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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mobile speech applications a la IBM

IBM has collaborated with two universities to develop several speech-enabled Web applications for mobile phones.
The MobileU program allows students to ask "What time is the next bus coming?" into their cell phones. Global Positioning Satellite devices inside the buses use GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) to transmit their location to servers on campus and ultimately to students' mobile phones to tell them how long they have to wait.The application, developed with Wake Forest University, uses IBM WebSphere Everyplace Multimodal Environment software.
With LaundryView, IBM built an application on top of an existing Web application developed by the Mac-Gray, which provides laundry management services to schools.Students at Wake Forest living in special, tech-enabled facilities can ask any Internet-connected device how many washers and dryers are currently in use. As a result, they don't have to waste time walking to the laundry room to find out whether any machines are free.
Park and Pay-by-Cellphone, an application developed by IBM and USCB, is one of North America's first wireless parking systems that integrates a payment system. Drivers call a phone number, enter the stall number and park. They can purchase additional parking time remotely by making another phone call. Parking fees are charged to their credit card. The new system tracks enforcement through a wireless network connecting 50 payment stations.
With the Personal Information Manager application, USCB students can ask their mobile phones what their e-mail inbox contains. It will also inform them audibly about their calendar entries and read them instant messages and newspaper articles as they walk to class or drive their cars. The application takes RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds from university and national newspapers and enters them into a speech-enabled Web browser. News is fed over standard Web protocols and dynamically formatted for speech input and output.
This was seized 4 u at Infoworld

Does China prepare to launch an alternate internet?

The Chinese government has announced plans to launch an alternate Internet root system with new Chinese character domains for dot-com and dot-net. This may mean that Chinese Internet users will no longer rely on ICANN, the U.S.-backed domain name administrator and that could be considered as the beginning of the end of the globally interoperable Internet.
The people's Daily writes:
China's Ministry of Information Industry (MII) has made adjustment to China's Internet domain name system in accordance with Article 6 of China Internet Domain Names Regulations.
After the adjustment, ".MIL" will be added under the top-level domain (TLD) name of "CN".
A new Internet domain name system will take effect as of March 1 in China. Under the new system, besides "CN", three Chinese TLD names "CN", "COM" and "NET" are temporarily set. It means Internet users don't have to surf the Web via the servers under the management of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) of the United States.
The new regulations stipulate that under "CN", two types of second-level domain names, namely categorized domain names and those for administrative regions. There'll be seven categories: "AC" for research institutions; "EDU" for Chinese educational institutions; "GOV" for Chinese government departments and "MIL" for Chinese defense departments.
There'll be 34 domain names for the organizations of China's provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities directly under central government, and special administrative regions. They are mainly composed of the first letters of the Romanized spelling of the names of the regions, for example Beijing's domain name is "BJ" and Shanghai's is "SH".
This was seized 4 u at Slashdot & China's People's Daily

Yahoo! Collaborated With Chinese Govt. in Li Zhi Case

"Reporters Without Borders said it had obtained a copy of the court verdict against Li Zhi, a former official jailed for eight years in December 2003, confirming that US firm Yahoo! collaborated with the prosecution, as did local competitor, Sina.

"The Li Zhi verdict shows that all Internet sector companies are pulled in to help when the police investigate a political dissident,” the press freedom organisation said. “It is unacceptable that US firms should turn themselves into auxiliaries of a government that systematically tramples on the rights of Internet-users to freedom of expression,” it said." RSF continues saying that “Yahoo! should urgently withdraw its content and email servers from this country before further requests of this kind are made of it."

Sounds right, if it not were a sad joke. Please remember the US has its Patriot Act, which effectively forces companies like Yahoo! and Google to collaborate with the US government including a strict oder not to tell anyone that they are doing so. I bet China is no better than the US in this respect.

This was seized 4 u at

Monday, February 27, 2006

'Rotating lock' lifts boats, links waterways

Falkirk, Scotland—Imagine a Ferris wheel with two gondolas. Picture the gondolas as water-filled boxes that move around a central axis like a two-chambered revolver. Together, these two images describe a radical new boat lock called the "Falkirk Wheel." More than two centuries ago, the east and west of Scotland were linked by the Forth and Clyde Canal. Later, the Union Canal was built to provide a connection to Edinburgh, Scotland's capital. The two canals met near here, but with a 35m difference in water levels, a flight of locks was needed to connect them. The canals fell into disuse a generation ago. Renewed as one of the British government's "Millennium Projects," the link between the canals is now being restored with the Falkirk Wheel replacing the original 11 locks. Falkirk Wheel bearing/gear arrangement The result is one of the most innovative engineering projects of the decade. The Falkirk Wheel's two gondolas each measure 22m long, and mount on wheels within steel rings supported by opposing arms 35m long. The arms rotate about a 3.8m diameter axle to carry the gondolas 180 degrees between the higher and lower levels. Each gondola accommodates a 4-boat, 300-ton payload, including the water.

This was seized 4 u at Design News

Ancient Sun Temple Uncovered in Cairo

Have I mentioned that Zahi Hawass is my hero? --Steve
CAIRO, Egypt - Archaeologists discovered a pharaonic sun temple with large statues believed to be of King Ramses II under an outdoor marketplace in Cairo, Egypt's antiquities chief said Sunday. The partially uncovered site is the largest sun temple ever found in the capital's Aim Shams and Matariya districts, where the ancient city of Heliopolis — the center of pharaonic sun worship — was located, Zahi Hawass told The Associated Press. Among the artifacts was a pink granite statue weighing 4 to 5 tons whose features "resemble those of Ramses II," said Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Also found was a 5-foot-high statue of a seated figure with hieroglyphics that include three cartouches with the name of Ramses II, and a 3-ton head of royal statue, the council said in a statement. The green pavement stones of the temple's floor were also uncovered. An Egyptian team working in cooperation with the German Archaeological Mission in Egypt discovered the site under the Souq al-Khamis, a popular market in eastern Cairo, Hawass said.

This was seized 4 u at Yahoo! News

Multi-touch sensing devices - interactions on a graphical interaction surface.

While touch sensing is commonplace for single points of contact, multi-touch sensing enables a user to interact with a system with more than one finger at a time, as in chording and bi-manual operations. Such sensing devices are inherently also able to accommodate multiple users simultaneously, which is especially useful for larger interaction scenarios such as interactive walls and tabletops.
Since refining the FTIR (frustrated total internal reflection) sensing technique, Multi-Touch Interaction Research has been experimenting with a wide variety of application scenarios and interaction modalities that utilize multi-touch input information. These go far beyond the "poking"
actions you get with a typical touchscreen, or the gross gesturing found in video-based interactive interfaces. "It is a rich area for research, and we are extremely excited by its potential for advances in efficiency, usability, and intuitiveness. It's also just so much fun!"
Look at the demo video and read more at Multi-Touch Interaction Research.

This was seized 4 u at Multi-Touch Interaction Research

Wireless system for public safety, emergency and disaster applications.

The development of a rapidly deployable interoperable communication system for future public safety is becoming increasingly important in today’s world. For any disaster relief operation requiring multinational efforts and rapid deployment a recently tested prototype communications network offers hope.
Fresh from a recent successful test-run of its system, the IST-funded project WIDENS has succeeded in developing a prototype network that could be quickly deployed in areas where there is no available communication infrastructure to support emergency or peacekeeping operations.
“There is a clear need for such a system,” remarks Dr Vania Conan, project coordinator for WIDENS. “In emergency and disaster relief applications, there is a demand for using video-images and cameras to help monitor the operations – for instance, infrared cameras mounted on the helmets of firefighters. Although more of an extreme case, rapid deployment of a communications infrastructure – after a large scale earthquake or flood for example – is not possible with present technology,” he says.
He noted that emergency crews currently use cellular-based digital communications that require a backbone network and provide limited throughput over long distances. The WIDENS network, by contrast, is composed of ‘terminodes’ – versatile software-defined radio communication nodes with mixed enhanced handset terminal and IP Router features for greater throughput.
“WIDENS complements existing systems with high bandwidth (2Mbit/s) over a dedicated emergency area of a few square kilometres,” he explains. “Higher throughput means the possibility to exchange large amounts of sensor data such as images for telemedicine applications, or to use video-surveillance. WIDENS is also straightforward to deploy in the field as there is no need to install any specific equipment such as aerials. The network sets up automatically.”
This was seized 4 u at Information Society Technologies

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Track any mobile devices you want?

Map of someone's routeIf your phone is on, it is technically possible to follow your every move
Your mobile phone is a beacon - a radio transmitter in a box. Therefore it is possible to trace the signal and work out where it is.There are now several web companies which will track your friends' and family's phones for you, so you always know where they are. But just how safe is it to make location details available online? There are several reasons why you may want to track someone. You may be a company wanting to keep tabs on employees during work hours, or a parent wanting to check up on a child's whereabouts. These sorts of tracking services, now available in the UK, get information from the network about which cell your phone is currently in, and, for a small fee, display the location on an online map. As well as checking where a certain phone is right now, you can run scheduled lookups, or snail trails, to record the phone's movements throughout the day, and produce a report for you to peruse at your leisure. Obviously you cannot just enter any mobile phone number and expect to track someone. First of all you need to prove your identity, via a credit card, and then, crucially, the owner of the phone in question needs to consent to being tracked. The owner is sent a text message telling them about the tracking request, to which they must reply. The question is: is it possible to circumvent this security, and track someone without their knowledge? <- Of course it is, read more...
This was written by Spencer Kelly seized 4 u at BBC

Musings on Battelle's Book

I just finished John Battelle's book The Search: How Google Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed our Culture and found it quite revealing. There is still a lot to learn for us regarding the way we can structure information on the web, make it useful and get people to pay for it.
Although the subtitle includes the requisite mention of Google, the book is really a much broader look at both the history of the web search industry and the profound effects and changes it is having on our social lives. Also, I like the way Battelle uses the web community as a source for discussing and updating issues discussed in the book (have a look on
Also, I found it very interesting and amusing to see how much luck there was (and is) involved in Google becoming a big media company and at the same time how reluctantly but inevitably Google now is starting to wander off into the irrelevancies of big business.

Molly Beanland - 2006 will be a year of rejoice for new popmusic.

"I have written many songs over the years but I always write about what is real to me. I see songs as moments rather than functions. I don't write to convey what I cannot say but to allow something beautiful or meaningful to have it's place, to mark it. Any one moment of fear, elation, sadness, empathy can transpire into a whirlwind of a song with many elements and underlying themes but all the time that first feeling holds it all together; because it is real. I look for the grain of truth in a song - a sense that the artist is giving something of themselves. I think we all do really, whatever type of music we like."

