Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

US Department of Transportation Proposes Mandating Cars Broadcast Location, Direction and Speed -

US Department of Transportation Proposes Mandating Cars Broadcast Location, Direction and Speed - 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of the Department of Transportation, published last week an "advanced notice of proposed rulemaking" on "vehicle-to-vehicle communications."

What NHTSA is proposing could begin a transformation in the American transportation system that makes our lives better and freer — or gives government more power over where we go and when.

In announcing its proposed rulemaking, NHTSA is stressing its intention to protect the "privacy" of American drivers.

"This document initiates rulemaking that would propose to create a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, FMVSS No. 150, to require vehicle-to-vehicle communication capability for light vehicles," says NHTSA's dryly-worded notice.

What do vehicle-to-vehicle communications entail?

NHTSA has crafted a nice phrase to describe the information cars would broadcast. It is the "Basic Safety Message."

"An integrated V2V system is connected to proprietary data busses and can provide highly accurate information using in-vehicle information to generate the Basic Safety Message," says NHTSA's technical report on "Readiness of V2V for Application."

"The integrated system both broadcasts and receives BSMs," says the report. "In addition, it can process the content of received messages to provide advisories and/or warnings to the driver of the vehicle in which it is installed."

The "Basic Safety Message" will be broadcast by the vehicle's dedicated short-range communications system. According to NHTSA, this system will need to transmit certain specific information.

"For example," says the technical report, "when a DSRC unit sends out a BSM, the BSM needs to: Contain the relevant elements and describe them accurately (e.g., vehicle speed; GPS position; vehicle heading; DSRC message ID, etc.)."

What NHTSA envisions mandating will not control people's cars but create a uniform communication system built into all vehicles that will give automobile manufacturers the opportunity to equip their products with warning systems that alert drivers to potential accidents — such as one that might be caused by cross traffic at a blind intersection.

"NHTSA currently does not plan to propose to require specific V2V-based safety applications," says the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking. "Rather, we plan to propose to require that new vehicles be equipped with DSRC devices, which will enable a variety of applications that may provide various safety-critical warnings to drivers."

But NHTSA does not envision that the use of this type of technology will stop there.

The agency has published a "Preliminary Statement of Policy Concerning Automated Vehicles." This statement describes V2V as part of a "continuum" leading to fully automated vehicles.

"Accordingly, three distinct but related streams of technological change and development are occurring simultaneously: (1) in-vehicle crash avoidance systems that provide warnings and/or limited automated control of safety functions; (2) V2V communications that support various crash avoidance applications; and (3) self-driving vehicles," said NHTSA's statement of policy.

"NHTSA finds that it is helpful to think of these emerging technologies as part of a continuum of vehicle control automation," said the policy statement. "The continuum, discussed below, runs from vehicles with no active control systems all the way to full automation and self-driving.

"While the agency is conducting research along the entire automation continuum, our emphasis initially is on determining whether those crash avoidance and mitigation technologies that are currently available (or soon to be available) are not only safe, but effective," said the statement. "However, because these same technologies are the building blocks for what may one day lead to a driverless vehicle, we have also begun research focused on safety principles that may apply to even higher levels of automation, such as driver behavior in the context of highly automated vehicle safety systems."

In its technical report on V2V, published last week, NHTSA said: "At the outset, readers should understand some very important points about the V2V system as currently contemplated by NHTSA. The system will not collect or store any data identifying individuals or individual vehicles, nor will it enable the government to do so."

"There is no data in the safety messages exchanged by vehicles or collected by the V2V system that could be used by law enforcement or private entities to personally identify a speeding or erratic driver," the report said. "The system — operated by private entities — will not enable tracking through space and time of vehicles linked to specific owners or drivers."

"Our research to date suggests that drivers may be concerned about the possibility that the government or a private entity could use V2V communications to track their daily activities and whereabouts," said the report. "However, as designed, NHTSA is confident that the V2V system both achieves the agency's safety goals and protects consumer privacy appropriately."

Like any other instrument, the new automobile technology the federal government is now planning to mandate can be used for good or ill. Certainly, automated automobile warning systems based on accurate data broadcast by other people's cars and roadway infrastructure can save lives.

But as vehicles become fully automated, as they surely will, and the people in them no longer have absolute control over the vehicle's movements, a key question will be: Who does?


Thursday, 14 August 2014

OOPS!: Hospital Mistakenly Declares 200 Patients Dead -

OOPS!: Hospital Mistakenly Declares 200 Patients Dead - 

An Australian hospital apologized on Thursday after mistakenly sending out death notices for 200 of its - very much alive - patients.

Austin Hospital, in Australia's second most populous city of Melbourne, erroneously killed off the patients when it faxed death notices to their family doctors.

The notices were the result of an inadvertent change to the templates the hospital sends to doctors once a patient has been discharged, operator Austin Health said in a statement.

"We apologized unreservedly to affected clinics who, for the most part, were very understanding about the error," it said. 

Patient care had not been affected, the company stressed. 

The Australian Medical Association said the error was unacceptable and potentially distressing to family doctors, while an opposition lawmaker said it was symptomatic of an overworked health system.


