Crowds prowl Google Street View to speed road repairs



































POTHOLES, cracks, gnarly tree roots - the streets are full of nasty obstacles when they fall into disrepair. But an army of online workers could soon fix that, by whizzing virtually through neighbourhoods and earmarking encumbrances for a quick response from the local council.











Jon Froehlich and colleagues at the University of Maryland in College Park have developed software that allows untrained crowdsourced workers from Amazon's Mechanical Turk service (AMT) to zoom through the streets using Google Street View and find and label the potholes, obstructed pathways, broken kerbs and missing ramps that can stymie street access, particularly for those using a wheelchair or a walking aid. A report that includes images of highlighted problem areas can then be generated for the local council's road-mending crews to act on.













The researchers built a prototype following interest in the idea from officials at the US Department of Transportation, who said that the project could save municipalities precious time and resources by telling repair teams the precise nature of the problem before they head into the field. This would aid scheduling and ensure that crews take the right amount of materials - such as concrete or flagstones - to the site.












The team tested the labelling software using six volunteers - three members of the research team and three wheelchair users - and then set the task to 400 AMT workers. After viewing a short instructional video, which showed how to identify problem areas by labelling them with coloured shapes, the workers accurately spotted access issues 93 per cent of the time. Froehlich will present the work in April at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris, France.


















In the next version of the system, the team wants to automate the process using computer vision algorithms. The researchers also hope to access the precise laser range-finding data that the Street View camera cars acquire as they comb the streets. Such information would increase accuracy when assessing the sizes and shapes of obstructions.












"It sounds like this project has a lot of parallels with FixMyStreet," says Myfanwy Nixon of mySociety, a non-profit organisation in London that runs FixMyStreet.com, where people can report street problems. "Online technologies are very good for people with limited mobility or a disability that prevents them from getting their voice out via other means."












This article appeared in print under the headline "Online eyes see the way to an easier amble"




















































If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































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NSP calls for referendum on White Paper






SINGAPORE: The opposition National Solidarity Party (NSP) has called on the government to hold a referendum on the White Paper on Population.

In separate letters sent to President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the Party's Secretary-General, Hazel Poa said the parliamentary debate has now been concluded with the White Paper being endorsed by 77 to 13, with one abstention.

However, she felt that to many, the vote does not reflect the views of Singaporeans because the People's Action Party Members of Parliament clearly voted along party lines.

Ms Poa added that the White Paper will affect Singaporeans - for better or worse - for the next 20 years and beyond, and that all Singaporeans have the right to decide how their future is shaped.

She felt it was only right that they should have a say in it as well.

For this reason, the NSP called on the government to hold a national referendum on the White Paper.

In its letter to Dr Tan, the NSP said it hopes the president will act in the interest of the citizens of Singapore.

NSP asked the government to listen to the people whose lives will be irrevocably changed by the decisions that their elected leaders make on their behalf.

- CNA/xq



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Blizzard wallops Northeast, thousands without power








A blizzard continued to pummel the Northeastern United States on Saturday, disrupting thousands of flights, shutting down roads and mass transit and blanketing the region with heavy snowfall.

Hundreds of thousands of people lost power, with more than 200,000 reported outages in Massachusetts, more than 100,000 in Rhode Island, and 30,000 in Connecticut, according to local utilities.


Forecasters warned that about 2 feet of snow would blanket most of the Boston area with some spots getting as much as 30 inches. New York was due to get about a foot in some areas, while heavy snowfall was also expected in Connecticut and Maine.

Winds reached 35 to 40 miles per hour (56 to 64 km per hour) by Friday afternoon and forecasters expected gusts up to 60 mph as the evening wore on.

The storm prompted the governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Maine to declare states of emergency in the face of the fearsome snowstorm. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick took the rare step of announcing a ban on most car travel starting Friday afternoon, while Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy closed the state's highways to all but emergency vehicles.

By Friday night some commuter trains that run between New York City and Westchester County, Long Island and Connecticut had already been suspended. Amtrak suspended railroad service between New York, Boston and points north on Friday afternoon.

In many cases, authorities ordered non-essential government workers to stay home, urged private employers to do the same, told people to prepare for power outages and encouraged them to check on elderly or disabled neighbors.

"People need to take this storm seriously," said Malloy, Connecticut's governor. "Please stay home once the weather gets bad except in the case of real emergency."

The storm wasn't bad news for everyone.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested people relax at home - cook or watch a movie. Bloomberg said he planned on catching up on his sleep.

As she stocked up at a Brooklyn grocery store, 28-year-old Jackie Chevallier said that after two years without much snow, she was looking forward to waking up to a sea of white.

"I'd like to go sledding," she said.

The storm also posed a risk of flooding at high tide to areas still recovering from Superstorm Sandy last October.

"Many of the same communities that were inundated by Hurricane Sandy's tidal surge just about 100 days ago are likely to see some moderate coastal flooding this evening," said Bloomberg.






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Space Pictures This Week: Sun Dragon, Celestial Seagull








































































































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Great Energy Challenge Blog













































































































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Northeast Shuts Down as Blizzard Batters Millions













A blizzard of possibly historic proportions battered the Northeast Friday into Saturday, and forecasters feared as much as two feet of snow and strong winds could shut down densely populated cities such as New York and Boston, where cars were ordered off the streets.


State officials declared states of emergencies throughout the region, and utilities estimated more than a half-million customers were without power by late Friday night.


Some wondered if the storm could top Boston's all-time single-storm snowfall record of 27.6 inches, set in 2003.


By 9 p.m. Friday, according to the National Weather Service, the storm was spinning off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., and expected to move north-northeastward past New England's coast before its effects tapered off on Saturday afternoon.


