Saturday, March 7, 2009

The World's Hardest-Working Telescope

Dinoj Surendran, Microsoft Research, and Mark Subbarao, Adler
Planetarium/KICP/University of Chicago

From Discover:

By precisely mapping a volume of space 5 billion light-years in diameter, the Sloan telescope is answering some of the universe's biggest questions.

Located 9,200 feet above sea level, atop the Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope cannot match the incredibly sharp vision of the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits above Earth’s blurring atmosphere. And, at a modest 2.5 meters (8 feet) across, the Sloan telescope’s main mirror cannot see the incredibly dim objects that the 10-meter (33-foot) Keck telescopes in Hawaii can. What the Sloan telescope does have in spades is a voracious appetite for sky—an appetite that is producing some of the most amazing discoveries in astronomy.

Read more ....

'Vampire' Discovered In Mass Grave

To stop the "vampires" supposedly chewing shrouds and spreading disease, grave-diggers put bricks in the mouths of plague victims (Image: Matteo Borrini)

From New Scientist:

A SKELETON exhumed from a grave in Venice is being claimed as the first known example of the "vampires" widely referred to in contemporary documents.

Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence in Italy found the skeleton of a woman with a small brick in her mouth (see right) while excavating mass graves of plague victims from the Middle Ages on Lazzaretto Nuovo Island in Venice (see second image here).

At the time the woman died, many people believed that the plague was spread by "vampires" which, rather than drinking people's blood, spread disease by chewing on their shrouds after dying. Grave-diggers put bricks in the mouths of suspected vampires to stop them doing this, Borrini says.

Read more ....

First Successful Attempt To Breed Night Blooming And Day Blooming Flower

Electric Indigo is a cross between the Egyptian White Water Lily that blooms at night and a blue Australian lily Nympaea Barre Hellquist that flowers during the day

From The Telegraph:

The world's first cross between a day-blooming and night-blooming flower has been produced at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

The new hybrid called Electric Indigo is a cross between the Egyptian White Water Lily that blooms at night and a blue Australian lily Nympaea Barre Hellquist that flowers during the day.

The new water lily with bright blue petals is the first successful attempt at breeding day blooming and night blooming species since attempts began in 1852.

Lilies bloom during the night to take advantage of insects that will only come out night and pollinate the plant.

Propagator Carlos Magdalena, a horticulturalist who works at the gardens' tropical nursery, took pollen from the white night bloomer and placed it on the stigma of the day bloomer.

Read more ....

Shall We Dance? Astronomers Spot Two Black Holes Performing Cosmic Minuet

An artist's conception of the two supermassive black holes that orbit each other every 100 years. The findings were published in the journal Nature

From The Daily Mail:

Two colossal black holes appear to be orbiting one another in sort of a cosmic minuet at the centre of a faraway galaxy formed when two separate galaxies collided, U.S. astronomers said.

These two so-called supermassive black holes, which are celestial objects with enormous gravitational pull, are locked in orbit about 5 billion light years away from Earth, the scientists said. A light year is about 6 trillion miles, or the distance light travels in a year.

Read more ....

Lake Superior Is Freezing Over

From Watts Up With That?

Lake Superior last froze over in 2003. It has now, again, frozen over. The frequency of freeze overs has historically been around once every 20 years. Now, in the last decade, we have seen two freeze overs.

The picture below is a beautiful satellite photo of Lake Superior from yesterday. With the well below freezing temperatures seen over the region Thursday night (-20 F), any isolated open water could have frozen.

Read more ....

Kepler Blasts Off In Search Of Earth-Like Planets

In a timed exposure, spectators watch from Cocoa Beach as the Kepler satellite launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. March 6. Malcolm Denemark / Associated Press

From The L.A. Times:

The $590-million mission, jointly managed by JPL and NASA, will examine a star-rich stretch of sky for a planet where water could exist in liquid form.

NASA's Kepler spacecraft blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday on a three-year mission to find Earth's twin, a Goldilocks planet where it's neither too hot nor too cold, but just right for life to take hold.

The Delta II rocket, carrying the widest-field telescope ever put in space, lifted off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral at 10:49 p.m. Eastern time.

The launch vehicle headed downrange, gathering speed as its three stages ignited, one after the other, passing over the Caribbean island of Antigua and tracking stations in Australia before climbing into orbit.

Read more ....

