Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dubai ruler in vast charity gift

[BBC] The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, says he is giving $10bn (£5bn) to set up an educational foundation in the Middle East.

The money is meant to improve the standard of education and research in the region, and aims to stimulate job creation, Sheikh Mohammed said.

It is thought to be one of the largest charitable donations in history.

The announcement was made to widespread applause at the World Economic Forum, which is being held in Jordan.

Sheikh Mohammed, known as a successful racehorse owner as well as ruler of Dubai, said his personal initiative was aimed at creating what he called "a knowledge-based society" in the Middle East.

At the moment, he explained, there was high illiteracy in the region - where more than 40% of Arab women cannot read or write.

The whole Arab world publishes fewer books than the country of Turkey.

And spending on scientific research is only a tiny fraction of that in developed countries.

"There is a wide knowledge gap between us and the developed world in the West and in Asia. Our only choice is to bridge this gap as quickly as possible, because our age is defined by knowledge," the sheikh said.

While there may be less learning in the region, there is high unemployment, and it is likely to get higher with a rapidly growing population.

"Our region needs at this moment 15 million job opportunities, and our Arab world will need in the next 20 years between 74 to 85 million job opportunities," the sheikh told the conference.

"We need to develop the infrastructure so we can create jobs."

Sheikh Mohammed hopes to increase education and research, and also to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the region.

"In order to realise these objectives, I have decided to establish the Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum Foundation to focus on human development, and have I decided to endow a fund of $10bn to finance its projects," he said.

As ruler of Dubai, he can share the success of his principality, which is known the world over as the economic success story of the Middle East.
Gonzales rapped as president's 'yes man'

[Via AP] Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says his long friendship with President Bush makes it easier to say "no" to him on sticky legal issues. His critics, however, say Gonzales is far more likely to say "yes" - leaving the Justice Department vulnerable to a politically determined White House.

Probably not since Watergate has an attorney general been so closely bound to the White House's bidding. In pushing counterterror programs that courts found unconstitutional and in stacking the ranks of federal prosecutors with Republican loyalists, Gonzales has put Bush's stamp on an institution that is supposed to operate largely free of the White House and beyond the reach of politics.

"This intertwining of the political with the running of the Justice Department has gone on in other administrations, both Republican and Democrat," said Paul Rothstein, a professor at Georgetown Law School. "But I think it's being carried to a fine art by this president. They leave no stone unturned to politicize where they think the law will permit it. And they push the line very far."

Gonzales, a friend and adviser to Bush since their days in Texas, calls their close relationship "a good thing."

"Being able to go and having a very candid conversation and telling the president: 'Mr. President, this cannot be done. You can't do this,' - I think you want that," Gonzales told reporters this week. "And I think having a personal relationship makes that, quite frankly, much easier always to deliver bad news."

"Do you recall a time when you (were) in there and said, 'Mr. President, we can't do this'?" Gonzales was asked.

"Oh, yeah," the attorney general responded.

"Can you share it with us?" a reporter asked.

"No," Gonzales said.

Gonzales, facing a no-confidence vote in the Senate, is resisting lawmakers' demands to resign and says he will remain as attorney general until he no longer has the president's support. The White House is steadfastly backing its man.

"It's important for any public official to have as much confidence as he can garner, and it will ebb and flow," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Friday. "But it will not ebb and flow with this president and this attorney general."

An ever-growing cadre of critics says Gonzales has repeatedly sought to shape the normally independent Justice Department to the White House's ends. The department has long resisted political influences that could threaten its ability to fairly and impartially uphold the law.

Among examples they cite of White House meddling at the Justice Department:

-A dramatic 2004 confrontation between Gonzales, then serving as White House counsel, and former Attorney General John Ashcroft over whether to reauthorize a secret program to let the government spy on suspected terrorists without court approval.

At the time, Ashcroft was hospitalized in intensive care and not seeing any visitors. His former deputy, Jim Comey, told the Senate this week that Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andy Card came to Ashcroft's hospital room to get his approval in what Comey described as an "effort to take advantage of a very sick man."

Ashcroft refused to sign off on the program. The next day, the White House reauthorized the program without the Justice Department's approval. Ultimately, Bush ordered changes to the program to help the Justice Department defend its legality.

Less than a year later, in February 2005, Gonzales took Ashcroft's place as attorney general. The program was branded unconstitutional by a federal judge and has since been changed to require court approval before surveillance can be conducted.

-Allegations that Monica Goodling, the Justice Department's liaison to the White House and Gonzales' former counsel, aimed to only hire career prosecutors who were Republicans. Making hiring decisions based on political affiliation is illegal.

Goodling quit the Justice Department last month and is set to testify next week before a House panel investigating whether politics played a part in the firings last year of eight U.S. attorneys.

-Justice Department documents show that shortly after the 2004 elections, Bush political adviser Karl Rove questioned whether all 93 of the nation's top federal prosecutors should be ordered to resign. He also helped coach Justice aide William Moschella's planned testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Rove also was included in e-mail traffic about the firings between the White House and the Justice Department.

As presidential appointees, U.S. attorneys serve at the president's pleasure, and the White House is properly involved in discussions about their employment. But Rove used an unofficial e-mail address, registered to the Republican National Committee, to correspond about the firings - raising the specter that politics was behind the ousters.

-The administration changed policy to allow more Justice Department officials to be in touch with the White House about some of the government's most sensitive criminal and civil cases. During the tenure of Democrat Bill Clinton, such discussions were restricted to six people - two at Justice and four at the White House.

In 2002, a year after Bush took office, the number of people was greatly expanded. By Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's estimates, 417 White House staff members and 42 Justice Department employees can discuss sensitive cases.

"It creates a partisan atmosphere, and that creates issues of confidence in the administering of justice," said Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who previously served as U.S. attorney there.

Some Republicans, too, doubt Gonzales can keep the White House's influence from improperly seeping into the Justice Department.

"The problem here is that it appears the attorney general, when he moved from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to the Department of Justice, he didn't realize he'd changed jobs," said Arnold I. Burns, a deputy attorney general during the Reagan administration.

Burns himself is a reminder that close ties between Justice and the White House have posed problems before. He resigned in 1988 in protest of charges of improper behavior by then-Attorney General Edwin Meese III, a longtime friend of President Reagan. Meese was later cleared but resigned before the end of the term.

Former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, too, had obvious close ties to President John F. Kennedy, his brother. But critics say Gonzales' relationship with Bush rivals that between former Attorney General John Mitchell and his former law partner, President Nixon.

Mitchell left the Justice Department in 1972 to run Nixon's re-election campaign. He served 19 months in prison after conviction on conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice charges for his role in the Watergate break-in of Democratic headquarters.

