Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cars of the future: safer, cleaner, more comfortable

Hamburg (Germany), July 24 (DPA) Within a decade, most new cars will be equipped with clean-drive technology and a host of easy to serve technical gadgets that will make driving much more comfortable and safer than today.

Engineers are currently working on several technologies that were still fiction in the 1980s American television series 'Knight Rider' in which David Hasselhoff is partnered by an autonomous car called KITT with artificial intelligence.

Like KITT, the car of the future recognises its owner with a mini iris-recognition camera.

The front-mounted 'scan bar' in KITT is similar to the mini cameras currently being tested that perceive the car surroundings, informing the driver of possible danger zones. It even brakes automatically if the driver does not react.

Some of the gadgets such as night vision and brake-assist are already available in premium cars such as the new BMW 7-Series but will become the norm in a few years time.

Once the driver sits into the car, the vehicle automatically adjusts the seat and steering wheel settings to the ideal position. The car entertainment system meanwhile plays his/her favourite music while the navigation system begins to choose the best route.

Like KITT, the car could theoretically drive itself, drop its driver outside the office and choose the next available parking space.

Cars will be in contact with other cars and traffic information centres picking up information on accidents, traffic jams or parking areas.

Many of the functions presently in use have complicated menu programmes, switches or buttons. In future you will be able to speak to your car like Hasselhoff to KITT, telling it what to do.

German automaker Volkswagen's head of future research and trend transfer, Wolfgang Mueller-Pietralla, says that the car of the future will be a 'lot more fun, evolving from purely a vehicle to a living space' where we can do most of the things we do at home or in the office like phoning, shopping, watching television or surfing the internet.

Car assistance systems will eliminate most of the risks we have on the road today. Camera-assisted fatigue recognition systems tell the driver when to rest.

The mini cameras with night vision monitor the vehicle surroundings by 180 degrees, picking up possible dangers from any angle, informing the vehicle information system on what action to take.

The car will not be able to fly or jump over objects with rocket boosters, but a lot of the fiction we saw in 'Knight Rider' will have merged into everyday reality.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Finding Men Who Are Paid to Watch Porn for a Living

BBC News

It's 2008 and sex seems to be everywhere. So who holds the line between permissiveness and obscenity? What is obscene these days? And how do those people entrusted to make these calls cope with the harrowing work?

"People think 'what a great job - you sit and watch porn all day'," says Inspector Andy Shortland, who heads the Metropolitan Police's Obscene Publications Squad.

"I think to myself you really would not want to see this stuff. It's not top shelf magazine stuff or soft-core porn which you might hire at Blockbuster. This is really horrible stuff. And when I say that it usually stops them dead.

"But it's just human nature to laugh about it," he adds.

The squad, the only one of its type in the country, consists of 12 officers, including one woman. Its role is threefold - to monitor what is on sale at licensed sex shops, to target and convict pedlars of illegal pornography and to advise other law enforcement agencies.

Lady Chatterley's Lover
Lady Chatterley's Lover was once considered obscene but certainly wouldn't be now
Inspector Andy Shortland

But what, in these more permissive times, is considered obscene?

During the trial of American pornographer Larry Flynt in the 1970s, his lawyer Louis Sirkin observed: "One man's obscenity is another man's art." In England, the law is governed by a piece of legislation almost half-a-century old - the 1959 Obscene Publications Act.

It defines obscenity as "content whose effect will tend to deprave and corrupt those likely to read, see or hear" it.

It helpfully adds: "This could include images of extreme sexual activity such as bestiality, necrophilia, rape or torture."

Insp Shortland says: "What was socially unacceptable 10 or 20 years ago may be acceptable now. There is a moving line. For example Lady Chatterley's Lover was once considered obscene but certainly wouldn't be now.

"But bestiality, necrophilia, rape and torture would still be considered obscene," he says, as would depictions of sexual gratification through lavatorial functions.

The Obscene Publications Squad works closely with the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which is responsible for censoring and labelling all films released in the UK, whether they are movies for the cinema, videos and DVDs for the regular retail market or specialist sex shop material.

