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The Digital Edge

Impersonating Anonymous: A New Form of Terrorism?

February 13th 2012

Computer Topics - Iran Anonymous

Since its earliest days the “Hactivist collective” known as Anonymous has declared “we are legion.” After attacks on PayPal, Amazon, Sony, and various banks and US Government websites, as in Roman times, the power of the legion is again feared. According to some, Anon’s latest target is Israel, with a specific threat of systematically removing Israel from the internet.

The evidence, however, suggests this is far more likely an impersonation. Though only circumstantial, the evidence suggests the possibility of Iranian sponsorship. If so, this would mark the first effort by a state, or perhaps its proxies, to infiltrate and manipulate Anonymous into pursuing a government’s agenda. If that effort backfires, I for one wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end.

The allegations of an attack appear to emanate from a YouTube video, “Anonymous Message to the State of Israel” released by TheAnonPress. In the video the computer-generated voice declares “For two long we have tolerated your crimes against humanity and allowed your sins to go unpunished … You are unworthy to exist in your current form.” The anonymous voice goes on to speak of a “crusade against your reign of terror” which will start with a systematic removal of Israel from the Internet. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Deconstructing a Mystery: What Caused Washington's Snowmaggedon?

February 13th 2012

Weather - Washington Blizzard

In the quiet after the storms, streets and cars had all but disappeared under piles of snow. The U.S. Postal Service suspended service for the first time in 30 years. Snow plows struggled to push the evidence off of major roads. Hundreds of thousands of Washington metropolitan residents grappled with the loss of electricity and heat for almost a week.

By February 10, 2010 the National Weather Service had reported that three storms spanning December to February in the winter of 2009-2010 had dumped a whopping 54.9 inches of snow on the Baltimore-Washington area. The snowfall broke a seasonal record first set in 1899. Snowmaggedon, or Snowpocalypse, as the winter was dubbed, entered the history books as the snowiest winter on record for the U.S. East Coast. Read more ..

Edge of Aging

Fruit Flies Make up for Advancing Age with Scents to Attract Mates

February 9th 2012

Animals - Drosophila melanogaster

Male fruit flies find romance with female flies coated with pheromone, regardless of age, thus shedding light on the aging process, according to research at the University of Michigan. Beauty is more than skin deep, at least for fruit flies studied in new research that demonstrates how age-related changes in pheromone production can reduce sexual attractiveness. The study examined how pheromones play a role in the sexual attractiveness and aging process of the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, says Scott D. Pletcher, Ph.D., senior author of the study. Pletcher is an associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology and research associate professor at the Institute of Gerontology at the Ann Arbor-based institution.

Researchers first showed that older flies were significantly less attractive than younger flies. They then discovered that the profiles of different pheromones that flies produce, called cuticular hydrocarbons, change with age. Pheromones are chemicals produced by an organism to communicate or attract another. Using a specially designed holding arena, researchers introduced a male fly into a chamber that contained two females – a young fly and an old fly. The females were decapitated, to eliminate the chances they’d influence the male fly with their behavior. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Cooking Oils Make Better Pesticides

February 8th 2012

Science - samuel gan-mor
Samuel Gan-Mor of the Volcani Institute (credit: Israel21C)

Thin-skinned vegetables such as tomatoes and zucchini are susceptible to insect infestation and fungi, and even new organic pesticides are not completely safe, says Israeli agriculture scientist Samuel Gan-Mor.

He’s got a new approach that could revolutionize the way bugs are kept from crops: a mixture of edible, off-the-shelf canola oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil and even the slightly more expensive olive oil.

Seeds, the starting point of all oils, have developed complex evolutionary tricks to avoid being preyed upon. Unknown active ingredients in these oils, probably paired with the ability to block the breathing pathways of invertebrates and hamper their mobility, may explain why the oil solution developed by Gan-Mor and his colleagues works. Read more ..

The Race for Graphene

UK Government to Fund Graphene Institute in Manchester with £70 Million

February 8th 2012

Science - graphene

The U.K. government has said it will spend a total of £70 million (about $120 million) to fund a national institute of graphene research and commercialisation activities, in Manchester, in the northwest of England.

A race is on the produce the first commercial products based on graphene, the two-dimensional form of crystalline carbon that has tremendous strength and much higher electron mobility than silicon. And the U.K. government is keen to capitalize on advantages the country enjoys as hosts to pioneering research into graphene and try and build up engineering and manufacturing expertise in the wonder material. Read more ..

Edge of Environmental Health

Landmark Lung Cancer Study Remains Unpublished Due to Industry and Congressional Interference

February 6th 2012

Energy / Environment - diesel exhaust

Publication of a landmark government study probing whether diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in miners — already 20 years in the making — has been delayed by industry and congressional insistence on seeing study data and documents before the public does. A federal judge has affirmed the right of an industry group and a House committee to review the materials and has held the Department of Health and Human Services in contempt for not producing all of them.

