Mobile phone text messaging services will be blocked this weekend during a two day "tranquility period" ahead of Cambodia's local elections. The order was made at the request of the National Election Committee, which feared that voters would be inundated with political text messages from parties seeking their votes, "spoiling" the calm in the lead-up to the election. All three major phone companies in the country have agreed to carry out the ban. But the main opposition party has criticized the decision, arguing that it would curb constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
These local elections are ostensibly aimed at decentralizing government power and strengthening democracy, but analysts expect that they will only reinforce the central government and the longstanding leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen. In the upcoming April 1 elections, there are twelve political parties fielding a total of 102,266 candidates. Cambodian elections have been characterized by violence and intimidation in the past. But the text messaging ban is puzzling.
At last count, about one out of every 14 Cambodians had mobile phones. Rural access is improving, but even so, cellphone users remain a small minority. So why the ban? Perhaps it's a way of the government flexing its muscles and demonstrating its control before the elections. Or maybe it's a way of irking opposition activists. Whatever the case, it's a bizarre example of authoritarian overreach.
You might call Amir Alexander Hasson, who's featured in the current issue of FP, an ambitious man. He wants to outfit the two billion people living in rural areas of the developing world with an email address, a phone number, and Web access. To accomplish this monumental task, he founded United Villages, a non-profit organization that is pioneering mobile Wi-Fi stations that can be driven from village to village in developing countries, bringing the bounty of the world wide web with them. They're already up and running in India, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Paraguay.
You might also expect Hasson to be the first one to cite the dramatic changes that the Internet brings to lives of the poor people who are now wired thanks to his efforts. But in a nice little BBC write-up of Hasson's work today, Hasson (perhaps unwittingly) points out one of the big contradictions of the "bring the Net and the revolution will follow" thesis:
There's only 0.003% percent of the web that rural India cares about," [Hasson] told BBC News.
"They want to know the cricket scores, they want to see the new Aishwarya Rai photos, and they want to hear a sample of the latest Bollywood tunes."
In other words, rural Indians have the world at their fingertips, and they're not taking advantage of it. It's exactly the point that Pankaj Ghemawat addresses in "The World Isn't Flat." The world is only a fraction as integrated as we like to think, and Web traffic, economic investment, and phone calls are still far more likely to be local than not. The conventional wisdom says that where the Internet goes, development follows, but what if people just want to get cricket scores?
The World Economic Forum has released its annual Network Readiness rankings, which assesses how well a country can engage in and benefit from developments in information technology. Denmark nabs the top spot this year, followed by Sweden, Singapore, Finland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.
The United States, which topped the list last year, fell to seventh place this time around. Authors of the report cited problems in the justice system, the low rate of mobile phone use, and the low quality of science and math education as reasons behind the slide. They also singled out the lack of government leadership as harming American dominance in tech development.
Remember a few years back, when European and Asian countries were developing their third-generation (3G) technologies for mobile phones, which were leaps and bounds ahead of the U.S.? The United States is still playing catch-up. It seem that allowing market forces to run amok may not always result in the best technology. A more regulated environment for mobile technology in Europe and Asia allows for more unity in technological advances, whereas in the United States, competing standards can cause logjams. The same logic applies to some other aspects of IT as well, such as broadband penetration. It turns out government involvement can be a good thing, if it's efficient and well-informed.
Wired's defense blogger Noah Shachtman reports some astonishing news:
Torrential rains wiped out a quarter of the U.S.' intercontinental ballistic missile interceptors in Ft. Greely, Alaska last summer -- right when North Korea was preparing to carry out an advanced missile launch, according to documents obtained by the Project On Government Oversight.
What happened? Massive flooding damaged the missile silos that house the missile interceptors. Nobody expected torrential downpours to be an issue in Ft. Greely, Alaska, and so the silos weren't adequately protected.
As for Boeing, the chief contractor for the site, Shachtman notes that the goof may actually work in its favor:
POGO blames Boeing for being "at least partly responsible for failing to protect the silos" from the elements. Nevertheless, the watchdog group observes, the company "will most likely still receive an estimated $38 million to repair the silos and a $100 million no-bid contract to build more silos. Boeing would also receive a $7 million award fee added to the contract."
That's probably par for the course in the U.S. defense contracting business, which bears an increasing resemblance, at least superficially, to the old Soviet procurement system. The real question is: How many other critical U.S. defense systems are vulnerable to freak weather incidents? Because if the scientists are right about global warming, we may see a lot more of these types of problems.
