Monday, June 30, 2008

News; Prehistoric Grave Pit

Nearly 100 million years before giant dinos like Tyrannosaurus rex ruled the world, a volcano rumbled in an ancient, marshy land. Fiery lava belched out of the crater, and ash snowed down on what is now part of the Gobi desert in China.

As it fell onto the moist earth, the ash combined with water to create a gooey mud trap, like superthick quicksand. Before long, a small dinosaur called a ceratosaur wandered into the muck on its hind legs and couldn't break free. Another meat-eating dino spied easy prey and ran toward the helpless animal. But this was no free lunch! Both predator and prey sank to their doom in the "quickmud."

This scene may have played out again and again as at least 14 dinosaurs tumbled into three different mud traps. Now, more than 160 million years later, scientists have unearthed this dino graveyard—including fossils of the oldest known member of the tyrannosaur family. And the discovery is revealing ancient secrets from the age of the dinosaurs.

Lost in Time

Fossils have shown that the earliest dinosaurs lived about 230 million years ago and were only about the size of today’s German shepherds. About 145 million years ago, massive dinos such as the four-story-tall Brachiosaurus began to stomp the Earth. But what did dinosaurs look like in between?

"The mud pits are a real discovery," says dino expert James Clark, who participated in the dig. "There are very few dinosaur fossils from this time in the middle, when the animals started transitioning into giants."

Dinosaur Pancakes

As scientists chipped away at the remains of the mud pits—now giant blocks of rock they found one unusual creature after another. "They were stacked up like pancakes," Clark says.

Among other fossils, they uncovered a bizarre toothless meat-eater called a ceratosaur; an ancestor of the horned dinosaurs—such as Triceratops—named Yinlong; as well as ancient turtles, mammals, and crocodiles.

But the most incredible discovery of all is a new two-legged predator with a Mohawk-like crest on its head. Named Guanlong, Chinese for "crested dragon," it weighed just 165 pounds (74.8 kilograms). But parts of the animal's skull and a telltale ridge in its hip bone look strikingly similar to gigantic tyrannosaurs that lived about 100 million years later—including the 15,000-pound (6803.8-kilogram) Tyrannosaurus rex.

Digging Up Answers

Now these discoveries are helping to solve many dinosaur mysteries. You probably know that Tyrannosaurus rex had surprisingly wimpy arms and used its terrifying teeth to grab prey. But did its ancestors have more powerful arms? Yes. Guanlong's muscular limbs show that early tyrannosaurs probably snatched prey with their arms.

Ferocious Triceratops fought off enemies with its three dangerous horns and a bony frill around its neck. Did the beast's smaller ancestors have horns, too? No. "Yinlong may not have needed big horns because it was smaller and could probably flee from predators more easily," says National Geographic's dino expert Josh Smith.

And these finds are just the beginning. As the dig continues, the strange creatures of the Gobi death pits could help scientists rewrite the history of dinosaurs.

Today In History; Harry Blackstone Junior, Magician

1934: Born in Colon, Michigan, Harry Blackstone, Jr., son of the magician known to all as The Great Blackstone, has earned his own place in magician history. Despite being the son of the famed magician, Harry Blackstone, Jr. has done more than just follow in his father's footsteps. In 1980, he presented the longest-running magic and illusion show in the history of the New York theatre. His career highlights include authoring three books, one of which is entitled The Blackstone book of Magic and Illusion , developed a line of magic kits, and performed on stage and television. One of his greatest contributions came in 1985 when he donated the original floating lightbulb used in his father's famous act, that was designed and built by Thomas Edison, to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C..

Word of The Day

Cauliflower ear: A permanent deformity of the external ear produced by repeated injury to the ear, common in many contact sports. 

Friday, June 27, 2008

News; Whale Meet Ends With Peace Agenda

The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has ended with member governments agreeing to try and resolve their differences.

The next year will see intensive dialogue between pro- and anti-whaling countries, and could lead to a package deal next year.

But there is still significant water between the camps on key issues.

The meeting also decided to embark on a research programme into the impact of climate change on whales.

The only vote of the meeting saw Greenland's bid to add humpback whales to the annual hunt by its indigenous Inuit communities defeated.

Quiet optimism

IWC chairman William Hogarth, the US commissioner, was cautiously optimistic that the peace talks might bear fruit.

"I was basically very happy with the meeting, although I don't think it's going to be easy, there are definitely some big issues such as the lethal take of whales and scientific research whaling," he told BBC News.

Map showing a possible whaling sanctuary
Environment groups backed plans for a whaling sanctuary in the South Atlantic

"The number of whales being killed is increasing; and I think the way we ought to be looking at this, from the point of view of countries that are anti-whaling, is how can we reduce that number?"

All members of the commission, ranging from the strongest whaling nations including Japan to the most vociferous opponents such as the UK and Australia, have endorsed the idea of seeking compromise, although some were more pessimistic about its prospects when talking on the meeting's fringes.

Environmental and animal welfare groups are divided. Some agree with Dr Hogarth's view that it might lead to a fall in the number of whales killed, while others say there should be no compromise, and are angry with anti-whaling governments including the US for pursuing the initiative.

Japan is likely to demand as its most fundamental position that the global moratorium on commercial whaling is at least partially lifted to allow hunting around its shores.

"It's not just the interests of the American people that are being abandoned, but also the future of the world's whales," said DJ Schubert of the Animal Welfare Institute.

But Wendy Elliott of WWF's global species programme said a dialogue was worthwhile.

"We cannot continue in the scenario that we have at the moment; we need to see a resolution to this impasse," she said.

"We'll be working with member governments over the next year to ensure the best outcome for whales, and for the communities that rely on whales for whale-watching tourism."

Conservation groups were also pleased with the decision to set up an initiative on climate change and cetaceans. Changes to sea ice in the polar regions has the potential to impact some species severely.

A series of discussions will now be held leading to the next IWC meeting in Portugal in a year's time.

Today In History; Helen Keller, Author

1880: Tuscumbia, Alabama was the birthplace of the famed deaf and blind American author, Helen Keller, born on this day in 1880. Losing her sight and hearing at the age of 19 months, Helen's demeanor became impossible to the people around her, which resulted in her parents seeking help from Alexander Graham Bell, who referred them to the Perkins Institute for the Blind. This is where Helen Keller's 49-year relationship with teacher Anne Sullivan began. Helen learned how to speak by touching the lips of others and how to spell in the palm of her hand. Helen's life mission was to help the disabled and went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. The story of how Anne and Helen's relationship developed was told in the play The Miracle Worker, which was later made into a movie.

Word of The Day

Euphuism: An elegant Elizabethan literary style marked by excessive use of balance, antithesis, and alliteration and by frequent use of similes drawn from mythology and nature; artificial elegance of language.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

News; More Primaries Teaching Languages

More primary school children in England are learning a foreign language, research for the government suggests.

The proportion of primary schools teaching a language has risen from 70% in 2006 to 84% last year. In 2002, the figure was just 44%.

Schools Minister Jim Knight says the government should meet its target of giving all primary pupils the chance to learn a language by 2010.

The number of pupils taking GCSEs in foreign languages is falling.

It is no longer compulsory for secondary pupils to study a language after the age of 14.


The new figures - from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) show that traditional languages dominate, with French being most popular (89% of primary schools which teach languages) followed by Spanish (23%) and German (9%)

A small number (under 3%) offer Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Urdu.

The survey suggests that 84% of schools are offering pupils in KS2 (ages seven to 11) the opportunity to learn a language within class time – a rise of 14 percentage points from 2006.

