Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bringing the Internet Directly To Your Eyes?

Washington University developing

computer-like contact lenses

by Amir Iliaifar | Digital Trends, November 28, 2011

The line between technology and human biology has become increasingly blurred over the years. We have come to rely on technology to augment or supplement our bodies own natural functions in many different ways, often to great success. You need not look further than the hearing aid, pacemaker, or laser eye surgery to see examples of technology intimately interfacing with our everyday lives and improving on it. In this digital age, even today’s smartphones perform functions we were resigned to doing on larger computers and devices no more than ten years ago.

With computers and smart devices decreasing in size and increasing in function, it seems that researchers at Washington University are taking that concept even further. A team from the University has recently completed trials on a new generation of computer-like contact lenses that would allow wearers of the next-gen lenses to receive emails directly to their eyes and even supplement their vision with various information from the internet.

While the contact lenses are small, the circuitry within is even smaller. The lenses feature layers of metal measuring barely a few nanometers thick and LED diodes measuring one-third of a millimeter across.

Of course, there are risk factors inherent with any technology that seeks to integrate so intimately with the human body, and these computerized lenses are no different. Right now, the prototype lenses can only be powered within close proximity (centimeters) to a wireless battery, which brings into question not only practicality concerns, but questions and concerns as to how the human eye and body would react to such long-term exposure of electrical circuits on the surface of the eye.

The team at Washington University has currently finished with animal trials and is attempting to explore the possibility of complex holographic imagery and consumer applications such as price comparisons through the lenses. There is also the hope that the technology can be expanded for uses within the medical field as well as home entertainment. One can only imagine that with streaming video beamed directly into your eyes it would give a whole new meaning to the term "sitting too close to the TV".

Regardless of whether you approve of biology and technology overlapping, the reality would suggest that further integration between man and machine will not subside any time soon.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Have Economics Gone Rotten?

From Teagan Goddard’s Political Wire November 29, 2011
Quoted from an op-ed piece by Bill Keller in the New York Times: [ ]:

"There really is a textbook way to fix our current mess. Short-term stimulus works to help an economy recover from a recession. Some kinds of stimulus pay off more quickly than others. Once the economic heart is pumping again, we need to get our deficits under control... So what's the problem? Why is our system so fundamentally stuck? Partly it's a colossal, bipartisan lack of the political courage required to tell people what they sort of know but don't want to hear... But also, I've come to think something is rotten in the state of economics. The dismal science, as Thomas Carlyle called it, has been ravaged by the same virus that has corrupted the rest of our national discourse."

"Economists don't live in caves, so there is no reason they should be immune to the centrifugal politics of this noisy world. Thus serious scholars are tempted to sign onto ideas that stretch their own credulity, and lesser economists are thrust forward for their moment of fame as witnesses on behalf of dubious claims. Economists cluster in ideological think tanks that promote political conformity rather than intellectual rigor. Politicians, with no generally accepted consensus to challenge them, can get away with plucking data out of context to bolster assertions that are based more on faith than on reality."

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

There is a problem with the above analysis: although economics are only biased about 3 to 1 in favor of the political left (which is much milder than most of the other social sciences – see diagrram below), the political tilt of economics is significant and thus the "experts" are not evenly distributed across the political spectrum.
Further, as Bill Keller notes in his New York Times article, economists are not a civil to each other as they used to be in decades past.

diagram from:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Water -- a Liquid that Can Resist Freezing

Water's ultimate freezing point discovered

Thursday, November 24th, 2011
Agence France-Presse, reported in Cosmos magazine

PARIS: At what temperature does water have to freeze? Not necessarily at zero degrees Celsius, say scientists.

Water can exist in liquid form well below this threshold, notably in a so-called 'supercooled' state. Scientists have found that rather than becoming ice once it's cooled to zero degrees Celsius, supercooled liquid water can hold out until it reaches -48 degrees Celsius.

According to the study, if you want to form ice from liquid water, you need a 'seed' of ice from the liquid - a crystal that becomes the nucleus around which other crystals form. But in very pure water, which has no contaminants or particles around which the critical nucleus can form, this can be difficult to achieve because of the unusual thermodynamics of H20.

The findings suggest this structural change from liquid to an 'intermediate ice' explains the mystery of "what determines the temperature at which water is going to freeze", said chemist Valeria Molinero from the University of Utah and senior author of the study published today in Nature. "This intermediate ice has a structure between the full structure of ice and the structure of the liquid. We're solving a very old puzzle of what is going on in deeply supercooled water."

A unique substance

Liquid water is a network of water molecules, each with two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, held loosely together by what is called hydrogen bonding, which is somewhat like static cling. Molinero said that depending on its temperature and pressure, water ice has 16 different crystalline forms in which water molecules cling to each other with hydrogen bonds.

"What makes water so strange is that the way liquid water behaves is completely different from other liquids. For example, ice floats on water while most solids sink into their liquid forms because they are denser than the liquids," said Molinero.

Water's density changes with temperature, and it is most dense at 3.8 degrees Celsius. That's why fish survive under ice covering a pond by swimming in the warmer, denser water at the bottom of the pond. But the property of water that "is most fascinating is that you can cool it down well below zero degrees and it still remains a liquid," said Molinero.

No questions asked

Until now, supercooled water has been measured right down to around -41 degrees Celsius, although scientists have long suspected that the temperature at which it unconditionally has to freeze is somewhat lower. They have been unable to find out for sure because ice crystallises so fast at this temperature that it is impossible to measure accurately the properties of the remaining liquid.

Molinero and her colleague Emily Moore from the University of Utah used computer modelling to simulate the behaviour of supercooled water at the microscopic level. Their programme mimicked what would happen when 32,768 water molecules were cooled, factoring in the heat capacity of water, its density and compressibility. After thousands of computer hours, the answer came back. The temperature at which water absolutely must freeze, no questions asked, is -48 degrees Celsius.

Fodder for atmospheric scientists

When water approaches this temperature, it becomes less dense and becomes easier to compress and its structure changes. As a result, each molecule links up loosely with four others to form tetrahedron, or pyramid-like, shapes. The 'intermediate ice' is halfway between the structure of the liquid and halfway between the full structure of ice.

The research is more than an exercise in scientific curiosity. Atmospheric scientists delving into global warming need to know temperatures and rates at which water freezes and crystallises into ice. Water as chill as -40 degrees Celsius has been found in clouds. "You need that to predict how much water in the atmosphere is in the liquid state or crystal state," Molinero said. "This is important for predictions of global climate."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lighter and More Powerful Battery

Carbon Foam: The Key Ingredient
of a Better Battery?
Michigan Tech News, November 17, 2011

A lighter, greener, cheaper, longer-lasting battery. Who wouldn’t want that?

Researchers at Michigan Technological University are working on it. Actually, their design is a twist on what’s called an asymmetric capacitor, a new type of electrical storage device that’s half capacitor, half battery. It may be a marriage made in heaven.

Capacitors store an electrical charge physically and have important advantages: they are lightweight and can be recharged (and discharged) rapidly and almost indefinitely. Plus, they generate very little heat, an important issue for electronic devices. However, they can only make use of about half of their stored charge.
Batteries, on the other hand, store electrical energy chemically and can release it over longer periods at a steady voltage. And they can usually store more energy than a capacitor. But batteries are heavy and take time to charge up, and even the best can’t be recharged forever.

Enter asymmetric capacitors, which bring together the best of both worlds. On the capacitor side, energy is stored by electrolyte ions that are physically attracted to the charged surface of a carbon anode. Combined with a battery-style cathode, this design delivers nearly double the energy of a standard capacitor.

Now, Michigan Tech researchers have incorporated a novel material on the battery side to make an even better asymmetric capacitor.

Their cathode relies on nickel oxyhydroxide, the same material used in rechargeable nickel-cadmium or nickel-metal hydride batteries. "In most batteries that contain nickel oxyhydroxide, metallic nickel serves as a mechanical support and a current collector," said chemistry professor Bahne Cornilsen, who had been studying nickel electrodes for a number of years, initially with NASA support. A few years ago, the Michigan Tech team had a chance to experiment with something different: carbon foam. He suggested replacing the nickel with carbon foam.

Carbon foam has advantages over nickel. "It’s lighter and cheaper, so we thought maybe we could use it as a scaffold, filling its holes with nickel oxyhydroxide," said Tony Rogers, associate professor of chemical engineering.

