March 31, 2004

» Will the Skylon, erected in 1951 for the Festival of Britain, rise again? And will it still look like a scary giant bacteriophage?

The structure, 88 metres (290 feet high) in internally lit aluminium-clad steel, would rise again near the Royal Festival Hall, upriver from the London Eye, only yards from where it stood as one of the two centrepieces of the Festival of Britain.

The original Skylon, built in the last year of the postwar Labour government and immensely popular as a futuristic shape, was vengefully scrapped, cut in pieces and sold as ashtrays by an incoming Conservative administration.

The scary Skylon

March 30, 2004

» Ok, so I finally found out how to get ¦, to add to my mastery of |. And I found out what Alt Gr stands for. But that still leaves the mystery of Caps Lock, not to mention Insert, Scroll Lock and all those other keyboard deadbeats

This is Broken:After years of suffering, trouble and pain I finally fixed my keyboard. I will never ever again touch the Caps Lock accidentally. The harassment's over.

Isn't the Caps Lock key one of the most annoying things on every keyboard? I think I can honestly say I have NEVER used this key purposely in the past 15 or 20 years.

Snowsuit: Insert is your white-trash neighbor. It?s surrounded by hall-of-fame keys: Backspace and Delete ? the very Bread & Butter of the computing world. Backspace and Delete are great neighbors. They keep things tidy and don?t let their un-neutered cat roam around the neighborhood.

» Kuma\War, the controversial online game that uses real-world media to support "realistic" wargaming (somewhere between scenario analysis and the 9-11 Survivor project), has finally launched. Oldie but goodie: Henry Jenkins' excellent essay on wargaming.

Why, for instance, did US forces decide to bomb the Husseins' hideout, thereby losing the opportunity to capture and interrogate them, and perhaps find Saddam sooner? "All traditional news channels can do is ask the questions," says Keith Halper, CEO of the New York-based news-cum-games service. "What we did was get on-the-ground photos, satellite images and so on to model the building exactly. You put that all together, provide all the info for the user to consider the alternatives, to see the place as the soldiers there did, and then you perhaps understand why they didn't storm the building, how it could have meant a lot of troops getting shot...

"We live between being the news and being a game," adds Halper. "We wanted to put people in the middle of situations they read about or see on TV so as to better understand them. People submerge themselves in games, so they're important in terms of the emotional perspective they can offer. And to win them you need a grasp of the strategic detail that is often hard to grasp when presented through normal news channels. This is a potentially very powerful adjunct to traditional media."

Uday and Qusay, videogame style

» The Truth about that bottled dragon

It was claimed that German scientists created the specimen in the 1890s and sent it to the Natural History Museum in order to dupe their British counterparts.

But, the story went, the museum had dismissed it as a hoax and it had been spirited away by a museum porter.

In fact the dragon was created by Crawley Creatures, the model makers behind TV's Walking with Dinosaurs, and the jar was made by a specialist glass blowing studio in the Isle of Wight.

bottled dragon

» Apparent Oxymoron #1: World's largest wave found underwater. Plus: Even bigger waves

Earth:The largest ocean wave ever recorded - a mammoth 170 metres high - has been documented off the tiny, low-lying Western Pacific nation of Palau. Two scientists studying seawater temperatures spotted the wave, which was entirely underwater.

Titan:"Waves grow to be up to seven times higher and longer than those on Earth," Ghafoor told "However because of the lower gravity on Titan, waves on Titan will generally appear to move in slow motion."

» Tumbleweeds of the ocean. More about sea balls

It was about 35 years ago that Mr. Ben David first discovered the presence of the sea balls, the name he coined for the rarely seen cylindrical and round balls of varying sizes - an intricate composition of ocean debris, molded and knotted together by Nature's hand.

When dried they are lighter than tennis balls and fragile to the touch. In his collection Mr. Ben David has one oblong sea ball, approximately 18 inches in diameter. Like handcrafted artifacts, the seaweed, twigs, roots and eroded beach and sea grasses are entwined in a tight weave. Smaller samplings, made primarily of grass, are dense and perfectly round and become buoyant and are carried away by the surf.

man with sea ball

» They didn't need a bigger boat. Hey Kev, that's about three years' worth ...

Fishermen from Fraserburgh have caught one of the biggest fish ever netted in the Irish Sea. A ten feet monster tuna which could provide 3,000 cans was caught 70 miles south west of Ireland.

humongous tuna

» Apparent Oxymoron #1: Curing hypochondria

Yet how to deal with hypochondria, a disorder that afflicts one of every 20 Americans who visit doctors, has been one of the most stubborn puzzles in medicine. Where the patient sees physical illness, the doctor sees a psychological problem, and frustration rules on both sides of the examining room.

Recently, however, there has been a break in the impasse. New treatment strategies are offering the first hope since the ancient Greeks recognized hypochondria 24 centuries ago. Cognitive therapy, researchers reported last week, helps hypochondriacal patients evaluate and change their distorted thoughts about illness. After six 90-minute therapy sessions, the study found, 55 percent of the 102 participants were better able to do errands, drive and engage in social activities. Antidepressant medications, other studies indicate, are also proving effective.

» Paul Dacre hates Alastair Campbell, and vice versa. It couldn't happen to two bigger scumbags nicer people. Plus: Agony aunt Widdecombe tells Oedipus to pull himself together

Dacre versus Campbell But if [Dacre] doesn't have much time for Mr Morgan, it is as nothing compared to his detestation for Alastair Campbell.

This is one of the great vendettas. Think Montague v Capulet, Heseltine against Thatcher, Godzilla versus King Kong. In no case do you care very much who wins, but it isn't half fun watching the battle.

» I'm Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, according to the Blue Pyramid Book Quiz. Like hell I am

Incredibly witty and funny, you have a taste for irony in all that you see. It seems that life has put you in perpetually untenable situations, and your sense
of humor is all that gets you through them. These experiences have also made you an ardent pacifist, though you present your message with tongue sewn into cheek. You could coin a phrase that replaces the word "paradox" for millions of people.

» Philip Ball appears to have written the book I've been planning for years - except he's making the case and I was going to attack it. Damn. Memo to self: Procrastination is the thief of time. And time is money.

Guardian: In a series of short, bright chapters, Ball mines the specialist journals to provide the very latest applications of "social physics" to urban planning, the movement of pedestrians and motor traffic, stock price movements, trade, the rise and fall of corporations, diplomacy, political alliances, voting patterns, the composition of city neighbourhoods, criminology, matrimony, the transmission of culture and fashion, circles of acquaintance, the internet, sexual epidemiology, weapons of mass destruction. It soon becomes clear that this is not physics, but something that only looks and sounds and tastes and smells a bit like physics.

Independent: The logical problems upon which the classical political economists went to work have largely been resolved or sidelined. The pressing questions at the beginning of the 21st century - among them the way that we approach risk, the state of the environment, the progress of globalisation and the effects of the politics of human rights - are very different, but just as prone to riddle and wrong-headedness. Ball's search for a "social physics" is a rousing call-to- arms, and an elegant answer to the shallow tradition of British empiricism, for whom everything beyond the immediately observable comes as an uninvited surprise.

» Physical theories of psi. Are such theories compatible with the physical sciences? Possibly related: Feynman on cargo cult science

The following are summaries of some of the attempts to look for theories which might help explain how psi operates. These are written for a non-technical audience - interested parties should look at the references provided for a better idea of the specifics.

Teleological Model of Psi
Quantum Mechanical Theory of Psi
Thermal Fluctuation Model
The Model of Pragmatic Information
Psi Mediated Instrumental Response (PMIR) & Conformance Behaviour Model
Decision Augmentation Theory (DAT)
Electromagnetic Theories

» The Onion | Infograph | Nanotechnology "Micro-soldiers able to sneak behind enemy lines and exist there" "Nano-bots will solve the problem of the homeless by systematically devouring them for fuel"

March 28, 2004

» How did movie zombies get so fast?

