Mars Lander,
Vampire Attacks,
Diethyl Phthalate
and Gracie Slick!
Experts Find Hint of Mars Lander
AP Science Writer

PASADENA, Calif. March 21, 2001 (AP) - Fifteen months after the Mars Polar Lander vanished, Defense Department imaging experts have spotted what may be a trace of the spacecraft on the surface of the Red Planet, a NASA official said.

Experts at the National Imagery and Mapping Agency have spent months poring over high-resolution images of the region where the Polar Lander was to have set down.

In at least one image, as few as three lighter picture elements - or pixels - stand out against a dark background, suggesting the presence of the $165 million probe, said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA's office of space science.

However, neither of the agencies can yet confirm whether the pixels show up in other images of the same area, making the discovery still inconclusive.

"If you find a few bright pixels in the right alignment, that's interesting, but unless you find them in different pictures of the same location, it's not so interesting," Weiler said Tuesday.

NIMA presented its findings to NASA last month. Since then, the two federal agencies have gone back and forth on what exactly the images show.

"It could be a while before the agencies agree," said Don Savage, a NASA spokesman. NIMA officials could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

The Polar Lander was launched Jan. 3, 1999. All radio contact was lost Dec. 3 as the spacecraft approached the red planet.

In the months following its disappearance, NASA pressed its orbiting Mars Global Surveyor into the search for the lost probe. NASA used the orbiter's high resolution camera to image as much of the region where the Polar Lander vanished. Analysis of those images is continuing.

"You're really trying to pull a needle out of the haystack here," Weiler said.

A NASA team that investigated the loss of the Mars Polar Lander concluded a rocket engine shut off prematurely during landing, leaving the spacecraft to plummet about 130 feet to almost certain destruction on the Martian surface.

An official at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, which built the Polar Lander for NASA, said any discovery could force a rethinking of why the probe failed.

"If there's new data, we'd go back and relook at our understanding of what happened and try to understand for sure, because all we have known is guesswork," said Noel Hinners, the company's vice president of flight systems in Denver.


On the Net:

Woman Detained After Vampire Assaults
BERLIN March 22, 2001 (Reuters) - German police have detained a Berlin woman who screamed she was a vampire and thirsty as she attempted to bite people.

"She tried to bite the necks of three people within a few minutes," police spokesman Hansjoerg Draeger said on Thursday. "She screamed out that she was a vampire and was thirsty."

The 21-year-old woman, identified only as Laura E., was put under psychiatric observation after she also tried to bite her fingers off, police said.

She first tried to bite the neck of a 20-year-old woman at a doctor's surgery, however the victim managed to escape.

She then went into a fast-food restaurant and bit the neck of a 40-year-old waiter.

Police said she then ran out onto the street where she first cut the neck of an 88-year-old pensioner with a piece of broken glass and then bit the elderly woman's ear.

Two police officers called to the scene managed to detain her, but she repeatedly bit their hands and arms.

Airlines Claim Space Radiation No Major Threat to Flyers
By Marcus Kabel

FORT WORTH, Texas March 20, 2001 (Reuters) - Airline travelers should not be worried about high-altitude exposure to radiation from space and the sun, U.S. experts said on Monday.

Researchers at an American Airlines and pilots union seminar on cosmic radiation said the issue was worth monitoring, especially for flight crew members who spend more time in the air than the average traveler. American is a unit of Fort Worth-based AMR Corp.

But government and airline scientists said existing evidence does not point to cosmic radiation as a major health issue.

"I don't think it poses such a risk that people should be concerned abut flying," said Wallace Friedberg, head of radiobiology research at the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aeromedical Institute.

"When they're flying, they're not running the risk of driving a car," he said. The point was echoed by several speakers who said known health risks from other activities were far greater.

Scientists have studied the issue more as the booming global airline industry carries millions of people a year to high altitudes, where the thinner atmosphere is a weaker shield against cosmic radiation.

Several studies have suggested links between the time spent in the air by pilots and flight attendants and a range of diseases, including cancers such as melanoma, leukemia and breast cancer that could be caused by radiation damage.

But Gary Butler, a radiation researcher on leave as an Air Canada pilot to attend medical school, said those links were tentative and needed far more study.

"If you ask the average line pilot, yes, they're aware of cosmic radiation, but their No. 1 health concern is chronic fatigue," Butler said.

"There isn't the research out there at this point to back legislation," he added, referring to calls from some pilots groups for federal limits on radiation exposure for flight crews and government-mandated health monitoring.

The European Union issued a directive in 1996, which member countries are still enacting, that sets a maximum annual exposure for flight crews. That level is roughly the equivalent of 67 chest X-rays, and less for pregnant women because a fetus is more vulnerable to cell damage from radiation.