Carbon foam has a lot of holes to fill. "The carbon foam we are using has 72 percent porosity," Rogers said. "That means 72 percent of its volume is empty space, so there's plenty of room for the nickel oxyhydroxide. The carbon foam could also be made of renewable biomass, and that’s attractive."

But how many times can you recharge their novel asymmetric capacitor? Nobody knows; so far, they haven’t been able to wear it out. "We’ve achieved over 127,000 cycles," Rogers said.

Other asymmetric capacitors have similar numbers, but none have the carbon-foam edge that could make them even more desirable to consumers.

"Being lighter would give it a real advantage in handheld power tools and consumer electronics," said Rogers. Hybrid electric vehicles are another potential market, since an asymmetric capacitor can charge and discharge more rapidly than a normal battery, making it useful for regenerative braking.

The group has applied for a patent on their new technology. Chemical engineering professor Michael Mullins is also a member of the research team. Graduate students contributing to the project are PhD graduate Matthew Chye and PhD student Wen Nee Yeo of the chemical engineering department and MS student Padmanaban Sasthan Kuttipillai and PhD student Jinjin Wang of the chemistry department.

The research is funded by the US Department of Energy, and the Michigan Universities Commercialization Initiative, the Michigan Tech Research Excellence Fund and the Michigan Space Grant Consortium.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Zealand To Cut Costs Sharply

New Zealand Government To Sell Off State Assets
New Zealand’s center-right National party was re-elected today on a platform to sell $5 to $7 billion in state assets and entertain welfare reforms that will downsize obligations. National also plan to sell minority stakes in state-owned power companies an reduce its ownership of Air New Zealand. Party chief John Key states that small investors will have preference in acquiring the shares, with no single investor allowed to own more than 10% of an entity.

Key also has plans to reform welfare by getting people back to work and off the dole as well as reducing the expansion of carbon trading to lessen business and household energy costs.

Reuters reports, "The main opposition center-left Labour Party slumped to 27 percent, the lowest share of the vote in its 95-year history, and lost nine seats. The environmentalist Greens upped their share to more than 10 percent and gained four seats."

Summarized from Reuters at:  

Friday, November 25, 2011

Negative Quiddity: Ruthless Shoppers and Midnight Thieves

Black Friday began at 10pm Thursday for some shoppers, especially at Wal-Mart. A store in Porter Ranch, California, had an ugly incident when a woman barged into various crowds at the local Wal-Mart and pepper sprayed other consumers in order to get access to the items she wanted to buy.

It worked. 20 customers, including children, were hurt. The pepper spraying woman was not apprehended and is still on the loose!

Summarized from a Los Angeles Times article at:

= = = = = = This was NOT the only incident! = = = = = =

Reuters picked up on this pepper spraying ruthless consumer story and had other news to add from other locations in the United States.

In an unrelated incident, off-duty police used pepper spray themselves to subdue shoppers waiting for electronics items on sale.

In a third incident, police report that a shopper was in critical but stable condition after being shot by robbers in an EastBay Wal-Mart parking lot in San Leandro, California, just before 2am. The victem's shopping companions held down one of the robbers until police arrived to take the suspect into custody. Police believe the robbers fled but didn’t succeed in robbing any merchandise.

In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a woman and her companion were putting away their purchases into the trunk of their car near a Wal-Mart early Friday when a robber accosted the woman and shot her in the foot.

At a Cave Creek, Arizona, Wal-Mart, the facility was evacuated and shopping halted until an apparent explosive device, found in an employee break room, was removed by a police robot.

The Hollister’s flagship store in Manhattan, New York City, was not opened at midnight, although other locations were opening at that time. Police reported that a group of shoppers broke into the store and stole a large amount of clothing.

The day after Thanksgiving, called "Black Friday," is the busiest day of the year for shopping in the USA.

More details at:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

France and Germany Advocate Treaty Changes for Eurozone

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is muting his view that the European Central Bank play a central role in Europe’s debt crisis. Sarkozy has stated that "propositions for the modification of treaties" will be announced in time for the December 9th summit of EU leaders. In so stating, Sarkozy agreed with a German approach which more strongly unites the 17-nation single-currency zone.

There are 27 EU nations of which 17 are using a single currency. But to change the treaty language requires agreement among all 27 members,  including the 10 nations not using the Euro currency.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been advocating treaty changes that require member nations to pursue tighter financial stability. Merkel has been meeting with French and Italian officials in Strasbourg, France. Merkel does not want treaty language to change with respect to the European Central Bank, which she sees as a monetary organization, not a fiscal entity.

"In the treaty changes, we are dealing with the question of a fiscal union, a deeper political cooperation ... there will be proposals on this, but they have nothing to do with the ECB," Merkel said. The ECB has the financial ability to print money. Therefore it could provide rapid assistance to nations that are in trouble, even large member nations like Italy. But Merkel wants the bank to be independent of any Euro financial crisis, surely because German borrowing costs are low and would become diluted by eurobonds issued to help weaker members, a policy that would drive up German rates.

At least in the short term, market sentiment and European stock markets would prefer ECB intervention, and those markets have been jittery and downtrending lately.

Merkel noted, "It would be completely the wrong signal to lose sight entirely now of these differing interest rates, because they are a pointer to where something still needs to be done and where we need to go further."

Italian premier Monti said again he is committed t balancing Italy’s budget by 2013, yet he did not advocate specific austerity measures or comment on whether tightening Italy’s government expenses would trigger a recession in his nation, the third biggest economy of the Eurozone.

Summarized from:;_ylc=X3oDMTNuZm10YXNjBF9TAzIxNDU4NjgyNzQEYWN0A21haWxfY2IEY3QDYQRpbnRsA3VzBGxhbmcDZW4tVVMEcGtnAzBkNzg0NDM1LWYyNTgtMzJlMy04ZDgwLWQ5YjliMDkyZDEyMQRzZWMDbWl0X3NoYXJlBHNsawNtYWlsBHRlc3QD;_ylv=3

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

High Culture Not Popular with Modern Students

Miller-McCune magazine notes that a journal called Poetics published a study on the current relevance of literature, classical music and other art forms. The study said these areas "are becoming increasingly more irrelevant for most students’ cultural lives." According to a trio of Norwegian researchers, this indicates "an increasingly precarious position for traditional highbrow culture." A study was conducted n Bergen, Norway from late 1998 to early 1999 and garnered 1,113 student responses. A very similar study was conducted precisely ten years later with 1,223 responses.

The researchers described their startling findings: "…a marked decline in interest and use of almost every form of culture that is identified with traditional legitimate taste….the most marked drops in popularity were often in the oldest and supposedly most legitimate genres, including classical music, opera, and literature."

There is less interest in classical theater but more interest in musicals. Students go to rock concerts but are less likely to attend jazz or classical concerts. Familiarity with major classical or folk artists has declined distinctly. Fewer students read serious literature, but the numbers for crime and suspense novels are up. Gripsrud, one of the researchers, sent an email to Poetics noting that "Class differences have become significantly more pronounced." He added that culturally literate parents have become "clearly distinguishable from the rest, since they continue to include the high art and avant-garde genres in their repertoire, and remain quite knowledgeable in these areas. They also are considerably more active, not least as producers/contributors in the digital realm."

Students are less likely to attend cultural events than they were ten years ago. High culture remains a value to students, but this is perhaps "more theoretical than practical." The researchers themselves ask, "how marginal practices of supposedly legitimate culture can become before they lose their relevance for the population in general."

The entire study took place in Bergen, Norway. So the results may not be typical, though it is at least possible that high culture is indeed becoming a rarer quality that has value only to the upper class in the twenty-first century.

Comments by the Blog Author

If 3-D and surround sound can make Shakespeare, LaRochefoucauld, Greek tragedies and Homer important to young adults, I don’t think there is an overwhelming loss involved here. Nor do I see Franz Lizst nor Sergei Rachmaninoff headed for the wastebasket. Shakespeare in Love and the 2010 Clash of the Titans argue that there is little to worry about.

But if the grand classics are ignored or, worse, trivialized and glibly presented, there is indeed a problem. It can and should be contended that practical wisdom –Phronesis – is rapidly and effectively taught through stories that remain worth telling over long periods of time, and this description serves as an effective alternative definition of what makes a "classic."

The compelling stories ingeniously told and brilliance of unforgettable classic melodies impels me to suspect that the sturdiest elements of the classical works will find a place in the relentlessly visual electronic arts of this dawning century.
[Footnote: the blog author has a bachelor’s degree in English literature. That education occurred very long ago, even before the personal computer itself was invented.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Digital Movies Rapidly Taking Over

Digital Movies to Replace Film

by 2015, Report Finds

Samantha Murphy, TechNewsDaily Senior Writer
17 November 2011

The standard 35 mm film we're all used to seeing in movie theaters will be replaced worldwide by digital technology in the next few years, and the hit blockbuster film "Avatar" is to blame for the shift, according to a new report.

