David Kirkpatrick

July 31, 2010

Food for online privacy thought

Three recent articles to ponder about how much — or really, how little — your online privacy is protected.

First up, from the Wall Street Journal, your data is money. I’m pretty sure just about anyone who’s been using the web for any amount of time knows all about tracking cookies, data mining and all that. This article goes into detail on just how much, and how detailed, information top visited websites collect on visitors.

From the link:

Hidden inside Ashley Hayes-Beaty’s computer, a tiny file helps gather personal details about her, all to be put up for sale for a tenth of a penny.

The file consists of a single code— 4c812db292272995e5416a323e79bd37—that secretly identifies her as a 26-year-old female in Nashville, Tenn.

The code knows that her favorite movies include “The Princess Bride,” “50 First Dates” and “10 Things I Hate About You.” It knows she enjoys the “Sex and the City” series. It knows she browses entertainment news and likes to take quizzes.

“Well, I like to think I have some mystery left to me, but apparently not!” Ms. Hayes-Beaty said when told what that snippet of code reveals about her. “The profile is eerily correct.”

Ms. Hayes-Beaty is being monitored by Lotame Solutions Inc., a New York company that uses sophisticated software called a “beacon” to capture what people are typing on a website—their comments on movies, say, or their interest in parenting and pregnancy. Lotame packages that data into profiles about individuals, without determining a person’s name, and sells the profiles to companies seeking customers. Ms. Hayes-Beaty’s tastes can be sold wholesale (a batch of movie lovers is $1 per thousand) or customized (26-year-old Southern fans of “50 First Dates”).

“We can segment it all the way down to one person,” says Eric Porres, Lotame’s chief marketing officer.

Also from the WSJ in the same series is an article with more on the same as above with an emphasis on consumer-tracking technology used by the top 50 sites.

From the link:

The tracking files represent the leading edge of a lightly regulated, emerging industry of data-gatherers who are in effect establishing a new business model for the Internet: one based on intensive surveillance of people to sell data about, and predictions of, their interests and activities, in real time.

The Journal’s study shows the extent to which Web users are in effect exchanging personal data for the broad access to information and services that is a defining feature of the Internet.

In an effort to quantify the reach and sophistication of the tracking industry, the Journal examined the 50 most popular websites in the U.S. to measure the quantity and capabilities of the “cookies,” “beacons” and other trackers installed on a visitor’s computer by each site. Together, the 50 sites account for roughly 40% of U.S. page-views.

The 50 sites installed a total of 3,180 tracking files on a test computer used to conduct the study. Only one site, the encyclopedia Wikipedia.org, installed none. Twelve sites, including IAC/InterActive Corp.’s Dictionary.com, Comcast Corp.’s Comcast.net and Microsoft Corp.’s MSN.com, installed more than 100 tracking tools apiece in the course of the Journal’s test.

And not to leave the government out of the online privacy picture, this PhysOrg story on the access the Federal Bureau of Investigation has to your online data, including email, really adds to online privacy concerns. Or at least it should.

From the final link:

Federal law requires communications providers to produce records in counterintelligence investigations to the FBI, which doesn’t need a judge’s approval and court order to get them.

They can be obtained merely with the signature of a special agent in charge of any FBI field office and there is no need even for a suspicion of wrongdoing, merely that the records would be relevant in a counterintelligence or counterterrorism investigation. The person whose records the government wants doesn’t even need to be a suspect.

The bureau’s use of these so-called national security letters to gather information has a checkered history.

The bureau engaged in widespread and serious misuse of its authority to issue the letters, illegally collecting data from Americans and foreigners, the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded in 2007. The bureau issued 192,499 national security letter requests from 2003 to 2006.

In this June 28, 2010, file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., gestures on Capitol Hill in Washington. Invasion of privacy in the Internet age. The administration’s proposal to change the Electronic Communications Privacy Act “raises serious privacy and civil liberties concerns,” Leahy said Thursday, July 29, 2010, in a statement. Expanding the reach of law enforcement to snoop on e-mail traffic or on Web surfing. Those are among the criticisms being aimed at the FBI as it tries to update a key surveillance law.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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July 30, 2010

High tech contact lenses and NASA

News from NASA hot from today’s inbox. And a bit of a departure from the expected space news out of NASA.

The release:

NASA Talk is High Tech Prescription for Contact Lenses

HAMPTON, Va., July 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Imagine your contact lenses being able to improve your vision and tell your temperature.

(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)
(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

On Tuesday, Aug. 3, at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Professor Babak Parviz, from the University of Washington presents, “What If Your Contact Lens Could Show You Images” at 2 p.m. in the Reid Conference Center. Parviz will provide an overview of the process it took to build contact lenses to display and monitor information about a person’s health.

On Tuesday evening, Parviz will present a similar talk for the general public at 7:30 p.m. at the Virginia Air & Space Center in downtown Hampton. The evening presentation is free and no reservations are required.

Through advancements in nanotechnology, Parviz will explain the how contact lenses have been converted into systems that can complete extraordinary tasks.

Researchers at the University of Washington are working on integrating small optical, electronic and biosensing devices into contact lenses. The lenses are designed to display information to the user and to continuously monitor the person’s health through the biochemistry of the eye surface.

Parviz’ research at the University of Washington includes nanotechnology, bionanotechnolgy and microsystems. His work was chosen by Time magazine as one of the top inventions of the year in 2008 and is on display at the London Museum of Science.

Parviz attended the University of Michigan, earning graduate degrees in physics and electrical engineering and studied chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Review selected Parviz as one of the top innovators under the age of 35 in 2007. He is also the recipient of the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award for his exceptional integration of education and research.

For more information about NASA Langley’s Colloquium and Sigma Series Lectures:

http://shemesh.larc.nasa.gov/Lectures/

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

July 27, 2010

Artificial photosynthesis

I’ll keep my contribution here short and sweet — very interesting.

From the link:

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $122 million to establish a research center in California to develop ways of generating fuel made from sunlight. The project will be led by researchers at Caltech and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and will include researchers at various other California institutions, including Stanford University, the University of California, Irvine, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Sun-soaked silicon: Researchers at the new Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis will work to optimize light-trapping silicon microwires, like these, to produce fuel from solar energy.

