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Grid Computing ‘Mappa Mundi’ Unveiled In Florida

Visitors to Supercomputing ‘06 in Tampa, Florida this week will be the first to see a new interactive map that shows nine of the world’s largest computing Grids. The map, developed by researchers from GridPP in the UK and the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, in Geneva, uses Google Earth to pinpoint Grid sites on six continents, showing more than 300 sites overall. Like the medieval ‘mappa mundi,’ which showed what was known of the world at the time, this is one of the first attempts to show the whole scientific Grid world.

Laurence Field, who works at CERN for the Enabling Grids for E-sciencE project, has been leading work on the map. He explains, “Today there are a number of production Grids being used for science, several of which have a strong regional presence. Many of them are using different middleware, which can artificially limit scientific collaboration. The Grids shown on the map are all taking part in the Open Grid Forum’s Grid Interoperation Now (GIN) group, which is trying to bridge the differences and enable seamless interoperation between the various infrastructures.”

Gidon Moont from Imperial College London, developed the interface with Google Earth. It was then adapted by the GIN group, and will be shown on CERN’s stand and the UK e-Science stand at Supercomputing.

Moont comments, “It’s very exciting that we can, for the first time, see these major Grids together on one map. Interoperation will be a key area for the future of the Grid, and the map will show how it grows.”

Grid sites are displayed on Google Earth using a KML file. When this file is opened in Google Earth the locations of the Grid sites are added to the Google Earth map. Clicking on each site gives the name and location of the site, and identifies the Grid to which it belongs. The map queries a database that includes site information from the following Grids:

  • Enabling Grids for E-sciencE (worldwide)
  • Open Science Grid (mainly USA)
  • Nordic Data Grid Facility (mainly Scandinavia)
  • NAREGI (Japan)
  • TeraGrid (USA)
  • PRAGMA (Pacific Rim)
  • Distributed European Infrastructure for Supercomputing Applications (Europe)
  • National Grid Service (UK)
  • Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing (Australia)

The file to show Grid sites on Google Earth and instructions on how to install it can be downloaded here.

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Thunderbird Linux Cluster Ranks 6th In Top500 Supercomputing Race

Sandia National Laboratories’ 8960-processor Thunderbird Linux cluster, developed in collaboration with Dell, Inc. and Cisco, maintained its sixth position in the Top500 Supercomputers by achieving an improved overall performance of 53.0 teraflops, an 18.5 percent increase in efficiency from last year’s performance.

The Top500 ranking of supercomputers is based on the Linpack benchmark, a yardstick of performance to test processor speed, scalability, and accuracy.

“This achievement represents a long-term investment to meet our mission to transform engineering and provide greater processing capacity,” says John Zepper, Computing Systems Senior Manager at Sandia.

Sandia researchers use Thunderbird to perform a broad range of weapons simulations, including atomistic scale-to-device modeling of radiation effects on semiconductor electronics, assessing weapon-response safety in extreme thermal and impact environments, and quantifying uncertainties in weapon performance.

The level of detail being modeled in these assessments was not practical without the new level of scalable capacity that Thunderbird provides.

With its 4,480 commodity compute servers linked with an Infiniband message-passing interconnect, Thunderbird is the largest cluster of its type in the world.

Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory.

The improvement in Thunderbird’s performance were propelled by its switch to OpenFabric Enterprise Distribution (OFED) and OpenMPI — together, a Linux-based open-source software stack qualified by the OpenFabrics Alliance to operate with multi-vendor Infiniband hardware and implement open-source Message Passing Interface (MPI) protocol.

The achievement was a joint venture involving Sandia and Cisco. As an active developer in the OFED and OpenMPI projects, Cisco’s engineers were on site at Sandia to assist with monitoring, diagnosing, and fine-tuning Thunderbird’s performance.

The new software-stack environment allows for more memory per node to be available for parallel jobs at runtime, as well as an increase in reliability and scalability of users’ jobs. Sandia’s extensive use of the new software ironed out bugs and tweaked performance — improvements that benefit the entire high-performance-computing community.

Infiniband is widely regarded as one of the most attractive commodity interconnect technologies, because of its high bandwidth, low latency, and low cost. This is the first time Infiniband, OpenMPI, and OFED have been used in such a massive configuration as Thunderbird.

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Forum To Explore Thorium As Abundant Source Of Clean Energy

DBI, a California-based aerospace company involved in the research and development of thorium-fueled reactors, will host a forum on Thursday, November 30, from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on thorium as an abundant source of clean energy to meet the world’s growing energy needs.

The forum will address the role of thorium in three key areas: the environmental benefits of thorium; the safety and national security aspects of thorium; and the economic benefits and commercial applications of thorium. A detailed agenda and list of speakers can be found below.

DBI, a California-based company established in 1965 and involved in the research and development of thorium-fueled reactors joined by Thorium Power, Ltd., of Virginia

Forum on thorium as an alternative source of clean nuclear energy

National Press Club
529 14th Street, N.W.
Holeman Lounge (13th Floor)

Thursday, November 30, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Members of the media who would like to attend the forum or arrange interviews with the speakers in advance of the forum may contact Robin Buckley at 703.533.9805. or for more information.

