Plasma Antenna
This prototype plasma antenna is stealthy, versatile, and jam-resistant. Credit: T. R. Anderson and I. Alexeff

Scientific blogging, via /., reports:

A new antenna made of plasma (a gas heated to the point that the electrons are ripped free of atoms and molecules) works just like conventional metal antennas, except that it vanishes when you turn it off.

That’s important on the battlefield and in other applications where antennas need to be kept out of sight. In addition, unlike metal antennas, the electrical characteristics of a plasma antenna can be rapidly adjusted to counteract signal jamming attempts.

John Roach, National Geographic News, reports:

To find north, humans look to a compass. But birds may just need to open their eyes, a new study says.

Scientists already suspected birds’ eyes contain molecules that are thought to sense Earth’s magnetic field. In a new study, German researchers found that these molecules are linked to an area of the brain known to process visual information.

In that sense, “birds may see the magnetic field,” said study lead author Dominik Heyers, a biologist at the University of Oldenburg.

Parallel universes really do exist, according to a mathematical discovery by Oxford scientists described by one expert as “one of the most important developments in the history of science”.

The parallel universe theory, first proposed in 1950 by the US physicist Hugh Everett, helps explain mysteries of quantum mechanics that have baffled scientists for decades, it is claimed.

In Everett’s “many worlds” universe, every time a new physical possibility is explored, the universe splits. Given a number of possible alternative outcomes, each one is played out - in its own universe.

Don Jewell, GPS World, writes:

Since I have been writing about the Perfect Handheld GPS Transceiver, I have received numerous letters and emails asking why an atomic clock is necessary in a handheld transceiver, or in any device for that matter. I could write volumes on the subject, literally, but will try to boil it down to a few key concepts for you.

Robin McKie, science editor, The Observer, writes:

The Arctic’s sea covering has shrunk so much that the Northwest Passage, the fabled sea route that connects Europe and Asia, has opened up for the first time since records began.

The discovery, revealed through satellite images provided by the European Space Agency (Esa), shows how bad the consequences of global warming are becoming in northerly latitudes. This summer there was a reduction of a million square kilometres in the Arctic’s ice covering compared with 2006, scientists have found.

As a result, the Northwest Passage that runs between Canada and Greenland has been freed of the ice that has previously blocked it and that, over the centuries, has frustrated dozens of expeditions that attempted to sail northwest and open up a commercial sea route between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

PhysOrg relays:

New scientific findings suggest that a large comet may have exploded over North America 12,900 years ago, explaining riddles that scientists have wrestled with for decades, including an abrupt cooling of much of the planet and the extinction of large mammals.

Jay Leno behind the steering tiller of his 1909 Baker Electric.
Jay Leno behind the steering tiller of his 1909 Baker Electric. (Jamie Rector for The New York Times)

DEXTER FORD, The New York Times, reports:

THE new hybrid Ford Escape taxis scuttling around New York City give their occupants an aura of environmental superiority. But as far as clean electric-powered cars are concerned, these high-mileage hybrids are actually a bit behind the times.

About 100 years behind.

Starting in 1914, the Detroit Taxicab and Transfer Company built and operated a fleet of nearly 100 electric cabs. Customers would often wait for a smoother, cleaner, more tasteful electric cab, even when a gas-powered cab was already on station.

At the turn of the 20th century, quiet, smooth, pollution-free electric cars were a common sight on the streets of major American cities. Women especially favored them over steam- and gasoline-powered cars.

In an era in which gasoline-powered automobiles were noisy, smelly, greasy and problematic to start, electric cars, like Jay Leno’s restored 1909 Baker Electric Coupe, represented a form of women’s liberation. Well-dressed society women could simply drive to lunch, to shop, or to visit friends without fear of soiling their gloves, mussing their hair or setting their dresses on fire.

Symmetricom Telecom Solutions reports:

On September 7, 2007, we can all celebrate the 80th anniversary of the birth of television. As we consider the new technologies that are bringing us IPTV, and the impending end of analog TV broadcasting, consider that television is here today because of agriculture. That’s right, if it weren’t for tilling a field with a horse-drawn harrow, we may not be talking today about the wonders of packet-based video.

