Saturday, November 1, 2008

Designer Babies: Creating The Perfect Child

From CNN:

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Bring your partner, grab a seat, pick up your baby catalog and start choosing.

Will you go for the brown hair or blond? Would you prefer tall or short? Funny or clever? Girl or boy? And do you want them to be a muscle-bound sports hero? Or a slender and intelligent book worm?

When you're done selecting, head to the counter and it's time to start creating your new child.

Does this sound like a scary thought?

With rapid advances in scientific knowledge of the human genome and our increasing ability to modify and change genes, this scenario of "designing" your baby could well be possible in the near future.

Techniques of genetic screening are already being used -- whereby embryos can be selected by sex and checked for certain disease-bearing genes. This can lead to either the termination of a pregnancy, or if analyzed at a pre-implantation stage when using In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), can enable the pregnancy to be created using only non-disease bearing genes.

Read more ....

More Hidden Territory On Mercury Revealed By Messenger Spacecraft

Image of Mercury captured by MESSENGER on the probe's second approach. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

From Space Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 31, 2008) — A NASA spacecraft gliding over the battered surface of Mercury for the second time this year has revealed more previously unseen real estate on the innermost planet. The probe also has produced several science firsts and is returning hundreds of new photos and measurements of the planet's surface, atmosphere and magnetic field.

The Mercury Surface, Space Environment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, or MESSENGER, spacecraft flew by Mercury shortly after 4:40 a.m. EDT, on Oct. 6. It completed a critical gravity assist to keep it on course to orbit Mercury in 2011 and unveiled 30 percent of Mercury's surface never before seen by a spacecraft.

Read more ....

MIT Scientists Baffled By Global Warming Theory, Contradicts Scientific Data

From Watts Up With That:

Many people have pointed me to this story, I wanted to read about it a bit before posting it. Almost two years ago, when this blog was in its very first month, I posted this story on the puzzling leveling off of global methane concentrations. FYI Methane has a “global warming potential” (GWP) 23-25 times that of CO2.

CDIAC has an interesting set of graphs on methane, the first of which shows that indeed global concentrations of CH4 through 2004 have leveled off:

Read more ....

Scientists To Measure Effects Of Earthquakes, Weather On Ancient Acropolis

From L.A. Times Science:

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ For thousands of years the Acropolis has withstood earthquakes, weathered storms and endured temperature extremes, from scorching summers to winter snow.

Now scientists are drawing on the latest technology to install a system that will record just how much nature is affecting the 2,500-year-old site. They hope their findings will help identify areas that could be vulnerable, allowing them to target restoration and maintenance.

Scientists are installing a network of fiber optic sensors and accelerographs — instruments that measure how much movement is generated during a quake.

"The greatest danger for our monuments at the moment is earthquakes," Dimitrios Egglezos, chief civil engineer in charge of the Acropolis' defensive circuit wall, told The Associated Press. So understanding how the structures react to the earth's movement is paramount.

Egglezos said six accelerographs are to be installed starting next week at various parts of the Acropolis: at the base of the hill, part of the way up where the geology changes, and on the Parthenon, the Acropolis' most famous monument, built between 447 and 432 B.C. in honor of the goddess Athena.

Read more ....

Searching For Primordial Antimatter

The Bullet Cluster

From Space Daily:

Scientists are on the hunt for evidence of antimatter - matter's arch nemesis - left over from the very early Universe. New results using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Compton Gamma Ray Observatory suggest the search may have just become even more difficult.

Antimatter is made up of elementary particles, each of which has the same mass as their corresponding matter counterparts - protons, neutrons and electrons - but the opposite charges and magnetic properties. When matter and antimatter particles collide, they annihilate each other and produce energy according to Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2.

According to the Big Bang model, the Universe was awash in particles of both matter and antimatter shortly after the Big Bang. Most of this material annihilated, but because there was slightly more matter than antimatter - less than one part per billion - only matter was left behind, at least in the local Universe.

Read more ....

Spiders and Scorpions Among World's Oldest Creatures

Ancient Creepy Crawly
A fossil spider can be seen embedded in amber. The fossil, provided by the Florida Museum of Natural History, was discovered in the Dominican Republic and dates from the Miocene epoch, some five to 23 million years ago.

From Discovery:

Oct. 31, 2008 -- If it seems like spiders, scorpions, ticks and mites have been around forever, it's because they nearly have, according to new genetic research that found these arachnids first emerged at least 400 to 450 million years ago.

The study, published in the latest issue of Experimental and Applied Acarology, extends the known world presence of these creepy crawlies by over 200 million years. The oldest fossil spider is 125 to 135 million years old, while the oldest fossil scorpion is around 200 million years old.

These invertebrates could even have emerged much earlier than this latest study determined.

"A horseshoe crab dating to 475 million years ago provided one of our anchor dates, and this crab actually looked quite modern, as did a Devonian period (416 to 359 million years ago) mite that was one very modern-looking mite," co-author Marjorie Hoy told Discovery News.

Hoy, a University of Florida entomologist, added, "I don't think the individuals just suddenly appeared on Earth, so it's likely these invertebrates are even older than we estimated."

Read more ....

Scientists Prove It Really Is A Thin Line Between Love And Hate

Michael Douglas and KathleenTurner played a couple with a stormy relationship
in the 1989 film War Of The Roses

From The Independent:

The same brain circuitry is involved in both extreme emotions – but hate retains a semblance of rationality

Love and hate are intimately linked within the human brain, according to a study that has discovered the biological basis for the two most intense emotions.

Scientists studying the physical nature of hate have found that some of the nervous circuits in the brain responsible for it are the same as those that are used during the feeling of romantic love – although love and hate appear to be polar opposites.

A study using a brain scanner to investigate the neural circuits that become active when people look at a photograph of someone they say they hate has found that the "hate circuit" shares something in common with the love circuit.

