April 29, 2004

It's been a year since New Hampshire's Old Man fell

New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain fell out of sight a year ago, but he is hardly out of mind.


A giant twisted turnbuckle that once held New Hampshire's granite symbol together, The Old Man of the Mountain, sits in the boulder field with the Old Man's remains in Franconia, N.H. Wednesday April 28, 2004. New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain, the celebrated rock formation featured in the state's commemorative quarter, broke apart one year ago. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)


People still stop at viewing areas in Franconia Notch to gaze at the jagged cliff that once held the stern granite profile that graces New Hampshire license plates, police patches, highway signs and the state quarter.

Many still take photos of - well, not much.

"We always came to look at it and now there's nothing to look at, but we had to come," said Melissa Peluso of Boston, who stopped by on a rainy day recently.

In the Old Man's place is an undefined, jagged cliff. Observant viewers will notice one area that's a light rust color, not the dark, weathered gray of most of the rocks 1,200 feet above the valley floor. That's where the 40-foot-high profile perched until May 3, 2003.

They also might notice lighter-colored gouges a little farther down the mountain. Those close to the Old Man call them scars. That's where the tons of rocks that once made up the profile dropped onto a cliff below, broke into smithereens and tumbled into a boulder field.

"It feels more like a graveyard than anything else," said David Nielsen, who has been in the boulder field. His family took care of the profile for decades, patching cracks and checking the thick metal rods and turnbuckles that fought against the freezing and thawing that eventually pried him loose.

Nielsen said some boulder-sized pieces of the Old Man can be recovered, and probably will end up in a museum dedicated to him.

Recommended by a task force, the museum will be built at the base of Cannon Mountain, a popular skiing mountain in the notch, the local term for a mountain pass.

On Monday, the anniversary, the state will unveil viewfinders in parking areas that give visitors a closeup look at what remains on the perch, and an image of the profile before it fell.

That evening, the state will present its first Profile Awards to an individual, a community and an organization who have honored New Hampshire's heritage or treasures. Officials also will kick off a drive to raise money to carry out the task force's recommendations.

They include a traveling display and a curriculum for schools and libraries to teach about the geology and significance of the Old Man.

The significance was felt keenly by Nielsen, whose father's ashes were tucked into the profile's eye when the father died after decades of being the profile's caretaker. Though the son has had a busy year - with the task force, his retirement as town police chief and the start of a new job - he said memories of the Old Man have been with him constantly.

"How often do you think about when your mother or father died, or grandmother and grandfather died?" he said. "The first couple of years after they pass away, you think about them almost on a daily basis, whether you are flat out busy or not. That's kind of what the Old Man is."

When Nielsen and some Old Man volunteers hiked to the perch last summer, it was "a very solemn kind of visit to see and to remember things that you took for granted and are not there anymore."

"It was very haunting to be there," he said.

Dick Hamilton, president of the tourism group White Mountain Attractions, drives by the site every day. He said seeing the scars and knowing the remains are strewn through the boulder field is spooky.

"I get a little worked up when I go by and look up and know all that stuff is there," he said.

"Some nights, when conditions are kind of strange, and a cloud goes by, the hair stands up on the back of my neck. It's doing it right now as I'm talking to you," he said.

Hamilton spent a lot of time last summer watching and listening as people gazed toward the Old Man's perch.

"One couple from Massachusetts was looking up and they said 'You know, (John) asked me to marry him right here'," Hamilton said.

Former Gov. Steve Merrill, who led the task force, said it received notes from around the world recounting other personal connections. An Australian couple said they first saw the profile on their honeymoon. Others wrote of bringing aging family members to see the Old Man for the last time before they died.

Merrill said balancing respect for the past with the urge to preserve something meaningful was daunting.

"For all of us, it was as though we were treading on sacred ground," he said.

The task force received more than 5,000 suggestions. Several hundred supported rebuilding the profile in plaster, rubber or fiberglass, or by way of a holographic image projected into the sky.

The idea of rebuilding prompted passionate debate: Some said future generations deserved a replica; others said that would dishonor a symbol of authenticity and integrity.

Merrill said two developments weighed against rebuilding. "First, the state geologist told us ... the ice and snow had eaten sufficiently into the fissures on the face that whatever we put there would fall, probably sooner, not later."

And, he said, over time, people "came to see what nature put there, nature should also take away."

At the mountain, the debate hasn't died.

Bill and Janice Huntley of Madison brought their grandchildren to see the remains during school vacation last week. Huntley, 66, would like to see something back on the cliff. "Now it looks something like a gargoyle."

But Janice Huntley, 60, who has been coming to see the profile for 54 years, opposes rebuilding.

"It's one of those things you expect will always be there, so to see it gone is a sadness. But by the same token, life changes, so things change," she said.


In addition to a museum, there are decanters, snow globes and ashtrays

By The Associated Press

While New Hampshire prepares to kick off a fund drive for a museum and other tributes to its fallen Old Man of the Mountain, memorabilia-makers ratcheted up production of trinkets, T-shirts and other items soon after his demise a year ago Monday.

A specially treated Old Man coffee mug reacts to heat, so users see the granite profile disappear every time they pour a fresh cup.

This week, there were several dozen Old Man items on the Internet auction site, eBay. They ranged from post cards to liquor decanters, cream pitchers to patches, wrist watches to snow globes and ashtrays.

The official Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund begins fund-raising for a museum and other memorials at a dinner Monday night in Manchester.

The occasion also will inaugurate annual Profile Awards. The first recipients will be an organization, a municipality and an individual who "fought to preserve, promote and protect the qualities we associated with the character of the Old Man of the Mountain," said Maura Weston, president of the fund's board of directors.

Posted by thinkum at 04:48 PM

I'm off to jihad, son wrote

On the day he departed for a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, a 21-year-old Sydney student sent a letter to his parents.

"I'm fed up with Westerners," wrote Izhar ul-Haque, who had just failed his second year of medicine at the University of NSW.

"Western patients look at me as if I'm a frog. They don't wish to speak English to me. How can I spend five to six years with them?"

A disillusioned ul-Haque told them he was going to take part in a jihad with the militant Islamic terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), fighting the Indian Army for the freedom of Kashmir. And he would fight to his death to become a martyr.

But after finishing the 20-day course in January last year ul-Haque decided combat was not for him and he returned to Sydney where he worked hard, excelling again at university and gaining the respect of teachers and students.

Yesterday Central Local Court was told of the events that led a studious and responsible young man to consider martyrdom.

During a two-hour effort by ul-Haque's counsel, Ian Barker, QC, to have him released on bail from the Supermax jail at Goulburn, the court heard testimonials from his former principal at North Sydney Boys High, Bernard Newsom, a careers adviser and family members. A petition from 130 university students was also tendered.

Mr Barker said the views his client had expressed before the training were shortlived. "He went with a rather woolly notion that he could be of assistance in Kashmir, but he changed his mind, decided he wanted to continue his medical studies and he returned to Australia."

On his return ul-Haque caught the attention of customs officers, who seized diaries and 30 books from his luggage, and passed them on to ASIO.

It is understood that after his arrest ul-Haque provided information to the Australian Federal Police about Faheem Lodhi, the alleged mastermind of a plot to bomb Sydney.

Lodhi was arrested last week, a day after AFP officers spent two hours interrogating ul-Haque in his jail cell. Lodhi faces seven terrorism-related charges, including attempting to recruit ul-Haque to take part in activities of a terrorist organisation.

The Crown conceded yesterday that ul-Haque was not planning any terrorist act on Australian soil, but had committed an offence under the new terrorism laws of training with a banned organisation. This carries a 25-year jail term.

The Crown said its case was strong and relied on admissions from ul-Haque's own mouth and his own hand.

Ul-Haque had told police the training course he undertook was "like kindergarten".

"It's like the first step in the ladder [to martyrdom]," he said. "I think anyone could do it. It's like attending King's College."

In his diary he detailed his training in rocket-launchers, landmines, machine-guns, pistols and tank targeting. "The basic motivation was to train to eventually be able to fight the Indian Army," he said. "But most don't get to that stage. Most do these 20-day courses and just leave. It's very hard to become one of those persons [jihads] who is sent by LeT.

"I only support the fighting of those Indian soldiers. If LeT kill civilians I seriously don't believe in it. I am not that sort of person."

When ul-Haque left for the camp, his father, who lives in Islamabad, and brother were so upset that they drove to the camp and pleaded with him: "Stop what you are doing and come back to Australia."

His brother, Imam, 25, told the court that his brother no longer held those views. "Once he came back I explained we go through these feelings at times and he needed to be persistent."

The Deputy Chief Magistrate, Helen Syme, refused bail, saying the prosecution case appeared to be quite strong and there was a risk he could flee.

Mr Barker said it was "an absolute scandal" that his client was being housed in solitary confinement at the maximum-security Goulburn jail and said he was being held there for "political purposes". He described it as "our version of Guantanamo Bay".

The court heard that ul-Haque visited Australia twice before settling here in November 1999. He attended Pennant Hills High and then North Sydney Boys High.

Mr Newsom, his former principal, said ul-Haque was always courteous and had been an "outstanding student".

Posted by thinkum at 04:40 PM

Girls just want to have a comeback

Back from obscurity, Cyndi Lauper is kicking butt.

In the mid-'80s, Cyndi Lauper built a sizeable fan base on the strength of her thrift-store chic fashions, curious brand of feminism and, of course, powerful pop sensibility.

But for the past decade, those fans had to work hard to rally behind their idol.

Lauper's albums could barely be found on record-store shelves. Her concert appearances were generally confined to opening slots for Tina Turner and Cher. And her second career as an actress all but stalled.

So, who's the diva du jour? None other than the Grammy-winning girl who just wanted to have fun. But these days, it takes more than a party-girl attitude to get ahead.

"I'm stubborn," says Lauper, who performs in Sydney in July. "I never listen to anybody who tells me I can't do something."

The "something" that has reignited Lauper's career is At Last, an album of pop classics - mostly from the '60s - that has received terrific reviews.

For those who remember Lauper for such perky '80s tunes as She Bop, Money Changes Everything and her signature hit, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, it's something of a shocker - a stripped-down collection of songs that shows the 50-year-old Lauper in more mature form.

Though her New York accent remains as delightfully thick as ever, Lauper sings with a newfound world-weariness that brings out the hard truth in selections ranging from La Vie en Rose to Unchained Melody to the Etta James title track. A perfect case in point: her version of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David gem, Walk On By, that Dionne Warwick turned into a pop bauble so many decades ago.

When you listen to Lauper's spare, gritty version, there's no mistaking it for ear candy. "I was wondering if this was a torch song," Lauper says of her approach. The essential ingredient, she explains, was finding the right key to sing the song and expose her vulnerability. "A singer is a storyteller. I always try to find a spot in my voice that best suits the character of the story."

Which is not to say the album doesn't have its upbeat moments. Lauper takes some giddy chances with songs, turning Stay into a salsa celebration and On the Sunny Side of the Street into a reggae affair. And she has plenty of fun playing off a bemused Tony Bennett on Makin' Whoopee. (Another prominent guest artist: Stevie Wonder, who contributes a harmonica solo on Lauper's version of his Until You Come Back to Me.)

The tie that binds this eclectic grouping? Lauper says these are the songs she heard as a kid growing up in the New York neighbourhood of Ozone Park, Queens - "a melting pot where Germans, Italians, Russians and around the block African-Americans lived", she writes in the album's liner notes. "And where each summer, music and families spilled out of row houses into backyards."

But the music wasn't the only thing that united these outer-borough denizens. There was also the "belief that Manhattan was Mecca. The Holy Grail, where all dreams led".

Lauper, who struggled through high school, found that Holy Grail in the '70s and '80s, working with local bands until she secured a record deal. The result was her 1983 debut, She's So Unusual, which led to the runaway single Girls Just Want to Have Fun.

Even with her outrageously coloured hair and offbeat sense of fashion - Lauper worked in a vintage-clothing shop and once remarked that she couldn't make up her to mind what to wear so "I wore it all, you know" - there was something about the pop star that made her approachable to fans. (The oddball "girl power" message of Girls Just Want to Have Fun didn't hurt, either.)

A critic recently described her as "a huggable alternative to Madonna".

But Madonna was able to build on the momentum of her early career. Not Lauper. By the mid-'90s, she was a pop relic. Her 1993 album Hat Full of Stars didn't even crack Billboard's Top 100. And by 2002, she dispensed with album-making and released an EP, Shine.

Lauper also tried her hand at acting, with mixed results. She garnered an Emmy for her work on the sitcom Mad About You, but she wasn't able to fulfill her dream of launching her own TV show, despite completing a pilot.

Still, the '90s were productive for Lauper. In 1991, she married the actor David Thornton and in 1997, the couple had a son, Declyn. Lauper makes it clear that family life has rearranged her priorities. These days, she's looking to star in a Broadway show - she won't get more specific than that - so she can pursue her career without leaving New York. Her son is a budding ice hockey champ, and she's got games and practices to attend.

Is she afraid he might get hurt playing such a rough-and-tumble sport?

"They've got good gear now," she counters. And she hopes he'll learn that "skill is more valuable than fighting".

Then again, Lauper has shown a little feistiness goes a long way - at least when it comes to the music biz. She credits some of her current success to the lessons she learned touring with Cher in the past few years.

"She pushed me ... She was a real fan of mine," Lauper says. "Sisterhood is a powerful thing."

But those who saw the Cher-Cyndi show might argue that Lauper deserved bigger billing. As much as you can admire Cher's remarkably preserved physique - and her own outrageous sense of attire - Lauper is, by far, the better singer.

For her part, Lauper sees the pairing more as a "one-two punch".

"I kicked their butt one way, she kicked it another," she says.

Posted by thinkum at 04:39 PM

Shop till you drop

There are many ways a trip to the supermarket could be made more enjoyable. Combining it with a workout at the gym is arguably not one of them.

Still, in a move that takes the notion of multi-tasking to a new dimension, supermarket chain Tesco is now merging these two mundane chores of modern life in the hope of wooing time-pressed shoppers.

Thanks to a new shopping trolley, customers of Tesco will soon be able to burn calories while buying the weekly groceries.

Using technology normally found on gym machines, the trolley can be programmed to make it harder to push, increasing the heartbeat and exercising muscles in the legs, arms and stomach.

Sensors in the handle bar allow shoppers to monitor their heart rate and count calories as well as measure how far they have traipsed up and down the aisles.

Wayne Asher, who designed the trolley on behalf of the German manufacturer Wanzl, says a 40-minute shopping trip with the trolley set at resistance level seven (it goes from one to 10) would burn off about 280 calories.

That is equivalent to half an hour jogging, he said, and 30 per cent more than the number of calories expended shopping with a standard trolley.

Better still, Mr Asher believes the trolley will inspire customers to be more health conscious as they shop.

"There's a subliminal effect," he said. " If you are pushing it, are you going to put a chocolate cake in your trolley? You will be thinking, 'I'm really unfit. I must have something healthy'."

Tesco said the trolley was a response to customers' growing concerns about health and fitness.

So does it work? The Telegraph road-tested the prototype and found the experience surprisingly similar to pushing, well, a heavily laden shopping trolley. At level seven, getting the thing moving required a fair old shove, and my heart rate quickly jumped from 80 beats a minute to nearer 130.

How does it compare to the gym? Well, the fact you are doing something else does make the whole exercise of exercising slightly less boring.

But do not expect your efforts to win any admiring glances from fellow shoppers. "Pumping fruit" does not have the same ring to it.

Posted by thinkum at 04:38 PM

Hanging Tight

Finding the Key to Spider Climbing Power; Could It Lead to Better Post-it Notes?

The itsy-bitsy spider went up the water spout, goes the nursery rhyme. But how exactly does the spider climb such a slippery vertical surface?

Now scientists think they have the answer ? hair. It's a simple discovery that may someday lead to innovative new technologies and products, ranging from stickier Post-it notes to space suits that adhere to surfaces in zero gravity.

Using a scanning electron microscope, researchers from Germany and Switzerland discovered small hairs on the feet of the jumping spider, or Evarcha arcuata. Each of the small hairs is covered in even smaller hairs called "setules," which have unique triangular tips.

These tiny setules ? more than 620,000 in all ? give spiders their superior ability to climb up water spouts, along walls and across ceilings.

The scientists estimated spiders are able to grip surfaces with a force greater than 170 times their own weight.

"That's like Spider-man clinging to the flat surface of a window on a building by his fingertips and toes only, whilst rescuing 170 adults who are hanging onto his back," says Andrew Martin of the Institute of Technical Zoology and Bionics in Bremen, Germany, co-author of the study, published in the most recent Institute of Physics journal Smart Materials and Structures.

Opposites Attract

The researchers speculate the force that allows spiders to climb glass and hang on ceilings is something known as the van der Waals force.

This form of attraction, based on the positive and negative charges of individual molecules, acts only when molecules of opposite charges are within a few nanometers of one another.

The triangular-tipped setules on spiders' feet are perfectly designed to take advantage of the van der Waals force because they form hundreds of thousands of flexible contact points.

Because there are many small contact points, spiders can adjust the number of contacts needed for different surfaces, whether vertical, horizontal, smooth or rough.

Though the total van der Waals force on the spider's feet is strong, it is really just the sum of many small attractive forces on each setule.

That makes moving its foot easy; the spider just lifts each setule one at a time, rather than trying to lift all at once.

And unlike many types of glue, the van der Waals force is not affected by the surface or the surrounding environment. This allows for an unusually high degree of adhesion on wet or oily surfaces.


Like spiders, insects have evolved with their own climbing strategies, including claws and clamp-like devices on their feet. In addition, insects secrete an oily liquid that gives them extra adhesion.

But in spite of these adaptations, most insects have only a fraction of spiders' ability to climb. The American cockroach, for example, can support just 1½ times its own weight. Even something called the knotgrass leaf beetle can support just 50 times its weight.

One other animal, however, has been studied for its advanced ability to hang tight ? the gecko, a small lizard common in tropical regions.

And like spiders, the gecko uses branched hairs and miniaturized contact elements on its feet to crawl quickly over smooth walls and other surfaces.

Building a Better Astronaut

What scientists have learned from spiders and geckos may have some meaning for scientists working on new materials and products.

"One possible application of our research would be to develop Post-it notes based on the van der Waals force, which would stick even if they got wet or greasy," said Antonia Kesel, lead author of the study.

"You could also imagine astronauts using spacesuits that help them stick to the walls of a spacecraft ? just like a spider on the ceiling," she added.

"We carried out this research to find out how these spiders have evolved to stick to surfaces," said Kesel. "We now hope that this basic research will lead the way to new and innovative technology."


Microscopic hairs on the feet of the jumping spider give it remarkably powerful climbing abilities, scientists have discovered.

Posted by thinkum at 04:14 PM

Neanderthals were 'adults by 15'

The Neanderthals reached adulthood at the tender age of 15 according to a report in the journal Nature.

French and Spanish researchers analysed growth records preserved in the teeth of Neanderthals, modern humans and two other human species.

Breaks in the deposition of crown enamel reveal how fast teeth grow.

Neanderthals formed their crowns 15% quicker than we do, reaching adulthood when modern humans of the same age were still floundering in adolescence.

Perikymata are disturbances in the deposition of crown enamel which are preserved on the tooth's surface as a series of horizontal ridges.

More closely-spaced perikymata indicate a slower rate of growth, while more widely-spaced perikymata point to faster growth.

In modern humans (Homo sapiens) tooth growth slows dramatically after the formation of the top half of the crown. This leads to more closely-spaced perikymata in the bottom half of the crown.

Speed of life

In the Nature report, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi and Jose Bermudez de Castro analysed incisors and canines from 119 individual human remains from Europe spanning a time period of about 800,000 years.

They found that perikymata were generally more widely spaced in primitive humans such as Neanderthals, Homo heidelbergensis and Homo antecessor than in our our own species.

But Neanderthals had the most widely spaced perikymata of all.

The authors argue that this indicates Neanderthals grew more rapidly overall. This rapid rate of growth could have been an evolutionary outcome of high adult mortality in Neanderthal populations, they claim.

"When you have a high mortality, you have two evolutionary solutions. One is to have a short growth period, the other is to have many offspring at once," Dr Ramirez Rozzi, of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, France, told BBC News Online.

"But in humans it is not a viable option to have more than two or three offspring at once. So I would suggest that the high mortality in Neanderthals was the selective pressure responsible for their rapid growth."

Professor Christopher Dean of University College London told BBC News Online:

"I sense that the authors are right. But they haven't looked at any internal histology on the teeth and they haven't looked at molars.

"I think in future, the priority needs to be to look at the molars because they're really crucial in establishing life history."

Brain gain

Some researchers have linked slower development to increased brain size over the course of human evolution.

But the Neanderthals seem to follow a reverse evolutionary trend, with fast growth and a big brain. The results might suggest this trend could be completely random says Dr Ramirez Rozzi.

Dr Christoph Zollikofer, an anthropologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, said the work agreed very well with examinations of Neanderthal and modern human skulls he has carried out with his co-collaborator Marcia Ponce de Leon.

"Neanderthals had probably the same pace of brain development as modern humans," he told BBC News Online.

"But as soon as this was approximately finished, by the age of three or four, Neanderthals were still on a very fast time course to reach adulthood.

"Modern humans gained time in terms of their cognitive development. If you develop more slowly you can learn more."

The results bolster the theory that Neanderthals were committed carnivores. They must have had a very high-calorie diet to fuel their rapid growth and sustain such a large brain.

Posted by thinkum at 04:10 PM

OCD and the Cycle of Virus Doom

Compulsion Disorder Sufferers Will Keep Spreading E-mail Bugs

"If the U.S. Post Office sees a stick of dynamite in the mail, they don't deliver it, do they? A .PIF or .SCR file is an easy thing to stop. It's so obvious. And any other sort of executable file can be quickly scanned by an ISP."

- Commentary By John C. Dvorak, PC Magazine


An estimated 3.3 million Americans alone have obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, and more attention is being paid to the problem than ever before. At least two hit TV shows have main characters who exhibit the problem (Monk and Law & Order: Criminal Intent).

The latest iterations of e-mail-based viruses exploit people in the office who have OCD and that's why there is no way that client-based initiatives to stop virus spreading can ever work. Ever. In fact, the virus problem will just get worse.

This observation was prompted by a posting in my online column on phishing.

A Working Example

Junebug630 writes:

I had a co-worker - a supervisor - call me into her office the other month and ask me about an e-mail that she got. Now my company, a big time government contractor, is super security conscious and damn near inundates us weekly with warning messages to the point of saturation on the evils of e-mail attachments and worms, etc.
The woman, who is very intelligent and knowledgeable, said, "Look, there is a message from someone in my e-mail box. Should I open it?" Now this message was not internal, which she knew, and was of a very dubious nature from someone neither she nor I knew concerning a file or files that someone wanted her to download.
I told her to instantly delete the message and any that came along like it. She was nervous about the message being something important and missing something that she would need to know. I had to practically nail her hands to the desk to keep her from opening the e-mail.
I asked her "Do you open everything you get at home?" She replied, "Yes." I said, "Why?" And then she honestly couldn't tell me why.

A Compelling Threat?

The message goes on, but you get the point. When I read this I realized that no amount of public education will end the virus threat, with millions of compulsive people out there getting messages that say things like "Open the important attachment!"

Apparently you don't need anything more than that simple demand to propagate a virus. You don't need spoofing, or tricks, or passwords or anything else. All you need is an attached virus or Trojan horse program and a note that says, "Open me!" Millions of poor souls with OCD will open it.

And if OCD people fit in well in any sort of environment, it's the modern office environment where the ailment may actually be a benefit and lead to rapid promotions. Many with this ailment are geniuses in their own way and work harder than others to compensate for the OCD issues.

Be that as it may, how many are like the otherwise smart woman described above? These people cannot erase the suspicious document and move on. They might be missing something important, after all. With the eventual "Big One" headed our way we can be assured that when it is delivered, the compulsive office workers of the world will be the triggering mechanisms.

Just Saying 'No' Isn't Enough

Of course, many of us can protect ourselves from the direct problems that will arise, such as hard drive erasures. We are all susceptible to the potential meltdown of the Net itself, which can happen when these click-happy obsessives launch the war.

It's futile to try to stop compulsive people. What that suggests to me is that the entire virus threat prevention mechanism has to exist at a higher level. These viruses have to be stopped at the ISP level or perhaps all e-mail should be pumped through some Internet-based filter. The way I see it, if Kaspersky's anti-virus program can spot every attempt on my machine on the fly and quarantine e-mail attachments as they come in, then why can't this be done at the ISP/server level?

Exactly why is that OCD woman cited above allowed to get this stuff in her e-mail box in the first place? If the U.S. Post Office sees a stick of dynamite in the mail, they don't deliver it, do they? A .PIF or .SCR file is an easy thing to stop. It's so obvious. And any other sort of executable file can be quickly scanned by an ISP.

All the current viruses that go back and forth for months on end are easily identifiable - you see the same ones over and over. Why are they continually being allowed to go from server to server? Maybe these ISPs should do something, given all the money they are making.

Who's Really to Blame?

So why hasn't something been done at the only level that will stop the problem? I think it's the anti-virus lobby. Who stands to lose the most if the virus problem is eliminated at the ISP level? The client-based anti-virus software companies: Symantec, McAffee, Kaspersky, Panda, all of them. This is a billion-dollar business.

I've never been one to think that any of these folks actually code viruses, as some people assert. They don't have to. Other people stupidly do it for reasons only known to themselves. What I do not see is any real universal effort on the part of the anti-virus folks to seriously end the virus threat for good. They would put themselves out of business. It's a conflict of interest. The folks with all the expertise don't need to bring change.

It's ridiculous. What do you think can be done to end this cycle? I think that until the end user is taken out of the loop, we're stuck.

Posted by thinkum at 04:04 PM

No Passion for Broadcast Television

ABC has turned down an offer to air Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and CBS, NBC and Fox are expected to follow suit, the Associated Press reported. Gibson demanded that the film run in its entirety and unedited.

Posted by thinkum at 01:30 PM

COC's pricey Ring

May start for applications to see complete Ring Cycle

Though the Canadian Opera Company won't be mounting Richard Wagner's full Ring Cycle until 2006, it will begin taking ticket applications next week, the company announced Tuesday.

The epic opera cycle will open the new Four Seasons Centre, currently under construction in downtown Toronto, in the fall of 2006. Because the venue only offers 2,000 seats -- about 1,000 fewer than the company's current home in the Hummingbird Centre -- the company expects the performances to sell out quickly.

Tickets applications will be accepted through the company's website and by phone beginning May 3. Prices for the complete cycle of the four Ring operas -- Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung -- begin at $300, with a limited number of prime box seats available for up to $2,200.

Successful applicants will be notified by December 2004.

The company will stage the entire Ring Cycle once each week for the last three weeks of September 2006.

Posted by thinkum at 01:28 PM

Iraqi leaders change colours after flag flap

Only days after unveiling the country's new flag, Iraqi leaders have already changed its colours after protests that it looked too much like Israel's.

The design remains the same ? two parallel blue stripes on the bottom representing the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and a yellow stripe between them representing the country's Kurdish minority. A blue crescent above the stripes symbolizes Islam.


But the blue stripes appear to have been made darker after complaints that the light blue stripes were too similar to the light blue bands of the Israeli flag.

Hundreds of university students in Mosul demonstrated against the initial version Wednesday.

Many Iraqis were also upset that the flag no longer featured the colours red for Arab nationalism and black, green and white for Islam.

The old flag had red and white bands across the top and bottom with three green stars floating in the middle. Deposed leader Saddam Hussein added the Arabic words "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Great") during the 1980s.


Not all council members had agreed with the idea of a new flag. Some said there should be a new, elected government before a major national symbol is altered.

Supporters of the new flag said it was important for the new government to distance itself from the the regime of Saddam Hussein.

"We cannot raise the flag of a party that committed many crimes against Iraqi people," said Massoud Barzani, president of the Governing Council.

But Barzani said the design is temporary until a permanent flag is chosen.

Posted by thinkum at 01:27 PM

Physicists Find Method to Improve Audio

Physicists Find Way to Digitally Map Old, Archived Audio Recordings and Reconstruct the Sound

Two physicists have discovered a way to digitally map old, archived audio recordings and reconstruct the sound.

Four years after hearing a radio report on the challenge of preserving aging audio recordings, particle physicist Carl Haber's newfound method of rescuing the classics is music to archivists' ears.

Haber and a fellow physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Vitaliy Fadeyev, have found a way to digitally map the grooves in warped or damaged shellac records and wax cylinders and play them back using a sort of virtual needle.

To do so, they use the same optical scanning method powered by a microscope and computer technology that physicists employ for measuring the journeys of subatomic particles.

The technique detects and filters any scratches, as well as clicks and pops from dust. It works with vinyl, too, though such records aren't as fragile to need it.

Roughly 2.5 million music and spoken-word recordings are stored in the Library of Congress the project's sponsor but some are more than a century old and very delicate. Archivists risk further damage if they use a real stylus to play and re-record them.

"This marks a whole new direction for sound archiving," said Mark Roosa, the library's director for preservation. "They're reconstructing sound as we had never imagined would be possible, even if there are cracks in the cylinder."

The physicists hope their research will ultimately lead to a machine to preserve and enhance public access to sounds of history.

"Archivists want tools that will allow them to copy recordings with as little intervention as possible," Haber said. "It's starting to almost look like there could be a Xerox machine for recordings."

Posted by thinkum at 01:25 PM

Phony Princess Fools IRS

A college cafeteria worker outsmarted the Internal Revenue Service and received a $2.1 million tax refund when she claimed to be a Hawaiian princess and heir to a billion-dollar estate.

Abigail Roberts, 61, was born Charlotte Veronica Kuheana in Hawaii. In reality, she works in the cafeteria at Widener University and lives with her husband in Chester. But authorities said she pretended to be Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, the 73-year-old heir to the Campbell estate, one of the largest landowners in Hawaii. Investigators said Roberts put Kawananakoa's Social Security number on her tax form.

Roberts and her husband deposited the $2.1 million when they received the tax return in the mail. The IRS used arrest warrants to retrieve most of the tax refund, but a federal judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to show that Roberts intended to commit a crime. The agency has sued Roberts and her husband to recover $100,000 that was allegedly spent.

Posted by thinkum at 01:23 PM

The Parkinson's Problem

Many people associate Parkinson's disease with the celebrities who visibly suffer from it, from Michael J. Fox to Pope John Paul II. One reason we can often identify people with Parkinson's disease is because they have the signature symptom: a noticeable tremor. As a motor system disorder, Parkinson's disease also causes muscle rigidity, shuffling gait, and impaired balance and coordination.

It's difficult to know who is at risk for Parkinson's disease, though age appears to be the strongest predictor. Other risk factors include a first-degree relative with the disease; exposure to certain pesticides and herbicides; and the overuse of certain medication such as the anti-psychotic Haldol.

Medications for Parkinson's disease can control symptoms by stimulating or replacing the brain chemical dopamine. But the most effective medications, called levodopa-containing compounds, tend to "wear off," so each dose does not last as long as it once did. Doctors sometimes hold off on starting these medications in an effort to delay the wearing-off effect. And new combination therapies help provide relief from symptoms for a longer period of time.

Below, William Koller, MD, PhD, founder of the University of Kansas Parkinson Disease and Movement Disorder Center in Kansas City, discusses the most common treatments for Parkinson's disease.

What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease involves symptoms including slowness of movement, stiffness of the muscles, difficultly walking, tremor (which some people refer to as shakiness) and sometimes difficulty with balance.

What causes Parkinson's disease?

We have a fairly good knowledge of what happens in the brain in Parkinson's disease. We know that a small group of cells die in a very small part of the brain. When those cells die, there's a loss of dopamine, which is a brain chemical or what we call a neurotransmitter. So the chemical basis of Parkinson's is loss of this dopamine chemical in the brain.

The part of the brain that's involved in Parkinson's is called the basal ganglia, and it helps control our movements and how we coordinate them. So when the basal ganglia doesn't work, we end up with slowness, stiffness and tremor.

How common is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease can affect all individuals and may be slightly more prominent in men. It's estimated that, at least in the United States, there's probably one million people affected with Parkinson's disease. Once you get over age 65, 1 percent (that is, 1 in 10) of people are at risk for Parkinson's disease. About 10 percent of cases occur before age 50, which we call young-onset Parkinson's disease, and of course, Michael J. Fox would be an example of someone with young-onset Parkinson's disease.

How can we predict who will get Parkinson's disease?

Currently, we can't predict who will get Parkinson's disease. In a very small group of individuals, maybe 1 percent of people with Parkinson's disease, it runs in the family; some of these genes have been identified. Age itself is a risk factor; the older you get, the more likely you're going to develop Parkinson's disease. But there's no test we can do at this point and say, "Yes, you're going to develop Parkinson's disease."

How does Parkinson's disease affect the quality of people's lives?

Parkinson's disease can be a very disabling condition for some individuals. In addition to its motor symptoms such as slowness, stiffness and shakiness, Parkinson's also involves other symptoms: you can have depression, constipation, sexual dysfunction and sleep abnormalities. All these symptoms can significantly reduce quality of life in some patients.

How is Parkinson's disease treated?

There are a number of medical and surgical treatments for Parkinson's disease. Historically, Charcot, a famous neurologist in France, introduced the first class of drugs, which are sometimes used even today, and they're call anticholinergics. This class of drugs has a lot of side effects, however, and is infrequently used.

Today, there are two main classes of drugs to treat Parkinson's disease: levodopa-containing compounds and a group of drugs called dopamine agonists.

How do the levodopa-containing compounds work?

The gold standard for treatment of Parkinson's disease is levodopa-containing compounds, along with the drug Sinemet (carbidopa). It's based on an amazingly simple concept. You don't have enough dopamine in the brain, so we give the chemical L-Dopa, which goes into the brain and is converted to dopamine. We replace the deficiency, and the symptoms get dramatically better.

What happens, however, though, is that people sometimes develop wiggly movements, which we call dyskinesias and the benefit from an individual dose gets less over time. So, for instance, if one pill gave you four hours of benefit at, say, year three of the disease, by year 10 of the disease, the same pill may now only give you two hours of benefit. So it always works, but the duration of benefit from an individual dose gets less and less over time.

Are there ways of getting the levodopa to last longer?

One of the main problems with the long-term use of levodopa is that its duration of effectiveness gets shorter and shorter over time. So there's been a lot of emphasis in making its duration of effect longer. The L-Dopa is metabolized by two enzymes in the body. One is called carbidopa, and the second enzyme is called COMT. And we now have inhibitors or blockers of that enzyme. When you block that enzyme, the blood level of levodopa is much extended in the patient. When you extend the blood level, you also extend the duration of the clinical response.

These drugs are called COMT inhibitors, and they've been very useful in the motor fluctuations and extending the duration of effect. You can imagine, if you are "off"?which in our terminology means the drug's not working?three to four hours a day and you're shaking and you're slow, you can't do the things you need to do. But with these drugs, sometimes the "off" time goes away, so the drug's working through the whole day, and that's of course, our goal in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

How do the dopamine agonists work?

The dopamine agonists are a class of drugs that directly stimulate the dopamine receptor, so they make up for the dopamine deficiency in Parkinson's. They cause fewer long-term complications than levodopa-containing compounds such as the wearing-off problem. Their disadvantage is that they're not as good at controlling the symptoms as levodopa-containing compounds.

If you look at control of symptoms, in early disease, dopamine agonists and levodopa are somewhat equal. As the disease advances, however, levodopa-containing compounds are much more effective.

What is the current medication strategy for younger people with Parkinson's disease?

We use dopamine agonists in the young-onset patients, and the reason it's probably more important in them is that these patients are more likely to develop the levodopa-induced dyskinesia and the wearing-off problem. If you're 40 years old, you probably have 30 or 40 year's worth of life left, so you have a lot of time to develop these potential complications. So, with patients in their 40s or 50s, the common practice among neurologists now is to start the dopamine agonists first and save levodopa for later.

Posted by thinkum at 01:22 PM

Advanced scope's mirror in place

The main mirror for what will be the most powerful telescope on Earth has been installed at its Arizona site.

The Large Binocular Telescope will have two identical mirrors each 8.4m across, which should enable it to see planets around other stars, scientists believe.

"First light", the time it starts its work, is expected later this year.

When both mirrors are installed, the LBT will be the world's most advanced optical telescope with images sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope's.

Golden era

The mirror was cast and figured at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory Mirror Lab and transported 220km (135 miles) to the top of Mount Graham where the telescope is being constructed.

Now that the mirror has been installed, engineers can test the telescope's support and control systems.

Two identical mirrors, each costing $22m, will be placed in the binocular telescope.

Work on the project began in 1996 and will be completed next year.

The telescope's twin mirrors will combine their images, providing the light-gathering power of a much larger, single mirror, equivalent to one 11.8m across.

"It will be the first of a new generation of extremely large telescopes and will signal a new golden era in this type of space exploration," says Peter Strittmatter, president of the Large Binocular Telescope Corporation.

"This is a huge step in what has been a very long and challenging process," added John Hill, the project's director.

The second mirror is still being polished and will be transported to Mount Graham at a later date.

Posted by thinkum at 01:20 PM

Green-tinged farm points the way

Pigs and chickens that glow in the dark may signal a new era for the farm yard.

UK scientists at the Roslin Institute say they have dramatically improved the technique for introducing modifications to an animal's genetic make-up.

So far, the researchers have used the new method to introduce a jellyfish gene that makes their pigs and chickens fluoresce - to prove changes will work.

Now, the scientists expect to create animals that are resistant to disease or can be used to study disease.

The Edinburgh institute described its latest research to BBC Radio 4's One Man's Meat programme.

Piggyback research

Conventional efforts to make so-called transgenic animals have been expensive, hampered by inefficient methods of production, which see only about one in 70 embryos injected with genetic material resulting in a modified animal.

The improved technique borrows from procedures developed for gene therapy in humans.

In one of several recent trials at the Roslin Institute, the new approach resulted in 36 out of 40 pig embryos developing into transgenic pigs.

That is a success rate of 90% and has the power to revolutionise the application of GM technology in farm animals, according to researchers Dr Bruce Whitelaw and Dr Helen Sang.

The new technique uses viruses to carry chosen genes into fertilised eggs. Once altered, the eggs are then implanted in surrogate females.

The viruses come from a family called lentiviruses which have undergone extensive medical research.

"We're now piggybacking on this medical research as a way of producing transgenic animals, and what makes these vectors exciting is the fact that they're very efficient," said Dr Whitelaw, from Roslin's department of gene expression and development.

"Rather than the minority of animals ending up transgenic, the majority end up transgenic."

Asian flu

Transgenic pigs and chickens have been produced at Roslin using lentivectors to carry the green fluorescent protein gene (GFP) - a gene found naturally in jellyfish.

Both chickens and pigs carrying the gene can be detected in normal light by their slight greenish tinge, but when viewed in blue light, all areas not covered with hair or feathers are seen to glow torch-light bright.

In the case of chickens, this is the feet and head; and in pigs, it is the ears, snout, trotters and testicles.

"The green fluorescent protein marker gene means we can see instantly if an animal is carrying the gene; there is no need for any biopsies or tests, and as far as we know all of the animals are normal in every other way," said Dr Whitelaw.

Three generations of chickens carrying the GFP have now been produced, showing consistent and stable gene expression.

Poultry researcher Dr Sang is now ready to test the technique with genes of research interest.

"At the moment, we're trying to produce hens with pharmaceutical proteins in their eggs.

"We're looking at a therapeutic protein for cancer treatment," she said, "but we've also now got funding to look at two poultry diseases: Marek's disease and Asian flu."

The technique is most likely to be used to create transgenic animals to study diseases but might also eventually be used to make farm animals that are resistant to specific diseases.

"If you want to make transgenics, you need to be able to make lots of different lines to check them. We couldn't do that until now. It's a much easier and simpler approach.

"These techniques are proving 10 to 100-fold more efficient than any of the old techniques," Dr Sang said.

Posted by thinkum at 01:18 PM

DNA shoots down Cook arrow legend

DNA testing has ended the century-old claim that a Hawaiian arrow was carved from the bone of 18th-Century British explorer Captain James Cook.

The arrow, given to the Australian Museum in Sydney in the 1890s, has been accompanied by the legend since 1824.

But DNA testing by laboratories in New Zealand and Australia has revealed it was probably made from animal antler.

The arrow will stay on show in the museum - and Cook fans remain sure part of his remains will turn up one day.

Clubbed and stabbed

The arrow forms a part of the exhibition "Uncovered: Treasures of the Australian Museum", which includes a feather cape presented to Cook by Hawaiian King Kalani'opu'u in 1778.

The museum's collection manager Jude Philp confirmed on Thursday: "There is no Cook in the Australian Museum."

Cook, one of Britain's great explorers, is credited with discovering the 'Great South Land' - now Australia - in 1770.

The Yorkshire-born explorer's travels ended when he was clubbed and stabbed to death by a crowd of more than 1,000 warriors in the Sandwich Islands, now Hawaii, in 1779.

The legend of Cook's arrow began 45 years later when Hawaiian King Kamehameha, on his deathbed, gave the arrow to a relative of Cook's wife, William Adams.

The king told Mr Adams, a London surgeon, that it had been carved from Cook's bone after the skirmish with the Sandwich Islanders.

Cook's fans refuse to give up hope that at least one legend about him will prove to be true.

They believe part of his remains will be uncovered, claiming they have evidence not all of Cook's body was buried at sea in February 1779.

Cliff Thornton, president of the UK's Captain Cook Society, said: "On this occasion technology has won.

"But I am sure one of these days... one of the Cook legends will (prove) to be true and it will happen one day."

Posted by thinkum at 01:16 PM

DNA computers to fight diseases

Israeli scientists have developed tiny devices able to detect signs of cancer, and release drugs to treat the disease.

The work is still test-tube-based but it could lead to "nano-clinics" which remain in the body, sensing illnesses and then treating them automatically.

The devices are so small that roughly a trillion of them can fit into a microlitre (a millionth of a litre).

The research is led by Ehud Shapiro from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot and is published in the journal Nature.

"The devices are made of biological molecules - DNA; synthetic DNA molecules which we produced to our design, and a naturally occurring enzyme which cuts DNA," Professor Shapiro told BBC News.

Biological 'computer'

They look like chains consisting of three main segments.

The first segment senses levels of substances which are produced by cancerous cells. It functions like a computer running through a simple algorithm.

One algorithm which the team tested is intended to diagnose prostate cancer.

It says that if levels of two messenger RNA molecules (PPAP2B and GSTP1) are lower than usual, and levels of two others (PIM1 and HPN) are elevated, there must be prostate cancer cells in the vicinity.

If this analytical/computational segment "decides" that cancer is present, it tells the second segment to release the third segment, which is an anti-cancer drug - in this case, consisting of so-called anti-sense DNA.

This has the effect of suppressing gene activity involved in the cancer.

"We demonstrated one particular 'computer' for diagnosing prostate cancer and another 'computer' for diagnosing small-cell lung cancer," Professor Shapiro said.

"We mixed them together in solution with various disease conditions, and the right computer diagnosed the right disease in all conditions."

Smart medicine

So far these devices have only been trialled in test-tube solutions, and several decades of further work are needed before research could begin in humans.

But one day nano-scale devices like these could be used inside our bodies to protect against or treat cancers and other diseases.

"The best way to think about it is as a smart drug," suggested Professor Shapiro.

"Today, we bombard the body with drugs that go everywhere and operate everywhere and at any time.

"And what we designed is a smart drug that has some conditions encoded for its release; and it will be released and activated only at the right time and at the right location when a disease is diagnosed."

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This work gives us some insight into the rapid progress being made in this field and the blurring of the divisions between the computer and natural sciences.

"They have moved the concept of the physician in the body - or more specifically here, an entire cancer team in the body - one whole step closer to reality.

"Inevitably, there's a huge amount of work to be done before molecular computers like this can be used to treat people.

"In the meantime, the global research effort to identify the perfect targets for treatment in different cancers will ensure that the biomolecular computers of the future have the best possible programmes."

Posted by thinkum at 01:14 PM

Spying software watches you work

Spyware has infected almost all companies polled for a survey about web-using habits at work.

Nine out of 10 of the technology managers questioned said machines at their firm had programs that spied on the browsing habits of staff.

The computer staff estimated that, on average, 29% of work PCs had spyware surreptitiously installed on them.

By contrast only 6% of users questioned believed that the machine they use had been infected by such software.

Browsing risk

The figures came to light during the annual Web@Work survey commissioned by mail filtering and security firm Websense.

Spyware is the name given to small programs that accompany popular applications such as the Kazaa and Morpheus file-sharing software.

As the name implies the software surreptitiously keeps an eye on what a user is interested in or searches for.

Once installed the spyware can redirect web searches, install bookmarks or bombard a user with pop-up ads tailored to other search terms.

"Most employees don't even know they are infected;" said Peter Firstbrook, analyst at the Meta Group

He said spyware could be a nuisance, an invasion of privacy and, in the case of the most malicious spyware, can steal confidential information.

Other sections of the Web@Work survey reveal just how this spyware may have made its way onto work PCs.

Of the PC users who took part in the survey, 22% of men questioned said they had looked at a pornographic website while at work, and 2% of all those questioned said they looked at hacking sites.

Technology managers said 10% of the total storage space in a workplace is taken up by non-work related items such as video clips, music tracks, images and other files.

The survey found that employees spend, on average, about two hours per week surfing the web for personal, rather than work, reasons.

By contrast, technology managers believed that this personal surfing took up more than six hours per week.

The survey also revealed how important access to the net at work has become to many people.

When asked if people would rather give up personal surfing or their morning coffee the respondents were split almost equally.

49% said they would rather lose morning coffee, but 46% said they needed their java more than their browsing fix.

Posted by thinkum at 01:13 PM

'Whites-only' money for SA town

A whites-only enclave is launching its own currency just two days after South Africa celebrated the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid.

Orania is a small town in the northern Cape populated by white Afrikaners, including the grandson of Henrik Vorwoerd, the architect of apartheid.

The currency will be known as the ora and is available in four denominations.

A spokesman said the currency could only be spent within the town and would be worthless if stolen by outsiders.

"The whole idea is that we are actually working towards the idea of a community that is self-sufficient," said spokeswoman Eleanor Lombard.

"The symbols on the ora 10 note showed the Afrikaner's history, the ora 20 note his art, the ora 50 note his culture and the ora 100 note depicted Orania," she said.

A spokesperson for South Africa's Reserve Bank said the voucher or currency must not resemble any of the South African bank notes. An Oranian spokesman told the BBC that the new notes had been designed by a local artist and the celebrations in the town hall would be preceded by songs and on-stage sketches.

The BBC's correspondent in South Africa, Barnaby Phillips, says the ANC government is ideologically opposed to the concept of a whites-only homeland but instead of confronting Orania, has tended to ignore it.

'Fruit salad'

Ms Lombard rejected suggestions that the new currency was a sign that the community had rejected a multi-racial South Africa.

"South African society is like a fruit salad - if I am allowed to be whatever I am - a banana, an apple or whatever - I can add to the flavour," she told Reuters news agency.

"If I am all squashed up, I cannot contribute."

Many of Orania's 600 residents say they have come here to escape the violence and crime prevalent in the rest of South Africa.

Their main industry is agriculture.

Posted by thinkum at 01:11 PM

BASIC computer language turns 40

10 PRINT "In 1963 two Dartmouth College math professors had a radical"
20 PRINT "idea - create a computer language muscular enough to harness"
30 PRINT "the power of the period?s computers, yet simple enough that even"
40 PRINT "the school's janitors could use it."
50 END

A year later on May 1, 1964, the BASIC computer programing language (as demonstrated above) was born and for the first time computers were taken out of the lab and brought into the community.

"This is the birth of personal computing," said Arthur Luehrmann, a former Dartmouth physics professor who is writing a book about how the Hanover, N.H., school developed the language.

"It was personal computing before people knew what personal computing was."

Forty years later pure BASIC (Beginners? All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) has all but disappeared, but its legacy lives on in some programing languages, including much of what powers the Internet.

Paul Vick, a senior developer at Microsoft, said his company owes much to BASIC, which was its first product.

"Both Windows and Office really would not have made it as far as they have without the support of the BASIC language," he said, noting that both products still use a descendent of BASIC called Visual Basic.

BASIC came about in an age when computers were large, expensive and the exclusive province of scientists, many of whom were forced to buy research time on the nation?s handful of machines.

Dartmouth math professors Thomas Kurtz and John Kemeny envisioned something better, an unprecedented system that would give their entire school ? from the faculty to the food service staff ? simultaneous access to a computer.

"It?s hard to give young folks a feel for what it was like back then. It was pretty crude," Kurtz said in a recent interview. "It really was very hard to get anything done with computers and punch cards." Kemeny died in 1992.

Using existing technology called time sharing, the men created a primitive network to allow multiple users to access a single computer at the same time via terminals scattered around the campus.

They also needed a programming language simple enough for anyone to use. With the help of students, the men spent a year developing a commonsense language that relied on basic equations and commands, such as PRINT, LIST and SAVE.

John McGeachie was one of the first students to work with Kurtz and Kemeny and was there at 4 a.m. on May 1, 1964, when BASIC came to life in the basement of Dartmouth?s College Hall.

Two terminals hooked up to a single computer ran two different programs.

"I don?t think anybody knew how it would end up catching on," said McGeachie, now 61 and a software designer. "It was just enormously exciting for us as students to be working on something so many people said couldn?t be done."

By working with time-sharing technology, BASIC essentially became time management for a computer, allowing it to focus its processing power a few seconds at a time on a multitude of programs being run from different terminals.

"It gave people an enormous improvement in responsiveness and the feeling that while they were sitting there at some teletype in some closet somewhere off in some department that they had full use of the computer," said Kurtz, 76.

"The thing just took off like crazy after that," he said.

Within a short time nearly everyone at Dartmouth ? a humanities-based college ? had some BASIC experience. And it wasn?t long before the business community took notice.

Kurtz said that by 1970 nearly 100 companies used BASIC systems to share and sell time on computers. And when computers eventually entered the consumer market, most used BASIC.