Straw dogs release

Rape and torture scenes - sometimes in mainstream movies - have been problematic for both the police and the BBFC.

Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine
In America Larry Flynt fought a long fight to defend pornography

"There is quite a high threshold," says Insp Shortland. "Some caning films can have bad injuries - which are not life-threatening - and that is considered to be obscene. Some rape films are 'fake' with actors portraying rape. It is quite a difficult line to judge."

The case of the 1971 film Straw Dogs, directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, is well known to many film buffs. Originally banned because of a horrific rape depiction, the BBFC passed a different edit of the film in 2002 - which included the scene.

It would be wrong to assume the decision was due to greater tolerance of sexual violence, says the BBFC's senior examiner, Murray Perkins. Far from it.

"Sexual violence is one of the areas where our position which has not changed much over the years," says Mr Perkins. "It's still one of our main concerns. The mixing of sex and violence is something which concerns people and rightly so.

"The makers of Straw Dogs had done their own edit and in the process the film gave the impression that the female character enjoyed the rape. In the full uncut version, that was balanced by another event in the film which gave it context and that was why we were able to pass it."

'They want to be here'

Viewing the scene is deeply unpleasant even for someone who appreciates the film's artistic merit. So how do those who must watch this sort of material for hours each week cope?

Insp Shortland admits it can be tough on his team, but says there are safeguards in place to ensure officers' mental health is not endangered.

"They will not be monitored all the time. If there is one officer dealing with all the material then they will be offered open access to the occupational health department.

"If someone comes to me and says 'I can't take any more of this' I will listen to that. But at the end of the day they are here because they want to be here. They work as a team and are quite open about what they can and can't manage to watch. Each person knows their limit and what they feel less comfortable with."

The workload for Mr Perkins and his fellow examiners at the BBFC is less gruelling.

"Some people think it sounds like the best job in the world," says Mr Perkins. "But the way we do the viewing you are disengaged to a certain extent because you are making notes and are hyper-sensitive to the language and the context. You are viewing it as a job and you've got to be mindful of policy, guidelines and public expectation."

But do examiners risk becoming desensitised?

Legal defence

"If you see something which is raw, misogynistic, aggressive and violent you don't become desensitised to it. What is not right is never right."

Nine Songs, which came out in 2004
The film Nine Songs, which came out in 2004, contained real sex but was uncut
Last year the BBFC issued 1,159 films with an R18 rating, meaning they could only be sold in licensed sex shops. Of those, 27% required cuts.

"The majority of the cuts were little sections rather than a whole scene. It may be strong abuse, violent behaviour, temporary strangling, or it may be a reference to under-age sex," Mr Perkins says.

While an R18 rating is not a legal defence for a pornographer, it would be very unlikely for the Obscene Publications Squad to take action over a film passed by the BBFC.

Insp Shortland says they have had very few trials as few pornographers are willing to pin their hopes on 12 jurors. And he thinks pushing smut has become too easy nowadays. "You just get a master DVD burner and make thousands of copies in your attic. The overheads are very low."

Back at the BBFC, there have been glimpses of more permissiveness in what it's willing to license for mainstream distribution. Films given a regular 18 certificate are only supposed to contain "simulated sex" but there are exceptions, such as Michael Winterbottom's controversial 2004 movie Nine Songs.

The censors judged it to be "exceptionally justified by the context of the film". Surprisingly, perhaps, the only DVD rejected outright by the BBFC was a box set of season two of the TV series Weeds. That was not because of sex or violence, but a scene was seen as promoting drug use.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stolen laptop! How do I protect my identity?

The most common computer crime isn't virus attacks or hackers breaking into your network. It's laptop theft. And as Arash notes, it offers one-stop shopping for anyone who can smash a window and grab a computer.

I won't rehash advice here on protecting your laptop from theft and the importance of encrypting data. This post assumes it's too late, and the laptop is gone. Preventive measures are a topic for another day.