Credit: Nate Lewis, Caltech

One small step toward better internet content

And a giant leap for content producers (like myself, for instance.) The freelance writing world has been in crisis for a long while now, in part because of high unemployment. Anyone who’s taken freshman composition in college can suddenly declare themselves a freelance writer. The problem is you have to have clips to get work for the most part, and the easiest way to get clips is to work for nothing, or almost nothing, and go from there. Couple that dynamic with the internet’s need for content and unscrupulous business people who are more than happy to exploit people who want to write and you find a situation where companies are literally offering a penny-a-word or less for so-called SEO internet content. For writers, good luck on even finding the one-time bargain basement dollar-per-word rate for marketing communications. My current rates are down and my client list is a lot smaller than even a couple of years ago. Glad to see there’s some push back against this trend from places that might actually make a difference — search engines.

And if you’re looking at getting into freelance writing, I strongly, strongly urge you to avoid Demand Media, Suite 101, and the other content mills out there who are only going to exploit your talents, not pay you an even remotely a fair wage, and in the end leave with with clips that almost any legitimate media outlet will reject as more than worthless.

From the link:

Gabriel Weinberg, creator of upstart search engine Duck Duck Go (DDG), says that some time ago users requested that he remove from results from eHow.com. The site is owned by Demand Media, a $200 million a year “content farm” that produces 4,000 articles a day by playing freelance writers to churn out articles at bargain basement rates, based on what people are searching for and how much ads those search terms are worth.

Knowing little about the site and the discussions swirling around the quality (or lack thereof) of its content, Weinberg wasn’t moved to act on those requests until he discovered evidence that Demand Media, which owns eHow.com, was buying up domains for legitimate businesses and redirecting them to their own content.

“It pushed me over the edge,” says Weinberg.

July 25, 2010

This is one …

Filed under: et.al., Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:20 am

jaw-dropping statistic.

From the link:

Nearly 25,000 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico since the government launched an offensive against cartels in late 2006.

So um, how is that North American “war on drugs” going again?

July 24, 2010

“BodyShock The Future” contest

Via KurzweilAI.net — just the facts, ma’am.

‘BodyShock The Future’ contest seeks innovative ways to improve health

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) has launched a new contest called BodyShock The Future to develop innovative ways to improve individual and collective health over the next 3-10 years by transforming our bodies and lifestyles.

IFTF is looking for visual ideas — video or graphical entries illustrating new ideas, designs, products, technologies, and concepts. Entries will be accepted from people around the world until September 1, 2010. Up to five winners will be flown to Palo Alto, California on October 8 to present their ideas and be connected to other innovative thinkers to help bring these ideas to life. The grand prize winner will receive the IFTF Roy Amara Prize of $3,000.

“Entries may come from anyone anywhere and could include subjects such as Life extension, DIY Bio, Diabetic teenagers, Developing countries, Green health, Augmented reality, Self-tracking, and Pervasive games,” IFTF Research Affiliate Alexandra Carmichael, who is heading up the project, told KurzweilAI. “Examples might be engineering beneficial bacteria that can help boost human immunity, or a treadmill that shows a preview of your future self to motivate you to exercise. Basically some kind of technology design that can improve health in the future.

“We challenge participants to use IFTF’s Health Horizons forecasts for the next decade of health and health care as inspiration, and design a solution for a problem that will be widespread in 3-10 years, using technologies that will become mainstream.”

Judges include Joanne Andreadis, Lead of Innovation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; David Rosenman, Director, Innovation Curriculum, Center for Innovation at Mayo Clinic; Ted Eytan, MD, Kaiser Permanente, The Permanente Federation; and Jason Bobe, Director of Community, Personal Genome Project,  and Founder, DIYBio.org.

Solar plane stays aloft for two weeks

Due to my recent light blogging schedule this is not hot from the inbox, but it come through early yesterday morning. Pretty cool accomplishment, I’d say.

The release:

After 14 Nights in the Air, QinetiQ Prepares to Land its Zephyr Solar Powered Unmanned Aircraft

FARNBOROUGH, England, July 23, 2010/PRNewswire/ —

– With Photo

QinetiQ will today bring Zephyr
(http://www.qinetiq.com/home_farnborough_airshow/unmanned_air_systems/zephyr.html), its solar powered high-altitude long endurance (HALE) Unmanned Air System (UAS) back to earth after two weeks in the air – smashing a number of long-standing official and unofficial world records.

Zephyr was launched on 09 July and is currently still flying above the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. Today Zephyr will have been aloft for 14 nights continuously, achieving the objective of the trial and setting a number of performance and altitude records. At this point QinetiQ’s Zephyr team in Yuma will bring the aircraft back to earth.

An official from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) (http://www.fai.org/), the world air sports federation, has been monitoring progress at the Yuma Proving Ground and when Zephyr is back on the ground he looks set to be able to confirm a number of new world records. This includes quadrupling its own unofficial world record for longest duration unmanned flight (82 hours, 37 minutes set in 2008) and surpassing the current official world record for the longest flight for an unmanned air system (set at 30 hours 24 minutes by Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4A Global Hawk on 22 March 2001). Zephyr will also have flown longer, non-stop and without refuelling, than any other aeroplane – having significantly passed the Rutan Voyager milestone of 9 days (216 hours) 3 minutes and 44 seconds airborne, set in December 1986.

“Zephyr is the world’s first and only truly persistent aeroplane,” said Neville Salkeld, MD of QinetiQ’s UK Technology Solutions Group. “We are really proud of the team’s achievement which has been supported by expertise from across the QinetiQ business and beyond. We’ve now proved that this amazing aircraft is capable of providing a cost effective, persistent surveillance and communications capability measured in terms of weeks, if not months. Not only is Zephyr game-changing technology, it is also significantly more cost effective to manufacture and deploy than traditional aircraft and satellites.”

Easy to transport in a standard road transport container, once launched Zephyr can remain above a general area for weeks, if not months, at a time delivering vital capability at a fraction of the cost of satellites and significantly more cost effectively than other ‘conventionally powered’ manned or unmanned aircraft. Zephyr also does not need to return to base at regular intervals for re-fuelling or servicing which helps minimise the logistical supply chain, extending its operational capability and appeal. Its zero emissions also make it exceptionally environmentally friendly.

