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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The 6 Raunchiest, Most Depraved Sex Acts (From the Bible)

What happens when you take a really skanky sex story and dress it up in a lot of flowery words? You get the Bible. Or large chunks of it, anyway.

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"Elite" HIV wife may hold secret to AIDS vaccine

A woman who has never shown symptoms of infection with the AIDS virus may hold the secret to defeating the virus, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

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Weirdest Pageants of the World

There are all kinds of strange pageants. Contestants around the globe regularly exhibit their beauty, as well as displaying their talents in such unconventional activities as muskrat skinning and prostitute impersonation. As an added bonus, many of these contests have a swimsuit portion!

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Cheerleaders at the 2008 Beijing Olympics [PICS]

Cheerleaders - a very American sporting tradition - are seen at just about every game at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. (Heck, even the Badminton tournaments have them!)

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Total Immersion: How To Swim Effortlessly in 10 Days

This is real cool:............In the span of less than 10 days, I’ve gone from a 2-length (2 x 20 yards/18.39 meters) maximum to swimming more than 40 lengths per workout in sets of 2 and 4. Here’s how I did it after everything else failed, and how you can do the same…

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Proof or Hoax? Bigfoot Claimed to be Found in Georgia

Two Georgia men claim to have found in the northern woods of that state something that has been often reported but never proven to exist: a Bigfoot. They say they have a body, photos of the body, and DNA evidence — some or all of which will be revealed this Friday, Aug. 15, at a press conference in Palo Alto, Calif.

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Scientists Develop a Robot with a Biological Brain

It’s interesting to note that this project is being led by Professor Kevin Warwick, who became famous in 1998 when a silicon chip was implanted in his arm to allow a computer to monitor him in order to assess the latest technology for use with the disabled.

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'Beer goggles' are real - it's official

13 August 2008
From New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.
Peter Aldhous

THE next time you hear someone blaming "beer goggles" for their behaviour, you may have to believe them. People really do appear more attractive when our perceptions are changed by drinking alcohol.

There have been few previous attempts to investigate the idea that people seem to find others more attractive when drunk. In 2003, psychologists at the University of Glasgow, UK, published a study in which they asked heterosexual students in campus bars and cafés whether they had been drinking, and then got them to rate photos of people for attractiveness. While the results supported the beer goggles theory, another explanation is that regular drinkers tend to have personality traits that mean they find people more attractive, whether or not they are under the influence of alcohol at the time.

To resolve the issue, a team of researchers led by Marcus Munafò at the University of Bristol in the UK conducted a controlled experiment. They randomly assigned 84 heterosexal students to consume either a non-alcoholic lime-flavoured drink or an alcoholic beverage with a similar flavour. The exact amount of alcohol varied according to the individual but was designed to have an effect equivalent to someone weighing 70 kilograms drinking 250 millitres of wine - enough to make some students tipsy. After 15 minutes, the students were shown pictures of people their own age, from both sexes.

Both men and women who had consumed alcohol rated the faces as being more attractive than did the controls (Alcohol and Alcoholism, DOI: 10.1093/alcalc/agn065). Surprisingly, the effect was not limited to the opposite sex - volunteers who had drunk alcohol also rated people from their own sex as more attractive.

This contrasts with the Glaswegian team's results, where there was only an effect when men were looking at pictures of women, and vice versa. One explanation, says Munafò, is that alcohol-boosted perceptions of attractiveness tend to become focused on potential sexual partners in environments conducive to sexual encounters. He aims to repeat the experiment after showing students a video of people flirting in a bar, to provide some appropriate social cues.

Munafò also intends to study how the effect varies with the amount of alcohol consumed - although ethical constraints rule out exploring doses at which our ability to focus on a face breaks down. "We can look at smaller doses and we can look at slightly higher doses," he says.

As well as changing perceptions of attractiveness, alcohol also encourages us to engage in behaviour we would otherwise avoid. In a study by Robert Leeman of Yale University students reported they were more likely to engage in risky sexual acts after drinking - which could be due to alcohol lowering our inhibitions through a direct effect on the brain or by providing a convenient excuse for such behaviour.

Top Ten Fastest Guitarists of the World

I haven’t seen any recent or better list yet. This one is produced by “Guitar One” itself. Here's a list of top ten fastest guitarists of all time.

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What If Your Wife Were A Porn Star?

Life with a XXX actress has its perks—hearing about her day isn't one of them.

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The Next Great Spy Movie? The Body of Lies Trailer is HERE!

Body of Lies

Based on Washington Post columnist David Ignatius' 2007 novel about a CIA operative, Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio), who uncovers a lead on a major terrorist leader suspected to be operating out of Jordan. When Ferris devises a plan to infiltrate his network, he must first win the backing of cunning CIA veteran Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) and the collegial, but perhaps suspect, head of Jordanian intelligence. Although ostensibly his allies, Ferris questions how far he can really trust these men without putting his entire operation - and his life - on the line.

7 Gadgets to Help Get You in Shape

Are the Olympics inspiring you to get in shape? These gadgets will help get you there.

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Weird, Strange & Bad-Ass Martial Arts

Street Fighter IV
Street Fighter IV
Photo: Capcom

Here's a Look at Some Martial Arts That We Wouldn't Mind Seeing in an Upcoming Video Game:

With the recent release of Soulcalibur IV, the impending arrivals of Street Fighter IV and Tekken 6, as well as rumours of Marvel vs Capcom 3 on the horizon and DC vs. Mortal Kombat being in development, there's lots for fans of fighting games to be getting excited about. Furthermore, there's a lot to be said regarding characters in fighting games. It seems that nowadays most game developers have a short laundry list of martial arts to draw upon: karate, judo, tae kwon do, kickboxing and muay thai, as well as made-up martial arts or generic movesets, such as "brawling." So, here's a look at some martial arts that we wouldn't mind seeing in an upcoming video game. Some of them are silly, some of them are fictitious, and some of them are real. Check it out!

Nguni Stick Fighting - Okay, so, teenagers in North America do things like sitting down and playing video games or cruising around on the Internet. Teenagers down in South Africa, though, like to practice hitting each other in the head as a way to pass the time. Nguni stick fighting is a martial art that is historically tied to the Zulu people and is seen by some folks as a part of the identity of being a Zulu. Apartheid laws in South Africa prevented people from owning firearms or possessing an izinduku (the name of the actual fighting stick), so practitioners were forced to improvise with items such as umbrellas. Also, Nelson Mandela was a disciple when he was younger.

Why this should be placed into a game: Being able to beat up M. Bison or Ivy as Nelson Mandela? Dude, that's almost as awesome as being able to bare knuckle box Abraham Lincoln!

Chances of implementation: Not very high, to be totally honest. Although there could be a ton of potential to institute something like this for a weapon based game, such as Soulcalibur, there's not enough "oomph" to make this truly appealing for folks.

Gymkata: actual results may vary
Credit: MGM

Gym Kata - What do you get when you combine the abilities of an Olympic gymnast with ninjitsu? Why, gymkata, of course, from the 1985 film of the same name...which was based on a book. Yes. Someone decided to write a book that combines gymnastics with ninjitsu and someone else thought it was such a kick ass idea that they just had to go and make a movie out of it. The amazing thing about all of this, though? There's almost a 30 year gap between book and film. I'll let you think that one over for a second. Anyway, gymkata, such as it is, is reliant on gymnastic equipment in order to be effective; things like uneven bars, pommel horses, etc. The rest is just your run of the mill martial arts stuff.

