Wednesday, February 20, 2008

US to shoot down failed satellite at 10:30pm ET tonight

Oh boy, tonight's the night. According to CNN sources, the US Navy plans to shoot down that failed satellite at 2230 ET from a ship west of Hawaii. The idea is to get a shot off as early as possible in case a second or third attempt is required. The $10 million missile fired from the USS Lake Erie will not carry a warhead. Instead, the 22,000mph impact on the school-bus sized satellite combined with the exploding hydrazine fuel tank should blast the satellite into bite-sized chunks expected to burn up in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the timing of the launch -- 5:30pm locally -- means that our naked eyes won't likely be treated to much of a show. That's what observatories are for.

Original here

Satellite Shoot Down: How It Will Work

The U.S. Navy could shoot down an errant spy satellite as early as Wednesday night. Now a new computer model shows what might happen.

The spy satellite USA-193, also known as NROL-21, was launched aboard a Delta II rocket on Dec. 14, 2006 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Shortly after the satellite reached orbit, ground controllers lost contact with it. Though the satellite's objective is secret, many believe it is probably a high-resolution radar satellite intended to produce images for the National Reconnaissance Office.

On Feb. 14, senior U.S. government officials at a Pentagon press briefing described a Defense Department plan to try and shoot down the defunct satellite, after becoming convinced that the spacecraft's toxic hydrazine fuel posed an unacceptable risk to people on the ground. The attempted strike could come Wednesday evening.

With this press information, computer modelers Bob Hall and Tim Carrico at Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI) put together a computer-generated simulation of the missile-satellite collision. The model shows a hypothetical deployment of U.S Navy ships in the Northern Pacific Ocean and the firing of a Standard Missile 3 at the failed satellite.

Information the modelers do know:

  • The satellite has a mass of about 5,015 pounds (2,275 kilograms).
  • The missile would be fired from a ship in the North Pacific Ocean.
  • The interception would occur at an altitude of about 149 miles (240 kilometers).
  • The satellite and missile would close on one another at a velocity of about 22,783 mph (36,667 kph).

If left alone, the satellite is expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere some time between the end of February and early March. About 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms) of satellite material would survive re-entry (the rest would burn up), including 1,000 pounds (453 kilograms) of hydrazine, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The collision between the fired missile and the satellite would not only break the massive hunk of metal into pieces but would also speed up its tumble through Earth's atmosphere.

"If you want to bring something down, you slow it down. You apply a force on it which results in it being slowed down and decrease in its orbit," Carrico told "Right at that point where they want to engage [the satellite] is at the edge of the atmosphere, so you're bringing it down faster."

The plan comes on the heels of the intentional destruction last year of China's Fengyun-1C weather satellite, which produced a flurry of concern over the hostile-or-not nature of the firing as well as a serious load of shrapnel littering Earth orbit. That debris is still in space, frustrating mission managers and satellite operators forced to dodge the potentially debilitating bits.

USA-193 is already on its way toward Earth and the interception will take place at a much lower altitude than that of the China satellite, presumably meaning that whatever happens, there will not be a fresh load of small junk sent into perpetual orbit.

If more details were made public, the model results could change depending on several factors, including the location of the ships and when the missile is fired.

"How the missile hits the satellite will affect how quickly the debris re-enters and what the velocity is between the objects and how they hit," Hall said. "Are they attempting to get most of the debris to come down in the Pacific almost immediately? Or ... over the course of two or three revolutions, is most of it going to start to fall out? If we had different information about the engagement we could re-run our model.

Original here

Why We Banned Legos

By Ann Pelo and Kendra Pelojoaquin

Carl and Oliver,* both 8-year-olds in our after-school program, huddled over piles of Legos. They carefully assembled them to add to a sprawling collection of Lego houses, grocery stores, fish-and-chips stands, fire stations, and coffee shops. They were particularly keen to find and use "cool pieces," the translucent bricks and specialty pieces that complement the standard-issue red, yellow, blue, and green Lego bricks.

"I'm making an airport and landing strip for my guy's house. He has his own airplane," said Oliver.

"That's not fair!" said Carl. "That takes too many cool pieces and leaves not enough for me."

"Well, I can let other people use the landing strip, if they have airplanes," said Oliver. "Then it's fair for me to use more cool pieces, because it's for public use."

Discussions like the one above led to children collaborating on a massive series of Lego structures we named Legotown. Children dug through hefty-sized bins of Legos, sought "cool pieces," and bartered and exchanged until they established a collection of homes, shops, public facilities, and community meeting places. We carefully protected Legotown from errant balls and jump ropes, and watched it grow day by day.

After nearly two months of observing the children's Legotown construction, we decided to ban the Legos.

The Investigation Begins

Our school-age childcare program — the "Big Kids" — involves 25 children and their families. The children, ages 5 through 9, come to Hilltop after their days in elementary school, arriving around 3:30 and staying until 5:30 or 6:00. Hilltop is located in an affluent Seattle neighborhood, and, with only a few exceptions, the staff and families are white; the families are upper-middle class and socially liberal. Kendra is the lead teacher for the Big Kid program; two additional teachers, Erik and Harmony, staff the program. Ann is the mentor teacher at Hilltop, working closely with teachers to study and plan curriculum from children's play and interactions.

