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Thousands of Blackbirds Fall From Sky Dead 577

Dan East writes "In a fashion worthy of a King or Hitchcock novel, blackbirds began to fall from the sky dead in Arkansas yesterday. Somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 birds rained down on the small town of Beeb, Arkansas, with no visible trauma. Officials are making wild guesses as to what happened — lightning strike, high-altitude hail, or perhaps trauma from the sound of New Year's fireworks killed them."

Submission + - Moodle 1.9 for Second Language Teaching

witthaus writes: Jeff Stanford's 'Moodle 1.9 for Second Language Teaching' (available at is described in the preface as ‘a recipe book’ for creating communicative language teaching activities in Moodle. True to its description, the book contains over 500 pages of detailed, descriptive information on how to squeeze every last drop out of Moodle for language teaching purposes.

In the first two chapters, the book gives an introduction to Moodle and advice on how to get started with the platform. It then goes on to consider vocabulary, speaking, grammar, reading, writing and listening activities in chapters three to eight. Chapter nine looks at assessment, giving many practical tips on the best and most efficient ways to exploit Moodle’s powerful capacity to generate statistics. Chapter 10 gives suggestions on some extended activities you could use Moodle for (requiring more set-up time as well as more of students’ time, but with correspondingly greater pay-off in terms of learning). The final chapter deals with formatting and enhancing the visual aspects of Moodle, and enabling stress-free navigation through the platform for your students.

Activity descriptions are framed in terms of language teaching goals rather than technical functionality, making it an easy read for language teachers who are new to online platforms. Detailed, step-by-step instructions are given, along with helpful screenshots, and a star system to differentiate the easier from the more technically advanced activities. A clear distinction is made between what the language teacher could reasonably be expected to do with Moodle and the issues that should be referred to a more experienced Moodle administrator. The book goes beyond basic Moodle features and functions, introducing the reader to many useful add-ons (such as the wonderfully named Nanogong, for incorporating audio files), and other Web tools such as Audacity for creating and editing podcasts, and Hot Potatoes for making quizzes.

The recipes are indeed delicious, ranging from simple rustic dishes – requiring little or no patience for the technical side of things; just a deep love of the classical ingredients needed for communicative language teaching, such as personalisation and a focus on meaningful communication – to sophisticated gourmet platters that probably are best avoided by IT novices. There is even a section (in chapter 10 – my favourite) on creating a whole dinner menu by stringing together a sequence of activities in various ways.

My only lament about the book is that I would like to have seen some discussion on the difference between using Moodle to supplement your face-to-face teaching, as opposed to using it for wholly online courses. The most obvious difference is that students probably already know one another in a face-to-face environment, whereas in a purely online environment they come in ‘cold’, and this can have a significant impact on their confidence and their engagement levels. Some tips and guidelines on how to draw remote learners in, and then keep them engaged, would be really helpful, as would tips on how to find the balance between face-to-face interaction and online work for classroom-based students. But perhaps here I am talking about how to host the dinner party, which goes beyond the scope of a recipe book.

All things considered, Moodle 1.9 for Language Teaching will undoubtedly increase the language teacher’s ability to cook up interesting and enjoyable activities for language students. Bon appétit!

Disclosure: The reviewer is a colleague of Jeff Stanford’s at the University of Leicester, where they both tutor on the online MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL.

The book can be purchased from

Brief bio of reviewer: Gabi Witthaus has over 20 years’ experience in EFL teaching and curriculum development. She is currently based at the University of Leicester, where she is involved in e-learning research and tutoring on the MA in TESOL and Applied Linguistics. ( This review was written in her personal capacity.

Submission + - Security firm calls for Windows AV ballot ( 1

Barence writes: PandaLabs has called for a Windows security software ballot, mirroring the way alternative browsers are now offered to Windows users. Microsoft recently decided to offer its free antivirus software, Microsoft Security Essentials, via Windows Update — angering rival security firms such as Panda and Trend Micro. In an exclusive interview with PC Pro, PandaLab's technical director Luis Corrons has now called for Windows users to be given a choice of security software. "There should be a list of a number of security software packages out there — including Microsoft, of course — and then let the user make the choice," said PandaLabs' Luis Corrons.
Microsoft was forced to implement the browser ballot after rival Opera complained to the European Union about the bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows. Corrons said Panda is considering a similar complaint in regards to Microsoft Security Essentials.