Clean Nuclear Energy: Thorium 2006

10:00 a.m. Welcome and Introduction (Moderator Dr. James Olds)

10:15 a.m. Keynote: Global Energy Overview (Dr. Sterling Bailey)
Dr. Bailey will offer a synopsis of the current global energy situation and explore the limitations and disadvantages of current energy sources. Dr. Bailey will discuss why thorium is a feasible alternative to current energy sources due to its abundance, environmental benefits, and national security advantages.

11:00 a.m. Environmental Benefits of Thorium (Dr. Jeffery Latkowski)
While current nuclear technology does not affect the global climate, the environmental costs of the uranium oxide fuel have been a significant public concern. This session will provide an overview of the environmental benefits of thorium vis-à-vis current nuclear technology.

11:45 a.m. Lunch

12:30 p.m. Thorium’s Role in Safety and National Security (Dr. Andrey Mushakov, Dr. Kenneth Ricci)
One of the critical advantages of thorium over uranium is the reduction in radioactive waste available for nuclear proliferation. A 2000 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency outlined the benefits thorium offers in contrast to uranium. This session will provide an overview of thorium and nuclear waste, and will spotlight how two companies are addressing this issue in both the U.S. and Russia.

2:00 p.m. Economic Benefits and Commercial Applications of Thorium (H.A. D’Auvergne)
For decades scientists have recognized thorium’s usefulness as a fuel, but until recently the technology and economics to make a transition to thorium as a viable energy alternative did not exist. Today, companies such as DBI and Thorium Power Ltd. are leading the way in developing commercial applications for thorium as a viable energy alternative. This session will explore these new technologies and their commercial applications.

2:30 p.m. Wrap-up and Question/Answer

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Text Message Speak Allowed On New Zealand Exams

Michael Santo of RealTechNews writes:

Here’s a good one. New Zealand has just decided to allow the use of text message speak on its NCEA exams. You know, things like ROFL (Rolling on the Floor Laughing), stuff like that.

NZQA deputy chief executive of qualifications Bali Haque said credit would be given in this year’s NCEA exams if the answer “clearly shows the required understanding”, even if text abbreviations were used. [Source: NZ Herald]

We Say: OMG! What were they thinking? IMHO, we could eventually have young people coming up and speaking in ways like “OM-Guh” (I’m trying to phonetically do OMG) instead of “Oh my God!”

BTW, the feedback to this in New Zealand has NOT been favorable (for the most part).

About RealTechNews
Our mission is simple: We aim to bridge the gap between the informal and mostly amateur-run tech blogs and the polished but often slow and advertiser-supported tech portals.

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US Mailbox Locator And Mapping Service

Alice Hill of RealTechNews writes:

It makes sense when you think about it. Mailboxes are disappearing from city streets. It also makes sense that technology can help what it created by making it easier to find a nearby mailbox wherever your ZIP code may be. This is US-based only, but the integrated Google maps and directions make finding a nearby mailbox a snap.

Try the Mailbox Locator here. [Source: The Payphone Project]

About RealTechNews
Our mission is simple: We aim to bridge the gap between the informal and mostly amateur-run tech blogs and the polished but often slow and advertiser-supported tech portals.

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Wireless Energy Transfer Can Potentially Recharge Laptops, Cell Phones Without Cords

Recharging your laptop computer - and also your cell phone and a variety of other gadgets - might one day be doable in the same convenient way many people now surf the Web: wirelessly. Marin Soljacic of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will present research by himself and his colleagues Aristeidis Karalis and John Joannopoulos on the physics of electromagnetic fields, showing how wireless energy could power future gadgets. The MIT team is also working on demonstrating the technology in practice. The work will be described on Tuesday, November 14 in San Francisco, at the 2006 American Institute of Physics Industrial Physics Forum (IPF), which will be co-located with the Nanotechnology Topical Conference at the AVS 53rd International Symposium & Exhibition at the Moscone Center West.

Like many of us, Soljacic (pronounced Soul-ya-cheech) keeps forgetting to recharge his cell phone, and when the thing is about to die it starts to complain with an unpleasant noise. “Needless to say, this always happens in the middle of the night,” he said. “So, one night, at 3 a.m., it occurred to me: Wouldn’t it be great if this thing charged itself?” The experience got the MIT scientist thinking hard to see if any of the physics principles he knew of could turn into new ways of transmitting energy.

After all, scientists and engineers have known for nearly two centuries that transferring electric power does not require wires to be in physical contact all the way. Electric motors and power transformers contain coils that transmit energy to each other by the phenomenon of electromagnetic induction. A current running in an emitting coil induces another current in a receiving coil; the two coils are in close proximity, but they do not touch.

Later, scientists discovered electromagnetic radiation in the form of radio waves, and they showed that another form of it - light - is how we get energy from the sun. But turning light into electrical power is notoriously difficult, and requires a direct line-of-sight between transmitter and receiver. Radio waves, and especially microwaves, can be used to transfer energy, which can then be picked up with an antenna. But transferring energy from one point to another through ordinary electromagnetic radiation is typically very inefficient, and can even be dangerous: The waves tend to spread in all direction, so most of the energy is lost to the environment.

However, Soljacic realized that the close-range induction taking place inside a transformer - or something similar to it - could potentially transfer energy over longer distances, say, from one end of a room to the other. Instead of irradiating the environment with electromagnetic waves, a power transmitter would fill the space around it with a “non-radiative” electromagnetic field. Energy would only be picked up by gadgets specially designed to “resonate” with the field. Most of the energy not picked up by a receiver would be reabsorbed by the emitter.

