Friday, October 30, 2009

Colombia and US sign bases deal

The United States and Colombia have signed a deal giving the US military access to seven Colombian bases.

Both the US and Colombia have previously stressed their aim is to use the bases to combat drug trafficking and rebels.

The prospect of the deal had caused alarm among some of Colombia's neighbours, who object to an increased US military presence.

Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela have all recently expressed concern.

In a statement, Colombia's foreign ministry said the agreement was "based on the principles of total respect for sovereign equality, territorial integrity and not intervening in the internal affairs of other states", reported Reuters news agency.


On Tuesday Colombian Defence Minister Gabriel Silva insisted the agreement did not constitute a major new development but simply a continuation of US-Colombian co-operation.

He said it was supported by the majority of Colombians who, he said, wanted more security.

"The agreement has no geopolitical or strategic connotation, other than being more effective in the fight against drug trafficking," he said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's claims that the accord could destabilise the region have been dismissed by the US and Colombia.

They say there will be a cap on how many American military personnel and contractors will be allowed in the country.

How Terahertz Waves Tear Apart DNA

Friday, October 30, 2009
How Terahertz Waves Tear Apart DNA

A new model of the way the THz waves interact with DNA explains how the damage is done and why evidence has been so hard to gather

Great things are expected of terahertz waves, the radiation that fills the slot in the electromagnetic spectrum between microwaves and the infrared. Terahertz waves pass through non-conducting materials such as clothes, paper, wood and brick and so cameras sensitive to them can peer inside envelopes, into living rooms and "frisk" people at distance.

The way terahertz waves are absorbed and emitted can also be used to determine the chemical composition of a material. And even though they don't travel far inside the body, there is great hope that the waves can be used to spot tumours near the surface of the skin.

With all that potential, it's no wonder that research on terahertz waves has exploded in the last ten years or so.

But what of the health effects of terahertz waves? At first glance, it's easy to dismiss any notion that they can be damaging. Terahertz photons are not energetic enough to break chemical bonds or ionise atoms or molecules, the chief reasons why higher energy photons such as x-rays and UV rays are so bad for us. But could there be another mechanism at work?

The evidence that terahertz radiation damages biological systems is mixed. "Some studies reported significant genetic damage while others, although similar, showed none," say Boian Alexandrov at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a few buddies. Now these guys think they know why.

Alexandrov and co have created a model to investigate how THz fields interact with double-stranded DNA and what they've found is remarkable. They say that although the forces generated are tiny, resonant effects allow THz waves to unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication. That's a jaw dropping conclusion.

And it also explains why the evidence has been so hard to garner. Ordinary resonant effects are not powerful enough to do do this kind of damage but nonlinear resonances can. These nonlinear instabilities are much less likely to form which explains why the character of THz genotoxic
effects are probabilistic rather than deterministic, say the team.

This should set the cat among the pigeons. Of course, terahertz waves are a natural part of environment, just like visible and infrared light. But a new generation of cameras are set to appear that not only record terahertz waves but also bombard us with them. And if our exposure is set to increase, the question that urgently needs answering is what level of terahertz exposure is safe.

Ref: DNA Breathing Dynamics in the Presence of a Terahertz Field

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Language translator for iPhone

October 28, 2009

Speech-to-Speech Translator iPhone App

Jjibbigo iPhone application turns phone into a translator that converts English speech into Spanish, or vice versa

View a demo on youtube

An iPhone application that turns the Apple phone into a translator that converts English speech into Spanish, or vice versa, is now being sold by Jibbigo LLC, a startup company launched by Alex Waibel, professor of computer science and language technologies at Carnegie Mellon University.

The Jibbigo app, which works on the iPhone 3GS, has a vocabulary of roughly 40,000 words. It is a general translator, though it is particularly attuned to the needs of international travelers and medical doctors. Users simply speak a sentence or two at a time into the iPhone and the phone will respond with an audible translation.

"Jibbigo's software runs on the iPhone itself, so it doesn't need to be connected to the Web to access a distant server," Waibel said. "That's important for travelers and especially for humanitarian aid workers who venture beyond the big cities. It's in those areas, where wireless hotspots are few and far between — if they exist at all — that Jibbigo might be needed the most."

Waibel is an international leader in speech-to-speech translation and multimodal speech interfaces, creating the first real-time, speech-to-speech translator for English, German and Japanese. A professor at both Carnegie Mellon and the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, he directs the International Center for Advanced Communication Technologies, or interACT, with sites in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Karlsruhe and Pittsburgh.

"Automated speech translation is an expensive proposition that has been supported primarily by large government grants," Waibel said. "But our sponsors are impatient to see this technology become more widely available and we, as researchers, are eager to find new revenues that will help us extend this technology to more of the 6,000 languages now spoken worldwide. Creating companies such as Jibbigo is one way we are trying to realize both of those goals."

In addition to Waibel, the Jibbigo LLC team that developed the speech-to-speech translation app includes 10 former students and graduates of Carnegie Mellon's Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley campuses and of the University of Karlsruhe.

Though Jibbigo allows an iPhone to act as a translation device for speech, the architecture of the iPhone does not allow Jibbigo to act as a translator for telephone conversations.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Venezuela seizes 'Colombia spies''

Venezuela has announced the arrest of a number of people whom it accuses of being agents spying for Colombia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Francisco Arias Cardenas said they were members of Colombia's DAS state security agency.

He said they were "captured carrying out actions of espionage", without giving any further details.

Ties between the two nations have been frozen since July when Colombia said it would let the US army use its military bases for anti-drugs operations.

The agreement has caused alarm among some of Colombia's neighbours, who object to an increased US military presence in the region.

When news of the deal first broke in August, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned that "winds of war" were blowing across the continent.

'Serious event'

Mr Cardenas said on Tuesday that Caracas would soon produce evidence to back up its claims in the spying row.

"Do not underestimate the importance of an event as serious and as grave as the capture of Colombian DAS security agents committing acts of espionage," he told reporters in Caracas.

Colombia's ambassador to Venezuela, Maria Luisa Chiappe, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying she had no information about DAS agents working on Venezuelan soil.

more on new tech glasses

"Brother may spend a big chunk of its time on things like printers and sewing machines, but it's also quietly been working on some decidedly more futuristic products, and it may just be set to deliver on one of them. While it wasn't offering much in the way of specifics the last time we heard about its retina display technology, Brother now seems to have a fully developed, fully functional prototype (pictured above), and it says it plans to commercialize the glasses sometime "next year." Naturally, there are a few considerable limitations compared to more traditional displays, but the company's as yet unnamed goggles do promise to beam an 800 x 600 image directly into your retina that'll appear as a 10-centimeter wide image floating about one meter in front of them -- which is certainly no small feat, even if it may not be the most practical one. Slightly less specific, but also working on a retina display of its own is NEC, which apparently hopes to incorporate a microphone into their display and use it as a real-time translation device that would quite literally display subtitles as you talk to someone. Ambitious, to be sure, but NEC is also saying it hopes to get it on the market in 2010."

