Friday, January 27, 2006

Superhumans Could Challenge Ordinary Folks - Live Science

By Paisley Dodds
Associated Press
posted: 25 January 200611:09 pm ET

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP)—Memory enhancement, IQ boosters and drugs designed to attack genetic weaknesses may increase competition in the future and create a playing field that is far from equal, scientists at the World Economic Forum said Wednesday.

But alongside such ethically complex issues, other forms of human enhancement—organ replacement, drug therapy and genetic mapping—could make the difference between life and death as well.

As science edges closer to allowing parents to choose the gender of their child and drugs are able to dull or enhance memories, some on the sidelines of the annual meeting at the Swiss Alpine ski resort of Davos questioned the economics of human enhancement and the ethics of progress.

"One of the big worries is over genetic discrimination,'' said Francis Collins, director of National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and a leader on the Human Genome Project, a 13-year effort to identify the 20,000 to 25,000 genes in human DNA.

Within a decade, many common illnesses such as cancer are likely to be pinpointed according to their genetic variables, and some others that have been difficult to crack—such as autism and bipolar disorder—might be better understood, Collins said. Also on the horizon is technology that will allow people to know their genetic make-up for about $1,000, he said.

"The question is if we do collect a lot of genetic material from people ... are you going to see those people then injured when their health provider or employer uses that information to take away opportunities,'' Collins told The Associated Press. "At the moment, in the United States particularly, those protections are not in place at a federal level.''

Mapping the genome—or the blueprint of genetic instructions for making an organism—has been just one part of human enhancement, scientists say, but other technologies are making a leap from what was once considered science fiction to reality.

One of those areas is cosmetic neurology, says Olaf Blanke, director of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience in Switzerland.

Drugs are already being used to boost the memories of people suffering from Alzheimers. Other drugs, such as common antidepressants, have been found to soften unpleasant memories.

"You can imagine if this continues what we will see are advances that are much more targeted and more selective,'' Blanke told AP.

The advances raise a multitude of ethical questions, including whether there should be a worldwide body to establish guidelines and regulations.

Debate erupted last month after a South Korean veterinarian Hwang Woo-suk's claim that he cloned 11 human embryos to produce stem cells turned out to be false, providing another set-back in the field of stem cell research.

Stem cells are created in the first days after conception and mature into every cell in the human body. Scientists hope to use stem cells as replacement parts for failing organs and to treat diabetes, Parkinson's and other diseases.

The field has drawn controversy—particularly in the United States where opponents say the process destroys human life because the embryos are destroyed.

Some of the fears over human enhancement are rooted in the idea of eugenics, or using selective breeding to improve the genetic quality of a species. Some of these programs were seen under the Nazis and even in North Carolina where about 7,600 people were sterilized between 1929 and 1974—some of whom were sterilized against their will with labels of "feeble-mindedness.''

Outside the big questions of whether humans should be enhanced and at whose and what cost is the perhaps bigger question of whether enhancement brings happiness, says Richard Matthieu, co-director of the Schechen Buddhist Monastery in Nepal and a molecular geneticist who also serves as an interpreter for the Dalai Lama.

Most recently he's looked at how the brain changes when people meditate.

"Happiness can be enhanced but isn't just about genomes,'' he said. "It's about the mind, which I think is vastly underestimated and underused.''

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Found: one Earth-like planet - Nature

The discovery of rocky planets outside the solar systems will soon bring interesting questions. Maybe within 5 years, we will have the discovery of an object less massive than Pluto and then what's next? Are we going to call this object "asteroid" even though it is round-shaped and we don't know the trajectory of its orbit?
By the way, what if this new "Earth-Like" planet doesn't have a "straight orbit" (following a plane), can we still call it a planet? If not, isn't it weird to deny the "planet" status to an object 5.5 times more massive than Earth?
We should look forward to new discoveries. They will eventually force some people in high places to review some outdated definitions... Pluto and numerous Kuiper Belt Objects will suddenly become "rocky planets"!


Astronomers use gravity lensing to spot homely planets.

Mark Peplow

How to spot a planet: watch for wiggles in the light coming from a far distant star as it curves around another sun.© ESO

Astronomers say they have found the most Earth-like planet yet outside our Solar System. At just 5.5 times the mass of Earth it is one of the smallest extrasolar planets ever found, and orbits its star at a distance comparable to that of habitable worlds.