"More people in the world know or have known how to program in BASIC than any other computer language," Kurtz said, noting that most contemporary computer languages are too difficult for the layman to tackle.

This was long before the days of software on CDs or even floppy disks. Programs for home use mostly were sold as books with hundreds of pages of code a user had to enter one line at a time.

The popularity of BASIC waned as computers got more sophisticated and newer languages were developed to take advantage of the power. Many of those languages, including the Internet?s Java, have their roots in BASIC.

Harry McCracken, editor-in-chief of PC World magazine, laments BASIC?s demise.

"On some level I think it?s sad that it went away," he said. "People went from being creators of software to consumers."

BASIC still is available commercially. In addition to Microsoft?s Visual Basic, copies of True BASIC ? a much closer relative to the language Kurtz and Kemeny designed ? are sold by John Lutz, of Hartford, Vt.

He sells about 3,000 copies a year, mostly to high schools and hobbyists who learned it decades ago.

"We?re finding that that group is right at retirement age, is still using computers and is delighted to pick up where they left off in the ?70s," Kurtz said.

Posted by thinkum at 01:09 PM

April 28, 2004

Dyehard Science: Brain Enhancement Drugs and Treatments Have Some Worried

Medical breakthroughs in recent years have led to wondrous benefits for the sick and the injured, but they have also empowered us to tinker with human biology in unprecedented ways. Some experts are concerned that we are on the brink of changing what it means to be human by enhancing healthy brains.

We are knocking at the doorway to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, with mind altering drugs, potential brain implants, and magnetic stimulation that may someday make it possible for normal college students to breeze through finals in a way they can only dream of today.

As exciting as that may sound, it's a pathway fraught with pitfalls, because no one really knows precisely where the path will lead, and what the final consequences will be in a growing effort to make us think, remember, and even forget, better than we can today.

No one is predicting that Huxley's grim, loveless, and highly manipulated world is just around the corner, and hopefully humans will never venture that far into playing God, but we've already taken the first few steps.

Confronting the Future

Americans spend more than $1 billion a year on nutritional supplements in hopes of improving their memory — a form of brain enhancement at its most basic level — even though it's not known for certain that the drugs actually help.

And the controversial drug Ritalin, normally prescribed for children with attention deficit disorder, is now widely taken by college students to give them an edge in their academic performance, especially while preparing for a major exam.

"We are starting to tamper with our biology," says Judy Illes, senior research scholar in biomedical ethics at Stanford University School of Medicine. "There are significant ethical issues that need to be addressed head on."

Illes is one of the leaders of a movement within the neuroscientific community to get out ahead of the potential ethical issues and establish guidelines that will facilitate ongoing research. Part of their goal is to avoid public relations blunders that could hamper progress — doing to them what fear over potential human cloning has done to geneticists.

"We want to formulate some policy from the inside that empowers the research, so it doesn't get tripped up along the way because of some sort of bad press or catastrophic event," Illes says.

Illes co-chaired a blue ribbon panel of experts last June, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences, who grappled with the unknowns of where modern science may be leading us in this brand new arena.

The results of that meeting were published in the April 20 online issue of Nature Reviews Neuroscience, and they offer much food for thought. The panel, consisting of neuroscientists, ethicists, psychologists and educators, concluded that the new age of brain enhancement is already here, and the future is very murky indeed.

"Neither the benefits nor the dangers of neurocognitive enhancement are trivial," the panel concluded. The panelists were much more comfortable with the use of mind altering drugs to heal the sick than they were with boosting the brain power of normal, healthy persons.

Tinkering With Personhood

This is a far trickier area than the use of cosmetic surgery to improve appearances, or steroids to improve physical performance, the panel concluded, because it tampers with our basic "personhood."

"Neurocognitive enhancement involves intervening in a far more complex system, and we are therefore at great risk of unanticipated problems," the panel warns. No one knows at this point if taking Ritalin during finals will result in a more rapid mental decline in old age.

Some drugs, and some new technologies, have improved normal mental performance in laboratory settings, but they didn't work the same for everybody.

"Those with lower levels of performance are more likely to benefit from enhancement than those with higher levels," the panelists said. Thus widespread use of brain enhancing drugs might lessen the gap between the smart and the not-so-smart, a "homogenization" of human cognitive prowess, as Illes puts it.

The panel dealt mainly with drugs, because that's where so much action is these days. Virtually every major pharmaceutical company in the world is working on drugs that would enhance memory, and some are in advanced stages of clinical trials. Most of these drugs strengthen synapses, the electrical contact points at which brain cells trade information, but some are targeting such things as the way the brain records memories.

Conversely, a number of companies are developing drugs that will let us erase unpleasant memories, like witnessing a traumatic event, to help patients deal with depression over something they cannot forget.

A number of drugs are under development that will help normal people deal better with a wide range of mental challenges, including coping with emotions. The military is experimenting with drugs that would ease fear, for example, thus making combat a more cerebral challenge, and less emotional.

But University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan worries that soldiers so enhanced — fearless in battle — may also be far more vulnerable.

Pulse Personality

One of the most promising areas of research is at the far end of high technology. It's called "transcranial magnetic stimulation," and it holds great promise for treating persons with severe depression, or various mental disorders. "TMS," as it is called, uses magnets to increase or decrease activity in very specific areas of the brain.

It's only been around for a couple of decades, and it's so non-invasive that persons who might otherwise have to undergo brain surgery, or electric shock treatments, hardly feel a thing. A magnetic coil, held against the scalp, produces magnetic pulses that easily pass through the skull, inducing an electric current that alters the activity of specific brain cells — depending on how the coil is programed — either increasing or decreasing their activity.

There doesn't seem to be much debate over using this very promising technique to treat the sick, but that's not all it can do. In one experiment, researchers found that TMS accelerated the ability of normal volunteers to solve problems that required analytical reasoning.

Does that mean someday we will all wear electrified hats that regulate our thought process, thus making us something very different than we are today? Maybe, but maybe not. No one really knows where all of this is leading.

In Huxley's Brave New World, babies were engineered so that they would grow up ideally suited to perform certain tasks. Not too bright if they were to be worker bees, and fearless if they were to be soldiers, but Huxley didn't originate that idea.

Plato, in ancient Greece, argued that people should be told what material they were made of, wood for some, so they would accept more menial chores. He figured gold would be reserved for philosophers, like him, who would also serve as king.

Both, one would hope, were wrong. Huxley of describing improbable science. Plato of bad philosophy.

Posted by thinkum at 10:21 PM

Flying Saucer Fever Grips Iran, Theories Abound

Is Iran about to be invaded by little green men or are the Americans racing through the night sky in spaceships to spy on the Islamic Republic?

Flying saucer fever has gripped Iran after dozens of sightings in the last few days. Fanciful cartoons of alien spacecraft have adorned the front pages.

State television on Wednesday showed a sparkling white disc it said was filmed over Tehran on Tuesday night.

More colorful Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) have been spotted beaming out green, red, blue and purple rays over the northern cities of Tabriz and Ardebil and in the Caspian Sea province of Golestan, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Newspapers and agencies reported people rushing out into the streets in eight towns on Tuesday night to watch a bright extraterrestrial light dipping in and out of the clouds.

An airforce officer in the Revolutionary Guards was quoted in the reformist Vagha-ye Etefaghiyeh daily saying Iran's Supreme National Security Council should investigate whether these visitors from afar had hostile intent.

But Sa'dollah Nasiri-Qeydari, head of the Astronomical Society of Iran, told Reuters the stories were unfounded.

"In my opinion, flying saucers do not exist," he said, insisting his telescopes would have picked up invaders from outer space.

"The people who have seen these things are not experts - farmers, villagers and pilots," he added.

He said what people reported was consistent with the planet Venus, whose intense light in its current position would be given different hues by being filtered through the atmosphere.

Posted by thinkum at 10:16 PM

Life-saving kangaroo wins award

Lulu the kangaroo will leap into the record books when she becomes the first marsupial to receive a bravery award.

She'll receive the RSPCA's Australian Animal Valour Award for saving the life of a farmer knocked unconscious.

Leonard Richards, 52, was hit by a falling branch, as he checked for storm damage on his property last September.

Lulu, who was reared by the Richards family, made a huge commotion to alert others, in a scene similar to the 1960s Australian children's series Skippy.

"It's the first time a native animal has ever received the award," said RSPCA executive officer Jenny Hodges.

"Certainly the vast majority of recipients have been dogs," she told the Associated Press.

'Pushing up daisies'

Mr Richards said he owed his life to the four-year-old kangaroo, who they rescued from the pouch of her mother killed in a road accident.

"I'd be pushing up daisies if it wasn't for Lulu," he said.

He estimates he was unconscious for around half an hour after being struck by the branch not far from the house on his farm, 150 kilometres (93 miles) east of Melbourne.

His wife, Lynn, said at the time she had been alerted by the kangaroo's out-of-character behaviour.

"I heard Lulu, she has this bark, and its a very loud bark that she gives out, not like a dog's sound it's quite a nice sound," she said.

"I just looked down and I [saw] her at the paddock and Brendan our nephew was with us and I said to him, Len's down there," she told Reuters news agency.

Mr Richards said his nephew told him afterwards that Lulu had been standing over him with her hind legs at his back.

"She looked like she'd rolled me over on my side to keep my airway clear, but we'll never know for sure," he said.

He was evacuated by helicopter to a Melbourne hospital and has since made a full recovery.

Lulu is only the ninth animal to receive the RSPCA's award honouring animals that display exceptional courage in the face of danger.

"What she did was really exceptional," said Jenny Hodges.

The story is reminiscent of the long-running Skippy series, about a kangaroo that rescues people in distress in the Australian bush.


Posted by thinkum at 10:10 PM

Orcas boost calls amid boat noise

Killer whales living off the west coast of the US are extending the length of their calls to each other to be heard above the din of heavy boat traffic.

The findings come from an analysis of killer whale, or orca, calls by British and US researchers which has been published in the journal Nature.

The orcas make longer calls when boats are present in an apparent attempt to be heard above the engine noise.

But the orcas only take this action when noise reaches a critical level.

The killer whales observed in the study came from a population that lives close to the shore in waters off Washington state.

There has been a sharp increase in the number of boats in the area over the past decade. A major commercial shipping lane cuts through the waters, while tourism and whale-watching have become increasingly popular.

Numbers of killer whales have been dropping here since 1996.

Researchers from the University of Durham, UK, and the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, US, compared recordings of calls made by orcas over the periods 1977-81, 1989-92 and 2001-03 in waters made in the absence and presence of boats.

Although no significant difference was found in the length of calls over the 1977-81 and 1989-92 period, the team found a 10-15% increase in the duration of calls made by the orcas during the 2001-03 period.

Long calls

This would appear to suggest that the whales are altering the length of their calls to be heard above the din of background noise from boats.

"The whale-watching vessels quite often act as a beacon attracting the tourist boats," co-author Andrew Foote of the University of Durham told BBC News Online.

"This increases the amount of traffic around the whales even more. While the whale-watching vessels behave responsibly - try not to start their engines up when they're on top of the whales and so on - the tourists aren't always aware of quite how to behave with the whales."

If the growth in boat traffic continues apace, it could start interfering with the orcas' ability to find food, says Mr Foote. The animals partly make calls to keep in touch, but also to co-ordinate foraging.

However, the researchers suggest that because the number of boats increased about fivefold between 1990 and 2000, the orcas only start making longer calls once boat noise reaches a threshold.

Numbers of boats following the killer whales, including registered whale-watching boats and private tourist boats increased roughly fivefold from 1990 to 2000.

Posted by thinkum at 04:39 PM

NZ's famous sheep gets TV haircut

A renegade New Zealand sheep that managed to evade the shearers for six years has finally had a haircut.

Shrek, the Merino sheep, was shorn live on national television by top shearers David Fagan and Peter Casserley.

The 10-year-old sheep had managed to roam freely on New Zealand's South Island for more than six years before being finally rounded up.

Shrek's giant fleece - possibly the largest ever - is to be auctioned off for children's medical charities.

Shrek went under the shearer's blade during a live half-hour news programme on TV New Zealand.

Correspondents said the contrast between the gigantic woolly mammal that entered the studio and the much leaner version that left could not have been greater.

'Biblical creature'

Bendigo hill station owner John Perriam told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Shrek had managed to evade capture for six years by hiding in a cave.

"We didn't know he was there," he said, adding that when he was finally spotted they did not immediately recognise him as a sheep.

"He looked like some biblical creature."

Mr Perriam said Shrek was shorn with scissors to ensure a thin layer of wool was left in place to protect him from the oncoming winter.

The 27kg (60lb) fleece - enough to make 20 large men's suits - is to be auctioned off over the internet.

It is unclear what the future now holds for Shrek himself though, says the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney.

He is too old to be sold for mutton, but a new career in marketing may now lie ahead - promoting New Zealand's lucrative trade in wool.



Posted by thinkum at 04:38 PM

Robotic bollards to take control

Robotic bollards that can quickly move across a carriageway to close off lanes have been developed by US engineers.


Each 130cm-high robot takes the form of a bright red barrel which sits atop a three-wheeled motorised base.

A group of the bollards can be directed into position with a laptop and a main control unit equipped with a satellite navigation system for accuracy.

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln team has told New Scientist magazine the robots could improve roadside safety.

"Deploying and retrieving highway markers on open roads is hazardous so the robots will reduce risks for workmen," researcher Shane Farritor said.

Bad barrel

The project is still at the prototype stage and costs will have to be reduced to make the idea commercially viable.

Farritor's team hopes to get the unit price down to $200 (£110).

"At that price I believe the savings will mean it will still be affordable if one dies in the line of duty," said the engineer.

It is envisaged the road markers would be delivered to a location by a specially equipped truck.

A camera on the vehicle would image the road and send a picture to a worker's laptop. The worker would then indicate on the screen where they wanted the bollards to be deployed.

Software developed by the Nebraska team would then obtain the precise coordinates and feed these to the "shepherd" unit so it could lead its herd of red robots into position.

Moving forward

The bollards, which are connected via a radio link, move at just over a metre a second. The shepherd constantly monitors them for positional errors and can, if necessary, remove an errant robot from the line-up.

"It's a pretty simple idea," Assistant Professor Farritor, from the university's Walter Scott Engineering Center, told BBC News. "They can self-deploy and self-retrieve, and remove workers from the dangerous job of putting out these safety devices.

"We're designing the system in such a way that the barrels are very stupid - so that they are very reliable and inexpensive.

"High reliability is a concern but we think we're making great progress and have a solution that will work."

Posted by thinkum at 04:35 PM

April 27, 2004

Can the Smart car move America?

The Smart car is a familiar sight in Europe as it squeezes through traffic to find parking spaces too small for anyone else. But how will the tiny car fare on the streets of the US where size really matters?


Big, as far as most US car-makers is concerned, is definitely beautiful. Anyone trying to convince drivers to take to a Smart car in the States may well have their work cut out.

Which may be the reason why, even though the car is being promoted aggressively in the US - DaimlerChrysler sponsoring marathons in New York and Boston - the company has decided not to sell the car in the world's biggest car market until 2006.

With its compact looks and low petrol consumption, the Smart car has been embraced by many European motorists since its launch in 1998. And there is no doubt its blobby swagger would fit the glamour of Mercedez-Benz's flagship Manhattan showroom, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

But will US drivers take it seriously?

"There is an increasing emphasis on design in America," says Scott Keogh, general manager of Smart USA. "It's even spread to things that were considered plain objects before, from watches to knives and forks. We want to inject emotion and brand values into the entry-level vehicle, which is traditionally seen here as just a commodity."

Mini influence

"Definitely a metrosexual car," chuckles Dan Neil, a critic with the Los Angeles Times. Mr Neil's feel for motoring trends and witty columns have made him the first automotive journalist to receive a Pulitzer prize, earlier this year.

"The success of BMW's Mini has lowered the threshold of what's seen as an acceptable size. There is a trend towards cute, adorable miniaturisation."

The Smart car, Mr Neil suggests, may be inadequate on Michigan's battered roads or in rough, highway-choked LA. But in the "smoother urban environments" of Boston, Chicago, or Miami Beach, it could clearly catch on.

Cultural obstacles remain, however. Even as a car for the urban sophisticate, the Smart would be sharing street space with the macho 4x4 sports utility vehicle (SUV), which occupies a large share of the US car market.

The Smart car's style credentials would make it an ideal product to target at women drivers. But in the US, surveys suggest women also tend to choose large SUVs because they make them feel safe.

"Anything that size in this country is basically SUV road kill," sneers recent New Yorker Michelle Baran. Originally from southern California, Michelle has lived - and driven - in both Europe and the US. "Small equals murder here, and the Smart is a case of style over practicality."

Hybrid vehicles

But Jenny Silver, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, is an early convert: she and her husband are "dead against SUVs".

"I think it's ridiculous to have an SUV in New York. In the backwoods of Maine or other rural areas, maybe, but not here."

Jenny is making plans for the day the couple's current car, which has seen better days, finally expires. "We're now looking at the hybrid vehicles that Toyota and Honda make," she adds, "and we'd definitely be up for a Smart."

Mindful of an enduring SUV bias, DaimlerChrysler has re-interpreted the acronym to fit a new product: it will be entering the US market with what it calls a Smart Utility Vehicle.

Named Fourmore, and seating four people, the model is halfway between a European city car and an American SUV. Slick as the former and powerful as the latter?

It will be very small by SUV standards, insists Scott Keogh of Smart USA, and much lighter. "But," he adds, "with all the innovation and versatility you'd expect. The Fourmore is meant for those who want to stand out and be distinct."

Smart estimates that around 30,000 Americans will want to stand out and be distinct in the first year. Set against the 17 million or so cars sold annually in the US, that number may appear small.

But it's far from negligible for a newly-launched niche vehicle. Mr Keogh hopes it will give Smart the leverage to begin marketing its miniature models, including the two-seater city-coupe, which measures just 2.5 metres.

Aside from looks and size, European customers are drawn to the Smart car for its reduced environmental impact. Not only is the car almost entirely recylable, but it meets the EU's most stringent gas emissions standards, known as Euro 4. Its fuel consumption is also low, even by economy-car criteria. Yet that argument traditionally carries less weight in the US, where access to cheap and plentiful petrol is seen as a civic entitlement.

Now, however, with prices at the pump spiralling, Dan Neil of the LA Times forecasts a "sea-change" in attitudes. He believes over-reliance on imports is starting to bring home to drivers the true cost of oil. "The US consumer," says Mr Neil, "needs a hard shock to be nudged in the right direction."

Posted by thinkum at 04:45 PM

Sherlock expert in death mystery

A leading Sherlock Holmes expert died after being garrotted with a shoelace, an inquest has heard.

Richard Lancelyn Green, 50, from Kensington, died from asphyxiation, Westminster Coroner's Court was told.

Coroner Dr Paul Knapman recorded an open verdict and said the ex-chairman of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London suffered a "very unusual death".

Mr Lancelyn Green was paranoid people were trying to smear his name and plot against him, the inquest was told.

'Obsessed with legacy'

Dr Knapman said there was not enough evidence to rule in or out suicide, murder or a sexual act gone wrong.

Mr Lancelyn Green was found in his bed, surrounded by cuddly toys and a bottle, after a wooden spoon was used to tighten the shoelace around his neck.

Mr Lancelyn Green, who co-edited a book about the Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, had strong concerns about the planned auction of the author's papers, the inquest heard.

The court was told he thought "someone in America" was preparing to dirty his name and he was becoming increasingly obsessed with the Conan Doyle legacy and the impending sale.

The death has provoked more rumours about the so-called "curse of Conan Doyle" - several people connected with the Sherlock Holmes author have died unexpectedly early or have faced legal battles over the family archives.


The coroner said: "There are many comments in this case in favour of suicide. He was acting strangely and he seemed to be scared and there is no evidence of violence.

"I am perfectly content to say that suicide is the most likely possibility but we have no note and it's a very unusual way of killing yourself to put a lace, which must hurt, around the neck and continue to twist it.

"The second possibility is unusual behaviour - often some form of deviant sexual behaviour. There is nothing that actually points to this form of death.

"As for murder, there is not much in the way of direct evidence.

"It's an unusual form of death that can be done by others. We do have interesting messages from him about the paranoia he was feeling but it is assumed by all to be without much foundation."

'Like a thriller'

Mr Lancelyn Green's sister, Priscilla, told the inquest she had become worried about her brother in the week before his death after a string of bizarre conversations.

"It was clear he was very concerned about the upcoming Sherlock Holmes sale," she said.

"This was Richard's life - Conan Doyle. It seemed that something about this sale was worrying him enormously and I tried to get him to explain to me what it was.

"He made comments about his own reputation, about the possibility of his name being in the papers, about people behaving in a way he did not expect them to and doing things he did not expect them to."

He had sent here a strange note with three names and their telephone numbers on it which had seemed to Ms Lancelyn Green "to be the beginning of a thriller novel".

The document had "Please keep these names safe" written on it.


Police found Mr Lancelyn Green's body after his sister could reach no reply from his London house.

The last known person to see the Holmes expert alive was his former boyfriend, care worker Lawrence Keen, from Roehampton.

They had been out for dinner the night before Mr Lancelyn Green's body was found and Mr Keen said his friend had been "quite depressed".

"He asked me to go in the garden because he thought the flat was bugged," Mr Keen told the inquest.

"His mind was not its normal self and he was telling me someone in America was trying to hunt him down in the Sherlock Holmes Society."

Posted by thinkum at 04:29 PM

Duck USB Memory Storage

For those light-at-heart and animal lovers out there, Solid Alliance (Japan) has released a new i-Duck USB Memory Storage device.


The i-Duck uses a USB 1.1 interface and has a maximum storage capacity of 256MB. When plugged into your computer?s USB port, the i-Duck will light up. Six different colors are available: pink, yellow, blue. Tangerine, Army, and Heart.

Posted by thinkum at 04:27 PM

Giant African snails seized from schools

Federal health officials have seized several dangerous pests called Giant African Land Snails from Wisconsin classrooms and have started a national search for the creatures, which reproduce rapidly, destroy plants and can transmit meningitis.

The snails, which are illegal to have in the United States, were used in classrooms by unwitting school officials, said Willie Harris, eastern regional director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Safeguarding, Intervention and Trade Compliance Program.

Snails have been seized in the past month from Wisconsin cities including Big Bend, Menasha and Milwaukee. Officials so far have not found any others elsewhere.

They are concerned the snails, about the size of a person's hand, could be transported to states with warmer climates, where they can rapidly reproduce and destroy plants.

In 1966, a Miami boy smuggled three Giant African Land Snails into the country. His grandmother eventually released them into a garden, and in seven years there were more than 18,000 of them. The eradication program took 10 years, according to the USDA.

Five of the snails donated to Nicolet Elementary School in Menasha by a parent were seized after teachers learned they were illegal, said the school's principal, Linda Joosten.

"They were very cool creatures," Joosten said.

The snails, native to Africa but also found in parts of Asia, are known to consume as many as 500 different plants and their mucous can transmit meningitis.

Snail smugglers can face fines of up to $1,000 per charge. Harris said people who have the snails without knowing they are illegal will not face punishment.

Posted by thinkum at 03:24 PM

One Frugal Family

How the Cheapest Family in America Saves Cash

With gas and grocery prices soaring, Americans could learn from one Arizona family that has been beating the high cost of living for years.

Rising gas prices have been all over the news, but you might not know that your groceries are getting much more expensive as well, with the cost of staples such as milk, butter and eggs skyrocketing. In March, a gallon of milk cost $2.79 on average, compared with $2.66 last March. Butter averaged $3.47 a pound, compared with $3 last year. And, this year, eggs will set you back $1.63 for a dozen, compared with $1.21 last year.

Annette and Steve Economide, and their five children, ages 10 to 21, have mastered the art of living on the cheap. Their mission: to maintain a reputation they've proudly earned ? or maybe saved ? the old-fashioned way. The Arizona clan says it's proud to be America's cheapest family.

"We started out our marriage with so little money that we decided we were going to live within our means," said Annette Economide. "From day one, we were not going to accrue any kind of debt, of any kind."

The Economides say careful planning allowed them to pay off their first house in just nine years, even though their family income averaged just $33,000 a year. Their second home is nearly paid off as well.

Steve Economides, who calls himself the family's "cheap economizing officer," is a freelance graphic artist. He and his wife runs the family business, HomeEconomiser, a Web site and newsletter dedicated to helping people live within their means.

The Economides spend $350 a month on food and cleaning products, feeding seven mouths for 30 days.

Careful Planning

How do they do it?

Step one: Careful planning. The Economides make a grocery list and check it three times before heading to the store.

"These women that are at the grocery store every day, three times a week, are spending gobs of money on food that they don't need to be spending," said Annette Economides.

"It takes a little bit of time to sit down and plan a menu. But you eat better, you save more money, and it creates less stress in your life."

Step two, they say, is using coupons, and having them clipped, filed and ready for action when they arrive at the store.

The family goes to the store with walkie-talkies and scours for bargains. On one recent trip, Steve asked his wife over the walkie-talkie: "Vidalia or yellow onions?"

"Oh, get the vidalia," came the reply.

Step three is a carefully coordinated in-store check for last-minute deals on the shelves.

"Buy one, get two free," Annette said, reading from a coupon for brownie mix. "So you now have three boxes. And I have a coupon for another dollar off. All three for $1.19!"

Step four of the family's money-saving plan involves having a lot of freezer space. Whatever the family cannot consume right away can be purchased and saved for a later day.

"One day a month the family all cooks meals," Annette said. "And we put away anywhere from 13 to 17 meals in a freezer."

No Plastic

Step five is to avoid credit cards ? and their costly interest payments. The couple has never used a credit card in 22 years of marriage.

Their advice to other families, which they offer both in seminars and on their Web site, is make a plan and stick to it. First, figure out how much you need to pay your monthly expenses.

"Right now, we need $3,400 a month to cover everything," said Steve Economides. "Then we take everything over that amount and split it into three. One third goes into a house fund, to cover any house emergencies. One third goes into a 'fun' account, for vacations, and one third for our family goes to charity, but for other families can go to mutual funds or other kinds of savings."

To receive a free sample issue of The HomeEconomiser Newsletter, go to www.HomeEconomiser.com.

Posted by thinkum at 03:11 PM

Danish artist continues to paint the town red

The Danish artist who recently made headlines for painting an iceberg is continuing his "red" period with an unusual -- and unwanted -- gift to South Africa, which celebrates the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid Tuesday.

Chilean-born artist Marco Evaristti poured red organic dye into a fountain located in an upmarket section of Johannesburg Sunday. The artist said the gesture was his attempt to beautify a "very badly proportioned and really ugly" statue of Nelson Mandela, which stands next to the fountain.

"I want to make something pretty for the country to celebrate its 10 years of democracy," the 41-year-old said of his work, which he entitled Pink Elephant in Mandela Square, in an interview Monday. "I want to bring some happiness."

"I first wanted to paint a real elephant pink, but authorities wanted $7,490 US for it. So I rather went for the statue," he said.

"The management wants me to pay for damages, but I refuse. I will rather go to trial and exercise my right to free speech."

Officials at Mandela Square declined to comment.

In March, Evaristti and a small team spray-painted an iceberg off the Greenland coast blood red. Scheduled to visit Canada this Thursday before continuing to France, the controversial artist declined to say if he will practise his art in those countries because he believes authorities may try to stop him.

"But it will be beautiful," Evaristti said.

The visual and performance artist, whose website calls him "preoccupied with blood," drew both attention and disdain in 2000 with a gallery exhibit featuring 10 working blenders filled with goldfish. A patron took up Evaristti's invitation to turn the devices on and ground up a pair of fish. The gallery's director was charged with animal cruelty but was later acquitted.

Posted by thinkum at 03:08 PM

Mona Lisa shows her age

The Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci's 16th-century masterpiece, is deteriorating quickly, officials at France's Louvre Museum announced Monday.

An in-depth study will be conducted to determine why the thin, poplar wood panel on which the work is painted has experienced a significant deformation since the last time the painting was analysed by conservation experts.

The work, which depicts a mysterious woman with a slight smile, undergoes evaluation once every year or two.

While the condition of the world's most famous painting is causing "some worry," the estimated six million visitors a year who visit the Louvre Museum in Paris won't have to miss out on seeing the Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda in Italian.

"These analyses will take place in such a way as to allow the work to remain on public display," a museum spokesperson said.

The Centre for Research and Restoration of Museums of France will conduct the study.

Posted by thinkum at 03:07 PM

New flag chosen for Iraq

BAGHDAD - Iraq's governing council has picked a new flag for the country.


The new one has two parallel blue stripes on the bottom representing the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, with a yellow stripe between them representing the country's Kurdish minority. A blue crescent above the stripes symbolizes Islam.

"This is a new era. We cannot continue with Saddam's flag," said Hameed al-Kafaei, the council's spokesperson.

The old flag had red and white bands across the top and bottom with three green stars floating in the middle. Deposed leader Saddam Hussein added the Arabic words "Allahu akbar" ("God is great") during the 1980s.

Not all council members agree with the idea of a new flag. Some say there should be a new, elected government before a major national symbol is altered.

"I think there are issues more important to concentrate on now than the changing of the flag," said council member Mahmoud Othman.

Posted by thinkum at 03:03 PM

Study finds seasonal change in cholesterol levels

Blood cholesterol levels peak during autumn and winter but decline in spring and summer, perhaps because warm weather and more activity add volume to the blood, researchers announced.

The report from the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester was based on a study of 517 healthy men and women who were tracked quarterly over a year on their diet, physical activity, exposure to light, general behavior and cholesterol.

It found that the average cholesterol level was 222 milligrams per deciliter of blood in men and 213 in women. If a patient's total blood cholesterol is between 200-239 milligrams per deciliter, that reading is considered borderline high and means lifestyle changes are needed to avoid a heart attack, according to a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Web site. A reading above 240 milligrams is considered high or in "the danger zone," the Web site said.

Among men studied, cholesterol levels increased on average by 3.9 milligrams per deciliter of blood, peaking in December, and in women by 5.4 milligrams, peaking in January.

In general the increases were greater in those who had elevated cholesterol levels to begin with. Nearly a quarter of those studied went above the 240 marker in the winter, the study said.

The report, published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, said warmer weather in the summer and more activity probably contribute to a dilution of the blood cholesterol. Among other things exercise facilitates sodium and water retention, the report said.

The authors said it is possible that some people may be misdiagnosed with high cholesterol if measurements are taken in winter -- if the damage to arteries that high cholesterol does is based on an absolute amount, diluted or not.

But it said season-specific cholesterol guidelines are not warranted based on this study. The authors called for more research "to better understand the mechanism through which physical activity and temperature control systems could aid in the prevention of coronary heart disease, morbidity and mortality."

Posted by thinkum at 03:01 PM

German takes woman to court for laughing too loud

A German took his female neighbor to court for laughing too loudly.

But she had the last laugh -- the judge threw out the case, saying Germany could not ban laughter, newspapers reported on Tuesday.

Unemployed Bernd F., 52, complained to magistrates that 47-year-old Barbara M. kept him awake with over four hours of loud laughter one evening as she enjoyed a meal with eight friends in her Berlin flat above his, Bild daily said.

The judge dismissed the complaint of disturbing the peace, saying the woman had not broken any noise restrictions.

"Laughter is a general sound of life. It will not be banned," he said.

Posted by thinkum at 02:59 PM

More orders of 'Law & Order,' 'CSI'

Networks playing it safe with franchise shows

NEW YORK (AP) -- Network executives spend much of their time this month in darkened rooms, watching pilots for new shows and guessing which can become hits.

Some of the guesswork is gone at CBS and NBC, where additional spinoffs of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Law & Order" are already penciled in.

They're the franchises, proven winners whose success is irresistible; it's no coincidence that CBS and NBC are the two most popular networks. The challenge comes in making sure expansion is not dilution, or that playing it safe ultimately doesn't make them sorry.

"They're like Dairy Queens popping up all over the terrain," Todd Holland, executive producer of Fox's recently canceled drama "Wonderfalls," said with a touch of envy.

The fourth "Law & Order" entry will be known as "Law & Order: Trial By Jury," and will star Jerry Orbach, who's spent 12 years portraying Detective Lennie Briscoe on the mother ship.

"CSI: New York," the third in that series, has two well-known actors as centerpieces: Melina Kanakaredes of "Providence" and Gary Sinise.

It's easy to see why both are being made. They're the closest thing in television to a sure thing. Each of the three previous spinoffs has succeeded, in a business where the vast majority of new series fail. ABC, for example, hasn't had a hit new drama in years.

Facing a room of reporters last week, CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves was willing to put his own money behind "CSI: New York."

"What show out there are you going to want to bet on more than that show?" he said. "I'll bet anybody in this room any amount of money that 'CSI: New York' is the highest-rated new show next season."
'It just bolstered the ratings'

Jerry Bruckheimer, executive producer of the "CSI" series, admitted he was concerned that a spinoff would hurt the original show when CBS first approached him about making "CSI: Miami."

"As it turned out, it just bolstered the ratings for 'CSI,' " Bruckheimer said. "More eyeballs keep coming to it. The ratings kept going up and the ratings keep going up for 'Miami."'

"Law & Order: SVU," the first drama to get the original's brand, was originally just titled "Sex Crimes," said Dick Wolf, its creator and executive producer.

He readily agreed to change the title to include the "Law & Order" brand. "Nobody involved in this had just fallen off a turnip truck," he said.

Wolf believes the three "Law & Order" shows -- and the new one he's writing -- are distinctive enough to work without the brand. They're not spinoffs in the sense that "CSI: Miami" is much the same show in a different city, he said.

"The value of the franchise is in the first six weeks that it's on the air, when there are 35, 36 new shows to sample," Wolf said. "The initial thrust of these shows is helped because the consumer says, well, I liked the last one, I might as well sample this one."

As a result, television is flooded with procedural crime dramas.

How much is too much?

A station manager at an NBC affiliate in Florida angered the network last fall when he publicly said the network was "like a one-trick pony. People like 'Law & Order' -- let's run it every night of the week."

ABC learned the dangers of overexposure the hard way a few years ago when it flooded its schedule with "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and drowned when the show collapsed.

"You never know you've reached the saturation point until you've reached it," ABC entertainment chief Lloyd Braun said a couple weeks ago. "There's no warning light that goes off. At what point is it too much? It's hard to say. I hope it's too much, too soon (for his competitors)."

(Though not soon enough to help him; Braun lost his job because of ABC's struggles.)

But what about new ideas?

Moonves and his NBC counterpart, Jeff Zucker, say they've sensed no signs of viewers tiring of their franchises.

"The audience for these shows continues to grow and I don't think you can argue against the success of the franchise," Zucker said.

Producer Holland sees a more insidious worry with the franchise expansions: a creeping creative conservatism and fewer opportunities to try new ideas. With four "Law & Order" shows and three "CSIs," there's little room for newcomers on NBC's and CBS' schedules.

Moonves, in fact, said last week he'd seen only one new pilot so far this spring.

Holland was surprised by the caliber of writers available to him when he made "Wonderfalls." There were fewer places to work for people who weren't interested in forensics or crime dramas, he said.

"Everyone in the creative community is hungry for something fresh and new, something that breaks free of the terrain," he said. "I think we're all concerned about it."

The criticism might have some validity, Bruckheimer said, if there weren't so many cable networks and other outlets for material.

"It would be unfair if the shows weren't working," Wolf said. "I think it's kind of carping to say the audience is wrong."

One thing each of these franchise shows has in common is that they are all self-contained stories with a resolution each week. No extended commitment is required, and viewers don't feel they've lost track of the story when they miss a few weeks.

That makes the shows even more valuable to their networks, since their ratings hold up better in repeats than serialized dramas. The shows all have profitable futures in syndication, too.

"I think that 'Law & Order' is kind of comfort food for the mind," Wolf said. "It's also visual nicotine. It's very seductive. You get that same nice, comfortable roller-coaster ride whenever you tune in."

Posted by thinkum at 02:58 PM

Boston parking spot sold for $160,000

As real estate spaces go, it's quite small. Still, it comes with heat and valet service, sits in a tony Boston neighborhood and costs a mere $160,000.

The escalating cost of parking, long a premium in Boston, hit home for many when it was learned that a 180-square-foot parking spot sold last month for $160,000 at the Brimmer Street Garage in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

As prices for some spaces exceed the cost of a single-family house in other parts of the state, even seasoned real estate agents are muttering, "Whoa."

"I've said that on a number of occasions," said Richard Phipps, owner of Boston Real Estate Agents.

Since January 2003, seven spots have sold at the Brimmer Street Garage for at least $140,000, with one spot selling for a record $167,500 last August.

By comparison, a three-bedroom home in Westfield was listed for $159,900 this week, one of several listed under $160,000 in that western Massachusetts city.

Eye-popping as the prices are, broker John Forger, a 35-year veteran of the Boston real estate market, noted that people who pay $3 million for a Beacon Hill residence aren't going to worry much about a high-priced parking space.

"It's a lifestyle," he said.

Boston's prices, though high, don't top the national market.

In New York, spots range from $150,000 to $250,000 and in crowded San Francisco they max out at about $200,000, said Dick Delaney, a developer at Chicago-based Mark Goodman & Associates who specializes in the parking market. In Chicago, spots range from $30,000 to $80,000, he said.

The high prices are also found overseas. In February, a Londoner made headlines by listing a spot at $187,500.

Not all parking spots in Boston's exclusive neighborhoods are worth the equivalent of 12 Honda Civics. Spots in the South End can be had for a much more reasonable $39,000 to $100,000, according to data from the Listing Information Network Inc., a real estate information service that tracks the downtown condo market.

Phipps said the pricey spots can sometimes make good financial sense. The cost of frequent parking tickets -- $15 to $120, depending on the offense -- or daily parking rates in the $20 to $30 range can approach the monthly payment on a mortgage for some spaces, he said.

Beacon Hill's high prices reflect its desirability, tight parking aside, Forger said. The neighborhood of brick row houses and gas street lamps is packed with history, beautiful architecture and money. It's where Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry have a home.

But even here, six-figure parking spaces are beyond the reach of most residents, said Tom Cullinane, 44, a stay-at-home dad who lives on Beacon Hill.

"That's another solar system," he said.

Posted by thinkum at 02:56 PM

Boy Successfully Fights Off Bear Attack

Boy on Alaska Expedition for Troubled Youths Successfully Fights Off Brown Bear Attack

ANCHORAGE, Alaska April 26 ? A 15-year-old boy on a wilderness expedition for emotionally troubled youths woke up to find a 400-pound brown bear with a bad attitude sitting at his feet.

After trying unsuccessfully to back out of the tent, the boy was bitten in the forearm and decided to fight back, punching the bear with his left hand a half-dozen times, Alaska State Trooper Adam Benson said Monday.

When the teenager tried to run, the bear bit him again below his ribs, this time leaving a half-dozen puncture wounds on his back, Benson said.

The boy punched the bear again, and again she let him go, but chased him around a nearby stand of trees. He eventually remembered an air horn in his gear, and blew it in the bear's muzzle, waking others in the camp, said Steve Prysunka, director of the six-week "Crossing Wilderness Expeditions for Youth" program.

Prysunka asked that the boy not be identified.

The bear finally turned and ran after counselors blasted her with pepper spray and fired a flare at her feet, Prysunka said. Later Saturday, following the morning attack, officials found the sow in the campsite area on Deer Island in southeast Alaska and killed her.

The boy was flown out to a hospital, where he was treated, then sent home to Barrow to give his wounds time to heal, Prysunka said.

"I think he is the biggest, baddest thing in the woods. He punched the bear," Prysunka said.

Posted by thinkum at 02:54 PM

Headscarf row stops soccer match

A women's football match has been called off in Australia after a player was told she could not take part unless she removed her Islamic headscarf.

Afifa Saad is in her fourth season playing with South Melbourne Women's Soccer Club, where she always plays in a white headscarf and long trousers.

But Sunday's game against Keilor Park was the first time a referee had asked her to remove her headscarf.

When she refused, both her team mates and the opposition supported her.

"She was crying when it happened. Her team mates rallied around her, which was great to see," South Melbourne coach Alex Alexopoulos told local media.

After consulting with the Victorian Soccer Federation, the referee eventually cleared Ms Saad to play, but the game had to be postponed because of the delay.

Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission chief executive Diane Sisely said Ms Saad may have grounds to lodge a complaint of religious discrimination against the referee.

"I would ask the umpires to explain how wearing a hijab [headscarf] affects a woman's ability to play soccer," she said.

But Victorian Soccer Federation officials said there was no suggestion the referee had discriminated against the player - although they agreed she deserved an apology.

Afifa Saad is now said to be looking forward to playing Port Melbourne on Sunday.

Posted by thinkum at 02:53 PM

Carbon kitty's $50,000 price tag

Cats can now have more than nine lives thanks to a Californian company that is the first US firm to go commercial and offer the public a pet cloning service.

Five customers have already parted with $50,000 each for a copy of their cats.

Genetic Savings & Clone says work will start in May to clone the animals, with the first kittens arriving by November if the procedures prove successful.

CEO Lou Hawthorne told BBC News Online the company had already begun to clone three other cats for staff members.

The "show animals" would be presented to the American Veterinary Medical Association conference next year. Mr Hawthorne expects one to be a copy of his six-month-old Bengal cat, called Tahini.

"We may have pregnancies right now. I'm keeping my fingers crossed," he said. "There are ultra sounds going on all this week."

Quality assurance

The company does have some pedigree in this line of work.

It was involved with Texas A & M University in creating the world's first cat clone. Operation CopyCat produced Cc, short for carbon copy, which Mr Hawthorne said was now a healthy and adorable two-year-old.

However, Mr Hawthorne said feline cloning was still complex, time consuming and costly.

"The cloning, pregnancy and weaning processes take approximately six months from start to finish; the final stage being delivery of the clones to their new families.

"The issue with cats is not how to do it," he explains, "the issue is how to do it perfectly with the best quality of results."

It is believed Cc took over 80 attempts before the process worked. Mr Hawthorne claims with the new technology his company is using, the failure rate can be reduced tenfold.

An important "buyer beware" warning comes from the company itself that says it will produce unique, newborn animals; not full-grown exact replicas.

Mr Hawthorne said: "There are people out there who use the statement that cloning is reproduction not resurrection. But the interesting part from the genetic perspective is that this is resurrection.

"It is not in terms of a level of consciousness, but in terms of genetics you are getting the same animal back. Personality-wise there are differences."

Refund policy

Curt Youngs, an associate professor in the Animal Science Department of Iowa State University in Ames, fears that some people might be unhappy that their cloned animal is not a living reincarnation of the animal they have lost or are about to lose.

"I think people are going to be disappointed that Fluffy neither looks the same nor acts the same," he said.

One of the interesting features of Cc's creation was how different her coat pattern turned out compared with that of her genetic "mother".

David Magnus, co-director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, said: "The people who want this are spending huge sums of money to get their pet immortalised or to guarantee they're getting a pet exactly like the one they had before - and it's simply not possible."

Mr Hawthorne does not disagree and says anyone who is not happy will get a full refund and the animal will be put up for adoption.

As well as those who have paid to have their cats cloned, several hundred have signed up to preserve tissue from their cat or dog for future cloning.

These people pay around $900 a year plus a further $150 for maintenance costs.

Cells are harvested through a skin biopsy done by a vet who removes a coin-sized sample from the pet's stomach and inside its mouth.

Product satisfaction

Mary Ann Daniel, from Costa Mesa in California, has banked some of 19-year-old Smokey's DNA with Genetic Savings.

She said: "We had Smokey neutered at a young age. We wanted some of his offspring, so when we heard about cloning we thought it was just the perfect thing for us to do.

"We want to have a cat that has some of his characteristics. Not necessarily all of them, but something."

Jayne Lange, from Palo Alto, works in the biotech industry. She has also banked the DNA of her two dogs, which are rare and ancient Japanese hunting dogs.

One called Akeya died as a result of a tumour and the other, Waka, is now five years old. Ms Lange said she was not "a crazy animal type" but admitted her dogs meant the world to her.

"My relationships with my dogs have lasted longer than my marriage and in some cases it was a better relationship."

Price promise

Organisations like the Humane Society of the United States, an animal protection group based in Washington DC, takes issue with pet cloning when shelters kill roughly four million animals every year because they are not wanted.

It says that in most cases owners want to clone their pets because they are experiencing difficulty with the loss or eventual loss of those pets.

Animal cloning in America is not illegal - unlike human cloning. On the legislative front, the commercial launch of cat cloning has not ruffled any feathers, yet.

But opposition might not be long in rearing its head. Earlier this year, officials in California cited ethical concerns when they banned the sale of Glofish, genetically modified zebra fish that fluoresce.

Mr Hawthorne is not worried and argues the company operates to the highest standards, and believes regulation would drive out the charlatans.

Genetic Savings hopes to be cloning thousands of pets annually in five years, when the cost should be down to $10,000 for a cat and $20,000 for a dog.

Posted by thinkum at 02:51 PM

April 26, 2004

Green light for second suborbital plane

A California company Friday received the second federal license ever issued to fly a manned rocket on suborbital flights.

The Federal Aviation Administration granted XCor Aerospace Inc. the license for its Sphinx, a rocket-powered plane still on the drawing board.

The license covers up to 35 flights of the yet-to-be-built plane, which should test operation and propulsion concepts for an even later craft that could ferry paying passengers on suborbital flights, according to the FAA. The license is good through 2006.

Company chief executive officer Jeff Greason said the license would allow the company to attract investors to the $2.5 million to $3 million project. The concept plane could be flying within a year, he said.

The two-person, reusable rocket plane is not being designed to fly to space, nor is it intended to be a competitor for the X Prize, he added.

The $10 million, privately funded X Prize will go to the first private effort to launch a manned craft to an altitude of 63 miles -- generally considered the edge of space -- twice within two weeks. The craft must be able to carry three people.

The FAA granted the first suborbital rocket license earlier this month to another Mojave company, Scaled Composites. Scaled Composites is an X Prize competitor and has carried out at least two test flights of its SpaceShipOne.

XCor previously has flown a modified Long-EZ kit plane powered by twin rocket engines as part of its effort to develop a reusable rocket plane to fly to space.

Posted by thinkum at 02:14 PM

New $50 bills unveiled

The federal government announces the latest currency redesign: U.S. Grant puts on a new face.

50_front.jpg 50_back.jpg

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing Monday unveiled a redesigned version of the $50 bill, the latest in a series of currency redesigns intended to thwart counterfeiters.

The decision to redesign the $50 was made last year, and announced simultaneously with the new $20. Those smaller-denomination bills were released to the public beginning in October 2003.

The new look of the $50s was displayed at a ceremony at a printing plant in Fort Worth, Tex., where the notes are to be made. Production will begin this summer, according to Bureau spokeswoman Dawn Haley, and the new $50s should enter general circulation at the end of September or beginning of October.

Generally speaking, the bills follow the aesthetic guidelines set out by the $20.

For example, pastel tones will augment the old green and black color scheme, even more vibrantly than on the new $20. Ulysses S. Grant will continue to be pictured, but his face appears more prominently, as Andrew Jackson's does on the $20.

The number 50 is presented in a variety of newly introduced fonts. On the back, the engraving of the Capitol Building has been altered slightly as well.

"This $50 note is beautifully designed and includes important anti-counterfeiting features," said Federal Reserve Board governor Mark Olson, in a speech made at the unveiling ceremony. Fighting note forgery, he added, "is a job that's never finished."

Although colorization is the most immediately visible difference between the new and old bills, other anti-counterfeiting features may be more technologically significant. These include an embedded plastic strip running vertically; a watermark image engrained into the paper itself; and color-shifting ink, whose appearance changes as you tilt the bill against light.

When the $20 was unveiled, the Bureau launched a large, consumer-focused marketing campaign to explain the redesign to the public. The government spent about $12 million in advertising, and arranged product placement deals to insert the bills onto a number of national TV shows, including the game shows "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune," and sporting events aired on ESPN and ABC.

This time, "there will be more of a business-to-business focus to our public education efforts," said Haley. The Bureau is working with vending machine makers and others to ensure a smooth rollout when the new $50s are released in the fall.

When the $20 launched, a snafu arose involving self-service cashiers, those new, do-it-yourself checkout machines. A handful of the machines did not update their optical-recognition software to read the redesigned notes -- a small glitch, but one that left the BEP red-faced nonetheless.

"The technology was so new, we missed a few," acknowledged Haley.

Fun Facts about the $50

  • The $50 debuted in 1862
  • Ulysses S. Grant has been on the $50 since 1913.
  • The average lifespan of a $50 is five years.
  • There are approximately 1.2 billion, or $58.2 billion, $50s in circulation.


Additional Article:

U.S. $50 Bill Gets Hi-Tech, Colorful Makeover Designed to Make Money Harder to Counterfeit

WASHINGTON April 26 ? The $50 bill is getting splashes of red and blue, the second of the nation's paper currencies to sport new hues beyond the traditional black-ink fronts and green-ink backs.

The makeover, unveiled Monday, is part of an effort to make U.S. bills harder to counterfeit.

The extra color is subtle, similar to the look of the new $20 bill, which went into circulation last fall with a color treatment featuring touches of peach, blue and yellow.

"The new design is more secure than ever before. We believe it will be extremely effective in discouraging counterfeiters," said Treasury Secretary John Snow. "It's also a lovely piece of currency, maintaining the historic look and feel of a greenback while incorporating the elements of other colors that are very important to us in this country: red, white and blue."

The redesigned $50 is the same size and still features Ulysses S. Grant on the front and the U.S. Capitol on the back. But the borders around both Grant and the Capitol have been removed.

The new $50 features subtle background colors of red and blue. The stars and stripes of the U.S. flag are printed in blue and red behind the portrait of Grant on the front. A field of blue stars is located to the left of the portrait, while three red stripes are located to the right of Grant. A small metallic silver-blue star is located on the lower right side of Grant.

Like the new $20, the redesigned $50 includes tiny yellow number "50s" scattered in the background on the back of the note.