The much-anticipated study of 12,000 miners exposed to diesel fumes carries broad implications. If the research suggests a strong link between the fumes and cancer, regulation and litigation could ramp up — with consequences not only for underground mining, but also for industries such as trucking, rail and shipping. Exposure isn't limited to workers; people who live near ports, rail yards and highways also are subjected to diesel exhaust laced with carcinogens such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde. But for the time being, at least, the results of an $11.5 million investigation by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are under lock and key. Read more ..

The Laser Edge

The Mystery of Magnetism in the Universe

February 6th 2012

Science - galactic magnetic
Laser produced shock wave

Why is the universe magnetized? It's a question scientists have been asking for decades. Now, an international team of researchers including a University of Michigan professor have demonstrated that it could have happened spontaneously, as the prevailing theory suggests. The findings are published in Nature. Oxford University scientists led the research.
"According to our previous understanding, any magnetic field that had been made ought to have gone away by now," said Paul Drake, the Henry S. Carhart Collegiate Professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences and a professor in physics at the University of Michigan. "We didn't understand what mechanism might create a magnetic field, and even if it happened, we didn't understand why the magnetic field is still there. It has been a very enduring mystery."

With high-energy pulsed lasers in a French laboratory, the researchers created certain conditions analogous to those in the early universe when galaxies were forming. Through their experiment, they demonstrated that the theory known as the Biermann battery process is likely correct. Discovered by a German astronomer in 1950, the Biermann process predicts that a magnetic field can spring up spontaneously from nothing more than the motion of charged particles. Plasma, or charged particle gas, is abundant in space. Scientists believe that large clouds of gas collapsing into galaxies sent elliptically shaped bubbles of shockwaves through the early universe, touching off flows of electric current in the plasma of the intergalactic medium. Read more ..

The Nano Edge

Smart Paint:The Latest in Nanotechnology Uses

February 5th 2012

Technology - Nanotubes

An innovative low-cost smart paint that can detect microscopic faults in wind turbines, mines and bridges before structural damage occurs is being developed by researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. The environmentally-friendly paint uses nanotechnology to detect movement in large structures, and could shape the future of safety monitoring. Traditional methods of assessing large structures are complex, time consuming and use expensive instrumentation, with costs spiraling into millions of dollars each year. However, the smart paint costs just a fraction of the cost and can be simply sprayed onto any surface, with electrodes attached to detect structural damage long before failure occurs.

According to Dr Mohamed Saafi, of the University's Department of Civil Engineering, "The development of this smart paint technology could have far-reaching implications for the way we monitor the safety of large structures all over the world. There are no limitations as to where it could be used and the low-cost nature gives it a significant advantage over the current options available in the industry. The process of producing and applying the paint also gives it an advantage as no expertise is required and monitoring itself is straightforward." Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Proven to Reduce Accidents

February 4th 2012

Transportation Topics - Woman driver

So, you're a safe driver? Thirty years on the road and never had a scratch. You don't need some computer to look out for you on the road.Think again. "Why do you need airbags in your car? Because they can save your life in the case of an accident," says Isaac Litman, CEO of Mobileye Products, the global leader in advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS. "This system can warn you of an impending accident so that you can take action in time and avert a collision. You may only use it once in your driving career - but that's enough." The statistics speak for themselves, Litman states. "Now that vehicles fitted with our systems have traveled over a billion miles in the US, we've seen a 40-50 percent drop in accidents." ADAS is becoming a standard feature of the modern vehicle, and Jerusalem-based Mobileye is leading the field."

This new technology helps drivers drive better," says Litman. "It knows how to recognize cars, bikes, motorbikes, pedestrians, an impending accident ... it warns the driver in time. It can even stop the car if the driver doesn't react quickly enough -- and all this at high speeds." In effect, minimizing driver error. "There are three main causes of accidents: poor road infrastructure, unsafe vehicles and bad driving," he explains. "Both roads and vehicle design have improved significantly in the past three decades. But the human factor has not. The only aspect that hasn't improved is the driver." Read more ..

Edge of Climate Change

The First Plants Triggered Ice Ages, Half-Billion Years Ago

February 1st 2012

Environment Topics - funky plants

New research reveals how the arrival of the first plants 470 million years ago triggered a series of ice ages. Led by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford, the study is published in Nature Geoscience. The team set out to identify the effects that the first land plants had on the climate during the Ordovician Period, which ended 444 million years ago. During this period the climate gradually cooled, leading to a series of 'ice ages'. This global cooling was caused by a dramatic reduction in atmospheric carbon, which this research now suggests was triggered by the arrival of plants.

Among the first plants to grow on land were the ancestors of mosses that grow today. This study shows that they extracted minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron from rocks in order to grow. In so doing, they caused chemical weathering of the Earth's surface. This had a dramatic impact on the global carbon cycle and subsequently on the climate. It could also have led to a mass extinction of marine life. Read more ..

