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Monday, June 8, 2009

Apple iPhone 3GS Guided Tour and features

iPhone 3G S announced: $199 16GB, $299 32GB, June 19th

by Nilay Patel

As endlessly predicted, Apple's unveiled a new iPhone today at WWDC, the iPhone 3G S -- the "s" stands for speed. Although it looks almost exactly like the 3G, it's much, much faster -- some tasks are almost four times faster. Data speeds are upped to 7.2Mbps HSDPA, and the camera is now a 3 megapixel unit with tap-to-autofocus and auto white balance -- and just as expected, it now supports 30fps VGA video recording with editing features. You're also getting a built-in compass, Nike+ support, and a new battery that offers 5 hours of 3G talk time and 9 hours of WiFi internet use. There are some surprises, too -- holding down the home button now enables a new voice control interface that lets you do everything from make calls to control iTunes, and Apple's touting a new "fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating." New and end-of-contract pricing is set at $199 for 16GB and $299 for 32GB when it goes on sale June 18th Stateside and in 80 more countries in August -- and the current 8GB 3G will remain on sale for $99, effective immediately. You'll have to pay a bit more if you're mid-contract, though -- $299 for the 3G and $399/$499 for the 3G S.

Gallery: iPhone 3G S press shots

Gallery: Apple shows iPhone 3GS at WWDC

iPhone 3GS vs iPhone 3G Feature Chart Comparison

Deciding between the cheap $99 and so last year iPhone 3G and the latest $199 or $299 iPhone 3GS. Thankfully, you can decide with this iPhone 3G vs iPhone 3GS feature chart:

I don't know about you, but I would rather pay more to get that camera and the extra battery life, no question about it. [Apple]

The First GM Human Embryo Could Dramatically Alter the Future

Human_embryo “The advance of genetic engineering makes it quite conceivable that we will begin to design our own evolutionary progress.”

~Isaac Asimov, famous thinker and sci-fi writer

Cornell University researchers in New York revealed that they had produced what is believed to be the world’s first genetically altered human embryo—an ironic twist considering all the criticism the US has heaped on South Korea over the past several years for going “too far” with its genetic research programs. The Cornell team, led by Nikica Zaninovic, used a virus to add a green fluorescent protein gene, to a human embryo left over from an in vitro fertilization procedure. The research was presented at a meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine last year, but details have emerged only after new controversy has emerged over the ethics and science of genetically modifying humans.

Zaninovic has pointed out that in order to be sure that the new gene had been inserted and the embryo had been genetically modified, scientists would ideally want to keep growing the embryo and carry out further tests. However, the Cornell team did not get permission to keep the embryo alive. The GM embryos created could theoretically have become the world’s first genetically altered man or woman, but it was destroyed after five days.

British regulators form the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), have warned that such controversial experiments cause “large ethical and public interest issues”.

Much of the debate stems from the fact that the effects of genetically altering an embryo would be generational and permanent. In other words, if we create a mutant baby and it grows up to have children of it’s own—they’ll all be mutant gene carriers too. Genes injected into embryos and reproductive cells, such as sperm, affect every cells in the body and would be passed on to future generations. Critics say current humans don’t have the right to tamper with the gene pool of future generations.

On the other hand, proponents of such technology say that this science could potentially erase diseases such as cystic fibrosis, hemophilia and even cancer. In theory, any “good” gene could be added to embryos to offset any “bad” genes they are currently carrying. That could potentially mean the difference between life and death for many children.

John Harris, the Sir David Alliance Professor of Bioethics at Manchester University, takes it a step further. He believes that as parents, citizens, and scientists, we are morally obliged to do whatever we can genetically to make life better and longer for our children and ourselves. Society currently devotes so much energy and resources towards saving lives, which, in reality, is simply postponing death, he notes. If it is right to save life, Harris reasons, then it should also be right to postpone death by stemming the flow of diseases that carry us to the grave.

For Harris, having the ability to improve our species lot in life but refusing to do so, makes little sense. He has a difficult time understanding why some people are so insistent that we shouldn’t try to improve upon human evolution.

“Can you imagine our ape ancestors getting together and saying, ‘this is pretty good, guys. Let’s stop it right here!’. That’s the equivalent of what people say today.”

Ethicists, however, warn that genetically modifying embryos will lead to designer babies preloaded with socially desirable traits involving height, intelligence and coloring.

Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, warns, “This is the first step on the road that will lead to the nightmare of designer babies and a new eugenics.”

Harris, however, doesn’t support that argument. He says it’s not about “beauty” it’s about health, and what parent wouldn’t want a healthy child, he asks.

“Certainly, sometimes we want competitive advantage [for our children], but for the enhancements I talk about, the competitive advantage is not the prime motive. I didn’t give my son a good diet in the hope that others eat a bad diet and die prematurely. I’m happy if everyone has a good diet. The moral imperative should be that enhancements are generally available because they are good for everyone.”

The only other route to equality, he says, is to level down so that everyone is as uneducated, unhealthy and unenhanced as the lowest in society – which would be much more unethical in his opinion. Even though we can’t offer a liver transplant to all who need them, he says, we still carry them out for the lucky few. “Much better to try to raise the baseline, even if some are left behind.”

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill in currently under consideration in Britain will likely make it legal to create GM embryos in that country, but only for research—implantation in the womb will still be banned—at least for now. However, ethicists believe that the legislation could easily be relaxed even further in the future.

People who believe that genetically modified humans is something way into the future might want to consider that many experts are worried that some forms of it are already happening in the sports world.

Faster, bigger, better, stronger—in theory, the single most effective way to radically alter your physical capacities is to manipulate your genes. Athletes are beginning to take notice. Now that we’ve mapped out the human genome and identified exactly which genes make you buff, tough and rough—experts are concerned about the future of genetic doping.

Gene doping could spawn athletes capable of out-running, out-jumping and out-cycling even the world’s greatest champions. However, researchers at the University of Florida are attempting to prevent that from happening by detecting the first cases of gene doping in professional athletes before the practice becomes mainstream.

Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), responsible for monitoring the conduct of athletes, is working with investigators around the globe to develop testing to identify competitors who have injected themselves with genetic material that is capable of enhancing muscle mass or heightening endurance.

“If an athlete injects himself in the muscle with DNA, would we be able to detect that?” asked one of France’s leading gene therapy researchers, Philippe Moullier, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Gene Therapy Laboratory at the Universite de Nantes in France.

Right now, he says the answer is clearly “no”. But that may soon change. The UF scientists are among several groups collaborating with national and global anti-doping organizations to develop a test that can detect evidence of “doped” DNA.

“WADA has had a research program in place for some years now, to try to develop tests for gene-based doping,” said Theodore Friedmann, M.D., head of the agency’s panel on genetic doping and director of the gene therapy program at the University of California, San Diego.

Nearly every day now we are inundated with new genetic discoveries. Scientists can now pinpoint many specific genes including being lean, living a long life, improved self-healing, thrill seeking behavior, and having an improved memory among many other incredible traits. Many believe that these genes can be manipulated in ordinary humans, in effect creating Super-Mutants.