A group of about eight children conceived and launched Legotown. Other children were eager to join the project, but as the city grew — and space and raw materials became more precious — the builders began excluding other children.

Occasionally, Legotown leaders explicitly rebuffed children, telling them that they couldn't play. Typically the exclusion was more subtle, growing from a climate in which Legotown was seen as the turf of particular kids. The other children didn't complain much about this; when asked about Legos, they'd often comment vaguely that they just weren't interested in playing with Legos anymore. As they closed doors to other children, the Legotown builders turned their attention to complex negotiations among themselves about what sorts of structures to build, whether these ought to be primarily privately owned or collectively used, and how "cool pieces" would be distributed and protected. These negotiations gave rise to heated conflict and to insightful conversation. Into their coffee shops and houses, the children were building their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys — assumptions that mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive. As we watched the children build, we became increasingly concerned.

Then, tragedy struck Legotown and we saw an opportunity to take strong action.

Hilltop is housed in a church, and over a long weekend, some children in the congregation who were playing in our space accidentally demolished Legotown.

When the children discovered the decimated Legotown, they reacted with shock and grief. Children moaned and fell to their knees to inspect the damage; many were near tears. The builders were devastated, and the other children were deeply sympathetic. We gathered as a full group to talk about what had happened; at one point in the conversation, Kendra suggested a big cleanup of the loose Legos on the floor. The Legotown builders were fierce in their opposition. They explained that particular children "owned" those pieces and it would be unfair to put them back in the bins where other children might use them. As we talked, the issues of ownership and power that had been hidden became explicit to the whole group.

We met as a teaching staff later that day. We saw the decimation of Lego-town as an opportunity to launch a critical evaluation of Legotown and the inequities of private ownership and hierarchical authority on which it was founded. Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation. We knew that the examination would have the most impact if it was based in engaged exploration and reflection rather than in lots of talking. We didn't want simply to step in as teachers with a new set of rules about how the children could use Legos, exchanging one set of authoritarian rules with another. Ann suggested removing the Legos from the classroom. This bold decision would demonstrate our discomfort with the issues we saw at play in Legotown. And it posed a challenge to the children: How might we create a "community of fairness" about Legos?

Out with the Legos

Taking the Legos out of the classroom was both a commitment and a risk. We expected that looking frankly at the issues of power and inequity that had shaped Legotown would hold conflict and discomfort for us all. We teachers talked long and hard about the decision. We shared our own perspectives on issues of private ownership, wealth, and limited resources. One teacher described her childhood experience of growing up without much money and her instinctive critical judgments about people who have wealth and financial ease. Another teacher shared her allegiance to the children who had been on the fringes of Legotown, wanting more resources but not sure how to get them without upsetting the power structure. We knew that our personal experiences and beliefs would shape our decision-making and planning for the children, and we wanted to be as aware as we could about them.

We also discussed our beliefs about our role as teachers in raising political issues with young children. We recognized that children are political beings, actively shaping their social and political understandings of ownership and economic equity — whether we interceded or not. We agreed that we want to take part in shaping the children's understandings from a perspective of social justice. So we decided to take the Legos out of the classroom.

We had an initial conversation with the children about our decision. "We're concerned about what was happening in Legotown, with some kids feeling left out and other kids feeling in charge," Kendra explained. "We don't want to rebuild Legotown and go back to how things were. Instead, we want to figure out with you a way to build a Legotown that's fair to all the kids."

Naturally the children had big feelings and strong opinions to share. During that first day's discussion, they laid out the big issues that we would pursue over the months to come.

Several times in the discussion, children made reference to "giving" Lego pieces to other children. Kendra pointed out the understanding behind this language: "When you say that some kids ‘gave' pieces to other kids, that sounds like there are some kids who have most of the power in Legotown — power to decide what pieces kids can use and where they can build." Kendra's comment sparked an outcry by Lukas and Carl, two central figures in Legotown:

Carl: "We didn't ‘give' the pieces, we found and shared them."

Lukas: "It's like giving to charity."

Carl: "I don't agree with using words like ‘gave.' Because when someone wants to move in, we find them a platform and bricks and we build them a house and find them windows and a door."

These children seemed to squirm at the implications of privilege, wealth, and power that "giving" holds. The children denied their power, framing it as benign and neutral, not something actively sought out and maintained. This early conversation helped us see more clearly the children's contradictory thinking about power and authority, laying the groundwork for later exploration.

Issues of fairness and equity also bubbled to the surface during the animated discussion about the removal of the Legos:

Lukas: "I think every house should be average, and not over-average like Drew's, which is huge."

Aidan: "But Drew is special."

Drew: "I'm the fire station, so I have to have room for four people."

Lukas: "I think that houses should only be as big as 16 bumps one way, and 16 bumps the other way. That would be fair." ["Bumps" are the small circles on top of Lego bricks.]

This brief exchange raised issues that we would revisit often in the weeks ahead. What is a fair distribution of resources? Does fairness mean that everyone has the same number of pieces? What about special rights: Who might deserve extra resources, and how are those extra resources allotted?

After nearly an hour of passionate exchange, we brought the conversation to a close, reminding the children that we teachers didn't have an answer already figured out about Legotown. We assured them that we were right there with them in this process of getting clearer about what hadn't worked well in Legotown, and understanding how we could create a community of fairness about Legos.

