Monday, August 31, 2009

Disney to Buy Marvel in $4Bn Deal

Entertainment giant Walt Disney is to buy Marvel Entertainment in a shares and cash deal valued at $4bn (£2.5bn).

The deal means Disney will take over ownership of 5,000 Marvel characters, such as Spider-Man and the X-Men.

Marvel shareholders will get $30 per share in cash plus 0.745 Disney shares for every Marvel share owned.

The boards of Disney and Marvel have both approved the deal, which now needs the backing of Marvel shareholders and competition authorities.

Marvel shares were ahead $10.17, or 26%, to $48.82 shortly after the market opened. Disney shares fell 47 cents, or 1.8%, to $26.37.

'Great assets'

"We believe that adding Marvel to Disney's unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation," Disney president and chief executive Robert Iger said.

"We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney."

Other Marvel's characters include Captain America, the Fantastic Four and Thor.

"Disney is the perfect home for Marvel's fantastic library of characters given its proven ability to expand content creation and licensing businesses," said Marvel chief executive Ike Perlmutter.

"This is an unparalleled opportunity for Marvel to build upon its vibrant brand and character properties by accessing Disney's tremendous global organization and infrastructure around the world," he added.

'Good deal'

Arvind Bhatia, an analyst at Sterne, Agee and Leach, said that the deal appeared to be a "win-win situation for both companies".

"They [Marvel shareholders] are getting a good deal in my opinion. The CEO of the company, Isaac Perlmutter, is also the largest shareholder of the company.

"From that standpoint, we think the chances of this deal going through are pretty high."

Last month, Walt Disney reported a fall in profits of more than a quarter as the downturn hit revenue at its film and theme park divisions.

Net profit between April and June came in at $954m (£579m), down 26% on the $1.28bn the entertainment giant made in the same period last year.

Revenues of $8.6bn were down 7% from the $9.2bn recorded a year before.

A Breathalyzer For Cancer

See also:

Breath test to detect lung cancer

(UKPA) – 14 hours ago

Patients with suspected lung cancer could in future be breathalysed to check if they have the disease.

Scientists have developed a sensor that can quickly detect lung cancer molecules on the breath.

They believe the technology could lead to cheap, portable breath-test devices with the potential to save large numbers of lives by spotting cancer early.

The lung cancer biomarkers were found by comparing breath samples from 40 diagnosed patients and 56 healthy individuals.

From the results, the researchers identified 42 "volatile organic compounds" (VOCs) present in the breath of 83% of cancer patients but fewer than 83% of healthy volunteers.

Four of the most reliable were used to develop a nine-sensor array made from tiny gold particles coated with reactive chemicals sensitive to the compounds.

Exposed to the VOCs, the sensors generated an electrical signal that produced a distinctive trace pattern.

In tests the device easily distinguished simulated "healthy" and "cancerous" breath made from artificial compound mixtures.

The Israeli scientists led by Dr Hossam Haick, from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, outline the research in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

They wrote: "Our results show great promise for fast, easy and cost-effective diagnosis and screening of lung cancer."

Skype virus records voice as mp3 for later use

Skype Trojan can log VoIP conversations
by staff on Aug 31, 2009,skype-trojan-can-log-voip-conversations.aspx

Symantec claims to have found the public release of source code for a Trojan that targets Skype users..

Security giant Symantec claims to have found the public release of source code for a Trojan that targets Skype users.

Trojan.Peskyspy is spyware which records a voice call and stores it as an MP3 file for later transmission.

An infected machine will use the software that handles audio processing within a computer and save the call data as an MP3. The file is then sent over the internet to a predefined server where the attacker can listen to the recorded conversations.

Since the call is an MP3 it does not take up too much space, and means that transfer speeds are lower.

Symantec admits that the threat risk is low at the moment but that, since the code is publicly available, malware authors are likely to use it as part of a customised snooping package.

The downside for the malware creators is that they would need a lot of time on their hands to go through hours of Skype audio files to find anything of monetary interest.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Neural response to electrical currents isn't localized, as previously believed

First look at stimulated brain unlocks secrets
August 26, 2009
Veronica Meade-Kelly
Harvard Medical School

For more than a century, scientists have been using electrical stimulation to explore and treat the human brain. The technique has helped identify regions responsible for specific neural functions — for instance, the motor cortex and pleasure center — and has been used to treat a variety of conditions from Parkinson's disease to depression. Yet no one has been able to see what actually happens at the cellular level when the brain is electrically prodded.

Now, with the aid of optical imaging technology, researchers in the lab of Harvard Medical School (HMS) neurobiology professor Clay Reid have taken the first look at this process. They found that the neural response to electrical currents isn't localized, as some had previously thought. That is, not all neurons immediately surrounding an electrode fire when a charge is delivered. Rather, a scattered and widely distributed set of neurons switch on. These findings, which will appear in tomorrow's edition of the journal Neuron, may end a longstanding debate about how neurons react to electrical stimulation.

Traditionally, observing neurons during electrical stimulation has been problematic. First author Mark Histed, a postdoctoral fellow in Reid’s lab, explains, "When you are stimulating electrically you are using relatively high voltages, and those high voltages make it almost impossible to record the very small currents that neurons produce."

To sidestep this obstacle, Histed, Reid, and postdoctoral fellow Vincent Bonin used a relatively new form of optical imaging called two-photon microscopy. The technique allowed them to track calcium levels in the neurons of mice as they were being exposed to electrical stimulation. When calcium levels increased, a chemical that had been introduced into the tissue brightened. Since calcium levels spike every time a neuron fires, the team could literally see the neurons flash each time they were activated. More importantly, they could monitor which neurons were being triggered.

According to Histed, these findings run counter to a long-standing hypothesis. "One prior theory was that at low currents, the neurons in a tiny ball around the electrode would activate, and if you increased the current, a larger ball would activate, but you would still only activate cells within that ball. What we showed was that, even at the lowest currents, you have cells very far away that are activated, so it’s not just a tiny ball around the electrode tip that increases in size, but instead a very large, sparse pattern that fills in as the current is increased."

