Saturday, December 31, 2005

Wikipedia to carry ads?

'Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, the charitably funded online encyclopaedia, says that the website is considering carrying advertisements in a move that could raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenues.' More / Full interview

Ingredients for DNA, protein found around star

'NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered some of life's most basic ingredients in the dust swirling around a young star. The ingredients - gaseous precursors to DNA and protein - were detected in the star's terrestrial planet zone, a region where rocky planets such as Earth are thought to be born.' More

Revising Earth's early history

'Earth's future was determined at birth. Using refined techniques to study rocks, researchers at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) found that Earth's mantle--the layer between the core and the crust--separated into chemically distinct layers faster and earlier than previously believed. The layering happened within 30 million years of the solar system's formation, instead of occurring gradually over more than 4 billion years, as the standard model suggests. The new work was recognized by science magazine, in its December 23 issue, as one of the science breakthroughs for 2005.' More

Echoes of the past from ancient supernovae

'A team of astronomers has found faint visible “echoes” of three ancient supernovae by detecting centuries-old light reflected by interstellar gas clouds hundreds of light-years removed from the original explosions. Located in a nearby galaxy in the southern skies, the three exploding stars flashed into short-lived brilliance at least two centuries ago, and probably longer. The oldest is likely to have occurred more than 600 years ago.' More

Friday, December 30, 2005

John Cage on listening prejudice

'If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience.' — John Cage

Indian author's bestseller ridicules outsourcing

'Shyam Mehra, 26, hates it when the Americans call him Sam. He hates it even more when his boss calls him Sam too. That's not all. He hates his work, his "semi-girlfriend" ... and himself. Mehra is one of the American-hating characters from a new book that has struck a chord with India's fast-growing middle class.' More

The 2005 Dubious Data Awards

'America’s so-called methamphetamine epidemic was the worst example of media stressing shock over substance in 2005 science journalism, according to the annual Dubious Data Awards, issued by the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University...' More

Slate's 10 most popular articles of 2005

'During 2005, Slate covered the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and the future of the Supreme Court, but our most popular stories were, for the most part, about dogs, beer, celebrities, and naked ladies.' More

Brazilian rainforest being sacked at alarming rate

'The Brazilian rainforest is being destroyed by human logging at more than twice the rate previously thought, a new satellite analysis reveals. The findings reinforce many ecologists’ belief that this type of forest destruction might be contributing to the area’s worst drought in 40 years. Previous satellite imaging could only detect clear-cut areas, where swathes of forest had been cleared by humans. They could not differentiate undisturbed parts of the forest from areas that had been thinned by selective logging – in which only valuable timber trees such as mahogany are removed.' More

It's a shame about Ray

'Rachael Ray may be the world's most reviled chef. Entire blogs are devoted to slamming the perky Food Network superstar—"Rachael Ray Sucks" is particularly vicious. On Web sites like eGullet, a "society for culinary arts and letters," users say she should be "tarred and feathered." And professional chefs, including Slate food writer Sara Dickerman, turn up their noses when Ray comes around. It's easy to see why: Ray rejects specialty ingredients, elaborate recipes, and other foodie staples. But she deserves our respect. She understands how Americans really cook, and she's an exceptional entertainer.' More

The great American beer crisis

'When the economy is booming, we pound a six-pack of Bud with our buddies and watch the game. When the economy is lousy, we pound a six-pack of Coors with our buddies and watch the game. When the economy is flat, we pound a six-pack of Miller with our buddies and watch the game. This is why companies that make beer—like those that make diapers, electricity, and cereal—have countercyclical stocks. When the economy hits a soft patch, investors take refuge in them.' More

Monkeys have accents, Japanese study finds

'New Yorkers have them. So do Georgians, Texans, Brits, and Australians. Now primate researchers have discovered that Japanese macaques can acquire different accents based on where they live—just like humans. The red-faced monkeys frequently utter what researchers have dubbed coo calls to maintain vocal contact with one another.' More

National Geographic's Top 10 Photos of 2005

2006 postponed by one (leap) second

'For those of you counting the seconds until 2006, add one. The world's top timekeepers will insert an extra second—or leap second—just before midnight in coordinated universal time (UTC) on New Year's Eve. (That's the same as 6:59:59 p.m. eastern time on December 31.) UTC is determined by atomic clocks and is five hours ahead of eastern time.' More

Species in peril: Tigers

'Saving the wild tiger is not just about saving a species. It is about securing a long-term future for tigers, the forests they live in and the people who depend on those forests for their survival. It is about good governance and overcoming corruption. If we can’t save the wild tiger, what can we save? ' More / My original piece titled 'A Prayer for the Last Malaysian Tiger'

Thursday, December 29, 2005

MacBeth analogue synths

SCI Prophet 5 tribute site

Porsche Design 909 tobacco pipe

Download 'Switched on Santa' now!

