Blinded by sun? Let your steering wheel guide you

WORRIED that the sun in your eyes will impair your driving? For the first time, a vibrating steering wheel will tell drivers where to steer when undipped headlights or other visual impediments leave them temporarily blinded.

Eelke Folmer and Burkay Sucu at the University of Reno in Nevada, designed the steering wheel to help cut the accident toll caused by glare, especially in winter, when motorists are most likely to be dazzled by low sun and reflections from snow and ice.

Cars with vibrating seats can already warn drivers when another vehicle is approaching in their blind spot. But the team's design is the only one to help drivers steer using tactile cues. The system relies on car sensors like GPS and lane-keeping cameras to map the road ahead and work out where the vehicle is. When sensors detect the driver may be dazzled and drifting from their lane, the vibro-tactile system buzzes into action.

The vibrations are tuned to 275 hertz, the frequency that our skin is most sensitive to. And the cues are directional, so if a driver drifts left, the left side of the wheel will vibrate - a signal to steer right until it stops vibrating, just like a rumble strip. "It's fairly easy for the system to anticipate or sense glare conditions and activate itself," says Folmer. The system worked well in tests with 12 volunteers in a simulator, but the drivers' hands strayed from the left and right vibrators - so the devices may need to be more widely distributed around the wheel.

It's promising work, says Paul Newman, who is developing a driverless car at the University of Oxford. "Touch is an extraordinarily rich sensory pathway and is an ideal way to provide safety-improving hints. In this case, the hints are felt at the very place action is required - on the steering wheel itself," he says.

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Migrant Workers' Centre urges flexibility in Change of Employer policy

SINGAPORE: The Migrant Workers' Centre has urged the government to be more flexible in allowing foreign workers to change employers.

The centre's Chairman Yeo Guat Kwang told Channel NewsAsia that he is working with the Manpower Ministry to try and amend the policy.

The Migrant Workers' Centre said last year it received about 1,500 complaints from foreign workers, mostly for salary arrears cases.

Workers helping the Manpower Ministry with investigations are given a special pass to stay in Singapore under the Temporary Job Scheme.

Under the scheme, workers serving as prosecution witnesses may be allowed to find temporary employment while their cases are being investigated.

Migrant workers groups want the Temporary Job Scheme to be expanded to allow workers to remain in Singapore beyond the completion of their cases.

Mr Yeo said workers who are waiting for their workplace injury compensation should also be allowed to stay.

This, he said, could lead the way for a new transitional employment system for foreign workers.

Mr Yeo said: "If you say the only way for the workers is to go back, for some cases, it's not fair because they've only been here for a few months. I think we should amend this to make it easier for workers who unfortunately fall victim to one of these disputes, will be able to find employment with another employer.

"To me, I think it's good for the employer to employ these workers who are already here, rather than to go to the source country, and do a fresh recruitment, and these are workers who have already been here, we know how good their skills are."

Mr Yeo explained that making the Change of Employers policy more flexible is also in line with the MWC's call to improve the quality of foreign workers.

"At the end of the day, for us to be able to enable them to change employer and get re-employed, definitely this is a person that must have the right skill to work here," said Mr Yeo.

In addition, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics believes the restrictions of the Change of Employer policy do not favour these workers.

The organisation's president Bridget Tan explained: "This is called the sponsorship system. A work permit holder is tied to the employer. The work permit holder if once he or she leaves the employer unless with the approval of the employer this work permit holder will have to go home, repatriated.

"They find it difficult to enforce their rights under work permit conditions because they are so afraid and often threatened. Going home for many migrant workers whether domestic workers or foreign workers is not a choice for them because most of them are in debt to agents back home, money lenders back home.

"And going back with nothing, with no hope and promise of another job and the chance to change employers, sometimes they allow themselves to be exploited."

Ms Tan added workers are not allowed to change the industry they work in.

She said: "For example, if you come in as a construction worker, you can only find a job as a construction worker even though you have qualification that can allow you to work for example, as a waiter but you cannot because you come in as a construction worker, you have to be a construction worker. There are restrictions."

President of the Association of Employment Agencies, K Jayaprema said employers have concerns with a more flexible policy.

Mr Jayaprema said: "When such transfers kick in, if the employees are not very responsible, the employer might be stranded without a workforce because employees do have a tendency to be working in one company, train themselves up there and when there's opportunities in another company with a little bit of better salary, they move."

Employers have to send their foreign workers back within seven days of the cancellation of their work permits or they could lose the S$5,000 security bond with the Manpower Ministry.

Advocacy groups for migrant workers argue a more flexible change of employer policy would create greater mobility for workers.

With this mobility, migrant workers will no longer be at the mercy of employers.

There will be more incentive for employers to retain these workers, and treat them fairly.

MPs are expected to raise questions on how the government can address the grievances of foreign workers at the next sitting of Parliament.

- CNA/fa

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2 shot to death in separate attacks on South, West sides

Two men were shot to death in separate attacks within about 15 minutes of each other, one in Austin and one in Back of the Yards, authorities said.

The dead were among 11 people shot since Friday afternoon across the city, including two teens in the Stoney Island Park neighborhood.

About 9:15 p.m., a man was shot to death inside a Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, 5500 W. North Ave.

The man, who witnesses said was about 21 years old, was inside a business when he was shot from outside by someone who fled on foot, said Chicago Police News Affairs Officer Amina Greer. He was unresponsive on the scene when police found him but taken to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, police said. 

Three workers inside were cleaning up inside as police examined shell casings outside about 10 p.m. Someone fired at least four times from outside the restaurant, piercing a window and striking the man, police said. 

An employee who was inside making up an order at the time of the shooting said the gunfire did not sound like shots but instead like someone hitting a table with a hammer.

Just 15 minutes later, a man in his 20s was found shot to death on a sidewalk about 9:30 p.m. in the 5400 block of South Laflin Street, Greer said. He suffered a gunshot wound to the face and was dead on the scene, she said.

Police found him in a gangway next to a house with vacant brick buildings on each side.

A 35-year-old gang member told police he “heard shots and felt pain” when someone shot him just before 4 a.m. Saturday morning in the 1600 block of North Sawyer Avenue, police said. The man was taken from the Logan Square crime scene to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County in stable condition with gunshot wound to the arm, police said. 

About 11:35 p.m., a 26-year-old man was shot in the leg in the 4400 block of South Washtenaw Avenue, Greer said. He was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in good condition.

Someone was shot inside an apartment in the 1300 block of East 75th Street about 10:20 p.m., police said. The man inside was sitting on a couch of someone else’s apartment when three or four people knocked on the door. When the resident opened, someone fired and the guy who opened the door jumped out of the way. The gunman shot through a glass door and hit the man in the legs and arms, police said. He’s in stable condition at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County. 

Someone shot two teens in the 8400 block of South Constance Avenue about 9:45 p.m., Greer said. A 15-year-old was shot in the chest and taken to Comer Children's Hospital in critical condition and a 16-year-old was grazed in the back and taken to Jackson Park Hospital in good condition. Someone inside a passing light car opened fire on the teens, both of whom police said did not affiliate with local gangs. 

Earlier, two men were shot in the Englewood neighborhood. The shooting took place about 7:30 p.m. on the 7300 block of South Racine Avenue, and left one man wounded in the back and the other in the foot, police said. The Chicago Fire Department said the men were taken to hospitals from nearby locations where they were found by emergency personnel.