The researchers suspect that this sparsely distributed activation pattern results because it’s really the axons — the long, thin fibers that transmit electrical signals in the nerve cells — that are being stimulated, not the cell bodies. To prove this, they moved the electrode tip 10 microns from the site of their first stimulations. That's a distance smaller than the width of just one nerve cell. Reid says, "You might guess that the same neurons would light up. But, in fact, the same number of neurons lit up, but they were entirely different neurons, and that really proved to us the hypothesis that we’re exciting just a tiny little ball of neural processes, not neurons. We think we’re exciting the axons in that 10 micron sphere."

Histed compares the neural mass to a box of unwound yo-yos. If you stick a pencil into that box, the tip of the pencil would touch only a few strings. Follow those strings all the way to their respective disks, and you would be "activating" only a few scattered yo-yos within the knotted heap. Move the pencil tip just a quarter of an inch, and it touches a completely different group of strings, leading to an entirely different set of bodies.

The researchers believe that this study establishes optical imaging as a vital tool for any scientific and clinical research that involves electrical brain stimulation. Reid hopes that it will also "be very important in understanding, rationalizing, and designing neural prostheses." Such prostheses are already being used to cure deafness and to treat movement disorders, and Reid's lab has itself conducted research into the use of electrical stimulation to restore vision. This study, by shedding light on how electrical stimulation acts on the brain at the cellular level, could lead to the reinterpretation and refinement of earlier research in the field, and may help guide experiments.

This work was supported by National Institutes of Health grants and by Microsoft Research.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

China admits death row organ use

China is trying to move away from the use of executed prisoners as the major source of organs for transplants.

According to the China Daily newspaper, executed prisoners currently provide two-thirds of all transplant organs.

The government is now launching a voluntary donation scheme, which it hopes will also curb the illegal trafficking in organs.

But analysts say cultural bias against removing organs after death will make a voluntary scheme hard to implement.

Thriving black market

About 1.5 million people in China need transplants, but only about 10,000 operations are performed annually, according to the health ministry.

The scarcity of available organs has led to a thriving black market in trafficked organs, and in an effort to stop this the government passed a law in 2007 banning trafficking as well as the donation of organs to unrelated recipients.

But in practice, illegal transplants - some from living donors - are still frequently reported by the media and the Ministry of Health.

Human rights groups have often criticised China for its lack of transparency over organ donation, but critics have focused particular concern on the use of body parts from executed prisoners.

In a rare admission of the extent to which this takes place, China Daily - citing unnamed experts - said on Wednesday that more than 65% of organ donations come from death row prisoners.

China executes more people than any other country. Amnesty International said at least 1,718 people were given the death penalty in 2008.

The China Daily quoted Vice-Health Minister Huang Jiefu as saying that condemned prisoners were "definitely not a proper source for organ transplants".

The new scheme is therefore designed to reduce the reliance on death row inmates, as well as regulating the industry by combating the illegal trafficking of organs.

The system will be piloted in 10 provinces and cities, and a fund will be started to provide financial aid to donors' families.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Device Lets the Blind "See" with Their Tongues

Neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita hypothesized in the 1960s that "we see with our brains not our eyes." Now, a new device trades on that thinking and aims to partially restore the experience of vision for the blind and visually impaired by relying on the nerves on the tongue's surface to send light signals to the brain.

Legal blindness is defined by U.S. law as vision that is 20/200 or worse, or has a field of view that is less than 20 degrees in diameter. The condition afflicts more than one million Americans over the age of 40, according to the National Institutes of Health. Adult vision loss costs the country about $51.4 billion per year.

About two million optic nerves are required to transmit visual signals from the retina—the portion of the eye where light information is decoded or translated into nerve pulses—to the brain's primary visual cortex. With BrainPort, the device being developed by neuroscientists at Middleton, Wisc.–based Wicab, Inc. (a company co-founded by the late Back-y-Rita), visual data are collected through a small digital video camera about 1.5 centimeters in diameter that sits in the center of a pair of sunglasses worn by the user. Bypassing the eyes, the data are transmitted to a handheld base unit, which is a little larger than a cell phone. This unit houses such features as zoom control, light settings and shock intensity levels as well as a central processing unit (CPU), which converts the digital signal into electrical pulses—replacing the function of the retina.

From the CPU, the signals are sent to the tongue via a "lollipop," an electrode array about nine square centimeters that sits directly on the tongue. Each electrode corresponds to a set of pixels. White pixels yield a strong electrical pulse, whereas black pixels translate into no signal. Densely packed nerves at the tongue surface receive the incoming electrical signals, which feel a little like Pop Rocks or champagne bubbles to the user.

It remains unclear whether the information is then transferred to the brain's visual cortex, where sight information is normally sent, or to its somatosensory cortex, where touch data from the tongue is interpreted, Wicab neuroscientist Aimee Arnoldussen says. "We don't know with certainty," she adds.

Like learning to ride a bike
In any case, within 15 minutes of using the device, blind people can begin interpreting spatial information via the BrainPort, says William Seiple, research director at the nonprofit vision healthcare and research organization Lighthouse International. The electrodes spatially correlate with the pixels so that if the camera detects light fixtures in the middle of a dark hallway, electrical stimulations will occur along the center of the tongue.

"It becomes a task of learning, no different than learning to ride a bike," Arnoldussen says, adding that the "process is similar to how a baby learns to see. Things may be strange at first, but over time they become familiar."

Seiple works with four patients who train with the BrainPort once a week and notes that his patients have learned how to quickly find doorways and elevator buttons, read letters and numbers, and pick out cups and forks at the dinner table without having to fumble around. "At first, I was amazed at what the device could do," he said. "One guy started to cry when he saw his first letter."

Wicab will submit BrainPort to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval at the end of the month, says Robert Beckman, president and chief executive officer of the company. He notes that the device could be approved for market by the end of 2009 at a cost of about $10,000 per machine.

The challenge of rechecking vision
Wicab is working with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's UPMC Eye Center for further testing on BrainPort. Optometrist Amy Nau will test it, along with other artificial devices such as retinal and cortical implant chips, in order to develop criteria for monitoring the progress of artificial sight.

