Monday, January 31, 2011

African country set to make breaking wind a crime

Better in than out: African country set to make breaking wind a crime

By Colin Fernandez
Last updated at 10:36 AM on 28th January 2011

Causing a stink: The government of Malawi, led by Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, are planning to outlaw breaking wind

Causing a stink: The government of Malawi, led by Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, are planning to outlaw breaking wind

Breaking wind is set to be made a crime in an African country.

The government of Malawi plan to punish persistent offenders 'who foul the air' in a bid to 'mould responsible and disciplined citizens.'

But locals fear that pinning responsibility on the crime will be difficult - and may lead to miscarriages of justice as 'criminals' attempt to blame others for their offence.

One Malawian told the website 'My goodness. What happens in a public place where a group is gathered. Do they lock up half a minibus?

'And how about at meetings where it is difficult to pinpoint 'culprits'?

'Children will openly deny having passed bad air and point at an elder. Culturally, this is very embarrassing,' she said.

Another said: 'We have serious issues affecting Malawians today. I do not know how fouling the air should take priority over regulating Chinese investments which do not employ locals, serious graft amongst legislators, especially those in the ruling party, and many more.'

The crime will be enforceable in a new 'Local Court' system which will also have powers to punish a range of other crimes in the bill set to be debated in the country's parliament.

These include insulting the modesty of a woman, challenging to fight a duel, and trespassing on a burial place.

It also outlaws pretending to be a fortune teller, according to local press in the country.

Opposition leaders complain the new courts will be 'kangaroo courts

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Kinect : Princess Leia Hologram In Realtime

True 3D realtime holography is not only possible — it makes use of a Kinect as its input device. A team at MIT has recreated the famous 3D Princess Leia scene from the original Star Wars — but as a live video feed!

Michael Bove's group at the MIT Media Lab has managed to create real 3D holograms in real time and transmitted a reenactment of the Princes Leia scene in the original Star Wars. What is important to notice is that the resolution and frame rates may be low but this is live 3D - not stored (as the hologram in R2D2 was in the movie).

It's a great stunt but don't miss the importance — this is realtime 3D holography and that means you can view it without any glasses or other gadgets and you can move around and see behind objects in the scene. This is more than the flat 3D you get in movies.

The idea being developed here is very simple to understand but very difficult to implement. A hologram creates a true 3D (no glasses or any other trickery needed) by recreating the wavefront of light that the real 3D scene would have created.

When you view a hologram you really are interacting with the light field that the original object would have created. The big problem is that creating the wavefront involves taking a parallel beam of light and passing it through an interference pattern that transforms it into the desired wave front. The standard way of doing this is to record an interference pattern onto a photographic plate. The interference pattern is obtained from the original 3D scene so what you have is essentially a 3D camera.

Unfortunately you can't easily turn this into a broadcast system because the resolution needed to record the interference patterns is too great, as is the exposure time.

A better solution would be to create the interference patterns by computing them and then displaying them on a screen. The problem is that you have to invent a whole new type of screen with a very high resolution and an ability to change the "phase" of the light at each point of the screen. The display being used at MIT was developed by students of Stephen Benton, a pioneer of holographic imaging who died in 2003.

In many ways it is this display which is the most important part of the system. The team are working on something better, simpler and hopefully cheaper.

Where does the Kinect fit in?

The Kinect simply acts as a cheap, off-the-shelf, 3D camera. It works out the location of each pixel in 3D and using this information and the color the computers can work out the hologram - in real time. The Kinect data is fed to a laptop which sends it to a PC with three GPU based graphics cards which then compute the interference patterns needed to create the wavefront. At the moment the computation only results in 15 frames per second but with more work they expect to get up to standard frame rates.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Controversial Muslim cleric is arrested while sneaking into the U.S.,0,4849638.story

By Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times

January 27, 2011

Reporting from San Diego —
U.S. border authorities have arrested a controversial Muslim cleric who was deported from Canada to Tunisia three years ago and was caught earlier this month trying to sneak into California in the trunk of a BMW, according to court documents.

Said Jaziri, the former imam of a Muslim congregation in Montreal, was hidden in a car driven by a San Diego-area man who was pulled over by U.S. Border Patrol agents near an Indian casino east of San Diego on Jan. 11. Jaziri had allegedly paid a Tijuana-based smuggling group $5,000 to get him across the border near Tecate, saying he wanted to be taken to a "safe place anywhere in the U.S."

The arrest marks the unexpected resurfacing of the 43-year-old cleric, whose protracted legal battle to avoid deportation drew headlines in Canada. A Tunisian immigrant, Jaziri was deported for failing to disclose a criminal conviction in France while applying for refugee status in the mid-1990s.

But Jaziri's supporters said he was targeted for his fundamentalist views: He backed Sharia law for Canadian Muslims and led protests over the publication of the Prophet Mohammed cartoons in a Danish newspaper in 2006.

Jaziri is being held as a material witness in the criminal case against the BMW's driver, Kenneth Robert Lawler, who has been charged with alien smuggling. He is at the San Luis Detention Facility near Yuma, Ariz., according to his attorney, Wayne Charles Mayer. His bond has been set at $25,000.

In Quebec's large Muslim community, Jaziri stood out for his outspoken views, and though his mosque was small, he drew outsized media attention for his strict interpretation of the Koran. Jaziri labeled homosexuality a sin and pushed for government subsidies to build a large mosque for Montreal's growing Muslim population.

"His nickname in Quebec was the controversial imam," said Lise Garon, a professor of communications at Laval University in Quebec City, adding that his case tapped into the anti-immigrant mood in the community. "I think he was deported because people hated his ideas."

Jaziri opposed his deportation to Tunisia out of fear that he would be tortured by the government. His case drew support from Muslim organizations and Amnesty International. It's unclear what his treatment was like in Tunisia after his deportation, or whether his subsequent journey was related to the recent unrest there.

According to the court documents, a Mexican foot guide led Jaziri and a Mexican immigrant over the border fence near Tecate, and they trekked overnight through the rugged back country to a road where drivers frequently pick up immigrants for smuggling runs into San Diego.

