Secrets of Gakkel Ridge,
Flying Wings, Ice Robot,
Hawking at 60, Zeta-Jones,
Common Cold & More!
The Secrets of Gakkel Ridge

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Science Editor

Arctic Ocean January 15, 2002 (BBC) - Scientists have released details of an expedition to one of the least explored regions of the Earth: a huge gash in the planet's crust that straddles the Arctic sea floor.

"This was an epic journey in search of geological knowledge from a remote corner of the Earth," said Peter Michael, of the University of Tulsa, US.

"We have completely unexpected results," said Charles Langmuir, of Columbia University. "The ocean ridge below the Arctic is completely unique. We found 12 new volcanoes where we expected to find none, and we found unexpected and abundant hydrothermal activity."

The researchers believe they have found new organisms living around hydrothermal vents - cracks in the ocean floor through which hot mineral-rich waters flow - where none were expected. The geology of the region will change our understanding of how the Earth works.

For good reason, the Gakkel Ridge is one of the least explored places on our world. It extends over 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) through the Eurasian Basin of the Arctic Ocean, from north of Greenland to the Laptev Sea off Siberia.

It is the deepest and most remote mid-ocean ridge on our planet - a place where the sea floor is being pushed apart by upwellings of magma from inside the Earth. The ridge, however, expands very slowly - at less than one centimeter a year. The spreading ridges in the Pacific Ocean, widen 20 times faster, or about as fast as your fingernails grow.

But despite, or because of, its slow growth, the Gakkel Ridge has a unique fascination. The problem has been getting at it to study it. It is five km (three miles) beneath the ice cover of one of the most inhospitable seas on Earth.

Henry Dick, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said: "The ridge is unique because it is virtually unsampled. It is located in a very hostile environment, and logistics have prevented us from getting there until now."

Scientists are analyzing the results of the first full-scale expedition to the region which took place last year.

From the end of July to early October 2001, researchers aboard the new icebreaker the United States Coast Guard Healy and the German Research Vessel Polarstern undertook the first systematic sampling of the Gakkel Ridge.

"We accomplished easily a factor of two more than we planned," said Dr Michael.

Small robotic submarines, called Miniature Autonomous Plume Recorders (MAPRs), were deployed on a trawl wire during sea-floor dredging and drilling operations, in order to identify sites of hydrothermal venting, by looking in the water for the chemicals these remarkable geological features spew into the ocean.

The scientists involved in the research program said the extent of the hydrothermal activity they detected was remarkable, especially since it was thought the prevalence of venting was related to the rate at which the sea floor spreads.

"Our discovery of these signals clearly show that hydrothermal vents similar to those present on faster-spreading mid-ocean ridges are present in abundance here, too" said Henrietta Edmonds, of the University of Texas.

According to Charles Langmuir the expedition "found more hydrothermal activity on this cruise than in 20 years of exploration on the mid-Atlantic ridge".

"These exciting discoveries on Gakkel Ridge," said Peter Michael, "pave the way for future expeditions that will map the vents and may discover completely new organisms."

Linda Kuhnz, a biologist from Moss Landing Marine Labs in California, who participated in the expedition, added: "The abundance and taxonomic breadth of the animals we found was quite a surprise."

The isolation of the Arctic Ocean has long intrigued biologists. They hope that some of the samples recovered will help answer the question of whether the lifeforms and ecosystems in the Arctic resemble those from the Atlantic Ocean or Pacific Ocean, or whether they have evolved separately..

Chewing Is Important

By Maggie Fox
Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON January 14, 2002 (Reuters) - President Bush has learned the hard way that his mother was right -- you should not stuff dry pretzels down your gullet and you should pay attention when eating, an expert said on Monday.

Doctors said there were several possible medical explanations for the incident on Sunday in which Bush apparently passed out after a pretzel went down the wrong way.

"My mother always said when you're eating pretzels, chew before you swallow," Bush told reporters on Monday.

Dr. William Ravich, who directs the swallowing center at Johns Hopkins University medical school in Baltimore, said choking can cause a person to faint, an occurrence known as vasovagal syncope. Pain, such as that caused by a cramp or choking, sends a signal to the vagus nerve, which in turns signals the heart, slowing it down so much that the person faints.

"It refers to a neurologically mediated fainting episode that is usually brought on by stress or pain," Ravich said in a telephone interview. "It is something like when a person sees blood, he or she faints from the sight of blood," Ravich said. "It is a stress-related response. ... If somebody felt he couldn't breathe, stress could cause you to lose consciousness. It would essentially lower blood pressure."

If Bush coughed and coughed to get rid of the pretzel, he could also have fainted from that. Simply having one's trachea blocked by food can also cause a faint, Ravich said. There were no witnesses, but Ravich said Bush would likely have turned blue before he fainted.

"It is the type of thing the Heimlich maneuver is performed for," he said.

The Heimlich maneuver is a carefully placed push that can help dislodge an object from a choking person's throat. While choking is embarrassing, it is not unusual, Ravich said.

"It can occur if a person is distracted," he said, perhaps while shouting at a television screen during a sporting event. "Maybe presidents are more distracted than others," he added. "Most people at one time or another can recall feeling that something went down the wrong pipe."

Choking can also be caused by a number of disorders, especially if the many muscles involved in swallowing do not work together.

So was grandma right when she advised chewing 30 times before swallowing?

"Who would possibly count?" Ravich asked. "You swallow 600 times a day. Those are old wives tales. But you do want to chew your food and when people get in trouble is when they are not paying attention to chewing."

Bush's doctor checked him out after the incident and said he was fine, aside from a scrape on his cheek and a cut lip.

Fox Evades US Supreme Court
WASHINGTON January 15, 2002 (Reuters) - A fox is on the loose at the U.S. Supreme Court. The animal ran down the driveway and into the basement early on Sunday morning, spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said on Monday.

"It wasn't a dog, it wasn't a rat," she reported, noting that officers had seen the animal and reviewed a video surveillance tape.

Police in the building and animal control experts from the Washington government searched for the fox, but did not find it, she said. A Virginia hunt group was also called in and searched with two fox hounds and a terrier, but to no avail.

