Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Goodbye Ulysses, enjoy infinity.

NASA and ESA are set to end the mission of the solar spacecraft Ulysses, which has been operating for more than 18 years (Illustration: NASA)

NASA and ESA are set to end the mission of the solar spacecraft Ulysses, which has been operating for more than 18 years (Illustration: NASA)

Ground controllers will pull the plug on the solar probe Ulysses on Tuesday, ending an epic mission that has lasted more than 18 years.

Ulysses launched in October 1990 and swung past Jupiter in 1992, putting it into an orbit that crosses the sun's poles – the first and only spacecraft ever to do so.

Over its lifetime, the probe has flown through three comet tails, studied the magnetic fields around the sun and Jupiter, and found interstellar dust blowing through the solar system.

NASA and the European Space Agency, which jointly operate the mission, had earlier predicted that Ulysses would die in 2008, when low power threatened to freeze the probe's remaining fuel. But the spacecraft team managed to prevent that from happening by firing its hydrazine-powered thrusters every two hours.

Now the probe's fuel is running low, and the space agencies have decided to turn off its transmitter, which allows it to receive its life-sustaining commands, on Tuesday. "We'd already gone a year more than we thought we could, so we thought it would be a good time to get out," says Ed Massey of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and NASA project manager for Ulysses.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mooseville Alaska: Wild Area Networking

Bull Moose in Anchorage, Alaska

Question? If the Boss calls you into his/her office and tells you that you're being transferred to run application support in the Anchorage branch.

Do you:
a) Laugh hysterically in his/her face, hoping to hell that its a joke;
b) Call the wife and tell her to pack up the kids, duvets, blankets, shotgun, etc. because you're moving north of the border;
c) Start training for the "Running of the Reindeer";
d) Take heart in the fact that Anchorage, on average, receives less annual snowfall than Syracuse, N.Y.;
e) Immediately resign your post and look for employment elsewhere, because you're not sure about seeing moose in the traffic jams, supermarkets and crowded parking lots.

San Francisco: One of the Worst Cities in the US

San Francisco, Calif.

San Francisco is officially one the worst cities in the US for finding and keeping IT work. Its a haven for IT geeks and tech companies but it also offers insanely high real estate prices, suicide-inducing traffic and too many cocky and annoying IT people fighting over precious jobs. (Are there any other kinds?)

San Francisco also claims the No. 1 spot for worst cities in US for identify theft, or "iJacking."

Regardless of their location, however, my fellow bloggers don't seem either alarmed or elated about these findings. Perhaps this insouciance (10 point word score), like the very inclusion of iJacking in such rankings, is simply a sign of the times. Discuss!

Our Cruel Sun: Exposed Earth to Cosmic Rays

The sun protects the earth from cosmic rays and dust from the solar system but squeezing of various stars could leave us unprotected (Image: NASA/HST collection)

The sun protects the earth from cosmic rays and dust from the solar system but squeezing of various stars could leave us unprotected (Image: NASA/HST collection)

THE sun provides ideal conditions for life to thrive, right? In fact, it periodically leaves Earth open to assaults from interstellar nasties in a way that most stars do not.

The sun protects us from cosmic rays and dust from beyond the solar system by enveloping us in the heliosphere - a bubble of solar wind that extends past Pluto. These cosmic rays would damage the ozone layer, and interstellar dust could dim sunlight and trigger an ice age. However, when the solar system passes through very dense gas and dust clouds, the heliosphere can shrink until its edge is inside Earth's orbit.

In a paper to appear in Astrobiology, David Smith at the University of Arizona in Tucson and John Scalo at the University of Texas, Austin, calculated the squeezing of various stars' protective "astrospheres". They found Earth is exposed to between one and 10 interstellar assaults every billion years. Habitable planets around a red dwarf, which account for three of every four stars, are never exposed. That's because they need to be close to these dim stars to be warm enough to be habitable. "The bottom line is that habitable planets around red dwarfs are better protected from climate catastrophes than Earth is," says Smith.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

London Science Museum: Robots sing 'Happy Birthday', eventually

Airbus A340-600 Crash Site - Concealed?

A brand new Airbus A340-600 sits sparkling on the runway in Toulouse, France, awaiting inspection and approval by its new owners.

The Airbus A340-600 is the very pinnacle of luxury at a very high price. Around $200 million dollars before tax!

.....but who would not pay that kind of money for this level of luxury. It is head and shoulders above cut price pirates and Virgin Atlantic!

......but wait something seems to have happened to the aircraft. It seems suddenly bent out of shape? How can that be? Maybe its a camera trick or something.

No! This is one broken aircraft. Looking like Humpty Dumpty broken on the wall. How could that happen. Did someone leave the hand-brake off?

What's that you say? The new owner sent over an untrained crew and they put the engines in full throttle to test them and then disengaged the safety alarms.

This, effectively let off the brakes and the aircraft accelerated forward and crashed into the wall. Sssh! you cannot tell anyone because its a secret!

Apparently the owner, the crew (if they survived?) and EADS Airbus are very embarassed by the whole incident. Maybe that's why it didn't appear in the news. Are they still looking for the cause of the crash off Brazil? Did someone say they were flying too slow in the rain?

