|Smiley Dead, |
|Inventor of Smiley Face dies at 79 |
|WORCESTER, Mass. April 13, 2001 (AP) - Harvey R. Ball, who invented the Smiley Face, died Thursday after a short illness. He was 79. |
Ball, who co-owned an advertising and public relations firm in Worcester, designed the Smiley Face in 1963 to boost the morale of workers in two recently merged insurance companies.
Ball was paid $45 for his artwork by State Mutual Life Assurance Cos. of America - now Allamerica - in 1963. He never applied for a trademark or copyright.
At its peak of popularity in 1971, more than 50 million Smiley Face buttons were sold. In 1999, the U.S. Postal Service issued a Smiley Face stamp.
|Centuries-Old Scribble Sparks Computer Revolution |
|By Richard Meares |
CAMBRIDGE, England April 12, 2001 (Reuters) - Thomas Bayes wanted to prove that it was God's will that humans should be happy.
Instead, he has helped father the most annoying paperclip in the world -- the "Office Assistant" dreaded by many a Microsoft user -- and is helping computers to learn from their pasts, an even more frightening prospect to some.
The English Presbyterian reverend and part-time mathematician can't really be blamed, though.
His discovery of an equation to predict the likely outcome of events is now hailed as genius, but Bayes could hardly have envisaged where it would all lead.
The eccentric cleric knew nothing of electric light, let alone computers, and died in 1761.
He did not even publish his work -- found later scribbled in a notebook -- as he deemed maths an amusement which made men neither wiser nor better.
The mathematical formula in his "Essay Toward Solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances" was too complex to be of much use and fell into obscurity until the computer age.
Now it is championed by companies like Britain's Autonomy Corp, whose software helps computers "understand" human text and voice, Microsoft and some Internet search engines.
Roughly speaking, Bayes' theorem adds common sense to the maths used to work out how likely something is. It introduces yes-no computers to gray areas, doubt and best guesses.
It recalculates a situation in the light of past events and new information, so computers can sift through chaos to find meaning -- like humans do.
"The added ingredient is a knowledge of the world -- what you are expecting to see, rather than what happened before," says Richard Gaunt, Autonomy's chief technology officer.
Bayes himself tried to explain his work with the example of a miraculously intelligent newborn baby who worked out anew each day how likely it was that the sun would rise tomorrow.
Another illustration used a goat. A more modern way to demonstrate the theory would be to look at the big piles of cash on offer on television quiz shows.
A game show host tells you that a million dollars are behind one of three doors, A, B or C. If you choose correctly, you get the money.
You choose A, and the quiz master responds only by opening door C to reveal an empty space, and asks you to choose again.
Should you stick faithfully to your original choice, or shift your allegiance to B?
YOUR FINAL ANSWER?
You should swap to B.
This feels wrong to many people, who instinctively stand by their first decision. But Bayes' theory calculates you're better off changing -- and if you don't believe it, try both options at home a few hundred times and it should start to prove itself.
Bayes' theory lets machines learn from example rather than by following rules set down by programmers -- rules humans are finding harder to write as computing grows in power and complexity.
"This is not a rules-based approach, as the whole of computing has been -- life's not like that," says Gaunt.
For example, computers are awful at the pattern recognition humans excel at -- such as how to detect a face in a moving video -- but it seems impossible to set rules to help them.
One answer is to feed the machine endless examples -- this is a face, that is a face -- and, using Bayesian techniques, let it learn more from each new example it gets.
"It's about recognizing patterns of information," said Gaunt. "The key ingredient is the prior knowledge of what is probably there."
Cambridge-based Autonomy can be credited with putting the spotlight on Bayesian inference -- which Chief Executive Mike Lynch studied at the city's university and which is at the heart of his company's Dynamic Reasoning Engine software.
The historic city is a key center for Bayesian study. Microsoft's European research center here is also testing a range of promising applications, such as video recognition.
In his lifetime Bayes published only two known works, one entitled "Divine Benevolence, or an Attempt to Prove that the Principal End of the Divine Providence and Government is the Happiness of His Creatures" (1731).
The other defended Isaac Newton from religious attack.
Today, Bayes' approach is only one of many avenues of Artificial Intelligence being explored.