You have the chance to listen to her on March, 3 at The Vortex in London supporting Gwyneth Herbert.
This was seized 4 u at Molly Beanland

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Mini robots to undertake major tasks?

The MICRON project team set out to build a total of five to ten micro robots, just cubic centimetres in size. One fully functional robot that the project did achieve could be tested in three different scenarios. The first was a medical or biological application, in which the robot was handling biological cells, injecting liquid into them. The second scenario was micro-assembly, in which the robot soldered tiny parts. The final scenario looked at atomic force, with the robot mounting atomic force and doing experiments on it.
The results were encouraging. The experiments showed that the cell injection is entirely feasible, as is the micro soldering. Robots with this sort of capability, and mobility, would be perfectly suited to lab work, such as the micro assembly of prototypes. Tasks such as cell injection could be performed on a mass scale.
With MICRON now having run its course, the project team is currently working on the project reports and evaluation. “What’s missing is the integration work, and this is what we will try to do next within the Swarm project,” says IPR´s Joerg Seyfried. “This will build on MICRON to produce robots with a ‘swarm’ intelligence – that is, with limited capabilities, but able to communicate with each other.”
The tiny robots of science fiction tales might be smarter, but, as Seyfried points out, “We’re working on the smallest size range currently being worked on by a few other groups worldwide – like MIT. On a European level, MICRON is unique.”
This was seized 4 u at Information Society Technologies

New spaceport in Singapore

My favorite travel agency Space Adventures, Ltd. announced that it plans to develop an integrated spaceport in Singapore that will offer suborbital spaceflights, as well as operate astronaut training facilities and a public education and interactive visitor center. Spaceport Singapore, in addition to providing suborbital spaceflights, will offer a wide range of space and high-altitude experiences for those who wish to experience various aspects of astronaut training. These include parabolic flights that will allow passengers to experience the thrill of weightlessness, G-force training in a centrifuge, and simulated space walks in a neutral buoyancy tank. Visitors can fly in a variety of jet aircraft, enjoy the exhilarating flight simulators and interactive exhibit experiences, or simply learn about the history and technology of space travel. The consortium supporting Spaceport Singapore is a combination of commercial, research, entertainment and tourist interests. Along with Space Adventures, is Octtane Pte, Batey Pte Ltd., Lyon Capital Inc., DP Architects, ST Medical and KPMG Corporate Finance who are all involved with this project. For more information on Spaceport Singapore, please visit
This was seized 4 u at Space Adventures

Friday, February 24, 2006

Abe Vigoda got 85

Yes, Abe Vigoda is still alive (as of this posting). In fact, he's celebrating his 85th birthday today - more than 20 years after people magazine mistakenly reported his death. Well, there's no need to endlessly question his mortality any longer. Just download the "Abe Vigoda status" extension for Firefox to keep tabs on whether or not he's still alive.

This was seized 4 u at Boing Boing

I'm questioning the liability of this extension and hope that Steve does his feature about the creditability & swiftness of this Firefox extention on this page as soon as possible!

Family Takes Picture on June 17th of Every Year Since 1976

Meet Diego and Susy. On June 17th, 1976 Diego and Susy sat for a photograph. And every subsequent year, on June 17th, they and their growing family sat for another photograph. They do this to "...stop a fleeting moment, the arrow of time passing by." They have posted their photographs on the web to share with us their fleeting moments.

This was seized 4 u at ZoneZero

uBrowser Introduces New 3D Browser

This just in.. from the developer's web site...

"uBrowser is a simple Web Browser that illustrates one way of embedding the Mozilla® Gecko rendering engine into a standalone application using LibXUL. In this case, the contents of the page is grabbed as it's being rendered and displayed as a texture on some geometry using OpenGL™. You are able to interact with the page (mostly) normally and visit (almost) any site that works correctly with Firefox® 1.5.

Its purpose is to provide a test bed and a proof of concept for the software I'm working on at Linden Lab. By releasing the source code I'm hoping that others can benefit from what I've learnt as well as help fix bugs and identify areas for improvement. It is not meant as a replacement for your regular 2D browser."
This was seized 4 u at uBrowser

A computer that could be integrated with the human body

A molecular computer that uses enzymes to perform calculations has been built by researchers in Israel. Itamar Willner, who constructed the molecular calculator with colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, believes enzyme-powered computers could eventually be implanted into the human body and used to, for example, tailor the release of drugs to a specific person's metabolism.
The team built their computer using two enzymes - glucose dehydrogenase (GDH) and horseradish peroxidase (HRP) - to trigger two interconnected chemical reactions. Two chemical components - hydrogen peroxide and glucose - were used to represent input values (A and B). The presence of each chemical corresponded to a binary 1, while the absence represented a binary 0. The chemical result of the enzyme-powered reaction was determined optically.
The enzyme computer was used to perform two fundamental logic computations known as AND (where A and B must both equal one) and XOR (where A and B must have different values). The addition of two further enzymes - glucose oxidase and catalase - connected the two logical operations, making it possible to add together binary digits using the logic functions.
Enzymes are already widely used to assist calculations using specially encoded DNA. These DNA computers have the potential to surpass the speed and power of existing silicon computers because they can perform many calculations in parallel and pack a vast number of components into a tiny space. But Willner says his enzyme computer is not designed for speed – it can take several minutes to perform a calculation. Rather, he envisages it eventually being incorporated into bio-sensing equipment and used, for example, to monitor and react to a patient's response to particular dosages of a drug. "This is basically a computer that could be integrated with the human body," Willner told New Scientist. "We feel you could implant an enzyme computer into the body and use it to calculate an entire metabolic pathway." Martyn Amos from University of Exeter, UK, also sees great potential for such devices. "The development of fundamental devices such as counters is vital for the future success of bio-molecular computers," he told New Scientist.
"If such counters could be engineered inside living cells, then we can imagine them playing a role in applications such as intelligent drug delivery, where a therapeutic agent is generated at the site of a problem," Amos says. "Counters would also offer a biological 'safety valve', to prevent engineered cells proliferating in an uncontrolled fashion."
This was seized 4 u at New Scientist

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Microbes convert 'Styrofoam' into biodegradable plastic

Bacteria could help transform a key component of disposable cups, plates and utensils into a useful eco-friendly plastic, significantly reducing the environmental impact of this ubiquitous, but difficult-to-recycle waste stream, according to a study scheduled to appear in the April 1 issue of the American Chemical Society journal, Environmental Science & Technology.

The microbes, a special strain of the soil bacterium Pseudomonas putida, converted polystyrene foam — commonly known as Styrofoam™ — into a biodegradable plastic, according to Kevin O’Connor, Ph.D., of University College Dublin, the study’s corresponding author. The study is among the first to investigate the possibility of converting a petroleum-based plastic waste into a reusable biodegradable form.

This was seized with many thanks! 4 u at Science Blog

'Borg' Computer Collective Designs NASA Space Antenna

Like a friendly, non-biological form of the Borg Collective of science fiction fame, 80 personal computers, using artificial intelligence (AI), have combined their silicon brains to quickly design a tiny, advanced space antenna. If all goes well, three of these computer-designed space antennas will begin their trip into space in March 2006, when an L-1011 aircraft will take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The airplane will drop a Pegasus XL rocket into the sky high above the Pacific Ocean. The rocket will ignite and carry three small Space Technology (ST5) satellites into orbit. Each satellite will be equipped with a strange-looking, computer-designed space antenna. Although they resemble bent paperclips, the antennas are highly efficient, according to scientists. "This is the first time an artificially evolved object will have flown in space," observed Jason Lohn, who led the project to design the antennas at NASA Ames Research Center, located in California's Silicon Valley. The three 'microsats,' each no bigger than a typical TV, weigh only about 25 kilograms (55 pounds) each. Slightly bigger than a quarter, each antenna, able to fit into a one-inch space (2.5 by 2.5 centimeters), can receive commands and send data to Earth from the satellites. Together, the spacecraft will help scientists study magnetic fields in Earth's magnetosphere.

This was seized 4 u at NASA

Man-made Star Shines in the Southern Sky

Scientists celebrate another major milestone at Cerro Paranal in Chile, home of ESO's Very Large Telescope array. Thanks to their dedicated efforts, they were able to create the first artificial star in the Southern Hemisphere, allowing astronomers to study the Universe in the finest detail. This artificial laser guide star makes it possible to apply adaptive optics systems, that counteract the blurring effect of the atmosphere, almost anywhere in the sky.
On 28 January 2006, at 23:07 local time, a laser beam of several watts was launched from Yepun, the fourth 8.2m Unit Telescope of the Very Large Telescope, producing an artificial star, 90 km up in the atmosphere. Despite this star being about 20 times fainter than the faintest star that can be seen with the unaided eye, it is bright enough for the adaptive optics to measure and correct the atmosphere's blurring effect. The event was greeted with much enthusiasm and happiness by the people in the control room of one of the most advanced astronomical facilities in the world.
It was the culmination of five years of collaborative work by a team of scientists and engineers from ESO and the Max Planck Institutes for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching and for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

After more than one month of integration on site with the invaluable support of the Paranal Observatory staff, the VLT Laser Guide Star Facility saw First Light and propagated into the sky a 50cm wide, vivid, beautifully yellow beam. "This event tonight marks the beginning of the Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics era for ESO's present and future telescopes", said Domenico Bonaccini Calia, Head of the Laser Guide Star group at ESO and LGSF Project Manager.
Normally, the achievable image sharpness of a ground-based telescope is limited by the effect of atmospheric turbulence. This drawback can be surmounted with adaptive optics, allowing the telescope to produce images that are as sharp as if taken from space. This means that finer details in astronomical objects can be studied, and also that fainter objects can be observed.
In order to work, adaptive optics needs a nearby reference star that has to be relatively bright, thereby limiting the area of the sky that can be surveyed. To overcome this limitation, astronomers use a powerful laser that creates an artificial star, where and when they need it.
The laser beam, shining at a well-defined wavelength, makes the layer of sodium atoms that is present in Earth's atmosphere at an altitude of 90 kilometres glow. The laser is hosted in a dedicated laboratory under the platform of Yepun. A custom-made fibre carries the high power laser to the launch telescope situated on top of the large Unit Telescope.
High resolution images and their captions are available on this page.
This was seized 4 u at the European Southern Observatory