Save the Whale: Stop the Japanese 'Slaughter-driven Research"

The International Whaling Commission has backed an ambitious Australian plan for non-lethal whale research (Image: John W. Warden / Rex Features)

The International Whaling Commission has backed an ambitious Australian plan for non-lethal whale research (Image: John W. Warden / Rex Features)

The International Whaling Commission(IWC) may be shifting towards a more conservation-oriented role after this week backing an ambitious Australian plan for non-lethal whale research.

"It's part of a move by the IWC from being a whalers' club to being a whale conservation body," says Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). "There's a bit of a sea change going on at the commission."

Presented by Australian environment minister Peter Garrett, the AU$1.5-million ($1.2 million) plan aims to demonstrate the value of non-lethal methods for tracking and researching whales. It contrasts with Japan's controversial "research" programme, which has been described as a front for commercial whaling.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Large Handron Collider (LHC) stopped by Small Dry Joint (SDJ)

THE Large Hadron Collider (LHC), possibly science's greatest ever project, was undone in September by one badly soldered joint. With 10,000 such joints around the accelerator's ring, it is proving a struggle to check them all in time to restart this autumn as hoped.

A splice between two sections of superconducting cable melted when the current was turned up. As well as repairing the one that failed, engineers have so far found and fixed 20 slightly under-par splices. It is a slow process as each of the LHC's eight sectors must be gently warmed from its 1.9 kelvin operating temperature to about 300 K to be checked and repaired.

The repairers are now testing if they can check the splices at a moderately cool 80 K. "We'll know by Tuesday," says LHC technical director Steve Myers. If so, the last three sectors can be screened much more quickly. Any urgent repairs will delay the start-up, but less serious faults could be left and the LHC switched on anyway, perhaps at reduced energy.

It is an interesting dilemma that, as you approach the atomic layers the technology and physics that bring you there, are starting to break down. This is particularly so for materials and their interconnectivity.

Casini Snaps: Eclipse darkens 'Death Star' Moon

The Cassini probe has caught its first glimpse of one Saturn moon eclipsing another, as the moon Enceladus passed silently in front of its neighbour Mimas.

Most of Saturn's moons orbit in the same plane as its rings, along the planet's equator. This arrangement creates frequent alignments, but eclipses are rare because the sun must illuminate this plane almost edge-on in order for moon shadows to be cast in the right direction.

For the first time in almost 15 yearsMovie Camera, Saturn has reached a spot in its orbit where such events can be seen. The planet's rings, which are tilted by some 27°, will be illuminated perfectly edge-on during Saturn's equinox on 11 August 2009.

The visible moon in this series of images is Mimas, which resembles the Death Star, the planet-destroying space station from the movie Star Wars. It is eclipsed by Enceladus, which spews giant plumes of ice and water vapour from its south pole.

Cassini snapped the eclipse on 13 May, when the probe was roughly 1.3 million kilometres from Mimas.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

WHO: Latest Satement on H1N1 Swine Flu Level 6

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Ladies and gentlemen,

In late April, WHO announced the emergence of a novel (to us) influenza A virus.

This particular H1N1 strain has not circulated previously in humans (recently). The virus is entirely new (to us).

The virus is contagious, spreading easily from one person to another, and from one country to another. As of today, nearly 30,000 confirmed cases have been reported in 74 countries. (You do the maths?)

This is only part of the picture. With few exceptions, countries with large numbers of cases are those with good surveillance and testing procedures in place. (If you don't look for trouble you will not find it but it will find you, eventually)

Spread in several countries can no longer be traced to clearly-defined chains of human-to-human transmission. Further spread is considered inevitable. (We haven't a clue what's happening)

I have conferred with leading influenza experts, virologists, and public health officials. In line with procedures set out in the International Health Regulations, I have sought guidance and advice from an Emergency Committee established for this purpose. (We are lost for ideas and further confused by the geeks)

On the basis of available evidence, and these expert assessments of the evidence, the scientific criteria for an influenza pandemic have been met. (WE are covering our ass)

I have therefore decided to raise the level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 5 to phase 6. (Reluctantly, after strong demands from the global community)

The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic.

We are in the earliest days of the pandemic. The virus is spreading under a close and careful watch. (We are but spectators watching it go on)

No previous pandemic has been detected so early or watched so closely, in real-time, right at the very beginning. The world can now reap the benefits of investments, over the last five years, in pandemic preparedness. (We know where to hide, how quick to run and have many ass covering methods)

We have a head start. This places us in a strong position. But it also creates a demand for advice and reassurance in the midst of limited data and considerable scientific uncertainty. (We are in headless chicken mode)

Thanks to close monitoring, thorough investigations, and frank reporting from countries, we have some early snapshots depicting spread of the virus and the range of illness it can cause. (Everyone is sending us scarey pictures)

We know, too, that this early, patchy picture can change very quickly. The virus writes the rules and this one, like all influenza viruses, can change the rules, without rhyme or reason, at any time. (We haven't a clue what to do now that heavy handed bureaucracy doesn't work)

Globally, we have good reason to believe that this pandemic, at least in its early days, will be of moderate severity. As we know from experience, severity can vary, depending on many factors, from one country to another. (We hope its not too bad for a bit but don't quite believe it will stay that way)

On present evidence, the overwhelming majority of patients experience mild symptoms and make a rapid and full recovery, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment. (See its not a problem really, if you ignore the poor and the dying)

Worldwide, the number of deaths is small. Each and every one of these deaths is tragic, and we have to brace ourselves to see more. However, we do not expect to see a sudden and dramatic jump in the number of severe or fatal infections. (Fingers crossed it doesn't affect any of us)

