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Comic Books!
Dark Energy! Earth Invades!
Spam News! Loons! Stress Good!
Firefly DVD Arrives & More!
Comic Books are Back!
Ohio December 12 2003 (AP) - Old-time comics are back!

Thanks in part to Mark Thompson and other publishers who have tapped into the vintage funnies market. Thompson's Checker Book Publishing finds old comics and comic strips, secures the rights to reprint them, gives them a computer-brushed makeover and packages them in paperback form.

He sells them to comics stores, bookstores and peddles them online.

Checker, founded in 2001, is one of the few companies that devotes itself to reprinting the older, classic comics, said Calvin Reid, comics editor at Publisher's Weekly.

Smaller companies may do the same thing but without Checker's wide distribution, he said.

Industry giants Marvel Comics and DC Comics also reprint some of their classics, recognizing the demand from an older generation trying to salvage the artifacts of its youth.

"It's an exploration of the American culture in the broadest sense. And if people don't collect and publish this stuff, it's lost forever," comics historian and author Robert Harvey said.

Reid said that while comic books still make up less than one percent of bookstore sales, they are the fastest-growing category.

"This is opening up American audiences to notions that comics can be like anything, like any book," he said. "In the last five years or so, the book industry has started to pay attention."

Checker operates out of this Dayton suburb with three employees and a part-time intern. Comic books are scattered on the tops of folding tables, while paperback reprints stand on a display shelf. A few computers and drafting tables fill out the office. The 36-year-old Thompson, who often wears blue jeans and a flannel shirt to work, named the company after his cat.

Most Checker reprints are science fiction or adventure comics.

This fall, the company released vintage reprints of Steve Canyon, the blond-haired, square-jawed Air Force pilot. Reprints of Flash Gordon and Dick Tracy also recently came out.

"They are reprinting some of the most highly regarded and acclaimed comics writers," Reid said. "Some of the books they do may not be the most famous, but they are of quality that they know there will be a demand for."

Steve Canyon, which appeared from 1947 to 1988, was created by Milton Caniff. At the height of its popularity it was carried by 600 newspapers. However, papers began dropping the strip because of protests against the Vietnam War, Harvey said.

Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books also reprints vintage comics along with publishing news ones.

"There has been a new generation of comic-art fans that have rediscovered this stuff," said Eric Reynolds, editor and marketing director.

Last year, Fantagraphics reprinted Krazy Kat, a cat in love with a mouse that didn't return the affection. All 10 000 copies sold out in four months. The company has reprinted Little Orphan Annie and plans to reprint Peanuts next year.

US retailers sold about 100 million graphic novels - collections of serialized comics, current or classic, in book form - in 2002, up from 75 million in 2001, according to ICv2, a consulting company in Madison, Wisconsin, that follows the industry.

Thompson wouldn't disclose Checker's sales figures but said they doubled last year from the year before.

At the end of 2002, the company had four books in print. It currently has nine out, with 10 more due in the next four months.

"It's pretty much picking the right books," Thompson said. "The stuff that we explore varies from marginally easy to get to completely impossible to get. Sometimes we just get plain lucky."

After making inquiries at the Cincinnati Public Library, he discovered the works of Winsor McCay, a newspaper cartoonist who worked in Cincinnati and New York and produced the Little Nemo strip in the early 1900s. Thompson expected to get microfilm, which is more difficult to reprint. However, the library had kept bound, printed editions of McCay's strips in the basement.

"I got the books, and they had about an inch thick of dust on them," Thompson recalled.

The comics are scanned into a computer, which removes yellowing and blotches. Black-and-white comics can be colorized but Thompson likes to remain faithful to how they originally appeared.

It usually takes a month to reproduce the comics into a book format and about three months to print the books. The paperbacks are usually sold for $15 to $20 apiece, although some cost as much as $30.

Checker's customers include both collectors and casual readers from 16 to 60. Thompson has filled orders from Italy, Sweden, Norway, Brazil and Spain.

William Avitt, 23, said he often buys paperback reprints of recent comics and would be interested in some of the classics. "They don't have superhero comics in the funny pages anymore," he said as he browsed at Mavericks comics store in nearby Kettering.

Avitt, dressed in a black Superman T-shirt and ball cap, said buying paperbacks can be cheaper than purchasing individual comics and saves him from having to wait a week for each new installment.

Dennis Murphy, 29, said reprinting old comics introduces them to new audiences - children.

"They need to do anything they can to keep this stuff going," he said, looking over the new comics.

Thompson, who had been working at a newspaper, decided to begin publishing comic books in 1993, when his research showed there were 10,000 comic book stores. But by the time his first book came out, in 1996, only about 2 000 stores remained. He noticed an interest in older, vintage comics and so went for that niche.

He came up with a wish list of 900 comic books and strips and began contacting people who owned the rights. He said owners receive a cash advance and a percentage of sales, near the industry standard of five percent.

Harry Guyton, Caniff's nephew and executor of his estate, said he agreed to the reprints because the strips don't do anyone any good just sitting on the shelf.

"We have tried to keep Milton's name alive," Guyton said. "Steve Canyon was a hero to a lot of people. We just want to bring it back."

