Radiosurgery: The Cyberknife

CyberknifeCyberKnife is an entirely new approach to stereotactic radiosurgery because it can deliver targeted radiation to anywhere in the body, while minimizing exposure to surrounding normal tissue. It offers all of the advantages of radiosurgery, but without the need for a metal head frame.

With sub-millimeter accuracy, CyberKnife can be used to treat tumors, cancers, vascular abnormalities and functional disorders. Best of all, it achieves surgical-like outcomes without surgery or incisions.

Using x-ray image cameras and computer technology similar to that used for cruise missile guidance, the CyberKnife locates the tumor in the body. A computer program then evaluates the unique shape and location of the tumor to determine exactly how each of 1200 or more beams of radiation will target the tumor.

An x-ray source located on the CyberKnife’s robotic arm delivers concentrated beams of radiation to the tumor from multiple positions and angles without damaging healthy surrounding tissue.

More here and here.  [Thanks to Tariq Khan.]

The Upcoming Elections in Germany, The Sick Man of Europe

Michael Naumann looks at the upcoming German elections in OpenDemocracy, one which the SPD is most likely to lose.

“After the shock of the SPD’s election defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia, Schröder attempted to restart his stuttering governmental motor by calling for a vote of confidence in the Bundestag. In what seems like voluntary political suicide, at least four members of Schröder’s cabinet or his SPD contingent have either to abstain or tell their boss that he has lost their confidence. Only by ‘losing’ does Schröder have a chance of ‘succeeding’ in his aim of fighting a premature general election.

It looks like a constitutional gimmick – and it may in fact be unconstitutional. The final decision to call for re-elections rests with Germany’s president, Horst Köhler, a man installed by the majority votes of the conservative members of an assembly made up of representatives from the Bundestag and all Länder parliaments. It is the only political power of relevance the president possesses. He may in fact decide, that in reality, Schröder’s majority in the Bundestag is stable, which would prolong the government’s life until scheduled elections in September 2006.

Against this constitutional reality is a psychological one: the vast majority of Germans seem already to be getting used to the prospect of the CDU’s candidate for chancellor, Angela Merkel, becoming Germany’s first female head of government by the end of 2005. The likelihood is a short campaign of four to five weeks, with voting in mid-September.”

New ABC Reality Show: 3 White, Conservative Christian Families Will Choose which “diverse” family moves in next door

Via Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise, ABC will air a new reality show, Welcome to the Neighborhood.

“[O]ne of seven diverse families will win a beautiful dream home on a perfect suburban cul-de-sac in Austin, Texas. But in order to win the luxuriously furnished and opulently appointed house, they must first win over the very people who will be most affected by the ultimate decision — the next-door neighbors.

During the process, relationships become strained, fears are confronted, secrets are revealed, expectations surpassed and the inner-workings of all of the competing families are exposed.

But with every encounter with these families, the opinionated neighbors’ pre-conceived assumptions and prejudices are also chipped away, and they learn that, while on the outside we may appear different, deep inside we share many common bonds. The judges find themselves learning to see people, not stereotypes.

The three neighborhood families who will be judging the competing families all love their quiet, picturesque community and are used to a certain kind of neighbor — one who looks and thinks just like them. It will be up to this watchful group to decide who should move into the dream house next door and who should be sent packing.”

Discussions of the show (here and here) veer towards outrage, disgust, and shock.  Interestingly, Focus on the Family has also condemned the show.

“But Movie Guide’s Ted Baehr said the Christian contestants will be the ones people love to hate. . .

‘Anyone who is portrayed as a minister of the Gospel,’ he said, ‘is treated as someone who is backward, a redneck, prejudiced, uncouth.'”

It goes on to encourage:

“‘Find out who the advertisers are and contact the advertisers,’ he said. ‘That’s the best way to impact a television program or series.’

But he cautions: Be careful that in your calls to ABC and its sponsors you don’t become the stereotype you’re protesting.”

(Hat tip: Dan.)

Amartya Sen’s Argumentative Indian

From the BBC:

Amartya2On Night Waves this evening Robert Hanks talks to Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen about his new book, the Argumentative Indian, which proposes that there is an India far more diverse and accommodating than many descriptions from outsiders suggest. Sen argues that this atmosphere of tolerance and secularism supports a healthy argumentative tradition and climate for debate which, in turn, has much to offer the current debate around democracy.

Audio clip here.  [Thanks to Lara Inis.]


On Mike Tyson’s most recent debacle in the ring from David Remnick at the New Yorker.