It will be ironic if Snyder's Dawn remake represents the tipping point that makes fast zombies the mainstream. George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, more than any other creature feature, hammered home the slow zombie's metaphorical possibilities. In the first Dawn, scores of shopping-mall-bound corpses ride escalators in an endless loop and wobble listlessly to Muzak. This new Dawn, though one of the best scare movies of the last few years, is far more concerned with zombie style than zombie substance: While Snyder's zombies may be mindless, they're less a consumerist mob than a bunch of high-strung car chasers. Maybe, as blogger Tim Hulsey argues, the obsolescence of the slow zombie signals the decline of the obsolescence of the slow zombie signals the decline of "mobocratic" culture in favor of a modern taste for individualism. Or maybe his background as a commercial and music video director makes Snyder constitutionally incapable of creating slow monsters. Either way, the plague of the fast zombies is upon us. Beware!

» NASA says its scramjet has broken the world speed record by hitting Mach 7 in powered flight (with video). This is the first successful scramjet flight since the brief Australian test two years ago

An experimental hypersonic plane has broken the world speed record by flying at seven times the speed of sound, said US space agency Nasa.

The unpiloted X-43A aircraft used a scramjet engine that could one day usher in a new generation of space shuttle propulsion systems.

It flew for 10 seconds on its own power over California, then glided for six minutes before falling into the ocean.

March 27, 2004

» At last, an answer to that most perplexing of questions: If Pluto's a dog, what the hell is Goofy?

Stand By Me:
Gordie: Mickey is a mouse, Donald is a duck, Pluto is a dog. What's Goofy?....
Teddy: He's a dog, he's definitely a dog...
Chris: He can't be a dog he wears a hat and drives a car....
Vern: Yeah, that is weird. What the hell is Goofy? Well then, it turns out that Goofy isn't so goofy after all, is he? In fact, the contrast between Pluto and Goofy is so startling that the very existence of Pluto proves the point. Can you see them standing next to each other. If you saw them out in your driveway right now, wouldn't you be able to tell which of them wasn't the dog? Can't you see that it would have to be Goofy bent over and petting Pluto, and not the other way around? Now, what dog would do that to another dog?

Disney: A: Goofy is a dog! Good-natured but not that bright, this cartoon character made his first appearance, somewhat disguised, as a member of the audience in "Mickey's Revue" (1932).


In the newspaper comic strips, this new character was first given the name Dippy Dawg. A 1938 book indicated the first change to Dippy's name, "The Story of Dippy the Goof," and by 1939 the final change was made to Goofy with the release of the cartoon "Goofy and Wilbur."

Goofy was created as a human character, as opposed to Pluto, who was a pet, so he walked upright and had a speaking voice.

» Does language shape the way we think? The vocabulary of colour suggests that it does

In the mid-1960s Berlin and Kay ended up at Berkeley. They had their graduate students scour the Bay Area for native speakers of foreign languages, quizzing them with standard color chips, not unlike those used as samples for paint. Their object was to establish the meanings of basic color terms--that is, those that could not be analyzed into simpler terms (such as "blue-green") and were not defined as characteristic of a given object (such as "salmon"). Later Berlin and Kay collaborated with other researchers to expand their sample to 110 languages.

Color lexicons vary, first of all, in sheer size: English has 11 basic terms, Russian and Hungarian have 12, yet the New Guinean language Dani has just two. One of the two encompasses black, green, blue and other "cool" colors; the other encompasses white, red, yellow and other "warm" colors. Those languages with only three terms almost always have "black-cool," "white-light" and "red-yellow-warm." Those having a fourth usually carve out "grue" from the "black-cool" term.


One of the most interesting inquiries into these questions is being conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, where Stephen C. Levinson and his associates are studying the psychological consequences of the differing ways in which languages describe space. Several languages lack subjective terms analogous to "left" and "right," using instead absolute directions, akin to "north" and "south." In such a language, one might say, "There's a fly to the north of your nose."

Presented with an arrow pointing to their left, speakers of Guugu Yimithirr, a language of Australia, will later draw it pointing to the left only if they are still facing in the direction in which they saw the arrow in the first place. If, however, they turn around, they will draw it pointing to the right--that is, in the same absolute direction as the original arrow.

» Phantom skyscrapers of London. An obscure part of this site, which also includes artists' impressions of imaginary skylines
» Posted without prejudice: Are teachers whingers?

Teachers told BBC News Online theirs was one of the toughest professions, while non-teachers were mostly unsympathetic, saying "get out into the real world".

So is teaching any more stressful than other jobs?

Well, despite the doubters, it seems there is evidence which suggests it is.


Now of course this survey was based on people's self-evaluation of stress. So some of the more sceptical non-teachers among you might say it proves nothing except that teachers complain more than others.

But while it would be impossible to prove which job category is the toughest, even the doubters must admit that if teachers are complaining in large numbers they must be unhappy about their work. And it is perception that counts when discussing stress.

» Really cool retro-futuristic pictures of space habitats from the L5 society. Haven't seen some of these pictures for nearly 20 years! (via Boing Boing)

Interior of a Bernal Sphere

March 25, 2004

» The presence of methane on Mars can means only two things: volcanic activity or life

If it's volcanoes or similar sources, though, we have to wonder where they actually are. Nothing that looks like an active volcano has been seen. And even if the activity were more subtle and less splashy -- the injection of lava below the surface somewhere, say -- it's hard to see how it would avoid giving off heat that TES on Mars Global Surveyor or Themis on Mars Odyssey would have picked up. A small and not very warm spot of geothermal energy might escape TES, which divides the surface up into fairly big parcels. But with a resolution of 100 metres in the infrared Themis should be able to pick up such things, and so far it hasn't, even though it's taken infrared data on large parts of the planet.

The other obvious possibility is life. On earth, almost all the methane in the atmosphere is produced by bacteria, specifically methanogenic archae. These are anaerobic organisms, which would suit them to Mars. Their metabolisms depend on making methane from carbon dioxide and hydrogen (the hydrogen itself sometimes a product of other bacterial life). These have long been seen as the most likely forms of life to be found on Mars.

» Giant robot is go! More movies at the official site and loads more wicked cool mecha action via the manufacturers' site

Picture of Enryi robot with man

» More about your inner zombie

People talk without thinking all of the time.


If you doubt it, think about this: When you're talking, do you construct each sentence first in your mind, piecing the words together? Or do you simply talk, the words tumbling out in proper sequence and syntax?

For the most part, it's probably the latter. You don't think about each word before you speak it. "Your brain," says Koch, "takes care of that quite well without any conscious effort on your part."

Speaking is, in profound ways, a "nonconscious" behavior. It is a mental operation not directly associated with conscious feelings, sensations or memories. It just sort of happens, seemingly, on its own.

The same is true about much of life. Surprisingly big chunks of it, Koch writes in his new book, "The Quest for Consciousness," happen without us being consciously aware they are happening.

"We all do things every day, virtually every minute, that do not involve conscious thought, from tying our shoes, to driving to work or working out, to cooking dinner," said Koch. "These actions are essentially routine, automatic. You do them without thinking and often have no direct memory of them afterward."

» An atheist is asking the Supreme Court to remove the words "under God" from the American Pledge of Allegiance; they were added fifty years ago

When Dr. Newdow described "under God" as a divisive addition to the pledge, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist asked him what the vote in Congress had been 50 years ago when the phrase was inserted.

The vote was unanimous, Dr. Newdow said.

"Well, that doesn't sound divisive," the chief justice observed.

Dr. Newdow shot back, "That's only because no atheist can get elected to public office."

The courtroom audience broke into applause, an exceedingly rare event that left the chief justice temporarily nonplussed. He appeared to collect himself for a moment, and then sternly warned the audience that the courtroom would be cleared "if there's any more clapping."

» Won't somebody please think of the children??