It's an amazing, rapid development
Teresa Tinsley, Cilt

And 54% of schools are fully meeting the entitlement for all year groups – a rise of 20 percentage points from 2006.

Last year the government accepted the findings of Lord Dearing in his review of languages when he said language learning should be compulsory in primary school.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said: "It's excellent news that so many children have the chance to learn a second language while at primary school.

"Children find language learning easier in primary than starting in secondary school.

"Today's research means that we are on target to meet our aim of ensuring all primary school children have the opportunity to learn another language by 2010."

The National Centre for Languages (Cilt), which promotes language learning and helps to train primary teachers to teach languages, says it is delighted by the findings.

They are trying to pat themselves on the back a bit too early
Stefania Caddick-Adams, languages teacher

Director of Comunications Teresa Tinsley said: "It's really good news. We were picking up that more schools were coming on board. There is a lot of demand for our support for training. It's an amazing, rapid development."

Berkshire teacher Stefania Caddick-Adams, who works to promote language teaching in about a dozen primary schools, says the latest research will mask great differences in what is really going on in primary schools.

Some schools, she says, might be seen as "teaching" a language because they have a parent who runs a French club after school, for example.

"They may do the register in a language every now and again or do PE in a language occasionally but that does not amount to proper language teaching.

"It is great that the government are highlighting the importance of languages but they are trying to pat themselves on the back a bit too early," she said.


Ms Caddick-Adams, from The Downs School in Newbury, Berkshire, will next week stage an event called "Around the world in a day".

Primary school children from Berkshire and Oxfordshire will get a taste of different languages, cultures and histories. They will try their hand at calligraphy and African drumming and hear songs and stories from various countries.

The ending of compulsory language learning after the age of 14 in 2004 brought England into line with Scotland and Wales. In Scotland, most local authorities have put modern languages into the primary curriculum according to Scottish Cilt.

In Northern Ireland, schools have to teach languages to age 16, but can "opt out" of this requirement.

There has been a large fall in numbers taking modern languages at GCSE in England. In 2001, 78% of all pupils were taking a language at that level while last summer, the proportion was 46%, according to Cilt.

In Wales, the proportion of 15 year olds entering at least one language GCSE fell from 46% in 1996 to 30% in 2006.

The NFER research was based on a survey of 3,789 schools which had responded to a similar survey in 2006, plus questionnaires sent to all local authorities in England. There was a response rate of 72%.

Today In History; Pearl Buck, Author

1892: The woman who won the Nobel Prize in 1938, Pearl Buck, was born on this day in 1892. Pearl Buck, although born in Virginia, spent most of her life in China and was encourage to write from an early age. Buck's writing career began in 1930 with East Wind: West Wind . Although responsible for over 100 works of literature, Buck is best known for The Good Earth , of which she received a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1932. Buck also received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 for the biographies of her parents The Exile and The Fighting Angel .

Today In History; Pearl Buck, Author

1892: The woman who won the Nobel Prize in 1938, Pearl Buck, was born on this day in 1892. Pearl Buck, although born in Virginia, spent most of her life in China and was encourage to write from an early age. Buck's writing career began in 1930 with East Wind: West Wind . Although responsible for over 100 works of literature, Buck is best known for The Good Earth , of which she received a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1932. Buck also received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938 for the biographies of her parents The Exile and The Fighting Angel .

Word of The Day

Bespoke: Custom-made; dealing in or producing custom-made articles.


Their quilts are perfectly bespoke.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

News; Artic Tale

Set in the vast snow kingdom at the top of the world, Artic Tale is a real-life adventure from the people who brought you "March of The Penguins". Join narrator Queen Natifah as she follows two very different Artic creatures, Nanu, a polar bear cub, and Seela, the walrus pup. Armed only with their natural instincts and mothers' guidance, these inspring animals face countless challenges in a beautiful icebound world that is rapidly melting beneath them.

Movie coming in theaters July 25th.

Today In History; Invention of The Conversion of Coal To Oil

1921: A system for the conversion of coal dust and hydrogen into gasoline and oil was invented on this day in 1921 by Friedrich Karl Bergius. He was able to successfully distill coal while at the same time transforming carbon from the coal into oils by forcing hydrogen under high pressure to chemically combine with the coal. Since Bergius was experiencing problems with heat distribution and temperature regulation, he also invented a method of mashing coal in the oil, then combining it with gas under high pressure. In 1931 Bergius received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for this hydrogenation method, a prize he shared with Carl Bosch.

Today In History; Invention of The Conversion of Coal To Oil

1921: A system for the conversion of coal dust and hydrogen into gasoline and oil was invented on this day in 1921 by Friedrich Karl Bergius. He was able to successfully distill coal while at the same time transforming carbon from the coal into oils by forcing hydrogen under high pressure to chemically combine with the coal. Since Bergius was experiencing problems with heat distribution and temperature regulation, he also invented a method of mashing coal in the oil, then combining it with gas under high pressure. In 1931 Bergius received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for this hydrogenation method, a prize he shared with Carl Bosch.

Word of The Day

Quadrumanous: Having four feet with opposable first digits, as primates other than humans.


Monkeys and most mammals have quadrumanous.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

News; Playing Favorites: Cat or Dog?

Dogs and cats have different personalities, and often they like to do different things. But both have one thing in common: They love their people, which, when you come right down to it, is the single most important quality a friend can have.

Top Ten Most Popular Dog Breeds:
Labrador retriever
Golden retriever
Yorkshire terrier
German shepherd
Shih tzu
Miniature schnauzer

(According to the American Kennel Club)

Top Ten Most Popular Cat Breeds:
Maine coon
American shorthair

(According to The Cat Fanciers’ Association)

Fast Facts:
39% of U.S. households own at least one dog
34% of U.S. households own at least one cat

Today In History; First Exhibition By Pablo Picasso

1901: The gallery of Ambroise Vollard is where Pablo Picasso's first exhibition took place in 1901. The exhibition was comprised of paintings and drawings in a variety of styles and brought Picasso financial success. Picasso is considered one of the greatest geniuses in art history. Together with Geroges Braque, Picasso founded Cubism. Cubism is a form of art whereby the artists break up the subjects into several different pieces, enabling the audience to view the various aspects of the faces of the subject simultaneously. Although Picasso was primarily a painter, he also did sculptures, collages and even produced some poetry.

Word of The Day

Trident: A long, three-pronged fork or weapon, especially a three-pronged spear used for fishing. Greek & Roman Mythology. The three-pronged spear carried by Neptune or Poseidon.

Friday, June 20, 2008

News; Key Ocean Mission Goes Into Orbit

A space mission that will be critical to our understanding of climate change has launched from California. 

The Jason-2 satellite will become the primary means of measuring the shape of the world's oceans, taking readings with an accuracy of better than 4cm. 

Its data will track not only sea level rise but reveal how the great mass of waters are moving around the globe. 

This information will be fundamental in helping weather and climate agencies make better forecasts. 

The satellite left Earth at 0746 GMT atop a Delta-2 rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base. 

The spacecraft, built by Thales Alenia Space, represents the joint efforts of the US and French space agencies (Nasa and CNES), and the US and European organisations dedicated to studying weather and climate from orbit (Noaa and Eumetsat). 

Down below 

Jason-2 will provide a topographic map of 95% of the Earth's ice-free oceans every 10 days. Although we think of our seas as being flat, they are actually marked by "hills" and "valleys", where the highs and lows may be as much as two metres apart.

