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NHNE News Brief 70
Friday, July 18, 1997

"A thought-provoking exploration
of the extraordinary times in which we live."

Millennium Countdown:
897 days until January 1, 2000

Total Paid Subscribers: 118
Total Online Update Mailing List: 820

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CONTENTS:
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QUOTABLES:
And That's O.K.

NEWS WATCH:
"Star Wars" Prequels in Production
Neanderthals -- We're Not Related!
Cities Turning Into Heat Islands
Human Blood from Animals Close
Stars Poised for Planethood

THE LIGHTER SIDE:
The Boss is Watching
Phone Ladies

FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK:
All-Time Favorite Movies

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
The Second Sphinx
Rage Triggers

MEDIA WATCH:
"Contact" Breaks New Ground
The King of Weird Science

SPACE WATCH:
Pathfinder, Week Two
The Coming Storm

TECH WATCH:
Say What?
Sweet Energy
You Talk -- Your Computer Types

ECO WATCH:
Millionaire Buys Huge Chunk of Chile

FOOD WATCH:
Global Food Picture Uncertain

NHNE STAFF
ABOUT NHNE & HOW TO JOIN US

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QUOTABLES:
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AND THAT'S O.K.

"I'm not O.K. You're not O.K. And that's O.K."

---Elisabeth Kubler Ross

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NEWS WATCH:
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"STAR WARS" PREQUELS IN PRODUCTION
(Source: Brad Stone, NEWSWEEK, 7/21/97)

George Lucas is now in Italy filming the prequels to the "Star Wars" trilogy. Ewan McGregor ("Trainspotting") has been cast in the role of the young Obi Wan Kenobi. Check out the "Ain't It Cool" Web site (www.aint-it-cool-news.com) for all the latest movie scoops. (JG)

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NEANDERTHALS: WE'RE NOT RELATED!
(Sources: NEWSWEEK, 7/21/97; ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 7/11/97)

Researchers from the UNIVERSITY OF MUNICH and PENN STATE UNIVERSITY have managed to extract DNA from a Neanderthal fossil over 30,000 years old. Comparing the DNA structure of Neanderthals with that of modern humans, the scientists found an average of 27 mutations, leading them to believe that Neanderthals and humans split from a common ancestor about 600,000 years ago, backing the theory that all humanity descended from an "African Eve" about 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. The DNA test "clearly lends support to this idea about our ancestry: that we have all come out of Africa quite recently in history," said Svante Paabo, who worked on the research at the UNIVERSITY OF MUNICH. The Munich team took the .4 gram sample from the upper arm bone of a skeleton found in 1857 in the Neander Valley near Duesseldorf -- the first Neanderthal skeleton ever found. Even if Neanderthals were not our ancestors, they were tantalizingly similar. They walked erect, used tools and there is evidence that they coexisted and learned some skills from Cro-Magnon people. One striking difference is that Neanderthals were bigger than modern humans and had larger brains. (JG)

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CITIES TURNING INTO HEAT ISLANDS
(Source: Audrey Galex, CNN ONLINE, 7/9/97)

About half of the world's population live in cities, and that number is rising. As the world's cities get bigger, they are also getting hotter -- heat absorbed by pavement, buildings and other surfaces during the day is released into the atmosphere at night, forming a dome of hot air. Atlanta is a good example of a heat island. The population of the city's metropolitan area tripled between 1970 and 1990. During that same time, the city's average summer temperature rose by six degrees. To discover more about the phenomenon, NASA researchers recently travelled to Atlanta to study its climate, looking for both patterns and problems. During the heat survey, a NASA jet rigged with sensors measured how different objects reflected or absorbed heat by scanning the city's surface. Rooftop devices that measured solar radiation helped scientists gauge how much the airborne readings were affected by the atmosphere. And weather balloons recorded humidity, barometric pressure and temperature. The thermal photographs showed urban Atlanta's heat is devouring the hinterland, particularly along the highways. The images also suggest how to dampen the heat island effect -- cooler areas were associated with trees and vegetarian, and places where builders used lighter-colored materials for roofs and roads. Information like this will be valuable in learning how to avoid the creation of more heat islands in the future. (JG)

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HUMAN BLOOD FROM ANIMALS CLOSE
(Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 7/6/97)

PPL THERAPEUTICS, the Scottish firm that helped Edinburgh's ROSLIN INSTITUTE clone a sheep earlier this year, is close to developing the means to replace the plasma genes of sheep and cows with the human equivalent. The animals' milk will then contain the key elements of human blood plasma, including albumen, clotting factors and antibodies. PPL plans to raise herds of such animals and manufacture plasma from the proteins extracted from their milk. According to Dr. Ron James, the firm's managing director, the results would be of "great medical benefit to man" -- genetically modified animals could produce 10,000 times more plasma a year than a human donor. Britain's NATIONAL BLOOD SERVICE was more cautious. "Using animal-grown human plasma is fine in theory," said a spokeswoman, "but until the clinical trials are complete you can never be sure that you have the full plasma equivalent, or whether the animals will pass on diseases to man." PPL hopes the process will be ready within a few months. (JG)

