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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Da Vinci Code 'copied book ideas'

A claim that Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code copied the ideas of two other authors has gone before London's High Court.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh say Mr Brown stole 'the whole architecture' of research that went into their 1982 book The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail.

Both books contain the idea Jesus had a child. They are suing publisher Random House, which denies the allegation.

I must admit to (a) having never read The Da Vinci Code and (b) having no idea what all the fuss was about with the central plot ideas (as I understood them to be). Y'see, I read The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail way back in the 1980's and so when another book appeared with essentially the same premise as a basis for its plot, it seemed to me to only be a 'knock-off' version. Seems the authors of that work thought the same.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sex Pistols 'piss on' US Hall of Fame

Punk band the Sex Pistols have refused to attend their own induction into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In a handwritten note posted on their website, they called the institution 'urine in wine'.

The note further criticised the Hall of Fame for offering "fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table or $15,000 to squeak up in the gallery".

'We're not your monkeys, we're not coming. You're not paying attention,' continued the statement.

A Hall of Fame representative said each inductee gets two free tickets, with additional ones costing $2,500 (£1,432).

Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten once famously derided the rock 'n' roll institution as "a place where old rockers go to die", dubbing it the "Rock and Roll Hall of Shame".

hahaha! No future.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Abuse rattles Indian call centre staff

Shane Fernandes in Mumbai was recently speaking to a customer in the US about a credit card scheme.

He thought he had won over the customer, but just at the last minute the American learnt the young, sweet-talking agent was calling from a call centre in India.

'He just refused to deal with me because he found out I was an Indian,' recollects Mr Fernandes.

Others working in India's burgeoning call centres have been verbally abused and accused of taking jobs formerly carried out in Europe or the US.

Many Indian call centre workers are relatively young, having joined straight from college, and they are not used to and often find it hard to cope with the abuse.

Indian call centers fill me with dread. Why, you may ask? Is it because I am racist or furious because these call-center jobs have been moved overseas?

The answer is much more mundane. Born and bred in Scotland, I speak with a heavy Scots brogue. Living in India, the call center staff can't understand me.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Hosepipe bans call in South East

Water companies in south-east England are being urged to introduce hosepipe bans to avoid the introduction of more extreme water-saving measures.

The recommendation has come from the Environment Agency, which said in a new report that the region remained in a 'serious situation'.

The period from October 2004 to January 2006 was the driest in some parts of the South East since 1921.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Guantanamo actors held at airport

The actors who star in movie The Road to Guantanamo were questioned by police at Luton airport under anti-terrorism legislation, it has emerged.

The men, who play British inmates at the detention camp, were returning from the Berlin Film Festival where the movie won a Silver Bear award.

One of the actors, Rizwan Ahmed, said a police officer asked him if he intended to make any more 'political' films.

Intimidation or the inability to distinguish fact from fiction? Either way, it's not a good sign!


Monday, February 20, 2006

Hunger pangs 'may trigger memory'

New research suggests it may be wise to revise for and sit exams on an empty stomach as hunger can help with the creation and retrieval of memories.

American scientists found the hunger hormone ghrelin can increase the number of nerve connections in the area of the brain where new memories are formed.

The study raises hopes of drugs to treat impaired learning and memory in diseases such as Alzheimer's.

The Yale University study features in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Ghrelin is released by the empty stomach into the bloodstream, and is known to activate receptors throughout the brain.

Scientists already knew that the hormone acts on an area of the brain called the hypothalamus to trigger feelings of hunger.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Metals link to multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis could be linked to difficulty in processing iron and aluminium, a study has suggested.

Scientists at Keele University, Staffordshire, compared levels of the metals in the urine of people with MS and others without the condition.

Significantly higher levels than expected were found in both groups.

Experts said the research was interesting, but MS was a complex disease and more work was needed before a link could be confirmed.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Risk-takers 'escape Parkinson's'

People who take more risks with their health - including smoking and drinking - are less likely to develop Parkinson's disease, a study suggests.

A team led by the University of London quizzed 212 people - half of whom had Parkinson's - and identified a risk-averse 'Parkinsonian Personality'.

Smokers and drinkers seemed to be protected - maybe because these habits denoted a risk-taking personality.

Parkinson's disease experts said the results should be treated with caution.