UPDATE: Be sure to check out Missile Defense Agency spokesman Rick Lehner's response and POGO's rebuttal.
Over the weekend, a video game system became the heart of the most powerful supercomputer on earth. As I write this, Playstation 3 game consoles all over the world are working together to power through 493 trillion calculations per second in a group effort to find cures for Alzheimer's, Huntington's Disease, Mad Cow Disease, and several forms of cancer. To put that into perspective, IBM’s Blue Gene, considered to be the fastest unclassified supercomputer, reportedly maxes out at 367 trillion calculations per second. And the Playstation 3 cluster is still growing.
The game consoles' owners have volunteered to run a special software package developed at Stanford by a group called Folding@home. Their task is to simulate protein folding, the process whereby the human body produces new proteins. Alzheimer's and other diseases appear when human proteins become malformed. Exactly how normal protein production goes bad and eventually leads to these diseases is unknown, because the processes are extremely complicated, and they happen in milliseconds.
So scientists have begun simulating these complex processes via software—but it's no light-weight task. Most protein folding requires banks of powerful computers and days, if not months, of processing time to simulate just a few seconds of biological reaction. The "distributed computing" approach to tackling big problems isn't new. Several other projects are working to cure AIDS, study global warming, and even scan the cosmos for extraterrestrial life by dishing their software out over huge networks of computers. But Folding@home is the first to tap the power of the Playstation 3, which, it turns out, is a computational powerhouse.
Stocked with seven processors, all tuned to perform heavy number crunching, the Playstation 3 puts the average single-processor PC to shame. (All that computing power is also using quite a bit of energy, but that's another story.)
The Playstation 3's formidable numbers are surely being noticed by the other distributed computing projects, so pretty soon video game consoles could also be predicting the weather, simulating nuclear explosions, or unlocking the origins of the universe. To follow the progress of the Folding@home project, be sure to check in on the regular updates published on their website.
Watch a video of the Playstation 3 Folding@home software at work:
When we think about West Africa and the Internet, we often think of all the crazy Nigerian e-mail scams that often plague our hapless spam filters and occasionally hornswoggle the gullible.
But now, something of real value is coming out of the region's computers. A Ghanaian software developer is popularizing Semacode, a combination of Internet technology and shoe-leather gumption that he helped create.
Here's how it works: A black-and-white barcode is printed up and affixed to buildings, street lamps, or other landmarks. When people walk by and wonder, "Hey, what's that clock tower?" they can just whip out their camera phones and scan the barcode. Instantly, their Internet-enabled phones tell them they're at the University of Ghana, which was founded in 1948 and has nearly 24,000 students. The idea of using cellphones to read barcodes is not original; Japan has had the technology for years. But in Africa, where streets and buildings are renamed quite often, this tool can be particularly helpful.
Although Africa's IT industry is still minuscule, more and more African IT professionals are developing technologies for the digital age, often using open-source software due to Western copyright restrictions. "We are offering the big boys some competition," boasts one Ugandan IT developer.
With all the depressing news that comes out of the continent, this example offers hope that anyone with a good education and an Internet connection can be the next IT superstar. And who knows? Perhaps all those $150 laptops will fuel the next Web boom—this time in Africa.
In a recent FP cover story, The Bomb in the Backyard, nuke experts Peter Zimmerman and Jeffrey Lewis showed that for just a few million dollars, terrorists could purchase highly enriched uranium on the black market and basic military supplies on the Internet and— voilà—have a nuclear bomb.
To stop this nightmare scenario, U.S. border officials must be able to detect smuggled uranium at the border. That's extraordinarily difficult, explains Steve Coll in a recent piece for the New Yorker, because, "unless it is being compressed to explode, highly enriched uranium is a low-energy isotope that does not emit much radioactivity."
Undaunted, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has promised to shell out $1 billion on "next generation" monitors at port and border checkpoints in order to catch illicit uranium. But in its zeal to shell out some cash, DHS has conveniently overlooked the fact that its new detection monitors don't really work.
A stinging new GAO report shows DHS essentially lying to Congress by asserting that its new monitors were 95 percent effective in detecting smuggled uranium. (Congress had insisted on seeing increases in operational effectiveness before cutting the check for new monitors.) But in truth, the new monitors detected uranium around 70 percent of the time. And when it came to "masked" or hidden uranium, the best new monitors worked only half the time.
