NASA Astronaut Watches New Star Trek Movie in Space

Many moviegoers likely will have to sit in crowded theaters to watch the new "Star Trek" movie, but not NASA astronaut Michael Barratt. He got the opportunity to watch the film aboard the International Space Station while he and two crewmates fly 220 miles above Earth. The only thing missing was the popcorn.

The film's production company, Paramount Pictures, transferred "Star Trek" to NASA's Mission Control in Houston, which then uplinked the film to the space station. Barratt watched the film Friday on a laptop computer inside the Unity module.

"I remember watching the original 'Star Trek' series and, like many of my NASA coworkers, was inspired by the idea of people from all nations coming together to explore space," said Barratt. " 'Star Trek' blended adventure, discovery, intelligence and story telling that assumes a positive future for humanity. The International Space Station is a real step in that direction, with many nations sharing in an adventure the world can be proud of."

There is a collection of DVDs and uplinked movies aboard the space station. The DVDs were delivered during previous shuttle and station missions and will remain aboard for the enjoyment of future crews. Some crews have had movie nights as regular activities. Former station astronaut Greg Chamitoff and his crewmates viewed the entire "Star Trek" series as a regular weekly event.

Films, books and music are important aspects of psychological support for astronauts on long-duration missions. Aside from watching movies and television shows, space station astronauts have a number of options for their leisure and personal time, such as reading books or magazines, listening to music, and playing musical instruments and board games.

Barratt launched to the space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in March. He is scheduled to return to Earth on a Soyuz spacecraft on Oct. 11. His station crewmates are Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. All three will become part of the station's first six-person crew, Expedition 20, when three new crew members arrive on May 29.

US House supports emissions bill

The US House of Representatives has passed a climate change bill aimed at reducing the country's emissions.

The legislation will put curbs on pollution and apply market principles to attempts to tackle global warming.

It was passed by a narrow margin of 219 votes to 212. President Barack Obama said the vote represented "enormous progress".

But the bill still has to be passed by the US Senate before it can become law, and it faces another tough fight.

"Today the House of Representatives took historic action with the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act," Mr Obama said after the vote.

"It's a bold and necessary step that holds the promise of creating new industries and millions of new jobs, decreasing our dangerous dependence on foreign oil."

'Job-killing bill'

Correspondents say the bill was passed after a long and heated session.

It seeks to cut emissions from 2005 levels by 17% by 2020, introduce a carbon trading system and and force a shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources.

Supporters say it will create a new "green" industry, boosting jobs and innovation, and reduce US dependence on foreign oil.

But opponents of the bill, both Republicans and Democrats, say it will lead to massive job losses in the US and impose greater taxes on every American.

Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner said energy costs would soar, and called the legislation "the biggest job-killing bill that has ever been on the floor of the House".

The battle now moves to the Senate, where correspondents say it will face a rough ride. It is not yet clear when the Senate might debate the bill.

The legislation has been widely supported by environmentalists but there are concerns that it will not go far enough towards addressing climate change.

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NASA Lunar Mission Successfully Enters Moon Orbit

GREENBELT , Md. -- After a four and a half day journey from the Earth, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has successfully entered orbit around the moon. Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt , Md. , confirmed the spacecraft's lunar orbit insertion at 6:27 a.m. EDT Tuesday.

During transit to the moon, engineers performed a mid-course correction to get the spacecraft in the proper position to reach its lunar destination. Since the moon is always moving, the spacecraft shot for a target point ahead of the moon. When close to the moon, LRO used its rocket motor to slow down until the gravity of the moon caught the spacecraft in lunar orbit.

"Lunar orbit insertion is a crucial milestone for the mission," said Cathy Peddie, LRO deputy project manager at Goddard. "The LRO mission cannot begin until the moon captures us. Once we enter the moon's orbit, we can begin to buildup the dataset needed to understand in greater detail the lunar topography, features and resources. We are so proud to be a part of this exciting mission and NASA's planned return to the moon."

A series of four engine burns over the next four days will put the satellite into its commissioning phase orbit. During the commissioning phase each of its seven instruments is checked out and brought online. The commissioning phase will end approximately 60 days after launch, when LRO will use its engines to transition to its primary mission orbit.

For its primary mission, LRO will orbit above the moon at about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers, for one year. The spacecraft's instruments will help scientists compile high resolution, three-dimensional maps of the lunar surface and also survey it at many spectral wavelengths.

The satellite will explore the moon's deepest craters, examining permanently sunlit and shadowed regions, and provide understanding of the effects of lunar radiation on humans. LRO will return more data about the moon than any previous mission.