Edge of Medicine

Mutant Protein in Pancreatic Cancers plays Role in Cancerous Development and Growth

January 31st 2012

Health/Medicine - pancreatic cancer gene

A mutant protein found in nearly all pancreatic cancers plays a role not only in the cancer’s development but in its continued growth, according to a new study from University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers. The finding suggests a possible target for developing new ways to treat this deadly disease. Researchers have known that mutations in the Kras gene are what cause pancreatic cancer to develop. These mutations are frequently seen in common precancerous lesions, suggesting it has an early role in pancreatic cancer.

The new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, finds that in mice, mutant Kras also keeps the tumor growing and helps precancerous tumors grow into invasive cancer. When the researchers turned off Kras, the tumors disappeared and showed no signs of recurring. Read more ..

Edge of Health

New Computer Model Accurately Predicts Cholera Outbreaks

January 31st 2012

Transportation Topics - Bangladesh ricksaw

A new University of Michigan computer model of disease transmission in space and time can predict cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh up to 11 months in advance, providing an early warning system that could help public health officials there. The new forecast model applies specifically to the capital city of Dhaka and incorporates data on both year-to-year climate variability and the spatial location of cholera cases at the district level. This allowed the researchers to study both local variation in disease transmission and response to climate factors within the megacity of 14 million people.

U-M theoretical ecologists Mercedes Pascual and Aaron King, along with former U-M postdoctoral researcher Robert Reiner and other colleagues, found evidence for a climate-sensitive urban core in Dhaka that acts to propagate cholera risk to the rest of the city. By including those findings in their model, the researchers were able to increase its accuracy and extend its forecasting ability far beyond previous disease models for the city. Earlier models had prediction lead times of a month or less—too short to be of use in an early warning systems. The longer lead time of the new model will help inform decisions about treatment preparedness, vaccination and other disease-prevention strategies. Read more ..

The Edge of Physics

X-Ray Laser Breakthrough Astounds Scientists

January 30th 2012

Science - xray laser

Scientists working at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have created the shortest, purest X-ray laser pulses ever achieved, fulfilling a 45-year-old prediction and opening the door to a new range of scientific discovery. The researchers aimed SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at a capsule of neon gas, setting off an avalanche of X-ray emissions to create the world's first "atomic X-ray laser."

"X-rays give us a penetrating view into the world of atoms and molecules," said physicist Nina Rohringer, who led the research. A group leader at the Max Planck Society's Advanced Study Group in Hamburg, Germany, Rohringer collaborated with researchers from SLAC, DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Colorado State University. "We envision researchers using this new type of laser for all sorts of interesting things, such as teasing out the details of chemical reactions or watching biological molecules at work," she added. "The shorter the pulses, the faster the changes we can capture. And the purer the light, the sharper the details we can see."

The new atomic X-ray laser fulfills a 1967 prediction that X-ray lasers could be made in the same manner as many visible-light lasers – by inducing electrons to fall from higher to lower energy levels within atoms, releasing a single color of light in the process. But until 2009, when LCLS turned on, no X-ray source was powerful enough to create this type of laser. Read more ..

The Graphene Edge

Researchers Find Bilayer Graphene Acts as Insulator

January 28th 2012

Science - graphene

Research physicists at the University of California, Riverside have identified an insulating property of “bilayer graphene” (BLG) formed when two graphene sheets are stacked in a special manner.
Single layer graphene (SLG) is gapless, and cannot be completely turned off because regardless of the number of electrons on SLG, it always remains metallic and a conductor.

“This is terribly disadvantageous from an electronics point of view,” said Chun Ning (Jeanie) Lau, a member of UC Riverside’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering, in a statement. “BLG suggests a promising route – trilayer graphene and tetralayer graphene, which are likely to have much larger energy gaps that can be used for digital and infrared technologies.” Read more ..

Science News

MIT Researchers Find Critical Speed Above Which Birds - And Drones - Are Sure to Crash

January 28th 2012

Animals - Bird

The northern goshawk is one of nature's diehard thrill-seekers. The formidable raptor preys on birds and small mammals, speeding through tree canopies and underbrush to catch its quarry. With reflexes that rival a fighter pilot's, the goshawk zips through a forest at high speeds, constantly adjusting its flight path to keep from colliding with trees and other obstacles.

While speed is a goshawk's greatest asset, researchers at MIT say the bird must observe a theoretical speed limit if it wants to avoid a crash. The researchers found that, given a certain density of obstacles, there exists a speed below which a bird — and any other flying object — has a fair chance of flying collision-free. Any faster, and a bird or aircraft is sure to smack into something, no matter how much information it has about its environment. A paper detailing the results has been accepted to the IEEE Conference on Robotics and Automation. Read more ..

The Edge of Gadgets

Eureka! Kitchen Gadget Inspires Scientist to Make More Effective Plastic Electronics

January 28th 2012

Food - vacuum food sealer

One day in 2010, Rutgers physicist Vitaly Podzorov watched a store employee showcase a kitchen gadget that vacuum-seals food in plastic. The demo stuck with him. The simple concept – an airtight seal around pieces of food – just might apply to his research: developing flexible electronics using lightweight organic semiconductors for products such as video displays or solar cells.