A 20-year-old man with a wound to the back was taken from 74th and Racine in serious condition to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, and an 18-year-old man with a wound to the foot was taken from 74th and Aberdeen Street to St. Bernard Hospital, where his condition was stabilized, according to Fire Media reports.

About 6:50 p.m., a 33-year-old man was shot in the 8400 block of South Paulina Street. He was a passenger in a southbound vehicle when someone opened fire, hitting the man in the arm and shoulder area. He’s in stable condition at Advocate Christ Medical Center. 

Another person was shot at 2300 N. Mango on Friday afternoon about 1 p.m., police said. Someone yelled “gangsta killer” and shot him in the upper left arm. He’s in good condition at West Suburban Medical Center, police said. 

No further details were immediately available.

Twitter: @peternickeas
Twitter: @ltaford

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Attack at Algeria Gas Plant Heralds New Risks for Energy Development

The siege by Islamic militants at a remote Sahara desert natural gas plant in Algeria this week signaled heightened dangers in the region for international oil companies, at a time when they have been expanding operations in Africa as one of the world's last energy frontiers. (See related story: "Pictures: Four New Offshore Drilling Frontiers.")

As BP, Norway's Statoil, Italy's Eni, and other companies evacuated personnel from Algeria, it was not immediately clear how widely the peril would spread in the wake of the hostage-taking at the sprawling In Amenas gas complex near the Libyan border.

A map of disputed islands in the East and South China Seas.

Map by National Geographic

Algeria, the fourth-largest crude oil producer on the continent and a major exporter of natural gas and refined fuels, may not have been viewed as the most hospitable climate for foreign energy companies, but that was due to unfavorable financial terms, bureaucracy, and corruption. The energy facilities themselves appeared to be safe, with multiple layers of security provided both by the companies and by government forces, several experts said. (See related photos: "Oil States: Are They Stable? Why It Matters.")

"It is particularly striking not only because it hasn't happened before, but because it happened in Algeria, one of the stronger states in the region," says Hanan Amin-Salem, a senior manager at the industry consulting firm PFC Energy, who specializes in country risk. She noted that in the long civil war that gripped the country throughout the 1990s, there had never been an attack on Algeria's energy complex. But now, hazard has spread from weak surrounding states, as the assault on In Amenas was carried out in an apparent retaliation for a move by French forces against the Islamists who had taken over Timbuktu and other towns in neighboring Mali. (See related story: "Timbuktu Falls.")

"What you're really seeing is an intensification of the fundamental problem of weak states, and empowerment of heavily armed groups that are really well motivated and want to pursue a set of aims," said Amin-Salem. In PFC Energy's view, she says, risk has increased in Mauritania, Chad, and Niger—indeed, throughout Sahel, the belt that bisects North Africa, separating the Sahara in the north from the tropical forests further south.

On Thursday, the London-based corporate consulting firm Exclusive Analysis, which was recently acquired by the global consultancy IHS, sent an alert to clients warning that oil and gas facilities near the Libyan and Mauritanian borders and in Mauritania's Hodh Ech Chargui province were at "high risk" of attack by jihadis.

"A Hot Place to Drill"

The attack at In Amenas comes at a time of unprecedented growth for the oil industry in Africa. (See related gallery: "Pictures: The Year's Most Overlooked Energy Stories.") Forecasters expect that oil output throughout Africa will double by 2025, says Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director of the energy and sustainability program at the University of California, Davis, who has counted 20 rounds of bidding for new exploration at sites in Africa's six largest oil-producing states.

Oil and natural gas are a large part of the Algerian economy, accounting for 60 percent of government budget revenues, more than a third of GDP and more than 97 percent of its export earnings. But the nation's resources are seen as largely undeveloped, and Algeria has tried to attract new investment. Over the past year, the government has sought to reform the law to boost foreign companies' interests in their investments, although those efforts have foundered.

Technology has been one of the factors driving the opening up of Africa to deeper energy exploration. Offshore and deepwater drilling success in the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil led to prospecting now under way offshore in Ghana, Mozambique, and elsewhere. (See related story: "New Oil—And a Huge Challenge—for Ghana.") Jaffe says the Houston-based company Anadarko Petroleum has sought to transfer its success in "subsalt seismic" exploration technology, surveying reserves hidden beneath the hard salt layer at the bottom of the sea, to the equally challenging seismic exploration beneath the sands of the Sahara in Algeria, where it now has three oil and gas operations.

Africa also is seen as one of the few remaining oil-rich regions of the world where foreign oil companies can obtain production-sharing agreements with governments, contracts that allow them a share of the revenue from the barrels they produce, instead of more limited service contracts for work performed.

"You now have the technology to tap the resources more effectively, and the fiscal terms are going to be more attractive than elsewhere—you put these things together and it's been a hot place to drill," says Jaffe, who doesn't see the energy industry's interest in Africa waning, despite the increased terrorism risk. "What I think will happen in some of these countries is that the companies are going to reveal new securities systems and procedures they have to keep workers safe," she says. "I don't think they will abandon these countries."

This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.

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Te'o Denies Involvement in Girlfriend Hoax

Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o told ESPN that he "never, not ever" was involved in creating the hoax that had him touting what turned out to be a fictional girlfriend, "Lennay Kekua."

"When they hear the facts, they'll know," Te'o told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap in his first interview since the story broke. "They'll know that there is no way that I could be a part of this."

"I wasn't faking it," he said during a 2 1/2-hour interview, according to

Te'o said he only learned for sure this week that he had been duped. On Wednesday, he received a Twitter message, allegedly from a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, apologizing for the hoax, Te'o told Schaap.

The sports website Deadspin, which first revealed the hoax this week, has reported that Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old of Samoan descent who lives in Antelope Valley, Calif., asked a woman he knew for her photo and that photo became the face of Kekua's Twitter account.

Te'o told Schaap that Tuiasosopo was represented to him as Kekua's cousin.

"I hope he learns," Te'o said of Tuiasosopo, according to coverage of the interview on "I hope he understands what he's done. I don't wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough."

Click Here for a Who's Who in the Manti Te'o Case

AP Photo/ESPN Images, Ryan Jones

Manti Te'o Hoax: Was He Duped or Did He Know? Watch Video

Manti Te'o Hoax: Notre Dame Star Allegedly Scammed Watch Video

Tale of Notre Dame Football Star's Girlfriend and Her Death an Alleged Hoax Watch Video

Te'o admitted to a few mistakes in his own conduct, including telling his father he met Kekua in Hawaii even though his attempt to meet her actually failed. Later retellings of that tale led to inconsistencies in media reports, Te'o said, adding that he never actually met Kekua in person.

Te'o added that he feared people would think it was crazy for him to be involved with someone that he never met, so, "I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away."

The relationship got started on Facebook during his freshman year, Te'o said.

"My relationship with Lennay wasn't a four-year relationship," Te'o said, according to "There were blocks and times and periods in which we would talk and then it would end."

He showed Schaap Facebook correspondence indicating that other people knew of Kekua -- though Te'o now believes they, too, were tricked.

The relationship became more intense, Te'o said, after he received a call that Kekua was in a coma following a car accident involving a drunk driver on April 28.

Soon, Te'o and Kekua became inseparable over the phone, he said, continuing their phone conversations through her recovery from the accident, and then during her alleged battle against leukemia.

Even so, Te'o never tried to visit Kekua at her hospital in California.

