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Giving Hope Back To Disabled Veterans

For most people, Veterans’ Day means a day off from work or school. But for more than 26 million veterans - two million who have disabilities - November 11 is a day for reflection and often for those with disabilities, a day of concern about what the future holds.

Kent State University, in partnership with the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center, has created a program that offers veterans the opportunity to take control of their future by obtaining entirely online degrees suited to their educational, physical, and mental needs.

Created by Dr. Joseph Drew, Kent State professor of political science, the program uses special software and adaptive equipment to allow veterans who are paraplegic or quadriplegic complete their coursework successfully, with the added convenience of working from their homes or the hospital. This helps these veterans with disabilities overcome multiple challenges they face in attaining a college education and future career.

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Z Machine Melts Diamond To Puddle

As capsule for nuclear-fusion fuel, even diamonds aren’t forever.

Sandia’s Z machine, by creating pressures more than 10 million times that of the atmosphere at sea level, has turned a diamond sheet into a pool of liquid.

The object of the experiment was to better understand the characteristics of diamond under the extreme pressure it would face when used as a capsule for a BB-sized pellet intended to fuel a nuclear fusion reaction.

The experiment is another step in the drive to release enough energy from fused atoms to create unlimited electrical power for humanity. Control of this process has been sought for 50 years.

Half a bathtub full of seawater in a fusion reaction could produce as much energy as 40 train cars of coal.

Results of the fusion reaction also will be used to validate physics models in computer simulations used to certify the safety and reliability of the US nuclear weapons stockpile.

Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration facility.

The problem for two giant machines that would use this method — the National Ignition Facility in Lawrence Livermore National Lab, which asked for the experiment, and Sandia’s Z machine — is that the outer shell of the pellet must transmit pressure evenly into its interior. Diamond as a solid will do that. Diamond as a liquid will do that. But diamond that is partially both and exists between 6.9 million atmospheres and 10.4 million atmospheres provides uneven pressures. This in-between phase would create instabilities that would ruin the implosion, like a hand squeezing a water balloon that allows portions of the balloon to exit through spaces between the fingers.

So, if diamond is used as a capsule, the energies involved must be tailored to avoid landing in this zone.

Why use diamond at all? It was hoped that diamond would help smooth out the applied pressure loads and keep the capsule implosion symmetric.

Wouldn’t a more flexible material like vinyl be better?

“At the pressures we’re interested in, everything is compressible,” said capsule designer Mark Herrmann, a Sandia researcher.

Because of limited time to run the experiments, due to the shutdown of Z for renovations that should increase its power by 30 percent, Sandia lead experimenter Marcus Knudson found a predictive use of a quantum-molecular simulation program developed at Sandia by Mike Desjarlais very helpful in pinpointing the pressures at which diamond would begin and finish liquefying.

In the experiments, the applied pressure came from shock waves passing through the diamond. The waves were created by impacting the diamond with tiny plates hurled using Z’s huge magnetic fields at about 20 times the speed of a rifle bullet.

The results were the subject of an invited talk given this week at the American Physical Society’s Division of Plasma Physics in Philadelphia.

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Space Sunshade Might Be Feasible in Global Warming Emergency

The possibility that global warming will trigger abrupt climate change is something people might not want to think about.

But University of Arizona astronomer Roger Angel thinks about it.

Angel, a University of Arizona Regents’ Professor and one of the world’s foremost minds in modern optics, directs the Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory and the Center for Astronomical Adaptive Optics. He has won top honors for his many extraordinary conceptual ideas that have become practical engineering solutions for astronomy.

For the past year, Angel has been looking at ways to cool the Earth in an emergency. He’s been studying the practicality of deploying a space sunshade in a global warming crisis, a crisis where it becomes clear that Earth is unmistakably headed for disastrous climate change within a decade or two.

Angel presented the idea at the National Academy of Sciences in April and won a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts grant for further research in July. His collaborators on the grant are David Miller of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nick Woolf of UA’s Steward Observatory, and NASA Ames Research Center Director S. Pete Worden.

solarshield_websize.jpgAngel is now publishing a first detailed, scholarly paper, “Feasibility of cooling the Earth with a cloud of small spacecraft near L1,” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The plan would be to launch a constellation of trillions of small free-flying spacecraft a million miles above Earth into an orbit aligned with the sun, called the L-1 orbit.

The spacecraft would form a long, cylindrical cloud with a diameter about half that of Earth, and about 10 times longer. About 10 percent of the sunlight passing through the 60,000-mile length of the cloud, pointing lengthwise between the Earth and the sun, would be diverted away from our planet. The effect would be to uniformly reduce sunlight by about 2 percent over the entire planet, enough to balance the heating of a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.