In the United States, the FAA has not mandated limits but does support a nonbinding recommendation that would increase the EU's annual exposure limit more than threefold.

The FAA's Friedberg said typical flight crew exposures were far lower than those limits.


California Institute of Technology Space Radiation Laboratory -

High Levels of  Diethyl Phthalate In Many Americans
By Erin McClam
Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA March 21, 2001 (AP) — Americans' bodies harbor surprisingly high amounts of mercury and a questionable chemical used in soap and cosmetics, federal health officials reported Wednesday in a landmark study on environmental toxins in the body.

The study is the first nationwide to measure levels of 24 environmental toxins in people's blood and urine, providing crucial information that could be used to pinpoint pollutants that cause disease.

Animal studies have suggested that large amounts of the chemical, diethyl phthalate, may disrupt normal hormone function and cause birth defects. Its effect on humans hasn't been determined.

The report found that phthalates — additives found in products from perfume to nail polish — appeared in humans at levels "considerably higher than one would have predicted,'' said Dr. Richard Jackson, director of the National Center for Environmental Health.

Previous studies of environmental toxins had only tested air, soil and water.

"Seeing chemicals in people's bodies elevates their importance,'' said Lynn Goldman, a former Environmental Protection Agency regulator.

The cosmetics industry contends phthalates are perfectly safe. "We haven't seen any documented health effects in humans from this,'' said Marian Stanley, manager of the American Chemistry Council's phthalate panel.

The study also found higher than expected levels of mercury, which is believed to cause fetal brain damage.

While the study found low levels of mercury in children 1 to 5 years old, women of childbearing age reflected higher levels than previously estimated by the EPA, Goldman said.

"That would mean we haven't been taking the problem seriously enough,'' she said.

The numbers, based on a 1999 study of 3,800 people across the country, may affect government regulation of toxins such as lead, mercury and pesticides. In many cases, there are no previous numbers available for comparison.

The government plans to conduct the study annually, expanding it to more than 100 chemicals. The reports will be broken down by demographic categories such as race, age, education and geographic region.

"It could be revolutionary in terms of environmental health in the United States,'' Jackson said.


On the Net:

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report:

EPA (Environmental Protection Agency on diethyl phthalate:

Some more very scary looking stuff about diethyl phthalate that we don't pretend to understand:

2001 Mars Odyssey to Map Minerals and Check Radiation
By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON March 19, 2001 (Reuters) - NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft, set for launch on April 7, aims to find out what Earth's planetary neighbor is made of and evaluate radiation that could be risky to humans, space agency officials said on Monday.

Admittedly snake-bit by earlier failed missions, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has spent about $12 million on additional reviews to cut down on the possibility of failure. The total cost of the unmanned orbital mission is $297 million.

The Odyssey, named in honor of the book and movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," is the first in a retooled exploration strategy for this planet following the 1999 losses of the Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander.

The Mars Polar Lander smashed to the surface after a false signal caused its engines shut off before it landed. Two associated probes supposedly designed to crash and burrow into the planet's surface simply disappeared.

The Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the planet's atmosphere after an embarrassing misunderstanding over English and metric measurements.

"Our long-term quest is to understand Mars as a planet, its climate and geological history," Ed Weiler, head of NASA's office of space science, said at a news briefing.

To do this, Odyssey will carry a suite of scientific instruments including a thermal emission imaging system, a gamma ray spectrometer and an experiment to check the Martian radiation environment.

The main structure of the craft is about the size of a subcompact car, but its solar panels have a wingspan of about 19 feet (5.8 meters). It weighs about 1,600 pounds (725 kg) and will travel 286 million miles (460 million km) to get to Mars, arriving in October.

The thermal imaging system will look for hot spots on the planet where gas or water might be escaping, Weiler said. He dubbed these possible features as "Martian Yellowstones," after the geysers in the U.S. national park of that name.

The gamma ray spectrometer will seek to determine by looking what the mineral composition of the upper layer of the Martian surface, down to perhaps a depth of 3 feet (1 meter).

The radiation experiment is meant to check the dangers to possible human explorers, although no human mission to Mars is even in the early planning stages at NASA, Weiler said.


"Before we can even contemplate human missions to Mars, we really have to understand Mars as a planet," Weiler said. "We have to understand what the radiation environment is and if there is water."

The importance of water on Mars has been central to NASA's pursuit of the planet, since earlier missions have determined that liquid water once existed there. Water is seen as a prerequisite for life, and as Weiler noted, is a key factor in easing any human mission.

Any human voyagers to Mars would have to travel light, so they would be able to bring little water with them.

"I'm not saying necessarily drinking water, but water has a lot of other uses," Weiler said. "It's conveniently made of hydrogen and oxygen. Oxygen is pretty good stuff to breathe, hydrogen is pretty good stuff to use as fuel."

