Laptops & Sterility!
Wanna Test Pot? Clouds! Ice!
Neptune! Asphalt Suicides!
US Election Errors
& More!
Laptops & Sterility!

Basically your laptop can heat up yer balls
and that's bad.
European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology News Release

December 9, 2004 - US fertility experts warned teenage boys and young men to consider limiting the time that they use laptop computers positioned on their laps, as long-term use may affect their fertility.

The increasing popularity of laptop computers (LC), coupled with existing evidence that elevated scrotal temperature can result in sperm damage, prompted researchers from the State University of New York at Stony Brook to undertake the first study into the effect of heat from LC on scrotal temperature.

The findings are reported in Europe's leading reproductive medicine journal Human Reproduction. They show that using an LC on the lap increased the left scrotal temperature by a median 2.6C and the right by a median 2.8C. Several previous studies have shown that increases in testicular or scrotal temperatures of between 1C and 2.9C are associated with a sustained and considerable negative effect on spermatogenesis and fertility.

Lead researcher Dr Yefim Sheynkin, Associate Professor of Urology and Director, Male Infertility and Microsurgery at the University, said:

"By 2005, there will be 60 million laptop computers in use in the USA and a predicted 150 million worldwide. Continued improvements in power, size and price of LC have favored their increased use in younger people and laptop sales now exceed those of desktop computers."

With the exception of an anecdotal report of genital burns, the effect of portable computers on scrotal temperature when they are used on the lap was not known, he said.

"Laptops can reach internal operating temperatures of over 70C. They are frequently positioned close to the scrotum, and as well as being capable of producing direct local heat, they require the user to sit with his thighs close together to balance the machine, which traps the scrotum between the thighs."

The researchers worked with 29 healthy volunteers aged 21 to 35, measuring scrotal temperatures with and without laptops. Two one-hour sessions of scrotal temperature measurements were performed on different days in the same room with a median room temperature of 22.28C. The men were dressed in the same casual clothing for each session and sessions with and without LC were conducted at the same time of the day. Body temperature was taken by mouth beforehand and each volunteer spent 15 minutes standing in the room to adjust to room temperature before being seated. A non-working LC was placed on the lap so that the volunteer could adopt the right position to balance the laptop, then removed, and the seating position held for one hour, with scrotal temperature being measured every three minutes. The same procedure was repeated for one hour, with the same baselines controls, but this time with a working laptop. The temperature of the bottom surface of the LC was also measured at intervals.

"We found that scrotal temperatures rose by 2.1C when the men sat with their thighs together, which is necessary to keep LC on the lap. But, the rise was significantly higher when the LC were used 2.8C on the right side and 2.6C on the left," said Dr Sheynkin. " It shows that scrotal hyperthermia is produced by both special body posture and local heating effect of LC."

The median surface temperature of Pentium 4 computers used increased from nearly 31C at the start of the experiment to nearly 40C after one hour.

Dr Sheynkin said: "The body needs to maintain a proper testicular temperature for normal sperm production and development (spermatogenesis). Portable computers in a laptop position produce scrotal hyperthermia by both the direct heating effect of the computer and the sitting position necessary to balance the computer. The magnitude of scrotal hyperthermia associated with abnormal spermatogenesis is unclear. But, previous studies suggest that 1C above the baseline is the possible minimal thermal gradient capable of inhibiting spermatogenesis and sperm concentration may be decreased by 40% per 1C increment of median daytime scrotal temperature.

"We don't know the exact frequency and time of heat exposure capable of producing reversible or irreversible changes in spermatogenesis. Studies have shown significant but reversible changes after short-term heating. However, LC produce significant repetitive transient scrotal hyperthermia for years, and insufficient recovery time between heat exposures may cause irreversible or partially reversible changes in male reproductive function."

Dr Sheynkin said his team now planned further studies to evaluate the heating effect of LC on testicular function and sperm parameters. For now, he did not know an exact time for safe use. However, their study showed that within the first 15 minutes of use scrotal temperatures increased by 1C, so it did not take long to reach a point that may affect testicular function. Also, frequent use may cause intermittent temperature rises, which could significantly increase a single heating effect.

"Hi, honey. I think I may be a
little infertile after the meeting."

"Until further studies provide more information on this type of thermal exposure", he said, "teenage boys and young men may consider limiting their use of LC on their laps, as long-term use may have a detrimental effect on their reproductive health."

Dr Sheynkin added that two LC brands were tested randomly to avoid criticism that brands may differ. "All laptop computers generate significant heat due to the increasing power requirements of computer chips. New laptops with higher power requirements may produce even more heat. So far, computer fans and 'heat sinks' are not sufficient. It's possible that external protective devices could somewhat help, but it is essential to confirm their protective effect in a clinical study to prevent commercial advertising and use of inefficient and useless products."

European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology -

Press release with text of the paper detailing complete results can be found at

eXoNews Pix of the Week Dept.
Ultimate Javelin Throw

This artist's conception, by the firm Drexler- Guinand- Jauselin AG Architects, is one of 454 'Olympic Landmark' designs presented at the Arsenal Pavilion in Paris December 7, 2004. The Paris 2012 organization launched an international architecture competition open to designers as part of the Paris bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. (REUTERS/ Drexler- Guinand- Jauselin AG Architects)

Wanna Help Test Medical Pot in Canada?


McGill University News Release

MONTREAL, December 8, 2004 - A first-of-its-kind study of safety issues surrounding the medical use of cannabis has just been launched. Known as the COMPASS study (Cannabis for the management of pain: assessment of safety study), the research initiative will follow 1400 chronic pain patients, 350 of whom use cannabis as part of their pain management strategy, for a one-year period.

Seven participating pain clinics across Canada are now enrolling patients for this study.

"Patients in COMPASS will typically have pain resulting from spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, arthritis or other kinds of hard-to-treat neuropathic or muscle pain," explains Dr. Mark Ware, principal investigator and pain physician at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Pain Centre.

"We are not recruiting cancer patients for this study."

"COMPASS participants will be given access to research-grade herbal cannabis and followed for one year," adds Dr. Jean-Paul Collet, also a principal investigator and Professor of Epidemiology at McGill University.

"We'll be looking at a range of safety issues, including adverse events, kidney, liver, heart and lung function and hormone levels," he says. "Patients will also do tests at the start and end of the study, to help determine whether medical use of cannabis affects cognitive function."

Since 1999, Canadian patients have been able to use cannabis for medical reasons, under specific circumstances, with a physician's recommendation and Health Canada authorization. However, until now, the safety of cannabis used for medical purposes has not been scientifically studied.

