Sooty ships may be geoengineering by accident

GEOENGINEERING is being tested - albeit inadvertently - in the north Pacific. Soot from oil-burning ships is dumping about 1000 tonnes of soluble iron per year across 6 million square kilometres of ocean, new research has revealed.

Fertilising the world's oceans with iron has been controversially proposed as a way of sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to curb global warming. Some geoengineers claim releasing iron into the sea will stimulate plankton blooms, which absorb carbon, but ocean processes are complex and difficult to monitor in tests.

"Experiments suggest you change the population of algae, causing a shift from fish-dominated to jellyfish-dominated ecosystems," says Alex Baker of the University of East Anglia, UK. Such concerns led the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to impose a moratorium on geoengineering experiments in 2010.

The annual ship deposition is much larger, if less concentrated, than the iron released in field tests carried out before the moratorium was in place. Yet because ship emissions are not intended to alter ocean chemistry, they do not violate the moratorium, says Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, a think tank that consults for the CBD. "If you intentionally drove oil-burning ships back and forth as a geoengineering experiment, that would contravene it."

The new study, by Akinori Ito of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, is the first to quantify how shipping deposits iron in parts of the ocean normally deficient in it. Earlier models had assumed that only 1 to 2 per cent of the iron contained in aerosols, including shipping emissions, is soluble in seawater, so the remaining 98 to 99 percent would sink to the bottom without affecting ocean life. But Ito found that up to 80 per cent of the iron in shipping soot is soluble (Global Biogeochemical Cycles, As this soot rapidly falls to the sea surface, it is likely to be fertilising the oceans.

In the high-latitude north Pacific - a region that is naturally iron-poor and therefore likely to be most affected by human deposits - ship emissions now account for 70 per cent of soluble iron from human activity, with the burning of biomass and coal accounting for the rest. Shipping's share will rise as traffic continues to grow and regulations restrict coal and biomass emissions.

Can we learn anything from this unintentional experiment? Baker thinks not. "The process isn't scientifically useful," he says, because the uncontrolled nature of the iron makes it difficult to draw meaningful comparisons.

The depositions are unlikely to be harmful at current levels, he says, but "given the uncertainties, I just don't know how much these iron emissions would have to increase before there was demonstrable harm to an ecosystem, or benefit in terms of carbon uptake, for that matter".

This article appeared in print under the headline "Ships inadvertently fertilise the oceans"

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Golf: Snedeker, Hahn share lead at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH, California: Brandt Snedeker, runner-up to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the past two weeks, fired a four-under par 68 Saturday to share the lead after 54 holes at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Snedeker, a 32-year-old American who won last year's PGA playoff crown, stood alongside Korean-American PGA rookie James Hahn on 12-under 202 through three rounds in quest of a $1.15 million top prize at the $6.5 million event.

"It was a fun day. I played great start to finish," Snedeker said. "I had a couple hiccups in there but overall I played well. I've putted well the past two days. Left me a little bit today, but hopefully it will be back tomorrow."

Pros played alongside amateurs, many of them celebrities in entertainment and sports, over three courses during the first three rounds before the cut ahead of Sunday's finish at Pebble Beach.

Snedeker, playing at Pebble Beach, birdied the par-5 second and answered a bogey at the par-3 fifth by finishing the front nine with four birdies in a row.

"I hit my irons really close on the front," Snedeker said. "I had 6- to 8-footers for birdies on the front. On the back, I had birdie chances but couldn't convert them."

After a bogey at 10 and birdie at 11, Snedeker parred his way to the clubhouse.

"Only giving away one bogey coming in out here was a help," Snedeker said.

Hahn fired a bogey-free 66, six-under par, at Spyglass Hill to match Snedeker at the top.

Starting on the back nine, Hahn birdied the par-5 11th and 14th holes, added another at the par-4 17th and then closed the round with three birdies in a row to grab a share of the lead.

"My attitude (was great)," Hahn said. "I started off well, told myself I was going to give myself a lot of looks, 10 to 15 feet, and you have to make those putts."

Hahn, who played college golf at the nearby University of California, said that Sunday's round, the most important of his career to date, will be "just another day in the office for me. I'm just going to go out and have fun."

Hahn admitted he will feel the nerves, even with his brother serving as his caddie.

"Nervous means I care a lot," Hahn said. "I'm more excited than anything."

The 31-year-old, who was born in Seoul, did a "Gangnam-style" celebration dance last week after making a 20-foot, final-round birdie at Phoenix's rowdy 16th hole, adopting the moves that made Korean performer Psy a YouTube smash.

Hahn was saying he had pushed the bar high for a repeat dance show at Pebble Beach but said, "Maybe a winning putt on 18 might do a little something."

Hahn might have the chance to make one in the final group with Snedeker, who leads the US PGA Tour in scoring average and birdies but hopes not to settle for another second-best showing.

"I've got to take advantage of the opportunities I didn't today," Snedeker said. "In my view I saved them all up for tomorrow. You have to make those chances if you are going to win."

American Chris Kirk, whose lone PGA title came at the 2011 Viking Classic, fired a six-under 64 at the Monterey Peninsula Shore course to stand third, one stroke off the pace at 203.

Kirk, who began his third round on the back nine, birdied the par-5 12th to start a run of four birdies in five holes. He had back-to-back birdies at the second and third then answered a bogey at the par-3 seventh with a birdie at the par-3 ninth.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson slipped on wet rocks and fell on his rear at the 18th hole at Pebble Beach on his way to a triple-bogey 8 that dropped him out of contention.