[Star Trek: The Original Series Fans take note - Checker will re-publish Star Trek: The Key Collection in March 2004. See Checker press release below. Ed.]

Star Trek "Key Collection" Announced by Checker

Original 1960s-1970s Comics to be Re-Issued in Paperback

Checker Book Publishing Group and Paramount Pictures Corporation have announced an licensing agreement under which Checker will reprint the original Star Trek comics in a series of trade paperbacks beginning in March 2004.

Star Trek comics debuted in 1967, the same year the original television series premiered, and continued on an irregular serial schedule until 1979 under Western Publishing’s Gold Key imprint (newsprint paperback collections dubbed The Enterprise Logs“ were also offered in the 1970s). The comics feature the original Enterprise crew (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott) in adventures available nowhere else.

Eventually, sixty issues full-color issues would be published, and Checker’s first collection will include issues one through eight, featuring art by Nevio Zaccara (1,2) and Alberto Giolitti (3-8). Though writing credits on the first eight issues were not given, subsequent writers for these rare comics gems included Len Wein, George Kashdan and Doug Drexler.

Checker Book Publishing -

Dark Energy - Is It?

European Space Agency Press Release

December 12, 2003 - ESA's X-ray observatory, XMM-Newton, has returned tantalizing new data about the nature of the Universe. In a survey of distant clusters of galaxies, XMM-Newton has found puzzling differences between today's clusters of galaxies and those present in the Universe around seven thousand million years ago. Some scientists claim that this can be interpreted to mean that the 'dark energy' which most astronomers now believe dominates the Universe simply does not exist…

Observations of eight distant clusters of galaxies, the furthest of which is around 10 thousand million light years away, were studied by an international group of astronomers led by David Lumb of ESA's Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands. They compared these clusters to those found in the nearby Universe. This study was conducted as part of the larger XMM-Newton Omega Project, which investigates the density of matter in the Universe under the lead of Jim Bartlett of the College de France.

Clusters of galaxies are prodigious emitters of X-rays because they contain a large quantity of high-temperature gas. This gas surrounds galaxies in the same way as steam surrounds people in a sauna. By measuring the quantity and energy of X-rays from a cluster, astronomers can work out both the temperature of the cluster gas and also the mass of the cluster.

Theoretically, in a Universe where the density of matter is high, clusters of galaxies would continue to grow with time and so, on average, should contain more mass now than in the past.

Most astronomers believe that we live in a low-density Universe in which a mysterious substance known as 'dark energy' accounts for 70% of the content of the cosmos and, therefore, pervades everything. In this scenario, clusters of galaxies should stop growing early in the history of the Universe and look virtually indistinguishable from those of today.

In a paper soon to be published by the European journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, astronomers from the XMM-Newton Omega Project present results showing that clusters of galaxies in the distant Universe are not like those of today. They seem to give out more X-rays than today. So clearly, clusters of galaxies have changed their appearance with time.

In an accompanying paper, Alain Blanchard of the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de l'Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées and his team use the results to calculate how the abundance of galaxy clusters changes with time. Blanchard says, "There were fewer galaxy clusters in the past."

Such a result indicates that the Universe must be a high-density environment, in clear contradiction to the 'concordance model,' which postulates a Universe with up to 70% dark energy and a very low density of matter. Blanchard knows that this conclusion will be highly controversial, saying, "To account for these results you have to have a lot of matter in the Universe and that leaves little room for dark energy."

To reconcile the new XMM-Newton observations with the concordance models, astronomers would have to admit a fundamental gap in their knowledge about the behavior of the clusters and, possibly, of the galaxies within them. For instance, galaxies in the faraway clusters would have to be injecting more energy into their surrounding gas than is currently understood. That process should then gradually taper off as the cluster and the galaxies within it grow older.

No matter which way the results are interpreted, XMM-Newton has given astronomers a new insight into the Universe and a new mystery to puzzle over. As for the possibility that the XMM-Newton results are simply wrong, they are in the process of being confirmed by other X-ray observations. Should these return the same answer, we might have to rethink our understanding of the Universe.


It's About Time Dept.: Cellphone Snapshot Ban
BUDAPEST December 12, 2003 (Reuters) - Hungary moved Thursday to stop users of new camera mobile phones from taking and sending snapshots of people without their permission.

Hungary's data protection ombudsman ruled that mobile users transmitting pictures of people who are unaware of being photographed could be liable to prosecution -- as could the mobile service providers.

Ombudsman Attila Peterfalvi said he started an investigation after one of Hungary's three mobile providers ran an advertisement saying: "If you see a good-looking girl or guy on the street, don't hesitate to share the aesthetic experience with your friends via MMS."

Mobile phones, kitted out with small cameras used in multimedia messaging (MMS), are selling fast in Hungary, where mobile penetration is a high 75.2 percent.

"...taking and transmitting recordings without legal or personal accord is unlawful data handling and can lead to civil, or in some cases penal, responsibility," Peterfalvi said.

Regulators around the world are trying to get to grips with the spread of camera phones and their invasion of privacy.

The phones, with their tiny, discrete lens and ready access to the Internet, have prompted fears that voyeurs could take advantage of this new technology.