Theoretically, options are nearly limitless. Even a gene that exists in another species could be brought over to a human cell. Imagine some of the incredible traits of the animal kingdom that some humans don’t possess such as night vision, amazing agility, or the ability to breath underwater. The precedence for these types of radical changes is already in place. Experimental mice, for example, were successfully given the human ability to see in color. If animals can be engineered to have human traits, then humans can certainly be mutated to have desirable animal traits.

It is even thought possible to so drastically alter human genomes that a type of superhuman species could emerge. The fear with germline engineering is that since it is inheritable, offspring and all succeeding generations would carry the modified traits. This is one reason why this type of engineering is currently banned- it could lead to irreversible alteration of the entire human species.

Ethics, not scientific limitations, is the real brick wall. Most scientists believe manipulating genes in order to make an individual healthy is a noble and worthwhile pursuit. Some are against even that notion, arguing that historically amazing individuals have sometimes been plagued by genetic mental and physical disorders, which inadvertently shaped the greatness of their lives. Should we rob the human race of character shaping frailty? Very few scientists would dare to publicly endorse the idea of using genetic engineering to make a normal, healthy individuals somehow superior to the rest of the human race.

“The push to redesign human beings, animals and plants to meet the commercial goals of a limited number of individuals is fundamentally at odds with the principle of respect for nature,”
said Brent Blackwelder, President of Friends of the Earth in his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

However, would it be so bad if the human race were slightly improved? What if a relatively simple procedure could make an individual and his or her offspring resistant to cancer? After all, Nature isn’t always right. Nature has naturally selected many people to carry the burden of uncomfortable and often lethal genetic disorders. If nature knows best, then shouldn’t we quit trying to “improve” upon nature by “curing” people of genetic conditions we consider inferior? Many say we shouldn’t change human genetics, UNLESS it’s the RIGHT thing to do. Who gets to decide where the line is between righteous endeavor and the corruption of nature? These are the questions facing our generation.

Posted by Rebecca Sato

9,000-year-old brew hitting the shelves this summer

By Brendan Borrell in 60-Second Science Blog

This summer, how would you like to lean back in your lawn chair and toss back a brew made from what may be the world’s oldest recipe for beer? Called Chateau Jiahu, this blend of rice, honey and fruit was intoxicating Chinese villagers 9,000 years ago—long before grape wine had its start in Mesopotamia.

University of Pennsylvania molecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern first described the beverage in 2005 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences based on chemical traces from pottery in the Neolithic village of Jiahu in Northern China. Soon after, McGovern called on Sam Calagione at the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del., to do the ancient recipe justice. Later this month, you can give it a try when a new batch hits shelves across the country. The Beer Babe blog was impressed, writing that it is “very smooth,” and “not overly sweet.”

But that’s not the only strange brew Dogfish is shipping out this summer. Next week, the brewery will be bottling up the first large batch of Sah’tea for the general public—a modern update on a ninth-century Finnish beverage. In the fall, The New Yorker documented the intricate research and preparation that went into making the beer, which was first offered on tap at the brewery in May. In short, brewmasters carmelize wort on white hot river rocks, ferment it with German Weizen yeast, then toss on Finnish berries and a blend of spices to jazz up this rye-based beverage. Reviewers at the BeerAdvocate universally praised Sah'tea, comparing it to a fruity hefeweizen. One user munched on calamari as he downed a pint and described the combo as “a near euphoric experience."

And Dogfish is also bringing back one of their more unusual forays into alcohol-infused time travel. Called Theobroma, this cocoa-based brew was hatched from a chemical analysis of 3,200-year-old pottery fragments from the Cradle of Chocolate, the Ulua Valley in Honduras. Archaeologist John Henderson at Cornell University first described the beverage in 2007 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pushing the first use of the chocolate plant back by 600 years. Dogfish first sold Theobroma in May 2008, and the next batch—made from a blend of cocoa, honey, chilies, and annatto—will be on shelves and in taps in July. The chocolate beer was apparently too sweet for Evan at The Full Pint, who writes that it contained “a ton and a half of sugary sweetness” with “an insane amount of gooeyness left behind on the roof of your mouth."

Image of woman drinking beer courtesy a4gpa on Flickr

Prehistoric Whale Discovered On The West Coast Of Sweden

The discovery of the whale bone. (Credit: Svevia)

ScienceDaily (June 8, 2009) — The skeleton of a whale that died around 10,000 years ago has been found in connection with the extension of the E6 motorway in Strömstad. The whale bones are now being examined by researchers at the University of Gothenburg who, among other things, want to ascertain whether the find is the mystical "Swedenborg whale".

Similar to the "Swedenborg whale"

There are currently four species of right whale. What is particularly interesting is that the size and shape of the whale bones resemble those of a fifth species: the mystical "Swedenborg whale", first described by the scientist Emmanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century.

"Bones from what is believed to be Swedenborg's right whale have previously been found in western Sweden. However, determining the species of whale bones found in earth is complicated and there is no definitive conclusion on whether the whale actually existed, it could equally well be a myth," says zoologist Thomas Dahlgren and his colleague Leif Jonsson.

DNA tests conducted

To determine the species of whale that has been found Thomas Dahlgren has conducted DNA tests that are to be analysed in conjunction with researchers at the Natural History Museum in London. The whale bones are interesting in several respects. The fragments of bone were collected in a clay deposit and remains of marine organisms that today are also endangered species were found around them.

"The hunt for the large whale species, which led to the extinction of the Atlantic grey whale and perhaps the Swedenborg whale, may also have caused the extinction of a large number of species that are dependent on whale carcasses for their survival," says Thomas Dahlgren.

Preserved in clay

The whale bones are thought to be around 10,000 years old and were found 75 metres above sea level, but in a site that at that time was located out on the coast. It is conjectured that the bones have been preserved for such a long time as they were surrounded by fine, oxygen-free clay. The largest whale bone, approximately 2.5 metres long, is part of a jawbone. Among the smaller bones is a vertebra. Discussions are underway on whether the bones can be put in order and potentially put on public display.

Facts about the Swedenborg whale (Balaena swedenbo´rgii)

The whale species is believed to have existed in the North Sea from the period when the inland ice melted until about 8,000 years ago, and subsequently to have died out. Ten collections of bones from the species have been found in the west of Sweden. However, there is speculation that the bones have been mistaken for other species, and that the Swedenborg whale never existed. Source: Swedish National Encyclopedia

University of Gothenburg (2009, June 8). Prehistoric Whale Discovered On The West Coast Of Sweden. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 8, 2009, from­ /releases/2009/06/090605110420.htm

Jay-Z - “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)”


Jay-Z - “Death of Auto-Tune” [sans Flex's gay ass bomb]
♣ Produced by No I.D. and Kanye West

Jay-Z comes out swinging at robo-voice rappers (well, sorta) on “Death of Auto-Tune (D.O.A.). Oh sure, this will ensure the death of auto-tune all right. Also, if he’s truly concerned about rappers “singing too much” as he says, how come Yeezy, who made an entire album on Auto-Tune, gets a pass and Wayne only gets a jab (”I might send this to Mixtape Weezy”)?

I guess we’re supposed to be content with the fact that someone bothered to declare it dead?