So why the discrepancy between the actual and the reported figures? DHS explained to the GAO that "they relied on the assumption that they will reach that [high] level of performance sometime in the future."
Because why have real results when you can make them up?
Brand new versions of the plane, which can carry up to 550 passengers, are en route from Europe to Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Airport officials expect big crowds. Even as the flights took off, however, worker unrest over Airbus layoffs was simmering and reports of new canceled orders were circulating. Now, French politicians are gearing up to do what they do best: throw government cash at the problem.
China is moving aggressively to become a player in space. In 2003, it became the third country after Russia and the United States to put an astronaut in orbit. Then, the country shocked the world in January by testing a new anti-satellite missile. Arms control experts speculated that China's intention was to shake the United States into negotiating a ban on weapons in space.
Since then, China has laid out an ambitious space program that reveals its intention to become a peer of the United States. NASA's chief told the U.S. Congress on Thursday that China could put a man on the moon, for what it's worth, in ten years.
But it looks like some Chinese have gotten a bit too carried away with this space thing:
BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese company has been banned from selling plots of land on the moon, state media reported on Saturday.
The company, Lunar Embassy to China, had sold a total of 49 acres (20 hectares) to 34 customers before authorities acted, Xinhua news agency said.
The case had been going on since 2005, when the company sued the state after its license was revoked. The wheels of justice do tend to turn slowly in China, but in this case the ruling may have been timed to send a pointed diplomatic message:
On Friday, the Beijing intermediate court rejected its appeal, saying no individual or country could claim ownership of the moon.
In 2001, atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen theorized that particles suspended in the atmosphere (dust and soot) were blocking up to 15 percent of the sunlight meant to reach the ground in many parts of Asia. Back then, this was considered to be a bad thing—but today, aerosols are hailed as a potential foil to global warming. The map above is a NASA image generated by two of their Earth-imaging satellites, Terra and Aqua. The dark orange areas represent high concentrations of airborne particles, while the lighter areas depict clearer atmosphere. The grey areas have not been mapped.
The global aerosol patterns in 2006 were similar to previous years. High aerosol concentrations were observed over western and central Africa (a mixture of dust from the Sahara and smoke from agricultural fires), northern India (where urban and industrial pollution concentrates against the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains), and northeastern China (urban and industrial pollution). Aerosol optical depth appeared unusually high in 2006 over Indonesia, probably as a result of increased fire activity there. The image also shows the impact of fires in Russia’s boreal forest, which spread aerosols into the Arctic.
The high res version is splendid.
Last week, I blogged about how the lack of robust power grids in the rural areas of developing countries spurred some cell providers to experiment with solar, wind and biofuels to independently power individual cell phone towers.
Of course, this solves the problem of power for the cellular network, but—as Passport reader Bradley Loomis asked via email—if there isn't an electrical grid to power the cell towers, how do cell phone users in these areas charge their cell phones?
The answer lies in a business model that is quickly emerging across the globe, from China to Uganda: charging the cell phone batteries of rural customers in bigger cities for a fee. Check out LunchOverIP’s report on how Chinese businessmen are transforming their charge-for-a-fee service into a potentially charge-for-free ad-supported model (kind of like Google but without the whole Internet part). Jan Chipchase also has a great piece on the subject and some good photos of charging stations in Uganda.
Bradley, thanks for the question! More good comments on Slashdot.
Mobile phones are the lifeblood of economic and social networks in developing countries precisely because they don't require the vast infrastructure of wires, cables and stations that traditional landline phones need to operate. They do, however, require cellular towers, which run on electricity—a scarce commodity in the more rural areas of developing nations.
To compensate, at least two countries have developed novel, eco-friendly alternatives to a standard power grid for their cellular networks. In Namibia, a cell phone service provider is experimenting with hybrid wind/solar power cellular base stations to roll out service where a power grid doesn't exist. While the effort won't save any money, the key aim of cell companies is to beat the roll-out of traditional power grids by one to two years. It helps that, once they are set up, the stations run themselves:
In Namibia the turbine and solar panels will also be running the base station with traffic on it, the peripheral communications, vsat (satellite transmitter/receiver) and even the protective fencing around the site."
An experimental program in India, where the number of mobile subscribers is exploding but power is scarce, uses an interesting choice of feedstock for biofuel production instead of the wind/solar combination:
The scheme in India will use oil derived from plants such as cotton, a mahogany-like tree called neem and jatropha. Jatropha trees are already widely grown across India, specifically as a biofuel crop. The seeds of the plant are a traditional remedy for constipation.
