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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lifehacker Top 10 2008

  1. Top 10 Obscure Google Search Tricks
    "Dozens of Google search guides detail the tips you already know, but today we're skipping the obvious and highlighting our favorite obscure Google web search tricks."
  2. Top 10 Harmless Geek Pranks
    "Since the dawn of time, geeks have been playing harmless pranks on their beloved (but unsuspecting) associates, and it's up to all of us to carry the torch forward."
  3. Top 10 Ways to Stay Energized
    "You can overcome a late night of net surfing, a rough morning, or just the post-lunch stupor without becoming an over-wired mess."
  4. Top 10 Software Easter Eggs
    "The best easter eggs aren't painted pink and stuffed with jelly beans—they're the undocumented and unexpected fun features hidden deep inside various software apps."
  5. Top 10 BitTorrent Tools and Tricks
    "BitTorrent is the go-to resource for downloading everything from music and movies to software and operating systems, but as its popularity continues to grow, so do the number of tools available for making the most of it."
  6. Top 10 Firefox 3 Features
    "The newest version of our favorite open source web browser, Mozilla Firefox 3, offers dozens of new features and fixes, but only a handful will make the most dramatic difference in your everyday browsing."
  7. Top 10 How To Videos
    "Your crafty older relatives used to have to mail-order their video tutorials or wait for "This Old House" reruns to get their DIY on, but the age of streaming video has been good to those who like to tinker and try out neat tricks."
  8. Top 10 Things You Forgot Your Mac Can Do
    "From pure eye candy to outright productivity-boosters, read on to get reminded of some of the more obscure things you can do with your Mac, fresh out of the box."
  9. Top 10 Telephone Tricks
    "When getting things done involves making phone calls, you want to spend the least amount of time and money on the horn as possible—and several tricks and services can help you do just that."
  10. Top 10 Computer Annoyances and How to Fix Them
    "Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, but too much of the time they can be frustrating, time-wasting, stubborn machines."
  11. Top 10 Ways to Get Cables Under Control
    "When you finally decide it's time to do something about that rat's nest of cables that's spreading like kudzu, you don't have to spend a lot of time and money to get it under control."
  12. Top 10 Modern Life Survival Skills
    "Avoid everyday problems and modern mini-calamities by arming yourself with the right know-how before you head out into the world."
  13. Top 10 Ways to Trick Out Your Desktop
    "For something that you look at every day of your working life, your computer desktop doesn't get as much attention as it deserves."
  14. Top 10 Conversation Hacks
    "A whole lot more than just words passes between people who are talking, so a few simple conversational skills can help you recognize what's really being said and help you lead the discussion your way."
  15. Top 10 YouTube Hacks
    "Summer's ending, and with it goes a certain sense of taking it easier, relaxing a bit at the office—you know, caching up on all that YouTube browsing you skip when there's real work to be done."
  16. Top 10 Office Supply Hacks
    "Given some spare time and a few neglected items in the office supply closet, anyone can make their workspace more functional, create a cool tools for their home and office, and even rescue seemingly ruined stuff."
  17. Top 10 Easy Ways to Look Sharp
    "In a perfect world, it wouldn't matter what a genius JavaScript programmer or top-flight professional looked like. In this world, though, coming across as an unkempt schlub won't do anything good for your career, your social life, or your luck with that cute guy or gal from marketing."
  18. Top 10 Apps Worth Installing Adobe AIR For
    "While many of them are simply desktop translations of web interfaces that were easy to use already, a handful of AIR apps truly make work and play easier, or just more interesting."
  19. Top 10 Underhyped Webapps
    "Even in this golden age of Big Internet Companies Acquiring Everything In Sight, there are still a few independent, small webapps out there that don't get the attention they should for their useful functionality."
  20. Top 10 Things to Look Forward to in Windows 7
    "While the next iteration of the ubiquitous Microsoft desktop operating system, Windows 7, isn't a dramatic overhaul of its predecessor Windows Vista, it does fix several sore spots and add a few welcome features."


Cheech and Chong light up skits old and new

After 25 years apart, Cheech and Chong didn't have to worry that the humor they perfected, if not pioneered, would be stale.

Green leafy gags are hip again. And the duo that personified the genre in the 1970s is back after bogarting their successful multimedia career with an acrimonious split.

Richard "Cheech" Marin and his partner in da kine, Tommy Chong, are in the midst of the six-month Light Up America tour, their first together since 1983. And despite lots more gray or missing hair, it's like the party never stopped.

The impeccable comic timing remains, and despite the ugly breakup, their chemistry was evident. There wasn't the forced camaraderie that's so obvious in many reunited acts. And the material is as effective as ever.

The show was often racy, occasionally profane and genuinely funny. There were visits to Cheech and Chong's hit albums and bong-busying movies, but several bits were from neither and/or included new gags.

Among the material familiar to stoners galaxywide was the scene from "Up in Smoke" where Pedro and the Man first meet. There was a cringe-inducing yet knee-slapping new KY reference in the part about the quarter-pounder joint, and when Pedro asks Man if has he any speed, the newly added reply is, "I used it all last night cramming for my urine test."

The same was true for the classic "Let's Make a Dope Deal." The host (Cheech) tells contestant Bob Bitchin' (Chong) that there are prizes behind each of the three doors onstage. Bob replies with a line that would have worked great in the original bit: "Oh yeah, Morrison died."

No, this isn't thinking-man's humor, and subtle it ain't. Like when Cheech sits too close to an old man on a park bench. "Excuse me, sir," Chong says, "Do you speak English?" "Yes," the guy replies. "Good -- f*** off!" But there also were some red-eyed winks to the partakers in the crowd that others might miss ("It's 4:20, time to play 'Let's Make a Dope Deal'").

Interspersed among the pair's skits together and solo was some well-honed, sometimes riotous material from Chong, who remained in the standup game while Cheech made his name as an actor.

But the most memorable moments, naturally, came when the pair was onstage together. Sure, it would have been great to hear such familiar punch lines as "Dave's not here!" or "Claa-aa-aaas -- SHUUUUT UUUUP!" but there was only 75 minutes. Among the sorely missed bits was Tyrone Shoelaces belting out "Basketball Jones." It might have inspired a memorable sing-along judging from the fragrance wafting through the ornate home of the San Diego Symphony.

It's hard to come away from this show with anything less than a satisfied smile. Well, and maybe a contact buzz.



Beatles Unknown "A Hard Day's Night" Chord Mystery Solved Using Fourier Transform

It’s the most famous chord in rock 'n' roll, an instantly recognizable twang rolling through the open strings on George Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker. It evokes a Pavlovian response from music fans as they sing along to the refrain that follows:

"It’s been a hard day’s night
And I’ve been working like a dog"

The opening chord to "A Hard Day’s Night" is also famous because, for 40 years, no one quite knew exactly what chord Harrison was playing.

There were theories aplenty and musicians, scholars and amateur guitar players all gave it a try, but it took a Dalhousie mathematician to figure out the exact formula.

Four years ago, inspired by reading news coverage about the song’s 40th anniversary, Jason Brown of Dalhousie’s Department of Mathematics decided to try and see if he could apply a mathematical calculation known as Fourier transform to solve the Beatles’ riddle. The process allowed him to decompose the sound into its original frequencies using computer software and parse out which notes were on the record.

It worked, to a point: the frequencies he found didn’t match the known instrumentation on the song. “George played a 12-string Rickenbacker, Lennon had his six string, Paul had his bass…none of them quite fit what I found,” he explains. “Then the solution hit me: it wasn’t just those instruments. There was a piano in there as well, and that accounted for the problematic frequencies.”

Dalhousie University math professor Jason Brown and his Ibanez guitar. Photo: Danny Abriel

“I started playing guitar because I heard a Beatles record—that was it for my piano lessons,” says Brown. “I had tried to play the first chord of the song many takes over the years. It sounds outlandish that someone could create a mystery around a chord from a time where artists used such simple recording techniques. It’s quite remarkable.”

