Robots on Mars!
Urgent Whale Warning,
Pharaoh's Curse, Chicxulub,
Zero Point Energy & More!
Robotic Crews For Mars

Pasadena January 21, 2002 (NASA) - The first construction workers on Mars may not need hardhats. 

NASA researchers have successfully demonstrated the first use of multiple rovers that work tightly in sync to perform tasks such as coordinated grasping, lifting and moving of an extended payload, while navigating through obstacles on natural terrain. 

"The Robotic Work Crew behaves a lot like its human counterpart might during a home construction project. Consider the challenge two people face when transporting a long, heavy board through a busy work site," said Paul Schenker, supervisor of the Mechanical and Robotics Technologies Group and principal investigator for the project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. 

"Each person alone, or in this case each rover, has a variety of behaviors for how to carry smaller things," Schenker explained. "The trick is to combine such individual behaviors to safely carry and manipulate bigger things. The rovers must share the workload and thinking, exchange important sensory cues and quickly comply with each other's motions." 

During outdoor tests near JPL, in which the deployment of a solar power station was simulated, two such cooperating rovers autonomously approached, gripped and carried a 2.5-meter- (8- foot-) long container over distances of more than 50 meters (164 feet). 

The Robotic Work Crew can traverse uneven, hazardous terrain. The crew visually detects and tracks its goal, identifies nearby objects in its path and works collectively to avoid obstacles. Throughout this process, the robots constantly update each other about payload forces and motions as felt at their respective grippers. If the beam is slipping, the rovers collectively sense the problem and compensate.

New software called Control Architecture for Multi-robot Planetary Outposts is the shared brain that commands the team of rovers. "The two robots tightly coordinate their individual sensory and control behaviors in an uncertain, fast-changing environment to accomplish a common goal," said Terry Huntsberger, project system engineer at JPL, who along with his colleague Paolo Pirjanian, led the development of the new control software.

"The robot team robustly fuses this information into a bigger picture, coming up with a best cooperative control solution," Huntsberger continued. "We can easily add new behaviors and additional robots to the system. New behaviors can be simple, or more complex, with some behaviors building on top of numerous others already in place." 

The JPL researchers say the rovers function much like a construction crew without a foreman. They note that once the system has been programmed with basic behaviors and coordination models, it is a truly distributed and autonomous intelligence across the robot team that gets the job done, responding to situations of the minute. 

"Mars is hundreds of millions of miles from Earth; we can hardly predict every scenario the rovers may encounter or foresee every rock and hill," said Schenker. "But, it is possible to give two or more rovers a set of instinctively reactive behaviors, a shared network of sensing and control, and a democratic decision-making process that enables them to decide the best action strategies. Call it a case of robots networking for success," he said. 

Although work on the Robotic Work Crew is in the early stages, the underlying multi-robot cooperation technologies appear essential to building outposts for a sustained human and/or robotic presence on Mars and the creation of large surface- science networks. The software and technical approach also has promise for future robotic assembly and maintenance of spacecraft in orbit, such as the deployment of large optical structures or power stations, as well as setting up camp on Mars before humans arrive and supporting their work thereafter. 

NASA's Cross Enterprise Technology Development Program provided funding for this work. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA. JPL is the lead U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system.

Bug Eyes to Give Man Sight on Mars

By Michael Christie

SYDNEY January 22, 2002 (Reuters) - Aircraft weighing as little as a chocolate bar could one day be darting over the surface of Mars with the agility of dragonflies and the eyes of bees.

Australia-based scientists say they have developed navigational and flight control devices based on research into several types of insects. The resulting sensors are so small they can be placed on "microflyers'' weighing just 2.625 ounces.

The team of researchers at the Australian National University won over NASA during a test flight of a prototype last week and the U.S. space agency has agreed to help finance further work. The aim is to use the technology on a 2007 mission to the red planet to explore the rock structure of the Valles Marineris, the solar system's most extensive canyon, more than 1,860 miles long and 5 miles deep.

"Despite their small brains, insects such as dragonflies are capable of fast and precise aerial maneuvers that require stability and collision avoidance,'' Javaan Singh Chahl, of the ANU's Biorobotic Vision Laboratory, said Tuesday. "Large structures such as Valles Marineris, more than 10 times the Grand Canyon in every dimension, can only be observed from inside. An aircraft should do this,'' he told Reuters.

The scientists have developed an electronic model of ocelli, sets of simple eyes on the heads of dragonflies, bees, locusts and other insects. The ocelli measure the distribution of ultraviolet and green light to maintain level flight -- an answer to the problem of stable flight in the ultra-thin atmosphere of Mars. The scientists also programmed computers to avoid collisions like bees do -- using the apparent speed of objects to determine distance.


"The ocelli need weigh no more than a few hundred milligrams, and the collision avoidance sensor could weigh in the order of 5 grams,'' Chahl said. "These small sensors would allow many small aircraft, as light as 75 grams, to be carried to the surface of Mars.''

Bees may also provide a solution for navigating on Mars, where there is no GPS network or magnetic field to tell one pole from another. Bees use a combination of polarization patterns in the sky, landmarks and distance traveled to navigate.

Chahl said they hoped to include a functioning navigational sensor in their next test model, due by 2003, with a final test of their miniature aircraft to take place the following year.

NASA's contribution amounts to just $310,000. But the project already has financing from the Australian Defense Science and Technology Organization (DSTO), which provided seed money in 1996, and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA), which began to contribute in mid-1999.

Chahl said propulsion mechanisms and platforms for the Mars microflyers were being developed by NASA.

Biomimetics, or "imitating biology,'' is a new buzzword of science though some lessons learned from nature are years old. Much of what we know about human memory came from research into sea slugs, photo receptors came from horseshoe crabs and information about neural transmissions emerged from squids.

"There's certainly a lot out there to be discovered,'' said David Macmillan, a zoologist at the University of Melbourne, who himself is investigating a freshwater crayfish, the ''Yabby,'' to see what its tail can teach him about levers for robots.

Bush Third Greatest President
USA January 22, 2002 (Zogby) - President George W. Bush is judged the third greatest among the last dozen U.S. Presidents, the annual Zogby Presidential Greatness Poll shows.

The survey, conducted January 7-9 of 1,122 registered voters nationwide, showed Bush's combined great/near great rating at 63% (37% great, 26% near great), following in greatness only John F. Kennedy (71%) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (70%).

His 63% rating also puts him ahead of Harry Truman (58%) and Ronald Reagan (56%) who last year occupied the third and fourth rankings respectively.

This is the fifth Presidential Greatness Poll conducted annually by Zogby International. The poll has a margin of sampling error of +/- 3.2%.

Zogby - 
Bush Encourages Anti-Abortion Activists

Associated Press 

WASHINGTON January 23, 2002 (AP) - On the 29th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision to legalize abortion, President Bush said the nation should set a "great goal - that unborn children should be welcomed in life and protected in law."