More on retinal display:

Language Translation:

NEC has developed an eyeglass equipment that interprets foreign languages into mother tongues and projects the translation onto a person's retina. This device would make it possible to speak with a foreigner naturally in one's mother tongue without an interpreter, according to sources. The NEC equipment comprises a script projector and microphone attached to the glasses, and a small computer that can be attached to the waist of a user. When two people with different mother tongues speak in their own languages, the projector displays expressions from both languages. NEC's application of a technology to project images by casting light directly onto the retina is a world first. The retina transforms the optical information into a nerve signal, which is sent to the center of the brain via optic nerves.

If the accuracy of translation improves, it is expected to be used in various fields and situations, such as international conferences and business negotiations with foreign companies. The sources said that people can use the equipment for hours without getting eye strain as it is not necessary to focus on the script display. Because the script appears on the peripherals of a person's vision, the technology enables people to look at each other while they speak.NEC plans to put the product on the market in 2010, the sources said.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

High tech glasses

I recall reading about 'memory glasses' being developed at MIT several years ago. Memory glasses provide subliminal cues to serve as reminders to the wearer:

I began thinking about how to integrate these with GPS and text message marketing, and also about how to combine an mp3 player for a cordless solution, and also to integrate with a PDA via USB or a memory chip to open up the display for browsing the web and for reading as an alternative to the kindle/ebook readers - I've seen such use for viewing movies from a PDA.

Probably would have to be specialized glasses specifically for sport that might include built-in earphones and mp3. Could also use eye tracking for military targeting, GPS for environmental feedback, retinal readings for biofeedback. Be nice to build in a camera as well.

Despite the annoying pop-ups that reappear on every page, here is an interesting review of 10 geeky glasses currently available or in the works, some of which include a few of the aforementioned features:,2817,2339521,00.asp

View the slideshow:,1206,l=236332&a=236330,00.asp

Friday, October 23, 2009

Awakening Paralyzed Limbs

A monkey with a paralyzed arm can still grasp a ball, thanks to a novel system designed to translate brain signals into complex muscle movements in real time. The research, presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Chicago this week, could one day allow people with spinal cord injury to control their own limbs.

"This is a big leap forward--they show the monkey using the ability to artificially contract his hand to actually pick up a ball," says Krishna Shenoy, a neuroscientist at Stanford University. "I think it's the first demonstration of a cortically controlled electrical stimulation system performing a task that would ultimately be useful for a human patient."

While spinal cord injury keeps the brain's electrical signals from reaching muscles, people paralyzed by these injuries often have intact nerves and muscles in their limbs. A technique called functional electrical stimulation (FES), in which implanted electrodes deliver electrical current to trigger muscle contractions, provides a way to reconnect this loop.

Devices that can restore hand function and bladder control to some paralyzed patients have already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Patients use residual muscle movement to consciously control these systems--a system that works well for some applications but limits the complexity of the movement that can be performed. For example, an FES device allows people to shrug a shoulder to trigger a grasping motion with their hand, but they cannot control how tightly to grasp..

Now, by pairing FES technology with brain implants, scientists are trying to create a more intuitive system for controlling paralyzed limbs, such that thinking about moving an arm or grasping with a hand would automatically be translated into the pattern of electrical activity needed to perform that movement. "It's much more natural, and if you can decode activity in enough muscles, you could move multiple joints simultaneously," says Robert Kirsch, a neuroscientist at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, OH. Normal hand and arm motion involves fluid movement of multiple joints, rather than the limited movements possible today.

Christian Ethier, a researcher in neuroscientist Lee Miller's lab at Northwestern University, in Chicago, has demonstrated the first steps toward this kind of system in monkeys. Researchers gave each monkey a local anesthetic to temporarily block the function of the flexor nerves in its arm. The animals had wires implanted into their arms to deliver electrical stimulus to the muscles, much like nerves would, and an array of electrodes implanted in the brain to record electrical activity from the motor cortex.

The monkeys were first trained to pick up a ball and put it in a hole to earn a reward. Using brain activity recorded during this task, the scientists developed specialized decoder algorithms that would translate brain activity linked to the movement of different muscles into an electrical stimulus for each of five flexor muscles in the arm in real time, enabling the monkey to grasp its hand. "We can predict what the monkey is trying to do with his muscles and stimulate the muscles accordingly, essentially giving the monkey voluntary control through the computer instead of his nerves," says Miller.

Normally, with the paralyzed arm, the animals had a difficult time completing the task, getting the ball into the target only about 10 percent of the time, compared to 100 percent before the nerve block. Turning on the brain-controlled FES system boosted the paralyzed animals' success rate to 77 percent. The researchers also showed they could get the monkey to move its wrist in different directions--they now want to see if they can repeat the results with the muscles that control reaching.

Human tests might not be far off. Cortical implants are already being tested in human patients. Case Western's Kirsch presented research at the conference showing that a paralyzed patient with a cortical implant could control a sophisticated computer model of an arm. Kirsch and Miller don't yet have a specific timeline to put the two systems--the cortical implant and the FES implant--together in humans, but Miller says it would be technically feasible in a year. However, they want to wait until scientists have developed a wireless and fully-implantable version of the cortical implant, which is now underdevelopment at Brown University. Current implants have protruding wires that increase risk of infection and limit patients' mobility.

Previous research has shown that patients with these implants can control a computer cursor and make some movements with a robotic arm. While that research is exciting for people whose limbs have been amputated, the new research is applicable to patients with spinal cord injury. "Many people would strongly prefer to have their arm reanimated in some way," says Shenoy. "This is a big step forward for that patient population."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Robot Controlled By Human Brain Cells

What happens when a man is merged with a computer or a robot? This is the question that Professor Kevin Warwick and his team at the department of Cybernetics, University of Reading in the UK have been trying to answer for a number of years.

There are many ways to look at this problem. There is the longer term prospect of freeing the mind from the limitations of the brain by uploading it in digital form, potentially onto a computer and/or robotic substrate (see the h+ interview with Dr. Bruce Katz, Will We Eventually Upload Our Minds?). There is also a shorter term prospect at a much more limited scale — a robot controlled by human brain cells could soon be wandering around Professor Warwick’s UK labs.

Professor Warwick (who incidentally has a device implanted in his left arm that enables his nervous system to be connected to a computer) and his colleague Ben Whalley from the School of Pharmacy recently created a robot that is controlled by cultured rat neurons. The next step in their research is to use a human neuron cell line, a type of “wetware.”