South Korea's telecommunications minister recently decreed that all camera phones must emit a beep of at least 65 decibels when taking a photo, even when the phone was in silent mode.
Bug Eats Radioactive Waste

US Department of Energy Press Release

WASHINGTON DC December 11, 2003 – Department of Energy-funded researchers have decoded and analyzed the genome of a bacterium with the potential to bioremediate radioactive metals and generate electricity.

In an article published in the December 12th issue of Science, researchers at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, report that Geobacter sulfurreducens possesses extraordinary capabilities to transport electrons and "reduce" metal ions as part of its energy-generating metabolism.

"The genome of this tiny microorganism may help us to address some of our most difficult cleanup problems and to generate power through biologically-based energy sources," Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said.

"Geobacter is an important part of Nature's toolbox for meeting environmental and energy challenges.

"This genome sequence and the additional research that it makes possible may lead to new strategies and biotechnologies for cleaning up groundwater at DOE and at industry sites."

The contamination of groundwater with radionuclides and metals is one of the most challenging environmental problems at Department of Energy former nuclear weapons production sites.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have previously found that Geobacter species can precipitate a wide range of radionuclides and metals (including uranium, technetium and chromium) from groundwater, preventing them from migrating to wells or rivers where they may pose a risk to humans and the environment.

The analysis of the genome sequence revealed a number of capacities that had not been previously suspected from past research on this microbe. "We've provided a comprehensive picture that has led to fundamental changes in how scientists evaluate this microbe," said Barbara Methe, the TIGR researcher who led the genome project and is the first author of the Science paper. "Research based on genome data has shown that this microbe can sense and move towards metallic substances, and in some cases can survive in environments with oxygen." G. sulfurreducens was previously thought to be an anaerobic organism.

The other main project collaborator was Derek Lovley, a professor of microbiology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who discovered the Geobacter family of bacteria and has led projects to assess their biology and their potential for bioremediation. Lovley said, "Sequencing the genome of Geobacter sulfurreducens has radically changed our concepts of how this organism functions in subsurface environments." The genome analysis, he said, "revealed previously unsuspected physiological properties" of the bacterium and also gave scientists insight into the metabolic mechanisms that the organism uses to harvest energy from the environment.

Geobacter reduces metal ions in a chemical process during which electrons are added to the ions. As a result, the metals become less soluble in water and precipitate into solids, which are more easily removed. Small charges of electricity are also created through the reduction process. Geobacter is also of interest to the Department of Energy because of its potential to create an electrical current in a "bio-battery."

Geobacter microbes are widely distributed in nature and are commonly found in subsurface environments contaminated with radionuclides and metals. Researchers have demonstrated that if they "feed" the microbes simple carbon sources such as acetate they will grow faster and precipitate more radionuclides and metals. These findings are now serving as the basis for a test of a bioremediation strategy aimed at removing uranium from groundwater at a Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action site near Rifle, Colorado.

More information on NABIR is available at  and on the Microbial Genome Program at

Earth Invades Other Planets!
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Science Editor

Cardiff November 10, 2003 (BBC) - Astronomers may have shown how microbes from Earth could be spread throughout the galaxy taking life to other worlds. Scientists at Armagh Observatory and Cardiff University say bacteria could get into space on rocks blasted off the planet by an asteroid or comet impact.

Their calculations then indicate the microbes would eventually leak out of our Solar System to seed other regions.

The work is reported in two independent papers published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The implication of the papers is that life could be widespread throughout the galaxy and may not have originated on our planet.

The research advances the case for modern-day panspermia - the controversial idea that life started elsewhere in space and came to Earth when it was young.

Dr Max Wallis and Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University calculate how debris from Earth, thrown into space as a result of a giant impact, would become incorporated in the frozen outer layers of comets.

Eventually, after hundreds of millions of years, some of these comets would reach the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt - a region inhabited by small worlds made of rock and ice.

Because comets gradually leak into interstellar space from this region, some would eventually reach clouds of gas and dust that are new planetary systems in formation. In these systems, the trapped microbes would be liberated and, if the conditions were right, introduce life on to the surfaces of primitive planets.

Wallis and Wickramasinghe are encouraged in their belief that microbes can survive on such a journey for hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years, by recent discoveries of microbes that have survived for similar periods encased in rock in the Earth.

Their detailed calculations suggest that between a few kilograms and perhaps a ton of material containing microbes could be passed from our Solar System to others. They say that one kg of "spore-bearing material is plenty for seeding a new planetary system with life".

In another paper in the same journal, Bill Napier, of Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, suggests an alternative way life could travel from Earth out among the stars.

Ejected rocks containing microbes would be eroded when in our Solar System, he says. When they had been reduced to a certain size, the resulting grains of rock would be pushed away by the pressure of sunlight.

Because of this, Napier believes that our Solar System is surrounded by an expanding "biosphere" of dormant microbes preserved inside rock fragments.

In the course of Earth history, Napier says, there must have been many encounters with gas and dust clouds in the process of forming stars during which microbes from Earth will have been included.

The researchers say the implications of their work are obvious and profound.