"We can't just throw up an eye chart. We have to take a step back and describe the rudimentary precepts that these people are getting," Nau says. "The images are in black and white, pixilated. How do you recheck vision?"

Nau is particularly interested in the BrainPort because it is non-invasive, unlike implants.

The key to the device may be its utilization of the tongue, which seems to be an ideal organ for sensing electrical current. Saliva there functions as a good conductor, Seiple said. Also it might help that the tongue's nerve fibers are densely packaged and that these fibers are closer to the tongue's surface relative to other touch organs. (The surfaces of fingers, for example, are covered with a layer of dead cells called stratum corneum.)

"Many people who have acquired blindness are desperate to get their vision back," Nau says. Although sensory substitution techniques cannot fully restore sight, they do provide the information necessary for spatial orientation. Along with the blind, the BrainPort could help people with visual defects such as glaucoma, which leads to the loss of peripheral vision, and macular degeneration, which degrades sight at the center of the visual field.

Fully functional bioengineered tooth replacement as an organ replacement therapy

"The researchers at the Tokyo University of Science created a set of cells that contained genetic instructions to build a tooth, and then implanted this 'tooth germ' into the mouse's empty tooth socket. The tooth grew out of the socket and through the gums, as a natural tooth would. Once the engineered tooth matured, after 11 weeks, it had a similar shape, hardness and response to pain or stress as a natural tooth, and worked equally well for chewing. The researchers suggested that using similar techniques in humans could restore function to patients with organ failure."

Article here:

Abstract here:

Friday, August 21, 2009

The world's first battery fuelled by air

After reading about the volatility of the lithium ion batteries used in many cell phones, ipods, and eventually slated to replace batteries in hybrid/electric cars, I am encouraged and hopeful that the air battery may offer a fantastic alternative - in addition to the obvious advantage of running on air...

The world's first battery fuelled by air - with 10 times the storage capacity of conventional cells - has been unveiled.

Published: 8:19AM BST 20 May 2009
Scientists say the revolutionary 'STAIR' (St Andrews Air) battery could now pave the way for a new generation of electric cars, laptops and mobile phones.
The cells are charged in a traditional way but as power is used or 'discharged' an open mesh section of battery draws in oxygen from the surrounding air.

This oxygen reacts with a porous carbon component inside the battery, which creates more energy and helps to continually 'charge' the cell as it is being discharged.
By replacing the traditional chemical constituent, lithium cobalt oxide, with porous carbon and oxygen drawn from the air, the cell is much lighter than current batteries.
And as the cycle of air helps re-charge the battery as it is used, it has a greater storage capacity than other similar-sized cells and can emit power up to 10 times longer.
Professor Peter Bruce of the Chemistry Department at the University of St Andrews, said: "The benefits are it's much smaller and lighter so better for transporting small applications.
"The size is also crucial for anyone trying to develop electric cars as they want to keep weight down as much as possible.
"Storage is also important in the development of green power. You need to store electricity because wind and solar power is intermittent."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

World's Only Diesel-Electric Honda Insight

Jake Staub writes "Just replaced the gasoline engine in a Honda Insight with a Diesel engine. On a 3,000 mile cross-country shakedown journey the car averaged 92mpg over 1,800 miles. Around a very hilly town in Northwest Washington, the car is averaging 78mpg. These mileage averages are without the electric side of the vehicle fully functional. With a bit more tinkering on the electric side and through a slight gearing change through tire size, it is anticipated that the car will likely average 100mpg. The build for the car has been documented on the web site and is as close to open source as my time allows. The car was built by two guys in a garage in Southern Maryland. If we can do it I don't see any reason why major auto manufacturers can't do it since we used their parts."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

School Uniform To Block Cell Phone Emissions

Belarus develops school uniform that makes tin foil hats obsolete
Thu, 08/13/2009 - 3:31pm
It's not often that my native country of Belarus scores points for cutting-edge science and innovation, but this announcement (only available in Russian) makes up for the gap. In short, a Belarusian textile company has developed a special school uniform that protects kids from... electromagnetic radiation emanating from their cellphones! The uniform features a dedicated pocket that can store the phone and make it safe for those who wear it.

Now, despite all the supposed absurdity of this approach, I wouldn't necessarily bet on this being a failure. Chances are some bureaucrats will actually like the idea (the news was actually delivered by a Ministry of Trade official). It seems to me that this would work if every single schoolchild wears the same uniform. Otherwise, what's the point of having this magic pocket, if your deskmate stores his gadgets in his pants pockets, exposing you to radiation anyway?

Their fashion sense notwithstanding, at least the Belarusians are not banning cellphones in schools. That's how Tajikistan, for example, decided to handle the cellphone problem (check out the original Reuters story:"Offenders, including those who carry phones without using them, will be fined")...So I take it that the introduction latest uniforms (undoubtedly inspired by the urban legends around tin foil hats) reveasl Belarusian government's ambivalence about technology: they know it's good, but they still need to be paternalistic about it :-)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gene Therapy Causes Blind Woman To Grow New Fovea

Twelve months after receiving an experimental gene therapy for a rare, inherited form of blindness, a patient discovered that she could read an illuminated clock in the family car for the first time in her life. The unexpected findings suggest that the brain can adapt to new sensory capacity, even in people who have been blind since birth.
Correcting vision: To deliver the corrective gene to the eye, surgeons cut the vitreous gel of the eye and then inject a virus loaded with corrective genes underneath the retina (a model of the eye is shown here).
Credit: Sarah Kiewel/University of Florida

The patient, who remains anonymous, suffers from a disease called Leber congenital amaurosis, in which an abnormal protein in sufferers' photoreceptors severely impairs their sensitivity to light. "It's like wearing several pairs of sunglasses in a dark room," says Artur Cideciyan, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who oversaw the trial.

At the start of the study, physicians injected a gene encoding a functional copy of the protein into a small part of one eye--about eight-to-nine millimeters in diameter--of three patients, all in their twenties and blind since birth. In preliminary results published last year, Cideciyan and colleagues found that all three patients showed substantial improvements in their ability to detect light three months after treatment.

