Smart Guns?
Muslim Rights, 3D Nebula!
Polymeals, Sci Fi Competition!
Earthsea Battle
& More!
Smart Guns?

How smart are they? (Metal Storm)
New Jersey Institute of Technology News Release

December 16, 2004 - Sixty people crowded last week into a small room at the Bayonne police firing range to witness smart gun technology. Donald H. Sebastian, senior vice president of research and development at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), stood near an oversized screen displaying a real-time video of an NJIT policeman shooting an experimental handgun in an adjacent indoor range.

Although there was no applause as shots rang out, the action demonstrated that smart gun knew friend from foe.

Sixteen electronic computerized sensors embedded in the gun's grip distinguished known from unknown users. "We've only just begun and we're pleased to say that we're getting 90 percent reliability when scanning users," said Sebastian.

Since 1999, Sebastian has led the project based upon Dynamic Grip Recognition, a technology invented by Michael Recce, PhD, associate professor of information systems at NJIT. Since June of 2004, five members of the NJIT police force have been trained to use the test gun and be recognized. Ultimately computerized sensors in each gun will record data on dozens of known users while also blocking unauthorized users.

The project has the enthusiastic backing of Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg and Jon S. Corzine. In addition to proudly witnessing the technology, the pair announced last week that, once again, they had secured $1 million in federal funding for the project.

Last year, they secured a similar amount. The funding was included in this year's U.S. Department of Justice budget. Reps. Robert Menendez and William Pascrell, who have also supported the research and sought federal appropriations, also spoke, as did NJIT President Robert A. Altenkirch and Bayonne Mayor and State Senator Joseph Doria, an early New Jersey legislative supporter.

Under New Jersey law, passed in Dec. 2002, only smart guns can be purchased in the state three years after personalized handguns become commercially available. Lautenberg said New Jersey's legislative effort to introduce smart gun technology should be a national model for the country.

Once Congress returns to session next year, Lautenberg and Pascrell plan to introduce legislation modeled after New Jersey's law, so families across the country will be able to ensure that guns they own will not fall into the wrong hands.

The demonstration included a description of how the technology works. "Everyone has body features that are unique signatures," said Sebastian. "Fingerprints and retinas number among the best known markers. Identifying a person by such attributes is called the science of biometrics."

Another form of biometric--the dynamic biometric--depends on both physical markers and behavior.

"This is about who you are and how you do something." said Sebastian. This biometric is the foundation of Dynamic Grip Recognition. The technology measures not only the size, strength and structure of a person's hand, but also the reflexive way in which the person acts.

For smart gun, the observed actions are how the person squeezes something to produce a unique and measurable pattern. Embedded sensors in the experimental gun then can read and record the size and force of the users' hand during the first second when the trigger is squeezed.

"This technology is similar to how electronic machines read an individual's signature upon completing a credit card transaction," said Sebastian.

The next step is for NJIT researchers to turn over their invention to the Australian-based research and development company Metal Storm Ltd.. Currently January of 2006 is the target date. Metal Storm will then incorporate the NJIT technology into their patented electronic handgun, as NJIT researchers continue testing.

"NJIT is doing pioneering research to make a firearm that can save thousands of innocent lives," said Lautenberg during the demonstration.

"On any given day people across the country can turn on their TV news or read in their local paper the sad story of a child taking another child's life because they got their hands on a loaded gun. However, we know now that these deaths can be prevented – or at least reduced – through technology that will render a gun inoperable in the hands of the wrong user."

Corzine called the NJIT's dynamic-grip technology cutting edge and said that it represented a really positive step forward in public safety.

No child could pick up a gun and pull the trigger.
The gun just won't work. (Metal Storm)

"NJIT is involved in important life-saving research," he added. "There is no question that manufacturing handguns with advanced technology to limit operation can save lives. No child could pick up a gun and pull the trigger. The gun just won't work, and that's how it should be."

Menendez said that by making handguns operable only by authorized users, many gun deaths can be avoided. Pascrell said he looked forward to introducing legislation in the 108th Congress similar to the legislation in New Jersey.

Since 1999, NJIT has spearheaded efforts to develop a personalized handgun that can instantly and reliably recognize one or more pre-programmed authorized users.

To date, the New Jersey legislature has awarded NJIT $1.5 million for the project.

In 2003, Recce received a patent for Dynamic Grip Recognition. The invention enabled NJIT electrical engineering professor Timothy Chang, assisted by a team of engineers, to embed multiple small electronic sensors in the grip. The sensors identify the user. The finished gun will eventually feature both electronic features and computerized parts. Recce sees his invention someday also being used in other applications--perhaps the yoke of a plane or a car's steering wheel.

Also in 2003, NJIT signed an agreement with Metal Storm, which owns a patent for its Electronic Firing System that can be used in a handgun. Metal Storm's O'DwyerTM VLe® system is a unique, patented approach to firing projectiles.

Entirely electronic, the system utilizes preloaded barrels holding multiple projectiles that are fired by electronic ignition. For the first time, interchangeable and multiple barrels can be made available to fire a range of projectiles of varying calibers from the same handgun.

