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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Mobile Phone Brain Cancer Link Rejected

  Further reseaimagerch has been published suggesting there is no link between mobile phones and brain cancer.

The risk mobiles present has been much debated over the past 20 years as use of the phones has soared.

The latest study led by the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark looked at more than 350,000 people with mobile phones over an 18-year period.

Researchers concluded users were at no greater risk than anyone else of developing brain cancer.

The findings, published on the British Medical Journal website, come after a series of studies have come to similar conclusions.

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Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Science and Medical

 

The Future of Airport Passport Control

   Digital security specialists, major European electronics makers, and experts in biometrics worked together to make passport control at airports faster. The technology also could have broader applications on the way our identity documents are design and on the way we access public services.

The BioP@ss project, funded through the EUREKA micro-electronics cluster MEDEA+, has developed advanced chip cards and embedded software for next-generation biometrics-enhanced passports and identity cards as well as access to pan-European public services. Contactless card scanning and very high speed data interfacing will reduce queues at airports and frontier posts while boosting European security. The technology will improve passengers safety while reducing government administration costs and simplifying access to public pan-European electronic services for citizens. The elements are already being incorporated in systems to meet air travel security standards from 2014.

Some 380 million identity cards are in circulation in the EU’s 500 million population. However, security levels must be raised for electronic e-ID cards and passports while also simplifying access to electronic public services for citizens across Europe. The challenge facing the digital security industry was to meet new standards without changing the infrastructure already in use in airports. It was also necessary to speed card reading to cut waiting times and enable access to much more data.

Extended security required

E-passports and e-ID cards incorporate a microprocessor chip storing crucial private information such as biometrics as well as name, date and country of birth. The EU required extended security to ensure that the chip could not be read without physical access to the ID document and that data exchanged between contactless chip and reading device is encrypted.

New technologies and standards developed during the project, implement asymmetric cryptography reliant on a shared key between reading device and chip during authentication. The result is enhanced data confidentiality which prevents skimming or eavesdropping.

Security specialist Gemalto set out to meet the new requirements through a project bringing together 11 partners in five countries covering all elements of the smart-card platform. “Gemalto invests heavily in research to retain its leadership position and we like co-operative programmes such as EUREKA for this type of complex innovative project,” explains Patrice Plessis of Gemalto.

While the initial focus was on e-passports and e-ID cards, applications were also envisaged for health-service access, electronic voting and driving licences. “We built on the results of the previous MEDEA+ Onom@Topic project,” says Plessis. The project won two years ago the EUREKA Innovation Award, rewarding every year a research project leading to outstanding commercial results.

Match-on-card environment

Facial image verification is the main use of biometrics features with e-passports and e-ID cards. The goal of BioP@ss was to develop an innovative match-on-card biometrics environment, suitable for on-card processing, and to develop an environment enabling users to interact from a biometrics e-ID personal device with a set of multiple near-field communication (NFC) enabled terminals. Concretely, airplane passengers will simply have to pass through a gate with their passport in their pocket to be immediately identified. This could replace the long waiting line at airports’ passport controls.

All this required new chip technologies which have provided several innovations such as very high bit rate contactless interfaces, able to transmit thousands of data parameters within a few seconds, advanced biometrics and NFC connectivity that will enable the delivery of innovative services to citizens by simply using a personal e-ID.

Advances in BioP@ss included further development of security chips and encryption technologies, and security software for personal computers. Data transfer rates between cards and readers have been increased more than tenfold — from 800 kb/s to 10 Mb/s. Moreover, a new chip-card operating system makes it possible to use future e-ID documents on the Internet without any additional software components on the PC.

“We also worked on proof of security for supplemental access control for e-passports, contributing a new standard called PACE -Password Authenticated Connection Establishment-, which was adopted in mid 2011,” says Plessis. In addition, the EUREKA project contributed to a new ISO standard for contactless data transfer, currently under consideration, and to the CEN IAS standard for the European Citizen Card.

Increasing security and mobility

BioP@ss made advances in the development of a software making operations on ID related data more transparent, thus creating the necessary protocols for what are already called third-generation passport, e-ID cards and resident permits. Those are very important for the new travel regulations initiated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, or ICAO, entering into practice from the end of 2014.