Pope Says Technology Causes Confusion Between Reality and Fiction 779

Pope Benedict XVI has warned that people are in danger of being unable to discern reality from fiction because of new technologies, and not old books. "New technologies and the progress they bring can make it impossible to distinguish truth from illusion and can lead to confusion between reality and virtual reality. The image can also become independent from reality, it can give birth to a virtual world, with various consequences -- above all the risk of indifference towards real life," he said.

Possible Treatment For Ebola 157

RedEaredSlider writes "Researchers at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases have found a class of drugs that could provide treatment for Ebola and Marburg hemorrhagic fever. The new drugs are called 'antisense' compounds, and they allow the immune system to attack the viruses before they can do enough damage to kill the patient. Travis Warren, research scientist at USAMRIID, said while the work is still preliminary -— the drugs have been tested only on primates — the results are so far promising. In the case of Ebola, five of eight monkeys infected with the virus lived, and with Marburg, all survived. The drugs were developed as part of a program to deal with possible bioterrorist threats, in partnership with AVI Biopharma."

George Washington Racks Up 220 Years of Late Fees At Library Screenshot-sm 146

Everyone knows that George Washington couldn't tell a lie. What you probably didn't know is that he couldn't return a library book on time. From the article: "New York City's oldest library says one of its ledgers shows that the president has racked up 220 years' worth of late fees on two books he borrowed, but never returned. One of the books was the 'Law of Nations,' which deals with international relations. The other was a volume of debates from Britain's House of Commons. Both books were due on Nov. 2, 1789."

Submission + - Google trying to scare us out of optin

pcause writes: This article in Ars Technica discussed a proposal by a Virginia Congressman to give you back control of your privacy and make use of your personal and behavioral information opt-in. This scares the pants off of Google and they are trying to scare us with stories of how horrible the Internet will be if we have privacy. It will be terrible for Google's business, as they make more money the more they abuse your privacy, and they make a LOT of money!

Submission + - Privacy Fail: How Facebook steals phone numbers (

An anonymous reader writes: In early January, Facebook updated their iPhone app to include a Contact Sync feature. In a nutshell, “Facebook Contact Sync” allows you to synchronize your friends’ latest Facebook profile pictures with the matching contact entry in your mobile phone’s address book. Due to “Terms of Service Issues” however, Facebook does not sync your friends email addresses or phone numbers (listed on their Facebook profile) TO your phone.

Ironically, what Facebook WILL DO, with neither your knowledge or consent, is import ALL the names and phone numbers FROM your phone’s address book and upload them to your Facebook Phonebook app on, thus storing your private contact numbers on Facebook’s servers. Once your phone is synced , Facebook will attempt to match the newly uploaded phone numbers to users that have listed the same phone number on their Facebook profile, wether you are friends with them or not. If Facebook cannot make a match, it will create a new contact entry in your Facebook Phonebook using the contact details imported from your phone, and add a link to invite them to join Facebook. And guess what? There is no way to delete the names and numbers Facebook imports from your phone’s address book.


Wake Forest Researchers Swap Skin Grafts For Cell Spraying 123

TigerWolf2 writes with this excerpt from a Reuters story carried by Yahoo: "Inspired by a standard office inkjet printer, US researchers have rigged up a device that can spray skin cells directly onto burn victims, quickly protecting and healing their wounds as an alternative to skin grafts. ... Tests on mice showed the spray system, called bioprinting, could heal wounds quickly and safely, the researchers reported at the Translational Regenerative Medicine Forum."

