Maybe Deep Fritz should be called On the Fritz. The German-built, chess-playing computer lost another game to 27-year-old Russian champ Vladimir Kramnik in a match billed as the “Brains of Bahrain.” The competition’s third day of play ended when Kramnik, well, kicked Fritz’ butt in 57 moves that showed DNA can still best silicon at some things. As reported by Reuters, Sunday’s game wasn’t completely one-sided. “Fritz, after early errors, fought back and startled Kramnik with some typical computer tactics. ‘I never imagined (the 27th move) and the tactics that followed. Only a computer would find and play something like that,’ Kramnik said later. ‘I was completely shocked.’ The Fritz team was more than a little embarrassed, however, when their brainchild in move 12 returned its bishop to its original square. This bizarre move was something even the lowliest human player would never consider.”
If a code is really good, it doesn’t matter much if the enemy (you know, them) gets ahold of one of your encrypted messages. What is risky, is letting your code key fall into the wrong hands. And their delivery is often the weak link in a communications network. “At the moment, highly secure encryption keys are typically sent by a man on a motorbike or a guy with a diplomatic bag,” notes one wonk. But researchers have devised a way to deliver keys using a beam of light, attaching data to individual photons as they stream from sender to receiver. The neat thing about that is if the light beam is intercepted and read, the state of the photons changes, alerting the recipient that the key has been compromised. Thursday British researchers said they’d reached a new milestone in the distance they can send encryption keys this way: 14 miles. It doesn’t sound like much, but it sure beats the few feet the technique could muster just a couple years ago. Expect earth-to-satellite distances soon.
No red, no white, but plenty of blue. That’s the strange ? make that straight-up freaky ? but true story of a sexagenarian Montana Congressional candidate who managed to permanently turn his own skin the color of the sea. The Associated Press reports that back in 1999, Stan Jones, a business consultant and part-time college instructor currently running for U.S. Senate under the Libertarian Party banner, began brewing and drinking a homemade colloidal silver potion. He did this, the wire service notes, because he feared a Y2K-related shortage of antibiotics. He apparently did not anticipate one side effect: his epidermis becoming a primary color….ScienceBlog bonus historical precedent: the famous Blue People of Kentucky.
New Scientist reports on a year-long study to find the world’s funniest joke. The Internet-based project was coordinated by psychologist Richard Wiseman and colleagues at the University of Hertfordshire, U.K. and involved more than 2 million votes on 40,000 submissions. The goal was to identify universal aspects to humor, which could one day allow computers to devise truly funny jokes. Before we get to the winner, an interesting aside is that the team found in the process the world’s funniest animal: the duck. “If you’re going to tell a joke involving an animal, make it a duck,” Wiseman says. Now to the ultimate rib-tickler, which folks from Asia to Africa, the States to Siberia all seemed to enjoy. A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator, in a calm soothing voice, says: “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?” Thank you folks, I’ll be here all week.
FROM THE TRENCHES: A consortium of scientists announced that it has deciphered the genetic code of the parasite that causes the deadliest form of Malaria, an illness that kills more than a million people a year in developing nations.
With all the discussion about possible smallpox bioterrorism attacks in the U.S., has the dermatology world begun to address the cosmetic implications that an outbreak would entail? Sure, it sounds petty when lives are at stake. But if thousands of people stand to potentially become infected, has medicine developed any better means of preventing disfigurement? Drainage? Lots and lots of aloe gel? Sedatives to keep people doped until the pustules pass?
PC users of the world beware! A new worm called BugBear is making the rounds, and New Scientist says it reflects a worrying new trend in virus code. Instead of disabling your computer, or turning it into a denial of service pod to flood other machines with garbage, BugBear contains a Trojan horse program that can collect credit card details, passwords and other private information stored from a computer and send it to a hacker. “When run, the Trojan disables anti-virus programs running on your machine,” New Scientists says. “It then installs a ‘keyboard sniffing’ program that remains in the background and copies every keystroke on your keyboard and saves them to a file. At some point later it opens a network connection and transmits the file to its creator, or bundles it up and sends it out as an email.” One side effect of the worm is that it tries to mail itself to any other machines on your network, including printers. So if you see unexpected, long junk printouts spewing for the LaserJet, you ought to get checked for infection.
>>BugBear at Sophos
Results of an animal study published in the journal Science raise the possibility that the use of the rave fave drug Ecstasy ? methylene-dioxymethamphetamine ? can damage brain cells. The same cells, in fact, that are destroyed by Parkinson?s disease.
“We don’t know if human beings develop the same effects we describe in monkeys and in baboons,” Dr. George Ricaurte, a Johns Hopkins neurologist, told Reuters. “The broader issue is, are there hundreds of cases of unexplained parkinsonism in MDMA users? We don’t know because we haven’t looked.”
The Reuters article also contains the following quotation, reproduced below only marginally out of context: “[A]s you might imagine, it is not easy to get a baboon to take an oral dose of a drug.”
Though not strictly a science story, the Wall Street Journal has a devastating profile this morning of Sam Waksal, founder of ImClone. It’s a warning not only for directors of technology-based companies, but for investors and the media, who can be charmed by one person with a winning personality and a compelling story (in this case a promising cancer-fighting molecule). Terrific digging by reporter Geeta Anand reveals a string of research jobs from which Waksal was ousted for misleading and sometimes falsified results. Do yourself a favor and read this one through to the end. Suddenly Martha Stewart’s alleged insider trading of ImClone stock seems like the least of anyone’s worries about Waksal.
This weekend I sank my teeth into some delicious beef ribs. But researchers at the Forsyth Institute say they’ve done one better ? they’ve sunk pork teeth into rat guts. The experiment involved taking seeded cells from immature teeth of six-month-old pigs and placing them in the intestines of rats (who no doubt were thrilled at the addition). Within 30 weeks, small tooth crowns made of enamel and dentin had formed. Within five years, the Forsythe team says, they hope to be able to harvest teeth of specific size and shape, and five years after that to regrow human teeth.