And a parallel program is already underway in Lagos, Nigeria. But does all this work toward creating reliable mobile networks in the rural villages of Africa and South Asia really have an impact? Just ask the health workers in Rwanda—mobile networks there reduced the average response time between patient and health care worker from one month to a matter of seconds.
When Hitler rained bombs on London for more than 50 consecutive nights in the fall of 1940, Londoners responded by tacking up "Business As Usual" signs on the city's streets. Life went on, and the Blitz be damned.
Contrast that to this morning, when a light dusting of snow—less than one-eighth of an inch—fell on Washington. It was apparently too much for our federal government to handle. Business couldn't continue. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid struggled to explain why the chamber was helpless in the face of a dusting of snow. Taking a vote on a homeland security measure would have to wait. Washington, he explained, is "different from a lot of other places." Here, at the epicenter of the free world, he continued, "an inch or two" of snow probably shouldn't cause the federal government to grind to a halt, "but it does." "Those are the facts of life in the bitter winter of an inch of snow" in the most powerful city in the world, Reid concluded.
Let's hope the terrorists don't get their hands on any cloud seeding technology, in which silver iodide is sprayed into clouds by airplanes or artillery shells in an effort to encourage precipitation. Come to think of it, a pre-emptive strike against China may be necessary, as they've been making use of cloud seeding for years.
If you live in the midwestern U.S. state of Kansas, some "breast milk" rice could be blowing your way soon.
Ventria Bioscience has received preliminary government approval to grow rice plants containing genes involved in producing human breast milk. The plants could one day be used for the noble purpose of developing drugs that would treat diarrhea and dehydration in babies. If final approval is given in April, Ventria would begin planting the rice over 3,000 acres of Kansas farmland sometime in April or May.
The plan, of course, has its critics. Some worry that high winds or human error could cause the experimental plants to enter the human food supply. In 2002, genetically modified corn from the United States somehow got into Mexican fields and began spreading naturally by cross-pollination.
Let's hope that no Kansans start erupting in spontaneous lactation.
What's one of the best sections of any newspaper or magazine? The corrections section. In the case of the New Yorker, these come under the heading of the Editors' Note. And the most recent issue has quite the doozy:
The July 31, 2006, piece on Wikipedia, "Know It All," by Stacy Schiff, contained an interview with a Wikipedia site administrator and contributor called Essjay, whose responsibilities included handling disagreements about the accuracy of the site's articles and taking action against users who violate site policy. He was described in the piece as a "tenured professor of religion at a private university' with "a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law." ...
Essay now says that his real name is Ryan Jordan, that he is twenty-four and holds no advance degrees, and that he has never taught.
Whoops. If only it ended there. Wikipedia, always one to get a little sensitive over questions about the credibility of its editors, initially stood by its man. But his Wikipedia user page now says he's "no longer active on Wikipedia."
In a farewell message, Essjay wrote, "it's time to make a clean break." Though he claims to have received "an astounding amount of support," the site's user forums had become awash in harsh comments for Essjay, calling him a fraud and worse. There was talk of reviewing the thousands of articles he edited to see if he used his false credentials improperly while acting as one of the site's few officially empowered moderators. At least one instance came to light right away:
In a discussion over the editing of the article with regard to the term "imprimatur," as used in Catholicism, Essjay defended his use of the book "Catholicism for Dummies," saying, "This is a text I often require for my students, and I would hang my own Ph.D. on it's credibility."
Perhaps that errant apostrophe should have been a tip-off.
A Michigan couple got a macabre surprise recently when they received two packages that they thought contained the table they'd just bought on eBay. Instead, inside the bubble wrap, they found a human liver and ear that had been culled from corpses in China and plasticized. As the New York Times reported last August, Chinese companies are churning out body parts, mostly for museums:
Inside a series of unmarked buildings, hundreds of Chinese workers, some seated in assembly line formations, are cleaning, cutting, dissecting, preserving and re-engineering human corpses, preparing them for the international museum exhibition market.
Thankfully, it sounds as if the delivery service DHL is to blame for the mistake and that eBay is still refusing to allow the sale of body parts. The liver and ear were bound for a medical research lab nearby. Police think another two dozen plasticized body parts from China are on their way to wrong addresses across Michigan. So, if you're expecting a parcel, you may want to double check the return address before opening.