Recent news stories have covered the announcement of ChatNannies, conversational robots designed to locate and lure pedophiles in Internet chat rooms. Uncritical articles were recently published by New Scientist, BBC News,, the skeptically-minded The Register, and many other news outlets.

Cameron Marlow managed to secure an exclusive interview with one of the "Nanniebots," where he posted a complete transcript and some brief analysis. To anyone who knows anything about chatterbots and the history of artificial intelligence, the transcript represents either a revolutionary leap in technology or it's clearly a human behind the keyboard.

March 23, 2004

» That site about a biker's travels in the dead zone around Chernobyl has finally shown up again

Dilapidated house with radioactivity sign

March 22, 2004

» The truth about that three-headed frog
» Where can you enjoy eternal sunshine? Not on Mercury, but at a mountain on the Moon. (And at the cinema, apparently)
» Troubled? Find your answers on the philosopher's couch

[Marinoff's] message, spoken in a defensive staccato, goes like this: Americans are tired of psychologists dwelling on our every painful feeling, we're sick of psychiatrists prescribing a new drug every time we feel confused and many of our most pressing problems aren't even emotional or chemical to begin with -- they're philosophical. To wit: You don't have to be clinically depressed or burdened by childhood guilt to want help with the timeless questions of the human condition -- the persistence of suffering and the inevitability of death, the need for a reliable ethics. ''Even sane, functional people need principles to live by,'' Marinoff told me, his voice lowering without slowing in the sun-flooded courtroom, ''so we are offering what Socrates called the examined life, the chance to sit with a philosopher and ask what you really believe and make sure it's working for you.''

» An artificial heart ... powered by a cord in the head. More information about the procedure and the amazing story of another receipient

The operation on Mr Braid was certainly a challenging one. First the artificial Jarvik heart had to be sewn into the top of his own, failing organ.

Then a power cable had to be fed up through Mr Braid's chest and into his head, where it was to be attached to a pedestal screwed onto his skull and connected to an external power supply.

Peter Houghton was out shopping in Birmingham's busy city centre when he felt the tug at his head. A would-be mugger had snatched the small camera bag he carries everywhere, which powers the unique pump in his heart through a battery plugged into his skull. The teenage thief, unused to a security device actually wired into his victim's body, dropped the bag and fled as the electrical plugfell out of the bald patch to the back of Houghton's head. A deafening emergency alarm filled the air while January sales shoppers hurried past. Houghton fumbled to get the plug back in as fast as possible. It was, after all, keeping him alive.

March 21, 2004

» Virgae, or fall streaks, are showers of rain or snow that don't make it to the ground

Virgae often show distinct bends like the ones clearly visible in the photographs. These bends often occur where the falling ice particles melt into water droplets. The ice crystals fall almost vertically. But as the water droplets start to evaporate, they become smaller and so fall more slowly, leaving them trailing behind the cloud above.

In other cases, the bend may indicate a region of wind shear, where the strength or direction of the wind changes. On very rare occasions, where the wind is stronger at a lower level, virgae have even been observed in front of the head that generated them.

» The stone heads of Sulawesi

After a hearty lunch, we got ready for our last megalith — Palindo. At over 4m tall, it is the biggest and best-preserved of all the megaliths. Indeed, Karel had saved the best for last. The imposing stone figure towered over us, its round eyes giving no hint of its history. Some locals say Palindo represents Tosaloge, the first mythological inhabitant of the nearby village of Sepe. In the past, villagers presented offerings to him before embarking on an enterprise.

The origin of these stone statues remain a mystery. No one knows who made them, when or why. No tools were found. The megaliths are estimated to date back to AD1300 and are believed to be the remants of a 2,000-year-old megalithic tradition which was once spread across Indonesia and Indochina.

In fact, the Sulawesi megaliths resemble stone figures found on Cheju island in Korea. Called harubay, these statues are believed to ward off evil spirits.

There are various explanations for the Sulawesi megaliths. Some locals believe they were used in ancestral worship or may have had something to do with human sacrifice. One legend says they were criminals turned into stone. Interestingly, all the megaliths are made from a type of stone not found in the area.

March 20, 2004

» Getting closer to a real eyecam

Deja View is the first company ever to offer consumers a complete range of fully-functional video camcorders which are, literally, small enough to be attached to the hat, eyeglasses, or exterior clothing of the user. The cameras, based on a number of patent-pending technologies from Deja View, are less than an inch long, and smaller than a nickel in diameter. Once affixed to the user, the camera is attached by a wire to a PDA-sized remote unit that clips to a belt or waistband, or sits in a pants or coat pocket.

» A short introduction to Buckminster Fuller; and a Flash movie of his dymaxion map

A geodesic dome on an aircraft carrier

March 19, 2004

» Keys to Armageddon — for sale

The keys offered here were designed to fire, fixed site, mobile and submarine launched nuclear missiles. The launch procedure is similar to what ours used to be, in that it takes two keys along with codes and levels of authorization.

pair of keys used to launch Soviet nuclear missiles

» The University of Birmingham's Department of Cryptozoology

Welcome to the website of one of the University's most original Departments. We are among the leading spoof departments in this field in Britain and throughout the world and our reputation in teaching and research is second to none.

These web pages tell you more about the department, the degrees available, the research of its staff, and information on resources. We hope you enjoy exploring this web site and finding out more about the Department of Cryptozoology. If you can't find what you are looking for, let us know and we will do our best to help.

» Rocking in ancient India

A dyke on Kupgal Hill contains hundreds and perhaps thousands of rock art engravings, or petroglyphs, a large quantity of which date to the Neolithic, or late Stone Age (several thousand years BC).

Researchers think shamen or young males came to the site to carry out rituals and to "tap into" the power of the site. However, some of it is now at threat from quarrying activities.

The boulders which have small, groove-like impressions are called "musical stones" by locals. When struck with small granite rocks, these impressions emit deep, "gong-like notes".

» Wild
» Where is the Amber Room?

The original Amber Room that stood in this place was one of the great masterpieces of the 18th century. Somewhere along the line--no one at the Catherine Palace museum now seems quite sure when--it acquired the immodest nickname "the Eighth Wonder of the World," still to be found in articles and guidebooks today. That, however, is more than can be said for the first Amber Room itself, which disappeared during the chaotic final months of World War II and can't be found at all.

As ARTnews put it, "The mystery surrounding its fate is to the Russians what UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle are in the West." And not just to Russians. The mystery has sunk its hooks into an international mélange of politicians, filmmakers, ex-Nazis, treasure divers, art historians and freelance conspiracy paranoids. The Amber Room files of the Stasi, the former East German secret police, run to some 180,000 pages, which apparently someone has counted. Internet sites raise virtual eyebrows over the supposed curse that has caused the suspicious deaths of several Amber Room hunters; on, Baron Eduard von Falz-Fein, founder of the Amber Room Club (which included French mystery writer Georges Simenon), pledges $5 million to its finder. There are at least four suspense novels in English on the topic, all called The Amber Room. The missing panels have even played a role in international relations. Russian president Boris Yeltsin lobbed a diplomatic grenade during a 1991 state visit to Germany by proclaiming that he knew where the Germans had hidden the Amber Room and he jolly well wanted it back.

» Beyond business class: the rise and rise of private jets

Prosecutors may also recognize that the private jet has been a key, perhaps the key, to the creation of an elite executive class. Time was, flying on a plane was a democratic experience. CEOs could do no better than first class. Today, when salespeople who log tons of frequent-flyer miles routinely fly in the front rows, first class is second class. And even if you're seated in first class, you still have to endure the indignity of removing your shoes and belt in public. Commercial flyers — no matter how wealthy they are — remain tethered to airline schedules, are subject to inevitable delays, and assume the risk of being seated next to screaming babies.

» The X and Y of it all: snowclones are the new clichés

Of course, not every kind of singular noun is equally likely to occur: outside of this template, backpack is about twice as frequent as broccoli, which in turn is about twice as frequent as crux, but "the crux of it all" gets 608 ghits, while "the broccoli of it all" gets 1, and "the backpack of it all" gets none.

