Bad memories written with lasers

By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News

Fruit fly head (SPL)

This work in flies will help understand how the human brain makes memories

Laser-controlled flies may be the latest addition to the neuroscientist’s tool kit, thanks to a new technique.

Researchers have devised a way to write memories onto the brains of flies, revealing which brain cells are involved in making bad memories.

The researchers said that in flies just 12 brain cells were responsible for what is known as “associative learning”.

They describe their findings in the journal Cell.

Associative memories are made when an animal learns to link a cue to a particular outcome. It might for example learn that a certain odour is a sign that a predator is nearby.

“So the appearance of that odour predicts that something bad is going to happen,” explained Gero Miesenbock from the University of Oxford, UK, who led this study.

Previous research had already identified that the brain cells or neurons responsible for this type of learning are those that produce dopamine. This is a chemical which acts as a signal that can be transmitted from cell to cell in the brain.

Professor Miesenbock and his team “tapped into these gene regulatory mechanisms” of the neurons – programming them to respond to a laser.

Fly brain (Science)

A laser flash releases a chemical that activates the neurons

They modified the neurons by adding a sort of trigger, or receptor, to each one. This receptor was activated by a chemical called ATP.

“Since there’s no ATP floating around in the fly’s brain, the [modified] receptors remain closed and the flies behave just like normal flies that don’t have the receptor,” said Professor Miesenbock.

Now for the laser-activated trickery.

The scientists injected ATP into the flies’ brains, in a form that was locked inside a light-sensitive chemical cage.

“[Then] we turned on the laser light and the light sensitive cage fell apart,” Professor Miesenbock explained. “The ATP was released and acted only on the cells [with] the receptor.”

Memory circuit

The laser flash was paired with an odour, which allowed the scientists to find out if their memory-writing experiment had been successful.

They gave the flies a simple choice between two odours – one of which the flies had been exposed to just before the laser flash.

“[The flies] moved along a narrow chamber and at the midpoint they were presented with an odour on the left and an odour on the right,” said Professor Miesenbock.

He knew that the laser had successfully written a bad memory into the fly’s brain when the insect avoided the odour that had been paired with the laser flash.

This is a real breakthrough in our understanding of how memories are formed
David Shepherd, neuroscientist

The flies associated the smell with a bad experience, so the laser flash gave the fly a memory of a bad experience that it never actually had.

Simply by looking inside the flies’ brains with a microscope, the researchers were able to narrow this memory formation process down to just 12 neurons.

“We labelled the cells …. that were made responsive to light and which ones were not, so by elimination we could narrow it down.”

This finding, said Professor Miesenbock, has begun to unravel how animals and humans learn from mistakes and how “error signals” drive animals to adapt their behaviour.

“In the fly we have isolated and manipulated these error signals, so what we can now do is try to understand how these signals are calculated in the brain and how this works mechanistically.

“I have every expectation that the fundamental mechanisms that produce these error signals are the same in the brain of the fly as they are in the brain of the human.

David Shepherd, a neuroscientist from the University of Bangor in North Wales described the study as “a fantastic piece of work”.

Professor Shepherd, who was not involved in this study, told BBC News: “We have known for years that flies are capable of sophisticated behaviours such as learning and memory. We have also been able to manipulate gene and cell function in flies.

“This work combines these elements to make a real breakthrough in our understanding of how memories are formed.”

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‘Tweeting’ medics expose patients (BBC)

Twitter homepage

Twitter content is user-generated

Medics posting messages on networking websites like Facebook and Twitter are breaching patient confidentiality, a leading journal reveals.

Research in the Journal of the American Medical Association found examples of web gossip by trainee doctors sharing private patient stories and details.

Over half of 78 US medical schools studied had reported cases of students posting unprofessional content online.

One in 10 of these contained frank violations of patient confidentiality.

Most were blogs, including one on Facebook, containing enough clinical detail that patients could potentially be identified.

‘Blue’ blogs

Many postings included profanity and discriminatory language.

Sexually suggestive material and photos showing drunkenness or illicit drug use were also commonplace.

While most incidents resulted in informal warnings, some were deemed serious enough to lead to dismissal from medical school.

But few of the medical schools had policies that covered online social networking and blogging.

Patient confidentiality is paramount and medical students and doctors obviously need to be very careful about any information they post online
A British Medical Association spokesman

The investigators, led by Dr Katherine Chretien of the Washington DC VA Medical Center, said medical students may not be aware of how online posting can reflect negatively on medical professionalism or jeopardise their careers.