It has its critics -- who say it can be inaccurate -- but its uses are growing along with computing power which is expanding exponentially.
These may include detecting a submarine or voice in a noisy background, recognizing fingerprints and handwriting, detective work, DNA sequencing, credit checking and weather forecasting.
UK banks are using Bayesian inference to identify their best customers, and it has also been used to pinpoint the age of an ancient timber circle, Seahenge, found at the British coast.
It also has important potential applications in trials of new drugs, but faces strong resistance from traditionalists, who insist only conclusions based on observed data are ethical.
Bayes has been called "the Einstein of mathematics," and the friend who published his work posthumously in 1763 said he had proved God existed, though experts today are a bit more sober.
"His contribution was to recognize a much more general view of probability, which is immensely important for computing," says Chris Bishop, deputy head of Microsoft Research, Cambridge.
"Computing started very logically. We want to expand it now into other areas like those where the human brain is very good."
Bishop sees computers as the faithful servants of mankind and dismisses fears that the machines are going to take over.
"People's concerns about technology tend not to be realized in practice," he said with a smile.
|Sun Shoots Another Mass of Energy at Earth |
|By Richard Stenger |
Earth April 12, 2001 - Several powerful solar salvos are heading toward Earth, where they could cause another round of dazzling auroras and disrupt some radio communications.
A pair of so-called coronal mass ejections, filled with billions of tons of radiation and ionized particles, left the sun on April 11 and April 12. They could arrive on Friday and Saturday, space weather forecasters said.
At the peak of an 11-year cycle of activity, the sun has become increasingly stormy and has belched forth numerous coronal mass ejections in recent months, including some directed toward our planet.
Such storms have intensified nighttime aurora light shows. A pair of such solar bursts buffeted the Earth's magnetosphere earlier this week, spurring dramatic auroras in the extreme latitudes. In March, in the Northern Hemisphere, the so-called northern lights dipped down as far south as Texas and Mexico.
A potentially hazardous solar flare leapt from the sun Thursday. Considered a powerful flare, the eruption might have spawned a solar storm heading toward our planet.
Such a storm takes a day or two to arrive. But the flare did produce one immediate effect, according to www.spaceweather.com , a quasi-government Web site monitoring solar activity.
The blast triggered an hour-long disturbance of high-frequency radio communications across the Atlantic Ocean. Such radio systems are used by the military and airlines. The extent of the disruption would likely not be known for a day or two, said Eric Ort, a space weather forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But aircraft and ships have a variety of means to mitigate or avoid communications problems, for example, using higher radio frequencies or satellite communications.
|Judge Postpones Murder Trial of Ku Klux Klansman |
|By JAY REEVES |
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. April 10, 2001 (AP) - Citing the 71-year-old defendant's medical condition, a judge Tuesday indefinitely postponed the murder trial of a former Ku Klux Klansman accused in a 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls.
Circuit Judge James Garrett refused to throw out the charges, however, and said jury selection in the case against a second ex-Klansman also charged in the blast will begin on Monday as scheduled.
Garrett's decision to postpone the trial of longtime suspect Bobby Frank Cherry raises the possibility he might never be brought to trial in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the deadliest act of violence against the civil rights movement.
The judge cited unspecified "medical reasons." But Cherry's lawyer, Mickey Johnson, has described him as having heart problems and other ailments, mental and physical.
"The main issue is mental competency, whether his mental state is such that he can assist his lawyers," said U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who was given permission to get an independent evaluation of Cherry.
Cherry and Thomas Blanton Jr., 62, are accused of planting dynamite outside the church, which had become a gathering place for civil rights activists. The blast on Sept. 15, 1963, a Sunday morning, killed Denise McNair, 11, and Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, all 14.
The bombing, which came just months after police in Birmingham used dogs and firehoses to drive back black marchers, galvanized the civil rights movement.
With Cherry's trial postponed, Blanton also requested a delay. Blanton's attorney, John Robbins, said the postponement of Cherry's trial would be "a bombshell in the community." The judge said he will consider the request.
The judge also is considering whether to let jurors hear years of tape recordings made secretly of Blanton, whose kitchen was bugged by the FBI.