The researchers have now published new results of the study in the journal Human Gene Therapy, showing that these improvements remained stable after one year. And in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, they describe surprising gains in one patient's vision. "It was unexpected because the major improvement of vision had occurred within weeks after the treatment," says Cideciyan.

Probing further, the researchers found that the patient appeared to be using the treated part of her eye like a second fovea--the part of the retina that is most densely populated with photoreceptors and is typically used for detailed vision, such as reading. The patient could detect dimmer light using the treated region than she could with her natural fovea. "We realized she was slowly adapting to her newfound vision by subconsciously focusing her attention to the treated area as opposed to the untreated central fovea," says Cideciyan. "It suggests that there is a plasticity, an ability to adapt in the adult visual brain."

"It's very encouraging," says Kang Zhang, an ophthalmologist and director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the study. "The formation of almost another vision center has implications as we go forward for patients with congenital blindness. They might not be able to use their normal fovea, but they might be able to develop a new center of vision."

Researchers now plan to study other patients in the trial to determine if they have experienced similar improvements. They also hope to figure out how to accelerate these gains, perhaps by using visual training targeted to the area treated with gene therapy.

The scientists also say that the fact that patients' visual improvements held for a year after injection is promising. "It means that for congenital or childhood blindness," says Zhang, "there is the potential to at least stabilize, if not improve, visual function."

Chinese Clinic Uses DNA Tests To Predict Kids' Talents

CHONGQING, China (CNN) -- At the Chongqing Children's Palace, experts are hoping to revolutionize child-rearing with the help of science. About 30 children aged 3 to 12 years old and their parents are participating in a new program that uses DNA testing to identify genetic gifts and predict the future.
For about $880, Chinese parents can sign their kids up for the test and five days of camp.

For about $880, Chinese parents can sign their kids up for the test and five days of camp.
more photos »

When Director Zhao Mingyou first heard about the technology earlier this year, he instantly knew it could be a success in China.

"Nowadays, competition in the world is about who has the most talent," said Zhao. "We can give Chinese children an effective, scientific plan at an early age."

The test is conducted by the Shanghai Biochip Corporation. Scientists claim a simple saliva swab collects as many as 10,000 cells that enable them to isolate eleven different genes. By taking a closer look at the genetic codes, they say they can extract information about a child's IQ, emotional control, focus, memory, athletic ability and more.

"For basketball, we can test for height and other factors," said Dr. Huang Xinhua, a leading scientist on the project. "We also test listening ability so that can tell us if (the child) might be talented at music." Would you be happy to test your child? Have your say
Vital Signs
Each month CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta brings viewers health stories from around the world.
See more from the show »

DNA testing has been used more widely to determine susceptibility to genetic disease. The test can identify mutations in the genetic code that lead to certain disorders, allow patients to assess risk levels and decide whether they want preventative treatment.

For example, the test can identify cancer genes that may make a woman more likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer. Some women have decided to have a mastectomy based on DNA test results and family history.

But according to Chinese scientists, this is the first time the test is being offered to children in China to help discover their natural talents.

For about $880, Chinese parents can sign their kids up for the test and five days of summer camp in Chongqing, where the children will be evaluated in various settings from sports to art. The scientific results, combined with observations by experts throughout the week, will be used to make recommendations to parents about what their child should pursue. Photo See photos of the summer camp and testing »

Dr. Huang said the testing can even help project careers down the road.

Examining one child's results, he told CNN: "This child is very thoughtful and focused, so I suggest she go into management."

Clinical psychologist Dr. Rob Blinn said the DNA test can be accurate but only "within a sort of limited field" and that results will not be "dramatic."

"You're not going to be able to predict that someone's going to be like the next Einstein. It's more like this person may have an IQ that's maybe 5 or 10 points greater than this other person because of the absence or presence of these particular genes," he said.

Still, parents are convinced it will help their child. It is no secret that China's one-child policy often produces anxious and ambitious parents with high expectations for their only child.

"China is different from Western countries," said Yang Yangqing, the lab's technical director. "There is only one child in our families so more and more parents focus on their children's education and they want to give them the best education."

Along with parents, the Chinese government is also interested in giving talented children an early start on their careers. Children as young as two are regularly hand-picked by the government to represent China on the international stage.

Future gymnasts, musicians, and basketball players are sent to rigorous training camps and specialized sports schools, and sometimes paid a government salary.

There has been speculation China's basketball hero, Yao Ming, was born of an arranged marriage between two well-known basketball players, in hopes of bearing an athletic superstar. Yao and his family have denied these reports. In an autobiography, Yao wrote that his parents actually discouraged him from playing the sport.

"My parents never wanted me to become a professional player," Yao wrote. "They wanted a better life for me."

Yao did start playing when he was nine years old. Three years later, he moved into Shanghai's provincial sports academy where he lived and trained full time.

"My parents agreed only because playing basketball in a junior sports school can improve your chance of getting into college; it counts as extra points on the college entrance exam."

Yao's family reportedly received special stipends from the government to purchase extra food. His success story may well be on the minds of parents in Chongqing.

"It's better to develop her talents earlier rather than later," Chen Zhongyan said of her four-year-old daughter, who is attending the genetics camp. "Now we can find when she is young, and raise her based on what her natural gifts are."

Her daughter, Lai Hongni, has already shown a strong aptitude for dancing, while four-year-old twin boys Luo Lianzhao and Dong Liangtong appear to be good at drawing.

"This way we can really understand our kids," said the twins' father, Mr. Dong, referring to the program.

In the end, are these parents giving their kids a head start or taking a shortcut? Critics of the program said such analysis has frightening implications.

"Kids, especially at younger ages, they need to have fun, they need to enjoy themselves, they need to find meaning in life," Dr. Blinn said. "They need to have rich deep emotional interchange with their families and parents."

"Whether it's really good for a two- or three-year-old to be sent off to a camp to be genetically tested, you know, and put in this track so early in life, I have some real doubts about whether that's in the child's best interest," Blinn added. "It seems to be more in the parents' best interest."

But Chen Zhongyan said: "We only have good intentions for (our daughter). We think this will help her."

It is fair to say many of the kids in Chongqing looked like they were having fun, whether they were jumping on ping pong tables, drawing or playing interactive games.