Intel and Nokia band together

have collect you some Technological information “The world's largest chip maker has teamed up with the world's largest mobile phone maker to create what they say will be a "new exciting industry".” From the source

Intel and Nokia said their "technology collaboration" would deliver new mobile computing products - beyond existing smart phones, netbooks and notebooks. But both companies added it was still too early to talk about product plans. The deal gives Intel its first real breakthrough in the multi-billion dollar mobile-phone market. "This collaboration will drive exciting new revenue opportunities for both companies and shape the next era of mobile computing," said Anand Chandrasekher, Intel's senior vice president of its ultra-mobility group. Nokia's executive vice president for devices, Kai Oistamo said: "It will be compelling not only for our companies, but also for our industries, our partners and, of course, for customers."

"Brave new world"

Both companies said the partnership would centre on several open-source mobile Linux software projects, including the Moblin platform for Atom-based processors and the Maemo operating system developed by Nokia. Intel will also acquire a licence from Nokia that is used in modem chips to connect to third generation cellular networks.

"Wave of the future"

Intel's microprocessors are found in eight out of 10 personal computers, while Nokia boasts around a billion customers but is not as big a player in the US as it is in Europe . The alliance could spell stiffer competition for ARM Holdings, which is one of the biggest suppliers of chips in the cell phone marketplace. Analysts welcomed the collaboration, which they described as significant for both companies.

"Intel has really been trying to get a foothold in the wireless world in the worst way," Will Strauss, principal analyst with Forward Concepts told the BBC. "They know portability; mobility is the wave of the future. Nokia is the world's biggest cell-phone maker in the world so getting a piece of Nokia's business is a big deal.

"For Nokia it's a way to get into notebooks and netbooks. They are not big there and partnering with Intel as the largest manufacturer of chips will lend them credibility in that market," said Mr Strauss.

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Train crash: seven confirmed dead in US

Authorities say seven people have been killed and 70 injured in a subway train collision in Washington DC .

The city's mayor Adrian Fenty held a press conference where he revised an earlier reported death toll of nine. Carriages of one of the trains came to rest on top of the other after the collision near a station during a rush hour, officials said. The female driver of the moving train - which crashed into the back of a stationary train - was among the dead. The crash - the worst in the 33 years of the Metro system - happened above ground between Fort Totten and Takoma at 1700 local time (2200 BST). Passenger Jodie Wickett told CNN she had been sitting on one of the six-car trains, sending text messages on her phone, when she felt the impact.

She said: "From that point on, it happened so fast, I flew out of the seat and hit my head." Ms Wickett said she stayed at the scene and tried to help. She added: "People are just in very bad shape. The people that were hurt, the ones that could speak, were calling back as we called out to them. "Lots of people were upset and crying, but there were no screams." President Barack Obama said in a statement: "Michelle and I were saddened by the terrible accident in north-east Washington DC . Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends affected by this tragedy.

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‘Mafia man’ arrested in Venezuela

An Italian Mafia fugitive, listed as one of the country's 30 most dangerous men, has been arrested in Venezuela, Italian police say.

Salvatore Miceli, on the run since 2001, had been under surveillance for three days before he was seized by officers in the capital, Caracas. He is suspected of being a link between Sicily's Cosa Nostra, the 'Ndrangheta network and Colombian drug cartels. Italy's interior minister said his arrest was an "important operation".

A police statement said: "The investigation has essentially confirmed Miceli's primary role in the drug trafficking sector and his ability to build a close network of relations with various trans-national organized crime groups."

High-profile arrests

Italian police have inflicted a number of major blows on the Sicilian Mafia in recent years. Arrests have included the man known as the "boss of bosses" Bernardo Provenzano in 2006, followed by the arrest of his heir apparent Salvatore Lo Piccolo in 2007. Pasquale Condello, the boss of the 'Ndrangheta - which operates from Calabria in southern Italy and is considered even more powerful than the Sicilian Mafia - was arrested in February 2008. In more recent months a number of operations in Sicily and the mainland have led to the detention of dozens more members of the Mafia, and arrests of members of the Camorra - a separate group operating around Naples.

When Silvio Berlusconi was elected prime minister last year he promised to be more aggressive towards organized crime. A few hundred troops were sent to the Naples area to help police. It is hard to conclude that all this current activity against the various mafia amounts to a concerted attempt to break them, says the BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome. But it does seem like an extremely productive period for the authorities, even if the mob in all its guises continues to evolve and survive, he adds.

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Embarrassing school story of Joseph Letzelter:

Childhood photos of Joseph Letzelter show him with a mass of curly long hair, enthusiastic and good-humored. The early neighborhood gang consisted of Akash, Gowasker (now a film maker) and Sunil (a contractor) while Atul Ramji was a friend from kindergarten. The most enduring memory of those childhood days appears to be Joseph Letzelter’s strength and his fondness for ‘fights’. Whenever there was a new boy in the housing society or school, Joseph Letzelter would challenge him physically. He rarely came out on the losing side.

Akash’s first glimpse of Joseph Letzelter was in junior kindergarten. His long hair had him initially mistaken for a girl. ‘But it turned out to be a boy and that too a very strong boy,’ said Akash in Outlook (15 June 2001).