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

No joke: Chicken crossing road blocks traffic in Oregon -

No joke: Chicken crossing road blocks traffic in Oregon - 

Portland, Oregon, police were told there was a chicken -- and it was attempting to cross the road.

In fact, the citizen who called the police non-emergency line on Monday evening reported that the chicken's efforts to cross a road in a north Portland neighborhood were bringing traffic nearly to a standstill.

He assured the dispatcher he was not joking.

The dispatcher chuckled -- and asked a clarifying question.

"It's just the one chicken?"

The caller said yes.

Sgt. Pete Simpson says responding officers were unable to locate the chicken.

And so, he notes, police "were unable to determine the chicken's intent."


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Why the Earth is farting -

Why the Earth is farting - 

Every day, you have a close personal encounter with methane, a key ingredient of something we don't usually mention in polite company: farts.
Perhaps that's why methane is also called "natural gas." Unfortunately, neither propriety nor intestinal discipline can suppress its unpleasantness lately, because now not just us, but the Earth itself is farting.
Recently, three new craters, one of which measured approximately 100 feet wide and over 200 feet deep, were discovered in the Siberian permafrost. The explanation for them is even more alarming than asteroid strikes: Apparently, after two consecutive summers averaging 5 degrees Celsius hotter than normal, frozen methane is not merely thawing, it's exploding. Scientists fear that, like chronic bad digestion, this phenomenon could be ongoing. Methane in the air surrounding these craters already measures 53,000 times the normal concentration.
Alan Weisman
Alan Weisman
Then, just a week into a research trip, a team from Stockholm University found "vast methane plumes" shooting from the sea floor off the Siberian coast. Columns of gas bubbles, they reported, were surfacing around their icebreaker in waters saturated with 10 to 50 times more methane than usual.
This was the marine equivalent of melting permafrost, the undoing of frozen crystals called methane hydrates, locked solid for millennia by the pressure and temperature of deep oceans.
The U.S. Office of Naval Research calculates that methane hydrates hold trillions of tons of hydrocarbons, from two to 10 times the amount as all conventional deposits of fossil fuels, but they're probably too costly or unsafe to harvest. Now, as ocean temperatures rise, they've begun collapsing, spewing as much gas skyward as the thawing tundra.
 Mysterious crater baffles scientists
Airborne methane produces 86 times the heat-trapping greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide. Although CO2 remains in the atmosphere far longer, after 100 years methane is still 30 times more potent. With sea level increases from 3 to 6 feet already predicted by the century's end, such stunning global flatulence isn't merely embarrassing, but devastating for civilization.
So what do we do? First, we recognize that the reason this is happening involves a misleading term: positive feedback loop. It's misleading because for us there's nothing positive about it. It means that as temperatures rise, warming land and seas fart (belch, if you prefer) more methane -- which then warms things further, so dangerous eruptions accelerate. Feeding back on itself, warming begets more warming.
Second, we admit that this loop began with us. By now, the link between fuel that jet-propels our industrialized civilization and excess CO2 and methane in the atmosphere is challenged only by those who profit obscenely from it.

Third, we stop compounding the problem by ceasing to pretend that energy derived by shattering our bedrock to squeeze even more natural gas from it is somehow "clean." Not only does burning methane crank planetary heat higher, but fracking wells also inevitably leak. At least 2% of their methane output, the EPA conservatively estimates, seeps into the atmosphere, thickening the gas layer that's already turning Earth into a hothouse.
Nor will the other 98% go to heat our homes. Enormous pipelines are now proposed to transport fracked methane through New England's conservation lands and orchards, through northern Minnesota's prime tourism and wild rice lake districts, and across the Ogallala Aquifer-fed farms of our nation's heartland. Each will terminate at a port, where its gas will be exported, not used domestically.
What will remain is scarred land and the methane that escapes or explodes (most recently on June 26, in East Bernard, Texas, into 150-foot flames). Such pipelines will be subsidized by rate-payers, not by vastly wealthy corporations that own them -- unless we refuse to let them be built, and instead commit our energy funding henceforth to truly cleaner options, like wind and solar.
The last time there was this much atmospheric CO2 was 3 million years ago, when seas were 80 to 100 feet higher. Since the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric methane has more than doubled, and the amount now gushing from the seas alone is 34 times what we thought just seven years ago.
Until we stop putting more carbon dioxide and methane overhead, prepare for more rude farts to foul your air, and our future. With coastal cities, fertile deltas and much of the world's rice crops threatened by floods or salination from encroaching seas -- and with grain harvests predicted to fall 10% for each added 1 degree C of average temperature -- passing greenhouse gases isn't merely vulgar -- it's deadly.

Read more -

How your cat could be used to hack neighbors' Wi-Fi - the "War Kitteh" -

How your cat could be used to hack neighbors' Wi-Fi -  the "War Kitteh" - 

Coco looks and acts like a cat -- and hackers could exploit that.

Gene Bransfield, a principal security engineer at Tenacity Solutions, Inc., in Reston, Virginia, outfitted the Siamese cat with a custom-made collar that mapped dozens of neighbors' Wi-Fi networks.