In his talk at the IPF’s “Frontiers in Physics” session, Soljacic will explain the physics of non-radiative energy transfer and the possible design of wireless-power systems.

While rooted in well-known laws of physics, non-radiative energy transfer is a novel application no one seems to have pursued before. And figuring the details was not easy, Soljacic said, something he and his colleagues did through theoretical calculations and computer simulations. “It certainly was not clear or obvious to us in the beginning how well it could actually work, given the constraints of available materials, extraneous environmental objects, and so on. It was even less clear to us which designs would work best.”

With the proposed designs, non-radiative wireless power would have limited range, and the range would be shorter for smaller-size receivers. But the team calculates that an object the size of a laptop could be recharged within a few meters of the power source. Placing one source in each room could provide coverage throughout your home.

Soljacic is looking forward to a future when laptops and cell phones might never need any wires at all. Wireless, he said, could also power other household gadgets that are now becoming more common. “At home, I have one of those robotic vacuum cleaners that clean your floors automatically,” he said, “it does a fantastic job but, after it cleans one or two rooms, the battery dies.” In addition to consumer electronics, wireless energy could find industrial applications, for example powering freely-roaming robots within a factory pavilion.

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Scientists Use Pixels To Ease Amputees’ Pain

Academics from the School of Computer Science and School of Psychological Sciences have developed a virtual reality system, which gives the illusion that a person’s amputated limb is still there.

The computer system created by Dr Stephen Pettifer and Toby Howard of the School of Computer Science, immerses patients into a life-size virtual reality world.

By putting on a headset, patients will see themselves with two limbs. They can use their remaining physical limb to control the movements of a computer-generated limb, which appears in the 3D computer-generated world in the space of their amputated limb.

So for example, they can use their physical right arm to control the movement of their virtual left arm.

Patients have complex hand-eye coordination and can move their fingers, hands, arms, feet and legs. They can also use their virtual limb to play ball games.

Phantom limb pain or PLP is discomfort felt by a person in a limb that is missing due to amputation. Previous research has found that when a person’s brain is ‘tricked’ into believing they can see and move a ‘phantom limb’, pain can decrease.

So far, five patients living in the Manchester area - including one who has suffered from PLP for 40 years - have used the virtual reality system over several weeks in a small-scale study.

But this initial project has produced startling results, with four out of the five patients reporting improvement in their phantom limb pain. Some improvements were almost immediate.

The Manchester team’s findings were recently presented at a major conference in Denmark on the use of virtual reality for rehabilitation.

Dr Stephen Pettifer, of the School of Computer Science said: “Most people know about 3D graphics and virtual reality from their use in the entertainment industry, in computer games and special effects in films.

“It’s very satisfying being able apply the same technology to something that may have a real positive impact on someone’s health and well being.”

Project leader, Dr Craig Murray of the School of Psychological Sciences, said “Many people who undergo an amputation experience a phantom limb. These are often very painful for the person concerned. They can persist for many years, and are very difficult to treat.

“One patient felt that the fingers of her amputated hand were continually clenched into her palm, which was very painful for her. However, after just one session using the virtual system she began to feel movement in her fingers and the pain began to ease.”

Each participant used the system between seven and 10 times over the course of two to three months. Sessions lasted around 30 minutes and involved putting on a special virtual reality headset.

Upper-limb amputees were fitted with a special data glove and had sensors attached to the elbow and wrist joints. Sensors were fitted to the knee and ankle joints of lower-limb amputees. Head and arm movements were also monitored.

The three men and two women who took part in the study were aged between 56 and 65. The group included three arm amputees and two leg amputees, who had lost limbs between one and 40 years ago.

The University of Manchester research team hopes to include a larger number of patients in their future work in order to identify those most likely to benefit from the virtual reality system they have developed.

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The Church Of The SubGenius

Every so often, a site arises from the ashes of the Internet that just defies description. Today’s site is just such a site. At first glance I thought is was a new age religious site. Then I thought it might be about the ace of office support, Bob from Accountemps. Now I’m just not too sure. Take a look and see if it makes any sense to you.

The name of the site is The Church of the SubGenius. There are links to stores, events, questions, a Stark Fist(?), and its radio. To get a feeling for what this site is about, here is what it puts under the heading “Become an Ordained Minister Now…”:

“The exciting new do-it-yourself virus we invented for the SubGenius Art Mines is spreading throughout our website, sometimes spilling over even into the so-called “reality” that we SubGenii are forced to share with the humans. The vigorous health of this virus is the result of its careful design by an ever-growing team of SubGenius coders - Slack-filled young men and women of Yeti descent who are spread, SEEMINGLY randomly, throughout the breakthinking world… but are bent on breaching all Earthly human political and cultural barriers with the searing nonhuman truth of the Word of “Bob”: J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, that LIVING GOD WHO WALKS THIS PLANET EARTH IN HUCKSTER’S SHOES.”

Confused? Now you know how I felt after spending some time here. At first I thought it was the pain meds from my recent surgery. But I haven’t taken any today, so it has to be the site. The Warp-o-Meter gives this site a 9.5 rating. This is what Warped sites are all about.

