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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

T-Mobile 3G Handsets to Be Rendered Obsolete by AT&T Merger

by Kevin Krause
From: http://phandroid.com/

In case you have been resting under a rock somewhere, AT&T is in the process of buying out T-Mobile and merging the two companies into a singular (no, not Cingular) wireless conglomerate. As part of the deal, AT&T plans to re-purpose all of TMo’s 3G towers for the roll out of their LTE network,which should cover 95 percent of the country within two year’s time. The catch? Your 3G T-Mobile handset will be obsolete when that time comes, as confirmed by AT&T.

Seeing as how far off the problem is there is no news to share as to whether AT&T plans to compensate TMo subscribers locking into new two-year deals, but if you are a fan of magenta it may be wise to consider shorter-term contract options if you plan on picking up a new handset anytime soon.

[via Gizmodo]

Brain–Computer Interface Allows Paralyzed Patients to Play Music with Brainpower Alone

From: http://www.nature.com/
mind musicThe brain-computer interface allows paralysed patients to play music just by thinking about it.ICCMR Research Team - University of Plymouth

A pianist plays a series of notes, and the woman echoes them on a computerized music system. The woman then goes on to play a simple improvised melody over a looped backing track. It doesn't sound like much of a musical challenge — except that the woman is paralysed after a stroke, and can make only eye, facial and slight head movements. She is making the music purely by thinking.

This is a trial of a computer-music system that interacts directly with the user's brain, by picking up the tiny electrical impulses of neurons. The device, developed by composer and computer-music specialist Eduardo Miranda of the University of Plymouth, UK, working with computer scientists at the University of Essex, should eventually help people with severe physical disabilities, caused by brain or spinal-cord injuries, for example, to make music for recreational or therapeutic purposes. The findings are published online in the journal Music and Medicine1.

"This is an interesting avenue, and might be very useful for patients," says Rainer Goebel, a neuroscientist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands who works on brain-computer interfacing.

Therapeutic use

Evidence suggests that musical participation can be beneficial for people with neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson's disease. But people who have almost no muscle movement have generally been excluded from such benefits, and can enjoy music only through passive listening.

The development of brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) that enable users to control computer functions by mind alone offer new possibilities for such people (see Mental ping-pong could aid paraplegics). In general, these interfaces rely on the user's ability to learn how to self-induce particular mental states that can be detected by brain-scanning technologies.

Miranda and his colleagues have used one of the oldest of these systems: electroencephalography (EEG), in which electrodes on the skull pick up faint neural signals. The EEG signal can be processed quickly, allowing fast response times, and the instrument is cheaper and more portable than brain-scanning techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging and positron-emission tomography.

Previous efforts using BCIs have focused on moving computer screen icons such as cursors, but Miranda's team sought to achieve the much more complex task of enabling users to play and compose music. Miranda says that he first became aware of the then-emerging field of BCIs more than a decade ago while researching how to make music using brainwaves. "When I realized the potential of a musical BCI for the wellbeing of severely disabled people," he says, "I couldn't leave the idea alone. Now I can't separate this work from my activities as a composer."

The trick is to teach the user how to associate particular brain signals with specific tasks by presenting a repeating stimulus — auditory, visual or tactile — and getting the user to focus on it. This elicits a distinctive, detectable pattern in the EEG signal. Miranda and his colleagues show several flashing 'buttons' on a computer screen, which each trigger a musical event. The users push a button just by directing their attention to it.

For example, a button could be used to generate a melody from a preselected set of notes. The user can alter the intensity of the control signal – how 'hard' the button is pressed – by varying the intensity of attention, and the result is fed back to them visually as a change in the button's size. In this way, any one of several notes can be selected by mentally altering the intensity of pressing.

With a little practice, this allows users to create a melody as if they were selecting keys on a piano. And, as with learning an instrument, say the researchers, "the more one practices the better one becomes".

Back in control

The researchers trialled their system on a female patient who has locked-in syndrome, a form of almost total paralysis caused by brain lesions, at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London. During a two-hour session, she got the hang of the system and was eventually playing along with a backing track. She reported that "it was great to be in control again".

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Goebel points out that the patients still need to be able to control their eye movements, which people with total locked-in syndrome cannot. In such partial cases, he says, "one can usually use gaze directly for controlling devices, instead of an EEG system". But Miranda points out that eye-gazing alone does not permit variations in the intensity of the signal. "Eye gazing is comparable to a mouse or joystick," he says. "Our system adds another dimension, which is the intensity of the choice. That's crucial for our musical system."

