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Artificial life likely in 3-10 years

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Kansas City Star/AP:

Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of "wet artificial life."

"It's going to be a big deal and everybody's going to know about it," said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, one of those in the race. "We're talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways - in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict."

That first cell of synthetic life - made from the basic chemicals in DNA - may not seem like much to non-scientists. For one thing, you'll have to look in a microscope to see it.

They call them "Northworst" for a reason

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Sioux Falls Argus Leader:  Northwest flight cancellations anger customers
Passengers were caught off-guard today after Northwest cancelled flights in and out of Sioux Falls today.

For travelers like Cindy Burton, who is stuck in Minneapolis from Tennessee, the cancelled flight could mean never seeing her son again, said Burton’s sister, Arla Stueckrath of Milan, Minn.

Burton’s son has been in critical condition at Avera McKennan Hospital since Saturday, Stueckrath said.

“It’s insane,” said Charmaine Petersen, Burton’s sister-in-law as she waited in the Sioux Falls airport. “When she booked the flight, Northwest knew it was an emergency.”

The earliest flight Burton was promised was at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, Petersen said.
Mike Marnach, executive director of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport Authority said he believes the cancellations will only last through today.

Cancellations were attributed to a number of things from no crew being available to construction being done on the runway in Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport, according the Sioux Falls airport’s Web site.

According to the NWA flights were still on schedule for Tuesday.

“All they can say is ‘Sorry,’” Stueckrath said. “I don’t care if they’re sorry or not.”

Petersen said she would never fly Northwest Airlines again.
That's going to be a pretty common reaction if Northwest keeps this up.

Here comes "organic technology"

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The holy grail of the Babylon 5 science fiction universe, organic technology referred to technology that was grown, not manufactured.  (Yes, the "holy grail" reference was intended, B5-heads.)

Well, here we go, a couple of centuries ahead of schedule (Air Force press release):

Air Force Funds Research on Self-Healing Materials

By Maria Callier Air Force Office of Scientific Research Public Affairs (Quantech)

Arlington, Va., July 30th, 2007 - A research team at the University of Illinois, funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, is creating new, cutting-edge structural microvascular materials which will have repetitive, self-healing capabilities as well as self-cooling behavior.

Professor Scott White and his colleagues are developing a technique for fabricating three-dimensional microvascular networks inspired by human skins or plant leaves.

"By using the networks to carry the healing agent, the study demonstrated that the performance of self-healing materials can be further improved by incorporating a circulatory system and continuously transporting an unlimited supply of healing agent, significantly extending the lifetime of the material," explained B.L. Lee, program manager for AFOSR's Mechanics of Multifunctional Materials and Microsystems. "This is a very exciting event and an important beginning for new technology."

The Air Force will benefit from the research because these materials have multifunctional behavior in an integrated system and will provide capabilities that have never been achieved before.

The research team continues to face challenges as it moves forward.

"We are developing new healing and protection schemes for our healing components that will provide the level of environmental stability that is needed," said Mr. White. "We are also pursuing research targeted towards fabrication methods to build large, structural parts using robotic techniques."

The team plans to design and build optimized microvascular networks for highly efficient and structural materials that can heal repeatedly with no loss in performance as damage accumulates.

"We are also targeting the integration of two types of functionality in a single material system - healing and cooling," said Mr. White. "In this case, the fluids that are circulated within the material will do double duty by providing the building blocks for structural healing as well as a conduit for extracting thermal energy and cooling the parent material."

By funding self-healing materials research, AFOSR continues to expand the horizon of scientific knowledge. AFOSR is part of Air Force Materiel Command's Air Force Research Laboratory.

Who will save the media from themselves?

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US public sees news media as biased, inaccurate, uncaring:  poll
More than half of Americans say US news organizations are politically biased, inaccurate, and don't care about the people they report on, a poll published Thursday showed.

And poll respondents who use the Internet as their main source of news -- roughly one quarter of all Americans -- were even harsher with their criticism, the poll conducted by the Pew Research Center said.

More than two-thirds of the Internet users said they felt that news organizations don't care about the people they report on; 59 percent said their reporting was inaccurate; and 64 percent they were politically biased.
Here's the detail.  Some highlights:
The internet news audience – roughly a quarter of all Americans – tends to be younger and better educated than the public as a whole. People who rely on the internet as their main news source express relatively unfavorable opinions of mainstream news sources and are among the most critical of press performance. As many as 38% of those who rely mostly on the internet for news say they have an unfavorable opinion of cable news networks such as CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, compared with 25% of the public overall, and just 17% of television news viewers.

The internet news audience is particularly likely to criticize news organizations for their lack of empathy, their failure to "stand up for America," and political bias. Roughly two-thirds (68%) of those who get most of their news from the internet say that news organizations do not care about the people they report on, and 53% believe that news organizations are too critical of America. By comparison, smaller percentages of the general public fault the press for not caring about people they report on (53%), and being too critical of America (43%).
. . .
Across every major news source, Democrats offer more favorable assessments than do independents or Republicans. The partisan divide is smallest when it comes to local TV news, which 83% of Democrats rate favorably along with 76% of Republicans. The differences are greatest for major national newspapers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post. Fully 79% of Democrats rate these newspapers favorably compared with just 41% of Republicans, based on those able to rate them.