As reported in New Scientist, some 300,000 rat neurons grown in a nutrient broth and producing spikes of electrical activity were connected to the output of a small robot's distance sensors. The neurons proved capable of steering the robot around an enclosure. Here’s the New Scientist video of the robot courtesy of the University of Reading:

This research is the first step in examining how memories create neurological structures in the brain, and how the brain stores specific pieces of data. The researchers hope that this will lead to a better understanding of diseases and disorders that affect the brain such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke, and brain injury.

Warwick comments, "This new research is tremendously exciting as firstly the biological brain controls its own moving robot body, and secondly it will enable us to investigate how the brain learns and memorizes its experiences. This research will move our understanding forward of how brains work, and could have a profound effect on many areas of science and medicine."

Warwick, Whalley, and colleagues don’t need specific ethical approval from the University or the UK move forward with the human neuron cell line as soon as they are ready. The cultures are available on the open market and "the ethical side of sourcing is done by the company from whom they are purchased,” according to Whalley.

Wetware - Rudy Rucker. Photo credit: rudyrucker.comThe use of the term “wetware” has been around since the mid-1950s. In the recent academic literature, it refers to cells (that are “wet”) built out of molecular circuits that perform logical operations, as electronic devices do, but with unique properties. Mathematician and science fiction writer Rudy Rucker used the term as the title of his 1988 cyberpunk novel, and later defined it in the book Mondo 2000: A User’s Guide to the New Edge (edited by some fellow named R.U. Sirius) as the “physical DNA in a cell.” Rucker now refers to physical DNA in a 2007 blog entry as “lower level” wetware, with higher-level wetware defined as, “The arrangement of a body’s cells –- and the all-important tangling of the cortical neurons…”

According to a University of Reading press release, the “wetware” biological brain used by the UK robot is made up of cultured neurons that are placed onto a multi-electrode array (MEA). The MEA is a dish with approximately 60 electrodes that pick up the electrical signals generated by the cells.

Biologically-generated signals drive the movement of the robot.

The biologically-generated signals drive the movement of the robot. Every time the robot nears an object, the electrodes generate signals to stimulate the brain. In response, the brain's output is used to drive the wheels of the robot left and right so that it avoids hitting objects. The robot has no additional control from a human or a computer –- its sole means of control is from its own brain. Dr. Whalley comments, "One of the fundamental questions that scientists are facing today is how we link the activity of individual neurons with the complex behaviors that we see in whole organisms. This project gives us a really unique opportunity to look at something which may exhibit complex behaviors, but still remain closely tied to the activity of individual neurons. Hopefully we can use that to go some of the way to answer some of these very fundamental questions."

While this isn’t exactly merging a man with a computer, it is merging some significant human carbon-based “wetware” (in Rucker’s 2007 definition of the term) with some sophisticated silicon-based circuitry in robotic form. Does this mean that whole brain implants into cyborg bodies are in our future?

Robotic Hand that Can Feel

A team of scientists from Italy and Sweden has developed what is believed to be the first artificial hand that has feeling.

It has been attached to the arm of a 22-year-old man who lost his own hand through cancer.

Researchers say it works by connecting human nerve endings with tiny electronic sensors.

Duncan Kennedy reports from Tuscany in Italy.

Science to 'stop age clock at 50'

Michelle Roberts
Health reporter, BBC News

Centenarians with the bodies of 50-year-olds will one day be a realistic possibility, say scientists.

Half of babies now born in the UK will reach 100, thanks to higher living standards, but our bodies are wearing out at the same rate.

To achieve "50 active years after 50", experts at Leeds University are spending £50m over five years looking at innovative solutions.

They plan to provide pensioners with own-grown tissues and durable implants.

New hips, knees and heart valves are the starting points, but eventually they envisage most of the body parts that flounder with age could be upgraded.

The university's Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering has already made a hip transplant that should last for life, rather than the 20 years maximum expected from current artificial hips.

The combination of a durable cobalt-chrome metal alloy socket and a ceramic ball or "head" means the joint should easily withstand the 100 million steps that a 50-year-old can be expected to take by their 100th birthday, says investigator Professor John Fisher.

Meanwhile, colleague Professor Eileen Ingham and her team have developed a unique way to allow the body to enhance itself.

The concept is to make transplantable tissues, and eventually organs, that the body can make its own, getting round the problem of rejection.

Human body showing possible age-proofed body parts
1. Scientists have developed transplantable tissues the body can make its own, tackling rejection. They have made heart valves using the technique
2. A hip has been made from a durable alloy socket and ceramic ball that should last for life, rather than the current 20 years
3. Similar techniques are being developed for artificial knees
4. Eventually scientists hope to make ligaments and tendons to replace old and damaged ones
5. Artificial blood vessels are also being developed
6. The NHS is looking into using the transplantable tissue methods on donor skin for burns patients
7. Researchers also hope to do the same for organs

So far they have managed to make fully functioning heart valves using the technique.

It involves taking a healthy donor heart valve - from a human or a suitable animal, such as a pig - and gently stripping away its cells using a cocktail of enzymes and detergents.

The inert scaffold left can be transplanted into the patient without any fear of rejection - the main reason why normal transplants wear out and fail.

Once the scaffold has been transplanted, the body takes over and repopulates it with cells.

Trials in animals and on 40 patients in Brazil have shown promising results, says Prof Ingham.

They have licensed the technology to the NHS National Blood and Transplant Tissue Services so it can be used on any UK donated human tissue in the future.

The NHS is already looking into using the method on donor skin for burns patients.

Professor Christina Doyle of Xeno Medical, the medical device company that is developing the technologies under Tissue Regenix, said the holy grail was to remove the heavy reliance on donor organs.

"That's where the technology will lead us eventually."

But she said: "To replace all donor tissue using this technology will take 30 to 50 years. Each single product will need to be designed and tested individually."

Prof Doyle said experts elsewhere were also working on similar regenerative therapies, but grown entirely outside of the body, to ensure that people can continue being as active during their second half-century as they were in their first.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Interview: Director James Toback Talks Tyson

I finally saw the film 'Tyson' over the weekend - a new video release. Amazing honesty and repoir with Mike Tyson, very moving.

April 28, 2009

James Toback has been a controversial figure in Hollywood for years, dividing audiences and critics over films like Fingers, Exposed, Two Girls and a Guy, and Black and White. There's no divisiveness in opinion over the quality of his latest film, a riveting self-portrait of a fascinating man called Tyson. In no one's words but Mike Tyson’s own, Toback allows one of the greatest boxers who ever lived an amazing self-examination captured on celluloid. The response has been nearly universal in its acclaim. Mixing archival footage and a few days spent with the champ, Toback has made one of his best films. Near the end of a press tour that clearly exhausted him – he even shared a story about falling asleep during a French TV interview as we were getting started and nearly appeared like he may do so during this one (although never lost an amazingly intellectual and well-spoken beat) – Toback was insightful, fascinating, and riveting.

