Social network sites need help buttons

Major social networking websites have been criticised for not introducing a help button for children to report concerns about grooming and bullying.

Jim Gamble, from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), hit out at the sites as one site, Bebo, adopted the button. He said there was “no legitimate reason” why other sites like MySpace and Facebook had not done the same.

Ceop – the UK law enforcement agency tasked with tracing online sex offenders – says its Report button receives 10,000 hits a month on other websites. Clicking the button allows users to contact specially trained Ceop officers for advice. It also provides details of local police and links to 10 other sources of help including Childline.

The person that goes on with harmful intent – whether it’s the bully or whether it’s the paedophile – they know when they see it that there is an active deterrent here

Gamble added: “I am applauding Bebo – it’s taken us three years to get here. But I don’t understand – and there is more than Facebook in this – I don’t understand the logic for the others not following suit.”

Surely, the big social networking sites can afford to include a simple, easy means for a young ‘un to reach out for aid.

RoboClam in mudflat biomimicry

To design a lightweight anchor that can dig itself in to hold small underwater submersibles, Anette (Peko) Hosoi of MIT borrowed techniques from one of nature’s best diggers — the razor clam.

“The best anchoring technology out there is an order or magnitude worse than the clam — most are two or three orders worse,” says Hosoi…

Using relatively simple anatomy, the bivalve burrows into the bottom of its native mudflats at a rate of a centimeter per second. Hosoi’s studies of the physics behind this remarkable ability have revealed that the digging is accomplished in two motions — a push upwards with its foot, which mixes the grains of solid into the liquid above, and a synchronized push down.

By borrowing this principle, Hosoi and graduate student Amos Winter have created a simple robot that is now being tested out in the salt water mudflats off of Cape Cod. It digs just as fast as the living clam and is “small, lightweight, and does not use a lot of energy,” says Hosoi.

I never met a clam I didn’t like. Especially with melted butter and a little garlic.

Yes, of course, the project rocks, too.

Origin of Life: RNA molecules forming in warm water

A key question in the origin of biological molecules like RNA and DNA is how they first came together billions of years ago from simple precursors. Now, in a study appearing in this week’s JBC, researchers in Italy have reconstructed one of the earliest evolutionary steps yet: generating long chains of RNA from individual subunits using nothing but warm water.

Many researchers believe that RNA was one of the first biological molecules present, before DNA and proteins; however, there has been little success in recreating the formation on RNA from simple “prebiotic” molecules that likely were present on primordial earth billions of years ago.

Now, Ernesto Di Mauro and colleagues found that ancient molecules called cyclic nucleotides can merge together in water and form polymers over 100 nucleotides long in water ranging from 40-90 °C –similar to water temperatures on ancient Earth…

This finding is exciting as cyclic nucleotides themselves can be easily formed from simple chemicals like formamide, thus making them plausible prebiotic compounds present during primordial times. Thus, this study may be revealing how the first bits of genetic information were created.

Surprising a few generations of True Believers, as well, who presumed scientists would find nano-angels pushing these bits of molecules together to form RNA chains.

Norway cranks up prototype power plant run by osmosis


Ain’t any cloud of smoke hovering overhead either!

Norway has opened the world’s first osmotic power plant, which produces emissions-free electricity by mixing fresh water and sea water through a special membrane.

State-owned utility Statkraft’s prototype plant, which for now will produce a tiny 2-4 kilowatts of power or enough to run a coffee machine, will enable Statkraft to test and develop the technology needed to drive down production costs.

The plant is driven by osmosis that naturally draws fresh water across a membrane and toward the seawater side. This creates higher pressure on the sea water side, driving a turbine and producing electricity…

Statkraft, Europe’s largest producer of renewable energy with experience in hydropower that provides nearly all of Norway’s electricity, aims to begin building commercial osmotic power plants by 2015…

Osmotic power, which can be located anywhere where clean fresh water runs into the sea, is seen as more reliable than more variable wind or solar energy.

Cripes – it’s been too many decades since I encountered osmosis. Reverse osmosis, pressure-driven, is pretty common here in high desert country. Purifying brackish underground reservoirs into potable water.

RTFA. Sounds interesting and productive.

Pakistan indicts seven Islamist fundamentalists over Mumbai attacks


One of the protests by Indian Muslims against the Mumbai terrorism
Daylife/AP Photo by Ajit Solanki

A Pakistani court on has charged seven suspects in connection with the Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people one year ago.

The men were indicted at an anti-terrorism court in a high security prison in the city of Rawalpindi on the eve of the first anniversary of India’s worst militant attacks, which dramatically soured relations with rival Pakistan…

Among the seven, who were arrested by Pakistan over the November 26-29 siege on India’s financial capital, are alleged mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and alleged key Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative Zarar Shah…

They have been indicted under the anti-terrorism act and the Pakistani penal code,’ said their attorney, Shahbaz Rajput, without elaborating…

According to news agency Press Trust of India, the latest information handed to Pakistan included statements of key witnesses, including a magistrate and FBI officials, from the trial of the lone gunman to survive the attacks.

The gunman, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, has confessed to his involvement in the attacks in a dramatic announcement to a court in Mumbai.

If you think the announcement just coincidentally happened within the context of Obama’s state dinner for the Prime Minister of India, you may also believe the same holds true for the timing of India handing over additional evidence on the case – to Pakistan authorities.

Am I being cynical, again? You betcha.

ADHD symptoms linked to plastics chemicals – Phthalates

Phthalates are important components of many consumer products, including toys, cleaning materials, plastics, and personal care items. Studies to date on phthalates have been inconsistent, with some linking exposure to these chemicals to hormone disruptions, birth defects, asthma, and reproductive problems, while others have found no significant association between exposure and adverse effects.

A new report by Korean scientists…found a significant positive association between phthalate exposure and ADHD, meaning that the higher the concentration of phthalate metabolites in the urine, the worse the ADHD symptoms and/or test scores.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the Summary of their 2005 Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, state that “very limited scientific information is available on potential human health effects of phthalates at levels” found in the U.S. population. Although this study was performed in a Korean population, their levels of exposure are likely comparable to a U.S. population.

The current findings do not prove that phthalate exposure caused ADHD symptoms. However, these initial findings provide a rational basis for further research on this association.

Yup. The math works. Now, lets see if the chemistry and biology does.

Robin Hood banker gets suspended sentence

A German bank employee who secretly transferred money from rich to poor clients has been given a 22-month suspended prison term.

The 62-year-old woman, dubbed the ‘Robin Hood Banker’, moved more than $11 million in 117 transfers…

The court in Bonn was told that the employee, who has not been named, took no money for herself.

The bank made a loss of more than $1.5 million when poor customers were unable to pay back unauthorised overdrafts…

The woman has begun reimbursing the bank for the losses, reportedly from a small retirement pension.

If her pension is anything like my Social Security check, she’ll be 247 years old by the time she finishes picking up the tab.