Weird Science 12-09-10
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Editor, The Konformist
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Three Days of Alternative Knowledge - February 4th, 5th and 6th, 2011
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Genachowski Offers Pretend Net Neutrality Proposal
Wednesday December 1, 2010
As if there weren't enough things going to pot today, the FCC has decided to come out with a proposal to pretend to institute net neutrality regulations.
In a speech he plans to give Wednesday in Washington, Julius Genachowski, the F.C.C. chairman, will outline a framework for broadband Internet service that forbids both wired and wireless Internet service providers from blocking lawful content. But the proposal would allow broadband providers to charge consumers different rates for different levels of service, according to a text of the speech provided to The New York Times.
Mr. Genachowski has decided not to use the commission's telephone regulatory powers to govern broadband Internet service, a move that he proposed in May that would potentially open Internet service to heavier government regulation.
His proposal would also allow broadband providers to manage their networks to limit congestion or harmful traffic.
I don't know how you could call this net neutrality at all. Broadband providers could charge different rates for "faster" service; they will not be subject to common carrier regulations on their product; and they can "manage their networks," which is precisely the point of net neutrality. You can't block content, but if you can "manage" it, you can essentially slow it out of existence.
I'll go with Marvin Ammori on this one; we have garbage masquerading as net neutrality.
It exempts wireless. Like the Google-Verizon proposal, Julius's makes an artificial distinction between accessing the Internet through a wire and through a wireless connection. No nondiscrimination rule applies to wireless. The Chairman's fig leaf is to ban "blocking" on wireless, but not discrimination [...]
The proposal may not ban paid-priority. A ban on paid priority is central to any real net neutrality proposal, beginning with the Snowe-Dorgan bill of 2006. Indeed, the notion of "payment for priority" is what started the net neutrality fight; in late 2005, AT&T's CEO said that Vonage and Google had to stop using his pipes for free. The only way a carrier could charge for priority is if basic Internet access was not sufficient for a company to compete; if Yahoo! does need priority to compete effectively, why pay? Without a ban on paid priority, we can expect basic access to deteriorate so companies have to pay for priority [...]
There may no jurisdiction for any of this anyway. In April, the D.C. Circuit interpreted Title I of the Communications Act narrowly, severely curtailing the FCC's ability to adopt rules for Internet access [...] After a month of studying the question, the FCC General Counsel concluded the obvious: relying on Title I authority after that case was irresponsible and doomed to failure. The Chairman made a video explaining how the FCC should rely on authority under Title II, which is something that several Justices of the Supreme Court (including Scalia) thought the FCC should have done from the beginning. The Chairman described reclassifying to Title II as the principled center, but without principle, the center keeps shifting.In the proposal, the FCC will not reclassify.
So this is a pretend net neutrality proposal, which has all the problems of the status quo if not more, and which is still drawing fire from Republicans because it pretends to call itself net neutrality. They keep pushing from the right, but in reality this proposal would be a gold mine for the telecoms.
Thanks to X-Entertainment.com for the following...
Big Foot the Monster
Our Recommended Age: 3 - 7 years
Manufacturer's Age: 3 - 8 years
Our Price: $109.99
Imagine a little monster with a big personality. That's the Fisher-Price Imaginext Big Foot the Monster. He's happy. He's angry. He's sleepy. He's fun. He talks, walks and throws a ball. He also chews, burps and exercises. Kids can bring him to life with an easy-to-use wireless remote control. The symbols on the buttons show what Big Foot will do, so no reading is required.
Easy-to-use wireless remote control
The remote control has a toggle and seven buttons. The toggle allows him to walk forward and backwards, and the six buttons are happy, angry, sleep, fun, ball, and exercise.
Wide range of emotions
Press the happy button to hear him laugh, or press the angry button to hear him roar and watch him pound his fists or raise his arms above his head and shake his fists. With the push of another button, your child can also change his expression to watch his face shift from a frown to a smile.
The sleep button makes him go to sleep and emit loud snoring sounds. Press any of the emotion buttons on the remote while he sleeps to hear him dream.
Fun and games
Press the ball button to hear him say things like "play" and watch him throw the ball. Press the button on his belly to hear him laugh. Don't forget the fun button on the remote to hear a unique rap and a variety of other sounds and words.
Your child can help Big Foot complete a rigorous workout with a push of the exercise button. Watch him "lift weights" and turn somersaults while making grunts and other crazy sound effects. If he works out too much he will say "No More!"
After a long workout, Big Foot is always ready for a snack, and his favorite meal is a delicious green leaf. Press the button in his mouth to make him chew and burp. He will even remember to say "excuse me."