March 18, 2004

» How to put a lobster into suspended animation. Perhaps we should leave the conquest of space to our crustacean superiors.

First, the lobster's metabolism is slowed in below-freezing sea water and then it's immersed in the minus-40 degree brine. Liberman said the lobster freezes so quickly that damage to muscle tissue cells from the formation of ice crystals is minimized.

The lobsters are then thawed in 28-degree sea water. A marketing video from the company shows the lobsters freely wriggling around after about two and a half hours.

The first time they tried it, Trufresh froze about 30 lobsters and two came back to life, Liberman said. But the company wasn't in the lobster business and never pursued it.

» Towing icebergs — by kite

A lean, 6ft, 45-year-old mountaineer and entrepreneur, Tim is a strong looking man. He will have to be. Next summer he and his project partner, former UK squad kayaker Geoff Shacklock-Evans, plan to spend several weeks on an iceberg being towed by a kite. The daily routine will involve securing anchor points, handling a revolutionary kite system, taking complex measurements, and staying very alert. Crevasses, seasickness and sub-zero winds will feature.

» Someone's faking pictures of fairies, but not in the Cottingley way

At least three London dealers are believed to have been duped into buying pictures masquerading as the work of John Anster Fitzgerald (1823-1906), who specialised in disturbing visions of a fairyland peopled with menacing and enigmatic spirits.

In one case it took scientific analysis to prove that the paints used were not available until 1908, two years after the artist's death. "A new John Drew is in town," one specialist said, recalling the conman who in 1998 was found to have defrauded the art world for years.

» What's going on in the Noon factory up the road

A day in Noon's $20 million, 100,000-square-foot factory reveals the scale of this titanic takeout. It begins at 6 a.m., when chefs look at estimated orders for tomorrow's meals. By the end of the two-shift day, the factory's kitchens will have served up more than 150,000 meals from a menu of 800 different dishes. Most are Indian, but 72 are Mexican, 40 Thai, and 20 Chinese. The majority of this factory's output is for Sainsbury's, the U.K.'s second-largest supermarket chain. Two more factories in west London supply another half-dozen of the major chains.

At 9 a.m., the supermarkets firm up their orders and the factory crunches into top gear. Raw materials are received, passed through metal detectors (to check for stray bits of machinery and such), and examined for quality. Ingredients for each batch of a recipe are weighed out and piled high on trolleys that are wheeled to huge bratt" pans and steam kettles. The pans cook 500 pounds of rice at a time--the factory boils 15 tons a day--while the sauces are cooked in 1,000- and 2,000-pound kettles with internal stirrers.

March 17, 2004

» Monowheels and "other vehicles with insufficient wheels". Bonus vehicular eccentricity: unicycles with excessive wheels

» How to play tag with your kids. Shades of Captain Cyborg

The chip, which measures 15mm (½in) by 17mm, could be embedded in teddy bears, sportswear or children's watches. If a child disappeared, parents would be able to use a telephone or computer to contact a central database with a serial number for the global positioning device. Using three satellites, the toy company would then be able to trace the child anywhere in the world.

» Apparently Britain hasn't got any better since I was five

Yet according to the New Economics Foundation, its new Measure of Domestic Progress (MDP) ranks 1976 as the best year on record for quality of life, though not by very much.

MDP, according to the foundation's calculations, has changed very little since the Fifties, but peaked in 1976 before falling in the Eighties, rising again in the Nineties, and levelling out again since the millennium.

» More I, Robot: Introducing the NS5: product specs and the chance to customise your own robot

I, Robot picture

March 16, 2004

» Biologists are challenging linguists' ideas about early languages. More over on the Language Log

Languages change so fast, the linguists point out, that their genealogies can be traced back only a few thousand years at best before the signal dissolves completely into noise: witness how hard Chaucer is to read just 600 years later.

But the linguists' problem has recently attracted a new group of researchers who are more hopeful of success. They are biologists who have developed sophisticated mathematical tools for drawing up family trees of genes and species. Because the same problems crop up in both gene trees and language trees, the biologists are confident that their tools will work with languages, too

» Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait finally takes on arch-nemesis Richard Hoagland; here's the short version

Astronomer Philip Plait is tired of radio personality Richard Hoagland's claims. He's had enough of Hoagland's assertions that NASA is covering up evidence of extraterrestrial life, that the infamous Face on Mars was built by sentient aliens and, of late, that otherworldly machine parts are embedded in the red planet's dirt.

And then there's the mile-long translucent Martian worm.

» Adult humour at Legoland

Hidden in a miniature Washington, D.C., at Legoland California, among thousands of characters living frozen lives, a businessman moons a presidential motorcade.

Nearby, in a Lego replica of New York City, a man does his laundry in the nude. And at a New England harbor, beneath an overturned rowboat, two pairs of legs tangle suggestively.

March 15, 2004

» I, Robot trailer is now up. And so true to Asimov's original vision
» Was there anything Leonardo didn't invent first? Not only did he apparently develop a form of plastic, but it's environmentally-friendly to boot

The instructions in the manuscripts were clear enough to allow for an attempted reproduction of the ancient plastic by the professor's team.

"Leonardo created a material somewhere between natural and chemical plastic. Indeed, he had already synthesised a chemical very similar to acetone. But in his experiments he always used non-toxic, organic substances," Professor Vezzosi said.

"We used oil paint pigments and organic materials similar to those used by Leonardo, but you have to be patient and wait until each layer of colour dries completely. By adding vegetable fibres we got a hard and unbreakable final material."

In fact, some of the reproductions of Leonardo's plastics were very similar to Bakelite, the first entirely synthetic plastic patented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland, a Belgian chemist.

» Is Sedna really the tenth planet? Is it the first known member of the Oort cloud? And does it have a moon?
» Fantasy: Buffy Summers, kick-ass role model and slayer of evildoers. Fact: Tim White, born-again Christian and slayer of pizza guy. Bonus vampire slayers: bad girl Faith vs. certifiably-insane Palmer

White: Witnesses said [White] walked into the pizza shop on Normandy Boulevard and allegedly said David Harrison looked like a vampire. He then allegedly shot Harrison in the face and stomach.

Police said White was heavily armed with a knife, a sawed-off shotgun and three pistols when he was taken into custody.

Palmer: But what sent Palmer over the edge was his belief that his girlfriend was in danger of becoming a vampire because Antonio Vieira bit her, Atwell said.

Palmer told him of an incident the week of the murder when he saw Antonio Vieira's image superimposed over his girlfriend's body taunting him by saying: "Ha, ha. I've bit her and now she's a member of the vampire gang. What are you going to do about that?"

March 12, 2004

» Some pleasingly leftfield pictures from the Martian rovers, including shots of the Earth, solar eclipses and (possibly) the Viking 2 orbiter
» A new entrant for the world's most thankless task: Somalia's minister for tourism has his work cut out for him. But the country's proven remarkably resilient, so he might win out over earlier contestants

Since civil war broke out in 1990, Somalia has been divided into some two dozen warring fiefs. But Mr Jimale is undaunted. "Tourists can still go and see the former beautiful sights," he says. "The only problem is they're all totally destroyed." Your correspondent admired what was left of the cathedral. Graffiti outside warned "Beware of landmines".

Mr Jimale wants donors to help rebuild Somalia's national parks, though they mainly lie in areas the government does not control. "Most of the animals have disappeared too," he concedes, "Because we have eaten them."

» How supermarkets make sense of increasingly complex British class system; the original demographic research, including hundreds of categories

Data analysts Experian contend that the old class system isn't flexible enough to be of use to supermarkets when deciding such matters as where to put their stores, what kind of music to have on the PA, or whether to move the beer next to the nappies after 6pm (as some stores do) so after-work booze-hound fathers will remember there's something in their lives other than themselves. The old A-E classes are tied to occupation, which is insufficient data for a supermarket which is trying to lure cash-rich plumbers to buy their poncy coffees, rather than molecular biologists (say) who can only afford gruel and coarse toilet paper.

