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Input Devices

Project Natal Release Details Emerge 173

scruffybr writes "Today the first information about the pricing and launch of Microsoft’s Project Natal has emerged. The pricing for the hardware will be much much lower than many had anticipated, coming in at around £50 when sold separately from the console. The idea being that it’s low enough that people will purchase on impulse."
Transportation

Computer Failure Causes Gridlock In MD County 483

Uncle Rummy writes "A central traffic control computer in Montgomery County, Maryland failed early Wednesday morning, leading to widespread gridlock across the entire county. The computer, which dates to the 1970s, is the single point of unified control for all traffic signals in the county, which comprises a number of major Washington DC-area suburban communities. When the system failed, it caused all signals to default to stand-alone operation, rather than the highly-tuned synchronization that usually serves to facilitate traffic flow during rush hours. The resulting chaos is a yet another stark reminder of how much modern civilization relies on behind-the-scenes automation to deliver and control basic services and infrastructure. The system remains down Thursday, with no ETA in sight."
The Military

Iraq Swears By Dowsing Rod Bomb Detector 652

jggimi writes "According to the New York Times, more than fifteen hundred remote sensing devices have been sold to Iraq's Ministry of the Interior, at prices ranging from $16,500 to $60,000 each. The devices are used for bomb and weapon detection at checkpoints, and have no battery or other power source. Sounds great, but according to a retired United States Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, they work on the same principle as a Ouija board — the power of suggestion. He described the wand as nothing more than an explosives divining rod. Even though the device has been debunked by the US Military, the US Department of Justice, and even Sandia National Laboratories, the Iraqis are thrilled with the devices. 'Whether it's magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,' said Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the Ministry of the Interior's General Directorate for Combating Explosives."
Space

Possible Dark Matter Signs At the Core 234

Scientific American has a piece on speculation that dark matter may be behind diffuse radiation in the galactic center. Beginning in 2003, researchers led by Douglas Finkbeiner noticed a curious excess of microwave radiation in the WMAP data, after all known sources of such radiation were accounted for. Data from NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope resulted in a similar anomaly in gamma rays. "A paper posted to the physics preprint Web site arXiv.org on October 26 and submitted to the Astrophysical Journal points to a possible signature of dark matter in the Milky Way, although the study's authors are careful to keep their observations empirical and table such speculation... In the new paper [the researchers] describe the Fermi gamma-ray haze and make the claim that it confirms the synchrotron origin of the WMAP microwave haze. And as with the microwave haze, the authors argue that the electrons responsible for the gamma-ray haze appear to originate from an unknown astrophysical process. ... 'We are absolutely in the process of exploring the Fermi haze in the context of dark matter physics,' [one of them] says."
Microsoft

Microsoft Opening Outlook's PST Format 319

protosage writes to tell us that Microsoft Interoperability is working towards opening up Outlook's .pst format under their Open Specification Promise. This should "allow anyone to implement the .pst file format on any platform and in any tool, without concerns about patents, and without the need to contact Microsoft in any way." "In order to facilitate interoperability and enable customers and vendors to access the data in .pst files on a variety of platforms, we will be releasing documentation for the .pst file format. This will allow developers to read, create, and interoperate with the data in .pst files in server and client scenarios using the programming language and platform of their choice. The technical documentation will detail how the data is stored, along with guidance for accessing that data from other software applications. It also will highlight the structure of the .pst file, provide details like how to navigate the folder hierarchy, and explain how to access the individual data objects and properties."
Media

Disney Close To Unveiling New "DVD Killer" 498

Uncle Rummy writes "The Wall Street Journal reports that Disney is close to releasing a new system that will sell permanent, multi-device access to digital media. The system, dubbed Keychest, is being positioned as an answer to consumer concerns about purchasing digital media that are locked to a small number of devices, and thus as a way to finally shift media sales from an ownership model to an access model. They claim that such a service would reduce the risk of losing access to content as a result of a single vendor going out of business, as purchased content would remain available from other vendors. However, they do not seem to have addressed the question of what happens to customers' access to purchased content if the Keychest service itself is discontinued."

Comment Re:hmmm (Score 1) 461

There is a lecture series that was filmed in the 80s/90s (one of the questions asked was "do you know how to use a computer?") which featured Richard Dawkins explaining the process of evolution. If it helps you to pretend that it's someone else, do that, because it is definately worth watching on youtube, he even addresses the Bombardier beetle "problem".