--Brian Tallerico

MOVIE RETRIEVER: You've known Mike for years, so you must have had a reasonable idea of what he would say and how the movie would turn out. What surprised you the most about him?


JAMES TOBACK: Two things really surprised me. One was his ENDLESS use of the word "fear" to describe his condition in and out of the ring. The number of times that he describes situations in which he was fearful shocked me because you don't... I don't think of him that way. I had no idea that lurking just below his level of consciousness was this constant sense of uneasiness and fear and insecurity. Nothing like that. And the other thing, which was probably connected to that, was his respiratory difficulties. He mentions that, although he wasn't diagnosed, it's clear he was a childhood asthmatic. When he says he had trouble breathing... I had asthma when I was a kid. When you say you had trouble breathing, what you're really saying is you were forced to deal with death or the fear of the death without having any preparation for it. When you're lying there and you're four years old or five years old and you're gasping for breath, you don't understand what's going on. You just feel something very bad is about to happen. To overcome that... I don't care whether the movie does phenomenally well or not well... when you have to overcome THAT, your whole life is going to be different. You can't ignore that as the operating reality. It's like having your head held under the water constantly. The panic that is clearly under the surface in Mike is the direct result of that sense of helplessness, his permanent danger to the integrity of the psyche.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: I feel like he makes clear that he's always had that. How does prison amplify and change that?

TOBACK: He says he lost all faith in humanity. I think he's haunted by it - the humiliation, the degradation, the feeling he'd been reduced to nothing, the certainty that he would never get it back. I think that's it, primarily. I think what happened is that it lasted... I think that the prison experience combined with the looming sense of panic based on his respiratory incapacity is the key to his whole personality. How do you overcome that? By becoming powerful, by intimidating people, and by saying, as he does, "I'll never let anyone bully me 'cause I would f***in kill 'em." By letting the homicidal monster in, you expand so you never again feel like the impotent, short, fat kid.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: The person with the least fear is the one who strikes the most in others. So, what are the next 30, 40 years of Mike's life like?

TOBACK: Well, who knows if he has 30 or 40 years? He says he can't believe he's 40 - now he's 42. I think he's living on a day-to-day basis, not just because he goes to a 12-step program but because I think his mentality is fundamentally that. And he doesn't let it go too far beyond that. I think he'd be upset to think that he was being "pressured" to live longer. (Laughs.) He likes the idea that life could end at any moment.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: There's a line in the film - "No one that isn't an extremist can understand the mind of an extremist." So what makes you an extremist?

TOBACK: My inability to maintain any kind of temperate sense of what I'm doing. I can't do something halfway. I can't get into something and feel like I'm doing it in a sort of functional way. When I go into a hotel room, I have to reconfigure it. I need to always feel that things are the best they can be or at the most extreme. If I hear a song, I hear it 30 times if I like it. Over and over and over again. If I see a movie that I really like, I'd rather see that movie four or five times than go to three or four other movies. There's always been this sort of addictive part of my being. I've had to stay away from addicts. I can't think that it's not biochemically-based. The people who are that way ARE that way. You sense it physically. I used to drink non-stop. I quit alcohol. I used to smoke. I quit. Both in one day. Gambling. You felt all of them as physically existing inside.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: It's interesting that you present extremes of doing AND quitting. You either do it or you don't. There's no middle ground.

TOBACK: Yeah. Yeah.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Were there any questions that Mike wouldn't answer?

TOBACK: No. And I didn't really ask questions. I would raise subjects. For instance, the first morning of the first day - "Earliest childhood memories." An hour later - "What do you think about sex?" An hour later I could feel his curiosity over what is Toback leading me into. I would just play it straight, which I think is the best way to do it period, but certainly with someone who is fundamentally honest.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Was there anything that he was TOO honest about that you said to yourself that for his sake or for someone else, you wouldn't want to include it?

TOBACK: (Thinks.) No. The idea was that it was going to be completely open and that I would decide what was in and what was not.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Okay. So, what did Mike think when he first saw it?

TOBACK: He said, "It's like a Greek tragedy and the only problem is that I'm the subject." After the Sundance Film Festival screening, he said, "People always used to say they were afraid of me and I wondered, 'Why? What are you afraid of? Why would people be scared of me?' Watching the film tonight I realized that I'm scared of that guy."

MOVIE RETRIEVER: How much time did you spend with him?

TOBACK: Three days in the rented house in the Hollywood Hills and two days walking on the beach north of Malibu. Shot about 30 hours.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: A lot of extra footage? Maybe on the DVD?

TOBACK: I think so. Yeah. I haven't looked at in a year-and-a-half, but I know there's a lot of good stuff I didn't use. The first thing was to get a structure and a style down and then what did I fit into that structure and that style.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Did you always know that you'd use the one-interview structure for the film?

TOBACK: Yes. I didn't know that I would do it psycho-analytically until I got there, which turned out to be the key. Instead of face-to-face. I was a voice behind him, coming in at an angle, almost like a therapist and just triggering memories, which is what I was trying to do.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Jim Brown, Bugsy Siegel, Mike Tyson - one could say that you're obsessed with larger-than-life personalities. Why do you think that is?

TOBACK: I guess because I like to think that I'm sort of one myself. I feel that by getting interested in other and writing about others, it's sort of a convenient way of doing an autobiography. I'm so absorbed with myself that I don't want to give in to that impulse - "Part Five of the James Toback Story as Told by James Toback". So I think I find these surrogates and sort of deal with the same subjects through them. I can feel that it's my world although I'm using them as a way to approach it.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: People are talking about the movie a lot and how it's changed their opinion of Mike, which leads to the natural question of - was that something you intended to do? Is this a case of showing people the Mike you knew? The real Mike?

TOBACK: No. I was aware of it. I was certainly aware that it would be highly surprising and disappointing if the movie had so little impact that people would think the same way. But I didn't set out to make it SO that would happen. I set out to make it because I was fascinated by him and I thought stylistically that I could come up with an interesting framework to show it.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: When you got the 30 hours in the editing room, did you think of anything you wish you had asked or addressed but didn't?

TOBACK: No. My only fear was that there was so much that I would never get it down to an hour-and-a-half. It was so overwhelming. And I had all the archival footage and all the fight stuff and I thought "this is a f***in nightmare."

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Has the overwhelmingly positive response to the film surprised you?