"It never really crossed my mind," he said, according to "I don't know. I was in school."

But the communication between the two was intense. They even had ritual where they discussed scripture every day, Te'o said. His parents also participated via text message, and Te'o showed Schaap some of the texts.

On Sept. 12, a phone caller claiming to be Kekua's relative told Te'o that Kekua had died of leukemia, Te'o said. However, on Dec. 6, Te'o said he got a call allegedly from Kekua saying she was alive. He said he was utterly confused and did not know what to believe.

ESPN's 2 1/2-hour interview was conducted in Bradenton, Fla., with Te'o's lawyer present but without video cameras. Schaap said Te'o was composed, comfortable and in command, and that he said he didn't want to go on camera to keep the setting intimate and avoid a big production.

According to ABC News interviews and published reports, Te'o received phone calls, text messages and letters before every football game from his "girlfriend." He was in contact with her family, including a twin brother, a second brother, sister and parents. He called often to check in with them, just as he did with his own family. And "Kekua" kept in contact with Te'o's friends and family, and teammates spoke to her on the phone.

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Feedback: Excessive precision at rugby World Cup

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China working age population falls

BEIJING: China's working-age population declined for the first time in recent decades in 2012, the government said on Friday, detailing the extent of a demographic time bomb experts say is one of Beijing's biggest challenges.

China introduced its controversial one-child policy in the late 1970s to control population growth, but its people are now ageing, moving to the cities, and increasingly male, government statistics showed.

The world's biggest national population rose by 6.7 million in 2012 to 1.354 billion people, excluding Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, the National Bureau of Statistics said.

Almost 118 boys were born for every 100 girls.

The working-age population -- defined as those from 15 to 59 -- fell by 3.45 million to 937 million, adding to concerns about how the country will provide for the elderly, with 194 million people now 60 or over.

It was the first absolute drop in the working-age segment in "a considerable period of time", said National Bureau of Statistics director Ma Jiantang, adding that he expected it to "fall steadily at least through 2030".

China's wealth gap and population imbalances are major concerns for the ruling Communist Party, which places huge importance on preserving social stability to avoid any potential challenge to its grip on power.

An estimated 180,000 protests break out across China every year, many of them sparked by a wide range of social issues, including wage disputes and rural workers being denied residents' rights in cities.

But the government faces a "major dilemma" over how it confronts the problem of a rapidly ageing population, said analysts.

"For older generations, life is going to be very painful," Sun Wenguang, a retired academic from Shandong University in Jinan, told AFP.

"The cost of 24-hour care in Beijing is probably 7,000 RMB a month, and how will this be funded? The average manual worker in China earns about 2,000 RMB a month (US$300), of course they don't want to share their money out."

Liang Zhongtang, a researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said the government was reluctant to confront the population imbalance because of the sensitivity of the family planning policy.

"Actually the structural decline of the country's labour resources started long ago," he told AFP.

Most of the labour force was aged between 20 and 45, he said, with the proportion of older workers within that range increasing rapidly. "This means it is very hard for them to change their jobs or find a new employer", decreasing labour flexibility.

The problems of ageing and labour shortages were "severe" in the countryside, he said, but added: "Even though rural areas' social and economic problems are serious, they do not make onto the radar of mainstream (policy makers).

"They just ignore the problems plaguing this social stratum."

As late as 1982, the proportion of the population aged 60 or over in China was just five per cent, but it now stands at 14.3 per cent.

China's urban population rose to 712 million in 2012, up 21 million and adding to the strains on public services, while the rural population fell 14 million to 642 million.

Average per capita income was 26,959 yuan (US$4,296) in the cities, compared to 7,917 yuan in the countryside, the statistics said.

- AFP/xq

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Lance Armstrong admits drug use, bullying; 'it's a major flaw'

Lance Armstrong confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, reversing more than a decade of denial.

Lance Armstrong finally confessed his doping sins to talk show host Oprah Winfrey on Thursday but the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has now challenged the disgraced cyclist to do the same under oath.

USADA, who exposed the seven-times Tour de France

winner as a drug cheat, said in a statement that Armstrong's admission to a worldwide television audience was a good first step but that the 41-year-old needed to do more.

"Tonight, Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit," said USADA chief Travis Tygart in a statement released shortly after the gripping 90-minute interview.

"His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction.

"But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities."

Armstrong, who has been stripped of his seven Tour wins and a bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, took Winfrey's quickfire, probing questions head on, owning up to the type of drug use that has tainted the sport he said he loves.

With cycling reeling from doping scandals and its place at the Olympics said to be under threat, Armstrong said he would do what he could, if called upon, to help rebuild its tattered image.

"I love cycling and I say that knowing that people see me as someone who disrespected the sport, the color yellow," Armstrong told Winfrey.

"If we can, and I stand on no moral platform here, if there was a truth and reconciliation commission, and I can't call for that, if they have it and I'm invited I'll be first man through the door."

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) also called on Armstrong this week to reveal under oath what he knows about doping in cycling.

The 90-minute broadcast will be followed Friday with a second part on the Oprah Winfrey Network on Friday, the second installment of a 2½-hour interview taped on Monday.

The first interview

Armstrong opened the interview by saying “yes” to taking the banned energy boosting substance EPO, testosterone, HGH, cortisone and employing blood-doping practices and transfusions.

He said he started using in the “EPO generation” of the mid-1990s.

And he said that without using the performance-enhancing drugs, he would not have been able to win the seven Tour de France titles.

He also expressed regret at how he had “bullied” those who painted his success as fraudulent.

He sued his former masseuse, Emma O’Reilly, after she had revealed that he had wrongly backdated a prescription for banned cortisone after he tested positive for it in 1999.

“She’s one of those people I have to apologize to,” Armstrong said. “She got run over, got bullied. We sued so many people. I have reached out to her to make amends.”

Winfrey asked Armstrong why he has sued people when he knew they were telling the truth.

“It’s a major flaw,” he said. “A guy who wanted to control every outcome. To never forgive me, I understand that. I have started that process to speak to those people directly.”

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Opinion: Lance One of Many Tour de France Cheaters

Editor's note: England-based writer and photographer Roff Smith rides around 10,000 miles a year through the lanes of Sussex and Kent and writes a cycling blog at:

And so, the television correspondent said to the former Tour de France champion, a man who had been lionised for years, feted as the greatest cyclist of his day, did you ever use drugs in the course of your career?

"Yes," came the reply. "Whenever it was necessary."

"And how often was that?" came the follow-up question.

"Almost all the time!"

This is not a leak of a transcript from Oprah Winfrey's much anticipated tell-all with disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, but instead was lifted from a decades-old interview with Fausto Coppi, the great Italian road cycling champion of the 1940s and 1950s.

To this day, though, Coppi is lauded as one of the gods of cycling, an icon of a distant and mythical golden age in the sport.

So is five-time Tour winner Jacques Anquetil (1957, 1961-64) who famously remarked that it was impossible "to ride the Tour on mineral water."

"You would have to be an imbecile or a crook to imagine that a professional cyclist who races for 235 days a year can hold the pace without stimulants," Anquetil said.

And then there's British cycling champion Tommy Simpson, who died of heart failure while trying to race up Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France, a victim of heat, stress, and a heady cocktail of amphetamines.

All are heroes today. If their performance-enhancing peccadillos are not forgotten, they have at least been glossed over in the popular imagination.

