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Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Modified vaccinia virus can target cancerAn engineered virus, injected into the blood, can selectively target cancer cells throughout the body in what researchers have labelled a medical first.

The virus attacked only tumours, leaving the healthy tissue alone, in a small trial on 23 patients, according to the journal Nature.

Researchers said the findings could one day "truly transform" therapies.

Cancer specialists said using viruses showed "real promise".

Using viruses to attack cancers is not a new concept, but they have needed to be injected directly into tumours in order to evade the immune system.

Smallpox to cancer

Scientists modified the vaccinia virus, which is more famous for being used to develop a smallpox vaccine.

The virus, named JX-594, is dependent upon a chemical pathway, common in some cancers, in order to replicate.

It was injected at different doses into the blood of 23 patients with cancers which had spread to multiple organs in the body.

Prof John BellUniversity of Ottawa

In the eight patients receiving the highest dose, seven had the virus replicating in their tumours, but not in healthy tissue.

Prof John Bell, lead researcher and from the University of Ottawa, said: "We are very excited because this is the first time in medical history that a viral therapy has been shown to consistently and selectively replicate in cancer tissue after intravenous infusion in humans.

"Intravenous delivery is crucial for cancer treatment because it allows us to target tumours throughout the body as opposed to just those that we can directly inject."

Infection prevented further tumour growth in six patients for a time. However, the virus did not cure cancer. Patients were given only one dose of the virus as the trial was designed to test the safety of the virus.

It is thought that the virus could be used to deliver treatments directly to cancerous cells in high concentrations.

Prof Bell acknowledges that the research is still in the very early stages, but he said: "I believe that some day, viruses and other biological therapies could truly transform our approach for treating cancer."

Cancer Research UK's Prof Nick Lemoine, also director of Barts Cancer Institute, said: "Viruses that multiply in just tumour cells - avoiding healthy cells - are showing real promise as a new biological approach to target hard-to-treat cancers.

"This new study is important because it shows that a virus previously used safely to vaccinate against smallpox in millions of people can now be modified to reach cancers through the bloodstream - even after cancer has spread widely through the patient's body.

"It is particularly encouraging that responses were seen even in tumours like mesothelioma, a cancer which can be particularly hard to treat."

(Medical Xpress) -- When Rob Evans' new donor heart arrived at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the organ wasn't frozen on ice inside a cooler, as is typical. Instead, it was delivered in an experimental device that kept it warm and beating with oxygen and nutrient-rich blood during its journey from Northern California.

The special delivery was part of an ongoing national, multi-center phase 2 clinical study of an experimental organ-preservation system that allows donor hearts to continue functioning in a near-physiologic state outside the body during transport. The trial is being led by principal investigator Dr. Abbas Ardehali, surgical director of the heart and lung transplantation program at UCLA.
Evans, 61, the CEO of a nonprofit in Arizona, had been waiting nearly four years for a new heart. When asked if he was interested in enrolling in the research study, he said he thought the concept of a "warm, beating heart" sounded like common sense. His transplant surgery took place in June.

The Organ Care System (OCS), developed by a medical device company called TransMedics, works this way: After a heart is removed from a donor's body, it is placed in a high-tech OCS device and is immediately revived to a beating state, perfused with oxygen and nutrient-rich blood, and maintained at an appropriate temperature. The device also features monitors that display how the heart is functioning during transport.  
According to Ardehali, the technology could also improve donor-heart function and could potentially help transplant teams better assess donor hearts — including identifying possible rejection factors that could complicate tissue-matching — since the organs can be tested in the device, over a longer period of time.
In addition, it could help expand the donor pool by allowing donor hearts to be safely transported across longer distances, he said.
UCLA's Heart Transplant Program is leading the nationwide study, which started in 2009. The randomized trial will enroll a total of 128 patients — half whose donor hearts will be transported the traditional way, and half who will receive hearts in the device. To date, UCLA has enrolled nine patients in the phase 2 trial. Columbia University and the Cleveland Clinic are also enrolling patients, and more centers are being added.
"There are not enough donor hearts to help all the patients who are waiting," Ardehali said. "If we can find ways to improve upon our limited supply of hearts, then more lives will be saved." 
With his new, strong heart beating inside his chest, Evans says he is thankful to the donor family for his gift of life and that he is ready to get back to the things he loves, including riding horses, playing with his grandson, and his work. But first, he jokes, he plans on tackling his wife's "to do" list of chores.
The OCS clinical trial, called the "Prospective, Randomized, Multicenter Safety and Effectiveness Evaluation of the Organ Care System Device for Cardiac Use" (PROCEED II), is fully designed and sponsored by TransMedics. 
Ardehali has no financial ties to disclose.

A research team has cataloged exactly what parts of the genetic code are essential for survival in a bacterial species. (Credit: © Yang MingQi / Fotolia

Purhaps i should make a science blog??

ScienceDaily (Aug. 30, 2011) — A team at the Stanford University School of Medicine has cataloged, down to the letter, exactly what parts of the genetic code are essential for survival in one bacterial species, Caulobacter crescentus.

They found that 12 percent of the bacteria's genetic material is essential for survival under laboratory conditions. The essential elements included not only protein-coding genes, but also regulatory DNA and, intriguingly, other small DNA segments of unknown function. The other 88 percent of the genome could be disrupted without harming the bacteria's ability to grow and reproduce.

The study, which was enabled by the team's development of an extremely efficient new method of genetic analysis, paves the way for better understanding of how bacterial life evolved and for improving identification of DNA elements that are essential for many bacterial processes, including the survival of pathogenic bacteria in an infected person. It will be published online Aug. 30 in Molecular Systems Biology.

"This work addresses a fundamental question in biology: What is essential for life?" said Beat Christen, PhD, one of the co-first authors of the new paper and a postdoctoral scholar in developmental biology. "We came up with a method to identify all the parts of the genome required for life."