As the justices took the bench to hear arguments, Arberg said the Supreme Court would call in another specialist on Monday. She said it was possible the fox had left.
US Expands Military Role Around the World

Associated Press

WASHINGTON January 15, 2002 (AP) - The war on terrorism is leading the United States to rapidly increase its military ties with nations large and small.

That means more U.S. soldiers will be spread around the globe in coming years, despite President Bush's warning during his election campaign that the military was stretched thin, with too many overseas deployments.

Already, American special forces train armies across Africa. The Pentagon fights war games in the Middle East. U.S. soldiers engage in scores of joint training exercises from South America to Southeast Asia.

Even before Sept. 11, the military had a presence in 140 countries worldwide.

Now it is busy expanding - or considering expansion - not just in Afghanistan, where the war against accused terror mastermind Osama bin Laden is taking place, and neighboring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, but in a slew of countries beyond: Armenia and Azerbaijan in Central Asia to Somalia in East Africa to the Philippines and Indonesia in Southeast Asia.

"Overall, the American military global presence is more pervasive today than at any point in American history," said John Pike, a military analyst in Washington.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has suggested a pullback in only one place - a cut of about one-third in NATO troops on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia.

The new reach of America's military is worrying some nations.

Iran is increasingly nervous about being encircled by countries with new U.S. military ties, said Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert in Washington. China has long worried about American power. The military presence worldwide also could further anger Islamic hard-liners across southwest Asia and the Middle East.

Bin Laden first targeted America when thousands of U.S. troops who came to Saudi Arabia to fight the Persian Gulf War stayed on to maintain regional security.

During his 2000 campaign for president, Bush criticized his opponent, Al Gore, and the vice president's boss, President Clinton, for overextending U.S. military forces by intervening in places where vital U.S. security interests were not at stake.

Yet a recent Pentagon paper identifies vital American security interests in almost every part of the globe, with the notable exception of Africa.

The Afghan campaign again has taught U.S. officials that it pays to have relationships with countries important and obscure worldwide, whom the United States may need tomorrow, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said recently.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States moved quickly to strengthen ties with Pakistan so it could use Pakistani air bases. It approached the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and reached deals to put air bases in both.

In return, those countries get valuable help with military training or access to equipment. Countries like Singapore, where Navy ships dock, get a public linkage with America that might deter aggression, even if the United States makes no formal guarantee of military help.

The United States also increasingly tries to preposition military equipment worldwide, to lessen its dependence on cargo planes when trouble pops up, said Loren Thompson, an analyst at the Lexington Institute in Washington. A recent Pentagon study proposed putting even more equipment in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.

"Coming out of Desert Storm (in 1991), we started to build up prepositioned things," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said Monday.

In some cases, as it courts a country's military forces, the United States is willing to set aside human rights or other problems.

U.S. officials want to help Indonesia fight possible member clusters of bin Laden's al-Qaida network, for example, but are under restrictions because of human rights abuses there, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz recently told The New York Times. Those restrictions "really need to be reviewed in the light of Sept. 11," he said.

The United States doesn't trumpet much of the military cooperation. Uzbekistan, for example, is skittish that its role could anger Islamic hard-liners and thus has pressed U.S. officials to restrict news coverage. Rumsfeld and his spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke, have said that is a fair deal, in return for base access.

Saudi Arabia also doesn't talk about the thousands of U.S. forces there. That trend will only grow as America's presence grows, analyst Pike said.

In both the Persian Gulf and central Asia, he said, "A great deal is being done to downplay the thing."

Microbes Point To Life on Mars

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON January 16, 2002 (Reuters) - Finding out how life exists on Mars may not involve a long space journey after all, following the discovery by scientists of organisms under the Earth's surface living in conditions like those on the red planet.

The microbes found in a geothermal hotspring 200 yards under the Beverhead Mountains in Idaho are unlike anything else on Earth, the scientists said on Wednesday, and could explain how life might exist on Mars without water or sunlight.

"It is a stretch to go to Mars to prove that there is life there. This fits in with the model that geochemists have come up with. If life exists, this is probably the way it exists on Mars," Derek Lovley said in a telephone interview.

The head of microbiology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said the micro-organisms are as close as anyone has come to finding life on Earth under conditions similar to what is thought to exist below the surface of Mars.

"This study demonstrates, for the first time, that certain micro-organisms can thrive in the absence of sunlight by using hydrogen gas released deep in the Earth's surface as their energy source," Lovley explained.

A decade-long search to find life that could survive underground without sunlight ended when he and Francis Chappelle of the U.S. Geological Survey found the micro-organisms that are thought to resemble early life on Earth.

On Mars and other planets there is no sunlight and water only exists below the surface, so living organisms must have an alternative energy source to survive.

"It serves as a model of how life might exist on Mars. We're looking at life on Earth conditions that are thought to exist on the subsurface of Mars," said Lovley.

Other organisms found under the Earth's surface live on organic matter that had been deposited in the rocks or carried in ground water. But the volcanic rock in which the Idaho microbes were found had no organic matter but did have large amounts of hydrogen. Most of the organisms were Archaea, which are thought to be closely related to ancient life on earth.

"In this case, the Archaea were methane-producing micro-organisms that live by combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide to make methane gas. They do not require organic carbon in order to grow. This is exactly the scenario that geochemists have predicted for life on Mars," Lovley said.

Mother Lode Found in Milky Way Star
EARTH January 14, 2002 (AAS) - A group of astronomers has struck gold--in the nether regions of the Milky Way. The team reported at the American Astronomical Society meeting that it detected gold, silver and platinum in an ancient star in the halo surrounding our galaxy.

It is the first time that gold has been detected in a star other than our sun. Although difficult to detect, gold and platinum are thought to be present in all stars. The elements are not produced by the star but by massive supernova explosions. The findings could explain how the elements that make up our world and bodies came into being.

If it could be mined, the amount of gold in the star would be worth an estimated $7 billion trillion, estimated astronomer Tim Beers of Michigan State University, who worked with University of Oklahoma astronomer John Cowan to detect the metals.

American Astronomical Society -
Scientists Dream of Flying Wings


London January 17, 2002 (The Times UK) - It may look like something piloted by Dan Dare, but aeronautics engineers insist that the “blended wing-body” aircraft is technically feasible and could be transporting passengers within ten years.