Researchers have proposed various alternatives for cooling the planet, including aerosol scatterers in the Earth’s atmosphere. The idea for a space shade at L1 to deflect sunlight from Earth was first proposed by James Early of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1989.

“The earlier ideas were for bigger, heavier structures that would have needed manufacture and launch from the moon, which is pretty futuristic,” Angel said. “I wanted to make the sunshade from small ‘flyers,’ small, light and extremely thin spacecraft that could be completely assembled and launched from Earth, in stacks of a million at a time. When they reached L1, they would be dealt off the stack into a cloud. There’s nothing to assemble in space.”

The lightweight flyers designed by Angel would be made of a transparent film pierced with small holes. Each flyer would be two feet in diameter, 1/5000 of an inch thick and weigh about a gram, the same as a large butterfly. It would use “MEMS” technology mirrors as tiny sails that tilt to hold the flyers position in the orbiting constellation. The flyer’s transparency and steering mechanism prevent it from being blown away by radiation pressure. Radiation pressure is the pressure from the sun’s light itself.

The total mass of all the fliers making up the space sunshade structure would be 20 million tons. At $10,000 a pound, conventional chemical rocket launch is prohibitively expensive. Angel proposes using a cheaper way developed by Sandia National Laboratories for electromagnetic space launchers, which could bring cost down to as little as $20 a pound.

The sunshade could be deployed by a total 20 electromagnetic launchers launching a stack of flyers every 5 minutes for 10 years. The electromagnetic launchers would ideally run on hydroelectric power, but even in the worst-case environmental scenario with coal-generated electricity, each ton of carbon used to make electricity would mitigate the effect of 1000 tons of atmospheric carbon.

Once propelled beyond Earth’s atmosphere and gravity with an electromagnetic launcher, the flyer stacks would be steered to L-1 orbit by solar-powered ion propulsion, a new method proven in space by the European Space Agency’s SMART-1 moon orbiter and NASA’s Deep Space 1 probe.

“The concept builds on existing technologies,” Angel said. “It seems feasible that it could be developed and deployed in about 25 years at a cost of a few trillion dollars. With care, the solar shade should last about 50 years. So the average cost is about $100 billion a year, or about two-tenths of one percent of the global domestic product.”

He added, “The sunshade is no substitute developing renewable energy, the only permanent solution. A similar massive level of technological innovation and financial investment could ensure that.

“But if the planet gets into an abrupt climate crisis that can only be fixed by cooling, it would be good to be ready with some shading solutions that have been worked out.”

[Lori Stiles]

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We recently featured a site that showed the travelers among us some interesting sites around out country that they could visit while they were out and about. Not wanting to sit on our laurels, and sparing no expense or time searching every corner of the Internet, we have found another site that can help add a little spice to that next vacation of yours, no matter what time of the year you depart. is an online guide to offbeat tourist attractions. How offbeat, you wonder? How about a gas station in Oregon that is sitting under a real, authentic WWII B-17 bomber? Or the world’s only two-story outhouse in Arkansas? Cawker, Kansas is home to the largest ball of twine, which continues to grow even though the creator has passed on, and Livermore, California has the oldest light bulb that is still on the job (since 1902). These are just a few of the sites that you can find out the details about on this site, and plan your trips, no matter how far you have to travel. There are links to local restaurants and motels on the site as well.

So if you a desire to travel, and seek out odd and unusual places, this site is one that you will want to have handy. It has a Warped rating of 8.0 and one that is well deserved.

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30-Year Public Key Cryptography Anniversary Event

Speaking as MC at the Information Security Technology event of the season, 30-Years of Public Key Cryptography - which was hosted and co-sponsored by Voltage Security and RSA, the security division of EMC, at the Computer History Museum, last Thursday - John Markoff, author and senior writer of The New York Times, stated that no technology has had a “more profound political and economic impact on the world than cryptography.” He went on to say that PKC has largely gone unnoticed because it has “so rapidly become an invisible part of the fabric of both modern communications and modern commerce.”

Dr. Dan Boneh agreed, and in the introductions stated that PKC “dominates our life in a really good way; most people who use it never know that they are actually doing public key operations- it’s all transparent.” The co-inventor of a breakthrough in Public Key technology known as Identity-Based Encryption (IBE), from which next generation encryption and key management solutions are being implemented today by Voltage Security, set the stage by pointing out the ways that the audience uses encryption every day - for example, browsing the Web to conduct online banking or shopping, or securing sensitive email messages or mobile communications.

The event - sold-out with standing room only - included some of the foremost minds in cryptography and the security industry.

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See, Share and Relive Your Favorite Digital Photos With New Mustek Digital Picture Frames

Mustek Digital Picture FramesOffering one of the largest and brightest viewing experiences in their price range, new PF Series digital picture frames from Mustek are essential accessories for every digital photography enthusiast. And they make the perfect holiday gift.