The bacteria studied is a non-pathogenic freshwater species that has long been used in molecular biology research. Its complete genome was sequenced in 2001, but knowing the letters in its genetic code did not tell the researchers which bits of DNA were important to the bacteria.

"There were many surprises in the analysis of the essential regions of Caulobacter's genome," said Lucy Shapiro, PhD, the paper's senior author. "For instance, we found 91 essential DNA segments where we have no idea what they do. These may provide clues to lead us to new and completely unknown bacterial functions." Shapiro is a professor of developmental biology and the director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine at Stanford.

Caulobacter's DNA, like that of most bacteria, is a single, ring-shaped chromosome. To perform their experiment, the researchers mutated many Caulobacter cells so that each cell incorporated one piece of artificial DNA at a random location in its chromosome. The artificial DNA, which was labeled so the scientists could find it later, disrupted the function of the region of bacterial DNA where it landed. Over two days, the researchers grew these mutants until they had about 1 million bacterial cells, and then sequenced their DNA. After intensive computer analysis, they created a detailed map of the entire bacterial genome to show exactly where the artificial DNA segments had been inserted in the chromosome of the surviving cells.

This mutation map contained many gaps -- the regions of the DNA where no living bacteria had survived with an artificial DNA insertion. These regions, the researchers reasoned, must be essential for bacterial life since disrupting them prevented bacterial survival.

"We were looking for the dog that didn't bark," Shapiro said.

Scientists have used a similar mapping strategy to find essential genetic elements before, but the Stanford team added several innovations that greatly improved the speed and resolution of the method.

"Our method is very streamlined," Christen said. "We can do an analysis that would have taken years in a few weeks. We can immediately go to the answer."

The new method collapses into a single experiment work that used to take dozens of experimental steps, and shifts the majority of the time needed for the research from laboratory work to data analysis.

In total, the essential Caulobacter genome was 492,941 base pairs long and included 480 protein-coding genes that were clustered in two regions of the chromosome. The researchers also identified 402 essential promoter regions that increase or decrease the activity of those genes, and 130 segments of DNA that do not code for proteins but have other roles in modifying bacterial metabolism or reproduction. Of the individual DNA regions identified as essential, 91 were non-coding regions of unknown function and 49 were genes coding proteins whose function is unknown. Learning the functions of these mysterious regions will expand our knowledge of bacterial metabolism, the team said.

The research team anticipates that the new technique will have several interesting uses in both basic and applied research. For instance, the technique provides a rapid and economical method to learn which genetic elements are essential in any microbial species.

"This would give fundamental information so we could determine which essential genetic elements are conserved through evolution," said co-author Harley McAdams, PhD, professor of developmental biology.

The scientists also pointed out that the method could be used to examine which DNA segments are essential for bacterial survival in specific circumstances, such as when pathogenic bacteria invade a host animal or plant. Developing a comprehensive list of genetic elements that make a bacterial species infectious could lead to the identification of new anti-infective agents including new antibiotics.

The research team included co-first author Eduardo Abeliuk, an electrical engineering graduate student; research associate John Collier, PhD; senior research scientist Virginia Kalogeraki, PhD; Ben Passarelli, director of computing at the Stanford Functional Genomics Facility; John Coller, PhD, director of the Stanford Functional Genomics Facility; and Michael Fero, PhD, a National Institute of General Medical Sciences Quantitative Research Fellow at Stanford.

The research was funded by grants from the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the National Institutes of Health, the Swiss National Foundation and a LaRoche Foundation

Monday, August 29, 2011

Yoandri Hernandez Garrido is the proud owner of 12 fingers and 12 toes, and is aptly nicknamed “24″ by his mates.

“Hernandez is proud of his extra digits and calls them a blessing, saying they set him apart and enable him to make a living by scrambling up palm trees to cut coconuts and posing for photographs in this eastern Cuban city popular with tourists.” - Nine News

It’s known as polydactyly, which means “many fingers”, and is caused by a genetic mutation that affects the genes related to development patterning.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Possible biological control discovered for pathogen devastating amphibians













Researchers have confirmed that this zooplankton, Daphni magna, will eat a deadly fungus that is devastating amphibian populations around the world. It may provide a new biocontrol agent to help address this crisis. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

Zoologists at Oregon State University have discovered that a freshwater species of zooplankton will eat a fungal pathogen which is devastating amphibian populations around the world.

This tiny zooplankton, called Daphnia magna, could provide a desperately needed tool for biological control of this deadly fungus, the scientists said, if field studies confirm its efficacy in a natural setting.

The fungus, B. dendrobatidis, is referred to as a "chytrid" fungus, and when it reaches high levels can disrupt electrolyte balance and lead to death from cardiac arrest in its amphibian hosts. One researcher has called its impact on amphibians "the most spectacular loss of vertebrate biodiversity due to disease in recorded history."

The research, reported today in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, was supported by the National Science Foundation.

"There was evidence that zooplankton would eat some other types of fungi, so we wanted to find out if Daphnia would consume the chytrid fungus," said Julia Buck, an OSU doctoral student in zoology and lead author on the study. "Our laboratory experiments and DNA analysis confirmed that it would eat the zoospore, the free-swimming stage of the fungus."

"We feel that biological control offers the best chance to control this fungal disease, and now we have a good candidate for that," she said. "Efforts to eradicate this disease have been unsuccessful, but so far no one has attempted biocontrol of the chytrid fungus. That may be the way to go."

The chytrid fungus, which was only identified in 1998, is not always deadly at low levels of infestation, Buck said. It may not be necessary to completely eliminate it, but rather just reduce its density in order to prevent mortality. Biological controls can work well in that type of situation.