Why this should be placed into a game: In a genre that has sumo wrestlers, bull fighters, pacifist yoga experts and boxing kangaroos, having a gymkata character would not only be strangely fitting, but it'd also be hilarious to see. Besides, I don't think we'll ever see figureskatingkata, so this would be your best opportunity to punch out a smug, leotard wearing Olympiad.

Chances of implementation: Something like this would have to fit in as fan service of some kind. Unfortunately, I don't think that there are enough gymkata enthusiasts out there to get the attention of game developers. To put it another way: gymkata would need to defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.

Metallikato - Back in 1987, interest was waning with the Transformers, thanks to the efforts of Johnny-come-latelys, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In an attempt to try and revive the franchise's toy line, Hasbro decided to introduce the Pretenders line of Transformers toys, which were basically Transformers who could disguise their robot forms. The line was fairly unpopular with fans and was one of the last set of toys that were released under the "original" set of Transformers toys. That said, the Pretender line also gave us Bludgeon, a Decepticon character who was a master of the Cybertron art known as Metallikato. While I won't try to get into a technical analysis here, Metallikato sounds like a simple enough premise: the ancient art of robot kicking and punching. Awesome.

Rejected Megadeth poster or a source of childhood trauma? You decide
Credit: Marvel Comics

Why this should be placed into a game: Are you friggen kidding me? ROBOT KUNG FU. 'Nuff said!

Chances of implementation: Pretty high if you stop to think about it. There's a Transformers sequel coming up pretty soon, and games like Soulcalibur have been known to introduce "guest" characters (see: Link, Spawn, Yoda and Darth Vader), so it wouldn't be a huge stretch for a Transformer to make it into a fighting game.

Dambe - Boxing characters in fighting games are, by and large, pretty damn lame. Balrog, the poster boy for boxers, is a pretty good example of this, having seen constant upgrades over his history as a playable character. I mean, it's pretty hard to be threatening when your entire repertoire consists of punches and your opponents are kicking you, throwing fireballs at you or zapping you with electricity. Meet Dambe, a form of Nigerian boxing. Depending on how you look at it, Dambe is either a variant of North American boxing or is a completely bad-ass martial art all in its own right. Let me explain: combatants have one hand that is designed for striking wrapped in a cloth, called the kara and bound with a cord called the zara. The striking hand is called the "spear." The other hand, which is used for blocking and deflection, is called the "shield." Strikes can be made using the spear, the feet, or head. Also, one leg is wrapped in a chain, called the akayau, and can be used as a weapon, and the kara, in some circles, is wrapped in ground glass.

OM NOM NOM, Balrog snacks on his glove
Credit: Capcom

Why this should be placed into a game: The potential for a character who is based on the Dambe fighting style is pretty high and could hinge around having a player, whose defense (using the shield hand) is an integral part of their game. This could be a turtler's dream, much to the annoyance and aggravation of everyone else.

Chances of implementation: Moderately high, if you ask me. All it would take is the proper attention being given to the sport in a movie or in something like MMA to give it some buzz. That said, trying to create a character that uses Dambe effectively could be a designer's nightmare. Tough call.

Rex: wife of Starla, champion of freedom and justice
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Rex Kwon Do - The fighting "system" showcased in Napoleon Dynamite. Not much is known about this rather unique system of martial arts that was developed "in the Octagon." Extremely effective against those smaller and weaker than you, and guaranteed to give you the "strength of a grizzly bear and the reflexes of a puma," Rex Kwon Do would seem to be an overpowered fighting system, with mastery occurring within 8 weeks.

Why this should be placed into a game: Although Napoleon Dynamite has more than jumped the shark, I would argue that Rex Kwon Do hasn't. And who doesn't want to pummel their opponent senseless with slaps to the back of the head while yelling "BOW TO YOUR SENSEI!" at them?

Chances of implementation: Zero. We'd have a greater chance of having Chuck Norris, an equally beaten-to-death fad, thrown into a fighting game than we would of seeing Rex Kwon Do anytime soon.

Krav Maga - Developed World War 2 Hungary and Czechoslovakia to defend the Jewish communities from Nazis, Krav Maga is a martial arts system that, unlike other systems which focus on neutralizing or subduing an opponent in less than lethal ways, assumes that your opponent is out to kill you. As a result, Krav Maga tries to do the same right back. A fairly popular "flavor of the month" right now, Krav Maga is fairly brutal and tons of videos can be found kicking around online. Training can and does include anything from learning how to defend yourself from a knife attack to how to escape from being garrotted. Krav Maga isn't pretty, but it certainly gets the job done.

Why this should be placed into a game: It was developed to help fight Nazis, and is a completely brutal style that would fit right in with the insane world of fighting video games.

Chances of implementation: It's a bad ass fighting style and is becoming more and more well known. Unlike, say, Jailhouse Rock, which is fairly unheard of, Krav Maga has a fairly high profile even amongst those who aren't that well versed in martial arts. Out of everything listed here, it stands the best chance of making it into a fighting game sometime down the road.

Jailhouse Rock - Described as being America's only "native" martial art, Jailhouse Rock is apparently a system of fighting that originated amongst black slaves in the United States. Needing a way to defend themselves, the Jailhouse Rock system, also known as "52 Hand Blocks and Stato," began to evolve in the US penal system. One of the aspects of JHR, being able to operate in a closed and confined space, made the martial art incredibly useful in the narrow confines of most American prisons. Jailhouse Rock has been mentioned in song by the Wu-Tang Clan and was featured in Lethal Weapon where Mel Gibson's Martin Riggs is trained in JHR.

Martin Riggs mugged a high school student for his varsity jacket
Credit: Warner Bros.

Why this should be placed into a game: It has a cool back story, it could make for an interesting grappling character that isn't based on a professional wrestler (Zangief, King, etc), and it has some "street cred." Plus, it has been featured somewhat in the mainstream.

Chances of implementation: Pretty decent, as there are already a ton of characters based on felons/convicted felons and this would help to make them more "authentic." Yes, authentic in a game world where wooden dolls come to life and movie stars fight alongside professionally trained assassins. Moving on...

Unagi - Ross Geller's "technique" from Friends, also translates to "freshwater eels" in Japanese. Apparently Unagi is a state of being, and, if Ross' depiction of it is accurate, it's the state of being incredibly annoying. Near as I can tell, Unagi involves lurking in hallways screaming "DANGER!" and jumping on the backs of unsuspecting women. The efficacy of this particular fighting style is highly debatable, however, as we don't see Ross ever actually DO anything.

Why this should be placed into a game: You can't tell me you haven't ever felt the urge to want to beat the tar out of that annoyingly smug and "geeky" Ross. I mean, HE winds up with Rachel? Brad "Tyler Durden" Pitt knocked Rachel to the curb and ROSS gets her? No way.

Dan Hibiki (pictured, sitting) doing what he does best
Credit: Capcom

Chances of implementation: Hey, Dan Hibiki has managed to make a career out of being an obnoxious loser. Why not have A NEW CHALLENGER APPEAR?