Similarly sized extrasolar planets have been found before. But the method used to detect them meant we could see smallish planets only when they were very close to their suns, and such bodies are battered by scorching radiation.

Planet OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb looks much more like home. It lies about 390 million kilometres from its star: if it were inside our Solar System, the planet would sit between Mars and Jupiter.

It takes ten years for the planet to orbit its parent star, a common-or-garden red dwarf that lies about 28,000 light years from Earth, close to the centre of our Galaxy.

"The search for a second Earth is the driving force behind our research. " Daniel Kubasat the European Southern Observatory in Santiago de Chile, Chile.

But sadly this Earth-like body probably isn't crawling with life. Its dwarf star is so dim that the surface temperature of this planet is thought to be about - 220 °C.

"The search for a second Earth is the driving force behind our research," says Daniel Kubas at the European Southern Observatory in Santiago de Chile, Chile, part of the team that made the discovery. They are optimistic that the clever method they used to spot the planet could soon uncover an alien twin to our own world.

Wobbly stars

Gravitational microlensing can find small alien worlds in places other techniques cannot reach. Click here to see enlarged image.

More than 170 planets have been discovered outside our Solar System. Astronomers usually detect them by watching how they make their parent star wiggle, a technique known as the Doppler method. This is ideal if you are looking for massive planets orbiting very close to their star, which induce a lot of wobble.

But there is no way this can be used to find small, blue-green planets approximately 150 million kilometres from a yellow sun. It is simply not sensitive enough, says Didier Queloz, an astronomer from Geneva Observatory in Switzerland who was part of the team that found the first extrasolar planet, just 11 years ago1.

The new sighting relies on an effect called gravitational lensing, where a massive object such as a star warps space so that it behaves like a lens. This means that it bends and slightly magnifies light from a more distant star before it reaches our telescopes. Adding a planet to the mix modifies the lensing effect by a tiny amount, just enough to work out its mass and orbit.

"Microlensing is the fastest way to find small, cool planets, down to the mass of the Earth," says Keith Horne, one of the planet's discoverers and an astronomer from the University of St Andrews, UK.

Spot the difference

The planet was found by a consortium of 73 astronomers from 12 different countries. Its star was first spotted by scientists working on the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), before the planet itself was noticed by astronomer Pascal Fouqué.

OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb is only the third planet found using the microlensing technique so far, but astronomers expect to spot many more. "The other two microlensing planets have masses of a few times that of Jupiter, but the discovery of a five-Earth-mass planet is a strong hint that these objects are very common," says Jean-Philippe Beaulieu of the Astrophysics Institute of Paris. Beaulieu is lead author of the paper describing the find in this week's Nature2.

Post a comment to this story by visiting our newsblog.

Mayor M.& Queloz D. . Nature, 378. 355 - 359 (1995). Article ISI ChemPort
Beaulieu J.P., et al. Nature, 439. 437 - 440 (2006). Article

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

First Pope encyclical is on love - BBC/MS/Reuters

Correction to the first post.
The BBC didn't mention that the Pope implied that "eros" or sexe has a positive role in his opinion. (No much place for gay people though)
I have joined another article on the same issue.


First Pope encyclical is on love

By David Willey BBC News, Rome

Pope Benedict says the word love is abused in the modern world

Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical, devoted to the meaning of human and divine love, is being published in Rome on Wednesday.

Deus est Caritas, the Latin for "God is Love", was written by the Pope last year but its publication has been delayed by translation problems.

One million copies are being distributed with this week's issue of Italy's most popular Catholic magazine.

Traditionally, the papal letters give an important clue to a Pope's thinking.

Pope Benedict has been dropping hints about his new teaching document during the past few days, saying that the word "love" has been abused in the modern world.

In his document, the Pope distinguishes between erotic love between man and woman, and idealised unselfish love.

He also explains how love means Christian charity - giving to those in need, particularly in the developing world.

Parts of the Pope's new encyclical were originally written by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, yet another example of the debt Pope Benedict feels he owes to the man whose place he has taken at the Vatican.

Pope encyclical to praise 'eros', not bury it

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -

Pope Benedict's first encyclical will praise the positive aspects of erotic love and human desire within the context of a greater spiritual love, officials familiar with the document said on Monday.