Reacting to Watergate abuses, Carter administration Attorney General Griffin Bell instituted reforms to help maintain the department's independence. Among the changes: a ban on lawmakers and the White House directly contacting prosecutors about specific investigations.

That ban was violated last year when New Mexico GOP Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson called former U.S. attorney David Iglesias in Albuquerque to ask about the status of public corruption cases. Iglesias later said they wanted to know whether he was going to indict Democrats before the looming election. The incident is cited by Democrats who argue the U.S. attorney firings were politically motivated.

No one has accused Gonzales, personally, of breaking the law to put Bush's stamp on the Justice Department. The attorney general maintains he is working to not only fix mistakes that his aides made in hiring and firing prosecutors, but also to secure the public's confidence in the beleaguered department.

Whether he can salvage his own reputation remains to be seen.

Philip Heymann, a Harvard law professor who worked at the Justice Department under several Democratic presidents, said the White House is using the law "almost exclusively as a form of protection and a form of armor, if you can get the Justice Department to say it's fine."

"I think they wanted a loyal attorney general, not somebody who would say 'no' when they very badly wanted them to say 'yes,'" Heymann said. "And now they've got that."

Zombie Dogs

[Via NYTimes] Just as dogs preceded humans in making the first risky voyages into space, a new generation of canines has now made an equally path-breaking trip - from life to death and back again.

In a series of experiments, doctors at the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research at the University of Pittsburgh managed to plunge several dogs into a state of total, clinical death before bringing them back to the land of the living. The feat, the researchers say, points the way toward a time when human beings will make a similar trip, not as a matter of ghoulish curiosity but as a means of preserving life in the face of otherwise fatal injuries.

The method for making the trip is simple. The Safar Center team took the dogs, swiftly flushed their bodies of blood and replaced it with a relatively cool saline solution (approximately 45 to 50 degrees) laced with oxygen and glucose. The dogs quickly went into cardiac arrest, and with no demonstrable heartbeat or brain activity, clinically died.

There the dogs remained in what Patrick Kochanek, the director of the Safar Center, and his colleagues prefer to call a state of suspended animation. After three full hours, the team reversed their steps, withdrawing the saline solution, reintroducing the blood and thereby warming the dogs back to life. In a flourish worthy of Mary Shelley, they jump-started their patients' hearts with a gentle electric shock. While a small minority of the dogs suffered permanent damage, most did not, awakening in full command of their faculties.

Of course, the experiments were conducted not to titillate fans of horror films but to save lives. Imagine a stabbing victim brought to the emergency room, his aorta ruptured, or a soldier mortally wounded, his organs ripped apart by shrapnel. Ordinarily, doctors cannot save such patients: they lose blood far more quickly than it can be replaced; moreover, the underlying trauma requires hours of painstaking repair. But imagine doctors buying time with the help of an infusion of an ice-cold solution, then parking their patients at death's door while they repair and then revive them.

Such a day may soon be at hand. Assuming the financing materializes, the Safar Center will coordinate human trials in the next two years (using patients who, after arriving at a trauma center, suffer cardiac arrest from massive blood loss). Risky? Yes. But as the dogs of the Safar Center can attest, far better to buy a round-trip than a one-way ticket when visiting the land of the dead.
Military bans YouTube and Myspace

[Via Wired] The Defense Department isn't trying to "muzzle" troops by banning YouTube and MySpace on their networks, a top military information technology officer tells DANGER ROOM. Rear Admiral Elizabeth Hight, Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations, says that the decision to block access to social networking, video-sharing, and other "recreational" sites is purely at attempt to "preserve military bandwidth for operational missions."

Not that the 11 blocked sites are clogging networks all that much today, she adds. But YouTube, MySpace, and the like "could present a potential problem," at some point in the future. So the military wanted to "get ahead of the problem before it became a problem."

The Admiral won't say, however -- despite repeated questions during a Thursday conference call -- exactly how much bandwidth the sites were absorbing before they were blocked. She notes only that they were these were the 11 Internet sites taking up the most network traffic on military networks. And that checking these sites for viruses and malware before they hit Defense Department computers was also a significant concern. Other sites -- including popular blogging sites, like wordpress and blogspot -- could be blocked in the future, if they appear to present network issues.
Romania decides president's fate

[BBC] Romanian voters go to the polls on Saturday in a referendum that will decide the fate of the country's suspended President, Traian Basescu.

Mr Basescu was accused of violating the constitution and was suspended by parliament on 19 April.

He has been locked in a long-running power struggle with his former ally, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu.

With a high turnout expected, Mr Basescu is tipped to win enough support to survive in office.

It has been a bitter, polarising campaign in which appeals for civility and restraint have all but been ignored, says the BBC's Razvan Scortea in Bucharest.

The voters will have to decide whether President Basescu is a threat to democracy or a political hero pushing for renewal and good governance.

On Friday, Romania's Foreign Minister, Adrian Cioroianu, warned that Europe's patience with Romania had a limit and that after the referendum, politicians should stop fighting and get back to work.

Turmoil in prospect

Polls open at 0800 (0500 GMT) on Saturday and close at 2000, with results expected overnight.

There are more 18 million eligible voters, including 2m Romanians living abroad.

If a majority of those voting back the impeachment, then Mr Basescu will be removed from office.

The opposition Social Democrats, who initiated the impeachment process, describe Mr Basescu as dictatorial and corrupt, a failure who has never lived up to his constitutional duties.

The president claims that his enemies are desperate to stop his anti-corruption drive, which has rattled what he calls "the economic mafia".

The referendum will give the people's verdict, but it may not end the crisis. If the president wins, he will still be facing his opponents in parliament, who also control the government, says our correspondent.

The president has called for them to resign, but legally he cannot force them to go. If Mr Basescu loses, then new presidential elections have to be held within three months.

However, the opposition parties appear to lack a strong candidate, so Mr Basescu could yet return as frontrunner.

Some analysts say that only a general election could calm the situation, but the next poll is more than 18 months away.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Microsoft to buy online Ad company for $6 Billion

[Via AP] Microsoft Corp. said Friday it will buy online advertising firm aQuantive Inc. for about $6 billion in cash, paying a premium to catch up with major ad deals by its competitors over the last six weeks. Shares of aQuantive soared more than 77 percent.

It is the largest acquisition in the software company's history, said Kevin Johnson, president of Microsoft's platforms and services division, in a conference call following the announcement.

The $66.50-per-share purchase price represents an 85 percent premium to aQuantive's Thursday closing price of $35.87.

Acknowledging that paying such a substantial premium is something Microsoft has avoided in the past, Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell said the company believes aQuantive is "exactly the right company to buy" to help position it in a growing market.

Estimates put the online advertising market at $40 billion, and it is expected to grow at a rate of 20 percent a year, Liddell said.

The two companies have "very complementary" technologies, Johnson said, adding that by bringing them together, there is "significant value" to be unlocked.