Miranda says that although increasing the complexity of the musical tasks is not a priority, music therapists have suggested it would be better if the system were more like a musical instrument — for instance, with an interface that looks like a piano keyboard. He admits that it is not easy to raise the number of buttons or keys beyond four, but is confident that "we will get there eventually".

"The flashing thing does not need to be on a computer screen," he says. It could, for example, be a physical electronic keyboard with light-emitting diodes on the keys. "You could play it by staring at the keys," he says.

  • References

    1. Miranda, E. R., Magee, W. L., Wilson, J. J., Eaton, J. & Palaniappan, R. Music and Medicine advance online publication doi:10.1177/1943862111399290 (2011).

R.I.P. - Elizabeth Taylor Dead at 79

by TMZ Staff
from http://www.tmz.com/


Elizabeth Taylor died this morning at the age of 79.

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Taylor died at 1:28 AM at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles ... where she had been hospitalized for the past couple of weeks. A private funeral will be held later this week.

Taylor's publicist says she was "surrounded by her children -- Michael Wilding, Christopher Wilding, Liza Todd, and Maria Burton."

Taylor's rep says the actress died "peacefully" from congestive heart failure, "a condition with which she had struggled with for many years." The rep adds, "Though she had recently suffered a number of complications, her condition had stabilized and it was hoped that she would be able to return home. Sadly, this was not to be."

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Someone at the hospital Tuesday night tells TMZ ... doctors knew at around 6 PM that Taylor was dying.

Taylor was considered one of the greatest actresses of all-time -- starring in classics like "Cleopatra" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." She won an Academy Award for best actress twice for her roles in "BUtterfield 8" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?".

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Taylor, who was married 8 times -- twice to Richard Burton -- is survived by 4 children, 10 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.

Taylor's son, Michael, says, "My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor, and love." Michael goes on to tout his mom's "brave and relentless advocacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS ... We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for Mom having lived in it."

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Elton John says, "We have just lost a Hollywood giant; more importantly, we have lost an incredible human being."

Dr. Arnold Klein, Taylor's longtime friend and doctor, tells TMZ, "She's the greatest human being I've ever known. She used her celebrity not just for fame but to change the world. Elizabeth gave AIDS a face and that's when people started accepting it as a disease."

We've learned Taylor has a plot next to her parents at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in L.A. Among those who are buried or interred there -- Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Truman Capote, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin and Walter Matthau.

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The family asks in lieu of flowers that contributions be made to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation -- elizabethtayloraidsfoundation.org.

People wanting to send personal messages can log onto http://www.facebook.com/ElizabethTaylorTribute.

Ancient Human Trash Heaps Gave Rise to Everglades Tree Islands, Research Suggests

From: http://www.sciencedaily.com/

Everglades National Park Florida USA. Garbage mounds left by prehistoric humans might have driven the formation of many of the Florida Everglades' tree islands, distinctive havens of exceptional ecological richness in the sprawling marsh that are today threatened by human development. (Credit: iStockphoto)

ScienceDaily (Mar. 21, 2011) — Garbage mounds left by prehistoric humans might have driven the formation of many of the Florida Everglades' tree islands, distinctive havens of exceptional ecological richness in the sprawling marsh that are today threatened by human development.


Tree islands are patches of relatively high and dry ground that dot the marshes of the Everglades. Typically a meter (3.3 feet) or so high, many of them are elevated enough to allow trees to grow. They provide a nesting site for alligators and a refuge for birds, panthers, and other wildlife.

Scientists have thought for many years that the so-called fixed tree islands (a larger type of tree island frequently found in the Everglades' main channel, Shark River Slough) developed on protrusions from the rocky layer of a mineral called carbonate that sits beneath the marsh. Now, new research indicates that the real trigger for island development might have been middens, or trash piles left behind from human settlements that date to about 5,000 years ago.

These middens, a mixture of bones, food discards, charcoal, and human artifacts (such as clay pots and shell tools), would have provided an elevated area, drier than the surrounding marsh, allowing trees and other vegetation to grow. Bones also leaked phosphorus, a nutrient for plants that is otherwise scarce in the Everglades.

"This goes to show that human disturbance in the environment doesn't always have a negative consequence," says Gail Chmura, a paleoecologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and one of the authors of the study.

Chmura will be presenting her research on March 22, at the American Geophysical Union's Chapman Conference on Climates, Past Landscapes, and Civilizations.