"I got lucky, I didn't get hurt," Mickelson said. "To finish with a triple, it didn't feel great. It was a fun day to play golf. I just wish I could have played better. That triple really just took me out of it."

Leading scores after the third round of the US PGA Tour's $6.5 million Pebble Beach National Pro-Am:

202 - Brandt Snedeker 66-68-68, James Hahn 71-65-66

203 - Chris Kirk 71-68-64

204 - Patrick Reed 68-69-67

205 - Richard Lee 68-71-66

206 - Retief Goosen (RSA) 71-68-67, Robert Garrigus 71-69-66, Jason Day (AUS) 68-68-70, James Driscoll 72-67-67, Jimmy Walker 68-71-67

207 - Sean O'Hair 70-67-70, Luke Guthrie 68-70-69, Kevin Stadler 69-69-69, Webb Simpson 71-71-65, Ted Potter 67-67-73, Fredrik Jacobson (SWE) 71-66-70

208 - Charlie Wi (KOR) 70-70-68, Hunter Mahan 66-69-73, Alistair Presnell (AUS) 68-72-68, William McGirt 72-69-67, Matt Every 67-70-71, Kevin Na 68-72-68, Russell Knox (SCO) 64-73-71, Billy Horschel 70-71-67, Jordan Spieth
70-70-68, Patrick Cantlay 66-70-72

209 - Bill Lunde 71-70-68, Aaron Baddeley (AUS) 69-71-69, Scott Brown 72-68-69, John Merrick 68-67-74, Justin Hicks 71-68-70

- AFP/al

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FBI: Elderly man robs Niles bank

Bank robbery suspect

Suspect in the robbery of a Niles bank.
(FBI / February 9, 2013)

A man the FBI said appeared to be in his 70s and walking with a cane robbed a bank this morning in north suburban Niles.

A man who is estimated to be in his 70s robbed the Harris Bank branch at 7077 W. Dempster St. at 9:45 a.m., according to FBI spokesman Joan Hyde.

The robber was wearing a brown coat and walked with a cane during the incident, she said.

He did not show a weapon and no one was hurt, according to Hyde.

Niles police were not available immediately.

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Mars Rover Curiosity Completes First Full Drill

For the first time in history, humans have drilled a hole into rock on Mars and are collecting the powdered results for analysis, NASA announced Saturday.

After weeks of intensive planning, the Mars rover Curiosity undertook its first full drill on Friday, with NASA receiving images on Saturday showing that the procedure was a success.

Curiosity drilled a hole that is a modest 2.5 inches (6.35 centimeters) deep and .6 inches (1.52 centimeters) wide but that holds the promise of potentially great discoveries. (Watch video of the Mars rover Curiosity.)

"The most advanced planetary robot ever designed now is a fully operating analytical laboratory on Mars," John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement on Saturday.

"This is the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August."

Read: Asteroid to Make Closest Flyby in History

The site of the much-anticipated penetration is a flat section of Mars rock that shows signs of having been underwater in its past.

Called Yellowknife Bay, it's the kind of environment where organic materials—the building block of life—might have been deposited and preserved long ago, at a time when Mars was far wetter and warmer than it is today.

The contents of the drilling are now being transferred into the rover's internal collection system, where the samples will be sieved down to size and scoured to minimize the presence of contamination from Earth. (Watch video of Curiosity's "Seven Minutes of Terror.")

Then the sample will be distributed to the two instruments most capable of determining what the rocks contain.

The first is the Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM), which has two ovens that can heat the powdered rock to almost 2000°F (1093°C) and release the rock's elements and compounds in a gaseous form.

The gases will then be analyzed by instruments that can identify precisely what they are, and when they might have been deposited. Scientists are looking for carbon-based organics believed to be essential for any potentially past life on Mars.

Powder will also go to the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument for a related analysis that looks especially at the presence of minerals—especially those that can only be formed in the presence of water.

Louise Jandura, chief engineer for Curiosity's sample system at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that designing and testing a drill that can grab hold of Martian rock and commence first a percussive shallow drilling and then dig a deeper hole was difficult.

The drill, which is at the end of a 7-foot arm, is capable of about 100 discrete maneuvers.

"To get to the point of making this hole in a rock on Mars, we made eight drills and bored more than 1,200 holes in 20 types of rock on Earth," Jandura said in a statement.

Results from the SAM and CheMin analyses are not expected for several days to weeks.

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After Blizzard, Northeast Begins to Dig Out

The Northeast began the arduous process of cleaning up after a fierce storm swept through the region leaving behind up to three feet of snow in some areas.

By early this morning, 650,000 homes and businesses were without power and at least five deaths were being blamed on the storm: three in Canada, one in New York and one in Connecticut, The Associated Press reported.

The storm dumped snow from New Jersey to Maine, affecting more than 25 million people, with more than two feet falling in areas of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. The Postal Service closed post offices and suspended mail delivery today in New England.

As the storm waned, officials in the hardest hit areas cautioned residents to remain indoors and off the roads to ease the clean-up.

Massachusetts was hard hit by the storm, with more than two feet of snow in Boston and even more in coastal areas. State police and national guard troops helped rescue more than 50 stranded motorists and even helped deliver a baby girl, according to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Patrick enacted the first statewide driving ban since the 1978 blizzard, which left 27 inches of snow and killed dozens. The ban was to be lifted at 4 p.m. today, the governor said.

However, Patrick cautioned residents to act with extreme caution even after the ban is over.

"Stay inside and be patient," Patrick said.

