Wednesday, January 30, 2013

North Korean Prison Camps

My thoughts: 
I can only imagine that the reason for not liberating North Korea would be the instant conflict we would face with China and their allies.  N. Korea's condition has gone on for so long, it makes clear when we intervene for political gain, and that anyone touting moral obligation to justify other invasions is working spin, has another political motivation, or simply perceives limited consequences (I recall someone arrogantly claiming that we would be in and out of Iraq in three weeks, and everyone was glued to their tvs watching the initial invasion set to symphonic music).

 The same thoughts apply to Somalia - short-sightedness will ultimately lead to that region being a huge problem as the pirates grow in power and alignment with Islamic militants. As is true with the cartels in Mexico and C. America - our preoccupation with capturing the Latino vote blinds us to the concern of the crossover in cartels to the U.S. due to a lack of security and permissive policy.

Generations of Chem Experiments and Torture: The Horror of North Korean Prison Camps

Yesterday the Daily Mail in England broke the news that North Korean prison camps had been found on Google Earth. North Korea has long denied the existence of prison camps in its supposed utopia, but even as far back as 2004 The Guardian was reporting that the camps held an estimated 200,000 citizens. 50,000 of them, all deemed enemies of the state even though many had been actually born inside, are in North Korea’s most notorious hell, Camp 22.

And believe us, hell isn’t nearly strong enough of a word. According to reports from defectors, citizens are tossed into camps on any official whim, with most offenders being taken away for being even minutely critical of Kim Jong Il’s regime. But it’s not only the supposed offenders that are sentenced to a life of intense slave labor and malnourishment that only ends in death from exhaustion or random execution. In order to purify offenders’ blood of anti-government discontent, officials throw three generations of their family in to join them in suffering senseless torture, eating rotten food and the occasional feces and horrifying ‘scientific’ experiments involving chemical and biological weapons.

In its 2004 documentary Access to Evil, shared above, the BBC chatted with Kwon Hyuk, a former military attaché at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. Hyuk, who changed his name, was also the former chief of management at Camp 22. He defected upon seeing the light, but his descriptions of experiments he watched over are simply horrifying. Entire families, along with random single prisoners, were (and possibly still are) placed in giant glass boxes. While pumping in poisonous gasses, scientists stood on top of the box, recording the reactions of the dying families below.
“I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber,” he said in the BBC doc. “The parents, son and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.”

Perhaps even more frightening is Hyuk’s admission that he felt absolutely no remorse at the time for any of the prisoners. According to him, they were simply enemies of the state, and deserved to die.
The BBC also talks to Sun Ok-Lee, who was one of the few prisoners to be released from the camps after it was deemed she was sufficiently reformed. While talking of the torture she endured in her seven years there, she describes an experiment she took part in.

“An officer ordered me to select 50 healthy female prisoners,” she said. “One of the guards handed me a basket full of soaked cabbage, told me not to eat it but to give it to the 50 women. I gave them out and heard a scream from those who had eaten them. They were all screaming and vomiting blood. All who ate the cabbage leaves started violently vomiting blood and screaming with pain. It was hell. In less than 20 minutes they were quite dead.”

Most of the info on the camps from the interviews in Access to Evil were corroborated by a 2008 Washington Post story on Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person known to have successfully escaped from a North Korean prison camp. Dong-hyuk was actually born in his camp. At one point he was tortured and locked in an underground room for seven months because his mother and brother were supposedly hatching an escape plot. He later saw them both executed.

The importance of the Daily Mail‘s report is that it lends a whole lot of weight to past prison camp reports. North Korea has always denied the existence of the camps, and with independent verification impossible in a country that so tightly controls foreign press, there’s always that shadow of a doubt (At least in the public eye. It’s hard to imagine that the imaging resources of Google Earth outpaced government agencies in discovering the camps). Hell, 2008’s Vice Guide to North Korea provided some of the most in depth information on the country many people had ever seen and it required journalists to sneak into the country and, as VICE is apt to encourage, leverage hard partying to gain exclusive access to information. What’s paramount, as grinding diplomacy plods back and forth in the region, is reminding the public of the existence of these horrors is key in pushing leaders to demand concessionary change.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cyber War On the US Has Begun