Available in 8-inch and 7-inch screen sizes, Mustek PF Series frames beautifully display hundreds of JPEG photos stored on SD, MMC, Memory Stick and other popular memory card formats - all without a PC, a printer or Internet access. Not only do the frames allow digital photographers to proudly showcase their photos, they also feature a built-in MP3 player/speaker system to set slideshows to entertaining music. The frames even play MPEG movies.

Operation could not be simpler: Just slip the memory card from a digital camera into the frame’s card slot and the VGA resolution (640 X 480) screen instantly displays vibrant, ultra-brilliant color images that are viewable from across a room for everyone to share. Photographers can rotate hundreds of images on a single frame, leading to hours of enjoyment. Updating a frame is as easy as slipping in a new card. Instantly, the frame again becomes the center of attention.

“The great thing about our digital picture frames is that they eliminate selecting that one perfect picture for an office desk or a living room,” said Bill Nguyen, Director of Marketing for Mustek. “Now you can interchange an entire library of images, plus add music for a full multimedia experience.”

A credit card sized remote control is included to let users zoom-in and rotate photos, select slideshow speed, and control music volume.

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Quantum Coherence Possible In Incommensurate Electronic Systems

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have demonstrated that quantum coherence is possible in electronic systems that are incommensurate, thereby removing one obstacle in the development of quantum devices.

Electronic effects in thin films and at interfaces lie at the heart of modern solid-state electronic technology. As device dimensions shrink toward the nanoscale, quantum coherence and interference phenomena become increasingly important.

“At quantum dimensions, quantum mechanics says device components will couple together and act in a concerted manner, where everything affects everything else,” said Tai-Chang Chiang, a professor of physics and a researcher at the university’s Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory. “Most scientists assume that electronic layers must be commensurate, so electrons will flow without being diverted or scattered.”

In fact, however, most material interfaces are incommensurate as a result of differences in crystal sizes, symmetries or atomic spacing. Random scattering of electrons was thought to destroy quantum coherence in such systems at the nanoscale.

Now, by studying electron fringe structure in silver films on highly doped silicon substrates, Chiang and his research group show that even when electronic layers are incommensurate, they can still be coherent. The researchers report their findings in the Nov. 3 issue of the journal Science.

In work performed at the Synchrotron Radiation Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the researchers grew atomically uniform silver films on highly doped n-type silicon substrates. Then they used a technique called angle-resolved photoemission to examine the fine-structured electronic fringes.

Although the silver films and silicon substrates are lattice mismatched and incommensurate, the wave functions are compatible and can be matched over the interface plane, Chiang said. The resulting state is coherent throughout the entire system.

The fringes the scientists recorded correspond to electronic states extending over the silver film as a quantum well and reaching into the silicon substrate as a quantum slope, with the two parts coherently coupled through an incommensurate interface structure.

“An important conclusion drawn from the present study is that coherent wave function engineering, as is traditionally carried out in lattice-matched epitaxial systems, is possible for incommensurate systems,” the researchers wrote, “which can substantially broaden the selection of materials useful for coherent device architecture.”

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Verizon And Intel Bring Online PC Gaming To TVs

Verizon and Intel Corporation have collaborated to enable consumers to play popular PC games on their television sets through Intel Viiv technology-based PCs, making the games more enjoyable and accessible than ever before.

The companies will also market a version of PlayLinc, a new game messenger that provides a faster and more entertaining way to enjoy multiplayer games online. PlayLinc, which is free, provides a variety of features, including free private servers, VoIP integration and the ability for players to track when their friends are online and ready to join a game.

“We’re creating a graphics-rich, ‘big-screen’ game-playing experience for the entire family,” said Colson Hillier, director of new product development for Verizon. “The games that families now enjoy on their PCs will become larger than life, more fun to play and accessible in virtually every room of the house, through linkages between a family’s PC and their TV. This is an extension of Verizon’s commitment to provide customers with the content and service they want, whenever they want it, and however they want to receive it.”

Verizon Games on Demand for Viiv
The Verizon Games on Demand service enables users to play popular PC games on their TVs through Intel Viiv technology-based PCs running Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 (MCE). Using a wireless game controller and MCE remote control, consumers can play a broad array of games from the comfort of their favorite couch or easy chair, also referred to as the “10-foot view” of the television set. Consumers can access the service through the Media Center Edition menu system by selecting the service using their remote control.

Verizon Games on Demand combines the power and flexibility of the Intel Viiv technology platform, featuring the Intel Core2 Duo processor, with the speed and reliability of Verizon’s broadband networks and the innovation of its growing online gaming services.