Elevation is a key parameter for oceanographers. Just as surface air pressure reveals what the atmosphere is doing above, so ocean height will betray details about the behaviour of water down below. 

The data gives clues to temperature and salinity. When combined with gravity information, it will also indicate current direction and speed. 

The oceans store vast amounts of heat from the Sun; and how they move that energy around the globe and interact with the atmosphere are what drive our climate system. 

"The ocean constitutes the long-term memory of the climate system; the time-scales over which the ocean is changing are the climatic timescales," explained Mikael Rattenborg, the director of operations at Eumetsat. 

"In order to understand climate, in order to be able to predict the evolution of the atmosphere over months, years, and decades even, you need to understand the ocean." 

Number one 

Jason-2 is a continuation of a programme that started in 1992 with the Topex/Poseidon mission and is currently maintained by the Jason-1 satellite launched in 2001. JASON-2 SPACECRAFT 
1. Advance Microwave Radiometer - measures signal delay caused by water vapour
2. GPS antennas - ensures knowledge of precise orbit path
3. Poseidon-3 altimeter- measures sea level
4. Doris antenna - tracking and positioning control
5. Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) - tracks and calibrates measurements
Satellite mass: 525kg (1,155lb) Power generation: 511 watts
Satellite height: 3m (9ft 8in) Orbit: 1,338km (831 miles)
(Source: Eumetsat, Cnes, Nasa) 

The project provides the global reference data for satellite-measured ocean height. 

Although other spacecraft in service today can acquire similar data sets, none can match the precision achieved by Jason-1; and Jason-2, when in service, will be the benchmark against which all other spacecraft will be judged and calibrated. 

At the heart of the latest mission is the Poseidon 3 solid-state altimeter. The instrument constantly bounces microwave pulses off the sea surface. By timing how long the signal takes to make the return trip, it can determine sea surface height. 

Additionally, the signal can indicate the height of waves and wind speed. 

"It is not a revolution between Jason-1 and Jason-2; it is an evolution, because the main objective is to ensure continuity," explains Francois Parisot, the Jason-2 project chief at Eumetsat. 

"Nevertheless, there are some improvements in the instruments. We hope to make better measurements closer to the coast [and over inland waters and rivers]; and also, we will deliver near-realtime products - products that will be available within three hours of the measurements." 

Whale watching 

The latter will be particularly useful in storm prediction. Jason will see the surface waters rise as warm eddies fuel hurricanes. The data will tell meteorologists how a storm is likely to intensify and allow them to issue better, more timely warnings. 

Jason-2 data will have many other uses that may not be immediately obvious. Industry will take the information to make decisions about when conditions are most suitable for undersea drilling or cable laying. 

Jason can help identify where wreckage or pollution will drift; and the satellite will assist marine biologists as they track whales by pinpointing waters with the potential to be prime feeding and breeding grounds. 

One very important use will be in maritime navigation. 

"Now that the fuel price is going up, saving fuel for the companies that run ships has become very sensitive; and knowing the currents, you can select your route so that you go faster and save fuel," said Philippe Escudier, a space oceanography at CLS (Collecte Localisation Satellites), Toulouse, France. 

"You can save up to 5% on fuel consumption by making best use of the currents." 

Formation flying 

Jason-2 will spend its first few months flying a "tandem mission" with Jason-1. 

The two spacecraft will be positioned so that they sweep around the Earth, one following the other, with a separation of just 60 seconds. 

This will enable, essentially, the two satellites to measure the same patch of ocean surface at very nearly the same time.

Scientists will use this opportunity to cross-calibrate the instruments so that when Jason-1 is retired (or fails), the future data collected by its successor will be directly comparable with past records. 

This continuity of information will be critical in recognising long-term trends in ocean behaviour. It is the data which underpins the observation that global sea level is rising by about three millimetres per year. 

Once the tandem phase is completed, Jason-1 will be moved to the side, doubling the return of data. The importance of the Jason programme means both spacecraft will almost certainly be run for as long as they are serviceable. 

Discussions are already in progress on a Jason-3 satellite. Given Europe's role in the project, there is a compelling case for the next mission to be included in the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) programme. This would attract significant EU money.

Today In History; Audie Murphy, Soldier, Actor and Poet

1924: Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of World War II, was born in Kingston, Texas. Murphy received 33 awards and decorations, among which was the Medal of Honor. After his release from the service in 1945, Murphy went to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. Among some of his best known films are The Red Badge of Courage and To Hell and Back , a film based on his highly acclaimed autobiography that was published in 1949. Murphy also established himself as a poet and songwriter, achieving some success in both.

Word of The Day

Sacrilegious: Committing or characterized by a technical and not necessarily intrinsically outrageous violation (as improper reception of a sacrament) of what is sacred because consecrated to God; grossly irreverent toward a hallowed person, place, or thing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Word of The Day

Agnate: Related on or descended from the father's or male side. Coming from a common source; akin.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

News; 'Oldest' Computer Music Unveiled

A scratchy recording of Baa Baa Black Sheep and a truncated version of In the Mood are thought to be the oldest known recordings of computer generated music.

The songs were captured by the BBC in the Autumn of 1951 during a visit to the University of Manchester.

The recording has been unveiled as part of the 60th Anniversary of "Baby", the forerunner of all modern computers.

The tunes were played on a Ferranti Mark 1 computer, a commercial version of the Baby Machine.

"I think it's historically significant," Paul Doornbusch, a computer music composer and historian at the New Zealand School of Music, told BBC News.

"As far as I know it's the earliest recording of a computer playing music in the world, probably by quite a wide margin."

The previous oldest known recordings were made on an IBM mainframe computer at Bell Labs in the US in 1957, he said.

"That's where the whole computer music thing started but they were not the first to have a computer play music," said Mr Doornbusch.

That honour goes to a third machine called CSIRAC, Australia's first digital computer, which "stunned" audiences with a rendition of Colonel Bogey.

"It played music months or weeks before [the Manchester] recording," said Mr Doornbusch.

However, no one has yet unearthed a recording of CSIRAC in action.

Mood machine

Documentary evidence of the Manchester machine's musical abilities exists thanks to a BBC outside broadcasting team who had gone to the University to record an edition of Children's Hour.

At the time Manchester was home to a Ferranti Mark 1, the first commercially available general purpose computer.

"Word must have got around that this electronic brain could play music," explained Chris Burton of the Computer Conversation Society (CCS).

The music program was written by a friend of computing legend Alan Turing called Christopher Strachey, a maths master at Harrow.

"My understanding is that Chris Strachey got on and wrote a program for playing draughts and when the program terminated it played God Save the King," said Mr Burton.

Others contend that the programme was purely for playing music.

Either way, following the recording, a university engineer called Frank Cooper asked if he could have a copy. Unable to give him the original, the BBC team cut him another version.

"At the time of the recording outside broadcasts were recorded on to acetate disks," explained Mr Strachey. "You can hear the presenter tell the recording engineer in the van 'lift Jim' and that meant lift the cutter off to stop recording."

During the session, the temperamental machine managed to work its way through Baa Baa Black Sheep, God Save the King and part of In the Mood.

Following one aborted attempt, a laughing presenter says: "The machine's obviously not in the mood."

The disc was eventually passed to the CCS, who, along with the University of Manchester, has released the recording to mark the 60th anniversary of the Ferranti machine's forerunner.

Modern marvel

In the late 1940s Manchester was a hotbed of computer innovation following the birth of Baby, or Small Scale Experimental Machine, in 1948.
Programming the machines took a great deal of hard work.