Both supporters and opponents of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision gathered in the nation's capital Tuesday to press their arguments.

Abortion rights activists used the anniversary decision to call anew for the election of officials who support their stand, while opponents said they would hold candidates to account on this volatile issue.

"When the administration is so anti-choice, it becomes increasingly important for Congress to balance," said Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which supports abortion rights.

Bush, who was in West Virginia promoting his economic and free-trade agenda, telephoned anti-abortion activists at their Washington rally.

"This march is an example of an inspiring commitment and of deep human compassion," Bush said over a loudspeaker.

"Everybody there believes, as I do, that every life is valuable, that our society has a responsibility to defend the vulnerable and weak, the imperfect and even the unwanted; and that our nation should set a great goal - that unborn children should be welcomed in life and protected in law."

Bush called for abortion-rights supporters to be treated "with respect and civility," but also said he will continue to speak out "on behalf of the most vulnerable members of our society."

"We do so because we believe the promises of the Declaration of Independence are the common code of American life," he said. "They should apply to everyone, not just the healthy or the strong or the powerful."

The president reiterated his support for bans on human cloning, public funding of abortion and the late-term procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion. Bush said he favors teen abstinence and crisis pregnancy programs.

He also voiced support for laws requiring parental notification for teens seeking abortion services, but he did not call for outlawing abortion outright.

Both sides said the issue has taken on new importance since Bush gained the White House. Earlier, Bush proclaimed Sunday as "National Sanctity of Life Day" and said "the right to life itself" is chief among the values upon which the nation was founded.

All 435 House seats and 34 Senate seats are up for grabs in November.

The elections could alter the narrow Democratic majority in the Senate or the slender GOP edge in the House. Of particular importance is the Senate, which would have to confirm any Supreme Court nomination by Bush.

Abortion opponents hope that if there is an opening on the high court, Bush will nominate someone sympathetic to their cause. But Bush has said he would not use the issue as a "litmus test" for making judicial nominations.

For the anti-abortion movement, the November elections are about trying to maintain gains made in the past year as Bush backed elements of the anti-abortion agenda, after eight years of Democratic White House support for abortion rights.

Marvel Comic Book Commemorates Attacks

Associated Press Writer 

NEW YORK January 23, 2002 (AP) — Within two days after terrorist hijackers crashed two jetliners into the World Trade Center, the artists at Marvel Comics were back at work, calling on a repertoire of fantasy to depict reality. 

Instead of Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers, the superheroes they drew were firefighters, police officers, emergency workers and airline passengers. 

The result of that joint effort is a special edition comic book, "Heroes,'' containing 64 illustrations by more than 100 artists, colorists, writers and editors. The drawings went on display Tuesday, along with works from a second comic artists' project, "9-11,'' at the New York City Fire Museum. 

"In this you get to see what the comic medium is capable of. It's not just superheroes running around in Spandex,'' said Mike Raicht, a Marvel Comics editor, who attended the exhibit with fellow editor Andrew Lis and designer Matty Ryan. 

Lis said the project began when a former Marvel comics artist, Neal Adams, called others in the field after the trade center attack and said, "Hey, we've got to do something.'' Marvel chief editor Joe Quesada said it "became our way of lifting bricks and mortar.'' 

Proceeds of the $3.50 book will go to the Twin Towers Fund to aid families of uniformed personnel killed on Sept. 11. The artists donated the original pictures to be auctioned online for Sept. 11 charities. While the artists trained their pens on the ordinary people who performed heroically in the chaos of the terrorist attack, some of the regular Marvel superheroes are included as well. 

The message was that despite their unique powers, "our superheroes wouldn't have been able to do any more than the men and women who ran back into the falling towers, and were as powerless as everyone else as we stood and watched what happened,'' Ryan said. 

Lis added: "Despite their feats of super strength and abilities, it's the humanity of these characters that was always appealing in the comics.'' 

Captain America is defiant in one picture, weeps in another and grieves above the smoldering skyline in a third. The Incredible Hulk bends down to gently retrieve a missing firefighter's helmet. The Silver Surfer stares at a smoking Earth from a vantage point in distant space, a picture that Lis said reflected the feeling of artist Alan Davis, who lives in London, of being "far removed'' from the events of Sept. 11. 

In a poem, Marvel Comics impresario Stan Lee calls Sept. 11 a day "when Liberty lost her heart — and found the strength within her soul.'' 

Some of the work is based on photographs — the now-famous picture by news photographer Tom Franklin of three firefighters raising an American flag at Ground Zero provides the theme in at least two drawings. Another hints at the iconic image of a firefighter carrying a child from the bomb-ravaged federal building in Oklahoma City. 

Even in working close to reality, the creators let their imaginations roam. Artist Frank Quitely borrowed the reclining female figure in Andrew Wyeth's famous painting "Christina's World,'' but instead of a pastoral scene she is gazing at the mountain of rubble. 

In perhaps the most mind-grabbing of the entire collection, Croatia-born artist Igor Kordey depicts passengers in the cabin of United Airlines Flight 93 making a move to overpower two knife-wielding hijackers. 

The plane, the fourth one hijacked on Sept. 11, crashed near Somerset, Pa., after an apparent struggle between the passengers and their captors. The drawing does not depict any actual people aboard the plane, Lis said. He said Kordey, who moved his family to Canada for safety after the Balkans war, was so affected by the attacks that he could not work for four days. 

"He said he didn't want to draw what he thought everybody else was drawing,'' Lis said. "The interior of the flight was very personal — the idea of terrorists — and he needed to draw the personal connection to it.'' 

A copy of the picture, the editors said, is part of an informal memorial near the Pennsylvania crash site. 

Fire museum: 

Greenpeace Urgent Whale Warning

Melbourne, Australia January 23, 2002 (Greenpeace) - Greenpeace activists with video screens (some nine metres wide) strapped to their bodies are appearing around the world today to issue an “Urgent Whale Warning”. 

A new film compilation of Antarctic whaling - shot recently from the Greenpeace ship MV Arctic Sunrise – will spell out the imminent threat of a return to full-scale commercial whaling if Japanese Government “vote buying” is allowed to continue. 

“This is a warning to the world,” said Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner, Sarah Duthie, speaking from the Arctic Sunrise now in Melbourne after seven weeks protesting Antarctic whaling. “We have witnessed first hand the whalers work in Antarctica but Japanese Government vote buying is as lethal to whales as a live harpoon.”

Although a Japanese official has admitted using fisheries aid to buy support for whaling, thus corrupting the International Whaling Commission (IWC), only New Zealand has publicly condemned the Japanese Government for these underhand tactics. 

Ten nations have already received over $US210 million in aid to join the IWC and vote with Japan. If vote buying is allowed to continue the Japanese Government could achieve a majority at the next IWC in May and immediately start to overturn the ban on whaling. 

In today’s global protests Greenpeace calls on Governments to join New Zealand and publicly denounce the Japanese Government for vote buying. In major public places and outside Japanese embassies public signatures will be collected, and fax and email facilities set up so that the public can urge their Foreign Ministers to act.