Gun Kata - Brought to light in the movie Equilibrium, Gun Kata is essentially the art of being a complete badass while armed with a gun. The movie explains that the martial art is based on analysis of thousands of recorded firefights and has given a statistically predictable system for practitioners to utilize. The effectiveness of Gun Kata is unquestioned, as seen in the film, protagonist John Preston (played by Christian Bale) takes out 30 opponents in under a minute using Gun Kata. Although it's incredibly flashy and movie friendly, Gun Kata is also a highly impractical 'real world' martial art. Still, it looks cool.

Why this should be placed into a game: Because, outside of another movie picking up Gunkata, such as what happened with the ultra horrible Ultraviolet, we're really not going to be able to see this showcased anywhere else. Plus, it'd be interesting to see Gun Kata adopted for a fighting game.

Jill Valentine has her own persuasive argument as to why guns should be in fighters
Credit: Capcom

Chances of implementation: Okay, before everyone goes "you can't have guns in a fighting game!" I'd like to point out two things: we have seen guns used by characters in video games (most notably with Cable from Marvel vs. Capcom 2), and as gun kata doesn't exclusively revolve around firing a gun, pistols can also be used as a melee weapon. That said, the chances of seeing Gun Kata in a game rate fairly low, although seeing a knock off of Gun Kata implemented? Entirely possible, given video game companies knack for "borrowing" cool concepts and ideas for their own use.

US OLYMPICS: Osterman no-hitter defeats Australia in softball

August 13, 2008

Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) -- The U.S. Olympic softball team was not about to go down under.

Cat Osterman pitched a no-hitter, Crystl Bustos belted a two-run homer and the Americans extended their winning streak inside the rings to 16 straight with a 3-0 win over Australia on Wednesday.

Osterman outdueled Australia's Tanya Harding, who has handed the U.S. program two of its four losses in the games since 1996. Pitching in her second Olympics, Osterman was Cat with a K.

She struck out 13, walked just two and dominated the Aussies in a rematch of the gold-medal game from 2004 in Athens.

The Americans, seeking their fourth straight gold, posted their 14th shutout during the winning streak.

Natasha Watley hit an RBI single off Harding to snap a 0-0 tie in the fifth, and Bustos, the most feared hitter in softball, connected for her 10th career Olympic homer in the sixth.

One day after scoring an Olympic record 11 runs in a tournament-opening rout of Venezuela, the Americans were blanked for four innings before finally pushing a run across against Harding in the fifth.

Lovieanne Jung walked with one out, and one out later, the U.S. team's second baseman stole second. Up came Watley for an All-UCLA matchup against Harding, who pitched the Bruins to an NCAA title in 1996.

Watley battled to a full count before slapping a single to left-center, scoring Jung without a throw.

As Watley ran to her spot in the field for the top of the sixth, the stadium's loudspeakers played Beyonce's "Irreplaceable." Watley is a huge fan of the pop diva and occasionally imitated Beyonce during the U.S. team's long bus trips on its "Bound 4 Beijing" tour leading up to the games.

The Americans made it 3-0 in the sixth when Bustos, the ponytailed powerhouse, hit her second homer in China.

Jessica Mendoza walked leading off and Bustos, who normally pulls her homers deep over the fences in left, dropped one over the right-field wall, giving the U.S. and Osterman a cushion for the seventh.

Osterman then struck out the side in the final inning.

Harding's biography was inadvertently left out of the International Softball Federations's 2008 Olympic softball media guide. But the American team knows all about the 36-year-old right-hander known simply as "Tee" to her Aussie teammates.

She handed the U.S. its last loss in the Olympics, beating them in a 13-inning marathon on Sept. 21, 2000 in Sydney. Harding struck out 18 that day in going the distance and outdueling Lisa Fernandez, who fanned 25.

Harding also defeated the U.S. in 1996 at Atlanta, the Americans' lone loss en route to winning its first gold in softball's debut.

For a while, it looked like Harding would bedevil the U.S. again.

Osterman worked her way out of a situation as sticky as the heavy air in Fengtai Softball Field in the third.

She walked Danielle Stewart leading off and Belinda Wright sacrified. With a 3-2 count Simmone Morrow, Osterman was called for taking longer than 20 seconds between pitches by Canadian plate Nancy Morrison, who monitors a clock on the center-field wall. The infraction is an automatic ball and Morrow was awarded first base.

Osterman, though, struck out Kelly Wyborn and Stacey Porter, punctuating the last one with a scream and fist pump as she headed to the dugout.

Earlier, China improved to 2-0 with a 7-1 win over Venezuela.

In the evening session, Japan faces Taiwan and Canada plays the Netherlands.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Copyright © 2008 All rights reserved.

8 Drugs Doctors Would Never Take

If they won't use these medications, why should you?

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11 Weirdest Wi-Fi Hotspots in L.A.

It's commonplace to walk into a coffee shop, library, hotel lobby, college campus, train station or airport and find people plugging away on their laptops. But these places around L.A. that offer free wireless Internet will leave you scratching your head.

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At First I Thought It Was CG; Ancient and Beautiful Trees

There are a bunch more very good tree pics at that site.

Best MF Star Wars cake EVER!

Once cake artisan Jennifer Luxmore of Sin Desserts in Providence, RI, caught sight of the Millennium Falcon cake by Charm City Cakes (of Ace of Cakes fame) plowing its way through the interweb tubes last week, she immediately contacted the one man whose respected position in the geeky cake community could launch her own incredible custom Star Wars cake work to the renown and fame it deserves.

And when that guy wasn’t available, she got in touch with me.

Millennium Falcon Cake

As she told me about this 100%-Certified EdibleTM “yellow cake with chocolate ganache filling, covered in fondant with sugar paste add ons” Millennium Falcon cake:

I just saw the Death Star and the millenium falcon that ace of cakes did, so I felt I should share one that I did last fall…..

Millennium Falcon Cake

It is as Master Yoda says, Jennifer: trust your feelings. Share away.

It was made for a friend’s wedding as the groom’s cake. After having finished all my regular work and the couples wedding cake. I called a couple of friends, who knew the couple, to come over and help paint and do detailing as it was getting pretty late the night before the wedding! My friend Jason Brockert is a painter so he did most of the painting on this one.

Millennium Falcon Cake

Well, cheers to Jason. He contributed a fuggtastic amount of character and detail to the piece. I can almost see shards of Tie Fighter wedged in the hull.

Millennium Falcon Cake

This isn’t Jennifer’s first time crafting confectionery artwork in the form of a Millennium Falcon.

I consider this one the “been around the universe a couple of times” model. I recently did another and it’s a bit shiner…more of a “just off the showroom floor model.” I personally like the “been around the universe” model.

Millennium Falcon Cake

Yeah, I like a model that’s got a few miles under the hood, too. If you know what I’m sayin’. About Star Wars cakes. Uh. Yeah.

Some how I’ve ended up doing a lot more of these weirder custom cakes rather than traditional wedding cakes. When Jason gets married next year, the guys want me to do either a Death Star (full size, well sort of) or an AT-AT… that one’s going to be hard!

We’ll be looking forward to seeing more geeky goodness, Jennifer. Thanks for getting in touch, and keep up the good work.

The New Lara Croft is Ridiculously Sexy

by Wade Larson

Attention nerds: Boobies.

Now that I have your attention, hit the jump to for some titillating pictures of Alison Carroll, the new face of real-life iconic adventurer Lara Croft.

Ok, now that we’re safely off the main page, take a gander at Alison Carroll, a 23 year-old gymnast and the new face of the Tomb Raider franchise.