The company is still far behind Google Inc. and Yahoo in search traffic and thus, search advertising revenue.

The announcement comes just one day after WPP Group PLC, the world's second-largest advertising and marketing conglomerate, said it would buy online advertising company 24/7 Real Media Inc. for $649 million. Microsoft had been widely seen as a potential bidder for 24/7.

Last month Google Inc. agreed to buy online advertising company DoubleClick Inc. for $3.1 billion, and Yahoo Inc. struck a deal to buy the privately-held online ad exchange Right Media Inc. for $680 million. Microsoft had expressed interest in buying DoubleClick before being trumped by Google.

"Today's announcement represents the next step in the evolution of our ad network from our initial investment in MSN, to the broader Microsoft network including Xbox Live, Windows Live and Office Live, and now to the full capacity of the Internet," said Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer in a statement.

The deal is expected close in the first half of Microsoft's fiscal 2008. The acquisition is not expected to significantly affect the company's prior financial guidance. In fiscal 2008, it will "clearly" add revenue, but will not affect earnings per share or operating income, Liddell said.

Under the terms of the agreement, if the deal is broken up under certain circumstances, aQuantive would be liable to Microsoft for a $175 million breakup fee. But, if it fails for lack of regulatory approval under certain conditions, Microsoft in turn could be on the hook to aQuantive for $500 million.

The purchase price represents about 2 percent of Microsoft's market capitalization.

With about 2,600 employees, aQuantive will continue to operate from its Seattle headquarters as part of Microsoft's online services business. The company, which operates marketing services firm Avenue A/Razorfish, reported 2006 profit of $54 million on sales of $442.2 million.

Shares aQuantive rose $27.68 to $63.55 in morning trading, while Microsoft shares fell 35 cents to $30.63
Senators want to make CIA release 9/11 report

Office has not publicized any of its internal documents on the attack

[MSNBC via AP]
A bipartisan group of senators is pushing legislation that would force the CIA to release an inspector general’s report on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The CIA has spent more than 20 months weighing requests under the Freedom of Information Act for its internal investigation of the attacks but has yet to release any portion of it.

The agency is the only federal office involved in counterterrorism operations that has not made at least a version of its internal 9/11 investigation public.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

How to increase your Wi-Fi signal

Turtle confronting neighborhood cats to defend it's turf

Ghost in a real car accident (probably fake)

Unusual double-horned whale (narwhal) found

Narwhals usually have one horn, but this one had two, which is rare among the narwhals [More at Wikipedia]


Bush says Wolfowitz seeking what's best for bank

Even after being implicated in a money scandal, Bush still thinks Wolfowitz was "seeking what's best for bank."

[Reuters] President George W. Bush said on Thursday that World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has an interest in doing what is best for the bank, but declined to comment on his future at the institution.

As the World Bank's board was meeting behind closed doors to discuss a possible deal in which Wolfowitz would resign, Bush said, "I regret that it's come to this."

"All I can tell you is Paul Wolfowitz has an interest in what's best for the bank," Bush said at a news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

A board panel issued issued a report on Monday that found Wolfowitz broke ethics rules in the handling of a pay raise and promotion for his companion.

AL-Hurra and Radio Sawa, the US-run TV and radio stations in the Middle-East, are propaganda outlets for the White House (funded by taxpayers)

[Counterpunch] "the US has spent $62 million creating an Arab TV channel called Alhurra (the free one) to promote an American-friendly view of escalating violence in the Middle East. So far, it has been an abysmal failure with awful ratings and only marginal public interest"

[Publicdiplomacy] More recent article about the fate of the $70 million/year Channel

[Wikipedia]: Brief article on Radio Sawa radio station

[Wikipedia]: Article on Al-Hurra tv station

[Powerlineblog]: 'investigation into Al-Hurra, the U.S. taxpayer-funded Arab TV network."

[] On how the US uses the airwaves in Iraq to positively influence America's image
Twirl a squirrel

"Squirrel's weight on feeder activates a motor which gently twirls him off!"

Hot "ice" may cover recently discovered planet

[Reuters] An odd planet the size of Neptune, made mostly of hot, solid water, has been discovered orbiting a nearby star and offers evidence that other planets may be covered with oceans, European astronomers reported on Wednesday.

Called GJ 436b, the planet orbits quickly around a cool, red star some 30 light-years away, the team at the Geneva Observatory said.

"It's not a very welcoming planet," Frederic Pont, an astronomer who helped make the discovery, said in a telephone interview. The planet is hot because it is near its star and under high pressure because of its mass.

"The water is frozen by the pressure but it's hot. It's a bit strange -- we are used to water changing conditions because of temperature, but in fact water can also be solidified by pressure," Pont said.
Dog nurses Tiger triplets at China zoo

Dog nurses 3 tiger cubs that were rejected by their mother shortly after birth (Full story here)
N.Y. attorney general sues Dell

[Via AP]
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday accused Dell Inc. and its financial services affiliate of "bait and switch" advertising and failing to deliver on promised customer service.

Round Rock, Texas-based Dell lured customers with zero percent financing, then switched them to a higher rate without their knowledge at the time of purchase, according to the lawsuit.

Cuomo announced details of a lawsuit filed a day earlier in the New York Supreme Court, claiming that Dell and Dell Financial Services LP engaged in fraud, false advertising and deceptive business practices.

Dell denied those charges in a written statement from spokesman Bob Pearson.

"We are confident that our practices will be found to be fair and appropriate," Pearson said. "While even one dissatisfied customer is too many, the allegations in the AG's filing are based upon a small fraction of Dell's consumer transactions in New York."

Cuomo said his office had "received an unprecedented number of complaints against Dell, approximately 700 and they keep coming."

"We want fairness," Cuomo said Wednesday. "Either provide the customer service packages that you sell or don't sell the packages."

That number is not representative of the company's six million transactions in New York State between 2003 and 2006, said Dell spokesman, Bob Kaufman.

Kaufman cited a decline in complaints submitted to the Better Business Bureau against Dell. That number dropped 12 percent nationwide between 2005 and 2006, while the number of complaints against Dell Financial Services dropped 43 percent in the same period, said Carrie Hurt, president and CEO of the BBB of Austin, Texas.

While Dell frequently advertises zero percent financing plans for computer purchases, the attorney general said that as many of 85 percent of those who applied did not receive that rate.

Paul Reisner, of Rye, said his excellent credit rating was permanently scarred following such a deception. The computer programmer said he was offered zero percent financing for six months, during which he paid off his $1,500 computer. He was then informed he had never qualified for the rate and was obligated to pay a 29 percent interest rate, he said.

"Why did I not qualify for promotional financing?" he asked. "I own my own home, always pay my bills on time."

The lawsuit also claims that Dell sold onsite computer repair plans but failed to deliver, at times requiring customers to disassemble their own computers.

