Thursday, March 31, 2011

NASA - Forensic Sleuthing Ties Ring Ripples to Impacts

Forensic Sleuthing Ties Ring Ripples to Impacts

Artist's concept shows comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 heading into Jupiter This artist's concept shows comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 heading into Jupiter in July 1994, while its dust cloud creates a rippling wake in Jupiter's ring. Image credit: copyright M. Showalter
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Alternating light and dark bands, extending a great distance across Saturn's D and C rings, are shown here in these Cassini images Alternating light and dark bands, extending a great distance across Saturn's D and C rings, are shown here in these Cassini images taken one month before the planet's August 2009 equinox. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
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Tilting Saturn's rings animation graphic This graphic shows in a series of three images how Saturn's rings, after they became tilted relative to Saturn's equatorial plane, would have transformed into a corrugated ring. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
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Subtle ripples in Jupiter's ring These images, derived from data obtained by NASA's Galileo spacecraft, show the subtle ripples in the ring of Jupiter that scientists have been able to trace back to the impact of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in July 1994. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI
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PASADENA, Calif. – Like forensic scientists examining fingerprints at a cosmic crime scene, scientists working with data from NASA's Cassini, Galileo and New Horizons missions have traced telltale ripples in the rings of Saturn and Jupiter back to collisions with cometary fragments dating back more than 10 years ago.

The ripple-producing culprit, in the case of Jupiter, was comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, whose debris cloud hurtled through the thin Jupiter ring system during a kamikaze course into the planet in July 1994. Scientists attribute Saturn's ripples to a similar object – likely another cloud of comet debris -- plunging through the inner rings in the second half of 1983. The findings are detailed in a pair of papers published online today in the journal Science.

"What's cool is we're finding evidence that a planet's rings can be affected by specific, traceable events that happened in the last 30 years, rather than a hundred million years ago," said Matthew Hedman, a Cassini imaging team associate, lead author of one of the papers, and a research associate at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. "The solar system is a much more dynamic place than we gave it credit for."

From Galileo's visit to Jupiter, scientists have known since the late 1990s about patchy patterns in the Jovian ring. But the Galileo images were a little fuzzy, and scientists didn't understand why such patterns would occur. The trail was cold until Cassini entered orbit around Saturn in 2004 and started sending back thousands of images. A 2007 paper by Hedman and colleagues first noted corrugations in Saturn's innermost ring, dubbed the D ring.

A group including Hedman and Mark Showalter, a Cassini co-investigator based at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., then realized that the grooves in the D ring appeared to wind together more tightly over time. Playing the process backward, Hedman then demonstrated the pattern originated when something tilted the D ring off its axis by about 100 meters (300 feet) in late 1983. The scientists found the influence of Saturn's gravity on the tilted area warped the ring into a tightening spiral.

Cassini imaging scientists got another clue when the sun shone directly along Saturn's equator and lit the rings edge-on in August 2009. The unique lighting conditions highlighted ripples not previously seen in another part of the ring system. Whatever happened in 1983 was not a small, localized event; it was big. The collision had tilted a region more than 19,000 kilometers (12,000 miles) wide, covering part of the D ring and the next outermost ring, called the C ring. Unfortunately spacecraft were not visiting Saturn at that time, and the planet was on the far side of the sun, hidden from telescopes on or orbiting Earth, so whatever happened in 1983 passed unnoticed by astronomers.

Hedman and Showalter, the lead author on the second paper, began to wonder whether the long-forgotten pattern in Jupiter's ring system might illuminate the mystery. Using Galileo images from 1996 and 2000, Showalter confirmed a similar winding spiral pattern. They applied the same math they had applied to Saturn – but now with Jupiter's gravitational influence factored in. Unwinding the spiral pinpointed the date when Jupiter's ring was tilted off its axis: between June and September 1994. Shoemaker-Levy plunged into the Jovian atmosphere during late July 1994. The estimated size of the nucleus was also consistent with the amount of material needed to disturb Jupiter's ring.

The Galileo images also revealed a second spiral, which was calculated to have originated in 1990. Images taken by New Horizons in 2007, when the spacecraft flew by Jupiter on its way to Pluto, showed two newer ripple patterns, in addition to the fading echo of the Shoemaker-Levy impact.

"We now know that collisions into the rings are very common – a few times per decade for Jupiter and a few times per century for Saturn," Showalter said. "Now scientists know that the rings record these impacts like grooves in a vinyl record, and we can play back their history later."

The ripples also give scientists clues to the size of the clouds of cometary debris that hit the rings. In each of these cases, the nuclei of the comets – before they likely broke apart – were a few kilometers wide.

"Finding these fingerprints still in the rings is amazing and helps us better understand impact processes in our solar system," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Cassini's long sojourn around Saturn has helped us tease out subtle clues that tell us about the history of our origins."

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. JPL managed the Galileo mission for NASA, and designed and built the Galileo orbiter. The New Horizons mission is led by Principal Investigator Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo., and managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md., for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

More information about Cassini can be found at .

Additional contacts: Blaine Friedlander, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., 607-254-6235,; Karen Randall, SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif., 650-960-4537,; and Joe Mason, Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo., 720-974-5859,

Media contact:
Jia-Rui C. Cook 818-354-0850
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Michael Buckley 240-228-7536
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.


Pioneer Anomaly Solved By 1970s Computer Graphics Technique - Technology Review

arXiv blog

Pioneer Anomaly Solved By 1970s Computer Graphics Technique

A new computer model of the way heat is emitted by various parts of the Pioneer spacecraft, and reflected off others, finally solves one of the biggest mysteries in astrophysics

During the last decade or so, the Pioneer Anomaly has become one of the great unsolved puzzles in astrophysics.