Eidos is reinventing Lara Croft with a little more realism (in some places, anyway) by making her a more lithe, graceful gymnast type to match her personality as an adventuresome archeologist, so Carroll fits the bill.

“Tomb Raider: Underworld depicts Lara as we have never seen her before with movements and skills reminiscent of a highly skilled gymnast. Sharing Lara’s strength and grace, Alison is an experienced competitive gymnast who has performed and competed across the globe. Her more than 12 years of gymnastics training align perfectly with the game’s enhanced movement set.”

Plus, she has the “essential characteristics…” giggity!

“Featuring the essential characteristics at the core of Lara Croft’s personality — brawn, brains and beauty — Alison Carroll particularly compliments this iteration of Ms. Croft.”

I can just see the meeting where they wrote that press release:

PR Writer 1: Hey… um… what are the essential characteristics of Lara Croft?

PR Writer 2: Dur. Boobies man. Everyone knows that.

PR 1: No, I mean beyond that. We can’t just come out and say “ZOMG BOOBIES!!1!”

PR 2: Why not?

PR 1: … Good question.

PR 2: Ok, well lets see. She kicks ass, solves puzzles and is every nerd’s wet dream.

PR 1: So… brawn, brains and beauty?

PR 2: Perfect. Now let’s head down to that photo shoot. Bring your camera phone.

In addition to being completely and utterly sexy, Carroll is flexible, personable, has eyes you could lose yourself in, and to top it all off, a British accent. Check the video interview, but be wary, you may fall in love enough to actually buy the game.


Michael Phelps - Great Skill or Swimwear Technology?

Only three and a bit days into the Olympic swimming programme and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that we are seeing a quantum leap in swimming performances. The problem is that it has little to do with the swimmers.

World records have been broken with staggering regularity and by no small margin, either. In the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay, records fell in the heats with only the “B” teams competing. Whereas a world record used to be a rare and remarkable thing, now it is a disappointment if one isn’t broken.

So far, there have been 11 world records broken at the Beijing Games and we're only just over a third of the way through the programme. In Athens, only six world records were broken in the entire programme. The records aren’t just being eclipsed, either. In the final of the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay, the pre-Olympics world record was beaten by four seconds and eclipsed by the first six teams in the final.

The reason for these seemingly brilliant performances has nothing to do with some remarkable training breakthrough or even performance-enhancing drugs. No, the improvement is all due to new technology swimsuits; the king of which is the Speedo LZR fast suit.

The science behind these suits is interesting. They were designed in conjunction with NASA and are reported to reduce drag by up to 5 per cent over the previous Fastskin suits and up to nearly 40 per cent improvement over a traditional lycra suit. Not only are the materials space-age, the actual cut of the suits is also designed to change the shape of the athlete's body, presumably squashing any sticky-out bits that cause extra drag. They even look fast.

Not that Speedo have it all their own way. Mizuno, TYR, Arena, and Asics have all released their versions of the new improved suits, but it is Speedo who have cornered the publicity.

There has been a bit of controversy surrounding the suits. Many, including Australia’s former Olympic champion Duncan Armstrong, believe that the suits contravene FINA’s swimwear regulations. The regulation states: “No swimmer shall be permitted to use or wear any device that may aid speed, buoyancy or endurance during a competition”. It’s hard to see how these suits aren’t in breach.

Others, like Munich Olympics superstar Mark Spitz, actually try to argue that the suits are slowing athletes down. According to Spitz, unless swimmers can reach 6 to 6.5mph the suits don’t work properly. While this may have been true for the first generation of Fastskin suits, the evidence suggests that he’s wrong for the LZR.

The suits are available to anyone who wants them, so it is not a case of individuals gaining an unfair advantage. The only real downside is the cheapening of world records. A world record should go to a truly remarkable athlete, swimmers like Spitz, Janet Evans, Ian Thorpe, Inge de Bruijn or Phelps.

The suits alone cannot turn a poor swimmer to an Olympic medalist, but they can seemingly help take an excellent swimmer into the exceptional bracket, and that is unfair to those who have gone before. The suits won’t change the results, but will make some swimmers seem better than they really were.

It is difficult to argue against progress, but there is something to be said for honest competition between individuals based on their skills and strengths alone, not as a result of superior technology.

Perhaps they could go back to competing nude as they did at the original games. It would make the swimming and track events more interesting but, on the other hand, the weightlifting would be positively terrifying. Maybe that’s not such a good idea after all.

12000 Calories a Day: Michael Phelps and his Gold Medal Diet

Michael Phelps in action. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
US swimmer Michael Phelps made history yesterday when he scooped a record-breaking 11th Olympic gold medal. He has now topped the podium five times in Beijing. After his latest victory, he revealed the secret behind his six-days-a-week, five-hours-a-day training regime: an extraordinary 12,000-calorie daily diet, six times the intake of a normal adult male. This is a typical day:
Phelps kick starts his day and his metabolism with three fried-egg sandwiches, but with a few customised additions: cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and, of course, mayonnaise.
Amuse-bouche out of the way, he throws back two cups of coffee and sits down to an omelette - containing five eggs - and a bowl of grits, a porridge of coarsely ground corn. He's not finished yet. Bring on the three slices of French toast, with powdered sugar on top to make sure there's no skimping on the calories. And to finish: three chocolate chip pancakes.
With breakfast wearing off and the hunger pangs biting, Phelps downs half a kilogram - ie a whole packet - of enriched pasta and two large ham and cheese sandwiches. On white bread with loads of mayo on top. To remove any chance that his body will run out of fuel, he washes this down with about 1,000 calories of energy drink.
Time to load up on carbs for the next day's training. Another half kilo of enriched pasta goes down the hatch with a chaser of an entire pizza and another 1,000 calories of energy drinks. And so to bed. As Phelps told US television channel NBC yesterday: "Eat, sleep and swim, that's all I can do."

more info here: 
Food blog: Join the debate on Michael Phelps' Olympic appetite 

Five facts about Michael Phelps' five gold medals

By Chris Chase

1) If Michael Phelps were a country (Phelpsylvania, perhaps), he'd be tied for third overall in gold medals won.

2) In the total medal count, Phelps would be tied for 12th overall with the Netherlands.

3) India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Mexico and Bangladesh (appx. combined population = 2.1 billion) have earned a total of four Olympic medals in Beijing. Phelps (appx. population = 1) has five.

4) Phelps has won five of the eight gold medals awarded in the men's swimming competition.

5) Excluding the United States and Australia, the rest of the world has earned a total of five golds in the men's and women's swimming competition. Phelps -- well, you get the picture.

Greatest Olympian of All Time: Phelps Wins 10th Career Gold

Michael Phelps of the United States swims on his way to setting a world record to win the men's 200-meter butterfly during the swimming competitions in the National Aquatics Center at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

BEIJING — Michael Phelps has become the winningest Olympic athlete ever, earning his fourth gold medal of the Beijing Games with a world record in the 200-meter butterfly. The American touched in 1 minute, 52.03 seconds, breaking his old mark of 1:52.09 set at last year's world championships in Australia.

It was Phelps' 10th career gold medal, breaking a tie with Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis and two others for most golds. He is 4-for-4 so far, setting world records in each of his events.