Border Patrol agents, alerted by firefighters who saw the two immigrants get into the car's trunk, pulled the driver over near the Golden Acorn Casino about 50 miles east of San Diego. Jaziri told agents that his journey had been a long one: He had taken a flight from Africa to Europe, then to Central America and Chetumal, Mexico, on the Mexico-Belize border, where he took a bus to Tijuana.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Volkswagen Unveils 313 MPG XL1 Car at 2011 Qatar Motor Show

...313 miles per gallon...slated to enter production in 2013...will cost approximately $29,500.

Volkswagen just unveiled a new car at the Qatar Motor Show that gets an astounding 100km for less than a lieter of diesel fuel – that’s the equivalent of 313 miles per gallon! The green car is an upgraded version of the VW L1 vehicle and it features an ultra-efficient diesel engine in addition to an electric motor that is powered by a lithium-ion battery.

The concept car’s two-cylinder diesel engine is capable of working in two modes: eco and sport. While in the eco mode, the car’s engine will run at 27 hp/4,000 rpm, however in the sport mode this figure increases to 39 hp. While in this mode, the car will be able to reach a top speed of about 160 km/h, or 99 miles per hour.

The VW is made from carbon fibre-reinforced plastics, which saves on metal and makes the car incredibly light, aiding its reduced fuel consumption. Fully fueled, the VW weighs only 380kg (838 pounds).

While the car’s fuel efficiency is certainly impressive, it is actually not the first time that Volkswagen have released such a car – they also unveiled an ultra-efficient auto at the 2008 Frankfurt Motor Show. However the L1 actually had an average fuel consumption of 1.38 l/100km. The new XL1 concept car is slated to enter production in 2013 and is expected to cost approximately $29,500.


Although not a completely clean transportation solution, hyper-miling vehicles feature lightweight bodies and ultra-efficient engines that are able to run on a single gallon of gas for great distances while producing much less emissions.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Breakthrough: Fossil fuels on demand

In September, a privately held and highly secretive U.S. biotech company named Joule Unlimited received a patent for “a proprietary organism” – a genetically engineered cyanobacterium that produces liquid hydrocarbons: diesel fuel, jet fuel and gasoline. This breakthrough technology, the company says, will deliver renewable supplies of liquid fossil fuel almost anywhere on Earth, in essentially unlimited quantity and at an energy-cost equivalent of $30 (U.S.) a barrel of crude oil. It will deliver, the company says, “fossil fuels on demand.”

We’re not talking “biofuels” – not, at any rate, in the usual sense of the word. The Joule technology requires no “feedstock,” no corn, no wood, no garbage, no algae. Aside from hungry, gene-altered micro-organisms, it requires only carbon dioxide and sunshine to manufacture crude. And water: whether fresh, brackish or salt. With these “inputs,” it mimics photosynthesis, the process by which green leaves use solar energy to convert carbon dioxide into organic compounds. Indeed, the company describes its manufacture of fossil fuels as “artificial photosynthesis.”

Joule says it now has “a library” of fossil-fuel organisms at work in its Massachusetts labs, each engineered to produce a different fuel. It has “proven the process,” has produced ethanol (for example) at a rate equivalent to 10,000 U.S. gallons an acre a year. It anticipates that this yield could hit 25,000 gallons an acre a year when scaled for commercial production, equivalent to roughly 800 barrels of crude an acre a year.

By way of comparison, Cornell University’s David Pimentel, an authority on ethanol, says that one acre of corn produces less than half as much energy, equivalent to only 328 barrels. If a few hundred barrels of crude sounds modest, recall that millions of acres of prime U.S. farmland are now used to make corn ethanol.

Joule says its “solar converter” technology makes the manufacture of liquid fossil fuels 50 times as efficient as conventional biofuel production – and eliminates as much as 90 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. “Requiring only sunlight and waste C0{-2},” it says, “[this] technology can produce virtually unlimited quantities of fossil fuels with zero dependence on raw materials, agricultural land, crops or fresh water. It ends the hazards of oil exploration and oil production. It takes us to the unthinkable: liquid hydrocarbons on demand.”

The company name honours James Prescott Joule, the 19th-century British scientist. Founded only four years ago, it has begun pilot-project production in Leander, Tex. Using modular solar panels (imagine an array of conventional panels in a one-acre field), it says it will quickly ramp up production this year toward small-scale commercial production in 2012.

Joule acknowledges its reluctance to fully explain its “solar converter.” CEO Bill Sims told Biofuels Digest, an online biofuels news service, that secrecy has been essential for competitive reasons. “Some time soon,” he said, “what we are doing will become clear.” Although astonishing in its assertions, Joule gains credibility from its co-founder: George Church, the Harvard Medical School geneticist who helped initiate the Human Genome Project in 1984.

Joule began to generate buzz toward the end of 2010. When U.S. Senator John Kerry toured the company’s labs in October, he called the technology “a potential game-changer.” He noted, ironically, that the company’s science is so advanced that it can’t qualify for federal grants or subsidies: The government’s definition of biofuels requires the use of raw-material feedstock.

In December, the World Technology Network named the company the world’s top corporate player in bio-energy research. Biofuels Digest named it one of the world’s “50 hottest” bio-energy enterprises, moving it ahead 10 places in the past year (from 32nd to 22nd). Selected from 1,000 eligible companies around the world, 37 of the “50 hottest” are American-based – another reason not to count out the U.S. just yet.

Conventional fossil fuels are formed from solar energy, too – in a process that takes zillions of bugs and millions of years. Joule’s technology ostensibly produces the same products in less time. In other energy-producing roles, vast quantities of microbes are already hard at work underground, loosening hard-to-recover crude oil. It could be time for science to bring these bugs up into the light of day.

Editor's Note: The original newspaper version of this article and an earlier online version incorrectly stated that Joule Unlimited owns a patent for producing liquid hydrocarbons from E. coli, rather than from a genetically engineered cyanobacterium. This online version has been corrected.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fossil female pterosaur found with preserved egg

By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

For fossil hunters, it represents one of those breakthrough moments.