Quantum computer works best switched off

Even for the crazy world of quantum mechanics, this one is twisted. A quantum computer program has produced an answer without actually running. The idea behind the feat, first proposed in 1998, is to put a quantum computer into a “superposition”, a state in which it is both running and not running. It is as if you asked Schrödinger's cat to hit "Run".
With the right set-up, the theory suggested, the computer would sometimes get an answer out of the computer even though the program did not run. And now researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have improved on the original design and built a non-running quantum computer that really works.
They send a photon into a system of mirrors and other optical devices, which included a set of components that run a simple database search by changing the properties of the photon.
The new design includes a quantum trick called the Zeno effect. Repeated measurements stop the photon from entering the actual program, but allow its quantum nature to flirt with the program's components - so it can become gradually altered even though it never actually passes through.
"It is very bizarre that you know your computer has not run but you also know what the answer is," says team member Onur Hosten.
This scheme could have an advantage over straightforward quantum computing. "A non-running computer produces fewer errors," says Hosten. That sentiment should have technophobes nodding enthusiastically.
This was seized 4 u at New Scientist

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Explorers Discover Huge Cave and New Poison Frogs

A cave so huge helicopters can fly into it has just been discovered deep in the hills of a South American jungle paradise. Actually, "Cueva del Fantasma"—Spanish for "Cave of the Ghost"—is so vast that two helicopters can comfortably fly into it and land next to a towering waterfall. It was found in the slopes of Aprada tepui in southern Venezuela, one of the most inaccessible and unexplored regions of the world. The area, known as the Venezuelan Guayana, is one of the most biologically rich, geologically ancient and unspoiled parts of the world. This is the first geographic report and photographic evidence of such an immense cave. However, researchers say, it isn’t really a cave, but a huge, collapsed, steep gorge. As a bonus, researchers also discovered a new dendrobatid frog species, Colostethus breweri, named for the frog’s identifier, Charles Brewer-Carías. Dendrobatid frogs make up the group of amphibians commonly known as "poison dart" frogs.
This was seized 4 u at

The origin of the galactic background emission

Using the most sensitive X-ray map of the Galaxy, obtained combining 10 years of data of Rossi XTE orbital observatory, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics have discovered the origin of the galactic background emission. They show that it consists of emission from a million accreting white dwarf binaries and hundreds of millions of normal stars with active coronas.
Nearly 400 years after Galileo determined that the wispy Milky Way actually comprises a multitude of individual stars, scientists using NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer have done the same for the X-ray Milky Way. The origin of the so-called galactic X-ray background has been a long-standing mystery. Scientists now say that this blanket of X-ray light is not diffuse, as many have thought, but emanates from untold hundreds of millions of individual sources dominated by a type of dead star called a white dwarf.
If confirmed, this new finding would have a profound impact on our understanding of the history of our galaxy, from star-formation and supernova rates to stellar evolution. The results solve major theoretical problems, yet point to a surprising undercounting of stellar objects. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) in Garching, Germany, and the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow discuss these results in two papers published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.
"From an airplane you can see a diffuse glow from a city at night," said Dr. Mikhail Revnivtsev of MPA, lead author on one of the papers. "To say a city produces light is not enough. Only when you get closer do you see individual sources that make up that glow - the house lights, street lamps and automobile headlights. In this respect, we have identified the individual sources of local X-ray light. What we found will surprise many scientists."
X-rays are a high-energy form of light, invisible to our eyes and far more energetic than optical and ultraviolet light. Our eyes see individual stars sprinkled in a largely dark sky. In X-ray bandwidths the sky is never dark; there is a pervasive and constant glow.
The science team concluded that the Milky Way galaxy is indeed teeming with X-ray stars, most of them not very bright, and that scientists over the years had underestimated their numbers by perhaps a hundredfold. Surprisingly, the usual suspects of X-ray emission - black holes and neutron stars - are not implicated here. At higher X-ray energies, the X-ray glow arises almost entirely from sources called cataclysmic variables. A cataclysmic variable is a binary star system containing a relatively normal star and a white dwarf, which is a stellar ember of a star like our sun that has run out of fuel. On its own, a white dwarf is dim. In a binary, it can pull away matter from its companion star to heat itself in a process called accretion.
This was seized 4 u at The Max Planck Society

Breath Capture™ - Capture the breath of a loved one & keep them close.

This one is really great. I got the link from a friend & I just love it and want to encourage you to use this great service.
The following are statements from their website:
"Everyone is born with it.
A desire to be near the ones we care about most. And we find ways to remember them when they're away. A lock of hair. Letters. An old photo. And now there's Breath Capture™. Capture the breath of a loved one or friend and keep them close. Forever."
Later On: "Air in the form of human breath is no longer simply air. Breath is present when we laugh and cry, whisper and shout, sing and sigh. And once captured, it can be a powerful reminder of those we long to be around. In short, Breath Capture™ preserves not only the memory of someone, but who they are. So wherever you go, they’ll always be close. If love is in your heart, you will feel the closeness of your friends and loved ones with Breath Capture. And you can keep it that way forever."
About: "Breath Capture is a patent-pending method and apparatus for collecting human breath as a keepsake display. A loved one or friend breathes into a personalized tube for 5 seconds to displace the air and fill it with their breath. The container is then permanently sealed and becomes a keepsake for a friend, or loved one."
"Breath Capture is a small company with a big heart. We’re here to spread love around the world. More love can’t be a bad thing. Right? It only takes two people. Two people, with an undying friendship or love for each other. That’s it. Pretty soon, the love starts spreading."

Breath Capture has thought of everything and provides the ultimative test for all of you that are sceptic about their services. Is Breath Capture for real? Please leave your comments.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Unipage - the "pdf" for webpages

Unipage is a way to store a complete web page as just one file that you can directly view in a browser. All of the page's images, styling, and even functionality are kept together instead of being scattered in separate files. I have checked it and it workes just fine for me with Firefox & Opera. You get one single file which in fact is smaller then the complete website would be itself, there is no hassle with different files (pictures, flash animations etc.) and you have portable documents. I like that...
Some browsers are known not to display Unipage files properly. This is simply due to their lack of support for the 'data: URI' standard. A known lack of support is in Internet Explorer versions 6 and below.
I'm wondering about the name - better Trademark "Unipage™". Searching the web I found dozens of companies & sites called "Unipage" but nothing about The concept is still in an early stage, its a great idea & everyone can participate in the public beta.

Walls Of Confusion or who is Web2.0?

Dion Hinchcliffe has written an interesting story about the lack of understandning and good communication when it comes to the terms about online software "Web 2.0" and has identified "Five Walls of Confusion":
* The Wall of Buzzwords

* The Wall of Hype

* The Wall of Complexity

* The Wall of Significance

* The Wall of Ignorance.

Read more at where this was seized 4 u

Early humans evolved not as hunters but as prey for animals

The popular view of our ancient ancestors as hunters who conquered all in their way is wrong, researchers have told a major US science conference. Instead, they argue, early humans were on the menu for predatory beasts. This may have driven humans to evolve increased levels of co-operation, according to their theory. Despite humankind's considerable capacity for war and violence, we are highly sociable animals, according to anthropologists. James Rilling, at Emory University in Atlanta, US, has been using brain imaging techniques to investigate the biological mechanisms behind co-operation. He has imaged the brains of people playing a game under experimental conditions that involved choosing between co-operation and non-co-operation. From the parts of the brain that were activated during the game, he found that mutual co-operation is rewarding; people reacted negatively when partners did not co-operate. Dr Rilling also discovered that his subjects seemed to have enhanced memory for those people that did not reciprocate in the experiment. By contrast, our closest relatives - chimpanzees - have been shown not to come to the aid of others, even when it would pose no cost to themselves. "Our intelligence, co-operation and many other features we have as modern humans developed from our attempts to out-smart the predator," said Robert Sussman of Washington University in St Louis. According to the theory espoused by Professor Sussman, early humans evolved not as hunters but as prey for animals such as wild dogs, cats, hyenas, eagles and crocodiles. He points to the example of one ape-like species thought to be ancestral to humans, Australopithecus afarensis. A. afarensis was what is known as an "edge species"; it could live in trees and on the ground, and could take advantage of both. "Primates that are edge species, even today, are basically prey species, not predators," Professor Sussman explained. Dr Agustin Fuentes at the University of Notre Dame agrees with the predation hypothesis. He believes early humans were subject to several evolutionary pressures, including predation. But he also thinks they were expending more energy at this time and that child-rearing became more demanding. All these factors contributed to an emergence of sociable behaviour in hominids that made them harder targets for predators. Dr Fuentes points to fossil evidence of predation in two different groups of humanlike species: Australopithecus and Paranthropus. The latter group, it appears, could not adapt to pressures such as predation, and became extinct between one and 1.2 million years ago. The scientists outlined their work at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in St Louis, US.
This was written by Paul Rincon & seized 4 u at BBC News

Monday, February 20, 2006

Science invents invisible buildings?

A new optical effect has been created in a London laboratory that means solid objects such as walls could one day be rendered transparent.
Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, have pioneered the technique which could be used to see through rubble at earthquake sites,
or look at parts of the body obscured by bone. The effect is based on the development of a new material that exploits the way atoms in matter move, to make them interact with a laser beam in an entirely new way.The work is based on a breakthrough which contradicts Einstein's theory that in order for a laser to work, the light-amplifying material it contains, usually a crystal or glass, must be brought to a state known as 'population inversion'. This refers to the condition of the atoms within the material, which must be excited with enough energy to make them emit rather than absorb light. Quantum physicists, however, have long predicted that by interfering with the wave-patterns of atoms, light could be amplified without population inversion. This has previously been demonstrated in the atoms of gases but has not before been shown in solids.
In order to make this breakthrough, the team created specially patterned crystals only a few billionths of a metre in length that behaved like 'artificial atoms'. When light was shone into the crystals, it became entangled with the crystals at a molecular level rather than being absorbed, causing the material to become transparent.
This new transparent material created by the entanglement is made up of molecules that are half matter and half light. This allows light to be amplified without population inversion for the first time in a solid. Professor Chris Phillips, of Imperial College London, says: "This real life 'x-ray specs' effect relies on a property of matter that is usually ignored - that the electrons it contains move in a wave-like way. What we have learnt is how to control these waves directly. The results can be pretty weird at times, but it's very exciting and so fundamental. At the moment the effect can only be produced in a lab under specific conditions but it has the potential to lead to all sorts of new applications."
This was seized 4 u at Imperial College

Microsoft free internet voice service challenges Skype & Vodafone

Microsoft has developed a Skype-style free internet voice service for mobile phones that City analysts believe could wipe billions off the market value of operators such as Vodafone. The service is included in a mobile version of Microsoft Office Communicator due to be released this year. It will take the form of a voice-over internet protocol (VoIP) application that allows Office users to make free voice calls over wi-fi enabled phones running Windows Mobile software. It uses the internet as a virtual phone network as well as accessing e-mail, PowerPoint and other Office applications.
Cyrus Mewawalla, an analyst at Westhall Capital, believes VoIP, when backed by Microsoft, will have a more devastating effect on mobile operators than it did on the fixed-line operators, which saw their voice revenues slashed after the introduction of VoIP services such as Skype.
“Internet voice does not even have to take market share to force traditional operators to cut their prices. The mere thought of free voice is enough to make customers push for price cuts,” said Mewawalla, predicting a bloodbath for mobile operator stocks.
Operators such as Vodafone and O2 believe they will be able to fight off the threat from Microsoft’s entry into the mobile voice market. Peter Erskine, chief executive of O2, told The Business: “This is not the first time Microsoft has tried to enter the mobile market and they still have a very long way to go.” Erskine said because Micro-soft’s service runs on a mobile version of Office, its appeal initially will be to business users rather than private consumers.
But Ballmer last week said: “Most people have a personal life and they have a professional life. And they want the device that goes in their pocket to give them one glimpse of their information, whether it happens to be part of their private life or part of their professional life.” It is this formula that won Microsoft domination of the desktop.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

An “engine” to generate social behavior?

