Friday, September 17, 2010

Two men convicted of sperm donor racket.

From The Independent:
Two men were facing jail today after being convicted of running an illegal fertility company providing women with access to sperm donors.

Nigel Woodforth, 43, ran the operation from the basement of his home in Reading, Berkshire, with 49-year-old Ricky Gage.

A jury at Southwark Crown Court, south London, convicted both men of three counts each of providing sperm without a licence or third party agreement.

The pair, who earned £250,000 from the enterprise, will be sentenced next Friday.

Judge Deborah Taylor told the men: "The court is considering a custodial sentence and/or a fine in relation to these matters."

Nearly 800 women signed up to use the online service provided by the company, operating under various names including Sperm Direct Limited and First4Fertility.

Their website introduced would-be donors to women trying to conceive.

It is the first time anyone has been prosecuted under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

The men were reported to the HFEA after one woman who used their service complained about their unprofessional standards.

US tourists buy "fake" skulls at Greek souvenir shop, get arrested.

From Reuters:
Greek police charged two U.S. tourists with desecrating the dead on Thursday after they found six human skulls in their hand luggage at Athens international airport, a police official said.

"The skulls were found in a scanner check during a stop-over in Athens on their way back to the United States," said a police official who requested anonymity. "The coroner confirmed they were human skulls."

The two young tourists said they had bought the skulls in a souvenir shop on the island of Mykonos and believed they were fake, the official said, adding they had been released pending trial.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Person falls from sky, then vanishes.

Several people in New Jersey claimed they saw a person falling from the sky with no parachute, but an extensive police search has turned up no evidence, NBC Philadelphia reported.

Witness Kelly Hale and two of her co-workers at Shore Veterinarians in Egg Harbor Township said they watched from their office windows as a human fell head-first from the sky on Tuesday.

But there were no reports of missing skydivers.

"I [saw] the guy falling, at an angle, like this," Hale told NBC Philadelphia while gesturing. "Straight down. No parachute. No paraglider."

Authorities were still investigating the incident, Egg Harbor police told on Thursday.

"We're not actively out there searching, but we're waiting for more information," said police Sgt. Robert Gray. He could not comment on the ongoing investigation.

Several people contacted Egg Harbor Township Police at about 3:20 p.m. Tuesday, saying that they watched a person free-falling from the sky. The witnesses described the person as falling head first, at a slight angle, toward the ground, police said.

"You could see the arms and legs flailing and his clothes were blue, a dark blue like a navy, black and gray," Hale said. "There's no doubt that it was a person. We're 100 percent sure."

Cockroach brains could be rich store of new antibiotics.

From the Burrill Report:
To some people, cockroaches are the filthy, disgusting insects that scurry frantically when the lights are turned on in a seedy apartment kitchen or bathroom. But new research has found that they could be a health benefit rather than a health hazard.

Researchers have discovered powerful antibiotic properties in the brains of cockroaches and locusts that could lead to novel treatments for multi-drug resistant bacterial infections. They found that the tissues of their brain and nervous system were able to kill more than 90 percent of MRSA and pathogenic Escherichia coli, without harming human cells.

“Superbugs such as MRSA have developed resistance against the chemotherapeutic artillery that we throw at them,” says Naveed Khan, associate professor of molecular microbiology at the University of Nottingham and supervisor of the research. “They have shown the ability to cause untreatable infections, and have become a major threat in our fight against bacterial diseases. Thus, there is a continuous need to find additional sources of novel antimicrobials to confront this menace.”

Researchers have identified up to nine different molecules in the insect tissues that were toxic to bacteria. “We hope that these molecules could eventually be developed into treatments for E. coli and MRSA infections that are increasingly resistant to current drugs,” says Simon Lee, the researcher who presented their findings at a recent meeting of the Society for General Microbiology. “These new antibiotics could potentially provide alternatives to currently available drugs that may be effective but have serious and unwanted side effects.”

Warrior worms discovered in snails.