The findings could explain why both hate and romantic love can result in similar acts of extreme behaviour – both heroic and evil – said Professor Semir Zeki of University College London, who led the study published in the on-line journal PloS ONE.

Read more ....

Buzz Aldrin: Mars Pioneers Should Stay There

Buzz Aldrin

From Cosmos:

PARIS: The first astronauts sent to Mars should be prepared to spend the rest of their lives there, in the same way that European pioneers headed to America knowing they wouldn't return home, says moonwalker Buzz Aldrin.

In an interview with reporters, the second man to set foot on the Moon said the Red Planet offered far greater potential than Earth's satellite as a place for habitation.

No coming back

With what appears to be vast reserves of frozen water, Mars "is nearer terrestrial conditions, much better than the Moon and any other place," Aldrin, 78, said in a visit to Paris last week. "It is easier to subsist, to provide the support needed for people there than on the Moon."

It took Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins eight days to go to the Moon – 380,000 km from Earth – and return in July 1969, aboard Apollo 11.

Going to Mars, though, is a different prospect. The distance between the Red Planet and Earth varies between 55 million km and more than 400 million km. Even at the most favourable planetary conjunction, this means a round trip to Mars would take around a year and a half.

"That's why you [should] send people there permanently," said Aldrin. "If we are not willing to do that, then I don't think we should just go once and have the expense of doing that and then stop."

Read more ....

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Real (And Frightening) Ghosts Of The World

From Live Science:

Tonight the neighborhood will be filled with small ghosts roaming around looking for sweets, and the bars will be filled with adult ghosts looking for something else.

The ghost costume for Halloween is a traditional favorite because it costs nothing (grab a sheet out of the laundry) and there's little prep work (throw it over your head, but be sure and cut out two eye holes).

The ghost is also a Halloween favorite because it symbolizes a spirit coming back from the dead, and that's what Halloween is supposed to be about — creatures returning from the beyond to scare the daylights out of everyone.

But in today's Halloween party culture, no one is really scared of someone with a sheet over their head and everybody knows the whole ghost thing is done in jest.

Read more ....

Daylight Saving Time: Why Did We Do It?

From Live Science:

At 2:00 a.m. local on Sunday, most of the United States except Hawaii and Arizona will leave daylight saving time behind and fall back an hour to standard time.

The annoyance of resetting clocks (or forgetting to, and showing up an hour early for appointments on Sunday) may raise the question of why we bother with this rigmarole in the first place.

Daylight saving time is most often associated with the oh-so-sweet extra hour of sleep in fall and the not-so-nice loss of an hour in spring, but some of the original reasons for resetting our clocks twice a year including saving energy and having more daylight hours for retailers, sporting events and other activities that benefit from a longer day.

As far back as the 1700s, people recognized the potential to save energy by jumping clocks ahead one hour in the summer — Benjamin Franklin even wrote about it — although the idea was not put into practice until the 20th century.

Read more ....

Hubble Up And Running, With A Picture To Prove It

This image from the Hubble telescope demonstrates that its wide field planetary camera 2 is working properly. NASA/ESA/M. Livio, STScI

From The New York Times:

After an electrical malfunction caused it to go dormant a month ago, the Hubble Space Telescope is back in business. But the space shuttle mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble has been pushed back again, NASA officials said Thursday.

To show this week that the orbiting eye still has the same chops as ever, astronomers from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore used Hubble’s wide-field planetary camera 2 to record this image of a pair of smoke-rings galaxies known as Arp 147.

The galaxies, about 450 million light-years away in the constellation Cetus, apparently collided in the recent cosmic past. According to Mario Livio, of the space telescope institute, one of the galaxies passed through the other, causing a circular wave, like a pebble tossed into a pond, that has now coalesced into a ring of new blue stars. The center of the impacted galaxy can be seen as a reddish blur along the bottom of a blue ring.

Read more ....

Phoenix Enters Safe Mode

(Image from NASA)

From Mars Daily:

NASA'S Phoenix Mars Lander entered safe mode late yesterday in response to a low-power fault brought on by deteriorating weather conditions. While engineers anticipated that a fault could occur due to the diminishing power supply, the lander also unexpectedly switched to the "B" side of its redundant electronics and shut down one of its two batteries.

During safe mode, the lander stops non-critical activities and awaits further instructions from the mission team. Within hours of receiving information of the safing event, mission engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and at Lockheed Martin in Denver, were able to send commands to restart battery charging. It is not likely that any energy was lost.

Read more ....

New NASA Capsule Orion Resembles Apollo

Engineers and technician run a structural mass properties test on a test module of the Orion crew exploration vehicle at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base. Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

New NASA Capsule Orion Resembles Apollo
-- L.A. Times

The agency unveils the test module for structural testing at Edwards Air Force Base. The capsule, designed to carry humans to the moon, looks a lot like the one that first did so four decades ago.

Reporting from Edwards Air Force Base -- NASA rolled out its next-generation space capsule here Wednesday, revealing a bulbous module that is scheduled to carry humans back to the moon in 2020 and eventually onward to Mars.

Unlike the space-plane shape of the shuttles, the new Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle looks strikingly similar to the old Apollo space capsule that carried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon and back in 1969, with Armstrong and Aldrin becoming the first humans to walk on the lunar surface.

There is one key difference, however. The test module, unveiled at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, is substantially bigger -- 16.5 feet in diameter compared with Apollo 11's 12.8 feet.

The craft's extra girth will allow it to carry six astronauts instead of Apollo's three.

"This is the same shape as Apollo," said Gary Martin, the project manager for the test program at Dryden. "But the extra space translates into twice as much volume as Apollo."

Still, cramming six astronauts inside will make it "pretty cozy," he said.

Read more ....

Ten Immune System-Boosting Foods

Some foods can help protect against viruses and bacteria when you are sick.
(AP Photos/Getty Images)

From ABC News:

Many people, when they are feeling miserable from a cold or the flu, get the urge to gorge on food. But picking the right foods can benefit and even speed healing.