For the trial in Yuma Zephyr is carrying a communications payload configured to meet the needs of the UK Ministry of Defence. In addition to the obvious defence and security applications, commercial uses include environmental research; monitoring crops and pollution; providing tactical intelligence over disaster zones or forest fires; plus delivering mobile communications capabilities in remote areas.

Chris Kelleher, QinetiQ’s chief designer said: “We have designed, built and delivered what will be remembered as a milestone in aviation history. Zephyr will transform the delivery of current services such as communications, and lead to many new applications which are not possible or affordable by other means.

“The brand-new ‘production ready’ Zephyr airframe incorporates totally new approaches to aerodynamics, structures, propulsion, avionics, flight controls, power system management, thermal control, ground control station design and payload, as well as overall operating processes. Our outstanding team has brought this entire ‘one-shot’ flight together at the first time of asking, demonstrating we can operate both the aircraft and its ultra-light utility payload routinely for long duration flights.

“We’ve also had to design for temperatures of around plus 40 degrees C  on the ground to below minus 75 degrees C at altitude, ever changing  weather systems including storms and high winds – and Zephyr took them all  in its stride. It is a truly fantastic achievement.”

Launched by hand, the aircraft flies by day on solar power delivered by amorphous silicon solar arrays, supplied by Uni-Solar (http://www.uni-solar.com/), no thicker than sheets of paper that cover the aircraft’s wings. These are also used to recharge the lithium-sulphur batteries, supplied by Sion Power Inc (http://www.sionpower.com/), which are used to power the aircraft by night. Together they provide an extremely high power to weight ratio on a continuous day/night cycle, thereby delivering persistent on station capabilities.

Around 50% larger than the previous version, Zephyr incorporates an entirely new wing design with a total wingspan of 22.5m to accommodate more batteries that are combined with a totally new integrated power management system. The entirely new aerodynamic shape also helps to reduce drag and improve performance. Zephyr’s ultra-lightweight carbon fibre design means it weighs in at just over 50Kg.

– Zephyr launch video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CT-DYeEP8dg)

– Zephyr pages on QinetiQ.com
(http://www.qinetiq.com/home_farnborough_airshow/unmanned_air_systems/zephyr.html)

– Zephyr launch release with additional hi-res photos
(http://www.qinetiq.com/home/newsroom/news_releases_homepage/2010/3rd_quarter/zephyr_2010.html)

A picture accompanying this release is available through the PA
Photowire. It can be downloaded from http://www.pa-mediapoint.press.net or
viewed at http://www.mediapoint.press.net or http://www.prnewswire.co.uk.

Source: QinetiQ

July 23, 2010

If something sounds too good to be true …

… it probably is. I will have to admit, if this tech is the least bit feasible it would be something of a climate issue miracle.

From the link:

By using the sun’s visible light and heat to power an electrolysis cell that captures and converts carbon dioxide from the air, a new technique could impressively clean the atmosphere and produce fuel feedstock at the same time. The key advantage of the new solar carbon capture process is that it simultaneously uses the solar visible and solar thermal components, whereas the latter is usually regarded as detrimental due to the degradation that heat causes to photovoltaic materials. However, the new method uses the sun’s heat to convert more solar energy into carbon than either photovoltaic or solar thermal processes alone.

The new process, called Solar Thermal Electrochemical Photo (STEP) , was recently suggested theoretically by a team of scientists from George Washington University and Howard University, both in Washington, DC. Now, in a paper just published in The  Letters, the scientists have experimentally demonstrated the STEP process for the first time.

“The significance of the study is twofold,” Stuart Licht, a chemistry professor at George Washington University, told PhysOrg.com. “, a non-reactive and normally difficult-to-remove compound, can be easily captured with  using our new low-energy, lithium carbonate electrolysis STEP process, and with scale-up, sufficient resources exist for STEP to decrease carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels within 10 years.”

In the Solar Thermal Electrochemical Photo (STEP) carbon capture process, the sun’s visible light and heat are used to capture large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to solid carbon for storage or carbon monoxide for fuel generation.

Image copyright: Stuart Licht, et al. ©2010 American Chemical Society.

Hacking home routers

Don’t you just love some of the stuff that comes out of the upcoming Black Hat conference? I can understand pointing out issues with web security — particularly at the enterprise level — but announcing a hack to break into home routers in wide use, and here’s the especially bad part, releasing  a tool to automate the hack so the usual gang of fools and script kiddies don’t even have to work at it. I think we all know who/what the real tool is here.

From the link:

An engineer from security firm Seismic claims he will soon release instructions on how to hack millions of wireless routers commonly used in residential Internet connections. The how-to hack instructions are part of what has become an annual chest-beating by speakers at the Black Hat security conference that hype their keynotes with end-of-PC-security-as-we-know-it promises.

Ars Technica reports that the presentation, entitled “How to Hack Millions of Routers” (not mincing any words there, are they?), will be given at Black Hat by Senior Security Engineer for Seismic Craig Heffner. Heffner’s presentation will include a live demonstration on how to “pop a remote root shell on Verizon (VZ) FIOS routers” as well as a tool release that will automate the described attack.

Seismic has tested around 30 routers so far, and has found that approximately half of them are vulnerable to this attack. The list of vulnerable routers includes routers from Linksys, Belkin, ActionTec, ASUS, Thompson, and Dell (DELL).

July 22, 2010

FTC’s “hot news doctrine”

Via KurzweilAI.net —  this is the first I’ve heard of this Federal Trade Commission proposal. As you can imagine, I don’t like it at all.

Google Tells FTC Enforcing “Hot News” Would Create a Hot Mess

July 22, 2010

Source: New York Times — July 21, 2010

The  Federal Trade Commission’s proposed “hot news doctrine” — legislation that would prevent others from reporting the same facts as a traditional publisher for a period of time after a news event — “would not only hurt free expression … [but] make it virtually impossible for aggregators such as Google News and Yahoo News to function the way they currently do, publishing excerpts from news stories without explicit permission from media outlets,” Google public policy director Pablo Chavez said.

The “hot news doctrine” would also partially cripple KurzweilAI’s news coverage. – Ed.

Read original article

Improving the application of nanocoatings

Nanocoatings do a lot of good, particularly with making solar cells more efficient. The trick is they haven’t been too easy to apply to big areas. Researchers at Stanford have helped change that issue.

