Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for April 25th, 2008

Man hypnotises himself before op

Posted by Anonymous on April 25, 2008

A hypnotist from West Sussex has undergone surgery on his right hand without a general anaesthetic.

Alex Lenkei, 61, from Worthing, chose to sedate himself by hypnosis before undergoing the 83-minute operation.

He said he was fully aware of everything going on around him during the procedure but was free from pain.

The operation at Worthing Hospital involved removing some bone in the base of the thumb and fusing some joints in an attempt to improve his arthritis.

Consultant orthopaedic surgeon David Llewellyn-Clark said he was happy in agreeing to the unusual sedation on Mr Lenkei, a registered hypnotist who has been practising since the age of 16.

Mr Lenkei said Wednesday’s surgery “went amazingly well”.

“It took between 30 seconds to a minute for me to place myself under hypnosis, and from that point I felt a very deep relaxation.

“I was aware of everything around me, from people talking and at one stage a hammer and chisel was used as well as a surgical saw, but I felt no pain.”

Throughout the operation, an anaesthetist was on standby to administer an anaesthetic if necessary.

Mr Llewellyn-Clark said he had been confident that Mr Lenkei was a skilled hypnotist and was “delighted all went well”. – bbc

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Man Arrested After Pumping Gas Into Imaginary Car

Posted by Anonymous on April 25, 2008

A Frankfort man was arrested on drug trafficking charges early Sunday morning after he was reportedly pumping gas into an imaginary vehicle. According to the arrest report, Metro Police arrived at a gas station at First and Jefferson streets in Louisville and immediately smelled marijuana coming from Joshua L. Moore, who station clerks contend was filling up an imaginary vehicle.

Officers searched Moore and found “two large baggies” of marijuana and a large amount of Ecstasy. Police said Moore also had a cell phone and a large amount of money, which they said was indicative of trafficking.

Police said that more narcotics were located on Moore when he was being booked into Metro Corrections. -wierdpost

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Computer System Can Carry On Conversations With Humans By Reacting To Voice, Facial Signals

Posted by Anonymous on April 25, 2008

A computer system that can carry on a discussion with a human being by reacting to signals such as tone of voice and facial expression is being developed by an international team including Queen’s University Belfast.

Known as SEMAINE, the project will build a Sensitive Artificial Listener (SAL) system, which will perceive a human user’s facial expression, gaze, and voice and then engage with the user. When engaging with a human, the SAL will be able to adapt its own performance and pursue different actions, depending on the non-verbal behaviour of the user.

SEMAINE is led by DFKI, the German centre for research on Artificial Intelligence: the other partners are Imperial College, London, the University of Paris 8, the University of Twente in Holland, and the Technical University of Munich.

Professor Roddy Cowie, from the School of Psychology, leads the team at Queen’s. He said: “A basic feature of human communication is that it is coloured by emotion. When we talk to another person, the words are carried on an undercurrent of signs that show them what attracts us, what bores us and so on. The fact that computers do not currently do this is one of the main reasons why communicating with them is so unlike interacting with a human. It is also one of the reasons we can find them so frustrating,” said Professor Cowie.

“SEMAINE and projects like it will change the way people interact with technology. They mean that you will be talking to your computer in 20 years time. When you do, pause for a minute, and remember that the human sciences at Queen’s helped to lay the groundwork.

“These new developments depend on connecting technology to the relevant understanding of people, and it is recognised worldwide that we have a distinctive strength in bringing psychology, linguistics and ethics to bear on the process of developing the new systems.”

Professor Cowie added: “Today when we use technology we adopt a style of communication that suits the machine. Through projects like HUMAINE, SEMAINE, and others linked to them, we will develop technology that will eventually communicate in ways that suit human beings.”