Baby was the forerunner of the Ferranti Mark 1 and was the first computer to contain a memory device that could store a program.

"Baby was the first universal computer," explained Mr Burton.

"It would perform any task - within its capacity - depending on what program was put in."

The memory was built from a Cathode Ray Tube and allowed scientists to program 1024 bits, compared to the billions in today's modern computers.

Before Baby was built, computers such as ENIAC and Colossus had to be rewired to perform different tasks, said Mr Burton.

"You couldn't easily change what they did," said Mr Burton.

Baby successfully ran its first program - to determine the highest factor of a number - on 21 June 1948.

"That particular program was devised solely to make the machine work very hard so we could see where it was about to go wrong," Geoff Tootill, one of the builders of Baby told BBC News.

"If you gave the problem to a mathematician, he would take a fraction of a second to give you an answer."

However, companies quickly capitalised on Baby's unique abilities, giving rise to machines like the Mark 1.

"It was the start of the computer age," said Mr Tootill. "Although we didn't know it was going to be epoch-making or earth-shattering other than for weather forecasting and other scientific disciplines."

Today In History; First Woman Flies Across Atlantic Ocean

1928: Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean on this day in 1928. Earhart was invited to join pilot, Wilmer Stultz and co-pilot Louis Gordon on a flight across the Atlantic. In April of 1928 she boarded a trans-Atlantic flight from Newfoundland to Wales as a passenger. Upon their arrival in Wales, they were greeted by a ticker-tape parade and a reception held by President Calvin Coolidge and from that moment on flying became her life's passion. In 1932, she became the first woman pilot to fly solo across the ocean.
Beget: To father; sire. To cause to exist or occur; produce: Violence begets more violence.

Monday, June 16, 2008

News; Experts Unveil 'Cloak of Silence'

Being woken in the dead of night by noisy neighbours blasting out music could soon be a thing of the past.

Scientists have shown off the blueprint for an "acoustic cloak", which could make objects impervious to sound waves.

The technology, outlined in the New Journal of Physics, could be used to build sound-proof homes, advanced concert halls or stealth warships.

Scientists have previously demonstrated devices that cloak objects from microwaves, making them "invisible".

"The mathematics behind cloaking has been known for several years," said Professor John Pendry of Imperial College London, UK, an expert in cloaking.

"What hasn't been available for sound is the sort of materials you need to build a cloak out of."

Sound shield

The Spanish team who conducted the new work believe the key to a practical device are so-called "sonic crystals".

These artificial composites - also known as "meta-materials" - can be engineered to produce specific acoustical effects.
Sound waves are channelled around an object by sonic crystals

"Unlike ordinary materials, their acoustic properties are determined by their internal structure," explained Professor Pendry.

These would be used to channel any sound around an object, like water flowing around a rock in a stream.

"The idea of acoustic cloaking is to deviate the sounds waves around the object that has to be cloaked," said Jose Sanchez-Dehesa of the Polytechnic University of Valencia, one of the researchers behind the new work.

He believes a material that consists of arrays of tiny cylinders would achieve this effect.

Simulations showed that 200 layers of this metamaterial could effectively shield an object from noise.

Thinner stacks would shield an object from certain frequencies.

"The thickness depends on the wavelength you want to screen," he told BBC News.

Sub systems

Dr Sanchez-Dehesa now wants to make and test such a material in the lab to confirm the simulations.

But researchers, such as Professor Pendry, believe the initial work is already an important first step.
Acoustic cloaks could be used to make soundproof rooms or buildings

"It's not an unrealistic blueprint - it doesn't demand that we do extraordinary things," he said. "This is something that can easily be manufactured."

If a material could be commercialised, both researchers believe it could have many applications.

Walls of the material could be built to soundproof houses or it could be used in concert halls to enhance acoustics or direct noise away from certain areas.

The military may also be interested, the researchers believe, to conceal submarines from detection by sonar or to create a new class of stealth ships.

However, the material may need to be optimised first.

"You don't want to wrap a submarine in something that is heavy and several inches thick," said Professor Pendry. "It would add quite a lot to the Navy's fuel bill, I think."

Light touch

The research builds on work by scientists from Duke University in North Carolina, US, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Duke University researchers created an invisibility cloak in 2006

Earlier this year, independent teams from the two institutions demonstrated the mathematics necessary to create an acoustic cloak.

Other scientists have shown that objects can be cloaked from electromagnetic radiation, such as microwaves.

For example, in 2006, scientists at Duke University showed how a small copper cylinder could be rendered invisible from microwaves.

The technique used a metamaterial consisting of 10 fibreglass rings covered with copper elements, to deflect the microwaves around the object and restore them on the other side.

To an observer it looked like the microwaves had passed straight through the cylinder.

Other researchers hope to build the holy grail of cloaking: an invisibility device that would channel light at wavelengths normally visible to the eye.

However, this technology is in a more primitive state, according to Dr Sanchez-Dehesa.

"We believe the acoustic cloak is more feasible than a similar device for light," he said.

Today In History; Barbara McClintock, American Scientist

1902: Hartford, Connecticut was the birthplace of American scientist, Barbara McClintock, born on this day in 1902. McClintock is considered one of the most important figures in the history of genetics. McClintock's scientific career was launched during a time when women were encouraged to pursue more traditional roles such as wife, mother, homemaker, which is what makes her achievements even more notable. Her work on cytogenetics led her to theorize that genes move around, on and between chromosomes. This was contradictory with what scientists knew at the time about genetics. As techniques improved in the late 70's, scientists confirmed McClintock's theories on genes. In 1983, McClintock became the first American woman to win an unshared Nobel Prize in Physiology.

Word of The Day

Obeisance: A movement of the body made in token of respect or submission: bow. Acknowledgment of another's superiority or importance : homage.

Friday, June 13, 2008

News; Talents of Bright Pupils 'Wasted'

One in 10 academically promising state school pupils in England do not go on to university, a report has claimed.

The study also says thousands of bright pupils are let down by schools because they fall back after high levels of early achievement.

The report for education charity the Sutton Trust says 60,000 high achievers do not go on to university every year.

The government said it was determined that children's talents, no matter what their background, would not be wasted.

If you get A-levels you are as highly likely as any other pupil to subsequently enrol on a degree course
Sutton Trust report

The research, based on analysis of the attainment of pupils starting secondary school in 1997, tried to estimate the educational "attrition rates" of academically gifted pupils long before they think of applying for university.

It found the number of high-achieving state pupils shrank from about 88,000 at the age of 11, to just over 50,000 at age 16. Some 32,000 of these end up going to university.

It also found high rates of "leakage" among the least privileged of pupils - those qualifying for free school meals (FSM).

Two thirds of the top-performing pupils at age 11 were no longer in that category by the time they did their GCSEs. And half of these did not go on to university.

The report says: "The raw gap in higher education participation rates between pupils on free school meals and other pupils is stark."

It said non-FSM pupils had about a one in three chance of going to university while those on FSM had about a one in eight chance.

If all the missing 60,000 pupils had gone on to university, they would have boosted the participation rate by a quarter, the report added.

But the study had a positive message for those who did A-levels.

'Social mix'

"If you get A-levels you are as highly likely as any other pupil to subsequently enrol on a degree course.

"The main problem in terms of widening access to higher education is getting non-traditional students to A-levels in the first place," it added.

The country's elite universities are being urged to increase the number state pupils that attend as undergraduates, and many are struggling to do so.