We know that the novel H1N1 virus preferentially infects younger people. In nearly all areas with large and sustained outbreaks, the majority of cases have occurred in people under the age of 25 years. (So that's ok then for us oldies)

In some of these countries, around 2% of cases have developed severe illness, often with very rapid progression to life-threatening pneumonia. (As opposed to the less deadly pneumonias)

Most cases of severe and fatal infections have been in adults between the ages of 30 and 50 years. (Again with the young people remark and the 'greys' shall inherit the earth, is it? Our time has come around again? Don't think so)

This pattern is significantly different from that seen during epidemics of seasonal influenza, when most deaths occur in frail elderly people. (Its natures way)

Many, though not all, severe cases have occurred in people with underlying chronic conditions. Based on limited, preliminary data, conditions most frequently seen include respiratory diseases, notably asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and obesity. (This we understand!)

At the same time, it is important to note that around one third to half of the severe and fatal infections are occurring in previously healthy young and middle-aged people. (Now you're just getting annoying, broken record )

Without question, pregnant women are at increased risk of complications. This heightened risk takes on added importance for a virus, like this one, that preferentially infects younger age groups. (Are you going to list all the young groups and sectors, I hope not)

Finally, and perhaps of greatest concern, we do not know how this virus will behave under conditions typically found in the developing world. To date, the vast majority of cases have been detected and investigated in comparatively well-off countries. (Can it be spread through designer label changing rooms, Starbuck lattes, BMW steering wheels and IKEA's catalogue?)

Let me underscore two of many reasons for this concern. First, more than 99% of maternal deaths, which are a marker of poor quality care during pregnancy and childbirth, occurs in the developing world. (Cause we count them and gieve over them. We don't just bury them and move on because its a fact of life in poverty)

Second, around 85% of the burden of chronic diseases is concentrated in low- and middle-income countries. (God bless the old and rich, for they shall survive again)

Although the pandemic appears to have moderate severity in comparatively well-off countries, it is prudent to anticipate a bleaker picture as the virus spreads to areas with limited resources, poor health care, and a high prevalence of underlying medical problems. (God bless the poor, it is their destiny to suffer)

Ladies and gentlemen, (You're not winning any friends here)

A characteristic feature of pandemics is their rapid spread to all parts of the world. In the previous century, this spread has typically taken around 6 to 9 months, even during times when most international travel was by ship or rail. (It goes where people go)

Countries should prepare to see cases, or the further spread of cases, in the near future. Countries where outbreaks appear to have peaked should prepare for a second wave of infection. (We've only just begun to fight. It will not be over by Xmas)

Guidance on specific protective and precautionary measures has been sent to ministries of health in all countries. Countries with no or only a few cases should remain vigilant. (If you ain't got it yet, just wait, it's coming your way)

Countries with widespread transmission should focus on the appropriate management of patients. The testing and investigation of patients should be limited, as such measures are resource intensive and can very quickly strain capacities. (You know what you have and you can't cure it, so attend to the sick and dying as best you can)

WHO has been in close dialogue with influenza vaccine manufacturers. I understand that production of vaccines for seasonal influenza will be completed soon, and that full capacity will be available to ensure the largest possible supply of pandemic vaccine in the months to come. (Pharma companies are happy to flood the market with as much useless vaccine as you are willing to pay for and by the way, because of the urgency the price has gone up enormously)

Pending the availability of vaccines, several non-pharmaceutical interventions can confer some protection. (We don't currently have any effective vaccines and wont have for months, by which time the pandemic will have burned itself out)

WHO continues to recommend no restrictions on travel and no border closures. (We cannot enforce or control it anyway)

Influenza pandemics, whether moderate or severe, are remarkable events because of the almost universal susceptibility of the world’s population to infection. (Shit happens)

We are all in this together, and we will all get through this, together. (Except the one's who die of neglect and insufficient measures being taken, allegedly)

Thank you. (Now run for your life, except the old and rich. You're gonna be just fine. Pass the good port in any storm!)

EADS Airbus (ESA) and Japan's JAXA unite

Europe's leading aerospace research developer and manufacturer for ESA has joined with the Japanese aerospace contractor JAXA in a joint programme of research and development.

Vacuum-assisted resin transfer moulding evaluation and non-destructive inspection are two technologies to be evaluated under the first research agreement between EADS Airbus, the main aerospace contractor for the European Aerospace (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

An agreement for composites research, it is the first such co-operation between EADS Airbus and a Japanese aerospace agency. If successful it could lead to further agreements covering other technology areas.

"We are very proud to develop this partnership with Airbus and hope it is the starting point for a bright future. JAXA already has a long successful history with European research institutes, such as Onera and DLR. This agreement opens a new chapter in the relationship with Europe," says JAXA's aviation programme group executive director, Takashi Ishikawa.

It will also assist EADS in expanding its domination of the aerospace business but may cause a political rift with the emerging Chinese aerospace programme, allegedly.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Artemisinins - Ant-Malaria drug useless: Resistance emerging

Our best anti-malaria drug could be rendered useless by the emergence of resistance (Image: Lehtikuva OY/Rex Features)

The world's most effective anti-malaria drug is being rendered useless by the emergence of resistance (Image: Lehtikuva OY/Rex Features)

REPORTS from Cambodia that malaria is developing resistance to artemisinins have set alarm bells ringing. Artemisinins are the best drugs we have to treat malaria, and until recently there have been no reports of resistance.