A pterosaur has been found in China beautifully preserved with an egg.

The egg indicates this ancient flying reptile was a female, and that realisation has allowed researchers to sex these creatures for the first time.

Writing in Science magazine, the palaeontologists make some broad statements about gender differences in pterosaurs, including the observation that only males sported a head-crest.

David Unwin, a palaeobiologist in the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, was part of the research team.

He told the BBC the discovery was astonishing: "If somebody had said to me a few years back that we would find this kind of association, I would just have laughed and said, 'yeah, maybe in a million years', because these sorts of things are incredibly rare."

Pterosaurs, also sometimes referred to as pterodactyls, dominated the skies in the Mesozoic Era, 220-65 million years ago. Although reptiles like the dinosaurs were plodding on the ground below them, they were not actually dinosaurs themselves - a common misconception.

This particular specimen has been dated to about 160 million years ago.

It was found by Junchang Lü and colleagues and excavated from sedimentary rocks in the famous fossil-hunting grounds of Liaoning Province in China. Liaoning has yielded many of the great finds in recent years, including a series of feathered dinos that have transformed thinking on bird evolution.

The new creature is from the Darwinopterus genus, or grouping, but has been dubbed simply as "Mrs T" (a contraction of "Mrs Pterodactyl") by the research team.

The state of the egg's shell suggests it was well developed and that Mrs T must have been very close to laying it when she died.

She appears to have had some sort of accident as her left forearm is broken. The researchers speculate she may have fallen from the sky during a storm or perhaps a volcanic eruption, sunk to the bottom of a lake and then been preserved in the sediments.

"The most important thing about this particular individual is that she has a relatively large pelvis compared to other individuals of the same pterosaur, Darwinopterus," explained Dr Unwin.

"This seems quite reasonable - females lay eggs, they probably need a slightly wider pelvis. And then the really exciting thing is that she has a skull which lacks any kind of adornment or decoration whatsoever. When we look at other individuals of Darwinopterus, we find quite a few individuals with a large crest on the skull.

"We're very confident now that we're dealing with two genders here - males with big crests and small hips, and females with no crest on the skull and large hips."

South Korean Commandos Wup Pirate Ass

South Korean navy commandos have stormed a cargo ship which had been seized by pirates in the Arabian Sea.

All 21 crew members of the South Korean-owned Samho Jewelry were rescued, said Lt Gen Lee Sung-ho of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The navy said eight of the pirates had been killed and five captured.

South Korea is part of a multinational anti-piracy patrol in the area - it had dispatched a warship after the vessel was seized on Saturday.

The unprecedented rescue mission took place about 1,300km (800 miles) off the coast of Somalia and was described by Lt Gen Lee as "a perfect military operation".

The 11,500-tonne Samho Jewelry had been carrying chemicals from the United Arab Emirates towards Sri Lanka when it was hijacked in the waters between Oman and India.

Earlier in the week, President Lee Myung-Bak told the navy to take "all possible measures" to free the eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 Burmese on board.

The Choi Young destroyer had been pursuing the ship for nearly a week, and the navy said the pirates appeared to have been weakened by the chase.

Lt Gen Lee said there were also concerns that they were expecting a mother ship to arrive soon to give them support.

"Since we thought we could be in an extremely difficult situation if the pirates joined forces, we chose today to carry out the operation," he said.

Lt Gen Lee said the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff had taken advice from the Fifth Fleet - the US Navy division based in Bahrain - before the mission, and that the raid was carried out with support from a US destroyer.
'Never negotiate'

The Choi Young moved in when some of the pirates left the Samho Jewelry, apparently to attack a Mongolian ship nearby.

Commandos boarded the ship while a smaller boat and a helicopter were sent to rescue to Mongolian vessel.

"Three of our soldiers suffered light scratches on their bodies as they were fired upon by pirates on Tuesday," said Col Lee Bung-Woo, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Continue reading the main story
South Korean navy commandos on the deck of the Samho Jewelry (21 Jan 2011)

"Our Lynx helicopter immediately returned fire and several pirates fell into the waters. We believe they are dead."

Officials said eight of the 13 pirates on board were killed, although their bodies have not been found. Five were captured alive.

The captain of the ship suffered a bullet wound to the stomach but his condition was not thought to be life-threatening - he was praised for his actions in assisting the rescue.

"Pirates sought to take the vessel to the Somalian coast fast but the skipper helped us earn time by manoevering the vessel in a serpentine manner," said Lt Gen Lee.

"This operation demonstrated our government's strong will to never negotiate with pirates," he said.

In a televised statement after the mission, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said the military had "carried out the operation perfectly under difficult circumstances".

"I appreciate it and send a message of encouragement," he said.

"We will not tolerate any behaviour that threatens the lives and safety of our people in the future."

Family members of the crew said the news of the rescue was "breathtaking".

"I feel so relieved," said the son of crew member Kim Doo-Chan. "I'm ecstatic."

The Gulf of Aden, between Yemen and Somalia, is one of the world's busiest shipping routes and has become a hotspot for pirate attacks.

Last year, Somali pirates received a record ransom of $9.5m (£5.8m) after seizing another ship owned by Samho Shipping.

The Samho Dream supertanker had been hijacked in the Indian Ocean in April.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Somalia anti-piracy law: MPs block law banning 'heroes'

From the article:
"The pirates are... fighting the foreign ships that are plundering our fish and other marine resources," MP Mohamed Mohamoud Heyd is quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

Somali lawmakers are re-drafting a bill to make piracy illegal after the parliament refused to pass it.

The power vacuum left by two decades of civil war in Somali has allowed pirates to flourish and demand big ransoms from passing ships.

But some MPs described them as heroes for keeping foreign fishing fleets away from Somali shores, and said they were acting as unofficial coastguards.

The redraft is likely to make foreign trawling in Somali waters an offence.

BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut says Somalia once had rich fishing off its lengthy coastline, but years of over-fishing by foreign trawlers has devastated fish stocks.

