Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hanna-Ike-Josephine Storm Trio Isn't An Anomaly

Hurricanes form through an exchange of warm, humid air and cold,
unstable air between the upper and lower atmosphere.

From The L.A. Times

Global warming can't be blamed for the trifecta -- headed toward the Southeast U.S. -- meteorologists say. It's just 'peak season in an active hurricane cycle.'

Despite the prospect of three major tropical storms heading toward the Southeastern United States, meteorologists say that the conga-line assault is not particularly unusual in the stormy history of the region.

"We're in peak season in an active hurricane cycle, and this is one of the results of that," said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and public affairs officer with the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

"We've had incidents where four or five storms have been stacked up."

The first of the storms, Hanna, was expected to reach the Carolina coast late Friday or early today with sustained winds of 65 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Hurricane Ike was on a path to reach southern Florida early next week, and Tropical Storm Josephine was on deck between the western coast of Africa and the Caribbean.

Read more ....

How Did Life on Earth Get Started?

From U.S. News And World Report:

On an arid outcropping of basalt in northwestern Australia, some of the oldest rocks on Earth lie exposed to the fierce sun. Formed at the bottom of an ancient ocean, this volcanic material shelters what one scientist calls the "oldest robust evidence" of life. At a scientific meeting at Rockefeller University in May, Roger Buick of the University of Washington said that the 3.5 billion-year-old rocks hold traces of carbon that once made up living organisms.

Even before Buick's discovery, ample evidence indicated that life on Earth began while our 4.5 billion-year-old planet was very young. Simple organisms certainly flourished between 2 billion and 3 billion years ago, and claims of older evidence of life have periodically surfaced. But none have been universally embraced, and Buick's claim is so new that other scientists haven't fully reviewed it.

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The Incredible Journey Taken By Our Genes

(Click To Enlarge)

From The Guardian:

Project maps humanity's voyage out of Africa to new continents and domination of the world

Sixty thousand years ago, a small group of African men and women took to the Red Sea in tiny boats and crossed the Mandab Strait to Asia. Their journey - of less than 20 miles - marked the moment Homo sapiens left its home continent.

The motive for our ancestors' African exodus is not known, though scientists suspect food shortages, triggered by climate change, were involved. However, its impact cannot be overestimated. Two thousand generations later, descendants of these African emigres have settled our entire planet, wiped out all other hominids including the Neanderthals and have reached a population of 6.5 billion.

Now scientists are completing a massive study of DNA samples from a quarter of a million volunteers in different continents in order to create the most precise map yet of mankind's great diaspora. Last week, in Tallinn, Estonia, they outlined their most recent results. 'As the ultimate ancestor begat son, who begat son and so on, they picked up mutations in their DNA that we can now pinpoint by gene analysis,' said project leader Dr Spencer Wells. 'When we look at these markers' distributions we can see how our ancestors moved about.'

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How Pollution In Asia Affects Everyone

Asia Pollution May Boost U.S. Temperatures -- CNN

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Smog, soot and other particles like the kind often seen hanging over Beijing add to global warming and may raise summer temperatures in the American heartland by three degrees in about 50 years, says a new federal science report released Thursday.

These overlooked, shorter-term pollutants -- mostly from burning wood and kerosene and from driving trucks and cars -- cause more localized warming than once thought, the authors of the report say.

They contend there should be a greater effort to attack this type of pollution for faster results.

For decades, scientists have concentrated on carbon dioxide, the most damaging greenhouse gas because it lingers in the atmosphere for decades. Past studies have barely paid attention to global warming pollution that stays in the air merely for days.

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Understanding Memory

For The Brain, Remembering Is Like Reliving -- New York Times

Scientists have for the first time recorded individual brain cells in the act of summoning a spontaneous memory, revealing not only where a remembered experience is registered but also, in part, how the brain is able to recreate it.

The recordings, taken from the brains of epilepsy patients being prepared for surgery, demonstrate that these spontaneous memories reside in some of the same neurons that fired most furiously when the recalled event had been experienced. Researchers had long theorized as much but until now had only indirect evidence.

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How Far North Can You Grow Vegetables?

