New Robots!
Amazon Destruction! Mangabey!
Diapers, Sarcasm, Jules Verne,
2005 Summer~Fall TV Shows!
New Robots!

Toshiba unveils the robot 'ApriAlpha
v3' (L), capable of identify people's voices
during conversations involving many
participants, and a life support robot
'ApriAttenda' (R) capable of visually
identify users. (AFP/ Yoshikazu Tsuno)

Robot Sidekicks

Futurama's Bender (Fox)

TOKYO May 20, 2005 (AFP) - Japanese electronics giant Toshiba unveiled robots to help out the elderly and children from the home to the shopping mall by following them and responding to their voices. The "ApriAttanda" identifies an individual with its visual sensor and high-speed image processing system and follows the person.

When the person moves forward, the robot moves forward. When the person stops, the robot stops -- while maintaining a certain distance. If the robot loses contact with its companion, it calls to the person and responds to their reply, Toshiba said.

The other type of robot, nicknamed "sharp ear," detects the directions of voices from multiple speakers with six built-in microphones and recognizes what they have said.

It can "respond to a person offering greetings and then go on to respond to a question from another person," Toshiba said in a statement.

The company plans to develop the robots further so that they "can accompany people to shopping complexes and carry things, look after young children and elderly people." It also aims to make the robots capable of sending images to family members outside showing what is going on at home.

The company targets commercialization of the robot sidekicks in five or six years time.

In March, Japanese computer company NEC unveiled a babysitter robot with a resemblance to R2D2 of "Star Wars" movie fame that can offer greetings, crack jokes and dance with its owners.

Robot Doctors!
Imperial College London News Release

Science-fiction moved a step closer to reality
when robots nicknamed 'Sister Mary' and
'Doctor Robbie' started work at a London
hospital. The pair allow doctors to visually
examine and communicate with patients,
whether they are in another part of the
hospital or even another part of the world.
(Ralph Hodgson/ Reuters)

May 18, 2005 - St Mary's NHS Trust and Imperial College London are piloting a scheme where medical robots will cover ward rounds.

Remote Presence (RP6) Robots allow a medical expert to visually examine and communicate with a patient from anywhere in the world, via the machine, using wireless technology.

The robots (nicknamed by staff Sister Mary and Dr Robbie) can also be used for surgical teaching and even videoconferencing.

The robots are controlled with a joystick from a remote site.

The doctor 'driving' the robot can view the patient, ask questions and read patient records, view X-rays and test results from the console.

The patient sees the doctor's image on the robots 'face'.

The original Robbie with co-star
Ann Francis in a still from the 50's
classic Forbidden Planet.

Although the robot does not physically examine the patient it allows face-to-face contact between the doctor and patient, providing immediate access to specialists. Parv Sains, project lead, Surgical Specialist Registrar and Research Fellow, said benefits include allowing patients direct access to experts worldwide and to the doctor who performed their surgery, even if they cannot be physically at the patient's bedside.

"If a specialist is at a conference in California but their medical opinion is needed for a St Mary's patient or to deliver a lecture to junior doctors the RP6 robot provides an instant and global link at any time of the day or night.

The $3.3 million CyberKnife robot circles
around the patient, shooting beams of high-
energy X-rays that are too weak to damage
the healthy tissue, but builds up to levels
strong enough to kill tumors. (Mercy Medical)

"Our robots certainly would never replace all doctors on ward rounds, but they are a communication tool which allows a doctor to have direct contact with their patient if they are unable to get to them.

"If we look at a lot of the current strains on the NHS many senior doctors with skills and knowledge are required to be in several places at once. This is a solution in potentially providing their expertise from a remote location and may be a significant step for patient care."

The robots are being trialed in a General Surgery Ward and A&E Department within St Mary's Hospital and for training purposes, at Imperial College's Academic and Clinical Skills Unit. This is the only site in the UK and one of just a handful worldwide, including one in Europe, and three in the USA.

The RP6 robots are the latest strand in the pioneering integration of robots into healthcare by Professor Sir Ara Darzi, Head of Imperial's Division of Surgery, Anaesthetics and Intensive Care and a practicing surgeon at St Mary's.

Professor Sir Ara Darzi adds: "This is a revolutionary concept which opens new avenues for telemedicine research and integrates technology with healthcare at a grass roots level, increasing the interface between patients, clinicians and teaching staff."

As part of the pilot, a study is being conducted to evaluate how patients respond to the robots, specific communications skills required for remote presence teleconsultation and potential applications of the technology in clinical healthcare delivery and training.

Imperial College London -

Robot Eyes!
University of Manchester News Release

May 17, 2005 - The University of Manchester is to help develop a new generation of robots with 'human' instincts.

"We are looking to develop an intelligent robotic system
which can react to its environment and correct itself
without human intervention." Commander Data
corrects B-4 in Star Trek: Nemesis. (Paramount)

The REVERB project, which involves BAE Systems and a number of other leading UK Universities, is aimed at developing new technologies which will enable robots to respond to events and multi-task in similar ways to humans and animals.

As part of the project The University of Manchester will develop a state of the art Vision Chip.

Dr Piotr Dudek, from the University's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, who will develop the Chip, says:

"We are looking to develop an intelligent robotic system which can react to its environment and correct itself without human intervention.

"The Vision Chip will be based on the retina of the human eye and will work in a similar way giving the robot excellent peripheral and central vision. Like the human eye, the Chip will process very complex images at rapid rates filtering them through to the robot's brain and enabling it to react in real time."

The aim of the REVERB project is to unravel how the vertebrate brain copes with the action-selection problem. Once the team have established this, computational models of the brain will be constructed and used in the robots.

