joi, 25 iunie 2009

Michael Jackson is dead! Long live Michael!

Today, June 25th 2009, Michael Jackson, "The King of Pop", died.
Everybody is still in shock.
The artist Michael will always live in our hearts.

luni, 2 iunie 2008

See it before it happens

by Jeanna Bryner

Humans can see into the future, says a cognitive scientist. It's nothing like the alleged predictive powers of Nostradamus, but we do get a glimpse of events one-tenth of a second before they occur.

And the mechanism behind that can also explain why we are tricked by optical illusions.

Researcher Mark Changizi of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York says it starts with a neural lag that most everyone experiences while awake. When light hits your retina, about one-tenth of a second goes by before the brain translates the signal into a visual perception of the world.

Scientists already knew about the lag, yet they have debated over exactly how we compensate, with one school of thought proposing our motor system somehow modifies our movements to offset the delay.

Changizi now says it's our visual system that has evolved to compensate for neural delays, generating images of what will occur one-tenth of a second into the future. That foresight keeps our view of the world in the present. It gives you enough heads up to catch a fly ball (instead of getting socked in the face) and maneuver smoothly through a crowd. His research on this topic is detailed in the May/June issue of the journal Cognitive Science,

Explaining illusions

That same seer ability can explain a range of optical illusions, Changizi found.

"Illusions occur when our brains attempt to perceive the future, and those perceptions don't match reality," Changizi said.

Here's how the foresight theory could explain the most common visual illusions - geometric illusions that involve shapes: Something called the Hering illusion, for instance, looks like bike spokes around a central point, with vertical lines on either side of this central, so-called vanishing point. The illusion tricks us into thinking we are moving forward, and thus, switches on our future-seeing abilities. Since we aren't actually moving and the figure is static, we misperceive the straight lines as curved ones.

"Evolution has seen to it that geometric drawings like this elicit in us premonitions of the near future," Changizi said. "The converging lines toward a vanishing point (the spokes) are cues that trick our brains into thinking we are moving forward - as we would in the real world, where the door frame (a pair of vertical lines) seems to bow out as we move through it - and we try to perceive what that world will look like in the next instant."

Grand unified theory

In real life, when you are moving forward, it's not just the shape of objects that changes, he explained. Other variables, such as the angular size (how much of your visual field the object takes up), speed and contrast between the object and background, will also change.

For instance, if two objects are about the same distance in front of you, and you move toward one of the objects, that object will speed up more in the next moment, appear larger, have lower contrast (because something that is moving faster gets more blurred), and literally get nearer to you compared with the other object.

Changizi realized the same future-seeing process could explain several other types of illusions. In what he refers to as a "grand unified theory," Changizi organized 50 kinds of illusions into a matrix of 28 categories. The results can successfully predict how certain variables, such as proximity to the central point or size, will be perceived.

Changizi says that finding a theory that works for so many different classes of illusions is "a theorist's dream."

Most other ideas put forth to explain illusions have explained one or just a few types, he said.
The theory is "a big new player in the debate about the origins of illusions," Changizi told LiveScience. "All I'm hoping for is that it becomes a giant gorilla on the block that can take some punches."

A sincere man

By Adrian Wojnarowski

Just as Phil Jackson reached the cusp of catching him with his ninth NBA championship, Red Auerbach was on the telephone, grumbling over the legitimacy of that legacy. The emperor of the Boston Celtics resisted letting Jackson climb onto the coaching Olympus with him, insisting a fatal flaw of the Los Angeles Lakers coach still separated them.

“He’s never tried building a team and teaching the fundamentals,” Auerbach said. “When he’s gone in there, they’ve been ready-made for him. It’s just a matter of putting his system in there. They don’t worry about developing players if they’re not good enough. They just go get someone else.”

This would’ve made the possibility of Jackson’s 10th title so crushing to Auerbach. What could Red say now? Six years later, Jackson dares to do it Auerbach’s way. All those old Celtics kept wishing Auerbach had lived to see this return to Garden glory, but Auerbach would’ve loathed that this season be punctuated by Jackson using Boston to pass him for the most championships in coaching history.

These days, everyone is wondering: Has Kobe Bryant surpassed Michael Jordan?

That question is still too premature, but this one isn’t: Does the Los Angeles Lakers’ coach become the greatest coach in NBA history with another Finals victory?

Rest assured, nine titles now is far more impressive than nine back in Red’s day. Ten ends the argument.

Auerbach is the greatest general manager to ever live. He shaped and reshaped the Celtics for three different title eras. There were the Russell-Cousy Celtics and the Havlicek-Cowens Celtics and the Bird-McHale-Parish Celtics.