Kevin Corbett, vice president of Intel’s Digital Home Group and general manager of the company’s Content Services Group, said, “Intel Core 2 Duo processors deliver exceptional PC gaming performance and are the foundation for Intel Viiv technology, which is helping to ignite new digital entertainment experiences. The combination of Intel Viiv technology and Verizon Games on Demand provides consumers with a wide selection of popular gaming experiences for both the PC and the TV, which adds a whole new dimension to online gaming.”

Intel Viiv technology helps connect the PC to the TV and enables consumers to simplify, share and control their games, music and movies with the energy-efficient performance delivered by the Intel Core 2 Duo processor¹. The technology is widely supported by a number of PC and consumer electronics manufacturers, as well as content and service providers such as Verizon.

Verizon Games on Demand features click-and-play access to a wide variety of popular, full-version PC games that appeal to many different gamers, including adults and children. The service was named a Popular Mechanics Editor’s Choice at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show. The service subscription costs $9.95 per month. The service will feature:

  • Easy, 3-D navigation and launch via the MCE remote control
  • Schedule game downloading and prioritize or change the schedule for future game play
  • Click-and-play experience with no game installation process
  • Wireless gamepad controls that create a console-like playing experience
  • Ability to choose games based on rating, genre or other criteria
  • Automatic system check to ensure the PC has the necessary drivers and available memory, among other things, to run each game, along with automatic system updates
  • Accelerated game downloads to begin playing even before the download is completed
  • Rich graphics that make casual game playing as exciting as sophisticated console gaming

PlayLinc Game Messenger
PlayLinc provides online gamers with a single, easy-to-use interface and all the tools they need for a superior playing experience, including the ability for gamers to launch their own servers for free, true server-based voice capabilities for up to 32 players, seamless integration of America Online’s AIM messaging service, in-game and on-game chat and Internet browsing, buddy tracking, team management and other tools. PlayLinc supports both PC and console games and allows players to host any LAN-enabled multi-player game on a virtual LAN.

PlayLinc takes advantage of Intel dual core technology by shifting communications functions to the second core, which allows the service to run faster and more efficiently. PlayLinc can be used with any broadband connection, but customers of Verizon’s fiber-based FiOS Internet Service will benefit from the power of a super-high-speed fiber connection directly into their homes.

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Paul Is Dead

I came across this site and thought, in its day, it was a pretty weird and warped rumor. It has since been disproved, but it still makes for some nostalgic reading, and if you were too young to remember, this is a great introduction into just how popular the Beatles were.

The theme of this site is the rumored death of Paul McCartney in the late 1960s. At that time it was rumored that he was dead or disfigured in an automobile accident, and that the remaining Beatles were using their music to let their fans know what had happened. There was in-depth analysis of their lyrics, and their songs were being played backwards and forwards (and even sideways, I’m sure). It was great to see some of the theories that were generated at the time, such as the look-a-like contest that William Campbell won, and actually got his picture taken with the other three.

So give this site a read, and enjoy the clues and then dig out your old albums (or new CDs) and see just how crazy the ’60s could be. Warped rating on this site is 7.0.

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Researchers Teach Computers How To Name Images By ‘Thinking’

Penn State researchers have “taught” computers how to interpret images using a vocabulary of up to 330 English words, so that a computer can describe a photograph of two polo players, for instance, as “sport,” “people,” “horse,” “polo.”

The new system, which can automatically annotate entire online collections of photographs as they are uploaded, means significant time-savings for the millions of Internet users who now manually tag or identify their images. It also facilitates retrieval of images through the use of search terms, said James Wang, associate professor in the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology, and one of the technology’s two inventors.

The system is described in a paper, “Real-Time Computerized Annotation of Pictures,” given at the recent ACM Multimedia 2006 conference in Santa Barbara, Calif., and authored by Jia Li, associate professor, Department of Statistics, and Wang. Penn State has filed a provisional patent application on the invention. Major search engines currently rely upon uploaded tags of text to describe images. While many collections are annotated, many are not. The result: Images without text tags are not accessible to Web searchers. Because it provides text tags, the ALIPR system (Automatic Linguistic Indexing of Pictures-Real Time) makes those images visible to Web users.

ALIPR does this by analyzing the pixel content of images and comparing that against a stored knowledge base of the pixel content of tens of thousands of image examples. The computer then suggests a list of 15 possible annotations or words for the image.

“By inputting tens of thousands of images, we have trained computers to recognize certain objects and concepts and automatically annotate those new or unseen images,” Wang said. “More than half the time, the computer’s first tag out of the top 15 tags is correct.”

