Saturday, April 29, 2006

How pizza became the American pie

'Almost every American food—from egg foo yung to empanadas — is covered in the phone book under the generic heading "Restaurants". Only pizza stands alone. Pizza, a Johnny-come-lately compared with such long-standing national favourites as the hamburger and hot dog, has secured a special place on the American table. Everybody likes pizza. Even those who claim to be immune to its charms must deign to have the occasional slice; a staggering 93 percent of Americans eat pizza at least once a month. According to one study, each man, woman, and child consumes an average of 23 pounds of pie every year.'

And we thought politics was all bullshit!

'I have lived through and suffered the worst abuse imaginable. Not many other politicians have weathered the beating that I have taken in such a short period of time. I have been the subject of speculation, innuendo and plain lies on a scale unseen by most politicians in their entire careers. So, although I have no pearls to offer, my lack of wisdom is compensated by some pointers that I have earned the right to give to aspiring politicians. Politics is not about power, position or personal wealth. Politics is a process in which we can make a difference to others. Politics is that fire in your belly that makes you want to change the world...' More

Diabolus in Musica.: The Devil's music

'On the surface there might appear to be no link between Black Sabbath, Wagner's Gotterdammerung, West Side Story and the theme tune to the Simpsons. But all of them rely heavily on tritones, a musical interval that spans three whole tones, like the diminished fifth or augmented fourth. This interval, the gap between two notes played in succession or simultaneously, was branded Diabolus in Musica or the Devil's Interval by medieval musicians... More

Hammer & tickle: The comedy of communism

'Communism is the only political system to have created its own international brand of comedy. The standard interpretation is that communist jokes were a form of resistance. But they were also a safety valve for the regimes and jokes were told by the rulers as well as the ruled — even Stalin told some good ones...' More

Bruce Lee is a hero in Bosnia

'It may seem odd that a city trying to overcome its reputation for violence would choose as a symbol a man famous for artfully snapping vertebrae. But violence is relative, nowhere more so than Bosnia. Lee never used a weapon designed after the Han dynasty. His preference, famously, was the nunchaku, a weapon of wood and rope with origins in the tools of Asian subsistence agriculture. Nobody ever massacred a village with nunchucks...' More

Friday, April 28, 2006

The million-dollar news babe

'Katie Couric was appointed by CBS as the first solo female anchor of a network evening news show in the USA... Couric, who will earn in the region of £8.5m per year, is an astounding and, to the British, largely incomprehensible confection... (a) tough chick with the face of America’s sweetheart and a plausible, caring manner makes a lot of money in television... (But) Couric is not some breakfast-show bimbette, but the best television journalist in the world...' More

MGG Pillai RIP

Sledgehammer journalist MGG Pillai, one of the first freelancers to take to Cyberspace to rant on politics and other controversial issues, died this morning at Universiti Hospital due to heart complications. He was 67. A battle-hardened veteran (he covered the Vietnam War), Pillai wielded a highly provocative, fearless and entertaining loose-cannon style to attack the clowns running the Malaysian government, as well as their rapacious cronies and fatuous minions, on his Web site ( His sensational tales of machinations in the corridors of power will be sorely missed. More / Farewell, MGG / Tributes

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

Thursday, April 27, 2006

'Banana-jawed' mammal linked to sound skill

'Paleontologists at the Duke Lemur Center have assembled a new picture of a 35-million-year-old fossil mammal — and they even have added a hint of sound. By painstakingly measuring hundreds of specimens of a fossil mammal called Thyrohyrax, recovered from the famous fossil beds of Egypt's Fayum Province, the researchers determined that males of this now-extinct species — and only males — had oversized, swollen lower jaws shaped much like a banana... More

