Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mars Rover Lands in Five Days

Strange but True: The Sky Crane for Mars Rover "Curiosity"

By Dauna Coulter, edited by Dr. Tony Phillips

NASA, July 30, 2012 -- On August 5th at 10:31 p.m. Pacific Time, NASA will gently deposit their new, 2000-pound Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, wheels-first and ready to roll.

Quite a feat – because it will come screaming through the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 mph.

Curiosity, aka the Mars Science Laboratory, will be the largest mission ever to land on another planet. It's big because it has a big mystery to solve: was Mars ever or is it still capable of harboring life?

During its grand entrance, the lander must slow to 1 1/2 mph to touch down safely. That kind of braking action for a one-ton payload demands the nail-bitingly precise unfolding of an intricately choreographed sequence of events. Key players: a red-hot heat shield, a huge parachute, 76 explosive bolts -- and a Sky Crane.

"The whole ballgame transpires within 7 minutes, from atmospheric entry to touch-down," says Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Steve Sell, Deputy Operations Lead for Entry, Descent, and Landing. "The onboard computer calls the shots. And if any one maneuver fails, it's game over."

Here's the game plan.

"Atmospheric friction slows the capsule containing Sky Crane -- an eight-rocket jetpack attached to the rover -- from 13000 to 1000 mph. [Mars' atmosphere is too thin to slow it more.] The friction burnishes the capsule's heat shield to a glowing 3800 degrees Fahrenheit (2100 degrees Celsius). Then a 60-foot diameter parachute deploys and inflates above the capsule on 160-foot lines. What's left of the heat shield jettisons, giving Curiosity its first look at its new home below."

This is the largest, strongest parachute ever flown to another world. It has to be a super-chute to handle the 65000 pounds of force produced when the rover snaps to attention below it.

"After the payload slows to about 200 mph, explosive bolts free the chute and Sky Crane free-falls for a second. Then its retrorockets fire."

The rockets slow the descent to 1 ½ mph and power a sideways parry to avoid the faster falling chute. As Sky Crane descends to 60 feet above Mars' surface, the rover inches down from underneath it on three nylon ropes like a spider spinning strands of its web. With Curiosity dangling 20 feet below, Sky Crane continues its downward progress until the rover is resting on the surface. Explosive bolts cut Curiosity's last physical attachments to the outside world, and Sky Crane flies away to death-plunge into the red sands, its incredible job done.

It might sound frighteningly complicated, "but what appears to be a complex system actually simplifies the landing greatly," explains Sell.
Previous missions such as Vikings I and II and the Mars Phoenix Lander used retrorockets to lower spacecraft all the way to the surface atop a legged lander. Others have used airbags. Neither method is feasible for Curiosity.

"With a payload this size, the rockets could kick up enough dust to compromise the rover and its instruments," explains Sell. "And the rockets could excavate craters Curiosity would have to avoid as it drives away. Add to that the risk of a big, heavy vehicle driving down off the lander via an exit ramp to reach the surface."

Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity used airbags to eliminate these concerns. But Curiosity is too large for airbags.

"Bags big enough to soften its landing would be too heavy or too costly to launch. Besides, you'd have to drop the payload so slowly for the bags to survive the load, you may as well place the rover right on its wheels."

Sky Crane, says Sell, makes sense for Curiosity. But it still keeps him up at night.

"I leave myself voicemails in the middle of the night about things to check in the morning. We've run thousands of tests and simulations, thinking of ways to 'break' the system so we can build in comfortable performance margins. We're still testing. There's always one more test we can run. We're always afraid we missed something."

In the control room at JPL the night of August 5th, it will be too late. It takes 14 minutes for signals to travel from Mars to Earth. When the team receives the signal 'I am entering the atmosphere,' Curiosity will be alive or dead on the surface.

Says Sell: "I'm already holding my breath."

Monday, July 30, 2012

Pop Music Became Louder and Simpler

Researchers in Spain examined certain qualities of musical songs released from 1955 to 2010. Across the rock, pop, hip-hop, metal and electronic genres, the chord transitions, note combinations, tone and instrument choices were examined and all were found to become less diverse over time. Additionally, the recorded songs became louder with time.

In a paper published July 26 with the journal Scientific Reports, Joan Serra of the Spanish National Research Council noted, "In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations has consistently diminished in the last 50 years."

An internet summary of the results, reported on the internet by Natalie Wolchover of LiveScience.com, states that "startling chord transitions, unfamiliar instruments and variations in the volume over the course of a song played on the radio, runes today restrict themselves to the ‘fashionable’ set of chords and not combinations and maintain a uniformly high volume from beginning to end."

Many in the music business refer tot his as the "loudness war." Wolchover’s article noted that the researchers speculate that an old tune could be rerecorded with modern, increased loudness and with simpler chord progressions and instrument sonorities and be viewed as novel and fashionable.

Summarized from:


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why We Hate Photos of Ourselves

By Robert T. Gonzales

You know what I'm talking about. There you are, clicking through your friend's Facebook album, when suddenly you happen upon a picture of yourself — or rather, a slightly less attractive version of yourself. The "real" you appears to have been abducted, replaced with some second-rate knock off. What gives? you ask yourself. Is that really what I look like?
Yes. Yes it is. But don't worry, there's a perfectly sound explanation for why the person staring back at you looks so very unfamiliar, even though that person is, well, you. And by the way: that funny-looking, ersatz-you in the photograph? They're actually more attractive than you think.

It's mirrors, by the way. The answer to why you hate seeing photos of yourself? It's mirrors. I'm telling you this because it is perhaps the least interesting part of the explanation for why you think the you that exists in photographs is so weird-looking. Some of you have probably even heard this explanation given before; just a few hours ago, EDW Lynch over at Laughing Squid posted a video of photographer Duncan David giving a short TED talk on how "perception, mirrors and the uncanny valley make us hate photos of ourselves." We've posted the video below, but here are the meat and potatoes:
How do we perceive ourselves? What is the map that we use to view ourselves? Well, it's like what no other camera sees: it's a mirror, in your bathroom, at arm's length. That's a very personal view; you're the only person that has this view in the world. Whenever somebody takes a photo of you it does not match [your personal, mirror view].
So my theory — though I'm not a scientist, I'm just a photographer — is that when we see a photograph of ourselves, it looks almost right but not quite, and so therefore we feel a big sense of rejection. Is the theory right or not? We'll see. Maybe somebody will test it.

Well, it turns out somebody did test it, all the way back in 1977. In a study titled "Reversed Facuak Unages and the Mere-Exposure Hypothesis," psychologists Theodore H. Mita, Marshall Dermer and Jeffrey Knight demonstrate that "individuals will prefer a facial photograph that corresponds to their mirror image rather than to their true image." But what's really interesting about the study is its exploration of why we find our mirror images more appealing. As the title of the study suggests, it relates to something called the mere-exposure effect.

The mere-exposure effect was first proposed in the '60s by Stanford psychologist Robert Zajonc. In its simplest terms, the mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon whereby a person develops a preference for a stimulus based solely on his or her repeated exposure to (and subsequent familiarity with) it.
The effect has been demonstrated with an array of stimuli (words, paintings, sounds) and across cultures. It's even been observed in other species.

So when someone says that the reason we hate seeing photos of ourselves is mirrors, understand that what they really really should be blaming is the mere-exposure effect. Of course, the great thing about the mere-exposure effect is that it's an individual experience — and that's something you should take comfort in the next time you're lamenting over your slightly-off appearance in a photograph.

The truth is, if photograph-you looked like mirror-image you, everyone else would think you look bizarre. Remember the researchers who showed that a person is more likely to prefer a facial photograph that corresponds to their mirror image, rather than their true image? They also demonstrated that the opposite was true when the images were shown to the person's friends. In other words: don't even worry about it. Photograph-you looks great.

But still probably not as great as he or she thinks.


Photographer Duncan David’s video explaining this effect can be found in the link immediately above.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Astonishingly Compact Binary Stars

'Impossible' Stars Found in Super-Close Orbital Dances

SPACE.com – Thu, Jul 26, 2012

Four pairs of what astronomers are calling "impossible stars" — stellar twins in orbits so close they defy explanation — have been found in our Milky Way galaxy, scientists say.