The public will also be invited to join the Greenpeace Global Whales Action Team. 

The day starts in New Zealand where a floating video screen will tour the downtown Auckland waterfront. It will finish on the other side of the world with human video screens delivering their message to Government officials. In Austria a nine metre long minke whale will draw attention to the video screens, and in Chile screens will be set up in two ports. Instead of videos a giant pink whale will spread the message in Melbourne, Australia, while in Fiji a banner will be hung from the Greenpeace office in Suva.

“If vote buying isn’t stopped the Japanese Government could wipe out the result of 30 years work to protect the whales,” said Yuko Hirono, Greenpeace Oceans campaigner. “Commercial whaling has never been sustainable and can never be sustainable. Governments must denounce vote buying and show that they are not prepared to sell-out the whales.”

Greenpeace - 

Europe's First Brothel for Women Goes Bust
WALDSHUT, Germany January 18, 2002 (Reuters) - Europe's first brothel catering for women has gone bankrupt because customers refused to pay up, German police said Friday.

The brothel owner, whom police named only as Clemens K., 31, was arrested in Germany after he resorted to mugging an elderly couple with a toy gun.

"He told us his brothel had gone bust. If they'd operated like a normal brothel and made sure they got the money before the sex, they would have been all right," said Peter-Georg Biewald, a police spokesman in Waldshut, southwestern Germany.

"But they didn't ask for money until afterwards and the women only paid for what they thought the service had been worth."

Clemens ran the brothel with five other male prostitutes in the village of Leibstadt in Switzerland, close to the German border.

"When it opened at the beginning of December, the media celebrated it as Europe's first brothel for women. But I can't imagine he had a lot of visitors," said Biewald.

The brothel was called "Angels" and occupied a Swiss chalet-style house.
Group Asks PC Users to Help Find Anthrax Cure

Associated Press 

SAN JOSE CA January 22, 2002 (AP) - A coalition of scientists and technology companies is asking people around the world to use their computers' extra processing power to help in the quest for an anthrax cure.

The project follows similar efforts to use "distributed computing" to hunt for extraterrestrial life and a cure for cancer. It is being launched Tuesday to help Oxford University researchers find ways to treat anthrax that can no longer be treated by antibiotics.

The project is based on the premise that the average personal computer uses between 13 percent and 18 percent of its processing power at any given time. It employs "peer-to-peer" technology, in which millions of computers can share files over the Internet.

Participants download a screen-saver that runs whenever their computers have resources to spare, and uses that power to perform computations for the project. When the user connects to the Internet, the computer sends data back to a central hub and gets another assignment.

The company that designed the program, United Devices Inc. of Austin, Texas, promises that no personal information on participants' PCs can be compromised while they take part. If the project attracts more than 160,000 participants, it can give researchers more computational power than the world's 10 best supercomputers combined, said United Devices spokesman Andy Prince.

"The screen-saver doesn't cost you anything, and at least you're taking part in something, adding your bit," said Graham Richards, the Oxford professor leading the study.

Scientists have discovered that the anthrax toxin is made up of three proteins that are not toxic on their own but become toxic after binding together. The Oxford scientists want to scan 3.5 billion molecular compounds to see if any can block the process and keep the toxin from reproducing. The results, which could serve as blueprints for late-stage anthrax drugs, will be turned over to the U.S. and British governments, Richards said.

The project is funded by Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. and supported by the National Foundation for Cancer Research. A similar program launched last April, to help Richards' team find a molecule that might counteract a protein involved in the growth of leukemia, is harnessing the power of 1.3 million PCs around the world.

"We're now in a new era of computing directed at improving the quality of life," said Pat Gelsinger, chief technology officer at Santa Clara-based Intel. 

Screensaver download site - 

Sky Toilet Horror!
OSLO January 22, 2002 (Reuters) - An American woman had no need to fasten her seatbelt on a flight from Scandinavia to the United States after a high-pressure vacuum flush sealed her to the toilet seat of the transatlantic airliner.

The woman filed a complaint with Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) after her ordeal on a Boeing 767 flight last year. She got sucked in after pushing the flush button while seated, activating a system to clean the toilet by vacuum, the airline said Monday.

"She could not get up by herself and had to sit on the toilet until the flight had landed so that ground technicians could help her get loose," a SAS spokeswoman told Reuters. "She was stuck there for quite a long time."
Microarrays for Detecting Pathogens

By Mike Berriochoa 

Washington January 21, 2002 (DOE) — Microarrays are tiny probes placed on a piece of glass or other material. Each probe is sensitive to a specific pathogen. The arrays are flooded with a complex mixture of DNA or RNA from environmental samples and individual probes react if particular pathogens are present.

The improvements developed by PNNL and WSU are in printing microarray sensors to speed the detection of pathogens such as anthrax and small pox. These improvements are expected to make the technology less expensive and more readily available for routine use by analytical laboratories. 

"Right now, DNA microarray sensors are found only in very large instruments in very few, high powered laboratories around the country. With this new approach we can fabricate these chips inexpensively, saving 80% of the cost of traditional methods and use the chips to look for multiple pathogens simultaneously, at rates much faster than conventional techniques," said Darrell Chandler, PNNL's Principal Investigator on the project. 

Traditional techniques print microarrays on glass slides through relatively expensive chemically modified probes. But Chandler and Douglas Call, from WSU, have developed an array printing system in which unmodified DNA probes are bound to glass surfaces.

The modified printing method is stable at both high temperatures and low ionic strengths, making the fabrication method suitable for a wide range of conditions in common use.

"The detectors allow for direct detection of RNA or DNA from multiple pathogens and offer potentially significant improvements in sensitivity compared with conventional techniques. And they can be applied to a broad range of fields from bioremediation to human and veterinary diagnostics," said Call.

Army Lab Misplaced Pathogen Specimens
HARTFORD, Conn. January 20, 2002 (AP) - Specimens of anthrax, the Ebola virus and other pathogens were listed as missing after an audit of the Army's biological warfare research center in the early 1990s, according to a published report.

Documents from a 1992 Army inquiry also suggest someone was entering a lab at Fort Detrick, Md., late at night to conduct unauthorized research, according to a story Sunday in The Hartford Courant. A counter on a piece of equipment was rolled back, and someone misspelled 'antrax' when creating a label and left it in the machine's electronic memory, according to documents obtained by the paper.

Fort Detrick officials did not return phone messages Saturday or Sunday.

One of the 27 sets of missing specimens was later located in the lab, the newspaper said. Portions of others also were located, but a spokeswoman, Caree Vander-Linden, said she could not provide details because of incomplete records, the newspaper said. The fate of the rest remains unclear.

Experts disagreed on any potential danger. Vander-Linden said the samples would have been killed in preparation for study. Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a molecular biologist at the State University of New York, said she would not rule out the possibility that anthrax in spore form could survive the chemical treatment.