In Massachusetts a boy reportedly died of carbon monoxide poisoning as he helped his father shovel snow on Saturday, according to affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston.

For residents along the coast, the waning snowfall didn't mean the end of the storm. Storm surges along the Massachusetts coastline forced some residents out of their homes Saturday morning.

"We've got 20-foot waves crashing and flooding some homes," Bob Connors on Plum Island told WCVB. "We have power and heat and all that. We just have a very angry ocean. In my 33 years, I've never seen the seas this high."

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Blizzard Shuts Down Parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts Watch Video

Blizzard 2013: Power Outages for Hundreds of Thousands of People Watch Video

Blizzard 2013: Northeast Transportation Network Shut Down Watch Video

FULL COVERAGE: Blizzard of 2013

In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy declared a state of emergency and closed all roads in the state. The state police responded to more than 1,600 calls over the last 24 hours and the governor called up an additional 270 National Guard members.

"If you're not an emergency personnel that's required to be somewhere, stay home," Malloy said.

Overnight, snow fell at a rate of up to five to six inches per hour in parts of Connecticut. In Milford, more than 38 inches of snow had fallen by this morning.

In Fairfield, Conn. firefighters and police officers on the day shift were unable to make it to work, so the overnight shift remained on duty.

PHOTOS: Blizzard Hits Northeast

The wind and snow started affecting the region during the Friday night commute.

In Cumberland, Maine, the conditions led to a 19-car pile-up and in New York, hundreds of commuters were stranded on the snowy Long Island Expressway. Police and firefighters were still working to free motorists early this morning.

"The biggest problem that we're having is that people are not staying on the main portion or the middle section of the roadway and veering to the shoulders, which are not plowed," said Lt. Daniel Meyer from the Suffolk County Police Highway Patrol.

In New York, authorities are digging out hundreds of cars that got stuck overnight on the Long Island Expressway.

Bob Griffith of Syosset, N.Y., said he tried leave early to escape the storm, but instead ended up stuck in the snow by the side of the road.

"I tried to play it smart in that I started early in the day, when it was raining," said Griffith. "But the weather beat us to the punch."

Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone said the snow had wreaked havoc on the roadways.

"I saw state plows stuck on the side of the road. I've never seen anything like this before," Bellone said.

However, some New York residents, who survived the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, were rattled by having to face another large and potentially dangerous storm system with hurricane force winds and flooding.

"How many storms of the century can you have in six months?" said Larry Racioppo, a resident of the hard hit Rockaway neighborhood in Queens, New York.

READ: Weather NYC: Blizzard Threatens Rockaways, Ravaged by Sandy

Snowfall Totals

In New York, a little more than 11 inches fell in the city.

By this morning, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said nearly all of the primary roads had been plowed and the department of sanitation anticipated that all roads would be plowed by the end of the day.

"It looks like we dodged a bullet, but keep in mind winter is not over," said Bloomberg.

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Data-wiping algorithm cleans your cellphone

Paul Marks, chief technology correspondent
Mailing your cellphone to a recycling company might make you a few pounds, but it can leave you at risk of identity theft. The deletion techniques recycling companies use are meant for hard discs, and so don't work on the solid-state flash memory used in mobile phones. That means personal data like banking info, texts, contacts and pictures can end up in the hands of, well, anyone the phone ends up with.  
To remedy the problem, British company BlackBelt Smartphone Defence of Skelmersdale, Lancashire claims to have developed a software algorithm that can securely delete data on cellphone memory chips. The trouble with data in a flash memory chip is that it is protected by an on-chip protection algorithm called the wear leveller. This hard-coded routine does its best to ensure the chip's lifetime is maximised so that each memory cell's ability to store charge is not worn out.

"The problem is that the wear-levelling algorithm ends up working
against the data wiping technique used for hard drives, which tries to
overwrite all the data,"
says the company's Ken Garner.
What the firm has done is write their own algorithm, called BlackBelt DataWipe, that works with,
rather than against, the leveller routine to render data
irrecoverable. "It is like having a shredder for personally identifiable
data," says Garner.
However, they don't yet know if their method is proof against sophisticated, nation-state level attacks - which might use electron microscopes
to read the last vestiges of the zeros and ones on a memory chip. "I imagine
if you're GCHQ you'll probably have technology that could get around
this and recover it in some way," says Garner.

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Venezuela devalues currency 32% against US dollar

CARACAS: Venezuela said Friday it is devaluing its currency by 32 per cent against the dollar on the orders of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez, in part to trim a bloated budget deficit.

The bolivar will go from 4.3 to 6.3 to the dollar at the official exchange rate. The move was announced at a press conference by Planning and Finance Minister Jorge Giordani. He said it will take effect on Wednesday.

The goal is to "minimize expenditure and maximize results." One effect of a devaluation is to make a country's exports cheaper and thus more enticing to buyers.

But another effect is to cut the deficit, which in Venezuela last year was estimated to be nearly 10 per cent of GDP.

The economy grew 5.5 per cent last year and inflation was 20 per cent. That was down seven points from the previous year and hit the government target, but was still the highest official inflation rate in Latin America.

Venezuela is South America's largest oil exporter and has the world's largest proven reserves. Its oil transactions are dollar-denominated, so the bolivar-value of those sales will now be higher, boosting state revenues on paper.

The change had been widely expected by analysts and business leaders since last year. This is Venezuela's fifth currency devaluation in a decade.

But a side effect of the new one will be higher inflation, economists warned.