Jaqueline Scofield, 75, said she was outraged when she and her husband were told by Dell that they would have to open the body of their computer.

"We both have arthritis in our knees," she said. "And to tell my husband to get down on the floor ... I'll never buy another Dell."

The lawsuit seeks an order requiring Dell to pay unspecified damages to affected customers and the state is also seeking penalties and costs.

In an unrelated probe, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Dell's own audit committee have been investigating the company's accounting practices.

In recent months, Dell has seen a management shake-up that included the departure of several top executives - including Chief Executive Officer Kevin Rollins and Chief Financial Officer Jim Schneider - and the return of Michael Dell as CEO.

With Dell at the helm, the company has been trying to orchestrate a turnaround plan to improve customer service and combat competitors who have eaten into Dell's market share.

Strange Science

Since 1991, dozens of scientists have won the widely coveted IgNobel awards, which recognize extraordinary accomplishments that somehow escape the notice of those oh-so-serious Nobel people. The Annals of Improbable Research, the journal of the IgNobels, last month went digital. In honor of this achievement, which comes only a few short decades after the invention of the internet, Wired News highlights several of our favorite IgNobel winners. (Slideshow here)
LG Philips to develop the world’s first A4-sized flexible color e-paper

LG Philips developed the world’s first A4-sized flexible color electronic-paper in Korea market, which measures 14.1-inch across its diagonal and is 300 micrometers thick.

Adopting American company E-ink's E-ink, the e-paper can display up to 4,096 colors and feature 180-dgree viewing angle. It is designed to be energy-efficient; according to the company the screen remains even when it is powered off and it requires power only when the screen changes.


Wolfowitz refuses to quit Bank, wants name cleared after money scandal

[Reuters] World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz refused on Wednesday to bow to heavy European pressure to resign as he sought to clear his name in negotiations with the bank's board over a possible exit strategy.

"Mr. Wolfowitz will not resign under this cloud and he will rather put this matter to a full (board) vote than to capitulate on his integrity," his lawyer Robert Bennett told Reuters.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pastor John Hagee's D.C. Meeting Worries Jews

"One of the nations most controversial evangelical preachers who has close ties to the Bush administration has some in the Jewish community worried about his efforts to help Israel and his talk of a coming war with Iran."

"The enemies of Israel are the enemies of America. They are the enemies of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These enemies have drawn the battle line. If a line has to be drawn – then draw that line around both Christians and Jews! We are one; we are united!" [Via Newsmax]
Balancing the Future and the Present

[Via Pickthebrain] Consider some of the choices that impact our lives on a daily basis:

  • Do I stay up late hanging out with friends, or go to sleep and be productive tomorrow?
  • Do I eat out because it’s easy, or cook at home and save money?
  • Should I work late and get ahead, or enjoy the beautiful spring weather?

Each of these choices boils down to a simple question. Do I want to enjoy the present moment or plan for the future?

White House: “Troops don’t need bigger pay raises"

[Via Armytimes] Troops don’t need bigger pay raises, White House budget officials said Wednesday in a statement of administration policy laying out objections to the House version of the 2008 defense authorization bill.
Kiwi's have more vitamin C than oranges

Other benefits of kiwis include:

-Kiwi's Phytonutrients Protect DNA
-Premier Antioxidant Protection
-Fiber for Blood Sugar Control Plus Cardiovascular and Colon -Health
-Protection against Asthma
-Protection against Macular Degeneration

Full article here
Google's Search Engine Goes Universal

[Via AP]: In its latest technological leap, online search leader Google Inc. will begin showing videos on its main results page Wednesday along with photos, books and other content previously separated into different categories.

Under a new "universal search" approach that Google began rolling out Wednesday afternoon, some requests will produce more than just a series of links and snippets pointing to other Web sites.

As an example, the results to the search request "I have a dream" will include an actual video showing Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous 1963 speech along with the usual assortment of Web links.

The videos will be shown on Google's results page if it's contained in the company's own database or the vast library of its YouTube subsidiary. A thumbnail will direct traffic to videos hosted on other sites like

Other Google results will more frequently show photos or information from the more than 1 million books that the company has copied during the past two years. More news stories and local information pertaining to search requests will be displayed on Google's first results page - perhaps the most prized showcase on the Web.

Google's database has included photos, books, videos and local information for several years, but fetching the content usually required searching through one of the customized channels featured in a row of links above the main query box.

A new link to Google's increasingly popular e-mail service, Gmail, will be added above the query box in the next day or two to make it easier to access for existing users and presumably more alluring to Web surfers who haven't already opened an account.

By intermingling different types of Web content on its main result page, Google is betting it can become even more useful to its millions of users and maintain the competitive advantage that has established the Mountain View-based company as a cultural and financial phenomenon.

The increased emphasis on video also could alienate some longtime users who revere Google for its traditionally staid results page.

"It's going to be interesting to see how people react," said Greg Sterling, who runs the research firm Sterling Market Intelligence. "I think it will create more value for users."

The changes also illustrate the challenges facing Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and a host of smaller Internet search engines as they try to gain ground on Google. While those rivals have been investing heavily in improvements just to catch up, Google has been spending even more to soup it search engine.

Last year alone, Google's capital expenditures totaled $1.9 billion, and the company is on a pace to spend even more this year as it builds more data centers to handle heavy-duty computing jobs. Google executives said it took two years to lay the groundwork for the switch to universal search.

The change realizes one of the visions that drove Google's $1.76 billion acquisition of the video-sharing site YouTube. Just days before announcing that deal last October, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page lamented their inability to show videos on the main results page and said they were working hard to address the weakness.

Now that Google is showing videos in the search results, it may not be much longer before the company begins airing video ads in addition to the short text ads that have accounted for nearly all of its profits so far.

"I do think this opens the door for a richer medium on the search results page," said Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience. "For us, ads are answers as well."

Since all videos from YouTube and the company's database will be streamed on a player embedded on the main results page, the change also could mean people stay longer on Google's Web site - another factor that could boost profits. Although Google also distributes ads to thousands of other Web sites, it makes more money from messages on its own property because it doesn't have to share the commissions.

"Our goal is not to have people spend more time on Google," Brin said Wednesday. "It's for people to accomplish more on Google."

By creating another major channel to show YouTube videos, Google also could be courting more copyright trouble. Since its inception, YouTube has regularly shown pirated videos posted by its users, a problem that has spurred several copyright infringement lawsuits, including a $1 billion damage claim by Viacom Inc.

Both Google and YouTube say they have adhered to the law by removing pirated videos after receiving a request from a copyright holder.