More News On The Kepler Telescope

After Launch, Kepler Prepares To Carry Out Its Mission -- Red Orbit
Nasa launches Earth hunter probe -- BBC
CU leads historic voyage to find other Earths -- AP
Guide To Exoplanets -- MSNBC
Kepler Mission Sets Out to Find Planets Using CCD Cameras -- Daily Tech

Naked Mole Rats May Hold Clues To Successful Aging

A naked mole rat in a toilet paper roll.
(Credit: Image courtesy of University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 6, 2009) — Naked mole rats resemble pink, wrinkly, saber-toothed sausages and would never win a beauty contest, even among other rodents. But these natives of East Africa are the champs for longevity among rodents, living nine times longer than similar-sized mice. Not only do they have an extraordinarily long lifespan, but they maintain good health for most of it and show remarkable resistance to cancer.

Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio are studying mechanisms that enable the prolonged good health and slowed aging of naked mole rats in their large colony at the university’s Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies. In the March 3 print edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists report on another unusual feature of the animals — tissues of the naked mole rat are remarkably efficient at discarding damaged proteins and thereby maintaining stable, high-quality proteins.

Read more ....

Wine and Beer May be Good for Your Bones

From Live Science:

A glass of wine or a bottle or two of beer a day may strengthen the bones of older men and women, but drinking more than that could actually weaken bones, according to new research from the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.

The research, on men and post-menopausal women over 60 years of age, found that regular moderate alcohol intake was associated with greater bone mineral density (BMD).

Read more ....

Friday, March 6, 2009

Facebook To Launch Redesigned Home Page - News Feed Going “Live” Next Wednesday (Updated With Screenshots)

(Click The Above Image To Enlarge)

From Inside Facebook:

Today, Facebook announced that the News Feed, which has long been the most powerful way for users to discover updates from their friend on the site, is going “Live.” In addition, users will be able to filter the changes, most prominently according to friend lists.

The new home page consists of 4 primary elements: the Stream, Publisher, Filters, and Highlights.

Read more ....

The Lost World Beneath The Antarctic Ice

Scientists start explorations in the two-mile-thick ice sheet
above Lake Ellsworth in Antarctica. Press Handout

From The Independent:

British scientists search for life forms hidden more than 400,000 years ago beneath Antarctic ice.

British scientists are about to mount one of the boldest-ever missions, to search for life forms that have survived for possibly millions of years in a frozen "lost world" beneath an ancient ice sheet.

This week, a team of Antarctic scientists has been given the go-ahead to drill through a two-mile-thick sheet of ice that has sealed a sub-glacial lake from the rest of the biosphere for at least as long as Homo sapiens has walked the Earth.

Read more ....

Q&A: Mitchell Baker On The Future Of Firefox

Browsing The Future -- Newsweek

Mozilla's Firefox gave Microsoft a run for its money. What's next?

At least 18 percent of you already know what Firefox is, because you're using it to read this interview. (Or so says the statistics engine behind, which tracks things like that.) For the unfamiliar, Firefox is a free Web browser that is built by coders around the world whose open-source work is organized by the Mozilla Corp. and its nonprofit parent, the Mozilla Foundation. Introduced in 2004 as an alternative to Microsoft's ubiquitous, but buggy, Internet Explorer, Firefox has been a force for innovation in the browser category, with improvements such as tabbed browsing and plug-ins that work on any operating system. Commissions from search engines appear to keep Mozilla awash in revenue for now ($75 million in 2007; the foundation has not released 2008 data), although the vast majority of that comes from a company, Google, that now has its own competing browser, Chrome. Mozilla's plans for 2009 include a new version of Firefox, which will focus on user-interface polish; an overhaul of Thunderbird, its e-mail client; and taking Firefox mobile. Mitchell Baker, the Mozilla Foundation's chairwoman, spoke to NEWSWEEK's Nick Summers and Barrett Sheridan about the challenges of making a browser for mobile phones, adapting to a socially networked universe and what she really thinks of Chrome and Internet Explorer. Excerpts:

Read more

Bionic Eye Lets The Blind See

Ron who has a bionic eye as featured on BBC's Inside Out.

From The Telegraph:

A bionic eye has allowed a blind patient to see well enough to sort his socks and work the washing machine after one of the first operations of its kind in the UK.

Ron, 73, is one of just three patients in the UK to be fitted with a bionic eye and after 30 years of being completely blind he can now see well enough to do the laundry.

The operation was carried out at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London seven months ago and Ron's sight has steadily improved since then.