Teen accepts penalty for marijuana speech expelled: 17-year-old lit joint as class project

Ian Barry says he wasn’t trying to be a martyr when he lit a marijuana joint this week at Peninsula High School in Gig Harbor, nor was he trying to pull a stunt.

Simply put, the 17-year-old junior wanted to drive home the message of his persuasive essay: Marijuana doesn’t deserve its negative stigma and should be legalized.

On Friday, Barry told The News Tribune that he knew what the consequences would be for his bold tactics, but he was willing to accept them.

After his speech Tuesday, he was arrested and sent to Remann Hall juvenile detention center in Tacoma. He was ousted from school on an emergency expulsion.

He says he fully accepts his punishment. He faces misdemeanor charges of unlawful drug possession after police found the container that he carried the joint in and that contained marijuana residue. He also understands this will go on his record.

“I see myself as someone who holds himself to a high moral value,” Barry said via cell phone. “I stand up for what I believe in.”

News of his speech and arrest spread quickly, as local and national media outlets picked up his story.

But more importantly, he said, his story has created a dialogue about whether marijuana should be legalized.

“As Sir Isaac Newton said, ‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction,’ ” Barry said. “I don’t think there would have been another way I could have gotten this reaction.”

Here is Barry’s account of what happened:

About a month ago, he and the rest of the students in Peninsula’s Rhetoric Revels group were asked to produce a persuasive speech. The group meets monthly to celebrate student work in English classes.

He said a classmate suggested that he present a speech on legalizing marijuana. He said he has smoked pot since he was 12, and the topic made sense because it was something in which he believed.

Barry, who has a 3.7 grade-point average, stressed that he took the assignment seriously. In fact, what was supposed to be a two-page paper turned into 15 pages.

But to prove his point and get the attention of all students, Barry decided to take the now-famous puffs.

On Tuesday, about 150 students gathered in Peninsula High’s auditorium. They had heard about his plans and wanted to see it for themselves.

When it was his turn to speak, Barry said he walked on stage and read the first seven pages.

Then, before he turned to the eighth page, he pulled out the joint that was hidden in his dreadlocks. He said he lit up, took a toke, then read the rest of his speech, occasionally stopping to take a puff.

“There was a huge cheer when I lit up,” he recalled.

Among the topics covered in his speech: marijuana’s medicinal benefits and its undeserved reputation of being harmful. It lasted about 12 minutes.

When he was done, Barry walked backstage, took a few more hits, then ate the little bit that remained of the joint.

One of his friends went to check on him backstage, then the two sat back down in the audience. A school administrator walked to Barry, escorted him out and eventually to the principal’s office.

Barry said a police officer showed up, put him in handcuffs and drove him to Remann Hall.

He was booked, fingerprinted and photographed before being released to his father about an hour later.

In the days since his speech, he’s been both defended and condemned in dozens of online comments on the story on The News Tribune’s Web site.

Barry said he’s been encouraged by some of the comments, but it’s fine if people disagree with his stance. He just hopes people realize that he was simply trying to get his message across and wasn’t afraid of his punishment.

His future is in flux. He will meet with Peninsula administrators to determine whether he should be allowed to finish classes.

He’s also looking beyond high school at college. Barry is considering a career in English or politics.

He said he’s going to take the SAT test today. His first college of choice: “California, probably Humboldt” State University, he said.

Brent Champaco: 253-597-8653

Pirate Party Wins and Enters The European Parliament

Written by Ernesto

The Pirate Party has won a huge victory in the Swedish elections and is marching on to Brussels. After months of campaigning against well established parties, the Pirate Party has gathered enough votes to be guaranteed a seat in the European Parliament.

When the Swedish Pirate Party was founded in early 2006, the majority of the mainstream press were skeptical, with some simply laughing it away. But they were wrong to dismiss this political movement out of hand. Today, the Pirate Party accomplished what some believed to be the impossible, by securing a seat in the European Parliament.

With 99.9% of the districts counted the Pirates have 7.1 percent of the votes, beating several established parties. This means that the Pirate Party will get at least one, but most likely two of the 18 (+2) available seats Sweden has at the European Parliament.

When we asked Pirate Party leader Rick Falkvinge about the outcome, he told TorrentFreak: “We’ve felt the wind blow in our sails. We’ve seen the polls prior to the election. But to stand here, today, and see the figures coming up on that screen… What do you want me to say? I’ll say anything”

“Together, we have today changed the landscape of European politics. No matter how this night ends, we have changed it,” Falkvinge said. “This feels wonderful. The citizens have understood it’s time to make a difference. The older politicians have taken apart young peoples’ lifestyle, bit by bit. We do not accept that the authorities’ mass-surveillance,” he added.

Rick Falkvinge celebrating tonight’s election win

pirate party vistory

The turnout at the elections is 43 percent, a little higher than the at the 2004 elections. This would mean that roughly 200,000 Swedes have voted for the Pirate Party. This is a huge increase compared to the national elections of 2006 where the party got 34,918 votes.

Both national and international press have gathered in Stockholm where the Pirate Party is celebrating its landmark victory.

Falkvinge answering questions

pirate party vistory

At least partially, The Pirate Party puts its increased popularity down to harsh copyright laws and the recent conviction of the people behind The Pirate Bay. After the Pirate Bay verdict, Pirate Party membership more than tripled and they now have over 48,000 registered members, more than the total number of votes they received in 2006.

With their presence in Brussels, the Pirate Party hopes to reduce the abuses of power and copyright at the hands of the entertainment industries, and make those activities illegal instead. On the other hand they hope to legalize file-sharing for personal use.


pirate party vistory

“It’s great fun to be a pirate right now”, Christian Engström, Vice Chairman of the Pirate Party told the press when he arrived.

Update: Sweden has 20 seats, but until the Lisbon treaty passes only 18 with voting rights. This means that the Pirate Party will have 2 seats.

Update: In Germany the Pirate Party got approximately 1 percent of the votes, not enough for a seat in the European Parliament. Andreas Popp, lead candidate for the German Pirate Party is pleased and told TorrentFreak: “This was the first time, we ran for the European elections. And although many voters have hardly known us, we got a great result. This shows, that many citizens identify themselves with our goals. I want to thank all people who supported us, we could not have done that without them. We have fulfilled our minimal goal of 0,5%. Now we can start up for real!”

Update: Here’s a feature article on the election night and outcome.

Interview: 'The Hangover' Director Todd Phillips

Todd Phillips, by his own admission or at least acceptance, is the comedy world's A-list anti-Apatow: where the writer-director of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up bathes his characters in sweetness and sentiment, Phillips wrings his dry, leaving only the odd, awkward and undeniable punch of their punch lines. His latest film, The Hangover, follows a group of guys who awaken from an all-night bachelor party in Vegas to discover that the groom is missing, there's a tiger in the bathroom of their suite, and they are now in possession of a baby. No lessons are learned, no constitutions tested and no hearts wrenched, and that's just the way Phillips – and the audience of his films, from Road Trip to Old School to Starsky and Hutch – prefers it.

Cinematical recently sat down with Phillips, in Vegas, no less, to discuss The Hangover. In addition to talking about his particular and preferred brand of comedy, Phillips talked about a few of the films that inspired him as a young man, and mused about the future of both The Hangover and Old School.