Giordani said the government would honour dollar purchase requests made before January 15 requests at the old exchange rate.

Chavez is convalescing in Cuba, where he underwent a fourth round of cancer surgery on December 11.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who visited Chavez this week, said at the same press conference Friday that Chavez is concerned about the Venezuelan economy and called for a "major effort" to maintain its pace of growth.

Chavez established currency controls in 2003 and the government sets the rate to curb capital flight.

But the existence of a strong black market for the dollar shows the continuing desire for hard currency.

Economist Jesus Casique warned the devaluation would have a major inflationary side effect and the government should not see it as the main tool for trimming the deficit.

Rather, it should take other steps such as clearing away red tape that makes it hard for business to obtain dollars and encouraging Venezuelan non-oil exports.

"The measure should come hand in hand with others," Casique said.

Out on the street, there was little enthusiasm for the devaluation.

"This is bad news," said businessman Jorge Martinez, walking past the Venezuelan central bank with his wife. "We have been number-crunching because in a month we are going to travel to Spain, and now we do not have enough money."

- AFP/xq

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Community says goodbye to slain teen

Friends and family gathered at Calahan Funeral Home on the South Side this afternoon for the wake of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old girl whose slaying last week became a national symbol of the gun violence in Chicago.

Hadiya’s body lay in an open casket, dressed in a purple dress embellished with sparkles. The inside of the casket was lined in a soft purple.

Visitors signed in a registry and wrote personal messages to Hadiya on a dedication board. Family gathered in the back of the room, some talking with visitors, others sitting in chairs.

Dozens of bouquets of flowers lined the room and a large photo of Hadiya was hung on display. A small TV played a picture slideshow of Hadiya smiling with family and friends.

John Burdette, a Hyde Park resident, said although he didn't know the Pendleton family, he wanted to pay his condolences.

“It helped put me at ease,” said Burdette, 64. "This poor young lady. Things are nuts out there and it's terrible. I don't leave my house after 4 p.m.”

Media trucks and police cars lined Halsted Street outside the funeral home, as Hadiya's death has garnered much attention on both a local and national scale.

The wake is scheduled from 2 to 9 p.m. Friday with the funeral to follow Saturday morning. First lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to

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Space Pictures This Week: Sun Dragon, Celestial Seagull


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Great Energy Challenge Blog

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'Stay Home': Northeast Shuts Down as Blizzard Hits

A blizzard of possibly historic proportions began battering the Northeast today, and could bring more than two feet of snow and strong winds that could shut down densely populated cities such as Boston and New York City.

A storm from the west joined forces with one from the south to form a nor'easter that will sit and spin just off the East Coast, affecting more than 43 million Americans. Wind gusts were forecast to reach 50 to 60 mph from Philadelphia to Boston.

Cape Cod, Mass., could possibly see 75 mph gusts. Boston and other parts of New England could see more than two feet of snow by Saturday.

The storm showed the potential for such ferocity that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon and signed an executive order banning vehicular traffic on roads in his state effective at 4 p.m. ET. It was believed that the last time the state enacted such a ban was during the blizzard of 1978. Violating the ban could result in a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.

"[It] could definitely be a historic winter storm for the Northeast," said Adrienne Leptich of the National Weather Service in Upton, N.Y. "We're looking at very strong wind and heavy snow and we're also looking for some coastal flooding."

Airlines began shutting down operations Friday afternoon at major airports in the New York area as well as in Boston, Portland, Maine, Providence, R.I., and other Northeastern airports. By early evening Friday, more than 4,300 flights had been cancelled on Friday and Saturday, according to FlightAware. Airlines hoped to resume flights by Saturday afternoon, though normal schedules were not expected until Sunday.

The snow fell heavily Friday afternoon in New York City and 12 to 14 inches were expected. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said clearing the roads was his main concern, and the city readied 1,700 snow plows and 250,000 tons of salt to clear the streets.

Hurricane Sandy Victims Hit Again, Survivors Prepare for Worst Watch Video

Weather Forecast: Blizzard Headed for Northeast Watch Video

New York City was expecting up to 14 inches of snow, which started falling early this morning, though the heaviest amounts were expected to fall at night and into Saturday. Wind gusts of 55 mph were expected in New York City.

"Stay off the city streets. Stay out of your cars and stay at home while the worst of the storm is on us," Bloomberg said Friday.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy declared a state of emergency, deploying National Guard troops across the state to assist in rescues and other emergencies. Schools and state courthouses were closed, and all flights after 1:30 p.m. at Bradley Airport, north of Hartford, Conn., were cancelled. The state's largest utility companies planned for the possibility that 30 percent of customers -- more than 400,000 homes and businesses -- would lose power.

Malloy also directed drivers to stay off the state's major highways.

"Please stay off of 95, 91, 84, Merritt Parkway and any other limited-access road in the state," he said Friday evening.

PHOTOS: Northeast Braces for Snowstorm

Boston, Providence, R.I., Hartford, Conn., and other New England cities canceled school today.

"Stay off the streets of our city. Basically, stay home," Boston Mayor Tom Menino warned Thursday.

On Friday, Menino applauded the public's response.

"I'm very pleased with the compliance with the snow emergency," he said. "You drive down some of the roadways, you don't see one car."

As of 4:30 p.m. Friday, according to the Department of Defense, 837 National Guard soldiers and airmen under state control had been activated in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York in anticipation of the storm -- 552 in Massachusetts, 235 in Connecticut and 50 in New York. The extra hands were helping with roadways, transportation, making wellness checks on residents and other emergency services.

