How soon until we meet the First Dog?


Daylife/Reuters Pictures

President-elect Barack Obama, in front of millions of witnesses in Chicago and watching their televisions, promised his daughters they’d get a dog.

“I love you both more than you can imagine,” Obama told his daughters, Sasha and Malia, during his victory speech at the Windy City’s Grant Park. “You have earned the puppy that is coming with us.”

Malia, 10, who has allergies, expressed interest in a “goldendoodle,” a hypoallergenic hybrid of a golden retriever and a standard poodle, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday. It usually can’t be found at the local pound and hasn’t been recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club.

Everyone with a vested interest in one or another breed, dogs in general, animals of the world and, maybe, a couple of other planets, as well – is offering their advice. I haven’t anything polite to say about that.

Just get a nice dog and be certain the kids learn how to be happy together with their new companion.

China commissions huge telescope near Beijing

lamost

A giant surrealistic tower, erratically skewed, points at the sky on top of a 960-meter hill 170 kilometers northeast of Beijing.

The white structure, with a wide dome at its lower end, looks more like a missile silo. Chinese scientists have built the world’s most powerful optical telescope in a research base of the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC).

The advanced astronomical facility, which cost $34.4 million from the national research fund, has an effective aperture of over four meters, the biggest of its kind in the world, and 4,000 optical fibers that can simultaneously track space and decode starlight into enormous amounts of spectrographic data.

With its specifications, the Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST), the official monicker of the mammoth device, can see at least twice as far into space and measure more spectral emissions than the previous No. 1 which inspired LAMOST, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey…

The team of engineers, which grouped the country’s most talented telescope builders, mounted a four-meter segmented reflecting mirror at the lower end of the building. During observation nights, the upper parts of the dome would be removed, starlight would be reflected from the lower mirror up through the 20-meter tube to a 6-meter primary mirror. Then the light of space is fed into the front ends of optical fibers accurately positioned on a focal plane, before real-time data are recorded into spectrographs fixed in a room underneath.

That’s a bona fide “wow”. Also nice to see the commitment to research.

Anonymous anger on the Internet – WTF!

There’s a whole world of people out there, and boy, are they pissed off. The anonymity of the Internet encourages online ranting, from election-season tirades to mockery of celebrities.

On political blogs, the invective flies. Posters respond to the latest celebrity gossip with mockery or worse. Sports fans set up Web sites with names that begin with “fire,” hoping coaches, athletic directors and sportscasters lose their jobs.

And though there are any number of bloggers and commenters who attempt to keep their postings and responses on a civil level, all too often interactive Web sites descend into ad hominem attacks, insults and plain old name-calling. Indeed, there are even whole sites devoted to venting, such as justrage.com (one screed there was titled, “I don’t give a flying f***, so f*** you”) and mybiggestcomplaint.com…

One reason for the vitriol that emerges on the Web, experts say, is the anonymity the Internet provides. Commenters seldom use their real names, and even if they do, the chance for retaliation is slim…

Continue reading

Internet dream becomes a Nepal reality

A Nepali teacher has finally turned his dream into reality by connecting his remote mountain community to the internet.

In 2001 Mahabir Pun wrote to the BBC World Service’s technology programme, then known as ‘Go Dig’. He wanted to connect his village to the internet after the local high school received four used computers as a gift from students in Australia. However, the lack of a phone line in the village made an internet connection almost impossible.

The only viable option was a satellite connection but the cost of this was beyond his means.

Several people also came forward to offer their help voluntarily and suggested wireless networking.

The idea was successfully tested between two villages in Nepal and as a result, Mr Pun was able to turn his vision of a networked Nepal into reality.

“We had to actually smuggle all the wireless equipment from America and Europe and build the network illegally.” There is now a telemedicine project, Voice over IP (VoIP) phone calls, internet terminals and places where people can trade goods from live yaks to handicrafts. “We are using the wireless network for health, providing telemedicine services to the remote villages,” said Mr Pun.

A delightful tale. And I recognize the antenna from the system we had to use to receive anything more than terrestrial TV when my wife and I first settled into La Cieneguilla. It worked well.

Jessica Yellin, the hologram

I know it’s technological razzle-dazzle and some purists will argue that the money could somehow be better spent on nuts-and-bolts, boots-on-the-ground journalism, but at 7:15 p.m., CNN beamed a hologram of correspondent Jessica Yellin from Grant Park in Chicago to its election headquarters in New York, and it was stunning.

Bathed in a pool of light and glimmering around the edges, Yellin suddenly appeared in the center of the CNN newsroom to chat with anchor Wolf Blitzer about the huge crowd massing in and around Grant Park in Chicago in hopes of a victory by Barack Obama.

After detailing events in Chicago, Yellin explained the technology that made her hologram possible.

She was standing, she said, in a tent in Chicago surrounded by a ring of 35 high-definition cameras that were in sync via computer with cameras in New York. The 35 Chicago cameras created her image and then sent it to the cameras in New York, so that she appeared in real time as a hologram.

“It’s like I follow in the tradition of Princess Leia,” Yellin said jokingly.