Similarly, patient confidentiality breaches may be unintentional.

“Sharing patient stories that are de-identified and respectful, as health professionals might do on personal blogs, can encourage reflection, empathy and understanding.

“However, content may risk violation of patient privacy, even without using names or other identifiers,” they warned.

Also, the line separating freedom of speech and inappropriate postings can be unclear – for example, derisive comments about a student’s institution or profession might not be considered unprofessional by some, they said.

Dr Chretien’s team say medical students should be taught as part of their training about the risks associated with making postings on the Internet.

As a matter of course, students should be shown how to elect privacy settings on social networking sites and should be told to perform periodic Web searches of their own name to vet listed online content.

A spokesman for the British Medical Association said: “Patient confidentiality is paramount and medical students and doctors obviously need to be very careful about any information they post online.”

The UK’s regulator of doctors, the General Medical Council, does not have guidance that covers medics’ blogging.

But a spokeswoman advised doctors: “You must make sure that your conduct at all times justifies your patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession.”

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China unmoved on Iran sanctions (BBC)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly, New York (23 Sept 2009)

Mr Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to shake “honestly extended” hands

China says placing sanctions on Iran is not the right way to resolve the controversy over its nuclear plans.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called on all sides to “redouble diplomatic efforts” to persuade Iran to end its nuclear programme.

Her remarks came after Russia indicated it could soften its longstanding opposition to further sanctions.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are set to lead Thursday’s nuclear proliferation debate at the UN General Assembly.

Tehran says its nuclear programme is for civilian use only but many Western states believe it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Speaking in Beijing, Ms Jiang said: “We believe that sanctions and exerting pressure are not the way to solve problems and are not conducive for the current diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue.”

Correspondents says Iran’s oil and gas industries are likely to be affected if sanctions are strengthened, which could explain China’s reluctance to back further restrictions.

Wide focus

Russia has already agreed to limited sanctions on Iran but has so far opposed any additions.

ANALYSIS
Quentin Sommerville
Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Beijing

When Jiang Yu said that sanctions and pressure would not solve the Iranian nuclear issue, she was simply repeating China’s stated policy of non-interference in another country’s sovereignty.

China rarely votes “no” in the Security Council, but often abstains. However, Beijing has backed a number of resolutions that would open the way to sanctions against Iran, but did so with its nose firmly held. Sanctions don’t work says China, they only victimise ordinary citizens. But is this sound principle or just smart business?

Trade between China and Iran is booming – it jumped by a third between 2007 and 2008. The United States and others accuse China of sanctions-busting and helping Tehran’s weapons programme, something that Beijing has consistently denied.

On Wednesday, however, President Dmitry Medvedev said although they were rarely productive, sanctions were in some cases “inevitable”.

“We need to help Iran to [make] the right decisions,” he said, following a meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN meeting in New York.

The move was welcomed by the White House. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Russia’s “willingness to play a constructive role is extremely important”.

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, Paul Reynolds, says Russia’s apparent change of direction could have been influenced by the US announcement last week that it was dropping plans for an anti-missile defence shield close to Russian borders.

But exactly how far Russia might go is not yet clear, our correspondent says.

In his address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not refer directly to the nuclear stand-off, but said Iran was ready to shake all hands “that are honestly extended to us”.

US officials have stressed that Thursday’s talks at the UN aim to create a “framework” for dealing with nuclear issues rather than focusing specifically on Iran.

Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama 23.9.09

“There is a deliberate effort here to focus on this issue comprehensively, and not use this meeting to focus on any specific country or problem,” said the US deputy permanent representative to the UN, Alex Wolff.

However, Iran is expected to dominate the agenda.

Six world powers are preparing to hold talks with Iranian officials on 1 October that are expected to cover global nuclear disarmament.

Mr Obama is hoping for a united position among the group but analysts say that if the talks yield nothing, he wants to pursue tougher sanctions against Tehran.

On Wednesday, British Foreign Minister David Miliband said the six powers had agreed Iran must give a “serious response” to accusations against it.

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‘Open internet’ rules criticised (BBC)

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Man using phone on the move, AFP/Getty

Studies show 60% of users are interested in mobile internet access

Mobile providers have said that US proposals to ensure all traffic on the internet is treated equally should not be applied to wireless traffic.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants rules to prevent providers blocking or slowing down bandwidth-heavy usage such as streaming video.

