Writer extraordinaire Ken Layne has a new site going that will give you plenty to ponder, chuckle over and get nervous about. In other words, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Bookmark Weird Files today. (Of particular interest to those who have recently seen “Signs” will be this doozey of a crop circle.)
Taiwanese researchers say they’ve crafted a win-win situation in the discovery that sewage sludge can be used to bulk up construction bricks. The bio-bricks contain up to 30 percent sludge, which can come from either industrial slurry or the, er, human waste stream. Because the bricks are kiln-fired at 900C, all bacteria and viruses are destroyed. Plus the process seals in any heavy metals that might be present. Best of all, the researchers say, the bricks don’t smell at all. The team behind the discovery admits that people might need some convincing to live in such intimate contact with their past meals, noting that legal approval and public acceptance remain to be sought.
Science Blog reported earlier this week on a study suggesting a connection between use of an early cell phone standard and brain tumors. A separate study announced today says that no link has been found between radio emissions from mobile phones and the growth of tumors in mice. The Australian study contradicts yet another, earlier investigation that did find a connection. No word on what sort of calling plan the recent mice were allowed in the three year experiment.
Wired.com carries a gee-whiz tale from the Office of Naval Research on development of an army of drones that would fight the battles of tomorrow. It all sounds very Star Wars — and expensive. But the notion is that human commanders at the top would provide goals that a network of unmanned but highly-networked machines would work to achieve. That could be taking a hill in a combat zone, capturing a known enemy, or helping rescue disaster victims. One wonders who such an army would fight (the Chinese army of 2020? A resurgent Russia?) But maybe this will be one of those ideas that die on the vine in the armed services but find a robust future in the private sector. The original technology, after all, came from drones built to track migrating whales.
A new study suggests smallpox vaccine immunity may last far longer than expected. Scientists had believed that the vaccine generally only conferred protection from the deadly virus for about a decade. But a study released this week found evidence that people may be covered for 35 years or more, meaning many Americans could retain some level of immunity. The study looked at blood samples from laboratory workers who had been immunized in the last five years and those who had been vaccinated up to 35 years earlier.
Record companies will probably get the current standard CD to disappear over the next decade in favor of a new format that makes digital copying impossible without much hassle/hacking by the end user. But that won’t stop the trade of MP3s, or whatever successor format consumers choose. The ability to copy music once it reaches the analog stage in your stereo or PC will always exist. And that output can be stored digitally. At its most rudimentary this can involve connecting your stereo’s AUX or headphone jack to your PC’s microphone port. More sophisticated is software like TotalRecorder, which captures music on your PC from CDs, Internet radio or just about any other source, intercepting the signal as it heads out of your sound card and to your speakers.
Nearly a year after an editor at American Media Inc. died from anthrax exposure, FBI officials said a new search of the contaminated ghost-like AMI building could find the source of the fatal spores and the person who unleashed them. The Miami Herald reports the search of the shuttered Boca Raton building will use new and different techniques than those employed in an initial search last fall. “Last year, we were in the building for a different reason,” the paper quotes Hector Pesquera, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Miami division. “This investigation will be scientifically driven for a criminal investigation.” Last year’s investigation focused on mailrooms and areas surrounding the infected employees’ workstations. This time, scientists will search the entire three-story, 67,000-square-foot building. American Media publishes several tabloid newspapers, including The National Enquirer.
Meat-eating is on the rise around the globe, a trend that could raise the risk of animal disease spread across borders, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said this week in a document circulated at a meeting on meat and dairy products. Worldwide meat consumption is expected to grow by 2 percent each year until 2015 — the result of population increases, rising incomes, and the movement of people from rural areas to cities. “However, increased volume of trade and improvements in transportation, infrastructure and technology hold potential risks of spreading of animal diseases rapidly worldwide,” FAO warned.
Vaccinating hundreds of thousands of Americans would be more effective in the case of an intentional or accidental outbreak of smallpox than a more limited “ring” plan endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some specialists believe. “Mass vaccination really leads to fewer deaths than the CDC interim plan,” Lawrence Wein of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told Reuters. Besides, he said, if there were a smallpox attack, “I think it highly likely that people would take to the streets to demand vaccination, or would flee.” Of course, the smallpox vaccine could be fatal or severely debilitating for many people, including those with common skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.