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Thursday, 3 November 2011

Zombie' Worms Found in Mediterranean Fossil


Races of bizarre, bone-eating 'zombie' worms have been found on a 3-million-year-old fossil whale bone from Tuscany in Italy. It is the first time the genus Osedax has been found in the Mediterranean, and suggests Osedax were widespread throughout the world's oceans 6 million years ago.

The new find, published in the journal Historical Biology, confirms what scientists have long suspected -- that Osedax were likely responsible for erasing parts of the fossil record by destroying bones before they could become fossils.
Worms from the Osedax genus do not have a mouth or gut but consume the bone by growing root-like tissues, which dissolve the bone as they grow.
Lead scientist Nicholas Higgs discovered tell-tale traces of Osedax in the Mediterranean last year using micro-CT (Computed Tomography) scanning technology as part of his PhD at the University of Leeds and the Natural History Museum.
He says: "After several promising leads came to a dead end, the scans from the final sample looked different and I knew that I was on to something."
Osedax were first discovered alive in 2002 in Monterey Bay, California, where they were living on the bones of a decaying gray whale.
Since then, scientists have been curious about how the worms might have affected fossil records, but understanding when Osedax evolved and where they lived in the past has until now remained a problem because actual remains of soft-bodied Osedax do not preserve as fossils.
The only way to tell where and when Osedax have been at work is by distinctive bulb-shaped cavities that they leave behind in a bone -- and it is these borings that have finally been recognised by Higgs.
His research shows how widespread Osedax were millions of years ago.
The only other known evidence of Osedax from the past is in whale bones from the Pacific coast of Washington State in the US -- about as far away as it is possible to get from the Mediterranean in terms of ocean connectedness.
When Mediterranean dried up almost six million years ago most deep sea animals were killed. About half a million years later the sea re-flooded from the Atlantic.
Higgs says: "So finding out that Osedax were feeding on this whale bone three million years ago tell us that their ancestors must have also been living in the Atlantic as well, because the Mediterranean was re-colonised 5.5 million years ago from the Atlantic."
It is now almost certain that the Mediterranean is currently host to undiscovered, living Osedax species, Higgs says.
"There are 20 different species in Monterey, California alone, so it's almost certain there are many more out there. If Osedax were living the Mediterranean three million years ago there's no reason why they aren't living there now."
Last year, Higgs travelled to California to examine living Osedax and their borings to help understand and identify the full range of known species.

Friday, 7 October 2011

CinemaNow strikes deal with Intel, adds new movies in 1080p HD

CinemaNow movie library is about to get a bit larger and a good deal sharper, thanks to a new deal with Intel. Yesterday, the video on-demand service announced that it's now offering a slate of 1080p HD movies for the first time, available on PCs packing a second generation Intel Core CPU. According to the company, "several hundred" new releases and other popular films from 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. have already been added to its library, in addition to the 15,000 movies and TV shows already on file. CinemaNow didn't offer an exact number of titles, nor did it provide names of any specific films, but you can stream through the entire press release for yourself, after the break. 

Friday, 22 July 2011

Toyota's new crash-avoidance technology takes control of the wheel

Crash-avoidance technology in cars is hardly anything new, of course, but Toyota's gone a bit further than most with its latest effort. While complete details are still a bit light (including any word of an actual rollout to vehicles), the new system is said to use a combination of both front and rear cameras, and millimeter wave radar technology to detect pedestrians or obstacles that could lead to a crash. The real kicker, however, is that when the car does detect a possible collision, it actually takes control of the wheel to avoid it instead of just stopping the vehicle. What's more, that's just one new safety measure that Toyota recently showed off to reporters in Tokyo -- it's also working on things like a pop-up hood that could provide some additional protection in the event of a crash, and a steering wheel that can measure the driver's heartbeat and avoid a crash if they suffer a heart attack.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Microsoft cracks down on WP7 homebrew updates

A Windows Phone homebrew coder has axed a utility that attempted to install unreleased updates to WP7 devices.
"The tool successfully passed my own tests involving multiple update scenarios," Chris Walsh confirmed in a blog post.
Microsoft cracks down on WP7 homebrew updates"I was later informed by Microsoft that there were several problems with my tool and the manner in which it changes phones. Despite the fact that all outward signs indicate the phone has been updated to build 7390, Microsoft tells me otherwise."

According to Walsh, Redmond insisted an undocumented API was "incorrectly" deployed to deliver updates.
"Most problematic, MS tells me updating in this manner will place devices in a 'non-serviceable state,' [claiming] devices updated in this manner 'may' no longer receive updates.
"Because the tool is, in Microsoft's words, 'breaking phones,' I have taken it offline at their request."

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft has also issued a warning about installing homebrew updates on its official Windows Phone Blog. 
"I've noticed that some of you are turning to homebrew solutions to update your phone immediately. As an engineer and a gadget lover, I totally understand the impulse to tinker. You want the latest technology and you're tired of waiting. Believe me, I get it," wrote Microsoft rep Eric Hautala.
"But my strong advice is: wait. If you attempt one of these workarounds, we can't say for sure what might happen to your phone because we haven't fully tested these homebrew techniques. You might not be getting the important device-specific software we would typically deliver in the official update. Or your phone might get misconfigured and not receive future updates."

Hautala also warned that homebrew updates could even cause some phones to stop working.

"Bottom line: unsupported workarounds put you in uncharted territory that may void your phone warranty. 

"We've made a lot of progress in recent weeks, so I urge you to please be patient for just a bit longer and wait for your official update notification to arrive," he added.
My take on Microsoft's attitude towards homebrew update installers? Redmond is totally justified - at least for now - in adopting a cautionary approach. 

Think about it. 