"Other studies are looking at whether cannabis relieves pain and other symptoms," says Dr. Ware. "These studies are important, but we also need to know how safe cannabis used for medical purposes actually is. The experience of recreational users gives us some information, but we must understand safety issues in patients who are taking multiple medications and who may have diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes which complicate the picture."

The herbal cannabis to be used in the COMPASS study is produced by Prairie Plant Systems Inc under contract to Health Canada. The strain used in this study contains about 12 percent THC (the active ingredient). Government-supplied cannabis will be sent to pharmacies at each site and dispensed to patients there.

"Right now, thousands of Canadians are using cannabis to treat their pain," says Dr. Ware. "We need much more information on the safety issues facing these patients. COMPASS is the first-ever attempt to collect this information over an extended period, under a wide range of conditions and in real-world settings."

Patients wishing to participate in the COMPASS study should call 1-866-302-4636 (toll-free) and leave their names and telephone numbers. A study coordinator will contact prospective patients to assess whether they meet study requirements. All patient information will be held in strict confidence.

Further information is available from

McGill University -

Medical Cannabis Resource Center -

Whooping Crane Shot in Kansas Dies
United States Geological Survey News Release

[This is not a joke article - read on to see why. Ed]

December 9, 2004 - The wild whooping crane that had been shot in Kansas and transported to the USGS-Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD, for recovery, died overnight.

The endangered bird was being treated for shotgun wounds, including a broken wing, and a respiratory condition. Earlier this week, Dr. Glenn H. Olsen, Patuxent's veterinarian, reported that the crane's respiratory problems had worsened since his arrival at Patuxent. The crane was receiving nebulization therapy, antibiotics, and oral antifungal medications.

There are about 440 whoopers in the world

The injured crane, part of the last remaining wild flock of an endangered species that migrates annually from northern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, was shot as he traveled through Kansas on migration south. The bird had 11 pellets in its body and a broken wing. Another male crane was shot during this incident and did not survive. The injured crane received extensive treatment at Kansas State University before being sent to Patuxent on Thurs., Nov. 18. The carcass will be sent to the National Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon for necropsy, because the shooting of whooping cranes is still under investigation by the FWS Law Enforcement.

Patuxent has led the recovery efforts for this endangered species since the 1960s, and has unique expertise in whooping crane care. Whooping cranes, native only to North America, are a protected endangered species, and the rarest of all cranes. The whooping crane that died had been a member of the last remaining wild flock, which numbers 213 birds today. There are about 440 whoopers in the world today, about one third of which are in captivity.

"With such as small number of whoopers alive in the world, the loss of each individual bird is upsetting, especially one that we cared for so intensely," said Dr. John B. French, Jr. head of the Crane program at Patuxent.

United States Geological Survey -


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) researchers observe clouds from the air.

By T.J. Becker

Georgia Institute of Technology Research News Release

December 10, 2004 - Atmospheric scientists have developed simple, physics-based equations that address some of the limitations of current methods for representing cloud formation in global climate models important because of increased aerosol pollution that gives clouds more cooling power and affects precipitation.

These researchers led by the Georgia Institute of Technology -- have also developed a new instrument for measuring the conditions and time needed for a particle to become a cloud droplet. This will help scientists determine how various types of emissions affect cloud formation. The research is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Clouds play a critical role in climate, Nenes explained. Low, thick ones cool the earth by reflecting solar radiation whereas high, thin clouds have warming properties by trapping infrared radiation emitted by the earth.

Scientists have learned that human activities influence cloud formation. Airborne particles released by smokestacks, charcoal grills and car exhaust restrict the growth of cloud droplets, causing condensing water to spread out among a larger number of smaller droplets. Known as the "indirect aerosol effect," this gives clouds more surface area and reflectivity, which translates into greater cooling power. The clouds may also have less chance of forming rain, which allows cloud to remain longer for cooling.

"Of all the components of climate change, the aerosol indirect effect has the greatest potential cooling effect, yet quantitative estimates are highly uncertain," said Nenes, who holds dual appointments in the Georgia Tech School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "We need to get more rigorous and accurate representation of how particles modify cloud properties. Until the aerosol indirect effect is well understood, society is incapable of assessing its impact on future climate."

Here, the photographer captured
multiple layers of clouds above
stratocumulus clouds. (NOAA)

Current computer climate models can't accurately predict cloud formation, which, in turn, hinders their ability to forecast climate change from human activities. "Because of their coarse resolution, computer models produce values on large spatial scales (hundreds of kilometers) and can only represent large cloud systems," Nenes said.

Aerosol particles, however, are extremely small and are measured in micrometers. This means predictive models must address processes taking place on a very broad range of scale. "Equations that describe cloud formation simply cannot be implemented in climate models," Nenes said. "We don't have enough computing power -- and probably won't for another 50 years. Yet somehow we still need to describe cloud formation accurately if we want to understand how humans are affecting climate."

Scientists have tried to predict cloud formation through empirical "parameterization" techniques that rely on empirical information or correlations, such as comparing the number of particles in the atmosphere with the number of cloud droplets. "Yet there's no real physical link, no causality between those two numbers," Nenes said.

To address both the lack of computer power and shortcomings of existing parameterization, Nenes and his research team have developed simple, physics-based equations that link aerosol particles and cloud droplets. Then these offline equations can be scaled up to a global level, providing accurate predictions literally thousands of times faster than more detailed models.

For example, by determining an algebraic equation for maximum supersaturation (the point in a cloud where all droplets that could form, have formed), it is then possible to calculate how many cloud droplets can form. That droplet number reveals the optical (reflective) properties of a cloud, as well as its potential for forming rain.

This modeling method has proven successful in two field tests. In situ aircraft data was collected from cumulus clouds off the coast of Key West, Fla., in 2002, and from stratocumulus clouds near Monterrey, Calif., in 2003. Compared with this real-world data, predictions from Nenes' model were accurate within 10 to 20 percent.

That was a pleasant surprise for the research team, which included Georgia Tech postdoctoral scholar Nicholas Meskhidze and graduate student Christos Fountoukis. "We never expected to capture the physics to that degree," Nenes explained. "We were hoping for a 50 percent accuracy rate."

Another key challenge in predicting climate change is to understand how aerosols' chemistry affects cloud formation. Each particle has a different potential for forming a cloud drop, which depends on its composition, location and how long it has been in the atmosphere. Up to now, people have measured and averaged properties over long periods of time. "Yet particles are mixing and changing quickly," Nenes said. "If you don't factor in the chemical aging of the aerosol, you can easily have a large error when predicting cloud droplet number."