Wherever it started, life could have spread across the Milky Way on timescales that are short compared with the 10-billion-year estimated age of our galaxy.

This means, they claim, that life must be widespread throughout our star system and that it is unlikely to have originated on Earth.

Earthlike Planets Commonplace?


December 10, 2003 - Astrobiologists disagree about whether advanced life is common or rare in our universe. But new research suggests that one thing is pretty certain - if an Earthlike world with significant water is needed for advanced life to evolve, there could be many candidates.

In 44 computer simulations of planet formation near a sun, astronomers found that each simulation produced one to four Earthlike planets, including 11 so-called "habitable" planets about the same distance from their stars as Earth is from our sun.

"Our simulations show a tremendous variety of planets. You can have planets that are half the size of Earth and are very dry, like Mars, or you can have planets like Earth, or you can have planets three times bigger than Earth, with perhaps 10 times more water," said Sean Raymond, a University of Washington doctoral student in astronomy.

Raymond is the lead author of a paper detailing the simulation results that has been accepted for publication in Icarus, the journal of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences. Co-authors are Thomas R. Quinn, a UW associate astronomy professor, and Jonathan Lunine, a professor of planetary science and physics at the University of Arizona.

The simulations show that the amount of water on terrestrial, or Earthlike, planets could be greatly influenced by outer gas giant planets like Jupiter.

"The more eccentric giant planet orbits result in drier terrestrial planets," Raymond said. "Conversely, more circular giant planet orbits mean wetter terrestrial planets."

In the case of our solar system, Jupiter's orbit is slightly elliptical, which could explain why Earth is 80 percent covered by oceans rather than being bone dry or completely covered in water miles deep.

The findings are significant because of the discovery in recent years of a large number of giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn orbiting other suns. The presence, and orbits, of those planets can be inferred from their gravitational interaction with their parent stars and their effect on light from those stars as seen from Earth.

It currently is impossible to detect Earthlike planets around other stars. However, if results from the models are correct, there could be planets such as ours around a number of other suns relatively close to our solar system. A significant number of those planets are likely to be in the "habitable zone," the distance from a star at which the planet's temperature will maintain liquid water on the surface. Liquid water is thought to be a requirement for life, so planets in a star's habitable zone are ideal candidates for life. It is unclear, however, whether those planets could harbor more than simple microbial life.

The researchers note that their models represent the extremes of what is possible in forming Earthlike planets rather than what is typical of planets observed in our galaxy. For now, they said, it is unclear which approach is more realistic.

Their goal is to understand what a system's terrestrial planets will look like if the characteristics of a system's giant planets are known, Raymond said.

Quinn noted that all of the giant planets detected so far have orbits that carry them very close to their parent stars, so their orbits are completed in a relatively short time and it is easier to observe them. The giant planets observed close to their parent stars likely formed farther away and then, because of gravitational forces, migrated closer.

But Quinn expects that giant planets will begin to be discovered farther away from their suns as astronomers have more time to watch and are able to observe gravitational effects during their longer orbits. He doubts such planets will be found before they have completed whatever migration they make toward their suns, because their orbits would be too irregular to observe with any confidence.

"These simulations occur after their migration is over, after the orbits of the gas giants have stabilized," he said.

The research is supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Astrobiology Institute, its Planetary Atmospheres program, and Intel Corp.

Spam News: Bad and Good

Email Cluster Bombs!
Indiana University Press Release

BLOOMINGTON IN December 10, 2003 - Internet users can be blind-sided by e-mail "cluster bombs" that inundate their inboxes with hundreds or thousands of messages in a short period of time, thereby paralyzing the users' online activities, according to a new report by researchers at Indiana University Bloomington and RSA Laboratories in Bedford, Mass.

IUB computer scientist Filippo Menczer and RSA Laboratories Principal Research Scientist Markus Jakobsson describe in the December 2003 issue of ;login: a weakness in Web sites that makes the e-mail cluster bombs possible.

A miscreant could, the authors say, pose as the victim and fill out Web site forms, such as those used to subscribe to a mailing list, using the victim's own e-mail address.

One or two automated messages would hardly overload an e-mail inbox.

But Menczer, associate professor of informatics and computer science, said special software called agents, web-crawlers and scripts can be used by the bomber to fill in thousands of forms almost simultaneously, resulting in a "cluster bomb" of unwanted automatic reply e-mail messages to the victim.

The attack can also target a victim's cell phone with a sudden, large volume of SMS (short message service) messages.

"This is a potential danger but also a problem that is easy to fix," Menczer said. "We wanted to let people know how to correct the problem before a hacker or malicious person exploits this vulnerability, causing real damage."

The barrage of messages would dominate the bandwidth of an Internet connection, making it difficult or impossible for the victim to access the Internet. This is called a distributed denial-of-service attack, because a large number of Web sites attack a single target.

The attack works because most Web forms do not verify the identity of the people -- or automated software agents -- filling them out. But Menczer said there are some simple things Web site managers can do to prevent attacks.