Dennis Buffington, Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Penn State University, writes:

Burning shelled corn as a fuel can be a feasible way of dealing with the high prices of more conventional fuels such as fuel oil, propane, natural gas, coal, and firewood. Utilizing corn as a fuel does not compete with the food supply needed for nourishment throughout the world. While it is recognized that malnutrition is a serious global problem, the world is not experiencing a food production problem. Instead the world faces political challenges associated with providing infrastructure systems for food distribution and storage.

Contemporary agricultural systems can produce sufficient quality and quantity of food for the world’s population, with additional resources available so that agricultural products can be used as fuel, pharmaceuticals, and chemical feedstocks. Shelled corn is a fuel that can be produced within 180 days, compared to the millennia needed to produce fossil fuels.

The plasma-filled shield would offer protection from harmful particles

Paul Rincon, Science reporter, BBC News, Preston, reports:

British scientists are planning to see whether a Star Trek-style deflector shield could be built to protect astronauts from radiation.
They argue that magnetic shields could be deployed around spacecraft and on the surfaces of planets to deflect harmful energised particles.

Reuters reports:

LONDON, England (Reuters) — Beaming people in “Star Trek” fashion is still in the realms of science fiction, but physicists in Denmark have teleported information from light to matter bringing quantum communication and computing closer to reality.

Until now scientists have teleported similar objects such as light or single atoms over short distances from one spot to another in a split second.

But Professor Eugene Polzik and his team at the Niels Bohr Institute at Copenhagen University in Denmark have made a breakthrough by using both light and matter.

“It is one step further because for the first time it involves teleportation between light and matter, two different objects. One is the carrier of information and the other one is the storage medium,” Polzik explained in an interview on Wednesday.

The experiment involved for the first time a macroscopic atomic object containing thousands of billions of atoms. They also teleported the information a distance of half a meter but believe it can be extended further.

DRU SEFTON, Newhouse News Service, reports:

Let us now take 9,192,631,770 cycles of radiation corresponding to the transition between two hyperfine levels of the ground state of cesium-133 to pay tribute to the atomic clock.

That would be one second.

Fifty years ago this October, the atomic clock first became available commercially. It and its descendants use that cesium frequency to keep time, accurately measuring to one-billionth of a second.

GPS World reports:

The current GPS constellation — its health and viability — continues in question and under scrutiny, despite reassurances from the Air Force.

Last month’s GPS World Survey & Construction e-newsletter relayed user plaints that there aren’t enough healthy GPS satellites. Surveyors say they can’t use RTK a full day with the current constellation even with every satellite healthy — and that recently there have been more satellite outages than ever before. They’ve resorted to filling GPS gaps with GLONASS.

The online story drew immediate affirmation. “While most of the time we get good coverage, for the last couple months we have had a 4 to 6-hour gap where we ‘float’ a lot and our precision goes down. Unfortunately this gap is usually between 10 am and 2 pm, which creates some interesting scheduling problems.”


NO positive leap second will be introduced at the end of December 2006.
The difference between Coordinated Universal Time UTC and the
International Atomic Time TAI is :

from 2006 January 1, 0h UTC, until further notice : UTC-TAI = -33 s

RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer, reports:

They don’t bring along an umbrella or sunglasses that might be needed later, but researchers say apes, like people, can plan ahead.

Both orangutans and bonobos were able to figure out which tool would work in an effort to retrieve grapes, and were able to remember to bring that tool along hours later, researchers report in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

In a series of laboratory tests the apes were shown the tools and grapes, allowed to retrieve grapes, and then removed from the area where the treats were available.

They were allowed back from one to 14 hours later and most were able to bring along the correct tool to get the treats, report Nicholas J. Mulcahy and Josep Call of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Ron Cowen, Science News reports:

Did last New Year’s Eve seem a trifle tedious? Did your celebration go on a little too long? Maybe that’s because just before midnight Greenwich Mean Time—6:59:59 Eastern Standard Time to be exact—the international authority on timekeeping ordered everyone to wait a second. For the 23rd time since 1972, the International Earth Rotation and Reference System Service added an extra second to the time standard, a worldwide network of some 200 atomic clocks.