Laszlo Cseh of Hungary took the silver in 1:52.70. Takeshi Matsuda of Japan got the

Great Olympians: See How they've Aged [Pics]

They are among the greatest athletes ever to thrill us with Olympic victory. Greg Louganis, Mary Lou Retton, Bruce Jenner - the list goes on. Here's a look at them now.

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Top 10 Most Dangerous Waves in the World

Feature photo by REUTERS/Mike Hutchings. Photo above by kanaka

These days, with super advanced equipment, tow in access, and internet swell tracking, a growing number of surfers are getting rides on incredibly powerful waves.

What makes a wave dangerous?
Is sheer size an accurate indicator for how hazardous a surf spot is? Read on for our roundup of the top ten most dangerous waves in the world.

1. Cyclops (remote south coast Western Australia)

This ultra square-shaped, below sea level, one-eyed monster tops the list for good reasons. It’s impossible to paddle into on a surfboard and almost unrideable towing behind a jet ski.

If you blow a wave here you’ll be washed straight onto the dry rocks, which is a bummer because the nearest medical help is hours away.

2. Teahupoo (Tahiti)

The scary thing about Teahupoo (pronounced Cho-poo) is that as the swell gets beyond 10 feet the wave doesn’t so much get taller, it just gets more enormous, often looking like the entire ocean is peeling over with the lip.

Falling off here is almost a guarantee of hitting the razor sharp coral reef below, which wouldn’t be so bad if the locals didn’t insist on using fresh Tahitian lime juice to sterilise the reef cuts. Ouch.

3. Shipsterns (Tasmania, Australia)

Set along a remote length of pristine Tasmanian coastline, you could almost call this area picturesque if the wave itself wasn’t so ugly.

Raw Antarctic swells come out of deep ocean and jack up into a roaring righthander in front of the cliff which gives the spot its name. The uneven reef causes weird steps and bubbles in the wave, which are always a pleasant surprise when you’re still trying to navigate the drop down the face.

Photo by jurvetson

4. Dungeons (Cape Town, South Africa)

It’s not that shallow and it doesn’t break in front of any rocks, but it is located off the tip of South Africa in the freezing Southern Ocean in shark infested waters. Dungeons regularly holds waves up to 70 feet, which is why organisers have chosen to hold the annual Big Wave Africa contest here since 1999.

5. Pipeline (Oahu, Hawaii)

The shallow lava reef that shapes Pipe’s famous round tube is actually full of trenches and bumps -meaning a nasty old time for anyone falling out of the lip from 12 feet above. Which happens with surprisingly regularity, even to the experienced locals.

Perhaps almost as dangerous are the insane crowds that flock to Pipe any time it gets good, with fearless Hawaiians competing with pros, wannabes and tourists for the set waves.

Photo by felipeskroski

6. Desert Point (Lombok, Indonesia)

This beautiful lefthander peels over very shallow coral somewhere off the dusty island of Lombok. The wave is less dangerous than the hazards of extreme boredom during flat spells (there’s nothing on land but a few run down losemans), overcrowding, contracting malaria and the fact that medical access is hours away.

7. The Cave (Ericeira, Portugal)

With all the ingredients that a dangerous wave should have, including a shallow reef, urchins and hot-tempered Latino locals, its not surprising The Cave has been described as Europe’s heaviest wave. It was once the preserve of Portugal’s bodyboarding set, but pros like Tiago Pires have been taking it on in recent years – and surviving.

Photo by bevankoopman

8. Lunada Bay (California, USA)

Perhaps one of the best right handers in California, Lunada is a great performance wave at six feet but it also handles swell right up to 20 feet. It’s not an overly dangerous wave in itself, but the locals are another matter.

Visiting surfers have reported slashed tyres, rocks thrown, fist fights and a seemingly disinterested local police force. You’re on your own here.

9. Gringos (Arica, Chile)

Chile has a bunch of waves as equally as heavy and urchin-infested as this one but El Gringo is included in this list because of the damage it did to the pro surfers who surfed it in 2007’s WCT event. There were numerous broken boards, embedded urchin spines and slashed heads. And they surf for a living. Imagine what it’d do to you?

10. Tarqua (Lagos, Nigeria)

The good news is that this beach break located at the entrance to the Lagoon of Iddo in Lagos is often a fun, wedging peak. The bad news is the 60 million litres of raw sewage and tonnes of industrial waste produced by the 8 million inhabitants of Lagos every year that flows out into the ocean. Other hazards include floating carcasses, rubbish and the occasional mugging on the beach.

Community connection

Looking for waves for mere mortals? Check out Spencer Read about searching for surf in Vietnam with Rhys Stacker’s “China Beach and Beyond” article here.

And for an all around great surf story and guide to Central America, check out Spencer Klein’s classic Another End of the Road.

Rhys Stacker

Rhys Stacker is a 28 year old surfer from Australia now living in landlocked London. He spent two months backpacking through Vietnam, where he scoured the coastline for surf and elusive surfboard hire shops, sometimes finding both in the same place.

Chinese "Women" Cheat their Way to Gymnastic Gold

Why limit with age limits?

By NBC Olympics
Posted Tuesday, August 12, 2008 7:46 PM ET
Members of China's gymnastics team.
Members of China's gymnastics team.

To be eligible for World or Olympic competition, gymnasts must turn 16 by the end of the 2008 calendar year.

Accusations of age falsification have swirled around the Chinese team and have intensified after news outlets found official documents stating alternate (and younger) birth dates for three athletes: He Kexin, Yang Yilin and Jiang Yuyuan. All three of them are old enough according to their passports. The Chinese have been mum on the subject, as expected.

In 1991, a tiny North Korean, Kim Gwang-Suk, won the gold medal on uneven bars. Later, officials discovered that her birth date had been changed three times, meaning that her age stayed the same for three years. As a result, gymnastics' governing body banned North Korea from competing at the 1993 Worlds. More recently, some Romanian gymnasts have said that their ages were falsified as well.

NBC's Bela Karolyi has been surprisingly vocal on the issue. On Sunday, Karolyi lamented what he called "China's arrogance" for using girls he wasn't even sure were teenagers. According to Karolyi, if there are any questions about age, just eliminate the restrictions being broken.

But what do you think? Are age restrictions now irrelevant with the percieved government tampering? Would it be best to be done with them? Or, are they in place to protect those that need protecting? Go ahead and share your take by adding a comment.

Tokyo Mega-City Pyramid 55 Times as Large as Luxor [PICS]

55 pyramids as large as the Luxor stacked into a mega-city pyramid in Tokyo Bay.

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How to Shoot Gorgeous Light Trails [w/PICS]

I’d seen this type of shot in a photography magazine and was impressed by the eye catching results.

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It's Confirmed: This New Drug Really, Seriously Cures Cancer

Cancer patients have been left free of the disease after being treated with a new drug which harnesses the power of their own immune cells. Four of 38 patients treated have seen the disease disappear, while five others saw reductions of 50 per cent in their tumours. The drug works by activating the body’s disease fighting T cells.

read more | digg story

Infiniti's performance Hybrid

Tired of being tied to Toyota's coattails in the hybrid race with its Toyota-licensed front-wheel-drive hybrid powertrain in the 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid, Nissan has developed a rear-wheel-drive hybrid system of its own.

We drove the 2008 Infiniti G35 Hybrid Prototype at Nissan's proving ground in Oppama, near the seaport town of Yokohama, Japan, and it makes us think that a hybrid performance car from Infiniti could be in our future.