But she said obtaining live spores would be extremely difficult and "an unnecessarily difficult task. Anybody who had access to those labs could probably get something more useful."

The specimens were reported missing in February 1992 after Lt. Col. Michael Langford took command of the pathology lab. Langford, who no longer works at Fort Detrick, said he ordered an inventory after he recognized there was "little or no organization" and "little or no accountability" in the lab. Investigators also found evidence of what they called "surreptitious" work in the pathology lab during late nights and weekends, the Courant reported.

Dr. Mary Beth Downs told investigators that in 1992 she found that the automatic counter on the electron microscope's camera had been rolled back. She was also surprised to find that a previous user apparently forgotten to reset a feature that imprints each photo with a label. The label "antrax 005' appeared on some of her own photos.

She wrote a memo to Langford, noting that whoever was using the microscope was "either in a big hurry or didn't know what they were doing." Some lab officials believe the concerns were overblown.

"If you had security clearance, the guard isn't going to ask you if you are qualified to use the equipment," former technician Charles Brown said. "I'm sure people used it often without our knowledge."
'Pharaoh's Curse' Feared as Young Girls Swoon!

TURIN, Italy January 18, 2002 (Reuters) - Italy's top Egyptian museum sought to quell fears it had fallen foul of a Pharaoh's curse, as young girls once again swooned before its collection of ancient mummies.

Three young girls were rushed to hospital on Wednesday after falling ill as they wandered around the exhibits at the Egyptian Museum in the northern Italian city of Turin.

One of the trio briefly lost consciousness but medical tests have so far failed to ascertain the reason. Two girls also needed medical attention last year after fainting in the museum.

"There is no doubt a perfectly rational explanation, but everyone is interested because there is the hint of a curse. That is what everyone alludes to -- the mystery of the Pharaoh," said Anna Maria Donadoni, curator of the Egyptian collection.

"There is no poison powerful enough to make someone collapse in five minutes," she told Reuters.

School friends Tania and Alessandra, both 11 years old, fainted as they examined a pharaoh's sarcophagus in the museum's basement on Wednesday. Moments later, another girl started to shake and burst into tears.

Since the first fainting incident last March the museum has undergone a battery of tests to check that the air surrounding the ancient monuments was safe.

"We have been waiting for results since March," said Donadoni. "You would have thought if they had found something they would have told us by now."

The museum holds a famed collection of Egyptian antiquities, including decorated mummy cases, a small temple and a burial chamber dating back to 1400 BC, which were gathered together in the late 18th century by King Carlo Emmanuele III.

Ancient Egyptian Headache Cures

By E.J. Mundell

NEW YORK January 21, 2002 (Reuters) - Can't beat that headache? Why not try an incantation to falcon-headed Horus, or a soothing poultice of "Ass's grease"? According to researchers, 3,500-year-old papyri show ancient Egyptians turning to both their gods and medicine to banish headache pain.

"The border between magic and medicine is a modern invention; such distinctions did not exist for ancient healers," explain Dr. Axel Karenberg, a medical historian, and Dr. C. Leitz, an Egyptologist, both of the University of Cologne, Germany.

In a recent issue of the journal Cephalalgia, the researchers report on their study of papyrus scrolls dating from the early New Kingdom period of Egyptian history, about 1550 BC. Ancient Egyptian healers had only the barest understanding of anatomy or medicine. Indeed, while the head was considered the "leader" of the body, the brain itself was considered relatively unimportant--as evidenced by the fact that it was usually discarded during the mummification process.

Headache, that timeless bane of humanity, was usually ascribed to the activity of "demons," the German researchers write, although over time Egyptian physicians began to speculate that problems originating within the body, such as the incomplete digestion of food, might also be to blame.

Once beset with a headache, those living under the pharaohs turned to their gods for help. One incantation sought to evoke the gods' empathy, imagining that even immortals suffered headache pain.

"'My head! My head!' said Horus," reads one papyrus. "'The side of my head!' said Thoth. 'Ache of my forehead,' said Horus. 'Upper part of my forehead!' said Thoth."

In this way, Karenberg and Leitz write, "the patient is identified with (the gods) Horus and Thoth," the latter being the god of magicians and wise men.

The incantation continues with the sun god Ra ordering the patient to recover "up to your temples," while the patient threatens his "headache demons" with terrible punishments ("the trunk of your body will be cut off"). Still, the gods may have ignored the pleas of many patients, who also turned to medicine for relief. According to one ancient text, these included a poultice made of "skull of catfish," with the patient's head being "rubbed therewith for four days."

Other prescriptions included stag's horn, lotus, frankincense and a concoction made from donkey called "Ass's grease."

Even these remedies could be divinely inspired, however. On one 4,000-year-old scroll, a boastful druggist claims that his headache cure is prepared by the goddess Isis herself.

"'If this remedy is made for the patient for all diseases in the head and for all bad and evil things, he will get well immediately," he wrote.

Nuclear News!
Texas Nuclear Plant Cited 

FORT WORTH, Texas January 23, 2002 (AP) - Federal regulators have cited the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant for repeated, improper handling of low-level radioactive waste, authorities said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said contaminated clothing and maintenance equipment were left outside a controlled area 11 times between Jan. 24, 2000, and May 24, 2001.

The alleged violations were the first at Comanche Peak, one of Texas' two nuclear plants, since 1993.

"The contaminated materials weren't dealt with properly," NRC spokesman Breck Henderson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Wednesday's editions.

TXU Energy, owner of the plant 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth, said the infractions posed no risk to the public or employees.

Comanche Peak was fined $50,000 after it being cited in 1993 for a radioactive water spill in a containment area during refueling. It was shut down, and no water escaped.

Henderson said the new violation could lead to enforcement action.

Russia Closes 3 Malfunctioning Nuclear Reactors

MOSCOW January 22, 2002 (AP) - Nuclear energy officials said Tuesday that reactors at three Russian nuclear plants were shut down in recent days because of malfunctions.

Safety controls triggered the shutdown of reactor No. 3 at the Novovoronezh power plant in southern Russia on Monday evening, the state-run nuclear energy company Rosenergoatom said. The reason was being investigated.

The company said the incident was not serious, no one had been hurt and radiation levels were within the norm.

The No. 4 reactor at the Kursk nuclear power plant in western Russia automatically shut down on Saturday because of an unexplained malfunction, Rosenergoatom said Tuesday. The problem was fixed and the reactor resumed operation Monday.

Also Tuesday, a malfunction was reported in the electronic control panel of reactor No. 1 at the nuclear power plant near the city of St. Petersburg. No radiation increases were reported, the ITAR-Tass news agency said, citing the nuclear safety agency near St. Petersburg. The problem was being investigated.

Minor malfunctions are frequent among Russia's Soviet-era nuclear reactors, many of which are in need of repair.

