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Monday, February 28, 2005

We can make cancer-killing cell, say scientists

A team of South Korean scientists say they have found a way to produce the human body's own cancer-killing cells through gene therapy, offering new hope to cancer sufferers.

The team said they had found that a gene called Vitamin D3 Upregulated Protein 1 (VDUP1) plays a crucial role in directing stem cells to diversify into immune cells known as natural killer cells.

Natural killer (NK) cells are large, granular blood cells known as lymphocytes that are able to eliminate virus-infected cells as well as tumour cells.

"Stem cells can develop into various cells and organs in the body," said the leader of the team, Inpyo Choi of the state-financed Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology in the central city of Daejeon.

"We have found that when haematopoietic stem cells diversify into NK cells, the gene, Vitamin D3 Upregulated Protein 1 (VDUP1), plays a decisive role," he said.

"We have also succeeded in developing technology needed to induce stem cells obtained from a patient's bone marrow to diversify into immune cells and activate them," he said.

"This is the first step toward developing new treatments using our own immune system to fight cancers and other serious diseases," he said.

The result of the study - which comes as scientists look for ways to supplement existing cancer treatments including chemotherapy, radiology and surgical operations - was published last week in Immunity, a respected journal of immunology.

The team investigated the role of the VDUP1 gene by breeding mice lacking the gene.

These mice showed minimal changes in the development of other immune cells but there was a "profound reduction" in the numbers of natural killer cells and decreases in the activity of the cells, the researchers found.

In the VDUP1-deprived mice the expression of a protein called CD122 - a precursor for natural killer cells - was reduced, showing that the gene was required for CD122 expression and the maturation of natural killer cells.

"These results suggest that VDUP1 is a critical factor for the development and function of NK cells in vivo," the team said.

Yoon Suk-Ran, a member of the team, said they had extracted stem cells from mice and developed them into NK cells.

They injected these cells into mice with skin cancers and confirmed the tumours were contained or killed.

"By developing this method, we may extract stem cells from a patient's bone marrow, culture NK cells and inject them back into the patient's body to treat cancers," he said.

South Korea has selected biotechnology, together with robotics and nano technology, as strategic sectors for future development and supports them with government subsidies for research.

...from smh

Sunday, February 27, 2005

In preparation for the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open Roger Federer and Andre Agassi at the Burj Al Arab Hotel Heliport... Posted by Hello

Roger Federer and Andre Agassi at the Burj Al Arab Hotel Heliport... Posted by Hello

Roger Federer and Andre Agassi at the Burj Al Arab Hotel Heliport... Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Warning: artistic aliens at work

A minor Picasso in suburbia ... the image of the mystery man was outlined with red paint but no one knows who did it or what it means.

It appeared overnight, but no one knows where it came from. It's 60 metres long and 30 metres wide, but no one knows what it means.

The image of a man, a dollar note, a wave and a tombstone appeared on Reg Bartley Oval in Rushcutters Bay about four weeks ago, residents say. And it has been puzzling them since. "It must have been done in the middle of the night because I noticed it first thing in the morning," said a resident, James Potts.

"It's actually a bit annoying. I don't mind it for a day, but a month is too long."

Exactly how the image was created remains a mystery.

A resident and regular dog walker, Alison Pearce, said weedkiller might be responsible. But residents have even less an idea of what the image means.

"Somebody reckons it's something to do with surfing, maybe a surfing logo," said Mr Potts. Ms Pearce said it could have something to do with the tsunami. A fellow resident, Howard Hillman, said perhaps a lawnmower was to blame.

Sydney City Council said it did not know about the image, but it was able later to shed a little more light on the mystery.

"The graffiti on the grass was originally done with some sort of red paint," a spokesman for the council said. "As there is no method to safely remove paint without permanently damaging the grass, the City decided to wait to see what effect the paint would have and whether the grass would naturally grow over the paint before taking action."

The grass would be fertilised to encourage rapid growth, while the areas most damaged would be returfed.

Rose Bay police had received no report of vandalism.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Human kidney cloned in rats

Researchers in Japan say they've cloned a human kidney by cultivating human stem cells extracted from adult bone marrow into rat embryos.

The development is expected to increase the possibility of expanding regenerative medicine to anatomically complicated organs such as the kidney and the lung as a potential means to treat patients with disorders of those organs.

A report of the study, headed by Takashi Yokoo of the department of internal medicine and gene therapy at Jikei University School of Medicine in Japan, will be published in the online edition of US publication Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, dated March 1.

According to Yokoo, the team removed rat embryos from the uterus, implanted human stem cells -- treated with neutrophic factor genes to help the organ development -- into the area in the embryos where the kidneys were being generated and cultured the embryos in vitro.

Two days after the stem cell implantation, the researchers extracted the kidney area from the embryos and, after incubating it for six days, discovered the development of nephrons, or an excretory unit of the kidney, and the surrounding interstitium.

The team members checked the genes and confirmed they were developed from human bone marrow stem cells. They then transplanted the kidney into the stomach of another rat and observed that it grew to about 150 milligrams in two weeks.

The researchers also confirmed that the implanted kidney produced urine, according to Yokoo.

The team was also able to successfully treat a mouse suffering from Fabry's disease, a genetic kidney defect characterised by the deficiency of a metabolism-aiding enzyme, by using the method to replace its nephrons with healthy ones, he said.

Regenerative medicine using stem cells extracted from bone marrow has been put to limited practical use, such as for producing skin and cartilage. But scientists have rarely been able to regenerate human organs using those of different animals.

"Theoretically, there would not be any symptoms of rejection," said Yokoo, referring to the possibility of organ rejections in the event of transplantation.

"I think we can also create the pancreas and liver using the same method."


Airliner said to fuel CIA ghost jail system

Washington: The CIA allegedly whisked foreign terrorism suspects to clandestine interrogation facilities using a Boeing 737 dedicated for that purpose, according to Newsweek magazine.

The allegation, if proven, is "further evidence that a global 'ghost' prison system, where terror suspects are secretly interrogated, is being operated by the CIA", Newsweek reported.

The magazine wrote that it had obtained the aircraft's flight plans, indicating that the CIA had used the plane "as part of a top-secret global charter servicing clandestine interrogation facilities used in the war on terror".

It said US Federal Aviation Administration records showed the plane was owned by Premier Executive Transport Services, a now-defunct company based in Massachusetts.

US intelligence sources told the magazine the company fitted the profile of a suspected CIA front. The plane's records date to December 2002 and show flights up until February 7, the magazine said.

Newsweek also noted previously disclosed flight plans of a smaller Gulfstream V jet used for similar purposes.

The magazine quoted Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese descent, who claimed to have been abducted by US operatives while on holiday in Macedonia on December 31, 2003. Three weeks later, Mr Masri said, he was put on a plane to Afghanistan, where he was shackled, punched and interrogated about extremists at his mosque in Ulm, Germany, Newsweek said.

Masri said he climbed high stairs "like onto a regular passenger airplane". He was released months later and dropped off on a deserted road leading into Macedonia, he told the magazine. The dates in the flight information obtained by the magazine confirm Mr Masri's story.