The current strategy of looking for water and "interesting spots" where water might exist could lead eventually to human missions, but the timing of those would be up to the economy, the administration and Congress, Weiler said.

The next step in the progression of Mars exploration would be a mission to collect samples and return them to Earth, and NASA Mars program director Scott Hubbard said that was currently envisioned for a mission to be launched in 2014, though that might be pushed forward to 2011.

The Odyssey is the first of six planned missions to Mars. A pair of rovers that will land on the planet is set for launch in 2003; and a scientific orbiter will be launched in 2005.

By 2007 and beyond, there would be a series of "smart lander" craft that would be able to sense whether it was close to its target, and in the seconds before landing would be able to steer away from hazards to set down safely.

More information about 2001 Mars Odyssey is available online at

Scientist Finds Cosmic Dark Matter in White Dwarfs

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON March 22, 2001 (Reuters) - When you look at a starry sky, what you see is only 5 percent of the Milky Way's matter. Scientists said on Thursday they have found a bit of the other 95 percent in old, cool, faded stars called white dwarfs.

This unseen matter, known as dark matter, has been theorized for decades, but research published in the current edition of the journal Science is the first time that dark matter has been directly detected.

"Dark matter is probably the largest constituent of the universe and we are seeing it for the first time," said researcher Ben Oppenheimer of the University of California-Berkeley.

"Simply knowing our place in the universe and understanding the structure of the universe is an important issue," Oppenheimer said in a telephone interview. "Our relation to the universe certainly depends on what's in it."

And the Earth and all its contents, including every person on the planet, are dark matter too, he said. Dark matter is anything that is not luminous enough to be seen from across the galaxy.

Astronomers have long known that the luminous material in stars and other bright objects in our galaxy was not enough to account for how fast the stars and solar systems were moving in the cosmos.

In cosmic terms, gravity is the force that moves things around, and without sufficient mass, there cannot be enough gravity to go as fast as they are in the Milky Way galaxy, Oppenheimer said.

There has to be something else with enough mass to move things along, and that is what scientists call dark matter. This mysterious form of matter could include absolutely dark phenomena, like black holes, and some simply dim objects like white dwarfs, he said.

In the Milky Way, there are lots of white dwarfs -- dense, old stars at the end of their lives that no longer make energy through nuclear fusion, as our Sun does.

These white dwarfs are in the flat disk of the galaxy, the giant S-shape where Earth resides, as well as in the galactic halo, a sphere that completely contains the galaxy's disk.

The white dwarfs in the halo move even faster than those in the disk and there are so many of them that they must account for at least 3 percent of the halo's dark matter, or about 10 billion white dwarfs, Oppenheimer said.

To directly detect these dim white dwarfs, Oppenheimer and his fellow researchers analyzed digitized photographic plates from a sky survey to find objects that were opaque enough and were moving across the sky at the right speed to be white dwarfs.

The oldest of the white dwarfs may be as old as the galaxy, or from 10 billion to 13 billion years old, only a few billion years after the theoretical Big Bang.

Gracie Slick Answers Five Questions
Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO March 19, 2001 (AP) — Psychedelic rocker Grace Slick, who drank and drugged her way to 1960s icon status as lead singer for Jefferson Airplane, has turned to painting as her creative outlet.

Last year, she returned to the city that spawned a movement — and her stardom — for a gallery showing of her work, priced between $1,100 and $8,700. Her paintings include portraits of musicians she knew years ago: Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix.

The gallery showed Slick's work for about six weeks and sold about $50,000 worth of her art, said Artrock gallery owner Phil Cushway. Her paintings of Garcia and white rabbits were among the most popular pieces. (Slick wrote the '60s hit "White Rabbit.'')

"People just go crazy over Grace,'' Cushway said. "It was just an amazing response.''

Her studio is the dining room of her Malibu, Calif., home. "It's the usual nutty-looking slob artist arrangement,'' she said. She works about a week on each painting.

Slick, 61, has made it through two failed marriages and from Jefferson Airplane to Starship to her own short-lived solo career. She made a brief excursion into pop with Starship in the 1980s, then quit the music business a decade ago.

1. How do you want people to see you now?

Slick: Unstoppable lunatic. It's pretty much what I see in the mirror.

2. Why lunatic?

Slick: The reason I put `lunatic' there is because if you base my life against most people's lives, obviously there's a screw loose there somewhere, but I wouldn't have it any other way. When you get old you don't regret what you did, you regret what you didn't do.

3. Are you romantically involved with anyone at the moment?

Slick: No.

4. What are you most proud of?

Slick: My persistence. I don't usually give up.

5. When has persistence been the most useful for you?

Slick: With everything. It comes in with art, it comes in with relationships, it comes in with physical disabilities. You just don't stop. Unstoppable lunatic.