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SimCity For Real

Social policy makers and town planners will soon be able to play ‘SimCity’ for real using grid computing and e-Science techniques to test the consequences of their policies on a real, but anonymous, model of the UK population. Dr Mark Birkin and colleagues, who are developing the model at the University of Leeds, will be demonstrating its potential at the UK e-Science stand at SC06, the world’s largest supercomputing conference in Florida, this week.

They are using data recorded at the 2001 census to build a model of the whole UK population, but with personal details omitted so no individual or household can be identified. Their project, Modelling and Simulation for e-Social Science is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council National Centre for e-Social Science. “We’re building a core model which represents the whole of the UK at the level of (synthetic) individuals and households with many attributes and behaviours,” says Dr Birkin.

Data about these attributes - such as car ownership, house prices and use of health, education, transport and leisure facilities - are held by different agencies in different locations and often in different formats. “Historically, people have assembled data on a single PC or workstation. E-Science provides exciting opportunities to access multiple databases from remote, virtual locations, making it possible to develop highly generic simulation models which are easy to update,” says Dr Birkin.

The model can be projected into the future to explore the effect of different demographic trends and also to test the consequences of policy decisions. The SC06 demonstration will show how the model could help inform policy for a major UK city under a number of different scenarios. “We can profile populations area by area and forecast attributes such as health status, employment, and car ownership ten or twenty years ahead. In future, we’ll be able to project the effects of policy change and help policymakers evaluate the impact of the decisions they take,” says Dr Birkin.

The demonstration, e-Social Science in action: a prototype geo-simulation portal, can be seen at the UK e-Science Programme stand at SC06, aisle 2200, booth 2234.

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Queen’s Surveillance Project Benchmarks Global Attitudes About Being Watched

Almost half of Canadians and even more Americans say they find new laws aimed at protecting national security post 9/11 intrusive.

That’s just one of the wide-ranging findings of a survey on the surveillance and privacy attitudes and experiences of 9,000 people in eight countries initiated by the Queen’s University-based Surveillance Project. The multi-disciplinary group is studying the Globalization of Personal Data (GPD) and the surveillance associated with that flow - by governments, employers, and via technologies like personal computers, biometrics and global-positioning systems - on ordinary people.

“We are seeing a high level of concern in many parts of the world about the intrusiveness of these post 9/11 laws. Fifty-seven per cent of Americans and 47 per cent of Canadians said that these laws are intrusive,” says Elia Zureik, lead researcher. He went on to say, “these findings resonate with the recent Ontario Supreme Court ruling about the unconstitutionality of parts of Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism legislation in Canada.”

This is believed to be the first cross-cultural study of its kind that explores relationships between attitudes and experiences, and how much people trust corporations and governments to handle personal information, including the sharing of such information with third parties, the researcher says.

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the survey included nearly 50 questions on participant’s attitudes about issues like consumer surveillance, racial profiling at airports, national ID cards, media coverage of surveillance issues, workplace privacy, knowledge of privacy regulations, control over personal data and public trust in government.

The answers reveal a variety of cultural commonalities and differences culled from participants in Canada, the U.S., China, France, Spain, Hungary, Mexico and Brazil. Except for the survey in China, which was carried out by the Deputy Director of the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, the surveys were carried out by Ipsos Reid.

Across the globe a majority of respondents:

  • believe surveillance laws are intrusive (U.S. 57 per cent, Canada 48 per cent, Spain 53 per cent, Mexico 46 per cent, Brazil 41 per cent, France 40 per cent).
  • worry about providing personal information on websites (China 54 per cent, Canada 66 per cent, Brazil 70 per cent, Spain 62 per cent and U.S. 60 per cent).
  • believe the use of closed circuit television deters in-store crime (Mexico 88 per cent, U.S. 80 per cent, Canada 79 per cent, France 73 per cent).
  • rejected out-right the premise that airport authorities should give extra security checks to visible minority passengers. About 60 per cent of Chinese, Hungarians, Brazilians, and Canadians but only a third of Americans found such practices unacceptable.

Culturally distinctive survey findings include:

  • 63 per cent of Chinese respondents trust the government to protect the personal information it collects compared to just 48 per cent of Canadians and a mere 20 per cent of Brazilians say they trust their respective governments with their personal information.
  • While the majority of respondents do not believe that they have much say in what happens to their personal information - only roughly 30 per cent of Canadians, Americans, Spaniards and Hungarians felt they had complete or a lot of say - Chinese and French respondents felt otherwise, with 67 per cent and 60 per cent respectively reporting they feeling in control of the use their information.
  • Eighty-two percent of Canadians and 80 percent of Americans report themselves as being knowledgeable about the Internet compared to just 35 percent of Mexicans and 33 percent of Brazilian respondents.

“We have learned that there is an urgent need to educate the public about the complexities of the information age, to demand organizational and governmental accountability with regard to handling personal data, and to develop appropriate theory to explain and predict flows of personal data and to connect this with privacy ethics and government policy,” Dr. Zureik says.

A team of international surveillance experts will meet at Queen’s later this week to further study the data collected by survey.

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Every Wanna-Be Rocker’s Fantasy Comes True

Australia’s scientific research agency, CSIRO, has ‘built’ a shirt which could fulfill the fantasy of anyone who has, in the privacy of their homes, jammed along with one of rock ‘n roll’s great lead guitarists.

