spent more than half its long life.

Addwaita, which means 'the one and only' in the local Bengali language, was one of four Aldabra tortoises brought to India by British sailors in the 18th century.

Zoo officials say he was a gift for Lord Robert Clive of the East India Company, who was instrumental in establishing British colonial rule in India, before he returned to England in 1767.

Long after the other three tortoises died, Addwaita continued to thrive, living in Clive's garden before being moved to the zoo in 1875.

'According to records in the zoo, the age of the giant tortoise, Addwaita, who died on Wednesday, would be 250 years approximately,' said zoo director Subir Chowdhury.

That would have made him much older than the world's oldest documented living animal: Harriet, a 176-year-old Galapagos tortoise who lives at the Australia Zoo north of Brisbane, according to the zoo's Web site. She was taken from the island of Isla Santa Cruz by Charles Darwin in the 19th century.

Aldabra tortoises come from the Aldabra atoll in the Seychelle islands in the Indian Ocean, and often live to more than 100 years of age. Males can weigh up to 550 pounds.

Addwaita, the zoo's biggest attraction, had been unwell for the last few days, said local Forest Minister Jogesh Burman,

'We were keeping a watch on him. When the zoo keepers went to his enclosure on Wednesday they found him dead,' Burman said. "

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Nepalese Buddha Boy 'reappears'

"A missing Nepalese teenager popularly known as 'Buddha Boy' reappeared briefly on Sunday, his followers say.

The committee managing the meditation site of Ram Bomjan, 16, released video of its members purportedly meeting the boy near his village in southern Nepal.
The boy's meditation and apparent 10-month fast attracted global attention before he vanished in March.

Large numbers of devotees flocked to see him to leave offerings. A massive search operation is still under way.

'Not to worry'

The chairman of the Om Namo Buddha Tapaswi Sewa Samiti (ONBTSS), Bed Bahadur Lama, told reporters that he and his colleagues had met Bomjan about 3km (2 miles) south-west of his meditation site in Bara district on Sunday.

He said Bomjan had spoken to them for half an hour.

"He said he would reappear after six years. He has asked monks to perform prayers in the meditation spot," Mr Lama told reporters.

"I left because there is no peace here... Tell my parents not to worry," Mr Lama quoted Bomjan as saying.

The alleged meeting is the first news of the boy's possible whereabouts since he disappeared on 11 March. District authorities say they cannot confirm the sighting.

Bomjan's followers and security personnel have launched a massive search operation in Ratnapuri forest and surrounding areas but have so far failed to locate him.

Bomjan's followers claim he was an incarnation of Lord Buddha who was born in Lumbini, in present-day Nepal, more than 2,500 years ago.

His followers say he has been meditating for 10 months without food or water and is immune to fire and snake bites.

But these claims have not been independently verified. Scientists were unable to examine the boy as his followers said it would disturb his meditation."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Scientists retrace Parthenon's brilliant hues

"If the ancient Greeks sold kitschy postcards to tourists 2,000 years ago, they would have depicted much different views of the popular sites that visitors flock to today.

Archaeologists say many of the stony ruins looked much different in their prime. Many were brightly painted in hues that have faded with time and, in some cases, with forced removal.

The Parthenon in Athens was once covered in colorful splashes of paint, for example.

It has long been known that the formidable marble temple, which sits atop the capital city’s Acropolis citadel, had been painted. New tests, performed by Greek archaeologist and chemical engineer Evi Papakonstantinou-Zioti, confirm the use of brilliant shades of red, blue and green.

Traces of the colors were found during a laser cleaning done as part of ongoing restorations to the temple, built in 432 B.C.

Simple weathering caused the colors to fade over time, said Sara Orel, associate professor of art history at Missouri’s Truman University.

“Weathering through the bleaching of the sun, blowing of the sand, etc., and more modern pollution-caused damage” are the major culprits, Orel told LiveScience. She sees this through much of Egypt, where the carved designs on most ancient buildings were painted to make them stand out more prominently against lighter stone. Today those colors are barely visible."

Saturday, March 18, 2006

One of Mars Rover's Wheels Stops Working

"One of the six wheels on the Mars rover Spirit has stopped working and the solar-powered robot must propel itself up a slope to catch enough sunshine to keep operating, NASA said Friday.

