Saturday, September 1, 2007

Bearded wonders go head to head

Bearded wonders go head to head

Parade of World Beard and Moustache Championships contestants
Competitors paraded through Brighton on Saturday morning
Some of the world's most hirsute faces have gathered on the English south coast to see who has the fullest beard or the most stylish moustache.

Competitors from the UK, America, Germany and many other countries are taking part in the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Brighton.

The 2007 event is being hosted by The Handlebar Club which was set up exactly 60 years ago in a London theatre.

Categories include Dali moustache, goatee and full beard freestyle.

The judging and prize-giving takes place at the Brighton Centre throughout Saturday.

Moustaches - Natural, English, Dali, Imperial, Hungarian, Freestyle
Partial Beards - Natural Goatee, Chinese, Musketeer, Imperial, Freestyle, Sideburns Freestyle
Full Beards - Verdi, Garibaldi, Natural Full, Natural Full with Styled Moustache, Freestyle

In pictures: Big beards and mighty moustaches

The contest's aim is to "encourage and celebrate standards of excellence in the growth, design and presentation of facial hair", while also "putting a smile on people's faces".

Show organiser Steve Parsons said there were some competitors who had gone to great lengths.

"The freestyle beard is probably the most spectacular one because basically, as the name suggests, it's freestyle, so you can do anything you like.

"For example at the last championships in Berlin, one of the competitors there actually styled his beard in the shape of the Brandenburg Gate with horses and flags and everything."

Proceeds this year will go to a testicular cancer charity and the Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital in Brighton.

Previous events have also been held in Norway, Sweden and the US, with the 2009 championships already set to head to Alaska.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Disguise that took the intrepid zoologist into the crocodiles' lair

Disguise that took the intrepid zoologist into the crocodiles' lair
by NEIL SEARS and NIGEL BLUNDELL - More by this author » Last updated at 23:37pm on 10th June 2007

When Dr Brady Barr decided to dress up as a crocodile, the disguise needed to be good.

Otherwise he was in grave danger of being eaten by the real thing.

The zoologist adopted his bizarre outfit in the hope of getting closer to a colony of Nile crocodiles, which can grow up to 20ft.

His disguise was a prosthetic head attached to the front of a protective metal cage covered with canvas and a generous plastering of hippo dung to mask his human scent.

Dr Brady Barr in disguise: Within touching distance of the deadly croc

It was 13ft long - average Nile size. The head was made of glass fibre, while the frame of the body was aluminium covered with a sheet of Kevlar body armour.

Thus protected, he crawled on his hands and knees up to the fearsome reptiles, close enough to touch them.

The most dramatic moment in a documentary film about Dr Barr comes when he is approaching the largest croc on the riverbank - and mistakenly makes a sudden movement. It suddenly turns to face him head-to-head. Dr Barr whispers into his microphone: "Oh, the big one is moving towards me. He has his eye on me. I'm really nervous. I've got to back off!"

Dr Barr creeps up behind the animal he's studying

But just as he is about to retreat, another moves up behind him.

A sweating Dr Barr whispers to the camera crew: "Now I'm stuck between two giant crocs. How close is the one behind me?"

Back comes the answer: "Next to your right leg."

"So it's unsafe for me to get up and move, right?" "I would say so!"

Dr Barr, 44, claims to be unique in having studied all 23 species of crocodilian - crocodiles, alligators and caymans - in the wild.

For his latest quest, he travelled to Tanzania, where Nile crocodiles lurk in riverbank mud holes during the dry season and crowd on top of each other in burrows. When a hippo and her calf sniffed inquisitively at him, no doubt attracted by his coating of dung, he stayed as calm as possible.

"That could have been a very dangerous situation," said Texas-born Dr Barr. "And that was before I'd even seen a croc."

It's a slow crawl as a crocodile, but will the real thing spot his digital watch?

Ultimately he managed to infiltrate the crocodiles' lair and attach to their tails small hi-tech 'data loggers' which monitor their activity and give scientists biological information such as the temperatures in their dens.

At least one-third of all crocodile species are endangered, and his extraordinary activities have the aim of bringing worldwide attention to their plight.

