Mattel convinces Barbie to sign up to Foursquare

Says something about what constitutes “female” nowadays, eh?

Barbie – the famous Mattel doll that is loved by girls (and boys) all over the world – appears to have taken on a new career, and a starlet and movie maker. And what’s more is that she’s also joined social media website Foursquare, to celebrate the new Barbie Video Girl.

According to Jennifer Van Grove at, Barbie – as a celebrity Foursquare user – will be using the social media service to promote location-based scavenger hunts. She’ll also be using the popular social networking site Twitter, to tweet text, photo and video clues…

The new Barbie Video Girl doll doubles as a video camera, with an LCD screen. It also comes with video editing software. Both the doll and the Foursquare scavenger hunt has showed how Mattel is tuned into the digital and social media world of today.

Ah, tuned-in. As in Hard Day’s Night and the saxophone replacing the guitar as lead instrument?

Malaria-proof mosquito genetically engineered

Test larvae have flourescent marker tied to gene

For years, researchers worldwide have attempted to create genetically altered mosquitoes that cannot infect humans with malaria. Those efforts fell short because the mosquitoes still were capable of transmitting the disease-causing pathogen, only in lower numbers.

Now for the first time, University of Arizona entomologists have succeeded in genetically altering mosquitoes in a way that renders them completely immune to the parasite, a single-celled organism called Plasmodium. Someday researchers hope to replace wild mosquitoes with lab-bred populations unable to act as vectors, i.e. transmit the malaria-causing parasite.

“If you want to effectively stop the spreading of the malaria parasite, you need mosquitoes that are no less than 100 percent resistant to it. If a single parasite slips through and infects a human, the whole approach will be doomed to fail,” said Michael Riehle, who led the research effort…

Riehle’s team used molecular biology techniques to design a piece of genetic information capable of inserting itself into a mosquito’s genome. This construct was then injected into the eggs of the mosquitoes. The emerging generation carries the altered genetic information and passes it on to future generations…

When Riehle and his co-workers studied the genetically modified mosquitoes after feeding them malaria-infested blood, they noticed that the Plasmodium parasites did not infect a single study animal.

We were surprised how well this works,” said Riehle. “We were just hoping to see some effect on the mosquitoes’ growth rate, lifespan or their susceptibility to the parasite, but it was great to see that our construct blocked the infection process completely…”

“The eradication scenario requires three things: A gene that disrupts the development of the parasite inside the mosquito, a genetic technique to bring that gene into the mosquito genome and a mechanism that gives the modified mosquito an edge over the natural populations so they can displace them over time.”

“The third requirement is going to be the most difficult of the three to realize,” he added, which is why his team decided to tackle the other two first…

At this point, the modified mosquitoes exist in a highly secured lab environment with no chance of escape. Once researchers find a way to replace wild mosquito populations with lab-bred ones, breakthroughs like the one achieved by Riehle’s group could pave the way toward a world in which malaria is all but history.


Tons of detail in the article. Sooner or later the study will be published somewhere with free access.

Solar plane flies 7 days non-stop – and is still going

The UK-built Zephyr solar-powered plane has smashed the endurance record for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The craft took off from the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona at 1440 BST (0640 local time) last Friday and is still in the air. Its non-stop operation, day and night, means it has now gone five times longer than the official mark recognised by the world air sports federation.

The plane has been developed by the defence and research company Qinetiq. Its project manager, Jon Saltmarsh, said Zephyr would be brought down once it had flown non-stop for a fortnight.

Zephyr is basically the first ‘eternal aircraft’,” he told BBC News…

The military will want to use them as reconnaissance and communications platforms. Civilian and scientific programmes will equip them with small payloads for Earth observation duties.

Their unique selling point is their persistence over a location. Low-Earth orbiting satellites come and go in a swift pass overhead, and the bigger drones now operated by the military still need to return to base at regular intervals for refuelling.

But as Zephyr has now proved, solar UAVs can be left in the sky.

Their solar cells drive propellers during the day and top up their batteries to maintain the craft through the dark hours of night. An autopilot keeps them circling over the same spot.

RTFA. Lots of detail, interesting details.

The most cynical will be expected to focus in military and police use of the technology. Which is a shame. If that’s all you can think of – we probably should have given up on cameras and binoculars.

4-year-old Russian boy dies during exorcism; exorcist blames boy for “jinx”

A 4-year-old Russian boy with pneumonia died during an exorcism ritual being performed by a Korean shaman, authorities said.