MIT chemist cracks secret of Nature's cures

'MIT scientists have just learned another lesson from nature. After years of wondering how organisms managed to create self-medications, such as anti-fungal agents, chemists have discovered the simple secret. Scientists already knew that a particular enzyme was able to coax a reaction out of stubborn chemical concoctions to generate a large family of medically valuable compounds called halogenated natural products. The question was, how do they do it?...' More

Seagate's new 750G drive whirrs to the top

'Seagate's Barracuda 7200.10 750GB drive, the largest hard drive to date, sets new high-water marks for capacity, price, and performance. Its speed was especially notable on the PC World Test Center's write tests, where it came within a hair's breadth of matching Western Digital's swift 10,000-rpm Raptor X...' More / Expanding universe of drive capacity

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Happy sweet sixteen, Hubble Space Telescope!

'To celebrate the NASA-ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s 16 years of success, the two space agencies are releasing a mosaic image of the magnificent starburst galaxy, Messier 82 (M82). It is the sharpest wide-angle view ever obtained of M82, a galaxy remarkable for its webs of shredded clouds and flame-like plumes of glowing hydrogen blasting out from its central regions...' More

Malaysia considers Islam in space

'Malaysia is due to send an astronaut into space with the Russians next year. The country's first spaceman is almost certain to be a Muslim, which raises a number of practical issues. For instance, Muslims wash before they pray but not only is water a precious commodity in space, but it is also impractical in weightlessness...' More

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why Mailer still matters

'"If the world is destroyed in the course of this century, I think it will be because of religious wars," says Norman Mailer... He goes on to sketch "the absolute waste of huge spiritual imbroglios between different nations..." More

The Harvard girl who stole for her novel

'A Harvard University sophomore with a highly publicized first novel acknowledged Monday that she had borrowed material, accidentally, from another author's work and promised to change her book for future editions. Kaavya Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," published in March by Little, Brown and Company, was the first of a two-book deal reportedly worth six figures. But on Sunday, the Harvard Crimson cited seven passages in Viswanathan's book that closely resemble the style and language of the novels of Megan McCafferty...' More

Monday, April 24, 2006

Iraqi 9/11 film actor denied US visa

'An Iraqi actor who plays the lead hijacker in a new film about 9/11 has been refused a visa to attend the premiere in the US. Lewis Alsamari was told by the US embassy in London that he is unlikely to be allowed to enter the country for the first public screening of United 93 in New York, where it is due to open the Tribeca Film Festival. The film tells of the events surrounding United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, when passengers revolted against four hijackers...' More

O, the power we waste!

'All around the house we bleed power. The modern home is permanently on standby, full of equipment that sits "half on", waiting to spring immediately to life when we ask it to. Figures from the Energy Saving Trust on standby power use in the UK home are astonishing:

* Stereos on standby cost £290m and produce 1.6 million tonnes of CO2
* VCRs and DVD cost £263m and produce 1.06 million tonnes of CO2
* TVs on standby cost £88m and produce 480,000 tonnes of CO2

But there is a bigger culprit out there: the personal computer, as power supply manufacturer Scott Richards explains. "The PC is a special case because if you don't turn it off completely, in other words pull the switch on the back, it's always drawing some kind of power..."' More

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Nuclear Nightmare: 20 years since Chernobyl

'Chernobyl was just one of the devastating nuclear debacles that have taken place in the last 45 years in the former Soviet Union... These photographs by Robert Knoth, from the regions of Mayak, Semipalatinsk, Chernobyl and Tomsk-7, are testimony to the continuing medical, economic and social consequences of the thriving nuclear industry in Eastern Europe...' More

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Global warming: A load of hot air?