Working with Gregory Roberts at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Nenes developed a new type of cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) counter. This instrument exposes different aerosol particles to a supersaturation, which enables researchers to determine: 1) how many droplets form and 2) how long they take to form.

Researchers are developing improved methods for
representing cloud formation in global climate models
because of increased aerosol pollution, which gives
clouds more cooling power and affects precipitation.
Here, cumulonimbus clouds develop over the mountains
of western North Carolina. (Grant W. Goodge / NOAA)

Providing fast, reliable measurements, this CCN counter can be used either on the ground or in an aircraft. "It gives us a much needed link for determining how different types of emissions will affect clouds formation," Nenes explained.

Nenes and Roberts have patented the CCN instrument, and a paper describing the technology will be published in an upcoming issue of Aerosol Science and Technology.

The CCN counter is being commercialized by Droplet Measurement Technologies in Boulder, Colo., and a number of research universities and government agencies have already placed orders. "There is also a great deal of interest from Asia," Nenes said, "Because of its economic boom, Asia has been generating considerable emissions, which are thought to have a major impact on local climate."

Both the new modeling method and CCN instrument have far-reaching applications for predicting climate change and precipitation patterns.

The indirect aerosol effect is counteracting greenhouse warming right now, but this will stop at some point, Nenes explained: "One of our goals as scientists is to figure out how long we'll have this cooling effect so that we can respond to changes. Being able to predict climate change can help countries with sustainability from agricultural planning to global emission policies."

Georgia Institute of Technology -

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council News Release

The Tribometer is a device for measuring the friction
between two samples. (EPSRC)

December 9, 2004 - Going out and about in freezing conditions could become safer thanks to fundamental research at the University of Edinburgh into how we slip on ice.

Using funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) researchers at Edinburgh have built a device, known as a Tribometer, to measure the friction generated as different materials, such as rubber or metal, slip across a sample of ice. The Tribometer is designed to investigate how factors such as temperature, object weight, material composition and velocity affect friction.

The team then examines the ice sample using a state-of-the-art Low Temperature Scanning Electron Microscope (LTSEM). This detail of observation has never been done before and allows the team to investigate what is happening to the ice at scales from several millimeters to as small as nanometers.

Obvious products that could benefit from the research include car tires and shoes. The project has already attracted the involvement of both Ford and Jaguar. Sports engineers could use the data to design better skis and ice skates, except in this case they would be looking to engineer surfaces that do slip more easily. In addition, the Tribometer could also be used to study the efficiency of 'gritting' agents.

Dr Jane Blackford, who heads the team, and was also a consultant to the UK Olympic Curling Team who won a gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, says, "Although people have studied ice friction before, there are still many open questions. We are aiming to fill in those gaps and understand why friction varies under different conditions."

The team has already found that the temperature of the ice plays a large role in how it responds when an object begins to slip.

Dr Blackford says, "I hope the data from this project will provide a bedrock of solid information that manufacturers can use to design more effective, slip-resistant surfaces, tailored to the specific ice conditions in which they will be used."

Why Ice Is Slippery

The northern section of the Larsen B ice shelf, a large floating
ice mass on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.
(Dr. Pedro Skvarca / Instituto Antartico Argentino)

At its simplest level, once an object begins to slip, friction between it and the icy surface creates heat. This melts some of the ice, providing a lubricant that allows the object to slide more.

The Edinburgh team have discovered that at 'high' ice temperatures, for example 5 degrees C, friction creates ripples in the ice surfaces because some ice has melted and then refrozen. Whereas, at lower ice temperatures, for example 23 degrees C, friction causes the ice surface to fracture.

Understanding such differences could prove crucial when designing surfaces that come into contact with ice. Dr Jane Blackford works in the School of Engineering and Electronics and the Centre for Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Edinburgh.

Jane Blackford was a consultant to the UK Olympic Curling Team who won a gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

She built a device to characterize the players' abilities when 'sweeping' the ice to change the direction and speed of the 'stone'. The success inspired Channel 4's Scrapheap Challenge team to devise the new sport of 'car curling'. Jane Blackford helped to judge the one and only staging of this sport.

The tire-ice friction project is co-supervised by Dr V Koutsos and involves PhD student Daniel Higgins, who is funded by an EPSRC CASE Studentship. The LTSEM work is done in collaboration with Dr Chris Jeffree who is director of the college's electron microscopy facility. Goodyear provided the rubber samples for the study.

Ice is a tricky substance to work with in a scientific way. It melts easily and, even below 0 degrees C when it is 'solid', its surface changes through the capture or release of atoms (known respectively as condensation and sublimation). The researchers circumnavigate these pitfalls by working quickly with their ice samples.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council -

Do Men Prefer Subordinate Women?

University of Michigan News Release

ANN ARBOR December 9, 2004 - Men are more likely to want to marry women who are their assistants at work rather than their colleagues or bosses, a University of Michigan study finds.

The study, published in the current issue of Evolution and Human Behavior, highlights the importance of relational dominance in mate selection and discusses the evolutionary utility of male concerns about mating with dominant females.

"These findings provide empirical support for the widespread belief that powerful women are at a disadvantage in the marriage market because men may prefer to marry less accomplished women," said Stephanie Brown, lead author of the study and a social psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).

For the study, supported in part by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, Brown and co-author Brian Lewis from UCLA tested 120 male and 208 female undergraduates by asking them to rate their attraction and desire to affiliate with a man and a woman they were said to know from work.

"Imagine that you have just taken a job and that Jennifer (or John) is your immediate supervisor (or your peer, or your assistant)," study participants were told as they were shown a photo of a male or a female.

After seeing the photo and hearing the description of the person's role at work in relation to their own, participants were asked to use a 9-point Likert scale (1 is not at all, 9 is very much) to rate the extent to which they would enjoy going to a party with Jennifer or John, exercising with the person, dating the person and marrying the person.

Brown and Lewis found that males, but not females, were most strongly attracted to subordinate partners for high-investment activities such as marriage and dating.

"Our results demonstrate that male preference for subordinate women increases as the investment in the relationship increases," Brown said. "This pattern is consistent with the possibility that there were reproductive advantages for males who preferred to form long-term relationships with relatively subordinate partners.

"Given that female infidelity is a severe reproductive threat to males only when investment is high, a preference for subordinate partners may provide adaptive benefits to males in the context of only long-term, investing relationships---not one-night stands."

According to Brown, who is affiliated with the ISR Evolution and Human Adaptation Program, the current findings are consistent with earlier research showing that expressions of vulnerability enhance female attractiveness. "Our results also provide further explanation for why males might attend to dominance-linked characteristics of women such as relative age or income, and why adult males typically prefer partners who are younger and make less money."