In the sweaty aftermath, Tyson was gracious to his opponent and stayed around to browse his own psyche one last time. “I’m a peasant,” he said. “At one point, I thought life was about acquiring things. Life is totally about losing everything.”

Asked what he might do next, Tyson said, “I’m going to look into doing missionary work.” Maybe in Africa, maybe Bosnia. He was unsure how he would pay his bills. Maybe he just wouldn’t. He was sure, he said, only that the ferocity was gone. “I don’t have it in me anymore,” he said. “I can’t even kill the bugs in my house.”

Fertility in middle age linked with anti-ageing

From New Scientist:

The very few women who have children after the age of 45 may be capable of doing so because anti-ageing mechanisms are more active in their bodies. Neri Laufer’s team at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem recruited eight women who had given birth naturally after the age of 45. “They are an extremely unique group of patients,” he says. “They are very successful breeders.”

His team compared levels of gene expression in the women’s blood from with levels in six mothers of the same age who had chosen not to have any more children after 30. They found differences in 716 genes.

Intriguingly, many of the genes that were more active in the fertile over-45s are involved in repairing DNA damage and preventing cell death. That would help counteract the effects of ageing, especially ageing of the ovaries, Laufer told a meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Tuesday. His team also plans to look at whether the women live longer, too.

More here.

Applied Minds Think Remarkably

From Wired News:Telephone

From outside, the five nondescript buildings that house research and development firm Applied Minds look like any other on this jacaranda-lined street in this city’s industrial zone. Co-founder Danny Hillis escorts me down a hallway that dead-ends into an old-fashioned red phone booth. The phone rings. He places receiver to ear. “The blue moon jumps over the purple sky,” he says, and hangs up. Suddenly, the booth becomes a door, swinging out to reveal a vast, open room filled with engineers, gadgets and big ideas.

More here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Jack Kilby, Inventor of Integrated Circuit, Dies

Terril Yue Jones in the Los Angeles Times:

18124725Jack Kilby, the self-effacing 6-foot-6 engineer whose invention of the integrated circuit won him the Nobel Prize and launched the digital revolution, has died. He was 81.

Kilby died Monday after a brief battle with cancer, according to Dallas-based Texas Instruments Inc., where Kilby was a young engineer when he pioneered the microchip more than 45 years ago.

“In my opinion, there are only a handful of people whose works have truly transformed the world and the way we live in it — Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers and Jack Kilby,” said Texas Instrument Chairman Tom Engibous in a statement. “If there was ever a seminal invention that transformed not only our industry but our world, it was Jack’s invention of the first integrated circuit.”

While other engineers at Texas Instruments took vacations, Kilby worked alone through the summer of 1958 to develop the technological breakthrough that shrunk tons of electronic equipment to a tiny slice of silicon.

More here.  [Thanks to Winfield J. Abbe.]

The 11-Year-Old Wife

From The New York Times:

Mai_1 When Pakistan’s prime minister visits next month, President Bush will presumably use the occasion to repeat his praise for President Pervez Musharraf as a bold leader “dedicated in the protection of his own people.” Then they will sit down and discuss Mr. Bush’s plan to sell Pakistan F-16 fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons. But here’s a suggestion: How about the White House dropping word that before the prime minister arrives, he first return the passport of Mukhtaran Bibi, the rape victim turned human-rights campaigner, so that she can visit the United States? (Photo from Time Asia).

More here.

India Shares Rally as a Family Feud Ends


From The New York Times:

India’s stock markets rallied Monday on news that the matriarch of the family-controlled Reliance Group, India’s biggest private conglomerate, had stepped in to broker peace between her sons and divide the company. The $23 billion group, whose businesses include the world’s third-largest oil refinery, the world’s largest maker of polyester yarn and India’s biggest mobile telephone services company and its largest power company, had been in turmoil for months. The brothers who led the company, Mukesh and Anil Ambani, engaged in a public battle for succession after their father’s death in 2002.

More here.

Bacteria Pull Off Photosynthesis sans Sunlight

From Scientific American:Bacteria

In the textbook description of photosynthesis, sunlight fuels the production of sugars that are in turn converted into fuel for the photosynthetic organism. But a recent discovery from the deep blue sea may force a revision of that account. Scientists have found a photosynthetic bacterium that doesn’t live off the light of the sun. Instead, it uses the dim light given off by hydrothermal vents some 2,400 meters below the ocean’s surface.

More here.

