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."
OCatenac writes "The Atlantic has an interesting story on the collateral damage of exposing diplomatic communications in Zimbabwe. From the article: 'The reaction in Zimbabwe was swift. Zimbabwe's Mugabe-appointed attorney general announced he was investigating the Prime Minister on treason charges based exclusively on the contents of the leaked cable. While it's unlikely Tsvangirai could be convicted on the contents of the cable alone, the political damage has already been done. The cable provides Mugabe the opportunity to portray Tsvangirai as an agent of foreign governments working against the people of Zimbabwe. Furthermore, it could provide Mugabe with the pretense to abandon the coalition government that allowed Tsvangirai to become prime minister in 2009.' Undoubtedly there are lots of things that our governments hide from us which should not be hidden but it's a shame that no one from Wikileaks could be troubled to consider the potential repercussions of this particular exposure."
flintmecha writes "A group of British schoolchildren may be the youngest scientists ever to have their work published in a peer-reviewed journal. In a new paper in Biology Letters, children from Blackawton Primary School report that buff-tailed bumblebees can learn to recognize nourishing flowers based on colors and patterns. The paper itself is well worth reading. It's written entirely in the kids' voices, complete with sound effects (part of the Methods section is subtitled, ''the puzzle'duh duh duuuhhh') and figures drawn by hand in colored pencil."
Harperdog sends in a Miller-McCune story about Aaron Clauset, a researcher whose studies on the statistics and patterns that arise from large numbers of terrorist attacks could help governments better prepare for such conflicts and reduce uncertainty about their frequency and magnitude. Quoting: "After mapping tens of thousands of global terrorism incidents, he and his collaborators have discovered that terrorism can be described by what mathematicians call a power law. ... Using this power law relationship — called 'scale invariance' — the risk of a large attack can be estimated by studying the frequency of small attacks. It’s a calculation that turns the usual thinking about terrorism on its head. 'The conventional viewpoint has been there is "little terrorism" and "big terrorism," and little terrorism doesn't tell you anything about big terrorism,' Clauset explains. 'The power law says that's not true.' Massive acts of violence, like 9/11 or the devastating 1995 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, obey the same statistical rules as a small-scale IED attack that kills no one, Clauset's work suggests. 'The power law form gives you a very simple extrapolation rule for statistically connecting the two,' he says."
healeyb writes "In a surprise move, US District Judge Henry E. Hudson issued a ruling today that the universal healthcare law that was pushed through by the Obama administration is unconstitutional. Specifically, he invalidated the section of the law that requires all citizens to purchase healthcare insurance, arguing that it does not fall under the purview of Commerce Clause of the Constitution, as has been asserted by the government. The ruling represents the first major setback for President Barack Obama on an issue that will likely end up at the Supreme Court. Two other courts have shot down challenges to the law."
Zothecula writes "The first complete microwave image of the Moon taken by Chinese lunar satellite Chang'E-1 has been revealed. Chang'E-1 is China's first scientific mission to explore planetary bodies beyond Earth and the on-board Lunar Microwave Radiometer has made it possible for the first time to globally map the Moon in microwave frequencies. Radar observations of the Moon are unable to provide thermal information, and microwave observations taken from Earth cannot reach the far side of the moon. So Chang'E-1's (CE-1) orbit was conducted at an altitude of 200km (124 miles) and allowed it to observe every location of the moon with a nadir view and at high spatial resolution."
MojoKid writes "NVIDIA has announced an entire line-up of Fermi-based GeForce GT and GTX 400M mobile GPUs, seven in total, and revealed a number of notebook design wins from major OEMs. Like their desktop-targeted counterparts, the mobile GeForce GT and GTX 400M series GPUs make use of technology from NVIDIA's desktop architecture, which debuted in the GF100 GPU at the heart of the company's flagship GeForce GTX 480. GeForce GT and GTX 400M series GPUs are DirectX 11 compatible and support all of NVIDIA's 'Graphics Plus' features, including PhysX, 3D Vision, CUDA, Verde drivers, 3DTV Play and Optimus dynamic switching technology. The GeForce GTX 470M and GTX 460M are the most powerful of the group and target enthusiasts and gamers, while the GeForce GT 445M, GT 435M, GT 425M, GT 420M and GT 415M target performance-conscious, but more mainstream consumers."
