|Joan of Arc Mystery? |
Penny Black, Neanderthal News!
The Voynich Manuscript, Pooh!
Mars Rover News & More!
|The Joan of Arc Mystery? |
|By Askold Krushelnycky in Kiev and Ian Burrell |
Kiev December 23, 2003 (Independent UK) - When the French authorities called upon Serhiy Horbenko to throw fresh light on the country's medieval heritage they never anticipated that the Ukrainian orthopedic surgeon would attempt to undermine the most potent patriotic story in the nation's history.
But Dr Horbenko, who has established an extraordinary reputation for his expertise in examining skeletons, has risked Gallic ire by casting aspersions on the accepted story of the demise of St Joan of Arc.
The death of the teenage warrior burnt at the stake as a witch after a trial prosecuted by her English enemy and their allies in the Catholic Church, is one of the defining moments in the French national psyche.
But Dr Horbenko's research into the skulls and skeletons of France's long-dead royals has led him to conclude that the woman on the pyre was not Joan at all but another French noblewoman. The woman known as "Joan", he says, lived on for decades after her supposed execution.
The surgeon invited by the French authorities to study the skulls of the French King Louis XI and his wife, has suggested that with the English armies threatening the French throne, the monarchy needed a miracle and their supporters concocted one.
He said: "I believe that a group of nobles thought up the plan, in a time when people were deeply religious and believed in miracles, to influence the French people and armies and to demoralize the English. They wanted a woman sent by God to defend France and to legitimize the Dauphin's claim to the throne."
He said that the person who was chosen to play the role of savior - always ascribed to Joan - was in fact a noblewoman called Marguerite de Valois, the illegitimate daughter of the previous monarch Charles VI.
The life of Joan of Arc has been the subject of fierce debate for centuries but is also one of the most well-documented in early modern history. According to most historians, she was born on 6 January 1412 in the village of Domremy in what is now Lorraine in eastern France.
Three years later, Henry V invaded France in pursuit of his claim to the French throne and won an emphatic victory at Agincourt. In the ensuing period, as English armies established a stranglehold on northern France, the young Joan is said to have heard voices from God, telling her to go to the aid of her king.
When she took up the call to go to the siege of Orleans she was still only 17 years old. After an audience with the Dauphin, who ultimately became Charles VII, and interrogation from theologians in Poitiers she was placed at the head of the French army as a "Saint Catherine come down to earth". In little more than week, the siege of Orleans had been lifted and, during the summer, the English were driven from the Loire valley and Charles the Dauphin, thanks to the actions of Joan, was crowned King at Reims cathedral.
Dr Horbenko, believes that Marguerite de Valois was in fact the illegitimate daughter of Charles VI and, in possession of fine military skills, performed her role much better than anyone expected. She became such a powerful figure in the eyes of her followers that she was herself perceived as a threat to the French throne.
"I think that if she had revealed her Valois lineage, she could have secured the backing of enough nobles and soldiers to overthrow the Dauphin," he said. Dr Horbenko believes that Marguerite was removed from the scene and another woman was substituted top become the martyr.
According to the standard version of the story, the relationship between Joan and the Dauphin became strained but she continued to lead the army until, in the following May, she was captured at Compiegne by Burgundian forces allied to the English.
Mr. Horbenko accepted that his theory of a substitute Joan might seem "incredible to modern day people who have cameras and video recorders and are used to instant news and images of famous people on television and in newspapers and magazines".
But, he said: "None of those things existed then and most of those who saw the military leader, Joan, did not see her when she was taken captive by the English."
His controversial thesis emerged after he was invited to France to carry out research into the background of St Bernard. He had built a reputation for his expertise in using the bones of historical figures, such as a medieval Ukrainian monarch and a 5,000 year-old Scythian tribal leader, to reconstruct their appearances.
After the St Bernard project, Dr Horbenko was invited by the French authorities to put faces on the skulls of Louis XI and his wife, work which led him to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Cléry near Orléans.
He asked for permission to open tombs elsewhere in the Basilica, which was the last resting place of members of France's royal Valois lineage. "As I opened up the tombs I started to come across information that led to a conclusion I could hardly believe myself," he said.
One skeleton, in particular, shocked him. "The bones indicate that the woman wore heavy armor and had developed muscles that I have seen in other fighters of the age. For instance to ride a war horse took special kinds of skills and training which you can detect from the remains if you have enough experience," he said.
"Each skeleton is as distinctive as a fingerprint. Each bears signs of wear or disease that allow you to match them up. You can establish family relations using skeletons with a fantastic degree of accuracy."
Dr Horbenko said: "Charles VI ... was worried for [Marguerite's] safety and I believe that from an early age he discreetly trained her in military skills, perhaps so she could better defend herself."
In the history books read by every French school-child, the captured Joan was sold by the Burgundians to the English in 1430. She was held in a secular jail, where she insisted on wearing the trousers and tunic she had worn into battle as of protection against being raped.
The English knew that by having Joan condemned by the church authorities they could discredit the French King. After being put on trial and convicted of being a witch and a heretic she was burned at the stake in Rouen market square on 30 May 1431.
Dr Horbenko believes there may have even been a further switch so that the place of the woman who made such an impression at the trial was taken by one of five women he learned had been condemned to be burned to death for witchcraft.
The surgeon said that Marguerite, meanwhile, was effectively held as a prisoner for the remainder of her life and died in her late fifties. He is convinced it is her remains interred with those of Louis XI, the Dauphin's son, as a sign by those who knew the secret that she had preserved the throne of France.
The theory has not gone down well with the authorities who invited Dr Horbenko in. Denise Reynaud, the deputy mayor at Cléry who commissioned Dr Horbenko described the Ukrainian as a "very difficult man to work with owing to his Slavic temperament".