The idea of an aircraft in which the fuselage becomes one giant wing has been around even longer than the Eagle comic’s space captain. But it is enjoying a revival because it could lead to a huge fall in the fuel consumption, and therefore the emissions, of commercial aviation.

“There isn’t anything stopping us building it now. It’s just a slightly different shaped aeroplane,” said Ian Poll, director of the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield University and a contributor to the aviation industry’s Greener by Design report.

The aircraft would burn half the fuel of conventional jets because of the vastly reduced drag. But to be at its most efficient, it would need to fly 10,000ft higher, at 45,000ft where the air is thinner. Passengers would sit across the wing in long rows, as opposed to lining up in columns inside today’s planes. The report acknowledges that the aircraft would meet some resistance from passengers reluctant to travel in a “wide windowless cabin”.

But Professor Poll says travellers would accept it for its environmental benefits. “In any case, you would have an alternative window in the form of a screen in the back of the seat in front of you,” he said.

The report recommends that further studies be commenced immediately to “resolve doubts and to demonstrate the key technology in a realistic environment”.

Professor Poll believes that the major obstacle is the industry’s reluctance to invest in the first fundamental design change since the Second World War, when a fuselage that was built to carry huge bombs was adapted as the model for all airliners built ever since.

“It doesn’t fit into existing factories, which are built to assemble a cylindrical fuselage with stubby wings. The incentive must be sufficiently great to warrant the investment, but if you really want to cut fuel consumption then this is the way to go,” he said.

SoloTrek Exo-Skeletor Personal Flying Machine

Associated Press

SUNNYVALE, Calif. January 15, 2002 (AP) - When you've spent millions of dollars and nearly six years working at a personal flying machine, you measure progress in small increments.

So it's perhaps understandable that the inventor of the SoloTrek is touting his most recent breakthrough - getting the 325-pound machine a few feet off the ground for 19 seconds - as a test "flight."

"We have to walk before we can run," said inventor Michael Moshier, a former Navy pilot and aerospace engineer. "We're getting more confident and not yet taking it too far before we get too comfortable."

Reminiscent of a clunky Buck Rogers jetpack, the 8-foot-tall SoloTrek Exo-Skeletor Flying Vehicle has a gasoline engine that drives two large fans. The pilot flies it in a standing position and controls its movement with two joysticks.

The machine is designed to go 80 mph and fly 150 miles on one tank of gas. Moshier plans to add a global positioning system for navigation and a parachute-equipped ejector seat.

The device is envisioned for a variety of uses, from allowing airborne soldiers to avoid land mines or impassable roads, to something traffic reporters and tourists might use.

Moshier and his 10 employees at Millennium Jet Inc. have fired up the SoloTrek a few times in front of the company's headquarters on an industrial cul-de-sac in Sunnyvale, drawing astonished looks from passers-by.

He hasn't yet invited reporters to see a liftoff in person, but he has a video clip of the longest flight, which happened Dec. 18.

The video shows Moshier, with his pants flapping in the wind from the SoloTrek's air fans, getting the machine to hover about three feet off the ground. For Moshier's safety and the protection of his sole prototype, the SoloTrek was tethered to a crane and to poles on the ground.

Moshier plans to test the SoloTrek without any leashes within a few months.

"At this point, he has shown remarkable progress in getting as far as he has in such a relatively short amount of time," said William Warmbrodt, chief of aeromechanics at the nearby NASA Ames Research Center. Warmbrodt's team has helped Moshier research his project and let him use a wind tunnel. "I think it holds genuine promise."

The Defense Department is giving Moshier $5 million over three years in hopes that the SoloTrek can help soldiers get in and out of dangerous spots quickly. Moshier says he is on schedule to deliver a prototype to U.S. Special Forces by the end of 2003.

Moshier believes consumer use is a possibility someday.

But technology forecaster Paul Saffo, a director of the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, isn't so sure. He wonders whether SoloTreks can be made idiot-proof enough for regulators to deem it safe for the public.

"The moment you move through three dimensions, that takes special skills," Saffo said. "This is a specialty for military, police and less obvious things - like power line inspection."

SoloTrek -

Mob Strips Women Naked Over Mini-Skirts

LUSAKA January 15, 2002 (Reuters) - Police said Tuesday they had arrested 20 members of Zambia's ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) after hundreds of youths stripped women naked for wearing mini-skirts or trousers.

Dozens of women were stripped in the capital Lusaka on Monday by unruly mobs who said they were acting in the name of new Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa and wanted to enforce "official or smart casual dress" among Zambian women.

Mwanawasa, returning from a regional summit in Malawi on Monday night, denied he had given Zambians a new dress code and condemned the actions of the youths as a disgrace and an attempt to deny Zambian women their liberty and freedom over dress.

"It is a presidential directive that the youths involved be firmly dealt with by law enforcers," presidential spokesman Arthur Yoyo told reporters.

Lusaka newspapers Tuesday quoted the youths as saying they understood that Mwanawasa had directed an end to "suggestive and provocative" or "slut wear" dressing by women.

No To Second Hand Transplant
Associated Press

LYON, France January 14, 2002 (AP) - The man who received the world's first transplanted hand, then had it amputated at his own request, now says he wants another hand.

Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard, who led the team that carried out the surgery, said Clint Hallam recently sent an e-mail to one of his doctors asking for another transplant.

Dubernard said Hallam had missed his chance, noting that French medical authorities now only allow transplants considered vital, such as for a patient who has lost both arms.

Hallam, 51, lost his right hand in a chain saw accident 17 years ago. In 1998, a team of surgeons in Lyon grafted a donor hand onto his forearm in an operation that made medical history. But Hallam infuriated his specialists by regularly breaking contact with them and refusing to follow necessary drug treatment. He said his body had rejected the hand and that he had become "mentally detached from it."

In February, the hand was amputated at his request.

Doctors said his failure to follow the correct drug treatment, including intensive physiotherapy, led to complications and signs that his body was rejecting the limb. Psychologist Gabriel Bourloud said Hallam, his former patient, likely became so used to living with one hand that he lacked the will to complete the difficult and lengthy process of adapting to his new limb.