"Storm total snowfall accumulations of 1 to 2 feet ... with locally higher amounts are possible across much of the Northeast," the National Weather Service said. "The heaviest snow is forecast to fall across parts of eastern Massachusetts ... Connecticut and Rhode Island where snowfall amounts higher than two feet are possible. In addition to the heavy snowfall ... wind gusts as high as 70 mph are possible ... especially near the coasts."


By 9 p.m. Friday, parts of Connecticut and New York had the highest actual snowfall totals listed by the National Weather Service, with 13 inches measured in Ogdensburg and East Setaukey, N.Y., and Lisbon and North Branford, Conn.


Peak wind gusts included a 71-mph measurement in Buzzards Bay, Mass., the National Weather Service said.


Power outages also were reported across the region. As of 11 p.m. Friday, for instance, approximately 300,000 Massachusetts customers were without power, ABC News station WCVB reported. Utilities also reported approximately 170,000 without power in Rhode Island, 30,000 in Connecticut and nearly 20,000 in New York.


The blizzard conditions came together after a storm from the west joined forces with one from the south to form a nor'easter.










Hurricane Sandy Victims Hit Again, Survivors Prepare for Worst Watch Video









Weather Forecast: Blizzard Headed for Northeast Watch Video





The storm showed the potential for such ferocity that, before it even hit with full force, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon and signed an executive order banning vehicular traffic on roads in his state effective at 4 p.m. ET. It was believed that the last time the state enacted such a ban was during the blizzard of 1978. Violating the ban could result in a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.


"[It] could definitely be a historic winter storm for the Northeast," said Adrienne Leptich of the National Weather Service in Upton, N.Y. "We're looking at very strong wind and heavy snow and we're also looking for some coastal flooding."


Airlines began shutting down operations Friday afternoon at major airports in the New York area as well as in Boston, Portland, Maine, Providence, R.I., and other Northeastern airports. By early evening Friday, more than 4,300 flights had been cancelled on Friday and Saturday, according to FlightAware. Airlines hoped to resume flights by Saturday afternoon, though normal schedules were not expected until Sunday.


The snow fell heavily Friday afternoon in New York City. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said clearing the roads was his main concern, and the city readied 1,700 snow plows and 250,000 tons of salt to clear the streets.


New York City was expecting up to 14 inches of snow, which started falling early this morning, though the heaviest amounts were expected to fall at night and into Saturday. Wind gusts of 55 mph were expected in New York City.


"Stay off the city streets. Stay out of your cars and stay at home while the worst of the storm is on us," Bloomberg said Friday.


Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy declared a state of emergency, deploying National Guard troops across the state to assist in rescues and other emergencies. Schools and state courthouses were closed, and all flights after 1:30 p.m. at Bradley Airport, north of Hartford, Conn., were cancelled. The state's largest utility companies planned for the possibility that 30 percent of customers -- more than 400,000 homes and businesses -- would lose power.


Malloy also directed drivers to stay off the state's major highways.


"Please stay off of 95, 91, 84, Merritt Parkway and any other limited-access road in the state," he said Friday evening.


PHOTOS: Northeast Braces for Snowstorm


Boston, Providence, R.I., Hartford, Conn., and other New England cities canceled school today.


"Stay off the streets of our city. Basically, stay home," Boston Mayor Tom Menino warned Thursday.


On Friday, Menino applauded the public's response.


"I'm very pleased with the compliance with the snow emergency," he said. "You drive down some of the roadways, you don't see one car."


Friday evening, Gov. Patrick also applauded the public's cooperation with the statewide vehicle ban, noting the clear roads were helping utility crews get their work done.


"It's been a great, great help and I thank everyone," Patrick said. "I know it's been an imposition."


As of 4:30 p.m. Friday, according to the Department of Defense, 837 National Guard soldiers and airmen under state control had been activated in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York in anticipation of the storm -- 552 in Massachusetts, 235 in Connecticut and 50 in New York. The extra hands were helping with roadways, transportation, making wellness checks on residents and other emergency services.


Beach erosion and coastal flooding was possible from New Jersey to Long Island, N.Y., and into New England coastal areas. It was feared some waves off the coast could reach more than 20 feet.






Read More..

Robot inquisition keeps witnesses on the right track








































MEMORY is a strange thing. Just using the verb "smash" in a question about a car crash instead of "bump" or "hit" causes witnesses to remember higher speeds and more serious damage. Known as the misinformation effect, it is a serious problem for police trying to gather accurate accounts of a potential crime. There's a way around it, however: get a robot to ask the questions.












Cindy Bethel at Mississippi State University in Starkville and her team showed 100 "witnesses" a slide show in which a man steals money and a calculator from a drawer, under the pretext of fixing a chair. The witnesses were then split into four groups and asked about what they had seen, either by a person or by a small NAO robot, controlled in a Wizard of Oz set-up by an unseen human.













Two groups - one with a human and one a robot interviewer - were asked identical questions that introduced false information about the crime, mentioning objects that were not in the scene, then asking about them later. When posed by humans, the questions caused the witnesses' recall accuracy to drop by 40 per cent - compared with those that did not receive misinformation - as they remembered objects that were never there. But misinformation presented by the NAO robot didn't have an effect.












"It was a very big surprise," says Bethel. "They just were not affected by what the robot was saying. The scripts were identical. We even told the human interviewers to be as robotic as possible." The results will be presented at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Tokyo next month.












Bilge Mutlu, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggests that robots may avoid triggering the misinformation effect simply because we are not familiar with them and so do not pick up on behavioural cues, which we do with people. "We have good, strong mental models of humans, but we don't have good models of robots," he says.












The misinformation effect doesn't only effect adults; children are particularly susceptible, explains the psychologist on the project, Deborah Eakin. Bethel's ultimate goal is to use robots to help gather testimony from children, who tend to pick up on cues contained in questions. "It's a huge problem," Bethel says.












At the Starkville Police Department, a 10-minute drive from the university, officers want to use such a robotic interviewer to gather more reliable evidence from witnesses. The police work hard to avoid triggering the misinformation effect, says officer Mark Ballard, but even an investigator with the best intentions can let biases slip into the questions they ask a witness.