"We hope to be able to build better robots which
combine the best of both the computer and the
human worlds." One of the first cinema robots
and her creator in Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

Dr Kevin Gurney from the University of Sheffield, who is leading the REVERB project says: "This project will enable researchers from a number of disciplines and institutions across the UK to work together to understand how animal nervous systems integrate sensory information in guiding behavior, and then to transfer these insights to the building of robotic platforms."

BAE Systems believes the technology could be used in devices such as its laser-guided Crawler for carrying out tasks such as machining and inspection of aircraft parts. Other ideas include building devices to assist the disabled or infirm.

"Our basic premise is that nature builds systems very well, and if we can mimic those systems then we hope to be able to build better robots which combine the best of both the computer and the human worlds," says Dr Dudek.

The Vision Chip will be based on a prototype Dr Dudek has spent the last seven years developing. It measures 1cm² and contains 16,384 microprocessors enabling images to be sensed and processed at ultra-high speeds. The Chip will form the integral part of a wider vision system which will be built around one high resolution camera and a lower resolution peripheral camera.

University of Manchester -

Robot Touch!
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign News Release

A Dr. Who Dalek and friend.
Seeking to develop robots that
can identify and manipulate
objects in unstructured

CHAMPAIGN IL May 19, 2005 - A robot's sensitivity to touch could be vastly improved by an array of polymer-based tactile sensors that has been combined with a robust signal-processing algorithm to classify surface textures. The work, performed by a team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is an essential step in the development of robots that can identify and manipulate objects in unstructured environments.

"We are developing artificial tactile sensors that will imitate the functionality and efficiency found in biological structures such as human fingers," said Chang Liu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Illinois. "We have shown that simple, low-cost sensor arrays can be used to analyze and identify surface textures."

Biological sensors provide a wealth of information concerning the shape, hardness and texture of an object. Robots, which typically possess a single pressure sensor in their grip, can't determine whether an object is hard or soft, or how hard it is squeezing an object.

"One of the unsolved problems in robotics is the handling of delicate objects such as eggs," said Douglas Jones, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. "The distributed sensing we have in our hands allows us to grab an egg with enough force that it won't slip, but without so much force that it breaks. One of our goals is to develop an array of sensors that provides robotic systems with a similar source of tactile feedback."

The research team consisted of Liu and Jones (who are also researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology), and graduate students Jonathan Engel and Sung-Hoon Kim. They describe the construction and operation of their tactile sensory array in the May issue of the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, published by the Institute of Physics ( ).

The sensors are fabricated from an inexpensive polymer sheet using photolithographic patterning techniques. In the reported work, the researchers created a 4 x 4 array (16 sensors) and evaluated its performance.

"Each sensor resembles a little drum head about 200 microns in diameter with a tiny bump in the center," Engel said. "On the surface of the drum head, we deposit a thin-metal strain gauge that changes resistance when stretched. Pressure on the sensor is converted into digital data that is sent to a computer and analyzed with a signal-processing algorithm."

Robots run amuck in Sky Captain
and the World of Tomorrow

In any detection problem, implementation is a key issue. "Speed is important, but complex tasks like tactile sensing tend to be very time consuming," Kim said. "We came up with advanced algorithms that make the process more computationally efficient. Our algorithms can quickly determine which sensors are activated in the array, and whether the object is flat, or shaped like a box or the letter X."

In future work, the researchers want to improve efficiency by further simplifying the signal-processing algorithm so it can be performed by circuitry mounted on the same substrate as the sensor. They also want to build larger arrays with distributed sensors, and develop more effective ways to import and utilize sensory data.

Such improvements could expand the functionality of robots in assembly-line environments and facilitate the development of autonomous vehicles.

"Our ultimate goal is to allow robots to operate in unstructured environments," Liu said. "To build more trust between humans and robots, we must make reliable sensor systems that can analyze their physical surroundings quickly and accurately. Our work is a step toward making trustworthy sensors that give robotics the power to really help people."

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -

eXoNews Pix of the Week Dept.
The Right Reverend Mr. Bush

President George W. Bush threatened to veto any bill allowing US federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research after a South Korean team announced advances in their work. (AFP/ Brendan Smialowski)

Robot Telescope Finds New Light!

Researchers Katherine McGowan
and James Wren inside RAPTOR-A,
one of four robotic observatories in
the RAPTOR system. (LANL)

DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory News Release

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., May 18, 2005 -- A new type of light was detected from a recent gamma-ray burst, as discovered by Los Alamos National Laboratory and NASA scientists using both burst-detection satellites and a Los Alamos-based robotic telescope.

In a paper published in the May 12 issue of Nature, Los Alamos scientists and NASA announced the detection of a form of light generated by the same process that drives the gamma ray burst itself, yielding new insights about these enigmatic cosmic explosions -- the most powerful events since the Big Bang.

Dec. 19, 2004 at 01:42 Universal Time, both the European Space Agency's INTEGRAL satellite and NASA's Swift satellite detected the onset of a powerful gamma-ray burst in the direction of the constellation Cassiopeia. Within seconds, the RAPTOR (RAPid Telescopes for Optical Response) telescopes on site at Los Alamos swung into action to search for optical light from the explosion.

By responding so quickly, RAPTOR-S was the first optical telescope ever to begin observations before the gamma-ray light reached its peak brightness. The quick response allowed astronomers to study the relationship between the visible light variations and the gamma-ray variations for an unprecedented six and a half minutes.

The results of that comparison is challenging what astronomers knew about the origin of visible light from gamma-ray bursts.

Until now, both the limited observations and the standard theory suggested that the gamma rays and the light from gamma-ray bursts had very different origins. But, these new, sensitive, RAPTOR observations show that there is a unique visible light that varies in concert with the gamma-rays.

"This close correlation indicates that both components have a common origin," said Tom Vestrand, the Los Alamos RAPTOR project leader, "and our best guess is they are generated by a shock driven into the GRB ejecta by the engine that powers the explosion." The GRB ejecta form a jet composed of the superheated material from the star that blew up. The ejecta, moving as a highly relativistic material, travels at 99.999 percent of the speed of light, launched by the cataclysmic explosion.

