Vlad the Impaler defeats Fritz the Ditz

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.”

Look, up in the sky… CLUNK!

Ice meteors are falling from the sky in growing numbers. And while some skeptics still think the phenomenon a hoax or the result of ice from planes passing overhead, a Spanish scientist says they are neither. Though he doesn’t know precisely how the meteors form, Jesus Martinez-Frias, director of planetary geography at Spain’s Astrobiology Center in Madrid, notes that their results can be dramatic. The falling ice blocks tend to weigh upwards of 20 pounds and have smashed in cars, destroyed roofs and caused general mayhem where they land. But Martinez-Frias says he isn’t concerned so much about the terrestrial damage they can cause, but the atmospheric damage he believes they portend. “I’m not worried that a block of ice might fall on your head … but that great blocks of ice are forming where they shouldn’t exist,” he said. “Components of the atmosphere, like ozone and water, are changing in different levels of the atmosphere. … We think these signs could be evidence of climate change,” he told Reuters.

Salt of the Earth

Live near the ocean? Ever wonder why your air is so clean, while the poor saps inland keep dying from smog? Reuters reports salty sea spray actually scrubs out air pollution. According to an article published in the journal Science, some of the spray rises high into the atmosphere and helps create raindrops, which drag pollution back down to earth (they also make you wet when it rains.) “The idea that larger salt particles can seed clouds and enhance rainfall is not new but it was not combined with actual observation,” says Daniel Rosenfeld, who conducted the experiment.

Three-way chip deal promises smaller everything

Computer chips have been shrinking for years. But who stops to consider that that’s only been possible because the stuff on the chips, like circuits, transistors and memory have shrunk too? To keep the trend going, Germany’s Infineon has joined Advanced Micro Devices and United Microelectronics Corp. to develop technology to produce the tiny structures needed inside chips. As the number of elements on a chip doubles approximately every year, “chipmakers are under pressure to develop new microelements to fit on (them),” Reuters reports. Currently, the size of the smallest element on a chip is 130nm. The three-way alliance will focus on developing a 65nm and 45nm manufacturing process.

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.

Congo town gets volcano double-whammy

Goma, a town in eastern Congo, has been hit with a volcano spurting molten rock 100 meters in the air, just a few months after a separate volcano devastated the area. “It was something like an explosion of the sun,” Dario Tedesco, a volcano consultant to the United Nations, told Reuters. “It was really spectacular, it was glowing everywhere, the sky was red, you could see the lava coming up from the fissure.” In January another volcano razed much of Goma, and researchers say they’re worried that hothead could blow again. According to the wire service, the winter eruption forced tens of thousands of people to flee into neighboring Rwanda — something few rational people would do by choice. Vulcanologists say the pool of molten rock bubbling in a 1.2-km wide crater at the top of the January volcano had risen rapidly in the last two weeks, but that it is devilishly hard to judge how much risk it poses.

Incidentally, the Granular Volcano Group runs a Web site that explains the physics behind much of a volcano’s activity. It’s a little math-heavy, but you can watch some neato supercomputer simulations of different kinds of gas clouds and debris flows.

Hey pal, here’s a billion-five

Hand it to eBay CEO Meg Whitman: She knows a bargain when she sees it. The online auction giant said Monday it would buy PayPal for about $1.5 billion. That’s a fair enough price by any reckoning for the Internet’s most popular electronic payment service. But when the teeming masses of eBay bidders and sellers get thrown into the mix, PayPal truly becomes a bargain. Indeed, with the right marketing it could one day join the likes of Visa and MasterCard among the heavy hitters of consumer payments. It was just as smart for PayPal’s board to see recognize which way the wind’s blowing. As Reuters notes, the company already derives about 60 percent of its business from eBay.

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