'Hardly a day goes by without a new dire warning about climate change. But some claims are more extreme than others, giving rise to fears that the problem is being oversold and damaging the issue. How much has the planet warmed up over the past century? Most people reckon between two and three degrees. They are not even close. The real figure, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is 0.6C...' More

A short history of steam-powered aircraft

'"Well, how does she look?" Bill Besler asked observers at the Oakland Airport one morning in 1933. That he could be heard distinctly, though he spoke from the cockpit of an experimental biplane speeding 200 feet above their heads, spooked the crowd: "Dead stick," the whispers circulated. Besler then throttled up over San Francisco Bay, leaving a wisp of water vapor condensing in the sun--and a throng of squinting witnesses to the first documented flight of a controllable airplane powered by steam...' More

A question of time in Sri Lanka

'What's in half an hour? A lot more than only 30 minutes or 1,800 seconds — as Sri Lankans discovered last week. On 14 April, the government adjusted Sri Lanka's standard time to GMT+5:30 from GMT+6, which had been used since 1996. In doing so, the government completely ignored expert views of scientists and intellectuals. It listened instead to a vocal minority of nationalists, astrologers and Buddhist monks who had lobbied the newly elected president Mahinda Rajapaksa to 'restore the clock to original Sri Lankan time'. Not for the first time, science and reason lost out to nationalism and political expediency...' More

CSI: Sherlock Holmes?

'Most people have heard of the world's greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes. But many may not know that Holmes, a fictional character, engaged in activities that were quite real. How so? The detective's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, had an intense interest in the budding field of forensics. Doyle was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, a forensics expert, to study all aspects of an individual, and use science and deductive reasoning as intellectual tools. This in turn helped shape Holmes's character, and made the sleuth appear more lifelike than any fictional character before him... Holmes only scratches the surface. E.J. Wagner, a well-known crime historian and lecturer, has taken it one step further...' More

Young Mars most likely to support life

'Mars started out relatively wet and temperate, underwent a major climate shift, and evolved into a cold, drThis is the finding of an international team of scientists who have created the most comprehensive mineral history of Mars, a history closely linked to the presence of liquid water on the planet.y place strewn with acidic rock – less than ideal conditions for supporting life...' More

Malaysian rainforest being stripped by loggers

'A 130 million-year-old tropical rainforest in Malaysia is under threat from logging, environmental activists warned Thursday, as they launched a campaign calling for greater efforts to protect the national heritage. Intensive logging, by both legal timber operators and illegal loggers, is damaging the ecological system in the 741,300-acre Belum-Temengor Forest complex in northern Perak state, the Malaysian Nature Society said...' More

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The lady knows her sound

'For over a decade, Nainita Desai has earned her living designing sounds and composing for film and television. She speaks about her experiences in the industry, and explains what opportunities there are for newcomers who want to get their foot in the door...' More

Yamaha's AW1600 and AW2400 DAWs

'The AW1600 (MSRP $1,495) has been created for the home studio musician, adding many features to the AW16G while maintaining the same affordability. New features include eight combo inputs (all with Phantom power), USB 2.0 drag-and-drop capabilities for moving files onto you computer, 24-bit recording and a new Pitch Fix algorithm for correcting the pitch of vocal tracks.'

'The AW2400 (MSRP $2,499) is a complete portable studio solution for anyone who is serious about recording and production. And, just like the AW4416, users can record, edit, mix and master without the need for external equipment. This new flagship of the AW line includes 24 simultaneous tracks of playback, motorized 100mm faders and the same expansion slot found on Yamahga digital mixng consoles for connecting the AW to professional studio gear.' More / AW1600 video demo

Death By Audio's Octave Clang

'Explore the galaxy of Octavia, octave fuzz, clang, ring modulation, and sitar drone sounds. The Octave Clang is an octave up effect which uses a special selected transformer and matched Germanium Diodes to create rich and pure analog octave up sound. The gain control on the Octave Clang is ballistic and can make your guitar the most evil weapon known to man. The gain ranges from nice harmonically rich clang sounds to an onslaught of abrasive fuzz. Playing chords with the gain turned down brings out bizarre discordant drones and complex overtones...' More

