Wednesday, 30 September 2009

'Let's talk about sex. With robots...'

'People often talk to machines, including computers and robots, and a growing number of AI (artificial intelligence) researchers are working to enable them to talk back. And soon, human-computer interactions may include having sex with them. That's the view of David Levy, who has just won the 2009 Loebner prize for the most human-like chatbot.'


'St Therese in Space...'

'With 28 venues in a single month, it's a punishing schedule. This week, her fans will be queueing round the block in Newcastle and Leeds before she starts heading south- via a prison- to take central London by storm in mid-October.

It's an itinerary to make Madonna or the Stones look positively idle. And you won't hear any absurd diva-style demands from this travelling star.

... This has to be one of the most unusual travelling shows in this country since the Middle Ages. I have certainly never witnessed anything quite like the St Therese of Lisieux tour.

... In life, she had written of her desire to be a missionary 'on all five continents simultaneously', yet her travels never extended beyond a teenage pilgrimage to Rome. In death, however, she would get to travel.

... Most of Therese's body is in the Basilica in Lisieux, while her head is in the neighbouring Carmelite convent, one foot is on permanent tour in France, a vertebra is also housed in another travelling reliquary and the rest of her bones - those now touring Britain - are on international duty.

There is also a small bone fragment somewhere in outer space. In 2008, a U.S. astronaut took a tiny relic with him on the Discovery space shuttle and left it up there, making St Therese the first saint to orbit the earth.

The plan is to take another tiny relic up there in 2011 and spread the poor girl even farther afield.'

Read more:

Friday, 25 September 2009

'Is St Therese of Lisieux spreading swine flu?'

'St Thérèse of Lisieux, whose relics are touring the UK, is reputed to have the power to heal the sick. More than 15,000 people have visited Liverpool's Roman Catholic cathedral to visit the jacaranda wood casket that contains pieces of the saint's thigh and foot bones, among them a cancer patient who was interviewed this morning on the Today programme.

Listening to the Today report, however, it occurred to me that encouraging many thousands of worshippers to touch and even kiss the perspex box that protects the casket might have rather less welcome consequences for public health.

With a swine flu pandemic underway, we have been told to make sure we sneeze into our elbows, to wash our hands regularly with antibacterial soap, and to avoid greeting each other with needless kisses and handshakes. The Church of England and some Catholic regions have even recommended that wine should not be offered during communion, lest the chalice spread the virus.

The St Thérèse UK tour, however, is promoting just the sort of behaviour that swine flu likes.

It also comes at just about the worst possible time, when swine flu cases are starting to rise again after a hiatus over the school summer holidays. The schools are back, the weather is getting colder, and the stage is set for a second wave. And pilgrims are being encouraged to have close physical contact with a piece of plastic that's recently been touched by thousands of other people.'

More: Link.

'India discovers water on the moon...'

'Dreams of establishing a manned Moon base could become reality within two decades after India’s first lunar mission found evidence of large quantities of water on its surface.

Data from Chandrayaan-1 also suggests that water is still being formed on the Moon. Scientists said the breakthrough — to be announced by Nasa at a press conference today — would change the face of lunar exploration.

The discovery is a significant boost for India in its space race against China. Dr Mylswamy Annadurai, the mission’s project director at the Indian Space Research Organisation in Bangalore, said: “It’s very satisfying.”

The search for water was one of the mission’s main objectives, but it was a surprise nonetheless, scientists said.The unmanned craft was equipped with Nasa’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, designed specifically to search for water by picking up the electromagnetic radiation emitted by minerals. The M3 also made the unexpected discovery that water may still be forming on the surface of the Moon, according to scientists familiar with the mission.'


Wednesday, 16 September 2009

New posting...

... at BTB, for all interested parties.

Media Fragments

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

'Fairy tales have ancient origin...'

'They have been told as bedtime stories by generations of parents, but fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood may be even older than was previously thought.

A study by anthropologists has explored the origins of folk tales and traced the relationship between varients of the stories recounted by cultures around the world.

