Daily Archives: March 13, 2008

Robot Trouble in Space

Spacewalk on Despite Robot Trouble … NASA pressed ahead with the first spacewalk of shuttle Endeavour’s space station mission Thursday night despite a problem getting power to a giant robot that needs to be assembled by astronauts. The trouble cropped up earlier in the day and had engineers scrambling for a solution. “

You can bet they’re scrambling if they are being troubled by a Giant Robot!

LeRoy Cain, chairman of the mission management team, said Thursday night’s spacewalk would go off as planned and stressed that the power loss would not affect astronauts’ work to attach the robot’s hands to its 11-foot arms.It’s too soon to know whether the second spacewalk, also dedicated to robot assembly, will be impacted if the problem persists, Cain said. Power is needed to heat the joints, limbs and all the electronics of the Canadian robot, Dextre, which could be damaged if left cold for days. It’s also needed to check out Dextre and get it moving.”We don’t have our hair on fire and need to do something in the next couple of hours, but we’re working it,” Cain said at a late-afternoon news conference.NASA’s space station program manager, Mike Suffredini, said he was confident the problem was understood and could be resolved fairly quickly.


Happy Birthday Vanguard I Space Probe!


Vanguard I celebrates 50 years in space from PhysOrg.com
The Vanguard I satellite celebrates its 50th birthday this year. Its launch on March 17, 1958 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, culminated the efforts of America’s first official space satellite program begun in September 1955. The first solar-powered satellite, Vanguard I has the distinction of being the oldest artificial satellite orbiting the earth. Its predecessors, Sputniks I and II and Explorer I, have since fallen out of orbit.[]

Info, Review of Latest Firefox 3 Beta


Firefox 3 is in testing, with the latest build, beta 4, released Monday. Mozilla is aiming for a final release of its flagship product before the end of the first quarter of 2008. Let’s take a look at the changes coming down the pike.You can grab a copy of the latest Firefox 3 beta from mozilla.com. Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X Universal Binaries are provided in more than 40 languages. The Linux version is a bzip2-compressed tar archive. You can unpack into any location on your system.

Read the rest here.

Birds Saved from Volcano


Ten Short-tailed Albatross Phoebastria albatrus chicks have been moved by helicopter, from their current stronghold on Torishima Island to the site of a former colony 350 km to the South-east.The potential for future volcanic events on Torishima is among the most serious threats to this Vulnerable species. Currently, 80-85% of the world population breeds on a highly erodible slope on the outwash plain from the caldera of an active volcano. Monsoons send torrents of ash-laden water down this slope across the colony site. A volcanic eruption could also send lava, ash or poisonous gases through the colony.The translocation site, Mukojima, part of Japan’s Bonin Islands (and administratively part of the Metropolis of Tokyo), is non-volcanic. Short-tailed Albatross bred here at least until the 1920s.”Establishing viable breeding colonies in other safer locations is paramount to ensuring the survival and recovery of the Short-tailed Albatross”, said Judy Jacobs of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which has worked on the translocation of the albatross chicks with staff from the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, and other Japanese and US organisations which together form the Short-tailed Albatross Recovery Team (START).

Read the rest here

Extinct Petrel Not!


A bird that was known only from two records from the 1920s has been discovered in the Pacific after a gap of 79 years. Sightings of the Critically Endangered Beck’s Petrel Pseudobulweria becki – published by the British Ornithologists’ Club – have finally proven the species is still in existence, and delighted conservationists.A voyage into the Bismarck Archipelago, north-east of Papua New Guinea, successfully managed to photograph more than 30 of these elusive seabirds. This included sightings of fledged juveniles – suggesting recent breeding. A freshly dead young bird salvaged at sea also becomes only the third specimen in existence. “This re-finding of Beck’s Petrel is exceptional news and congratulations to Hadoram Shirihai [the finder] for his effort and energy in rediscovering this ‘lost’ petrel,” commented Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Species Programme Coordinator.

Rest of the story here, at BirdLife International

Robots Poised To Take Over Transportation Industry

i-68fd37653ec5658f953609a75c66cfdb-robot_cab.jpgAccording to recent reports, it is possible that Robots will take over personal human transport operations.

