Cocoa consumers have lower disease risk: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Men who consumed the most cocoa had a 50 percent lower risk of dying from disease compared to those who did not eat cocoa, Dutch researchers said on Monday.

Cocoa is known to lower blood pressure, though previous studies have disagreed about whether it staves off heart disease over the long-term particularly since it is contained in foods high in fat, sugar and calories.

The new study in Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that it was not lower blood pressure that corresponded to the finding of a lower overall risk of death -- although the biggest cocoa consumers did have lower blood pressure and fewer cases of fatal heart disease than non-cocoa eaters.

Instead, the report credited antioxidants and flavanols found in cocoa with boosting the functioning of cells that line blood vessels and for lessening the risks from cholesterol and other chemicals that can cause heart attacks, cancer and lung diseases. Flavanols are a class of healthy flavonoids that are found in many vegetables, green tea and red wine.

The 15-year study of 470 elderly men aged 65 to 84 in Zutphen, the Netherlands, found one-third did not eat any cocoa, while the median intake was 4.2 grams per day among the third who consumed the most cocoa. From 1985 to 2000, 314 of the men died, and the biggest cocoa eaters were at half the risk of dying compared to men who did not eat it.

The report's author, Brian Buijsse of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, said drawing conclusions for the broader population would require more study of cocoa's impact on health.

"Before we can say cocoa can save your life, a larger study would need to be done," agreed Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologists at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York who did not participate in the research. "This study is not generalizable to the public because it was done in men over the age of 65 years."

Microsoft's Origami project

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usSo today Microsoft officially flipped the switch on the buzz machine for their Origami Project -- an atypical viral marketing manuveur for a company whose products are usually known about years ahead of time. Scoble says its a device, the Internet's lighting up with rumors -- is it the Xbox portable? Well, we dunno, but as usual got our hands on some pictures. And as usual we can't guarantee they're the real deal, though we are pretty confident in their source. So, let's go over it: these were sent to us detailing it as a Microsoft portable media player, which wouldn't be too far off from what Jobs and BusinessWeek both prophesied Microsoft doing (despite being pretty broadly denied from within).

Now, here's the tricky part with these pictures -- what's with the keyboard and stylus? Because the last time we checked, their Portable Media Center (PMC) OS didn't have (known) support for touchscreen and keyboard input. So is this some new portable OS platform running on CE.net? Or perhaps it's just a fat little Pocket PC device with some media software? Or something totally different -- could Microsoft beat Apple to the punch with the first serious touchscreen portable media device? Or maybe, just maybe, it's that ultramobile lifestyle PC Microsoft was talking about recently. Kinda seems like no matter what the answer, we're all gonna be pretty surprised (for better or worse) come announcement day, March 2nd, being that Microsoft's "not in the hardware biz." (No, peripherals don't count.) But hell, we can't even tell you for sure if these photos are legit, so here we are.

P.S. There's one thing we are indeed fairly sure about: that it's not that prototype "Origami" device announced by National Semi in 2001. Seriously, c'mon, a device from 5 years ago is what Microsoft's got Scoble buzzing about?

Google Pages - A great way to get spammed!

See that last feature (simple memorable URLS) is also the greatest weakness of Google Pages and I think it is going to cause a huge headache for Gmail users. And a potential PR nightmare for Google.

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Hubble Confirms New Moons of Pluto

From Hubblesite.org

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed the presence of two new moons around the distant planet Pluto. The moons were first discovered by Hubble in May 2005, but the Pluto Companion Search team probed even deeper into the Pluto system with Hubble on Feb. 15 to look for additional satellites and to characterize the orbits of the moons. In the image, Pluto is in the center and Charon is just below it. The moons, provisionally designated S/2005 P 1 and S/2005 P 2, are located to the right of Pluto and Charon.

Credit: NASA, ESA, H. Weaver (JHU/APL), A. Stern (SwRI), and the HST Pluto Companion Search Team


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Google May Be Flirting with Social Bookmarks

From PCMag

Internet search provider Google wants to capitalize on the social aspect of bookmarks, which are Internet addresses stored in Web browsers for one-click access, according to Google-watcher ValleyWag.

Search providers have been trying to lure new customers, and keep their old ones, for years by tapping into the social aspect of what they offer, so what Google is supposedly working on is nothing new.

Yahoo's photo-sharing site Flickr is one good example.

But if this is true, Google's competitors and search consumers alike are bound to take notice because of Google's leading share of the Internet search market and its world-renowned brand.

Read more here about Google's latest tool bar.

In response to questions about the rumored effort, a representative of Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., wrote that "we're always exploring opportunities to expand our offerings, but don't have anything to announce at this time."

The representative would neither confirm nor deny that any project was underway.

The ValleyWag blogger mentioned an ongoing project that may be a souped-up version of Google's search history feature, in which Google users' bookmarks can be seen by any other user.

For this project, Google may also tie in its tool bar, the user interface found just below a Web browser's "back" button, which contains many of Google's features. The latest version of Google's tool bar can store bookmarks.

High speed "WiFiber"

From TechnologyPreview.com

Atop each of the Trump towers in New York City, there's a new type of wireless transmitter and receiver that can send and receive data at rates of more than one gigabit per second -- fast enough to stream 90 minutes of video from one tower to the next, more than one mile apart, in less than six seconds. By comparison, the same video sent over a DSL or cable Internet connection would take almost an hour to download.

This system is dubbed "WiFiber" by its creator, GigaBeam, a Virginia-based telecommunications startup. Although the technology is wireless, the company's approach -- high-speed data transferring across a point-to-point network -- is more of an alternative to fiber optics, than to Wi-Fi or Wi-Max, says John Krzywicki, the company's vice president of marketing. And it's best suited for highly specific data delivery situations.*

This kind of point-to-point wireless technology could be used in situations where digging fiber-optic trenches would disrupt an environment, their cost be prohibitive, or the installation process take too long, as in extending communications networks in cities, on battlefields, or after a disaster.

Blasting beams of data through free space is not a new idea. LightPointe and Proxim Wireless also provide such services. What makes GigaBeam's technology different is that it exploits a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Their systems use a region of the spectrum near visible light, at terahertz frequencies. Because of this, weather conditions in which visibility is limited, such as fog or light rain, can hamper data transmission.

GigaBeam, however, transmits at 71-76, 81-86, and 92-95 gigahertz frequencies, where these conditions generally do not cause problems. Additionally, by using this region of the spectrum, GigaBeam can outpace traditional wireless data delivery used for most wireless networks.

Because so many devices, from Wi-Fi base stations to baby monitors, use the frequencies of 2.4 and 5 gigahertz, those spectrum bands are crowded, and therefore require complex algorithms to sort and route traffic -- both data-consuming endeavors, says Jonathan Wells, GigaBeam's director of product development. With less traffic in the region between 70 to 95 gigahertz, GigaBeam can spend less time routing data, and more time delivering it. And because of the directional nature of the beam, problems of interference, which plague more spread-out signals at the traditional frequencies, are not likely; because the tight beams of data will rarely, if ever, cross each other's paths, data transmission can flow without interference, Wells says.

Correction [from editor]: Although the emergence of a wireless technology operating in the gigabits per second range is an advance, it does not outperform current fiber-optic lines, which can still send data much faster.

An Unusually Smooth Surface on Saturn's Telesto

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Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Explanation: Why is Saturn's small moon Telesto so smooth? Possibly Telesto is covered with a type of granular icy material similar to that suspected of covering Pandora, another of Saturn's small moon's. If so, Telesto might be more like a pile of rubble than a solid body. This recently uncovered Solar System mystery is currently a topic of research, however. The unexpected finding originated last October when the robot Cassini spacecraft, currently orbiting Saturn, swooped past the 24-kilometer moon and captured the first ever image of Telesto's surface. Telesto orbits Saturn always just ahead of the much larger moon Tethys. Pictured above, Telesto's unusually smooth surface was found to show some large craters and boulders, but not the high density of craters found on nearby Tethys or most other Saturnian moons.