Dr Barr inside his hippo dung-smeared croc contraption

"Crawling up to the crocs wasn't easy," he added. "Worse was scrambling inside their lair.

"Any time you do that, you are asking for trouble. I am worried that I am getting too old and slow. I'm starting to understand that I can't take as many chances as I have in the past."

• Barr's documentary launches National Geographic Channel's new series, Dangerous Encounters, next Monday at 9pm.

Offering hope to Afghan addicts

Offering hope to Afghan addicts

By Bilal Sarwary
BBC News, Kabul

Anti drugs poster at the Sanga Amaj Drug Treatment Centre for women
The anti-drugs message at the clinic is kept clear and simple

On a hot summer's night in Pakistan, 33-year-old Rahima was having a fight with her husband in a refugee camp. It came to an end when Rahima's husband forced her to consume a small opium capsule.

"This is how I became an opium addict," says Rahima. "He gave it to me thinking this might end the night's fight.

"However, I became addicted to it by mistake - a mistake that cost me dearly because my baby died four days after birth."

In the years to come, Rahima's life only continued to get worse.

"No one respected me. When I went to weddings and family events, people made fun of me and called me 'the addict'," she says.

After the fall of the Taleban, Rahima returned to Afghanistan and heard talk of the Sanga Amaj Drug Treatment Centre for women in western Kabul, funded by the US state department through the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics.

There are a lot of cases of addiction, but most addicts don't make it to clinics and centres
Dr Toorpaikay Zazi

Failings in war on drugs
Inside Afghan opium market

The first of its kind in the area, the Sanga Amaj centre is named after a female journalist who was mysteriously shot dead in Kabul a few months ago.

After only a month's treatment at Sanga Amaj, Rahima was back to normal. She now works at the centre as a janitor, earning $100 a month.

Many women in the community have sought treatment at the Sanga Amaj centre.

"They are admitted here for a month - we look after them like a family; they are eating and living here, and medication is free," says Dr Toorpaikay Zazi, the head of the centre.

"However, we have been getting too many patients and we don't have enough space to admit all of them."

According to Dr Zazi, most of these women are pressurised into addiction by their husbands.

"They do it because their husbands urge them to do it. Others do it because they can't afford medicine, and there simply aren't any clinics in the rural areas," she says.


Thirty-year-old Basmina, another patient at the centre, became drawn to opium after observing her cousin's drug use.

Fearing retribution from her husband, Basmina has been forced to lie to her family, stating merely that she is sick and undergoing normal treatment in a Kabul hospital.

Ward at the Sanga Amaj Drug Treatment Centre for women
Sanga Amaj is one of the few women-only clinics in the country

"My cousin was consuming opium - her husband was beating her all the time," she says. "One day I asked her to let me try some, and since then I have been addicted. Since I have been admitted here, I have started to regain control of my life."

Rahima is one of hundreds of Afghan women who are addicted to opium, heroin and hashish, says Mohammad Nasib, managing director of the Welfare Association for the Development of Afghanistan (Wadan).

The institution runs similar treatment centres in the Afghan provinces of Ghazni, Paktia, Helmand and Nimruz.

"It's a big social stigma to be a drug addict. Most of our programmes for female addicts are community-based - we treat them mostly in their houses."

In Helmand province alone, Wadan's drug treatment centre has 900 patients on the waiting list, some of them female.

"We treat female addicts only at community-based and home-based settings, emphatically not at residential facilities," says Mr Nasib.

A recent survey conducted by the Sanga Amaj centre suggests there are hundreds of drug addicts in the local community.

"There are a lot of cases of addiction, but most addicts don't make it to clinics and centres," says Dr Zazi.

This year Afghanistan's poppy production has hit record highs once again, a disheartening situation that is predicted to worsen.

Anti drugs poster at the Sanga Amaj Drug Treatment Centre for women
'Drugs kill' is the simple but effective message

Afghan poppy production accounts for more than 90% of the world's opium trade, and the nation has continued to accumulate addicts within its own borders - it is estimated that there are 50,000 cases of addiction in Kabul alone.