The problem is this. The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft were launched towards Jupiter and Saturn in the early 1970s. After their respective flybys, they continued on escape trajectories out of the Solar System, both decelerating under the force of the Sun's gravity. But careful measuremenrs show that the spacecraft are slowing faster than they ought to, as if being pulled by an extra unseen force towards the Sun.

This deceleration is tiny: just (8.74±1.33)×10^−10 ms^−2. The big question is where does it come from.

Spacecraft engineers' first thought was that heat emitted by the spacecraft could cause exactly this kind of deceleration. But when they examined the way heat was produced on the craft, by on board plutonium, and how this must have been emitted, they were unable to make the numbers add up. At most, thermal effects could account for only 67 per cent of the deceleration, they said.

That led to a host of other ideas some of which I've covered in this blog. For example, last year we looked at work ruling out the possibility that gravity could be stronger at these distances, since we ought to be able to see a similar effect on the orbit of other distant objects such as Pluto.

Now Frederico Francisco at the Instituto de Plasmas e Fusao Nuclear in Lisbon Portugal, and a few pals, say they've worked out where the thermal calculations went wrong.

These guys have redone the calculations using a computer model of not only how the heat is emitted but how it is reflected off the various parts of the spacecraft too. The reflections turn out to be crucial.

Previous calculations have only estimated the effect of reflections. So Francisco and co used a computer modeling technique called Phong shading to work out exactly how the the emitted heat is reflected and in which direction it ends up travelling.

Phong shading was dreamt up in the 1970s and is now widely used in many rendering packages to model reflections in three dimensions. It was originally developed to handle the reflections of visible light from 3D objects but it works just as well for infrared light, say Francisco and co.

In particular, Phong shading has allowed the Portuguese team to include for the first time the effect of heat emitted from a part of the spacecraft called the main equipment compartment. It turns out that heat from the back wall of this compartment is reflected from the back of the spacecraft's antenna (see diagram above).

Since the antenna points Sunward, towards Earth, reflections off its back would tend to decelerate the spacecraft. "The radiation from this wall will, in a first iteration, reflect off the antenna and add a contribution to the force in the direction of the sun," say Francisco and co.

Lo and behold, this extra component of force makes all the difference. As Francisco and co put it: "With the results presented here it becomes increasingly apparent that, unless new data arises, the puzzle of the anomalous acceleration of the Pioneer probes can finally be put to rest." In other words, the anomaly disappears.

Of course, other groups will want to confirm these results and a team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which has gathered the data on the probes, is currently studying its own computer model of the thermal budgets.

It'll be interesting to see whether they agree. If they do; problem solved. Probably!

Ref: Modelling The Reflective Thermal Contribution To The Acceleration Of The Pioneer Spacecraft

NASA - Satellites Detect Extensive Drought Impact On Amazon Forests

NASA Satellites Detect Extensive Drought Impact On Amazon Forests

WASHINGTON -- A new NASA-funded study has revealed widespread reductions in the greenness of Amazon forests caused by last year's record-breaking drought.

"The greenness levels of Amazonian vegetation -- a measure of its health -- decreased dramatically over an area more than three and one-half times the size of Texas," said Liang Xu, the study's lead author from Boston University. "It did not recover to normal levels, even after the drought ended in late October 2010."

The drought sensitivity of Amazon rainforests is a subject of intense study. Computer models predict a changing climate with warmer temperatures and altered rainfall patterns could cause moisture stress leading to rainforests being replaced by grasslands or woody savannas. This would release the carbon stored in rotting wood into the atmosphere, which could accelerate global warming. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned similar droughts could be more frequent in the Amazon region in the future.

The comprehensive study was prepared by an international team of scientists using more than a decade's worth of satellite data from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM). Analysis of these data produced detailed maps of vegetation greenness declines from the 2010 drought. The study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The authors first developed maps of drought-affected areas using thresholds of below-average rainfall as a guide. Next, they identified affected vegetation using two different greenness indexes as surrogates for green leaf area and physiological functioning.
The maps show the 2010 drought reduced the greenness of approximately 965,000 square miles of vegetation in the Amazon -- more than four times the area affected by the last severe drought in 2005.

"The MODIS vegetation greenness data suggest a more widespread, severe and long-lasting impact to Amazonian vegetation than what can be inferred based solely on rainfall data," said Arindam Samanta, a co-lead author from Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc. in Lexington, Mass.

The severity of the 2010 drought also was seen in records of water levels in rivers across the Amazon basin, including the Rio Negro which represents rainfall levels over the entire western Amazon. Water levels started to fall in August 2010, reaching record low levels in late October. Water levels only began to rise with the arrival of rains later that winter.

"Last year was the driest year on record based on 109 years of Rio Negro water level data at the Manaus harbor," said Marcos Costa, co-author from the Federal University in Vicosa, Brazil. "For comparison, the lowest level during the so-called once-in-a-century drought in 2005 was only eighth lowest."

As anecdotal reports of a severe drought began to appear in the news media last summer, the authors started near-real time processing of massive amounts of satellite data. They used a new capability, the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX), built for the NASA Advanced Supercomputer facility at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. NEX is a collaborative supercomputing environment that brings together data, models and computing resources.