Security features include embedded thread that glows when exposed to an ultraviolet light; color-shifting ink that looks green when viewed straight on and black when viewed at an angle; and watermarks visible when held up to light. Some of those features included in the last redesign, in 1997, were enhanced.

Events to take the wrappers off the new $50 notes took place in Washington and in Fort Worth, Texas, where the Bureau of Engraving and Printing expanded its existing production facility and built a tour and visitors center. The new center will allow people to view the production of U.S. greenbacks west of the Mississippi River for the first time, the agency said.

"Adding color is a good idea. It kicks it up a notch and makes it more difficult to counterfeit and adds interest to the bill," said Len Glazer, director of Heritage Currency Auctions in Dallas. "Other countries have been doing it for a very long time."

The bureau expects to print 76.8 million new $50s this year. New bills, however, aren't likely to go into circulation and start showing up in cash registers until fall. Old $50s will continue to be accepted and recirculated until they wear out; they average five years in use.

The bureau also plans to add color to the $100 bill, the most knocked-off note outside the United States. It has not been determined when the new $100 will be unveiled. Officials are still considering whether to redesign $5s and $10s. But $1s and $2s will stay the same because they aren't of much interest to counterfeiters.

Over the years, counterfeiters have graduated from offset printing to increasingly sophisticated color copiers, computer scanners, color ink jet printers and publishing-grade software. Trying to stay a step ahead of the counterfeiters is a challenge, experts said.

"Sophisticated counterfeiting is always going to exist. Whenever there is a way to make money illegally some people will grab for it," Glazer said.

Posted by thinkum at 02:10 PM

Viagra users' sperm short on firepower

Men who use the anti-impotence drug Viagra could be impairing their fertility, say scientists, after laboratory experiments indicated the drug can damage sperm.

They are now warning younger men to use caution before taking the drug recreationally.

Researchers from Queen's University in Belfast found that sperm exposed to Viagra became more active. But at the same time a mechanism used by sperm to penetrate the egg wall during fertilisation was greatly speeded up.

Known as the "acrosome reaction", it involves firing an armour-piercing warhead of digestive enzymes at the egg.

If the sperm release their "ammunition" too early, before reaching the egg, they do not get another shot and are rendered infertile. The study showed that this was likely to happen to sperm exposed to Viagra.

The university's Sheena Lewis said: "The fact that this sperm function is impaired by the presence of Viagra is worrying."

The scientists, who presented their findings to a recent British Fertility Society conference, studied 45 samples of semen. Half were treated in the lab with a dose of Viagra equivalent to the amount in the blood of a man who has taken a 100-milligram pill.

These sperm were found to be more motile than untreated sperm: they had more energy and moved around more.

This would normally be considered a positive effect, since sperm motility is linked to fertility. But the extra energy given to the sperm also seemed to speed up the acrosome reaction. Most of the untreated sperm spontaneously released their acrosome enzymes after about three hours.

But sperm exposed to Viagra released the enzymes after only one hour. Although no attempt was made to fertilise eggs, this was too fast to have allowed successful fertilisation in a real-life situation.

Dr Lewis said while Viagra had become popular for sexual enhancement, men should exercise caution if hoping to start a family.

Posted by thinkum at 02:01 PM

Complain about the food if you dare

Israel's first sadomasochist restaurant is set to open today, claiming however, that only the surroundings, not the food will be a painful experience, the Israeli Yediot Ahronot daily reported yesterday.

The restaurant, appropriately named the "Dungeon", is to open its doors in the old southern Tel Aviv suburb of Yaffo, with a hostess dressed in a black vinyl outfit welcoming guests by flashing her whip.

Waiters and waitresses in similar outfits serve the diners, who must be 18 years or older, from a French bistro menu.

The diners can tie themselves to the restaurant's metal tables if they like, using the shackles provided.

If they dare to complain about the food or the service, however, they risk being whipped or hung in an iron cage from the ceiling.

"If somebody complains about his steak for example, he will be put in a cage or he must go down on his knees," said owner Amos Levy, who nevertheless says the idea of the restaurant is to "serve high-quality food, but in the framework of an alternative experience".

Posted by thinkum at 01:57 PM

Study: Brain sees others' mistakes as own

Why is it so annoying to watch someone else make a mistake? Maybe because it affects the same areas of the brain as when a person makes his or her own mistake, Dutch researchers said Monday.

Experiments in which volunteers tried a computer task and then watched each other do the same thing showed the brain reacted in a similar way whether the observer made the mistake, or watched someone else make it.

Writing in the May issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, the team at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands said their findings help shed light on how human beings learn by watching one another.

For their experiment Hein van Schie and colleagues hooked up 16 men and women to electrodes to measure brain activity and then sat them in front of a display screen with a joystick. The task was simple -- to move the joystick in the same direction as certain arrows appearing on the screen.

"Participants were instructed to respond both quickly and accurately in the direction of the center arrowhead," Van Schie and colleagues wrote.

After each trial, the volunteers were told whether they were correct.

When people realized they had made an error, a distinctive electrical signal arose from a brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex.

The same thing happened when the volunteers watched other volunteers try the experiment and make the occasional mistake, the researchers found.

"These data suggest that similar neural mechanisms are involved in monitoring one's own actions and the actions of others," they concluded.

Posted by thinkum at 01:56 PM

'Farting Dog' teaches tolerance: author

Humour and the "f-word" -- fart-- may initially attract children to the Walter the Farting Dog books, but the co-author of the best-selling series believes there's more to it.

"Kids love scatological detail and bodily functions," Murray admitted. "But Walter has an extra charm, I think, and a message of acceptance and tolerance and making the best of a bad situation."

Murray, a Fredericton-based writer and educational technology supervisor, co-authored Walter the Farting Dog and its follow-up Walter the Farting Dog: Trouble at the Yard Sale with his friend William Kotzwinkle, a writer based in Maine.

The books tell the story of the titular pooch and the troubles he gets into because of his uncontrollable and unpleasant bodily function. In the end, however, Walter always saves the day.

Released in 2001, the first Walter book has sold approximately 500,000 copies in North America and, already translated into French and Spanish, will soon appear in Latin, Vietnamese, Korean and Hebrew. Trouble at the Yard Sale, which hit bookshelves this month, is set for similar success: printed in a dozen languages, the book raced up the New York Times Children's Bestsellers list.

Trouble at the Yard Sale has now bumped the original, first-ranked Walter down to second place.

Murray, who spends a lot of time doing public readings in elementary schools, says that the series' success helps get young people excited about reading.

"To me the most important thing that can happen in early education is for a kid to have the experience of picking up a book they choose, reading it from one end to another, and closing the cover and thinking 'That was fun. That was a good thing to do,'" Murray said.

"You know then they're going to go on to read other books."

The Walter stories may not be great literature, but they are attracting children to books, says Susan Perren, children's book columnist at the Globe and Mail.

"As long as it's a diet that's well-balanced with other, shall we say, more nutritious stuff, I think it's just great," Perren said.

The Walter phenomenon will continue with a third book, entitled Walter the Farting Dog: Rough Weather Ahead, set for release later this year. A Walter plush toy -- complete with authentic-sounding "intestinal emanation" sound effects -- and a live-action movie are also in the works.

Posted by thinkum at 01:54 PM

Delaying the choice

A few months ago a friend of mine, who is childless and happy that way, asked me if I regretted having kids. It was a jarring question; of all the choices I have made in my lifetime, having children was definitely the best. (However buying them a dog may have been the worst.)

But it's interesting, now that having children really is a choice (which it wasn't only a few decades ago) how the birth rate has dropped to an all-time low. It was recently reported that Canada's birth rate for 2002 fell to its lowest level since 1921.

No one knows exactly why the birth rate is dropping because everyone has a different reason for not having children or for having smaller families. While certain trends are down, like teen pregnancies and fertility rates for immigrant women, they don't completely explain the drop in the Canadian birth rate.

Certainly, birth control is better than ever and abortion is more accessible than it used to be. But those are simply the means that keep the birth rate low. Are people actually choosing not to have children or are they simply delaying it, and by delaying, are they making a choice without really making a choice?

The average age of first time mothers is up ? now standing at 29.5. A third of first time births in 2001 were to women 30 or older ? a decade earlier only a fifth of births were to this age group. In 2002, 45 per cent of women aged 30-39 were giving birth. In 1982, that number was 23 per cent. Women are definitely older when they have children these days.

People blame the low birth rate on everything from fears about divorce to having to pay off student loans. Some people, especially children of divorce, might worry about the stability of marriage. But if you are blindly in love, or really want kids, you are likely going to be filled with optimism about it.

I know women who are divorced, struggling to make ends meet and doing the childcare single-handedly, and who would make exactly the same choices again, right down to marrying the same guy, so in love are they with their kids. I know men who would do the same thing.

I think many people simply delay and in doing so have the choice made for them. Perhaps a woman wants to establish herself in her career, hoping that if she has a great job she will have more job security once she has kids. I remember speaking with one news anchor years ago who told me she would like to work her way up to a job like Barbara Frum's and then have children. Ironically, Frum had her children very young and then went on to a wonderful career.

Most women realize that having children has an impact on a woman's career, no matter how great the child care or support of her husband. Women watch as their friends who have babies struggle to work full-time or part-time or choose to throw in the towel for full-time diapers. And so they delay their own decision.

Often they even delay getting married, figuring that once they do the whole baby issue will follow too closely. But in delaying marriage women's options drop as they get older. Finding the perfect mate becomes daunting as the marriage pool becomes leaner and, as time wears on, the choices become fewer and the woman more selective.

With age also comes more difficulties having a healthy baby and also in becoming pregnant. By the time a woman is 40, she has a one in 60 chance of having a child with a chromosomal abnormality. One study shows that 10 per cent of women have ceased to ovulate by the time they reach age 40.

The thing is you never really know how you are going to feel about children until you have them. I have one close friend who has confided to me that if she were to do it again, she would not have children. I knew another woman years ago, who told her husband before she left him that she never felt comfortable with all of the other families in the park. She just never fit into the whole family thing, she said. She has seen her children rarely since the divorce.

Some people who have delayed having children regret that choice. One man in his late 40s confided to me recently, "Our daughter is five now, and we are nuts about her. If we had known how wonderful this all would be, we would have started sooner, but it's really too late to have a second child."

I tell my own kids that I love being a mother and I tell them they'll have to make their own choices. Deciding to have children is similar to jumping into a pool or lake that looks pretty icy. And yes, at first when you jump in it can be a bit of a shock, but once you start swimming the water does, in fact, get warmer ? most of the time, though not for everyone. When I chose to be a parent for the first time, I jumped in the pool without looking; the second time I knew exactly what the pool felt like and I was ready to dive back in.

There are those who think women can have it all these days, but women with children know they still make choices along the way. Will they be there to watch the Halloween parade or sitting in a business lunch? Simply because there is so much more freedom, so much to choose from, choosing can be daunting. And by delaying that choice, sometimes the choice is made all by itself. Is it any wonder that the birth rate is going down?

- GEORGIE BINKS, CBC News Viewpoint, April 23, 2004

Posted by thinkum at 01:53 PM

Presidential home going back in time

Restoration to strip away two centuries from Madison estate

MONTPELIER STATION, Virginia (AP) -- James Madison's ancestral home looks like it was struck by a tornado.

The south wing has crumbled onto the lawn in peach-colored heaps of brick and wood. The floors are peeled away, and the opulent mint-green wallpaper is exposed to the sun.

This is no disaster. The mess in Madison's back yard is part of a $30 million home improvement project that will remove two centuries of additions and return the 244-year-old mansion, called Montpelier, to the way it looked when the fourth president lived there.

"We want to bring his presence back," Montpelier Foundation President Michael Quinn said. "We want you to walk in the house and think he's still living in there."

Although visitors will have limited access to the mansion's interior until this summer, the estate will remain open daily throughout the restoration. Furnishings will be on display in a nearby education center; the gardens, old-growth forest, slave quarters and other sites on the estate will be fully accessible, and special tours will offer an inside look at the restoration progress and plans.

The restoration was begun partly because Madison's home, built on 2,700 acres of grassy hills and horse tracks about 90 miles southwest of Washington D.C., bears little resemblance to the way it looked when Dolley Madison sold it in 1844.

William duPont, a businessman who bought the house in 1901, buried many of the original features as he converted Montpelier into the kind of country house that was popular at the time in wealthy neighborhoods along the East Coast.

The exterior walls were covered with plaster and mango paint. The library where Madison once pondered the Constitution was turned into a bedroom. The duPonts reused just about everything: Madison's doors and windows were pulled off their hinges and pounded into other rooms as the mansion more than doubled in size.

The result has left Montpelier in a poor state for historians, and it has long played second fiddle to Thomas Jefferson's carefully preserved mansion, 25 miles away at Monticello.
New discoveries

Montpelier officials have talked about restoring the home for years. It was the dying wish of its last resident, Marion duPont Scott, who turned the property over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1983.

More than a decade after public tours began in 1987, researchers started to examine whether it was possible to restore the home even though no original blueprints were thought to have been made. Supported by grants from the estate of philanthropist Paul Mellon, they peeled back wallpaper and plaster in hundreds of places, locating lost doorways and windows through changes in the brick pattern and grooves left in the wall.

A circa 1830 watercolor by an unknown artist shows Montpelier in its original state.

"It takes a certain kind of sickness to want to do this," chuckled Mark Wenger, an architectural historian who is putting together an 1820s-era blueprint of the house.

Even as earth movers started knocking down walls of the first duPont rooms in late March, staff historians were making new discoveries.

In the dusty chamber that was once Madison's dining room, Quinn gasped with excitement as archaeologist Alfredo Maul showed him strips of wood taken from another room that were once part of an unknown staircase. Placed side-by-side, chocolate-colored paint marked the steps.

"Oh my God, you can actually see where the stairs were," Quinn said.

"Some of the original nails are still there, see?" Maul replied.

Outside, men in hardhats were busy picking away at the house with chisels, power saws and hammers. One worker peeked out of a third-story window before returning with a wheelbarrow and dumping a load of debris over the edge. Another waded through the piles of discarded bricks, tapping them with a steel ax to remove the mortar.
Slated for completion in 2007

By mid-June, the demolition crew will remove about 60 percent of the house, including elaborate drawing rooms with silk-paneled walls and bronze chandeliers where the duPonts had drinks and entertained friends around their Steinway piano.

Montpelier workers will then start renovating the interior, returning windows to the right location and repairing the brick.

Artifacts from the duPont era will be saved and stored, Maul said, and eventually displayed in a museum exhibit at Montpelier.

The mess in Madison's back yard is part of a $30 million home improvement project that will remove two centuries of additions.

Historic buildings regularly undergo some kind of renovation. But it's rare to see historic buildings demolished on this scale, said William Beiswanger, Monticello's restoration director, who was initially skeptical that Montpelier's plan would improve the house.

"Generally, the notion is that you don't rip off additions to buildings," Beiswanger said.

But Beiswanger changed his opinion when Montpelier researchers gathered enough data to turn an awkward country mansion into an accurate representation of Madison's estate.

When the renovation is finished in 2007, Montpelier officials hope to use the house as a final piece in transforming the estate into a center for studies on the Constitution. Montpelier began holding educational retreats for middle and high school teachers last year.

"We're mixing these very intellectually intense lectures and discussions with a hands-on exploration of Montpelier," Quinn said. "You can actually go to the library where Madison thought up the Constitution."

Posted by thinkum at 01:50 PM

Kuwait sex-change case upheld

A Kuwaiti court has said a 25-year-old man who underwent sex-change surgery can be officially regarded as a woman.

The unprecedented ruling came after the court was told of the plaintiff's physical and mental torment since childhood due to hormonal imbalances.

Lawyer Adel al-Yahya told Reuters news agency the judges were guided by a religious edict allowing gender change if there are medical reasons for it.

The ruling has to be approved by a higher court before it becomes final.

Mr Yahya, the plaintiff's lawyer, said he presented the court with an edict from Sunni Islam's top religious institution, al-Azhar, in Egypt.

This allows people to change their gender if there are proper medical reasons for doing so.

"We have evidence, a fatwa from al-Azhar, because we have a case of illness, not a case of switching gender or as they call it in Kuwait a third-sex case," he told Reuters.

"This is a very rare condition... and the court ruled according to that condition."

Mr Yahya said the process of getting final approval for the ruling may take up to a month.

Posted by thinkum at 11:38 AM

Cosmetics queen Estee Lauder dies

Estee Lauder, who turned a business selling skin creams concocted by her uncle into an international cosmetics empire, has died in Manhattan.


Lauder died of cardiopulmonary arrest at home, aged at least 95.

Lauder put her success down to her sales technique. "If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard," she once said.

Both her sons are chairmen of Lauder's companies. Her husband, Joseph Lauder, died in 1982.


Josephine Esther Mentzer was born to immigrant parents in New York's Queens borough. Her birth date is thought to have been 1 July, 1908, though her family says it may have been two years earlier.

She was fascinated by the lotions and potions concocted by her uncle and mentor, chemist John Schotz, and began to promote them.

In 1946, she founded her business with her husband, selling her uncle's products to hotels and beauty shops.

By 1948, she had secured counter space at New York's Saks Fifth Avenue department store, and soon her products spread to other stores.

Lauder was said to be a master saleswoman, personally visiting staff in stores to offer sales tips, and pioneering the technique of giving away free product samples.


She expanded from skin creams to other cosmetics and perfumes. Estee Lauder now sells more than 70 perfumes, and the company says Lauder had a "world-renowned fragrance nose".

The company's brand names now include Prescriptives, Clinique, Origins, Aramis and Tommy Hilfiger fragrances.

In 1998, Lauder was the only woman in Time magazine's list of the 20 most influential names in business in the 20th century. The magazine called the Estee Lauder story "a chapter from the book of American business folklore".

The business is now worth an estimated $10bn, and controls 45% of the cosmetics market in US department stores, according to Time magazine. The company's products are sold in 130 countries.


Her sons Leonard and Ronald are chairmen of Estee Lauder and Clinique respectively, and some of her grandchildren also work in the company.

"Beauty is an attitude," she once said.

"There's no secret. Why are all brides beautiful? Because on their wedding day they care about how they look. There are no ugly women - only women who don't care or who don't believe they are attractive."

Posted by thinkum at 11:37 AM

Whatever happened to Dungeons and Dragons?

In the 1980s millions of teenagers world-wide would battle dragons armed with just dice, paper and pens. D&D became part of youth sub-culture but as the game celebrates its 30th birthday, is anyone still playing?

In 1974 two men in the US Midwest, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, created Dungeons and Dragons, the first ever role-playing game.

Developed out of war gaming using table-top miniatures, the paperback rule books were an instant success, a genuine phenomenon which spawned an industry and influenced a generation of film-makers, writers and videogame developers.

An estimated 20 million people worldwide have played D&D since it was created, with more than $1bn spent on game equipment and books.

"I thought we would sell about 50,000 copies," says Gary Gygax.

Co-creator Dave Arneson recalls: "When we started playing we thought we were kind of crazy. It seemed to start quite well and sold better, and better and better."

The game spread by word of mouth and became a cult in schools and in universities across the globe.

It was even a cult at a Wisconsin naval base. "At one time every nuclear submarine had a D&D group," says Arneson.

D&D is a game in which a group of friends create and develop characters by rolling dice which determine skills and abilities.

The characters are taken on adventures which are plotted by a separate player - the Dungeon Master.

You can be a fighter, a thief, or a magic user, perhaps even a bard, a druid or a cleric. But there is no board or counters - just pen, paper and an active imagination.

"I get to be braver, stronger, wiser, smarter, faster, handsomer, and just generally more than I am in real life," says current player, Joshua Turton, 29, from the San Francisco Bay area.

"I can perform miracles, save damsels, slay dragons, cast spells, right wrongs, raid tombs, drink ale, and live dangerously."

Brad King, author of Dungeons and Dreamers, which charts the influence of D&D on early videogames, says D&D should not be confused with board games.

"It was the first really interactive game. If you play board games there is always an objective or goal.

"D&D is the opposite. It's about sitting down and telling stories with your friends."

At the height of its popularity in the 1980s the game became a target for cultural conservatives.

The game was wrongly implicated in a missing persons case, a teen suicide and a number of murders. Some schools banned the game, and many parents refused to let their children play.

The controversy inspired a 1982 TV film, Mazes and Monsters, starring Tom Hanks. A later cartoon series and a more recent film kept the brand name alive among non-players but were derided by D&D fans.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, lawsuits began to fly - Arneson and Gygax sued each other over the development of the game.

Neither man has any current official involvement in D&D - both selling their royalties to publisher Wizards of the Coast in the 1990s.

Arneson says: "We see each other at conventions. He does his thing and I do mine. There's no stabbing each other in the back."

D&D's popularity began to wane in the early 1990s as the videogame boom began.

"D&D never went away," says Liz Schuh, marketing director for Wizards of the Coast. "It was huge in the 1980s and then dropped off the radar screens but it never went away."

"D&D was so successful that it spawned an industry that ate it," says Mr King.

There are now hundreds of different, competing role-playing games which have all taken a bite out of the market dominance D&D once had.

But the game remains - even thrives. Wizards estimates that three million people play in the US each month.

Angus MacDonald, a 45-year-old D&D player, who lives near San Francisco, has been playing on and off since 1975.

"The game is social, it is a form of storytelling, and it has allowed me to develop deep friendships with people over the years."

Delwin Shand, a 47-year-old who has been playing for 30 years, says: "The reason the game has survived is that it allows us the chance to play out a dream of being the classical hero - the slayer of dragons, the hero who saves the land from some terrible foe or danger."

Gygax and Arneson are still actively involved in the industry and are revered by D&D players for their creation.

Gygax says: "There is something in D&D that strikes a chord in many people; the call of adventure.

"I am certainly happy that it has made people happy and brought so many people together. There is a great fellowship among role players."

Ed Stark, special projects manager at Wizards, says imagination is pivotal to the game. "People often say playing D&D is like writing your own movie at a table.

"But of course there are no million dollar special effects - so imagination must fill in the blanks."

In the age of the iPod, mp3s, DVDs and online videogames, it is perhaps remarkable that a game based purely on pen, paper and dice remains so popular.


Read a selection of your comments on the 30th birthday of D&D:

Man, we played this for a good decade now. When we were younger we would play until 5 in the morning and still did not want to stop. Our Dungeon Master would have weeks of events and quests lined out just in case we kept going into the mid-morning. Which we have done on several occasions. Just so many good memories that came about because of D&D.
Tyler, USA

Dungeons & Dragons shall live forever. It's a defining experience.
Nils, Frankfurt, Germany

I wish I still had my spell-book and magic dagger. Surely one of the best games ever invented.
Abhijit Joshi, India

Twenty years ago my college roommates played D&D every weekend. Now a former roommate is playing D&D on the other side of the country with some people who are the same age we were then. All his new D&D characters are the children of the characters we played when we were younger. Occasionally they tell the other players the legends of the Fighting Lady Red and Euell the Druid, characters who lived in our imagination when we were young.
Larry Smith, USA

Just reading these comments have brought all the memories flooding back. It must have been 10 years since we last met up to to go on an adventure. This will cause me to now find my lost friends and start the adventures rolling once again.
nathan, UK

Good grief - I thought my husband and his mates were the only D&D geeks still out there! Once a week, every week, shut in a spare bedroom - I think it's where they'll finally shuffle off this mortal coil (having first slain several dwarfs, clerics and wizards on the way). Sad to say, the dice have given way to a computer generated version but they're avid enough to web-cam in a friend from the wilds! Pity me, won't you?!
Suzanne Rogers, United Kingdom

Haven't played for 15years but reading all the comments has brought back the memories! Barry & Jared if your out there fancy dusting the dice off??
Darren, UK

D&D has been the cement which has kept a fantastic group of diverse individuals togeteher for over 20 years. Just about to start a new island campaign. Hope we dont meet any giant ants.
David, England

Locked in a shed, at the bottom of a garden, the world and its occupants seem to fade away making D&D for me, the ultimate escape. Now with wives and children, we continue to escape into our thirties.
Chris Caswell, UK

After time at work spent playing politics and minding the rules it is a great stress reliever to blast a fireball at something!
Lee E, UK

I failed my A levels because of this game, but never regretted it. It seemed far more constructive slaying dragons and rescuing fair damsels than getting drunk and depressed about reality as it was in the 80s. There is a sort of camaraderie which infuses this style of gaming that is hard to find any where else. I would recommend it to anyone.
Steve, UK

I was first introduced to D&D by the vicar's son on the school bus when he brought it back from a holiday to the US. We couldn't understand how you could have a game without a board or counters! I haven't played for years, but your article brought back happy memories of Belfin the Dwarf and his trusty +2 spear!
Neil Morrison, UK

D&D is alive and well in my world and my only wish is that more people would open themselves up to a new experience. It really does change your life - for the better.
Martin, Reading, UK, previously South Africa

I am now 33 and have to say that some of the most memorable moments of my life involved 20 sided dice! Sadly at present, I am not actively playing, but I will play again one day, I hope. Long live D&D and all the other RPGs that it spawned.
Matthew Harffy, UK

I remember that Mr Cooper, my religious education teacher at school, was convinced that D&D was devil worshiping! He always used to try and catch us out (I suppose he expected us to be chanting or sacrificing goats or something!)
John Neal, Southampton, UK

Now where in the loft did I put my Players Handbook?
Andy Hume, UK

Those respondents above that spoke of losing the time to play, lost pals, impositions of jobs, girls, distance, social acceptability et al were all so right in their comments that I feel a lump in my throat and a yearning for those days back again. Can one jump in the same river twice? .! ..Damn it! Where are my dice ?!
Jason Mann, Australia

D&D? Reminds me of unusual spotty students drinking cider and eating wheat crunchies - obsessively playing Hotel California on the juke box whilst pretending to wizards and serfs. Why bother? The real world is more fun.
Daren, Scotland, UK

Lost an entire year to D&D at art college - the best time I ever spent! Forged epic memories, great friendships and wondrous stories that still excite and move when I think about them 12 years on. Sadly, we all grew up, got jobs and got far too serious about life. Have been back to 'Fisten Gawn' a few times since, but each time it never held the same magic as it did back then when overthrowing the dark lord Karngorv was the most important thing in my life.
Rob, Salisbury, UK

I strongly remember the Christmas in 1981 when I received my first D&D boxed set. I spent hours reading the rules and carefully filling the dice in with the weird crayon thing. It was probably the best christmas present I have ever received. RPG's like d&d provide the perfect structured social setting to help maintain excellent friendships. It's also a chance to star in your own subjective version of any film or novel, admittedly with much more laughter and micky taking.
James Dodd, UK

I'm 40 now, haven't played for 15 years, and I miss it.
Rob I, London, UK

I've been playing, running and collecting RPGs for over 20 years. I derive more enjoyment with each passing year and have made some very good friends through this fine hobby. No other recreational activity provides the level of escapism and boundless wonder of role playing. Long may the dice continue to roll.
Sacha Ratcliffe, England

Played many of the RPGs during the 80's. Then work and girls came a higher priority. I took it up again about 3 years ago - taught my wife and some neighbours. So when we get together we still pull out the odd Dungeon map. In hindsight one thing D&D gave me and many others was an improved ability to converse with others. Long may the adventure continue!
Tim Mulhall, Hereford, UK

I met my husband through D&D and we are still playing regularly twice a week, some 16 years later.
LJS, Stockport, UK

It's still going strong and not only in the English-speaking countries. Been playing for 20 years now and still with some high-school buddies!
Ralf Schemmann, Germany

I remember many a summer night spent hacking my way through skeleton filled dungeons with a band of fellow adventurers. Dungeons & Dragons or AD&D was not just a game. You developed close attachments with your characters and debarked on many world changing adventures with them. I'm quite sad I have stopped playing!
Wesley McDade, UK

I've been playing D&D with the same group of friends for 20 years. Without a doubt D&D has kept us together, given us a reason to stay in touch. We started playing when we were still at school and, despite the varied directions of our careers and lifestyles, we still meet bi-weekly for an evening of adventure and above all laughter.
Lee Hadley, London, UK

Well it's about time roleplayers could come out of the closet! I've been gaming with a group of friends for nearly 20 years and can honestly say we still talk about some of the greater moments a decade on. Just think, if politicians played more D&D they might find real warmongering a trifle less exciting.
Chris Palmer, UK

Oh please - it's for kids, but it's worse than adults reading Harry Potter.
Sven, UK

D&D is a social activity so by definition people who play D&D are social people. D&D set the standard for roleplaying systems and until the introduction of systems such as GURPS D&D was king of the hill.
John Everitt, UK

You bet we are still playing it, and with dice and paper and pens! It is the ultimate escapism, stress-reliever and cure for all life's ills. Our group of friends play every Saturday night without fail, with three Dungeon Masters running their own Dungeons on a rota and have done for close on 20 years now. So what better pastime for a crowd of ageing hippies, ageless teenagers?
Edith Bowman, Scotland

20 years later the only difference for me is finding the time to play... and the players have grown from a bunch of hairy students into teachers, scientists, policemen, computer techs, sales reps, tree surgeons etc... It's still one of the best ways to enjoy an evening & catch up with your friends.
Bertie, UK

D&D is still going strong today. It fosters imagination and social interaction, as it always has done. Here's to the next 30 years!
Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams, Devon, UK

Why has D&D survived? Everyone needs to escape from reality sometimes and D&D is cheaper and more readily available than Class A substances. Though not as socially acceptable. Also, D&D has evolved over the years, so there is was always new for each successive "generation" of players.
Rob Sandy, UK

Video gaming did not kill off D&D, it added a whole new dimension, with games like Bioware's Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and most recently Neverwinter nights, using the D&D rules and game structure, in both single and multiplayer storylines. The games master is merely replaced by a PC!
Claire, UK

My kids (11, 13) discovered my old D&D stuff and plunged right in. Despite having their PS2, Gameboy and PC games, they love the active use of imagination and the storytelling.
Roy Smith, UK

D&D is still alive and kicking. As well as the good old pen and paper version some of the best computer games in the last few years have been pure D&D. When you couldn't get your group together you could play Baldurs gate or Neverwinter nights on the PC.
Sion Phillips, UK

It is a good way of meeting like-minded people. It gives someone to be a part of exciting adventures and recreate cinematic moments, kinda like being in a film where there is no defined script. It is a good way of developing teamwork skills. More than all though, its fun.
Paul Grogan, Herts, UK

I started playing in 1988 and D&D was the first roleplaying game I ever bought. For me, D&D brings back memories of my first week at university, a slightly scruffy room with oak panelling and take-away wrappers everywhere and some slightly scary individuals who knew so much more about bards and wizards than I did. I still play roleplaying games on an occasional basis and have made some wonderful friends through the hobby.
Paula, UK

It is sad to see people waste their lives in fake adventures when there are so many real ones out there. If anyone wants to know what it is like living in mediaeval times, I can point them in the direction of parts of the world where serfdom etc still exists. They will soon find the horrible truths behind their 'imagined' worlds of heroes and villains.
Karl Dunkerley, UK

D & D was just THE best thing whether in the dining room on a rainy autumn Saturday, or in the garden on a balmy summers day - we had a scream, and my weapon of choice? It had to be the +1 magic rat-on-a-stick!
Alison Rothwell, England

Been playing since 1974, and still am every Sunday! Was one of the first in Scotland to play and still have the original "WhiteBox" rules, albeit a bit tattered. Always great fun to play and that is what it was really about, having fun with friends.
Roger Pascal, Shetland, Scotland

D&D isn't the end of it - the RPG genre caters for sci-fi fans, historical fans, modern era gaming and everything! I didn't enter this hobby through D&D and it isn't the main game I play, but I thank it for the fun I've had. It really is like making a movie or tv episode, with RPGs like Farscape, Star Wars and Everquest you make your own adventure!
Simon Hildreth, UK

I started playing D&D some time in 1977, aged 13. To my friends and I it turned up at the same time as punk rock, girls, and was part of our teenage landscape. As a Christian I was always massively annoyed at the way some small minded elements of the Church tried to smear it for crimes it was never guilty of. Control freaks are always going to be afraid of young people letting their imaginations run riot- which is what they're there for. I'm 40 now, and still like D&D in the same way I still like punk rock and girls.
Mike Maddox, England

Dungeons is alive and kicking in Lechlade. Took a few years off when the kids were born but now they are playing as well.
David Dipple, UK

My boyfriend got me into playing D&D a grand 4 weeks ago, and it is far more fun than it has any right being
Aisling Tracy, UK

I love playing D&D because every time I play, it is like watching Lord of the Rings for the first time. It is like writing a story without knowing the outcome. Some people may use the game for the sake of escaping reality but that's not for me. I just enjoy seeing the story folds out and how my character develops.
Diana Thirring, UK

We have successfully run a D&D club at my school (a GIRLS SCHOOL) for 7 years now. Our girls won the prestigious British Schools D&D Team Championship a few years ago, for which the prize was an all-expenses paid trip to GenCon in Milwaukee. They love playing it! I urge people who'd like to see the lighter side of D&D to seek out the comic 'Knights of the Dinner Table' - it is tremendous fun.
Drew Buddie, England

I've been gaming for 24 years, which drives the wife mental.
Harvey Barker, Cambridge, UK Role-playing is still alive an well, the US conventions are huge, the number of games available is huge, I have friends in multiple countries who play often. Even in the UK it is still big. Once you can suspend the self-consciousness it is a brilliant time, a no restrictions game, can't be matched by film or computer in that aspect.
Malcolm Brown, UK

This makes me feel old! What now could get 10 adolescents into spending a Sunday evening talking to each other and enjoying themselves in a way which just doesn't seem possible today? The sad thing is, I'd still play it if there were enough people around to do so!
Simon Holt, UK / Ireland

I have been playing role playing games(RPG) since mid 80's when I was young kid. We started with D&D moved to AD&D and after I have played every major RPG there is. Core of group we started playing is still pretty much the same we have today, same 'ol friends.
Teemu Tuominen, Finland

Still playing? Never stopped! I started around 1975 with Tunnels & Trolls (as D&D was too expensive for me at that time), and later on branched out into many other role-playing games. The best times are just those of sitting with friends (many made through the game itself), making up stories, telling ridiculous tales, and sometimes, and best of all, having the story go off in a direction that no-one (including the game master) expected...
Mark Buckley, UK

RPGs are still alive and kicking, I don't play much D&D nowadays having moved on to other settings and systems, but I do occasionally get the old books out for a trip down memory lane!
Paul, UK

For sheer escapism, fun and imaginative release D&D is the original and best. Always was, always will be. Huzzah!
James Walker, Cheltenham, UK

There are still lots of clubs active in the UK, like my one, "Dragons On The Hill", and we still get new young people turning up at the pub to try it every week. It doesn't matter about colour, gender, race or country... everyone in a group just enjoys playing with the game.
M Haswell, England

I once played D&D-type games for six joyful years. However, at 29 years old, I am now unable to create a new group of players because anyone who would participate is simply too geeky! And yes, we did once get visited by someone from the Salvation Army who cast various aspersions at us without any justification whatsoever.
Mike Foster, England

D&D and other roleplaying games offer a subtlety of interaction with a story that video games cannot. At times it can be challenging and rewarding in ways that other entertainment cannot.
Tim, UK

I think that D&D is a good way to spend an evening with friends. My group get together once a week and try and save the world, but most of the time we end up randomly chatting about all sorts of things. I'm an actor as well, and as I've been playing the same character for about 2 years now in one game, it's like a role i can fall into at a moments notice. it's much more enjoyable than sitting on your own playing against a computer.
Sandy Wilson, UK

Better than Star Wars and deeper than Lord Of The Rings.
Stuart Bennett, UK

I've played since 1983 as a player and a DM. Now on 3rd edition rules. I've also played just about every other game system since on occasion. Its great being part of an underground world which baffles 90% of people you talk to about it.
Simon Andrew, UK

My best memories are the stupid moments like the time my wizard chained himself to the knee of a pit fiend and promptly died. He was trying to use an artefact that controlled devils. Of course, it was supposed to go around the neck, not the knee but the knee was all he could manage.
Marc Quatromani, Portland, US

We're still here, we're all among you, we might be your boss, your wife (ok, maybe not that one), your mechanic, your MP. And one of these days, when you least expect it, the roleplayers of the country will rise up, shout "roll for initiative" and we, the meek (/geek) will inherit the earth. Then you'll be sorry for taking the Michael, oh yes :) "...first up against the wall when the revolution came."
Phil Ward, Wales

It's a game that spawned an industry with a number of spin-offs. Gamebooks, card games, miniatures and live-action roleplaying to name a few. Every major city has at least one store - more than can be said for some niche hobbies.
Simon, UK

I've played the game for 24 years (since I was eight). I've introduced it to many friends and my wife and family. Playing has always been a great, popular, social event and I hope to keep playing for at least another 24 years.
James Semple, England

I loved the campaign I was involved in when I was a senior in high-school. We had the best Dungeon Master I have ever known. We truly got involved with the playing of characters as opposed to just hack-and-slash. This of course was way back in the old 1st edition days, when men were men and giants roamed the earth. I played a human monk, which at that time was a rarity. Staying up to wee hours of the morning; eating pizza, potato chips, and tortilla chips; being amongst friends - these are the memories I cherish.
Collin D. Freeman, Kansas City

D&D still goes strong in the UK with a number of gaming clubs and events for charity around the country. By my reckoning, roleplaying events raise in excess of £5,000 each year for a number of charities, something that goes largely unnoticed by the masses. Aside from that, its a great social hobby which requires imagination, intelligence and the occasional bit of luck. Long may it continue
Terry , UK

The thing I most enjoy is immersing myself in a role in such detail that the seem alive all on their own. I have heard of actors talking about such when they play roles for movies.
Samantha, St Louis It's the social side as much as anything that keeps the game going. There's something of a roleplaying revival at the moment. Nothing that quite matches the early 80s but the internet is bringing gamers closer together all over the world.
Steve, UK

D&D, and role-playing games in general, not only give me an excuse & inspiration to exercise my imagination, they have encouraged me to learn about mathematics, probability, history, warfare, & countless other topics. Plus, they're lots of fun & a good excuse to hang out with some friends for a few hours every week.
Robert Fisher, Texas 15 years after I last played and I still remember the characters and adventures. For a young teenager, D&D provides intellectual and social stimulation way beyond that gained just by hanging out with your mates. Everyone I know who was involved has gone on to a balanced adult life and successful career, more than I can say for some of our contemporaries.
AT, London, UK

First played in 1977, then solidly for fifteen years. Now play pc games, but I miss the social interaction with other people and am looking for an RPG group in Sheffield
David Linkletter, UK

Long live D&D, and all the other games out there.
Jeff Taylor, UK

My best D&D memories have always been narrow victories in imaginary battles, shared in the presence of real-life friends. In the real world, not all battles come out victorious and the good guys don't always win; it's nice to share times with friends when the good guys DO win.
Henry Link, South Carolina

Posted by thinkum at 11:34 AM

April 23, 2004

Louisiana May Ban Low-Slung Pants

Louisiana Considers Bill to Make It Illegal to Wear Low-Slung Pants That Expose Skin or 'Intimate Clothing'

People who wear low-slung pants that expose skin or "intimate clothing" would face a fine of up to $500 and possible jail time under a bill filed by a Jefferson Parish lawmaker.

State Rep. Derrick Shepherd said he filed the bill because he was tired of catching glimpses of boxer shorts and G-strings over the lowered belt lines of young adults.

The bill would punish anyone caught wearing low-riding pants with a fine of as much as $500 or as many as six months in jail, or both.

"I'm sick of seeing it," said Shepherd, a first-term legislator. "The community's outraged. And if parents can't do their job, if parents can't regulate what their children wear, then there should be a law."

The bill would be tacked onto the state's obscenity law, which restricts sexual activity in public places and the sale of sexually explicit items.

Joe Cook, head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Louisiana chapter, said the bill probably does not meet the U.S. Supreme Court's standard for the prohibition of obscene behavior under the First Amendment.

"What about a woman who is wearing a bathing suit under her garment or she has something like a sarong wrapped around her and it's below her waist," he said. "I can think of a lot of workers, plumbers, who are working and expose their buttocks ..."

Posted by thinkum at 11:19 PM

Da Vinci: Inventor of Car?

Leonardo da Vinci is revered around the world as a master of Renaissance painting and an ingenious engineer, but few have thought of him as the father of the modern car.

But on Friday, the Museum of History and Science in Florence -- the heart of Renaissance Italy -- unveiled the first "automobile" built based on some of the sketches from da Vinci's famous notebooks.

"This has been a big adventure which has also helped us to develop tools to help people unaware of Leonardo's scholarship understand this complex device," said Paolo Galluzzi, director of the museum.

The primitive-looking contraption runs on springs instead of petrol and was probably intended to produce special effects at courtly events, but it was still the world's first self-propelled "vehicle," the experts said.

The "automobile" -- which in fact looks more like a wagon -- is by no means the first invention discovered in da Vinci's mysterious manuscripts, which include flying machines, helicopters, submarines, military tanks and bicycles.

Born near Florence in 1452, da Vinci is thought of as the original "Renaissance Man" -- a talented painter, sculptor, engineer and musician.

Many of his ideas were recorded in notebooks now housed in museums and enjoying unprecedented popularity due to the best-selling novel the "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown.

In 1905, Girolamo Calvi, one of the pioneers of da Vinci studies, noted the links between da Vinci's designs and the first motor cars which were beginning to take to the roads.

In 1936, Calvi referred to da Vinci's sketches as "Leonardo's Fiat" but it wasn't until very recently that scientists correctly interpreted his design and the models on display in Florence are the first reconstructions.

Three "car" models, copies of da Vinci's sketches and an interactive digital simulation can be seen at the museum (http:/www.imss.fi.it/news/eautomobile.html) until June 5.

Posted by thinkum at 11:17 PM

Keeping it simple

The Non-Designer's Design Book
2nd ed., by Robin Williams.

If Robin Williams's invaluable work had been available in the mid-1980s and included with every copy of PageMaker sold, we would have been spared thousands of desktop-published "ransom note" business cards, newsletters and magazines.

I should know - I was guilty of producing about half of them.

When I founded Desktop Publishing magazine in 1986, using one of the first Apple Macintosh desktop publishing systems sold in Australia, I committed every one of the sins, and then some, that Williams mentions in her wonderful and funny book.

It is 10 years since Williams published the first edition of what should be the bible for anyone entrusted with the job of producing a newsletter. This second edition is 50 pages longer, includes more examples and increases the number of typefaces used from 103 in the first edition to more than 200.

Almost the best thing about the book is the real-life examples of truly awful business cards, newsletters, baby shower invitations and so on. You could almost study the before and after pages alone and learn a huge amount without reading Williams's excellent text.

The next best thing are the quizzes scattered throughout the chapters, testing your comprehension of Williams's advice. The trick is to resist the temptation to skip to the final pages for the answers.

Williams does not pretend that this book is a substitute for genuine and creative layout ability. A word processing program is not going to make you into Patrick White, nor is this book going to turn you into the next big thing in the layout world.

Williams's premise is that if you can name the problem, you can find the solution. The four basic principles of design are, she says: contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity.

Taking the first letter of each principle gives you an unforgettable and appropriate acronym that describes much of the material published by those who should read and use this book.

I wish Williams's book on web design was included with every copy of DreamWeaver.

The Non-Designer's Design Book, 2nd ed., Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice, by Robin Williams, Peachpit Press 2004, RRP $41.95, ISBN 0-321-19385-7.

Posted by thinkum at 06:41 PM

eBay alerts on shady deals

Also in this tech tips update:

I spy . . . webmail
Enhancing OS X
Version 10, Really!
Core cult

Ebaylistings makes keeping your eye out for something on eBay an absolute breeze. It generates RSS (a syndication format popular with news sites and weblogs) feeds for items matching the criteria of your choice. Along with specifying the search terms you want to monitor, you can also specify minimum/maximum prices, categories and seller IDs. It is then just a matter of subscribing to the feed in the RSS reader of your choice and waiting for a match to appear.

I spy . . . webmail
While everybody is making a fuss about Gmail, Google's recently announced 1 GB webmail service, a much smaller and lesser known company has beaten them to the punch. Spymac is offering free 1 GB webmail accounts, and despite the name, you don't even have to be a Mac user.

Enhancing OS X
Not being a Mac user, and not having found any very helpful descriptions, I'm not completely sure exactly what Quicksilver is. However, judging from the response it is generating, it's certainly worth downloading if you're an OS X user. It duplicates the functionality of tools such as LaunchBar and Dragthing, performing the function of application launcher among other things and it's free.

Version 10, Really!
Version 10 of RealPlayer has been launched. The main improvement with the new version is support for a wider range of formats, including Windows Media, MPEG4, MP3 AAC, and the Real formats, of course. Also welcome is the greater prominence given to the link to the free version of the software (top right corner, beneath the blue question mark).

Core cult
On the topic of the Mac, Cult of the Mac is a great new weblog from the Wired crew, dedicated to all things Apple.

It is rare that a Geocities site gets mentioned here but the following site deserves it. It provides answers to frequently asked questions about Google, as posted to the Usenet newsgroup, google.public.support.general.

Posted by thinkum at 04:54 PM

A question of trust online

We should embrace the "trust economy", argues technology analyst Bill Thompson, even if there are bad people out there.

I was contacted this week by a reader of these columns who was worried that she had inadvertently given away the password for her Vodafone e-mail account to an online scam artist.

When she got an official-looking e-mail warning her about security and online fraud, she clicked on the link it contained to log on to the service and check all was well with her account.

Then she realised that she could not be sure the e-mail had actually come from Vodafone. She might easily have been taken for a ride by a "phishing" site and just have disclosed her user name and password to a fraudster.

Unfortunately, nobody at Vodafone customer support could help her because they had no idea whether or not their e-mail people had been sending out messages about security.

And she had deleted the message so couldn't go back and check the address which was embedded in the mail.

There have not been any reports of a Vodafone phishing attempt, so she is probably OK, though I did suggest that she changed her password straight away, just in case.

But Vodafone's inability to help her was a clear sign that the fraudsters are several steps ahead of the online services at the moment.

Obvious steps

I was reminded of a similar situation I encountered a couple of months ago when Cahoot, the online bank, sent me an e-mail which was so badly written that I instantly thought it was suspicious.

I checked the e-mail in plain text view to see if the web link was correct - and it was - but being ultra cautious I also e-mailed the bank and asked them to confirm that they had sent it.

A day later they got back to me to reassure me. Of course, if it had been an urgent security alert then I would have been in big trouble, but at least they tried.

There are ways to avoid this sort of thing, and two strike me as obvious first steps.

Every e-business should have space on its website where copies of every e-mail are kept.

If I buy tickets online then I expect to get a confirmation e-mail so I will not worry about it. But if my bank or favourite online airline are going to send me marketing stuff or security alerts they should put a copy somewhere I can find them.

Second, companies should advertise a hotline - either an e-mail address or a phone number - that you can use to check whether the message you received is legitimate or a phishing expedition.

We cannot rely on the public service sites like the Anti-Phishing Working Group to do this - they cannot be responsive enough, and there is no guarantee that they have not missed something. It has to be down to the firms that benefit so much from operating online to reassure their customers.

Otherwise we may decide that good old fashioned technologies are better - telephones, post and even face-to-face meetings might well make a comeback.

Communal web

Even as I despair about the number of spam e-mails, phishing attempts, 419 frauds and deceitful websites out there, other aspects of our online world give me hope that things can be better.

Wikis, for example, are a perfect example of the "trust economy", a space in which the exchange of ideas and information depends almost entirely on a high degree of trust between all the participants.

A wiki, at its core, is a universally writable website with a mechanism for adding and linking new pages automatically.

Anyone can come to the wiki, read the content, and then edit it. Or overwrite it with rubbish. Or delete it.

You can ask people to register and control their access, but most wikis do not bother with this, relying instead on trust between users and the realisation that few people are going to be bothered to trash a random page.

I am peripherally involved in NotCon '04, a loosely formatted day of discussions about the nature and impact of the net and the tools we have built on top of it, and it is being organised almost entirely on a wiki.

The fact that this works, and that we can organise this event in a public space where anyone could disrupt us, is a testament to the social cohesion that is possible online.

And there is the wikipedia, a community-written encyclopedia that has evolved over the years from a largely technical bunch of articles into one of the most reliably useful sources of information around, on or off-line.

Shared interests

The wikipedia relies on peer review, letting anyone who is interested in a topic start a page about it, and working on the assumption that others who know or care about the subject will criticise, correct, extend and generally improve what is already there. And it works.

As an old-time socialist, I believe that social justice will come from the freely made choices of us all, and even though I am in favour of government and the rule of law, the legitimacy of that government comes only from the people.

That means having political systems built around collective action, participation and respect for each other's views and values.

Wikis, like the old Left Book Club, the Workers' Educational Association and the trade union movement, show what that collective action can achieve when it is based on trust and shared interest.

When I am overwhelmed with despair by the spammers and the scammers, they give me hope.

Bill Thompson is a regular commentator on the BBC World Service programme Go Digital.

Related links:


Posted by thinkum at 04:39 PM

'Don Quixote' reading extends to world outside of La Mancha

MADRID - Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas kicked off the annual two-day, non-stop reading of Miguel de Cervantes' 17th-century Spanish tale Don Quixote in Madrid Thursday.

Having won the Cervantes Prize -- the Spanish-speaking world's top literary award -- in December, the 86-year-old Rojas was given the honour of starting the two-day-long reading, which began at noon at Circulo de Bellas Artes, a fine arts centre in Madrid.

Politicians, diplomats, cultural figures, artists and members of the general public will participate in the marathon session around the world. Participants from outside of Madrid, like Mexican President Vicente Fox, will read via telephone and videoconferencing devices.

Overall, more than 3,000 people are scheduled to read excerpts from the novel, which recounts the misadventures of aging, madcap knight Don Quixote and his down-to-earth sidekick, Sancho Panza.

The reading is scheduled to end sometime early Saturday morning but the exact time "will depend on the speed of the reading and the number of people who are waiting [to take part]," said one of the organizers.

The annual reading takes place over UNESCO's World Book Day, the April 23 event established to promote literature and commemorate both Cervantes and William Shakespeare, who both died on the date in 1616.