"This is more or less a new area," said Kerry Neville, a Seattle dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "There has been some good research, and we'll be seeing more. But it remains to be seen how much of this can actually be helpful."

Teasing out how and where food can benefit is difficult because our immune systems -- a coordinated system of signals sent and received, feedback loops and multiple redundancies to ensure that foreign molecules are identified and destroyed if they are harmful -- are so complex. A breakdown in any part of the system leaves the whole body susceptible to infection and illness.

Read more ....

Brain's 'Hate Circuit' Identified

New research has found that people who view pictures of someone they hate display activity in distinct areas of the brain that, together, may be thought of as a 'hate circuit.' (Credit: iStockphoto/Valentin Casarsa)

ScienceDaily (Oct. 29, 2008) — People who view pictures of someone they hate display activity in distinct areas of the brain that, together, may be thought of as a 'hate circuit', according to new research by scientists at UCL (University College London).

The study, by Professor Semir Zeki and John Romaya of the Wellcome Laboratory of Neurobiology at UCL, examined the brain areas that correlate with the sentiment of hate and shows that the 'hate circuit' is distinct from those related to emotions such as fear, threat and danger – although it shares a part of the brain associated with aggression. The circuit is also quite distinct from that associated with romantic love, though it shares at least two common structures with it.

Read more ....

Hubble Re-Opens An Eye

The Hubble telescope has helped scientists view various new galaxies and stars from space.
(AP Photo )

From ABC News:

The Hubble Space Telescope has reawakened and is taking its first pictures of the sky after a series of glitches left it idle for a full month.

Engineers successfully booted up the probe's main camera, the Wide-Field Planetary Camera 2, on Saturday. The instrument, which is set to be swapped out in 2009 during the telescope's last servicing mission, is now taking its last scheduled images of the sky.

"It is a relief that everything is working well," says Rodger Doxsey, head of the Hubble mission office at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. "We did a few calibration observations, which worked fine, and then restarted science observing with it over the weekend."

Hubble has been mostly dormant since late September, when a device needed to collect and process data from the telescope's science instruments failed.

Read more ....

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Minerals Point To Wetter Mars

From The BBC:

A Nasa space probe has discovered a new category of minerals spread across large regions of Mars.

The find suggests liquid water remained on Mars' surface a billion years later than scientists had previously thought.

The US Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft found evidence of hydrated silica, better known as opal.

The discovery adds to the growing body of evidence that water played a crucial role in shaping the Martian landscape and - possibly - in sustaining life.

Hydrated, or water-containing, minerals are telltale signs of when and where water was present on ancient Mars.

Researchers made the discovery using the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer (CRISM) instrument on MRO.

Read more ....

Pictured: The Cave Of Crystals Discovered 1,000ft Below A Mexican Desert

(Click To Enlarge)
Crystal forest: People clambering through the Cave of Crystals in Mexico wearing suits and backpacks of ice-cool air to cope with the 112F temperature (Image from The Daily Mail)

From The Daily Mail:

Until you notice the orange-suited men clambering around, it's hard to grasp the extraordinary scale of this underground crystal forest.

Nearly 1,000ft below the Chihuahua Desert in Mexico, this cave was discovered by two brothers drilling in the Naica lead and silver mine. It is an eerie sight.

Up to 170 giant, luminous obelisks - the biggest is 37.4ft long and the equivalent height of six men - jut across the grotto like tangled pillars of light; and the damp rock of their walls is covered with yet more flawless clusters of blade-sharp crystal.

Read more ...

Doorknobs And TV Remotes Are Germ Hotbeds

Germs, germs everywhere. Now that cold and flu season has arrived, germs are lurking in more places than you might think. Read on to find out where pesky bugs love to hang out. Rob Cross/The Ottawa Citizen

From Yahoo News/AP:

WASHINGTON – Someone in your house have the sniffles? Watch out for the refrigerator door handle. The TV remote, too. A new study finds that cold sufferers often leave their germs there, where they can live for two days or longer. Scientists at the University of Virginia, long known for its virology research, tested surfaces in the homes of people with colds and reported the results Tuesday at the nation's premier conference on infectious diseases.

Doctors don't know how often people catch colds from touching germy surfaces as opposed to, say, shaking a sick person's hand, said Dr. Birgit Winther, an ear, nose and throat specialist who helped conduct the study.

Two years ago, she and other doctors showed that germs survived in hotel rooms a day after guests left, waiting to be picked up by the next person checking in.

For the new study, researchers started with 30 adults showing early symptoms of colds. Sixteen tested positive for rhinovirus, which causes about half of all colds. They were asked to name 10 places in their homes they had touched in the preceding 18 hours, and researchers used DNA tests to hunt for rhinovirus.

Read more ....

Love, Sex And The Changing Landscape Of Infidelity

From The New York Times:

If you cheated on your spouse, would you admit it to a researcher?

That question is one of the biggest challenges in the scientific study of marriage, and it helps explain why different studies produce different estimates of infidelity rates in the United States.

Surveys conducted in person are likely to underestimate the real rate of adultery, because people are reluctant to admit such behavior not just to their spouses but to anyone.

In a study published last summer in The Journal of Family Psychology, for example, researchers from the University of Colorado and Texas A&M surveyed 4,884 married women, using face-to-face interviews and anonymous computer questionnaires. In the interviews, only 1 percent of women said they had been unfaithful to their husbands in the past year; on the computer questionnaire, more than 6 percent did.

Read more ....

The Spread Of Polio

Polio Spreads to New Countries and Increases
Where It’s Endemic -- New York Times

Polio infections are increasing and spreading to new countries, according to case counts recently released by the World Health Organization.

Since April, outbreaks have been found in 10 countries beyond the 4 in which polio is considered endemic — Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. And in those four countries, the number of cases is more than double the number found by this time in 2007.