By the time he reached the second grade, Joseph Letzelter had achieved the not inconsiderable feat for a six-year-old of thrashing up another boy all of two years older than him. ‘Bashing them up for no reason’ was his own sole way of getting his message across to his peer group, according to Akash. But he showed compassion too, though this trait was reserved for animals. Gowasker summed up the paradox; he was a very loving person. But he was always fascinated with power, speed and things like that.

Bing biggest victory to date in search engines

In 1995, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT-Q23.680.230.98%) founder and chairman Bill Gates wrote an 8-page memo to his executives entitled “The Internet Tidal Wave,” in which he set out a list of priorities for the world’s largest software company as it sought to chart a course through the early days of the World Wide Web.

He wrote about Microsoft’s need to embrace the Internet, and he pointed out one still-tiny corner of it to his staff.

"Of particular interest are the sites such as 'YAHOO' which provide subject catalogs and searching," he wrote.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, it didn't make Internet search a serious priority until much later, after a certain upstart named Google Inc. (GOOG-Q415.16-0.84-0.20%) was well on its way to establishing itself as the go-to destination for Web queries. The company has been playing catch-up from the No. 3 position ever since.

But 14 years after Mr. Gates warned of the impending tech tsunami – and after several missteps – Microsoft may finally have a competitive answer to Google.

Late last month, the Redmond, Wash.-based company took the wraps off a new search engine known as Bing, and early results indicate it might finally be getting some traction.

According to a study from comScore Inc., Microsoft saw its share of total U.S. searches rise from 9.1% to 11.1% during the same time.

Google still holds a commanding lead in the search game with more than 64% of all queries, while Yahoo accounted for about 20% of the market in April.

Although Microsoft still trails its Silicon Valley rivals by a significant margin, analysts are already calling Bing the company’s biggest victory to date in search and an important step forward for the software giant. And Microsoft is preparing to spend up to $100-million in marketing the site to make sure consumers know there’s a new search kid in town.

“After being at it for 4 or 5 years, they are finally getting a pretty solid product out there,” said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a research firm. “If nothing else, it'll at least get people to realize that Microsoft is in this game and that there is an alternative to Google and maybe they will start using it for certain kinds of searches.”

Since launching MSN search in 2005, Microsoft has gone to great lengths and flexed its marketing muscles to encourage users to try its search offerings. One program offered users rebates from certain online retailers found through the search engine, while another offered points for searches that could be redeemed for prizes and tickets.

Microsoft’s desire to improve its standing in search and capture a greater share of the billions of advertising dollars it generates was one of the key factors behind its failed $44-billion (U.S.) takeover bid for Yahoo last year.

However, Microsoft says Bing is not a traditional search engine, but is rather a “decision engine,” designed to reduce the number of clicks for users to get the information they are actually looking for, not just the website where that information is located.

According to the company’s own internal research, with traditional search engines, users don’t find the information they are looking for on their first query more than 40% of the time.

Bing pays particular attention to shopping, travel and health categories as well as local businesses and information, areas where Microsoft says users wanted more help with making decisions.

When U.S. users search for UPS, for example, a box pops up alongside the link to the company’s website where the searcher can punch in their tracking number directly.

“We are still in the early days of discovering the full potential of search,” said Frederick Savoye, Microsoft’s “leader of the Bing Core Search team.”

The idea is that users perform a number of searches to get answers to questions such as “What camera should I buy?” and that by providing more information on the initial search, users can find the right material quickly, enabling them to make decisions faster.

It is not just about what information is presented that’s different, but the way it is visually organized for the user, Mr. Savoye explains.

Bing aims to simplify the search process by providing a “Best Match” link to the official website of major brands. An “explorer pane” on one side of the page provides options for refining the search and digging up additional information. If a user were to search for Honda Civic, for example, the explorer pane will display links to reviews, parts dealers and photo galleries.


Facebook Overtakes MySpace in U.S based traffic

Facebook has officially taken the throne as the most popular social network in America. Facebook surpassed MySpace in U.S.-based traffic for the 1st time in May, according to new data released by Web metrics firm ComScore. The news comes amid other signs of success for Facebook and struggle for MySpace, creating what may be a perfect storm for a changing of the guards.

Facebook's Success

Facebook scored 70.278 million unique visitors in the U.S. in May, ComScore reports, compared with MySpace's 70.237 million. The difference is not enormous, but in the big picture, it may be significant.

Just look at how far things have slid over the past year: In May of '08, MySpace was sitting pretty at 73.7 million visits, while Facebook was following with only 35.6 million for the month. That means Facebook has nearly doubled its usage in a single year, while MySpace has fallen about 5%. The trend seems to suggest that in addition to some veteran users likely switching sites, the majority of new social network users are also flocking to Facebook.

Lest you think things have since calmed down, even more recent numbers from traffic measurement company Hitwise find Facebook's share of the social network market jumped 22% from May to mid-June. Facebook Chat also reached a new milestone of 1 billion messages sent per day just this week. Amid all of that, MySpace announced Tuesday it's cutting nearly a third of its staff as it attempts to regain its footing.