Containing resistance in Cambodia is an urgent priority. But sadly, the factors that led to it emerging are all too common in countries where malaria is endemic. Unless we stamp them out there is a risk of artemisinin drugs becoming useless.

To prevent the parasite evolving resistance, artemisinins must not be used alone but with a companion drug such as amodiaquine. Combination pills are available to ensure that this happens. But in many countries, including Cambodia, artemisinins are widely available as a monotherapy. Patients are also prescribed co-blister packs, in which the two drugs are packaged together rather than combined in one pill. There is therefore a risk that patients will take only one drug. We clearly need exclusive use of combination therapies and international commitment to subsidise only combination drugs.

Rising water levels engulf Netherlands

Much of the European coast would be affected by 2 metres (red) of sea level rise.

Sea levels should take a couple of thousand years to rise by 25 metres (red).

The map show the areas that lie within 2 and 25 metres of present sea levels.

(Image: Google – Map data © 2009 PPWK, Tele Atlas. Overlay: heywhatsthat.com)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Heroin Poppy crops growing in England

British troops are fighting a ferocious and often lethal war in Afghanistan, to eradicate the country's opium poppy crop while large swathes of the English countryside are being turned over to the very same crop - with the full backing of the Government.

Farmers are cultivating the poppies to combat a critical shortage of morphine in NHS hospitals, and are finding it a lucrative crop.

In the UK, the Home Office has granted pharmaceutical company Macfarlan Smith a licence to harvest the poppies, and now they are being grown in dozens of farms across Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire.

The move aims to ease the severe lack of diamorphine that has hit the NHS, and the rest of the world, for several years.

Guy Hildred has dedicated more than 100 acres of his farm near Ipsden, Oxfordshire, to poppies. He said: "It is worthwhile from a farmer's point of view and it's an expanding market."

Cultivation of the crop for legal means has expanded rapidly in Britain since trials began six years ago - but the global morphine shortage is so severe that Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown has raised the possibility of legalising opium growing in Afghanistan.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The poppies in question, Papaver somniferum, can be grown without a licence. The extraction of the drugs is a complex industrial process and the people who work to produce the drugs have to be licensed.

"In addition, the Home Office receives information about where the poppy farmers are and how much they are growing from the pharmaceutical companies. We then send growers a letter that they are encouraged to show to local police to make them aware of their activities."

Panama protest rally against President Martin Torrijos

A woman holding a cross stands in front of a mock coffin as patients and relatives stage a protest rally against the government of Panama’s President Martin Torrijos over the poisoning in 2006 of at least 174 people.

Cold medicine provided by the social security authorities containing the industrial toxic substance diethylene glycoldiethylene poisoned 115 of them fatally. Survivors demanded compensation and the improvement of the national health system

Alejandro Bolivar/EPA

NASA reveals the South Pole of the Moon

The highest-resolution topography map to date of the Moon’s south pole has been generated by scientists at Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, Californina.

It uses data collected by the Deep Space Network’s Goldstone solar system radar located in the Mojave Desert and provides contiguous topographic detail over an areaof approximately 311 miles by 249 miles


China increases cyber attack on Netherlands

There has been substantial increase in cyber-attacks on .NL sites across Netherlands and Europe since the arrival of the Dalai Llama and NL's support for his issues.

Many national institutions across Netherlands are reporting an increase of government backed hacking attempts, Denial-of-Service attacks (DOS) and the intrusion of malicious Malware on their NL sites. This is meant to cause the maximum disruption of services and to damage the commerce and reputation of corporate and governmental institutions.

The overt political atmosphere and diplomatic relationship between China and the Netherlands has suffered rapid deterioration over the last few weeks, culminating in the expansion of covert maneuvers designed to undermine the Netherlands IT, Telecoms and Financial infrastructure.

The advice coming out of all sectors is to increase protection measures on .NL public domains, block enquiries by country, make sure your anti-virus and malware software is up to date. If you don't have anti-virus or malware protection, then now is the time to source some.

Remember to be very selective with your anti-virus and malware software providers. Many of the 'free' or 'shareware' applications are emerging as very good and smart but, you may also be signing up to a 'grey' provider, who are just as likely to infect your site as they are to protect it.

The internet and its use as a global vehicle for freedom of speech and an outlet for discourse, is being attacked by those forces that would stifle open-ness, truth and the civil rights of it's people. They cannot be allowed to expand their tyranny into this realm. Civil liberties are in peril!

The high price of that freedom, has always been and will always be, eternal vigilance. Build those Firewalls high! The enemy is at the Gates!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Drug-trial cancer patients recover: Magic Bullet found! Ipilimumab

Two men with advanced and inoperable prostate cancer have staged dramatic recoveries after being treated with an experimental antibody drug.

Both are now cancer-free and have returned to normal life after they took part in a trial of a drug called ipilimumab that boosts the immune system.

Before treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, US, each of them had aggressive tumours that had grown well beyond the prostate gland into abdominal areas.

Trial leader Dr Eugene Kwon said: "The goal of the study was to see if we could modestly improve upon current treatments for advanced prostate cancer.

"The candidates for this study were people who didn't have a lot of other options. However, we were startled to see responses that far exceeded any of our expectations."