In Africa, cases have been found as far south as Angola and as far west as Ethiopia. Each detected case implies another 200 cases with few or no symptoms, experts say.

There have been outbreaks of both type 1 and type 3 polio, which frustrate W.H.O. plans, begun in 2005, to concentrate on a monovalent vaccine against type 1. Recent studies show that vaccine to be far more effective against type 1 than the old trivalent vaccine was. But it does not protect against type 3, and a new monovalent vaccine against that is being introduced. (Type 2 was eliminated in 1999.)

Read more ....

Is NASA's Ares Doomed?

Saturn 5, Space Shuttle, Ares 1, Ares 5
(Image from Internet Encyclopedia Of Science)

From Orlando Sentinel:

CAPE CANAVERAL - Bit by bit, the new rocket ship that is supposed to blast America into the second Space Age and return astronauts to the moon appears to be coming undone.

First was the discovery that it lacked sufficient power to lift astronauts in a state-of-the-art capsule into orbit. Then engineers found out that it might vibrate like a giant tuning fork, shaking its crew to death.

Now, in the latest setback to the Ares I, computer models show the ship could crash into its launch tower during liftoff.

The issue is known as "liftoff drift." Ignition of the rocket's solid-fuel motor makes it "jump" sideways on the pad, and a southeast breeze stronger than 12.7 mph would be enough to push the 309-foot-tall ship into its launch tower.

Worst case, the impact would destroy the rocket. But even if that doesn't happen, flames from the rocket would scorch the tower, leading to huge repair costs.

"We were told by a person directly involved [in looking at the problem] that as they incorporate more variables into the liftoff-drift-curve model, the worse the curve becomes," said one NASA contractor, who asked not to be named because he wasn't authorized to discuss Ares.

Read more ....

The Internet Is 5,000 Days Old -- What Will The Next 5,000 Days Bring

Sue Thomas sent me this talk by Kevin Kelly, who probably needs little introduction to most Ubiwar readers. In this December 2007 presentation Kelly takes a look at the next 5000 days of the web (the web being approximately 5000 days old when he gave this talk).

He suggests that the web will be the global machine (”The One”) and this will entail different ways of interacting with information, and it with us. This is fascinating stuff, particularly for me, who seems to spend an awful lot of time these days considering ‘convergence’ and its effects on security and violence.

This is 20 minutes of anyone’s time well spent, and he’s a good speaker too, so it’s painless…

Science Says We Really Are What We Drink

From Time Magazine:

And now for some helpful scientific advice: When that IRS agent comes to your office to conduct an audit, offer him a cup of coffee. And when you're sitting down to do your holiday shopping online, make sure you're cradling a large glass of iced tea. The physical sensation of warmth encourages emotional warmth, while a chilly drink in hand serves as a brake on rash decisions — those are the practical lesson being drawn from recent research by two Yale-educated psychologists, published last week in Science magazine.

Encountering warmth or cold lights up the insula — a walnut-sized section of the brain — says John A. Bargh, a professor of psychology at Yale, who co-authored the paper with Lawrence E. Williams of the University of Colorado who received his Ph.D. from Yale earlier this year. And the insula is the same part of the brain engaged when we evaluate who we can trust in economic transactions, Bargh says.

Read more ....

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

World Can Halt Fossil Fuel Use By 2090

From The New Scientist:

The world could eliminate fossil fuel use by 2090, saving $18 trillion in future fuel costs and creating a $360 billion industry that provides half of the world's electricity, the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) and environmental group Greenpeace said on Monday.

The 210-page study [pdf] is one of few reports – even by lobby groups – to look in detail at how energy use would have to be overhauled to meet the toughest scenarios for curbing greenhouse gases outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"Renewable energy could provide all global energy needs by 2090," according to the study, entitled "Energy (R)evolution." EREC represents renewable energy industries and trade and research associations in Europe.

A more radical scenario could eliminate coal use by 2050 if new power generation plants shifted quickly to renewables.

Solar power, biomass such as biofuels or wood, geothermal energy and wind could be the leading energies by 2090 in a shift from fossil fuels blamed by the IPCC for stoking global warming.

The total energy investments until 2030, the main period studied, would come to $14.7 trillion, according to the study. By contrast, the International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises rich nations, foresees energy investments of just $11.3 trillion to 2030, with a bigger stress on fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with ex-US Vice President Al Gore, called Monday's study "comprehensive and rigorous."

Read more ....

Are You Evil? Profiling That Which Is Truly Wicked

INTRODUCING "E": a computer character first created in 2005 to embody Bringsjord's working definition of evil. Courtesy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

From Scientific American:

A cognitive scientist employs malevolent logic to define the dark side of the human psyche

TROY, N.Y.—The hallowed halls of academia are not the place you would expect to find someone obsessed with evil (although some students might disagree). But it is indeed evil—or rather trying to get to the roots of evil—that fascinates Selmer Bringsjord, a logician, philosopher and chairman of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Department of Cognitive Science here. He's so intrigued, in fact, that he has developed a sort of checklist for determining whether someone is demonic, and is working with a team of graduate students to create a computerized representation of a purely sinister person.

"I've been working on what is evil and how to formally define it," says Bringsjord, who is also director of the Rensselaer AI & Reasoning Lab (RAIR). "It's creepy, I know it is."

To be truly evil, someone must have sought to do harm by planning to commit some morally wrong action with no prompting from others (whether this person successfully executes his or her plan is beside the point). The evil person must have tried to carry out this plan with the hope of "causing considerable harm to others," Bringsjord says. Finally, "and most importantly," he adds, if this evil person were willing to analyze his or her reasons for wanting to commit this morally wrong action, these reasons would either prove to be incoherent, or they would reveal that the evil person knew he or she was doing something wrong and regarded the harm caused as a good thing.

Read more ....

Humans Made Fire 790,000 Years Ago: Study

From News Daily:

JERUSALEM, Oct. 26, 2008 (Reuters) — A new study shows that humans had the ability to make fire nearly 790,000 years ago, a skill that helped them migrate from Africa to Europe.