As the latest chapter of the sorry Lance Armstrong saga unfolds, it is worth looking at the history of cheating in the Tour de France to get a sense of perspective. This is not an attempt at rationalisation or justification for what Lance did. Far from it.

But the simple, unpalatable fact is that cheating, drugs, and dirty tricks have been part and parcel of the Tour de France nearly from its inception in 1903.

Cheating was so rife in the 1904 event that Henri Desgrange, the founder and organiser of the Tour, declared he would never run the race again. Not only was the overall winner, Maurice Garin, disqualified for taking the train over significant stretches of the course, but so were next three cyclists who placed, along with the winner of every single stage of the course.

Of the 27 cyclists who actually finished the 1904 race, 12 were disqualified and given bans ranging from one year to life. The race's eventual official winner, 19-year-old Henri Cornet, was not determined until four months after the event.

And so it went. Desgrange relented on his threat to scrub the Tour de France and the great race survived and prospered-as did the antics. Trains were hopped, taxis taken, nails scattered along the roads, partisan supporters enlisted to beat up rivals on late-night lonely stretches of the course, signposts tampered with, bicycles sabotaged, itching powder sprinkled in competitors' jerseys and shorts, food doctored, and inkwells smashed so riders yet to arrive couldn't sign the control documents to prove they'd taken the correct route.

And then of course there were the stimulants-brandy, strychnine, ether, whatever-anything to get a rider through the nightmarishly tough days and nights of racing along stages that were often over 200 miles long. In a way the race was tailor-made to encourage this sort of thing. Desgrange once famously said that his idea of a perfect Tour de France would be one that was so tough that only one rider finished.

Add to this the big prizes at a time when money was hard to come by, a Tour largely comprising young riders from impoverished backgrounds for whom bicycle racing was their one big chance to get ahead, and the passionate following cycling enjoyed, and you had the perfect recipe for a desperate, high stakes, win-at-all-costs mentality, especially given the generally tolerant views on alcohol and drugs in those days.

After World War II came the amphetamines. Devised to keep soldiers awake and aggressive through long hours of battle they were equally handy for bicycle racers competing in the world's longest and toughest race.

So what makes the Lance Armstrong story any different, his road to redemption any rougher? For one thing, none of the aforementioned riders were ever the point man for what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has described in a thousand-page report as the most sophisticated, cynical, and far-reaching doping program the world of sport has ever seen-one whose secrecy and efficiency was maintained by ruthlessness, bullying, fear, and intimidation.

Somewhere along the line, the casualness of cheating in the past evolved into an almost Frankenstein sort of science in which cyclists, aided by creepy doctors and trainers, were receiving blood transfusions in hotel rooms and tinkering around with their bodies at the molecular level many months before they ever lined up for a race.

To be sure, Armstrong didn't invent all of this, any more than he invented original sin-nor was he acting alone. But with his success, money, intelligence, influence, and cohort of thousand-dollar-an-hour lawyers-and the way he used all this to prop up the Lance brand and the Lance machine at any cost-he became the poster boy and lightning rod for all that went wrong with cycling, his high profile eclipsing even the heads of the Union Cycliste Internationale, the global cycling union, who richly deserve their share of the blame.

It is not his PED popping that is the hard-to-forgive part of the Lance story. Armstrong cheated better than his peers, that's all.

What I find troubling is the bullying and calculated destruction of anyone who got in his way, raised a question, or cast a doubt. By all accounts Armstrong was absolutely vicious, vindictive as hell. Former U.S. Postal team masseuse Emma O'Reilly found herself being described publicly as a "prostitute" and an "alcoholic," and had her life put through a legal grinder when she spoke out about Armstrong's use of PEDs.

Journalists were sued, intimidated, and blacklisted from events, press conferences, and interviews if they so much as questioned the Lance miracle or well-greased machine that kept winning Le Tour.

Armstrong left a lot of wreckage behind him.

If he is genuinely sorry, if he truly repents for his past "indiscretions," one would think his first act would be to try to find some way of not only seeking forgiveness from those whom he brutally put down, but to do something meaningful to repair the damage he did to their lives and livelihoods.

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Armstrong Admits to Doping, 'One Big Lie'

Lance Armstrong, formerly cycling's most decorated champion and considered one of America's greatest athletes, confessed to cheating for at least a decade, admitting on Thursday that he owed all seven of his Tour de France titles and the millions of dollars in endorsements that followed to his use of illicit performance-enhancing drugs.

After years of denying that he had taken banned drugs and received oxygen-boosting blood transfusions, and attacking his teammates and competitors who attempted to expose him, Armstrong came clean with Oprah Winfrey in an exclusive interview, admitting to using banned substances for years.

"I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times," he said. "I know the truth. The truth isn't what was out there. The truth isn't what I said.

"I'm a flawed character, as I well know," Armstrong added. "All the fault and all the blame here falls on me."

In October, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency issued a report in which 11 former Armstrong teammates exposed the system with which they and Armstrong received drugs with the knowledge of their coaches and help of team physicians.

George Burns/Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc./AP Photo

Lance Armstrong's Many Denials Caught on Tape Watch Video

Lance Armstrong Admits Using Performance-Enhancing Drugs Watch Video

Lance Armstrong's Oprah Confession: The Consequences Watch Video

The U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team "ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen," USADA said in its report.

As a result of USADA's findings, Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles. Soon, longtime sponsors including Nike began to abandon him, too.

READ MORE: Did Doping Cause Armstrong's Cancer?

Armstrong said he was driven to cheat by a "ruthless desire to win."

He told Winfrey that his competition "cocktail" consisted of EPO, blood transfusions and testosterone, and that he had previously used cortisone. He would not, however, give Winfrey the details of when, where and with whom he doped during seven winning Tours de France between 1999 and 2005.

He said he stopped doping following his 2005 Tour de France victory and did not use banned substances when he placed third in 2009 and entered the tour again in 2010.

"It was a mythic perfect story and it wasn't true," Armstrong said of his fairytale story of overcoming testicular cancer to become the most celebrated cyclist in history.

READ MORE: 10 Scandalous Public Confessions

PHOTOS: Olympic Doping Scandals: Past and Present

PHOTOS: Tour de France 2012

Armstrong would not name other members of his team who doped, but admitted that as the team's captain he set an example. He admitted he was "a bully" but said there "there was a never a directive" from him that his teammates had to use banned substances.

"At the time it did not feel wrong?" Winfrey asked.

"No," Armstrong said. "Scary."

"Did you feel bad about it?" she asked again.

"No," he said.

Armstrong said he thought taking the drugs was similar to filling his tires with air and bottle with water. He never thought of his actions as cheating, but "leveling the playing field" in a sport rife with doping.

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Life expectancy lower in US than other rich countries

WEALTHY it may be, but healthy it is not. The US population experiences poorer health at all stages of life than the populations of 16 other rich countries.

Despite leading the world in pioneering anti-smoking laws, cancer screening and controlling high blood pressure, the US trails its richer "peer" countries in almost all other measures of health and longevity, says a US National Research Council report published last week.

At 75 years, men in the US have the lowest life expectancy in the group, while women have a life expectancy of 81 years - higher only than Denmark.

In nine categories of ill health ranging from infant mortality rates to the prevalence of sexually transmitted disease, US citizens consistently came at or near the bottom of the table.