New Jersey Institute of Technology -

Metal Storm -

eXoNews Pix of the Week Dept.
Sugar Plum

Simone Clarke (L), who plays the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, adjusts her ballet shoe ribbons as she stands beside a guard before a party held by Britain's Duke of York for the ballet's cast at Buckingham Palace in London, December 14, 2004. (REUTERS/ Ben Gurr /The Times)

Muslim Rights in the USA

US attitudes influenced by war (AP)

Cornell University News Release

ITHACA NY December 17, 2004 - In a study to determine how much the public fears terrorism, almost half of respondents polled nationally said they believe the U.S. government should -- in some way -- curtail civil liberties for Muslim Americans, according to a new survey released by Cornell University.

About 27 percent of respondents said that all Muslim Americans should be required to register their location with the federal government, and 26 percent said they think that mosques should be closely monitored by U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Twenty-nine percent agreed that undercover law enforcement agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations, in order to keep tabs on their activities and fund raising. About 22 percent said the federal government should profile citizens as potential threats based on the fact that they are Muslim or have Middle Eastern heritage.

In all, about 44 percent said they believe that some curtailment of civil liberties is necessary for Muslim Americans.

Conversely, 48 percent of respondents nationally said they do not believe that civil liberties for Muslim Americans should be restricted.

The Media and Society Research Group, in Cornell's Department of Communication, commissioned the poll, which was supervised by the Survey Research Institute, in Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The results were based on 715 completed telephone interviews of respondents across the United States, and the poll has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.

The survey also examined the relation of religiosity to perceptions of Islam and Islamic countries among Christian respondents. Sixty-five percent of self-described highly religious people queried said they view Islam as encouraging violence more than other religions do; in comparison, 42 percent of the respondents who said they were not highly religious saw Islam as encouraging violence.

In addition, highly religious respondents also were more likely to describe Islamic countries as violent (64 percent), fanatical (61 percent) and dangerous (64 percent).

Fewer of the respondents who said they were not highly religious described Islamic countries as violent (49 percent), fanatical (46 percent) and dangerous (44 percent).

But 80 percent of all respondents said they see Islamic countries as being oppressive toward women.

"Our results highlight the need for continued dialogue about issues of civil liberties in time of war," says James Shanahan, Cornell associate professor of communication and a principal investigator in the study. Shanahan and Erik Nisbet, senior research associate with the ILR Survey Research Institute, commissioned the study, and Ron Ostman, professor of communication, and his students administered it.

Shanahan notes: "Most Americans understand that balancing political freedoms with security can sometimes be difficult. Nevertheless, while a majority of Americans support civil liberties even in these difficult times, and while more discussion about civil liberties is always warranted, our findings highlight that personal religiosity as well as exposure to news media are two important correlates of support for restrictions. We need to explore why these two very important channels of discourse may nurture fear rather than understanding."

Researchers found that opinions on restricting civil liberties for Muslim Americans vary by political self-identification. About 40 percent of Republican respondents agreed that Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts, compared with 24 percent of Democratic respondents and 17 percent of independents.

Forty-one percent of Republican respondents said that Muslim American civic groups should be infiltrated, compared with 21 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of independents.

Thirty-four percent of Republicans said that profiling
of Muslim Americans is necessary (Reuters)

On whether mosques should be monitored, about 34 percent of the Republicans polled agreed they should be, compared with 22 percent of Democrats. Thirty-four percent of Republicans said that profiling of Muslim Americans is necessary, compared with 17 percent of Democrats.

The survey also showed a correlation between television news-viewing habits, a respondent's fear level and attitudes toward restrictions on civil liberties for all Americans.

Respondents who paid a lot of attention to television news were more likely to favor restrictions on civil liberties, such as greater power for the government to monitor the Internet. Respondents who paid less attention to television news were less likely to support such measures.

"The more attention paid to television news, the more you fear terrorism, and you are more likely to favor restrictions on civil liberties," says Nisbet.

The full reports are available in PDF form:

Restrictions on Civil Liberties, Views of Islam, & Muslim Americans (PDF)

U.S. War on Terror, U.S. Foreign Policy, and Anti-Americanism (PDF)

The Media and Society Research Group -

Hitler's Back Taxes

"You gotta keep das loopholes open, Benito."

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN December 17, 2004 (Reuters) - Adolf Hitler spent years evading taxes and owed German authorities 405,000 Reichsmarks -- equivalent to $8 million today -- by the time his tax debts were forgiven soon after he took power, a researcher said on Friday.

Klaus-Dieter Dubon, a retired Bavarian notary and tax expert, said he found Hitler's tax records in a Munich archive. They show the Nazi dictator battled tax collectors for eight years before becoming chancellor in 1933.

"Hitler owed tax but didn't pay it, full stop," Dubon told Reuters on Friday. "He was constantly challenging tax office rulings on his income tax between 1925 and 1932, just like a common citizen. After taking power he didn't pay tax anymore."

Hitler's record as a dictator who started World War II and sent millions of people to their deaths in concentration camps is well known. But the unearthed records show a new, previously undocumented side to his life: as an ordinary tax evader.

Dubon found that Hitler earned 1.232 million Reichsmarks in 1933 from sales of "Mein Kampf" -- his book outlining his doctrine of German racial supremacy and ambitions to annex vast areas of the Soviet Union.

He should have paid tax on 600,000 Reichsmarks of that income but didn't, the researcher found.

Hitler, listed as an "author" in the tax office records, also challenged, delayed or begged permission to pay in installments taxes owed on income he got in preceding years for speeches.