In a previous scientific investigation of tree islands, Margo Schwadron, an archeologist with the National Park Service, cut through the elevated bedrock at the base of two islands and discovered that it was actually a so-called "perched carbonate layer," because there was more soil and a midden below. Later, a team including Chmura's graduate student Maria-Theresia Graf performed additional excavations in South Florida and found more of the perched carbonate layers.

Chemical analysis of samples of these curious perched layers revealed that they are made up partially of carbonates that had dissolved from the bedrock below, Chmura says. The layer also contains phosphorus from dissolved bones, she adds. Her team concluded that trees are key to the formation of this layer: During South Florida's dry season, their roots draw in large quantities of ground water but allow the phosphates and carbonates dissolved in it to seep out and coalesce into the stone-like layer.

The perched carbonate plays a key role in letting tree islands rebound after fires: because it does not burn, it protects the underlying soil, and it maintains the islands' elevation, allowing vegetation to regrow after the fire. Humans are now threatening the existence of tree islands, by cutting down trees (whose roots keep the perched layer in place) and artificially maintaining high water levels year-round in some water control systems, which could cause the layer to dissolve.

Chmura's team now wants to explore exactly when trees started growing on the tree islands.


The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by American Geophysical Union, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

Posted by David "Rek" Lee

facebook birthday wall post types 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

There used to be a time when you only heard “Happy Birthday” from friends and family you actually cared about. With the advent of Facebook and other social networks, all that has changed forever. Birthdays are more like those parties in elementary school, everyone’s invited. In fact, you might even get a couple of shouts from friends you haven’t seen since elementary school. But what does it all really mean?

We’re here to reveal the true intentions behind these messages, confirm all your worst suspicions and make Facebook birthdays more awkward than it already is.

7 Acquaintance
If you get a lot of these short messages, jump back in your cocoon, social butterfly, and develop some actual relationships. There are a few exceptions (maybe your friend is supplementing his birthday phone call with a quick Facebook nod), but most of the time, these half-assed greetings are part of the mindless routine Facebook users have grown accustomed to. You can actually tell how much of a f-ck they don’t give by counting the missing vowels and consonants from the phrase ‘happy birthday’.

WHAT THEY SAY…
121 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN…
1a 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

6 ALL CAPS
As you get older, you’ll start questioning how to feel about your ‘special day’. But you can always count on this jackass being more excited about it than you are. Think of it as a welcome distraction from your own apprehensive feelings towards old age. And if you’re annoyed, gently assure him that your wall isn’t Six Flags. More exclamation points don’t mean more fun.

WHAT THEY SAY…
213 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN…
2a 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

5 Show off
When you have a lot of people wishing you well on your born day, there’s always one dude who needs to let everyone know just how close you guys really are. Be a gracious friend and let the booger share some of that spotlight. Now, if your friend is genuinely reminiscing aloud about the good times over the Internet, that means the friendship has gone on for way too long. Time to de-friend.

WHAT THEY SAY…313 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN…
3a 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

4 Opportunist
For some of our friends, the mention of a birthday or any kind of holiday triggers a kind of Pavlov effect. “Celebrating something? Uh oh, suddenly very, very thirsty”. Send this guy an event invite weeks before and his wall message becomes obsolete.

WHAT THEY SAY…
413 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN…
4a 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

3 Wise man say
As you get a year older, please believe you are not the only one reflecting on life. These words of wisdom come from the square in your social network who is desperately trying to grab a hold of any relevance to you or anyone for that matter. If it’s not the guy who can’t hang at parties, it’s the girl who’s too scared to go parachuting with the group or the guy who’s too broke to go to the islands; just trying to get a little word in about some potential danger so they have something to contribute. Nobody cares, yo.

WHAT THEY SAY…
511 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN…
5a 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

2 Foot in the door
When you’ve got a hundred notifications, you’re paying attention to your wall. Some of your friends will use that as an opportunity to say what they’ve been meaning to say for some time. But there’s a time and a place for everything. Don’t let them block the air flow from your lips as you blow out your virtual birthday candles with their crappy requests.

WHAT THEY SAY…
68 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN…
6a 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

1 Envy
By now, you’d rather not have so many people comment on your wall. But this last type of commenter proves the grass is always greener on the other side. Happy birthday, pal.

WHAT THEY SAY…
710 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)

WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN…
7a 7 types of Facebook birthday wall posts (and what they mean)


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