The clocks, most of them governed by the ultrasteady vibrations of electrons in cesium atoms, are accurate to a tenth of a billionth of a second a day. However, humankind’s oldest clock—Earth’s rotation—isn’t nearly so precise. Primarily in response to the moon’s tidal pull on the oceans, our planet isn’t turning quite as fast as it used to. To keep Earth time and atomic time in sync, experts have agreed to insert a leap second every few years into the official atomic-based standard, which is called Coordinated Universal Time.

Because the rate at which Earth slows isn’t perfectly predictable from year to year, leap seconds are announced only 6 months in advance. That’s a concern for software designers, operators of satellite-based systems, and anyone else who relies on split-second communications. Six months isn’t much warning for engineers who operate computer programs or types of equipment that require precise time information and are intended to last for at least a decade. Some operations, such as the Global Positioning System, use custom time scales that eschew leap seconds entirely.

A glitch in inserting a leap second, these researchers say, could throw everything off, whether it’s the timing of an international business deal, the location that a missile hits, or the star that the Hubble Space Telescope observes. “A 1-second hiccup in the phasing of North American power grids would likely cause a hemispheric blackout,” notes Daniel Kleppner, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology–Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms in Cambridge, Mass., in the March Physics Today.

Inserting a leap second “is a little bit like walking along the San Andreas fault,” comments Tom Van Baak, a self-described precision-time hobbyist from Bellevue, Wash. It’s typically an innocuous experience, but there’s always the potential for catastrophe lurking beneath the surface.

With Earth continuing to grow more sluggish, scientists note, leap seconds will have to be introduced more and more frequently. “Eventually, you get to the point that the paradigm involved in this won’t work,” says Dennis McCarthy, a time specialist now retired from the U.S. Naval Observatory. “You’ve got to do something different. The addition of leap seconds is going to be an increasing nuisance for people who are counting on a time scale where a minute actually contains 60 seconds.”

That’s why a group of U.S. time-communication specialists, part of the International Telecommunications Union, proposed in 2004 to do away with leap seconds altogether. Let atomic time be out of whack with Earth rotation–based time, these scientists say. Their proposal is now under review by a working group of the union.

WILLIAM McCALL , The Associated Press, :

A tiny chemical reactor that can convert vegetable oil directly into biodiesel could help farmers turn some of their crops into homegrown fuel to operate agricultural equipment instead of relying on costly imported oil.

“This is all about producing energy in such a way that it liberates people,” said Goran Jovanovic, a chemical engineering professor at Oregon State University who developed the microreactor.

The device - about the size of a credit card - pumps vegetable oil and alcohol through tiny parallel channels, each smaller than a human hair, to convert the oil into biodiesel almost instantly.

By comparison, it takes more than a day to produce biodiesel with current technology.

Poul-Henning Kamp, Slagelse, Denmark, writes:

When I contacted D-Link back in November 2005 about the way D-Link products abused my NTP-server, I expected to get in touch with somebody who understood what they were talking about, I expected them to admit that D-Link had made a bad decision and I expected that D-Link would make good on the damage they were responsible for.

For the last five months I have wasted a lot of time trying to reach some kind of agreement with the Californian lawyer which D-Link put on the case. I can’t quite make up my mind if D-Link’s lawyer negotiates in bad faith or is merely uninformed, I tend to suspect the latter, but either way, as of this morning I decided to cut my losses.

Since no one else at D-Link has reacted to my numerous emails, I have no other means of getting in touch with D-Link other than an open letter. I realize that it will be inconvenient and embarrasing for D-Link to have this matter exposed in public this way, but I seem to have no other choice.

I will now lay out the case below in such detail that any moderately knowledgeable person should be able to understand it, and hopefully somebody, somewhere in D-Link will contact me so we can get this matter resolved.

Science Blog, via BoingBoing, reports:

Using a popular internet game that traces the travels of dollar bills, scientists have unveiled statistical laws of human travel in the United States, and developed a mathematical description that can be used to model the spread of infectious disease in this country. This model is considered a breakthrough in the field.