Dr. Brown deduces that another George—George Martin, the Beatles producer—also played on the chord, adding a piano chord that included an F note impossible to play with the other notes on the guitar. The resulting chord was completely different than anything found in the literature about the song to date, which is one reason why Dr. Brown’s findings garnered international attention. He laughs that he may be the only mathematician ever to be published in Guitar Player magazine.

“Music and math are not really that far apart,” he says. “They’ve found that children that listen to music do better at math, because math and music both use the brain in similar ways. The best music is analytical and pattern-filled and mathematics has a lot of aesthetics to it. They complement each other well.”


Global Economic Downturn Spurs Superstitious Behavior

As the housing and credit crisis continues to wreak havoc, people turn to superstition for comfort and reassurance.

From numbers to colors to whether you pass coins from your right hand to your left, or vice versa, worried investors and consumers are not taking any chances when it comes to keeping or possibly earning money in the coming months.

“For people in the grip of magical thinking (which is practically all of us at one time or another), lucky numbers or rituals help us to believe that we are overcoming (or at least gaining an edge over) the seemingly randomness of an uncertain world,” wrote Benjamin Radford in LiveScience.

Occasionally these individual efforts of superstition, chance and money create bursts of economic growth all their own. In Brazil, where donning yellow underwear at midnight on New Year’s Eve assures money in the coming year, there has been a run on such garments, leaving red (passion) and white (peace) for another year.

"People are desperate, they want to not lose their jobs and have some money in their pockets," Denise Areal, marketing director for Duloren, one of Brazil's biggest underwear manufacturers, told the Daily Telegraph. "We've sold out 100,000 pairs and we don't have time to make any more.”

Sometimes, superstitions can have a negative impact on one’s economic future. Last year, BloggingStocks commented on a Wall Street Journal article that reported a 416-point drop in the Dow, linking it to a 9 percent decline in the Shanghai Stock Market. The trend was traced to a run on stocks associated with the number 8—a number associated with wealth in China, especially if found together with another 8.

Around the world, monetary luck can involve choice of color or where or how you place your furniture.

Though regional variations abound, in China wearing a jade ring—right hand for women, left hand for men—will bring money into one’s life, as will tying a green string five times around your little finger. Also try writing the Chinese symbol for money or a dollar sign on your right palm for fifteen consecutive days.

Russia’s approach reflects a number of countries’ by insisting that money follows money, so it is best to spread coins throughout your house. Conversely, whistling indoors and singing on an empty stomach will frighten the spirits and lead to further money woes.

In Japan, it’s a good idea to keep snakeskin in one’s wallet to invite fortune while in Trinidad and Tobago if you place your handbag or wallet on the ground, it will drive away good fortune.

In addition to clearing out clutter and fixing possessions that are broken, the art of Feng Shui requires a dose of green and purple in places where money would usually be found for a bit of monetary luck.

Despite widespread reliance on superstitious practices in times of trouble and economic turmoil, some insist that accepting the impact of superstitions is a sign of someone clearly out of control.

Testing the notion, Jennifer Whitson of the University of Texas, Austin, and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University, found that people tend to turn to superstitions and universal theories in order to compensate for feeling out of control or to explain things that seem beyond comprehension.

These practices, the scientists wrote, give “causes and motives to events that are more rationally seen as accidents ... [in order to] bring the disturbing vagaries of reality under ... control.”

Echoing the same idea of control, Jonathan Hoenig wrote on the SmartMoney blog that superstition and repetition were common and necessary components for those working in the financial sector, especially traders.

“Regardless if you're simply buying bonds or trading option volatility, investing comes down to dealing with the unknown,” wrote Hoenig. “Superstitions, the little rules we enact for ourselves, provide a sense of security and control in an environment where neither exist.”



Though the Beatles never performed a live concert in Ottawa, the city does have a unique connection to the Beatles. John and Yoko's decision to visit and use Canada in 1969 as a venue for delivering their campaign on world peace was generally embraced by our youth of its day. What made it more interesting for us all locally, was that Ottawa, Canada's Capital, was unexpectedly included into the Lennon's itinerary. How it all happened is a very intriguing story to tell.

As a 14-year-old back then, I recall how my own interest was titillated by the Canadian media's own fascination over the arrival of John and Yoko into Canada: it was reported they landed in Toronto from the Bahamas on Sunday, May 25, 1969, where they stayed over-night at the King Edward Hotel. It was on this date, John Lennon tapes a pre-bed-in recording of "Give Peace A Chance" (on the hit parade, just the day before, a Beatles' song "Get Back" officially hits #1 on the US charts). The following day the press interviews John and Yoko in the King Edward Hotel but the media soon caught wind that John and Yoko were moving their "peace campaign" on to Montreal, Québec. The couple boarded a plane on the evening of Monday, May 26, 1969 and flew to Montreal, a city known for its beautiful and eloquent cosmopolitan look, the Lennons decidedly checked into room 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. The move proved to be strategically successful for the Lennons as the Queen Elizabeth Hotel became the "central focusing point" for their "peace campaign." With an open invitation to all media platforms from John and Yoko (based on an idea from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), the couple conducted interviews with the press and even brought on board some famous celebraties such as Dick Gregory, Tommy Smothers (his brother "Dick" was never at the "bed-in") and right-wing cartoonist Al Capp for a dialogue on peace. John and Yoko's activities during this time worked exceedingly well as news reports quickly travelled out from Montreal to all of North America. Back in Ottawa the students alumni at the University of Ottawa picked up on the activities of John and Yoko through the media.

Ottawa, in 1969, as local residents would more than likely tell you, was a most unassuming Capital back then with its usual 9-5 public servants -- a least unlikely place for John and Yoko to show up. Recalling my memories from that time period, I truly believed that the Lennons' "peace campaign" would have been maintained between the two bigger city centers, Toronto and Montreal. Those two large cities with their large media Meccas were, in my opinion, ripe for the Lennons in order get their "peace message" out. That in-of-itself should have been a good enough reason for John and Yoko not to have shown up in Ottawa. To have suggested to anyone locally in 1969 of procuring John and Yoko in order to have them show up in Ottawa, would have been a-bit-of-a-stretch. But the Lennons did turn up and we were all surprised including the local media.

A recent C.B.C. television special aired in December, 2000, "John & Yoko's Year of Peace" detailed how that came into being. According to the program, there were actually two main people who inspired the Lennons to come to Ottawa. The first to inspire the idea was a young 14-year-old student named Jerry Levitan (today, a lawyer by practice, who has written his own account of these events) who snuck into the King Edward Sheraton hotel at 7:00 a.m. in Toronto where the Lennons were first staying at the time. Jerry Levitan eventually found the couple's hotel room and managed to actually get in and talk to them in person. Not only was he able to talk to them, but he used his brothers Super-8 movie camera and filmed the Lennons (some of that colour video footage was aired during that C.B.C. television broadcast.) During this discussion he mentioned to John and Yoko how cool Canada's Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was and emphasized how the two of them should make it a point of meeting him in person. John replied to Jerry that "If you young people think Mr. Trudeau is cool then maybe we should meet him." The second individual who became the catalyst in bringing John and Yoko to Ottawa was then 21-year-old University of Ottawa Student President, Allan Rock (today he serves as Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations. When this report was first published, as a Liberal politician he held the position as Canada's Federal Health Minister.) Mr. Rock came up with a unique angle in how to get the two ambassador's of peace to come from Montreal and visit Ottawa: why not tell John and Yoko that the students association at the campus planned on having a Seminar On World Peace at the University that included not only the students and the media, but also the Prime Minister of Canada? To achieve this, Allan decided to visit the Lennons in Montreal and put forward his proposal (see the press clippings for details.)

