Data waves keep your wearable tech in tune

IF LAST month's Consumer Electronics Show is anything to go by, we will soon be covered in wearable technology, from health monitors to smart watches. But there's a problem: how do we get them to communicate?

Traditionally, devices talk to one another either using wires, which are inconvenient, or Bluetooth, which is prone to interference. Now a new wireless technique that uses a phenomenon known as Zenneck surface waves could be the answer.

This type of electromagnetic wave stays at the interface between the surface of an object and the air, rather than travelling through open space. Radar systems have used them to see around the curvature of the Earth, but communicating in this way is a first.

Janice Turner and colleagues at Roke Manor Research in Romsey, UK, have created a demonstration system that uses the waves to send high-definition video over a short length of material. It has a bandwidth of up to 1.5 gigabits per second, making it almost three times faster than Wi-Fi. The signal does not travel through the material but rather over its surface for a few centimetres.

Turner's team has worked with a fabric made of a dielectric-coated conducting material. This could be tailored into a jacket to enable worn devices to communicate in a personal network. For example, a lapel camera, a wrist display and a pulse-monitor bracelet could all communicate through the jacket via surface waves. Other devices such as smartphones could attach automatically simply by being placed in a pocket. Zenneck wave-enabled devices could be on the market within two years, says Turner. Sandy Black, who studies how fashion design and technology merge at the London College of Fashion, says the idea sounds "interesting if it could be proved reliable and robust".

Such devices are also being explored for use on aircraft, where they could link up sensors embedded in the wings without wires, or form the backbone of a passenger entertainment system.

This article appeared in print under the headline "Jacket to connect wearable tech using data waves"

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The Shard is pinnacle of London's redevelopment

LONDON: The Shard, which opened its doors to the public on Friday, is western Europe's highest skyscraper but also the pinnacle of the transformation of London's long-neglected south bank of the River Thames.

The vertiginous public viewing platform, which is expected to attract one million visitors a year, offers unrivalled vistas of the British capital and is the perfect place to survey the huge changes in the neighbourhood.

Towering 310 metres (1,017 feet) above the skyline, the Shard is an arrow of glass piercing the clouds and a symbol of wealth in an area that for centuries has been overshadowed by its affluent rivals in the west, centre and north of London.

The platform is the first part of Italian architect Renzo Piano's building to open, and over the coming months its vast new office space, five-star hotel, restaurants and luxury apartments will slowly come to life.

While the design has been controversial, the tower -- 95 percent financed by Qatar -- has also attracted criticism because of the sense that its 8,000 future inhabitants are unaffected by the global economic crisis.

The 30 pounds (US$47, 35-euro) ticket price for the viewing platform does nothing to dispel this image, but the people behind the Shard are unapologetic.

"The wonderful thing about London is, in many ways, it never stops," William Matthews, a project architect in Piano's team, told AFP. "In some ways, British trade, the idea of commerce, and business, is really in our bones."

Peter John, leader of the local Southwark council, said: "It has really been a story of regeneration and renaissance."

The area on the south side of London Bridge was relatively prosperous in Roman times, but for centuries afterwards it was viewed as a seedy district beyond the city walls where the law held thin.

Travellers passed through brothels, inns and gambling dens, and residents festered among "every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage", as Charles Dickens put it in his 1838 novel "Oliver Twist".

The demise of London's shipping trade from the 1960s to the 1980s accentuated the area's poverty and the average household income among Southwark's 290,000 inhabitants today remains one of the lowest in Britain.

Nonetheless, in the last 25 to 30 years, the change in the area has been staggering, according to council leader Peter John.

Wharf-side warehouses with names evoking the British empire and the goods sailing into London from around the world, such as East India Wharf or Tea Trade Wharf, have been transformed into swanky New York-style loft flats.

Millions of square metres of office space have been constructed in cathedrals of glass across the river from the Tower of London, including Norman Foster's City Hall and Terence Conran's Design Museum.

The once unremarkable Borough Market has been transformed into a foodies' heaven, while the Tate Modern, constructed within a vast former power station on the river in 2000, is now the most popular contemporary art gallery in the world.

"But the Shard takes it to new levels," said John. "It really symbolises where the opportunities are for jobs, and leisure, and new housing."

He said the influx of a population with plenty of purchasing power will boost the whole area, saying: "I think the positives outweigh the negatives."

Many locals are not so enthusiastic.

Reverend Charlie Moore, rector of St Mary Magdalene Church in nearby Bermondsey, said "a lot of people have been forced to leave" as the redevelopment, including several gastropubs and posh shops, have sent rents sky-high.

And the further south you go, the louder the objections.

The Heygate Estate, comprising huge concrete blocks of social housing, once housed 3,000 people but now stands empty and awaiting demolition as part of a major regeneration programme in the Elephant and Castle area.

A campaigner for the Heygate residents, teacher Jerry Flynn, complains that the plans include far less social housing than before.

"It will mean the people who cannot afford to live here, working-class families and low income families, will no longer be able to live here. It was a traumatic process," he told AFP.

"We would like a regeneration that spread the benefits a little more widely."

- AFP/ir

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Shootings leave 1 dead, 3 hurt

A bike lies abandoned in the snow near the spot where a 22-year-old man was found fatally shot Friday night.

A bike lies abandoned in the snow near the spot where a 22-year-old man was found fatally shot Friday night.
(Adam Sege, Chicago Tribune)

Three shootings since Friday night have left a 21-year-old man dead and three people hurt, Chicago police said.

The fatal shooting happened about 8:30 p.m., Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Ron Gaines said.

Officers found the man in a hallway of a three-story apartment building in the 3900 block of North Central Avenue, in the Northwest Side's Portage Park neighborhood.

Paramedics rushed the man to Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 8:58 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

The medical examiner's office identified him as Manuel Hernandez and listed his address as the same one where the shooting happened.

Later, as snow coated Central Avenue and several squad cars parked near the scene, police searched for evidence and photographed a bike lying by an entrance on the building's north side.

It appeared the man had collapsed shortly after being shot near where the bike was found, police said.

Police have launched a homicide investigation in the shooting.

In a separate shooting, a 19-year-old and a 20-year-old were wounded about 11:30 p.m. near the intersection of South California Avenue and West 52nd Street.

Someone opened fire from an alley as the two walked home from a party, striking the 19-year-old in the back and the 20-year-old in the side, Gaines said.

Both people were taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where they were listed in good condition Gaines said.

The shooting happened in the Gage Park neighborhood on the Southwest Side.

A female was also shot in the foot just before 5 a.m. near the intersection of West 16th Street and South Kedvale Avenue, police said.