We'd audiotaped the discussion so that we'd be able to revisit it during our weekly teaching team meeting to tease out important themes and threads. The children's thoughts, questions, and tensions would guide us as we planned our next steps. We weren't working from carefully sequenced lessons on ownership, resource sharing, and equity. Instead, we committed to growing an investigation into these issues, one step at a time. Our planning was guided by our goals for social justice learning, and by the pedagogy our school embraces, inspired by schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. In this approach, teachers offer children a provocation and listen carefully to the children's responses. These responses help teachers plan the next provocation to challenge or expand the children's theories, questions, and cognitive challenges.

What Does Power Look Like?

A few days after we'd removed the Legos, we turned our attention to the meaning of power. During the boom days of Legotown, we'd suggested to the key Lego players that there was an unequal distribution of power giving rise to conflict and tension. Our suggestions were met with deep resistance. Children denied any explicit or unfair power, making comments like "Some-body's got to be in charge or there would be chaos," and "The little kids ask me because I'm good at Legos." They viewed their power as passive leadership, benignly granted, arising from mastery and long experience with Legos, as well as from their social status in the group.

Now, with Legotown dismantled and the issues of equity and power squarely in front of us, we took up the idea of power and its multiple meanings. We began by inviting the children to draw pictures of power, knowing that when children represent an idea in a range of "languages" or art media, their understandings deepen and expand. "Think about power," said Kendra. "What do you think ‘power' means? What does power look like? Take a few minutes to make a drawing that shows what power is."

As children finished their drawings, we gathered for a meeting to look at the drawings together. The drawings represented a range of understandings of power: a tornado, love spilling over as hearts, forceful and fierce individuals, exclusion, cartoon superheroes, political power.

During our meeting, children gave voice to the thinking behind their drawings.

Marlowe: "If your parents say you have to eat pasta, then that's power."

Lukas: "You can say no."

Carl: "Power is ownership of something."

Drew: "Sometimes I like power and sometimes I don't. I like to be in power because I feel free. Most people like to do it, you can tell people what to do and it feels good."

Drew's comment startled us with its raw truth. He was a member of the Legotown inner circle, and had been quite resistant to acknowledging the power he held in that role. During this discussion, though, he laid his cards on the table. Would Drew's insight break open new understandings among the other members of the inner circle?

Exploring Power

To build on Drew's breakthrough comment about the pleasure and unease that comes with wielding power, and to highlight the experience of those who are excluded from power, we designed a Lego trading game with built-in inequities. We developed a point system for Legos, then skewed the system so that it would be quite hard to get lots of points. And we established just one rule: Get as many points as possible. The person with the most points would create the rules for the rest of the game. Our intention was to create a situation in which a few children would receive unearned power from sheer good luck in choosing Lego bricks with high point values, and then would wield that power with their peers. We hoped that the game would be removed enough from the particulars and personalities of Legotown that we could look at the central Legotown issues from a fresh perspective.

This was a simple game about complicated issues.

We introduced the Lego trading game to the children by passing a bin of Legos around the circle, asking each child to choose 10 Legos; we didn't say anything about point values or how we'd use the bricks. Most children chose a mix of colored Lego bricks, though a few chose 10 of one color. Liam took all eight green Legos, explaining that green is his favorite color; this seemingly straightforward choice altered the outcome of the game.

When everyone had their Legos, the teachers announced that each color had a point value: The more common the brick color, the fewer the points it was worth, while the scarcest brick color, green, was worth a whopping five points.

Right away, there were big reactions.

Liam: "I have all the green! I have 40 points because I have all the green!"

Drew: "This isn't fair! Liam won't trade any green, I bet, so what's the point? What if you just want to quit?"

Carl: "I don't want to play this game. I'll just wait for Liam to give me a green. If he doesn't, it's hopeless."

We didn't linger with the children's reactions, but carried on with the game, explaining that the object of the game was to trade Lego pieces in an effort to get the most points. Kids immediately began to calculate how they'd trade their pieces, and dove into trading. Several children shadowed Liam, pleading with him to give them a green — but he refused.

After a few minutes of trading, we rang a bell and children added up their scores. Liam and Kyla had scores that far out-totaled those of the other children. Kendra asked them each to create a rule, explaining that we'd play another round of the game, following the new rules and aiming for the same goal: to get the most points possible.

We expected that the winners would make rules to ensure that they would win the next round — for instance, "All greens are worth 50 points," or, "You can only win if your name starts with a K." We were surprised at what happened.

Liam instituted this rule: "You have to trade at least one piece. That's a good rule because if you have a high score at the beginning, you wouldn't have to trade, and that's not fair."

Kyla added this rule to the game: "If you have more than one green, you have to trade one of them."

With these new rules on the books, we held a second short round of trading, then rang the bell and added up points. Liam, Kyla, and Lukas won this round. The three winners grinned at each other as we gathered in a circle to debrief the game. Before we could launch a conversation as teachers, the children's raw emotion carried us into a passionate exchange.

Drew: "Liam, you don't have to brag in people's faces."

Carl: "The winner would stomp his feet and go ‘Yes' in the face of people. It felt kind of mean."

Liam: "I was happy! I wasn't trying to stomp in people's faces."

Carl: "I don't like that winners make new rules. People make rules that are only in their advantage. They could have written it simpler that said, ‘Only I win.'"