Amanda Joynt waters her garden in an old hockey arena converted to a greenhouse for growing vegetables 124 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. The half-pipe shaped facility is North America's northern-most commercial greenhouse, and a virtual necessity for anyone interested in eating a fresh vegetable in Inuvik that has not been shipped in from a warmer climate.

Raising Vegetables Above The Arctic Circle -- MSNBC

Greenhouse is a necessity for anyone interested in eating fresh vegetables

INUVIK, Northwest Territories - Amanda Joynt reached down and picked a fresh tomato from the vine. That's no small feat when you are living 120 miles above the Arctic Circle in Canada's Far North.

Joynt, a resident of Inuvik is a member of the town's community greenhouse, a former ice hockey arena that has been converted into an oasis of vegetables and flowers on the permafrost.

The building, shaped like a half-pipe, is North America's northernmost commercial greenhouse, and all but a necessity for anyone interested in eating a fresh vegetable in Inuvik that has not been shipped in from a warmer climate — at a startlingly high cost.

Read more ....

New Fingerprint Method Could Unlock Cold Cases

A woman gives her fingerprints to join a petition in a file photo. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

From Yahoo News/Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - It's a discovery that would make even Sherlock Holmes proud. British scientists have developed a new crime-fighting technique that allows police to lift fingerprints from bullets even if a criminal has wiped down a shell casing.

Authorities in Britain and the United States used the method to re-open three cold cases, including a U.S. double murder that police are now optimistic of solving, said John Bond, the physicist who developed the technique.

"In one case there was enough evidence that could lead to an identification of an offender," said Bond, a researcher at the University of Leicester and consultant at Northamptonshire Police in Britain.

The conventional method of taking fingerprints has been around for more than 100 years and involves creating a chemical reaction with the sweat left behind on an object to produce an image police can use.

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The Big Question: Is Our Understanding Of The Universe About To Be Transformed?

(Click to Enlarge)

From The Independent:

Why are we asking this now?

Next Wednesday the biggest machine and international scientific experiment ever built will be switched on. Called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), it is a giant $10bn "atom smasher" that has been constructed at the European centre for nuclear research (Cern) in Geneva.

It consists of an underground circular tunnel 27 kilometres in circumference, which is about the size of the Circle Line on the London Underground. At various points along the tunnel, four massive instruments have been positioned to act as sub-atomic microscopes for analysing the extremely high-energy collisions that will occur between two opposing beams of protons, the atomic nuclei of hydrogen atoms. The aim of the experiment is to understand the fundamental forces of nature and the sub-atomic particles that compose all matter in the Universe.

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Farming In The Sky


Agriculture is broken. Traditional techniques use too much energy and produce too little food for our growing planet. One fix: skyscrapers filled with robotically tended hydroponic crops and lab-grown meat

By 2025, the world’s population will swell from 6.6 billion to 8 billion people. Climate simulations predict sustained drought for the American Midwest and giant swathes of farmland in Africa and Asia. Is mathematician Thomas Malthus’s 200-year-old prediction, that human growth will one day outpace agriculture, finally coming to pass? Advances in farming technology have kept us fed so far, but the planet’s resources are tapped.

The choice is clear—rethink how we grow food, or starve. Environmental scientist Dickson Despommier of Columbia University and other scientists propose a radical solution: Transplant farms into city skyscrapers. These towers would use soil-free hydroponic farming to slash demand for energy (they’ll be powered by a process that converts sewage into electricity) while producing more food. Farming skyward would also free up farmland for trees, which would help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even better, vertical farms would grow food near where it would be eaten, thus cutting not only the cost but the emissions of transportation. If you include emissions from the oil burned to cultivate and ship crops and livestock in addition to, yes, methane from farm-animal flatulence, agriculture churns out nearly 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

Read more ....

Friday, September 5, 2008

Google Is Turning 10 This Sunday -- Summary Of News Articles

Whither Google As It Turns Ten? -- CBS Science News

It Grew Exponentially From Startup To Superstar And Part Of Our Culture, But What's Ahead?

(CBS) It wasn't long ago that we weren't able to "Google" people, places and things.

But, observes CBS News Science and Technology Correspondent Daniel Sieberg, in just ten years, Google has grown exponentially from garage startup to Web juggernaut -- and a verb as well as a noun!