Last month Mr Masri told The New York Times that when he was left on the road, he tried to explain his situation to a border guard who made light of his story. "The man was laughing at me," he said. "He said: 'Don't tell that story to anyone because no one will believe it; everyone will laugh'."

Agence France-Presse

Hilton's phone hacked

Hacked ... Paris Hilton.

Hacked ... Paris Hilton.

The entire contents of Paris Hilton's mobile phone have appeared on the internet.

Hackers posted a copy of the hotel heiress's mobile telephone address book on a website, listing the numbers and email addresses of about 500 acquaintances including Eminem and Christina Aguilera.

It is not known how the information was obtained, but Hilton's was reportedly one of many celebrity phones compromised in an attack on T-Mobile's network that accessed numbers from about 400 of the company's customers.

Last week Nicholas Jacobsen, 22, a California-based hacker, pleaded guilty to one charge of accessing a protected computer and causing reckless damage.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in May and faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison.

The Hilton phonebook was posted on a website yesterday but is no longer accessible.

It was in the public domain long enough to cause significant frustration for many of her associates.

Eminem's phone number has reportedly since been changed. The voice mailbox of Fred Durst, front man of Limp Bizkit, was full and tennis star Anna Kournikova's number was said to be constantly engaged.

Victoria Gotti, reality television star and daughter of crime boss John Gotti, said she received 100 calls in two hours as word of the hacked address book spread.

"I didn't want to take the phones off the hook because my oldest son was out on a date," she told the New York Daily News.

"This went on all night. Finally, at 5.30am, I took them off the hook. This morning, I put them back on and they started ringing immediately. It's driving me insane."

Hilton is no stranger to the internet. Her home sex video, dubbed One Night in Paris, was reportedly sold for $4.6 million and widely distributed online.

...stolen from smh

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson kills himself

Benicio Del Toro, left, and Johnny Depp, right, with  Hunter S Thompson at the premier of the film adaptation of Thompson's book

Benicio Del Toro, left, and Johnny Depp, right, with Hunter S Thompson at the premier of the film adaptation of Thompson's book "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas".

Hunter S Thompson, the acerbic counterculture writer who popularised a new form of fictional journalism in books like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, has fatally shot himself at his home in Colorado.

He was 67.

Thompson's death tonight was confirmed by a personal friend, Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis.

"We do have confirmation that Hunter Thompson was found dead this evening of an apparent self-inflicted wound," added Tricia Louthis, of the sheriff's office.

Thompson's body was found at his home near Aspen by his son, Juan Thompson. The writer's wife, Anita, was not home at the time.

"Hunter prized his privacy and we ask that his friends and admirers respect that privacy as well as that of his family," Juan Thompson said in a statement released to the Aspen Daily News.

Besides the 1972 drug-hazed classic about Thompson's visit to Las Vegas, he also wrote Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72.

The central character in those wild, sprawling satires was Dr Thompson, a snarling, drug- and alcohol-crazed observer and participant.

The American is credited with pioneering New Journalism - or, as he dubbed it, "gonzo journalism" - in which the writer made himself an essential component of the story. Much of his earliest work appeared in Rolling Stone magazine.

"Fiction is based on reality unless you're a fairy-tale artist," Thompson told the Associated Press in 2003.

"You have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you're writing about before you alter it."

An acute observer of the decadence and depravity in American life, Thompson also wrote such collections as Generation of Swine and Songs of the Doomed. His first ever novel, The Rum Diary, written in 1959, was first published in 1998.

Thompson was a counterculture icon at the height of the Watergate era, and Richard Nixon once said he represented "that dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character."

Thompson also was the model for Gary Trudeau's balding Uncle Duke in the comic strip Doonesbury and was portrayed on screen by Johnny Depp in a film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Other books include The Great Shark Hunt, Hell's Angels and The Proud Highway.

His most recent effort was Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness.

His compound in Woody Creek, not far from Aspen, was almost as legendary as Thompson.
He prized peacocks and weapons.

In 2000, he accidentally shot and slightly wounded his assistant, Deborah Fuller, while trying to chase a bear off his property.

...article stolen from smh

Sunday, February 20, 2005

kool transparent toy robot - the future for jellyfish? Posted by Hello

patterns in consumerism - # 1 packaging from a blender... Posted by Hello

Hey. this is pretty kool for all you skateboarders out there.... A floating half-pipe on Sydney Harbour. Check out the video.

... Well yesterday I wrote how hot and humid it was, and how thunderstorms were expected? Well this is what it turned into :

..an absolute howler with bucketing rain, hail.. high winds. I read in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning that someone was struck by lightning on Bondi Beach.
We didn't end up going to the party last night. Mick had his car rego check yesterday to find that he has $500 worth of repairs to do, and as much as I love cocktail parties, I'm not trusting myself not to smoke when around alcohol just yet, I'd like to give it at least a couple of weeks. It's hard because it seems that every week there's something on. Hehe, oh what a thing to complain about! Lisa's old housemate Olivia gets married Friday week I think... Assuming I can get out of work a bit earlier (shouldn't be a problem) I'll be going to that. Expect some pics.

Anyway, coming to the end of my morning coffee, then delving into the heady world that is asp.net.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

No smoking

Today is the 7th day without a cigarette. Yes, on the wagon again. Feeling good about it actually. The first couple of days are the hardest. Tonight we're going to Rob's cocktail party in Annandale, which will be tricky but my strategy will be to drink lots of fresh tasting cocktails, lots of Fruit juice. I've got gum as well, and, while I think it will be a challenge, I don't think it's going to be impossible. I'm certainly not going to resign myself to smoking tonight. Good news also is that Lisa is giving up too, that'll make it so much easier.

It's very humid in Sydney this afternoon, I'm sitting here sweating profusely. It's really hot outside and it's been forecast to thunderstorm (which is relatively common in Sydney this time of year) later this evening. Lisa is driving her friend Vu (and Oskar, Vu's dog) to Bathurst (Vu is moving there for Uni), I hope they get there before any storms hit.

I've been doing a little gardening, but mostly today I've been painting my new 'mesterpieice'... This one is a strange one... a blue, hollow eyed, antlered, multi-armed being, with a dog head for one hand... and it's coming along nicely.
Note to self... buy some better canvas art board.

I've been slowly teaching myself asp.net this week, only very early on, but enjoying it so far. Certainly a far cry from ASP 3.0.

Friday, February 18, 2005

wonderful jellyfish pic from Flickr. Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 17, 2005

US robot troops to go into battle

Flashback ... to the US Air Force's Robosaurus, a fire-breathing car-eating  robot shown  at Airfest 2004 in California last year.  Now there are plans for robot fighting troops.

Flashback ... to the US Air Force's Robosaurus, a fire-breathing
car-eating robot shown at Airfest 2004 in California
last year. Now there are plans for robot fighting troops.

The Pentagon is spending $161 billion on a program to build heavily-armed robots for the battlefield in the hope that future wars will be fought without the loss of its soldiers' lives.

The scheme, known as Future Combat Systems, is the largest military contract in American history and will help to drive the defence budget up by almost 20 per cent in five years' time.