The extreme relativistic nature of the explosion means that the light from events that occur over the course of a day at the burst arrives at Earth within the span of minutes.

"The really exciting aspect of this new optical component is that when telescopes can get there fast enough to measure it, comparing its properties with those simultaneously observed in gamma rays will allow us to measure the physical characteristics of the jet and the burst engine," Vestrand added.

RAPTOR unfiltered optical image. (LANI)

Robotic telescopes are fundamentally changing modern astronomy. NASA's recently launched Swift satellite has the ability to locate gamma-ray bursts rapidly, reorient itself autonomously for follow-up observing, and to distribute precise positions in seconds to an armada of ground-based telescopes located around the world.

"Robotic instruments like RAPTOR can observe GRBs during those critical first minutes of the explosion. And that's where the game is today" said Przemyslaw R. Wozniak, an Oppenheimer Postdoctoral Fellow at Los Alamos.

Astronomers at Los Alamos are also busy working on the future of robotic astronomy in the form of a program called the Thinking Telescopes Project.

"Humans do not have the attention span, response time or memory required to monitor the huge volume of data, recognize important variations, and respond in real time that one needs to monitor the night sky for important changes," said Vestrand.

The goal of Thinking Telescopes project is to merge robotic instrumentation with machine learning techniques and advanced massive database technology to build robotic telescope systems that can recognize and autonomously make follow up observations of important changes in the night sky without human intervention -- so called "thinking" telescopes.

For more about the Thinking Telescopes Project and RAPTOR go to or online.

The RAPTOR telescopes are supported as part of the Thinking Telescopes Project that is funded by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Amazon Destruction Continues!

Virgin Amazon jungle is seen in this aerial
photo taken over Mato Grosso State, one of
the Brazilian states of greatest deforestation,
May 18, 2005. The land is irresistible for
farmers seeking to expand and benefit from
Brazil's agricultural boom. (REUTERS/ Rogers)

By Maria Pia Palermo

ALTA FLORESTA Brazil May 23, 2005 (Reuters) — In the heart of what is known in Brazil's Amazon as the "arc of deforestation" it is clear that the fight to save the jungle is being lost.

During a tour by plane of the area, this reporter could see vast tracts of cleared land with grazing cattle or cultivated fields that have been gouged out of the forest.

The land is irresistible for farmers seeking to expand and benefit from Brazil's agricultural boom.

The arc is the front line in the battle over the Amazon.

In 2004 the government decided to make a stand in this half-moon shaped area stretching along the southern and eastern edges of the Amazon. A year later, environmentalists and government officials have little to show for the effort.

The government said Wednesday that deforestation jumped to its second highest level on record in 2003-2004, to 10,088 square miles -- an area nearly the size of Belgium and slightly bigger than the U.S. state of New Hampshire.

Just under 20 percent of the world's largest tropical forest, which is home to an estimated 30 percent of the world's animal and plant species, has now been destroyed.

Even if last year was below the deforestation record of 11,216 square miles reached in 1994-1995, the deforestation levels during the past three years have never been so consistently high, all above 20,000 square km.

The Green Party quit President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's center-left ruling coalition Thursday in anger at the figures.

"The terrible data reflects not just a failure of implementation of the government's plan but also the contradiction the government has in containing deforestation or promoting agriculture for exports," Greenpeace Amazon coordinator Paulo Adaria said.

On the ground in Alta Floresta, a hot spot for deforestation in the southern Amazon, the government's environmental agency Ibama has just three full-time employees to monitor an area of 21,621 square miles.

"Since January (the end of the rainy season) the chainsaws have started roaring and we don't have the necessary agility," said Mauro Baldini, an Ibama environmental analyst in Alta Floresta.


"We are arriving after the fish have died and the trees have been felled," he said. An estimated 350 logging companies operate in the region.

A preliminary report by Greenpeace found that just three of 19 Ibama posts earmarked to get extra funding have received anything from the government's plan to fight deforestation since it was launched in March 2004. Baldini's post is one of the three.

Environmentalists say deforestation is driven by illegal loggers first moving in, followed by land speculators or farmers. In the Alta Floresta region their arrival is spurred by the planned paving of a road linking Cuiaba in Mato Grosso state to Santarem, hundreds of miles further north through virgin forest.

Environmentalists say the pattern is familiar -- when loggers and farmers know roads are coming they race to cut down forest to get land which they will make a profit on.

The building of a highway from capital Brasilia in the center of Brazil to Belem on the mouth of the Amazon River several decades ago led to mass destruction of the eastern Amazon.

The pattern can be seen perfectly in the town of Novo Progresso, just north of Alta Floresta in the state of Para, where an estimated 80 percent of land registrations are illegal, according to the Greenpeace report. Logging represents 17 percent of the poor state of Para's economic output.

"Who comes here dreams of becoming rich quickly," said Baldini. "In their dreams there is no forest, which can be cut down to create the fields of their dreams, with cattle and soy."

High world prices for Brazil's leading farm goods, such as soy which fetched around $10 billion in exports last year, are making farming very attractive in Brazil.

The powerful farm sectors' soaring profits are making the government's job of controlling deforestation that much harder, not least because many government officials see the sector as key to Brazil's soaring export boom.

Environmentalists fear this may represent an insurmountable challenge for the government. The fact that the government did not discuss the deforestation figures with environmentalists, as they do every year, before releasing them this time could have been an ominous sign.

"It looks like they no longer believe in the possibility of calling on society to react to this and they are trying to diminish the importance of the deforestation," said Roberto Smeraldi, director of Friends of the Earth in Brazil.

