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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 45190 times)
WingsofCrystal
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« Reply #30 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 07:03am »

UFO Digest

ANOTHER BRAZILIAN MILITARY REVEALS UFO INVESTIGATION AND OBSERVATION
Submitted by A.J. Gevaerd on Thu, 07/08/2010 - 14:37
This is an article by A.J. Gevaerd, translated by Marcos Malvezzi.

Commander of an Army installation in the Brazilian Pantanal area determined the official investigation of spherical nocturnal objects reported to have burned vegetation. Military personnel sighted the UFO and obtained photos

Report by A. J. Gevaerd, editor of the Brazilian UFO Magazine (www.ufo.com.br)

This is the report of a new investigation and interview I just conducted with the Retired Brazilian Army Lieutenant-Coronel Leo Tércio Sperb resident in Rio dos Cedros, a small town in the state of Santa Catarina. The interview was obtained thanks to information given by former VASP Airlines commander, José Américo Medeiros, UFO Magazine contributor, and performed with UFO investigator and volunteer translator of the Brazilian UFO Magazine Luis Medeiros.

The full interview is being transcribed for complete publication on Brazilian UFO Magazine, and what can be now advanced is that the former Army military was involved in a major UFO incident in 1977, the very same year when Operation Prato occurred in the Amazon, a hot year for Brazilian Ufology. Lieutenant-Coronel Leo Tércio Sperb revealed that this new found incident took place when he held the highly important position as commander for the 2nd Frontier Battalion, in the city Cáceres, state of Mato Grosso, West of Brazil.

The former military commander reported that in mid 1977 (he was unable to remember the date precisely) he was informed by his men that a small settlement located somewhere in the middle of the Cuiabá-Cáceres Road was highly excited about sightings of a strange and recurring luminous object that appeared predominantly at night. Having always been opened to UFO issues, and seeing the reports were significant, he sent a first man to do the preliminary investigations.

Captain Abraão (full name unknown) was commissioned to go to the site, talk to witnesses and collect as much data as possible and also physical evidence of whatever was happening in the mentioned location. One piece of evidence found and retrieved was a sandal with burning marks similar to the burns caused by a welder’s torch, found in the center of a vast circular area of burnt vegetation left by the object, according to the astonished witnesses. They also reported that the UFO was regular on those nights.

Back to the 2nd Frontier Battalion, Captain Abraão reported the facts to Lieutenant-Coronel Sperb and handed over his report as well as the collected evidence, which leaded Sperb to conclude that something serious was happening in the area. The commander then gathered a troop of four men to be sent immediately to the spot: one corporal and three soldiers. They received expressed orders to keep a stake-out in specific places in the woods close to the village, according to the witnesses’ guidance, so they could have a full view of the unidentified flying object and photograph it as it moved.

more after the jump
http://www.ufodigest.com/article/another-brazilian-military-reveals-ufo-investigation-and-observation

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« Reply #31 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 07:08am »

Guardian online

Double suicide bombing in Pakistan kills over 100
Bombers strike seconds apart in deadliest attack so far this year
David Batty and agencies guardian.co.uk,
Saturday 10 July 2010 12.21 BST

The death toll from a double suicide bomb attack in Pakistan has risen to more than 100, making it the deadliest attack in the country this year.

Two bombers struck seconds apart yesterday in Yakaghund village in the Mohmand tribal region of north-west Pakistan, devastating government buildings, shops and houses. Authorities said today that 102 people had now been confirmed as killed in the blasts and 115 had been wounded.

One of the bombs appeared to be fairly small but the other was huge, officials said. At least one bomber was on a motorcycle.

The attackers detonated their explosives near the office of Rasool Khan, a deputy Mohmand administrator who escaped unharmed. Tribal elders, including those involved in setting up militias to fight the Taliban, were also in the building, but none was hurt, according to Mohmand's chief administrator, Amjad Ali Khan.