From the link:

Nanoscale wires, pores, bumps, and other textures can dramatically improve the performance of solar cells, displays, and even self-cleaning coatings. Now researchers at Stanford University have developed a simpler, cheaper way to add these features to large surfaces.

Nanoscale structures offer particular advantages in devices that interact with light. For example, a thin-film solar cell carpeted with nano pillars is more efficient because the pillars absorb more light and convert more of it into electricity. Other nanoscale textures offer similar advantages in optical devices like display backlights.

The problem is scaling up to large areas, says Yi Cui, a Stanford professor of materials science and engineering who led the new work. “Many methods are really complex and don’t solve the problem,” says Cui. Lithography can be used to carve out nanoscale features with precise dimensions, but it’s expensive and difficult. Simpler techniques, such as spin-coating a surface with nanoparticles or using acids to etch it with tiny holes, don’t allow for much precision.

Nanosphere smear: Using a spinning rod to deposit an ink suspension of silica nanospheres is a simple way to create bumpy, nanotextured coatings like these three.

Credit: ACS/Nano Letters

The first beneficiaries of quantum computing?

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:12 pm

Chemists. Who’d a thunk that one. It’s not totally there yet, but quantum chemistry may transform the field.

From the link:

There’s no shortage of scientists waiting to get their hands on quantum computers. Cryptographers, in particular, are licking their lips in anticipation.

But there’s another group who are already beginning to benefit from the first few iterations of quantum computing devices: chemists.

Various scientists have pointed out that it is possible to study the properties of a particular quantum system using another controllable quantum system.

This kind of quantum simulation has huge implications for chemistry. No longer would it be necessary to mess around with real atoms, ions and molecules in messy experiments with test tubes and bunsen burners.

Instead it ought to be possible to perfectly simulate what goes on using a quantum computer set up in the right way. That’s the theory anyway. The practice is inevitably more tricky.

July 17, 2010

The Tea Party is …

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 7:21 pm

… to 60s vintage hippies as the neocon movement was to post-WWII pinkos.

Manufacturing carbon nanotubes at room temperature

This document outlines a method of creating carbon nanotubes that doesn’t require high temperature or pressure. This potentially will dramtically lower the cost of manufacturing carbon nanotubes.

From the link:

We develop a new chemical route to carbon nanotubes at room temperature. Graphite powder was immersed in a mixed solution of nitric and sulphuric acid with potassium chloride. After heating the solution up to 70‰ and leaving them in the air for 3 days, we obtained carbon nanotube bundles. The process could readily give an easy way of preparing carbon nanotubes without high temperature and high pressure. We develop a new chemical route to carbon nanotubes at room temperature. Graphite powderwas immersed in a mixed solution of nitric and sulphuric acid with potassium chloride. After heatingthe solution up to 70‰ and leaving them in the air for 3 days, we obtained carbon nanotube bundles.The process could readily give an easy way of preparing carbon nanotubes without high temperatureand high pressure.
And:
In summary, we have presented a simple chemical method for producing CNTs in liquid solution at 70‰ without any pressure treatment. The CNTs form bundles containing crystalized and multi-walled single CNTs with a diameter of around 14.6nm. The electron diffraction patterns demonstrate its zigzag edge structure. We expect this new synthesizing method may produce cheap CNTs and as a result open an easy access to the industrial device based on CNTs.
Here’s an illustration and an image from the link:
FIG. 1: (a) mixture of graphite, sulfuric acid (H2SO4, and nitric acid (HNO3). (b) potassium chlorate (KClO3) was put in the solution. (c) floating carbons produced from the pro- cess (b) were transferred into DI water. (d) the sample was dried after filtration. The process (b) and (c) were repeated 4 times.

FIG. 3: (a) transmission electron microscope (TEM) images of CMT bundles. Panels (b) and (c) magnificently present the regions pointed by number 1 and 2 in panel (a), respectively. A single CNT noticed by an arrow in panel (b) proves CNT’s flexibility. (d) the enlarged region of panel (c) (arrow 3), revealing a multi-walled nanotube with a diameter of 14.6nm.

July 16, 2010

Jonah Goldberg and cogent arguments …

… are mutually exclusive.

This is a very interesting take at Reason on where libertarianism is heading. It features three essays:

  • (Reason) Contributing Editor Brink Lindsey is vice president for research at the Cato Institute. He writes from the libertarian perspective stating libertarians need a clean break from the conservative political movement.
  • Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Goldberg argues libertarianism should retain and seek out ties to the conservative movement.
  • Matt Kibbe is president of FreedomWorks. He makes the argument the Tea Party movement is a libertarian movement.

It’s a long read for online content, but certainly worth the time if you are interested in libertarianism and are curious how to reconcile today’s political climate in the United States with a fiscally conservative/socially liberal stance.

The extended title refers to Goldberg’s essay. He’s certainly no intellectual heavyweight (or even light middleweight for that matter) and almost exclusively falls back on talking points from up on high and straw men in both his short- and long-form writing. This contribution to Reason did not disappoint on that measure.

To keep this short I’ll just point out one particularly egregious example.

Here’s Goldberg from graf six:

For starters, why should libertarianism be so hostile to culturally conservative values? Isn’t libertarianism about freedom, including the freedom to live conservatively if that’s what people choose?

Er, Jonah, libertarianism is not hostile to conservative values in the least and certainly all people should have the freedom to live conservatively, or not, if they choose. The problem comes when conservative values become the law of the land through bad policy. When this happens all people don’t have the opportunity to live as they choose. Only conservatives are permitted that right.

So it pays to remember, and to be intellectually honest, in recognizing there is a huge difference in being hostile to conservative values and hostile to conservative laws. Libertarians tend to dislike the heavy hand of the state in all spheres of influence. The free market for sure, but just as much in the free mind and body.

Bush 43-era DoJ pursued obscenity cases over national security

Just wow.

From today’s Reason Alert:

Earlier in the trial, we learned the Bush administration actually diverted resources away from national security and onto the Stagliano case. Abowitz says, “After originally working on national security issues, [FBI Special Agent Daniel] Bradley testified, he was transferred to the obscenity desk and assigned to an already open investigation into Stagliano. How’s that for government priorities?”

For more on the actual trial, here’s a Reason article from today.

Did the FCC actually do something good here?

