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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

1,500 farmers commit mass suicide in India

Over 1,500 farmers in an Indian state committed suicide after being driven to debt by crop failure, it was reported today.

The agricultural state of Chattisgarh was hit by falling water levels.

"The water level has gone down below 250 feet here. It used to be at 40 feet a few years ago," Shatrughan Sahu, a villager in one of the districts, told Down To Earth magazine

"Most of the farmers here are indebted and only God can save the ones who do not have a bore well."

Mr Sahu lives in a district that recorded 206 farmer suicides last year. Police records for the district add that many deaths occur due to debt and economic distress.

In another village nearby, Beturam Sahu, who owned two acres of land was among those who committed suicide. His crop is yet to be harvested, but his son Lakhnu left to take up a job as a manual labourer.

His family must repay a debt of £400 and the crop this year is poor.

"The crop is so bad this year that we will not even be able to save any seeds," said Lakhnu's friend Santosh. "There were no rains at all."

"That's why Lakhnu left even before harvesting the crop. There is nothing left to harvest in his land this time. He is worried how he will repay these loans."

Bharatendu Prakash, from the Organic Farming Association of India, told the Press Association: "Farmers' suicides are increasing due to a vicious circle created by money lenders. They lure farmers to take money but when the crops fail, they are left with no option other than death."

Mr Prakash added that the government ought to take up the cause of the poor farmers just as they fight for a strong economy.

"Development should be for all. The government blames us for being against development. Forest area is depleting and dams are constructed without proper planning.

All this contributes to dipping water levels. Farmers should be taken into consideration when planning policies," he said.

This article is from The Belfast Telegraph

Battery Powered Battery Charger ----- WTF

PIN Crackers Nab Holy Grail of Bank Card Security

By Kim Zetter Email


Hackers have crossed into new frontiers by devising sophisticated ways to steal large amounts of personal identification numbers, or PINs, protecting credit and debit cards, says an investigator. The attacks involve both unencrypted PINs and encrypted PINs that attackers have found a way to crack, according to an investigator behind a new report looking at the data breaches.

The attacks, says Bryan Sartin, director of investigative response for Verizon Business, are behind some of the millions of dollars in fraudulent ATM withdrawals that have occurred around the United States.

"We're seeing entirely new attacks that a year ago were thought to be only academically possible," says Sartin. Verizon Business released a report Wednesday that examines trends in security breaches. "What we see now is people going right to the source ... and stealing the encrypted PIN blocks and using complex ways to un-encrypt the PIN blocks."

The revelation is an indictment of one of the backbone security measures of U.S. consumer banking: PIN codes. In years past, attackers were forced to obtain PINs piecemeal through phishing attacks, or the use of skimmers and cameras installed on ATM and gas station card readers. Barring these techniques, it was believed that once a PIN was typed on a keypad and encrypted, it would traverse bank processing networks with complete safety, until it was decrypted and authenticated by a financial institution on the other side.

But the new PIN-hacking techniques belie this theory, and threaten to destabilize the banking-system transaction process.

Information about the theft of encrypted PINs first surfaced in an indictment last year against 11 alleged hackers accused of stealing some 40 million debit and credit card details from TJ Maxx and other U.S. retail networks. The affidavit, which accused Albert "Cumbajohnny" Gonzalez of leading the carding ring, indicated that the thieves had stolen "PIN blocks associated with millions of debit cards" and obtained "technical assistance from criminal associates in decrypting encrypted PIN numbers."

But until now, no one had confirmed that thieves were actively cracking PIN encryption.

Sartin, whose division at Verizon conducts forensic investigations for companies that experience data breaches, wouldn't identify the institutions that were hit or indicate exactly how much stolen money was being attributed to the attacks, but according to the 2009 Data Breach Investigations report, the hacks have resulted in "more targeted, cutting-edge, complex, and clever cybercrime attacks than seen in previous years."

"While statistically not a large percentage of our overall caseload in 2008, attacks against PIN information represent individual data-theft cases having the largest aggregate exposure in terms of unique records," says the report. "In other words, PIN-based attacks and many of the very large compromises from the past year go hand in hand."

Although there are ways to mitigate the attacks, experts say the problem can only really be resolved if the financial industry overhauls the entire payment processing system.

"You really have to start right from the beginning," says Graham Steel, a research fellow at the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control who wrote about one solution to mitigate some of the attacks. "But then you make changes that aren't backwards-compatible."

PIN hacks hit consumers particularly hard, because they allow thieves to withdraw cash directly from the consumer's checking, savings or brokerage account, Sartin says. Unlike fraudulent credit card charges, which generally carry zero liability for the consumer, fraudulent cash withdrawals that involve a customer's PIN can be more difficult to resolve since, in the absence of evidence of a breach, the burden is placed on the customer to prove that he or she didn't make the withdrawal.

Some of the attacks involve grabbing unencrypted PINs, while they sit in memory on bank systems during the authorization process. But the most sophisticated attacks involve encrypted PINs.

Sartin says the latter attacks involve a device called a hardware security module (HSM), a security appliance that sits on bank networks and on switches through which PIN numbers pass on their way from an ATM or retail cash register to the card issuer. The module is a tamper-resistant device that provides a secure environment for certain functions, such as encryption and decryption, to occur.