Children must usually be taken to a certified forensic child psychologist to be interviewed, something which can be difficult if the interviewer works in another jurisdiction. "You might eliminate that if you've got a robot that's certified for forensics investigations, and it's tough to argue that the robot brings any memories or theories with it from its background," says Ballard.


















The study is "very interesting, very intriguing", says Selma Sabanovic, a roboticist at Indiana University. She is interested to see what happens as Bethel repeats the experiment with different robot shapes and sizes. She also poses a slightly darker question: "How would you design a robot to elicit the kind of information you want?"












This article appeared in print under the headline "The robot inquisition"




















It's all about how you say it







When providing new information, rather than helping people recall events (see main story), a robot's rhetoric and body language can make a big difference to how well it gets its message across.









Bilge Mutlu of the University of Wisconsin-Madison had two robots compete to guide humans through a virtual city. He found that the robot which used rhetorical language drew more people to follow it. For example, the robot saying "this zoo will teach you about different parts of the world" did less well than one saying "visiting this zoo feels like travelling the world, without buying a plane ticket". The work will be presented at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Tokyo next month.











































If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.




































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Malaysian state scales back Borneo dam plans






KUCHING, Malaysia: A Malaysian state minister Friday said the government would not push ahead with controversial plans to build 12 dams on Borneo island, after outrage from local tribes and environmentalists.

The proposals sparked fears that the dams would destroy pristine rainforests, endanger wildlife, and displace natives in Sarawak, a Malaysian state crossed by powerful rivers with rich jungle habitats.

"It is not a firm plan to build 12 dams. I don't think we will need that. We will only need four of them," James Masing, Sarawak's state minister of land development, told AFP in an interview.

Masing said the government was backing off in response to widespread criticism. Protests over the years have seen activists and locals staging blockades of roads into dam areas.

"I'm pleased that this type of thing (protests) takes place. Not all that we do is correct, and this shows we need to refine our plans and think again," he said.

The government mooted plans for the dams as part of an industrial development drive to boost the resource-rich state's backward economy.

But the now-complete Bakun mega-dam deep in the interior has been dogged for years by allegations of corruption in construction contracts, the flooding of a huge swathe of rainforest and displacement of thousands of local tribespeople.

Besides Bakun, another dam at Murum is nearing completion and two others are in the planning stages.

The four dams -- at Bakun, Murum, Baleh and Baram -- are already expected to put out nearly 6,000 megawatts of power, six times what Sarawak currently uses, Masing said.

"The protests are becoming more vocal on the ground so (the dam rethink) is a very good development for me," said Peter Kallang, member of a Sarawak tribe and chairman of SAVE Rivers, an NGO that has campaigned against the dams.

However, he said plans for the Baram and Baleh dams should be scrapped as well, noting that the Baram dam would displace about 20,000 people, compared to about 10,000 at Bakun, and destroy irreplaceable forest.

He said SAVE Rivers last month organised a floating protest along the Baram river that cruised down river for three days and was met with support along the way by local tribespeople.

The Swiss-based jungle-protection group Bruno Manser Fund says about 90 percent of Sarawak's rainforests have been damaged as the state government has opened up virgin forest to loggers and palm-oil plantations.

Critics also allege chief minister Taib Mahmud, who has ruled Sarawak since 1981, has enriched himself and his family through corrupt timber and other dealings, and have called the dams white elephants.

Taib has dismissed the corruption allegations.

Critics of Taib accuse the federal government of failing to act against him because his tight control of Sarawak has kept it a vital ruling coalition stronghold.

- AFP



Read More..

Hawks nail Torres, and then drill Coyotes 6-2









GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jamal Mayers punched Raffi Torres in the face, then Patrick Kane punched the rest of the Coyotes in the gut.

It didn't take long for the Blackhawks to get their reprisal on Torres and not much longer to get the last laugh, too, as they drilled the Coyotes 6-2 on Thursday night at Jobing.com Arena.



  • Related

























  • Video: Hawks' Mayers on fighting with Torres




    Video: Hawks' Mayers on fighting with Torres







































  • Kane no longer playing with mouth guard




    Kane no longer playing with mouth guard







































  • Box score: Blackhawks 6, Coyotes 2





    Box score: Blackhawks 6, Coyotes 2






































  • Video: Hossa on facing Torres, Coyotes




    Video: Hossa on facing Torres, Coyotes















  • Maps
























  • Jobing.com Arena, Westgate City Center, Glendale, AZ 85305, USA














  • United Center, 1901 West Madison Street, Chicago, IL 60612, USA












In Torres' first appearance against the Hawks since his 21-game suspension for an illegal hit that seriously injured Marian Hossa during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs ended, Mayers confronted the Coyotes veteran just 2 minutes, 35 seconds into the game.

Hossa watched from the bench as the two dropped the gloves and threw flurries of punches during the spirited bout. With that out of the way, it was time for Kane & Co. to get to work.

Kane had two goals and an assist — all in the first period — Jonathan Toews, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg each had a goal and an assist and Dave Bolland also scored as the Hawks remained unbeaten in regulation at 9-0-2.

"I realize what my job is at this point," Mayers said. "It still doesn't excuse what (Torres did) but give (him) credit that he was willing to go."

Said Torres: "(The Hossa incident) is in the past and part of the game but I understand that if I go out there and run around and throw some hits then I'm going to have to answer the bell sometimes. (Thursday night) was a perfect example."

Patrick Sharp added three assists and Ray Emery earned the victory in goal to help the Hawks move to 3-0-2 on their season-long, six-game trip. Martin Hanzal and Torres scored for the Coyotes and Mike Smith, who was yanked in the second period, suffered the loss.

"What Jamal did was great for the team and put that to rest," said Emery, who made 22 saves to up his record to 3-0-0.