Acting quickly is key when it comes to preventing identity theft. You're right to have taken the first step already, which is to change every password you can think of. If you have a copy of your bookmarks file (it's a good idea to make a backup), go through and systematically change every login password on the list. It's not just banks and email accounts that will need updates, but also shopping sites (like eBay and Amazon) and social networking sites, too. Remember that a crook won't need your actual password to get into any of these places if you've used "remember me" on the site or have set browser or toolbar auto-fill features to automatically enter passwords for you. One click could be all it takes to order thousands of dollars worth of merchandise on your behalf. It's also a good idea to go through your old credit card statements to make sure you've gotten every website you've done business with in the last six to 12 months.

Your next step should be to cancel and replace your credit cards-at least any you've ever used online. Even if you think you've changed all your passwords, chances are that you've missed one. Getting a new credit card takes minutes and provides pretty much foolproof protection.

After you line up your new cards, add a fraud alert message to your credit report. It can help to protect you if someone tries to open a new account under your name. A fraud alert still lets you open new accounts, but it requires that creditors take extra steps to verify that you are who you say you are. An initial security alert stays on your account for 90 days. You can file an extended alert (for seven years) later if you are victimized. Phone numbers for each credit agency are at the bottom of this post. Note that you may need a current copy of your credit report in order to file the alert.

Now that things have settled down, file a police report and get a copy of it-this is critical if you're filing an insurance claim. Since your laptop was stolen during a break-in, your local police department is the place to call. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) handles many computer crimes but probably won't get involved unless you're actually a victim of identity theft. (If you are, visit this site.) Hopefully, if you've followed these instructions, that won't be the case!

Finally, keep an eye on Craigslist and eBay for your laptop. You'd be shocked by how many stolen laptops are unloaded on these sites, often very quickly. If you see a listing that matches your machine (especially if you can verify that it really is yours), alert the authorities and see if they can help you recover it. Good luck.

Credit agency phone numbers:
Experian: 800-493-1058
Equifax: 866-640-2273
TransUnion: 800-916-8800

Friday, April 4, 2008

Eating eggs can reduce breast cancer risk

Washington, Apr 4 (ANI): Eating more eggs can help prevent breast cancer, for a study has suggested that an essential nutrient, choline, found in foods such as eggs, can reduce the risk of breast cancer by about 24 percent.

This new case-control study, led by Steven H. Zeisel, MD, PhD, University of North Carolina, added another piece of evidence to indicate the link between egg consumption and decreased risk of breast cancer.

The study was conducted on more than 3,000 adult women, and it was observed that the risk of developing breast cancer was 24 percent lower among women with the highest intake of choline as against women with the lowest intake.

Those women, who had the highest intake of choline, consumed a daily average of 455 mg of choline or more, getting most of it from coffee, eggs and skim milk. Women with the lowest intake consumed a daily average of 196 milligrams or less.

"Choline is needed for the normal functioning of cells, no matter your age or gender. Increasing evidence shows that it may be particularly important for women, particularly those of child-bearing age," said Zeisel.

One egg contains 125.5 milligrams of choline, or roughly a quarter the recommended daily supply, making eggs an excellent source of this essential nutrient. Choline is found exclusively in the egg's yolk. Other top food sources of choline include liver, wheat germ and cauliflower.

"While choline is an essential nutrient to the human diet, most people haven't even heard of it. Given that in the U.S. there is a real need to understand how much choline we require in our diet, we hope that research, education and awareness about choline will increase as a result of this study published in The FASEB Journal," said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor in Chief of The FASEB Journal and research professor of medicine and director of the Biotechnology Study Center at the New York University School of Medicine.

In fact, two of the earlier studies have also shown that women who eat eggs have a lower risk of developing breast cancer.

Choline, not only plays a vital role in the normal functioning of all cells, including brain and nerve function, liver metabolism and the transportation of nutrients throughout the body, it also has other benefits.

Apart from preventing birth defects, choline improves memory and reduces heart disease risk.