According to the payment-card industry, or PCI, standards for credit card transaction security, PIN numbers are supposed to be encrypted in transit, which should theoretically protect them if someone intercepts the data. The problem, however, is that a PIN must pass through multiple HSMs across multiple bank networks en route to the customer's bank. These HSMs are configured and managed differently, some by contractors not directly related to the bank. At every switching point, the PIN must be decrypted, then re-encrypted with the proper key for the next leg in its journey, which is itself encrypted under a master key that is generally stored in the module or in the module's application programming interface, or API.

"Essentially, the thief tricks the HSM into providing the encryption key," says Sartin. "This is possible due to poor configuration of the HSM or vulnerabilities created from having bloated functions on the device."

Sartin says HSMs need to be able to serve many types of customers in many countries where processing standards may be different from the U.S. As a result, the devices come with enabled functions that aren't needed and can be exploited by an intruder into working to defeat the device's security measures. Once a thief captures and decrypts one PIN block, it becomes trivial to decrypt others on a network.

Other kinds of attacks occur against PINs after they arrive at the card-issuing bank. Once encrypted PINs arrive at the HSM at the issuing bank, the HSM communicates with the bank's mainframe system to decrypt the PIN and the customer's 16-digit account number for a brief period to authorize the transaction.

During that period, the data is briefly held in the system's memory in unencrypted form.

Sartin says some attackers have created malware that scrapes the memory to capture the data.

"Memory scrapers are in as much as a third of all cases we're seeing, or utilities that scrape data from unallocated space," Sartin says. "This is a huge vulnerability."

He says the stolen data is often stored in a file right on the hacked system.

"These victims don't see it," Sartin says. "They rely almost purely on anti-virus to detect things that show up on systems that aren't supposed to be there. But they're not looking for a 30-gig file growing on a system."

Information about how to conduct attacks on encrypted PINs isn't new and has been surfacing in academic research for several years. In the first paper, in 2003, a researcher at Cambridge University published information about attacks that, with the help of an insider, would yield PINs from an issuer bank's system.

The paper, however, was little noticed outside academic circles and the HSM industry. But in 2006, two Israeli computer security researchers outlined an additional attack scenario (.pdf) that got widespread publicity. The attack was much more sophisticated and also required the assistance of an insider who possessed credentials to access the HSM and the API and who also had knowledge of the HSM configuration and how it interacted with the network. As a result, industry experts dismissed it as a minimal threat. But Steel and others say they began to see interest for the attack research from the Russian carding community.

"I got strange Russian e-mails saying, Can you tell me how to crack PINs?" Steel recalls.

But until now no one had seen the attacks actually being used in the wild.

Steel wrote a paper in 2006 that addressed attacks against HSMs (.pdf) as well as a solution to mitigate some of the risks. The paper was submitted to nCipher, a British company that manufactures HSMs and is now owned by Thales. He says the solution involved guidelines for configuring an HSM in a more secure manner and says nCipher passed the guidelines to customers.

Steel says his solution wouldn't address all of the types of attacks. To fix the problem would take a redesign.

But he notes that "a complete rethink of the system would just cost more than the banks were willing to make at this time."

Thales is the largest maker of HSMs for the payment-card and other industries, with "multiple tens of thousands" of HSMs deployed in payment-processing networks around the world, according to the company. A spokesman said the company is not aware of any of the attacks on HSMs that Sartin described, and noted that Thales and most other HSM vendors have implemented controls in their devices to prevent such attacks. The problem, however, is how the systems are configured and managed.

"It's a very difficult challenge to protect against the lazy administrator," says Brian Phelps, director of program services for Thales. "Out of the box, the HSMs come configured in a very secure fashion if customers just deploy them as is. But for many operational reasons, customers choose to alter those default security configurations — supporting legacy applications may be one example — which creates vulnerabilities."

Redesigning the global payment system to eliminate legacy vulnerabilities "would require a mammoth overhaul of virtually every point-of-sale system in the world," he says.

Responding to questions about the vulnerabilities in HSMs, the PCI Security Standards Council said that beginning next week the council would begin testing HSMs as well as unattended payment terminals. Bob Russo, general manager of the global standards body, said in a statement that although there are general market standards that cover HSMs, the council's testing of the devices would "focus specifically on security properties that are critical to the payment system." The testing program conducted in council-approved laboratories would cover "both physical and logical security properties."

Photo: redspotted/Flickr

100 Beautiful Night Scene Photos

by: admin

Hi guys! Today we will delight you with another beautiful image collection. Night scenes. 100 photographs of gorgeous urban and rural landscapes and views. A mixture of darkness and lights, a real static show of contrasts and beauty.


Osaka by Night

author: dai oni

CHINA - Shanghai - Pudong by Night

author: Franck

Stockholm by Night

author: diesmali

Niagara Falls at Night

author: olvwu

Today we will delight you with another beautiful image collection. Night scenes. 100 photographs of gorgeous urban and rural landscapes and views. A mixture of darkness and lights, a real static show of contrasts and beauty.

Click here for all 100 pictures...... | digg story

The 50-year-old mother who has spent £10,000 on surgery to look like her daughter

By Katherine Knight and Kelly Strange

With their flowing blonde hair, hourglass figures and slender, toned legs, they could easily pass for twins. Both look fabulous in their matching polka dot dresses and, as Janet and Jane Cunliffe happily recount, potential boyfriends often struggle to tell them apart.