I’m pretty suspicious of government activity by default because all too often something that sounds both reasonable and sensible turns out to have a dank underbelly that undermines anything good in the action. Keeping that in mind this move by the Federal Communications Commission actually sounds like a good idea. Hard to believe I just typed that line.

From the link:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously today to initiate a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeking comment on easing restrictions and paving the way for satellite spectrum to be used for land-based mobile broadband service. The move would be a significant step toward freeing up the 500 MHz of spectrum bandwidth by 2020 to meet growing wireless broadband needs.

The FCC proposes to change the rules for how satellite companies are allowed to use the Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) airwaves they control to spur more innovation in delivering mobile broadband spectrum. A second proposal from the FCC would allow satellite companies to relinquish MSS spectrum in exchange for a return of the profit when those airwaves are auctioned off.

FCC commissioner Michael Copps explains in a statement “As demands for speed and mobility increase, so does the demand for spectrum upon which mobile wireless broadband rides. Unfortunately, we can’t make any more spectrum, so we need to find ways to optimize our supply by expanding flexibility of use for licensees and improving efficiency through new and innovative technologies.

Spambot “most wanted” list

Filed under: Business, et.al., Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:16 pm

You know what to do

From the link:

1. Rustock (generating 43% of all spam)

The current king of spam, its malware employs a kernel-mode rootkit, inserts random text into spam and is capable of TLS encryption. Concentrates solely on pharmaceutical spam.

2. Mega-D (10.2%)

A long-running botnet that has had its ups and downs, owing to the attention it attracts from researchers. Concentrates mostly on pharmaceutical spam.

3. Festi (8%)

A newer spambot that employs a kernel mode rootkit and is often installed alongside Pushdo on the same host.

4. Pushdo (6.3%)

A multi-faceted botnet or botnets, with many different types of campaigns. A major distributor of malware downloaders and blended threat e-mails, but also sends pharma, replica, diploma and other types of spam.

5. Grum (6.3%)

Also employs a kernel-level rootkit. A wide range of spamming templates changes often, served up by multiple Web servers. Mostly pharma spam.

6. Lethic (4.5%)

The malware acts as a proxy by relaying SMTP from a remote server to its destination. Mostly pharma and replica spam.

7. Bobax (4.3%)

Another long-running botnet that employs sophisticated methods to locate its command servers. Mostly pharma spam.

8. Bagle (3.5%)

The name derives from an earlier mass-mailing worm. Nowadays, Bagle variants act as proxies for data, and especially spam.

9. Maazben (2.0%)

By default, uses a proxy-based spam engine. However, it may also use a template-based spam engine if the bot runs behind a network router. Focuses on Casino spam.

10. Donbot (1.3%)

Donbot is named after the string “don” found in the malware body. Mainly pharma spam.

Steve Jobs is slowly losing his mind

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:25 am

That’s the only explanation for his increasingly poor decision making at Apple. The iPhone 4 has a very serious — almost to the point of crippling — design flaw in the phone’s antenna that Apple engineers knew about long before the release of the product. Jobs liked the design too much to make any alterations that would address the design flaw. His decision put a sub-par high-end product on the market where it will face increasing criticism. And now he’s doubling down by possibly not issuing a recall for the faulty device. This move should cost Apple customers and a serious hit on the stock value.

From the link:

Apple engineers were aware of the risks associated with the new antenna design as early as a year ago, but Chief Executive Steve Jobs liked the design so much that Apple went ahead with its development, said another person familiar with the matter.

The electronics giant kept such a shroud of secrecy over the iPhone 4’s development that the device didn’t get the kind of real-world testing that would have exposed such problems in phones by other manufacturers, said people familiar with the matter.

And:

Apple first suggested people buy a case or hold the phone differently. A week later, it said that the problem lay in a software glitch that has been making signal reception look stronger than it is in all of its phones since the original iPhone three years ago.

The explanations, however, have only fueled the discontent, particularly after product-quality watchdog Consumer Reports challenged those assertions, saying there was a hardware problem. Since the iPhone 4 launched, Apple’s stock price has fallen more than 7%.

Solar plus nanotech equals lower cost cells

I always love covering news that combines solar and nanotechnology, particularly when the combo leads to lower costs for solar power. I’ve previously blogged about nanopillars leading increased solar efficiency.

From the first link:

A material with a novel nanostructure developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley could lead to lower-cost solar cells and light detectors. It absorbs light just as well as commercial thin-film solar cells but uses much less semiconductor material.

The new material consists of an array of nanopillars that are narrow at the top and thicker at the bottom. The narrow tops allow light to penetrate the array without reflecting off. The thicker bottom absorbs light so that it can be converted into electricity. The design absorbs 99 percent of visible light, compared to the 85 percent absorbed by an earlier design in which the nanopillars were the same thickness along their entire length. An ordinary flat film of the material would absorb only 15 percent of the light.

Thick and thin: A scanning electron microscope image shows dual-diameter light-trapping germanium nanopillars.

Credit: Ali Javey, UC Berkeley

Nanotech and breast cancer

Nanotechnology is proving to be a key component in the fight against cancer and I’ve done a lot of blogging about the topic. Here’s another breakthrough on that front, this time targeting breast cancer with an arsenic nanoparticle.

From the second link, the release:

New Arsenic Nanoparticle Blocks Aggressive Breast Cancer

New technology targets cancer prevalent in young women

By Marla Paul

CHICAGO — You can teach an old drug new chemotherapy tricks. Northwestern University researchers took a drug therapy proven for blood cancers but ineffective against solid tumors, packaged it with nanotechnology and got it to combat an aggressive type of breast cancer prevalent in young women, particularly young African-American women.

That drug is arsenic trioxide, long part of the arsenal of ancient Chinese medicine and recently adopted by Western oncologists for a type of leukemia. The cancer is triple negative breast cancer, which often doesn’t respond well to traditional chemotherapy and can’t be treated by potentially life-saving targeted therapies. Women with triple negative breast cancer have a high risk of the cancer metastasizing and poor survival rates.

Prior to the new research, arsenic hadn’t been effective in solid tumors. After the drug was injected into the bloodstream, it was excreted too rapidly to work. The concentration of arsenic couldn’t be increased, because it was then too toxic.