In addition, for 98 percent of images tested, the system has provided at least one correct annotation in the top 15 selected words. The system, which completes the annotation in about 1.4 seconds, also can be applied to other domains such as art collections, satellite imaging and pathology slides, Wang said. The new system builds on the authors’ previous invention, ALIP, which also analyzes image content. But unlike ALIP which characterized images by incorporating computational-intensive spatial modeling, ALIPR characterizes images by modeling distributions of color and texture.

The researchers acknowledge computers trained with their algorithms have difficulties when photos are fuzzy or have low contrast or resolution; when objects are shown only partially; and when the angle used by the photographer presents an image in a way that is different than how the computer was trained on the object. Adding more training images as well as improving the training process may reduce these limitations-future areas of research.

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Student’s Summer Software Success Gets Big Blue Buzzing

A computer program created by a University of Manchester student during his summer holidays is being developed further by industry giant IBM.

Robert Craig, a final year Computer Science student, played a key role in developing a piece of business software called ESP.

The policy management tool is designed to process so-called ‘computer readable’ data, taken from important policy documents agreed between a company and a client.

Robert and his team developed a Web application that allows this computer-readable information to be interpreted and presented in a ‘human-readable’ format.

Robert, who is 21 and originally from Macclesfield, was one of just sixteen students selected from universities across the UK to participate in IBM’s 2006 Extreme Blue programme, which is designed to foster innovation.

Extreme Blue challenges groups of students to develop the technology and a business plan for a new product or service that addresses an existing market challenge.

There were four teams of undergraduates involved in the UK programme, consisting of both business and technical members. The teams were supported by IBM technical and business mentors.

The UK scheme was based at IBM Hursley Park near Winchester, but schemes also ran in Ireland, France, Germany and Holland. All of the teams then came together at a special expo at IBM in La Gaude, France.

The teams met each other and had the opportunity to present and demonstrate their projects to senior IBM executives and technical employees from around Europe.

IBM, which is also known as Big Blue, says that following the expo in France earlier this year, ESP is now being investigated and developed further.

“Extreme Blue was an amazing experience,” said Robert. “The programme was only three months long, which meant everything was quite intense.

“It is unique, as you are involved in the whole software development process from requirement gathering, through to developing, through to testing.

“Over the summer I learnt a vast amount in many areas, not just technical skills. My public speaking skills have really developed due to the presentations we had to give at the expo in France and the conference calls with people from all over the globe.

“I find the fact that our work is going to be continued extremely exciting, as I know how much the final product will help a vast number of people.”

Robert says that once his Web application has been integrated with some other tools, it should be able to scan the computer-readable data and check for policy compliance on all the computers within a customer’s business.

When it finds instances of non-compliance, it will automatically flag this up to the relevant people.

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Computer Scientists Track Prediction Markets In Run-Up To U.S. Elections

As voters prepare for the polls Nov. 7, computer scientists at the University of Chicago and Yahoo! Research are calling attention to the uncanny track record that an Irish securities trading market has for accurately predicting the outcome of U.S. elections.

The computer scientists have devised Web sites that display continuously updated color maps predicting the outcome of the 2006 gubernatorial and senate races. The predictions are linked to the prices of securities at, an Irish trading site that runs a market for each state with a gubernatorial or senate race.

“The prices of the securities have in the past shown to be a surprisingly accurate prediction of future events,” said Lance Fortnow, Professor in Computer Science at the University of Chicago. “In 2004, these markets correctly predicted all but one of the senate races and every state correctly in the electoral college. We put the map together to highlight the importance of these markets and let people get a quick view of what the markets say.”

The maps, a joint project of Fortnow and David Pennock and Yiling Chen of Yahoo! Research, may be viewed here and here. Solid red states are those that are heavily favored to go Republican, according to Tradesports data, while solid blue states are likely to go Democratic. States of lighter shades indicate more tightly contested races. also posts colored maps showing the political leanings of the states. Those maps are based on conventional opinion polling and are unrelated to prediction markets, Pennock said.

Information markets such as Tradesports, also called prediction markets, react extremely quickly to news. This enables visitors to the Web sites to obtain an immediate view of how a breaking event, like the one that led to the resignation of Florida Congressman Mark Foley, might affect an election, Fortnow said.

But as a theoretical computer scientist, Fortnow also is interested in analyzing the computational power of the markets to see if he can understand how it works and predict what it will do. “When is it actually going to do a very good job of aggregating information? When is it not going to do a very good job of aggregating information based on the market setup?” Fortnow asked.

Information markets have proven so efficient in combining the collective wisdom of their participants that some companies operate them internally to help make decisions, including HP, Google and Microsoft. Company executives can, for example, learn from the markets whether or not their employees think that a new product will be released on time. But unlike Tradesports, which may be illegal in the United States, the markets are structured so that employees can win prizes without taking financial risk.