The right front wheel previously had an episode of balkiness but this week the motor that turns the wheel stopped working, the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.

'It is not drawing any current at all,' said Jacob Matijevic, rover engineering team chief.

Engineers were considering whether the electrical motor's brushes - contacts that deliver power to the rotating part of the motor - have lost contact.

Spirit is trying to reach a position where it can get as much sunlight as possible during winter. But while the point of minimum sunshine is more than 100 days away, there already is only enough to power about one hour of driving on flat ground per day, JPL said.

The rover was 390 feet from a spot on the north-facing side of a feature called McCool Hill on Friday, where it could spend the southern-hemisphere winter with its solar panels angled toward the sun, JPL said.

Frequent stops to check whether the right front wheel had caught on anything slowed progress.

The solar panels have been producing 15 percent less electricity since February and are at less than half of their output during summer. JPL said Spirit would make about 40 feet a day under the current conditions.

Spirit's new wheel problem occurred this week during the rover's 779th Martian day.

Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, landed on opposite sides of the Red Planet in January 2004 and have long outlasted missions originally planned to last 90 Martian days.

Opportunity is closer to Mars' equator. The rover has finished a four-month study of a crater named Erebus and is making a 1.2-mile drive to giant Victoria crater."

Read more here

Friday, March 17, 2006

Evidence for Universe Expansion Found

"Physicists announced Thursday that they now have the smoking gun that shows the universe went through extremely rapid expansion in the moments after the big bang, growing from the size of a marble to a volume larger than all of observable space in less than a trillion-trillionth of a second.

The discovery - which involves an analysis of variations in the brightness of microwave radiation - is the first direct evidence to support the two-decade-old theory that the universe went through what is called inflation.

It also helps explain how matter eventually clumped together into planets, stars and galaxies in a universe that began as a remarkably smooth, superhot soup.

'It's giving us our first clues about how inflation took place,' said Michael Turner, assistant director for mathematics and physical sciences at the National Science Foundation. 'This is absolutely amazing.'"

Water Discovery May Not Spur Space Mission

"To scientists scanning the cosmos for signs of life, the stunning discovery of what appears to be water on an obscure moon orbiting Saturn couldn't come at a more pivotal time.

With a fresh focus on returning astronauts to Earth's own moon, NASA has squashed several missions that over the next decade were to have continued the search for extraterrestrial life.

Can images from Enceladus, an icy moon located more than 800 million miles from Earth, supercharge interest and funding for life-finding missions?

Probably not any time soon. Missions take years to launch and what enthusiasm NASA has for finding otherworldly life already is focused on Mars and the Jupiter moon Europa, where promising leads have been studied for years.

Even those missions aren't on the fast track. Budget woes last year scrapped a NASA project to send a nuclear-powered spacecraft to Europa, which may hide vast oceans of water under thick ice sheets. The cancellation of a trip to a moon more accessible and hundreds of millions of miles closer than Enceladus doesn't bode well for new projects.

"Anyone who thinks they can squeeze an Enceladus mission into the budget planning is awfully naive," said Bruce Jakosky, an astrobiologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Still, scientists were abuzz over a report last week in the journal Science that showed what seem to be water geysers shooting miles above Enceladus' warm southern pole region. Along with a stable heat source and organic substances, water is believed essential to life.

The tantalizing Enceladus images were snapped by the Cassini spacecraft, an international project managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Cassini plans at least one more pass by Enceladus, in 2008, which could reveal further details of the moon's potential to harbor life - though not the presence of life itself.

The space agency hasn't ruled out extending that mission, said Andrew Dantzler, director of NASA's solar system division. But any future mission to Enceladus would come after a Europa trip, he said.

"I believe all these great missions that we want to do, we will do," he said. "We just have to space them out."

Extraterrestrial organisms likely would be simple microbes capable of surviving extreme conditions. Not the stuff of movies, but enough to keep some NASA space prospecting programs alive amid the agency's goal of revisiting the moon by 2018.

NASA's proposed budget for fiscal year 2007 would give science projects $5.3 billion, but plans are to limit growth over the next four years to compensate for a $3 billion shortfall in the space shuttle program. Two programs to search for planets beyond the solar system capable of supporting life have been delayed until the middle of next decade.