The eagerly awaited encyclical, called "Deus Caritas Est" (God is Love), will be published officially on Wednesday. Vatican officials talked to Reuters about it on the sidelines of a conference on charity.

The main themes of the encyclical, the highest form of papal writing, are love and charity.
In the writing, about 50 pages long, the Pope discusses the relationship between "eros", or erotic love, and "agape", (pronounced ah-gah-pay) the Greek word referring to unconditional, spiritual and selfless love as taught by Jesus.

"The Pope is re-introducing a Catholic vision of eros into the teaching of the Church," Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, head of Cor Unum, the Vatican's charity arm, told Reuters.
"This means that eros is something good, nature is something good. It has to be purified and it has to mature but in itself it (erotic love) is a positive element," he said.

Addressing the group later, the Pope said he decided to dedicate his first encyclical to the theme of love because the word today had become so "wasted" and "abused".

The Pope said he wanted to show the concept of love in its various dimensions and the role of eros in a fully rounded relationship of mutual and self-giving love between a man and woman in life-long marriage.

Cordes said the encyclical was important because too many people still erroneously believed that eros had no role in Christian love or that Christian love was "an enemy of eros".


Cardinal Francis George of Chicago told Reuters the encyclical would try to show that "eros too, the sexual expression of our love, which is integral to ourselves, has a religious dimension".

Vatican sources have said that in explaining his position, the Pope quotes not only from Biblical writings, his predecessors and Church teachings, but also from lay philosophers.

The second part of the encyclical is dedicated to the theme of charity, the need for Catholics to do charitable works and support international aid organisations.

"The spectacle of suffering man touches our heart," the Pope said on Monday. "But the commitment to charity has a meaning that goes beyond simple philanthrophy. It is God himself that pushes us deep down in our hearts to alleviate this misery.

The encyclical was due to have been published on Dec. 8 but Vatican sources said it was delayed by a series of additions, deletions and changes after observations from various Vatican departments and cardinals who had read a draft.

Pope John Paul wrote 14 encyclicals during his nearly 27-year reign, including several so-called social encyclicals on themes such as the rights of workers and the relationship between the superpowers during the Cold War.

Pope Benedict has said he does not expect to write as much as his predecessor.

Copyright © 2005 Reuters

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Nyxem worm programmed to overwrite data files on Feb. 3 - ComputerWorld / IDG News,10801,107971,00.html
'Throwback' malware also travels under name of Kama Sutra

News Story by Jeremy Kirk
JANUARY 23, 2006 (IDG NEWS SERVICE) - Antivirus vendors are warning of a rapidly spreading worm that is carrying a potentially destructive set of instructions. The Nyxem worm -- also nicknamed the Kama Sutra worm -- is programmed to overwrite all of the files on computers it infects on Feb. 3, said Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure Corp.

F-Secure researchers found the worm truncates files to 20 bytes and causes an error message when one is opened, he said.

"We are expecting to see problems in two weeks' time," Hypponen said.

The worm appears to be programmed to overwrite all files on the third day of every month, Hypponen said. So far, there's no indication where Nyxem originated.

While most antivirus vendors have issued updates for their software, Nyxem is spreading quickly, and its creators have posted a counter on a Web site that records new infections. According to F-Secure's security blog, the counter was showing around 510,000 infections as of Sunday night.

Nyxem infections may be rising because it is taking advantage of computers that have already had their antivirus software disabled by some other virus such as Bagle, Hypponen said.

The worm, which is spread through e-mail, uses a dated technique to entice users by promising pornography, said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant, at Sophos PLC. Nyxem lacks the sophistication of recent Trojan horse-style viruses that are more targeted and less prevalent in order to evade detection, Cluley said.

Nonetheless, users appear to still be clicking, and the worm was accounting for about 35% of virus traffic as of Monday morning, he said.

"It's a bit of a throwback to an old trick," Cluley said.

The worm harvests e-mail addresses and then sends itself out again. The e-mail subject line may contain text that says "Miss Lebanon 2006" or "School girl fantasies gone bad," according to Sophos.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

"Art": Live Journal/Community/Philosophy

posted by fingersweep:

This is a general question about art. What makes art "good", or lasting, is probably a worn-out discussion, here (it's perhaps the first question that comes to mind, on the topic).