University of Michigan -

Mission To Neptune!

Neptune is so cold. (NASA)

By Jane Sanders

Georgia Institute of Technology Research News Release

December 9, 2004 - In 30 years, a nuclear-powered space exploration mission to Neptune and its moons may begin to reveal some of our solar system's most elusive secrets about the formation of its planets -- and recently discovered ones that developed around other stars.

This vision of the future is the focus of a 12-month planning study conducted by a diverse team of experts led by Boeing Satellite Systems and funded by NASA. It is one of 15 "Vision Mission" studies intended to develop concepts in the United States' long-term space exploration plans. Neptune team member and radio scientist Professor Paul Steffes of the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering calls the mission "the ultimate in deep space exploration."

NASA has flown extensive missions to Jupiter and Saturn, referred to as the "gas giants" because they are predominantly made up of hydrogen and helium. By 2012, these investigations will have yielded significant information on the chemical and physical properties of these planets. Less is known about Neptune and Uranus -- the "ice giants."

"Because they are farther out, Neptune and Uranus represent something that contains more of the original - to use a 'Carl Saganism' - 'solar stuff' or the nebula that condensed to form planets," Steffes said. "Neptune is a rawer planet. It is less influenced by near-sun materials, and it's had fewer collisions with comets and asteroids. It's more representative of the primordial solar system than Jupiter or Saturn."

A mission to investigate Neptune is expected to
launch between 2016 and 2018 and arrive in
2035. This artist's conception depicts a nuclear-
electric-powered orbiter equipped with electrical
and optical sensors. The mission would deploy
three probes for sensing Neptune's atmosphere
and two landers for exploring Triton, Neptune's
largest moon (foreground). (Boeing)

Also, because Neptune is so cold, its structure is different from Jupiter and Saturn. A mission to investigate the origin and structure of Neptune -- expected to launch between 2016 and 2018 and arrive around 2035 -- will increase scientists' understanding of diverse planetary formation in our solar system and in others, Steffes noted.

The mission team is also interested in exploring Neptune's moons, especially Triton, which planetary scientists believe to be a Kuiper belt object. Such balls of ice are micro planets that can be up to 1,000 kilometers in diameter and are generally found in the outermost regions of our solar system. Based on studies to date, scientists believe Triton was not formed from Neptune materials, like most moons orbiting planets in our solar system. Instead, Triton is likely a Kuiper belt object that was accidentally pulled into Neptune's orbit.

"Triton was formed way out in space," Steffes said. "It is not even a close relative of Neptune. It's an adopted child. We believe Kuiper belt objects like Triton were key to the development of our solar system, so there's a lot of interest in visiting Triton."

Though they face a number of technical challenges -- including entry probe design, and telecommunications and scientific instrument development -- the Neptune Vision Mission team has developed an initial plan.

Team members, including Steffes, have been presenting it this fall at a variety of scientific meetings to encourage feedback from other experts. On Dec. 17, they will present it again at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Their final recommendations are due to NASA in July 2005.

This picture of Neptune was produced from the last whole
planet images taken through the green and orange filters
on the Voyager 2 narrow angle camera. The images were
taken 4.4 million miles from the planet. The image shows
the "Great Dark Spot" and its companion bright smudge.
Visible on the west limb are the fast-moving bright feature
called "Scooter" and the "Little Dark Spot." (NASA)

The plan is based on the availability of nuclear-electric propulsion technology under development in NASA's Project Prometheus. A traditional chemical rocket would launch the spacecraft out of Earth orbit.

Then an electric propulsion system powered by a small nuclear fission reactor - a modified submarine-type technology -- would propel the spacecraft to its deep-space target. The propulsion system would generate thrust by expelling electrically charged particles called ions from its engines.

Because of the large scientific payload a nuclear-electric propelled spacecraft can carry and power, the Neptune mission holds great promise for scientific discovery, Steffes said.

The mission will employ electrical and optical sensors aboard the orbiter and three probes for sensing the nature of Neptune's atmosphere, said Steffes, an expert in remote radio sensing of planetary atmospheres. Specifically, the mission will gather data on Neptune's atmospheric elemental ratios relative to hydrogen and key isotopic ratios, as well as the planet's gravity and magnetic fields. It will investigate global atmospheric circulation dynamics, meteorology and chemistry. On Triton, two landers will gather atmospheric and geochemical information near geysers on the surface.

The mission's three entry probes will be dropped into Neptune's atmosphere at three different latitudes - the equatorial zone, a mid-latitude and a polar region. Mission designers face the challenge of transmitting data from the probes through Neptune's radiowave-absorbing atmosphere. Steffes' lab at Georgia Tech has conducted extensive research and gained a thorough understanding of how to address this problem, he noted.

The mission team is still discussing how deep the probes should be deployed into Neptune's atmosphere to get meaningful scientific data. "If we pick a low enough frequency of radio signals, we can go down to 500 to 1,000 Earth atmospheres, which is 7,500 pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI)," Steffes explained. "That pressure is similar to what a submarine experiences in the deep ocean."

However, that depth will probably not be required, according to the mission team's atmospheric modelers, Steffes said. The probes will be able to obtain most information at only 100 Earth atmospheres, or 1,500 PSI.

Georgia Institute of Technology -

Gold Mummies
Cairo December 8, 2004 (AFP) - An Egyptian archaeological team has discovered a group of 20 gold-coated mummies in the country's western desert, Culture Minister Faruq Hosni announced today.

He said the discovery brings to 234 the number of mummies so far unearthed in the area called the Valley of the Golden Mummies, adding that excavations were ongoing in and around the site.

Some bronze coins were also recovered from the site, explained Mr Hosni, saying ancient Egyptians buried the dead with money believing they would need it to pay for their passing to the afterworld.

The Egyptian team also discovered a graveyard nearby, which experts said belonged to the relative of a high priest. A sarcophagus at the site appeared to have been robbed, they added.
Suicides Linked To Asphalt Plants

University of North Carolina School of Medicine News Release

CHAPEL HILL December 10, 2004 - Exposure to low levels of hydrogen sulfide and possibly other airborne chemicals from nearby asphalt plants may have contributed to an increased suicide rate in a North Carolina community, a study suggests for the first time.

In 2003, the suicide rate in two Salisbury, N.C., neighborhoods was found to be 192 per 100,000 individuals a year, roughly 16 times the statewide average, as stated in community reports confirmed by death certificates for that year by the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL).

The study's lead author is Dr. Richard H. Weisler, adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and BREDL volunteer.