The Windows Phone 7 platform is relatively nascent and rapidly evolving, especially with Nokia on board to help push the OS forward.
As such, Microsoft is totally within its rights to express concern over unauthorized, third-party software which could potentially interfere with future updates.
That being said, Microsoft shouldn't forget: talented modders and hackers can be leveraged to help push a platform forward.
So, yes, I do think Microsoft remains on track, despite its opposition to the (first) ChevronWP7 jailbreak and the above-mentioned homebrew updater.
Remember, Microsoft recently offered famed PS3 hacker GeoHot a free Windows Phone 7 device, vowing to let "dev creativity flourish."
And let's not forget Redmond's recent embrace of the Kinect hacker community. Clearly, Microsoft is far (and I mean far) from perfect, but at least the corporation is light-years ahead of Apple when it comes to understanding the advatanges of modding and jailbreaking.

Friday, 4 March 2011

DHS wants hackers to protect cyber perimeter

Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge has blamed outdated federal policies for preventing the US government from recruiting friendly hackers and other security experts to help protect the national cyber perimeter. 

"With the regulations associated with bringing in private citizens - to sit side by side by with the government in order to advance a broader interest of security and safety - it is very, very difficult," said Ridge. 
DHS wants hackers to help protect cyber perimeter

"The [regulations] are written to the extent where, we're not really going to trust people in the private sector because, heaven forbid, they might be financially advantaged either with a contract or just general information. 

“These regs are written to take care of an aberrant behavior, somebody who might be misguided and we ought to just trust the Americans who want to work with government and make it a lot easier to partner with us particularly in the area of cybersecurity."

Meanwhile, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said another problem with recruiting digitally savvy individuals is "people who are really good, they have not thought about working for the government." 
Still, Napolitano emphasized that the DHS has managed to snag a number of prominent hackers as consultants.
"We have recruited some very nationally known hackers to be on our homeland security advisory committee... There are actually hacker conventions, and we are there."

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Icequake swarms portend some avalanches

Forecasting glacier crack-ups may be possible by keeping an ear to the ice

Unless you’re eating breakfast, hearing snap, crackle, and pop may be an early warning sign of an impending avalanche. Geologists listening in on “icequakes” that rumble through glaciers have developed a model that can predict a collapse up to 15 days before it happens, the team reports in a study posted on
With that kind of heads up, villages could be evacuated and roads closed in avalanche-prone areas.
Though all glaciers groan and creak under stress, glaciers on an incline are especially creaky because gravity tugs on the top of the ice more than the base. Accumulating snow causes even more stress. These forces cause the glacier to fracture, sending tiny icequakes throughout. Eventually, if a glacier can’t handle the stress, a large chunk will fall off, pummeling any unsuspecting villages below with a moving mass of snow and ice.
To find early warning signs of a break-off, scientists in Switzerland placed seismic instruments on a glacier precariously hugging the northeast face of the Weisshorn, a mountain in the Swiss Alps that looms over the 400 inhabitants of the village of Randa, 2,500 meters below. Break-offs in the winter are especially dangerous because the glacier has accumulated snow, so that ruptures trigger avalanches. Weisshorn avalanches have claimed 51 lives since the 17th century.
The team traveled via helicopter in 2003 to plant the instruments — the glacier spans 3,800 to 4,500 meters above sea level on a slope of 45 to 50 degrees. The team also planted seven light reflectors mounted on stakes to help track the glacier’s movement, and left a camera across the valley to film changes in the dynamic landscape.
Researchers froze into the ice a special microphone, called a geophone, to pick up seismic vibrations. Two weeks before the glacier split in 2005, researchers were able to detect a change in the sounds picked up by the microphone.
“As you approach rupture, you hear more sounds,” says geologist and study coauthor Jérome Faillettaz of ETH Zurich. “It’s just like if you break a pen or a cracker. You hear some small noise before it breaks.”
Along with rumbling sounds, the team also saw the reflectors-on-sticks accelerate several days before the rupture. Scientists have known that seismic activity dramatically increases five days before a break-off, but by combining the motion of the glacier with the behavior of the icequakes, the researchers’ model can detect a rupture 15 days in advance.
“It’s the first time icequakes have been used as a precursor to these break-offs,” says glaciologist Fabian Walter of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.
Though there are similar hanging glaciers all over the world, says Walter, few are near human settlements with lots of infrastructure.
Icequakes are less complicated to study than earthquakes because waves travel through only one medium, as opposed to several layers of the Earth. But just as scientists haven’t figured out how to predict earthquakes, predicting icequakes isn’t possible either.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

2nd Life for electric vehicle batteries?

Second life for electric car batteries? No, it’s not a world of electric virtual avatars - it’s a plan under development by Duke Energy and Tokyo-based cleantech ITOCHU to develop applications for spent car batteries.
Apparently, these two companies believe that after the batteries set to power the next generation of green cars end their useful life as far as autos go, they can go on to have other lives in other applications, such as supplemental home energy supply, renewable power storage and fast-charging power for electric vehicles (EVs).
According to some auto industry estimates, electric vehicle (EV) batteries that can no longer charge to approximately 80 percent of their original capacity may be candidates for replacement.
Both Duke Energy and ITOCHU were involved in a large-scale public/private EV pilot program based in Indianapolis known as Project Plug-IN, which apparently inspired the companies to study the second-life market for EV batteries.
ITOCHU and Duke Energy plan to work together to assess how such EV batteries perform in stationary applications in homes, neighborhoods and commercial buildings, validating potential business models for future commercialization.
If successful, the companies believe that this "after market" for batteries could help reduce initial battery cost (which, in turn, would lower the cost of EVs).
It should be noted as well this isn’t the only attempt to make second life use out of electric vehicle batteries. Similar projects are happening with the likes of Nissan, for example, as well