Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bob Dylan in Baseball Hall of Fame

"Bob Dylan has played at historic Doubleday Field - music, that is. Now, he's back, and for good, just a block down Main Street in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bob Dylan performs during the 2006 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans on April 28, 2006.

The museum has added the baseball episode from the famed singer-songwriter's weekly music show, 'Theme Time Radio Hour,' on XM Satellite Radio to its archive, it was announced Wednesday.

The one-hour episode contains Dylan singing an a cappella rendition of 'Take Me out to the Ball Game,' along with classic baseball-announcing calls, such as Curt Gowdy's description of Ted Williams' home run in his final at-bat with the Boston Red Sox.

It also contains several original baseball compositions, including Buddy Johnson's 'Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?' and 'The Ball Game' by Sister Wynona Carr.

The CD will be added to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library archive, which features more than 10,000 hours of recorded audio and video, and will be available for researchers."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Chinese, English Speakers Vary at Math

"Things add up differently for native English speakers compared with people who learned Chinese as a first language.

Simple arithmetic was easily done by both groups, but they used different parts of the brain, a new study shows.

Researchers used brain imaging to see which parts of the brain were active while people did simple addition problems, such as 3 plus 4 equals 7. All participants were working with Arabic numerals which are used in both cultures.

Both groups engaged a portion of the brain called the inferior parietal cortex, which is involved in quantity representation and reading.

But native English speakers also showed activity in a language processing area of the brain, while native Chinese speakers used a brain region involved in the processing of visual information, according to the report in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The difference "may mean that Chinese speakers perform problems in a different manner than do English speakers," said lead author Yiyuan Tang of Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China.

"In part that might represent the difference in language. It could be that the difference in language encourages different styles of computation and this may be enhanced by different methods of learning to deal with numbers," Tang said in an interview via e-mail.

"We believe language plays a role in the calculation," Tang said. But Tang added that cultural factors may also play a part, such as math learning strategies and school training.

These cultural differences using numbers may help scientists develop better strategies for doing calculations, Tang explained: "It could well turn out that certain strategies may be optimal, even when used with a different type of language."

Richard E. Nisbett, co-director of the Culture and Cognition Program at the University of Michigan, said "the work is important because it tells us something about the particular pathways in the brain that underlie some of the differences between Asians and Westerners in thought patterns."

"Ultimately this kind of work will show us when these pathways begin to diverge and how it may be possible to teach Westerners some of the advantages of Asian thought and Asians some of the advantages of Western thought," said Nisbett, who was not part of the research team.

Nisbett last year reported on differences in the way Asians and North Americans view pictures. He tracked eye movements and determined that, when shown a photograph, North American students of European background paid more attention to the object in the foreground of a scene, while students from China spent more time studying the background and taking in the whole scene.

"They literally are seeing the world differently," he said.

The new work extends his findings, Nisbett said, "in that it indicates that the reasoning differences that we find between Asians and Westerners are really quite deep."

The new study was funded by the National Science Foundation of China and the McKnight Research Program."

TV's 'Wyatt Earp' Marries for First Time

"Eighty-one-year-old actor Hugh O'Brian married for the first time at a cemetery in what the couple described as 'a wedding to die for.'

'This is my first, and most definitely, my last trip down the aisle,' O'Brian said in a statement announcing his marriage Sunday afternoon to his girlfriend of 18 years, teacher Virginia Barber, 54, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

It was the bride's second marriage.

Some 300 guests - including John Wayne and Pope John Paul lookalikes - witnessed the ceremony at the graveyard's Hall of Crucifixion-Resurrection, publicist Monique Moss said Monday.

The Rev. Robert Schuller of Orange County's Crystal Cathedral officiated and the couple was serenaded by close friend Debbie Reynolds. Dubbed 'A Wedding to Die For,' the ceremony concluded with a cocktail reception.

O'Brian may be best known to baby boomers as television's tough Old West marshal from 1955 to 1961 on 'The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.'

Besides cleaning up the Tombstone Territory on TV, O'Brian appeared on dozens of shows over the years including 'The Love Boat,''Murder, She Wrote,''Fantasy island,''L.A. Law,''Charlie's Angeles,''Police Story,''Perry Mason' and 'General Electric Theater,' among many others."

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hubble Telescope Main Camera Not Working

"The main camera on the Hubble Space Telescope, which has revolutionized astronomy with its stunning pictures of the universe, has stopped working, engineers who work on the camera said Saturday.