A game designer presents his work on a computer engine that automates an assortment of nonverbal expressions.
The goal: to help soldiers learn unfamiliar languages by interacting with animated characters.
A set of commands orchestrates a range of nonverbal expressions used for characters in "Social Puppet." On the screen, computer-generated characters shrug, wink, nod, wave or cross their arms as they follow one’s every move with an attentive gaze. Meanwhile, a USC-developed system module called “Social Puppet” is pulling the strings. Once a given character is designed, a simple set of standard commands orchestrates a whole range of nonverbal expressions. The same commands work for any other character in the game.
“Human communication is only partly verbal,” said Hannes Högni Vilhjálmsson of the USC Information Sciences Institute, who designed the game. He calls the software an “engine” to generate visual social behavior, and will present it at the AAAS annual meeting in St. Louis Feb. 16-20.

Oak Tree Found in Indiana Gravel Pit May be 6,000 Years Old

EDINBURGH, Ind. Feb 17, 2006 (AP)— A large oak tree dug up last summer in a gravel pit could be 6,000 years old or more and might have been entombed by a glacier during the last ice age, scientists say.

Researchers at three universities, including Hillsdale College in Michigan, are awaiting radiocarbon test results to pinpoint the age of the tree, which a southern Indiana dredge operator found under 40 feet of sand and gravel.

This was seized 4 u at ABC News


Astronomers get shortlist of possible ET addresses

Astronomers looking for extraterrestrial life now have a short list of places to point their telescopes. They include nearby stars of the right size, age and composition to have Earth-like planets circling them, scientists said on Saturday. But cuts in federal funding mean that private philanthropists who pay for the bulk of their work may find out first when and if extraterrestrial life is discovered, the astronomers told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Margaret Turnbull of the Carnegie Institution of Washington released her "top 10" list of potential stars to the meeting. They will be the first targets of NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder, a system of two orbiting observatories scheduled for launch by 2020. "There are 400 billion stars in the galaxy, and obviously we're not going to point the Terrestrial Planet Finder ... at every one of them," said Turnbull. So, on behalf of the space agency NASA and the now independently funded Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, she narrowed down the list to stars that could have planets with liquid water orbiting them. "We want to see these habitable planets with our own eyes," she added. So the star cannot be too bright, or it will obscure the planet. Variable stars, which grow hotter and cooler, probably would not be conducive to life, so they were thrown out, as were stars that are too young or too old. Some are too gassy to have spawned planets like Earth, which contains a lot of metal. Others have massive companions whose gravity could interfere with the steady conditions needed for life to evolve. Turnbull's top 10 list includes 51 Pegasus, where in 1995 Swiss astronomers spotted the first planet outside our solar system, a Jupiter-like giant. Others include 18 Sco in the Scorpio constellation, which is very similar to our own sun; epsilon Indi A, a star one-tenth as bright as the sun; and alpha Centauri B, part of the closest solar system to our own. "The truth is when looking at these so-called 'habstars,' habitable solar systems, it is hard to really rank them. I don't know enough about every star to say which one is the absolute best one," Turnbull said. Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute, set up after U.S. government funding for the program was cut, said the current budget threatens other astronomical programs. She said research and analysis budgets were cut by 15 percent in the fiscal year 2007 budget proposed this year by U.S. President George W. Bush. "In the case of astrobiology, the cut is to 50 percent of what it was in 2005," Tarter told a news conference. "We are facing what we consider an extraordinarily difficult financial threat." She said NASA once had a policy of what to do, whom to call, and how to announce the news if someone detected a signal of intelligent life from space. "Today it is in fact a group of very generous philanthropists who will get the call before we get a press conference," Tarter said. They include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan Myhrvold. Carol Cleland of the University of Colorado argued that astronomers are limiting themselves by looking for planets that closely resemble Earth. "I actually think we ought to be looking for life as we don't know it," Cleland told a news conference. She said life on Earth is all so similar -- based on DNA made up of specific building blocks -- that it is likely to have had a single origin. Life elsewhere may be built from different ingredients, or structured very differently, she said.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Commercial spaceports around the globe

Here is another newsflash from my favorite travel agency Space Adventures: They announced today its plans to develop a commercial spaceport in Ras Al-Khaimah (the UAE), with plans to expand globally. Other potential spaceport locations include Asia, specifically Singapore, and North America. The company, which organized orbital flights for all of the world's private space explorers, also announces that His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi of Ras Al-Khaimah, along with the UAE Department of Civilian Aviation, have granted clearance to operate suborbital spaceflights in their air space. The UAE spaceport, planned to be located less than an hour drive from Dubai, already has commitments for $30 million (USD).
This was seized 4 u at Space Adventures

The First Spaceflight Tourism Vehicles

Space Adventures, Ltd. announced to develop a fleet of suborbital spaceflight vehicles for commercial use globally. The joint venture with the Federal Space Agency of the Russian Federation (FSA) & Prodea (a private investment firm founded by the Ansari family) will fully develop and provide a set of turnkey operational space tourism systems that include the delivery of several suborbital launch vehicles to multiple global locations.
The Ansari X Prize inspired and enabled the future of private spaceflights by proving that the necessary technology can be developed commercially," said Eric Anderson, president and CEO of Space Adventures.
Both Mrs. Ansari and Mr. Anderson agreed, "Our visions for opening the space frontier are completely aligned. This joint venture will enable millions of people to realize their dreams of spaceflight."
The suborbital space transportation system has been designed by Myasishchev Design Bureau, a leading Russian aerospace organization which has developed a wide-array of high performance aircraft and space systems. Explorer, as it has been named, will have the capacity to transport up to five people to space and is designed to optimize the customer experience of space travel, while maintaining the highest degree of safety.
"The design plans for Explorer have been perfected over the years and we, at Space Adventures, along with Prodea, have the utmost confidence that this joint venture will enable operations of the world's first commercial suborbital spaceflights," said Mr. Anderson. "After much consideration and examination of the FSA’s plans for suborbital vehicles, given their successful 45-year human spaceflight history and their clear world leadership role in the operations of commercial space activities, I feel completely confident in Explorer. This vehicle is being developed by a group of the most qualified designers and engineers in the world that have the most experience, the highest safety standards and are responsible for the most reliable and longest serving manned spacecraft in the world," said Mrs. Ansari. Additionally, Space Adventures also announced that an agreement had been reached between Space Adventures and FSA which confirms FSA's oversight and supervision in the development process. "As they have demonstrated in many past efforts, the Russian space agency's commitment to this new and pioneering project will expedite its eventual success," said Mr. Anderson.
This was seized 4 u at Space Adventures

Friday, February 17, 2006

Web 2.0 Journal Product Review: "Zoho Planner"

The Zoho series of online software products from AdventNet has been growing quickly over the last year, and their Zoho Planner product has just been revamped. Designed specifically for the Web 2.0 era, Zoho Planner is an online service for managing task lists and appointments.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

US and Canadian skiers get smart armour

I bet Roland wishes he had seen this post last week! --steve

A futuristic flexible material that instantly hardens into armour upon impact will protect US and Canadian skiers from injury on the slalom runs at this year's Winter Olympics.

The lightweight bendable material, known as d3o, can be worn under normal ski clothing. It will provide protection for US and Canadian skiers taking part in slalom and giant slalom races in Turin, Italy. Skiers normally have to wear bulky arm and leg guards to protect themselves from poles placed along the slalom run.

Skiwear company Spyder, based in Colorado, US, developed racing suits incorporating d3o along the shins and forearms and offered members of the US and Canadian Olympic alpine ski teams the chance to try them out several months ago. "Now they love it and won't ski without it," claims Richard Palmer, CEO of UK-based d3o Labs, which developed the material.

Although the exact chemical ingredients of d3o are a commercial secret, Palmer says the material is synthesised by mixing together a viscose fluid and a polymer. Following synthesis, liquid d3o is poured into a mould that matches the shape of the body part it will protect.

This was seized 4 u at New Scientist

Impossible Art

Look at these incredible photographs of performance artist Li Wei:

This was seized 4 u at TINSELMAN

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Google Windows apps coming to Linux

Google and CodeWeavers Inc. are working together to bring Google's popular Windows Picasa photo editing and sharing program to Linux. The program is now in a limited beta test. If this program is successful, other Google applications will be following it to the Linux desktop, sources say.

The Linux Picasa implementation includes the full feature set of the Windows Picasa 2.x software. It is not, strictly speaking, a port of Picasa to Linux. Instead, Linux Picasa combines Windows Picasa code and Wine technology to run Windows Picasa on Linux. This, however, will be transparent to Linux users, when they download, install, and run the free program on their systems.

Wine is an open-source implementation of the Windows API (application programming interface). It runs, in turn, on top of the X Window System and Linux (or Unix). Wine is not, as has sometimes been said, a Windows emulator. Wine provides a Windows API middleware layer that enables Windows programs, such as Office 2003, to run on Linux without the slowing effects of an operating system emulation or a virtual machine. Indeed, in some respects, Wine on Linux is faster than XP on the same hardware.


This was seized 4 u at

Nokia launching net call handsets

Nokia is introducing new mobile phone handsets that will enable users to make calls over the internet.
The latest firm to move into internet telephony, users of certain new Nokia handsets will be able to make calls through their wireless broadband link.