While unmanned missions are facing a "tough time," the Enceladus discovery should spur interest in the hunt for alien life, said Bruce Runnegar, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

"This is the sort of thing that will help the astrobiology field get stronger and hopefully survive," Runnegar said.

NASA does plan to land two more robotic probes on Mars this decade to search for ancient water and will launch the Kepler spacecraft to look for Earth-sized planets circling other stars.

Astrobiologist Neville Woolf of the University of Arizona would like to see another mission answer whether Enceladus is life-friendly.

"At some point, someone will have the courage and money to look at Enceladus," Woolf said. 'As to when that will be, I'm no wiser than anyone else.'"

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

DNA nebula adds new spin to theories

"Magnetic forces at the center of the galaxy have twisted a nebula into the shape of DNA, a new study reveals.

False color image

The double helix shape is commonly seen inside living organisms, but this is the first time it has been observed in the cosmos.

Nobody has ever seen anything like that before in the cosmic realm," said the study's lead author, Mark Morris of the University of California at Los Angeles. "Most nebulae are either spiral galaxies full of stars or formless amorphous conglomerations of dust and gas -- space weather. What we see indicates a high degree of order.

These observations, made with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, are detailed in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature."

Read more here

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

First test of a 'Bucket Strip'

The images aren't that good, as I used small, compressed photos. I'll have to try this with regular photos as well.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Google Launches Interactive Map of Mars

"First there was Google Earth, then Google Moon. On Monday, Google Inc. (GOOG) expanded its galactic reach by launching Google Mars, a Web browser-based mapping tool that gives users an up-close, interactive view of the Red Planet with the click of a mouse.

The Martian maps were made from images taken by NASA's orbiting Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor."

Google Mars

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Broken Qing Dynasty vases uninsured

"A British museum has no insurance for three 300-year-old Qing Dynasty Chinese vases, valued at $175,000, broken by a tourist.

The Sunday Telegraph obtained documents via the Freedom of Information Act that indicate the museum will receive nothing in compensation for the smashed vases because it failed to get them insured.

Forty-two-year-old Nick Flynn fell down a staircase at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, after he tripped in his untied shoelace, smashing the vases.

The documents obtained by the Telegraph also found that a 15-year-old teenage boy from France damaged an Egyptian sarcophagus lid which had survived more than two millennia when he tried to lift the 440-pound lid worth tens of thousands dollars.

However, Robert Read, a fine arts underwriter for Hiscox plc, an insurer of international art collections, says most British museums do not insure their collections.

'They have got to prioritize and they tend to spend on things like fire alarms or security guards,' he said."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Boy Called Reincarnated Buddha Disappears

"A 15-year-old boy whose followers believe he is the reincarnation of Buddha has disappeared after 10 months of meditation in the Nepalese jungle, officials said Saturday.

Followers of Ram Bahadur Banjan reported his disappearance and search parties on Sunday split up in the jungles of Bara, about 100 miles south of the capital, Katmandu, to investigate, said Santaraj Subedi, the chief government official in the district.

Gautam Raj Kattel, a police official, said eyewitnesses reported seeing the teen heading south before dawn on Saturday. His clothes were found near the spot where he had been meditating.

Kattel said officials did not believe Banjan had been abducted by communist rebels or robbers.

Banjan has been sitting cross-legged and motionless with eyes closed in a niche among the roots of a tree in the jungle since May 17, 2005, according to his associates, who claim he has had no food or water during that period.

In recent months, thousands of people have come to glimpse the boy, including many who believe Banjan is a reincarnation of Gautama Siddhartha, who was born not far away in southwestern Nepal around 500 B.C. and later became revered as the Buddha.

Visitors have only been allowed to view the Banjan between dawn and dusk from a roped-off area about 80 feet away. His followers kept him from public view at night, when they would place a screen in front of him.

Buddhist priests who visited him said the boy was not the incarnation of Buddha but believed he had been meditating for months.

Buddhism teaches that right thinking and self-control can enable people to achieve nirvana - a divine state of peace and release from desire. Buddhism has about 325 million followers, mostly in Asia."