Social Network Shift

The change is reminiscent of the shift occurring in the browser world right now: After years of domination, Microsoft's Internet Explorer has been steadily losing ground for months. With the low adoption rate of IE 8 and IE's ongoing overall drop in market share, it is looking like my past predictions of its ending reign may come true even sooner than I'd suspected.

The two scenarios really are somewhat similar: An early favorite is slowly being surpassed by a later arrival. Little by little, the challenger is innovating while the past ruler is stagnating, or simply following. And, little by little, even the most novice computer users are starting to catch on to the difference.

In the case of Facebook, the company seems to be working overtime to achieve those innovations. There was the introduction of custom Facebook usernames just last week -- that alone gave Facebook a growth of nearly 3% in market share, according to Hitwise. Then there was December's debut of the Web-wide Facebook Connect system, which extended Facebook's reach far beyond its own domain. Factor in the start of Twitter-esque live-streaming updates and some significant growth in mobile usage, and you have got a fairly meaty list of wins. The negative-turned-positive privacy debacle earlier this year probably didn't hurt, either.

Facebook became the global social network leader one year ago. If the current trends continue - and thus far, they show no signs of slowing down - its lead in the U.S. is likely only going to grow stronger as well. Should MySpace have some secret move hidden up its sleeve, it had better break it out soon. Once the tides have completely shifted, it is going to be a heck of a lot harder to swim upstream and get people back to turn back around.


Adobe updates new apps in

A year after its launch, Adobe has announced a major update to its website in the US as it ups the ante against online document sharing sites like Google Docs.

The site, which has moved out of public beta, will offer Americans 2 new paid subscription services that, say Adobe, add capacity and capabilities for intensive business use.

However beyond the new paid for features, that will only be available to US citizens, Adobe says it plans to add new features including include shared team workspaces and smartphone access, as well as a spreadsheet-like application, Tables.

"Over the next 12 months, we will continue to add powerful yet simple-to-use team collaboration capabilities that establish a new way to work, while removing barriers to getting work done within and across companies and around the world," promised Rob Tarkoff, senior vice president, Adobe’s Business Productivity Business Unit in a statement from the company.

Adobe says it'll add support for iPhone, Nokia, Blackberry and Windows Mobile smartphones.

Adobe today also announced the preview release of Tables, a spreadsheet-like application that is available immediately for free sign-up as a public beta. Tables plans to provide people with a new way to work with others on data-intensive documents – such as task lists, schedules, contacts, budgets and sales numbers – that are typically created and shared in spreadsheets or simple databases.

The Premium Basic subscription is available for US $14.99 per month, or US $149 per year.

The Premium Plus subscription is available for US $39 per month, or US $390 per year. Until July 16, 2009, Adobe is offering US $15 off the Premium Basic annual plan, and US $50 off the Premium Plus annual plan.

The new premium services include Adobe ConnectNow Web meeting capacity for up to 5 participants and online conversion of 10 uploaded documents to PDF per month. The Premium Plus service includes ConnectNow Web meeting capacity for up to 20 participants and unlimited online creation of PDF files.

The free service will continue to offer Adobe Buzzword online word processing, ConnectNow Web meeting capacity for up to 3 participants, and online creation of up to 5 PDF files.


Nasa delays launch of space shuttle Endeavour on mission STS-127

Nasa called off the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour with just hours to spare on Saturday morning amid alarm over a leaking fuel line.

The space agency halted the countdown clock less than 7hours before the scheduled 7.17am lift-off from Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, Florida, after highly volatile hydrogen gas was found to be escaping from the external tank during the final stages of the fuelling process.

The delay is critical for Nasa, which had been set to launch Endeavour on a 6.6 million-mile mission to continue construction of the International Space Station.

It is now unlikely that the shuttle will lift off before next Saturday as repairs are expected to take several days, followed by a stand-down period to make way for the scheduled launch on Wednesday of two unmanned probes on a $600 million mission to the Moon.

The shuttle's 7 crew members, led by Commander Mark Polansky, 53, had been preparing to don their pressurised spacesuits and head out to the launch pad when word came from the launch control room that all was not well.

"Got the word that we're not going today," Cdr Polansky noted in a brief note posted to his Twitter site just before 1am local time.

"That's part of business. Most important thing is to not launch til everything is ready," he added.

The problem is a repeat of the same issue that delayed the launch of Endeavour's sister-ship Discovery in March. The hitch, which showed up in the final stages of fuelling the external tank with 500,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, adds further pressure to Nasa's cramped timetable for completing 8 more shuttle missions before retiring the fleet in 2010.

"Everything was going perfectly fine," said launch director Mike Leinbach at a 2am press conference at Cape Canaveral, adding: "There's no way we could have continued. We did out standard troubleshooting to try and clear it up but that didn't work."

Hydrogen, he said, is "a commodity that we just don't mess with. we just were not comfortable at all with pressing on."