"I want to be the president of China," said three-year-old girl, Liu Xiao Liao. "Then people will be scared of me."

It seems that some of children may have grand ambitions all of their own.

Monday, August 10, 2009

SOS from Chinese Internet addiction center inmates

Upon recent investigation by reporters, the camps are still recruiting despite word from Chinese govt. that they are to be shut down. Kids were signaling 'SOS' pleading for help from windows. Details below.

Deng Senshan, a 16-year-old sent by his parents to an Internet addiction treatment camp in Nanning, Guangxi Autonomous Region, died suddenly on August 2, allegedly after being beaten.

Police closed down the camp and detained a number of employees.

Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily conducted its own investigation into a related training camp in Guangzhou. It printed its findings in today's issue:

Following the attention sparked by the incident involving a 16-year-old Guangxi student being beaten to death by instructors at the Nanning Qihang Salvation Training Camp, our reporter discovered that Lizhi-Qihang is also operating in Guangzhou. After the death was exposed, education authorities in Nansha District stated that the program at Haojin Vocational School, which was partnered with Lizhi-Qihang, had been halted.

However, when this reporter visited the school, the Qihang Training Camp was still in operation and the Lizhi Training Camp was still recruiting students. Yesterday afternoon at 3:44, a student in a third-floor dormitory room pleaded to the reporter for help by holding up a bamboo mat with the letters "SOS" written on the back. When instructors rushed upstairs to stop him, the children gestured for the reporter to go to the back side of the school to take pictures.

When the reporter arrived outside the rear wall of the school, children on the third and fourth floors started to stick notes into aluminum cans, drink bottles, and slippers, and others folded notes into paper planes. They tried to throw them over the wall, but owing to the distance, none of them succeeded.

Some children had papers bearing the messages "SOS" and "beating" which they waved out the windows. Some wrote calls for help on their clothing, which they displayed to the reporter. Some even yelled for help. They were all stopped by the instructors.

13 detained over teenager's death in S China

NANNING, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- Thirteen people in Nanning, capital city of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, had been detained after the death of a teenage Internet addict, local authorities said Friday.

The suspects were with the Nanning-based Qihang Salvation Training Camp and were under police investigation for inflicting intentional injuries and illegal operation, said Zhang Shuhui, vice head of the Jiangnan district of Nanning.

The unlicensed camp was closed Friday afternoon, Zhang said, adding that 122 trainees inside had been brought home by their parents.

Deng Senshan, a 15-year-old native of Ziyuan in Guilin of Guangxi, was found dead at about 3 a.m. Sunday. He was sent to the camp at about 1 p.m. last Saturday to get rid of Internet addiction.

His father Deng Long was informed of his son's death at 7 a.m. Sunday.

The camp, located inside the Guangxi Electronic Polytechnical School, was targeted at teenagers under 18.

The case is being investigated by police and further details are not available.

Colombia 'incursion' riles Chavez

Hugo Chavez on Alo Presidente (9 August 2009)
Mr Chavez has denounced Colombia's planned accord with the US

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused Colombia of carrying out a military incursion into Venezuela.

Mr Chavez said Colombian soldiers had recently been seen crossing the Orinoco river, which forms part of the border, and entering Venezuelan territory.

He said the incursion - which Colombia denies happened - was a "provocation".

South American leaders are gathering in Ecuador for a summit which is set to discuss Colombia's planned accord to allow the US use of its military bases.

Mr Chavez has been embroiled in a diplomatic row with his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe, since news of the plan emerged.

'Growing threat'

During his weekly TV show on Sunday, Mr Chavez ordered his troops on to a war footing along the border with Colombia.

"The threat against us is growing," he said. "I call on the people and the armed forces - let's go, ready for combat!"

He said Colombian soldiers had "crossed the Orinoco river in a boat and entered Venezuelan territory", but when Venezuelan troops arrived, they had gone.

"This is a provocation by the government of Uribe," he said. "The Yankees have started to command Colombian military forces."

Venezuela's foreign ministry would file a formal complaint, he added, warning that its military would "respond if there's an attack".

The Colombian foreign ministry said it had been in contact with its military commanders in the border area, who said there had been no such incursion.

Mr Chavez, who is now in Ecuador for the inauguration of President Rafael Correa and a summit of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), is expected to urge his allies in the region to press Mr Uribe to reconsider the planned accord with the US.


15 Jul: Colombia says deal close to make Colombia regional hub for anti-drug operations
28 Jul: Chavez freezes ties with Colombia, recalls ambassador amid row over base plan, and after Colombia says Farc rebels had Venezuelan weapons
4 Aug: Uribe tours South America to explain planned US accord
5 Aug: Chavez announces trade measures against Colombia
7 Aug: Chavez says he is sending ambassador back to Colombia
9 Aug: Chavez denounces Colombian 'incursion'. Colombia says commandos in Vichada and Guania departments near the border deny any incursion

Ecuador, which has no diplomatic ties with Colombia, and Bolivia have also attacked the plan. Other countries in the region, including Brazil, have sought guarantees that US-Colombian military operations will not spill over Colombia's borders.

The US is leaving its previous regional hub, the Manta air base in Ecuador, after Mr Correa refused to renew the lease.

The deal with Colombia would give the US, which already has forces in the country as part of the anti-drugs programme Plan Colombia, access to air bases in Colombia to gather intelligence and support operations against drugs production and terrorism.

Mr Uribe has said the accord will not infringe Colombia's sovereignty and that there would be no more than 1,400 troops and civilian contractors based there, the maximum permitted under the current military accord between Colombia and the US.

Correspondents say this is not the first time tensions have risen between the Venezuelan and Colombian presidents.

Last year, a war of words culminated in the Venezuelans despatching tanks and heavy armour to the border.

Perseid Meteor Shower Peak Aug. 11-12

July 31, 2009: Earth is entering a stream of dusty debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, the source of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Although the shower won't peak until August 11th and 12th, the show is already getting underway.

Don't get too excited, cautions Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "We're just in the outskirts of the debris stream now. If you go out at night and stare at the sky, you'll probably only see a few Perseids per hour.