Security pros and government officials warn of a possible cyber 9/11 involving banks, utilities, other companies, or the Internet

The Senate’s immigration plan

The 5 most important sentences in the Senate’s immigration plan

Posted by Ezra Klein

Have you read the Senate’s bipartisan immigration-reform framework yet? At four pages, it’s a quick and clear read. But because it’s only four pages, quite a bit is left unsaid, or undefined. So here’s what you should keep a particularly close eye on:
Erik S. Lesser/AP
(Erik S. Lesser/Associated Press)

1) “Contingent upon our success in securing our borders and addressing visa overstays.”
The key word in the framework is “contingent.” Everything is contingent upon the securing of our borders. But how will we known when our borders are secure? “Our legislation will create a commission comprised of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border to monitor the progress of securing our border and to make a recommendation regarding when the bill’s security measures outlined in the legislation are completed.”

As Greg Sargent writes, “The fate of immigration reform, then, largely rests on what this commission looks like, who is on it, and what metric it uses to decide when the border is secure.”

2) “Our legislation also recognizes that the circumstances and the conduct of people without lawful status are not the same, and cannot be addressed identically.”

There’s a lot you have to do to qualify for the path to citizenship in this bill. “Go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants, pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the United States, and current employment, among other requirements.”

But that’s not true for everyone. The framework makes clear that the law won’t treat all undocumented immigrants identically. The obvious exception is children, and sure enough, they get a special mention: “individuals who entered the United States as minor children did not knowingly choose to violate any immigration laws. Consequently, under our proposal these individuals will not face the same requirements as other individuals in order to earn a path to citizenship.”

The more unexpected exemption is agricultural workers. “Individuals who have been working without legal status in the United States agricultural industry have been performing very important and difficult work to maintain America’s food supply while earning subsistence wages. Due to the utmost importance in our nation maintaining the safety of its food supply, agricultural workers who commit to the long term stability of our nation’s agricultural industries will be treated differently than the rest of the undocumented population.”

3) “Our new immigration system must be more focused on recognizing the important characteristics which will help build the American economy and strengthen American families.”

Perhaps the key architectural question in building a new immigration system (as opposed to figuring out what to do with the failures of the last immigration system) is deciding whether we’ll focus our visas on drawing needed skills (for instance, by favoring immigrants with advanced degrees or who work in sectors, like agriculture, where we need more labor), emphasizing family unification or something else.

This paper mentions both family reunification and skills. And to some degree, that’s fine: We don’t need to choose simply one or the other. But since we’re not moving to an open-border policy, the fact that we’re offering a limited number of visas will mean that we have to choose how many of them go toward  reuniting families and how many go toward filling our perceived economic needs. Those ratios are left undefined in this framework, but they’ll be one of the most hotly contested elements of the actual law.

4) “Our immigration proposal will award a green card to immigrants who have received a PhD or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering  or math from an American university.”
Remember when Mitt Romney said, “If the [immigrant] student does so well that they get an advanced degree, I’d staple the green card to their diploma”? This law basically does that.

5) “Our proposal will provide businesses with the ability to hire lower-skilled workers in a timely manner when Americans are unavailable or unwilling to fill those jobs.”

This refers to some kind of guest worker program, though the details are sparse and the language is vague. The section mostly focuses on the hoops employers would have to jump through, including demonstrating “that they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position and the hiring of an immigrant will not displace American workers.” But guest-worker programs are always controversial, and how big this program is, how difficult the qualifications are, who qualifies, etc., are all left unresolved in this paper.

As just one example, consider the complexities in implementing this sentence, which is all the paper says about how to move out of the guest worker program and into green-card status: “Permit workers who have succeeded in the workplace and contributed to their communities over many years to earn green cards.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

NYC drinks limit raising questions of racial fairness

 If a question is raised about fairness to low income areas or businesses owned or patronized by racial minorities, why not eliminate that factor entirely and focus restricting what people can purchase with EBT cards?

Beverage attorney: NYC drinks limit bad for public

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York City's limit on the size of sugary drinks is an "extraordinary infringement" on consumer choice, a lawyer for the American Beverage Association and other critics said in court on Wednesday.