The RobuCab, an autonomous vehicle about the size of a golf cart, trundles at 10kph along a quiet French street. Alarmingly, it looks like it is driving itself. Surprisingly, that is more or less true.The RobuCab is following the line of the kerb. One embedded system trains a camera on the path edge, another tracks the angle and direction of the kerb, while others control the gearing and acceleration. Combined, they enable the RobuCab to drive along the road.It is an astonishing demonstration of just how sophisticated embedded systems, and the software that controls them, can become. But there are some serious problems to surmount before this level of sophistication becomes common.[source]

How Processing Neural Data Works: A Blowfly Perspective

Blowflies. They are nearly impossible to swat dead, because they are so good at getting out of the way, and they are very very fast. For this reason, the blowfly, while an annoying creature, is an excelent model for research into rapid sensory information processing.ResearchBlogging.org

A team of scientists from Indiana University, Princeton University and the Los Alamos National Laboratory recently gained new insight into how blowflies process visual information. The findings, published in an article in the Public Library of Science Journals, show that the precise, sub-millisecond timing of “spikes” from visual motion-sensitive nerve cells encodes complex, detailed information of what the fly is seeing.”There’s a long-standing debate over whether precise, millisecond-scale timing is important to encode information in the nervous system,” said Robert de Ruyter van Steveninck, a biophysics professor at IU who conducted many of the experiments. “Depending on the nature of the information, in some cases it might not be. But for motion sensitive neurons in the blowfly visual system, we show that timing is obviously important, especially in the context of natural visual stimulation.” [press release]

Continue reading How Processing Neural Data Works: A Blowfly Perspective

Woman Tries To Bring Skeleton On Plane

A woman was stopped at Munich airport after baggage control handlers found the skeleton of her brother sealed in a plastic bag in her luggage, police said Wednesday.The 62-year-old woman and her 63-year-old friend, who both live in Italy, were hauled in by airport police Tuesday after a scan of the bag showed a human skull and other bones. The women were traveling to Italy from Brazil.It turned out, however, that the woman was simply trying to fulfill the last wish of her brother _ who died 11 years ago in Sao Paulo, Brazil _ to be buried in Italy.

Read the gory details here.

Public Access Public Meeting

Public Access Public MeetingThe NIH is hosting an Open meeting on public access (Bethesda, March 20, 2008). The purpose of the meeting is to air public comments on the new NIH OA policy. The agency is soliciting public comments in advance of the meeting, and about 50 commenters will be given five minutes each to present their comments to the meeting (total: four hours).Comment. This meeting is one NIH response to publisher complaints that the new policy is based on insufficient public consultation. (See my latest response to that complaint.) Publishers are sure to send in their comments, and it’s important for friends of OA to do the same. In case it helps compose your comment, see my February newsletter article on the new policy. NB: the deadline for comments is March 17, 2008, at 5:00 pm EST. Spread the word.

[Get the links and stuff here]

Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding — she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

Continue reading Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight

Good news on Toxoplasmosis Treatment

ResearchBlogging.orgToxoplasmosis is a disease caused by Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan. It is very common in cats, but also known in humans. This is the disease people worry about when they have children and cats in the same house. Don’t let your child eat cat poop! Pregnant women should avoid this disease, as there are especially bad outcomes for the offspring.The good news is this: A new drug currently in testing phase for treating malaria is very effictrive against T. gondii. This new drug, a form of triazine, goes by the memorable name JPC-2067-B. Continue reading Good news on Toxoplasmosis Treatment

This is the year of the frog

i-0a18aab32e71049ae7bcb61b39abfc9c-blue_frog.jpgYou’ve probably heard that this is the year of the frog. But with all the hype about the election, the war, the economy, robots, and so on, it is easy to forget. The Wildlife Conservation Society has a nice frog slide show on this site, and a list of things you can do to save “the frog” and the ironically named “amphibian ark” (a joint effort of three major conservation organizations) has more. Continue reading This is the year of the frog