The Advanced Camera for Surveys, a third-generation instrument installed by a space shuttle crew in 2002, went off line Monday, and engineers are still trying to figure out what happened and how to repair it.

'It's still off line today,' Max Mutchler, an instruments specialist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said Saturday.

Engineers are hopeful the problem can be fixed, said Ed Campion, a NASA spokesman at Goddard Space Flight Center outside Baltimore, which is responsible for managing the Hubble."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Stephen Hawking Warns About Global Warming

"Stephen Hawking expressed concern about global warming Wednesday even as he charmed and provoked a group of Chinese students.

Before an audience of 500 at a seminar in Beijing, the celebrity cosmologist said, 'I like Chinese culture, Chinese food and above all Chinese women. They are beautiful.'

The audience of mostly university students and professors and a smattering of journalists laughed and applauded.

Asked about the environment, Hawking, who suffers from a degenerative disease, uses a wheelchair and speaks through a computerized voice synthesizer, said he was 'very worried about global warming.'

He said he was afraid that Earth "might end up like Venus, at 250 degrees centigrade and raining sulfuric acid."

The comment is a pointed one for China - which is the second largest emitter of the greenhouse gases that are blamed for global warming, after the United States. Experts warn that if emissions aren't reduced the world's glaciers could melt, threatening cities and triggering droughts and other environmental disasters.

An occasional visitor to China, Hawking was in Beijing to attend a conference on string theory, an area of physics that attempts to explain and model the universe.

Hawking's ability to explain abstruse scientific concepts to laymen has given him a worldwide following. In China, whose communist government regularly preaches that scientific prowess is crucial to the country's future power, Hawking has near-superstar status.

When he was wheeled onstage 20 minutes into the event, the audience rushed forward, taking pictures with their mobile phones.

Many stood and craned to see him better throughout the talk and one man in the fifth row watched Hawking through binoculars.

Xu Fanrong, a 23-year-old student at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Physics in Beijing, praised Hawking's pithy and humorous remarks during the one and a half hour event. He said Hawking's appearance could help inspire more young Chinese to study physics.

"Our country needs science," said Xu. "No basic science means no basic technology and no economic development."

Other speakers at the seminar included Edward Witten, winner of the Fields Medal in mathematics in 1990; David J. Gross, winner of the 2004 Nobel prize for physics; and Harvard University physics professor Andy Strominger.

Despite the stellar academic credentials of his fellow speakers, Hawking stole the show, fielding questions about his life as well as science. Asked by one Chinese student how he would describe himself, Hawking said: "Optimistic, romantic and stubborn."

"In the world there's only one like him. I very much respect his personality and strong spirit," said Liu Fei, 24-year-old doctoral candidate at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Physics.

Hawking told the students that although he was very limited physically by his disability, his mind was "free to explore back to the origins of the universe and into black holes.'"

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Video Projections on a Globe Make Planetary Data Click

"GREENBELT, Md., June 12 — Circling the big glowing ball that hovers in the middle of the room, you feel like a giant alien casually strolling through the solar system.

You watch the distant Earth, turning slowly as the white puff that is Hurricane Katrina slides into the Gulf of Mexico. Then the sphere morphs into Mars; the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons, moves into view from a far horizon. Then it becomes Jupiter, with its swirling atmospheric bands and turbulent red spot.

The display is Science on a Sphere, a pioneering system for presenting planetary portraits gathered from satellites and other spacecraft. Essentially a spherical movie screen of white fiberglass, six feet in diameter, it displays video images from four computer-controlled projectors. Though stationary, it gives the illusion of spinning as the images move, and the nearly invisible wire that holds it up makes it seem to be floating in space.

"It's a unique way of showing planetary data sets that makes them come alive," said Michael Starobin, a senior producer for NASA Television working at the space agency's Goddard Space Flight Center here.

Researchers at the Earth System Research Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo., developed the system several years ago as an educational tool for students and the public. But the system is becoming increasingly popular among scientists, who see it as a way of quickly conveying the gist of huge amounts of data.

"Everyone knew school kids would be impressed, but we've been surprised by the interest of scientists to get their data on the system," said Alexander E. MacDonald, the NOAA meteorologist who invented Science on a Sphere.

"We are visual animals," he went on. "If people visualize data, they tend to understand it, whether you are talking about 600 million years of continental drift or seeing an entire hurricane season projected in three minutes. This is a lot of information, but people get it if they can see it."