Twitter: @AdamSege

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Pictures We Love: Best of January

Photograph by Dieu Nalio Chery, AP

The magnitude 7 earthquake that struck near Port au Prince, Haiti, in January 2010 so devastated the country that recovery efforts are still ongoing.

Professional dancer Georges Exantus, one of the many casualties of that day, was trapped in his flattened apartment for three days, according to news reports. After friends dug him out, doctors amputated his right leg below the knee. With the help of a prosthetic leg, Exantus is able to dance again. (Read about his comeback.)

Why We Love It

"This is an intimate photo, taken in the subject's most personal space as he lies asleep and vulnerable, perhaps unaware of the photographer. The dancer's prosthetic leg lies in the foreground as an unavoidable reminder of the hardships he faced in the 2010 earthquake. This image makes me want to hear more of Georges' story."—Ben Fitch, associate photo editor

"This image uses aesthetics and the beauty of suggestion to tell a story. We are not given all the details in the image, but it is enough to make us question and wonder."—Janna Dotschkal, associate photo editor

Published February 1, 2013

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Ala. Standoff: Police Mum About Talks With Suspect

As a police standoff with an Alabama man accused of holding a 5-year-old boy hostage in an underground bunker entered its fifth day, authorities were saying little except that their talks with the 65-year-old loner were continuing through a ventilation pipe.

Negotiators were still trying late Friday to persuade Jimmy Lee Dykes to surrender. Police have said they believe the Vietnam-era veteran fatally shot a school bus driver on Tuesday, and then abducted the boy from the bus and disappeared into the home-made bunker.

While police were mostly staying mum about the delicate negotiations, it fell to neighbors to fill in the blanks about Dykes, described by some as a menacing figure who held anti-government views.

One of Dykes' next-door neighbors said the suspect spent two or three months constructing the bunker, digging several feet into the ground and then building a structure of lumber and plywood, which he covered with sand and dirt.

Neighbor Michael Creel said Dykes put the plastic pipe underground from the bunker to the end of his driveway so he could hear if anyone drove up to his gate. When Dykes finished the shelter a year or so ago, he invited Creel to see it — and he did.

"He was bragging about it. He said, 'Come check it out," Creel said.

He said he believes Dykes' goal with the standoff is to publicize his political beliefs.

Alabama Hostage Standoff: Who Is Jimmy Lee Dykes? Watch Video

Alabama Boy Held Hostage in Underground Bunker Watch Video

Alabama Hostage Standoff: Boy, 5, Held Captive in Bunker Watch Video

"I believe he wants to rant and rave about politics and government," Creel said. "He's very concerned about his property. He doesn't want his stuff messed with."

Police have used a ventilation pipe to the bunker to talk to the man and deliver the boy medication for his emotional disorders, but they have not revealed how often they are in touch or what the conversations have been about. Authorities waited until Friday to confirm the suspect's identity.

While much of what is going on inside the bunker remains a mystery, local officials who have spoken to police or the boy's family have described a small room with food, electricity and a TV. And while the boy has his medication, an official also said he has been crying for his parents.

Meanwhile, Midland City residents held out hope that the standoff would end safely and mourned for the slain bus driver and his family. Candlelight vigils have been held nightly at a gazebo in front of City Hall. Residents prayed, sang songs such as "Amazing Grace" and nailed homemade wooden crosses on the gazebo's railings alongside signs that read: "We are praying for you."

"We're doing any little thing that helps show support for him," said 15-year-old Taylor Edwards said.

Former hostage negotiators said authorities must be cautious and patient as long as they are confident that the boy is unharmed. Ex-FBI hostage negotiator Clint Van Zandt advised against any drastic measures such as cutting the electricity or putting sleeping gas inside the bunker because it could agitate Dykes.

The negotiator should try to ease Dykes' anxieties over what will happen when the standoff ends, and refer to both the boy and Dykes by their first names, he said.

"I want to give him a reason to come out," Van Zandt said,

Police seemed to be following that pattern. At a brief news conference to release a photo of Dykes, they brushed off any questions about possible charges.

"It's way too early for that," said Kevin Cook, a spokesman for the Alabama state troopers.

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US medical research chimps to retire to sanctuaries

IT IS good news for chimpanzees, but bad news for people with hepatitis C. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is likely to slash medical research on chimpanzees, and transfer most research chimps to sanctuaries. The plan is being hailed as a triumph for animal rights, but there is a snag: it could delay work on a hepatitis C vaccine.

Following a 2011 report concluding that most medical research on chimps was unnecessary, the NIH - which uses 360 of around 1000 research chimps in the US - set up an advisory committee. This body has now issued recommendations. Most of the NIH's chimps should retire to sanctuaries, but about 50 should be retained for future research, housed in environments that promote their natural behaviour: large groups, plenty of space and lots of activities.

"It's excellent news," says Barbara King of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. "These chimpanzees have served and suffered for us."

But some hepatitis C researchers are less happy. Chimps are the only non-human animal that the virus infects, so are used in the development of a vaccine.

"If there is no access to a chimpanzee model, it will likely slow vaccine development and put human lives at risk," says Stanley Lemon of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This article appeared in print under the headline "US chimps retire"

If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.

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Community leadership important for S'pore's development: Chan Chun Sing

SINGAPORE: Acting Minister for Social and Family Development, Chan Chun Sing, said Singapore will face more challenges as it moves towards its next stage of development.

While national leaders will look at issues from a broader perspective, Mr Chan said local community leadership is also needed.

He was speaking at the first Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Symposium which was held at the National University of Singapore on Friday.

Some 80 students are currently enrolled in the Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Programme.

Mr Chan said such platforms and the presence of community leaders are important as they have always been a part of Singapore's rich history.

Mr Chan said the role of community leaders was evident from British colonial rule.

He said, "They did not wait for the government to initiate things to do. They took it upon themselves to identify local needs, whereby they can play a useful role".

Going forward, Mr Chan said it will be about grooming a new generation of community leaders.

He said: "Not only do we hope you will understand the challenges at the local level, we also hope that you will come up with innovative solutions. We also hope you will play a part to mobilise actions to solve or at least address some of these local issues.

"We need to look for innovative and new solutions. We cannot just adopt solutions that have been adopted by people from other countries wholesale. We should look at them closely, study them in context, and always apply them in context to our local situation down here."

At the symposium, six of the Programme's Fellows got to share the various projects they embarked on.

The projects ranged from looking at the community's role in preventing child abuse, to exploring interim home care at a community hospital.

The speakers are part of the first batch of students in the programme since it was launched in 2011.

For medical student Andrew Arjun Sayampanathan, who is currently on an internship at the Central Community Development Centre as part of the Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Programme, it was the perfect opportunity to test a theory he had learned in university.