The family of the child had asked the female shaman and her husband to exorcise “evil spirits” they believed were affecting the boy, The Moscow Times reported Thursday.

The child stopped breathing during the ritual in the village of Sergeyevka in the far east of Russia on Saturday, the newspaper said…

The family intended to request help for the grandmother, who has diabetes, but the shaman told them the entire family was jinxed and the boy had put a curse on them, a police report said.

I’d comment, but.. What’s not obvious?

Anti-transfat fad affects fast food french fry fats

Often just another sales pitch for unhealthy food.

Five major fast food chains have significantly decreased trans fats in the oils they use to cook food, according to new research from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health…

By using the School of Public Health’s Nutrition Coordinating Center’s proprietary database — which catalogs the nutritional values of more than 18,000 foods — researchers looked at trans fat and saturated fat levels in french fries from five major fast food chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box and Dairy Queen.

The researchers found that three of the restaurants — McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s — significantly decreased the trans and saturated fatty acid composition of French fries between 1997 and 2008. For these three restaurants, saturated fats either went down or stayed level. While the remaining two restaurants didn’t show a decrease in trans fats during the time period studied, current nutritional information illustrates that the chains have decreased both trans and saturated fatty acid composition since 2008.

The findings were presented this week at the National Nutrient Database Conference in Grand Forks, North Dakota…

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

I know it’s hard, but try to be glad without getting excited about the change. A french fry is still a french fry, and not a baked potato with the peel intact.

Better still. I’m fortunate that I prefer my baked potato with no butter and a pinch of salt.

Study: Doctors often don’t report impaired doctors. Gee, what a surprise.

“Where exactly in the contract did it say that we were your friend?”

36% said they do not feel obligated to report incompetent colleagues

A doctor survey study published online Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. suggests that workplace monitoring of impaired or incompetent physicians is not what you’d call common.

Conducted by a team from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the study used data from a 2009 national survey of close to 3,000 physicians practicing in anesthesiology, cardiology, family practice, general surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics and psychiatry.

Physicians were questioned in three areas: about their responsibility to report physicians who were incompetent or impaired by drugs or alcohol, about their preparedness and comfort level in doing so, and about their experiences with colleagues with these issues…

About 70% of physicians said they feel prepared to report impaired physicians, and 64% said they were prepared to report incompetent ones. But more than one-third, 36%, said they do not feel obligated by professional commitment to do so.

Physicians with less experience, 10 years or fewer, were most willing to report impaired or incompetent colleagues. Those with greater experience, 20 years or more, were less likely to feel that it was their responsibility to do so…

Said DesRoches, “It’s concerning that there’s this somewhat large portion of physicians that don’t agree with the commitment to report when they have direct personal knowledge of a colleague that is in need.”…

Uh, yeah. But isn’t it interesting that the impaired physician is depicted as in need, rather than his victims patients.

Illegal logging of tropical rainforests down 50-75%

Efforts to tackle illegal destruction of the world’s rainforests have been a success, according to a new report that details a significant fall in unauthorised logging.

The Chatham House study, released today, says that illegal logging has dropped by between 50 and 75% across Cameroon, Indonesia and the Brazilian Amazon over the last decade; globally it has dropped by one-fifth since 2002.

The study credits actions taken by governments and pressure groups for the improvement, as well as greater responsibility across the private sector.

Sam Lawson, associate fellow at Chatham House and lead author of the report, said: “Up to a billion of the world’s poorest people are dependent on forests, and reductions in illegal logging are helping to protect their livelihoods.” The fall in illegal logging, if continued, could save billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and help the fight against global warming, the report says.

The change over the last decade has seen 17m hectares of forest saved from degradation, preventing the release of 1.2bn tonnes of CO2 emissions. Viewed another way, if the trees saved were legally logged and sold, this could bring an extra US$6.5bn in additional income to the forest nations.

Stephen O’Brien, international development minister, said: “In the world’s poorest countries, illegal logging fuels corruption and results in billions of pounds in lost revenue every year. For the hundreds of millions of people across the globe who depend on forests for their livelihood, curbing illegal logging means vital sources of income remain protected…

Mind, illegal logging ain’t halted. But, it’s great to see a combination of forces achieving the level of success that exists.

Folks always forget that crimes that seem to produce short-term gains even at the consumption end of the market cycle – in truth, screw everyone else along the supply chain. There isn’t anyone in manufacturing or distribution of illicit products who is earning as much as someone employed in legitimate work.