"The 1.232 million Reichsmarks in income in 1933 is a fascinating number," said Dubon, 71.

"It was a huge income when you consider teachers then had annual salaries of 4,800 marks," he said. "As chancellor, Hitler only earned 44,000 Reichsmarks in 1933 but told the tax office he donated that to a charity for widows, which he didn't."


To lower his taxable income, Hitler resorted to many of the perfectly legal tax avoidance strategies that Germans still use extensively today. He tried to write off his new Mercedes in 1925 as a "company car." In one exchange with tax collectors Hitler described the car as "only a means to an end."

Hitler also later tried to get costs for a desk, book shelves, travel costs, a chauffeur and private secretary deducted from his income tax along with other "professional expenses."

"Hitler was always lodging formal objections and fought the tax office in an absolutely normal way," said Dubon. "Before 1933 it was a normal to and fro. He didn't care about their rulings."

Hitler's troubles with the Munich tax office suddenly vanished shortly after he took power in 1933.

The infamous 1933 Enabling Act gave Hitler dictatorial powers but also helped him win his battles with the Munich tax office for good. The office first declared Hitler liberated from income tax in 1934 and in 1935 absolved him of his past tax debt of 405,494 Reichsmarks.

"That was the end of his tax problems," Dubon said. "It was all legalized, more or less."

Dubon said the head of the Munich tax office, Ludwig Mirre, excused Hitler from paying tax only after first formally writing to him to ask permission. An assistant to Hitler wrote back to Mirre: "Herr Hitler accepts your proposal."

Mirre was promoted a month later to head of the German tax office and given a 41 percent pay rise.

"It's all so ridiculous," said Dubon. "But in a dictatorship everything the dictator does is correct."

3D Nebula!

Helix nebula (C. Robert O'Dell)

Vanderbilt University News Release

December 16, 2004 - In a process comparable to that of an artist who turns a two-dimensional canvas into a three-dimensional work of art, astronomers use the two dimensional images that they capture in their high-powered telescopes to reconstruct the three-dimensional structures of celestial objects.

The latest example of this reconstructive artistry is a new model of the Helix Nebula--one of the nearest and brightest of the planetary nebulae, which are the Technicolor clouds of dust and glowing gas produced by exploding stars. Efforts of this sort are providing important new insights into the process that stars like the sun go through just before their fiery deaths.

The analysis, published in the November issue of the Astronomical Journal, was conducted by a team of astronomers led by C. Robert O'Dell of Vanderbilt University. Combining sharp new images from the Hubble Space Telescope with the best ground-based optical and radio images and spectra, the astronomers have determined that the Helix Nebula is not, in fact, shaped in a snake-like coil as some earlier analyses had concluded. Instead of a helical shape, they have found that the nebula consists of inner and outer shells of dust and gas that are oriented at nearly 90 degrees from one another.

This new information has allowed the researchers to determine not only the relative positions of the nebula's major features, but also the speed and direction that the expanding dust and gas are moving. For example, they figured out why the larger disk is brighter on one side than on the other. It is because the nebula is moving through the interstellar medium, something like a boat plowing through water. In this case, however, the encounter compresses the colliding gases and causes them to glow more brightly than they do in other parts of the ring.

"Our new observations show that the previous model of the Helix was much too simple," O'Dell says. "About a year ago, we believed the Helix was a bagel shape, filled in the middle. Now we see that this filled bagel is just the inside of the object. A much larger disk, shaped like a washer, surrounds the filled bagel. This disk is oriented almost perpendicular to the bagel."

Team member Peter McCullough adds, "To visualize the Helix's geometry imagine a lens from a pair of glasses that was tipped at an angle to the frame's rim. That would be an odd-looking pair of glasses. Well, in the case of the Helix, finding a disk inclined at an angle to a ring would be a surprise. But that is, in fact, what we found." He and Margaret Meixner, both of the Space Telescope Science Institute, contributed to the study.

Astronomers suspect that these complex patterns hold important information about the conditions that existed in their progenitor stars before they exploded. "We still don't understand how you get such a shape," O'Dell says. "If we could explain how this shape was created, then we could explain the late stages of certain types of stars,"

Currently, scientists believe that several of a star's properties may influence the way in which dust and gas is ejected when it explodes. These include the star's speed and axis of rotation; the strength and axis of its magnetic field; and, the influence of a close companion star if it has one.

One group of astronomers argues that the gravitational influence of companion stars alone can produce these patterns and that a star's rotation and magnetic field are not important. Other scientists, however, contend that rotation, magnetic field and the influence of companion stars all play a role.

One way that astronomers classify planetary nebulae is by the number of axes that they contain. A non-polar nebula is one that has no axes: material is sloughed off the star uniformly to form a spherical cloud of dust and gas. A bipolar nebula is one that is created by ejecting material primarily in a flat disk perpendicular to a single axis of symmetry. Finally, a quadra-polar nebula possesses material expanding outward in two disks, each with a different orientation. The new study finds that the Helix nebula is quadra-polar. Space-based X-ray observations suggest that the Helix nebula was produced by a binary star system with the two stars so closely that they appear as a single image in optical telescopes. This suggests that the orientation of one disk may have been influenced by the orbit of the companion star and that the orientation of the other disk was determined by the dying star's spin axis or the axis of its magnetic field.

"The new model strengthens the argument that the star's rotation and magnetic field axes play a role because the proponents of the companion-star-only model can't explain quadra-polar patterns like this," says O'Dell.