Abdul Wadood, 19, who is being treated for head and arm wounds in the city of Peshawar, said: "I only heard the deafening blast and lost consciousness. I found myself on a hospital bed after opening my eyes. I think those who planned or carried out this attack are not humans."

There are reports that a Taliban group in Mohmand has claimed responsibility for the attack. Information is difficult to verify independently because access to the area is heavily restricted.

The region is one of several areas in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt where the Taliban and al-Qaida are believed to be hiding.

more after the jump
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/10/suicide-bombing-102-dead-pakistan?CMP=twt_gu

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« Reply #32 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 07:13am »

Guardian online

Australia puts internet filtering system on hold for 12 months
Communications minister Stephen Conroy says extra time needed to review what content should be mandatorily blocked

Josh Halliday guardian.co.uk, Friday 9 July 2010 11.30 BST

Australia has rowed back on plans to introduce a wide-ranging mandatory internet filtering system, with communications minister Stephen Conroy saying a further 12 months is needed to review what content should be blocked in the country.

Conroy announced plans in December that would force Australian internet service providers to ban access to any websites listed as "inappropriate." If implemented, the policy would make Australia one of the strictest internet regulators in the world.

The move – which attracted widespread condemnation, not least from the majority of potentially affected ISPs, including Google and Yahoo – has now been put on hold for another year. "Some sections of the community have expressed concern about whether the range of material included in the RC [restricted content] category... correctly reflects current community standards," Conroy said. "As the government's mandatory ISP filtering policy is underpinned by the strength of our classification system, the legal obligation to commence mandatory ISP filtering will not be imposed until the review is completed.

"The public needs to have confidence that the URLs on the list, and the process by which they get there, is independent, rigorous, free from interference or influence and enables content and site owners access to appropriate review mechanisms."

The proposed filter would ban access to a regularly updated list of sites that include child pornography, sexual violence, and detailed instructions on crime, drug use and terrorist acts. Three of the country's largest telecommunications companies today said they would voluntarily implement a child pornography filter, a move that would take several months to put in place.

Karim Temsamani, managing director of Google Australia and New Zealand, welcomed the review, but said concern remains about the plans. "Our primary concern had always been that the scope of the proposed filter is far too broad," Temsamani said in a statement. "It goes way beyong child sexual abuse material and would block access to important online information for all Australians."

Simon Sheikh, chief executive of online activist group GetUp!, told the Sydney Morning Herald: "A delay is not enough – the government needs to announce that they will either scrap, or change the policy to an opt-in model, so that Australians themselves can judge how best to protect their children online.

more after the jump
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jul/09/australia-internet-filtering-system

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« Reply #33 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 07:19am »

Wired


Poof! After Wireless, the Computer Mouse Turns Invisible
By Priya Ganapati July 9, 2010 | 3:14 pm | Categories: R&D and Inventions

In a magic trick that only geeks can pull off, researchers at MIT have found a method to let users click and scroll exactly the same way they would with a computer mouse, without the device actually being there.

Cup your palm, move it around on a table and a cursor on the screen hovers. Tap on the table like you would click a real mouse, and the computer responds. It’s one step beyond cordless. It’s an invisible mouse.

The project, called “Mouseless,” uses an infrared laser beam and camera to track the movements of the palm and fingers and translate them into computer commands.

“Like many other projects in the past, including the Nintendo Power Glove and the Fingerworks iGesture Pad, this attempts to see how we can use new technology to control old technology,” says Daniel Wigdor, a user experience architect for Microsoft who hasn’t worked directly on the project. “It’s just an intermediate step to where we want to be.”

Though new user interfaces such as touchscreens and voice recognition systems have become popular, the two-button mouse still reigns among computer users. Many technology experts think the precision pointing that a cursor offers is extremely difficult to replicate through technologies such as touch and speech.

Last week Intel CTO Justin Rattner said though Intel research labs is working on new touchscreen ideas, the mouse and keyboard combination is unlikely to be replaced in everyday computing for a long time.