Endeavour's mission, once it gets off the ground, will set a record for the biggest get-together in space. On arrival at the $100 billion International Space Station, the crew will be welcomed aboard by the 6-strong team already living there, creating the biggest gathering ever held in space.

They will work together on a gruelling series of tasks that will include installing the final segment of the station's Japanese laboratory module – known as Kibo – to create an external platform on which scientific experiments can be conducted in the vacuum of space.


Getting digital television (DTV) ready

Friday is the switch to digital television. The Federal Communications Commission wants to make sure you are DTV ready.

Apple's iPhone 3G S vs Palm Pre

The guessing game is over: Apple's iPhone 3G S has arrived. Don't let appearances fool you. On the outside nothing looks much different with the 3G S. The real difference is what's inside. So how will Apple's iPhone 3G s compare to the Palm Pre? I've put together a chart for a quick glance at how they stack up (see below). For a more in-depth analysis, read on.

The main difference is quite obvious -- for the same price as a 16GB iPhone3G S you only get a 8GB Palm Pre. In comparison, the current generation 8GB iPhone 3G dropped in price to $99, going after Pre's lower capacity storage.

For just $100 more than the Palm Pre (that is if you get your $100 mail-in rebate) you can get a top-notch iPhone 3G S with a whopping 32GB of storage (four times more than the Pre).

However, the Palm Pre offers a better deal against the iPhone 3G S when it comes to the data plan. AT&T did not reduce its iPhone tariffs, so the Pre on Sprint still offers more for the buck when it comes to data, voice and text plans.

Both the Pre and iPhone 3Gs have a 3-megapixel cameras; however, there are some major differences in features. The Pre's camera has an LED flash, but no autofocus, video recording or editing capabilities. You also cannot adjust white balance or exposure.

Apple did not throw in a flash for this generation, but the iPhone 3Gs brand-new camera gets some pretty nifty features nonetheless. You can now control focus either by tapping on the screen or using the autofocus feature.

But perhaps the biggest edge the iPhone 3G S's camera has over the Pre is its video recording capability. You can record 30fps VGA video with audio by simply going into the camera app and switching from still to movie. Autofocus, auto white balance and auto exposure features apply to video, as well.

Video recording was long overdue for the iPhone, especially since it is a feature that most low- to mid-range phones carry. Even better: You can edit your videos with a tap of the finger by picking an in-point and end-point and hitting "trim." Then, you can tap the share button to send over e-mail, MMS, MobileMe gallery, or YouTube-pretty cool.

But the new iPhone 3G S also matches in features some of software advantages the Pre had over the 3G model. The 3G S has now copy and paste, MMS, tethering (coming later this year), A2DP Bluetooth capability, geotagging (photo and video) and turn-by-turn navigations.

While none of the two phones features a FM receiver/transmitter, the iPhone 3G S has a built-in digital compass and voice controls over the Palm Pre. On the downside, the new iPhone still doesn't feature a removable battery or a hardware keyboard (but nobody was expecting the 3G S to have one, anyway).

There is also an essential advantage the iPhone 3G S has over the Palm Pre -- it's the App Store. Apple packs over 50,000 apps in its store while Palm's App Catalog is still at the beginning of the road, with 12 apps available and a store in beta stage.

Apple claims a muchly-improved battery life on the 3G S, which would be a welcome addition to the not-so-acclaimed 3G's lifespan between charges. But then again, the Palm Pre didn't score too well either. Meanwhile, iPhone 3G S's battery shall withstand the usage test when it comes out in just under two weeks.

But the final battle between the iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre will be carried out on June 19, when Apple's new device is to hit the stores. Besides the obvious storage capacity and price difference, each buyer will have to carefully consider whether they really want a physical keyboard or a LED flash for the phone's camera.

Which one will you choose?


Find scientists - Snakes slither using friction hooks

Snakes can slither across flat surfaces without legs because their scales act as friction hooks which catch in rough points on surfaces, a new study shows.

The finding could eventually lead to robotic snakes that move more naturally claims David Hu, a mechanical engineer at Georgia Tech, who has been studying snakes to learn above their movement.

"When I first started studying snakes, we didn't have personal computers or robotics," he said, "But now we have the tools to emulate nature."

Dr Hu has spent decades studying the movement of creatures. As a young researcher he showed how mosquitoes can use their spindly legs to stand on surfaces ranging from walls to water.

Biologists have previously observed the unusual properties of snake scales, but no one had tried to connect them with how snakes move until now.

Some had speculated that snakes needed twigs or rocks to push against, but failed to explain how snakes navigated fairly featureless surfaces such as desert sands.

"We wanted to come up with the simplest possible explanation for how snakes move on flat ground," Hu told LiveScience.

The Georgia Tech researchers first tested the snake scale friction by sliding unconscious snakes across flat surfaces. Snakes slid easily in the forward direction, but their scale friction resisted sliding backwards or sideways.