"I was stunned by how pervasive the disadvantages were across so many factors," says Steve Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, who chaired the report panel.

Woolf and his colleagues say that the problem is less to do with faults in the US health system, and more to do with behaviours that put US citizens at greater risk. "They consume the most calories per person, have higher rates of drug abuse, are less likely to use seat belts, and are more likely to use firearms in acts of violence," says Woolf.

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Floods swamp Indonesia capital, 19,000 homeless

JAKARTA: Floods which have made more than 19,000 people homeless and killed three brought parts of the Indonesian capital to a standstill Thursday, with even the president forced to roll up his trousers.

The waist-deep muddy waters paralysed much of the centre of Jakarta, home to 20 million people and already notorious for its chaotic traffic.

Drivers were stuck in snaking queues for hours in the morning and cyclists pushed bikes with only the handlebars and seats visible.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was pictured in the grounds of the presidential palace with his trousers rolled up to the knee, brown water lapping his calves and threatening to flood the shrubbery.

"Jakarta is flooded: hopefully there won't be too many victims," he told photographers, ordering military, police and disaster officials to ensure safety.

The monsoon floods had driven more than 19,000 people from their homes, according to Jakarta governor Joko Widodo.

National disaster management agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the death toll rose to three when a 35-year old man was electrocuted on Thursday. A two-year old boy was swept away and a 46-year-old man was electrocuted earlier this week.

The waters started to recede in the afternoon but floods remained in some areas including the central business district, where luxury hotels and the French, German and British embassies were surrounded.

Motorists trying to avoid the deluge drove along pavements and central reservations, or headed the wrong way down one-way streets. In some areas children punted rafts along roads which looked more like canals.

"Jakarta today is a huge swimming pool. Everyone's playing in the rain, walking in the water and laughing. The downside is, I have no idea how to get home, I might have to walk back three hours," 32-year-old administrative officer Yohanna, who uses a single name, told AFP.

Authorities raised the flood alert to its highest level early Thursday, said disaster agency spokesman Nugroho, describing the city as "besieged".

"The situation could get worse in the coming days as the rain shows little sign of abating," he told AFP.

But as rescuers rushed to evacuate residents, welfare ministry spokesman Tito Setiawan said the situation was under control.

"We have sent out trucks and rafts to move victims whose homes were inundated to temporary shelters. We will also provide food, water and humanitarian aid," he said.

Indonesia is regularly afflicted by deadly floods and landslides during its wet season, which lasts around half the year, and many in the capital live beside rivers which periodically overflow.

- AFP/fa

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FAA grounds Dreamliners in U.S.

Federal officials say they are temporarily grounding Boeing's 787 Dreamliners until the risk of possible battery fires is addressed. (Jan. 16)

With its new plane ordered to stay on the ground, Boeing Co. confronts a full-fledged crisis as it struggles to regain the confidence of passengers and the airline customers who stood by the 787 Dreamliner during years of cost overruns and delivery delays.

A second major incident involving "a potential battery fire risk'' prompted the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday to temporarily ground all 787s operated by U.S. carriers until it is determined that the lithium-ion batteries on board are safe.

The order affects United Airlines, which is the first U.S. customer. The FAA gave no indication how soon the plane could resume flying.

On Thursday, the European Aviation Safety Agency followed suit, grounding all Dreamliners in Europe.

Japanese airlines grounded their 787s Wednesday after an emergency landing and five days after the FAA and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared that the flying public is safe on Dreamliners. When it offered those assurances Friday, however, the FAA also announced a comprehensive review of the 787's design, manufacture and assembly.

The grounding represents a significant setback for Chicago-based Boeing, which is marketing the fuel-efficient, mainly carbon-composite jetliner as a vision of the future of commercial passenger aviation. The development of the plane was marred by long production and delivery delays, but it is selling well and has customers around the world.

"We stand behind its overall integrity. We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787's safety and to return the airplanes to service," Jim McNerney, Boeing's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. He said Boeing is working with the FAA to find answers as quickly as possible.

Chicago-based United Airlines has six 787s, but it has been flying only one on flights between O'Hare International Airport and Houston. The airline said Wednesday night that it will accommodate customers on other planes. The domestic 787 flights were to end in late March, when United's first 787s were to begin serving international routes. 

United said it "will work closely with the FAA and Boeing on the technical review as we work toward restoring 787 service."

Foreign carriers are not affected by the FAA order, but LOT Polish Airlines canceled its inaugural flight celebration at O'Hare on Wednesday night, even before the flight landed from Warsaw.

"We just think it would be inappropriate to go ahead with the activities," said Frank Joost, regional sales director of the Americas for LOT. He described the FAA grounding of 787 flights as a "surprise."

LOT also canceled the Dreamliner's return flight to Warsaw. Passengers hoping to depart on the 9:55 p.m. flight said they were disappointed. Many were rebooked on Lufthansa through Munich.

Suzy Zaborek, 27, of Chicago was at Chicago O'Hare on Wednesday night waiting for her father to arrive from Poland aboard the 787. He came home early specifically to ride on the inaugural flight.

Zaborek had not been following the Dreamliner woes in recent weeks and the dramatic groundings on Wednesday.

"I'm glad I didn't know because I wouldn't have let him get on on of those," she said.

The FAA decision to ground all U.S.-registered 787s was the direct result of an in-flight incident involving a battery earlier in the day in Japan, FAA officials said. It followed another 787 battery fire that occurred Jan. 7 on the ground in Boston.

Both failures resulted in the release of flammable materials, heat damage, smoke and the potential for fire in the electrical compartments, the FAA said.

"Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the FAA that the batteries are safe," the regulatory agency said. The statement said the FAA will work with Boeing and airlines "to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible."

The FAA said it took drastic action because it determined that battery failures are "likely to exist or develop" in other planes.

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6 Ways Climate Change Will Affect You

Photograph by AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The planet keeps getting hotter, new data showed this week. Especially in America, where 2012 was the warmest year ever recorded, by far. Every few years, the U.S. federal government engages hundreds of experts to assess the impacts of climate change, now and in the future.

From agriculture (pictured) to infrastructure to how humans consume energy, the National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee spotlights how a warming world may bring widespread disruption.

Farmers will see declines in some crops, while others will reap increased yields.

Won't more atmospheric carbon mean longer growing seasons? Not quite. Over the next several decades, the yield of virtually every crop in California's fertile Central Valley, from corn to wheat to rice and cotton, will drop by up to 30 percent, researchers expect. (Read about "The Carbon Bathtub" in National Geographic magazine.)

Lackluster pollination, driven by declines in bees due partly to the changing climate, is one reason. Government scientists also expect the warmer climate to shorten the length of the frosting season necessary for many crops to grow in the spring.

Aside from yields, climate change will also affect food processing, storage, and transportation—industries that require an increasing amount of expensive water and energy as global demand rises—leading to higher food prices.

Daniel Stone

Published January 16, 2013

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Notre Dame: Football Star Was 'Catfished' in Hoax

Notre Dame's athletic director and the star of its near-championship football team said the widely-reported death of the star's girlfriend from leukemia during the 2012 football season was apparently a hoax, and the player said he was duped by it as well.

Manti Te'o, who led the Fighting Irish to the BCS championship game this year and finished second for the Heisman Trophy, said in a statement today that he fell in love with a girl online last year who turned out not to be real.

The university's athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, said it has been investigating the "cruel hoax" since Te'o approached officials in late December to say he believed he had been tricked.

