Daily Archives: June 11, 2011

Chips for dinner: Edible RFID tags describe your food

An RFID in a cake could tell you how many calories it contains (Image: Image Source/Getty)

newscientist.com | Jun 10, 2011

by Jesse Emspak

For tracking, radio frequency identification (RFID) chips are the greatest thing since sliced bread. But what if the RFID chip was actually in the sliced bread?

A student at the Royal College of Art in London, Hannes Harms, has come up with a design for an edible RFID chip, part of a system he calls NutriSmart. The chip could send information about the food you eat to a personal computer or, conceivably, a mobile phone via a Bluetooth connection.

The idea is that it could send nutritional data and ingredients for people who have allergies, or calorie-counting for those on diets, or maybe even telling your fridge when the food has gone off. It could even be used to market organic food, with a chip holding data about the origin of that tuna steak you just bought.

The idea still raises a lot of questions. First is safety. People ingest electronic cameras often enough – the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first ones a decade ago. But those cameras are used to diagnose serious conditions, not eaten daily. Then there’s privacy. Do you want the whole world to know about your food allergy or diabetes? Are you comfortable telling unknown parties your eating habits?

Last is cost. RFID chips can be made cheaply, but adding a dollar to the cost of a dollar food item is a leap many people might not want to make.

It isn’t clear whether Harms could commercialice this – he has presented designs for interactive furniture and a small, portable ultrasound unit, but they seem to be industrial design concepts more than anything else. That said, the idea itself is intriguing and is a nice example of just how far we can take the concept of a wired world.

COLUMN: Hard evidence needed on climate change

Sun can be seen behind clouds and the sculpture “Man walking to the sky” by US artist Jonathan Borowsky on June 10, 2011 in Kassel, central Germany. Meteorologists forecast weather changing from fair to cloudy with mild temperatures up to 22 degrees Celsius in the region. In Saskatchewan, 22 degrees is now considered to be “hot.” Photograph by: Uwe Zucchi, Reuters

StarPheonix | June 11, 2011

By Bronwyn Eyre

I know it’s futile to complain about the weather. But are weather researchers fair game?

Last week, it was reported a University of Regina project, led by Prof. Dave Sauchyn, was being awarded $1.25 million from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to study the role of climate change in natural disasters on the Prairies.

“Climate is a pattern. One event is weather,” Sauchyn said. “But if you get a bunch of these (weather incidents) from across the Prairies and it happens again and again, we say, ‘Something is going on.’ And it’s probably climate change.”

Sounds a bit like witchcraft reasoning to me.

Look: If there’s a clear pattern of global warming – sorry, “climate change” – that can be proven without skullduggery or obfuscation, most of us will be willing to do what it takes to rectify things. But increasingly, it seems, “experts” are claiming wacky weather simply to advance an agenda.

A few trees uprooted and hail storms in Ontario this week? Must be climate change. The same goes for the recent floods in Quebec and Manitoba and tornadoes in the U.S. Even the Japanese tsunami elicited a few “climate change” prognoses.

Which reminds me of a comment of Henry Kissinger’s I read the other day. No, the world’s most famous diplomat hasn’t ventured into the global warming debate. He was talking about China: “For the Chinese, history is part of current reality. For America, current reality usually begins with the perception of a problem we are trying to solve now.”

Sounds a lot like the extremeweathermeisters. Sure, it’s a different context. But in weather as in everything else, current reality isn’t everything. The past informs the present.

The fact is, tornadoes in the U.S. Midwest were worse in the 1930s – not to mention the continentwide, Dirty Thirties drought. Some residents of northeast Japan are the third generation to have experienced tsunamis. And the recent flooding around Lumsden, for example, was as bad in 1974.

British weather forecasters recently predicted this summer could be as hot as the famously hot summer of 1976. This winter, December was the coldest and snowiest in Britain in 30 years. During the “little ice age,” a period of cooling between 1150 and 1850, people skated on the Thames.

Could it be the weather’s always been a bit wacky and prone to periods of extremes?

Ontario may have roasted last summer, and a 40 C day there last week inevitably made the evening news. But the province has always been prone to high heat. When I lived there in the early ’80s, I remember high, muggy heat every day.

Of course, it used to boil here, too. But nowadays, local TV weather reporters emblazon forecasts for 22 C with bright sun labels reading “Hot.” Some hot. When the sun goes behind a cloud when it’s 22 C, you have to find a jacket.