Art, as I've seen it, can be "good" so long as it to refers to something besides itself, something which gives it value, and which keeps from limiting it to subjective emotion, which could be relative, and which would destroy the meaning, and then the possibility, of anything that could be considered art, with meaning.

So art should not be viewed as subjectively relative, perhaps, in order to define its power, to give it power. For art to have lasting value, and to be good, its purpose shouldn't be solely dependent on an historical context, but should influence human emotion into its design, in order to escape its times.

If this explains nothing else, it explains why people might say, without thinking, "I like this because it makes me happy." Why? It reflects their happiness. As far as their happiness is relative, or confused, the art is relative, and meaningless, I believe. But if their happiness is defined, and given a cause through their interpretation of the work of art, then the work of art is definitely qualified, and distinct from the person interpreting their emotion through it, while still influencing that person, inasmuch as he understands the work of art as describing happiness.

But why should I believe that art is definitely qualified by the message I receive from it? Should a work of art ultimately be subjectively relative, even if people, whose intuitions we might, sometimes, distrust, agree with us? I'm inclined to say "fuck them, I see something in this," even if everyone is against me.

But I also believe one could bring others to agree with him, if he gives definite reasons for admiring a work of art.

But if you're clever, or creative, enough, you could probably convince someone an old popsticle stick on the ground, applied to art, becomes your invention. And then what would you do? Just give it "lasting meaning"? Art is art if the fool says it's art, not because it's art.

My question is, is there no line to draw? And if that's true, we shouldn't define meaning in art. We should interpret it. Art would be a play in context, rather than truth.

My reply:

I agree with this minimum definition "Art is defined as art as long as it brings emotions to at least 1 person."I disagree that art is necessarily about having EVERYONE feeling emotions about it.

There is nothing wrong with popularity but sometimes this popularity may come at the expense of "little emotions" shared by everyone.

A "masterpiece" is about "strong emotions" shared by a great diversity of people.

My only problem is... should something be considered "artistic" if the ARTIST is THE ONLY ONE to feel a (genuine) emotion? I would say yes. The artist may be "too advanced" for the public.


The thing you have to keep in mind, with this, so you don't get confused, or spout out some meaningless distinctions about "degrees of emotion," or whatever you're trying to express by calling emotion "little" or "strong," is that the artist can't control the responses of his public.

If he could, as you say, we could call something a masterpiece, claiming a great diversity of people feel "strong emotions" concerning it. Well, possibly. But the work of art could be shit, and the emotions could still be strong.

My reply:

That's the problem of "quality"!

I mean some "experts" would say that a masterpiece is a masterpiece because it is technically "well crafted".

I would still argue that emotion is the final basis for something being called artistic.

Emotion being subjective, art is subjective.


The response to art is subjective, you mean?

My reply:

Yes, I think the response to art is subjective.

What is good to me may not be good to you. And it doesn't matter that much.

By "Good", I still mean that it's about feeling a "genuine" emotion.

posted by sisyphus:

So, my wife cheating on me could be classified as performance art, since it would bring the emotion of murderous rage to at least one person? That's crazy. Equating art with emotion in this way is clearly not enough for a definition that works.

My reply:

There must be an intent (a will) to do some kind of artistic work.(This is the weak point of my proposition)

Your wife's behaviour is not intended to be artistic (no offense)

But there is an important point to be made though. Anything that brings you some strong emotion may bring you in a position to do something of real artistic value. There are numerous examples in painting, music, cinema etc.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Stardust's Space Cargo Thrills Scientists - National Geographic

John Roach for National Geographic News
January 19, 2006

Scientists say they're thrilled and awed by their first glimpse at the comet particles and samples of interstellar dust returned by the Stardust spacecraft.

Stardust's canister of samples dropped safely to Utah's desert floor Sunday.

"Now we can bring to mankind a very unique glimpse of the beginning of our solar system," said Peter Tsou, the mission's deputy principal investigator, at a mission briefing today at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

"In fact I will say tiny samples from a distant comet open giant windows of our past," Tsou added.

The canister's return marked the final leg of the spacecraft's 7-year, 2.88-billion-mile (4.63-billion-kilometer) flight. (Watch a video of the Stardust mission.)