In 2003, a terrorism futures market at the Pentagon created a furor that led to the resignation of retired Admiral John Poindexter, who headed the project. “It put a damper on things,” Fortnow said. But prediction markets are once again generating interest in some circles. The interest in prediction markets is fueled in part by James Surowiecki’s book The Wisdom of Crowds, Pennock said.

“This area is definitely gaining traction, both in the academic world and maybe even more so in the corporate world,” Pennock said.

Yahoo! Research, the research and development division of Yahoo!, runs a prediction market called the Tech Buzz game.

“It’s a play-money market where people try to predict what technologies people will be searching for,” Pennock said, whether it be an internet browser or an MP3 player. The game evaluates both the power of prediction markets to forecast high-tech trends and a Yahoo! Research system for conducting electronic commerce.

Prediction markets also have spawned some startups, including and “Inklingmarkets offers a hosted solution where it’s easy for any company to create a private prediction market for internal corporate forecasts and decisions,” Pennock said. “Newsfutures provides software and services for companies to run internal markets, and also will host special challenge markets on their website.”

Fortnow, meanwhile, sees interesting computational issues in the ability of a group of people to access and process information that goes into the buying and selling of securities and other financial decisions.

“My main research is studying different models of computation, and to me information markets are another model of computation,” he said. “We still know so little about why they work well. There are big questions about how much traffic they need to be interesting, and how easy or how hard are they to manipulate.”

Prediction markets will be among the topics addressed at the Conference on Electronic Commerce, sponsored by the Association of Computing Machinery, June 11 to 15, 2007, in San Diego, Calif. The Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science in New Jersey has also organized a workshop series that is focused on issues pertaining to the social and economic sciences.

“There’s been a growing interaction between theoretical computer science and economic issues,” Fortnow said.

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Spin-Out Company Seeks Medicines From South American Rain Forests

A British drug discovery company which has developed the world’s fastest drug profiling system has joined forces with a Brazilian company to seek new medicines from the South American rain forests.

At a time when the number of new drugs in the world’s development pipeline has dwindled, the British company e-Therapeutics has formed a partnership with Brazilian company Grupo TCI to establish a joint research facility close to the Amazonian and Atlantic rain forests, to start testing substances from the millions of plants in the most diverse ecosystem on the planet.

New medicines are needed to combat a range of diseases which threaten to reach pandemic levels, including drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis and virus infections like avian flu. New drugs are also being sought for tropical diseases which occur in Brazil, such as hepatitis C, Chagas disease and Leishmaniasis.

In a separate deal, e-Therapeutics is joining forces with CURA, a pharmaceutical consortium backed by the Brazilian Government, which is establishing a cluster of drug discovery, development and marketing industries in North East Brazil. This will give e-Therapeutics a base from which to access to Brazilian pharmaceutical companies.

e-Therapeutics was spun out of Newcastle University in 2003 by Professor Malcolm Young, who developed new ’systems biology’ techniques which can accurately predict the biological effect of any substance on any human tissue and on pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. He attracted more than £10m research funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and other organisations to turn his ideas into practice.

Professor Young demonstrated the effectiveness of its technology by correctly predicting the effects of known drugs, such as 103 known antibiotics. But it also uncovered unknown antibiotics, which are now entering drug development.

e-Therapeutics is not alone in hunting for rain forest medicines but has the advantage of a system which typically takes only two weeks to assess a substance, as opposed to two years by conventional processes.

Professor Young, who is now Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Newcastle University, said: ‘This is a fantastic opportunity to investigate Brazil’s colossal biodiversity with our cutting edge technology. There is enormous potential for drug discovery in the rain forests, where there are millions of plant species, many of which produce bioactive chemicals.’

Roberto Marinho Filho, President of Grupo TCI, said: ‘This new partnership will enable us to access our rich resource of natural compounds and, through e-Therapeutics novel technology, determine the medical use of these natural compounds. This will open the current bottlenecks in developing new drugs. We will be using the world’s fastest compound profiling system, so the process of discovery of medicines, which can reduce the two years required currently for these processes to about two weeks.’

e-Therapeutics was able to link up to the Brazilian companies with the assistance of the North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC), an organisation formed by the 200 Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology, Speciality, Commodity and Petrochemical companies based in the North East of England. NEPIC says that it intends to provide industrial connections and support for e-Therapeuitics as it grows. Funding for e-Therapeutics has included a £90,000 investment from NStar, an independent early stage technology venturing company, via its Proof of Concept Fund (POC) in 2004. This helped to accelerate the development of e-Therapeutics by financing research and demonstrating the company’s capabilities in the pharmaceuticals and biotechnology markets.