A new arsenic nanoparticle — designed to slip undetected through the bloodstream until it arrives at the tumor and delivers its poisonous cargo — solved all that. The nanoparticle, called a nanobin, was injected into mice with triple negative breast tumors. Nanobins loaded with arsenic reduced tumor growth in mice, while the non-encapsulated arsenic had no effect on tumor growth. The arsenic nanobins blocked tumor growth by causing the cancer cells to die by a process known as apoptosis.

The nanobin consists of nanoparticulate arsenic trioxide encapsulated in a tiny fat vessel (a liposome) and coated with a second layer of a cloaking chemical that prolongs the life of the nanobin and prevents scavenger cells from seeing it. The nanobin technology limits the exposure of normal tissue to the toxic drug as it passes through the bloodstream. When the nanobin gets absorbed by the abnormal, leaky blood vessels of the tumor, the nanoparticles of arsenic are released and trapped inside the tumor cells.

“The anti-tumor effects of the arsenic nanobins against clinically aggressive triple negative breast tumors in mice are extremely encouraging,” said Vince Cryns, associate professor of medicine and an endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. “There’s an urgent need to develop new therapies for poor prognosis triple negative breast cancer.”

Cryns and Tom O’Halloran, director of the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute at Northwestern, are senior authors of a paper on the research, which will be published July 15 in Clinical Cancer Research and featured on the journal cover. Richard Ahn, a student in the medical scientists training program at Northwestern, is lead author.

“Everyone said you can’t use arsenic for solid tumors,” said O’Halloran, also associate director of basic sciences at the Lurie Cancer Center. “That’s because they didn’t deliver it the right way. This new technology delivered the drug directly to the tumor, maintained its stability and shielded normal cells from the toxicity. That’s huge.”

The nanoparticle technology has great potential for other existing cancer drugs that have been shelved because they are too toxic or excreted too rapidly, Cryns noted. “We can potentially make those drugs more effective against solid tumors by increasing their delivery to the tumor and by shielding normal cells from their toxicity,” he said. “This nanotechnology platform has the potential to expand our arsenal of chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer.”

“Working with both professors O’Halloran and Cryns has enabled us to develop the nanobins and hopefully create a new platform for the effective treatment of triple negative breast cancer,” Ahn said. “Having both a basic science mentor and breast cancer mentor is ideal training for me as a future physician-scientist.”

Looking ahead, the challenge now is to refine and improve the technology. “How do we make it more toxic to cancer cells and less toxic to healthy cells?” asked Cryns, also the director of SUCCEED, a Northwestern Medicine program to improve the quality of life for breast cancer survivors.

Northwestern scientists are working on decorating the nanobins with antibodies that recognize markers on tumor cells to increase the drug’s uptake by the tumor.  They also want to put two or more drugs into the same nanobin and deliver them together to the tumor.

“Once you fine-tune this, you could use what would otherwise be a lethal or highly toxic dose of the drug, because a good deal of it will be directly released in the tumor,” O’Halloran said.

The research was supported by the National Cancer Institute-funded Northwestern University Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence. Northwestern has one of seven such centers in the United States.

(Northwestern Medicine is comprised of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.)

Marla Paul is the health sciences editor

Here’s PhysOrg’s coverage of this story.

July 15, 2010

Culture-growing adult stem cells

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:25 pm

News on the stem cell research front.

From the link:

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have developed a technique they believe will help scientists overcome a major hurdle to the use of adult stem cells for treating muscular dystrophy and other muscle-wasting disorders that accompany aging or disease: They’ve found that growing muscle stem cells on a specially developed synthetic matrix that mimics the elasticity of real muscle allows them to maintain their self-renewing properties.

Per Fed, economic recovery slowing

Filed under: Business, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:40 pm

This is very easy news to believe. Things are still pretty rough out there.

From the link:

Federal Reserve policymakers, acknowledging a slowing in the economic recovery at their meeting in late June, began to consider the possibility of providing additional stimulus if growth fell sharply — a possibility that has become all the more real as signs of weakness have piled up.

Is it a planet? Is it a comet? I don’t know!

News from NASA hot from the inbox:

NASA Finds Super Hot Planet With Unique Comet-Like Tail

WASHINGTON, July 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed the existence of a baked object that could be called a “cometary planet.” The gas giant planet, named HD 209458b, is orbiting so close to its star that its heated atmosphere is escaping into space.

Observations taken with Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) suggest powerful stellar winds are sweeping the cast-off atmospheric material behind the scorched planet and shaping it into a comet-like tail.

“Since 2003 scientists have theorized the lost mass is being pushed back into a tail, and they have even calculated what it looks like,” said astronomer Jeffrey Linsky of the University of Colorado in Boulder, leader of the COS study. “We think we have the best observational evidence to support that theory. We have measured gas coming off the planet at specific speeds, some coming toward Earth. The most likely interpretation is that we have measured the velocity of material in a tail.”

The planet, located 153 light years from Earth, weighs slightly less than Jupiter but orbits 100 times closer to its star than the Jovian giant. The roasted planet zips around its star in a short 3.5 days. In contrast, our solar system’s fastest planet, Mercury, orbits the sun in 88 days. The extrasolar planet is one of the most intensely scrutinized, because it is the first of the few known alien worlds that can be seen passing in front of, or transiting, its star. Linsky and his team used COS to analyze the planet’s atmosphere during transiting events.

During a transit, astronomers study the structure and chemical makeup of a planet’s atmosphere by sampling the starlight that passes through it. The dip in starlight because of the planet’s passage, excluding the atmosphere, is very small, only about 1.5 percent. When the atmosphere is added, the dip jumps to 8 percent, indicating a bloated atmosphere.

COS detected the heavy elements carbon and silicon in the planet’s super-hot 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit atmosphere. This detection revealed the parent star is heating the entire atmosphere, dredging up the heavier elements and allowing them to escape the planet.

The COS data also showed the material leaving the planet was not all traveling at the same speed. “We found gas escaping at high velocities, with a large amount of this gas flowing toward us at 22,000 miles per hour,” Linsky said. “This large gas flow is likely gas swept up by the stellar wind to form the comet-like tail trailing the planet.”

Hubble’s newest spectrograph has the ability to probe a planet’s chemistry at ultraviolet wavelengths not accessible to ground-based telescopes. COS is proving to be an important instrument for probing the atmospheres of “hot Jupiters” like HD 209458b.