During its mission, Stardust collected particles swirling off the comet Wild 2, as well as samples of interstellar dust streaming into our solar system from other parts of the galaxy (interactive solar system map).

The spacecraft collected the particles using a tennis-racket-shaped device filled with a light, porous material called aerogel. The light, porous gel is 99.8 percent air and is capable of trapping delicate particles without damaging them.

Donald Brownlee, Stardust's lead scientist, called the collected particles a "cosmic treasure."
After the canister touched down in the Utah desert—just hours before a fierce snowstorm—scientists recovered the capsule and shipped it to Johnson Space Center.

Researchers got their first peek at the contents Tuesday.

First Look

Brownlee said scientists gathered around the racketlike collector and were awed at what they saw.

About a dozen comet particles thicker than a human hair and a least one larger than a millimeter (four hundredths of an inch) were visible to the naked eye, he said.

"We were totally overwhelmed by the ability to actually see this so quickly and so straightforwardly," he added.

The scientists estimate there may be more than a million specks of comet dust embedded in the aerogel.

Researchers will be studying the gel for years to glean clues about the origins of the solar system and the building blocks of life.

At the briefing, Brownlee unveiled the first enlarged image of a comet particle, which has already helped answer a key question about comets.

"It appears to be a transparent mineral grain, which scientifically is great, because there has been lots of discussion whether comets contain minerals, or glass, or whatever," he said.

"We've already got scientific results."

Further Studies

Now that Stardust's canister is safely at Johnson Space Center, mission scientists will prepare samples to send to experts around the world.

"We have something like 150 scientists worldwide poised to grab these samples in their own labs and study them," Michael Zolensky, Stardust's curator and a co-investigator, said at the briefing.

With so many qualified scientists working with the samples, results should come very quickly, he added.

Some groups will study the bulk composition of the samples, comparing them to meteorites.

Other researchers will look at the elements to learn about the history of the samples.

Additional experts will try to answer questions about whether comets delivered water and the building blocks of life to Earth.

In addition, scientists believe the spacecraft collected upwards of 200 grains of interstellar dust no larger than a micron (a millionth of a meter) in size.

The tiny grains, however, are lodged on a relatively large collector, which makes searching for them like looking for ants on a football field.

To help in this task, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley designed a computer program—called Stardust@home—that allows individual computer-users to search through some 1.5 million images of the aerogel for the telltale tracks left by the grains.

"We already have more than 50,000 people signing up for this and we hope for many, many more … [P]erhaps with this effort we'll find interstellar grains rapidly," Zolensky said.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ex-EPA Chiefs Blame Bush in Global Warming - Associated Press

By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 46 minutes ago


Six former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency' — five Republicans and one Democrat — accused the Bush administration Wednesday of neglecting global warming and other environmental problems.

"I don't think there's a commitment in this administration," said Bill Ruckelshaus, who was EPA's first administrator when the agency opened its doors in 1970 under President Nixon and headed it again under President Reagan in the 1980s.
Russell Train, who succeeded Ruckelshaus in the Nixon and Ford administrations, said slowing the growth of "greenhouse" gases isn't enough.
"We need leadership, and I don't think we're getting it," he said at an EPA-sponsored symposium centered around the agency's 35th anniversary. "To sit back and just push it away and say we'll deal with it sometime down the road is dishonest to the people and self-destructive."
All of the former administrators raised their hands when EPA's current chief, Stephen Johnson, asked whether they believe global warming is a real problem, and again when he asked if humans bear significant blame.
Agency heads during five Republican administrations, including the current one, criticized the Bush White House for what they described as a failure of leadership.
Defending his boss, Johnson said the current administration has spent $20 billion on research and technology to combat climate change after
President Bush' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> President Bush rejected mandatory controls on carbon dioxide, the chief gas blamed for trapping heat in the atmosphere like a greenhouse.
Bush also kept the United States out of the Kyoto international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases globally, saying it would harm the U.S. economy, after many of the accord's terms were negotiated by the Clinton administration.
"I know from the president on down, he is committed," Johnson said. "And certainly his charge to me was, and certainly our team has heard it: 'I want you to accelerate the pace of environmental protection. I want you to maintain our economic competitiveness.' And I think that's really what it's all about."
His predecessors disagreed. Lee Thomas, Ruckelshaus's successor in the Reagan administration, said that "if the United States doesn't deal with those kinds of issues in a leadership role, they're not going to get dealt with. So I'm very concerned about this country and this agency."
Bill Reilly, the EPA administrator under the first President Bush, echoed that assessment.
"The time will come when we will address seriously the problem of climate change, and this is the agency that's best equipped to anticipate it," he said.
Christie Whitman, the first of three EPA administrators in the current Bush administration, said people obviously are having "an enormous impact" on the earth's warming.
"You'd need to be in a hole somewhere to think that the amount of change that we have imposed on land, and the way we've handled deforestation, farming practices, development, and what we're putting into the air, isn't exacerbating what is probably a natural trend," she said. "But this is worse, and it's getting worse."
Carol Browner, who was
President Clinton' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> President Clinton's EPA administrator, said the White House and the Congress should push legislation to establish a carbon trading program based on a 1990 pollution trading program that helped reduce acid rain.
"If we wait for every single scientist who has a thought on the issue of climate change to agree, we will never do anything," she said. "If this agency had waited to completely understand the impacts of DDT, the impacts of lead in our gasoline, there would probably still be DDT sprayed and lead in our gasoline."
Three former administrators did not attend Wednesday's ceremony:
Mike Leavitt' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> Mike Leavitt, now secretary of health and human services; Doug Costle, who was in the Carter administration, and Anne Burford, a Reagan appointee who died last year.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Exercise 'cuts Alzheimer's risk' - BBC

Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 January 2006, 00:00 GMT
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Regular exercise reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease by up to 40%, US research suggests.

The University of Washington study claims to be the most definitive investigation into the effect of exercise on dementia.

The Annals of Internal Medicine study found the more frail a person was, the more exercise was likely to help them.

A regular gentle work-out was enough to produce a positive effect - even for people aged over 65.

Even if you're 75 and have never exercised before, you can still benefit by starting to exercise now
Dr Eric Larson

Lead researcher Dr Eric Larson said walking for 15 minutes three times a week was enough to cut the risk.

Not only did regular exercise cut the risk of dementia, the results suggested it might also help to delay progression of the condition in people who begin to develop symptoms.

Previous studies into the effect of exercise on dementia have produced mixed results.

Long-term follow-up

The study followed 1,740 people aged 65 and older over a six-year period. At the start of the study none showed signs of dementia.

After six years, 158 participants had developed dementia, of which 107 had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

People who exercised three or more times a week had a 30% to 40% lower risk of developing dementia compared with those who exercised fewer than three times per week.

Dr Larson believes exercise may improve brain function by boosting blood flow to areas of the brain used for memory.
He said: "Earlier research has shown that poor blood flow can damage these parts of the brain.
"So one theory is that exercise may prevent damage and might even help repair these areas by increasing blood flow."
"Even if you're 75 and have never exercised before, you can still benefit by starting to exercise now."
Rebecca Wood, of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said previous research had suggested exercise could reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.
In particular, a large study from Sweden published last year drew similar conclusions.
Mrs Wood said: "Most previous studies have found that exercise improves brain function.
"Many researchers believe that what is good for the heart is good for the head."
But she added: "The study is particularly important since it shows that exercise is beneficial even after the age of 65 and even among frailer people."
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Monday, January 16, 2006

Woman's scent can lure or repel - BBC

Last Updated: Sunday, 15 January 2006, 15:47 GMT

A woman's body odour can help her attract men when she is at her most fertile and repel them when she is not, scientists have said.

Men said the women's odour was most intense during menstruation

According to a report in the journal Ethology, when a woman is at the most fertile part of the menstrual cycle her armpit odour is at its mildest.

But when she is having a period, and not ready for pregnancy, the smell changes to an acute, repellent odour.

The researchers studied 12 women who wore armpit pads for 24 hours a day.

A number of primate species display changes during their fertile period, but the majority of scientists believed that this was not the case with humans.

Subconscious cue

The 12 women were restricted from eating certain foods and from using deodorant or hormonal contraceptive.

They provided odour samples on the armpit pads, which were then presented to 42 men, who sniffed them and assessed the attractiveness of the scent.

"Axillary odour from women in the follicular phase was rated as the most attractive and least intense," the study's leader Dr Jan Havlicek, from Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, said.