He lost his sight in his 40s after suffering from a disease called retinitis pigmentosa but now thanks to the operations he is regaining some of his independence.

Read more ....

Telescope 'Cousins' Meet At Last

Scheduled to launch in April 2009, the Herschel and Planck space telescopes bring capabilities never before available to study the origins of stars, galaxies and the universe. The expected data might revolutionize both astrophysics and philosophy. Image from Environmental Graffitti.

From The BBC:

Europe's Herschel and Planck space telescopes have finally come together.

The satellites now share a common cleanroom at the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana, from where they will be despatched into orbit on 16 April.

The observatories have been produced as part of a joint programme that has taken more than 10 years to develop and which is worth some 1.9bn euros.

Their arrival in the S1 preparation hall at Kourou marks the first time the pair have come face to face.

Read more ....

Update: Europe expects busy year in space -- BBC News

Yucca No Longer Option For Waste Site

In this June 25, 2002, photo, the view from the summit ridge of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump near Mercury, looking west toward California. For two decades, a ridge of volcanic rock 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas known as Yucca Mountain has been the sole focus of government plans to store highly radioactive nuclear waste. Associated Press file photo

From Nevada Appeal:

WASHINGTON — For two decades, a ridge of volcanic rock 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas known as Yucca Mountain has been the sole focus of government plans to store highly radioactive nuclear waste.

Not anymore.

Despite the $13.5 billion that has been spent on the project, the Obama administration says it’s going in a different direction.

It slashed funding for Yucca Mountain in its recently announced budget.

And on Thursday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a Senate hearing that the Yucca Mountain site no longer was viewed as an option for storing reactor waste, brushing aside criticism from several Republican lawmakers.

Read more ....

The Kepler Telescope: Taking A Census Of The Galaxy

At the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, Florida, workers from Ball Aerospace check the star trackers on NASA's Kepler spacecraft before testing. NASA

From Time Magazine:

Think you could stare at a single spot without blinking for three and a half years? Then be glad you're not NASA's Kepler telescope, which is set to blast into space from Cape Canaveral this Friday night. Kepler's job may sound boring to you, but what the spacecraft accomplishes could be extraordinary: the discovery of the first Earth-like planets orbiting sun-like stars. Those kinds of places might well be brewing Earth-like forms of life.

Read more ....

How Are People Lost at Sea Found?

SHIPWRECKED: The U.S. Coast Guard found boating accident survivor Nick Schuyler yesterday on the overturned vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. COAST GUARD/ADAM CAMPBELL

From Scientific American:

How does the U.S. Coast Guard conduct searches for people stranded in bodies of water, including two National Football League players and their friend missing off the Florida coast?

The U.S. Coast Guard today announced that it had suspended its search at 6:30 P.M. EST for three boaters, including two pro football players, missing in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Clearwater, Fla. The trio was part of a group of four men who left from Clearwater on a fishing trip Saturday and were reported missing early Sunday after failing to return. In calling off the hunt, Coast Guard Capt. Timothy Close said that "We're extremely confident that if there are any survivors on the surface of the water that we would have found them," the Associated Press reports.

Read more ....

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Otzi The Prehistoric Iceman Goes Online Allowing Users To Virtually Tour His Body

Otzi has been photographed using 12 different angle-shots

From the Daily Mail:

A Stone Age warrior frozen in an icy tomb for 5,300 years can now be viewed in astonishing detail thanks to a new website.

The Iceman photoscan project took 150,000 high definition images of the perfectly preserved mummy from 12 different angles, which the researchers loaded onto the new website

This allows users to zoom into details that are just millimetres wide from the comfort of their living room. They can also view the mummy in 3D and see its distinctive tattoos in both white and UV light.

Read more ....

Schizophrenia Could Be Caused By Faulty Signaling In Brain

Schizophrenia has been linked to signaling problems, according to a new brain study. (Credit: iStockphoto/Vasiliy Yakobchuk)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 5, 2009) — Schizophrenia could be caused by faulty signalling in the brain, according to new research published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. In the biggest study of its kind, scientists looking in detail at brain samples donated by people with the condition have identified 49 genes that work differently in the brains of schizophrenia patients compared to controls.

Many of these genes are involved in controlling cell-to-cell signalling in the brain. The study, which was carried out by researchers at Imperial College London and GlaxoSmithKline, supports the theory that abnormalities in the way in which cells 'talk' to each other are involved in the disease.