The country's nuclear power officials are pushing to build several reactors in coming years in Russia and in China, Iran and India. The industry has been in a slump since the 1986 disaster at the Soviet plant in Chernobyl, the world's worst nuclear accident. 

Norton Insists Arctic Drilling Safe


Washington January 18, 2002 (AP) - Interior Secretary Gale Norton believes there's room for both polar bears and oil drillers in a remote Alaska refuge. Her staff in the Interior Department concluded that America's treaty obligations to protect the world's largest land predators would not be violated by oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, officials said Thursday.

"The Interior Department came to the conclusion that we are committed to protecting polar bears and producing energy in the Arctic Refuge," department spokesman Mark Pfeifle said in an interview. Both career and political staff now agree the bears can be adequately protected, thanks to improvements in oil drilling technology, he said.

Department officials rejected warnings contained in two draft reports, in 1995 and 1997, by Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service that said drilling for oil might not be compatible with a 1973 treaty that requires signing countries to protect polar bears and their habitat. It was signed by the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark and the former Soviet Union.

Despite the earlier reports, Fish and Wildlife Service scientists more recently concluded that the risks to polar bears are minimal if oil development in the refuge is properly regulated.

President Bush on Thursday promoted the administration's plan to drill for oil in the refuge by meeting with Teamsters leaders to highlight the potential for jobs. Unions are divided over oil drilling in the refuge, since many major labor groups oppose it. Environmentalists have long argued that development of the oil in the refuge would jeopardize the coastal plain's wildlife including polar bears, grizzly bears, musk oxen, 130 species of migrating birds and thousands of porcupine caribou that give birth to their young there in summer.

Pfeifle noted that the Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration had approved several drilling projects in the Beaufort Sea, which is near the refuge. Alaska Democratic Party Chairman Scott Sterling, in Washington, D.C., for the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting, said he supports oil drilling in ANWAR as long as wildlife is protected.

Sterling, an attorney from Wasilla, Alaska, about 45 minutes from Anchorage, said Alaskans want to strike a balance between preserving the refuge and creating jobs.

"We recognize it's a national treasure, but it's also a resource," he said.

Judge Says Norton in Contempt
By Brian Stockes
Indian Country Today

WASHINGTON January 18, 2002 (ICT) – The federal judge overseeing the contempt trial against Secretary of Interior Gale Norton said that a court investigator's report, on its face, contains enough evidence to hold Norton in contempt of court.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth offered his impressions as he officially submitted the report as evidence. Court appointed Special Master Alan Balaran completed the report. It documents serious breaches in computer security and efforts to mislead the court and Indian beneficiaries of BIA administered trust accounts. Judge Lamberth also said he was withholding his ruling on whether to issue a preliminary injunction to force Norton to provide adequate computer security and to get Interior's computer systems back on the Internet. 

"I'm hopeful that all can be ironed out in the next few days and checks can be issued to trust beneficiaries," said Lamberth. 

Lamberth also released a recent report by Balaran saying that Interior has not asked the court for permission to reconnect to the Internet, despite telling the media and the general public that a court-ordered shutdown is the cause for its Web sites being down and trust beneficiaries not getting their checks. 

"Interior's representations to the press and others, while not inaccurate, fail to adequately convey the delicate and extremely difficult process currently uder way to bring IT systems online," said Balaran. 

Balaran, with permission from the court, hired a computer security firm in June and July 2001 to hack into the Interior Department's system. The probers created a false account in Balaran's name, which went undetected by BIA employees. Balaran also criticized Interior for misleading the court about the status of security within the system, after knowing for years that there were major problems protecting important trust data. Balaran said that nothing has changed, despite numerous warnings that the system was not secure and Judge Lamberth's concerns, voiced in 1999, that he was "alarmed and disturbed" by the lack of a plan to fix security breaches. 

Judge Lamberth now places the burden of proof on Secretary Norton to show that she should not be held in contempt of court. The judge had granted a request by Indian plaintiffs to close down the system after he unsealed Balaran's Nov. 15 report documenting "deplorable and inexcusable" lapses in computer security for trust data. However, under a subsequent order, Interior was granted permission to operate and reconnect some of its systems, but only after a 72-hour notice and Balaran's approval 

Interior has yet to receive that approval. 

Judge Lamberth's latest action now sets the stage for Norton to take the witness stand. Plaintiffs in the case say they plan to call Norton to testify.
Genre News: Buffy, Angel, X-Files, Roswell and Star Trek!
Dawn To Rebel On Buffy 

Hollywood January 23, 2002 (Sci-Fi Wire) - Michelle Trachtenberg, who plays little sister Dawn on UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, told SCI FI Wire that her character will have to deal with the consequences of her kleptomania in an upcoming episode.

"You can expect that Dawn will be getting a little more rebellious," Trachtenberg said in an interview.

Trachtenberg added, "Obviously, she has shown signs of being a kleptomaniac. Oh, that's such a harsh word! A person who steals a little bit often. ... I know that that storyline will reach a certain pinnacle--that Buffy and Dawn will have to deal with [it] in the way that they do. Definitely, in the end of this season and in the seasons to come, Dawn will be getting more rebellious and more mature and more womanly. She's getting older. She'll be 16 soon. She's 15 now and a freshman in high school. So after you get past the freshman year, you're kind of like, 'OK, I'm good, I'm a sophomore, I'm better. I'm living and experiencing things.' So that's definitely in store for her."

Buffy-Angel Crossover Still Possible

Hollywood January 23, 2002 (Sci-Fi Wire) - UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon told the New York Daily News that a crossover with The WB's Buffy spin-off series Angel may still be in the works, even though the two shows air on different networks and producers have previously downplayed the likelihood of a pair-up.

"It's not something we're pursuing this year, but it's something we might get into next year if things have cooled down between the two networks," Whedon told the newspaper.

Marsters Reveals More Spike 

Hollywood January 22, 2002 (Sci-Fi Wire) - James Marsters, who plays Spike the vampire in UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, confessed to SCI FI Wire that he's still getting used to the show's new willingness to explore nudity--namely, his.

"It's so weird," Marsters said in an interview during UPN's winter press tour. "It is so weird, I cannot tell you. I've known these guys for five years, man, and they're just staring at my sock."

Marsters' frequent nudity is part of a new storyline in which Spike and Buffy find themselves indulging often in extracurricular activities. It's part of the show's move to the more permissive UPN from The WB, but also a salient story point in the show's examination of Buffy's burgeoning adulthood, Marsters said.

"I think that all the sexuality is implied," Marsters said in response to critics who worry that the show is a little too graphic for its Tuesday 8 p.m. timeslot. "I don't think we're doing anything graphic. We're not doing anything more than is being done elsewhere on television. ... I also feel that it is a responsible exploration of a young person's sexuality. It's not just titillation. The thing that's happening between Spike and Buffy is for a purpose. It's going to say something very painful and truthful about Buffy and her journey towards adulthood. It is a decision that springs from an artistic impulse, not just wanting to put booty on the screen."