Throughout the "bed-in" in Montreal, the city's only rock and roll station was CFOX (1470 on the radio dial back then) had made arrangements to have DJ Chuck Chandler interview John and Yoko on a daily basis using a mobile broadcasting facility in the same room as the Lennons, not far from their bedside. Towards the end of the Montreal "bed-in" is when Allan Rock would appear with his proposal, a bold and brave move by the young 21-year-old Student President. I'm sure CFOX's Chuck Chandler must have been very intrigued by the idea floating around the hotel room of a possible meeting between Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau and the Lennons in Ottawa. And, as the C.B.C.'s television special "John & Yoko's Year of Peace" would reveal, Chuck Chandler tried to get a definite confirmation from Derek Taylor (Apple Record's "Press Officer") as to whether John and Yoko would end up actually meeting the Prime Minister. The film footage showed Derek's answer as being extremely aloof and very vague with no concrete answer for Chuck Chandler as to whether the meeting with Pierre Trudeau would occur or not.

And of course, in spite of the uncertainty, John and Yoko did decide to visit Ottawa on June 3, 1969, but, unfortunately, not with the Prime Minister in attendance. However, all was not lost for John and Yoko -- they did hold an interesting Seminar On World Peace with the students and media. During their visit and at John Lennon's request, Allan Rock drove the Lennons around in his beetle for a tour of the city. They eventually stopped right at the front doorsteps of 24 Sussex Drive -- the Prime Minister's residence -- whereupon John wrote and left a message for Pierre Trudeau since he wasn't home. That letter created the necessary window of opportunity to set up a future meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau that was held on December 23, 1969 during their third and final visit to Canada. John and Yoko met Prime Minister Trudeau for nearly fifty minutes. You can read the actual media coverage here at the Ottawa Beatles Web Site listed under "Historical Interest." (See the Ottawa Citizen's "PM -- 'a beautiful person' and for the Ottawa Journal's "Lennons Came for 5 Minutes; Stayed With PM an Hour" filed within the menu list as: "Lennons visit Ottawa.")

As mentioned in these opening remarks, Ottawa does have a unique connection to the Beatles:

George Harrison had an over-night visit to Ottawa on February 28, 1969 and stayed at the Chateau Laurier Hotel. The purpose of George's visit was to determine whether American folk singer Eric Anderson would be worth adding to their repertoire of Apple artists or not. After watching Eric's performance at the Capitol Theatre, George then turned up at the Le Hibou, a local music club where he saw The Modern Rock Quartet perform.

John Lennon's psychedelic "Phantom V Rolls-Royce" which was painted by The Fool was showcased here in Ottawa at the Museum of Science and Technology in 1996. What a thrill it was viewing that car up close! The fine details of artwork is pretty amazing!!

Paul McCartney's authentic "Abbey Road" Gold Record LP as certified by the RIAA for 1 million sales of that album. Robie, Ottawa's hardcore collector of Beatles' memorabilia has had this Gold Record in his possession for over two decades! It's a nice trophy for any serious Beatle collector to have (see the 1995 photos taken at the Ottawa Beatles Convention, and, if you search hard for another link on the main Convention page, you will find a large close-up photo of the actual Gold Record taken by Tony Copple, circa 2000.)

"Beatlemania" as coined on the Canadian Capitol's album "Beatlemania - With The Beatles" was written by the Ottawa Journal's music reporter Sandy Gardiner on November 9, 1963. Capitol Records of Canada was so impressed with his write-up for The Ottawa Journal that they ended up editing part of his article for that Beatles album cover.

Finally, Ottawa's Yury Polyushonok, author of "Strings for a Beatle Bass" made an appearance on the ABC Television Special: "The Beatles Revolution" describing how the Beatles music impacted on Soviet culture during the times of communistic rule. It was certainly a thrill for us and for Yury to see him get on television and tell his story from a Russian perspective.

Thus, it seems very appropriate that the Ottawa Beatles Site should have the honour of presenting these new photos of John and Yoko's visit to Ottawa. The photographs were taken by Pascal Barrette who worked for the summer as a student at Studio Champlain Marcil. It was the owner, Champlain Marcil (who incidentally worked in the late 1940's as the official photographer for the "Le Droit" in Ottawa) where upon his retirement, he gifted the studios negatives to the National Archives of Québec. These negatives included the ones taken by Pascal Barrette when John and Yoko appeared at the Ottawa University on June 3, 1969. These photographs have never been reproduced in any Beatle book and we hope by visually displaying them, that these photos will help to complete part of the historical journey of John and Yoko's peace activities while they visited Canada during 1969.


10 Most Interesting, Strangest Mental Disorders

Psychiatrics is one of the most difficult and unexplored spheres of Medicine.
A psychiatrist can never know for sure what is in his patient’s mind.

There are plenty of different diseases, deviations and disorders in psychiatrics. Here are the most interesting ones:
Alien hand syndrome is a neurological disorder in which one of the sufferer's hands seems to take on a life of its own. Sometimes the sufferer will not be aware of what the hand is doing until it is brought to his or her attention. Alien hands can perform complex acts such as undoing buttons or removing clothing.
2. Foreign accent syndrome
The syndrome causes people to speak their native language as if they had a foreign accent; for example, an American native speaker might speak with a French-sounding accent. It usually follows a severe brain injury, such as a stroke.
3. Capgras' syndrome
The Capgras delusion or Capgras' syndrome is a rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that an acquaintance, usually a close family member or spouse, has been replaced by an identical looking imposter.
4. Fear of the number 13 (Triskaidekaphobia)
Adolf Hitler was triskaidekaphobic. A specific fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskavedekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia. Tetraphobia is the fear of the number 4 in China, Japan, and Korea.
5. Working out too much (Bigorexia)
Bigorexia or Muscle dysmorphia is a disorder in which an individual becomes obsessed that they are not muscular enough. Sometimes referred to as bigorexia or reverse anorexia nervosa, it is a very specific case of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
Muscle dysmorphia can cause individuals to: - Constantly check themselves in a mirror - Become distressed if a gym session is missed - Take potentially dangerous drugs (e.g. anabolic steroids) - Neglecting jobs/relationships/family due to exercising
6. Collecting too many books (Bibliomania)
Bibliomania is an obsessive-compulsive disorder involving the collecting of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged. The purchase of multiple copies of the same book and edition and the accumulation of books beyond possible capacity of use or enjoyment are frequentsymptoms of bibliomania.
7. Exploding head syndrome
It causes the sufferer to occasionally experience a tremendously loud noise as if from within his or her own head, usually described as an explosion or a roar. This usually occurs within an hour or two of falling asleep, but is not the result of a dream.
8. Trichotillomania
Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder characterised by the repeated urge to pull out scalp hair, eyelashes, beard hair, nose hair, pubic hair, eyebrows or other body hair. It may be distantly related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, with which it shares both similarities and differences.
9. Fear of men (Androphobia)
Androphobia is an abnormal and persistent fear of men. Sufferers of this disorder experience anxiety even though they realize they may face no real threat. Androphobia is one of infinite possible phobias, and as such can be traced back to a specific triggering event, usually a traumatic experience at an early age.
10. Faking illnesses to gain attention (Munchausen syndrome)
In Munchausen syndrome, the sufferer feigns, exaggerates, or creates symptoms of illnesses in himself or herself in order to gain attention, sympathy, and comfort from medical personnel. The role of "patient" is a familiar and comforting one, and it fills a psychological need in people with Munchausen's.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

German churches find 'chocolate Jesus' tasteless

Germany's churches criticized a businessman on Tuesday for selling thousands of Jesus chocolates.

Frank Oynhausen set up his "Sweet Lord" chocolate Jesus-making business saying he wanted to restore some traditional religious values to Christmas in Germany.

But the German Protestant Church criticized the idea as "tasteless" and the Roman Catholic Church was not amused.

"I started thinking about how I could reintroduce traditional religious values into this commercial world," said Oynhausen, who had been unemployed since losing a recycling business two years ago.

Together with a friend, a local chocolatier, Oynhausen, 54, developed the concept of "Sweet Lord." It is growing fast in his home town of Duisburg and on the internet (

Oynhausen said thousands of people have put in orders for the figures wrapped in gold foil.

But church associations expressed dismay.

"It is terrible that Jesus is being wrapped up in gold foil and sold along with chocolate bunnies, edible penguins and lollipops," said Aegidius Engel, a spokesman for the archbishopric of nearby Paderborn.