Trawlers from Taiwan and Malaysia are among the fleet of vessels that have hoovered up the catch, leaving Somali fishermen facing a grim future, he adds.

Earlier this week, the International Maritime Bureau said a record number of people, 1,181 sailors, were taken hostage by pirates in 2010, mostly off the Somali coast.

A separate study recently found that maritime piracy costs the global economy between $7bn (£4.4bn) and $12bn (£7.6bn) a year.
Heated debate

The Somali parliament's justice committee began work on the redraft on Thursday, and must resubmit it to parliament on Sunday.

MP Abdul Rashid, who is on the committee, told the BBC's Somali Service that elements of international maritime law would be added to the bill.

The BBC's Mohamed Mohamoud Dhore in the capital, Mogadishu, says the parliament session on Tuesday was heated.

"The pirates are... fighting the foreign ships that are plundering our fish and other marine resources," MP Mohamed Mohamoud Heyd is quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

Under the proposed law, anyone caught in the act of piracy would be fined from between $50,000 (£31,000) and $500,000; they would also face a prison term of between five and 20 years.

But some MPs called for Sharia punishment instead, our reporter says.

Others said it was not up to a transitional authority to pass such laws.

The Somali interim government's authority is very limited - it only controls a handful of streets in the centre of the capital.

Correspondent says even if the law was passed, the government has no ability to apprehend pirates who operate across thousands of miles of the Indian Ocean.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Facebook: Goldman Sachs excludes US investors from deal

Goldman Sachs is to exclude US investors from a $1.5bn investment in Facebook, the social networking site.

Investors from outside America will be able to take part in the private placing of Facebook shares.

In a statement the investment bank cited "intense media coverage" for its move to pull the offer from US clients.

There has been speculation that the investment plan might breach US regulations designed to restrict share trading in private companies.

Wealthy investors are queuing up for a slice of Facebook, the world's largest social networking site, which reportedly has a market value of $50bn.

But the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is watching closely, amid concern that by staying private Facebook is able to by-pass public disclosure rules.

Under US securities law, if more than 500 investors hold a private company's shares, the firm is required to register with the SEC and file public statements.

The exclusion of US investors is unlikely to affect plans for Facebook to raise the $1.5bn, although it will mean some wealthy individuals and companies being denied a chance to buy into a fast-growing firm.

Goldman began marketing the fund-raising to some of its key clients late last year, after which the SEC launched an inquiry into the placing.

Goldman's statement said: "We regret the consequences of this decision, but Goldman Sachs believes this is the most prudent path to take."

Mr Zuckerberg has seemed in no hurry to float his company on the stock exchange, although many analysts believe the SEC's concerns now make it more likely.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Vendaface on the Muppet Show

One of the more hilarious reasons the Muppet Show was canceled:

From muppetwiki:

Vendaface was a vending machine that could give other Muppets face lifts on The Muppet Show. He was apparently only meant to be used once, but David Lazer said that they shouldn't build such an expensive puppet only to use him once[1]. The writers then decided to have him on the show a few more times in the first season.

The puppet also reappeared as Vendawish in episode 318.
SketchesEdit Sketches sectionEdit

* Psychiatrist Machine (Episode 121)

In his first skit, he gives psychiatric advice instead of face lifts. Vendaface asks that Fozzie Bear deposit another coin. He keeps putting coins into the machine, and Vendaface tells him "Your problem is, you are too generous".

* From Ugly to Pretty (Episode 123)

A very unattractive Whatnot woman gets her face changed. The next customer, who doesn't really have anything wrong with her face, likes the results and tries out Vendaface, but Vendaface gives this woman the same features that the last customer originally had.

* Statler's Face-Lift (Episode 124)

Statler makes a rare appearance out of the balcony (it is not stated where Vendaface is located, whether on the stage, backstage, or in the area between the ticket office and the seating) and gets a face lift. However, all Vendaface does is punch Statler's nose into his mouth.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mammoth 'could be reborn in four years'

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo 2:13PM GMT 13 Jan 2011

Previous efforts in the 1990s to recover nuclei in cells from the skin and muscle tissue from mammoths found in the Siberian permafrost failed because they had been too badly damaged by the extreme cold.

But a technique pioneered in 2008 by Dr. Teruhiko Wakayama, of the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology, was successful in cloning a mouse from the cells of another mouse that had been frozen for 16 years.

Now that hurdle has been overcome, Akira Iritani, a professor at Kyoto University, is reactivating his campaign to resurrect the species that died out 5,000 years ago.

"Now the technical problems have been overcome, all we need is a good sample of soft tissue from a frozen mammoth," he told The Daily Telegraph.

He intends to use Dr Wakayama's technique to identify the nuclei of viable mammoth cells before extracting the healthy ones.

The nuclei will then be inserted into the egg cells of an African elephant, which will act as the surrogate mother for the mammoth.

Professor Iritani said he estimates that another two years will be needed before the elephant can be impregnated, followed by the approximately 600-day gestation period.

He has announced plans to travel to Siberia in the summer to search for mammoths in the permafrost and to recover a sample of skin or tissue that can be as small as 3cm square. If he is unsuccessful, the professor said, he will ask Russian scientists to provide a sample from one of their finds.

"The success rate in the cloning of cattle was poor until recently but now stands at about 30 per cent," he said. "I think we have a reasonable chance of success and a healthy mammoth could be born in four or five years."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

iPhone App reads brainwaves

By Matt Blake

It's a device that would be more at home on the set of a Star Wars movie than the streets of Britain.

But an iPhone application has been developed that can read minds.

The XWave allows users to control on-screen objects with their minds as well as train their brains to control attention spans and relaxation levels.

Scroll down for video
No-brainer: The XWave allows users to control on-screen objects with their minds as well as train their brains to control attention spans and relaxation levels

No-brainer: The XWave allows users to control on-screen objects with their minds as well as train their brains to control attention spans and relaxation levels

The device - that could confuse Luke Skywalker himself - is the latest in the field of emerging mind-controlled games and devices and works via a headset strapped around the user's forehead, plugging into the iPhone jack.