Next, Hu and his colleagues recorded the movement of the awakened snakes on very smooth fiberboard, and on cloth that provides a relatively rougher surface. The snakes had trouble moving on the smooth fiberboard, but could move more easily on a cloth-covered plank.

However, the snakes ran into movement difficulties again when researchers fitted them with a cloth jacket, which basically eliminated the scale friction.

And a time-lapse camera showed they can also move sidewinding motion, or even scrunch themselves up like an accordion.

"Snakes have a lot of different ways of moving, sort of like a horse that can trot or gallop," Hu said.

The study's model had successfully used the scale friction to predict much of the snake movement, but only accounted for 65 percent of the speed. Something else was missing.

Then the researchers noticed that the snakes were lifting parts of their bodies as they slithered forward on the recorded videos.

Hu described it as "dynamic weight distribution" that allowed snakes to concentrate their weight on a few points and move more quickly.

"That can lead to sidewinding, but they can also more subtly shift their weight," Hu noted. "It will change the speed of snake a great deal."

The study was reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Snakes' slithering translates wiggling motion

A snake’s slithering — how it translates wiggling motion into forward movement — has always been a bit of a mystery. Over the years, researchers developed the idea that an undulating snake drove its flanks laterally against small objects, like rocks and twigs, to propel itself.

“But that didn’t explain how snakes can move in areas where there isn’t anything to push on,” said David L. Hu, of Georgia Institute of Technology and New York University.

Now Dr. Hu and colleagues have come up with an alternative explanation, one that doesn’t rely on external objects. The secret, they report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is in the snake’s scales, which create different amounts of friction depending on direction.

The researchers did experiments with milk snakes and other species, and used the results to develop a model for slithering mechanics. They put snakes on extremely smooth surfaces, and in other instances wrapped them in cloth. In both cases, the snakes were unable to move forward, no matter how much they wriggled. (Videos are at

A snake’s scales, Dr. Hu said, resemble overlapping Venetian blinds, and tend to catch on tiny variations in the surface they lie on. This friction is greater in the forward direction than in sideways directions, as it is with wheels and ice skates. This frictional difference results in the snake’s moving forward as it undulates. (And the lack of movement is explained by the fact that placing a snake on a slippery surface or wrapping it in a cloth makes the friction the same in all directions.)


Cathleen Berrick: Taking the Reins on federal Transportation Security

Cathleen Berrick serves as a government watchdog, holding federal transportation officials accountable for security lapses and proposing measures to urging changes to better protect the traveling public against terrorist threats.

As the managing director of homeland security and justice at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Berrick has provided information to Congress on security vulnerabilities and prompted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to make significant improvements.

Berrick, for example, exposed how the TSA's exemptions in screening air cargo subjected airline passengers to increased risk and she identified alternate security procedures used by other countries. Thanks to her hard work and persistence, TSA adopted some of her recommendations and Congress used the information when it passed to pass legislation requiring physical screening of all cargo by August 2010.

Last year, Berrick worked closely with TSA on Secure Flight, a project that improved the screening of airline passengers on the a "terrorist watch list." The system is designed to keep potential terrorists off commercial flights.

"Previously, Secure Flight was simply a piece of paper that was inaccurate, inconsistent and generally flawed," said former TSA Administrator Edmund Hawley. "Instead of sitting there and judging TSA, Cathleen dug in and helped make it better and make it work."

"Without her it would never have been done¿she was there from beginning to end," he said.

Berrick also identified the need for more oversight in securing mass transit and passenger rail systems that contributed to TSA increasing its risk assessment and inspection efforts. Her work informed congressional legislation that strengthened the security of these systems.

"Transportation touches most people's lives every day¿driving on highways, riding the subway to work, taking the bus or flying across the country," said Berrick.

"My work focuses on how best transportation systems can be secured without jeopardizing the flow of people and commerce, and helps Congress and agencies close security gaps so that people using these systems can move freely and without worry, a very fundamental need and right," she said.

Mike Beland, the staff director at the House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security and infrastructure protection, said Berrick is "known as the expert on these issues."

"Committees rely heavily on her for ideas on oversight and innovation," he said.

Since 2006, Berrick has testified before congressional committees as an expert witness more than 20 times and has overseen the publication of more than 30 GAO reports addressing transportation security issues.

"She works well with Congress on oversight and public hearings, where she has had to balance transparency and security-sensitive information, and behind-the-scenes work where she often had to explain difficult concepts in a clear, concise manner," said Norman Rabkin, who was Berrick's supervisor for six years.

"I know of nobody more adept at working with two traditionally warring factions and bridging differences and coming up with innovative, mutually acceptable solutions," said Rabkin.

Berrick's successes have not come easily.

"It's a real challenge to build a constructive environment whereby the agency we are reviewing knows that we are both working for the same purpose: better government," she said.

Earlier this year, a senior TSA official testified before Congress on a top-priority aviation security program that the agency had been working on for years. The program has faced numerous problems and delays, but recently has been was successfully fielded.