"More important was to get the two points and stay focused, not let that whole situation get the best of us. I think we did that."

After the Mayers-Torres showdown, the Hawks exploded with four unanswered goals: one from Stalberg and two from Kane surrounding one from Bolland.

"We had a great start," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had real good purpose to our game. … It was a great effort across the board. I was pleased with every aspect of our game, the contribution from each guy."

After Hanzal's goal early in the second, Toews and Bickell put the game out of reach.

Kane has eight goals and 10 assists in 11 games.

"It's always nice scoring goals when you're winning," Kane said. "Hopefully it's something I can continue and we can keep winning games."

ckuc@tribune.com

Twitter @ChrisKuc



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Asteroid to Make Closest Flyby in History


Talk about too close for comfort. In a rare cosmic encounter, an asteroid will barnstorm Earth next week, missing our planet by a mere 17,200 miles (27,700 kilometers).

Designated 2012 DA14, the space rock is approximately 150 feet (45 meters) across, and astronomers are certain it will zip harmlessly past our planet on February 15—but not before making history. It will pass within the orbits of many communications satellites, making it the closest flyby on record. (Read about one of the largest asteroids to fly by Earth.)

"This is indeed a remarkably close approach for an asteroid this size," said Paul Chodas, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Near Earth Object (NEO) program office in Pasadena, California.

"We estimate that an asteroid of this size passes this close to the Earth only once every few decades."

The giant rock—half a football field wide—was first spotted by observers at the La Sagra Observatory in southern Spain a year ago, soon after it had just finished making a much more distant pass of the Earth at 2.6 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) away.

This time around however, on February15 at 2:24 pm EST, the asteroid will be passing uncomfortably close—ten times closer than the orbit of the moon—flying over the eastern Indian Ocean near Sumatra (map). (Watch: "Moon 101.")

Future Impact?

Chodas and his team have been keeping a close eye on the cosmic intruder, and orbital calculations of its trajectory show that there is no chance for impact.

But the researchers have not yet ruled out future chances of a collision. This is because asteroids of this size are too faint to be detected until they come quite close to the Earth, said Chodas.

"There is still a tiny chance that it might hit us on some future passage by the Earth; for example there is [a] 1-in-200,000 chance that it could hit us in the year 2080," he said.

"But even that tiny chance will probably go away within the week, as the asteroid's orbit gets tracked with greater and greater accuracy and we can eliminate that possibility."

Earth collision with an object of this size is expected to occur every 1,200 years on average, said Donald Yeomans, NEO program manager, at a NASA news conference this week.

DA14 has been getting closer and closer to Earth for quite a while—but this is the asteroid's closest approach in the past hundred years. And it probably won't get this close again for at least another century, added Yeomans.

While no Earth impact is possible next week, DA14 will pass 5,000 miles inside the ring of orbiting geosynchronous weather and communications satellites; so all eyes are watching the space rock's exact trajectory. (Learn about the history of satellites.)

"It's highly unlikely they will be threatened, but NASA is working with satellite providers, making them aware of the asteroid's pass," said Yeomans.

Packing a Punch

Experts say an impact from an object this size would have the explosive power of a few megatons of TNT, causing localized destruction—similar to what occurred in Siberia in 1908.

In what's known as the "Tunguska event," an asteroid is thought to have created an airburst explosion which flattened about 750 square miles (1,200 square kilometers) of a remote forested region in what is now northern Russia (map).

In comparison, an impact from an asteroid with a diameter of about half a mile (one kilometer) could temporarily change global climate and kill millions of people if it hit a populated area.

Timothy Spahr, director of the Minor Planet Center at Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that while small objects like DA14 could hit Earth once a millennia or so, the largest and most destructive impacts have already been catalogued.

"Objects of the size that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs have all been discovered," said Spahr. (Learn about what really happened to the dinosaurs.)

A survey of nearly 9,500 near-Earth objects half a mile (one kilometer) in diameter is nearly complete. Asteroid hunters expect to complete nearly half of a survey of asteroids several hundred feet in diameter in the coming years.

"With the existing assets we have, discovering asteroids rapidly and routinely, I continue to expect the world to be safe from impacts in the future," added Spahr.


Read More..

Door-to-Door Search for Suspected Cop Killer













More than 100 police officers were going door-to-door and searching for new tracks in the snow in the hopes of catching suspected cop killer Christopher Dorner overnight in Big Bear Lake, Calif., before he strikes again as laid out in his chilling online manifesto.


Police held a news conference late Thursday, alerting the residents near Big Bear Lake that Dorner was still on the loose after finding his truck burning around 12:45 p.m. local time.


San Bernardino County Sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said the authorities can't say for certain he's not in the area. More than half of the 400 homes in the area have been searched by police, who are traveling in two-man teams. Bachman urged people in the area to not answer the door, unless you know the person or law enforcement in uniform.


After discovering Dorner's burning truck near a Bear Mountain ski resort, police discovered tracks in the snow leading away from the vehicle. The truck has been taken to the San Bernardino County Sheriffs' crime lab.


Read More About Chris Dorner's Allegations Against the LAPD


Bachman would not comment on Dorner's motive for leaving the car or its contents, citing the ongoing investigation. Police are no aware of Dorner having any ties to others in the area.








Christopher Dorner: Ex-Cop Wanted in Killing Spree Watch Video









Engaged California Couple Found Dead in Car Watch Video







She added that the search in the area would continue as long as the weather cooperates. However, a snowstorm was forecast for the area. About three choppers were being used overnight, but weather conditions were deteriorating, according to Bachman.


Dorner, a former Los Angeles police officer and Navy reservist, is suspected of killing one police officer and injured two others Thursday morning in Riverside, Calif. He was also accused of killing two civilians on Sunday. And he allegedly released an angry "manifesto" airing grievances against police and warning of coming violence toward cops.


