Friday, August 24, 2007

August 23, 2007
For Google, Not Even The Sky is Off Limits
By Gene Hirschel

As if the entire planet, down to embarrassing street photos, weren't enough, Google Earth has added a new feature allowing users to see all things sky. Let's hope none of the aliens are wearing thongs.

Packed with 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies, the new feature was a serious undertaking. The Google Earth Sky feature contains seven informative layers, including constellations, backyard astronomy showing objects within easy optical reach, Hubble imagery, the moon, planets, Galaxies, and even "Life of a Star" tour.

To access Google Sky, click "Switch to Sky" from the "View" menu, or click the Sky button on the Google Earth toolbar.

The "steer," "drag, "zoom" and "search" navigation buttons work just like the terrestrial versions. Users can also save their favorite planets, stars, galaxies, and extraterrestrial hot spots.

Google Sky was the fruit of the University of Washington's participation in the Google Visiting Faculty Program, making possible visits from leading academic researchers. Google's Pittsburgh engineering team created Sky by stitching together imagery from numerous scientific third parties, including the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) among others.

"Sky is a very cool new feature for anyone who has ever looked up at the sky and wanted to know more," said Sally Ride, former astronaut and CEO of Sally Ride Science, in a statement. "I think this is a great tool for satisfying that curiosity."

Captain Kirk never had it so good.

Google's launch this week of Sky, a new feature within Google Earth that provides a virtual tour of celestial phenomena, may be of limited use to professional astronomers, but its impact on future scientists and amateur stargazers alike is expected to be as infinite and expansive as the universe it portrays. New features on the horizon promise to further refine Sky's ability to serve as a virtual observatory and deliver images of unfolding cosmic events as they occur.

The key to Sky's success and its impact on the field of astronomy is the software's ability to provide an easy-to-use interface that satisfies Internet users' insatiable appetite for new information. "There is a huge need to get more young people interested in science," says California Institute of Technology astronomy professor S. George Djorgovski.

The Caltech Center for Advanced Computing Research's VOEventNet project, which created a virtual observatory by linking a number of telescopes, introduced a software program this week that works with Sky, allowing users to post and view images and video of transient phenomena such as exploding and colliding stars, gamma-ray bursts, and supernovae within minutes of their detection. As such, Djorgovski is hoping to make Sky a dynamic learning tool that leads not only to increased enthusiasm in astronomy but also to an interest in related disciplines such as physics and even information technology.

Caltech's VOEventNet team is hoping to add links by March that let users track the movement of asteroids, which are "weeds in the rose garden for professional astronomers" but create excitement among amateur stargazers by providing them with the feeling of discovering something new, says Roy Williams, Caltech senior scientist and leader of the VOEventNet team.

Google Earth debuted in June 2005, combining Google's search capabilities with worldwide geographic information provided by maps and satellite images. Google created Sky by stitching together imagery from a number of scientific institutions, including the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Caltech's Palomar Observatory in California and the U.K. Astronomy Technology Center in Edinburgh. Sky lets Google Earth users view and navigate through 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies by clicking on "Switch to Sky" from the "view" drop-down menu in Google Earth, or by clicking the "Sky" button on the toolbar.

More than a star map, Sky is an interface that astronomers, educators and students can use to contribute their own findings to a community of like-minded users, says Carol Christian, an astronomer with STScI, which serves as the science operations center for the orbiting Hubble telescope. Look for Google to eventually offer Sky users the ability to go beyond conventional video and photo images and view ultraviolet and infrared images of the celestial universe, something that will help people "appreciate the astrophysical universe they live in," she says.

Christian would also like to see the Google Earth and Sky interfaces merged into one (for now, users click on a button to switch between interfaces) so that they can navigate seamlessly between the terrestrial and extraterrestrial worlds.

Dalai Lama sports gun

What's this?

Just when you thought the Dalai Lama is an icon of peace, along comes his action figure dressed in a simple monastic robe with one obvious difference - he is equipped with an AK-12 automatic pistol that features a silencer and self-aiming fire-and-forget laser. And you thought all those chants and mantras were soothing, when underneath the seemingly calm surface lies one living, lethal weapon. Pricing details have yet to be confirmed.

Product Page via Nerd Approved

Out-of-body experience recreated

Near-death events have triggered out-of-body experiences
Experts have found a way to trigger an out-of-body experience in volunteers.

The experiments, described in the Science journal, offer a scientific explanation for a phenomenon experienced by one in 10 people.

Two teams used virtual reality goggles to con the brain into thinking the body was located elsewhere.

The visual illusion plus the feel of their real bodies being touched made volunteers sense that they had moved outside of their physical bodies.

The researchers say their findings could have practical applications, such as helping take video games to the next level of virtuality so the players feel as if they are actually inside the game.