The Evolution of Sexual Reproduction is another complex subject, but you can read about it at the link above. I beleive that the advantage of sexual reproduction was that when you swap genes, you can adapt faster (more possiblity for a bad transfer, more combinations of genes etc). The first sexual reproducers were probably hermaphrodites like flowers, fertilising each other with the wind (before insects). And that eventually developed into male and female genders. The other things that you mention are all explainable in a plausible way (see argument from personal incredulity).

Comment Re:hmmm (Score 5, Informative) 461

This is not entirely true, E. Coli is known to be able to metabolise glucose. The bacteria were "grown" in a solution that included glucose as it's main component. There were also many populations of the bacteria that were being evolved seperately (they NEVER mixed). Suddenly, in one population, a bacteria emerged that could metabolise citrate. This gave that bacteria a massive advantage, because it could now consume two types of food and it had no competition for the citrate (unlike glucose, which all the other bacteria could consume as well).
This also allowed the total population in that group to explode (there's now more food in total, glucose + citrate).

Another cool thing is that this smashes the "Irreducible Complexity" argument. The ability to metabolise citrate is developed by two separate mutations, which, on their own achieve nothing. Some of the populations developed the first mutation and some developed the second one, but none of them had previously developed both. This shows that the "preliminary" mutations were not harmful to the bacteria, so they just "hung around" until one of them was lucky enough to get the second mutation too.

Anyway, look up Lenski's work, I'm sure his papers (and those of his students/colleagues) are better at explaining it all than me...

Comment Re:hmmm (Score 1) 461

an external population with which to mediate the process.

Mediate how exactly? They still can't contribute to the "gene pool" since there is no pool. Asexual reproduction involves no transferral of genes within a generation, only from parent to child.

would the group go through a smaller or greater number of mutations?

On average, for the same number of generations, they would go through the same number of mutations. (This is of course disregarding things that would directly damage DNA ("free radicals")). The only effect that having them "inbred" (you really need to see this), in a lab is that the researchers can monitor and control the whole process.

Comment Re:Not for desktop pc's, but (Score 1) 344

The reason Starcraft currently sucks with a track pad is because you're using a single-touch interface, and even if you aren't, Starcraft is limited to only recognise one point of mouse input. If the "pinch" (for zoom), "drag" (for pan and rotate) and other (eg, tilt camera, see this TED video (you can skip to the "flying across a map" section)) gestures were available, as well as the larger input surface as shown in the video, I think that this input would be easier than using a mouse!

As is also shown in the video, you still have a keyboard (look near the end), so shortcuts are still available. I wouldn't mind betting that most of those 300+ actions are performed via shortcut keys.
The Courts

Japanese Ruling Against Winny Dev Overturned On Appeal 82

Joren writes "In Japan, in a case that has been five years running, the Osaka High Court on Thursday overturned a lower court ruling that had convicted and fined the developer of controversial file-sharing software Winny of assisting violations of the Copyright Law. Originally charged in 2004, Isamu Kaneko, 39, a former research assistant at the University of Tokyo, was declared not guilty, and will not be required to pay a 1.5 million yen fine levied by a December 2006 Kyoto District Court ruling. 'Merely being aware of the possibility that the software could be abused does not constitute a crime of aiding violations of the law, and the court cannot accept that the defendant supplied the software solely to be used for copyright violations,' presiding judge Masazo Ogura said. Furthermore, in siding with the defense, the appeal ruling stated that 'Anonymity is not something to be looked on as illegal, and it is not something that applies specifically to copyright violations. The technical value of the software is neutral.'"

Comment Re:Missing an important benefit (Score 1) 105

There is probably a reason that plants (or more specifically, their ancestor) gave up asexual reproduction a long time ago. From memory, the currently accepted reason was that it allowed for more variety in the gene pool and therefore could allow for more agile adaptation to changing environmental factors that are impacting an organism's survival.

For plants that we're trying to domesticate (see: Artificial Selection), faster evolution is probably better.
Space

Tourists To ISS Two At a Time Starting In 2012 91

Matt_dk writes "The US firm Space Adventures said on Friday it will be able to send two space tourists into orbit at once from 2012 onwards, on Soyuz spacecraft. 'We have been working on this project for a number of years,' said Sergey Kostenko, the head of the company's office in Russia. Each Soyuz will carry two tourists and a professional astronaut. One of the tourists will have to pass a year-and-a-half training course as a flight engineer. Space Adventures has been authorized by the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos to select and contract candidates for space tourist trips." Meanwhile, the AP has a look back at the delays and disappointments in the commercial spaceflight industry since Burt Rutan captured the Ansari X Prize 5 years ago — no space company has yet announced a date for commercial availability.

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