In the case of the Mouseless project, the infrared laser and camera are embedded in the computer. When a user cups their hand as if a physical mouse was present under their palm, the laser beam lights up the hand that is in contact with the table. The infrared camera detects this and interprets the movements.

A working prototype of the Mouseless system costs approximately $20 to build, says Pranav Mistry, who is leading the project.

Mistry is one of the star researchers in the area of creating new user experiences. He previously developed the “Sixth Sense” project, a wearable gestural interface that lets users wave their hands in front of them and interact with maps and other virtual objects — much like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

The Mouseless idea is not as big a breakthrough as Sixth Sense. Though it is fun, it is difficult to see a real-world case for getting rid of hardware while keeping interaction the same. User interfaces are going beyond the point-and-click interaction that the computer mouse demands. And mouse hardware itself is cheap, so there’s not much of a cost saving here.

Check out this fun, partly animated video to what the Mouseless can really do and how it works



http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/07/computer-mouse-invisible/

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« Reply #34 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 07:29am »

LA Times

I just talked to Sam Worthington about his plans to go to Comic-Con International for a new venture with Radical Studios -- check back next week for the details on that -- but I had to ask him about the August theatrical release of "Avatar: Special Edition," which adds eight minutes of footage to the highest-grossing film in Hollywood history.

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Director James Cameron has alluded, in vague terms, to the nature of that bonus content. I was hoping Worthington might have some more insights...

"I don't know what the eight minutes are. Jim's got an extra eight hours of footage, so it could be anything, to be honest. I know there's a lot more of the hunting and of Jake becoming a Na'vi and the training program. And there's a lot more live-action stuff, the stuff that we shot that was set on Earth, so maybe it's parts that have to do with that.... There's some other Stephen Lang stuff."

Then, with a winking tone, he added: "Or it could be the incredible sex scene that everyone keeps talking about. It'll be a surprise for me as well, mate."

-- Geoff Boucher

more after the jump
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/herocomplex/

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« Reply #35 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 07:36am »

Science Daily

Scientists Use Computer Algorithms to Develop Seasonal Flu Vaccines
ScienceDaily (July 9, 2010) —

Defeating the flu is challenging because the virus responsible for the disease undergoes frequent changes of its genetic code, making it difficult for scientists to manufacture effective vaccines for the seasonal flu in a timely manner.

Now, a University of Miami (UM) computer scientist, Dimitris Papamichail, and a team of researchers from Stony Brook University have developed a rapid and effective approach to produce vaccines for new strains of influenza viruses. The researchers hope to develop the new technology and provide an efficient method to confront the threat of seasonal epidemics.

The novel approach uses computer algorithms created by Papamichail and scientists from Stony Brook University to design viruses that serve as live vaccines, which are then synthesized to specification. The new method is called Synthetic Attenuated Virus Engineering (SAVE). The findings are available in a study titled "Live attenuated influenza virus vaccines by computer-aided rational design," now available as an advance online publication by Nature Biotechnology.

"We have been able to produce an entirely novel method to systematically design vaccines using computer algorithms," says Papamichail, assistant professor of Computer Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at UM and co-author of the study. "Our approach is not only useful for influenza; it is also applicable to a wide range of viruses."

One way to make an anti-viral vaccine is to weaken a virus to the point where it cannot cause sickness, and then use the weakened virus as a live vaccine. Although such weakened viruses often make very effective vaccines, they suffer from the possibility that the virus can sometimes mutate to regain virulence.

In this study, the researchers used a novel approach to weaken the influenza virus: they made a synthetic genome of the virus containing hundreds of changes to its genetic code. The computer algorithms indicate the best places in the genome to make the changes, such that the new synthetic genome encodes exactly the same proteins as the wild-type genome, but in lesser quantities.