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Prince Edward Island Potato Museum

As we grew up as kids, and learned to read, some of the books that were popular were Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books about Anne Shirley. Those stories were set in the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, a very beautiful and pastoral recreation area. So could possibly be on that island that would make it qualify for a Warped site? Read on and you’ll find out.

Prince Edward Island is home to the Potato Museum, the only one of its kind in the world. The Prince Edward Island Potato Museum is located in the community of O’Leary in the western part of Canada’s smallest province. The museum depicts an interesting display of the potato industry, and houses a large collection of farm implements and machinery related to the growing and harvesting of potatoes. It currently houses the largest collection of potato artifacts in the world.

Now it may seem kind of strange visiting a museum like this, but you have to remember that PEI is a very quite and unassuming place, and the like to show off their local culture. It can be a pleasant way to spend two or three hours of your vacation. The Warp-o-Meter gives this site a 6.5 rating, but then it’s always been a sucker for a good baked potato bar.

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Google Acquires California Startup

Google Inc., expanding its efforts at providing software that helps users create and post their own materials on the Internet, has acquired a California startup that develops online collaboration tools known as wikis.

The announcement came Tuesday through separate postings at Google’s and JotSpot Inc.’s Web journals. Terms were not disclosed.

JotSpot chief executive Joe Kraus said JotSpot would be able to tap into the Internet search leader’s large user base and robust data centers capable of handling any growth.

“Our vision has always been to take wikis out of the land of the nerds and bring it to the largest possible audience,” Kraus said in an interview. “There’s no larger audience that you can reach than one you can reach through Google.” [Source: AP via CTV]

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Music Publishers Say Kazaa Deal Reached

The music publishing industry reached a tentative deal with operators of the Kazaa file-sharing network over claims of copyright infringement, an industry group said.

Publishers pursuing a class-action suit against Kazaa informed U.S. District Court on Monday that the peer-to-peer network had agreed to pay “a substantial sum” under the agreement, the National Music Publishers’ Association said in a statement.

The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. It is subject to final approval by the association board.

The settlement “will be another key milestone of the ongoing transformation of the digital music marketplace to one that will allow legal services to thrive,” NMPA President and Chief Executive David Israelite said in the statement.

Phil Armstrong, a spokesman for Sharman Networks Ltd., which owns and distributes Kazaa, said he was not familiar with the lawsuit and declined to comment. [Source: AP via Fox News]

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IEEE-USA Commends NASA Decision To Service Hubble Space Telescope

IEEE-USA commends NASA for announcing today that it would send a Space Shuttle mission to extend the life of the Hubble Space Telescope.

“The Hubble is one of the most productive astronomical observatories ever built,” said Dr. Russell Lefevre, IEEE-USA’s vice president for technology policy. “The scientific achievements have fostered an understanding of outer space that would not have been possible without it. The proposed upgrades will provide even greater knowledge of the origin and structure of the universe.”

A 2004 IEEE-USA position on the Hubble called on NASA to explore “all possible avenues to prolong the useful life of the telescope for the benefit of science and humanity.”

The final maintenance voyage to the Hubble is tentatively scheduled for sometime in 2008. Five separate space walks will be required to extend and improve the orbiting observatory’s capabilities and keep it functioning through 2013. See NASA’s news release here.

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Light-Sensitive Photoswitches Could Restore Sight To Those With Macular Degeneration

A research center newly created by the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) aims to put light-sensitive switches in the body’s cells that can be flipped on and off as easily as a remote control operates a TV.

Optical switches like these could trigger a chemical reaction, initiate a muscle contraction, activate a drug or stimulate a nerve cell - all at the flash of a light.

One major goal of the UC Berkeley-LBNL Nanomedicine Development Center is to equip cells of the retina with photoswitches, essentially making blind nerve cells see, restoring light sensitivity in people with degenerative blindness such as macular degeneration.

“We’re asking the question, ‘Can you control biological nanomolecules - in other words, proteins - with light?’” said center director and neurobiologist Ehud Y. Isacoff, professor of molecular and cell biology and chair of the Graduate Group in Biophysics at UC Berkeley. “If we can control them by light, then we could develop treatments for eye or skin diseases, even blood diseases, that can be activated by light. This challenge lies at the frontier of nanomedicine.”

The research got off the ground this month thanks to a $6 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), part of a nanomedicine initiative within NIH’s Roadmap for Medical Research. The initiative, which has funded eight Nanomedicine Development Centers around the country, including one last year at UCSF that involves UC Berkeley collaborators, is designed to “take cutting edge technology from one branch of science - nanotechnology - and apply it to another - medicine,” according to Isacoff.