This will change, however, as August unfolds."Earth passes through the densest part of the debris stream sometime on August 12th. Then, you could see dozens of meteors per hour."

For sky watchers in North America, the watch begins after nightfall on August 11th and continues until sunrise on the 12th. Veteran observers suggest the following strategy: Unfold a blanket on a flat patch of ground. (Note: The middle of your street is not a good choice.) Lie down and look up. Perseids can appear in any part of the sky, their tails all pointing back to the shower's radiant in the constellation Perseus. Get away from city lights if you can.

There is one light you cannot escape on August 12th. The 55% gibbous Moon will glare down from the constellation Aries just next door to the shower's radiant in Perseus. The Moon is beautiful, but don't stare at it. Bright moonlight ruins night vision and it will wipe out any faint Perseids in that part of the sky.
Looking northeast around midnight on August 11th-12th. The red dot is the Perseid radiant. Although Perseid meteors can appear in any part of the sky, all of their tails will point back to the radiant. Image copyright:, used with permission.

The Moon is least troublesome during the early evening hours of August 11th. Around 9 to 11 p.m. local time (your local time), both Perseus and the Moon will be hanging low in the north. This low profile reduces lunar glare while positioning the shower's radiant for a nice display of Earthgrazers.

"Earthgrazers are meteors that approach from the horizon and skim the atmosphere overhead like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond," explains Cooke. "They are long, slow and colorful—among the most beautiful of meteors." He notes that an hour of watching may net only a few of these at most, but seeing even one can make the whole night worthwhile.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

India intercepts North Korean ship

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Indian investigators are investigating a North Korean vessel they say had ignored warnings and sailed close to an unusual location off its remote island chain in the Bay of Bengal.

The vessel, which had a crew of 39, was carrying a cargo of sugar, said K.R. Nautiyal, the deputy inspector-general of the Indian coast guard at the Andamans.

It was bound from Thailand to Iraq but changed course and anchored off Hut Bay without responding to calls from coast guard authorities, he said.

"There were several inconsistencies," Nautiyal said, adding that the vessel would be allowed to leave once the investigation is completed.

Indian authorities first intercepted the ship on Wednesday and fired warning shots into the air when it did not answer radio calls, according to the coast guard.

It is under investigation at Port Blair, the main administrative center of the archipelago.

Russia to drill for oil off Cuba

From July 29, 2009

Russia is to begin oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, after signing a deal with Cuba, says Cuban state media.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin signed four contracts securing exploration rights in Cuba's economic zone in the Gulf.

Havana says there may be some 20bn barrels of oil of its coast but the US puts that estimate at five billion.

Russia and Cuba have been working to revitalise relations, which cooled after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia's Zarubezhneft oil concern will work alongside the Cubapetroleo monopoly in the deep waters of the Gulf.

"Every time I travel through the region, I come to Cuba to advance our joint economic-commercial projects, and I take every opportunity to communicate with my colleagues," Mr Sechin told local media.

Under the new agreement, Russia has also granted a loan of $150m to buy construction and agricultural equipment.

Havana imports more than half of its oil, mostly at a subsidised price from Venezuela.

Cuba's share of the Gulf of Mexico was established in 1977, when it signed treaties with the United States and Mexico.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) recently estimated that as much as 9bn barrels of oil and 21 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could lie within that zone, in the North Cuba Basin.

Venezuela returns Colombia envoy

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he is sending his ambassador back to Colombia following a diplomatic row.

Mr Chavez recalled Ambassador Gustavo Marquez last week after Colombia said rocket launchers found in a rebel camp came from Venezuela.

Relations between the two countries are also tense over Colombia's plans to allow US troops on its military bases.

Mr Chavez has said he fears the move amounts to preparation for an invasion of his country by US forces

"Go back to Bogota, Gustavo. Go to work, and you have a lot of it," President Chavez told Mr Marquez during a televised meeting at the presidential palace.

"We certainly don't have in our plans a break-up of our relations with Colombia," he added.

Weapons found

Mr Chavez withdrew his ambassador on 29 July after the Colombia government said weapons bought by Venezuela from Sweden in the 1980s had ended up with Colombian Farc guerrillas.

The Venezuelan leader denied the claim and accused Colombia of acting "irresponsibly".

In March last year, President Chavez broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia and recalled his ambassador following a cross-border attack by the Colombian military on a group of Farc rebels on Ecuadorean territory.

The action triggered one of the worst diplomatic disputes in the region since the end of the Cold War.

Colombian leader Alvaro Uribe has just returned from a tour of South American nations, in which he has tried to allay fears over his plans for US troops to use military bases inside Colombia.

The US wants to use Colombia as a regional hub for operations against drug-trafficking and terrorism.

Washington has been forced to look for a new base after Ecuador refused to renew the lease on its Manta base, which the US military was using.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Student beaten to death at Chinese internet addiction boot camp

Follow up to the article posted on July 10 regarding China's bootcamps for treating teens with "Internet Addiction":

Wall Street Journal article:

So-called “Internet addiction” among Chinese youths has led to a proliferation of clinics around the country that claim to be able to treat the recently defined disorder.

On Monday, police in the south China city of Nanning said that a 16-year-old boy died in at a boot camp for Internet addicts after being beaten by supervisors, according to the Global Times, in what would be the first reported case of a death at a treatment facility for Internet addiction.

The three adults who beat the teenager have been detained by police, his father told the Global Times, and the boy’s family is also planning a protest at local government offices to demand a full investigation and immediate closure of the treatment facility.

The clinic’s mission statement promised a tough environment but said that torture and “other methods that might damage a child’s health” were not used. Last month, the Ministry of Health ordered another Internet addiction center in northern China to stop using electroshock as a form of punishment after former patients complained online of harsh tactics.

China’s netizens have played a key role in drawing nationwide attention to recent cases of deaths in prisons and detention centers, so it should be no surprise that they are up in arms over the fate of one of their own. Many questioned the fairly new diagnosis of “Internet addiction” as a mental disorder.

“Internet addiction? It’s a term made up by some so-called ‘experts’, how come these parents believe what they’ve said?” said one commenter on the cnbeta Web site.