Providers claim a two-tiered system is essential for the future vitality of the net.

Mobile operators said any regulation would damage innovation.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said doing nothing was not an option.

In his first major speech since his appointment earlier in the summer, he told an audience in Washington that the rules were “not about government regulation of the internet”.

“History’s lesson is clear. Ensuring a robust and open internet is the best thing we can do to promote investment and innovation,” he told the audience at Washington think tank the Brookings Institution.

“And while there are some who see every policy decision as either pro-business or pro-consumer, I reject that approach; it’s not the right way to see technology’s role in America.”

The FCC’s proposals are meant to ensure that internet service providers cannot block or slow down traffic, such as bandwidth-hogging video downloads. Operators must also be transparent about network management, it said.

But providers have argued that a two-tiered internet is essential to effectively manage their networks.

‘Phenomenal success’

Almost as soon as Mr Genachowski stepped off the podium, industry critics condemned the inclusion of wireless traffic in the new policy proposals.

Ethernet cable

The FCC says the internet is at a crossroads

“We are concerned the FCC appears ready to extend the entire array of net neutrality requirements to what is perhaps the most competitive consumer market in America – wireless services,” said AT&T’s Jim Cicconi.

“The internet in America has been a phenomenal success that has spawned technological and business innovation unmatched anywhere else in the world,” said David Cohen, executive vice-president at Comcast.

“So it’s still fair to ask whether increased regulation of the internet is a solution in search of a problem.”

Verizon, the nation’s biggest cellphone operator, said it believed the FCC had no reason to impose “a new set of regulations that will limit customer choices and affect content providers, application developers, device manufacturers and network builders”.

Politicians also weighed in on the proposals.

Six Republican senators introduced a measure that would cut the FCC’s funding to “develop and implement new regulatory mandates”.

Meanwhile, the two Republicans on the FCC’s board said they were not convinced that there were widespread problems of internet providers blocking or slowing traffic that needed to be addressed with new rules.

‘Pivotal moment’

However, just as many supporters as critics stood up to praise the FCC’s move.

iPhone (Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Touch screens are changing the way people use mobiles

The FCC “took an important step in… ensuring that the internet remains a platform for innovation, economic growth, and free expression”, wrote Google internet evangelist Vint Cerf, on a company blog.

Consumer groups saw the move as a victory.

“This is a tremendous day for millions of us who have been clamouring to keep the internet free from discrimination,” said John Silver, executive director of advocacy group Free Press.

Mr Genachowski said the increasing number of people who went online using their mobile phones could not be ignored.

“The revolution in wireless technologies and the creation of path-breaking devices like the Blackberry and iPhone have enabled millions of us to carry the internet in our pockets and purses.”

Gigi Sohn of digital rights group Public Knowledge told BBC News the move was necessary given that “wireless is the next frontier and where the great growth of internet access is going to come from”.

Mr Genachowski said he wants as much feedback from consumers, the industry and others on the proposals.

“This is about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the internet,” said the FCC chairman.

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Microsoft increases search share (BBC)

Bing.com

Microsoft recently introduced visual search

Microsoft’s Bing search engine is making inroads into Google’s dominance of the search market according to data from US net measurement firm ComScore.

Its latest figures show Microsoft’s share of the search market has grown from 8.9% in July to 9.3% in August.

The news saw Microsoft’s shares rise while Google’s dipped slightly.

Microsoft’s modest 9.3% share of the US search market is small but is a significant increase for a new entrant, say analysts.

The Bing search engine was launched by Microsoft in June 2009 and was followed in July by a search tie-up with rival Yahoo.

Google is still far and away the search leader, with 65% of the US market.

Tiny ripple

The fact Google is losing any market share to Microsoft could indicate that it is no longer the immediate choice for everyone, thinks search expert John Batelle.

“I think the service is starting to gain footholds with users who see it as a regular alternative to Google,” he wrote in his blog.

He is a fan of Bing’s newly-released visual search interface.

“I think it augurs some serious new – and useful – approaches to sifting through massive amounts of related data,” he said.

In the UK, Bing has also made small inroads into Google’s market share.

In August the number of searches on Bing increased by 5%, while Google searches were down 1.7%, according to UK online measurement firm Nielsen.

“It is a very tiny ripple but reflects that Microsoft has done a lot of marketing around it and that people are curious about anything new that is launched,” said Alex Burmaster, communications director at Nielsen.

Google is already working on an update to its current search engine.