Are Aliens Among Us? Sort of, NASA Says
December 02, 2010
A scanning-electron micrograph image of arsenic-eating bacteria, which NASA says has redefined the quest for life in the universe.
Alien life has been among us all along, according to new biological findings announced by NASA Thursday.
Research conducted by biochemist Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon from the U.S. Geological Survey has turned the quest for alien life on its ear, suggesting that phosphorous, carbon, and the other fundamental elements found in every living thing on Earth aren't the only signs of life. Wolfe-Simon explained the findings at a hotly anticipated NASA press conference on Thursday.
After a two-year study at California's Mono Lake, near Yosemite National Park, Wolfe-Simon found that a bug will grow in the presence of the toxic chemical arsenic when only slight traces of phosphorous are present. It's a radical finding, says molecular biologist Steven Benner, who is part of NASA's "Team Titan" and an expert on astrobiology -- forcing the space agency to redefine the quest for other life in the universe.
"When we're searching for alien life, if it's not a Ferengi from Star Trek, what would it be?" Benner asked FoxNews.com. In his estimation, we've always defined life as something that has the exact same chemistry as a life-form on Earth. The new discovery will likely change that equation, because it means the basic building blocks of DNA are not quite what we thought.
Benner, said the arsenic-loving organism at Mono Lake grew without high levels of the nutrient phosphate (although some phosphates were still present). Just as important, it could change how we look for alien life on other planets, especially on Saturn and the moons of Jupiter.
"It's a paradigm shift," says Dimitar Sasselov, an astrobiologist who leads the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard University. "The possibility that Earth-life biochemistry is not universal is a transformational concept. It fills the search [for alien life] with optimism. NASA is moving in a good overall direction. What is needed is to take alternatives for life's chemistry to heart and fund research work better."
Arsenic is poisonous to nearly all forms of life on earth. Even small amounts of the poison become embedded in living tissue, causing liver failure and ultimately death -- in nearly everything BUT these bacteria.
However, as science fiction author Robert Sawyer told FoxNews.com, there could be even more profound implications. We have always looked for alien life that matches our biology, but now we have found a different life-form that uses arsenic in its basic DNA structure, he said.
Sawyer explained that NASA science probes have always looked in the most likely places we thought life could exist -- on Mars or Europa, a moon of Jupiter. There is an old joke, he says, about how someone lost a quarter in their garage, then looks out in the yard for it. A neighbor asks why they are looking there instead of in the garage; the light is better, he answers.
"We tend to use the tools we know and the places we know to look for alien life," Sawyer said, explaining that humans want to find a walking, crawling alien and not one that just has different DNA.
The change, he says, is that NASA will start looking for arsenic as well, and possibly other chemicals. This could mean new missions to Titan, which is known for having traces of arsenic. Another change could be the scientific equipment we send to space probes might be retrofitted to search for arsenic.
Benner said the finding even impacts earlier research. Several years ago, when a Martian meteorite crash-landed on Earth, scientists examined it for the presence of phosphates. Now, it may be possible to re-visit some of the earlier findings. This hints at what experts call the "shadow biosphere" -- the existence of other life-forms, even on Earth, that have a radically different DNA structure.
"It's a huge breakthrough. It changes the probabilities for their being life on other planets," Sawyer told FoxNews.com. "If there is more than one recipe that makes life, then there are chances of rolling the dice in a chemical soup of all over the universe, and the chances of that chemical soup giving rise to life is much larger."
For NASA, the scientific discovery could help the agency acquire new funding, serving as a catalyst to convince Congress to green light for new missions to Mars or Titan.
In fact, the Internet buzz about finding alien life, as Sawyer noted, is partly due to how NASA has timed the announcement. A new Congress means new opportunities for scientific missions. He says the reality of the finding is somewhat of a joykill -- we have not found E.T. -- but there are still major implications for science and the search for extra-terrestrial life in our solar system and beyond.
Benner says the findings need further review -- there are questions about how much phosphorous is needed to sustain life.
"The next phase is to grow more of the stuff in a lab using a defined cultured, maybe cook up a broth that contains no phosphorous at all, look at this with a critical eye," he said.
However you view the announcement, the Lake Mono findings are profound, and the possibilities for finding life -- especially the primordial kind -- are now even greater.
Wii2 For and Against
Nintendo's next console are we really ready for it? Choose your side.
Australia, November 28, 2010
Nintendo must lead the charge into the next generation of gaming consoles this much is certain. While Microsoft and Sony place bets on different forms of motion control styles, Nintendo is surely looking at advancing the market even further looking for the 'next big thing' that will take concepts established by the Wii and put Nintendo even farther ahead of the competition.
With this in mind, we've weighed up strong arguments for and against the release of Wii2 in the near future. Will the Big N carry on in the face of Move and Kinect? Or are we going to see a new paradigm shift just around the bend?