Meet The Highland Mangabey!
By Maggie Fox

WASHINGTON May 20, 2005 (Reuters) — Two separate teams of researchers working hundreds of miles apart have discovered a new species of monkey in Tanzania. The highland mangabey is the first new species of monkey identified in 20 years and conservationists immediately said the find showed how important it was to preserve African forests.

The highland mangabey is a medium-sized monkey, about 3 feet tall with a long tail, long brown fur, a black face, hands and feet.

The newly discovered 'Highland
Mangabey' in Tanzania. (WCS/
Tim Davenport)

Adults make a distinctive, loud, low-pitched "honk-bark" call. They live in mountainside trees at elevations of up to 8,000 feet.

Fewer than 1,000 of the animals live in the highland forest, the researchers report in Friday's issue of the journal Science. Hunters had described the animals but no scientist had identified them.

"If this small population is to be protected in perpetuity, the Udzungwa Mountains National Park needs to be extended to include the Ndundulu Forest," Trevor Jones of Tanzania's Udzungwa Mountains National Park and colleagues there and at the University of Georgia, Conservation International and Wildlife Conservation Society, wrote in their report.

"This exciting discovery demonstrates once again how little we know about our closest living relatives, the nonhuman primates," said Russell Mittermeier, chairman of the Primate Specialist Group of IUCN-The World Conservation Union's Species Survival Commission.

"A large, striking monkey in a country of considerable wildlife research over the last century has been hidden right under our noses."

The monkey, scientifically named Lophocebus kipunji, will likely be classified as a critically endangered species.

"Clearly this remarkable discovery shows that there are still wild places where humans are not the dominant species," said John Robinson, director of international conservation programs for the WCS.

"This new species of monkey should serve as a living symbol that there is hope in protecting not only wild places like Tanzania's Southern Highlands, but the wonder and mystery they contain," Robinson said in a statement.

Earlier this month U.S. bird experts announced the discovery of an ivory-billed woodpecker, a species feared extinct for decades, in a remote Arkansas bayou.

8,000 Koalas Will Be Sterilized!

A koala relaxes at the 'Lone Pine Koala
Sanctuary' near Brisbane. (AFP/ Torsten

ADELAIDE Australia May 23, 2005 (AFP) - Australian authorities announced they would sterilize more than 8,000 koalas to prevent mass starvation of the cuddly marsupials on a southern island.

South Australia state Premier Mike Rann said the current population of 27,000 koalas on Kangaroo Island was unsustainable. The animals numbered just 5,000 on the island in 1996.

"They are doubling in population every five years, and we need to bring that under control as a matter of urgency," Rann said Monday.

"However, with no natural predators, the koala population has been booming, and they are eating themselves out of their habitat and destroying the natural environment.

"The last thing anyone wants to see is thousands of koalas dying of starvation -- or alternatively koalas being shot out of their trees."

Wildlife experts have been calling for years for up to 20,000 of the Kangaroo Island koalas to be shot in order to stabilize the population. But a planned cull was scrapped due to opposition from animal rights groups and fears the mass killing of koalas would alienate potential foreign tourists.

"Killing koalas is not the way to go," Rann said on Monday. "It is a repugnant and unacceptable way out of this problem."

Previous efforts to curb the Kangaroo Island koala population have proven inadequate. The last plan, announced earlier this year, involved sterilizing just 500 of the animals and relocating another 650. The mass sterilization announced Monday goes much further.

State Environment Minister John Hill said the campaign would target breeding koalas and focus on hot-spot areas where native vegetation is already at threat and koala numbers are high.


Disposable diapers accounted for 2.5
percent of Britain's annual household

By Michael McDonough
Associated Press

LONDON May 20, 2005 (AP) — Disposable diapers, most of which end up in landfill sites in Britain, have the same environmental impact as reusable diapers, when the effect of laundering the cotton version is taken into account, Britain's environmental watchdog said Thursday.

Makers of disposable diapers -- known as nappies in Britain -- welcomed the findings published by the Environment Agency, saying parents should no longer feel guilty about using their products.

But advocates of reusable diapers, who have built up a fledgling network of cotton nappy users in recent years, including laundry services that collect dirty diapers and provide clean ones, said the study was flawed.

The Environment Agency said an independent consultant carried out a three-year study that assessed all the environmental impacts of the two kinds of diaper. That included the raw materials used to make them -- down to the crude oil from which chemicals are extracted to produce disposable diapers -- as well as transport costs, means of use and disposal, and the energy required throughout the life cycle of the diaper.

The study found there was "no substantial difference between the environmental impacts" of using disposable and reusable diapers, said Tricia Henton, director of environmental protection at the Environment Agency.

The agency said disposable diapers accounted for 2.5 percent of Britain's annual household waste. British parents bought some 2.5 billion disposable diapers in 2001, and most of them ended up in landfill sites. They held a 94 percent share of the British diaper market in 1999.

"We hope manufacturers of disposable nappies will use this study to improve the environmental performance of their products, particularly the quantities going to landfill," Henton said.

The Environment Agency said the main impact from cotton diapers came from the electricity and fuel used when washing and drying them. Henton said parents should wash them in bigger loads at lower temperatures and dry them in fresh air.

Around 675,000 children are born each year in Britain. On average they wear diapers until they are 2 years and 2 months old. Disposable diapers first appeared in Britain in the 1960s and were quickly embraced by parents as a means of reducing their laundry workload. But in recent years concerns have grown about their environmental consequences.

The main impact from cotton diapers
came from the electricity and fuel
used when washing and drying them

Tracy Stewart, director general of the Absorbent Hygiene Products Manufacturers' Association, welcomed the Environment Agency's findings.

"Parents can be thrilled by the news and no longer feel guilty about choosing disposables," she said.

Stewart acknowledged there was little alternative in Britain to disposing of the diapers in landfill sites, but she insisted that 80 percent of a used disposable diaper is biodegradable.

Green campaigners, however, sharply criticized the official study.