Olivier Reffier, a senior official within the French Culture Ministry, also takes issue with Horbenko's theory, saying it was nothing more than speculation. He said that the bones now in the Basilica have undergone so many 'peregrinations' that it is possible they do not even belong to the Valois family.
The Ukrainian's claims will not be well-received and Dr Horbenko knows it. "Many people revere Joan of Arc and I do not take lightly the implications of shattering this myth," he said.
"So far there has been little publicity given to the work or theory. I know that it must be thoroughly checked because this is an important part of French history, a myth that has sustained them for centuries."
|Microsoft's Penny Black Fights Spam! |
By Jo Twist
BBC News Technology Reporter
Redmond Washington December 26, 2003 (BBC) - Despite efforts to stem the billions of spam e-mails flooding inboxes, unwanted messages are still turning e-mail into a quagmire of misery.
Spammers send out tens of millions of e-mails to unsuspecting computer users every day, employing a myriad of methods to ensure their pills, loans and "requests for our lord" pleas fox e-mail filters.
Some are even turning to prose and poetry to fool the technological safeguards people put in place. But a group of researchers at Microsoft think they may have come up with a solution that could, at least, slow down and deter the spammers.
The development has been called the Penny Black project, because it works on the idea that revolutionized the British postage system in the 1830s - that senders of mail should have to pay for it, not whoever is on the receiving end.
"The basic idea is that we are trying to shift the equation to make it possible and necessary for a sender to 'pay' for e-mail," explained Ted Wobber of the Microsoft Research group (MSR).
The payment is not made in the currency of money, but in the memory and the computer power required to work out cryptographic puzzles.
"For any piece of e-mail I send, it will take a small amount computing power of about 10 to 20 seconds. If I don't know you, I have to prove to you that I have spent a little bit of time in resources to send you that e-mail. When you see that proof, you treat that message with more priority."
Once senders have proved they have solved the required "puzzle", they can be added to a "safe list" of senders. It means the spammer's machine is slowed down, but legitimate e-mailers do not notice any delays.
Mr. Wobber and his group calculated that if there are 80,000 seconds in a day, a computational "price" of a 10-second levy would mean spammers would only be able to send about 8,000 messages a day, at most.
"Spammers are sending tens of millions of e-mails, so if they had to do that with all the messages, they would have to invest heavily in machines."
As a result of this extra investment, spamming would become less profitable because costs would skyrocket in order to send as many e-mails. All this clever puzzle-solving is done without the recipient of the e-mail being affected.
The idea was originally formulated to use CPU memory cycles by team member Cynthia Dwork in 1992. But they soon realized it was better to use memory latency - the time it takes for the computer's processor to get information from its memory chip - than CPU power.
That way, it does not matter how old or new a computer is because the system does not rely on processor chip speeds, which can improve at rapid rates.
A cryptographic puzzle that is simple enough not to bog down the processor too much, but that requires information to be accessed from memory, levels the difference between older and newer computers.
It all sounds like a good idea, said Paul Wood, chief analyst at e-mail security firm MessageLabs.
"One of the fundamental problems with spam is that it costs nothing to send, but has associated costs for the recipient which include loss of bandwidth, problems with usage, and lost productivity," he said. "Microsoft's idea is to shift this cost burden from the recipient to the sender, which in itself seems like a reasonable sentiment."
But, he said, for such a scheme to be all-encompassing, there would have to be some provision for open standards, so that it is not proprietary to Microsoft.
MSR is in talks with various people to put the system into a useful anti-spam product. It could easily be built into e-mail software like Outlook, e-mail servers or web browsers, said Mr Wobber.
"For this scheme to work, it would want to be something all mail agents would want to do," explained Mr Wobber.
And because it is the receiver who sets the puzzle requirement, spammers will not have any advantage by using non-Microsoft products. It is certainly not going to stop all spam for good, admitted Mr Wobber.
"I don't think any one spam scheme is a panacea, we have to use a wide variety of schemes to be successful in stopping spam. Spam is probably going to get worse before it gets better, and I really hope it does not get to a point that it deters people using e-mail."
|Bush Paves Way for Alaska National Forest Logging |
|By John Heilprin |
WASHINGTON December 26, 2003 (AP) — The Bush administration opened 300,000 more acres of Alaska's Tongass National Forest on Tuesday to possible logging or other development.
The decision allows 3 percent of the forest's 9.3 million acres, which were put off-limits to road-building by the Clinton administration, to have roads built on them and perhaps to be opened to use by the timber industry.
"The people of Alaska benefit," said spokesman Bill Bradshaw of the U.S. Forest Service, part of the Agriculture Department.
John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, accused the administration of "gutting the last pristine temperate rain forest" in the United States.
Agriculture Department officials, with approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget, decided to exempt the acreage from the so-called roadless rule, an often-challenged Clinton-era policy.
Imposed during President Clinton's final days in office, the rule had sought to block development of 58.5 million acres, or nearly one-third of the national forests.
It was struck down in July by a federal district judge in Wyoming and currently is before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Forest Service officials said their decision "maintains the balance for roadless area protection" while still "providing opportunities for sustainable economic development" in the 16.8 million-acre Tongass National Forest.
"People in 32 communities within the Tongass National Forest depend on the forest for subsistence and social and economic health," officials said in a statement. "Most communities lack road and utility connections to other communities."
In August, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski said the roadless rule, which effectively have locked away portions of the Tongass and Chugach national forests from major timber development, was "unlawful and unwise."
The Republican governor, a former senator, demanded that the Forest Service exempt Alaska from the roadless rule on grounds it violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.
