Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Swiss knife

The Swiss army knife had humble beginnings, and, at the start, it wasn't even red.

In the late 19th Century, the Swiss army issued its soldiers with a gun which required a special screwdriver to dismantle and clean it.


Communal Webcasting platform at UC Berkeley

An interesting piece of news

As a growing number of worldwide learners log on, free of charge, to video and podcast lectures and events at the University of California, Berkeley, the campus is leading an international effort to build a communal Webcasting platform to more easily record and distribute its popular educational content.

With grants from the Andrew W. Mellon and William and Flora Hewlett foundations totaling $1.5 million, the project will bring together programmers and educational technology experts from an international consortium of higher education institutions, including ETH Zürich in Switzerland, University of Osnabrück in Germany, Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and Canada's University of Saskatchewan.

Through the Web, Matterhorn members from around the world will develop "open source" software designed to automate their recording and posting of academic content, making the process less costly and labor intensive. The $1.5 million in funding for the project includes $220,000 for planning and design activities that have taken place over the past year.

"Right now, colleges and universities want to provide their academic resources to students and global learners but are stymied by high technical barriers and costs. Opencast Matterhorn holds the promise of significantly lowering these barriers by developing open source software that meets the specific needs of academic institutions," said Mara Hancock, UC Berkeley's director of educational technologies and director of the Opencast Matterhorn project.

The software will support the scheduling, capture, encoding and delivery of educational content to video-and-audio sharing sites such as YouTube and iTunes, so that learners can access lectures when and where they need it. With additional funding, expertise and labor from other members of the consortium, the Opencast Matterhorn platform is scheduled to be up and running by summer 2010.

"Opencast Matterhorn entails more than just video capture and processing. It's also about tools and features that allow all of us to shape the media into something that's more meaningful for the learner to engage with," said Adam Hochman, UC Berkeley project manager for Opencast Matterhorn. For example, students and lifelong learners will have access to a suite of "engage" tools, including bookmarking and annotations.

Coursecasting is a growing trend in educational technology, enabling students and the general public to download audio and video recordings of class lectures to their computers and portable media devices. This latest innovation will solidify UC Berkeley's position as a leader in knowledge-sharing through open access Internet channels, campus officials said.

UC Berkeley has been making its academic content available to the public since 2001 and maintains a growing inventory of video content supplied by taped events and lecture rooms that are wired for automated webcasting. In 2007, UC Berkeley became the first university to make videos of full courses available through YouTube. Course topics include bioengineering, peace and conflict studies, "Physics for Future Presidents," "Environmental Law & Policy," and "General Psychology."

"Students and lifelong learners are becoming increasingly aware of the value of audio and video content that supports their learning, and universities are becoming more committed to providing that service to students," said Christina Maslach, UC Berkeley vice provost for teaching and learning and principal investigator for the Hewlett and Mellon grants.

The project is very much in step with the campus's open source tradition. In the 1970s, UC Berkeley's Computer Systems Research Group laid the foundation for today's open source community. The group developed Berkeley Software Distribution, also known as Berkeley Unix, whose popularity among academics led to the widespread adoption of the Unix operating system. Since then, UC Berkeley has played a leadership role in other worldwide open source projects such as Sakai, Fluid, CollectionSpace and Kuali.

As opposed to proprietary software, open source software makes its program source code available to the public, giving users access to core design functionalities and allowing them to tweak and add features. The software is licensed so that individuals are free to adopt and change it for their own needs.

Other institutions partnering in Opencast Matterhorn are the University of Vigo in Spain, University of Toronto, University of Copenhagen, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Northwestern University in Ilinois, Open University of Catalonia in Spain, Indiana University and the Jožef Stefan Institute in Slovenia.

"Our partners have created their own version of an academic webcasting system, and so bring a wealth of expertise and lessons learned to the project," said Hancock. "Through this collaboration, Matterhorn will gain the benefit of that collective knowledge."


Friday, July 24, 2009

Politicians, officials and rabbis in a corruption scandal

More than 40 people, including politicians, officials and several rabbis have been arrested in a major FBI operation in the US.