Just what the world needs - warrior worms. From EurekAlert:
Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have discovered a caste of genetically identical "warrior worms" –– members of a parasitic fluke species that invades the California horn snail. The findings are reported in the early online version of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"We have discovered flatworms in colonies with vicious, killer morphs defending the colony," said Armand M. Kuris, professor of zoology, in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology. "These flukes have a strongly developed social organization, much like some insects, mammals and birds." The tiny warrior worms are only a couple of millimeters in length, yet they are powerful thanks to relatively large mouths.

These worms form colonies in snails. Reproductive worms and soldier worms cooperate to grow and defend their colony within the snail. These two types of individuals look and behave differently, explained first author Ryan F. Hechinger, assistant research biologist with UCSB's Marine Science Institute. The warrior worms attack other invasive parasites trying to invade the snail.

uris calls the worms parasitic "body snatchers," because they castrate the snail, making it unable to reproduce. The snail, which is only an inch and a half long, houses thousands of worms. A mature colony of this type of worm weighs 25 percent of the weight of the host snail.

The worms are produced through asexual reproduction and their relationships are even more dramatic than those among honeybees. For example, worker bees and queen bees are related as sisters through sexual reproduction. "The fluke castes described by our research team are genetically identical," said Hechinger. "They are clones."

Many other species of flukes probably have colonies of clones with castes, said Kuris. He expects international research to expand in this direction, now that this example has been discovered.

Pope likens atheists to Nazis.

Strange remarks from a former Hitler Youth. From the Daily Mail:
The Pope controversially likened the rise of atheism in Britain to Nazi Germany today as he warned against 'aggressive forms of secularism' at the start of his historic state visit.

Risking sparking a new row after one of his aides likened the UK to the 'Third World', the former member of the Hitler Youth invoked Nazi Germany in an attack on 'atheist extremism'.

It came after Benedict XVI apologised for the Catholic Church's handling of the child abuse scandal as he flew to Scotland this morning.

The 83-year-old Pope admitted on the flight that the church had not dealt with abusive priests decisively or quickly enough.

The comments are his most thorough admission to date of failings in the way the sex abuse scandal was handled.

What to do when body parts fall off.

Weird but interesting article from CNN. Also includes tips like "don't push your eyeballs back in" and "suck off the dirt" from fallen teeth.
[...] Beaty had sawed nearly all the way through his index finger, and he'd entirely cut off the top inch of his middle finger. Before they went out the door to the doctor's office, Beaty and his wife decided to put his fingertip in a Tupperware container with ice.

"That was probably the biggest mistake we made," Beaty says now.

Emergency room physicians say people often don't know what to do with a body part that's become derailed, whether it's a toe, finger, tooth or an eye that's popped out of its socket. Here's some advice:

Fingers and toes: Keep cold, not icy

A nurse at Swedish Medical Center admonished Beaty and his wife when she saw his finger lying in ice.

"This is not how to do it," Beaty's wife, Linda Carlson, recalls the nurse saying. Then, a little more tactfully the nurse added, "You probably don't plan to do this again."

The nurse informed the couple that although they were right to keep the finger cold, direct contact with ice could give the vessels freezer burn and make reattachment difficult.

Here's a better approach.

The first thing you do when a body part becomes detached is control the bleeding. Put direct pressure on the wound and elevate it higher than the heart, advises Dr. Dave Manthey, professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

Then rinse off the severed finger or toe (or part thereof).

"You are trying to decrease the bacteria," Manthey explains. "But don't scrub it. If you scrub, you're causing blunt force damage."

Now get a clean cloth or piece of sterile gauze, dampen it with cold water and wrap the finger or toe in it. Then put the wrapped appendage into a plastic bag and put the bag in cold (preferably iced) water.

Finally, notes Manthey, keep the body part with you. For example, don't give it to a spouse, who might end up getting separated from you on the way to the hospital.

Despite the mistake with the ice, surgeons did manage to reattach Beaty's finger, and he now has full use of it, although he's lost some sensation, and it's shorter than his other middle finger.