Amphibians have been one of the great survival stories in Earth's history, evolving about 400 million years ago and surviving to the present while many other life forms came and went, including the dinosaurs. But in recent decades the global decline of amphibians has reached crisis proportions, almost certainly from multiple causes that include habitat destruction, pollution, increases in ultraviolet light due to ozone depletion, invasive species and other issues.

High on the list, however, is the chytrid fungus that has been documented to be destroying amphibians around the world, through a disease called chytridiomycosis.

Its impact has been severe and defied various attempts to control it, even including use of fungicides on individual amphibians. Chytridiomycosis has been responsible for "unprecedented population declines and extinctions globally," the researchers said in their report.

"About one third of the amphibians in the world are now threatened and many have gone extinct," said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology, co-author on this study and an international leader in the study of amphibian decline.

"It's clear there are multiple threats to amphibians, but disease seems to be a dominant cause," he said.

Although they have survived for hundreds of millions of years, amphibians may be especially vulnerable to rapid environmental changes and new challenges that are both natural and human-caused. They have a permeable skin, and exposure to both terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Because of this, OSU researchers said, other animals such as mammals, birds and fish have so far not experienced such dramatic population declines.

More information: The story this study is based on is available online:http://www.springe … h87052r77p2/

Thursday, August 25, 2011
Cars could run on recycled newspaper, scientists say


Tulane has applied for a patent for a method to produce the biofuel butanol from organic material, a process developed by associate professor David Mullin, right, postdoctoral fellow Harshad Velankar, center, and undergraduate student Hailee Rask. Credit: Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano

Here's one way that old-fashioned newsprint beats the Internet. Tulane University scientists have discovered a novel bacterial strain, dubbed "TU-103," that can use paper to produce butanol, a biofuel that can serve as a substitute for gasoline. They are currently experimenting with old editions of the Times Picayune, New Orleans' venerable daily newspaper, with great success.

TU-103 is the first bacterial strain from nature that produces butanol directly from cellulose, an organic compound.

"Cellulose is found in all green plants, and is the most abundant organic material on earth, and converting it into butanol is the dream of many," said Harshad Velankar, a postdoctoral fellow in David Mullin's lab in Tulane's Department of Cell and Molecular Biology. "In the United States alone, at least 323 million tons of cellulosic materials that could be used to produce butanol are thrown out each year."

Mullin's lab first identified TU-103 in animal droppings, cultivated it and developed a method for using it to produce butanol. A patent is pending on the process.

"Most important about this discovery is TU-103's ability to produce butanol directly from cellulose," explained Mullin.

He added that TU-103 is the only known butanol-producing clostridial strain that can grow and produce butanol in the presence of oxygen, which kills other butanol-producing bacteria. Having to produce butanol in an oxygen-free space increases the costs of production.

As a biofuel, butanol is superior to ethanol (commonly produced from corn sugar) because it can readily fuel existing motor vehicles without any modifications to the engine, can be transported through existing fuel pipelines, is less corrosive, and contains more energy than ethanol, which would improve mileage.

"This discovery could reduce the cost to produce bio-butanol," said Mullin. "In addition to possible savings on the price per gallon, as a fuel, bio-butanol produced from cellulose would dramatically reduce carbon dioxide and smog emissions in comparison to gasoline, and have a positive impact on landfill waste."

Labrador retriever Hawkeye lies down with a sigh at funeral of his owner

Navy SEAL Killed In Afghanistan Mourned By Dog

Lisa Pembleton  /  Getty Images

Hawkeye lays by the casket during the funeral of his owner, Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson, on August 19.

By Scott Stump contributor

updated 8/25/2011 9:54:58 AM ET

Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson lay in a coffin, draped in an American flag, in front of a tearful audience mourning his death in Afghanistan. Soon an old friend appeared, and like a fellow soldier on a battlefield, his loyal dog refused to leave him behind.

Tumilson’s Labrador retriever, Hawkeye, was photographed lying by Tumilson’s casket in a heart-wrenching image taken at the funeral service in Tumilson’s hometown of Rockford, Iowa, earlier this week. Hawkeye walked up to the casket at the beginning of the service and then dropped down with a heaving sigh as about 1,500 mourners witnessed a dog accompanying his master until the end, reported CBS.

Image: Jon T. Tumilson


Petty Officer 1st Class Jon T. Tumilson was killed along with other SEALs on Aug. 6 in Afghanistan.

Story: Maltese dog missing for year after car crash is headed home

The photo was snapped by Tumilson’s cousin, Lisa Pembleton, and posted on her Facebook page in memory of the San Diego resident. Tumilson, 35, was one of 30 American troops, including 22 Navy SEALs, who were killed when a Taliban insurgent shot down a Chinook helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade on Aug. 6.

“I felt compelled to take one photo to share with family members that couldn't make it or couldn't see what I could from the aisle,” Pembleton wrote on her Facebook page. “To say that he was an amazing man doesn't do him justice. The loss of Jon to his family, military family and friends is immeasurable.’’

Video: Dog jumps up with joy as owner returns from Afghanistan

Hawkeye was such a huge part of Tumilson’s life that Tumilson’s family followed the dog down the aisle as they entered the service in front of a capacity crowd in the gymnasium at the Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock Community School. Hawkeye then followed Tumilson’s good friend, Scott Nichols, as Nichols approached the stage to give a speech. As Nichols prepared to memorialize his friend, Hawkeye dutifully laid down near the casket.

The youngest of three children, Tumilson had wanted to be a Navy SEAL since he was a teenager. Friends and his two older sisters remembered a fearless soldier, and a Power Point presentation was shown that illustrated Tumilson’s active life outside of the military, which included scuba diving, martial arts, and triathlons.