In this album Sy Mann takes the Moog Synthesizer and creates today's electronic Christmas tree out of this new musical wonder. The Moog, a strange machine of lights, cords, inputs and outputs enters the festive world of the merriest season of all. It's a wonderful gift for today's caroleers...' Download

Mission to Mars via Antarctica

'A few weeks before leaving for the Antarctic Concordia Station, the Italian-French crew that will spend over one year in one of the harshest, isolated environments on Earth, attended two days of preparatory training at ESA's Headquarters in Paris, France. During their stay at the research station the crew will participate in a number of ESA experiments – the outcome of which will help prepare for long-term missions to Mars.' More

Allo, allo? A star is ringing

'Astronomers have used ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile and the Anglo-Australian Telescope in eastern Australia as a 'stellar stethoscope' to listen to the internal rumblings of a nearby star. The data collected with the VLT have a precision better than 1.5 cm/s, or less than 0.06 km per hour!' More

Scientists lift malaria's cloak of invisibility

' The world's deadliest malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, sneaks past the human immune system with the help of a wardrobe of invisibility cloaks. If a person's immune cells learn to recognize one of the parasite's many camouflage proteins, the surviving invaders can swap disguises and slip away again to cause more damage. Malaria kills an estimated 2.7 million people annually worldwide, 75 percent of them children in Africa.' More

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Michael Brecker needs your help

One of the highlights of my journalistic career was interviewing the great saxophonist Michael Brecker in his hotel room in Singapore in the early '90s when he was touring with Paul Simon.

A gracious and humble human being who took time out from his hectic schedule to grant a one-on-one with a nonentity like me, he offered an invaluable lesson in living for the sheer joy of playing music.

He had plenty to talk about (the interview lasted more than an hour), having done sessions with a virtual who's who in pop, rock and jazz (James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan et al) since the early '70s. He even shared an inside story about how shocked he was to discover that his solo on a Michael Bolton song was quietly replaced with one by Kenny G just because the latter's image was hipper... not because he was better or more qualified to land the gig!

Needless to say, it's an interview session I shall treasure all my life.

It's now sad to hear that this brilliant musician, whose albums 'Michael Brecker' (MCA/1987) and 'Don't Try This At Home' (MCA/1988) have given me countless hours of pleasure, is gravely ill.

He has been diagnosed with the blood disorder Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and is in immediate need of a stem cell transplant.

Those of us touched by his generosity of spirit and the joyous energy of his music pray for his speedy recovery. (first posted Fri. Sep. 02, 2005 2:46 pm)

Message from Michael's wife Susan

Coffin Case's 3x1 guitar case/stand

'The 3x1 from Coffin Case is a three-guitar case/locker on wheels. The roadworthy design features solid wood construction with a tough vinyl exterior, mesh storage pocket, three handles and slide rails for ease of transport. Soft plush interior, deep slotted bottom is designed to keep guitars in place.' More

Martin GT-70

'The GT-70 is a sweet-looking thing with its black lacquer finish, white pickguard, and big, flared headstock, and Martin thoughtfully used an overlay of rosewood on the peghead to bring some woody contrast to the mix. The funky shapes that jump out from the pickup covers and tailpiece are totally off the hook, and the entire perimeter of the guitar is stylishly trimmed in single- and multi-ply binding.' More

Stellartone ToneStyler

'Typical tone controls roll off both highs and mids, robbing your licks of the harmonics required for punch and focus. Searching for more clarity, many pros experiment with changing the capacitor on their tone pots—a laborious process of unsoldering, resoldering, and testing different values. The Stellartone ToneStyler ($119 retail/street N/A) kicks this concept into the stratosphere by connecting one knob to 14 miniature capacitors, each contoured to progressively shave off highs while leaving the midrange essentially intact.' More