"Draw Muhammad Day" cartoonist in hiding.

From FOX News:
The Seattle cartoonist whose artwork sparked the controversial "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!" has gone into hiding at the advice of the FBI after being targeted by a radical Muslim cleric, according to the newspaper that published her comics.

Molly Norris has moved and changed her name, the Seattle Weekly said Wednesday, after U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki placed her on an execution hit list. Awlaki -- who has been linked to the botched Times Square bombing and cited as inspiration for the Fort Hood massacre and a plot by two New Jersey men to kill U.S. soldiers -- reportedly called Norris a "prime target" for assassination and that her "proper abode is hellfire."

"You may have noticed that Molly Norris' comic is not in the paper this week," Seattle Weekly Editor in Chief Mark Fefer wrote Wednesday. "That's because there is no more Molly."

"The gifted artist is alive and well, thankfully. But on the insistence of top security specialists at the FBI, she is, as they put it, 'going ghost': moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity. She is, in effect, being put into a witness-protection program -- except, as she notes, without the government picking up the tab," Fefer wrote.

Norris ignited a firestorm in April after drawing a satirical cartoon to protest the decision by cable television channel Comedy Central to cancel an episode of "South Park" over its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit.

In her cartoon, Norris mockingly proposed making May 20 "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!"

Soon after, a fan page popped up on Facebook, but Norris wrote on her since-shuttered website that she had nothing to do with it.

"I did NOT 'declare' May 20 to be 'Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,'" she said, adding that her idea was satire that was "taken seriously, hijacked and made viral."

"I apologize to people of Muslim faith and ask that this 'day' be called off," she said.

The 27-year-old Facebook page creator -- a Canadian woman who asked not to be identified due to fears of reprisal -- told in July that she was visited at her home by Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials who advised her to remove her page and not to talk to reporters.

"I'm scared," she said. "I'm scared that somebody might kill me."

Islam strictly prohibits the depiction of any prophet as blasphemous and the "Draw Muhammad" page led to Facebook being temporarily blocked in Pakistan and sparked angry street protests.

In July, English-language Al Qaeda magazine "Inspire" attributed an article to Awlaki, saying Norris "should be taken as a prime target of assassination."

"The large number of participants makes it easier for us because there are more targets to choose from in addition to the difficulty of the government offering all of them special protection," wrote Awlaki. "But even then our campaign should not be limited to only those who are active participants."

He warned that "assassinations, bombings and acts of arson" are all legitimate forms of revenge against the creators of blasphemous depictions of Muhammad.

Three months in jail for stealing two hotel towels.

From ABC News:
Think twice before you take that bar of soap from your next hotel room.

A woman now faces up to three months in jail just for taking two towels from a hotel room.

A court in Nigeria has convicted Bilikisu Dowodu of stealing the towels from the Transcorp Hilton Abuja Hotel, in the country's capital city. She now has to either pay a $20 fine or spend three months in jail.

While this is probably an extreme case of punishment, guests stealing items from rooms costs hotels millions of dollars each year. And we're not just talking about some shampoo and towels.

Guests have walked out of hotels with hair dryers, corkscrews, phones, ironing boards, radios, flowers, bibles, luggage stands, coffee mugs and just about anything else that isn't bolted down.

To stop theft, hotels have secured lamps, TVs and hangers. Artwork has been bolted to the walls and mini-bars have gone high-tech. But at a certain point, hotels have to balance offering nice amenities and making their rooms feel like prison cells.

Upscale chains now don't offer robes, umbrellas and even sometimes linens in their rooms, but sell them instead in the gift shop and have added price tags to the in-room items. The moves have dramatically cut theft.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

England to kill badgers.

The government has set out plans to license farmers in England to shoot badgers on their land, with tens of thousands of animals potentially targeted.

The government believes the badger cull is necessary to curb TB in cattle.

Cattle TB cost the UK more than £100m last year.