Science on a Sphere takes flat, two-dimensional images and data taken from spherical objects like planets and moons, and synchronizes and blends them into animated presentations. Most of the almost 100 presentations created so far are silent displays meant to illustrate lectures."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Physicist touches upon God and science

"World-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said Thursday that the late Pope John Paul II once told scientists they should not study the beginning of the universe because it was the work of God.

Hawking, author of the best-seller 'A Brief History of Time,' said John Paul made the comments at a cosmology conference at the Vatican. He did not say when the meeting was held.

Hawking quoted the pope as saying, 'It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God.'

The scientist then joked that he was glad John Paul did not realize that he had presented a paper at the conference suggesting how the universe began.

"I didn't fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition like Galileo," Hawking said during a sold-out audience at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The church condemned Galileo Galilei in the 17th century for supporting Nicolaus Copernicus' discovery that the earth revolved around the sun. Church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe. But in 1992, Pope John Paul II issued a declaration saying the church's denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from "tragic mutual incomprehension."

Hawking is one of the best-known theoretical physicists of his generation. He has done groundbreaking research on black holes and the origins of the universe, and he has proposed that space-time is finite but has no boundaries or edges.

During a question-and-answer session, Hawking was asked about weighty subjects such as the source and nature of gravity. But there were several humorous moments as well.

The wheelchair-bound Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, communicates with an electronic speech synthesizer. Hawking was asked why his computerized voice has an American accent.

"The voice I use is a very old hardware speech synthesizer made in 1986," he said. "I keep it because I have not heard a voice I like better and because I have identified with it."

He said he once considered using a machine that gave him a French accent, but he did not because his wife would divorce him."

New glacier theory on Stonehenge

"A geology team has contradicted claims that bluestones were dug by Bronze Age man from a west Wales quarry and carried 240 miles to build Stonehenge.

In a new twist, Open University geologists say the stones were in fact moved to Salisbury Plain by glaciers.

Last year archaeologists said the stones came from the Preseli Hills.
Recent research in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology suggests the stones were ripped from the ground and moved by glaciers during the Ice Age.

Geologists from the Open University first claimed in 1991 that the bluestones at one of Britain's best-known historic landmarks had not come from a quarry, but from different sources in the Preseli area.

The recent work was conducted by a team headed by Professor Olwen Williams-Thorpe, who said she and her colleagues had used geochemical analysis to trace the origins of axe heads found at Stonehenge and this backed up the original work. "

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Supercomputer takes on a cosmic threat

"A super-powerful computer has simulated what it might take to keep Earth safe from a menacing asteroid.

Red Storm supercomputer

Researchers have utilized the number-crunching brainpower of Red Storm, a supercomputer at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. Red Storm, a Cray XT3 supercomputer, is the first computer to surpass the 1 terabyte-per-second performance mark — a measure that indicates the capacity of a network of processors to communicate with each other when dealing with the most complex situations — in both classified and unclassified realms.

The massively parallel computing simulations have modeled how much explosive power it would take to destroy or sidetrack an asteroid that has Earth in its cross-hairs."

Click the title above to read more

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Cave face 'the oldest portrait on record' - World - Times Online

"A DRAWING discovered by a potholer on the wall of a cave in the west of France appears to be the oldest known portrait of a human face.

The 27,000-year-old work was found by a local pensioner, Gérard Jourdy, in the Vilhonneur grotto near Angoulême.

Drawn with calcium carbonate, and using the bumps in the wall to give form to the face, it features two horizontal lines for the eyes, another for the mouth and a vertical line for the nose. “The portrait of this face is unique,” said Jean Airvaux, a researcher at the French Directorate of Cultural Affairs. “We have other drawings, but they are more recent. Here, it could be the oldest representation of a human face.”

Archaeologists are particularly interested in the Vilhonneur cave because there are several drawings, including one of a hand in cobalt blue, along with animal and human remains.

Jean-François Baratin, the regional director of archaeology in western France, said that there were only two known examples of prehistoric caves from this era containing both bones and drawings. The other is at Cussac in the Dordogne.

The discovery was made by M Jourdy in November, but kept secret until February while the site was sealed. The results of a scientific analysis were made public on Friday.