The neighborhoods comprising two U.S. census tract block groups contained a total of 1,561 residents who were living immediately downwind from a liquid asphalt terminal; an asphalt hot-mix plant, which also contained a former N.C. Department of Transportation solvent-contaminated cleanup site where the DOT had previously dumped solvents used for testing asphalt; and a contaminated former petroleum tank farm.

Between 1994 and 2003, death certificate evaluations for the two Salisbury neighborhoods showed a 3.5-fold statistically significant increase in the suicide rate, the study found. Four deaths by suicide in adults were reported from the 687 residents in the census tract block group 1. Three deaths by suicide in adults were reported among the 874 residents of census tract block group 2. Only two deaths by suicide would be expected for this population over a 10-year period, but seven suicides were observed.

"For example, here in the block group 1 neighborhood in the mid-90s, we found one death by suicide for about every 230 people during the worst 12-month period, versus an average of one death by suicide for every 8,621 people in the rest of North Carolina," Weisler said. "When we saw this data it gave us pause."

Weisler said of hydrogen sulfide, "The odor was frequently apparent when I lived there as a child and later when I visited my mother, who lived in the neighborhood from 1962 until her death in 2001."

That year (2001), the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) estimated the average maximum hydrogen sulfide level in a large part of the affected area at 215 parts per billion (pbb), while some sections of the neighborhoods were reported as low as 30 ppb. Moreover, based on their own air modeling study, the NCDENR estimated that historical releases of hydrogen sulfide reached average maximum levels of 860 ppb in a few residences very near the asphalt facilities.

By comparison, the World Health Organization has a 10-minute exposure standard of five ppb. The California one-hour standard is 30 ppb. The newly revised, but not yet implemented, North Carolina 24-hour hydrogen sulfide standard is 86.2 ppb.

These exposures accompanied 574 formal complaints to the City of Salisbury from March 11, 1999, to Oct. 15, 2004, for noxious odors and associated respiratory problems, which are still occurring - though at a reduced rate - said Weisler.

In addition to suggestions of an increased suicide rate, the incidence rate of primary brain cancers in these neighborhoods from 1995 to 2000 showed an increase about 6.4 times greater than expected for the population, possibly due to benzene and other solvent exposures, Weisler said. Several studies have shown increased rates of lung and brain cancer among workers with long-term exposure to asphalt emissions, the researchers said.

Weisler and his study team made a hypothetical link between hydrogen sulfide and suicides due to biological plausibility. They noted that hydrogen sulfide affects brain neurochemistry as a direct gaseous neuromodulator that potentially affects mood states and the psychological stress response. In animal studies, it has been shown to alter the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, aspartate and glutamate levels.

Hydrogen sulfide also affects the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and corticotropin releasing factor in animal studies, the report said.

"This is the part of the brain involved in the stress response, and we think it's also involved in psychological resiliency, how people deal with stressors," Weisler said. "It's frequently associated with mood disorders, and there are suggestions that resiliency is impaired when people are suicidal."

The study team reported that additional neurotoxic compounds such as benzene, chlorinated solvents and carbon disulfide, among others, were released in unknown quantities by the asphalt terminal and hot-mix asphalt plant. Carbon disulfide, also a neurotoxin, has been linked to personality changes, mood disorders and suicides in occupational settings, the researchers said.

In addition, "Some research suggests that highway workers exposed to asphalt-solvent fumes show an increase of suicide rates and brain cancers."

A full characterization of the types of chemicals and the levels of releases at the liquid asphalt terminal is needed, said Weisler.

Also needed, he added, is the retrospective ground water contamination modeling study called for in 2002 by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to more completely understand the possible causes of health problems in the affected neighborhoods.

"I do not know if ground water modeling would help us understand the suicides, but since there were exposures it would be quite useful to have that modeling information. The same modeling would certainly help with interpreting the cancer data as people with brain, lung, blood, pancreatic, breast, and colon cancers had been or may have been using solvent contaminated well water for extended periods," Weisler said. Davidson said the most important point for people to remember is that effective treatments exist for suicidal depression.

"Given that suicide can be a tragic consequence to depression, people who are experiencing persistent symptoms of depression should contact their health-care provider for a professional evaluation," he said. "The findings of this study may suggest another potential risk factor for suicide, but this needs to be confirmed in future studies."

The most common symptoms of depression include loss of interest in activities once considered pleasurable, social withdrawal, changes in appetite, low mood, inability to function effectively in work or family situations and, often, a feeling of hopelessness and despair. "It is the hopelessness that can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions," Davidson added.

A person with a family history of suicide attempts or substance abuse may be at greater risk than others, he said, adding that the study findings may eventually suggest yet another risk factor for suicide - making further study all the more important.

Weisler and Davidson both emphasized the need to educate residents of the affected areas about mood and anxiety disorders as well as substance use disorders and their treatments.

City of Salisbury and Rowan County Health and Mental Health officials are working with suicide and chemical exposure experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to implement a psychoeducation and referral program for area residents, as well as educational programs for area health and mental health providers, Weisler said.

Formal health studies of the two neighborhoods and other potential sites with chemical exposures are being planned in further collaboration with the CDC and UNC's School of Public Health.

The health status of residents who died by suicide will be investigated further in a study involving Dr. Steven B. Wing, associate professor of epidemiology, and others at UNC's School of Public Health.

Significant steps have already been taken, said Weisler, but reducing potentially toxic exposures from the industrial plants and safe cleanup of the solvent and petroleum contaminated area sites will be crucial.

"We do not know with scientific certainty that the area suicides are linked to hazardous chemical exposures, but we know enough to recommend that it is not worth taking any more chances on the potential association."

Weisler presented the findings Nov. 19 to the 17th Annual U.S. Psychiatric and Mental Health Congress in San Diego.

University of North Carolina School of Medicine -

How Long Do CDs and DVDs Last?
National Institute of Standards and Technology News Release

December 9, 2004 - Will your medical or bank records stored on CD or DVD still be retrievable 10 or 20 years from now? The answer depends on how well this type of media are cared for and on specific manufacturing processes used, according to a study by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Knowing that CDs and DVDs will work reliably for a certain number of years is critical to government agencies, hospitals, banks and other organizations that store massive amounts of vital data on optical discs.

As part of a long-term project with the Library of Congress (LOC), NIST researchers tested how well recordable optical disks made with different manufacturing processes held up when exposed to high temperatures, humidity and light levels.

They found that some disks performed better than others and that excessive exposure to any of these conditions can accelerate the deterioration. Crucially however, they found that some disks can be expected to reliably store data for decades.