Canadian climatologist Gordon McBean may say, “We’ll have more hot summers as the climate warms. Over the past 25 years, average temperatures have been steadily rising across the country.”

But last spring, Saskatchewan experienced one of the wettest, coolest springs “on record.” The summer continued much the same, as it did across most of the country.

In 2009, Environment Canada reported that in Saskatchewan, July was “more than two degrees colder than normal.” Ditto for most of the spring, summer and winter. Temperatures in 2009 across Western Canada were “much cooler than normal.”

Surely, “two degrees cooler” here and “three degrees cooler there” over huge land masses have to have some effect on calculations of average. What’s the formula, anyway: A simple heat lost versus heat gained kind of thing?

We know scientists rely on temperature readings because in the infamous “climategate” emails, they fretted that freedom of information regulations might force them to reveal temperatures were actually falling.

Either way, they’ve gotta do better than a few polar bears and show us the unadulterated, empirical evidence.

Until we have such evidence, let there be a moratorium on laments by the likes of fired parliamentary page Brigitte De Pape that we’re “destroying the planet,” or by Green MP Elizabeth May that climate change is the “single largest threat.”

There are many threats in this world. But climate change doesn’t appear to be one of them.

As for me, I remain cautiously optimistic that “global warming” may someday return to the Prairies. I miss it.

Frost forecast overnight as the mercury plummets across Scotland

dailyrecord.co.uk | Jun 11 2011

by Mark Mcgivern

FORGET the barbecue this weekend – forecasters are predicting wind, rain and even frost.

The mercury plummeted below freezing on Thursday night in some areas, with the coldest temperature recorded being -1.9C at Altnaharra in Sutherland.

And temperatures were forecast to dip below zero again in parts of Scotland, north-west England and Wales overnight.

Conditions aren’t expected to get much better over the rest of the weekend either.

Met Office spokesman Dan Grey said: “There is a chance of overnight frost – certainly we’ll see frost in parts of Wales, north-west England and maybe in the glens of Scotland.

“It is very much on the cold side for this time of year.

“In the areas where it is particularly cold, it will be as low as -1C or -2C. Overnight temperatures at this time of year would normally be 5C or 6C.

“Across England and Wales overnight temperatures would normally be 7C, but this weekend could see them drop below zero in some rural areas.”

However, it’s unlikely to match the all-time lowest June temperature of -5.6C recorded on June 9, 1955.

Grey added: “On Saturday, most areas will have a relatively bright start to the day. There will be a few rain showers in Scotland.

Pressure “Cloud will bubble up slowly with showers across many parts of the country by mid-morning. There’ll be scattered showers which will have died out by the evening.

“However, on Sunday we have an area of low pressure coming up from the southwest which will bring with it rain into much of the country.

“It will rain pretty much the whole day in south-west England and parts of southern England. It really will be quite a wet day for many parts of the country.

“It will slowly clear away on Sunday. Monday in Scotland will be a wet and windy day. It isn’t really until Tuesday that we see a period of bright dry weather.”

“I don’t think we are going to see anything too warm.”

There’s better news for parched East Anglia, which has been suffering a drought. It will bucket with rain there tomorrow.

Sealed with a kiss: How the mafia makes a deal

Daniele D’Agnese locks lips with an associate in Naples

Pledge of silence between members of the Naples Camorra is witnessed in public for the first time

Independent | Jun 10, 2011

By Michael Day

The long and passionate kiss between the two young men continued for several seconds, as onlookers gawped and photographers snapped incessantly. Their lips finally parted when police officers yanked one man away and shoved him into a waiting police car.

Uninhibited public shows of affection between men are seldom seen in Italy. But these two weren’t lovers. And the show they put on outside Naples police headquarters on Wednesday evening was something rarer still – a full kiss on the lips between Camorra mobsters as a powerful sign, made very public, that the bonds of the crime syndicate would remain strong and the arrested man would remain silent. Experts say that this particular mob tradition has never previously been filmed or photographed.

The young mobster under arrest, Daniele D’Agnese, 27, a senior figure in the notorious Scissionisti clan of the Camorra, locked lips with not one but two younger male associates in front of press cameras and crowds. La Stampa newspaper said the kisses were a message telling the pair that they would not be left to fend for themselves.

“It was a sign to the weaker members of the group telling them, ‘We’ll continue to be a group; we’ll command the same territory and whatever happens, you won’t be abandoned’,” it said. The kiss may also have been a sign to rival clans that Scissionisti bonds remained strong.