Juliet: "Because they wanted to win and make other people feel bad."

Kyla: "I wasn't trying to make other people feel bad. I felt bad when people felt bad, so I tried to make a rule that would make them feel better. It was fun to make up the rule — like a treat, to be one of only three people out of the whole group."

When the teaching staff met to reflect on the Lego trading game, we were struck by the ways the children had come face-to-face with the frustration, anger, and hopelessness that come with being on the outside of power and privilege. During the trading game, a couple of children simply gave up, while others waited passively for someone to give them valuable pieces. Drew said, "I stopped trading because the same people were winning. I just gave up." In the game, the children could experience what they'd not been able to acknowledge in Legotown: When people are shut out of participation in the power structure, they are disenfranchised — and angry, discouraged, and hurt.

To make sense of the sting of this disenfranchisement, most of the children cast Liam and Kyla as "mean," trying to "make people feel bad." They were unable or unwilling to see that the rules of the game — which mirrored the rules of our capitalist meritocracy — were a setup for winning and losing. Playing by the rules led to a few folks winning big and most folks falling further and further behind. The game created a classic case of cognitive disequilibrium: Either the system is skewed and unfair, or the winners played unfairly. To resolve this by deciding that the system is unfair would call everything into question; young children are committed to rules and rule-making as a way to organize a community, and it is wildly unsettling to acknowledge that rules can have built-in inequities. So most of the children resolved their disequilibrium by clinging to the belief that the winners were ruthless — despite clear evidence of Liam and Kyla's compassionate generosity.

In Legotown, the children had constructed a social system of power where a few people made the important decisions and the rest of the participants did the grunt work — much like the system in the trading game. We wanted children to critique the system at work in Legotown, not to critique the children at the top of the Legotown hierarchy. At the same time, we wanted them to see that the Legotown system was created by people, and, as such, could be challenged and reformulated. The children's reaction to the winners of the trading game was a big warning flag for us: We clearly had some repair work to do around relationships, as well as some overt teaching about systemic fallibility. The Lego trading game presented core issues that would be our focus for the months to come. Our analysis of the game, as teachers, guided our planning for the rest of the investigation into the issues of power, privilege, and authority that spanned the rest of the year.

Rules and Ownership

In the weeks after the trading game, we explored questions about how rules are made and enforced, and when they ought to be followed or broken. We aimed to help children see that all rules (including social structures and systems) are made by people with particular perspectives, interests, and experiences that shape their rule-making. And we wanted to encourage them to consider that there are times when rules ought to be questioned or even broken — sharing stories of people who refused to "play by the rules" when the rules were unjust, people like Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez.

We added another thread to our investigation of power, as well, by turning our attention to issues related to ownership. In Legotown, the builders "owned" sections of Legotown and protected them fiercely from encroachment. We were curious to explore with the children their beliefs about how ownership happens: How does a person come to own something? How is ownership maintained or transferred? Are there situations in which ownership ought to be challenged or denied? What are the distinctions between private and public ownership?

We looked at ownership through several lenses. With the children, we created an "ownership museum," where children displayed possessions they brought from home — a Gameboy, a special blanket, a bike helmet, a baseball card, jewelry, dolls — and described how they came to own them. And we visited Pike Place Market, the farmers and artisans market in downtown Seattle, and asked questions to provoke kids to think about ownership: Does a farmer own her produce? Or does the consumer own it?

In their reflections, the children articulated several shared theories about how ownership is conferred.

  • If I buy it, I own it:

Sophia: "She owns the lavender balls because she makes them, but if I buy it, then it's mine."

  • If I receive it as a gift, I own it:

Marlowe: "My mom bought this book for me because she thought it would be a good reading book for me. I know I own it because my mom bought it and she's my mom and she gave it to me."

  • If I make it myself, I own it:

Sophie: "I sewed this pillow myself with things that my teacher gave me, like stuffing and fabric. I sewed it and it turned into my pillow because it's something I made instead of something I got at the store."

  • If it has my name on it, I own it:

Alex: "My teacher made this pillow for me and it has my name on it."

Kendra: "If I put my name on it, would I own it?"

Alex: "Well, Miss S. made it for me... but if your name was on it, then you would own it."

Sophie: "Kendra, don't put your name on it, OK?"

  • If I own it, I make the rules about it:

Alejandro: "I own this computer, because my grandpa gave it to me. I lend it to my friends so that they can play with it. But I make the rules about it."

The Return of the Legos

Throughout the investigation, the staff continued to meet weekly to study our notes about the activities we took up with the children, watching for moments when children identified contradictions in their own thinking, took on new perspectives, or questioned their own assumptions. In late spring, we decided it was time to challenge the children to wrestle their theoretical understandings into practical shape and apply their analysis of individual and collective ownership to a concrete project. After five months of naming and investigating the issues of power, rules, ownership, and authority, we were ready to reconstruct Legotown in a new way.

We invited the children to work in small, collaborative teams to build Pike Place Market with Legos. We set up this work to emphasize negotiated decision-making, collaboration, and collectivity. We wanted the children to practice the big ideas we'd been exploring. We wanted Lego Pike Place Market to be an experience of group effort and shared ownership: If Legotown was an embodiment of individualism, Lego Pike Place Market would be an experiment in collectivity and consensus.

