Saturday, September 6, 2008

Neurophilosophy: Lessons about memory from Homer Simpson

In this clip from The Simpsons, Homer explains to Marge why he does not want to take an adult education class: "Every time I watch something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain." Watching the clip, or any other, engages multiple brain regions that act in parallel to generate a coherent conscious experience. For example, the visual cortica

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Dance Club Lets Patrons Produce Energy

WATT club, which just opened today, features a dance floor where the disco lights become more dynamic as people get their groove on. The floor even has a meter to show people how much energy they’re producing at any given moment.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

In order to save on energy, the Eiffel tower cuts lighting

Twenty thousand light bulbs were added to the Eiffel Tower to mark the new millennium, and because people like things that sparkle, the tower is lit every night for 10 minutes. However, Paris officials have decided to cut back and light the tower for just five minutes per night.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Trash King Of New Orleans

New Orleans - Sidney Torres IV is not hard to spot.

He's the handsome guy in the torn blue jeans, white t-shirt and black sunglasses speeding down the French Quarter in what looks like a militarized golf cart.

Around here, Torres is royalty. His grandfather was involved in politics for decades and was an elected clerk of court in St. Bernard Parish, his father is a prominent attorney and musicians Lenny Kravitz and Kid Rock are close friends. But what he's most famous for--the reason why strangers applaud when he drives by--is his ability to turn the city's notoriously trash-littered streets into pristine roadways.

And that's what Torres, the 33-year-old president and owner of SDT Waste & Debris Services, was doing on Wednesday morning, two days after Hurricane Gustav left tree limbs, broken glass and garbage in its wake.

"We pride ourselves on trying to keep it clean," he said. At one point, Torres traded the four-wheeler for a highway sweeper that uses hydraulics to capture everything from piles of leaves to soda bottles clogging the gutter. Having learned how to drive tractors as a kid, maneuvering the machine comes easy, and he did it again and again in the same spot. "Did I miss anything?" he wanted to know.

Garbage collection seems like an unlikely profession for a former heroin addict who kicked the habit at the age of 20 to become a real estate developer, but Torres found success in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

As a partner in the Melrose Hotel Group, Torres had kept two French Quarter properties open to host U.S. Marshals and Federal Emergency Management officials. When he tried to rent a dumpster to dispose of trash, he was quoted what he deemed an outrageous rate, so he bought his own. That was the beginning of his empire.

"He'd never been in trash in his life," said his mother Earline, who was on hand to help coordinate during the next week.

But with his family's connections and access to capital, equipment and federal officials who urgently needed work done, he was able to start SDT Waste & Debris Services immediately. It paid off: In the six months after Katrina, the company had $24.5 million in gross sales.

He now employs 130 people and has 65,000 commercial and residential customers, as well as major contracts with the city of New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish and the Superdome. The company has purchased 2,000 roll-off dumpsters and has 75 pieces of heavy machinery. He expects revenue of $40 to $45 million for 2008. Last year, the company's revenue was $30 million.

Though Torres couldn't estimate the financial windfall that Gustav cleanup would bring, he had already received 150 cleanup orders by Wednesday at 1 p.m. and had to turn down many requests because they were outside of SDT's service area.

Five hours after Gustav passed, Torres was back in town in a tour bus that served as a mobile command center with the company's servers on board. From there, he could see the location of each of his GPS-equipped garbage trucks and send them out to St. Bernard Parish and the French Quarter.

As he navigated the highway sweeper down the streets of the French Quarter, he switched between his iPhone and a walkie talkie, communicating with both his workers and the governor's office, the latter who wanted him to divert garbage trucks and a porta-toilet pump to Union Passenger Terminal. Mayor C. Ray Nagin had announced that residents would be welcomed back to the city as early as 7 a.m. the next day, and officials wanted the bus and train terminal spotless.

"Anything you need, let me know," Torres said to the official on the phone.

When he arrived at the terminal, two city workers were using highway sweepers to clear debris from the road. The grass and sidewalks were littered with broken tree limbs, palm fronds, trash and even a shopping cart. Torres asked his dispatcher for two garbage trucks. "Make sure they have rakes, a shovel and cans," he said. Within minutes, the cavalry arrived and got to work.

Throughout the afternoon, Torres couldn't help but check in with members of his 45-person crew.

"Hey Country, how you lookin' out there?" he asked over the walkie talkie.

"Why? What's up?" Country radioed back.

"I'm just lookin' to see what production is like."

"We're doing pretty good, boss."

Later, he radioed Ira with the same question, who replied, "We're busy, but good. Alright man, go make us some money."

Torres laughed. "No, it's the other way around," he said. "You go make us some money."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Canadian mob turns to e-scrap

According to a recent report by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada (Ottawa) — Canada's national intelligence agency — organized crime in the Great White North has been increasingly turning to the illegal sale and exportation of scrap electronics to developing countries.
According to the agency's 2008 Report on Organized Crime, the illegal trafficking of e-scrap has grown in recent years, and the CISC expects the trade to peak between 2009-2011, due to the switch-over from analog-to-digital television broadcasting in the U.S. and Canada.
The fact that criminals are targeting waste electronics is stark evidence as the scrap's rising value in the global economy. "If it was not lucrative, organized crime groups would not be involved in it," said Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner William Elliott.
The report further warns that "incorrect handling of some e-waste, such as obsolete disk drives, could be illicitly obtained by organized crime to collect and exploit government, corporate or personal information."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What's Hot: Used Apple iPhones

After the iPhone 3G launch, consumers want the original, hackable iPhone, and vendors are springing up to sell them—for a premium

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Google pulls the plug on eco-friendly search engine

Well, saving the environment from the comfort of our computer chairs felt good while it lasted. Google has ended its partnership with "green" search engine Forestle, saying that the site offered "incentives to click artificially on sponsored links.

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Why are flys hard to Swat?

The brains of flies are wired to avoid the swatter


At the mere hint of a threat, the insects adjust their preflight stance to flee in the opposite direction, ensuring a clean getaway, they said in a finding that helps explain why flies so easily evade swipes from their human foes.

"These movements are made very rapidly, within about 200 milliseconds, but within that time the animal determines where the threat is coming from and activates an appropriate set of movements to position its legs and wings," Michael Dickinson of the California Institute of Technology said in a statement.

"This illustrates how rapidly the fly's brain can process sensory information into an appropriate motor response," said Dickinson, whose research appears in the journal Current Biology.

Dickinson's team studied this process in fruit flies using high-speed digital imaging equipment and a fancy fly swatter.

In response to a threat from the front, the fly moves its middle legs forward, leans back and raises its back legs for a backward takeoff. If the threat is from the side, the fly leans the other way before takeoff.

The findings offer new insight into the fly nervous system, and lends a few clues on how to outsmart a fly.

"It is best not to swat at the fly's starting position," Dickinson said. Instead, aim for the escape route.

Dickinson, a bioengineer, has devoted his life's work to the study of insect flight. He has built a tiny robotic fly called Robofly and a 3-D visual flight simulator called Fly-O-Vision.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen, editing by Will Dunham and Xavier Briand)

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