Here in America, we have a hard time getting our rudimentary electronic voting machines to work. But over in the former Soviet republic of Estonia—which is about the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined and boasts a per capita GDP of under $20,000—they've held the world's first online elections. Internet polling, which ended on Wednesday, drew about 30,000 voters, or 3.5 percent of the registered pool. Those votes will be added to the ballots cast this Sunday, Estonia's official election day. A handful of other countries have tested similar technology, including Britain, France, and the Netherlands. But, for the most part, the idea of online voting still scares the majority of nations, especially America. John Borland over at Wired explains:
Critics worry that voting systems using ordinary Windows PCs and the open internet could be hacked by unscrupulous outsiders, or subverted by insiders.
A high-profile United States Defense Department system called SERVE, or Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, aimed at allowing overseas military personnel to vote was canceled after a 2004 review by computer security experts said it presented an easy target for hackers."
Between electronic voting machines that cause multi-hour delays at polling stations and hanging chads on our paper ballots, we probably ought to concentrate on making sure we can get every American's vote counted before attempting to reinvent the wheel.
The Washington Post's scathing reporting on the lousy conditions for veterans' outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital has put the spotlight, however briefly, on a subject that often takes a backseat to more immediate concerns when waging war. Namely, how should the United States care for veterans returning from combat? The transition from the mean streets of Baghdad back to Anytown, USA is hardly easy, to say the least.
With that in mind, researchers at the University of Southern California have developed a system to treat post-traumatic stress disorder using virtual reality. The system allows PTSD sufferers to relive trauma-inducing experiences, such as roadside bomb attacks and urban warfare in Baghdad, in a controlled environment where doctors can help patients confront their trauma and work through it. The researchers originally announced their intention to pursue virtual treatment about two years ago, but now clinical trials are proving the method viable.
With some therapies for PTSD treatment already available, the hardest part of the effort might have been recreating a virtual Iraq and Afghanistan from scratch. Fortunately, someone else had already laid the groundwork: The VR simulations used to treat PTSD are modified scenarios from Full Spectrum Warrior—a video game developed for the Xbox.
Canada's former defense minister has a novel suggestion for halting climate change: alien technology.
Paul Hellyer, who has claimed to see a UFO, told the Ottawa Citizen yesterday that governments need to fess up about what alien technology they're keeping at their respective Area 51s because they may unwittingly have the silver-bullet solution to the planet's woes:
Alien spacecrafts would have traveled vast distances to reach Earth, and so must be equipped with advanced propulsion systems or used exceptional fuels, he told the newspaper.
I knew there had to be a reason why aliens are always green.
Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the hottest tech gadget in the room wasn't Steve Jobs' iPhone. It was Nicholas Negroponte's $100 laptop. Everyone from Michael Dell to Vint Cerf was seen playing with the small green and white computer that Negroponte, the former head of MIT's Media Lab, wants to distribute to poor kids in the developing world. Negroponte, who has developed a cult of personality nearly as powerful as that of his bargain basement laptop, has a simple theory. Get kids "making music and playing and communicating," he says, and development will follow.
Simple, yes. But also controversial. A point that came to a head at a Davos session on bridging the digital divide, where Negroponte found himself in a heated row with Intel Chairman Craig Barrett. Intel has developed an inexpensive laptop of its own. And Negroponte has charged that Barrett, who also happens to be the United Nations' point man on this issue, "has to look at this as a market, and I look at this as a mission."
Now, in an interview with FP released today, Barrett is firing back:
[I]f you listen to Nick [Negroponte] and the constructionist approach to life, they take the attitude that most teachers in the emerging economies have a fourth- or sixth-grade education, that they’re only competent to lead students in song and dance. And if you give kids computers, they will set up their own communities, their own content; they’ll learn collectively. That is what drives Negroponte and the One Laptop per Child approach. That is not the unanimous position of educators around the world. It has not been the position of companies like Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco, who recognize that technology is just a tool....
The race for wired global geriatric supremacy is ON! Over the last few months, the media speculated that 93-year-old Don Crowdis of Ontario, Canada was the world's oldest blogger. Then it was supposedly 94-year-old Allan Lööf of Finspång, Sweden. Then came news that Spain's 95-year-old Maria Amelia was given a blog for her birthday by her "stingy" grandson. But now there's someone who's beat them all, and who's likely not to get beat herself.