Much of the cash will be spent computerising the military, but the ultimate aim is to take members of the armed forces out of harm's way. They would be replaced by robots capable of hunting and killing America's enemies.

Gordon Johnson, of the US joint forces research centre, told the New York Times: "The American military will have these kinds of robots. It's not a question of 'if', it's a question of 'when'."

The American military is already planning units of about 2,000 men and 150 robots, among them land-based "infantry" devices and drone aircraft.

In the far future it is hoped that the minaturised robots will walk like humans, or hover like some birds. Others may look like insects.

Scientists say that, working at full tilt, the process is likely to take at least 20 years.

Robert Finkelstein, the head of one development firm called Robotic Technologies, said the Pentagon has established the goal "but the path is not totally clear".

In the meantime, the military is developing simpler technologies.

The US military has already bought a tracked robot which can enter highly risky sites such as cave complexes favoured by al-Qa'eda. The machines have been deployed in the cave complexes of Afghanistan, digging up roadside bombs in Iraq and guarding weapons storage sites.

The Swords robots come in several versions, carrying either a machine gun, grenade launcher or a light anti-tank weapon. It is controlled by a soldier from a distance of up to 1,000 metres.

"We were sitting there firing single rounds and smacking bull's-eyes," said Staff Sergeant Santiago Tordillos, who helped to design and test the robot. "We were completely amazed."

That human involvement has proved critical in convincing military lawyers that machines can be used on the battlefield. More advanced machines which can decide whether to kill would also be legal, says Mr Johnson.

"The lawyers tell me there are no prohibitions against robots making life-or-death decisions," he said.

The program is already causing other nations to reassess their military priorities. Britain's armed forces in particular will need to follow the American lead if only because the two militaries fight together so often.

While the cost of the scheme is huge, it may ultimately save large sums of money. Professional soldiers, their dependents and pensions are pricey. Once robotic technology is developed, the Americans say, the cost of a robot soldier might be only 10 per cent that of its human counterpart.

A US navy research centre in San Diego has already produced a robot built to look like a human. At 1.3 metres, it has a gun on its right arm and a single eye and could shoot at a target.

One researcher, Jeff Grossman, said the intelligence of the machines was increasing. "Now, maybe, we're a mammal. We're trying to get to the level of a primate."

When researchers succeed, a number of troubling moral dilemmas will have to be addressed. Some in the American computer business are asking whether it is acceptable to have machines decide for themselves whether to take human life and what will happen when - inevitably - the robot makes a mistake.

Bill Joy, who helped to found Sun Microsystems, said 21st century machines could become "so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses".

...from smh

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

DNA samples too degraded for museum to revive Tassie tiger

Pickled ... a thylacine embryo

Pickled ... a thylacine embryo

The resurrection of the Tasmanian tiger will have to wait.

After five years trying to extract DNA from preserved thylacines in an effort to bring the lost marsupial back to life, the Australian Museum has abandoned the ambitious project, after finding its supply of Tasmanian tiger DNA too degraded.

The thylacine was hunted to extinction in the 1930s but the museum's previous director, Mike Archer, championed the use of cloning technology in 1999 as a means of recreating the animal, despite many scientists' scepticism. The project relied on three specimens, including a 139-year-old pup pickled in a bottle of pure alcohol, as a source of DNA.

The museum's director, Frank Howarth, said yesterday that the museum's skills were not sufficient to take the project beyond making a copy of each thylacine gene. Further work would require growing cells in a laboratory, which the museum could not do and it would have to relinquish the lead role in the project to another agency.

"In fact, further investigation has now revealed that the thylacine DNA is far too degraded to even construct an DNA library," Mr Howarth said in a statement. "Given this, the project cannot proceed to the next stage."

Many scientists had raised doubts about the project, with Australian cloning experts having said the thylacine was likely to have more than 30,000 genes. Only a small number had been reconstructed. Scientists also questioned whether a clone could be grown in a surrogate womb of a related animal such as the Tasmanian devil.

Professor Archer moved from the museum to become dean of science at the University of NSW in late 2003. In a statement last night he said he was "personally disappointed" that the Australian Museum could not proceed with the project. Despite the setback, he said he hoped the work would continue at another institution.

"Many of us still hope that it might be possible to bring back this magnificent animal to life," Professor Archer said.

"It was Australia's top marsupial predator and it was wiped out within living memory by people ignorant or careless of its unique place in the animal world.

"The technology to make it happen is improving all the time - both for recovering degraded DNA and for extracting DNA from many kinds of museum specimens. I believe science has a duty to continue to assemble the building blocks that will be needed to do it. It is for the museum to determine its own research priorities and it would be improper of me to comment on that."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Inside the future

BT?s futurist-in-residence, Ian Pearson, uses his crystal ball gazing skills to peer into future worlds.

BT?s futurist-in-residence, Ian Pearson, uses his crystal ball gazing skills to peer into future worlds.

Ian Pearson rattles off future technologies that range from the seemingly magical, such as supercomputers that breed like yoghurt cultures, to using your mobile phone in the mundane act of finding your mates at the pub.

Pearson is the futurist-in-residence at British Telecom's research labs, one of the most hallowed halls of deep research in the world and, along with Bell Labs in the US, a birthplace of early optical-fibre technologies. Pearson says that within a generation, we will grow computers from biological cultures that are faster than those we today construct in silicon, gold and plastic.

"We're looking at the idea of making conscious computers, and it's possible any time after 2015 that we could have computers as smart as human beings," he says. "That has a major impact for mankind, whatever way you sum it up."

As the inhouse crystal-ball gazer at BT, Pearson is responsible for imagining a future to give direction to BT's commercial enterprises - and to anticipate over-the-horizon threats. In 1991, he wrote a paper, 2601 uses of a future superhighway type network, which accurately predicted the commercial applications of the internet. He also chalks up predicting mobile phones as another success. But he acknowledges his enthusiasm for virtual reality was misplaced, as the technology flopped.

Pearson, who holds a degree in theoretical physics and applied mathematics, worked for a missile systems company as an engineer and battlefield strategist before joining BT in 1985.

As he moved towards the cutting edge, he says he realised he was engineering the near future: "It's a circular sort of argument, trying to build a future by actually assembling it.

"Already you can use DNA to assemble electronic circuits, very simple electronic circuits, but the DNA itself is a little tiny machine," Pearson says.

"In 15 years time you could design a bacterium (similar to yoghurt) with the DNA in it to assemble circuits within its own cell. Because it's part of its DNA, it will be able to reproduce. So as long as you provide it with a food supply, this bacterium will become a quite large computer over a period of time. It will just breed."

With the merger of information technology and biology comes the possibility that we will merge our minds with machines, says the British futurist. Education will be a doddle because we will have intimate access to the world's information or any of our gadgetry in a nanosecond. And if "you have a back-up of your brain on the computer, you don't die," he says.

"It's sounds like I'm a wacko who watches too much Star Trek, but there are billions of dollars of research today ... going into technologies which will allow you to connect your nervous system to computers for exactly that purpose."

The next 20 years will see as much innovation as the last 500, he predicts.

"Education (becoming) completely obsolete ... telepathic links between people, the end of death; those are fairly substantial changes," he suggests.