In praise of the wet shave

'The Merkur razor, forged of implacable stainless steel, will last several lifetimes. There is simply nothing in it to wear out. The shaving brush will last a decade or more. Replacement double-edge blades range from inexpensive (Merkur's fearsomely thin and sharp blades are 45 cents each) to dirt cheap (at Wal-Mart, which sells perfectly serviceable blades). A year's supply of Proraso is roughly three tubes — $27. So in the first year of wet shaving, a frugal wet shaver might spend $120 or so...' More

Sofa made from Goodyear tyres

On display at the Milan Auto show recently... sofa made by Italian designer Zak using Goodyear RunOnFlat tyres.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Cool new gadgets

'Twelve of the month's hottest gadgets, from the world's smallest HD camcorder to the world's smartest golf bag caddy...' More

Hot new electric rides

'The press previews at the New York International Auto Show ran the gamut from glitzy to downright dirty, as in the mud-soaked reveal of the four-door Jeep Wrangler. Either way, there was plenty of technology on view, as automakers continue to tread the fine line between high performance and high efficiency...' More

The spotless mind: Drug to erase bad memories?

'Clinical psychologist Alain Brunet of McGill University in Montreal doesn’t usually torture his patients. But lately he has been pressing those with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, to relive emotionally scarring incidents. For some it’s rape, others battlefield trauma. When his patients get particularly upset — crying, shaking, blood pressure rising — he gives them a 25-year-old hypertension drug called propranolol. The idea, though, is not to lower their blood pressure. Brunet’s goal is much more profound: to wipe away the trauma of bad memories...' More

Damn DRM!

Middle-aged still enjoying sex

'Contrary to popular belief, middle-aged and older people enjoy sex, and will do so into their 80s, research suggests. A study of 300,000 people aged 40 to 80 in 29 countries also found couples with greater equality in western Europe were more likely to enjoy their sex lives. Highest satisfaction levels were reported in Austria and Spain and the lowest in the more male-dominated societies of the Middle East and Asia...' More

Next-generation DVD battle begins

'The first HD DVD players and discs have gone on sale in the US. The release marks the start of the format wars between the Toshiba-led HD DVD and the Sony-led Blu-ray systems. The first Blu-ray discs are expected in late May, while the first players will be available in June...' More

New blow for Microsoft in EU row

'Microsoft has lost the latest round of its battle against sanctions in Europe. A US judge quashed the firm's demands that rival Novell hand over documents it presented to the European Commission for use in an anti-trust case. The judge in the case said he had turned down the request as Microsoft was trying to "circumvent and undermine" European law...' More

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Unused PC power to aid medical research

'Just because you don't know much about biology or medicine won't stop you from helping to someday cure diseases like malaria, HIV, or cancer. In fact, all you need is a computer and an Internet connection and you can play a pivotal role in the search for treatments and cures for some of the world's biggest killers. For many people, their computers can sit idle for hours every day. Through a project called Rosetta@home, people can donate that idle time to biomedical research...' More

'Tenth planet' slightly larger than Pluto

'NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has resolved the "tenth planet," nicknamed "Xena" for the first time, and has found that it is only just a little larger than Pluto. Though previous ground-based observations suggested that Xena was about 30 percent greater in diameter than Pluto, Hubble observations taken on Dec. 9 and 10, 2005, yield a diameter of 1,490 miles (with an uncertainty of 60 miles) for Xena. Pluto's diameter, as measured by Hubble, is 1,422 miles...' More

White Stripes sued by co-producer

'A producer who worked on the first two White Stripes albums claims he deserves a share of the royalties, saying he played a pivotal role in creating the band's signature sound. Jim Diamond, who is listed as co-producer on the band's self-titled first album, released in 1999, has sued the White Stripes in U.S. District Court. He is listed as sound mixer on "De Stijl," released in 2000...' More