Applying it to Kampong Glam residents, the asset-based community development model was a means to empower needy or elderly residents to look at their proficiencies.

It was a different take on the needs-based community development model many social organisations adopt.

"The needs-based model looks at the deficiencies of individuals and what is the individual deficient in. When we look at the assets-based community development model, we see what the individual is proficient in so he or she does not need to be dependent on an external organisation," explained Andrew.

Andrew said the findings obtained from the asset-based community development models will allow them to create independent communities based on the proficiencies and assets of the individuals.

- CNA/fa

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Woman shot to death on Lake Shore Drive ramp

Photo: Scene of Lake Shore Drive homicide

Photo: Scene of Lake Shore Drive homicide
(February 1, 2013)

A woman was shot to death inside a van on the southbound ramp from Lake Shore Drive to interstates 94 and 55, according to authorities.

The woman, the driver of a white van, sustained multiple gunshot wounds and died at the scene, police said. The van crashed into a concrete wall after the shooting. 

A second woman in the van, a passenger, wasn't injured and is being questioned by police. She's not considered a suspect, police said. 

Illinois State Police, now handling the investigation, learned of the shooting about 4:20 a.m. from Chicago police, who happened upon the crash. 

Police have closed access to both interstates from southbound Lake Shore Drive. Flares laid out to keep vehicles off the ramp were quickly extinguished by biting winds.

Check back for more information.
Twitter: @peternickeas 

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Sinkhole Swallows Buildings in China

Photograph from AFP/Getty Images

The sinkhole that formed in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou (pictured) is, unfortunately, not a new occurrence for the country.

Many areas of the world are susceptible to these sudden formations, including the U.S. Florida is especially prone, but Guatemala, Mexico, and the area surrounding the Dead Sea in the Middle East are also known for their impressive sinkholes. (See pictures of a sinkhole in Beijing that swallowed a truck.)

Published January 31, 2013

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Columbia Shuttle Crew Remembered 10 Years Later

Iain Clark is a teenager now. He was eight years old when his mother, Dr Laurel Clark, and six other astronauts died when the space shuttle Columbia fell apart in the skies over Texas 10 years ago today.

Iain's father, Dr. Jonathon Clark, told ABC News recently that he and Iain will never really recover.

"There will always be a sense of loss and pain and hurt," said Clark. "I've lost a lot, but I've gained a lot, too. I have a perspective and reverence for life. I have my son, and seeing him through this has been very rewarding -- though it has been difficult, as well."

Feb. 1, the anniversary of the Columbia accident, is the day NASA chooses to remember all the astronauts who have died during missions.

Spaceflight is a risky business. Some of the accidents are well known. Others, not really. But they all illustrate just how dangerous it is to leave our planet and venture into orbit.

Three accidents, in particular, are seared in our memories because NASA's missions have been so dramatic, and so public.

First, there was the fire on Jan. 27, 1967, which killed Apollo 1's crew of Command Pilot "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White and Pilot Roger Chaffee. At the time, NASA was racing to beat the Soviet Union to the moon.

Second was the space shuttle Challenger's accident on Jan. 28, 1986, which was seen live by children across the country because its crew included the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe.

Finally, Columbia's accident, on a clear, sunny Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003, as it re-entered from space after a seemingly routine science mission, stunned the country. It also meant the end of NASA's space shuttle program.

This morning at 9:16 a.m. ET, the time Columbia would have landed at the Kennedy Space Center in 2003, there will be a minute of silence. A bell will toll seven times at the Johnson Space Center for the seven astronauts who died on Columbia's final mission, STS 107: Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Mission Specialists Michael Anderson, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla and Ilan Ramon.

It took months for the commission investigating the accident to determine the cause: foam. A piece the size of a briefcase broke off one of the shuttle's external fuel tanks, punching a hole in the orbiter's left wing.

The crew of seven knew something was wrong very late during re-entry, but there wasn't anything they or mission control could do to save them or Columbia. It took managers at the Johnson Space Center months to accept that something so simple as a piece of foam could do so much damage.

Wayne Hale, who guided NASA's space shuttle program back from the accident, was the only NASA employee who publicly accepted responsibility for Columbia's accident.

Hale now works in the private sector, but recently wrote in a blog about the internal discussion at mission control while engineers discussed what they thought might be a problem -- but weren't sure.

"After one of the MMTs [mission management teams] when possible damage to the orbiter was discussed," Hale wrote, "[Flight Director Jon Harpold] gave me his opinion: 'You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS [thermal protection system]. If it has been damaged it's probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don't you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?'

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Immigration reform – just part of America's new dream

Peter Aldhous, San Francisco bureau chief

After an election in which Hispanic voters arguably delivered a second term to President Barack Obama, it was clear that both leaders of both major political parties were going to start thinking about comprehensive immigration reform - long a priority for the nation's growing Latino population.

First out of the gate this week was a bipartisan group of senators dubbed the "gang of eight", with a plan that would give legal status to some 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the US, but also demand payment of back taxes. Obama weighed in the next day, suggesting he wanted legal status granted to existing immigrants "from the outset" - exposing a potential rift with the senators, who want to delay reform until stricter border controls are put in place

Whether any plan will pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives remains unclear.

As New Scientist explained last September, though, achieving legal status is just one hurdle facing US Hispanics - huge disparities exist in income, family wealth and educational opportunities.

If those gaps aren't narrowed, warn leading demographers and social scientists, the nation as a whole will face some tough challenges retaining its economic and technological edge in the coming decades.

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HRW condemns Russia's "worst post-Soviet crackdown"

MOSCOW: Human Rights Watch on Thursday condemned the Russian authorities under President Vladimir Putin for unleashing the toughest crackdown against civil society since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"The Kremlin in 2012 unleashed the worst political crackdown in Russia's post-Soviet history," the New-York based rights watchdog said in an English-language statement released in Moscow accompanying the release of its annual world report.

"This (2012) has been the worst year for human rights in Russia in recent memory," the rights group quoted Hugh Williamson, its Europe and Central Asia director as saying.

"Russia's civil society is standing strong but with the space around it shrinking rapidly, it needs support now more than ever."

After returning to the Kremlin for a third term despite unprecedented protests against his 13-year rule, Putin signed off on a raft of laws in what critics saw as a bid to quash dissent.

The new legislation re-criminalised slander, raised fines for misdemeanours at opposition protests and forced non-governmental organisations that receive foreign funding to carry a "foreign agent" tag in a move seen as a throwback to Soviet times.

- AFP/al

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6 wounded in overnight shootings

Two men were shot in the South Austin neighborhood on the West Side late Wednesday, police said, and four others were wounded across the city.