The question is how can those high-quality media be identified for archival applications. To address this issue, NIST, along with the DVD Association (DVDA) and several government agencies, has formed the Government Information Preservation Working Group. This group is working with the optical disk industry to set requirements for archival quality CD and DVD recordable media and to specify to the industry the minimum number of years that recordable CDs and DVDs need to last to meet their requirements. NIST researchers also are developing a test that media manufacturers can use to determine whether the CDs and DVDs meet the criteria for archival use.

[So, what did we learn from this costly government study kids? Don't leave your Star Trek DVDs on top of the stove or take those CDs into the shower with you. Nothing lasts forever.Ed.]

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) -
The Truth About US Election Errors

In three states, the margin of error was larger than
Bush's victory margin (AP)

University of Washington News Release

December 9, 2004 - As citizens of Washington state wait out a third count with 42 votes separating the candidates for governor, new research shows that Washington was not the only state where the voters' true choice may never be known.

In three other states, the margin of voting error was greater than the margin of victory for the U.S. Senate winners, according to a University of Washington white paper to be released today.

And in three more states, the margin of error was larger than the winning presidential candidate's victory margin, the researchers found. This means that John Kerry conceivably deserved a dozen more electoral votes than he received -- almost enough to swing the election his way.

In all, the study found seven states in which the margin of error in that state's voting process was greater than the margin of victory for the candidate declared a winner.

"This means state officials certified an electoral outcome that may not have reflected the intent of voters," said one of the authors, Philip Howard, a UW assistant professor specializing in political communication. "In really close races, the electoral process can't tell us what the voters want."

The study, which Howard and his students conducted as part of a project called, documents the U.S. voting system's inability to determine with certainty the intent of the electorate.

The researchers drew on a 2000 Caltech/MIT study that calculated the known error rate for various kinds of voting processes. Average error margins, according to that study, were 1 percent for punch cards, 1.2 percent for optical scans, 1.6 percent for touch screens or other e-voting, 1.7 percent for levers and 2 percent for hand-counted paper ballots.

The UW group mapped these error percentages onto the 3,140 U.S. counties for which the 2004 voting system was known, and produced statewide voting-technology error rates that could be compared with the margin of victory in key races.

John Kerry still lost fair and square. Shown here
serving in Viet Nam with Elvis (eXoNews)

States where President Bush's victory margin was smaller than the state's overall error margin were Iowa and New Mexico, while Kerry's victory margin was less than the margin of error in New Hampshire.

In each case, the majority of voters' actual intent theoretically could have been the reverse of what was certified. Under the most extreme scenario, both margin-of-error states that went for Bush could have been Kerry's. If that happened, and if Kerry held onto all the states certified for him, the Democrat would have gained 12 electoral votes -- but still not the White House.

For U.S. Senate races, the UW study found Republicans winning by smaller than margin-of-error outcomes in Florida, Kentucky and South Dakota. If they had been declared for Democrats, the G.O.P. would now be looking forward to significantly less powerful control over the Senate.

Washington state, currently undergoing a hand recount after an initial recount tallied a 42-vote difference out of 2.8 million cast, had the country's only governor's race within the margin of error.

Howard said the findings call for an urgent national discussion about election reliability.

"Elections officials of all the states should standardize the way they collect and report error statistics," he said.

Howard said the nation also should consider a system of runoffs for those cases "where it is known that endlessly recounting the sample of votes will not provide a clear outcome."

The full white paper is available at

University of Washington -

Genre News: National Treasure, Galactica, Stones, Smallville, Godzilla, Babylon 5, U.N.C.L.E. & More!

Nick Cage looking clueless (Disney)
National Treasure - Clueless B-Movie
By FLAtRich

December 12, 2004 (eXoNews) - I rarely have the opportunity to blast a number one movie, but National Treasure is still suckering people into their local movie theaters so I thought I'd take a shot.

National Treasure is a B-movie at best.

It is basically film producer Jerry Bruckheimer recycling Indiana Jones stuff and we've all seen plenty of that already.

TNT just gave us one called The Librarian: Quest for the Spear on TV last week and I think I'll probably remember Noah Wyle, Jane Curtain and Bob Newhart searching for a lost grail far longer than Nick Cage stealing the Declaration of Independence as Benjamin Franklin Gates.

Mr. Incredible deserves every penny (Pixar)

Well, maybe I won't really remember The Librarian either, but at least Jane was funny. National Treasure didn't even make me chuckle. It was pretty much a big bore.

Following close on the heels of two really incredible releases - Finding Neverland and the aptly named Incredibles - it is hard for some of us more discerning genre fans to understand how a totally predictable yawner like National Treasure can even get made, much less gross $110,113,345 in three weeks.

The second question answers the first, of course, but it is sad that Finding Neverland, a brilliant fantasy about J. M. Barrie starring Johnny Depp, has only brought in $11,683,573 in nearly the same amount of time. I guess this makes Finding Neverland the biggest least-expected genre flop since Star Trek: Nemesis. I have to wonder if the ironic name of Michael Jackson's ranch may have confused people who might have otherwise found Depp's latest movie as good as his Pirates of the Caribbean (also produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, BTW.)

On the other hand, theatergoers have made Pixar's The Incredibles the current absolute box office king with a total gross of $225,858,787 in five weeks and this film deserves every penny.

So here's another question: why does the American audience choose to see so many bad movies over so many really great and innovative films when they apparently can tell the difference?

Well, there isn't a clue if you look at the rest of the list of top box office receipts. I, Robot starring Will Smith, which I liked but most critics panned, currently holds the number three spot with a $144,758,543 take in 21 weeks. That indicates taste over critical opinions, but Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow starring Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, a fast-paced adventure with wondrous technical work that I loved and most other critics also praised is definitely a box office bomb with a Nemesis-like take of only $37,713,761 in 12 weeks.

The Grudge grossed $109,231,802 in 7 weeks

The Grudge, Sarah Michelle's so-so horror remake aimed at the teen and cult audience has done twice the box office ($109,231,802 in 7 weeks) as the mainstream-aimed Ray ($67,792,750 in 6 weeks), despite Jamie Foxx already winning best actor awards for his portrayal of our recently deceased national treasure Ray Charles.

Jude Law's remake of the Michael Caine classic Alfie, on the other hand, got decent reviews but has totally tanked at a mere $13,265,787 in 5 weeks (although this one was admittedly only in a few theaters.) Maybe Jude Law isn't as popular as he thinks he is?

Some might look for clues to movie tastes in the TV world, where badness reigns and good shows usually vanish in a season (Tru Calling) or certainly get cancelled just as they hit their stride (Angel).