More mundane uses of technology that centre around existing gadgets such as the mobile phone are also being investigated.

"We're trying to develop all sorts of ideas for how people can use technology to improve their social lives, and let's face it, their sex lives," he says.

Imagine being able to look at the screen of your mobile phone and know exactly where your friends are: "If you're in town on Saturday morning, your best mate might be 100 yards down the street.

"You could have gone for a beer ... and you didn't. You've missed that social opportunity."

This is where the work of Robin Mannings, BT's research foresight manager in the research and venturing division - it is based at Ipswich, Suffolk, north-east of London, England - comes into its own. Mannings' forte is anticipating technology tsunamis that could turn industry and society 90 degrees. One of these "disruptive technologies", people-tracking, expands on Pearson's concepts for social interactions mediated by new information and communications technologies.

Mannings wants a world where you will never miss that beer with your mate. Contrary to the fears of privacy and civil liberties activists, Mannings says that in the near future we will demand that our movements are tracked.

He says wearing a tag with your information in it is like being surrounded by an ambient, intelligent bubble - as you approach things and interact with them, the computing in the background starts to make things happen.

For instance, upon entering your favourite watering hole, the radio-frequency tracking tag that you wear will communicate with the establishment's customer relationship management database, entitling you to special prices. A device at your hip, for instance, will tell you where your friends are, and room conditions such as lighting and music could be adjusted to your personal preferences.

"Suddenly, the idea of being tagged goes into a completely new dimension," Mannings says. "It's not a case of 'I don't want to be tagged because I don't want Big Brother to watch what I'm doing'. It's 'please, please tag me because I can have a really fun time'."

Of course, the same information could be used to deny unruly patrons access, or help people avoid speaking to a drunken hoon or the office bore.

Like Pearson, Mannings has a background in research and development. He developed mobile radio systems with Philips, researched radio multiplexing and wireless data at the University of Bath and established himself as an expert in positioning and tracking systems.

Both Mannings and Pearson say technology will move into the background. Pearson says "ultra-simple" computing will be a reality in just 10 years. Everything of any significance - clothing, paper or dinner plates, for instance - will contain some form of computer. These computers will be a millimetre or less in diameter and will not be visually intrusive. Large PC boxes in the office will disappear and paintings on the wall will become computer displays.

Simple background computing devices already have some practical applications, Mannings notes.

BT, in conjunction with the British Government, is conducting trials of in-home monitoring technologies with Liverpool Council in northern England. By attaching a vibration sensor to a house water pipe, for example, it's possible to know how many times a toilet is flushed in a day. By building sensors into bedding, a computer can monitor sleeping patterns. According to Mannings, this could have applications in aged care.

"Care is very expensive, and also intrusive, and people like their independence," he says.

As a person's health deteriorates, the speed at which they are doing things changes, he says, and this can be monitored.

"If they're getting up later and later every day, it might be that the disease they have is actually getting worse," he says. "Perhaps they need more care, for someone to come around before there's an emergency situation.

"If you're moving, it means you're awake, but if you hardly move over a space of several hours ... perhaps you're in a coma, and that is obviously a problem."

But he is conscious of the privacy implications: "Do I really want the state of my bowels known to all and sundry?"

Data storage is another area set for major change. In laboratory conditions, data can be stored at one bit of data per 20 atoms - every film and music album ever made could be carried in a pocket-sized device, along with a copy of all of the static data stored on the web, Mannings says.

"Storing computer data on DNA is actually one way of doing it," he claims. "Our understanding of computing today is very much based on conventional silicon memory, but if you start to factor in some of these changes, it does change the dynamics of what ICT (information communications technology) is going to be."

The destruction of monopolies reliant on intellectual property will also play a big role in the development of our future - open source will spread to silicon chip design, smashing current cartels, says the research manager.

Grid computing will allow personal computers and even mobile phones to share each others' processing and storage capacities, he says.

What else is on the way? Pearson predicts that next-generation technologies geared towards communication and emotion will give birth to a new, technology-enabled hippy movement.

"People are suffering from a lack of social contact because of previous generations of technologies. People are looking for ways of making relationships safer, and technology is absolutely ideal for doing that.

"Social barriers are dropping. We're heading almost towards another culture, where people are much more open about their feelings for other people."

Keeping on with keeping up

Mike Carr, the director of research and venturing at British Telecom, says future-gazing has tangible strategic benefits for the telco.

While BT isn't trying to engineer conscious computers or biological computers for immediate sale, predictions of far-future technology ready it for threatening changes. If the future of 20 years hence can be imagined today, groundwork can be laid for their integration into BT's business, Carr says.

"Unless you start to worry about nano-(technology) and what it's going to be doing in ... the future and start to imagine those things, you're going to miss a trick in terms of some of the directions you take," he says.

"It's surprising how quickly that stuff becomes real."

Carr's department looks at what he calls "inventive" pursuits, and it is up to another department within the telco to turn those inventions into commercial products and services.

One of those early inventions was the optical-fibre amplifier, which enabled fast trans-Atlantic data links, Carr says.

He credits research work on Multiprotocol Label Switching to BT's success in that area.

These days, near-term research at BT concentrates on what he calls "the complexity problem". The lab's research output will help organisations with "really clever ways of managing things (and) really clever ways of automatically integrating things."

Fruit flies bristle with intelligence

While futurists predict artificial intelligence will eventually give birth to conscious computers, British Telecom's AI guru Nader Azarmi says the technology is already useful.

Since 1998, the telco has used AI techniques to allocate engineering resources to logistically complicated tasks such as telephone-line maintenance and repair, says Azarmi, who heads BT's Intelligent Systems lab.

The platform has had a "major impact" on how the organisation allocates daily work schedules to its 29,000 engineers, he says.

"It's about predicting the volume of work coming into the country, the location of the work coming into the country, and essentially trying to redistribute the workforce across the UK," he says.

Soon, BT will build an AI model of a customer to help improve subscribers' satisfaction.

Elsewhere, BT has turned to nature for inspiration. Richard Tateson, a senior researcher with BT's research and venturing department, seeks to marry nature and computer science. For example, he studied the formation of hairs on the back of fruit flies and applied what he learnt to cellular communications networks.

"When I came here I knew a lot about fruit flies and nothing at all about telephones," he says.

Fruit fly cells are self-organising and decentralised. For example, Tateson says, when a fruit fly is developing bristles on its back, several cells will attempt to become bristle cells in competition with other, identical cells. Eventually, some cells will go on to form bristles, and the cells that fail to do so will form fruit fly skin.

The same logic can be applied to the frequency or channel allocation problem common with cellular phone networks.

"Why not allow the base stations in a mobile phone network or in a radio network on the battlefields ... communicate with each other and decide among themselves who gets to use which channels?" Tateson says.

By using a decentralised approach, cellular networks are better equipped to handle sudden change, such as the loss of a base station on a battlefield. Tateson's methodology is used in military applications and may be used in civilian commerce.

from smh

Brave new world for a couch potato - DVR Law set for review in Australia...

After decades of illegally taping TV programs and CDs we are about to be made honest by the Government, writes Julian Lee.