In the manifesto Dorner published online, he threatened at least 12 people by name, along with their families.
"Your lack of ethics and conspiring to wrong a just individual are over. Suppressing the truth will leave to deadly consequences for you and your family," Dorner wrote in his manifesto.


One passage from the manifesto read, "I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty."


"I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own," it read. "I'm terminating yours."


Hours after the extensive manhunt dragged police to Big Bear Lake, CNN's Anderson Cooper said Dorner had sent him a package at his New York office that arrived on Feb. 1, though Cooper said he never knew about the package until Thursday. It contained a DVD of court testimony, with a Post-It note signed by Dorner claiming, "I never lied! Here is my vindication."


PHOTOS: Former LAPD Officer Suspected in Shootings


It also contained a keepsake coin bearing the name of former Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton that came wrapped in duct tape, Cooper said. The duct tape bore the note, "Thanks, but no thanks Will Bratton."


Bratton told Cooper on his program, "Anderson Cooper 360," that he believed he gave Dorner the coin as he was headed overseas for the Navy, Bratton's practice when officers got deployed abroad. Though a picture has surfaced of Bratton, in uniform, and Dorner, in fatigues, shaking hands, Bratton told Cooper he didn't recall Dorner or the meeting.






Read More..

Today on New Scientist: 6 February 2013







Open Richard III DNA evidence for peer review

A good case has been made that a skeleton unearthed from a car park is that of the last Plantagenet king of England - it's time to share the data



Universal bug sensor takes guesswork out of diagnosis

A machine that can identify all bacteria, viruses and fungi known to cause disease in humans should speed up diagnosis and help to reduce antibiotic resistance



Choking China: The struggle to clear Beijing's air

As pollution levels return to normal in China's capital after a record-breaking month of smog, what can be done to banish the smog?



Genes mix across borders more easily than folk tales

Analysing variations in folk tales using genetic techniques shows that people swap genes more readily than stories, giving clues to how cultures evolve



Sleep and dreaming: Slumber at the flick of a switch

Wouldn't it be wonderful to pack a good night's sleep into fewer hours? Technology has the answer - and it could treat depression and even extend our lives too



Closest Earth-like planet may be 13 light years away

A habitable exoplanet should be near enough for future telescopes to probe its atmosphere for signs of life



Lifelogging captures a real picture of your health

How can lifelogging - wearing a camera round your neck to record your every move - reveal what's healthy and unhealthy in the way we live?



Musical brains smash audio algorithm limits

The mystery of how our brains perceive sound has deepened, now that musicians have broken a limit on sound perception imposed by the Fourier transform



Magnitude 8 earthquake strikes Solomon Islands

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Nuclear knock-backs on UK's new reactors and old waste

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Amateur astronomer helps Hubble snap galactic monster

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Philippines' Aquino to visit rebel stronghold






MANILA: Philippine President Benigno Aquino will next week make a historic visit to the stronghold of the country's main Muslim rebel force in an effort to push forward peace talks, his office said on Thursday.

Aquino's trip on Monday to the outskirts of the 12,000-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front's (MILF's) main base in the country's south will be the first peace mission there by a president since the insurgency began in the 1970s.

Aquino and MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim will meet as they witness the launch of a social welfare project for mainly Muslim residents of communities where the rebels exert an influence, Aquino spokesman Ricky Carandang told AFP.

"It's not a formal meeting, but their presence will underscore the commitment and optimism that both sides have that a final resolution to the peace process will be achieved," he said.

"The launch of the social programmes will show concrete benefits of peace."

At the launch, health insurance cards will be distributed to residents, emergency jobs offered to adults and scholarships given to their children, Aquino's office said.

The MILF has been fighting since the 1970s for independence in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic Philippines that the country's Muslim minority claim as their ancestral homeland.

An estimated 150,000 people have died in the conflict.

The MILF signed a "framework agreement" with Aquino's government in October last year committing both sides to form a new autonomous entity on Mindanao by 2016, when the president ends his six-year term.

The MILF vowed to give up its quest for an independent homeland in exchange for significant power and wealth-sharing in a new autonomous region.

Negotiators from both sides have been meeting in neighbouring Malaysia to thrash out what they described as contentious items in the plan.

Cabinet secretary Jose Almendras said Monday's event would be held at an MILF-run school that residents say is about half a kilometre (a third of a mile) from the main gate of the rebels' headquarters, Camp Darapanan.

"It's very close to the MILF camp," Almendras said.

MILF spokesman Mike Pasigan welcomed the imminent launch of the social welfare project.

"The programme will further strengthen the collaboration between the government and the MILF as we build on the gains of the peace process," he said in a statement.

-AFP/fl



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Postal unions angry, customers unfazed about Saturday cut

Chicago Tribune reporter Rob Manker gathers some reactions to the recent news that the U.S. Postal Service plans to drop Saturday delivery of first-class mail by August. (Posted on: Feb. 6, 2013.)









The U.S. Postal Service's plan to end Saturday first-class delivery in August angered unions that stand to lose jobs and faces an uncertain fate in Congress.


But the decision, which the Postal Service says will save $2 billion a year, barely fazed a number of people interviewed at Chicago-area post offices.


"No one really sends letters anymore," said David Braunschweig, 63, who was at the Arlington Heights post office to mail a gift. "Putting away mail (both Saturday and Sunday), it won't kill anyone."








Hammered by competition that includes the Internet, the Postal Service lost nearly $16 billion last year and said doing away with first-class mail on Saturdays is essential to its recovery plan.


"It's an important part of our return to profitability and financial stability," Postmaster General and CEO Patrick Donahoe said at a news conference Wednesday in Washington. "Our financial condition is urgent."


The agency will continue delivering packages and filling post office boxes six days a week, and all offices that already were operating on Saturdays will continue to do so. Package volume is one bright spot for the Postal Service. It's up 14 percent since 2010, which officials attribute to the growth of online commerce.