TOBACK: It has surprised me the degree to which the near-unanimity. I've always had mixed response. I've always had people who really got them and were excited. And I've always had some vicious detractors. And then there's been an in-between middle group. I assumed the same would be true here, particularly given Mike's incendiary nature. I was shocked that there wasn't more negative feeling and that he just overcame it and the movie got all the good stuff I was sure we'd get without any of the other.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Although there has been a little bit of a discussion and argument that maybe the other side of a few issues, particularly the rape charge, should have been addressed by the film. How do you answer that?

TOBACK: It's a self-portrait. It's not an investigation. It's not a documentary which tries to figure out. First of all, you're never gonna know anyway. About that or anything else. What happened to me this morning at breakfast? I tell you that I did this and I did that. Maybe I'm telling the truth. Maybe I'm not. Eventually, you either trust people or you don't. Mike Tyson - the movie isn't insisting that he be taken at face value. I don't have the right to. I'm not saying, "Here's the truth." I'm saying, "Here's Mike Tyson's vision of himself presented through my stylistic vision of him." Richard Schickel wrote a great biography of Kazan. It was very well-researched. He talked to all sorts of people. Kazan wrote an autobiography. They're different. There are some similarities but they're two different books. The question is "Whose version of a life is going to be more interested? Kazan's or Schickel's?" Schickel's will have more points of view. There is a virtue in that alone, but I would rather read, if I had a choice of two, Kazan's version of his own life. No matter what digging Schickel did and no matter what insights he came up with that contradicted or supplemented Kazan's, I would still rather have Kazan commenting on Kazan's life. I would say that would be true of any figure in history.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: I was struck by how self-examining and introspective Mike is in the film. You've known him so long. Has that come with age or did he have that awareness all along?

TOBACK: I think he's always had his own voice. He always had an almost physical sense of language. He says nothing in jargon. Everything is his flavored language. A lot of people only speak in jargon. They get phrases. They apply him here and apply them there. Athletes especially. Mike doesn't have any of that. It's all his fresh take on everything.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: You said in Interview that boxing is dead. Why is that?

TOBACK: I think the era of the great champ can't flourish in today's climates. There are too many divisions. The talent has been too diluted. There are too many other things like Ultimate Fighting. There isn't the iconography of the champion that there used to be. There's not going to be another Mike Tyson.

- Tyson is currently playing in New York and Los Angeles and opens in other cities, including Chicago, this Friday, May 1st, 2009.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Scientists Write Memories Directly Into Fly Brains

By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News

Laser-controlled flies may be the latest addition to the neuroscientist's tool kit, thanks to a new technique.

Researchers have devised a way to write memories onto the brains of flies, revealing which brain cells are involved in making bad memories.

The researchers said that in flies just 12 brain cells were responsible for what is known as "associative learning".

They describe their findings in the journal Cell.

Associative memories are made when an animal learns to link a cue to a particular outcome. It might for example learn that a certain odour is a sign that a predator is nearby.

"So the appearance of that odour predicts that something bad is going to happen," explained Gero Miesenbock from the University of Oxford, UK, who led this study.

Previous research had already identified that the brain cells or neurons responsible for this type of learning are those that produce dopamine. This is a chemical which acts as a signal that can be transmitted from cell to cell in the brain.

Professor Miesenbock and his team "tapped into these gene regulatory mechanisms" of the neurons - programming them to respond to a laser.

They modified the neurons by adding a sort of trigger, or receptor, to each one. This receptor was activated by a chemical called ATP.

"Since there's no ATP floating around in the fly's brain, the [modified] receptors remain closed and the flies behave just like normal flies that don't have the receptor," said Professor Miesenbock.

Now for the laser-activated trickery.

The scientists injected ATP into the flies' brains, in a form that was locked inside a light-sensitive chemical cage.

"[Then] we turned on the laser light and the light sensitive cage fell apart," Professor Miesenbock explained. "The ATP was released and acted only on the cells [with] the receptor."

The laser flash was paired with an odour, which allowed the scientists to find out if their memory-writing experiment had been successful.

They gave the flies a simple choice between two odours - one of which the flies had been exposed to just before the laser flash.

"[The flies] moved along a narrow chamber and at the midpoint they were presented with an odour on the left and an odour on the right," said Professor Miesenbock.

He knew that the laser had successfully written a bad memory into the fly's brain when the insect avoided the odour that had been paired with the laser flash.

This is a real breakthrough in our understanding of how memories are formed
David Shepherd, neuroscientist

The flies associated the smell with a bad experience, so the laser flash gave the fly a memory of a bad experience that it never actually had.

Simply by looking inside the flies' brains with a microscope, the researchers were able to narrow this memory formation process down to just 12 neurons.

"We labelled the cells .... that were made responsive to light and which ones were not, so by elimination we could narrow it down."

This finding, said Professor Miesenbock, has begun to unravel how animals and humans learn from mistakes and how "error signals" drive animals to adapt their behaviour.

"In the fly we have isolated and manipulated these error signals, so what we can now do is try to understand how these signals are calculated in the brain and how this works mechanistically.

"I have every expectation that the fundamental mechanisms that produce these error signals are the same in the brain of the fly as they are in the brain of the human.

David Shepherd, a neuroscientist from the University of Bangor in North Wales described the study as "a fantastic piece of work".

Professor Shepherd, who was not involved in this study, told BBC News: "We have known for years that flies are capable of sophisticated behaviours such as learning and memory. We have also been able to manipulate gene and cell function in flies.

"This work combines these elements to make a real breakthrough in our understanding of how memories are formed."

Journal Summary:

"Dopaminergic neurons are thought to drive learning by signaling changes in the expectations of salient events, such as rewards or punishments. Olfactory conditioning in Drosophila requires direct dopamine action on intrinsic mushroom body neurons, the likely storage sites of olfactory memories. Neither the cellular sources of the conditioning dopamine nor its precise postsynaptic targets are known. By optically controlling genetically circumscribed subsets of dopaminergic neurons in the behaving fly, we have mapped the origin of aversive reinforcement signals to the PPL1 cluster of 12 dopaminergic cells. PPL1 projections target restricted domains in the vertical lobes and heel of the mushroom body. Artificially evoked activity in a small number of identifiable cells thus suffices for programming behaviorally meaningful memories. The delineation of core reinforcement circuitry is an essential first step in dissecting the neural mechanisms that compute and represent valuations, store associations, and guide actions."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

First black hole for light created on Earth

by Anil Ananthaswamy

An electromagnetic "black holeMovie Camera" that sucks in surrounding light has been built for the first time.

The device, which works at microwave frequencies, may soon be extended to trap visible light, leading to an entirely new way of harvesting solar energy to generate electricity.

A theoretical design for a table-top black hole to trap light was proposed in a paper published earlier this year by Evgenii Narimanov and Alexander Kildishev of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Their idea was to mimic the properties of a cosmological black hole, whose intense gravity bends the surrounding space-time, causing any nearby matter or radiation to follow the warped space-time and spiral inwards.