Led by engineer Dr Richard Helmer a team of researchers at CSIRO Textiles and Fibre Technology in Geelong has created a ‘wearable instrument shirt’ (WIS) which enables users to play an ‘air guitar’ simply by moving one arm to pick chords and the other to strum the imaginary instrument’s strings.

“Freedom of movement is a great feature of these textile-based interfaces,” Dr Helmer says.

“Our air guitar consists of a wearable sensor interface embedded in a conventional ’shirt’ which uses custom software to map gestures with audio samples.

“It’s an easy-to-use, virtual instrument that allows real-time music making - even by players without significant musical or computing skills. It allows you to jump around and the sound generated is just like an original mp3.”

The WIS works by recognising and interpreting arm movements and relaying this wirelessly to a computer for audio generation. There are no trailing cables to get in the way or trip over.

Textile motion sensors embedded in the shirt sleeves detect motion when the arm bends - in most cases the left arm chooses a note and the right arm plays it.

By customising the software, the team has also tailored the technology to make an air tambourine and an air guiro (percussion instrument).

Dr Helmer says the development of the WIS required intensive collaboration by researchers with high-level skills in computing, chemistry, electronics, music composition and textile manufacture.

“The technology - which is adaptable to almost any kind of apparel - takes clothing beyond its traditional role of protection and fashion into the realms of entertainment and a wide range of other applications including the development of clothes which will be able to monitor physiological changes,” he says.

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Global Environmental Change Scientists Seek To Improve Links With Policy And Development Agendas

Global environmental change research plays a vital role in providing the scientific basis for policy and development agendas concerned with sustainable development. Yet, a major report by the UK government on the economic effects of climate change challenges the global science community to better inform governments on actions to take.

Sustainability is a central theme of the ESSP’s Open Science Conference, and will be the focus of a plenary session on linking global environmental change research to policy and development agendas, where key sustainability issues from regional and global perspectives will be addressed.

Speeches include:

GEC Science in Relation to International Environmental Assessments and Conventions by Kevin Trenberth. head of the Climate Analysis Section at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research. He has been lead author of chapters of the IPCC Scientific Assessment of Climate Change, and serves on the Joint Scientific Committee of the World Climate Research Programme.

Global Environmental Change Science and the Power Sector in Africa by Steve Lennon of Eskom Holdings Limited, South Africa, widely recognized for his leadership in technology development, global energy sector trends and policy, and climate change policy for South Africa.

On the Brink of Accelerated Changes: Asia’s Challenges and Opportunities in Sustainable Development by Daniel Murdiyarso, a professor at the Department of Geophysics and Meteorology at the Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia. He has been a Convening Lead Author of IPCC Assessment Reports on Land-Use Change and Forestry, and in 2000 he served the government of Indonesia as Deputy Minister of the Environment for two years.

Global Environmental Change Science in Relation to Development Agencies by Meryl Williams, who chairs the Board of Management and the Policy Advisory Council of the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research. From 1994 to 2004, Dr. Williams was Director General of the WorldFish Center. She is also a member of the Scientific Steering Committee of the Census of Marine Life and chairs the FAO Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research.

Thomas Rosswall will moderate this session. He is Executive Director of the International Council for Science (ICSU), and formerly has been Director of the International Foundation for Science (IFS), President of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Director of the international START Secretariat, and Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP).

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The International Center For Bathroom Etiquette

Okay, which way is it: Seat up or seat down? Which way does the paper hang? Wax on or wax off? These questions have plagued mankind for years, and there don’t seem to be any solid answers. Or at least there weren’t until today ’s Warped site was discovered.

The name of the site is The International Center for Bathroom Etiquette. Why, you may ask is there a need for any kind of behavior in the men’s room? Why not? We’re not all animals. Well, most of us aren’t, anyway. But have you ever wondered about when it is appropriate to talk in there? What do you do with stalls without walls? HOW do you hang the toilet paper? And most important, what do you do WHEN YOU REALLY GOTTA GO? Have no fear, it is all explained here, and in understandable language and even some pictures.

Yes, here the answer of when to leave the seat up (and why), and how to educate complainers. There is workplace etiquette, home etiquette, and truckstop etiquette (VERY important). The Warped site rating for this site is 9.5, which shows how important we think it really is.

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Cloudy Day Won’t Rain On Laser Communications

Just as clouds block the sun, they interfere with laser communications systems, but Penn State researchers are using a combination of computational methods to find the silver lining and punch through the clouds.

“Radio frequency communications are generally reliable and well understood, but cannot support emerging data rate needs unless they use a large portion of the radio spectrum,” says Mohsen Kavehrad, the W. L. Weiss professor of electrical engineering and director, Penn State Center for Information and Communications Technology Research. “Free space optical communications offer enormous data rates but operate much more at the mercy of the environment.”

Laser light used in communications systems can carry large amounts of information, but, the dust, dirt, water vapor and gases in a fluffy cumulus cloud, scatter the light and create echoes. The loss of some light to scattering is less important than those parts of the beam that are deflected and yet reach their target, because then, various parts of the beam reach the endpoint at different times.

“All of the laser beam photons travel at the speed of light, but different paths make them arrive at different times,” says Kavehrad. “The Air Force, which is funding this project through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, would like us to deliver close to 3 gigabytes per second of data over a distance of 6 to 8 miles through the atmosphere.”