Most of these addicts are believed to be refugees who have returned to Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan in recent years.

A recent Ministry of Counter Narcotics and UN Office of Drugs and Crime joint survey said there were 920,000 addicts in Afghanistan, an estimated 120,000 of whom are women.

Gone are the days when Afghan opium was only hitting the streets of the UK and mainland Europe - it is now clear that it is also having a devastating effect on the nation's own citizens.

Just before I leave the centre, Rahima has a final message for Afghan women.

"Being a drug addict is being away from humanity - you don't have the respect of anyone - you become useless.

"Being a drug addict was my past, not my future," says Rahima with a smiling face, busy cleaning dishes in the kitchen.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Nuke plants in Utah would pose public health risks

Nuke plants in Utah would pose public health risks
By Joseph Mangano
Article Last Updated: 08/25/2007 12:14:12 PM MDT

Some state legislators are making great efforts to change state law so that nuclear reactors can be built in Utah. They believe that nuclear power is "clean" because it doesn't emit greenhouse gases. But is it clean, or is it a threat to public health?
Utah is no stranger to the health hazards of radiation. Fallout from Nevada atomic bomb tests and occupational exposure of uranium miners, millers and transporters have affected many. For years, even as evidence grew, officials denied that anyone was harmed.
Only in 1990 did Congress finally acknowledge these risks when it enacted a program to compensate bomb-test downwinders and uranium workers from the Cold War era.
A more recent threat was/is the plan of nuclear utilities to build a temporary nuclear waste storage facility at the Skull Valley Goshute reservation 45 miles from Salt Lake City. Again, industry and government give assurances that the waste will be safely transferred to and stored at the site. But with massive amounts of waste planned for Skull Valley, a new threat (worse than bomb fallout and uranium mining) would be posed.
Now there is a push for nuclear power reactors to produce electricity to meet the state's growing demand. Although they produce no greenhouse gases, reactors routinely do produce over 100 radioactive chemicals - the same cocktail found in bomb-test fallout. These chemicals, which include Cesium-137,

Iodine-131 and Strontium-90, all cause cancer. Some decay quickly; others last for hundreds and thousands of years.
The equivalent of several hundred Hiroshima bombs exists in a typical reactor. A large-scale release from mechanical failure or act of sabotage would be the worst environmental disaster in American history, exposing thousands to radioactivity, causing widespread suffering from acute radiation poisoning and cancer.
But another Chernobyl or 9/11 is not necessary for reactors to cause harm, as they routinely release a small portion of the 100-plus radioactive chemicals into the air and water. These products enter human bodies through breathing and the food chain, and attack healthy cells. They are especially toxic to the fetus, infant and child.
When reactors were first built, low-dose exposures to radioactivity were presumed to be too small to harm humans. But considerable evidence indicates otherwise. Pelvic X-rays of pregnant women were stopped after studies showed a doubling in the risk of the child dying of cancer. A 2005 study by experts at the National Academy of Sciences examined many scientific studies and concluded that there was no safe level of exposure.
Utah is a state with low poverty and unemployment, and high income and educational levels. There is no obvious reason why state disease rates should exceed the U.S rate as a whole. For most types of cancer, rates are in fact lower. But cancer mortality in Utah children is slightly above the national rate - even though the death rate for all other causes is below it.
Incidence of thyroid cancer, which is especially sensitive to radioactive iodine in fallout, is 26 percent above the national rate. Although many factors may account for these types of cancers, none is obvious, and previous exposures to radioactivity must be considered.
The experience of the past half century suggests that caution should be taken before any nuclear reactor operates in Utah. Potential health hazards of nuclear reactors are serious and would persist for generations. Other options for generating electricity that pose no threat to public health, such as solar and wind power, should be taken seriously.
* JOSEPH MANGANO is executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a research organization based in New York.

Under the hood of the $100 laptop

And another first for my blog embedded video, glad that I don't have to pay the download costs. That's the coolest part thanks Blogger -gregor

Under the hood of the $100 laptop
By Andrew Webb

$100 Laptop's chief software engineer Chris Blizzard on how the innovative memory and screen save energy.