After the Bible, Don Quixote is one of the most widely published books in the world. In a 2002 poll of 100 of the world's leading authors -- including Salman Rushdie, John le Carré, John Irving and Norman Mailer -- the Cervantes work was named the world's best work of fiction.

Posted by thinkum at 01:11 PM


When Joe DiMaggio was a young baseball player, a reporter asked him for a quote.

"I thought it was some kind of soft drink," DiMaggio said years later.

Requesting "a quotation" might have been clearer, but it would also have been absurdly hoity-toity. The story came to mind after we got an e-mail about both words a while ago:

I would question your use of "quote" when you mean "quotation." The first is a verb, the second a noun. Do you agree?

Actually, quote has been used both ways since at least the 1880s, half a century before DiMaggio first suited up for the Yankees. A better question would be is quotation the preferred noun?

Nowadays, many editors would say that the clipped version is fine much of the time. But in more formal contexts, especially when referring to old texts or famous dead people, they would probably rule that quotation is a better choice. (George W. Bush gives us quotes, according to this convention, but William Shakespeare and Sir John A. Macdonald supply us with quotations.)

All of this is pretty subjective, of course, and at the end of the day the label we apply to inverted commas is far less important than the words deposited between them.

Which brings us back to DiMaggio's innocence. What IS a quote?


Quote comes from French and Latin terms for "marking with numbers" ? as in quotient and quota ? and originally referred to the practice of assigning figures to written passages being cited.

Today, it means the repetition of words. A quotation is not a rough approximation or a close paraphrase. The words should mirror what's been said or written before.

But given the way most of us talk, with countless ehs, uhs and ums, readers would find it hard work to get through a lot of transcribed speech if these sounds of hesitation were left in. They're, uh, known as disfluencies in linguistics, and it's, um, very common for editors to remove them, along with, st-st-stammers and fill-, er, false starts.

Scrubbing quotes clean can rub some people the wrong way, however, especially when you start changing words. It decreases accuracy and reduces your credibility.

Fixing grammar may appear harmless at first, but where do you draw the line? Is it OK to start recasting some people's sentences because we don't want them to appear uneducated or unclear? If so, is it fair to leave other people's words untouched solely because we think their colloquialisms and subject-verb disagreements ("We was robbed") are colourful and quaint?

Two months ago, the Washington Post introduced strict new rules against even slight changes to quotes. From now on, if the paper's journalists don't like somebody's grammar they have to remove the inverted commas and resort to paraphrases. All quotes must reflect exactly what people wrote or said, although the uhs and ums can still be chopped.

This is the same policy that's been in place at the New York Times for years, and when a slip is discovered everybody is told. In a recent correction, for instance, the Times acknowledged that a Mississippi football coach actually said "there ain't but one" instead of what the paper originally printed: "there is only one."


Fiddling with what's inside inverted commas can become absurd. Not long ago, one of our editors, Gary Katz, had a devil of a time trying to keep a Dickens quote correct. Someone with good intentions kept going into a page on CBC.ca and changing "The law is a ass" to "The law is an ass."

But Mr. Bumble said "a ass" not "an ass" in Oliver Twist. Writers should either accept this fact or drop the quotation marks hugging their asses, and get rid of any reference to the novel or the novelist.

When adding letters or words to quotes it's common to use square brackets [ ], which help distinguish our inserts from mere asides actually spoken or written by others. (Their tangents are put in parentheses.) So another option might have been "The law is a[n] ass," although this would have carried the condescending tone of a "sic" flag, implying we're smarter than Dickens.


The indefinite article "a" and square brackets are no strangers. This summer will mark the 35th anniversary of what is undoubtedly the most famous case of a quote being altered by that one-letter word.

When Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969, everyone back on Earth heard the following crackle over their televisions and radios:

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

But since "man" in this context (without a "the" or an "a") means all human beings, his sentence really says: "That's one small step for everybody, and one giant leap for everybody."

It's certainly not what the Apollo 11 commander intended. More important, he later insisted it's not what he said. When Armstrong got back home and saw the mission transcript (as well as some newspaper and magazine coverage of his adventure), he told reporters that he had been misquoted.

NASA concluded the "a" got lost in atmospheric static, the official record was changed and many news organizations ran a correction, including the New York Times on page 20 of its July 31, 1969, edition. After pointing out that Armstrong had requested the revision, the paper embraced the extra word without qualification: "Inserting the omitted article makes a slight but significant change in the meaning of Mr. Armstrong's words, which should read: 'That's one small step for a man, one giant step for mankind.'"

Wait a minute. Small step, giant step? Is this right? Nope. It turns out that while publishing a five-paragraph correction outlining why an "a" was being added to a line that will be cited for generations, the Times turned "giant leap" into "giant step" by mistake. A slight stumble, to some. An astronomical bungle, to others.

Meanwhile, many people continue to say and write "man" not "a man" when quoting Armstrong, either because of habit or because that's what their ears hear when the tape is played. Several big-name reference books, such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, have settled for square brackets:

"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."


But let's not pick on the Times, one of the more scrupulous and scrutinized newspapers on the planet. Misquotes are all around us, and several collections have been published over the years.

Alexander Pope wrote "A little learning is a dangerous thing" (not "knowledge"), and Winston Churchill said "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat" (not "blood, sweat and tears"). Shakespeare is a gold mine for those digging up such gaffes. In The Merchant of Venice, for example, he writes: "All that glisters is not gold" (not "glitters"). And in Act 4 of King John, the words are "to paint the lily" (not to "gild" the lily).

Samuel Coleridge. John Milton. Robert Burns. The list of people commonly misquoted is very long, but it's important not to add entries in haste. Alleged inaccuracies can turn out to be exactly what the person said, including a well-known comment about sex by Pierre Trudeau.


Colombo's New Canadian Quotations claims that when the soon-to-be prime minister was still justice minister, he did not argue: "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." Instead, we're told that "what he actually said was, 'The state has no place in the nation's bedrooms.'"

But checking the CBC's television archives, it turns out that Colombo's is wrong. Here's a verbatim transcript of a 48-second comment Trudeau made while answering reporters' questions about sweeping legislation he had just introduced in the House of Commons on Dec. 21, 1967:

"Well, it's certainly the most extensive revision of the Criminal Code since, uh, the, uh, new Criminal Code of nine- [sic], early 1950s. And in terms of the subject matter it deals with, I feel that it has, uh, knocked down a lot of totems and overridden a lot of taboos. And I feel that in that sense it, uh, it is 'new.' But I, it's bringing the laws of the land up to, uh, contemporary society, I think. Take this thing on, uh, on um, homosexuality. I think the, the view we take here is that, uh, there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation, and I think that, uh, you know, what's done in private between adults, uh, doesn't concern the Criminal Code. When it becomes public, this is a different matter."

It appears Trudeau also said "The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation" at some point, perhaps during a different interview, since that's what at least one paper published on its front page the next day. But this is not the same thing as claiming the other, accurate remark is a misquote.

It's worth noting that even highly articulate speakers appear less so when editors are unkind enough to include all the uhs, ums and false starts of natural, unscripted speech. It's also worth pointing out that Trudeau was merely paraphrasing a Dec. 12, 1967, editorial written by Martin O'Malley, a CBC.ca columnist who worked for the Globe and Mail back then.


The number of incorrectly transcribed or ascribed comments in everyday journalism is probably larger than most reporters and editors imagine.

Since writers are fallible, some quotes will always be flawed. But many errors could be avoided if we were all a tad more careful. In the case of old gems, checking a reliable book of quotations is a good starting point. When possible, reading the original text (e.g., the relevant excerpt from a novel) is even better. And for material from the last 75 years or so, listening to a recording (e.g., an athlete's jab or a politician's quip) is ideal. A lot of audio and video is now available on the internet.

But if we do play the tape again we should avoid saying "play it again, Sam" - which, as every Casablanca buff knows is not in the film. Ingrid Bergman actually said "play it, Sam," proof that when a corrupted phrase is repeated often enough it can become better known than the original.

The song Sam finally agrees to play, of course, is As Time Goes By, which begins with the words: "You must remember this." It would seem that many of us don't.


Some quotes are pure fiction. For example, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never had Sherlock Holmes utter "Elementary, my dear Watson" in any of his more than 50 stories, although he did say "elementary" alone once. You don't have to be a detective to figure out where the rest came from: TV and the movies.

Of course, we may occasionally prefer to quote films based on books because the dialogue is better known or more catchy than what was originally published.

In Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind, for instance, Rhett Butler says: "My dear, I don't give a damn." When people peg the word "frankly" to the front of his words, they're correctly quoting Clark Gable's last line in the 1939 movie ? which is probably what they want to do in the first place.

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" has become a classic parting shot over the years, as direct and dramatic as any of Joltin' Joe DiMaggio's "Going, going, gone!" home runs.

The expression "parting shot," by the way, punctuates the point that words in English are sometimes changed without many of us even noticing. It's believed to be inspired by "Parthian shot," named after an ancient kingdom in what's now northeast Iran. Parthian horsemen were known for skillfully shooting arrows, even when riding away in real or pretended retreat.

But don't quote me on that. Instead, please cite the Oxford English Dictionary.

(April 23, 2004)


For those who do give a damn, here's some trivia:

Longtime Yankee announcer Mel Allen coined the phrase "Going, going, gone!" to describe baseballs sailing out of the park. He also gave DiMaggio the nickname "Joltin' Joe."

Burns said "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men (not "plans").

Coleridge said "Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink" (which is often quoted as "and not a drop to drink").

Milton said "Revenge at first though sweet, Bitter ere long back on itself recoils" (not merely "Revenge is sweet"). More than a century later, Byron said "Sweet is revenge."

Shakespeare said "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it" (not "There's method in his madness"). He also said "The better part of valour is discretion" (not "Discretion is the better part of valour").

In the original Star Trek TV series, Capt. James T. Kirk never said "Beam me up, Scotty." He did, however, say "Beam us up, Mr. Scott" in one of the roughly 80 episodes.

NASA's website features a lot on the Apollo 11 mission, including the "one small step for a man" version of Armstrong's first words on the moon. But it also includes a 106-page transcript of a 2001 interview with the former astronaut that leaves out the "a." Armstrong is asked if NASA or anyone else suggested he say "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." He replies no, and downplays the poetry of the line, calling it "a pretty simple statement." Armstrong also does not correct the interviewer's "misquote."

CBC.ca's Archives site features a treasure trove of Trudeau material, including an audio and video recording of the "bedrooms of the nation" remark from 1967.

Posted by thinkum at 01:05 PM

One-in-a-million handshake on the front line


"Met dad" ... Lyall Howard's WWI diary.

John Howard treasures the encounter between his father and grandfather on the Western Front, writes Roy Masters.

The neat handwritten entry for August 30, 1918, in the war diary of Lyall Falconer Howard reads simply: "Met dad at Clery."

Lyall, a 22-year-old Australian soldier on the Western Front, was the eldest of the nine children of Walter Howard, who had enlisted from Sydney late in World War I, aged 44.

Against all odds, their paths crossed at Clery, a French village, during the huge troop movements on the eve of the Battle of Mont St Quentin.

The extraordinary meeting of father and son would have been lost, along with the millions of lives from that war, except that Lyall and Walter are the father and grandfather of the Prime Minister. John Howard describes it as "one of those great family stories", and his retelling of it on the eve of Anzac Day reawakens his love of his father, reflects his view of Australian men and puts war in the context of his two sons.

"There's just this pithy or laconic entry in the diary," he said. "It's just so Australian - 'Met dad at Clery'.'

The diary, now in the care of Mr Howard's eldest brother, also named Walter, is the only record of the two men together in wartime. There are no photographs of Walter, and certainly none of them together.

Nor does Mr Howard recall having a photo of himself and his father. But he has precious memories. "I remember the last Anzac Day he was alive. I was in fourth year at Canterbury High and I still see him sitting on the couch at our home in Earlwood after the march.

"He gave me a description of an officer who had been on the front and was coming to the end of his tour of duty and Dad was given the job of leading him back through the trenches so he could get back to the French coast and to England.

"Some shells started falling and the bloke said, 'God, I've been here for three years and survived and now I'm going to get killed on the day I'm going home."'

A member of the 3rd pioneer battalion, Lyall Howard enlisted in 1916. He spent Anzac Day, 1918, in the bloody fighting at Villers- Bretonneux. His three-word diary entry for the entire period from March 30 to May 10, 1918, reads: "Very warm corner."

John Howard says: "They didn't verbalise their experience in they way men do now. It's one of the big changes in Aussie blokes. I think it's a good thing. They don't bottle it all up but they did in those days.

"I think about it and they were extraordinary people, those kids, as they were. I look at my own children. My two sons are older now than my father was when he got back. Dad had gone through all that and was back at age 23. This is what is so terrible when you go to these war cemetries. You see all these young ages, 19, 20, 23, 24. It makes you weep . . ."

Lyall had mustard gas poisoning in 1917, prompting the diary entry, "Slightly gassed", although he spent three months in hospital.

Walter Howard enlisted after two referendums had failed to introduce conscription, even lying about his age. "It was pretty hairy stuff considering your eldest son is at the war and you're leaving your wife and eight kids," his grandson says.

Asked how he saw his own role in committing Australian troops to Iraq, he was silent for a long time.

Finally, he said: "If we'd had television in 1914, World War I would have ended after the first great battle. The slaughter . . . the death rate in those battles was terrible. I mean we lost 60,000 men out of a male population of fewer than 2 million."

Three days after meeting his son, Walter was seriously wounded in the stomach during the battle of Mont St Quentin, an outstanding Australian victory which helped end the war.

"Family folklore is that he was actually treated and saved by an American doctor," Mr Howard said. "I can remember dad talking very briefly when I was about 12 or 13, just saying how he'd met his father on the front and how he'd visited him in hospital in England."

After the war they operated a service station at Earlwood together. Lyall died in 1955, aged 59, and Walter in 1948, at 76

Posted by thinkum at 12:52 PM

Pet ownership linked to depression

Older Australians who own a pet are more likely to be depressed and in poorer physical health than people who don't own pets, according to a major new Australian study.

Flying in the face of claims from the pet food industry, and others, the study shows pet ownership confers no health benefits to older people.

Indeed older pet owners are significantly more likely than the pet-free to be aggressive and hostile towards the world - perhaps because they prefer pets to people.

It brings Ruth Parslow, a research fellow at the Centre for Mental Health Research, at ANU, no joy to report her findings.

They are based on a survey of 2551 Australians aged 60-64.

Dr Parslow is devoted to her dog, Tammy, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, which she bring to work twice a week where it sleeps under her desk.

"I would have been happier finding that pets are good for you," she said. "But I wanted to do research that is reliable and statistically sound."

The study found older pet owners, most of them cat and dog owners, were more likely to be depressed, and to take more pain-killers than people who did not own pets; and female pet owners were in worse physical health than their pet-free counterparts.

The pet owners were more likely to be loners who "liked others to be afraid of them", and "preferred to go their own way". And they visited the doctor just as often as the pet-free, contrary to other studies.

The findings are in line with research published last year by Dr Parslow and Professor Anthony Jorm, also a devoted dog owner, which showed pet owners did not have lower blood pressure than non-owners, and were not at lower risk of heart disease as had previously been claimed. In fact pet owners had higher blood pressure, were heavier, and more likely to smoke.

That study provoked a storm, prompting an adverse editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia by Dr Bruce Headey, the author of other research.

Dr Headey, of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, acknowledged in the editorial he had acted as a paid consultant to the Petcare Information and Advisory Service, funded by the pet food company Uncle Ben's. His work had concluded pets did confer health benefits.

He said cat and dog owners had saved the nation up to $2.7 billion in health expenditure in 1994-95.

"About 50 per cent of adults and 70 per cent of adolescents who own pets report that they confide in them," he wrote. "It is most unlikely that all this communication and companionship is wasted."

However, Dr Parslow said Dr Headey's original study on GP visits was "statistically weak". The conclusions drawn were "not well-supported" by the data.

"Our reasons for persisting in this area of study is we were concerned a lot of the research done before had not been well-designed," she said.

Dr Parslow said she could not explain why pet ownership among the elderly was associated with adverse mental and physical health. It was unlikely pets were the sole cause of the problems.

"Maybe retired people are looking at options in their lives and their pets hold them back," she said.

The study, Pet Ownership and Health in Older Adults, is to be published in the journal Gerontology.

Posted by thinkum at 12:47 PM

A few more things about Mary

It has been an untroubled ascent so far for the girl from Hobart about to become a bona fide princess, writes Andrew Darby.

Once upon a time on the island of Tasmania, far, far away at the bottom of the world, was born a girl who would become European royalty.

The birth notice of February 5, 1972 in a Hobart newspaper was brief: "Donaldson. At QAH to John and Etta, a daughter (Mary Elizabeth)."

On that day, too, a 115-year-old shipwreck was found off Tasmania's west coast. A trade union official called Brian Harradine was in trouble with the ALP again. And the Eastside drive-in offered "pagan worship and virgin sacrifice" in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.

Auspiciously for the Aquarian newborn, it was also the first day of the Royal Hobart Regatta, a water sports carnival tightly bound to the imperial past.

Thirty-two years later Senator Brian Harradine remains an enigma, but the regatta is much reduced in prestige, the drive-in gone, the shipwreck forgotten. And Mary Elizabeth's star has risen.

On May 14 in an afternoon ceremony she will marry Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark. Ahead of the wedding of the first Australian-born woman to stand in line to be queen, here are 10 things to know about Mary:

 She won't be Tasmania's first princess. The kindly Pauline Curran of Hobart in 1926 married Prince Maximilian Melikoff, of the Romanoffs, the exiled Russian royal family. Princess Melikoff died in 1988, bequeathing a substantial legacy to save "the whales and the baby seals".

 Like many Tasmanians, Donaldson learnt to travel early and make new friends in strange places. When she first went to preschool it was in Houston, Texas, where her mathematician father was teaching.

 Back in her birthplace soon after, she joined the same public education ladder of many solid middle-class Hobart families who either were not wealthy, or rejected the private system. Sandy Bay Infants School, Waimea Heights Primary (motto: Ever Onward), and Taroona High School are all small institutions with great outlooks over the Derwent, open to a world beyond their grounds.

 When education got serious, she didn't stray far from her solid brick suburban home. Mary stayed in the state system at Hobart Matriculation College, and then at the University of Tasmania, each nearby in safe Sandy Bay.

 She had a bit of physical hardness to her. Small and wiry in build, her best remembered sports were hockey and horse-riding. Women hockey players take no prisoners in Hobart. On horseback she took on the gruelling combination of dressage and jumps in one-day eventing.

 She has had boyfriends, but they haven't talked, and neither have her two sisters who still live here. Sandy Bay's pubs and clubs have been well trawled. The only memories to appear are vague and complimentary, along the lines of: "You knew when she walked into a room that she was something special. Not Nicole Kidman sexy. More Jackie [Kennedy]."

 One other person can rival her for colourful Danish-Tasmanian history. In the 19th century Jorgen Jorgensen helped colonise Hobart, took part in an Anglo-Danish war, spied for England, led an overthrow of Danish rule in Iceland, and returned to Hobart a convict.

 Her marriage will link Mary to most royal households of Europe. They will have the good fortune to be tied to at least one dinkum Australian tradesman. Her sister Patricia, a nurse, recently married a Hobart plasterer, Scott Bailey.

 Frederick appears to have had one early win. Mary put her foot down against sailing when they were in Hobart last. Their wedding will be preceded by a match race in Copenhagen in which she will sail against her husband.

 Her wedding dress may not be the only costume of curiosity to the Danish. If her father follows his recent Hobart precedent, he'll wear a kilt.

Posted by thinkum at 12:43 PM

The Viagra Revolution

"But the effect of Viagra is so far beyond its pure medical indication. The effects are psychological, they're attitudinal, they're behavioral and they're societal. ... Viagra has turned out to be a window into certainly the minds of the psyche of men but also of women and what it is that sex means for us."


April 22 ? It's not just 50-something men needing a little boost who have sought out Viagra and its newly approved cousins.

It's also 18-year-olds with performance anxiety (not to be confused with actual performance problems), 38-year-old music stars overwhelmed with opportunity and 90-year-olds who want to be virile forever. In fact, there seems to be a veritable stampede toward the magic pills.

According to a recent issue of the Harvard Health Letter, the number of men diagnosed with erectile dysfunction in the United States has increased by 250 percent since Viagra was approved in 1998. Two similar drugs, Levitra and Cialis, were approved in 2003.

But is sex being confused with sexuality?

Viagra seems to be changing not only the firmness of a man's penis; it also seems to be changing the way people think about relationships.

"Viagra is really one of the most remarkable advances in medicine in the last 50 years. It's remarkable," says Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, an associate professor of urology at Harvard Medical School and author of The Viagra Myth: The Surprising Impact on Love and Relationships.

Added Morgentaler: "But the effect of Viagra is so far beyond its pure medical indication. The effects are psychological, they're attitudinal, they're behavioral and they're societal. ? Viagra has turned out to be a window into certainly the minds of the psyche of men but also of women and what it is that sex means for us."

Viagra as 'Insurance'

There are those who really do benefit from Viagra. In his book, Morgentaler discusses the case of George, 58, and his wife, Marie (not their real names). Tests revealed that George was indeed having trouble getting firm erections. It was not all in his head. Viagra fixed that problem and gave new life to their relationship as well.

Other patients, however, want a Viagra "six pack" simply as insurance.

Even men in the traditionally virile, 18-to-25 age bracket are hooked. "The area of greatest concern is the young men entering the dating scene," Morgentaler says. "That age is characterized by a certain lack of confidence in one's ability."

According to Morgentaler, there's a fair amount of anecdotal evidence pointing to Viagra use among young men who don't have any physical problems. One younger patient asked Morgentaler for a prescription because "I feel like it gives me an edge."

"I think, for them, it raises the bar. Because my buddies are using this, do I now need to be pharmacologically enhanced in order to measure up," Morgentaler explains. "If a man feels he needs to take a pill in order to be adequate, then I think there is an opportunity lost to be loved and accepted for who he is."

This is precisely what happened to "James," a 38-year-old, ponytailed recording artist who was taking Viagra every time he had sex because it gave him "total confidence." Given his status in Los Angeles, James needed to summon up this confidence quite a bit.

After a while, though, he started feeling like he couldn't have sex without the little blue pill. And a little while after that, he fell in love with "Sara," who accidentally discovered the pills in a jacket pocket. "It's amazing she didn't find them earlier. I had Viagra pills stashed everywhere just in case," James said. Soon both James and Sara were seeking counsel from Morgentaler.

"The Viagra experience has shown us [that] men care deeply about being a good sexual partner," Morgentaler says. "They want not just to be adequate but to be admired. Viagra can play into that."

Not Always a Fix-All

But it also opens a window on how women feel about their sexual appeal.

"The other thing we've learned is how important the erect penis is for a woman's sense of her own sexual appeal," Morgentaler says. "When a woman finds out a man has been using the pill secretly, there are two main reactions. One is fury about the dishonesty aspect and the other is, 'I thought it was me that was turning you on. Why do you need a pill to have sex with me?'"

How much of the problem is physical and how much is the relationship or other emotional issues is not always clear. And Viagra may not be the solution to either, as Ed Buckner, 50, of Boston, found out. When he was in his mid-40s, Buckner noticed he was having a "performance issue."

Buckner talked to his general practitioner, who immediately wrote a prescription for Viagra. Buckner's response: "Wow, I was hoping you would say that. This is just going to fix everything."

It didn't. "As much as I wanted to be aroused, I wasn't," Buckner recalls.

After a battery of tests (including visits to a psychologist), Morgentaler diagnosed low testosterone levels. Now Buckner gets twice monthly injections and, he says, "I have my life back."

More information

For more on erectile dysfunction, visit the National Institutes of Health or the American Foundation for Urologic Disease.

Posted by thinkum at 11:43 AM

April 22, 2004

Wash. State Soldier Held in Wife's Death

Soldier in Washington State Held in Wife's Death; Relatives Say Mind Snapped in Iraq

LAKEWOOD, Wash. April 22 — An Army sergeant who recently returned from Iraq was arrested in the death of his wife, and relatives said something caused his mind to snap while he was deployed.

James Kevin Pitts, 31, turned himself in late Wednesday and was booked for investigation of murder, according to booking records.

Tara Pitts, 28, who earlier this month obtained a temporary restraining order against her husband, was found dead Wednesday in her apartment, police said.

Pierce County sheriff's Detective Ed Troyer said she had been dead several hours and an autopsy was planned. Troyer said there was no indication Pitts had been shot or stabbed.

It was not immediately clear if Pitts had a lawyer.

The soldier called his family on Wednesday and confessed, said his brother, Joshua Pitts. "He's been a totally changed person. Obviously it (Iraq) did something to him," he said.

James Pitts is a sergeant first class who operated heavy equipment for the 555th Combat Engineer Group, his brother said. He returned in March after nearly a year in Iraq.

"This has devastated me," Pitts' father, also named James, told KIRO-TV of Seattle. "My son called and said, 'I just killed my wife.' ... He's not my son anymore. I feel my son is still in Iraq. You can thank George W. Bush for this."

Fort Lewis civilian spokesman Jeff Young said Army personnel sent to combat receive help dealing with the stress of deployment.

The Army beefed up its postwar counseling programs after three soldiers from commando units at Fort Bragg, N.C., were accused of killing their wives in the summer of 2002 after returning from fighting in Afghanistan.

Posted by thinkum at 08:44 PM

Out of Darkness

A Family's Desperate Effort to Save Their Boys From a Life of Isolation

April 22 — Marc and Sophia Augier were overjoyed when their dream of a big family quickly became a reality five years ago with the birth of son Marcel and little more than a year later, twin boys Christophe and Henri.

Their lives, in the suburbs of Cleveland, seemed to be a normal and happy blur, as they went about the business of raising three young boys.

So, Marc and Sophia didn't know what to think when, at age 2, Marcel suddenly started behaving strangely. The boy who seemed to be developing normally, who was starting to talk, suddenly stopped talking, stopped responding to his parents.

At times, he would shake his hands in front of his face. Awake in the middle of the night, he wouldn't sleep. Sophia says he was "humming, talking to himself, bouncing off the walls."

Soon Marcel stopped making eye contact. He stopped pointing. He even seemed oblivious to Christmas presents. On a trip to Seaworld, "He wasn't even overwhelmed," she said. "He just floated through the day."

Concerned, they took him to the pediatrician, and then to a neurologist, where Marcel underwent a battery of intensive tests. The result was devastating. Marcel was diagnosed with autism, a complex developmental brain disorder that can leave a child isolated, completely unable to connect to the outside world.

The Augiers were stunned and heartsick. Soon, it got even worse. The odds were astronomical, but the doctor said Christophe and Henri were autistic too. And Sophia was pregnant with her fourth child.

It would not be easy to take care of three disabled sons. The boys couldn't tell their parents when they were hungry, tired or scared. They would be frustrated by their inability to communicate, and threw tantrums constantly.

Their children threatened with lives of dependence and isolation, the Augiers didn't know what to do. But they didn't give up. They decided to start a desperate journey against incredible emotional, financial and personal odds to save their sons.

On the Cutting Edge

It turned out that the Augiers were living near one of world's leading hospitals, Ohio's Cleveland Clinic — which was starting an autism center for children.

But the center had no program for toddlers. So the Augiers cleaned out their basement, and with the center's help, hired and trained a team of 12 tutors to implement a round-the-clock intensive therapy called applied behavior analysis, or ABA.

ABA is a form of behavior modification: Children are given one simple command at a time. For Marcel, it began with "come sit."

The command is repeated to them hour after hour, day after day, until they do it. Then they are rewarded with praise, or a snack or a toy, until they can eventually do it on their own.

"It's a constant effort on our part to open their world. Every day, every hour, every minute," Sophia said.

The hope is to break though to autistic children, training them to learn and, in theory, rewiring their young brains, said Leslie Sinclair, who runs the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism.

ABA is a widely accepted treatment for young children with autism, and is used at centers and schools around the country. But some say ABA is too rigid. It is never easy: a child can bite, slap and scratch. The therapists can seem unsympathetic.

But Sinclair says the program is effective. "It's really firm and neutral," she said. "We don't really allow our children not to respond. And there are certain things we don't want our children to engage in because it's not productive."

ABA, especially when introduced early, can show results, and is accepted among many researchers as the most effective treatment for autism. But ABA doesn't rescue every child.

About 30 percent show real progress, but the Augiers believe the odds are with them. After a year of home therapy, their boys were enrolled in the Cleveland Clinic's new toddler center.

‘Sheer Delight’

In June 2001, the Augiers' fourth child was born. To their relief, she did not show any signs of autism.

And more good news: After several months, the ABA gamble seemed to be paying off. The Augiers could see real progress for their sons — not just basic skills, but real connections.

Marcel — who could not speak — could now form full sentences. Christophe was learning to read. Henri, the most severely impaired, could finally make eye contact.

The developments were "sheer delight," Sophia said. "When you see them coming back to you, it fuels the fire to keep going." The Augiers still use ABA at home, and every moment with the boys is an opportunity to reinforce what they have learned.

But ABA is expensive. Tuition at the Cleveland Clinic's autism center is $56,000 per child, about $170,000 a year for all three Augier boys. Neither insurance nor the government paid for it.

Marc lost his job in the recession, so the Augiers have been forced to spend their life savings — $500,000 so far. They had borrowed from friends and family, but say they can't keep going back.

So, with Marcel nearing kindergarten age, the Augiers faced a new challenge: They would have to ask their local school district for help, or face the fear of losing this lifeline to their children.

A National Debate

By law, public schools have to provide a free and appropriate education for developmentally disabled kids, and the local public school does have a program for autistic children.

But it doesn't have to be the intensive year-round ABA that the Augiers receive for their children. The Augiers are currently negotiating with the district to try to come up with a suitable plan for their boys. They met with district officials this week, and are scheduled to meet again next month.

Attorney Sue Hastings, who represents the Augiers' school district in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, says she understands how parents who have seen their children flourish with a certain program might feel when they are not able to continue with it.

"But school districts are not charged with providing the 'best' that money can buy," she said. "They don't have the resources to fix the problem."

The Augiers have become part of a heated national debate. With autism dramatically on the rise — one in every 166 children is now diagnosed with autism — the issue of who pays for treatment and education is increasingly important. There are no national standards, and funding varies from state to state, district to district.

An autism diagnosis is already devastating for families, Sinclair said. "Now they have to go from one place to another trying to find where can I get the services and how can I get them funded. And time is ticking away."

Fingers Crossed

ABA experts say that when children start therapy young and get 40 hours a week without interruption, they have the greatest chance of living normal lives.

Even over a two-week Christmas break, Sophia said, she could see a regression in her boys.

There is a long waiting list for the Cleveland Clinic's autism center — and for places like it around the country — so for now, the Augiers feel lucky to be there. For now, they continue with ABA therapy at home and at school, and cherish each small victory. Their best hope for their boys: "full recovery," said Marc.

There was one piece of good news for the the Augiers recently: Marc got a job in finance.

Posted by thinkum at 08:40 PM

House OKs Speedy Elections if Attacked

House Approves Bill to Set Up Speedy Elections if 100 or More Are Killed in Terror Attack

WASHINGTON April 22 — Fearing that terrorists might target Congress, the House on Thursday approved a bill to set up speedy special elections if 100 or more of its members are killed.

The House, in a 306-97 vote, put aside for now the larger issue of whether the Constitution should be amended to allow for temporary appointments in the event that an attack caused mass fatalities among lawmakers.

The House, said Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., sponsor of the elections bill and a foe of appointments, "is rooted in democratic principles and those principles must be preserved at all costs."

Thursday's vote came two and a half years after the Sept. 11 attacks and the crash in Pennsylvania of United Flight 93, a plane that many believe was destined for the U.S. Capitol.

"Those passengers gave their lives to give us a second chance," said Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., a supporter of the broader constitutional approach. "Eternal shame on us if we do not take action" to protect Congress' survival after a possible attack.

The measure would require special elections within 45 days of the House speaker confirming that a catastrophic event had left at last 100 of the 435 seats vacant. Language was added to ensure that military personnel stationed overseas would have their voting rights protected.

Congress considered but never acted on the continuity question during the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, when the fear was that Washington could be obliterated in a nuclear attack.

The current legislation has split the two parties in the House, with many Democrats saying they were not given the chance to offer a constitutional amendment that would allow for temporary appointments until special elections could be held.

The Constitution requires that House vacancies be filled by elections. Senate vacancies can be temporarily filled by appointments made by governors.

The Senate has not taken up the terrorist attack issue, though Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has proposed a constitutional change giving states the flexibility to come up with their own solutions.

Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate and ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures.

Sensenbrenner said expedited elections could get the House back on its feet after a disaster without betraying the democratic underpinnings of the chamber.

As for the possibility of a largely appointed House, he asked, "Is that what the framers of the Constitution had in mind?" His answer: "No way."

Still, in a gesture to Democrats and some in his own party who favor the constitutional approach, Sensenbrenner pledged that his committee would vote on a proposed constitutional amendment in the near future.

Hearings were also scheduled on the issue of incapacitation, or how to define when a member who is still alive is unable to carry out his congressional duties, possibly because of a biological or chemical attack.

Critics of the 45-day election plan said it was both too short a time for some states to prepare for elections and too long to leave Congress in a paralyzed state. Several warned of a martial law condition, with the executive branch taking over legislative authorities such as declaring war during the 45 days that Congress is unable to function.

"A catastrophe that could prevent whole states from being represented for 45 days is at the heart of the concern," said Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., another backer of amending the Constitution.

They noted that within days after the Sept. 11 attack Congress passed legislation approving billions in emergency funds to compensate victims and help out airlines. That would not be possible if Congress was unable to meet or raise a quorum, they said.

The constitutional approach is backed by the non-partisan Continuity of Government Commission, formed in the fall of 2002 to study how to keep Congress functioning after a disaster.

The commission's chairs former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Lloyd Cutler, White House counsel to presidents Carter and Clinton, said in a recent letter that not one of their members went into the task with the desire to amend the Constitution.

"Nevertheless, the evidence we considered led us to conclude that, for the sake of the Constitution itself, the security of our nation and the preservation of the Congress, a constitutional amendment is necessary to provide continuity in the face of a catastrophic attack."

The Sensenbrenner bill is H.R. 2844.

Posted by thinkum at 08:31 PM

Learning your Chinese highway code

My family has a poor record with driving tests. I failed mine four times in the UK. My father failed his first test for going too slowly, while my mother even managed to hit a police car on her first go. So it was with some trepidation that I faced the prospect of getting my driving licence in China. Little did I know what an ordeal it would turn into.


The first stage was a series of medical examinations where men in white coats did inexplicable things.

One hit my knees and elbows with a small hammer, another scratched the soles of my feet with a stick, and a third conducted experiments involving holding a tuning fork to my ear.

From their air of resignation, it was clear that these unfortunate individuals had been assigned one test each, which they were fated to inflict on prospective drivers in perpetuity.

Once I had been given a clean bill of health, I trekked out to a big grey building on the far edges of Beijing to submit my documentation.

The city planners must have been smirking when they decided where to put the driving test centre.

With the Kafkaesque logic so beloved of Chinese bureaucrats, it is almost impossible to reach the place without driving there; but you cannot get a driving licence unless you go there.


Collecting the right documents was in itself an administrative feat that had taken months.

Various permits had to be obtained and photocopied, my driving licence translated and stamped officially, and multiple photographs produced.

Brandishing all the right bits of paper, I was given a date for my test. It was a written exam on the rules of the road in China.

When I asked the bossy woman behind the counter where I could buy a book to swot up on it, she said breezily: "Oh there is no such thing, just ask someone who has done the test."

My inquiries were not too successful.

"Do not worry about it," our office manager Christine said. "It is easy. We all passed with 99%."

"Why do you not just buy a licence like I did?" an English friend asked. "It saves so much hassle, it is worth every penny."

A third friend admitted that she had been driving without a Chinese licence for years. "It does not matter, no one else can drive around here anyway," she said.

The big day

The morning of my test dawned. I had got up early and spent hours sitting in traffic to make it on time.

I was handed my test paper and looked down at it with horror. One hundred questions faced me, all of them in, frankly, incomprehensible English.

Several asked about the behaviour of people called practitioner drivers. It was only afterwards I realised this meant learner drivers.

Even though most questions were multiple choice, that did not stop them from being baffling.

In one case, answers a and c were exactly the same.

When I pointed this out to the invigilator, he took a red pen and drew a big cross through the whole question, explaining that there had been a mistake with the printing.

Other questions were well beyond the scope of this driver.

I was expected to know how high one could load a motorcycle to travel on an expressway, and exactly what role the oil pressure gauge plays in the functioning of an engine.

The most memorable question was: "If you come across a road accident victim, whose intestines are lying on the road, should you pick them up and push them back in?"

This was not a driving scenario that I had ever envisaged.


At the end of it, I flunked the test. I thought I had not done too badly with 63%, but the pass mark is 90%.

My husband, who has worked as a taxi driver, and took the test in Chinese, failed too. He just scraped 70%.

Unsurprisingly, our dual failure caused great mirth at the office.

Our driver chuckled all the way back, even as he mounted the pavement and swerved round pedestrians to skip a traffic jam.

Like other Beijingers, he is an expert at finding ways of avoiding the endless gridlock.

After six months here, hurtling into the path of oncoming traffic does not faze me at all, though I did draw the line when one taxi driver tried to take me down a bicycle lane on the wrong side of the road.

It is hardly surprising that China is becoming one of the most dangerous places in the world to drive.

The written driving tests are, as I discovered, meaningless and no one pays any attention to the regulations anyway.

Given the amount of traffic on the roads, driving is frankly a frustrating and hazardous experience.

So maybe it is a blessing in disguise that I have no choice but to carry on riding my bicycle, for the moment at least.

Posted by thinkum at 08:10 PM

Fingertips 'read' text messages

A way to read text messages just by touch has been developed by researchers in Germany.

They created a mobile with tiny arrays embedded with moving pins that rise and fall under a person's fingertips.

This allows a person to perceive a text message as a 'tactile melody', said the scientists from Bonn University.

They have shown off a working prototype of the phone at this week's Hanover industrial trade fair.

Feel your way

The researchers came up with a way to direct the movement of the pins to create specific patterns under the fingers.

While the system can to recognise circles, lines, squares, or letters such as V, the perception of more complex symbols is highly individual.

For instance, the '@' sign might feel like a spiral, the word 'I' as a wave that flows towards the person and 'you' as a wave that flows away.

"Of course, we are not intending to transmit letters via this tactile channel," said Professor Rolf Eckmiller, head of the Division of Neural Computation at Bonn University.

"We are not about to compete with the eye. What interests us is the rapid transmission of sensory units, such as I, you, in an hour or to Bonn.

"So it would be possible, for instance, given an appropriately equipped mobile, to translate the SMS sentence, 'I shall be home in an hour' into a corresponding sequence of tactile melodies," he said.

Future users of tactile mobiles are not expected to spend ages though, memorising preset fingertip melodies.

Tactile words

The group is working on specially designed software that will enable the device to adapt to its owners and give them the option of creating their very own touch vocabulary.

Moving pins that rise and fall under a person's fingertips

By providing the user with a selection of tactile terms for each word they wish to use, the software will be able to create further variations till the word is transformed into satisfactory pin movements.

The researchers say that the system can be quickly taught to identify the melody the individual wants to correlate with an object, word, or event which a person can then remember just as easily as they would remember pictures and sounds.

"I can assign a certain tactile melody to my wife and another tactile melody to my daughter," said Prof Eckmiller.

"If they send me an SMS, I immediately recognise these melodies, because I selected and generated them myself."

Benefits include being able to read messages with total privacy or under poor lighting conditions. The team has been working on the technology for four years and has filed patents a year and a half ago.

Touch composing

The scientists expect the system to pave the way for purely tactile SMS messaging in future generations of mobiles but the technology has many potential applications.

For instance, tactile actuator arrays built into steering wheels or control handles could provide car drivers or pilots with information as to the right route or warn them in difficult situations.

Pieces of art could be developed solely to be touched, by 'tactile composers' akin to music for the ear and paintings for the eye.

The scientists are also looking to apply the process in the field of medical engineering, to reproduce sounds for the deaf, or as a visual aid for the blind.

"Our major intention with this invention and development is to open up the sense of touch as a new channel for human communication," said Prof Eckmiller.

"The sense of touch will in the future be added as the third communication channel to human communication technologies."

Posted by thinkum at 08:04 PM

Study: Do Your Boss A Favor, Call In Sick

'Presenteeism' Blamed For 60 Percent Of Worker Illness Costs

ITHACA, N.Y. -- People feeling sick should stay home, according to a new study by researchers at Cornell University and health-information firm Medstat.

Researchers found that ill people coming to work just make things worse. They reduce productivity and drive up already-high health care costs, according to the study.

Headaches, allergies, arthritis, asthma and mental health-related problems such as depression incur the greatest on-the-job productivity losses, the study found.

Researchers call the productivity-loss problem "presenteeism" and blame it for up to 60 percent of the total cost of worker illness for an employer.

The report is published in the April issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It was conducted for the university's Washington-based Institute for Health and Productivity Studies.

"In this day and age where employers are hesitant to hire because of skyrocketing medical care costs, it's important to broaden the view of health costs beyond the cost of patient care," said Ron Goetzel, director of the IHPS. "Employers need to weigh the costs of good medical care against the potential for on-the-job productivity losses, which we see are substantial in many cases."

Goetzel said the expense of on-the-job productivity losses is in most cases higher than medical costs.

In the study, researchers analyzed information from a large medical/absence database of about 375,000 employees, detailing insurance claims for medical care and short-term disability over a three-year period. They combined the data with findings from five productivity surveys for 10 health conditions that commonly affect workers.

The study was supported by the National Pharmaceutical Council.


Study Abstract:

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: Volume 46(4) April 2004 pp 398-412
Health, Absence, Disability, and Presenteeism Cost Estimates of Certain Physical and Mental Health Conditions Affecting U.S. Employers

Goetzel, Ron Z. PhD; Long, Stacey R. MS; Ozminkowski, Ronald J. PhD; Hawkins, Kevin PhD; Wang, Shaohung PhD; Lynch, Wendy PhD

From the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies, Cornell University (Dr Goetzel); The MEDSTAT Group (Dr Goetzel, Ms Long, Dr Ozminkowski, Dr Hawkins, Dr Wang); and Lynch Consulting (Dr Lynch).

Address correspondence to: Ronald J. Ozminkowski, PhD, The MEDSTAT Group, Inc., 777 East Eisenhower Parkway, 804B, Ann Arbor, MI 48108; E-mail address: ron.ozminkowski@thomson.com.

Evidence about the total cost of health, absence, short-term disability, and productivity losses was synthesized for 10 health conditions. Cost estimates from a large medical/absence database were combined with findings from several published productivity surveys. Ranges of condition prevalence and associated absenteeism and presenteeism (on-the-job-productivity) losses were used to estimate condition-related costs. Based on average impairment and prevalence estimates, the overall economic burden of illness was highest for hypertension ($392 per eligible employee per year), heart disease ($368), depression and other mental illnesses ($348), and arthritis ($327). Presenteeism costs were higher than medical costs in most cases, and represented 18% to 60% of all costs for the 10 conditions. Caution is advised when interpreting any particular source of data, and the need for standardization in future research is noted.

Posted by thinkum at 02:46 PM

April 21, 2004

Your Planetary Protection Officer

In an op-ed in yesterday's New York Times, evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson noted that NASA, at the behest of its "planetary protection officer," "is starting to prepare a high-security Martian containment facility." Who is NASA's planetary protection officer, and what does the job entail?

By Brendan I. Koerner
Posted Tuesday, April 20, 2004, at 2:08 PM PT

Protecting our environment

Since 1998, the space agency's planetary protection officer, or PPO, has been John D. Rummel, an astrobiologist and a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. This is actually his second tour of duty at NASA; once an aspiring astronaut, Rummel researched extraterrestrial life for NASA from 1986 to 1993, when he left to join the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.

Rummel has two primary tasks: to ensure that outbound spacecraft aren't contaminated with biological material from Earth (forward contamination), and to protect the Earth from lifeforms that might be contained within samples retrieved from space (back contamination). These concerns trace back to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Bodies. This 1967 international agreement mandated that signatories avoid "harmful contamination" when surveying the cosmos. That meant not only protecting the Earth from extraterrestrial microbes that could cause disease, but also protecting other planets and cosmic objects from organisms native to our world.

Planetary protection wasn't an issue during NASA's lunar missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s, because scientists agreed that the moon was hostile to all life. But the same couldn't be said of Mars, so the agency established its Planetary Protection Office in 1976, to deal with contamination issues raised by the Viking mission.

The standards for planetary protection are issued by the U.N. Committee on Space Research. Rummel currently chairs COSPAR's Panel on Planetary Protection, whose latest policy guidelines were adopted in 2002. For example, any future missions to Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter, must be designed to reduce the odds of forward contamination to less than 1 in 10,000.

The job of the PPO and his staff, then, is to figure out how, exactly, NASA can conform to those standards. The primary method of preventing forward contamination is to construct the spacecraft in a clean room, akin to the assembly facilities where semiconductors are made, and then sterilize the vehicle before it's launched. The Viking landers, for example, were encased in a special "bioshield," then baked at 100 degrees Celsius; the bioshield wasn't jettisoned until after the spacecraft had cleared the Earth. Because of the sensitivity of contemporary equipment, however, the baking method is no longer appropriate for the most advanced spacecraft. NASA is currently researching a chemical sterilization process that uses hydrogen peroxide, among other methods.

Rummel's other big challenge is designing and building a suitable containment facility for the analysis of Martian samples. Sometime next decade, NASA hopes to complete a mission that can return up to a kilogram of Martian rock to the Earth. Though there's only a tiny chance that such a sample will contain an organism, let alone one that might cause a nightmarish scenario out of The Andromeda Strain, NASA doesn't want to take any chances with the future of the human race. Rummel and his cohorts have already published a voluminous draft protocol for handling these samples in a safe manner and are hard at work designing an appropriately fortified laboratory.

Posted by thinkum at 09:33 PM

Mouse With Two Mommies

Mammal Born Without Father; Could Women Do This Too?

April 21 ? Researchers have created a mouse born from all-female DNA, raising the question: If female mammals can reproduce on their own, will males become obsolete?

A few plants, insects and reptiles are capable of male-free reproduction in a process known as parthenogenesis, from the Greek meaning "virgin birth." Via parthenogenesis, a female's egg is able to grow into a new organism without any fertilization from the male.

But mammals generally require sexual reproduction that combines two sets of DNA ? one copy from the mother and one from the father. Although male and female DNA are very similar, they have chemical signals that distinguish them and an embryo usually will not develop properly if it does not sense the presence of both.

Until now, that is. In order to create a mouse with all-female parentage, researchers at Japan's Tokyo University and South Korea's National University College of Medicine in Seoul, "tricked" the embryo into believing it contained both male and female DNA by knocking out the gene that marked one strand as "female." With the "female" gene removed, the embryo interpreted the second strand of female DNA as male DNA.

The mouse, named Kaguya, grew to healthy adulthood and now has offspring of her own conceived naturally with a male mouse. The findings were published in today's edition of the journal Nature

Men No Longer Needed?

So does all this mean males will go the way of the dinosaur? Not likely, experts say.

While it might be possible for two women to reproduce using these techniques, practical application would be extremely difficult.

"Sure, it's theoretically possible to get rid of men," quips David Magnus, an assistant professor of pediatrics and co-director of the Center of Bioethics at Stanford University in California. "With all the sperm saved up in sperm banks, we probably could get rid of them now."

But Magnus points out the technology to create a human Kaguya is a long way off and may not be possible at all.

"In reproductive technology, there is a big gap between animals and humans. For example, cloning a mouse is easy. But no one has yet cloned a primate or a human. We don't even know if it's possible."

However, experts do not rule out the possibility that a similar technique might be available to humans in the future. On major hurdle is to find a way to genetically alter a woman's egg without altering the woman herself.

"I can outline a protocol right now where it could work in theory," George Daley, an assistant professor of medicine and a leading stem cell researcher at Harvard University. "Are we there yet with the technology? No. But sure it could work."

So while the female-female DNA combination might appeal to lesbian couples seeking to have a child, the technology is not likely to be used for reproduction any time soon.

"I don't see this applicable to human assisted reproduction," says David Wininger, an assistant professor in the OB/GYN department and director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. "We wouldn't even know which genes to take out."

Also, while Kaguya appears healthy now, trouble may lurk down the road. Kaguya was one of only two mice out of 457 eggs to survive.

Rudolf Jaenisch, one of the founders of transgenic science and professor of biology at MIT explains, "This mouse is almost certainly not normal. It is just less abnormal than the ones who did not make it."

"We don't know the long-term effects of this technique," says Magnus. "Reproductive technology has grown so fast without much in the way of safety data. The first IVF baby ["test tube baby"] is only in her 20s. Who's to say what long-term effects our interventions might have on later life?"

Redefining Personhood

Creating embryos without fertilization may offer a way around some of the ethical concerns about embryonic stem cell research. If not for the genetic manipulation performed by Kaguya's creators, mammalian embryos created without fertilization die after a few days. "These embryos do not have the potential to become offspring," explains Wininger.

Wininger, who is working on creating human "embryos" without fertilization, sees this technique as a powerful research tool. "We are in the process of trying to isolate stem cells from these embryos," he says, adding that he hopes these specially-created stem cells will not have the same ethical issues that surround embryonic stem cells harvested from fertilized embryos.

At the very least, Magnus claims, the technology forces us to reconsider the definition of personhood. "These findings challenge key concepts about the definition of 'embryo.' Is every egg a potential person now? Does menstruation equal death?"

Currently, the government considers parthenogenesis to be a form of reproduction and therefore stem cells derived via this technique are subject to the same ban on federal funding as traditional stem cells. Institutions can only pursue research on stem cells derived from parthenogenesis using private funding.