That 6 to 8 miles is sufficient to cause an overlap of arriving data of hundreds of symbols, which causes echoes. The information arrives, but then it arrives again because the signal is distributed throughout the laser beam. In essence, the message is continuously being stepped on.

Kavehrad and Sangwoo Lee, graduate student in electrical engineering, presented their solutions to the echo problem at the recent IEEE Military Communications Conference in Wash., D.C.

“In the past, laser communications systems have been designed to depend on optical signal processing and optical apparatus,” says Kavehrad. “We coupled state-of-the-art digital signal processing methods to a wireless laser communications system to obtain a reliable, high capacity optical link through the clouds.”

The researchers developed an approach called free-space optical communications that not only can improve air-to-air communications, but also ground-to-air links. Because their approach provides fiber optic quality signals, it is also a solution for extending fiber optic systems to rural areas without laying cable and may eventually expand the Internet in a third dimension allowing airplane passengers a clear, continuous signal.

Using a computer simulation called the atmospheric channel model developed by Penn State’s CICTR, the researchers first process the signal to shorten the overlapping data and reduce the number of overlaps. Then the system processes the remaining signal, picking out parts of the signal to make a whole and eliminate the remaining echoes. This process must be continuous with overlap shortening and then filtering so that a high-quality, fiber optic caliber message arrives at the destination. All this, while one or both of the sender and receiver are moving.

“We modeled the system using cumulus clouds, the dense fluffy ones, because they cause the most scattering and the largest echo,” says Kavehrad. “Our model is also being used by Army contractors to investigate communications through smoke and gases and it does a very good job with those as well.”

The computer modeled about a half-mile traverse of a cumulus cloud. While the researchers admit that they could simply process the signal to remove all echoes, the trade-offs would degrade the system in other ways, such as distance and time. Using a two-step process provides the most reliable, high-quality data transfer.

The system also uses commercially available off-the-shelf equipment and proven digital signal processing techniques.

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‘Nanorust’ Cleans Arsenic From Drinking Water

The discovery of unexpected magnetic interactions between ultrasmall specks of rust is leading scientists at Rice University’s Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) to develop a revolutionary, low-cost technology for cleaning arsenic from drinking water. The technology holds promise for millions of people in India, Bangladesh and other developing countries where thousands of cases of arsenic poisoning each year are linked to poisoned wells.

The new technique is described in the Nov. 10 issue of Science magazine.

“Arsenic contamination in drinking water is a global problem, and while there are ways to remove arsenic, they require extensive hardware and high-pressure pumps that run on electricity,” said center director and lead author Vicki Colvin. “Our approach is simple and requires no electricity. While the nanoparticles used in the publication are expensive, we are working on new approaches to their production that use rust and olive oil, and require no more facilities than a kitchen with a gas cooktop.”

CBEN’s technology is based on a newly discovered magnetic interaction that takes place between particles of rust that are smaller than viruses.

“Magnetic particles this small were thought to only interact with a strong magnetic field,” Colvin said. “Because we had just figured out how to make these particles in different sizes, we decided to study just how big of magnetic field we needed to pull the particles out of suspension. We were surprised to find that we didn’t need large electromagnets to move our nanoparticles, and that in some cases hand-held magnets could do the trick.”

The experiments involved suspending pure samples of uniform-sized iron oxide particles in water. A magnetic field was used to pull the particles to out of solution, leaving only the purified water. Colvin’s team measured the tiny particles after they were removed from the water and ruled out the most obvious explanation: the particles were not clumping together after being tractored by the magnetic field.

Colvin, professor of chemistry, said the experimental evidence instead points to a magnetic interaction between the nanoparticles themselves.

Co-author Doug Natelson explains, “As particle size is reduced the force on the particles does drop rapidly, and the old models were correct in predicting that very big magnetic fields would be needed to move these particles.

“In this case, it turns out that the nanoparticles actually exert forces on each other,” said Natelson, associate professor of physics and astronomy and in electrical and computer engineering. “So, once the hand-held magnets start gently pulling on a few nanoparticles and get things going, the nanoparticles effectively work together to pull themselves out of the water.”

Colvin said, “It’s yet another example of the unique sorts of interactions we see at the nanoscale.”

Because iron is well known for its ability to bind arsenic, Colvin’s group repeated the experiments in arsenic-contaminated water and found that the particles would reduce the amount of arsenic in contaminated water to levels well below the EPA’s threshold for U.S. drinking water.

Colvin’s group has been collaborating with researchers from Rice Professor Mason Tomson’s group in civil and environmental engineering to further develop the technology for arsenic remediation. Colvin said Tomson’s preliminary calculations indicate the method could be practical for settings where traditional water treatment technologies are not possible. Because the starting materials for generating the nanorust are inexpensive, she said the cost of the materials could be quite low if manufacturing methods are scaled up. In addition, Colvin’s graduate student, Cafer Yavuz, has been working for several months to refine a method that villagers in the developing world could use to prepare the iron oxide nanoparticles. The primary raw materials are rust and fatty acids, which can be obtained from olive oil or coconut oil, Colvin said.

