Pentagon Plots Insta-Vaccines for Mystery Bugs By Katie Drummond September 14, 2010 | 2:16 pm
The Pentagon’s efforts at speedier responses to infectious diseases is getting turbocharged, as researchers at Arizona State University kick off a program to develop vaccines that can inoculate against unknown pathogens — and do it within a week.
Darpa, the military’s out-there research agency, has given $5.3 million for the project to ASU’s Biodesign Institute. And the grant is only one part of a much bigger Darpa initiative, called Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals. Earlier this year, the agency funded programs to produce vaccines using tobacco plants and a prophetic almanac that would anticipate pathogenic mutations before they happen.
Tobacco-based production would turn a year-long process into a four-week one. But for at-risk troops, Darpa wants something even faster: a vaccine to address any pathogen, developed in seven days and ready for injection shortly after.
“I don’t know if we can pull this off, but I think this basic idea might work,” ASU researcher Dr. Steven Albert Johnson says of his team’s plan. Using thousands of synthetic antibodies, called synbodies, they’ll create an immunity toolkit that can be combined in myriad ways to tackle virtually any pathogen.
“Take the bug, put it on a slide and then find appropriate bindings,” Johnson says. “If somebody gave you a Bug X, and you already had basically a Lego system of pre-made peptides, you find two that will bind and make a high-affinity agent.”
About 10,000 synbodies would be sufficient to stave off — in theory — any imaginable pathogen. But researchers estimate that around 100 will suffice for Darpa’s needs. Once the synbodies are made, they can be stockpiled and pulled out whenever a new threat emerges.
And if the method does take off, it’d offer a major boost for civilian vaccine production, too. But short of a massive deadly outbreak, we’d likely not get our vaccines quite so fast. For deployed troops, the Pentagon could invoke “emergency protocol” — meaning Darpa’s one-week timeline would skip over clinical trials and FDA approval, which can take up to a decade to complete.
Skyscrapers: A Fiendish Number-Logic Puzzle From Dr. Sudoku By Mike Selinker September 13, 2010 | 5:53 pm
We’re pleased to welcome to the Decode blog the logic puzzles of Thomas Snyder, the champion puzzle solver known as “Dr. Sudoku.” His first entry is a classic number-logic puzzle. Grab a pencil, print this out and give your cerebral CPU a workout! If you think you’ve solved it or if you’re ready to declare defeat, you can click on the SOLUTION link: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/09/dr-sudoku-prescribes-skyscrapers/2/
Skyscrapers, by Thomas Snyder, originally posted at The Art of Puzzles
Skyscrapers are one of my favorite logic puzzle types. I feel like I just don’t see enough of them. While I particularly enjoy clever variations (and feel my two MIT Mystery Hunt Skyscrapers variants are amongst the very best things I’ve ever written), this puzzle consists of two “classic” skyscrapers puzzles that I wrote for the Turkish National Championship. Enjoy!
Instructions: Enter a number from 1 to N into each cell so that, in each row and column, every number appears exactly once. Each number in the grid represents the height of a building and the clues on the outside of the grid indicate how many buildings can be “seen” when looking from that direction. Taller buildings block the view of smaller buildings. For example, if a row contained the numbers 15342, then two buildings are seen from the left—1 and 5—and three buildings from the right—2, 4, and 5—with the other buildings blocked by taller buildings in front of them.
Astronomers have discovered a cache of 14 large space rocks beyond the orbit of Neptune while sifting through archival observations from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Icy rocks like the newfound objects are known as trans-Neptunian objects because they typically reside outside Neptune's orbit. These objects include the former planet Pluto, now classified as a dwarf planet, as well as comets like the famed Halley's comet.
The newfound objects range from 25 to 60 miles across (40 to 100 kilometers), said the researchers.
Most trans-Neptunian objects are faint and hard to spot. To find the new group, researchers searched through Hubble photos for the telltale streaks of light that images of these rocks leave as they move through space during time-lapse exposures. After its initial success, this method could reveal hundreds more trans-Neptunian objects over time, hopeful scientists say.
"Trans-Neptunian objects interest us because they are building blocks left over from the formation of the solar system," said study leader Cesar Fuentes of Northern Arizona University.
These objects are similar to asteroids but lie farther from Earth. Asteroids generally orbit in the inner solar system, out to the orbit of Jupiter.