With NEX, the study's authors quickly obtained a large-scale view of the impact of the drought on the Amazon forests and were able to complete the analysis by January 2011. Similar reports about the impact of the 2005 drought were published about two years after the fact.
"Timely monitoring of our planet's vegetation with satellites is critical, and with NEX it can be done efficiently to deliver near-real time information, as this study demonstrates," said study co-author Ramakrishna Nemani, a research scientist at Ames. An article about the NEX project appears in this week's issue of Eos, the weekly newspaper of the American Geophysical Union.

For more information about this study and the NEX project, visit:

For more information about the MODIS sensor and data products, visit:

For information about the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, visit:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Samsung installs keylogger on its laptop computers Part 2 | Network World

From Network World:

This story appeared on Network World at

Samsung responds to installation of keylogger on its laptop computers

Security Strategies Alert By M. E. Kabay and Mohamed Hassan Mohamed Hassan, Network World
March 30, 2011 11:15 AM ET

In the first part of this two-part report, MSIA 2009 graduate Mohamed Hassan told of discovering a keylogger on two different models of Samsung portable computers. Today he continues the story. Everything that follows is Mr Hassan's own work with minor edits.

* * *

On March 1, 2011, I called and logged incident 2101163379 with Samsung Support (SS). First, as Sony BMG did six years ago, the SS personnel denied the presence of such software on its laptops. After having been informed of the two models where the software was found and the location, SS changed its story by referring the author to Microsoft since "all Samsung did was to manufacture the hardware." When told that did not make sense, SS personnel relented and escalated the incident to one of the support supervisors.

To continue reading, register here and become an Insider. You'll get free access to premium content from CIO, Computerworld, CSO, InfoWorld, and Network World. See more Insider content or sign in.

In the first part of this two-part report, MSIA 2009 graduate Mohamed Hassan told of discovering a keylogger on two different models of Samsung portable computers. Today he continues the story. Everything that follows is Mr Hassan's own work with minor edits.

* * *

On March 1, 2011, I called and logged incident 2101163379 with Samsung Support (SS). First, as Sony BMG did six years ago, the SS personnel denied the presence of such software on its laptops. After having been informed of the two models where the software was found and the location, SS changed its story by referring the author to Microsoft since "all Samsung did was to manufacture the hardware." When told that did not make sense, SS personnel relented and escalated the incident to one of the support supervisors.

The supervisor who spoke with me was not sure how this software ended up in the new laptop thus put me on hold. He confirmed that yes, Samsung did knowingly put this software on the laptop to, as he put it, "monitor the performance of the machine and to find out how it is being used."

In other words, Samsung wanted to gather usage data without obtaining consent from laptop owners.

While in the Sony BMG security incident described in the first article in this pair one had to buy and install the CD on one's computer, Samsung has gone one step further by actually preinstalling the monitoring software on its brand laptops. This is a déjà vu security incident with far reaching potential consequences. In the words of the of former FTC chairman Deborah Platt Majoras, "Installations of secret software that create security risks are intrusive and unlawful." (FTC, 2007).

Samsung's conduct may be illegal; even if it is eventually ruled legal by the courts, the issue has legal, ethical, and privacy implications for both the businesses and individuals who may purchase and use Samsung laptops. Samsung could also be liable should the vast amount of information collected through StarLogger fall into the wrong hands.

[Mich Kabay adds:]

We contacted three public relations officers for Samsung for comment about this issue and gave them a week to send us their comments. No one from the company replied.

Good luck, Samsung! We see a class-action lawsuit in your future….

* * *

Mohamed Hassan, MSIA, CISSP, CISA is the founder of NetSec Consulting Corp, a firm that specializes in information security consulting services. He is a senior IT security consultant and an adjunct professor of Information Systems in the School of Business at the University of Phoenix.

Samsung installs keylogger on its laptop computers Part 1 | Network World

From Network World:

This story appeared on Network World at

Samsung installs keylogger on its laptop computers

Part 1 – The Discovery

Security Strategies Alert By M. E. Kabay and Mohamed Hassan Mohamed Hassan, Network World
March 30, 2011 12:07 AM ET

Mohamed Hassan, MSIA, CISSP, CISA graduated from the Master of Science in Information Assurance (MSIA) program from Norwich University in 2009. As usual, it is a pleasure to collaborate with an alumnus on interesting articles – and in this case, his research is startling. Everything that follows is Mr Hassan's own work with minor edits.

* * *

In the fall of 2005, the security and computer world was abuzz with what was at the time dubbed as the "Sony BMG rootkit Fiasco." Sony BMG used a rootkit, computer program that performs a specific function and hides its files from the regular user, to monitor computer user behavior and limit how music CDs were copied and played on one's computer.

To continue reading, register here and become an Insider. You'll get free access to premium content from CIO, Computerworld, CSO, InfoWorld, and Network World. See more Insider content or sign in.

Mohamed Hassan, MSIA, CISSP, CISA graduated from the Master of Science in Information Assurance (MSIA) program from Norwich University in 2009. As usual, it is a pleasure to collaborate with an alumnus on interesting articles – and in this case, his research is startling. Everything that follows is Mr Hassan's own work with minor edits.

* * *

In the fall of 2005, the security and computer world was abuzz with what was at the time dubbed as the "Sony BMG rootkit Fiasco." Sony BMG used a rootkit, computer program that performs a specific function and hides its files from the regular user, to monitor computer user behavior and limit how music CDs were copied and played on one's computer.

The issue was not about the extent Sony BMG had gone to protect its music CD, but more about the manner in which it accomplished its business objective. Following the wide publication of this security incident, there was torrent of bad press for Sony BMG; its earlier denial of the presence of the rootkit on its music CDs did not help. There were class-action lawsuits as well as state and federal investigations, one of which was spearheaded by the United States Federal Trade commission (FTC). 

