Ancient Celtic coin cache found in Netherlands

A hobbyist with a metal detector struck both gold and silver when he uncovered an important cache of ancient Celtic coins in a cornfield in the southern Dutch city of Maastricht.

Archaeologists say the trove of 39 gold and 70 silver coins was minted in the middle of the first century B.C. as the future Roman ruler Julius Caesar led a campaign against Celtic tribes in the area.

Curfs said he was walking with his detector this spring and was about to go home when he suddenly got a strong signal on his earphones and uncovered the first coin.

“It was golden and had a little horse on it — I had no idea what I had found,” he said.

After posting a photo of the coin on a Web forum, he was told it was a rare find. The following day he went back and found another coin. “It looked totally different — silver, and saucer-shaped,” he said. Curfs notified the city of his find, and he and several other hobbyists helped in locating the rest of the coins, in cooperation with archaeologists.

Nico Roymans, the archaeologist who led the academic investigation of the find, believes the gold coins in the cache were minted by a tribe called the Eburones that Caesar claimed to have wiped out in 53 B.C. after they conspired with other groups in an attack that killed 6,000 Roman soldiers.

I love this dude. His metal detector habit is a meditative hobby and not an obsession.

That’s why I bring a camera along on my walks. Helps me focus on the intricacy of nature’s beauty.

UK Coal to build wind farms on old collieries

Over a dozen of the UK’s former coalmining sites are to be redeveloped as wind farms under a revolutionary energy scheme to turn old energy into new.

UK Coal, once the main part of the National Coal Board, has unveiled a joint venture with Peel Energy that would see 14 old colliery locations used to erect 54 turbines generating around 133MW of electric power…

The company, which has already moved into renewables through the harnessing of methane gas for power, was unwilling to say which of the 14 sites are currently earmarked for early submission for planning permission but says it hopes to have some approved within three months.

Peel Energy already boasts an onshore wind portfolio in excess of 450MW already and is involved in England’s largest scheme at Scout Moor in Lancashire which has 26 turbines.

Peel and UK Coal intend to create special purpose vehicles with a 50/50 shared ownership between them to develop a particular former colliery site for wind schemes. The coal mining group could grant the joint venture an option for a 30 year lease on the land.

What a wonderful idea. Might even make the cost of redressing disused collieries provide a bit of return on investment?

Sound thinking – and worth passing along to coal industrialists elsewhere.

Ancient Greeks pre-empted Dead Parrot sketch

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. It’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it.”

For those who believe the ancient Greeks thought of everything first, proof has been found in a 4th century AD joke book featuring an ancestor of Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch where a man returns a parrot to a shop, complaining it is dead.

The 1,600-year-old work entitled “Philogelos: The Laugh Addict,” one of the world’s oldest joke books, features a joke in which a man complains that a slave he has just bought has died, its publisher said on Friday.

“By the gods,” answers the slave’s seller, “when he was with me, he never did any such thing!”

In a British comedy act Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch, first aired in 1969 and regularly voted one of the funniest ever, the pet-shop owner says the parrot, a “Norwegian Blue,” is not dead, just “resting” or “pining for the fjords.”

The English-language book will appeal to those who swear that the old jokes are the best ones. Many of its 265 gags will seem strikingly familiar, suggesting that sex, dimwits, nagging wives and flatulence have raised laughs for centuries.

Doctors should be required to disclose off-label prescriptions


Doctors should be required to disclose when they are prescribing drugs off-label, argues a new article in this week’s PLoS Medicine. Michael Wilkes and Margaret Johns from the University of California Davis argue that the ethics related to informed consent and shared decision-making provide an imperative for doctors to inform patients about the risks of a medical treatment when their use has not been approved by regulators.

Off-label prescriptions are those that do not comply with the use approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the drug. While off-label prescribing is legal and accounts for roughly half of all prescriptions currently written in the US, it is often not supported by sound scientific evidence. Worse, say the authors, off-label prescribing can put patients at risk and drive up healthcare costs.

The public often assumes that all common uses of prescription drugs have been approved by the FDA, say the authors. But current law does not prevent doctors from prescribing a drug to any patient for any use whether it was approved for this use or not.

“From an ethical perspective,” say Wilkes and Johns, “[what is required is] open, honest discussions where doctors tell their patients that the use of the drug will be off-label and thus not approved for this indication, explain the risks, potential benefits, and alternatives, and then ask patients for their permission to proceed.”

As an occasional patient I’m pleased the relationship I have with my physician is ethical and trusting.

Still, you trust your friends; but, you cut the cards. I’d rather have the ethical requirements spelled out in law – instead of having to rely on a trade commission or the AMA providing assurance.

Ask Google – out loud – via iPhone

Pushing ahead in the decades-long effort to get computers to understand human speech, Google researchers have added sophisticated voice recognition technology to the company’s search software for the Apple iPhone.

Google’s voice search software works only with iPhones, but the company plans to make it available to other phones.

Users of the free application, which Apple is expected to make available any minute, now, through its iTunes store, can place the phone to their ear and ask virtually any question, like “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” or “How tall is Mount Everest?” The sound is converted to a digital file and sent to Google’s servers, which try to determine the words spoken and pass them along to the Google search engine.

