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Reefs in trouble

Today a program called Reef Check at UCLA's Institute of the Environment released the results of a massive, five-year volunteer-run survey of the planet's coral reefs -- what may be the world's most comprehensive ecological study to date. Unfortunately the study reveals that the reefs around the world are in serious decline, and that the
">situation is only getting worse
. Overfishing has affected 95 percent of the more than 1,107 coral reefs monitored since 1997; at least four species of reef fish, hunted as food or for aquariums, face extinction, according to the study. So how do you monitor the coral reefs, which make up less than .09% of the area of the world's oceans and are spread around the globe? Volunteers, lots of them. Reef Check scientists taught teams of sea-worthy volunteers -- from recreational divers to village fisherman -- about reef ecology and scientific monitoring. About 5,000 scientists and volunteers contributed. According to Reef Check's founder, Gregor Hodgson, of the reefs surveyed, just one, near Madagascar, could be considered pristine. "What we have seen is coral reefs have been damaged more in the last 20 years than they have in the last 1,000," Hodgson said. "Suddenly, the pressures of overfishing and damaging types of fishing -- dynamiting fish and poisoning fish, particularly in Southeast Asia -- have taken off."

NASA, Northwest team on mind-reading tech

This is something that's been talked about for years, though before Sept. 11 it was always in the context of a bank or high-security government facility, not Northwest Airlines. The upshot of this Washington Times article is that NASA and Northwest are teaming to see if mind-reading technology is feasible, and if so, can it be used to mass-screen airline passengers. Opinion is mixed, and no one in this article addresses the pharmaceutical countermeasures that could potentially be employed to calm a guilt- or panic-ridden brain and heart. Still, plenty creepy.

Space is the place … for Bass

Despite financial setbacks that threatened to keep boyish pop star Lance Bass from his life-long dream of traveling to outer space, Bass continues to train to join a Russian crew heading to the International Space Station in October. The cost of sending Bass into space is said to be about $20 million, and the mission, which Bass has been training for since July, became jeopardized when payments were not made on time. If he makes it there, the 23-year-old Bass would be the youngest person to travel to outer space.

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."

Just wait til Lance Bass gets there

Stargazers this week may be surprised by the sight of a glowing orange object streaking across the night sky. It?s the International Space Station, which is making bright passes over the U.S. and Canada until mid-August. The ISS -- which travels at 17,000 mph and circles the planet 16 times a day -- crosses the sky in three to six minutes, and can shine more brightly than any planet or star except our sun and moon. (Its brightness depends on its orientation, your location and the sun.) Right now this impressive sight can be observed by the unaided eye if skies are clear. (A flyby near downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday night was clearly visible despite city lights.) To find out when the station will fly above your town, orbit over to NASA SkyWatch.

Take your stinking calipers off me, you damn dirty drone!

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.

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