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Holiday Shoppers Will Be “WOWed” This Season by New, SRS-Tuned Sharper Image Audio Products

SRS Labs Inc., a leading provider of surround sound, audio and voice technologies, and Sharper Image Corporation (NASDAQ: SHRP), a specialty retailer known as a leading source of new, innovative, high-quality products, today announced a strategic relationship to develop and market a new line of SRS-enabled Sharper Image audio products featuring SRS Labs’ award-winning audio enhancement technology, SRS WOW.

As part of the strategic relationship, SRS Labs and Sharper Image consulted together on the audio design, implementation and integration of the SRS WOW technology to optimize and tune the audio performance for each product. In addition, SRS Labs and Sharper Image Corporation have entered into a strategic marketing agreement to promote the new line of audio products with the SRS WOW technology. “We are known for our innovative products,” said Jerry W. Levin, Chairman of Sharper Image. “Our partnership with SRS Labs allows us to use their expert audio knowledge to incorporate the latest patented technologies in Sharper Image-designed products, so our customers receive top-notch products with superior audio performance.”

SRS WOW improves the dynamic audio performance of stereo and mono content by restoring the spatial cues and ambient sounds that are lost during the compression processes of many audio formats, such as AAC and MP3, to create a natural listening experience which resembles the original recording. WOW also brings the soundstage to life with immersive 3D audio as it widens and raises the sound field and creates a deeper, more natural bass response. SRS WOW is well suited for iPod and MP3 accessories where the speakers are set close together, as well as for headphone applications. SRS WOW’s ability to widen the audio field puts big sound in easy reach of small speakers.

“Sharper Image is widely recognized as a high-quality brand with top-of-the-line products,” said Tom Yuen, chairman and CEO, SRS Labs. “Currently, the iPod and MP3 player market is booming and the new audio products SRS Labs and The Sharper Image are delivering to the market bring together innovative designs with superior sound technology to squarely meet the needs of digital music enthusiasts.”

The Sharper Image and SRS Labs have planned to promote the new SRS WOW-enabled products to Sharper Image customers through newly designed packaging, in-store demonstrations, various marketing efforts and special call outs in the Sharper Image monthly catalog and on the website.

The new products are becoming available now and will all be available for the holiday season in 190 Sharper Image specialty stores across the United States, the Sharper Image website and catalogs. These products include:

  • iPulse Jukebox
  • Quiet Place Noise-Cancellation Headphones
  • Digital Hybrid Wireless Headphones
  • iSphere
  • iPulse
  • Beetle with AM/FM Digital Tuner & Alarm Clock
  • Solo Stereo
  • iTower
  • iBeam

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Name That Candybar

It’s the start of a long weekend, so let’s have a warped site that is just for fun. Everyone likes a good candy bar, I’m sure. At my local Fry’s Store, the checkout line has them all over the place, for that last minute shopping. Everyone can identify their favorite bars by just looking for the wrapper (with me, it’s the red wrapper of the Rocky Road). But what would happen if suddenly there were no wrappers? Take a look at today’s site, and you’ll see what I mean.

The name of the site is Name That Candybar. Here you are given a selection of bars without wrappers, and a cross sectional view (just like you took a bite out of one). Can you identify them? Can you find your favorite? It’s not that difficult if you really think about it. But then who thinks about candybars when you’re eating them?

The Warp-o-Meter gives this site an 8.5 but it’s still hunting for that Rocky Road. If you see it, drop us a line. We seem to have misplaced it.

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‘Air Shower’ Set To Cut Water Use By 30 Percent

The Aerated ShowerheadScientists have developed a simple ‘air shower’ device which, when fitted into existing showerheads, fills the water droplets with a tiny bubble of air. The result is the shower feels just as wet and just as strong as before, but now uses much less water.

The researchers, from CSIRO Manufacturing Materials Technology in Melbourne, say the device increases the volume of the shower stream while reducing the amount of water used by about 30 per cent.

Given the average Australian household uses about 200,000 litres of water a year, and showers account for nearly a third of this, the ‘air shower’ could help the average household save about 15,000-20,000 litres a year. If you extend this across the population, that is an annual saving of more than 45,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The Aerated Showerhead creates the sensation of having a full and steady stream of water even though the water is now more like a wet shell around a bubble of air.

While the general concept of using an aerated showerhead to save water is not new, the technology behind the CSIRO’s device is novel.

Developed by a team led by Dr Jie Wu, the aeration device is a small nozzle that fits inside a standard showerhead. The nozzle uses a small Venturi tube - a tube for which the diameter varies, creating a difference in pressure and fluid speed. Air is sucked into the Venturi tube as a result of the partial vacuum created, causing air and water to mix, forming tiny bubbles within the water stream.

“The nozzle creates a vacuum that sucks in air and forces it into the water stream,” Dr Wu says.

“We make the water droplets in the stream hollow and the bubbles expand the volume of the shower stream.”

Small-scale experiments using the aeration device found that people detected no difference in water pressure, sensation, or overall perception of showering.

After almost two years of research and development, CSIRO is ready to take the aerated shower head technology to the commercialisation stage.

“We have very promising results on the aerated showerhead’s water-saving potential. Now we are looking for commercialisation partners who will be involved in the development needed to turn the technology into a marketable device,” Dr Wu says.

He expects the nozzle would cost less than $20 and could be installed by householders.