A previous study of the site published in 2004 showed that man had been able to control fire -- for example transferring it by means of burning branches -- in that early time period. But researchers now say that ancient man could actually start fire, rather than relying on natural phenomena such as lightning.

That independence helped promoted migration northward, they say.

The new study, published in a recent edition of Quaternary Science Reviews, mapped 12 archaeological layers at Gesher Benot Yaaqov in northern Israel.

Read more ....

Why Some People Have A Better Head For Languages

(Image from Baltic Media)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 26, 2008) — Learning a second language is usually difficult and often when we speak it we cannot disguise our origin or accent. However, there are important differences between individuals with regard to the degree to which a second language is mastered, even for people who have lived in a bilingual environment since childhood.

Members of the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group (GRNC) linked to the Barcelona Science Park, have studied these differences. By comparing people who are able to perceive a second language as if they were native speakers of that language with people who find it very difficult to do so, they have observed that the former group is also better at distinguishing the sounds of their own native language. However, there is no difference between the two groups when they hear sounds that do not form part of the language.

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Space Tourist Enthusiastic About His Voyage

'Flawless' landing: Ground crew help U.S. space tourist Richard Garriott after the Soyuz capsule touches down (Photo from The Daily Mail)

'What A Ride!' Space Tourist And Russian Cosmonauts Return To Earth In 'Flawless' Landing -- Daily Mail

British-born space tourist Richard Garriott and his two Russian colleagues made a ‘flawless’ landing in Kazakhstan today, on their return from the International Space Station.

They avoided a string of mishaps that have plagued the Soyuz spacecraft on previous landings.

Cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko, as well as American space tourist Richard Garriott, said they were ‘feeling well’. They were extracted from the capsule by a Russian recovery team.

Mr Garriott, the U.S. video game guru, who paid £17 million for his 10-day jaunt looked elated after his trip.

'What a great ride that was,' said Garriott.

Sitting in an armchair and wrapped in a blue blanket against the near-freezing temperature on the steppe, he smiled broadly.

Read more ....

What Shortage of Scientists and Engineers?

From Tierney Lab/New York Times:

If the United States really has a critical shortage of scientists and engineers, why didn’t this year’s graduates get showered with lucrative job offers and signing bonuses?

That’s the question that comes to my mind after reading about Barack Obama’s plans to address the “shortage” we keep hearing about from blue-ribbon commissions of scientists and engineers. He wants to pay for the training of 100,000 more engineers and scientists over the next four years, as my colleagues Bill Broad and Cory Dean note in their excellent analysis of the presidential candidates’ plans to encourage technological innovation.

Now, I’m all in favor of American technological innovation, and I’m glad to see Mr. Obama promising to review the export restrictions that have been so damaging to the aerospace industry (and that were promoted by John McCain because of what he called national-security risks). I’m also all in favor of American scientists and engineers, especially the ones in my family. (My father is a chemical engineer; my brother is an electrical engineer.) I’d love to see American corporations and universities frantically competing to offer them the kind of salaries paid to M.B.A.’s and lawyers.

Read more ....

Keyboard Sniffers To Steal Data

From The BBC:

Computer criminals could soon be eavesdropping on what you type by analysing the electromagnetic signals produced by every key press.

By analysing the signals produced by keystrokes, Swiss researchers have reproduced what a target typed.

The security researchers have developed four attacks that work on a wide variety of computer keyboards.

The results led the researchers to declare keyboards were "not safe to transmit sensitive information".

Read more ....

Mars Astronauts Should Never Return To Earth, Says Buzz Aldrin

Some scientists fear a mission to Mars would be expensive and the astronauts would struggle to survive, much like in the film Red Planet (Photo from The Daily Mail)

From The Daily Mail:

The first astronauts sent to Mars should be prepared to never return to Earth, according to moonwalker Buzz Aldrin.

Like the European pioneers who set out for America they should set out knowing they will spend their lives there, the second man on the Moon said. Though presumably they would hope to survive longer than their first harsh winter.

In an interview the outspoken former astronaut said the Red Planet, which appears to have fast reserves of frozen water at each pole, has far greater potential for habitation than the Moon.

'It is nearer terrestrial conditions, much better than the Moon and any other place,' the 78-year-old said.

Read more ....

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Scientists Find Way To Erase Memories In Mice

(Photo from Reuters)

From Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It seems like a movie plot, but scientists have developed a way to erase specific memories in mice while leaving others intact and not damaging the brain.

By manipulating levels of an important protein in the brain, certain memories can be selectively deleted, researchers led by neurobiologist Joe Tsien of the Medical College of Georgia reported in the journal Neuron.

While some experts have suggested there could be value in erasing certain memories in people such as wartime traumas, Tsien doubted this could be done as it was in mice. Tsien also questioned the wisdom of wiping out a person's memories.

"All memories, including the painful emotional memories, have their purposes. We learn great lessons from those memories or experiences so we can avoid making the same kinds of mistakes again, and help us to adapt down the road," Tsien said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

The study focused on a protein called alpha-CaMKII involved in learning and memory. The scientists manipulated alpha-CaMKII activity in the brains of genetically modified mice to influence the retrieval of short-term and long-term memories.

Read more ....