“[It] should be the parents’ problem. Why do they always exaggerate their kids’ hobbies, turning them into addictions or problems?” said another.

On Netease’s news forum, one netizen called for greater tolerance of Web habits: “I am sure only China has such a term: Internet addiction…. Why can’t its people accept new ideas and new things with an open mind?”

–Sky Canaves and Juliet Ye

China Global Times Article:

By Wen Ya

A teenager sent by his parents to a boot camp to cure his Internet addiction died after he was beaten by camp supervisors, police in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region claimed yesterday.

The three teachers who allegedly beat Deng Senshan, 16, were detained by local police Sunday, Deng Fei, the boy’s father, a businessman from Ziyuan county, told the Global Times yesterday.

“We are investigating a case where a high school student was beaten to death by his camp supervisors. The case is still under investigation,” a police officer at the Jiangnan branch of Nanning Public Security Bureau said.

He refused to give further details.

Deng graduated from Ziyuan No. 2 High School in Guilin in July and was sent to Guangxi Qihang Survival Training Camp, a branch set up by Guangzhou Self-help Teenager Development Training Center on Saturday by his parents.

They had read an ad about the camp online and hoped the experience would help rid their son of his Internet addiction.

Deng Fei paid the camp 7,000 yuan ($1,024) for one month of training.

He signed the camp agreement that said it aimed to help children to become independent and rectify their bad habitats by “close management with training teachers.”

“Our methods are tough but do not include torture or other methods that might damage a child’s health,” reads the mission statement.

But his son was put in solitary confinement within hours of his arrival and was then beaten to death by his trainers after they “scolded” him for running too slowly, Deng said.

“My son was very healthy and was not a criminal. He just had an Internet addiction when I left him at the camp.

“The police informed us that our child had died on Monday morning. We can’t believe our only son was beaten to death,” the father said.

The teachers who beat Deng realized he was badly injured and sent him to hospital in Wuxu town three hours later. He was declared dead about 3 am Sunday – 10 minutes after he arrived at the hospital, Deng Fei said.

The boy’s medical record, which was faxed to the Global Times, read: “The boy showed no response to emergency treatment.

“He arrived with a very weak heartbeat and could not breathe. He was exhausted after being beaten. We were unable to save him.”

The victim’s father was notified by the police of his son’s death and rushed to the town. He called the camp but officials there denied the incident had taken place.

The camp’s principal, a man surnamed Xia, denied Deng had been beaten by his teachers and told the father his son was sent to hospital because of a serious fever.

“But I was told the truth by my relative who is in the local police force,” the father said.

After arriving at the local funeral parlor to identify his son’s body, he saw “blood all over the his face” and “wounds on his wrists were bruises from where had been restrained by handcuffs.”

Photos of Deng’s body shown to the Global Times show visible injuries.

The forensic doctor, surnamed Gan, who carried out a postmortem examination on Deng refused to answer any question when contacted by the Global Times.

“The teachers promised me that they would not use any physical punishment on my son when I dropped him off,” Deng Fei said.

Some 40 people, including parents and Deng relatives, are calling for an investigation and demanding the camp be closed down immediately.

“We’re planning to sit before the local government for a protest tomorrow. If they don’t give us justice, we will go to the camp to confront them,” Deng said.

Monday, August 3, 2009

'Moving newspaper' on flexible screen to be launched within months

View a demo here:

It is the norm in the fictional world of Harry Potter: the magical daily newspaper where words and pictures come to life in the reader’s hands.

Now a revolutionary technology means that the moving imagery in The Daily Prophet is set to become a reality. A Cambridge-based company is months away from launching the world’s first flexible electronic screen.

Designed by scientists at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, to compete with the growing variety of electronic books from the likes of Sony and the US-only Amazon Kindle, the roll up A4-sized “intelligent plastic” display has taken a decade of development and cost £120 million. It is the first screen to be made from a microchip not of silicon but of cheap plastic.

However, Plastic Logic, the company behind the device, says that it dares not produce a roll-up screen yet because research showed that consumers don’t want flexibility. Martin Jackson, the vice-president of technology, said: “People worry that it will break if they roll up a device and dump it in their bag.”
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The touch-screen reader needs to be charged just once a fortnight and the screen uses no power when the image isn’t changing.

E-versions of newspapers are expected to be a popular use of the new technology because news can be downloaded at any time in return for a subscription equivalent to the price of buying printed copies in a newsagent.

Many titles are already published on the conventional Amazon Kindle in the US, including The Times, at prices from $6 (£3.50) to $15 a month, although Amazon has not yet announced plans to bring the device to Europe.

The Plastic Logic will be launched in the US at the beginning of next year at a similar price to the Kindle, which starts at $299. A British launch is set to follow in late 2010 or early 2011.

John Ridding, the chief executive of the Financial Times, which is also working with Plastic Logic, said: “We’re already beginning to see robust demand for newspapers on the Kindle, and before long we’ll see newspapers on a whole spectrum of devices as well as print. The advantage of this new device is that it won’t break when I drop it, but getting advertisers involved will be key, and they want to see a colour version.”

All electronic readers are, for the moment, black and white and text only, because they do not use a backlit display to ensure comfortable reading over long periods. That may prevent an immediate launch of moving images used on The Daily Prophet, a limitation similar to that faced by the first iPods when they were launched at the beginning of the decade. Mr Jackson predicted that “colour is a year or two off, and video will be a few years while later” as the technology develops.

By then, readers may be rolling up their plastic computers, too.

Apple tried to silence owner of exploding iPod with gagging order

Apple attempted to silence a father and daughter with a gagging order after the child’s iPod music player exploded and the family sought a refund from the company.

The Times has learnt that the company would offer the family a full refund only if they were willing to sign a settlement form. The proposed agreement left them open to legal action if they ever disclosed the terms of the settlement.

The case echoes previous circumstances in which Apple attempted to hush up incidents when its devices overheated.

Ken Stanborough, 47, from Liverpool, dropped his 11-year-old daughter Ellie’s iPod Touch last month. “It made a hissing noise,” he said. “I could feel it getting hotter in my hand, and I thought I could see vapour”. Mr Stanborough said he threw the device out of his back door, where “within 30 seconds there was a pop, a big puff of smoke and it went 10ft in the air”.