"Hallam was not motivated during his physiotherapy and did not take his medicine, so his hand suffered," Bourloud said.
NASA Deep Ice Robot Passes Test


PASADENA, Calif. January 14, 2002 (AP) - A hot-nosed robot melted its way 75 feet into an Arctic glacier in a test of NASA technology that one day could probe for life deep under ice on Earth, Mars and Jupiter's frozen moon Europa.

The cylindrical Cryobot - its copper tip heated to temperatures up to 195 degrees - took four days to bore into the glacier on the island of Spitsbergen, north of the Arctic Circle.

"It was basically like a hot iron against the ice," said Lloyd French, who was among scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology involved in October's test.

Early versions of cylindrical robots designed to explore harsh environments have been tested in California's Monterey Bay Aquarium, in the ocean off Hawaii and at JPL, where scientists simulated glacial conditions.

The more-advanced Cyrobot - 3.3 feet long and about 5 inches in diameter - was developed with an eye toward space and the prospect of missions to Mars and Europa, which is carpeted with thick ice that blankets what may be an ocean of liquid water.

But even if budget woes at NASA keep it on Earth, researchers believe the $1.3 million machine could search for microbial life in places like Lake Vostok, which lies beneath a thick shield of Antarctic ice.

"By no means is Earth merely a testing ground for Europa and Mars," said Frank Carsey, a Cryobot scientist at JPL. "There are many interesting environments on Earth where a Cryobot could be the best technology for conducting safe and effective scientific studies."

Troops to Guard Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. January 16, 2002 (Reuters) - Troops will be deployed in a small Pennsylvania community in February to guard a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil, which each year attracts huge crowds of people who believe the animal can forecast the weather.

"We just never know what may pop up in these times, so we are getting prepared," said Jamie Levier, a spokesman for the state police in Punxsutawney, a rural community about 90 miles (144 km) northwest of Pittsburgh made famous in a movie called "Groundhog Day" that starred Bill Murray.

A team of state police, bomb-sniffing dogs and National Guard troops will be stationed near Gobbler's Knob Feb. 2 to ward off problems at this year's Groundhog Day festivities.

Levier said all knapsacks will be hand checked by police and spectators will not be permitted to drive to the groundhog site. More than 100 school buses will be available to transport people. All passengers will be inspected as they enter the buses, Levier said.

Bill Cooper, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, said he expects more than 30,000 spectators at this year's forecast event. If the groundhog can see its own shadow on that day, winter will last another six weeks before spring, according to legend.

In the past 116 years, the rodent and its ancestors have seen a shadow 101 times.

"There was only one year we did not have the event and that was in 1942 because we did not want to give our World War II enemies any favorable weather forecasts," Cooper said.

Although some local residents had thought about canceling the event because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Cooper said that city leaders felt the event would show the world the nation's "resiliency."

"Everything has changed in America, but Groundhog Day is one way of showing the world we are getting back to normal," said Cooper. "Still, I guess having a groundhog who eats strawberry yogurt may not sound very normal, but it does put a smile on a weary nervous town and nation these days," added Cooper.

New State of Matter Created

AP Science Writer

Germany January 13, 2002 (AP) - Scientists say they've created a new state of matter in a super-cold gas, a step that might someday help researchers create ultra-powerful "quantum'' computers.

The work should also aid investigations into exotic behavior of atoms in solids, the kinds of phenomena used in computer disc drives and in superconductivity, the ability of some materials to conduct electricity without resistance.

The new work is reported in the Jan. 3 issue of the journal Nature by Immanuel Bloch, senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, and the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, with co-authors.

The best-known states of matter are solid, liquid and gas; a peculiar kind of gas called plasma is another. The term is also applied, somewhat more loosely, to other categories of matter with basic properties that keep them from fitting neatly into those categories.

Bloch and colleagues started with a Bose-Einstein condensate, an exotic kind of gas chilled to about minus 460 degrees. Such condensates are also considered a novel state of matter, and their creation a few years ago won the Nobel Prize in physics last year.

Atoms in Bose-Einstein condensates flow without friction, forming a so-called superfluid. In a sense, they act in such coordinated fashion they lose their individual identities and form one big superatom.

Bloch and colleagues broke up that behavior by zapping the condensate with laser beams. That created a latticelike pattern resembling high-energy mountains separated by low-energy valleys. Atoms became trapped in the valleys, no longer flowing freely. The effect is somewhat like the way an egg carton can hold marbles in its depressions.

The resulting latticelike arrangement of atoms resembles that of a solid, but with the distances between atoms about 10,000-fold greater, commented physicist Eric Cornell of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado in Boulder.

So it opens new doors to studying the atomic behavior of solids, said Cornell, one of the recipient's of last year's Nobel physics prize for creating Bose-Einstein condensates.

The work also represents a step toward quantum computation, which could take advantage of interactions between atoms, Henk Stoof of Utrecht University in the Netherlands wrote in a Nature commentary.

Hawking Extols Joy of Discovery

Cambridge January 11, 2002 (BBC) - Scientific discovery may not be better than sex, but the satisfaction lasts longer, says Professor Stephen Hawking.

"There is nothing like the 'Eureka' moment, of discovering something that no one knew before," he said in a lecture at the end of a week-long Cambridge conference celebrating his 60th birthday.

"I will not compare it to sex - but it lasts longer."

Since 1979, Professor Hawking has been Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, UK, a post awarded to Sir Isaac Newton in 1669.

"It has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics," he told an audience of 200 paying guests - which included astronomer royal, Sir Martin Rees, and Rock band U2's multi-millionaire guitarist, The Edge. "Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the past 40 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution. I want to share my excitement and enthusiasm."

Britain's longest surviving motor neuron disease sufferer, Professor Hawking was given little more than two years to live after being diagnosed with the crippling muscle-wasting condition at the age of 22.

He can hardly move and uses a speech synthesizer running on a portable computer to speak and give lectures around the world.

Professor Hawking is recovering from a broken hip. He crashed into a wall after his wheelchair toppled on cobbles outside his Cambridge home while he was on his way to the city center with a nurse.

Professor Hawking was taken by ambulance to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge where he remained for five days.