This process allows a wide margin of safety, explains Papamichail. "The probability of all the changes reverting themselves to produce a virulent strain is extremely unlikely," he says.

more after the jump
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100709111332.htm

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« Reply #36 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 07:42am »

UFO's Northwest

Woman Sees Enormous Gray Aerial Spherical Object With Red Light north of Chicago

The witness called and left a voice-mail message a few days after her sighting. She saw a low flying red object. The object flew over her location and she could tell that it was a gray spherical object with a red light in front. She said that the object was "enormous" and emitted no sound.

There is a map and audio of the report

more after the jump
http://www.ufosnw.com/sighting_reports/2010/foxlakeil06192010/foxlakeil06192010.htm

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« Reply #37 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 07:51am »

Texas abduction story posted in October 2009





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« Reply #38 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 08:33am »

We run as fast as we can to see these ships every year. They are beautiful!

Tall ships bring golden age back in Blaine harbor
Published on Thu, Jul 8, 2010 by By Jeremy Schwartz

Booming cannons will rock Drayton Harbor next week with the return of the brig Lady Washington and the topsail ketch Hawaiian Chieftain. Those interested in the golden age of wind-powered sea travel will get the chance to travel back in time with tours of these ships from July 14 to July 19.

The Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, which owns and operates the ships, will offer both tours and cruises on the vessels.

Three-hour battle sails will take passengers through simulated naval warfare using the ships’ five-pound, black powder cannons (don’t worry, they will be firing blanks). Expert sailors will guide the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain on close-quarters maneuvers at 2 p.m. on July 17 and 18.

In addition to evening sails on July 16 and July 19, guides dressed in period clothing will give tours of the two ships when they are docked at the Blaine Marina from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on July 15 and 16 and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on July 17 and 18.

The Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority built the brig Lady Washington and launched her on March 16, 1989.

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The vessel is a full-size, wooden replica of the first American sailing ship to make landfall on the west coast of North America. The Lady Washington is 112 feet long; about the a third of the length of a football field.

In nautical terms, a brig is a vessel with two square-rigged masts. The shorter mast toward the bow of the ship is called the foremast. The tallest mast, called the main mast, sits at the center of the vessel.

Launched in 1988, the topsail ketch Hawaiian Chieftain is a replica of a turn-of-the-19th century European merchant trading vessel. In 2004, The Seaport Authority bought the ship, which was built of steel in Hawaii.

A ketch refers to a sailing ship with two masts, one taller and closer to the bow of the ship than the other. The shorter mast, called the mizzen, on a ketch is behind the main mast but forward of the rudder. The main mast of a topsail ketch has an additional sail added above the main sail.

For more information, visit www.historicalseaport.org call 800/200-5239.

http://www.thenorthernlight.com/news/article.exm/2010-07-08_tall_ships_bring_golden_age_back_in_blaine_harbor

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« Reply #39 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 08:40am »

Hubby needs coffee.....................

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« Reply #40 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 4:21pm »

on Jul 10th, 2010, 08:33am, WingsofCrystal wrote:
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What a beauty! smiley

Is this their newest addition to the "axis of evil"?
Is Burma's Ruling Junta Trying to Develop Nuclear Weapons?

It may seem counterintuitive, but Burma has a lot going for it. Blessed with abundant natural resources, the nation is home to the last of the world's ancient teak forests; it produces tens of thousands of tons of jade every year; it's at the center of the global ruby trade; and most important, it has natural gas. Lots of it. Burmese gas already powers half of Bangkok, and it will soon start flowing to China, making billions of dollars of profit. For many though, it's how the money is being spent that's worrying.

Up until a few years ago, Burma's military government, cut off from trade with the West, led a "hand-to-mouth existence," says Sean Turnell, an economics professor at Macquarie University in Australia. Now, thanks in no small part to its resource-hungry neighbors, the pariah state has $6 billion in cash reserves, according to Turnell. As cash is flowing in, the military junta that has run the country since 1962 is spending lavishly. With about a third of the country in poverty, the junta could invest in health, education or job creation, but instead, new evidence suggests Burma is spending billions on outlandish military projects, including, perhaps, a secretive nuclear weapons program. Turnell says the junta is "absolutely paranoid about international interference in the country."

