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.”
A single gene change that boosts the amount of a certain protein in early brain cells causes mice to develop abnormally large brains, Reuters Health reports. Normal mice have smooth, flat brains. But tinker with the gene in question and suddenly the little furballs develop brains so big they fold in on themselves, forming the wrinkles, ridges and crevices found also in the human brain. Study author Dr. Anjen Chenn of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University in Boston said the finding might help researchers understand how humans came to develop brains so much bigger than those of other mammals. Whether or not more size means more smarts is uncertain, Chenn said. “It is quite an interesting question … and that’s something we want to look at in the future.”
Boy explodes from eating Pop Rocks with Coca-Cola. Girl summons vengeful spirit by chanting “Bloody Mary” while staring into mirror. Richard Gere checks into hospital, furry friend in tow. And once again, Apple plans x86-platform Macs. As posted on MacOSRumors, “Apple may be on the way to moving over to an x86-based platform, probably the AMD Athlon family of processors.”
Historically, this techno-legend was wishful thinking on the part of cultish Apple devotees in hopes that the Mac would rise up from its Amelio-era deathbed and strike a fatal blow to the Wintel camp. Today, there are several reasons why this rumor is feasible at this time in Apple’s history: Apple’s UNIX-based MacOS X seems an easy port to CISC-based processors; The Apple/Microsoft arranged union is soon to come to a close; rumors of Motorola’s processor shortages; and so on.
“Although Motorola sources have repeatedly stated that they do not believe Apple will be implementing Moto’s G5 family of processors as it is currently known — G4 processors “have legs,” according to those sources, and will power Apple computers for at least another year, they say — we do not believe that this means that Apple will not employ PowerPC processors significantly more advanced than the current crop. It may mean that Apple does not believe that the current G5 designs are suitable in terms of clock speeds, price, or reliable supply availability. In fact, this rumor that Apple isn’t going to implement the G5 may not be accurate at all.”
Consider that CISC-based processors are larger, consume far more power and run much hotter than RISC processors, which would not fare well in many of Apple’s newer, more compact machines that do not include processor-cooling fans. Additionally, Apple touts its PowerPC G4 with Velocity Engine processor“the chip that put supercomputing power on the desktop?can perform four (in some cases eight) 32-bit floating-point calculations in a single cycle ? two to four times faster than processors found in PCs.”
Gene Kan, peer-to-peer file-sharing programmer extraordinaire, took his own life June 29, and Wired.com has a fine tribute to the troubled but brilliant 25-year-old. Kan’s professional life revolved around developing ways for people to swap information easily and quickly. As Wired notes, Kan was among the first programmers to create an open-source version of the file-sharing application Gnutella, which lets users search for and transfer files from computer to computer. “His ability to translate complicated technology into easily understandable terms quickly led to his becoming the unofficial spokesman for Gnutella in particular, and for file-sharing applications in general,” the new site says. “Gene was one of the first people to make hay with the idea that peer-to-peer file sharing wasn’t just about music, but about a powerful approach to problems in computer networking,” adds Tim O’Reilly, of O’Reilly Publishing. “It was Gnutella and Freenet, more than Napster, that got the attention of the technical elite and made us think more deeply about the way the Internet was evolving.” Kan’s death was not entirely unexpected, Wired reports. Friends had hoped Kan was winning his hard-fought battle against depression. “We did all the things you’re supposed to do,” said Cody Oliver, Gene’s business partner in peer-to-peer search technology gonesilent.com. “We got him on Prozac; we connected him to the suicide hotlines. He promised he wouldn’t do anything drastic. But now he’s gone. It’s a really rough time.”
Business 2.0 has a compelling read in its July issue. “The Technology Secrets of Cocaine Inc.” looks at the IT infrastructure the Cali cartel has built to help manage its vast cocaine smuggling and sales empire. Particularly chilling is the organization’s use of data mining software to sift through phone records of its own operatives and the entire Cali phone exchange to see if any members were actually snitching to the authorities on the side. “They could correlate phone numbers, personalities, locations — any way you want to cut it,” said a former director of a law enforcement agency. “[Cali cocaine cartel leader Jos?] Santacruz could see if any of his lieutenants were spilling the beans.” At the heart of the system was a $1 million IBM AS400 mainframe. Observed one high-level DEA official: “It is very reasonable to assume that people were killed as a result of this capability. Potential sources of information were compromised by the system.”
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.
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.
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.