The 19-year-old and 37-year-old in Austin were in a car in the 5000 block of West Madison Street when someone approached on foot and started shooting, Chicago Police News Affairs Officer Hector Alfaro said.

The pair drove to a “residence” in the 1500 block of North Long Avenue and police were called, Alfaro said. The older man was taken to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County with multiple gunshot wounds and the younger man, shot in the leg, was taken to Loyola University Medical Center.

Nobody is in custody and Area North detectives are investigating.

Also on the West Side, a man in his 30s was shot and found in the 1200 block of South Racine Avenue, outside the ABLA-Roberts Brooks Homes housing complex in the University Village / Little Italy neighborhood. It's not clear if he was shot there - police responded to a single call of a person shot and found the man shot in the leg about 2:45 a.m. 

On the Northwest Side about 10:45 p.m., a 56-year-old man was shot in the head in what police first believed to be an attempted suicide. He was shot in the 1800 block of North Natchez Avenue in the Galewood neighborhood, police said. Detectives later determined that someone had shot the man, Chicago Police News Affairs Officer Amina Greer said. He's at Loyola hospital, Greer said. 

A 23-year-old man was shot in the leg and groin in the 3400 block of West Walnut Street just before 8 p.m. in the East Garfield Park neighborhood. He was on a porch when three men, one with a gun, approached and told him and one other person not to move. 

They moved, and one of the three shot the 23-year-old, police said. He was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital and he’s in good condition.

About an hour later, a 43-year-old man was shot by another person inside a silver car in the 8500 block of South Hermitage Avenue in the Gresham neighborhood. He’s in stable condition at Little Company of Mary Hospital.

pnickeas@tribune.comTwitter: @peternickeas

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New Theory on How Homing Pigeons Find Home

Jane J. Lee

Homing pigeons (Columba livia) have been prized for their navigational abilities for thousands of years. They've served as messengers during war, as a means of long-distance communication, and as prized athletes in international races.

But there are places around the world that seem to confuse these birds—areas where they repeatedly vanish in the wrong direction or scatter on random headings rather than fly straight home, said Jon Hagstrum, a geophysicist who authored a study that may help researchers understand how homing pigeons navigate.

Hagstrum's paper, published online Wednesday in the Journal of Experimental Biology, proposes an intriguing theory for homing pigeon disorientation—that the birds are following ultralow frequency sounds back towards their lofts and that disruptions in their ability to "hear" home is what screws them up.

Called infrasound, these sound waves propagate at frequencies well below the range audible to people, but pigeons can pick them up, said Hagstrum, who works at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California.

"They're using sound to image the terrain [surrounding] their loft," he said. "It's like us visually recognizing our house using our eyes."

Homeward Bound?

For years, scientists have struggled to explain carrier pigeons' directional challenges in certain areas, known as release-site biases.

This "map" issue, or a pigeon's ability to tell where it is in relation to where it wants to go, is different from the bird's compass system, which tells it which direction it's headed in. (Learn about how other animals navigate.)

"We know a lot about pigeon compass systems, but what has been controversial, even to this day, has been their map [system]," said Cordula Mora, an animal behavior researcher at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who was not involved in the study.

Until now, the two main theories say that pigeons rely either on their sense of smell to find their way home or that they follow the Earth's magnetic field lines, she said.

If something screwed up their sense of smell or their ability to follow those fields, the thinking has been, that could explain why pigeons got lost in certain areas.

But neither explanation made sense to Hagstrum, a geologist who grew interested in pigeons after attending an undergraduate lecture by Cornell biologist William Keeton. Keeton, who studied homing pigeons' navigation abilities, described some release-site biases in his pigeons and Hagstrum was hooked.

"I was just stunned and amazed and fascinated," said Hagstrum. "I understand we don't get dark matter or quantum mechanics, but bird [navigation]?"

So Hagstrum decided to look at Keeton's pigeon release data from three sites in upstate New York. At Castor Hill and Jersey Hill, the birds would repeatedly fly in the wrong direction or head off randomly when trying to return to their loft at Cornell University, even though they had no problems at other locations. At a third site near the town of Weedsport, young pigeons would head off in a different direction from older birds.

There were also certain days when the Cornell pigeons could find their way back home from these areas without any problems.

At the same time, homing pigeons from other lofts released at Castor Hill, Jersey Hill, and near Weedsport, would fly home just fine.

Sound Shadows

Hagstrum knew that homing pigeons could hear sounds as low as 0.05 hertz, low enough to pick up infrasounds that were down around 0.1 or 0.2 hertz. So he decided to map out what these low-frequency sound waves would have looked like on an average day, and on the days when the pigeons could home correctly from Jersey Hill.

He found that due to atmospheric conditions and local terrain, Jersey Hill normally sits in a sound shadow in relation to the Cornell loft. Little to none of the infrasounds from the area around the loft reached Jersey Hill except on one day when changing wind patterns and temperature inversions permitted.

That happened to match a day when the Cornell pigeons had no problem returning home.

"I could see how the topography was affecting the sound and how the weather was affecting the sound [transmission]," Hagstrum said. "It started to explain all these mysteries."

The terrain between the loft and Jersey Hill, combined with normal atmospheric conditions, bounced infrasounds up and over these areas.

Some infrasound would still reach Castor Hill, but due to nearby hills and valleys, the sound waves approached from the west and southwest, even though the Cornell loft is situated south-southwest of Castor Hill.

Records show that younger, inexperienced pigeons released at Castor Hill would sometimes fly west while older birds headed southwest, presumably following infrasounds from their loft.

Hagstrum's model found that infrasound normally arrived at the Weedsport site from the south. But one day of abnormal weather conditions, combined with a local river valley, resulted in infrasound that arrived at Weedsport from the Cornell loft from the southeast.

Multiple Maps

"What [Hagstrum] has found for those areas are a possible explanation for the [pigeon] behavior at these sites," said Bowling Green State's Mora. But she cautions against extrapolating these results to all homing pigeons.

Some of Mora's work supports the theory that homing pigeons use magnetic field lines to find their way home.

What homing pigeons are using as their map probably depends on where they're raised, she said. "In some places it may be infrasound, and in other places [a sense of smell] may be the way to go."

Hagstrum's next steps are to figure out how large an area the pigeons are listening to. He's also talking to the Navy and Air Force, who are interested in his work. "Right now we use GPS to navigate," he said. But if those satellites were compromised, "we'd be out of luck." Pigeons navigate from point to point without any problems, he said.

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Obama Prods GOP on Immigration Negotiations

Jan 31, 2013 6:00am

gty barack obama nt 130130 wblog Immigration Negotiation: Obama Prods GOP Toward Gang of Eight

                                                                        (Image Credit: John Gurzinski/Getty Images)

President Obama has apparently had enough of leading from behind.