The defense claims the hidden microphone, planted under Blanton's kitchen sink after the bombing, was an illegal intrusion. Prosecutors contend the bug was legally approved by then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
In asking for a dismissal of the case, Cherry's lawyer argued that the government's case revolved around statements made more than a year after the bombing by Mary Frances Cunningham, whose eyewitness account turned out to be false.
The defense also claimed prosecutors deliberately delayed filing charges for years while 14 other possible suspects died - an allegation the government denied.
An investigation in the 1970s resulted in the murder conviction of suspect Robert Edward Chambliss, who died in prison in 1985 while serving a life term. A fourth suspect, Herman Cash, is dead.
|Killer Bees Sting Farmer to Death |
GEORGETOWN, Guyana April 11, 2001 (Reuters) - A Guyanese farmer died on Sunday after he was attacked by a swarm of killer bees, the latest casualty since the fierce strain of African insects reached the South American nation in the 1980s.
Parbudyal Harrypaul, 47, was engulfed by the swarm of honey bees on Friday while working in a small agricultural community just west of the capital Georgetown, relatives said.
After the bees attacked Harrypaul, he stumbled some 2-1/2 miles from the farmland to his home, where his sons took him to a local hospital.
After his condition did not improve, Harrypaul was transferred unconscious to the main hospital in Georgetown, where he died on Sunday, nurses said.
The feared bees have periodically attacked people and animals along the Guyanese coast over the last 20 years. The aggressive insects, originally from southern Africa, were brought to Brazil in the 1950s to increase honey production, and have spread throughout South and Central America and even to the United States.
|Plant Recalls 14.5 million Pounds of Meat Products |
|CLINTON, Oklahoma April 13, 2001 (AP) - A meat plant is recalling 14.5 million pounds of meat and poultry products that may be contaminated, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said. |
Bar-S Foods Co. voluntarily recalled the meat, which may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said Thursday. Recalled products include lunch meats, whole hams, sausages, hot dogs and corn dogs.
Brand names for the recalled products are: Bar-S, Bar-S Extra Lean, Coronado, Chuck Wagon, E-Z Carve and Thrifty.
The bacteria, which sometimes causes infections in pregnant women, newborns and elderly people, was detected in a sample of sliced ham taken from the plant March 19.
The plant was closed last week as the company tried to rid it of the bacteria. Plant officials were not available for comment early Friday morning, a plant worker said.
"Because of the potential for foodborne illness, we urge consumers to check out their refrigerators and freezers to see if they have purchased any of these products," FSIS administrator Thomas J. Billy said.
Billy said any recalled products should be returned to where they were bought.
The products were sent to retail stores, delis and other outlets in the United States, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the South Pacific, the USDA said.
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said Listeria monocytogenes can cause an infection called listeriosis, which is one of the rarest food-borne diseases but one of the most serious.
Although rarely contracted by healthy people, listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea, the USDA said. It can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths, the agency said.
|Legal Action Taken Against DeLay |
|By JIM ABRAMS |
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON April 10, 2001 (AP) — Judicial Watch, a conservative group that gained prominence by repeatedly suing the Clinton White House, is taking legal action against House Republican leader Tom DeLay over allegations he tried to raise political donations by promising meetings with Bush administration officials.
"It is improper and illegal to sell official public office for political campaign contributions,'' said Judicial Watch chairman and general counsel Larry Klayman. "When Clinton did this, Judicial Watch acted. We cannot look the other way when Republicans do the same thing.''
Klayman said at a news conference Tuesday that he had filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department, asking them to investigate DeLay, R-Texas, and the National Republican Congressional Committee for fund-raising violations. He said he also would ask the House ethics committee to look into the matter.
"I'm seriously calling it bribery,'' he said.
"We think this whole thing is ridiculous,'' said Emily Miller, DeLay's spokeswoman. "Tom DeLay has done absolutely nothing wrong.''
The Associated Press reported this month that DeLay, the House's third-ranked Republican, was promising meetings with senior Bush officials to small business owners who made donations to underwrite a GOP ad campaign promoting President Bush's tax plan.
DeLay, in a taped telephone message sent to businessmen, asked them to serve as "an honorary member of our new Business Advisory Council.'' As a member, he said, "you will be invited to meetings with top Bush administration officials where your opinions on issues like tax reform will be heard.''