Former Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles also had filed a federal lawsuit in 2001 challenging the rule. A federal judge in Idaho blocked the roadless ban in May 2001, saying it needed to be amended, but that ruling was overturned last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
|Neanderthal News! |
By Paul Rincon
BBC News Science Staff
Croatia December 24, 2003 (BBC) - Neanderthals were shedding their sturdy physique and evolving in the direction of modern humans just before they disappeared from the fossil record. Newly identified remains from Vindija in Croatia, which date to between 42,000 and 28,000 years ago, are more delicate than "classic" Neanderthals.
One controversial explanation is that these Neanderthals were interbreeding with modern humans in the region.
Details of the research appear in the Journal of Human Evolution.
Excavations also reveal the Vindija Neanderthals were developing advanced ways of making stone tools that mirror innovations elsewhere by modern humans (Homo sapiens).
Researchers have pieced together a partial Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) skull from fragments found mixed in with animal bones from the site.
Signs of interbreeding
The skull comes from ground layers dating to between 42,000 and 38,000 years ago. The researchers also found other fragments of Neanderthal bone from later ground layers in the cave.
Analysis of this cranium appears to confirm suggestions from earlier finds at Vindija that the Neanderthals there were evolving a more "gracile" anatomy - less sturdy than classic big-boned Neanderthals.
The skull's supraorbital torus - an arching, bony ridge above the eyes - is not as thick and projecting as in other Neanderthal remains. The specimen also has a higher braincase than is typical in Neanderthals.
Co-author Ivor Jankovic, of the Institute for Anthropological Research in Zagreb, Croatia, told BBC News Online:
"You know, the Vindija material is interesting because it is more gracile than classic Neanderthals. It suggests some contact between Neanderthals and modern humans but we don't know yet whether there was some interbreeding."
The suggestion that Neanderthals interbred with modern humans is highly controversial. Many researchers believe they did not contribute genes to present-day populations. Most researchers now believe that our own species evolved in Africa and then swept across Europe, replacing the Neanderthals - the so-called "Out of Africa" model. Comparisons of mitochondrial DNA from Neanderthals and modern humans have failed to reveal any signs of mixing between the two populations.
But Dr James Ahern of the University of Wyoming, US, lead scientist in the latest study, thinks the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans was not a simple process.
"There was a far more complex dynamic going on between 20,000 and 29,000 years ago than some people think. I'm sure that there were some things post-Neanderthal populations assimilated from their predecessors, certainly in the biological sense," Dr Ahern told BBC News Online.
Remains of early modern humans from Central Europe often display Neanderthal traits, say the researchers. But these features are no longer as common in present-day European populations.
Neanderthals began to evolve in Europe around 230,000 years ago and dominated the continent until around 35,000 years ago when people with a more modern anatomy entered the continent. They were proficient hunters and well-adapted to an Ice Age climate. But their distinctive anatomy has led researchers to classify them as a separate species from us.
The Vindija cranium predates the first recorded presence of modern humans in Europe by around 5,000 years.
Dr Ahern thinks this suggests that Neanderthals and modern humans in Africa were evolving in the same direction in response to common environmental pressures.
"They were evolving in the same way because they were part of a larger human species. Neanderthals just didn't change as rapidly as some of the other people," he explained.
These pressures may have been rooted in sharp changes in the global climate. The evolution of a modern, or slight, physique by humans in Africa is thought to coincide with an emphasis on cultural and technological ways of dealing with everyday tasks that earlier people - including the Neanderthals - solved with brute force.
Innovations believed to coincide with the appearance of modern human anatomy include hunting with bows and arrows and the use of harpoons for fishing.
Dr Ivor Karavanic of the University of Zagreb found that around 38,000 years ago, Neanderthals began making more use of the mineral chert for stone tools. Chert is a superior material to the quartz that Neanderthals at the site had previously used.
This behavior mirrors cultural changes taking place at the same time in modern human populations and may indicate more advanced thinking.
BBC's Walking With Cavemen site - http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/cavemen/factfiles/homo_neanderthalensis.shtml
Cavemen Were Skillful Artists
December 22, 2003 (AFP) — Three tiny figurines carved out of mammoth ivory unearthed in a cave in southwestern Germany demonstrate that early humans were far from primitive in their artistic skills.
The find at Hohle Fels cave in the Swabian Jura, southwestern Germany, have been carbon-dated to at least 30,000 years old, placing them in the era when anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals lived alongside each other.
None longer than five centimeters (two inches) across, the carvings comprise a duck-like bird; an animal that resembles a horse; and a half-human, half-animal creature that appears to have the body of a man and possibly the face of a lion.
They join 17 other sculptures, including a fragment of a sophisticated musical pipe made from swan bone, that have been found at three nearby sites, Vogelherd, Geissenkloesterle and Hohlenstein-Stadel, all in the Ach and Lone Valleys southwest of Ulm.
These works "belong to one of the oldest traditions of figurative art known worldwide and point to the Upper Danube as an important center of cultural innovation during the early Upper Palaeolithic period," said Tuebingen University archaeologist Nicholas Conard, who made the find.
The carvings have been dated to the so-called Aurignacian period, through analysis of carbon isotopes in the stratum of soil in which they were deposited.
The collection of 20 Swabian Jura carvings is "the oldest body of figurative art in the world," said British archaeologist Anthony Sinclair, whose commentary in the London-based science journal Nature is published on Thursday alongside Conard's research.
The unknown hand that carved them displayed astonishing technical skills.
That debunks the notion, set down in the 19th century, that cavedwellers began as primitive wall-daubers and then bit by bit acquired better artistic talents and a wider range of tools and materials.