The calls will be routed through their net link if their phone is in range. Outside of this the handset will return to the standard mobile phone network.

Internet telephony or voice-over IP (Voip) is seeing a surge in popularity. Check out the rest of the BBC's article here. To check out the press announcement at Nokia's web site, click here.

This was seized 4 u from BBC Technology News

Monday, February 13, 2006

GM Promotes Alternative Fuel Vehicles

It seems that GM has quietly taken a big step in promoting alternative fuel automobiles with their "Live Green, Be Yellow" ad campaign, and corresponding product lines. They claim to have over 1.5 million vehicles on the road that run on either gasoline, or the alternative fuel E85, or any combination of the two. For those of you unfamiliar with E85, it is a combination of Ethanol (85%) and Gasoline (15%), that burns cleaner than gasoline, and leverages renewable resources more efficiently. Taken from The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition's Web Site: "Today, the U. S. imports more than half of its oil, and overall consumption continues to increase. By supporting ethanol production and use, U.S. drivers can help reverse that trend. 85% ethanol can reduce pollution. Government tests have shown that E85 vehicles reduce harmful hydrocarbon and benzene emissions when compared to vehicles running on gasoline. E85 can also reduce carbon dioxide (CO2), a harmful greenhouse gas and a major contributor to global warming.

Although CO2 is released during ethanol production and combustion, it is recaptured as a nutrient to the crops that are used in its production. Unlike fossil fuel combustion, which unlocks carbon that has been stored for millions of years, use of ethanol results in low increases to the carbon cycle.

Ethanol also degrades quickly in water and, therefore, poses much less risk to the environment than an oil or gasoline spill." Check out GM's "Live Green, Be Yellow" web site for more information about this program and the 1.5 million GM vehicles that run on E85.

This was seized 4 u at General Motors

MIT Researchers Fired Up About Battery Alternative

Just about everything that runs on batteries -- flashlights, cell phones, electric cars, missile-guidance systems -- would be improved with a better energy supply. But traditional batteries haven't progressed far beyond the basic design developed by Alessandro Volta in the 19th century.
Work at MIT's Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems (LEES) holds out the promise of the first technologically significant and economically viable alternative to conventional batteries in more than 200 years.

Joel E. Schindall, the Bernard Gordon Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and associate director of the Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems; John G. Kassakian, EECS professor and director of LEES; and Ph.D. candidate Riccardo Signorelli are using nanotube structures to improve on an energy storage device called an ultracapacitor.

Capacitors store energy as an electrical field, making them more efficient than standard batteries, which get their energy from chemical reactions. Ultracapacitors are capacitor-based storage cells that provide quick, massive bursts of instant energy. They are sometimes used in fuel-cell vehicles to provide an extra burst for accelerating into traffic and climbing hills.

However, ultracapacitors need to be much larger than batteries to hold the same charge.

The LEES invention would increase the storage capacity of existing commercial ultracapacitors by storing electrical fields at the atomic level.

This was seized 4 u at TERRADAILY

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Teaching a machine to sense its environment

Teaching a machine to sense its environment is one of the most intractable problems of computer science, but one European project is looking to nature for help in cracking the conundrum. It combined streams of sensory data to produce an adaptive, composite impression of surroundings in near real-time.
SENSEMAKER took its inspiration from nature by trying to replicate aspects of the brain's neural processes, which capture sensory data from eyes, ears and touch, and then combines these senses to present a whole
picture of the scene or its environment. For example, sight can identify kiwi, but touch can help tell if that kiwi is ripe, unripe or over-ripe. What's more, if one sense is damaged, or if a sensory function is lost due to environmental factors, say because it can't see in the dark, the brain switches more resources to other senses, such as hearing or touch. Suddenly those faculties become comparatively hypersensitive. When it goes dark the brain pours resource into these two senses, along with hearing and smell, to extract the maximum possible data from the environment.
To explore these aspects of biological perception SENSEMAKER first developed a model of human perception, based on the best available data from the biological and neurological sciences.
Biological neurons use short and sudden increases in voltage to send information. These signals are more commonly known as action potentials, spikes or pulses. Computer science calls the phenomenon Spiking Neural Networks. More traditional or classical artificial neural networks use a simpler model. "The traditional model of an artificial neural network is quite removed from biological neurons, while the spiking neural networks we used are more faithful to what happens in the real biological brain," says Professor McGinnity.
Similarly, adaptation is another aspect of the biological model, known as plasticity, where data flows through new routes in the brain to add further resources to data capture.
If repeated over time, this plasticity becomes learning, where well-travelled routes through the brain become established and reinforce the information that passes.
As the model was being established, the team developed hardware demonstrators to implement and test components of the overall sensory fusion system. One project partner, the Ruprecht Karl Universitaet in Heidelberg, focused on implementations based on classical traditional neural networks – essentially large arrays of simple threshold devices. In parallel the ISEL group used Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) to implement large arrays of spiking neural networks for emulation of a number of components of the sensory system, particularly the visual processing element. "FPGAs are hardware computing platforms that can be dynamically reconfigured and as such, are ideal for exploring artificial representations of biological neurons, since their ability to reconfigure can be exploited, to some extent to mimic the plasticity of biological networks of neurons," says Professor McGinnity.

Spiking neurons are more biologically compatible compared to traditional classical neural networks, such as the McCulloch-Pitts threshold neuron, because the time between spikes and their cumulative effect determine when the neuron fires. By using an advanced FPGA computing platform, ISEL were able to implement large networks of spiking neurons and synapses, and test the biological approaches for sensory fusion. The FPGA approach allows for flexibility, both in terms of rapid prototyping and the ease with which different neuron models can be implemented and tested.

Read more about the project here & at Roland Piquepaille's Emerging Technology Trends

Saturday, February 11, 2006

3Bubbles - an individual chat for bloggers

3Bubbles, which launches next week and is going to be an awesome way for bloggers and other websites to extend the conversation on the things that they write about. They have created a very easy to integrate Ajax based chat interface that can be added to every blog post automatically. (We will integrate it into the Resize blog to.) By simply adding a code snippet into the blog template, a link will be included in every post (think comments, trackbacks, and now chat) to open a chat window where readers can debate and discuss the post.
The service will eventually integrate advertising into the ajax chat window, and the company says that they will split revenue with bloggers. Alternatively, bloggers can pay a monthly fee for the service and either turn off ads, or keep all of the advertising revenue. The hope is that 3Bubbles will be scalable enough to handle all of this distributed traffic. A somewhat comparableservice, ajchat, has had serious trouble keeping the service stable.
This was seized 4 u from an Michael Arrington post at Techcrunch

Friday, February 10, 2006

Forget the caricatures of Muhammed - This is offensive:

This was seized 4 u at Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Tom Bethell, the Odd Duck Anti-Evolutioniston on AIDS -- The Breakdown

Chris has been excoriating Tom Bethell (author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science") over on The Intersection and elsewhere (see, for example, here, here, and several posts here). However, since he's not yet done a takedown on Bethell's chaper on AIDS (titled "African AIDS: a Political Epidemic"), he suggested I have a go at it. Man, I knew the book would be bad, but it reaches a whole new level of terrible.
Bethell's central thesis will be familiar to anyone who's read the anti-HIV arguments by Peter Duesberg and others. As the chapter title suggests, Bethell claims that AIDS in Africa is a made-up epidemic; AIDS is really due to simple malnutrition and dirty water supplies, rather than a virus. Government officials, scientists, and journalists are either too brainwashed or too scared to speak against the "AIDS orthodoxy." The evil liberals aren't concerned about AIDS because the real concern of the left, according to Bethell, is overpopulation in Africa (and hence the emphasis on condom use to prevent AIDS). Public health officials aren't actually concerned about disease in Africa--just overpopulation. Little did I know.
However, Bethell's story is long on emotion and hyperbole, and short on facts. His references read like a report I wrote in my 9th grade English class: newspapers, a few books, magazines (heavy-hitters like Rolling Stone and SPIN), and a grand total of 2 references from science journals. Really, he should leave off the "Politically" portion of the title--the Incorrect Guide to Science is much more apt.
Okay, okay. Enough snark. (C'mon, reading this was 20 minutes of my life I'll never get back--I think I'm entitled to some seething). So, on to address Bethell's claims.
Get the whole article posted by John Farrell at AETIOLOGY

Google Moon!

We've all seen Google Earth. But the men and women of Google, apparently, have not stopped there. Check out Google Moon. This is really cool. It's nice to see what an engineering company can develop when given free reign.
This was seized 4 u at Google Moon

Optical illusions

Do you like optical illusions? Here are two very different classics:
Visit Michael Bach's website in order to view other examples.

Plant cells for robot control

Controlling robots in complex environments is not an easy task, but it would greatly increase their usages. Yet living organisms are facing complexity and successfully dealing with it. So why not apply lessons from nature to robotics? This is what did researchers from Japan and U.K. who built an interface between a plant and an omnidirectional hexapod robot. The interaction loop they realized between living plants and robots might lead to the integration of biological cells in other technological devices based on biohybrid architectures.
Read the whole article that was seized 4 u at zdnet written by Roland Piquepaille here

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Chinese Man 'Jailed due to Yahoo!'

The internet giant Yahoo has been accused of providing China with information that led to the jailing of a second internet writer. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders claims that Yahoo released data which led to the arrest of Li Zhi. The online writer was jailed for eight years in 2003, after posting comments that criticised official corruption. Last year Yahoo was accused of giving information to Beijing which led to the imprisonment of reporter Shi Tao. Reporters Without Borders called on Yahoo to release the names of all internet writers whose identities it has revealed to the Chinese authorities.

This was seized 4 u at BBC News

Network Traffic Set to Music

Nothing gets attention like the sound of a baby crying. Building on the idea that people are naturally attuned to sound, the Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning has created software that translates network and server activity into music. And, their IT department operators can interpret the music to detect problems in the system. "Like with the babysitter monitor, you know when the baby's not happy," project leader and Telecommunications Technology Program Coordinator William Farkas said during an interview Wednesday. "The very appearance of violins tells you we're getting locked by spam now." Research Fellow Hong Tae Jeon sent an e-mail this week saying that the Institute, in the suburbs of Toronto, just completed a two year research project on Information Music, or iSIC, in which "art imitates the network." Now, the concept is in action at the Institute.