We offered the children some guidelines to steer them into a new way of interacting with each other and with the Legos: "Create teams of two or three people, decide as a team on some element of Pike Place Market that you'll build, and then start constructing." The first day or two, children created signs warning the other teams "Do Not Touch" their collaboratively constructed vegetable, fruit, and crafts stands. As they settled into this construction project, though, the teams softened the rigid boundaries around their work and began to leave notes for each other describing their work and proposing next steps for Pike Place Market. We celebrated this shift, seeing it as a sign that the children were beginning to integrate the thinking of the last months into their interactions.

A New Ethics for Legotown

This "practice" round of Lego construction served as a foundation for a full-fledged return of Legos to their front-and-center place in the classroom, but with a new location in the consciousness of the group. In preparation for bringing Legos back, we held several meetings with the children to generate a set of key principles for Lego play. We met with small groups of children over snack or as we walked to and from the park, posing questions like "If you were going to play with Legos, what would be important to you?" "What would be different if we bring the Legos back to the classroom? How could we make it different?" "What could we do if we fall into old habits with the Legos?" From our conversations, several themes emerged.

  • Collectivity is a good thing:

"You get to build and you have a lot of fun and people get to build onto your structure with you, and it doesn't have to be the same way as when you left it.... A house is good because it is a community house."

  • Personal expression matters:

"It's important that the little Lego plastic person has some identity. Lego houses might be all the same except for the people. A kid should have their own Lego character to live in the house so it makes the house different."

  • Shared power is a valued goal:

"It's important to have the same amount of power as other people over your building. And it's important to have the same priorities."

"Before, it was the older kids who had the power because they used Legos most. Little kids have more rights now than they used to and older kids have half the rights."

  • Moderation and equal access to resources are things to strive for:

"We should have equal houses. They should be standard sizes.... We should all just have the same number of pieces, like 15 or 28 pieces."

As teachers, we were excited by these comments. The children gave voice to the value that collectivity is a solid, energizing way to organize a community — and that it requires power-sharing, equal access to resources, and trust in the other participants. They expressed the need, within collectivity, for personal expression, for being acknowledged as an individual within the group. And finally, they named the deep satisfaction of shared engagement and investment, and the ways in which the participation of many people deepens the experience of membership in community for everyone.

From this framework, the children made a number of specific proposals for rules about Legos, engaged in some collegial debate about those proposals, and worked through their differing suggestions until they reached consensus about three core agreements:

  • All structures are public structures. Everyone can use all the Lego structures. But only the builder or people who have her or his permission are allowed to change a structure.

  • Lego people can be saved only by a "team" of kids, not by individuals.

  • All structures will be standard sizes.

With these three agreements — which distilled months of social justice exploration into a few simple tenets of community use of resources — we returned the Legos to their place of honor in the classroom.

Children absorb political, social, and economic worldviews from an early age. Those worldviews show up in their play, which is the terrain that young children use to make meaning about their world and to test and solidify their understandings. We believe that educators have a responsibility to pay close attention to the themes, theories, and values that children use to anchor their play. Then we can interact with those worldviews, using play to instill the values of equality and democracy.

Original here

Autism Breakthrough: Girl's Writings Explain Her Behavior and Feelings

Carly Fleischmann has severe autism and is unable to speak a word. But thanks to years of expensive and intensive therapy, this 13-year-old has made a remarkable breakthrough.

Two years ago, working with pictures and symbols on a computer keyboard, she started typing and spelling out words. The computer became her voice.

"All of a sudden these words started to pour out of her, and it was an exciting moment because we didn't realize she had all these words," said speech pathologist Barbara Nash. "It was one of those moments in my career that I'll never forget."

Then Carly began opening up, describing what it was like to have autism and why she makes odd noises or why she hits herself.

"It feels like my legs are on first and a million ants are crawling up my arms," Carly said through the computer.

Carly writes about her frustrations with her siblings, how she understands their jokes and asks when can she go on a date.

"We were stunned," Carly's father Arthur Fleischmann said. "We realized inside was an articulate, intelligent, emotive person that we had never met. This was unbelievable because it opened up a whole new way of looking at her." This is what Carly wants people to know about autism.

"It is hard to be autistic because no one understands me. People look at me and assume I am dumb because I can't talk or I act differently than them. I think people get scared with things that look or seem different than them." "Laypeople would have assumed she was mentally retarded or cognitively impaired. Even professionals labelled her as moderately to severely cognitively impaired. In the old days you would say mentally retarded, which means low IQ and low promise and low potential," Arthur Fleischman said.

Therapists say the key lesson from Carly's story is for families to never give up and to be ever creative in helping children with autism find their voice.

"If we had done what so many people told us to do years ago, we wouldn't have the child we have today. We would have written her off. We would have assumed the worst. We would have never seen how she could write these things —

how articulate she is, how intelligent she is," the grateful father added.

"I asked Carly to come to my work to talk to speech pathologists and other therapists about autism," said Nash. "What would you like to tell them? She wrote, 'I would tell them never to give up on the children that they work with.' That kind of summed it up."

Carly had another message for people who don't understand autism.

"Autism is hard because you want to act one way, but you can't always do that. It's sad that sometimes people don't know that sometimes I can't stop myself and they get mad at me. If I could tell people one thing about autism it would be that I don't want to be this way. But I am, so don't be mad. Be understanding."