The nanoscience breakthrough at the core of the research was developed at UC Berkeley and LBNL over the past several years by neuroscientist Richard Kramer, professor of molecular and cell biology, Dirk Trauner, professor of chemistry, and Isacoff - all three members of the Physical Bioscience Division of LBNL. It involves altering an ion channel commonly found in nerve cells so that the channel turns the cell on when zapped by green light and turns the cell off when hit by ultraviolet light.

The researchers demonstrated in 2004 that they could turn cultured nerve cells on and off with this optical switch. Since then, with UC Berkeley Professor of Vision Science and Optometry John Flannery, they’ve injected photoswitches into the eyes of rats that have a disease that kills their rods and cones, and have restored some light sensitivity to the remaining retinal cells.

Isacoff, Kramer, Flannery and Trauner have now joined forces with 9 other researchers from UC Berkeley and LBNL, as well as from Stanford University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the California Institute of Technology, to perfect this fundamental development and bring it closer to medical application. Their group, centered around the optical control of biological function, will develop viruses that can carry the photoswitches into the correct cells, new types of photoswitches based on other chemical structures, and strategies for achieving the desired control of cell processes.

“The research will focus on one major application: restoring the response to light in the eyes of people who have lost their photoreceptor cells, in particular, the rods and cones in the most sensitive part of the retina,” Isacoff said. “We plan to develop the tools to create a new layer of optically active cells for the retina.”

Loss of photoreceptors - the light detectors in the retina - is the major cause of blindness in the United States. One in four people over age 65 suffers vision loss as a result of this condition, the most common diagnosis being macular degeneration.

The chemistry at the core of the photoswitch is a molecule - an azobenzene compound - that changes its shape when illuminated by light of different colors. Kramer, Trauner and Isacoff created a channel called SPARK, for Synthetic Photoisomerizable Azobenzene-Regulated K (potassium) channel, by attaching the azobenzene compound to a broken potassium channel, which is a valve found in nerve cells. When attached, one end of the compound sticks in the channel pore and blocks it like a drain plug. When hit with UV light, the molecule kinks and pulls the plug, allowing ions to flow through the channel and activate the nerve cell. Green light unkinks it and replugs the channel, blocking ion flow.

Isacoff said that this same photoswitch could be attached to a variety of proteins to push or pull them into various shapes, even making a protein bend in half like a tweezer.

In 2006, in a cover article in the new journal Nature Chemical Biology, the researchers described for the first time a re-engineered glutamate receptor that is sensitive to light, which complements the SPARK channel because the same color of light will turn one on while turning the other off.

“Now we have photochemical tools for an on switch and an off switch for nerve cells,” Kramer said. “This will allow us to simulate the natural activity of the healthy retina, which has on cells and off cells that respond to light in opposite ways.”

Isacoff, Kramer, Trauner and their colleagues are experimenting with other molecules that can force shape changes, looking for improved ways to attach shape-changing molecules to proteins, developing means to shuttle these photoswitches into cells, building artificial genes that can be inserted into a cell’s DNA to express the photoswitches in the correct cell, and searching for ways to get light into areas of the body not possible to illuminate directly.

“I’m struck by how versatile this approach seems to be,” Isacoff said, noting its applications for screening, diagnosing and treating disease. “I’m convinced that we’ll come up with a therapy that will work in the clinic.”

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Hula Hoops

It was one of the biggest fads of the 1950s, right up there alongside Davy Crockett’s coonskin cap. Art Linkletter is credited with its creation and promotion. But once it took off, it created a life of its own, and is still very popular today.

This site is called Hula Hoops, and is the home of Lori Lynn Lomeli. She is the 1973 World Hula Hoop champion and also possesses Guinness Book’s official world record in the 1975 edition for spinning 15 Hula Hoops simultaneously. Here you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about hula hoops, and then some. There is an instructional video available as well. The site also includes some of the basic hoop moves, such as the knee knocker and the footsee.

Hula hoops can be fun. I never learned to do use one myself, but they were very popular while I was growing up. This can be a fun, safe activity for kids of all ages, and a great way for some quality family time. The Warped rating on this site is 5.0.

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Adragon Digitek MP4 Wristwatch

Alice Hill of RealTechNews writes:

These days almost everything plays video clips, so why not your wristwatch? The Shenzhen Adragon Digitek is an MP4 wristwatch boasts 256MBs to 2GBs of internal storage and plays MPEG 4 video clips as well as JPEG still images AND MP3 or WMA audio. The screen is 1.5 inches diagonal, which means SMALL and the resolution is 128 x128 with 260K OLED true color, but if you’re stuck in traffic or waiting for a plane, it beats watching the second hand click around and around.

Price: made by Chinavision, these are wholesaling for $59 - $101 depending on the amount of internal memory. We Say: What else? It’s from China and sold wholesale, so no MP4 watch for you yet pal. Great pricing. When can we get our hands on one?

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