Embed this video on your site
Watch in the News Player

A team of US-based researchers, backed by a billionaire, have re-invented the computer in an attempt to revolutionise education in the developing world.

The engineers who designed the energy efficient laptop have thrown out a whole host of conventional ideas in order to produce a computer that will be useful in nations where electricity is in short supply.

Prototype laptop

Dubbed the $100 laptop, though the first models are more likely to cost $170, the light and robust machine outwardly resembles a toy but look inside and it reveals itself to be a very serious device.

At its heart is a processor running at 433 Mhz - fast enough to write an essay, surf the internet, or make a video call.

Power saving

This is throttled back so it stays cool on its own without the need for a power guzzling fan. It is the first of many tricks that ensure the battery can power the laptop for 13 hours.

More energy is saved by removing the need for a backlight on the display. It uses natural light so it can be read in brilliant sunshine.

The coup de grace is that when the computer goes to sleep and the CPU is hibernating the screen is still readable.

Data design

The engineers have also re-thought storage.

"One of the things in laptops that take up a lot of power is actually the hard drive. It is actually spinning around as a motor. It just uses up a lot of power," said OLPC designer Chris Blizzard.

"...there are no moving parts that require motors. It also has to do with reliability but it is mostly to do with power at this point.

"And there is a storage chip that is on the motherboard where you put your files instead of a hard drive."

Students with laptops at a school in Nigeria
Field testing of the laptops was done in Nigeria and Brazil
The XO operating system for the OLPC is custom built and adapted from Linux to slash the amount of power the chip requires. It uses applications which make far fewer demands on the processor than in a conventional computer.

The laptop is expected to be used in schools so educational programs feature heavily in its software roster.

It also has onboard programs familiar to even the most sophisticated users in the developed world, like a web browser, adapted from Firefox.


Getting connected is done via the miniature antennae which, like FM radio aerials, can be moved to receive the best wi-fi signal. That cuts power usage compared to concealed wi-fi cards, which drain batteries quickly when struggling to receive weak signals.

The plan is to use the laptops to form a mesh wi-fi network to spread net access around remote villages. Each machine relays data to its neighbours until the information reaches a satellite base unit that connects directly to the world wide web.

What we are hoping is you will be able to get a 10 to one ratio - that is for each minute you pull and crank on the laptop you can get 10 minutes use out of it
Chris Blizzard, designer
In stand-by mode the laptop should be able to act as a wi-fi router for around 24 hours without being charged.

When the laptop does need charging, but electricity supplies are scant, good old-fashioned elbow grease can generate power.

"One of the things that has been developed in concert with the laptop is a device that can be used to power it," said Mr Blizzard.

The OLPC is fitted with a ripcord that owners can crank to power up the device.

"What we are hoping is you will be able to get a 10 to one ratio - that is for each minute you pull and crank on the laptop you can get 10 minutes use out of it."

The naysayers

Despite the success of the design, established aid agencies have criticised the concept of giving computers to some of the most impoverished nations.

"The big priorities for all these countries need to be to get all children into schools in a manageable class size," said David Archer of Action Air International.

"That means employing more teachers and having some fundamentally basic materials in schools. I am afraid that putting laptops into the schools is not the first priority for these countries."

But with backing from the likes of Google, Wikipedia, and AMD, the One Laptop Per Child Project's founder is brushing aside comments from non-believers.

Nicholas Negroponte
Professor Negroponte first proposed the laptop in 2002
"Keep in mind I don't have shareholders. It makes no difference to us whether so many go out one quarter [or not]," said Nicholas Negroponte.

"What we want to maximise is how fast children get these around the world or get alternates to this."

The competition

Nevertheless, the One Laptop Per Child Project is facing serious competition from at least two directions.

"The first front is from Intel, which has a classmate PC project. It is significantly more expensive, estimated at $400," says Ken Fisher from Ars Technica, a PC enthusiasts website.

"Also Microsoft has announced that it is selling a reduced rate Windows and Office package for $3 in certain countries."

"So, in terms of the project not being able to worry about money I think that is a very naive point of view."