Another discovery that surprised the researchers is that the two disks appear to have been formed at different times. The nebula's inner disk is expanding slightly faster than the outer disk leading the astronomers to estimate that the inner disk was formed about 6,600 years ago while the outer ring is about 12,000 years ago.

Why did the star expel matter at two different epochs, leaving a gap of 6,000 years? Right now, only the Helix Nebula knows the answer, the astronomers say.

Exploration, Vanderbilt's online research magazine -

Let Sleeping Jellyfish Lie!
An irukandji jellyfish, one of Australia's
poisonous jellyfish. (Lisa-Ann Gershwin)

BRISBANE Australia December 16, 2004 (AFP) - It may be deadly, but the small and highly poisonous box jellyfish that infests Australia's northern waters also likes a nap, researchers said.

The surprising discovery, the first time that jellyfish have apparently been found to sleep at all, emerged out of a groundbreaking survey intended to delve into the creature's private life, its spawning ground and night-time habits.

Researchers from James Cook University in Australia's northern city of Townsville found the creature typically goes to sleep about 3pm and carries on napping into the evening on the ocean floor, waking up with the dawn.

"I don't think anyone thought that jellyfish slept," jellyfish expert Jamie Seymour said.

"But the thing that was really mind-blowing is you can shine a light in their eyes when they're asleep, and you can wake them," said Seymour.

Seymour and fellow researcher Teresa Carrett discovered the information by placing small ultrasound transmitters in the bells of five of the jellyfish in waters off northern Queensland state, then following them with a microphone, photographing and filming them for 24 to 36 hours.

If roused, they would swim around angrily for three or four minutes before going back to sleep, Seymour said.

The box jellyfish is found in northern Australian waters between October and June each year and renders large stretches of the region's beautiful beaches unsuitable for swimming.

They can be up to 20 centimeters (eight inches) in length, with up to 15 tentacles and have caused up to 80 deaths in northern Australia in the past century.

Polymeal Cuts Heart Disease by 76%

Not bad: wine, fish, dark chocolate,
fruits and vegetables, almonds and
garlic (BMJ)

BMJ-British Medical Journal News Release

December 16, 2004 - Scientists in this week's Christmas issue of the BMJ have discovered the 'Polymeal', a set of ingredients which cuts the risk of heart (cardiovascular) disease by 76% and significantly increases life expectancy.

Results of dining on the Polymeal were most dramatic for men, who were projected to live on average 6.6 years longer in total than those not eating the meal. Men will also live for nine years longer without succumbing to heart disease, and those that do will suffer it for less years of their lives.

Women eating the Polymeal will also live significantly longer, nearly five years more than women not eating the meal. They will also put off the onset of heart disease for eight years longer.

The Polymeal includes wine, fish, dark chocolate, fruits and vegetables, almonds and garlic, eaten on a daily basis (but four times a week for fish). Scientists reviewed the medical literature on how much each ingredient cuts heart disease, blood pressure or cholesterol levels by varying amounts, (150ml wine daily for instance reduces heart disease by 32%) and worked out the combined effect of the ingredients. They then calculated the potential effect across an ongoing study of American adults.

The findings follow research last year (2003) into a 'Polypill', a combination of drugs taken in one dose which was designed to reduce heart disease by more than 80%. The authors of the Polymeal study were searching for a non-pharmaceutical alternative.

In Western society we are all at risk from the causes of cardiovascular disease, say the authors, and the diseases that accompany it. Following the Polymeal promises to be an effective, non-pharmacological, safe and tasty means to increasing life expectancy and reducing heart disease across the population, they conclude.

BMJ-British Medical Journal -

Miss Plastic Surgery?

Winner of China's Miss Artificial
Beauty pageant, 22 year old Feng
Qian, models a swimsuit at the
pageant in Beijing, December 18.
(REUTERS/ Reinhard Krause)

BEIJING December 18, 2004 (Reuters) - China chose its first Miss Artificial Beauty on Saturday, giving the crown to a 22-year-old from the northeastern city of Jilin who couldn't have done it without the help of her plastic surgeon.

Twenty contestants aged 17 to 62 competed in the final round of the "man-made beauty" pageant at a Beijing opera house, all having gone under the knife to improve their appearance. When the result was announced, it was a buoyant Feng Qian who had doctors to thank for four procedures that added a fold to her eyelids, liposuctioned fat from her belly, reshaped her cheeks, and injected botox to alter facial muscles.

Feng, wearing a flowing gold evening gown and a bright smile on her resculpted face, said she hoped the event would remove some of the stigma associated with plastic surgery.

"I hope this pageant will give a positive sign to the public," she said, adding that the secret of her victory was confidence.

Rising urban incomes have made extreme makeovers fashionable in China.
Many women are going under the knife in search of movie-star looks -- raising concern about the nation's rapidly growing, but unregulated plastic surgery business.

The first runner up, Zhang Shuang, also 22, from the southern city of Changsha, underwent 10 procedures -- more than any other contestant -- including fixing her eyelids, nose, ears, breasts and upper and lower jaw as well as softening her skin and removing body hair.

Shanghai's Cheng Lili, also 22, second runner up, had six procedures including nose and breast augmentations.

Organizers dreamt up the pageant after a contestant in a regular beauty contest in May was disqualified after it was discovered she had spent 110,000 yuan ($13,000) on improving her looks.