Marsters revealed that he had to appear naked in his first acting job--a Chicago production of Shakespeare's The Tempest. But having to drop trou regularly on TV necessitates some new discipline.

"Trying to retain some shred of dignity in the tempest that is series television," he said. "Luckily, [star] Sarah [Michelle Gellar] and I have built up trust and friendship, so we kind of lean on each other. ... She taught me that love scenes are much like fight scenes. Which is to say, you're going to a level of unreality that is beyond normal acting. ... We did like eight takes. And the director kept doing take after take after take. And finally Sarah just said, 'OK, James. ... Just don't do anything. Just do the worst acting in your life. Think about breakfast.' And we did it, and that's the take you see on television. ... That was a real lesson."

Buffy airs Tuesdays at 8 PM ET/PT on UPN. Angel airs Mondays at 9 PM ET/PT on the WB.

Mulder Back On X-Files? 

Hollywood January 22, 2002 (Sci-Fi Wire) - The X-Files creator Chris Carter told the New York Post that former star David Duchovny might return to the show for its series finale. Duchovny had previously said he wouldn't be back after he left the series at the end of last season.

"David was open to it, and now the complication of trying to get it done comes," Carter told the Post. "I just have to make the show as interesting as possible, not just for David, but for the fans."

As for the series' finale, Carter said, "I hope to answer as many questions as I feel that I should answer, but hopefully this season finale will lead us in a very clear way towards this next movie that we'd like to do."

X-Files airs Sundays at 9 PM ET/PT on Fox.

UPN to Debut Two New Comedies as 'Roswell' Goes on Hiatus

LOS ANGELES January 23, 2002 ( - UPN is using a strategy similar to what The WB is doing with "Felicity" to premiere its two new comedies, "As If" and "The Random Years." 

While "Roswell" is in repeats during March, UPN will put the drama on hiatus and use its "Buffy" lead-in to help give strong premiere to the two midseason comedies. "Roswell" will then return in late April/early May with new episodes.

Based on a British comedy of the same name, "As If" follows the adventures of six twentysomethings living in Los Angeles. The series stars Emily Corrie (from the British version), Robin Dunne ("Dawson's Creek"), Chris Engen ("Felicity"), Derek Hughes and Tracie Thomas.

"The Random Years" stars Will Friedle ("Boy Meets World"), Joshua Ackerman and Sean Murray ("JAG") as three twentysomething roommates living in New York who've known each other since grade school. Enter Natalia Cigliuiti ("Saved by the Bell") to stir up the pot. 

If successful, the two comedies could spell trouble for "Roswell," which has been suffering in the ratings well since UPN rescued from cancellation by The WB.

Despite a disappointing November sweeps performance, UPN recently ordered seven more episode of Roswell, for a total of 20 episodes this year.

FDA Approves Star Trek Tricorder 

MINNEAPOLIS January 22, 2002 (AP) - Hutchinson Technology Inc., which makes computer disk-drive components, plans to expand into the medical device business.

The Food and Drug Administration has given the Hutchinson, Minn.-based company approval to market the InSpectra Tissue Spectrometer, which measures oxygen saturation of hemoglobin in skeletal muscle tissue, the company said Monday.

The product was in development for seven years and is analogous to the tricorder that Dr. McCoy used to take the crew's vital signs on the TV show "Star Trek," a company spokesman said.

The device uses non-contact measurement technology and other technology that Hutchinson Technology developed for its main business of making suspension assemblies for disk drives.

The company expects to begin selling the device in the first half of this year.

Drilling To Begin On Chicxulub Impact Crater

Arizona January 17, 2002 (UniSci) - University of Arizona scientists in the next week or two will begin field work on an international project to core 1.8 kilometers into an immense crater created by the impact of an asteroid or comet 65 million years ago.

The Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) impact is thought to have led to one of the greatest mass extinctions in Earth history, including dinosaur extinction. The impact generated ten thousand times more energy than in the world's nuclear arsenal, and six million times more energy than the 1980 Mount St. Helens volcanic eruption.

The project, the Chicxulub Scientific Drilling Project (CSDP), is located near Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico.

"This is a very special collaboration with our neighbors in Mexico and highlights the success of international cooperation among scientists throughout the world," said David A. Kring, UA associate professor of planetary sciences and co-investigator in the CSDP. "We appreciate the opportunity to work with our colleagues from UNAM and ICDP member-nations."

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) is the lead institution on the project. Kring collaborates closely with Jaime Urrutia Fucugauchi of the UNAM Instituto de Geofisica, who directs the drilling project. Other principal investigators include Dante Moran Zenteno (UNAM), Virgil Sharpton (University of Alaska), Richard Buffler (University of Texas), Dieter Stoeffler (Humbolt-Universitat zu Berlin, Germany) and Jan Smit (Vrije University, Netherlands).

"The hypothesis that a meteorite impact caused the demise of the dinosaurs and consequently, perhaps paved the way for mammalian evolution has been one of the most important recent findings in Earth sciences," said UA College of Science Dean Joaquin Ruiz, professor of geosciences. Discovering what the object was and the details of the impact "is very important," he added. "The fact that the University of Arizona has one of the leading investigators in the field testifies to the quality of science that goes on at this institution."

Ruiz and Rene Drucker, UNAM coordinator of scientific investigation, signed a memorandum of understanding in Mexico on Tuesday that will facilitate and pay for the exchange of students and faculty on this project and future projects involving UA College of Science departments.

The Chicxulub Scientific Drilling Project is being run under the auspices of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP), headquartered in Potsdam, Germany. In addition to Mexico, Germany, and the United States, nations funding ICDP operations include Canada, China, Japan and Poland. Corporate affiliates include UNESCO, the international Ocean Drilling Program and Schlumberger Inc.

Kring and undergraduate geosciences major Jake Bailey will join operations at the Yaxcopoil-1 site 40 kilometers southwest of the province's capital, Mérida. Ruiz will visit the site in a few weeks on a future trip to Mexico. Workers cleared the site of vegetation, constructed a well to supply water to the drilling rig, and installed the drilling rig in November and early December. The governor of Yucatan, UNAM scientists and officials, and a German delegation inaugurated the project with opening ceremonies on Dec.3. Actual drilling began Dec. 12, and the crew reached impact breccias -- rock of sharp-angled fragments -- late last week.

"We expect to reach the 1.8-kilometer (one and one-tenth mile) depth after 69 days of drilling," Kring said, at a cost of $1.5 million from the ICDP. "We planned to hit rocks in the crater between 500 meters (1,640 feet) and one kilometer (3,280 feet), then continue through the impact crater itself -- through breccias and the impact melt layer -- all the way down to continental crust bedrock. If we succeed in getting more funds, we'll core down to 2.5 kilometers (1 and a half miles)."

The hypothesis that an asteroid or comet impact caused K/T mass extinction was first proposed in 1980 by Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez, his geologist son, Walter, and others at the University of California-Berkeley. Kring was one of seven scientists who confirmed the highly controversial theory in the early 1990s.