The study will be published in The FASEB Journal's print issue in June. (ANI)

Monday, March 31, 2008

Top 10 April Fool's work pranks

Does April Fools' Day (or the mere thought of it) strike fear in your heart? Do memories of walking into your aluminum foil-covered office still haunt you at the end of every March?
Or, do you spend 364 days of the year plotting the mother of all pranks against your co-workers?
Whichever side you fall on, 32 percent of workers say they have either initiated or been on the receiving end of an April Fools' Day prank at work, according to's annual April Fools' Day survey.
"Pranking at work can be risky business," says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at
"When determining whether a prank is a good idea on April Fools' Day, employees should consider the worst case scenario of their joke. Will his or her joke simply result in a laugh from fellow co-workers? Or could anybody, including you, lose their job?"
While faking a resignation, gluing office supplies to the desk and covering someone's cube in aluminum foil are among the most common office pranks, here are 10 of the most memorable pranks from this year's survey:

1. Placed a pair of pants and shoes inside the only toilet stall in a men's room to make it appear someone was using the stall. It sat there for hours until someone called security to check if the person had died.
2. Sent a fake love note to a co-worker from another co-worker.
3. All the women in office individually spoke to the president, confiding that she is pregnant. By noon, he 'knew' that all of his female workers were pregnant and he could not tell anyone because each asked for confidentially.
4. Called the electric company, used a co-worker's name and told them he was moving so the electricity got turned off at the co-worker's house.
5. Filled the vending soda machine with cans of beer.
6. Rigged the boss' chair to drop suddenly during a staff meeting.
7. Placed a sign on the restroom door that read, "The company ran out of toilet tissue; please use your own resources."
8. Paged a co-worker over the loud speaker claiming the CEO was looking for him. The worker went into the CEOs office and the CEO didn't know who he was or why he was there.
9. Shrink-wrapped everything in a co-worker's cubicle.
10. Put a 'house for sale' ad in the newspaper regarding a co-worker's home.

Experts shed light on origins of April Fools' Day

Washington, Mar 30 (ANI): For an average person, April Fools' Day might be a date to play pranks, but for some experts the day has more to it than just the fun element.

April Fools' Day is believed to be several hundred years old. However, experts say that its origins are still shrouded in mystery.

According to the most popular theory, France changed its calendar in the 1500s so that the New Year would begin in January to match the Roman calendar instead of the start of spring in late March or early April.

However word of the change traveled slowly, and many people in rural areas continued to celebrate the New Year in the spring.

These country dwellers became known as 'April fools'.

Alex Boese, curator of the Museum of Hoaxes in San Diego, Californiaoese, who has studied the holiday's origin, however, disagrees with this interpretation.

"[The French] theory is completely wrong, because the day that the French celebrated the beginning of the year legally was Easter day, so it never really was associated with April first," National Geographic quoted him, as saying.

"Traditionally it was only a legal start to the year-people in France did actually celebrate [the New Year] on January first for as long as anybody could remember," he added.

Instead, Boese believes that April Fools' Day simply grew out of age-old European spring festivals of renewal, in which pranks and camouflaging one's identity are common.

Joseph Boskin, professor emeritus of American humor at Boston University, has offered his own interpretation of the holiday's roots -as a prank.

In 1983, Boskin said that the April Fools' Day idea came from Roman jesters during the time of Constantine I in the third and fourth centuries A.D. As the story goes, jesters successfully petitioned the ruler to allow one of their elected members to be king for a day.

So, on April first, Constantine handed over the reins of the Roman Empire for one day to King Kugel, his jester. Kugel decreed that the day forever would be a day of absurdity. Incidentally, Kugel is an Eastern European dish that one of Boskin's friends had been craving. (ANI)

The Curious Lives of Surrogates

Thousands of largely invisible American women have given birth to other people's babies. Many are married to men in the military.
Jennifer Cantor, a 34-year-old surgical nurse from Huntsville, Ala., loves being pregnant. Not having children, necessarily—she has one, an 8-year-old daughter named Dahlia, and has no plans for another—but just the experience of growing a human being beneath her heart. She was fascinated with the idea of it when she was a child, spending an entire two-week vacation, at the age of 11, with a pillow stuffed under her shirt. She's built perfectly for it: six feet tall, fit and slender but broad-hipped. Which is why she found herself two weeks ago in a birthing room in a hospital in Huntsville, swollen with two six-pound boys she had been carrying for eight months. Also in the room was Kerry Smith and his wife, Lisa, running her hands over the little lumps beneath the taut skin of Cantor's belly. "That's an elbow," said Cantor, who knew how the babies were lying in her womb. "Here's a foot." Lisa smiled proudly at her husband. She is, after all, the twins' mother.