Frog killer found after 6-year stakeout

You've got to respect frogs. The amphibians have an astonishing variety of survival skills.

For example, gastric brooding frogs swallow their fertilized eggs to protect them from predators. When the eggs hatch and the tadpoles mature, the mother safely regurgitates her froglets.

Such adaptations have kept frogs around for millions of years, but a recent checkup has scientists concerned. They fear a sudden mass extinction of amphibians on a scale and pace not experienced since the age of dinosaurs.

Nearly a third of the world's 6,000 species of frogs, toads and salamanders are in danger of disappearing, according to the Global Amphibian Assessment.

In the past 20 to 30 years, about 120 species of frogs are believed to have become extinct, the assessment found.

Human destruction of habitat is one reason for the loss. But there is a new enemy for which there may be no defense.

On the trail in Central America

In 1998, Karen Lips, a young biologist from Southern Illinois University, helped identify a fungus that seemed to be killing off entire species of amphibians, including, possibly, the gastric brooding frog mentioned above.

It's called the chytrid fungus, and how it kills is a mystery.

The best guess, according to Joe Mendelson, curator of herpetology at Zoo Atlanta, is that it attacks keratin, a protein that waterproofs the parts of a frog's skin most subject to wear and tear. The loss of keratin, it's believed, might throw off the critical water balance in a frog's body.

"That's just a guess," Mendelson said, "but the best one we have right now."

For years, the fungus was one step ahead of Lips and her team of biologists. They'd visit a forest where frogs were thriving, then return a couple of years later to find most had disappeared -- and with them the evidence of their fungal demise.

Lips' team set up a stakeout in a Panamanian rain forest called El Cope. There had been previous die-offs, beginning in the Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica, and it seemed the fungus was heading southeast. The fungus hadn't yet arrived in El Cope, but Lips said she suspected the rain forest would be its next stop.

Over six years, Lips and her team walked the forest, finding 64 thriving species of amphibians and no sign of the fungus, but one day that all changed.

In September 2004, one of Lips' graduate students found a frog sitting on a rock in the middle of the day -- unusual because that type of frog was only active at night. The frog wasn't moving, and it was behaving as if it had the flu. It became the first frog on the group's stakeout to test positive for the fungus.

Soon after the first infected frog was found, dead frogs started turning up every day, Lips said. But within four months, she said, "We ran out of dead frogs to count."

No more could be found. Lips and her team packed up their research and headed home.

The results of their work have now been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings are important because they establish how quick and devastating a killer this fungus, which is spreading around the world, has become, Mendelson said.

'Noah's Ark' solution

Frogs are considered a good indicator of the health of the Earth. They breathe through permeable skin and live both on land and in water. They likely would be the first type of species to suffer from pollution.

They are also a critical link in the food chain. Lips and her colleagues reported that in one Panamanian region that experienced a massive frog die-off, the snakes that feed on frogs began starving to death. Birds and mammals that eat the frogs there may also be in decline, Lips said.

The question remains why, after such a long history of adaptation and survival, are entire species succumbing to a fungus?

One explanation has troubling implications for humans, said Claude Gascon, an ecologist with the group Conservation International.

The concern, Gascon said, is that between loss of habitat, toxins in the environment and global warming, "the Earth has been so stressed by mankind's footprint that, in the case of frogs, the chytrid fungus was the tipping point that indicates a dangerous turn in the overall health of the Earth's ability to sustain us all."

Lips' research established the path of the fungus, which is moving southeast through Central America. Her map should help scientists anticipate where the fungus is heading next.

Her findings have triggered a mission to rescue frogs in the path of the fungus, led by Zoo Atlanta's Mendelson and Ron Gagliardo of The Atlanta Botanical Garden. The approach, reminiscent of Noah's Ark, involves capturing enough males and females from each species, and breeding them in captivity, to establish survival colonies.

The hope is this approach can buy enough time for scientists to figure out how to protect frogs from the fungus and reintroduce them safely into the wild, wherever in the world they are threatened.

DNA 'could predict your surname'

Forensic scientists could use DNA retrieved from a crime scene to predict the surname of the suspect, according to a new British study.

It is not perfect, but could be an important investigative tool when combined with other intelligence.

The method exploits genetic likenesses between men who share the same surname, and may help prioritise inquiries.

Details of the research from the University of Leicester, UK, appear in the latest edition of Current Biology.

The technique is based on work comparing the Y chromosomes of men with the same surname. The Y chromosome is a package of genetic material found only in males.

It is passed down from father to son, just like a surname.

'Cut down'

"The evidence would not be hanging on the Y chromosome, all it would give you is an investigative tool to prioritise a sub-set of your suspects," said co-author Dr Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester.

Mining the information would require building a database of at least 40,000 surnames and the Y chromosome profiles associated with them.

Dr Jobling emphasises the limitations of the method; it could have some predictive power in just under half the population, after the most common surnames like Smith, Taylor and Williams have been excluded.

But he says it has the potential to cut down on the police workload.

"If you had a big enough database, it would give you from your crime scene sample a list of names," Dr Jobling, from the University of Leicester, told the BBC News website.

"That would help you prioritise your suspect list. Some investigations have very large suspect lists, in the thousands."

The Leicester researcher said police could consult the Y chromosome and surname database to help prioritise their search in cases where a crime scene sample had failed to turn up matches in the national DNA database.

"You might have a situation where the Y chromosome predicts 25 names. So you could go and see in the pool of suspects whether the names are there," Dr Jobling explained.

"If they are¿ you could then ask them for a DNA sample and do conventional DNA profiling to see if they match the crime scene sample."

Tested pool

Over time, the Y chromosome accumulates small changes in its DNA sequence, allowing scientists to study the relationships between different male lineages.

It follows that men with the same surname might have very similar Y chromosomes. But adoptions, infidelity, name changes and multiple founders for just one surname complicate the picture.

For the study, Turi King and colleagues from the University of Leicester recruited at random 150 pairs of men who shared a British surname and compared their Y chromosomes.

Across the sample, the authors determined that just under a quarter of the pairs had recent common ancestry.

Given the small sample size and the random recruitment, Dr Jobling said he was surprised at the strength of the signal.

Sharing a surname also significantly raised the likelihood of sharing the same type of Y chromosome, with the link getting stronger as the surname gets rarer.

Added extra

The researchers used the data to roughly test the predictive power of the method. They found the approach was most useful for less common names, with a 34% chance of prediction in the 80 least common surnames from the 150-name sample.

"This range of surnames makes up 42% of the population. So we're looking at prediction in just under half of the population. We have to exclude the Smiths and Joneses," Dr Jobling said.

The researchers extrapolated their success rate to the 25-65 no-suspect murders and 300-400 no-suspect rapes on the police books each year, and found the method could help in roughly 10 murders and 60 rapes annually.

Max Houck, a former scientist with the FBI Laboratory, and director of the Forensic Science Initiative at West Virginia University, US, commented: "I think by itself it is probably not useful - a single point of evidence - and for most evidence types that's the case.

"But if you have that and other data, it can put you more towards or more away from a particular proposition if you know the person may have an uncommon surname, and, for example, some ethnicity information.

"If it's a bit more cumulative it might push you in a particular direction," he told the BBC News website.

It was at the University of Leicester in 1984 that the technique of "DNA fingerprinting" was first developed.

Scientists See Growing Animal-Disease Risk

Veterinarians depart after inspecting a poultry farm in Navapur, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2006. Wearing protective gloves and masks, health officials and farm workers slaughtered thousands of chickens in western India Sunday, a day after the country reported its first outbreak of bird flu. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)Humans risk being overrun by diseases from the animal world, according to researchers who have documented 38 illnesses that have made that jump over the past 25 years.

That's not good news for the spread of bird flu, which experts fear could mutate and be transmitted easily among people.

There are 1,407 pathogens — viruses, bacteria, parasites, protozoa and fungi — that can infect humans, said Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Of those, 58 percent come from animals. Scientists consider 177 of the pathogens to be "emerging" or "re-emerging." Most will never cause pandemics.

