Airport anti-terror systems flub tests

“Camera technology designed to spot potential terrorists by their facial characteristics at airports failed its first major test, a report from the airport that tested the technology shows.

Last year, two separate face-recognition systems at Boston’s Logan Airport failed 96 times to detect volunteers who played potential terrorists as they passed security checkpoints during a three-month test period, the airport’s analysis says. The systems correctly detected them 153 times.

The airport’s report calls the rate of inaccuracy ‘excessive.’ The report was completed in July 2002 but not made public. The American Civil Liberties Union obtained a copy last month through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Logan is where 10 of the 19 terrorists boarded the flights that were later hijacked Sept. 11, 2001.” USAToday

Jargon Watch: "creative destruction"

I read Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby while on vacation, which flirts seriously with the concept; now, suddenly, I’m encountering the term “creative destruction” everywhere. Here’s a Google search on the phrase, which has a long and distinguished lineage, mostly in business management. I’m not sure why the concept has such legs…

Free PDF eBooks

“Planet PDF is now offering an assortment of some of the most popular classics — free! Help yourself to them, and feel free to share them with your friends. We’ll be adding new ones each week, so come back soon for new eBooks.” You don’t need to come back every week; what they’re offering already will keep you occupied for a long while. Time to revisit Moby Dick again — on my PDA.

I do so love having a book stored in my PDA, while we’re on the topic. If I have a free moment to grab to read, wherever I happen to be, it is with me, in my shirt pocket, even when I am inconveniently far from the nearest source of printed reading material or the ‘real’ book I carry around in my bag. However, eBooks will never totally supplant printed books for me. Part of the experience of buying and owning books is their sensuality and their substantiality. If I live long enough to see the death of the book publishing industry in favor of digital distribution, I will still, I venture to say, be an old curmudgeon jealously guarding my room full of filled boookshelves.

Microsoft’s Really Hidden Files

“There are folders on your computer that Microsoft has tried hard to keep secret. Within these folders you will find two major things: Microsoft Internet Explorer has not been clearing your browsing history after you have instructed it to do so, and Microsoft’s Outlook Express has not been deleting your e-mail correspondence after you’ve erased them from your Deleted Items bin. (This also includes all incoming and outgoing file attachments.) And believe me, that’s not even the half of it.” [via Lockergnome]

US smallpox vaccination plan grinds to a halt

“A plan to vaccinate nearly half a million healthcare workers in the US against smallpox in case of a bioterrorist attack has ground to a halt. Only 38,257 people have accepted vaccination, less than a tenth as many as planned.

But the failure may run deeper. In a damning report released last week, the US Institute of Medicine, an independent advisory body, says the problem is not that so few have been vaccinated, but that so much time and money has been spent on the vaccination programme. It argues that this should have been spent on more important defensive measures such as disease surveillance and response plans.” New Scientist

Childhood mental health linked to birth date

The youngest children in a school year group have a higher risk of developing mental health problems than the oldest children, according to a new study.

A survey of more than 10,000 British schoolchildren aged five to 15 years old, found that those with birthdays in the last three months of the school year were more prone to psychiatric problems, such as hyperactivity and behavioural difficulties, compared to those born in the earlier in the school year.

‘Our study shows that those born in the first third of the school year have an 8.3 per cent chance of having a psychiatric disorder, whereas the youngest third have a 9.9 per cent chance,’ says psychologist Robert Goodman, who led the research team at King’s College London.

He suggests that the effects may be due to teachers having the same academic and behavioural expectations for all the children in a year group, even though there may be up to 12 months’ difference in their ages.” New Scientist

Next SoBig worm may trigger torrent of spam

“A new version of the SoBig computer worm, expected in September, could not just overwhelm networks with infected mail but also lead to a massive increase in spam, according to some experts.