During the health-care push, Obama left Congress to its own devices. On immigration, he’s doing just the opposite, attempting to prod Republican legislators to the middle by demanding a vote on his own plan.

The president insisted Tuesday that Congress vote on his plan as soon as possible, barring agreement on something else.

“It’s important for us to recognize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place,” Obama said, referring to a bipartisan Senate bill offered up by the so-called Gang of Eight senators, which looks much more palatable to Republicans than Obama’s own plan. “And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.”

In doing so, Obama dared Congress to say “no” to something specific.

It’s the same strategy Obama used in the “fiscal-cliff” talks. With a year-end deadline approaching, he pushed Congress to vote on his own plan: to let higher income tax hikes go into effect if lawmakers couldn’t cut a deal themselves. Obama asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to call “an up-or-down vote” on that plan, the president announced in a Dec. 28 appearance before cameras at the White House.

“If members of the House or the Senate want to vote ‘no,’ they can, but we should let everybody vote,” Obama said then.

Republicans hate such a negotiation tactic. Throughout Obama’s White House tenure, GOP aides have griped that the president and congressional Democrats have sought political gain while refusing to negotiate in good faith. On immigration, it’s the same.

The Obama plan includes a faster path to citizenship and nothing to trigger border-security enforcement. It would also clear an easier path for same-sex couples.

Before Obama rolled out his immigration plan in Nevada Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio of  Florida raised concerns that the president would launch a “bidding war.”

In a radio interview with Rush Limbaugh, Rubio dismissed the notion of an up-or-down vote: “It’s going to have to go through committees and people are going to have their input. There’s going to be public hearings.  I don’t want to be part of a process that comes up with some bill in secret and brings it to the floor and gives people a take it or leave it.

“I want this place to work the way it’s supposed to work, with every senator having input and the public having input,” Rubio said.

A Senate Republican aide jabbed, “The president’s been gone from the Senate a long time and perhaps he has forgotten that it’s a lot easier to pass legislation if he works with Congress.”

Obama has presented Republicans with a plan they will like much less than what’s been crafted by the bipartisan Senate group. The group plan includes triggers to enforce border-security measures, more unmanned drones and no provisions making it easier for same-sex couples seeking to immigrate or naturalize.

Unless other Republicans come up with a plan of their own, the president has given Republicans a choice between the left and the middle. It’s not hard to tell which they’d prefer.

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The right to fight: women at war

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US man kills bus driver, kidnaps child

WASHINGTON: A gunman boarded a school bus in the US state of Alabama, shot dead the driver and kidnapped a six-year-old, whom he is now holding in an underground bunker, local media reported Wednesday.

WSFA television said the man boarded the bus at around 3:40 pm Tuesday, shot the bus driver and took one of the children to an underground shelter, where police are currently communicating with him through a PVC pipe.

Police could not immediately be reached for comment, but Sergeant Rachel David of the Dothan Police Department confirmed to WSFA that an adult male had been shot during the incident and that the suspect was "not in custody".

"We are at the very beginning of this investigation," she said.

WSFA, a CNN affiliate, said area roads had been closed and three local school systems had cancelled classes on Wednesday over the hostage situation.

- AFP/al

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George Ryan arrives at West Side halfway house

Former Gov. George Ryan arrived at a West Side halfway house this morning after being released from a federal prison in Indiana.

Wearing a gray suit, white shirt and maroon tie, Ryan was surrounded by TV cameras as he walked across the street and entered the four-story red brick building at Ashland Avenue and Monroe Street shortly before 7 a.m.

Ryan smiled tightly as he refused to answer questions from reporters. Former Gov. Jim Thompson accompanied Ryan into the house.

Ryan completed more than 5 years of a a 6 1/2-year prison sentence in Terre Haute, Ind. for a corruption conviction. 

Ryan entered prison on Nov. 7, 2007. His wife of more than 50 years, Lura Lynn, died of cancer in June 2011.

Ryan's conviction for fraud, racketeering and other charges was the culmination of the federal Operation Safe Road investigation that exposed rampant bribery in state driver's license facilities while he was secretary of state as well as misdeeds as governor.

After a six-month trial, a federal jury convicted Ryan in 2006 of steering millions of dollars in state business to lobbyists and friends in return for vacations, gifts and other benefits to Ryan and his family.

The conviction overshadowed Ryan's long career in government.

The Kankakee native rose from speaker of the Illinois House to win statewide election as lieutenant governor, secretary of state and then one term as governor. His actions as governor included placing a moratorium on the death penalty and emptying death row, moves that won him international acclaim.

Twitter: @chicagobreaking

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Timbuktu’s vulnerable manuscripts are city’s "gold"

French and Malian troops surrounded Timbuktu on Monday and began combing the labyrinthine city for Islamist fighters. Witnesses, however, said the Islamists, who claim an affiliation to al Qaeda and had imposed a Taliban-style rule in the northern Malian city over the last ten months, slipped into the desert a few days earlier.

But before fleeing, the militants reportedly set fire to several buildings and many rare manuscripts. There are conflicting reports as to how many manuscripts were actually destroyed. (Video: Roots of the Mali Crisis.)

On Monday, Sky News posted an interview with a man identifying himself as an employee of the Ahmed Baba Institute, a government-run repository for rare books and manuscripts, the oldest of which date back to the city's founding in the 12th century. The man said some 3,000 of the institute's 20,000 manuscripts had been destroyed or looted by the Islamists.

Video showed what appeared to be a large pile of charred manuscripts and the special boxes made to preserve them in front of one of the institute's buildings.

However, a member of the University of Cape Town Timbuktu Manuscript Project told eNews Channel Africa on Tuesday that he had spoken with the director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, Mahmoud Zouber, who said that nearly all of its manuscripts had been removed from the buildings and taken to secure locations months earlier. (Read "The Telltale Scribes of Timbuktu" in National Geographic magazine.)

A Written Legacy

The written word is deeply rooted in Timbuktu's rich history. The city emerged as a wealthy center of trade, Islam, and learning during the 13th century, attracting a number of Sufi religious scholars. They in turn took on students, forming schools affiliated with's Timbuktu's three main mosques.

The scholars imported parchment and vellum manuscripts via the caravan system that connected northern Africa with the Mediterranean and Arabia. Wealthy families had the documents copied and illuminated by local scribes, building extensive libraries containing works of religion, art, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, history, geography, and culture.

"The manuscripts are the city's real gold," said Mohammed Aghali, a tour guide from Timbuktu. "The manuscripts, our mosques, and our history—these are our treasures. Without them, what is Timbuktu?"