The Wii has not aged gracefully from a strictly visual standpoint but that is, in many ways, very much intentional on Nintendo's part. The company has always maintained that it was backing away from the constant hardware/graphics treadmill that has plagued and underpinned gaming since day one. That said, further refinements in the areas of social interaction, motion control and even efficient rendering and processing power has made the Wii something of a hidey-hole for cheap and nasty ports, rush-job games and poor franchised titles.
More Direct Competitors
Sony now has Move and Microsoft just launched Kinect not to mention Apple's touch interface platforms. Clearly the market has embraced the motion control and direct-feedback paradigm in a big way and all of these competitors are slowly chipping away at Nintendo's mighty empire. Each time a direct competitor emerges, a little more shine is stripped from the Wii, and the platform looks less and less enticing in the eyes of Joe Consumer. The Wii2 might reset the standard and bring the focus back to Nintendo again in the living room.
The Wii has never traditionally been the lead platform of choice for many developers and, despite Nintendo's insistence, the system still isn't the cash-cow developers hoped it would be. Third party games still rarely sell as well as Nintendo's own franchised titles. While the situation isn't dire, a new console might stimulate development activity and bring the quality of the games back in line with its competitors perhaps undoing some of the damage done by the glut of shovelware the currently plagues the Wii's library.
Nintendo Favours Half-steps
The Wii2 might well be a half-step forward, rather than another revolution in gameplay. By coupling in HD output, Wii MotionPlus and media streaming services, Nintendo might well do what the DSi did for the ageing DS hardware refining a proven concept and bringing it more in line with changing market demands.
Nintendo Decides The Next Generation Debut
If the Wii2 is coming, it might well be an entirely new way of approaching games. Nintendo decided to upset the gaming industry with the Wii and DS, and it's through this disruptive approach that Nintendo technically declared a new generation of gaming consoles. The Wii2 might herald the true start of the next generation race leaving Microsoft and Sony to play catch-up once again. It's a smart approach to take; the goalposts keep moving just as the competition gets its head around your previous efforts.
Nintendo has a new trump-card piece of hardware in the Nintendo 3DS handheld. Already garnering major press globally and terrific buzz from within the core gaming community, 3DS itself is a very valid reason for Nintendo to hold back the Wii2. Why dilute interest in 3DS by having to compete with another major Nintendo platform retail within the first year or so of its life?
The Hardware is Still Selling Well
Why rush out the next-generation replacement if the current generation is still doing solid bank? That's the fundamental argument behind this point. The Wii, despite more technically powerful competitors and advancements in the same space, has continued to power forward off the back of a few strong first-party game releases each year. Like DS, Nintendo knows better than to rush out a replacement and risk dampening sales. In fact, if the Wii2 is announced, like the 3DS, we'd expect a tight turnaround between announcement and shelf-date.
With the 3DS and MotionPlus, has Nintendo delayed the launch of the Wii2 indefinitely?
Is the Market Ready?
Motion control has taken the market by storm and it's taken a few years to really cement itself as a genuine alternative to traditional game controls. Essentially, changing market perception was always going to be a gradual process but the market's resistance to further change might take years to overcome. Wii2 might not be on the agenda simply because the market might not be as willing to embrace further gameplay refinements and revolutions.
Is Nintendo R&D Ready?
It's entirely possible that Nintendo's internal research and development team are toiling away on new technology and control advancements and this takes time. If Nintendo isn't entirely confident about next steps forward, or if a suitably worthwhile jump isn't on the cards, it's possible that Nintendo itself might be sitting on Wii2 for the foreseeable future.
No Price Drop ...Yet
Off the back of a recent report from a Nintendo shareholder meeting in Japan, Nintendo has no plans to drop the price of the Wii at retail... yet. That is a strong indicator that Nintendo has no short-term plans to introduce new hardware, simply because it has confidence in the ongoing retail viability of the platform. If and when the price does drop, that might be the best possible indicator that the platform is slowing and Nintendo is gearing up for a new hardware announcement. On that note, IGN'll keep you in the loop as news comes to hand!
Fri Dec 3, 2010
World's hottest pepper is `hot enough to strip paint'
Brett Michael Dykes
Fiery food mavens seeking to one-up each other now have to gear up for a whole new test of culinary bravado: the world's hottest chili pepper.
Yes, the Naga Viper, the latest claimant to the world's-hottest-pepper crown, outdistances its predecessor, the Bhut Jolokia, or "ghost chili," by more than 300,000 points on the famous Scoville scale of tongue-scorching chili hotness. Researchers at Warwick University testing the Naga Viper found that it measures 1,359,000 on the Scoville scale, which rates heat by tracking the presence of a chemical compound. In comparison, most varieties of jalapeño peppers measure in the 2,500 to 5,000 range -- milder than the Naga Viper by a factor of 270.