This is a presentation given by Linda Mouton-Howe and John Burroughs at the UFO Crash Conference in 2010. The Bentwaters aka Rendlesham forest incident was witnessed and investigated by the US military in a US ran base in the UK. John Burroughs was one of those soldiers.
September 15, 2010 France Moves to Raise Minimum Age of Retirement By KATRIN BENNHOLD
PARIS — Lawmakers in France’s lower house on Wednesday passed President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension overhaul, which includes an increase of the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60, after several days of political cross-fire that ended with a raucous overnight debate.
As protesters converged across the River Seine from the National Assembly building, the lawmakers voted 329-233 to approve the bill, clearing a first important legislative hurdle. The upper chamber, the Senate, will begin its debate on Oct. 1.
The vote itself had never been in doubt, given Mr. Sarkozy’s comfortable majority in both houses, and the retirement age increase had been approved as a separate measure on Friday. But with the president’s approval rating at record lows and his government under pressure on several fronts, the pension overhaul has taken on symbolic significance for both Mr. Sarkozy and France’s feisty labor unions.
Mr. Sarkozy has staked his credibility as a reformer on the pension overhaul, announcing before the summer that this would be his last major measure ahead of the next presidential election in the spring of 2012.
He refused to budge on his plan to raise the retirement age — at 62, already a political compromise — after a national strike last week in which more than a million people took to the streets in the biggest show of popular discontent in years. But he offered concessions for people performing grueling jobs or who started work at a young age.
“This is one of the most important reforms of this Parliament and presidency,” said Jean-François Copé, leader of Mr. Sarkozy’s center-right party in the National Assembly. “It’s about preserving the pension system for our children.”
Unions, meanwhile, called another strike for Sept. 23. They have seized on the issue, which has long roused passions in a country where for decades the trend has been to cut the time people spend at work. Past efforts to reverse that trend have cost many politicians their jobs.
On Wednesday, several thousand people converged on the majestic Parliament building on the Left Bank, waving union banners and demanding a withdrawal of the bill.
At 60, France’s retirement age is one of the lowest in Europe. The increase to 62, though smaller than many reformers consider necessary, would begin to pare deficits in the pension system as people live longer and baby boomers retire. The legislation would increase the minimum legal retirement age to 62 by 2018, raising it by four months every year from the current level, set in 1983 by François Mitterrand’s Socialist government.
For all the drama playing out in France, the package is still a baby step compared with measures taken in other countries. In neighboring Germany, a 2007 law progressively raises the retirement age to 67, and in Spain and Italy it is set at 65. Britain and Portugal have committed to moving toward 68 in coming decades, and the Greeks have agreed to work until they are 63.
It has not helped Mr. Sarkozy’s camp that the man in charge of drafting and defending the pension bill is the labor minister, Éric Woerth, whose legitimacy has been deeply shaken since he was accused of being linked to a financing scandal involving the family and fortune of Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress of L’Oréal.
September 15, 2010 Boeing Plans to Fly Tourists to Space By KENNETH CHANG
Boeing said Wednesday that it was entering the space tourism business, an announcement that could bolster the Obama administration’s efforts to transform the National Aeronautics and Space Administration into an agency that focuses less on building rockets and more on nurturing a commercial space industry.
The flights, which could begin as early as 2015, would most likely launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida to the International Space Station. The Obama administration has proposed turning over to private companies the business of taking NASA astronauts to orbit, and Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas won an $18 million contract this year for preliminary development and testing of a capsule that could carry seven passengers.
Current NASA plans call for four space station crew members to go up at a time, which would leave up to three seats available for space tourists. The flights would be the first to give nonprofessional astronauts the chance to go into orbit aboard a spacecraft launched from the United States. Seven earlier space tourists have made visits to the space station, riding in Russian Soyuz capsules.
“We’re ready now to start talking to prospective customers,” said Eric C. Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures, the space tourism company based in Virginia that would market the seats for Boeing.
Boeing and Space Adventures have not set a price, although Mr. Anderson said it would be competitive with the Soyuz flights, which Space Adventures arranged with the Russian Space Agency. Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, paid about $40 million for a Soyuz ride and an eight-day stay at the space station last year. But the prospects that anyone buying a ticket will get to space on an American vehicle hinge on discussions in Congress about the future of NASA.