Experts fear bird flu could prove an exception. Recent advances in the worldwide march of the H5N1 strain have rekindled fears of a pandemic. The virus has spread across Asia into Europe and Africa.

Controlling bird flu will require renewed focus on the animal world, including the chickens, ducks and other poultry that have been sacrificed by the tens of millions to stem the progress of the virus, experts said at a news conference late Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"The strategy has to be looking at how to contain it in the animal world, because once you get into the human side, you're dealing with vaccines and antiretrovirals, which is a whole new realm," said Nina Marano, a veterinarian and public health expert with the National Center for Infectious Diseases.

Bird flu has killed at least 91 people — most of them in Asia — since 2003, according to the World Health Organization. It appears to kill about half the people it infects. However, should it mutate so it can pass from human to human, it likely will grow far less deadly, said Dr. Stanley Lemon, of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

"It is very unlikely that it would maintain that kind of case mortality rate if it made the jump," Lemon said.

Each year for the last 25 years, one or two new pathogens and multiple variations of existing threats have infected humans for the first time. Without speculating about earlier infection rates, Woolhouse told reporters it appears impossible the human species could endured such a rapid pace of new infections over thousands of years.

"Humans have always been attacked by novel pathogens. This process has been going on for millennia. But it does seem to be happening very fast in these modern times," Woolhouse said.

Woolhouse argues that either many of those diseases and other afflictions will not persist in humans or that there is something peculiar today allowing so many of them to take root in humans.

One explanation may be the recent and wide-scale changes in how people interact with the environment in a more densely populated world that is growing warmer and in which travel is faster and move extensive, Marano said. Those changes can ensure that pathogens no longer stay restricted to animals, she added. Examples from recent human history include HIV, Marburg, SARS and other viruses.

That prospect leaves open the question of what future threats await humans.

"It always surprises us. We think that avian flu will be the next emerging disease. My guess is something else might come out before that," said Alan Barrett, of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. "It's very hard to anticipate what comes next."

Intel to Open Technology Center in Gaza

Intel, the world's largest semiconductor company, is planning to build the first information technology education center in the volatile Gaza Strip.

The Intel Information Technology Center of Excellence is intended to provide IT training to Palestinians and stimulate development of high-tech industry in an area where half the labor force is unemployed. The center is being developed in conjunction with Washington, D.C.-based American Near East Refugee Aid and the Islamic University of Gaza.

"We don't want to discount the tension in the area ... but from our perspective, we view it as something that can have a positive impact," said Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy. "If you talk to the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, this is exactly the kind of thing they want. They want education, they want paths to improve the economic well-being of their citizens."

Intel has had a presence in Israel for more than three decades, but over the past few years has launched an initiative to also expand its investments in the Arab world.

The center is the company's first large project in the Palestinian territories, an area where American corporate involvement is rare.

It will be staffed primarily by Palestinians and will be located a couple of miles outside Gaza City in an area staked out to become a technology park with the Intel center as its anchor, said Peter Gubser, president of ANERA. Construction is expected to begin in about two months, with completion a year later.

The cost to build and equip the center will only be about $1 million, Gubser said, because a dollar goes a lot farther in the Middle East.

Though the security situation in Gaza is not good, Gubser believes the willingness of Intel to be an American corporate pioneer in the Gaza Strip may encourage other American corporations to follow.

20 Things You Didn't Know About U.S. Presidents

Not only were these men leaders of the United States, they were multitalented, unique, and sometimes even downright quirky. We've heard a lot about their contribution to United States history. But would you have guessed the following?

1. In warm weather, 6th president of the United States John Quincy Adams customarily went skinny-dipping in the Potomac River before dawn.

2. 9th U.S. president William Henry Harrison was inaugurated on a bitterly cold day and gave the longest inauguration speech ever. The new president promptly caught a cold that soon developed into pneumonia. Harrison died exactly one month into his presidential term, the shortest in U.S. history.

3. John Tyler, 10th U.S. president, fathered 15 children (more than any other president)--8 by his first wife, and 7 by his second wife. Tyler was past his seventieth birthday when his 15th child was born.

4. Sedated only by brandy, 11th president of the United States James Polk survived gall bladder surgery at the age of 17.

5. 15th U.S. president James Buchanan is the only unmarried man ever to be elected president. Buchanan was engaged to be married once; however, his fiancée died suddenly after breaking off the engagement, and he remained a bachelor all his life.

6. Often depicted wearing a tall black stovepipe hat, 16th president of the United States Abraham Lincoln carried letters, bills, and notes in his hat.

7. 17th U.S. president Andrew Johnson never attended school. His future wife, Eliza McCardle, taught him to write at the age of 17. (Bonus fact about Andrew Johnson: He only wore suits that he custom-tailored himself.)

8. Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States, died of throat cancer. During his life, Grant had smoked about 20 cigars per day.

9. Both ambidextrous and multilingual, 20th president of the United States James Garfield could write Greek with one hand while writing Latin with the other.

10. Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th president of the United States, underwent a secret operation aboard a yacht to remove his cancerous upper jaw in 1893.

11. The teddy bear derived from 26th U.S. president Theodore ("Teddy") Roosevelt's refusal to shoot a bear with her cub while on a hunting trip in Mississippi.

12. William Taft, 27th president of the United States, weighed more than 300 pounds and had a special oversized bathtub installed in the White House.

13. Warren Harding, 29th U.S. president, played poker at least twice a week, and once gambled away an entire set of White House china. His advisors were nicknamed the "Poker Cabinet" because they joined the president in his poker games.

14. Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States, had chronic stomach pain and required 10 to 11 hours of sleep and an afternoon nap every day.

15. Herbert Hoover, 31st U.S. president, published more than 16 books, including one called Fishing for Fun-And to Wash Your Soul.

16. 32nd president of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt was related, either by blood or by marriage, to 11 former presidents.

17. The letter "S" comprises the full middle name of the 33rd president, Harry S. Truman. It represents two of his grandfathers, whose names both had "S" in them.

18. Military leader and 34th president of the U.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower loved to cook; he developed a recipe for vegetable soup that is 894 words long and includes the stems of nasturtium flowers as one of the ingredients.

19. 40th president of the United States Ronald Reagan broke the so-called "20-year curse," in which every president elected in a year ending in 0 died in office.

20. George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States, and his wife Laura got married just three months after meeting each other.

Top stars picked in alien search

An US astronomer has drawn up a shortlist of the stars most likely to harbour intelligent life.

Scientists have been listening out for radio signals from other solar systems in the hope of detecting civilisations other than our own.

Margaret Turnbull at the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC looked at criteria such as the star's age and the amount of iron in its atmosphere.

Her top candidate was beta CVn, a Sun-like star 26 light-years away.

Dr Turnbull had previously identified about 17,000 stellar systems that she thought could be inhabited.

From these, she has selected five stars that look most likely to support intelligent extraterrestrial life forms - if they exist.

"I've chosen five to advertise the very best places to move to if we had to, or to point the telescope at," she told the BBC.

Shortlist

Seti, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is an exploratory science that seeks evidence of life in the universe by looking for some signature of its technology.

Astronomers principally do this by using telescopes to look for radio signals from distant stars.

But the enormity of the task means that scientists have been looking for ways to narrow down the search.

"There are bazillions of stars in the sky to look at, but we can't look at every single one with the scrutiny that we'd like to," said Dr Turnbull.

"We have been able to prioritise our search so that we are looking at stars that are most like the ones around which we live. We need to know which ones to spend our telescope time on."

Several of the criteria she used were related to age.

For stars to be considered in the shortlist, they had to be at least three billion years old - long enough for planets to form and for complex life to develop.

"Fully-formed advanced civilisations don't just spring up overnight. On planet Earth, it took billions of years for civilisation to arise."

Looking for Goldilocks

Candidate stars also had to have at least 50% of the iron content of the Sun.

If the atmosphere of a star is low in iron, it is likely there were not enough heavy metals present early in its existence for planets to form.