"This is ruining the symbol of Jesus himself," he added.

Oynhausen is now custom-producing the chocolate Jesus figures, but by Easter he hopes to have a partnership with a mass producer.

"We're hoping to be able to export them around the world one day," Oynhausen said. He reckons there are parts of the United States where they will be especially popular.

In 2007, a life-size chocolate sculpture of a naked Jesus caused an outcry from Roman Catholics when an art gallery in New York wanted to exhibit it in a window.


Dutch ban on "magic" mushrooms to take effect

The Netherlands will ban the sale and cultivation of all hallucinogenic "magic" mushrooms from next week, the latest target of a country seeking to shed its "anything goes" image.

The Dutch government proposed the ban in April, citing the dangerous behavioral effects of magic mushrooms following the death of a French teenager who jumped from an Amsterdam bridge in 2007 after consuming the hallucinogenic fungus.

"The use of magic mushrooms has hallucinogenic effects. It is proven that this can lead to unpredictable and therefore risky behavior," the Dutch Health Ministry said in a statement.

A challenge to the ban was rejected by a court in the Hague on Friday. From December 1 the production or sale of fresh magic mushrooms could lead to a maximum jail sentence of four years, a spokesman for the Dutch Justice Ministry said on Friday.

"We are targeting the growers and the shops who are selling the mushrooms," the spokesman said.

The active ingredient in magic mushrooms is psilocybin. Effects last up to about six hours and can include nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness and drowsiness in the early stages after consumption.

The psychological consequences of psilocybin use include hallucinations and an inability to discern fantasy from reality. Panic reactions and psychosis also may occur, particularly if a user ingests a large dose, according to the U.S. Justice Dept's National Drug Intelligence Center.

Some proponents of magic mushrooms say that their use aids in spiritual awareness, gaining personal insight and meditation.

Selling dried magic mushrooms is already illegal in the Netherlands and carries a maximum jail sentence of eight years, the justice ministry spokesman said, but from next week a new ban will apply to fresh mushrooms which have been previously sold in so-called "smart shops."

Staff in the stores, which stock mushrooms or "paddos" ranging from Thai to Hawaiian varieties for about 15 euros (about $20) a pack, said the ban will put users at greater risk.

"People will just go picking in the forest, and that can be dangerous. Or they will go to street dealers, and get mixed up with hard drugs," said David Henriks from the Tatanka shop.

Posters in shops outlined the effects of different types of mushrooms, such as strong visual experiences or feelings described as "body highs." They also suggested dos and don'ts of consumption, and rated the mushrooms for their intensity.

"It's always safer to have the information before taking drugs," said Roy Williams of the Innerspace shop, adding that in the past few weeks people had increasingly been buying "grow your own" mushroom kits in the lead-up to the ban.

The Dutch association of smart shops (VLOS) had tried to reassure authorities by promising tighter self-regulation and noted that most mushroom-related incidents involved young tourists mixing mushrooms with alcohol and cannabis.

On Friday the VLOS said it was highly disappointed with the court's decision to reject the challenge to the ban.

"Under this government we have had a whole series of bans, and people have had enough of this," said Paul van Oyen from the VLOS, adding that he would advise the board of the association to launch an appeal.

He said some of the 180 or so smart shops in the Netherlands would likely have to close because of falling turnover, and he expected to see a huge discount sale over the weekend as shops tried to get rid of supplies.

Figures from the Amsterdam emergency services show there were 55 call-outs for mushroom-related incidents in 2004, a figure which had more than doubled by 2006 to 128, with the majority of youngsters involved coming from Britain.

In recent years the Netherlands has dropped some previously tolerant policies and has tightened laws on drug use and prostitution.

Several brothels and sex clubs were shut down in 2008, city councils are planning to close marijuana-selling coffee shops near schools, while tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption in coffee shops have also been forbidden.


Tiny firm, Bocu, says thank you for the music as Abba soar again

Abba haven’t made a record for 20 years — but the Scandinavian megaband and the songs they put on everybody’s lips have broken a number of records in recent weeks.

And soaring sales of their songs have propelled a tiny British company, Bocu, into the big time, too.

During the summer Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad made it to the top of the charts with Gold, a compilation of hits, for the fifth time.

Mamma Mia!, the film of the stage musical based on Abba songs, has become the highest-grossing British film at the UK box office, taking more than £67 million and outperforming every instalment of the Harry Potter series. When American films are included, it is second only to Titanic.

They turned the crusty Albert Hall into a facsimile of a Butlin's holiday camp

This week the DVD of the film became the fastest seller in the UK, with 1.7 million sold on its first day.

Other figures released this week show that, for the third quarter of this year, two out of the five bestselling albums were Abba releases.

All this is music to the ears of Bocu, the British music publisher that acquired the British rights to Abba’s songs more than 30 years ago. The figures mean that the company, which has a full-time staff of two, owned the rights to 15.1 per cent of all albums sold in Britain in the third quarter of 2008, purely on the basis of its Abba rights. That is more than the multinational giants Warner and Sony.

John Spalding, 74, who founded Bocu in the Sixties, said there was one ingredient to Abba’s success: “It’s simple. The songs are very good.”

He added: “They’re so famous that people who liked them first time round, it’s their kids that are buying it and keeping it going. They’re going to be the evergreens in this business.”

The soundtrack of Mamma Mia! was Britain’s second-biggest-selling album in the quarter July-September, behind the Now! 70 chart compilation album. So far it has sold more than 900,000 copies in Britain, with global sales standing at four million.

Gold was the fifth-biggest-selling album in the period. It is now the third-biggest-selling album in Britain, overtaking Oasis’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?. The albums are released on the Polydor label, a subsidiary of Universal. Peter Loraine, general manager of Fascination Records, Polydor’s pop music division, said: “The really special thing this time round is that you’re no longer selling it to people who are buying it for nostalgic reasons. We’ve opened the door to people who have never heard it before. They’re suddenly a band for a young audience too.”

The label has put out a nine-disc boxed set of Abba albums for Christmas. It has also collaborated with Sony to release Singstar Abba, a karaoke game for the PlayStation console based around the hits.

Gennaro Castaldo, of HMV, said: “All things Mamma Mia! were going to be huge this Christmas anyway — especially the DVD — but, with all the doom and gloom around right now, you get half a feeling that a lot more of us may turn to the sunny optimism of Abba’s music.”


Friday, November 28, 2008

Citigroup bailout slammed by New Yorkers

The bailout of Citigroup has made people in New York angrier than they were about any of the other government rescues of financial institutions this year.

In a random sample of people inside the Port Authority, the world's busiest bus terminal, only one man backed the government decision to prop up the New York-based bank, even though it is a huge employer in the region.

All the rest are angry -- even on the day before Thanksgiving .

"They were bailed out before, this is the second bailout, so what's going on? Are they going to ask for another bailout soon?" asked Cheril Nichols, a 50-year-old nurse from New Jersey.

"It is wasteful, very wasteful," said retiree William Dwyer, 70.

Earlier this week, the U.S. government announced an injection of $20 billion for Citigroup Inc (C.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and a plan to shoulder most of its potential losses on $306 billion of toxic assets, after the bank's shares sank more than 60 percent in the previous week due to concern about its ability to survive.

The $20 billion of government capital comes after a $25 billion injection last month.

In effect, the government has pledged about $1,000 per American to guarantee the bank's assets.

"This is not the right thing to do. They (the U.S. government) should help the people, not the big companies," said Renu Malconi, 38, from New Jersey.

Citigroup has lost $20.3 billion in the last year and many analysts expect further losses because it owns many mortgage and other assets now worth far less than their original value.

Unlike Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc (LEHMQ.PK: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), which was forced to file for bankruptcy protection when the government rejected its pleas for help, Citigroup does business with millions of ordinary people every day, so emotions run higher about Citi.

In exchange for the bailout, Citigroup slashed its quarterly dividend and cannot raise it for three years without U.S. consent. But taxpayers want more sacrifices from the bank's board and top management.