Nicknamed “Caffeine” the new version is still in the testing phase and will replace the current engine once tests are complete.

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Obama shelves Europe missile plan (BBC)

Barack Obama: “I’m confident… we have strengthened America’s national security”

US President Barack Obama has shelved plans for controversial bases in Poland and the Czech Republic in a major overhaul of missile defence in Europe.

The bases are to be scrapped after a review of the threat from Iran.

Mr Obama said there would be a “proven, cost-effective” system using land- and sea-based interceptors against Iran’s short- and medium-range missile threat.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has welcomed the US decision, calling it a “responsible move”.

Russia had always seen the shield as a threat.

However, there has been criticism of the decision in conservative circles in the US.

The US signed a deal in August 2008 with Poland to site 10 interceptors at a base near the Baltic Sea, and with the Czech Republic to build a radar station on its territory.

ANALYSIS
Kevin Connolly
Kevin Connolly, BBC News, Washington

It would be hard to invent a news story that tied together more strategic and political issues than the Obama administration’s decision to change its stance on the deployment of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.

It touches on Washington’s assessment of Iran’s military capabilities. There is an underlying assumption that Tehran’s capacity for mounting warheads on long-range missiles does not pose an immediate strategic headache.

It also sends a signal to the peoples of Central Europe about how President Barack Obama proposes to manage the post Cold War order in their neck of the woods in the next few years. And it raises questions about the administration’s much-talked-about desire to “hit the reset” button on its relationship with Russia.

The US had said the missile shield would be fully operational by 2012.

But President Obama this year ordered a review of the defence system, which was strongly backed by his predecessor George W Bush.

‘Stronger and smarter’

On Thursday, President Obama said in a live TV address that the change was needed to “deploy a defence system that best responds to the threats we face”.

He said a review had shown the need to switch strategy to defending against the short- and medium-range missiles that Iran could use to target Europe.

Twice Mr Obama referred to the need for a system that was “proven and cost effective”.

He said the new approach would provide “a stronger, smarter and swifter defence” of US and allied forces in Europe.

Mr Obama said he had spoken to both the Czech Republic and Poland and stressed his commitments to their defence.

But he said again that Russia’s concerns about the old system were “entirely unfounded”.

It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return
John Bolton,
former Bush undersecretary

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs later stressed the overhaul was “not about Russia”.

Although the White House said the US “no longer planned to move forward” with the old shield scheme for Poland and the Czech Republic, Defence Secretary Robert Gates stressed the US was not abandoning missile defence of Europe.

He said negotiations were under way with both nations about deploying upgraded SM-3 interceptors from 2015.

The first phase of the new strategy, he said, would be to deploy “current and proven missile defence systems in the next two years”, including the sea-based Aegis and the current SM-3.

Iran says its missile development programme is solely for scientific, surveillance or defensive purposes, but there are concerns in the West and among Iran’s neighbours that the rockets could be used to carry nuclear weapons.

‘Responsible’

Mr Medvedev said the US decision was a “positive” one.

He said he would discuss the missile defence issue with President Obama during a visit to the United Nations in New York next week.

Mr Medvedev said in a TV address: “We value the US president’s responsible approach towards implementing our agreements. I am ready to continue the dialogue.”

Ground-based Midcourse Defense locations map

The two countries are currently in talks about reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles, and the US move could influence Russia to be more co-operative, correspondents say.

Mr Medvedev said there were now “good conditions” for talks on missile reduction.

Gates on missile shield overhaul

However, there has already been some criticism in the US.

John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, said the move was “unambiguously a bad decision”.

He said: “This gives away an important defensive mechanism against threats from countries like Iran and other rogue states, not only for the US but for Europe as well.

“It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return.”

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the US move was “a positive step”, Associated Press reported.

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Insight: Russia’s leading men (BBC)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow (09 September 2009)

By Bridget Kendall
BBC diplomatic correspondent

It may be a while until the next Russian presidential election, but when Vladimir Putin announced he was not ruling out returning to power as president in 2012, it caused ripples through political Moscow.

It was this comment from his long meeting with the Valdai club of foreign experts last week which prompted the most debate in Russian newspapers, and in private conversations with Russian colleagues.

And no wonder. In a country where one man at the top can decide so much, any whiff of the political future is of huge significance.

But it is not just Mr Putin’s game plan that matters. After all, it is his erstwhile protege, Dmitry Medvedev, who is currently president. He would be consulted, said Mr Putin graciously.