“We were confident that we could learn a lot from the data collected at the bill-tracking website, but the results turned out far beyond our expectations,” said Lars Hufnagel, a post-doctoral fellow at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and co-author of an article describing the research in the January 26 issue of the journal Nature.

On Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow writes:

A parasite that causes rats to sacrifice themselves to cats may also change human behavior, making women more outgoing and warmhearted, and men more jealous and suspicious. The Toxoplasma bacteria is shed in cat feces, which are eaten by rats; infected rats become fearless in the presence of cats, which makes them easier to catch, which, in turn spreads the disease to new cats.

Carl Zimmer is the author of Parasite Rex, a sharp science book dealing with the amazing ways that parasites attack us, change us, farm us, use us and kill us. He reports on new research on the effect of Toxoplasma bacteria on humans.

Toxoplasma was previously believed to be largely harmless to humans (though it can compromise our immune systems). But new research suggests that humans, like rats, go through behavioral changes when infected with the parasite, though the effects are opposite in women and men.

Regular BB readers will remember my review of Scott Westerfeld’s Peeps, a young-adult vampire novel largely inspired by Parasite Rex, in which all of the behaviors attributed to vampires are explained in parasitological terms.

Some scientists believe that Toxoplasma changes the personality of its human hosts, bringing different shifts to men and women. Parasitologist Jaroslav Flegr of Charles University in Prague administered psychological questionnaires to people infected with Toxoplasma and controls. Those infected, he found, show a small, but statistically significant, tendency to be more self-reproaching and insecure. Paradoxically, infected women, on average, tend to be more outgoing and warmhearted than controls, while infected men tend to be more jealous and suspicious.

KAZINFORM reports:

LONDON. December 30. KAZINFORM - The world’s top timekeepers will insert an extra second—or leap second—just before midnight in coordinated universal time (UTC) on New Year’s Eve. (That’s the same as 6:59:59 p.m. eastern time on December 31.) UTC is determined by atomic clocks and is five hours ahead of eastern time.

Janie Magruder, Gannett News Service, via Slashdot, :

troverted children enjoy the internal world of thoughts, feelings and fantasies, and there’s a physiological reason for this. Researchers using brain scans have found introverts have more brain activity in general, and specifically in the frontal lobes. When these areas are activated, introverts are energized by retrieving long-term memories, problem solving, introspection, complex thinking and planning.

Extroverts enjoy the external world of things, people and activities. They have more activity in brain areas involved in processing the sensory information we’re bombarded with daily. Because extroverts have less internally generated brain activity, they search for more external stimuli to energize them.


Andrew Stimpson
Andrew Stimpson (pic: courtesy of News of the World/Mail on Sunday)

The BBC reports:

Doctors say they want to investigate the case of a British man with HIV who apparently became clear of the virus.

Andrew Stimpson, 25, was diagnosed HIV-positive in 2002 but was found to be negative in October 2003 by Chelsea and Westminster Healthcare NHS Trust.

Mr Stimpson, from London, said he was “one of the luckiest people alive”.

The trust said the tests were accurate but had been unable to confirm Scotsman Mr Stimpson’s cure because he had declined to undergo further tests.

TENZIN GYATSO, New York Times Op-Ed Contributor, writes:

SCIENCE has always fascinated me. As a child in Tibet, I was keenly curious about how things worked. When I got a toy I would play with it a bit, then take it apart to see how it was put together. As I became older, I applied the same scrutiny to a movie projector and an antique automobile.

At one point I became particularly intrigued by an old telescope, with which I would study the heavens. One night while looking at the moon I realized that there were shadows on its surface. I corralled my two main tutors to show them, because this was contrary to the ancient version of cosmology I had been taught, which held that the moon was a heavenly body that emitted its own light.

But through my telescope the moon was clearly just a barren rock, pocked with craters. If the author of that fourth-century treatise were writing today, I’m sure he would write the chapter on cosmology differently.

If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.

Ali Rahimi, Ben Recht, Jason Taylor, Noah Vawter, of MIT, report:

Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government’s invasive abilities. We theorize that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.

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