Narimanov and Kildishev reasoned that it should be possible to build a device that makes light curve inwards towards its centre in a similar way. They calculated that this could be done by a cylindrical structure consisting of a central core surrounded by a shell of concentric rings.
There's no escape

The key to making light curve inwards is to make the shell's permittivity – which affects the electric component of an electromagnetic wave – increase smoothly from the outer to the inner surface. This is analogous to the curvature of space-time near a black hole. At the point where the shell meets the core, the permittivity of the ring must match that of the core, so that light is absorbed rather than reflected.

Now Tie Jun Cui and Qiang Cheng at the Southeast University in Nanjing, China, have turned Narimanov and Kildishev's theory into practice, and built a "black hole" for microwave frequencies. It is made of 60 annular strips of so-called "meta-materials", which have previously been used to make invisibility cloaks.

Each strip takes the form of a circuit board etched with intricate structures whose characteristics change progressively from one strip to the next, so that the permittivity varies smoothly. The outer 40 strips make up the shell and the inner 20 strips make up the absorber.

"When the incident electromagnetic wave hits the device, the wave will be trapped and guided in the shell region towards the core of the black hole, and will then be absorbed by the core," says Cui. "The wave will not come out from the black hole." In their device, the core converts the absorbed light into heat.
Quick work

Narimanov is impressed by Cui and Cheng's implementation of his design. "I am surprised that they have done it so quickly," he says.

Fabricating a device that captures optical wavelengths in the same way will not be easy, as visible light has a wavelength orders of magnitude smaller than that of microwave radiation. This will require the etched structures to be correspondingly smaller.

Cui is confident that they can do it. "I expect that our demonstration of the optical black hole will be available by the end of 2009," he says.

Such a device could be used to harvest solar energy in places where the light is too diffuse for mirrors to concentrate it onto a solar cell. An optical black hole would suck it all in and direct it at a solar cell sitting at the core. "If that works, you will no longer require these huge parabolic mirrors to collect light," says Narimanov.

Journal references: Applied Physics Letters (vol 95, p041106), and "An electromagnetic black hole made of metamaterials" by Tie Jun Cui and Qiang Cheng's (preprint archive)

Magnetic electricity

Researchers have discovered a magnetic equivalent to electricity: single magnetic charges that can behave and interact like electrical ones.

The work is the first to make use of the magnetic monopoles that exist in special crystals known as spin ice.

Writing in Nature journal, a team showed that monopoles gather to form a "magnetic current" like electricity.

The phenomenon, dubbed "magnetricity", could be used in magnetic storage or in computing.

Magnetic monopoles were first predicted to exist over a century ago, as a perfect analogue to electric charges.

Although there are protons and electrons with net positive and negative electric charges, there were no particles in existence which carry magnetic charges. Rather, every magnet has a "north" and "south" pole.

In September this year, two research groups independently reported the existence of monopoles - "particles" which carry an overall magnetic charge. But they exist only in the spin ice crystals.

These crystals are made up of pyramids of charged atoms, or ions, arranged in such a way that when cooled to exceptionally low temperatures, the materials show tiny, discrete packets of magnetic charge.

Now one of those teams has gone on to show that these "quasi-particles" of magnetic charge can move together, forming a magnetic current just like the electric current formed by moving electrons.

They did so by using sub-atomic particles called muons, created at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) ISIS neutron and muon source near Oxford.

The muons decay millionths of a second after their production into other sub-atomic particles. But the direction in which these resulting particles fly off is an indicator of the magnetic field in a tiny region around the muons.

The team, led by Stephen Bramwell, from the London Centre for Nanotechnology, implanted these muons into spin ice to demonstrate how the magnetic monopoles moved around.

They showed that when the spin ice was placed in a magnetic field, the monopoles piled up on one side - just like electrons would pile up when placed in an electric field.

Professor Bramwell told BBC News that the development is unlikely to catch on as a means of providing energy, not least because the particles travel only inside spin ices.

"We're not going to be seeing a magnetic light bulb or anything like that," he said.

But by engineering different spin ice materials to modify the ways monopoles move through them, the materials might in future be used in "magnetic memory" storage devices or in spintronics - a field which could boost future computing power.

Monday, October 12, 2009

China praised for African (economic) links


As the United States continues to exhaust and deplete our economic and military resources in the middle east, China continues to pour investments into both Africa and South/Central America.

Had the U.S. invested in the same places, we might have we would have created a stronger economy for them and ourselves. Bill Gates contributed 1.3 billion dollars towards technological development throughout South America back around '96 as I recall. As a result of such investment, we might have also prevented the massive droves of illegal immigration, prevented the rise of abusive regimes like Hugo Chavez and others including the drug lords who now dominate Central America, Mexico, and now form a strong hold throughput across the United States. Not to mention, we now have Russia, Iran, N.Korea, China and Cuba now in a socialist-communist alliance to foster nuclear power and weapons in Venezuela, and Chinese businesses growing throughout S./C. America.


Rwandan President Paul Kagame has praised the way China does business in Africa, criticising the West for basing relations with the continent on aid.

Huge Chinese investment in African companies and infrastructure is helping Africa develop, Mr Kagame said.

Annual trade between China and Africa is now worth more than $100bn (£63bn).

Chinese companies are active across Africa, but have been criticised by some in the West, who accuse Beijing of failing to promote good governance.

Chinese firms, many of them state-owned, regularly bid for major construction projects at costs which Western firms cannot match.

In addition, Beijing also operates a policy of non-interference in domestic affairs.

That has allowed China to do business in areas of Africa, such as Sudan, where Western firms are constrained by human rights concerns.

Old problems

Speaking to a German newspaper, Mr Kagame - seen in the West as one of Africa's more dynamic leaders - was as critical of the West as he was generous in praise of China.

I would prefer the Western world to invest in Africa rather than handing out development aid
Paul Kagame,
Rwandan president

"The Chinese bring what Africa needs: investment and money for governments and companies," he told business newspaper Handelsblatt.

"China is investing in infrastructure and building roads," he said, adding that European and American involvement "has not brought Africa forward".

"Western firms have to a large extent polluted Africa and they are still doing it," Mr Kagame said.

"Think of the dumping of nuclear waste in the Ivory Coast or the fact that Somalia is being used as a rubbish bin by European firms."

Although Rwanda received substantial international aid in the wake of the 1994 genocide, which left more than 800,000 dead, Mr Kagame told Handelsblatt that relations based more on trade than aid were now the most useful to Africa.

"I would prefer the Western world to invest in Africa rather than handing out development aid," he said.

"There is a need for help - but it should be implemented in such a way as to enable trade and build up companies."