To deal with this, Experian has devised a consumer classification system called Mosaic UK, which many supermarkets use to help make key decisions (where to put a store, what to fill it with, etc). Using the 2001 Census figures and data on such things as county court judgments, credit ratings, qualifications, car ownership, age and background, and working on this data with geodemographic software, Mosaic UK divides the country into 11 groups, each of which is given an evocative name and a stereotypical - and determinedly heterosexual - couple to match. These 11 master categories break down into 61 delightfully named sub-groups (Golden Empty Nesters, Dinky Developments, White Van Culture, Town Gown Transition etc).

» Britney, meet Ed

Britney Says ...

'Have you ever been to the bookstore at MOMA in New York? Man, that's just about my favourite store in the whole world. I can get lost in there for hours. It's great because there's so much to look at and no one ever recognises me because I have this image of being a dumb uncultured blonde. Anyway, I was in there the other week, just doing some browsing, when I saw this great little book titled 'They Called Her Styrene'.

March 10, 2004

» The Higgs boson - the "God particle" that creates mass - may have been detected

"There's certainly evidence for something, whether it's the Higgs boson is questionable," Dr Renton, a particle physicist at Oxford, told BBC News Online.

"It's compatible with the Higgs boson certainly, but only a direct observation would show that."

If correct, Dr Renton's assessment would place the elusive particle's mass at about 115 gigaelectronvolts.

This comes from a signal obtained at the large electron positron collider (LEP) in Geneva, Switzerland, which has now been dismantled to make way for its replacement - the large hadron collider (LHC).

However, there is a 9% probability that the signal could be background "noise".

» The Archbishop of Canterbury is a big fan of Philip Pullman, whose Dark Materials trilogy is, in part, an attack on organized religion

Update: Transcript of a conversation between the two men at the NT

What the story makes you see is that if you believe in a mortal God, who can win and lose his power, your religion will be saturated with anxiety - and so with violence. In a sense, you could say that a mortal God needs to be killed, from the point of view of faith (as the Buddhists say: "If you meet the Buddha, kill him"). And if you see religious societies in which anxiety and violence predominate, you could do worse than ask what God it is that they believe in. The chances are that they secretly or unconsciously believe in a God who is just another inhabitant of the universe, only more powerful than anyone else. And if he is another inhabitant of the universe, then at the end of the day he just might be subject to change and chance like everything else. He needs protecting: churches are there to keep him safe.

I read the books and the plays as a sort of thought experiment: this is, after all, an alternative world, or set of worlds. What would the Church look like, what would it inevitably be, if it believed only in a God who could be rendered powerless and killed, and needed unceasing protection? It would be a desperate, repressive tyranny. For Pullman, the Church evidently looks like this most of the time; it isn't surprising that the only God in view is the Authority.

» Robert Heinlein's radical first novel, lost for decades, is about to be published

As for his first novel, it remained lost for more than 60 years, until a copy of the manuscript was discovered in a garage in Seattle. Recently published, "For Us, the Living" adds another dimension to Heinlein's body of work.

Less a traditional commercial novel than philosophical fiction, it has value for its prophecies and for the light it sheds on Heinlein's other books. One reason he refused to publish the novel later in his career was that he used it as a source for ideas and events that appeared in his subsequent work, including "Stranger in a Strange Land," "Starship Troopers" and the story "If This Goes On . . . ."

"It's completely rewritten my view of his career," said Robert James, a Heinlein scholar who wrote an afterword to "For Us, the Living." "The impression was that he was writing commercial fiction from Day 1. Like a juggernaut he dominated science fiction. Actually from Day 1 he was writing what society should be about."

In that sense, Mr. James said in a telephone interview, Heinlein was a very American writer, "descended from Mark Twain and others, trying to form a cultural response to their community." He added that the book might have been turned down originally because it "advocated fairly dangerous ideas," including a free-love attitude toward sex.

March 09, 2004

» A million-second exposure, a thirteen billion-year picture

Pictured above, the HUDF shows a sampling of the oldest galaxies ever seen, galaxies that formed just after the dark ages, 13 billion years ago, when the universe was only 5 percent of its present age. The Hubble Space Telescope's NICMOS and new ACS cameras took the image. Staring nearly 3 months at the same spot, the HUDF is four times more sensitive, in some colors, than the original Hubble Deep Field (HDF).

» Debunking psychotherapy

In journal articles and public presentations, the psychologists, from Emory, Harvard, the University of Texas and other institutions, have challenged the validity of widely used diagnostic tools like the Rorschach inkblot test. They have questioned the existence of repressed memories of child sexual abuse and of multiple personality disorder. They have attacked the wide use of labels like codependency and sexual addiction.

» NASA's not keen on Martian fossil-hunting.

"Fossils are rare in rocks from the era before multicellular life," a NASA scientist explained to me privately, agreeing that microorganisms would be very difficult to ever find. "But larger fossils are fairly common in more recent strata. If Mars ever had macroscopic life, whether truly multicellular or in the form of large colonies like stromatolytes, fossils would be discoverable with a reasonable search."

Another NASA geologist, and an old friend, chortled as he recounted the official reaction to questions the week before about the millimeter-long "curly macaroni", which was seen in a cross section after Opportunity dug a hole into the rock. It not only had a spiral shape but appeared to be at the head of a burrow.

"This feature has the team in Pasadena squirming," my old friend told me. "They want it to be an artifact [that is, not "real"]."

More recent suggestions are that the curlicue wasn?t rock at all, but something created by the abrasion of the drill.

» DARPA's menagerie of warbeasts and more

As evidenced by their Vietnam-era mechanical elephant project and a recent grant to researchers developing a robotic canine called "Big Dog" for the Army, DARPA might be said to have something of an animal fetish, reflected perhaps in various projects whose very names evoke the ethos of the wild kingdom. Among them:

WolfPack, a group (pack) of miniaturized, unattended ground sensors that are meant to work together in detecting, identifying and jamming enemy communications; Piranha, a project to "enable submarines to engage elusive maneuvering land and sea targets"; and Hummingbird Warrior, a program to produce a helicopter-like vertical take-off and landing unmanned air vehicle (UAV).

The agency also embraces the imagery of the natural environment in its "Organic Air Vehicles in the Trees" project, which sounds downright "green," though it's actually a tiny UAV that will fly in the forests, over hills and through cities searching for enemies.

Allusions to the natural world, however, are the least of it. While the military is well-versed in employing all sorts of creatures to do its bidding, from Army guard dogs to Navy dolphins used for locating sea mines, DARPA is keen on branching out from class Mammalia. One way is through its "Bio-Revolution" program which seeks to "harness the insights and power of biology to make U.S. warfighters and their equipment... more effective."

» Did a giant squid kill the owner of this skull?

Axle Nelson, who knew George Tonsgard, said he believes both finds are remains of his friend, who died a most dramatic death.

"Somebody said something came up out of the water and grabbed him," Nelson explained, saying the skull fragment was "right exactly about where he went down."

Chuck McLeod said his fishing boat came into port the day after George Tonsgard disappeared. But people talked about what happened, he said. He heard that people saw George surface, take off his mask and call out for help before an arm came out of the water, "like an octopus or squid."

» The unique triple henge at Thornborough is under threat from gravel miners

The Late Neolithic monument complex at Thornborough, North Yorkshire, was possibly the most important sacred site in their day. Today they form part of the largest prehistoric sacred landscape in Britain. They have been called the Stonehenge of the north - comparable to Westminster, York and Canterbury Cathedrals - all placed in a single location! Yet here the ancient peoples built three henges - the only triple henge alignment in the world - part of the only six henge complex in the world. We are fighting to stop the landscape around these most important monuments from being quarried for gravel.