Private investigators hired by the university subsequently monitored online chatter by the alleged perpetrators, Swarbrick said, adding that he was shocked by the "casual cruelty" it revealed.

"They enjoyed the joke," Swarbrick said, comparing the ruse to the popular film "Catfish," in which filmmakers revealed a person at the other end of an online relationship was not who they said they were.

"While we still don't know all of the dimensions of this ... there are certain things that I feel confident we do know," Swarbrick said. "The first is that this was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax, perpetrated for reasons we don't understand."

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Notre Dame's Athletic Director Discusses Manti Te'o Girlfriend Hoax Watch Video

MTV's 'Catfish' Series Pulls Back Curtain on Online Profiles Watch Video

Te'o said during the season that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of leukemia in September on the same day Te'o's grandmother died, triggering an outpouring of support for Te'o at Notre Dame and in the media.

"While my grandma passed away and you take, you know, the love of my life [Kekua]. The last thing she said to me was, 'I love you,'" Te'o said at the time, noting that he had talked to Kekua on the phone and by text message until her death.

Now, responding to a story first reported by the sports website Deadspin, Te'o has acknowledged that Kekua never existed. The website reported today that there were no records of a woman named Lennay Kekua anywhere.

Te'o denied that he was in on the hoax.

"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," Te'o said in a statement released this afternoon. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her."

Swarbrick said he expected Te'o to give his version of events at a public event soon, perhaps Thursday, and that he believed Te'o's representatives were planning to disclose the truth next week until today's story broke.

Deadspin reported that the image attached to Kekua's social media profiles, through which the pair interacted, was of another woman who has said she did not even know Te'o or know that her picture was being used. The website reported that it traced the profiles to a California man who is an acquaintance of Te'o and of the woman whose photo was stolen.

"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating," Te'o said.

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NASA rover ready to drill into Martian rock

Victoria Jaggard, physical sciences news editor


(Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA's Curiosity rover is about to tap the rocky veins of Mars, which might yield clues to the Red Planet's watery past.

Exploring a region not far from where it landed on 6 August, the Curiosity rover has found rocks shot through with veins of light-coloured minerals. Chemical analysis from one of the rover's remote-sensing cameras shows that the veins are hydrated calcium sulphates, possibly gypsum. They probably formed when water flowed through fractures in the bedrock and left dissolved material behind behind.

The find takes NASA's mantra "follow the water" to a whole new level.

"The exciting thing about precipitated minerals is that we know something dissolved rock somewhere else on the planet and ions got transported along by a fluid," said project scientist John Grotzinger during a teleconference yesterday. Studying the mineral-laced rocks can give clues to where the water came from and to environmental conditions when the veins formed.

The team will use the rover's drill for the first time on a veined outcrop named John Klein, an homage to a former project worker who died in 2011. The drill can bite about 5 centimetres into Martian rock, collect pulverised samples and deliver material to other onboard instruments for analysis.

"What we are hoping to do is get a sense of the mineralogy - how many aqueous mineral phases are present, the isotope ratios, and even a chance to look for organics," Grotzinger said.

Although initially thought too soft to preserve fossils, previous work showed that gypsum on Earth can hold traces of ancient carbon-based life.

Elsewhere at the site - a shallow depression dubbed Yellowknife Bay - the rover has spotted rocks studded with rounded features called spherules, which also tell of fluids at work.

"We are feeling confident these are sedimentary concretions [rocks formed as sediments washed from afar become cemented together]," Grotzinger said. "Put that together with the veins, and basically these rocks were saturated with water."

Another outcrop at the site shows a texture called cross-bedding, which resembles stacked layers of rock. These features on Earth are associated with water pushing small dunes of sediments along a stream bed. "There's a real trend that's emerging here on our tour," Grotzinger said.

The team won't be ready to drill for a few weeks yet, as they continue to take samples with other instruments and then drive the rover to the John Klein outcrop.

"It takes a fairly extended period of time because drilling is the most significant engineering thing we've done since landing," said rover project manager Richard Cook. Team members have also been examining and recording the great diversity of rock types at Yellowknife Bay, some of which may also become targets for drilling.

"It's safe to say scientists have been led into the candy store," Cook said. "I'm really excited about the next few weeks."

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Tennis: Djokovic dazzles in straight-sets win over Harrison

MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic was in the zone with a dazzling demolition of Ryan Harrison as he stormed into the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday.

The world number one was in irresistible form, outclassing the young American 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 in just one hour 31 minutes of high-class tennis on Rod Laver Arena.

Djokovic, a three-time winner and going for three straight Australian titles, will next play Czech journeyman Radek Stepanek in the last 32.

The Serb said it was one of the best matches he has played in the early rounds at a Grand Slam.

"I've played many matches in Grand Slams in my career, so it's tough to compare which one is the best I would take under the circumstances," he said.

"I tried to focus on the start and I knew that he had nothing to lose and would come out with his big serves, but I managed to make some very important early breaks at the start of the match.

"I was a set up after 20 minutes and it was a mental advantage, I felt much more comfortable on the court.

"This was definitely a better performance than the first round.

"I managed to play in a very high level already in the second round of a Grand Slam, which is very encouraging for next challenge."

Djokovic jumped out of the blocks and won 12 of the first 13 points to put the young American on the back foot and down an early service break.

He broke Harrison again in the sixth game and wrapped up the opening set in just 20 minutes.

The Serb top seed carried on where he left off breaking the American's opening service to win seven of the first eight games.

Djokovic broke Harrison's serve for a fourth time to carry on the blitz and raced to a two sets to love lead via three set points in 30 minutes.

Harrison was broken again in the opening game of the final set as Djokovic closed in on victory.

But the young American refused to give in and held three service games under pressure, to the appreciation of the centre court crowd.

Djokovic again put Harrison's service under pressure and took out the match on his second match point.

"He played really well," Harrison said. "Kind of getting broke in that first service game, giving a guy that's that good a little bit of a lead and letting him front-run is just not the ideal way to start."

- AFP/fa

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2 Japan airlines ground Dreamliners after emergency landing

Japan's two leading airlines grounded their fleets of Boeing 787s on Wednesday after one of the Dreamliner passenger jets made an emergency landing, the latest in a series of incidents to heighten safety concerns over a plane many see as the future of commercial aviation.

Shares in the Chicago-based Boeing Co. were down 4.4 percent in premarket trading on the news.

All Nippon Airways Co. said instruments aboard a domestic flight indicated a battery error, triggering emergency warnings to the pilots. Shigeru Takano, a senior safety official at the Civil Aviation Bureau, said a second warning light indicated smoke.

Wednesday's incident, described by a transport ministry official as "highly serious" - language used in international safety circles as indicating there could have been an accident -- is the latest in a line of mishaps -- fuel leaks, a battery fire, wiring problem, brake computer glitch and cracked cockpit window - to hit the world's first mainly carbon-composite airliner in recent days.

"I think you're nearing the tipping point where they need to regard this as a serious crisis," said Richard Aboulafia, a senior analyst with the Teal Group inFairfax, Virginia. "This is going to change people's perception of the aircraft if they don't act quickly."

ANA, which said the battery in the forward cargo hold was the same lithium-ion type as one involved in a fire on another Dreamliner at a U.S. airport last week, grounded all 17 of its 787s, and Japan Airlines Co suspended its 787 flights scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

The two airlines, which operate around half of the 50 Dreamliners delivered to date, said they would decide on Thursday whether to resume Dreamliner flights the following day.