The Women's Environment Network said the sample size relied on for assessing the habits of cotton diaper users was too small for any solid conclusions to be drawn.

Spokeswoman Elizabeth Hartigan said parents could make a big difference by using energy efficient washing machines and laundering diapers at lower temperatures -- around 60 C.

"People who are using real nappies can save waste using them and be confident they're not harming the environment by using energy to wash them," Hartigan told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Responding to Hartigan's criticism, Henton said the Environment Agency would carry out further work to verify its study. She said getting a big sample of cotton diaper users was difficult as only about 5 percent of parents fitted into that category.


Sarcastic comedian David Spade

American Psychological Association News Release

WASHINGTON May 22, 2005 - The ability to comprehend sarcasm depends upon a carefully orchestrated sequence of complex cognitive skills based in specific parts of the brain. Yeah, right, and I'm the Tooth Fairy.

But it's true: New research details an "anatomy of sarcasm" that explains how the mind puts sharp-tongued words into context. The findings appear in the May issue of Neuropsychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The Israeli psychologists who conducted the research explain that for sarcasm to score, listeners must grasp the speaker's intentions in the context of the situation.

This calls for sophisticated social thinking and "theory of mind," or whether we understand that everyone thinks different thoughts. As an example of what happens when "theory of mind" is limited or missing, autistic children have problems interpreting irony, the more general category of social communication into which sarcasm falls.

Simone Shamay-Tsoory, PhD, and colleagues at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and the University of Haifa, studied 25 participants with prefrontal-lobe damage, 16 participants with posterior-lobe damage and 17 healthy controls. All participants listened to brief recorded stories, some sarcastic, some neutral, that had been taped by actors reading in a corresponding manner.

Here is an example of sarcasm: "Joe came to work, and instead of beginning to work, he sat down to rest. His boss noticed his behavior and said, "Joe, don't work too hard." Meaning: "You're a real slacker!" Here is a neutral example: "Joe came to work and immediately began to work. His boss noticed his behavior and said, "Joe, don't work too hard!" Meaning: "You're a hard worker!"

Following each story, researchers asked a factual question to check story comprehension and an attitude question to check comprehension of the speaker's true meaning: Did the manager believe Joe was working hard? When participants answered got the fact right but the attitude wrong, they got an "error" score in identifying sarcasm.

Participants with prefrontal damage were impaired in comprehending sarcasm, whereas the people in the other two groups had no such problem. Within the prefrontal group, people with damage in the right ventromedial area had the most profound problems in comprehending sarcasm. The ventromedial area is the inferior (rear) part of the prefrontal cortex, and includes the cortex on top of the orbits of both eyes and the inside part of the frontal lobes.

Ultimate sarcasm

The findings fit what we already know about brain anatomy. The prefrontal cortex is involved in pragmatic language processes and complex social cognition, thus it followed that that participants with prefrontal damage had faulty "sarcasm meters." At the same time, damage to the ventromedial area, which is involved in personality and social behavior, will disrupt not only understanding sarcasm but also understanding social cues, empathic response and emotion recognition. The authors write, "Understanding sarcasm requires both the ability to understand the speaker's belief about the listener's belief and the ability to identify emotions."

The findings highlight the importance of lesion size in sub-regions of the frontal lobe because the extent of the right ventromedial lesion was significantly related to performance in the sarcasm task: The worse the damage, the greater the impairment.

In sum, Shamay-Tsoory and his/her colleagues propose a neural network for processing sarcastic utterances:

1-The left hemisphere language cortices interpret the literal meaning of the utterance;

2-The frontal lobes and right hemisphere process the intentional, social and emotional context, identifying the contradiction between the literal meaning and the social/emotional context;

3-The right ventromedial prefrontal cortex integrates the literal meaning with the social/emotional knowledge of the situation and previous situations, helping the listener determine the true meaning.

Shamay-Tsoory says, "A lesion in each region in the network can impair sarcasm, because if someone has a problem understanding a social situation, he or she may fail to understand the literal language. Thus this study contributes to our understanding of the relation between language and social cognition."

Article: "The Neuroanatomical Basis of Understanding Sarcasm and Its Relationship to Social Cognition," S.G. Shamay-Tsoory, PhD, and R. Tomer, PhD, Rambam Medical Center and University of Haifa, and J. Aharon-Peretz, MD, Rambam Medical Center; Neuropsychology, Vol. 19, No. 3. Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at

American Psychological Association -

Wave Power!
By Doug Mellgren
Associated Press

OSLO Norway May 23, 2005 (AP) — A pioneering commercial wave power plant, producing clean and renewable energy, is to go on line off Portugal in 2006, after a contract was signed last week, project partners have announced.

The companies claimed the so-called "wave farm" will be the world's first such commercial operation.

The power generators, like giant, orange sausages floating on water, will use wave motion to produce electricity by pumping high-pressure fluids to motors, Norsk Hydro AS said. The Norwegian energy company is a major backer of the project.

The generators were developed by Ocean Power Delivery, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, which signed an euro8 million (US$6.25 million) contract with a Portuguese consortium to build three Pelamis P-750 wave power generators next year.

How wave power is generated (BBC)

The project will order 30 more generators from the consortium -- headed by the Enersis SPGS power company -- by the end of 2006, if the initial phase is successful, Norsk Hydro said.

"We believe wave energy will be the new indigenous, renewable resource in Portugal," Enersis chairman Goncalo Serras Pereira said.

The first, three-generator phase of the wave farm would produce 2.25 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 1,500 Portuguese homes. Norsk Hydro said producing that much energy in a conventional fossil fuel plant would emit 6,000 tons of climate-damaging carbon dioxide.

"This is a significant milestone for our company and for wave energy," said OPD Managing Director Richard Yemm. "We see this order as just the first step in developing the Portuguese market, which is anticipated to be worth up to euro1 billion (US$1.3 billion) over the next 10 years."