» Futuro: tomorrow's house, yesterday (via ashleyb) More pictures and a comprehensive site

Futuro in a forest

March 08, 2004

» The Magic Roundabout in Swindon isn't the only one

Work began on a scheme which would incorporate six mini roundabouts in early 1973 and the new look roundabout was opened as an experiment in June 1973. It's pictured here on the opening day. Its opening attracted then national press and television and the Gazette reported it caused some of the biggest traffic jams ever seen in Hemel Hempstead.

» Koala katastrophe

The plentiful opportunities to glimpse koalas in the wild are the principal draw, especially for foreign visitors to the island, which lies off the southern coast of South Australia. But few people who leave suffused with a warm glow realise that the furry marsupials are not, in fact, native. Introduced in the 1920s, they are wreaking havoc, stripping their favourite gum trees of leaves and destroying precious habitats.

Conservationists have tried to solve the problem by relocating some koalas to the mainland, and even sterilising them. Now they say there is no alternative but a mass cull. The government agrees - but says that it's out of the question: the country's image would be irrevocably tarnished, it argues, and tourism would go into free fall.

» Imaginary girlfriends: uncanny, unappealing and just plain unfortunate

Uncanny: The evening Hanson got the skull, in April 2002, he grabbed a pair of calipers and struck out for a popular bar in an artsy Dallas warehouse district called Exposition Park. There he quickly scanned the room and spotted Kristen Nelson — a willowy blue-eyed brunette he knew casually — chatting with a guy at the bar. Hanson walked past once or twice, and they smiled at each other. Finally he walked up and said hello. "Can I measure your skull?" he asked.

Unappealing: Think removing a real girl's clothes can be tricky? Karen was not only uncooperative but insanely heavy. I never really understood the term "dead weight" before. With Aaron's help, I eventually got her naked and positioned her head in my direction. Grabbing her hand, I shrieked. Karen's skeleton was discernable through her flesh, just like a real person's.

Unfortunate: With an Imaginary Girlfriend, you can carry on a completely fictitious, yet authentic looking relationship with the girl of your choice. Browse through our site and choose your favorite girl to see what she can offer as your Imaginary Girlfriend. Just make up how you met and include any details about yourself that you want your new girlfriend to know. Within days you'll receive personalized love letters by mail, e-mails, photos, special gifts... even phone messages or online chat. Every Imaginary Girlfriend is unique.

» Trial Lawyers, Inc.

Regardless of one's view about the merits of the suits, the mega-fees from the 1998 tobacco settlement were nothing but egregious. Some 300 lawyers from 86 firms will pocket as much as $30 billion over the next 25 years even though, for many of them, the suits posed minimal risk and demanded little effort. That staggering sum comes right out of taxpayers' pockets — enough money to hire 750,000 teachers. When it comes to big corporations ripping off the public, no one holds a candle to Trial Lawyers, Inc.

» In 1965, English MPs voted to drown a Welsh village to supply Liverpool with water. The locals were not pleased
» Mystery SETI signal, complete with spooky audio

Although this strong signal was never positively identified, astronomers have identified in it many attributes characteristic of a more mundane and ultimately terrestrial origin. In this case, a leading possibility is that the signal originates from an unusual modulation between a GPS satellite and an unidentified Earth-based source. Many unusual signals from space remain unidentified. No signal has yet been strong enough or run long enough to be unambiguously identified as originating from an extraterrestrial intelligence.

» Pico Iyer on jet lag, an integral component of the frequent-flyer experience

A day, a human day, has a certain shape and structure to it; a day, in most respects, resembles a room in which our things are ordered according to our preference. It may be empty or it may be full, but in either case it is familiar. Over here is the place where you rest (10 p.m. to 6 a.m., perhaps), over there is the place where you eat or work or feel most alive. You know your way around the place so well, you can find the bathroom in the dark. But under jet lag, of course, you lose all sense of where or who you are. You get up and walk toward the bathroom and bang into a chair. You reach toward the figure next to you and then remember that she's 7,000 miles away, at work. You get up for lunch, and then remember that you have eaten lunch six times already. You feel almost like an exile, a fugitive of sorts, as you walk along the hotel corridor at 4 a.m., while all good souls are in their beds, and then begin to yawn as everyone around you goes to work. The day is stretched and stretched, in this foreign world of displacement, till it snaps.


One day in 1971, a woman called Sarah Krasnoff made off with her 14-year-old grandson, who was caught up in an unseemly custody dispute, and took him into the sky. In a plane, she knew, they were subject to no laws, and if they never stopped moving, the law could never catch up with them. They flew from New York to Amsterdam. When they arrived, they turned around and flew from Amsterdam to New York. Then they flew from New York to Amsterdam again, and from Amsterdam to New York, again and again and again, month after month.

They took about 160 flights in all, one after the other, according to the stage piece ''Jet Lag.'' They saw 22 movies an average of seven times each. They ate lunch again and again and turned their watches six hours forward, then six hours back. The whole fugitive enterprise ended when Krasnoff, 74, finally collapsed and died, the victim, doctors could only suppose, of terminal jet lag.

March 07, 2004

» How the Martians died out. They never had a chance

While life remained stuck at the single-celled level for a billion years on an oxygen-poor Earth, evolution on Mars might have led much more quickly to microscopic animals. But then, about 3.5 billion years ago, the planet turned chilly, and the Martians - if they ever existed - would have been snuffed out in any of several ways.

» It wasn't Mrs O'Leary's cow. It was a comet

The likely suspect, in Wood's eyes, is a fragment from Biela's Comet, which had been circling the sun every six years and nine months before a close encounter with Jupiter caused it to break into two large fragments in 1845. During its next passage, astronomers noted a 1.5-million mile, 15-day gap between the two pieces.

» Three-headed frog found. Best pics, oddly, are from US local news

March 05, 2004

» Truth, justice and ever-closer union (via NTK)
» You can't make an omelette understand explosions without breaking eggs

Igniting the mix of hydrogen and air caused the eggs to explode. The whole thing was enclosed in a plastic bag, so that when the egg blew apart, the researchers could collect all the fragments and measure their sizes.

They found that as the explosive pressure increased, there were more fragments, but fewer large pieces.

Eggs catapulted on to the ground by rubber bands also broke into a predictable distribution of pieces, but generally there were fewer bits than after an explosion.
Breaking up

The mathematical equations that predict the number of pieces of each size can be described by something called a power law, the team reports in a paper on the physics website arXiv.

» Wouldn't work on the Tube ...

tunnel advertising

n. An advertisement consisting of a series of illuminated screens in a subway tunnel, each projecting one image from a sequence to create an animation effect as the train goes by.

» Volvo's new concept car was entirely designed by women to include things men might not have thought of, including gullwing doors, ponytail-friendly headrests and, er, a bonnet that doesn't open.

Guardian: Do women really need help with parking, I wonder aloud, before being sternly reminded that this is not a car designed for women, but one designed for all people. It just happens to have been designed by women. "There are many things that a man will appreciate but that, perhaps, they just didn't think of," says Elna, unwittingly encapsulating perhaps the entire gender divide. "Our saying is that if you meet the expectations of women," Elna whispers conspiratorially across the dashboard, "you exceed the expectations of men."

BBC: The whole front of the car is moulded in one piece which can be removed only by a Volvo mechanic.

"Honestly, the only time I open the bonnet on my car is when I want to fill up washer fluid," said Tatiana Butovitsch Temm.

"Do we need to have a one metre square hatch for that or could we do it in another way?

"So we shifted the filling station for washer fluid to the side of the car, next to where you fill up fuel, and we closed the bonnet for good."

» Robots look after Japan's elderly

Futuristic images of elderly Japanese going through rinse and dry cycles in rows of washing machines may evoke chills. But they also point to where the world's most rapidly aging nation is heading.

This spring Japanese companies plan to start marketing a "robot suit," a motorized, battery-operated pair of pants designed to help the aged and infirm move around on their own. Then there is the Wakamaru, a mobile, three-foot-high speaking robot equipped with two camera eyes. It is used largely by working people to keep an eye on their elderly parents at home.