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STARS POISED FOR PLANETHOOD
(Source: Tim Friend, USA TODAY, 7/7/97)

Astronomers have discovered a group of stars that appears to be in the act of forming new planets. The group of five stars, known as the TW Hya Association, is only about 20 million years old and, at 130 to 200 light years distance, and is the closest young star formation to Earth. Joel Kastner and his astronomer colleagues at AXAF Science Center, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, discovered a gas cloud surrounding one of the adolescent stars, the key evidence for planet formation. The cloud is made of primitive organic compounds including carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide. The young stars are also blazing with X-rays, unlike more mature stars such as our Sun. (JG)

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THE LIGHTER SIDE:
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THE BOSS IS WATCHING
(Source: Jennifer Tanaka & Arlyn Tobias Gajilan, NEWSWEEK, 7/7/97)

Cyberloafers beware -- corporations with Big Brother tendencies can now monitor their employees' computer activities. "com.Policy" surveillance software from SILVERSTONE keeps a comprehensive log of all programs launched on a particular computer and sends snapshots of anything that's on the computer screen as often as every five minutes. "This isn't about spying," softpedals SILVERTONE's James Cofano. "It's about increasing productivity and helping companies develop and deploy a computer-use policy." (JG)

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PHONE LADIES
(Source: THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD via FLAGSTAFF LIVE! 7/10/97)

The GRAMEEN BANK is financing a $70 million cellular phone network in Bangladesh designed to bring phone service to poor villagers. Under the plan, GRAMEEN will pay to hire thousands of village "telephone ladies," who will take the handsets from house to house when anyone calls. The cost will be cheaper and more convenient than the current way of calling and receiving calls: taking a bus from the village to the nearest town with a public phone. (JG)

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FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK:
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ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIES

It's simmertime and the living is easy. One way that David Sunfellow and I have been escaping the relentless Arizona heat is by catching the summer blockbusters as they come out. (See the review of Carl Sagan's "Contact" in this issue.)

David and I were talking about our favorite movies of all time that had a spiritual or uplifting message. For fun we thought we would share our lists with you.

David's top ten spiritual movies:

1. The Power of One
2. Ben Hur
3. Braveheart
4. Phenomenon
5. Jesus of Nazareth
6. Brother Sun, Sister Moon
7. Contact
8. Thunder Heart
9. Ghost
10. Forrest Gump

James' top ten spiritual movies:

1. Star Wars
2. Jesus of Nazareth
3. Nell
4. Amadeus
5. Fantasia
6. Forest Gump
7. The Power of One
8. Brother Sun, Sister Moon
9. Mr. Holland's Opus
10. Old Yeller

Favorite movies are a personal thing. I suppose you can tell a bit about us by our choices. We'd like to hear from you. What movies have made the biggest impact in your life? We will post some of the submissions in future News Briefs.

Stay cool.

James Gregory
Editor-in-Chief

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
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THE SECOND SPHINX

"Your article about the second Sphinx in News Brief 69 was so interesting. I keep waiting for news from that area, but seldom hear or see anything. Thanks for the update.

---Helen Madrigal, Bluffton, Ohio

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RAGE TRIGGERS

"I especially liked "Avoiding the Courts" in News Brief 68. Getting people face to face can melt defenses. What with O.J., Mike Tyson and the reports of parents killing their children, I would like to know more about rage triggers and the studies being done to connect our old savage survival brain with our newer, socially-adept neocortex."

---Steve Haag, San Jose, California

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MEDIA WATCH:
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"CONTACT" BREAKS NEW GROUND
By James Gregory & David Sunfellow

It seems that everywhere we look these days our attention is focused skyward: the Pathfinder mission on Mars, the launch of the latest space shuttle, the problems with the Mir space station, the discovery of a Mars asteroid with evidence of possible life, Galileo's flyby of Jupiter and its moons, the passage of the Hale-Bopp Comet, the approaching Mars Global Surveyor mission in September. Hollywood has reflected this trend with such releases as: "The Arrival," "Independence Day," "Mars Attacks," "First Contact," and more recently, "Men in Black." All these movies have one thing in common -- they treat contact with alien life as either something to be feared or mocked. Now comes the remarkable movie "Contact" starring Jodie Foster, which explores the joy and wonder of deep space and the inevitable contact with alien lifeforms.

The movie is based on a science fiction novel of the same name by Carl Sagan and follows the events leading up to and following radio contact with an alien intelligence. Foster's focused intensity is a marvel, and the science is believable and not overdone. The first part of the movie follows Foster's relentless pursuit to make contact with extraterrestrials. The middle part of the movie deals with coping with that knowledge once contact is made, complete with all the politics, religious fervor and general zaniness that it dredges up. The last part of the 2 1/2 hour movie is what sets it apart from all the others -- the actual face-to-face contact with the aliens and the impact that has on the main character and on the world. Foster is so overwhelmed by the beauty and wonder of her experience that she comments to herself, "They should have sent a poet."