A report from the IHS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service said that 35 mm film, which has been the dominant projection format in movie theaters for more than 120 years, is nearing the end of its life, as the majority of cinema screens in the U.S. are expected to go digital in 2012.

In fact, IHS expects 35 mm will be replaced by digital technology globally by 2015, the report said. By the end of 2012, 35 mm film in movie theaters is expected to decline to 37 percent on a global scale, which is a dramatic decline from 68 percent of global cinema screens in 2010.

"Movie theaters now are undergoing a rapid transition to digital technology, spurred initially by the rising popularity of 3-D films," said David Hancock, head of film and cinema research at IHS.

"The release of 'Avatar' in December 2009 represented the pivotal moment for digital cinema, with digital technology forming the bedrock of the modern cinema environment," Hancock added. "Before 'Avatar,' digital represented only a small portion of the market, accounting for 15 percent of global screens in 2009."

After "Avatar," digital film technology grew 17 percent in both 2010 and 2011, compared to single-digit increases during the previous years. "Avatar" also increased the demand for digital 3-D technology.

In the U.S., IHS expects that there won’t be any mainstream usage of 35 mm film in 2013. Western Europe is expected to change to digital by the end of 2014, and the rest of the world will then be under pressure to follow the trend, the report said.

"While the era of 35 mm will end at this time, there will still be some older films circulating in print for some cinemas," Hancock said. "Ironically, these last prints may have a high value as they circulate among a relatively small number of theaters dedicated to keeping the legacy of traditional film alive."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Proposed Anti-Piracy Law May Cripple the Internet

The Stop Online Piracy Act is being debated in Congress. It’s supposed to protect copyright owners. But it also increases the government’s authority to act against "rogue" websites. It also allows private rights holders to cut off advertising and banking transactions to "rogue" sites and do so without court intervention. The bill leaves the definition of "rogue" vague and broad.

Wired offered this opinion by writer David Kravets: "We don’t dispute that rampant piracy of music, movies, software, and the sale of counterfeited drugs runs rampant on the internet. Clearly, the internet’s openness is often abused by many seeking a free ride." Kravets added, "But granting the rights holders the power to break the knees of sites they believe are infringing is equally ripe for abuse."

Kravets also offered this view: "The internet is in the midst of an innovation boom that’s only going to keep going thanks to amazing economies of scale, an open network and a light regulatory environment. Destroying that by creating an ineffective Great Firewall of Hollywood hardly seems like smart public policy."

Summarized from:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Negative Quiddity: The Debt Supercommittee

Why the Supercommittee Failed

Mike Allen [ ]: "The supercommittee last met Nov. 1 -- three weeks ago! It was a public hearing featuring a history lesson, 'Overview of Previous Debt Proposals,' with Alan Simpson, Erskine Bowles, Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin
[ ]. The last PRIVATE meeting was Oct. 26. You might as well stop reading right there: The 12 members (6 House, 6 Senate; 6 R, 6 D) were never going to strike a bargain, grand or otherwise, if they weren't talking to each other. Yes, we get that real deal-making occurs in small groups. But there never WAS a functioning supercommittee: There was Republican posturing and Democratic posturing, with some side conversations across the aisle."

--Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, November 20, 2011

= = = = = = = = = blog author’s comments below = = = = = = = = = = = =

Bad Bureaucratic Kabuki Theatre

Back at the end of July, it was obvious that the House and Senate were not going to be able to come to a deficit agreement. So they "kicked the can down the road" with a temporary agreement and a "supercommittee" to be staffed as directed by the party heads of the Senate and House.

What happened was fully predictable and thus expected by the leadership. The democrats selected hacks who would not compromise on entitlements. The Republicans selected hacks who would not increase taxes.
Thus no agreement was ever possible on reducing the deficit by the supercommittee "goal" of $1.2 trillion dollars. It was designed not to happen, so it didn’t, and the actual members couldn’t pretend that agreement was viable.

Instead, automatic across-the-board cuts will begin in January of 2013, which is conveniently past the upcoming election.

For external reasons, kicking the can down the road is "working." The European financial crisis is so serious and immediate that the American budget problem seems small, and American investments look safe. So bad European leadership has bought time for American politicians. But not that much time.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

100 Million Americans are "Poor" or "Near Poor"

The New York Times reports that the Census Bureau has released a new statistic for the first time as a result of the 2010 Census. The new number calculates the poor as well as those with incomes up to 50% higher than official poverty. Doing so increases the number of Americans either poor or nearly poor by 76 percent – 100 million people, either poor or just above it. This is called the "Supplemental Poverty Measure." There are 51 million categorized as near poor.

Half this group are in households headed by a married couple and 49 percent live in the suburbs. Just under 50 percent are non-Hispanic whites, 18 percent are black and 26 percent are Latino. Twenty-eight percent work full-time throughout the year

There is some quarrelling over the term "near poor" by experts. Some prefer "low income" as the proper description. Whatever the term, this group struggles to make ends meet and lives from paycheck to paycheck. And it is a group that includes a lot of older Americans, 34 percent of whom are poor or near poor. A larger percentage, 39 percent, of children are poor or near poor.

Much more at:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Resistant "Superbugs" Threaten Europe

"Superbugs" with up to 50 Percent
Drug Resistance Invade Europe

by Tiffany Kaiser, November 18, 2011 at

One bacterium, called Klebsiella pneumoniae, has been particularly harmful with 15 to 50 percent of cases due to bloodstream infections resistant to carbapenem antibiotics

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has found that multi-drug resistant bacteria, or "superbugs," are spreading throughout Europe with resistance to even the strongest antibiotics.

One bacterium, called Klebsiella pneumoniae, has been particularly harmful. K. pneumoniae typically causes pneumonia, bloodstream and urinary tract infections.

K. pneumoniae has become resistant to antibiotics in Europe, leading to infection in many countries. In fact, K. pneumoniae is even resistant to the most powerful antibiotics called carbapenems.

According to the ECDC, 15 to 50 percent of K. pneumoniae due to bloodstream infections were resistant to carbapenems.

According to Marc Sprenger, ECDC's director, rates of resistance to "last-line" antibiotics such as carbapenems by K. pneumoniae had doubled to 15 percent in 2010 from 7 percent five years ago.

There are two main issues with fighting the superbug: the lack of commercial incentive to invest in last-line antibiotics, and the misuse of antibiotics.

There are very few new antibiotics in development. According to experts, only large drug firms like AstraZeneca are partaking in antibiotic research, and there's a lack of effort in creating new antibiotics that will only be used as a last line of defense.

Antibiotic misuse is a large problem with fighting bacteria. When antibiotics are overused, bacteria find other avenues of surpassing the antibiotics and invading the body. According to Sprenger, countries with the highest rates of multi-drug resistant infections also tend to be the ones with the highest antibiotic use. These countries include Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria and Hungary.

But K. pneumonia isn't the only superbug to worry about. A different risk report focuses on a gene called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), which can be found in K. pneumonia or E. coli. It makes bacteria resistant to nearly all drugs, and the ECDC reported 106 cases in 13 European countries by the end of March 2011. In late 2010, there were only 77 cases in the same 13 countries. In August 2010, there were patients in South Asia and Britain discovered with the NDM-1 gene.

Experts say doctors are largely to blame for the overuse of antibiotics leading to abuse and eventually resistance. They say patients demand them without needing them and hospitals readily give them out.
Source: International Business Times

Unedited from:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

U.S. Satellites Have Been Hacked

US Satellites Compromised by

Malicious Cyber Activity

By Jason Ryan, ABC News, November 16, 2011

On at least two occasions, hackers have taken over U.S. satellites and targeted their command-and-control systems, a report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission revealed today.

The incidents involved two Earth observation satellites. While it may be difficult to trace who hacked the satellites, U.S. officials acknowledged the incidents had to come from a nation power.

U.S. officials cannot clearly trace the incidents to China, but the report released by the by congressionally mandated commission noted that Chinese military writings made reference to attacks on ground-based space communications facilities.

"Chinese military writings advocate attacks on space-to ground communications links and ground-based satellite control facilities in the event of a conflict. Such facilities may be vulnerable," the report noted, "In recent years, two U.S. government satellites have experienced interference apparently consistent with the cyber exploitation of their control facility."