Astronomers using the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii discovered the four star pairs, each of which is a binary system in which two stars circle each other in less than four hours. Until now, scientists thought that such twin-star setups couldn't exist.

'Our sun does not orbit another star, but roughly half of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy do, as part of a binary system. These binary stars likely formed close together, and have been orbiting one another since their birth, the researchers said.

It was typically thought that if a star formed too close to another, the two stars would quickly merge into a single, bigger star. This theory seemed to agree with observations taken over the last three decades, which reveal that binary systems are abundant, but none of the pairs have an orbital period shorter than five hours, the researchers said.

In the new study, a team of astronomers monitored the brightness of hundreds of thousands of stars in near-infrared light over the past five years, and found several stellar binaries with surprisingly short orbits.

The astronomers focused on binaries of red dwarfs, which are stars that are up to ten times smaller and a thousand times dimmer than the sun. While red dwarfs are the most common type of star in the Milky Way galaxy, they often do not show up in astronomical surveys because they are too dim in visible light.

"To our complete surprise, we found several red dwarf binaries with orbital periods significantly shorter than the 5 hour cut-off found for sun-like stars, something previously thought to be impossible," the study's lead author Bas Nefs, from Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, said in a statement. "It means that we have to rethink how these close-in binaries form and evolve."

Early in their lifetimes, stars shrink in size, which suggests that the orbits of stars in these tight binary systems must have also shrunk since they were formed, the researchers said. If not, the stars would have interacted with each other early on, and would have likely merged.

But, how the orbits of stars in these binaries shrunk by so much remains a mystery. According to the new study, one possible explanation is that cool stars in binary systems are much more active and violent than was previously thought.

As the cool stellar companions spiral in toward each other, their magnetic field lines may become twisted and deformed. This powerful magnetic activity may help slow down the spinning stars, allowing them to move closer together, the researchers explained.

"The active nature of these stars and their apparently powerful magnetic fields has profound implications for the environments around red dwarfs throughout our galaxy," study co-author David Pinfield, from the University of Hertfordshire in England, said in a statement.

Detailed results of the new study appear in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Bad Preview News About Windows 8

Windows 8 is ‘a catastrophe

for everyone in the PC space’

By Zach Epstein | BGR News – Thu, Jul 26, 2012

Well then, it’s settled. We had very high hopes for Windows 8 after reviewing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview Microsoft (MSFT) released earlier this year, but according to Valve CEO and one-time Microsoft executive Gabe Newell, Microsoft’s upcoming operating system is "a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space." Newell made the comment, which was picked up by Ars Technica, during the Casual Connect
video game conference this week in Seattle, Washington.

Following the launch of Windows 8, "we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people," says Newell. Where gaming is concerned, the executive is hedging his Windows bet by working on a number of Linux titles.

Windows currently owns 92.23% of the desktop PC market according to June data from Net Applications, compared to Linux’s 1.05%. If a power shift does take place, it’s certainly not likely that it’ll happen any time soon regardless of how big a "catastrophe" Windows 8 may or may not be.


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Blog Author’s Comments
My comments on Windows 8 amount to links from two expert computer nerds…The review above isn’t the only negative comment on Windows 8.

Troy Wolverton, technology correspondent for the San Jose Mercury News (which happens to be the daily newspaper closest to "Silicon Valley") slammed it with an internet review:


= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
"There are ways to open up an interface that is close to the Windows 7 experience, yet Microsoft doesn't make it easy to find. The software is months away from release and there are already dozens of online tutorials on "How to get the Classic Start Menu in Windows 8." Not a good sign."

--Dan Costa, in a PC Magazine article, "Why Windows 8 Is a Huge Gamble for Microsoft" at  http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2403179,00.asp
Costa strongly recommends that Microsoft add a simple button that reverts Windows 8 to Windows 7 so users can treat the new software as an upgrade. Smart suggestion. Very smart.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Is "Full" Four Wheel Drive Coming?

Michigan Company Develops
In-Wheel Electric Motor

By Tiffany Kaiser, DailyTech.com

Preproduction starts in 2013 while full commercial production is set to begin in early 2014.  A Michigan technology company has developed what could possibly be a new feature for electric vehicles (EVs) – in-wheel electric motors.

Protean Electric, a Michigan-based tech company, is on its way to producing compact wheels for EVs that have electric motors inside of them instead of using conventional systems, which utilize larger motors to power a transmission or axles in order to move the wheels.

The in-wheel motors weigh 68 pounds and are 18 inches in diameter. They offer 110 HP and 598 lb-ft of torque. There is also a 24-inch version for more power.

The motors' anatomy consists of a permanent magnet at the center and the rotor on the outside for easy attachment to the wheels. Power electronics and inverters are located between these two, four to eight submotors make up the complete package. Typically, two to four of these complete motors are used on a vehicle.

The wheels can be used on either all-electric vehicles or hybrid plug-in vehicles. They are compact, lightweight wheels that can be used for retrofitting existing vehicles and for newly designed EVs as well.

Protean Electric received funding for the latest EV wheels from Chinese investor GSR Partners in the sum of $84 million. The wheels will be made in-house for now, but the company plans to eventually license the technology to larger manufacturers so they can be produced in higher numbers.

The motors will be built in a manufacturing center in Liyang, China, where the plan is to produce 50,000 motors per year. Pre-production starts in early 2013, while full commercial production is set to begin in early 2014.

Back in 2008, Michelin developed what it called the Active Wheel, which housed the motor, brake, and suspension inside the wheel.


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

Note by the Blog Author

This system would allow for four-wheel drive electric vehicles with independent motors for each wheel as well as independent suspension for all four wheels.  This could usher in a distinct advance in four wheel drive vehicles, with virtually no skidding and "grippier" adhesion to the road as well as a superior traction (wheel-by-wheel instead of axle by axle) on slippery surfaces.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

High Tech Firms Finally Form DC Lobby Group

Major Tech Companies Partner
to Fight Government Regulations
July 25, 2012 by Kate Freeman, mashable.com

Google, Facebook, Amazon and eBay are just four of the tech giants said to be in a major lobbying group formed to protect the interests of the technology industry, according to a report by The Washington Post.

The group will be called The Internet Association and plans to launch in September, according to an anonymous source the The Washington Post spoke to. When it’s launched, the full list of members will be available, but as it stands already, The Internet Association contains some major tech players. The group will be led by former Deputy Staff Director to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Michael Beckerman.

The group’s aim is to fight restricting regulations that impede innovation, although some lawmakers say regulations are necessary for the often-unregulated tech industry.

The group’s website describes its mission as this: "The Internet Association is the unified voice of the Internet economy, representing the interests of America’s leading Internet companies and their global community of users. The Internet Association is dedicated to advancing public policy solutions to strengthen and protect an open, innovative and free Internet."

The Washington Post notes that the tech industry — and the giant companies leading The Internet Association — are facing regulatory issues that would impact their business, including "privacy legislation, online sales tax reforms, cybersecurity and proposed anti-piracy and copyright laws."

In the past, the U.S. government has investigated Google on numerous occasions, in one instance to see if it favors its own products in search results. Apple was also investigated by the FTC for its business dealings with Google.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

US Faces Years of Economic Stagnation

American Pie in the Sky

Nouriel Roubini, Chairman of Roubini Global Economics, July 20, 2012

NEW YORK – While the risk of a disorderly crisis in the eurozone is well recognized, a more sanguine view of the United States has prevailed. For the last three years, the consensus has been that the US economy was on the verge of a robust and self-sustaining recovery that would restore above-potential growth. That turned out to be wrong, as a painful process of balance-sheet deleveraging – reflecting excessive private-sector debt, and then its carryover to the public sector – implies that the recovery will remain, at best, below-trend for many years to come.