"It's ridiculous. If I did as poorly as they did in my job, I would be out of the job, so why are they not accountable?" said Mike Delibero, an IT salesman.

The frustration on the streets of New York was echoed by two of New York's major daily newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post, which slammed the board of Citigroup on Tuesday with calls for all or many of its directors to quit or be removed.

The Post on Wednesday ran a series of letters from readers, all of them harshly criticizing the bailout and Citigroup's former and current executives and board members.

High salaries, seven-figure bonuses and an agreement for the bank to pay $400 million to name the New York Mets baseball team's new stadium Citi Field haven't helped sentiment.

"If they are spending money on silly things, they should better keep it. The one thing I know is that it affects me, too," said Hilda, 55, from New Jersey, who declined to give her last name.

After several calls, no Citigroup officials were available for comment.


Scientists crack iceberg mystery

U.S. scientists have figured out how icebergs break off Antarctica and Greenland, a finding that may help predict rising sea levels as the climate warms.

Writing in Friday's edition of the journal Science, they said icebergs formed fast when parent ice sheets spread out quickly over the sea.

"It won't help the Titanic, but a newly derived, simple law may help scientists improve their climate models" and predict ice sheet break-up, they said in a statement. The Titanic sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg, killing 1,500 people.

Ice cracking off into the ocean from Antarctica and Greenland could be the main contributor to global sea level rises in the future. If all the ice in Greenland and Antarctica melted, seas would rise by more than 60 meters (196 ft).

The formation rate of icebergs was less linked to factors such as ice thickness, width of the ice flow, distance from land or waves, the scientists said.

Ice sheets are giant frozen rivers, caused by snowfall, that slowly flow to the sea and then break up.

In Antarctica, the Ross Ice Shelf extends 500 miles over the ocean before the edges snap off and form icebergs. Many other ice sheets stretch just a mile or two.

Computer models that predict how ice sheets behave in warmer weather generally gloss over exactly how icebergs break off because researchers have failed to understand the mechanism, known as calving.

"For iceberg calving, the important variable -- the one that accounts for the largest portion of when the iceberg breaks -- is the rate at which ice shelves spread," the study said.

A fast spread means cracks form throughout the shelf and make it crack up. A slower spread means that deep cracks do not form as fast and the ice sticks together.

"The problem of when things break is a really hard problem because there is so much variability," lead author Richard Alley, of Pennsylvania State University, said.

"Anyone who has dropped a coffee cup knows this. Sometimes the coffee cup breaks and sometimes it bounces," he said of the problems of understanding cracking.

The U.N. Climate Panel predicts seas will rise by 18 to 59 cm (7-23 inches) this century because of warming stoked by human use of fossil fuels.


AIDS cure hope after German surgery

An AIDS patient is apparently free of HIV after receiving a bone marrow transplant during leukemia treatment.

The patient, a a 42-year-old American living in Berlin receiving stem cells from a donor with that a genetic mutation, making him immune to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Two years on, doctors say the patient has stopped taking AIDS drugs and HIV cannot be detected in the patient's blood.

But they warn this is not treatment that can be used for all AIDS sufferers, and is not a cure for the disease.



Eleanor Rigby document fetches $177,000

A 97-year-old document that contains clues to the identity of Eleanor Rigby, the subject of one of the Beatles' best-loved songs, sold for 115,000 pounds ($177,000) at auction on Thursday.

The total fell well short of high estimates of around 500,000 pounds for the piece of Beatles memorabilia.

The money will go to the seller Annie Mawson and her charity the Sunbeams Music Trust (, which uses music to help people with special needs.

The manuscript is a salary register from Liverpool City Hospital and features the name and signature of E. Rigby, a scullery maid who has signed for her monthly wage. Her annual earnings were 14 pounds.

According to Mawson, the document was sent to her in 1990 by former Beatle Paul McCartney when she wrote to him on behalf of her charity.

"I wrote ... to Paul and asked him for half a million pounds. But by the end of the letter I just said 'Look, I know you're a very caring person and I feel it's a privilege to share my story with you'," she told Reuters before the sale.

"Nine months later, in June 1990, this amazing envelope arrived in the post. It was nine months after I'd written to him, which was part of the mystery because you always think it ended up in the waste paper basket."

She said the envelope containing the document dated 1911 featured an official Paul McCartney tour stamp. The singer was on a world tour around that time.

Mawson did not immediately realize the importance of the register until she read the list of names and spotted E. Rigby.

The document offers one of the clearest clues yet as to the identity of Eleanor Rigby, the woman in the song of the same name who dies alone with no one to mourn her. According to music Web sites, previously McCartney has said the heroine of the poignant song was fictional.

The grave of an Eleanor Rigby was also discovered in the churchyard of St. Peter's in Woolton, Liverpool, close to where McCartney met John Lennon in 1957.

"I wonder just how much Paul McCartney meant to unmask when he passed it on," said Ted Owen, managing director of the Fame Bureau which sold the manuscript in London.



With the holiday travel season fast approaching, videogame makers are making sure they have games and consoles handy for trains, planes and automobiles -- and so are holiday destinations.

Nintendo is introducing two limited edition Nintendo DS bundles on November 28 which include a Mario Red Nintendo DS with the "New Super Mario Bros." game and an Ice Blue Nintendo DS with a matching carrying case and a copy of "Brain Age."

In Japan, Nintendo recently introduced its next generation portable, Nintendo DSi, which adds two cameras, an SD card slot, an online game store, advanced music capabilities, larger screens and a slimmer body to the dual-screen handheld player.

The Nintendo DSi will be released in North America and Europe in 2009, about five years since it debuted the Nintendo DS in North America of which it has shipped over 84 million units.

Sony Corp. has a new portable game offering, the PSP 3000, which adds a high-resolution screen and a built-in microphone to let users call friends between games or movies.

Since debuting the original PlayStation Portable in December 2004 in Japan, Sony has sold over 40 million PSPs worldwide.

Apple's iPhone 3G and iPod Touch have also become popular gaming devices for vacationers. There are over 13 million iPhone 3Gs around the globe and over 1,500 games available on the App Store.


But videogames are not just becoming an integral packing item for vacationers on the move. Their end destinations as well have noticed the wider demand for gaming, way beyond just families.

Nintendo's Wii consoles, with its unique motion-sensing controller and simpler games, can now be found in select Marriott and Westin Hotels and on board many cruise liners with games like "Wii Sports" and "Endless Ocean" part of daily itineraries.

"We always have had PlayStations aboard our ships but we've upgraded recently to Wiis and integrated them throughout our ships for kids, teenagers and adults to play," said Jim Urry, vice president of entertainment for Disney Cruise Line.

Urry said next year, Disney will introduce a new videogame experience to passengers using motion-sensor technology designed by Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI).

A "Pirates of the Caribbean" game, which can be played by large groups on the ship's deck, lets players steer a course for Captain Jack Sparrow's ship by leaning in different directions.

The virtual characters and ship will be displayed on a giant outdoor screen used by the cruise line for some Wii tournaments.

Videogames are also influencing the work of WDI at Walt Disney World and Disneyland with both parks introducing a new ride this year, "Toy Story's Midway Mania," which plays like a next generation videogame with 3D glasses and special effects like air and water.

"We know kids come into our parks with Nintendo DSes and they're with them all day," said Sue Bryan, senior show producer and director, WDI, who oversaw development of the new ride.

"If we can involve them more in the theme park storytelling with that game technology, that's a great thing."



Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Beatles, Close to iTunes

After The Beatles agreed to let Harmonix make a special edition of their video game, “Rock Band”, which featured the band’s music exclusively, it was anticipated that the band’s remaining members would finally agree to allow Apple to distribute their music through iTunes, their online music store.

It seems that Paul McCartney was interested in a collaboration, and has been negotiating with Apple, according to a statement he gave to BBC. Moreover, it appears that Apple and The Beatles’ company, Apple Corps Ltd, have settled their trademark dispute last year, clearing the way for possible discussions regarding the induction of The Beatles’ albums in iTunes.

