U.S. advisers back 1st drug from DNA-altered animals

The first drug made using genetically engineered animals to near U.S. approval has won key support from an advisory panel that judged it safe and effective…

GTC Biotherapeutics experimental anticlotting therapy, called Atryn, is made using a human protein gathered from female goats bred to produce it in their milk. GTC is seeking approval to sell the intravenous therapy to prevent excessive blood clots in patients with an inherited disorder.

This will… set a precedent for what will happen in the future,” said Dr. Richard Colvin, the panel’s consumer representative.

The FDA issued preliminary guidelines in September about how it would regulate animals whose DNA has been altered and called for public comment, but it has not yet issued final details.

Some parts of the Vegetarian Left oppose transgenic animals altogether. They will marshall whatever they can to delay processes like this.

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Basque premier’s trial thrown out of court

Breakin’ the law, breakin’ the law!
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

A Spanish court has thrown out a case against the head of the Basque regional government, who was accused of illegal contacts with banned separatists. The court acted after the prosecution admitted that the contacts were not illegal, after all.

Basque Nationalist politician Juan Jose Ibarretxe went on trial last week, along with two members of Spain’s governing Socialist Party. They had met the separatist group Batasuna during a failed peace effort.

Five members of Batasuna were also on trial in the case, which was thrown out of court…

But the Basque region’s Supreme Court ruled that the case was illegitimate, since prosecutors themselves had asked that it be dropped, saying holding talks with Batasuna was not actually against the law.

Trials for talking to someone, for thinking out loud, for building communications instead of bombs – are the stupidest, most cowardly, political acts in civil life.

Follow your nose around the world

A Japanese website has given the phrase “follow your nose” a whole new meaning with an interactive map that lets users describe smells they have encountered.

Members of the “Nioibu” or Smell Club have posted descriptions of more than 160 odours from around the world.

The scents range from “cats with halitosis” in Kamakura, Japan, to “verbena soap” in Paris. All that is missing, said a spokeswoman for Nioibu, is a “smelling function”.

Other scents that Nioibu’s “smellists” – as members are called – have posted include “steam coming out of a rice cooker” and “used socks in the summer”.


A Google search uses how much energy?


Not long ago, answering a query meant traveling to the reference desk of your local library. Today, search engines enable us to access immense quantities of useful information in an instant, without leaving home. Tools like email, online books and photos, and video chat all increase productivity while decreasing our reliance on car trips, pulp and paper.

But as computers become a bigger part of more people’s lives, information technology consumes an increasing amount of energy, and Google takes this impact seriously. That’s why we have designed and built the most energy efficient data centers in the world, which means the energy used per Google search is minimal. In fact, in the time it takes to do a Google search, your own personal computer will use more energy than Google uses to answer your query.

Recently, though, others have used much higher estimates, claiming that a typical search uses “half the energy as boiling a kettle of water” and produces 7 grams of CO2. We thought it would be helpful to explain why this number is *many* times too high. What Google means is that the junk science used is bullshit! Google is fast — a typical search returns results in less than 0.2 seconds. Queries vary in degree of difficulty, but for the average query, the servers it touches each work on it for just a few thousandths of a second. Together with other work performed before your search even starts (such as building the search index) this amounts to 0.0003 kWh of energy per search, or 1 kJ. For comparison, the average adult needs about 8000 kJ a day of energy from food, so a Google search uses just about the same amount of energy that your body burns in ten seconds.

In terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2. The current EU standard for tailpipe emissions calls for 140 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven, but most cars don’t reach that level yet. Thus, the average car driven for one kilometer (0.6 miles for those in the U.S.) produces as many greenhouse gases as a thousand Google searches.

It’s a whole boatload less than boiling half a teakettle of water!

Bernie Madoff Gives Lessons in Politeness

He’s sorry for any fuss.

From the “You-Can’t-Make-This-Stuff-Up” Department:

Dear neighbors,

Please accept my profound apologies for the terrible inconvenience that I have caused over the past weeks. Ruth and I appreciate the support we have received.

Best regards,

Bernard Madoff

Finding it hard to believe he wrote it?  Click here, or here.

I’ve been wanting to write an essay on the topic of politeness. After Bernie’s letter, I may not need to. It’s nice to know he hasn’t forgotten his manners.

Visitors to U.S. face frustration, refusal under new system


Starting today, travelers visiting the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) risk being detained at airports and sent home if they don’t comply with new U.S. immigration rules.

The introduction of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) means visitors from 27 VWP countries — including most of Western Europe, New Zealand, Japan and Australia — must now register their details online at least three days before departure.

ESTA — which came into effect today — replaces the written green I-94 form and allows travelers under the VWP to enter the U.S. without a visa and stay for up to 90 days.

The measure is designed to tighten security and make it harder for terrorists who are citizens of the participating countries to easily obtain entry to the U.S…

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has assured travelers that the system can handle last-minute and emergency requests. Well, then we haven’t a thing to worry about. Right?

Travelers are advised that ESTA does not guarantee entry into the United States. The final decision rests with the immigration official at the port of entry.

I really like that last bit. You’re still in the hands of small-time individual pettifoggery.

How Martian winds make rocks walk

At first, figuring out how pebble-sized rocks organize themselves in evenly-spaced patterns in sand seemed simple and even intuitive. But once Andrew Leier…started observing, he discovered that the most commonly held notions did not apply. And even more surprising, was that his findings revealed answers to NASA’s questions about sediment transport and surface processes on Mars.