Journalism has a problem.  Continuing to loudly proclaim "But we aren't biased, really, it's our audience that's biased!" isn't going to solve the problem.  Only when journalism as an industry comes to grips with their fundamental biases and prejudices will they begin to recover their trade's reputation.

West Nile in KC

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Second case reported in Kansas City.

West Nile in Wikipedia:

WNV has three different effects on humans. The first is an asymptomatic infection; the second is a mild febrile syndrome termed West Nile Fever;[1] the third is a neuroinvasive disease termed West Nile meningitis or encephalitis.[2] In infected individuals the ratio between the three states is roughly 110:30:1.[3]

The second, febrile stage has an incubation period of 3-8 days followed by fever, headache, chills, diaphoresis, weakness, lymphadenopathy, and drowsiness. Occasionally there is a short-lived truncal rash and some patients experience gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, or diarrhea. All symptoms are resolved within 7-10 days, although fatigue can last for some weeks and lymphadenopathy can take up to two months to resolve.

The more dangerous encephalitis is characterized by similar early symptoms but also a decreased level of consciousness, sometimes approaching near-coma. Deep tendon reflexes are hyperactive at first, later diminished. There are also extrapyramidal disorders. Recovery is marked by a long convalescence with fatigue.

More recent outbreaks have resulted in a deeper study of the disease and other, rarer, outcomes have been identified.The spinal cord may be infected, marked by anterior myelitis with or without encephalitis.[4] WNV-associated Guillain-Barré syndrome has been identified[5] and other rare effects include multifocal chorioretinitis (which has 100% specificity for identifying WNV infection in patients with possible WNV encephalitis)[6] hepatitis, myocarditis, nephritis, pancreatitis, and splenomegaly.[7][8][9]

The virus is transmitted through mosquito vectors, which bite and infect birds. The birds are amplifying hosts, developing sufficient viral levels to transmit the infection to other biting mosquitoes which go on to infect other birds (in the Western hemisphere the American Robin and the American Crow are the most common carriers) and also humans. The infected mosquito species vary according to geographical area; in the US Culex pipiens (Eastern US), Culex tarsalis (Midwest and West), and Culex quinquefasciatus (Southeast) are the main sources.[10]

In mammals the virus does not multiply as readily, and it is believed that mosquitoes biting infected mammals do not further transmit the virus,[11] making mammals so-called dead-end infections.

A 2004 paper in Science found that Culex pipiens mosquitoes existed in two populations in Europe, one which bites birds and one which bites humans. In North America 40% of Culex pipiens were found to be hybrids of the two types which bite both birds and humans, providing a vector for West Nile virus. This is thought to provide an explanation of why the West Nile disease has spread more quickly in North America than Europe.

It was initially believed that direct human-to-human transmission was only caused by occupational exposure,[12] or conjunctival exposure to infected blood.[13] The US outbreak revealed novel transmission methods, through blood transfusion,[14] organ transplant,[15] intrauterine exposure,[16] and breast feeding.[17] Since 2003 blood banks in the US routinely screen for the virus amongst their donors.[18] As a precautionary measure, the UK's National Blood Service runs a test for this disease in donors who donate within 28 days of a visit to the United States or Canada.

The more severe outcomes of WNV infection are clearly associated with advancing age[19] and a patient history of organ transplantation.[20] A genetic factor also appears to increase susceptibility to West Nile disease. A mutation of the gene CCR5 gives some protection against HIV but leads to more serious complications of WNV infection. Carriers of two mutated copies of CCR5 made up 4 to 4.5% of a sample of West Nile disease sufferers while the incidence of the gene in the general population is only 1%.[21][22]

There is no vaccine for humans. A vaccine for horses based on killed viruses exists; some zoos have given this vaccine to their birds, although its effectiveness there is unknown. Dogs and cats show few if any signs of infection. There have been no cases of direct canine-human or feline-human transmission, but these common pets may incubate the virus and pass it along through mosquitoes.[1]

For humans to escape infection the avoidance of mosquito is key[23] - remaining indoors at dawn and dusk, wearing light-colored clothing which protects arms and legs as well as trunk, using insect repellents on both skin and clothing (such as DEET, picaradin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus for skin and permethrin for clothes)[24] Treatment is purely supportive: analgesia for the pain of neurologic diseases; rehydration for nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea; encephalitis may also require airway protection and seizure management.

On August 19, 2006, the LA Times reported that the expected incidence rate of West Nile was dropping as the local population becomes exposed to the virus. "In countries like Egypt and Uganda, where West Nile was first detected, people became fully immune to the virus by the time they reached adulthood, federal health officials said." [2] However days later the CDC said that West Nile cases could reach a 3-year high because hot temperatures had allowed a larger brood of mosquitoes. [3] Reported cases in the U.S. in 2005 exceeded those in 2004 and cases in 2006 exceeded 2005s totals.

