421,000 people poisoned by snakebites every year


Hindu festival of Naag Panchami
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

More than 400,000 people are poisoned by snakebites worldwide each year and 20,000 of them die, with most cases occurring in the poorest countries, researchers say.

In an article published in Public Library of Science Medicine, the researchers said the burden from snakebites was highest in South and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Data on snakebites is far from comprehensive as most of them happen in places with poor healthcare systems and where record-keeping is generally poor or non-existent.

These figures may be as high as 1,841,000 envenomings and 94,000 deaths…India has the highest figures — with 81,000 envenomings and 11,000 deaths each year, followed by Sri Lanka with 33,000 envenomings, Vietnam (30,000), Brazil (30,000), Mexico (28,000) and Nepal (20,000).

Cripes. I’m nervous enough about the one or two rattlers every year that I bump into on my walks.

Restaurant owner claims nuns assaulted him


“We took care of his car, too!”

An Italian man has claimed he was beaten up by two 83-year-old nuns and a priest in a row over the ownership of a restaurant in a small southern town.

Aniello Esposito, 49, told police he arrived at the restaurant he runs in Rutino in Campania to find the three throwing furniture into the street and smashing plates.

When he tried to intervene the priest knocked him to the ground with a chair and the two nuns began to kick him, he claimed…

The mother superior of the local convent of the Disciples of Saint Teresa, home to the nuns, yesterday said the nuns had started to remove furniture from the restaurant because the premises were owned by the convent and had been occupied illegally by Esposito.

But a lawyer representing the nuns, Gaetano Di Vietri, denied his clients had attacked Esposito.

Didn’t someone make a movie of this starring Sally Fields?

Is Sanyo part of Panasonic’s green future?


Daylife photo from AFP/Getty Images

Panasonic, the top plasma TV maker in the world, is betting on a green future of solar power and hybrid cars as it negotiates a price for Sanyo Electric that analysts say could be up to $8.7 billion.

A key driver for Panasonic is Sanyo’s auto batteries business, which, in addition to powering hybrid and electric vehicles, could also mean a foothold in the solar-cell industry, another sector with strong growth potential amid concern about global climate change.

Sanyo is one of the largest solar cell makers and competes with bigger rivals like Q-Cells of Germany.

This isn’t a bad combination,” said Nobuo Kurahashi, an analyst with Mizuho Investors Securities. “Sony doesn’t make auto batteries, at least not yet. When hybrid and electric vehicle demand takes off, Panasonic and Sanyo will be far ahead of everyone else…”

In addition, Sanyo is the top supplier of rechargeable batteries used in cellphones, laptops and MP3 players, ahead of rivals like Sony and Panasonic.

I was wondering what this is all about. Been following the rumors of the acquisition for a couple of days, now; but, no one’s offered much in the way of analysis. Looks like Japanese firms still do a better job of looking to the future than anyone cobbling corporate plans in the United States.

John Dvorak – in his Tech5 podcast – noted that Sanyo is actually the contract manufacturer for a great many brands of digital cameras. And I’m especially impressed with what Panasonic has brought to that marketplace in recent months.

I bought two of their cameras, this year and I’m really impressed with the ergonomics and intelligent, intuitive software design.

CNN’s election ‘Magic Wall’ – Perceptive Pixel

On the 16th floor of a nondescript building in lower Manhattan, a group of tech-savvy staffers clad mostly in jeans and T-shirts is changing the way Americans watch TV election coverage.

Perceptive Pixel is a high-tech startup company. You may not have heard of them, but you’ve probably seen their most famous product: an interactive, Multi-Touch Collaboration Wall better known as CNN’s “Magic Wall.”

Throughout the 2008 primaries and the general election, John King, CNN’s Chief National Correspondent, has stood before the now-familiar electronic wall map, zooming in and out of battleground states with a few pokes of his fingers. The big map allows King to instantly tally electoral votes, shift swing states from one candidate’s camp to another’s and highlight red swaths of John McCain turf alongside blue pockets of support for Barack Obama.