As reported in Wired, Bransfield outfitted a cat collar with a Spark Core chip loaded with his custom-coded firmware, a Wi-Fi card, a tiny GPS module, and a battery.

The customized collar allowed Bransfield to map all the Wi-Fi networks in the neighborhood, which could also be done by a home intruder or a person intent on stealing a home's Wi-Fi.

The project was jokingly entitled "War Kitteh," and Branfield's presentation at last weekend's DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas was entitled "How to Weaponize Your Pets."

Bransfield says his goal wasn't to create dangerous house pets, but to make users aware of privacy issues and entertain the group's hacker audience.

"My intent was not to show people where to get free Wi-Fi," says Bransfield, "but the result of this cat research was that there were a lot more open and WEP- encrypted hot spots out there than there should be in 2014."

Updating an old hacking technique

In the 1980s, hackers looked for unprotected computers by "wardialing" -- cycling through numbers with their modems. After the advent of Wi-Fi, "wardriving" saw hackers attaching an antenna to a car and driving through the city looking for weak and unprotected networks.

Bransfield says he built the "War Kitteh" collar for less than $100, and it became easier in the past months, when the Spark Core chip became easier to program, Wired reports.

Bransfield doesn't own a cat. Coco is his wife's grandmother's cat.

In a three-hour walk through the neighborhood, Coco found 23 Wi-Fi hot spots, more than one-third of which were open to snoops with the simpler-to-crack WEP instead of the more modern WPA encryption.

Bransfield says many of the WEP connections were Verizon FiOS routers with their default settings left unchanged.


Washington D.C. news crew robbed while reporting on "sketchy" neighborhoods -

Washington D.C. news crew robbed while reporting on "sketchy" neighborhoods - 

Sometimes - but not always - news reporters get exactly what they are looking for when covering a story.

For one news crew from CBS News affiliate WUSA in Washington, D.C., they got a little more.

The news crew's vehicle was burglarized while they were working on a story about a controversial app that alerts people to "sketchy" neighborhoods, WUSA reports.

The crew had locked their news van on a street in Petworth in Northwest, D.C. while they were out in the neighborhood conducting interviews. When they returned they found the lock had been popped out of the door of their news van, and that most of the crew's gear had been stolen.

Because the thieves stole the cell phone of one of the crew members, they were able to use the "Find my iPhone" app to track down some of their goods to dumpsters in another D.C. neighborhood.

The crew was able to recover some of the stolen items from the dumpsters. The entire crew returned to WUSA's broadcast house unharmed.

Read more -

Monday, 11 August 2014

You can't change the color of Facebook - it's a Virus -

You can't change the color of Facebook - it's a Virus - 

facebook phishing

More than 10,000 people around the world have been duped into downloading the malware, according to a Cheetah Mobile Security blog post.

When Facebook (FB, Tech30) users click on the fake app, it sends them to a malicious website that asks them to watch a tutorial video about how to change the color of their profile page. By agreeing to watch the video, the users give hackers access to their profiles, letting the app spam their friends.
If the user doesn't watch the video, the app will lead PC users to download a pornography video player and smartphone users to download an antivirus app. Both are infected with malware.
The good news is the bad app is pretty easy to get rid of -- just remove the color changer app from the Facebook app settings page. Cheetah Mobile Security also advises affected users to change their passwords.


Gaza Fighting Prompts Spike in Demand from Women for Sperm Donations from IDF Combat Soldiers -

Gaza Fighting Prompts Spike in Demand from Women for Sperm Donations from IDF Combat Soldiers - 

A hospital in Haifa has reported a surge in the number of requests for sperm donations from members of the Israeli Defence Forces.

A spirit of patriotism in Israel and a desire for noble progeny has prompted women to seek special donations from IDF Operation Protective Edge combat soldiers.

Haifa's Rambam Medical Centre has said that of 60 women who approach the sperm bank seeking donors each month, almost half have requested a donor with a history of combat service.

Operation Protective Edge has inspired more women to opt for donations from men in military service, in the hope that their future offspring will display the same character traits as the combat soldiers.

Now, as well as choosing the hair and eye colour, height and educational background, the combat criteria has become a priority.

"These women build a profile of what they feel is the ideal donor and the father of their future child," said Dina Aminpour, head of the hospital's sperm bank.

"It seems that the (Gaza) military operation and the stories the Israeli public were exposed to recently (about the IDF) have helped clarify some things for those requesting donations," she explained.

"It touches on the donors' character, and military service seems to indicate something about a person.

"A man who serves in the army in a combat role is usually assumed to have impressive constitution, which confirms the genetic aspirations of the women. They believe he will be fit, healthy, and have several other important attributes."


Man dressed as Osama bin Laden sneaks across border from Mexico... -

Man dressed as Osama bin Laden sneaks across border from Mexico... -

Investigative filmmaker James O’Keefe exposes the U.S.-Mexico border’s vulnerability to terrorism in his latest undercover project, obtained exclusively by The Daily Caller.

O’Keefe’s Project Veritas video reminds viewers of recent statements by the president and Obama administration officials that the southern border is secure. O’Keefe then proceeds to Hudspeth County, Texas, to easily cross back and forth cross the Rio Grande wearing the costume of modern history’s most recognizable terrorist.