Hardly surprising, as both weigh in at 8st and, save for a couple of inches in height (at 5ft 6in, Jane is two inches taller) and different eye colours (Jane's are brown, Janet's are blue) they are virtually identical.

But Janet and Jane are not twins. They aren't even sisters. They are mother and daughter. And, in what many will see as a depressing indictment of today's youth-obsessed society, Janet confesses to having spent more than £10,000 on plastic surgery in a desperate effort to bridge the 22-year age gap between herself and her daughter.

Spot the difference: Janet, left, has spent £10,000 on plastic surgery to look like her daughter, Jane, right

Spot the difference: Janet, left, has spent £10,000 on plastic surgery to look like her daughter, Jane, right

In this image-conscious age, it is a bittersweet moment for many mothers to confront the fact that their daughter's beauty eclipses her own.

It is a rite of passage that most women, while far from thrilled, are pragmatic enough to accept as a part of life.

But not 50-year-old Janet. She views the small matter of being in her sixth decade as a mere technicality.

She is amused and proud that friends jokingly refer to her and her daughter as Paris and Chantelle after the platinum blonde socialite and the equally platinum former Celebrity Big Brother contestant.

Some might see this as empowering for a woman who is well into middle age. Others might take the view that it is contrary to the laws of Mother Nature - not that Janet has much truck with her anyway.

'Who wouldn't want to look like my daughter?'

As she told the Mail this week: 'It might sound barmy that I had cosmetic surgery to look like my daughter, but she's gorgeous. Who wouldn't want to look like her?

'The way I see it is that she got her looks from me in the first place - mine have just faded with age.

'Seeing how attractive Jane is made me want to get my looks back. Now instead of mum and daughter we look more like twins. I had good genes and good skin, but I needed a helping hand to make me feel better about myself.'

Certainly Janet wasn't always such a head-turner. Just a few years ago, she was a size 14 redhead and felt, she says, dowdy and unattractive.

Not, she insists, that she was ever vain. 'I didn't have time for vanity in my 20s as I was too busy bringing up Jane and her brother, Pete,' she says.

'I didn't pay much attention to myself.'

That changed as she entered her 30s and became increasingly disconsolate with her changing figure.

'Like any woman who's had children, gravity had started to take its toll on my breasts,' she says.

Janet after
Janet before

Transformation: Janet was a size 14 redhead before undergoing surgery

They'd been small to start with, but they had become saggy and it made me depressed. So I booked in for a boob job. At £4,000 my husband wasn't best pleased, but I thought it was worth it,' she says.

Alas, the new breasts weren't enough to save her marriage.

By the age of 40, Janet, by then divorced, had moved to Spain. Her new partner (who she doesn't want to name) ran a swimming pool business and she took on secretarial work.

It was a fresh start, but one which was overshadowed when, in 2003, an implant ruptured.

Restorative surgery was needed and Jane took the opportunity to go from a 34C to a DD.

'I thought if I was going to pay £2,500 I might as well go bigger,' she says. 'I hadn't been that pleased with them the first time round and when Jane came to visit I noticed my bust looked flat in comparison. I wanted to give myself a boost.'

Despite the new breasts, Janet still felt she looked old before her time, and her relationship with her new partner was floundering.

'We'd been living together for eight years, but it wasn't working any more. We argued non-stop and finally, in May last year, I decided to move back home to be with my daughter.'

Happily, Jane was more than willing to provide a berth for her mother while she found her feet.

Enlarge Double take: Janet says she and daughter Jane, right, attract a lot of attention in bars and are regularly mistaken for sisters

Double take: Janet says she and daughter Jane, right, attract a lot of attention in bars and are regularly mistaken as sisters

'It was a tough time and I was a bit of a lost cause,' says Janet. 'I didn't know who I was or where I belonged. I hadn't lived in Britain for so long that I didn't have any friends here. It was a terrible time. I knew I had to sort out my life.'

For Jane, a fun night out was an obvious way to cheer up her mum. But well-meaning as it was, for Janet it only reinforced her feelings of inadequacy.

'I couldn't find anything decent to wear - having lived in Spain, all I had were shorts, T-shirts and scruffy jeans. I had nothing fashionable and couldn't borrow anything from Jane because it was all too small.

'I remember looking at Jane and saying: "I wish I had your figure." I'd had a body just like hers when I was younger but now I was just a blob.

'I began to see that in Spain I'd been living the life of a pensioner and had forgotten how to make the most of myself. I may have been pushing 50, but I still wanted to live life to the full, and why shouldn't I?'

'I envied Jane's crinkle-free eyes and full lips'

Nonetheless, spending time with her daughter's young friends made Jane examine her face and body more closely.

'Jane and her friends are so glamourous and gorgeous that I stood out like a sore thumb. I felt like an old bag,' she says. 'Jane told me not to be so self-critical, but I knew it was true.'

For Janet, socialising with friends her own age, starting a hobby or meeting new people were not going to help. What was holding her back, she felt, was the face staring back in the mirror.