A state-of-the-art sensor within the device can then read the user's brainwaves through the skull, converting them into digital signals before displaying them in various colours on the iPhone screen.
State of the art: A sensor within the device can then read the user's brainwaves through the skull, converting them into digital signals before displaying them in various colours on the iPhone screen

State of the art: A sensor within the device can then read the user's brainwaves through the skull, converting them into digital signals before displaying them in various colours on the iPhone screen

And as the mind focuses on a particular task the graphics change, indicating the user's level of concentration or relaxation.

The high-tech sensor was developed by innovations giant PLX Devices using technology that has for years been used by doctors to treat epilepsy and seizures in patients.
Brain train: As the mind focuses on a particular task the graphics change, indicating the user's level of concentration or relaxation

Brain train: As the mind focuses on a particular task the graphics change, indicating the user's level of concentration or relaxation

But PLX Devices founder and CEO Paul Lowchareonkul said it was a matter of time before such contraptions entered the mainstream.

He said: 'The human brain is the most powerful, complex thing in the universe, and for the first time, we're able to harness its amazing power and connect it to everyday technology.

'With the development of 3rd party apps, the potential for innovation is limitless.'

Brain-training exercises include levitating an on-screen ball for a certain amount of time or changing a colour by relaxing the brain in a bid to maximise the brain's attention span.

And designers say it won't stop there.

Incredibly, another app, called XWave Tunes allow users to connect with each other through the type of music that most stimulates their brainwaves.

The company says it is working on other ways in which the futuristic technology can be applied such as playing games through the mind, controlling the lights at home and even choosing what music to listen to on an iPod depending on the user's mood.

Its designers claim the possibilities are endless, whether it is for relaxation, brain training, entertainment, games, social networking, sports or sleep.

Steve Howe


The Ancient

Starship Trooper

Monday, January 10, 2011

Scientists Propose Insect Farming Instead of Cattle

Meet me at Five Guys for a Beetle Burger, or bring your lunch and pack a peanut butter and aphid sandwich. I guess if they can grow them large enough, we could have grasshopper filets. So, what would be the insect equivalent of foot and mouth disease, pod and mandible? Or are we talking Mad Roach? Move over, Long Horn, cuz here comes the Rhinoceros Beetle in droves. Would PETA mind if we just cloned them all at ridiculous sizes in space? Then we can augment their brains with some hardware and network them by their antennae (although it's a chemical signal, how does that translate into binary?), program and march them around, drive them as SUVs, employ them as day laborers, whatever.

Article from the Netherlands suggests insect farming would cut down on greenhouse gases. I'd like to tie a bib on Al Gore for this one.

Meat producers should replace cattle with insects, scientists say
Morgan Erickson-Davis,
January 10, 2011

Scientists in the Netherlands have discovered that insects produce significantly less greenhouse gas per kilogram of meat than cattle or pigs. Their study, published in the online journal PLoS One, suggests that a move towards insect farming could result in a more sustainable - and affordable - form of meat production.

The rearing of cattle and pigs for meat production results in an estimated 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. With worldwide consumption of beef and pork expected to double by 2020, alternatives are being investigated. Of these, perhaps the most notable has been the development of "in-vitro meat" which is lab-grown tissue not requiring the production of a whole organism. Initiated by NASA as a form of astronaut food, in-vitro meat production took its first steps in 2000 when scientists used goldfish cells to grow edible protein resembling fish fillets. Since then, turkey and pig cells have been used to create spam-like substances, and Time Magazine has included in-vitro meat in its list of the top 50 breakthrough ideas of 2009.

In addition to the environmental impact of current meat production techniques, scientists believe that the inevitable increase in price as population-driven demand grows will ultimately result in traditional meat products becoming unavailable to many people around the world.

This cockroach has a high feed conversion efficiency, but isn't recommended as a food source by the researchers. Photo taken in Sabah, Malaysia by Jeremy Hance.
However, if the idea of eating meat grown in a lab doesn't appeal to you, there is another option.

Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands looked at mealworms, house crickets, migratory locusts, sun beetles, and Dubia cockroaches, and for the first time quantified the amounts of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) released per kilogram of insect meat. They found that the amounts of gases released by insects to be much smaller than those released by cattle and pigs. For instance, mealworms produce between ten and a hundred times less greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram than do pigs. Ammonia levels also declined significantly.

The scientists attributed the decrease in emissions to the insects' more efficient use of food. Because they aren't warm-blooded, what insects eat is aimed directly at body growth rather than maintaining a stable body temperature.

While the results are promising, the researchers caution that more study needs to be done in order to determine the impact of insect-farming on the entire production chain.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

China plans $1.3bn 'seven-star hotel' with Saudi Funds

Beijing authorities plan to build a "seven-star hotel" modelled after Dubai's Burj Khalifa -- the world's tallest building -- in a $1.3 billion joint project with Saudi Arabia.

The hotel will be erected in western Beijing's Mentougou district some 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the Chinese capital's centre, the state-run Beijing Morning Post said in a Thursday report, quoting a local parliamentary meeting.

A district official, who declined to give his name, confirmed the project and its price tag in comments to AFP on Friday.

He said that the Saudi side was expected to foot the entire bill but he refused to provide other details, such as why such an expensive project would be located in the underdeveloped rural area.

The Beijing Morning Post said the building's design would be patterned after the 828-metre (2,717-foot) Burj Khalifa's distinctive slender, tapering design, but did not say how tall the planned structure would be.

The "seven-star" classification is not officially recognised internationally, as no formal body awards ratings above five stars, but there are a handful of luxury hotels around the world that still use the distinction.

Dubai's Burj Al Arab is one such establishment, and in Beijing, the Pangu 7 Star Hotel built near the 2008 Olympic stadium also claims the rating.

The announcement of the Mentougou project comes at a time when China is attempting to crack down on high-end developments and use more land for affordable housing, amid general discontent over soaring property prices.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Journal’s Paper on ESP Expected to Prompt Outrage

Full paper here (.pdf)

Published: January 5, 2011

One of psychology’s most respected journals has agreed to publish a paper presenting what its author describes as strong evidence for extrasensory perception, the ability to sense future events.