The European Commission awarded SEMAINE a grant of €2.75 million after it was ranked first out of 143 bids for medium-sized projects in the area of cognitive systems and robotics. – sd

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Ancient Buddhist Paintings From Bamiyan Were Made Of Oil, Hundreds Of Years Before Technique Was ‘Invented’ In Europe

Posted by Anonymous on April 25, 2008

The world was in shock when in 2001 the Talibans destroyed two ancient colossal Buddha statues in the Afghan region of Bamiyan. Behind those statues, there are caves decorated with precious paintings from 5th to 9th century A.D. The caves also suffered from Taliban destruction, as well as from a severe natural environment, but today they have become the source of a major discovery. Scientists have proved, thanks to experiments performed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), that the paintings were made of oil, hundreds of years before the technique was “invented” in Europe.

In many European history and art books, oil painting is said to have started in the 15th century in Europe. But scientists from the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo (Japan), the Centre of Research and Restoration of the French Museums-CNRS (France), the Getty Conservation Institute (United States) and the ESRF have recently identified drying oils in some of the samples they studied from the Bamiyan caves. Painted in the mid-7th century A.D., the murals show scenes with Buddhas in vermilion robes sitting cross-legged amid palm leaves and mythical creatures. The scientists discovered that 12 out of the 50 caves were painted with oil painting technique, using perhaps walnut and poppy seed drying oils.

A combination of synchrotron techniques such as infrared micro-spectroscopy, micro X-ray fluorescence, micro X-ray absorption spectroscopy or micro X-ray diffraction was crucial for the outcome of the work. “On one hand, the paintings are arranged as superposition of multiple layers, which can be very thin. The micrometric beam provided by synchrotron sources was hence essential to analyze separately each of these layers. On the other hand, these paintings are made with inorganic pigments mixed in organic binders, so we needed different techniques to get the full picture” Marine Cotte, a research scientist at CNRS and an ESRF scientific collaborator explains. – sd

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Scientists decode brain farts

Posted by Anonymous on April 25, 2008

We’ve all goofed up and flubbed up things we’ve previously done time and again.

It turns out the root of these brain farts may be a special kind of abnormal brain activity that begins up to 30 seconds before a mistake even happens.

The solution to such screw-ups could be a kind of mind-reading hat, a device to predict and even prevent mindless errors that can threaten lives.

When people blunder after performing the same task over and over, scientists had suspected that such lapses were due to momentary hiccups in concentration. Still, little was known about what the brain was actually doing before such errors.

To investigate further, the brains of volunteers were scanned as they performed a monotonous task — repetitively pushing buttons that matched images flashed at them.

Findings ‘spooked’ scientists
Unexpectedly, before volunteers made errors, their brains started displaying abnormal behavior … up to a half-minute beforehand.

“We thought initially that it would be quite remarkable if we were to find abnormal activity six or so seconds ahead,” said researcher Tom Eichele, a neuroscientist at the University of Bergen in Norway. “That the entire process spans across a much longer timescale was quite astonishing and spooked us, such that we checked this finding over and over again.”

One set of brain regions that is normally active only when a person is awake and relaxed began firing up — in other words, it’s as if the brain started resting. At the same time, another group of brain regions that is usually lively when a person is sustaining effort on a task began toning down. After people made and detected any mistakes, the abnormal behavior went away.

The international team of researchers suspects this abnormal behavior is the result of the brain attempting to save effort on a task. When the brain goes too far, errors occur.

“We did not find much evidence that the brain is just getting tired. However, I don’t think that we understand it well enough to bet all our money yet,” Eichele said.

If portable devices could detect this abnormal brain activity before an accident happened, they could save lives — say, by sounding an alert before a slip is made while driving a car or operating a piece of machinery in a factory.

The problem is the researchers scanned the brains of volunteers using functional MRI. This conventionally has patients lying down in a large tube while slowly getting probed with powerful magnetic fields and radio wave pulses — not exactly ideal helping people in everyday situations.

A mind-reading hat?
However, if such abnormal brain activity can get detected simply using electrodes on the scalp, then brain-scanning caps under development for video games and other applications might work, Eichele said. “It, at least, does not seem technically impossible,” he told LiveScience.