Artrock Gallery on the web -

Cosmonauts Drop NASA Boycott
AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. March 20, 2001 (AP) — Four Russian cosmonauts called off their one-day boycott and began training at NASA on Tuesday for a flight next month to the international space station.

Their millionaire crewmate, Dennis Tito, who's bought a ticket for the Russian Soyuz flight, was not with them. He did not show up at the Johnson Space Center in Houston later in the day, either.

The cosmonauts — two prime crew members and their backups — refused to begin training Monday when NASA barred Tito from joining them. All four Russians showed up Tuesday for a series of briefings in preparation for a six-day space station visit in early May; the launch is scheduled for April 30 from Kazakstan.

At an afternoon press conference, NASA officials looked grim as they answered a barrage of questions about Tito. When asked if there was any way NASA could prevent Tito from flying to the space station, the officials ducked the question, saying they would continue to work with the Russians to resolve the dispute.

If Tito is launched against NASA's wishes, the space station's three residents will not be asked to keep him out of the U.S. segments, said Michael Hawes, deputy associate administrator for the space station.

"We are not going to put the crew into any kind of a policing situation,'' Hawes said. "Our whole point is that this period of time on space station is already too complicated and (with) too many critical activities. We can't have anything that makes that even worse.''

Even though Tito, a California businessman, has trained for months at cosmonaut headquarters in Star City, Russia, he needs six to eight weeks of instruction at the Johnson Space Center to be minimally qualified in NASA's eyes.

"Six to eight weeks of training in Houston to go visit the space station is a fairly minor price to pay, overall,'' Hawes said.

NASA has suggested that Tito be bumped to the following Soyuz rocket launch to the space station in October, to allow for sufficient U.S. training. That way, NASA reasons, he could go through emergency and other drills with the three men who will be flying on the space station then.

Russia's answer: Nyet.

"We wouldn't presume to tell the Russians what to do if they were to take the Soyuz up and bring it right back home,'' protested Bill Readdy, an astronaut who's currently in a high-ranking position in NASA's spaceflight office. But he added: "We're in this partnership for the long haul.''

Tito, the 60-year-old founder of an investment firm who once worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has deposited millions of his own money into an escrow account to be paid to Russian space officials once he has launched.

He was supposed to fly to Mir, but switched his ticket to the international space station when Russia decided to get rid of its 15-year-old outpost. The April launch of the three-person Soyuz is critical; the spacecraft is needed to replace one that has been docked at the station since November.

Readdy stressed that space flight is fraught with danger and nonprofessionals have no business being there unless thoroughly trained. He pointed to the fire and collision aboard Mir in 1997.

False alarms can be unnerving, too. On Monday, the three seasoned space fliers aboard the space station sounded exasperated and confused when a false smoke alarm and a computer problem left them scrambling for hard copies of their emergency guidelines.

Readdy, who's flown to Mir and worked with the Russian space program, said the Russians have a phrase to describe crew members like Tito and the Japanese TV reporter and British chemist who flew to Mir in the early 1990s.

"White gloves, which means they're not allowed to touch anything. It means they require constant supervision,'' Readdy said. "That's the operational impact that I think we as a partnership are trying to avoid.''


On the Net:

Bio-Corn Tainted 430 Million Bushels
By Julie Vorman

WASHINGTON March 19, 2001 (Reuters) - More than 430 million bushels of corn in storage nationwide have been contaminated with an unapproved biotech variety that caused a huge recall of chips, flour and other foods, a senior executive of corn maker Aventis said Sunday.

That figure greatly increases the estimate of the amount of U.S. corn inadvertently mixed with StarLink, a variety prohibited from human foods.

The Washington Post is reporting in its editions today that the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have begun to investigate possible human allergic reactions to the engineered corn. The agencies are probing several dozen cases involving consumers who complained of various symptoms after eating StarLink corn last fall.

The genetically modified protein in StarLink corn, called Cry9C, was barred by U.S. regulators for human use because of concerns it might cause allergic reactions such as skin rashes, runny noses and flu-like symptoms.

Aventis, in its most detailed accounting of the StarLink contamination to date, also said Sunday that it was urging the federal government to establish a tolerance level that would permit a small amount of the bio-corn to occur in large shipments.

"At the elevator level, we have already rerouted 94 million bushels of corn commingled with StarLink corn and know of an additional 343 million bushels in storage that will be rerouted in the months to come," said John Wichtrich, general manager for Aventis CropScience, a unit of the Franco-German pharmaceutical company.

Wichtrich made his remarks in a San Antonio speech to a meeting of the North American Millers Assn., which represents companies that grind wheat and corn into flour. A copy of the speech was made available by Aventis.

The 430-million-bushel estimate dwarfs the amount of corn reported earlier from the 2000 crop as containing StarLink: about 50 million bushels grown by farmers licensed to use it and 20 million bushels from neighboring fields.