During oil exploration, PEMEX geophysicists Antonio Carmargo-Zanoguera and Glen Penfield identified the Chicxulub structure as a possible impact crater. Alan Hildebrand of the University of Calgary (then a UA graduate student), Kring, and UA planetary sciences professor William Boynton, working with Penfield, Carmargo-Z., Mark Pilkington of the Canadian Geological Survey and Stein Jacobsen from Harvard University, confirmed with petrologic and geochemical studies that the 180-kilometer (110-mile) diameter Chicxulub structure was indeed formed by giant asteroid or comet impact.

Scientists will analyze cores for details on exactly how the Chicxulub impact suddenly and catastrophically changed Earth's environment and ecology, killing more than 75 percent of the plant and animal species on land and in the oceans. At the Yaxcopoil-1 site, a professional drilling crew uses a diamond-tipped drill to extract 64mm-diameter (2 and a half inch-diameter) core in segments up to 6-meters (19 and a half feet) long. Core segments are placed on a bench at the work site.

UNAM staff and students -- soon to be joined by the UA team -- then wash, label, measure and box the cores. The boxed cores are processed on site and at a laboratory in Mérida, where cores also are scanned as digital images that Kring and other scientists can view over the Internet.

Kring, his students, and researchers from other institutions will be able to further analyze the core samples at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and other labs after the drilling is complete. Kring's work on the Chicxulub impact crater and K/T boundary mass extinction event has been supported by NASA, the National Science Foundation, ICDP, and the University of Arizona.

UA Space Imagery Center - Impact Cratering - 

Downloadable schematic of the drilling site - 

International Continental Drilling Program - 

Museum of Hoaxes
By Jim Regan
Christian Science Monitor 

HALIFAX January 18, 2002 (CSM) - No walls. No artifacts. Not even a gift shop. The Museum of Hoaxes exists exclusively as an online collection of some of history's most entertaining lies. 

Born as research notes for a doctoral dissertation, the Museum is a celebration of gullibility. In order to clearly define the criteria for the featured exhibits, the webmaster first sets forth his definition of the term, "Hoax" and differentiates the label from similar classifications such as Fraud, (think the Canadian mining scandal, Bre-X gold) Urban Legends, ("Paul is Dead") and simple, honest mistakes (Disco). The origins of the word are also touched upon (with an apparent connection to "hocus pocus").

The main collection can be browsed by Date (the earliest entry dates to 750 A.D., though it actually qualifies as a fraud) or Category. The latter option lists examples under such headings as Archaeology, (Piltdown Man) Historical, (the Hitler Diaries) and TV, Radio, Movies, and Plays - with such classics as The War of the Worlds and the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. ( April Fool's pranks have a section all their own.) Below the main index, the Museum also offers a monthly Newsletter as well as current Hoaxes in the News, hoax Photographs and Websites, and the 'take it if you dare' Gullibility Test. (So, did Thomas Crapper really invent the toilet?)

With nothing but text and relatively few images, this site is a blissfully fast page-loader, and with content like this, you won't need bells and whistles to keep you entertained. A few more examples of the exceptional deceptions featured here include:

-Mary Toft, who, in 1726, convinced 'men of science' that she was giving birth to rabbits.

-The New York Sun's 1835 announcement of the discovery of life on the moon. Life which included bison, blue unicorns, and spherical, amphibious creatures that rolled across the moon's beaches. (Oh, and some fire-wielding biped beavers...and winged humans.)

-Princess Caraboo - the cobbler's daughter from Devonshire, England, who in 1817 passed herself off as a West Indies princess to avoid being sent to the workhouse.

And if you're tempted to believe that no one could be so easily fooled today, (least of all, skeptical, investigative, journalist-types) the Museum also holds two hoaxes of recent vintage that were so baldfaced that they must have even amazed the perpetrators when they worked.

Witness the year 2000, 15th Annual New York City April Fool's Day Parade, (yes, April Fool's Day Parade) which drew television news crews from CNN and a New York Fox affiliate to the non-event. And, 20 years earlier in January 1980, no less an institution than the New York Times was duped into printing the obituary of Alan Abel - an infamous hoaxer who, strictly speaking, wasn't actually dead.

The Museum has more than one hundred such examples of man's insincerity to man. I encountered a few broken links, and in some cases, (such as the Sokal Hoax) the entries are sparse, but there is always enough information to feed into a Web search engine, if one's curiosity is sufficiently aroused. And the next time you're feeling incredibly stupid about some bad decision making, it always helps to know there are people who actually fell for "Hong Kong Powdered Water."

The Museum of Hoaxes can be found at 

Lesbian Couples Could Have Babies

London January 18, 2002 (BBC) - Lesbian couples may be able to have a baby that shares both their genes following a new technique pioneered in the US. Scientists at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago have devised a way to create "artificial sperm" from any cell in a woman's body which can be used to fertilise another woman's egg. 

The new method is already being tested on human eggs and could be available in as little as 18 months' time. It was initially developed to allow men with no sperm - those who have received radiotherapy or chemotherapy for cancer, for example - to father children. But it is being seen as a way of enabling lesbian couples to have a baby with genes from both partners, BBC Two's Newsnight program reported. 

US scientists are now trying to produce viable human embryos after the process, known as haploidisation, proved successful in experiments on mice. It involves taking half the genetic material from one cell and injecting it into another woman's egg, resulting in an embryo which contains half of the mother's genes and half of the cell donor's genes. 

A British expert has been working with the Chicago team and told Newsnight that the results of the research so far were "promising".

Mohammed Taranissi, of the Assisted Gynaecology Research Centre in London, said: "It's being done in human eggs as we speak and the first results are going to be presented at a conference in April. It has been done, it looks promising... I believe its going to be available sooner than we expected. We initially thought two to three years; now 18 months." 

Adele and Dawn, a lesbian couple from Coventry, told Newsnight they wanted their names put forward for any medical trial of the technique. 

"It would mean everything to us if we could have our own baby," they told the program. 

But Professor Bill Ledger of Sheffield University, who works on human embryonic stem cells, told the program he disapproved of haploidisation. "The use of this technology has a high risk of creating damaged people and therefore I don't think it should be allowed to go ahead," he said. 

The Chicago team, led by Yuri Verlinsky, made headlines last year with the birth of Adam Nash - the first so-called "spare part" baby.

Adam was born from an embryo specially selected to match his sister Molly, who needed matching stem cells to save her from the fatal illness Fanconi's Anaemia. 

Both children are now well.

World's Oldest Woman Celebrates 115th Birthday

COLDWATER, Mich. January 23, 2002 (AP) — The woman who holds the record as the world's oldest person celebrated her 115th birthday with relatives at the nursing home where she lives.

Maud Farris-Luse, who turned 115 on Monday, is listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest person in the world with documentation.

"If you stop and think about it, she's seen the invention of the radio, the television, the space shuttle — she's seen everything," said her granddaughter, Susie Crandall, 53.