Dr Anna Vignoles, of the Institute of Education, who led the research said it had long been argued that financial and social barriers at the point of entry to higher education prevented them from going to university.

"This research shows clearly that the main reason why poorer students do not go to university to the same extent as their wealthier peers is that they have weaker academic achievement in school."

There are now around 300,000 more young people going to university than 10 years ago.
Bill Rammell
Higher Education Minister

Research director at the Sutton Trust, Dr Lee Elliot Major said the study showed there were significant numbers of bright young people with academic potential who do not progress to university.

"If we are serious about broadening the social mix of the sector it is important not only that the brightest and best get in to our most highly-selective institutions, but that more young people from poorer backgrounds go on to higher education full stop."

Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said: "There are now around 300,000 more young people going to university than 10 years ago.

"Latest figures show that we are improving attainment across the board and the gap between children on free school meals and their peers getting five good GCSEs in 2007 had narrowed by four per cent since 2003.

"We are determined to continue this trend."

He added that a number of schemes linked up talented pupils in school with higher education students as mentors.

Shadow Universities Secretary David Willetts said the report confirmed his worst fears.

"Bright children from poorer backgrounds are being failed by the education system. It is a shocking waste of talent.

"Universities cannot make up for all the problems that occur early on. That is why we are committed to more good schools."

Today In History; Longest Attack of Hiccups Begin

1922: Charlie Osborne is known for having the longest attack of hiccups. The dome-shaped muscle at the bottom of your chest is the diaphragm. This muscle helps you breathe and sing. It is also where hiccups begin. The diaphragm functions by pulling down when you inhale to help pull air into the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm pushes air out of the lungs.

When the diaphragm becomes irritated it pushes up in a way that makes your breath come out differently than normal: a hiccup. Some things that cause hiccups are eating too quickly or too much, an irritation in the stomach or the throat, or feeling nervous or excited. Almost all cases of the hiccups last only a few minutes.

Word of The Day

Radiosonde: A free-flying balloon carrying meteorological instruments. The balloon climbs to a height of 20-30 km above mean sea level, sending information from these sensors to ground stations, whereupon it bursts, returning the equipment to the ground. The progress of the radiosonde is tracked by radar.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

News; Private School's Leader Steps Down

The leading voice of the independent schools sector has resigned after two months after sparking controversy by criticising state schools.

Chris Parry left the Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents 1200 private schools, by "mutual agreement" it has said.

This followed a meeting of leading public school heads on Wednesday.

The heads had expressed "deep concern" over his war-like view of relations between private and state schools.

Early last month he clashed with Barry Sheerman, the chair of the Commons schools committee, claiming failings in the state system made parents pay twice to send their children to school

He also used the phrases "Cold War" and "sectarian divide" to describe relations between state and independent schools.

We are an integral part of the education sector and desire cooperation with the state sector not conflict
Richard Cairns, head teacher Brighton College
And he referred to recent draft guidance to private schools from the Charity Commission as "a missile aimed from the maintained sector into the independent sector".

The commission wants schools to prove their wider public benefit to justify their charitable status.

The statement from the ISC said: "Chris Parry has today, by mutual agreement, stepped down as chief executive of the Independent Schools Council.

"Although he was looking forward to making a difference in the sector, Chris has chosen to take up other opportunities that he has been offered."

'Military metaphors'

The head of the independent Brighton College, Richard Cairns, said: "Mr Parry's lack of understanding of the needs and workings of the independent sector is frankly astonishing.

"The military metaphors were deeply unhelpful. We are an integral part of the education sector and desire cooperation with the state sector not conflict."

In his inaugural address to the ISC Mr Parry's presentation involved pictures of warships and tanks.

And the former rear admiral referred to the independent schools heads as his "subordinates".

Yesterday, about 25 of the heads of leading independent schools in the south east of England met and there was "unanimous deep concern" about Mr Parry, said Richard Cairns.

"His position was then untenable."

They reported their views directly to the ISC.

John Dunford, the leader of the Association of School and College Leaders - which includes independent and state school heads - said: "His resignation underlines the importance of mutual respect between independent and state schools and Chris Parry clearly crossed that line in a way his independent colleagues could not accept".

Mr Parry has not commented. A spokeswoman said Mr Parry and the ISC had agreed not to discuss his departure publicly.

Matthew Burgess, the ISC's general counsel, has taken over as the organisation's acting chief executive.

Today In History; Johanna Spyri, Author

1827: Author Johanna Spyri was born in Hirzel, Switzerland. Her most famous book, Heidi (1880), was not only famous for its vivid portrayal of the landscape but also for its understanding of how children see life and their feelings. Spyri wrote more than 50 stories and devoted herself to charitable causes. In 1937 the popular novel was made into a film starring Shirley Temple. The film, like the book, is considered a classic. So much so that Disney updated the story and released a new film version of it in 1993.

Word of The Day

Hyperthermia: An abnormally high body core temperature (more than 41°C).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

News; Lift-off For Nasa Space Telescope

A Nasa space telescope has launched successfully on a mission to explore the Universe with "gamma-ray glasses".

The Glast mission will shed light on some of the most violent events in the Universe, that release massive amounts of energy in the form of gamma-rays.

It will scan the sky for massive cosmic explosions, giant black holes that hurl matter across space, and dense neutron stars with powerful magnetic fields.

Glast blasted off from Florida on Wednesday atop a Delta II rocket.

The Delta II began its climb to orbit at 1605 GMT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. We've only scratched the surface of the how and why of these gamma-ray phenomena
Dr Dave Thompson, Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center

Glast stands for the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope, but Nasa is calling on the public to come up with a new name for the mission.

The $690m (£350m) space observatory will take high-resolution pictures of the gamma-ray sky.

These rays are the highest-energy form of light, which makes them ideal for exploring some of the most extreme environments in the cosmos.

These are places where nature harnesses energies far beyond anything possible on Earth.

They include supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies. These black holes produce powerful jets of matter, moving at close to the speed of light, which can travel vast distances across space.

Five-year mission, but spacecraft could last for 10
Will look at the Universe in highest-energy form of light
Spacecraft is 2.8m (9.2ft) high and 2.4m (8.2ft) in diameter
Orbits at an altitude of 565km (350 miles)
The mission cost about $690m (£350m)
Lat instrument scans entire sky in two orbits of Earth
Could pick up about 200 cosmic explosions each year
Mission is a team-up between Nasa and US Department of Energy

But despite the staggering scale and speed of these jets, astronomers haven't been able to answer the most basic questions about them, such as how matter is accelerated to such fabulous speeds.

Glast will also seek to investigate the mysterious cosmic explosions known as gamma-ray bursts (or GRBs).

These events release about the same amount of energy in one second as a star like the Sun will release in its 5-10 billion-year lifetime.

"We've only scratched the surface of the how and why of these gamma-ray phenomena," said Dave Thompson, a deputy project scientist from Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

"We have a lot to learn about how they work, and, more importantly, how these objects and phenomena affect the Universe. This is where Glast comes in."

The mission will also go in search of new physics, aiming to shed light on the nature of the dark matter which makes up some 22% of the Universe.

Glast represents a major step up in capability on previous gamma-ray telescopes and will cover an incredible range of light at the high energy limits of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The super-cosmos

"If Glast were a piano, it would have about 23 octaves," commented Dr Steven Ritz, the chief scientist on the mission, who is also from Nasa Goddard.

"With such a great leap in capabilities, the most important things for us are the surprises."