"I'm not Bobby Fischer" | News

"March 11, 2006 | This week in San Diego, 64 hunched and pensive brainiacs have been competing for the coveted title of United States Chess Champion. The winner, to be decided Sunday, will take home $25,000.

That's chump change compared to the millions that young stars like Daniel Negreanu are making in poker. But there's plenty at stake for 18-year-old Hikaru Nakamura, the controversial boy king defending the crown.

This stocky Asian-American teen from White Plains, N.Y., is shattering the history books to become America's winningest chess prodigy ever. By 10, he achieved the rarefied title of master. At 15, he was the country's youngest grandmaster. In December 2004, he sealed his coronation by taking home the 2005 U.S. championship. As of Friday morning, after seven long and brutal days of play, he's in the top three of his group, and gunning for a repeat.

But don't call him a geek. While chess gets written off as nerd play, Nakamura represents a brash new generation of champs reared on video games, hip-hop and the Internet. Known for his speed and aggression, he has been dubbed 'the world's most impolite player' -- fighting words in one of the last sports that still prizes modesty and grace. While other players discuss the art and beauty of chess, Nakamura talks like a street fighter. After getting skipped over one year for the chess Olympiad team, he crushed a rival player and called it 'payback.' In one notorious interview, he cockily anointed himself the best player in America and deemed his peers conniving foreigners. 'There aren't really any 'American' grandmasters that are higher rated than me,' he said. 'That's actually why I still work alone. It's very hard to trust anybody.'

He's just as brash in play. While grandmaster etiquette calls for accepting a draw during a deadlocked game, Nakamura consistently breaks rank by refusing to concede. "I don't give up!" he snaps by way of explanation. Online, he's nicknamed "the King of Blitz" for his top-ranked mastery of high-speed smackdowns. Opponents have been known to strike back beyond the board. During one tournament, a kid got so angry he allegedly chucked a basketball at Nakamura's head. But Nakamura has only been emboldened by his bad-boy image. As Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam, editor of New in Chess magazine, puts it, "Nakamura likes being the fighter and the loner. He's the lone American taking on the world."

Nakamura's potent brew of balls and brains has earned him the obvious comparison: Bobby Fischer. But for Nakamura, Fischer, the wunderkind who became a wild-eyed, long-bearded paranoid, who vanished mysteriously during his prime, serves also as a cautionary tale. "He played too much chess and went crazy," says Nakamura. "I'm not a mad genius."

But his experience serves as a sort of modern parable about the game. Nakamura rode the fuel of new technologies to become a powerhouse player. But his hard, fast rise has left him feeling burned out and, unlike his coddled peers in Europe, ready to pull the plug. "When it's this hard to make a living," he says, "you're not going to keep the talent in the game. Eventually, they have to go into other things."

Click on the title to read more -- EXCLUSIVE: Satellite Sleuth Closes in on Noah's Ark Mystery

"High on Mt. Ararat in eastern Turkey, there is a baffling mountainside 'anomaly,' a feature that one researcher claims may be something of biblical proportions.

Images taken by aircraft, intelligence-gathering satellites and commercial remote-sensing spacecraft are fueling an intensive study of the intriguing oddity. But whether the anomaly is some geological quirk of nature, playful shadows, a human-made structure of some sort, or simply nothing at all -- that remains to be seen.

Whatever it is, the anomaly of interest rests at 15,300 feet (4,663 meters) on the northwest corner of Mt. Ararat, and is nearly submerged in glacial ice. It would be easy to call it merely a strange rock formation.

But at least one man wonders if it could be the remains of Noah's Ark�a vessel said to have been built to save people and selected animals from the Great Flood, the 40 days and 40 nights of deluge as detailed in the Book of Genesis.

The Genesis blueprint of the Ark detailed the structure as 6:1 length to width ratio (300 cubits by 50 cubits). The anomaly, as viewed by satellite, is close to that 6:1 proportion."

Click the title to read more and see additional photos

Friday, March 10, 2006

NASA Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Mars

"A NASA spacecraft successfully slipped into orbit around Mars Friday, joining a trio of orbiters already circling the Red Planet after a critical firing of its engines.

Scientists cheered after the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter emerged from the planet's shadow and signaled to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that the maneuver was a success.

'Oh I am very relieved,' project manager Jim Graf said minutes later. 'It was picture perfect.'