Olive Riley, who lives north of Sydney, Australia and was born in 1899, just started her blog this month. The 107-year-old great-great-grandmother was born in the British Colony of New South Wales under the rule of Queen Victoria, two years before Australia became a nation. She loves to drink shandy. The latest:
Good afternoon everyone. This is Olive here. First, I want to thank all of you who visited my blob. Gerard says there’ve been 192,000 visits but that can’t be right.
- It’s a blog, Ollie. Not a blob.
- Oh, really?
(Hat tip: my brother Ted)
African elephants are under threat again despite a 1989 ban on poaching the animals for their ivory tusks. A new study led by Samuel K. Wasser of the University of Washington estimated that around 23,000 elephants were killed illegally in 2006 alone, or one in twelve of the entire African population (when you exclude Botswana).
The striking finding is yet another sign that Asia's economic boom is having unexpected consequences around the world, since ivory is highly coveted in Japan and China for use in jewelry and for "hankos," cross sections of the tusk that are popular for use as stamps. Since the world largely lost interest in protecting African elephants during the 1990s, wholesale prices for ivory have skyrocketed to $750 per kilogram in those countries, turning tusk smuggling into a highly lucrative business and decimating the elephant population.
That's not all Wasser and his colleagues found. Taking DNA data information from the largest 535 pieces from a huge cache of smuggled ivory seized in 2002 by the authorities in Singapore, the interdisciplinary team of researchers used a new method to narrow down the range of possible geographic origins for the seized ivory. They quickly ruled out forested areas, honing in on the savanna that crosses the south-central portion of the continent. Their finding embarrassed the government of Zambia, which had claimed in documents that only 135 elephants had been killed illegally in the 10 years prior to the seizure, a number far below Wasser's estimate.
Holding African states accountable is key to halting what Wasser calls "a widespread slaughter of elephants that is getting worse by the day." But countries like Zambia have few resources with which to combat sophisticated ivory smuggling networks with deep pockets and international reach. Saving African elephants from possible extinction will require a global approach, Wasser argues, including public awareness campaigns in Asia (enlisting, say, Yao Ming as an advocate could help) and international aid to overwhelmed African governments. After all, the international community was able to halt the spread of poaching before, in 1989. Now that the scientific tools for tracking poachers are becoming more advanced, it's just a question of will.
Wondering if your website is blocked in China? Plug your URL into www.greatfirewallofchina.org, and you'll know instantly if your page is reaching the Middle Kingdom's 125 million Internet users. The slick site is the work of a group of artists and journalists who want "to make the censorship system transparent and keep open the discussion on censorship." The site keeps a record of every URL tested and the result, revealing that the status of many blocked sites changes almost daily. If your site is available, you can even see a preview of how it appears to Chinese surfers.
Here are some blocked and available sites, according to the Great Firewall:
|CNN: Lou Dobbs||Available|
FP is not blocked. For more on Chinese censorship, don't miss Mike Boyer's interview with Li Wufeng, China's top Internet censor.
UPDATE: Robert Mayer over at Publis Pundit points out that Chinese bannination doesn't just happen on a site-wide scale. While FP Passport's main page is available in China, some individual pages, such as our previously mentioned interview with China's top internet cop are blocked. Could China's filters be so sophisticated that they can whittle down websites to knock out individual, offending pages? Looks like it.
It makes me feel a bit like we're living in the beginning of a bad apocalyptic movie: Bees are vanishing all over the United States, and no one knows why. In 24 states around the country, beekeepers have opened up their boxes to find tens of millions of bees simply missing. Other beekeepers open up their hives only to find every bee dead.
Scientists are baffled, investigating every possibility from viruses to fungi to "bee stress." And beekeepers are quick to stress that their own bank accounts are not the main worry. Bees annually pollinate $14 billion worth of crops like almonds, apples, peaches, and blueberries, and growers are scrambling to find "alternative" pollinators like fans and helicopters to make up for the lack of buzzing in the fields.
So, where have all the honeybees gone? Here's a theory:
Two years ago, former Harvard President Lawrence Summers had women fuming when he said that innate differences between the sexes might explain why there aren't many women in science and engineering careers.
As a female with a degree in chemical engineering, I've wondered a lot about the nature vs. nurture debate myself, and a recent piece in FP may have scored one point for the "nurture" camp. The piece notes that an estimated one half of all software engineers coming out of Iran's universities are women, and at least one half of computer coders in Syria are estimated to be female. (In the United States, women received only 25 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2004.)