» The Far Side made real
» God, shrimp and fusion, neatly tied together in just one MeFi thread. Heed particularly the warning about the coming crustacean invasion

All talk of sin aside, these creatures obviously possess some kind of nuclear capability. What's our government doing to contain this possible new terrorist threat? I mean, honestly, we don't want to wait for a mushroom cloud to do something about these nuclear terrorist shrimp. They may be in cahoots the Stalinist crab army!

March 04, 2004

» Avril's doing a flash-mob concert tour. Except she's not really, obviously. Boi, does she r0k.

In true "flash mob" form, Arista won't reveal precise times or places for Lavigne's appearances until 48 hours before each event. (The secrecy is meant to build excitement for the new record, according to the spokeswoman.)

The secrecy also will help build a fan database. Those who wish to be notified about the concerts must provide their e-mail addresses at Lavigne's Web site ( They'll receive an e-mail or, if they choose, an automated voice mail message with the time and location of the free concert. Of course, details also will be announced on radio stations and on AOL's Digital City Web sites.

» The burden of choice - what Douglas Coupland called options paralysis

Just think about the choices we make every day, whether it is the food we buy from supermarkets, with their 300,000-plus lines; the schools we choose to send our kids to; the cars we select to drive; the phone service we opt for; the healthcare plans; the pension options; where to take a holiday - the multiplicity of choices means that we have to research, consider and decide what we want. Choice has become an all-consuming task, but it doesn't necessarily improve the service or the product. Take telephone directory enquiries, for example. It used to be so simple - one number, one service. And it worked. Now we have a number of services, none of which seem capable of finding the number you need.

"I've attempted to explain why and when an excess of choice becomes a problem," Schwartz says. "When you have all these choices, you have an enormous problem gathering all the information to decide which is the right one. You start looking over your shoulder, thinking that if you'd made a different choice, you'd have done better. So there's regret, which makes you less satisfied with what you have chosen, whether or not there's good reason to have regrets. It's easy to imagine there was a better option, even if there wasn't really, because you can't possibly examine all of them."

» How to play dead

If the "death penalty" in the game is too severe and your character is permanently destroyed - "permadeath," in designer parlance - you may stop playing the game and, even worse, stop paying the monthly subscription fee for it. But if the penalty is too light and you reappear with all your high-tech weapons and health intact, what's to stop you from engaging in reckless behavior, undermining the credibility and fun of the virtual universe, and then growing bored and dropping out anyway?

» Prereviews - "reviews of movies that haven't come out yet and the reviewer hasn't seen"

Don't you hate reviews by writers with fancy degrees who have seen the movie and have informed opinions? Now's your chance to fight back!

» Are black holes giant balls of string? Interesting stuff, might resolve the information paradox

The debate over whether information could still exist after falling into a black hole has been around for years. Famed scientists Stephen Hawking, Kip Thorne and John Preskill even made a bet as to whether information that enters a black hole ceases to exist -- that is, whether the interior of a black hole is changed at all by the characteristics of particles that enter it. Hawking's research suggested that the particles have no effect whatsoever. But his theory violated the laws of quantum mechanics and created a contradiction known as the "information paradox."


"The problem with the classical theory is that you could use any combination of particles to make the black hole -- protons, electrons, stars, planets, whatever -- and it would make no difference. There must be billions of ways to make a black hole, yet with the classical model the final state of the system is always the same," Mathur said.

That kind of uniformity violates the quantum mechanical law of reversibility, he explained. Physicists must be able to trace the end product of any process, including the process that makes a black hole, back to the conditions that created it.

» More on the White House's abuse of science

Kurt Gottfried, chair of the UCS board and a Cornell University professor emeritus of physics, told Muckraker that his organization's report was itself based on the principles of scientific study:

"In science, if you examine a lot of events, you can infer a pattern connecting them that has meaning -- even if you don't have a clear formula or equation explaining them. In this case we examined a large set of incidences -- not a small set -- and there is a certain commonality to them [revealing] that the Bush administration consistently [censors] scientific evidence and opinions that run contrary to its goals."

» An even more thankless task than yesterday's 419-buster: improving India's public toilets. (via gigaom)

The year was 1998. India had thumped its chest and declared itself nuclear. Indians brimmed with pride. The world reacted with anger, threats and sanctions. All that flew over the heads of gleeful Indians. Fuad too was euphoric-- but he stopped dead in his tracks one day, while watching a Jay Leno Show on TV. The burly wit had said something to the effect, "Indians can build nuke bombs but they can't build decent toilets." It hurt. And yet, as with the best of humour, how true!


What [Fuad] didn't quite know about himself was that he was a Yankee style entrepreneur. Jay Leno uncorked that. Fuad's obsession began that moment: "I will build world class public toilets!" It is obvious that such a resolve would invite ridicule in India. His loving wife Mehru and daughter Sanaa were 'deeply concerned'! But an obsession must run its course

March 03, 2004

» Thankless task: It's this poor sod's job to stop the world's favourite financial scam

TL: You are quite a small force. How will you face up to the fraudsters?

NR: No doubt we will have a fight in front of us. The good thing is we are ready. We are not going to run away from that. We are ready to fight. We look at the work as national service. We are out there and there is a war going on. There is no alternative.

» One step closer to Mr Fusion, and yet another subject I once did research in. Truly, my career choices suck.

Sonofusion has already achieved more scientific respectability than cold fusion ever did, with two articles published in major journals.

And unlike cold fusion, sonofusion is based on known science. Scientists have long observed a phenomenon known as sonoluminescence, in which a burst of ultrasound causes a bubble in a liquid to collapse and emit a flash of light; some have speculated that the gases trapped in the collapsing bubbles could be heated to temperatures hot enough for fusion to occur.

» Apparently it's quite difficult to make a hamster coat. Not that people haven't tried

"How many do you want?" Mr Overalls replies. About 100. His face takes on a guarded look. I become momentarily hopeful that I have stumbled across a gatekeeper to the hamster-trading netherworld, but instead of inviting me into the pet house for further discussion and the exchange of untraceable small bills, he asks what I want them for.

"There's a business opportunity I saw in the paper today," I say. "I thought I'd get a piece of this action." He looks at me. This is not a bonding moment. Figuring I have nothing to lose, I show him the article. It negates the need for further explanation. "We would only sell them as pets," he says sternly. "We're fully accredited by the Pet Trust, and so will anyone else be if you try them."

» The mystery of the Roanoke colony may be coming to an end

When White finally reached Roanoke Island in August 1590, he discovered that something had gone terribly wrong on the sweet-smelling island of fruitful soil. The colony was gone.

The only clue left was the cryptic word "Croatoan" carved on a tree. The word could have been a reference to a tribe of friendly Indians who lived south of Roanoke Island.

Some scholars think Indians may have killed the colonists; others think the English settlers moved farther inland and married into Native American tribes. A third theory says the colonists were killed by Spanish troops who came up from Florida. No one knows for certain what happened to the colonists.

March 02, 2004

» What might watery Mars have looked like?

The raw MOLA data are measurements of elevation, resolving features down to about 600 meters in size. The data do not reveal individual rocks, nor do they show the position of the Sun. NASA makes the data available for scientific and artistic endeavors, but lays no claim to the accuracy of the results.

Veenenbos converted the data into a useable format and fed it into a software program called Terragen, which generates the landscapes.

Because no one knows what Mars was really like, Veenenbos rendered several scenes -- some with water, some with ice, some depicting a warm and dry surface. In some of the renderings, he included colors such as green, purple and yellow to represent life.

We asked the artist to imagine standing on the surface of Mars a few billion years ago and tell us what he sees.

"Yesterday the Kasei River meandered calmly through the valley," Veenenbos reports. "But today an exciting catastrophic event takes place near the outlets. I stand on the steep-walled canyon of the Kasei Valles and look down 1 mile. Vast, muddy floods of water caused by groundwater eruptions in the Tharsis Montes region flow into the basin of the Chryse Planitia. I guess that the quantity of the floods exceed 10,000 times that of the Mississippi River."