Plain, Simple, Primitive? Not the Jellyfish

From The New York Times:Jelly

Jellyfish have traditionally been considered simple and primitive. When you gaze at one in an aquarium tank, it is not hard to see why. Renaissance scholars considered them plants. Eighteenth-century naturalists grudgingly granted them admittance into the animal kingdom, but only just. They classified cnidarians as “zoophytes,” somewhere between animal and plant. In some ways, cnidarians are a better model for human biology than fruit flies. As strange as it may seem, gazing at a jellyfish in an aquarium is a lot like looking in the mirror.

More here.

Monday, June 20, 2005

RNA Comes Out of the Shadow of Its Famous Cousin

From The New York Times:

DNA usually grabs tRna_3 e headlines for its starring role as the archive of genetic information. So deeply has RNA been overshadowed that two of its major roles in the cell have come to light only in the last few years. One, a way of fine-tuning the activity of genes, has been the subject of a flurry of recent reports documenting RNA’s part in central operations like stem cells, cell differentiation, insulin production and cancer.

More here.

Our planet’s tilt dictates cycle of summer and winter


The seasons are marked by solstices and equinoxes — astronomical terms that relate to Earth’s tilt. The solstices mark the points at which the poles are tilted at their maximum toward or away from the sun. This is when the difference between the daylight hours and the nighttime hours is most acute. The solstices occur each year on June 20 or 21 and Dec. 21 or 22.

Seasons_1This year’s June solstice occurs at 2:46 a.m. ET Tuesday, marking the official start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the start of winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

More here.

Samir Kassir, 1960-2005

Adam Shatz has an obituary on the slain Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir in The Nation.

“Independence seemed to come naturally to Kassir, who never shied away from a cause merely because it was unpopular. In the late 1990s he led a lonely crusade against the French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, who had been making inroads into otherwise progressive Arab intellectual circles; four years ago, he helped prevent the pernicious Institute for Historical Review, a Garaudy-affiliated revisionist group based in the United States, from holding a conference in Beirut. At even greater personal risk, Kassir protested what he called Syria’s ‘mafia-type protectorate’ over Lebanon, campaigning tirelessly for independence and railing against a security apparatus most of his colleagues were too timorous to name. Kassir’s open defiance of Damascus brought him unwanted attention from the pro-Syrian security establishment, which harassed him with menacing phone calls, briefly confiscated his passport on the spurious grounds that he was an ‘influential agent of the Palestinian Authority’ and tailed him in unmarked police cars.”

What Gödel’s Incompleteness Thoerem means and doesn’t mean

Mathematicians often seem to get irritated by the invocation of Gödel’s Second Theorem as proof or evidence of the a priori limits of human knowledge. When Freeman Dyson did so in his review of Brian Green’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, Solomon Feferman weighed in to raise the mathematican’s objection.

Via Sean Carroll I came across a nice piece by Cosma Shalizi on the theorem and its abuses.

“There are two very common but fallacious conclusions people make from this [Gödel’s theorem], and an immense number of uncommon but equally fallacious errors I shan’t bother with. The first is that Gödel’s theorem imposes some some of profound limitation on knowledge, science, mathematics. Now, as to science, this ignores in the first place that Gödel’s theorem applies to deduction from axioms, a useful and important sort of reasoning, but one so far from being our only source of knowledge it’s not even funny. It’s not even a very common mode of reasoning in the sciences, though there are axiomatic formulations of some parts of physics. . . .

This brings us to the other, and possibly even more common fallacy, that Gödel’s theorem says artificial intelligence is impossible, or that machines cannot think. The argument, so far as there is one, usually runs as follows.”

Read on.

New model ‘permits time travel’

From The BBC News:

Time_1 If you went back in time and met your teenage parents, you could not split them up and prevent your birth – even if you wanted to, a new quantum model has stated. Researchers speculate that time travel can occur within a kind of feedback loop where backwards movement is possible, but only in a way that is “complementary” to the present. In other words, you can pop back in time and have a look around, but you cannot do anything that will alter the present you left behind.

More here.

A Muslim Woman, a Story of Sex

From The New York Times:Almond

An erotic novel written under a pseudonym might normally struggle to find a mainstream publisher and a wide readership. Not so, it seems, when it is penned by a Muslim woman living in a traditional Arab society. “The Almond,” a semi-autobiographical exploration of sexual freedom, has sold 50,000 copies in France since Éditions Plon brought it out here last year. And it has now appeared in eight other languages, including English. With its explicit descriptions of lovemaking, the book has been compared to Marguerite Duras’s coming-of-age novel, “The Lover,” and to Catherine Millet’s more recent confessional essay, “The Sexual Life of Catherine M.” Yet in this case the feisty 40-something North African author who goes by the name of Nedjma appears to have been motivated by more than a desire to titillate.

More here.