The end of Saturday delivery would be the biggest change to mail service since the end of twice-daily delivery in the 1950s. Overall mail volume dropped by more than 25 percent from 2006 to 2011, which could explain the shrugs from several Chicago-area postal customers.


"I was accustomed to getting mail on Saturdays, but we will get accustomed to not getting it as well," Rich Klimczak, 74, said outside the Tinley Park post office. "The only thing I would not like to see is (postal workers) losing their jobs."


The move, which would take effect Aug. 5, aims to reduce the postal workforce by at least 20,000 more employees through reassignment and attrition. It would also significantly reduce overtime payments.


Local union officials estimated that 10,000 postal workers will have their workweek reduced because of the move. On Wednesday afternoon, the Chicago branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers called for Donahoe's resignation.


"USPS executives cannot save the Postal Service by tearing it apart," Cliff Guffey, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said in a statement. "These across-the-board cutbacks will weaken the nation's mail system and put it on a path to privatization."


The National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, which has about 1,500 members in the Chicago suburbs, said the elimination of Saturday service puts the Postal Service in a "death spiral."


Although the Postal Service no longer receives taxpayer money, it remains subject to oversight by Congress, which since 1983 has repeatedly passed measures requiring six-day delivery. Donahoe's announcement appeared to be an effort to force action in Congress after comprehensive postal reform legislation stalled last year.


While many members of Congress insist they would have to approve the cutback, Donahoe told reporters that the agency believes it can move forward unilaterally. The current mandate for six-day delivery is part of a government funding measure that expires in late March.


"There's plenty of time in there so if there is some disagreement" with lawmakers, "we can get that resolved," he said.


The divide among lawmakers on the issue does not break cleanly along party lines. Lawmakers who represent rural areas, who tend to be Republicans, generally have opposed service cutbacks. So have those with strong backing from postal labor unions, mostly Democrats.


Last year, the Senate approved a bill that would have allowed the Postal Service to end Saturday delivery after a two-year period to evaluate the potential effects. Similar legislation in the House never came up for a vote.


The Obama administration had included a proposal for five-day mail delivery in its 2013 budget plan. White House officials, however, had said they supported that change only in concert with other reforms. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that officials had not yet studied the latest plan.


Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, expressed concern that the Postal Service's unilateral announcement could complicate his plans for overall reform.


However, he added, "It's hard to condemn the postmaster general for moving aggressively to do what he believes he can and must do to keep the lights on."





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Humans Swap DNA More Readily Than They Swap Stories

Jane J. Lee


Once upon a time, someone in 14th-century Europe told a tale of two girls—a kind one who was rewarded for her manners and willingness to work hard, and an unkind girl who was punished for her greed and selfishness.

This version was part of a long line of variations that eventually spread throughout Europe, finding their way into the Brothers Grimm fairytales as Frau Holle, and even into Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. (Watch a video of the Frau Holle fairytale.)

In a new study, evolutionary psychologist Quentin Atkinson is using the popular tale of the kind and unkind girls to study how human culture differs within and between groups, and how easily the story moved from one group to another.

Atkinson, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and his co-authors employed tools normally used to study genetic variation within a species, such as people, to look at variations in this folktale throughout Europe.

The researchers found that there were significant differences in the folktale between ethnolinguistic groups—or groups bound together by language and ethnicity. From this, the scientists concluded that it's much harder for cultural information to move between groups than it is for genes.

The study, published February 5 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that about 9 percent of the variation in the tale of the two girls occurred between ethnolinguistic groups. Previous studies looking at the genetic diversity across groups in Europe found levels of variation less than one percent.

For example, there's a part of the story in which the girls meet a witch who asks them to perform some chores. In different renditions of the tale, the meeting took place by a river, at the bottom of a well, or in a cave. Other versions had the girls meeting with three old men or the Virgin Mary, said Atkinson.

Conformity

Researchers have viewed human culture through the lens of genetics for decades, said Atkinson. "It's a fair comparison in the sense that it's just variation across human groups."

But unlike genes, which move into a population relatively easily and can propagate randomly, it's harder for new ideas to take hold in a group, he said. Even if a tale can bridge the "ethnolinguistic boundary," there are still forces that might work against a new cultural variation that wouldn't necessarily affect genes.

"Humans don't copy the ideas they hear randomly," Atkinson said. "We don't just choose ... the first story we hear and pass it on.

"We show what's called a conformist bias—we'll tend to aggregate across what we think everyone else in the population is doing," he explained. If someone comes along and tells a story a little differently, most likely, people will ignore those differences and tell the story like everyone else is telling it.

"That makes it more difficult for new ideas to come in," Atkinson said.

Cultural Boundaries

Atkinson and his colleagues found that if two versions of the folktale were found only six miles (ten kilometers) away from each other but came from different ethnolinguistic groups, such as the French and the Germans, then those versions were as different from each other as two versions taken from within the same group—say just the Germans—located 62 miles (100 kilometers) away from each other.

"To me, the take-home message is that cultural groups strongly constrain the flow of information, and this enables them to develop highly local cultural traditions and norms," said Mark Pagel, of the University of Reading in the U.K., who wasn't involved in the new study.

Pagel, who studies the evolution of human behavior, said by email that he views cultural groups almost like biological species. But these groups, which he calls "cultural survival vehicles," are more powerful in some ways than our genes.

That's because when immigrants from a particular cultural group move into a new one, they bring genetic diversity that, if the immigrants have children, get mixed around, changing the new population's gene pool. But the new population's culture doesn't necessarily change.

Atkinson plans to keep using the tools of the population-genetics trade to see if the patterns he found in the variations of the kind and unkind girls hold true for other folktale variants in Europe and around the world.

Humans do a lot of interesting things, Atkinson said. "[And] the most interesting things aren't coded in our DNA."