Why European women are turning to Islam

'Mary Fallot looks as unlike a terrorist suspect as one could possibly imagine: a petite and demure white Frenchwoman chatting with friends on a cell-phone, indistinguishable from any other young woman in the café where she sits sipping coffee. And that is exactly why European antiterrorist authorities have their eyes on thousands like her across the continent. Ms. Fallot is a recent convert to Islam. In the eyes of the police, that makes her potentially dangerous.' More

Osama's sexy wannabe singer niece

'Who: Wafah Dufour
What: Up 11,758%
Where: On the pages of GQ magazine.
Why: The publicity-hungry niece of Osama bin Laden posed for some racy pics in the men's mag. The wannabe singer can't seem to get arrested -- sorta like her infamous uncle.' - Yahoo!

Alcohol and science: Saving the agave

'For centuries, artisans working in the adobe haciendas of Mexico's rural valleys have followed tradition to make the powerful spirit tequila. Copying age-old indigenous techniques, they distilled the liquor from sweet juice cooked out of the fat stems of a local succulent, the blue agave (Agave tequilana Weber, var. azul). But in recent years, tequila makers have had to bring the latest science to the agricultural process to save both the industry and the culture it supports. Some of the oldest and biggest producers are employing scientists, building high-tech laboratories and funding academic research on the blue agave so that researchers from biochemists to geneticists can scrutinize this little-understood plant.' More

Creating a better bird flu vaccine

'A few months ago, when researchers analyzed the genome of the devastating 1918 influenza, they found it to be a direct descendant of a common bird-flu strain, with just a few disparate amino acids here and there. The finding cast a chilling new light on the most lethal modern bird flu, known as H5N1, which has already killed at least 70 people in Asia but isn't transmissible between humans—yet. With just a bit of mutation, could H5N1 turn contagious and become the 21st century's Black Plague?' More

Key fungi family gene code cracked

' An international consortium of researchers led by the University of Manchester has cracked the gene code behind a key family of fungi, which includes both the leading cause of death in leukaemia and bone marrow transplant patients and an essential ingredient of soy sauce.' More

How fish evolve a longer lifespan

'A UC Riverside-led research team has found that as some populations of an organism evolve a longer lifespan, they do so by increasing only that segment of the lifespan that contributes to "fitness" – the relative ability of an individual to contribute offspring to the next generation. Focusing on guppies, small fresh-water fish biologists have studied for long, the researchers found that guppies living in environments with a large number of predators have adapted to reproduce earlier in life than guppies from low-predation localities.' More

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The 50 best robots ever

'They're exploring the deep sea and distant planets. They're saving lives in the operating room and on the battlefield. They're transforming factory floors and filmmaking. They're - oh c'mon, they're just plain cool! From Qrio to the Terminator, here are [Wired's] absolute favorites (at least for now).' More

Wired's 2005 Foot-in-Mouth Awards

Aussie media mogul Kerry Packer dies

'In 1990, while playing polo in Sydney, he suffered a heart attack that left him dead for about eight minutes. Packer was revived and famously told reporters that he had "been to the other side, and there was nothing there."' More

E= mc2: Einstein was right (again)!

'Albert Einstein was correct in his prediction that E=mc2, according to scientists at the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who conducted the most precise direct test ever of what is perhaps the most famous formula in science. In experiments described in the Dec. 22, 2005, issue of Nature,* the researchers added to a catalogue of confirmations that matter and energy are related in a precise way. Specifically, energy (E) equals mass (m) times the square of the speed of light (c2), a prediction of Einstein's theory of special relativity. By comparing NIST measurements of energy emitted by silicon and sulfur atoms and MIT measurements of the mass of the same atoms, the scientists found that E differs from mc2 by at most 0.0000004, or four-tenths of 1 part in 1 million. This result is "consistent with equality" and is 55 times more accurate than the previous best direct test of Einstein's formula, according to the paper.' More