It is an act of love, but also a financial transaction, that brings people together like this. For Kerry and for Lisa—who had a hysterectomy at the age of 20 and could never bear her own children—the benefits are obvious: Ethan and Jonathan, healthy six-pound, 12-ounce boys born by C-section on March 20. But what about Cantor? She was paid, of course; the Smiths declined to discuss the exact amount, but typically, surrogacy agreements in the United States involve payments of $20,000 to $25,000 to the woman who bears the child. She enjoyed the somewhat naughty pleasure of telling strangers who asked about her pregnancy, "Oh, they aren't mine," which invariably invoked the question, "Did you have sex with the father?" (In case anyone is wondering, Lisa's eggs were fertilized in vitro with Kerry's sperm before they were implanted on about day five.)

But what kind of woman would carry a child to term, only to hand him over moments after birth? Surrogates challenge our most basic ideas about motherhood, and call into question what we've always thought of as an unbreakable bond between mother and child. It's no wonder many conservative Christians decry the practice as tampering with the miracle of life, while far-left feminists liken gestational carriers to prostitutes who degrade themselves by renting out their bodies. Some medical ethicists describe the process of arranging surrogacy as "baby brokering," while rumors circulate that self-obsessed, shallow New Yorkers have their babies by surrogate to avoid stretch marks. Much of Europe bans the practice, and 12 states, including New York, New Jersey and Michigan, refuse to recognize surrogacy contracts. But in the past five years, four states—Texas, Illinois, Utah and Florida—have passed laws legalizing surrogacy, and Minnesota is considering doing the same. More than a dozen states, including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and, most notably, California, specifically legalize and regulate the practice.

Today, a greater acceptance of the practice, and advances in science, find more women than ever before having babies for those who cannot. In the course of reporting this story, we discovered that many of these women are military wives who have taken on surrogacy to supplement the family income, some while their husbands are serving overseas. Several agencies reported a significant increase in the number of wives of soldiers and naval personnel applying to be surrogates since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. At the high end, industry experts estimate there were about 1,000 surrogate births in the United States last year, while the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART)—the only organization that makes an effort to track surrogate births—counted about 260 in 2006, a 30 percent increase over three years. But the number is surely much higher than this—in just five of the agencies NEWSWEEK spoke to, there were 400 surrogate births in 2007. The numbers vary because at least 15 percent of clinics—and there are dozens of them across the United States—don't report numbers to SART. Private agreements made outside an agency aren't counted, and the figures do not factor in pregnancies in which one of the intended parents does not provide the egg—for example, where the baby will be raised by a gay male couple. Even though the cost to the intended parents, including medical and legal bills, runs from $40,000 to $120,000, the demand for qualified surrogates is well ahead of supply.

Another reason for the rise in surrogacies is that technology has made them safer and more likely to succeed. Clinics such as Genetics & IVF Institute in Virginia, where Cantor and the Smiths underwent their IVF cycles, now boast a 70 to 90 percent pregnancy success rate—up 40 percent in the past decade. Rather than just putting an egg into a petri dish with thousands of sperm and hoping for a match, embryologists can inject a single sperm directly into the egg. The great majority of clinics can now test embryos for genetic diseases before implantation. It's revolutionizing the way clinics treat patients. Ric Ross, lab director at La Jolla IVF in San Diego, says these advances have helped "drop IVF miscarriage rates by 85 percent."

IVF has been around only since the 1970s, but the idea of one woman bearing a baby for another is as old as civilization. Surrogacy was regulated in the Code of Hammurabi, dating from 1800 B.C., and appears several times in the Hebrew Bible. In the 16th chapter of Genesis, the infertile Sarah gives her servant, Hagar, to her husband, Abraham, to bear a child for them. Later, Jacob fathers children by the maids of his wives Leah and Rachel, who raise them as their own. It is also possible to view the story of Jesus' birth as a case of surrogacy, mediated not by a lawyer but an angel, though in that instance the birth mother did raise the baby.