McCartney has expressed his enthusiasm on the subject, yet he stated that there are still some “sticking points” that have to be resolved between Apple and Apple Corps Ltd before you will be able to buy The Beatles’ songs off iTunes. Apparently, the collaboration is currently stalled, yet McCartney hopes the issues will be resolved so that their music will soon be available on iTunes. McCartney went as far as saying that he really hopes “it will happen because I think it should.” McCartney also explained that their distributor, EMI, with whom they have worked with since the 1960s, want The Beatles to give them something they are still not prepared to give.

Fans are enticed, especially since EMI released the solo catalogues of the four artists, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison, on to iTunes just last year. Hopes were raised when the British media announced that the music is very close to being released digitally, and especially when even Steve Jobs, the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Apple, said he “loves The Beatles.”


New Harvard Research Investigates the Causes of Aging

Harvard Medical School scientists claim to have discovered a mechanism that may be the universal cause of aging. The study, published in the journal Cell, shows how DNA damage eventually leads to a breakdown in the cell’s ability to understand which genes are switched on and which are switched off. The cell’s decreasing ability to detect patterns of gene expression plays a critical role in aging, the researchers report.

“This is the first potentially fundamental, root cause of aging that we've found,” says Harvard Medical School professor of pathology David Sinclair. “There may very well be others, but our finding that aging in a simple yeast cell is directly relevant to aging in mammals comes as a surprise.”

Scientists have known that a group of genes called sirtuins are involved in the aging process. These genes, when stimulated by resveratrol, a compound found in grapes and red wine known for his anti-aging powers, appear to have a positive effect on both aging and health. This study is the latest to draw attention to sirtuins, proteins involved in the aging process.

It has been previously shown that resveratrol, a compound found in grapes and red wine provides heart benefits, preventing cardiovascular diseases, reducing heart inflammation, enabling stronger bones and preventing eye cataracts. The substance has the effect of an activator for more than 1,000 genes affecting the heart. The function of these genes changes as a person ages but the resveratrol helps the genes work the same way they do in a younger heart.

Resveratrol works as a biological survival mechanism that switches the body’s resources from fertility to tissue maintenance by activating protein agents known in people as sirtuins. Therefore, life is prolonged since it reduces at the same time degenerative diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer’s.


50 Places for Free Books Online

1. 4eBooks - Thousands of free eBooks in every computer programing field with reviews and descriptions.

2. Alive and Free - Links to free ebooks of living authors

3. Arthur's Classic Novels - Over 4000 novels from the early 20th century

4. Ask Sam - A small collection of classics, including Shakespeare, and legal, resource and government texts.

5. Baen Free Library - A small library of downloadable science fiction novels in a variety of formats.

6. Bartelby - Harvard classics and encyclopedias. HTML only.

7. Berkely SunSite Classics - A small collection of classics. HTML only.

8. Bibliomania - Over 2,000 classic novels, study guides, biographies and more. HTML only.

9. BookRags - Small collection of free with many paid. Hard to find the free ones. Available in Word or PDF.

10. BookYards - 16,000+ books, videos, educational material.

11. DailyLit - Read books online by daily email or RSS feed. Over 700 titles.

12. Diesel eBooks - Offers 750+ ebooks formatted for Microsoft Reader and MobiPocket

13 eLibrary - Thousand of free eBooks

14. eServer - Over 30,000 works covering a variety of interests

15. FeedBooks - Thousand of eBooks downloadable in a variety of formats

16. Franklin - Thousands of free titles available in text and HTML format

17. FreeBookSpot - 5,000 free eBooks downloadable in 96 categories

18. FreeComputer Books - Free computer, math, technical books and lecture notes

19. Free eBooks - Smaller collection divided into categories

20. Free eBooks Net - Free books and resources for authors. Also magazines

21. FreeTechBooks - Computer science and programming books, textbooks and lecture notes.

22. FullBooks - Thousand of free full text books.

23. GetFreeEbooks - Smaller collection of all free ebooks.

24. Globusz - A place for new authors to post their work and for readers to check them out for free.

25. Google Book Search - Good selection of free ebooks available in a variety of categories.

26. GrtBooks - A large collection of great books and classics.

27. Gutenberg - Over 25,000 books for download there and over 100,000 available through their affiliates.

28. Infomotions - 14,000 listings from full classic novels to Western philosophy. HTML only.

29. InternetArchive - Over 500,000 texts available for download

30. ManyBooks - 22,000 books available for download in a variety of formats

31. Mary Jo's E Texts - Small collection has not been updated in a while, but links still work. Palm.

32. MemoWare - Free books for PDA

33. MIT Internet Classics Archive - Over 400 works of clasical literature available for download.

34. MobileRead - Forum listing thousands of free ebooks.

35. Munsey's - Over 18,000 ebooks available in a variety of formats

36. NetLibrary - Small selection of free. But annual membership is only $8.95 for over 500,000 works.

37. OnlineComputerBooks - Good selection of free computer books.

38. OnlineFreeeBooks - links to various ebooks (mostly pdf) in 9 categories

39. OxfordTextArchive - Over 2,000 classical texts downloadable as ASCII or DOC

40. PDFBooks - 4,700 pdf ebooks

41. PerseusDigitalLibrary - A large collection of classical texts broken down to time period written.

42. PlaneteBook - Free classical literature

43. PlanetPDFeBooks - Small collection of classical works.

44. ReadEasily - Small collection of works that has option for larger print. HTML only.

45. ReadPrint - Thousands of books, poems and short stories.

46. RealTime - Free media for IT professionals

47. Scribd - Open library to download or publish documents.

48. SnipFiles - Small collection of free ebooks and software.

49. WitGuides - Small collection of free ebooks in a variety of categories.

50. Wowio - Good size collection of novels and also comic books.




When I was 5 years old, my mom always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “happy.” They told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life.



Retro Clock Radio iPod Dock


Internetting every thing, everywhere, all the time

It's called "The Internet of Things" -- at least for now. It refers to an imminent world where physical objects and beings, as well as virtual data and environments, all live and interact with each other in the same space and time. In short, everything is interconnected.

Violet's Mir:ror reads information and instructions stored on Nano:ztags containing RFID chips.

Violet's Mir:ror reads information and instructions stored on Nano:ztags containing RFID chips.

"If we can imagine it, there's a good chance it can be programmed," wrote Vint Cerf, the original Internet evangelist, on the official Google blog.

"The Internet of the future will be suffused with software, information, data archives, and populated with devices, appliances, and people who are interacting with and through this rich fabric."

At the nodes of this all-encompassing web of objects is RFID (Radio Frequency Identity) technology, which allows things to be "read" by an NFC (Near Field Communication) scanner, bar-code-style, as well as to store information about themselves and their relationship with their environment, over time.

The reason why RFID is often called next-generation bar code is that the technology is more accurate, scanners can read more objects with less directional contact, and smaller chips can contain a larger quantity of information.

Bruce Sterling, one of the pioneers of cyberpunk literature in the 1980s and an active sci-fi guru, neologized the term "spime" in 2004 to refer to any object that can define itself in terms of both space and time, i.e. using GPS to locate itself and RFID to trace its own history.

"Whatever a Web page can do, so can a pair of shoes," says rafi Haladjian, the visionary co-founder of Violet.

So, in this case, can a rabbit.

In 2005, Violet launched the best-selling Nabaztag, a screenless, WiFi-enabled bunny, born again with voice-recognition and RFID-awareness in 2007. Interfacing the node between virtual data and the sensory world, Nabaztag fetches information from the Internet, flashes lights on its nose and tummy, rotates its ears, sniffs RFID chips, speaks 36 languages and understands five.

Last but not least, all the Nabaztag rabbits are interconnected, so you can even send one an e-mail.

In a similar but less eccentric initiative to bring the wonder of the Web out of the PC, the California-based start-up Chumby Industries launched the soft leather-cased Chumby, an alarm-clock-inspired device equipped with a motion sensor and dominated by a touch screen, in February 2008.