Parkinson's is a degenerative brain disorder which affects movement and becomes more common in older age.

Its causes remain unclear, but it is often associated with a shortage of brain chemical dopamine which controls connections between nerve cells.

Earlier studies suggest a link between smoking and caffeine intake and lower rates of Parkinson's.

And it has been suggested the dopamine system is protected by nicotine and caffeine.

Professor Andrew Lees of the University of London, who led the research, said: "If you have never smoked you have double the risk of Parkinson's disease but we do not know the reasons for that.

How curious ... :o/


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Women 'get more headache drugs' than men

Women aged between 45 and 54 with headaches are twice as likely to be prescribed drugs by their GP as men of the same age, a study suggests.

Maybe their husbands or partners have been in first for a word with the doctor? Heh.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

'Hacker' extradition case reopens

The extradition hearing of a British man accused of hacking into the US military computer system has resumed.

Gary McKinnon, 40, is accused of causing damage to 97 US government computers estimated at £370,000.

His lawyers want US authorities to give reassurances he will not get a military order and face being sent to Guantanamo Bay with no prospect of parole.

Mr McKinnon, of Wood Green, north London, is contesting extradition at Bow Street Magistrates' Court.

He is alleged to have infiltrated the military system from his home computer between February 2001 and March 2002.

In total, Mr McKinnon is said to have accessed 53 US Army computers, 26 US Navy computers, 16 Nasa computers, one US Department of Defence computer and one US Air Force computer.

Wouldn't like to be in his shoes!


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Gay rights win in Warcraft world

The maker of the hugely popular online game, World of Warcraft, has changed its policy on gay teams following an outcry from many players.

Blizzard was accused of being heavy-handed by threatening to expel a player for advertising a gay-friendly team or guild.

Blizzard has officially apologised to the guild recruiter, saying the warning should never have been issued.

What's next? Virtual gay pride marches? Oh wait! Already happened.

Gay pride marches are known to have taken place in Warcraft and there are many other guilds in the game that are known to be friendly toward the gay community.


Monday, February 13, 2006

'Cyber Storm' tests US defences

Vital US infrastructure including power grids and banking systems have been put under simulated attack in a week-long security exercise called Cyber Storm.

The war game drew in 115 agencies from the FBI and CIA to the Red Cross, the Department of Homeland Security said.

IT companies and state and foreign governments also played a role in responding to the mock attacks.

The exercise had given the US 'an excellent opportunity to enhance our nation's cyber security,' the US said.

'Cyber security is critical to protecting our nation's infrastructure,' George Foresman of the Department of Homeland Security added in a statement.

The US has been accused of being unprepared for a determined attack by hackers.

Cyber Storm reportedly not only tested against attacks by hackers, but also by bloggers - who deliberately spread misinformation in the exercise.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Kissing 'risks meningitis'

Intimate kissing of many different partners can quadruple a teenager's risk of meningitis, a study has found.

Kissing with tongues enables the potentially deadly meningococcal bacteria to pass between partners.

The Australian team which carried out the British Medical Journal study of 144 teenagers defined multiple partners as up to seven in a fortnight.

Lead researcher Robert Booy said teenagers should change their behaviour - but accepted most would not.

In addition to kissing multiple partners, a history of preceding illness, and being a student were linked to an increased risk of disease, while attendance at a religious event was linked to a lower risk.

Other factors can increase someone's risk of becoming ill if they are exposed to the bacteria, the researchers found.

Having had the Epstein-Barr virus - itself called the 'kissing disease' - is a factor, as is having an upper respiratory tract infection. Being a student also appeared to increase risk.

But attending religious services did not.

The researchers suggest these last two factors could be 'markers' of behaviour, indicating whether they are more likely to have multiple kissing partners and be attending parties, where the meningococcal bacteria can also be passed on by smokers' coughing.

Linda Glennie, head of research at the Meningitis Research Foundation, which funded the study, said: "I don't expect teenagers to become nuns and monks for the duration of their university career, but I would encourage them to be aware of the symptoms."

Common Symptoms of Meningitis

  • High temperature, fever, possibly with cold hands and feet

  • Vomiting, sometimes diarrhoea

  • Severe headache

  • Joint and muscle pains, possible stomach cramps

  • Neck stiffness

  • Dislike of bright lights, disorientation


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Web suicide pacts surge in Japan

The number of Japanese who killed themselves in suicide pacts made over the internet rose sharply last year.