The report noted that some of the malicious cyber activity targeting the satellites involved NASA’s Terra EOS satellite being targeted in June 2008 and again in October 2008. The June incident resulted in the satellite being interfered with for two minutes and the October incident lasted at least nine minutes.

The report noted that in both instances, "The responsible party achieved all steps required to command the satellite but did not issue commands."

NASA confirmed in a separate statement: "NASA experienced two suspicious events with the Terra spacecraft in the summer and fall of 2008. We can confirm that there was no manipulation of data, no commands were successfully sent to the satellite, and no data was captured. NASA notified the Department of Defense, which is responsible for investigating any attempted interference with satellite operations."

The report noted that the Landsat-7 satellite operated by the U.S. Geological Survey experienced similar interference and events in 2007 and 2008 but added that the entity behind that incident did not achieve the ability to control the satellite.

The report mentions the serious implications the intrusions could have on the satellite systems, particularly if they were directed against more sensitive systems such as military or communications satellites.

"If executed successfully, such interference has the potential to pose numerous threats, particularly if achieved against satellites with more sensitive functions. For example, access to a satellite’s controls could allow an attacker to damage or destroy the satellite," the report read.

"The attacker could also deny or degrade as well as forge or otherwise manipulate the satellite’s transmission," the report added. "A high level of access could reveal the satellite’s capabilities or information, such as imagery, gained through its sensors. Opportunities may also exist to reconnoiter or compromise other terrestrial or space based networks used by the satellite."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Positive Quiddity: Direct Personal Conversation

Can Conversation Make a Comeback?

Newton’s Blog from RealClearScience,
Posted by Ross Pomeroy at Mon, 07 Nov 2011 

Sunlight streams from the autumn sky. The beams cause the rippling water of Lake Calhoun to glimmer like diamonds. Leaves of amber and scarlet fall from the painted tress and take flight in the wind. Their aerial dance lends a lighthearted touch to this rustic October day in Minnesota.

Amidst this picturesque scene sits 28 year-old Taylor Baldry, recently returned from two years of teaching English in Japan. Baldry is currently unemployed, but he's far from idle. The self-described "brainstormer, art-designer, and large-nosed person" has a new project that has people talking, literally.

It's called "The Conversationalist." The project's goal? Resurrect the ancient art of actually talking face-to-face.

It's quite simple really. All Baldry needed to get going was a card table, a tablecloth, some folding chairs, a small brass reading lamp (for the ambiance), and a large sign touting "Free Conversations." He finalized the experience with a menu of topics that any passerby can sit down and peruse. Care to talk about the weather? How about the latest book that you read? Will you dare to dabble in politics? When a customer orders up a topic, Baldry supplies the discussion.
The idea has been a huge success. Baldry's table has rarely been empty and those interested must occasionally stand in line for the opportunity to dine on a healthy dose of face-to-face discourse.

There is a point to Baldry's "Conversationalist," and it's far from irrelevant. In this day and age, true conversation is definitely on the decline.

You can blame the advent of technology like texting, social media, and instant messaging for this situation. While these forms of communication have broken down barriers in some areas - distance, for example - they've erected barriers in others. It's now easier to call or video-conference than it is to actually meet with someone. In addition, it's also easier to text a roommate from your room than it is to get up from your bean-bag chair, walk downstairs, and talk to them.

Lost amongst these technological forms of communication is genuine conversation. A text contains no easily discernible vocal inflection. There's no eye contact. There are no facial gestures. There's no body posturing. There are no handshakes or hugs. These cues can be vital to learning and real comprehension, and they are falling by the wayside.

At the same time, Americans are on their way to sending over 2 trillion texts per year. Many of these tend to be terse, occasionally incomprehensible, and subject to the whims of potentially unreliable cellular service.

Maybe the world is simply changing. Maybe one day we will all walk around with bionic implants, looking back at face-to-face conversation as a relic of a primitive society. But that day has certainly not come yet, not if Taylor Baldry has anything to say about it. As he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
"There's a sense that conversation seems to be this old-timey thing, and it doesn't have to be," he said. "I don't want it to go the way of the record and have it become something that only purists enjoy. I'd love to take [The Conversationalist] further and fuel a conversation revolution.
"But for now, it's me at a table in a park."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Battery Charging Breakthrough

Graphene and Silicon Anode Battery
Charges 10 Times Faster

By Shane McGlaun (Blog), November 15, 2011 reprinted by DailyTech .com
Graphene and silicon anode yields 10 times faster charge and can hold a charge 10 times greater

Researchers at Northwestern University had made a breakthrough that could lead to a new battery with much more run time and a faster recharge time. The researchers created a new electrode for lithium-ion batteries that allows the battery to hold a 10x greater charge. At the same time, the battery is also able to recharge ten times faster than current designs.

The researchers say that the technology they have developed will be on the market in the next three to five years. The team has published a research paper on the discovery in the Advanced Energy Materials journal.

"We have found a way to extend a new lithium-ion battery's charge life by 10 times," said Harold H. Kung, lead author of the paper. "Even after 150 charges, which would be one year or more of operation, the battery is still five times more effective than lithium-ion batteries on the market today."

Current batteries are limited by their charge density, which is how many lithium ions can be packed into the anode or cathode and by their charge rate. Experiments before used silicon to replace the carbon normally used in a battery, but normal silicon didn’t work. The team's breakthrough stabilizes the silicon to maximize the charge capacity and sandwiched that silicon between layers of graphene to accommodate volume changes during the battery use.

"Now we almost have the best of both worlds," Kung said. "We have much higher energy density because of the silicon, and the sandwiching reduces the capacity loss caused by the silicon expanding and contracting. Even if the silicon clusters break up, the silicon won't be lost."

The team will next look at the cathode after focusing their research previously on the anode.

However promising this new technology seems, we’ve all seen this before time and time again. Researchers develop new battery technologies, and we sit around and wait for it to hit the market. The last breakthrough we reported on was a fluoride battery that promises ten times the storage density of a comparable lithium-ion battery. [See the October 30, 2011 Daily Quiddity blog entry for information about this flouride battery].  

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Clever Octopus

An octopus has been observed cleaning the front of its den after securing food, then carefully placing rocks to cover the entrance before going to sleep. Other octopuses have learned to open childproof caps on pill bottles. A female octopus used water jets to send a pill bottle to the other end of the aquarium, where the water flow sent it back to her.

Octopuses have particular human friends and enemies. They can recognize their own names when called and crawl toward caretakers they like. If the octopus doesn’t like you, it will squirt water at you instead.

Octopuses don’t have large brains, slightly more than one thousandth of the human brain. Sixty percent of the octopus’s brain cells are in the animal’s arms, so that each tentacle can think for itself.

Scientists think the loss of a shell meant that octopuses had to learn to hide to survive predation. Only the smartest and best at hiding survived. That’s why they use tools all the time – to build good hiding places.

Summarized from:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Europe’s On-going Financial Crisis

Edward Carr of The Economist looks at the Euro and the financial crisis in western Europe and comes up with a host of possible scenerios, most of them quite unpleasant. He notes that the change of governmemt in Greece has not established stability in that nation so far. He reminds the readers that millions of Spaniards are unemployed. "The struggle wll set the limits on Europe’s welfare state," he says. The unequal partnership of France and Germany is critical to the future of the Euro, since the governments of Greece, Portugal, Irelad, Spain and Italy owe $4.2 trillion in European bank borrowings.

Carr notes that the European Union has less indebtedness than America and can fortify its banks – but a convincing plan to rescue the Euro has not been put forth; instead stopgap measures have followed one another as the crisis has deepened. The countries have quarrelled, and as long as that continues, "the collective action needed to defend the euro will remain impossible."

Catastrophe is possible. A country could leave the euro. European banks may lose any semblance of confidence,. Italy or Spain may be unable to borrow at reasonable rates. An austere government like the next Greek one may be thrown out by a populist one that refuses to honor debt agreements.

Such ominous events could put the EU single market in danger. Carr thinks the worst is possible but unlikely, since the dire consequences help people see reason. Yet Carr notes, "Europe’s nations are at loggerheads, Germany is in a state of outrage, and the link between the euro and the nation state is more fraught than ever."

To avoid an abyss, Carr reckoins that the large EU members "submit themselves to radical polit5ical, social and economic reform." Carr thinks such changes will be difficult indeed to accomplish.