"Most of this commingled corn apparently originated with the 1999 crop," Wichtrich said in the speech.

Wichtrich said 99% of the 2000 StarLink corn has been identified and routed to animal feed or ethanol use.

The discovery of the corn in taco shells in September triggered a recall of more than 300 products, including snack chips and cornmeal. The contamination occurred when farmers and grain elevators mixed StarLink with other corn varieties. Farmers in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska have sued Aventis, claiming that the contaminated corn cost them export business and pulled down the overall price of U.S. corn. Japan, the biggest buyer of U.S. corn, virtually halted its purchases for weeks and continues to test shipments to detect contamination.

Wichtrich said Aventis already had spent "tens of millions of dollars" to resolve the StarLink contamination.

StarLink, engineered to repel pests that feed on young corn plants, was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1998 only for animal feed. Aventis, which maintains StarLink is safe for human food, said it wants the EPA to approve a tolerance level for the bio-corn. That move would allow a set amount of StarLink or its Cry9C protein to exist in corn intended for human food.

"I know you are wondering, 'Will there ever be an end to this?' " Wichtrich said. "Unfortunately, as of right now, the answer is 'no.' There will never be an end as long as there is a zero tolerance for Cry9C in food."

Current government-testing procedures say the detection of one kernel of StarLink corn or its Cry9C protein in a testing sample of 2,400 kernels is enough to reject an entire rail car of corn for human food use. Last autumn, Aventis asked the EPA to grant a four-year approval of StarLink for human food. That is the time needed for corn ingredients to work their way through food-manufacturing plants, grocery stores and home pantries, Aventis said.

The EPA has yet to rule on the request. An independent science panel urged the agency in December to conduct more tests and to investigate two dozen instances in which consumers claimed they had allergic reactions to food with StarLink. Aventis said it expected the government to soon publish a broad rule saying the DNA of biotech foods--which would include the Cry9C protein--do not need to be regulated.

"We have been told by the [U.S. Department of Agriculture], FDA and EPA that a rule will soon be issued exempting DNA from the need for a tolerance," Wichtrich said. The rule is being reviewed by the Bush administration.
Doctor Operates on Wrong Knee
SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. March 17, 2001 (AP) — A surgeon who mistakenly operated on a man's healthy hip five years ago has performed surgery on another patient's healthy knee, even though the leg intended for surgery was marked "Yes.''

As a result, Dr. Craig DuMond will no longer practice at the Adirondack Medical Center, hospital president and CEO Chandler Ralph told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. DuMond also relinquished his title as president of AMC's medical staff and terminated his private practice in Saranac Lake.

In a letter issued Friday, DuMond said he was embarrassed and anguished by the incident.

After a 1996 operation, in which DuMond mistakenly pinned an elderly patient's wrong hip, AMC officials required its staff to write the word "Yes'' on any limb that was supposed to be operated on.

For Monday's surgery, "Yes'' was correctly marked on the patient's problem knee, but DuMond operated on the other one anyway, said AMC Public Relations Director Cheryl Breen Randall.

For all future limb surgeries, hospital staff will also be required to pull a red hockey sock over the wrong arm or leg, and write the word "No'' underneath.

The hospital notified state regulatory agencies, Ralph said.

The patient in the 1996 operation filed a lawsuit that was settled out of court. Terms of that settlement and of a state-approved disciplinary action were confidential.
DNA Evidence Leads To Release After 20 Years In Jail

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. March 15, 2001 (AP) - Citing new DNA evidence, a judge Thursday released a convicted murderer who "never gave up hope," though he served nearly 20 years in prison.

Judge Vieri Volterra released Kenneth Waters on personal recognizance pending a possible retrial.

Waters praised the efforts of his sister Betty Ann, a former high school dropout who put herself through law school to work on his case and found the evidence that led to his release.

"I think it's absolutely amazing that she's dedicated her life to this," Waters said. "It's been 19 years. My whole family suffered unbelievably."

Waters had a tearful reunion with his mother and nine brothers and sisters in a Middlesex Superior Court hallway.

"It's a great day. It's a great day," said Waters' mother, Elizabeth O'Connor.

"It's great to be free," Waters said after emerging from the court probation office and embracing his family.

Prosecutors said they were reviewing the entire case, which had included allegations by two of Waters' ex-girlfriends that he had admitted to the murder and an allegation that he sold some of the victim's jewelry five or six weeks later.

In a statement, prosecutors said their decision not to oppose Waters' motion for a new trial "does not constitute a finding ... regarding Mr. Waters' culpability or lack thereof."

Waters was convicted of beating and stabbing to death Katharina Brow of Ayer in 1980. His attorney at the time argued Waters was in court on the morning of the slaying to face a charge of assaulting a police officer, but authorities were unable to verify the alibi.