The technologies developed are being incorporated into card platforms by the BioP@ss partners. Packages including the technology are already on the market, while card specialists Gemalto and Giesecke & Devrient are working on complete contactless means of Internet authentification. Benefits include increased mobility in Europe with faster and more flexible access to e-government and better protection of personal data. “Moreover, it will be possible to reuse the building blocks developed in middleware/software, biometrics and protocols in other projects and platforms to improve European security and competitiveness,” points out Plessis.

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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Butterfly Found To Be New Species, Because Of Its Mustache

           After nearly a century in the Natural History Museum collections, a new butterfly species has been discovered because of its mustache.

A new butterfly species from the dry Magdalena valleys of Colombia has been discovered among the three million butterfly specimens at the Natural History Museum in London by a butterfly curator. It lay undiscovered in the collection for 90 years, but only when the curator Blanca Huertas compared it with a recently found wild specimen was it identified as Splendeuptychia ackeryi, or Magdalena valley ringlet, whose distinguishing feature is unusually hairy mouthparts.

Blanca Huertas, butterfly curator at the Natural History Museum, who discovered and described the new species said: “The collections here at the Natural History Museum are a treasure trove to be explored. We have almost nine million butterflies and moths in our collections, a comprehensive example of the Earth’s diversity. But there are many new species still waiting to be discovered, both in museum collections and in the field.”

Huertas discovered the new species in the wild when she traveled, with two colleagues, on an expedition to a remote mountain in Colombia in 2005. The entomologists did not realize, however, that the butterfly they had seen in Colombia had not been named and described until they returned to the UK and studied the specimens in the Museum’s collections, dating from 1920.

Huertas continued: “Butterflies are a diverse group of insects with almost 20,000 known species, 40 per cent of which are in South America. We are working hard at the Museum with our current exhibitions and developments such as Butterfly Jungle opening this summer and the new Darwin Centre opening in September, to encourage a new generation of researchers. They can help us complete an inventory of the planet’s biodiversity before we lose more species unknown to science.”

The description of the new butterfly is published in the latest issue of Zootaxa.

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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Science and Medical

 

Saving Dogs With Spinal Cord Injuries

  Dogs with spinal cord injuries may soon benefit from an experimental drug being tested by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences — work that they hope will one day help people with similar injuries.

Funded through a three-year, $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, the drug to mitigate damage has already proven effective in mice at UCSF. Now the Texas team will test how it works in previously injured short-legged, long torso breeds of dog like dachshunds, beagles and corgis, who often suffer injuries when a disk in their back spontaneously ruptures, damaging the underlying spinal cord.

About 120 dogs a year that develop sudden onset hind limb paralysis after such injuries are brought to the Small Animal Hospital of Texas A&M University, where they receive surgical and medical treatment similar to that for human spinal cord injury. Now, researchers will test whether the new treatment works on some of these dogs, with their owners’ consent.

“It would be phenomenal if it works,” said Linda J. Noble-Haeusslein, PhD, a professor in the UCSF departments of Neurological Surgery and Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science who designed the intervention. “We are in a unique position of being able to treat a dog population where there are simply no current therapies that could effectively improve their hind limb function.”

The new treatment does not seek to regrow injured pathways in the spinal cord. Instead, it aims to mitigate damage secondary to the spinal cord injury. Most spinal cord injuries trigger a cascade of chemical reactions in the spinal cord that collectively damage nearby cells and pathways, contributing to functional deficits including hind limb function.

A few years ago, Noble and her UCSF colleague Zena Werb, PhD, showed how blocking the action of one protein found in the spinal cord of mammals can help mice recover from spinal cord injuries. This protein, called matrix metalloproteinase-9, can degrade pathways within the cord and cause local inflammation, leading to cell death.

The injured dogs offer a great opportunity to take the next step on this treatment because their injuries more closely mimic spontaneous human spinal cord injury and, as is the case with humans, no existing treatment has substantially reduced paralysis. Dog in medical device

Dog in medical device

Noble’s co-investigator on the new study, Jonathan Levine, DVM, an assistant professor in neurology at Texas A&M University, will treat the dogs through injections of a protein-blocking drug. He will then help the dogs through rehabilitation and assess their recovery. Ongoing studies at UCSF focus on further refining delivery of the drug so as to optimize recovery.