It's on the Way
While we tried out this system in a 2008 Infiniti G35 Prototype, this won't be the car Nissan finally introduces two years from now. We know, because Nissan's Minoru Shinohara, senior vice president of technical development, told us so. Of course, we wouldn't be a bit surprised to see a hybrid version of the Infiniti G37 sedan show up a year or so after the inaugural model makes its bow.

Nissan plans a "new model" for its first self-developed hybrid, Shinohara says. It is to be launched in the company's fiscal 2010, a 12-month period that spans the final three-quarters of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011.

It won't be the industry's first RWD hybrid — Toyota's Lexus brand captured the honor with the 2007 Lexus GS 450h. But it will be unmistakably a Nissan and express the brand's sporting, performance-oriented DNA, the Nissan executives emphasize.

This could be good, but Nissan ought to take a close look at Honda's attempt to stress performance over fuel economy with its short-lived Accord Hybrid (2005-'07). The car never caught on, not because it wasn't a good vehicle but instead because hybrid buyers at the time were chasing mpg, not mph.

Nissan execs, though, say they can bring both to the table with their new rear-wheel-drive system.

Expect a New Infiniti
If we were guessing — and we are — we'd anticipate that the first rear-wheel-drive hybrid from Nissan will appear not as a Nissan but as a new Infiniti model, since this is the brand that Nissan is using to promote its RWD platforms.

Shinohara and other Nissan executives and engineers at Oppama were pretty close-mouthed about specifics of the new rear-wheel-drive hybrid package. Among the things we don't know are the hybrid package's total horsepower and torque, estimated fuel economy or anticipated acceleration performance.

All Nissan would tell us at this stage is that the system is more powerful than a standard 306-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, but not as powerful as Nissan's 390-hp 5.0-liter V8.

The standard G35 scoots to 60 mph in about 5.6 seconds; we're guessing 5.4 seconds or less for the hybrid.

As for fuel economy, one engineer whispered something that sounded like Nissan thinks that the new hybrid could get 40 percent better mileage than a standard G35 sedan. This would lead us to expect about 24 mpg in the city and almost 34 mpg on the highway in a G35 sedan-size vehicle.

Truncated Test
The other thing we don't know much about is how Nissan's rear-wheel-drive hybrid system performs on the road. That's in part because we were driving a G35 hybrid prototype and not the new car itself. More important, Nissan only gave us about five minutes behind the wheel of the G35 mule, and we drove a tiny loop that was entirely flat and had no challenging corners.

The only time we tried to put our foot in it, our Nissan-assigned co-driver used what little English he had to politely say, "Slow, please. This is test car only."

All we can tell you is that when we goosed it, the G35 mule shot out of the blocks like a sprinter fleeing a doping test. With its V6 boosted by a powerful electric motor, the G35 with the new hybrid system is definitely quicker than the standard gas model. But it also stumbled and bucked at the critical junction of low-speed cruising and full-throttle acceleration, when the power-management computer was cycling the system between all-electric and gas-electric modes.

Nissan Hybrid Engineering Manager Tatsuo Abe acknowledged the problem, reminding us this was a "development vehicle" and that the system — especially the power control software — still needed refining.

Also in need of refining, he admitted, is the regenerative system that feeds power generated by braking into the battery pack to help top off its charge. The brakes shuddered as the system tried to transition between the regen system and the mechanical system, an issue with all regen braking systems that requires some fairly sophisticated development.

Lithium-Ion, No Plugs
Nissan didn't design the new hybrid to be a plug-in, saving that honor for its proposed battery-electric car that it also plans to bring out in 2010 in very limited numbers.

Instead the system uses excess energy generated while braking and at cruising speeds to charge up the specially developed lithium-ion battery pack, just like all of today's conventional hybrids. The battery packs weigh in at about 100 pounds apiece, and were developed by a company jointly controlled by Nissan and Japanese electronics giant NEC.

One version of the new battery design will be used in the all-electric car, optimized for energy density in order to provide acceptable range between charges. The hybrid will use a different design that packs more power at the expense of all-electric range.

Flat Is Cool
Nissan's battery engineers wouldn't reveal details, but said the new hybrid batteries will provide about twice the power density (power per kilogram of weight) of most existing lithium-ion batteries. That's what quickly provides the jolt of juice the electric motor needs in massive but short bursts when the driver stomps on the accelerator.

Unlike most lithium-ion cells that use cathode and anode layers rolled into a cylindrical shape like flashlight batteries, Nissan's are laminated and lay flat, a design that makes them easier to cool — a critical attribute to ensure both longevity and safety in heat-prone lithium-ion batteries. The flat shape also makes it easy to stack cells into compact modules that reduce weight.

Not So Simple
No hybrid system is simple, since it involves packing two complete power plants and lots of expensive electronic controls into one car. That's why hybrids today can cost thousands of dollars more than gas-only versions of the same model.

Nissan's is no exception, although its unique design does simplify the powertrain somewhat because it does away with the hefty torque converter that the seven-speed automatic transmission would otherwise require in a standard gasoline-only car.

A pair of clutches replaces the torque converter — a dry clutch between the engine and the transmission plus a wet clutch behind the electric motor at the end of the transmission case.

Four Modes of Power
When accelerating, Nissan's new hybrid uses both the gas engine and the electric motor, so both clutches are engaged. That's the first of the system's four operating modes.

In low-speed city driving — or in traffic jams and at stop signs — the electric motor can do all the work (it reportedly can move the car for up to 3 miles at city speeds before it needs help from the V6). As a result, the front clutch is disengaged because the engine is shut down.

At higher city and highway cruising speeds, the gas engine provides motivation and both clutches are engaged — the rear clutch channeling power from the spinning electric motor back into the battery pack to help replenish its juice.

And finally, when the car is braking, the gas engine and front clutch shut down, and the heat energy from braking the rear wheels generates electricity that is channeled through the rear clutch and into the battery pack.

Low Carbon, High Profit
Nissan is launching the hybrid as part of what it sees as a well-rounded portfolio of green technologies that will help it achieve a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from its cars by 70 percent from levels set in 2000.

The only way to slash CO2 — a by-product of burning hydrocarbon fuels like gasoline and diesel — is to improve mileage, and Nissan plans to use hybrids, battery and hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles, electricity and other fuels from renewable energy sources, improved gasoline engine technologies, more efficient transmissions and a host of other incremental improvements to achieve its goal by 2050.

Yet as Senior Vice President of Technical Development Minoru Shinohara emphasizes, Nissan wants to make sure that in striving to remove the negatives from the automobile, it doesn't shed the positive attributes of performance, enjoyment and utility in the process.

The presence of this new rear-wheel-drive hybrid system in this 2008 Infiniti G35 Hybrid Prototype is part of this effort. After all, Nissan's CEO Carlos Ghosn has mandated that every car, no matter how green, must bring in the green as well. And a luxury rear-wheel-drive hybrid can attract deep-pocket buyers in a way that a Prius cannot.

35,420 people would buy a Chevy Volt right now


The Chevrolet Volt won't roll off an assembly line for another two years, but 34,520 people in 60 countries and all 50 states would buy one tomorrow if they could.

Lyle Dennis, a New York neurologist and the world's No. 1 Volt fanboy, has spent more than a year compiling an unofficial waiting list of prospective buyers over at He's posted some of the details on his blog, where they're updated in real time. More than 1,500 people have signed on in the 24 hours since the details started bouncing around the Internet.