Original here

20 Facts About the Human Genome

  • The genome is the complete list of coded instructions needed to make a person.
  • The 4 letters in the DNA alphabet - A, C, G and T - are used to carry the instructions for making all organisms. The order (or sequence) of these letters holds the code just like the order of letters that makes words mean something. Each set of three letters corresponds to a single amino acid.
  • There are 20 different building blocks - amino acids - used in a bewildering array of combinations to produce our proteins. The different combinations make proteins as different as keratin in hair and haemoglobin in blood.
  • The information would fill a stack of paperback books 200 feet high.
  • The information would fill two hundred 500-page telephone directories.
  • Between humans, our DNA differs by only 0.2%, or 1 in 500 bases (letters). (This takes into account that human cells have two copies of the genome.)
  • If we recited the genome at one letter per second for 24 hours a day it would take a century to recite the book of life.
  • If two different people started reciting their individual books at a rate of one letter per second, it would take nearly eight and a half minutes (500 seconds) before they reached a difference.
  • A typist typing at 60 words per minute (around 360 letters) for 8 hours a day would take around 50 years to type the book of life.
  • Our DNA is 98% identical to that of chimpanzees.
  • The estimated number of genes in both humans and mice is 60,000-100,000; in the round worm (C. elegans), the number is approximately 19,000; in yeast (S. cerevisiae) there are around 6,000 genes; and the microbe responsible for tuberculosis has around 4,000.
  • The vast majority of DNA in the human genome - 97% - has no known function.
  • The first chromosome to be completely decoded was chromosome 22 at the Sanger Centre (now the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute) in Cambridgeshire, in December 1999.
  • There is 6 feet of DNA in each of our cells packed into a structure only 0.0004 inches across (it would easily fit on the head of a pin).
  • There are 3 billion (3,000,000,000) letters in the DNA code in every cell in your body.
  • There are 100 trillion (100,000,000,000,000) cells in the body.
  • If all the DNA in the human body was put end to end it would reach to the sun and back over 600 times (100 trillion x 6 feet divided by 93 million miles = 1200).
  • 12,000 letters of DNA are decoded by the Human Genome Project every second.
  • If all three billion letters were spread out 1mm apart they would extend 3,000 km or about 7,000 times the height of the Empire State Building.
  • If all three billion letters were spread out 3mm apart they would extend 9,000km more than twice the length of the Mississippi river at 3,779km.
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The Dark Side of Light

The model of vortex structure in laser speckle. Open vortex lines are in red, while closed vortex loops are in white. Credit: O’Holleran, et al.

Light may not seem very interesting in our everyday lives. But to scientists, light’s properties are a constant source of intrigue. The nature of light as both wave and particle, light as the universal speed limit, and the way light interacts with magnetic fields in the atmosphere to form auroras are a just a few examples of light’s fascinating behavior.
Recently, researchers from the University of Glasgow and the University of Bristol in the UK have discovered another unusual property of light – or, more accurately, the darkness within light. As the researchers explain, natural light fields are threaded by lines of darkness, which create optical vortices that appear as black points within the light. The group has modeled this phenomenon, and found that the lines of darkness exhibit fractal properties with Brownian (random) characteristics. Further, the characteristics of these optical vortices suggest universal properties, which could help connect different areas of physics.
Many people have noticed the phenomenon of laser speckle, which occurs when coherent, monochromatic laser light bounces off a rough surface, giving the surface a speckled appearance. The black specks are interference patterns generated by a superposition of highly coherent light waves reflected from different points on the rough surface. Sometimes the speckled pattern can even appear to sparkle when the viewer moves relative to the surface.

In a recent issue of Physical Review Letters, the UK researchers describe how they developed a model of the superpositions that create the dark optical vortices, using numerical simulations and experiments. In their experiments, they created laser speckle with a 10-mm-diameter helium neon laser beam shining through a screen made of ground glass.

By measuring the superpositions with an interferometer, the scientists could generate a 3D map of the structure of the optical vortices. They found two types of vortices. Infinite vortex lines, which account for about 73% of the dark vortices, percolate entirely through the light beam. The remaining 27% of the vortices form closed loops, which occur when a vortex line returns to its starting point within a small enough area.
When investigating the lines of darkness further, the researchers found that they exhibit scale invariance. In other words, the vortices look the same no matter how much you zoom out – they are fractals. Lead author Kevin O’Holleran of the University of Glasgow said that, while he and his colleagues suspected vortex lines to exhibit fractal properties, they were quite surprised to find that the fractality was of a Brownian nature.

“To find that the vortex lines in light have Brownian characteristics is exciting,” O’Holleran told “Brownian structures are inherently random, so the coherence of our model was in no way limiting the fractal behavior of the vortex lines. We are looking forward to exploring these properties in more detail. More specifically, we hope to investigate the topological side of random light fields, such as how often vortex lines are knotted or linked.”

Interestingly, the researchers noted that these properties of optical vortices (the ratio of vortex lines to loops and their scale invariance) are very similar to the properties of cosmic strings, according to the cosmic string lattice model. The model describes the configuration of cosmic strings in the early universe – the very thin but very dense one-dimensional defects in space-time that could be responsible for the formation of galaxies.