As Google marks its tenth anniversary this weekend, it's become "part of culture, much like Xerox," points out John Battelle, who wrote a best-seller about the rise of Google called "The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture."

He notes that the verb "google" quickly became synonymous with speedy learning on virtually every subject.

"Nearly anything and everything to get smart on any topic exists on the Web," says Battelle, "and Google does a good job of organizing it."

"Good," remarks Sieberg, "may be an understatement." These days, more people use Google than all other search engines combined.

Read more ....

More News On Google's 10th Birthday

Google at Age 10 -- New York Times
Ten tomorrow! Google celebrates birthday with plan to sink Microsoft -- Guardian
Google: 10 years from now -- The Guardian
Google reigns as world’s most powerful 10-year-old -- Boston Herald
Google Hits Double Digits -- Forbes
Google Turns 10 -- Slashdot
Search Party -- Search Party
Google turns 10: A look back -- Fortune
20 things you may not know about Google -- Daily News
Google reigns as world's most powerful 10-year-old -- AP
Google: Happy Tenth Anniversary--Now What? -- CNBC
At 10-Year Mark, Google's Glossy Facade Shows Cracks -- PC World
Google 10th birthday timeline -- Webuser
Google timeline: a 10 year anniversary -- The Guardian

Watching TV Shows And Videos On The Web -- A Doubling Of Traffic In Two Years

Viewers Stampede To Online TV -- Tech News World

Online viewing of video has doubled over the past two years, according to a study by The Conference Board and TNS. More network content has been making its way onto video-oriented sites, fueling the trend. Experts expect it to continue.

In the last two years, American households that use the Internet have doubled their online television viewing. Now, nearly 20 percent use the Internet to watch television broadcasts online, and no, it's not all on YouTube Latest News about YouTube.

Based on a survey of 10,000 households, The Conference Board and TNS report that 72 percent of online households have family members who log on for entertainment purposes on a daily basis -- but they're also logging on from multiple locations. Nearly 90 percent watch online broadcasts at home, 15 percent watch at work, and 6 percent watch from other locations.

"Most consumers are pressed for time and require flexibility in their daily schedules and TV viewing habits," noted Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center.

"Being able to watch broadcasts on their own time and at their convenience are clearly reasons why we are seeing a greater number turning to the Internet," she said, "and it is the reason why we would expect to see this trend continue."

Read more ....

More News On Online Viewing

Who Needs a TV? Web Video Viewing Doubles -- PC Magazine
Online TV Viewing Rising -- Information Week
US Internet-TV Viewing Doubles Since 2006 To Nearly 20% -- CNNMoney
Craving Convenience, Online TV Viewership Doubles -- Wired News

My Comment: I rarely watch TV now, and I am an old guy.

Study: People Without TVs Lean Toward Political Extremes

For FOX News:

For many Americans, the thought of life without TV is akin to forgoing food, shelter or, God forbid, the Internet.

But about 1 to 2 percent of Americans do abstain from the boob tube, and they might seem like strange bedfellows.

A recent study of those who live without found that about two-thirds fall into either the "crunchy granola set" or the "religious right, ultraconservative" camp, said researcher Marina Krcmar, a professor of communication at North Carolina's Wake Forest University.

Read more ....

My Comment: My family did not get a TV until I was 17. Hmmmm ..... this news article now explains a lot about me.

Should Babies Be Put on a Sleep Schedule?

From Live Science:

We had only one house rule when my daughter was born — sleep when the baby sleeps.

After watching countless sleep-deprived new parents, we figured that the only way to manage the unpredictability of an infant's sleep pattern was to follow her lead. This meant we napped a lot during the day, and woke up several times a night, but in the end we all seemed to get enough sleep. And we managed to avoid the glazed over eyes of the sleep deprived most of the time. As one friend commented on our parenting style, "You just don’t look tired enough."

Our rather laissez-faire approach to infant sleep was, of course, radical compared to all the other new parents who were putting their babies on sleep schedules and cleaning the house rather than napping. Their approach, based on a belief that babies "should" be "trained" to sleep in long bouts, alone, and mostly at night, is the accepted Western norm.

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Carnival of Space - Universe from A to Z

Russian Space Station Mir

From Discovery News:

A is for Aliens and their apparent British invasion,

B is for Breakdown of political persuasion.