"New Yorkers do not want to be told what to drink," attorney James Brandt told Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling.

Opponents also are raising questions of racial fairness alongside other complaints as the novel restriction faces a court test.

The NAACP's New York state branch and the Hispanic Federation have joined beverage makers and sellers in trying to stop the rule from taking effect March 12. Critics are attacking what they call an inconsistent and undemocratic regulation, while city officials and health experts defend it as a pioneering and proper move to fight obesity.

The issue is complex for the minority advocates, especially given that obesity rates are higher than average among blacks and Hispanics, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The groups say in court papers they're concerned about the discrepancy, but the soda rule will unduly harm minority businesses and "freedom of choice in low-income communities."

The latest in a line of healthy-eating initiatives during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, the beverage rule bars restaurants and many other eateries from selling high-sugar drinks in cups or containers bigger than 16 ounces. Violations could bring $200 fines; the city doesn't plan to start imposing those until June.

The city Board of Health approved the measure in September. Officials cited the city's rising obesity rate - about 24 percent of adults, up from 18 percent in 2002 - and pointed to studies linking sugary drinks to weight gain. Care for obesity-related illnesses costs more than $4.7 billion a year citywide, with government programs paying about 60 percent of that, according to city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley.

"It would be irresponsible for (the health board) not to act in the face of an epidemic of this proportion," the city says in court papers. The National Association of Local Boards of Health and several public health scholars have backed the city's position in filings of their own.

Opponents portray the regulation as government nagging that turns sugary drinks into a scapegoat when many factors are at play in the nation's growing girth.

The American Beverage Association and other groups, including movie theater owners and Korean grocers, sued. They argue that the first-of-its-kind restriction should have gone before the elected City Council instead of being approved by the Bloomberg-appointed health board.

Five City Council members echo that view in a court filing, saying the Council is "the proper forum for balancing the city's myriad interests in matters of public health." The Bloomberg administration counters that the health board, made up of doctors and other health professionals, has the "specialized expertise" needed to make the call on limiting cola sizes.

The lawsuit also argues the rule is too narrow to be fair. Alcohol, unsweetened juice and milk-based drinks are excluded, as are supermarkets and many convenience stores - including 7-Eleven, home of the Big Gulp - that aren't subject to city health regulations.

The NAACP and the Hispanic Federation, a network of 100 northeastern groups, say minority-owned delis and corner stores will end up at a disadvantage compared to grocery chains.

"This sweeping regulation will no doubt burden and disproportionally impact minority-owned businesses at a time when these businesses can least afford it," they said in court papers. They say the city should focus instead on increasing physical education in schools.

During Bloomberg's 11-year tenure, the city also has made chain restaurants post calorie counts on their menus and barred artificial trans fats in french fries and other restaurant food.

In general, state and local governments have considerable authority to enact laws intended to protect people's health and safety, but it remains to be seen how a court will view a portion-size restriction, said Neal Fortin, director, Institute for Food Laws and Regulations at Michigan State University.
Follow Jennifer Peltz at

Hobbyist builds working replica of Iron Man's laser gauntlet

More amazing designs here from Patrick Priebe:

Gallery from the article


Given that most real-life superheroes don’t have the budget of Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne, you would assume that their gadgetry wouldn’t be quite on par with what we’re used to seeing in the movies. German cyber weapons hobbyist Patrick Priebe recently dropped us a line, however, to tell us about his latest homebuilt creation – a working laser gauntlet, just like the one made famous by a certain Iron Man.

The aluminum-bodied device opens up for the user to insert their forearm, then gently clamps onto it using a spring/lever system. An LED display on the side of the gauntlet lights up once it’s locked in place, letting the user know that it’s ready to go ... and also to look cool, of course.

When the would-be Iron Man wants to zap something, they do so via button controls on the palm-mounted control module. This initially activates a servo, which causes the laser rig to rise out of the top of the gauntlet. Two red lasers on that rig are then used for aiming at the target, after which a thicker blue laser (mounted between them) is selected to deliver the coup de grâce. It may not be a strong enough beam to disable a car or anything, but as you can see in the demo video at the bottom of the page, you wouldn’t want to be a balloon around this thing.