"Often, subscribing to a Web site results in an automatically generated e-mail message asking the subscriber something like, 'Do you want to subscribe to our Web site?'" Menczer said. "We propose that Web forms be written so that the forms do not cause a message to be sent to subscribers at all. Instead, the form would prompt subscribers to send their own e-mails confirming their interest in subscribing. This would prevent the Web site from being abused in a cluster bomb attack."

Menczer was an assistant professor of management sciences at the University of Iowa's Henry B. Tippie College of Business when the study was initiated. Funding for the study came from an National Science Foundation Career Grant and the Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science at Rutgers University.

Spammers Indicted!
Associated Press Writer

STERLING VA December 11, 2003 (AP) - Two North Carolina men were indicted for violating the state's junk e-mail law by sending thousands of e-mail pitches for investments, software and other products, in what prosecutors said was the nation's first felony charges for unsolicited e-mail.

Jeremy Jaynes, 29, who uses the aliases of Jeremy James and Gaven Stubberfield, and Richard Rutowski each face four felony counts of transmission of unsolicited bulk electronic mail, Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said Thursday.

Each count carries up to five years in prison and fines of up to $2,500.

The indictments, returned Monday by a grand jury in Loudoun County, Va., were based on Virginia's antispam law which took effect July 1. Kilgore's office launched its investigation into what he described as a massive spamming operation that used the America Online computer network which is headquartered in the county.

"The defendants falsified or forged electronic mail transmission information, or other routing information," said Kilgore. The volume of messages and efforts to conceal their true identities have elevated prosecution of the case to felony level.

"This was a very profitable business for these two individuals," said Kilgore.

Although investigators declined to say how much income they believe the spam scheme generated, they did say both men were supporting affluent lifestyles.

The spam included "penny-picker stock schemes, mortgage interest rate ads and an Internet history eraser," said Lisa Hicks-Thomas, director of Virginia's computer crime unit in Kilgore's office.

Jaynes is one of the world's most prolific spammers, Kilgore said.

His alias, Gaven Stubberfield, "is number eight on the top 10 worldwide spammer list," he said, citing complaints reported to Internet service providers and tabulated by anti-spam group Between July 11 and Aug. 11, more than 100,000 complaints on spam messages linked to the two men were reported, Kilgore said. On at least three days, more than 10,000 messages were transmitted.

More than 50 percent of all Internet traffic across the world passes through Virginia because AOL and 1,300 service providers or technology companies are located in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.

There are "1.5 billion e-mails blocked a day through AOL's spam filters and other technical measures we take," said Curtis P. Lu, deputy general counsel for the company. The indictments were announced at AOL headquarters.

"The filters that have been created to block out spam are such that it's catching lots and lots of legitimate businesses now," said Bobbie Green Kilberg, president of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

Jaynes of Raleigh, N.C., is being held pending a request for extradition. Rutowski, of Cary, N.C., is expected to surrender to authorities under terms being worked out through his attorney.

According to Kilgore, Virginia has the strongest anti-spam law in the country. While other states can take civil actions, Virginia is the only one that can prosecute spammers for violating specific criminal charges related to the activity.

Federal legislation allowing for the criminal prosecution of spammers has been passed by Congress and is awaiting President Bush's signature.

The Virginia case will be the first felony prosecution for violation of antispam statutes in the nation.

Howard Carmack, 36, of Buffalo, N.Y., was indicted in May for allegedly using stolen identities to create Internet accounts from which he sent more than 825 million junk e-mail messages, but he was charged with identity theft.

Atlanta-based ISP Earthlink was awarded $16.4 million after successfully suing Carmack after for using 343 false identities to establish e-mail accounts.

Virginia Attorney General's Office:

Northern Virginia Technology Council:

Loons at Risk!

Wildlife Conservation Society Press Release

December 11, 2003 - Researchers from the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other organizations conducting an ongoing study of common loons in the Adirondacks, say that the newly proposed regulations on mercury emissions could adversely affect these beloved birds, known for their haunting yodel-like calls.

Scientists representing the Adirondack Cooperative Loon Program (ACLP), a partnership of WCS, the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks (NHMA), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, BioDiversity Research Institute (BRI), and the Audubon Society of New York, are concerned because data already shows that mercury pollution impacts loons in the Adirondacks and other areas, causing lower reproductive rates. One recent sample of 100 Adirondack loons by BioDiversity Research Institute (BRI) and the US Fish & Wildlife Service revealed that 17 percent of the birds had mercury levels high enough to potentially affect their reproductive success and behavior.

A new federal plan calls for easing regulations proposed by the Clinton Administration to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants – something that scientists say may lead to more bad news.

"We are very concerned that any increase in mercury emissions could spell further trouble for loons in the Adirondack Park and elsewhere in the Northeast," said WCS-NHMA scientist Dr. Nina Schoch, Coordinator for the Adirondack Cooperative Loon Program. "Loons are already suffering from mercury pollution here and in other locations. More mercury will mean greater impacts on northeastern loon populations and their habitats."

Mercury toxicity causes behavioral changes in loons, making them more lethargic, due to its neurotoxic effects. Adult birds incubate and feed their young less, while chicks feed less and ride on their parents' backs less, making them more susceptible to predation and chilling. Mercury levels in loons elevates as you go farther east in North America, due to prevailing winds from power plants in the Midwest, scientists believe.

