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     Volume 4 Issue 33 | February 11, 2005 |


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Sci-tech

The New Kid on the Block
Japanese electronics giant Sony employee Hanae Kato displays the new DVD camcorder "Handycam DCR-DVD403", equipped with 3.3 mega-pixel CCD on its image sensor, 5.1 - 51mm Carl Zeiss VarioSonnar zoom lens and 2.7-inch wide LCD display. Sony will put it on the market in March with an estimated price of 1,310 USD. Sony announced its operating profit fell 13 percent in the December quarter, hit by falling digital product prices and weak sales of its iconic PlayStation 2 game consoles.

Microsoft Google
Microsoft has unveiled what its founder Bill Gates calls "more precise and powerful" search capabilities on msn.com. The announcement is widely seen as Microsoft's effort to crack the near monopoly of search technology pioneer Google, which too has recently added a host of new features. "Our goal at Microsoft is to use the power of software to solve our customers' toughest problems. Searching the Internet today is a challenge and it is estimated that nearly half of customers' complex questions go unanswered," Gates said in an official announcement. MSN Search has been displayed more prominently on the home page, with convenient tabs that allow consumers to search for news, images, music, desktop or Microsoft Encarta. Although Google enjoys the pioneer's advantage, Microsoft is likely to use its financial and network muscle to power into this rapidly growing multi-billion dollar market.

Micromachine Grows its Own Muscles
Amicromachine that walks using muscles that it grew for itself has been developed in a US laboratory. The remarkable device could eventually lead to muscle-based nerve stimulators that let paralysed patients breathe without a ventilator or to nanobots that clear away plaque from inside the walls of a human coronary artery. Scientists at the University of California in Los Angeles grew a length of muscle about 100 microns long on the underside of a silicon frame measuring 200 microns. The cells were taken from a rat's heart and grown in a culture that mimics natural biological conditions. The muscle contracts and relaxes by feeding on glucose in a solution, the contractions causing the tiny structure to shuffle along.

Greenhouse Gases
May Drive Birds into Extinction

The greenhouse effect may cause the extinction of thousands of birds globally, scientists warn. According to the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), global temperature rises must be limited to less than two degrees Celsius above the temperature in pre-industrial times to preserve birds. "There is substantial and compelling evidence that climate change is adversely affecting wildlife and it is going to take very little further change to catastrophically affect other species and ecosystems," said John Lanchbery, head of RSPB's climate change department. "It is not a question of whether, but how we tackle climate change if we care at all about our health, our food, water supplies and our wildlife," Lanchbery said at an international conference on the threat of climate change.

Machine Learns Games 'like a human'
Acomputer that learns to play a 'scissors, paper, stone' by observing and mimicking human players could lead to machines that automatically learn how to spot an intruder or perform vital maintenance work. CogVis, developed by scientists at the University of Leeds in Yorkshire, UK, teaches itself how to play the children's game by searching for patterns in video and audio of human players and then building its own "hypotheses" about the game's rules. CogVis observed human volunteers playing a version of the game using cards marked with a pair of scissors, a piece of paper, or a stone. They were also told to announce when they had won or when the game was a draw. After watching for several rounds, CogVis was able to call the outcome of each game correctly.

How strong do you hold your tongue?
How efficient is your brain's censor wall under pressure, distraction and manipulations? What happens when you unknowingly put your foot in your mouth and things go wrong?

You make blunders! Associate Professor Bill von Hippel of New South Wales was quoted as saying, "Stress, tiredness and being distracted increase your chance of 'putting your foot in it', telling people what you really think of them or making other social blunders". The research analysed humans regarding holding their tongues, suppressing irrelevant or inappropriate thought, inhibitory ability and dilemma of social etiquette. While we all, except older people, very young people or brain-damaged people, can censor our thoughts, some of us are better at it than others and it's easy to slip up. Even people with good inhibitory ability like international diplomats were likely to behave inappropriately when distracted or fatigued. This suggests that our ability to suppress our true feelings is disrupted under demanding conditions.

Tracing Lost Flora
Dried specimens of plants collected by Scottish botanists in the 19th century from Nepal will be used to find lost plant species of the Himalayan kingdom. A team of Nepalese botanists have travelled to Scotland to study the specimens preserved in a special herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, reports Scottish daily Scotsman. Several of Nepal's 7,000 plant species that are believed to have been destroyed by over-development and tourism could now be revived using the herbarium, say scientists. "We have detailed information about the plants. When they (the Nepalese scientists) go back, they can look if the plants still exist," says Mark Watson, head of the 'Flora of Nepal' project at the Royal Botanic Garden. Nepal does not have a flora library. However, a few species of plants may still exist and could be used to cultivate more plants. Watson said the project could uncover a further 500 unknown species in Nepal. "We are very grateful that Scottish scientists took some of our plants as specimens. Otherwise we would not be able to learn about our plants."

 

Source: Webindia123.com

Compiled by: Imran H. Khan

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2004