The researchers don’t think this similarity is likely to be coincidental. They suggest that these properties could be universal for all optical fields, and they plan to investigate the analogy further.

“The greatest significance [of this study] is the connection to other fields in physics,” O’Holleran said. “Universal properties connect fields of research at deeper levels than the exact formulation of each system. Shared fundamental properties or restrictions (like how lines can be embedded in 3D space) result in universal exponents appearing in varied and apparently disconnected fields of research. The fact that vortex lines in light exhibit power laws suggesting universal properties means that these lines are governed by more general laws than wave equations.”

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Lamp lit by gravity wins Greener Gadget award

By Susan Trulove

Gravia lamp

Gravia lamp

BLACKSBURG, Va., February 19, 2008 -- A Virginia Tech student has created a floor lamp powered by gravity.

Clay Moulton of Springfield, Va., who received his master of science degree in architecture (concentration in industrial design) from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies in 2007, created the lamp when he was an industrial design graduate student. The light-emitting diode (LED) lamp, named Gravia, has just won second place in the Greener Gadgets Design Competition as part of the Greener Gadgets Conference in New York City.

Concept illustrations of Gravia depict an acrylic column a little over four feet high. The entire column glows when activated. The electricity is generated by the slow fall of a mass that spins a rotor. The resulting energy powers 10 high-output LEDs that fire into the acrylic lens, creating a diffuse light. The operation is silent and the housing is elegant and cord free -- completely independent of electrical infrastructure.

The light output will be 600-800 lumens - roughly equal to a 40-watt incandescent bulb over a period of four hours.

To "turn on" the lamp, the user moves weights from the bottom to the top of the lamp. An hour glass-like mechanism is turned over and the weights are placed in the mass sled near the top of the lamp. The sled begins its gentle glide back down and, within a few seconds, the LEDs come on and light the lamp, Moulton said. "It's more complicated than flipping a switch but can be an acceptable, even enjoyable routine, like winding a beautiful clock or making good coffee," he said.

Moulton estimates that Gravia's mechanisms will last more than 200 years, if used eight hours a day, 365 days a year. "The LEDs, which are generally considered long-life devices, become short-life components in comparison to the drive mechanisms," he said.

The acrylic lens will be altered by time in an attractive fashion, Moulton said. "The LEDs produce a slightly unnatural blue-ish light. As the acrylic ages, it becomes slightly yellowed and crazed through exposure to ultraviolet light," he said. "The yellowing and crazing will tend to mitigate the unnatural blue hue of the LED light. Thus, Gravia will produce a more natural color of light with age."

He predicted that the acrylic will begin to yellow within 10 to 15 years when Gravia is used in a home's interior room.

A patent is pending on the Gravia. To learn more, contact Jackie Reed of Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties Inc. ( at or call (540) 443-9217.

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Mysterious Creatures Found in Antarctica

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - Scientists investigating the icy waters of Antarctica said Tuesday they have collected mysterious creatures including giant sea spiders and huge worms in the murky depths.

Australian experts taking part in an international program to take a census of marine life in the ocean at the far south of the world collected specimens from up to 6,500 feet beneath the surface, and said many may never have been seen before.

Some of the animals far under the sea grow to unusually large sizes, a phenomenon called gigantism that scientists still do not fully understand.

"Gigantism is very common in Antarctic waters," Martin Riddle, the Australian Antarctic Division scientist who led the expedition, said in a statement. "We have collected huge worms, giant crustaceans and sea spiders the size of dinner plates."

The specimens were being sent to universities and museums around the world for identification, tissue sampling and DNA studies.

"Not all of the creatures that we found could be identified and it is very likely that some new species will be recorded as a result of these voyages," said Graham Hosie, head of the census project.

The expedition is part of an ambitious international effort to map life forms in the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean, and to study the impact of forces such as climate change on the undersea environment.

Three ships—Aurora Australis from Australia, France's L'Astrolabe and Japan's Umitaka Maru—returned recently from two months in the region as part of the Collaborative East Antarctic Marine Census. The work is part of a larger project to map the biodiversity of the world's oceans.

The French and Japanese ships sought specimens from the mid- and upper-level environment, while the Australian ship plumbed deeper waters with remote-controlled cameras.

"In some places every inch of the sea floor is covered in life," Riddle said. "In other places we can see deep scars and gouges where icebergs scour the sea floor as they pass by."

Among the bizarre-looking creatures the scientists spotted were tunicates, plankton-eating animals that resemble slender glass structures up to a yard tall "standing in fields like poppies," Riddle said.

Other animals were equally baffling.

"They had fins in various places, they had funny dangly bits around their mouths," Riddle told reporters. "They were all bottom dwellers so they were all evolved in different ways to live down on the sea bed in the dark. So many of them had very large eyes—very strange looking fish."

Scientists are planning a follow-up expedition in 10 to 15 years to examine the effects of climate changes on the region's environment.

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It's official: the Landfill Prize Top 10

From oh-so-clever toothbrushes to an infant care timer. What you said you could really live without

Are you, by any chance, brushing your teeth with the most resource-wasting, overcomplex piece of gadgetry that’s been witnessed by internet voters in the past 12 months? The £179 Sonicare electric toothbrush, made by Philips, has just been voted the winner of the first annual Landfill prize, the award for Britain’s cleverest rubbish – unnecessarily convoluted consumer inventions that help to increase the teetering junkpile of refuse we Britons produce every year.