The main instrument aboard the spacecraft is the the Large Area Telescope, or Lat. Gamma-rays carry far to much energy to capture in the conventional way, so this is a telescope without lenses or mirrors.

Instead, the Lat uses silicon detectors and layers of metal foil to track the energetic radiation from outer space.

Once Glast reaches orbit, about 14 days will be spent checking out the spacecraft. In the third week after launch, the spacecraft's instruments will be turned on for tuning and calibration.

The mission is a collaboration between Nasa and the US Department of Energy, with important contributions from partners elsewhere in the US, in France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Sweden.

Today In History; Jacques Cousteau, Oceanic Explorer

1910: France is the birthplace of Jacques Cousteau, the naval officer, explorer, and researcher who dedicated his life to studying the sea and all forms of life in water. Cousteau, together with Emile Gagnan, also co-invented the first type of scuba diving equipment, the Aqua Lung, in 1943. Some of Cousteau's accomplishments include developing techniques to minesweep France's harbor, exploring shipwrecks, creating a two-person submarine that could reach a depth of 250m below the ocean's surface, and developing an underwater camera. Cousteau's voyage and exploration of Antarctica was televised, making him famous.

Word of The Day

Temblor: Shaking and vibration at the surface of the earth resulting from underground movement along a fault plane of from volcanic activity.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Word of The Day

Tsunami: A large wave on the ocean, usually caused by an undersea earthquake, a volcanic eruption, or coastal landslide. A tsunami can travel hundreds of miles over the open sea and cause extensive damage when it encounters land. Also called tidal waves.

Today In History; First Public Zoo Opens In Paris

1793: The Jardin des Plantes (garden of plants) opened in Paris, France on the left bank of the River Seine. Originally a medicinal herb garden, Jardin des Plantes today offers expansive displays of decorative plants, including hothouses, an extensive rose garden, and an alpine garden. It also features a maze and labyrinth and a zoo and aquarium.

News; Mexico Wins 2007 National Geographic World Championship

Every two years, teams from around the globe come together to compete in the National Geographic World Championship geography competition. This year, the winner was Mexico! The United States came in second, and Canada came in third.

Students were eligible to take part in the World Championship, held in San Diego, California, by winning or being a top finisher in the national competitions of their home regions. Also competing this year were Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Chinese Taipei, France, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, India, Poland, Romania, Russia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

Mexico, the United States, and Canada made it to the final round after getting the highest scores in a written contest and an activity that included an outdoor map-reading course at SeaWorld.

In an Olympics-style ceremony, medals were awarded to the first-, second- and third-placed teams. Alex Trebek, host of the TV game show Jeopardy!, moderated the finals.

The winning question was: "What historic site was carved from sandstone in about 1200 B.C.? This site includes two huge temples and statues of an ancient ruler." Know the answer? It’s Abu Simbel, near Aswan, Egypt.

Monday, June 9, 2008

News; What You Didn't Know About Nick Jonas

Nick Jonas seems to have everything a guy could want: thousands of adoring fans, a skyrocketing career, and a cool family, including Joe and Kevin, his bandmates in the Jonas Brothers.

But Nick also has diabetes, a serious health condition that needs daily attention. Now 15, Nick first got sick while on tour in November 2005. He was losing weight, acting moody, and feeling thirsty all the time. A blood test showed that he had diabetes and he spent several days in the hospital. Though he is healthy and feeling great now, back then he worried he might die.

"I had an emotional breakdown since I really had no idea what diabetes was all about. I wondered, 'why me?' Then I asked myself, 'why not me?' and realized that I might be able to help other kids with diabetes."

In 2007, the Jonas Brothers performed at a Diabetes Research Institute fundraiser in New York City. During the show, Nick asked audience members to raise their hands if they had diabetes. Then he raised his hand, too, revealing for the first time publicly that he has type 1 diabetes.

Of course, the crowd went wild. He even pulled up his T-shirt sleeve to show the audience the device he wears on his arm to deliver insulin to his body. (People who have diabetes have a problem with a hormone called insulin. Their bodies either don't make enough insulin or the insulin doesn't work as it should. Without insulin, your body can't get the fuel it needs.)

At the concert, Nick encouraged other kids with diabetes to be positive, adding that he earned the nickname "Mr. Positive" because of his attitude about his condition.

Editor's Note: We knew kids dealing with diabetes would have lots of questions for Nick, so we turned the rest of the interview over to Madison Dodge. Madi, 12, has had diabetes since she was 5. She's also an accomplished performer and an advocate for the American Diabetes Association. Here's what Madi wanted to know:

Madi: Do you notice a difference in your ability to perform when your blood sugar is very high or dropping low?

Nick: In the beginning, yes. I had wild mood swings and couldn't drink enough water. But now I'm able to check my blood sugar before we go onstage, so I can manage it by using my Omni Pod [the device he wears that delivers insulin].

Madi: I perform with several theater groups and choruses and for pageants, and I feel badly when my sugar is too high or too low. It is hard to focus and do my best. Does this affect you?

Nick: I do get tired, but our days are pretty jam-packed. Again, it's a question of regularly checking and managing our blood sugar.

Madi: How has your family handled your diagnosis?

Nick: At first it was really hard on all of us because we didn't know how it would affect our daily lives. I actually asked my doctor if I could die. Fortunately, we were blessed to have great medical care and learned how to manage diabetes.

Madi: Did they suspect diabetes before you were diagnosed?

Nick: No, we couldn't figure out what was going on. But one simple blood test gave us the answer.

Madi: Do you have diabetes in your family?

Nick: No one else in our family has ever been diagnosed with diabetes.

Madi: Do any of your other family members fear they will be diagnosed too?

Nick: I hope that no one ever will.

Madi: What has been your scariest moment with diabetes? Your funniest? I have some really funny stories I can tell about diabetes!

Nick: The scariest was the weight loss. I lost 15 pounds very quickly. My mom said I looked like a prisoner of war!

Madi: Have you ever considered coming to a diabetes event like the Step Out to Fight Diabetes walk or Sugar Free Weekend Retreat or a camp? I am sure that so many of the kids with diabetes would be inspired by you and happy to meet you! I know I would be!

Nick: If I had time in my schedule I would love to. It's important to share that it's a condition you can live with. There's nothing to be afraid of, and it can actually make you closer to your family and friends.

Madi: Have you ever considered writing a song about diabetes? I'd love to work on that with you!

Nick: There is a song on our new album called "A Little Bit Longer" that is all about my diabetes. But the lyrics could be interpreted as any difficult situation in life.

Madi: I have had type 1 diabetes for 6½ years. I use an insulin pump and I check my blood sugar 10-12 times a day. My best advice for you, and for people with diabetes everywhere, is: Control your diabetes. Don't let it control you!

If we take good care of diabetes, it does not need to limit or change our everyday activities and our lives. Live life to the fullest and find a way to make having diabetes a positive thing in your life. It will make it much easier in the long run!

Nick: Thanks, Madi.

Today In History; First Ascent of Broad Peak

1957: An Austrian expedition led by Marcus Schmuck was the first to successfully "bag" the 26,401-foot-high Broad Peak (Faichan Kangri) of Baltoro, Pakistan. Their first attempt failed due to a life-threatening storm, making their success all the more sweet. Unlike many other attempts, the Schmuck expedition did not use supplemental oxygen at the high altitude as they braved avalanches and ripping winds to reach the summit. The mountain was dubbed Broad Peak because its summit is over a mile long. Today mountaineers make the trek to Pakistan to climb Broad Peak and surrounding summits.