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Armstrong May Testify Under Oath on Doping













Facing a federal criminal investigation and a deadline that originally was tonight to tell all under oath to anti-doping authorities or lose his last chance at reducing his lifetime sporting ban, Lance Armstrong now may cooperate.


His apparent 11th-hour about-face, according to the U.S. Anti Doping Agency (USADA), suggests he might testify under oath and give full details to USADA of how he cheated for so long.


"We have been in communication with Mr. Armstrong and his representatives and we understand that he does want to be part of the solution and assist in the effort to clean up the sport of cycling," USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart said in a written statement this evening. "We have agreed to his request for an additional two weeks to work on details to hopefully allow for this to happen."


Neither Armstrong nor his attorney responded to emails seeking comment on the USADA announcement.


The news of Armstrong's possible and unexpected cooperation came a day after ABC News reported he was in the crosshairs of federal criminal investigators. According to a high-level source, "agents are actively investigating Armstrong for obstruction, witness tampering and intimidation" for allegedly threatening people who dared tell the truth about his cheating.








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The case was re-ignited by Armstrong's confession last month to Oprah Winfrey that he doped his way to all seven of his Tour de France titles, telling Winfrey he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career and then lied about it. He made the confession after years of vehement denials that he cheated.


READ MORE: Armstrong Admits to Doping


READ MORE: Lance Armstrong May Have Lied to Winfrey: Investigators


WATCH: Armstrong's Many Denials Caught on Tape


If charges are ultimately filed, the consequences of "serious potential crimes" could be severe, ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams said -- including "possible sentences up to five, 10 years."


Investigators are not concerned with the drug use, but Armstrong's behavior in trying to maintain his secret by allegedly threatening and interfering with potential witnesses.


Armstrong was previously under a separate federal investigation that reportedly looked at drug distribution, conspiracy and fraud allegations -- but that case was dropped without explanation a year ago. Sources at the time said that agents had recommended an indictment and could not understand why the case was suddenly dropped.


"There were plenty of people, even within federal law enforcement, who felt like he was getting preferential treatment," said T.J. Quinn, an investigative reporter with ESPN.


The pressures against Armstrong today are immense and include civil claims that could cost him tens of millions of dollars.


Armstrong is currently serving a lifetime ban in sport handed down by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and today was the deadline he was given to cooperate under oath if he ever wanted the ban lifted.


READ MORE: 10 Scandalous Public Confessions


PHOTOS: Olympic Doping Scandals: Past and Present


PHOTOS: Tour de France 2012


ABC News' Michael S. James contributed to this report.



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Today on New Scientist: 5 February 2013







Engineering light: Pull an image from nowhere

A new generation of lenses could bring us better lighting, anti-forgery technology and novel movie projectors



Baby boomers' health worse than their parents

Americans who were born in the wake of the second world war have poorer health than the previous generation at the same age



New 17-million-digit monster is largest known prime

A distributed computing project called GIMPS has found a record-breaking prime number, the first for four years



Cellular signals used to make national rainfall map

The slight weakening of microwave signals caused by reflections off raindrops can be exploited to keep tabs on precipitation



NASA spy telescopes won't be looking at Earth

A Mars orbiter and an exoplanet photographer are among proposals being presented today for how to use two second-hand spy satellites that NASA's been given



China gets the blame for media hacking spree

The big US newspapers and Twitter all revealed last week that they were hacked - and many were quick to blame China. But where's the proof?



Nobel-winning US energy secretary steps down

Steven Chu laid the groundwork for government-backed renewable energy projects - his successor must make a better case for them



Sleep and dreaming: Where do our minds go at night?

We are beginning to understand how our brains shape our dreams, and why they contain such an eerie mixture of the familiar and the bizarre



Beating heart of a quantum time machine exposed

This super-accurate timekeeper is an optical atomic clock and its tick is governed by a single ion of the element strontium



A life spent fighting fair about the roots of violence

Despite the fierce conflicts experienced living among anthropologists, science steals the show in Napoleon Chagnon's autobiography Noble Savages



Challenge unscientific thinking, whatever its source

Science may lean to the left, but that's no reason to give progressives who reject it a "free pass"



Need an organ? Just print some stem cells in 3D

Printing blobs of human embryonic stem cells could allow us to grow organs without scaffolds



Ice-age art hints at birth of modern mind

An exhibition of ice-age art at London's British Museum shows astonishing and enigmatic creativity





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SSC may sell naming rights to facilities in Sports Hub






SINGAPORE: The Singapore Sports Council (SSC), which is developing the Sports Hub, may sell the naming rights to individual facilities within the complex, except for the National Stadium.

However, any sale of naming rights within the Sports Hub is still subject to SSC's consent.

The aim is to strike a balance between preserving the character of Singapore's national icons and allowing sports to benefit from corporate sponsorship.

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said this in Parliament on Wednesday in response to questions from Nominated MP, Assistant Professor Eugene Tan, on the policy on naming rights.

Mr Wong said: "We would certainly be considering naming the facilities which could take the name of our public figures or sports personalities. We are prepared to consider the suggestion and that is provided for within the context of the Sports Hub. Not all of the naming rights have been sold or are part of the agreement with the operator. The government can decide to so name in a different manner."

The Sports Hub is being developed under a 25-year public-private-partnership (PPP) agreement.

A commercial operator will finance, build and operate the entire project in return for a pre-agreed payment and a share of the overall revenue.

Part of the revenue from the operation of the Sports Hub, which would include revenue from the sale of naming rights, may be used to pay for future improvements in facilities, events and shows, as well as to fund community events and support the development of athletes.

On whether a local bank is in discussions with the sports operator on the naming rights, Mr Wong said any interested party can approach the Sports Hub operator and let it know it is interested in a sponsorship deal with naming rights for a particular facility.

He said the Sports Hub operator has been talking to many parties,.

He added that while the media may have speculated about a deal with one local bank, that doesn't mean only one party is interested.