"The study of early art has been plagued by our desire to this essentially human skill in a progressive evolutionary context," said Sinclair.
"Yet for many outlets of artistic expression — cave paintings, textiles, ceramics and musical instruments — the evidence increasingly refuses to fit. Instead of a gradual evolution of skills, the first modern humans in Europe were in fact astonishingly precocious artists."
In October 2001, French researchers estimated that spectacular charcoal walldrawings found in underground chambers in the Ardeche region depicting horses, rhinoceros and a deer, were between 29,700 and 32,400 years old.
Arguably the most famous cave paintings in the world are the Lascaux caves in southwestern France, which are around 17,000 years old.
But the dating of the paintings in the Chauvet caves in the Ardeche shows that early European cavedwellers were just as skilled at art as the humans who followed 13,000 years later, according to the 2001 study.
The oldest known objects considered to be art are far older than the cave paintings or the Swabian figurines, however, and they precede the rise of anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens.
A tiny stone carving found in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in 1981 is estimated at 233,000 years old.
And pigments and paint-grinding equipment found in a cave in 2000 at Twin Rivers, near Lusaka, Zambia, are believed to be between 350,000 and 400,000 years old.
|Mad Cow and Memory Storage |
|Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research Press Release |
CAMBRIDGE MASS December 24, 2003 – Scientists have discovered a new process for how memories might be stored, a finding that could help explain one of the least-understood activities of the brain.
What's more, the key player in this process is a protein that acts just like a prion – a class of proteins that includes the deadly agents involved in neurodegenerative conditions such as mad cow disease.
The study, published as two papers in the Dec. 26 issue of the journal Cell, suggests that this protein does its good work while in a prion state, contradicting a widely held belief that a protein that has prion activity is toxic or at least doesn't function properly.
"For a while we've known quite a bit about how memory works, but we've had no clear concept of what the key storage device is," says Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research Director Susan Lindquist, who coauthored the study with neurobiologist Eric Kandel at Columbia University. "This study suggests what the storage device might be – but it's such a surprising suggestion to find that a prion-like activity may be involved."
Central to a protein's function is its shape, and most proteins maintain only one shape throughout their lifetime. Prions, on the other hand, are proteins that can suddenly alter their shape, or misfold. But more than just misfolding themselves, they influence other proteins of the same type to do the same. In all known cases, the proteins in these misfolded clusters cease their normal function and either die or are deadly to the cell – and ultimately to the organism.
For this reason, Kausik Si, a postdoc in Kandel's lab, was surprised to find that a protein related to maintaining long-term memory contained certain distinct prion signatures. The protein, CPEB, resides in central-nervous-system synapses, the junctions that connect neurons in the brain. Memories are contained within that intricate network of approximately 1 trillion neurons and their synapses. With experience and learning, new junctions form and others are strengthened. CPEB synthesizes proteins that strengthen such synapses as memories are formed, enabling the synapses to retain those memories over long periods.
For the study, the team extracted the CPEB protein from a sea slug. This lowly creature has achieved high status in neurobiology because its neurons are so big, they can be manipulated and turned into unusually powerful investigative tools. The researchers fused this CPEB to other proteins that would serve as reporters of activity, and then observed its behavior in a variety of yeast models. The researchers discovered that CPEB altered its form and caused other proteins to follow – functioning exactly like a prion. A second unexpected finding was that CPEB carried out its normal function – protein synthesis – when it was in its prion state.
"This is remarkable not just because the protein executes a positive function in its prion-like state," says Lindquist. "It also indicates that prions aren't just oddballs of nature but might participate in fundamental processes."
The finding contradicts the notion that converting to a prion state is a bad thing, says Kandel. "We show instead that the normal state of CPEB may be the less active state, and the prion state may be the effective way of utilizing the normal function of the protein."
The work suggests it's possible that in mammalian neuronal synapses, CPEB's prion properties may be the mechanism that enables the synapses and nerve cells to store long-term memory, a theory the researchers plan to investigate next. Theoretically at least, prions are perfect for this, says Lindquist. Prions could shift into this state quickly without the energy-intensive cellular mechanics that fuel most protein synthesis. The prion state is very stable and can maintain itself for months, even years.
But, "We still need to demonstrate that this prion mechanism operates not just in yeast but in neuron cells," says Kandel.
Lindquist believes that these findings will not be the last time prions are discovered to have normal biological roles. In fact, she has long speculated that researchers will discover them to be essential to many cellular functions. Kandel adds that he wouldn't be surprised if this sort of prion mechanism was discovered in areas such as cancer maintenance and even organ development.
|The Voynich Manuscript |
BY JOHN WHITFIELD
UK December 17, 2003 (Nature) - A strange sixteenth-century book may be cunningly crafted nonsense, says a computer scientist. Gordon Rugg has used the techniques of Elizabethan espionage to recreate the Voynich manuscript, which has stumped code-breakers and linguists for nearly a century.
"I've shown that a hoax is a feasible explanation," says Rugg, who works at Keele University, UK. "Now it's up to believers in a code to produce evidence to support their ideas."
He suspects that English adventurer Edward Kelley produced the Voynich to con Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor and collector of antiquities, out of a fortune in gold.
The explanation is plausible, but not conclusive, say Voynich scholars. "It's an excellent piece of work," says Philip Neal, a former medievalist based in London. "I haven't given up hope that the manuscript contains meaning, but this makes it less likely."
The Voynich manuscript is often described as the world's most mysterious book. It is hand-written in a unique alphabet, about 250 pages long, and contains pictures of unrecognizable flowers, naked nymphs and astrological symbols.
The manuscript first appeared in the late 1500s, when Rudolph II bought it in Prague from an unknown seller for 600 ducats - about 3.5 kilograms of gold, worth more than US$50,000 today. The book passed from Rudolph to noblemen and scholars, before disappearing in the late 1600s.