Read more ....

Exercise: The Best Medicine

New studies find exercise makes for better eye health, less chronic pain, stronger bones and can even help prevent some cancer. Image credit: Dreamstime

From Live Science:

It just seems too good to be true. Study after research study consistently promoting the endless benefits of exercise. Couch potatoes everywhere are waiting for the other shoe to drop, telling us that all of those scientists were wrong and we should remain as sedentary as possible.

Yet four additional studies released recently each give the same prescription for improving some aspect of your health: exercise.

They add to recent evidence that regular workouts can improve old brains, raise kids' academic performance and give a brain boost to everyone in between.

Read more ....

9 Big NASA Projects Over Budget


Auditors cite projects such as asteroid explorer, Earth-like planet hunter.

The Government Accountability Office, the congressional budget watchdog, found cost overruns in at least nine big NASA projects:

Mars Science Laboratory. Price: $2.3 billion, up $657.4 million since October 2007. Launch delayed 25 months to October 2011.

NPOESS Preparatory Project a satellite to study atmosphere and sea temperatures. Price: $794.6 million, up $121.8 million since October 2006. Launch delayed 26 months to June 2010.

Read more ....

Asteroid's Near Miss A Cosmic Close Call

An asteroid named 2009 DD45 came within 48,800 miles
from Earth, March 3, 2009. (AP / CBS)

From CBS News:

(AP) An asteroid about the size of one that blasted Siberia a century ago just buzzed the Earth.

The asteroid named 2009 DD45 was about 48,800 miles from Earth when it zipped past early Monday, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported.

That is just twice as high as the orbits of some telecommunications satellites and about a fifth of the distance to the Moon.

"This was pretty darn close," astronomer Timothy Spahr of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said Wednesday.

But not as close as the tiny meteoroid 2004 FU162, which came within 4,000 miles in 2004.

Read more ....

Before Google Became Google: The Original Setup At Stanford University

From Pingdom:

Since it launched in 1998, Google has become one of the true giants of the Internet. These days, Google has data centers all around the world and hundreds of thousands of servers. The sheer size of Google today makes it very interesting to look back at its humble beginnings as a small research project called Backrub at Stanford University.

Back in early 1998, the entire search engine and website ran on this setup:

Closeups and hardware descriptions available here. Note the homemade Lego disk box…

Read more ....

Flexible Screens Get Touchy-Feely

Photo: Touch and feel: Bendable, touch-sensitive screens could lead to a new generation of more rugged and easy to use portable displays. Credit: Flexible Display Center

From Technology Review:

The first bendable, touch-screen display will be used by the military.

Researchers have developed the first computer display that is both flexible and touch sensitive. They say that the breakthrough could lead to more practical and easier-to-use portable devices.

Over the past few years, there has been a drive to develop displays that more closely mimic the properties of paper.

E Ink, based in Cambridge, MA, already supplies displays that are easy to read in direct sunlight and require little power for both the Amazon Kindle and the Sony Reader, compared to LCDs and plasma screens. E Ink's technology uses a layer of microcapsules filled with submicrometer black and white particles to create a low-power, reflective screen.

Read more .....

5 Huge Green-Tech Projects in the Developing World

From Wired News:

Any solution to global climate change will eventually have to involve the whole globe, not just the richest countries.

That's why deals like the one announced Tuesday between Pasadena's eSolar and the Indian conglomerate Acme Group are essential to any truly green global future. ESolar will sell Acme 1,000 megawatts worth of solar thermal technology, so that the latter can build a network of solar power plants in India's northern state of Haryana.

Read more ....

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mould Problem At France's Lascaux Cave

Paleolithic handywork: Discovered in 1940, France's Lascaux Cave has some of the world's most spectacular prehistoric cave art.

From Cosmos Magazine:

PARIS: The problem of black fungus threatening world-famous prehistoric paintings at the Lascaux Cave in southwestern France is stable, a scientist said last week.

France, criticised for its management of Lascaux, applied fungicide to the cave's walls in January 2008 in a bid to roll back patches of mould imperilling the legendary art.

Dubbed "the Sistine Chapel of prehistory," Lascaux, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, includes stunning pictures of horses, extinct bulls and ibexes, painted by unknown hands some 17,000 years ago.

Read more ....