Based on the concept of customizable, automated, streaming widgets, Chumby partners with media services and social networks, as well as allowing user-created applications.

"Toys for hackers or a real business opportunity?"

Taking the interconnection of things outside the home and into the urban environment, Pachube functions like a virtual switchboard using EEML (Extended Environments Markup Language) to link buildings to architecture software to installations to artists' laptops to weather sensors to Second Life and beyond, all in real time.

"The distinction between 'real' and 'virtual' is becoming as quaint as the 19th century distinction between 'mind' and 'body,'" says Usman Haque, Pachube's creative director. "We want to bring about a connectivity between the physical world, its objects and spaces, and the virtual world of Web sites and environments."

Still in beta-testing, Pachube currently connects some 150 input and output feeds, including a Geiger counter measuring radiation in Japan, a ship in the Pacific, air quality in Beijing, Tower Bridge in London, and the location of an iPhone as it moves around the world.

Such is the novelty of these tangible nodes that the 2008 Picnic conference, which took place in Amsterdam on September 28, subtitled its topic on the Internet of Things: "Toys for hackers or a real business opportunity?"

At least 27 companies (including Cisco, Ericsson and Sun Microsystems) who in September 2008 founded the IPSO Alliance to promote the use of Internet Protocol for Smart Objects, seem to think it's the latter.

The Alliance will perform interoperability tests, document the use of new IP-based technologies, conduct marketing activities and advocate how networks of objects of all types have the potential to be converged onto IP.

Meanwhile, everyday applications of RFID are hardly lacking.

Transport passes are the most common, as a quick and coinless way to turn the stiles: London's Oyster card lets holders whiz through the tube; Hong Kong's Octopus card can be used for admission on anything from the tram to the fast-food restaurant to the swimming pool and horse-racing track; Japan's Suica card has since been adapted for mobile phones, so that commuters can simply swipe their handsets.

RFID tagging has also been widely used for such commodities as passports, access control, luggage tracking, store inventory, pets -- and yes, even people.

Just as a precious piece of artwork might be RFID-tagged to track its progress through a traveling auction, a hospital patient with Alzheimer's disease might have a microchip embedded under his skin so that he can be located and identified in case he gets lost. This method has also been used to keep tabs on inmates and individuals under house arrest.

Of course, the controversial issue of privacy already looms heavily over the potential mass proliferation of RFID tags in consumer goods, let alone under human skin.

But with every power comes responsibility. Perhaps one way of winning over the skeptics is to empower them with the tools to embrace the technology on an individual, highly personalized level.

"He who connects an egg, connects a cow"

"The Internet of Things begins with small things," advances Violet's Haladjian, "things that are fun, simple, accessible, and that people want to have at home because they are just as fun as they are practical.

"Little by little, they get used to this kind of object, learn how to use it, discover their limits as well as new opportunities. I really don't think the Internet of Things could have started with the smart refrigerator."

Shortly after Tikitag launched the first do-it-yourself RFID kit (consisting of a plastic plug-and-play NFC reader and a pack of 10 RFID sticker tags for $49.95) in October 2008, Violet announced Mir:ror, its own RFID starter package, made of mnemnotechnically metaphoric elements.

While Nabaztag pulled the white rabbits out of the holes, Mir:ror absorbs tagged objects through the looking glass and into the ever-expanding Internet of Things. Violet's RFID stickers are called ztamps and are supplemented by Nano:ztag mini-rabbits, which function as discrete programmable objects that trigger the action when they hop over the magic disk.

Telling these RFID devices what to do is child's play through user-friendly interfaces on the makers' respective Web sites. However both Tikitag and Violet have opened their sources to invite developers to contribute their own applications to the candy store. Meanwhile, ideas are brewing in the forums.

Conversely, as a growing number of mobile phones are equipped with NFC readers, people just may get into the habit of scanning every smart object out there.

For example, online versions of print magazines on newsstands could be called up for browsing, the legend for an artwork in a museum could give background and context, a poster for a concert could link to online ticket sales, a tactical interface could give oral directions to a blind person, an entire city could be tagged for an animated guided tour.

"We are still living in a world where information is trapped in a few of our objects," says Haladjian. "We stare into our screens, which are like goldfish bowls full of information swimming around, but unable to escape.

"At Violet, we dream of a world where information would be a butterfly, flitting freely all over the place, and occasionally landing on any of the objects we touch to give them life and enrich them."

After all, one of the most fascinating pre-incarnations of the Internet of Things is Boredomresearch's RealSnailMail, in which e-mail messages interrupt their regularly scheduled path at the speed of fiber optics to be delivered across a 50-centimeter enclosure via RFID-equipped carrier snails.

Scientists have confirmed that the oldest human footprints ever found, the Devils Trails in Italy, are 345,000 years old.

A team at the University of Padova had first found the footprints in hardened volcanic ash atop Roccamonfina volcano in southern Italy in 2003.

At that time, it estimated that the markings were anywhere between 385,000 and 325,000 years old.

Now, a French team has confirmed the exact year of the footprints that belong to three early humans who were probably climbing down the side of the volcano, according to a report in the New Scientist.

In fact, the scientists, led by Stphane Scaillet, at the Laboratory of Climatic and Environmental Sciences used argon dating techniques to verify the prints age.

“Their more rigorous methods confirm that these are the oldest human footprints ever found”, said Paolo Mietto, who led the Italian team that first described the footprints to the world.

According to him, the new findings also confirm that the owners of the footprints were Homo heidelbergensis. The Italian team is now planning to excavate a second site, some three kilometres away and the members believe that the new excavations could help reveal a trail that was used by early humans.

Mietto said that based on their stride, the people responsible were walking, not running.

He said: "What’s more, the prints are in both directions ..... leading to the volcano and away from it".

Their owners were therefore not running away from volcanic eruption and the prints must have been left some time after the event. The findings have been published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters journal.

What Success is..............

At age 4, success is...not peeing in your pants.
At age 12, success is...having friends.
At age 16, success is...having a driver's license.
At age 20, success is...having sex.
At age 35, success is...having money.
At age 50, success is...having money.
At age 60, success is...having sex.
At age 70, success is...having a driver's license.
At age 75, success is...having friends.
At age 90, success is...not peeing in your pants.



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Israelis develop software to improve your looks


Life insurers seek aid to stabilize investments

Just Click and Listen!


Dog training pays big dividends

So much of dog training is about control.

We teach our dogs to control their urges to lunge, and instead walk on a loose leash. We encourage them to control their urge to talk, and keep barking at a minimum. And we introduce many cues that inform the dogs of exactly what we want them to do: Stand still, move away, come to us, etc.

It’s fun to train them, encouraging to see results and enlightening when we discover how brilliant our dogs really are when we learn to communicate with them effectively.
Click here to find out more!

Occasionally, we are even thrust into scenarios where training is put to the test, when real-life situations occur. I have had three such circumstances arise in as many weeks with Tait.

The first occurred when Tait and I were on a bike run. Tait is attached to a leash and trots beside me as I ride my bike through the neighborhood - a good way to burn energy and keep him in shape. Suddenly, the unmistakable sound of toenails on asphalt caused me to look back to discover a large dog chasing us, and closing in fast. I immediately stopped and dumped my bike as the dog rushed up and body-slammed Tait, grabbing at his cheek.

In the next instant, I pulled the dog off, and cued Tait to sit, which he did!

He remained calm and controlled, and walked politely beside me as I took the loose dog by the collar back to his home.

The second incident happened at a park where I routinely play with Tait. I give him cues and chuck a ball for him to retrieve as a reward each time he responds correctly, which he chases after with great speed and enthusiasm. One such throw took a bad bounce and went into the street, where cars were present. Although he was 30 to 40 yards away from me, I gave a loud "Come!" cue just as Tait hit the sidewalk, and I was relieved to see him spin around, ignoring the ball, and sprint right back to me.

He got a great tug reward for his spot-on response, and I reminded myself that situations such as that one are why I practice the recall nearly every day.