Although Iron Man’s movie gauntlet utilized a red "destructive" beam, Priebe told us that he went with a blue laser because it’s more powerful and more visible. Additionally, a second blue laser is located in his gauntlet’s palm control unit. All four lasers are powered by one 3.7-volt lithium-ion battery, with two smaller batteries powering the LEDs and the servo.

According to Patrick, it took him 120 hours to build the gauntlet – and he wasn’t working from plans of any kind. As with his past creations (such as a coilgun, flame-throwing glove, and rotary blade-shooting crossbow), he’s not about to tell people how to build one of their own. If you contact him via his website, however, he might be willing to make you one ... for the right price.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Quadruple Helix DNA

Scientists Spot Quadruple Helix DNA Working in Human Cells

Forget the humble double helix: scientists from Cambridge University have now spotted four-stranded strings of DNA working inside human cells.

The researchers have published a paper in Nature Chemistry which demonstrates the existence and function of quadruple helix human DNA. The researchers believe it might be related to cancer—and that understanding it could be key to treating the disease in the future. Prof Shankar Balasubramanian from Cambridge University explains to the BBC:
"The existence of these structures may be loaded when the cell has a certain genotype or a certain dysfunctional state. We need to prove that; but if that is the case, targeting them with synthetic molecules could be an interesting way of selectively targeting those cells that have this dysfunction."
The four-stranded DNA is known as the G-quadruplex. That "G" refers to guanine, which is one of the four chemical bases which form DNA, and it seems the quadruple helix tends to form wherever there are unusually high concentrations of the base. The team were able to spot the G-quadruplex in human cells by creating proteins that bind to its structure—made possible by the fact that it's been spotted before in microscopic organisms called ciliates. The scientists watched as the quadruplex became more prevalent during cell division.

Now the researchers know that the four-stranded DNA is present in humans, they're set to explore its implications for cancer treatment. "I'm hoping now that the pharmaceutical companies will bring this on to their radar and we can perhaps take a more serious look at whether quadruplexes are indeed therapeutically viable targets," Balasubramaninan told the BBC. Here's hoping he's onto something. [Nature Chemistry via BBC]

Sunday, January 20, 2013

‘Adventurous’ Woman Needed as Surrogate for Neanderthal Baby

‘Adventurous’ Woman Needed as Surrogate for Neanderthal Baby

Are you an adventurous human woman? Adventurous enough to be a surrogate mother for the first Neanderthal baby to be born in 30,000 years?

Harvard geneticist George Church recently told Der Spiegel he's close to developing the necessary technology to clone a Neanderthal, at which point all he'd need is an "adventurous human woman" — einen abenteuerlustigen weiblichen Menschen — to act as a surrogate mother.

It's not out of the question at all. As MIT Technology Review's Susan Young points out, scientists cloned an extinct subspecies of ibex in 2009. It died immediately, sure. But they still cloned it.

What would that entail? According to a 2008 study of a Neanderthal infant skeleton (from which the above image is taken), "the head of the Neanderthal newborn was somewhat longer than that of a human newborn because of its relatively robust face," and Neanderthal women generally had a wider birth canal than human women. Neanderthal birth was simpler than human birth, because Neanderthal infants didn't have to rotate to get to the birth canal, but otherwise the processes were very similar. (Even so, I imagine all but the most adventurous of human women would opt for a C-section in this case.)

Once the baby's out, though, you're in good shape — Neanderthal babies are thought to have grown much more quickly than their human counterparts. And Church seems to think that there'll be a Neanderthal craze, as he told Bloomberg Businessweek last year:
"We have lots of Neanderthal parts around the lab. We are creating Neanderthal cells. Let's say someone has a healthy, normal Neanderthal baby. Well, then, everyone will want to have a Neanderthal kid. Were they superstrong or supersmart? Who knows? But there's one way to find out."
[Der Spiegel via MIT Technology Review]

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bela Lugosi 'Interview'

I saw this last night at the end of the debut screening for the restoration of "White Zombie".