We are TV viewers, iPod owners, computer users - and most of us are criminals. Any Australian who has recorded Law & Order on Channel Ten while watching Desperate Housewives on Seven has broken the law. It is also illegal to tape a CD for the car stereo, copy songs onto an iPod or make a back-up copy of a computer program - although most of us ignore such laws and no one has ever been prosecuted in these circumstances.

Our creaky 35-year-old copyright laws are being further exposed by a wave of new consumer electronic products such as DVRs, or digital video recorders, that can be programmed weeks in advance at the touch of a button to record hundreds of hours of TV programs and films.

Unlike the US or some European countries, where laws are in place to allow copying for personal use - a clause known as "fair use" - Australians are subject to draconian laws, which are set to get even tougher as we fall into line with the US after the introduction of the US-Australia free trade agreement.

Under new US laws, which must be in place by 2007, anyone found selling or using software that breaks a copyright lock on encrypted CDs or DVDs faces a spell in jail.

It is this threat to liberty that has finally prompted the federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, to review the law and consider a "fair use" clause that will bring the Australian public in from the cold. Fair use allows consumers who have bought a film or a piece of music to be able to transfer it to another medium for their own use.

"There's a reasonable argument for putting forward the opinion that when someone has bought something in one format and has acquired the copyright for it in that particular format, then there is a fair use for them to take it to another format," Ruddock told the Herald.

"I think it's a strong argument. It's not unreasonable to allow its use again and again." It is the first time the Attorney-General's office has said it would consider such changes.

Ruddock's review would also examine ways of compensating artists for any increase in copying that accompanied a change in the law.

The real test for the review panel will be to define what is meant by "fair use". Is recording a TV program for later viewing "fair"? What about taping songs from the radio for personal use? What if you then give that recording to a friend?

New consumer technologies such as DVRs, portable digital music players and computerised "media centres" are in legal limbo until these details are nutted out. A lot of money is at stake.

The DVR - also known as a PVR, or personal video recorder - promises "the idea that you can get any show whenever you want", as Microsoft founder Bill Gates has put it. About 1.9 million US households subscribe to a DVR service called TiVo. Microsoft has created a special version of its Windows software to do the same thing, and store music and photos.

This long-awaited convergence of television, computers and the internet threatens to overturn the established order of television. DVR owners rarely watch live TV, instead choosing to watch their favourite shows (minus the ads) at a time suitable to them - a process known as "time-shifting". DVRs can even learn the preferences of viewers and suggest shows to record.

Today's laws have been a hindrance to the pay TV operator Foxtel, which next month plans to launch the first Australian DVR service (albeit without TiVo's ad-skipping feature).

Foxtel predicts a slowburn effect when it launches its DVR (see breakout). It combines the station's electronic program guide, which allows viewers to scroll through the schedule of all its channels, with its recorder. Live television can be recorded and replayed.

Foxtel says its service will knock the competition out of the water and change viewing habits forever.

"It'll do to television what the PC did to computing," says Foxtel content director Patrick Delany. Viewers would be able to build a library of TV programs by recording any program they wish.

Yet this library might be illegal under Australian copyright law. Foxtel has been forced to seek permission from scores of film studios and TV producers so users of its DVR can legally record programs and films.

Panasonic's latest DVR boasts, among other features, the capacity to store more than 700 hours of viewing material, record two programs at once, and transfer your VHS collection to DVDs. Yet the legal use of the machine is unclear because recording TV shows is illegal in Australia. Panasonic declined to address this issue when asked by the Herald.

The weight of the law was too heavy for a Sydney entrepreneur, Damian Ivereigh, who planned to launch a locally designed DVR. Called Ebony, the DVR would have automatically downloaded shows for viewing on TV or a notebook computer. It would also have acted as a digital music centre.

But the 40-year-old entrepreneur from Drummoyne has reluctantly shelved his plans after realising that many of Ebony's features could not be used without breaking copyright law.

"I felt that as a small player I would be an obvious target for a lawsuit from the TV or movie companies, who could see Ebony as a significant threat to their revenue model," Ivereigh said.

Of course the issue is not new. People have illegally recorded music and TV shows as long as tape decks and video cassette recorders have been around.

But in a connected, digital world, the threat to copyright holders is far greater. Witness the downfall of the music industry in recent years. (The Australian record industry has lobbied against changing Australian copyright law).

Digital convergence poses a greater threat to the music and film industry than the old fashioned video cassette, says copyright expert Kim Weatherall of Melbourne University's Law School.

"The problem with PVRs and DVD recorders is that they make digital copies - and unlike tapes and ordinary videos, digital copies can be endlessly copied and distributed, including online."

That threatens to make ordinary TV viewers dangerous copyright infringers, as they could threaten the profits and business models of the copyright owners.

Less profit means less innovation, which leads to fewer new acts and films, and ultimately means cheaper and more uninventive content for the consumer - or so the argument goes.

To lessen this danger, Foxtel's DVR will encrypt TV programs to prevent them being recorded onto a DVD disc. "If they don't pay their bills when we cut them off, their library will be instantly erased," Delany says.

Simon Lake of copyright collection agency Screenrights says: "It's hard to quantify the damage [of duplicating copyright material] other than to say that consumers value the right to copy because they are buying equipment at record rates."

Harvey Norman reports strong sales of digital recorders and PCs equipped with the Microsoft program. It's early days yet, says director John Slack-Smith, but he predicts both will be big sellers. "These have the potential to be massive ... the viewer is no longer going to be beholden to the [TV] station," he says.

Market research firm Gfk says 77,199 DVD recorders at an average price of $829 were sold in Australia last year and forecasts strong growth in 2005.

Still, many in the TV, film and music industries do not agree with the introduction of a fair-use clause.

"Fair use is often misunderstood as free use and you have to be very careful how you use that clause," says Adrianne Pecotic, who heads the film industry's Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft.

Another solution under consideration is a levy on the retail price of CDs, DVD, DVRs and other devices to compensate copyright owners for lost income through piracy and copying.

Unlike their recording labels, many songwriters and music publishers support a fair-use concept in tandem with a compensation plan.

"We have a culture of copying but as yet no means of remuneration," says Screenright's Lake.

Music record labels and film studios dismiss the idea as unworkable and tantamount to raising the white flag. "You'd be saying 'take my film, make a copy and give it away and maybe we'd get some money further down the line," says Pecotic.

Competition an obstacle for Foxtel

Australian couch potatoes have so far missed out on a wave of sophisticated new viewing technologies because of infighting among TV networks and low penetration of pay TV.

Foxtel promises its digital video recorder (DVR), due next month, will revolutionise the way we watch TV. The box - available in the 560,000 households connected to Foxtel's digital service - will feature an electronic program guide. This allows viewers to record and save dozens of shows without a tape.

But because of infighting, only one of the three commercial networks, Nine, is expected to appear on the system alongside Foxtel's channels.

The Foxtel box needs a program guide to function effectively. "Without that it's little more than a glorified video recorder but with a bigger memory and without the tape," says the Herald's TV technology reviewer, Rod Easdown.

Seven and Ten are reluctant to hand over their program guides to a rival; Foxtel shares a parent with the Nine Network in Kerry Packer's PBL.