Newfound Moon May Be Source Of Outer Saturn Ring

This sequence of three images, obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft over the course of about 10 minutes, shows the path of a newly found moonlet in a bright arc of Saturn's faint G ring. (Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 4, 2009) — NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found within Saturn's G ring an embedded moonlet that appears as a faint, moving pinprick of light. Scientists believe it is a main source of the G ring and its single ring arc.

Cassini imaging scientists analyzing images acquired over the course of about 600 days found the tiny moonlet, half a kilometer (about a third of a mile) across, embedded within a partial ring, or ring arc, previously found by Cassini in Saturn's tenuous G ring.

"Before Cassini, the G ring was the only dusty ring that was not clearly associated with a known moon, which made it odd," said Matthew Hedman, a Cassini imaging team associate at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "The discovery of this moonlet, together with other Cassini data, should help us make sense of this previously mysterious ring."

Read more ....

Earth Seen 'Healing' After Big Quake

Three-dimensional perspective view of vertical displacement of the land surface south of Bam, Iran during the three and a half years after the December 26, 2003 earthquake derived from analysis of radar images. The model below shows the zone of rock damage that contracted or healed after the earthquake, with the green colors showing the strongest contraction. Credit: E. Fielding et al

From Live Science:

For the first time, scientists have watched as the Earth’s surface “heals” itself following the disruptive jolt of an earthquake, in this case, the 2003 temblor that devastated Bam, Iran.

The fault under the city erupted in a 6.6-magnitude quake on Dec. 26 that year, leveling the town and killing more than 26,000 people. But though devastation was evident, there was no clear fault mark at the surface.

"The fault slipped maybe 2 or 3 meters [6.5 to 10 feet] at depth, but at the surface, when colleagues of mine went out, they found some cracks, but the motion on those cracks is only about up to 25 centimeters [10 inches] or less," said one of the scientists who studied the quake, Eric Fielding of Caltech. "We have some layer of material near the surface that's behaving differently from the fault at depth."

Read more ....

Revealed: The Headset That Will Mimic All Five Senses And Make The Virtual World As Convincing As Real Life

The virtual reality helmet titillates all five body senses while viewers sit at home on their sofas

From The Daily Mail:

A virtual reality helmet that recreates the sights, smells, sounds and even tastes of far-flung holiday destinations has been devised by British scientists.

Armchair travellers wearing the device will be able to hear the roar of lions on safari, smell the flowers of an Alpine meadow or feel the heat of the Caribbean sun on their face - all from the comfort of their sitting room.

The device will also allow people to greet friends and family on the other side of the world as if they were in same room, and to immerse themselves in fantasy worlds.

Read more ....

China Planning Military Outpost in Orbit

The first public appearance of China's military space station concept.
(Image from

From Discovery News/Space:

China is speeding up plans to launch and operate a space station in Earth orbit and turning over the project to military control, according to reports from the official Chinese news agency Xinhua and

The 8.5-ton laboratory, called Tiangong -- Chinese for "heavenly palace" -- is slated for launch before the end of next year. Its first crew would arrive in 2011.

"The People's Liberation Army's General Armament Department aims to finish systems for the Tiangong-1 mission this year," the Chinese government said in an official statement.

The design was unveiled during a nationally televised Chinese New Year broadcast, writes Spaceflightnow's Craig Covault.

Read more ....

My Comment: So much for not militarizing space. This is an acceleration of a program that many thought was years from fruition.

Surprise, it is happening sooner than what was expected.

Mobile Phone Use Explodes As 60% Of The World's Population Signs Up For A Handset

The United Kingdom was ranked 10th most advanced country in using information and communications technology. It was judged on criteria including infrastructure, broadband coverage and literacy levels

From The Daily Mail:

Mobile phone use has exploded in the last seven years, according to a U.N report.

The number of global subscriptions quadrupled from around 1billion in 2002 to 4.1billion at the end of last year.

The sudden surge in uptake of mobile phones is most marked in developing countries where they are now an invaluable tool among the world's poor.

In Africa 28 per cent of the population now has a mobile phone, compared to just two per cent in 2000.

Read more ....

Hubble Captures Cosmic Tug-Of-War Between Three Turbulent Galaxies

The three tussling galaxies are part of the Hickson Compact Group 90,
which is 100million light years away

From The Daily Mail:

A dramatic Hubble image has captured three galaxies locked in a gravitational tug-of-war that may lead to one of them being ripped apart.

It is likely the outcome has long since been decided, as the epic life or death battle is in the constellation of Piscis Austrinus, or Southern Fish, 100 million light-years away.