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Amazon.com’s green idea is brown cardboard

Sometimes the greenest technology improvement is going back to the old low-tech option. Amazon.com announced Monday it’s working with retailers to cut back on the packaging you’ll need to open to get to your goods.

The Seattle-based company plans to start shipping items in plain brown cardboard boxes, instead of putting a pre-boxed or plastically sealed item inside another Amazon box. The cardboard box will have Amazon, and in some cases the retailer’s name, on the front.

So, in addition to being less annoying to open, the new packaging will also be more environmentally friendly, according to Amazon.

But not everything you order will be easy to open. Amazon is starting with only 19 products from Microsoft, Fisher-Price, Mattel, and Transcend.

Bravo! I finally bought a special heavy-duty pair of scissors for my home-office. Just to deal with opening the crap packaging on electronic gear. Now, maybe I can return to just scoring the tape sealing the box.

Commercial chicken factories take a toll on genetic diversity

To the connoisseur of fine food, chicken may seem depressingly monotonous no matter how it’s prepared. But scientists worry about a more basic degree of sameness — a lack of genetic diversity in the birds that are raised for meat and eggs.

An analysis of commercial chicken populations around the world by William M. Muir of Purdue University and colleagues has revealed the extent of the problem. Fifty percent or more of the diversity of ancestral breeds has been lost, they report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That could make chicken production more susceptible to disease outbreaks for which resistant genes have disappeared.

Their findings indicate that most of the diversity was lost with the advent of wide-scale commercial production in the 1950s. Only a handful of hundreds of breeds have been crossed to produce broilers and layers.

Dr. Muir said restoring some diversity was not simple a matter of crossing with more breeds — producers would lose the improvements they have made in existing lines. Instead, one approach would be to use genetic markers to aid in cross-breeding, “to select for the parts that are good,” he said.

In fact, this reminds me of one aspect of cloning and genetic modification of anything that’s rarely if ever discussed. Diversity.

The article relates a common failure of hybridizing – especially for commercial developers. Quick and easy. Narrow and profitable. The short-term mindset that characterizes Wall Street traders.

Science and scientists have a responsibility to oversee – including retrospective analysis like this – healthy, long-term prospects for a species. Including us, eh?

EU sends a letter to the next president


French Minister, Bernard Kouchner
Daylife/AP photo by Claude Paris

The European Union wrote a letter to the new U.S. president calling for an era of closer cooperation in tackling issues of global importance.

The six-page draft letter addressed to “Dear Mr. President” will remain sealed from public view until the recipient is known after Tuesday’s election. The overriding theme of the document is multilateralism…

“I think both candidates are looking toward Europe and have shown an interest in Europe. They want to see the two shores of the Atlantic working together,” said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who described the letter to reporters.

“It is important to work where we have shown leadership and offer this leadership to the United States,” EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, citing relations with Georgia and eastern Europe…

There is life after the American elections,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said. “What is important is to see how we can work together.”

I believe even John McCain – if free from his neocon handlers – would agree with this. Unfortunately, that’s not how the Republican Party works, anymore.

I doubt if anyone fears an extension of American unilateralism, Bush-style, from Barack Obama. Still, I know I’ll find no shortage of events and actions to criticize in an Obama government when it comes to foreign policy. The United States inherited the mantle of imperialism from the Brits with open arms at the start of the Cold War. Not likely to be sloughed-off easily – or soon.

Obama mourns his grandmother on eve of Election Day


Daylife/Reuters photo

A subdued Barack Obama on Monday mourned his grandmother as a “quiet hero” who helped raise him, telling a campaign rally that her death had made the final night of his White House campaign “bittersweet.”

As the Democratic candidate arrived in North Carolina for his second-to-last rally before Tuesday’s election, he announced that Madelyn Dunham, 86, had died peacefully at her home in Honolulu after a battle with cancer.

I know the feeling, bro’. We all do, sooner or later.

Doesn’t make it hurt less; but, there are a lot of us out here who are sorry for your loss.