Come fly with me

Boeing has joined a small group of technology bigwigs trying to test a theory that would let engineers negate some of the effects of gravity. The American aerospace giant is using the work of controversial Russian scientist Yevgeny Podkletnov, who claims to have developed a device that can shield objects from the Earth’s pull. Other researchers claim Podkletnov’s work is hokum, but considering the cost savings such a device would represent for air travel, Boeing seems intent on getting to the bottom of it all. The Russian says he found that objects above a superconducting ceramic disc rotating over powerful electromagnets lost weight, the BBC reports. “The reduction in gravity was small, about 2 percent, but the implications — for example, in terms of cutting the energy needed for a plane to fly — were immense.”

What a waste … of calamari

City work crews were busy Friday cleaning up 12 tons of dead and dying squid after what looks to have been the largest mass beaching of the rubbery mollusks in a century. Scientists say the squid were likely following prey, maybe grunion, when they ventured into the shallow waters off La Jolla Cove, California, and were washed up on shore. Locals were freaked. “It was just unbelievable,” Bill Halsey, 26, told Reuters. “They made these strange noises like a dolphin or a seal as they were dying.” Added Clif Williams: “The thing that weirds me out about the squid is that they have humanlike eyeballs.” The jumbo flying squid, aka Dosidicus gigas, usually call the eastern Pacific Ocean home, but have been turning up on beaches from Orange County to the Mexican Border. Researchers think warm water currents associated with El Nino are drawing the suckers north.

Break out the poison, boys

A panel of scientists has determined that poison is the best way to rid a Maryland pond of the carnivorous northern snakehead. The fish, a native of China, was introduced into the pond by a pet owner who tired of caring for the animals. Only problem is, the snakeheads are eating everything in sight, devastating the pond’s ecosystem. Worse, the insatiable critters can last three days out of water, often traveling short distances across land on their fins. And the Little Patuxent River is about 75 yards away. According to the Associated Press, “The panel considered several ways to get rid of the snakeheads, including removing them through trapping, netting and electroshock stunning. But those options would not ensure that every last fish was killed. The group also considered draining and filtering the pond, but that posed logistical difficulties.”

The soul of a new server

Intel this week launches the Itanium 2 server processor. The company is betting big that it can convince companies which build servers to use the new chip as ubiquitously as PC makers now employ its lower-end CPUs. But the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports Intel has its work cut out. By Intel’s own admission, most corporate clients are already plenty happy with the oomph their existing 32-bit processors provide. And for folks that need supercomputer-level power, clustering many weaker, but far cheaper chips may provide an appealing cost-benefit ratio. Yes, there is that segment — which in revenue terms is substantial — willing to pay a premium for 64-bit processors. But in that arena Intel will compete with entrenched products from IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun. Finally, if and when all those dragons are slain, pokey old Advanced Micro Devices is coming round the bend with a new line of “Hammer” chips that feature both 32- and 64-bit capability. Five years from now it’ll be a kick to read a “The Soul of a New Machine“-style chronicle of how Intel handles the coming slugfest.

Global population says ‘Pass the chicken’

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.