Viewers may be discouraged from paying for Foxtel's DVR without access to Seven and Ten's TV listings. The technology has also been delayed because of the slow uptake of pay TV. Unlike the US, Canada and Britain, pay TV here is very much the younger sibling to the free-to-air networks. Only 24 per cent of Australian households subscribe to pay TV compared with 70 per cent in the US, 68 per cent in Canada and 56 per cent in Britain.

"Things would be very different if, say, Foxtel had the exclusive rights to broadcast cricket," says Mike Porter, the chief executive of Mediaedge:cia, a media strategist.

"Because of our anti-siphoning laws it has meant that pay TV has never really been able to dominate a program strand that has been in heavy demand."

from smh

Monday, February 14, 2005

A genius explains...

Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant. He can perform mind-boggling mathematical calculations at breakneck speeds. But unlike other savants, who can perform similar feats, Tammet can describe how he does it. He speaks seven languages and is even devising his own language. Now scientists are asking whether his exceptional abilities are the key to unlock the secrets of autism. Interview by Richard Johnson

Daniel Tammet is talking. As he talks, he studies my shirt and counts the stitches. Ever since the age of three, when he suffered an epileptic fit, Tammet has been obsessed with counting. Now he is 26, and a mathematical genius who can figure out cube roots quicker than a calculator and recall pi to 22,514 decimal places. He also happens to be autistic, which is why he can't drive a car, wire a plug, or tell right from left. He lives with extraordinary ability and disability.

Tammet is calculating 377 multiplied by 795. Actually, he isn't "calculating": there is nothing conscious about what he is doing. He arrives at the answer instantly. Since his epileptic fit, he has been able to see numbers as shapes, colours and textures. The number two, for instance, is a motion, and five is a clap of thunder. "When I multiply numbers together, I see two shapes. The image starts to change and evolve, and a third shape emerges. That's the answer. It's mental imagery. It's like maths without having to think."

Tammet is a "savant", an individual with an astonishing, extraordinary mental ability. An estimated 10% of the autistic population - and an estimated 1% of the non-autistic population - have savant abilities, but no one knows exactly why. A number of scientists now hope that Tammet might help us to understand better. Professor Allan Snyder, from the Centre for the Mind at the Australian National University in Canberra, explains why Tammet is of particular, and international, scientific interest. "Savants can't usually tell us how they do what they do," says Snyder. "It just comes to them. Daniel can. He describes what he sees in his head. That's why he's exciting. He could be the Rosetta Stone."

There are many theories about savants. Snyder, for instance, believes that we all possess the savant's extraordinary abilities - it is just a question of us learning how to access them. "Savants have usually had some kind of brain damage. Whether it's an onset of dementia later in life, a blow to the head or, in the case of Daniel, an epileptic fit. And it's that brain damage which creates the savant. I think that it's possible for a perfectly normal person to have access to these abilities, so working with Daniel could be very instructive."

Scans of the brains of autistic savants suggest that the right hemisphere might be compensating for damage in the left hemisphere. While many savants struggle with language and comprehension (skills associated primarily with the left hemisphere), they often have amazing skills in mathematics and memory (primarily right hemisphere skills). Typically, savants have a limited vocabulary, but there is nothing limited about Tammet's vocabulary.

Tammet is creating his own language, strongly influenced by the vowel and image-rich languages of northern Europe. (He already speaks French, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Icelandic and Esperanto.) The vocabulary of his language - "Mänti", meaning a type of tree - reflects the relationships between different things. The word "ema", for instance, translates as "mother", and "ela" is what a mother creates: "life". "Päike" is "sun", and "päive" is what the sun creates: "day". Tammet hopes to launch Mänti in academic circles later this year, his own personal exploration of the power of words and their inter-relationship.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre (ARC) at Cambridge University, is interested in what Mänti might teach us about savant ability. "I know of other savants who also speak a lot of languages," says Baron-Cohen. "But it's rare for them to be able to reflect on how they do it - let alone create a language of their own." The ARC team has started scanning Tammet's brain to find out if there are modules (for number, for example, or for colour, or for texture) that are connected in a way that is different from most of us. "It's too early to tell, but we hope it might throw some light on why we don't all have savant abilities."

Last year Tammet broke the European record for recalling pi, the mathematical constant, to the furthest decimal point. He found it easy, he says, because he didn't even have to "think". To him, pi isn't an abstract set of digits; it's a visual story, a film projected in front of his eyes. He learnt the number forwards and backwards and, last year, spent five hours recalling it in front of an adjudicator. He wanted to prove a point. "I memorised pi to 22,514 decimal places, and I am technically disabled. I just wanted to show people that disability needn't get in the way."

Tammet is softly spoken, and shy about making eye contact, which makes him seem younger than he is. He lives on the Kent coast, but never goes near the beach - there are too many pebbles to count. The thought of a mathematical problem with no solution makes him feel uncomfortable. Trips to the supermarket are always a chore. "There's too much mental stimulus. I have to look at every shape and texture. Every price, and every arrangement of fruit and vegetables. So instead of thinking,'What cheese do I want this week?', I'm just really uncomfortable."

Tammet has never been able to work 9 to 5. It would be too difficult to fit around his daily routine. For instance, he has to drink his cups of tea at exactly the same time every day. Things have to happen in the same order: he always brushes his teeth before he has his shower. "I have tried to be more flexible, but I always end up feeling more uncomfortable. Retaining a sense of control is really important. I like to do things in my own time, and in my own style, so an office with targets and bureaucracy just wouldn't work."

Instead, he has set up a business on his own, at home, writing email courses in language learning, numeracy and literacy for private clients. It has had the fringe benefit of keeping human interaction to a minimum. It also gives him time to work on the verb structures of Mänti.

Few people on the streets have recognised Tammet since his pi record attempt. But, when a documentary about his life is broadcast on Channel 5 later this year, all that will change. "The highlight of filming was to meet Kim Peek, the real-life character who inspired the film Rain Man. Before I watched Rain Man, I was frightened. As a nine-year-old schoolboy, you don't want people to point at the screen and say, 'That's you.' But I watched it, and felt a real connection. Getting to meet the real-life Rain Man was inspirational."

Peek was shy and introspective, but he sat and held Tammet's hand for hours. "We shared so much - our love of key dates from history, for instance. And our love of books. As a child, I regularly took over a room in the house and started my own lending library. I would separate out fiction and non-fiction, and then alphabetise them all. I even introduced a ticketing system. I love books so much. I've read more books than anyone else I know. So I was delighted when Kim wanted to meet in a library." Peek can read two pages simultaneously, one with each eye. He can also recall, in exact detail, the 7,600 books he has read. When he is at home in Utah, he spends afternoons at the Salt Lake City public library, memorising phone books and address directories."He is such a lovely man," says Tammet. "Kim says, 'You don't have to be handicapped to be different - everybody's different'. And he's right."

Like Peek, Tammet will read anything and everything, but his favourite book is a good dictionary, or the works of GK Chesterton. "With all those aphorisms," he says, "Chesterton was the Groucho Marx of his day." Tammet is also a Christian, and likes the fact that Chesterton addressed some complex religious ideas. "The other thing I like is that, judging by the descriptions of his home life, I reckon Chesterton was a savant. He couldn't dress himself, and would always forget where he was going. His poor wife."