The new picture from the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope allows astronomers to view the movement of gases from galaxy to galaxy, revealing the intricate interplay among them.

Read more ....

Small Robots Can Prepare Lunar Surface For NASA Outpost

Small excavation robots, such as these conceptual vehicles, would be capable of preparing lunar landing sites for a future outpost, a new study shows. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology Inc)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 2, 2009) — Small robots the size of riding mowers could prepare a safe landing site for NASA’s Moon outpost, according to a NASA-sponsored study prepared by Astrobotic Technology Inc. with technical assistance from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute.

Astrobotic Technology and Carnegie Mellon researchers analyzed mission requirements and developed the design for an innovative new type of small lunar robot under contract from NASA’s Lunar Surface Systems group.

Read more ....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How Good Are You At Internet Search?

Image from Maximum PC

From The Wall Street Journal:

Microsoft’s efforts to catch Google in Internet search may not just hinge on its ability to build a better search engine. It may depend on how good people are at using search engines.

In an internal memo published on All Things D, a Microsoft search executive wrote that the company is ready to test a new search engine, codenamed “kumo.” He then outlined the problem that the new search engine is supposed to address:

“In spite of the progress made by search engines, 40% of queries go unanswered; half of queries are about searchers returning to previous tasks; and 46% of search sessions are longer than 20 minutes. These and many other learnings suggest that customers often don’t find what they need from search today.”

Read more ....

Here's What Killed Your 401K

From Wired News:

A year ago, it was hardly unthinkable that a math wizard like David X. Li might someday earn a Nobel Prize. After all, financial economists—even Wall Street quants—have received the Nobel in economics before, and Li's work on measuring risk has had more impact, more quickly, than previous Nobel Prize-winning contributions to the field. Today, though, as dazed bankers, politicians, regulators, and investors survey the wreckage of the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression, Li is probably thankful he still has a job in finance at all. Not that his achievement should be dismissed. He took a notoriously tough nut—determining correlation, or how seemingly disparate events are related—and cracked it wide open with a simple and elegant mathematical formula, one that would become ubiquitous in finance worldwide.

For five years, Li's formula, known as a Gaussian copula function, looked like an unambiguously positive breakthrough, a piece of financial technology that allowed hugely complex risks to be modeled with more ease and accuracy than ever before. With his brilliant spark of mathematical legerdemain, Li made it possible for traders to sell vast quantities of new securities, expanding financial markets to unimaginable levels.

Read more ....

Square Root Day Revelers To Party Like It's 3/3/09

From CNET:

Count on Tuesday's alignment of the calendar to add some excitement to the lives of at least a few math geeks.

Tuesday is Square Root Day, a rare holiday that occurs when the day and the month are both the square root of the last two digits of the current year. Numerically, March 3, 2009, can be expressed as 3/3/09, or mathematically as √9 = 3, or 3² = 3 × 3 = 9.

Read more ....

Dolphin-Inspired Man-Made Fin Works Swimmingly

SWIM FIN INSPIRED BY DOLPHINS: Lunocet users have already hit about eight miles (13 kilometers) per hour, nearly twice as fast as Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Michael Phelps at his speediest. COURTESY OF LOMERANGER

From Scientific American:

Lunocet swimmers have already hit about eight miles per hour, almost twice the speed of Michael Phelps at his fastest.

The human body does many things well, but swimming isn't one of them. We're embarrassingly inefficient in the water, able to convert just 3 or 4 percent of our energy into forward motion. (Even with swim fins, we're only 10 to 15 percent more efficient.) But a new, dolphin-inspired fin promises to fuel the biggest change in human-powered swimming in decades, putting beyond-Olympian speeds within reach of just about anyone.

Read more ....

Ancient Supernovae May Be Recorded In Antarctic Ice

Photo: Ice cores from the Earth's polar regions may contain chemical traces of ancient supernovae (Image: Keith Vanderlinde/NSF/Antarctic Sun)

From The New Scientist:

A newly examined ice core shows what may be the chemical traces of supernovae that exploded a thousand years ago.

Yuko Motizuki of the RIKEN research institute in Wako, Japan, and colleagues analysed the nitrate content of an ice core drilled at Dome Fuji station in Antarctica. Nitrate is produced in the atmosphere by nitrogen oxides, which in turn should be created by the gamma radiation from a supernova.

Motizuki's group found high nitrate concentrations in three thin layers about 50 metres deep. Because snow gradually builds up into layers of ice, depth indicates age.