"Models indicate that, partly due to mercury contamination, reproductive rates of loons may already be too low to maintain their populations in portions of Maine and eastern Canada," stated Dr. David Evers, BRI's Executive Director and collaborator with the Adirondack Cooperative Loon Program Earlier this year, with support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), ACLP expanded its research to better understand how environmental mercury contamination moves up the food chain from lakes to top predators, such as loons.

Results of this project will be posted on the ACLP & NYSERDA websites, and, as the project progresses.

Man Jailed for Declaring Parents Dead 40 Times
BERLIN December 12, 2003 (Reuters) - A German has been jailed for declaring his parents dead 40 times in order to get charity hand-outs, a court said on Friday. Oh yeah -- they are alive and well.

The 31-year-old prevailed upon churches and individuals to part with about 6,000 euros ($7,300) in total to ease the pain of his mother's or father's "passing," a court spokesman in the western city of Bonn said.

He was sentenced to three years in jail for 40 successful acts of fraud.

"He would ask them for money to get to the funeral, usually his mother's, and then spend it on drugs," the spokesman said.

The litany of faked deaths came to an end when a woman he approached for a donation became suspicious.
Stress Good?

Northwestern University Press Release

EVANSTON IL December 10, 2003 - We've often heard that red wine and dark chocolate in moderation can be good for you. Now it appears that a little stress may be beneficial, too.

Northwestern University scientists have shown that elevated levels of special protective proteins that respond to stress in a cell (known as molecular chaperones) promote longevity. Acute stress triggers a cascading reaction inside cells that results in the repair or elimination of misfolded proteins, prolonging life by preventing or delaying cell damage.

The findings are published online today (Dec. 10) by Molecular Biology of the Cell, a publication of the American Society for Cell Biology. The article will appear in print in the journal's February 2004 issue.

"Sustained stress definitely is not good for you, but it appears that an occasional burst of stress or low levels of stress can be very protective," said Richard I. Morimoto, John Evans Professor of Biology, who co-authored the paper with lead author James F. Morley, a graduate student in Morimoto's lab. "Brief exposure to environmental and physiological stress has long-term benefits to the cell because it unleashes a great number of molecular chaperones that capture all kinds of damaged and misfolded proteins."

Stressors also include elevated temperatures, oxygen stress, bacterial and viral infections, and exposure to toxins such as heavy metals, all of which challenge the environment of the cell. A master protein called heat shock factor senses the stress and responds by turning on the genes that encode molecular chaperones.

Proteins are basic components of all living cells. To do its job properly, each protein first must fold itself into the proper shape. In this process, the protein is assisted by molecular chaperones that function to prevent misfolding, or, in the case of already misfolded proteins, to detect them and prevent their further accumulation. Mutations or environmental stress enhances protein damage. If misfolded or damaged proteins accumulate beyond a certain critical point, neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's diseases can result.

Morimoto and Morley studied C. elegans, a transparent roundworm whose biochemical environment is similar to that of human beings and whose genome, or complete genetic sequence, is known.

In their experiments, the researchers found that when heat shock factor, the master gene that controls the expression of all chaperones, was underexpressed in adult animals, longevity was suppressed. When heat shock factor was overexpressed, lifespan increased. The results suggest that heat shock factor has significant beneficial effects to the organism as a whole.

"The heat shock response is identical in all life on Earth," said Morimoto, who was the first to clone a human heat shock gene in 1985.

Genre News: Firefly on DVD! Spider-man 2, Don Quixote, Christian Kane, Ellen Drew, Firesign Theater & More!

Firefly on DVD!
By FLAtRich
eXoNews Firefly Die-hard
December 14, 2003

I just got the coolest Xmas gift! Well, it wasn't really an Xmas gift, it was a birthday gift from last October, but it is still the coolest Xmas gift because it was on my Wish List at Amazon since last October and it finally came out the other day and I remembered I had the Amazon Virtual Gift Certificate (or whatever it's called) waiting there for it to come out so while I was buying Major Powers & The Star Squad toys and Animal Planet Reptile Buckets for the kids I found the number and typed it in and added Joss Whedon's Firefly: The Complete Series DVD Set to my order and here it is, sitting right next to my keyboard waiting to be watched!

It's the coolest because fan power made it happen.

I'm cool because I was unashamedly one of those die-hard Firefly fans who supported the show right up to and after Fox cancelled it.

Yeah, I was one of those fans who wrote it up and sent postcards and cheered when Joss Whedon announced that all of the missing episodes would be included in the DVD set at some future time and waited until now faithfully and have finally been rewarded by The Powers That Be with, count 'em, fourteen Firefly episodes and additional special features including Joss Whedon actually singing the Firefly Theme!

I so deserve to sit back and watch these DVDs until my eyeballs drop out or the Firefly movie that Joss Whedon is currently writing in a sure thing deal with Universal appears in my local theater, even if I'm sounding a bit like Fred after Angel rescued her from Lorne's alternate demon dimension.

And you're cool too if you go out and get your very own Joss Whedon's Firefly: The Complete Series DVD Set and don't even wait for somebody to maybe give it to you as a holiday gift in two weeks.