Leier first studied loose pebbles and rocks, also known as clasts, when he was looking at sand dunes in Wyoming and noticed that the clasts seemed to spread away from each other in an almost organized fashion. It turns out, NASA was examining similar patterns on the sandy surface of Mars.

NASA proposed that wind was moving these rocks around. But Leier, who co-authored the study with Jon Pelletier at the University of Arizona and James Steidtmann at the University of Wyoming, says that would be impossible. They also discovered that rather than being pushed backward by the breeze, clasts actually tend to move into the direction of prevailing winds…

Instead, the loose sand around clasts is removed by the wind, causing scour-pits to form in front of larger clasts. Eventually, the rocks fall forward (or laterally) into the scours and then, the process repeats.

“What I find most interesting about this is that something as seemingly mundane as the distribution of rocks on a sandy, wind-blown surface can actually be used to tell us a lot about how wind-related processes operate on a place as familiar as the Earth and as alien as Mars,” says Leier. “It’s chaotic and simple at the same time.”

Leier’s article is published in the January 2009 edition of Geology. I have to thank him for solving a puzzle that’s bemused me on many of my walks on the Caja del Rio mesa across the valley from my home. Not that the solution will slow down skeptical ghost and alien hunters.

42-mpg VW Diesel Roadster – sexy, efficient, and did I say sexy?

Diesels are fuel efficient and practical, but they’re dogged by a reputation for being about as much fun as a tax audit. VW’s worked hard to change that perception with cars like the Jetta TDI, but it might be the sweet Concept BlueSport roadster that finally convinces Americans diesels are cool.

The mid-engined sports car made its world debut at the Detroit auto show, and although it’s just a concept, there’s no reason why VW couldn’t – or shouldn’t – build it. The car gets 42 mpg and emits about as much CO2 as a Toyota Prius, and it is emissions-legal in all 50 states so even car-crazy Californians could buy one.

Volkswagen has been toying with the idea of a two-seat, mid-engined sports car since unveiling the Concept R in 2003. It rolled out another one, the EcoRacer, two years later at the Tokyo auto show. Such a car always seemed like a long shot, though given it would compete with the Audi TT and perhaps the Porsche Boxster. But VW keeps teasing us, and along comes the BlueSport, built with off-the-shelf parts to keep costs down – and raise our hopes that production might be financially feasible.

Propulsion comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged common-rail TDI clean diesel similar to the mill in the 41-mpg Jetta TDI – named Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal. VW says the engine produces 177 horsepower and a very respectable 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s enough to propel the BlueSport to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and a top speed of 140 mph. Power flows through a six-speed paddle-shifted DSG transmission with dual clutches. Start-stop technology helps improve fuel economy, and regenerative braking provides additional energy for on-board systems like air conditioning.

VW is one of the few carmakers whose sales didn’t suck last year. Like Apple, customer loyalty plus being smart enough to sell to the qualities that establish that base in the first place – combine to help.

Those qualities can also serve to expand the existing base. Who doesn’t want a car that performs better, gets better mileage, whose overall costs diminish? And it’s sexy.

Thanks, Helen

Nice Guy Madoff Said To Have Scammed His Own Sister

What a creep.

Bernard Madoff’s own family was not spared from his greed and the Ponzi scheme that is said to have pilfered a massive $50 billion from unsuspecting investors. He is now said to have scammed millions from his sister, who is now desperately trying to sell her Florida home.

Sondra Wiener, 74, lives with her husband, Marvin, in the BallenIsles Country Club, a gated enclave in Palm Beach. A neighbor of hers says she “has nothing.” The source went onto say “She lots millions in this whole thing.,” and estimates her losses at about $3 million.

Wiener’s son, David, responded to inquiries about the family’s financial status, stating: “Yes, my family’s a victim. More so than anybody else….”

I can’t blog all these cases as they emerge, but one more won’t hurt, eh?

CES: Green is the new black

When it comes to green products, people are interested but skeptical.

Buyers these days may not be as swayed by the green attributes of a product as they are by price. But at CES, green was everywhere. It was part of the stock press conference script to start off with comments on the dismal economy, plow on to product announcements and end with a message about environmental initiatives.

Some companies found a natural way to integrate green messages with economic ones: Introduce products that consume less energy. Samsung, which practices what it preaches by …

… automatically turning off the lights in its Korean offices during the lunch hour, introduced at CES a line of LED televisions that consume 40% less power than LCD TVs. Panasonic showed a Blu-ray player that uses 50% less power than its previous model. And Hewlett-Packard is introducing printers that switch on only when a print job is sent. The average printer is actively printing for just 15 minutes a day but is usually not turned off, gobbling up energy. HP’s next-generation printers will turn themselves off after sitting idle for a few minutes…

With consumers being more budget conscious, however, the better pitch for now may be the fringe benefits. Samsung’s LED TV, for example, sucks up less power, but the LED lighting creates a brighter screen than LCD TVs for a better contrast ratio that makes images appear more vivid. Said John Godfrey, Samsung’s vice president of government affairs, “We call it the TV that lets you have your cake and eat it too.”

It’s just a matter of coming full circle for me. Growing up in a factory town through World War 2, being frugal was a necessity and a social positive. Now, it’s a useful trait – a progressive attitude unless you’re proud, somehow, of wasting money.

All our geek goodies, entertainment center, computerized home office, are fed through UPS/surge protectors. When I go to bed at night they all are turned off.

To the know-nothings who lost the recent election and more – in their narrow minds, being Green makes you the new Black, as well.