It surfaced again around 1912, when US book dealer Wilfrid Voynich bought it. The manuscript was donated to Yale University after Voynich's death.
No one has worked out whether Voynichese is a code, an idiosyncratic translation of a known tongue, or gibberish. The text contains some features that are not seen in any language. The most common words are often repeated two or three times, for example - the equivalent of English using 'and and and' - giving weight to the hoax theory.
On the other hand, some aspects, such as the pattern of word lengths and the ways in which characters and syllables occur with each other, are similar to real languages. "Many people have believed that it is too complicated to be a hoax - that it would have taken some mad alchemist years to get such regularity," says Rugg.
But this complexity could have been produced easily, Rugg demonstrates, with an encryption device invented around 1550 called a Cardan grille. This is a table of characters. Moving a piece of card with holes cut in it over the table makes words. Gaps in the table ensure different-length words.
Using such grilles on table of Voynichese syllables, Rugg has produced a language with many, although not all, of the manuscript's features. About three months' work would have been enough to produce the entire book, he says.
"It's an interesting angle, but it's too early to say whether it's correct," says Nick Pelling, a computer programmer based in Surbiton, UK, who also studies cryptography and the Voynich.
To prove that the manuscript is a hoax, one would need to produce entire sections using this technique, says Pelling. Tweaking the grilles and tables should make this possible, reckons Rugg.
It seems that the Voynich resists deciphering attempts because its author knew enough about codes to make the text plausible yet hard to crack.
The book appears to contain cross-referencing, just the kind of thing that cryptographers look for. The characters of Voynichese are also ambiguously written, so it is hard to work out how large the alphabet is, and drawing naked figures makes it impossible to date the text by styles of dress.
The chief suspect for producing the book is known to have used Cardan grilles. As well as a cryptographer and inventor of languages, Edward Kelley was a forger, mystic, alchemist, mercenary and wife-swapper. He traveled to Prague to meet with Rudolph in 1584, and may have sold him the manuscript then. Kelley was lost to history after escaping from prison at the end of the sixteenth century.
"If it's a hoax Kelley is the obvious candidate," says Neal. But he adds that Rudolph bought many alchemical texts that are far cruder forgeries than the Voynich manuscript. "Rudolph was easily fooled. If the Voynich was a hoax by Kelley, it looks a bit like overkill," Neal says.
Cryptologia - http://www.dean.usma.edu/math/pubs/cryptologia
|Bush Ignored CIA Uranium Warning |
|WASHINGTON December 24, 2003 (AP) - President Bush's assertion that Iraq was trying to obtain raw uranium in Africa - now considered discredited - was the result of an effort "to grab onto something affirmative" about Saddam Hussein's nuclear goals, according to an intelligence board report disclosed by The Washington Post. |
The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, chaired by former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, found there was "no deliberate effort to fabricate" a story, the Post reported Tuesday on its Web site, quoting a source familiar with the board's findings.
Nonetheless, the White House ignored warnings that the uranium claim was unreliable before Bush made the assertion in his State of the Union address in January.
The board shared its findings with Bush earlier this month, the Post reported. The White House declined immediate comment on the Post article Tuesday night.
In the Jan. 28 speech, Bush said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Many CIA officials doubted the accuracy of the British intelligence, and the White House acknowledged the sentence shouldn't have been included in the State of the Union address, that it was largely based on evidence of Iraqi activities in Niger that turned out to be forged.
With the failure of occupation forces to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the fall of Saddam, Bush's critics seized on the uranium claim as evidence that the administration had deceived the American public about the need to go to war.
The advisory board found that the sentence made it into the speech despite CIA objections because "there was no organized system at the White House to vet intelligence," the Post reported. Intelligence matters in presidential speeches are now approved by a CIA officer.
|Pooh Nightmare Continues! |
LOS ANGELES December 22, 2003 (Reuters) - A judge in the long-running lawsuit over merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh on Monday set a Feb. 24 date to hear arguments by Walt Disney Co. that its opponents stole documents.
Although the session is just another step in the 12-year-old legal battle, which is now being heard by California Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy, it is also the first major hearing in more than a year.
Stephen Slesinger Inc., the family firm that acquired rights to the honey-loving bear in 1930, denies it stole papers from Disney and says the company is making false accusations to divert attention from its own wrongdoing.
Disney has said hundreds of millions of dollars could be at stake in the dispute, although it denies the Slesingers' contention that it shortchanged the family on royalties.
Disney says that Slesinger hired private detectives to break into its Burbank, California, headquarters to steal papers related to the case. Slesinger denies that but says it recovered some paper from publicly accessible trash bins.
Slesinger recently hired new lawyers including entertainment attorney Johnnie Cochran, who led the legal "dream team" that won the acquittal of former football star O.J. Simpson on double-murder charges.
Meanwhile Daniel Petrocelli, who now represents Disney, convinced a civil court jury that Simpson was responsible for the 1994 murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.
|Mars Rover News! |
Living on Martian Time
Cornell University Press Release
PASADENA December 22, 2003 - Steven Squyres, the principal investigator for the science instruments aboard the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, juggles his commitments to the four space missions he is actively involved in, as well as to his teaching and advising duties, with an energetic ease that makes some wonder if he has found the secret to a 25-hour day.
Well yes, actually, he has.
Not 25 hours, to be exact, but 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds, the length of one Martian day, or "sol."