Cinematical: What I liked most about The Hangover is that no one learns any profound life lessons. It seems like filmmakers feel obligated to shoehorn in those kinds of morals.

Phillips: I think comedy directors tend to feel a need to justify the bad behavior, and I just never think that. I like bad behavior, I've always liked bad behavior, I'm a fan of bad behavior, and I don't think you have to justify bad behavior (laughs).

Cinematical: The screenwriters said that the original script did have some of those elements in it, and you were instrumental in shaping the tone. What was important to you?

Phillips: Well, I think the script that they had written, the first draft, was a PG-13 movie or something, and it didn't have the tiger in it, didn't have the baby in it, didn't have Mike Tyson in it. It didn't have the police car in it. I wanted it to be a night of mayhem, and a bachelor party in Vegas cannot be PG-13. For me it was just you take a script sometimes and you just shake it up and you loosen the tie on it and you f*cking mess up its hair and you just f*ck with it, and really that's what we did with the script. I think we just made it crazy and we wanted it to just feel like a night of mayhem, and changed the tone of it a little bit, and be unapologetic and be unironic and be unsentimental, all of the things that I think comedies do nowadays, a lot of them. I love those comedies, but it's just sort of not my thing.

Cinematical: Having made several films with this tone, do you think at all about what your oeuvre or just directorial sensibility is?

Phillips: Well I certainly think that you can look at the movies and see that I certainly explore male relationships. That's something I'm always fascinated with, the awkwardness of a heterosexual male relationship and why are we so awkward with each other and why can't we just be like – like girls have such an elegance to the way they are with their friends, I always think. So that's inherently funny to me, but again, I think as far as a style, there's a little bit of darkness to the movies that I do, I think, certainly to The Hangover. There's a little bit of, basically like I said, just not ironic, not trying to be cleverer than you and show you how clever I am, but more just what it is. It's hard to explain (laughs). I love Judd Apatow movies, I love them, and I just read a piece that they showed me, and it said, the most un-Apatow or anti-Apatow or something to that effect, and I know what he means. What he means is that non-sentimental version of that.

Cinematical: I think you also do a good job humanizing the humor – meaning as outlandish as the set pieces are, they all seem at least vaguely realistic, and moreover, that these guys laugh at one another as buddies would. For whatever reason, many comedic filmmakers expect that since the audience will laugh, the characters don't need to.

Phillips: I know, I know! That's a good point, actually. I mean, I've never consciously even done that, but you're right – that's a really good point. I don't know what the question is, but...

Cinematical: I was just going to ask if there was a deliberate effort to do that.

Phillips: The deliberate effort is always play it against reality, or make it feel as real as possible. So I do think that sometimes a guy will laugh or do something like that and that will end up being the take in the movie because it feels like what would happen, like why are we all laughing and no one else is? So you're right, but for me it's always been about reality, and I never thought of it consciously that way but that's cool.

Cinematical: Did you have a summer movie experience that was formative or seminal to you?

Phillips: Always. I think it was the middle of summer when I snuck into, Jesus, I think we bought tickets to Ice Pirates and snuck into Star 80, which really shaped me. When I was younger I was obsessed with Star 80, and it's just a great movie – I think I saw it three times in the theater. You're going to go look it up on the internet and maybe it wasn't the summer, but I just remember that being a movie [I was obsessed with]. [Editor's Note: Star 80 was released Nov. 10, 1983.] I'm trying to think of the big movies that affected me as a kid...

Cinematical: Were there any benchmark comedies you can remember?

Phillips: Star 80. The Jerk was probably the biggest benchmark comedy for me, The Jerk and The Blues Brothers and Stripes, those were comedies that really [inspired me]. But again, Star 80 (laughs).

Cinematical: Is it meaningful to have your film released in the middle of summer? People have been discussing The Hangover as counterprogramming to the summer blockbusters.

Phillips: Yeah, it shows a certain level of confidence by the studio – or ignorance (laughs).

Cinematical: I have loved Zach Galifianakis for a long time, but do you make a deliberate effort to "discover" guys like him as you have in this film? Or is it just kind of catching lightning in a bottle?

Phillips: I keep an eye on guys like Zach and I've been paying attention to Zach for ten years, I think. I mean, if you live in L.A. and you like comedy, he's the king, he's the sh*t. I've always been thinking, God, I want to make a movie with this guy, I want to find the right thing and I want to use him correctly in a movie, because what he does on stage is hard to translate. He's so funny, and I just hope this movie kind of brings him out. But the conscious thing, I definitely like sort of discovering or helping discovering certain guys, but it's not a conscious thing except that I really wanted this movie to feel as real as possible and I really feel like we've been seeing the same ten faces in a lot of movies, not just comedies but movies, and I just thought let's shake it up.

Cinematical: How tough or easy is it to mold that comedic style into something, if not conventional, then more digestible?

Phillips: I think Zach and I stumbled on this character of Alan. We talked about it a lot, talked about certain characteristics of Alan that would really speak to Zach's talents and speak to what Zach does well. So I think we really figured him out together, and then I think Zach took it and ran with it and just killed beyond my expectations. So in a weird way, it does capture Zach, even though he's clearly playing a character. And I think with Zach, I don't think anyone has it expect maybe Will Ferrell doing comedies right now, is the sweetest, most innocent eyes and face, so he can get away with so much. So much of the comedians we all love, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, there's a darkness to them, which is what we love about them, but you look at Will's eyes and there is no darkness in Will, and there is no darkness in Zach. It's just sweetness, so they get to get away with sh*t that no one else can get away with.

Cinematical: When you're thinking about these movies, do you think about the sort of multidimensionality of what people could come away with after watching them? It often seems like an ignoble goal "just" to make people laugh, but that seems much harder than trying to convey a theme or explore some lesson or idea?

Phillips: Here's the thing: I like going to work every day and trying to crack each other up and make funny movies. I can't believe I get paid to show up and work on a script and work with guys like Zach where every day we just try each other laugh. Are there themes in this that I think apply to the world? Is the world right now in a "hangover" for whatever reason? That's not why we set out to make the movie, and I know you don't mean that. But really, it's to make a balls-out funny movie; all a director is is a point of view, and all a director really has is the tone, and is a purveyor of tone and all of those things. To keep pushing these movies tonally and keep f*cking with tone, and I think The Hangover is different that Old School and ultimately why I think it's a better film than Old School is it has a more complicated tone in a weird way. There's a darkness under The Hangover because ultimately there's a missing person and it's not really that funny. There's a sort of darkness under it that I love, and still people are laughing as hard if not harder than they did in Old School. So my thing as a filmmaker that I like to play with is tone, and that's sort of why it's different. It's not, and maybe it's nuanced and maybe it's my own thing, but it's what I find to be the challenge.

Cinematical: Speaking of Old School, has a sequel gotten back on track?

Phillips: No, it's not on track right now. Dreamworks had a thing and they sold it to Paramount, but all of that business stuff aside, right now we're not making Old School 2. We have no plans to make Old School 2 right now.