The final real-life test happened at home. My dogs are quite interested in another species that lives with us - the guinea pigs. Tait in particular loves the piggies, but not in a good way. They epitomize the ultimate toy; they move, are soft to chew on and squeak when you do so.

Obviously, the dogs are not allowed direct contact with them, but they never stop trying.

Having recently introduced a new youngster to the herd, I was cleaning out his condo when the little guy jumped out and headed down the hallway.

Tait lost no time in going after him, but took only two steps before I cued him to "WAIT THERE." I must admit that my voice was loud enough to be heard three blocks away, but I nearly panicked!

Thankfully, his training kicked in and Tait immediately slid to a stop. And while I trotted past him to collect my wayward piggy, I’m sure Tait wondered why I chose to exclude him from the "retrieve the squeaky toy" game. He had to suffice himself with a rawhide, immediately delivered to him from his proud and grateful owner.


U2, Coldplay, Killers help launch digital magazine

Some of the biggest names in music are contributing exclusive songs to RED(WIRE), a digital music magazine that launches on World AIDS Day (December 1).

U2, Coldplay, the Killers, the Dixie Chicks, John Legend, R.E.M. and Bob Dylan are on board for the initiative, which is an outgrowth of the Bono-reared activist organization called (RED). All proceeds from subscriptions will benefit HIV-infected people in Africa; will host a kickoff party December 1.

For $5, users will receive a new issue of RED(WIRE) every Wednesday, featuring an exclusive song from a major musician, a song from a performer who (RED) aims to showcase, a multimedia piece that could encompass video or photography and a look at how proceeds are benefiting Africans in need. The materials will be downloaded to a custom player and automatically loaded into iTunes.

Users can send two free issues to friends, and will be rewarded if they join RED(WIRE).

"Artists are already saying, 'I want to give you a track for those people who brought friends in,'" (RED)WIRE founder Don MacKinnon told "That's the biggest idea: using social networking to actually change the world in a unique way."

U2's track was recorded just last Wednesday, while the Killers, Elton John and the Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant teamed up for the Christmas song "Joseph, Better You Than Me," which MacKinnon describes as "like a power ballad." This is the third year in a row that the Killers have penned a holiday song and donated proceeds to (RED).

Meanwhile, John Legend's take on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" finds him eschewing piano for a stripped-down arrangement with guitar, bass and backing vocalists, according to MacKinnon.

Also on tap is the first new Dixie Chicks song since the group's Grammy sweep in 2007, "Lucky One," and Elvis Costello and the Police jamming on "Watching the Detectives" and "Walking on the Moon," taped during Costello's new Sundance Channel show, "Spectacle." Additional (RED)WIRE offerings will be announced in the coming weeks.

MacKinnon is particularly enthused about the creative directions open to (RED)WIRE, especially with such high-profile artist participation.

"I had a meeting with Jay-Z, and he wants to talk about artists to be featured in that spotlight slot," he said. "Big artists may curate an issue. The whole goal was to create a creative platform. When somebody says, 'I do all this photography and I want to put it in as an extra,' that's when I go, this is going to be really cool."


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bra for boys...a bestselling item??? You bet!

A bra for men becomes the hottest selling men's underwear item on a Japanese online shopping site.

The move has provoked heated online discussion in Japan with thousands debating the merits of male use of the item of underwear.


Small U.S. stores adopt personal touch to survive

Many U.S. retailers, large and small, have good reason to envy Sue Opeka -- sales at her store have been up 15 percent for the past four months and she's up 5 percent for the year so far.

Opeka's store, The Present Moment, sells "affirmational and motivational" gifts such as placards lauding family and friends. The shop sits on the picturesque main street of the wealthy northern Chicago suburb Libertyville.

Opeka opened her store after a corporate career that included a long stint at auto parts maker Tenneco Inc. She attributes part of her success while retailers around the country suffer from a slowing economy to being "non-cyclical."

"When times are good people seek affirmation, when they are bad they seek motivation," she said.

Staring into the face of a possible recession as the holiday shopping season approaches, many small U.S. stores and boutiques catering to wealthier consumers are adjusting strategies and inventories.

Some are adding a personal touch to attract clients who are more cautious with their money and lure them away from the major U.S. retail chains. Those who have succeeded are managing to defy a sharp drop in luxury sales hitting profits at stores like Saks Inc and Nordstrom.

When Opeka launched a customer appreciation program last year, she hoped for 200 responses in the first three months. Instead, nearly 1,000 people answered.

She also holds a series of workshops in the back of her store, which is dubbed "The Gathering Place." The fall schedule has included popular workshops entitled "Laughter Yoga" and "Cultivating Self Love."

"Our goal has always been to go beyond retail and make this a place where women can feel good about themselves," she said over a mug of green tea, as soothing music filled her store.

Libertyville's residents have included actor Marlon Brando. The grave of King Peter II of Yugoslavia, the only European monarch buried on U.S. soil, is located here. Store owners in other fashionable parts of Chicago, home to the newly wealthy as well as old-oney families, have similar stories to Opeka.

"Not everyone wants to buy a $500 tablecloth in this environment, but they are comfortable buying two pairs of $60 earrings," said Danah Fisher, owner of Botanica, a store in the upscale Chicago suburb of Oak Park. "It's not that people are not spending, they're just spending on different things."

Sales are up at Fisher's botanically-themed gift store that stocks goods ranging from a few dollars to $500. She has included more mid-range items and avoided new lines.

"I'm not adding anything new. Why take a risk?" she said.

Fisher has also hosted events for local charities in Oak Park, which is very close to the city and where many wealthy young Chicagoans move to raise families.


"To get through this season as an independent retailer, you have to adapt," said Doug Fleener, owner of Massachusetts-based retail consulting firm Dynamic Experiences Group LLC.

A contracting U.S. economy and carnage wrought on Wall Street by the financial crisis have hobbled consumer spending -- 70 percent of the world's largest economy -- and bankrupted retailers like electronics seller Circuit City Stores Inc.

The outlook for the holidays is grim.

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, recession fears drove retail sales down a record 2.8 percent in October. Research firm TNS Retail Forward predicts U.S. holiday sales growth this year of 1.5 percent, the weakest since 1991.

On the high-end, a poll from American Express Publishing/Harrison Group in October forecast a 6 percent drop in total gift spending by people earning more than $100,000.

"The current economic environment and the credit crunch have and will continue to have a serious impact on consumer expenditures," said Will Ander, a senior partner at McMillanDoolittle, a Chicago-based retail consultant.

Cynthia Baer has been co-owner of Barrington Home Shoppe for 16 years and sells gifts from $2.50 up to $2,000 in the western Chicago suburb of Barrington, a wealthy town that is home to a mixture of old money and the nouveau riche.

She has decided to go light on inventory for this holiday season so as not to be stuck with goods in January.

"If it's not on the floor, it's not in the store," Baer said. "If we run out, we run out."

She said she has also focused on making her store a place where customers can come for a free cup of coffee, a cookie and a break from all the bad news on television and in the papers.

"A lot of people seem to be standing back and wondering what the financial crisis is going to mean for them," Baer said.

"The terrorist attacks of 9/11 (2001) were an assault on our country and temporarily paralyzed people," she said. "This (financial crisis) has been an assault on people's IRAs and stock portfolios."

Other independent retailers are bracing for tough times ahead. Thomas George is co-owner of E Street Denim, which has three stores selling designer jeans at up to $360 a pair.

Speaking at his first store in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, a wealthy town with a large Jewish community and home to many of Chicago's professional athletes, George said he has just shelved plans to open a fourth store.

Since opening E Street in 1991 his policy has been to finance everything himself and always avoid debt.

"Times were good a few years ago, but those times are gone," he said. "Consumers will adjust accordingly. Instead of six pairs of jeans they'll maybe get three pairs and instead of four pair of shoes, they may buy two."

To survive, he will maintain a long-standing regimen: work hard seven days a week, from six o'clock in the morning.

"Are we going to face challenges? Absolutely," George said. "Are we going to survive? I hope so."