'I remembered only too well when I used to be a lovely looking girl,' she says. 'I'd seen all these older celebrities who somehow managed to turn back the clock and I wondered if I could do the same. At the very least I wanted to give it a try.'

And so Operation Overhaul began. 'I ditched junk food and started to follow the same healthy diet as Jane.

'Out went potatoes and pasta and I started eating grilled chicken salad and green veg,' says Janet.

'Jane didn't drink in the week, so I cut out white wine in the evening and stopped snacking between meals.'

Enlarge Lookalike: Jane, right, said she doesn't mind that her mother has copied her image

Lookalike: Jane, right, said she doesn't mind that her mother has copied her image

The effects were startling: in four months, Janet lost 2st and could slip into her daughter's size 8 trousers.

For many fifty-something women, a healthy, slender figure would have been enough, but Janet wasn't happy - dropping three dress sizes was all very well, but she still had the face of an older woman.

'I envied Jane's crinkle-free eyes, full lips and luscious, long blonde hair,' says Janet. 'I was desperate to look more like my daughter, but knew no wrinkle creams could ever wind back the clock that far.'

And so, perhaps inevitably, Janet started to consider the more drastic route of cosmetic surgery, initially conducting her research on the internet.

She stumbled across the website of Linda Briggs, a surgery aficionado who has her own business offering guidance and advice to others thinking of going under the knife.

'I decided to give her a ring and ended up speaking to Linda's husband, Mike,' says Janet. 'He said he'd just had his eyes done in Croatia and was thrilled with the results. That was enough for me. I booked pretty much straightaway.

'I had some savings and knew if I wanted to look more like Jane then I'd have to get my eyes done first, and my nose.'

'Men kept doing a double take and asked if we were sisters'

None of this comes cheap, even if prices are competitive abroad. By the time she had totted up her procedures, the bill came to £5,000, including flights and board. Then there was the little matter of telling her daughter.

'She was furious and begged me not to do it,' says Jane. 'It wasn't that she was cross with me for wanting to look like her, it was because she was worried about me having an operation.'

For some, this might have given serious pause for thought. This was, after all, non-essential surgery, and did not come without risk. But Janet was determined.

'I'd made up my mind,' she says. 'As far as I was concerned, I knew what I was doing. I wanted to look younger and felt it would do wonders for my self-esteem.'

And so last September, she flew out to Croatia on her own to undergo the two-hour operation on her nose and eyes, which took place under local anaesthetic.

Like daughter, like mother: Janet, left, and Jane say they enjoy looking like one another

Like daughter, like mother: Janet, left, and Jane say they enjoy looking like one another

'I was a bit frightened, but not enough to put me off,' she says. 'I just decided to put my trust in their hands. It wasn't pleasant, but I got through it.'

She returned a week later, bruised and bandaged, but euphoric after being told by the surgeon that the result would be good, a claim that seemed to be upheld when the bandages were removed, revealing a younger Janet who looked eerily like her daughter.

'I was delighted,' she says. 'It was everything I'd hoped for.'

There were, however, a number of other final touches if Operation Overhaul - or should that be Project Jane? - was to prove fully successful.

'I decided that my lips were too thin, so I had a series of injections to plump them up. They cost around £300 but they make all the difference,' she says.

Then there were the blonde hair extensions, at a cost of several hundred pounds, at a local salon. And finally a new wardrobe of size 6 to 8 clothes.

The effect, it must be said, is certainly startling. 'The first time we went to a local wine bar, we were the centre of attention,' says Janet proudly. 'Men kept doing a double take and all night people asked if we were sisters. We both loved the attention.'

'I love us looking the same'

Just what must Jane really make of it? A family resemblance is one thing, but a mirror image when you look at the woman who gave birth to you is quite another.

And Jane has sometimes had to cope with the fact that some people think she is the 'older' sister.

'It's not because I look older than my years, but just that Mum looks unbelievably young for her age. She looks better than Madonna at 50, which is saying something.

'People ask if I mind that she's transformed herself into me, but I couldn't be more proud. I'm the one who helps her with her hair and clothes, so it's down to me, too. I can hardly accuse Mum of copying my looks when she gave them to me, can I?

'Actually, I love us looking the same, we're closer than ever and she's the sister I always wanted and never had.'

Both 'girls' insist there's no jealousy. 'We're both confident about our looks,' says Jane. 'Men give me just as many compliments as Mum gets, so why would I feel jealous?

'I don't worry about introducing boyfriends to her. I know they'd never get anywhere, even if they did make a move on her.'

In fact, while there have been no shortage of offers from toy boys, Janet is happy being single.

'It's not a competition. This has always been about my own confidence and self-esteem. I haven't done this to get a man, I'm happy spending time with my daughter and reliving my youth, thanks to my new look.'

The question, of course, is where will it all end? For now, Janet says: 'I think I've had enough surgery. I've put myself through enough . . . unless I suddenly start to look really old overnight.'

  • For more information, visit

Amazonian ants make males redundant to become world's first all-female species

By Fiona Macrae

In our world, males are rather essential to the survival of the species.But ants can get along just fine without them.

Scientists have discovered that one species of tropical ant is exclusively female.