Waters was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery and sentenced to life in prison in May 1983.

Betty Ann Waters worked on the case for years, and eventually learned that a box of evidence with her brother's name on it was sitting in a courthouse basement. The box contained the knife used in the slaying and pieces of cloth with blood samples on them.

She enlisted the help of the Innocence Project, a New York-based group that helps inmates challenge convictions based on new DNA evidence. The material was tested, and the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office announced Tuesday that the DNA collected from the evidence she found did not match her brother's.

Prosecutors said Thursday they will decide whether to pursue a new trial based on "a full and thorough" review of all the evidence presented in the original case.

If the case is retried, "We'll just have to go battle them again," said Waters' brother David O'Connor, 44, of Providence, R.I.

"You can just only imagine what he went through, but he dealt with it, he never gave up hope," O'Connor said.

Microsoft Warns Users of Impostor

SEATTLE March 22, 2001 (AP) - Microsoft warned users Thursday that an unauthorized party had obtained digital certificates that would enable someone to falsely represent themselves as the software giant and deliver a computer virus to an unsuspecting recipient.

VeriSign Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., notified Microsoft that it issued two digital certificates on Jan. 29 and 30. Someone posing as a Microsoft employee was able to trick VeriSign into issuing the certificates, Microsoft said.

VeriSign's digital certificates - a key security feature of Microsoft's Internet software - are used by Microsoft to assure the genuiness of programs.

"The danger, of course, is that even a security-conscious user might agree to let the content execute and might agree to always trust bogus certificates," the company said.

Mahi deSilva, VeriSign's vice president and general manager of applied trust services, said Thursday that the fraud was discovered almost immediately after the certificate was issued, in the course of normal auditing VeriSign does after issuing digital certificates.

Microsoft and VeriSign were working to correct the problem, both companies said. Users were warned to inspect for certificates that were issued on Jan. 29 and 30, since no legitimate certificates were given on those dates, and to notify Microsoft or VeriSign if they discover them.

The FBI has also been notified, deSilva said.

Microsoft also advised customers to set security levels on their Internet browsers to request permission before opening downloaded documents.

So far, Verisign believes no one has used the certificates, deSilva said.

The problem is serious and effects could last years, said Russ Cooper of TruSecure Corp. and editor of the NTBugTraq mailing list.

"This is an extremely huge mistake by VeriSign," he said. "There's no way that this certificate should have been given to a non-Microsoft employee."

DeSilva, who blamed "human error" for the fraudulent certificates, said the company's reputation shouldn't suffer "because we found this problem. We've been very proactive about communicating this problem to the various authorities. We think we've done everything we can to be ahead of the curve here."
Powerful Telescope System Created

PASADENA, Calif. March 14, 2001 (AP) — The world's two largest telescopes have been linked to create an optical instrument powerful enough to pinpoint planets orbiting other suns, NASA said Wednesday.

Astronomers first gathered starlight from the linked 33-foot telescopes late Monday at the W.M. Keck Observatory atop the dormant Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii, National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials said.

Using a process called interferometry, the twin telescopes first captured light from HD61294, a faint star in the constellation Lynx. The starlight was then shuttled across a 275-foot gap between the telescopes and combined in a way to mimic the light-gathering action of a single, larger telescope.

Anne Kinney, director of NASA's astronomical search for origins program, which includes the Keck Interferometer, called it "a fabulous technical advancement for science.''

"This will open the possibility of obtaining images with much greater clarity than ever before,'' she said, equating the device to a single 85-meter (279-foot) telescope.

The Keck Interferometer will be tested through summer, with limited science operations to begin this fall.


On the Net:

W.M. Keck Observatory:

Job Stress May Offset Hard Work
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON March 19, 2001 (AP) — Physical activity on the job should be good for a person's blood vessels — unless the job has a lot of stress, which can cancel the activity's value, a study indicates.

"If you are performing the activity in a psychologically taxing context, you are not going to see the benefit,'' said researcher Cheryl Nordstrom. "The stress seems to negate it.''

Another expert, however, considers that conclusion provocative but not yet proved.

Nordstrom and her colleagues at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine looked at 447 utility workers just after deregulation increased competition among utilities. Results were presented March 2 at a meeting of the American Heart Association in San Antonio.

The workers, ages 40-60, held jobs such as managers, meter readers or administrative assistants. Nordstrom would not identify the company or the type of utility, saying the researchers had promised confidentiality.

None of the workers was diagnosed at the start of the study as having atherosclerosis, thickening of the arteries. Over three years, the scientists used ultrasound imaging to measure any thickening of the carotid arteries, which carry blood to the brain. Thickening of these arteries in the neck can signal a buildup of artery-clogging plaque deposits in other large vessels, including ones in the heart.