This isn't the first time that an occupying army has threatened Timbuktu's cultural heritage. The Moroccan army invaded the city in 1591 to take control of the gold trade. In the process of securing the city, they killed or deported most of Timbuktu's scholars, including the city's most famous teacher, Ahmed Baba al Massufi, who was held in exile in Marrakesh for many years and forced to teach in a pasha's court. He finally returned to Timbuktu in 1611, and it is for him that the Ahmed Baba Institute was named.

Hiding the Texts

In addition to the Ahmed Baba Institute, Timbuktu is home to more than 60 private libraries, some with collections containing several thousand manuscripts and others with only a precious handful. (Read about the fall of Timbuktu.)

Sidi Ahmed, a reporter based in Timbuktu who recently fled to the Malian capital Bamako, said Monday that nearly all the libraries, including the world-renowned Mamma Haidara and the Fondo Kati libraries, had secreted their collections before the Islamist forces had taken the city.

"The people here have long memories," he said. "They are used to hiding their manuscripts. They go into the desert and bury them until it is safe."

Though it appears most of the manuscripts are safe, the Islamists' occupation took a heavy toll on Timbuktu.

Women were flogged for not covering their hair or wearing bright colors. Girls were forbidden from attending school, and boys were recruited into the fighters' ranks.

Music was banned. Local imams who dared speak out against the occupiers were barred from speaking in their mosques. In a move reminiscent of the Taliban's destruction of Afghanistan's famous Bamiyan Buddha sculptures, Islamist fighters bulldozed 14 ancient mud-brick mausoleums and cemeteries that held the remains of revered Sufi saints.

A spokesman for the Islamists said it was "un-Islamic" for locals to "worship idols."

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Gunman Kills Bus Driver, Takes Child as Hostage

A gunman shot and killed a school bus driver in Midland City, Ala., Tuesday afternoon and escaped the scene with a 6-year-old passenger, which has prompted a hostage situation that is still going on this morning.

The suspected gunman is identified as Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 60-something military veteran, a police source told ABC News. Dykes and the child are in an underground bunker behind his home.

Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson said Tuesday night that the police had information that the little boy "is OK right now." The boy was delivered some needed medication, police told ABC News.

The police have not identified the child or the dead bus driver.

"Extremely sensitive situation. ... Our agents are working very hard with the locals for the best possible outcome to this situation," a federal law enforcement source told ABC News this morning.

Danny Tindell/Dothan Eagle

Some people in the area were evacuated Tuesday evening, and everyone in the immediate area was notified of the situation, according to Olson.

"Stay at home and pray," Olson told homeowners living in the area.

Olson said multiple agencies have responded to the hostage situation. The FBI has assumed the lead in the investigation, and SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams were surrounding the bunker as of Tuesday night.

The incident began a little after 3:30 p.m. local time Tuesday. An unidentified girl, who was on the bus, told ABC News Radio the bus driver had stopped to drop off some children. The alleged gunman boarded the bus and handed the driver a note, she said.

"And then I don't know what happened after that but he started telling them he needed a kid because of the law coming after him," she said.

Dykes got on the bus and originally demanded that he get two children as hostages. All the children on the bus managed to escape except the 6-year-old boy, a police source told ABC News affiliate WDNH.

"He shot the bus driver, and the driver's foot was on the gas and we went backwards. And everybody started screaming. And then the bus driver was still there and we all got off the bus and went to a neighbor's house," the girl said.

Dykes was scheduled to be in court today for a trial related to charges of menacing, according to court records obtained by WDNH.

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Midnight sun: How to get 24-hour solar power

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Football: Beckham is training at Arsenal, Wenger reveals

LONDON: Former England midfielder David Beckham has been training with Arsenal, the club's manager Arsene Wenger has confirmed, but rejected reports that he could sign.

"He called me. He has asked to come here and to work on his fitness. He has not done anything for a long, long time," Wenger said of Beckham, who is without a club after leaving Los Angeles Galaxy at the end of last Major League Soccer season.

"It's purely for fitness. There's no speculation about signing or anything."

Where Beckham, who made his name with Manchester United and has also played for Real Madrid and AC Milan, continues his career has still to be decided.

The 37-year-old, who won 115 England caps, was a key figure in the successful bid to bring the Olympics and Paralympics to London last year.

And if his football career is now over, he could yet find himself with plenty of offers of promotional work.

Beckham also played a prominent role in the delegation sent to Singapore which helped to secure the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games for London and if he does not continue his football career, there are many avenues for the future.

With Wenger playing down the possibility of Beckham signing on a permanent basis he was asked what benefit there is for Arsenal.

He said: "Nothing. To help somebody.

"We are open for people who behave well when they come here."

Despite his United connection, this is not the first time Beckham has trained with Arsenal, having spent some time training with the London club in January 2008 during a break from the MLS season.

He also trained with Arsenal in late 2010, before he trained with Tottenham in January 2011, while this year his sons have been training with Chelsea.

Former Gunners Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell have also returned to Arsenal for training stints.

- AFP/al

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Woman badly hurt after jumping from window to escape fire

West Side fire

Fire crews at the scene of a West Side fire early this morning where four people were injured.
(WGN-TV / January 29, 2013)

A woman jumped from a window and three other people were injured in a fire that broke out in the South Austin neighborhood Tuesday morning, authorities said.

"When they got here, there was one woman who jumped from second floor," said District Deputy Chief Don Hroma on the scene.

The 30-year-old woman was taken to Stroger Hospital in serious to critical condition, according to the Fire Department. Three other people, two teen-aged girls and a man, were taken to hospitals in fair to serious condition.

The fire started around 4 a.m. in the 1000 block of North Leamington Avenue, officials said. Firefighters encountered heavy smoke in the front and heavy fire on the back porches, Hroma said.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, but Hroma said the building did not have gas service. Seven children and two adults were displaced, Hroma said.

The fire also spread to a neighboring building, but no one there was expected to be displaced.
Twitter: @chicagobreaking

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Space Pictures This Week: Martian Gas, Cloud Trails

Image courtesy SDO/NASA

The sun is more than meets the eye, and researchers should know. They've equipped telescopes on Earth and in space with instruments that view the sun in at least ten different wavelengths of light, some of which are represented in this collage compiled by NASA and released January 22. (See more pictures of the sun.)

By viewing the different wavelengths of light given off by the sun, researchers can monitor its surface and atmosphere, picking up on activity that can create space weather.

If directed towards Earth, that weather can disrupt satellite communications and electronics—and result in spectacular auroras. (Read an article on solar storms in National Geographic magazine.)