Young are produced by cloning the queen, and the babies are always girls.

mycocepurus smithii

A bug's life: The mycocepurus smithii is the first ant to reproduce without sex

Reproduction without sex is fairly common in the ant world, but the Mycocepurus smithii is the first known to have dispensed with males altogether.

The phenomenon takes the stress out of finding a mate and may help keep the peace in colonies, the scientists believe.

They were first drawn to Mycocepurus smithii by its skill at cultivating various different fungal crops for food. Closer inspection raised questions about the ants' sex life, or lack of it.

Anna Himler, of the University of Arizona, said: 'When we started to study this species more closely, we just weren't finding any males.

mycocepurus smithii big

Girl power: Scientists say there may be advantages to an asexual life

'That's when we started to look at them in a different way.'

Field studies of hundreds of nests in Panama, Guyana, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Brazil failed to yield any evidence of males.

The scientists then collected colonies from five parts of Panama and put them through a barrage of tests. DNA fingerprinting found colony members to be clones of their queen.

Dissections of the queens revealed that they hadn't mated - and that their offspring were produced entirely from her eggs and her genetic material, without any need of male DNA.

Dr Himler said that the lack of males appears to have little impact on the ants' lives.


Exceedingly rare: The rare ants are native to the Amazon

She said: 'In most ant species, males have little or no role in the daily activities of the ant colony.

'So the absence of males does not generate extra work for the female worker ants.'

It may also have its advantages, the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B reports. The females, for instance, do not need to put any energy into finding a partner.

Creating a colony in which all the females are identical also sidesteps the possibility of squabbles caused by nepotism.

But a life without sex also has its downside, as the young are less genetically diverse.

Over time, this lack of variety could cause major problems, making it harder for the ants to adapt to threats such as disease.

Peter Barnard, of the Royal Entomological Society, said: 'The disadvantages probably outweigh the advantages.'

Although rare, all-female species are not unheard of in the insect world, with some types of wasp and moth also doing without any male input.

Summer Movie Explosion Preview Spectacular!

terminator.jpgAudiences like to complain that a trailer gives all the movie’s best jokes away, but we think the same could be said about its explosions being spoiled. We took a look at five of the most combustible summer movie trailers to see what impressions we could extract (using a pincer-equipped bomb squad robot, of course).


Star Trek
Total Explosions: The otherwise stellar new trailer features a mere 3 explosions, an unconscionably low amount for such a big movie. Spock, that unfamiliar human emotion you’re feeling is shame.
Featured Explosion: The clip culminates with a full-on assault on the Enterprise (featured above). Intriguingly, the trailer’s previous two explosions dissolve into a birth and a sex scene. In space, exploding vaginas are the final frontier.


Terminator: Salvation
Total Explosions: 7 color-desaturated fireballs.
Featured Explosion: A nuclear cloud demolishes a city, Judgment Day-style. One hopes that Christian Bale’s favorite DP, Shane Hurlbut, didn’t happen to wander into the middle of that shot.


X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Total Explosions: A Terminator-tying 7.
Featured Explosion: In an homage to the moment that ended the first Mission: Impossible’s trailer, Hugh Jackman is blown onto a helicopter from the sheer concussive blast of an exploding vehicle. Reportedly, Jackman’s mid-air crooning of “And I Am Telling You” was the first thing to be cut from the version leaked online.


Battle for Terra
Total Explosions: 8. And this is an animated family film.
Featured Explosion: A spacecraft explodes amidst trippy jellyfish mushrooms in Lionsgate’s weird cartoon space adventure, which recalls The Phantom Menace, if Jar-Jar was voiced by Justin Long. Yeah, mushrooms seem about right.


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Total Explosions: 14. C’mon, like Michael Bay would ever give up this particular summer movie crown (studded, as it is, with tiny, exploding rubies)?
Featured Explosion: The trailer’s very first, an explosion in Paris that harkens back to Bay’s Armageddon. Yes, the Transformers have finally gotten cultured—we can’t wait until a vacationing Megan Fox is kidnapped by Lumiere, the Decepticon streetlamp.

Medical marijuana requests climb sky high

Dispensary owners report 50 to 300 percent rise since Obama took office

Medical Marijuana

Request for medical marijuana are up from 50 to 300 percent this year over last, say dispensary owners.
Peter Hilz / Redux Pictures
By Brian Alexander

Brian Alexander


The number of ailing people turning to medical marijuana to ease their symptoms has spiked this year, say dispensary owners in some of the 13 states where it's legal.

Requests have jumped anywhere from 50 to 300 percent, they say, since President Barack Obama took office and signaled that he won’t use federal marijuana laws to override state laws as the Bush administration did. Others say the economic downturn may also be responsible as more people without insurance are seeking alternatives to costly medications.

In the past few months, marijuana co-ops, clubs, businesses and even lawyers who have advocated for looser dope regulations say they've been inundated with requests for information and certifications that permit people to use marijuana for medical purposes.

“I have been flooded with calls,” reported Seattle attorney Douglas Hiatt, a long-time marijuana advocate. “It’s ‘Where can I find a doctor [to prescribe it]? How can I start a co-op?’ You wouldn’t believe it.”

Under the George W. Bush administration, federal authorities maintained that federal marijuana laws took precedence over state law, even in states that had approved therapeutic cannabis. But Obama indicated during the presidential campaign that he supported the controlled use of marijuana for medical purposes, saying he saw no difference between medical marijuana and other pain-control drugs.