Even this year, the consensus got it wrong, expecting a recovery to above-trend annual GDP growth – faster than 3%. But the first-half growth rate looks set to come in closer to 1.5% at best, even below 2011’s dismal 1.7%. And now, after getting the first half of 2012 wrong, many are repeating the fairy tale that a combination of lower oil prices, rising auto sales, recovering house prices, and a resurgence of US manufacturing will boost growth in the second half of the year and fuel above-potential growth by 2013.
The reality is the opposite: for several reasons, growth will slow further in the second half of 2012 and be even lower in 2013 – close to stall speed. First, growth in the second quarter has decelerated from a mediocre 1.8% in January-March, as job creation – averaging 70,000 a month – fell sharply.

Second, expectations of the "fiscal cliff" – automatic tax increases and spending cuts set for the end of this year – will keep spending and growth lower through the second half of 2012. So will uncertainty about who will be President in 2013; about tax rates and spending levels; about the threat of another government shutdown over the debt ceiling; and about the risk of another sovereign rating downgrade should political gridlock continue to block a plan for medium-term fiscal consolidation. In such conditions, most firms and consumers will be cautious about spending – an option value of waiting – thus further weakening the economy.

Third, the fiscal cliff would amount to a 4.5%-of-GDP drag on growth in 2013 if all tax cuts and transfer payments were allowed to expire and draconian spending cuts were triggered. Of course, the drag will be much smaller, as tax increases and spending cuts will be much milder. But, even if the fiscal cliff turns out to be a mild growth bump – a mere 0.5% of GDP – and annual growth at the end of the year is just 1.5%, as seems likely, the fiscal drag will suffice to slow the economy to stall speed: a growth rate of barely 1%.

Fourth, private consumption growth in the last few quarters does not reflect growth in real wages (which are actually falling). Rather, growth in disposable income (and thus in consumption) has been sustained since last year by another $1.4 trillion in tax cuts and extended transfer payments, implying another $1.4 trillion of public debt. Unlike the eurozone and the United Kingdom, where a double-dip recession is already under way, owing to front-loaded fiscal austerity, the US has prevented some household deleveraging through even more public-sector releveraging – that is, by stealing some growth from the future.

In 2013, as transfer payments are phased out, however gradually, and as some tax cuts are allowed to expire, disposable income growth and consumption growth will slow. The US will then face not only the direct effects of a fiscal drag, but also its indirect effect on private spending.

Fifth, four external forces will further impede US growth: a worsening eurozone crisis; an increasingly hard landing for China; a generalized slowdown of emerging-market economies, owing to cyclical factors (weak advanced-country growth) and structural causes (a state-capitalist model that reduces potential growth); and the risk of higher oil prices in 2013 as negotiations and sanctions fail to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

Policy responses will have very limited effect in stemming the US economy’s deceleration toward stall speed: even with only a mild fiscal drag on growth, the US dollar is likely to strengthen as the eurozone crisis weakens the euro and as global risk aversion returns. The US Federal Reserve will carry out more quantitative easing this year, but it will be ineffective: long-term interest rates are already very low, and lowering them further would not boost spending. Indeed, the credit channel is frozen and velocity has collapsed, with banks hoarding increases in base money in the form of excess reserves. Moreover, the dollar is unlikely to weaken as other countries also carry out quantitative easing.

Similarly, the gravity of weaker growth will most likely overcome the levitational effect on equity prices from more quantitative easing, particularly given that equity valuations today are not as depressed as they were in 2009 or 2010. Indeed, growth in earnings and profits is now running out of steam, as the effect of weak demand on top-line revenues takes a toll on bottom-line margins and profitability.

A significant equity-price correction could, in fact, be the force that in 2013 tips the US economy into outright contraction. And if the US (still the world’s largest economy) starts to sneeze again, the rest of the world – its immunity already weakened by Europe’s malaise and emerging countries’ slowdown – will catch pneumonia.

Nouriel Roubini, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and Chairman of Roubini Global Economics, was one of the few economists to predict the recent global financial crisis. One of the world’s most sought-after voices on its causes and consequences, he previously served in the Clinton administration as Senior Economist for the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and has worked for the International Monetary Fund, the US Federal Reserve, and the World Bank.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Many Doctors Are Furious about Obamacare

By Kathryn A. Serkes
Chair & Co-Founder, Doctor Patient Medical Association

(Washington) – As the amateur media psychiatrists fall over themselves to get in the head of Judge Roberts’, what do actual doctors think of the Supreme Court ruling on the "Affordable Care Act?"

In a word – angry.

"The federal government needs to get the HELL out of the practice of medicine," writes an internist from Washington State. "Here’s the bottom line: you cannot give away free medical care. Until they stop entitlements, this whole system is doomed, unfair, and chaotic."

"It bothers me several to many times every day. Why the hell did I invest 34 years to be a very low level 99%er?" bemoans an orthopedist from New York.

And more from a family practitioner in Texas: "I own a 4 physician F[amily P[ractice] group. I will be out of business when Obamacare is fully implemented…"

"If the Government continues legislating more pressures on doctors, medicine in the US will come to a halt. There will be a two tier system: those that can pay for private medical care & everybody else (in the socialized system,)" warns another.

"My husband, a physician, will be an early retiree, as will many of his contemporaries," writes Kathleen on our Facebook page this week.

A husband and wife from Wisconsin- both physicians – write that they will not let their teenagers become doctors.

There is even a burgeoning consulting area to teach doctors how to leave patients behind and become highly paid pharmaceutical executives, motivational speakers and expert witness (oh great, more lawsuits). Brochures for expensive workshops feature trainers like a former ER doctor who is now a "Master Sherpa Coach."

One resident tells us that he likes clinical medicine – actually treating patients – too much to quit, but thinks about taking his education and skills overseas. "I’m beside myself about the bureaucracy involved in practice in the US and actively assessing my options for a post residency career abroad," says Kyle Varner.

Long-established doctors are thinking the same thing. "Some days I just want to run to Africa or Mexico and just take care of sick people, and not have to explain myself to a dozen bureaucrats who don’t even know what I am doing," says a family practitioner in Colorado.

The real question for us as patients is, what will doctors do with all of that anger and frustration? Will they just throw up their hands and walk away or will they drink the kool-aid and become the compliant "providers" that government and insurance companies want them to be?

Or are these just idle threats to get our attention? This week it’s not looking good.

Will doctors stage a massive uprising or walk-outs and strikes like in the U.K , Germany and other nationalized health care countries have seen?

Not likely. Doctors here rarely do anything en masse, which is good for us as patients.

But when 8 out of 10 doctors are thinking about quitting, this law has triggered a disaster in slow motion as PPACA’s thousands of regulations, taxes and controls are implemented in the next ten years.

Some of the doctors tell us they are ready to fight, like this podiatrist from Florida: "The doctors need to stand up and fight with a united front instead of taking these changes lying down. With the direction we are going, we will have the worst medical system in the world."

But they can’t do it alone. Unless patients and doctors start partnering up to repel the government control and government-protected corporate control, doctors will be left to fight on their own. And they haven’t been very successful so far slaying the AMA dragon and its big bucks.
And unless we start figuring out ways to deliver actual medical care, we’ll have millions of people knocking at the doors of empty office buildings with a now-worthless piece of paper that says they are "insured" when PPACA takes full effect.

And like Elvis, the doctors will have left the building.

The Doctor Patient Medical Assn. is a non-partisan group working for freedom in medicine for doctors AND patients. Our goal is increased choice and access to medical care. You may reach Kathryn at Kathryn@DoctorsandPatients.org.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

US Poverty Rising to Highest Levels in Decades

  Hope Yen of the Associated Press has filed a report on poverty in the USA that includes interviews with statisticians and unemployment experts. Her article notes:
  • Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall in the critical weeks ahead of the November elections.
    • The official poverty rate was 5.1 percent in 2010 and is climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Any tiny increase in poverty would put poverty at the highest level since 1965.
    • Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty.
    • In the last 39 years, poverty never fell below a 1973 low of 11.1 percent.
    • the tidal wave of low-wage jobs is dragging us down and the wage problem is not going to go away anytime soon, a professional consultant notes.
    • Poverty will remain above the pre-recession level of 12.5 percent for many more years.
    • Part-time or underemployed workers, who saw a record 15 percent poverty in 2010, will see the statistic rise to a new high.
    • The Las Vegas suburbs have seen a particularly rapid increase in poverty from 9.7 percent in 2007 to 14.7 percent. Nevada has the nation’s highest unemployment rate.
    • Roughly 79 percent of Americans think the gap between rich and poor has grown in the past two decades.
    Summarized from:


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Reality Show Romances Usually Fizzle

Gina Carbone of Wetpaint Entertainment wrote a puffy little article about the 23 formal couples that have come out of the 16 seasons of "The Bachelor" as well as the seven seasons of "The Bachelorette." Of these 23 couples, four are still together. She opines that four on-going relationships out of 23 engagements is not such a good statistic.