Whatever Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak did to steal Pau Gasol resembled the chicanery Auerbach routinely used to rouse rival owners and executives. Auerbach stole Bill Russell for ice show dates at the Boston Garden. He secured Larry Bird’s draft rights as an undergraduate. Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey. The rights to Joe Barry Carroll for Robert Parish and the pick that brought Kevin McHale. It goes on and on.

Ultimately, Auerbach has to be considered the greatest basketball mind in the game’s history. No one should ever dispute that. And yes, he was the greatest coach the sport had ever known, until Phil Jackson started driving vans in Albany of the Continental Basketball Association. People pretend like Jackson never paid his dues. He did. He won titles in the CBA. He coached his summers in Puerto Rico for the extra paycheck. Sure, he had been historically fortunate with Jordan and Pippen, with Shaq and Kobe, but let’s get something straight: No one – least of all Auerbach – ever won without great talent.

Of course, Auerbach always groused that coaching was so much easier today. This was flawed and, deep down, he knew it. Talent scouting in Auerbach’s era was as sophisticated as an envelope of newspaper articles an old buddy clipped and mailed. At the time, Auerbach had complete control of his ballplayers. There was no free agency, no arbitration. Auerbach was judge and jury on your job. Want a raise? He gave it. Want to work next season? His call.

For that reason, Auerbach could reach his players at the most base level: Fear. Auerbach claimed control that coaches today could only dream.

After Auerbach retired in 1967, his replacement won the ’68 championship. Remember? Bill Russell. As a player-coach. Imagine that now.

Jackson didn’t pick these Lakers, but he sure did develop them. Andrew Bynum has a chance to be one of basketball’s best centers. When most coaches disdain giving young players minutes, Jackson cultivated a bench of Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic. Through the years, he’s blended the development of talent with the manipulating of minds. In Chicago, he turned his own GM, Jerry Krause, into a common enemy for whom the Bulls to rally around. He created the model for working officials through the press, and reaching his players through the most untraditional of means. They meditated. They read books. He brought dignity and decorum to sideline coaching behavior that has become embarrassing from others. Jackson was a different coach, for a different time.

As arrogant as Jackson can be, his act still pales against Auerbach. Red’s been remembered as a kindly, grandfatherly man, but he was an arrogant winner and a sore loser. Everyone laughs about his ritual late in victories, but think about that: Lighting a cigar on the bench.

Auerbach hated the idea of Jackson breaking his record. To him, he was still that miserable New York Knick with sharp elbows. Truth be told, Auerbach never believed a coach could catch him in titles. Before he died, Auerbach talked to me about Lenny Wilkens passing him for most career victories and Pat Riley for playoff wins, but the nine coaching championships were different. Those banners were Auerbach’s measure of greatness.

“When Wilkens did it, it took him longer than me as a coach, but he still broke it,” Auerbach said. “And then subsequently other guys did it. It took Riley a little less time than me. Hey, these records are made to be broken. One guy broke Roger Maris’ home run record, and then a second and a third, and now they’ve blown it all to (crap).”

Before Jackson won his ninth in 2002, he sounded like a man who wanted Auerbach’s approval. He never did get it. He said he’d settle for a congratulatory cigar. “Unlit,” Jackson hoped.

Never, Auerbach insisted.

“It’ll stunt his growth,” he growled.

This was the basketball season Red Auerbach would’ve loved to see in Boston, but an ending that might have driven him mad. This is the year that Phil Jackson answers all of Auerbach’s doubts. He never tried building a team? Finally, Jackson did and maybe it’s for the best that Red is gone. For the first time, he’d have to concede: As coach, Phil Jackson had done it all. Mostly, he has nearly done the unthinkable: Pass Red as forever’s coach.

miercuri, 28 mai 2008

German couple try to sell baby on Ebay for 1 Euro

France-Presse Agency
Berlin - German police said Sunday they have taken a seven month baby away from a couple in Bavaria who are under investigation after putting the child for sale on Internet auction site Ebay.

The baby boy was put on sale on Tuesday at a starting price of one euro ($1.58) and was withdrawn from the site around two and a half hours later, police said. There had been no offers.

The mother said it was meant as a joke( a very sick joke!), but police failed to see the funny side, putting the baby into care and launching an investigation of both parents for attempted child trafficking, a statement said.

Does Wi-fi produce health risks?

UK health officials ordered an investigation into the hazards involved in the use of wireless broadband in educational institutions like schools. It has been found that the radiation emitted by wi-fi devices could be more than that of a standard mobile phone mast.