The Rwandan leader also said that high trade tariffs prevented African producers from gaining equitable access to global markets.

"It would help Africa much more if industrialised countries allowed us the same trade rights as they give to each other," Mr Kagame said.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Israel will 'attack Iran if sanctions not in place by Christmas'...,7340,L-3787724,00.html

Iran: Israel's threats inexplicable

Iran's ambassador to UN demands Security Council take steps against comments made by Ephraim Sneh, who said Israel would attack Iran if sanctions weren't in place by Christmas

Dudi Cohen
Published: 10.09.09, 23:19 / Israel News

Iran's ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, sent a letter of protest to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moonin which he wrote that "there is no explanation for Israel's continuing threats against Tehran".

He was referring to an interview given by former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh to the Sunday Times in which he said that if Iran were not further sanctioned by this Christmas Israel would attack the country.

Sneh told the paper that if Israel were forced to attack the Islamic Republic on its own it would do so, remarks the Iranian ambassador deemed "irresponsible".

He said he hoped the UN would take steps against such comments. "Remarks such as these, stated once in a while by Israeli leaders, are no more than sorry excuses aimed at avoiding supplying answers regarding Israel's nuclear arsenal and deflecting public awareness from the crimes and terror Israel commits in the region," he said.

Khazaee once again stressed that his country's nuclear program was intended for peaceful purposes and said that "the only threat in the region is Israel's nuclear arsenal, which remains unsupervised to this day".

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Computer-Aided ESP Transmits Binary Numbers, Slowly

Ref: 09/135

06 October 2009

New research from the University of Southampton has demonstrated that it is possible for communication from person to person through the power of thought alone.

Brain-Computer Interfacing (BCI) can be used for capturing brain signals and translating them into commands that allow humans to control (just by thinking) devices such as computers, robots, rehabilitation technology and virtual reality environments.

This experiment goes a step further and was conducted by Dr Christopher James from the University’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research. The aim was to expand the current limits of this technology and show that brain-to-brain (B2B) communication is possible.

Dr James comments: “Whilst BCI is no longer a new thing and person to person communication via the nervous system was shown previously in work by Professor Kevin Warwick from the University of Reading, here we show, for the first time, true brain to brain interfacing. We have yet to grasp the full implications of this but there are various scenarios where B2B could be of benefit such as helping people with severe debilitating muscle wasting diseases, or with the so-called ‘locked-in’ syndrome, to communicate and it also has applications for gaming.”

His experiment had one person using BCI to transmit thoughts, translated as a series of binary digits, over the internet to another person whose computer receives the digits and transmits them to the second user’s brain through flashing an LED lamp.

While attached to an EEG amplifier, the first person would generate and transmit a series of binary digits, imagining moving their left arm for zero and their right arm for one. The second person was also attached to an EEG amplifier and their PC would pick up the stream of binary digits and flash an LED lamp at two different frequencies, one for zero and the other one for one. The pattern of the flashing LEDS is too subtle to be picked by the second person, but it is picked up by electrodes measuring the visual cortex of the recipient.

The encoded information is then extracted from the brain activity of the second user and the PC can decipher whether a zero or a one was transmitted. This shows true brain-to-brain activity.

You can watch Dr James’ BCI experiment at:

Dr James is part of the University of Southampton’s Brain-Computer Interfacing Research Programme, which brings together biomedical engineering and the clinical sciences and provides a cohesive scientific basis for rehabilitation research and management. Projects are driven by clinical problems, using cutting-edge signal processing research to produce an investigative tool for advancing knowledge of neurophysiological mechanisms, as well as providing a practical therapeutic system to be used outside a specialised BCI laboratory.

Dr James also appeared on BBC2’s ‘James May’s Big Ideas’ last year, talking about thought controlled wheelchairs and introducing the field of BCI. You can view the segment here:

Nanoparticles destroy brain cancer

"Scientists from the University of Chicago and the US Department of Energy have developed the first nanoparticles that seek out and destroy GMB brain cancer cells. Nanoparticles killed up to 80% of the brain cancer cells after just five minutes of exposure to white light, showing the promise of nanomedicine — highly-specific intervention at the molecular scale. Because nanomedicine could repair brain cells or damaged nerve and muscle tissue, the NIH has established eight Nanomedicine Development Centers around the country for their Nanomedicine Roadmap Initiative. Researchers have also used gold nanospheres to search out and 'cook' skin cancer cells with light — 'It's basically like putting a cancer cell in hot water and boiling it to death,' says one researcher. And the NIH Roadmap ultimately predicts 'novel tiny sensors ... that search for, and destroy, infectious agents.'"

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nobel Prize to Obama: Some Considerations

I strongly suspect that Nobel Prize was issued to Obama at this time because the U.S. is rumored to be preparing to bomb Iran, with Iran following closely with a promise of ultimate destruction of Israel if they are attacked. One real quirk is the money that is attached to the prize, 1.4 million dollars. Seems almost like a bribe, doesn't it?

Perhaps this isn't about Obama - perhaps this is about being on the brink of world war. Certainly, the event calls to question the integrity behind the awarding of the Nobel Prize

The 'liberals' are overjoyed and the 'conservatives' are outraged, and the polarization of our culture really shows how easily distracted we have become from matters at hand.

U.S. prepares to bomb Iran:

Iran threatens Israel:

The nobel prize is often a method for encouraging action rather than recognizing accomplishment (as with the award for scientific or literary accomplishment), and the nominees have been controversial, having included Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and Yasser Arafat.

Scholars who studied Nobel have said it was Nobel's way to compensate for developing destructive forces (Nobel's inventions included dynamite and ballistite).

Photo Sketch program

Link to the application site (currently down due to high volume traffic.)

PhotoSketch, which transforms basic stick-figure drawings in to a photograph, has been described by technology website Mashable as "mind blowing".

The program, which has been built by five Chinese students at Tsinghua University and the National University of Singapore, uses a vast library of images to turn a basic sketch in to a photograph. A website that allows people to experiment with the software has crashed under the volume of traffic.

In one example of the technology, a basic sketch, showing the rudimentary outlines of some boats, seagulls and a kissing bride and groom, is transformed in to a beautiful image showing an embracing couple against a sunset backdrop. In another, a diagram of a man throwing a Frisbee, and a dog leaping to catch it, is turned into an action-packed picture.

The authors of the tool – Tao Chen, Ming-Ming Cheng, Ping Tan, Ariel Shamir, and Shi-Min Hu – say that the software can take any rough sketch showing the shape of each object, labelled with a name, and find images that correspondent to each element. It can also judge between images to decide which is the best match for the picture, and then stitch all of the elements together in a single image, adding shadows to give a naturalistic look and feel.