Boring predictable retreads like the countless LA Law shows, Jerry Bruckheimer's countless CSI spin-offs (Bruckheimer is everywhere!) and moronic reality shows continue to dominate the rating charts.

You could look to TV for a clue, but then you'd find ABC's Lost and Desperate Housewives mopping up the competition this year, not to mention popular basic cable goodies Monk and The Dead Zone marching back triumphantly in January for another season.

Jerry Bruckheimer on the set of Pirates
Of The Caribbean: not so clueless...

Roger Ebert (the thumb guy on TV) gave National Treasure a no thumbs review in the Chicago Sun-Times, which he based on the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code. Roger said the plot to National Treasure was lifted from The Da Vinci Code, which is also due soon as a Ron Howard movie. Roger seemed to think everyone in the world has read The Da Vinci Code.

I didn't read The Da Vinci Code because I heard it was lousy.

I am currently reading The High Window by Raymond Chandler, however, which was once made into a movie called The Brasher Doubloon in 1947. I mention that because Jerry Bruckheimer's second credit as a producer was the Robert Mitchum remake of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely in 1975 and maybe there's a clue in that?

In any case, if you haven't yet plunked down the bucks to see National Treasure, Mr. Ebert's review (see link below) may give you another excuse not to.

Mr. Ebert's review of National Treasure

Galactica Does NBC?

Galactica returns in January (Sci Fi)

LOS ANGELES December 6, 2004 ( - It's been over a year since Sci Fi scored strong enough ratings for its "Battlestar Galactica" remake to expand the miniseries into a full series run. Anxious to refresh viewer memories and probably attract a larger audience, NBC Universal TV will reair the miniseries as an NBC network primetime event.

The original four-hour miniseries, cable's most-watched miniseries of 2003, will air in a three-hour edited format on NBC on Saturday, Jan. 8. Sci Fi's new series version will premiere on Friday, January 14.

Directed by Michael Rymer ("Queen of the Damned") and written by Ronald D. Moore ("Carnivale," "Roswell"), the miniseries (and subsequent series) stars Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama, the leader of a plucky group of humans fighting against the Cylons.

Mary McDonnell and Jamie Bamber co-star.

In its two-night premiere in December 2003, "Galactica" averaged 4.2 million viewers, topping HBO's heavily lauded "Angels in America," which hit the air at the same time. "Galactica" remains the third highest-rated original event in Sci Fi history, behind only the Steven Spielberg-produced "Taken" and the channel's adaptation "Frank Herbert's Dune."

At the time, "Galactica" "Battlestar Galactica" raised some hackles among fans of the 1979-80 ABC series for changes that included making the Starbuck character -- played by Dirk Benedict in the original -- a woman (now played by Katee Sackhoff) and by making the evil Cylons appear human.

Moore and David Eick ("American Gothic," "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys") are the executive producers on the new series.

The Rolling Stones (Reuters)

Stones Do New Album
By Christopher Walsh

NEW YORK December 9, 2004 (Billboard) - The Rolling Stones recently concluded recording sessions for a new album in Paris with producer Don Was, who worked with them on their two previous studio releases.

The band will reconvene in the New Year for additional sessions for an album tentatively due in summer 2005, Was told

Was described the Stones' new music as considerably different from their recent releases, such as 1997's "Bridges to Babylon" and 1994's "Voodoo Lounge."

"Mick (Jagger) and Keith (Richards) are writing songs together in a collaborative fashion that probably hasn't been seen since the late '60s," he said. "I would say that longtime fans of the Rolling Stones will be thrilled with these results, and new fans will understand why they're the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world."

Was recalled sessions in which Jagger and Richards composed spontaneously, sometimes with Richards playing bass and Jagger on drums.

"He's a great drummer," Was confided. "He's also playing a lot of guitar, and he's a really good guitar player. He's been playing bass on some things, (and) Keith is playing bass on some things. They're just great -- there's a reason that they've been the Rolling Stones for so long.

Mick and Keith still rockin' (AP)

"And they can do it four times a day, every day," Was said of the pair's writing sessions, "and they're really good songs. I've never seen anything like it."

Drummer Charlie Watts, who was recently treated for throat cancer, also attended the Paris sessions and is in excellent health, Was said. "And he's playing like a lion," he adds.

In 2002, the Stones recorded at Studios Guillaume Tell, also in Paris, with Was and engineer Ed Cherney.

Four of the songs recorded there are featured on the 2-disc "40 Licks" compilation released in 2002.

Additional material recorded at those sessions may appear on the Stones' next album, said Was, "but this all seems to be of a piece so far, and is substantially different than anything I've worked on with them. It's really collaborative.

"It's not done," Was added.

"We can still f--- it up a thousand different ways, you know? But what I'm hearing now is very much in the great Stones tradition."

Was has been active throughout 2004, producing the Stones' two-disc "Live Licks" set released last month, as well as upcoming albums by Solomon Burke, Jessie Coulter and Kris Kristofferson, the latter recorded specifically for release in a surround-sound format.

Meanwhile Don has regrouped with David Was to lead their R&B project Was (Not Was) through a 12-city tour launching Dec. 27 at House of Blues in Anaheim, Calif. The tour will mark the first performance of the group in 13 years.

Rolling Stones Official -

Kristin Kreuk Does Smallville

Kristin Kreuk

Hollywood December 8, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Kristin Kreuk, who plays Lana Lang in The WB's Superman series Smallville, told SCI FI Wire that the show is entirely different this season and that her character has undergone changes as well.

"That's actually quite fun for me," Kreuk said in an interview while promoting her latest project, SCI FI Channel's upcoming original miniseries Legend of Earthsea. "I enjoying changing it up."

Among other things, Kreuk's Lana has developed a new relationship with Jason Teague (Jensen Ackles), a storyline that will continue to develop.

"The show has evolved a lot," Kreuk said. "They were going darker last year, which I actually thought was quite interesting, going more adult and a little darker. But it wasn't appealing to the same audience anymore. So they brought it back to being more youth-oriented, and there's more sex, and I think the storylines are starting to shift again. There were a lot of shuffles in The WB itself this year, so powers were kind of shifting, and I think the direction of the show got confused. But now it's coming together, and all these really great storylines that we have are being fleshed out a little more."

Kreuk declined to discuss details.

"I'm just going to be selfish about this, because I really only know where I'm going, mostly," Kreuk said.