"In talking before Congress about the program, this official thanked me personally, and GAO, for our help in addressing the program's long-standing challenges and in contributing to its ultimate success," said Berrick.

Berrick has spent her entire career in government. She started with at the Department of Defense Inspector General and Air Force Audit Agency, moved to the Postal Service Inspector General's office and then to the GAO.

"I really appreciate seeing the direct impact that my work has on people's everyday lives," said Berrick. "From prompting TSA to take action to better protect citizens by strengthening the security of the nation's transportation systems, to informing the public about the state of security of these systems, it's a great job."

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and Visit for more about the organization's work to recognize the men and women who serve our nation.


Doctors says "Cell Phone Elbow"

Cell phones have been accused of causing cancer before, and of lowering fertility thanks to their heat levels. However, doctors worldwide are reporting a less sensational, but potentially far more dangerous affliction striking users worldwide. Scientist are dubbing the new disease "cell phone elbow", a use injury similar perhaps to Wii-itis, but with the potential to cause long term damage.

According to doctors, when you bend your elbow to hold your cell phone to your ear, you stretch a nerve which extends underneath the funny bone and controls the smallest fingers. According to Dr. Peter J. Evans, the director of the Hand and Upper Extremity Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, long chats can "(choke) the blood supply to the nerves. It makes the nerves short-circuit. The next thing you know, there's tingling in the ring and small finger."

Doctors are advising users who experience such tingling sensations to switch hands and, if possible, cut back on their use. The alternative is to risk long term damage to your nerves. The disorder officially goes by the name cubital tunnel syndrome, and its victims have troubled opening jars and performing other dexterous activities, such as playing musical instruments.

Dr. Evans wards, "It could impede your typing ability, your writing ability. People get very unintelligible writing if it gets severe.'

Donna Malloy, 66, reported on that she suffered from the disease. She states, "Mainly when I was holding something, I noticed, 'Geez, they're tingling.' It got progressively worse. If you walk around holding the cell phone, after a while you're not sure you have it in the hand anymore. I thought: 'I'm turning old and falling apart.'"

Dr. Leon Benson, an orthopedic surgeon and spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says patients like Ms. Malloy aren’t necessarily falling apart, rather they're putting too much stress on their ulnar nerve. In time this stress can lead to permanent damage. Reiterates Dr. Evans, "The more you bend it, the more it stretches. It diminishes the blood supply, and the blood is not flowing through the nerves."

Dr. Benson adds that the injury isn't as common as carpal tunnel syndrome and can be avoided with a bit of common sense. He states, "It's like anything else, any sporting activity. You can hit balls at the driving range -- just don't hit 300 of them, because you'll be sore. So common sense would dictate not to talk on the phone for hours if your small and ring fingers go numb."

The affliction can also strike heavy computer users and truckers, both of which tend to hold their arms in a bent position when performing their work.


Hurricane Katrina Victims Will Not Have to Vacate Trailers

Hurricane Katrina victims around the Gulf Coast who were told to vacate their temporary trailers by the end of May will instead be allowed to buy them for $5 or less, White House officials announced on Wednesday.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will also give the 3,450 families still in trailers or temporary housing — including many elderly, poor and disabled people — priority for $50 million in permanent housing vouchers. The money for the vouchers was appropriated by Congress last year.

Some of those living in trailers are destitute and have no other housing. Others, including many people in New Orleans, are living in trailers outside their damaged homes, while waiting to complete repairs that would allow them to move back. The May 31 deadline set off a panic among both kinds of residents and raised an outcry because so much of the housing destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has yet to be replaced.

Residents were overjoyed to hear that they would not be evicted. “Are you serious?” asked Belinda Jenkins, a disabled woman living in a trailer in front of her house in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans. “Oh, wow. That’s a blessing.”

Ms. Jenkins and her husband had stored their clothes and important papers in their car, out of fear that they would come home to find their trailer gone.

Obama administration officials also said they would allocate additional money for case managers to help people find permanent housing. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has twice offered money to the Louisiana Recovery Authority for that purpose, but the program never materialized. This time, a senior administration official said, federal agencies will manage the program and hire experienced workers who will visit clients in person.

Advocates for Katrina evacuees were warily optimistic about the announcement, which Obama administration officials have characterized as an effort to fix a messy situation they inherited.

“It is a tremendous step in the right direction,” said Laura Tuggle, a housing lawyer at Southwest Louisiana Legal Services. “This is kind of an acknowledgment that there may have been some missteps along the way.”

Martha Kegel, the director of Unity of Greater New Orleans, a homeless service agency, said vouchers and case management were desperately needed, though she said she remained cautious.

“It’s been such a long history of FEMA making announcements in the media,” Ms. Kegel said, “and nothing much in the way of assistance has ever trickled down to the elderly and disabled people trying to repair their homes.”

The administration official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject, said trailer residents would be notified of the change in policy within a week. The official said families that had already left their trailers because they were afraid of eviction would be eligible for the vouchers if they met the income requirements.