- CNA/fa



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3 dead in West Side crash













Western Avenue crash


Officials examine a Jeep Cherokee that crashed and left three critically injured near 31st Street and Western Avenue.
(Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune / February 5, 2013)



























































A man and two women died in a crash on the city's West Side, authorities said.


Firefighters were called to the accident near 31st Street and Western Avenue about 8:30 p.m., according to the department's media office.


Fire officials cut three people out of a red Jeep after the car lost control and somehow ended up on it's top just west of Western Avenue on 31st Street, police  said.





Three people had been riding in the SUV and all were taken to Mount Sinai Hospital and pronounced dead there, police said. They were the only occupants in the SUV.


Just before 10 p.m., the radio in the SUV -- which was flipped on its top -- could still be heard faintly from a distance.


The SUV was eastbound on 31st Street when it hit a curb, then a light pole, and ended up on its roof, Chicago Police News Affairs Officer Hector Alfaro said.


"Some of the damage is from the fire department," police said of the doors, which had been cut to free the car's occupants. "But they flipped the car themselves.


Investigators from the department's Major Accidents Investigations Unit arrived at the scene Thursday night to investigate what had happened.


Three people were taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, one in "extremely critical" condition, two in critical condtion, according to the fire department. A spokesman at the Cook County medical examiner's office confirmed the deaths.


Video from the scene showed a red Jeep flipped over, with its roof crushed, and a person wrapped in black on a stretcher being taken into an ambulance.


chicagobreaking@tribune.com


Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking






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The Real Richard III


It's a question that actors from Laurence Olivier to Kevin Spacey have grappled with: What did Richard III, the villainous protagonist of Shakespeare's famous historical drama, really look and sound like?

In the wake of this week's announcement by the University of Leicester that archaeologists have discovered the 15th-century British king's lost skeleton beneath a parking lot, news continues to unfold that helps flesh out the real Richard III.

The Richard III Society unveiled a 3D reconstruction today of the late king's head and shoulders, based on computer analysis of his skull combined with an artist's interpretation of details from historical portraits. (Related: "Shakespeare's Coined Words Now Common Currency.")

"We received the skull data before DNA analysis confirmed that the remains were Richard III, and we treated it like a forensic case," said Caroline Wilkinson, the University of Dundee facial anthropologist who led the reconstruction project. "We were very pleasantly surprised by the results."

Though Shakespeare describes the king as an "elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog," the reconstructed Richard has a pleasant, almost feminine face, with youthful skin and thoughtful eyes. His right shoulder is slightly higher than the left, a consequence of scoliosis, but the difference is barely visible, said Wilkinson.

"I think the whole Shakespearean view of him as being sort of monster-like was based more on his personality than his physical features," she reflected.

Look back at 125 years of National Geographic history

People are naturally fascinated by faces, especially of historical figures, said Wilkinson, who has also worked on reconstructions of J.S. Bach, the real Saint Nicholas, the poet Robert Burns, and Cleopatra's sister.

"We make judgments about people all the time from looking at their appearance," she said. "In Richard's case, up to now his image has been quite negative. This offers a new context for considering him from the point of view of his anatomical structure rather than his actions. He had quite an interesting face."

A Voice From the Past

Most people's impression of Richard's personality comes from Shakespeare's play, in which the maligned ruler utters such memorable lines as "Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this son of York," and "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

But how would the real Richard III have expressed himself? Did he have an accent? Was there any sense of personality or passion in his choice of words?

To find out more about the mysterious monarch, Philip Shaw, a historical linguist at University of Leicester's School of English, analyzed the only two known examples of Richard III's own writing. Both are postscripts on letters otherwise composed by secretaries—one in 1469, before Richard became king, and one from 1483, the first year of his brief reign.

Shaw identified a quirk of spelling that suggests that Richard may have spent time in the West Midlands, or perhaps had a tutor who hailed from there.

"I was looking to compare the way he spells things with the way his secretaries spell things, working on the assumption that he would have been schooled to a fairly high level," Shaw explained.

Read about National Geographic explorers on our Explorers Journal blog

In the 1469 letter, Richard spells the word "will" as "wule," a variation associated with the West Midlands. But Shaw also notes that by 1483, when Richard wrote the second letter's postscript, he had changed his spelling to the more standard "wyll" (the letters 'i' and 'y' were largely interchangeable during that period of Middle English).

"That could suggest something about him brushing up over the years, or moving toward what would have been the educated standard," Shaw said, noting that the handwriting in the second example also appears a bit more polished. "One wonders what sort of practice and teaching he'd had in the interim."

Although it's hard to infer tone of voice from written letters, there is certainly emotion in the words penned by Richard III.

In the 1469 letter, the 17-year-old seeks a loan of 100 pounds from the king's undertreasurer. Although the request is clearly stated in the body of the letter, Richard adds an urgent P.S.: "I pray you that you fail me not now at this time in my great need, as you will that I show you my good lordship in that matter that you labour to me for."

That could either be a veiled threat (If you don't lend me the money, I won't do that thing you asked me to do) or friendly cajoling (Come on, I'm helping you out with something, so help me out with this loan).

"His decision to take the pen himself shows you how important that personal touch must have been in getting people to do something," Shaw said.

The second letter, written to King Richard's chancellor in 1483, also conveys a sense of urgency. He had just learned that the Duke of Buckingham—once a close ally—was leading a rebellion against him.

"He's asking for his Great Seal to be sent to him so that he can use it to give out orders to suppress the rebellion," Shaw said. "He calls the Duke 'the most untrue creature living. You get a sense of how personally let down and betrayed he feels."

Shaw said he hopes his analysis—in combination with the new facial reconstruction—will help humanize Richard III.

"He probably wasn't quite the villain that Shakespeare portrays, though I suspect he was quite ruthless," he said. "But you probably couldn't afford to be a very nice man if you wanted to survive as a king in those days."


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