Word of The Day

Morass: Marsh, swamp. A situation that traps, confuses, or impedes. Or an overwhelming or confusing mass or mixture.

Friday, June 6, 2008

News; Bacteria Could Stop Frog Killer

The disease that is devastating amphibian populations around the world could be tackled using "friendly" bacteria, research suggests.

Scientists have found that certain types of bacteria which live naturally on amphibians produce chemicals that attack the disease-causing fungus.

Recent results indicate the bacteria help frogs survive fungal infection.

The chytrid fungus is a major reason for the global decline which sees one third of amphibians facing extinction.

But the latest findings, reported at the American Society for Microbiology meeting in Boston, may give conservationists a new way to tackle the scourge.

This is definitely a line of research that could become a tool applied to saving species in the wild
Don Church
IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group and Conservation International

Reid Harris and colleagues found that treating the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) with extra helpings of bacteria reduces the weight loss seen when the fungus attacks, and appears to keep them alive longer as well.

"In the group we exposed to chytrid, about 50% to 60% have died," he told BBC News.

"But of the ones where we added the bacterium (Janthinobacterium lividum) none have died, and we're about 140 days in now."

The mountain yellow-legged frog of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the western US is categorised as Critically Endangered, with numbers believed to have fallen by 80% within about 15 years.

Natural defences

The waterborne fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has emerged as a major threat to amphibians in the last decade, and conservationists have been left grasping for a way of stopping its apparently inexorable worldwide spread.

Salamanders. Image: Conservation International / Don Church
First true amphibians evolved about 250m years ago
Adapted to many different aquatic and terrestrial habitats
Present today on every continent except Antarctica
Undergo metamorphosis, from larvae to adults

But although it has devastated many species, some appear to have an innate capacity to withstand infection. Even within species that generally succumb, the odd population survives.

What gives these communities immunity is not clear; but one answer, as Professor Harris's group has been finding, could be bacteria such as Janthinobacterium which live naturally on their skin.

Earlier lab experiments, also involving the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus), showed that the bacteria produce chemicals able to attack the fungus.

"We detected anti-chytrid metabolites on the skin itself in high enough concentrations to kill off the chytrid," he said.

"One of our hypotheses is that the bacteria live in some kind of defensive symbiosis with the frogs and salamanders."

Another piece of evidence came with the finding that amphibians in colonies which survive the passage of the chytrid wave tend to carry higher levels of the bacteria.

This all raises questions as to why, if the bacteria are protective, they are not present in large enough numbers in all colonies; and whether some other factor - perhaps habitat loss, pollution or rapid climatic shifts - can reduce the bacterial cargo, opening up the door to fungal attack.

In Spain, scientists have found that rising temperatures appear to increase amphibians' vulnerability to infection.

Not in isolation

Whatever the history, the findings carry the promise that perhaps these bacteria could be used in the wild as a defence against the chytrid.

"It's tremendously exciting, because the other treatments for chytrid have problems," commented Don Church, a scientist with Conservation International and senior director of the Amphibian Assessment Group which monitors trends worldwide.

Experiments. Image: Reid Harris
The JMU team applied protective bacteria to frogs in the lab

"The classical method of treatment with a fungicide leaves animals open to re-infection, and it's not a solution for use in the wild - it's a solution for animals that can be kept isolated or quarantined.

"So I think this is definitely a line of research that could become a tool applied to saving species in the wild, but we would have to develop a whole set of criteria for deciding where and how to use it - we have had so many catastrophes in the past through introducing species, so we have to be very careful."

Dr Church advocates more research on amphibians that survive chytrid attack, in order to catalogue what other varieties of defensive bacteria exist.

Soiled good

Reid Harris's team at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, will continue to follow their treated mountain yellow-legged frogs to confirm that bacterial treatment really does keep them alive longer.

If the positive findings continue, they would like to start projects in the wild within a few years.

"Interestingly, some of the probiotic agricultural products that you can buy from hardware stores contain pretty similar bacteria to what we're using," he said.

Golden frog. Image: BBC
The last few Panamanian golden frogs were taken into protective captivity

"Using them doesn't seem too controversial in an agricultural setting, although of course people get a lot more cautious when you're talking about national parks and so on.

"In something like Rana muscosa where the frogs pretty much stay put in ponds all year you might be able to add bacteria to soil or ponds and stay in front of the infection wave. It's harder to see how it would work in a tropical rainforest."

Scattering bacteria in ponds and soil might seem like a risky strategy.

But so dire is the chytrid situation that a few years ago, amphibian specialists were saying that the only solution for some species was to take the few remaining specimens into captive breeding programmes in the hope, rather than the certainty, that they could be re-introduced to the wild at some point in the future.

Having said that, a defence against chytridiomycosis would not by itself arrest the striking decline in amphibians, which are also threatened by habitat loss, pollution, climate change, viral disease, hunting and introduced predators.

Today In History; First Public Museum Opens

1683: The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, connected with Oxford University, is the first public museum of Britain. Named after Elias Ashmole, who donated his personal collection, the museum gave the public the opportunity to view antique coins, books, and engravings - as well as geological and zoological specimens - for the first time.

Today the museum is well known for its collection of Pre-Raphaelite art. The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of artists who rebelled against the notions of art of their time (1849). Rather than idealizing beauty, as their contemporaries did, the Pre-Raphaelites tried to reproduce the details and colors of the real-life models and landscapes they used as a basis for their paintings and illustrations. Often the subjects of their paintings were mythic, poetic, or Biblical scenes, such as Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon (Burne-Jones, 1898).

Word of The Day

Espouse: To take in marriage; marry. To give (a woman) in marriage. To give one's loyalty or support to (a cause, for example); adopt.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

News; Microsoft Grants XP New Lifeline

Microsoft has given another lease of life to Windows XP only days before PC makers have to stop selling it.

Windows XP reaches its end of life on 30 June but Microsoft has now said it can continue being sold until June 2010 but only on cheap desktops.

The decision follows one made in April to extend the life of XP on low cost laptops until the same date.

It comes as Dell, HP and Lenovo exploit loopholes in Microsoft's licensing terms to keep putting XP on machines.

Growing market

In an announcement at the Computex trade show in Taiwan, Microsoft said the decision was prompted by customers asking for the software to be put on low cost desktops.

Industry experts believe the decision is also motivated by the fact that low cost machines cannot run Windows Vista - the newest version of the operating system.

They also say that many of the low cost laptops run Linux - an open source rival to Microsoft's operating system.

Low cost laptops, such as the Asus Eee PC, have proved hugely popular. Research firm IDC predicts that sales of ultra low-cost notebooks, will reach nine million units in 2012.

The extension Microsoft granted to XP for these low cost laptops, or netbooks, covered machines that have no more than 1GB of RAM; a hard drive up to 80GB in size; a processor running no faster than 1GHz; a screen no larger than 10.2in (25cm) and no touch screen.

So far Microsoft has laid down no specifications for the low cost desktops, called nettops, but it said it was working with 20 PC makers on these machines.

The terms of Microsoft's licensing arrangements with PC makers dictate that they must stop offering XP as an option on new machines after 30 June.

Many PC makers have flouted this cut off by shipping machines running certain versions of Vista with a "downgrade license" that lets customers revert to the older operating system.