The surface of the sun contains material at about 10,000°F (5,700°C), which gives off yellow-green light. Atoms at 11 million°F (6.3 million°C) gives off ultraviolet light, which scientists use to observe solar flares in the sun's corona. There are even instruments that image wavelengths of light highlighting the sun's magnetic field lines.

Jane J. Lee

Published January 28, 2013

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5 Years Later, What's New on Immigration Reform?

The announcement of a proposal for immigration reform inspired renewed excitement for some involved in the fight Monday, but other players in the debate felt a sense of déjà vu.

Monday afternoon, senators introduced a framework of changes previewed over the weekend, with President Obama and a secret group from the House of Representatives expected soon to follow suit.

The press conference was held by Senators Chuck Schumer, John McCain, Dick Durbin, Lindsey Graham, Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, Michael Bennet and Jeff Flake. Menendez called it "meaningful and comprehensive" immigration reform.

But former Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who worked on this same issue under President George W. Bush in 2007, said this proposal "is a lot like what we did five years ago -- remarkably so."

Martinez said it puts "a little more emphasis" on dealing with legal immigrants who overstay their visas, shifts from framing the policies as reuniting families to rewarding skilled laborers, and the phrase "guest worker" -- which was a point of contention then -- is now absent.

But in terms of things like creating a path to citizenship and requiring an electronic verification system for employers to determine an applicant's legal status, "All of these things are exactly what we did before," Martinez said.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo| Susan Walsh/AP Photo

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To Martinez, this replay is a good thing. He said a "political evolution" and a new appreciation for Hispanic voters created a positive climate for reforms this time around.

But Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform said he is not impressed.

"It's essentially the same legislation that was offered and rejected in 2007," Mehlman told ABC News."It includes nothing for the primary constituency -- namely the American public. It's all based on what the immigrants and particularly the illegal immigrants want and what employers want."

The two plans focused on achieving bipartisan support, molding immigration law to meet the needs of the economy, and the condition that reform would only happen simultaneously with the strengthening of border security.

The difference, according to immigration lawyer Cori Alonso-Yoder of immigrant-focused non-profit Ayuda, is the messaging in this proposal.

"The message is very helpful to people who are used to hearing a not-welcoming tone towards immigrants," Alonso-Yoder said Monday. "I think that's sort of what distinguishes this from efforts that we saw in 2006, 2007 things that I think were more harsh on immigrants."

This time around the plan alludes to racial profiling and human trafficking, two issues Alonso-Yoder said her clients "confront on a daily basis and are dealing with on a daily basis."

Related: 'Dreamers' React to the New Immigration Reform Framework

She said she believes the intent in this legislation is good and that it will have some success -- at least outside of the House of Representatives.

"My concern is just seeing how this will all sort of play out in a system that is already filled with patchwork fixes, and how deep this reform will go, how broad it will sweep," Alonso-Yoder said.

The collapse of President George W. Bush's 2007 immigration bill may be a bad sign for Obama -- who is expected to announce his own plan today -- and others hoping to change the immigration system.

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Stellar performances finally gain the limelight

Michael Brooks, consultant


(Image: Five Finger Yamanaka/courtesy of Phil Ross)

In Heart of Darkness, Jeremiah P. Ostriker and Simon Mitton add new stars to the constellation of astronomy to tell the subject's full history

WE HAVE all heard of the Hubble Space Telescope, named after Edwin Hubble, but where is the Tinsley telescope?

Beatrice Tinsley was an excellent astronomer, but her career was stymied by an establishment set against giving a salary to the wife of an academic - even if she was also a gifted scientist. Tinsley made at least two vital contributions to our understanding of the universe's history, but she had to divorce her husband and grant him custody of the children to get any recognition of her talents.

In Heart of Darkness, Jeremiah Ostriker and Simon Mitton explore modern cosmology while recasting what they term the "simple linear parade of heroes" of standard accounts. Among the uncelebrated stars of cosmology they discuss, Tinsley shines brightest, but there are others: Milton Humason, a poorly educated mule-driver and janitor who assisted Hubble in his observations, and Vesto Slipher, who, despite working in the shadow of a boss obsessed with finding evidence for Martian civilisations, made the first observations that told us about the expansion of the universe.


Why do some names last and others fade? As well as being a great astronomer, Hubble was a "showman", and a "comfortable celebrity", say Ostriker and Mitton. Tinsley, meanwhile, was diagnosed with cancer the year she finally made full professor (at Yale). She died four years later, aged 40. Like a supernova, she burned brightly but briefly. Hopefully, this thorough and inspiring book will secure her a place in cosmological history.

Not that Ostriker and Mitton's book is focused solely on people - quite the opposite. Relatively few biographical details are given: it is their scientific contributions that are explored - and with aplomb.

This is a strong, confident book, easily one of the best guides to why cosmologists make the claims they do. Yet for all their redistribution of credit, the cosmology that the authors set out remains uncontroversial. It is the universe that began in a singularity, passed through a period of rapid inflation, and is now dominated by dark matter and dark energy. The state of our knowledge, they say, represents a "stunning" accomplishment.

This is the dilemma of modern cosmology: what counts as success? Summing up, Ostriker and Mitton simultaneously cite a "pretty impressive list of successes" while acknowledging that cosmology is "profoundly incomplete". We don't know what caused the inflation, what constitutes dark matter or what lies behind dark energy. In the end, the authors settle for a declaration that there's plenty for future cosmologists to do.

If there is one flaw in this crystal clear book, it's a lack of depth in the discussion of the dark side of the universe. It provides the book's title and is supposed to account for 96 per cent of the universe, but is confined to two chapters towards the end. Alternatives to dark matter are dismissed in little more than a paragraph and compared to pre-Copernican efforts to keep the Earth at the centre of the cosmos. When many respected scientists support the continued search for alternatives, that seems somewhat disingenuous.

Were she still with us, Tinsley would no doubt argue that there are compelling reasons to believe in the existence of dark matter, but that there are good reasons to consider alternatives, too. Her unique contribution to cosmology was to persuade a dismissive establishment that galaxies change their properties over time. In so doing, she exposed a gaping hole in the cosmology of the 1970s. It was a supreme achievement, if unwelcome.

Clearly, if you want your name to go down in history (or onto a telescope) it's better to be a showman than a troublemaker. But if the history of science teaches us anything, it's that the troublemakers should be celebrated too.

Book information:
Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the mysteries of the invisible universe by Jeremiah P. Ostriker and Simon Mitton
Princeton University Press

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Football: Centralised training for S'pore team for 2013 SEA Games

SINGAPORE: Members of the LionsXII and the Courts Young Lions will form the bulk of the Singapore football squad for the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar.