"Although online image search generates many inappropriate results, our system is able to automatically select suitable photographs to generate a high quality composition, using a filtering scheme to exclude undesirable images," say the PhotoSketch team in an abstract outlining the tool. "We also provide a novel image blending algorithm to allow seamless image composition. Each blending result is given a numeric score, allowing us to find an optimal combination of discovered images. Experimental results show the method is very successful."

Web users have been quick to point out that the tool is initially most likely to be used to create funny images, perhaps showing celebrities in amusing or compromising positions. But technology experts have been quick to recognise the potential of the software.

"It’s early, experimental, and questionably useful, but it’s just too cool," writes Devin Coldewey on CrunchGear. "I don’t want to be premature here, but I’d say tentatively that this does appear to be the greatest thing of all time."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Levis commercials from days of yor

Featuring Ken Nordine:

Inspired by Star Wars:

Related, appearance by the same warlord character:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Free-flying cyborg insects steered from a distance

(Video Included)

Article: 01 October 2009 by Ewen Callaway

It's tempting to call them lords of the flies. For the first time, researchers have controlled the movements of free-flying insects from afar, as if they were tiny remote-controlled aircraft.

By connecting electrodes and radio antennas to the nervous systems of beetles, the researchers were able to make them take off, dive and turn on command. The cyborg insects were created at the University of California, Berkeley, by engineers led by Hirotaka Sato and Michel Maharbiz as part of a programme funded by the Pentagon's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The project's goal is to create fully remote-controlled insectsMovie Camera able to perform tasks such as looking for survivors after a disaster, or acting as the ultimate spy.
Green beetles

The Berkeley team implanted electrodes into the brain and muscles of two species: green June beetles called Cotinus texana from the southern US, and the much larger African species Mecynorrhina torquata. Both responded to stimulation in much the same way, but the weight of the electronics and their battery meant that only Mecynorrhina – which can grow to the size of a human palm – was strong enough to fly freely under radio control.

A particular series of electrical pulses to the brain causes the beetle to take off. No further stimulation is needed to maintain the flight. Though the average length of flights during trials was just 45 seconds, one lasted for more than 30 minutes. A single pulse causes a beetle to land again.

The insects' flight can also be directed. Pulses sent to the brain trigger a descent, on average by 60 centimetres. The beetles can be steered by stimulating the wing muscle on the opposite side from the direction they are required to turn, though this works only three-quarters of the time. After each manoeuvre, the beetles quickly right themselves and continue flying parallel to the ground.
Brain insights

Tyson Hedrick, a biomechanist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the research, says he is surprised at the level of control achieved, because the controlling impulses were delivered to comparatively large regions of the insect brain.

Precisely stimulating individual neurons or circuits may harness the beetles more precisely, he told New Scientist, but don't expect aerial acrobatics. "It's not entirely clear how much control a beetle has over its own flight," Hedrick says. "If you've ever seen a beetle flying in the wild, they're not the most graceful insects."

The research may be more successful in revealing just how the brain, nerves and muscles of insects coordinate flight and other behaviours than at bringing six-legged cyborg spies into service, Hedrick adds. "It may end up helping biologists more than it will help DARPA."
Brain-recording backpacks

It's a view echoed by Reid Harrison, an electrical engineer at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, who has designed brain-recording backpacks for insects. "I'm sceptical about their ability to do surveillance for the following reason: no one has solved the power issue."

Batteries, solar cells and piezoelectrics that harvest energy from movement cannot provide enough power to run electrodes and radio transmitters for very long, Harrison says. "Maybe we'll have some advances in those technologies in the near future, but based on what you can get off the shelf now it's not even close."

Journal reference: Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, DOI: 10.3389/neuro.07.024.2009

Common Diabetic Drug Fights Cancer Stem Cells

The drug metformin, a mainstay of diabetes care for 15 years, may have a new life as a cancer treatment, researchers said.

In a study in mice, low doses of the drug, combined with a widely used chemotherapy called doxorubicin, shrank breast-cancer tumors and prevented their recurrence more effectively than chemotherapy alone.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence that metformin, marketed as Glucophage by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and available in generic versions, could be a potent antitumor medicine.

They also lend support to an emerging theory that cancer's ability to survive and resist therapy is regulated by cancer stem cells that drive a tumor's growth and survival.

Chemotherapy is effective against many tumors, said Kevin Struhl, a Harvard Medical School researcher and principal investigator of the study. "The problem is cancer stem cells acquire resistance" to treatment, he said. "They are able to regenerate the tumor and as a result you end up with a relapse."

About 5% to 10% of a tumor's cells are believed to be cancer stem cells, he said.

In the report, being published in the Oct. 1 edition of Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, researchers said the combination of metformin and doxorubicin killed both regular cancer cells and cancer stem cells.

In contrast, doxorubicin alone had limited effect on the stem cells.

Mice that grew tumors generated from human breast-cancer cells have remained tumor-free for nearly three months on the combined treatment, while tumors have recurred in those not given the diabetes remedy.

Researchers said the results have potentially broad implications for cancer treatment.

"If we could get some magic bullet to hit that stem-cell population, the thought is we could have more effective treatments," said Raymond DuBois, provost and executive vice president, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

It is too early to tell whether and how metformin might be used to treat cancer patients.

A clinical trial testing metformin alone in early-stage breast-cancer patients, after they have had surgery and chemotherapy to treat their tumors, is being sponsored by the National Cancer Institute of Canada and could begin enrolling patients next year, said Jennifer Ligibel, a breast-cancer doctor at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston. The idea is to see if metformin is effective in preventing the cancer from recurring. U.S. cancer researchers are participating.

The new findings, she said, suggest that additional trials should evaluate metformin in combination with chemotherapy. She wasn't involved in the current research.

Metformin, which was approved in 1994 to lower blood sugar in people with Type 2 diabetes, achieved peak sales of $2.3 billion in 2001 before patent expirations opened the market to generic competition.

Several recent studies have observed the drug's potential effects against cancer.

One study from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, for instance, found that diabetic patients treated with metformin were less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those who weren't taking the drug for blood sugar.

How metformin affects cancer isn't certain, but one possibility is that it deprives tumor cells of sugar.

"Cancer cells are gluttons for glucose," said George Prendergast, president and chief executive officer of Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, Wynnewood, Pa. "It is likely that metformin is taking advantage of this gluttony of the cancer cell in order to attack it."

Another possibility is that the drug affects the immune system and helps stave off a tumor's recurrence, Dr. Struhl said.

The study was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Struhl and Harvard Medical School have applied for a patent that would cover a combination of metformin and a lower dose of chemotherapy to treat cancer.

Write to Ron Winslow at

Corrections and amplifications:

The diabetes drug metformin is marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. under the brand name Glucophage. The medication's name was misspelled as Glugophase in a previous version of this article.