He has had a tracheotomy, which means he cannot have conventional anaesthetic and remained conscious during the surgery.

Professor Hawking told close friends: "It was like hearing a Black and Decker drill. I had an argument with a wall a few days after Christmas and the wall won," he said.

"But Addenbrooke's did a very good job of putting me back together again."

Professor Hawking obtained a first class honors degree in physics at University College, written countless scientific papers and three best-selling books.

His book, A Brief History Of Time, became an international best-seller - although it is thought many who bought the book never quite finished it because of the complexity of some of the concepts contained within it.

Nevertheless, Professor Hawking has become a multi-millionaire and achieved a popular status enjoyed by few scientists, even making guest appearances on The Simpsons cartoon show and Star Trek.

Professor Hawking explains on his own website that one of his achievements has been to show, together with Sir Roger Penrose, that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity implies space and time have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes.

Genre News: Roswell, Buffy, Angel, Andromeda and Catherine Zeta-Jones

More Roswell Ordered

Hollywood January 15, 2002 (SciFi) - Jason Katims, executive producer of UPN's teen-alien series Roswell, told SCI FI Wire that the Smackdown network has picked up seven more episodes of the current season, for a full year's complement.

"They picked up another seven, so we're doing 20 episodes this year, a total of 20," Katims said in an interview at UPN's winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif. "Which is good. We're shooting now the 14th episode. ... We're more than halfway into shooting." The season finale, which will count as two episodes, will be aired in a two-hour block.

The show, which has faced stiff competition from The WB's Smallville this year, has been in danger of disappearing altogether, as it has for most of its life. As for whether UPN will pick up the series for a fourth season, Katims said, "For next year, we're essentially where we always are around this time of year, which is we don't know. This is where we were the first season and the second season, which is we're kind of at this point not sure about whether the show is going to come back."

Katims also offered spoilers for upcoming episodes in the rest of season three. "[Episodes] 13 and 14 are also a two-part episode," he said. "I think the first half of the season has been sort of dedicated to reestablishing the character stories of the show, ... headlined by Isabel's marriage. ... And then what we're doing starting in February is ... Liz starts to believe that there's some residual effects that have come about after Max has healed her. And she doesn't know what's happening to her, and at some point she thinks she may be dying. ... [She has] certain almost hallucinatory experiences and finally realizes that she needs to get away, and that's really for her own well-being. And she leaves, and she goes to Vermont. Through February, we're ... doing episodes that are ... raising the story stakes, playing around with both that premise with Liz and some other sci-fi premises, to bring us [to] ... a few episodes that remind me of the last few episodes of the first season, where there was definitely a lot of strong human emotion that came out of it, but there were very high stakes, kind of wild episodes. ... Big things happen. Jesse winds up discovering the truth about Isabel. Things like that."

Roswell airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. PT/ET.

Buffy Toon Stalled?

Hollywood January 16, 2002 (SciFi) - Buffy the Vampire Slayer executive producer Marti Noxon told SCI FI Wire that the proposed animated version of the popular UPN series may be stalled.

"The animated series is still in the works," Noxon said in an interview at UPN's winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif. "I think that ... there's been some problems with Fox Family TV. So I'm not sure it's going to go on, ... not because of anything having to do with the show, but because I think Fox is not sure that they want to do more family programming like that. ... It's not going away, because scripts are written and stuff has already been done. But right now, the question is where it's going to end up airing."

Noxon, who is co-running the original Buffy with creator Joss Whedon, said that Whedon and other Buffy writers have already written a half-dozen scripts for the animated series.

"Almost everybody except me," she said with a laugh. The animated show is "really funny. It's really charming. It's got to get on the air. It's definitely one of those animated shows that skews both for adults and kids. It's going to kick Spongebob's ass! Just kidding."

David Boreanaz, who stars in the Buffy spinoff series Angel on the rival WB network, told SCI FI Wire that he won't be voicing the vampire character in the animated show, which is supposed to be set back at Sunnydale High School.

"Joss came to me, and he said, 'We're doing the Buffy animated thing, and you're more than welcome to come down.' And I've just been so tied up now with work that it just hasn't happened. So I don't think it's going to happen."

Angel Goes Musical - Kind Of...

LOS ANGELES January 15, 2002 ( - Well into its third season, The WB's "Angel" hasn't really gotten the kind of special attention that creator Joss Whedon has lavished on the show it was spun off from -- "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Whedon, who wrote and directed the premiere of the moody vampire drama, will return to fill both roles again for the Feb. 4 episode "Waiting in the Wings."

In the episode, Angel takes friends and co-workers Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn to the ballet only to recognize the prima ballerina from another show -- one he saw 100 years before.

When Angel and Cordelia go to investigate they find themselves at the whim of spirits of unrequited lovers and consumed with passion for each other.

This past fall, the cast of "Buffy" was subjected to all singing/dancing episode entitled "Once More with Feeling."

WB Hoax E-mail Gag Fails To Amuse

LOS ANGELES January 12, 2002 (AP) - Some recipients were not amused by an e-mail hoax from the WB network notifying them of their selection for jury duty in state Superior Court.

The e-mails were sent as a promotion for the network's new practical-joke program, "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment."

Nearly 7 million subscribers to the eUniverse humor Web site were sent the phony summons, which had the subject line "Jury Duty Notification," and a bogus court seal.

In Wisconsin, J. Denis Moran, the director of state courts, noted that the region did not have a Superior Court and issued a news release denouncing the promotion. The WB only sent the release to people who signed up to receive satiric messages, according to a network statement.

"No harm or confusion was intended," the statement said.

WB officials declined to say whether the jury notification hoaxes would continue.

Engels New Chief At Andromeda

Hollywood January 14, 2002 (SciFi) - Veteran writer-producer Robert Engels will run the Andromeda writing staff next season, replacing the show's co-creator, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, the official Web site reported. Wolfe (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) left the Tribune/Fireworks Entertainment syndicated series because of disagreements over the creative direction of the SF show.

Engels worked on David Lynch's Twin Peaks, co-wrote the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and served as co-executive producer on the SF series SeaQuest DSV, the site reported.

Supervising consultants Matt Kiene and Joe Rienkemeyer and consultants Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz are returning for the series' third season, the site reported.