Read Samsung's response, or lack thereof

Sony BMG settled the federal lawsuit with the FTC without admitting guilt. However, given the number of CDs it was ordered to replace and the agreed upon compensation of up to $150 per computer owner it had to pay to consumers whose computers may have been damaged as a result of attempts to remove the rootkit, the $575 million payout for the incident was far more expensive than any return on investment Sony BMG may have received by preventing the potential consumer from copying, illegal distribution or sharing of the music CDs.

Some in the computer security industry had hoped that the criminality of the act that Sony BMG had engaged in together with the huge business costs associated with the settling of the case with consumers and federal authorities would act as a deterrent to any company which might want to monitor computer usage. Others, including Mark Russinovich, the developer and blogger who first discovered the rootkit, were not so sure. In fact Mr. Russinovich warned that "Consumers don't have any kind of assurance that other companies are not going to do the same kind of thing (as Sony)" (Borland, 2005).

How right has Mr. Russinovich been!

While setting up a new Samsung computer laptop with model number R525 in early February 2011, I came across an issue that mirrored what Sony BMG did six years ago.  After the initial set up of the laptop, I installed licensed commercial security software and then ran a full system scan before installing any other software. The scan found two instances of a commercial keylogger called StarLogger installed on the brand new laptop. Files associated with the keylogger were found in a c:\windows\SL directory.

According to a Starlogger description, StarLogger records every keystroke made on your computer on every window, even on password protected boxes.

This key logger is completely undetectable and starts up whenever your computer starts up. See everything being typed: emails, messages, documents, web pages, usernames, passwords, and more. StarLogger can email its results at specified intervals to any email address undetected so you don't even have to be at the computer your[sic] are monitoring to get the information. The screen capture images can also be attached automatically to the emails as well as automatically deleted.

After an in-depth analysis of the laptop, my conclusion was that this software was installed by the manufacturer, Samsung. I removed the keylogger software, cleaned up the laptop, and continued using the computer. However, after experiencing problems with the video display driver, I returned that laptop to the store where I bought it and bought a higher Samsung model (R540) from another store.

Again, after the initial set up of the laptop, I found the same StarLogger software in the c:\windows\SL folder of the new laptop. The findings are false-positive proof since I have used the tool that discovered it for six years now and I am yet to see it misidentify an item throughout the years. The fact that on both models the same files were found in the same location supported the suspicion that the hardware manufacturer, Samsung, must know about this software on its brand-new laptops.

[Mich Kabay adds:]

Research online brought up a discussion of "Samsung rootkit" from May 2010 in which contributors reported a freeze on rootkit scans of Samsung laptop computers. However, no one seems to have reported a StarLogger installation as far as we have been able to determine using Web search engines.

In the next article, Mr Hassan discusses how Samsung responded to his discovery.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Debut of the first practical 'artificial leaf' | ACS

This research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society

ANAHEIM, March 27, 2011 — Scientists today claimed one of the milestones in the drive for sustainable energy — development of the first practical artificial leaf. Speaking here at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, they described an advanced solar cell the size of a poker card that mimics the process, called photosynthesis, that green plants use to convert sunlight and water into energy.

“A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades,” said Daniel Nocera, Ph.D., who led the research team. “We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” he said. “One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.”

Leaves are the inspiration for the first practical
“artificial leaf,” a type of solar cell that could provide
a cleaner way to meet growing energy demands.
Credit: iStock

The device bears no resemblance to Mother Nature’s counterparts on oaks, maples and other green plants, which scientists have used as the model for their efforts to develop this new genre of solar cells. About the shape of a poker card but thinner, the device is fashioned from silicon, electronics and catalysts, substances that accelerate chemical reactions that otherwise would not occur, or would run slowly. Placed in a single gallon of water in a bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day, Nocera said. It does so by splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen.

The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce electricity, located either on top of the house or beside it.

Nocera, who is with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, points out that the “artificial leaf” is not a new concept. The first artificial leaf was developed more than a decade ago by John Turner of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. Although highly efficient at carrying out photosynthesis, Turner’s device was impractical for wider use, as it was composed of rare, expensive metals and was highly unstable — with a lifespan of barely one day.

Nocera’s new leaf overcomes these problems. It is made of inexpensive materials that are widely available, works under simple conditions and is highly stable. In laboratory studies, he showed that an artificial leaf prototype could operate continuously for at least 45 hours without a drop in activity.

The key to this breakthrough is Nocera’s recent discovery of several powerful new, inexpensive catalysts, made of nickel and cobalt, that are capable of efficiently splitting water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, under simple conditions. Right now, Nocera’s leaf is about 10 times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf. However, he is optimistic that he can boost the efficiency of the artificial leaf much higher in the future.

“Nature is powered by photosynthesis, and I think that the future world will be powered by photosynthesis as well in the form of this artificial leaf,” said Nocera, a chemist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

Nocera acknowledges funding from The National Science Foundation and Chesonis Family Foundation.

A wavelength of light that could fix heart problems - and deafness

A wavelength of light that could fix heart problems – and deafness

A wavelength of light that could fix heart problems - and deafness We can hear the light and feel it in our hearts. It's not just terrible poetry - it might be fact. Scientists have shown that infrared light can stimulate the muscles in your heart and inner ear.