Buddy Holly watch fetches US$155,350

'The diamond-studded watch Buddy Holly was wearing when he was killed in a plane crash has been sold at auction for $155,350. The buyer was a woman near San Francisco who wanted to remain anonymous, said Heritage Auction Galleries spokesman Doug Norwine. He said she was a "tremendous" fan of the rock 'n' roll pioneer and had even flown to London and New York to see a musical based on his life... Holly received the diamond-and-white gold Omega wristwatch as a gift from his wife, Maria Elena Holly. He wore it "the day the music died" on Feb. 3, 1959, when he and singers Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson were killed in a plane crash in Iowa. Holly was 22...' More

Opus Dei seeks 'Da Vinci' disclaimer

'A number of Catholic groups are stepping up objections to "The Da Vinci Code" as the premiere of the Hollywood film approaches. Ron Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's bestseller based on theories Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a child will have its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival May 17 and be released worldwide May 19. The novel and film centre on a plot by the Vatican and the conservative Catholic lay organization, Opus Dei, to hide the truth. An Opus Dei spokesman on Good Friday made public a letter the group sent to Sony Pictures Entertainment seeking a disclaimer, saying, "This is a work of fiction, and ... any resemblance to reality is pure coincidence..."' More

Jack London's 1906 quake journey

'Almost 100 years ago, on 18 April 1906, San Francisco was wrecked by a massive quake. Hundreds died. Many are familiar with images of the world's first widely photographed disaster. But few have seen these pictures taken by US adventurer and author Jack London...' More

San Francisco faces big shaker

'Another magnitude 7.9 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area would probably produce much stronger shaking than the catastrophic 1906 event of the same size. The wider region should also expect thousands of fatalities and economic losses in the billions. These conclusions are contained in two reports released to coincide with the 18 April centennial of the great quake that destroyed the city and killed 3,000 people...' More / A city in ruins

Monday, April 17, 2006

Indians want hi-tech products

'Technology companies in the West should stop thinking about India as a place to dump cut-price, low-tech versions of their products, a senior Indian researcher has said. Ajay Gupta, who heads the Indian labs of Hewlett Packard, said it was a myth that Indians wanted cheap goods...' More

The Malaysian malaise

'With its wealth of resources and the attractions of its infrastructure and labor force for foreign investors Malaysia should continue to succeed. But if its other great asset, its multi- ethnic society, is to flourish in a highly competitive, highly secular East Asia, the religious obscurantism and racial privileges will have to go...' More

Kakutani a boring book critic?

'Michiko Kakutani recently embarked on her 25th year as a New York Times book critic, and it's gotten to the point that when her name is mentioned in print, you can see the smoke rising from the page. The late Susan Sontag complained, "Her criticisms of my books are stupid and shallow and not to the point." Salman Rushdie referred to her as "a weird woman who seems to feel the need to alternately praise and spank." Most notoriously, last year Norman Mailer called Kakutani, who is of Japanese descent, a "one-woman kamikaze" and a "token" minority hire"...' More

Author Muriel Spark dies aged 88

'Novelist Dame Muriel Spark, who wrote the classic "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", has died in Tuscany where she had made her home. The Scottish-born writer, who was 88, wrote more than 20 books, winning numerous literary awards. As well as writing fiction, Dame Muriel also wrote critical studies of Emily Bronte and Mary Shelley...' More / Obituary / Impossible to imagine Scotland without her

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Vegan diets healthier for planet

'The food that people eat is just as important as what kind of cars they drive when it comes to creating the greenhouse-gas emissions that many scientists have linked to global warming. Both the burning of fossil fuels during food production and non-carbon dioxide emissions associated with livestock and animal waste contribute to the problem, the University of Chicago's Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin wrote in the report...' More

Saturday, April 15, 2006

TV's irresistible appeal

'Even after you concede the worst about broadcast TV, there’s a case to be made that, on many evenings, an intelligent adult is better off spending an hour or two in front of a TV set than in a movie theater. That’s all the more true if you’re foolish enough to reach the theater by the announced starting time of the movie...' More