Beach erosion and coastal flooding is possible from New Jersey to Long Island, N.Y., and into New England coastal areas. Some waves off the coast could reach more than 20 feet.

Blizzard warnings were posted for parts of New Jersey and New York's Long Island, as well as portions of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, including Hartford, New Haven, Conn., and Providence. The warnings extended into New Hampshire and Maine.

To the south, Philadelphia was looking at a possible 4 to 6 inches of snow.

In anticipation of the storm, Amtrak said its Northeast trains would stop running this afternoon.

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Robot inquisition keeps witnesses on the right track

MEMORY is a strange thing. Just using the verb "smash" in a question about a car crash instead of "bump" or "hit" causes witnesses to remember higher speeds and more serious damage. Known as the misinformation effect, it is a serious problem for police trying to gather accurate accounts of a potential crime. There's a way around it, however: get a robot to ask the questions.

Cindy Bethel at Mississippi State University in Starkville and her team showed 100 "witnesses" a slide show in which a man steals money and a calculator from a drawer, under the pretext of fixing a chair. The witnesses were then split into four groups and asked about what they had seen, either by a person or by a small NAO robot, controlled in a Wizard of Oz set-up by an unseen human.

Two groups - one with a human and one a robot interviewer - were asked identical questions that introduced false information about the crime, mentioning objects that were not in the scene, then asking about them later. When posed by humans, the questions caused the witnesses' recall accuracy to drop by 40 per cent - compared with those that did not receive misinformation - as they remembered objects that were never there. But misinformation presented by the NAO robot didn't have an effect.

"It was a very big surprise," says Bethel. "They just were not affected by what the robot was saying. The scripts were identical. We even told the human interviewers to be as robotic as possible." The results will be presented at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Tokyo next month.

Bilge Mutlu, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggests that robots may avoid triggering the misinformation effect simply because we are not familiar with them and so do not pick up on behavioural cues, which we do with people. "We have good, strong mental models of humans, but we don't have good models of robots," he says.

The misinformation effect doesn't only effect adults; children are particularly susceptible, explains the psychologist on the project, Deborah Eakin. Bethel's ultimate goal is to use robots to help gather testimony from children, who tend to pick up on cues contained in questions. "It's a huge problem," Bethel says.

At the Starkville Police Department, a 10-minute drive from the university, officers want to use such a robotic interviewer to gather more reliable evidence from witnesses. The police work hard to avoid triggering the misinformation effect, says officer Mark Ballard, but even an investigator with the best intentions can let biases slip into the questions they ask a witness.

Children must usually be taken to a certified forensic child psychologist to be interviewed, something which can be difficult if the interviewer works in another jurisdiction. "You might eliminate that if you've got a robot that's certified for forensics investigations, and it's tough to argue that the robot brings any memories or theories with it from its background," says Ballard.

The study is "very interesting, very intriguing", says Selma Sabanovic, a roboticist at Indiana University. She is interested to see what happens as Bethel repeats the experiment with different robot shapes and sizes. She also poses a slightly darker question: "How would you design a robot to elicit the kind of information you want?"

This article appeared in print under the headline "The robot inquisition"

It's all about how you say it

When providing new information, rather than helping people recall events (see main story), a robot's rhetoric and body language can make a big difference to how well it gets its message across.

Bilge Mutlu of the University of Wisconsin-Madison had two robots compete to guide humans through a virtual city. He found that the robot which used rhetorical language drew more people to follow it. For example, the robot saying "this zoo will teach you about different parts of the world" did less well than one saying "visiting this zoo feels like travelling the world, without buying a plane ticket". The work will be presented at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Tokyo next month.

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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Tennis: No Serena, no Sharapova in tweaked Fed Cup

PARIS: The 2013 Fed Cup World Group gets underway on Saturday with the tournament missing marquee names Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova and with a late format tweak aimed at boosting the event's appeal.

Both Williams and Sharapova featured in the 2012 Fed Cup, partly to meet Olympic Games qualifying criteria, but will not be involved when the United States tackle Italy and Russia welcome Japan this weekend.

Williams, who has played just six ties since 1999, has a back injury while Sharapova, whose Fed Cup record stretches to a meagre three appearances since her 2008 debut, was left out of the Russian squad.

Their absences have cut the number of players from the top 10 competing in the four World Group One ties to just three -- number seven Sara Errani of Italy, eighth-ranked Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and number nine Samantha Stosur of Australia.

Wary of the growing demands placed on time and physical endurance by the professional tour, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced on Thursday changes concerning dead rubbers in the tournament.

Under the new policy, if a tie is decided after the third singles rubber, the fourth singles rubber will not be played and the dead doubles rubber will be played instead.

However if the tie is only decided after the fourth singles rubber, the dead doubles rubber will still be played with a match tiebreak (first to 10 points) replacing the third set.

"The enhancement of the dead rubber policy came in response to requests from players, captains and National Associations following its successful introduction in Davis Cup," said ITF executive vice-president Juan Margets.

"This is part of the ITF's continued effort to make Fed Cup more player friendly, while maintaining a good spectator experience on the Sunday."

Former Wimbledon champion Kvitova leads defending champions Czech Republic against Australia in Ostrava where she will be playing her 14th Fed Cup tie since 2007.

However, she has struggled this season, a shock second round exit at the Australian Open followed by a quarter-final loss in Paris last week where she was second seed.

"My results are not exactly what I want them to be, but I still believe it will be OK. I know I can play tennis, and I like Fed Cup," said the 22-year-old.