“Organic transistors, which switch or amplify electronic signals, hold promise for making video displays that bend like book pages or roll and unroll like posters,” said Podzorov. But traditional methods of fabricating a part of the transistor known as the gate insulator often end up damaging the transistor’s delicate semiconductor crystals. Read more ..

The Race for BioFuel

Microbubbles provide new Boost to Algae for Biofuel Production

January 27th 2012

Science - algae biofuel

The technique builds on previous research in which microbubbles were used to improve the way algae is cultivated. Algae produce an oil which can be processed to create a useful biofuel. Biofuels, made from plant material, are considered an important alternative to fossil fuels and algae, in particular, has the potential to be a very efficient biofuel producer. Until now, however, there has been no cost-effective method of harvesting and removing the water from the algae for it to be processed effectively.

Now, a team led by Professor Will Zimmerman in the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Sheffield, believe they have solved the problem. They have developed an inexpensive way of producing microbubbles that can float algae particles to the surface of the water, making harvesting easier, and saving biofuel-producing companies time and money. The research is set to be published in Biotechnology and Bioengineering on 26 January 2012. Read more ..

The Nano Edge

Bilayer Graphene's Potential to Insulate

January 27th 2012

Science - Graphene carbon mesh
Graphene Carbon Mesh

Graphene, nature’s thinnest elastic material, is a one-atom thick sheet of carbon atoms, arranged in a hexagonal lattice. Due to graphene’s planar and chicken wire-like structure, sheets of it lend themselves well to stacking. Bilayer Graphene (BLG) is formed when two graphene sheets are stacked in a special manner. Like graphene, BLG has high current-carrying capacity, also known as high electron conductivity. The high current-carrying capacity results from the extremely high velocities that electrons are capable of acquiring in a graphene sheet.


When investigating BLG’s properties, researchers found that when the number of electrons on the BLG sheet is close to 0, the material becomes insulating, thus resisting the flow of electrical current. A finding that has implications for the use of graphene as an electronic material in the semiconductor and electronics industries.“BLG becomes insulating because its electrons spontaneously organize themselves when their number is small,” said Chun Ning (Jeanie) Lau, an associate professor of physics and astronomy and the lead author of the research paper. “Instead of moving around randomly, the electrons move in an orderly fashion. This is called ‘spontaneous symmetry breaking’ in physics, and is a very important concept, since it is the same principle that ‘endows’ mass for particles in high energy physics."

The Edge of Physics

Invisibility as a Scientific First in Photon-Bending

January 26th 2012

Science - Invisibility raincoat

A scientific first has been achieved by U.S researchers who made a three-dimensional object invisible. Scientists from the University of Texas coated an 18 centimetre long cylinder with plasmonic metamaterials, making it completely invisible from every angle. Previously scientists were able to coat two dimensional objects but the latest breakthrough is said to be a great advance following many years of research.

Metamaterials alter the natural behavior of light. All of nature's materials have a positive refractive index, this measures how much electromagnetic waves are bent as they shift from one medium to the next. We are able to see objects because light bounces off of them and onto our eys but these metamaterials have negative refraction creating a cloak of invisibility. Read more ..

Edge on Health

Alternate Saliva Testing for HIV Proves Accurate

January 26th 2012

Health/Medicine - HIV/AIDS

A saliva test used to diagnose the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), is comparable in accuracy to the traditional blood test, according to a new study led by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and McGill University in Canada. The meta-analysis, which compared studies worldwide, showed that the saliva HIV test, OraQuick HIV1/2, had the same accuracy as the blood test for high-risk populations. The test sensitivity was slightly reduced for low risk populations. The study, published in this week's issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases, has major implications for countries that wish to adopt self-testing strategies for HIV.

"Testing is the cornerstone of prevention, treatment and care strategies," says the study's lead author, Dr. Nitika Pant Pai, a medical scientist at the RI-MUHC and assistant professor of Medicine at McGill University. "Although previous studies have shown that the oral fluid-based OraQuick HIV1/2 test has great promise, ours is the first to evaluate its potential at a global level." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Apple is the Predominant Purchaser of Semiconductor Chips in 2011

January 26th 2012

Computer Topics - computer chip

Apple Inc. the leading purchaser of semiconductor chips in 2011, was driven by the continuing success of its iPhones, iPads, and MacBook Air, accounting for 5.7 percent of chips purchased ($17.3 Billion) on a design total available market (TAM) basis, according to market research firm Gartner Inc. Samsung and Hewlett-Packard tied at second and third place, with 5.5 percent market share each, followed by Dell and Nokia at 3.2 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Sony, Toshiba, Lenovo, LG Electronics, and Panasonic assumed the remaining top 10 positions in terms of semiconductor design of Total Available Market (TAM).