Cinematical: During the roundtables you said you didn't want to talk too much about The Hangover 2, but the screenwriters suggested that blueprinting the first film and doing a second would probably be a mistake. At the risk of asking something you don't want to answer, would you want to take a sequel in a very different direction if you had the chance?

Phillips: I think what we have with this movie is great characters, and I want to see these characters do anything. So that's really kind of how we're thinking about that. And again, because I can see the people writing, "they're a little presumptuous!" We're not doing anything with Hangover 2 yet.

World’s Weirdest Animal Babies

Baby echidna

Have you ever wondered what the babies of bats, aye-ayes, hedgehogs, echidnas or pygmy marmosets look like? Well, now you can find out. Unusual as some of these animals are, the babies will surely trigger some awww-inspiring moments.

Stump-tailed macaque (Macaca arctoides) babies are born with a white fur which turns brown as they mature. Their bright pink faces will become almost black and they will lose quite a bit of their hair. The species is also called bear macaque because the animals usually travel on all fours rather than in trees. They depend on the rainforests of South Asia for food and shelter where they survive mainly on fruits but also seeds, leaves and roots, and occasionally crabs, frogs, bird eggs and insects.

A seven-day-old stump-tailed macaque baby – doesn’t the tiny hand look like that of an adult human?
Baby stump-tailed macaque
Image: Ikeinthemed

Pygmy marmoset females have two litters each year and give birth to twins 70% of the time. For the first two weeks when the mortality rate is highest, pygmy marmoset babies will be constantly carried by the mother, but after that time, raising offspring is a communal affair. The pygmy marmoset (Cebuella pygmaea) is one of the world’s smallest monkeys – hence it is also called the dwarf monkey – and is a native of the South American rainforest.

They asked for one finger and then took the whole hand - baby marmosets:
Baby pygmy marmoset
Image via Space and Time

Beaver babies are born in the spring and stay with their parents for two years. Yearlings often act as babysitters for a new litter. Beavers are natives of North America and Eurasia and are the world’s second largest rodent, with adult beavers sometimes weighing up to 25 kg (55 lb). They are known for building dams, canals and elaborately constructed homes for themselves. Might this be because they mate for life?

Who are you calling busy? I’m just having a snack…
Baby beaver
Image: Martin

Baby badgers are born blind and with only a thin coat of fur. Litters consist of one to five animals whose eyes will open after four to six weeks. Mothers nurse their young until they are two or three months old and the babies leave the den when they are five or six weeks old. Badgers are easily identified by their distinct black-and-white face stripes. Fierce animals, they will defend themselves and their families but can also run at a speed of up to 30 km/h for short distances.

I’m a handful – a baby badger:
Baby badger
Image via Mac

This baby bat will be with its mother for a long time as bats nurse their children – usually one per litter – until they have grown to almost adult size. Young bats cannot fend for themselves and find food on their own until their wings have reached adult proportions. For some bat species, that means a dependency of six to eight weeks; for larger ones, up to four months. Did you know that bats can live over 20 years?

Baby bat in sheep’s clothing?
Baby bat
Image via My Funny Animals

This newborn aye-aye not only has a funny name and a weird look; no, it also belongs to an animal category that is called the “wet nosers” (strepsirrhine). Aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis) are natives of Madagascar and combine rodent-like teeth, a raccoon-like face and a body like a monkey to make one unusual little primate. Aye-aye babies are weaned only after seven months and stay with the mother for two years. Like bats, aye-ayes also live for more than 20 years.

Aye-aye baby:
Baby Aye-aye
Image via My Funny Animals

Hedgehogs are born blind and without quills, which are just beneath the skin and easily visible just hours after birth. They can be found throughout Europe, Asia and Africa and have been introduced in Australia, New Zealand and North America. As one of the first mammals, hedgehogs have been around for 15 million years!

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – three white hedgehogs:
Baby hedgehogs
Unknown photographer via Life of Di

Newborn moles might look tiny and helpless when they are born – weighing only around 5 g – but they actually mature in one month. They live in their mother’s nest and tunnel system until they are weaned and old enough to dig their own tunnels.

Digging it – baby mole:
Baby mole
Image via Emily Rose

The platypus is one of the few mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. Newly hatched platypus babies are blind and hairless and feed on their mother’s milk, which is released through pores in her skin. The males take no part in caring for their young, which live in the mother’s burrow until they are four months old. Platypus are natives of eastern Australia and Tasmania and the only representatives of the Ornithorhynchidae family. When first discovered in 1798, the scientists who received a sketch of this new animal – that looked like a cross between a duck, a beaver and otter – thought it was a hoax.

Platypus twins hatched on October 3, 2007 at the Healesville Sanctuary in Australia:
Platypus twins
Image via Swenglish Rantings

Like the platypus, the echidna belongs to one of the few mammal species that lays eggs instead of giving birth to live young. Its young, called a puggle, also sucks the mother’s milk from the pores of two milk patches. The puggle remains in the mother’s pouch for 45-55 days but is fully weaned after only seven months. Though they are also called spiny anteaters, echidnas are not related to anteaters.

Where did it go? It was just in front of my nose…
Baby echidna
Image: K&S

Newborn kangaroos are blind, hairless and tiny. The kangaroo baby pictured below must be more than 190 days old because that’s when the “joey” leaves its mother’s pouch for the first time; leaving for the last time after 235 days. Kangaroos shared the platypus’ destiny when first discovered: people “back home” just weren’t ready to believe that an animal with a face like a deer and a long tail that stood upright and that hopped like a frog could exist. Today, this strange marsupial is known worldwide and is Australia’s national symbol.

What do I do with these long legs again?
Baby joey
Image via Funny Potato

Scientists discovered that unborn crocodiles still in their eggs talk to each other to synchronize hatching. After all, who wants to come into a new, unknown world on their own? The baby crocs’ calls also alert the mother that the youngster might need help getting out of soil that has been hardened by weeks in the sun.

Now you can count your crocodiles before they are hatched:
Baby croc
Image via mrbarlow

Baby orangutans spend the first six to eight months of their lives firmly attached to their mothers who give birth to one young, occasionally two, at a time. They are weaned from the mother late, at five to eight years of age, and though they are independent of the mother when they are four, remain in her territory.

Bah, that fruit tasted rotten!
Baby orangutan
Image: Lion Lover

Okay, baby orangutans are not weird, but very human-like and a good way to end this article full circle!

Source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Millions Face Blank Screens in TV Switch

Steve Ruark for The New York Times

Danielle Eberhardt, front, and Katherine Daniel of AmeriCorps set up a TV converter box for Laura Wilson, left, in Baltimore.

WASHINGTON — Millions of households will lose television reception next week when about 1,000 broadcasters around the nation shut off their analog signals and complete their conversion to digital programming, federal officials say.

The government has spent more than $2 billion to ease the transition to digital television, and in the last few months has cut in half the number of households that are unprepared for the final conversion on June 12. But the latest survey by the Nielsen Company indicates that as of the end of May, more than 10 percent of the 114 million households that have television sets are either completely or partly unprepared.

Michael J. Copps, the acting head of the Federal Communications Commission, said that the people most likely to lose reception are society’s most vulnerable — lower-income families, the elderly, the handicapped and homes where little or no English is spoken. The transition will also hit inner-city and rural areas hardest, he said.