The most impressive use of software and hardware for me continued to be the goodies from Perceptive Pixel. They introduced a portrait version of the Magic Wall to reference exit poll demographics throughout the evening.

Soledad O’Brien had no problem with it. Remember when she co-hosted with Leo LaPorte on Tech TV? Bill Schneider, being a creaky old fart like me, had trouble a couple of times reaching the top of the touchscreen.

CNN looked like a division of Apple, last night.

Japanese clone mouse from frozen cells – what’s next?

Healthy mice have been cloned for the first time from dead mice that had been frozen for several years, raising the possibility, scientists say, of “resurrecting” extinct animals such as mammoths from their frozen carcasses.

The clones were produced from dead mice kept at -20C for up to 16 years by a group of scientists in Kobe, Japan. After thawing the mice, researchers collected nuclei from cells in their brain tissue. These were then injected into empty eggs from which the DNA had been removed, to create cloned embryos. A second round of cloning used stem cells from the embryos that grew into four mouse clones…

The scientists, led by Dr Teruhiko Wakayama, wrote: “We have demonstrated here that healthy cloned mice and chimeric clonal mice could be obtained by nuclear transfer using donor nuclei from cells obtained from bodies frozen without cryoprotectants for up to 16 years.”

Other sources of frozen nuclei, such as white blood cells, could be as useful for cloning as brain tissue, said the scientists.

The research raises hopes that the cloning technique could be used to resurrect extinct animals frozen in permafrost, such as the woolly mammoth, Wakayama told New Scientist magazine.

Rock on, Wakayama!

Finding a surrogate won’t be difficult. Modern elephants are close enough genetically to host a mammoth fetus. I wonder where the next steps in the direction of this search will lead us?

TV talking heads drag their feet admitting Obama’s victory


Barack Obama delivering unity speech in Grant Park last night
Daylife/Reuters Pictures photo

By 10 pm est, the networks had finally given up the game of not calling the election for Democrat Barack Obama out of deference to West Coast voters.

“It is looking as if it is getting more and more difficult – if not impossible – for John McCain to find a way to victory, isn’t it?” CBS anchorwoman Katie Couric said to analysts Bob Schieffer and Jeff Greenfield at the top of the hour.

“Impossible is a good word,” Greenfield said.

“We want to remind folks to go vote,” Schieffer quickly added, sounding the broadcaster’s civic-duty mantra. “But it’s virtually impossible for McCain at this point.”

Almost everyone on network and cable TV tried to maintain a story line of the contest still being up in the air into the 9 o’clock hour. But unlike election night in 2000 when the contest went down to the wire and then beyond in the wee hours with the genuine impossibility of calling Florida, last night the primary on-screen drama was in the correspondents and anchors trying not to say what they knew to be true about the certainty of Obama’s victory and still retain their credibility.

Continue reading

Cigarette sets German bus ablaze, 20 dead


Daylife/AFP/Getty Images

Twenty people have been killed by a fire on board a bus on a German motorway set off by a passenger smoking in the toilet, police said.

In Germany’s deadliest such incident in 16 years, the coach burst into flames at 8:40 pm (1940 GMT) on Tuesday on a motorway just outside the northern city of Hanover.

The driver quickly pulled over, but in the panic to escape the inferno rapidly engulfing the bus only around a third of the mostly elderly passengers managed to get out.

Twelve people were injured, police said, several of whom were being treated for serious burns in a nearby hospital.

Police said that it was not the result of a crash with another vehicle but that it had been caused by one of the passengers smoking in the bus toilet who failed to extinguish properly his cigarette.

When smoke began pouring out of the toilet door another passenger opened it and flames shot out, setting the entire interior of the Mercedes coach in flames in seconds.

What sort of regulations about flammable materials used in passenger transport do they have in Germany? A death toll like this is unconscionable. Materials should be fire-resistant.

This bus sounds like a volcano of death waiting to explode.

Patagonian tree-fungus can fuel your diesel engine


Myco-diesel fungus Gliocladium roseum

A tree fungus could provide green fuel that can be pumped directly into vehicle tanks, US scientists say. The organism, found in the Patagonian rainforest, naturally produces a mixture of chemicals that is remarkably similar to diesel.

“This is the only organism that has ever been shown to produce such an important combination of fuel substances,” said Gary Strobel, a plant scientist from Montana State University, who led the work. “We were totally surprised to learn that it was making a plethora of hydrocarbons.”

In principle, biofuels are attractive replacements for liquid fossil fuels used in transport that generate greenhouse gases. The European Union has set biofuel targets of 5.75% by 2010 and 10% by 2020…Producing biofuels sustainably is now a target and this latest work has been greeted by experts as an encouraging step.

The fungus, called Gliocladium roseum and discovered growing inside the ulmo tree in northern Patagonia, produces a range of hydrocarbon molecules that are virtually identical to the fuel-grade compounds in existing fossil fuels. Details of the concoction, which Strobel calls “mycodiesel”, will be published in the November issue of the journal Microbiology. “The results were totally unexpected and very exciting…” said Strobel.

I love it. I’ve known a couple of micro-biologists who’d like to be starting their careers all over again to work on something like this. Fascinating – and encouraging.