Scenes from 30 June 2004

Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Ayad Allawi gazes over Baghdad, contemplating the fearsome challenges and responsibilty of national sovereignty... but why is he wearing a Spider-Man costume?

Spider-Man is really... Pavitr Prabhakar

Gotham Comics: Spider-Man India
Spider-Man India interweaves the local customs, culture and mystery of modern India, with an eye to making Spider-Man's mythology more relevant to this particular audience. Readers of this series will not see the familiar Peter Parker of Queens under the classic Spider-Man mask, but rather a new hero ?3 a young, Indian boy named Pavitr Prabhakar. As Spider-Man, Pavitr leaps around rickshaws and scooters in Indian streets, while swinging from monuments such as the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal.

Magnet URIs as a content-distribution aid

p2pnet.net: Steve Winwood on MagnetMix

Nice mention of the value of magnet URIs in this article about a Steve Winwood track being made available via P2P.

Ray Bradbury to Michael Moore: Gimme My Title Back

SFGate: 'Fahrenheit 451' author Bradbury demands Moore change his film's title

Dilution of the "Fahrenheit 451" name affects not just the original book...

Bradbury's book was made into a 1966 movie directed by Francois Truffaut. A new edition of the book is scheduled for release in eight weeks, Bradbury said, and plans are in the works for a new film version, to be directed by Frank Darabont.

Credit where credit is due

PBS | I, Cringely: Engines of Change: When It Comes to the Application of Disruptive Consumer Electronic Technologies, We Probably Have Napster (the Old One) to Thank

Cringely writes:

A number of forces have to work in conjunction to make these disruptive technologies possible. Economies of scale gained by mass production are augmented by the willingness of technically savvy people to share the fruits of their labor, but the third component we don't give enough credit to, I think, is the willingness of absolutely normal people to mess with this complex technology. I credit Napster (the original Napster, not the new one) and DivX for this relatively sudden willingness for average people to get their hands dirty twiddling bits. Motivated by free music and video, millions of people have learned that it isn't really that hard to do, especially if there is a 12 year-old available to help. And since we seem to keep producing 12 year-olds, I'd say the sky's the limit when it comes to how these technologies will change our world.

Microbe hunting with DNA inventorying

Economist.com: An injection of innovation: Vaccinating livestock may be a way to slow global warming

Vaccinating flatulent livestock against greenhouse-gas-producing bacteria is a cute idea, sure, but this part of the article was most interesting to me:

At that point he [Andr�-Denis Wright, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's laboratory in Perth] decided to try a different tack. Instead of restricting himself to those stomach bugs he could grow, he sought to identify the full range of what was there using a new technique called environmental genomics. This trick, pioneered by Craig Venter in the United States, breaks all of the DNA in a sample of liquid from, say, a stomach, up into small pieces. It then sequences each piece to establish the order of the genetic �letters� in it, and uses a computer to fit the pieces back together by matching the overlaps between the sequences of letters. That way, if all goes well, the genomes of the bugs in a sample will emerge from the soup of pieces, and the organisms can be identified without the need to grow them.

The researchers surveyed the microbial populations of 17 sheep stomachs in this way, and revealed several new species of methanogen, including some from a group of archaea not previously known to inhabit digestive tracts.

This kind of broad survey of indigenous microbial flora should be tried on anyone with exceptional health -- octogenarians, survivors of often-fatal diseases, etc. It's likely to find previously-unknown naturally-occurring health-promoting organisms.

Viruses against cancer

New Scientist: Genetically-modified virus explodes cancer cells

This virus was genetically modified, but it sounds like a simple change -- dropping a viral adaptation that, while necessary to remain viable against normal cells, otherwise curtails the virus's replication. Could such a modification be part of the normal viral mutation churn in nature, meaning there are naturally occurring anti-cancer saluviruses from time to time? And might that also be the scientific explanation for occasional "miraculous" remissions from cancer?

Should we be searching for such novel agents inside cancer survivors?

NASA wakes up to robotic Hubble-rescue option

NYTimes: NASA Weighs Robot Mission to Maintain Telescope

I wish I'd thought of that. Oh, wait, I did.