“My attitude is if the science and the doctors suggest that the best palliative care and the way to relieve pain and suffering is medical marijuana, then that’s something I’m open to,” Obama said in November 2007 at a campaign stop in Audubon, Iowa. “There’s no difference between that and morphine when it comes to just giving people relief from pain.”

Inside one cannabis dispensary
Al Roker takes an in-depth look at the nation's most used illicit drug. Here, Al visits California's "Farmacy," which is one of the state's many distributors of medical marijuana.

Doc Block

In February, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pledged to limit Drug Enforcement Administration raids of prescription cannabis dispensaries to those businesses and organizations that break both state as well as federal laws.

“Our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that’s inconsistent with federal and state law,” he said.

300 percent increase
Hard numbers and state-to-state, year-over-year sales comparisons are difficult to come by because state laws vary and because some states are still creating their programs; New Mexico expects to license its first legal marijuana producer this month. But the state of Colorado has tracked registered medical marijuana users since implementing its law on June 1, 2001. As of the end of 2008, there were 4,720 applications received, almost all of which had been approved. But as of February 28 of this year, that number stood at 6,796, an increase of 2,076 in just two months.

“I have had a 300 percent rise at my business,” reported the owner of Colorado’s Boulder County Caregivers, a marijuana dispensary. (She asked not to be named since she also works in local government.)

Medical marijuana

Thirteen states allow the sale, distribution and use of marijuana for limited medical purposes:

• Alaska
• California
• Colorado
• Hawaii
• Maine
• Michigan
• Montana
• Nevada
• New Mexico
• Oregon
• Rhode Island
• Vermont
• Washington

Her numbers are rising despite obstacles that remain in the path of those seeking access. For example, many doctors are reluctant to authorize their patients to use marijuana either because its efficacy has not been proven in rigorous trials, shown to be superior to other drugs, or because they themselves fear risking their own federal license to prescribe medications like opiate pain killers if they are seen to be defying federal drug law.

“I have legitimate cancer patients who cannot get a doctor to sign,” the Boulder dispensary owner said. “Their doctor will say ‘Talk to your oncologist,’ and the oncologist will say ‘Talk to your other doctor.’ So I see the same doctors’ names over and over. Patient records show the same two clinics because so many go there since their own doctors will not do it for fear of federal retribution.”

Some organizations leap this hurdle by providing their own doctors.

“I have 12 doctors working with us right now,” said Paul Stanford, director of The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, based in Portland, Ore. THCF has started clinics in eight states, often by bringing along one of its own paid doctors who happens to be licensed in that state.

Interactive map
Medical marijuana laws in the U.S.
See which states allow patients with qualifying diseases to possess and cultivate cannabis.

Stanford claimed his clinics are booming, too, with about 50 percent more calls and patient certifications than before the new administration took office.

In addition to the Obama administration's position on medical marijuana, demographics may also be a co-factor in the overall rise. Many people born after World War II have had at least some exposure to marijuana, and now that the government has indicated it will be more lenient, might be more inclined to turn to the party drug of their youth to ease the maladies of age. Few people under 65, “are truly naïve to cannabis,” suggested Dr. Frank Lucido, an Oakland, Calif., physician who has long been a leader in California’s medical marijuana community.

Economy may be playing role
Lucido has seen an increase in patients, too, but a slight one, a much smaller bump than he would have expected. It’s possible, he speculated, that because so many dispensaries have opened in California, some offering quickie — and often dubious — medical exams to certify patient need, that the total number of medical marijuana consumers has boomed, but that many are avoiding more stringent practitioners like himself. (While the state of California tracks the number of medical marijuana identification cards issued each year that allow patients to purchase from dispensaries, no numbers are out yet for 2009.)

One final possibility for the increase in numbers is economic. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that at least 45 million Americans under age 65 are now without health insurance.

As the number of medical marijuana outlets expands, and fear of federal drug charges diminishes, some of those people, faced with paying out of pocket for pharmaceutical drugs or for cannabis, “will turn to medicine that is good for a whole bunch of ailments, that you can grow yourself and not spend a tremendous amount of money on,” Hiatt said. “That’s very appealing to lots of people.”

Discovery of Cold-Activated Brown Fat May Lead to New Obesity Treatments

Getty Images
By Anne Harding

WEDNESDAY, April 8, 2009 ( — What if you had a special kind of fat in your body that burned calories instead of storing them—and it could be activated simply by spending time in the cold? According to three preliminary studies published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, you probably do.

Brown adipose tissue (called brown fat) helps babies, young children, and other small mammals stay warm by burning calories when activated by low temperatures. Scientists have been skeptical that adults retain significant amounts of brown fat on their bodies. But the new research shows that many of us—perhaps even most—do.

“The incredible excitement about this is that we have an entirely new way to try to go after obesity,” says Aaron Cypess, MD, of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, lead author of one of the new studies. Every obesity drug now on the market aims at getting people to take in fewer calories, Dr. Cypess points out. The current findings, while very preliminary, suggest that drugs could be developed that fire up brown fat activity and help people burn calories faster.