Posted by thinkum at 04:58 PM

Insightful Discovery

Researchers Pinpoint Brain Region Responsible for 'Aha' Moments

April 21 ? We've all had those moments, from time to time, when the solution to a complex problem suddenly strikes out of thin air, providing an insight into something we've never understood before.

Cognitive scientists call it the "Aha!" experience. Or the "Eureka!" moment. You know you've had it because a mythical lightning bolt comes out of the sky, or a light goes off over your head, or you just feel euphoric.

Until now, many scientists had believed there's no fundamental difference between that Aha experience and any other cognitive process. But scientists at two universities, using some of the most valuable tools in their field, had found evidence that the moment when insight strikes is very different indeed.

Two different brain imaging techniques have revealed that a specific area of the brain "lights up" when the Aha moment arrives, according to cognitive neuroscientists Mark Jung-Beeman and Edward Bowden of Northwestern University and John Kounios of Drexel University. They reported their findings in the April 13th edition of PloS Biology, an online journal that is available free through the Public Library of Science.

"We believe this is the first research showing that distinct computational and neural mechanisms lead to these breakthrough moments," says Jung-Beeman. "This was the first real crack at it (understanding how insight occurs) in terms of looking at the brain."

Areas of Concentration

Participants in the study grappled with 144 simple problems, some of which required insight, and some of which could be solved without the need for a lightning bolt.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging, which allowed them to determine which parts of the brain were active, in the first of two experiments. Part of the brain "lit up" when the participants experienced Aha, but not when they didn't. The increased activity was observed in part of the right temporal lobe (the anterior superior temporal gyrus.)

The researchers were concentrating on that area because previous studies have linked it to complex language skills "when you need to tie together things that are distantly related," Jung-Beeman says. "That's exactly what an insight is. It's tying together information that people already know, but they don't recognize how they are related until that key moment."

That result was reinforced in the second experiment when an electroencephalogram (EEG) detected high frequency brain waves, normally associated with complex cognitive processing, in the same area of the brain.

The results show that some form of different neural activity is taking place during insight, but that's not likely to be the entire story, according to the researchers. This is a very new field, and it has eluded researchers for many years, so there are probably many other things going on in addition to one area of the brain lighting up.

But it's a strong start, according to other scientists who have looked at the work. Philip Johnson-Laird, professor of psychology at Princeton University, describes it as "one of the most original studies of insight that I have ever seen."

Archimedes Principal

One of the problems confronting researchers has been pretty basic. How do you know when you've had a Eureka moment?

They looked to the past, and the character who coined the phrase, for an answer. Legend has it that Archimedes was just about to step into his bath when the light went off over his head. He had been ordered by his king, Hiero, to find out if his crown was pure gold without destroying it.

Archimedes noticed that the water rose in his bath as he stepped in, and the insight struck. The displacement of the water was directly related to the volume of whatever was put into the tub, even his foot, so all he had to do was submerge the crown in water to determine its purity.

And, as legend has it, Archimedes was so thrilled he shouted "Eureka," (I have found it) and ran home through the streets of ancient Greece without bothering to put on his toga.

Word Association

The researchers figured that most people know when they've had an insight, so they relied on the participants to point it out.

"We defined it for them," Jung-Beeman says. "The answer comes to you suddenly. You weren't aware you were even thinking of it until the moment that it pops into your mind, and as soon as it does, you just know. It seems obvious."

Each problem consisted of three words. The participants were required to supply another word with a similar meaning, or that could be used to for a complex word, or phrase, with each of the three words. What goes with fence, card and master? Post. How about a little tougher one? Same, tennis, and head. The answer is match.

The idea was to give the participants words that are very distantly related, or not related at all, and see if they could complete the problem. Insight involves pulling together pieces of poorly related information and coming up with a solution.

The subjects solved 59 percent of the problems, and reported having an insight for 56 percent of the correct answers. And significantly, the two imagers recorded the heightened brain activity in the same area of the brain for those problems that were solved with insight, but not for the others.

Making the Connection

Like Archimedes, the participants combined previously known information in a new way, resulting to a solution to a problem.

"This is the nature of many insights," Jung-Beeman says, "the recognition of new connections across existing knowledge."

But, one might ask, so what? Why does any one need to know what part of the brain is involved in solving a problem?

Howard Gardner, professor of education and cognition at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in commenting on the work, noted that it was a key part of trying to "demystify the creative process." That could come in handy if the process stops working right. Maybe all it will take will be a tweak of that part of the right temporal lobe to get it working right again.

And maybe not. But at least it seems to be a step in the right direction.

Posted by thinkum at 04:24 PM

Rock art hints at whaling origins


Capture of a whale, showing a boat carrying whalers (left of the whale) and a float (on the right)

Stone Age people may have started hunting whales as early as 6,000 BC, new evidence from South Korea suggests.

Analysis of rock carvings at Bangu-Dae archaeological site in Ulsan in the southeast of the country revealed more than 46 depictions of large whales.

They also show evidence that humans used harpoons, floats and lines to catch their prey, which included sperm whales, right whales and humpbacks.

Details of the research are published in the journal L'Anthropologie.

"You have representations of dolphins and whales, with people on boats using harpoons and lines. It is a scene of whaling," co-investigator Daniel Robineau told BBC News Online.

For example, one scene shows people standing in a curved boat connected via a line to a whale.

Social importance

The rock engravings, or petroglyphs, seem to have been made at a range of different times between 6,000 and 1,000 BC.

At nearby occupation sites dating to between 5,000 and 1,500 BC, archaeologists have unearthed large quantities of cetacean bones - a sure sign that whales were an important food source for populations in the area.

Other species represented on the rocks at Bangu-Dae include orcas (killer whales), minke whales, and dolphins.

Dr Robineau and Sang-Mog Lee, of the Museum of Kyungpook National University in Bukgu Daegu in South Korea, suggest whaling played an important role in social cohesion in the lives of the people who made the petroglyphs, similar to that which has been observed in historic Inuit populations.

Some of the depictions of whales also bear what appear to be fleshing lines, where the hunters divided up the meat after capturing and killing the mammals.

Posted by thinkum at 01:04 PM

Surgery 'makes you sound young'

Doctors in the United States are offering patients voice lifts to help them sound younger.

The surgery involves plumping up the vocal cords to turn old shaky voices into strong clear ones.

The technique has previously only been used on people who have lost their voices through injury or disease.

But doctors say it is becoming popular with patients who have already had plastic surgery and want to sound as well as look younger than they are.

"There are people who pay $15,000 for a face lift and as soon as they open their mouth, they sound like they're 75," said Dr Robert Thayer Sataloff of the Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia.

"The wobbles, the tremors, they're what we recognise as things that make a voice sound old."

Vocal cords

Surgeons can make the voice sound younger by bringing the vocal cords closer together.

This is done by injecting collagen or similar substances to plump the vocal cords up.

"The surgery brings the vocal folds closer together either by injecting a material through the mouth fat or a bone like substance or collagen or by making a little incision in the neck and implanting a little piece of gortex to bring all of the vocal fold tissues closer together," said Dr Thayer Sataloff.

"Either one of those techniques will take a voice that is soft and breathy and give it strength and solidity that makes it sound more believable and younger."

Doctors said the technique could be particularly helpful for people who use their voice in their careers.

"It can benefit people who may be getting toward the end of a singing career," said Dr Leroy Young of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

"It can benefit people like politicians and teachers who need to have a strong voice that carries," he said.

"I'd say caveat emptor for the professional singer but if you're a teacher and you don't want to sound like Marlene Dietrich, it's something to consider."

Posted by thinkum at 01:01 PM

Denmark tops e-business rankings

Denmark is the best place in the world for e-commerce with its Nordic neighbours not far behind, an Economist Intelligence Unit report has found.

The UK ranked second this year, up from third in 2003. The US slipped to sixth.

The research company also believes that the outlook for the technology industry is better than it has been for a while.

It points to increasing global demand for mobile phones and faster internet connections, as well as cheaper and easier-to-use products and software.

Helping hand

All these factors are combining in many countries to make it less of a hassle for companies to use the Internet, the EIU says.

A vital ingredient in future developments, however, will be the role of governments.

To speed things up even further, firms need to co-operate with local governments, the information and communications industry and businesses, the EIU says.

This already has happened in Nordic countries, helping push four of the region's states into the top five places in the e-readiness rankings.

What sets it apart according to the EIU "is the extent to which the Internet has reshaped business transactions".

Another boost was "the eagerness with which citizens have incorporated Internet usage into their daily routines and the extent to which (the region's) governments have driven developments".

Tiger economies

This is also evident elsewhere in the world.

The EIU, for example, singled out Singapore as a world leader in offering broadband Internet connections, and highlighted the close links between the government and industry.

Singapore ranked seventh in the EIU's survey, posting the survey's biggest gain with a surge of five places.

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong moved up one slot to ninth, while South Korea was placed at number 14.

The role of government also can prove particularly effective in so-called developing countries where infrastructure may be lacking.

The EIU identifies Mexico and Romania, respectively ranked 39th and 50th, as two countries where "proactive governments and smart businesses can use the Internet to improve services and create new opportunities".

Look at India, South Africa and Bulgaria, the EIU says, which have managed to develop what it calls "niche" industries based on software production and the outsourcing of services.

Growth engine

In fact, an initial lack of infrastructure can act as a catalyst for growth by prompting an immediate and rapid roll-out of new services.

In Estonia, set to join the European Union on 1 May and included in the survey for the first time this year, "the majority of Internet users are broadband subscribers and all public schools have broadband access".

All the accession countries included in the survey - eight of the 10 set to join - had a "decent" infrastructure and e-business environment, the EIU said.

Slippery slope

Ironically, the introduction of faster Internet connections seems to be benefiting the developing countries more than their better established rivals.

According to the EIU, "for most countries - particularly the top-ranked ones - the change has had a dampening effect... because broadband adoption is still very low".

The US, for example, slipped to sixth in the survey from joint third a year earlier. The Netherlands dropped to eighth, while Switzerland fell to 10th, Canada 11th and Australia 12th.

"In a digital world, new technology will constantly move the goalposts," the EIU said.

The EIU has compiled this survey since 2000 in conjunction with IBM's Institute of Business Value.


1. Denmark (2)
2. UK (=3)
3. Sweden (1)
4. Norway (7)
5. Finland (6)
6. US (=3)
7. Singapore (12)
8. Netherlands (=3)
9. Hong Kong (10)
10. Switzerland (8)

2003 rankings in brackets

Posted by thinkum at 01:00 PM

ID card technology under scrutiny

Experts from the identification cards industry will tell parliament what type of cards they think should be introduced to the UK.

Home Secretary David Blunkett has said that a draft bill on the issue will be published by next month.

Companies who make ID cards will give their opinions to the Home Affairs select committee on whether there should be basic or sophisticated types.

The government has said that they see ID cards as a weapon against terrorism.


Edentity, Cubic Transportation Systems, Lasercard and QinetiQ develop and research smart and biometric cards, which can hold unique physiological or behavioural characteristics such as iris patterns or fingerprints.

From 2007-08 all new passports and driving licences will include biometric data.

The committee will be investigating what is required and which type of card would work for the UK, but they are unlikely to make a recommendation to the government.

The Home Office has said that on each card, costing around £3.50, will be basic details such as name, age, validity dates, nationality, whether a person has a right to work, and a unique number.

But they also said that a secure encrypted chip will contain a unique personal biometric identifier, and cards will be linked to a national secure database to prevent multiple card applications as well as the theft of people's identities by suspected terrorists.

QinetiQ director of security solutions, Neil Fisher, told the committee on Tuesday: "We automatically assume that the so-called smart chips, which are relatively expensive, will be used in identity authentication devices such as ID cards.

"But by using current technologies like 2D barcodes or memory sticks, which cost from fractions of a penny to less than £1 to produce, it is possible to develop low cost data storage devices without compromising on security."

Last November Mr Blunkett said that he wanted ID cards to be compulsory from 2013, and at the very least nobody should be able to work or claim benefits without one.

Civil rights

Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal all have ID cards.

Mr Blunkett aims to create a national database by 2007-08 containing biometric information, but carrying the cards would only become compulsory after 80% of the population has got one.

A six-month technology trial for the cards began in January, involving 10,000 volunteers having their fingerprints or iris scans put on cards.

Although UK citizens would not have to carry it in the street, the home secretary has said they would have to produce it when required by competent authorities.

Cost concerns

There were some worries expressed over costs, with Tory Baroness Knight of Collingtree challenging reports that people will have to pay £70 for the proposed cards.

At House of Lords questions, she asked whether those unable to pay would be imprisoned or whether some arrangement would be made to allow payment.

Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland of Asthal said the charge had not yet been decided as the details of the scheme were still to be ironed out.

"At that stage we will be more able to know precisely how much these cards are likely to cost," she said.

"We have made clear that provision will be made for those who are more disadvantaged financially."

Meanwhile, Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin said the plans to introduce ID cards could affect civil rights and its benefits were still questionable.

"I really worry about whether we are embarking on a course of action that will be expensive and complicated and has civil liberties implications and will ultimately be unproductive," he said.


By 2013 it is estimated 80% of adults will have biometric passports or driving licences
4.6m foreign nationals living in UK among first to register on database from 2007-2008.
Introduction of separate ID cards from 2007/8
Costs of setting up the system over next three years £186m
The total cost will be £3bn

Posted by thinkum at 12:58 PM

Webbys attract diverse nominees

Al-Jazeera and fashion designer Issey Miyake are among a list of eclectic nominees for this year's Webby Awards.

The Webbys, founded in 1996, has been hailed as the internet industry's Oscars, rewarding individual and consumer websites in 30 categories.

The public has until 7 May to cast their vote for their favourite website in The People's Voice Awards.

The winners will be announced online on 12 May.

Changing lives

Reflecting the changing nature of the categories include Activism, Community, Weird, Politics and Humour.

Last year a UK site featuring punk kittens won the Weird category.

"When we started the Webbys nearly a decade ago, many people did not know what the web was. Today there is no denying the profound way it influences every aspect of our lives," said Tiffany Shlain, founder of the awards.

"Whether it's iTunes transforming the way we enjoy music or Howard Dean's Blog for America altering the political landscape, the web is dramatically changing the way we live," she said.

The BBC has been nominated in five categories - News, Sport, Education, Science and Best Practices.

There are 29 international nominees, including Danish website Lego.com, and the Brisbane City Council.

Popular music website iTunes has received nominations in several categories, as has Google and Noggin.com, a website and TV channel for under-fives.

Posted by thinkum at 12:54 PM

Dolly scientists to clone embryos

The scientists who cloned Dolly the sheep are applying for a licence to clone human embryos.

Professor Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, wants to use cloned human embryos to study motor neurone disease (MND).

His application to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is expected to provoke criticism that testing human embryos is immoral.

Therapeutic cloning for research has been legal in the UK since 2001.

It is designed purely for research. Professor Wilmut has stressed that his team has no intention of producing cloned babies, and said the embryos would be destroyed after experimentation.

He told the BBC: "Because at this early stage the embryo does not have that key human characteristic of being aware to me it would be immoral not to take this opportunity to study diseases."

Until recently, Professor Wilmut had said he would not work with human embryos.

MND is caused by the death of cells - called motor neurones - that control movement in the brain and spinal cord.

Muscle weakness

It affects about 5,000 people in the UK. Half of people with MND die within 14 months of diagnosis.

Weakness in the muscles that supply the face and throat also cause problems with speech and difficulty chewing and swallowing.

The aim is to study what goes wrong in the nerve cells of patients suffering from MND.

Professor Wilmut's team plan to take DNA from the skin or blood of a person with MND and implant it into a human egg from which the genetic material has been removed.

The egg would then be stimulated to develop into an embryo.

The scientists would remove cells from the embryo while it was still in the earliest stages of development, and study them to gain a greater understanding of the disease. The embryo would be destroyed while still just a few days old.

If successful, Professor Wilmut said the technique could have profound implications for a range of other debilitating neurological and genetic disorders.

His team is the first to apply for a therapeutic cloning licence in the UK.

However, it is less than three months since scientists in South Korea announced that they had created 30 cloned human embryos for research purposes.

Difficult to study

Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, head of developmental genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research, said MND, along with many other diseases, was difficult to study in patients.

"By the time you get to them they are already sick, and it is unethical to do much then."

He said Professor Wilmut would be testing embryos that were just a ball of a few hundred cells at a stage long before any development of a nervous system.

However, Patrick Cusworth, a spokesman for the charity Life UK, voiced opposition to the research.

He said: "It comes as no surprise that Professor Wilmut has decided to extend cloning from animals to human beings.

"The fact that he does so under the banner of so-called therapeutic cloning makes no difference whatsoever to the fact that a human being is being deliberately created and then destroyed."

Mr Cusworth said alternative techniques - such as taking samples from umbilical cord blood - were available to allow scientists a supply of cells for experimentation without having to go down this line.

Fertility expert Lord Winston argued that all cells had the potential for human life.

"I don't think that changes the argument that actually it is a moral duty to try to enhance, protect and promote healthy human life - which is exactly what this project is trying to do."

George Levvy, chief executive of the MND Association, said the research had the potential to "revolutionise the future treatment of MND".

He said: "The Association recognises that the issues of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning raise significant moral, ethical and religious concerns.

"However, in principle we will support this research project, as long as we are satisfied that it is legal, has a sound scientific rationale and has the potential to bring us closer to treatments and/or a cure for MND."

Posted by thinkum at 12:51 PM

Curiosity fuels anger at mobile chat

The reason people find mobile phone conversations so irritating could be down to human curiosity, say researchers in the UK.

The volume of the call and what is being discussed play a part in making people see red, the team at the University of York found.

But in many cases it is simply the fact that we are only hearing half a conversation that drives people mad.

"Conversations only work if there is a general agreement. There is a need to understand what is said and to talk back," explained Professor Andrew Monk, director of the Centre for Usable Home Technology at the university.

"What other people are saying triggers language use and subconsciously you want to answer back," he continued.

Very annoying

Prof Monk was inspired to do the research after his own experiences with other people's mobile conversations.

"I was surprised at just how annoying some people find mobile conversations," he told BBC News Online.

In the study, 64 members of the public were exposed to the same staged conversation, either while waiting for a bus or travelling on a train.

Half of the conversations were on mobile phones and half were face-to-face conversations.

The conversation, about a proposed holiday and planning a surprise party for a friend, was conducted both at usually speaking level and exaggeratedly loud.

Participants were asked to rate the annoyance value of the conversation they heard on scale of one to five, as well as how much they noticed it.

Those conducted on a mobile phone in both categories were significantly more annoying and noticeable to the group than face to face ones.

Louder phones

The study also found that small variables such as seating arrangements could influence how annoying people find conversations.

The train passengers tended to be slightly more irritated.

"It could be because they were seated opposite to the caller rather than shoulder to shoulder," said Prof Monk.

Again this comes down to the natural way we sit when having a face-to-face conversation.

The findings could contain some interesting lessons for mobile phone manufacturers.

"Our research predicts that mobile phones with speaker phones might actually be less annoying," he said.

Other features, such as making it easier to adjust the ringtone and volume, could help make for more considerate mobile phone usage he thinks.

Personally speaking Prof Monk confesses he does not find mobile calls that annoying.

"I think it is rather nice that people are talking to each other," he said.

Posted by thinkum at 12:49 PM

Diary of a mad author

Jan Lars Jensen's Nervous System is a captivating chronicle of the delusional descent that followed the sale of his first novel, writes ALEXANDRA GILL

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Vancouver ? Jan Lars Jensen looks relatively sane these days.A pale complexion and the dark circles under his eyes suggest the polite, mild-mannered author in the poplin blue work shirt may still be suffering from insomnia. Thankfully, however, he does not mistake the cafe baristas for armed assassins or scream at his fellow patrons to hit the floor. Nor is he under any delusions that his new memoir may trigger a global apocalypse.

Nervous System: Or Losing My Mind in Literature is a captivating chronicle of Larsen's frightening plunge into madness. Five years ago, soon after selling his first novel to Harcourt Brace in New York, Larsen became increasingly convinced that the publication of his sci-fi thriller would spark a nuclear showdown. Seriously.

That first book, Shiva 3000, is set in a surrealistic India of the future, where the rigid caste system is back in place, Buddhist monks are routinely accosted with dung bricks, mechanized gods bulldoze through the streets, and a new deity, the libidinous Baboon Warrior, is a snout-faced national hero.

Far-fetched? Most definitely, but not nearly as implausible as the post-publication scenario he imagined. Jensen was so sure that his fabricated society and the book's warnings of religious intolerance would outrage Hindus that he honestly believed his publisher would be hit with thousands of defamation suits. Harcourt, he imagined, would pass on the damages to him, bankrupting his family, friends and everyone who knew him.

Recalling his doomsday train of logic, he writes about how he predicted the sea of spiralling lawsuits would eventually pit India against the whole country of Canada. The United States would get caught up in it, too, he figured. And when North Americans resisted transferring all of their material wealth to India, as the international courts would surely dictate, India would use nuclear blackmail to get Russia onside.

"Russia would fire missiles, or the United States would make a pre-emptive strike against Russia, one or the other, it didn't matter at that point, because the missiles would be flying back and forth across the world. The end would begin."

Boom. After several failed attempts to derail the publication of his novel, Jensen attempted suicide and landed in a Vancouver psychiatric ward for three weeks, where he'd lie in bed at night, "waiting for his killer."

Go ahead and call him crazy. That's exactly how Larsen describes his state of mind - later diagnosed as "major depression with delusional thinking" -- during this bizarre episode of prepublication jitters gone totally berserk.

"I'm someone who's delusional and also a writer, so I'm very conscious of finding the right words for things," Jensen explains with the same self-effacing sense of humour that leavens his book. "Crazy is not a word I would use to describe other people - then or now - because it's a pejorative term. But for me, crazy seemed like the only word that did justice to the experience. Mental illness is too innocuous."

Perhaps only a writer would give so much thought to the perfect word to describe his illness. Jensen says he certainly believes there is a link between mental illness and artistic endeavour.

"There are a lot of things about writing that are depressing," Jensen says, listing off imposed isolation, the sadomasochist ritual known as rejection slips and compulsive rewriting as some of the craft's more neurotic tendencies.

In Nervous System, he describes the similarity between the paranoia he felt in the psychiatric ward and the rush he first experienced as a creative-writing student at the University of Victoria when everything clicked and a story began to write itself. "I remember it happening in university," recalls Jensen, who is now 35 and lives in Calgary. "I thought 'this feels like I'm going crazy' -- but in a positive sense."

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for that feeling to escalate out of control. After graduation, he moved back home to the Fraser Valley, where he married his high-school sweetheart, worked in a community library and pounded away at his book.

And as he systematically recounts in Nervous System, it was much more than just the simple act of writing that drove him crazy. The overload of information in a wired society, websites that confirmed his worst fears, his mother's own suicide attempt, a bad reaction to anti-malarial pills and the two-sided fear of success and/or failure are among the many interwoven catalysts he feels might have contributed to his unhinging.

When hospitalized, Jensen swore he would never write again. Mind you, the potpourri of medications he was taking made it nearly impossible to read. He eventually returned to the keyboard, although his psychiatrist wondered whether his chosen topic - David and Goliath, from Goliath's point of view -- was a wise one. He has since finished the manuscript, and is shopping for a new publisher.

"I don't know how much they even knew about my situation," he says of Harcourt, the publisher that dropped him. "For them, the main thing is the bottom line and there was no financial incentive for them. I'm not sure how many copies [of Shiva 3000] were sold, but it didn't earn out its advance and the advance was not huge."

Although Jensen admits to still having mixed feelings about the Internet, Nervous System actually began as a blog on his website. He began writing it about three years ago.

"For the longest time, I just wanted to forget about that episode and put it behind me. Then there just came a time when I wanted to remember certain themes and details while I still could, and try to make something positive out of that whole experience.

"Someone in a call-in show said to me: 'You can write this book because you're well.' That's true. No two mental illnesses are alike, but to be able to make it real for the reader, to make it less taboo of a topic, and raise awareness, the more chances there might be for people to recognize it in themselves and in others."

When the publication date loomed, Jensen says he didn't have any serious bouts of anxiety. "It might have been that I was so close to the events, I felt better about them being in print. Everything about this process felt better."

Jensen isn't on medication any more. But ever mindful of the fact that depression will likely hit again, he keeps an emergency prescription around.

"I don't want to sound like a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical industries - I had some terrible reactions to some of the meds I was taking. But if I had discovered alprazolam, or Xanax, many years ago, I think I would have led a happier life over all."

Since being discharged from the hospital, Jensen has pored through many books on depression.

"A lot of people wonder if depression has a purpose. It's been with us for so long - is there some evolutionary reason for it? The thing that interests me about depression is that thoughts of death are a symptom. My theory is, if depression has a purpose, it's to make us remember we're mortal, when we're otherwise healthy, and think about what we're doing with our time, which is ultimately limited. What is your purpose and what are you doing with yourself? I think that's what I ended up asking myself."

That said, if Jensen could turn back time, he would gladly forsake the newfound purpose of his writing, which he describes as finding truth in the bigger scheme of things. "I would probably give up both these books just to avoid that whole experience."

Posted by thinkum at 09:47 AM

S.A. writer's musical inspired by Manilow

RR's post at ATF about his new musical.

Newsgroups: alt.tv.farscape
Subject: Musical Theatre
Date: Fri, 2 Apr 2004 11:13:37 -0600

San Antonio Express-News - April 1, 2004
Jasmina Wellinghoff
Special to the Express-News

If the title of the new Josephine Theater show "New York City Rhythms"
immediately brings the Barry Manilow tune to mind, that's no coincidence.

Conceived and written by San Antonian Ross Ruediger, the musical, which
opens Saturday, is built with and around Manilow's music, including the
title number and 23 other hits, from "Mandy" to "Bandstand Boogie,"
"Copacabana," "This One's for You" and "I Made It Through the Rain."

Both Ruediger and director Missy Miller say they have been fans of the pop
star "from way back" and they know that there are many others like them in
San Antonio.

"He is the ultimate entertainer," said Miller. "He's musical, has a great
sense of timing and is a good all-round showman. It's a dying breed. So
when Ross contacted me about this show back in November, I was definitely

For the Josephine, which has had a string of successes with swing- themed
revues, "Rhythms" represents both a continuation of and a departure from
that format. Like the revues, it has well-known songs that lend themselves
to imaginative choreography, but it also has a story line and fleshed-out

Ruediger describes his concept as a contemporary love story involving two
overlapping love triangles. At the center of both is entertainer Gerry
Flash (Thomas Miller), who works in the Manilow Hotel lounge. One triangle
consists of him, his protégée Amanda Hart (Cassie LaBeau), and his former
fiancée Linda Snow (Melissa Etheredge), who unexpectedly shows up at the
hotel on New Year's Eve. In the second triangle, Gerry finds himself
between Linda and her current boyfriend, Martin Hood (Jonathan Jones).

"I wanted to do something that reflects how complicated love is in this
day and age," said Ruediger, who is primarily a screenwriter. "These
characters live in a gray area; there are no absolutes. But I also wanted
to make people happy for two hours, so they will go out singing these
great songs. That's where the musical- theater aspect comes in. Nobody
ends up unhappy (in the show)."

Manilow's songs, which will be sung by various characters as fits the
script, have been arranged by new music director Fabian Ortiz. To avoid
infringing on copyrights, the arrangements must be sufficiently different
from Manilow's recordings to qualify as new "derivative works," explained
Ortiz. In his version, Ortiz tried to bring out the timelessness of the
songs rather than the sounds of the '60s and '70s.

Miller and Ortiz praised the quality of the singers, including former
"American Idol" contestants Jones and LaBeau, and Miller's older brother,
Thomas, who plays numerous instruments.

"He even kind of looks like Manilow," added Ruediger.

New York City Rhythms
Where: Josephine Theater, 339 W. Josephine St.
When: Opens Saturday; shows at 8:15 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m.
Sundays through May 16 Tickets: $20 general admission. Reservations, (210)
734-4646. Extra: The theater opens 45 minutes before show time. Patrons
can dance onstage to live music.


"That's the problem with individuals: they're always trying."
- Number 2, "The Prisoner"

Posted by thinkum at 09:44 AM

The greatest myth ever told

Religion writer and former Anglican priest Tom Harpur admits he's sticking his neck out for proffering that someone named Jesus never walked this Earth, RAY CONLOGUE writes

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

It is disconcerting, to say the least, for Canada's best-known religion writer to decide that Jesus Christ did not exist.

That is the contention of Tom Harpur's new book, The Pagan Christ. The former Anglican priest and Toronto Star religion editor for the past 35 years, has come to believe that there was never a man named Jesus, and that most of the miracles and wonders ascribed to him in the New Testament did not happen.

Even more astonishing, he argues that most of the Christ story was borrowed by the early church from ancient religions, which the church then suppressed in "the greatest cover-up of all time."

The chief religion to be ransacked was that of Egypt, already 3,000 years old when Christianity was founded. Egypt, he writes, supplied the "virgin birth, a star in the east, three wise men bearing gifts, the evil power that tries to take a special child's life, and angelic messengers." The Egyptian hieroglyph KRST, meaning the anointed one, was applied to the deity Horus, who was born of a mortal woman and later crucified between two thieves.

And yet -- for all this -- Harpur is still a believing Christian. "I'm not interested in debunking," says the white-haired 70-plus Harpur, who has already been attacked by an assortment of prominent fundamentalists. "I want to help see the church through this century. Right now it's in crisis. The book tries to provide a fresh vision."

He considers the popularity of Mel Gibson's Passion movie a demonstration of how unhealthily dependent people have become on a historic Jesus who never existed.

In Harpur's view, the core message that Christianity shares with the other great religions of the Middle East is that God has given every human being a spark of divinity, which can be realized through spiritual struggle. The Egyptians symbolized this in a deity they called "Iusa" (which possibly later became the name Jesus) and wove a mythology of stories about his painful transformation into a human being. But neither the Egyptians, nor the Persians who possessed a similar mythology, ever claimed that such a person really existed. "The truth was always esoteric," Harpur says. "It was symbolized in the stories, but it wasn't history."

There is evidence that the early church fathers shared the view that there was no historic Jesus. But some time in the third and fourth centuries, Harpur argues, it was decided that a historic Jesus would give the new faith a distinctive quality not possessed by the powerful pagan faiths it was competing with. The many gospels and early writings that reflected the old, symbolic view of Jesus were suppressed, and the few -- four, to be exact -- that claimed he had actually lived were retained.

How did a man trained as a priest, who taught New Testament theology for many years, and defended it for decades in his newspaper column, come to such a drastic re-appraisal of his beliefs?

Harpur says he had been troubled for many years by illogicalities in the New Testament, such as the claim that Jesus was tried before three different courts during the single night of the Passion. He was also dismayed to discover while teaching theology at the University of Toronto that a couple of buildings away the very devout scholar Northrop Frye was teaching his students that any accurate history found in the Bible was only there by accident.

By 1990, when he wrote Finding the Still Point, Harpur had come to believe that the story of a Jesus who walked around Galilee performing magic had become an obstacle to people searching for the deep meaning of Christianity. "It was a leading of the spirit. But I didn't know that a book like The Pagan Christ was down the road."

The final blow to his old beliefs arrived in his mailbox a couple of years ago.

"People have always sent me their manuscripts for one religious book or another, since I am a religion editor," he explains. "One day, about 2½ years ago, I got a manuscript from a guy who wrote: 'You might be open to this.' It was about a writer named Alvin Boyd Kuhn, who I had never read."

Kuhn was an American scholar of ancient Middle Eastern languages who died in 1963. While studying the vast body of Egyptian writings, Kuhn had been perturbed by occasional, oddly familiar passages. A poem in honour of Horus, for example, would begin with the words, "He was despised and shunned by men, a man of pain who knew what sickness was."

Kuhn recorded these similarities to New Testament language, and soon had a list of many hundreds of passages.

He was not, of course, the first to notice these oddities. Almost from the time it was possible to decipher the hieroglyphs, in the early 1800s, scholars were aware of them. Religious authorities decided that they merely "foreshadowed" the truth of Christianity, and few experts dared to disagree. Even Wallis Budge, the British Museum's Egyptian authority in the early 20th century, amassed volumes of research showing that pretty much the whole New Testament was in the hieroglyphs. But he dutifully concluded that it was just "foreshadowing."

Only a few scholars have come out and said flatly that Christianity is an evolution of the old "pagan" religions: Godfrey Higgins and Gerald Massey in the 19th century, and Alvin Kuhn in the 20th.

Reading Kuhn's books finally persuaded Harpur to set aside the historic Jesus. But it was a lengthy and painful process of wrestling both with Kuhn's evidence and with his own past. "I was raised with the idea of being saved 'in Jesus's arms,' " says Harpur, whose own parents were fundamentalist Christians. "So I know the Scriptures the way the fundamentalists know them."

Is he afraid of being shunned by believers, especially his fellow Anglicans?

"Well, you need a community. And it will be very painful, there will be grief for people who are seized by the cogency of my case but are wedded to the comfort of traditional faith. There's a personal grieving process if you're going to do this. But I am committed to doing as the Spirit leads me."

Kuhn, after a lifetime of writing and arguing and giving speeches in support of his ideas, was studiously ignored by Christian scholars and his books were forgotten the day that he died. Does Harpur fear the same might happen to him?

"I don't think so. We're living in a different time now. Ideas are disseminated on the Internet, and the control of the mainstream religions over the public conversation is much weaker than it was only 40 years ago."

He also believes that the millions of people who have abandoned mainstream religion in recent decades did so partly because it has become hard to believe in a magical god/man who changes water to wine and brings the dead back to life. "The things I'm saying don't downgrade the Jesus story. Instead, they save us from this plodding tale of a magic wonder worker, which is so hard for modern people to believe."

Of course, even as millions have left the churches, millions more have declared themselves believers in a fiercely and literally historic Jesus. These are the fundamentalists who watch religious television, such as 100 Huntley Street. That show has already invited a Christian expert on air to savage Harpur's book. "It was a guy I've never met who kept repeating, 'I love you, Tom Harpur.' Of course, they didn't invite me on the program."

Not to mention the millions who are flocking to see the violently literal rendition of Christ's passion in Mel Gibson's movie. "It is simply grotesque, that movie," says Harpur, although he acknowledges that the publishers of The Pagan Christ moved up the publication date in order to take advantage of the oceans of media attention generated by the film.

"The rise of fundamentalism is because we live in scary times," Harpur says. "The appeal of the absolute is very great. The idea that we are the winning side. The kind of language [President] Bush is using to justify killing Iraqis."

In Harpur's view, the insistence on Jesus's literal existence is the main obstacle to reconciliation between Christianity and the other great religions, none of which relies on a literal god-man as a founder. "How will we ever escape the impasse of a billion and a half people who say that they possess the exclusive truth. [Theologian] Hans Kung has said we can never have world peace until that is resolved."

But what exactly will be left of Christianity if it loses the figure of Jesus Christ?

"It will be a more mystical religion," Harpur says. "But not less practical. After all, this business of letting Jesus do it for you doesn't look so good after what we've seen in the past 2,000 years."

Posted by thinkum at 09:34 AM

April 20, 2004

Survey unveils what happens in bedroom

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Austrians love their bedrooms, but seldom make love in them. Malaysians often have sex in their bedrooms, but don't get much sleep there.

Those are two conclusions of Gallup International poll released Tuesday by Swedish furniture giant Ikea.

The company wanted to know how frequently people in Europe, Asia and North America use their bedrooms for different activities, including sleep, relaxation and "romance."

In Sweden and Iceland, 72 percent of respondents said they use their bedrooms for romantic endeavors, while in China the figure was 20 percent. All it said about North Americans was that a fifth - about 20 percent - like to have sex outside the bedroom, but it didn't say where.

Malaysians were the most sexually active - 43 percent said they have sex daily in their bedrooms. Malaysia was also the place were people sleep the least - six hours and 36 minutes per night, about half an hour less than the survey's average.

Austrians ranked low in sexual activity, but were the most satisfied with their bedrooms, ahead of Belgians and Swiss. Russians were the least satisfied.

The survey was conducted by Isopublic, the Swiss branch of the Gallup organization, in January and included 14,000 IKEA customers in 27 countries. The margin of error was 4.5 percentage points.

Spaniards and North Americans were most likely to keep their bedrooms private, while almost half of Chinese allowed their friends access.

Other facts in the survey: Three-quarters make their bed daily; people who frequently change their mattresses have more sex; and the most common fixture of a bedroom is the alarm clock.

Posted by thinkum at 04:58 PM

Poachers pilfer pink plastic flamingos

Somebody's picking off the local flamingo population.

The plastic birds can be seen in the yards of Aberdeen residents as part of a fund-raiser for the Bethlehem Lutheran Church youth group. But there aren't as many now as there were a week ago.

"Thirty-four of them were poached," said the Rev. Karl Hester of Bethlehem Lutheran.

Hester, for his part, is keeping his sense of humor about the situation. "Didn't know if we should call the game warden or the police," he said.

He called the police Sunday night. Ron VanMeter, assistant police chief, said there was no sign of the flamingos as of late Monday afternoon.

"They should be easy to spot," VanMeter said with a chuckle.

The flamingos are moved from yard to yard as donations dictate, Hester said. The church's youth group moves them to raise money for Bible camp, summer trips and mission work. It costs $15 to have the birds delivered to a residence, $12 to buy "insurance" to make sure they don't wind up in a particular yard and $7 to have them removed from a yard, he said.

Hester said there used to be 55 flamingos. They were delivered to a house on North Washington Street last Wednesday and by Sunday noon there were only 21 left. Somebody has been taking the birds several at a time, he said.

Some attrition is expected with so many birds. Kids or people who have been drinking will probably pick off one or two, Hester said. But losing 34 is costing the youth group money.

To replace the stolen birds, Hester said he spent about $230 to buy 50 new flamingos.

Now, a sign goes with the birds in hopes that people will think twice before stealing from a church. "It sucks the life out of the kids. It's disheartening to them," Hester said of the thefts.

Hester said whoever took the birds may eventually stick them in another yard or try to float them down Moccasin Creek. He'd prefer they just call the church and return them. "We're not mad," he said. "We just want them back."

The church's phone number is (605) 225-9740. The phone number for people who want to take part in the flamingo fund-raiser is (605) 225-2257.

Posted by thinkum at 04:57 PM

Chinese babies die after fake formula feeding

SHANGHAI - Chinese officials have confiscated thousands of bags of fake baby formula after 50 babies died from malnutrition.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has called for "severe punishment" of the formula's manufacturers.

Doctors from Anhui province say up to 200 infants were fed the formula and started to waste away. Some died within days of being fed the formula.

Health specialists say the fake formulas contained less than one gram of protein per 100 grams, 1/18th of the standard content. Minerals such as iron and zinc were missing.

With little consumer protection, many products in China are pirated and sold for a fraction of the price of regular products. Anhui is considered a poor region in central China, where farmers make about $325 a year.

Officials say the products had fake seals of approval and letters they sent to manufacturers were returned because the addresses were invented.

Inspectors have seized at least three dozen different brands of fake formula.

Posted by thinkum at 04:54 PM

Guinness World Records book co-founder dies

LONDON - Norris McWhirter, co-founder of the Guinness World Records book, has died. He was 78.

The British man suffered a heart attack at his home Monday evening, a family spokesperson announced Tuesday.

In the early 1950s, Sir Hugh Beaver, managing director of the Guinness Brewery commissioned McWhirter and his twin brother Ross -- who had been running a fact-finding agency in London -- to compile a book of "answers" to settle bar bets.

In August 1955, the brewery published the Guinness Book of Superlatives, which later became the Guinness Book of Records. In 2000, the name changed once again to Guinness World Records.

Posted by thinkum at 04:53 PM

Shrek the Sheep


Pulling the wool over his eyes
April 20, 2004

Shrek, a woolly Merino with a huge fleece on his back, has had his date with the clippers postponed -- at least for now.

Shrek has gone without shearing for six years after skilfully evading musterers, but he was captured late last week.

John Perriam, owner of Bendigo Station in central Otago, had planned to have the sheep shorn of its estimated 27kg fleece.

But such has been the great interest in the hermit merino that he's decided to let Shrek's fleece remain a little longer.

He said television stations had been in touch with him about Shrek, there was talk of a documentary and suggestions had been made about using the animal to raise money for charity.

Mr Perriam says he'll wait a while and decide on the best option.

Until then Shrek will sweat on under his big pile of wool.


Concern over sudden shearing of celebrity sheep
April 21, 2004

Shrek, an extra-woolly New Zealand sheep who gained media stardom after avoiding being sheared for years, will lose his luscious coat later this week with any proceeds from the event going to charity.

John Perriam, who owns Bendigo Station in Central Otago, is also inquiring to see if Shrek could be a Guinness World Record.

Last Thursday, Shrek was caught by musterers in rocks 1,500 metres above sea level on the Tarras property after six years on the run.

The nine-year-old wether has since become a celebrity after newspaper and television coverage of his flight from the clippers.

Perriam estimates 500 people viewed Shrek over the weekend and said various media wanted to attend the shearing of his 27kg, 380mm-long fleece.

Shrek's story also attracted the attention of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has queried Perriam's decision not to shear Shrek immediately.

However, Marjorie Orr, a member of the RSPCA in Dunedin who rang Perriam yesterday to ensure Shrek would be shorn, said she had no concerns about the wether's safety.

She was worried any delay in shearing could be seen by some hobby farmers as an excuse for them not to shear their sheep.

"We are happy with Mr Perriam's attitude, his experience and his integrity. No doubt the wether will be shorn as soon as it is practical to do it," she said.

To shear a sheep with six years' wool too soon could be too great a shock and it could suffer from hypothermia, Orr said.

It would have to be done by an experienced shearer using a comb that left a layer of wool on, which she was confident Perriam would arrange.

Perriam said he assured the RSPCA he was not sending hobby farmers the wrong message and that Shrek was in fine health.

Posted by thinkum at 04:43 PM

Va. governor amends teen nude camp bill

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) ? Gov. Mark R. Warner liked a bill that cracks down on summer camps for nude juveniles so much that he offered only a clarifying amendment to it Thursday, then announced what he'd done without sparing a pun.

"I support the bottom line intent of this bill," the Democratic governor wrote in a brief, tongue-in-cheek commentary full of double entendre. Midnight was his deadline to veto, sign or amend legislation passed during the 2004 regular General Assembly session.

"This bill has been the butt of many jokes, so with naked admiration for its patron, I am offering this amendment," his missive concluded.

The patron, Del. John S. "Jack" Reid, introduced the bill after a weeklong summer camp was held last June for nude children ages 11 to 18 at Southampton County's White Tail Park nudist community. It was the first such camp in Virginia and only the third in the nation.

"Stripped to its bare essence," as Warner wrote, the bill bars the state Department of Health from licensing any hotel, summer camp or campground that holds activities for nude minors whose parents or guardians are not "registered for or otherwise accompanying the juvenile."

Warner's amendment, offered at Reid's request to make its intent "more transparent," requires that "for a camp to obtain a license, a parent, grandparent or legal guardian must actually be revealed at the camp, not simply register."

Lawmakers will reconvene on Wednesday to consider whether to accept or reject Warner's amendments and override any vetoes.

White Tail's owner and manager, Bob Roche, found no humor in Warner's wordsmithing and said the amendment would hurt his business.

"It's the most disgusting thing I've ever seen a governor do," Roche said in a telephone interview from White Tail, home to 35 families year-round and 140 part-time.

He said Warner's amendment is unconstitutional and he intends to sue to overturn it. Roche said White Tail is holding another au naturel camp for youths in July, but he had not yet determined whether parental presence will be compulsory.

Posted by thinkum at 04:37 PM

Galactica Launches

SCI FI Channel's upcoming original series Battlestar Galactica begins production this week in Vancouver, B.C., the network announced. Based on the December 2003 miniseries that became the most-watched cable miniseries of the year, Galactica returns to SCI FI Channel as a one-hour weekly drama in early 2005.

Richard Hatch, who starred as Apollo in the original 1970s Battlestar Galactica TV series, will make a special guest appearance in an early episode of the new show, playing a Nelson Mandela-like figure, Peter Zarek. Having spent the last 20 years in jail for inciting civil unrest against the government of the 12 Colonies of Kobol, Zarek and his followers riot against the leadership of the ragtag fleet, taking over the vessel on which they are being held and creating a hostage situation, which Adama (Edward James Olmos) and President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) must resolve.

The show reunites miniseries stars Olmos, McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck) and Tricia Helfer (Number Six) with the rest of the Galactica cast. The series is executive produced by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick. Michael Rymer, who directed the four-hour mini, returns to direct the series' premiere episode.

Posted by thinkum at 04:29 PM

German girl 'up for sale' on eBay

[significantly troubling - ed.]

German police are investigating a woman who is alleged to have put her eight-year-old daughter up for sale on the internet.

The girl's picture was posted on the eBay auction website with a starting price of one euro ($1.19).

"You can play with her" read the sales' pitch, allegedly put up by the mother and her boyfriend.

Police in the western town of Rennerod were alerted to the "offer" by an eBay user, French news agency AFP said.

Three bids had reportedly been made by the time police removed the ad - the highest for 25.50 euros ($30.35).

Bad joke?

The senior public prosecutor in the western city of Koblenz, Erich Jung, told BBC News Online that police were continuing their investigations into the incident.

He confirmed an "offer" for the child had been posted on eBay by a 41-year-old woman and 35-year-old man.

But he said their motives were as yet unclear and the police had not ruled out the possibility that it was simply a bad joke.

Posted by thinkum at 04:13 PM

'I sold myself on eBay'

What price the perfect woman? On eBay, the online auction site, she will probably set you back about £30 - about the same as a designer handbag or a year's supply of McDonalds Happy Meal toys.

EBay ended my auction early, although many others stayed up

Or so I discovered when I auctioned myself as a virtual girlfriend.

A cash-strapped student in the US was the first to come up with the idea and the phenomenon quickly spread to eBay.co.uk.

Aimed at men too busy, lazy or shy to pull in person, virtual girlfriends offer the fun of a relationship without the hassle.

Texts, emails, online chats and digital photos take the place of dates and other messy face-to-face bits.

And the point? In the words of one virtual girlfriend, Kelly, 22, (sold for £25, five bids): "Use me to get that someone jealous or someone off your back or simply a month of virtual flirting for your own amusement."

Starting the bidding on me at 99p, I upload one of my more glamorous photos and type in my item title: **Looking 4 love? I'll be yr e-girlfriend**.

In my description I explain that my two-week "relationship" with the highest bidder will consist of a text message a day, an email every other day, one handwritten letter and some digital photos.

But I have competition - a dozen other girls are already up for sale as human lots.

Most are offering something far racier than me, many promising to pose naked or semi-nude and some even offering to send "lucky" winners a piece of their underwear.

Stella, an 18-year-old from Essex (£47, 16 bids), writes: "I could be the virtual girlfriend of your dreams. You can choose what you want in the picture. I can be wearing or not wearing whatever you want me to and be doing whatever you want me to (within reason)."

Julia, (£7, three bids and counting) a student from Worcester, says: "I will aim to please, making me your perfect girlfriend. I'm patient and understanding I can listen to your problems.

"You can choose how clean or saucy the emails are, they can be as tame or as racy as you please. I will be whatever you want me to be!"

But my comparatively straight-laced listing does not seem to put off the cyber-suitors.

Within 24 hours I have more than 10 bids and an inbox of fascinating emails.

One man asks me if I would like to go into partnership with him to set up an adult website: "I must tell you I will be requiring explicit photographs, are you ok with this?"

Another, John, writes: "Hello. Would you be interested in coming to an arrangement with me, where I pay you each month? No strings attached."

A third: "If u wanna come to my party babe - set ur price and wot you are prepared to give - hope you're broadminded."

By the fifth day of my seven-day auction, more than 2,000 people have viewed the page and 20 bidders have raised my price to £50.

I have also been invited to be a founding virtual girlfriend on www.v-girlfriend.com.uk, Britain's first site dedicated to the craze, set up by a 24-year-old entrepreneur from Kent and his (actual) girlfriend.

But my virtual courting is brought to an abrupt halt by the powers that eBay.

An email informs me my auction has been closed early as "listings offering services relating to personal relationships (real or virtual) are not allowed".

But the ruling does not seem to have deterred many other virtual girlfriends or their bidders, with pages of auctions still going strong.

On a site that is the online equivalent of a thousand car boot sales rolled into one, it is impossible for administrators to monitor every auction.

Desperate search

I'm secretly relieved my attempt at online loving has been deleted.

But for lots of the other girls - most of whom are students - there is a much more desperate side to the search.

Courtenay, 18, from Newcastle (99p, no bids yet) illustrates her listing with a picture of herself pulling down her top. She writes: "Uni's proving to be really expensive, what with tuition fees, books, living costs, etc. so I'm lookin to make some extra money."

Samantha, 21, from Cardiff (£9.99, Buy It Now price £100, no bids yet) echoes this: "I am training to become a nursery school teacher. At the moment I have no money at all so I am trying anything possible to help pay my fees etc."

With the cost of a woman's love falling this low, how far will the bidding go?

Posted by thinkum at 04:11 PM

'Naked sushi' restaurant fined (reprise)

The restaurant said it wanted to bring Japanese culture to China

[this is a followup to previous scrapbook entry]

A restaurant in south-west China has been fined for offering to serve sushi on the bodies of nearly-naked women, according to media reports.

The Yamato Wind Village restaurant in Kunming city attempted to launch its "body sushi" dinner earlier this month, provoking lively local debate.

But health authorities banned it before the dinner could even take place.

Now the restaurant has also been fined 2,000 Yuan (US$240), according to the Beijing Daily Messenger newspaper.

The management of the restaurant told China's official Xinhua news agency that the "body sushi" service was launched to introduce a special Japanese food culture to Chinese people.

The practise of eating sushi off naked or nearly-naked women has long been popular with a certain clientele in Japan.

But the authorities in China said the restaurant's actions violated women's rights, as well as laws on advertising and food sanitation.

They also said the women used to display the sushi were not suitably dressed for restaurant employees.

When confronted with advertisements for the sushi dinner, the people of Kunming seemed equally undecided.

Some "were indignant, claiming it is humiliating to women," the official China Daily newspaper reported at the time.