"I don't think GM, when it announced this car, had any idea how big it would become," Dennis told us. "I've always believed that by the time the car was produced we'd have 100,000 people waiting for one. Now I think that might be low."

GM's got an impressive marketing division and it's undoubtedly got a line on how the range-extended electric vehicle will sell when production starts in November, 2010. But it would do well to check in with Dennis, because his list represents $258 million in potential sales.

Dennis fell for the car when GM unveiled it at the Detroit Auto Show in 2007, and he launched a few days later to build support for the car. He attracted the attention of executives and engineers working on the Volt, and his tireless cheerleading prompted the General to accept his invitation to meet with Volt fanatics earlier this year during the New York Auto Show.

Eager to prove there's a market for the car and convince GM to build it in big numbers, Dennis started the unofficial waiting list in May, 2007. The prospective buyers who've signed up so far are willing to pay an average of $31,380.53 for the Volt.

By far the greatest interest is in California, where 1,217 people want one of the cars "Maximum Bob" Lutz has called the auto industry's moonshot. But the list includes prospective buyers in such far-flung places as Aruba, Georgia (the country and the state) and Uzbekistan. There's even someone in Vatican City who wants one, and someone in Saudi Arabia signed on today.

"Demand for the car has been intensifying," Dennis says, noting the list passed 10,000 on January 26 and hit 20,000 on May 4. Rising gas prices undoubtedly drive some of the interest, but Dennis believes interest in the Volt goes deeper than that.

"People want to get off oil," he says. "This is about what the car represents, and that's really struck a chord."

GM isn't saying what the car will cost, but Lutz has suggested it'll be in the $30,000 to $40,000 ballpark. All spokesman Robert Peterson would say is, "We've always been committed to making this an affordable car so we can sell it in volume."

How great a volume? Look for initial runs in the tens of thousands while GM gets costs under control and the technology gains a foothold in the market. The goal, however, is to sell the Volt globally and adapt its drivetrain to other models. "This is by no stretch of the imagination a niche vehicle or a one-off," Peterson says.

Get started with 'Firebug' Firefox's new develpoment tool

Ask web developers to name their desert island Firefox extensions (ignoring for now the improbability of having a laptop while stranded), and they're bound to put Firebug at or near the top of their lists.

Firebug is a web development tool for tweaking CSS, debugging JavaScript and more. In part, it's like juiced-up "view source" for seeing how sites are put together. But Firebug really shines when it's used to streamline your own development.

The extension's slogan is "web development evolved," which is apt, given how much it changes one's approach to web work. The tools available in the standard installation of Firebug are super. Coupled with additional functionality available via Firebug extensions (sort of meta extensions, which add on to Firebug itself), you may feel like you have evolved.

Rest of Story at Wired

Stretchy High Quality Conductors

Malleable matrix: A researcher stretches a mesh of transistors connected by elastic conductors that were made at the University of Tokyo.
Credit: Science/AAAS

By adding carbon nanotubes to a stretchy polymer, researchers at the University of Tokyo made a conductive material that they used to connect organic transistors in a stretchable electronic circuit. The new material could be used to make displays, actuators, and simple computers that wrap around furniture, says Takao Someya, a professor of engineering at the University of Tokyo. The material could also lead to electronic skin for robots, he says, which could use pressure sensors to detect touch while accommodating the strain at the robots' joints. Importantly, the process that the researchers developed for making long carbon nanotubes could work on the industrial scale.

"The measured conductivity records the world's highest value among soft materials," says Someya. In a paper published last week in Science, Someya and his colleagues claim a conductivity of 57 siemens per centimeter, which is lower than that of copper, the metal normally used to connect transistors, but two orders of magnitude higher than that of previously reported polymer-carbon-nanotube composites. Someya says that the material is able to stretch up to about 134 percent of its original shape without significant damage.

Electronics that can bend and flex are already used in some applications, but they can't be wrapped around irregular shapes, such as the human body or complex surfaces, says John Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Rogers, who recently demonstrated a spherical camera sensor using his own version of an elastic circuit, says that Someya's approach is a creative addition to the science of stretchable electronic materials. "It's a valuable contribution to an important, emerging field of technology," he says.

To make the stretchable polymer conductive, Someya's group combined a batch of millimeter-long, single-walled carbon nanotubes with an ionic liquid--a liquid containing charged molecules. The resulting black, paste-like substance was then slowly added to a liquid polymer mixture. This produced a gel-like substance that was poured into a cast and air-dried for 24 hours.

The benefit of adding the nanotubes to a polymer before it is cast, says Someya, is that the nanotubes, which make up about 20 percent of the weight of the total mixture, are more evenly distributed. And because each nanotube is about a millimeter in length, there's a high likelihood that in aggregate they will form an extensive network that allows electrical charge to propagate reliably throughout the polymer.

Previously, researchers have added micrometer-length carbon nanotubes to polymers, says Ray Baughman, a professor of materials science at the University of Texas. Most often, they would simply coat the polymer with nanotubes. Baughman says that Someya's work is exciting, but he notes that he would have expected that adding higher percentages of carbon nanotubes to polymers reduces their stretchiness.

According to Someya, the initial air-dried nanotube-polymer film is flexible but not that stretchable. In order to improve its stretchiness, a machine perforates it into a net-shaped structure that is then coated with a silicone-based material. This enables the material to stretch much farther without compromising its conductivity.

Baughman says that one of the main contributions of the University of Tokyo team's work is to demonstrate a way to make this sort of elastic conductor material in bulk. "This and so many other applications depend on the landmark advance of a team scaling up their production of ultralong carbon nanotubes," he says. The University of Tokyo group claims that from one furnace, it can make 10 tons of nanotubes per year. "It's nice work," Baughman says.

More on the Charlie Card hack

Credit: Technology Review

Efforts to censor three MIT students who found security flaws in the Boston subway's payment system have been roundly criticized by experts, who argue that suppressing such research could ultimately make the system more vulnerable.

The students were served with a temporary restraining order this weekend at the Defcon security conference in Las Vegas, preventing them from giving their planned talk on Boston subway's payment system.

According to slides submitted before the conference, which have also been posted online, their presentation "Anatomy of a Subway Hack" would have revealed ways to forge or copy both the old magnetic-stripe passes and the newer radio-frequency identification (RFID) cards used on Boston's subway, making it possible to travel for free. The restraining order was filed on behalf of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which spent more than $180 million to install the system, according to court documents. The MBTA has also brought a larger lawsuit accusing the students of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and accusing MIT of being negligent in its supervision of them.

One of the students involved, Zack Anderson, says his team had never intended to give real attackers an advantage. "We left out some details in the work we did, because we didn't want anyone to be able to attack the ticketing system; we didn't want people to be able to circumvent the system and get free fares," he says.

Marcia Hoffman, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights group that is assisting the MIT team with its defense, argues that researchers need to be protected as they investigate these types of flaws. "It's extremely rare for a court to bar anyone from speaking before that person has even had a chance to speak," she says. "We think this sets a terrible precedent that's very dangerous for security research."

The MBTA says it isn't trying to stop research, just buy time to deal with whatever flaws the students might have found. The agency also expressed skepticism about whether the MIT students had indeed found real flaws. "They are telling a terrific tale of widespread security problems, but they still have not provided the MBTA with credible information to support such a claim," says Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the MBTA. "It's that simple."