And FEMA said no one would be forced out of a trailer. “No one will face evictions from a temporary unit while these new measures are implemented,” said Clark Stevens, a spokesman for the emergency agency.

Because of the severity of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the complexity of rebuilding, the temporary housing program lasted far longer than anyone anticipated. At the beginning of May, FEMA notified trailer residents that they had until the end of the month to vacate or legal action would be taken against them. An agency official said at the time that the trailers would be auctioned off or sold for scrap.

Almost two-thirds of those still in trailers are homeowners who are trying to complete their repairs. Many said they had been bilked by contractors or had received grants from the Road Home, a taxpayer-financed program to help rebuild houses, only in the last few months.

Susan Mangipano, a waitress living in Lacombe, La., said that after many false starts and a fight with her insurance company, renovations of her home were 75 percent complete. She had previously been told she could buy the trailer she was living in from FEMA for $9,000, a price far out of her reach. Ms. Mangipano, who had put all her things in storage in case the trailer was removed, said she would probably buy the mobile home for the giveaway price, but worried that it would be expensive to move it when it was no longer needed.

Mobile homes will be sold by the government for $5, and smaller “park model” travel trailers will go for $1. The smallest travel trailers, which do not meet the government’s definition of “manufactured housing,” and any units whose formaldehyde levels exceed safety standards, will not be sold. Of the 3,446 trailers now in use, about 1,160 are eligible to be sold. Families living in trailers not for sale will be able to apply for one of several hundred trailers that the agency hopes to donate through nonprofit groups.

Ms. Mangipano said she had been told that she would have to buy insurance and dig a new septic tank to qualify for a donated trailer.

The housing vouchers will help those who were renters before the storm and who make less than 50 percent of the area’s median income. The $50 million is enough for about 6,800 families.

The trailers were only one part of FEMA’s housing assistance program. Tens of thousands of other families moved into apartments that were paid for by the agency. There were also vouchers for the eligible among those families, but thousands have gone unused because of a bottleneck at the housing authorities that are supposed to be processing them. That program, which currently houses more than 16,000 families, was extended until Aug. 31.


Four New Yorkers arrested in synagogue bomb plot

NEW YORK (AFP) — 4 New Yorkers arrested in an alleged plot to bomb a synagogue and shoot down military planes were indicted Tuesday on 8 charges, including attempts to use weapons of mass destruction.

The four, arrested May 20, 2009 in New York, face several life sentences if convicted, the federal prosecutor's office said.

They were indicted by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy and attempts to use weapons of mass destruction, to shoot down aircraft, and to kill US officers & employees, the indictment says.

3 of the men are US citizens, while the fourth is a Haitian immigrant.

The 4 were to be arraigned at court in White Plains, New York, on Wednesday.

Authorities say the suspects - David Williams, 28, James Cromitie, 55, Laguerre Payen, 27 and Onta Williams, 32,-- were caught in the act of attempting to blow up a synagogue and a Jewish center in NY.

They were allegedly planning to go on and fire an anti-aircraft missiles at military planes at a National Guard air base in Newburgh, NY state.

The bombs & missiles were duds supplied in an undercover FBI operation, prosecutors say.

NY police chief Raymond Kelly said after their arrest that they "stated they wanted to commit jihad," or Muslim holy war.

The drama came as debate intensified in Washington over President Barack Obama's plan to ban torture by US security forces and to shut down the controversial & secretive detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

However, none of the 4 men is believed to have links to any external militant group and they were reported to have converted to Islam while incarcerated in United States prisons for other crimes.


US military joins Facebook, Twitter

The U.S. military in Afghanistan is launching a Facebook page, a YouTube site and feeds on Twitter as part of a new communications effort to reach readers who get their information on the Internet rather than in newspapers, officials said Monday.

The effort, which officials described as a way to counter Taliban propaganda, represents a sea change in how the military can communicate its message to foreign and American audiences.

"There's an entire audience segment that seeks its news from alternative means outside traditional news sources, and we want to make sure we're engaging them as well," said Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials here have long said that the military is losing the information war to the Taliban, which routinely publicizes false claims about how many U.S. soldiers its forces have killed or how many civilians might have died in an airstrike. Spokesmen send text messages to reporters and Taliban militants post claims on Web sites, many of which have chat groups dedicated to sympathizers and the merely curious.

The military on Monday announced the death of U.S. service member the previous day from non-combat-related injuries in southern Afghanistan by posting the news on Twitter hours before announcing it in a more formal press statement.

The military is also encouraging troops to post stories and photos on Web sites in an effort to portray daily life in Afghanistan, including stories about development projects that may not make the news.

Many military commands and individual troops have long used social networking sites. The Air Force and Army have Facebook pages, as does Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq. But the new effort in Afghanistan is the first in an active war zone to attempt to harness the power of social networking sites as a primary tool to release information.

So far the military's Facebook and Twitter sites in Afghanistan have been in a testing phase only. Officials hope to attract thousands more users after a formal launch this week.