Another Hubble instrument, the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), observed the planet in 2003. The STIS data showed an active, evaporating atmosphere, and a comet-tail-like structure was suggested as a possibility. But STIS wasn’t able to obtain the spectroscopic detail necessary to show a tail, or an Earthward-moving component of the gas, during transits. The tail was detected for the first time because of the unique combination of very high ultraviolet sensitivity and good spectral resolution provided by COS.

Although this extreme planet is being roasted by its star, it won’t be destroyed anytime soon. “It will take about a trillion years for the planet to evaporate,” Linsky said.

The results appeared in the July 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute, operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. in Washington, conducts Hubble science operations.

For illustrations and more information about HD 209458b, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
Source: NASA
Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

Start cowering under your afghans …

… the robots are coming. (Just to let you know, the title refers to an old Saturday Night Live short selling insurance to the elderly for protection from robots.)

The Conference on Artificial Intelligence is making the case for robotics as a major growth industry in the very near future.

From the link:

“Early on there was this dream that robots could be generally intelligent; that they would rival and surpass humans in their abilities to do things,” Leslie Kaelbling, a professor of computer science and engineering at MIT, said at the conference. “The current commercial reality is pretty different.”

A lot of AI research fragmented in directions away from robotics, creating algorithms that underpin business intelligence, finance, Web and other uses. AI got separated from robotics because the machines are a pain: physical and unreliable. However, “They are getting better,” Kaelbling said.

Today, robotics researchers have computers that are faster, machinery that is more reliable, and many of the algorithms used in routine robotic tasks have already been built, said Kaelbling, who asked this research community whether it was time to give robotics another try.

Acid bath may lead to armchair quantum wires

More nanotech news.

The release:

Nanotubes pass acid test

Rice researchers’ method untangles long tubes, clears hurdle toward armchair quantum wire

HOUSTON – (July 14, 2010) – Rice University scientists have found the “ultimate” solvent for all kinds of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), a breakthrough that brings the creation of a highly conductive quantum nanowire ever closer.

Nanotubes have the frustrating habit of bundling, making them less useful than when they’re separated in a solution. Rice scientists led by Matteo Pasquali, a professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering and in chemistry, have been trying to untangle them for years as they look for scalable methods to make exceptionally strong, ultralight, highly conductive materials that could revolutionize power distribution, such as the armchair quantum wire.

The armchair quantum wire — a macroscopic cable of well-aligned metallic nanotubes — was envisioned by the late Richard Smalley, a Rice chemist who shared the Nobel Prize for his part in discovering the the family of molecules that includes the carbon nanotube. Rice is celebrating the 25th anniversary of that discovery this year.

Pasquali, primary author Nicholas Parra-Vasquez and their colleagues reported this month in the online journal ACS Nano that chlorosulfonic acid can dissolve half-millimeter-long nanotubes in solution, a critical step in spinning fibers from ultralong nanotubes.

Current methods to dissolve carbon nanotubes, which include surrounding the tubes with soap-like surfactants, doping them with alkali metals or attaching small chemical groups to the sidewalls, disperse nanotubes at relatively low concentrations. These techniques are not ideal for fiber spinning because they damage the properties of the nanotubes, either by attaching small molecules to their surfaces or by shortening them.

A few years ago, the Rice researchers discovered that chlorosulfonic acid, a “superacid,” adds positive charges to the surface of the nanotubes without damaging them. This causes the nanotubes to spontaneously separate from each other in their natural bundled form.

This method is ideal for making nanotube solutions for fiber spinning because it produces fluid dopes that closely resemble those used in industrial spinning of high-performance fibers. Until recently, the researchers thought this dissolution method would be effective only for short single-walled nanotubes.

In the new paper, the Rice team reported that the acid dissolution method also works with any type of carbon nanotube, irrespective of length and type, as long as the nanotubes are relatively free of defects.

Parra-Vasquez described the process as “very easy.”

“Just adding the nanotubes to chlorosulfonic acid results in dissolution, without even mixing,” he said.

While earlier research had focused on single-walled carbon nanotubes, the team discovered chlorosulfonic acid is also adept at dissolving multiwalled nanotubes (MWNTs). “There are many processes that make multiwalled nanotubes at a cheaper cost, and there’s a lot of research with them,” said Parra-Vasquez, who earned his Rice doctorate last year. “We hope this will open up new areas of research.”

They also observed for the first time that long SWNTs dispersed by superacid form liquid crystals. “We already knew that with shorter nanotubes, the liquid-crystalline phase is very different from traditional liquid crystals, so liquid crystals formed from ultralong nanotubes should be interesting to study,” he said.

Parra-Vasquez, now a postdoctoral researcher at Centre de Physique Moleculaire Optique et Hertzienne, Universite’ de Bordeaux, Talence, France, came to Rice in 2002 for graduate studies with Pasquali and Smalley.

Study co-author Micah Green, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Texas Tech and a former postdoctoral fellow in Pasquali’s research group, said working with long nanotubes is key to attaining exceptional properties in fibers because both the mechanical and electrical properties depend on the length of the constituent nanotubes. Pasquali said that using long nanotubes in the fibers should improve their properties on the order of one to two magnitudes, and that similar enhanced properties are also expected in thin films of carbon nanotubes being investigated for flexible electronics applications.

An immediate goal for researchers, Parra-Vasquez said, will be to find “large quantities of ultralong single-walled nanotubes with low defects — and then making that fiber we have been dreaming of making since I arrived at Rice, a dream that Rick Smalley had and that we have all shared since.”

###

Co-authors of the paper are graduate students Natnael Behabtu, Colin Young, Anubha Goyal and Cary Pint; Pulickel Ajayan, the Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and of chemistry, and Robert Hauge, a distinguished faculty fellow in chemistry, all at Rice; and Judith Schmidt, Ellina Kesselman, Yachin Cohen and Yeshayahu Talmon of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research, the Robert A. Welch Foundation, the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation and the Evans-Attwell Welch Postdoctoral Fellowship funded the research.

Read the abstract at: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nn100864v

For more about Rice’s 25th anniversary Year of Nano celebrations, visit: http://buckyball.smalley.rice.edu/year_of_nano/

Nanotech improves submarine sonar

Filed under: et.al. — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:05 am

Carbon nanotubes really are an amazing material.