Both Miller and Steve Schmidt, spokesman for the NRCC, said DeLay was seeking donations in the $300 to $500 range for people interested in attending a tax relief summit in Washington next month where administration officials, members of Congress and others will speak. They denied he was asking for the $20,000 allowable for regulated "hard money'' donations to a national party.
"Saying that all political donations from $10 for a barbecue the city council throws to activities like this shouldn't be allowed is wrong,'' Schmidt said.
Schmidt said the NRCC and Judicial Watch have a relationship in which they exchange names from their donor mailing lists, and "Judicial Watch owes the NRCC names with a significant monetary value. It would be appropriate to ask Mr. Klayman if that dispute bears on this complaint.'' NRCC documents reflect frequent Judicial Watch requests for mailing lists last year.
Klayman said that to his knowledge the organization owes no money to the NRCC. He said the suggestion that they were taking legal action against the NRCC because of a financial dispute was a "cheap political tactic.''
Judicial Watch sent a letter to DeLay's office last week asking him to end the fund-raising activity, but Klayman said it was "met with a nonresponse.''
DeLay's attorney, Ed Bethune, wrote Judicial Watch that DeLay "makes every effort to comply with the law and he has done so in this instance.''
Judicial Watch filed dozens of lawsuits against the Clinton administration. The group's case for access to White House e-mails revealed that thousands of the messages escaped scrutiny during investigations of Monica Lewinsky, Democratic fund raising, the gathering of FBI files and others. The organization contended in another case that the Clinton White House violated the privacy of presidential accuser Kathleen Willey by releasing her personal letters to undermine her accusations of a sexual advance.
On the Net: Judicial Watch: http://judicialwatch.org
|Maharajah's Wartime Treasure Ship Found |
|BY SHIRLEY ENGLISH |
April 11 2001 (London Times) - A two year treasure hunt for a maharajah’s jewels lost in a shipwreck 85 years ago has ended in success.
A Scottish-led salvage team believe that they have found the final resting place of a Royal Mail steamer, codenamed Britannia, which was sunk by a German U-boat in 1916.
Preparations are under way to begin the salvage operation on behalf of the vessel’s London insurers. The Britannia’s cargo could be worth more than the £50 million in gold salvaged from HMS Edinburgh in the Barents Sea in the 1980s. The steamer’s location 3,000ft beneath the sea — almost the depth of the Titanic — is being kept secret.
She was on her way from England to India when she was hit by a torpedo while crossing the Mediterranean. The vessel sank within five minutes. Sir Jagarjit Singh, the Maharajah of Karpurthala in the Punjab, was to have joined the ship at Port Said and thus escaped the sinking, but 158 passengers and crew were lost, with gems and jewellery destined for the maharajah’s 300-strong harem, and coins, diamonds and bullion.
Alec Crawford, 52, and his wife, Moya, 42, from Fife, began searching for the wreck in February 1999 after their company, Deep Water Recovery and Exploration, won the salvage rights. The maharajah died in 1949.
|Pavarotti Goes Online for Anniversary Concert |
ROME April 9, 2001 (Agence France-Presse) - Tenor Luciano Pavarotti will mark the 40th anniversary of his opera debut with an online concert from the Modena opera house and the opening of his own Internet site.
"I will sing for another couple of years," Pavarotti said Monday at the Futurshow technology fair in Bologna on Monday. He cautioned that he was unlikely to sing again for his 50th anniversary.
"I have done well during these 40 years and I'd like to continue at the same level for another couple of years, but then I'll turn to teaching," he said.
Pavarotti, who will be 66 in October, started his singing career in Reggio Emilia on April 29, 1961.
The Modena concert on April 29 will be broadcast on the Internet the following day.
Pavarotti's announcement came only days after 15 million Italians tried to get a glimpse of an online recording by pop legend Mina, 61 - her first public appearance in years. Because of high demand, only 250,000 were able to actually see her.
Fifteen million hits on the Internet left Pavarotti slightly envious, but he said he was not trying to outdo her.
"It would be great to sing like her, but these 40 years are my years and I wanted to celebrate them ever since I started," he said.