» Save the Saturn V

The Saturn V overall is in poor condition. Various external surfaces have suffered exfoliation of coverings and corrosion of internal and external structures. There is also a strong indication of moisture buildup within the vehicle.

Mold and plant growth on and in the vehicle indicates both excessive moisture collection and poor drainage throughout the rocket. Small animals have found shelter inside and are responsible for acidic debris and damage.

» Eugene "Defender" Jarvis is making an anti-terrorism game.

The whole "Target: Terror" thing is: "Oh my God, they're striking the Golden Gate Bridge!" There's another mission where they're taking over the Los Alamos Nuclear Test Facility and there's a third mission where they're invading an airport. The final mission is inspired by the Sept. 11 hijacking where there was a flight that went down in Pennsylvania and we really don't know what happened. There was obviously some heroic action and it never made its target. There's always the speculation: Where was that going? Was it going to the White House or to the Capitol? The final mission is a hijacking very similar to that where the plane is headed for the White House and you've got to stop it. That's the game in a nutshell.

» Gladiators: more green than mean and lean

Roman gladiators were overweight vegetarians who lived on barley and beans, according to a scientific study of the largest gladiator graveyard discovered.

Analysis of the bones of more than 70 gladiators recently found near Ephesus, the Roman capital of Asia Minor, puts paid to traditional Hollywood images of macho carnivores with the physique of boxers.

» Uncomplementary medicine

The mention of potential harm sends shivers down the spine of complementary practitioners. They feel that their approaches are so much safer than anything that mainstream medicine has to offer. In many cases this may be true, in others, however, not. Safety, I would argue, is far too important to leave to conjecture; we need evidence. Even relatively minor side-effects of, for instance, a herbal medicine, weigh importantly if the potential benefit is small or uncertain. In other words, the ultimately relevant question is, does complementary medicine generate more good than harm?

The answer cannot be found without a commitment to and investment in rigorous and independent research. One reason why the evidence in complementary medicine is so often inconclusive, or at best promising, lies in the fact that few trials have been properly funded. I estimate that for every 100 trials in conventional medicine fewer than one exists in complementary medicine. My unit is generally seen as the best supported one of its kind in the UK, but we too struggle when it comes to conducting clinical trials. Less than 1% of the UK's research budgets go into complementary medicine research.

» It's the Seussentennial!
» Moving capital cities

The former Soviet Union was arguably the all-time king of creating cities in barely hospitable parts of the Earth that economics, geography, and plain human decency would suggest should just be left alone. During the Soviet era, cities were developed in the middle of nowhere in order to extract mineral wealth and to ensure that everyone in the country had a job (productive or otherwise). As a result, according to The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold, 23 of the world's 25 coldest cities with populations over 500,000 are in Russia. The maintenance of the massive Soviet misallocation of people and industrial plant constitutes an enormous tax on the Russian economy today.

Some cities never shake the feel that they shouldn't exist at all, or at least in their gussied-up form. Yamoussoukro, despite?or perhaps because of?its ridiculous white elephant monument to Christianity, has a hollow and vacant feel to it. Islamabad, which was built in the 1960s to replace Karachi as the home of the apparatus of Pakistani government, is modern, meticulously planned, and rigidly zoned?and as dull as ditchwater. Brasilia, pedestrian-unfriendly and pockmarked with monstrous concrete government buildings in various states of decay, lacks a human touch. And many cities in Siberia have a post-economic-meltdown surreal artificiality about them.

» The original Sword in the Stone

Known as the "sword in the stone," the Tuscan "Excalibur" is said to have been plunged into a rock in 1180 by Galgano Guidotti, a medieval knight who renounced war and worldly goods to become a hermit.


Galgano was thrown by his horse while passing Montesiepi, a hill near Chiusdino. There, another vision told him to renounce material things. Galgano objected that it would be as difficult as splitting a rock with a sword. To prove his point, he struck a stone with his sword. Instead of breaking, the sword slid like butter into the rock. Galgano once again became a recluse, isolating himself by the sword's side. There he remained until he died in 1181.


If the sword really dates to 1180, decades before the first literary reference to the "sword in the stone," it would support the theory that the Celtic myth of King Arthur and his sword Excalibur developed in Italy after the death of Galgano.

March 01, 2004

» How to get a job in Antarctica. US only
» Giant crabs invade North Sea. Artist's impression

The monster crabs, which can weigh up to 25lb and have a claw-span of more than three feet, are proving so resilient that scientists fear they could end up as far south as Gibraltar.

Energised by a mysterious population explosion a decade ago, whole armies of the crustaceans - known as the Kamchatka or Red King Crabs - have already advanced about 400 miles along the roof of Europe, overwhelming the ports of northern Norway.

They now number more than 10 million and have reached the Lofoten Islands off north-west Scandinavia, leaving in their wake what one expert described as "an underwater desert".

» The declining music industry: Exhibit 956

The generation gap, once about content, has shifted to modes of consumption. For the under-30s, music is something to be shared and swapped and downloaded, legally or otherwise. It doesn't need to be owned because it's everywhere. If they do buy it, it may be in a form as slight as a mobile ringtone. This terrifies the music business, which can see itself slipping beneath the waves.

With Dido and Norah Jones ruling the album chart, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin selling plenty of DVDs, Duran Duran and Tears for Fears suddenly returning from oblivion and Franz Ferdinand achieving instant success, it looks as if the fifty-quid bloke is keeping the music business afloat. "There's a lot of evidence," Hepworth says. "Radio 2, Norah Jones, even The Darkness - these things appeal to an older demographic."

» A billion-dollar shanty town

Dharavi, in India's commercial capital Bombay (Mumbai), is Asia's largest slum.

Made up of ramshackle corrugated tin sheds it is home to more than 600,000 people.

But it is a unique shanty town.

Thanks to a thriving crafts industry, Dharavi generates business worth nearly $1bn a year.

Local workshops turn out leather goods, pottery, and jewellery, much of it destined for shop shelves in the West.

Now, the authorities want to harness Dharavi's business potential with an ambitious plan to turn it into one of Asia's best neighbourhoods.

A massive re-development plan, costing some $1.3bn, is in prospect.

» Fractal Invaders
» The Martian playlist. One of the few reasons I'm glad that I didn't become a rocket scientist.

The music can lighten tense times. During the nail-biting moments before Spirit's descent and landing in January, at the suggestion of team member Rob Manning, Adler played Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

The Beatles tune "We Can Work it Out" greeted the team one morning as it tried to debug computer problems that stalled Spirit for several days. For other reasons that become clear as you read the list, even The Cars get airtime, as does Weird Al Yankovic (either you know his music all too well or you never heard of him).

» The girl with no pain

Gabby Gingras has a disease so rare she's the only person her parents and doctors can find in the U.S. suffering from it. Like any other three-year-old, Gabby takes her share of slips and falls. Her reaction to each is predictable ? at least for her family.

For no matter how hard Gabby hits the ground, she will not shed a single tear. Hard as it is to fathom Gabby Gingras feels no pain. There is no cure, nor will she outgrow it.


So often we think of pain in a negative way. But it is pain, that protects us.

Because Gabby feels no pain, she no longer has any teeth.

"Didn't hurt her at all getting a tooth ripped out," Steve Gingras says.

The teeth she didn't break off while biting toys were removed by an oral surgeon after Gabby chewed up her mouth and tongue so badly she had to be hospitalized.

"Pain is the protective mechanism, and she doesn't have that," Dr. Smith says.

Gabby didn't have pain to save her eyes either. She scratched them so severely, that at one point doctors sewed them shut to keep her fingers out. But, the damage was already done.

Last week Gabby's family was at Fairview University Medical Center to discuss the removal of her left eye, now swollen and blind from glaucoma brought on by the scratching.

The vision in Gabby's scratched right eye, her good eye, has been measured at 20-300.