Friday, January 18, 2013

Potential Aids Cure

Scientists hail 'potential cure for AIDS'

Scientists from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research say they have made a breakthrough that could lead to a potential cure for AIDS.

Associate Professor David Harrich says they have discovered how to modify a protein in HIV so that, instead of replicating, it protects against the infection.

"I consider that this is fighting fire with fire," he said.

"What we've actually done is taken a normal virus protein that the virus needs to grow, and we've changed this protein, so that instead of assisting the virus, it actually impedes virus replication and does it quite strongly."

Associate Professor Harrich says the modified protein cannot cure HIV but it has protected human cells from AIDS in the laboratory.

"This therapy is potentially a cure for AIDS," he said.

"So it's not a cure for HIV infection, but it potentially could end the disease.

"So this protein present in immune cells would help to maintain a healthy immune system so patients can handle normal infections."

More than 30,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV in Australia.

If clinical trials are successful, one treatment could be effective enough to replace the multiple therapies they currently need.

"Drug therapy targets individual enzymes or proteins and they have one drug, one protein," Associate Professor Harrich said.

"They have to take two or three drugs, so this would be a single agent that essentially has the same effect.

"So in that respect, this is a world-first agent that's able to stop HIV with a single agent at multiple steps of the virus lifecycle."

He says the new treatment has the potential to make big improvements in the quality of life for those carrying HIV.

"I think what people are looking for is basically a means to go on and live happy and productive lives with as little intrusion as possible," he said.

"You either have to eliminate the virus infection or alternatively you have to eliminate the disease process and that's what this could do, potentially for a very long time."

Professor Harrich says animal trials are due to start this year and early indications are positive.
"This particular study is going to have some hurdles to jump through, but so far every test that we have put this protein through has passed with flying colours," he said.

"This particular year we're moving this into animal models, and based on the preliminary data we have done we expect that this will proceed really quickly."

The research is published in the journal Human Gene Therapy.


Australian study points to potential cure for Aids

David Harrich, from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, said he had successfully modified a protein in the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that the virus needed to replicate and instead made it "potently" inhibit virus growth.

"I have never seen anything like it. The modified protein works every time," said Harrich.
"If this research continues down its strong path, and bear in mind there are many hurdles to clear, we're looking at a cure for Aids."

Harrich said the modified protein, which he had named Nullbasic, had shown a "remarkable" ability to arrest HIV growth in a lab environment and could have exciting implications both in curbing Aids and treating existing HIV sufferers.

He described it as "fighting fire with fire".

"The virus might infect a cell but it wouldn't spread," said Harrich of his study, published in the latest edition of the journal Human Gene Therapy.

"You would still be infected with HIV, it's not a cure for the virus, but the virus would stay latent, it wouldn't wake up, so it wouldn't develop into Aids," he added.

"With a treatment like this, you would maintain a healthy immune system."


A person with HIV is said to have Aids when their count of CD4 immune system cells drops below 200 per microlitre of blood or they develop what is known as an Aids-defining illness; any one of 22 opportunistic infections or cancers related to HIV.

The majority of people infected with HIV, if left untreated, may not progress to Aids for 10-15 years or longer, according to the UN. Antiretroviral treatments can prolong this further still.
The new Nullbasic gene therapy, if proven, could see the deterioration from HIV to Aids halted indefinitely, bringing an end to the deadly condition.

Harrich said the fact that a single protein could be so effective could spell an end to onerous multiple drug regimes for HIV patients, meaning better quality of life and lower costs to individuals and governments.

"In that respect, this is a world-first agent that's able to stop HIV with a single agent at multiple steps of the virus lifecycle," Harrich told ABC Radio.

"You either have to eliminate the virus infection or alternatively you have to eliminate the disease process and that's what this could do, potentially for a very long time."

Aids deaths

Animal trials of the protein are due to start this year, with any treatment using it likely to be some years away.

According to the latest UN figures, the number of people infected by HIV worldwide rose to 34-million in 2011 from 33.5-million in 2010.
The vast majority (23.5-million) live in sub-Saharan Africa, with another 4.2-million in South and Southeast Asia.