Nominations from the thousands of visitors to the Landfill Prize website (including a great many Times Online readers) have now been judged by a panel of four, in which I joined Mark Watson the comedian, Carl Honoré, the author of In Praise of Slow, and Anna Shepard, The Times’s ecology columnist. Below, the Philips' brush, along with its fellow top-ten nominees in the Landfill Hall of Shame are luridly exposed in all their guilty, planet-draining detail.

There’s a serious side to this lampoonery. I launched the prize to coincide with my new book, Enough: breaking free from the world of more, and both aim to highlight the fact that, thanks to modern high-tech, we should now have all the gear we need to enjoy comfortable, contented lives. Our culture is easily capable of producing myriad consumer items that are durable, reliable and useful enough to give years of great service.

It's not like that, though. We're beset with messages that tell us that the stuff we've got now isn't good enough – that we need more stuff, that we need stuff that's somehow improved, with ever more extras and options. It's all got to be new, too, rather than, ugh, so last year. We've got fixated on producing and consuming ever more wastefully complex stuff that has no future. It's there to take our money and time on its brief trip from factory to landfill. Strange genius, indeed, as you’ll see from these…

1. The £179 toothbrush

The Philips Sonicare Flexcare brush comes with it’s own ultraviolet-light sanitising equipment, as well as a whole lot of other bells and whistles such as three cleaning modes (including “massage”) and different brushing routines. But a survey by Which? in November 2007 found that it performed only as effectively as a well-wielded £4 electric brush. Ordinary manual brushes can prove just as effective as high-end electrics if used properly, the survey adds.

2. The ijoyride

All home-exercise equipment tends to be used little and discarded often, according to research surveys. But the ijoyride caught our nominators’ attention for all the wrong reasons. To quote from a Saturday magazine advert, it’s "a new exercise machine that gives you all the benefits and none of the costs of owing a horse". It looks more like a bucking loo, though. See the website:

3. Ambi-Pur plug in “three-fragrance” air freshener

All plug-in fresheners are effectively devices that suck electricity while spreading synthetic chemicals around your home. The Ambi Pur 3volution is the pinnacle of this plug-in mania, a unit that contains three vials of perfume which it emits in rotation every 45 minutes, so your nose never gets “tired” of the smell. The refill bottles make for good instant landfill, too.

4. Gillette’s six-bladed, battery-powered, wet razor

Welcome to the Gillette Fusion Power Razor. We’ll let the company’s blurb explain this one… “Battery-powered shaving system emits gentle micro-pulses for an incredible shaving experience. Now with Low Battery Indicator Light and Automatic Shut-Off. The front of the razor has 5 Blade Shaving Surface Technology with five PowerGlide blades spaced closer together to help reduce pressure. The back of the razor has 1 Precision Trimmer Blade... built into the cartridge.” How on Earth did mankind manage to evolve without all that?

5. The Slingbox

It provides the very unuseful function of allowing you, if you have broadband, to watch your own TV from anywhere in the world that you have access to the internet. So now you can spend a fortune going to South Africa or wherever on holiday and spend your time there making sure that you don't miss an episode of Emmerdale.

6. Hammacher Schlemmer infant-care timer

A fine example of the guilt-inducing stuff that is sold for new mothers. It’s basically a plastic digital clock with lots of buttons and “an LCD that displays the elapsed time since your infant's last feeding, diaper change, nap, etc...” So you can tell when baby’s hungry or damp. Doesn’t Mother Nature do that anyway?

7. Braun Tassimo coffee maker

The machine got nominated for the wasteful "T" discs or pods (made of plastic and foil) of which at least one and sometimes two must be used for every cup of coffee. There appears to be no way to reuse these nor any way to recycle them, given their mixture of materials, so after contributing just one cup of coffee to the world, these things end up in the landfill.

8. The pocket sundial

Various models available, all equally impractical. See them at:

9. PYRAMAT Wireless Sound Rocker Gaming Chair

PC World markets a special "gaming" chair aimed at children of all ages, an S-shaped rocking chair with built-in headphones, in which kids and kidults can sit to play their computer games. “What are we coming to?” said its nominator. “Children should be outside playing not sitting on their arses playing games all day.”

10. The E.ON PowerDown

You plug your computer and peripherals into it, and when you turn your PC off, it turns the peripherals off too. Cute idea, but as its nominator says, “My scanner uses 2 watts on standby, and the printer uses 3. So that's saving a maximum of 5 watts for 14 hours a day – or 70 watts per day. However, if you cut the printer’s power, it does a complete cleaning cycle, wasting ink when it starts. But more to the point, you will never recoup more energy than is used making all that plastic and metal, then shipping it over from China.”

For all the rest of this year’s Landfill nominations, and an in-depth explanation of the awards, visit The Landfill Prize . Meanwhile, I’ll get busy making a model of the Philips brush atop a pile of grubby landfill, as a special trophy that I’ll attempt to award to the makers in person. I’m not completely sure, though, that they will be keen to receive it. We’ll see.

© John Naish 2008. Enough: Breaking Free From the World of More (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99), is published this week. It is available from Times BooksFirst for £15.29, p&p free: 0870 1608080 or visit

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