Mr Stanborough contacted Apple and Argos, where he had bought the device for £162. After being passed around several departments, he spoke to an Apple executive on the telephone. As a result of the conversation, Apple sent a letter to Mr Stanborough denying liability but offering a refund.

The letter also stated that, in accepting the money, Mr Stanborough was to “agree that you will keep the terms and existence of this settlement agreement completely confidential”, and that any breach of confidentiality “may result in Apple seeking injunctive relief, damages and legal costs against the defaulting persons or parties”.

“I thought it was a very disturbing letter,” said Mr Stanborough, who is self-employed and works in electronic security. He refused to sign it.

“They’re putting a life sentence on myself, my daughter and Ellie’s mum, not to say anything to anyone. If we inadvertently did say anything, no matter what, they would take litigation against us. I thought that was absolutely appalling.

“We didn’t ask for compensation, we just asked for our money back,” he added.

Last week it emerged that Apple had tried to keep a number of cases where its iPod digital music players had started to smoke, burst into flames and even burned their owners, out of the public eye.

An American reporter obtained 800 pages of documentation on the cases from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) following a Freedom of Information Act request in that country. However, she was unable to get hold of the documents for months after “Apple’s lawyers filed exemption after exemption”.

In those cases, CPSC investigators suggested that the iPods’ lithium ion batteries could be the source of the problem.

In 2006 Apple and Dell recalled millions of lithium ion batteries because of overheating problems in laptop computers causing fires — some of the biggest consumer electronics recalls in history. As of September last year, 173,000,000 iPods have been sold worldwide.

A number of bloggers have reported cases where iPods have exploded — usually involving older versions of the digital music players. Last year the Japanese Government warned that iPod Nanos presented a potential fire risk, saying there had been 14 cases in the country where the players had caught alight, with two people suffering minor burns.

In March, a mother in Ohio began court proceedings against Apple, after her son’s iPod Touch allegedly exploded in his pocket, burning his leg.

An Apple spokesman said that, as the company had not looked at the Stanboroughs’ damaged iPod, it could not comment. Argos also refused to comment.

The Trading Standards Institute said that it could not comment on whether such letters were standard across the industry, but that it could understand that Apple would want to protect its reputation by trying to reach a confidential settlement.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Nissan rolls out new electric car

Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn stands next to Nissan's new electronic vehicle, the Leaf.

Nissan sees "high potential" for electric vehicles

Japanese carmaker Nissan has unveiled its first electric car, taking it closer to its aim to become the first car firm to mass produce the vehicles.

The zero-emission hatchback vehicle, called Leaf, is set to go on sale in Japan, the US and Europe next year.

Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn did not announce the prices but said it would be "very competitive".

"The monthly cost of the battery, plus the electric charge, will be less than the cost of gasoline," Mr Ghosn said.

Nissan, Japan's third largest carmaker, has been slower than rivals Toyota and Honda to embrace hybrids, which run on petrol and electric engines, and is instead pinning its hopes on solely battery-powered cars.

We need to invest a lot of money to build the car plants
Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn

The future of electric motoring

Electric cars have struggled to become mainstream because of limited battery life and high costs.

But Mr Ghosn insisted that the Leaf would not be a niche-market vehicle.

"We need to invest a lot of money to build the car plants and the battery plants at a moment where all the auto companies are saving investments," he said.

"But there is such a high potential that we (will) go ahead with it."

Nissan has chosen the UK as one of its bases to produce batteries for electric cars.

It is investing £200m at its Sunderland factory, which is expected to create 350 jobs.

Nissan has said that it plans to make 100,000 electric cars a year by 2012.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Iran puts 100 protesters on trial

From BBC:

The trial has begun in Iran of 100 people arrested for their alleged involvement in post-election violence.

The charges included rioting, vandalism, "acting against national security", and conspiring against the ruling system, state media reported.

Key Defendents

Mohammad Ali Abtahi: former vice-president, member of the Assembly of Combatant Clerics

Mohsen Mirdamadi: leader of the biggest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation

Behzad Nabavi: member of the central council of the Organisation of the Mujahideen of the Islamic Revolution, former industry minister and former vice speaker of parliament

Mohsen Aminzadeh: former deputy foreign minister, served under reformist president
Mohammad Khatami, member of Islamic Iran Participation Front

Dozens of radio stations shut down in Venezuela

(CNN) -- At least 34 private radio stations in Venezuela were closed indefinitely Friday, and 206 more were at risk of being shut down, a government official said.

The stations were closed for various reasons, including expired permits and operation by unauthorized personnel, said Diosdado Cabello, minister of Public Works and Housing.

"Freedom of expression is not the most sacred freedom," Cabello was quoted as saying by CNN affiliate Globovision.

Cabello said the closings affected at least 11 states nationwide and 206 additional stations would shut down in the coming days.

Most station owners said the closures were politically motivated. The government of leftist President Hugo Chavez has cracked down on the media.

A "Special Bill Against Media Crimes" was introduced before the National Assembly this week, Cabello said, adding that he hoped the bill would pass.

The government has also heightened its battle against Globovision, the only critical private broadcaster in the nation. In June, it launched a fifth investigation into the network.

In early June, officials arrived at Globovision to accuse the station of not paying about $2.3 million in taxes for certain advertisements it aired in 2002 and 2003.

A few hours before, the government raided the home of Globovision President Guillermo Zuloaga, an avid hunter, to see whether he had killed any protected animals. It was the second raid on Zuloaga's home in two weeks.

"This is something to try to scare Globovision, to silence Globovision, something they are not going to achieve," Zuloaga said at the time.

RCTV, another independent station that criticized Chavez, lost its broadcast license two years ago. It had to go off the public airwaves and transmit solely on cable.

Other TV stations hung on to their frequencies by adjusting their editorial line, the Reporters Without Borders press organization said in its 2009 World Report.

Venezuelan officials have repeatedly denied any political motives. Chavez has labeled as "terrorists" any TV station owners who criticize the government.