In the absence of the Williams sisters, as well as Australian Open semi-finalist Sloane Stephens, the 17-time champions US will be led by world number 21 Varvara Lepchencko when they face Italy in Rimini.

Italy, with Errani and world number 16 Roberta Vinci likely to play singles and doubles, beat the US in the 2009 and 2010 finals.

Even without Sharapova, Russia, the four-time winners, should be too strong for Japan in Moscow.

Maria Kirilenko, at 13, Ekaterina Makarova, the world number 20, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 31st-ranked player and number 32 Elena Vesnina, are all higher up the WTA pecking order than Japan's top singles player Ayumi Morita, the world 57.

In Nis, 2012 runners-up Serbia, who are likely to be without world number 14 and former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic with a shoulder injury, tackle Slovakia.

- AFP/xq

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Attorney: Poisoned lottery winner changed finances to benefit wife

Weeks before he died mysteriously from cyanide poisoning after winning a $1 million lottery jackpot, a North Side businessman inked a deal with his business partner to ensure that his share of several dry cleaning stores went to his wife in the event of his death.

The unusual agreement is sure to fuel the fight among heirs of Urooj Khan over his estate, once estimated at about $2 million.

The agreement means that Khan’s widow, Shabana Ansari, owns half of the dry cleaning business and its real estate, instead of those assets being divided among heirs in probate court, according to Ansari’s lawyer, Al-Haroon Husain.

Those business assets are worth more than $1 million, leaving only about $680,000 – including the $425,000 in lottery winnings -- to be split among Khan’s heirs, Husain contends.

“It’s a bit unusual,” Husain said of the agreement following a hearing Thursday in the Daley Center courthouse. “I just think he wanted to make sure his wife had a business and had attachment to the commercial property if something happened to him.”

Khan and his partner, Shakir Mohammed, a childhood friend from their native India, signed the agreement early last May, according to court documents. Khan, 46, won the lottery prize later in May and died suddenly in mid-July before he collected the check.

Husain said he didn’t believe Khan “thought he’d be passing away so soon thereafter.”

In addition to the business agreement, Khan had signed a real estate contract with his wife that entitles her to sole ownership of their Rogers Park home, which is valued at almost half a million dollars, Husain said.

Based on those changes, Husain filed amended papers Thursday in court, drastically lowering the value of Khan’s estate to the $680,000 figure, down from about $2 million a few weeks ago.

Khan's family has been fighting in probate court over his estate since his unexpected death at 46. His brother, Imtiaz, raised concerns that since Khan left no will, his 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage would not get "her fair share" of the inheritance. Khan and Ansari did not have children together.

As the Tribune first revealed last month, the Cook County medical examiner's office initially ruled that Khan died from hardening of the arteries after no signs of trauma were found on his body and a preliminary blood test did not raise any questions.

But the investigation was reopened about a week later after a relative raised concerns that Khan may have been poisoned.
Chicago police became involved in September after further testing found cyanide in Khan's blood. By late November, more comprehensive testing showed lethal levels of the toxic chemical, leading the medical examiner's office to declare his death a homicide.
Last month authorities exhumed Khan's body in order to perform an autopsy and gather additional evidence for the homicide investigation. No results have been made public yet.
While a motive for Khan’s homicide has not been determined, police have not ruled out that he was killed because of his lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune.

Ansari has been questioned by Chicago police detectives in her husband’s death, but she has denied any wrongdoing.

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Asteroid to Make Closest Flyby in History

Talk about too close for comfort. In a rare cosmic encounter, an asteroid will barnstorm Earth next week, missing our planet by a mere 17,200 miles (27,700 kilometers).

Designated 2012 DA14, the space rock is approximately 150 feet (45 meters) across, and astronomers are certain it will zip harmlessly past our planet on February 15—but not before making history. It will pass within the orbits of many communications satellites, making it the closest flyby on record. (Read about one of the largest asteroids to fly by Earth.)

"This is indeed a remarkably close approach for an asteroid this size," said Paul Chodas, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Near Earth Object (NEO) program office in Pasadena, California.

"We estimate that an asteroid of this size passes this close to the Earth only once every few decades."

The giant rock—half a football field wide—was first spotted by observers at the La Sagra Observatory in southern Spain a year ago, soon after it had just finished making a much more distant pass of the Earth at 2.6 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) away.

This time around however, on February15 at 2:24 pm EST, the asteroid will be passing uncomfortably close—ten times closer than the orbit of the moon—flying over the eastern Indian Ocean near Sumatra (map). (Watch: "Moon 101.")

Future Impact?

Chodas and his team have been keeping a close eye on the cosmic intruder, and orbital calculations of its trajectory show that there is no chance for impact.

But the researchers have not yet ruled out future chances of a collision. This is because asteroids of this size are too faint to be detected until they come quite close to the Earth, said Chodas.

"There is still a tiny chance that it might hit us on some future passage by the Earth; for example there is [a] 1-in-200,000 chance that it could hit us in the year 2080," he said.

"But even that tiny chance will probably go away within the week, as the asteroid's orbit gets tracked with greater and greater accuracy and we can eliminate that possibility."

Earth collision with an object of this size is expected to occur every 1,200 years on average, said Donald Yeomans, NEO program manager, at a NASA news conference this week.

DA14 has been getting closer and closer to Earth for quite a while—but this is the asteroid's closest approach in the past hundred years. And it probably won't get this close again for at least another century, added Yeomans.