Squyres is preparing to live on Mars time for the duration of the two-rover mission, expected to be at least four months. Spirit is scheduled to touch down in the red planet's Gusev Crater on Jan. 3 at 11:35 p.m. EST; its twin, Opportunity, will land at Meridiani Planum on Jan. 25 at 12:05 a.m. EST.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., is managing the science suite of instruments carried by the two rovers.
"Our vehicles are tied to the Martian day/night cycle," says Squyres, who is professor of astronomy at Cornell. "They rely on a vision system to avoid obstacles," and being solar powered they must operate during daylight and "sleep" at night.
Because the rovers' daily communications windows also are tied to this cycle, Squyres, along with more than 200 other scientists and engineers, must lengthen his days to stay in sync.
Squyres admits that the longer days, at first, seem attractive -- "you get to sleep in
39 minutes later every day" -- but points out that there is "very little hard data on the physiological impact of extended Mars-time living."
The fundamental problem, says Squyres, is that team members must keep a longer day while exposed to outside stimuli that run on an exact 24-hour cycle.
The entire rover team will work at the mission control center at JPL. They already have rented apartments in a quiet neighborhood equipped with light-tight blackout shades, and some of them will wear specially made Mars watches that record an additional 39 minutes, 35 seconds every day. But when rover team members step outside, they will be bombarded with external stimuli running on the 24-hour clock to which their bodies are accustomed.
"We decided we needed to get some serious advice in this area," says Squyres. When, jet-lagged and exhausted, he ran into Cornell sleep researcher James Maas at Pittsburgh airport in 2000, both realized that a collaboration would be a boon for data-hungry sleep researchers and for the rover team.
"While we were doing our own experiments, there was the opportunity for us to be the subject of someone else's experiment," says Squyres.
Consequently about 40 members of the rover team will be the subjects of the sleep study. Small wristwatch-like accelerometers will keep a record of the scientists' motion through the days and nights of the Mars mission. From the accelerometer readings, the sleep-research team will deduce when the scientists were awake and when they were asleep.
Workshops with sleep experts from Harvard, Brown, Stanford and the NASA Ames research center also have helped shape the Mars team's strategies.
"The key is not to overschedule people," says Squyres. Scientists will stick to a six-sol workweek, working four sols and taking a two-sol weekend.
But engineers on the team with permanent homes in Pasadena will get a longer, three-sol weekend. The engineers "have groceries to buy, lawns to mow, PTA meetings to go to," and must contend with more signals from the 24-hour world than the visiting scientists, says Squyres.
He is most worried, though, about the "wicked case of Martian jet lag" he will get when Opportunity lands Jan. 25. The rover's landing site is almost 180 degrees away from Spirit's, meaning that when Squyres leaves the Spirit team to join the Opportunity group, he will be about 12 hours off schedule. It is the Martian equivalent of a trip from New York to Australia -- without the benefit of a daylong plane ride during which to adjust.
There is one vestige of Earth time Squyres won't be able to escape, though: the press conference. So if, come January, Squyres looks a bit bleary-eyed in front of the cameras, remember that it might just be 2:30 a.m. back in Gusev Crater.
Personal Mars Rovers?
Carnegie Mellon University Press Release
PITTSBURGH December 22, 2003 - As NASA's twin robot geologists Spirit and Opportunity prepare to land on Mars in January, a cadre of 20 smart robots developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University with support from NASA and Intel Corp. will be deployed at some of the nation's most prestigious science museums to let visitors experience the thrill of exploring the red planet.
The Personal Exploration Rovers (PERs) will reside in "Mars Yards," specially designed to mimic Martian terrain at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.; its new Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport; the National Science Center in Augusta, Ga.; The San Francisco Exploratorium; and the new visitor's center at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.
The first exhibit will open at NASA Ames in late December. The others will follow between January 1 and January 24, 2004.
NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) are part of a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. The current mission is to search for clues to past water activity on Mars. The spacecraft landing in January are targeted to appropriate sites on opposite sides of the planet. The rovers they carry will drive to promising locations to perform on-site geological investigations over the course of their 90-day mission.
While the Mars Exploration Robots (MER) will be looking for water history, museum visitors interacting with the PERs will be able to search the Mars Yards" rocky landscapes for organo-fluorescent evidence of life.
"Our goal is to excite and inspire kids about science and technology and educate people about the role of rovers and rover autonomy in doing space science," said project director Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science. "We want people to understand why it's important for the rovers to be smart."
"With the Personal Exploration Rover, students can learn how robots interact with the world and see for themselves how the future might look as we have more and more robots helping us in our everyday life," said G. Scott Hubbard, director of NASA Ames Research Center.
While each museum's exhibit is unique, they all contain one or more Mars Yards populated by rovers. The identical rovers are 1.2 feet-tall, weigh 10 pounds and can move 1.6 inches per second. They have mobility systems similar to that of Spirit and Opportunity.
"The Personal Exploration Rover is part of a larger project to develop low-cost robotic devices that can be used in education, science museums and the home," said Daniel Clancy, director of information sciences and technology at NASA Ames. "In future holiday seasons, you will be able to bring one of these home for your kids. The robot will be able to move around your house, take pictures, interact with your dog and do other tasks. It's really about the whole creative process and exploring how you can program a device to do interesting tasks," he said.
As part of robotics research activities by Intel Research, the PERs are powered by Intel® XScale® technology using Intel® PXA255 processors, which provide high system performance and low power consumption. The rovers run the Linux operating system and are programmed in Java.
Visiting "mission scientists" will access the PERs through a kiosk, and then partner with a rover as it moves through the yard, scanning rocks and soil to find signs of life. The rovers are equipped with cameras mounted on a custom-designed head that can create a panoramic, 360-degree image. It also can detect obstacles using an optical rangefinder. Once a panorama is downloaded from a PER, "scientists" can choose a rock to test. They estimate rover heading and distance to reach the rock.