First, the patients received traditional hormone therapy to remove testosterone, which fuels prostate cancer. Researchers then introduced a single dose of ipilimumab. The drug is an antibody which builds on the hormone therapy and boosts the immune system's response to the cancer.

Both patients saw their prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels drop to the point where they became eligible for surgery. PSA is a protein in the blood that allows doctors to monitor prostate cancer.

When the surgeons made their incisions, they had a surprise. Mayo clinic urologist Dr Michael Blute said: "The tumours had shrunk dramatically. I had never seen anything like this before. I had a hard time finding the cancer. At one point the pathologist asked if we were sending him samples from the same patient."

Further research is now planned to understand more about the mechanisms of the antibody and how best to use it on patients, but Dr Kwon added: "This is one of the holy grails of prostate cancer research. We've been looking for this for years."

NASA Hubble (HST) Off-line again! Cntrl-ALt Re-boot!

The 19-year-old Hubble Space Telescope is back to normal after an alarming hiccup earlier this week.

A vital unit stopped communicating with the telescope's main computer on Monday, a development that sent the observatory into standby, or "safe", mode.

The device, which is needed to communicate with the telescope's science instruments, was installed in May during a mission to repair and upgrade the telescope in the hopes of extending Hubble's life until at least 2014.

The unit replaced the original, which was hobbled in September 2009. (Image: NASA)

Moon Missions Launched: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Crater Observation

NASA launched a pair of moon missions, the agency's first in more than 10 years, on Thursday. Intended to pave the way for the return of astronauts to the lunar surface, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will map the moon in 3D, focusing on 50 'high priority' locations that are thought to be prime landing sites.

A second mission called the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite will orbit Earth for about 100 days before it guides the spent upper stage of the Atlas V launch vehicle into a collision with a crater on the moon's south pole.

The blast is expected to excavate more than 350 tonnes of material and could reveal whether the polar craters contain water ice, which could be used by future lunar colonists. (Image: United Launch Alliance/Pat Corkery)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hunting Moon Rocks in your Backyard!

YOU don't have to visit the moon to hold a chunk of it in your hand. Every day around 160 tonnes of rubble from space rains down on Earth, and some of it comes from the moon.

All you need to find a piece of moon rock is keen eyesight, patience and an expanse of ice or desert against which a dark little chunk of our neighbour will stand out.

French collector Luc Labenne, who has been scouring deserts for meteorites since 1997.

Meteorite hunters like Labenne follow an approach pioneered in the 1930s by the American collector Harvey Nininger, working on the Great Plains that stretch west from the Mississippi river to the Rocky mountains. Nininger taught local people to seek out black stones on the pale ground, and thanks to their efforts he bagged more than 200 meteorites over three decades.

Another rich source was identified in 1969 by the Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition, which found meteorites on a blue ice field near the Yamato mountains in East Antarctica. Other deserts became a focus of interest in the early 1990s, including the one that yielded our moon rock.

Lunar meteorites are exceedingly rare: only around 60 have been identified. And they don't just interest collectors. Space scientists are also keen to get hold of them, because they hold clues to what the rock is like on parts of the moon beyond the areas explored by the Apollo and robotic landers.

9200 uncatalogued pathogens found at US lab!

With three days left in spring cleaning season, a US army lab that works on the world's deadliest pathogens has turned up uncatalogued vials of Ebola, anthrax, plague and other pathogens – 9220 of them to be precise.

The laboratory is the same one where anthrax researcher Bruce Ivins worked before he committed suicide last year. The US government suspects Ivins was behind the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people, and studies showed that the anthrax used in the attack was "directly related" to the batch stored at the lab.

The discovery of the uncatalogued vials raises questions about whether anyone would notice if some of the lab's pathogens went missing.

"A small number would be a concern; 9200 ... at an institution that has been the focus of intense scrutiny on this issue, that's deeply worrisome. Unacceptable," Richard Ebright, a microbiologist at Rutgers University, told the Washington Post.

Officials at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland, made news of their find in a press conference on Wednesday.

Most research has been on hold at the laboratory after an inspection at the beginning of the year turned up 20 vials of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus in a box that was supposed to contain 16. This prompted the laboratory's most recent fit of spring cleaning, during which officials spent four months scouring freezers to compare their contents with a database of about 66,000 vials documented as of February.

Pravda Reports: Russia to build nuclear power installations for interplanetary travel

Russia's Kurchatov Scientific Institute resumes its work to create nuclear power installations for distant interplanetary flights.

It was Russia that made the first breakthrough in the field of space nuclear power at the beginning of the 1980s when Russian scientists created a small-sized space installation known as Topaz.

“It was much more effective than foreign analogues in terms of technical and operational characteristics. We used enriched uranium as fuel,” says Mikhail Kovalchuk, the director of the Kurchatov Institute.

“We are not simply competitive in the field of power installations, we are pioneers. Very few organisations have such advanced technologies. Americans were really surprised to see our Topaz installations. They haven’t seen anything like that before.”

The main goal of such power installations is to provide satellites with energy. In general, nuclear power installations are used only in situations when it is impossible to use any other kinds of energy sources. On the near-earth orbits (NEOs), solar energy elements are widely used as the basic energy source. Today the have the capacity to generate 20 kilowatt, approx.

However, this capacity is not enough for distant space flights, that is why there is only one alternative and that is, to use these nuclear power installations.