Story: 'Courtroom dog' helps young rape victim testify

"If J.T. had known he was going to be shot down when going to the aid of others, he would have went anyway," friend Boe Nankivel said at the service.

“Your dreams were big and seemed impossible to nearly everyone on the outside," his sister, Kristie Pohlman, said at the service. "I always knew you'd somehow do what you wanted."

As for Hawkeye, the loyal Labrador will now be owned by Nichols, Tumilson’s friend.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

PRESS RELEASE: Letter from Steve Jobs

August 24, 2011–To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


When Peter Thiel ventures outside for a run, typically in the early-early morning, when the fog drifts low and slow into the San Francisco Bay, he's often drawn to what the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti called "the end of land and land of beginning." That means the San Francisco waterfront—especially the one-and-a-half-mile stretch of pathway hugging the marshy shoreline from Crissy Field to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. Aesthetically, the appeal is obvious—a postcard view of the bridge and the bay, the lapping tidal rhythm, that sort of thing—but for Thiel, a 43-year-old investor and entrepreneur whose knack for anticipating the next big thing has yielded him a $1.5 billion fortune and an iconic, even delphic status in Silicon Valley, there's a symbolic angle as well. This waterline is precisely where the Western frontier ended, where unlimited opportunity finally hit its limit. It's also where, if Thiel is betting correctly, the next—and most audacious—frontier begins.

Thiel spends a lot of time thinking about frontiers. "Way more than is healthy," he admits. Not just financial frontiers, though that's his day job: He cofounded PayPal, the online money-transfer service, and, most famously, was the angel investor whose half-million-dollar loan catapulted Facebook out of Harvard's dormitories and into the lives of its 750 million users. (In The Social Network, Thiel was portrayed as the crisp venture capitalist whose investment, and dark questioning, widen the rift between Facebook's cofounders.) He manages a hedge fund, Clarium Capital, and is a founding partner in a venture-capital firm called the Founders Fund, both of them housed in an airy brick building on the campuslike grounds of the Presidio, not far from Thiel's jogging path. Yet his frontier obsession extends much further than spreadsheets, further than even technology. Political frontiers, social frontiers, scientific frontiers: All these and more crowd Thiel's head as he navigates the shoreline.

"We're at this pretty important point in society," he says during a brisk walk toward the Golden Gate Bridge, "where we can either find a way to rediscover a frontier, or we're going to be forced to change in a way that's really tough." Thiel is a medium-size man with a compact and blocky frame, close-trimmed reddish-brown hair, and eyes the limpid-blue color of Windex; he has a small, nasal voice and tends to exert himself as he speaks, frequently circling back to amend or reconfigure or soften what he's saying. Discussing the concept of frontiers, however, animates him to an almost uninterruptible degree; concepts, more than anything else, seem to do that.

"One of the things that's endlessly dazzling and mesmerizing is this question about the future—what the world is going to be like in 20 years, and what can or should we do to make it better than the default track that it's on," he says, gesturing with his hands while maintaining a fixed stare on the pathway. "But it's a question you can never quite master. I played a lot of chess when I was growing up, and it's similar to some elements of chess, where you can see some moves but you can't see to the end of the game. Even a computer the size of the universe couldn't actually analyze it. There's, like, 10 to the 117th power possible games and something like 10 to the 80th atoms in the observable universe, so it's off by something like 37 orders of magnitude. And chess is something much simpler than reality—it's 32 pieces on an eight-by-eight board. Figuring out the complete future of a chess game is a problem more complicated than anything that can be solved in our universe, so figuring out this planet or just our society in the next 10 or 15 years is just not a solvable problem."

Despite the innovations of the past quarter century, some of which have made him very, very wealthy, Thiel is unimpressed by how far we've come—technologically, politically, socially, financially, the works. The last successful American car company, he likes to note, was Jeep, founded in 1941. "And our cars aren't moving any faster," he says. The space-age future, as giddily envisioned in the fifties and sixties, has yet to arrive. Perhaps on the micro level—as in microprocessors—but not in the macro realm of big, audacious, and outlandish ideas where Thiel prefers to operate. He gets less satisfaction out of conventional investments in "cloud music" (Spotify) and Hollywood films (Thank You for Smoking) than he does in pursuing big ideas, which is why Thiel—along with an all-star cast of venture capitalists, including former PayPal cohorts Ken Howery and Luke Nosek, and Sean Parker, the Napster cofounder and onetime Facebook president—established the Founders Fund. Among its quixotic but potentially highly profitable investments are SpaceX, a space-transport company, and Halcyon Molecular, which aspires to use DNA sequencing to extend human life. Privately, however, Thiel is the primary backer for an idea that takes big, audacious, and outlandish to a whole other level. Two hundred miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, past that hazy-blue horizon where the Pacific meets the sky, is where Thiel foresees his boldest venture of all. Forget start-up companies. The next frontier is start-up countries.

Thiel (center) with his Founder's Fund partners Ken Howery (left) and Sean Parker.

• • •

"Big ideas start as weird ideas." That's Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer, the grandson of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, and, as of 2008, when Thiel seeded him with the same initial investment sum he'd given Mark Zuckerberg four years earlier, the world's most prominent micro-nation entrepreneur. Friedman, a short, kinetic 35-year-old with a wife and two children, maintains an energetic online presence that ranges from blogging about libertarian theory to tweeted dispatches such as "Explored BDSM in SF w/big group of friends tonight." Four years ago, a Clarium Capital employee came across a piece Friedman had written about an idea he called "seasteading." Friedman was soon pitching to Thiel, a staunch libertarian himself, the big, weird idea.