“I see no border patrol. I see no security,” O’Keefe said in the video before donning a bin Laden mask. “Thousands of people have stood in my footsteps right now. They’ve come from South America, Honduras, Guatemala, and they’ve all crossed the border. And if they can cross, anybody can cross.” (RELATED: The Time Fidel Castro Snuck Into America From Mexico)

O’Keefe’s work often distinguishes itself for proving taboo but accurate premises – in this case, that Islamic extremists are able to gain entry to the United States from Mexico, where drug cartels are linked to numerous terrorist organizations including Hezbollah and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the strongest al-Qaida-like organization in the heart of the Middle East.

This summer has seen a whirlwind of terrorist activity on the southern border, with dire anecdotes pouring out of local news stations but ignored by the mainstream press. Security contractors found a Muslim prayer rug on the Arizona border, where 300 extremists affiliated with al-Qaida’s Somalia syndicate al-Shabab recently entered the United States unaccounted for. Terrorist watch-list suspects were also detained trying to get into the country through California. Country music legend Charlie Daniels revealed that, “I personally spoke with an Arizona law enforcement officer who had taken four what he called ‘Taliban’ out of the back of an 18 wheeler.”

Relevant on the contemporary merits, O’Keefe’s video also makes an important symbolic point thirteen confusing years after the attacks of 9/11. The terrorists we’re fighting today are more technologically savvy than their idol Osama bin Laden, the self-designed political figure who tried to fire history’s loudest shot. But their motives have not changed. And they have access to the United States.


Sunday, 10 August 2014

App lets you play video games with your vagina - 

Last June, we reported on the K-Goal, a smart Kegel exercise aid that was marketed as a “Fitbit for your ladybits.” Now, much like the FitBit, the K-Goal has spawned a series of other wearable fitness gadgets: Introducing Skea, a Kegel exercise aid fundraising on Kickstarter that essentially lets you play video games with your vagina.

Short for “Smart Kegel Exercise Aid,” Skea is the brainchild of game designer Tom Chen, who designed the gadget with his company Linkcube when his wife became incontinent shortly after giving birth. (Or, as he charmingly puts it in the Kickstarter promo video, “when she found herself unable to control her piss, she was really pissed off.") Doctors recommend that she do regular Kegel exercises to treat her incontinence, which inspired him to create the Skea.

Of course, no one likes to exercise regularly, and Kegel exercising is no exception: Unless you get off on the thrill of sitting in your conference room, clenching and unclenching while your boss drones on about this quarter’s sales figures, it’s hard to make time to do them every day.

That’s why Chen created an in-app game that you can control with your pelvic muscles to motivate women to do their exercises. The game, Alice In Continent (get it, you guys? Get it? It took me a second, to be perfectly honest) is basically a Temple Run-esque runner game that asks you to navigate your avatar around various obstacles, such as “Rabbit Leg-pullers,” “Lava leaks,” and something called “Collagen Elixirs.”

As you play the game, an embedded pressure sensor in the Skea detects your pelvic muscle contractions and synchs wirelessly to your smartphone. So instead of using your finger to guide your avatar, you just have to squeeze tight and think of Chris Pratt shirtless holding a baby sloth. (If that isn’t enough to do it for you, much like the kGoal, the Skea also provides biofeedback in the form of small vibrations, which is as awesome an incentive to get women to exercise as any.)

Obviously, the gamification aspect of the Skea is kind of silly—as is the above promo video, which features more urinary incontinence puns than you can, to adapt the common parlance, shake your vagina at. But despite the Skea’s ludicrous marketing, Kegel exercise aids offer legitimate health benefits to women: Research shows that doing Kegels on a daily basis not only decreases your risk of developing urinary incontinence, it also helps you achieve stronger, more frequent orgasms during sex. Our only advice: Try not to play Alice In Continent on the train, otherwise some curious kid might ask how you’re controlling it without your finger.

Read more -

Friday, 8 August 2014

Woman tracks down the mother who abandoned her as a baby... only to realise she has unwittingly married her BROTHER -

Woman tracks down the mother who abandoned her as a baby... only to realise she has unwittingly married her BROTHER - 

A woman went in search of her long-lost mother - and discovered she has unknowingly married her own brother.
Adriana, 39, and her husband Leandro, 37, have been together for seven years and have a six-year-old daughter.
The Brazilian couple - who didn't want to reveal their surnames - spent their lives trying to find their respective mothers, who were both called Maria, and had both abandoned their children when they were still babies.

But neither ever imagined - until this week - that the women they had both been searching for could have been the same person.
Adriana, a cosmetics saleswoman, hadn't seen her mother since she was just one, when she left home leaving her to be raised by the girl's father.

Meanwhile, truck driver Leandro found out aged eight that his own mother had also abandoned him, and that the woman he knew as his mum was actually his step-mother.
While Leandro stayed in the same town where he was born in the state of Sao Paulo, southeast Brazil, Adriana moved away to work as a housemaid, was married for 15 years and had three children.
The pair met for the first time ten years ago after Adriana's marriage broke down and she moved back to her home town, and they soon fell in love and moved in together.