"That’s not normal, right?" she writes.

One of the comments to the posted story seemed to offer a complete and thorough explanation to the supposed mystery:
"Consumers of illusion. There is nothing real about reality shows. This is nothing real about sitcoms, cop dramas, soap operas, talk shows, and even the "news." It's all spin and hype designed to sell an image that is not real. Reality is in your house, your relationships, your hands. Turn off the illusion screen and join the real world. We have cookies, fresh air, and real experiences that go way beyond watching Barbie and Ken."                                -- ‘18-1,’ making a comment on the Gina Carbone story


Friday, July 20, 2012

US Government Can't Tax Its Own Super-rich

Hayes: We Are No Longer Able To Tax The Very Rich In Our Country

Chris Hayes, MSNBC commentator, live on cable, July 19, 2012

"Look, the taxes of high -- of extremely wealthy people are bizarre, strange and alienating," MSNBC's Chris Hayes said on "The Last Word" tonight. "And the reason is that they pay people a lot of money to game the system. That's explicitly what it is. And the more of that you see -- literally if you chose someone with Mitt Romney's net worth at random and looked at their tax returns, they would look crazy. You wouldn't be able to understand them. They would have all sort of bizarrely constituted corporations incorporated in the Cayman Islands. They might have a Swiss bank account to bet against the dollar. They would have all these things."

"What's so remarkable to me about the story is that the embarrassment here isn't personal," Hayes observed. "The embarrassment is about what this says about how the entire system functions. This is how the system functions.

We no longer have the ability in this country to really tax people at the top.

And that is the existential statement about the strength of the American state which is: Can you actually tax the wealthiest people in your society? If you can't, if you can't like Greece couldn't, we see how that goes."

"Societies that are in decline or low on the development index have a very hard time extracting money, taxing money from the elites in their society. And that is the direction which we are headed and that is what is represented in the Mitt Romney tax return," he concluded.

"Okay, that is an officially brilliant observation about what's going on here and what's at stake," host Lawrence O'Donnell said.

Video: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2012/07/19/hayes_we_are_no_longer_able_to_tax_the_very_rich_in_our_country.html

-- link for all of the above is: http://www.democraticunderground.com/1002978955
[a liberal blog site which included a transcription of the cable tv editorial]

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Critical Comment by the Blog Author

I'm a retired certified public accountant and an expert on federal taxation research. I used to work for a very large nonprofit organization that intentionally set up a subordinate financial division in Bermuda.

If I were preparing Willard Romney's tax return, I would advise him to spin off money offshore to protect himself. It would be incompetent not to do so, considering a prime need to protect capital.

The seminal events that make it impossible to tax the very rich were created by liberals as part of following their inflexible ideology. To wit:

In 1976 the US began running incessant trade deficits. Jimmy Carter was elected. He set up a "Department of Energy." One of their first tasks was to prepare a white paper on how to use nuclear power to cook coal into synthetic gas, synthetic diesel and synthetic natural gas. It only took a few months to prepare the report (which is still on line today). Nothing was done. The central function of the Energy Department was to achieve energy independence. It still hasn't happened. Reagan wisely wanted to burn down the Department of Energy. Democrats blocked that. The energy industry watched this closely and correctly guessed that the department would be around forever and could be politicized. So the agency has become in the long run a huge roadblock to keep energy right where it is. It takes forever to get anything approved. The status quo is still the status quo. And this means that the energy trade deficit continues and grows decade by decade -- which is half the entire trade deficit.

In 1980 Jimmy Carter came up with another liberal, one-world, peacemaking idea: let's give "most favored nation status" to Red China. They still execute their own citizens in public at rural town meetings, they still don't allow any personal rights, but, hey, the cold war is still going on, they set up a two-against-one ploy to raise hell with the Kremlin, and it looks peppy and progressive going into Carter's reelection campaign in 1980. So we made a huge trade deal with a government that has killed more of its own people in peacetime than any other government, anywhere, at any time in recorded history. And their dirt cheap labor was able to produce mediocre goods that could be sold very cheaply in the United States. The Middle Class is being hollowed out, and the trade deficit has skyrocketed.

So liberals have given us an unmanageable trade deficit. Once the middle class reached a tipping point (late in 2008), a manufactured derivatives crisis (created on a bi-partisan basis late in the Clinton administration) led to huge federal deficits. Why? Why such large deficits? Because TAX RECEIPTS HAVE COLLAPSED, cash coming in from the middle class and small businesses.

We now have a liberal president who will not touch, won't even freeze, entitlements. He borrows from abroad. He runs the printing press. He postures. He risks hyper-inflation (the most inhumane course of action for the poor, disabled and underprivileged). He takes risks to keep recessions on other continents like Europe from "spreading" and doesn't tell the public what deals are being made.

Suppose a rich guy comes to me, a pro, and asks me for tax advice. I tell him to protect capital, to isolate some of it overseas in countries with strong currency like Switzerland. I tell him not to worry much about being hassled by the IRS or Treasury -- because -- the USA is so deeply in debt to overseas bondholders that it dare not interfere with international money transfers and thus spook the central banks holding American government bonds, let alone the rich and the multi-nationals.

So, my liberal friends: Having created a stagnant economy in which our nation is no longer in charge of its own financial destiny, you've forced the rich to bend the rules. And none of you have any idea at all about how to correct the tax problem -- which is the collapse of middle class tax REVENUE. Overtaxing the rich won't raise enough money to dent these deficits. Reelecting Obama risks hyperinflation.  Have you thought about raising the Medicare payroll tax to at least cover yearly expenses on a cash basis?

Maybe we should put Romney in for four years and fire him in one term if he can't fix it? Independent voters like me are starting to think that way.... since the liberals are so detached from reality and from problems they created and lovingly incubated.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Deutsche Mark

Why are Germans still using the deutsche mark?

By The Week's Editorial Staff | The Week – July 19, 2012

Officially, Europe's economic powerhouse uses the euro. But there are still billions upon billions of deutsche marks being traded all around Germany.

With the eurozone debt crisis still raging, Europeans could be forgiven for pining for the days when nations had their own currencies. But many Germans are taking their love of the deutsche mark to a whole new level, says Vanessa Fuhrmans at The Wall Street Journal, "indulging their nostalgia for the abandoned mark by shopping with it again — and retailers are happily going along." Indeed, "the 'die gute alte D-mark,' or 'the good old D-mark,' as it is still affectionately called, is far from dead." Here, a guide to the currency's renewed popularity:

Wait. Isn't the deutsche mark defunct?

Yes. Germany officially switched to the euro on Jan. 1, 2002, and the deutsche mark "immediately ceased to be legal tender," says Furhmans. However, unlike other countries that use the euro, Germany never set a deadline by which people had to trade their marks for euros. Individuals and businesses can still exchange their marks at government banks, at a rate of 1.96 marks per euro. As a result, merchants are more than happy to accept the old currency.

Why are Germans so attached to the mark?

The mark "was never just a currency," says Furhmans. "It became a symbol of the country's postwar economic miracle amid the ashes of World War II, and one of the few [symbols] in which Germans could comfortably express national pride," given the lingering connections of many flags, anthems, and monuments to Hitler's destructive nationalist agenda. Many Germans praise the mark's "look" and "feel," and the coins and notes depict historic German figures, such as the Brothers Grimm, whereas the euro's pan-national imagery is a tad forgettable.