While no Earth impact is possible next week, DA14 will pass 5,000 miles inside the ring of orbiting geosynchronous weather and communications satellites; so all eyes are watching the space rock's exact trajectory. (Learn about the history of satellites.)

"It's highly unlikely they will be threatened, but NASA is working with satellite providers, making them aware of the asteroid's pass," said Yeomans.

Packing a Punch

Experts say an impact from an object this size would have the explosive power of a few megatons of TNT, causing localized destruction—similar to what occurred in Siberia in 1908.

In what's known as the "Tunguska event," an asteroid is thought to have created an airburst explosion which flattened about 750 square miles (1,200 square kilometers) of a remote forested region in what is now northern Russia (map).

In comparison, an impact from an asteroid with a diameter of about half a mile (one kilometer) could temporarily change global climate and kill millions of people if it hit a populated area.

Timothy Spahr, director of the Minor Planet Center at Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that while small objects like DA14 could hit Earth once a millennia or so, the largest and most destructive impacts have already been catalogued.

"Objects of the size that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs have all been discovered," said Spahr. (Learn about what really happened to the dinosaurs.)

A survey of nearly 9,500 near-Earth objects half a mile (one kilometer) in diameter is nearly complete. Asteroid hunters expect to complete nearly half of a survey of asteroids several hundred feet in diameter in the coming years.

"With the existing assets we have, discovering asteroids rapidly and routinely, I continue to expect the world to be safe from impacts in the future," added Spahr.

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Cop Shooting Rampage: Dorner's Truck Found

The truck owned and driven by suspected cop killer Christopher Dorner during his alleged rampage through the Los Angeles area was found deserted and in flames on the side of Bear Mountain, Calif., this afternoon.

Heavily armed SWAT team members descended onto Bear Mountain from a helicopter manned with snipers today to investigate the fire. The San Bernadino Sheriff's Department confirmed the car was Dorner's.

Dorner, a former Los Angeles police officer and Navy reservist, is believed to have killed one police officer and injured two others early this morning in Riverside, Calif. He is also accused of killing two civilians on Sunday after releasing a scathing "manifesto" alleging grievances committed by the police department while he worked for it and warning of coming violence toward cops.

Read More About Chris Dorner's Allegations Against the LAPD

Heavily armed officers spent much of Thursday searching for signs of Dorner, investigating multiple false leads into his whereabouts and broadcasting his license plate and vehicle description across the California Highway System.

Around 3:45 p.m. ET, police responded to Bear Mountain, where two fires were reported, and set up a staging area in the parking lot of a ski resort. They did not immediately investigate the fires, but sent a small team of heavily armed officers up in the helicopter to descend down the mountain toward the fire.

Christopher Dorner: Ex-Cop Wanted in Killing Spree Watch Video

Engaged California Couple Found Dead in Car Watch Video

Missing Ohio Mother: Manhunt for Ex-Boyfriend Watch Video

The officers, carrying machine guns and searching the mountain for any sign of Dorner, eventually made it to the vehicle and identified it as belonging to Dorner. They have not yet found Dorner.

Late this afternoon, CNN announced that Dorner had sent a package containing his manifesto and a DVD to its offices.

PHOTOS: Former LAPD Officer Suspected in Shootings

Police officers across Southern California were on the defensive today, scaling back their public exposure, no longer responding to "barking-dog calls" and donning tactical gear outdoors.

Police departments have stationed officers in tactical gear outside police departments, stopped answering low-level calls and pulled motorcycle patrols off the road in order to protect officers who might be targets of Dorner's alleged rampage.

"We've made certain modifications of our deployments, our deviations today, and I want to leave it at that, and also to our responses," said Chief Sergio Diaz of the police department in Riverside, Calif., where the officers were shot. "We are concentrating on calls for service that are of a high priority, threats to public safety, we're not going to go on barking dog calls today."

Sgt. Rudy Lopez of the Los Angeles Police Department said Dorner is "believed to be armed and extremely dangerous."

Early Thursday morning, before they believe he shot at any police officers, Dorner allegedly went to a yacht club near San Diego, where police say he attempted to steal a boat and flee to Mexico.

He aborted the attempted theft when the boat's propeller became entangled in a rope, law enforcement officials said. It was then that he is believed to have headed to Riverside, where he allegedly shot two police officers.

"He pointed a handgun at the victim [at the yacht club] and demanded the boat," said Lt. David Rohowits of the San Diego Police Department.

Police say the rifle marksman shot at four officers in two incidents overnight, hitting three of them: one in Corona, Calif., and the two in Riverside, Calif.

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Today on New Scientist: 6 February 2013

Open Richard III DNA evidence for peer review

A good case has been made that a skeleton unearthed from a car park is that of the last Plantagenet king of England - it's time to share the data

Universal bug sensor takes guesswork out of diagnosis

A machine that can identify all bacteria, viruses and fungi known to cause disease in humans should speed up diagnosis and help to reduce antibiotic resistance

Choking China: The struggle to clear Beijing's air

As pollution levels return to normal in China's capital after a record-breaking month of smog, what can be done to banish the smog?

Genes mix across borders more easily than folk tales

Analysing variations in folk tales using genetic techniques shows that people swap genes more readily than stories, giving clues to how cultures evolve

Sleep and dreaming: Slumber at the flick of a switch

Wouldn't it be wonderful to pack a good night's sleep into fewer hours? Technology has the answer - and it could treat depression and even extend our lives too

Closest Earth-like planet may be 13 light years away

A habitable exoplanet should be near enough for future telescopes to probe its atmosphere for signs of life

Lifelogging captures a real picture of your health

How can lifelogging - wearing a camera round your neck to record your every move - reveal what's healthy and unhealthy in the way we live?