As the era of the space shuttle winds down — two, perhaps three shuttle flights remain — a clash of visions over what should come next has kept the space agency adrift for much of the past year. An authorization bill written by the House Science and Technology Committee to lay out the direction of NASA for the next three years would largely follow the traditional trajectory for human spaceflight. It calls on NASA to build a government-owned rocket — likely the Ares I, which NASA has been working on for five years — for taking astronauts to the space station and then a larger one for missions to the Moon, asteroids and eventually Mars.
The competing vision, embodied in President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal for NASA, focuses instead on investing in companies like Boeing that want to develop the space equivalent of airlines. NASA would then just buy seats on those rockets to send its astronauts to the International Space Station.
Competition, the thinking goes, would drive down the costs of getting to space, leading to a profitable new American industry and freeing more of NASA’s budget for deep-space missions.
Advocates of the free enterprise approach are rallying to block the House version of the NASA authorization bill, which provides only $150 million a year over the next three years for the private-sector space travel initiative, which is known as commercial crew.
Bob Werb, chairman of the Space Frontier Foundation, was blunt in his assessment of the House bill. “I think it’s awful,” he said. “It’s leaving NASA with way more pork than program. I see that as a disaster for the agency.” Mr. Werb’s group is urging its supporters to register disapproval with their Congressional representatives.
By contrast, the president’s budget proposed $6 billion over five years for the commercial crew program.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Boeing officials said that the federal government would have to pay much of the development costs in order for the effort to succeed. “This is an uncertain market,” said John Elbon, program manager for Boeing’s commercial crew effort. “If we had to do this with Boeing investment only and the risk factors were in there, we wouldn’t be able to close the business case.”
The tight constraint, of course, is money.
Last year, a panel led by Norman R. Augustine, a former chief executive of Lockheed Martin, concluded that the ambitious program started under President George W. Bush to establish a permanent moon base was “not executable” because of inadequate financing. In fact, the panel could not devise any program that could send astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit and still fit within the $100 billion allocated to the human spaceflight program in the fiscal years of 2010 through 2020. It offered several alternatives that would require an extra $30 billion over the next decade.
Mr. Obama’s budget request for 2011 sought a modest increase in NASA over all, to $19 billion, but kept the budget projections for the human spaceflight program almost unchanged from the levels that the Augustine panel found inadequate. The panel said that without an increase, the United States should scale back its space ambitions.
“With that budget,” Mr. Augustine said in an interview this summer, “I still think there is no really meaningful space exploration program that involves humans.”
The administration worked around the budget shortfall by proposing the cancellation of the entire moon program, known as Constellation, including the Ares I rocket and the Orion crew capsule. Instead, NASA would essentially take a five-year hiatus from large-scale development initiatives and instead work on new technologies that could make the task of space exploration easier and cheaper.
The House Science and Technology Committee, in its effort to squeeze NASA’s human spaceflight program into the budget box, deleted almost all the money from commercial crew and large-scale technology demonstration projects and applied it to slimmed-down Constellation rockets.
Last month, the Senate passed its version of the NASA authorization bill, which is more of a compromise. It provides less for commercial crew in the first three years than the president’s request, but the longer-term plan is to provide the same $6 billion, spread over six years instead of five. It cancels the Ares I rocket and instead directs NASA to begin development of a heavy-lift rocket and indicates that the design should be based on space shuttle technologies, a boon for those contractors.
However, some experts like Scott Pace, a former NASA official who now heads the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said the Senate bill might be repeating the mistake of asking NASA to do too much with too little money. The Senate bill provides less money for development of a larger heavy-lift rocket than the House does for completing the Ares I, already well under development.
“I respect the need for political compromise,” Dr. Pace said of the Senate bill, but added, “It takes some programmatic risk. It spreads itself out too much.”
Staff members of the House science committee have been meeting with their counterparts on the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation seeking a middle ground. House leaders could move forward with the science committee’s bill or substitute the Senate bill or a compromise.
If no final NASA authorization emerges, the Senate and House appropriation committees would decide what to include in NASA’s 2011 budget and could end up with something closer to the original Obama proposal.
Real-life Sybil Fawlty dies aged 95 Beatrice Sinclair ran Torquay hotel used by John Cleese as inspiration for classic sitcom Fawlty Towers Steven Morris guardian.co.uk, Thursday 16 September 2010 12.28 BST
The real-life inspiration for Sybil Fawlty, Basil's redoubtable wife in the sitcom Fawlty Towers, has died aged 95.