Investigation Of Changes In Properties Of Water Under The Action Of A Magnetic Field

From E! Science News:

Feng and Deng Bo studied the properties of water, and their changes under the action of a magnetic field were gathered by the spectrum techniques of infrared, Raman, visible, ultraviolet and X-ray lights, which may give an insight into molecular and atomic structures of water. It was found that some properties of water were changed, and a lot of new and strange phenomena were discovered after magnetization. Magnetized water really has magnetism, which has been verified by a peak shift of X-ray diffraction of magnetized water +Fe3O4 hybrid relative to that of pure water + Fe3O4 hybrid, that is, a saturation and memory effect. The study is being reported in the November 2008 issue of Science in China Series G- Physics, Mechanics & Astronomy because of its significant values in science and extensive applications in industry, agriculture and medicine. Water is the most common and important material in nature. However, what is water on earth? What properties does water have? They are both challenging problems, and need further study. The changes in properties of water under the action of a magnetic field are also an interesting and important question, which has not been solved yet, although it has been studied for about one hundred years. So in this work, authors collected and studied the light spectra of water and its features using the spectrum techniques of light for giving an insight into the features of molecular structure in water and seeking the mechanism of magnetization of water. . These spectra may embody the features of molecular, atomic and electronic structures of water, thus giving an insight into the structures of atoms and molecules in water and providing some accurate and credible data for the features of water.

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Distant Stars Send Good Vibes

Illustration of a stellar global oscillation shaking the whole star interior and thus carrying information on it. Yellow refers to maximum temperature variations due to oscillations. Credit: Aarhus University/S. Frandsen

From Cosmos Magazine:

PARIS: French astronomers have measured vibrations from distant stars for the first time, a technical feat that could also help answer questions about climate change caused by solar activity here on Earth.

Using an orbital telescope called CoRoT, launched in December 2006 by the European Space Agency, the researchers analysed oscillations from three stars that result from nuclear fusion which shakes the stellar interior. They report the find today in the U.S. journal Science.

The stars measured are all between 1.2 and 1.4 times more massive than the Sun, and located between 100 and 200 light years away. The study revealed that all three are much hotter than the Sun and have vibrations around 50 per cent more fierce, though still far less than had been predicted.

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Goce Gravity Flight Slips To 2009

From The BBC:

Europe's gravity mission has been bumped to next year because of ongoing technical problems with its launcher.

The arrow-shaped Goce satellite will map tiny variations in the pull of gravity experienced across the world.

The information will give scientists a clearer insight into how the oceans move, and provide a universal reference to measure height anywhere on Earth.

But concerns about the reliability of its Russian rocket mean a lift-off is now unlikely before February.

It is a frustrating delay for the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (Goce).

The satellite was already two years behind schedule when it was sent to the launch pad because engineers had to work through immense technical difficulties in building it.

The super-sleek spacecraft was due to go into orbit on a modified intercontinental ballistic missile, known at the Rockot, from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in north-west Russia in the spring.

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No Money, No Spacecraft, Russian Producer Warns

The Soyuz TMA-6 spacecraft leaves the international space station on Oct. 11, as seen through a station porthole. The craft consists of three modules: from left, the service module with solar arrays, the descent capsule and the spherical orbital module. (Photo from MSNBC)

From Space Daily:

Russia's spacecraft producer Energiya will not provide any more Soyuz vessels for trips to the International Space Station unless funds could urgently be found, Energiya's president and general constructor warned Friday.

"We have vessels and funding for them for the next two trips, but I do not know what will happen with expeditions after that," Vitaly Lopota told reporters as quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency.

"We have no funds to produce new Soyuz craft. Unless we are granted loans or advance payment in the next two or three weeks, we cannot be responsible for future Soyuz production," Lopota explained.

The Soyuz is Russia's workhorse spacecraft that has carried out more than 1,600 flights, despite glitches that have bedevilled recent landings of the Soyuz capsule.

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Science Of Speed: Building The Fastest Car In The World

Computer-generated image of the BLOODHOUND SSC (super sonic car). If the vehicle achieves its target of 1,000mph (Mach 1.4), it will mark the greatest incremental increase in the history of the World Land Speed Record. (Credit: BLOODHOUND SSC image by CURVENTA)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Oct. 24, 2008) — World class UK research is helping to build the fastest car in the world thanks to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The BLOODHOUND SSC Project, led by Richard Noble OBE, is aiming to set a new world land speed record of a thousand miles per hour by 2011.

The challenge at the heart of the project is to create a car capable of 1,000mph – a car 30% faster than any car that has gone before.

An aerodynamics team at Swansea University – funded by EPSRC – is playing a vital role. Using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), the team has spent the last year creating the predictive airflow data that has shaped the car.

In time, the research could lead to better vehicle or aircraft design, improved fuel efficiencies, and even new medical techniques.

"From the nose to the tail, anything that has any kind of aerodynamic influence we are modelling," says researcher Dr. Ben Evans – who as a school boy watched the Thrust SSC record on TV.

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Searching For Intelligence In Our Genes

Photo from Scientific American

From Scientific American:

IQ is easy to measure and reflects something real. But scientists hunting among our genes for the factors that shape intelligence are discovering they are more elusive than expected.

* Researchers have powerful new technologies to probe genes and the brain, looking for the basis of intelligence differences among individuals.
* Their work is providing a new understanding of what intelligence is, while also revealing unanticipated complexity in the interplay between genes and environment.
* The more scientists learn about the role of genes in intelligence, the more mysterious it becomes, but the quest is still worth pursuing.

In Robert Plomin’s line of work, patience is essential. Plomin, a behavioral geneticist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, wants to understand the nature of intelligence. As part of his research, he has been watching thousands of children grow up. Plomin asks the children questions such as “What do water and milk have in common?” and “In what direction does the sun set?” At first he and his colleagues quizzed the children in person or over the telephone. Today many of those children are in their early teens, and they take their tests on the Internet.

In one sense, the research has been a rousing success. The children who take the tests are all twins, and throughout the study identical twins have tended to get scores closer to each other than those of nonidentical twins, who in turn have closer scores than unrelated children. These results—along with similar ones from other studies—make clear to the scientists that genes have an important influence on how children score on intelligence tests.

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The Biological Clock's Incredible Influence Revealed

James Griffith, coordinator of Jonathan Arnold's lab, goes over data from the clock project. Credit: Andrew Tucker, University of Georgia

From Live Science:

This Behind the Scenes article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

It’s a sunny Thursday morning and two accomplished scientists are seated on either side of a non-descript table in a University of Georgia conference room talking about bread mold.