Musical brains smash audio algorithm limits

The mystery of how our brains perceive sound has deepened, now that musicians have broken a limit on sound perception imposed by the Fourier transform

Magnitude 8 earthquake strikes Solomon Islands

A major earthquake has caused a small tsunami in the Pacific Ocean, killing at least five people

Nuclear knock-backs on UK's new reactors and old waste

Plans to build new reactors in the UK are stalling as yet another company pulls out, and there is still nowhere to store nuclear waste permanently

Amateur astronomer helps Hubble snap galactic monster

An amateur astronomer combined his pictures with images from the Hubble archive to reveal the true nature of galactic oddball M106

Nightmare images show how lack of sleep kills

Fatigue has been blamed for some of worst human-made disasters of recent decades. Find out more in our image gallery

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Canadians protest Tunisian opposition chief's death

MONTREAL: Hundreds of people gathered late Wednesday in Montreal to express their outrage over the shooting death of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

The protesters, mostly youths, held candles and some wrapped themselves in Tunisian flags under bitterly cold temperatures.

The Tunisian Collective of Canada, which backed the Arab Spring movement that triggered the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime two years ago, accused Tunisia's current government of failing to "combat corruption and criminals."

"Tunisian justice remains hostage to executive power," the group said, calling on the government to conduct a thorough investigation into Belaid's death.

Belaid, whose funeral will be on Friday after the main weekly prayers, was a populist known for his iconic smile and black moustache.

A lawyer who spoke with the working class accent of northwestern Tunisia, he defended human rights, was jailed under Ben Ali and ex-president Habib Bourguiba, and was a member of executed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's defence team.

His death sparked deadly protests, attacks on offices of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party and pledges for a new government of technocrats.

- AFP/xq

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Quinn minimum wage hike could be tough sell

Chicago Tribune Springfield correspondent Ray Long analyzes Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's State of the State speech, saying it was ambitious and much like one heard during a re-election campaign. (Posted on: Feb. 6, 2013.)

It won’t be easy for Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn to find enough lawmakers to vote for the minimum wage increase, what with business groups pronouncing it a “job killer.”

But the best news for Quinn is that key Democratic lawmakers already are lined up behind an idea that’s popular with a large number of low-income workers. Senate President John Cullerton and House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie quickly embraced it. Cullerton flatly predicted, “We’ll be able to pass a minimum wage bill.”

“I support it. It’s very, very popular in Illinois,” Cullerton said. “There is overwhelming support in the electorate.”

The electorate is the target audience in Quinn’s State of the State speech as he ramps up for a 2014 re-election campaign. His office estimated 500,000 Illinoisans could benefit from the wage hike. That’s a huge number of potential supporters who might be easily persuaded to cast a vote for a politician that helped them put more money into their pockets, particularly one like Quinn whose margin of victory in both the 2010 primary and general elections were far from overwhelming.

Republicans, including potential rivals in 2014, refused to get behind the minimum wage hike. House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego charged Quinn’s priorities are askew when the “elephant in the room” is the state’s $96.8 billion pension debt — a worst-in-the-nation status that has sent the state’s credit rating into a tailspin.

The pension battle has Quinn locked in a protracted war with union workers who are fighting against any rollbacks in retirement benefits at the same time they are unable to come to terms with the administration on a labor contract.

But as Quinn revealed his minimum wage push to a joint session of the House and Senate, he sought to wrap his arms around the working class, saying Illinois must “honor the productivity of our workers.”

“Our businesses are only as good as the employees who drive their success,” Quinn said. “Nobody in Illinois should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty. That’s a principle as old as the Bible.”

Quinn said the state minimum wage — currently $8.25 an hour — should be bumped up over four years to “at least $10 an hour.”

But beyond the finances, Quinn may hope a populist pocketbook issue can boost his own low approval ratings as he prepares to fight potentially big-name Democratic challengers like Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Bill Daley, the former white House chief of staff and a high-profile heir to the Daley family legacy.

Quinn called for a minimum-wage hike during the 2010 governor’s race, while Republican challenger Sen. Bill Brady opposed it.

Following Quinn’s speech on Wednesday, Brady said he wanted to review Quinn’s plan when there details are rolled out.

Hinsdale Republican Sen. Kirk Dillard, who like Brady is eyeing Quinn’s job, said he does not support the minimum wage hike. “We need to create better jobs, not minimum wage jobs, for those who are trying to raise a family,” Dillard said.

The chief sponsor of the minimum wage increase is Sen. Kimberly Lightford, the Maywood Democrat on Cullerton’s leadership team. She has sought to negotiate with foes and backers of the legislation for eight months. She said she wants to roll out a bill in the next few weeks.

One controversial provision Lightford is working through is her desire to raise the minimum wage for restaurant waiters and waitresses, who get a fraction of $8.25 regular minimum wage and get subsidized by tips.

“Businesses should be able to pay them the full $8.25,” Lightford said. But with smaller restaurants in particular balking, Lightford said, finding a happy medium is “not an easy task.”

Still, she said the chance of passage in the Senate “looks good” because she has been priming colleagues about the issue over the last two years.

“It’s not new today, which is very helpful,” Lightford said.

In a town where a raised eyebrow or a snarl can result in major political ramifications, Lightford said she saw House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, clapping when Quinn talked about raising the minimum wage.

“That was a good sign,” Lightford said.

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