Even if a mind-reading hat can detect this abnormal brain activity, there may be too many brain waves to decipher out any early warning signals, Eichele cautioned. “It might give out warnings all the time, which would be helpful, or not give you any warning, which is also not helpful,” he said. “We have to figure out how sensitive and how specific we can go.”

Eichele and his colleagues soon hope to see if electrodes on the scalp can detect these signals. “We might also take experiments into virtual reality — virtual car driving, virtual piloting — to look for these signals,” he said.

The scientists detailed their findings online April 21 in the journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences. – msnbc

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Mice Can Sense Oxygen Through Their Skin

Posted by Anonymous on April 25, 2008

Biologists at the University of California, San Diego have discovered that the skin of mice can sense low levels of oxygen and regulate the production of erythropoietin, or EPO, the hormone that stimulates our bodies to produce red blood cells and allows us to adapt to high-altitude, low-oxygen environments.

Their surprising finding, published in the April 18th issue of the journal Cell, contradicts the notion of mammalian skin as an envelope around our bodies with little connection to the respiratory system.

If found to apply to humans, the discovery could radically change the way physicians treat anemia and other diseases that require boosting our bodies’ ability to produce red blood cells. It also could be used to improve the performance of endurance athletes competing in this summer’s Olympic Games.

“What we found in this study is really something quite unusual,” said Randall Johnson, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the research study. “We discovered that mammalian skin, at least in mice, responds to how much oxygen is above it and, by virtue of that response, changes blood flow through the skin. This, in turn, changes one of the most basic responses to low oxygen that we have, which is the production of erythropoietin.”

Those responses, the researchers suspect, could be ancient traits retained as mammals evolved from lower forms of vertebrates, such as amphibians, that possess the same sorts of ion channels to promote oxygen diffusion in their extremely permeable skins as mammals have in their lungs.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Stephen Hawking: Alien but primitive life likely

Posted by Anonymous on April 25, 2008

Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has been thinking a lot about the cosmic question, “Are we alone?” The answer is probably not, he says.

If there is life elsewhere in the universe, Hawking asks why haven’t we stumbled onto some alien broadcasts in space, maybe something like “alien quiz shows?”

Hawking’s comments were part of a lecture at George Washington University on Monday in honor of NASA’s 50th anniversary. He theorized that there are possible answers to whether there is extraterrestrial life. One option is that there likely isn’t life elsewhere. Or maybe there is intelligent life elsewhere, but when it gets smart enough to send signals into space, it also is smart enough to make destructive nuclear weapons.

Hawking said he prefers the third option:

“Primitive life is very common and intelligent life is fairly rare,” he then quickly added: “Some would say it has yet to occur on earth.”

So should you worry about aliens? Alien abduction claims come from “weirdos” and are unlikely. However, because alien life might not have DNA like us, Hawking warned: “Watch out if you would meet an alien. You could be infected with a disease with which you have no resistance.”

The 66-year-old British cosmologist, who suffers from ALS and must speak through a mechanical device, believes “if the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Hawking compared people who don’t want to spend money on human space exploration to those who opposed the journey of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

“The discovery of the New World made a profound difference to the old. Just think we wouldn’t have had a Big Mac or KFC.” – msnbc

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UFO on radar causes scare on PM’s flight

Posted by Anonymous on April 25, 2008

An unidentified blip on the radar of the Air Traffic Control (ATC) in Delhi caused a scare, leading to a delay in the landing of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special aircraft at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi on Tuesday evening.

The Airport Authority of India (AAI) has begun an enquiry into the incident, which led the ATC officers to ask the pilot of the Prime Minister’s aircraft to hover over the airport for about 15 minutes, sources said.

As the PM’s flight, which was coming from Ranchi neared the Delhi airport, the ATC identified a blip on the radar which appeared to be chasing the PM’s flight. Concerned over this, the ATC directed the flight to hover over for 15 minutes before allowing it to land on Runway 28 at the IGI.