Zeta-Jones Signs Mother Of All Deals

Hollywood January 16, 2002 (Daily Record) - Catherine Zeta-Jones will collect an astonishing 54 million pounds for her next nine movies - if she doesn't have another baby for three years.

The wife of Michael Douglas has been offered around 6 million pounds per film in a record-breaking deal for a British actress, and she will appear alongside Hollywood stars such as Richard Gere, George Clooney and Russell Crowe.

But the deal hinges on her not falling pregnant again.

Welsh-born Catherine's plans include playing sexy Velma Kelly in the big screen version of the musical Chicago with Gere. She will star in and produce Coming Out, about a gay Welsh rugby coach, and play a gold-digger who has an affair with George Clooney in the comedy Intolerable Cruelty.

Catherine will also appear with Russell Crowe in Greekfire, the story of the love affair between Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas. She will star with her husband in the courtroom movie Smoke And Mirrors and play Elizabeth Taylor in Monty, a film about tortured US movie star Montgomery Clift.

The megabucks deal includes a sequel to Mask Of Zorro with Sir Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas and a voiceover for the animated movie Sinbad.

Hollywood sources say Zeta-Jones, 32, fears she will suffer the same fate as other leading ladies whose roles dried up by the time they reached 40.

Her deal is more than double the 20 million pound contract won by British-born Frasier star Jane Leeves, which runs until 2005.

A movie insider said: "Although nine films appears a colossal amount of work over a three-year period, when broken down into the individual periods of time she would spend on any one set, it's easy to see how the work can be fitted in. She would never be required on set for more than two or three weeks at any one time and production would overlap, so she could fly between locations."

She and Douglas, 57, have a 12-month-old son Dylan.

Catherine's big break came in the hit ITV series The Darling Buds Of May, when, at 22, she played David Jason's voluptuous daughter.

Bounty Descendants Mull AIDS Immigration Ban

SYDNEY January 17, 2002 (Reuters) - The descendants of the mutinous crew of the Bounty may ban people with AIDS from moving to their isolated Pacific home.

Chief Minister Geoffrey Gardner said a local legislator on Norfolk Island had proposed altering the semi-autonomous Australian territory's immigration act to stop HIV positive migrants, or people with hepatitis B or C, moving there. "It is not a proposal to prevent anybody with HIV or Hep from visiting Norfolk Island," Gardner told Reuters by telephone Thursday from the South Pacific outpost, 995 miles northeast of Sydney.

The aim of the proposal from legislative assembly member John Brown, he added, was to protect the fragile local health system from having to cope with the potentially enormous cost of treating long-term residents infected with the HIV virus.

A little under half of Norfolk Island's 2,000 permanent residents are direct descendants of the men who set Captain William Bligh adrift in a small boat after their infamous 1789 mutiny on the British ship, HMS Bounty.

There are no official statistics but popular wisdom holds that Norfolk Island is HIV-free.

The proposal to keep the island AIDS-free, which must be passed by the assembly and can be overruled by Canberra, riled civil rights campaigners in Australia.

National Council on AIDS president Chris Puplick said the legislation would be outrageous.

"It's not justified on any grounds including public health grounds, and it's an act of discrimination and prejudice which would not be allowed anywhere else in Australia," Puplick told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

Gardner said it was little different to bans on people suffering from tuberculosis -- such as in Australia.

Australia also subjects would-be permanent migrants to a battery of medical tests, including for HIV, while many countries, such as the United States, demand that visitors declare on arrival whether they have communicable diseases.

Gardner said the affair was far from settled as the legislative assembly would not meet for another month, giving residents and lawmakers plenty of time to debate the proposal.

Hospital Investigates Skeleton
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad January 16, 2002 (Reuters) - A Trinidad hospital that found a skeleton in a small room near a patients' ward was investigating on Wednesday how a body languished for months unnoticed and who the dead person was.

An electrician carrying out maintenance work at a state-run hospital in San Fernando, in the southern part of the Caribbean island, stumbled upon the decomposed body in a small room on Tuesday, officials said on Wednesday.

Police said the body may have been in the room for as long as nine months. The room is located near a second-floor ward but is hardly ever used by staff.

Neil Parsanlal, head of communications at the hospital, said he had no reports of anyone lost from the wards but police were checking their missing persons files.

The president of the doctors' association in Trinidad and Tobago, Phillip Ayoung Chee, said the gruesome discovery highlighted security problems at the hospital.
Blashers Inca Expedition A 'Fraud'?

By Andrew Alderson
and Janet Midwinter

London January 13, 2002 (Telegraph UK) - The renowned British explorer Col John Blashford-Snell has been accused of organizing a flawed expedition into South America's rain forests that dynamited its way through the jungle, damaged the environment and made unsubstantiated claims about having found a lost Inca city.

A report for the Bolivian government over the latest venture by "Blashers", as he is known by friends, also denounces his trip as being scientifically worthless.

Newspapers claimed last year that Col Blashford-Snell's expedition had discovered Paititi, the fabled lost city where the Incas are said to have fled more than four centuries ago to escape the Spanish conquistadors. Juan Faldin, a Bolivian archaeologist sent by the country's institute of culture to supervise part of the expedition, concluded, however, that the "discoveries" were worthless. "From an archaeological perspective, the expedition is a fraud," he wrote.

The report and other criticisms have "mystified" Col Blashford-Snell, who is a friend of the Prince of Wales and whose expedition party disclosed last year how it had braved poisonous snakes, deadly insects and hot, humid conditions to explore deep into the rainforest.

Col Blashford-Snell, 65, who lives in Dorset and is preparing for the fourth and penultimate phase of the expedition, denied that his group had made false claims or had harmed the environment. He conceded, however, that dynamite had been used to help to clear a 10-mile tourist trail through dense jungle.

The 50-page report by Mr Faldin is deeply critical of phase three of the Koto Mama expedition, which took place last year. About 60 people, mainly Britons, paid an average of £2,600 to participate in the four-month trip. The report claims that "historic" structures "discovered" by the expedition were, in fact, wooden platforms left by explorers in the 1950s.

Col Blashford-Snell has also been criticized by a respected American anthropologist who was working in Bolivia at the time. Dr Alexei Vranich, who spoke to a number of the expedition's members, believes that the trip was "a mess from day one".