Read more ....

Hunting For Earths

Hundreds of solar systems have been picked out of the sky; all harbor exoplanets the size of Jupiter or larger, but so far other Earths have eluded astronomers. NASA's Kepler space telescope, however, is expected to give the first reliable count of any habitable planets. Credit: NASA/NRC Canada/C. Marois et al.

From Discovery:

A new NASA mission in search of exoplanets has experts weighing in on whether we'll find life off Earth.

Earth seems so alone, drifting through space -- but are there other Earth-like worlds out there capable of supporting life, and if so how many are there nearby?

To answer that question once and for all, NASA is sending the Kepler telescope into space. Once there, it will stare down thousands of stars to seek out the slightest glimpse of a small, rocky world like our own.

Read more ....

Physical Fitness Improves Spatial Memory, Increases Size Of Brain Structure

Active senior couple running in the woods. (Credit: iStockphoto/Marcel Mooij)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 3, 2009) — When it comes to the hippocampus, a brain structure vital to certain types of memory, size matters. Numerous studies have shown that bigger is usually better. Now researchers have found that elderly adults who are more physically fit tend to have bigger hippocampi and better spatial memory than those who are less fit.

The study, in the journal Hippocampus, shows that hippocampus size in physically fit adults accounts for about 40 percent of their advantage in spatial memory.

Read more ....

The Challenge of Pizza Box Recycling

Pizza boxes are recyclable, but grease and cheese make them less so and can cause a whole batch of recyclable material to be diverted to the trash. Image credit: Dreamstime

From Live Science:

Many people assume that pizza boxes are recyclable. In fact, most boxes have recycling symbols on them and are traditionally made from corrugated cardboard. They are, in and of themselves, recyclable.

However, what makes parts of them non-recyclable is the hot, tasty treat that comes inside them, specifically, the grease and cheese from pizza that soil the cardboard.

So there you have it, pizza boxes that are tarnished with food, or any paper product that is stained with grease or food, are not recyclable — unless you remove the tainted portions.

But why is this? And what are the implications for the general, pizza-loving public? Mmm, pizza.

Read more ....

Monday, March 2, 2009

Spotting Future Gamblers In Kindergarten

From Time Magazine:

It's disturbing to picture your kindergartner in a casino, but maybe you ought to try. American kids are born into a culture that loves its gambling, and the passion is only growing, as financial hardships sweeten the ever alluring prospect of a lucky break. The danger, of course, is that gambling can lead to compulsive gambling — and compulsive gambling can be a life wrecker. Now, a new study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine suggests that it may be possible to spot the people most at risk when they're as young as 5 years old.

Read more ....

Resistance To Flu Drug Widespread In U.S.: Study

A flu shot is prepared in Chicago, Illinois. US President Barack Obama has vowed to fight for his budget proposals that include investments in clean energy and healthcare as he faces a tough battle moving the measures through Congress. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Tim Boyle)

From Yahoo News/Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Virtually all cases of the most common strain of flu circulating in the United States now resist the main drug used to treat it, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Monday.

CDC researchers said 98 percent of all flu samples from the H1N1 strain were resistant to Roche AG's Tamiflu, a pill that can both treat flu and prevent infection. Four patients infected with the resistant strain have died, including two children.

Read more ....

Curtains And Pyjamas To Become Weapons Against Superbugs

Intensive cleaning takes place on a hospital ward Photo: Rii Schroer

From The Telegraph:

Hospital curtains, bedding, and even patients' pyjamas could become weapons in the war against hospital superbugs.

A study has found that an antimicrobial treatment, which could be incorporated into dozens of surfaces on the ward, can kill MRSA on contact, reducing the risk of infection between patients.

Scientists hailed the discovery by researchers from Imperial College London as a "very significant" step in the war on hospital superbugs which kill 10,000 people a year.

Read more ....

Scientists See Merit In Sharks' Many Teeth

Scientists have looked into the fearsome jaws of sharks and seen a possible benefit to humans: many rows of teeth. Kat Wade/the Chronicle

From San Francisco Chronicle:

Ever wonder why sharks get several rows of teeth and people only get one? Some geneticists did, and their discovery could spur work to help adults one day grow new teeth when their own wear out.

A single gene appears to be in charge, preventing additional tooth formation in species destined for a limited set.

When the scientists bred mice that lacked that gene, the rodents developed extra teeth next to their first molars - backups like sharks and other non-mammals grow, University of Rochester scientists reported Thursday.