NSA's secret spy station

'Deep in a remote, fog-layered hollow near Sugar Grove, W.Va., hidden by fortress-like mountains, sits the country's largest eavesdropping bug. Located in a "radio quiet" zone, the station's large parabolic dishes secretly and silently sweep in millions of private telephone calls and e-mail messages an hour. Run by the ultrasecret National Security Agency, the listening post intercepts all international communications entering the eastern United States. Another N.S.A. listening post, in Yakima,Wash., eavesdrops on the western half of the country. A hundred miles or so north of Sugar Grove, in Washington, the N.S.A. has suddenly taken center stage in a political firestorm. The controversy over whether the president broke the law when he secretly ordered the N.S.A. to bypass a special court and conduct warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens has even provoked some Democrats to call for his impeachment...' - NYT

Monday, December 26, 2005

The philosopher who got the pretty girls

'Philosophers are supposed to see the world with clear eyes; with clear philosophical eyes, we can note that Sartre was a troll. He was five feet tall. Neither handsome nor dashing, nearly blind in one eye, and scornful of even the most basic conventions of bourgeois dental hygiene (mossy is a word that comes easily to mind). And yet he got girls like he was in the Beatles. As strange to the American mind as escargot is the French custom of beautiful young women finding brilliant older men attractive merely for being brilliant—and then sleeping with them!' More

PopMatters' best of 2005

Signed Fender Strat raises $1.6 million for charity

'A Fender guitar signed by a Jeff Beck and a host of other legendary musicians has raised $1.6 million for charity. The signing of the guitar was arranged by Bryan Adams who planned the project to raise money for the victims of the Tsunami last year. The guitar was purchased at a charity auction to benefit the Reach Out To Asia foundation by Sheikha Miyyasah Al Thani of the Royal family of Qatar. The guitar was also signed by Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Brian May, Tony Iommi, Paul McCartney, Sting, David Gilmour, Pete Townshend, Mark Knopfler, Angus & Malcolm Young, Ritchie Blackmore, Ray Davies, Noel & Liam Gallagher, Def Leppard, as well as Bryan Adams himself.'

Scarlett flaunts tragus earring

'The tragus is the new belly button in the world of piercing, apparently. And with Scarlett Johansson very visibly showing hers off in promotions and posters for the new Woody Allen film Match Point, it could become more mainstream yet...' More

BBC's 2005 entertainment review

Energy hogs in your living room

'Overall, consumer electronics account for 15 percent to 20 percent of household electricity use today, up from 5 percent in 1980, according to figures from the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental nonprofit organization. That makes high-tech toys the fastest-growing source of home electricity use, the NRDC said.' More

Christian science exposed

'Intelligent Design has made no headway in the scientific community, but it is increasingly popular with evangelicals and Christian conservatives. Judge Jones made it clear that Dover school board wanted ID taught in high school biology classes not because it is scientifically accurate, but because it is "consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."' More

NYT's 10 best books of 2005


1. Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami
2. On Beauty - Zadie Smith
3. Prep - Curtis Sittenfeld
4. Saturday - Ian McEwan
5. Veronica - Mary Gaitskill


1. The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq - George Packer
2. De Kooning: An American Master - Mark Stevens/Annalyn Swan
3. The Lost Painting - Jonathan Harr
4. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 - Tony Judt
5. The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion


Why Christmas trees are not extinct

'Conifers such as Christmas trees suffer a severe plumbing problem. The "pipes" that carry water through firs, pines and other conifers are 10 times shorter than those in flowering trees. But a University of Utah study suggests why conifers not only survive but thrive: efficient microscopic valves let water flow through conifers about as easily as it flows through other trees.' More

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Tested: Arturia CS80V

'CS80V has the potential to be great, but leaves us in a bit of a quandary. The sound of the instrument can be remarkable, emulating the CS80 with an accuracy that can be quite uncanny, and this makes us keen to use it, but the problems we experienced discouraged us — especially from attempting to use it live...' More

Tested: Yamaha Motif Rack ES

'Despite plenty of competition, the Rack ES offers a great deal to sway prospective buyers. Fully expanded, it can perform not just 16 but 33 parts simultaneously if a PLG100XG board is present, with a theoretical maximum polyphony in excess of 192 voices...' More

A '70s sound legend

'Greg Ladanyi showed up at the right time in rock history to chair sessions for Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Warren Zevon, Toto, Fleetwood Mac and the Jacksons — but while 50 percent of life may be simply showing up, the other half requires a lot of hard work...' More