Stress can raise clotting factors in the blood and may prompt the release of fat into the bloodstream, which can lead to clogging of the arteries. Physical activity, on the other hand, has been shown to reduce levels of these fatty acids.

Researchers found, to their surprise, that people who got the most physical activity on the job had the greatest thickening of the arteries, Nordstrom said.

Conventional wisdom is that being active improves cardiovascular health. And a separate part of the study supported the conventional wisdom. This section found that the people who were most physically active off the job — working up a sweat by exercising an average of five times a week — had less progression toward atherosclerosis, Nordstrom said.

What could account for the difference between activity on the job and activity off it? The scientists went back to a stress questionnaire they had done earlier on the same people. The questionnaire asked people about such things as whether there had been a marked increase in their workload, and whether they had trouble sleeping because their jobs were still on their minds.

The researchers found that the people who worked the hardest, and who worked the most hours, reported the greatest job stress, Nordstrom said. And when the researchers did statistical analysis, it turned out that the job stress was most closely associated with the increase in carotid thickening, she said.

"When I look at them together, the effect of the (physical) activity drops out,'' Nordstrom said. "It becomes slightly protective, which I would expect. But the stress indicators were highly related.''

"These findings suggest that protective effects of physical activity may be blocked or counteracted when activity is performed in a psychologically stressful context,'' the researchers reported in the abstract they presented at the conference.

Another expert, however, has his doubts. The USC conclusion that job stress can lead to atherosclerosis is supported by some previous studies but not by others, said Dr. Richard Stein, chief of cardiology at Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City and a spokesman for the heart association. And the USC research also leaves a lot of questions unanswered, he said.

For instance, the study did not ask the participants directly if they felt anxious. "The guys might not have perceived stress,'' Stein said. "We are making an assumption.''

The claim that job stress offsets the value of exercise is "intriguing, but doesn't justify the conclusion,'' Stein said. However, the report is worth following up, and "if this holds up to that type of criticism, it is a very interesting observation,'' he said.


On the Net:

American Heart Association physical activity site:—catpage9.html 

American Heart Association statement on physical activity:—exp.html 

Heart Information Network report on stress and atherosclerosis: 

WebMD report on stress:—article—40082
Space The Final Frontier - Of Trash
By Adam Tanner

BERLIN March 20, 2001 (Reuters) - Space, the final frontier, is rapidly becoming one big trash dump, experts warned at a conference in Germany on Tuesday.

Thousands of rocket launches since the dawn of the Space Age in 1957 have left a growing amount of orbiting debris that may badly hamper future launches into space.

"The problem is very serious," said Sergei Kulik, head of the international division of the Russian Aviation and Space Agency. "If we continue to waste a lot of garbage in space...the outlook is very dangerous," he told Reuters

"In the middle of this century the contamination may be so big that a kind of a cascade effect could appear, a collision between the space debris particles creating more and more (collisions)," he said, adding that could eventually mean "there will be no possibility of flying in space at all."

Kulik is one of about 200 experts who are meeting at the European Space Agency's operation center in Darmstadt, Germany this week to address the problem of space debris.

The largest object humanity has put into space, the 140-ton Russian Mir space station, is due to crash to Earth on Friday after 15 years in orbit, with much of it burning up as it enters the atmosphere. Kulik said Russia had made careful plans to avoid leaving behind any orbiting debris.

According to the European Space Agency, scientists can identify about 8,500 man-made objects now orbiting the Earth, only about 600 of which are operational satellites or spacecraft.

If one counts tiny bits of metal and debris, the total number of orbiting trash items rises to between 100,000 and 150,000, the agency estimates. Computer simulations of the problem show the Earth surrounded by debris ranging from bolts and straps to enormous fuel tanks.


Just last week American astronaut Jim Voss inadvertently added to the growing amount of orbiting trash when he dropped a foot-restraint system during a spacewalk. NASA decided to move the International Space Station to dodge the object, which now orbits the Earth at speeds of about five miles per second.

"Until recently it was not a problem because there were not so many powers very active in space," said Bess Reijnen, a Dutch professor of international space law, who is also attending the meeting in Germany.

"But now in 40 years of space flight, there have been about 4,000 launchings and they continue to create debris, especially in the near-Earth orbit, that is up to about 2,000 kilometers above sea level."

No human has ever been harmed by space debris, but part of the U.S. space station Skylab killed a cow in Australia when it fell to Earth in 1979. The most serious debris collision in space came in 1996 when a French spy satellite hit a fragment of a French Ariane rocket.

Experts say cleaning up the debris is extremely difficult if at all possible, so the focus should be on stemming its growth in the future.

"Technically, it has become clear that some code of conduct or protocol or legal regulation should be set up," Reijnen said. "Here at this conference the political willingness to do such a thing is increasing."