"But we've got the storyline with Lana's tattoo. Jane Seymour has come onto the show to play Jason's mother. Jane's character is quite evil and complex, and Lana has dreamt of her in her past, from when she was a witch. It's all convoluted, but they're going to flesh out that storyline and see how it connects to the mythology and to Superman and to these crystals. And that will eventually lead to ... well, that's the secret."

Smallville airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT Wednesdays. The four-hour Legend of Earthsea premieres at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Dec. 13.

Smallville Official -,7353,||126,00.html

Godzilla Does Tokyo

Godzilla wins a star in the Hollywood
Walk of Fame at a news conference in
Tokyo. (REUTERS/ Yuriko Nakao)

TOKYO December 9, 2004 (AP) - It won't be immediately clear whether "Godzilla: Final Wars," which opened in Japan last week, has broken any box office records. But the giant radioactive reptile's 28th film already has set the bar higher in one way its cost.

Toho Co. executive producer Shogo Tomiyama said the studio shelled out $19.3 million, small by Hollywood standards, but twice that of any of Toho's past Godzilla movies.

"We wanted to make the best Godzilla movie ever," Tomiyama explained Wednesday at a news conference.

Marking Godzilla's 50th anniversary, "Final Wars" has the movie monster traveling around the world to fight old foes, as well as the new mysterious Monster X.

Tomiyama said Toho's filming on locations over 100 days required a bigger staff than usual. Production was so complicated that Toho divided its special-effects team into two units to handle the work, he said.

The fire-breathing monster, spawned by nuclear weapons testing, first debuted in Japanese theaters in November 1954, while the United States was conducting nuclear tests in the South Pacific. It is played by an actor in a rubber suit who crushes miniature sets.

Whether the popularity of "Final Wars" will top past Godzilla films is open to debate. For now, that honor rests with the original 1954 "Godzilla" and 1962's sequel, "King Kong vs. Godzilla," according to Toho officials.

Reality Shows Do The Denial Dance
By Andrew Wallenstein

LOS ANGELES December 9, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Some of the leading players in reality television reaffirmed their faith in the genre's staying power Wednesday, despite a recent rash of failures ranging from "The Next Great Champ" to "$25 Million Dollar Hoax."

Those shows only proved that viewers have become more discerning about the genre, according to Ben Silverman, CEO of Reveille, the production company behind NBC's short-lived series "The Restaurant."

"The real story of the fall is, derivative programing doesn't work," Silverman said at the discussion, which was organized by the Hollywood Radio & Television Society.

Added Endemol USA president David Goldberg: "The halcyon days of anything in reality working have faded. I don't think we've peaked; if anything, we've leveled off." (Endemol's shows include "Big Brother" and "Fear Factor.")

The discussion touched on several hot-button issues, including rampant theft of ideas within the industry to the potential drawbacks of product integration.

The panel, moderated by Bill Carter of the New York Times, also included Chuck Barris, a reality pioneer who produced "The Gong Show," who said he wasn't much of a fan of the genre.

"I don't like reality shows because they're mean and angry and do all the things I was accused of doing in the '60s and '70s, which is really weird," he said.

Jane and John Doe Do Fox Prison

Sarah Wayne Callies and Dominic Purcell

LOS ANGELES Deember 7, 2004 ( - Sarah Wayne Callies, who played Jane in The WB's "Tarzan" last season, is among the latest additions to the cast of FOX's drama pilot "Prison Break."

Peter Stormare ("Fargo," "Watching Ellie"), Amaury Nolasco ("Mr. 3000") and Marshall Allman ("Little Black Book") have also joined the pilot, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
There's no word yet on what roles they'll play.

"Prison Break," written by Paul Scheuring ("A Man Apart") and to be directed by Brett Ratner ("After the Sunset," "Rush Hour"), centers on an engineer (Wentworth Miller, "Popular") who infiltrates a prison he designed to help spring his brother ("John Doe" star Dominic Purcell), a death-row inmate who insists he's innocent.

In other casting news at FOX, Susan Walters ("The Young and the Restless") and Marcus Coloma have signed on to the supernatural soap "Point Pleasant," which premieres in January. Walters will play a woman who takes in the mysterious girl (Elisabeth Harnois) whose presence unsettles the town. Coloma ("Go Fish") will play a priest.

Elsewhere, "Friends" alumni Jane Sibbett (Ross's ex-wife Carol) and Mitchell Whitfield (Rachel's ex-fiance Barry), along with Amy Farrington ("The Michael Richards Show") will star in a comedy pilot for ABC Family called "East of Normal West of Weird." Sibbett and Whitfield will play a couple who adopt a 13-year-old Chinese girl; Farrington will play a psychologist.

Babylon 5 Does Shadows

England December 9, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Production Weekly reported that a feature film set in J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5 universe will begin production in April in the United Kingdom.

Straczynski wrote the film, The Memory of Shadows, which will be directed by Steven Beck (Ghost Ship), the publication reported.

In Shadows, the technology of the ancient and extinct Shadow race is being unleashed upon the galaxy by an unknown force, and Earthforce intelligence officer Diane Baker, whose brother was recently killed in a mysterious explosion, sets out to find out who is behind the conspiracy, Production Weekly reported.

Joining her is Galen, a techno-mage who has been charged with keeping the technology out of the hands of those who would abuse it.

U.N.C.L.E. Does Comeback?
By Cathy Dunkley and Dana Harris

Hollywood December 8, 2004 (Variety) Matthew Vaughn is negotiating to direct the feature version of the classic TV series "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." for Warner Bros. Pictures.

John Davis will produce with Warners-based producer Basil Iwanyk's Thunder Road Prods.

David McCallum and Robert Vaughn in the
original NBC series Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Davis Entertainment bought the series' film rights from Ted Turner in 1993.

Turner optioned the rights from Felton; after the merger with Warner Bros studio exercised the option and so owns the rights.

Created in 1964, "Man From U.N.C.L.E." starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum as superagents Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, operatives for the United Network Command for Law & Enforcement. Show ran on NBC until 1968.

Pic is expected to be a big-budget action thriller centered on the TV show's premise, which pitted Solo and Kurayakin against international crime syndicate THRUSH.

The director grew up believing that he was the biological son of "Man From U.N.C.L.E." star Robert Vaughn. However, he later discovered that his father was George de Vere Drummond, a minor British aristocrat.

Exec VP production Lynn Harris is overseeing the pic for the studio. A screenwriter has not yet been hired.

Vaughn, longtime producing partner of Guy Ritchie, made his directorial debut for Sony with crime thriller "Layer Cake," which starred Daniel Craig, Michael Gambon and Sienna Miller. Pic will bow stateside next spring.

[David McCallum currently plays Ducky on Navy NCIS. Ed.]

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