C is for Commercial, the new way to space,

D is for Dark Matter, an admittedly acquired taste.

E is for Energy that comes from deep within,

F is for Federation, an alliance of future space kin.

G is for Green, which apparently does exist in space,

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Friday Night Amusements -- Doctored Photos: 20 Memorable Picture Fakes

From The Telegraph:

The doctoring of photos, once considered the reserve of tyrants and UFO nuts, is becoming increasingly widespread.

With photo-editing software becoming ever more sophisticated, and the internet allowing instant distribution, it has never been easier to create and spread hoax images.

Below we present 20 of the most striking, interesting and controversial fake photos, most of them produced in the last five years.

Some were created to amuse, some to mislead, while others were an attempt to rewrite history.

And although the credulity of the internet has been blamed for allowing hoax photos to flourish, several of the fakes below were actually uncovered by bloggers after being distributed by mainstream media outlets.

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1) Shark lunges at helicopter

2) World Trade Center tourist

3) Iranian missile test

4) Ann Widdecombe's mixed messages

5) Chairman Mao airbrushes out his former friends

6) Snowball the monster cat

7) Smoke over Beirut
Altered Photo


8) Antelopes and trains in harmony

9) Tsunami captured from tower block

10) Bush reading upside down

11) Shark sneaks up on scuba divers

12) John Kerry with Jane Fonda

13) Giant skeletons discovered in India

14) Benito Mussolini, the fearless horseman

15) Karl Rove's 'secret file'

16) James Purnell doctored at hospital

17) Soldier doll held hostage in Iraq

18) Fidel Castro made to look like Hitler

19) Oil rig, tornado and lightning strike

20) Cottingley Fairies

How Bad Is Global Warming Affecting The Ice Flows Up North?

Adventures In Arctic Kayaking - Update: We’re Stuck
-- Watts Up With That?

UPDATE: kayakers already “stuck” in ice at 80.52397 degrees N

I had this post up for all of an hour before this news rolled in from PolarDefense. Hat tips to Tom Nelson, who’s report is presented below, and to Brian Koochel in comments. - Anthony

Polar Defense Project » We’re Stuck

“We’re stuck”

I have slept poorly. The floating ice, while thin, is so prevalent that, throughout the night, it grinds noisily against the side of the boat in a slightly alarming fashion - imagine someone scraping their nails across an old-fashioned blackboard.The then begins earlier than normal and, unusually, I am not woken by Robbie bounding into my room. Instead the ship’s engine roars to life earlier than normal - at around 5.30 - and the MV ‘Havsel’ begins to judder ominously. I clamber out of bed and scramble up to the bridge - all the ship’s crew are there, and they look serious. I look outside and I can see why. The sea is almost entirely congested with ice floes - I would estimate 80% plus of the sea is covered by them. There is a real risk that we could get stuck up here. We have drifted in the night into a much icier area than where we stopped last night. I wake up the team, and everyone groggily makes their way to the bridge. There’s a mixed reaction in the team to the prospect of getting stuck up here.

See the location on Google Maps, 80.52397, 12.21224

After awaking to find their vessel frozen in ice the team are steaming around looking for a path that’s navigable by kayak.
No paddling today.

At about 69 miles per degree of latitude, it would seem that they’re still 600+ miles from the North Pole.

Read more ....

Do Love And Science Mix?

From The Guardian:

There's now good evidence to justify my fling with a dad-alike. But I'm not sure reducing passion to rules is the right approach

For a short time a couple of years ago, I dated a nice young man who looked exactly like my father. In my defence – a defence that I had to voice quite often after my dependably hilarious parents located a photograph of the nice young man on the internet and emailed me a near-identical picture of my father, circa 1974 – we met on a blind date. I felt that this detail rendered our liaison less creepy than if I had fallen him after spotting him from across a crowded room. But only a little less creepy. Sometimes, despite my best efforts to ignore the familiarity of the structure of his cheekbones, the shape of his nose, and the placement of his eyebrows, I would find myself gazing at my suitor's handsome face, quite smitten, but also quite worried that he might be my half-brother.