European Space Agency home page -

Justices Won't Referee War on 'Better Pizza'
LA Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON March 20, 2001 (LA Times) - The advertising war over who makes the better pizza can continue uninterrupted now, as the Supreme Court on Monday turned away Pizza Hut's challenge to rival Papa John's claim of having "better ingredients. Better pizza."

The high court ended a three-year legal battle between the pizza chains, but it did not answer the question that started it all. Pizza Hut Inc., the nation's largest pizza chain, sued Papa John's International Inc. in 1998 for what it said was false advertising.

The case highlighted the bitter pizza wars between the No. 1 and No. 3 chains, both of which are based in Louisville, Ky. It also highlighted the trend of business competitors increasingly asking courts to referee advertising disputes. A once-obscure provision of the Lanham Act makes illegal "false or misleading" ads. Those hurt by the claims can sue for damages.

Lawyers for Pizza Hut contended that Papa John's use of filtered water, rather than tap water, and fresh rather than frozen dough had nothing to do with the taste of a pizza.

A jury in Dallas agreed, finding several of Papa John's claims to be false and misleading. A judge awarded Pizza Hut $467,000 in damages.

But in September, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reversed the verdict. Its three-judge panel said the claims of "better" pizza and "better" ingredients were the "typical puffery" used in many ads. Moreover, the judges said Pizza Hut could not show that consumers were fooled by Papa John's exaggerated claims.

Lawyers for Pizza Hut asked the Supreme Court to take up the case to clarify what must be proven to win a false advertising case. But without comment, the justices dismissed the appeal in Pizza Hut vs. Papa John's, 00-995.

"We are happy to say again: 'Better Ingredients. Better Pizza,' " said Karen Sherman, a spokeswoman for Papa John's. "We're just sorry it took several years to resolve this."

Pizza Hut fired back, saying the lawsuit demonstrated that Papa John's ads were "deceptive."

"We have said all along that this case is about the consumer's right to expect truthfulness in advertising," said Mike Rawlings, Pizza Hut's president. "We are disappointed the court did not seize this opportunity to clarify this matter for the benefit of consumers and responsible advertisers alike."
Suit Planned Against Internet Filtering Law
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON March 19, 2001 (AP) — Civil liberties groups and libraries plan to file suit Tuesday to stop a recently passed law that would require schools and libraries to install Internet filters on public computers.

Critics say the law — which had strong bipartisan support in Congress — pushes a bad technology on schools, removes community control and fails to provide money to pay for the software. Its supporters are rallying for a battle that's expected to reach the Supreme Court.

Unless a judge grants an injunction, schools and libraries will have to install filters next month or lose their federal funds earmarked for Internet access.

"We don't think this is a useful way to make sure that children have a safe and enriching experience online,'' said Nancy Kranich, president of the American Library Association, which will represent libraries and patrons in the suit.

The ALA is working closely with the American Civil Liberties Union, which will file a similar lawsuit Tuesday. The groups will file the lawsuits in Philadelphia, where the successful challenge of the Communications Decency Act was launched. It was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997.

Critics of the new law contend that Internet filters fail to block many inappropriate sites while denying access to others that shouldn't be blocked.

"They leave parents with a false sense of security,'' Kranich said, adding that parents should be making the decisions, not software.

Last month, Consumer Reports magazine concluded that filtering software generally fails to block one of every five Web sites deemed objectionable for children.

Susan Getgood, a vice president at SurfControl, which owns the two most-used filtering tools, disagreed and said filters are usually very effective. But she still objects to the law.

"We remain for choice and against mandated filtering,'' Getgood said. "The best point of control is local control.''

The Multnomah County Library in Portland, Ore., offers patrons a choice between filtered and unfiltered Internet access and is joining the ACLU suit. Director Ginny Cooper said she would like to keep that choice in tact.

"Some of my colleagues (at other libraries) have made the choice that access should be filtered. That's fine,'' she said. "But for the first time ever, (Congress) reached through all the layers of government and said, 'This is now how you'll do it.' I just don't think that's appropriate.''

One of the law's supporters said that if schools and libraries don't want to use filters, they don't have to accept federal funding for telecommunications access.

"If local schools and libraries are expecting the government to pay the freight, then there ought to be conditions on it,'' said Bruce Taylor, president of the National Law Center for Children and Families. "Congress doesn't want taxpayers' money going to pedophiles and porn addicts.''

The ACLU's Emily Whitfield said the filter law doesn't just affect children. She said adults who can't afford Internet access at home will only see a filtered Internet at libraries.

"You're really turning them into second-class citizens,'' Whitfield said. "They're getting a different Web experience than people who are not using library computers.''


On the Net: American Civil Liberties Union: 

American Library Association: 

National Law Center for Children and Families:

Visit eXoNews for more recent news!

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