"The results suggest that body odour can be used by men as a cue to the fertile period in current or prospective sexual partners," he added.

A previous study by the same team suggested that women subconsciously prefer the aroma of dominant men when they are at the most fertile stage of the menstrual cycle.

Then the researchers asked 48 men to assess how dominant they felt.

The men then wore cotton pads in their armpits for 24 hours, which were subsequently presented to 65 women.

Those who were ovulating rated the "dominant" men as sexiest, but there was no similar pattern among women at other stages of their menstrual cycle.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Space Exploration: Time and Priorities

This debate can be found at Live Journal's Space Exploration Community:

I’m starting on an expository essay and the topic I've chosen is on whether or not we should be spending what we have been on space exploration (which I’m all for it). But I'm a little lost on how to start, besides solving the overpopulation problem by colonizing other planets, what other importance is there in space exploration?

My reply:

Our generation doesn't have to worry too much about overpopulation or the extinction of vital resources but our children and grand-children could be much more concerned.

I don't think the "colonization" of our solar systems is a priority given the costs of sending humans to space.

Getting knowledgeable about the solar system should be a priority given the benefits for basic science, technology, the environment. Robotic exploration is fine.

There is also the philosophical implications of finding life elsewhere than on Earth.

The robotic Exploration of Mars, Europa and Titan is a priority.

Developing new technologies for sending humans into space will become a priority when we will get enough evidence of Earth-like planets in other solar systems. Within one or two centuries, the Earth could become too small for the world population, then there will be the necessity of finding other places with the right atmosphere, the right resources and the right climate. When will it happen?


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sovereignity of nations and the legitimacy of military action

This is a debate proposed at this website:

Here is the question:

Sovereignity of nations
This old philosophical paradigm about the sovereignity of nations and of the nation's sovereign, where does it stand these days? I am wondering about this in particular after it has turned out that Iraq never had any WMDs, and that the US populace was misled. The only current 'rationale' is that Iraq's old sovereign, Saddam Hussein, was ousted from power.

My reply:

I understand the concept of sovereignty as one of popular consent. No coutries can violate another country's sovereignty unless there has some evidence that there is a popular consent (from local nationals) for forcing a despot/dictator out of power.

In the case of Iraq, I don't remember hearing any evidence that there was a call from Iraqis for a foreign invasion to force Saddam Hussein out of power. I don't believe either that the local population of any country are likely to call for a military invasion for one good reason. They have brothers... cousins... sons... serving in the armed forces.
I only see the case of genocide where military action can be justified EVEN IF there is no clear demand for help from the local population. Exemple: Cambodia's invasion by Vietnam in 1979.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Welcome to Mars express: only a three hour trip - scotsman

Caution: This stuff is based on a controversial theory that remains unproven.
So far, it's still science fiction. What is interesting? There is a budget to test this theory within 5 years.



AN EXTRAORDINARY "hyperspace" engine that could make interstellar space travel a reality by flying into other dimensions is being investigated by the United States government.

The hypothetical device, which has been outlined in principle but is based on a controversial theory about the fabric of the universe, could potentially allow a spacecraft to travel to Mars in three hours and journey to a star 11 light years away in just 80 days, according to a report in today's New Scientist magazine.

The theoretical engine works by creating an intense magnetic field that, according to ideas first developed by the late scientist Burkhard Heim in the 1950s, would produce a gravitational field and result in thrust for a spacecraft.

Also, if a large enough magnetic field was created, the craft would slip into a different dimension, where the speed of light is faster, allowing incredible speeds to be reached. Switching off the magnetic field would result in the engine reappearing in our current dimension.

The US air force has expressed an interest in the idea and scientists working for the American Department of Energy - which has a device known as the Z Machine that could generate the kind of magnetic fields required to drive the engine - say they may carry out a test if the theory withstands further scrutiny.

Professor Jochem Hauser, one of the scientists who put forward the idea, told The Scotsman that if everything went well a working engine could be tested in about five years.

However, Prof Hauser, a physicist at the Applied Sciences University in Salzgitter, Germany, and a former chief of aerodynamics at the European Space Agency, cautioned it was based on a highly controversial theory that would require a significant change in the current understanding of the laws of physics.

"It would be amazing. I have been working on propulsion systems for quite a while and it would be the most amazing thing. The benefits would be almost unlimited," he said.