This was seized 4 u at Yahoo! News

Intact tomb found in Egypt's Valley of the Kings

CAIRO (Reuters) - An American team has found what appears to be an intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings, the first found in the valley since that of Tutankhamun in 1922, one of the archaeologists said on Thursday. ADVERTISEMENT The tomb contains five or six mummies in intact sarcophagi from the late 18th dynasty, about the same period as Tutankhamun, but the archaeologists have not yet had the time or the access to identify them, the archaeologist added. The 18th dynasty ruled Egypt from 1567 BC to 1320 BC, a period during which the country's power reached a peak. The Valley of the Kings in southern Egypt contains the tombs of most of the pharaohs of the time but the archaeologist said the mummies in the newly found tomb need not be royal. "There are lots of non-royal tombs in the valley. It wouldn't be the only one by any means," said the archaeologist, who asked not to be named because the Egyptian authorities are planning a media event at the site on Friday.

This was seized 4 u at Yahoo! News

A day in the life of the chinese internet police

揭秘:看看中国的网络警察每天都在做什么? (图) 天极网
The principal work of the Internet police is to look around the Internet to catch criminals. They monitor the Internet bars, they look for pornographic, reactionary and other harmful material on the Internet and they solve Internet crimes based upon the clues.
There is not the excitement of making arrests, there is no need to carry guns and most of the time, they are in plain clothes looking like intellectuals at scientific research institutes. But their job skills are no less than the crime investigating police officers.

A reporter was elated for a few days about the opportunity of working with the Internet police and here we go:

The reporter began the forst day's work. For starters, the reporter launched a piece of software called "Network Detective" and found a list of Internet bar names. The reporter selected one site at random, and was immediately looking at the records of all the people who were on the Internet at the time. If there is an under-aged person, the interactive box at the bottom will indicate it. The Internet police will contact the Internet bar immediately or notify the appropriate department to check.
So that was how the morning passed by. A site was selected and checked; then another site was selected and checked but the warning box at the bottom of the screen never showed anything.
In order to be able to bring back some "work results" to the newspaper office, the reporter returned in the afternoon to look at web pages for harmful information.
This was easy because it was just like surfing the Internet, right? The reporter opened the page and followed the specified rules to look at all the items on the page. If there are no problems, then the reporter moved to the next page. For several hours, it was opening pages, looking at them, closing them, repeatedly again and again for goodness knows how many times.
The reporter kept hoping to find some problems during the work. In the end, the reporter felt that the letters on the computer monitor screen were dancing in the eyes and could not be seen clearly. Still, no problems had been found. Ma Xiaoting told the reporter that the Internet police search for harmful information at least four hours a day. She comforted the reporter: "Usually, we don't find anything all day. If we find problems every day, then the crime level on the Internet is too much." When the reporter thought about it, it seemed clear that the reporter's actual work experience would bring no real results. Originally, the reporter thought that Internet police work was relaxed and simple. It was just like searching for information on the Internet, and there may be some interesting stuff occasionally! After this experience, the reporter realized how boring and unexciting their work was. The reporter began to wonder: How can this experience be considered "fun-filled"?
After a few hours without finding any harmful information, the reporter had tears in the eyes (caused by staring at the computer monitor screen for a long period of time), and the reporter began to curse the editor for assigning this tough assignment.When the hostess saw the angry look, she quickly offered comfort that sometimes nothing happens for a few days in a row. When the reporter heard that, it felt better.

Read the full story on ZonaEuropa.
This was seized 4 u at Zonaeuropa & Wenxuecity

Lighting the way to a revolution

The information superhighway owes its very existence to fibre optics.
With a very thin tube, light and some engineering know-how you have the components for speeding information around the world. The communication revolution was set in motion 40 years ago, when a landmark paper was revealed to the engineering community. In 1966, Dr Charles Kuen Kao and George Hockham, both young research engineers from the Standard Telecommunications Laboratories, addressed a meeting at the Institute of Electrical Engineers in London with their exciting new findings on the possibilities of optical fibres. Optical fibres are transparent rods of glass or plastic stretched until they are extremely long, flexible and thinner than a human hair.

Escaping light

They carry information using a process called total internal reflection. A message is turned into light pulses, which then travel along the fibre, bouncing through the tube at such an angle that hardly any light is lost to processes such as refraction. This means that the light ray, and therefore the message, can arrive in their entirety at the other end of the fibre. Before 1966, the use of fibre optics for communication was extremely limited. Messages could only travel for a few metres before light began to be lost from the fibre, a process called attenuation which is measured in decibels per kilometre, where the loss of one decibel means a fall of about 20% of the signal strength. This made them unsuitable for communication over long distances, but Kao and Hockham's paper was to transform this perception.
This was seized 4 u at BBC News

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Space Rock Re-opens Mars Debate

A carbon-rich substance found filling tiny cracks within a Martian meteorite could boost the idea that life once existed on the Red Planet. The material resembles that found in fractures, or "veins", apparently etched by microbes in volcanic glass from the Earth's ocean floor. Details will be presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas, next month. All the processes of life on Earth are based on the element carbon. Proving carbon in Martian meteorites is indigenous - and not contamination from Earth - is crucial to the question of whether life once arose on the Red Planet.

This was seized 4 u at BBC News

Difference Engine Made from Legos

An enterprising hacker has created a working "difference engine" -- a mechanical calculator first attempted in 19th Century by Charles Babbage -- out of legos. The difference engine was immortalized in the William Gibson/Bruce Sterling collaboration of the same name, and it's a perpetual source of hacker fascination (Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter, financed the project and invented the idea of software for it because she was interested in handicapping horse races). Though Babbage was never able to get his design working, London's science museum did build a Babbage Engine that worked, thanks to the greater precision of twentieth-century machining techniques.

This was seized 4 u at boingboing

CEO Interview: Jon S. von Tetzchner of Opera Software

Check out a fairly interesting interview with Jon Von Tetzchner, CEO of Opera. With so much hype about Firefox lately, it is good to hear a detailed discussion from Opera's CEO.


This was seized 4 u at

T. Rex gets a father figure

Ask any dinner-party palaeontologist and they'll tell you that, despite its star turn in Jurassic Park, Tyrannosaurus rex didn't live in the Jurassic period. But now a team in China has found a tyrannousaur that did, and it gives us valuable clues about the rise of this clan of prehistoric predators.
The new species, found in Xinjiang province in northwestern China, lived around 160 million years ago. This makes it more than twice as old as T. rex, and the most primitive known member of the family.At just 3 metres long, the creature is a small relative of T. rex, which could reach a mighty 13 metres. But its gaping, beak-like face armed with teeth, and its powerful legs, show that it too would have been a ferocious killer.The dinosaur's discoverers, led by Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, have named it Guanlong wucaii - meaning 'crested dragon from the five colours'. The name comes from the huge nasal crest on the creature's head, and the fact that it was found in a region of China characterized by many-coloured rocks.
Dinosaur specimens of this vintage are rare, says Mark Norell, who is based at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and is part of the team who studied the find. Most other Jurassic dinosaur fossils have been unearthed in the Americas. "This fills in a big blank about tyrannosaurs," he says. "With samples from only one continent, you don't have a good picture."The presence of a nasal crest is particularly interesting, says Norell, because it is so similar to the head ornaments carried by many of today's birds. Both birds and carnivorous dinosaurs such as tyrannosaurs belong to the evolutionary family known as the theropods.
The crest of G. wucaii probably functioned as a signal, either to attract potential mates or for species recognition. "It would not have been used for fighting - it would have been paper-thin," Norell says.If it was a sexual ornament, it might imply that this individual was a male. But if it was for species recognition, that would leave the dinosaur's sex in the balance, and determining sex using bones alone is tricky. "That's still a long way ahead," says Norell.
This was seized 4 u at Nature & Newsvine

The cutest new discovered species

The golden-mantled tree kangaroo is just one of dozens of species discovered in late 2005 by a team of Indonesian, Australian, and U.S. scientists on the island of New Guinea.

The animal is the rarest arboreal, jungle-dwelling kangaroo in the world, the researchers say. This was the first time the mammal was found in Indonesia, making it only the second site in the world where the species is known to exist.

The kangaroo was discovered on an expedition in the Foja Mountains of Indonesia.
Please read the full article at National Geographic News.

This was seized 4 u at National Geographic

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Shouldn't there be life on Mars?

One of the paradoxes of recent explorations of the Martian surface is that the more we see of the planet, the more it looks like Earth, despite a very big difference: Complex life forms have existed for billions of years on Earth, while Mars never saw life bigger than a microbe, if that.

Hills in Chile and on Mars
Two hillslopes in the Atacama Desert of Chile – one of bedrock (A) and the other covered with soil (B) – look amazingly like the Columbia Hills on Mars (C) once the yellowish grey Martian sky has been artificially colored blue and the red color of the rocks has been removed. (Mars image, acquired by the rover Spirit, courtesy of NASA/JPL/Cornell University

"The rounded hills, meandering stream channels, deltas and alluvial fans are all shockingly familiar," said William E. Dietrich, professor of earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley. "This caused us to ask: Can we tell from topography alone, and in the absence of the obvious influence of humans, that life pervades the Earth? Does life matter?"
In a paper published in the Jan. 26 issue of the journal Nature, Dietrich and graduate student J. Taylor Perron reported, to their surprise, no distinct signature of life in the landforms of Earth. "Despite the profound influence of biota on erosion processes and landscape evolution, surprisingly,…there are no landforms that can exist only in the presence of life and, thus, an abiotic Earth probably would present no unfamiliar landscapes," said Dietrich. Instead, Dietrich and Perron propose that life - everything from the lowest plants to large grazing animals - creates a subtle effect on the land not obvious to the casual eye: more of the "beautiful, rounded hills" typical of Earth's vegetated areas, and fewer sharp, rocky ridges. "Rounded hills are the purest expression of life's influence on geomorphology," Dietrich said. "If we could walk across an Earth on which life has been eliminated, we would still see rounded hills, steep bedrock mountains, meandering rivers, etc., but their relative frequency would be different."
When a NASA scientist acknowledged to Dietrich a few years ago that he saw nothing in the Martian landscape that didn't have a parallel on Earth, Dietrich began thinking about what effects life does have on landforms and whether there is anything distinctive about the topography of planets with life, versus those without life.
"One of the least known things about our planet is how the atmosphere, the lithosphere and the oceans interact with life to create landforms," said Dietrich, a geomorphologist who for more than 33 years has studied the Earth's erosional processes. "A review of recent research in Earth history leads us to suggest that life may have strongly contributed to the development of the great glacial cycles, and even influenced the evolution of plate tectonics."