The rover then autonomously traverses the Yard following the "scientist's" directions safely while continually checking for unexpected obstacles. After reaching the goal location, the PER scans the area and autonomously locates, then approaches the target rock. The PER then illuminates the rock with ultraviolet light to look for signs of organo-fluorescence to provide scientific data.
This scenario is based on another NASA-Carnegie Mellon research project, which involves developing a robot capable of seeking life in Chile's Atacama Desert, the driest spot on Earth, which was chosen as an analog to Mars.
The PER project is funded as part of a four-year, $150,000 annual education grant from NASA to develop educational robots. It is supported through the NASA Ames Intelligent Systems Program and Intel. Carnegie Mellon and Ames researchers have designed educational materials and ongoing support for the six-month-long exhibits that feature the rovers. Nourbakhsh has written papers on the educational value of robots. "The gender gap closes when you use robots," he said.
See the demonstration after these dates at:
The National Science Center (Augusta, GA) Jan. 24
The San Francisco Exploratorium (San Francisco, CA) Jan. 2
The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Washington) Jan. 3
The Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center (Dulles Airport) Jan. 24
The NASA/Ames Mars Center (Mountain View, CA) Dec. 29
For more information on Carnegie Mellon's personal rover project, see http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~personalrover
For more information on Carnegie Mellon's PER section, go to http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~personalrover/PER/index.html
Mars Rover site - http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov
|Genre News: Alyson Hannigan, Adam Baldwin, Tom Welling, Nicole de Boer, Hope Lange & Madlyn Rhue |
Hannigan Takes the Stage
LOS ANGELES December 23, 2003 (Zap2it.com) - The most famous fake orgasm in cinematic history will soon be recreated by former "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" co-star Alyson Hannigan. The once-and-future Willow Rosenberg will star opposite Luke Perry in the London theatrical production of Rob Reiner's 1989 film "When Harry Met Sally."
Hannigan will step into the high-maintenance shoes filled by Meg Ryan in the Nora Ephron-scripted film, while Perry ("Beverly Hills, 90210") will take the neurotic role originated by Billy Crystal. The play, like the film, will follow two characters over the years as they go from enemies to friends to lovers and then back again, all the while wondering whether men and women can be friends once sex gets in the way.
According to media reports, the play will begin previews at the Theater Royal on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2004, with a 16-week run officially launching on Friday, Feb. 20.
Marcy Kahan adapted Ephron's script and the production will be directed by Loveday Ingram.
In addition to her tenure as good-Wicca-sometimes-gone-bad Willow on "Buffy," Hannigan is probably best known as the resident kinky flute aficionado Michelle in the popular "American Pie" trilogy. The actress, who made her film debut in 1988's "My Stepmother is an Alien," has also appeared on multiple episodes of "Buffy"-spin-off "Angel" and in the feature "Boys and Girls."
The 29-year-old actress recently signed a talent deal with NBC with an eye towards developing a comedy project for the 2004-05 season.
Firefly's Adam Baldwin to Stargate Atlantis?
Hollywood December 23, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - Adam Baldwin, best known to SF fans as the mercenary Jayne on Joss Whedon's Firefly, told SCI FI Wire that he is pursuing a role on the upcoming Stargate Atlantis, a spin-off of the SCI FI Channel's Stargate SG-1.
"I'm hoping that can work out," he said during an interview at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention. "We're working on it. Nothing set in stone just yet. I'm actually trying convince them to hire me."
Baldwin said that he is up for a supporting character not unlike his role on Firefly.
"He's a military guy," he said. "I would be one of the supporting ensemble guys. Not the lead guy. I'm a little past my prime. They want someone in there in their early 20s. You've got to launch a show with a 20-something guy. That's just the nature of the beast these days. So I hopefully could jump in and add my experience to any new show."
In the meantime, Baldwin can be seen in the recently released box set Firefly: The Complete Series, which came out Dec. 9.
Stargate Atlantis is a weekly series set to premiere in the summer of 2004, alongside the upcoming eighth season of SG-1. Production on 20 hourlong episodes of Atlantis is set to start in early 2004.
SG-1 will return to SCI FI with new episodes on Jan. 9, 2004, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
TV Museum Showcases History of Pop Music
By Carla Hay
NEW YORK December 25, 2003 (Billboard) - Al Green, James Brown, Britney Spears, Elvis Presley and the Monkees are among the artists who will be featured in the "American Pop" series presented by the Museum of Television and Radio in New York and Los Angeles.
The two-month series -- which begins Feb. 6 -- will focus on pop music's history on television.
The first theme in the series is "Soul Survivors" featuring Green and Brown. Other upcoming themes will be the music of Burt Bacharach; the evolution of teen-idol pop with artists ranging from Fabian, the Monkees and Spears; the first hour of MTV; and rare footage of the Teenage Awards Music International (T.A.M.I.) Show.
The TAMI Show was an all-star concert filmed in 1964 and featuring the Rolling Stones, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and the Beach Boys.
The museum will also have a Beatles TV and radio showcase commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Fab Four's first U.S. visit. Titled "It Was Forty Years Ago Today: The Beatles in America," the exhibit will also open Feb. 6.
Tom Welling Shy of Spotlight
NEW YORK December 25, 2003 (AP) - Interviews are like kryptonite to "Smallville" star Tom Welling — he tries to stay as far away from them as possible.
"I'm slowly learning that whether you like it or not, you have to do press to support a project," the actor tells YM magazine for its January issue.
"I might be into fame one day — never say never," the 26-year-old says. "But I don't want to be a celebrity for the sake of being a celebrity. I wanna work and then go home and live in private — not spend my whole life in front of the camera. You won't see me in the tabloids."