The search results, which may be displayed in just seconds on a fast wireless network, will at times include local information, taking advantage of iPhone features that let it determine its location…

Raj Reddy, an artificial intelligence researcher at Carnegie Mellon University who has done pioneering work in voice recognition, said Google’s advantage in this field was the ability to store and analyze vast amounts of data. “Whatever they introduce now, it will greatly increase in accuracy in three or six months,” he said.

You can see all the places this is going to go – including having an argument with your iPhone/smartphone/laptop – and losing!

Voter turnout not close to a record

Daylife/Getty Images

Turnout in last week’s election increased from four years ago but fell far short of some forecasts largely because many Republican voters either stayed home or left blank the presidential section of their ballots.

In states won by President-elect Barack Obama, turnout was more than five percentage points higher than in states won by Republican John McCain, according to a Globe analysis of data compiled by a pair of researchers who study voting patterns in US elections.

Both Curtis Gans, director of American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate, and Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University, have conducted state-by-state reviews of unofficial returns, which are still being tabulated in many states. Each had predicted significantly higher turnout than materialized on Election Day.

“I looked at the significant increase in registration and the long lines at the early-voting polling places,” said Gans, who has been studying turnout rates for 36 years. “It turned out the intensity was one-sided; it was on the Democrats’ side.”

McDonald concurred, saying, “It became more evident to voters at the end that Barack Obama was going to win. That probably tamped down the turnout and disproportionately affected the Republicans.”

Why waste your energy backing a loser?

Social networking for the delusional – reinforcing their fears

For years they lived in solitary terror of the light beams that caused searing headaches, the technology that took control of their minds and bodies. They feared the stalkers, people whose voices shouted from the walls or screamed in their heads, “We found you” and “We want you dead.”

When people who believe such things reported them to the police, doctors or family, they said they were often told they were crazy. Sometimes they were medicated or locked in hospital wards, or fired from jobs and isolated from the outside world. But when they found one another on the Internet, everything changed. So many others were having the same experiences.

Type “mind control” or “gang stalking” into Google, and Web sites appear that describe cases of persecution, both psychological and physical, related with the same minute details — red and white cars following victims, vandalism of their homes, snickering by those around them.

Identified by some psychologists and psychiatrists as part of an “extreme community” on the Internet that appears to encourage delusional thinking, a growing number of such Web sites are filled with stories from people who say they are victims of mind control and stalking by gangs of government agents.

Although many Internet groups that offer peer support are considered helpful to the mentally ill, some experts say Web sites that amplify reports of mind control and group stalking represent a dark side of social networking. They may reinforce the troubled thinking of the mentally ill and impede treatment.

Of course. True Believers – scattered, diverse, unconnected – can now gather into into a group reinforcing their shared delusions.

Individual medical care, discussion and mediation, now has yet another counter-current to reality blocking the way. More ways to choose dementia.

Italian father wins his daughter’s right-to-die

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Italy’s Supreme Court provoked the fury of conservatives yesterday by ruling that a father can disconnect the feeding tube that has kept his daughter alive in a coma for nearly 17 years.

In one of the most painfully emotive cases this Catholic country has confronted for years, the court overturned the earlier rejection by an appeal court of the father’s right to end his daughter’s life. The ruling was denounced by conservatives as the legalisation of euthanasia in Italy, but by the father, Beppino Englaro, as “a way out of hell”.

Eluana Englaro was still a teenager in 1992 when she was injured in a car crash which put her into a “persistent vegetative state”, from which she has shown no signs of emerging in the subsequent 16 years. Her father has been fighting for nearly 10 years for the right to remove the feeding tubes that keep her alive in her hospital room in the northern Italian town of Lecco. In a first reaction to the court’s ruling last night, he said: “We live in a state of rights. At last there is a way out of this hell.”

The Supreme Court endorsed the original ruling by a court in Milan in July which accepted that Ms Englaro’s coma was irreversible, and that before the car crash she had stated her preference to die rather than be kept alive artificially.

Apart from the courts, does her family have the right and responsibility to make this decision?

Spam nosedives as ISP bagman knocked offline

Six weeks ago, at the end of September, a loose organization of security researchers and network professionals announced that their collective efforts to fight badware had finally borne fruit. After years of complaints and shady dealings, the rogue ISP Atrivo was finally forced offline when the company’s last remaining uplink provider severed its business relationship with the beleaguered baddie.

Later in October, the FTC announced that it had won a major injunction against the international spam operation HerbalKing.

Now, on the relative heels of these announcements, comes news of a third major takedown. As of yesterday, the rogue ISP McColo has been taken offline, hopefully for good.

McColo’s website is down, and has been that way since at least Tuesday afternoon. Security Fix, meanwhile, is holding back most of the details of its investigation, presumably pursuant to the Washington Post publishing its own story. One fun tidbit of information the blog has deigned to release is that McColo had its hands in more than just a sticky, spammy pie. The company’s elite clientele included distributors of child pornography, commercial websites to allow purchase and delivery of the same, plus the usual group of thieves, fraudsters, and generally bad people.

No one expects the dip in overall spam traffic to be anything more than temporary, whether McColo itself comes back online or not, and the size of the drop in spam levels following an ISP takedown may ultimately prove to be a poor metric when evaluating the effectiveness of a successful white hat campaign.

Every little step towards shutting down criminals and sleaze – since the marketplace has little or no effect – is worthwhile.