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Portable, Solar-Powered Tag Readers Could Improve Traffic Management

As part of their ongoing effort to improve traffic management in New York state and across the country, a team of transportation researchers will be testing an array of wireless, solar-powered readers to monitor traffic flow. In the coming months, the units will be deployed to collect traffic data during the morning commute on busy Capital Region roads.

The portable units, which are based on the same technology as E-ZPass tag readers, could eventually be used to provide valuable data for a variety of applications, from decreasing congestion in work zones to assisting emergency evacuations.

The research is funded through a $3.9 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration to the Center for Infrastructure and Transportation Studies (CITS) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The project also includes collaborators from the New York State Department of Transportation, the New York State Thruway Authority, Mark IV Industries Inc., Annese & Associates, and North Carolina State University.

“We hope to use this technology to enable better management of our traffic system,” said William “Al” Wallace, CITS director and professor of decision sciences and engineering systems at Rensselaer. In collaboration with Mark IV Industries, he and Jeffrey Wojtowicz, a research engineer in civil and environmental engineering at Rensselaer, have developed a prototype reader that is powered by solar panels, collects data on a laptop computer, and then sends the information wirelessly back to a server. The portable device sits on a trailer that can be transported by a vehicle with a normal-duty hitch.

Beginning in mid-November, the team plans to deploy one test device to begin the initial collection of data. Then in early spring, the researchers will deploy six units across the Capital District Testbed area - a busy stretch of road along Route 4 in Rensselaer County. Federal funding for the Testbed was secured with the help of Congressman Michael R. McNulty.

“This is the first field experiment of its kind,” Wallace said. “The goal here is to collect data, analyze it, and find out if this really works.”

Traffic monitoring using E-ZPass tags began in 1994 when the Thruway Authority and TRANSCOM developed and deployed 15 permanent reader sites downstate. These sites were integrated into a system called “TRANSMIT” that provides traffic information to transportation agencies.

TRANSMIT and the Rensselaer-led pilot project are separate systems from the E-ZPass toll collection system. Similar to the TRANSMIT system, this new project requires that any identifiable information from tags be automatically encrypted.

The TRANSMIT system has been expanded to include 26 newly installed readers at strategic locations around the Capital Region. But there are no functioning portable, wireless, and solar-powered units in use today, according to Wallace.

The portable units could be particularly useful for decreasing congestion and providing travel time estimates in work zones, at special events, and during emergency evacuations. And planners could potentially deploy a network of readers to monitor driving route choices, helping them decide where to place new roads or other construction projects, such as malls and housing developments.

This Capital District Testbed is the same area where the researchers recently tested their Advanced Traveler Information System (ATIS), a dynamic routing system that collects real-time traffic data and uses it to alert drivers about congested roadways, offering alternative routes to avoid problem areas. ATIS consists of a personal digital assistant (PDA) device with a global positioning system (GPS) that is part of a wireless computer network. The network collects and processes traffic data from the device and feeds the results back to the driver through an electronic voice mechanism.

About 30 participants in the original ATIS project have volunteered to use the systems to collect data during the new experiment, which will help calibrate the solar-powered readers, Wojtowicz said.

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Memories: It’s All In The Packaging, Scientists Say

Details must be integrated when event occurs to be remembered later.

Researchers at UC Irvine have found that how much detail one remembers of an event depends on whether a certain portion of the brain is activated to “package” the memory.

The research may help to explain why sometimes people only recall parts of an experience such as a car accident, and yet vividly recall all of the details of a similar experience.

In experiments using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the scientists were able to view what happened in the brains of subjects when they experienced an event made up of multiple contextual details. They found that participants who later remembered all aspects of the experience, including the details, used a particular part of the brain that bound the different details together as a package at the time the event occurred. When this brain region wasn’t activated to bind together the details, only some aspects of an event were recalled. The findings appear in the current issue of Neuron.

“This study provides a neurological basis for what psychologists have been telling us for years,” said Michael Rugg, director of UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and senior author of the paper. “You can’t get out of memory what you didn’t put into it. It is not possible to remember things later if you didn’t pay attention to them in the first place.”

The scientists presented 23 research subjects with a list of words while they underwent an fMRI scan. The words were in different colors and would appear in one of four quadrants on a screen. The subjects had to decide whether the words represented an animate or inanimate object. Later, the participants were presented the words again, interspersed with words they had not seen before, and asked if they remembered seeing those words before. They were also asked if they remembered in what color the word had originally been and in which of the four quadrants it had originally appeared.

If the participant could later remember the color of the word, a particular area of the brain associated with color processing was especially active during learning. If the subject later remembered the location of the word, activity was seen in an area associated with spatial processing. But if the subject remembered the word, the color and the location, then another critical brain region became involved. The researchers observed enhanced activity in the intra-parietal sulcus, a part of the parietal cortex. It appears that this region is responsible for binding together all the features of a particular memory so that contextual details, as well as more central aspects of the event such as the identity of the word, can later be recalled.

“We know that if the intra-parietal sulcus is damaged, then someone cannot attend to multiple aspects of the same object, such as its size and color,” said Melina Uncapher, a graduate student researcher and lead author of the study. “This study provides empirical evidence for how critical this region is for bringing the constituents of a memory together in the brain.

“Memory is more than a sum of its parts. A complete memory of an event requires that the features of the event be brought together and processed by the brain as a common perceptual representation, before being stored.”

Leun Otten of University College London collaborated on the study. The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Wellcome Trust.

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