Researchers at the University of Utah have been spending long hours shooting infrared lasers at mouse heart cells and toadfish inner-ear cells. They did this not just for fun (though it has to be fun) but for science. The heart cells were muscles cells called cardiomyocytes, which are also found in humans. The inner ear cells were the tiny hairs that line the inner ear, and oyster toadfish inner ear cells have been used for quite some time as a model for human ear and balance responses. When the scientists saw that the cells responded to the laser, several new medical possibilities opened up.

One common misconception about infrared is it's the same as heat. Often hot bodies, such as heaters, put off both regular heat and infrared radiation, but heat is the random motion of atoms within a substance. The faster the atoms are moving, the hotter the substance is. Infrared radiation is an electromagnetic wave just like regular light - it's just too low-energy to be picked up by human eyes. Infrared light can cause objects to heat the same way regular light causes them to heat - light is energy and when substances absorb energy they heat up. But it's not heat, it's light.

And so it's very strange that something in our ears and hearts might be light-sensitive. The small hair cells of the inner ear are usually stimulated by mechanical changes. Vibrating air causes them to vibrate. Gravity can tug them one way or the other, which is where the human sense of balance comes from - if people tip their heads sideways they feel it in their ears. It's not like the inner ear gets a lot of optical stimulation. (And if all goes well, the heart doesn't see light very often either.) Why would they respond to infrared?

A wavelength of light that could fix heart problems - and deafnessThe hair cells of the inner ear, and the cardiomyocites are full of mitochondria. These are the little organs that act as cellular power stations, producing the molecule that serves as chemical energy for the cell. During the course of their operations, they let calcium ions flow in and out of them. Infrared light affects that flow. Calcium ions trigger the nerve cells to release neurotransmitters and the muscles cells to contract.

The ability of these cells to sense infrared radiation has a lot of medical professionals excited. Optical, instead of electrical, pacemakers are a possibility, although a remote one since current pacemakers work very well. Cochlear implants, devices that convert sound to electrical signals to help deaf people hear, could be much improved by the use of infrared signals. Balance disorders, or the natural loss of balance due to aging, could also be ameliorated with pulses of infrared in the ear. Plus, these infrared devices wouldn't be as invasive as current ones. Infrared can penetrate into the body a certain distance, which would eliminate the need to give the devices direct contact with nerve cells.

They could be a boon to people losing their sight as well. Certain diseases cause people to lose the rods and cones in their eyes that receive optical signals but not the underlying nerve cells. Obviously, these people can't send electrical impulse directly into their eyeballs, but they can use infrared signals to trigger the nerve cells. It looks like this discovery can restore any number of senses to people currently going without.

Via The Journal of Physiology times Two.

So my vet's laser treatment of our poodle's muscle injury wasn't total B$

Virus-eating virus identified in Antarctic lake

( -- Deep within the waters of Antarctica's Organic Lake an Australian research team, led by microbiologist Ricardo Cavicchioli from the University of New South Wales, have discovered a new virophage, or virus eater. Their findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

The new virophage was discovered by graduate student Sheree Yau and given the name Organic Lake Virophage, or OLV. The new virophage was identified when she noticed that sequences in the protein shell from the lake were similar to a previously discovered virophage named Sputnik.

Sputnik, which was first discovered in the water-cooling tower in Paris in 2008, was the first virophage ever identified. Earlier this month, Matthias Fischer and Curtis Suttle announced the discovery of a second virophage known as Mavirus.

The discovery of OLV makes this only the third virophage, though there is evidence of sequence matches to OLV in numerous other locations including the nearby Ace Lake. However, the other matches span the globe, including a lagoon in the , a bay in New Jersey, and a in Panama.

Virophages, which are known as virus eaters, attack other viruses, as is the case with the first virophage, Sputnik. Unable to multiply within a host, virophages rely on hosts infected with other viruses. In the case of Sputnik, it was an amoeba infected with a mamavirus. Sputnik would essentially take over the replication process of the mamavirus. Because of this takeover, the mamavirus is unable to produce properly, thus reducing its ability to infect the .

The new OLV genome was discovered within the sequences of phycodnaviruses. Phycodnaviruses are a group of large viruses that attack . The OLV targets these phycodnaviruses, allowing the algae in the to survive and bloom during the summer months.

The team’s discovery, and the discovery of connected sequences in other locations around the globe, opens the door for the possible discovery of many more virophages. The study of these virus eaters is just beginning and holds promise of a better understanding of the complexity of biological function within these viruses.

More information: Sheree Yau et al., Virophage control of antarctic algal host–virus dynamics, Published online before print March 28, 2011, Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences doi:10.1073/pnas.1018221108

© 2010

How to Stop Gossiping and Creating Drama | Tiny Buddha

Editor’s Note: This is a contribution by Shanti Sosienski

“If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind” –Buddha

Last week my 20-year-old friend, Dustin, called me out when I was talking negatively about someone to a group of people.

We were sitting around a dinner table at what should have been a really good planning meeting for an upcoming yoga workshop our group was holding.

While we were excited about the out-of-town teachers who were coming to share their incredible knowledge with us for a week, we were stuck on a topic that was both irrelevant and unproductive. That topic even had a name.

For the purpose of this piece I will call her “Jessica.” She practiced with us from time to time, an in spite of the fact that she wasn’t a regular, when she did come her practice brought drama and disruption to the harmony we were trying to create.

When she didn’t show up for a class, no one seemed to mind all that much or try to get her back in the fold.

Yet somehow on this night when we had so much coming up in less than two weeks, there was Jessica invading our conversation. I can’t remember who first brought her up, but I have to admit, I think I was the one belly-aching the most about her and what she may or may not have done.