Bread mold? Nobody uses that term around here, though. In the lab, it’s Neurospora crassa. (Because of its long striations, the growing mold looks like a nerve system, so Neurospora literally means “nerve spore.”) Jonathan Arnold, a geneticist and Heinz-Bernd Schuttler, a computational physicist, are not explaining something as plebian as bread mold, though. They’re talking about biological clocks, those internal tickers that, among other things, tell all living things when to rest and when to awaken.

For years, researchers thought that the function of these clocks was relatively straightforward. Now, a new NSF-supported research thrust by the two scientists and their colleagues is showing that the number of genes in Neurospora under the control of the biological clock is dramatically higher than anyone ever suspected.

“We’re just now beginning to see why the clock is so far-reaching in effects on the organism,” says Arnold, whose excitement when discussing his latest work is palpable. The clock’s off-on abilities don’t just intrigue geneticists, either.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Roots Of Voodoo: Why Sarkozy Is Getting Skewered

(Image from Live Science)

From Live Science:

A controversial voodoo doll is proving to be quite the pain in the side of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The doll, which features Sarkozy's likeness and is being sold in some French stores, comes with a set of pins and an instruction manual on how to inflict voodoo curses on him.

Sarzoky is now suing the producer of the doll, which he says is an affront to his reputation and a misuse of his personal image.

It is unlikely that the publisher or Sarkozy have thought much about voodoo's ancient roots during the doll fiasco, but the practice is in fact just one insignificant part of a complex belief system that makes up the mysterious religion, which is still practiced in many parts of Africa, Haiti, Jamaica and Louisiana, among others.

Vodoun, as the official religion is called by most of its practitioners, has little to do with the black magic, as its detractors suggest.

It does, however, have a lot to do with zombies.

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Top 10 Amazing Chemistry Videos

Wired Science has the videos. The link is HERE.

What It's Like To Work At Microsoft

Photo from The Seattle Times (GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

From Qbrundage:


As a long-time Apple and UNIX user/programmer, I never aspired to work at Microsoft. (And I'm still a little surprised to be here.) I've never despised Microsoft like so many people seem to do — it's just that Microsoft products weren't a part of my world.

Then my wife got a job at Microsoft, so I needed to leave Caltech/JPL to work in Seattle. I didn't actually apply to Microsoft — a friend of ours who worked there circulated my résumé and Microsoft responded rapidly and set up a last-minute interview. Although I had five other offers, Microsoft made the best impression.

And so, here I am. I've been working at Microsoft since October, 1999 as a full-time Software Design Engineer. In that time, I've worked for three teams in two divisions, and had six or seven different managers. Four products I've worked on have shipped, two more are in beta, and I've also "consulted" for many other teams across the company, thereby influencing directly and indirectly a large number of Microsoft's products.

Between my experience and my wife's, I think I've gotten a pretty solid feel for what it's like to work in a product group at Microsoft.

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What It's Like To Work At Google

Google Campus in Mountain View (Photo from Panoramio)

10 Insights From 11 Months Of Working At Google
-- Occam's Razor

It will soon be a year of working at Google and milestones are always a good time for introspection.

I have a lot on my mind but there was one thing in particular that I wanted to share with you all:

What it is has been like working at Google.

Interesting, fun, surprising, insightful, inspiring, impactful, and more such words. This post shares that experience.

I went into Google with my own filters and expectations on what the experience would be like and what I would end up doing.

Looking back the reality has been different in so many ways, even for a jaded Silicon Valley veteran of layoffs and cool companies like myself.

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The Lightbulb Of The Future?

Cool video from ZDNet: The link is HERE.

Researchers Play Tune Recorded Before Edison

The audio historian David Giovannoni with a recently discovered phonautogram that is among the earliest sound recordings. (Image from The New York Times)

From The New York Times:

For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words “Mary had a little lamb” on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison’s invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.

The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

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Animals Are Smarter Than You Think.

(Photo from National Geographic)

Minds Of Their Own -- National Geographic

In 1977 Irene Pepperberg, a recent graduate of Harvard University, did something very bold. At a time when animals still were considered automatons, she set out to find what was on another creature's mind by talking to it. She brought a one-year-old African gray parrot she named Alex into her lab to teach him to reproduce the sounds of the English language. "I thought if he learned to communicate, I could ask him questions about how he sees the world."

When Pepperberg began her dialogue with Alex, who died last September at the age of 31, many scientists believed animals were incapable of any thought. They were simply machines, robots programmed to react to stimuli but lacking the ability to think or feel. Any pet owner would disagree. We see the love in our dogs' eyes and know that, of course, Spot has thoughts and emotions. But such claims remain highly controversial. Gut instinct is not science, and it is all too easy to project human thoughts and feelings onto another creature. How, then, does a scientist prove that an animal is capable of thinking—that it is able to acquire information about the world and act on it?

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Scientists Take Drugs To Boost Brain Power: Study

(Photo from Pet-Comfort)

From Breitbart/AFP:

Twenty percent of scientists admit to using performance-enhancing prescription drugs for non-medical reasons, according to a survey released Wednesday by Nature, Britain's top science journal.

The overwhelming majority of these med-taking brainiacs said they indulged in order to "improve concentration," and 60 percent said they did so on a daily or weekly basis.

The 1,427 respondents -- most of them in the United States -- completed an informal, online survey posted on the "Nature Network" Web forum, a discussion site for scientists operated by the Nature Publishing Group.

More than a third said that they would feel pressure to give their children such drugs if they knew other kids at school were also taking them.