China banned beauty pageants after the Communists swept to power in 1949 and took decades to revive them. It first entered the Miss World Competition in 2001 -- but has hosted the pageant for the past two years on the southern island of Hainan.

Bush OKs Ozone-Depleting Pesticide
By John Heilprin
Associated Press

WASHINGTON December 17, 2004 (AP) — The Bush administration announced new rules Thursday to allow U.S. farmers who grow tomatoes, strawberries and other crops to continue using methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting pesticide that had been scheduled to be phased out worldwide next year.

The United States was among a dozen nations that won continued "critical use" exemptions from the phase-out at negotiations in Prague, Czech Republic last month. International negotiators granted the United States request to continue using the popular killer of insects and weeds at a rate of 37 percent, or 5,550 tons, of the 15,000 tons used in 1991.

The new rules take effect on Jan. 1 and allow most of the methyl bromide to be used by producers and importers of crops, with the rest allotted to distributors and other users.

Agency officials said in a statement the rules they were putting in place represent "the most simple and least burdensome option."

But in 2006, the United States may have to scale back to 27 percent, or 4,050 tons, at the insistence of international negotiators for meeting the goals of the United Nations' 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Environmentalists say the United States habitually asks for far more than it needs and should not be seeking continued exemptions.

"Catering to a handful of big chemical and agribusiness interests, the Bush administration is actually expanding the use of this dangerous, ozone-destroying chemical," said David Doniger, a policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Enter The International Science Fiction Competition

Author Arthur C. Clarke (AP)

European Space Agency News Release

December 13, 2004 - Budding writers and artists have another opportunity to describe their vision of the future in space in the 2005 Clarke-Bradbury International Science Fiction competition. In 2003 the first competition received 104 entries from 36 countries.

Organized by the Swiss Maison d'Ailleurs (House of Elsewhere) and the OURS Foundation, under the auspices of ESA’s Technology Transfer and Promotion Office, the competition is designed to promote innovative ideas for future space technologies and to encourage young people’s interest in science and technology.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," said Arthur C. Clarke who together with another famous science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, gave his name to the contest.

Clarke and Bradbury have inspired generations of space scientists and explorers with their extraordinary science fiction stories.

This year a specific theme has been selected: the space elevator. Writers and artists of all ages are invited to submit a short story of no more than 2500 words, a piece of artwork, or both, describing or depicting a space elevator and its technology.

The space elevator, also known as a
spacebridge, is a physical connection
from the surface of the Earth, or another
planetary body such as Mars, to at least
geostationary orbit. Currently it is
conceived as a carbon nanotube ribbon
stretching some 100 000 km from Earth
to space. The elevator will be anchored to
an offshore sea platform near the equator
in the Pacific Ocean, and to a small
counterweight in space. Mechanical
lifters will move up and down the ribbon,
carrying such items as satellites, solar
power systems and, eventually, people
into space. (Erkki Halkka)

"For the first competition we received many very good stories," says ESA's David Raitt, one of the organizers and judges. "It was interesting to see the diversity of ideas these young writers demonstrated in their stories." Recently ESA published a selection of last year’s entries in a book entitled Tales of Innovation and Imagination.

Continual technological progress means that ideas that were once wild speculation may now be within the bounds of feasibility. Raitt adds, "maybe some of the visions we will receive in this competition, pure science fiction today, will become reality within the next 20 to 30 years".

Take the theme of this year’s contest: the 'space elevator'. The first idea could be said to date back to the English fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk written around 1820. In 1895, the famous Russian scientist, mathematician and science fiction writer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, was inspired by a trip to the Eiffel Tower to imagine a tower reaching up to orbital altitude. Another scheme for a space tower, using a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, was presented in 1960 by another Russian scientist, Yuri Artsutanov.

Writer Arthur C. Clarke brought the idea up to date in his 1979 novel The Fountains Of Paradise, which has crews and cargo riding elevators up the tower into space. Since then there have been a number of studies, most notably by David Smitherman of NASA and Brad Edwards, now at Carbon Designs Inc.

One of the major obstacles to creating a space elevator is finding the right material because as yet there is nothing strong enough and sufficiently light. One possible solution, even if not yet ready, is the use of carbon nanotubes.

One current idea is to use these to create a 100,000 km ribbon stretching up into space, on which mechanical lifters could travel to release payloads into orbit at diverse points. The system could be comprised of various components: an initial spacecraft, the ribbon, mechanical lifters, power beaming facility, anchor platform and tracking facility.

Given the pace of development, the most optimistic prognosis is that a space elevator could be built within the next few decades or so. Once in operation it would simplify voyages into space and possibly reduce today’s high launch costs.

This competition is open to space and science fiction enthusiasts from all nations. The entries, which must be in English, will be judged by an international jury and assessed using the following criteria:

  • technology: convincing use
  • imagination: innovative ideas and the ability to think ‘outside the box’
  • structure: development of storyline, plot, characters
  • skill: clarity of expression, style, degree of realism
  • visualization: convincing depiction of the space elevator

The closing date for entries is 28 February 2005.

Anyone interested in giving the competition a try can find out more on the ITSF website or contact:

Dr David Raitt
Senior Technology Transfer Officer
Technology Transfer and Promotion Office
European Space Agency, ESTEC, The Netherlands



Genre News: Ursula K. Le Guin Earthsea Battle, Charmed, Pt. Pleasant, WGA TV Nominations & More!