Other newspapers suggested that with the display, D’Agnese – seized yesterday along with senior boss, Carmine Amato, in a remote hideout outside Naples – was telling those watching that he would not talk while in custody. Dr Corrado de Rosa, a psychiatrist and expert witness in mafia trials, who wrote the book I Medici della Camorra (The Doctors of the Camorra), told The Independent that the kisses could have meant any number of things, but he tended to veer toward the latter explanation.

“I think it’s possible that D’Agnese was telling the two – and all the people watching – that he was going to keep his mouth closed and not tell the authorities anything,” he said. “I have heard of Camorristi kissing each other on the lips like this but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it being done in public before. That it was done this way shows the kisses were designed to carry a very important message.”

Dr de Rosa added that the kisses were interesting for another reason: they demonstrated the huge difference between the less disciplined, “anything goes” Camorra and Sicily’s conservative Cosa Nostra.

“Such a thing is inconceivable between Cosa Nostra members. The Sicilian mafia is extremely homophobic. But the Camorra is much more liberal and modern in that respect. Camorristi aren’t bothered how they are portrayed or what other people think. As long as they’re able to function and carrying on making money.” He said their laissez-faire attitude was evident when, in February 2009, police arrested the 27-year-old transsexual Ugo “Ketty” Gabriele on suspicion of being a Camorra drug smuggler.

D’Agnese, who is thought to be the deputy chief of the clan and senior body guard of Amato, 30, was found with his wife and children when police swooped on their refuge in the hills above Naples on Wednesday morning. Amato, arrested in the same raid, was listed as one of Italy’s 100 most dangerous fugitives, and was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and mafia association. He had been on the run since 2009.

One of the police officers outside the Naples court yesterday, who did not want to be named, told La Repubblica that he was not that surprised by the scene. “Similar things happen with the Camorra in the eastern parts of the city, that is Barra, Ponticelli. San Giovanni and Teduccio,” he said. And he added that for the Scissionisti clan, “a kiss on the lips between men is a real tradition”.

He also had some observations on the attire of both mobsters after their arrests. D’Agnese and his shaven- headed boss Amato could not look more different. But both were wearing James Dean T-shirts. “I can imagine the boss chose that type of T-shirt for himself and then took one for his bodyguard, the officer said. “This is something else we often see; the same brand, the same label of shoes. It’s a real passion for mob bosses.” Earlier evidence that James Dean T-shirts are the Scissionisti clan uniform came a few months ago when another senior clam member, Cesare Pagano, was seized wearing one.

Clan loyalties among Camorra members are very strong; mobsters are prepared to die for them – and often do. The worst big feud in recent years – over control of the Scampia zone of the city, which involved the Scissionisti group – resulted in more than 60 murders between 2004 and 2005. The violence prompted widespread public revulsion against the Camorra and led to a big crackdown by the authorities.

Mafia rituals

* For Italy’s oldest and best-known mafia group, Cosa Nostra, a kiss can mean very different things depending on where it’s planted.

* A kiss on the mouth from a Cosa Nostra mobster is a sign that you’re going to be killed. But a kiss on the cheek indicates that the Cosa Nostra member regards you as an equal. Kissing a mobster on the hand is a sign of subservience, and a way of keeping a mob boss happy.

* Another mafia ritual was revealed as recently as 1990, in the book Secret Societies. FBI wiretaps overheard Robert Deluca being inducted into Boston’s Patriarca clan of the Cosa Nostra in a house in Bedford, Massachusetts, in front of criminal family members. Delucawas made to promise omerta – to maintain a lifelong code of silence. Next, each of the men present pricked their index fingers and spilt their blood on to a paper image of the Patriarca family saint. The card was set alight and as it burnt Deluca took the second oath: “As burns this saint, so will burn my soul. I enter alive into this organisation and leave it dead.”

Carbon credits may be awarded for camel cull

independent.co.uk | Jun 10, 2011

By Kathy Marks in Sydney

Australia has come up with a way of killing two birds with one stone. Or rather, killing one camel and tackling climate change. The government is considering a scheme that would see “carbon credits” awarded for culling the methane-belching ruminants that roam the outback.

Imported in the 19th century to help Europeans explore the vast, arid continent, and turned loose in the 1920s, the feral camels are considered a major pest. Now it turns out that they not only compete with native animals for food and water, trample vegetation and damage fences – they also make a hefty contribution to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Each camel discharges 45kg of methane – equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide – every year. With more than million of them in the wild, and their numbers predicted to double every nine years, that represents a lot of climate-changing gas.