Welling will discuss his role as young Clark Kent on the WB series, which he said he turned down twice.
"I imagined myself running around in my underwear," he says. "Then they told me about the no-tights, no-flight policy."
Welling also co-stars in "Cheaper by the Dozen," which opened Christmas Day. The remake of the 1950 family comedy stars Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt and Hilary Duff.
BBC America Parks 'Trailer'
BY TAMSEN TILLSON
TORONTO December 23, 2003 (Variety) --- BBC America has picked up the first two seasons of mockumentary "Trailer Park Boys," a profanity-laced, low-budget tale of life on the wrong side of the tracks .
Shot in Halifax, Nova Scotia, "Trailer Park Boys" has in three seasons developed a cult following and some above-board kudos, including a Gemini Award for viewer's choice comedian to thesp Mike Smith, who plays Bubbles.
"I would describe it as 'Cops' from a criminal's point of view, with a lot of heart," creator-director Mike Clattenburg said.
BBC America plans to run an edited version in primetime and an uncensored version later in the evening; cabler also has optioned the third, fourth and fifth seasons. The fourth season is in the cutting room and the fifth is being penned, Clattenburg said.
Airing in Canada on the specialty network Showcase, this is the show's first sale Stateside. "Trailer Park Boys" airs on the Comedy Network in Australia.
Nicole de Boer Joins 5 Days
Hollywood December 24, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - SCI FI Channel announced additional casting for its upcoming original miniseries 5 Days to Midnight, including several veterans of SF television and films.
Nicole de Boer (The Dead Zone), Angus MacFadyen (Miracles) and Randy Quaid (Independence Day) are among the new cast members joining Oscar-winning star Timothy Hutton in the five-hour miniseries.
Hutton plays J.T. Neumeyer, a college professor who learns that he is about to be murdered and has five days to figure out who is trying to kill him.
De Boer will play Chantal Hume, the wife of Brad Hume, the brother of J.T.'s deceased wife. McFadyen will take on the role of Roy Bremmer, a shady figure and a suspect in J.T.'s future murder. Quaid plays Irwin Sikorski, a homicide detective whose aid J.T. enlists.
The cast also includes David McIlwraith as Brad Hume and Kari Matchett as Claudia Whitney, J.T.'s girlfriend, who has a mysterious past.
5 Days to Midnight will air as five one-hour episodes over five consecutive nights and premieres in June 2004.
Hope Lange - TV's Mrs. Muir
Santa Monica December 23, 2003 (Variety) - Emmy-winning actress Hope Lange died Friday in Santa Monica of complications of acute colitis. She was 70.
Lange earned an Oscar nom for 1957's "Peyton Place" and two Emmys as Carolyn Muir on "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir."
Born in Redding Ridge, Conn., the daughter of a musician and an actress mother made her Broadway debut at 12.
After stints waitressing in her mother's Greenwich Village restaurant and walking Eleanor Roosevelt's dog, she modeled before returning to acting.
She appeared in several early live TV drama programs, including "Playhouse 90" and "Kraft Television Theatre. "
Film producer Buddy Adler spotted her in Kraft's "Snap Finger Creek" in 1956 and brought her to Hollywood to play waitress Emma in the film adaptation of "Bus Stop."
Co-star Marilyn Monroe reportedly asked to have the pretty blond Lange's hair dyed brown so latter would not upstage her.
In her next role, as Selena Cross in "Peyton Place," she played a teenage girl who is raped by her stepfather and later accused of murdering him; perf netted her the supporting actress Oscar nom.
Lange went on to star with Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando in "The Young Lions" and with Joan Crawford in "The Best of Everything."
On TV, she was best known for the 1960s series "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir."
She also appeared on "The New Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Love Boat," "Fantasy Island" and "Murder, She Wrote."
She continued to appear in movies, playing Charles Bronson's wife in "Death Wish" in 1974 and Laura Dern's mother in "Blue Velvet." Among her last appearances were "Clear and Present Danger," "Just Cause" and "Before He Wakes."
After marrying and divorcing her "Bus Stop" co-star Don Murray, she was married to director Alan J. Pakula. She is survived by her third husband, theatrical producer Charles Hollerith; a son, actor Christopher Murray; daughter Patricia Murray; two grandchildren; a brother; and two sisters.
Donations may be made to the Actors Fund of America. A memorial service is planned for early 2004.
Madlyn Rhue - Star Trek's Marla McGivers
Hollywood December 21, 2003 (Variety) - Actress Madlyn Rhue. whose acting career spanned three decades and scores of TV appearances on shows ranging from "Perry Mason" to "Murder, She Wrote," died Dec. 16 of pneumonia and heart failure at the Motion Picture & Teleivsion Fund Hospital in Wood Hills, Calif. She was 68.
Rhue was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977 but continued working into the 1990s as well as appearing in an campaign for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Washington, D.C., native moved as a teenager to Los Angeles and later went to New York to pursue acting. At one point, she was a showgirl at the famed Latin Quarter nightclub.
She made her television debut in the late 1950s on shows such as "Have Gun, Will Travel" "Cheyenne" and "Gunsmoke."
She went on to appear many times as a guest or supporting actress as well as playing small parts in movies such as 1959's "Operation Petticoat" and 1963's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."
She had recurring roles in the TV series "Bracken's World," "Houston Knights" and "Days of Our Lives" and as the Cabot Cove librarian in "Murder, She Wrote."
Rhue is survived by a sister.
[Star Trek fans will remember Rhue as Lt. Marla McGivers, an Enterprise crew member who fell in love with genetically perfected dictator Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban). Ed.]
|Click here for last week's Genre News! |