“Nuclear power space installation should not only provide the crew with the energy necessary for life conditions, but it should also be powerful enough to keep nuclear rocket engine working. Estimations predict the generating capacity of such installation to about 100 kilowatt,” says Michael Kovalchuk.

“The main idea is to create a nuclear-powered tug spacecraft which could transport cargoes or people to space. Such a tug will help us make our Lunar and Martian space programs real and competitive. That is why the creation of this nuclear space tug is extremely important. If we are able to create a new generation of nuclear power installations, mankind will soon be able to explore space on an industrial scale.”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Japan Whale Killings are not Research

IN 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling to allow stocks to replenish. However, this ongoing ban allows member nations to grant themselves special permits to kill whales for scientific research, with the proviso that the whale meat is utilised following data collection.

Only Japan holds a special permit. Its current research programme, which started in 2000 and is run by the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), proposes to kill more than 1000 whales a year in the Antarctic and the western north Pacific. The stated objectives are to determine the population structure and feeding habits of several whale species, including endangered fin and sei whales, in order to "manage" stocks.

Japan has already been widely criticised for its whaling, which is generally seen as a thinly disguised hunting operation. But with the 2009 IWC meeting looming, it is worth rehearsing the arguments against scientific whaling.

Although Japan's early results produced useful information, recent advances in non-lethal techniques such as biopsies mean that data can now be obtained without killing whales. Similarly, it is no longer necessary to kill whales to work out what they have been eating, as this can be determined from DNA in samples of faeces.

The scientific impact of the research is also limited. Relatively little research is published in international peer-reviewed journals, compared with research programmes on other marine mammals such as dolphins. According to the ICR, scientific whaling has produced 152 publications in peer-reviewed journals since 1994. However, just 58 of these papers were published in international journals. The rest were IWC reports or articles published in domestic journals, largely in Japanese. Most of the findings are not circulated among the wider scientific community, and the failure to subject papers to impartial review renders the value of much of this literature questionable.

Whether the results from scientific whaling are useful for stock management has also been questioned. The Scientific Committee of the IWC has explicitly stated that the results generated by the Japanese Whale Research Program in the Antarctic (JARPA) "were not required for management". Independent research shows that the data may overestimate whale abundance by up to 80 per cent (Marine Ecology Progress Series, vol 242, p 295).

ATMs and Cash machines hacked

"SKULDUGGERY," says Andrew Henwood, "is a very good word to describe what this extremely advanced, cleverly written malware gets up to. We've never seen anything like it."

What he has discovered is a devious piece of criminal coding that has been quietly at work in a clutch of cash machines at banks in Russia and Ukraine. It allows a gang member to walk up to an ATM, insert a "trigger" card, and use the machine's receipt printer to produce a list of all the debit card numbers used that day, including their start and expiry dates - and their PINs. Everything needed, in fact, to clone those cards and start emptying bank accounts. In some cases, the malicious software even allows the criminal to eject the machine's banknote storage cassette into the street.

The software is the latest move in a security arms race after banks and consumers got wise to the fitting of fake fascias onto ATMs. These fascias have been criminals' main way of using ATMs to get the details they need to clone cards. They contain a camera to spy on PINs being entered on the keypad, and a card reader to skim data from the card's magnetic stripe. It's big business: across Europe, losses due to such fraud grew by 11 per cent to €484 million in 2008, according to the European ATM Security Team (EAST), funded by the European Union and based in Edinburgh, UK (see graph).

Banks responded by investing in anti-skimming technology - which can detect a fake fascia overlay and disable the ATM. So crooks are developing new tricks, which are being uncovered by Henwood and his colleagues at SpiderLabs, a computer forensics research centre in London.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Earth rises over the Moon

Full-Earth-rise has been captured by Japan's Kaguya lunar orbiter.The just-issued movie was taken on November 5, 2007. Credit: Jaxa

Rapid Increase in Satellite Construction & Launch

There will be many more satellites to build and launch

A 10-year forecast of satellite and launcher markets has good news and bad news for hardware manufacturers:

There will be many more satellites to build and launch, but the average manufacturing and launch price will increase only marginally, if at all, and may even drop after accounting for inflation.

The 12th World Market Survey of satellite construction and launch trends produced by Euroconsult of Paris looks at the likely government and commercial satellite and launch landscape for the 10 years ending in 2018 and compares it to the 10 years ending in 2008.

Taking all markets - commercial, civil government and military - combined, the average satellite mass is likely to drop by 5 percent, to 4,166 pounds (1,890 kg), in the coming 10 years compared to the previous period, Euroconsult concludes.

But while the average satellite built in the next decade will lose weight, the number of satellites will increase. The study concludes that 1,185 spacecraft will be launched in the next 10 years, a 47 percent increase over the 10 years ending in 2008.

The average satellite price over the next decade will be $99 million, compared to $97 million in the past 10 years. The per-satellite launch price is predicted to remain flat, at $51 million, according to Euroconsult.

The report's principal author, Rachel Villain, said the increased participation of emerging-market economies such as India and China in the overall space market will continue to exert downward pressure on launch and satellite prices. The figures do not include microsatellites weighing less than 88 pounds (40 kg) at launch, nor do they include classified military satellites, principally from the United States and Russia.

Boy hit by UFO - Meteorite

14-year old German boy was hit in the hand by a pea-sized meteorite that scared him and left a scar.