The 787, which has a list price of $207 million, represents a leap in the way planes are designed and built, but the project has been plagued by cost overruns and years of delays. Some have suggested Boeing's rush to get planes built after those delays resulted in the recent problems, a charge the company strenuously denies.

Both the U.S.Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said they were monitoring the latest incident as part of a comprehensive review of the Dreamliner announced late last week.


ANA flight 692 left Yamaguchi in western Japan shortly after 8 a.m. local time (2300 GMT Tuesday) bound for Haneda Airport near Tokyo, a 65-minute flight. About 18 minutes into the flight, the plane descended and made an emergency landing 16 minutes later, according to flight-tracking website

A spokesman for Osaka airport authority said the plane landed at Takamatsu at 8:45 a.m. All 129 passengers and eight crew evacuated via the plane's inflatable chutes. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said five people were slightly injured.

At a news conference - where ANA's vice-president Osamu Shinobe bowed deeply in apology - the carrier said a battery in the forward cargo hold triggered emergency warnings to the pilots, who decided on the emergency action. "There was a battery alert in the cockpit and there was an odd smell detected in the cockpit and cabin, and (the pilot) decided to make an emergency landing," Shinobe said.

In a statement later, ANA said the main battery in the forward electrical equipment bay was discolored and there were signs of leakage.

Passengers leaving the flight told local TV there was an odor like burning plastic on the plane as soon as it took off. "There was a bad smell as soon as we started and before we made the emergency landing there was an announcement and the stewardess' voice was shaking, so I thought this was serious," one passenger toldTBS TV.

Another man told a local broadcaster: "There was a strong, burning smell, but the smoke appeared after they opened the emergency doors, after we landed."

Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman, told Reuters: "We've seen the reports, we're aware of the events and are working with our customer."

Robert Stallard, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said lost revenue at the Japanese airlines could prompt compensation from Boeing. "What started as a series of relatively minor, isolated incidents now threatens to overhang Boeing until it can return confidence, and this looks to be a near-term challenge given the media's draw to all things 787," he said.


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Mars Rover Finds Intriguing New Evidence of Water

The first drill sample ever collected on Mars will come from a rockbed shot through with unexpected veins of what appears to be the mineral gypsum.

Delighted members of the Curiosity science team announced Tuesday that the rover was now in a virtual "candy store" of scientific targets—the lowest point of Gale crater, called Yellowknife Bay, is filled with many different materials that could have been created only in the presence of water. (Related: "Mars Has 'Oceans' of Water Inside?")

Project scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said during a press conference that the drill area has turned out "to be jackpot unit. Every place we drive exposes fractures and vein fills."

Mission scientists initially decided to visit the depression, a third of a mile from Curiosity's landing site, on a brief detour before heading to the large mountain at the middle of Gale Crater. But because of the richness of their recent finds, Grotzinger said it may be some months before they begin their trek to Mount Sharp.

The drilling, expected to start this month, will dig five holes about two inches (five centimeters) into bedrock the size of a throw rug and then feed the powder created to the rover's two chemistry labs for analysis.

The drill is the most complex device on the rover and is the last instrument to be used. Project Manager Richard Cook, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that operating it posed the biggest mechanical challenge since Curiosity's high-drama landing. (Watch video of Curiosity's "Seven Minutes of Terror.")

A Watery Past?

That now-desiccated Mars once had a significant amount of surface water is now generally accepted, but every new discovery of when and where water was present is considered highly significant. The presence of surface water in its many possible forms—as a running stream, as a still lake, as ground water soaked into the Martian soil—all add to an increased possibility that the planet was once habitable. (Watch a video about searching for life on Mars.)

And each piece of evidence supporting the presence of water brings the Curiosity mission closer to its formal goal—which is to determine whether Mars was once capable of supporting life.

Curiosity scientists have already concluded that a briskly moving river or stream once flowed near the Gale landing site.

The discovery of the mineral-filled veins within Yellowknife Bay rock fractures adds to the picture because those minerals can be deposited only in watery, underground conditions.

The Curiosity team has also examined Yellowknife Bay for sedimentary rocks with the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).  Scientists have found sandstone with grains up to about the size of a peppercorn, including one shaped like a flower bud that appears to gleam. Other nearby rocks are siltstone, with grains finer than powdered sugar. These are quite different from the pebbles and conglomerate rocks found in the landing area, but all these rocks are evidence of a watery past. (Related: "A 2020 Rover Return to Mars?")

One of the primary reasons Curiosity scientists selected Gale crater as a landing site was because satellite images indicated that water-formed minerals were present near the base of Mount Sharp. Grotzinger said that the minerals' presence so close to the landing site, and some five miles from the mountain, is both a surprise and an opportunity.

The current site in Yellowknife Bay is so promising, Grotzinger said, that he would have been "thrilled" to find similar formations at the mission's prime destination at the base of Mount Sharp.  Now the mission can look forward to the surprises to come at the mountain base while already having struck gold.

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NRA Ad Calls Obama 'Elitist Hypocrite'

Jan 16, 2013 12:04am

ap barack obama mi 130115 wblog NRA Ad Calls Obama Elitist Hypocrite Ahead of Gun Violence Plan

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

As the White House prepares to unveil a sweeping plan aimed at curbing gun violence, the National Rifle Association has launched a preemptive, personal attack on President Obama, calling him an “elitist hypocrite” who, the group claims, is putting American children at risk.

In 35-second video posted online Tuesday night, the NRA criticizes Obama for accepting armed Secret Service protection for his daughters, Sasha and Malia, at their private Washington, D.C., school while questioning the placement of similar security at other schools.

“Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools, when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?” the narrator says.

“Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security,” it continues. “Protection for their kids and gun-free zones for ours.”

The immediate family members of U.S. presidents – generally considered potential targets – have long received Secret Service protection.

The ad appeared on a new website for a NRA advocacy campaign – “NRA Stand and Fight” — that the gun-rights group appears poised to launch in response to Obama’s package of gun control proposals that will be announced today.

It’s unclear whether the video will air on TV or only on the web. The NRA did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.  The domain for the website is registered to Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s long-standing public relations firm.

The White House had no comment on the NRA ad.

In the wake of last month’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Obama administration has met with a cross-section of advocacy groups on all sides of the gun debate to formulate new policy proposals.

The NRA, which met with Vice President Joe Biden last week, has opposed any new legislative gun restrictions, including expanded background checks and limits on the sale of assault-style weapons, instead calling for armed guards at all American schools.

Obama publicly questioned that approach in an interview with “Meet the Press” earlier this month, saying, “I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools. And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem.”

Still, the White House has been considering a call for increased funding for police officers at public schools and the proposal could be part of a broader Obama gun policy package.

Fifty-five percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say they support adding armed guards at schools across the country.

“The issue is, are there some sensible steps that we can take to make sure that somebody like the individual in Newtown can’t walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a shockingly rapid fashion.  And surely, we can do something about that,” Obama said at a news conference on Monday.

“Responsible gun owners, people who have a gun for protection, for hunting, for sportsmanship, they don’t have anything to worry about,” he said.

ABC News’ Mary Bruce and Jay Shaylor contributed reporting. 