Dr Turnbull threw out variable stars prone to lots of flares because they tend to be young.

Stars more than 1.5 times the mass of the Sun do not tend to live long enough to produce so-called "habitable zones".

This is the area around the star where a planet within the zone can support copious amounts of liquid water on the surface - a key requirement for life.

Put the planet too close and the heat will evaporate the water, put it too far away and any water freezes.

Budget cuts

The Carnegie Institution researcher also removed from her shortlist any stars with a companion.

These companion stars can interfere with the habitable zone.

Astronomers have put together a set of principles - called the Seti principles - that outline what should be done if a signal from an extraterrestrial civilisation is ever detected.

"The scientific community - and the world - is told right away," said Gill Tarter, from the Seti Institute in California.

"Before a decision is made to send a message back everyone will consult - that's in the ideal world."

The search for life in other stellar systems has been hit by cuts in the 2007 Nasa budget.

Dr Turnbull announced details of her work at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in St Louis, US.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/science/nature/4728228.stm

Microsoft Plans Six Core Windows Vista Versions

After months of maintaining that it had not yet finalized its Windows Vista line up, Microsoft seems finally to have decided upon a half dozen core Vista versions.

According to a posting on its Web site, Microsoft is readying six core Vista packages, or SKUs, plus two additional releases customized for the European Union that won't bundle in Windows Media Player, as ordered by European antitrust regulators.

On the line up are Windows Starter 2007; Windows Vista Enterprise; Windows Vista Home Basic, Windows Vista Home Premium, Windows Vista ultimate, Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Home Basic N and Windows Vista Business N. The "N" releases are those which do not include Media Player.

It's not clear whether the Starter release mentioned on Microsoft's site is the same as the current Windows XP Starter Edition product, which is a cut-rate, less fully featured version of Windows tailored for developing countries.

The new SKU list contains relatively few surprises, as Microsoft had been widely expected to fold features from its current Windows XP Media Center Edition and Windows XP Tablet PC Edition into other SKUs, rather than continue to sell them as distinct editions. Company officials also previously discussed plans to offer a Windows Vista Enterprise Edition – a variant of Vista that Microsoft is using as an incentive to attract more users to sign up for its Software Assurance licensing plan by making it available to Software Assurance customers only.

However, as some Web commentators have noted, there is no Windows Vista Small Business Edition on the current list. Such a SKU was supposedly part of Microsoft's Vista plans, as of quite recently. There also is no mention of any 64-bit-specific Windows Vista editions on the Microsoft Web site.

According to information on the Microsoft site, all of the planned Windows variants will include integrated games. The Vista Business, Home and Enterprise editions all will include built-in support for mobile Microsoft currently offers six different versions of Windows XP. The line up includes XP Home, Professional, Media Center, Tablet PC, and Professional x64, and the Windows XP N editions.

Rumors regarding Microsoft's thinking on final Vista packaging have been leaking for two years. During that time, Microsoft officials have maintained that the company had yet to decide on its final packaging plans for the operating system, which is due to ship this fall.

Microsoft officials did not respond by the time this article was posted to questions as to whether the latest line-up list reflects all of the planned Windows Vista versions.

Osama bin Laden Vows Never to Be Captured Alive

Osama bin Laden promised never to be captured alive and declared the United States had resorted to the same "barbaric" tactics used by Saddam Hussein, according to an audiotape purportedly by the al-Qaida leader that was posted Monday on a militant Web site.

The tape appeared to be a complete version of one that was first broadcast Jan. 19 on Al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite channel, in which bin Laden offered the United States a long-term truce but also said his al-Qaida terror network would soon launch a fresh attack on American soil.

"I have sworn to only live free. Even if I find bitter the taste of death, I don't want to die humiliated or deceived," bin Laden said, in the 11-minute, 26-second tape.

In drawing the comparison to American military behavior in Iraq to that of Saddam, the speaker said:

"The jihad is continuing with strength, for Allah be all the credit, despite all the barbarity, the repressive steps taken by the American Army and its agents, to the extent that there is no longer any mentionable difference between this criminality and the criminality of Saddam."

By using that language to describe Saddam, bin Laden appeared to be denying assertions by the Bush administration that the former Iraqi leader had ties to al-Qaida — ties that were given as one rationale for invading Iraq.

Bin Laden also challenged Bush administration assertions that it was better to fight terrorists in Iraq than on U.S. soil.

"The war against America and its allies has not remained confined to Iraq as he (Bush) claims, but rather Iraq has become a point of attraction and recruitment of qualified forces," the speaker said.

"What's more, the mujahideen, by the grace of Allah, have been able to penetrate time after time all the security procedures undertaken by the oppressive countries of the alliance as evidence by what you have seen, in terms of bombings in the capital of the most important European states."

The tape's release in January came days after a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan that targeted bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, and reportedly killed four leading al-Qaida figures, including possibly al-Zawahri's son-in-law. There was no mention of the attack on the segments that were broadcast.

In the full tape posted Monday, bin Laden engaged in renewed propaganda, mocking Bush's aircraft carrier declaration in April 2003 that major conflict in Iraq had ended.

"The Pentagon's figures indicate an increase in the number of your killed and injured in addition to the massive material losses, not to mention the collapse of troop morale and the increase of the suicide rates among them," the speaker said.

Speaking directly to the American people, he said:

"You can rescue whatever you can from this hell. The solution is in your hands, if their (U.S. troops') situation matters to you at all."

The initial excerpts had been the first tape from the al-Qaida leader in more than a year — the longest period without a message since the Sept. 11, 2001 suicide hijackings in the United States.

The CIA last month authenticated the voice on the initial recording as that of bin Laden, an agency official told The Associated Press at the time. The al-Qaida leader is believed to be hiding in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pics of Nissan Terranaut reveal vehicle perfect for Picard and his crew

Nissan of Europe has released a bevy of images showing every nook and cranny of its upcoming Geneva-bound concept, the Terranaut. The 4x4, according to the company, was designed for “scientists, geologists, archaeologists or adventurers” whose office is the great outdoors. see at AutoBlog.com

Bush satisfied with Cheney shooting the lawyer

News from AP thru Forbes.com

President Bush was satisfied with Vice President Dick Cheney's account of his Texas hunting accident, but Bush's spokesman declined to say Thursday whether the president felt it should have been revealed earlier.

"I think that the vice president clearly explained the rationale behind that," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, avoiding a direct response to questions about whether Bush felt the shooting accident was publicly disclosed in a timely manner.

The accident happened on Saturday but was not publicly revealed until the next day.

Cheney himself spoke publicly about the accident for the first time Wednesday in an exclusive interview with Fox News Channel. He said he did not see his hunting companion Harry Whittington until just after he fired on a covey of quail and peppered him with bird shot in the face, neck and chest.

Rice needs $75m for propaganda against Iran's Nuclear Project

BBC logo

The US secretary of state is seeking new funds for a policy aimed at putting pressure on Iran's government and promoting internal opposition to it.

Condoleezza Rice asked Congress for $75m to increase TV and radio broadcasts and fund dissident groups.

Correspondents say the move comes amid US fears that the world community will not countenance tough action over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Critics of the US plan say the funds are not enough to make a difference.

Former Clinton administration official Martin Indyk told the Washington Post newspaper that the groups the US wants to fund have little support on the ground and have been unable to challenge the Islamic government in Iran.

Ms Rice is planning to visit the Middle East next week to discuss the Iranian issue with regional leaders.

Firefox Slides In U.S., IE Gains Ground

By Gregg Keizer, TechWeb News

Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer browser gained market share in the last two months, a Dutch Web metrics company announced Tuesday.

While other measurement vendors said earlier this month that Internet Explorer (IE) continued its downward trend, Amsterdam-based OneStat's data had IE climbing by .37 percent since November 2005. According to OneStat, Microsoft's browser now accounts for 85.8 percent of all browsers used worldwide.

In the U.S., IE's rise was half as much -- .18 percent -- with 80.9 percent of Americans using the browser.

Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox, meanwhile, slipped .28 percent during the same period, ending up with 11.2 percent of the global market.

"The global usage shares of Mozilla and Microsoft's Internet Explorer browsers remain stable, and it seems that people are not switching so often to Firefox as before," said Niels Brinkman, co-founder of OneStat, in a statement.

But in the U.S., Firefox dropped dramatically; its share fell 1.52 percent, from 14.1 percent in November to 12.6 percent in January 2006.

In other browser news, Microsoft released its newest IE, Internet Explorer 7, in a beta preview which can be downloaded free of charge from the company's Web site.

Since Mozilla unveiled Firefox 1.0 nearly 15 months ago, analysts have predicted that Microsoft would regain some of its lost share when IE 7 appeared.

Internet Explorer 7 is scheduled to finalize in the second half of 2006.

The Next Big Fuel Source: Microbes?

From Wired

Termite guts and canvas-eating jungle bugs could be the key to kicking the oil habit and achieving energy independence. At least that's what scientists working on creating ethanol from plant waste are hoping. In a process much like making grain alcohol or beer, microbes that can process woody cellulose into sugar are put to work on plant waste; after a few microbiological twists and turns, the result is ethanol without the corn. Last year, current practices yielded only 4 billion gallons of ethanol last year (compared to the 140 billion gallons of gasoline used in the U.S.), and there's growing concern throughout the Midwestern corn belt that the 95 U.S. ethanol plants are increasingly poaching corn meant for the dinner table or livestock feed. The plant-waste process, called "cellulosic ethanol," dodges this problem by making fuel from farm waste such as straw, corn stalks and other inedible agricultural leftovers.

Breaking cellulose into sugar to spin straw into ethanol has been studied for over the last 50 years. Until quite recently, the technological hurdles and costs have been daunting enough to force ethanol producers to rely on heavy government subsidies to squeeze fuel from corn. Lately, though, it's received a boost from an unlikely source: President Bush and the State of the Union address. While the remark itself may have been more soaring rhetoric and another empty promise, the mere mention of it could prove beneficial to this burgeoning process. "We have been at this for 25 years and we had hoped to be in commercial production by now," said Jeff Passmore, an executive vice president at Iogen, an Ottawa-based ethanol-maker. "What the president has done is -- perhaps -- put some wind in the sails." Iogen is producing ethanol by exploiting the destructive nature of the fungus Trichoderma reesei, which caused the "jungle rot" of tents and uniforms in the Pacific theater during World War II. Nathanael Greene, an analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, adds, "The technologies are out there to do this, but we need to convince the public this is real and not just a science project."

Iogen opened a small, $40 million factory in 2004 to show it can produce cellulosic ethanol in commercial quantities. In the last two years, it has produced 65,000 gallons of ethanol that is blended with 85 percent gasoline to fuel about three dozen company and Canadian government vehicles. Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has invested $40 million for a 30 percent ownership stake in Iogen; Petro-Canada and the Canadian government are also investors. The company will build a $350 million, commercial-scale factory next year if it can secure financing -- which has long been a big if and remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks to bringing cellulosic ethanol to gas pumps. Under a best-case scenario, Passmore said Iogen won't be producing commercial quantities until 2009. Keep up the good work, guys!

How babies do maths at 7 months

BBC logo

Babies have a rudimentary grasp of maths long before they can walk or talk, according to new research.

By the age of seven months infants have an abstract sense of numbers and are able to match the number of voices they hear with the number of faces they see.

The research could be useful in devising methods for teaching basic maths skills to the very young, say researchers in the US.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Look and listen

Adults can easily recognise the numerical equivalence between two objects they see and two sounds they hear.

This is also the case for some animals, such as the monkey, but until now there has been conflicting evidence about the ability of very young babies to do this.

Kerry Jordan and Elizabeth Brannon of Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, played a video of two or three adult women strangers simultaneously saying the word "look" to babies aged seven months.

The videos were displayed on two monitors positioned side-by-side as the babies sat on a parent's lap. Audio tracks, synchronised with both videos, were played through a hidden speaker.

On average, the infants spent a significantly greater proportion of time looking at the display that matched the number of voices they heard to the number of faces they saw.

"Our results demonstrate that by seven months of age, infants can represent the equivalence between the number of voices they hear and the number of faces they see," the scientists wrote.

"The parallel between infants' and rhesus monkeys' performance on the task is particularly striking."

Numerical abilities

The research suggests that there is a shared system between infants before they learn to talk and non-verbal animals for representing numbers.

Understanding more about this system could be useful in devising methods for teaching basic maths skills to the very young.

"The study asks important questions about numerical abilities in infancy," Dr Anna Franklin of the Surrey Baby Lab, Department of Psychology, University of Surrey, UK, told the BBC News website.

"The findings support the argument that young infants are capable of a wide range of mental operations and that infants are smarter than we think."

Microsoft plans virtual information wallet: Gates

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT - news) Chairman Bill Gates on Tuesday showed off a new software tool aimed at giving consumers a virtual wallet to securely store their personal information for Internet transactions.

As part of that effort, Gates said the virtual personal information wallet, code-named "InfoCard," would allow consumers to safely manage their identities online. It seeks to provide better security by reducing reliance on usernames and passwords which are often the target of computer criminals.

This time around, however, Microsoft puts the power in the hands of the user, Gates said. In a demonstration, Microsoft showed how easily a consumer logged onto a car rental site to quickly reserve and pay for an automobile using a card from the virtual wallet.

Speaking at the annual RSA computer security conference, Gates provided a broad overview of how the industry needs to meet what he said were growing cyber threats and that consumers would not embrace technology which is not simple to use.

Microsoft first offered identification and authentication with its Passport service, but that technology failed to win wide acceptance because consumers did not embrace the idea of having the software maker manage their information.

Microsoft also said because InfoCard runs isolated from other programs on the desktop it makes it harder for hackers to install malicious software on the system.

The company plans to release the technology later this year, which will support the upcoming Internet Explore 7 on Windows Vista Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and Windows server 2003.

325,000 names on U.S. terror suspect list: report

News from Reuters

A government database of alleged international terrorism suspects or associates includes 325,000 names, four times more than when the central list was created in 2003, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, citing counterterrorism officials.

The list maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC, contains far more names in a single government database than has previously been disclosed, the newspaper said.

But the report cited NCTC officials as saying the true number of individuals listed is estimated to be more than 200,000 because the same person may show up under different spellings or aliases.

Google Earth focusses on the Winter Olympics

An update to the satellite imagery and mapping application has been released with enhanced images of Torino and the olympic venues, plus 3D views of some of the terrain where events such as the skiing will take place.

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You are ignorant of the law, says Saddam to judge

From TimesOnline.co.uk

SADDAM HUSSEIN said that he was being forced to appear at his own trial yesterday as he and seven co-defendants reappeared in court after boycotting the last two sessions.

Abandoned by his defence team, who are protesting at the alleged bias of the judge, a Kurd, Saddam and his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti were in full attack mode, belittling the judge and railing against the legal process. “You don’t have the right to sit on that chair because you are ignorant of the law,” Saddam told Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman, slamming his fist on the railing of his metal pen. “This is not a court, this is a game.”

Mr al-Tikriti also became enraged, pushing away security guards and, at one point, sitting on the floor with his back to the judge. The accused said that they had been forced from their cells to appear in court, allegations also voiced by the day’s two principal witnesses. Hassan al-Obeidi, Iraq’s intelligence director from 1980 to 1981, and Ahmed Khudayir, the former head of Saddam’s office, refused to testify, raising a slight smile from their former leader, slouched in his chair. The court was adjourned until today.

So far the trial has been more notable for Saddam’s heated rants than the case against him. The growing perception among Iraqis is that the proceedings are prejudiced and incompetent, and the case has caused more critisism of the Iraqi Government than sense of closure to the past.

Saddam and his co-accused are charged with killing 148 men from the mostly Shia town of Dujail in reprisal for a failed assassination attempt there on the Iraqi leader in 1982. Prosecutors hope that testimony from former senior officials will help to establish a chain of command from Saddam to atrocities on the ground.