Ursula K. Le Guin - the author denounces!

The Earthsea Battle!
By FLAtRich

December 18, 2004 (eXoNews) - Some of you know by now that Sci Fi Channel's much-hyped mini-series adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's classic Earthsea books didn't float with the author.

Personally, I found the mini-series (which is TV-speak for two-part TV movie in this case) surprisingly lightweight and predictable for something based on Le Guin.

I don't really remember the 30-year-old Le Guin books, but I have read enough Le Guin to know that she is usually far deeper and more delightful than what I found in the Sci Fi movie.

The plot was so full of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings clones that I began to wonder if Potter's author had been a Le Guin fan. In fact, Sci Fi's Earthsea contained just about every swords and sorcery cliché imaginable.

Shawn Ashmore as Ged

By the final hour I was willing to let my VCR take over and watch the ending later.

It wasn't all bad, but basically a yawner.

Actor Shawn Ashmore did well as Ged (not his true name, according to Le Guin), leading the cast through enlightenment and quest (finding his destiny and piecing together the lost amulet to destroy the big bads), light and dark battle with an evil guy who looked like Darth Vader without the helmet (same voice too), magic school (straight out of Potter, with Chris Gauthier as his likeable Rings-like overweight sidekick) and all the rest.

Danny Glover was wasted as Ashmore's wizard mentor Ogion and so, ironically were the three female leads basically relegated to minimal familiar characterizations done often and better in many episodes of the Kevin Sorbo Hercules TV series (also shown on Sci Fi.)

Ironic because Ursula K. Le Guin is just about the most powerful and respected woman writer in the genre, of course.

Kristin Kreuk as Tenar

Jennifer Calvert lead the slighted ladies as the bad priestess sleeping with the bad king (Sebastian Roche) and poisoning head reverend mother Thar (Isabella Rossellini) while trying to thwart Ged's true love priestess Tenar (Kristin Kreuk).

Le Guin has disowned the Sci Fi movie completely as a "Clorox" atrocity. She kept quiet before the airing due to contractual obligations, but has since blasted the production on various websites.

Here is the aftermath, beginning with Sci Fi Wire's take on the battle and followed by a link to the full Ursula K. Le Guin criticism.

Le Guin Blasts SCI FI's Earthsea

Oregon December 17, 2004 (Sci Fi Wire) - Ursula K. Le Guin, the best-selling SF writer and author of the beloved Earthsea series, has gone on the record blasting SCI FI Channel's recent adaptation of her books, Legend of Earthsea, which premiered earlier this week to record ratings.

Averaging 3.7 million viewers per night - big for
basic cable but only a drop in the barrel for the rest
of the TV ocean. (Sci Fi)

In commentaries on and elsewhere, Le Guin has called the four-hour miniseries "A Whitewashed Earthsea" and said that "SCI FI Channel wrecked my books."

Among other things, Le Guin complains that the miniseries, produced by Robert Halmi Sr. and directed by Robert Lieberman, changed the races of key characters and misinterpreted themes and events in her books.

"The books, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, which were published more than 30 years ago, are about two young people finding out what their power, their freedom and their responsibilities are," Le Guin writes in Slate. "I don't know what the film is about. It's full of scenes from the story, arranged differently, in an entirely different plot, so that they make no sense."

Le Guin sold the rights to her books to the producers, and the deal gave her a "consultant" credit on the project. But she says she had virtually no input into the final product, which was adapted for the screen by screenwriter Gavin Scott (The Mists of Avalon).

Le Guin earlier took issue with comments by Lieberman in SCI FI Magazine, in which he attempted to interpret Le Guin's intentions in the books. Le Guin wrote on her official Web site that Lieberman put words into her mouth that missed the point of her books.

In response to Le Guin's comments, SCI FI Channel issued this statement: "We respect Ms. Le Guin's right to voice her opinion and we understand her frustrations. However, adapting two major novels down to four hours of television is highly challenging and requires significant reworking. That being said, we stand by the creative decisions we took in the spirit of her wonderful books and which made our miniseries the top entertainment program on cable over two nights, with over 13 million viewers."

Earthsea was a ratings hit on SCI FI Channel in its premiere on Dec. 13 and 14.

[With an average 3.2 rating (3.7 million viewers) in the two nights of its premiere, which is big for basic cable but only a drop in the barrel for the rest of the TV ocean. Not sure how this adds up to the "over 13 million viewers" claimed above, but that's show business. Ed.]

Read What Le Guin Said
By FLAtRich

December 18, 2004 (eXoNews) - There's more to this story. Although Sci Fi does get some points for acknowledging the author's objections to the dumbed down version of her classics they seem to have left out the reason they got away with turning Earthsea into a Harry Potter sequel.

Even if you never read the Earthsea books (Sci Fi was apparently counting on that), and although you may like the actors (we are Smallville fans here too), you should read exactly what Ursula K. Le Guin had to say about Sci Fi's mangled Earthsea mini-series in her essay Earthsea in Clorox - and don't worry, fans, she doesn't blame Kristin Kreuk or Danny Glover. [Thanks for the link, Felicia and Anne. Ed.]