Is 'global warming' just a Y2K bug?

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Maybe.

From Daily Tech:

My earlier column this week detailed the work of a volunteer team to assess problems with US temperature data used for climate modeling. One of these people is Steve McIntyre, who operates the site climateaudit.org. While inspecting historical temperature graphs, he noticed a strange discontinuity, or "jump" in many locations, all occurring around the time of January, 2000. 

These graphs were created by NASA's Reto Ruedy and James Hansen (who shot to fame when he accused the administration of trying to censor his views on climate change). Hansen refused to provide McKintyre with the algorithm used to generate graph data, so McKintyre reverse-engineered it. The result appeared to be a Y2K bug in the handling of the raw data.

McKintyre notified the pair of the bug; Ruedy replied and acknowledged the problem as an "oversight" that would be fixed in the next data refresh.

NASA has now silently released corrected figures, and the changes are truly astounding. The warmest year on record is now 1934. 1998 (long trumpeted by the media as record-breaking) moves to second place.  1921 takes third. In fact, 5 of the 10 warmest years on record now all occur before World War II.  Anthony Watts has put the new data in chart form, along with a more detailed summary of the events. 

The effect of the correction on global temperatures is minor (some 1-2% less warming than originally thought), but the effect on the US global warming propaganda machine could be huge.

Then again-- maybe not. I strongly suspect this story will receive little to no attention from the mainstream media.

Oopsie.  Paging Emily Latella.

via TigerHawk.

News, Sports, Fun, Life

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That's been the slogan of Medary.com since . . . well, since the very early days of the blog.  I've decided to take it a bit more seriously, by moving all of my previous posts into one of those four topics.  Since there have been over 1200 postings since the beginning, this will take a while.  But, here's the categories:

News:  Current events, politics, and stuff that happens that interests me enough to post it and/or comment upon it.

Sports:  Fairly obvious, I would think.  You know.  Sports?

Fun:  Oddities and curiosities, mostly.  Things I come across which bring a smile (perhaps twisted) to my face, and, I hope, yours too.

Life:  My personal adventures through this world of ours.  Travel stories (good and bad), close encounters with Real Life, bureaucracies, and other alien life forms, told in the first person.

KC's light rail system will cost half a billion more

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Gosharootie, folks, guess what happens when some electrical engineer with delusions of grandeur tries to design a multibillion dollar transportation system?

He gets it wrong.

Color me surprised.

From the Kansas City Star:

A new report says Kansas City’s voter-approved light rail plan faces a funding shortfall of $433 million to $545 million — even if the federal government pays half of the construction costs.

Officials with HNTB discussed the estimate with the city council’s Transportation Committee this morning and copies were provided to reporters,

“The money is not sufficient to do what was voted on in November, 2006,” said Mark Huffer, general manager of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority.

Clay Chastain, who proposed the November 2006 ballot measure, did not attend the meeting this morning and was not immediately available for comment.

. . .

Engineers also estimated operating costs at $11 million in the first year, with fares and other revenue paying for $6.2 million of that. The total operating shortfall, the report says, would total $73.7 million, in 2007 dollars, through 2034.

Total shortfall considering construction and operating costs: $489 million, assuming the midpoint construction estimate.

It remains less than obvious to me why Kansas City, one of the least densely populated major metropolitan areas in the country, needs a light rail system.

(The Kansas City metro area's population density in 2000 was 328 people per square mile.  The average for all metro areas in the U.S. is about 320.  New York's metropolitan population density is 2,028 per square mile.)

Kansas City DOES NOT HAVE THE POPULATION DENSITY to support a light rail system.  Nor do most cities in the U.S--even those where a light rail system has been rammed down the throats of ambitious or ignorant taxpayers.  It WILL LOSE MONEY if you're stupid enough to actually build the damn thing.  That's why people are starting to ask for another vote on this manifestly dreadful idea of light rail in Kansas City.

Red Cross sued over . . . red cross

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The Johnson & Johnson red cross, that is.  Seems that the Red Cross (organization) doesn't own the red cross (logo).  Johnson & Johnson does.  All well and good, except the Red Cross (organization) has been selling rights to the red cross (logo) to other health care product manufacturerers.

Johnson & Johnson doesn't like that.  One little bit.  So, of course . . . LAWSUIT!

From the Wall Street Journal article (subscription required, fair use excerpt below):
J&J said it has been using the symbol of a Greek red cross since 1887, predating the chartering of the Red Cross. J&J trademarked the design -- two intersecting red lines of equal length -- at least as early as 1906, the suit says.

According to J&J, the Red Cross only has the right to use the trademark in connection with nonprofit relief services. J&J says in 1905, Congress prohibited "the emblem of the Greek red cross on a white ground" by organizations other than the Red Cross; J&J's suit says since it used the cross before that date, it was exempt.