Is the mark widely used?

Yes. There are currently 13.2 billion marks, equivalent to 6.75 billion euros, in circulation in Germany. A clothing chain called C&A rakes in 150,000 marks a month, while 90 percent of telephone booths operated by Deutsche Telekom take mark coins, known as pfennigs. By accepting marks, businesses open up a line of revenue they might not otherwise see, since people want to spend the marks they often find lying around in old shoe boxes, coat pockets, and under mattresses.

Would Germans like to return to the mark officially?

It seems so. A poll conducted last year showed that more than half of Germans would like to revert to the mark, as unwise as that might be. Germany has benefited enormously under the euro, which made

Germany's exports to other euro countries much cheaper. "When the deutsche mark was flying high in the mid-1990s," says Der Spiegel, "the export economy suffered the consequences for years." Still, the way things are going in Europe, those marks "may come in handy yet," says Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy.

Sources: Business Insider, Der Spiegel, Foreign Policy, The New York Times, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Death of a Very Remarkable Spy

Young Russian Spy Who Thwarted 1943 Tehran Assassination Plot Against Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt Dies

A Nazi plot named Operation Long Jump attempted to to assassinate Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt at the Tehran conference in 1943. A young Russian spy of Armenian ancestry, Gevork Andreyevich Vartanyan, then 19, thwarted the plan by disrupting it with fellow Russian agents. Vartanyan died in Januray, 2012, and his career was covered in a story by the UK Daily Mail by its Moscow correspondent, Will Stewart.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a letter of condolence to Vartanyan’s family upon the death of the retired spy at age 87 in January. The letter stated, 'He participated in stunning special operations which have gone down in the history of our foreign intelligence.'

Although Vartanyan saved Churchill, a famous earlier operation was to infiltrate an academy of Russian-speaking British spy agents in Iran in 1942. Vartanyan learned the identities of London-based agents and exposed the network to Moscow. Vartanyan, whose father and his wife were also Soviet spies, worked undercover for three decades following the war in many countries on crucial assignments from the KGB.

Some of his most important assignments are still classified.

In 2007, Vartanyan held an emotional meeting with Churchill’s granddaughter, Celia Sandys, toasting the ‘great troika’ of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt with Armenian brandy.

Vartanyan’s father and family were ordered back to Iran during the 1930s on a mission decreed by Stalin. Young Vartanyan was working undercover by the time he was 16.

The following comment was posted to the Daily Mail article:

Gevork Vardanyan was one of only three Soviet spies decorated with highest military title - Hero of the Soviet Union, and the only one who received it while alive (in 1984, by a secret decree, under a different name, because at that time he was still working as undercover agent abroad). Two others were legendary Richard Zorge and Nikolay Kuznetsov. With his wife Goar (also a spy) he spent more than 46 years (!!!) working as undercover agent in more than 30 countries, without a single failure. While working in Italy, he had established friendly relations with Admiral Stansfield Turner, then commander in chief of NATO Southern Flank, who was later appointed CIA director. Turner had personally introduced him to the circles of American establishment, where he later moved to continue his work as agent. Most of the secret operations he was involved in will not be declassified for many decades... He died of cancer in Moscow, and according to his will, will be buried in Yerevan, Armenia.
-- Saro, Yerevan, Armenia, 12/1/2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Schiff Says the Sky Is Falling

America Heading Towards a Collapse Worse than 2008 and Europe, Says Peter Schiff

By Jeff Macke

According to CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital Peter Schiff, the U.S. economy is heading for an economic crash that will make 2008 look like a walk in the park. Stimulus programs can delay this day of reckoning, but only for so long and only at the expense of making the eventual meltdown much, much worse.

Schiff, who famously warned investors about the housing and financial crisis in his 2007 book Crash Proof, says the Fed's palliative efforts during the housing meltdown have made the next crisis inevitable.

"We've got a much bigger collapse coming, and not just of the markets but of the economy," Schiff says in the attached clip. "It's like what you're seeing in Europe right now, only worse."

In this nightmare scenario detailed in The Real Crash: America's Coming Bankruptcy, the current economic pause is actually the beginning of a material slowdown or recession into year end. At that point, the Federal Reserve will unleash a third round of Quantitative Easing — weakening the dollar without jump-starting the economy. As a result of dollar weakness, import prices rise, pressing the margins of corporate America. Lower margins lead to heavy layoffs, sending millions of workers into unemployment during a time when they can least afford it. Banks fail, housing collapses, and taxes are raised in a futile effort to give the tapped-out government the capital to try yet more futile stimulus.

"That's when it really is going to get interesting, because that's when we hit our real fiscal cliff, when we're going to have to slash — and I mean slash — government spending," says Schiff.

Those cuts will not be at all unlike the draconian austerity measures in Greece, with programs like Social Security and Medicare being dramatically cut or possibly disappearing entirely. The easiest way to put it, is that everything you don't think could possibly happen in America will come to be.

"Alternatively, we can bail everybody out, pretend we can print our way out of a crisis, and, instead, we have runaway inflation, or hyper-inflation, which is going to be far worse than the collapse we would have if we did the right thing and just let everything implode," he offers.
So what should investors do to protect themselves? Schiff has three suggestions:

1. Get Out of Treasuries

The U.S. dollar is going to get trashed in Schiff's scenario. Locking in a yield on a government 10-year bond of 1.5% is a paltry return in the first place. Should inflation tick up to even 5%, a level much lower than that seen in the early 1980s, bond owners would have 3.5% less buying power at the end of every year. If they go to sell the bond, they'll only find buyers at a much lower price than what they paid.

2. Own the Right Stocks

With bonds and the dollar bearing the brunt of the pain, Schiff says stocks will outperform dramatically, provided you own the right ones. Exporters and multi-national corporations will benefit from a weak dollar. Better still would be to buy foreign stocks and avoid the U.S. entirely.

3. Buy Silver and Gold

Schiff says the recent weakness in these precious metals is just a pause as we wait for the other shoe to drop. Most of those on Main Street haven't even taken positions yet in gold or silver. Once they start dropping bonds and looking for a place to hide, the price of these metals will soar.


Monday, July 16, 2012

New Delivery System for Cancer Drugs

Sophisticated technique for delivering multiple cancer treatments may solve frustrating hurdle for combined drug therapies
National Science Foundation, July 15, 2012

Cancers are notorious for secreting chemicals that confuse the immune system and thwart biological defenses.

To counter that effect, some cancer treatments try to neutralize the cancer's chemical arsenal and boost a patient's immune response--though attempts to do both at the same time are rarely successful.

Now, researchers have developed a novel system to simultaneously deliver a sustained dose of both an immune-system booster and a chemical to counter the cancer's secretions, resulting in a powerful therapy that, in mice, delayed tumor growth, sent tumors into remission and dramatically increased survival rates.
The researchers, all from Yale University, report their findings in the July 15, 2012, issue of Nature Materials.

The new immunotherapy incorporates well-studied drugs, but delivers them using nanolipogels (NLGs), a new drug transport technology the researchers designed. The NLGs are nanoscale, hollow, biodegradable spheres, each one capable of accommodating large quantities of chemically diverse molecules.

The spheres appear to accumulate in the leaky vasculature, or blood vessels, of tumors, releasing their cargo in a controlled, sustained fashion as the spherule walls and scaffolding break down in the bloodstream.

For the recent experiments, the NLGs contained two components: an inhibitor drug that counters a particularly potent cancer defense called transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β), and interleukin-2 (IL-2), a protein that rallies immune systems to respond to localized threats.

‘"You can think of the tumor and its microenvironment as a castle and a moat," says Tarek Fahmy, the Yale University engineering professor and NSF CAREER grantee who led the research. "The 'castles' are cancerous tumors, which have evolved a highly intelligent structure--the tumor cells and vasculature. The 'moat' is the cancer's defense system, which includes TGF-β. Our strategy is to 'dry-up' that moat by neutralizing the TGF-β. We do that using the inhibitor that is released from the nanolipogels. The inhibitor effectively stops the tumor's ability to stunt an immune response."