-- Summarized from: [this link has graphics as well as further links to related detailed articles about the euro and European banking]

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ancient Galaxy Formed Stars Very Rapidly

Strange Hyperactive Galaxies Spotted by Hubble Telescope

By staff, November 12, 2011

Astronomers have discovered a strange population of tiny, distant galaxies forming stars at a surprisingly rapid clip.

The researchers used the Hubble Space Telescope to spot the 69 hyperactive dwarf galaxies, which are about 9 billion light-years away from Earth. They're churning out stars so fast that their stellar population would double in just 10 million years. By contrast, it took the Milky Way 1,000 times longer to double its number of stars, researchers said.

The new results are unexpected, since they're somewhat at odds with other recent studies of ancient dwarf galaxies.

"Those studies suggest that star formation was a relatively slow process, stretching out over billions of years," study co-author Harry Ferguson, of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), said in a statement. Ferguson is co-leader of the survey that found the dwarf galaxies, which is called the Cosmic
Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS).

"The CANDELS finding that there were galaxies of roughly the same size forming stars at very rapid rates at early times is forcing us to re-examine what we thought we knew about dwarf galaxy evolution," Ferguson added. [Hubble photo & video of new dwarf galaxies]

Tiny, active galaxies

The newly discovered dwarf galaxies are about 100 times smaller than the Milky Way, researchers said. Since it took their light 9 billion years to reach Hubble, the instrument is peering back at the early universe.

Star formation rates were higher back then than they are now, but the newfound dwarf galaxies' rates are still extraordinarily high. Hubble spotted the galaxies because radiation from their young, hot stars lit up the gas around them like a fluorescent sign, researchers said.

Dwarf galaxies are the most common type of galaxy in the universe, and astronomers believe this rapid starbirth phase is likely an important step in their evolution. The team hopes to learn more about this evolution with more Hubble data.

‘"As our observations continue, we should find many more of these young galaxies and gather more details on their star-forming histories," said co-author Anton Koekemoer, also of STScI.

The study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

A cosmic mystery
The study suggests that hyperactive dwarf galaxies were quite common 9 billion years ago. But why they were forming stars at such rapid rates back then is still a mystery, researchers said.

Computer simulations suggest that star formation in small galaxies may be episodic, triggered initially by the cooling of gas, which collapses to form stars. Some of these stars eventually die in
violent supernova , heating and blowing away surrounding gas. But eventually the gas cools and collapses again, continuing the cycle, researchers said.

But simulations didn't predict such high star-forming activity.

"While these theoretical predictions may provide hints to explain the star formation in these newly discovered galaxies, the observed 'bursts' are much more intense than those reproduced by the simulations," said study lead author Arjen van der Wel of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.
James Webb Space Telescope, an infrared observatory scheduled to be launched in 2018, could help solve the mystery, researchers said.

"With Webb, we’ll probably see even more of these galaxies, perhaps even pristine galaxies that are experiencing their first episode of star formation," Ferguson said.
"Being able to probe down to dwarf galaxies in the early universe will help us understand the formation of the first stars and galaxies."


NASA's $8.8 billion

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Comment by the blog author:

The most common type of galaxy in the visible universe is capable of rapid star creation.  Now, that's important new knowledge worth pursuing.

Friday, November 11, 2011

HTML5 Is Coming

HTML5: What's it all about?

VIPRE Security News November 11, 2011
By Deb Shindler, Contributing Editor

The HyperText Markup Language, or HTML, is the native language spoken on the web. Those of us who are old enough remember when creating a web page meant learning its nuances, and it became second nature to insert tags such as for bold type and to turn the boldface off. Web browsers read those tags and convert them into the formatting you see on web pages. Then along came WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) web editors and a whole generation of casual web designers grew up without having to give HTML a thought.

But over the years, the language was evolving and getting more sophisticated, morphing from a simple language for displaying text and images to a much more complex one supporting cascading style sheets and a variation called XHTML. If you read tech publications, you've probably heard rumblings about HTML5, the latest version. It brings big changes - and some say it can potentially change the web completely. Some folks are excited about that and some - especially web designers who don't want to learn something new - are afraid of it. But what does it mean to you, a "user" of the web?

We've seen the web change from just another Internet application to an application platform. The premise of Google's Chrome operating system is that the web is all you need, and while not everyone is buying that, there's no denying that it plays a bigger role in our computing lives than it did a decade ago. Web sites do much more than just display information now - we can interact with them in real time in a myriad of different ways. We can play games, watch videos, chat, and much more. But all of these new capabilities are built on a variety of different technologies, most of which require you to download additional software or "plug-ins" for your web browser.

Some sites use Sun's Java, some use Adobe's Flash, some use Microsoft's Silverlight. You've probably had the experience of going to a web site that would display on one of your computers but not on another. What HTML5 aims to do (or at least one of the goals) is provide a way for web developers to create sophisticated sites and web applications that will work properly and seamlessly on all browsers and all computers.

You probably heard about Apple's refusal to build Flash support into its Safari browser on the iPhone and iPad, although Adobe recently released v4.5 of its Flash Media Server that allows broadcasters to stream Flash-based video in an Apple format (Flash-based games and animations still won't work). Still, Flash has long been known for its security vulnerabilities, and there has been much talk of HTML5 as a "replacement" for Flash. That's really a misnomer, since Flash, Silverlight, etc. are actually elements that are embedded in an HTML web page so they can easily coexist. The new video element in HTML5 will make it unnecessary to use Flash or Silverlight for basic video, but they may still be used when certain features are needed.
Will HTML5 really change everything? It will make it easier for web designers to make their pages more interactive, because according to one oft-quoted pundit, "In HTML5, an ad is an app, a tweet is an app, everything is an app." For example, instead of having to click a link to go to Amazon to buy a book that's being reviewed on the web page you're reading, you could buy the book directly from inside that page.

Some even say HTML5 could mean the end of the popular social networking sites.

Whatever it brings with it, there's no doubt that HTML5 is the future of the web. Get ready for a wild and wooly ride.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Contributing Editor
-- from an email sent to the blog author by ["Vipre" is a small, compact malware and virus protecting software that is updated daily].

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Astronomers Find Ancient, Pure Interstellar Gas

Science magazine reports this week that two clouds of interstellar gas have been found accidentally, and these clouds contain only hydrogen and deuterium. The gas was analyzed by means of quasars, which produce light which shined through the clouds and was analyzed in a manner revealing the elements contained in the gases. Discovery also summarized this report.

All other gas clouds in outer space contain trace amounts of other elements, particularly metals, which were formed in stars. But, uniquely, these two clouds are untainted by the heavier elements on the periodic table. All other clouds of interstellar gas contain trace elements of other elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, silicon or iron. The clouds are located 12 billion light-years from Earth in the constellations Ursa Major and Leo.

The big bang theory states that the lightest elements (hydrogen, helium, lithium and deuterium (which is hydrogen with a neutron in its nucleus) formed minutes after the universe was created, although no pristine clouds had ever been found of these gases before now. The trace elements of all other known interstellar gas clouds were made inside stars millions or even billions of years after the universe was formed..

A search for additional gas clouds of hydrogen and deuterium is underway.

Summarized by the blog author from:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Positive Quiddity: Scientists Much Closer to Malaria Vaccine

Scientists Find Big Chink in Malaria’s Armor
AFP, November 9, 2011

Researchers said Wednesday they had discovered a unique microscopic channel through which malaria parasites must pass to infect red blood cells, a finding that opens up a highly promising target for a vaccine.

The doorway mechanism is common to all known strains of the deadliest mosquito-borne pathogen, Plasmodium falciparum, which means that a future vaccine could in theory work against all of them,
according to the study published in the journal Nature.

The death toll from malaria has declined by a fifth over the last decade, but the disease still claims some 800,000 lives every year, mostly children under five in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Our findings were unexpected and have completely changed the way in which we view the invasion process," said Gavin Wright of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the study's senior co-author.

The breakthrough "seems to have revealed an Achilles' heel in the way the parasite invades our red blood cells."

Up to now, scientists assumed that P. falciparum had several options for piercing the defences of blood cells.

But in experiments, Wright and colleagues showed that intrusion depends on the interaction between a specific molecule on the parasite, called a ligand, and a specific receptor on the blood cell.  Blocking this  interaction repels the pathogen's attempt to breach the cell's protective wall, they found.

"By identifying a single receptor that appears to be essential for parasites to invade human red blood cells, we have also identified an obvious and very exciting focus for vaccine development," said co-author Julian Rayner, also from the Sanger Institute.