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More Problems With Wind Power

Spinning To Destruction -- The Guardian

Wind power may be one of the cleaner, greener energy sources available, but turbine and blade failures point to dangers that were not anticipated, says Michael Connellan

David Campbell and his family were asleep in their farmhouse in Northern Ireland when the 16-foot blade from the wind turbine crashed through the roof of his home one windy night in January last year. "It was like a bomb hitting the roof," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "It shattered the tiles and the blade disintegrated itself."

Campbell was not the only person to see the direct effects of a turbine failure. Just over a year later, in February, a 200ft Vestas wind turbine near the Danish city of Århus disintegrated spectacularly in high winds when a blade came loose and smashed into the central tower, causing the whole structure to collapse. The incident was captured on video camera and footage has been viewed thousands of times on YouTube.

Just two days later a turbine close to the town of Sidinge, in Denmark, sent a blade flying more than 300ft before it hit the ground. Keld Boye, a farmer whose land is near the structure, told Danish television: "I drive my tractor and my wife rides horses out there. Just think if we'd been out there when it happened."

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Do 68 Molecules Hold The Key To Understanding Disease?

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 4, 2008) — Why is it that the origins of many serious diseases remain a mystery? In considering that question, a scientist at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine has come up with a unified molecular view of the indivisible unit of life, the cell, which may provide an answer.

Reviewing findings from multiple disciplines, Jamey Marth, Ph.D., UC San Diego Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, realized that only 68 molecular building blocks are used to construct these four fundamental components of cells: the nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), proteins, glycans and lipids. His work, which illustrates the primary composition of all cells, is published in the September issue of Nature Cell Biology.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fighting Cholera Via Satellite

The GOCE Earth-Explorer Satellite: Photo by ESA


Though we may often think of cholera as a disease of the past, virtually eradicated when John Snow famously linked an 1854 outbreak of the epidemic in London to an infected water well on Broad Street, it still poses a threat in almost every single developing country in the world. Over 150 years after Snow essentially founded modern epidemiology, a team of American scientists are using remote satellite imaging to predict cholera outbreaks before they occur. Cholera is historically an episodic disease, so the ability to predict its next move before it strikes would hopefully spur pre-emptive, rapid public health initiatives to attempt to mitigate the fatal effects of the infection.

Without a crystal ball, how are these scientists predicting the disease's next move? It all goes back to those oceanic drifters known as plankton and -- you guessed it -- global warming. Cholera is a water-borne infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which has a known association with copepods, crustaceans that live on a particular type of plankton called zooplankton. Cholera outbreaks are tied to environmental factors, including sea surface temperature, ocean height, and biomass. Global warming may be creating a more favorable environment for Vibrio cholerae, increasing the susceptibility of at-risk areas. By associating cholera with climate change and then using remote satellite imaging to track this information and store data, scientist can identify where and when cholera will crop up before it actually does.

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Four Storms And More to Come

Tropical Quartet: 4 Storms With More To Come -- Yahoo News/AP

WASHINGTON - The tropics seem to be going crazy what with the remnants of Gustav, the new threat from Hanna, a strengthening Ike and newcomer Josephine. Get used to it.

Hurricane experts say all the weather ingredients, which normally fluctuate, are set on boil for the formation of storms. And it's going to stay that way for a while, they said.

Four named storms at the same time is a bit odd, but not unprecedented, meteorologists said. In 1995 five named storms lived simultaneously. And in 1998 there were four hurricanes at the same. But wait and see what happens next.

"Give us time, this is only Tuesday," said meteorologist Dennis Feltgren, spokesman for an all-too-busy hurricane center in Miami.

The peak of hurricane season isn't until Sept. 10 and this season already has 10 named storms, which is the long-term average for an entire season.

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Do Animals Grieve Over Death Like We Do?

From The International Herald Tribune:

As anybody who has grieved inconsolably over the death of a loved one can attest, extended mourning is, in part, a perverse kind of optimism. Surely this bottomless, unwavering sorrow will amount to something, goes the tape loop. Surely if I keep it up long enough I'll accomplish my goal, and the person will stop being dead.