‘At the same time, the researchers boost the immune response in the region surrounding the tumor by delivering IL-2--a cytokine, which is a protein that tells protective cells that there is a problem--in the same drug delivery vehicle. "The cytokine can be thought of as a way to get reinforcements to cross the dry moat into the castle and signal for more forces to come in," adds Fahmy. In this case, the reinforcements are T-cells, the body's anti-invader 'army.' By accomplishing both treatment goals at once, the body has a greater chance to defeat the cancer.

‘The current study targeted both primary melanomas and melanomas that have spread to the lung, demonstrating promising results with a cancer that is well-suited to immunotherapy and for which radiation, chemotherapy and surgery tend to prove unsuccessful, particularly when metastatic. The researchers did not evaluate primary lung cancers in this study.

‘"We chose melanoma because it is the 'poster child' solid tumor for immunotherapy," says co-author Stephen Wrzesinski, now a medical oncologist and scientist at St. Peter's Cancer Center in Albany, N.Y.

"One problem with current metastatic melanoma immunotherapies is the difficulty managing autoimmune toxicities when the treatment agents are administered throughout the body. The novel nanolipogel delivery system we used to administer IL-2 and an immune modulator for blocking the cytokine TGF-β will hopefully bypass systemic toxicities while providing support to enable the body to fight off the tumor at the tumor bed itself."

Simply stated, to attack melanoma with some chance of success, both drugs need to be in place at the same location at the same time, and in a safe dosage. The NLGs appear to be able to accomplish the dual treatment with proper targeting and a sustained release that proved safer for the animals undergoing therapy.

Critical to the treatment's success is the ability to package two completely different kinds of molecules--large, water-soluble proteins like IL-2 and tiny, water-phobic molecules like the TGF-β inhibitor-into a single package.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Potential Negative Quiddity: Retirement

Philip Moeller of U.S. News and World Report wrote an article called "Eight Retirement Realities in a Stumbling Economy." The eight points were:

Continue employment (until at least 70).

Go back to school (even if it is a junior college to pick up new skills)

Social Security claiming strategy (don’t claim until you have to because the check grows at eight percent a year)

Taxes (are likely to rise and eat into your discretionary income)

Health insurance (basic care and prescriptions will be cheaper under Medicare [if Obama Care stays legal, an issue not addressed in the article])

Reverse mortgages (help retain independent living but are risky—sometimes scams)

Revised glide paths (clever slang for mixture of stocks and bonds in the nest egg – the article waffles on the appropriate mix of the two and offers no coherent advice)

Spending retirement assets (do so slowly, perhaps as little as 4% of principle per year)

A comment to the article had 20 – superior – suggestions!

Bad Money Habits to Drop by Retirement

4.Driving a gas hog
5.High end cell phone
6.High end cell phone plan
7.Extended cable
8.Premium channels
9. Changing oil at 3000 miles (7.5 to 10k is fine)
10.Washing clothes in hot water. Cold is better anyway
11.Going out to eat
12.Going out to movies
13.Going out to clubs
15.Buying the latest gadgets
16.Pets,plants and anything that cost to keep up, feed, etc.
17. Gym membership
18. Country club membership
19. Coffee of the month club.
20. Buying almost anything from a convenience store.

These are things that work for me (they are not for everyone), so I may have more money to take trips ,etc..
I know many will come back with stupid remarks like "quit breathing," "quit living," etc…

For those there is little hope until it gets late in life.

Learn to really enjoy life. Go for a hike. Take in the arts. Go to a museum. There are a lot of things you can do that are free or cost very little. My town has many FREE concerts and other free events all year.

-- a comment by "Vagabond"

An Additional Comment by the Blog Author

I agree with "Vagabond’s" list of 20 items except for pets and gym membership.

A pet, especially a dog, increases alertness and happiness in the pet owner. Pets are good for the nerves. Dogs are superior fire alarms, burglar alarms and earthquake warning devices. Consider "splurging" here on a doggy and scrimping by getting your pet dirt-cheap thirty cents a pound pet food when on sale at a supermarket or discount store.

Gym membership: consider joining a gym with a pool and whirlpool, especially if you have osteoarthritis.

There’s no substitute for hydrotherapy for these problems. And it gets you out and about without having to spend much money – an annual membership is going to be $2 or maybe $3 a day. You can lollygag there for two or three hours a day and get your joints moving without pain.

I retired myself at age 53, so I also want to say…

Unless your doctor forbids you from doing so (and this is true for about one person out of a million), once you are 35 and for the rest of your life, take a "baby" aspirin tablet (81 mg) every day or split a 325 mg tablet into fourths and take that every day. This tiny amount of aspirin in the blood stream delays the onset of your first heart attack or stroke by five full years on average. Give yourself five full years of additional normal mental activity for almost no money. Do it. No one’s personality ever improved after having a stroke. It never happens.

And I have more advice: retirement is a miserable, humiliating, nerve-wracking experience – regardless of the size of your bank account! – because people will treat you like a zombie or ghost who is not really alive anymore. The defense against this certain shunning is to keep your mind active. Read all of Shakespeare’s plays. Or all of Dickens’ books. Or all of Kipling’s stories and poems. Stock up on your favorite genre of music by buying 50 used but like new CDs on Amazon.com. Listen to them each day. Learn to play pool. Volunteer at church. There’s a "Hoyle" CD program for $12 or so that contains dozens of card games –buy it and keep playing one or two of your favorites on the computer for a couple of years until you become an expert that usually beats the computer. What I’m saying is stretch your mind and your mental skills a little bit every day you are in retirement. Every day experience a mental challenge for yourself. "You’ll be very sorry if you don’t do this."

Link to both the U.S. News article and hundreds of comments at:


Saturday, July 14, 2012

College Majors Read Differently by Specialty

E-Textbooks Reveal Study Habits

by Leslie Meredith, Senior Writer, TechNewsDaily
11 July 2012

E-textbooks have become a popular choice for college students because they're often cheaper than their printed counterparts and come loaded with extras, such as 3D models, embedded videos and real-time sharing with fellow students who don't share the same dorm.

Looking at how kids use digital textbooks also offers a pretty clear picture of study habits. A report today (July 11) released by education software and application company Kno reveals big differences between students with different majors. For instance, business majors are most likely to cram for finals, while science majors maintain an even study pace throughout the semester.

The infographic [at the link] below [translated into regular text below as part of this post] was based on the data collected from hundreds of students over the course of a semester.

A students read differently than C students

By understanding reading habits, Kno can identify what could be a possible grade outcome for a student in three weeks.

A student: "A" students progress systematically through their book during the first three weeks of the term.

C student: "C" students spend more time going forward and backward for answers and searching the glossary for answers.

Students are most active studying prior to lunch and after dinner.

Types of Students: An Overview

Medical and nursing – read the most and highlight the most throughout the term. Superlative: most diligent

Business – most dramatic increase in reading at the end of the term. Superlative: most likely to cram.

Math – least active readers, most direct navigation. Superlative: most likely to get to "the point."

Science – most consistent behavior throughout the term. Superlative: most likely to get a good night’s sleep during finals.

Social science – read the least but search the most. Superlativer: most likely to procrastinate.

Engineering – read the most at end of term and use search a lot through the term. Superlative: Most likely to be searching for answers.

Stats on Studying Habits
  • Students get tired of reading by midterm, which results in heavy cramming by all students at the end
  • Math students navigate to specific pages two times more than social science and science students
  • Medical and nursing students highlight 15 times more than math and two times more than social science students
  • Social Science (political science, history, etc.) students search for terms (two times as much during the term as math students). Searching is a key habit to pre-final reviewing across most subjects. Social science students spend more time searching than any other discipline due to the memorization of key dates, cases and facts required.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Two Live Vaccines Form a New Virus

Veterinary vaccines found to combine into new viruses, prompting regulatory response

Research from the University of Melbourne has shown that two different vaccine viruses- used simultaneously to control the same condition in chickens- have combined to produce new infectious viruses, prompting early response from Australia’s veterinary medicines regulator.
     University of Melbourne, Australia -- July 13, 2012

The vaccines were used to control infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT), an acute respiratory disease occurring in chickens worldwide. ILT can have up to 20% mortality rate in some flocks and has a significant economic and welfare impact in the poultry industry.