You're cool because you will finally get to see what the dimwits at Fox never understood, namely the reason that TV is a dying thing except for Angel and a few other shows.

TV just can't handle Quality.

DVDs are the future of great science fiction, man, not broadcasts pockmarked with inane commercials and network proselytizing about what's on next or what sub-mutant reality babe will do when asked to eat worms for money in a string bikini on Tuesday while she marries some guy pretending to be a stockbroker who is really an out-of-work fast food server, not meaning any disrespect to those citizens who are currently flipping cow entrails onto stale buns and asking you if you want extra ketchup.

So don't wait. Joss Whedon's Firefly: The Complete Series DVD set is out and ready to be taken home and enjoyed the way good stories are meant to be enjoyed.

You can get it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or probably at a store near you.

Do it. Thank me later.

Firefly Fan Site -

Spidey 2 - The First Trailer!

Hollywood December 12, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - Columbia Pictures will debut its first theatrical trailer for the upcoming sequel film Spider-Man 2 exclusively on—where else?—the Web, starting at 12:01 a.m. ET Dec. 15. The studio will unspool the trailer on the Yahoo! Web site.

The trailer will also appear on Yahoo!'s international Web sites simultaneously.

"This will be the first wave of our global launch for one of the most anticipated films of 2004," Geoffrey Ammer, president of worldwide marketing for the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, said in a statement. "The worldwide demand for images and materials from Spider-Man 2 is nearly insatiable and, given that such a large segment of the opening weekend audience for the first film was influenced by our interactive campaign, what better way to reward that loyalty than by sharing these exclusive images with fans around the world on the Internet?"

Following its online premiere, the new trailer will appear in U.S. theaters starting on Dec. 17, accompanying The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and other movies.

Spider-Man 2 reunites director Sam Raimi with stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in a story that sees Peter Parker juggling his dual life as a college student and a superhuman crime fighter.

The movie also features Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius, aka the nefarious Doctor Octopus.

Yahoo -

Official Spidey 2 -

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

LOS ANGELES December 11, 2003 ( - Back in 2000, it seemed that Terry Gilliam was just chasing windmills. His project, "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote," starring Johnny Depp began shooting, but was never completed. It was deserted after a few days as a result of flash floods, lagging funds and an ailment dictating that Jean Rochefort (Quixote) could not sit on a horse.

According to industry reports, Gilliam is currently working to buy the script back from the insurance company who came in as the project collapsed.

Johnny Depp's runaway success in "Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" certainly hasn't hurt.

As a matter of fact, Gilliam is banking on Depp's new street cred, literally.

Depp says, "The last time I talked to [Terry], he seemed very optimistic that we could get it back on the road. Terry came to visit me one day on the set of 'Pirates.' He was looking at everything, all the giant sets, and he said, 'This is just great. I'm so pleased that you're selling out,'" according to

A documentary was even made about the fiasco titled "Lost in La Mancha."

It may be tough, however, for Depp to fit the project into his schedule. Apparently everyone wants a piece of him.

He is set to star in "The Libertine," "The Rum Diary," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and a "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel. He will next be seen in "J. M. Barrie's Neverland" due out next year.

Christian Kane & Other Angel News

Kane Is Back

Hollywood December 10, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - Christian Kane, who reprises the role of evil former lawyer Lindsey McDonald in The WB's Angel, told SCI FI Wire that his surprise appearance at the end of a recent episode was carefully planned.

Series co-creator Joss Whedon "had the idea of not putting my name on it, no credit, no nothing, and just like just bringing it in," Kane said in an interview on the show's set at Paramount Studios.

"It was really fun. I just went to London and talked to some of the great fans that we've got out there, and supposedly I hear, like, I guess five minutes after the show aired, six message boards crashed or something. Anytime I can do that and cause havoc, that's just my style."

Kane's character, covered in mysterious tattoos, reappeared in bed with Sarah Thompson's Eve. Kane remained coy about the tats, which wrap around his body and up his arms.

"They're all over me, man," Kane said. "They go all over here and wrap around the arms and everything else. ... I can't really talk about that much stuff, because I can't really tell you what they're for yet. ... [But] they're mystical, yeah. They're magic."

Kane, whose character left the series at the end of season two, said he was surprised to get the call from Whedon to return to the show.

"I was in New York," he said. "I was doing a film with Queen Latifah that I'm still doing, actually, called Taxi. And he called me up, and he said, 'You know, we've got an idea for you to come back on the show. What do you think?' And without hesitation I was like, 'Absolutely.' Because I love working with him. He's one of the most brilliant writers that I've ever worked with, if not the [most brilliant]. And then, of course, I get to go and hang out with my best friend, you know, part of my family, which is [star David] Boreanaz. We've known each other for seven, seven and a half years. And it's just a coincidence that two really great friends get to work on a show together."

Joss Speaks

Hollywood December 14, 2003 (eXoNews) - In other Angel news, the rumor of a sixth season seems to have been greatly wrong, as Joss Whedon doesn't mention any such thing in a recent interview over at UGO. In fact, it turns out that the fifth season full-order was a surprise because Joss and his gang already thought they had a full fifth season:

"The news of the renewal came as a bit of a surprise to the staff, not because they expected to get the axe, but because they thought they'd already had the full 22 episode order," UGO reports.