There were 1.7-million deaths from Aids-related causes worldwide in 2011, 24% fewer than in 2005 and nearly 6% below the 2010 level.
New HIV infections have at least halved in 25 low and middle income countries, many in hard-hit Africa, over the past decade, with particular progress made towards protecting children from the deadly virus.

The UN said in November that achieving zero new infections in children was appearing increasingly possible. – Sapa-AFP

Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Gasoline Substitute from Plants

Biofuel created by explosive technology

 Chemical engineers at UC Berkeley have created a new, cleaner fuel out of an old concoction that was once used to make explosives.

The fuel, which uses a century-old fermentation process to transform plant material into a propellant, could eventually replace gasoline and drastically cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, according to the team of Berkeley scientists.

"It's a much more efficient way of (creating renewable fuel) than many of the other products being considered," said Harvey Blanch, a professor of chemical engineering at Berkeley. "This product is one that may be closest to commercialization."

The discovery, published in the journal Nature, means corn, sugar cane, grasses and other fast-growing plants or trees, like eucalyptus, could be used to make the propellant, replacing oil.
The process uses a fermentation system discovered around 1914 by Chaim Weizmann, a chemist who later became the first president of Israel. Weizmann used a bacterium called Clostridium acetobutylicum to ferment sugars and turn them into acetone, butanol and ethanol. The process, dubbed ABE, allowed the British to manufacture cordite and make explosives used during World War I.

The process was later used to manufacture synthetic rubber, but that was unnecessary after petroleum became widely available. The last U.S. factory using the process to produce acetone and butanol closed in 1965.

The research into creating a diesel substitute is part of a 10-year development program by the Energy Biosciences Institute, a collaboration among UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The research, paid for using $50 million a year from the British oil company BP, has been going on for five years.

Blanch and Douglas Clark, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, extracted the acetone and butanol from the fermentation mixture, according to their paper. Their co-author, chemistry Professor Dean Toste, then created a catalyst that converted the brew into a mix of hydrocarbons similar to those in diesel fuel.

The resulting substance burns as well as petroleum-based fuel and contains more energy per gallon than ethanol, according to the study. It can be produced using a variety of renewable starches and sugars that can be grown in crops.

"You can take a wide variety of sugar sources - from corn, sugar cane, molasses to woody biomass or plant biomass - and turn it into a diesel product using this fermentation process," said Blanch, adding that about 90 percent of the raw material remains in the finished product, reducing the loss of carbon. "Grasses are also a possible source. Eucalyptus could also be used. Anything that's fast-growing."

The blend could be adjusted for summer or winter driving, according to the researchers, who predicted it will be five to 10 years before the fuel is ready to be mass-marketed.

Blanch said it will probably take five years for the fuel to be perfected and become ready to be sold to the public. It could take another five years, he said, to develop a system that would produce the product on a scale large enough to meet the demand of the motoring public at a low enough cost to compete with oil-based products.

The expectation in California is that it will be used initially for niche markets, like the military, and eventually in trucks, trains and other vehicles that need more oomph than hybrid or battery power can provide.

Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @pfimrite

Friday, January 11, 2013

China's Huawei and ZTE Smartphones Approach U.S. Market

China's Huawei and ZTE, looking to win U.S. consumers away from Apple and Samsung, unveiled new smartphones at CES

Tech giants Apple, Google, and Microsoft were no-shows at CES this week in Las Vegas, which worked out just fine for Chinese vendors looking to establish a name for themselves with U.S. consumers. Telecom suppliers Huawei and ZTE, in particular, have set their sights on breaking into the U.S. market for smartphones and tablets.

That goal may seem a tall order -- many consumers may remember that a select committee from the U.S. House of Representatives slammed Huawei and ZTE in October. The House report warned U.S. companies against using equipment from Huawei and ZTE: "Based on available classified and unclassified information, Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems." Around the same time, Cisco reportedly cut ties with ZTE after a year-long investigation into allegations that the company sold Cisco gear to Iran.