Earthsea in Clorox by Ursula K. Le Guin -

Official Ursula K. Le Guin site -

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

Rose McGowan

Charmed McGowan As Ann-Margret
By Nellie Andreeva

LOS ANGELES December 16, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Rose McGowan ("Charmed") is in negotiations to star in the CBS miniseries "Elvis," a biopic of the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

McGowan will play Ann-Margret, Elvis Presley's co-star in the 1964 film "Viva Las Vegas," whose romance with the King during and after the making of the film created a stir and put a strain on his relationship with future wife Priscilla Beaulieu.

Ann-Margret, an Oscar-nominated actress and accomplished singer who was often referred as the female Elvis for her energetic performances, went on to become lifelong friends with Presley, with the two sending each other gifts and attending each other's shows until his death in 1977. She also attended Presley's funeral in Memphis.

CBS has yet to cast Elvis, despite a nationwide talent search. Randy Quaid was previously tapped to play Presley's manager "Colonel" Tom Parker.

[I like McGowen, but can she sing??? Ed.]

Charmed Official -,7353,||156,00.html

Buffy Bad to Point Pleasant - Zane to Charmed - Ben Browder to SG-1
By Kate O'Hare

Adam Busch

LOS ANGELES December 17, 2004 ( Adam Busch, who played the nefarious geek Warren Meers on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" -- and was seen most recently as acerbic court bailiff Steve Dixon in the short-lived FOX series "The Jury" -- returns to FOX in time for February sweeps.

Busch (also the frontman of the band Common Rotation) has signed on for at least three episodes of the new supernatural drama "Point Pleasant," executive-produced by former "Buffy" exec Marti Noxon, whose last FOX series, "Still Life," never aired.

"Point Pleasant," however, is set to premiere after "American Idol" on Wednesday, Jan. 19, then airs Thursdays after "The O.C.," starting Jan. 20.

Busch begins in the show's third episode, playing Wes, an apprentice working with the mysterious and charismatic Thomas Boyd (Grant Show).

Billy Zane

Boyd has come to the seaside New Jersey town of Point Pleasant to insinuate himself into the life of teenage Christina (Elizabeth Harnois). The daughter of the Devil and a mortal woman, Christina washed up on the shores of Point Pleasant, which has become the battleground for her soul and those of its inhabitants.

Ben Browder

In other genre casting news, Billy Zane has signed on to a three-episode guest stint on The WB's "Charmed," which begins on Sunday, Feb. 13. He plays Drake, a poetry-spouting demon that made a deal with a sorcerer to become human for a year, and now his time is almost up.

There's also talk that Phoebe (Alyssa Milano), who was once married to the half-demon/half-human Cole (Julian McMahon), may like the looks of Drake as well.

Also, Ben Browder, star of Sci Fi Channel's "Farscape" series and miniseries, has signed onto the upcoming ninth season of Sci Fi's successful "Stargate SG-1." It's still unclear whether current lead Richard Dean Anderson will return for season nine.

The remaining season-eight episodes of "Stargate SG-1" start airing on Friday, Jan. 21, at 8 p.m. ET. It's followed by new episodes of the freshman hit "Stargate Atlantis" and the first regular season of "Battlestar Galactica," which premiered as a miniseries in 2003.

Stargate SG-1 -

Mick Does TV
By Kimberly Speight

LOS ANGELES December 17, 2004 (Hollywood Reporter) - Rolling Stone Mick Jagger's production company is developing a new series titled "Being" with cable channel A&E Network.

Each hourlong episode of "Being" will be in the vein of the 2001 documentary "Being Mick," in which Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald ("One Day in September") followed Jagger around the world as he recorded a solo album, produced a movie, played with his kids and hung out with celebrities.

"Being" will profile a single celebrity -- including musicians, actors, athletes and newsmakers -- in an up-close, all-access look at what it's like to be a star. The cameras will follow the subjects to such locations as movie and TV show sets, recording studios or star-studded parties as well as more intimate moments in their lives with friends and family.

Jagger is executive producing, while Victoria Pearman -- who runs his Jagged Films banner -- is producing.

"The viewer will really feel the intimacy (of being with the celebrity) and have access with them in their home, recording studio -- wherever they might be," A&E senior vp programing Bob DeBitetto said. "It does require the talent allowing a level of access they are not used to."

DeBitetto added that "Being," which will likely debut sometime in 2006, will not feature the "traditional" style of storytelling that most shows in the biography genre employ.

"One of the things we're working hard on is trying to explore new ways of telling biography stories that feel fresh and hopefully will be more attractive to young adults," DeBitetto said. "We think 'Biography' was groundbreaking for its time and hope this will be viewed as a groundbreaking way of showcasing famous people today -- it's the evolution of how we approach the genre."

For example, each episode will focus on the celebrity's present-day life rather than feature the typical birth-to-present style of storytelling and will have more of a cinema verite feel than traditional biography programs, he said.

DeBitetto added that the show will likely include a range of celebrities, including those who appeal to younger audiences as well as older ones.

The series is part of the network's strategy to skew younger and bring in more viewers in its target demos of adults 25-54 and 18-49. A&E already has made headway with such hit series as "Airline," "Growing Up Gotti" and "Dog the Bounty Hunter," resulting in increased primetime ratings in those demos along with a five-year drop in its median viewer age, to 51, compared with a year ago.

Jagged Films also produced the World War II intelligence thriller "Enigma," starring Kate Winslet.