But campaigners who successfully mounted a legal challenge against plans for a cull in Wales say the scientific evidence for culling does not stack up.

The European badger (Meles meles) is a protected species under European and British law, but ministers can sanction killing in certain circumstances, including to tackle diseases.

It is believed the government will change the instructions it gives to Natural England, the statutory agency that issues licences, in order that farmers can gain permission to kill badgers on the basis that they carry the bovine TB bacterium.

The previous Labour government concluded culling did not make scientific or economic sense, and instructed the agency not to issue licences for TB control.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wildflower creates metallic armor.

Put the petal to the metal! From EurekAlert:
An unusual wildflower that accumulates metals in its leaves has been found to use them as a kind of 'armor' against bacterial infection. Scientists from Oxford University have shown that when Alpine pennycress (Thlaspi caerulescens) plants accumulate metals in their leaves, they become resistant to attack by the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae pv. maculicola. They report their findings September 9 in the open-access journal PLoS Pathogens.

Thlaspi, a small plant in the mustard family that grows on metal-rich soils scattered around Britain and Europe, such as the sites of former mine workings, is known to accumulate zinc, nickel and cadmium to very high concentrations in its leaves. "

Our results demonstrate that these plants are exploiting their metal-rich environment to armor themselves against disease," said co-author Dr Gail Preston of Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences, co-author of the report. "What we've found is a direct link between these high metal concentrations and resistance to bacterial infection."

Co-author Helen Fones cultivated Thlaspi plants on progressively higher concentrations of zinc, nickel and cadmium and showed that all three metals were able to defend the plant against the pathogenic bacterium. By studying diverse strains of the bacterium, she was able to demonstrate a close relationship between the ability of bacteria to grow in the presence of high concentrations of metal and their ability to infect the plants.

"Previously, it has been difficult to explain why Thlaspi plants should accumulate such high concentrations of potentially toxic metals," said co-author Professor Andrew Smith of Oxford's Department of Plant Sciences, co-supervisor of the research. "Our findings provide good evidence that, by accumulating metals, these plants benefit from enhanced protection against enemies such as pathogenic microorganisms and herbivores."

The researchers also showed that bacteria surviving on Thlaspi plants on the site of a former lead–zinc mine in Wales had a higher tolerance for zinc than bacteria isolated from plants growing on normal soils. This indicates that both the plant and its pathogens show evidence of local adaptation to survival in metal-rich environments, and that pathogens can adapt to overcome plant defenses based on metals.

"Heavy metals may be part of an evolutionary 'arms race' between plants and the microorganisms that try to colonize them," said Dr. Preston.

Star discovered made up of 10 billion trillion trillion carat diamond.

Space diamonds! From BBC:
Twinkling in the sky is a diamond star of 10 billion trillion trillion carats, astronomers have discovered.

The cosmic diamond is a chunk of crystallised carbon, 4,000 km across, some 50 light-years from the Earth in the constellation Centaurus.

It's the compressed heart of an old star that was once bright like our Sun but has since faded and shrunk.

Astronomers have decided to call the star "Lucy" after the Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

"You would need a jeweller's loupe the size of the Sun to grade this diamond," says astronomer Travis Metcalfe, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who led the team of researchers that discovered it.

The diamond star completely outclasses the largest diamond on Earth, the 546-carat Golden Jubilee which was cut from a stone brought out of the Premier mine in South Africa.

The huge cosmic diamond - technically known as BPM 37093 - is actually a crystallised white dwarf. A white dwarf is the hot core of a star, left over after the star uses up its nuclear fuel and dies. It is made mostly of carbon.

Obama planning $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

From Raw Story:
US President Barack Obama's administration will soon notify Congress of plans to offer advanced military aircraft to Saudi Arabia in a deal worth up to 60 billion dollars, congressional sources said Monday.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the transaction has not yet been formally announced, confirmed a Wall Street Journal report about the deal but warned that key US lawmakers would block the move.

"You can fully expect that a hold will be placed on this deal," thought to be the largest ever arms sale of its kind, said a senior congressional source.