...

http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20100710/wl_time/08599200271300
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« Reply #41 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 5:45pm »

begin quote -
Up until a few years ago, Burma's military government, cut off from trade with the West, led a "hand-to-mouth existence," says Sean Turnell, an economics professor at Macquarie University in Australia. Now, thanks in no small part to its resource-hungry neighbors, the pariah state has $6 billion in cash reserves, according to Turnell. As cash is flowing in, the military junta that has run the country since 1962 is spending lavishly. With about a third of the country in poverty, the junta could invest in health, education or job creation, but instead, new evidence suggests Burma is spending billions on outlandish military projects, including, perhaps, a secretive nuclear weapons program. Turnell says the junta is "absolutely paranoid about international interference in the country."
- end quote

Who knew! Burma is now Myanmar if I remember right.
Thanks Phil.
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« Reply #42 on: Jul 10th, 2010, 7:53pm »


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« Reply #43 on: Jul 11th, 2010, 08:42am »

New York Times

July 10, 2010
Students, Meet Your New Teacher, Mr. Robot
By BENEDICT CAREY and JOHN MARKOFF

LOS ANGELES — The boy, a dark-haired 6-year-old, is playing with a new companion.

The two hit it off quickly — unusual for the 6-year-old, who has autism — and the boy is imitating his playmate’s every move, now nodding his head, now raising his arms.

“Like Simon Says,” says the autistic boy’s mother, seated next to him on the floor.

Yet soon he begins to withdraw; in a video of the session, he covers his ears and slumps against the wall.

But the companion, a three-foot-tall robot being tested at the University of Southern California, maintains eye contact and performs another move, raising one arm up high.

Up goes the boy’s arm — and now he is smiling at the machine.

In a handful of laboratories around the world, computer scientists are developing robots like this one: highly programmed machines that can engage people and teach them simple skills, including household tasks, vocabulary or, as in the case of the boy, playing, elementary imitation and taking turns.

So far, the teaching has been very basic, delivered mostly in experimental settings, and the robots are still works in progress, a hackers’ gallery of moving parts that, like mechanical savants, each do some things well at the expense of others.

Yet the most advanced models are fully autonomous, guided by artificial intelligence software like motion tracking and speech recognition, which can make them just engaging enough to rival humans at some teaching tasks.

Researchers say the pace of innovation is such that these machines should begin to learn as they teach, becoming the sort of infinitely patient, highly informed instructors that would be effective in subjects like foreign language or in repetitive therapies used to treat developmental problems like autism.

Several countries have been testing teaching machines in classrooms. South Korea, known for its enthusiasm for technology, is “hiring” hundreds of robots as teacher aides and classroom playmates and is experimenting with robots that would teach English.

Already, these advances have stirred dystopian visions, along with the sort of ethical debate usually confined to science fiction. “I worry that if kids grow up being taught by robots and viewing technology as the instructor,” said Mitchel Resnick, head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “they will see it as the master.”

Most computer scientists reply that they have neither the intention, nor the ability, to replace human teachers. The great hope for robots, said Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, “is that with the right kind of technology at a critical period in a child’s development, they could supplement learning in the classroom.”

Lessons From RUBI

“Kenka,” says a childlike voice. “Ken-ka.”

Standing on a polka-dot carpet at a preschool on the campus of the University of California, San Diego, a robot named RUBI is teaching Finnish to a 3-year-old boy.

RUBI looks like a desktop computer come to life: its screen-torso, mounted on a pair of shoes, sprouts mechanical arms and a lunchbox-size head, fitted with video cameras, a microphone and voice capability. RUBI wears a bandanna around its neck and a fixed happy-face smile, below a pair of large, plastic eyes.