It is unclear, though, whether the MBTA can realistically buy the time it needs. Karsten Nohl, a University of Virginia PhD student who was one of the first to publish details of security vulnerabilities in MiFare Classic, the brand of wireless smart card used in Boston's system, says solving the problems could take a year or two and might even involve replacing all card readers and all cards in circulation.

This is not the first lawsuit to hit researchers who have studied the security of MiFare Classic. Last month, Dutch company NXP Semiconductors, which makes the MiFare cards, sued a Dutch university in an attempt to prevent researchers there from publishing details of similar security flaws. The injunction did not succeed, but as RFID technology continues to proliferate, other security experts are concerned about being able to discuss relevant security research openly.

Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer at BT Counterpane, says the latest lawsuit only distracts from what's really at stake. "MiFare sold a lousy product to customers who didn't know how to ask for a better product," he says. "That will never get fixed as long as MiFare's shoddy security is kept secret." He adds, "The reason we publish vulnerabilities is because there's no other way for security to improve."

The same brand of RFID card is used on transport networks in other cities, including London, Los Angeles, Brisbane, and Shanghai, as well as for corporate and government identity passes. The technology has even been incorporated into some credit cards and cell phones.

Nohl says the industry should view the MIT students' work as a free service that could ultimately lead to better security. Although there has been plenty of academic research on the security of RFID, he says, little has yet made its way into products. "The core of the problem is still industry's belief that they should build security themselves, and that what they've built themselves will be stronger if they keep it secret," Nohl says.

Meanwhile, independent researchers have come up with a number of ideas for improving the security of RFID cards. Nohl and others are researching better ways of encrypting the information stored on the cards. But part of the problem is that the cards are passive, meaning that they will return a signal to any reader that sends a request. Tadayoshi Kohno and colleagues at the University of Washington are also working on a motion-sensing system that would let users activate their cards with a specific gesture, so that it does not normally respond to requests. Karl Koscher, one of the researchers who worked on the project, says their system is aimed at increasing security without destroying the convenience that has made the cards so popular.

The Internet as battlefield

Following up on yesterday's Air Force Cyber Command post, the current goings on in Georgia prove how important the Internet is for infrastructure and how vulnerable we are to an attack.

A New Front: Members of the Georgian Army in 2002. Photo by US Air Force

As the actual ground combat between Russia and the former Soviet Republic of Georgia grinds to a halt, security and Web experts have begun to focus on what might have been a secret third front in the conflict: the Internet. With numerous Georgian government Web sites defaced or shut down, the virtual attacks that preceded the actual invasion may go down in history as the first war in cyberspace.

The first barrages began in the end of July, and consisted of denial of service attacks on the Georgian President’s Web site. A denial of service attack (DoS) involves shutting down a server by routing more traffic to the site than the machines can handle. These attacks are committed by bot servers, which constantly bombard the target site with service requests.

Those July disturbances turned out to be reconnaissance for the large scale attack that coincided with the ground invasion on August 11th. DoS attacks disabled Georgian government Web sites; first publicized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia Web site, which was forced to move to Google Blogs after its Georgia-based site was disabled. Additionally, the Bank of Georgia’s Web site was defaced with pictures of Georgia’s President juxtaposed with pictures of Adolf Hitler.

Finding out who is behind the attacks is more complex than it first appears. None of the attacks could be traced back to the Russian government directly, with most security experts attributing the implementation of the attacks to the innocuously named Russian Business Network (RBN). RBN is actually an organized crime front that has been linked to spreading malware, spamming, phishing, identity theft and even child pornography.

However, some experts disagree, with reporting that the attacks might be the work of nationalistic private hackers, in effect, the Internet version of the Russia-backed militias that have been fighting alongside the Russian army in the ground war. DoS attacks against popular Georgian hacker forums and the publication of Georgian politician’s emails address for spamming seems to support this theory. For its part, Georgia has not been passive, with Georgian hackers launching their own DoS attacks against Russian news outlets.

Whether or not these attacks represent the Russian military acting against the Georgian government by proxy or ambitious nationalist hackers seizing an opportunity, these attacks clearly indicate that the Internet has become a battlefield.

Foreclosure filings worsen

NEW YORK ( -- The foreclosure juggernaut lurched forward in July as banks took back 77,295 homes - up 8% in a month and 183% in a year, a report issued Thursday shows.

Total foreclosure filings - delinquency notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions - were up 8% from June and 55% year-over-year, according to RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed homes.

One of every 464 U.S. households received at least one filing during July. And more than 680,000 homes have been repossessed by lenders since the beginning of August 2007, when the credit crunch hit.

"Bank repossessions, or REOs, continued to be the fastest growing segment of foreclosure activity," said RealtyTrac's chief executive officer, James Saccacio, in a statement. "The sharp rise in REOs, combined with slow sales, has resulted in a bloated inventory of bank-owned properties for sale."

The company says it has more than 750,000 active listings of repossessed homes for sale on its database. That represents about 17% of all the existing homes for sale in the United States as reported by the National Association of Realtors.

Leading states

Foreclosure activity in Nevada, surpassing all other states, touched one in every 106 households in July. Foreclosures in the state were up 15% for the month and were almost double the rate of last July.

Other hard-hit states included California (one of every 182 households), Florida (one of 186) and Arizona (one of 195). For sheer volume, California led the other states with a total of 72,285 filings.

An especially high percentage of the California filings were bank repossessions. There were 23,406 in all, up from just 4,444 in July 2007. The state accounted for more than a third of all such events in the nation. The number was also a big jump from June's total of 20,624 bank repossessions in the state.

"The properties there, once they enter foreclosure, are making a beeline back to the banks," said RealtyTrac's spokesman, Rick Sharga.

Many of the California homes were bought during the height of the frenzy of the mid-2000s at inflated prices. Now that home values have dropped, borrowers who bought at the top owe more than their homes are worth. These properties are almost impossible to refinance and are difficult to sell.

A couple of Midwestern states have also been consistently among the leading foreclosure hot spots and July was no exception. Ohio was fifth in the nation for foreclosures with one for every 375 households. That includes 4,057 bank repossessions, a 33% increase since July 2007. Michigan had 3,933 repossessed homes, or 17% fewer than last July, when it recorded 4,739.

City centers

The worst-hit metro area of the 230 regions that RealtyTrac covers was Cape Coral, Fla. About one of every 64 households in the Gulf Coast city received a filing during the month, more than seven times the national average.

Merced, Calif., with one filing per 73 households, had the second highest foreclosure rate, followed by the nearby Central Valley cities of Stockton and Modesto, which each had about one filing for every 82 households.

The report is bound to disappoint Washington policy makers and lending industry insiders who have stepped up their efforts to slow the massive default problem. June filings, which were down 3% from May, had been a cause for slight optimism.

But, according to Sharga, that decrease was helped along by rule changes in Massachusetts and Maryland that prevented lenders from issuing filings for up to an additional 90 days after borrowers first fall behind in their payments.

That significantly reduced the number of foreclosure filings in both states. In June, for example, Massachusetts recorded a 55% decrease in initial filings.

"Now, both states are creeping back up," he said. "The 90-day lull in Massachusetts is being followed by a whole run of properties [in delinquency].