Other researchers have shown that movement can be preserved if as little as 18 percent to 20 percent of the nerve fiber tracts in the spinal cord remain intact.

If successful, the trials in injured dogs may lead to the development of similar treatments for people who suffer spinal cord injuries, Noble said. These are among the most expensive injuries: every person with an injured spinal cord costs the health care system millions of dollars over his or her lifetime.

Such costs often are overshadowed by the tragic and devastating personal price of the injuries, which dramatically alter lives and most often occur in younger people, with long lives in front of them. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, based at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, most of the 12,000 Americans who suffer spinal cord injuries are between the ages of 16 and 30.

As of this year, some 265,000 people in the United States are living with such injuries, according to the national center. This includes many wounded soldiers who have returned home from war zones.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.

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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Science and Medical

 

Harp Seals On Thin Ice After 32 Years of Warming

   Warming in the North Atlantic over the last 32 years has significantly reduced winter sea ice cover in harp seal breeding grounds, resulting in sharply higher death rates among seal pups in recent years, according to a new Duke University-led study.

“The kind of mortality we’re seeing in eastern Canada is dramatic. Entire year-classes may be disappearing from the population in low ice years — essentially all of the pups die,” said David W. Johnston, research scientist at the Duke University Marine Lab. “It calls into question the resilience of the population.”

The study, recently published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, is the first to show that seasonal sea ice cover in all four harp seal breeding regions in the North Atlantic has declined by up to 6 percent a decade since 1979, when satellite records of ice conditions in the region began.

Harp seals rely on stable winter sea ice as safe places to give birth and nurse their young until the pups can swim and hunt on their own. Female seals typically seek out the thickest, oldest ice packs in sub-Arctic waters each February and March, and have adapted to the spring melt by developing unusually short, 12-day nursing periods.

“As a species, they’re well suited to deal with natural short-term shifts in climate, but our research suggests they may not be well adapted to absorb the effects of short-term variability combined with longer-term climate change and other human influences such as hunting and by-catch,” Johnston said.

To assess the cumulative impacts of these factors, the researchers analyzed satellite images of winter ice from 1992 to 2010 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence — a major breeding region off Canada’s east coast — and compared them to yearly reports of dead seal pup strandings in the region. They also compared the stranding rates to recorded measurements of the relative strength of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), a climate phenomenon that controls the intensity and track of westerly winds and storms and greatly affects winter weather and sea ice formation in the region. These analyses revealed that higher pup mortalities occurred in the Northwest Atlantic harp seal herd in years with lighter ice cover and when the NAO was weaker.

Analysis of older data revealed that NAO-related changes in seasonal ice cover may have contributed to major declines in seal populations on the east coast of Canada from 1950 to 1972, and to a period of steady recovery from 1973 to 2000.

“This clearly shows that harp seal populations across the Atlantic fluctuate pretty much in synch with NAO trends and associated winter ice conditions,” Johnston said. “But there’s a caveat. Regardless of NAO conditions, our models show that sea ice cover in all harp seal breeding regions in the North Atlantic have been declining by as much as 6 percent a decade over the study period. The losses in bad years outweigh the gains in good years.”

A key unanswered question, he added, is whether seals will be able to respond to the long-term trend by moving to other, more stable ice habitats.

Recent reports that some harp seals are whelping in new breeding grounds off East Greenland indicate some shifting may be taking place, but thousands still return each year to traditional breeding grounds in the Gulf of St. Lawrence or along the Front, off Newfoundland, regardless of ice conditions.

“There’s only so much ice out there, and declines in the quantity and quality of it across the region, coupled with the earlier arrival of spring ice breakup, is literally leaving these populations on thin ice,” Johnston said. “It may take years of good ice and steady population gains to make up for the heavy losses sustained during the recent string of bad ice years in eastern Canada.”

Co-authors of the study are doctoral student Matthew T. Bowers and research scientist Ari S. Friedlaender, both of Duke, and David M. Lavigne, science advisor at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which funded the study.

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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Science and Medical

 

Google search changes ‘warp the internet’

Google’s introduced one of its biggest-ever changes to search, tapping Google+ results to give more personal results in a move that some observers suggest may contravene US anti-trust legislation.