While the odds on a breakthrough may be long -- after all, Huawei has been unsuccessful in getting most U.S. carriers to sell its branded products -- the Chinese firms appear uncowed and confident. ZTE even had the temerity to ding Apple in public last year, saying the slow pace of iPhone releases showed that the iconic American company was losing its edge. The IDG News Service report notes:
While ZTE is three spots behind Apple as the world's fifth-largest smartphone vendor, according to research firm IDC, the Chinese company saw second-quarter smartphone shipments grow 300 percent year on year. Helping to fuel that growth was the China market, where ZTE narrowly beat Apple in market share by selling lower-end smartphone devices.
As part of Huawei's campaign to conquer the U.S. market -- which CEO Richard Yu calls "key" to the firm's future -- Huawei unveiled two new smartphones this week at CES. The Ascend Mate has the world's largest display; at 6.1 inches, it surpasses even the popular Samsung Galaxy Note II with its 5.5-inch screen and prompts Joel Evans at ZDnet to ask how big is too big for a smartphone. The phone runs Android 4.1 with a custom Huawei user interface, and it's dust- and water-resistant -- a feature cited as one of the five smartphone trends from CES. It also features an impressive 4,050mAh battery that should translate into longer usage time between recharges.
Huawei also introduced the Ascend D2, which the company claims is the world's most powerful smartphone. It sports a 5-inch 1080p display, a quad-core 1.5GHz CPU, Android "Jelly Bean," a 13-megapixel rear camera, and 3,000mAh battery. Head over to Engadget for hands-on photos and videos of what Huawei's Yu calls the "dream phone."
ZTE also jumped on the big-screen smartphone bandwagon at CES, unveiling a flagship Android phone with a 5-inch full HD display. The ZTE Grand S will launch in China in early 2013, but ZTE said it is in talks with two carriers about selling the phone in the United States. The Grand S is one of the thinnest smartphones on the market at 6.9mm thick (the iPhone 5 is 7.6mm) and runs on the "Jelly Bean" version of Android and a quad-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor.
Whether these Chinese imports can take on the likes of Apple and Samsung remains to be seen, but as Wired quotes Jeff Lotman, the CEO of Global Icons, an agency that helps companies build and license their brands:
The thing that's amazing is these are huge companies, and they have a lot of power, but in the United States nobody has heard of them and they're having trouble gaining traction, but it's not impossible. Samsung was once known for making crappy, low-end phones and cheap TVs. Now they're seen as a top TV and smartphone brand.
It's not impossible at all.
This article, "The Chinese smartphone invasion begins," was originally published at

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Panda Blood VS Superbugs

Researchers have discovered a powerful antibody in panda blood that could serve as the next frontier in the fight against increasingly prevalent superbugs.

By Makini Brice

Pandas have long been the face of conservation efforts by environmental activists, but a recent finding may boost even further the need for pandas to evade extinction. Researchers have discovered a powerful antibody in panda blood that could serve as the next frontier in the fight against increasingly prevalent superbugs.

The compound is called cathelicin-AM. Discovered when researchers analyzed the creatures' DNA, it has been found to kill fungus and bacteria. It is believed that the antibiotic is released to protect the animal from infections in the wild and, in studies, it has been found to kill both standard and drug-resistant strains of microbes and fungi. The compound also worked extremely quickly, killing off strains of bacteria in just an hour, while conventional antibiotics needed six.

"Gene-encoded antimicrobial peptides play an important role in innate immunity against noxious microorganisms," lead researcher Dr. Xiuwen Yen, from the Life Sciences College of Nanjing Agricultural University, in China said to the Telegraph. "They cause much less drug resistance of microbes than conventional antibiotics."

Fortunately, scientists do not need to rely on pandas' famously low ability to breed in order to boost their numbers. Researchers have been able to create a synthetic version of the material in the laboratory, decoding the genes in order to create a small molecule known as a peptide.
That is good news because there is believed to be only about 1,600 pandas in the world right now. Pandas are notoriously bad at breeding, even in the wild, in part because females only are fertile once per year. Millions of dollars have been poured into artificial breeding techniques, to little avail. The limited success has caused many to wonder if the money could be better spent on other, potentially more successful conservation efforts.

Researchers hope that their synthetic version can be deployed as an antibiotic or as a surface sanitizer. They believe that the panda genome may store other drugs as well. Pandas are not the only animals that may serve as a new antibiotic: antimicrobial properties have been found in snail mucus and amphibians as well.