You might think the Naga Viper would hail from some part of the world with a strong demand for spicy food, such as India or Mexico. But the new pepper is actually the handiwork of Gerald Fowler, a British chili farmer and pub owner, who crossed three of the hottest peppers known to man -- including the Bhut Jolokia -- to create his Frankenstein-monster chili.
"It's painful to eat," Fowler told the Daily Mail. "It's hot enough to strip paint." Indeed, the Daily Mail reports that defense researchers are already investigating the pepper's potential uses as a weapon.
But Fowler -- who makes customers sign a waiver declaring that they're of sound mind and body before trying a Naga Viper-based curry -- insists that consuming the fiery chili does the body good.
"It numbs your tongue, then burns all the way down," he told the paper. "It can last an hour, and you just don't want to talk to anyone or do anything. But it's a marvelous endorphin rush. It makes you feel great."
Report calls for radical redesign of cities to cope with population growth
Megacities on the Move report says authorities must start planning their transport infrastructure now for a future when two thirds of the world's population will live in cities
Alok Jha, science correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 2 December 2010
Moving away from car ownership, using real-time traffic information to help plan journeys and having more virtual meetings will be vital to prevent the megacities of the future from becoming dysfunctional and unpleasant places to live, according to a study by the environmental think tank Forum for the Future.
The report argues that authorities must begin to plan now in order to create easier and more sustainable ways of accessing goods and services in the world's ever-growing cities. Citizens must also be encouraged to change their behaviour to keep cities liveable.
By 2040, the world's urban population is expected to have grown from 3.5bn to 5.6bn. The new report calls for a radical re-engineering of cities' infrastructure to cope. "The future is going to look pretty urban ... with more and more people shifting to cities to the point that, by 2040, we're going to have two thirds of all the people in the world living in cities," said Ivana Gazibara, senior strategic adviser at Forum for the Future and an author of the report, Megacities on the Move.
"If we go on with business as usual, what happens is unmanageable levels of congestion because personal car ownership has proliferated," she said. "Cities could be a pretty nasty place to live for the two-thirds of the global population in the next 30 years if we don't act on things like climate change mitigation and adaptation, smarter use of resources and sorting out big systemic things like urban mobility."
The report looked at transport, but not just moving from A to B. "It's about accessibility and productivity and interaction," said Gazibara. "Those are things you can do through physical interaction but you don't have to.."
One issue is to integrate different modes of transport: citizens will want to walk, cycle, access public transport, drive personal vehicles or a mixture of all modes in one journey. "Information technology is going to be incredibly important in all of this, in terms of better integrating and connecting physical modes of transport," said Gazibara. "But we're also going to see lots more user-centred ICT [information and communication technology] so it makes it easier for us to access things virtually."
She said there are already cars that have integrated hardware allowing them to communicate with each other and central traffic hubs. By collecting and centralising information of this kind, city authorities could manage traffic information in real time and help speed up people's journeys. And better "telepresence" systems for virtual meetings could remove the need for some journeys altogether.
The trickiest part, though, could be getting citizens themselves to take part. "We have the technological solutions, whether it's alternative drive-trains for vehicles or sophisticated IT the real challenge will be scaling it in a meaningful way," said Gazibara.
City planning will also be important, she said, creating self-contained neighbourhoods where everything is accessible by walking or cycling.
The report also highlights examples of good practice that are already in use. Vancouver, for example, has recognised that many of its inhabitants will use several modes of transport in one journey, so city planners have widened pedestrian crossings, built more cycle lanes and provided cycle racks on buses.
For the future, Gazibara pointed to innovative car-sharing schemes such as the CityCar concept, developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with "stackable" electric cars lined up near transport hubs. These could be rented out for short journeys within city limits. They could also store power at night, when renewable sources might be generating electricity that would otherwise have to be dumped.
Friends of the Earth transport campaigner Richard Dyer agreed that action was needed now to make cities more sustainable. "Tackling climate change must be at the heart of building a greener, fairer future and local people must have their say. New technologies will be part of the solution, but rising populations and the urgent need to cut carbon emissions mean that we also need policies that reduce the need to travel, cut car use and make walking and cycling the first choice for short journeys. Alongside green energy and better insulation for our homes, this will make our cities healthier, more pleasant and vibrant places to live and will create new jobs too."
Gazibara said city authorities needed to start taking the issues more seriously. "[There are] far too many places where cities that are acknowledging climate change as a threat continue to build more roads, continue to provide incentives to more car ownership and more driving. That's something that will fundamentally need to change."