Titled Search plus Your World, the new service, being rolled out over the next few days to English speakers, builds on Social Search to highlight personal content from users and their friends.

It also makes it easier to find profiles in search. “Now, typing just the first few letters of your friend’s name brings up a personalized profile prediction in autocomplete,” says Google fellow Amit Singhal on the company blog.

“Selecting a predicted profile takes you to a results page for your friend, which includes information from their Google+ profile and relevant web results that may be related to them.”

And a new People and Pages feature offers a list of ‘prominent people’ who regularly discuss a given topic on Google+ so that searching for ‘music’, for example, offers you pearls of wisdom from the likes of Britney Spears and Snoop Dogg.

However, Twitter’s senior lawyer, Alex Macgillivray, describes the move as a ‘bad day for the internet’ in a tweet.

“Having been there, I can imagine the dissension @Google to search being warped this way,” he says.

By highlighting Google+ results, says Twitter, the company is effectively demoting content from its competitors. And there’s no clear reason why the People and Pages feature can’t offer Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as Google+, for example.

Rather smugly, Google points out that it no longer has access to the Twitter database, making it hard to screen results effectively for relevance.

“We are a bit surprised by Twitter’s comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer… and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions,” it says on the Google+ blog.

Let’s hope for Google’s sake that’s enough to satisfy regulator

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2012 in Technology

 

A Smart Phone that Knows You’re Angry

    Researchers at Samsung have developed a smart phone that can detect people’s emotions. Rather than relying on specialized sensors or cameras, the phone infers a user’s emotional state based on how he’s using the phone.

For example, it monitors certain inputs, such as the speed at which a user types, how often the “backspace” or “special symbol” buttons are pressed, and how much the device shakes. These measures let the phone postulate whether the user is happy, sad, surprised, fearful, angry, or disgusted, says Hosub Lee, a researcher with Samsung Electronics and the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology’s Intelligence Group, in South Korea. Lee led the work on the new system. He says that such inputs may seem to have little to do with emotions, but there are subtle correlations between these behaviors and one’s mental state, which the software’s machine-learning algorithms can detect with an accuracy of 67.5 percent.

The prototype system, to be presented in Las Vegas next week at the Consumer Communications and Networking Conference, is designed to work as part of a Twitter client on an Android-based Samsung Galaxy S II. It enables people in a social network to view symbols alongside tweets that indicate that person’s emotional state. But there are many more potential applications, says Lee. The system could trigger different ringtones on a phone to convey the caller’s emotional state or cheer up someone who’s feeling low. “The smart phone might show a funny cartoon to make the user feel better,” he says.

Further down the line, this sort of emotion detection is likely to have a broader appeal, says Lee. “Emotion recognition technology will be an entry point for elaborate context-aware systems for future consumer electronics devices or services,” he says. “If we know the emotion of each user, we can provide more personalized services.”

Samsung’s system has to be trained to work with each individual user. During this stage, whenever the user tweets something, the system records a number of easily obtained variables, including actions that might reflect the user’s emotional state, as well as contextual cues, such as the weather or lighting conditions, that can affect mood, says Lee. The subject also records his or her emotion at the time of each tweet. This is all fed into a type of probabilistic machine-learning algorithm known as a Bayesian network, which analyzes the data to identify correlations between different emotions and the user’s behavior and context.

The accuracy is still pretty low, says Lee, but then the technology is still at a very early experimental stage, and has only been tested using inputs from a single user. Samsung won’t say whether it plans to commercialize this technology, but Lee says that with more training data, the process can be greatly improved. “Through this, we will be able to discover new features related to emotional states of users or ways to predict other affective phenomena like mood, personality, or attitude of users,” he says.

Reading emotion indirectly through normal cell phone use and context is a novel approach, and, despite the low accuracy, one worth pursuing, says Rosalind Picard, founder and director of MIT’s Affective Computing Research Group, and cofounder of Affectiva, which last year launched a commercial product to detect human emotions. “There is a huge growing market for technology that can help businesses show higher respect for customer feelings,” she says. “Recognizing when the customer is interested or bored, stressed, confused, or delighted is a vital first step for treating customers with respect,” she says.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2012 in Mobile