Clinically, surgeons might also be able to perform operations on patients thousands of miles away by controlling a robotic virtual self.


For some, out-of-body experiences or OBEs occurs spontaneously, while for others it is linked to dangerous circumstances, a near-death experience, a dream-like state or use of alcohol or drugs.

We feel that our self is located where the eyes are
UCL researcher Dr Henrik Ehrsson

One theory is that it is down to how people perceive their own body - those unhappy or less in touch with their body are more likely to have an OBE.

But the two teams, from University College London, UK, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, believe there is a neurological explanation.

Their work suggests a disconnection between the brain circuits that process visual and touch sensory information may thus be responsible for some OBEs.

In the Swiss experiments, the researchers asked volunteers to stand in front of a camera while wearing video-display goggles.

Through these goggles, the volunteers could see a camera view of their own back - a three-dimensional "virtual own body" that appeared to be standing in front of them.

When the researchers stroked the back of the volunteer with a pen, the volunteer could see their virtual back being stroked either simultaneously or with a time lag.

The volunteers reported that the sensation seemed to be caused by the pen on their virtual back, rather than their real back, making them feel as if the virtual body was their own rather than a hologram.


Even when the camera was switched to film the back of a mannequin being stroked rather than their own back, the volunteers still reported feeling as if the virtual mannequin body was their own.

And when the researchers switched off the goggles, guided the volunteers back a few paces, and then asked them to walk back to where they had been standing, the volunteers overshot the target, returning nearer to the position of their "virtual self".

Dr Henrik Ehrsson, who led the UCL research, used a similar set-up in his tests and found volunteers had a physiological response - increased skin sweating - when they felt their virtual self was being threatened - appearing to be hit with a hammer.

Dr Ehrsson said: "This experiment suggests that the first-person visual perspective is critically important for the in-body experience. In other words, we feel that our self is located where the eyes are."

Dr Susan Blackmore, psychologist and visiting lecturer at the University of the West of England, said: "This has at last brought OBEs into the lab and tested one of the main theories of how they occur.

"Scientists have long suspected that the clue to these extraordinary, and sometimes life-changing, experiences lies in disrupting our normal illusion of being a self behind our eyes, and replacing it with a new viewpoint from above or behind."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

And on another note the legislation to ban the Great Salt Lake from rising has failed, due to the Salt Lake's unconcerned feeling to the approach of the rainy season and it's desire to due it the Nature Way- gregor

China to Tibetan Buddhist monks: no reincarnating without our ok

Snip from Newsweek article:

In one of history's more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is "an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation."

Link.(Thanks, Kent!)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Saudi 'Eden' built in the desert
By Petru Clej
BBC News

Eden gardens in Riyadh - aerial view
The project recreates a history of plants in the last 400 million years
The largest series of botanical landscapes in the world is being built in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The gardens - covering 160 hectares (395 acres) - aims to re-create the 400 million-year-old history of the Earth's plants, trees and flowers.

The £100m ($200m) project is due to be completed in 2010.

The complex of gardens - to be called the King Abdullah International Gardens - is a gift from the city of Riyadh to the Saudi monarch.

The landscapes will be five times larger than the similar Eden Project in south-west England.

'Jurassic Park'

Built just outside Riyadh, the gardens will include four types of gardens - scientific gardens; water gardens; international gardens, sponsored by individuals and foreign embassies; and paleo-botanic gardens, which recreate the history of plants.


Riyadh gardens
Devonian - 400 million years ago - multi cellular plants, like mosses and liverworts
Carboniferous - 300 million years ago - swamps and peat-filled wetlands
Jurassic - 206 to 142 million years ago - lush woodlands
Cretaceous - 142 to 65 million years ago - flowering plants
Cenozoic - 65 million years ago - vast variety, evolving with pollinators

Nick Sweet of Barton Willmore, a British company designing the project, says it will be like "Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs".

"There was a danger of the project being pompous about the scientific aspect", he told the BBC.

"People should respond like they would for example in London, taking their family to the Kew Botanical Gardens, throwing a Frisbee around."

The project is taking shape in the middle of an arid landscape, but three million years ago the same place was totally different.

The land which is known as Saudi Arabia today was back then covered with forests.

"It contrasts the desert environment of today with the green, verdant and lush place of three million years ago," Paul Kenrick, paleo-botanist at the Natural History Museum and scientific advisor to the project told the BBC.

"It illustrates how climate change can affect plant development."

The final garden of this section, called The Garden of Choices, will attempt to warn of what may happen to the Earth in the future as a result of different possible scenarios resulting from human activity.

Environmental concerns have not been overlooked. Sources of renewable energy will keep the gardens cool in the 45 - 50C temperatures of the desert.

Evaporation from the site will be kept to a minimum, with water being recycled wherever possible, designers said.