It goes like this: Friedman wants to establish new sovereign nations built on oil-rig-type platforms anchored in international waters—free from the regulation, laws, and moral suasion of any landlocked country. They'd be small city-states at first, although the aim is to have tens of millions of seasteading residents by 2050. Architectural plans for a prototype involve a movable, diesel-powered, 12,000-ton structure with room for 270 residents, with the idea that dozens—perhaps even hundreds—of these could be linked together. Friedman hopes to launch a flotilla of offices off the San Francisco coast next year; full-time settlement, he predicts, will follow in about seven years; and full diplomatic recognition by the United Nations, well, that'll take some lawyers and time.

"The ultimate goal," Friedman says, "is to open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government." This translates into the founding of ideologically oriented micro-states on the high seas, a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.

It's a vivid, wild-eyed dream—think Burning Man as reimagined by Ayn Rand's John Galt and steered out to sea by Captain Nemo—but Friedman and Thiel, aware of the long and tragicomic history of failed libertarian utopias, believe that entrepreneurial zeal sets this scheme apart. One potential model is something Friedman calls Appletopia: A corporation, such as Apple, "starts a country as a business. The more desirable the country, the more valuable the real estate," Friedman says. When I ask if this wouldn't amount to a shareholder dictatorship, he doesn't flinch. "The way most dictatorships work now, they're enforced on people who aren't allowed to leave." Appletopia, or any seasteading colony, would entail a more benevolent variety of dictatorship, similar to your cell-phone contract: You don't like it, you leave. Citizenship as free agency, you might say. Or as Ken Howery, one of Thiel's partners at the Founders Fund, puts it, "It's almost like there's a cartel of governments, and this is a way to force governments to compete in a free-market way."

Some experts have scoffed at the legal and logistical practicalities of seasteading. Margaret Crawford, an expert on urban planning and a professor of architecture at Berkeley, calls it "a silly idea without any urban-planning implications whatsoever." Other observers have mocked it outright, such as Slate's Jacob Weisberg, who deemed it perhaps "the most elaborate effort ever devised by a group of computer nerds to get invited to an orgy." Despite the naysayers, Thiel appears firmly committed to the idea; he has so far funneled $1.25 million to the Seasteading Institute.

"When you start a company, true freedom is at the beginning of things," he says and slides the thought over to the topic of nations. "The United States Constitution had things you could do at the beginning that you couldn't do later. So the question is, can you go back to the beginning of things? How do you start over?"

• • •

For Thiel, ambition like this—outsize, contrarian, vaguely seditious—is nothing new. He was born in Frankfurt, Germany, but his father's career as a chemical engineer made for an itinerant childhood: He attended seven different elementary schools on two continents before the family settled in Northern California. He was a chess prodigy—at his peak he was ranked No. 7 in the U.S. Chess Federation's Under-13 bracket—and then a math prodigy at San Mateo High School. His intensity, even then, was remarkable. "He drove a 1978 Volkswagen Rabbit," recalls Norman Book, a high-school friend. "You'd always see him pulling out of the school lot, leaning way forward in the car. That's because it was a four-cylinder, and he just couldn't ever get it to go fast enough. Leaning forward like that, it was almost like he was willing it to go faster." (Years later, Thiel scratched this particular itch with purchases of a Ferrari Spyder and a $500,000 McLaren supercar.)

At Stanford, where he majored in philosophy, Thiel chafed at the identity politics that was in vogue on campus at the time—at the strictures of political correctness. "I think there's something unhealthy about anything that pushes to that much conformity," he says. He cofounded the Stanford Review, a zealously libertarian newspaper whose staff Thiel would later use as a talent pool for PayPal hiring. The Review was deliberately, even recklessly incendiary (Thiel's fondness for this approach is evident in his past funding of the guerrilla activist James O'Keefe, of ACORN sting-video fame); provocation was a primary goal. Sometimes it went too far: During Thiel's final year of law school, in what was characterized as a free-speech exercise, one of the Review's editors, Keith Rabois, shouted, "Faggot! Hope you die of aids!" outside the residence of a dorm supervisor, resulting in a firestorm that prompted Rabois to leave Stanford. Thiel, who was outed as gay in 2007, devoted several pages to the incident in The Diversity Myth, a 1995 book he coauthored, writing that "Keith did not deserve months of public condemnation and ostracism." Thiel later brought Rabois to PayPal as an executive vice president.

The PayPal of today—a convenient means of paying for the antique cocktail shaker you scored on eBay—bears only scant resemblance to the company's early, proto-Bitcoin vision. "Peter's goal was very subversive and disruptive," says Book, whom Thiel tapped to be the company's financial-systems manager and who is now executive vice president of operations at the conservative news aggregator WorldNetDaily. "He wanted to introduce a currency that wasn't tied to a nation-state." Early fund-raising presentations trumpeted the company's mission as "enabling monetary sovereignty," according to Howery. Company T-shirts proclaimed THE NEW WORLD CURRENCY. Thiel believed "that people should be able to store their money in any currency they wanted, without fear of governments devaluing it," Howery says. Here again was the techno-cool libertarian ideal: a way of emancipating money from government's monopolistic clutches.

A few unforeseen things happened along the way, of course. Chief among them were 9/11 and the fears about terrorist funding that followed in its wake. "When we were thinking about this in 1999, we were still living in a different reality," Thiel says. "There are definitely ways in which it was a very successful company, but there are other ways in which that question—Could someone change the system to give people more freedom in how they spend their money?—shifted radically."

As a libertarian raid on the currency system, PayPal flopped. As a company, however, it thrived. After one of the rare successful post-dot-com-bubble IPOs, in 2002, eBay bought PayPal for $1.65 billion. Thiel pocketed $60 million on his initial $240,000 investment. "After that sale," Howery recalls, "a number of us were burned out. I went and traveled around the world for a year. But Peter took, like, a week off, then went back to work for a hedge fund."