The wave generators produce power by using the up and down, and sideways, movements of the ocean swell, moving the flexible, 120-meter (400-feet) long floating cylinders to pump high-pressure fluids to drive hydraulic motors, which will produce electricity in generators.

A variety of systems, including wave and tidal energy, are being tested around the world as possible environmentally friendly and renewable energy sources. The European Union has said it wants 22 percent of its power to be renewable by 2010, compared to 6 percent now.

Richard Erskine, head of Norsk Hydro's Technology Ventures unit, said the Pelamis concept is so far the only one recognized as a viable project by the U.S. Electric Power Research Institute, a research consortium of American power utilities.

The floating power plant will be moored about 5 kilometers (3 miles) off Portugal's northern coast, near Povoa de Varzim, with the electricity brought to land by an underwater power cable.

Norsk Hydro is a major player in offshore oil fields that make Norway the world's third largest oil exporter, after Saudi Arabia and Russia. It is also involved in developing alternative energy sources, including wave and wind power.

The Jules Verne ATV

Cutaway view of the Automated Transfer Vehicle -
to the right you see the pressurized module where
the dry cargo is stored. (ESA)

European Space Agency News Release

May 19, 2005 - In 2006, with the launch of Jules Verne, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) will become the new European powerful automatic re-supply spaceship able to bring an indispensable payload to the International Space Station and its permanent crew. This first ATV will carry a mix of supplies depending on the Station’s needs and its own payload capacity.

ESA, NASA and Russian counterparts are already defining the priorities to accommodate the most appropriate combination of different supplies for this inaugural flight. The combination is quite flexible and can include different amounts of re-boost propellant, refueling propellant for the Station’s own propulsion system, drinking water, air and dry cargo, which is stored in the 48 m3 pressurized section of the ATV.

In all Jules Verne will carry about seven tons of cargo to the orbiting outpost 400 km or so above the Earth thanks to the Ariane 5 launcher, which is capable of boosting up to 20.5 tons into low Earth orbit.

Payloads from different countries

Although ATV will dock to the Russian Zvezda module, it will carry most of its dry payload for the US elements of the ISS. At the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, six weeks before flight, Jules Verne will be loaded with 1 300 kg of dry cargo out of the 5 500 kg maximum capacity.

Most of the dry cargo provided by NASA will be clothes, food, towels and wipes for the crew, logistics items such as batteries and spare parts for maintenance of the Station. This cargo will also include ESA experiments such as ANITA, which will constantly monitor the cabin air, and some Russian hardware to be added to the panels of the Station's Russian Service Module.

Contained in bags of different sizes, the cargo is loaded horizontally through the large opening at the aft end of the pressurized module, opposite the docking system at the front end. At this stage of the launch preparations in Kourou, the ATV service module, housing the avionics and the propulsion system, is not yet attached to the pressurized cargo section.

The bags are neatly tied down with an adjustable belt into six “racks” which are modular storage cargo elements and look like metal shelving. About 2.3 tons of such cargo configurable hardware including racks, pipes, tanks and bags are needed to store and carry contents to the Station.

To add flexibility in the re-supply capability of ATV, a small fraction of the dry cargo can be loaded through the docking hatch just eight days before launch when the spaceship is undergoing final launch preparations on top of the 50-metre Ariane 5, just before being enclosed in the white aerodynamically-shaped fairing.

In combination with ESA's new Ariane 5, 8.5 m-long
Automated Transfer Vehicle Verne will enable Europe
to transport cargo to the International Space Station.
The 45 m³ pressurized module of the ATV delivers up
to 7.2 tons of equipment, fuel, food, water and air for
the crew. (ESA-D.Ducros)

Payload priority: Propellant

“Jules Verne’s mission will be much more complex than the future routine ATV missions since it will actually demonstrate that the ATV can automatically and safely handle any contingency plans designed to ensure the safety of the ISS crew, such as interrupting the rendezvous, stopping its motion and flying away from the ISS”, explains Alberto Novelli, ESA operations manager of the payload for the first ATV mission.

Novelli continues: “For the first ATV flight Jules Verne will use the full capacity of the cargo ship and will carry even more fuel than the following ATV missions. The extra fuel will allow this demonstration flight to test several scenarios and maneuvers, including contingency situations, such as going back to a parking orbit and delaying the rendezvous until the following day. Such situations require a new docking maneuver and would take a lot of fuel – up to about 500 kg. Consequently, about one third of the payload will be fuel.”

The rest of Jules Verne's payload will be 860 kg of refueling propellant for the Station’s own propulsion system, 280 kg of drinking water, 20 kg of oxygen and the large amount of re-boost propellant already mentioned.

After a nominal and complex mission in orbit up to the docking, Jules Verne will still carry two tons of propellant for re-boost of the Station. The extra fuel not consumed for unexpected scenarios during the free flight phase will automatically be used for extra re-boost of the Space Station during the attached phase. The purpose of the re-boost is to raise the ISS altitude, which naturally decreases with time due to the residual atmospheric drag.

Delivery of “Russian” type water

The ATV is able carry two types of water to the ISS in compliance with the different standards of NASA and the Russian state space agency, Roskosmos:

- The NASA standard requires its water to have low dry residue like the one produced – through reverse electrolyze process – by the fuel cells on board the NASA Space Shuttle. It is disinfected with iodine.

- The basis for Roskosmos standard water is to have some amount of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and fluoride. It is disinfected with silver obtained via electrolysis.

At the end of its six-month mission, Jules Verne
will offload solid waste and wastewater from the
Station and burn up during atmospheric re-entry.

“For Jules Verne, the ISS partners have decided to bring only the Russian type of water. We will have the water ready for delivery less than three months before launch” says Cesare Lobascio, head of Environmental Control and Life Support for Space Vehicles at Alenia Spazio in Turin. The same Italian space firm builds the ATV's pressurized Integrated Cargo Carrier in its Turin plant.