"When it hit me it knocked me flying and then was still going fast enough to bury itself into the road," Gerrit Blank said in a newspaper account. Astronomers have analyzed the object and conclude it was indeed a natural object from space.

Most meteors vaporize in the atmosphere, creating "shooting stars," and never reach the ground. The few that do are typically made mostly of metals. Stony space rocks, even if they are big as a car, will usually break apart or explode as they crash through the atmosphere.

There are a handful of reports of homes and cars being struck by meteorites, and many cases of space rocks streaking to the surface and being found later.

But human strikes are rare. There are no known instances of humans being killed by space rocks.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Compianos' Upright 1904 Grand Piano PC

Compianos' Upright 1904 Grand Piano

Nothing says elegance like a grand piano, so why not gut an old 1904 Chickering upright grand and load it with computing power? This mod, created by eBay user compianos, popped up on Dvice.

Compianos says his computer has a 6.8GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. The Chickering mod has a built-in 26-inch LCD screen covered by a sliding panel that opens via remote control. The piano also has a hidden drawer for remotes and other goodies.

I love the 3 pedals controlling the mouse!

Photo: Dvice

Star Wars fans! - Sevilorcio's R2-D2

Sevilorcio's R2-D2

The smart and sensible Star Wars droid is a favorite subject for case modders, but few have crafted one like Sevilorcio's.

This R2 unit was built from a bare-bones Asus P5LD2-VM motherboard, and sports a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 processor, an ATI Radeon X800 XL graphics processor, a 300GB hard drive, and two USB ports.

But the best feature is the Webcam, which pops up out of R2's head; it's useful for video chat, but it also comes in handy when you're on the lookout for fresh Bantha tracks.

You can see more pictures, as well as a step-by-step photo journal, of this Force-ful creation at Sevilorcio's personal page.

Photo: Sevilorcio

Steampunked Damnation!

Jake Hildebrandt's Steampunked Damnation

Commissioned to kick off the debut of the western-style shooter game Damnation by Blue Omega Entertainment and Codemasters, this steampunk case mod was built by Jake Hildebrandt. The mod packs an impressive Intel Core i7 processor, 12GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 1TB hard drive.

I'll bet you wish you could take this mod home. Well, guess what: The PC is being given away in a contest open to residents of the United States and Canada. The entry deadline is June 19, 2009. Destructoid has the contest details.And if you're not familiar with this Western subgenre, you can read a full explanation of steampunk.

Photo: Jake Hildebrandt, via Flickr

Early Dial-Up PC

This telephone may look like it escaped from Alexander Graham Bell's living room, but under the hood the DialupPC is an all-digital, VoiP-ready special, circa 2004. Built by modder Dean Liou of Envador.com for an Intel-sponsored event in Dallas.

This PC rocks a 3.4GHz Intel Pentium 4, 512MB of RAM, an ATI Radeon 9800 graphics processor, an 80GB hard drive, and a DVD-ROM drive.

Photo: Dean Liou

Conficker Worm - the story so far ..........

A HOTEL bar in Arlington, Virginia, 23 October 2008. A group of computer security experts has spent the day holed up with law enforcement agencies. It is an annual event that attracts the best in the business, but one the participants like to keep low-key - and under the radar of the cybercriminals they are discussing.

That evening, conversation over drinks turned to a security update Microsoft had just released. Its timing was suspicious: updates usually came once a month, and the next was not due for two weeks. "I remember thinking I should take a look at this," recalls Paul Ferguson, a researcher at Trend Micro, a web security company in Cupertino, California.

He did. So did the rest of the computer security industry. In fact, they talked, puzzled and worried about little else for months after. The update heralded the birth of the Conficker worm - one of the most sophisticated pieces of malignant software ever seen.

Despite an unprecedented collaboration against them, Conficker's accomplished creators have been able to bluff and dodge to gain control of machines inside homes, universities, government offices and the armed forces of at least three nations, establishing a powerful and lucrative network of "zombie" computers. New Scientist has pieced together the sobering details of that cat-and-mouse fight.

Conficker's creators bluffed and dodged to gain control of machines in militaries, universities and governments

Buzz Aldrin sings Holst Planets Suite

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin joined the Boston Pops at Boston's Symphony Hall on Thursday for a performance of four movements from Gustav Holst's The Planets to provide a helpful reminder.

Aldrin, who walked on the moon nearly 40 years ago, is a strong advocate of space exploration. Before the performance, he told reporters that we should "dream bigger than Apollo" and "have humans occupy other planets in the solar system".

Such a vision would have been unheard of more than 90 years ago, when the British-born Holst composed his seven-planet suite amid the chaos of the First World War.

In the absence of clear pictures of the planets, Holst's compositions drew heavily on their astrological significance – which made for an interesting contrast with contemporary scientific knowledge. Aldrin read eloquent and factual introductions to the four selected movements – Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, and Venus – underscoring how much science has trumped imagination in our vision of the solar system.

Friday, June 12, 2009

H1N1 - Swine flu pandemic declaration

The World Health Organization has declared H1N1 swine flu an official Level 6 pandemic - in the WHO's rating scheme. This means the world's vaccine industry will be rubbing their hands with glee because they can now switch from making vaccine for ordinary flu to pandemic vaccine, where the big money is to be made.

However companies are not likely to change production until they have finished their current production run of ordinary flu vaccine in July or August. That will be the case, even though that vaccine will be useless if swine flu behaves like previous pandemics and replaces the current, ordinary flu viruses. After all, it doesn't make financial sense to hang onto surplus stock when there are eager customers out there willing to buy it, whether it's effective or not.