SHOWS: Good Morning America World News

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Selling the appeal of statistics

Kevin McConway, contributor


Statistics for athletes like LeBron James are tracked in detail (Image: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty)

In Naked Statistics economist Charles Wheelan aims to entice with dazzling data

STATISTICS lecturers have to come to terms with the fact that many students would rather not be there. Most signed up to study business or psychology, and doing strange things with numbers feels like an irksome side requirement of their primary pursuit.

Yet, as writer and public policy lecturer Charles Wheelan points out in Naked Statistics, the same students who complain that the subject is irrelevant are happy to spend their free time reading news stories that feature survey results or discussing sports statistics - basketball player LeBron James's points per game, or their favourite baseball pitcher's earned run average, for example. (As a warning, the book is deeply entrenched in US contexts. If you don't know much about baseball, Schlitz beer or even who LeBron James is - I had to look him up - you might find most of the examples alienating.)


Wheelan aims to link these two parts of his students' worlds by showing how statistics can be used to answer questions that are important and relevant to our lives. And he doesn't want to stop at the classroom door. Does he succeed? Sort of.

He has some good stories. To demonstrate randomisation in designing experiments, for example, he describes a study that investigated whether being prayed for by strangers would reduce complications after heart bypass surgery. (It didn't.) He also shows how important the wording of a question is to getting meaningful answers from polls: people in the US are considerably less likely to express support for the death penalty if also presented with the alternative of whole-life imprisonment without parole.

Yet Wheelan also experiments with made-up examples that, by his own admission, are utterly implausible. His story about a crash between two buses - one full of marathon runners and the other going to an international sausage festival - is memorable, but I wonder how relevant.

Though his style is innovative and often witty, most of the statistical topics he focuses on are pretty routine, and seem torn from the pages of a Statistics 101 syllabus: descriptive statistics, probability, sampling issues, inference, regression and the Central Limit Theorem, which explains why averages tend to follow the symmetric bell curve that makes up normal distribution. (This is, apparently, "the LeBron James of statistics".) And although he says he won't, he does get technical in a rather confusing way in the chapters on inference and regression, while some of his discussion of significance tests is problematic.

Still, there are things that you wouldn't find in an introductory statistics class. His final chapter, on "program evaluation", shows how you can use statistical ideas to make evidence-based decisions, such as whether to put more police officers on the street to deter crime. And he wraps up by applying statistics to five big questions, including how best to fight global poverty. These are interesting, engaging and useful.

In the end, Wheelan doesn't sell the marvellous world of statistics quite as well as he aims to. Yet he does make many interesting points, and often uses intriguing examples - I might even borrow a few for my own students.

Kevin McConway is a professor of applied statistics at the UK's Open University

Book information:
Naked Statistics: Stripping the dread from the data by Charles Wheelan
W. W. Norton

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M'sia mall launches women-only parking areas

SINGAPORE: Authorities in Kuala Lumpur are making it compulsory for all shopping malls and commercial buildings to set aside seven per cent of carpark space for women only.

Women driving alone or with young childen unaccompanied by men can opt to park in sections of carparks that are specially allocated to women.

The women-only carpark is an initiative undertaken by the Kuala Lumpur city hall to further enhance safety and security of women drivers in parking lots.

The media had highlighted several cases of women being assaulted and robbed in carparks last year.

Since then, major shopping centres have stepped up patrol in car parks, including offering free buggy services to women shoppers.

KLCC Suria, a leading shopping mall has launched women-only parking lots, said to be the first in South East Asia.

Located near main entrances, the women's sections, painted in pink, are well-lit and regularly patrolled.

The KLCC management has also installed a state-of-the-art security and surveillance system.

There are also panic buttons installed around all four corners of the parking lot, for help to arrive within two minutes upon pressing the button.

While women welcome the new initiative, it remains to be seen how effective the implementation is going to be.

The federal territories minister said those who go against the rules can be penalized.

"We will clamp the car to discourage others to park. I mean men can park anywhere," said Federal Territories and Urban Well-being Minister Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin.

The city aims for zero incidents at parking lots.

- CNA/xq

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Boy found lost in West Englewood; doesn't know name, home

Police are urging anyone with information to call 911 or contact Area South Detectives at (312) 747-8274.

Police are urging anyone with information to call 911 or contact Area South Detectives at (312) 747-8274.
(Chicago Police Department / January 15, 2013)

Police are asking the public for help locating the guardians of a young boy found running down the sidewalk in the West Englewood neighborhood overnight.

Someone called police shortly before 11:30 p.m. Monday after finding the boy in the 7200 block of South Hermitage Avenue, police said.

The boy, believed to be about 3 or 4 years old, was evaluated at a hospital and released into the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

He was not able to tell police what his name is or who his parents are, Police News Affairs Officer Ron Gaines said.

The boy is described as 3 feet tall, 35 pounds, wearing a black down coat, a red Nike hooded sweatshirt and a black winter hat with the word "Obama" on it.

He was also wearing black and white Adidas gym shoes and blue jeans inscribed with the words "D.J. Bottoms," police said.

Authorities asked anyone with information to contact Area South detectives at (312) 747-8274 or call 911.

Check back for updates.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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"Fantastic" New Flying Frog Found—Has Flappy Forearms

Scientists have stumbled across a new species of flying frog—on the ground.

While hiking a lowland forest in 2009, not far from Ho Chi Minh City (map), Vietnam, "we came across a huge green frog, sitting on a log," said Jodi Rowley, an amphibian biologist at the Australian Museum in Sydney and lead author of a new study on the frog.

Rowley later discovered that the 3.5-inch-long (9-centimeter-long) creature is a relatively large new type of flying frog, a group known for its ability to "parachute" from tree to tree thanks to special aerodynamic adaptations, such as webbed feet, Rowley said. (Also see "'Vampire Flying Frog' Found; Tadpoles Have Black Fangs.")

Rowley dubbed the new species Helen's flying frog, in honor of her mother, Helen Rowley, "who has steadfastly supported her only child trekking through the forests of Southeast Asia in search of frogs," according to a statement.

The newfound species—there are 80 types of flying frogs—is also "one of the most flying frogs of the flying frogs," Rowley said, "in that it's got huge hands and feet that are webbed all the way to the toepad."

"Females even have flappy skin on their forearms to glide," added Rowley, who has received funding from the National Geographic Committee on Research and Exploration. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.) "The females are larger and heavier than males, so the little extra flaps probably don't make much of a difference," she said.

As Rowley wrote on her blog, "At first it may seem strange that such a fantastic and obvious frog could escape discovery until now—less than 100 kilometers [60 miles] from an urban centre with over nine million people."

Yet these tree dwellers can easily escape notice—they spend most of their time in the canopy, she said.

Flying Frog On the Edge

Even so, Helen's flying frog won't be able to hide from development near Ho Chi Minh City, which may encroach on its existing habitats.

So far, only five individuals have been found in two patches of lowland forest hemmed in by rice paddies in southern Vietnam, Rowley said. The animals can probably tolerate a little bit of disturbance as long as they have large trees and temporary pools, she added.

But lowland forests are among the most threatened habitats in the world, mostly because they're so accessible to people, and thus chosen for logging and development. (Get the facts on deforestation.)

"While Helen's flying frog has only just been discovered by biologists," Rowley wrote, "unfortunately this species, like many others, is under great threat from ongoing habitat loss and degradation."

The new flying frog study was published in December 2012 in the Journal of Herpetology.

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