Sheep with a mask on gets alienated form the rest of the herd

Technological synaesthesia: How researchers can tap the plasticity of the brain to hack our 5 senses — and build a few new ones

[From boingboing]: Wired's Sunny Bains turned in an excellent piece on technology-induced synaesthesia -- the use of technological prostheses to give humans new senses, or to cross-wire existing ones. Some of the examples he cites are really compelling, like the researcher who surrounded his midriff with rumble-packs, the northernmost of which would gently vibrate, so that he could "feel" north at all times. Eventually, he ended up with a faultless sense of direction, able to pilot himself around strange cities without getting lost. Even more compelling was the rewiring of a subject's sense of balance: University of Wisconsin installed a feedback mechanism on the tongues of subjects with severe balance problems caused by inner-ear disruption. Although their inner ears told them they were whirling around, their tongues vibrated on the left if they were leaning to the left, on the right if they were leaning to the right, and in the middle if they were upright. The subjects were able to overcome their inner ear's faulty directions and navigate without falling over. More at Wired
Rare turtle discovered in Cambodia

[Via AP]: A rare soft-shell turtle thought to be on the brink of extinction has been discovered in Cambodia in a former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, conservationists said Wednesday.

A 24-pound female Cantor's giant turtle - known for its rubbery skin and jaws powerful enough to crush bone - was captured and released by researchers in March, U.S.-based Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund said in a statement.

Scientists from the two groups and Cambodian wildlife officials discovered the animal and a nesting ground during a survey in Cambodia's Mekong River region.

"We thought it might be almost gone, but found it in abundance in this one pristine stretch of the Mekong, making the area the world's most important site for saving this particular species," David Emmett, a CI wildlife biologist, said in the statement.

"This incredible discovery means that a unique turtle can be saved from disappearing from our planet," he said.

The turtle is currently classified as endangered by the World Conservation Union, and continues to face threats from habitat loss and hunting.

The species can grow up to 6 feet in length and weigh more than 110 pounds. It was last spotted by scientists in the Cambodian wild in 2003. It also was found in small numbers in Laos, but appears to have disappeared from Vietnam and Thailand.

The turtle has a rubbery skin with ribs fused together to form a protective layer over its internal organs. It protects itself from predators by spending 95 percent of its life hidden in sand or mud with only its eyes and nose showing.

It also has long claws and can extend its neck with lightning speed to bite with jaws powerful enough to crush bone, the statement said.

The statement only said the turtle was found in a former Khmer Rouge stronghold long closed to scientific exploration because of security concerns. The communist Khmer Rouge ruled the country from 1975-1979 and their reign of terror resulted in the deaths of about 1.7 million people.

It was the first detailed conservation study of the area since security restrictions were eased in the late 1990s, WWF said.

International and Cambodian turtle conservation officials will hire local villagers to protect nesting beaches for the turtles and conduct patrols during the dry season to prevent illegal fishing of the species, which is prized as an expensive delicacy in neighboring Vietnam.

The villagers also will receive financial incentives to offset the potential loss of revenue from illegal trade in the turtles, WWF said.

Next Gen of Wi-Fi Is Planned for Summer

[via AP]: The next generation of wireless Internet products certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance is expected to hit shelves this summer, even though a final standard for the technology isn't due for another year, the industry group says.

The Wi-Fi Alliance was announcing Wednesday that it will begin certifying wireless routers, networking cards, microchips and other so-called "Draft N" products in June. The products, which take their name from the upcoming 802.11n technical standard, are expected to reach retail stores shortly thereafter.

Wi-Fi comes in several flavors - "b," "a," "g," and soon "n" - referring to the subsection of the technical guidelines issued by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a technical professional organization.

The "n" version is expected to be about five times faster than the widely used "g" variety, though in practice, speeds rarely reach what's listed on the box. Draft N products are said to offer better reach through walls and into dead spots and will use multiple radios to send and receive data, making them better at handling big video files.

Gear rated to handle n-level wireless already is being sold. But the Wi-Fi Alliance said certified Draft N items from different vendors are guaranteed to work together and to work with older certified Wi-Fi products.

Karen Hanley, senior director of marketing for the Austin, Texas-based industry group, said the wireless industry shipped 200 million Wi-Fi products last year worldwide. Over the next few years, the category will expand from mostly laptops and access points to Wi-Fi enabled cell phones, televisions and video games.

Hanley said the final 802.11n standard isn't expected until 2009.

[Official announcement]
Starbucks to open in Ethiopia

[Via Alternet] Starbucks, the world's largest coffee shop chain, and the Ethiopian government are on the verge of unveiling a deal that the company hopes will end attacks on the company's carefully constructed ethical image.
May 16, 1988: Nicotine Declared As Addictive as Heroin, Cocaine

1988: C. Everett Koop, surgeon general of the United States, publishes a report declaring nicotine as addictive as either heroin or cocaine. Link
Wolfowitz makes emotional appeal to keep Bank job after being accused of scandal

[Via Yahoo]: 'In an emotional appeal on Tuesday to the World Bank's board to keep his job, Paul Wolfowitz said a loss of confidence in his leadership would be "grossly unfair" and he called for a fair resolution in a dispute over a pay and promotion deal for his companion.

In a last pitch to explain his actions in the agreement he directed for World Bank Middle East expert Shaha Riza, which sparked controversy in the bank, World Bank President Wolfowitz promised to make changes to his management style to regain the trust of bank staff.

"I respectfully submit, to criticize my actions or to find them as a basis for a loss of confidence would be grossly unfair and would be contrary to the evidence we have presented to you," Wolfowitz said in a statement to the board distributed by his lawyers.'

Hubble Finds Huge Ring of Dark Matter

[Via NASA]: While most astronomers have long-suspected the presence and even measured pockets of dark matter, there hasn't been a great deal of large-scale evidence to support this mysterious type of matter's existence. That is, until now.

In a paper published today, astronomers report the finding of a huge ring of dark matter using the Hubble Space Telescope in the cluster ZwCl0024+1652, the largest to date. Their results will be published in the June 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal.

"This is the first time we have detected dark matter as having a unique structure that is different from the gas and galaxies in the cluster," said M. James Jee, an astronomer from Johns Hopkins University, in a statement.

The ring is 2.6 million light-years across (that's really big), and was discovered in the cluster ZwCl0024+1652, located 5 billion light-years away from Earth.

NASA will be holding a press conference at 10 am Pacific/1 pm Eastern. Additional images from the press conference will be published here

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Moments in sports

Series of funny and interesting photos [Via thrillingwonder]
A Do-It-Yourself Quantum Eraser

Using readily available equipment, you can carry out a home experiment that illustrates one of the weirdest effects in quantum mechanics [via Scientific American]

Slideshow of quantum erasure at home

Strange Fluid

Possibly non-newtonian fluid:

50 best restaurants for 2007

List of the world's 50 best restaurants [from Bloomberg]

1.  El Bulli                            Spain
2. The Fat Duck U.K.
3. Pierre Gagnaire France
4. The French Laundry U.S.
5. Tetsuya's Australia
6. Bras France
7. Mugaritz Spain
8. Le Louis XV Monaco
9. Per Se U.S.
10. Arzak Spain
Massive sea turtle or something else?