Rolling Stones Official -

Todd Holland and Bryan Fuller's
short-lived series Wonderfalls (Fox)

57th Annual Writers Guild Awards TV Nominees
By FLAtRich

LOS ANGELES AND NEW YORK December 15, 2004 (eXoNews) - Finally! A TV awards list without so-called "reality shows"! Unfortunately also without any of your favorite genre shows as the WGA drama nominees prove that WGA members are just as conservative as their Oscar counterparts.

Not that I have anything against The West Wing, but where are the nominations for Lost and Desperate Housewives and Boston Legal?

The Writer's Guild Awards are somewhat less political than the Oscars, as the recognition is by scribes for scribes, but winning a WGA award can lead to better things for starving writers.

Among the less common faces, Todd Holland and Bryan Fuller's quickly aborted gem Wonderfalls did make it into the comedy nominees.

William H. Macy in his production
of The Wool Cap for TNT

So did at least one TV movie I liked, and if you didn't see William H. Macy and Keke Palmer in Macy's take on Jackie Gleason's Gigot, aka The Wool Cap on TNT, I recommend you tune in for the rerun.

The nominations indicate that the only daytime soap to watch now is The Guiding Light, an early winner as there were no others in that category. BTW, GL is now rated TV14 and includes Doug Hutchinson as "Sebastian, son of the legendary Roger Thorpe." X-philes will remember Doug as slimy Eugene Tooms.

We have no word from our sponsor, so without further babble here are the 2004 WGA TV Noms:

EPISODIC DRAMA — any length — one airing time

MEMORIAL DAY (The West Wing), Written by John Sacret Young & Josh Singer; NBC
THE SUPREMES (The West Wing), Written by Debora Cahn; NBC
FALLING INTO PLACE (Six Feet Under), Written by Craig Wright; HBO
LONG TERM PARKING (The Sopranos), Written by Terence Winter; HBO

EPISODIC COMEDY — any length — one airing time

SPLAT! (Sex and the City), Written by Jenny Bicks and Cindy Chupack; HBO
PIER PRESSURE (Arrested Development), Written by Jim Vallely & Mitchell Hurwitz; Fox
THE ICK FACTOR (Sex and the City), Written by Julie Rottenberg & Elisa Zuritsky; HBO
PILOT (Wonderfalls), Teleplay by Bryan Fuller, Story By Todd Holland & Bryan Fuller; Fox
IDA'S BOYFRIEND (Malcolm in the Middle), Written by Neil Thompson; Fox

LONG FORM — ORIGINAL — over one hour — one or two parts, one or two airing times

REDEMPTION, Written by J.T. Allen; FX
SOMETHING THE LORD MADE, Written by Peter Silverman and Robert Caswell; HBO
SPINNING BORIS, Written by Yuri Zeltser & Cary Bickley; Showtime

LONG FORM — ADAPTED — over one hour — one or two parts, one or two airing times

CAVEDWELLER, Screenplay by Anne Meredith, Based upon the novel by Dorothy Allison; Showtime
THE WOOL CAP, Teleplay by William H. Macy & Steven Schachter, Based upon the original story "Gigot" written by Jackie Gleason; TNT
ANGELS IN AMERICA, Teleplay by Tony Kushner, Based on the play by Tony Kushner; HBO

Doug as Sebastian in The
Guiding Light (CBS)

ANIMATION — any length — one airing time

TODAY I AM A CLOWN (The Simpsons), Written by Joel H. Cohen; Fox
FRAUDCAST NEWS (The Simpsons), Written by Don Payne; Fox
STARCROSSED (Justice League), Written by Rich Fogel, John Ridley, Dwayne McDuffie, Story by Rich Fogel; Cartoon Network
MILHOUSE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (The Simpsons), Written by Julie Chambers & David Chambers; Fox
CATCH ‘EM IF YOU CAN (The Simpsons), Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham; Fox



COMEDY/VARIETY — (including talk) SERIES





A SEPARATE PEACE, Teleplay by Wendy Kesselman, Based on the Novel by John Knowles; SHOWTIME
A WRINKLE IN TIME, Teleplay by Susan Shilliday, Based on the Novel by Madeleine L'Engle; ABC


FROM CHINA WITH LOVE (Frontline), Written by Michael J. Kirk; PBS


EMMA GOLDMAN (American Experience), Written by Mel Bucklin; PBS
RECONSTRUCTION, PART 1 (American Experience), Telescript by Llewellyn M. Smith, Story by Elizabeth Deane & Patricia Garcia Rios; PBS
RFK (American Experience), Written by David Grubin; PBS
THE FIGHT (American Experience), Written by Barak Goodman; PBS
OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING (Broadway: The American Musical — Episode 4), Written by Jo Ann Young; PBS
REVOLUTIONARIES (They Made America), Telescript by Carl Charlson, Story by Harold Evans; PBS


THE REAGAN FUNERAL (ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings)


CHANGE OF HEART (60 Minutes II), Written by Rebecca Peterson & Scott Pelley; CBS
HOMES FOR THE HOMELESS (UPN 9 News), Written by Jacqueline M. Calayag; WWOR
MARTHA STEWART (60 Minutes II), Written by Barbara Dury & Morley Safer; CBS

WGA Awards Official Site -

Click here for last week's Genre News!

Paperback books by Rich La Bonté - Free e-previews!