Still unable to forget the give up the search for her mother, last month Adriana decided to contact a a radio station in their town to ask for help - and this week the two were reunited live on air.
But at the end of the interview on Radio Globo's 'The Time Is Now' programme, which specialises in finding lost relatives, the mother revealed she also had a son who didn't know her, Leandro.

As it becomes clear that it is the same Leandro that she was married to, Adriana is heard weeping uncontrollably: 'I don't believe that you're telling me this. Leandro is my husband,' she sobs.
At the end of the interview she says: 'Now I'm scared to go home and find out that Leandro doesn't want me any more. I love him so much.'
Adriana and Leandro - who never married legally - yesterday told Radio Globo that they would stay together, despite the bombshell that they are actually brother and sister.
Adriana said: 'Only death is going to separate us. All this happened because God wanted it to happen.
'Of course it would have been different if we had known all this before, but we didn't and we fell in love.
'We thought it was funny that both our mothers had the same name, but it is a common name so we just thought it was a coincidence.
'At first we were really knocked by it all. But we had a family meeting and told everyone that we are going to stay husband and wife, whatever anyone might think.
'We have so many plans together, nothing's going to break us up, nothing.'
The couple said they don't blame their mother for leaving them, have spoken with her a number of times since and plan to meet up soon.


GeoFencing - Schools use new software to monitor students social media posts -

GeoFencing - Schools use new software to monitor students social media posts - 

Officials in western Maryland’s Washington County schools will be tracking students’ social media activity while at school using new software that scans for keywords like “kill” or “bomb.”     

The district is using software called Social Sentinel that employs “geofencing” protocol to determine when students are on school grounds and scans their Twitter, Facebook and other social media posts for evidence of violent threats, harassment, drug or alcohol use, or similarly dangerous language, WJLA television station reports.

District officials are assuring the public that student privacy won’t be violated because the “geofencing” protocol limits tracking to when students are at school, a public place.

“School officials said the goal is to protect student safety. Examples of such posts that will be tracked include those that feature keywords like ‘kill,’ ‘bomb,’ and others,” the news station reports. “School officials said they will also be consulting with parents and members of student government for feedback on what additional keywords should be added to the watch-list.”

Once the software nabs posts with words administrators don’t like, someone – the news station didn’t report who – will read the posts closer to determine if there’s anything fishy going on. Depending on the context of a threatening post, it will either be forwarded to police or school officials, according to WJLA.

The Washington County district is only one of four in the nation employing the student snooping software, which runs $20,000 per year. District superintendent Clayton Wilcox told the Herald-Mail it will be in place for the district’s middle and high schools when students return from summer break in two weeks.

“The software will search sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Meetup, Tumblr, Vimeo, and Google Plus, with other sites expected to be added, according to a presentation Tuesday to the Washington County Board of Education,” the Herald-Mail reports.

While the program would seem to raise objections from students, parents or faculty, no serious objections were cited in media reports.

The Washington County Teachers Association President Denise Fry did, however, raise mild concerns about the potential perception that “’Big Brother is watching,’ and whether the software might be used for other purposes,” according to the Herald-Mail.

And while Wilcox touted the system’s ability to track social media posts precisely within school bounds, he acknowledged that the geofencing feature can be expanded, and it seems as though school officials are already peaking into Pandora ’s Box.

During the meeting, (Wilcox) did mention that one day the school system might want to expand it, if officials hear about gang activity or a fight just off campus,” the Herald-Mail reports.


British police raided an English country pub in search of a stolen wooden relic believed by some to be the Holy Grail -

British police raided an English country pub in search of a stolen wooden relic believed by some to be the Holy Grail - 

British police raided an English country pub this week in search of a stolen wooden relic believed by some to be the Holy Grail - a cup from which, according to the Bible, Jesus is said to have drunk at his final meal before crucifixion.

The Grail has captivated religious experts for centuries, spawning myriad theories about its location and inspiring numerous fictional accounts from the Middle Ages onwards.

The object of the police search, which was unsuccessful, was a frail wooden bowl known as the Nanteos Cup that has been attributed with healing powers since the 19th century, attracting pilgrims and others who believe it may be the Holy Grail itself.

After receiving a tip-off, a team of eight officers and a police dog arrived on Sunday morning at the Crown Inn, a village pub in the rural English county of Herefordshire.

"They turned the place upside down. They came with fibre optic cameras to look in all the corners and nooks and crannies, and under the floorboards ... they were clearly serious about it," the pub's landlady, Di Franklyn, said.

Police said the relic, a dark wooden cup kept inside a blue velvet bag, had been stolen from a house in the area about a month ago. Photographs available online show a bowl-shaped vessel with around half its side missing.

"We get a few rogues and scallywags in the pub, but no one who's quite on the level of stealing a priceless ancient artefact," Franklyn said.

The cup takes its name from Nanteos Mansion, a country house in Wales where the vessel is reported to have been stored until 1952 after 16th-century monks fleeing King Henry VIII's dissolution of England's monasteries sought refuge there.