Finally Dustin quietly piped up. “Can I say something?” he asked the group.

All eyes turned to Dustin with shock because he so rarely spoke and was never, ever, ever confrontational.

“I don’t want to offend anyone, but I have to admit I am really tired of hearing about Jessica and what she did and didn’t do. She doesn’t really matter tonight. Our focus should be on all of this stuff we have to get ready and our energy would be best spent there wouldn’t it? Besides we’re just sitting here saying negative things about her in this beautiful space where we’re supposed to be preparing something really positive.”

As he spoke his normally soft voice grew louder and a smile broke out on his face. After he rambled on for another minute he got a little self-conscious then said, “Wow. That felt good. I have never spoken up against a group like that.”

He was right. Being double his age and often the leader of the group, I realized at that moment how much I had been a participant in all of this unnecessary talk about Jessica.

Not only was it catty, but also it was just negative words filling the normally peaceful air around us.

And what’s more, Jessica wasn’t there to defend herself. The conversation we were having was doing nothing to enhance our lives, only taking away.

With that we put the image of Jessica away, and with it cleaned the space for another hour, getting rid of cobwebs, dust, and bad vibes (some of which we had obviously created in our little rant).

For some reason, that experience with Dustin had a profound effect on me for the next few days.

I realized that the ritualistic practice we had all been engaging in is most commonly referred to as “gossip” and it’s not a good habit. While women get accused of it regularly, I have known plenty of men to participate and even fuel the fire quite well, as had been the case that night.

Today I decided it’s time to create a new practice in my life when I find myself engaging in conversation which waivers dangerously toward the “g” word.

1. When you find yourself repeating a name over and over again in a story, stop after the second repeat (even if it’s a different story) and ask yourself how bringing this up is bettering the world.

2.  If you are repeating a story about someone, pause for a moment and take some time to think about that person. What is at the root of the problem there? Could you be so annoyed by it because it’s familiar to you and might be a practice you are guilty of, too?

3. If you find that someone is constantly challenging your world in a way that doesn’t feel positive to you, can you remove that person from your life? If it’s your mother-in-law maybe not, but how can you work through or around this challenge?

4.  If this person is someone who is going to continue to be in your life for a very long time it’s important that you don’t let the stories become just that—stories. Tell them over and over and they morph and grow more fantastic with time. Look at what’s important in that moment, focus on that, and let the gossip roll away.

5.  If you absolutely must talk about this person, give yourself a time limit. Look at a clock on the wall. Tell the story in 1-2 minutes. Wrap it up. Change the topic.

Doesn’t that feel good just thinking about it?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Billionaire self-pity and the Koch brothers - Glenn Greenwald -

Beauty | XKCD


ABC Bank

Work, Life, Balance?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Thomas Jefferson's Cut-and-Paste Bible -

  • The Wall Street Journal

Thomas Jefferson's Cut-and-Paste Bible

Our third president sought to separate the words of Jesus from the 'corruptions' of his followers.

Last November, in response to protest, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery removed a video installation depicting ants crawling over a small crucifix. This coming November, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History will exhibit a cut-and-paste Bible of a mere 86 pages. Were it the work of David Wojnarowicz (the artist behind the crucifix video) or Andres Serrano (of "Piss Christ" fame), this Bible would doubtless stir up a hornet's nest. But in fact, it was created by Thomas Jefferson.

During the election of 1800, Jefferson was denounced as a "howling atheist" and "a confirmed infidel" known for "vilifying the divine word, and preaching insurrection against God." But the Virginian also revered Jesus as "the first of human Sages" and was, according to one biographer, "the most self-consciously theological of all American presidents."

The book that the Smithsonian is preparing to put on display is actually one of two Jefferson Bibles. Jefferson produced the first over the course of a few days in 1804. Not long after completing the Louisiana Purchase, he sat down in the White House with two Bibles and one razor, intent on dividing the true words of Jesus from those put into his mouth by "the corruptions of schismatising followers."

The result was "The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth": a severely abridged text (now lost) that, like the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, consisted entirely of Jesus' sayings. In this "precious morsel of ethics," as Jefferson put it, Jesus prayed to God and affirmed the afterlife, but he was not born in a manger and did not die to atone for anyone's sins.

Associated Press

Thomas Jefferson


In 1820, after retiring from public life, Jefferson produced a second scripture by subtraction—the book that is now being restored in D.C. In "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," he again sought to excise passages "of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, or superstitions, fanaticisms, and fabrications." This time, however, he arranged his material chronologically rather than topically, and he included both the sayings and actions of Jesus. He also included passages in English, French, Latin and Greek.

To readers familiar with the New Testament, this Jefferson Bible, as it is popularly called, begins and ends abruptly. Rather than opening, as does the Gospel of John, in the beginning with the Word, Jefferson raises his curtain on a political and economic drama: Caesar's decree that all the world should be taxed. His story concludes with this hybrid verse: "There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed." Between these points, there are no angels, no wise men, and not a hint of the resurrection.

After completing this second micro-testament, Jefferson claimed in a letter to a friend that it demonstrated his bona fides as a Christian. "It is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus."

That, of course, has been hotly debated from the election of 1800 to today, and Jefferson has been called an infidel, a Deist and more. What is most clear is that he was not a traditional Christian. He unequivocally rejected the Nicene Creed, which has defined orthodoxy for most Christians since 381. And he was contemptuous of the doctrine of the Trinity, calling it "mere Abracadabra" and "hocus-pocus phantasm."