Dr Vranich, of the University of Pennsylvania, said: "As far as the 'lost' city was concerned, it was like me saying I had discovered Central Park."

Many of the volunteers were ill-prepared for the inhospitable terrain, he said. "Everyone was wet, muddy and the food was poor. It was ridiculous to grab a bunch of inexperienced volunteers to drop into an area like this. They were told by the Bolivian culture minister that everything they found had been discovered before, but they wouldn't listen. They even declared that a piece of natural stone was a monolith used in religious rituals. The guides found it very amusing and by the end of it all were having a fun time piling up stones and calling the directors of the expedition to say they had found another statue. Worst of all, in order to get to the site, an advance party, led by the Royal Engineers, used methods which every academic and environmentally conscious government in the world condemns."

Col Blashford-Snell has explored widely in South America, and invented white-water rafting. He co-founded the Scientific Exploration Society, of which he is now the chairman, in 1968 and co-founded Operation Raleigh, with the Prince of Wales, in 1984.

This weekend, the explorer said he believed that rivalries between archaeologists had been behind the criticisms. He admitted that dynamite had been used, saying: "We did not use it at the site, but we were building a tourist track and we had to use explosives to make a river crossing. We never claimed to have found the lost city of Paititi. Others tried to make it seem we had said that, but we were always careful about our claims. I have serious doubts whether there even is a Paititi: it may be a bit like Eldorado, always over the next hill, because Indians wanted the Spanish to go away and look somewhere else. All we can say is we found a site we were asked to look for. I am not an archaeologist and my job was to find a way there, build a trail to it and map it. That's what we did."

Col Blashford-Snell said he had never heard of his two critics, but added: "There is a huge amount of rivalry between various foreign groups working in Bolivia. Three senior Bolivian archaeologists working with us were full of praise for what we achieved, and we worked under their direction."

Many British archaeologists believe that it is wrong to use explosives in a rainforest. Elizabeth Currie, of the University of York's archaeology department, said: "It's thoroughly disreputable. You cannot call yourself a scientific expedition and behave like this.

"You shouldn't destroy sensitive ecosystems or the archaeological record by using dynamite."

Little Guy Takes Giant to Court

AP Business Writer

SAN FRANCISCO January 14, 2002 (AP) — Entrepreneur Ken Belanger is certain he has a strong case against Microsoft for trademark infringement, but a conventional lawsuit would never stand a chance against the software giant's cache of high-paid lawyers.

So Belanger is taking his beef to a place made for little guys — small claims court.

Claiming that Microsoft Corp. illegally latched on to the name "Pocket PC'' for its handheld computer operating system, Belanger paid $20 last week to file a small claims complaint against the Redmond, Wash.-based company. The dispute is scheduled to be heard Feb. 22 before a small claims commissioner in San Francisco.

With the case, Belanger hopes to win the maximum $5,000 award allowed in California's small claims courts and establish his legal right to the Web address, a site that Microsoft launched two years ago.

Although Belanger never officially registered Pocket PC with the federal government, legal experts say he still may hold a "common law'' trademark on the name in California. A common law trademark is established whenever someone sells a commercial product under a specific name, said Harvey Dunn, an intellectual property attorney in Dallas.

"It doesn't sound like a totally frivolous case,'' Dunn said. "The ultimate question may come down to whether anyone would confuse what he is marketing with what Microsoft is marketing.''

Belanger contends the name belongs to him because he began selling a gag gift called the Pocket PC in 1985. The product, meant to spoof the high-tech industry's hype about small computing devices, is a plastic poker chip bearing a unique serial number.

About 1,200 people have paid $6.95 to $9.95 for Belanger's Pocket PC through the years. He thinks he could sell as many as 500,000 more Pocket PCs online if Microsoft would stop trespassing on his trademark.

If he wins, Belanger reasons he can use the judgment to prove his ownership of Pocket PC to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the online guardian known as ICANN. Getting the rights to, he said, is more important than the money.

"This isn't about holding up Microsoft. This is about taking back something that is already mine,'' Belanger said.

Microsoft declined to comment specifically about Belanger's suit, but spokesman Jim Dresler said it views "Pocket PC'' as a generic term.

He said that "Pocket PC'' is used to describe an operating system for a variety of handheld computers made by a long list of manufacturers that include Compaq, Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard and Casio.

Trademark disputes are nothing new for Microsoft. Last year, the company reached an undisclosed settlement with Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Xbox Technologies to secure the trademark for the name of Microsoft's video game player. The Michigan company changed its name to the Knowledge Mechanics Group.

Ken Belanger's Web site: -

7500 BC Lost River Civilization in India

NEW DELHI January 16, 2002 (Times of India) - A 'lost river' civilization dating back to 7500 BC has been discovered off India's western coast, a senior cabinet minister said Wednesday.

"The findings buried 40 meters (yards) below the sea reveal some sort of human civilization, a courtyard, staircase, a bathroom or a temple or something," said Murli Manohar Joshi, minister for human resources and also ocean development. "It looks like a Harrapan-type civilization but dating way back to 7500 BC."

The earliest discovered human civilizations in the subcontinent are the sites of the Harrapan and Indus Valley communities, which date back to 2500 BC. The 'marine archaeological findings' have been made by a joint exercise conducted by the Indian ocean development and archaeology institutes in the Gulf of Cambay region, off the coast of Gujarat state in the Arabian Sea. Objects such as pieces of construction material, artifacts with rectangular holes, fused objects, pottery, beads, broken pieces of sculpture, a fossilized jaw bone and human teeth and a cut wooden log have all been retrieved out from the site.

Carbon-dating and other methods have dated the finds to around 7500 BC. Acoustic imagery has also revealed a river stretch of nine kilometers (5.6 miles) along which all the objects have been found. The imagery also shows built-up structures protruding from the seabed.

"We have formed a group to undertake further studies," Joshi said. "We have to find out what happened then ... where and how did this civilization vanish ... what kind of seismological activity is taking place here."

The minister said the discovery could have implications worldwide. "The idea is to tell the world that here is an area which needs further examination due to the discovery of objects which have been dated back to 7500 BC."