UN report calls for closure of Guantánamo

From Guardian Unlimited

A UN inquiry into conditions at Guantánamo Bay has called on Washington to shut down the prison, and says treatment of detainees in some cases amounts to torture, UN officials said yesterday.

The report also disputes the Bush administration's legal arguments for the prison, which was sited at the navy base in Cuba with the purpose of remaining outside the purview of the US courts, and says there has been insufficient legal process to decide whether detainees continued to pose a threat to the US.

The report, prepared by five envoys from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and due for release tomorrow, is bound to deepen international criticism of the detention centre. Drafts of the report were leaked to the Los Angeles Times and the Telegraph newspapers, but UN envoys refused to comment yesterday.

During an 18-month investigation, the envoys interviewed freed prisoners, lawyers and doctors to collect information on the detainees, who have been held for the last four years without access to US judicial oversight. The envoys did not have access to the 500 prisoners who are still being held at the detention centre.

"We very, very carefully considered all of the arguments posed by the US government," Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture and one of the envoys, told the LA Times. "There are no conclusions that are easily drawn. But we concluded that the situation in several areas violates international law and conventions on human rights and torture."

The report lists techniques in use at Guantánamo that are banned under the UN's convention against torture, including prolonged periods of isolation, exposure to extremes of heat and cold, and humiliation, including forced shaving.

The UN report also focuses on a relatively new area of concern in Guantánamo - the resort to violent force-feeding to end a hunger strike by inmates. Guards at Guantánamo began force-feeding the protesters last August, strapping them on stretchers and inserting large tubes into their nasal passages, according to a lawyer for Kuwaiti detainees who has had contact with the UN envoys.

The effort to break the hunger strike has accelerated since the UN envoys produced their draft, with inmates strapped in restraint chairs for hours and fed laxatives so that they defecate on themselves.

"The government is not doing things to keep them alive. It is really conducting tactics to deprive them of the ability to be on hunger strike because the hunger strike is an embarrassment to them," said Thomas Wilner, an attorney at the Washington firm Shearman & Sterlin, who represents several Kuwaiti detainees.

The report adds to a body of evidence about mistreatment. A report by the International Committee of the Red Cross last year said interrogation techniques there were "tantamount to torture".

Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said: "This is going to solidify the already highly negative views around the world about what the United States is doing in Guantánamo, and since the Red Cross complaints are more than a year old, it will suggest to a lot of people around the world that the problems are not solved."

However, the report did not seem to carry weight in Washington. A White House spokesman said it was an al-Qaida tactic to complain of abuse, while the Pentagon does not comment on UN matters. But a Pentagon official yesterday insisted there had been no attempts to break a hunger strike with punitive measures. "All detainees at Guantánamo are being treated humanely and are being provided with excellent medical care," he said.

Urgent action urged on Pakistan landslide threat

Landslides present a substantial threat to survivors of last October's catastrophic earthquake in Pakistan and urgent action is needed ahead of summer rains to prevent large-scale loss of life, experts say.

Professor David Petley of the International Landslide Center at Britain's University of Durham and Dr Mark Bulmer of the Landslide Observatory at the University of Maryland in the United States visited the quake zone in northern Pakistan in January.

In a joint report made available on Monday, they said that while the response of Pakistani and international relief agencies to the October 8 quake had been remarkable, landslides posed a "substantial threat" to survivors.

The experts noted during their visit that a number of refugee tent villages were located in highly dangerous positions in river valleys vulnerable to landslides and needed to be moved.

The earthquake and more than 1,500 aftershocks triggered countless landslides in mountainous Pakistani Kashmir and adjoining North West Frontier Province.

The report said "near perfect" conditions had been created for fresh slides and flash floods.

"We predict there will be a very high incidence of slip failures during the July monsoon season and many of these failures will be large-scale and destructive," it said.

"There are large numbers of people living on and beneath these slopes. The potential for large-scale loss of life is high."

"URGENT ACTION REQUIRED"

The quake was the strongest in South Asia in 100 years and killed more than 73,000 people in Pakistan and 1,300 in India. More than three million people were made homeless.

A major international relief effort has averted a feared second wave of deaths from cold and hunger over the winter, but the experts said a second disaster could still be imminent.

"We feel that urgent action is required and strongly urge the authorities to recognize that a policy of just monitoring is simply not adequate in this case," their report said.

The Pakistani military warned in December that the collapse of a mountainside triggered by the quake had blocked two major streams near the town of Hattian Bala in Kashmir, creating huge lakes that could endanger up to 12,000 people.

The experts' report said the potential for a "catastrophic breach" of a dam created by the landslides at Hattian Bala was very high -- a greater than 80 percent chance -- and summer rains presented a serious threat of a second "large-scale disaster."

"We believe that the breach of the larger lake will be potentially catastrophic and will induce a flood that will be highly destructive," it said.

Colonel Baseer Haider Malik, a spokesman for the Pakistani government's earthquake relief commission, said he did not believe there was any immediate danger to populations.

He said spillways -- one of the recommendations of the report -- had already been created to release water from the lakes.

Malik also said he was confident other necessary work in the quake zone would be completed and people moved from danger areas by the time of the summer rains.

US under simulated hacking attack

For the past week, the US has been under a simulated cyber attack. The exercise, known as Cyber Storm, was intended to test America's defences in response to a full-scale cyber attack by hackers.

The main aim was to discover how well the US is prepared to respond not only to attacks on military and other security services but also against energy, information technology, telecommunications, and transport infrastructures. Among the simulated assaults, one of the scenarios simulated a cyber incident where an electricity company's computer system is compromised and causing disruption to the national grid.

The Federal government examined the speed and effectiveness of its response, the co-ordination between different agencies and recovery. The exercise involved Federal, State and local governments, national and international agencies and private companies.

The Department for Homeland Security, which coordinated the exercise, says the operation was purely hypothetical and was not intended as a forecast of a future terrorist threat and that it had no effect on the Internet as a whole.

National governments are becoming increasingly aware of their reliance on interconnected computer systems and the vulnerability to coordinated attack by criminal or terrorist organisations.

Last week hundreds of Danish web sites were defaced by hackers protesting at the depictions of the prophet Mohammed in a cartoon.

BT, Virgin and Microsoft in TV alliance

From TimesOnline.co.uk

BT, Microsoft and Virgin Mobile are expected to use the telecoms industry's annual convention, the 3GSM Congress, which takes place in Barcelona this week, to announce an alliance to launch a digital television service for mobile phones.

The service is among several developments expected to be unveiled at the Congress, as suppliers seek to capture the imagination of consumers for their often expensively acquired third-generation mobile offerings.

BT's involvement in the TV alliance should help to avoid the capacity problems that some analysts say will limit operators of 3G technology as they try to increase subscriber levels.

BT, Virgin and Microsoft in TV alliance

From TimesOnline.co.uk

BT, Microsoft and Virgin Mobile are expected to use the telecoms industry's annual convention, the 3GSM Congress, which takes place in Barcelona this week, to announce an alliance to launch a digital television service for mobile phones.

The service is among several developments expected to be unveiled at the Congress, as suppliers seek to capture the imagination of consumers for their often expensively acquired third-generation mobile offerings.

BT's involvement in the TV alliance should help to avoid the capacity problems that some analysts say will limit operators of 3G technology as they try to increase subscriber levels.

Pakistanis 'killed in US strike'

Two Pakistani nomad women have been killed after a rocket fired across the border from Afghanistan landed on their tent, Pakistani officials say.

Four children were hurt in the attack late on Saturday in North Waziristan.

Locals say US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan fired four rockets into Pakistan's tribal area after coming under fire from unknown attackers.

A US spokesman confirmed coalition forces had returned fire into Pakistan, but was not aware of casualties.

Post 'attacked'

The incident is the third this year in which civilians have been killed inside Pakistani territory in apparent missile strikes by US-led forces who are hunting al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects in the mountainous border area.