Secretary in Civil Aviation Ministry, Ashok Chawla, said the PM’s aircraft landed safely after sometime and AAI was assessing the situation. “Nothing has been established as to what the blip in the radar was,” a ministry spokesperson said.

Asked as to what this blip could mean, AAI sources said that it could be an aircraft carrying a transponder on board which could be connected to the secondary radars on ground. However, the sources said this was not possible as it did not have a call sign, which any aircraft would have. – hindu

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Police in southern Russia say house stealing ‘normal practice’

Posted by Anonymous on April 25, 2008

A villager in south Russia’s Astrakhan Region has been detained on suspicion of stealing his neighbor’s house, which is common practice in remote areas, a local police spokesman said Monday.

The spokesman said the hapless house owner, who had been away for four months, reported the theft to police after he returned home to find his house gone and just the foundations remaining.

“A local resident decided that if no one was living in the house, it could be taken away piece by piece, and he dismantled it for construction materials and put them inside his yard,” the police spokesman said, adding the suspect faced a maximum of three years in prison, if found guilty.

The spokesman said that this was not the first case reported recently.

“This is traditional practice in remote villages – when no one is home for a long time, the house starts falling to pieces because locals take pieces. We don’t even know about the majority of cases, but sometimes the owners report them,” he said. – ru

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Cat seeker beat up by blind homeowner

Posted by Anonymous on April 25, 2008

A blind homeowner used the wrestling skills he learned more than 30 years ago to overpower an intruder and hold the man at knifepoint until police arrived this morning.

“I just kind of panicked and just kind of went crazy after that,” Allan Kieta said. “I’ve wrestled all my life. My dad’s a Marine; he taught me some stuff. You’re thinking in your head all this survival stuff.”

An Indianapolis police official called it one of the most incredible tales of citizen self-defense that he’s heard in years.

“It’s pretty remarkable for anyone that’s blind to be able to defend themselves, let alone make an apprehension,” Lt. Jeff Duhamell said. “To be able to grab this guy and hold him down until police got there is pretty remarkable.” Kieta is typically at work on Mondays but had taken the day off from his job with the federal government. So he was home when a man entered his Eastside residence in the 3100 block of Richardt Avenue about 9 a.m.

“We have a little poodle-like dog. It was barking and barking,” Kieta said. “I opened the door and just ran into him.” Kieta, 49, who is legally blind, said he was the Kentucky high school wrestling champ for the 145-pound division in 1976. He used his skills and other self-defense tactics learned from his father to subdue the intruder.

“I had him pinned in the laundry room and just kept pummeling,” Kieta said, describing the pounding he gave the 25-year-old arrested by police. Kieta punched, kicked and grappled until the suspect became disoriented. Kieta said he grabbed him by the belt and dragged him into the kitchen. Kieta then found a kitchen knife and held it at the man’s throat.

Kieta fumbled to dial 911 with his other hand. “Being visually impaired, I couldn’t get the buttons because I was using my left hand,” he said. “It took me about 20 tries.”

Police arrived minutes after dispatchers received the call at 9:47 a.m. Alvaro Castro, 25, was arrested on an initial charge of residential entry, Sgt. Matthew Mount said. Police say Castro denied trying to burglarize the home. He said he was the ex-boyfriend of Kieta’s 18-year-old daughter and said he was trying to visit her when he ran into her father, Mount said.

Kieta said Castro also told him he was looking for his cat.

“I go, ’Your cat? You’re in my house!”’ Kieta recalled. Castro was held at Wishard Memorial Hospital’s secure detention facility, then transferred to the Marion County Jail late Monday night. Kieta said he suffered swollen hands and a sore back, but no serious injuries.

“When my wife was cleaning the blood off, she said ‘I think it’s all his,’.” Kieta said. -indystar

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