Police said 91 people died in the pacts in 2005, compared to 55 in 2004 and 34 in 2003, when the records started.

Alarm at the rise has led to increased vigilance by internet service providers, who now report suspected suicide pacts to the authorities.

Japan already has the highest suicide rate in the world, and the pacts may appeal to those scared to die alone.

Police figures showed 34 internet-arranged suicide pacts were recorded last year. Of the 91 people who died, 54 were men and 37 were women, with most being in their twenties or thirties.

The suicide pacts still make up a relatively small proportion of Japan's suicides.

More than 34,000 Japanese took their own lives in 2003, according to the National Police Agency - an increase of more than 7% from the previous year.

Sex, porn, illegal drugs, dating, legal drugs, gambling, gaming -- all available in copious quantities on the internet ... and these people choose suicide? wtf? Still, I suppose it's better than being eaten.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Britney Spears defends baby car photos

Pop star Britney Spears has defended photos of her holding her baby son on her lap while driving, saying she was trying to escape the paparazzi.

The singer issued the statement after several photos of the incident were circulated on the internet.

'I instinctively took measures to get my baby and me out of harm's way, but the paparazzi continued to stalk us,' Spears said.

'Instinctively ... out of harm's way'? Hmmmm.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bay City Rollers cleared of drugs charges

Former Bay City Rollers lead singer Les McKeown has been cleared of setting up a deal to sell drugs.

The 1970s pop star from Hackney, east London, said he was 'over the moon' at being found not guilty of conspiring to supply cocaine.

Ex-band guitarist Patrick McGlynn and Alistair Murray, both from Edinburgh, were cleared of the same charge.

During the trial at Basildon Crown Court Mr McKeown, 50, admitted being a drug user but denied being a dealer.

Mr McKeown had been accused of setting up a deal between Mr McGlynn and Mr Murray and two other men.

The court heard armed police arrested Mr McGlynn and Mr Murray in a hotel car park in Waltham Abbey, Essex, in May 2005.

Mr McGlynn was found with £16,500 in cash in a wash bag.

Two other men, who were found to have £16,000 worth of cocaine in their car, were also arrested and admitted conspiring to supply cocaine.

All three men, who denied the charges, said the meeting had been set up to arrange to buy a car.

Whew! What a lucky escape for the innocent rockers!

Imagine if the men who had the cocaine had thought the Bay City Rollers were there to buy drugs instead of a car. Who knows what kind of trouble the rockers might have found themselves in!


Friday, February 03, 2006

Scientists contemplate hyperdrive

The US military is considering testing the principle behind a type of space drive which holds the promise of reaching Mars in just three hours. The problem is, as New Scientist explains, it's entirely theoretical and many physicists admit they don't understand the science behind it.

Nonetheless, the so-called "hyperdrive" concept won last year's American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics award for the best nuclear and future flight paper. Among its defenders is aerospace engineer Pavlos Mikellides, from the Arizona State University in Tempe. Mikellides, who reviewed the winning paper, said: "Even though such features have been explored before, this particular approach is quite unique.

The basic concept is this:
- if you put a huge rotating ring above a superconducting coil and pump enough current through the coil, the resulting large magnetic field will "reduce the gravitational pull on the ring to the point where it floats free".

Cool or what?! I still don't get how it will make it to Mars in three hours.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Boy George in court over cocaine

Former pop singer Boy George is due to appear before a court in New York accused of possessing cocaine.

The British star was arrested on 7 October after police allegedly found the drug at his apartment in the city when they responded to a burglary call.

The 44-year-old, charged under his real name of George O'Dowd, has already entered a not guilty plea.

His lawyers say many people had been entertained at the apartment and Mr O'Dowd did not know who owned the drug.

Court papers suggest 13 plastic bags of cocaine, weighing more than three-and-a-half grams (one-eight of an ounce) in total, were found at the apartment in downtown Manhattan.

Officers who attended the address after receiving a call about a suspected break-in said they found the drugs in open view in the apartment.

The former Culture Club frontman, who now works as a DJ, could face up to five-and-a-half years in prison if convicted.