Design TAM represents the total silicon content in all products designed by a certain electronic equipment manufacturer or in a certain region, as opposed to purchasing TAM, which represents the total silicon content purchased directly by a certain electronic equipment manufacturer or in a certain region, Gartner said. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Texas Instruments Shows Off Pico HD Projector That Fits Into a Smartphone

January 25th 2012

Technology - Droid Navigation App

Texas Instruments Inc. was keeping its eye on the big picture, through its littlest chipsets. The firm was literally beaming as it showed off its latest generation of DLP projector chipset, the Pico HD, capable of HD WXGA resolution projections from up to 100 inches away.

TI, which provides cinema chips to some 85 percent of the world’s digital cinemas has managed to shrink those powerful chips down to a size able to fit snugly inside a cell phone, desktop robot or pocket projector, for those who like to project their media on the go. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Earth Hit by Solar Space Storm

January 24th 2012

Science - Solar flare

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory witnessed an eruption early Monday morning and now astronomers are warning that the biggest geomagnetic storm since 2005 could cause considerable communication disruptions. A solar flare caused by an eruption of sunspot 1402, a region of the sun that has been highly active lately, has created a radiation storm that could effect power grids, satellites and even air travel. This particular eruption produced a M9 class solar flare, almost high enough to be rated as an X-flare, the most powerful of them all.

Solar flares occur when a build up of magnetic energy in the solar atmosphere is released suddenly, emitting radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum. The energy released is as powerful as the impact of an explosion of millions of hydrogen bombs detonating simultaneously. As magnetic energy is released, particles such as electrons, nuclei and protons are accelerated in the solar atmosphere. The first recorded solar flare was observed in 1859. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Preoperative MRI May Reduce Risk of Nerve Damage in Prostate Cancer Surgeries

January 24th 2012

Health/Medicine - Prostate Cancer

Preoperative MRI helps surgeons make more informed decisions about nerve-sparing procedures in men with prostate cancer, according to a new study published online in the journal Radiology. Excluding skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in American men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Open radical prostatectomy, or removal of the prostate, is a common treatment for the disease, but it carries substantial risks, including incontinence and impotence. "I think preoperative MRI will be useful for surgeons who are uncertain whether to spare or resect the nerves," said Daniel J. A. Margolis, M.D., assistant professor of radiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles. "Our surgeons feel that, compared with clinical information alone, MRI is worthwhile for all patients, because it identifies important information leading to a change in the surgical plan in almost a third of patients."

Robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy (RALP) is a newer treatment performed with the assistance of a surgical robot. RALP uses smaller incisions than those of open radical prostatectomy and offers improved cosmetic results, less blood loss and briefer postoperative convalescence. However, surgeons performing RALP lack tactile feedback, which may compromise their ability to evaluate neurovascular bundles—the collections of blood vessels and nerves that course alongside prostate. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Generation X: How Young Adults Deal with Influenza

January 24th 2012

Health/Medicine - Influenza

Only about one in five young adults in their late 30s received a flu shot during the 2009-2010 swine flu epidemic, according to a University of Michigan report that details the behavior and attitudes of Generation X. But about 65 percent were at least moderately concerned about the flu, and nearly 60 percent said they were following the issue very or moderately closely. Using survey data collected from approximately 3,000 young adults during the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza epidemic—the first serious infectious disease this group had ever experienced—The Generation X Report explores how Americans ages 36-39 kept abreast of the issue and what actions they eventually took to protect themselves and their families.

"These results suggest that young adults in Generation X did reasonably well in their first encounter with a major epidemic," said Jon D. Miller, author of The Generation X Report. "Those with minor children at home were at the greatest risk, and they responded accordingly, with higher levels of awareness and concern." According to Miller, understanding Gen X reactions to this recent threat may help public health officials deal more effectively with future epidemics. The results show that a majority of Generation X young adults felt that they were "well informed" or "very well informed" about the issue. However, they scored only moderately well, overall, on an Index of Influenza Knowledge, a series of five items designed to test the level of knowledge about viral infections generally and about the swine flu epidemic specifically. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Megaupload Founder At Center Of Internet Copyright Infringement Case

January 24th 2012

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

Kim Dotcom, the founder of one of the world's largest file-sharing websites, is accused by U.S. authorities of being a money launderer who built up a fortune through Internet piracy. The German-Finnish computer programmer and businessman is the creator of the Megaupload empire -- a file-sharing service that includes Megavideo and 17 other domain names.

Dotcom denies the charges. The case against the enigmatic 38-year-old is so complicated that a New Zealand judge on January 23 said he needs up to two days to determine whether Dotcom should be eligible for bail. When Dotcom was arrested in New Zealand on January 20, police who raided his country estate at the request of the U.S. FBI had to cut him out of a safe room where he was barricaded. Dotcom's lawyer said he sealed himself in the room because he was frightened and panicked. Police found he had 45 different credit cards under various names as well as three different passports. Dotcom reportedly also goes by the names Kim Schmitz, Kimble, and Kim Tim Jim Vestor.  Read more ..