That fund became Clarium Capital, which has proved to be the single blotch (aside from a doomed Nascar magazine in 2004) on Thiel's résumé. After an early surge that brought Clarium's assets to as high as $6 billion, in 2008, the hedge fund has floundered ever since, losing 23 percent in 2010 and 25 percent in 2009; at one point, assets were down 90 percent from their peak, forcing Thiel to shutter the fund's New York City operations and consolidate back in San Francisco. "We've got some things wrong," he admitted to BusinessWeek earlier this year. "But over time, I think we've gotten more right than we've gotten wrong. . . . It's not the right thing to focus on a six-month horizon. The future happens over a very long period of time." That may be so, but as Forbes noted earlier this year, "It's as if he were so fixated on his vision of the future that he couldn't let go, even in the face of market realities."

Thiel's reputation for contrarianism is well founded. Forever the chess player, he revels in trying to outthink the competition, in devising the unexpected move—the seemingly absurd but devastating maneuver that no one sees coming. "Most people think that if something's written, if it's shared by the majority of people, then you'll look like a black sheep for challenging it," says his friend Gary Kasparov, the Russian chess grandmaster. "Peter doesn't have any problem with that." A devoted J.R.R. Tolkien fan from an early age, Thiel is equally enamored with Kirill Eskov's The Last Ringbearer, a retelling of The Lord of the Rings in which Sauron is a beleaguered victim and the elves are bellicosely bent on world domination. "Gandalf's the crazy person who wants to start a war," Thiel explains, "and Mordor is this technological civilization based on reason and science. Outside of Mordor, it's all sort of mystical and environmental and nothing works. Anyway, it's really clever." He's willing to cite Howard Hughes as a role model, with certain caveats ("It's not worth emulating him . . . all the way to the last years in Las Vegas"): "There was this incredibly powerful visionary aspect, a sort of risk-taking, a new-frontier aspect to Hughes that it would be good for us to look up to without having misgivings about how it all ended."

Thiel may never succumb to the Aviator's fate, but like Hughes, he's rigorously guarded about his personal life. After Owen Thomas, as the editor of Gawker Media's Silicon Valley satellite, Valleywag, outed him in 2007 with a post titled "Peter Thiel Is Totally Gay, People," Thiel bided his time then struck back, calling Valleywag the "Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda," an analogy that Thomas says he still doesn't understand. A friend of Thiel's, however, says Thiel remains "conflicted about" the juxtaposition of his homosexuality and his Christian religious beliefs. If that's true, Thiel appears to have made some peace with himself since being outed. He's a donor to GOProud, a gay Republican organization, and last fall he hosted its "Homocon 2010" at his apartment overlooking Union Square in New York City, where guests were ushered into the elevator by beautiful young men wearing FREEDOM IS FABULOUS T-shirts and treated to an uproarious speech by Ann Coulter.

When I ask Thiel what, beyond work, gives him pleasure, he cringes slightly and says, "You know, it ends up being, um . . . it ends up being a lot of, uh . . . a lot of time, uh . . . it's mostly, uh, pretty basic, simple social things. Hanging out with friends, having good dinner conversation . . . sort of doing outdoor-hike-type stuff. It's not . . . it tends not to be . . . I don't really have any crazy hobbies. It's nothing that, um . . . it's nothing that, uh . . . nothing that insane or exciting." This may be true, but gossip items about Thiel's partying suggest a healthy dose of excitement. In June, the New York Daily News reported that firefighters were called to his apartment to rescue a group of partiers from a stuck elevator. The "full-on rager," according to the paper, featured a "not-so-hot shirtless bartender," and a source was quoted bemoaning the disappearance of the servers in "assless chaps" that had once enlivened Thiel's parties. One of the guests at the party, who prefers to remain anonymous, confirmed the majority of the account, disputing only the detail about assless chaps. "He used to have servers wearing nothing but aprons," the attendee corrected, adding, "Peter works hard, but he likes to play hard, too." (Thiel declined to comment on the event.)

All this plays into a widespread perception that Thiel is a hive of contradictions. When I ask him about that perception, he says, "I guess I'm comfortable not fitting into any precise category, and I'm not sure the existing categories all perfectly make sense."

• • •

If the seasteading movement goes forward as planned, Thiel won't be one of its early citizens. For one thing, he's not overly fond of boats, although maybe, as Friedman says, "he just needs to be on a large enough structure." Thiel characterizes his interest as "theoretical." But whether Thiel himself heads offshore or not, there's a whole lot of passion underlying that theoretical interest. Thiel put forth his views on the subject in a 2009 essay for the Cato Institute, in which he flatly declared, "I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible." He went on: "The great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms," with the critical question being "how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country."

Until a libertarian colony can be established in outer space—Thiel is bullish on that idea, too, though he thinks the technology needs at least a half-century to develop—seasteading will have to suffice. "[It's] not just possible, or desirable," he said in an address at the 2009 Seasteading Institute Conference, "but actually necessary."

"Peter is a pretty holistic person, in his beliefs and philosophy, and you can even see that today in some of the crazy things he's doing," says Book, who finds the seasteading concept "appealing," while cautioning, "It's all well and good until someone drops a bomb on you." Thomas, the former Valleywag editor, doesn't believe Thiel should be defined by seasteading. "He puts his money into a lot of odd things," he says. "I doubt he thinks it's the future, but rather a future. Are a lot of these ideas wacky by conventional standards? Oh, yeah. But he's saying the world is better if we try this wacky stuff."

"The things that I think I'm right about," Thiel once told Wired, "other people are in some sense not even wrong about, because they're not thinking about them." And that's an advantage that Thiel intends to exploit. "There are quite a lot of people who think it's not possible," he told a crowd of true believers at the Seasteading Institute Conference in 2009. "That's a good thing. We don't need to really worry about those people very much, because since they don't think it's possible they won't take us very seriously. And they will not actually try to stop us until it's too late."