The Sport of Bioengineering

Salt Lake City January 15, 2002 (BBC) - Yes, it is a picture of the Olympic rings, but the rings themselves are constructed out of living nerve cells. This biological version of the icon of sporting excellence measures 3.4 millimeters - about one-eighth of an inch - across.

The "living rings", as they have been dubbed, were produced by a graduate student at the University of Utah, Mike Manwaring. The state capital of Utah, Salt Lake City, is hosting the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

The purpose was "to demonstrate technology that someday might help repair spinal cord injuries from accidents and brain damage from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or other diseases", the university said.

Patrick Tresco, an associate professor of bioengineering and director of the university's Keck Center for Tissue Engineering, added: "It shows the public the biomedical research community's level of achievement, just as the Olympic Games demonstrate a high level of athletic accomplishment."

The body of each nerve cell - glowing as bright red dots in a microscopic picture of the rings - measures 20 microns (millionths of a meter), or two-fifths the width of a human hair. Each nerve fiber or axon in the rings is one micron wide - about one-fiftieth the width of a human hair. The nerve cells were grown over a bioengineered scaffold - shaped like the five Olympic rings - made of other cells, which in turn grew on a plastic material mounted on a brass plate.

"The objective of our lab is to control cell behavior on materials," Dr Tresco said. "So I challenged the group to create a living symbol of the Olympic Winter Games - using living nerve cells and tissue engineering technology."

Scientists hope new cell technologies will eventually allow them to reconnect damaged nerves in people with traumatic brain injury and even spinal cord injury. The nerve cells used to make these rings came from rats. They have been "tagged" with a fluorescent red dye to make them show up in the picture. The experiment demonstrates how scientists are learning to manipulate cell growth.

In a past experiment, paralyzed rats which had a segment of their spinal cord missing regained some function in their hind legs after researchers grew nerve tissue across a plastic scaffold placed in the gap.

Scientists concede, however, it could be many years before they are able to repeat such work in humans.

The Common Cold - What's Myth, What's Fact?

Associated Press Writer

San Antonio January 13, 2002 (AP) - There's no such thing as stomach flu. And no, you shouldn't starve a fever.

With winter in full swing, Americans are sniffling and sneezing by the millions, falling prey to flu, colds, strep throat and other common illnesses of the season. Yet most know little about what is making them sick or how best to treat their illnesses.

"People have a real misunderstanding about what causes their symptoms,'' says Dr. Jim Martin of San Antonio, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "And most of us are not very sophisticated about which problems are serious ones that require a doctor visit.''

Two of the season's most dreaded illnesses, cold and flu, are also two of the most misunderstood. Many people use the terms "flu'' and "cold'' interchangeably, although they are very different diseases.

Flu is a harsher illness that can lead to dangerous complications, such as pneumonia, in the elderly and those with weak immune systems. In general, flu hits harder and faster than a cold. A sudden high fever and severe body aches are its hallmarks.

Colds, meanwhile, are usually heralded by sneezing, congestion and a low-grade fever (or none at all). Complications are generally less serious. "True flu is almost always an acute process,'' says Martin.

People often complain of "stomach flu,'' an illness that, strictly speaking, doesn't exist. The influenza virus that causes flu affects only the respiratory (breathing) system, not the digestive tract. Upset stomachs are caused by other germs, including a variety of viruses and food-borne bacteria.

Patients are often misinformed about what leads to illness in winter. Whatever your parents told you, you can't get sick merely by walking outside in cold weather without a hat, or from having a wet head or feet.

Colds, flu, strep throat and other common illnesses are passed through contact — for example, touching a computer keyboard, doorknob or telephone after a sick person has used it, or sitting next to someone who is coughing and sniffling on a bus.

Exposure to a cold environment can make people vulnerable to illness in extreme cases, such as falling into icy water or being stranded outdoors in a blizzard. "If you get chilled enough, some of the immune systems in your lungs might not work as well,'' says cold expert Dr. Jack Gwaltney of the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

But even then, viruses and bacteria — not the cold environment itself — are the true culprits.

Popular wisdom on how to treat winter illnesses ranges from the absurd to the potentially harmful.

One adage, "starve a fever, feed a cold'' — or is it the other way around? — has no merit whatsoever, doctors say. The idea of depriving any sick person of food is "totally off the wall,'' says Gwaltney. "I have no idea where that came from.''

It's best to maintain a steady, nutritious diet during bouts with both cold and fever-inducing illnesses, he says.

Often, people who are sick with flu or a cold press their doctors for antibiotics, in the hopes of a speedier recovery. But colds and flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria, so antibiotics are useless in treating them.

Worse, overusing drugs helps germs develop defenses against treatment. "We don't want to help the bugs any more than we have to,'' says Gwaltney. Doctors and patients should use antibiotics to treat only true bacterial infections, such as strep throat and some types of pneumonia, he says.

Unpleasant as they are, symptoms such as fever and coughing are often best left to run their course. A low-grade fever is the body's way of "burning off'' offending germs, and coughing helps clear the lungs of infected secretions.

Still, some doctors say, an occasional swig of cough suppressant can't hurt if a persistent hack is interfering with sleep.

In fact, rest and drinking plenty of fluids remain the cornerstones of a speedy recovery. The more rest a person gets, the more energy his or her body has to make immune-system regulators, such as interferon. "If you go out and run for three miles, your body isn't going to be able to make as much interferon,'' Martin says.

Fluids help flush infected cells from the body and help the kidneys function more efficiently.

In recent years, many Americans have enlisted over-the-counter remedies such as zinc and echinacea in their battles with colds and flu. Experts are divided on whether those treatments work, however. Martin says he wouldn't prescribe herbal remedies to patients, because studies on their effectiveness have been inconclusive. But he wouldn't expressly advise people not to take them, either.

Vitamin C, that granddaddy of home remedies, gets mixed reviews. Some studies have shown that it can shorten the duration of illness, while others say it neither prevents nor helps alleviate symptoms.

Medical experts say prevention remains the best treatment. Flu shots are a good idea, particularly for the elderly and chronically ill. Otherwise, Martin says, "just do what you learned in the eighth grade'' — cover your mouth when you cough, wash your hands after touching shared property and maintain a healthy diet.

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