The Integrated Cargo Carrier has a maximum capacity for water of 840 kg, divided over three water tanks, but on Jules Verne only one tank will be filled.

Waste removal from the ISS

The ATV has about three times the payload capability of its Russian counterpart, the Progress-M cargo vehicle. At the end of its six-month mission, Jules Verne will offload solid waste and wastewater from the Station and burn up during atmospheric re-entry over the Pacific Ocean.

The offload payload has not yet been defined, but liquid waste (up to 840 kg) cannot exceed one sixth of the dry waste (up to 5 500 kg). The ISS crew will steadily fill the cargo section with unwanted material. Up to 6.3 tons of unwanted material can be removed from the Station using the ATV.

European Space Agency -

Genre News: 2005 Summer and Fall Network TV Shows!
2005 Summer and Fall TV Shows
By FLAtRich

May 23, 2005 (eXoNews) - Oh, boy! Look what's coming up on the boob tube! Sweeps are finished and the finales are almost over. So what's on next year?

I'm doing the big three (ABC, CBS, and NBC) fall schedules first, followed by the little three and top cable guys. Summer stuff will be included where notable. Look for the real fall lineup in August when the dust clears and we'll publish the usual eXoNews grid of stuff that's worth bothering about.


The Night Stalker was one of Mulder's favorites

Monday ~ Reality stuff and football through January and then Heather Graham (Scrubs, Twin Peaks) in a sitcom followed by returning Jake In Progress and What About Brian, a new drama about "the guy everyone wants as a best friend."

Tuesday ~ According to Jim returns with Rodney (new night - who cares?), followed a Commander-in-Chief, a promising new drama starring Geena Davis as the vice-president of the United States about to become president and co-starring Donald Sutherland and Ever Carradine (Lucky). At 10 PM Tuesdays, Boston Legal returns with a 28-episode season (including what you didn't see this year.)

Wednesday ~ George Lopez returns in a new slot, followed by Freddie Prinze, Jr. in a new sitcom and hopefully not making the same mistakes in life his dad did. (Maybe he'll get Sarah Michelle Gellar to guest?) Lost returns an hour later than last year, followed by Invasion from Shaun Cassidy and celebrated director Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing). Yes, it's those pesky aliens again. On the yea side, Invasion has the absolutely wonderful Kari Matchett (Nero Wolfe).

Thursday ~ Alias returns at 8PM, followed by The Night Stalker. If Night Stalker sounds familiar, you may be old enough to remember the original adventures of reporter Carl Kolchak. This remake comes from Frank Spotnitz and Daniel Sackheim, who were Chris Carter producer sidekicks on The X-Files and Mulder fans know that The Night Stalker was one of Mulder's favorites (along with Bill Bixby in The Magician.)

Friday ~ Reality and sitcoms.

Saturday ~ Movies.

Sunday ~ The return of Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy


Monday ~ Two new sitcoms: How I met Your Mother (which features Buffy's Alyson Hannigan) and Out of Practice, which looks like just another sitcom.

The girl who talked to God replaced by a girl who talks
to ghosts (CBS)

Tuesday ~ NCIS returns, followed by a new drama called Close To Home at 10PM. Close is from Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI) and features Jennifer Finnigan (Devan Maguire in Crossing Jordan) as a mom/ prosecutor and Christian Kane (Angel) as her hubby.

Wednesday ~ Returning sitcoms lead in to Criminal Minds, starring Mandy Patinkin (Chicago Hope) as the leader of a bunch of "profilers in the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit, who meticulously piece together portraits of killers and other major offenders, leading to what they hope will be the arrest of a prime suspect." CSI:NY returns in the 10 PM slot.

Thursday ~ Remains the same, with the Survivor reality thing followed by returning CSI:Vegas and Without A Trace.

Friday ~ CBS does a two-thirds revamp after canceled Joan and JAG's retirement. Jennifer Love Hewitt replaces the girl who talked to God with a girl who talks to ghosts in Ghost Whisperer. "Inspired by the cases of famed psychic James Van Praagh, it focuses on a young newlywed endowed with the unique ability to communicate with spirits.." Like Medium, but with Hewitt I'll bet on this one surviving.

Jennifer is followed by Threshold, which is less likely to survive. Brannon Braga from the Trek Franchise created it, but it's about still another extraterrestrial craft showing up on Earth to be investigated by a "carefully assembled team made up of a brilliant physicist with strong religious beliefs, a language and communications expert and a highly trained covert operative." Brent Spiner (Star Trek The Next Generation) plays one of those parts. ABC is planning a similar series called Invasion.

Numb3rs returns, thankfully, to the Friday 10 PM slot.

Saturday ~ "Crimetime Saturday", whatever that means, and 48 Hours.

Sunday ~ The returning Cold Case at 8PM and weekly movies to battle ABC's Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy.


Dennis in uniform (rear) in NBC's
The E-Ring (NBC)

Monday ~ Fathom is NBC's new drama about a new form of sea life which mysteriously appears "in locales all over the Earth" and the ensuing investigation of same. This is followed by the return of NBC's big winners Las Vegas and Medium.

Tuesday ~ Reality show, sitcoms and Law & Order: SVU returns.

Wednesday ~ Reality show followed by E-Ring from producer Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI). E-Ring is about life in The Pentagon and has some promise in the form of stars Dennis Hopper and Benjamin Bratt. E-Ring leads in for the return of NBC stalwart Law & Order.

Thursday ~ Sitcoms, reality show and the return of ER.

Friday ~ Reality show, Dateline and Inconceivable about, uh, "one of the most complicated questions: to conceive or not to conceive." That's right, folks. It's about a fertility clinic.

Saturday ~ Movies.

Sunday ~ NBC pits the return of The West Wing, more Law & Order and Crossing Jordan against Desperate Housewives and Grey's.