“We are much better prepared than we were in February, when the original transition was to have occurred, but there will nonetheless be significant disruptions,” Mr. Copps said in an interview. “In the past five months we’ve tried to accomplish what should have been done over the last four years.”

More than three million homes that do not subscribe to cable or satellite services are totally unprepared for the transition and will lose their reception, according to Nielsen. Another nine million homes that subscribe to cable or satellite services but that have spare television sets — typically in bedrooms and kitchens — that are not connected to any service are also expected to lose reception. The conversion does not affect cable or satellite distribution.

And officials say that millions more who thought they were prepared are likely to experience technical problems like poor reception or improperly connected antennas. Their problems arise because the way the digital signal travels is different from analog and can be more affected by topography, weather or even heavy auto traffic.

A list of 49 particularly vulnerable markets includes New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Boston and Dallas-Fort Worth. Officials said Puerto Rico is also among the most susceptible to problems, as it has the highest rate of households that receive their television signals over the air.

In the New York broadcasting market, 92,000 homes are completely unready for the transition and another 348,000 are partly unready, according to Nielsen. That represents almost 6 percent of households in the region.

Early this year, the administration persuaded Congress to postpone completion of the transition to June, from February, and to provide another $650 million, mostly for coupons for converter boxes, on top of the $1.5 billion that had already been spent by the Bush administration.

The Obama administration has enlisted dozens of groups, including AmeriCorps, the national volunteer organization, civil rights groups and even firefighters to help people install the converter boxes and antennas. The program is the most ambitious technology transition effort since the Clinton administration’s enormous Y2K program, which was set up to avert major software problems caused by the inability of computers to process data beginning on Jan. 1, 2000.

Concerned about a possible political reaction, President Obama issued a statement on Thursday urging consumers to take steps so they do not lose television reception. “We have worked hand in hand with state and local officials, broadcasters and community groups to educate and assist millions of Americans with the transition,” Mr. Obama said.

“I want to be clear: there will not be another delay,” the statement added.

Other officials said that the high number of households reflected the inclination of Americans to put things off.

“There are so many people who are always waiting until the last minute, whether it is college students doing term papers, or people filing taxes, or people like me who wait until Christmas Eve to do their shopping,” said the commerce secretary, Gary F. Locke, in an interview on Friday.

While applauding the government efforts, he said he was frustrated that the early public service announcements did not provide specific enough information about the problem.

“Earlier on we could have more crisply and clearly indicated who was affected by the switch,” he said. “I’ve been critical of the public service announcements that just say, ‘The switch is coming’ or ‘Are you ready?’ ”

He added: “Too many people don’t know the difference between digital and analog. I didn’t even know myself until a few months ago when my brother-in-law explained it to me.”

Analog technology transmits a video signal through an electronic impulse. Digital technology breaks the signal into 1’s and 0’s, allowing far more data to be transmitted through a far smaller amount of broadcast spectrum.

The transition has already been a huge windfall to television and equipment makers and retailers, as millions of consumers have had to buy digital television sets or converter boxes and special antennas for their old sets.

Shawn G. DuBravac, chief economist at the Consumer Electronics Association, said that sales of digital television sets were up 32 percent this year over the comparable period in 2008, even in the midst of a deep recession. Other officials at the association said the spike in sales was attributable to many factors, including declining prices and availability of more programs in digital, as well as the mandatory transition.

But consumer experts said that many households were buying more expensive television sets and equipment than they needed to continue to receive television signals. Polls by Consumer Reports found that many people were aware of the transition but were confused about how to navigate it, said Joel Kelsey, a policy analyst at Consumers Union.

Bracing for a wave of complaints, the Federal Communications Commission is preparing to fully staff a $40 million call center on Friday and through the weekend. The government will also continue to supply $40 coupons to households toward the purchase of converter boxes.

Officials advised consumers to rescan the channels of their television sets after the conversion was completed on Friday to make sure they were pulling in all the correct signals.

The conversion is the final step in a long-running plan for more efficient use of the broadcast spectrum. The plan took spectrum licenses from broadcasters, replacing them with other frequencies. It will reallocate some of the broadcasters’ former spectrum to public safety providers. Other frequencies were sold for billions of dollars, primarily to the large wireless telephone companies, whose demand for spectrum has risen with the proliferation of hand-held devices that can surf the Internet and send and receive e-mail.

Consumers seeking assistance on how to upgrade their television sets or on the availability of digital stations in their communities can go to or call the government hot line on the transition at 1-888-CALLFCC (1-888-225-5322).

Gun-Loving Pastor: Piece Be With You

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A Kentucky pastor is inviting his flock to bring guns to church to celebrate the Fourth of July and the Second Amendment.

New Bethel Church is welcoming "responsible handgun owners" to wear their firearms inside the church June 27, a Saturday. An ad says there will be a handgun raffle, patriotic music and information on gun safety.

"We're just going to celebrate the upcoming theme of the birth of our nation," said pastor Ken Pagano. "And we're not ashamed to say that there was a strong belief in God and firearms -- without that this country wouldn't be here."

The guns must be unloaded and private security will check visitors at the door, Pagano said. He said recent church shootings, including the killing Sunday of a late-term abortion provider in Kansas, which he condemned, highlight the need to promote safe gun ownership.

The New Bethel Church event was planned months before Dr. George Tiller was shot to death in a Wichita church.

Kentucky allows residents to openly carry guns in public with some restrictions. Gun owners carrying concealed weapons must have state-issued permits and can't take them to schools, jails or bars, among other exceptions.

Pagano's Protestant church, which attracts up to 150 people to Sunday services, is a member of the Assemblies of God. The former Marine and handgun instructor said he expected some backlash, but has heard only a "little bit" of criticism of the gun event. John Phillips, an Arkansas pastor who was shot twice while leading a service at his former church in 1986, said a house of worship is no place for firearms. "A church is designated as a safe haven, it's a place of worship," said Phillips, who was shot by a church member's relative for an unknown reason and still has a bullet lodged in his spine.

"It is unconscionable to me to think that a church would be a place that you would even want to bring a weapon."

Phillips spoke out against a bill before the Arkansas General Assembly that would have permitted the carrying of guns in that state's churches. The bill failed in February.

Pagano, 50, said some members of his church were concerned that President Obama's administration could restrict gun ownership, and they supported the plan for the event when Pagano asked their opinion.

Marian McClure Taylor, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, an umbrella organization for 11 Christian denominations in Kentucky, said Christian churches are promoters of peace, but "most allow for arms to be taken up under certain conditions."

Taylor said Pagano assured her the event would focus on promoting responsible gun ownership and any proceeds would go to charity.

"Those two commitments are consistent with the high value the Assemblies of God churches place on human life," she said in an e-mail message.

Pagano is encouraging church members to bring a canned good and a friend to the event. He said guns must be unloaded for insurance purposes and safety reasons. He said the point was not to mix worship with guns, though he may reference some passages from the Bible.

"Firearms can be evil and they can be useful," he said. "We're just trying to promote responsible gun ownership and gun safety."