Today In History; Dennis Gabor, Electrical Engineer/Scientist

1900: In 1947 Hungarian-born British electrical engineer Dennis Gabor invented holography, a system of lenseless, three-dimensional photography. Photographs are two dimensional; they offer a single viewpoint. In contrast, holographs are three-dimensional; they offer more than one viewpoint. When people look at a holograph, their two eyes see two different viewpoints. The brain puts the two viewpoints together, creating the perception of three dimensions, or depth.

Gabor used conventional filtered-light sources when he invented holography. The lights of the time threw either too little or too diffuse light, limiting the practical uses of holography. Holography only became commercially feasible after the invention of the laser in 1960. Gabor also researched high speed oscilloscopes, communication theory, physical optics, and television. He received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1971 for his invention of holography.

Word of The Day

Compromise: A settlement of differences through mutual concession: accommodation, arrangement, give-and-take, medium, settlement. Law composition.


Since they each wanted to go to different resturaunts, they made a compromise.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

News; Balloon-Popping Dog?!

Balloons don’t last very long around Anastasia the Jack Russell terrier. Her favorite game is popping as many as she can!

The pooch can pop 100 balloons in 53.7 seconds, the fastest time a dog has popped that many. Usually the dog bites the balloons in the air, but the record was set with the balloons secured to the ground.

The noise might scare other dogs, but that just makes the game more fun for Anastasia.

She likes balloons so much that she goes nuts when a blimp flies over her backyard!

Today In History; Birthdate of Dorothy Rudd Moore, U.S. Composer

1940: African American composer and soprano Dorothy Rudd Moore was born in New Castle, Delaware. Moore studied music theory and composition at Howard University, graduating magna cum laude. She went on to become one of the founders of the Society of Black Composers and to teach at New York University and Harlem School of the Arts in New York. Moore's work has been commissioned by Meet the Composer, the American Music Center, and the New York State Council on the Arts. She is perhaps best known for her opera Frederick Douglass (1985), performed by Opera Ebony.

Word of The Day

Humor: Amusing quality. To go along with wishes or mood of another.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

News; Your Amazing Brain

You carry around a three-pound mass of wrinkly material in your head that controls every single thing you will ever do. From enabling you to think, learn, create, and feel emotions to controlling every blink, breath, and heartbeat—this fantastic control center is your brain. It is a structure so amazing that a famous scientist once called it "the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe."

Your brain is faster and more powerful than a supercomputer.

Your kitten is on the kitchen counter. She's about to step onto a hot stove. You have only seconds to act. Accessing the signals coming from your eyes, your brain quickly calculates when, where, and at what speed you will need to dive to intercept her. Then it orders your muscles to do so. Your timing is perfect and she's safe. No computer can come close to your brain's awesome ability to download, process, and react to the flood of information coming from your eyes, ears, and other sensory organs.

Your brain generates enough electricity to power a lightbulb.

Your brain contains about 100 billion microscopic cells called neurons—so many it would take you over 3,000 years to count them all. Whenever you dream, laugh, think, see, or move, it’s because tiny chemical and electrical signals are racing between these neurons along billions of tiny neuron highways. Believe it or not, the activity in your brain never stops. Countless messages zip around inside it every second like a supercharged pinball machine. Your neurons create and send more messages than all the phones in the entire world. And while a single neuron generates only a tiny amount of electricity, all your neurons together can generate enough electricity to power a low-wattage bulb.

Neurons send information to your brain at more than 150 miles (241 kilometers) per hour.

A bee lands on your bare foot. Sensory neurons in your skin relay this information to your spinal cord and brain at a speed of more than 150 miles (241 kilometers) per hour. Your brain then uses motor neurons to transmit the message back through your spinal cord to your foot to shake the bee off quickly. Motor neurons can relay this information at more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) per hour.

When you learn, you change the structure of your brain.

Riding a bike seems impossible at first. But soon you master it. How? As you practice, your brain sends "bike riding" messages along certain pathways of neurons over and over, forming new connections. In fact, the structure of your brain changes every time you learn, as well as whenever you have a new thought or memory.

Exercise helps make you smarter.

It is well known that any exercise that makes your heart beat faster, like running or playing basketball, is great for your body and can even help improve your mood. But scientists have recently learned that for a period of time after you've exercised, your body produces a chemical that makes your brain more receptive to learning. So if you're stuck on a homework problem, go out and play a game of soccer, then try the problem again. You just might discover that you're able to solve it.

Today In History; Broadway Musical The Band Wagon Opens

1931: When The Band Wagon opened on Broadway in New York City, no one knew whether it would be a hit. But a hit it was. The musical revue ran for 260 performances. The play was co-authored by playwright Adolph Green, and songwriters Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz were responsible for its hit songs. Most people remember the lead actors, though: dancer/singer/actor Fred Astaire and his sister Adele. The Band Wagon is about a dancer and his friends who are trying to save their musical show from a controlling, egotistic actor who has some rather odd ideas about what makes for good theater.

The play was so popular that MGM made a spin-off film of it. The movie The Band Wagon (1953) also starred Fred Astaire and featured some of the same songs, but the plot was changed and songs from other musicals were added. The movie became a hit and is still a favorite of musicals fans.

Word of The Day

Mutual: Shared, common.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Word of The Day

Nuptials: The social event at which the ceremony of marriage is performed.

Today In History; First Radio Patent Issued

1896: Guglielmo Marconi was issued the first radio patent in 1896 for his wireless telegraphy apparatus. The value of the wireless telegraphy to lighthouses, lightships, the military, and shipping in general is immense. Marconi's invention earned him the Nobel Prize in physics in 1909 and revolutionized global communication.

News; Star Parties: Discovering The Night Sky

More than a hundred adults and kids gather on a cold evening, chattering excitedly as they stand in the dark on a Virginia hillside.

The odd thing is, no one has turned on a flashlight, and no streetlights or house lights wink on around them.

These people have traveled to the countryside more than an hour from Washington, D.C., to get away from the glow of city lights. That’s because they are attending a star party.

Star parties are gatherings where professional and amateur astronomers set up their telescopes and invite people to come learn about the night sky. Getting away from light pollution, or artificial skylight from buildings for example, helps stargazers see objects in the sky much better.

At this star party, Sean O’Brien of the National Air and Space Museum’s Einstein Planetarium starts off by asking the crowd to simply look up and take in all they can see. He points out plenty of things that can be seen with out special equipment. Stars, satellites, and even the Andromeda galaxy can be found if you know where to look.

After O’Brien’s guided tour, several dozen astronomers offer close-up views. Each has focused their telescope on a different part of the sky. As kids take a look, the owner gives a mini-lesson.

O’Brien says you can have your own star party at home and learn a lot just by paying attention to what’s happening up above. “Watch the sky as the seasons pass, and you will see that it changes,” he says.

“Or start with the moon. Lots of people know the full moon and the crescent moon, but don’t know the phases in between. Notice when and where you are seeing it—maybe even in the early morning while you wait for the school bus.”

More Stargazing Tips from Sean O’Brien:
Winter is a good time for stargazing because the haze caused by summer's humidity in many parts of the country is gone.
You don't need an expensive telescope, just a star chart. In fact, a telescope can be frustrating if you don't have a basic knowledge of the night sky. Try binoculars first, and use a tripod to hold them up so your arms don't get tired.
Find a place where you feel safe.
Look for a spot where lights aren't shining in your eyes, like in the shadow of your house where your neighbor's porch light is blocked.
Take your time. You will see a lot more after 30 minutes in the dark than you will after just a few minutes because your eyes need time to adjust to the dark.

Looking for a star party near you? Contact your local planetarium, science museum, or astronomy club.