A number of villagers lost their homes in the Bajaur strike

Pakistan complained twice in January to US-led forces after two strikes within a week left at least 26 people dead in North Waziristan and in the Bajaur tribal area.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf said on Saturday that "a close relative" of al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri had been killed in the second of those attacks.

But a number of local villagers also died and there were protests against the US in Pakistan.

In the latest rocket attack, officials say US-led coalition forces fired rockets from the Shankai checkpost in the Afghan province of Khost.

"Two women of a gipsy family were killed and four children were injured when a rocket hit their tent late Saturday," an administration official told the AFP news agency.

He said the children were being treated at a hospital in nearby Mirali district.

US military spokesman Mike Cody said that a security post on the border in Khost had been attacked from the Pakistani side on Saturday afternoon.

"The coalition forces identified this as coming from the border and co-ordinated with the Pakistan military and fired artillery rounds at the point of origin," he told AFP in Kabul.

The US has about 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, but Pakistan does not officially allow them to operate across the border.

Video gaming keeps the brain from aging!

Gaming doesn't only improve hand-eye coordination and reflexes; "Canadian researchers are finding evidence that the high-speed, multitasking of the young and wireless can help protect their brains from aging."

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Remove Norton *completely* safely

This little program I stumbled upon, when ran, will dump all traces of your Norton programs :) They say its only to be used when you can't uninstall it (corrupted install). I say, use it anyways, and get rid of all the extra registry stuff that the regular uninstall doesn't take care of ;)

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The mathematics of nature: PHI

A great looks into the mathematics of nature and the ratio (PHI) upon which almost EVERYTHING is based. The way leaves grow on trees, the way the human body is designed, and the way seeds sit on sunflowers are only a few examples. This is a very interesting read.

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Tech Giants Tackle Mobile Phone Gaming

Several big companies in the mobile phone and gaming industry, including Microsoft and Nokia, are teaming to support an open gaming architecture designed to lower development costs, speed up delivery times and create richer content, the group said Friday.

In addition to Microsoft and Nokia, the mobile gaming development alliance includes Electronic Arts, Symbian, Samsung Electronics, Texas Instruments (TI), Activision, Digital Chocolate, Ideaworks3D, Konami, MontaVista Software, SK Telecom, Square Enix, and Tao Group.

By working together, the group hopes to streamline the process for developing games for multiple handset models and operating systems, and reduce the current platform fragmentation in mobile phone gaming market.

Common Ground

The planned open architecture will provide different handsets and operating systems with a common set of minimum capabilities that game developers can use to make game porting easier and more efficient, the companies said. By spending less time developing multiple versions of a single game, developers will be able to focus on creating new gaming titles for mobile consumers with richer graphics and features.

The architecture will support the development, testing and deployment of games on several operating systems, including Microsoft Windows Mobile, Linux, and Symbian, as well as on terminal platforms from mobile operators, such as SK Telecom's WIPI GIGA.

The first reference implementations of the gaming architecture are expected to be available in the second half of 2006, according to the group.

TI expects to deliver a reference implementation of the new gaming architecture on its OMAP 2 chip platform also in that timeframe, the company said.

Doctors Remove Part of Sharon's Intestines

Doctors removed nearly 2 feet of Ariel Sharon's large intestines Saturday during emergency surgery, his seventh operation since suffering a debilitating stroke last month.

Surgeons managed to stabilize the comatose Israeli prime minister after initially fearing for his life, but the latest complication makes it even more unlikely he will recover.

Israelis closely followed their 77-year-old leader's latest ordeal, with TV stations repeatedly breaking into regular programming for updates, but the country already has come to terms with his departure from politics.

Sharon's political heir, Ehud Olmert, quickly took the reins as acting prime minister after Sharon's Jan. 4 stroke and appears poised to lead Sharon's centrist Kadima Party to victory in March 28 elections.

Sharon was rushed to surgery Saturday morning after doctors, who had noticed abdominal swelling, conducted a CT scan and a laparoscopy, or insertion of a small camera through the abdominal wall.

Surgeons detected necrotic — or dead — tissue in the bowels and removed 20 inches of his large intestine, Hadassah Hospital director Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef said.

The necrosis was caused either by infection or a drop in the blood supply to the intestines, something common in comatose patients, the hospital director said. Mor-Yosef said doctors did not find blocked blood vessels.

Mor-Yosef said Saturday's surgery was relatively simple, and that Sharon's main medical problem continues to be the coma. Asked whether Sharon could come out of the coma, Mor-Yosef said: "All possibilities remain open, but with each passing day, the chances are lower."

Since the stroke, Sharon has been hooked up to feeding and breathing tubes.

President Bush was being kept informed of Sharon's condition by his staff, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Saturday.

"Prime Minister Sharon remains in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time," McClellan said.

Dr. R. Sean Morrison, a professor of geriatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said "long-term comatose patients typically die of complications like this," referring to necrosis.

Morrison said Sharon's prognosis was extremely grave even before the latest complication, and his chances for survival are now "extremely small, almost zero."

In recent months, the obese Sharon had repeatedly brushed aside questions about his health, but his condition became an issue after he suffered a mild stroke Dec. 18.

At the time, Sharon was at the height of his popularity, following last summer's successful pullout from the Gaza Strip and his break with the hard-line Likud Party.

Voters widely expected Sharon to draw Israel's final borders, with or without the Palestinians, if elected for a third term. Polls suggested Kadima would become by far the largest party in parliament.

Sharon, a war hero, had for years opposed concessions to the Palestinians. He came to accept the idea of giving land to the Palestinians and allowing them to form a state only during his most recent term as prime minister, which began in 2003.

After his mild stroke, aides played down his health problems. Doctors treated him with anti-clotting agents and scheduled a minor heart procedure for Jan. 5 to close a hole believed to have contributed to that first stroke.

Just hours before the scheduled procedure, Sharon suffered a massive stroke, including heavy bleeding in the brain, and slipped into a coma.

After being admitted to Hadassah on Jan. 4, Sharon underwent three back-to-back brain surgeries. These were followed by three smaller procedures, including insertions of feeding and breathing tubes — a sign that doctors were preparing for a long-term coma. Throughout the past five weeks, he had been in critical but stable condition.

Before dawn Saturday, Sharon's condition deteriorated sharply and his life was in danger, hospital officials said. Doctors decided to operate after consulting with Sharon's sons, Omri and Gilad, Mor-Yosef said.

"During the operation, we found necrosis in part of his large intestine and ... the decision was to remove part of his large intestine," he said.

Experts have concluded that Sharon apparently suffered severe brain damage and is unlikely to regain consciousness. If he does awaken, most say, the chances of his regaining meaningful cognition or activity are slim.

Sharon's stroke had jolted Israel, but the transition period has been surprisingly smooth.

Kadima has held steady in the polls, which predict the party will win at least 40 of the 120 seats in parliament. This means Olmert would form the next government, likely in a coalition with the dovish Labor Party.

In a TV interview earlier this week, his first since taking over, Olmert suggested he would withdraw from large areas of the West Bank if elected, but he did not make clear whether he would act unilaterally. Olmert said Israel will give up the parts of the West Bank where most of the Palestinians live but retain the main Jewish settlement blocs.

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank as part of a future independent state.

Unilateral action appears increasingly likely in light of the victory of the Islamic militant group Hamas in last month's Palestinian parliamentary elections. Olmert has said Israel will shun a Hamas government unless the group — considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe — renounces violence and recognizes Israel.

Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks, and Israelis killed millions of Palestinians during their daily raids.

Microsoft, partners to challenge Apple iPod--Gates

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT - news) and its hardware partners will continue to develop new digital media devices aimed at challenging the dominance of Apple Computer Inc.'s (Nasdaq:AAPL - news) ubiquitous iPod music player, Chairman Bill Gates said on Friday.

"I don't think what's out on the market today is the final answer," Gates said, speaking to a group of minority students. "Between us and our partners, you can expect some pretty hot products coming out over the next few years."