So what does Mr Medvedev think?

In a parallel meeting with the president – like last year, across from the Kremlin in the slightly incongruous setting of the banqueting hall of the GUM department store – the top issue that needed clarifying seemed to be this: just how closely aligned are these two leaders in their plans for Russia and ambitions for themselves?

I never worked in the committee of State Security, for 10 years I worked as a businessman. So I know what I am talking about
Dmitry Medvedev

President Medvedev was expecting the question about 2012 and grinned broadly.

“I do have a plan,” he said. “But I’m not making any predictions”.

“I didn’t want to run for president last time, but that was my fate. I don’t make any forecasts.”

But he pointedly did not endorse Mr Putin’s view that they would work it out between them.

In fact, what was most interesting about the Valdai group’s encounter with President Medvedev this year was the way he seemed to try to distance himself from his benefactor, as if to assert his right to hold an independent view.

It is true that in some sensitive policy areas, his responses were just as sharp as Mr Putin’s.

He did not regret one bit his scathing letter accusing President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine of stoking tensions with Russia. He could see no chance of Moscow improving relations with Georgia while President Mikheil Saakashvili was still there.

And, as for the direct elections of Russian governors in Russia – abolished in the wake of the Beslan crisis five years ago – he could see no prospect of restoring those in 100 years.

‘Personal views’

But Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin do not see eye to eye on everything, it seems.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and US President Barack Obama in Moscow (06 July 2009)

Mr Medvedev praised Mr Obama for not relying on his aides

They had disagreed over whether Russia should join the World Trade Organization, Mr Medvedev told us, though they were now united in blaming a reluctant United States for keeping Russia out.

He welcomed new talks with Iran but deliberately left open the possibility of fresh sanctions – whereas, only days before, Mr Putin had told us sanctions were unworkable and any threat to use force against Iran “unacceptable”.

He enthused over his eight hours of talks and lunch with Barack Obama in Moscow in July – Mr Putin was only invited to breakfast – and pointedly praised the US president for speaking up for himself.

“President Obama tries to be independent in his position, instead of relying on his aides,” said Dmitry Medvedev, “which is exactly what I try to do.”

And he slipped in a nod to Mr Putin’s KGB past, apparently to burnish his own credentials for fighting corruption.

“I never worked in the committee of State Security. For 10 years I worked as a businessman, so I know what I am talking about,” said Mr Medvedev.

“Corrupt officials run Russia. They have the true power in Russia‚Ķ We should squeeze it out.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi (14 August 2009)

Mr Medvedev is possibly no match as yet for Mr Putin

Corruption was one theme in a bleak and far-reaching vision to modernise Russia which he kept returning to.

He had laid it out in a long internet article last week, which openly spoke of influential opponents who would try to put obstacles in his way. The assessment, he said, had been his and his alone.

“Did you notice how often I used the pronoun ‘I’ and ‘me’ in the article?” he asked. “It is very clear these were my personal views.”

So did the ambitious vision he had set himself mean that he hoped to remain Russian president for at least one more term, whatever Mr Putin said?, I asked him.

Again, the president grinned and shifted in his seat, and then dodged the question. There was no “collision” looming between himself and Mr Putin, he told us.

“We have quite a friendly relationship,” he said.

“We talk over issues, though not as often as some people think – once a week perhaps. He makes his statements, I make mine.”

Genial leader

Their views on where Russia was heading were not in contradiction, Mr Medvedev said.

Maybe we have our differences, but that’s what matters – the mindset. We speak the same language.
Dmitry Medvedev

As prime minister, Vladimir Putin defended positive indicators in the state of the economy at the moment, whereas he warned of the dire problems Russia could face in the long term if it did not adjust its strategy.

“Perhaps we should both take a blood test to check whether we are of ‘one blood’,” he joked, referring to Mr Putin’s characterisation of their partnership, which he agreed was close and strong.

“Don’t forget Putin doesn’t just have a KGB past. The two of us were educated at the same law department of the same university. We have the same mindsets.

“Maybe we have our differences, but that’s what matters – the mindset. We speak the same language.”

Does that sound like the beginnings of a split? A protege beginning to spread his wings? Hardly.

Maybe Dmitry Medvedev is sincere in wanting to make an impact. Maybe he can convince Russians that his criticism of Russia and desire to change it is more than fine words.

He says he wrote his article to seek out public opinion ahead of the annual address he will give to the Russian Duma in November.