M Baratin said ribs, a thigh bone and a tibia taken from the floor of the cave had been dated by scientists in Miami, as were the drawings. These turned out to be about 11,000 years older than the renowned paintings at Lascaux in the nearby Dordogne.Michel Boutant, chairman of the local Charente department council, said: ‘The face reminded me of a Modigliani portrait.' "

Monday, June 05, 2006

Nanotubes Might Not Have the Right Stuff

"Scientists and science fiction fans alike have big plans for carbon nanotubes; it has been hoped that a cable made of carbon nanotubes would be strong enough to serve as a space elevator. However, recent calculations by Nicola Pugno of the Polytechnic of Turin, Italy, suggest that carbon nanotube cables will not work.

American engineers worked on the problem in the mid-1960's. What type of material would be required to build a space elevator? According to their calculations, the cable would need to be twice as strong as that of any existing material including graphite, quartz, and diamond.

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke recognized the materials problem; his ingenuity was equal to the task of creating just such a material. In his excellent 1978 novel The Fountains of Paradise, he thought up a special form of carbon, something called a 'continuous pseudo-one dimensional diamond crystal,' to serve as the cable material. To the delight of sf fans and aerospace engineers, Japanese researcher Sumio Iijima (at NEC) discovered carbon nanotubes, which are one-dimensional carbon fibers exhibiting strength 100 times greater than that of steel at one sixth the weight, and high strain to failure.

In something of a 'downer' for space elevator fans, Pugno has calculated that inevitable defects will greatly reduce the strength of any manufactured nanotubes. Laboratory tests have demonstrated that flawless individual nanotubes can withstand about 100 gigapascals of tension; however, if a nanotube is missing just one carbon atom, it can reduce its strength by as much as thirty percent. Bulk materials made of many connected nanotubes are even weaker, averaging less than 1 gigapascal in strength.

In order to function, a space elevator ribbon would need to withstand at least 62 gigapascals of tension. It therefore appears that the defects described above would eliminate carbon nanotubes as a usable material for a space elevator cable. Pugno will publish his paper in the July edition of Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter. Nanotube enthusiasts counter that ribbons made of close-packed long nanotubes would demonstrate cooperative friction forces that could make up for weaknesses in individual nanotubes.

Read more about Arthur C. Clarke's one-dimensional diamond crystal; in Carbon Nanotube Ribbon for Space Elevator a method of creating meter-long nanotube ribbons is described. A robotic lifter that would traverse a space elevator ribbon has also been tested. Read more about the current controversy at Nature."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The silly side of Dylan comes out

"Coming from the radio speakers, Bob Dylan sounds as craggy and weather-beaten as he looks — and quite playful, too.

As he reached his 65th birthday May 24, the rock 'n' roll poet was carving out a new role as a part-time radio disc jockey.

His weekly Theme Time Radio Hour airs 9 a.m. CDT Wednesdays on XM Satellite Radio, with Dylan as both curator and narrator. (It's available eight times throughout the week.)

Much like his concerts, Dylan's radio shows are a journey through 20th-century musical Americana, the sort of thing he would have heard growing up in Minnesota with a transistor radio hidden under his pillow when he went to bed.

So far, about the only thing missing is Bob Dylan music, unless you count the off-key verse of Take Me Out to the Ball Game that he croaked at the beginning of last week's show on baseball.

Each week Dylan builds his show around a theme, like the weather and drinking songs. For Mother's Day, he celebrated moms with an hour that mixed Buck Owens' I'll Go to Church With Mama, Ruth Brown's Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean and LL Cool J's Mama Said Knock You Out.

The majority of the music Dylan plays predates his own heyday.

"I think it's more akin to the way radio sounded in 1952 than it does in 2006," said Lee Abrams, XM Satellite Radio's chief creative officer.

Dylan's entertaining baseball show also mixed in calls from classic baseball games, like Curt Gowdy announcing Ted Williams' home run in his final at-bat with the Boston Red Sox.

He refreshingly avoids the obvious: Dylan spins Billy Bragg and Wilco's Joe DiMaggio Done It Again and not Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson ("Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? ... "). He plays Buddy Johnson's Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball and ignores John Fogerty's overexposed Centerfield.

"If diamonds are a girl's best friend, why do so many girls get mad when you want to go to the ballpark?" Dylan said during the show. "You tell me."

That sort of absurdist humor is what may most surprise listeners. Dylan told mother-in-law jokes a la Henny Youngman during one show ("I just came back from a pleasure trip — took my mother-in-law to the airport"). He discussed — seriously, we think — watching the old country-flavored musical/variety TV series Hee Haw.

His intro to Mama Said Knock You Out became an old white man's rap.