The two-ton spacecraft is the most sophisticated ever to arrive at Mars and is expected to gather more data on the Red Planet than all previous Martian missions combined."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Sark Drops Feudalism for Democracy

"There are no cars, roads or dentists and the only ambulance is a converted tractor, but Sark - a tiny self-governing island in the English Channel - embraced the modern world Wednesday, when legislators voted to swap its feudal government for democracy.

After around 450 years of rule almost exclusively by landowners, the smallest independent state in the British commonwealth will allow each of the 600 residents to stand for election.

The island sits 20 miles from the coast of France and is part of the British crown dependency - technically owned by Queen Elizabeth II, but not part of the United Kingdom. It is 3 miles wide and 1.5 miles long and is famed for its dramatic coastline and gentle pace of life.

The state's legislators - known as the Chief Pleas - voted for democratic reforms that will see a legislature of 14 elected landowners and 14 elected residents take charge.

But changing the feudal model, needed to bring the island into line with the European Convention on Human Rights - the Europe-wide laws governing liberties and require states to have democratically elected governments - was not universally supported.

Only 165 islanders took part in a ballot-style opinion poll that asked which model of change the population favored.

"Feudalism is a great system and has worked very well for the island. What people wanted was an option of no change at all," resident Jennifer Cochrane said by telephone from her island home.

"It is an enormous leap, a bigger leap than we had wanted. The island was hoping to reform through evolution, not revolution."

Since around 1565, 40 heads of the island's farm owning families have raised taxes and decided on matters of law, part of an independence agreement brokered with Queen Elizabeth, after the English seized control of the island from France.

In 1920, 12 non-landowning deputies were appointed, voted for by all islanders over 18 - the last concession made to democratic government.

An extraordinary meeting of the Chief Pleas voted Wednesday by 25 votes to 15 votes to approve a bill that will reduce the size of the legislature and see the two sets of representatives elected by all voting-age islanders.

Cochrane said the outside world has had a mistaken perception of Sark, believing the Chief Pleas had an oppressive grip on the local population.

"These people are not lords of the manor but farmers, part of the working community," Cochrane said. "The problem we have had is with people from outside buying the farms and acquiring the status of Chief Pleas, but not understanding the sense of community and sense of family."

Sark is economically independent of Britain, with a budget of around $1.04 million, raising around $520,000 through direct taxes and the remainder made up from landing charges for tourist boats.

Despite the move to embrace modernity, the island retains some unusual laws. Only the head of state - the Seigneur - has the right to keep pigeons or an unspayed female dog.

The use of tractors - the only mechanized transport on the island - is also strictly regulated, with only one passenger per vehicle allowed - except up and down the 300-foot high Harbour Hill.

Elections under the new system - which must be symbolically approved by the queen - are expected to be held in December."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

75-Year-Old Pa. Woman Charged With Robbery

"WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. - A 75-year-old woman accused of robbing a bank with an unloaded pistol was arrested after a tow truck driver blocked her in after a short chase, police said.

Marilyn Divine of Baldwin said after her arrest that she acted 'to help people who are starving to death and nobody cares about them.' She didn't specify to whom she was referring.

Police said the robber walked up to the National City Bank inside the Shop n' Save supermarket in West Mifflin at about 10:30 a.m. Monday and demanded money from two tellers, brandishing a 9mm handgun. She was wearing a gray sweat suit, a Steelers tassel cap, and had a scarf pulled around her face, police said.

A former bank employee chased the woman's car until police took over and arrested her after a short, low-speed chase when the tow truck blocked her path. Police said they recovered all the stolen money, which totaled about $5,000.

Divine was in the Allegheny County Jail unable to post bond Monday night on charges including armed robbery and reckless endangerment."

Monday, March 06, 2006

Living dead win Oddest Book Title award

"The living dead beat rhino horn to be named Oddest Book Title of the Year.

Bookseller magazine gave the award Friday to a self-help book on being haunted entitled 'People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It.'

In a close fight, the runner-up was 'Rhino Horn Stockpile Management: Minimum Standards and Best Practices from East and Southern Africa.'

Previous winners have been 'Bombproof Your Horse' and 'Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers"

Sunday, March 05, 2006

With LongPen, Author Signs Books From Afar

"Margaret Atwood has had enough of long journeys, late nights and writer's cramp.