Despite its regional powerhouse status, Singapore has never won a gold medal in football at the SEA Games competition and the Lions are gunning to end the barren run in Myanmar this year.

To achieve that, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is looking to bring the teams together for centralised training ahead of the Games.

It is critical that the Young Lions and LionsXII have more playing time together.

This will allow selectors enough time to get the SEA Games team to gel and make changes before the December tournament.

FAS president Zainudin Nordin said: "If we are able to pick a suitable month where both calendar can fit in, why not. We can have a team going on a training programme that will put them into a single fighting unit. I think we will work hard towards that."

A good result at the 2013 SEA Games will continue the momentum from the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup win where the Singapore team clinched a historic fourth ASEAN football title.

On Monday afternoon, the Courts Young Lions received a boost when its sponsor, Courts, decided to stick with the team for another year with a sponsorship deal estimated to be in the region of S$500,000.

The support will keep the focus on the youngsters and allow them to prove themselves, especially with better quality star players signed by some teams.

Courts Young Lions coach Aide Iskandar said: "The objective of the Courts Young Lions this year is to provide a platform, to create a wider pool of players for the coach to bring the team and to select the team for the 2013 SEA Games."

- CNA/fa

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2 dead after apparent carbon monoxide leak in W. Rogers Park

Two women are dead and another hospitalized after an apparent carbon monoxide leak in a West Rogers Park building, officials said.

Paramedics were first called about 10:30 a.m. to the building in the 2500 block of West North Shore Avenue to transport one woman to the hospital, Chicago Fire Department spokeswoman Meg Ahlheim said.

The woman was taken in cardiac arrest to Swedish Covenant Hospital, Ahlheim said.

Fire officials at the scene called for a second ambulance, and another woman was taken to Swedish Covenant as well, Ahlheim said.

Both women died at the hospital.

Rasheeda Akhter, 77, was pronounced dead at 11:14 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner's office. The second victim, 18-year-old Zanib Ahmed, died at 9 p.m., according to the medical examiner's office.

Back at the building, fire officials checked the carbon monoxide levels but found no indication of a leak, Ahlheim said.

Paramedics were called back to the scene, however, about 3:45 p.m. for another woman found unresponsive. She was taken to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston in critical condition, Ahlheim said.

Officials checked carbon monoxide levels again, and while the meter readings in residential units did not indicate a leak, officials found a positive reading for a low level of carbon monoxide near a boiler in the basement, Ahlheim said.

Police suspect the deaths were caused by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, but no official determination will be made until autopsy results are reported, Police News Affairs Officer Amina Greer said.

A spokeswoman for Peoples Gas, Jennifer Block, said representatives from the company were called to the building to assist police and fire officials. She referred further questions to the police and fire departments.

Twitter: @AdamSege

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Doomed Dolphin Speaks to New York's Vibrant Wildlife

By the time New Yorkers spied a dolphin swimming through the superfund sludge of the Gowanus Canal last Friday, it was too late. The marine mammal didn't even survive long enough for a rescue plan to come together. First sighted on Friday afternoon, the dolphin perished at 6:00 p.m.

The reason the marine mammal died, and why the dolphin swam up the polluted waterway in the first place, is as yet unknown. But the sad story of the wayward creature highlights the strange nature of New York City, the global epitome of urbanity. Hidden within Gotham are native carnivores, marine mammals, and even species that have scarcely been seen before.

Marine mammals are arguably the most high-profile of New York City's wild residents and visitors. The Gowanus Canal dolphin was only the latest to venture within city limits. Just a month ago, a 60-foot-long finback whale (Balaenoptera physalus) became stranded in the Rockaway Inlet of Queens. The emaciated animal died the day after it was discovered.

There seems to be no singular reason explaining why marine mammals such as the Gowanus dolphin and Queens' finback whale wander up the city's rivers or strand on beaches. Each case is unique. But not all the city's marine mammal visitors suffer terrible fates.

In 2006, a hefty manatee (Trichechus spp.) took a long jaunt from its Florida home up the East Coast, including a detour down New York's Hudson River. The sirenian survived the trip, continuing on to Cape Cod before reportedly turning back south to a destination unknown. Hopefully the manatee didn't encounter any great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) on the return journey, a marine predator we know patrols the waters off New York.

Of course, New York City's whales, seals, and occasional manatee can only skirt the city along its shores and canals. You likely won't see a seal caterpillaring its way along Broadway.

Yet the city's interior also hosts a strange accumulation of wildlife, including native animals that are carving out spaces for themselves in the concrete corridors and exotic species that we have introduced to city life.

Coyotes (Canis latrans) may be the cleverest of New York City's hidden wildlife. Thanks to camera traps, and the occasional police chase through Lower Manhattan, researchers are keeping track of the wily canids and studying how they are so successfully taking up residence in many of the nation's cities. "Most small, urban parks will likely hold a pair and their offspring at most—coyotes are very territorial," said Cornell University ecologist Paul Curtis.

The secretive carnivorans bring a welcome element to urban neighborhoods—an appetite for rodents—and are experts at cracking open new niches alongside people.

Black bears (Ursus americanus) may be next. The bears have proliferated in northern New Jersey in recent years, and in 2010, a black bear came within three miles of the George Washington Bridge, a major thoroughfare between New Jersey and Manhattan. The bear obviously would have eschewed rush hour traffic and the tolls, but the local population is so bountiful that it's not unreasonable to think some enterprising bear might eventually wander into the big city.

Strangely, you may actually be more likely to run into a crocodylian predator in New York City than a black bear. New Yorkers have a nagging habit of importing—and losing-alligator—like caimans and other reptiles within the city.

In 2010, an 18-inch long caiman took refuge under a parked Datsun in Astoria, Queens. No one knows how the reptile wound up on the street, but given the trend of owners buying cute crocodylians and later dumping them, someone may have abandoned the poor little caiman.

This would hardly be the first time. In 2006, another little caiman was found in the leaf litter behind Brooklyn's Spring Creek Towers, while "Damon the Caiman" swam around a Central Park lake in the summer of 2001. These caimans are only some of the most famous—according to a New York Times report, the Brooklyn-based Animal Care and Control deals with about ten caimans each year.

Many other unusual and exotic animals have romped through New York. Under some of their most notable animal celebrities, the city's Parks and Recreation department lists guinea pigs, boa snakes, and even a tiger that escaped from a circus in 2004 and ran down Jackie Robinson Parkway before his owners were able to get him back.

The Big Apple even contains species that have never been documented before. No, not the ballyhooed "Montauk Monster"—actually a rotted raccoon—but a distinct species of leopard frog. Described early this year, the cryptic amphibian was given away by its unique mating call.

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