Gabilan Mesa of central California
A perspective view of the Gabilan Mesa of central California, derived from a high-resolution laser altimetry map. Such distinct, periodically spaced ridges and valleys result from erosional processes that are strongly influenced by biota. Nonetheless, no unique topographic signature of life on Earth has yet been found.

One of the main effects of life on the landscape is erosion, he noted. Vegetation tends to protect hills from erosion: Landslides often occur in the first rains following a fire. But vegetation also speeds erosion by breaking up the rock into smaller pieces. "Everywhere you look, biotic activity is causing sediment to move down hill, and most of that sediment is created by life," he said. "Tree roots, gophers and wombats all dig into the soil and raise it, tearing up the underlying bedrock and turning it into rubble that tumbles downhill." Because the shape of the land in many locations is a balance between river erosion, which tends to cut steeply into a slope's bedrock, and the biotically-driven spreading of soil downslope, which tends to round off the sharp edges, Dietrich and Perron thought that rounded hills would be a signature of life. This proved to be untrue, however, as their colleague Ron Amundson and graduate student Justine Owen, both of the campus's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, discovered in the lifeless Atacama Desert in Chile, where rounded hills covered with soil are produced by salt weathering from the nearby ocean. "There are other things on Mars, such as freeze-thaw activity, that can break rock" to create the rounded hills seen in photos taken by NASA's rovers, Perron said. They also looked at river meanders, which on Earth are influenced by streamside vegetation. But Mars shows meanders, too, and studies on Earth have shown that rivers cut into bedrock or frozen ground can create meanders identical to those created by vegetation.
The steepness of river courses might be a signature, too, they thought: Coarser, less weathered sediment would erode into the streams, causing the river to steepen and the ridges to become higher. But this also is seen in Earth's mountains. "It's not hard to argue that vegetation affects the pattern of rainfall and, recently, it has been shown that rainfall patterns affect the height, width and symmetry of mountains, but this would not produce a unique landform," Dietrich said. "Without life, there would still be asymmetric mountains."
Their conclusion, that the relative frequency of rounded versus angular landforms would change depending on the presence of life, won't be testable until elevation maps of the surfaces of other planets are available at resolutions of a few meters or less. "Some of the most salient differences between landscapes with and without life are caused by processes that operate at small scales," Perron said. Dietrich noted that limited areas of Mars' surface have been mapped at two-meter resolution, which is better than most maps of the Earth. He is one of the leaders of a National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported project to map in high resolution the surface of the Earth using LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) technology. Dietrich co-founded the National Center of Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM), a joint project between UC Berkeley and the University of Florida to conduct LIDAR mapping showing not only the tops of vegetation, but also the bare ground as if denuded of vegetation. The research by Dietrich and Perron was funded by NSF's National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program and NASA's Astrobiology Institute.

This was seized 4 u at Berkeley news and was written by Robert Sanders

Dance The Robot

The following is seized as a whole from The Age and is written by by Penelope Debelle:

GONE are the twirling aerial ropes that became something of a 1990s signature for the Adelaide-based Australian Dance Theatre. Enter the robots, towering, ambulatory, geometric structures that cross art deco with Lego, or smaller, silvery creatures that swarm across the stage with bunched spidery legs. They perform as equal partners with the ADT at the Adelaide Festival of Arts in March, separately or strapped to the dancers' bodies like mutated insect prosthetics.
ADT artistic director Garry Stewart and his Devolution collaborator,
French-Canadian Louis-Philippe Demers, have rejected the Hollywood cliche of "man versus machines" with its vision of the tiny human dancer paling before the brutal machine. "Our dancers are quite violent," Stewart says. "Their vocabulary is the antithesis of that kind of beauty and lyricism, so, in many ways, the movement of the dancers has referenced the angularity and staccato rhythms of the machinery - not that I've got the dancers getting around on-stage looking like machines. But we have tried to create a choreographic connection between the machinery and the dancers."
The band of robots built for this world premiere season are in no way humanoid.
"They are not becoming more like people. In fact, I don't see the point in this," Demers says of his robots. "I try to stick always to something that looks formal, abstract or geometrically based, but when they start moving, they become quite organic. It's like challenging a bit of the notion of the living and non-living organism."
Devolution is among the world's first major collaborations between dancers and robots and is the culmination of an idea Stewart had when he saw Demers' robotics in Europe. Demers, who has created more than 175 machines, is a freelance designer who specialises in machines as media. Based in Germany, he has staged numerous European installations and robot performances and, last year, did an operetta in Lille, mixing live music with abstract robotic angels and devils. He has integrated a robot into a dance performance before, but never collaborated in work where robots and dancers move together. The software is complex and tedious to construct yet the machines, at times, mimic the organic movement of humans.
Some of them are among the biggest Demers has had to construct and have enormous stage presence, moving precariously in a way that is intimidating. "It's always recorded as a violent act," Demers says of the impact of a large or noisy machine. "When you start your blender at home, you always step aside. There is something about these objects - you anthropomorphise the action."
Instead of conflict and battle, Stewart has built a work around ecosystems, evolution and mutation and depicts his dancers as creatures, not unlike the machines. While the dancers become dehumanised, Demers' robots recreate biology through organic movement, narrowing the divide.Stewart says the comparison is interesting and real: many people working in robotics see humans as incredibly complex machines operated by computers so wondrous they have simply created an illusion of consciousness that we define as human."They see it as just a degree of complexity," Stewart says. "So there is this interesting interplay between the simple technology of the robotics in the work, and the complexity of the human body as a machine."Like Stewart, Demers, who has been working in Adelaide since December to build his robot ensemble, wants to suggest life as a mechanical construction as much as an organic one."The machines are so stereotyped, so loaded by science fiction, but these are really abstract, moving shapes," Demers says. "It's more like challenging the notion of what is life, rather than just saying 'man versus machine'.".Stewart, who says his dancers are passionate about working with the robots, is amazed at how simple machines can elicit such powerful emotions from an audience."As soon as we see these machines we register a veil of consciousness that obviously isn't there," he says. "Then, when you have the machines on stage in relation to fully fleshed human beings, this very strange tension and narrative takes place."
This wasseized 4 u at The Age and was written by Penelope Debelle

Monday, February 06, 2006

Great project - bad communication (or just a moron that just doesn't want to understand)?

Scanning through my usual webplaces I came across an article by Roland Piquepaille at "Emerging Technology Trends". Its about another interesting EU-funded project called VIKEF which means "Virtual Information and Knowledge Environment Framework". Thats my thing - sounds like a great project and I read this posting in order to get an overview but was wondering why the heck it dispite of my positive intention kept non-understandable for me?
After scanning the
VIKEF website I began to realise why. The following is the key message about the project:
"VIKEF bridges the gap between the partly implicit knowledge and information conveyed in scientific and business content resources (e.g. text, speech, images) and the explicit representation of knowledge required for a targeted and effective access, dissemination, sharing, use, and annotation of ICK resources by scientific and business communities and their information- and knowledge-based work processes. R&D; within VIKEF builds on and significantly extends the current Semantic Web efforts by addressing crucial operationalisation and application challenges in building up real-world semantically enriched virtual information and knowledge environments. VIKEF tackles challenges like:
• How to (semi-)automatically build up the tailored ontologies required for semantic annotation from textual and multimedia application content
• How to efficiently link vast amounts of ICK resources to these ontologies
• How to reuse this semantic information to gain added value within KVC applications
• How to consistently handle content-, community, and domain-driven evolution in such environments"

Yes, Roland Piquepaille did in fact a decent job making this project interesting for the masses ;-)
but I am still lost. Does anybody care and makes this project understandable for me?

This was seized 4 u at Emerging Technology Trends & VIKEF

30 Boxes - The new killer application (or just another webcalendar)

The new calendar 30 Boxes with the motto "It's Your Life" has been released to public beta today. For many reasons the calendar marked seems to be the most (over)crowded target for many new "Web2.0" applications and only a few of them will survive. The question is whether 30 Boxes has what it takes. It seems to have the ingredients to make it to the top within this market. The developers seem quite enthusiastic, their is a broad "undergroundish" fan base and the first public beta is really impressive. I have written a rather critical article about the Spongecell calendar and 30 Boxes is in fact very similar to Spongecell, it even lacks some of the core functionalities like the ability to import a calendar & the drag & drop features. But 30 Boxes also has some unique extras with the ability to share and to integrate rss feeds etc.
The major shortcomings for me are the missing import functions, subscription & email notification (which is a "No Go" for me) but I am sure that this one will improve rapidly.
Why? - I don't know why ;-)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

CoComment - Tracking all your comments

I did stumble over this new webservice at TechCrunch went curious and checked the info page from CoComment. I believe that they have a really great idea, whether it works for me is the other question which I first will be able to answer upon when it is possible to use this service. Right know it is in "beta"-mode and allows only "friends" (which I am apparrently not ;-)) to participate.
This is from the "How does it work" section of CoComment:
When you become a member of coComment, you'll install a simple bookmarklet on your browser. Whenever you make comments on another blog, you'll do so using this bookmarklet. Using coComment allow for 3 things:CaptureFirst, when you sign into your account on the coComment home page, you'll be taken to "your conversations". In other words, you don't have to have your own blog to benefit from the coComment service! In "your conversations", you'll find a centralized list of all the comments you've made on other people's blogs, with a link back to the original blog where you made the comment. Additionally, you'll find all comments posted by other coComment members which are related to your original comment - creating a flowing conversation.
How do we do this? Essentially, when you and other coComment users use the coComment bookmarklet to make a comment, the coComment service makes a duplicate of that comment. This copy of your comments, and all related comments from other users, are then automatically displayed in "your comments" on the coComment service. ShareSecond, if you have your own blog, you'll be able to display a window on your blog called your "blogbox", which is basically a miniature copy of "your conversations" right on your blog. This is not only convenient for you - as you won't have to go to coComment's web page to view your conversations, but also brings the value of your comments on other's blogs back to you and your blog. And lastly, it allows readers of your blog to see your comments, conversations and topics of interest from within your blog.AlertAs an added bonus, the comment stream generated by your conversations will be available to you not only in your blog box, but also as an RSS feed, so you can track your conversations on your favorite RSS reader, along with all your other regularly updated information. And keep your eyes on coComment for future alert services already in the works - such as SMS, IM and email alerts!
This was seized 4 u at CoComment & TechCrunch

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Skype's VOIP share is shrinking dramatically