Work by Daryl J. Bem on extrasensory perception is scheduled to be published this year.

The decision may delight believers in so-called paranormal events, but it is already mortifying scientists. Advance copies of the paper, to be published this year in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, have circulated widely among psychological researchers in recent weeks and have generated a mixture of amusement and scorn.

The paper describes nine unusual lab experiments performed over the past decade by its author, Daryl J. Bem, an emeritus professor at Cornell, testing the ability of college students to accurately sense random events, like whether a computer program will flash a photograph on the left or right side of its screen. The studies include more than 1,000 subjects.

Some scientists say the report deserves to be published, in the name of open inquiry; others insist that its acceptance only accentuates fundamental flaws in the evaluation and peer review of research in the social sciences.

“It’s craziness, pure craziness. I can’t believe a major journal is allowing this work in,” Ray Hyman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University Oregon and longtime critic of ESP research, said. “I think it’s just an embarrassment for the entire field.”

The editor of the journal, Charles Judd, a psychologist at the University of Colorado, said the paper went through the journal’s regular review process. “Four reviewers made comments on the manuscript,” he said, “and these are very trusted people.”

All four decided that the paper met the journal’s editorial standards, Dr. Judd added, even though “there was no mechanism by which we could understand the results.”

But many experts say that is precisely the problem. Claims that defy almost every law of science are by definition extraordinary and thus require extraordinary evidence. Neglecting to take this into account — as conventional social science analyses do — makes many findings look far more significant than they really are, these experts say.

“Several top journals publish results only when these appear to support a hypothesis that is counterintuitive or attention-grabbing,” Eric-Jan Wagenmakers, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, wrote by e-mail. “But such a hypothesis probably constitutes an extraordinary claim, and it should undergo more scrutiny before it is allowed to enter the field.”

Dr. Wagenmakers is co-author of a rebuttal to the ESP paper that is scheduled to appear in the same issue of the journal.

In an interview, Dr. Bem, the author of the original paper and one of the most prominent research psychologists of his generation, said he intended each experiment to mimic a well-known classic study, “only time-reversed.”

In one classic memory experiment, for example, participants study 48 words and then divide a subset of 24 of them into categories, like food or animal. The act of categorizing reinforces memory, and on subsequent tests people are more likely to remember the words they practiced than those they did not.

In his version, Dr. Bem gave 100 college students a memory test before they did the categorizing — and found they were significantly more likely to remember words that they practiced later. “The results show that practicing a set of words after the recall test does, in fact, reach back in time to facilitate the recall of those words,” the paper concludes.

In another experiment, Dr. Bem had subjects choose which of two curtains on a computer screen hid a photograph; the other curtain hid nothing but a blank screen.

A software program randomly posted a picture behind one curtain or the other — but only after the participant made a choice. Still, the participants beat chance, by 53 percent to 50 percent, at least when the photos being posted were erotic ones. They did not do better than chance on negative or neutral photos.

“What I showed was that unselected subjects could sense the erotic photos,” Dr. Bem said, “but my guess is that if you use more talented people, who are better at this, they could find any of the photos.”

In recent weeks science bloggers, researchers and assorted skeptics have challenged Dr. Bem’s methods and his statistics, with many critiques digging deep into the arcane but important fine points of crunching numbers. (Others question his intentions. “He’s got a great sense of humor,” said Dr. Hyman, of Oregon. “I wouldn’t rule out that this is an elaborate joke.”)

Dr. Bem has generally responded in kind, sometimes accusing critics of misunderstanding his paper, others times of building a strong bias into their own re-evaluations of his data.

In one sense, it is a historically familiar pattern. For more than a century, researchers have conducted hundreds of tests to detect ESP, telekinesis and other such things, and when such studies have surfaced, skeptics have been quick to shoot holes in them.

But in another way, Dr. Bem is far from typical. He is widely respected for his clear, original thinking in social psychology, and some people familiar with the case say his reputation may have played a role in the paper’s acceptance.

Peer review is usually an anonymous process, with authors and reviewers unknown to one another. But all four reviewers of this paper were social psychologists, and all would have known whose work they were checking and would have been responsive to the way it was reasoned.

Perhaps more important, none were topflight statisticians. “The problem was that this paper was treated like any other,” said an editor at the journal, Laura King, a psychologist at the University of Missouri. “And it wasn’t.”

Many statisticians say that conventional social-science techniques for analyzing data make an assumption that is disingenuous and ultimately self-deceiving: that researchers know nothing about the probability of the so-called null hypothesis.

In this case, the null hypothesis would be that ESP does not exist. Refusing to give that hypothesis weight makes no sense, these experts say; if ESP exists, why aren’t people getting rich by reliably predicting the movement of the stock market or the outcome of football games?

Instead, these statisticians prefer a technique called Bayesian analysis, which seeks to determine whether the outcome of a particular experiment “changes the odds that a hypothesis is true,” in the words of Jeffrey N. Rouder, a psychologist at the University of Missouri who, with Richard D. Morey of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, has also submitted a critique of Dr. Bem’s paper to the journal.

Physics and biology, among other disciplines, overwhelmingly suggest that Dr. Bem’s experiments have not changed those odds, Dr. Rouder said.

So far, at least three efforts to replicate the experiments have failed. But more are in the works, Dr. Bem said, adding, “I have received hundreds of requests for the materials” to conduct studies.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Kinect Creators Making PC Controller (MSFT)

Matt Rosoff, provided by
Business Insider January 3, 2011 04:00 AM Copyright Business Insider. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

It looks like a motion-controlled interface is coming to the PC next year--but not from Microsoft.

, the privately held Israeli company that licensed core Kinect technology to Microsoft, announced that it is teaming up with PC and peripheral maker Asus to create a similar device for the PC.

It's called Wavi Xtion, and the companies are showing it off at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. The companies imagine it being used not for games, but for browsing multimedia content and accessing the Internet and social networks--basically, the main things consumers use their PCs for.