Wi-fi enabled devices operate at 2.4 GHz frequency - the range that you can find in a microwave or a FM radio of Radio Frequency Radiation (RFR) range. However, Microwave, having the similar wave length, is 100,000 times stronger than Wi-fi.

It should be noted that Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) refers to the safety standards when you handle any devices that emit radiation and is often based on the amount of heat produced by the radiation. It is natural that more radiation will produce more heat which eventually leads to health hazards, according to a scientific survey. Based on the safety standards prescribed, the SAR should be within 2W per kg of body mass.

If you use a mobile phone, it is estimated that its SAR is somewhat around 1 W/kg and this amount radiation is found to generate 0.25 degree C. So, the use of mobile phone does not pose health risk to users during normal usage.

While Wi-fi comes into picture, there is already a speculation that Wi-fi networks might involve health risks. During the typical usage, Wi-fi is estimated to cause just 0.1 W/kg which is well within safety standards. However, when you keep your pc or laptop very close to yourself, especially when you keep it on your lap, SAR could exceed 2 W/kg and this may prove to be hazardous to your health.

luni, 26 mai 2008

Oil above $133 a barrel and rising

Oil rose above $133 a barrel Monday on persistent worries about global petroleum supplies and the outlook for the U.S. economy and the dollar.

Reports of an attack by militants on an oil pipeline in Nigeria, one of Africa's largest oil exporters, also helped boost prices.

Light, sweet crude for July delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange was up 98 cents at $133.17 a barrel in electronic trading by afternoon in Europe. The contract rose $1.38 to settle at $132.19 a barrel on Friday.

Nymex floor trading was closed Monday for Memorial Day and it also was a holiday in Britain, resulting in lower trading volume than usual.

In London, July Brent crude futures rose $1.13 to $132.70 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

The dollar has weakened over the last week after a modest recovery, and investors will be watching economic data out of the United States to be released over the next few days for further clues about the health of the world's biggest economy.

"The dollar's been swinging down again," said Mark Pervan, senior commodity strategist at Australia & New Zealand Bank in Melbourne, and that's "going to sway sentiment."

Oil and other hard commodities are seen as hedges against a weakening dollar and inflation. Also, a weak dollar, the currency of international oil trade, makes petroleum products less expensive to Asian and European buyers.

This week, investors will be watching for what implications U.S. consumer confidence, new home sales, gross domestic product and other economic data might have for the dollar and oil prices, he said.

"It's a pretty price sensitive week for economic data," Pervan said. "The data we're seeing out of the U.S. at the moment looks pretty weak. You'd expect that trend to continue, pushing further down on the dollar."

The dollar, one of the factors that has fed oil's rally from about $65 a year ago, was lower against the yen, but up a bit against the euro in currency trading during the afternoon in Europe after losing ground Friday in New York.

The euro slipped to $1.5764 compared with $1.5775 on Friday, while the dollar fell to 103.41 Japanese yen from 104.17 yen Friday.

Prices also were supported when militants in Nigeria, a major supplier to the U.S. market, claimed they destroyed an oil pipeline and killed 11 soldiers in a gunbattle.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta says it attacked the pipeline operated by a Royal Dutch Shell PLC joint venture early Monday. Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, and a military spokesman had no immediate confirmation of any overnight incidents.

Last week, a series of supply warnings shook markets, and Thursday, a report that the International Energy Agency — the energy watchdog for the most industrialized nations — is in the process of lowering its forecast for long-term global oil supply, sent crude futures rocketing to an all-time high of $135.09 a barrel.

Investors are also worried about a growing squeeze on global diesel supplies as demand in China surges has sparked a massive run up in heating oil prices.

Over the weekend, China's top economic planning agency again urged oil and power companies to make sure there are enough supplies for earthquake-hit areas and for the Beijing Olympic Games in August.

"They certainly want to have a buffer of supply ... so there's pressure on the upside from demand in Asia," Pervan said.

The U.S. driving season officially kicked-off with the long Memorial Day weekend there, and even if demand for gasoline and diesel is lower than it was a year ago, it will still be stronger than it was in the preceding months, he said.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures rose 7.89 cents to $3.9445 a gallon while gasoline prices rose 2.95 cents to $3.4255 a gallon. Natural gas futures rose 18.2 cents to $12.039 per 1,000 cubic feet.


AP Business Writer Thomas Hogue in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.

duminică, 25 mai 2008

New survivalists

Energy fears looming, new survivalists prepare
By SAMANTHA GROSS, Associated Press Writer

BUSKIRK, N.Y. - A few years ago, Kathleen Breault was just another suburban grandma, driving countless hours every week, stopping for lunch at McDonald's, buying clothes at the mall, watching TV in the evenings.