Under a plan being mulled by the government, the killing of camels would be officially registered as a means of cutting national emissions. People who helped to reduce the camel population would earn carbon credits, which they could then sell to industrial polluters seeking to offset their own emissions.

The idea was conceived by an Adelaide-based company, Northwest Carbon, which proposes to shoot camels from helicopters, or round them up and send them to abattoirs to be converted into meat for humans or pets.

Blair demands more military action in other countries

independent.co.uk | Jun 9, 2011

By Andrew Grice

Britain and its allies should be ready to mount Libya-style interventions in other Arab countries, Tony Blair declares today.

The former Prime Minister, who committed British troops to military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, says that Europe and the United States must draw up a proper plan to support the so-called Arab Spring.

In a new introduction to the paperback version of his memoirs published today, Mr Blair says: “We need to have an active policy, be players and not spectators sitting in the sands, applauding or condemning as we watch. Like it or not, we have to participate.”

He argues that a Libya-style operation should take place only when regimes have “excluded a path to evolutionary change”. But he does raise the prospect of intervention in some circumstances in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and Jordan.

Mr Blair admits that, because of what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, some leaders will be advised to “stay out” of the Arab world and that interfering would make things worse. “I don’t notice much [public] appetite in the US or Europe,” he concedes.

But he insists: “The alternative view is that we have major interests engaged in the region. We have no real option but to be active.”

In the extracts released last night, Mr Blair makes no comment on his 2004 “deal in the desert” with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, which helped turn the Libyan leader from an international pariah who exported terrorism to an ally of the West.

Defending the current action in Libya, Mr Blair says that if it had not happened, Gaddafi would have retaken the country and suppressed the revolt with “extraordinary vehemence” and many would have died.

“But the more far-reaching consequence is that within a period of months, we would have supported the removal of a key ally, President Mubarak of Egypt (and you can’t rewrite history, he was our ally); and then stood by as Gaddafi (who despite his change on WMD and terrorism could not be considered in the same way) kept power. The damage to the West’s reputation, credibility and stature would have been not just massive but potentially irreparable. That’s what I mean by saying inaction is also a decision.”

The former Prime Minister says that “evolution is better than revolution” and where there is the possibility of evolutionary change, Britain should encourage and support it. “This is the case in the Gulf States. Instability there would be damaging not just to our interests but to those countries and their people. Many are already embarking on a path of steady change. We should help them keep to it and support it. None of this means we do not criticise strongly the use of violence against unarmed civilians. Or that if that violence continues, we do not reserve the right then to move to outright opposition to the status quo, as has happened in Libya.”

Home equity sinks to nearly lowest point since World War II

USA Today | Jun 10, 2011

Falling home prices have shrunk the equity Americans have in their homes to nearly the lowest percentage since World War II.

Average home equity plunged from more than 61% at the start of 2001 to 38% in the January-March quarter this year, the Federal Reserve said in a report Thursday. That drop comes as home prices in big metro areas have reached their lowest level since 2002.

Prices fell 33% in 20 cities through March from their 2006 peak, reaching their lowest level since 2003, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index of U.S. home prices on May 31. The decline signaled a “double dip” as the index fell below its previous post-housing-bubble low set in April 2009. Prices more than doubled from 2000 to July 2006.

Further declines in home prices are likely

Robert Shiller, the economist who co-founded the S&P/Case-Shiller index, said a further decline in property values of 10% to 25% in the next five years “wouldn’t surprise me at all.”

“There’s no precedent for this statistically, so no way to predict,” Shiller said Thursday at a Standard & Poor’s conference in New York.

A backlog of foreclosures poised to hit the market means prices may stay depressed, dissuading builders from starting new construction.

Unemployment, which rose to 9.1% in May, and stricter lending conditions are signs that any recovery in housing may take years.

Shiller’s comments paint a more pessimistic possibility for home prices than other forecasts. Additional declines will be “incremental,” Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said last week..

While it would be a surprise to see prices fall steeply, it’s possible for homes to lose more value if inflation picks up, Karl Case, co-founder of the index, said Thursday.

“You could have flat nominal prices but still have it go down 20%,” Case said during an interview at the conference.

“If house prices stabilize, they could still go down in real terms. If we had inflation, it’d be great, because it’d mask a 25% decline.”

The Fed report showed that household debt fell in the January-March period at an annual rate of 2% from the previous quarter.

That drop was due entirely to a decline in mortgages.

Auto loans, student loans and other consumer credit rose 2.4% — the second-straight gain after nine consecutive declines.