Details are sketchy on these photographs of what is being labeld a Mystery Giant Marine Turtle (or is it a decomposing whale), thusfar, other than they are a record of a body from a recent Pacific Ocean beaching
[From Boingboing & Cryptomundo]
9/11 Life Worth $1.8 million; Iraqi Life, $2,000. What Does It Mean?

[From] Using publicly available numbers, one can calculate that the U.S. government values an innocent civilian slaughtered by al-Qaeda terrorists on September 11, 2001 at $1.8 million, and an Iraqi civilian killed by Marines at $2,000.
3 Steps to Feeling Good About Yourself in Social Situations

Self-explanatory article, Link
Google Profiling Technology

Players' behaviour could be used by advertisers. Tracking idea disturbs privacy campaigners [from Threadwatch & Guardian]
Hubba Bubba ads

More here

Public Displays of Affection

Sex in the park, on the street, in a cab, at the bar; exhibitionism isn’t just a fantasy in New York. [Link]
Mommy chairs look like they were drawn by children

How to be a Pirate

Beginner's guide to using p2p

As you probably guessed, piracy is illegal. Getting caught can land you some serious fines or even jail-time depending on the offense. Those of you in college should probably stay the hell away from piracy. I personally know about three people who have been caught downloading via Bit Torrent or P2P. The only safe way to pirate is to not do it at all. There will always be a chance that you can get caught, whether it’s the MPAA poisoning a torrent, the FBI giving a plea bargain to your best friend who got caught 2 weeks ago, or one of thousands of other ways.

So how do you protect yourself? Download from private servers and torrent sites. Using public trackers and P2P is like announcing to the world “Hey! Look at me! I’m pirating!” Stay away from anything public related and download in moderation. Scooping up 2TB of files in a week will make you stick out like a sore thumb.

Texas man charged in Skittles heist

A man caught removing tires from a truck has been charged with stealing the tractor-trailer containing $250,000 worth of Skittles, police said. [Link]

Monday, May 14, 2007

10 Candy Bars You’ll Never Eat

These tidbits about extinct candy bars come from Dr. Ray Broekel, "candy bar historian" and publisher of a newsletter called the Candy Bar Gazebo. [Link]
How to Spot T. Rex Footprints

A human foot over the footprint of a theropod, the same kind of dinosaur that T. rex was [Link]

In the War on Terror, “everybody's a suspect”

[Via PBS] PBS documentary that will air tomorrow on the war on terror and it's increasing infringements on our rights. Preveiw:

Crybaby trend: calling anyone you don't like a terrorist

Twenty years ago, crybabies called people they didn't like "commies." Now they call them "terrorists." [Via BoingBoing]
Awesome animated anti-AIDS PSAs from France

These animations (NSFW) are French ads promoting AIDS awareness and condom use. They are pretty entertaining, and well done. The sex scenes are hillarious. The straight version is above, the gay version below. Enjoy.
Wolfowitz 'broke World Bank laws'

Paul Wolfowitz is mired in a scandal regarding payments to his girlfriend, via BBC:

A panel of executives at the World Bank says its President Paul Wolfowitz broke bank rules in awarding a substantial pay rise to his girlfriend.

The directors said the full board of the World Bank should consider whether Mr Wolfowitz was still able to provide effective leadership.

He is due to appear before the full 24-member board on Tuesday.

The board has the power to dismiss Mr Wolfowitz, reprimand him or report a lack of confidence in his leadership.

In remarks released ahead of the board meeting, the panel said Mr Wolfowitz provoked a "conflict of interest" at the World Bank.

It ruled he had broken the bank's code of conduct and violated the terms of his contract.

The full board must address the issue of Mr Wolfowitz's ability to continue in his job, the panel urged.

A spokesman for the US treasury secretary said the panel's findings did not merit Mr Wolfowitz's dismissal.

Censure 'likely'

"[The board must consider] whether Mr Wolfowitz will be able to provide the leadership needed to ensure that the bank continues to operate to the fullest extent possible in achieving its mandate," the panel concluded.

The BBC's James Westhead, in Washington, says the signs do not look good for the World Bank head, with the tone of the panel's comments suggesting he will face at least some kind of censure.

Mr Wolfowitz has faced calls for him to step down since details emerged about his role in securing a pay rise for his partner, Shaha Riza, after he was appointed president of the World Bank in 2005.

When Mr Wolfowitz took over Ms Riza was transferred to work for the US state department, to avoid any conflict of interest.

But her salary rose quickly to about $193,000 (£98,000) - more than the $186,000 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice receives before tax.

The World Bank has since been investigating the extent of Mr Wolfowitz's role in securing the pay increase.

Mr Wolfowitz has received the backing of senior figures in the US administration, including an endorsement by Vice-President Dick Cheney.

But he is less popular with European governments, which hold key positions on the board of the bank.

New hummingbird species discovered

[Via AP] BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- There's a new chirp in the forest. The Gorgeted Puffleg, a rare hummingbird that boasts a plumage of violet blue and iridescent green on its throat, has been discovered living in the cloud forests of southwestern Colombia, researchers announced Sunday.

Researchers have warned that the newly-discovered bird is in danger from the slash and burn system of the region's coca crops, the raw material used in the production of cocaine.

The species belongs to the Puffleg genus, which appear to have "little cotton balls above their legs," said Luis Mazariegos-Hurtado, who has spent 30 years documenting hummingbirds and founded the Colombian Hummingbird Conservancy.

Investigators caught their first glimpse of the bird while surveying a mountain ridge in the Cauca province in 2005. Braving the zone's leftist rebels and drug traffickers, they returned to confirm the sighting.

Australia looks to cut kangaroo numbers

[Via AP]
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Authorities said Monday they want to shoot more than 3,000 kangaroos on the fringes of Australia's capital, noting the animals were growing in population and eating through the grassy habitats of endangered species.

The Defense Department wants to hire professional shooters to cull the kangaroos at two of its properties on the outskirts of Canberra, where some areas have as many as 1,100 kangaroos per square mile - the densest kangaroo population ever measured in the region.

Canberra's local government is expected to decide this week whether to approve the cull, government spokeswoman Yersheena Nichols said.

Under the plan, 3,200 of the common eastern gray kangaroos, which can grow as big as a man, will be shot by July.

The territory's Animal Liberation president Mary Hayes warned that such an action would earn the local government an international reputation for cruelty.

"It is a very cruel, violent way to treat animals," she told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Queensland state Kangaroo Protection Coalition activist Pat O'Brien rejected the government's argument that the kangaroos risked starvation if they were not killed.