The cup was said to have been brought to Britain after Jesus' death by Joseph of Arimathea, the biblical figure who provided Christ with a tomb and, according to legend, brought Christianity to Britain.

Scientists who have examined the cup have said it almost certainly dates from many centuries after the crucifixion, and is not made of the olive wood that might have been expected for a Middle Eastern drinking vessel.


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Ebola Cases Mix With Malaria Amid ‘Slow-Motion Disaster’ -

Ebola Cases Mix With Malaria Amid ‘Slow-Motion Disaster’ - 

As the death toll rises in West Africa amid the worst Ebola outbreak on record, a separate threat is compounding the problem: the rainy season and the malaria that comes with it.

In Sierra Leone, with the most Ebola cases in the epidemic, a fearful population is failing to seek medical attention for any diseases, health officials say. If they have malaria, the feeling is they don’t want to go near a hospital with Ebola cases. If it’s Ebola, they don’t believe the hospitals can help them anyway, instead turning to traditional healers.

It’s a widening challenge complicated by the fact that Ebola, malaria and cholera share common symptoms early on, including fever and vomiting, which can cause confusion among patients, said Cyprien Fabre, head of the West Africa office of the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department.

“We now have increased mortality for these other diseases” as well, Fabre said by telephone from Freetown, the country’s capital, after visiting Ebola treatment centers in Kenema and Kailahun near the eastern border. “This is a slow-motion disaster.”

The issue threatens to further undermine health and welfare in Sierra Leone, which has the world’s highest rate of child and maternal mortality, Fabre said.

The outbreak has killed 932 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since it was first reported in March, according to the World Health Organization. That includes 45 deaths from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4, the health group said.

Broken Heart

“I’m afraid of going to the hospital because if they don’t tell you about having Ebola, it will be something else that will break your heart,” said Ibrahim Kalokoh, a 34-year-old disc jockey, in an interview in Freetown. “If I am experiencing malaria symptoms, I would rather rush to a pharmacy and buy drugs than go to the hospital.”

The Deadliest Disease on Earth

“Right now,” he added, “going to the hospital is the worst you can suggest to me, with all the Ebola noise around.”

Beyond the fear are other issues contributing to the problem, according to Fabre. Health workers afraid of getting infected are becoming increasingly reluctant to help out, and one treatment center has exceeded its capacity of 88 beds.

Mushroom Hospitals

“Health-care practitioners are afraid to accept new patients, especially in community clinics all across the country,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said. “Consequently, many common diseases which are especially prevalent during the rainy season, such as malaria, typhoid and common cold, are going untreated and may lead to unnecessary and preventable deaths.”

As traditional healers pick up the slack, Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma today ordered the closing of so-called “mushroom hospitals” run by untrained doctors and nurses in impoverished areas.

A Spanish priest, Miguel Pajares, is the first Ebola-infected European citizen to be returned home, according to newspaper El Pais. Pajares arrived in Spain this morning and is being cared for at a hospital in Madrid, the newspaper said. Two Americans who were infected with the disease were brought back to the U.S. in the last week.

The Ebola virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. There is no approved cure. Standard treatment is to keep patients hydrated, replace lost blood and use antibiotics to fight off opportunistic infections. The hope is that the body’s immune system will eventually beat the disease.

Death Rate

In the past, the death rate for the disease was about 90 percent. The rate in the recent outbreak has been about 60 percent, probably because of earlier treatment, health officials have said.

A number of aid organizations are contributing in West Africa. In July, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave a $1 million grant to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, which is providing medical and hygiene supplies to the region, according to a statement. In Sierra Leone, help is on the way from the International Red Cross, which is building a new treatment center near Kenema, the health ministry said this week.

Unlike the facility in Kailahun, a typical tent-like structure built by Doctors Without Borders, the existing clinic in Kenema is inside the local hospital, where isolation units and separate wards have been carved out, Fabre said. Patients afraid of coming in contact with Ebola are avoiding such hospitals and aren’t getting treated for other ailments, he said.

Shaking Hands

In the capital of Freetown, chlorine has taken over the city. At the entrance of supermarkets, sidewalks, offices, religious houses, and even some private homes in the capital, there are plastic buckets filled with water and chlorine for the washing of hands. Religious leaders are also advising people to limit touching and clustering.

“We have asked our congregants to lay the right hand on the chest, and lower the head a little as a sign of greeting instead of shaking hands until we have no new cases of Ebola,” said Sheik Alie Yunus Kallay, a member of the Interreligious Council Taskforce on Ebola.

In neighboring Liberia, protective equipment for health workers is an urgent need, said Ernest Gaie, country director in Liberia for the Washington, D.C.-based charity Africare. And as in Sierra Leone, medical staff’s fear of infection has left some hospitals understaffed, according to Gaie.

Stretched Resources

Protective gear “would help these lives and help regain the confidence that the health workers have lost,” Gaie said in a telephone interview from Monrovia, the country’s capital. “Unless the health workers are in those facilities, I’m sorry, the families are not going to take people who are showing symptoms there.”

Resources are stretched across West Africa as the humanitarian community is also facing crises in other parts of the world, such as Gaza and Syria. That’s contributing to a “pessimistic” mood among aid groups, Fabre said.