Two midseason promises from NBC in the form of sitcoms: Four Kings with Seth Green and Thick and Thin from SNL's producer Lorne Michaels starring Jessica Capshaw, Sharon Gless, Martin Mull, Mel Rodriguez, Amy Halloran, and Chris Parnell.


Monday ~ Arrested Development returns to warm critics and some viewers who still think it's a funny show, followed by Kitchen Confidential. That one is a sitcom about a rock bottom chef who suddenly gets "an opportunity to get back in the game as head chef at a top New York restaurant." Right. Prison Break, which could be a great idea for a reality series, is actually a drama starring Wentworth Miller as a guy who deliberately goes to prison to save his brother Dominic Purcell (John Doe) from a murder rap. Stacy Keach is the warden and Sarah Wayne Callies (Jane in Tarzan) shows up there somewhere too.

That's right, Buffyverse fans. He's back! (Fox)

Tuesday ~ Bones is not about the doctor on Star Trek. It's another show about a forensics guy BUT - pay attention, kids - co-stars David Boreanaz (Angel) as "a former Army sniper who mistrusts science and scientists when it comes to solving crimes." That's right, Buffyverse fans. He's back! House (my favorite new show this year) returns after Bones.

Wednesday ~ Returning sitcoms and Head Cases, a comedy-drama with Chris O'Donnell as a lawyer.

Thursday ~ The O.C. returns followed by Reunion, which sounds like a reality show but isn't. This one "marks a groundbreaking concept in series television as it chronicles the lives of a group of six friends over the course of 20 years - all in just one season", sez Fox.

Friday ~ Returning sitcoms and The Gate (working title), which is about the San Francisco Police Department's Deviant Crime Unit. Chi McBride is in it.

Saturday ~ COPS, COPS, America's Most Wanted, MAD.

Sunday ~ Cartoons and a new sitcom with Michael Rapaport (Boston Public and loads of movies.) Gee, remember when X-Files was on Sundays?


Monday ~ Sitcoms

Sex, Lies and Silver Lake (UPN)

Tuesday ~ America's Next Top Model reruns, followed by Sex, Lies and Secrets, about 20 year-olds living in Silver Lake, which is a trendy-seedy area on the outskirts of Hollywood. Denise Richards and Eric Balfour are both good actors, so who knows what to think of this? (Hint: the annual LA Gay Pride Parade is held in Silver Lake.)

Wednesday ~ America's Next Top Model followed by the return of Veronica Mars.

Thursday ~ Sitcoms, beginning with one starring Chris Rock.

Friday ~ Wrestling


From X-Files alumnae, David Nutter - one to watch (WB)

Monday ~ 7th Heaven returns, followed by Just Legal, a drama from Jerry Bruckheimer about a young lawyer (Jay Baruchel) and an old lawyer (Don Johnson) who "form an unlikely partnership." Unlikely in real life maybe, but pretty commonplace on TV.

Tuesday ~ Gilmore Girls return, followed by Supernatural starring Jensen Ackles (Smallville) and Jared Padalecki (Gilmore Girls). This one is from X-Files alumnae and excellent director David Nutter, McG and Eric Kripke (Boogeyman). Nutter is really great, so this one will be the new baby to watch on The WB.

Wednesday ~ One Tree Hill returns followed by Related starring Laura San Giacomo (Just Shoot Me) and three other women in what sounds like a Sex In The City wannabe. San Giacomo is worth a look in anything, however.

Thursday ~ Ah, you were worried about Clark Kent? Smallville moves to Thursdays at 8 PM, followed by the returning Everwood.

Returning champions (Sci Fi)

Friday ~ Sitcoms, but Franny was renewed so that's good news. Reba and more Reba. Living With Fran returns to Fridays at 9:30.

Sunday ~ Demons beware! Charmed will be back for an 8th season!

FX (the world's slowest website - not all of us have T1 connections, guys!)

Summer series ~ Rescue Me returns June 21st. Over There, a series from Steven Bochco begins in July. Nip/Tuck, uh, not sure because the website timed out.

Sci Fi

Summer series ~ Here are the champions! Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica all return with new episodes. SG-1 also adds two familiar friends from Farscape.

We will be watching Sci-Fi Fridays!


Kyra Sedgwick as TV's "next great detective" (TNT)

Summer series ~ The Closer, starring Kyra Sedgwick starts up June 13th and continues Mondays at 9 PM. The premiere episode will air commercial-free.

TNT is bragging that Sedgwick will be TV's "next great detective".

"Sedgwick plays a CIA-trained, Atlanta detective who has been brought to Los Angeles to head up the Priority Murder Squad, a special unit of the LAPD that handles sensitive, high-profile murder cases."

Could the best thing to happen to TV all year (TNT)

Co-stars J.K. Simmons (Spider-man)

TNT is also going Into The West with Steven Spielberg for a six-week mini-series, which could the best thing to happen to TV all year - especially if it brings back the horse opera.

Into The West has lots of familiar faces, including Tom Berenger, Beau Bridges, Josh Brolin, Gary Busey, Keith Carradine, Balthazar Getty, Lance Henriksen. Christian Kane, Russell Means (!), Matthew Modine, Alan Tudyk and Skeet Ulrich to name a few in alpha order.

Spielberg executive produced (as he did with Taken) and left the writing and directing to talented familiar names.


Summer series ~ The Dead Zone returns Sunday, June 12th at 10/9C. DZ picks up from where it left off last year with Johnny trying to prevent the end of the world.

Jennifer Finnigan (Crossing Jordan) will be a regular Dead Zone guest this season.

The 4400 mini-series continues with new episodes on June 5th. They've got a sweepstakes for you at

Monk returns for a 4th season Friday, July 8th at 10/9C.

Dead Zone Official -

Nip/ Tuck Official -

Stargate SG-1 Official -

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