"But others were curious and tempted to have a try," it added.

Posted by thinkum at 04:02 PM

Passwords revealed by sweet deal

Security crumbles in the face of sweet bribes
More than 70% of people would reveal their computer password in exchange for a bar of chocolate, a survey has found.

It also showed that 34% of respondents volunteered their password when asked without even needing to be bribed.

A second survey found that 79% of people unwittingly gave away information that could be used to steal their identity when questioned.

Security firms predict that the lax security practices will fuel a British boom in online identity theft.

Security shock

The survey on passwords was carried out for the Infosecurity Europe trade show due to take place at Olympia in London from 27-29 April.

The survey data was gathered by questioning commuters passing through Liverpool Street station in London and found that many were happy to share login and password information with those carrying out the research.

Pet names are often used for passwords
As well as people simply telling the questioners their passwords or saying they would hand them over in exchange for some confectionery, a further 34% revealed the word or phrase they used when asked if it had anything to do with a pet or child's name.

Family names, pets and football teams were all used by those questioned to provide inspiration for a password.

The survey found that, on average, people have to remember four passwords, though one unlucky respondent had to remember 40.

Many adopt very unsafe tactics to remember these login names. Some of those questioned simply use the same password for every system they must log on to.

Those that used several passwords often wrote them down and hid them in a desk or in a document on their computer.

Almost all of those questioned, 80%, said they were fed up with passwords and would like a better way to login to work computer systems.

Stolen goods

A separate survey carried out for RSA Security found further evidence of the lax password and security habits of Britons.

It found that many people volunteered important personal information, such as their mother's maiden name or their own date of birth, when questioned during a street survey.

Such information is coveted by identity thieves as these facts are often used by sites as security checks.

The RSA survey found that maintaining online identities is becoming a burden for many people who, on average, use 20 sites that require them to register and then log on afterwards.

To make these different online personas easy to manage, two-thirds use the same password for all the different sites.

Of those questioned 33% said they shared passwords or wrote them down to make it easy to remember which one to use on which website.

"We are amazed at the level of ignorance from consumers on the need to protect their online identity," said Tim Pickard, spokesman for RSA Security.

Tony Neate, from the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, said the British economy loses millions of pounds a year as a result of identity fraud.

"This can only increase if people do not become more aware of their responsibilities to protect their virtual identities," he said.

User comments on article at original site:

So Tim Pickard for RSA Security is "Amazed at the level of ignorance from consumers on the need to protect their online identity," ? I am amazed at the stupidity of the IT industry in creating this problem in the first place. It is not just passwords that need to be remembered, user names also vary, as each site has its own format and character restrictions, e.g. some allow dot & some don't, some allow slash and some don't, etc. so it is impossible to devise a unique login name that meets all possible websites' requirements. That is before you ask the question why does this site need login details at all? Whatever happened to anonymous logins?
Philip Mulholland, Edinburgh, Scotland

I work for a high profile IT company and I am amazed at the number of people that use common everyday names or words as passwords. We have to use 'alphanumeric' passwords i.e. 'mer45cedes' as an example. As a word of advice to anyone who is confronted with the common practice of using 'mother's maiden name' when setting up an account online - don't use her real maiden name, use anything else you like. You don't have to use the real name, just remember a fictitious one for 'computer use only'. Also, don't use your name as a log-in, use something alphanumeric such as your car and car registration number i.e. peugeotrv02tkn - it is just as easy to remember (usually) but harder to crack.
Jon, Horsham, UK

It is interesting that security companies are highlighting the issues of people using the same password for multiple systems and sites as a security flaw whilst many companies are calling for single login for their corporate systems including many government departments. Using a single password is no more insecure than using a different one for every system. Both can result in security breaches. The problem is not with how many passwords however but educating people not to reveal the information to anyone.

It is impossible to create a fully secure system (apart from putting it in a room with no network connectivity, never turning it on and banning people from using it). The idea that we can remove all risk is foolish. Business should take the lead with support from Government to educate users in to how they can mitigate the risks of identity theft. This can be done through web sites and paper literature. The exercise should be repeated at least twice and preferably more frequently.
Jim, Milton Keynes UK

The first person or company able to provide a low-cost, effective, secure alternative to the problem of us 'ignorant' consumers not being able to remember or manage a multitude of passwords (without writing them down and/or using the same password in lots of places) will be richer than Bill Gates. Humans are not the problem - systems are the problem.
Ross Gerring, Perth, Australia

So we're not supposed to use the same password for different systems and we're not supposed to write them down. Some of my work systems require a password change every 30 days - what are we supposed to do?!
Ian, Bristol, UK

They have no way of knowing that the passwords given were the real passwords (how could they check?). If they were offering chocolate, I would imagine even the slowest witted people would manage to give a random word in order to get a freebie.
Tom Turner, London/Oxford

I don't know why people are so unimaginative with their passwords. I use the registration numbers of our various family cars from the sixties and seventies...indelibly stamped on my brain - the data's probably untraceable now.
Paolo, Italy

Is this a serious journalistic article or just a piece of propaganda for the IT security community? Did they actually test every single person's passwords? Or perhaps people just gave a random word to a) get their free chocolate, or b) get the annoying researchers out of their face..
Anon, UK

Remember, writing down passwords isn't always a bad thing. If, for example, people wrote down passwords for websites accounts, they might be able to have more unique passwords rather than the same one for all... It's a trade off between having more unique passwords and the risk of someone finding/losing the piece of paper.
Chris, Wales, UK

I use the internet a lot, and I'm probably registered at 80+ sites. How on earth are you supposed to remember over 80 individual passwords?! Until the software companies or website managers make it easier to access and use their systems users will always 'share' passwords across sites or simply use words or phrases they can easily remember.
Mark, Sheffield

I have six passwords for systems at work alone all need changing every three months and I cannot repeat a password that has been used as one of the previous six I have used. I then have personal logins to various web sites. How do I remember them all if I don't write them down? In theory these security measures make things safer but in reality everyone uses the same password for everything or keeps them on a list.
Phil Barrett, Leeds

Are you sure this is not "70% of people would lie and pretend to reveal their computer password in exchange for a bar of chocolate"?
Roger Savery, Buxton, UK

I think that the worst thing that you can be asked to do is to keep changing your password. When you have tens of systems which require a password, if you have to keep changing them, you have to write them down to remember them - it's just too hard to remember otherwise. Time to step back and think about security taking real people in to account, not some imaginary perfect user.
Martin Millmore, Reading, UK

I'd reveal my "password" to anybody if they were offering me free chocolate! My password is "givemefreechocolatenowplease"!
Mark, Coventry, West Midlands.

Go and buy Roboform and save all your passwords which can be as difficult as you like on a pendrive which you can take with you. Even has a password generator. Then you can almost forget about passwords
Graeme Williams, London UK

Posted by thinkum at 04:01 PM

'Doonesbury' Character to Lose Leg in Iraq

'Doonesbury' Character B.D. to Lose Leg While Fighting in Iraq; Some Newspapers Express Concern

KANSAS CITY, Mo. April 20 ? A main character in the "Doonesbury" comic strip will lose a leg while fighting in Iraq, one of two strips published this week that feature soldiers getting injured in the war.

In Monday's "Doonesbury," B.D., a football coach-turned-soldier, was injured after being reactivated in the Army at the end of 2002, following a losing football season.

Later this week, he will wake up to find his left leg amputated, according to Universal Press Syndicate, the strip's distributor.

About 10 newspapers have called Universal Press with concerns about the strip, primarily with language the character uses after learning his leg is gone, company spokeswoman Kathie Kerr said.

The strip, which appears in 1,400 newspapers nationwide, has a long history of addressing difficult topics since Garry Trudeau started it at Yale University in 1968.

Kerr was unsure how long Trudeau would continue the story line.

Trudeau did not immediately respond to questions submitted to him by The Associated Press.

Posted by thinkum at 03:57 PM

April 19, 2004

Height a Pain for Ukraine's 'Gulliver'

Possible Record Little Comfort for 8-Foot-4 Ukrainian As He Gains on History's Tallest

PODOLIANTSI, Ukraine April 17 — At age 33, Leonid Stadnik wishes he would stop growing. He's already 8 feet, 4 inches. Recent measurements show that Stadnik is already 7 inches taller than Radhouane Charbib of Tunisia, listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest living man. He's also gaining on the 8-11 Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in history.

Yet for Stadnik, the prospect of becoming a record-holder would be little comfort.

"My two-year-old suit's sleeves and pants are now 30 centimeters (12 inches) shorter than I need," said Stadnik. "My height is God's punishment. My life has no sense."

Stadnik's height keeps him confined to this tiny village 130 miles west of the capital, Kiev.

"Taking a public bus for me is the same as getting into a car's trunk for a normal person," he said.

Stadnik's unusual growth began after a brain operation at age 14, which is believed to have stimulated his pituitary gland. Since then, life just keeps getter harder.

Although he once was able to work as a veterinarian at a cattle farm, he had to quit three years ago after his feet were frostbitten because he wasn't able to afford proper shoes for his 17-inch feet.

This month, he finally got a good pair, paid for by some local businessmen. Their $200 cost was the equivalent of about seven months' worth of the tiny pension that Stadnik receives in the economically struggling country.

Stadnik sleeps on two beds joined lengthwise and moves in a crouch through the small one-story house that he shares with his mother Halyna.

His weight of about 440 pounds aggravates a recently broken leg, and he suffers from constant knee pain.

Despite his aches, he tries to keep himself busy with the usual routine of country life. He works in the garden, tends the family's cows and pigs, and helps neighbors with their animals.

To relax, he cultivates exotic plants and pampers his tiny, blue and yellow pet parakeet with his huge hands.

Bronyslav, a neighbor who refused to give his last name, described Stadnik as the "most unselfish, diligent man of a pure soul."

His friends, in turn, treat him with the same sort of soft good humor. They're trying to organize a trip for him to the Carpathian Mountains to show him that "there's something in the world taller than you," Bronyslav said.

photo credit and caption:

Leonid Stadnik, 2.53 meter (8,3 feet) tall, Ukrainian veterinarian, holds a door as his mother Halyna, left, looks on in the village of Podoliantsy, Ukraine's northwestern Zhytomyr region, 212 kilometers (131.74 miles) west of the capital Kiev, Friday, April 16, 2004. Stadnik, 33, said to be the world's tallest man, is still growing up. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Posted by thinkum at 08:11 PM

Cats, foxes SARS carriers: report

BEIJING - Scientists in China say they have found that cats and foxes can also carry the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, not just civet cats.

Studies also show that more than 10 per cent of people working in animal markets in southern China's Guangdong province are carriers of the virus.

China's official Xinhua news agency said researchers tested foxes, hedgeshrews and cats collected in Guangdong, the province where SARS first emerged in November 2002.

They found that some of the animals were carriers of the virus.

The report quotes the leader of the research team, Lin Jinyan, as saying thousands of people carrying SARS antibodies had been tested in 16 cities in Guangdong.

More than 10 per cent of the nearly 1,000 people working in animal markets tested positive. But only 3.25 per cent of those who handled civet cats were found to carry the virus.

Earlier research showed that a coronavirus found in civet cats in a Guangdong animal market was almost identical to that found in human SARS patients.

China carried out a cull of nearly 4,000 civet cats in Guangdong last January to try to stem the spread of SARS. The mongoose-like animal has long been a delicacy in China.

A week-long investigation by the World Health Organization in Guangzhou found the SARS virus in cages housing civets at a restaurant where one of the suspected cases worked as a waitress.

WHO experts urged caution, however, against jumping to conclusions that the disease was being spread from civets to humans.

Posted by thinkum at 08:09 PM

'Lost' Valentino film found

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands (Reuters) -- The Dutch national film archive has discovered a complete copy of the long-lost 1922 silent classic "Beyond the Rocks" starring Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson in a private collection, it said on Saturday.

"Film historians and restorers have been looking for 'Beyond the Rocks' -- a classic melodrama about impossible love -- for almost three-quarters of a century," the Filmmuseum, the Dutch national center for cinematography, said in a statement.

Jan van den Brink, a film historian and Valentino expert who works for the Filmmuseum, said the 1922 hit film had turned up among well over 2,000 film canisters bequeathed to the archive in 2000 after the death of a collector in the town of Haarlem.

"We are feeling rather excited because it is a wonderful rediscovery especially as the film is the only film in which Valentino and Swanson starred together," he told Reuters.

The deceased collector, whose family van den Brink said did not want to be named, had a strange way of organizing his films, so it took the archive several years of searching through the reels to realize there was a full copy of "Beyond the Rocks."

Van den Brink said the 81-minute romantic melodrama about a woman pushed into a marriage with an older man who falls for Valentino's nobleman character on her honeymoon was in good condition apart from about two minutes which were damaged.

"It is a complete feature film in six acts with a beautiful story in which Valentino plays a rather decent character," he said, adding he believed the collector had the copy for decades.

The Filmmuseum is restoring the film, repairing scratches and other minor damage, and has asked Dutch composers to write a new score to be performed live when it shows the silent movie at its festival in Amsterdam next year.

Van den Brink said the Filmmuseum expected interest in the film from archives around the world as well as the film's producers, Paramount, and planned to produce a copy for international distribution.

Born in 1895 to a middle-class Italian family, Valentino moved to New York in 1913 and rose to star status in the early 1920s, wooing fans with steamy performances until his premature death in 1926 following complications from a perforated ulcer.

Swanson, best known for her portrayal of Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's 1950 "Sunset Boulevard," was one of the most popular and influential female stars of the 1920s.

Posted by thinkum at 08:07 PM

New optical disc made from paper

TOKYO, JAPAN (Reuters) -- Japanese electronics conglomerate Sony Corp and Toppan Printing Co Ltd have developed a new optical disc, made mostly from paper, that they say will be compatible with next-generation DVD technology.

In a joint news release distributed late Thursday, the two companies said the new disc was comprised 51 percent of paper, enabling lower production costs.

The disc can store up to five times more information than current discs, because it is based on blue-laser DVD technology.

Blue-laser DVD players are expected to replace the current generation of red-laser DVD players in a few years' time.

The paper disc is based on a version of a blue-laser DVD technology, called Blu-Ray, that is supported by a consortium of electronics makers including Sony, Matsushita Electric Industrial and Dutch firm Philips

Toppan, the world's leading maker of color filters for liquid crystal displays, said the new discs could be more secure, since disposal of used discs can be done easily.

The two companies said they planned to continue development of the disc for practical use.

Posted by thinkum at 08:05 PM

Woman Charged After Allegedly Crashing Into Speed Trailer

HOOKSETT, N.H. -- Authorities said a 61-year-old Candia, N.H., woman is facing drunken driving charges after crashing her vehicle into a police speed trailer.

Authorities said Janice Partridge ran into the trailer, which tracks and displays the speed of passing vehicles, around 4:40 p.m. Thursday. She was not injured but was charged with drunken driving and resisting arrest.

The speed trailer was totaled.

Posted by thinkum at 12:57 PM

Raptors? New Home

Predators Fly Over Grand Canyon of the East at Quechee, Vt., Nature Center

Q U E C H E E, Vt., April 19 ? The Vermont Institute of Natural Science had a problem. So many visitors were showing up at its headquarters in Woodstock ? up to 30,000 a year ? that neighbors complained the area's rural character was being ruined.

A long legal battle ended with a settlement and a move to another location. VINS hopes its new Nature Center, opening June 12 in Quechee, will become one of the state's top attractions.

The highlight of the Nature Center will be a raptor exhibit ? 17 pens, some as big as small houses ? housing falcons, hawks, owls and eagles. These injured birds of prey are taken in by VINS for rehabilitation, and visitors will see them up close in falconing demonstrations and other programs.

The location of the new center, between the Ottauquechee River and Vermont's most heavily traveled tourist route, the east-west U.S. Route 4, will allow VINS to enter its third decade with a major boost in profile. There are two popular attractions near the new location: the dramatic cliffs and waterfalls of Quechee Gorge, also known as the Grand Canyon of the East; and Quechee Village, which is home to numerous antiques dealers and the famed Simon Pearce glassblowing workshop.

Trails will lead from the main part of the center down to the nearby Ottauquechee River and a backwater ideal for viewing waterfowl. Others will connect with the neighboring Quechee State Park and the renowned gorge.

Long-Term Home to Raptors

Jason Drebitko, whose professional expertise is in the development of public display facilities like museums and aquariums, said VINS has estimated that its new home will draw 60,000 visitors in its first year and twice that in years to come.

Between 300 and 500 injured birds are brought to VINS each year, most suffering from encounters with cars or bullets. About half the birds are patched up and returned to the wild. A few are so badly injured they must be euthanized, while others are healthy enough to survive in captivity but cannot be released. Some of those are given to other nature centers or zoos, while some live out their days at VINS.

VINS treats all types of birds, but only offers a long-term home to raptors. The institute has satellite offices in Montpelier and Manchester and conducts educational programs around the state.

The 17 raptor pens have been built in a semicircle around an outdoor amphitheater. Here the institute's "Predators of the Sky Program" will take place, with trainers releasing birds that circle above the spectators before returning to perch on the staff member's hand.

Inside the semicircle, an enclosed walkway will lead from the home of the diminutive screech owl to the massive enclosure ? 17-by-40-by-20 feet ? housing the center's bald eagle.

Lost Feathers to Indians

Among the government regulations the facility must follow is a rule that when eagles lose feathers or die, the feathers or carcass must be sent to a federal facility in Colorado that distributes them to Indian tribes for use in ceremonial dress.

All of VINS' raptors have some disability that prevent them from coping in the wild. Often it's a nonfunctioning wing or a missing eye. Mike Pratt, the institute's director of wildlife services, helped design the birds' new surroundings to accommodate their limitations. He talks of the "furniture" that will go into the pens, designed so that injured birds will be able to climb and perch. "You set it up to meet the needs of a handicapped bird, just as you would with people," he said.

But the biggest change at VINS' new location will be the increased number of visitors who will learn about the birds. "We want," said Pratt, "to reach more people."

If You Go?

HOURS: Beginning June 12, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science will be open daily, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m through Oct. 31; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 1 to April 30.
ADMISSION: $8, adults; $6.50, children 3 to 16.

GETTING THERE: Located on Route 4 near the Quechee Gorge. From I-89, take Exit 1 to Route 4 West.
CONTACT: Visit www.vinsweb.org or call (802) 457-2779; after June 12, call (802) 359-5000.
ATTRACTIONS: Raptor exhibits and demonstrations, nature trails. Next to the nature center is Quechee Gorge, a geological wonder of cliffs, deep pools and waterfalls that is sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the East; also nearby is Quechee Village, which features numerous antiques dealers and the Simon Pearce glassblowing workshop. Contact the Quechee Chamber of Commerce at www.quechee.com or (802) 295-7900 for details.

Posted by thinkum at 12:54 PM

Silent Nights?

Palate Implants May Help Provide Relief From Snoring

April 19? Tim Poulin, 49, is a snoring machine.

Poulin, a San Francisco resident, finally decided to do something about his problem when he went on a ski trip and nobody wanted to sleep on his side of the lodge.

"If there's a bunch of guys, that's OK," Poulin says of his snoring. "But if my girlfriend wakes and she has to go to another room, that's really bad."

For the Love of Pete, Stop Snoring

Poulin is among 40 million Americans whose palates ? the tissue in the back of the roof of the mouth ? flap in the wind, or vibrate as air passes through. It's one of the main causes of the noise that produces loud snoring.

San Francisco cosmetic surgeon Michael Macdonald offered a relatively new and unique solution: Pillar inserts.

"It's just a quick, easy, simple procedure with dramatic results," Macdonald says.

Inserts are an alternative to surgical techniques that sometimes involve several weeks of recovery and results that don't always work. Inserts consist of three small implants the size of small nails and made of the same material used in surgical sutures. They're injected into the palate to make the tissue more rigid so it's less likely to rattle into a snore. The procedure takes about a half-hour and requires cold spray, gel, and a few shots of anesthetic to turn off the gag reflex and the pain.

"If it's done carefully and properly ? you spray first, then a gel, and then some freezing ? they don't feel a thing," Macdonald says.

A Cure for Sleep Apnea?

Restore Medical, manufacturer of Pillar inserts, won FDA approval based on studies that found 80 percent of implanted patients found significant relief. A study is underway to determine if inserts also help relieve sleep apnea, a more dangerous snoring condition that cuts down oxygen flow to the brain and makes people repeatedly stop breathing or gasp for air. Apnea has been linked to a higher risk of stroke.

Macdonald says some snoring involves bony material in the nose or even the central nervous system, "and those types of snoring may need additional methods of remediation," he says.

Feelin' the Love Again

A month after his implant procedure Poulin feels like he's getting better sleep, but the proof may be in his love life. His girlfriend, Tara Brodkin, blushingly expressed what she has observed.

"A couple nights ago I was able to sleep until 5 in the morning in the same bed," Brodkin says. "So I think it's improving."

The procedure costs about $1,500 to $2,000 and is generally covered by insurance.

Posted by thinkum at 12:51 PM

Paper: Naked Sushi Offer Leads to Fine

Chinese Restaurant Fined for Offering to Serve Sushi on Naked Women's Bodies, Paper Reports

BEIJING April 19 ? A restaurant in southwestern China has been fined for offering to serve sushi on the bodies of naked women, a newspaper reported Monday, after advertisements for the event sparked a rush of both indignation and curiosity.

Health authorities in the city of Kunming, who early this month banned the dinner before it could take place, have now also fined the Yamato Wind Village restaurant $240, the Beijing Daily Messenger newspaper reported.

Some Kunming residents "were indignant, claiming it is humiliating to women," the China Daily reported at the time. "But others were curious and tempted to have a try."

Authorities said the women lacked required health certificates for restaurant employees and were improperly dressed.

Posted by thinkum at 12:49 PM

Vettriano: The people's artist

Jack Vettriano is not an artist for the art world. The public buys more of his images than of anyone else's, but you will have trouble finding him in public collections.

It would be hard to find an artist more scorned, mocked and abused by established critics. But it would also be as hard to think of another living painter whose images have spread so far round the world.

Vettriano's images are enigmatic moments from an imaginary, half-remembered movie. Whether from a windswept romance or a dark erotic thriller, these scenes intrigue with hints of a story that can't quite be worked out.

"I've set the scene, you build the story," Vettriano told BBC World Service's The World Today programme.

"What I'm trying to do is set up these little dramas. I'm like a film director who's only going to give you one shot, that's it, and it's up to you to finish the film on my behalf."

Singing Butler

The look is film noir - sharp-suited men, glamorous women. The story is often enigmatic and erotically charged. Could it be the 1940s, the 50s?

Wherever they are from, Vettriano's paintings are from his imagination - a mix of memories of small-town dances, pulp fiction, gangster movies and romantic yearning.

Born in Fife in Scotland, Vettriano was the son of a miner and did not start painting seriously until he was given a paint box in his early twenties.

Teaching himself by copying his beloved Caravaggio and Monet, he finally sold his first original pieces in the late 1980s and adopted his mother's maiden name.

Now his most famous painting, The Singing Butler - sold by the artist for £3,000 in 1991 - could fetch £250,000 when it is auctioned by Sotheby's.

But strangely, Vettriano makes more than that each year from the royalties on its reproductions - the copies are worth more than the original.

"Maybe three million copies of that image as a poster have been sold round the world" Vettriano's dealer Tom Hewlett said.

"If you go almost anywhere in the world to a poster shop or a gallery, you will see an image of Jack's.

"People respond to the image, not the name. The poster and card companies pay us a royalty and do our marketing for us."

Total sales for all his work are about 15 million - and he has only been painting for about 15 years.

"It's popular because its romantic, its whimsical, its accessible," Vettriano said. "You could say it's safe - and I think that people like to sit on their sofa at night and just imagine they were that couple."


Vettriano put his art's popularity down to "escapism". "At the end of the working day, we all want to escape somewhere else. I've always wanted to escape into my paintings."

He admits he is not the most technically gifted of artists and has no interest in the avant-garde or being cutting-edge.

The painting Embracing was part of Vettriano's previous record sale
But with contemporary art dominated by conceptualism, his traditional narrative painting is quite out of fashion - he has been called derivative, pornographic, simple-minded and even accused of painting by numbers.

One critic told me he hated the work so much he could not bring himself to talk about it.

Vettriano has shrugged off most of the attacks - with one exception. "Someone wrote I was free to do what I liked so long as I understood they wouldn't take me seriously," he said.

"That got to me. Who do these people think they are?"

Veteran London critic Richard Cork does not much care for Vettriano's paintings - but does admit his success makes him a fascinating cultural phenomenon.

"I think the public turn to him with relief, thinking here's something they can understand, that they can take in almost at a glance," he said.

"That's actually one of the problems I have with Vettriano - speaking as an art critic - I feel that once I have glanced at it I've got it really, there's not much more to appreciate."

The Singing Butler is a little like the poster of the "Tennis Girl" from the 1970s, or the "Hunk with the Baby" of the 1980s - an image so popular as to defy simple analysis.

Vettriano's style of retro with a splinter of menace or mystery obviously strikes a chord.

And if you had the original of The Singing Butler on your wall, would it be diminished or enhanced by knowing there were three million copies worldwide?

Posted by thinkum at 12:48 PM

'Einstein' probe set for launch

A satellite that will put Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity to the test is due for lift off at 1801 GMT.

The US space agency's $700m (£387m) probe will launch on a Boeing Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Base in California.

Gravity Probe B will test Einstein's ideas about space and time and how the Earth distorts them.

It will carry four near-perfect spheres in gyroscopes to help verify two key elements of Einstein's theory.

The probe will align itself with a "guide star" IM Pegasi so that their spin axes point to this star. Over the course of the year the spin axes will be monitored for tiny changes that could be caused by the effects Einstein described.

See how the probe will work

Once in space, the unmanned satellite will orbit 640km (400 miles) above Earth.

Spinning around

Einstein argued that the space-time continuum was twisted and distorted by the spinning of massive objects, an effect known as "frame dragging".

"We've seen two of the three aspects of warped space-time. We've seen the warping of space and the warping of time. We have never seen, in any clean way, the dragging of space into motion," said Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology.

These effects have important implications for the nature of matter and the structure of the Universe.

To ensure accuracy, the balls must be kept chilled to near absolute zero, inside the largest vacuum flask ever flown in space and isolated from any disturbances in the quietest environment ever produced.

The idea of the mission was first proposed in 1959, but the project has been aborted and delayed many times due to budget reviews.

Posted by thinkum at 12:45 PM

Macs get their voices back

Apple says it is incorporating speech technology into new versions of its OS X operating system which will make Macs more accessible to users who are visually impaired as well as people with learning difficulties.

The company says that, unlike screenreaders for Windows, its software will be embedded in the operating system.

This, according to Apple, will mean that anyone who needs to use the speech facility will be able to move from one computer to another without having to install assistive technology on each machine.

The software, called Spoken Interface, will have a variety of voices so that users can select one for menus and other command functions, and another to read content such as documents or web pages.

The announcement has been welcomed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

"At the moment we have little information on this development," RNIB's Technology Access Manager, Steve Tyler, told BBC News Online.

"If the rumours are true, RNIB welcomes this initiative - accessibility built into mainstream systems is critical if we're to move forward."

Software guidelines

Apple has confirmed to BBC News Online that the screenreader will definitely be included in the new versions of OS X but was unable to say when this will be available.

Last year those needing a screenreader in order to use a Mac were dealt a blow when Alva - makers of the Outpoken speech interface - announced they were discontinuing the product from the beginning of 2004.

Given the preference for Macs in some areas of business - for example sound recording - blind and partially sighted people should no longer find that the technology is a barrier to job opportunities.

Apple says it will make programming guidelines available to other software developers so that they will be able to make their own applications compatible with it.

Spoken Interface is part of a bundle of accessibility features which include a screen magnifier, contrast enhancements and the ability to replicate mouse actions using the keyboard.

Posted by thinkum at 11:04 AM

April 17, 2004

Disappearing hard disk space

In some instances, Mac OS X volumes will display a significantly lower remaining disk capacity than expected based on installed applications and residing files. Sometimes the dramatic loss of space can happen suddenly - after a Mac OS X update or application installation - or gradually over time.

One MacFixIt reader recently wrote:

"I updated to Panther last evening. Everything worked fine and there was about 20+ GB of free HD space available. After running Software Update, and updating to 10.3.3 via the Apple Combined Update, I suddenly had only 20 MB of space left."

Aside from limiting expansion of your data set, low disk space (less than 10% of total capacity in most cases) can cause serious performance problems in Mac OS X.

If you suddenly find yourself with less available disk capacity than you expected, there are some fairly easy measures that can reclaim the lost space.

Corrupted B-Tree Mac OS X's HFS+ filesystem makes heavy use of B-Trees, and as such (even though HFS+ has built-in on-the-fly defragmentation) is subject to B-Tree corruption that can result in disk space measurement errors.

In some cases Apple's Disk Utility (located in Applications/Utilities) will be able to resolve these issues and is a good place to start. However, especially when header node problems are involved, third-party tools like DiskWarrior, Norton Disk Doctor, and Drive 10 can sometimes be more effective.

Leftovers from burned media Another thing to keep in mind is that if you burn a CD or DVD, the recording application (the Mac OS X Finder, Toast, iTunes, etc.) will create a temporary file matching the burned media's size.

Generally, if the temporary files are not immediately deleted, restarting will remove them.

Lack of ram and swapfiles If you run low on RAM, Mac OS X's VM system will create swapfiles. Sometimes - even with a healthy amount of installed memory - these files can become extremely large.

Aside from buying more RAM, you can use a tool like Cocktail to delete swapfiles, though they are likely to refill soon after when more applications are launched without a restart.

To keep track of your disk vs. RAM usage, keep a tool like Menu Meters handy. This application can display current memory usage as either a pie chart, thermometer, history graph, or as used/free totals. The Memory Meter menu shows a breakdown of current memory usage and VM statistics. It can also optionally display a paging indicator light when swapfiles are being used.

Re-apply combo updater In some cases, simply repeating the update installation process can restore seemingly lost disk space.

Check for invalid preference files In some cases, .plist (preference) files can inexplicably swell to enormous sizes. The utility Preferential Treatment (which was mentioned in this month's mac.column.ted) an interface for the plutil command, which can find invalid XML files - all valid .plist files are also valid XML.

Search for extremely large files In addition to seeking out invalid, possibly swollen .plist files, you can also simply perform a search in the Finder (File -> Find) for files that are suspiciously large; 100 MB, 1 GB or 10 GB depending on your volume size and file mix.

A tool like File Buddy can also help you find such files - visible or invisible.

Log files- such as those generated by the Mac OS X Console - can also swell to 10 GB or larger. You can clear these files by using the above search method, or more easily with a utility like Cocktail, or OnyX (freeware).


Posted by thinkum at 08:01 PM

"In the early days of the Net, we built a nervous system, but nobody built an immune system."

E-mail lists choke on spam

By John Borland
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

For close to half a decade, entertainment executives and copyright-averse college students have debated the future of technology side by side on the "Pho" e-mail list. Now that forum is under siege.

Membership is falling, even though subscription requests are rising. In large part that's because so many e-mail addresses are choked with spam, or have fallen incommunicado behind bulk mail filters, and have had to be eliminated.

Recently, whole companies--including Time Warner and CNET Networks, publisher of News.com--have periodically started bouncing the list's messages. That's not only frustrated subscribers who miss out on their daily dose of digital music dish; network administrators say they sometimes have to clear their servers of thousands of returned messages a day.

Pho isn't alone. E-mail lists in general, long one of the most popular and useful online tools, are increasingly in danger of becoming collateral damage in the Net's war on unsolicited bulk mail.

"Our cures for some of these diseases are boomeranging and killing us," said Jim Griffin, chief executive officer of Cherry Lane Digital and co-founder of the Pho list. "What we're discussing is the passing of a medium. It is alarming to me that one of the most basic features of the Net has been threatened so badly."

It's far too early to write an obituary for e-mail lists. The 30-year-old medium has confronted crises before and has been reborn with the help of clever programmers and new technology. E-mail advocates say this process is already under way, as companies and list administrators figure out both how to keep spam under control without so much of an effect on mail lists and other desired e-mail messages.

"In the early days of the Net, we built a nervous system, but nobody built an immune system," said Marc Smith, a sociologist who studies communities such as Usenet and e-mail groups for Microsoft's research division. "What we're seeing now is the emergence of an immune system."

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Pho and other groups are facing serious hurdles that could change the way the medium operates forever.

It's almost impossible to estimate how broad the e-mail list community runs. Experts say there are certainly millions, perhaps tens of million of lists. They cover every conceivable topic, from the most arcane scientific topics to the most basely sexual. Some have only a few subscribers, while others have as many as tens of thousands.

The growing problems are familiar to anyone with an e-mail box. The primary culprits are the avalanches of spam cluttering mailboxes with Viagra advertisements and XXX photos. The energy required to clear through that digital underbrush alone has taxed many people's patience for e-mail discussions, experts say.

But the response to the spam assault also has helped undermine mail lists. Many people move e-mail addresses routinely, creating dead boxes that bounce messages back to list administrators. Many people use Web-based mailboxes for e-mail list subscriptions, and these can quickly fill up with spam or even legitimate messages, again bouncing messages back to their original servers, filling administrator mailboxes and requiring substantial time to review and clear.

On the flip side are spam filters such as the popular SpamAssassin, used by many corporations. These routinely catch messages sent simultaneously to a large number of people, mistaking list messages for bulk advertisements. Subscribers have little or no way to tell that their mail is not getting through, or that, in some cases, they have been unsubscribed completely from a list.

Faced with these growing issues, many e-mail groups are changing their format to Web-based bulletin boards or augmenting their discussions with RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, a popular content-distribution format used by bloggers and news sites. Internet pundit Clay Shirky, who teaches a graduate course in networking at New York University, said he's close to pulling the plug on his mailing list altogether in favor of RSS.

"The viability of mail lists is rapidly declining," Shirky said. "Fewer people are reading in e-mail directly. It's getting clear that the ordinary Web plus RSS feeds are better."

Periodic crises

This isn't the first time e-mail lists have flirted with collapse, however.

The first e-mail was sent by Ray Tomlinson in 1971, a simple test message to himself. His message evolved almost immediately into broader discussions, although only a few remained active for long. By the close of the 1970s, there were 17 public e-mail discussion lists on the ARPAnet, the precursor to today's Internet. By 1982, there were 44, according to at least one account. Others were springing up by the dozens on private academic networks such as PLATO and BITNET.

But as vibrant as these were, their own inefficiencies led to a crisis almost as dire as today's. At that time, lists were mostly run by hand, which meant that an actual human being had to respond to subscription requests and other problems. When these lists proliferated, it often took weeks for requests to be fulfilled.

Adding to problems were traffic jams caused by the era's still-scarce bandwidth. Single messages were sent out to hundreds of addresses at a time, clogging transatlantic lines so badly that e-mails between Europe and the United States sometimes took a week to be delivered. Some people on the lists started discussing whether e-mail discussion groups should be banned altogether.

The crisis soon passed, however. In 1986, a BITNET programmer in Paris named Eric Thomas wrote a tool called Listserv that automated the administrator's task of managing subscriptions. It also made message distribution more efficient, virtually eliminating the crippling traffic jams. The tool was quickly adopted elsewhere, and the number of e-mail lists on academic networks exploded.

A half-decade later, an American programmer named Brent Thomas started looking around for tools to help automate Internet-based mailing lists. He found Listserv, but decided he could write a new one as quickly as he could learn the old tool, and in a week created a program called Majordomo and a scant 3,000 lines of code. Both tools are still widely used today.

Over the ensuing decade, the shape of mailing lists has remained largely the same. Web-based services such as E-Groups, which Yahoo later bought and turned into Yahoo Groups, attracted hundreds of thousands of discussions, but the fundamental idea hasn't changed much.

An Internet immune system

That's why many in the e-mail list community think they'll survive, despite today's headaches. There is simply nothing that substitutes for the immediacy and simplicity of e-mail, advocates say.

"I don't really see too many people dropping off lists," said Chapman, whose Great Circle Associates consulting firm still manages the Majordomo software. "Mailing lists serve a very valuable purpose. They come to you. Certain Web sites I do check, but you have to go check."

Administrators are finding ways around the problems. Spam filters on list servers, and tools that ensure only list members can send to the list, help keep unwanted e-mail to a minimum. Automatic unsubscribe tools are helping reduce the amount of unwanted bounced messages.

E-mail software itself is getting better at filtering messages into folders, so that all list messages can be segregated away from spam. Web mail services such as Yahoo and Hotmail also support this feature.

Future-looking projects hold out hope of better improvements. Some programmers are working on pulling RSS and e-mail into the same interfaces, eliminating what appears to be competition between the mediums today.

Others are looking at ways to help people wade through the morass of online discussions more easily. Microsoft's Smith has written about new interfaces that would help highlight important or heated conversations among thousands of messages, for example.

These and other innovations, such as better tools to deal with the problems of spam and spam filters, will help keep e-mail lists and communities alive, he said.

"Machines have gotten us into this problem, and they're going to have to get us out," Smith said.


What's new:

E-mail lists, long one of the most popular and useful online tools, are increasingly in danger of becoming collateral damage in the Net's war on unsolicited bulk mail.

Bottom line:

Many e-mail groups are responding by changing their format to Web-based bulletin boards or augmenting their discussions with RSS feeds, a popular content-distribution format used by bloggers and news sites.

Posted by thinkum at 07:52 PM

April 16, 2004

Oldest Known Ornament Found in S. Africa

Experts Say 75,000-Year-Old Jewelry Found in South African Cave Marks Oldest Human Ornament

Some 75,000 years ago, in a Stone Age cave overlooking the ocean, someone collected shells and bored holes in them, producing the oldest known evidence that humans had fashioned an ornament.

Discovery of the set of beads pushes back by some 30,000 years the first indications of the ability to make and use such symbolic materials.
The find, reported in Friday's issue of the journal Science, adds support to the idea that such symbolic thought developed very early among humans.

"Evidence for an early origin of modern human behavior has long remained elusive," said Christopher Henshilwood of the Centre for Development Studies, University of Bergen, Norway.

The new find at Blombos cave on South Africa's Indian Ocean coast provides well-dated evidence of human's using symbolic items, "an unambiguous marker of modern human behavior," said Henshilwood, lead researcher in the study.

Some researchers have argued that the ability to use symbolism did not arrive until later in human development, after people had migrated from Africa to the Middle East and Europe.

The previously oldest known human ornaments are perforated teeth and eggshell beads from Bulgaria and Turkey, dated 41,000- to 43,000-years-old, and 40,000-year-old ostrich-shell beads from Kenya.

The 41 Blombos cave beads were made from the shells of a type of mollusk. Holes were bored in the shells, each less than a half-inch across. The beads show wear marks indicating rubbing against thread, string or fabric, the researchers say, and contain traces of red color, either from decoration or from rubbing against colored materials. They were found in groups of up to 17 beads.

Last year, the same cave yielded two pieces of 77,000-year-old ocher cut with abstract patterns.

Beads are a serious matter in traditional societies, providing identification by gender, age, social class and ethnic group, Henshilwood said.

The ability to use language "must have been essential for sharing and transmitting the symbolic meaning of beads, and possibly other artifacts, within and beyond the group," he said.

Henshilwood said the mollusks used to make the beads live in estuaries and that the nearest source for them was some 12 miles away from the cave, indicating some time and effort was needed to obtain them. Wear marks on the beads indicate they were in use for a long time, he said.

Alison Brooks, who teaches anthropology at George Washington University, said he thinks the beads are "an unequivocal argument that people are employing symbols to signify who they are."

There is a great argument over the degree to which humans engaged in symbolic activity before they left Africa, and this find indicates they had that ability early, said Brooks, who was not part of the research team.

Anthropology professor Sally McBrearty of the University of Connecticut agreed that the find pushes back the earliest date of human symbolic activity. "I think this date will be pushed back further, ultimately," she said.

Noting that the beads were found in the same cave as the carved ocher, she said, "Whatever is happening there, something symbolic is being communicated."

One omission, she said, was that the researchers did not suggest how the shells had been perforated to form the beads.

In addition to Henshilwood, who is also affiliated with the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the research involved scientists from France, South Africa and Wales. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, South African National Research Foundation, French National Center for Scientific Research, European Science Foundation, University of Bergen, Anglo American Chairman's Fund and the British Council.

Posted by thinkum at 01:03 PM

Luckiest people 'born in summer'

People born in summer have a sunnier outlook than those born in colder months, the results of a survey show.

More than 40,000 members of the public took part in the online survey.

Those who were born in May were the most likely to consider themselves lucky while those born in October had the most negative view of their lives.

Professor Richard Wiseman, who conducted the research, said people born in winter could improve their luck by being more optimistic.

People who took part in the survey gave their birthdates and rated the degree to which they saw themselves as lucky or unlucky.

The poll found there was a summer-winter divide between people born from March to August and those born from September to February.

Professor Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, launched the research at the Edinburgh International Science Festival and presented the results at the end of the meeting.


They showed 50% of people born in May considered themselves lucky, while this figure dropped to 43% in October.

Professor Wiseman pointed out that those born in May see the whole of summer in their first six months, while the first experience of those born in October is the winter months.

Fellow researcher Professor Jayanti Chotai, of Umea University in Sweden, has previously shown people born in winter are less likely to seek out novel experiences.

He said: "The environmental factors around the birth period, like exposure to sunshine and temperature, could all influence the body's biological systems, with effects extending into adulthood."

Professor Wiseman said the effect may be due to a difference in the way parents interact with their babies during summer and winter.

He added: "The good news for winter-borns is that people can improve their luck by being more optimistic and making the most of the opportunities that come their way."

Summer-borns include rugby player Jonny Wilkinson, author J K Rowling, footballer David Beckham, and model Jordan.

Prince Charles

Winter-borns include singer Peter Andre, presenter Vanessa Feltz, Prince Charles, and liberal democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Diana Pidwell, a clinical psychologist in Blackpool, said there had been research showing a connection between the time of year a person is born and what they choose to do for a living.

She said: "It might also be feasible that your level of optimism or your likelihood of being depressed may be affected by the time of year you were born."

The connection might be due to summer babies being around happier people and being taken outside into sunlight while winter babies are kept indoors.

Ms Pidwell added that, except in case of clinical depression: "How happy you are is very much to do with how happy you decide to be."

But thinking you are lucky is not all good news, according to Dr Michael Wohl, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Carleton University, Canada.

He has researched people's perception of their own luckiness.

Dr Wohl said: "Some people understand luck as a personal quality that can be used to maximize outcomes. Thus, lucky people might be prone to acting impulsively."

The more they believe they are lucky, the less they think they have to worry about negative outcomes.

He said this could lead to developing habits such as gambling.

Posted by thinkum at 10:23 AM

Delhi police track male train intruders

It is a normal day at the Delhi railway station as tens of thousands of people mill about, waiting to board trains. There seems to be a sense of orderliness as passengers wait for a local service to Panipat in the neighbouring state of Haryana. But as the train pulls into the station, all hell breaks loose. Uniformed policemen suddenly emerge from the platform, grabbing by the collar and arresting men who have been travelling in carriages reserved for women.

The initiative is part of a drive by the authorities to ensure that men do not stray into women-only compartments.


While all the other carriages are painted green, those reserved for women are red with big letters on the outside saying "mahilayen", which is Hindi for women.

To simplify matters further, there is a picture of a woman at the carriage entrance.

But it is still not enough to stop a lot of men regularly travelling in these coaches.

That is why Northern Railways decided it was time to take action against the male intruders.

"There is a certain section of women passengers who travel alone and we feel they should feel totally secure," said PK Goel, Northern Railways divisional regional manager.

"They should not have to put up with any harassment and lewd remarks," he says.

"Once they enter the railway premises, they should feel totally secure, as if they are in their bedroom."

The women-only drive has been named "Bhairavi" after the feisty Hindu goddess Kali, revered for killing demons.

It began because rail authorities received many complaints from women passengers.

"It is the young men who get into the train with the intention to harass," said Ruchira Chatterjee, assistant security commissioner with the Railway Protection Force, which is spearheading the drive.

"The message we want to give them is that, in local trains in the Delhi division at least, they cannot harass women."

The women passengers are delighted with the initiative.

Varnika is a college student and a regular train user.

"It is much better for us. We are much safer now than ever before," she says.

"It was always very irritating with those men. It was very uncomfortable. If we do not have any men here, we can sit comfortably; we do not have to argue with anyone."

Passenger security

Nevertheless, railway authorities say it is impossible to provide security for the 140 million people who travel by trains in India every day.

So part of Ms Chatterjee's job is to tell women commuters they have to act for themselves.

"People think there should be police protection, but we are trying to motivate them, we are trying to encourage them because that is the only way we can find a permanent solution," she says.

"Women have to come forward and fight for themselves."

Most of the male offenders use the same excuses to explain their presence on women-only carriages.

Some say they boarded the coach because they were accompanying a woman.

Others protest that the train had begun to move and the women's carriage was the nearest one available.

A few flatly deny their offence.

Whatever the circumstances, most are produced before a magistrate and punishments range from a fine to a jail term of up to six months.

The railway authorities say the drive will continue for some time, and that times and routes of the operation will vary so offenders do not think they can get away with it.

From now on, they say, women-only compartments will be just that.

Posted by thinkum at 10:17 AM

EXPOSURE: An interrogation of ordinary people mascots.

Standing 6 feet tall with skates on, the University of New Hampshire's hockey mascot weighs in at more than star player Steve Saviano, and is very heavy in the exuberance department. Despite suffering a major blow (a 4-1 loss to the University of Michigan on March 27 in the NCAA Tournament?s North East Regional), WILD E. still seemed to have its share of pep.

Hugging kids in the stands during the game keeps the cat going, as does the face time and ice time it gets between periods. It has also grown accustomed to the Ram Jam song, "Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam)."

We?ll next see WILD E. in October at the UNH Men?s Hockey team home opener. Right now, the furry feline is thinking of taking an Alaskan cruise and getting some salmon fishing in.

WILD E. CAT: We?ve got to start off with a cheer!

J.L. STEVENS: Oh, you cheer?

WILD E.: I do physical cheers. But I don?t engage in any of those raunchy cheers that the students engage in.

J.L.: There are raunchy cheers at hockey games?

WILD E.: Yes. They spell the word, well, I don?t know what S-E-X spells. . .

J.L.: They spel* sex" at hockey games?

WILD E.: Ahhhhhhhhhh!

J.L.: I don?t even know if I?m allowed to print that.

So you have to cheer before we talk?

WILD E.: I just have my own private little cheer: Meow meow meow meow. Meow meow meow meow. Go Cats!

J.L.: All right. And what is your full name.

WILD E.: Wild E dot Cat.

J.L.: And what is the "E" for?

WILD E.: Energy!!!!

J.L.: Does it really?

WILD E.: It does. It does. It does. WILD E. is never short on energy.

J.L.: Well how old are you?

WILD E.: Well, I?m 4 years old.

J.L.: Is that ... you know how dogs age differently? What does that really mean?

WILD E.: Well, cats have nine lives. And I don?t remember any previous lives, so I?m going to be around forever. If I?m old right now, I don?t worry about it because I?ve got a lot of lives to go.

J.L.: Good. I?m glad to hear that.

Do you live in a dorm?
Photo by Deb Cram

WILD E.: Well, all I know is I know where the litter box is.

J.L.: Is it on the hockey rink?

WILD E.: Oh, no. It?s where the opposing team sits.

J.L.: WILD E.! You should be ashamed.

WILD E.: Oh, I don?t use it while they?re there. They stink it up enough as it is during the game.

J.L.: Are you a male or a female wild cat?

WILD E.: UNH had me neutered.

J.L.: Does UNH even have a vet school?

WILD E.: Yes, it?s a very reputable vet school. They work on large animals. My being a large cat, I was one of their first victims - oh - I mean patients.

J.L.: This is scandalous.

Which UNH sport do you like best?

WILD E.: I like ice hockey the best . . .um um . . .

J.L.: How come?

WILD E.: Because it?s a little-known fact, but cats can skate.

J.L.: I was wondering about that.

WILD E.: Yes. So, because I skate, I like to play hockey.

J.L.: That all makes sense to me.

How do you keep your spirits up now that the UNH hockey season is over?

WILD E.: Well, I?m sad about the hockey season being over, but it?s OK, because now I can shed some of my fur and get ready for the summer months and I?m going to have a makeover over the summer anyways.

J.L.: Oh my gosh.

WILD E. : Yes. So I?ve got things to do this summer, I?m thinking about changes to my body and a potential diet, and maybe a facial makeover.

J.L.: Are the Fab Five going to do something? Would that be a good idea?

WILD E.: Ooohh! That?s a good idea! To get the Fab Five involved.

J.L.: I love that.

Are you declawed?

WILD E.: Well, um...

J.L.: Can you not tell under those Bauer gloves?

WILD E.: I can?t tell if I?m declawed or not, but when I?m around the children, I definitely don?t use my claws.

J.L.: How come your head?s so big?

WILD E.: Well, it has a lot to do with INTIMIDATION! Intimidation is the key when you?re a Wildcat. You must intimidate your prey. And I feed upon terriers, I feed upon bulldogs, I feed on eagles, and you must have a big head to intimidate them.

J.L.: What about black bears?

WILD E.: Ohhhhhhh!!!

J.L.: Do you think you could take the Maine Black Bear in a fair fight?

WILD E.: Do you know what Maine Black Bear?s name is?

J.L.: No.

WILD E.: Bananas. Anybody could take on a black bear named BANANAS!

J.L.: All right, WILD E.

Do you get royalties from all the co-eds that wear your likeness on their T-shirts and sweat shirts at UNH?

WILD E.: Do you mean to say that there are likenesses of me on T-shirts?

J.L.: There are. You need to get out more. Maybe.

WILD E.: Does that mean you?re going to pay me for taking my picture?

J.L.: Not today.

Have you ever shot the T-shirt cannon? (The T-shirt cannon is used between periods to fire T-shirts into the crowd).

WILD E.: There was a bad accident a couple months ago, and I?m not allowed to shoot the cannon anymore.