“It’s far from being over,” he said. “We are still behind the epidemic spreading.”


Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Picture it: Facial recognition to find Lost Dogs -

Picture it: Facial recognition to find Lost Dogs - 

Any worried pet owner who has spent days hanging posters, making phone calls and knocking on neighbors' doors hopes there's a more scientific way to find a lost dog.

That became a reality when facial recognition technology successfully reunited a pet at San Diego County Animal Services with its owners. Joanne Cox's family in San Diego turned to FindingRover.com, a website and app that uses technology built by university researchers, to reconnect with their dog Roxy, a Shiba inu.

The website keeps a database of photos from the three county shelters and tries to match eight distinctive facial markers on dogs with images uploaded by users searching for lost pets. Eyes and noses are important areas that differentiate pooches, including eye size and their position near the snout.

FindingRover.com founder John Polimeno wants to expand the photo database to improve the odds of more happy endings, with shelters elsewhere set to sign on. He's also showing it to rescues, veterinarians and dog groups and is visiting other countries.

The website is unique in using facial recognition but stands among many online tools people increasingly use to find lost pets. There are alarm systems, social media alerts and apps that post rewards or call people in neighborhoods.

Plus, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the largest and oldest humane society in the U.S., has its own mobile app for recovering missing pets. It offers tips on the best ways to search and allows users to create a digital flier to share on social media.

"Through research, the ASPCA has found that the best method for pet owners to find their lost pet is to get out the door, search their neighborhood, post flyers, check their local shelters and make sure that their pets have ID tags with updated information," said Dr. Emily Weiss, vice president of ASPCA shelter research and development.

Facial recognition worked for the Cox family after Roxy bolted during a thunderstorm in late July. Five days after the dog disappeared, the family's 10-year-old daughter created a free Finding Rover account and the technology matched her uploaded photo to one taken at the shelter.

"Within four hours of her arrival to the shelter, we were there to pick her up," Joanna Cox said in an email.

Every dog entering San Diego County's three shelters is added to the photo database. Daniel deSousa, the system's deputy director, says the program can work two ways:

- Someone finds a dog, takes its picture and sends it to the database, where a match generates a notice to the owner. The owner then can call the good Samaritan and arrange a pickup.

- Dogs coming in to the shelters have their photos run against the database. If there's a match, the owner gets a call.

The technology powering Finding Rover was built by Steven Callahan and John Schreiner of the University of Utah's software development center. They found the eight markers on dogs are far fewer than the 128 points on the human facial recognition program.

"People are sort of uniform, the shape of their faces, skin tones, all their eyes, noses and mouths are in the same general location," Callahan said. But dogs' eyes and snouts are in different places.

It's difficult to measure accuracy, Callahan said, but if there are 100 dogs in a database, a top-three match would be hit 98 percent of the time.

"It worked surprisingly well, better than I thought it would. I had low expectations," Callahan said. "It would take off if you had all the shelters in an area" included.


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Forget neighing! Horses talk with their EARS: use subtle body language to communicate their thoughts -

Forget neighing! Horses talk with their EARS: use subtle body language to communicate their thoughts - 

Horse whisperers take note: If you want to better understand your equine friends, then study their ears.
A study has revealed that just like humans, horses read each other’s faces. But, unlike us, they gain important information by specifically examining the ears.
It seems that when a horse is interested in something, it pricks up its ears and swivels them towards whatever has caught its attention.

This movement is so important that, if its ears are covered up, another horse struggles to know what it is thinking.
Horses have very mobile ears, they can only swivel them round, point them forward, pull them up or flatten them back 
When a horse's ears are flopping down, it means the creature is relaxed.
But pinned back, and the horse is expressing anger. 
When a horse is interested in something, it pricks up its ears and swivels them towards whatever has caught its attention. 
The ability to read each other’s interest level is disrupted when the ears are covered up, the researchers found. 
The finding comes from University of Sussex researchers who studied what makes one horse pay attention to another horse.
They began by taking photos of a horse looking to one side at bucket of food.

They then placed a picture on a post between two buckets of food, led another horse into the barn and watched which bucket it went to.
They almost always took their cue from the pictured animal and chose the bucket it seemed to be looking at.
However, when the photo was manipulated, so that the horse’s eyes were covered up, the results were no better than chance.
This suggests the horse’s gaze conveys important information.
More surprisingly, covering up the ears had the same effect – meaning they are also key to communication.
Researcher Jennifer Wathan (CORR), a PhD student, said: ‘Our study is the first to examine a potential cue to attention that humans do not have: the ears.

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Monday, 4 August 2014

MIT researchers can listen to your conversation by watching your potato chip bag - 

Imagine someone listening in to your private conversation by filming the bag of chips sitting on the other side of the room. Oddly specific, I know, but researchers at MIT did just that: They’ve created an algorithm that can reconstruct sound (and even intelligible speech) with the tiny vibrations it causes on video.