"This is just an excuse to kill them," he said.

The Defense Department said the 6,500 kangaroos at its two sites were not only threatening their own survival, they were destroying the habitat of endangered species including the grassland earless dragon, striped legless lizard and golden sun moth.

The government said on its Web site that there has been a population explosion of kangaroos in the territory, which includes Canberra.

Officials have conducted periodic culls of the fast-breeding kangaroo, which is Australia's national symbol but also a pest in agricultural areas, eating pastures intended for livestock.

Millions are killed in more rural areas of Australia each year, but killing 3,000 kangaroos in more urban Canberra and the surrounding Australian Capital Territory has raised protests.

A cull of about 800 kangaroos in the Canberra area in 2004 also brought a large outcry from animal activists.

In 2003, authorities ordered the killing of 6,500 eastern grays at the Puckapunyal military base, 62 miles north of Melbourne. A year earlier, a similar shooting operation killed more than 20,000 kangaroos on the base.

The final decision on the latest cull will be made by government official Russell Watkinson.

"Our concerns are for the welfare of the animals and the potential for a starvation event and also the fact that there are some rare and threatened species in these grasslands under some further threat due to overgrazing," Watkinson told ABC.

Scientists soon plan to test an oral contraceptive developed for kangaroos in an attempt to thin their numbers at one of the sites in suburban Belconnen, according to government ecologist Don Fletcher.

"Shooting kangaroos is a violent thing that for urban populations is becoming increasingly undesirable," said Fletcher, who is developing the contraceptive in conjunction with the University of Newcastle for trial on 20 female survivors of the cull.

Giuliani's firm lobbied government

[Via AP]
WASHINGTON (AP) -- As a partner in a law and lobbying firm, Rudy Giuliani has profited from his firm's work representing corporate clients before nearly every Cabinet department, exposing himself to a wide range of potential ethical entanglements.

If Giuliani became president, his administration would be on the receiving end of regulatory requests, contract bids and policy proposals by the same clients of his Houston firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, that have contributed toward his personal net worth of millions of dollars.

Although the Republican has so far declined to identify all the companies with which Bracewell and his other firms have done business over the past five years, The Associated Press identified more than 175 as part of an expansive review of lobbying records, court filings and securities reports.

Giuliani's law and lobbying clients have included Saudi Arabia, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., and chewing tobacco maker UST Inc.

Traditional procedures for government officials to prevent ethical conflicts - avoiding issues directly involving their former employer - would be unavailable for a commander in chief. It is unheard of for a president, when taking office, to promise to step away from a particular issue.

Bracewell alone has thousands of clients but will name only a few dozen. Since Giuliani became a partner in spring 2005, it has reported lobbying on various issues with the White House, the vice president's office, Congress and every Cabinet agency except the Department of Veterans Affairs, the AP review found.

Federal conflict-of-interest rules do not apply to the president or vice president, because they are not technically considered government employees. Giuliani isn't registered as a lobbyist for any of the interests on whose behalf his firms have acted, and he has so far declined to describe his work for them.

But appearances matter when it comes to the public's perception of conflicts of interest, and the large number of clients and issues linked to Giuliani's firms could prove a liability.

Giuliani declined to comment.

"It's clear voters are looking for an experienced leader like Mayor Giuliani with a track record of results to tackle the difficult issues currently facing our country," campaign spokeswoman Maria Comella said. She declined to describe Giuliani's work at Bracewell or how he was compensated.

Congress, the Pentagon, Energy and Education departments and the Environmental Protection Agency were among offices most frequently contacted by Bracewell & Giuliani, reports show. Issues ran the gamut:

-It lobbied the Department of Health and Human Services on Medicare coverage of power scooters and wheelchairs from The Scooter Store. The Scooter Store agreed Friday to pay a $4 million fine and surrender $43 million in Medicare claims over allegations by the Justice Department that it had defrauded the government.

-It lobbied the Food and Drug Administration on behalf of UST Public Affairs' over regulation of tobacco products.

-It tackled copyright protection and legislation on the purchase of cable TV lineups for News Corp., and DirecTV.

-It lobbied on behalf of Cornell Companies last year for U.S. Bureau of Prisons contracts. In 2004, the prison operator was named in indictments of two associates of then-Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Cornell wasn't charged but was listed among companies making political donations that prosecutors said DeLay's associates illegally laundered for use in Texas campaigns.

-It lobbied Congress on behalf of Concentrax Inc. of Houston, which was trying to raise government interest in a vehicle-tracking system called "Track Down." The lobbying work in 2005 came a few years after Concentrax settled an SEC lawsuit accusing it of falsely claiming to have won contracts for the vehicle-tracking system.

-It represented a Utah candlemaker, For Every Body, before the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which last year debated whether to require mandatory fire standards for candles.

The firm, previously named Bracewell & Patterson, took in roughly $500,000 more from Washington lobbying the first year of Giuliani's partnership than in the previous year, rising from nearly $5.8 million between mid-2004 and mid-2005 to $6.3 million between mid-2005 and mid-2006, according to Political MoneyLine.

Managing partner Patrick Oxford declined to discuss Giuliani's compensation. It is typical for a partner in a law and lobbying firm to get a share of the firm's proceeds.

"Mayor Giuliani's worldwide reputation for leadership has contributed to the firm's stature and success," said Oxford, national chairman of Giuliani's campaign. "Of course, should he be inaugurated as president, the firm's name will change."

Giuliani, then New York City's mayor, became a national hero after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. He left the mayor's office in 2002 with a $3 million book deal, and last year took in $11.4 million from speeches alone.

Giuliani's Bracewell partnership is one of several enterprises. Others, past and present, include Giuliani Partners, a consulting firm; Giuliani Capital Advisors, an investment banking firm; Giuliani & Kerik, an arm of Giuliani Partners focused on security; and a security firm, Giuliani Security & Safety LLC.

Giuliani's campaign has said he is considering how and when to separate himself from his business interests. Earlier this year, Giuliani Capital was sold to Australia-based Macquarie Group for an undisclosed sum.

Besides lobbying, Bracewell represents clients in legal matters, among them AOL Time Warner, Apple Computer, Bank of America, General Electric and Southwest Airlines.

In March, the firm filed papers in a Texas case on behalf of Saudi Arabia's oil ministry - taking sides with another energy giant, Citgo, which is controlled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a Bush administration critic. After the 2001 attacks, then-Mayor Giuliani famously rejected a $10 million check from a Saudi prince to help terrorism victims.

Giuliani's enterprises have put him in league with corporations that, decades ago, he might have faced in court. An example: Naturex Inc., a French food-flavoring firm that hired Giuliani Capital Advisors to help with its 2005 acquisition of another company.