One year ago Skype hade a market share of 90% of all VoIP minutes in Europe which according to a study has cut 50%. This study conducted in November and December 2005 is made by Sandvine. The data highlighted the VoIP traffic trends of more than 700,000 broadband households from a group of service providers with over 6 million subscribers. In Europe, service provider-branded VoIP now represents 51.2% of all VoIP minutes, while Skype follows closely behind with 45% of all VoIP minutes. Vonage takes less than 1% share while other third-party VoIP providers represent 3.5% of all minutes. In North America, broadband providers that have rolled out network-wide VoIP deployments are now capturing an average of 81.8% of the VoIP minutes on their own networks. In contrast, the market share in minutes for third-party VoIP providers like Vonage and Skype is 12.9% in such competitive environments. The study indicated that North American service provider-branded VoIP represents 53% of all VoIP minutes on broadband networks. Vonage, with 21.7% share of North American minutes and Skype, with a 14.4% share were the leading third-party providers. All other third-party VoIP providers captured the remaining 10.9% share of minutes. "Broadband provider-branded VoIP is, and will continue to be a key factor in driving revenue growth and triple-play success for service providers," said Boyd Peterson, Senior Vice Presiden Media Research, Yankee Group. “Consumers are clearly embracing the VoIP products offered by broadband service providers in Europe and North America,” said Tom Donnelly, executive VP, marketing and sales for Sandvine.
This was seized 4 u at Sandvine

Friday, February 03, 2006

Accidents on the job bring fame

For more than 40 years, Swiss police photographer Arnold Odermatt documented the minor and major tragedies in his home canton. After he retired, his photographs of accidents became famous – much to his own amazement. In 1948, when Arnold Odermatt began to work for the police in his home canton of Nidwalden, he had not the slightest inkling that decades later his photographs would be traded at international art fairs and auctions. In fact, the young police officer, born in 1925, had great difficulty convincing his colleagues to accept the idea of photographing accidents. In the early 1950s it was not customary practice in the Nidwalden canton to accept photos as evidence in court – as according to the police, skeptical cantonal councilors, and judges, photographs could be manipulated and for that reason had no place in the police records. Those were the days when nobody spoke of speed limits, radar traps or seat-belt laws – the days when police reports were written by hand and officers learned to draw so that they could make sketches at the scene of the crime. But times change.
Arnold Odermatt had to fight for the special payment of 70 Swiss francs to get a tap in the broom cupboard which he had set up as a darkroom at the Nidwalden police station. But from then on the ice was broken and he was able to work professionally. In addition to the traffic accidents, Odermatt recorded other more mundane aspects of police work: He photographed his colleagues in the office, during training or in their free time mostly in color and in the style of PR images – unspectacular pictures which look as though they have been culled from the local police calendar. Arnold Odermatt’s most famous and beautiful pictures, however, are his “accident photos”: Photographs of collisions of which he recorded about 10,000 in black and white in the course of his 40 years police service. Accident photos as artworks? How terrible ... But Arnold Odermatt’s photographs do not show any victims, there is no sign of blood – the ambulance has long since departed when he pushes the shutter release. There is just one photograph where a young boy lies spread out on the road – according to Odermatt the composition is fake: “The boy was dead keen to lie in the picture.”
Photographs of VW Beetles are prominent among the accident shots.
The body of the Beetle has almost human features: two headlights like glaring eyes, a bumper which appears to grin at the viewer – and naturally the delicate car with its harmonious curves rouses a protective instinct in observers. An example (Buochs, 1965): A Beetle has landed in a lake, badly dented with the passenger door open, the car lies helplessly before a cloudy mountain panorama. On the right edge of the picture a few branches from a weeping willow hang decoratively. The dented VW Beetle pulls at our heartstrings.
Is this a photo for the police files? One may well doubt that all Arnold Odermatt’s photographs fulfill a documentary function and exclusively serve to secure evidence. Odermatt desists
from describing himself as an artist. “A good photograph is in focus, you have to see everything in the picture you want to see,” or so his very down-to-earth credo goes. In terms of sobriety and objectivity a couple of the photographs really do give the impression that their purpose is to augment the police reports. Others, however, especially the “Buochs, 1965” shot with a VW Beetle in the lake – do not appear to be purely a matter of gathering evidence. Here Odermatt has quite obviously focused on the picture composition. It is well known that Arnold Odermatt spent plenty of time deciding where to place his Rolleiflex. Searching for the perfect shot he climbed onto bridges, photographed from house windows, or clambered onto the roof of his VW microvan – too much trouble surely for someone interested only in evidence. Moreover, in addition to the police photo he always took a shot for his own archive.
In 1990, Arnold Odermatt retired. The lieutenant, chief of the traffic police and deputy superintendent of the Nidwalden Police never suspected that he would gain international fame as a documenter of small town Swiss dramas. In the mid-1990s, the photographs were discovered by the art and photography community and were all the talk of the 2001 Venice Biennial. Sales of the photographs surely boosts Arnold Odermatt’s police pension.

This was written by Nicolas Nonnenmacher & seized 4 u at Deutsche Boerse

Thursday, February 02, 2006

'Tenth Planet' found to be a whopper

Are"2003 UB313" and its moon currently nicknamed "Xena" and "Gabrielle" a planet with its moon or just another Kuiper Belt object?
The recently discovered 'tenth planet' of our Solar System is substantially larger than Pluto, astronomers have found. For many, the discovery that object 2003 UB313 is about 3,000 kilometres across will remove any doubt that it deserves to be called a planet. "Since UB313 is decidedly larger than Pluto, it is now increasingly hard to justify calling Pluto a planet if UB313 is not also given this status," says Frank Bertoldi, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy in Bonn, Germany, and part of the team that reveals UB313's size in this week Nature1.
When astronomer Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena unveiled 2003 UB313 to the world in July 2005, his team was already confident that the new object was at least as large as Pluto, and deserved the status of 'planet'. But UB313's elongated orbit takes it almost twice as far away from the Sun as Pluto ever gets, making it very difficult to measure its diameter precisely. One clue to its larger size came from the fact that it is slightly brighter than Pluto; a larger mirror would reflect more of the Sun's light. But an alternative explanation could have been that UB313 is simply made of a more reflective material than Pluto.
Based on its enormous distance from the Sun, UB313 is calculated to be tremendously cold: a staggering -248 °C. Bertoldi and his colleagues combined this value with their measurements of UB313's radiation to determine its reflectivity and size.
Although this first estimate of 3,000 kilometres may be out by as much as 400 kilometres, this still puts UB313 well ahead of 2,300-kilometre-wide Pluto in the size stakes, making it the largest body found in the Solar System since the discovery of Neptune in 1846.
2003 UB313 is not the catchiest name, but unfortunately this temporary designation will have to stick until the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decides whether it is indeed a planet that warrants a name from classical mythology.
Since 1992, more than 1,000 similar, albeit smaller, objects have been found in the region around Pluto known as the Kuiper Belt, and astronomers estimate that there may be more than half a million still waiting to be discovered. As more of these icy remnants from the Solar System's birth turn up, Pluto blends into the crowd and its claim to be a unique planet grows slimmer and slimmer.
Some astronomers argue that Pluto should be stripped of its title, to become a Kuiper Belt Object like its orbital fellows. Others suggest that anything larger than Pluto found in the outskirts of the Solar System should also be called a 'planet', which would include UB313. "I'd prefer to keep Pluto as a planet, for historical reasons," says Bertoldi.
The IAU set up a committee of 19 top astronomers to come up with a workable definition for a planet that would rule UB313 in or out, but in November 2005 the group finally admitted defeat after failing to reach a clear consensus. The IAU has promised action later this year, but Brown is already impatient. "Imagine how you'd feel if your baby didn't have a name for seven months," he says.
This was seized 4 u at Nature by Mark Peplow

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

VideoLAN is seriously threatened by software patents

The popular and probably best OpenSource multimedia player on earth VideoLAN is seriously threatened by software patents due to the numerous patented techniques it implements and uses. Also threatened are the many libraries and projects which VLC is built upon, like FFmpeg, and the other fellow Free And Open Source software multimedia players, which include MPlayer, xine, Freevo, MythTV, gstreamer.
Multimedia is a patent minefield.
All important techniques and formats are covered by broad and trivial patents that are harming progress and alternative implementations, such as free software multimedia players.
The DADVSI (roughly "Author Rights and other Rights in the Information Society") is the French
transcription of the european EUCD (European Union Copyright Directive) text, which itself comes from the american DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act). The main goal of this law is to restrict the rights of digital content purchasers. It most notably forbids them from working around technical content protection measures. Doing so, writing or publishing software allowing to do so, or even merely talking about ways to do so becomes an offence that can be punished with three years in jail.

The french Ministry of Culture has started presenting a new text for this Feburary session. Good news! With the old version, users and developers of VideoLAN could be threatened with 3 years in jail and a 300 000 euros fine. Now, users could only get a small fine (something like 40 euros), and developers would only get one year in jail and a 100 000 euros fine.

The most important parts (mostly about DRM and Peer-To-Peer) will take place in February, so the battle is not over. It is still very important to keep spreading the word about the dangers of this law. Please spread the word. Thanx

The Bush administration let's God fight AIDS

The Bush administration has earmarked $200 million of AIDS funding for "less-experienced groups".

Franklin Graham just got federal AIDS money. His group, Samaritan's purse, has a mission described as "meeting critical needs of victims of war, poverty, famine, disease and natural disaster while sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ." This is the same Franklin Graham who has said about Islam,

The God of Islam is not the same God. He's not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It's a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion.

...Catholic Relief Services, too, have received money, even though they will not "promote, purchase or distribute" condoms...

"The good news about the faith-based groups is not only the passion they bring to the work, but it is the moral authority and the extended numbers of volunteers they can mobilize to get the word out,"

...let's go and tell them what horrible sinners they are, and how they need redemption--not condoms...

Read the whole article at AETIOLOGY

Yahoo’s responsibility towards human rights

The following are exerpts from an Amnesti International article: Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist, is serving a ten-year prison sentence in China for sending an email to the USA. He was accused of “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities” by using his Yahoo email account. According to the court transcript of the evidence that led to Shi Tao’s sentencing, the US internet company Yahoo provided account-holder information on him.
Imprisoned for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, a right entrenched in international law and the Chinese Constitution, Shi Tao is considered a Prisoner of Conscience.
Companies must respect human rights, wherever they operate. Yahoo’s business ethics are becoming questionable due to its role in assisting the Chinese government to sentencing Shi Tao. The company has signed the Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the Internet Industry, effectively agreeing to implement China’s draconian system of censorship and control.Amnesty International has raised its concerns with Yahoo. The company has responded without addressing all the concerns raised.
This was seized 4 u at Amnesti International