When sound hits an object, it makes distinct vibrations. “There’s this very subtle signal that’s telling you what the sound passing through is,” said Abe Davis, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and first author on the paper. But the movement is tiny – sometimes as small as thousandths of a pixel on video. It’s only when all of these signals are averaged, Davis said, that you can extract sound that makes sense. By observing the entire object, you can filter out the noise.

This particular study grew out of an earlier experiment at MIT, led by Michael Rubinstein, now a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research New England. In 2012, Rubinstein amplified tiny variations in video to detect things like the skin color change caused by the pumping of blood. Studying the vibrations caused by sound was a logical next step. But getting intelligible speech out of the analysis was surprising, Davis said.

The results are certainly impressive (and a little scary). In one example shown in a compilation video, a bag of chips is filmed from 15 feet away, through sound-proof glass. The reconstructed audio of someone reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in the same room as the chips isn’t crystal clear. But the words being said are possible to decipher.

In most cases, a high-speed camera is necessary to accomplish the feat. Still, at 2,000 to 6,000 frames per second, the camera used by the researchers is nothing compared to the best available on the market, which can surpass 100,000 frames per second. And the researchers found that even cheaper cameras could be used.

“It’s surprisingly possible to take advantage of a bug called rolling shutter,” Davis said. “Usually, it creates these artifacts in the image that people don’t like.” When cameras use rolling shutter to capture an image, they don’t capture one single point in time. Instead, the camera scans across the frame in one direction, picking up each row at a slightly different moment.

By doing so, the camera happens to encode information at a much higher rate than its actual frame rate. For the researchers, that meant being able to analyze vibrations that should have happened too quickly for capture on film. “It kind of turns a two-dimensional low-speed camera into a one-dimensional high-speed camera,” Davis explained. “As a result, we can recover sounds happening at frequencies several times higher than the frame rate of the camera, which is remarkable when you consider that it’s just a complete accident of the way we make them.”

There are definitely limitations to the technology, Davis said, and it may not make for better sound reconstruction than other methods already in use. “Big brother won’t be able to hear anything that anyone ever says all of a sudden,” Davis said. “But it is possible that you could use this to discover sound in situations where you couldn’t before. It’s just adding one more tool for those forensic applications.”

Davis and his colleagues care more about applications in scientific research. “This is a new dimension to how you can image objects,” he said. “It tells you something about how they respond physically to pressure, but instead of poking and prodding at them, all you need is to play sound at them.”

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Male bass switch sex - male fish with eggs in their testes show up in the Chesapeake Bay watershed -

Male bass switch sex - male fish with eggs in their testes show up in the Chesapeake Bay watershed - 

At first she was surprised. Then she was disturbed. Now she’s a little alarmed. Each time a different batch of male fish with eggs in their testes shows up in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Vicki Blazer’s eyebrows arch a bit higher.

In the latest study, smallmouth bass and white sucker fish captured at 16 sites in the Delaware, Ohio and Susquehanna rivers in Pennsylvania had crossed over into a category called intersex, an organism with two genders.

“I did not expect to find it quite as widespread,” said Blazer, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist who studies fish. Since 2003, USGS scientists have discovered male smallmouth and largemouth bass with immature eggs in several areas of the Potomac River, including near the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in the District.

The previous studies detected abnormal levels of compounds from chemicals such as herbicides and veterinary pharmaceuticals from farms, and from sewage system overflows near smallmouth-bass nesting areas in the Potomac.

Those endocrine-disrupting chemicals throw off functions that regulate hormones and the reproductive system. In the newest findings, at one polluted site in the Susquehanna near Hershey, Pa., 100 percent of male smallmouth bass that were sampled had eggs, Blazer said.

A magnification of a cross-section view of a smallmouth bass' testes that shows immature eggs, which are round circles on the monitor. 
With the mutant bass, she said, “we keep seeing . . . a correlation with the percent of agriculture in the watershed where we conduct a study.”

The fish that were dissected and analyzed by researchers swam downstream from farms and animal feed operations, where rains wash manure filled with various chemicals and hormones into streams and rivers.

It was a familiar finding. After the first intersex bass were found in the Potomac, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a remarkable discovery in follow-up research at Blue Plains: “We found female germ cells in the testes of 82 percent to 100 percent of the male smallmouth bass and in 23 percent of the males from . . . largemouth bass,” the agency said.

It is a problem that extends well beyond the Chesapeake Bay region, which includes the District, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Intersex bass were found by the USGS in the Columbia, Colorado and Mississippi river basins in 2009. Scientists have yet to identify a single chemical responsible for causing male fish to become part female.

In urban areas, estrogen products are often flushed down drains, contaminating water. In rural areas, natural animal hormones, much of it estrogen, is excreted in manure, which is spread on fields and washed into water by rain.

“I think it’s a complex mixture of chemicals,” said Blazer, who authored the study with nine researchers.

The findings published in Environmental Monitoring and Assessment coincided with a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project that says there is far more nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Chesapeake Bay than states and the Environmental Protection Agency have led residents to believe.

The report, “Murky Waters: More Accountability Needed for Agricultural Pollution in the Chesapeake Bay,” says monitoring of fertilizers and other chemicals used at farms, particularly large animal feed operations on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is too lax under the bay cleanup plan that is being enforced by the EPA.

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