Archaeology on Edge

Dog Skull Dates Back 33,000 Years

January 23rd 2012

Animals - rottweiler

If you think a Chihuahua doesn't have much in common with a Rottweiler, you might be on to something. An ancient dog skull, preserved in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia for 33,000 years, presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with equally ancient dog remains from a cave in Belgium, indicates that domestication of dogs may have occurred repeatedly in different geographic locations rather than with a single domestication event. In other words, man's best friends may have originated from more than one ancient ancestor, contrary to what some DNA evidence previously has indicated. "Both the Belgian find and the Siberian find are domesticated species based on morphological characteristics," said Greg Hodgins, a researcher at the University of Arizona's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and co-author of the study that reports the find. "Essentially, wolves have long thin snouts and their teeth are not crowded, and domestication results in this shortening of the snout and widening of the jaws and crowding of the teeth."

The Altai Mountain skull is extraordinarily well preserved, said Hodgins, enabling scientists to make multiple measurements of the skull, teeth and mandibles that might not be possible on less well-preserved remains. "The argument that it is domesticated is pretty solid," said Hodgins. "What's interesting is that it doesn't appear to be an ancestor of modern dogs." The UA's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the Siberian skull. Read more ..

Edge of the Mind

Group Settings can Diminish Expressions of Intelligence, Especially Among Women

January 23rd 2012

Science - Mind

In the classic film "12 Angry Men," Henry Fonda's character sways a jury with his quiet, persistent intelligence. But would he have succeeded if he had allowed himself to fall sway to the social dynamics of that jury? Research led by scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute found that small-group dynamics -- such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions, and cocktail parties -- can alter the expression of IQ in some susceptible people. "You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well," said Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, who led the study.

The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how the brain processes information about social status in small groups and how perceptions of that status affect expressions of cognitive capacity. "We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ," said Montague. "Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect." "Our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning," said lead author Kenneth Kishida, a research scientist with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. "And, through neuroimaging, we were able to document the very strong neural responses that those social cues can elicit." Read more ..

Biology on Edge

The Biology of Politics: Liberals Roll with the Good, Conservatives Confront the Bad

January 23rd 2012

Health/Medicine - Invisible Brain

From cable TV news pundits to red-meat speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire, our nation's deep political stereotypes are on full display: Conservatives paint self-indulgent liberals as insufferably absent on urgent national issues, while liberals say fear-mongering conservatives are fixated on exaggerated dangers to the country. A new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests there are biological truths to such broad brushstrokes. In a series of experiments, researchers closely monitored physiological reactions and eye movements of study participants when shown combinations of both pleasant and unpleasant images. Conservatives reacted more strongly to, fixated more quickly on, and looked longer at the unpleasant images; liberals had stronger reactions to and looked longer at the pleasant images compared with conservatives. "It's been said that conservatives and liberals don't see things in the same way," said Mike Dodd, UNL assistant professor of psychology and the study's lead author. "These findings make that clear – quite literally."

To gauge participants' physiological responses, they were shown a series of images on a screen. Electrodes measured subtle skin conductance changes, which indicated an emotional response. The cognitive data, meanwhile, was gathered by outfitting participants with eyetracking equipment that captured even the most subtle of eye movements while combinations of unpleasant and pleasant photos appeared on the screen. While liberals' gazes tended to fall upon the pleasant images, such as a beach ball or a bunny rabbit, conservatives clearly focused on the negative images – of an open wound, a crashed car or a dirty toilet, for example. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Piracy Debate Shows Web is Catalyst for Change, Says Wyden

January 22nd 2012

Technology - pipa protest

The leading opponent of the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate said the decision to shelve the bill shows the Internet has the ability to affect change in Washington.

“The events of the last week demonstrate clearly that the Internet is the catalyst for the important changes Americans want in government,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told reporters on Friday afternoon, referencing the week of online protests against PIPA and its House counterpart the Stop Online Piracy Act. “Senator Reid’s decision to pull PIPA from the floor is the right one. Legislation impacting the future of the Internet is simply too important to get wrong,” he said.

Wyden first raised concerns about PIPA and its predecessor the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) in 2010, arguing the legislation posed a clear threat to free speech online. Both bills cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Carbon Dioxide is "Driving Fish Crazy"

January 22nd 2012

Environment Topics - Fish in net

Rising human carbon dioxide emissions may be affecting the brains and central nervous system of sea fishes with serious consequences for their survival, an international scientific team has found.

Carbon dioxide concentrations predicted to occur in the ocean by the end of this century will interfere with fishes’ ability to hear, smell, turn, and evade predators, says Professor Philip Munday of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

“For several years our team have been testing the performance of baby coral fishes in sea water containing higher levels of dissolved CO2 – and it is now pretty clear that they sustain significant disruption to their central nervous system, which is likely to impair their chances of survival,” Prof. Munday says.

In their latest paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Prof. Munday and colleagues report world-first evidence that high CO2 levels in sea water disrupts a key brain receptor in fish, causing marked changes in their behaviour and sensory ability.