Three hundred agents raided dozens of locations in New Jersey and New York as part of a 10-year probe into corruption and money laundering.

Three mayors from the state of New Jersey and two members of the state legislature were among those held.

One man is accused of kidney trafficking involving Israeli donors.

Prosecutors say the arrests were part of a "dual-tracked" investigation.

Acting US Attorney Ralph Marra told reporters there were 29 suspects on what he termed the "public corruption" side of the investigation, including the politicians.

On the other side, he said, there were 15 suspects in connection with alleged international money-laundering, including the rabbis and their "associates".

Prosecutors accuse one man of dealing in human kidneys from Israeli donors for transplant for a decade.

It is alleged that "vulnerable people" would give up a kidney for $10,000 (£6,000) and these would then be sold on for $160,000 (£97,000).


Monday, July 13, 2009

Obesity 'link to same-sex parent'

There is a strong link in obesity between mothers and daughters and fathers and sons, but not across the gender divide, research suggests.

A study of 226 families by Plymouth's Peninsula Medical School found obese mothers were 10 times more likely to have obese daughters.

For fathers and sons, there was a six-fold rise. But in both cases children of the opposite sex were not affected.

The researchers believe the link is behavioural rather than genetic.

They say the findings mean policy on obesity should be re-thought.

Researchers said it was "highly unlikely" that genetics was playing a role in the findings as it would be unusual for them to influence children along gender lines.

Instead, they said it was probably because of some form of "behavioural sympathy" where daughters copied the lifestyles of their mothers and sons their fathers.

It is because of this conclusion that experts believe government policy on tackling obesity should be re-thought.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ethnicity segregation in UK schools

Schools in parts of England are becoming increasingly segregated, deserted by white parents if they find their children becoming outnumbered by pupils from ethnic minorities, a report by a thinktank set up to promote community cohesion has warned.

Councils should consider allocating school places using lotteries in some inner-city areas to tackle a growing phenomenon of "white flight" in the education system, the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) said.

Researchers also found evidence of pupils of different ethnicities not mixing even when they were sharing classes and playgrounds.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Cutting Calories prolongs life?

Over 20 years, monkeys whose diets were not restricted were nearly three times more likely to have died than those whose calories were counted.

Writing in Science, the US researchers hailed the "major effect" of the diet.

It involved reducing calorie intake by 30% while maintaining nutrition and appeared to impact upon many forms of age-related disease seen in monkeys, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and brain atrophy.

Whether the same effects would be seen in humans is unclear, although anecdotal evidence so far suggests people on a long-term calorie-restricted diet have better cardiovascular health.


"People would have to weigh up whether they are prepared to compromise their enjoyment of food for the uncertain promise of a longer life, and a life which could be dogged by all sorts of problems - including osteoporosis."


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Coffee against Alzheimer's'

Drinking five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer's disease, US scientists say.

The 55 mice used in the University of Florida study had been bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

First the researchers used behavioural tests to confirm the mice were exhibiting signs of memory impairment when they were aged 18 to 19 months, the equivalent to humans being about 70.

Then they gave half the mice caffeine in their drinking water. The rest were given plain water.

The mice were given the equivalent of five 8 oz (227 grams) cups of coffee a day - about 500 milligrams of caffeine.

The researchers say this is the same as is found in two cups of "specialty" coffees such as lattes or cappuccinos from coffee shops, 14 cups of tea, or 20 soft drinks.

When the mice were tested again after two months, those who were given the caffeine performed much better on tests measuring their memory and thinking skills and performed as well as mice of the same age without dementia.

Those drinking plain water continued to do poorly on the tests. In addition, the brains of the mice given caffeine showed nearly a 50% reduction in levels of the beta amyloid protein, which forms destructive clumps in the brains of dementia patients.
Further tests suggested caffeine affects the production of both the enzymes needed to produce beta amyloid. The researchers also suggest that caffeine suppresses inflammatory changes in the brain that lead to an overabundance of the protein.