Tired of grueling book tours, the Booker Prize-winning Canadian author on Sunday unveiled her new invention: a remote-controlled pen that allows writers to sign books for fans from thousands of miles away.

Some fear Atwood's LongPen could end the personal contact between writers and readers. Atwood says it will enhance the relationship.

'I think of this as a democratizing device,' said Atwood, whose appearances draw hundreds of fans willing to stand in long lines for a word and an autograph.

"You cannot be in five countries at the same time. But you can be in five countries at the same time with the LongPen."

Atwood's democratic device underwent the most universal of experiences on Sunday: the last-minute technical hitch. Its first-ever public demonstration, at the London Book Fair, was delayed as project director Matthew Gibson and his crew engaged in some frantic tinkering.

"We've had a setback, and we're trying to address it," Gibson said.

Anxious minutes later, Atwood picked up a pen to autograph her new short story collection, "The Tent," for Nigel Newton, chief executive of her British publisher, Bloomsbury. She wrote the words on an electronic pad while chatting to Newton over a video linkup.

A few seconds later in another part of the exhibition center, two spindly metal arms clutching a pen reproduced the words onto Newton's book in Atwood's angular scrawl: "For Nigel, with best wishes, Margaret Atwood."

Later, Atwood planned to give the device its trans-Atlantic "Marconi moment," signing copies of "The Tent," for readers in New York and Guelph, Ontario.

When Atwood, 66, announced her invention late in 2004, many assumed it was a hoax. But the inventive spirit is not surprising from an author whose interest in science and technology informed science fiction-flavored novels such as "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Oryx and Crake."

Atwood, however, said the invention sprang from her own technological ignorance.

"You know those people who come around with a package and you sign a thing?" she told The Associated Press in an interview. "I thought my signature was whizzing through the air and landing somewhere else, and I thought as I was crawling through the night on another maniacal book tour, wouldn't it be great if I could sign a book like that?

"It turns out they don't work that way. But I asked some technically minded people if such a thing was possible, and they said it was."

Atwood set up a company with Gibson and several others to produce the device, naming the firm Unotchit - pronounced "you no touch it."

They plan to lease the gadget, rather than sell it, renting it out to publishers for one-time signing events or tours. Atwood hopes publishers will use it to promote lesser-known authors and to bring author signings to small towns and small countries that usually aren't on the book tour circuit.

Publishers are intrigued by the idea. Both Bloomsbury and Atwood's other British publisher, Virago, invested in the project.

"This creates the possibility of an entirely new book-promotion event that will inject new life into the marketing of books and authors' relationship with their readers," said Bloomsbury's Newton.

Dejan Papic of Atwood's Serbian publisher, Laguna, said the device could help bring international authors - at least virtually - to his small, poor, European country.

"We are not always in a position to invite international authors and pay their costs," he said.

Some readers were less sure of the LongPen's merits.

"I might do it if she wasn't in the same room," said Jeff Doorn, a small-press author lining up at the book fair to have Atwood sign his copy of "The Tent" - in person. "But it's nice to have the personal touch."

Atwood said the gadget had applications - from education to law - beyond the traditional book tour. It can already sign hockey sticks; Gibson and his team are working on basketballs."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

How whales outsmart fishing fleets

"ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Years ago, the sound of a boat sometimes spelled death for the heavily hunted sperm whale. Now, some of them have figured out, it means dinner.

Scientists recently figured out that sperm whales in the Gulf of Alaska zero in on boat engines to locate miles of fishing lines hung with valuable sablefish.

"That's the whales' cue," said Jan Straley, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska Southeast who since 2002 has helped lead the study.

Sperm whales don’t tune in to just any engine noise to track what are essentially miles of sablefish shish kebabs. The endangered whales key in on the engines’ sporadic bubbling as fishermen turn them on and off while hauling in longlines, the continuing study said.

The work has led researchers to recommend some low-cost ways for fishermen to hoodwink the highly intelligent cetaceans.

The researchers estimate there are 90 male sperm whales feeding from longlines in the eastern Gulf of Alaska, part of the world’s largest sablefish fishery. The whales leave behind partially chewed bodies, dismembered lips or nothing at all on the hooks."