“We’ve found that elevated CO2 in the oceans can directly interfere with fish neurotransmitter functions, which poses a direct and previously unknown threat to sea life,” Prof. Munday says.

Prof. Munday and his colleagues began by studying how baby clown and damsel fishes performed alongside their predators in CO2-enriched water. They found that, while the predators were somewhat affected, the baby fish suffered much higher rates of attrition Read more ..

Edge on the Mind

Our Multi-Tasking Brain Gives Meaning to the World

January 22nd 2012

Science - Mind

How does the brain confer meaning on the things we perceive in the world? “Many of us favor the theory that, whether it comes in through the eyes or ears, through reading [or other stimuli], it’s all eventually arriving at a common place where the meaning of things is represented,” says Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologist Mary C. Potter. “If that were so,” she continues, “you’d expect there to be a problem in extracting meanings simultaneously from different sources.”

That is why Potter and her MIT colleague Ansgar D. Endress were surprised by the findings of their new study, which will be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. When the authors asked participants to perform two kinds of tasks at the same time—a visual one and a linguistic one—they performed without a hiccup. But handling two visual tasks at once slowed them down. Read more ..

Edge on Archaeology

Ancient Sumerians were Near-Beer Drinkers

January 22nd 2012

Archaeology Topics - sumerian tablet
Sumerian writing tablet (3000 BCE)

Archaeological finds from cuneiform tablets and remnants of different vessels from over 4,000 years ago show that even around the dawn of civilisation, fermented cereal juice was highly enjoyed by Mesopotamia’s inhabitants. However, besides the two basic ingredients, barley and emmer (a species of wheat) the brew produced in the clay jars of the Sumerians is shrouded in mystery.

Despite an abundance of finds and scribal traditions which point to an early love of fermented cereal beverages, reconstructing ancient brewing methods is very difficult, according to the historian of science and cuneiform writing scholar Peter Damerow of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. A scholarly paper by Damerow, who passed away at the end of November 2011 in Berlin, carefully examines the beer brewing technologies of the Sumerians. However, the author also expresses great doubts as to whether the popular brew in ancient times was even beer.

The photo here shows an archaic writing tablet from Mesopotamia (approx. 3000 B.C.), which contains proto-cuneiform writing - belonging to the most ancient group of written records on earth. It contains calculations of basic ingredients required for the production of cereal products, for example, different types of beer. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Mysterious Star's Carbon-Monoxide Ring Offers Clues to Origins of the Universe

January 20th 2012

Science - gaseous ring on star

Astronomers have detected a mysterious ring of carbon monoxide gas around the young star V1052 Cen, which is about 700 light years away in the southern constellation Centaurus. The ring is part of the star's planet-forming disk, and it's as far from V1052 Cen as Earth is from the sun. Discovered with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, its edges are uniquely crisp. Carbon monoxide is often detected near young stars, but the gas is usually spread through the planet-forming disk.

What's different about this ring is that it is shaped more like a rope than a dinner plate, said Charles Cowley, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan who led the international research effort.  "It's exciting because this is the most constrained ring we've ever seen, and it requires an explanation," Cowley said. "At present time, we just don't understand what makes it a rope rather than a dish." Perhaps magnetic fields hold it in place, the researchers say. Maybe "shepherding planets" are reining it in like several of Saturn's moons control certain planetary rings. Read more ..

Ancient America

Pre-Colombian Peruvians Enjoyed Popcorn as do Modern Americans

January 20th 2012

Archaeology Topics - ancient peruvian maize cob
Ancient maize cob  (Credit: Tom Dillehay)

People living along the coast of Peru were eating popcorn 1,000 years earlier than previously reported and before ceramic pottery was used there, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences co-authored by Dolores Piperno, curator of New World archaeology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and emeritus staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Some of the oldest known corncobs, husks, stalks and tassels, dating from 6,700 to 3,000 years ago were found at Paredones and Huaca Prieta, two mound sites on Peru's arid northern coast. The research group, led by Tom Dillehay from Vanderbilt University and Duccio Bonavia from Peru's Academia Nacional de la Historia, also found corn microfossils: starch grains and phytoliths. Characteristics of the cobs—the earliest ever discovered in South America—indicate that the sites' ancient inhabitants ate corn several ways, including popcorn and flour corn. However, corn was still not an important part of their diet. Read more ..

Edge on Medicine

New Class of Nanoparticles Promise Better Cancer Drugs

January 20th 2012

Science - nanoparticles and tumor

A new class of nanoparticles, synthesized by a UC Davis research team to prevent premature drug release, holds promise for greater accuracy and effectiveness in delivering cancer drugs to tumors. The work is published in the current issue of Angewandte Chemie, a leading international chemistry journal.

In their paper, featured on the inside back cover of the journal, Kit Lam, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, and his team report on the synthesis of a novel class of micelles called dual-responsive boronate cross-linked micelles (BCMs) , which produce physicochemical changes in response to specific triggers.