Universal ‘Rubik’s Cube’ Could Become Pentagon Shapeshifter


Even by the standards of the Pentagon fringe science arm, this project sounds far-out: “programmable matter” that can be ordered to “self-assemble or alter their shape, perform a function and then disassemble themselves.” But researchers backed by Darpa are actually making progress on this incredible goal, Henry Kenyon at Signal magazine reports.

One day, that could lead to “morphing aircraft and ground vehicles, uniforms that can alter themselves to be comfortable in any climate, and ’soft’ robots that flow like mercury through small openings to enter caves and bunker complexes.” A soldier could even reach into a can of unformed goop, and order up a custom-made tool or a “universal spare part.”

One team from Harvard is working on a kind of “generalized Rubik’s Cube” that can fold into all kinds of shapes. Another is trying to order large strands of synthetic DNA to bind together in a “molecular Velcro.” An MIT group is building “self-folding origami” machines that “use specialized sheets of material with built-in actuators and data. These machines use cutting-edge mathematical theorems to fold themselves into virtually any three-dimensional object.”

The Programmable Matter project is five months into its second phase, which is supposed to wind up early next Spring. When they’re done, the researchers ought to “assemble four or five three-dimensional solids of a specific size and shape from a set of building blocks.”

Intel, which has done a bunch of programmable matter work on its own, is looking beyond those basic steps. Way, way beyond. The malleable stuff could one day “mimic the shape and appearance of a person or object being imaged in real time, and as the originals moved, so would their replicas,” according to their website. “These 3D models would be physical entities, not holograms. You could touch them and interact with them, just as if the originals were in the room with you. ”

[Illo: Darpa]

The 'JewelEye' Piercing Will Pimp your Eyeballs

Cornea Jewelry (Update) - The 'JewelEye' Piercing Will Pimp your Eyeballs (VIDEO)

(TREND HUNTER) For those people who live on the very edge of the body mod subculture, tattoos and body piercings, however edgy, may become passe sometime soon. For the hard core crowd, therefore, eye jewelry may become… [More]

UFO, Jellyfish Crop Circle found in Oxfordshire Field Telegraph Published June 2, 2009

The human iPod: Derek Paravicini is blind and severely disabled yet can master any song after hearing it once... What is his secret?

By Harry Mount

Thirty years ago, Derek Paravicini was within a heartbeat of death. No other baby born in the Royal Berkshire Hospital 14 weeks prematurely had ever survived. His twin sister was dead at birth.

When Derek came along a few minutes later, the doctor presumed that he, too, could not possibly live. And yet, and yet... just when his mother Mary Ann had given up hope, she heard the faintest of whimpers, the tiniest of muffled squeaks. He had made it.

Three decades on, Derek no longer makes muffled squeaks. Instead, he brings a rapt audience in St George’s concert theatre, Bristol, to their feet again and again, with a dazzling range of music — an Oscar Peterson arrangement of Greensleeves, his own version of Bach’s Air in the key of G, a jaunty ragtime taste of Debussy.

Derek Paravicini

Piano virtuouso: Derek Paravicini, playing at the St George's concert hall in Bristol, was born blind and autistic

You’ll have heard of perfect pitch. Well, Derek has absolute pitch — a rare gift, meaning that, when he hears a chord with ten notes in it, he can identify every one. Most professional musicians can get about five.

He can master any melody on earth, has a databank of thousands of songs in his head and can play any one of them at will, improvising as he goes.

One member of the audience asks him to play Ain’t No Sunshine. Another suggests that he play it in B major. And another, that it’s done in ragtime. No problem — without a pause, his fingers flutter across the keyboard in a hummingbird blur of staggering virtuosity.

‘Goodnight Sweetheart,’ shouts out someone from the back row. In C sharp, in the style of theatre composer Jerome Kern. And so it goes on, for two hours of riotous shared joy, the latest chapter in an uplifting tale of rare talent locked in a damaged brain.

Because he was born so early, Derek is blind. The oxygen used to revive him at birth caused certain vessels in his eyes to grow abnormally, damaging his retinas, in a condition called retinopathy of prematurity.

As he is blind, he cannot read music — he can’t even read Braille. The whole of tonight’s performance — his and the orchestra’s — is encapsulated entirely within his head.

Despite his music gift, Derek’s verbal skills are limited. His English is well-spoken, clear and loud, but his capacity for thought does not stretch far.

He is an echolaliac, meaning that he echoes what you say to him, turning your question into a statement.

‘Do you know Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Derek?’ I ask.

‘Yes, I know Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Harry.’

‘Are you looking forward to playing in London?’

‘Yes, I am looking forward to playing in London, Harry.’

There are flashes of humour. At a recent recital in 11 Downing Street, hosted by Alistair Darling, Derek launched, unbidden, into a version of Big Spender. At an earlier concert at No10, he coaxed Cherie Blair into singing along to The Beatles’ When I’m 64.

Usually, though, Derek’s thoughts dwell on the immediate future and no further. ‘Where will we go after the concert, Adam?’ he asks Adam Ockelford, the Professor of Music at Roehampton University, who has taught Derek for 26 years. ‘Can we have fish and chips?’

Derek playing piano

Derek - the Duchess of Cornwall's nephew - has been nicknamed The Human iPod because he can recite any piece of music he has heard just once

This short-term view of life means he barely suffers from nerves. Half an hour before tonight’s concert started, he asked Roger Huckle, the artistic director of the Emerald Ensemble, what they were going to do that evening. On being told that he was going to play a concert, he said calmly: ‘Yes, let’s do a concert.’

For someone so handicapped, it is a godsend that his hidden talent was unleashed at all. Much of the credit goes to his nanny, Winifred Daly, who died 12 years ago.

She had looked after several generations of Derek’s mother’s side of the family — the Parker Bowleses, as in Camilla. Derek’s mother, born Mary Ann Parker Bowles, is sister to Andrew Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall’s ex-husband. It was Winifred Daly who first spotted something unusual in Derek.

Looking for a diversion to occupy the blind 20-month-old, she dragged down a small electric organ from the attic of the Paravicini home in Berkshire; the organ had belonged to Derek’s grandfather, Derek Parker Bowles, after whom he was named.

To begin with, Derek used a jumble of fists, palms and knuckles to knock the living daylights out of the keyboard. Gradually, though, with no tuition, he started moving his hands in synch, up and down the keys. Soon he was forming chords, until one day, his older sister, Libbet, came rushing into her parents’ sitting room and announced: ‘Quick, quick, come and see, Derek’s playing that hymn we sang in church.’

What had happened? How had he magically summoned up the capacity to produce music from within his damaged brain? ‘His fascination with abstract patterns of sound, those thousands of hours spent simply listening during the first 20 months of his life, largely uncontaminated by understanding, had caused millions of special neuronal connections to form,’ says Professor Ockelford. ‘And it was those connections that now lay behind the emergence of a precocious musicality.’

If it was Winifred Daly whose love — and repeated singing and talking in the nursery — sparked off Derek’s talents, it was Professor Ockelford who harnessed them and moulded them into concert-worthy form.

‘The man is a saint,’ says Derek’s father, Nic Paravicini, a banker who now lives in Wales. ‘I tried to pay him and he refused. I had to force petrol money on him.’