"But this thing is not around the corner; we first have to prove the basic science is correct and there are quite a few physicists who have a different opinion.

"It's our job to prove we are right and we are working on that."

He said the engine would enable spaceships to travel to different solar systems. "If the theory is correct then this is not science fiction, it is science fact," Prof Hauser said.

"NASA have contacted me and next week I'm going to see someone from the [US] air force to talk about it further, but it is at a very early stage. I think the best-case scenario would be within the next five years [to build a test device] if the technology works."

The US authorities' attention was attracted after Prof Hauser and an Austrian colleague, Walter Droscher, wrote a paper called "Guidelines for a space propulsion device based on Heim's quantum theory".

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Space science
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Last updated: 05-Jan-06 01:16 GMT

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sound Science: Pete Townshend Blames Headphones for Hearing Loss - Live Science

I'm interested in the measurement of the loudness of sound (decibels). This article says that it's a log scale where 20 more decibels is 100 times more intense. That would translate into a factor of 1.26 for every incremental decibel. If we play some music louder by one decibel, it would be 26% louder. Is this correct? Thanks for a confirmation.


By Robert Roy Britt
LiveScience Managing Editor
posted: 04 January 200611:00 pm ET

In a widely reported story this week, rock star Pete Townshend blamed his hearing loss on earphones rather than the years of participating in loud concerts with his band, The Who.
But what is the science of his claim? Pretty solid.
Townshend has spoken of his hearing loss before but refrained from blaming headphones or speaking to the science of the situation. But having been forced to alter the style of music he writes, as well as needing to take 36-hour breaks from the noise, he felt compelled to break the silence.
"This very morning, after a night in the studio trying to crack a difficult song demo, I wake up realizing again—reminding myself, and feeling the need to remind the world—that my own particular kind of damage was caused by using earphones in the recording studio, not playing loud on stage," Townshend wrote on his web site Dec. 29.
"My ears are ringing, loudly," the guitarist wrote. "This rarely happens after a live show, unless the Who play a small club. This is a peculiar hazard of the recording studio."

The science of it

Warnings about potential hearing loss from loud concert music go back decades. Researchers in the 1980s began cautioning that the Walkman and other headphone-based music devices also packed risk.
The widespread and increasing use of headphones and the newer earbuds has been shown to induce hearing loss in young people.
An updated warning was issued just last month for the modern devices, including iPods and MP3 players.
"We're seeing the kind of hearing loss in younger people typically found in aging adults," Dean Garstecki, a Northwestern University audiologist, said in December. "Unfortunately, the earbuds preferred by music listeners are even more likely to cause hearing loss than the muff-type earphones that were associated with the older devices."
Earbuds, being inserted into rather than surrounding it, can boost sound intensity by 6 to 9 decibels, Garstecki said.

What hurts

Hearing loss is typically painless and gradual in its inception. So we don't notice it's early stages, except perhaps as a ringing in the ear known as tinnitus.
The American Hearing Research Foundation (AHRF) reports that "1-in-10 Americans has a hearing loss that affects his or her ability to understand normal speech."
The decibel (dB) scale is logarithmic, such that 40 decibels is 100 times as intense as 20 decibels. Some common sounds:

20 dB: A whisper
60 dB: Normal conversation
100 dB: Chainsaw
120 dB: Rock concert
140 dB: Jet engine
180 dB: Firecracker

Length of exposure is a crucial factor in hearing loss. A constant 100-dB sound level can cause damage after 2 hours, according to the AHRF. You don't want to experience 140 dB for even a second.

Earbud exposure

Students at Witchita State University have been found to be experiencing decibel levels of 110 to 120 during normal use of earbuds, Garstecki said.
He fears that better batteries nowadays make personal music players even more dangerous, because people can use them for long stretches. He recommends reducing the sound level and limiting use to an hour a day to stay safe.
Townshend, while not a scientist, also worries about extended use, because music is so often shared among computers in offices and kitchens, and headphones offer privacy.
"If you use an iPod or anything like it, or your child uses one, you MAY be OK," Townshend writes. "It may only be studio earphones that cause bad damage. I only have long experience of the studio side of things (though I've listened to music for pleasure on earphones for years, long before the Walkman was introduced). But my intuition tells me there is terrible trouble ahead."