Read more ....

Lunacy And The Full Moon

Courtesy of Ninomy at Wikimedia

From Scientific American:

Does a full moon really trigger strange behavior?

Across the centuries, many a person has uttered the phrase “There must be a full moon out there” in an attempt to explain weird happenings at night. Indeed, the Roman goddess of the moon bore a name that remains familiar to us today: Luna, prefix of the word “lunatic.” Greek philosopher Aristotle and Roman historian Pliny the Elder suggested that the brain was the “moistest” organ in the body and thereby most susceptible to the pernicious influences of the moon, which triggers the tides. Belief in the “lunar lunacy effect,” or “Transylvania effect,” as it is sometimes called, persisted in Europe through the Middle Ages, when humans were widely reputed to transmogrify into werewolves or vampires during a full moon.

Read more ....

From Stem Cells To New Organs: Scientists Cross Threshold In Regenerative Medicine

Computer-rendered image of human organs. New research suggests that bioengineered replacement organs may be closer thanks to a newly developed matrix on which stem cells can form a three-dimensional organ. (Credit: iStockphoto/Sebastian Kaulitzki)

From Science Daily:

ScienceDaily (Mar. 2, 2009) — By now, most people have read stories about how to "grow your own organs" using stem cells is just a breakthrough away. Despite the hype, this breakthrough has been elusive.

A new report brings bioengineered organs a step closer, as scientists from Stanford and New York University Langone Medical Center describe how they were able to use a "scaffolding" material extracted from the groin area of mice on which stem cells from blood, fat, and bone marrow grew. This advance clears two major hurdles to bioengineered replacement organs, namely a matrix on which stem cells can form a three-dimensional organ and transplant rejection.

Read more ....

Microsoft Vista Voted Tech World's Top "Fiasco"

From Scientific American:

It's official, Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system gets the prize for being the most overhyped, underperforming information and communication technology (ICT) project. Windows Vista garnered 5,222 of 6,043 votes (86 percent) entered via the Web to snag top honors in the first-ever Fiasco Awards announced in Barcelona, Spain, today, beating out other contenders, including Google's Lively virtual world, the One Laptop per Child computer (developed by the Nicholas Negroponte-chaired One Laptop Per Child Association, Inc.) and Second Life. Second prize went to SAGA, the oft-malfunctioning administration and academic management system developed by Spain's Catalan Education Department for public school teachers in Catalonia.

Read more ....

Microsoft's Glimpse Of The Future

From CNET:

REDMOND, Wash.--At Microsoft's TechFest, it takes a little imagination to see how the research technologies might eventually come to market.

A new video from Microsoft shows in an elegant, if utopian way, what it might look like if all of those gadgets came together several years hence. Earlier on Friday, Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop showed the video in a speech at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

Read more ....

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Intelligent Use Of The Earth's Heat

From E! Science News:

Geothermal energy is increasingly contributing to the power supply world wide. Iceland is world-leader in expanding development of geothermal utilization: in recent years the annual power supply here doubled to more than 500 MW alone in the supply of electricity. And also in Germany, a dynamic development is to be seen: over 100 MW of heat are currently being provided through geothermal energy. Alone in the region of Travale, in the pioneering country Italy, a team of european scientists have localizied geothermal reservoirs, holding a potential comparable to the effectiveness of 1.000 wind power plants. This is one of the results presented at the international final conference of the project „I-GET" (Integrated Geophysical Exploration Technologies for deep fractured geothermal systems) in Potsdam. The aim of this European Union project, in which seven european nations participated, was the development of cutting-edge geophysical methods with which potential geothermal reservoirs can be safely explored and directly tapped.

Read more ....

reCaptcha: How To Turn Blather Into Books

Von Ahn: The professor invented reCaptcha in 2007. Since then, its users have translated 5 billion words. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Ten seconds of work has digitized libraries, whether the amateur translators know it or not.

When you buy a concert ticket on Ticketmaster, post something for sale on Craigslist, or poke an old friend on Facebook, you may not know it, but you’re helping to put millions of books online in a vast free library.

To access these websites, you must decipher two squiggly words to prove that you’re not a computer program designed to spam the site. Once it knows you’re human, the website lets you continue.

Those two decoded words don’t disappear, however. In fact, your brain has deciphered words that had baffled the scanning software used for an enormous project to digitize every public domain book in the world.

Read more ....