The release:

Submarines could use new nanotube technology for sonar and stealth

IMAGE: Submarines of the future could be equipped with “nanotube speakers ” to help improve sonar to probe the ocean depths and make the vessels invisible to enemies.

Click here for more information.

Speakers made from carbon nanotube sheets that are a fraction of the width of a human hair can both generate sound and cancel out noise — properties ideal for submarine sonar to probe the ocean depths and make subs invisible to enemies. That’s the topic of a report on these “nanotube speakers,” which appears in ACS’ Nano Letters, a monthly journal.

Ali Aliev and colleagues explain that thin films of nanotubes can generate sound waves via a thermoacoustic effect. Every time that an electrical pulse passes through the microscopic layer of carbon tubes, the air around them heats up and creates a sound wave. Chinese scientists first discovered that effect in 2008, and applied it in building flexible speakers. In a remarkable demonstration, which made its way onto YouTube, the Chinese nanoscientists stuck a sheet of nanotubes onto the side of a flag, and attached it to an mp3 player. They used the nanotube-coated flag to play a song while it flapped in the breeze. But they did not test its ability to operate under water.

Aliev’s group took that step, showing that nanotube sheets produce the kind of low-frequency sound waves that enable sonar to determine the location, depth, and speed of underwater objects. They also verified that the speakers can be tuned to specific frequencies to cancel out noise, such as the sound of a submarine moving through the depths.

###

ARTICLE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE “Underwater Sound Generation Using Carbon Nanotube Projectors”

DOWNLOAD FULL TEXT ARTICLE http://pubs.acs.org/stoken/presspac/presspac/full/10.1021/nl100235n

Interesting space image — the Lutetia planetoid

Great close-up look at an asteroid.

Fig. 1: A playground for geologists: The surface of the asteroid Lutetia is covered in craters. In some places, parallel grooves can also be seen.

Image: ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The ESA space probe Rosetta flew past the Lutetia planetoid at around 6 p.m. CEST on Saturday. The OSIRIS camera system, built and developed under the direction of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, provided unique images of this rendezvous. They not only show a large number of craters on the surface of the celestial body, but also individual rocks and parallel grooves.

With a resolution of around 60 metres per pixel, the images provide a fascinating view of Lutetia. “This is a completely new world, which no-one has ever seen before,” says Max Planck researcher Holger Sierks, Head of the OSIRIS team. The planetoid, whose longest axis measures around 126 kilometres, is oval in shape. Its surface is marked by many craters, both large and small; in one of the larger craters, the images even show evidence of a landslide. In some parts, parallel grooves cover the cosmic rock, the origin of which is still unknown.

The camera system had already focused on the asteroid on Saturday morning. At approximately 6 p.m. the Rosetta space probe was within 3,162 kilometres of the asteroid. “Both the wide-angle and the telephoto camera worked perfectly,” reports Sierks. The Control Centre of the European Space Agency ESA passed the data collected during the fly-by directly to the Max Planck Institute, where researchers worked all day and into the night filtering images from the raw data. On Saturday at around 11 p.m. they presented their initial results.

During the coming days and weeks the scientists want to further evaluate the images. It should then be possible to determine the colour of the asteroid and thus the chemical composition of its surface in more detail. They will also use data from other measuring instruments which were active during the fly-by as well.

Since 2004, the Rosetta space probe has been en route to the Churyumov/Gerasimenko comet, and the plan is for the Philae lander to touch down on the comet in 2014. In September 2008, Rosetta passed the planetoid Steins.

Fig. 2: Zooming in on Lutetia: A sequence of images taken during the fly-by.

Image: ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS eam/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Related links:

[1] Further information on the Rosetta space probe

July 14, 2010

Exercise improves your mental health

Via KurzweilAI.net — regular exercise provides many, many benefits and it’s not surprising improved mental health is among them. Since you’re reading this in front of a computer, take a few minutes sometime today to at least go on a brisk walk. Personally I do a bit of physical exercise, but nothing like I did when I was much younger. Now I completely swear by a 30 minute to hour daily workout on the Wii Fit Plus. For some reason I enjoy the idea of having a virtual trainer guiding my workout. It has something of “the future has arrived” science-fictiony feel to it for me.

Exercise reduces anxiety and depression

Exercise can ameliorate anxiety and depression-like behaviors induced by an adverse early-life environment by altering the chemistry of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates stress responses, researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have found.

In the study, rats were divided into groups and either isolated from their mothers for controlled periods of time to induce stress or given normal maternal contact. Half were given access to a running wheel. In addition to being more anxious, animals that were subjected to stress early in life had higher levels of stress hormones and fewer steroid receptors in the part of the brain controlling behaviour.

“Both the anxious behaviour and the levels of hormones in these rats were reversed with access to the exercise wheel,” said UNSW Professor of Pharmacology Margaret Morris.

“We know that exercise can elevate mood, but here we are seeing chemical changes that may underpin this improvement. One of these is increases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps nerve cells grow.

“Many neurological diseases appear to have their origins early in life. Stress hormones affect the way nerve cells grow in the brain. This discovery may be giving us a clue about a different way to tackle a range of conditions that affect mood and behaviour,” she said.

More info: University of New South Wales news

Here’s the PhysOrg take on this story.

Cool computer technology — an invisible mouse

Via KurzweilAI.net — um, what’s to say here. This is just amazingly cool. Can’t say the tech is totally there from a user standpoint — one commenter mentioned the lag time would be disconcerting at this stage of technology — but the proof-of-concept is utterly amazing.

An invisible computer mouse

MIT Media Lab researchers have developed Mouseless, an invisible computer mouse that costs about $20 to build.

It uses an infrared (IR) laser beam and an infrared camera. The laser beam module creates a plane of IR laser just above the surface the computer sits on. The user cups their hand, and the laser beam lights up the hand that is in contact with the surface. The IR camera detects those bright IR blobs using computer vision. The change in the position and arrangements of these blobs are interpreted as mouse cursor movement and mouse clicks.

More info: Fluid Interfaces Group | MIT Media Lab

Here’s a video of the no-mouse mouse in action (feel free to ignore the attempt at cleverness with the Tom and Jerry cartoon intro.)

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