For Pavarotti concert news: http://www.pavarottiinconcert.com
|Smugglers Say Virgin Mary Gave Them Cash |
|BOGOTA, Colombia April 12, 2001 (Reuters) - A family nabbed with $1 million in cash stuffed in baggage and babies' diapers told Colombian customs authorities that the money had suddenly appeared along with an apparition of the Virgin Mary. |
Colombia's Customs Department said that officers found U.S. dollars stuffed in baggage, children's clothing and even diapers after stopping a family of three adults and two minors at Bogota's international airport on Wednesday.
The Colombian nationals had arrived from Spain on an Iberia flight, and one of group's female members tried to explain the money by saying the Virgin Mary had appeared before the family and the greenbacks had simply fallen into their hands.
The adult members of the group were arrested.
It is illegal to bring more than $10,000 in cash into Colombia without declaring it and the authorities have stepped up efforts to crack down on illegal money entering the country, the world's biggest cocaine producer.
|Spacecraft Damaged in Accident |
|By JOHN ANTCZAK |
LOS ANGELES April 12, 2001 (AP) - The launch of a spacecraft designed to demonstrate deployment of a solar sail will be delayed for weeks or months because it was damaged during testing in Russia, the project's director said Wednesday.
The extent of damage was unclear, said Louis Friedman, executive director of the Pasadena, Calif.-based Planetary Society, which is coordinating the project. Solar sails, first proposed in the 1920s, would use sunlight to propel a spacecraft.
The craft was scheduled for launch April 26 from a Russian missile submarine in the Barents Sea. The suborbital mission was to test how a packed sail would unfold in space. A second craft, Cosmos 1, is scheduled to attempt an actual solar sail flight later this year.
The accident occurred as the craft was undergoing testing of its electrical systems at Severmosk, a launch port near Murmansk, Friedman said.
Instead of the test, actual spacecraft operations began, including the firing of pyrotechnics to undo latches. The pyrotechnic circuits weren't supposed to fire, Friedman said.
The spacecraft will be returned to the Babakin Space Center near Moscow for repair.
"At this point it will be at least a three-week delay and it could be more than two months," Friedman said.
The project is sponsored by Cosmos Studios, an entertainment company founded by Ann Druyan, widow of the late astronomer Carl Sagan, and Joe Firmage, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and part-time UFO investigator.
On the Net:
The Planetary Society: http://planetary.org
Cosmos Studios: http://carlsagan.com
|Australia Defends Kangaroo Steaks |
|SYDNEY April 12, 2001 (Reuters) - The Australian government on Thursday defended kangaroo meat against animal rights campaigners who have bought up billboards across Europe to warn consumers off kangaroo steaks. |
With sales of kangaroo meat to Europe booming as disease devastates its beef industry, Australian Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Warren Truss, insisted kangaroos were harvested humanely and their meat was safe.
"Claims by animal welfare protesters in the UK that kangaroos are harvested inhumanely and that their meat is unhygienic and unhealthy are completely unjustified and misinformed," Truss said in a statement.
Kangaroo meat exporters say shipments have shot up around 20 percent in the first few months of the year following Europe's foot and mouth disease epidemic.
Sales of ostrich, emu and crocodile are also booming as Europeans palates turn to new varieties of meat.
Australian newspapers have reported that animal welfare groups have launched a massive advertising campaign in Britain and Europe, claiming that kangaroos are killed in massive free-for-all culls, and that the meat is unsafe.
Truss said kangaroo meat was lean, with only about two percent fat, and had very high levels of protein, iron and zinc.
Authorities closely monitor kangaroo harvesting, he said, and hunters had to be licensed. Australia kills two million or more kangaroos every year under a government quota system.
Kangaroo populations left uncontrolled may become pests to farmers and ultimately many starve through overpopulation.
The Australian branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has criticized the annual cull as an out of control frenzy, and is conducting a new inquiry into cruelty.
Australia sells abroad around five million kg of kangaroo meat a year, and has been exporting kangaroo meat to game-loving European connoisseurs for 35 years, mainly in Germany, France, Belgium and Holland.
A large volume of lower grade product is also exported to Russia, the Balkans, South Africa and China.
Kangaroo meat is eaten as steaks, used in sausages and delicatessen products, and is also used to make hamburgers.
Before kangaroo meat's rediscovery as game for human consumption, most culled kangaroos wound up as pet food.
On the web:
Kangaroo Products - http://www.kangaroo-industry.asn.au (Warning: still not for the squeamish!)