The new research is important because it confirms that adults have brown fat involved in temperature regulation, while also probably playing a role in whether a person is lean or overweight, says Jan Nedergaard, PhD, a professor at the Wenner-Gren Institute at the University of Stockholm in Sweden who has been studying brown fat for 30 years but was not involved in the current research.

“Brown fat can be a very significant player in the game of how we react to the food we eat and whether we store it or burn it away,” Dr. Nedergaard says.

While scientists have known about brown fat and what it does for decades, it’s been nearly impossible to study it in live humans until very recently. Finding it in people’s bodies meant taking tissue samples, so scientists mostly stuck to studying it in lab animals.

This changed when nuclear medicine specialists observed that some people had deposits of tissue that looked like fat but didn’t act like it; this fat-like tissue was located above the collarbones and in the upper chest and consumed lots of energy. Conversely, white adipose tissue—the regular fat that stores extra calories and makes us gain weight—shows very little metabolic activity.

Scientists began investigating whether this mystery tissue might be the elusive brown fat. In the new NEJM reports, three independent research teams have confirmed that this is the case, indeed, and that integrated positron-emission tomography and computed tomography (PET-CT) scans can be used not only to identify it but to measure its metabolic activity.

In their report, Dr. Cypess and his colleagues reviewed 3,640 PET-CT scans performed on 1,972 patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston for various diagnostic reasons. Among women, 7.5% had patches of brown fat that were more than 4 millimeters in diameter, while 3.1% of men had similar patches.

“The people who had brown fat were, in fact, different from the people who didn’t,” Dr. Cypess explains: They were younger and leaner. People who were older, those who were obese, and those using heart drugs called beta blockers were less likely to have brown fat.

Dr. Cypess and his team also found that people whose scans were done in the winter had the most brown fat, while those scanned in the summer had the least; people who underwent the tests in the spring or fall fell in the middle.

Researchers from the Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, in the second study, looked at how temperature affected brown fat activity in 24 healthy men, also using PET-CT. When the volunteers sat in a room kept at 72° F for two hours, none of their scans showed brown fat activity. But when they were exposed to slightly chillier conditions—about 61° F—23 showed brown fat activity. The 10 men who were lean (with body mass indexes of less than 25) had more brown fat than the 14 who were overweight or obese, and their brown fat was also more active.

“That’s really new, that so many people do have brown adipose tissue,” says lead author Wouter D. van Marken Lichtenbelt, PhD.

In the third study, Sven Enerback, MD, of the University of Goteborg in Sweden, used PET to examine how cold temperatures affected brown fat activity, this time in five people. Participants spent two hours in a room kept at 63° F to 66° F. During the scan, they submerged one foot in ice water, alternating five minutes in the water and five minutes out. The cold conditions boosted the amount of glucose the study participants’ brown fat consumed by a factor of 15.

In an accompanying editorial, Francesco Celi, MD, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, Md., notes that “taken together, these studies point to a potential ‘natural’ intervention to stimulate energy expenditure: Turn down the heat and burn calories (and reduce the carbon footprint in the process).”

This is obviously an oversimplification, Dr. Celi says, but the demonstration that adults have brown fat that can be activated is, nevertheless, “powerful proof of concept” that the tissue could be a target for obesity-fighting drugs or even environmental fat-fighting strategies.

While Dr. Cypess is excited about the possibility of drugs that help people burn more calories, he warns that such medicines wouldn’t allow people to slim down without eating healthy and becoming more active.

The maximum amount of extra energy that people with relatively large brown fat deposits can burn probably tops out at about 500 calories. “It doesn’t take much extra food to eliminate any benefit you’ve got,” he says. “I personally don’t think that hanging out in the cold is going to be an effective way of fighting obesity.”

Incredible aerial view of USS JFK

USS John F Kennedy docking in Malta

Poop-Powered Buses Soon to Cruise Hershey, er, Oslo Highways

Photographs of: toilet by Stockbyte/Getty Images; bus by John A. Rizzo/Photodisc/Getty Images.Several days ago, we looked at "toilet to tap," the increasingly useful art of turning sewage into drinking water. Orange County, Calif., which is pioneering the practice, is proud to tell you how thoroughly its filtration purges the sewage: "Thousands of microfilters, hollow fibers covered in holes one-three-hundredth the width of a human hair, strain out suspended solids, bacteria and other materials."

But what if the water isn't what you want? What if you want the sewage?

Who would want these lovely "suspended solids," you ask? Why, you would. Apparently, they're a fine source of environmentally friendly fuel. Agence France Presse reports that in Oslo, Norway,

city officials soon plan to introduce buses that run on biofuels extracted from human waste. ... The biofuel, which is methane generated by fermenting sludge, will come from the Bekkelaget sewage treatment plant which handles waste from 250,000 city dwellers. "By going to the bathroom, a person produces the equivalent of eight litres (2.1 gallons) of diesel per year. That may not seem like a lot, but multiplied by 250,000 people, that is enough to operate 80 buses for 100,000 kilometres (62,000 miles) each," [one official] says.

Fecal fuel is, if you'll pardon the expression, green:

In addition to being carbon neutral, it emits 78 percent less nitrogen oxide and 98 percent fewer fine particles—two causes of respiratory illnesses—and is 92 percent less noisy. ... "If our entire fleet switched to biomethane, carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by around 30,000 tonnes per year," according to [an Oslo official].