J.L.: What about throwing the fish? (UNH tradition mandates that a fish be thrown on the ice after the first UNH goal is scored).

WILD E.: I have thrown the fish, but like the cannon, they don?t let me do that anymore, because after I got done with the fish, I ate half of it.

J.L.: Would you ever like to become a mascot at Disney World?

WILD E.: Well, it?s awfully hot down there and there?s a lot of competition.

J.L.: I bet, yeah. But you?re kind of cute.

WILD E.: Yeah? Thanks. Thanks. Yes I am really cute and I love the children. The children are the reason that we mascots are in business. I can handle 3,000 children. I don?t know if I could handle 30,000.

J.L.: Do any of the kids ever get scared.

WILD E.: Yes, sometimes they do, but maybe with the makeover that I?ll get this summer, I?ll appear more friendly. I won?t scare the children.

J.L.: You?re keeping us in suspense.

What do you do between periods?

WILD E.: Well, I do a lot of things. I practice up on my goalie skills. I?m kind of like the fourth string goalie for the team, so between periods I practice up on being goalie.

J.L.: Speaking of goalies, do you think Mike Ayers is cute?

WILD E.: Well, I can?t really say so because my agent is his girlfriend, so if I say yes ... I might get in trouble.

J.L: All right.

What?s your relationship like with Coach (Dick) Umile?

WILD E.: Well, Coach Umile is a stressed kind of guy before the game so I just kind of give him a high five and say, "Enjoy the game!" But you know, I really enjoy Coach Umile?s grandsons, Jack and Charlie. They?re always in the stands and they love to see me, and I really enjoy them.

J.L.: Have you ever ridden the Zamboni?

WILD E.: Um...

J.L.: Or are you not allowed to do that either?

WILD E.: See this big behind of mine? It doesn?t fit on the Zamboni.

J.L.: Speaking of your big behind, how come you don?t have a tail?

WILD E.: There was an incident in December with a mascot from the University of Minnesota. He clobbered me and threw me over the bench, and I lost my tail.

J.L.: Do you think they have it hanging somewhere in Minnesota?

WILD E.: I think they do. It?s kind of like a treasure for them.

J.L.: Is it common for you to get physical with the other mascots?

WILD E.: Oh, no. No. We try to model appropriate behavior for the children. I was an innocent bystander.

J.L: It?s fair to say you had the stuffing beaten out of you.

Lastly, have you ever considered growing a mullett?

WILD E.: Strange that you should ask. For two years, the year before this and the year before that, the team grew beards - rally beards they called them - and WILD E. grew a beard as well, it was nice and scruffy...

J.L.: It came in well?

WILD E.: It did. It came in well. Yes, I look really nice. But I enjoy the clean-shaven look. I?m furry enough as it is.

Posted by thinkum at 09:43 AM

Another "Oh, God"?

Novice screenwriters Bobby Florsheim and Josh Stolberg sold their fantasy spec script The Passion of the Ark to Columbia Pictures, Variety reported. The film is a modern-day tale of an unmarried man approached by God to build an ark to save the world from a second flood.

Posted by thinkum at 09:24 AM

Tamil Tigers adopt poisonous lily

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels have adopted a poisonous lily as their official flower.

They are urging people in the north and east of the island - the Tamil Tiger stronghold - to grow the flower in their homes.

They want people to wear the karthigaipoo, or gloriosa lily, on occasions of national significance.

The Tigers have fought a near 30-year campaign for Tamil self-determination in the north and east of the island.

Deadly poison

The gloriosa is a yellow and red flower with tendril-like petals, which blooms mainly in the rebel-held areas.

Its colours are the same as those of the Tamil Tiger flag - which has a picture of a roaring tiger in front of a crossed pair of rifles encircled by a round of bullets.


This particular lily also shares another characteristic with the Tamil Tiger fighters - it is deadly poisonous and eating any part of the flower, vine or root can cause death.

It is used by those wishing to commit suicide.

Many Tamil Tiger fighters wear a cyanide capsule around their neck to avoid being captured alive by the Sri Lankan army.

TamilNet, the pro-rebel website, says the organisation wants residents of the north and east to grow what it is calling its national flower in homes, business premises and educational institutions.

Posted by thinkum at 09:22 AM

Anti-Barbie becomes Russian icon

An unglamorous schoolgirl has become a feminist icon in Russia after she was entered for an online beauty pageant by a friend as a prank.

Alyona Pisklova - not her real surname - got at least 40,000 votes, making her the runaway favourite to represent Russia in June's Miss Universe contest.

But Alyona, 15, was disqualified ahead of the finals because of her age.

In a blow to convention, her supporters hit back with a website called "Say No To Barbie Dolls".

She collected at least twice the votes of her nearest competitor.

An English-language statement on the website says Alyona "represents a catalyst to reveal problems of our society".

"The appearance of a common, real-life girl caused an enormous wave of support" it says.

"(She) submitted for the competition usual photos, made by unprofessional photographers, without make-up, with a natural smile and expression of the eyes."

The statement says the vote for Alyona was "against unnatural beauties who cannot be distinguished from each other, fake emotions, smiles and gazes reflected in the lenses of professional photographers, products of the same type and trademark, popular music, cigarettes without nicotine and coffee without caffeine".

Several anti-globalisation groups backed her cause, leading to criticism that they were trying to hijack the phenomenon.

'No Pasaran!'

Meanwhile, articles appeared on the web claiming the unlikely candidate had received offers from political parties and other organisations.

One article even claimed the campaign was the "answer to the uncontested elections of President Vladimir Putin".

Ivan Zassoursky, the beauty pageant's producer, argued that the popularity of the online contest had drawn attention to Alyona.

"This competition has set two records," he told BBC News Online.

"It is the largest ever internet vote in Russia and the first nationwide beauty pageant to be held without a jury - as far as I know, in the world."

"The reason why the Alyona phenomenon arose is that it was an open choice - ordinary people could vote freely."

The organisers invited Russians to chose from among 1,000 contestants using the internet and their mobile phones.

Alyona refused an offer from the organisers to accompany the winner of the contest to the Miss Universe competition in Ecuador in June, apparently because of her school exams.

The pageant site now features the news that she was awarded the "Viewer's Choice Award".

It also includes a photo of her wearing a red t-shirt bearing the slogan: "Barbies No Pasaran!"

Posted by thinkum at 09:19 AM

Lion Seeks Kiwi Extras

Filmmakers are casting extras for the New Zealand production of Disney/Walden's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, based on the C.S. Lewis classic fantasy book, the New Zealand Herald newspaper reported. People of unusual size are being urged to show up, the newspaper added.

Independent casting director Liz Mullane, who worked on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, is seeking men and women under 5 feet and men and women taller than 6 feet 4 inches, the newspaper reported. They must have good body strength, stamina, fitness and be "non-claustrophobic," because they could find themselves inside a full body suit or in other odd places for hours at a time, the newspaper reported.

The production is seeking about 200 extras for the film, due to shoot from the end of June. Casting calls are being held in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland.

Posted by thinkum at 09:17 AM

April 15, 2004

Howard silences Aboriginal advocates

The [Australian] Federal Government has ended the policy of self-determination which for three decades has taken the voices of elected Aboriginal representatives to Canberra, with the Prime Minister, John Howard, announcing he will abolish the nation's peak indigenous body.

The Government will introduce legislation to abolish the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) next month, moving all its programs into government departments and replacing the 13-member elected board with an appointed body of "distinguished indigenous people" with an advisory role only.

"We believe very strongly that the experiment in separate representation, elected representation, for indigenous people has been a failure," Mr Howard said.

The move follows a series of scandals among ATSIC's elected leadership and a scathing report on its performance by a government-appointed review team which said it had reached a "crisis point" over its credibility among indigenous people.

However, Jackie Huggins, a member of the review team, said the "essential element" of its report was that there had to be legitimate national representative leadership for indigenous people.

"A representative panel of individuals, no matter how distinguished, can never be the voice for indigenous Australia over the long term," said Ms Huggins, who is also co-chairwoman of Reconciliation Australia.

ATSIC's first chairwoman, Lowitja O'Donoghue, said she was unhappy with the way Mr Howard had ended self-determination. "Governments can't blame Aboriginal people for all these failures. They have to take some responsibility for themselves over the question of self-determination."

Labor is likely to support the Government's proposals, with the Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, having pre-empted Mr Howard's decision to abolish ATSIC two weeks ago. Mr Latham said yesterday that Labor had "once again shown the way on policy".

The Opposition and Government differ, however, on what type of organisation should replace ATSIC, with Labor saying it would set up a directly elected body to provide advice. Labor also wants responsibility for the provision of services to indigenous communities devolved to ATSIC's regional councils. Mr Howard plans to abolish these in mid-2005.

The Australian Democrats leader, Senator Andrew Bartlett, said that the proposed new advisory body would be a "hand- picked board of Mr Howard's chosen advisers for him to ignore whenever he feels like it".

The Greens accused the Government and Labor of playing "pre-election games" and said ATSIC's abolition would "do nothing to assist indigenous Australians to escape poverty and poor health".

The acting ATSIC chairman, Lionel Quartermaine, said the Government was "kidding" itself if it thought indigenous issues would go away with the organisation's demise. The board would still meet next month to decide if any protest or other action should be taken against the Government.

The suspended ATSIC chairman, Geoff Clark, said he would fight using "whichever means necessary" to retain the indigenous organisation.

Posted by thinkum at 04:43 PM

Web inventor wins major new technology prize

The inventor of the worldwide web, Tim Berners-Lee of Britain, was awarded the first Millennium Technology Prize worth one million euro ($A1.63 million), the jury said.

"The web has significantly enhanced many people's ability to obtain information central to their lives," Pekka Tarjanne, former secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union and chairman of the award selection committee, said in a statement.

"The web is encouraging new types of social networks, supporting transparency and democracy, and opening up novel avenues for information management and business development," Tarjanne said.

Berners-Lee, 48, was born in Britain and is currently director of the World Wide Web Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.

With a background in system design in real-time communications and text-processing software development, he invented the web while working at CERN, world's largest particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.

The web was first made available to the public in 1991.

Berners-Lee created the first server, browser, and protocols central to the operation of the web: the URL address, HTTP transmission protocol and HTML code. In 2003, he was named a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his pioneering work.

Finland created the Millennium Technology Prize to recognise international achievements in technology, honouring "outstanding technological achievement specifically directed to the advancement of society and its ability to sustain people's quality of life".

Funded by eight public and private Finnish organisations, the prize will be awarded every second year.

Posted by thinkum at 04:41 PM

'UFOs sighted' over Iran

Residents of northern Iran have reported a string of Unidentified Flying Objects moving at low altitudes and emitting different colours, the state news agency reported.

A resident of the northwestern city of Tabriz, Saina Haghkish, was quoted as saying she saw one object flashing red, green and blue moving slowly from the east to west late yesterday.

Identical sightings were also reported on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday over the northeastern town of Ghonbad-Kavous, situated on the opposite southeastern edge of the Caspian Sea.

But astronomy professor Ajab Shirizadeh told the state news agency, IRNA, that while the presence over the Islamic republic of extra-planetary craft could not be ruled out, the sightings could also be attributed to spy or communications satellites.

Posted by thinkum at 04:40 PM

April 14, 2004

Mel Brooks has ways of making us laugh

It's a hard task to upstage Bert Newton. But a short, Jewish-American showbusiness legend spruiking a musical about Hitler can be relied on to do his best.

Enter Mel Brooks. The creator of the Broadway-conquering musical The Producers was on hand yesterday for a sneak preview of the show before its Australian premiere on Saturday, and all around him might as well have been invisible.

At 77, Brooks took to the stage at Melbourne's Princess Theatre and swapped Nazi salutes (with comb moustache) with television luminary and lederhosened cast member Bert Newton.

"I can't believe he's not a Nazi kraut son of a gun," Brooks boomed in his raspy Brooklyn drawl. "He's possibly the best Franz Liebkind we ever got."

The Producers is still going strong in New York, three years after it opened on Broadway and netted a record 12 Tony awards. The musical - which in Melbourne will star Reg Livermore, Tom Burlinson, Chloe Dallimore, Tony Sheldon and Newton - is based on Brooks's 1968 film of the same name.

It tells the story of producer Max Bialystock (Livermore) and his accountant Leo Bloom (Burlinson), who hatch a scheme to raise more money than needed for a sure-fire Broadway dud and pocket the difference, with the help of their statuesque Swedish secretary Ulla (Dallimore).

They hire the worst director, Roger DeBris (Sheldon), to direct the worst musical they can find - Springtime for Hitler, written by neo-Nazi pigeon breeder Franz Liebkind (Newton). Their plans are shot when the show becomes an overnight sensation.

Brooks's talent is mind-boggling. He not only wrote the book and screenplay for The Producers, but penned all the music and lyrics when he decided to turn his film into a musical.

Yesterday he was full of praise for the Australian cast.

"I am so happy and so blessed with this incredibly, incredibly talented company at . . . such . . . low . . . wages," he said, drawing it out for effect.

Brooks is working on a new movie version of The Producers. The movie that became a musical is to become a movie based on the musical, with Nicole Kidman likely to star as Ulla. "Universal Pictures asked us. They made us a generous offer. We thought what the hell," Brooks said.

The Producers opens in Melbourne on Saturday, and comes to Sydney early next year.

Posted by thinkum at 02:02 PM

Brits barmy for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pig

London: Only the British would make national heroes out of two pigs who escaped from a slaughterhouse and made a dash for freedom.

Britons are often mocked for treating their pets better than their children. So the BBC clearly felt it was onto a winner immortalising the exploits of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pig.

They were two Tamworth ginger-haired pigs who sparked an international media frenzy in 1998. Even Japanese and American networks flew in to cover the chase.

The Legend of the Tamworth Two, being screened by BBC Television, relives the frenetic week when the porcine pair were billed the world's most famous fugitives.

The plucky porkers escaped the abattoir knife in the western English town of Malmesbury by burrowing under a fence and swimming across an icy river to freedom.

Posted by thinkum at 01:56 PM

IN BRIEF: Teen Bond, Rare Hamlet and more

The Man with the Golden...Bookbag?
Rare Hamlet goes on the block
Lincoln Center to get "architectural striptease"

CBC News Online with files from the Arts Report

The Man with the Golden...Bookbag?

LONDON - The publisher of Ian Fleming's original James Bond series has commissioned two "prequel" books about the U.K.'s most celebrated spy -- before the vodka martinis, the Honey Ryders and the gadget-filled Aston Martins.

Written by actor and novelist Charlie Higson, the two new books will tell the story of 13-year-old James and his escapades while attending Eton College, the alma mater of Fleming, George Orwell, members of the Royal Family and 19 British prime ministers.

With a number of adult thrillers, screenplays and TV shows on his resumé, Higson called the offer by Penguin Books "too good an opportunity to turn down."

"I've grown up with Bond, and while I've had to finally accept that I'll never play him in the films, writing about him is even more exciting," he told the Independent newspaper.

In the first book, set in the 1930s, the young Bond travels to a remote Scottish castle where a wealthy American is conducting "some very disturbing experiments." Scheduled for publication March 2005, the work will also describe Bond's struggle with the death of his parents in a skiing accident, an event often cited as the motivation behind his later choice to become a spy.

Rare Hamlet goes on the block

BOSTON - A rare, almost 400-year-old edition of William Shakespeare's Hamlet will be auctioned at Christie's in New York Wednesday.

One of only 19 copies of the printing known to exist, the edition is the only one remaining in private hands -- those of renowned book collector and literary scholar Mary Hyde, Viscountess Eccles.

While other works from Lady Eccles's collection -- including early editions of King Lear, Richard II and Macbeth -- are also going to auction, the condition and rarity of the Hamlet manuscript is expected to attract the most attention. It is a second edition of the play and the last edition printed during Shakespeare's lifetime.

Presale estimates have the play fetching up to $2 million US. However, according to auction officials, passionate buyers could inflate that number.

Francis Wahlgren, a senior vice-president of printed books and manuscripts at Christie's, noted that in 2001, a collection of plays published soon after Shakespeare's death fetched $6.2 million US -- almost $4 million more than the estimate -- because of passionate bidders.

"This is much rarer," he told The Associated Press. "People realize they're not going to see this at auction again. This is a unique opportunity."

Lady Eccles, best known for her extensive Samuel Johnson collection, died last August at the age of 91. Her Johnson collection and many other books were pledged to institutions, including Harvard University. The rest is being auctioned Wednesday, with a portion of the proceeds intended for her many charitable interests.

Lincoln Center to get "architectural striptease"

NEW YORK - Officials at New York's largest performing arts mecca unveiled plans to strip away its "opaque walls" and "amplify" its best features.

At a news conference Tuesday, architect Elizabeth Diller used computer animation to give a virtual tour of what the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts will look like following a $325-million US renovation and "architectural striptease," set to begin in 2006.

Now that the centre has gentrified its once-rough neighborhood -- which served as the actual setting for the musical West Side Story -- it no longer needs the original fortress-like façades along West 65th Street, officials said. The block will instead become a glassed-in "front door" for the famed Julliard School of Music and other performance facilities.

The objective is to "amplify" the centre's best features and "fulfill its unrealized potential," said Diller, an architectural professor and a partner in Diller Scofidio and Renfro, the firm chosen to lead the project.

"We wanted to make Lincoln Center more Lincoln Center than Lincoln Center," she said of the complex, also home to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the New York City Ballet.

The design will also include a new film centre with two theatres, a number of new façades, a redesign of an open-air plaza and an overall transformation of the West 65th Street block into a "Street of the Arts" with wider sidewalks and a sleek, glass-walled footbridge.

"Behind the opaque walls of 65th Street we have 5,000 artists, students, workers toiling every day on 13 stages, 81 rehearsal rooms, 80 practice rooms, 13 dance studios, offering 3,500 programs a year for 1.2 million people," said Rebecca Robertson, executive director of the Lincoln Center.

"For pedestrians during the day it's uncomfortable. At night, it's chaos, as 4,000 pedestrians want to cross the street, darting in and out between cars, trying to get to the curtains on time," Robertson said.

Officials said the Lincoln Center contributes $1 billion US annually to New York's economy.

Posted by thinkum at 01:50 PM

Cows eat herring for new milk

Some landlocked Canadian cows are enjoying a little seafood with their hay and grain so they can produce a new kind of milk being touted for its benefits for the brain, eyes and nerves.

The milk, produced by herring-fed cows in Ontario, provides a fatty acid also common in salmon, trout and mackerel to diets of people who don't eat enough fish, said Larry Milligan, a researcher at the University of Guelph, which developed the milk.

But it doesn't taste fishy, Milligan said Tuesday.

"I don't detect any difference whatsoever from regular milk," he said.

The milk is sold in Ontario by Neilson Dairy, a subsidiary of George Weston Ltd. , Canada's largest food processor and distributor.

At $5.29 (Canadian) per four liters ($3.98 for 3.5 quarts), it's more than 20 percent pricier than regular milk, but similar in cost to calcium-enriched milk.

The fatty acid, called docoshexaenoic acid, or DHA, is an omega-3 fatty acid that is also found in omega-3 eggs, nuts and canola oil.

Ninety grams (three ounces) of cooked Atlantic salmon contains 1.2 grams of DHA, a week's worth of what the body needs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Drinking three cups of the fortified homogenized milk provides 0.06 grams of DHA, Neilson said.

Children can get almost 60 percent of recommended DHA by drinking two cups of the new milk a day, it said.

But one food activist said the nutritional claims are a red herring used for marketing.

"I'm frankly so skeptical of all the dietary claims: one thing is good for you, and then it's not," said Brewster Kneen, publisher of The Ram's Horn journal, which rails against biotechnology and multinational food processors while promoting organic farming.

Kneen said cows are best left to turning grass and hay into foods humans can eat rather than eating designer diets.

"Why are we taking herring, which is a good human food, and putting it through a cow? This is very strange," Kneen said.

Milligan said fish meal has been used for protein in livestock diets for decades and is safe.

"DHA milk was put through all the possible analytical measurements you could even imagine for Health Canada [the country's health ministry] and was approved," he said.


Posted by thinkum at 01:48 PM

Wild boar cam an online hit

A German Web site dubbed "Pig Brother" has attracted more than a million visitors in under two weeks with its 24-hour live Webcam coverage of a family of wild boar, the site's creators said Tuesday.

The site, launched in March by the German Hunting Protection League, offers day and night coverage of three males, three females and more than 50 offspring in an enclosure in their natural habitat of the Eifel mountains in western Germany.

"The boar live freely in a natural environment but it so happens that there is nearly always a boar in front of the camera," a spokeswoman for the league said.

The site was set up shortly after the start of the latest German series of the reality television show "Big Brother," which locks volunteers in a house and films their every move.

The boar site -- www.wildtiere-live.de -- attracted more than 1.5 million visitors and 400 guest book entries in its first two weeks.

"We have microphones in the enclosure. The mating calls are very impressive," said the spokeswoman.

Posted by thinkum at 01:45 PM

Could we survive an asteroid hit?

A massive iron asteroid crashed into the Arizona plain 49,000 years ago, creating a crater more than a kilometre wide.

The blast sent millions of tonnes of rock flying into the air and whipped up winds far faster than any gusts you would found inside a hurricane.

The effects on life in the region were devastating - but what impact would a similar blast have on a modern city such as London?

Scientists in the US have created a website to help us assess the risks.

Researchers at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory say their web tool will predict the effects different types of impactors would have if they hit different places on the planet.

A relatively modest sized asteroid of 45m (150ft) in diameter is said to strike the Earth approximately every 1,000 years.

So if the next one did come down in the UK's capital, just how far would the devastation spread and how much time would those living and working in the city have to grab their bags and run?

Gigantic fireball

To use the site, you have to have an idea of what type of object you are expecting to hit the Earth, where it will come down, and at what kind of speed and angle.

Simply type in your distance from the predicted impact point and the Earth Effects Impact Program will tell you if you should expect to be buried under a pile of debris, known as ejecta, while trees are flattened all around, or whether the effects will be limited to just loud noise and rocking cars.

The site includes descriptions of how much thermal radiation is needed to ignite grass and how far away from the impact site humans would suffer second or third-degree burns.

Planetary scientist Jay Melosh, who helped develop the site, said: "The website is valuable for scientists because they don't have to spend time digging up equations and data needed to calculate the effects.

"Similarly, it makes the information available to reporters and other non-scientists who don't know how to make the calculations."

The Arizona asteroid, thought to have been made of iron and nickel and about 45m wide, hit the Earth at a 90 degree angle at a speed of some 20km/s (12 miles a second).

Inserting these figures into the online blast calculator for a similar sized asteroid landing, say, at Oxford Circus reveals how an enormous crater almost 3km (2 miles) wide would open up across central London. It would spread across what had been Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and Marble Arch, wiping out much of Soho and Mayfair.

The immediate area would be vaporised instantly - the shoppers and office workers thronging the streets would not stand a chance.

Rock thrown up by the blast could shower over an area of several square kilometres around the crater like bombs, smashing through the roofs of embassy buildings in Belgravia and skyscrapers in the City of London.

Just 0.04 seconds after the blast, a gigantic fireball, 0.8km (0.5 miles) across would appear, igniting trees, grass, paper and clothing, with thermal radiation causing extensive third-degree burns to anyone unlucky enough to be caught within 1km of the blast.

A fraction of a second later, shockwaves from the blast would reach 5.4 on the Richter Scale, rocking cars up to a km away, moving furniture, cracking walls and making the ground unstable to walk on. Widespread panic would probably ensue, with those who were able to running out of their houses into the streets.

Blown away

The shockwaves would gradually spread out from the impact zone, reaching the London outskirts and the M25 orbital motorway about a second later.

Finally, 3.3 seconds after the impact, winds reaching 4,000km (2,500miles) per hour would rush through the city, at an ear-piercing 128 decibels, causing buildings and bridges to collapse, steel-framed office blocks to buckle and blowing down 90% of the trees.

Seismic shocks would reach the M25 after about four seconds, rocking the ground, making it hard to stand up. Church bells would ring and furniture would be overturned.

Even this far from the impact point, the fireball would be visible, cars and lorries would be destroyed, glass would be shattered and trees blown down and stripped of leaves by winds of 136km (84 miles) per hour.

The fireball following the impact would still be visible by people almost 100km (60 miles) away in Sussex, Essex or Hertfordshire, though the effects here would be milder.

Although cars might still be rocked by seismic shaking 19 seconds after the blast, the winds would reach only 23km (14 miles) per hour and would be no louder than heavy traffic noise.

Posted by thinkum at 01:43 PM

April 13, 2004

Monkeying around on company time

Act like a chimp, say scientists at the Zoological Society. They want to see if human volunteers can better defuse daily tensions by adopting the body language of our ape cousins.

By Ryan Dilley
BBC News Online Magazine

I'm game. Even if I get sacked.

The Zoological Society of London is looking for 100 human volunteers to substitute chimpanzee calls, facial expressions and gestures for their normal behaviour as they go about their everyday lives.

The researchers hope to find out if chimps are better communicators than those of us supposedly further up the evolutionary ladder.

I want to help further science as much as the next person, but will impersonating a chimp advance human knowledge sufficiently that it is worth the risk of acting very oddly?

"Very few researchers have asked whether humans can learn to communicate like another animal," says Dr Laurie Santos, director of the Primate Cognition Lab at Yale University.

"Most of the research on animal communication consists of mostly failed attempts to see if animals can use human language. Researchers spent decades and lost many fingers trying to teach chimpanzees to speak, manually moulding their mouths into the right positions. So this is a neat twist on an old question."

Hardly a ringing endorsement of the experiment, but I guess it won't kill me to help them out.

Monkey business

So how do chimps act, exactly? Wracking my brains, I vaguely remember that they used to be good at having tea parties, advertising tea and, er, duffing up Johnny Morris on BBC TV's Animal Magic. Or was that gorillas?

Downloading the Zoological Society's pdf fact sheet gives me some pointers and sets out the parameters of the experiment.

If I feel distressed, scared, relaxed, playful, friendly or downtrodden, I should adopt the chimp response as described on the fact sheet, then note down how it worked out.

I'm feeling relaxed, so let's start there. According to the Zoological Society, I need to find a more dominant figure to groom, which should "mellow any tensions" in the office.

"Ryan... Ryan... What are you doing?" says my editor, as I pick fluff off the arm of his jacket.

"I'm grooming you. To relax you," I reply, giving him my best chimp playful face (an open-mouthed smile) and emitting a throaty "oo oo oo" sound which verges on a laugh.

"It's a bit unsettling, Ryan. Best stop now."

It seems I need a little professional coaching. So I consult Dr Lisa Parr, an expert in chimpanzee facial expressions from the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Centre in Atlanta, Georgia.

"I don't know why anyone would want to act like a chimp. I occasionally slip into using their expressions when I'm not at work and people think I'm weird," says Dr Parr.

Just as actors sometimes need to know a character's motivation before they feel comfortable in a role, I ask Dr Parr to talk me through what lies behind the ape actions I am to undertake.

Thus prepared, the experiment proceeds.

The next emotion to surface is the feeling that I am downtrodden. My computer is playing up and the technical support man doesn't seem to be in much of a hurry to fix it.

As I hover over his desk, pleading with him to take a look at my dodgy PC, a thought dawns on me. Doesn't he know how important I am?

What would a chimp do? Dr Parr told me that to assert my authority chimp-style, I need to make myself appear a big as possible and brandish objects over my head.

The fact sheet shows a chimp waving a vicious-looking stick and a jagged rock. Improvising, I grab a floppy mouse mat and a paper cup - which turns out to be a quarter full of cold tea. Waving my arms in the air only serves to spray the remaining liquid and cause my jumper to ride up, revealing my pot belly.

Result: raised eyebrows, but one fixed computer nonetheless.

Malfunctioning technology also gives me the next opportunity to go ape, when I become trapped in automated, revolving office door.

Unable to go back or forward, I understandably feel distressed. To communicate this to the female receptionist, I purse my lips into an o-shape.

"Research in the 1960s suggests this pouting has its roots in baby chimps being denied their mothers' nipples, which causes them to feel distress," Dr Parr had told me.

I'm not sure if the receptionist knows that behind my Frankie Howard grimace I'm thinking about nipples, but she comes to my rescue rather gingerly.

Hoping to curry favour, I try to appear friendly - chimp friendly, of course. I hunch forward, stare into her eyes and hold out my right hand as if I am carrying an invisible banana. "Huh, huh, huh," I pant softly.

"It's as if you're offering food," Dr Parr had advised. "You are inviting the person to approach you."

Recoiling from me, the receptionist frantically beckons a burly security guard. I feel fear.

I crouch submissively and bare my teeth - which Dr Parr said had its origins in the physical response of chimps drawing back their lips when they taste some bad (and possibly dangerous) food.

The security guard merely quickens his advance. I revert to the behaviour of another animal, the chicken, and leg it.

Takes place when relaxed
A dominant chimp will demand to be groomed by sitting with back to a subordinate

This is paired with a high-pitched "oo oo" hoot which may turn into laugh
Indicates happiness, and that you're ready to play

Usually used by males in a group to show who's boss
Make as much noise as possible, while brandishing objects so as to appear bigger

This expression is paired with a high-pitched "oo oo" call
This alerts the group to danger

Extend arm with open fist, relax mouth but keep teeth covered, no direct eye contact
Pair with short, throaty "huh huh" pant

This expression is usually paired with submissive body language
That's shoulders up, head lowered, body crouching

Posted by thinkum at 02:28 PM

Garden Center covers nude statues with velvet sarong

Statues at the G & L Garden Center have been dressed in velvet sarongs, stopping traffic the past few weeks.


A garden center's nude statues proved a bit immodest for some in this small town.

G & L Garden Center responded to complaints by covering up the classical-style statues with stylish, two-piece crimson velvet sarongs.

It turns out leaving a little to the imagination meant a lot more customers for the $99.95 ornaments. Six statues have sold in the past couple weeks alone, and the attempt at roadside modesty is stopping traffic.

"He wanted to stop when he saw the naked women and the bikinis," Joan Philpot said of her husband of 50 years, Bill.

And yes, some customers are peeking.

"They are pulling the tops and looking underneath," said G & L co-owner Angie Langford. "They wonder what we're hiding."

Langford doesn't know who made the anonymous calls complaining about the yard art in this town of 3,500 about 40 miles northeast of Nashville.

Workers across the street at Hartsville Gas didn't seem bothered by their full view of the statues.

"I guess some people just don't appreciate art," said gas technician Brad Smith.

Posted by thinkum at 02:14 PM

Mouse may hold secret of ages

Scientists are celebrating the birthday of the world's oldest known living mouse, a dwarf mouse named Yoda, who turned four - roughly 136 in human years - on Saturday.

And Yoda may yield some clues to longevity.

The average life span of a laboratory mouse is just over two years. Other mice have fallen just short of the five-year mark, but Yoda is the first to make it to four years on a diet that was not calorically restricted.

"It would amaze me if he survived more than another six months, but we can always hope," said Richard Miller, associate director of the geriatric centre at the University of Michigan Medical School, where Yoda was raised. "We don't want to jinx him."

Although Yoda is not a calorie counter, he, like other dwarf mice, has a genetic mutation that chokes off production of growth and thyroid hormones.

Dwarf mice tend to grow to only about a third the size of normal mice, which helps them live about 40 per cent longer.

They can avoid the diseases of old age until extremely late in life. While another mouse might have reached old age and developed arthritis or cancer, a dwarf mouse born at the same time might still be in the equivalent of middle-aged good health.
By studying hormonal changes in dwarf mice, scientists might be able to slow the ageing process in humans as well, Dr Miller said.

"The . . . idea is to find out what the key controlling chemicals are so the problems people see now in their 60s or 70s could be delayed for another 20 or 30 years," he said.

Posted by thinkum at 02:12 PM

TV quake film has experts shaking -- heads

Disaster epic 'blatantly' wrong, says a scientist

An upcoming TV miniseries about an impossibly large earthquake that strikes the West Coast has left seismic experts shaking their heads at what they called gross inaccuracies.

In NBC's disaster epic "10.5," massive quakes topple the Golden Gate Bridge, send the Pacific Ocean sloshing over Los Angeles, swallow trucks and chase trains. An attempt to stop the temblors by fusing the San Andreas fault with a series of atomic explosions fails.

Seismologists who have previewed "10.5" expressed both alarm and mirth. A magnitude-10.5 earthquake would be 8,000 times more powerful than the 6.7 Northridge quake that killed 72 people in Southern California in 1994.

The faults that underlie California would not be capable of generating such a huge temblor, experts said. Such a quake could be theoretically possible elsewhere, but the largest earthquake in recorded history was a magnitude 9.5 off Chile in 1960.

"The production is blatantly inconsistent with everything we know about earthquakes," said Lucy Jones, scientist in charge of the U.S. Geological Survey office in Pasadena. "It's complete science fantasy, but as long as people know that nothing about it could be true, they can sit back and enjoy it."

Howard Braunstein, executive producer of the miniseries, acknowledged that the film is meant as "fun entertainment" and plays loose with the facts.

Asked whether he consulted scientists in developing the project, Braunstein said: "Not really. We went on the Internet for backup research."

Darrell Young, director of the state Department of Conservation, said NBC should run a disclaimer, as well as list Web sites where audiences could get true information about quakes.

NBC has made no decision about a disclaimer, Braunstein said.

The special effects-laden, four-hour miniseries stars Kim Delaney and Beau Bridges and is set to air May 2 and 3.

Posted by thinkum at 02:10 PM

April 12, 2004

'Ice highway' opens Earth's last frontier

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Six Americans have just ended a second year of what looks like an impossible mission -- carving out a road to the South Pole.

he 1,020-mile "ice highway" from the coast directly south of New Zealand will enable hundreds of tons of supplies and equipment to be hauled across the world's most inhospitable wilderness on tractor-pulled sleds to the pole's Amundsen-Scott Base, a U.S. research station.

Currently, cargo planes fly in scientists and supplies during the four-month summer.

Where once there was only ice wilderness, now there is a packed surface 20 feet wide and lined with green flags, winding through huge crevasse fields, snow "swamps" and flat pack ice.

After two summers of hard going, the $20 million South Pole Traverse Project has covered 425 miles, and manager John Wright is convinced it can be completed, though not by next summer as originally hoped.

The completion date is the end of the polar summer in 2006, followed by an international environmental review before it can be used, probably no more than three times a year.

In contrast, C-130 cargo planes use ice runways in Antarctica several times a day during the summer.

"It is just a matter of time and work," Wright said in an email interview from the U.S.-run McMurdo base on the Antarctic coast.

"Last year it took us three months to go three miles across a crevasse field ... full of dangerous hidden crevasses. This year we were ... 'breaking trail,' a long, slow slog in soft snow."

In the "snow swamp," a 180-mile-wide, 6-foot-deep field of powder snow, progress slowed to as little as 10 miles a day for the three tractors towing accommodation huts and fuel tanks.

Instead of gliding along the surface, tractors and sleds plowed deep into the snow, stuck fast and had to be hauled out by vehicles traveling behind them.

Wright said the route's newly compacted surface will remain solid over the winter and be useable next year, though the road itself will move, as the whole ice shelf is in slow, fluid motion.

From one summer to the next the crevasse field moved about 1,000 feet north and grew about 100 feet longer.

"The ice had stretched," he said.

Also, five new crevasses appeared in the road surface during the eight-month winter and had to be filled with snow and ice before the tractors could continue. Crevasse filling is expected to be an annual chore.

The U.S. National Science Foundation is paying for the project.

Wright said early studies by U.S. Army cold regions researchers estimated the road eventually will mean a 30-day round trip between coast and pole.

When work stopped in late January, the team was still 270 miles from a vast area known as the Polar Plateau, and a long, flattish run to the South Pole, Wright said.

Alan Hemmings, an Australian environmentalist, said the road "is the greatest single footprint of activity we've seen in the Antarctic" and has "the potential for far-reaching impacts."

Apart from the 13,000 tourists who visited Antarctica by sea last year, Antarctica's scientific community has to cope with ever more adventurous visitors.

In December they signaled their frustration by refusing to refuel the homemade plane of a stranded Australian aviator, accusing him of failing to prepare properly for his polar flight. He finally got fuel from another aviator whose expedition was aborted by bad weather.

Hemmings said tour operators "might want to piggyback on this U.S. route -- and the U.S. will be able to do little about that."

Hemmings is senior adviser to the Australian-based Antarctic and Southern Oceans Coalition, an environmental advocacy group.

Commercial operators already take tourists across the frozen land mass to the South Pole by plane. The more robust adventure tourist can get about on skis.

"The route may attract other activity ... facilitate greater access," Hemmings said. "We are beginning to change Antarctica."

Karl Erb, head of the National Science Foundation's Antarctic program, said the route is subject to stringent international safeguards. Its "sole goal is to provide an alternative to air-ferrying cargo and scientific personnel to the pole," he said.

The first person to drive to the South Pole was Sir Edmund Hillary, the Everest conqueror from New Zealand, using a modified farm tractor fitted with tracks. He arrived January 4, 1958, as part of the British Commonwealth Transantarctic Expedition.

It took him 81 days, and only 23 gallons of fuel remained in his tanks when his small team reached the pole.

Posted by thinkum at 05:00 PM

Easter rocket war hits Greek isle

Every Easter Sunday on the small Greek island of Chios a fireworks war breaks out between two rival parishes.

In a bizarre but long-cherished local tradition, two Orthodox churches in the town of Vrodandos fire rockets at each other's churches - while mass is held.

The objective is to hit the other church's bell, but many rockets go astray, causing locals to rush frantically for cover.

And some say they are sick of having to repair their damaged homes.


Dangerous work

So-called "gangs" from the two rival parishes - Saint Mark and Panagia Erithiani - spend months preparing more than 25,000 rockets, Reuters news agency reported.

About 150 people are involved in their production, using bronze tools to prevent sparks igniting the volatile gunpowder mixture.

"A good rocket has to fly fast, go far and stay lit until the end," explains rocket maker Vassilis Barkoulis.

"You have to be careful in the details and process of its construction for a rocket to be good. If you do that carefully, you can have yourself a good rocket."

The work is carried out in derelict buildings with the doors left open - should an extremely speedy exit be required following an explosion.

There is also the danger the police may pay an unwelcome visit - technically making the rockets is illegal, although police largely turn a blind eye to the proceedings.

Mysterious origins

Several days before the event, residents carefully board up both churches' windows and doors and wrap wire sheeting around the buildings to protect worshippers.

On Easter Sunday evening, as mass is said in both churches, the rival parish "gangs" set to work, lighting fireworks and aiming them haphazardly at each other's church bells.

Amid the melee, priests in both churches attempt to continue with mass, although the deafening sounds of fireworks and cheers as the rockets hit their targets often drown out the proceedings entirely.

Locals are not sure of the tradition's origins, although it is possibly linked to stories of the island's sailors, who used to battle pirates with cannons installed on their ships and began a custom of firing them at Easter.

In the late 19th Century, when Ottoman occupiers confiscated the cannons over fears they would be used in an uprising, locals resorted to firing rockets instead.

Residents also admit it is not the most safety conscious of ceremonies, with several fires in recent years sparked by rockets and even a few deaths.

"We live as hostages to this tradition," one local lamented.

"We can't breathe when it takes place, we have to be on standby in case a fire breaks out, because if you are not careful you can even lose your house."

Posted by thinkum at 04:52 PM

Sky Captain Upends Tradition

Kerry Conran, the novice director who is helming the live-action/computer-animated SF movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, told SCI FI Wire that its production was like making a movie in reverse. "I think it's minimally an evolutionary way to make a movie," Conran said in an interview. "I hope it opens up the door a little bit for [filmmakers]."

Conran created the movie's story and backgrounds in a computer, then went out and shot real actors (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Angelina Jolie) against blue screens. The actors were then digitally composited into the film's environments, which were enhanced in post-production. Sky Captain is set in a mythical 1930s-era New York and deals with a spunky reporter (Paltrow) who researches the mysterious disappearance of prominent scientists when a squadron of giant flying robots invades. The movie owes its look and feel in part to old-time film serials.

Using computer-generated environments greatly reduces the cost of making movies, Conran said. "It's hard to say whether or not Hollywood would embrace this wholesale, but I think it's a very viable thing for the independent market," said Conran, who began the project as a less expensive alternative to traditional filmmaking. "I do think, given how expensive films have gotten, to some extent, they're going to have to [embrace it]. They have to start thinking of something to do a little differently. I don't think they can keep edging up these budgets the way they are. ... I'm [not so much] concerned about how much these films cost, [but] that they can't afford to be terribly risky with them, and so what you get are films that ... may be very entertaining, but they're very safe. And they're very much generic in their own way." Sky Captain opens June 25.

Posted by thinkum at 04:46 PM

...and wins!

Stunt Pays Off - Betting Brit Doubles Life Savings on One Spin

L A S V E G A S, April 12 ? Ashley Revell was greeted with raised eyebrows and chuckles when he said he'd bet his life savings on one spin of the roulette wheel, but now he's laughing all the way to the bank.

Revell's chances were 50/50. He could have walked out of the casino with $270,600 or just the rented shirt on his back.

Revell, who sold everything he owned in order to raise money for his stunt, says he plans to buy some of his old stuff back, after he goes shopping for life's essentials.

"I'm going to buy some clothes, some fresh underwear," Revell said in an exclusive interview with ABCNEWS' Good Morning America after a night of partying at the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, where he placed the bet.

A crowd of onlookers, including Revell's own mother and father, watched as the ball made its way around the slots and stopped on red 7. Revell cheered as the ball landed, doubling his money.

Revell said he chose to put down his pile of chips on red, instead of black, at the last minute.

The 32-year-old Londoner said he'd heard that most people following his stunt on TV wanted him to bet on red.

Revell said his father, who was dead-set against the stunt, is much happier now that he has won. However, the young gambler says his father would be happier if he finally settled down.

"I still think he wants me married off. The night is young, so we'll see what happens," Revell said.

If the ball had landed on black, Revell would have been headed home to London with just his mom and dad.

In the week before placing his all-or-nothing bet, Revell seemed down on his luck. The young Brit had tried to increase his pool by gambling with a smaller chunk of change, just $3,000. By the end of the week, the pool was down to just $1,000.

Before he tried his luck with the wheel, Revell said his carefree life allowed him to take a chance most would consider unthinkable.

"I find that being 32, not having a wife, not having any kids, seems like the perfect time to do it," he said.

The gambler said he did not allow himself to think of what might happen if he lost before spinning the wheel.

"It's only now that I realize what would have happened if I had lost. I was pretty mad to do the bet in the first place," he said.

Revell said he had planned to have a friend videotape his big bet, but Britain's Sky One television stepped in and offered to produce Revell's stunt for a reality show called Double or Nothing.

Revell handed the croupier a $600 tip and began to party when he hit red.

Revell, a professional gambler, says he won't be trying his luck on the roulette wheel again, but he will be playing in the upcoming world series of poker.

Posted by thinkum at 01:50 PM

April 09, 2004

Gambler bets his shirt on a single spin

Las Vegas: A British man who has sold all his possessions, including his clothes, will stand in a rented tuxedo on Sunday and bet everything on a spin of the roulette wheel.

If he wins, he doubles his money. If he loses, he will be left with only a TV crew documenting his every move.

Ashley Revell, a 32-year-old Londoner, said he was worth about $US140,000 ($182,000) after selling everything.

"I thought I was worth at least $US180,000," he said. He is spending a week gambling about $US3000 in an effort to raise his pot. By Wednesday he was down $US1000.

Mr Revell said he had planned to have a friend videotape his bet-it-all spin, but Britain's Sky One television decided it was worth a short reality series, called Double or Nothing.

Sky will not pay him, he says, but a crew has followed him and will cover the spin live on Sunday at the Hard Rock casino. It also plans to follow him for a month, afterwards, win or lose.

Mr Revell said he decided to take a big plunge while he was still young and raised the stakes as high as possible, including selling his clothes. "I like to do things properly," he said.

Posted by thinkum at 10:33 PM

Checkmate in sight for chess villagers

A German village with a 1000-year-old tradition of playing chess is fighting to save its unique school from closure by education chiefs.

Students at the Dr Emanuel Lasker High School in Stroebeck, 80 kilometres south-west of Magdeburg in eastern Germany, are taught chess compulsorily in recognition of the village's long and unusual association with the world's oldest game.

However, villagers have now been told that their school - named after the Prussian Jew from Brandenburg province who was world chess champion for 27 years from 1894 - is too small to stay open, prompting fears that their chess tradition is in jeopardy.

According to local custom, the inhabitants of Stroebeck first learned to play chess in 1011 when bishop Arnulf II of Halberstadt ordered a Wendish duke, Guncellin, to be locked up in the village watchtower.

With nothing to read and little in common with his peasant guards, the duke carved 32 chess pieces and painted a board on a table, then taught the guards how to play.

The current mayor of Stroebeck, Rudi Krosch, said: "At that time there would have been little social contact between nobility and the peasant classes, and the villagers were fascinated by the game. The guards taught it to the other villagers and they just never stopped playing."

All Stroebeck's 1200 residents have been able to play chess since it was put on the curriculum of the first village school, founded 200 years ago. Teachers say that the game improves concentration and logical thinking among pupils, who sit regular chess exams, as well as keeping the village tradition alive.

Chess is played with enthusiasm by students in the playground and in after-school clubs. Classrooms are full of children hunched over boards, their moves timed by clocks, and pupils regularly dress up as chess pieces to take part in "live" games. First-year pupils play as pawns, and advance to larger pieces as their own game improves.

The tradition is threatened because of a decision by Sachsen-Anhalt's regional government to close schools with too few pupils.

The regional education minister, Jan-Hendrik Olbertz, said chess was not on the state curriculum. "There are a number of other schools in the vicinity of Stroebeck," he said.

Susanne Heizmann, of the school's parents' council, said: "Chess survived here despite the almost complete destruction of the village in the Thirty Years War, and other disasters like the Black Death. The education ministry is trying to do what centuries of plague, war and famine failed to do, and that is destroy our traditions."

Posted by thinkum at 10:31 PM

Romance and the me generation

They are in their early 20s and live together. They share a bed and the rent - for now. For this young couple, like many others, real estate and reason play a bigger role in their lives than romance.

They are together. But words like "our future" or "next year" don't crop up. They have big plans for their lives but they are not shared plans.

It was almost funny to read their testimony before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. It provides such an illuminating picture of modern relationships among those brave twentysomethings who set up a household together.

Once it was the custom, a normal transition, to leave your parents' house in your 20s. Now all the forces, from federal laws to landlords, can combine against the young.

Sally, let's call her, a 22-year-old music student, got evicted from a communal house along with her co-tenants. At the same time Stephen, 23, her boyfriend of six months, lost his housemate and also faced a rental crisis. This was Sydney after all, not an easy place for a music student and a low-level public servant to find cheap accommodation.

So the two decided she should move in with him. They liked each other a lot. But, as they tell it, the decision to live together was driven more by practicalities than passion.

Some months later, Sally applied for the Newstart Allowance. But Centrelink refused the application on the grounds she lived in a marriage-like relationship with Stephen and his income ruled out her eligibility for the payment.

"Marriage-like" was not how the pair viewed their relationship. The law, Stephen told the tribunal when Sally appealed, fails to recognise the modern reality of young people's relationships which are shaped in large part by Sydney real estate prices.

Yes, they shared a house and a bed, but they denied a "full-on commitment". They were boyfriend and girlfriend but they denied being "really serious". They never discussed long-term plans. They shared the housework but not a lot got done.

They certainly didn't provide financial support to each other. And there was doubt on how much emotional support they gave one another. When Sally had her wisdom teeth out, her mother flew from Melbourne to look after her. They were at a crossroad in life and their future was uncertain. He was planning to go overseas and she wasn't sure.

Sally said she understood the word "commitment" to mean that two people were "in it for the long term" and that they always considered how their actions would affect the other person. But it was her practice to put herself and her career ahead of her relationship with Stephen.

Living together is not what it used to be. For the trailblazers of the 1970s, it was a defiant act. They were thumbing their nose at the sexist, boring institution of marriage. But, to be honest, the rebels were usually pretty committed to each other. Love and romance and even financial support were involved. And, as marriage became less fusty over the years, and started to resemble living in sin, many of the trailblazers tied the knot. Coming up behind them was a generation that used living together as a trial marriage. If they passed the test, they booked the church.

But the youngsters today have moved on again. They live together but it is no act of defiance and no trial marriage. It's part convenience, part love, part sex. Young people seem cautious about relationships but passionate about "finding themselves" or finding the right career. They are conditionally in love at 23 and still single at 28 or 30. They have years of tentative love-for-now relationships ahead of them.

The young women are fiercely independent; it's how we bring them up these days. Young men don't provide financial support and young women don't dream of living off a man even while living with him.

These attitudes mixed with Sydney real estate prices have changed the nature of young love and the nature of living together. In the wonderful collection of short stories Slaves of New York, Tama Janowitz described how people strove to be successful enough to have a nice apartment on Manhattan, and, if they weren't, they moved in with someone who did and became that person's slave. It was an especially acute problem in Manhattan where some apartments, for historic reasons, are rent-controlled so long as the current residents never move out. Couples who live in one of these are bound together even if they hate each other; the one who leaves has a lot to lose.

If Sydney is not quite like that, its real estate prices still exert a potent influence over how young people live. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal was savvy enough to understand that, finding the absence of commitment and pooled resources outweighed Sally and Stephen's shared bed and household. Theirs was no "marriage-like" arrangement.

It's a sensible decision. And a sensible relationship. As an old-fashioned romantic, though, I can't help but hope Sally and Stephen and the rest don't leave it too late. In the search to find themselves and establish their careers and independence, I hope they will one day experience the forever, wholehearted, committed kind of love - whatever the rent.

Posted by thinkum at 03:46 PM

Exhibit celebrates zippers, chopsticks, everyday art

NEW YORK - Everyday objects, like the paper clips on your desk or the zipper keeping your pants up, can be examples of brilliant design, say the organizers of a new exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

By placing these objects among more traditional "masterpieces," curator Paola Antonelli wanted to show "how amazing and beautiful everyday objects are."