There will also be APIs for third-party developers and a Wavi Xtion store where developers can sell motion-controlled apps.

The system will launch in the second quarter, but the companies haven't released pricing info yet.

Last month, a Korean game developer claimed that Microsoft was working on a version of Kinect for the PC, but Microsoft hasn't confirmed any such plans. Hackers figured out how to hook a Kinect up to a Windows PC almost immediately, and have come up with some pretty interesting applications.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Goldman Sachs sinks $450 million in Facebook, seeks $1.5 billion more from investors

Why Facebook Is Such a Crucial Friend for Goldman


Goldman Sachs and Facebook have friended each other.

In investing $450 million in the social networking giant, Goldman has established itself as the leading candidate to win the lucrative and prestigious assignment of Facebook’s initial public offering, whenever that day comes. It also positions itself to reap millions of dollars in banking fees. Goldman has already begun the process of wooing its wealthy clients to invest alongside it in Facebook, forming an investment vehicle that seeks to raise as much $1.5 billion for the Internet company.

But Goldman’s bold move is also likely to focus the attention of regulators at the Securities and Exchange Commission, which last month began an inquiry into the surge in trading shares of privately held Internet companies.

While the investment by Goldman is being hailed as a huge coup on Wall Street, the deal — in particular the investment pool being formed for its clients — could become a lightning rod for regulators and policy makers as they examine the growing shadow market in Facebook shares.

For Goldman, the investment in Facebook is in many ways a return to the firm’s roots. Long before Facebook became a social and cultural phenomenon, Goldman was “friending” America’s hottest companies and their chief executives, from Sears Roebuck in the 1900s to Ford in the 1950s to eBay in the 1990s. By collecting so many important friends, and obsessively tending to those relationships, Goldman generates big fees.

In addition to the potential banking fees generated by an initial public offering of Facebook, there is the billions of dollars of unlocked paper wealth realized by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 26-year-old chief, and his fellow executives. Goldman, as a lead Facebook investor, will most likely have a leg up in winning the assignment to manage that money, too.

The firm’s Facebook investment came together over the last month, according to a person involved in the deal who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. After the spike in trading in Facebook over the last several months — in a November auction, Facebook shares traded at a $56 billion valuation — Mr. Zuckerberg expressed an interest in raising money to legitimize the $50 billion valuation.

Mr. Zuckerberg felt that gaining the imprimatur of a major investor at such lofty levels would validate Facebook in the eyes of its Silicon Valley competitors with whom it is negotiating deals, this person said.

Helping play matchmaker was Yuri Milner, chief executive of DST Global, a Russian firm that invested $50 million alongside Goldman. Goldman has a close relationship with DST and Mr. Milner, a Russian businessman who has emerged as a leading venture capital investor in Internet companies., the publicly traded sibling of DST Global, has an existing stake in Facebook, as well large positions in Groupon and Zynga, two other popular Web-based businesses. Goldman was a lead underwriter of’s successful $1 billion initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange in November.

The Facebook investment, made from Goldman’s balance sheet, also sheds light on the firm’s private equity strategy in the wake of the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul.

Although the Facebook investment represents a negligible percentage of Goldman’s roughly $900 billion balance sheet, it is symbolically significant because it had been unclear whether the firm would, after the financial crisis, be using its balance sheet to make these types of illiquid, risky investments.

A Goldman spokesman declined to comment.

The closest analogue to Goldman’s Facebook investment may be the firm’s longtime alliance with the New York fashion designer Ralph Lauren. In 1994, Mr. Lauren was looking for money to expand his business, and Goldman invested a minority stake and took a seat on the company’s board. Goldman underwrote Ralph Lauren’s initial public offering in 1997. Today, Mr. Lauren’s company remains a loyal client of the firm. And when Mr. Lauren sold $1 billion of stock last year to cash out one-quarter of his stake in his company, Goldman handled the trade.

Perhaps even more intriguing than Goldman’s direct stake in Facebook is the “special purpose vehicle” that it is creating to allow its wealthy clients to invest in Facebook alongside the firm.

Goldman is charging stiff fees for the privilege — a 4 percent placement fee and a 5 percent cut of the investment’s profits, according to two people with direct knowledge of the deal. Despite the rich price of entry, the firm has told clients it suspects the deal will be substantially oversubscribed.

Clients of Goldman will have to invest a minimum of $2 million and will be prohibited from selling their shares until 2013, according to one of those people. The firm has warned prospective investors that if they invest, they will not be able to trade Facebook stock in a private marketplace.

Goldman did not pioneer this type of investment structure. Over the last several months, a number of smaller Wall Street brokerages have formed vehicles to enable individual investors to acquire shares in private Internet companies like Facebook and Twitter. Two of these brokerages are EB Exchange Funds of San Francisco and J. P. Turner & Company in Atlanta.

These are the vehicles that have drawn the scrutiny of the S.E.C. On Monday, a spokesman for SecondMarket, a leading marketplace for these transactions, said that it had received a request for information from the S.E.C. about “pre-I.P.O. pooled investment funds” and that it was cooperating with the inquiry.

The S.E.C. generally requires companies with more than 499 shareholders to report their quarterly earnings and audited financial information to the public. Under a technical interpretation of the statute, the vehicle that Goldman is creating for its clients would be considered a single Facebook shareholder of record. But several securities lawyers say an argument exists that these structures subvert the spirit of the law because they are disguising what is really a stealth initial public offering.

“This is one of those arcane technical and policy questions that are debated at securities law conferences,” said Marc Morgenstern, a securities lawyer in San Francisco and the managing partner of Blue Mesa Partners, a venture capital firm. “Companies forming today, like Facebook, are growing so quickly, and their stocks are being distributed so broadly, that they may not fit neatly within securities laws enacted decades ago.”

The S.E.C.’s inquiry could have collateral consequences for the venture-capital firms that invest in fast-growing companies like Facebook, lawyers say. “I would be surprised if the S.E.C. simply creates a rule that says you must look through investment pools to determine the number of stockholders you have,” said Stephen E. Fox, a securities lawyer at Herrick, Feinstein, who points out that venture capital firms have hundreds of investors, yet have historically been counted as one investor.