Crandall said Farris-Luse cannot speak or hear.

"I hold her hand and give her kisses and tell her that I love her, but she doesn't understand what's going on," she said.

Still, Crandall added, "if I could turn out to be half the woman that she's been, I'd consider myself lucky."

Farris-Luse has lived in the nursing home since falling at home in 1991 and breaking her hip.

"She's still very healthy," said Teri DeMars, marketing director of the Laurels of Coldwater nursing home. "She still drinks her milk every day and eats all her meals in the dining hall."

Taco Bell Loses Supreme Court Dogfight

Associated Press 

WASHINGTON January 22, 2002 (AP) - Taco Bell and its famous talking Chihuahua lost a dogfight at the Supreme Court Tuesday when the justices declined to get involved in a copyright battle over who came up with the idea for the fast-food chain spokesdog.

Taco Bell had urged the court to throw out claims by two Michigan men that the Mexican food restaurants stole their idea for a talking Chihuahua. In a rare bit of whimsy amid the dry claims of copyright law, Taco Bell's lawyer, veteran Supreme Court litigator Carter Phillips, began his legal brief by noting, "This is a tale of two dogs."

The Michigan men claim they pitched the idea of using a cartoon Chihuahua to sell Taco Bell food more than a year before the company began airing its dog ads in 1997. The Taco Bell ads, since discontinued, featured a real Chihuahua who appeared to say in Spanish, "Yo quiero Taco Bell," or, "I want Taco Bell." The ad campaign became wildly popular, with spinoff stuffed toys, T-shirts and other products.

Joseph Shields and Thomas Rinks allege Taco Bell advertising executives stole their idea for a character called "Psycho Chihuahua" after making a verbal agreement to use the men's design.

Taco Bell claims the company decided to use a talking dog only after TBWA/Chiat Day, a much larger advertising company, proposed it independently.

The men sued under state law in 1998, alleging Taco Bell breached its contract and wrongly made money from the ad campaign. A federal judge dismissed the case the following year after finding that federal copyright law trumped those state law claims. A federal appeals court reversed that decision last year, and reinstated the case. Taco Bell then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Taco Bell owns or franchises thousands of Mexican-style restaurants worldwide from its base in Irvine, Calif. The company is a subsidiary of Tricon Global Restaurants, Inc., which also owns Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Zero Point Energy

By Kevin Smith

DUBLIN January 23, 2002 (Reuters) — It has been a pipe dream of inventors since Leonardo da Vinci, but has the secret of free energy now been found in Ireland?

A cold stone house on a wind-swept Irish hillside may seem an unlikely setting for the birthplace of such an epoch-making discovery, but it is here that an Irish inventor says he has developed a machine that will do no less than change the world. 

The 58-year-old electrical engineer, who lives in the Irish republic and intends — for "security and publicity-avoidance reasons'' — to keep his identity a secret, has spent 23 years perfecting the Jasker Power System. It is an electromechanical device he says is capable of nothing less than replenishing its own energy source. 

The Irishman is not alone in making such assertions. The Internet is awash with speculation about free or "zero point'' energy, with many claiming to have cracked the problem using magnets, coils, and even crystals. 

"These claims come along every 10 years or so and nothing ever comes of them. They're all cases of 'voodoo science,''' said Robert Park, professor of physics at the University of Maryland. 

The makers of the Jasker — a name derived from family abbreviations — say it can be built to scale using off-the-shelf components and can power anything that requires a motor. "The Jasker produces emission-free energy at no cost apart from the installation. It is quite possibly the most significant invention since the wheel," said Tom Hedrick, the only person involved with the machine willing to give his name. 

Hedrick, chief executive of a company set up with a view to licensing the device in the United States, said the technology shattered preconceived laws of science. "It's a giant leap forward. The uses of this are almost beyond imagination.'' 


Not surprisingly, this topic is red hot with controversy. It has sharply divided a world scientific community still on guard after the "cold fusion" fiasco of 1989, when a group of Utah researchers scandalized the scientific world with claims — quickly found to be unsupported — that the long-sought answer to the problem of cold fusion had been discovered. 

Experts contacted by Reuters were wary, citing the first law of thermodynamics, which in layman's terms, states that you can't get more energy out than you put in. 

"I don't believe this. It goes against fundamentals which have not yet been disproved,'' said William Beattie, senior lecturer in electrical engineering at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. "These people (Jasker) are either Nobel prize winners or they don't know what they're dealing with. The energy has to come from somewhere.'' 

Undaunted, the inventor says that once powered-up, his device can run indefinitely — or at least until the parts wear out, adding that he has supplied all his own domestic power needs free for 17 months. 

But he is keen to head off the notion that he has tapped into the age-old myth of perpetual motion. "Perpetual motion is impossible. This is a self-sustaining unit which at the same time provides surplus electrical energy," he said. 


In a demonstration for Reuters, a prototype — roughly the size of a dishwasher — was run for around 10 minutes using four 12-volt car batteries as an initial power source. Emitting a steady motorized hum, the machine powered three 100-watt light bulbs for the duration. 

A multimeter reading of the batteries' voltage before the device started up showed a total of 48.9 volts. When it was switched off, a second reading showed 51.2 volts, indicating that, somehow, they had been reimbursed. 

The machine went on to run for around two hours while photographs were taken, with no diminution in the brightness of the light bulbs, which remained lit during a short power cut. "The draw on the batteries was estimated at more than 4.5 kilowatts. With any existing technology the batteries would have been drained flat in one and a half minutes,'' the inventor said. 

Modern theories of zero point energy have their roots in quantum physics and encompass the fraught areas of "antigravity machines'' and "advanced propulsion'' research. Contributors to the debate range from serious exponents of quantum science to those who insist free energy secrets have been imparted to them by aliens. Still others seem convinced the U.S. government is conspiring to suppress such discoveries. 

Nick Cook, aerospace consultant to Janes Defense Weekly and author of The Hunt for Zero Point is not as quick as some to dismiss the possibilities. "Zero point energy has been proven to exist,'' he said. "The question is whether it can be tapped to provide usable energy. And to that end, I think it's possible, yes. There are a lot of eminent scientists now involved in this field, and they wouldn't be if there wasn't anything to it.'' 

"In my experience opinion in this field is extremely polarized.... people either go with this area of investigation in their minds or they don't, and if they don't they tend to pooh-pooh it vehemently. It's very difficult to get an objective assessment,'' he said. "Basically, no one wants to be the first to stick his head above the parapet.'' 

Impervious to scepticism, Jasker's makers see the first practical application of their technology as a stand-alone generator for home use, although the automotive industry could also be a near-term target given the huge investment in developing substitutes for gasoline-fueled engines. 

With world oil reserves running down, there is mounting urgency in the quest for alternatives. If the Jasker men really are onto something, it could be the most important Irish invention since Guinness.

Visit eXoNews for more recent news!

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