The Humble Masterpieces exhibit celebrates design over the centuries: from chopsticks, which were first created several thousand years ago, to a recently designed device that attaches to your shoes to keep you from falling on ice.

The items featured -- including M&M candies, light bulbs, a no-spill chopping board, a plastic coffee cup lid, a bar code, and a Rubik's Cube -- sit in display cases alongside text panels that explain their background. Half of the approximately 120 items shown already existed in the museum's collection, while others are being considered for acquisition.

"People tend to think of design as decoration, as expensive items, as something that adds luxury to your life," Antonelli told the Associated Press.

"It doesn't need to be expensive and you already use great design every day," she said. "You just have to look around you."

While there are no plans to add to the current display, the exhibit includes a suggestion book, in which visitors can suggest items they feel could be included.

Humble Masterpieces continues at the Museum of Modern Art through Sept. 27.

Posted by thinkum at 03:43 PM

Museum fails to smell a rat

Doubtless it is a publicity stunt, but is it also art?

A graffiti artist called Banksy smuggled his latest work, a dead rat in a glass-fronted box, into the Natural History Museum in London, where it was exhibited on a wall for several hours.

Staff did not notice that the rat was out of place amid the museum's usual fare of dinosaur bones and artefacts from the animal kingdom.

The rat was stuffed and clad in scaled-down wraparound sunglasses, and had a rucksack on its back and a microphone in one paw. A miniature spraycan sat at its feet, while above it was sprayed in graffiti-style lettering "our time will come".

The piece, called Banksus Militus Ratus, was displayed with a text that said the common sewer rat had some remarkable new characteristics.

"Attributed to an increase in junk food waste, ambient radiation and hardcore urban rap music these creatures have evolved at an unprecedented rate." It quotes a bogus university professor as saying: "You can laugh now . . . but one day they may be in charge."

Banksy is believed to have disguised himself as a museum worker to glue the case to a wall.

Banksy is known for his graffiti art around London, and some of his works sell for thousands of pounds.

His manager, Steve Lazarides, said museum visitors liked the rat exhibit and one staff member had thought it was genuine.

Last year Banksy, real name Robert Banks, said not getting caught was part of the buzz.

"The art to it is not getting picked up for it, and that's the biggest buzz at the end of the day because you could stick all my shit in the Tate Modern and have an opening with Tony Blair and Kate Moss on Rollerblades handing out vol-au-vents and it wouldn't be as exciting."

Posted by thinkum at 03:41 PM

Radar clocks Mini at Mach 3 speed

A Belgian motorist was left stunned after authorities sent him a speeding ticket for travelling in his Mini at three times the speed of sound.

The ticket claimed the man had been caught driving at 3380 kph (2,100 mph) - or Mach 3 speed - in a Brussels suburb, a Belgian newspaper reported.

However, police later admitted that a faulty radar had been responsible for the Mini's incredible feat.

The police have since apologised to the man and promised to fix the radar.

The incident took place in December, but only came to light when Belgian prosecutors were asked to follow up the unpaid fine.

"We called the local police to find out what height the plane caught speeding along the Boulevard Lambermont was flying at," a member of the Brussels public prosecutor's office joked to Belgium's La Derniere Heure newspaper.

Police also said they had made a mistake in still sending out the ticket, given that it was impossible - even for a doughty little Mini - for a car to have travelled so fast.

Posted by thinkum at 03:39 PM

Thief who steals, cleans your car

An obsessive car thief who carefully cleaned the vehicles he took before returning them to their owners has been jailed by a British court, a report said today.

Colin Sadd - described by one judge as "the man you would most want to steal your car" - received a six-year sentence at a court in Sheffield, northern England, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The 41-year-old contract cleaner, who has 155 previous convictions for mainly car-related crimes, admitted five counts of stealing cars and asked for 31 others to be taken into consideration.

The court was told that Sadd would dress smartly and pose as a customer at vehicle showrooms before snatching keys and driving away in a car.

After driving them for several hours, he would wash and polish the car, as well as thoroughly cleaning the exterior, before returning them undamaged to their owners, the paper said.

Judge Alan Goldsack said he had no alternative but to send Sadd to prison, where he has served previous terms.

He added that the thief needed psychiatric treatment.

Sadd's wife, Mary, said after the case that she planned to file for divorce.
"He looked after the cars he stole better than after me," she said.

Posted by thinkum at 03:38 PM

April 07, 2004

Not going to script

[Thanks to SL for the link!]

Hollywood has never been Republican, but now it's using America's favourite television shows to put the boot into George Bush, writes Jim Rutenberg.

Galvanised politically in ways they have not been since the early 1990s, Hollywood's more liberal producers and writers are increasingly expressing their displeasure with President George Bush with not only their wallets, but also their scripts.

In recent weeks, characters in prime-time shows have progressed beyond the typical Hollywood knocks against Washington politicians to calling out the President directly or questioning his policies, including the decision to go to war in Iraq and the backing of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

On Whoopi, the hotelier played by Whoopi Goldberg delivered an anti-Bush screed when the President appeared at her establishment to use the toilet: "I can't believe he's in there doing to my bathroom what he's done to the economy!" she said.

One of the wisecracking detectives on Law & Order, played by Jesse Martin, referred to the President as the "dude that lied to us". The character went on to say: "I don't see any weapons of mass destruction, do you?" His cantankerous partner, played by Jerry Orbach, retorted that Saddam Hussein did have such weapons because Bush's "daddy" sold them to someone "who used to live in Baghdad".

But the season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm best conveyed the growing sentiment. The main character, played by the comedian Larry David, backed out of a dalliance sanctioned by his wife after noticing that his prospective paramour had lovingly displayed a picture of Bush on her dresser.

Network executives and some producers said these were isolated cases, reflecting the political debate dividing the country and coming at a time when television has never seen a greater diversity of viewpoints on a wider array of channels. They added these examples should not be seen as reflective of a supposed liberal agenda in the entertainment industry, an argument they said was undercut by shows with patriotic streaks, such as JAG.

[Network executives declined to be named because, they said, it would be tantamount to engaging publicly in a debate traditionally thorny for them.]

Still, many in Hollywood's creative community are not shy about their anger and distress with the Administration, and some admit channelling those emotions into their shows.

"You want to say to people, 'Wait a minute, is this man leading this country as an American or is he leading the country as a Christian?' " Goldberg said.

Asked if she would be pleased if her show could contribute to the defeat of Bush, she said: "I would like that."

Tim Graham, an analyst with the Media Research Centre, a conservative group that monitors the media for signs of liberal bias, said scripts had not been this political since the 1992 election. In that campaign, displeasure over 12 years of a Republican White House and vice-president Dan Quayle's criticism of the fictitious Murphy Brown for having a child out of wedlock contributed to the outspokenness.

Graham and other observers said the barbs dwindled during the term of Bill Clinton, who counted many in the creative community as his friends.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, many in Hollywood seemed to get behind the President - with some executives meeting Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove, to see how they could help bolster the image of the US abroad. Some executives later produced programming such as DC 9/11, a movie about Bush's handling of the attacks that liberal critics said unduly lionised him.

Republicans, conservatives and campaign aides to the President said they expected money to flow from Hollywood, a place they consider a bastion of liberalism, to the Democrats. But they said they were surprised by how much partisan sentiment seemed to be seeping onto television.

Graham said the anti-Bush sentiment coming across in prime time was more troublesome than usual because it was woven into scripts across all the major networks, and not restricted to sketch comedy.

"It's different when you're really involved in NYPD Blue or Law & Order, and to you it's, 'That's my man Sipowicz and he doesn't like Bush,"' Graham said. "This can be seen, and certainly is seen, by conservatives as Hollywood's in-kind contribution to the [John] Kerry campaign."

Matthew Dowd, the President's chief strategist, said he was not planning any moves to combat such scripted critiques. "I do acknowledge every bit of information that's communicated on things has some effect," he said. "But I don't think it's something you run against. It's something you acknowledge that exists, it's just something that's there."

Some producers said they were simply raising important questions as part of a larger national debate. Dick Wolf, the executive producer of the troika of Law & Order series, said his characters' critiques of Bush were in his programs' long tradition of equal-opportunity provocation.

"Virtually everyone who lives in the lower 48 states at one time or another has been offended by Law & Order," he said. But other producers are more pointed in their questioning than others.

"Why does it have to become unpatriotic to do something that is our inherent right, which is to debate issues?" said Tom Fontana, the creator of shows such as Oz and Homicide.

Fontana said he wrote an upcoming TV film called Strip Search to explore the merits of the Patriot Act. The film tracks the parallel experiences of an American woman being held for questioning by authorities in China and a Muslim man being held for questioning in the US, both on suspicions of terrorism.

"The real question is, if it's wrong for a white American woman to be mistreated in a repressive country, is it OK for us to mistreat a Muslim male in this country?" he said. "I don't know the answer, but when does the humanity stop and the fear take over?"

Likewise, Robert Breech, executive producer of The Practice, said his show was merely trying to spark debate and entertain. In one recent episode, for instance, a lawyer gave an impassioned speech to a jury about the Patriot Act, in which she referred to the use of a "free speech zones" that kept protesters away from Bush. "What is happening to this country?" the lawyer asked indignantly.

"We're really just inviting people to think about these things," Breech said. "How far is too far in seeking security?"

Producers, actors and long-time executives said the combination of the failure to find non-conventional weapons in Iraq, the troubled economy and Bush's environmental and social policies had stirred the town's prominent liberals to action. "I have never, ever seen this community more united than right now, never," said Laurie David, Larry David's wife, who has been active in organising the creative community against Bush. "Not a day goes by when I'm not getting a dozen calls from people saying to me, 'What can I do?' And it's all with one goal: to change the course of what's going on in this country and get rid of this Administration."

David and her like-minded peers are putting a lot of money behind the push. She, for one, has given $US95,000 ($125,000) to The Media Fund and America Coming Together, Democratic groups using unlimited donations to run television commercials and to motivate voters against Bush. Marcy Carsey, whose production house Carsey-Werner-Mandabach produces Whoopi, has given $US1 million to those groups. Carsey refused to comment.

Last week the campaign of Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry raised $US2.5 million at a fund-raising event in Beverly Hills sponsored by Jeffrey Katzenberg, a co-founder of DreamWorks, and Sherri Lansing, the chief executive of Paramount Studios. Those attending included the actors Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. Larry David performed at the fund-raiser, saying he had a lot in common with the President because he was also "a nincompoop, a chicken and a liar".

Posted by thinkum at 03:59 PM

Mystery over dead poet's head

Italian scientists have disappointed generations of love poets - and uncovered what could be a crime mystery dating back hundreds of years.

Tests have shown that the head of one of Italy's most-highly revered writers - the renaissance poet Francesco Petrarch - isn't his.

The finding has put a damper on plans to mark the 700th anniversary of his birth this year.

Petrarch is the man who fine-tuned the poetic form known as the sonnet - for centuries since the poem of choice for love-sick poets everywhere.

His sonnets to the mysterious Laura, who he first spotted at church on Good Friday in the year 1327, have encouraged generations of literary detectives keen to identify the woman who inspired them.

But now, it seems, another type of detective work may be needed.

Researchers have been studying the body found in Petrarch's tomb at the small town where he died outside Padua in northern Italy in 1374.


The body seems to match Petrarch's own description.

But the head doesn't.

In fact, it looks more like a woman's, according to anatomists from Padua University. Worse: the DNA of the head does not match that of the body.

All of which raises the distinct possibility that at some point grave robbers helped themselves to the skull. Quite when and how - given that the slab covering it weighs two tons - remains a mystery.

The scientists had hoped to use the skull to come up with a life-like portrait of the poet in time for the 700th anniversary of his birth, in July.

Instead, perhaps, they will be indulging in feelings of "what if" just as keenly as Petrarch did over his unrequited love for Laura.

Posted by thinkum at 02:19 PM

'Little Prince' author's plane wreck found after 6 decades

PARIS - A diving team has found the wreckage of author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's military plane, almost 60 years after it plunged into the Mediterranean near Marseille, French government researchers announced Wednesday.

Saint-Exupéry disappeared on a solo flight in July 1944 while photographing southern France in preparation for an Allied landing there.

Just one year before, the 44-year-old veteran pilot had published The Little Prince, which went on to become one of the best-loved books of all time.

The story of a young interplanetary traveller who cannot forget the beloved rose he left behind on his asteroid has been translated into 100 languages. Almost as famous as its tales of baobab trees and snakes are its line-drawing illustrations, also the work of Saint-Exupéry.

In 2000, a diver came across the wreckage of a small P38 aircraft off the coast of France at Marseille, near the spot where a fisherman had found a bracelet inscribed "Saint-Ex" a few years before.

France's culture ministry banned further dives at the site until October 2003, when a sanctioned team went down and recovered parts of the plane for researchers.

They since have matched the manufacturer's number from the wreckage to Saint-Exupéry's Lockheed Lightning P38, the government said Wednesday.

Researchers still have no idea what caused the experienced aviator to crash on that sunny day in 1944, said the head of the Culture Ministry, Patrick Granjean.

"We don't know why," he told reporters. "We probably never will."

Among Saint-Exupéry's other books were Wind, Sand and Stars and Night Flight, the latter of which was turned into a 1933 film starring John and Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, Helen Hayes and Myrna Loy.

Posted by thinkum at 02:17 PM

Monkeying around at work

A manager in New Zealand's tax office often wears a fairy costume, complete with wings and a tiara, and makes her staff put pictures of monkeys on their desks, a newspaper has reported.

"It's just the way that she expresses her dress sense," an Inland Revenue Department spokeswoman told Wellington's Dominion Post, confirming that a team leader "chooses to wear fairy wings some days".

The department said the pictures of monkeys on the desks of about 12 call centre workers was part of the "innovative ways" used by managers "as a technique for creating discussion and generating feedback".

"Staff were encouraged to use this to symbolise a particular area of concern for them as an individual. The monkey symbolised the concern, not the person," the spokeswoman said.

Opposition Member of Parliament Rodney Hide, who has frequently criticised tax office methods, told the paper: "I really do not think this is the way to achieve the professional IRD that we all aspire to."

Posted by thinkum at 02:12 PM

E = Mc^2

This photo detail is from a paper Einstein wrote in 1946.


(from AP)

Posted by thinkum at 02:09 PM

Allergic to the sun, South African family can stay in rainy Prince Rupert

PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. - A family of four, three of whom have a rare disorder that makes them allergic to sunlight, have won a five-year battle to stay in Canada.

Immigration Minister Judy Sgro ended a threat of deportation by granting the Vivier family a two-year temporary residence permit. The family says the news was completely unexpected.

The Viviers moved to Prince Rupert, B.C., in 1999.

Without work permits, they have been relying on the generosity of local people. Now immigration officials say if they can support themselves during over the next two years they can apply for permanent residency.

The father and two childen suffer from a rare skin condition. They say the bright sunlight and extreme heat back home in South Africa was killing them.

They arrived in Canada on visitor visas in 1999, believing they'd find refuge under the rainy and cloudy skies of Prince Rupert.

But the family had no legal status in Canada.

Until late last year, the children weren't allowed to attend local schools.

Canadian immigration officials rejected the family's plea to stay in the country on humanitarian and compassionate grounds three times. But on Monday, the family was finally granted a two-year residency permit.

If they can support themselves in northwest B.C.'s dismal economy, they'll be allowed to apply to stay for good.

Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond says the community is delighted. "The whole community has really opened their arms to the Viviers. You know nobody moves all the way from South Africa to Prince Rupert on some kind of bogus claim."

Posted by thinkum at 02:06 PM

'Last PoW' laid to rest in Hungary

BUDAPEST - Thousands of people attended the funeral of a Hungarian man who spent half a century locked up in Russia before being released in 2000.

Andras Toma, 78, known in Hungary as the "last PoW," was buried Tuesday with full military honours in Nyiregyhaza in eastern Hungary.

Toma spent 55 years as a prisoner of war in Russia before he was discovered by chance by a Slovakian doctor visiting a psychiatric hospital in northern Russia in 2000.

The doctor recognized Toma was speaking an old-fashioned Hungarian regional dialect, mistaken by hospital staff for gibberish.

Toma had been taken prisoner by the Red Army shortly before the end of the Second World War. He had been fighting in Russia with the Hungarian Army on the side of Nazi Germany.

He was transferred to the Kotelnich hospital in 1947 and was suffering from suspected schizophrenia. He had lost a leg and forgotten his name.

It took several years to establish a full picture of what had happened to Toma during his ordeal.

After his return to Hungary dozens of people claimed to be his relatives before a brother and half-sister were finally found.

Posted by thinkum at 02:04 PM

Diet of worms can cure bowel disease

Regular doses of worms really do rid people of inflammatory bowel disease. The first trials of the treatment have been a success, and a drinkable concoction containing thousands of pig whipworm eggs could soon be launched in Europe.

At the moment the concoction cannot be stored for long, so doctors or hospitals would have to prepare fresh batches of the eggs for their patients. But a new German company called BioCure, whose sister company BioMonde sells leeches and maggots for treating wounds, hopes it will soon solve the storage problem.

It plans to launch a product called TSO, short for Trichuris suis ova. Chief executive Detlev Goj says the company will apply for approval by the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products as soon as the product is ready.

The pig whipworm was chosen as it does not survive very long in people. Patients would have to take TSO around twice a month. The human whipworm, which infects half a billion people, can occasionally cause problems such as anaemia.

The latest trials, carried out in the US, involved 100 people with ulcerative colitis and 100 with Crohn's disease, both incurable and potentially serious diseases collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease.

Remission rate

In many of the volunteers the symptoms of IBD, such as abdominal pain, bleeding and diarrhoea, disappeared. The remission rate was 50 per cent for ulcerative colitis and 70 per cent for Crohn's, says gastroenterologist Joel Weinstock of the University of Iowa, who devised the treatment.

"A lot of researchers couldn't believe this treatment was effective, but people are always sceptical when confronted with new ideas," Weinstock says. He will announce the results in May at a conference in New Orleans, and full details will soon be published. "With our new impressive results, we can come out of the closet," he says.

The trials follow the success of a pilot study, revealed by New Scientist in 1999. Weinstock came up with the idea of using worms to treat IBD after noticing that the sharp rise in the disease over the past 50 years in western countries coincided with a fall in infections by parasites such as roundworms and human whipworms. IBD is still rare in developing countries where parasitic infections remain common.

Weinstock's theory is that our immune systems have evolved to cope with the presence of such parasites, and can become overactive without them.

Posted by thinkum at 02:03 PM

April 06, 2004

Woman's self-caesar birth

A pregnant woman in Mexico gave birth to a healthy baby boy after performing a caesarean section on herself with a kitchen knife, doctors said today.

It is thought to be the first known case of a self-inflicted caesarean in which both the mother and baby survived.

The unidentified 40-year-old, who lived in a rural area without electricity, running water or sanitation that was an eight hour drive from the nearest hospital, performed the operation when she could not deliver the baby naturally.

She had lost a previous baby due to labour complications.

"She took three small glasses of hard liquor and, using a kitchen knife, sliced her abdomen in three attempts ... and delivered a male infant that breathed immediately and cried," said Dr RF Valle, of the Dr Manuel Velasco Suarez Hospital in San Pablo, Mexico.

Valle recounted the event in a report in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

Before losing consciousness the woman told one of her children to call a local nurse for help. After the nurse stitched the wound with a sewing needle and cotton thread, the mother and baby were transferred and treated by Valle and his colleagues at the nearest hospital.

"This case represents an unusual and extraordinary decision by a women in labour who, unable to deliver herself spontaneously, and with no medical help or resources, decided to perform a caesarean section upon herself," Valle said.

He said that a mother's instinct to save her child can move a woman to perform extraordinary acts - but it would not have been necessary if adequate medical care had been available.

Posted by thinkum at 07:30 PM

The man with no clothes

A long-haired teenage boy in south-eastern Cambodia has insisted on living nude since he was a toddler, according to local media.

The Khmer-language Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper said 17-year-old Sen Phanas' penchant for living naked had earned him the nickname "para srat" - meaning "the man with no dress" - by residents in the Svay Rieng province's Srah village.

Phana is said to be much like everyone else his age except that he has shunned clothes since he was a little over a year old. The newspaper added he had only rudimentary reading skills because he was not permitted to enter school naked.

His parents and fellow villagers reportedly tried their best to persuade him to get dressed, but even after promises of gifts from neighbours and several harsh beatings by his father he refused.

The newspaper reported the teen told his parents: "Even if you beat me until I'm dead, I won't wear clothing."

His mother, 38-year-old Pov Sorn, told the newspaper her son would not reveal his reasons for embracing nudity. The teen refused to grant an interview for the article.

Phanas' other character quirk was that he had rarely allowed his mother to cut his hair, the newspaper said. She told the paper that when his hair was cut short, he took on a completely different character as if he was possessed, and attempted to kill chickens and ducks.

Posted by thinkum at 07:18 PM

Drive-in cinema is Norway's coolest

The new cinema in the Norwegian town of Kautokeino is somewhat out of the ordinary. Not only is it entirely made out of snow - it is a drive-in. For snow mobiles.

"We always wanted to create a different film experience," explains Anne Lajla Utsi, the leader of the Kautokeino Sami film festival.

"As far as we know, this is a world first."

She told BBC News Online the idea of an outdoor winter cinema has been around for a few years.

"This year we had the opportunity to make it real, during the film festival here."

While spring has come to much of Norway, there is no lack of snow in Kautokeino, 450km north of the Arctic Circle.

Ms Utsi says one of the ideas behind the cinema was to use the natural resources of the area to create a cultural institution with a difference.

"The entire cinema is made from snow. We've built a snow amphitheatre, with reindeer skins to sit on, and the actual screen is also made from snow."

Kautokeino is a mainly Sami town. The Samis are Norway's indigenous people, many of them reindeer farmers.

While they traditionally herded their flocks using cross-country skis, the snow mobile is now an indispensable mode of transport for them.

But it is also the winter vehicle of choice for most people in this part of Norway. So for the organisers of the Sami film festival it was natural that an outdoor cinema should also have space for those who wanted a drive-in experience.

"There are almost as many snow mobiles here as there are people. That's why we wanted to give audiences the chance to drive straight down from the mountains into a film experience, so to speak" says Ms Utsi.

During the film festival, snow mobile riders are treated to a programme of documentaries and short films, but also feature length movies.

"Each night we have a late show with thrillers, which create a very special atmosphere under the arctic night sky," Ms Utsi says.

Anyone who wants to enjoy two hours under the stars in the high Arctic north of Norway, need to dress warmly though.

Temperatures here rarely rise above freezing after nightfall this time of year. But Ms Utsi is confident people enjoy themselves, despite the sub-zero temperatures.

"This is a fantastic experience. You have a full moon, the very special Artic light, and you can hardly see where the cinema ends and the artic wilderness begins," audience member Per Ivar Jensen said.

"There is a lavvo [Sami tent] camp around the theatre, where people can buy hot drinks," Ms Utsi added.

And since traditional cinema snacks like ice cream would not quite fit in with the general surroundings, a local snack can be bought to enjoy with your film - dried reindeer meat.






Posted by thinkum at 04:07 PM

China fears bachelor future

China is facing a demographic crisis. It is heading towards becoming a nation of bachelors, with official statistics predicting as many as 40m single men by 2020.

The shortage of women is due to a traditional preference for sons, combined with the effects of China's strict birth control policies.

On Hainan Island, which has the worst gender imbalance in the country, A Jun dangles her baby girl on her hip as she waddles towards the village well. At 22, she is heavily pregnant with her second baby, and there is pressure on her to have a boy this time.

"My husband wants a boy," she said. "If the second child's a girl, I'll have another. I want to have a boy too."

So great is her desire for a boy, she is willing to risk a fine and the wrath of the government to have a forbidden third child. She lives in Pingling village, deep in the tropical hillside of Hainan island.

It is a poverty-stricken collection of stone houses which depends on a few small plots of land to scratch out a living. With social security systems non-existent in places like this, families count on sons to look after them in their old age.

"In this sort of village, they treasure boys and don't care about girls," A Jun's friend, Hua, explained.

"People think sons will look after them when they get old. But once girls get married, they belong to someone else. They're not part of your family any more."

Starting in 1980, the Chinese government limited each family to one child to try to avert a population explosion. But popular discontent in rural areas led to a policy change in 1984, according to population expert Zhai Zhenwu from People's University in Beijing.

"In most of the countryside in China we have what we call one-and-a-half-child policy. That means if a young couple's first child is a male, they must stop child-bearing. If the child is a female they may have a second child," he said.


That - and premature female infant deaths - has led to a glut of baby boys. And Hainan island has the highest boy-to-girl ratio in the whole country, with 135 boys born for every 100 girls.

According to Zhai Zhenwu, people in Hainan still have a very traditional outlook as development there has lagged behind the mainland.

"Social and economic development in Hainan is lower than other provinces on the mainland. The government didn't want to develop Hainan because it is in the frontline of Taiwan, so the government didn't invest much there."

He said the startling gender imbalance did not emerge until the late 1980s when ultrasound machines became common and expectant parents could find out the gender of their child.

"People always want to know whether they're having a girl or a boy," said ultrasound technician Chen De, who works in the maternity hospital in the small town of Wenchang.

"They often offer me money to tell them."

He is forbidden to do so by law. But he said some people were willing to break the law.

"Until a few years ago, private clinics had ultrasound machines and would tell you the gender of your child. Now they're strictly controlled as the government has clamped down. But many of the ultrasound machines are now in illegal clinics, so people still have ultrasounds done in secret."

Surplus men

Baby girls are often aborted to give parents another chance at having a boy. It is illegal, but that does not make any difference.

"I wanted a boy, and it was the only way," one man said, admitting he had encouraged his wife to abort a baby girl. And mortality rates for female infants are much higher in Hainan. One paediatrician, who did not want to be named, gave a chilling insight into why.

"If a baby boy gets sick," she said, "Its parents will sell everything they own to save their son's life. If it's a girl, very often the parents don't have such a positive attitude. Sometimes they just stop the treatment and take the baby home."

She estimates that 70% of the newborns in her hospital are male. And statistics indicate that as many as two million extra boys are born every year nationwide. These are men who will not find wives, and Chinese officials have warned that this gender imbalance could lead to an increase in prostitution, sex crimes and wife-buying.


As the first generation of children born under the one-child policy is only just reaching marriage age, the problem of surplus men is not yet a major one nationally.

But in some places it is starting to emerge.

And Pingling is, in this sad way, ahead of its time. Many men in the village cannot find wives. It is not because of the gender imbalance but because a huge flood washed away the villages' fertile soil, so it is poorer than its neighbours.

But in a country where marriage is the norm, Pingling's status as a bachelor village is a source of great shame.

"I don't have a girlfriend, I can't find one," said 25-year-old Xiao Ming, blushing furiously, as he concentrates on chopping bamboo. "It's because I can't speak properly and I don't understand romance."

One old man in the village, Qiao Liangguo, has four sons - three of them cannot find wives. As he recounts his misfortune, his eyes water and he rubs a weary hand over his wrinkled forehead.

"Now in our village, we have no water, no rice and no money. Wives aren't easy to find. My fate is bad. No one wants to marry my sons."

As dusk falls, the young men of Pingling play volleyball. The happy sounds mask the absence of women and the villages' faltering future.

An environmental disaster has damaged this village - but the social cost of China's gender imbalance will be man-made.

Posted by thinkum at 04:01 PM

April 05, 2004

TV show wants 'colonial family'

A new TV show wants a family to move from the UK to Australia - and live in the manner of 1800s colonists.

The show will recreate the lives of colonists who moved to Australia 200 years ago.

They will journey to Australia in an authentic tall ship, and then have to build their own home and live for four months like the original colonists.

The show's "cast" will also include native Australians, convicts and a military officer.

The producers are also said to be searching for an Irish family to take part in the show.

'Living history'

The family will receive training on how to adapt to their Australian home before embarking upon their journey.

Producer Deborah Szapiro said: "We are looking for people who are open-minded, resourceful and have an inner resilience, coupled with a sense of adventure.

"They must be willing to leave behind their comfortable 21st Century lives and put themselves in the shoes of their ancestors. This is living history."

The producers ideally want to find a couple who have up to five children aged from five to 18.

The show will follow successful reality shows such as Channel 4's The 1940s House, where a family had to live in a period house, living a lifestyle of 60 years ago.

It is expected to be screened internationally.

Posted by thinkum at 04:50 PM

April 03, 2004

Lepage accepts fairy-tale honour in Denmark

ODENSE, Denmark - Multi-discipline Canadian artist Robert Lepage graciously accepted the 2004 Hans Christian Andersen Prize Friday in Odense, the Danish hometown of the famed fairy tale writer.

"Even before the cinema, he had a very cinematic way of telling stories," Lepage said of Andersen who, although known worldwide for fairy tales like The Emperor's New Clothes and The Little Mermaid, was also a novelist, poet and playwright.

The Quebec City-born Lepage was recognized for creating a one-man show based on Andersen's The Dryad, which details the effect of technology on the writer's fairy-tale universe. Lepage's work will debut next year in Quebec before travelling to performances in Copenhagen and London.

Award organizers presented the filmmaker and theatre creator with a small bronze bust of Andersen and a cash prize of 50,000 euro (approximately $80,000 Cdn).

He joined this year's honorary award-winners: Denmark's Queen Margrethe II, credited for illustrating dozens of Andersen's fairy tales since 1984; Brazillian scholar Ana Maria da Costa S. Menin, for her doctoral dissertation The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen: The Brazilianization of a Tale for Children; and Bruno Berni, who translated all of Andersen's fairy tales and some of his novels into Italian.

According to Lepage, Canadians can discover a lot in the Danish writer's body of work.

"Our culture is still at its childhood," he said.

"In Canada, we have a very, very young culture and a lot of the themes that Andersen touches are [...] exactly the things that concerns us today in Canada: the exile of the people from the countryside into the cities, self-quest of identity, the fact that a lot of Canadians -- to find their identity -- have to travel abroad today."

Danish officials are currently preparing for Andersen's bicentennial in 2005, planning an eight-month-long celebration that features a wide range of cultural performances -- from film and TV to theatre and dance to multimedia and educational exhibits -- both in Denmark and abroad.

Posted by thinkum at 10:36 AM

The Confusing World of DVD Media

A Guide to the Various DVD Recording Formats

Being able to record DVDs on a personal computer has its advantages.

DVD media can hold over seven times the information of a standard compact disc. Also, consumers want to produce and burn their own video creations and have them work with most set-top DVD players. As recording hardware and blank media prices continue to fall, more and more people will consider adding this technology to their PC's arsenal.

Consumers shopping for a new DVD recorder should first ask themselves two questions. First, what level of compatibility are you looking for? Second, what DVD-recordable format would best suit the task?

The answer to the first question is usually an easy one. You want a media format that will be readable by another computer or will play in a majority of set-top DVD players.

The second question is arguably the most confusing. For consumers, there are two main types of recordable DVDs available.

Unfortunately, the similar naming conventions and near identical features of these competing formats do little but confuse the average person.

DVD Basics

DVDs are externally identical to the CD. Both are 120mm in diameter and 1.2mm thick. DVDs can be single or double sided, and each side may contain a second layer that further extends the storage capacity of the disc. Current DVD standards have settled on a format allowing up to 4.7 gigabytes of data storage per side (single layer).

Recordable DVDs match this storage size, but differ in terms of how they go about achieving it. The two forms of recordable DVD media currently available are called DVD+RW (DVD "plus" RW) and DVD-RW (DVD "dash" RW). There is another recordable format called DVD-RAM that first appeared in the late '90s, but its general lack of compatibility with set-top players has made it an unpopular medium for all but its most diehard supporters.

DVD recording speed terminology differs significantly from CD speed ratings. A CD recorder burning at 1x is recording data at .15 MB/s. DVDs also use an "x" speed rating with 1x being equal to 1.39 MB/s. Consumer DVD recording technology is currently limited to 8x recording (11.08 MB/s) for DVD-R and +R formats. DVD-RW and +RW formats have reached 4x recording speeds. DVD recording speeds expressed in terms of the more familiar CD recording speeds would roughly equate to 9x for 1x DVD recording, 18x for 2x recording, and 22x for 2.4x recording. At 8x DVD recording speeds, a 4.7GB disc takes about 8 minutes to fill.

All recordable DVD media types feature a microscopic wobbled groove embedded in the plastic substrate. This wobble provides the recorder with the timing information needed to place data accurately on the disc. Pressed DVDs, as the prerecorded movies you can buy or rent, are not recordable and do not have or require the wobbled groove found on blank media. Pressed DVDs have a smooth groove, so to speak.

All consumer DVD recordable technologies mentioned in this article contain form(s) of copy protection to prevent the unauthorized duplication of copyrighted material. Don't purchase a DVD recorder and expect to create bit-for-bit copies of The Matrix or any copy-protected DVD to share with all of your friends. Besides the legal issues, it simply won't work.

DVD-RAM Explained

If you have never heard of DVD-RAM, you probably have no use for it and can skip ahead to the next two recordable formats. DVD-RAM is only available in rewritable formats. Discs can be rewritten up to 100,000 times. If you are looking to burn a disc that cannot be altered later on, DVD-RAM is not for you.

DVD-RAM discs are easily identified by the pre-embossed sector headers that form a visible pattern on the data side of the disc. Originally, DVD-RAM media was encased in sealed cartridges designed to protect the discs from scratches and fingerprints. Today, the cartridges are optional (or removable) as not all drives that support the DVD-RAM format require them. Of all rewritable types of DVD media, DVD-RAM is the least compatible with set-top DVD players and older DVD-ROM drives.

DVD-RAM differs from other DVD recording technologies in that it's the only one designed to act as random access memory, the "RAM" part of DVD-RAM. This random access system gives DVD-RAM an advantage over other DVD recordable formats by allowing it to quickly find and retrieve data anywhere on the disc. DVD-RAM drives make good removable storage systems, as drag-and-drop recording is usually driver supported from within the operating system.

DVD-RAM includes a good defect-management system. Physical errors on the disc are handled automatically and provide an error-free environment necessary for long-term use.

A Look at ‘Dash’

Pioneer developed the DVD-RW format to give consumers a medium to record DVDs for home use. DVD-RW was the first consumer format to offer compatibility with a majority of set-top DVD players. Introduced initially as a write-once technology (DVD-R), Pioneer quickly added a rewritable media type, and thus DVD-RW was born.

DVD-RW features a linear data format that packs information into a single continuous stream similar to the CD-RW technology it is partially based upon. DVD-RW lacks the native defect management and random file access of DVD-RAM, but its broad compatibility and relatively inexpensive media make DVD-R/-RW the best choice for most consumers.

DVD-RW (rewritable) makes use of phase-changing materials similar to those found in CD-RW media, and is currently limited to 4x recording speeds. Recording performance for DVD-R (write-once) tops out at 8x.

You will often see blank DVD-RW media (-R or -RW) listed with a "(G)" attached to the end. DVD-RW comes in two media types — Authoring (A) and General Use (G). DVD-RW for Authoring requires expensive recording equipment and is intended for professional use. The rest of us will stick to using General Use media as both the recorders and blank media are far less expensive.

Compared to DVD-RAM's 100,000 rewrite rating, DVD-RW is rated for up to 1,000 rewrites.

The ‘Plus’ Side

Developed by the DVD+RW Alliance that includes Sony, HP, Philips Electronics, and Yamaha, DVD+RW is a format that shares many characteristics with DVD-RW. Both types of blank media hold the same amount of data and are available in write-once (-R/+R) and rewritable (-RW/+RW) formats.

Currently the fastest of all DVD recordable formats, DVD+RW/+R offers recording speeds that are about 5 percent faster than DVD-RW.

Initially, DVD+RW was dubbed "the compatible, rewritable DVD format." However, as with all rewritable media formats, the less-reflective nature of rewritable DVDs cannot match the set-top compatibility of write-once blank media. For this very reason, the DVD+RW Alliance quickly introduced the +R format to improve its compatibility.

Be aware that the first-generation DVD+RW drives supported only DVD+RW and not DVD+R. These first-generation products cannot be updated and we recommend avoiding them.

Using phase-change media similar to CD-RW technology, DVD+RW can be formatted for sequential data streams (video) or random access similar to capabilities of the cartridge-based DVD-RAM technology. Compared to DVD-RW, DVD+RW incorporates a higher frequency wobble in its embedded microscopic tracking groove.

Proponents claim that DVD+RW's increased wobble frequency will provide more accurate timing information and thus DVDs that are even more compatible with older set-top players. In reality, increased compatibility comes from using the more reflective write-once media.

While DVD+RW/R offers impressive recording speeds, bulk blank media prices are significantly higher than DVD-RW/R and are available from far fewer vendors. Until DVD+RW/R disc manufacturing levels increase significantly, DVD-RW/R will continue to offer better pricing and availability.

Posted by thinkum at 10:27 AM

Satellite to test Einstein theory

A satellite that will put Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity to the test is ready to be launched.

Nasa hopes Gravity Probe B will lift off from California on 17 April.

Since it was first proposed in 1959, the project has been aborted and delayed because of technical hiccups many times.

Now it is ready to test two of Einstein's theories about the nature of space and time, and how the Earth distorts them.

The unmanned satellite will orbit 640km (400 miles) above Earth, measuring any slight changes in gravity.

Perfect spheres

The satellite will carry four ping-pong-sized balls made from quartz and sealed in a vacuum.

The scientists behind the project say they are the most perfect spheres ever made.

To ensure accuracy, the balls must be kept chilled to near absolute zero, inside the largest vacuum flask ever flown in space, and isolated from any disturbances in the quietest environment ever produced, said Anne Kinney, director Nasa's division of astronomy and physics.

Once in space the balls will be sent spinning. If Einstein is correct, there should be slight changes to the balls' orientation, or 'spin axis'.

Scientists will carefully measure the expected tiny changes in the balls' movements.

Einstein proposed in 1916 that space and time form a structure that can be curved by the presence of a body.

Gravity Probe B will test how space and time are warped by the presence of the Earth, and how the Earth's rotation twists and drags space-time around with it.

The warping effect has been measured before, but the twisting effect, called frame-dragging, has never been directly detected. The Nasa mission aims to examine both.

Francis Everitt, the principal investigator of the project, said: "Aren't Einstein's theories all established and confirmed? After all it was 50 years ago that Einstein himself died and it's 100 years next year when he developed his first theory of relativity. Don't we already know it all? The answer is no."

If there are no more delays, the probe's mission should be completed in 16 months' time.

Posted by thinkum at 10:10 AM

April 02, 2004

The Unknown

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know we don't know.

- Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense

Posted by thinkum at 11:57 AM

The Molvania Tourists Rarely Get to See

LONDON (Reuters) - Intrepid travelers with no corner of the globe left to conquer could try an adventure holiday in Eastern Europe's hidden jewel -- Molvania.

A new guide to "the land untouched by modern dentistry," published in Britain on Thursday, lists some of Molvania's highlights, including its nuclear reactor with genuine 1950s-era cracks and magnificent zoo with 1,000 animals, all crammed in one cage.

Eating out in Molvania -- spiritual home of the polka and whooping cough -- is cheap, but you may have to pay extra for a waiter with a mustache, the guide advises.

Travelers tempted by such a Stalinist paradise but maybe wary of this article's dateline should know that the book is real, even if the country, sadly, isn't.

"It's a bit of a practical joke that got out of hand," Australian Tom Gleisner, one of the spoof travel guide's authors, told Reuters.

"The idea for a joke travel book came about 10 years ago when I was backpacking through Portugal with friends. We decided to make up a country so we wouldn't offend anybody -- or offend everybody, depending on how you look at it," he said.

Just like the thousands of real travel books that map, label and rate every country from Azerbaijan to Zambia, the Molvania guide dishes up history, the country's best hotels and restaurants, and even provides travelers with useful phrases:

Sprufki Doh Craszko? means "What is that smell?."

Togurfga trakij sdonchskia? loosely translates as "What happened to your teeth?."

The guide also offers a phrase you probably won't need: Frijyhadsgo drof, huftrawxzkio Ok hyrafrpiki kidriki, which means "More food, inn-keeper."

While the book generates laughs by poking fun at the sort of country whose hotels, restaurants and transport systems repel tourists more than they welcome, it also has a serious point to make.

"Travel guides are just so ubiquitous; we all grab them like life-rafts and are almost too frightened to venture forth without reading about recommendations first," Gleisner said.

"It's almost at the point where people look up to read about a site instead of looking at the actual site. They've come to dominate travel so much we did feel it was time to do a spoof," he added.

"Molvania," by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Rob Stich is published by Atlantic Books.

Posted by thinkum at 11:30 AM

Mystery fires force village's evacuation

CANNETO DI CARONIA, Italy (Reuters) -- The gate at the entrance to this tiny Sicilian village has come off its hinges and swings in the wind as cats wander into homes abandoned after a series of mystery fires.

This is not your average ghost town.

Canneto di Caronia has been taken over by an endless flow of scientists, engineers, police and even a few self-styled "ghostbusters" searching for clues to the recent spontaneous combustion of everything from microwave ovens to a car.

The fires started in mid-January and have claimed home appliances and fuse boxes in about half of the 20 odd houses. The blazes originally blamed on the devil himself have not hurt anyone.

After a brief respite last month, the flames have flared up again almost daily even though electricity to the village was cut off long ago.

"We're working in the dark. We don't have a single lead so far," said Pedro Spinnato, mayor of the trio of Caronia towns.

"Every time some new scientist comes to town they arrive thinking the whole thing has been invented or that they're going to solve the mystery in two minutes. They've all been wrong."

Electricians, exorcists

The 39 inhabitants of the town halfway between Palermo and Messina were evacuated after the regional government declared a state of emergency in Canneto, which occupies a single street nestled between a railway line and the sea.

But after weeks of sleeping in a nearby hotel and houses rented for them by the government, they're getting desperate.

"I've seen an air conditioner burst into flames and burn down in 30 seconds. These are not normal events, but I think we're going to have to start looking for a different kind of help," said Antonio Pezzino, whose house was first hit.

From the start, Gabriele Amorth, one of the Catholic Church's top exorcists suspected the devil was at work.

"I've seen things like this before," he told Il Messaggero daily. "Demons occupy a house and appear in electrical goods," he said urging the parish priest to take action.

The local priest, Don Antonio Cipriani, decided together with residents to let scientists have a first go at the fires.

After a brief visit to Canneto di Caronia, the head of the Committee for the Control of Paranormal Claims has also ruled out demons or poltergeists -- at least for the time being.

"The fact that the phenomenon occurs only when there are people present makes it hard to believe that it is a natural, or even supernatural phenomenon," said Massimo Polidoro.

"But we don't exclude further investigation if things aren't eventually explained," he added.

Unsolved mystery

Nobody can say the experts aren't trying. Canneto looks increasingly like a set for the TV hit "The X-Files."

Two fire trucks and a police jeep sit at the entrance of Canneto on alert for the next blaze while a van with a large, rotating antennae on top measures the radio waves.

A host of three-legged instruments to monitor geomagnetic, meteorological, electromagnetic and electrostatic indicators sit in apartments and next to lemon trees in the gardens. Coloured markings on the street indicate the presence of volcano experts.

Police ruled out a possible prankster or pyromaniac after they saw wires burst into flames.

The hypotheses now range from a build-up of electrical energy caused by grounding wires running off the railway to a rare "natural phenomenon" in which surges of electricity rise from the earth's core.

The fires have even consumed unplugged lamps and an entire apartment. Black scorch marks still scar the apartment walls.

Italy's big utility Enel cut off electricity to the town and hooked it up to a generator -- but that caught fire as well.

More recently cellular phones and cars have also been acting up, with lock and alarm systems being set off without any apparent reason.

The evacuated families of Canneto di Caronia who gather almost every night in the three-star hotel perched above their abandoned village are giving up hope.

"I just want to go home," said Rosi Cioffo, a shopkeeper and mother of two. "I don't know what's causing it and I don't care anymore -- even if it's the devil."

Her nine-year-old daughter, who is frightened every time a TV or bathroom fan switches on, may not agree.

Spinnato, the mayor, sounds just as desperate.

"Someone wrote to us saying the solution was to sacrifice a black goat and collect its blood. At some point, that's going to start looking like a good idea."

Posted by thinkum at 11:02 AM

Coming soon: anti-fat pill

A fat busting pill which mimics the effect exercise has on the body is being developed by Australian scientists.


Scientists at St Vincent's Institute in Melbourne said the fat pill could be taken by obese people who were unable to exercise effectively.

St Vincent's Institute director Tom Kay said about a decade ago scientist Bruce Kemp and his team discovered a protein inside cells which worked as a "fuel gauge".

"The protein regulates how food is burnt up in the body to do useful work," he said.

"Exercise is one of the things that helps you effectively use food and exercise activates the protein that has been discovered here.

"What we're trying to do at the institute is discover drugs which will activate this process in exactly the same way exercise does so that you could take a pill which gave you the beneficial effects of exercise."

Professor Kay said the drug would be particularly useful for overweight people who had injuries or arthritis.

"The other thing is that behavioural approaches to obesity have limited success in terms of sustaining weight loss and it may be that this sort of drug is more broadly applicable as well," he said.

He said about 20 scientists were working on the development of the fat pill at the newly refurbished St Vincent's Institute.

As well as the fat pill, the institute's scientists are researching ways to combat osteoporosis, HIV, cancer and diabetes.

Professor Kay said the institute's new $10.5 million research building, which was unveiled today, would assist with the development of the fat pill.

"Advances in medical research depend on state-of-the-art facilities and depend on fantastic scientists and you need both of those things to go hand in hand," he said.

Posted by thinkum at 10:32 AM

Enigma of Namibia's 'fairy circles'

South African botanists say they have failed to explain the mysterious round patches of bare sandy soil found in grassland on Namibia's coastal fringe.


They looked into possible causes of the "fairy circles" - radioactive soil, toxic proteins left by poisonous plants, and termites eating the seeds.

But tests do not support any of these theories for the rings which are 2-10m across, New Scientist magazine reports.

For now, the botanists are left with "fairies" to explain the phenomenon.

Termite trenches

Lead scientist Gretel van Rooyen is exploring the theory that, somehow, toxic elements are deposited in the shape of the circle, making it impossible for plant life to get established there.

"But even if we find them, how they came there is the next problem - for the moment, we're left with the fairies," Ms van Rooyen, from University of Pretoria, said.

Tests of soil samples taken from the circles found all to be negative for radioactivity and desert plants were successfully cultivated in the lab on soil which had previously supported poisonous milk bushes (Euphorbia damarana).

As for the termites, the team dug trenches up to 2m deep in and around the circles, but found no sign of these insects or their nests.

Fairy circles occur in a broken belt in the pro-Namib region, from southern Angola to the Orange River in South Africa and have become so famous that they are included in visitors' tours.

The research will appear in a future issue of the Journal of Arid Environments.

Posted by thinkum at 10:29 AM

Bard loses in Darth Vader battle

The words of Star Wars' Darth Vader are better-known than those of Wordsworth and Shakespeare, according to a survey.


Some 71% of people aged 25-44 knew the quote "If only you knew the power of the dark side" came from the movie villain, Yellow Pages research found.

But 10% correctly said the Shakespeare quote "Now is the winter of our discontent" came from Richard III.

And just 9% knew the words "I can resist everything except temptation" came from Oscar Wilde.

The survey had asked people if they could spot a quote by The Office character David Brent.

But it later emerged the quote was never used in the programme.

A spokeswoman for Yellow Pages said the quote - "Accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue" - had been taken from the internet.

"We did check a number of sources and acted in good faith as this quote appeared in a number of different sources," said the spokeswoman.

When asked to complete the line "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your..." from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, some people said swords or money rather than ears.

The survey was carried out to mark the Words Worth Reading event on 19 March, when 175,000 children across the UK will simultaneously recite Wordsworth's Daffodils.

More than 1,000 people were interviewed for the research, commissioned by Yellow Pages.

Former Culture Secretary and Wordsworth scholar Chris Smith said: "It's understandable that people should remember contemporary sources better than the classics.

"But we want to ensure they're also aware of some of the great and most enduring writing in the English language."

Posted by thinkum at 10:28 AM


Check out Blather

Posted by thinkum at 10:07 AM

April 01, 2004

Surgeon General's Warning


Posted by thinkum at 08:58 PM

Recipe for Disaster

Instructions for ‘Pillows From Heaven’ Dinner Rolls Pose Risk of Injury

L E W I S V I L L E, Texas — Southern Living Magazine is certainly not the type of publication known for explosive stories. Dotty Griffith, the food editor of the Dallas Morning News says, "Mothers give it to their daughters, it is passed down from generation to generation. They keep it and clip it and always make sure that a young bride has a subscription to Southern Living Magazine."

But the marriage won't be off to a good start by reading April's issue. The recipe for dinner rolls that are supposed to taste like "Pillows from Heaven" is so dangerous that five people have been injured. One chef called it a mixture for "napalm."

The magazine is pulling the issue off newsstands nationwide.

With the help of the Lewisville, Texas, fire department, the fire chief showed us what can happen if you follow this month's recipe at home.

Hot Spatter

Chief Jeff Smith and I followed the directions on page 154 which call for one cup of water and one-half cup of shortening to be brought to a boil for five minutes in a small saucepan.

With extinguishers ready and two firefighters in full protective gear, we watched and waited. The recipe says to let it boil for five minutes but three minutes and fifty seconds later, the mixture exploded, splattering hot grease onto my shirt. I was standing more than 12 feet from the burner.

Just to make sure it wasn't a fluke, we tried the experiment one more time. After three minutes and forty-five seconds, the mixture exploded and burst into flames.

Chief Smith says the reason for the explosion is that the shortening rises to the top and traps all the heat in the pan until it bursts.

Revised Directions

Southern Living has revised the recipe, which now calls for the boiling water to be poured over the shortening and kept away from a hot burner.

The magazine has sent e-mail and postcards to its two-and-a-half million subscribers who already received April's issue to warn them about the danger. The magazine's editors told ABC News they do not know how much money the magazine will lose by pulling this month's issue from the newsstands, but their main concern is the safety of their readers.

Posted by thinkum at 05:47 PM