Many believe the SoBig.F computer worm, which infected many thousands of computers earlier in August, was designed to turn machines into ‘zombies’ capable of sending out a flood of spam. Data collected by the UK email-filtering company Message Labs shows that almost half of all computers sending spam have been infected with a computer virus. SoBig.F is programmed to stop working on 10 September and anti-virus companies say another variant may soon follow.” New Scientist

My So-Called Universe

Our cozy world is probably much bigger — and stranger — than we know: “One morning last April, the New York Times op-ed page ran a piece by the Australian physicist Paul Davies warning readers not to be so gullible as to believe there could be more than one universe. The next month, Scientific American published a long article by the physicist Max Tegmark asserting that, to the contrary, parallel universes almost certainly do exist. Around the same time, bookstores received Are Universes Thicker Than Blackberries?, wherein Martin Gardner dismisses theories of multiple universes as ‘frivolous fantasies.’ If you had seen all this, you may well have asked yourself: Is this really a matter on which I need to form an opinion?” — Jim Holt, Slate

"Slaughtering Cows and Popping Cherries"

In a teaser for his forthcoming role as a columnist for the New York Press, Paul Krassner reminisces about The Realist.

‘I was publishing what was considered to be the hippest magazine in America, but I was still living with my parents, and I was still a virgin…

In 1964, I assigned Robert Anton Wilson to write a feature article, which he called “Timothy Leary and His Psychological H-Bomb.” A few months later, Leary invited me to his research headquarters in Millbrook, where I took my first acid trip. When I told my mother about LSD, she was quite concerned. “It could lead to marijuana,” she said. Mom was right.’

The consummately irreverent Krassner was always one of my counterculture heroes.

‘Hot Pepper’ Receptor In Heart May Explain Chest Pain

“The secret to heart attack chest pain may be on the tip of your tongue.

Although they may seem unlikely bedfellows, Penn State College of Medicine researchers found evidence to suggest that the same type of nerve receptors that register the burning sensation from hot peppers in the mouth may cause the sensation of chest pain from a heart attack.

‘Our study is the first to demonstrate that the ‘hot pepper’ receptor exists on the heart and may be responsible for triggering heart attack chest pain,’ said Hui-Lin Pan, M.D., Ph.D., professor of anesthesiology, Penn State College of Medicine. ‘Until now, the capsaicin, or ‘hot pepper’ receptor, was only known for sensing heat and pain from the skin. Our data suggest that the ‘hot pepper’ receptors could become a new target for treatment of some types of chronic chest pain, such as angina pectoris, that are resistant to other treatments.’ The study, titled ‘Cardiac vanilloid receptor 1-expressing afferent nerves and their role in the cardiogenic sympathetic reflex in rats,’ was published today (Sept. 1) in the Journal of Physiology, accompanied by an editorial article discussing the importance of the study.” Science Daily

Patients Given Own Stem Cells Escape Transplant

“Four out of a group of five seriously sick Brazilian heart-failure patients no longer needed a heart transplant after being treated with their own stem cells, the doctor in charge of the research said Monday.

Such ‘regenerative medicine,’ in which stem cells extracted from patients’ own bone marrow are used to rebuild tissue, may one day become commonplace for patients with damaged or diseased hearts, some doctors believe.” Reuters

Power of Positive Thinking May Have a Health Benefit, Study Says

“Most people accept the idea that stress and depression chip away at the body’s natural ability to fight off disease. But many medical scientists have remained skeptical that the mind can exert such a direct influence over the immune system.

In recent years, however, evidence has accumulated that psychology can indeed affect biology. Studies have found, for example, that people who suffer from depression are at higher risk for heart disease and other illnesses. Other research has shown that wounds take longer to heal in women who care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease than in other women who are not similarly stressed. And people under stress have been found to be more susceptible to colds and flu, and to have more severe symptoms after they fall ill.

Now a new study adds another piece to the puzzle. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin are reporting today that the activation of brain regions associated with negative emotions appears to weaken people’s immune response to a flu vaccine.” NY Times

And avoiding negative emotion enhances physical wellbeing? On the surface of it, this may appear pretty self-evident, but negative emotions are a part of psychological health too; it is more a question of what one does with them, of course. Expressed in the right way, certain negative emotions — ummm, rage at the current regime in Washington comes to mind, for one — are quite healthy…