beschra writes "BBC writes of 'terra-forming' Ascension Island, one of the islands Charles Darwin visited. He and a friend encouraged the Royal Navy to import boatloads of trees and plants in an attempt to capture the little bit of water that fell on the island. They were quite successful. The island even has a cloud forest now. From the article: '[British ecologist] Wilkinson thinks that the principles that emerge from that experiment could be used to transform future colonies on Mars. In other words, rather than trying to improve an environment by force, the best approach might be to work with life to help it "find its own way."'"
jason-za writes with this quote from a Google announcement: "People tell us all that time that they're getting more and more mail and often feel overwhelmed by it all. We know what you mean — here at Google we run on email. Our inboxes are slammed with hundreds, sometimes thousands of messages a day — mail from colleagues, from lists, about appointments and automated mail that's often not important. It's time-consuming to figure out what needs to be read and what needs a reply. Today, we're happy to introduce Priority Inbox (in beta) — an experimental new way of taking on information overload in Gmail."
An anonymous reader writes "South Korean MMO game publisher NCsoft is finding itself facing another lawsuit, this time for making games that are 'too addictive.' US Lineage II player Craig Smallwood is suing the publisher for $3 million because he found himself playing Lineage II for 20,000 hours over a period of 5 years. At times, his average play session would persist for over 11 hours, crippling his life and ability to function. A federal judge is allowing the court case to go forward (PDF), stating that the plaintiff has a claim for negligence and gross negligence against the publisher."
bonch writes "Independent game Machinarium, released without DRM by developer Amanita Design, has only been paid for by 5-10% of its users according to developer Jakub Dvorsky. To drive legitimate sales, they are now offering a 'Pirate Amnesty' sale until August 12, bundling both the cross-platform game and its soundtrack for $5. Ron Carmel, designer of DRM-free puzzle game World of Goo, stated that his game also had about an 80-90% piracy rate, claiming that the percentage of those pirating first and purchasing later was 'very small.' He said, 'We're getting good sales through WiiWare, Steam, and our website. Not going bankrupt just yet!'"
AndrewGOO9 writes "Pete Mander, a special effects artist from Ontario, Canada seems like he might have either had way too much time on his hands or just really enjoys Halo. Either way, this is one of those costumes that makes all of the cosplayers at a con feel like their best efforts just weren't quite up to par."
eldavojohn writes "Reports are coming in that JAXA's Hayabusa probe may have come up empty-handed in its bid to collect asteroid matter. There may be gas in the probe but no dust samples as many hoped. Murphy's Law seemed to ride with Hayabusa. 'After landing in 2005 on the Itokawa asteroid, which is about one-third mile long and shaped like a potato, the probe's sample-capture mechanism went awry. To the public's dismay, JAXA officials said they were not sure whether any samples had been collected. Next, the probe's robotic rover, meant to take photos and temperature readings on the asteroid, inexplicably floated off into space and was never heard from again. Worse yet, after Hayabusa took off from the asteroid, all four of NEC's ion engines shut down. So did all 12 of the chemical-fueled rocket engines made by another space industry giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The probe was left drifting in space. Then, for more than seven weeks, for reasons still not clear, there were no communication signals from the probe. Public dismay quickly turned to derision and, eventually, indifference.' The probe did return, however, and JAXA hoped to salvage something, but now it appears that the only thing it accomplished was one long and error-prone journey."
The job market may look bad here, but if you're in China, and you happen to be white, all you need is a suit and tie. An increasing number of Chinese companies are willing to pay any price to have a few fair-skinned faux employees walking around. From the article: "'Face, we say in China, is more important than life itself,' said Zhang Haihua, author of Think Like Chinese. 'Because Western countries are so developed, people think they are more well off, so people think that if a company can hire foreigners, it must have a lot of money and have very important connections overseas. So when they really want to impress someone, they may roll out a foreigner.' Or rent one."