Although the Facebook investment looks promising at the moment, Goldman and its investors could be buying into a social networking investment bubble at a nosebleed valuation. During the dot-com bubble, Goldman invested about $100 million in Webvan, the online grocer that never got off the ground and eventually collapsed in bankruptcy.

Even amid the questions over possible regulatory issues and skepticism over Facebook’s price, Goldman’s Wall Street rivals were grousing about the investment on Monday.

“Despite the vertigo-inducing valuation, any of Goldman’s competitors would have loved to have taken their place in this deal,” said William D. Cohan, the author of a forthcoming book on the investment bank. “In that sense, it’s classically brilliant Goldman.”

Susanne Craig and Azam Ahmed contributed reporting.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons

I recently found 'Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons' for $49 on Amazon. Published in January of 2010, the collection was originally priced at $125. Hardback with slipcover case, beautiful.

As prolific as Gahan Wilson has been, one must admire that he is both writer and illustrator. The last volume of the Playboy collection contains a biography/appreciation and a 32 page interview with Gahan Wilson, along with several of his short stories. The interview goes into a lot of detail about Wilson's process, his relationship with Hugh Hefner, and there are notes about how specific cartoons develop or change and why.

In the interview, Wilson mentions Steven-Charles Jaffe's biographical film documentary, 'Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird', which I have been seeking out since it's debut in 2007.

I own nearly every Gahan Wilson collection, and the Playboy collection includes plenty of his brilliant classics that I've seen and many I have not. Granted, this is a complete collection compiled by date, and not a compilation of selected works, so we are reading at once what was originally intended as an experience separated over time, created for a particular market and publisher. However, thinking about the counterbalance between the New Yorker and Playboy, Wilson has enjoyed a range of freedom to toggle between that allows the working cartoonist to represent himself unapologetically and without fear of being pigeon holed. Although some cartoons are clearly aimed at Playboy, it would be interesting to know how many if any of his cartoons were created regardless of the magazines, given his unique brand of humor. Further, I would love to hear a similar interview discussing his approach and editing parameters at the New Yorker.

The Playboy collection is divided into three volumes:
Vol. 1('57-'73) Vol. 2('74-'93) Vol. 3('94-'08)

The first volume contains probably the most celebrated of Wilson's cartoons and is characterized by a lighter, almost painterly illustrative style. While the second volume includes many strong cartoons, it is in my opinion the least consistent of the three volumes, employing redundant themes that get a bit shticky and the artwork also seems a bit more crude. I might say that, for example, he belabors the cross hatching at times, that the cartoons are heavy or busy, and the drawings less solid. The third volume reflects imaginative and hilarious writing in a mature voice, accompanied by really fun, playful and confident artwork that seems very 'clean' and orderly, and perhaps simplified.

The images in the collection are full size and better print quality than in most collections, revealing details that might have been poorly represented in reproductions. Overall, Wilson let's his artwork go where it will and experiments, sometimes the water colors achieve an atmospheric vignette, with or without crosshatching, else he renders with a simple line or line and wash combo, leaving space to breathe and reducing the visual load.

I have read that Wilson has struggled with alcohol and it would be interesting to identify with certainty how that comes out in the cartoons. He is self aware about his own paranoia which is harnessed in his work, and at times I believe I am seeing extreme variation in the drawing style that might indicate an altered state - not so much the bizarre imagery as much as the actual line quality or slant of the shapes.

Wilson mentioned in an article that he would depict scenes from Edgar Allan Poe because they (Playboy) realized that people didn't really know the work - he has also cited H.P. Lovecraft. The appreciation section of Vol. 3 mentions the influence of Basil Wolverton and Chester Gould upon Wilson's work. Although it is known that Gary Larson was inspired by both Gahan Wilson and Charles Addams (and Wilson by Charles Addams), I couldn't help but wonder if Wilson was at all influenced or impacted by Gary Larson's arrival onto the scene during the 80s - a few of Wilson's captions from the second and third volumes seem to have a Larson-like ring to them, and in certain instances in the third volume the simplified visual style is more free of heavy hatching, and somewhat visually evocative of Larson.

To completely blow my speculation apart, I found a reference to cartoonist B. Kliban (January 1, 1935 – August 12, 1990) as a primary inspiration for Larson. More Kliban galleries here and here. Read more about B. Kliban on wiki. Doesn't this Kliban cartoon bear a curious resemblance to Brian from Family Guy? Some reviews online mention the influence of Shel Silverstein - looking through Kliban's cartoons, I found one in particular that fits the bill.

Regardless of style and format, ideas may stand on their own - afterall, the gag panel cartoon is itself a shared format. While stylistic borrowing threatens encroachment, it is ultimately a delivery mechanism dependent upon concept, though not entirely independent from the visual expression. A great artist may not create a body of cartoon work without great ideas, but a great writer may communicate volumes with minimal or derivative artistic vehicle. A unique, expressive and recognizable visual style is harder to quantify or protect. Having both sides of the equation, Gahan Wilson has stood on his own for over half a century, delivering funny, compelling ideas through brutally funny drawings.

Incidentally, I read the Charles Addams biography and was disappointed to learn that, unlike Gahan Wilson and Gary Larson, Addams was primarily an illustrator and relied heavily on gag writers, which was the standard arrangement with the NYer at that time. While Addams enjoyed the celebrity, unique identity, and prosperity, he also suffered from the pressure to maintain because he was not the source of the writing.

I'm glad to see and consider Gahan Wilson's body of work in Playboy as a whole. I'm reluctant to say that my favorite collections are 'Still Weird' and 'Even Weirder'. I would like to cull together Wilson's contributions from the Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker collection and consider those works relative to the Playboy collection.

Note that Gary Larson was invited to draw a cover for the New Yorker in 2003, 'an offer that was too prestigious to refuse'. Published in 2003 and originally priced at $135, 'The Complete Farside 1980-1994' collection is available on Amazon for $75).