April 6th, 2008 at 2:50 am

Transparent Frog

Scientists at Hiroshima University have succeeded in breeding see-through frogs — an innovation that could cut down on future dissections.

Transparent fishes have been around for a long time, but Professor Masayuki Sumida said the new line of frogs were the world’s first transparent four-legged animals.

Sumida, an amphibian specialist who led the university’s research team, said the transparent-skinned frogs could become widely used in scientific research because internal organs and blood vessels can be observed without dissecting the creatures.

Frogs are frequently used for research, but such projects have come in for increased criticism from animal protection groups.

Scientists have long known that certain recessive genes resulted in pale-skinned frogs, Sumida explained. The researchers were delighted to find that, under the right conditions, second generations of pairs of frogs with those recessive genes produced transparent offspring.

“It was the first time in the world, so I wanted to shout for joy,” Sumida said.

The skin of the tadpoles was nearly without pigment, and researchers could observe how the organs grew in the body as they transformed into full-grown frogs. Sumida said there was still a small amount of yellow pigment in the skin of the frogs, and he was working to breed it out.

Although the new breeding methods could lead to more humane amphibian research, Sumida said there won’t be any see-through mice or humans anytime soon. Mammalian skin is different from frog skin, so the methods will not work with mammals, he said.

At 1:51 p.m. EDT a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit Virginia (map of reported tremors). Reports indicate it was felt along most of the east coast (my monitor and floor definitely wobbled a bit down here in Raleigh NC) with reported evacuations of government buildings at least in DC. QuantumPion noted that the North Anna Nuclear Generating Station is located only a few miles from the epicenter, and the NRC has confirmed the plant automatically shut down with no apparent damage. For folks who like that sort of thing, there is a hashtag on Twitter, and the WSJ has a page with live updates on the situation.



Rat-on-cat2-300x245.jpg (300×245)


Individual Toxoplasma parasites (green) are shown invading neurons (red) grown in a petri dish in the lab. The blue areas are fluorescently tagged cell nuclei.



A parasite that makes rats sexually attracted to cats has been discovered by scientists at Stanford University.

Researchers have found that Toxoplasma-infected rats are not deterred by cat urine, which normally acts as a warning sign to rodents who are trying to keep away from their predators.

But when exposed to cat urine, infected rats experienced increased activation in the brain regions associated with sexual attraction, the study found.

The areas of the brain associated with fear were simultaneously shut down.

"Normally, we would expect Toxoplasma to knock out the normal fear function in the brain, but in these rats the parasite also tapped into the sexual arousal pathway, which is strange," Neuroscience professor and co-author of the study Robert Sapolsky said.

The parasite needed to reproduce in the cat's digestive system and therefore worked to make the rat more susceptible to being killed by a cat, Prof. Sapolsky said.

If the cat ate the rat, the parasite would then be able to breed and complete its life cycle.

Monday, August 22, 2011

In India’s eastern state of Orissa, Keshab Swain of Bhubaneswar city, broke the Limca Record for breaking 250 green coconuts with his elbow within a period of 8 minutes and 58 seconds. Oddly, he broke his own record which was set back in 2007, when he smashed 147 green coconuts in 7.16 minutes.

coconuts e1312708922808 Indian Man Breaks Limca Record for Cracking Coconuts picture

Swain’s amazing feat in which he uses his elbow and forehead to do the job, attracted a large number of spectators who came to watch him perform.

“Today in 8 minutes and 56 seconds, I broke 250 green coconuts and this is a biggest record and nobody has made such record in the world. I believe that if I would get a chance further then I will break 300 coconuts,” said Keshab proudly.

Always looking ahead, his next goal is to create a new world record that will allow him to register in the Guinness Book of World Records, which is the ultimate honor for those seeking to break records of any kind.

In keeping with that old adage about lemons and lemonade, Keshab is a living parable, as personal poverty forced him to develop skill in plucking coconuts. Cracking them open quickly soon became a passion and an ability he developed over years of practice.

Look Of Disapproval Glasses


Look Of Disapproval GlassesLook Of Disapproval Glasses

You: Do I need this?
Me: ಠ_ಠ
Are your friends and loved ones constantly disappointing you? Is your face sore from expressing your disapproval all the time? Stop using your own eyebrows like a chump and let these glasses do the work for you!
( if you're confused: )
The length of earpiece that adults need seems to vary by about an inch. If you measure the length you need for your earpieces I can custom cut them for you. Measure from your ear to the front of your eyebrow. If you don't measure I'll send you one that fits me.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Doodle Tablecloth Main ImageWorks for D&DPre-Dinner Doodling


  • Encourage your wee geek’s creativity
  • Comes with 8 wash-out fabric markers
  • May work for RPGs, too (see below for details)
  •

$49.99 (save 20%) On Sale

Draw on it with markers! Wash it out!

Anyone with kids knows that they love to draw on stuff with markers. In fact, our copywriter monkey once ruined her mother’s brand new bedspread with a bright red Crayola. (In her defense, it did look better with red!) Since your wee geeks are going to express themselves creatively - and we want to encourage them to be creative! - why not spring for a tablecloth that lets them draw all over the dining room table?

The Doodle Tablecloth is pre-shrunk 100% cotton and is printed to look like a giant piece of graph paper, complete with printed lines, holes, and red margins. It comes with eight wash-out fabric markers. Get your kiddos excited about dinner by having them draw placemats for each member of the family. Doodle the vegetables that will be tried that evening (one bite, just one bite!). No matter what gets doodled on the tablecloth, it all washes out in the Hot cycle of your washing machine, so you can start with a clean piece of paper the next evening.