Friday, March 03, 2006

'Hippie Chimps' Fast Disappearing in Congo

"Even as Congolese villagers devise novel ways to snare the fast-disappearing bonobo, scientists are racing to save the gentle 'hippie chimp' from extinction.

The bonobo, or pan paniscus, is closely related to man and known for resolving squabbles through sex rather than violence. It's also prized by some Congolese for its tasty meat. The wiry, wizened-faced chimps are being killed in treetop nests in Congo's vast rain forest, their only natural habitat in the world, by villagers who do not seem to know how fast their prey is disappearing.

'Bonobos are an icon for peace and love, the world's 'hippie chimps,'' said Sally Coxe of the Washington-based Bonobo Conservation Initiative. 'To let them die off would be a catastrophe.'

Bonobos are known for greeting rival groups with genital handshakes and sensual body rubs. Bonobo spats are swiftly settled - often with a French kiss and a quick round of sex.

Despite all the sex, female bonobos give birth to a single infant only once every five years, making the species especially vulnerable.

As few as 5,000 bonobos may now remain in Congo, down from an estimated 100,000 in 1984, according to primatologist Ino Guabini of the World Wildlife Fund.

"There is no question that bonobos are seriously threatened," Guabini said, speaking over a shrill forest symphony of birds, animals and insects. 'We need urgent measures or there is no way we can protect the species.'"

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Yellowstone Bulge May Cause Thermal Unrest

Excite News: "A newly discovered surface bulge in Yellowstone National Park may be responsible for some unexpected geothermal activity in recent years, according to a study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists.

The bulge, about 25 miles across, rose 5 inches from 1997 to 2003 and may have triggered some thermal unrest at Norris Geyser Basin, including a sudden rise in temperatures, new steam vents and the awakening of Steamboat geyser.

The findings are part of a paper set to be published Thursday in the journal Nature.

Charles Wicks, one of the USGS scientists who worked on the study, said much of what happens beneath the park's surface remains a mystery, but more is being learned about the Yellowstone caldera, the huge bowl-shaped collapsed volcano in the middle of the park that last erupted 640,000 years ago."

Bob Dylan -- ever evolving

"Everyone, it seems, is on the search to 'find themselves.' Instilled in us at an early age, the belief that we are all on individual journeys -- journeys that are supposed to end with us realizing our inner self -- is one that is central to this adventure we call life.

A number of people much smarter than I am have commented on this belief, but it is George Bernard Shaw's words on the subject that really resonate with me. The dramatist wrote, "Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." I've always liked this idea, and it is part of the reason, I think, why I find the world of music so appealing.

Bands, and the musicians who compose them, have always embraced the quest for unending creativity. In a world of constantly changing sounds and setups, musicians are challenged to stay one step ahead of the game, continually producing new and innovative musical stylings. This usually leads to the reinvention of individual artists (Prince, anyone?). This recreation is what makes the music world interesting, keeping both musicians and listeners on their toes.

Take, for example, one of the greatest (and my personal favorite) artists of all time: Bob Dylan. Dylan is the King of Reinvention. Aside from being just so damn cool, Bob (I can call him that because we�re just that close) is the kind of musician who constantly strives to change with the times, never encapsulating one style for too long.

From acoustic folk to the electric rock to lyrics with a blatant religious focus, Dylan's music has had such staying power because as a musician the man isn't afraid to stretch and change. It’s a smart idea, really, because the more fluid a musician can be, the greater reach they will have in bringing in new and different types of fans.

There’s a reason why there were just as many high schoolers at Bob Dylan’s show at the Rave last spring as there were older adults. Every sector of the musician’s audience can find a Dylan era that excites them. Though each stage of Dylan’s career shows a different side of the musician’s talent, each is an authentic part of his person.

As expected, Dylan’s live performances reflect the very core of his music philosophy. Expecting to hear “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Hurricane” as I knew them, I was pleasantly surprised the first time I saw Dylan perform his hits on stage. The artist even recreates himself on stage, changing the time-weathered melodies of his greatest hits and showing an audience what true musicianship can be like. Bob Dylan knows what Shaw was talking about and will continue, I believe, to create and reveal new sides of his persona for the rest of his musical career."