A micelle is an aggregate of surfactant molecules dispersed in water-based liquid such as saline. Micelles are nano-sized, measuring about 25-50 nanometers (one nanometer is one billionth of a meter), and can function as nanocarriers for drug delivery. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Scientists Confirm Martian Origin of Moroccan Meteorites

January 19th 2012

Science - The Red Planet

A fragment of space rock, discovered near Foumzgit, Morocco.Scientists have confirmed that a rocky meteor that broke apart in the atmosphere and crashed last July came from Mars.  The space-faring stones, perhaps blasted free of the Red Planet by an ancient planetary collision, are the first documented Martian debris to fall to Earth in 50 years.  The rare meteorites have been scooped from the African sands by collectors and dealers, who are selling them for thousands of dollars. The Martian meteor's fiery fall through Earth’s atmosphere last year was seen by Moroccan nomads and military personnel.  At about 2:00 a.m. local time on July 18, they were startled by sonic booms and a fireball that one witness said lit the night sky with a yellow and then a green glow, before breaking into pieces and disappearing into the remote desert.

Pieces of that meteor were not located until October, when nomads found the black, heat-scorched stones near the Moroccan village of Tissint. Soon, samples were collected for analysis by scientists, including the international committee of experts that confirmed the meteorites' Martian origin. Experts say the meteor, officially named Tissint by The Meteoritical Society, probably took millions of years to get here after an asteroid or some other large object collided with the Red Planet and blasted thousands of chunks of Martian rock into space. Chunks of the meteor that struck Earth totaled 6.8 kilograms, with the largest weighing almost a kilogram. Read more ..

The Water's Edge

Rampant Disease Infecting Hawaiian Coral Reefs

January 17th 2012

Animals - coral reef and fish

Scientists have discovered an outbreak of coral disease called Montipora White Syndrome in Kāneʿohe Bay, Oʿahu, the third largest island of the Hawaiian archipelago. The affected coral are of the species Montipora capitata, also known as rice coral. Rice corals provide valuable habitat, shelter, and foraging grounds for a variety of tropical marine fish and invertebrates and provide the fundamental structure of coral reefs. Rice corals are especially important to Hawai‘i's marine ecosystems because they are one of the more abundant coral reef species in the region.

Thus, loss of corals can have negative effects on many other reef-associated organisms. In fact, losing a coral reef is similar to losing a rainforest, with many species reliant on that ecosystem for survival. In addition, coral reefs in Hawai‘i are an important source of tourism and other economic income (fisheries). For example, Kāneʿohe Bay, where this outbreak is concentrated, is a popular spot frequented by snorkelers, bathers, divers, boaters and fishermen.

While this particular disease outbreak seems limited to south Kāneʿohe Bay, coral diseases have the potential to be widespread, affecting large geographic regions. A prime example is the Western Atlantic and Caribbean where large tracts of coral reefs have either declined or disappeared due to diseases. Read more ..

The Edge of Physics

Physicists’ ‘Light from Darkness’ Breakthrough Named a Top 2011 Discovery

January 17th 2012

Science - Llight from Dark
Casimir Effect

They shook light from darkness. They coaxed something out of what we normally think of as nothing—the vacuum of space. And now their work has been named one of the top 10 breakthroughs of the year by Physics World, the international magazine announced today. University of Michigan physics researcher Franco Nori is involved in the work, which was published in Nature in November.

The physicists directly observed, for the first time, light particles that flicker in and out of existence in the vacuum. They witnessed the long-predicted quantum mechanical phenomenon known as the dynamical Casimir effect. "One of the profound consequences of quantum mechanics is that we know that something can come from nothing," Nori said. "The vacuum is actually teeming with activity, the question is how to harness it and observe it because the particles move in an out of existence in the blink of an eye."

This background activity of fleeting particles is known as quantum vacuum fluctuations. It's the impetus for what's known as the static Casimir effect, an attractive force that can pull two parallel mirrors together in a vacuum. That effect is caused by a pressure drop between the mirrors because more photons can exist on the outsides of them. It was measured in the late '90s. Read more ..

Nanotechnology Edge

Shrinking Memory Bits a Million Times Through Antiferromagnetically Coupled Atoms

January 16th 2012

Technology - IC Layout

Punctuating 30 years of nanotechnology research, scientists from IBM Research have successfully demonstrated the ability to store information in as few as 12 magnetic atoms. This is significantly less than today's disk drives, which use about one million atoms to store a single bit of information.

While silicon transistor technology has become cheaper, denser and more efficient, fundamental physical limitations suggest this path of conventional scaling is unsustainable. Alternative approaches are needed to continue the rapid pace of computing innovation. By taking a novel approach and beginning at the smallest unit of data storage, the atom, scientists demonstrated magnetic storage that is at least 100 times denser than today’s hard disk drives and solid state memory chips. Future applications of nanostructures built one atom at a time, and that apply an unconventional form of magnetism called antiferromagnetism, could allow people and businesses to store 100 times more information in the same space. Read more ..

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