Special Note to Roleplaying Gamers: The Doodle Tablecloth was designed by parents, who sadly must not have been gamers. However, the smallest squares are 0.4in, so a 2x2 square is ALMOST the 1in you would need for your standard RPG battle map. If you’re super picky, it probably won’t work for you. But if you’re a go-with-the-flow kind of GM, this may be the green solution to your game mapping needs!

Product Specifications

  • For Ages 6 and Up
  • Cotton tablecloth that looks just like a sheet of graph paper
  • Draw on it with the included fabric pens - it washes out!
  • Gets kids excited about family dinner time
  • Made of 100% cotton, pre-shrunk
  • 8 wash-out fabric markers included (Other washable markers should work, but we recommend testing them in an inconspicuous area and double-checking that they come out in the wash before you go hog wild.)
  • Washes out in the Hot cycle of your washing machine (washes perfectly at 30C)
  • Smallest square measures 0.4in, semi-dark lines every 2in, dark lines every 4in
  • Dimensions: approx 6 feet x 5 feet

The prerequisite for the course is the ability to program in at least one language and there will be nine programming assignments to complete. Students will need to devote 8-10 hours per week; around two and half hours for to lectures and the rest to completing the associated homework. Over 25,000 prospective students have already signed up and there's a reddit group.

"Following on the recent Slashdot item on the availability of a free Stanford AI course there is news that two other Stanford Computer Science courses are also joining in this 'bold experiment in distributed education' in which students not only have access to lecture videos and other course materials but will actively participate by submitting assignments and getting regular feedback on their progress. The subjects are Machine Learning with Andrew Ng and Database with Jennifer Widom. This open approach looks as if it might be a success with well over 100,000 prospective students signing up to the AI course alone."

Saturday, August 20, 2011


In surprising Minecraft news, Mojang Studios announced today that they have just released the first Alpha iteration of Minecraft: Pocket Edition, exclusively for Sony Xperia Play Owners.

For you lucky Xperia owners, the game should now appear on the Android Marketplace (the game is invisible to other phone users browsing for Android apps) and will cost $6.99. Mojang has also stated that there are plans in the very near future to bring the game to other Android phone platforms, as well as the announced iOS version known to be in development.

Mojang continues to say, in a similar fashion to the PC version of Minecraft, that the pocket edition is a work in progress. It will receive gradual updates to eventually improve the experience and add new features. At launch, the game has randomized world features, save games, and local area multiplayer.

ChinaDaily-Reuters.jpg (582×404)

Click to play video

What was supposed to be a goodwill game between nations ended in a wild brawl between a US and Chinese basketball team.

BEIJING: As US Vice-President Joe Biden built trust with China in Beijing's corridors of power, goodwill between the nations unravelled on a nearby basketball court, where players beat each other up and chairs and water bottles were thrown in a wild, all-in brawl.

A "friendship" game between Washington's Georgetown Hoyas and Chinese professional side the Bayi Military Rockets erupted into a fight as the match wound down at Beijing's Olympic Stadium.

It was believed to have started when Bayi forward Hu Ke committed a hard foul on Georgetown's Jason Clark, who retaliated with a shove, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.

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Fight erupts between Georgetown University and Bayi Rockets.

Fight erupts between Georgetown University and Bayi Rockets. Photo: AP

Players then traded blows, someone in the crowd flung a chair and fans tossed full water bottles at the Hoyas players and coaches as they headed to the locker room, with the game abandoned.

In China, state media did not report on the brawl and microblogs were mostly silent as censors worked quickly to delete any references to the fight.

"Even the news about the fight between the Chinese and US basketball teams needs to be cut," a microblogger named Yinnu said.

Players from Georgetown University and Bayi Rockets trade blows.

Players from Georgetown University and Bayi Rockets trade blows. Photo: AP

The brawl broke out one night after Mr Biden, who is in Beijing on a four-day visit to discuss US-Chinese economic relations, attended a Georgetown game against another Chinese club. That game, which Georgetown won, passed without a problem.

The games are part of a "China-US Basketball Friendship Match" in Beijing, The Washington Post reported. The Hoyas intended to continue with the rest of their 10-day trip in China, including other scheduled matches in Shanghai.

Goodwill 'gone'

Just as many of China's Asian neighbours say its increasing aggression is to blame for trouble in the South China Sea, some Hoyas fans took to Twitter to accuse the Chinese team of starting the tussle.

"All that goodwill Yao Ming garnered for Chinese people in USA, GONE," tweeted a person with the username of JAIMECITOU, referring to the recently retired Chinese basketball star. "Not first time Chinese Team fought on court ... Disgrace."

Another user called cgallaher3 said: "All out brawl at a basketball game in China. This is why the NBA won't expand there."

After an estimated half-dozen individual altercations on the court, some Chinese onlookers joined the fracas, The Washington Post reported late on Thursday.

As the brawl spilled beyond the court, an unidentified Bayi player pushed Georgetown's Aaron Bowen to the ground before repeatedly punching the sophomore guard while sitting on his chest, the paper said.

"Tonight, two great teams played a very competitive game that unfortunately ended after heated exchanges with both teams," coach John Thompson III said in a statement on Georgetown's website. "We sincerely regret that this situation occurred.

"We remain grateful for the opportunity our student-athletes are having to engage in a sport they love here in China, while strengthening their understanding of a nation we respect and admire at Georgetown University."

Mr Biden's office declined to comment and calls to the China Basketball Association went unanswered.

A staff member from the news office of China's General Administration of Sports told Reuters: "I personally heard about it this morning when I surfed the internet, but our office leaders are on a business trip, so we have no comments and any information to publish so far."

The US team will visit cultural sites, take part in basketball clinics with Chinese students and play four exhibition matches against teams from the Chinese National Basketball Association.

The players will also participate in the Nike Festival of Sport in Shanghai.

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