None of that prevented Jefferson from claiming to represent real Christianity, or from dismissing his clerical despisers as "Pseudo-Christians"—imposters peddling a counterfeit faith. Religion is about doing good, he insisted, not abstract theologizing.

Americans have long been a people of the book. John Winthrop quoted from the Bible in his "city on the hill" sermon in 1630, and American political leaders have been quoting from it ever since.

But we craft new Bibles too, from the Book of Mormon of the Latter-day Saints to the Christian Scientists' "Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures" and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "Woman's Bible." Jefferson was out in front of all of these efforts. Here, too, he was a declarer of independence.

When the Jefferson Bible goes on display in November, Americans will have another opportunity to debate not only their third president's faith (or lack thereof) but also the religious character of the nation and the true meaning of Christianity. This seems as good a time as any to ponder whether the "sum of all religion" is, as Jefferson once put it, "fear God and love thy neighbor."

Mr. Prothero is a professor of religion at Boston University.

The Guardian Project

The Guardian Project

Open-Source Mobile Security


While smartphones have been heralded as the coming of the next generation of communication and collaboration, they are a step backwards when it comes to personal security, anonymity and privacy.

The Guardian Project aims to create easy to use apps, open-source firmware MODs, and customized, commercial mobile phones that can be used and deployed around the world, by any person looking to protect their communications and personal data from unjust intrusion and monitoring.

The Android operating system created by Google provides an open-source, Linux-based foundation on which this project is building. From sleek, stylish smartphones to large format e-book readers, Android provides the most creative, functional and open platform on which to base this type of work.

The combination of Android and Guardian will create the most secure, trustworthy, mass market consumer smartphone solution for improving the privacy of our daily lives. Whether your are an average citizen looking to affirm your rights or an activist, journalist or humanitarian organization looking to safeguard your work in this age of global communication, Guardian is the solution for your mobile security needs.

Would a Laptop for Every Student Help? In Maine It Certainly Did - Education - GOOD

Would a Laptop for Every Student Help? In Maine It Certainly Did

  • laptops
    Back in 2001 when former Maine governor Angus King launched an initiative that funded the purchase of a laptop for every seventh grader in the state, he didn't promise higher test scores. Instead, King recognized that tech literacy is a must-have 21st century skill, and all students need it, regardless of economic background. Now 10 years later, every seventh- and eighth-grade student in the state, every secondary teacher, and 60 percent of high school students have their own laptop. The technology costs $18 million per year, but its an investment that's leveling the playing field and bringing in academic results. 

    Used properly, laptops make information incredibly accessible and can offer countless opportunities for skill and concept remediation. They also close the gap between students from low income backgrounds and their wealthier counterparts by equitably providing access to information. If a low-income student is assigned a research paper, without a laptop and internet access she has to rely on her school or local public library—which might not be stocked with the most up-to-date or relevant sources. Laptops circumvent those access issues.

    A 2009 study by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute at the University of Southern Maine concluded that laptops improve writing skills and have boosted state writing test scores. And, thanks to innovative laptop-based teaching techniques, 50 percent fewer ninth graders in Freeport, Maine now need remedial math.

    Math teacher Alex Briasco-Brin told the Sun Journal that in 2009-10, 91 percent of eighth graders at Freeport Middle School passed the state's math exams, up from only 50 percent in 2001-2002. And, the state's success has attracted international attention. Delegations of educators from four continents have visited Maine to learn how the state is integrating laptops into teaching and learning.

    Although the program has successfully created a generation of tech literate students, no matter how much money their families have, King believes "It's now time to take it to the next level," He says increasing teacher training and expanding the innovative ways laptops are used in the classroom is key. Countless individual schools or school districts across the nation have adopted one-to-one laptop programs, but there is no other statewide mandate for such a program. But, with the results Maine is getting, maybe there should be.

    photo via Shoreline Schools

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Preparing for Unbundled Television

March 20, 2011

Netflix LogoNetflix's purchase this week of North American distribution rights for the TV series "House of Cards" is the clearest evidence yet of the transformation of the television business from one of programmed networks to one of unbundled programs. The event accelerates everything about this revolution, and those unprepared are likely to be caught up in the black hole that's left behind. Make no mistake. This is the beginning of the end of linear television. So potentially complete is this transformation that it will impact everything from spectrum decisions in Washington to how things are bought and sold in the culture.

If a linear timeline — the need to neatly fill in 30 or 60 minute segments — doesn't matter, then the existing program length paradigm doesn't matter. Perhaps 22 minutes is actually right for a sitcom and 45 minutes for a crime drama, but maybe something else will develop. What will happen to all those other minutes currently dedicated to commercials?

"House of Cards" isn't just any television program. The show is a big-time political drama that will be directed by David Fincher, the director of "The Social Network," and starring Kevin Spacey. Netflix outbid others, including cable powerhouse HBO, in acquiring the one hour dramatic series. It's the stuff of Emmys and Golden Globes, and it says rather clearly that Netflix is a power to be respected in the world of television programming, as if it wasn't already.

You don't need to read between the lines as Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer for Netflix, describes the deal for Brian Stelter of the New York Times.

One of the chief advantages "House of Cards" will have is the on-demand nature of the Netflix service. Because TV networks have schedules, "when a show fails, it’s because it failed to aggregate an audience at the time it was on television," Mr. Sarandos said. "There could be a million different reasons for that failure — it’s not just because the show isn't good."

He continued, "There’s nothing in our model that makes a show more valuable if it can attract a large audience at a specific time. As long as it happens in the life of the license, it’s fine by me."