Creating Electric Power From Light Using Gold Nanoparticles 77

cyberfringe writes "Professor of Materials Science Dawn Bonnell and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered a way to turn optical radiation into electrical current that could lead to self-powering molecular circuits and efficient data storage. They create surface plasmons that ride the surface of gold nanoparticles on a glass substrate. Surface plasmons were found to increase the efficiency of current production by a factor of four to 20, and with many independent parameters to optimize, enhancement factors could reach into the thousands. 'If the efficiency of the system could be scaled up without any additional, unforeseen limitations, we could conceivably manufacture a 1A, 1V sample the diameter of a human hair and an inch long,' Prof. Bonnell explained. The academic paper was published in the current issue of ACS Nano. (Abstract available for free.) The significance? This may allow the creation of nano-sized circuits that can power themselves through sunlight (or another directed light source). Delivery of power to nanodevices is one of the big challenges in the field."

Submission + - Chessboxing Storming the Athletic World

samzenpus writes: Have you been craving an athletic competition that combines the raw physical energy of a chess match and the cognitive discipline of boxing? Crave no more. Chessboxing is here. No really, Chessboxing. As the name suggests, Chessboxing combines rounds of chess alternating with rounds of boxing. If there is no winner after 11 rounds, the match is awarded to the fighter with the most points in the boxing ring. Dutch artist, Iepe Rubingh, created chessboxing in 2003. He says, "I got the idea from a Serbian comic. It looked great. I wanted to see if it would work."

Submission + - Apple vs. Microsoft: Top 20 Stolen OS Ideas ( 2

snydeq writes: "InfoWorld's John Rizzo chronicles the 20 most significant ideas and features Microsoft and Apple have stolen from each other in the lead up to Windows 7 and Mac OS X Snow Leopard. 'Some features were stolen so long ago that they've become part of the computing landscape, and it's difficult to remember who invented what.' Windows 7's Task Bar and Aero Peek come to mind as clear appropriations of Mac OS X's Dock and Exposé. Apple's cloning of the Windows address bar in 2007's Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard as the path bar is another obvious 'inspiration.' But the borrowing goes deeper, Rizzo writes, providing a screenshot tour of Microsoft's biggest grabs from Mac OS X and Apple's most significant appropriations of Windows OS ideas and functionality."

Submission + - Nissan Uses Robot Team To Make More Nimble Cars (

itwbennett writes: At Ceatec in Japan this week, Nissan is demonstrating a team of small robots — called EPORO — that can follow each other, coordinate their speeds and even shift lanes to avoid obstacles. 'In these robots we put laser range finders to see the outside and also telecommunication [technology],' said Kazuhiro Doi, general manager of the Technology Communication Department at Nissan, during a demonstration on Tuesday. 'In the future we want to use this for vehicle to vehicle communication, but I do have to say that it takes time,' Doi said. He said that it could take up to 30 years before the full-scale technology is in use.

Submission + - SPAM: Huge magnet 100,000X stronger than Earth's pull 3

coondoggie writes: So you want to build a magnet 100,000-times stronger than the pull of the Earth's magnetic field, what do you need? Well, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory this week spent $33.6 million for 8,270 km of niobium tin strand and 4,795 km of copper strand (or about 7 miles total) to help build such a magnet.

The materials, being supplied by Luvata Waterbury and Oxford Superconducting Technology are being used to build what's known as the Toroidal Field Magnets for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) being built in at Cadarache, France. Each Toroidal Field coil will weigh 360 tons.

[spam URL stripped]

Link to Original Source

Submission + - Scientists spot oldest ever object in universe

Raffaello writes: CNN reports: Edo Berger got an alert early last Thursday morning when a satellite detected a 10-second blast of energy known as a gamma ray burst coming from outer space. Telescopes around the world swiveled to focus on the explosion, soon picking up infrared radiation, which travels more slowly than gamma rays. Berger waited for the visible light which he expected to come next. It never arrived. "We were kind of blown away. We immediately knew what that meant," Berger said. What it meant was that he was looking at the oldest thing ever spotted — an enormous star exploding 13 billion years ago.

"Help Mr. Wizard!" -- Tennessee Tuxedo