Autistic savants have displayed a wide range of talents, from reciting all nine volumes of Grove's Dictionary Of Music to measuring exact distances with the naked eye. The blind American savant Leslie Lemke played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No1, after he heard it for the first time, and he never had so much as a piano lesson. And the British savant Stephen Wiltshire was able to draw a highly accurate map of the London skyline from memory after a single helicopter trip over the city. Even so, Tammet could still turn out to be the more significant.

He was born on January 31 1979. He smiles as he points out that 31, 19, 79 and 1979 are all prime numbers - it's a kind of sign. He was actually born with another surname, which he prefers to keep private, but decided to change it by deed poll. It didn't fit with the way he saw himself. "I first saw 'Tammet' online. It means oak tree in Estonian, and I liked that association. Besides, I've always had a love of Estonian. Such a vowel rich language."

As a baby, he banged his head against the wall and cried constantly. Nobody knew what was wrong. His mother was anxious, and would swing him to sleep in a blanket. She breastfed him for two years. The only thing the doctors could say was that perhaps he was understimulated. Then, one afternoon when he was playing with his brother in the living room, he had an epileptic fit.

"I was given medication - round blue tablets - to control my seizures, and told not to go out in direct sunlight. I had to visit the hospital every month for regular blood tests. I hated those tests, but I knew they were necessary. To make up for it, my father would always buy me a cup of squash to drink while we sat in the waiting room. It was a worrying time because my Dad's father had epilepsy, and actually died of it, in the end. They were thinking, 'This is the end of Daniel's life'."

Tammet's mother was a secretarial assistant, and his father a steelplate worker. "They both left school without qualifications, but they made us feel special - all nine of us. As the oldest of nine, I suppose it's fair to say I've always felt special." Even if his younger brothers and sisters could throw and catch better than him, swim better, kick a ball better, Daniel was always the oldest. "They loved me because I was their big brother and I could read them stories."

He remembers being given a Ladybird book called Counting when he was four. "When I looked at the numbers I 'saw' images. It felt like a place I could go where I really belonged. That was great. I went to this other country whenever I could. I would sit on the floor in my bedroom and just count. I didn't notice that time was passing. It was only when my Mum shouted up for dinner, or someone knocked at my door, that I would snap out of it."

One day his brother asked him a sum. "He asked me to multiply something in my head - like 'What is 82 x 82 x 82 x 82?' I just looked at the floor and closed my eyes. My back went very straight and I made my hands into fists. But after five or 10 seconds, the answer just flowed out of my mouth. He asked me several others, and I got every one right. My parents didn't seem surprised. And they never put pressure on me to perform for the neighbours. They knew I was different, but wanted me to have a normal life as far as possible."

Tammet could see the car park of his infant school from his bedroom window, which made him feel safe. "I loved assembly because we got to sing hymns. The notes formed a pattern in my head, just like the numbers did." The other children didn't know what to make of him, and would tease him. The minute the bell went for playtime he would rush off. "I went to the playground, but not to play. The place was surrounded by trees. While the other children were playing football, I would just stand and count the leaves."

As Tammet grew older, he developed an obsessive need to collect - everything from conkers to newspapers. "I remember seeing a ladybird for the first time," he says. "I loved it so much, I went round searching every hedge and every leaf for more. I collected hundreds, and took them to show the teacher. He was amazed, and asked me to get on with some assignment. While I was busy he instructed a classmate to take the tub outside and let the ladybirds go. I was so upset that I cried when I found out. He didn't understand my world."

Tammet may have been teased at school, but his teachers were always protective. "I think my parents must have had a word with them, so I was pretty much left alone." He found it hard to socialise with anyone outside the family, and, with the advent of adolesence, his shyness got worse.

After leaving school with three A-levels (History, French and German, all grade Bs), he decided he wanted to teach - only not the predictable, learn-by-rote type of teaching. For a start, he went to teach in Lithuania, and he worked as a volunteer. "Because I was there of my own free will, I was given a lot of leeway. The times of the classes weren't set in stone, and the structures were all of my own making. It was also the first time I was introduced as 'Daniel' rather than 'the guy who can do weird stuff in his head'. It was such a pleasant relief." Later, he returned home to live with his parents, and found work as a maths tutor.

He met the great love of his life, a software engineer called Neil, online. It began, as these things do, with emailed pictures, but ended up with a face-to-face meeting. "Because I can't drive, Neil offered to pick me up at my parents' house, and drive me back to his house in Kent. He was silent all the way back. I thought, 'Oh dear, this isn't going well'. Just before we got to his house, he stopped the car. He reached over and pulled out a bouquet of flowers. I only found out later that he was quiet because he likes to concentrate when he's driving."

Neil is shy, like Tammet. They live, happily, on a quiet cul-de-sac. The only aspect of Tammet's autism that causes them problems is his lack of empathy. "There's a saying in Judaism, if somebody has a relative who has hanged themselves, don't ask them where you should hang your coat. I need to remember that. Like the time I kept quizzing a friend of Neil's who had just lost her mother. I was asking her all these questions about faith and death. But that's down to my condition - no taboos."

When he isn't working, Tammet likes to hang out with his friends on the church quiz team. His knowledge of popular culture lets him down, but he's a shoo-in when it comes to the maths questions. "I do love numbers," he says. "It isn't only an intellectual or aloof thing that I do. I really feel that there is an emotional attachment, a caring for numbers. I think this is a human thing - in the same way that a poet humanises a river or a tree through metaphor, my world gives me a sense of numbers as personal. It sounds silly, but numbers are my friends."

...[pinched from the Guardian]

The origin of Valentines Day

Lupercalia is uniquely Roman, but even the Romans of the first century were at a loss to explain exactly which deity or deities were being exalted. It harkens back to the days when Rome was nothing more than a few shepherds living on a hill known as Palantine and was surrounded by wilderness teeming with wolves.

Lupercus, protector of flocks against wolves, is a likely candidate; the word lupus is Latin for wolf, or perhaps Faunus, the god of agriculture and shepherds. Others suggest it was Rumina, the goddess whose temple stood near the fig tree under which the she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus. There is no question about Lupercalia's importance. Records indicate that Mark Antony was master of the Luperci College of Priests. He chose the Lupercalia festival of the year 44BC as the proper time to offer the crown to Julius Caesar.

According to legend, the story of Romulus and Remus begins with their grandfather Numitor, king of the ancient Italian city of Alba Longa. He was ousted by his brother Amulius. Numitor's daughter, Rhea Silvia, was made a Vestal Virgin by Amulius and forbidden to marry since her children would be rightful heir to the throne. Mars, the god of war, fell in love with her and she gave birth to twin sons.

Fearing that the boys would grow up and seek revenge, Amulius had them placed in a basket and thrown into the freezing flooded waters of the River Tiber. When the waters receded, the basket came ashore on Palantine Hill. They were found by a she-wolf who, instead of killing them, nurtured and nourished them with her milk. A woodpecker, also sacred to Mars, brought them food as well.