His own economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich, was adamant when he spoke to us that the president and his team had no more than two and a half years – until the next election – to show they meant business by enacting the first steps of a viable plan of reform.

But at the same time, Mr Medvedev told us that any change in Russia must come slowly or it would be resisted.

There may be hardliners in the Russian government, he says, but that is a good thing because all points of view must be taken into account.

It does not really sound like a recipe to galvanize the support of the young internet-savvy Russians whom he hopes will lead his modernisation plans.

He is an accommodating president, not a revolutionary – genial, even likeable, but so far still no match for the steely Mr Putin, one suspects.

He is the junior partner in a dance where his mentor calls the tune.

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Saturn Lightning Storm Breaks Records (Discovery News)

Sept. 15, 2009 — A tempest that erupted on Saturn in January has become the Solar System’s longest continuously observed lightning storm, astronomers reported on Tuesday.

The storm broke out in “Storm Alley,” a region 35 degrees south of the ringed giant’s equator, researchers told the European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam, near Berlin.

Thunderstorms there can be as big as 3,000 kilometers (nearly 2,000 miles) across.

The powerful event was spotted by the U.S. space probe Cassini, using an instrument that can detect radiowaves emitted by lightning discharge.

“The reason why we see lightning in this peculiar location is not completely clear,” said Georg Fischer of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in a press release.
WATCH VIDEO: Using the other planets as weather labs, meterologists are getting a better feel for how things work on Earth.

“It could be that this latitude is one of the few places in Saturn’s atmosphere that allow large-scale vertical convection of water clouds, which is necessary for thunderstorms to develop.”

But another possibility for the southerly location of “Storm Alley” could be seasonal, said Fischer.

In 1980 and 1981, the Voyager spacecraft flew by Saturn and observed lightning storms near the equator.

It could be that the mega-storms will now shift back to equatorial latitudes as Saturn continues its crawl around the Sun. A “year” in Saturn is equivalent to more than 29 Earth years.

The previous record-breaker for a Solar System thunderstorm was an event that lasted seven and a half months, running from November 2007 to July 2008, also spotted by Cassini.

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Hacker admits world’s biggest identity theft (TG Daily)

The Miami man dubbed the world’s most prolific identity thief has admitted stealing 40 million credit and debit cards records from US retailers.
By Emma Woollacott

Monday, September 14, 2009

Albert Gonzalez appeared on Friday in a Boston court and pleaded guilty to 20 charges. He admitted exploiting vulnerabilities in the security systems of TJX, OfficeMax, BJ’s Wholesale Club and other retailers¬† back in 2003. The records were sold and the money laundered through accounts in Latvia.

His technique – known as ‘wardriving’ – involved cruising around with a laptop and searching for accessible wireless internet signals. Once Gonzalez and his colleagues found a vulnerable network, they installed sniffer programs to capture the card numbers.

Things went from bad to worse: after his arrest, Gonzalez began secretly collaborating with the US Secret Service to catch other hackers. But he now admits that during this period he warned off his co-conspirators to help them avoid arrest.

Gonzalez had already agreed to plead guilty to the charges. He now faces up to 25 years in prison, and must hand back more than $1.65 million. Sentencing is set for December 8th.

His attorney says he feels “really bad”.

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‘Next generation’ wi-fi approved (BBC)

laptops

manufacturers have been selling 802.11n products for many years

The next-generation of wi-fi technology has finally been approved for use, despite being on sale in laptops and other equipment for several years.

The 802.11n technology, as it is known, was ratified by the IEEE, a body that oversees all wi-fi standards.

It was conceived seven years ago and offers speeds at least six times faster than current approved technology.

Electronics firms have sold PCs and routers using the standard for many years, labelled “802.11n draft”.

But without the IEEE’s approval, there were no guarantees that future networking equipment would be compatible with the devices.

The IEEE’s rubber stamp has changed that.

All existing draft 802.11n wi-fi products will work with the final standard, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance, a group that tests wireless products to ensure compliance.

“This was an extraordinarily wide-ranging technical challenge,” said Bruce Kraemer of the IEEE.

“When we started in 2002, many of the technologies addressed in 802.11n were university research topics and had not been implemented.”

Under ideal conditions, 802.11n technology can offer speeds of 300 megabits per second (Mbps) and above, many times higher than the previous 802.11g, which operates at speeds of up to 54 Mbps.

It is also able to transfer data over distances of 90m (300ft) indoors, double that of previous technologies.

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