M.G. Seigler of TechCrunch writes that this is a game-changer for television and offers another suggestion for Netflix:

While shows that are called "cult hits" are often thought of as mainstream flops, the reality is that they still have millions of people who watch them. And the "cult" aspect implies that a large percentage of those viewers are insanely loyal to the show. Again, that doesn't mean much to the networks where more is better (for advertising), but for Netflix, if they could convert a significant percentage of those loyalists in to paying customers, it works.

Think about that for a minute. Sustainability for a TV program, in the unbundled model, is determined by how it does over a long period of time, not by overnight ratings. This changes everything about the model for original content creation and tilts everything in favor of quality and originality over formula and marketing. Those programs that last will do so because people like them, not because of their association with other programs in a line-up, time period or other aspect of the linear TV process.

Unbundling the media worldUnbundled media is the future of media, and television is no exception. People despise the bundle, whether it's the "one hit plus 10 crappy cuts" of a music CD, paying for cable channels you don't want in order to get those you do, or the one-third of prime time television that's currently dedicated to commercials. Technology provides the weapons of the Bundled Media Liberation Movement, but it is newly empowered everyday people who are providing the demand.

Unbundled television is the polar opposite of the broadcast model, and media companies aren't prepared whatsoever to compete in this new universe. Everything that we know, everything that we practice, everything that we believe in is tied to that which bundles the content we create or distribute to the infrastructure that's doing the distributing. Separate the two, and we are fish out of water, flopping helplessly on the dock of user demand.

But it doesn't have to be so. We can — or perhaps "should" — be preparing for the inevitable, and here are eight recommendations to get us started.

  1. Shift our strategic thinking from the bundle to that which is unbundled. From top-to-bottom, we ought to rethink everything, beginning with how we can monetize unbundled content. We need to be proactive about this and not wait until we're forced into it by the Netflixes and Google TVs of the unbundled world. Our instincts will be to fight this, but how much better is it to embrace the concept and innovate creative ways to attach marketing to that which we offer unbundled? There are and will be solutions, and now is the time to address them.

  2. Present finished product news in modular form and let the modules contain their own commercial(s). We currently make newscasts, but those are a form of bundled media. We need to be producing individual newscast elements as standalone entities, complete with marketing, so that they can be used in unbundled settings. This means creating content specifically for an unbundled universe, not simply repurposing elements of newscasts. I like the idea of reporters introducing their own stories on camera, for example, so that the entire package is self-contained. These modules could be then assembled together or presented separately.

  3. Fully embrace the long tail of content that exists within our archives. The beauty of unbundled content is that much of it is evergreen. In a video search environment, relevancy isn't necessarily determined by timeliness, which opens an entirely new universe for us. The TV news business must begin to see itself as such and not as instantly obsolete, as we are in the broadcast market. This will influence day-to-day coverage decisions, too, because unbundled content is consumed on the user's schedule, not ours.

  4. Create issue-driven, local reality segments for ongoing viewing. One of the real beauties of unbundled content is that it doesn't have to live within the artificial time constraints of the broadcast schedule, whether we're talking program lengths or segment lengths. This opens the door for tremendous creativity when it comes to meeting the news and information needs of the community. Reality show production style hasn't found a place locally yet, but again, because time is flexible in an unbundled environment, there's no reason this can't begin here.

  5. If you haven't already done so, embrace the VJ or Multi-Media Journalist (MMJ) model of content creation. This will give you the resources you need to compete in an unbundled world and give individual journalists the freedom to shoot, write and edit outside-the-box of typical newscast production. Creativity is the key to downstream success, and turning individual employees into fully functioning production and distribution units is essential for the unbundled world.

  6. Create long form ad programs, because advertising is content in an unbundled world. The enabling of commerce ought to be at the forefront of anything creative we do locally, and while there's certainly no demand for unwanted advertising, there does exists a need for knowledge and information about consumer choices and overall shopping. Unbundled television is the perfect vehicle for this, and television stations are the perfect choice to assist advertisers in this realm.

  7. Get serious about RSS. Really Simple Syndication is the distribution model for unbundled media, yet we use it solely as a mechanism for getting people to come visit our bundles. Full feed RSS brings with it new challenges and opportunities for monetization that we'll never explore unless we're practicing the unfettered release of our content into the wild via RSS. Nobody can give chapter and verse on how this will end, but I strongly recommend you be at the forefront of unbundled distribution via RSS.

  8. Provide history in progress. While unbundled means on-demand, that does not preclude access to the real time streams and flows of news and information. When we live stream some ongoing event, that content must also be made available in an unbundled form, so that it can be redistributed anywhere. We want our stream to be the stream of record, and so such streams must be provided to other players free of programming or bundling constraints. Nothing will so assure our place at the table tomorrow as our willingness to help seed the whole when it comes to unbundled, distributed content.

Like everything else in media reinvention, this must be transitional. We can't just leap from the bundled model to an unbundled model overnight. It must be done in stages, which is why I like the idea of modular newscasts so much. If we're going to experiment with new forms of newscasts, then let's begin here by killing two birds with one stone. If standalone modules are ideal for unbundled consumption, then why not assemble them together for a version that is bundled?

However it's done, it must be done, for unbundled content is also the content of choice for portable media, and that's where everything is heading anyway. We've got to stop pretending that linear TV will go on forever and that all revenue solutions imitate those that "work" with 24-hour programming. This is a brave new world we've entered here, but one in which creative revenue opportunities are boundless.