It picks up a white sneaker and says kenka, the Finnish word for shoe, before returning it to the floor. “Feel it; I’m a kenka.”

In a video of this exchange, the boy picks up the sneaker, says “kenka, kenka” — and holds up the shoe for the robot to see.

In person they are not remotely humanlike, most of today’s social robots. Some speak well, others not at all. Some move on two legs, others on wheels. Many look like escapees from the Island of Misfit Toys.

They make for very curious company. The University of Southern California robot used with autistic children tracks a person throughout a room, approaching indirectly and pulling up just short of personal space, like a cautious child hoping to join a playground game.

The machine’s only words are exclamations (“Uh huh” for those drawing near; “Awww” for those moving away). Still, it’s hard to shake the sense that some living thing is close by. That sensation, however vague, is enough to facilitate a real exchange of information, researchers say.

In the San Diego classroom where RUBI has taught Finnish, researchers are finding that the robot enables preschool children to score significantly better on tests, compared with less interactive learning, as from tapes.

Preliminary results suggest that these students “do about as well as learning from a human teacher,” said Javier Movellan, director of the Machine Perception Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego. “Social interaction is apparently a very important component of learning at this age.”

Like any new kid in class, RUBI took some time to find a niche. Children swarmed the robot when it first joined the classroom: instant popularity. But by the end of the day, a couple of boys had yanked off its arms.

“The problem with autonomous machines is that people are so unpredictable, especially children,” said Corinna E. Lathan, chief executive of AnthroTronix, a Maryland company that makes a remotely controlled robot, CosmoBot, to assist in therapy with developmentally delayed children. “It’s impossible to anticipate everything that can happen.”

The RUBI team hit upon a solution one part mechanical and two parts psychological. The engineers programmed RUBI to cry when its arms were pulled. Its young playmates quickly backed off at the sound.

If the sobbing continued, the children usually shifted gears and came forward — to deliver a hug.

Re-armed and newly sensitive, RUBI was ready to test as a teacher. In a paper published last year, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Joensuu in Finland found that the robot significantly improved the vocabulary of nine toddlers.

After testing the youngsters’ knowledge of 20 words and introducing them to the robot, the researchers left RUBI to operate on its own. The robot showed images on its screen and instructed children to associate them with words.

After 12 weeks, the children’s knowledge of the 10 words taught by RUBI increased significantly, while their knowledge of 10 control words did not. “The effect was relatively large, a reduction in errors of more than 25 percent,” the authors concluded.

Researchers in social robotics — a branch of computer science devoted to enhancing communication between humans and machines — at Honda Labs in Mountain View, Calif., have found a similar result with their robot, a three-foot character called Asimo, which looks like a miniature astronaut. In one 20-minute session the machine taught grade-school students how to set a table — improving their accuracy by about 25 percent, a recent study found.

At the University of Southern California, researchers have had their robot, Bandit, interact with children with autism. In a pilot study, four children with the diagnosis spent about 30 minutes with this robot when it was programmed to be socially engaging and another half-hour when it behaved randomly, more like a toy. The results are still preliminary, said David Feil-Seifer, who ran the study, but suggest that the children spoke more often and spent more time in direct interaction when the robot was responsive, compared with when it acted randomly.

Making the Connection

In a lab at the University of Washington, Morphy, a pint-size robot, catches the eye of an infant girl and turns to look at a toy.

No luck; the girl does not follow its gaze, as she would a human’s.

In a video the researchers made of the experiment, the girl next sees the robot “waving” to an adult. Now she’s interested; the sight of the machine interacting registers it as a social being in the young brain. She begins to track what the robot is looking at, to the right, the left, down. The machine has elicited what scientists call gaze-following, an essential first step of social exchange.

“Before they have language, infants pay attention to what I call informational hotspots,” where their mother or father is looking, said Andrew N. Meltzoff, a psychologist who is co-director of university’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. This, he said, is how learning begins.