Beatrice Sinclair ran the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay with her husband, Donald, used by Fawlty Towers creator John Cleese as the template for Basil.
John Cleese came upon the couple in the early 1970s when he was in the area filming scenes for Monty Python's Flying Circus. Cleese and other members of the team were booked in to the hotel and were amazed at the chilly greeting they received.
Cleese later said Donald Sinclair was "the most wonderfully rude man I have ever met" and described Beatrice as domineering. Other Pythons quickly checked out but Cleese stayed on and later created one of Britain's most beloved sitcoms with Connie Booth.
Beatrice, who died in a care home in Torquay, declined to talk about the sitcom for 30 years. When she broke her silence she insisted it was not a fair portrayal of her or her husband, a retired naval officer.
Brian Shone, the current boss of the Gleneagles Hotel, today paid tribute to Beatrice as "a very, very nice lady".
The hotel runs Fawlty Towers-themed events but Shone said Beatrice did not want anything to do with the sitcom. "She really did not want to go in the Fawlty Towers direction at all. It was a case of: 'You get on with it.'"
Rather like Sybil Fawlty, played by Prunella Scales, Beatrice was seen as the driving force behind the business. She founded the hotel while her husband, who was torpedoed three times during his military career, was away at sea.
The couple later worked together. Shone said: "From what I heard she was person who drove the business and she was the strong one. Whenever she told Donald what to do he would say: 'Yes dear'."
Donald Sinclair died in 1981 and after the hotel changed hands, Beatrice objected to plans to demolish the building, saying Torbay could ill afford to lose a prime hotel.
Other members of the Python team have remembered the couple gleefully – at least in retrospect.
Eric Idle returned to the hotel to find his bag had been removed and hidden behind a distant wall in the garden. Donald Sinclair apparently told him they thought it might be a bomb. Idle asked: "Why would anyone want to bomb your hotel?" To which Donald replied: "We've had a lot of staff problems lately."
Michael Palin recalled that he "seemed to view us as a colossal inconvenience" and Beatrice threatened them with a bill for a stay of two weeks even though they had checked out as soon as they could. "But off we went with lighter hearts..." Palin added.
The legacy goes on. Japanese, Australian and German tourists continue to stop and take photographs of the hotel.
Once a month the hotel stages a Fawlty Towers weekend where guests are looked after by actors playing the parts of Basil, Sybil and the Spanish waiter Manuel.
World's largest mining group calls for carbon tax in Australia The world's biggest mining company has called for Australia to introduce a carbon tax, reopening a debate that helped to bring down the previous prime minister and pitted large sections of the mining community against the powerful environmental lobby.
By Bonnie Malkin in Sydney Published: 12:53PM BST 16 Sep 2010
Marius Kloppers, the chief executive of BHP Billiton, warned that the Australian economy would suffer significantly if the country did not implement a carbon tax before the international community imposed one. "Failure to do so will place us at a competitive disadvantage in a future where carbon is priced globally," he told a lunch in Sydney yesterday (THURS).
Mr Kloppers said Australia, which is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide per person in the world, needed to "look beyond coal" for alternative sources of energy before the introduction of a global price on carbon.
However, neither major political party has committed to ending the country's love affair with coal, fearing a voter backlash from those employed by the industry. Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister, was dumped by his party earlier this year after he announced he would scrap an ambitious carbon pollution reduction scheme because the opposition had refused to support it. The announcement backfired and Mr Rudd's standing with voters plummeted.
In the scheme's place, his successor Julia Gillard has pledged to hold a series of citizens' assemblies to find out what the electorate wants the government to do – a move that has sparked widespread derision and contributed to her party's failure to secure a majority government at the general election last month.
Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition, once described climate change as "absolute crap", and has promised never to introduce a carbon tax. He has banned his MPs from sitting on a cross-party committee to discuss the subject.
But Mr Kloppers, whose company made 8 per cent of its revenue from thermal coal production last year, warned that inaction would cripple the country. "We do believe that such a global initiative will eventually come and, when it does, Australia will need to have acted ahead of it to maintain its competitiveness," he said.
"Carbon emissions need to have a cost impact in order to cause the consumer and companies to change behaviour and favour low-carbon alternatives. We all recognise this is a politically charged subject. No government relishes telling people that things need to cost more."
Ms Gillard, whose government has a majority of just one after entering into a deal with independents and Greens party members, said the government was committed towards working towards a price on carbon.