The research found that when two different ILT vaccine strains were used in the same populations, they combined into two new strains (a process known as recombination), resulting in disease outbreaks.

Neither the ILT virus or the new strains can be transmitted to humans or other animals, and do not pose a food safety risk.

The study was led by Dr Joanne Devlin, Professor Glenn Browning and Dr Sang-Won Lee and colleagues at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Animal Health at the University of Melbourne and NICTA's Victoria Research Laboratory and is published today [13 July, 2012] in the international journal Science.

Dr Devlin said the combining of live vaccine virus strains outside of the laboratory was previously thought to be highly unlikely, but this study shows that it is possible and has led to disease outbreaks in poultry flocks.

"We alerted the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) to our findings and they are now working closely with our research team, vaccine registrants and the poultry industry to determine both short and long term regulatory actions," she said.

"Short-term measures include risk assessment of all live virus vaccines currently registered by the APVMA in regard to the risk of recombination and could include changes to product labels, which may result in restrictions on the use of two vaccines of different origins in the one animal population."

The ILT vaccines are ‘live attenuated vaccines’, which means that the virus has some disease-causing factors removed but the immune system still recognises the virus to defend against a real infection.

"Live vaccines are used throughout the world to control ILT in poultry. For over 40 years the vaccines used in Australia were derived from an Australian virus strain. But following a vaccine shortage another vaccine originating from Europe was registered in 2006 and rapidly became widely used," Dr Devlin said.

"Shortly after the introduction of the European strain of vaccine, two new strains of ILT virus were found to be responsible for most of the outbreaks of disease in New South Wales and Victoria. So we sought to examine the origin of these two new strains."

The team sequenced all of the genes (the genome) of the two vaccines used in Australia, and the two new outbreak strains of the virus. Following bioinformatic analysis on the resulting DNA sequence, in conjunction with Dr John Markham at NICTA's Victoria Research Laboratory, they found that the new disease-causing strains were combinations of the Australian and European origin vaccine strains.

"Comparisons of the vaccine strains and the new recombinant strains have shown that both the recombinant strains cause more severe disease, or replicate to a higher level than the parent vaccine strains that gave rise to them," Dr Lee said.

Professor Glenn Browning said recombination was a natural process that can occur when two viruses infect the same cell at the same time.

"While recombination has been recognised as a potential risk associated with live virus vaccines for many years, the likelihood of it happening in viruses like this in the field has been thought to be so low that it was considered to be very unlikely to lead to significant problems," he said.

"Our studies have shown that the risk of recombination between different vaccine strains in the field is significant as two different recombinant viruses arose within a year. We also demonstrated that the consequences of such recombination can be very severe, as the new viruses have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Australian poultry."

"The study suggests that regulation of live attenuated vaccines for all species needs to take into account the real potential for vaccine viruses to combine. Measures such as those now being taken for the ILT vaccines will need to be implemented."


Thursday, July 12, 2012

More and More Work from Home

Telecommuting Is Becoming Common – and more Closely Monitored

Sue Shellenbarger from The Wall Street Journal reported on July 11th that computer monitoring programs, which are used to track the use of computers by home workers, are growing increasingly sophisticated and coming into widespread use for supervision of telecommuters. Working from home is becoming more like being in an office.
  • Workers generally know if their home computer is monitored.
  • Some bosses track projects and schedule meetings on calendars shared with workers.
  • "Virtual face time" may be required by email, instant messaging or phone calls.
  • Fewer than ten percent of home computers used for work employ security monitoring, but a research firm estimates sixty percent will use monitoring by 2015. These programs secure data and comply with government rules, but they also generate a lot of data about computer use.
  • Attorneys say employers should state if employee computer use is monitored and should track only business-related activities.
  • Tracking productivity and preventing leaks is permitted.
  • Tracking time spent on client projects is a common use of the monitoring programs.
  • Monitoring programs can spot people who need help from the boss; the programs can also record people who are goofing off. One popular computer use report deals with frequent Facebook users.
  • One supervisor noted an at-home employee had a work record lagging others. The program revealed that this employee was using a lot of time to write "Word" documents, which were not required on the job. It turned out that that employee was spending most of her workday doing homework for a master’s degree – and she was let go.
  • The number of corporate employees working at home at least one day a month has been increasing by 23% a year since 2007, on average, and has reached 22.8 million workers last year, a market-research vice president notes. The biggest increase is among those only working from home one or two days a month.
  • It’s possible for employees to work from home each Friday or to leave the office early to escort children home from school and then complete the day’s work after dinner. Employers can track workers by focusing on accomplishments rather than time, as well as tracking videoconferencing, entries on shared calendars, email traffic and instant messaging.
  • Supervisors can hold weekly team meetings and discuss projects and deadlines, giving out assignments and final deadlines. Shared calendars and conference calls are common. The ultimate judge isn’t the regularity of clock hours, but the attainment of timely high quality results.
Summarized from:


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Powerful Scanners Coming to USA Airports

New Homeland Security Scanners
Could Lead to More Detainments
By Jason Mick (blog) -- July 11, 2012

Have even a trace of gunpowder on you from a shooting range? You may be in for a "deep frisking"

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is tasked with fighting "the war on terror", but of late it has been accused of creating more terror than it prevents, with invasive frisking of childrens’ genital areas and a proclivity for mocking passengers’ bodies sexually behind closed doors. But all that may be but a teaser for what is to come, according to a piece by Gizmodo.

I. Prepare to be Scanned and Detained

The piece details new "molecular scanners" which work something like Big Brother's wildest wet dream, detecting each an every chemical substance on your body.

The scanners are being commercialized by Genia Photonics and employ terrahertz speed laser pulses. The laser hardware is capable of detecting -- even through clothing or windows -- the slightest trace amounts of chemicals on the human body. Genia claims the scanner is ten million times faster and one million times more sensitive than any other scanner -- such as the millimeter wave-based detectors.

Genia writes that the scanner can "penetrate clothing and many other organic materials and offers spectroscopic information, especially for materials that impact safety such as explosives and pharmacological substances."

Thanks to the speed, the DHS is reportedly looking to deploy the scanners secretly at inter-state borders, international borders, and in airports.

The deployment raises some thorny issues, given the scanner's ability to detect such small traces of compounds. For example, smoke a bit of marijuana in a region where it's decriminalized or legal for medical uses, and you may now be arrested by DHS officers at the state border. Alternatively, you might go shooting at the gun range, but the trace amounts of gunpowder left on your clothing might earn you a date with "Mr. Happy Hands" of the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) or DHS.

II. DHS Eyes Plotting Scanners in Shopping Malls and Other Locations

In fact, DHS agents are eyeing the possibility of rolling the devices out all across the country, scanning everyone in any public location possible for signs of suspicion.

In-Q-Tel, the DHS contractor who is subcontracting Genia writes, "an important benefit of Genia Photonics' implementation as compared to existing solutions is that the entire synchronized laser system is comprised in a single, robust and alignment-free unit that may be easily transported for use in many environments… This compact and robust laser has the ability to rapidly sweep wavelengths in any pattern and sequence."

A scan takes only picoseconds and can be performed at distances of up to 50 meters, making it big brother's dream device.

III. Deployment is on Pace for 2013-2014

The creators are confident they can deliver on their objectives of ubiquitous privacy intrusion. Founded by a group of laser and fiber optic Ph.D specialists, Genia is among several Universities and firms worldwide making similar ambitious claims of laser scanners with molecule-level sensitivity.

In Congressional testimony the DHS revealed that deployment was only a year or two away, meaning the devices could start popping up in 2013.

From there, there's no telling how far down the dystopian things could go with molecule scanner. The scanner can sense signs of fear -- such as adrenaline -- even through car windows or in crowded shopping malls. The DHS has already acknowledge publicly experimenting with such "future crime" profiling efforts. In those projects the DHS expressed a desire to detain individuals in public locations who fit certain profiles that indicate they might be ready to commit a crime.