"Here's LL Cool J," he said. "Don't call it a comeback. He's been here for years, rockin' his peers, puttin' 'em in fear, makin' tears rain down like a monsoon, explosions overpowerin' the competition. LL Cool J is towerin'."

And catch this opening to that show on mothers:

"Going to pay tribute to that bountiful breast we all spring from, mother dearest," he said. "'M's' for the many things she gave me. 'O' is for the other things she gave me. 'T' is for the things she gave me. 'H' is for her things, which she gave me. 'E' is for everything she gave me. 'R' is for the rest of the things she gave me. Let's talk about mothers."

Bob Dylan is secretly silly. Who knew?

Although you can occasionally hear the shuffling of papers as he talks, Dylan sounds like a natural on the radio.

"I was completely surprised" by his radio show, said Jonathan Cott, who edited an anthology of Dylan interviews that was released to coincide with Dylan's 65th birthday. "I was surprised when he wrote his Chronicles book. I'm surprised by him all the time. I didn't think he'd ever be a disc jockey."

Abrams said Dylan topped his "wish list" of celebrity DJs when he started working for XM. It took him two years just to find the right person to get a message through to Dylan.

When he finally did, he learned Dylan was a fan of XM and a subscriber. After growing up listening to those old 50,000-watt radio stations from miles away across the Plains, Dylan had secretly fancied himself as a DJ. Much to XM's delight, he said yes, and they worked out a schedule that wouldn't be too disruptive to Dylan's regular life on the road.

The singer still maintains an aura of mystery. He's not involved in XM's weekly call about the show with a producer. He doesn't record it at one of XM's studios; in fact, Abrams has no idea where Dylan records it.

"They deliver the show to us every week," he said. 'It's a big surprise when we open the package and listen to it.'"

In Japan, Mona Lisa's Voice Finally Heard

The Mona Lisa may hide many secrets behind her enigmatic smile, but the sound of her voice may no longer be one of them, thanks to the work of a Japanese forensics expert.

Matsumi Suzuki, a forensics scientist specializing in acoustic and voice analysis, says he has recreated the voice of the woman who sat for Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, as well as that of the master himself.

Suzuki - a co-winner of the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for promoting harmony between species by inventing the Bow-Lingual, a dog-to-human interpretation device - undertook the project as part of activities promoting the Japan release of the movie "The Da Vinci Code."

The Ig Nobel awards are presented annually at Harvard University by the Annals of Improbable Research Magazine for research that makes people laugh, then think.

"Normally, we do crime-related research. We recreate the voices of suspects based on information about their physical characteristics, lifestyles, dialects and so on," Suzuki said.

However, his company, Japan Acoustic Lab, also gets the occasional request to recreate the voices of historical personages, he said, so being asked to unravel the Mona Lisa and da Vinci vocal codes was not an unusual request.

For the Mona Lisa, the laboratory worked with a photograph of the painting to get detailed measurements of her face and hands, Suzuki said. They used this data to then recreate her skull and estimate her height, which they put at 5 feet 6 inches, he said.

The data was then run through the lab's voice simulation programs to recreate the vocal cords and other organs that produced the mystery woman's voice and determine its pitch.

A native Italian speaker was also employed to help the lab get the right intonations for the Mona Lisa's voice, he said.

It was unclear, though, if that individual spoke the same Italian dialect as the woman portrayed in the Mona Lisa painting - whose identity remains unknown.

As for da Vinci, the lab had to base their work on a photograph of the master's self-portrait, Suzuki said. The work was made difficult by da Vinci's very full beard, which obscured elements of his facial structure, he said.

The results can be heard on Microsoft Japan's Web page, which hosted the results in a section promoting the film version of Dan Brown's murder mystery.

"My name is Mona Lisa," she says, according to the Japanese subtitles.

"My real identity is enveloped in mystery. Some say I am Mary of Magdala, Giacondo's wife, Isabela d'Este or the mother of Leonardo da Vinci. And some say that I am Leonardo himself," she adds.

"The one thing all say," her message concludes, "is that I am the most loved woman in the world, the one with the smile full of mystery."

The Mona Lisa's presumptive voice, it can now be said, is a bit on the deep side though not throaty, while that of da Vinci is also deep but more nasal.

Da Vinci began work on the painting in 1503, and it now hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

The work, also known as "La Gioconda," is believed to have portrayed the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. The title is a play on her husband's name, and also means "the jolly lady" in Italian.


On the Web: Even if you can't read Japanese, you can still click the buttons underneath each portrait to get playback. Works with Internet Explorer.