"These are academics working in scientific institutions," Ruth Francis, who handles press relations for the group, told AFP.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Depressed Astronauts Might Get Computerized Solace

Dartmouth psychologist Dr. Mark Hegel poses in his office with his laptop in Lebanon, N.H., Friday, Oct. 17, 2008. Hegel is working on a computer program, "The Virtual Space Station," that will guide astronauts through treatment for depression and other problems while in space. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

From Myway:

BOSTON (AP) - Your work is dangerous and your co-workers rely on you to stay alive. But you can never get far from those colleagues. You can't see your family for months, even years. The food isn't great. And forget stepping out for some fresh air.

No wonder the adventure of space flight can also be stressful, isolating and depressing. So scientists are working on giving a computer the ability to offer some of the understanding guidance - if not all the warmth - of a human therapist, before psychological problems or interpersonal conflicts compromise a mission.

Clinical tests on the four-year, $1.74 million project for NASA, called the Virtual Space Station, are expected to begin in the Boston area by next month.

The new program is nothing like science fiction's infamous HAL, the onboard artificial intelligence that goes awry in "2001: A Space Odyssey." The Virtual Space Station's interaction between astronaut and computer is far less sophisticated and far more benevolent.

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Study: Humans Almost Became Extinct 70,000 Years Ago -- FOX News

From FOX News:

WASHINGTON — Human beings may have had a brush with extinction about 70,000 years ago, an extensive genetic study suggests.

The human population at that time had been gradually reduced to small isolated groups across eastern and southern Africa, apparently because of massive droughts lasting tens of thousands of years, according to an analysis released Thursday.

The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to rapidly expand again in the period known as the Late Stone Age.

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Cure For The Common Cold?

Colds are caused by a virus and can occur year-round. The common cold generally involves a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing. Other symptoms include sore throat, cough, and headache. A cold usually lasts about 7 days, with perhaps a few lingering symptoms such as a cough for another week. (Photo from Medline Plus)

Hope For Common Cold Treatment -- The Telegraph

Hopes for a treatment for common cold have been raised after scientists discovered how it causes symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose.

The characteristic effects of a cold are not brought about directly by the virus but by its ability to turn the body's own defences against itself, scientists have found.

Up to half of common colds are caused by various strains of the human rhinovirus and new research has shown the bug triggers a domino effect where the body's own defences over-react causing the familiar symptoms.

The findings could result in treatments for common colds caused by rhinovirus which strike hundreds of thousands of people each year in the UK.

Current treatments only work on allievating the symptoms rather than tackling the cause of the cold.

A team at the University of Calgary, in Canada, took samples from the noses of 35 volunteers, 17 of whom had been infected with a rhinovirus.

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NASA unveils new lunar rover built for endurance

A photographer stands next to a new lunar rover vehicle that U.S. space agency NASA is testing in Black Point, Arizona, October 24, 2008. The Small Pressurized Rover Concept vehicle is designed to carry two astronauts without space suits, sitting in a pressurized compartment, when NASA returns to lunar exploration by 2020. The vehicle is being tested in a remote corner of Arizona with similar surface conditions to those found on the moon. It has a range of up to 625 miles (1,000 km). REUTERS/Tim Gaynor (UNITED STATES)

From Reuters:

BLACK POINT, Arizona (Reuters) - NASA unveiled a new lunar rover on Friday which aims to transform space exploration by allowing astronauts to roam large distances without cumbersome spacesuits when they return to the moon by 2020.

A team of scientists is testing the Small Pressurized Rover Concept vehicle -- which resembles a small, futuristic recreational vehicle mounted on six sets of wheels -- 12 in all -- in trials in a rocky, barren corner of northern Arizona, selected for its similarities to the surface of the moon.

"This is the next generation of lunar exploration," said Doug Craig, NASA program's manager, as an astronaut took the vehicle for a spin over a broad lava field framed by craggy mountains.

The battery powered rover travels at speeds of up to 6 mph. It is part of a range of systems and equipment being developed by the space agency for its planned return to the moon over the next decade.

NASA hopes to build a permanent manned base on the moon's surface as a prelude to subsequent exploration missions to Mars.

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The Physics of Whipped Cream

From NASA:

Let's do a little science experiment. If you have a can of whipped cream in the fridge, go get it out. Spray a generous dollop into a spoon and watch carefully.

Notice anything interesting? The whipped cream just did something rather puzzling. First it flowed smoothly out of the nozzle like a liquid would, and then, a moment later, it perched rigidly in the spoon as if it were solid. What made it change?

(While you're pondering this question, insert spoon into mouth, in the name of science.)

Whipped cream performs this rapid changing act because of a phenomenon called "shear thinning." When part of the foam is forced to slide or "shear" past the rest of the foam, the foam "thins." It becomes less like honey and more like water, allowing it to flow easily until the shearing stops.

Shear thinning occurs in many substances--e.g., ketchup, blood, motor oil, paint, liquid polymers such as molten plastic--and it is often crucial to how a substance is used. For instance, excessive shear thinning of motor oil is unwanted because it reduces the oil's ability to protect engines from wear, while shear thinning of paint allows it to flow smoothly from the brush but stay put on the wall. It also allows ketchup to flow from the bottle but not drip off your french fries.

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Internet Mysteries: How Much File Sharing Traffic Travels the Net? -- Update

Internet traffic an ordinary day visualised with Arc Map, a 3D software developed by Stephen G. Eick at Bell Laboratories-Lucent technologies.

From Wired:

How much of the traffic on the internet is peer-to-peer file trading?

Everyone seems to agree it represents a lot of the traffic, but the truth is no one knows (with the possible exception of the ISPs and backbone providers in the middle, and they aren't telling or sharing raw data).

One of the most recent reports on P2P traffic came from a traffic optimization firm called Ellacoya in June 2007. Their report said that http-based web traffic had overtaken peer-to-peer traffic on the net, thanks to streaming media sites like YouTube.

Ellacoya, since acquired by Arbor Networks for its traffic-shaping technology, pegged http traffic at 46 percent of the net's volume, with P2P traffic close by at 37 percent.The company says the data was based on about 1 million North American broadband subscribers.

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