Last week the Internet and European news outlets were flooded with poignant photographs of Gana, an 11-year-old gorilla at the Münster Zoo in Germany, holding up the body of her dead baby, Claudio, and pursing her lips toward his lifeless fingers. Claudio died at the age of 3 months of an apparent heart defect, and for days Gana refused to surrender his corpse to zookeepers, a saga that provoked among her throngs of human onlookers admiration and compassion and murmurings that, you see? Gorillas, and probably a lot of other animals as well, have a grasp of their mortality and will grieve for the dead and are really just like us after all.

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Worldwide Internet Traffic Is Still Growing

Internet Traffic Grows 53 Percent From 2007 -- MSNBC

Some U.S. Internet providers say they are struggling with expansion

NEW YORK - International Internet traffic kept growing in the last year, but at a slower rate than before, and carriers more than kept pace by adding more capacity, a research firm said Wednesday.

The findings by TeleGeography Research are important because some U.S. Internet service providers say they are struggling with the expansion of online traffic, and are imposing monthly download limits on heavy users. The figures from TeleGeography don't exactly correlate to average Internet usage by U.S. households, but give an indication of wider trends.

TeleGeography said traffic grew 53 percent from mid-2007 to mid-2008, down from a growth rate of 61 percent in the previous 12 months.

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Fighting For Survival

San Francisco Earthquake Of 1906

From the BBC:

If it seems like disasters are getting more common, it is because they are. Over the past 50 years, human beings have moved into more places that were never meant to be inhabited by our species.

We have built large, vertical cities near water, stripping the earth of natural protection and leaving us more vulnerable to all kinds of trouble.

At the same time, we have learned to forecast storms days before they arrive, and we can (with enough money) build sophisticated tsunami warning systems in our seas. But as we have built ever more impressive gadgets, we have done less and less to build better survivors.

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Chinese Devise Anti-Invisibility Cloak

From The Telegraph:

Only days after American scientists announced they have developed light warping materials suitable for invisibility cloaks, Chinese scientists have devised a way to peer under this cloak.

However, the good news for Harry Potter fans is that the anti -cloaking materials would have to be underneath the invisibility cloak to work. And they could help Harry Potter to improve his vision, as a bonus.

The recipe to undo invisibility comes from a study in the journal Optics Express by Dr Huanyang Chen of Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.

He and his colleagues have proposed a theoretical "anti-cloak" that would partially cancel the effect of the invisibility cloak, which is another important problem as it turns out.

In recent years, several teams have shown that the mathematics of invisibility makes sense. In the past few weeks, a Californian team has also shown that it is possible to create the special synthetic "metamaterials" to make cloaking materials.

All materials scatter, bounce, absorb, reflect and otherwise alter light rays that strike them.

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Chrome vs. IE 8: A Side-By-Side Comparison

A screenshot from Google's Chrome Web browser shows a user's nine most visited sites, as well as a list of recent bookmarks and recently closed tabs. The tabs, showing open Web pages, are placed over the Web address bar, the opposite of how Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox displays them.


Google knows how to lure users with the seeming simplicity of its products, even though there’s a great deal of complexity going on behind the scenes. Microsoft often makes products that seem to create more work than they should for users.

That dichotomy is evident in the companies’ Web browsers — Google’s new Chrome and Microsoft’s Windows Internet Explorer 8, both out in beta, or test, versions. ( is a Microsoft-NBC Universal joint venture.)

Chrome shines in its simplicity, while IE 8 brings some better functionality to an existing product.

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Rap About World's Largest Science Experiment Becomes YouTube Hit

What DID the Romans ever do for us? They gave us AIDS

From The Daily Mail:

What, as the old Monty Python question goes, have the Romans ever done for us?

Well, apart from the usual answers of roads, sanitation and a fondness for wine, it appears they have also made us more vulnerable to HIV.

According to genetic research published on Wednesday, when Julius Caesar made his first exploratory visit to our shores in 55BC he triggered a chain of events which may have lowered our resistance to the virus which leads to Aids.

The theory is that as the Roman Empire spread so did an unknown illness that killed those carrying a gene that would one day give their descendants resistance to the virus.

As a result, today's inhabitants of nations once conquered by the Romans tend to lack the gene and so are more susceptible to HIV.

For instance, only 4 per cent of Greeks carry the gene, compared with more than 15 per cent of people in parts of northern Europe untouched by the Romans.

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