This basic finding, to be published later this year, is one of dozens from a field called affective computing that is helping scientists discover exactly which features of a robot make it most convincingly “real” as a social partner, a helper, a teacher.

“It turns out that making a robot more closely resemble a human doesn’t get you better social interactions,” said Terrence J. Sejnowski, a neuroscientist at University of California, San Diego. The more humanlike machines look, the more creepy they can seem.

The machine’s behavior is what matters, Dr. Sejnowski said. And very subtle elements can make a big difference.

more after the jump
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/science/11robots.html?_r=1&hp

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xx Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #44 on: Jul 11th, 2010, 08:45am »

New York Times

July 10, 2010
New Analysis Triples U.S. Plutonium Waste Figures
By MATTHEW L. WALD

WASHINGTON — The amount of plutonium buried at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State is nearly three times what the federal government previously reported, a new analysis indicates, suggesting that a cleanup to protect future generations will be far more challenging than planners had assumed.

Plutonium waste is much more prevalent around nuclear weapons sites nationwide than the Energy Department’s official accounting indicates, said Robert Alvarez, a former department official who in recent months reanalyzed studies conducted by the department in the last 15 years for Hanford; the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory; the Savannah River Site, near Aiken, S.C.; and elsewhere.

But the problem is most severe at Hanford, a 560-square-mile tract in south-central Washington that was taken over by the federal government as part of the Manhattan Project. By the time production stopped in the 1980s, Hanford had made most of the nation’s plutonium.

The plutonium does not pose a major radiation hazard now, largely because it is under “institutional controls” like guards, weapons and gates. But government scientists say that even in minute particles, plutonium can cause cancer, and because it takes 24,000 years to lose half its radioactivity, it is certain to last longer than the controls.

The fear is that in a few hundred years, the plutonium could reach an underground area called the saturated zone, where water flows, and from there enter the Columbia River. Because the area is now arid, contaminants move extremely slowly, but over the millennia the climate is expected to change, experts say.

The finding on the extent of plutonium waste signals that the cleanup, still in its early stages, will be more complex, perhaps requiring technologies that do not yet exist. But more than 20 years after the Energy Department vowed to embark on a cleanup, it still has not “characterized,” or determined the exact nature of, the contaminated soil.

The department has been weighing whether to try to clean up 90 percent, 99 percent or 99.9 percent of the waste, but because the extent of contamination is unclear, so is the relative cost of the options. For now, the preferred option is 99 percent.

Government officials recognize that they still have a weak grasp of how much plutonium is contaminating the environment. “The numbers are changing,” said Ron Skinnerland, a radiation expert at the Washington State Department of Ecology, which is trying to enforce an agreement it reached with the Energy Department in 1989 for the federal government to clean up Hanford.

So far, the cleanup, which began in the 1990s, has involved moving some contaminated material near the banks of the Columbia to drier locations. (In fact, the Energy Department’s cleanup office is called the Office of River Protection.) The office has begun building a factory that would take the most highly radioactive liquids and sludges from decaying storage tanks and solidify them in glass.

That would not make them any less radioactive, but it would increase the likelihood that they stay put for the next few thousand years.

In 1996, the department released an official inventory of plutonium production and disposal. But Mr. Alvarez analyzed later Energy Department reports and concluded that there was substantially more plutonium in waste tanks and in the environment.

The biggest issue is the amount of plutonium that has leaked from the tanks, was intentionally dumped in the dirt or was pumped into the ground.

Mr. Skinnerland said much of the waste was 90 or 100 feet underground, too deep to dig out. Some contaminants can be pumped out, but that does not work well for materials that contain low concentrations of plutonium.

The Energy Department has researched the possibility of shooting electric currents through the soil to create glasslike materials that would lock up contaminants, but it has not analyzed whether the technique would work at those depths.

more after the jump
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/science/earth/11plutonium.html?hp

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