"Whedon related that "the network called up and said 'We piggybacked you on the deal for another show,' I'm like 'Okay, so what you're saying to my writers is that they weren't picked up when they thought they were and now that they are it was because of something that has nothing to do with them. Okay. Great. Stop calling.'"

Read the full Joss interview at

Wolfram & Hart Annual Review

Hollywood December 14, 2003 (eXoNews) - E.M.A. and City of Angel are throwing their Wolfram & Hart Annual Review in Los Angeles February 21, 2004 at the Century Plaza Hotel. Darling Violetta will be there as special guests (they wrote the wonderful Angel Theme), so register if you want to hang out with other Angel fans with names like andyourlittledogtoo, nakedwesley, and Willow Worshipper.

Wolfram & Hart Annual Review -

Angel airs Wednesdays at 9PM on The WB

Official Angel -,7353,||139,00.html

Angel Fan Poll, Links, Ratings -

Win Buffy and Firefly!

Santa Monica December 14, 2003 (eXoNews) - If you're feeling lucky and are really too cheap to plunk down $40 bucks for Firefly or maybe more for the Season 5 DVD Buffy release, Zap2it has a "Joss Whedon Prize Pack" sweepstakes running until December 22, 2003.

There will be four big winners who get the Firefly Complete Series DVD Collection box set, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Five DVD Collection box set and a Buffy comic book.

You must be 18 years of age or older and a legal resident of the U.S. to enter, but there is nothing to buy so why not give it a try, eh?

Enter at Zap2it -,1146,movies-19631,00.html

Classic Actress Ellen Drew

Hollywood December 9, 2003 (Variety) - Paramount contract actress Ellen Drew died of a liver ailment Dec. 3 in Palm Desert, Calif. She was 89.

Drew, who appeared in numerous films and television shows, was born in Kansas City, Mo., and moved to Hollywood after winning a local beauty contest.

While working as a waitress at famous ice cream parlor C.C. Brown's, she was spotted by thesp-agent William Demarest, who convinced her to try for a screen test at Paramount.

Her first solid role came in 1938's "Sing You Sinners" with Bing Crosby and Donald O'Connor. She starred in Preston Sturges' "Christmas in July" and appeared in "If I Were King," "Buck Benny Rides Again," "Reaching for the Sun" and "Outlaw's Son."

On television, she guested on the "Ford Theatre," "Perry Mason" and "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars."

She is survived by a son, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the Visiting Nurses Assn. of Palm Desert.

Woo Meets Hitchcock In Paycheck

Hollywood December 12, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - John Woo, director of the upcoming SF movie Paycheck, told SCI FI Wire that he sprinkled the thriller with homages to legendary director Alfred Hitchcock.

"After I read the script, I thought it could be a very suspenseful, romantic and fun movie," Woo said in an interview. "Since they had so many clever designs and so many good gags and so many big surprises, and the whole story was about finding the truth, ... it made me feel ... I could make a movie [in] Alfred Hitchcock style."

Paycheck, starring Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman, is based on Philip K. Dick's 1953 short story of the same name. But for Woo, the movie was an opportunity to echo Hitchcock, particularly his films The 39 Steps and North by Northwest.

"I always loved Hitchcock's movies," Woo said. "I'm a great admirer of his, and I must say that I also have learned so much from him."

In one scene, Affleck's Michael Jennings finds himself being pursued by a subway train in a darkened tunnel. Woo intentionally shot the scene to echo the famous North by Northwest sequence in which Cary Grant is pursued by a crop duster.

In another scene, Thurman holds a cage of lovebirds, an image similar to one in The Birds. And there's even a shower shot, a la Psycho.

"The whole tone of the movie—the pace and the character of Michael Jennings, how he tries to ... find out what's happening—and the feel is pretty much like The 39 Steps," Woo said. "I've also learned, you know, for a Hitchcock movie, it's not only about the suspense. They also have so much ... romance, and they also have a ... great sense of humor. They're so funny."

Paycheck opens Christmas Day.

Official Paycheck site -

Uma Fan site -

Firesign Theater with Louis-Dreyfus & John Goodman?

LOS ANGELES December 12, 2003 (AP) - If you're going to do sketches from the "Firesign Theatre," but not with the original comedy troupe, how about Julia Louis-Dreyfus and John Goodman in their place?

Odd choices.
But, then again, the guys from the Firesign Theatre aren't conventional.

Louis-Dreyfus, of "Seinfeld" fame, and Goodman ("Roseanne") will be joined by Howard Hesseman, Tim Meadows and others, including Brad Hall, who's married to Louis-Dreyfus. They'll perform sequences from the Firesign Theatre's audio-plays with live music from Todd Rundgren and others, plus sound-effects.

"Let's Eat: Feasting on the Firesign Theatre" is planned as a one-time-only performance April 1 — April Fool's Day — at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus in West Los Angeles.

Members of the real Firesign Theatre, by the way, are giving their blessing to this event.

Official Firesign Theater -

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