... Dr Jamie Tehrani, a cultural anthropologist at Durham University, studied 35 versions of Little Red Riding Hood from around the world.

Whilst the European version tells the story of a little girl who is tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother, in the Chinese version a tiger replaces the wolf.

In Iran, where it would be considered odd for a young girl to roam alone, the story features a little boy.

Contrary to the view that the tale originated in France shortly before Charles Perrault produced the first written version in the 17th century, Dr Tehrani found that the varients shared a common ancestor dating back more than 2,600 years.

He said: “Over time these folk tales have been subtly changed and have evolved just like an biological organism. Because many of them were not written down until much later, they have been misremembered or reinvented through hundreds of generations.

“By looking at how these folk tales have spread and changed it tells us something about human psychology and what sort of things we find memorable.

“The oldest tale we found was an Aesopic fable that dated from about the sixth century BC, so the last common ancestor of all these tales certainly predated this. We are looking at a very ancient tale that evolved over time.”

Dr Tehrani, who will present his work on Tuesday at the British Science Festival in Guildford, Surrey, identified 70 variables in plot and characters between different versions of Little Red Riding Hood.

He found that the stories could be grouped into distinct families according to how they evolved over time.

The original ancestor is thought to be similar to another tale, The Wolf and the Kids, in which a wolf pretends to be a nanny goat to gain entry to a house full of young goats.

Stories in Africa are closely related to this original tale, whilst stories from Japan, Korea, China and Burma form a sister group. Tales told in Iran and Nigeria were the closest relations of the modern European version.

Perrault’s French version was retold by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century. Dr Tehrani said: “We don’t know very much about the processes of transmission of these stories from culture to culture, but it is possible that they may being passed along trade routes or with the movement of people.”

Professor Jack Zipes, a retired professor of German at the University of Minnesota who is an expert on fairy tales and their origins, described the work as “exciting”. He believes folk tales may have helped people to pass on tips for survival to new generations.

He said: “Little Red Riding Hood is about violation or rape, and I suspect that humans were just as violent in 600BC as they are today, so they will have exchanged tales about all types of violent acts.

“I have tried to show that tales relevant to our adaptation to the environment and survival are stored in our brains and we consistently use them for all kinds of reference points.”'


Thursday, 3 September 2009

'My soul rode on a UFO to Venus...'

'The wife of Japan's next prime minister claims to have had a close encounter on another world.

Miyuki Hatoyama believes she visited outer space 20 years ago - before she married premier-elect Yukio Hatoyama.

'While my body was asleep, I think my soul rode on a triangular- shaped UFO and went to Venus. It was a very beautiful place and it was really green,' the 66-year-old former actress wrote in Strange Things I have Encountered, a book published last year.

... Mr Hatoyama, 62, once nicknamed 'the alien' for his prominent eyes, will be sworn in on September 16, following his Democratic Party's crushing election victory over the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

... She has told interviewers in the past that she had never had a dream that was not fulfilled and was now "burning" with desire to make a film in Hollywood.

'Unrealised dreams? I don't think I have one,' she said. 'Dreams will come true if you strongly believe in them. The dream I now want to realise and believe will come true is film-making.'

She playfully went on to say that the lead actor would be Tom Cruise, 'because I know he was a Japanese in a previous life'.

She declined to go into details about her film plot, but declared confidently that her movie would 'change people's sense of value dramatically... I'll get an Oscar for sure'.

Miyuki went on to say how she gets energy from the sun.

'When the sun is up, I always eat it... I tear it off and eat it like this,' she said, gesturing as if clawing at the sky, tearing pieces off the sun and putting them in her mouth. 'That gives me great power,' she said.

A former actress turned lifestyle guru with an interest in spirituality she will liven up the rather staid role of a premier's wife.

... The 62-year-old has spoken in glowing terms about his wife as the bedrock of his life.

'I feel relieved when I get home,' he told an interviewer for a photo book published in 2002. 'She is like an energy-refuelling base.'