The WHO's declaration of level six activates a slew of government pre-orders for pandemic vaccine. These will take precedence over recent orders for H1N1 vaccine. Countries that don't have pre-orders will face delays or increased charges, following the normal commercial process of supply and demand drives price.

Mild infectious outbreak

The WHO cautioned against over-reaction, as most cases of H1N1 have so far been relatively mild. The organisation had been under pressure not to declare a pandemic for such a mild virus but the pharmaceutical companies have been lobbying hard.

Unfortunately, the WHO officials have insisted that a flu pandemic is defined by how fast a novel flu virus spreads, and who it affects, not necessarily how severe it is. This is partly because the same virus can be mild in some people and severe in others, and partly because it can evolve.

Historically, in 1918, the last pandemic H1N1 started out mild, but its second wave was much more severe. There were sound reasons for this, whereby the virus latched onto the antiodies that had been created by the first outbreak and this allowed them easy access to disabling the immune system of victims.

This virus affects young people

Pandemic flu can also kill healthy young adults, not the very young and old like ordinary flu. "Approximately half the people who have died from this H1N1 infection have been previously healthy people," Keiji Fukuda, head of flu at the WHO, said on Tuesday, adding this had given the organisation "the most concern" but again, the causes are known and predictble.

"It is of greatest importance to continue surveillance of the virus worldwide," David Heymann, the deposed head of health security at the WHO. "Science cannot predict what course this virus will take as it continues to spread in humans." maybe that's why he was removed from office.

The population deserves answers and solutions to these problems and not to be used as guinea pigs and an ever-increasing source of revenue for the exploitation of pharmaceutical companies, allegedly. Discuss!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Witch Bottles: Urine, Nails and Magic Spells

A rare insight into the folk beliefs of 17th-century Britons has been gleaned from the analysis of a sealed "witch bottle" unearthed in Greenwich, London, in 2004.

Witch bottles were commonly buried to ward off spells during the late 16th and 17th centuries, but it is very rare to find one still sealed.

"So many have been dug up and their contents washed away down the sink," says Alan Massey, a retired chemist formerly at the University of Loughborough, UK, who has examined so-called "magical" artifacts and was asked to analyse the contents of the bottle. "This is the first one that has been opened scientifically."

During the 17th century, British people often blamed witches for any ill health or misfortune they suffered, says Massey. "The idea of the witch bottle was to throw the spell back on the witch," he says. "The urine and the bulb of the bottle represented the waterworks of the witch, and the theory was that the nails and the bent pins would aggravate the witch when she passed water and torment her so badly that she would take the spell back off you."

The salt-glazed jar was discovered 1.5 metres below ground by archaeologists from The Maritime Trust, a Greenwich-based charity that preserves historic sailing vessels. When it was shaken, the bottle splashed and rattled, and an X-ray showed pins and nails stuck in the neck, suggesting that it had been buried upside down.

Further computed tomography scans showed it to be half-filled with liquid, which later analysis showed to be human urine. The bottle also contained bent nails and pins, a nail-pierced leather "heart", fingernail clippings, navel fluff and hair. The presence of iron sulphide in the mixture also suggests that sulphur or brimstone had been added.

"Prior to this point, all we really knew about what was in witch bottles was what we read from documents from the 17th century," says Brian Hoggard, an independent expert on British witchcraft who helped analyse the bottle. These texts suggest "recipes" for filling a witch bottle, but don't tell us what actually went into them.

Sulphur is not mentioned in any recipe Massey has seen, although a previously discovered bottle seemed to contain the remains of some matches, he says. "If you think about where sulphur came from in those days, it spewed out of volcanic fumaroles from the underworld. It would have been the ideal thing to [kill] your witch, if you wished to."

Demographic distinction of urine analysis

Further analysis of the urine showed that it also contained cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine, suggesting that it came from a smoker, while the nail clippings appear quite manicured, suggesting that a person of some social standing created the bottle.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

IS Sex just an Illusion

The only difference between these two faces is their degree of contrast. Yet one appears female and the other male. That's because female faces tend to have more contrast between the eyes and mouth and the rest of the face than male faces.

Richard Russell, the Harvard University neuroscientist who created the illusion, has previously found that increasing the contrast in female faces makes them more attractive. Conversely, reducing contrast makes a male face easier on the eyes.

Visit the Visual Illusion of the Year (2009) Competition and see if you have won

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fear: What is it Good For? Fuzzy Logic!

FEAR changes how we see things, enhancing our ability to identify blurry shapes but impairing our perception of fine details. This may help us to escape threats.

Looking at a fearful face, which activates the brain in a similar way to feeling fear, enhances sensitivity to visual contrast, but whether it improves vision across the board wasn't clear. So Bruno Bocanegra and René Zeelenberg at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, showed people pictures of faces with either fearful or neutral expressions, followed by a "blob" covered in stripes of varying thicknesses.

Those shown a fearful face were better at identifying whether thick stripes were vertical or slightly tilted and worse at identifying the orientation of thin stripes than those shown neutral faces (Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02354.x).

This response may have evolved because coarse-grained features, which enable you to evaluate movement and distance, better aid survival in scary situations than fine details. "You don't care whether the object has wrinkles, you care whether its movement is threatening," Bocanegra says.