They first met at Linden Lodge — the school for the blind attended by the celebrated jazz pianist George Shearing in the 1920s. Professor Ockelford taught Derek conventional musical techniques and untaught his unconventional ones — in particular his desire to play music as loudly as possible.

Still today, in Bristol, the professor is at Derek’s side, gently cueing his intros and tapping him on the back, encouraging him to take a bow when the audience erupts once more.

In time, news of Derek’s exceptional talent spread. At seven, he gave his first concert in Tooting Leisure Centre in South London. At nine, he was on the Wogan show.

At ten, he was presented with a Barnardo’s Children’s Champion Award by Diana, Princess of Wales. She was unruffled by the fact that he was Camilla Parker Bowles’s nephew, even though her marriage was on the rocks at the time. When Derek suggested playing Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off, she laughed uproariously.

A young Derek playing piano

Derek first used an electric organ when he was 20 months old and gave his first concert at the age of seven

In recent years, he has played at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, Las Vegas and has accompanied Jools Holland. He has appeared in two documentaries about genius savants, and the show I attended was being filmed by the popular American show 60 Minutes, on CBS. Now he is embarking on his first tour with a 20-piece orchestra.

After 26 years of tuition, Derek’s playing style is much more traditional. But still Professor Ockelford is trying to work out exactly how his genius works. ‘Recent research has revealed that only one in 10,000 babies who are born at term have absolute pitch, but 40 per cent born prematurely have it,’ says the professor. ‘So there is a link. And it seems that all the brain capacity that would have gone elsewhere, into verbal reasoning or social skills, is transferred to music.’

Certainly, Derek’s emotional capacity is limited. When his beloved nanny Winifred Daly was on her death bed, she said to Professor Ockelford: ‘He won’t miss me, you know.’

She appears to have been largely right. He remembers Winifred, but has not cried over her. He very rarely cries — and then it will be over physical pain — and he has no self-indulgence. ‘He never says he’s ill,’ says his stepmother, Suki Paravicini (Derek’s parents divorced when he was five, and have each since remarried.) ‘All he’ll say, very politely, is: “Can I have a Lemsip?”’

His playing, though, has grown more emotional. Professor Ockelford has determined that Derek is not just a human iPod who can replay exactly what he has heard after listening to it once. Instead, he initially recreates pieces by recalling crucial fragments and reassembling them as he plays.

If a piece is too long or complicated for him to absorb at one sitting, he is inventive when he plays it back, reordering the snatches that he can remember, borrowing snippets from pieces with a similar stylistic pedigree or making up new material.

Whatever magic is going on in his head, certainly it is when he is at the piano that he is most at ease. As he comes on stage, led by Professor Ockelford, his steps are hesitant. His hands clutch at his trousers, fingers twisting the cloth.

And then, as he sits down, his hands reach out for the keys. As soon as his fingers hit the ivories, the hands relax. His head sometimes sways with the music, much like those other blind pianists Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.

At other times, his head is still, his sightless gaze fixed in the direction of the hammers of the Steinway, furiously striking away to Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. He is doing what he was born to do.

■ Derek Paravicini is playing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on June 8 at 7.30pm.

Guess What? Many Of You Wasted Money on Your 1080p TV (But There's Hope)

The other day I posed a simple question: How far do you sit from your TV? The results show that many of you are not getting all the definition out of your HDTV.

As mentioned, the Lechner Distance chart illustrates that there are specific distances at which the human eye has the best chance of processing all of the detail that HDTV resolution has to offer. According to the data collected in the poll, many of you are probably sitting too far away, especially those of you who sprung for a 1080p set.

Poll results in the 1080i/1080p group for sets under 40-inches indicated that a whopping of 60% of respondents were sitting over six feet from the screen. This is definitely too far away to see all of the detail.

For sets between 40 and 52 inches, 43% of you are sitting over eight feet from the screen. Again, too far away to see it all.

For sets over 52-inches, 35% are sitting between 8 and 10 feet, while 30% are sitting over 10 feet away. To put it in perspective, a 60-inch 1080p set should be about 8 feet (or closer) from you to get the full experience. Even a huge 70-inch 1080p TV should technically only be nine or so feet from your head!

In case you haven't yet checked out the full chart at HDGuru, here are the optimal viewing distances—based on screen size—for some common-sized 1080p HDTVs:

• 28-inch set: 3.7 feet
• 32-inch set: 4.2 feet
• 37-inch set: 4.8 feet
• 40-inch set: 5.2 feet
• 42-inch set: 5.5 feet
• 46-inch set: 6 feet
• 50-inch set: 6.5 feet
• 52-inch set: 6.8 feet
• 60-inch set: 7.8 feet
• 63-inch set: 8.2 feet
• 70-inch set: 9.2 feet

You will notice that we didn't go into detail about those of you who responded to the 720p portion of the test, and that's because, by and large, you are watching at about the right distance. 720p TVs can be set out farther than 1080p, yet because they're cheaper, they find their way into smaller living rooms. Because of the interplay of these two factors, 720p sets are all the more likely to be set up at an optimal viewing distance.

But 1080p, considered better, winds up in larger living rooms, but not always at larger sizes. The joke is, by keeping it as far off as we noted above, you are not much better off with that fancy 1080p set than you would have been, saving some cash and going with 720p.

A final observation is that 6 to 8 feet is far and away the most common distance across all TV sizes and resolutions for you folks—we don't know what it means except that there are other factors besides Lechner distance that play a larger part in the decision to place the TV, and that most of us—Giz editors included—are unaware that we are not getting the full bang for our HDTV buck.

The situation can be easily remedied by consulting the Lechner chart and whipping out a good old tape measure. In some situations this may not be possible given the dimensions of a room, so it is up to to decide what your priorities are—like should I move the TV to a smaller room, or go out and buy a bigger TV? [Original Survey]

Seven Deadly 'Shrooms

Fungi hunters and hikers beware, here are seven super toxic mushrooms to avoid

By Katherine Harmon

DON'T EAT ME: Some of the world's most toxic mushrooms look dangerously similar to those harvested for food--or recreation.

Mushrooms can be delicious, beautiful and even, well, "magical". But if tough times send you out to forage for food—beyond the nearest fast-food restaurant—be wary of some of nature's more toxic temptations.

Whether mistakenly—or maliciously—used, mushrooms have claimed the lives of many, including the Roman emperor, Claudius, who is rumored to have been poisoned by a mushroom dish administered by his wife. The death of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, which prompted the war of Austrian Succession, may also have resulted from feasting on foul fungi.

Although some toxic mushrooms, such as the false morels (in the Gyromitra genus), are still prepared in traditional dishes, evidence is mounting that even in cooked form the meaty mushrooms aren't totally safe for consumption.

Even the deadliest mushrooms, including the aptly named death cap, are reported to taste pretty good, and symptoms often don't appear for hours. So as mycologists (mushroom scholars) everywhere warn: know your fungi. Otherwise you may be in for a nasty—if not fatal—case of mycetism (mushroom poisoning).

Nature photographer and author Taylor Lockwood shares photographs of some of the more deadly 'shrooms.

Slide Show: Seven Poisonous Mushrooms