It protects the food supply:

Contrary to first generation bio-ethanol, made from grains and plants, biomethane has the added advantage of not impacting food supplies, nor does it require fertilisation or deplete precious water resources.

In other words, instead of turning corn into fuel, which prevents you from eating the corn, we should feed you the corn first and then collect your droppings so that your sustenance becomes part of the fuel production process.

And it's cheap:

All included, the cost of producing biofuel equivalent to one litre of diesel comes to 0.72 euros (98 cents), while diesel at the pump in Norway currently costs more than 1.0 euro.

In fact, as a fuel supplier, maybe you should get a cut of the savings. Remember that pilot project in India I mentioned last year? The one where villagers get paid to use public toilets while their urine is tested for use as a fertilizer? At the time, I proposed that

we could try our own version of the Indian experiment. To do that, we'd need to devise an efficient method of converting public-toilet waste into something productive, such as fertilizer, without endangering public health. ... I bet somebody will figure out pretty soon how to monetize toilet waste. ... Restaurant grease [is] being illegally siphoned from filthy bins and barrels. Bandits are selling it for conversion to biodiesel. When bandits start siphoning public toilets, maybe governments will wake up and get in on the action. And you'll stop having to pay.

Nine months later, Oslo may have worked out the last piece of the puzzle. You go to the bathroom. We filter the excrement from the water. We recycle the water so you can drink it again. Meanwhile, we turn the excrement into fuel. All of this helps the environment, protects the food supply and saves money. And if you play it right, you get paid.

China's Jiuzhai Valley

Blue and green lakes as well as waterfalls dot Jiuzhai Valley National Park in southwestern China north of Chengdu. The area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, in part for the natural beauty and in part for its endangered plant and animal species, such as giant pandas and the Sichuan takin, a type of antelope.

There's a legend, according to the park's website, that a goddess broke a mirror, and the resulting 114 lakes are the shards that scattered.

Lake Wuhuahai

Lake Huohuahai


Lake Shuanglonghai

Gem-colored water




Six Better-Than-Average Umbrellas

by Tim Yu


Following the Swims post, you might guess we have a rain theme going on today. What can we say? It's been raining a lot here lately.

During the drearier months an adequate umbrella is essential, especially for urbanites who face longer treks than from the parking lot to the office. Fortunately, umbrellas have been getting much needed overhauls lately with designers making them, lighter, stronger and adding different useful features. We think it's worth the investment to purchase a quality umbrella that's not tiny and won't blow inside out.

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The Davek umbrella might not look like much but it comes with an unconditional lifetime guarantee, which says something about the quality. I've been using and abusing mine for months now and it's still as good as new. It features a three-action button system allowing you to open and close the umbrella with the push of a button. My favorite part however is when a gust of wind inverts the umbrella the ribs correct themselves to a closed position with another push of the button. The flexible carbon frame prevents breakage or tearing and a steel shaft provides stability. Available in two different sizes, the Solo—sized for one person— is $95 and the Duet—sized for two people— is $149 at Davek. Not bad considering you'll never need to buy another umbrella again.


You may have seen videos of the Senz umbrella on fellow blogs proving it can withstand gale force winds, but we wanted to try out the winner of the Red Dot Design Award ourselves. Senz claims that the umbrella can withstand 70mph (100km/h) winds. Although we didn't get into a wind tunnel, the asymmetrical, aerodynamic design does a good job of deflecting the wind instead of struggling with it. It's especially useful in cities where wind tunnels down streets and sends umbrellas flying when turning the corner. Resembling an airplane wing, the Senz shape also lends itself to better visibility and the extended back end clears the back of your heels, which often get soaked with conventional umbrellas. Available from Senz for €50.

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The Swims Automatic Classic is a retro-inspired umbrella with all the latest features. Push button, auto-up/auto-down action makes it easy to operate with one arm, great for when running errands when you might be walking in and out of buildings repeatedly while carrying stuff. The movement is smooth and satisfying, opening to a generous amount of canopy. A hard rubber handle provides a soft but sturdy grip while a softer rubber tip makes it conducive to use as a walking stick. Available from Oki-ni for £39.

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Another one that's made the rounds, but we think is pretty smart is Hiranao Tsuboi's Stand Umbrella. The unique characteristic here is a tripod-like tip that allows the umbrella to stand on its own. This might seem like a straightforward thing to engineer, but a series of test were performed to determine optimal center of gravity and spread of the three legs so it would not only stand but also be stable. Buy it in white or black for ¥4,200 at 100%.

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We featured the Ambient Umbrella when it was still a prototype, but there's been quite a hubbub when it recently became available for purchase. Using AccuWeather's info, the wireless receiver in the handle alerts users to any incoming precipitation. You won't leave home without your umbrella again, how can you when the handle is blinking? Purchase it for $100 from Think Geek or call Ambient Devices at +1 866 311 1999.


Made of nylon the Fold and Go Umbrella by Gijs Bakker is big enough to comfortably shelter you from the rain but folds up into the sleeve that's attached to the top, which means no more losing sleeves! The orange under side will provide a nice glow even in the gloomiest conditions keeping you happy and dry. No word on price, but visit Eno to find retailers in France.