So, maybe Summers was partially right, but it's only American women who are "stupider."
Seriously though, the broader point is that social constraints influence our decisions. For women in the Middle East, computer work is ideal. It can be done from home, which is compatible with the restrictions they face when outside the home. Plus, working from home probably makes it easier to balance job and family responsibilities.
It all makes me wonder what's holding back American women.
Forget Kyoto, carbon trading, and renewable resource targets.
Just change your light bulbs, says Australian Prime Minister John Howard. In an effort to reduce his country’s carbon emissions (and to simplify his party’s environmental policy) Howard’s government will outlaw the antiquated incandescent light bulb by 2010. Australians will have to use more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, which are about five times more energy efficient and last much longer than standard bulbs.
(Hat tip: Slashdot)
That giant sucking sound you heard this weekend was defense contractors from all over the world heading to Abu Dhabi to ply their wares at IDEX, one of the largest shows of its kind in the world. The International Defense Exhibition is bigger than ever now that oil-producing Arab regimes are flush with cash and feeling a bit threatened by Iran.
There are usually cool new technologies and products at these hardware shows, but this one is the most interesting at IDEX: a giant wall in a box. Actually, it fits in a shipping container, but it's still pretty neat. All you need is something to fill the sandbags and a backhoe, and in no time flat you've got your very own fortification. The British are using these in Afghanistan.
Australians have been debating whether to change their national flag for over a decade. Those in favor argue that the Union Jack is a relic of the British imperial era. On top of that, the flag fails to even acknowledge the historical presence of Australia's indigenous Aboriginal population, proponents say. AusFlag, an organization lobbying for a flag change, also highlights the unoriginal nature of Australia's flag, given that it's almost identical to New Zealand's. More recently, critics have argued that Australia's flag is now associated with racism against Australia's immigrant populations, with the organizers of one of Australia's biggest outdoor music festivals, the "Big Day Out" in Sydney, discouraging people from bearing the flag for that reason.
Now, it seems, researchers at Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College are offering a way to settle the debate. It turns out that the Southern Cross, which is featured prominently on the Australian flag (and on the flags of Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Samoa), has an extra star. Perhaps now Australians will be able to agree that the flag really is out of date.
Two thousand five hundred of the world's cheapest laptops—retailing for a trifling $150—will be shipped to educational authorities in countries ranging from Pakistan to Brazil this month. We've blogged about this initiative previously (on the disparate reactions of India and Libya), but here's a refresher: The computers are the brainchild of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a project of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that aims to use the laptops to enable children in developing countries to learn like their counterparts in the developed world. "It's an education project, not a laptop project," OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte has stressed—but the technological achievement is pretty astounding. Each computer, which can be charged by cranking a handle, boasts a digital video camera, multi-lingual keyboard and wireless internet connectivity. OLPC plans to roll out 50 million of them in the next twelve months, by which time it hopes they will cost barely $100 (the original target price).
Not everyone is applauding. After all, $150 is still a lot of cash in these countries, and there's no guarantee the scheme will work. Indeed, many feel the only result will be a thriving black market in cutting-edge laptops. For my money, both sides are missing the point. Affordable computers are undoubtedly worthwhile, but it's small businesspeople, not children, who could make best use of them. Cheap laptops will boost their firms' efficiency, and provide long-distance communication at the touch of a button. When funds are scarce, it might be best that the kids stick to pens and paper—it's worked in the past.
If a great flood ravages the Earth in 2207, we won’t have to worry about losing the key to our food supply.
The Norwegian government is paying for the construction of a Noah's Ark that will house seeds of all the world’s food crops. The seed vault—which will hold up to 3 million seed samples—will be built 364 feet inside a mountain on a remote island near the North Pole. It would protect the seeds from apocalyptic catastrophes such as a nuclear Armageddon, an asteroid collision, and the much-feared consequences of climate change.
The site on Spitsbergen, one of Norway’s Svalbard islands, was chosen because of the long-term stability that it will provide. Designers modeled the worst-case scenario for climate change 200 years in the future and determined that the seed vault would still remain above water if the ice sheets of Greenland and the North and South Poles all melted. The surrounding permafrost will protect the precious seeds if the refrigeration system malfunctions.
My only question is: If humans get wiped out in a global catastrophe, who would take the seeds out of the vault?
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