Early results from clinical trials in Africa showed that the world's first malaria vaccine, reported in a study last month, cut infection rates by roughly half. The vaccine, made by the British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, works by triggering the immune system.

"These reports are encouraging," said Adrian Hill, a researcher at Oxford's Jenner Institute. "But in the future more effective vaccines will be needed if malaria is ever to be eradicated."

Hill added: "The discovery of a single receptor that can be targeted to stop the parasite infecting red blood cells offers the hope of a far more effective solution."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Engineering Specialties Are Highest Paying College Degrees

The 10 college majors with the lowest unemployment rates

By Liz Goodwin, The Lookout, November 8, 2011

College students, take note: There are at least six fields of study whose graduates are virtually 100 percent employed right now. That's right--certain majors, such as pharmacology, produce graduates who face a zero percent unemployment rate.

That's not bad considering last month's joblessness rate for people with a college degree or higher was 4.4 percent.

The Wall Street Journal created an interactive tool where users can search for the average employment rate and median income of people who studied each major

[ ]. The data comes from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, which released a similar ranking of majors in May that we wrote about here [;_ylt=Avc0lKjK27_qHYAJOzmBMoqZCMZ_;_ylu=X3oDMTFkZWgzYnZwBG1pdANCbG9nIEJvZHkEcG9zAzIEc2VjA01lZGlhQmxvZ0JvZHlBc3NlbWJseQ--;_ylg=X3oDMTM3YjQ3YWV0BGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDODgwODBmNTUtOGEwNC0zMjM0LWE3YjUtN2MwMmI3YzViMTFkBHBzdGNhdANvcmlnaW5hbHN8dGhlbG9va291dARwdANzdG9yeXBhZ2U-;_ylv=3 ]. (Top ten and worst ten degrees listed below).

The Center's previous study found that graduates with engineering and science majors tend to earn significantly more many than graduates with other college majors. (A petroleum engineering major will make 300 percent more over his or her lifetime than a peer who majored in counseling psychology, for example.)

But narrowing the results down to only the employment rate yields a wider range of fields that provide excellent job security. People who majored in some lower paying fields, such as school counseling, face an almost nonexistent chance of being unempl0yed.

Check out the rest of the most employable majors, below.

Majors and their unemployment rate:
1. Actuarial Science—0 percent
2. Astronomy and Astrophysics—0 percent
3. Educational Administration and Supervision—0 percent
4. Geological and Geophysical Engineering—0 percent
5. Pharmacology—0 percent
6. School Student Counseling—0 percent
7. Agricultural Economics—1.3 percent
8. Medical Technologies Technicians—1.4 percent
9.Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology—1.6 percent
10. Environmental Engineering, Nursing, and Nuclear Industrial Radiology and Biological Technologies—2.2 percent

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Ten highest and lowest earning degrees in USA according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce at the link above):

Highest earnings:

Petroleum engineering
Pharmacy, Pharmacological Services and Administration
Mathematics and Computer Science
Aerospace engineering
Chemical engineering
Electrical engineering
Naval architecture and marine engineering
Mechanical engineering
Metallurgical engineering
Mining and mineral engineering

Lowest earnings:

Counseling Psychology
Early Childhood education
Theology and Religious Vocations
Human Services and Community Organization
Social Work
Drama and Theater Arts
Studio Arts
Communication Disorders Science and Service
Visual and Performing Arts
Health and Medical Preparatory Programs

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wisdom from Contract Bridge

Making the call: Problem hands

You can’t always find one "right" bid for a hand. If only it were so. Many hands present close-call decisions.
For many hands, you become like the baseball umpire who decides whether each pitch is a ball or a strike. Some calls are obvious; others raise the dander of the pitcher and the batter.

One of the most popular bridge magazines in the world, Bridge World, features a great monthly column called "Master Solvers Club." In this column, 25 or so top bridge experts are shown a hand and told how the bidding goes up to a certain point, where it is now the experts’ turn to bid. Each expert makes what he thinks is the right bid and usually makes a comment to justify the bid. You’d think that most of the experts would come up with the same bid for the same hand, but it never happens. Each sample hand attracts at least three, four, and sometimes qas many as eight different bids, plus lively (and funny) comments about the hand.
Sometimes the magazine tries to trick the experts by feeding them the same hands they gave them 20 or more years ago, to see if they come up with the same bid. Most of the experts don’t recognize the hands and come up with different bids and different comments, sometimes even ridiculing bids they themselves suggested in the past of r the same hand!
--Bridge for Dummies 2nd Edition, by Eddie Canter, p. 155
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Afterword by the blog author:

We are talking about a finite universe when we discuss bridge hands. The number of bridge hands is large, but it is finite (52!/39!)/13!, which is 635,013,599,600. This is purely a mathematical issue, yet agreement about proper bidding is impossible.  One reason is that the number of possible bidding sequences is even larger -- billions of billions of possible bidding auctions.

The central problem is that the bidding conventions themselves are open to different interpretations. These conventions sometimes contradict themselves in particular, special circumstances, especially because the conventions overlap.

So we have to be careful about models, even if they are entirely mathematical.

What does this tell us about the social "sciences"?!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Biologists Furious About Worms That Ruin Bones

This is incredible – there are little mouthless worms that live in the ocean and attach themselves by rootlets to bones. They eat the bones and break them up with their roots. Biologists have a problem with whale bones because so many of the bones are missing. = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Zombie Worms Discovered in
Mediterranean Whale Bone

By Tiffany Kaiser – November 3, 2011

Researchers believe the Osedax genus may be responsible for dissolving bone before they became fossils, which may have affected the fossil record

Researchers from the University of Leeds have discovered a type of zombie-like worm in the Mediterranean, which may be a clue as to how this bone-eating worm affects fossil records.

The zombie worm, which is of the Osedax genus, does not have a mouth or gut, but consumes bone by growing root-like tissues. These tissues dissolve the bone as they grow. The Osedax were first discovered alive in Monterey Bay, California in 2002, where they were feeding on the bones of a gray whale. Ever since, researchers have wondered how these creatures may have affected fossil records.

But this is no easy task. Learning when and where the Osedax evolved has been a challenge because they are soft-bodied and do not preserve as fossils. Yet understanding the Osedax could provide more insight into lost parts of the fossil record due to these worms eating the bones before they could become fossils.

The Osedax may not leave fossils behind, but they do leave their bulb-shaped cavities that they form in a bone. This has allowed Nicholas Higgs, study leader and University of Leeds researcher, to trace their beginnings. Last year, Higgs traveled to the Mediterranean and used micro-CT scanning technology to find traces of the Osedax.

Now, the bulb-shaped cavities have been found in a 3-million-year-old fossil whale bone from Tuscany, Italy. This is the first time the Osedax have been found in this region, and leads researchers to believe that the Osedax were widespread throughout the world's oceans millions of years ago.

According to Higgs, the Mediterranean dried up nearly six million years ago, and about half a million years later, it re-flooded from the Atlantic.

"So finding out that Osedax were feeding on this whale bone three million years ago tell us that their ancestors must have also been living in the Atlantic as well, because the Mediterranean was re-colonized 5.5 million years ago from the Atlantic. There are 20 different species in Monterey, California alone, so it's almost certain there are many more out there. If Osedax were living in the Mediterranean three million years ago, there's no reason why they aren't living there now."

This study was published in Historical Biology.
Sources: University of Leeds, Science Daily
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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Positive Quiddity: Classic Rock at its Best

Some of the Very Best Rock and Roll Songs Ever

Yesterday’s listing of terrible rock and roll has, logically, an error. The error is that I need to explain one of two things – either why rock and roll is inherently inferior as an art form, or why the duds in the list are inherently inferior to rock and roll when represented by a list of competent and mesmerizing songs. So here is my own personal list of rock and roll at its best. I start with high quality and go to even higher quality as the list goes on.