"There is serious concern about some sensitive material which is expected to be included in the deal," said another source, who told AFP that Obama aides would brief congressional staff on the deal on Monday.

A "hold" would come from the chair or ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee or Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which typically must sign off on arms transfers, and could change what is in the package.

The Journal, which cited unnamed officials, said the administration was also in talks with the kingdom about potential naval and missile-defense upgrades that could be worth tens of billions of dollars more.

The administration sees the sale as part of a broader policy aimed at shoring up Arab allies against Iran, the report said.

The 60 billion dollars in fighter jets and helicopters is the top-line amount requested by the Saudis, even though the kingdom is likely to commit initially to buying only about half that amount, the paper said.

In its notification to Congress, expected to be submitted this week or next, the administration will authorize the Saudis to buy as many as 84 new F-15 fighters, upgrade 70 more, and purchase three types of helicopters -- 70 Apaches, 72 Black Hawks and 36 Little Birds, The Journal said.

Scientists discover which dance moves drive the ladies wild.

From Popular Science:
For Fred Astaire, it was best done cheek to cheek. Madonna made it all about getting into the groove. And Outkast advocated shaking it like a Polaroid picture. Dancing can take many different forms. But which is proven to attract more members of the opposite sex? Science has been silent on the subject until now.

Psychologists at Northumbria University in Newcastle, the U.K., say they have used avatars shimmying to computer-generated dance sequences to pinpoint the moves most likely to win over women, reports LiveScience.

They recruited 19 men between the ages of 18 and 35 to bob to a German dance track while reflectors attached to the men’s clothing recorded their moves. The psychologists then used the motions logged by the reflectors to craft avatars – the same method the makers of Lord of the Rings employed to create the character Gollum, if you’re wondering – and then asked several dozen heterosexual women to rate the avatars. By having women watch 15-second snippets of faceless white creatures rather than actual men, the reasoning goes, the psychologists weeded out possible prejudices that might creep in because of physical attractiveness. (Because women are never prejudiced by looks in real life.)

The results, which appear in the online edition of the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, aren’t what you’d guess. The pelvis gets surprisingly short shrift. Instead, the researchers say, the difference between a bad dancer and good dancer comes down to the neck, torso, and right knee. Women tend to be drawn to men who move their upper bodies, use a lot of space, and vary their movements.

While the choice of German dance music is questionable, the researchers say the study is an important breakthrough. “Men all over the world will be interested to know what moves they can throw to attract women,” psychologist Nick Neave said. “If a man knows what the key moves are, he can get some training and improve his chances of attracting a female through his dance style.” Sense of rhythm not included.


WTF: FOX News blames Obama for America's Islamaphobia. Wow.

Tech: What your social networking profile picture really says about you.

Lame: Border agents accused of unconstitutionally searching, seizing travelers' computers.

Religion: US church leader's narcissism kills 13 protesters in Kashmir.

Lame: NJ borough considers ban on sleeping in public places.

Scientists teach robots to deceive humans.

What could go wrong? From Daily Mail:

It sounds like something straight out of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But, in a chilling echo of the computer Hal from the iconic film, scientists have developed robots that are able to deceive humans and even hide from their enemies.

An experiment by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology is believed to be the first detailed examination of robot deception.

The team developed computer algorithms that would let a robot ‘decide’ whether it should deceive a human or another robot and gave it strategies to give it the best chance of not being found out.

The development may alarm those who are concerned that robots who are able to practice deception are not safe to work with humans.

But researchers say that robots that are capable of deception will be valuable in the future, particularly when used in the military.

Robots on the battlefield with the power of deception will be able to successfully hide and mislead the enemy to keep themselves and valuable information safe.

‘Most social robots will probably rarely use deception, but it's still an important tool in the robot's interactive arsenal because robots that recognise the need for deception have advantages in terms of outcome compared to robots that do not recognise the need for deception,’ said the study's co-author, Alan Wagner, a research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.