The Microsoft founder praised Apple's iTunes music store and said the software giant was talking with hardware partners to create media devices that can be less expensive and easier to connect and can handle pictures and video better.

Gates said the market share for digital music players compatible with Microsoft software is around 20 percent, a figure that is lower than he would like.

Microsoft's strategy has been to allow various device manufacturers to create players that would be compatible with its software, arguing that it offered consumers more options.

However, BusinessWeek reported last week that Microsoft is mulling its own media device in an effort to cut into Apple's nearly 70 percent U.S. market share. The company declined to comment on the article at the time.

Gates did not disclose any plans for a Microsoft-branded device on Friday and alluded often to working together with partners for future media devices.

Intel shows off its quad core

Just as the bragging rights for dual-core chip supremacy are dying down, Intel gave the first glimpse of a quad-core chip coming next year.

Clovertown, a four-core processor, will start shipping to computer manufacturers late this year and hit the market in early 2007. Clovertown will be made for dual-processor servers, which means that these servers will essentially be eight-processor servers (two processors x four cores each).

The company will also come out with a previously announced version called Tigerton around the same time for servers with four or more processors.

Core expansion will be a dominant theme for Intel over the next few years, said Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner. By the end of the decade, chips with tens of cores will be possible, while in 10 years, it's theoretically possible that chips with hundreds of cores will come out, he added.

Rattner showed off a computer running two Clovertown processors.

Multiplying the number of cores brings distinct advantages. First, it cuts down overall energy consumption for equivalent levels of performance. If the recent Core Duo chips released for notebooks from Intel had only one core, the chips would consume far more power, he said.

Integrating processor cores into the same piece of silicon or same processor package also increases performance by reducing the data pathways

"To go from core to core can be a matter of nanoseconds," Rattner said. "As soon as you move cores together you get an automatic improvement in available bandwidth."

Advanced Micro Devices will also come out with chips with four cores in 2007.

Nonetheless, adding cores requires careful planning. Energy efficiency, data input/output and memory latency (the time it takes data to go from memory and the processor and vice versa) will be major issues with each level of core expansion.

To get around some of these issues, Intel is conducting research into circuit design and chip architecture as it has in the past. In addition, the company is working with application developers to determine how the architecture of its chips can be optimized.

By working with one server application developer, Intel determined that it needed to make three small changes to the architecture of one of its future server chips. Before the changes, the application only ran well in simulations on chips with 16 cores. After that, performance began to decline, Rattner said.

After the changes, performance continued to climb. "We got it to scale well past 32" cores, he said.

Another pending change to chip design to accommodate problems that arise with core multiplication are Through Silicon Vias, or TSVs. With TSVs, processors and memory chips are stacked up and connected through tiny wires; the top of one chip wires directly into the bottom of another. Currently, chips connect through buses, long data paths that have become as crowded as rush-hour freeways in some computers.

Clovertown and Tigerton are members of a new chip architecture coming from Intel at the end of the year. A notebook chip called Merom and a desktop chip called Conroe coming out around the same time will be based on the same architecture. Intel will give the architecture a name at the Intel Developer Forum taking place in March.

Rattner indicated that Merom and Conroe will only be dual-core chips, as many analysts expect.

"The core growth on the client side will be slower than on the server side," he said. The new chip architecture "is intended for dual and multiple core architectures," he added.

Rattner would not state whether Tigerton and Clovertown contained a single piece of silicon, or two pieces of silicon in a single package. A processor is made of silicon and the package that surrounds it, so either definition could fit.

Two pieces of silicon in a single package seems more likely. At around the same time, after all, Intel will release Woodcrest, a dual core server chip based around the same Merom-Conroe-Tigerton-Clovertown architecture. It will contain only two cores and consume 80 watts of power, less than the 165-watt server chips Intel sells now.

A large financial institution is currently running servers on an experimental basis with Woodcrest chips, Rattner said.

Intel has already released one dual core processor that contained two pieces of silicon. While using two pieces of silicon can be cheaper to design and manufacture, some have said dual silicon chips don't provide the same level of performance.

New iPod nano uses human skin to transmit audio

A Korean company wants the iPod to get under your skin, literally.

A chip conference in San Francisco on Thursday had a presentation by the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology titled "Silicon in Biology," and such under-the-skin chips were on display and in the talk waves. The prototype sits just under the skin of the forearm and uses the body's own propensity to create electricity to power the transmission sequences from the portable music player.

KAIST officials say that their solution can alleviate personal-area network concerns by taking them inside the body, thereby reducing power consumption. The chip, KAIST claims, has signals that are wideband but lower-impulse than their currrent counterparts, which do the exact opposite. According to Seong-Jun Song, a KAIST professor, the chips achieve data rates of up to 2 megabits a second but uses up less than 10 microwatts of power.

KAIST officials stressed that the chip was merely a prototype and that achieving a reality based on that prototype was not possible overnight. However, their suggestions did raise a few eyebrows.

Among the other presentations at the International Solid State Circuits Conference was one focusing on a brain activity monitor chip that sends data to monitors wirelessly. The presentation, made by officials at the University of Utah, expressed their ultimate goal, to manufacture a chip that can control prosthetic limbs using brain waves so that quadriplegics can have a low-power way to help move replacement arms and legs.

Google Copies Your Hard Drive - Government Smiles in Anticipation

From EFF.org

Consumers Should Not Use New Google Desktop

San Francisco - Google today announced a new "feature" of its Google Desktop software that greatly increases the risk to consumer privacy. If a consumer chooses to use it, the new "Search Across Computers" feature will store copies of the user's Word documents, PDFs, spreadsheets and other text-based documents on Google's own servers, to enable searching from any one of the user's computers. EFF urges consumers not to use this feature, because it will make their personal data more vulnerable to subpoenas from the government and possibly private litigants, while providing a convenient one-stop-shop for hackers who've obtained a user's Google password.

"Coming on the heels of serious consumer concern about government snooping into Google's search logs, it's shocking that Google expects its users to now trust it with the contents of their personal computers," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "If you use the Search Across Computers feature and don't configure Google Desktop very carefully—and most people won't—Google will have copies of your tax returns, love letters, business records, financial and medical files, and whatever other text-based documents the Desktop software can index. The government could then demand these personal files with only a subpoena rather than the search warrant it would need to seize the same things from your home or business, and in many cases you wouldn't even be notified in time to challenge it. Other litigants—your spouse, your business partners or rivals, whoever—could also try to cut out the middleman (you) and subpoena Google for your files."

The privacy problem arises because the Electronic Communication Privacy Act of 1986, or ECPA, gives only limited privacy protection to emails and other files that are stored with online service providers—much less privacy than the legal protections for the same information when it's on your computer at home. And even that lower level of legal protection could disappear if Google uses your data for marketing purposes. Google says it is not yet scanning the files it copies from your hard drive in order to serve targeted advertising, but it hasn't ruled out the possibility, and Google's current privacy policy appears to allow it.

"This Google product highlights a key privacy problem in the digital age," said Cindy Cohn, EFF's Legal Director. "Many Internet innovations involve storing personal files on a service provider's computer, but under outdated laws, consumers who want to use these new technologies have to surrender their privacy rights. If Google wants consumers to trust it to store copies of personal computer files, emails, search histories and chat logs, and still 'not be evil,' it should stand with EFF and demand that Congress update the privacy laws to better reflect life in the wired world."

For more on Google's data collection:
http://news.com.com/FAQ+When+Google+is+not+your+friend/2100-1025_3-6034666.html?tag=nl http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2006/01/21/google_subpoena_roils_the_web http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2006/01/20/EDGEPGPHA61.DTL http://news.com.com/%20Bill+would+force+Web+sites+to+delete+personal+info/2100-1028_3-6036951.html

ANOTHER Girl Killed by MySpace Date!

Authorities said Brown met Gaumer on the Internet Web site MySpace.com. While details of the relationship are unknown, police said Gaumer was a student at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, where he lived on campus. Police said he has no criminal history.

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