Song -- Artist
Chantilly Lace -- The Big Bopper
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes -- The Platters
My Prayer -- The Platters
My Blue Heaven -- Fats Domino
Why Do Fools Fall in Love? -- Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers
Diana -- Paul Anka
Blueberry Hill -- Fats Domino
Rock Around the Clock -- Bill Haley and his Comets
The Fool on the Hill -- The Beatles
It Don’t Come Easy -- Ringo Starr
Rocking at Midnight -- The Honeydrippers (1985 remake)
Love Child -- The Supremes
The Logical Song -- Supertramp
Village Ghetto Land -- Stevie Wonder
While My Guitar Gently Weeps -- The Beatles
Since I Fell For You -- Lenny Welch
The Windows of the World -- Dionne Warwick
The White Cliffs of Dover -- The Righteous Brothers
The Long and Winding Road  -- The Beatles
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A very minor clarification: rock and roll tends to be an upbeat boogie woogie with sung lyrics. However, my very own personal absolute favorites are the best of the rock and roll instrumental hits. This has become a very unusual preference – no instrumental pop song of any genre has charted in the top twenty for the last 20 years. The best of the best such rock instrumentals are, to my ears, Bandstand Boogie by Les and Larry Elgart, the introduction to "At the Gym" by Leonard Bernstein for West Side Story, The Peter Gunn Theme by Henry Mancini, The Young Lovers Theme from "A Summer Place" by Max Steiner (the 1959 original, not the 1960 pop smash arrangement by Percy Faith), the James Bond Theme by Monty Norman (arranged and conducted by John Barry), and the Pink Panther Theme by Henry Mancini. All of these instrumental tunes are the next generation of 1940s style boogie woogie, a subgenre almost exhaustively collected in a CD box, "Bands that can Boogie Woogie," itself available on and reviewed by me at:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Negative Quiddity: Abysmal Rock and Roll

Some of the Very Worst Rock and Roll Songs Ever
The TwistChubby Checker
Lucy in the Sky with DiamondsWilliam Shatner
Breaking Up Is Hard to DoNeil Sadaka
Somewhere (pop not rock) Barbra Streisand
You're Having My BabyPaul Anka
My Daddy Is President*Jo Ann Morse
My Heart Will Go On (pop) Celine Dion
Little Deuce CoupeThe Beach Boys
It's My PartyLeslie Gore
Sugar, SugarThe Archies
MassachusettsThe BeeGees
Dead Man's CurveJan and Dean
The HustleVan McCoy
Share the Landthe Guess Who
Boogie Oogie OogieA Taste of Honey
Blue Christmas Elvis Presley
Travelin' ManRicky Nelson
CherishThe Association
Brand New KeyMelanie
Jingle Bell RockBobby Helms
You Light Up My LifeDebbi Boone
Thank God I'm a Country BoyJohn Denver
Car WashRose Royce
Power of LoveHuey Lewis and the News
Walk Like an EgyptianThe Bangles
Baby I Love Your WayPeter Frampton
-- from the "Frampton Comes Alive" LP
* This song is so bad it has to be heard to be believed -- Jo Ann Morse is pretending to be Caroline Kennedy --

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Giant Stride Toward a Thinking Machine

Scientists create brain-like, massively

parallel computer from molecules

By Sebastian Anthony, Extreme Tech, October 28, 2011

If you thought that Japan was merely the master of miniaturization, tentacles, and creepy robots, think again: A group of Japanese scientists have built a massively-parallel, brain-like computer out of an organic molecule called DDQ. This computer, which is built from 300 DDQ "neurons," has successfully calculated how heat diffuses through a medium, and the mutation of normal cells into cancer cells.

From the very start of the research paper, the scientists point out a phenomenon that all computer geeks are aware of: for the most part, computer processors are single-threaded, sequential-logic machines. You can throw more cores at the problem, or thousands of CPUs ( as in supercomputers), or scale to thousands of megahertz, but silicon, transistor-transistor, clock-driven computers are essentially sequential. Animal brains, on the other hand, are almost the complete opposite of modern CPUs: neurons can only fire around 100 times per second, but in a human brain there could be hundreds of millions of neurons all firing at the same time, and each neuron can have a 1,000 synapses to other neurons. It is this scaling, massively-parallel computation that the scientists have recreated using molecules.

The work of Anirban Bandyopadhyay and his team from the National Institute for Materials Science in Tsukuba, Japan, revolves around a molecule called 2,3-dichloro-5,6-dicyano-p-benzoquinone, or DDQ for short. DDQ is a ring molecule that can connect with up to six neighboring DDQ molecules. Most importantly, each DDQ molecule can be programmed into four different states, each conducting electricity differently. 300 DDQ molecules are placed on a gold substrate, and their conductive states and connections to other molecules are programmed using a scanning, tunneling microscope.

The end result is a cellular automaton of 300 neuron-like molecules that can perform calculations in a massively parallel way. For now, it seems like DDQ has only been used to perform pre-programmed calculations — and while that’s useful, conventional computers are unlikely to be usurped any time soon. It is another characteristic of DDQ "brains" that is most intriguing: When a DDQ molecule changes state, the change ripples down through the molecules that it’s connected to, destroying old bonds and creating new circuits as it goes — much like a neuron making new synapse connections. This could eventually lead to emergent computing, where the DDQ brain can react to external stimuli and evolve over time.

the actual research paper in pdf format:  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Misguided by Higher Education

By Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning blog, October 28, 2011

When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, we saw how state-managed capitalism works. Favored companies are allowed to make as much money as they can. But they are protected from going broke.

Certain firms are deemed "too big to fail," by virtue of the key role they play in the economy, or at least by the role they play in a politician’s plans for re-election or future employment. But state-managed capitalism is very different from the real thing. It is capitalism in a degenerate form.

Real capitalism progresses in fits and starts, described by Josef Schumpeter as "creative destruction." It is like a jungle...not like a zoo. It cannot be managed. You cannot take out the predators or feed selected species without upsetting the balance of nature. Take out the destruction, and you block the creative process too. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, most real wealth has come from real capitalism. Not from "playing the market." Not from getting a good job. Not by trying to cadge favors from the government.
So, what is real capitalism? It is what we’ve seen in the computer/Internet industry over the last 20 years.

This was a new industry. It had not yet been tamed by the government. Regulations were few. There were no large, entrenched companies to block start- ups. There were no lobbyists to curry favor from the politicians. There were no subsidies...and no barriers. It was young, dynamic, chaotic...and very prone to blow-ups.

The whole industry blew up in January 2000. Mistakes were not bailed out. They were corrected. Money moved from weak hands to strong ones. Many companies failed. The companies that survived, and prospered...went on to glory. Amazon. Google. Microsoft. Apple.

And who was behind these new companies? College drop-outs, computer nerds, products of teenage mothers and broken marriages. They did not enter the ranks of existing technology companies, work their way up to senior management and then create new product lines. It is almost as if they succeeded not because of advanced American capitalism, but in spite of it. They created an entirely new industry...with new companies nobody had ever heard of. And then, they destroyed some of the biggest businesses in America.

Typically, in a correction, asset prices fall and unemployment goes up. Misallocated resources — including labor — needs to be re-priced and put back to work. But when markets are not allowed to work the bid and ask spread in the labor market can stay out of whack for years. Joblessness becomes a structural problem, not a cyclical problem. People do not find new jobs. Old businesses are not swept away and new businesses do not start up.

A zoo economy keeps the old animals alive as long as possible.

Let’s look at education. Now, there’s an industry — we can all agree — that adds value. You could look at it as a charitable activity. Or as a profit-making business. Either way, education has to be a plus for the individual and for the society, right?

Wrong on both points. Education is only a benefit when freely floating prices are allowed to determine what it is worth. First, let us look at the whole industry. Since the 1960s spending on education, in raw terms, in per capita terms, in terms adjusted for inflation, has soared. From the 1930s, when the first careful records were compiled, to the 1990s, real spending on education multiplied 5 times per student. It more than doubled from the ’60s.

Did this increase in spending do any good? Not on the available evidence. Test scores — measuring achievement — have not budged in 40 years. In other words, the additional investment over the last 40 years has been wasted. We might as well have thrown the money down a well.

But while tests of achievement have not moved...the tests of potential achievement have improved. For whatever reason, IQ tests and SAT tests show young people are getting smarter...or better able to take the tests. This may seem like good news. But not when it is set alongside the performance tests. What we see is that the investment in education over the last 4 decades has actually had a negative return. The raw material was better able to learn. But the investment in the teaching industry produced less in the way of actual learning.

Today, the US stands out for its educational spending, as it does for the bombs it makes and the drugs it distributes — it is on the top of the heap, by a wide margin. Spending per school aged child in the US is about $8,000 per year. In Japan, it is half that. France is in-between with about $6,000 spent per child per year.

Which country has the best scores? The one that spends the least — Japan. On math tests, Americans score 474 (out of 600). The French do a little better at 495. And the Japanese get a score of 523.
Science, the same thing. US students get an average score of 489. Japanese students are at 531.

There is nothing very surprising about these figures. Nearly thirty years ago, American researchers found that there was no connection between spending and educational results. They just looked at different school districts in the US. Spending was not correlated with results, they concluded.