A year later, Naturex was sued by the U.S. attorney in New York - a job Giuliani once held - for violating the Controlled Substances Act. A Drug Enforcement Administration inquiry concluded Naturex had imported and exported benzaldehyde - a chemical that can be used in amphetamines and methamphetamines - more than 100 times without telling the government. In 2004, Giuliani was hired by the pharmaceutical industry to study - and testified before Congress on - the dangers of importing prescription drugs.

A spokeswoman for Giuliani Capital Advisors said Monday the firm was unaware of any inquiry by the DEA into Naturex's business at the time.

Naturex paid $325,000 to settle its case. A company spokeswoman and attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

They Know What Boys Like - Do You Know What Girls Want?

[Via Adultweblife] A recent survey released in the UK reveals that more than 2/3 of women fantasize about having group sex… and 1 in 4 – that’s 25% - dream of starring in a porn film… and a staggering 1 in 5 women admit that they’ve fantasized about lesbian sex. The sex poll, conducted by Glamour magazine, was conducted by more than 1200 readers – so this is more than just a ballpark figure, this is some heavy research.

Other statistics that may surprise you – 13% said that they thought of their female friends during sex, 30% liked the idea of being spanked, 12% fantasized about being kidnapped – and 69% dream about having sex with more than one person.

Top Hollywood studs that the women admit they “creamed their jeans” over include Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Bond’s Daniel Craig – not surprising since this was a UK-based effort. But what Hollywood women get the ladies’ panties in a bunch? Pitt’s partner Angelina Jolie topped that list, TV presenter Fearne Cotton, Kate Moss and Jemima Khan completed the ladies’ top list.

So… does that mean that the sexiest 3-some would include Brad and Angelina? Wait… still thinking about that one for a moment… Hang on… oh yeah… Damn - was that good for you too?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pyramids built from the inside-out?

French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin suggested a controversial theory on how ancient Egyptians built the pyramids: from the inside-out!
Asphalt-Munching Bacteria Discovered

'Trapped in the Rancho La Brea tar pits 28,000 years ago, the bacteria are equipped with special enzymes that can break down petroleum, environmental scientists at the University of California, Riverside report in a recent issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

The petroleum-dismantling enzymes could be used to clean up oil spills, create new medicines and manufacture biofuels, among other uses.

"Asphalt is an extreme and hostile environment for life to survive," said Jong-Shik Kim, who initiated the study. But "these living organisms can survive in heavy oil mixtures containing many highly toxic chemicals" with no water and little oxygen, he said.'

What does $456 billion buy?

While there is some disagreement on the idea of troop deadlines for US soldiers in Iraq, all sides seem to be on board with the amount included in the bill to fund the war.

Including the $124.2 billion bill, the total cost of the Iraq war may reach $456 billion in September, according to the National Priorities Project, an organization that tracks public spending.

The amount got us wondering: What would $456 billion buy?
Music Piracy Crackdown Nets College Kids

(AP) -- At first, Sarah Barg thought the e-mail was a scam. Some group called the Recording Industry Association of America was accusing the University of Nebraska-Lincoln sophomore of illegally downloading 381 songs using the school's computer network and a program called Ares.

The letter said she might be sued but offered her the chance to settle out of court.

Barg couldn't imagine anyone expected her to pay $3,000 - $7.87 per song - for some 1980s ballads and Spice Girls tunes she downloaded for laughs in her dorm room. Besides, the 20-year-old had friends who had downloaded thousands of songs without repercussion.

"Obviously I knew it was illegal, but no one got in trouble for it," Barg said.

But Barg's perspective changed quickly that Thursday in March, when she called student legal services and found out the e-mail was no joke and that she had a pricey decision to make.

Barg is one of 61 students at UNL and hundreds at more than 60 college campuses across the country who have received letters from the recording industry group, threatening a lawsuit if they don't settle out of court.

"Any student on any campus in the country who is illegally downloading music may receive one of these letters in the coming months," said Jenni Engebretsen, an RIAA spokeswoman.

Barg's parents paid the $3,000 settlement. Without their help, "I don't know what I would have done. I'm only 20 years old," she said.

At least 500 university students nationwide have paid settlements to avoid being sued, Engebretsen said. Students who don't take the offer face lawsuits - and minimum damages of $750 for each copyrighted recording shared if they lose.

UNL officials have been told 32 more letters are on the way. At least 17 UNL students who did not take the settlement offer have been sued, according to the RIAA, although the university has been asked to forward only five subpoenas.

But the students coughing up the cash question why they're the ones getting in trouble.

"They're targeting the worst people," UNL freshman Andrew Johnson, who also settled for $3,000. "Legally, it probably makes sense, because we don't have the money to fight."

Johnson got his e-mail in February, with the recording industry group's first wave of letters targeting college students. He had downloaded 100 songs on a program called LimeWire using the university network.

The money to settle came from the 18-year-old's college fund. He'll work three jobs this summer to pay back the money.

Johnson compares what he did to people driving 5 miles per hour over the speed limit.

"It's not like I downloaded millions of songs and sold them to people," Johnson said.

But just one song can bring a lawsuit, Engebretsen said.

"It is important to send the message that this is illegal, you can be caught, and there are consequences," she said.

The industry realizes attitudes need changing, and money from the settlements is reinvested in educational programs schools and other groups can use to spread the word that song sharing can have severe consequences.

Some of the programs are tailored to start with third-graders.

"We do recognize that by the time students reach college, many of their music habits are already formed," Engebretsen said.

Earlier this month, members of Congress sent a letter to officials from 19 universities, including UNL, asking for information about schools' anti-piracy policies.

According to the letter, more than half of college students download copyrighted music and movies. The information requested is intended to help assess whether Congress needs to advance legislation to ensure illegal downloading "is no longer commonly associated with student life on some U.S. campuses," the letter says.

Barg is still angry about her letter from the recording industry group, which she calls bullying. But she agrees sharing music is common, and that other students don't understand the consequences.

"Technically, I'm guilty. I just think it's ridiculous, the way they're going about it," Barg said. "We have to find a way to adjust our legal policy to take into account this new technology, and so far, they're not doing a very good job."

Barg thinks the university should send an e-mail to all students, warning them that the recording industry won't look the other way.

As campus clears out for the summer, UNL officials are considering launching a new educational campaign in the fall.

"If we can do anything to help educate students about what illegal file-sharing is, we're willing and interested in doing that," said Kelly Bartling, a university spokeswoman.

Bartling said no one wants students to have to worry about how to pay tuition because of an expensive settlement. "It is a hugely expensive lesson," Bartling said.

Johnson, the UNL freshman, doesn't think the threats from the recording industry group are going to solve the problem. Friends who know he got in trouble still share music online.

"People are still going to do it until they get caught, and they can't catch everyone," Johnson said.