That was before Breault heard an author talk about the bleak future of the world's oil supply. Now, she's preparing for the world as we know it to disappear.

Breault cut her driving time in half. She switched to a diet of locally grown foods near her upstate New York home and lost 70 pounds. She sliced up her credit cards, banished her television and swore off plane travel. She began relying on a wood-burning stove.

"I was panic-stricken," the 50-year-old recalled, her voice shaking. "Devastated. Depressed. Afraid. Vulnerable. Weak. Alone. Just terrible."

Convinced the planet's oil supply is dwindling and the world's economies are heading for a crash, some people around the country are moving onto homesteads, learning to live off their land, conserving fuel and, in some cases, stocking up on guns they expect to use to defend themselves and their supplies from desperate crowds of people who didn't prepare.

The exact number of people taking such steps is impossible to determine, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the movement has been gaining momentum in the last few years.

These energy survivalists are not leading some sort of green revolution meant to save the planet. Many of them believe it is too late for that, seeing signs in soaring fuel and food prices and a faltering U.S. economy, and are largely focused on saving themselves.

Some are doing it quietly, giving few details of their preparations — afraid that revealing such information as the location of their supplies will endanger themselves and their loved ones. They envision a future in which the nation's cities will be filled with hungry, desperate refugees forced to go looking for food, shelter and water.

"There's going to be things that happen when people can't get things that they need for themselves and their families," said Lynn-Marie, who believes cities could see a rise in violence as early as 2012.

Lynn-Marie asked to be identified by her first name to protect her homestead in rural western Idaho. Many of these survivalists declined to speak to The Associated Press for similar reasons.

These survivalists believe in "peak oil," the idea that world oil production is set to hit a high point and then decline. Scientists who support idea say the amount of oil produced in the world each year has already or will soon begin a downward slide, even amid increased demand. But many scientists say such a scenario will be avoided as other sources of energy come in to fill the void.

On the Web site, where upward of 800 people gathered on recent evenings, believers engage in a debate about what kind of world awaits.

Some members argue there will be no financial crash, but a slow slide into harder times. Some believe the federal government will respond to the loss of energy security with a clampdown on personal freedoms. Others simply don't trust that the government can maintain basic services in the face of an energy crisis.

The powers that be, they've determined, will be largely powerless to stop what is to come.

Determined to guard themselves from potentially harsh times ahead, Lynn-Marie and her husband have already planted an orchard of about 40 trees and built a greenhouse on their 7 1/2 acres. They have built their own irrigation system. They've begun to raise chickens and pigs, and they've learned to slaughter them.

The couple have gotten rid of their TV and instead have been reading dusty old books published in their grandparents' era, books that explain the simpler lifestyle they are trying to revive. Lynn-Marie has been teaching herself how to make soap. Her husband, concerned about one day being unable to get medications, has been training to become an herbalist.

By 2012, they expect to power their property with solar panels, and produce their own meat, milk and vegetables. When things start to fall apart, they expect their children and grandchildren will come back home and help them work the land. She envisions a day when the family may have to decide whether to turn needy people away from their door.

"People will be unprepared," she said. "And we can imagine marauding hordes."

So can Peter Laskowski. Living in a woodsy area outside of Montpelier, Vt., the 57-year-old retiree has become the local constable and a deputy sheriff for his county, as well as an emergency medical technician.

"I decided there was nothing like getting the training myself to deal with insurrections, if that's a possibility," said the former executive recruiter.

Laskowski is taking steps similar to environmentalists: conserving fuel, consuming less, studying global warming, and relying on local produce and craftsmen. Laskowski is powering his home with solar panels and is raising fish, geese, ducks and sheep. He has planted apple and pear trees and is growing lettuce, spinach and corn.

Whenever possible, he uses his bicycle to get into town.

"I remember the oil crisis in '73; I remember waiting in line for gas," Laskowski said. "If there is a disruption in the oil supply it will be very quickly elevated into a disaster."

Breault said she hopes to someday band together with her neighbors to form a self-sufficient community. Women will always be having babies, she notes, and she imagines her skills as a midwife will always be in demand.

For now, she is readying for the more immediate work ahead: There's a root cellar to dig, fruit trees and vegetable plots to plant. She has put a bicycle on layaway, and soon she'll be able to bike to visit her grandkids even if there is no oil at the pump.

Whatever the shape of things yet to come, she said, she's done what she can to prepare.