The twins were later found by Faustulus, the king's shepherd. He and his wife adopted and named them Romulus and Remus. They grew up to be bold, strong young men, and eventually led a band of shepherds in an uprising against Amulius, killing him and rightfully restoring the kingdom to their grandfather.

Deciding to found a town of their own, Romulus and Remus chose the sacred place where the she-wolf had nursed them. Romulus began to build walls on Palatine Hill, but Remus laughed because they were so low. Remus mockingly jumped over them, and in a fit of rage, Romulus killed his brother. Romulus continued the building of the new city, naming it Roma after himself.

February occurred later on the ancient Roman calendar than it does today so Lupercalia was held in the spring and regarded as a festival of purification and fertility. Each year on February 15, the Luperci priests gathered on Palantine Hill at the cave of Lupercal. Vestal virgins brought sacred cakes made from the first ears of last year's grain harvest to the fig tree. Two naked young men, assisted by the Vestals, sacrificed a dog and a goat at the site. The blood was smeared on the foreheads of the young men and then wiped away with wool dipped in milk after which they were expected to smile.

The youths then donned loincloths made from the skin of the goat and led groups of priests around the pomarium, the sacred boundary of the ancient city, and around the base of the hills of Rome. The occasion was happy and festive. As they ran about the city, the young men lightly struck women along the way with strips of the goat hide. Girls would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility.

Long after Palentine HIll became the seat of the powerful city, state and empire of Rome, the Lupercalia festival lived on. Roman armies took the Lupercalia customs with them as they invaded France and Britain. One of these was a lottery where the names of available maidens were placed in a box and drawn out by the young men. Each man accepted the girl whose name he drew as his love - for the duration of the festival, or sometimes longer.

As Christianity began to slowly and systematically dismantle the pagan pantheons, it frequently replaced the festivals of the pagan gods with more ecumenical celebrations. It was easier to convert the local population if they could continue to celebrate on the same days... they would just be instructed to celebrate different people and ideologies..

Lupercalia, with its lover lottery, had no place in the new Christian order. In the year 496 AD, Pope Gelasius did away with the festival of Lupercalia, citing that it was pagan and immoral. He chose Valentine as the patron saint of lovers, who would be honored at the new festival on the fourteenth of every February. The church decided to come up with its own lottery and so the feast of St. Valentine featured a lottery of Saints. One would pull the name of a saint out of a box, and for the following year, study and attempt to emulate that saint.

Confusion surrounds St Valentine's exact identity. At least three Saint Valentines are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of February 14th. One is described as a priest in Rome, another as a Bishop of Interamna, now Terni in Italy, and the other lived and died in Africa.

The Bishop of Interamna is most widely accepted as the basis of the modern saint. He was an early Christian martyr who lived in northern Italy in the third century and was put to death on February 14th around 270 AD by the orders of Emperor Claudius II for disobeying the ban on Christianity. However, most scholars believe Valentine of Terni and the priest Valentine of Rome were the same person.

Claudius' Rome was an extremely dangerous place to be Christian. Valentine not only chose to be a priest, but was believed to have been a leader of the Christian underground movement. Many priests were caught, one by one and imprisoned and martyred. Valentine supposedly continued to preach the word after he was imprisoned, witnessing to the prisoners and guards.

One story tells that he was able to cure a guard’s daughter of blindness. When word got back to Claudius, he was furious and ordered Valentine’s brutal execution – beaten by clubs until dead, and then beheaded. While he was waiting for the soldiers to come and drag him away, Valentine composed a note to the girl telling her that he loved her. He signed it simply, "From Your Valentine." The execution was carried out on February 14th.

Another legend touts of a well loved priest called Valentine living under the rule of Emperor Claudius II. Rome was constantly engaged in war. Year after year, Claudius drafted male citizens into battle to defend and expand the Roman Empire. Many Romans were unwilling to go. Married men did not want to leave their families. Younger men did not wish to leave their sweethearts. Claudius ordered a moratorium on all marriages and that all engagements must be broken off immediately.

Valentine disagreed with his emperor. When a young couple came to the temple seeking to be married, Valentine secretly obliged them. Others came and were quietly married. Valentine became the friend of lovers in every district of Rome. But such secrets could not be kept for long. Valentine was dragged from the temple. Many pleaded with Claudius for Valentine's release but to no avail, and in a dungeon, Valentine languished and died. His devoted friends are said to have buried him in the church of St. Praxedes on the 14th of February.

The Feast of St. Valentine and the saint lottery lasted for a couple hundred years, but the church just couldn't rid the people's memory of Lupercalia. In time, the church gave up on Valentine all together. Protestant churches don't recognize saints at all, and very few Catholic churches choose to celebrate or observe the life of St. Valentine on a 'Valentine's Sunday'. The lottery finally returned to coupling eligible singles in the 15th century. The church attempted to revive the saint lottery once again in the 16th century, but it never caught on.

During the medieval days of chivalry, the single's lottery was very popular. The names of English maidens and bachelors were put into a box and drawn out in pairs. The couple exchanged gifts and the girl became the man's valentine for a year. He wore her name on his sleeve and it was his bounded duty to attend and protect her. The ancient custom of drawing names on the 14th of February was considered a good omen for love.

Arguably, you could say the very first valentine cards were the slips of paper bearing names of maidens the early Romans first drew. Or perhaps the note Valentine passed from his death cell. The first modern valentine cards are attributed to the young French Duke of Orleans. He was captured in battle and held prisoner in the Tower of London for many years. He was most prolific during his stay and wrote countless love poems to his wife. About sixty of them remain. They are among the royal papers in the British Museum.

By the 17th century, handmade cards had become quite elaborate. Pre-fabricated ones were only for those with means. In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained suggested sentimental verses for the young lover suffering from writer's block. Printers began producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called “mechanical valentines,” and a reduction in postal rates in the next century ushered in the practice of mailing valentines.

This made it possible to exchange cards anonymously and suddenly, racy, sexually suggestive verses started appearing in great numbers, causing quite a stir among prudish Victorians. The number of obscene valentines caused several countries to ban the practice of exchanging cards. Late in the nineteenth century, the post office in Chicago rejected some twenty-five thousand cards on the grounds that they were not fit to be carried through the U.S. mail.

The first American publisher of valentines was printer and artist Esther Howland. Her elaborate lace cards of the 1870’s cost from five to ten dollars, some as much as thirty-five dollars. Since then, the valentine card business has flourished. With the exception of Christmas, Americans exchange more cards on Valentine’s Day than at any other time of year.

Chocolate entered the Valentine's Day ritual relatively late. The Conquistadors brought chocolate to Spain in 1528 and while they knew how to make cocoa from the beans, it wasn't until 1847 that Fry & Sons discovered a way to make chocolate edible. Twenty years later, the Cadbury Brothers discovered how to make chocolate even smoother and sweeter. By 1868, the Cadburys were turning out the first boxed chocolate. They were elaborate boxes made of velvet and mirrors and retained their value as trinket-boxes after the chocolate was gone. Richard Cadbury created the first heart-shaped Valentine's Day box of candy sometime around 1870.

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