And yet, studies continue to show that people with more education do better in life. We doubt these studies have much validity, at least as interpreted. It is surely true that people with a lot of education have lower unemployment levels and higher incomes, statistically, than those with little formal schooling. But we have no way of knowing whether any individual student would have been better staying in school...or dropping out like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

But we will take a guess: the typical young person would be better off getting out in to the real world and learning as much as possible from working, than he would by staying in school. After all, that’s how almost all the world’s great geniuses, inventors, scholars, and entrepreneurs learned. It has only been in the last 100 years that public education has been ubiquitous...and only in the last half a century that ordinary people felt they should go to college. But as more people went to college, the less dynamic...less creative...and less productive the US economy became.

Our colleague, Gary Gibson puts it this way:

College is not necessary for most people. It never was. In fact, the preoccupation with college has left America bereft of its former ability to create wealth.

An unhealthy cultural myth has flourished that says everyone must go to college and get an advanced degree, even if it’s something for which there is virtually zero market demand. Meanwhile, below-market interest rates and government-backed loans have lured a couple generations of Americans down the road to higher education.

Further, the kind of education colleges provide — indeed, all of American schooling from kindergarten onward — doesn’t produce innovators, entrepreneurs and job creators.

In a recent article for The New York Times titled "Will Dropouts Save America?" Michael Ellsberg writes:
"American academia is good at producing writers, literary critics and historians. It is also good at producing professionals with degrees. But we don’t have a shortage of lawyers and professors. America has a shortage of job creators. And the people who create jobs aren’t traditional professionals, but startup entrepreneurs.
"No business in America — and therefore, no job creation — happens without someone buying something."
Wealth is only created when value is added (You didn’t think it was when money was printed, did you?) The Austrian school of thought reminds us that value is subjective. People, ultimately, buy what’s worth buying to them with the money they’ve earned.

We cannot put too fine a point on this. It doesn’t matter what the seller thinks the item is worth. It doesn’t matter how much time, energy and material went into making the product or service. You can waste a lot of time, energy and material producing something no one will want to buy. The buyer determines the ultimate value...and whether he will part with his money for it.

There can be misallocations of resources. And when the central bank and government get involved, these allocations can grow very large and go on for a very long time before violently correcting.

So it is that, increasingly over the past couple of generations, there has been a gross misallocation of time and resources into higher education, aided and abetted by the central bank and the federal government.

Millions have been misled into pouring their young adulthood into endeavors that won’t pay off...and going deeply into debt for it. The federal government has encouraged this higher "education," much like it did home "ownership." The central bank made the borrowing easy with low interest rates — which powered the real estate bubble as well as the higher education bubble — while government entities backed the loans.

Now the education bubble is bursting. The bubble’s start can be traced to the GI Bill, whereby the government got into the business of shoving more people into college than the market would bear. Over time, the same easy loans and guarantees got extended to most of the population.

Over time, some bad notions gained traction. College came to be seen as the ticket to the good life as opposed to something that people already destined for greater things might undertake to help get them there.

As often happens, causation became confused with correlation.

In the last 30 years, higher education has come to be viewed as a human right, something that governments are obliged to guarantee. Lost is the notion that a higher education is a path for the exceptional, particularly those exceptional people going into the hard sciences.

Of course, this doesn’t do anything to change the essential ability of the people now being shoved through the system. All it’s done is water down the quality of what’s being offered so that everyone can join in.

Exceptional people still become scientists and engineers. Everyone else gets a master’s in some field that was recently invented to meet the artificial demand for advanced degrees, for people who couldn’t be scientists or engineers, but who had a head full of misguided notions and a boatload of borrowed money.

Worse, this "education" came to supplant things like entrepreneurship, initiative, the willingness to take risk, to accept and learn from failure. As Ellsberg says in his article:

"But most students learn nothing about sales in college; they are more likely to take a course on why sales (and capitalism) are evil."

Indeed. We hate to keep turning to the Occupy movement, but it is full of the poster children for this. They came out on the other side of the system unemployable and in debt. They feel lost and angry, unable to think of life past the burden of their student loans. And many of them (not all) feel that "capitalism" is somehow to blame, that the world of profits is somehow divorced from the well-being of people.

It’s criminal when "profits" are doled out to banks and "too big to fail" businesses by the government, with money taken from the taxpayers. But what about the real profits — not stolen goods — in which entrepreneurs take risks and business people add value, when the profits are the reward for serving people’s needs?

So the bamboozled have taken to the street. They would like their student debts to be wiped out, that "the people" be bailed out like the bankers and crony big businesses were. Or even worse, they get it in their heads that all higher education, henceforth, should be paid for by the government. It doesn’t matter whether there is a market demand for expertise in a course of study or not.

A system has grown up that encouraged enormous debt for nonperforming assets, namely, schooling in things that won’t pay off. People are still falling for it. But markets aren’t mocked forever. There has to be some painful write-down in central bank- distorted asset values before the economy can regain solid footing. This is just as true for higher education as it is for real estate.

It won’t be pretty. We’re not sure how this will play out for those who’ve misallocated their time and energy based on false signals, and with nothing but debt to show for it. But the stories that we told ourselves about what’s valuable were built on distortions that are now coming to an end.

Reality is asserting itself. And the reality is that entrepreneurship is what drives wealth creation, not going into debt to be taught that wealth creation is secondary to cultural studies or worse, that wealth creation is downright evil.

The education industry has been corrupted by too much easy money. It is now zombified. Sclerotic. And parasitic. It now subtracts value. It takes valuable resources...not the least of which are the minds and bodies of people at their most energetic stage in life...and squanders them, making us all poorer.

Still, parents are terrified of the idea that their children may not get the "education that they need" and may be condemned forever to the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. The unemployment rate for college graduates, for example, is only half that of the rate for the rest of the population — less than 5%, even in the high- unemployment slump since 2008. Parents are afraid an uneducated child will not only be a failure, but will be forced by joblessness and poverty to move back in with mom and dad.

Yes, they will tell you, a degree from a Podunk University in the Midwest maybe be worthless. But get a degree from Harvard or Yale and you are on the train to status and prosperity. They are prepared to mortgage the house...and take out hundreds of thousands in student loans to buy the kid a ticket.

And they may be right. But only because the whole society has been corrupted by the same zombie virus. It has shifted the economy from one that cares if you can one that cares if your papers are in order. A small businessman will not particularly care if you have a college degree or not. He only cares if you can do the job. But big government and the big businesses it manages are different. They use education as a qualifier. Anyone who can sit still in class for 16 years — without questioning the nonsense that passes for knowledge — is a good candidate for bureaucracy.

What have been the growth industries of the last 10 years? Government is the main one. Obviously, government doesn’t care if you can produce or not. Who’s measuring? Its output is un-priced. Who’s to know if you handled your paperwork well...or made the right decision? Likewise, in the education industry, who’s to know if you are productive? What does it mean to be productive? Imagine that you have a job at a major university. You are an assistant director of its Local Community Outreach Program...or its Special Gender Enabling Group...or even its Career Placement Office. Who’s to know...or care...if you are doing a good job? All you have to do is to look and act in a presentable professional way. The rest is BS.

In the absence of any market-based test, you can get away with anything. All you need is a bright smile and a good line of talk. And a college degree, of course!

In non-market sectors, mistakes are eventually corrected, but the Soviet Union...after decades of misery, and a final breakdown or revolution. In the meantime, the mistakes compound. The education industry takes more and more of the national resources while producing less and less real output. And if you want a job, you are better off as a well-credentialed zombie than as an energetic (often disruptive) producer.
But what if you were to start up a new business...a private school, with a clear profit-oriented, market priced output? With modern e- learning tools, you could reduce the cost of a real university education, to a fraction of the price people currently pay.

Mr. David Van Zandt of the New School in New York:

"I apologize to anyone here from Nebraska, but there is no reason to teach introductory chemistry in Nebraska in a classroom of 500 students. Not when you can pump in, say, someone from Harvard," to give the lecture on video.

It is just a matter of time before the cushy, over-rich education industry meets destruction at the hands of new technology and new entrepreneurs. But don’t expect it to go gently into that good night. It has lobbyists by the score. It has money by the billions. It has its men and women in Washington...who will continue rewarding the failed, zombie schools, while regulating, squeezing out and crushing start-up competition.
That’s why, sometimes, it takes a revolution.

Bill Bonner

for The Daily Reckoning --

reprinted by the Christian Science Monitor at