Will anxiety about a big deadline at work lead you to be handcuffed in front of your children at the shopping mall? There's no official word yet on such uses, but the hints are there, and the possibilities are frightening.

                  Sources: Genia, In-Q-Tel


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Math Behind the Twang

A Hard Day’s Night by Numbers
– The Beatles DeCoded

July 5, 2012 by Jason Brown -- A Professor of Mathematics and Statistics and Computer Science
At Delhousie University, Halifax, Canada

"TWANG! It’s been a …"

There is perhaps no song as quintessentially Beatle-ish as A Hard Day’s Night – it just bubbles with unbridled enthusiasm and joy. And in my mind, there’s no other opening chord of a rock song that is as instantly recognisable as that one.

I grew up grudgingly playing the piano, practising only the half-hour before my lesson each week. But as soon as heard my first Beatles’ record, I dropped the piano to teach myself guitar eight hours a day during my high school summers.

Something about the early Beatles' music struck a chord, so to speak, deep down inside of me, and it hasn’t left.

At about the same time, my love for mathematics blossomed, and I played in a band while attending my undergraduate studies. It was a tough choice, but I gave up music for the safer gig, as a mathematician. But unbeknown to me, the music that lay dormant inside me would serendipitously mix with the math inside me.

In 2004 I heard it was the 40th anniversary of the Beatles’ first movie – A Hard Day’s Night – and the soundtrack of the same name. All of the media attention brought to mind that famous opening chord that opened the movie and title song.

While teaching myself guitar years earlier, I had invested in a lot of Beatles songbooks, only to find that every book had a different transcription for how the author thought George Harrison had coaxed that initial sound out of his brand new twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar. All were derived by some combination of listening and music theory, but to me none sounded quite right.

My mathematical outlook had me take a different approach in 2004 – was there a scientific way to decide how the chord was played? Indeed, I had read a math book for leisure (yes we mathematicians do that sort of thing!) about ten years earlier that described the mathematics of sound and music.

In particular, there was a process, called a Fourier transform, that could allow one to decompose a sound wave into its constitute pure tones (which were modelled by sine and cosine curves). I had also remembered that there were algorithms to do just that, so I embarked on some CSI-like musical forensics. I took a small part of the opening chord and ran it through a Fourier transform, and held my breath waiting for the output.

It was a bit daunting – there were thousands of frequencies in the opening chord. But all was not lost, as I could tell the amplitudes of the frequencies, and the amplitude corresponds roughly with the loudness. So I began to make mathematical deductions from the data, and I quickly came upon some interesting conclusions.

First, all of the transcriptions I had seen for the guitar chord were incorrect – they had a low G note present, and the mathematics clearly indicated that the frequency simply wasn’t present.

Musicians thought they had heard the note, and as the key of the song was G, they believed it to be there all the more strongly. But it wasn’t.

Furthermore, I could see that the frequencies often were not particularly close to notes, so that it would have behoved the Beatles’ producer, Georger Martin, to have knocked on the studio window before the final take of the song and said: "Better tune up again, boys." The Beatles’ guitars were gloriously slightly out-of-tune, adding to the difficulty in reproducing the chord

A much bigger problem loomed. There were three frequencies corresponding to a certain "F" note, with no corresponding note up the octave, and this meant that note couldn’t have been played on George Harrison’s twelve string, and further, there was no way for the Beatles’ guitars to cover the frequencies. The answer involved throwing out the assumption that only the Beatles played on the opening chord.

A solution lay with insertion of a piano into the mix, as pianos have, toward the top end of the keyboard, three identically tuned strings under each note. Upon this realisation, the remainder of the chord began to unravel fairly quickly, and I could deduce what instruments (guitars, bass and piano) played what notes. A little bit of math went a long way!

The greatest difficulty I encountered after the research was finding a public forum to publish the work. It was going to appear in a peer-reviewed journal, but I thought the story was interesting enough for everyone to read. One magazine refused to read it based on the fact that the article had mathematics in it! But Guitar Player magazine loved the work, and was happy to publish the article, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Over the ensuing years, I have applied mathematics in a variety of ways to analyse pop music. In a secidn article in Guitar Player magazine I deduced mathematically that George Harrison must have recorded his famous, brilliant solo in A Hard Day’s Night by slowing down the tape speed in half, and recording the solo at half-speed down the octave.

Some musicians I’ve spoken with have been upset at the research, as perhaps it showed George’s technical skills were not what they should have been, but the truth I think says more – it showed George was a musician first, doing what it took to play what was in his head rather than in his fingers, and he had to have an incredible amount of confidence to choose to record a solo at half-speed, knowing that all of the world would be watching for when he played it up to speed, live (which, of course, he did!).

I’ve also written about why the music to I Want To Hold Your Hand was so imaginative and clever that it brought America to its knees, and why Paul McCartney so correctly named Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally as perhaps one of the greatest rock songs ever (and more generally, a mathematical basis for why the blues chord progression is so damn good).

Finally, in recent work with Robert Dawson of St. Marys University, we explained mathematically why George Martin’s famous edit in Strawberry Fields Forever never quite satisfied Paul (and never could).
Moreover, the research continues to open doors for me, especially as an ambassador for mathematics. I’ve written a book for the general public called Our Days Are Numbered: How Mathematics Orders Our Lives and published my first CD, Songs in the Key of Pi, of my own songs.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal came a-knocking back in 2008, and shot a video of a song I wrote in the style of the early Beatles, using mathematical principles I gleaned from their music.

And I continue to travel worldwide, giving public lectures on mathematics and music, most often with a guitar slung over my shoulder and with a rockin’ band behind me. The Beatles, it seems, gave me a great ticket to ride!


Monday, July 9, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Composer Harry Warren

Brief Summary of Harry Warren

Warren was the first major American songwriter to write primarily for film. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song eleven times and won three Oscars for composing "Lullaby of Broadway," "You’ll Never Know," and "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe." He wrote the music for the first blockbuster film musical, 42nd Street, choreographed by Busby Berkeley, with whom he would collaborate on many musical films.

Over a career spanning four decades, Warren wrote over 800 songs. Other well-known Warren hits included "I Only Have Eyes for You," "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Babgy," "Jeepers, Creepers," "The Gold Diggers’ Song (We’re In the Money)," "That’s Amore," "The More I See You," "At Last," and "Chattanooga Choo Choo" (the last of which was the first gold record in history). Warren was one of America's most prolific film composers,and his songs have been featured in over 300 films.

Warren wrote over 800 songs between 1918 and 1981, publishing over 500 of them. They were written mainly for 56 feature films or were used in other films that used Warren's newly written or existing songs. His songs eventually appeared in over 300 films and 112 of Warner Brothers "Looney Tunes" cartoons. 42 of his songs were on the top ten list of the radio program "Your Hit Parade," a measure of a song's popularity. 21 of these reached #1 on Your Hit Parade. "You'll Never Know" appeared 24 times. His song "I Only Have Eyes for You" is listed in the list of the 25 most-performed songs of the 20th Century, as compiled by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). Warren was the director of ASCAP from 1929 to 1932.

He collaborated on some of his most famous songs with lyricists Al Dubin, Billy Rose, Mack Gordon, Leo Robin, Ira Gershwin and Johnny Mercer. In 1942 the Gordon-Warren song "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," as performed by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, became the first gold record in history, with sales of 1,200,000.

According to Wilfrid Sheed, quoted in Time Magazine, "By silent consensus, the king of this army of unknown soldiers, the Hollywood incognitos, was Harry Warren, who had more songs on the Hit Parade than Berlin himself and who would win the contest hands down if enough people have heard of him." William Zinsser noted, "The familiarity of Harry Warren's songs is matched by the anonymity of the man... he is the invisible man, his career a prime example of the oblivion that cloaked so many writers who cranked out good songs for bad movies."

At least three episodes of the Lawrence Welk Show were devoted entirely to Warren's music.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Warren (December 24, 1893 – September 22, 1981) was an American composer and lyricist.