What makes this movie remarkable is that it was conceived by Carl Sagan, the renowned scientist who died last year. To his death, Sagan remained staunchly an atheist, yet he was intrigued with people who had faith in a God he did not believe in. He challenged a wide variety of believers, such as Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary of the NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES, with the question, "Why do you believe in God?" After much thought, Campbell asked him in return "Carl, do you believe in love?" He quickly answered, "Of course I do." (He was very much in love with his wife.) Campbell countered, "Can you prove that love exists?" After some introspection, Sagan admitted that love, like faith, had something unprovable at its core. A similar scene plays out in the movie, when Foster, who also does not believe in the existence of God, is challenged to prove that she loved her father.

As the author of the book the movie is based on, and also one of the movie's producers, Sagan could have been heavy handed with his atheistic views. Instead, the movie's two main characters, who are positioned on opposite sides of the fence (one believes in God while the other doesn't), sincerely wrestle with these weighty issues. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that the entire movie is about making contact with extraterrestrial life. Long villainized in UFO circles because he demanded physical proof before believing modern day sightings and abductions were authentic, Sagan emerges here as a conscientious voice of reason. Sagan's vision is that other intelligent lifeforms almost certainly exist in the universe, but they probably will have an appearance and technology that is radically different from the primitive space suits and space ships we are presently familiar with.

"Contact" also raises an ethical dilemma that Hollywood has wrestled with in recent years -- is it right to use sophisticated digital technology to take words and images out of context and alter and manipulate them for a completely unrelated use? In the film, President Clinton is repeatedly shown reacting to the fantastic alien message from outer space. White House Chief Counsel F.C. Ruff has sent a letter to Robert Zemeckis, the director of the movie, protesting the unauthorized use of Clinton footage in the Forrest Gump-like scenes which seamlessly meld video footage from different sources. "You have manipulated images of the president's public statements, taken them out of the context in which they were uttered and adapted them to fit the plot of your film. By appropriating President Clinton's image and words in this manner, you have essentially given him a role in your film without authorization. We believe your use of the role you have created for President Clinton in 'Contact' to promote and advertise the film is improper."

The White House issued the stern letter of protest in the hope that it will serve not only as a warning to filmmakers -- but also to Madison Avenue. There is valid concern throughout Washington that commercials will now appear with fictitious endorsements from public officials. CHRYSLER has already used President Clinton's image in a controversial test campaign throughout Israel last year. On more than 250 billboards across that country, Clinton was portrayed as saying, "The only problem with other American cars is that they're not Chryslers."

Zemeckis responded to the charges on ABC's "World News Tonight": "We do it in a spirit of fun and we do it in a nonderogatory way. I do think it is something people have to be aware of: Just because images are moving doesn't mean they are truth." A spokesman for WARNER BROTHERS added that the Clinton footage was derived from images that were already in the public domain. In a recent poll of 1,500 of its readers, the DRUDGE REPORT recently asked: "Is Zemeckis' use of Clinton in "Contact" out of line?" The verdict: 54.5% said no. The results were forwarded to the White House.

In a related story, despite prominent exposure in the movie "Contact," CNN Chairman Tom Johnson announced recently that there will be no more CNN anchors acting out the news in movies -- no more reporting nuclear bombs blowing up in Russia; no more recreating plane crashes of Air Force One; no more aliens; no more dinosaurs. "It was basically a test [and] a tremendous opportunity to get great cross-promotion during an otherwise sluggish summer. We tried to police these things all the way through, but we've let down our guard. We learned some lessons. The policy will be that no journalist will be allowed to appear in movies." It was back in March that CNN employees first began expressing concern over the repeated use of their network's logo and credibility in movies.

So are there really aliens out there? "If there aren't," as the movie "Contact" repeatedly states, "it sure is a waste of space." (Sources: DRUDGE REPORT, 7/14/97, 7/15/97; David Ansen, NEWSWEEK, 7/212/97)

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THE KING OF WEIRD SCIENCE
(Source: Steve Yozwiak, THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 7/12/97)

Not since Larry King, have insomniacs rallied around a talk radio phenomenon like Art Bell and his nationally-syndicated "Coast to Coast" and "Dreamland" late-night radio shows. After 30 years of inconspicuous broadcasting, Bell is riding wave of radio stardom propelled by UFO fever and paranormal mania. 363 affiliated stations broadcast Bell's shows to 15 million avid listeners, placing him just behind talk-jock biggies like Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern.

Art Bell's guests and listeners have lots of questions about a great many things. Bigfoot, flying saucers, reverse speech, sacred geometry, and remote viewing are staple topics. Presenters are met by Bell with a low level of skepticism that appeals to listeners. Critics see Bell as the radio king of pseudoscience. Thomas C. Cenoni, West Coast Bureau Chief for the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, thinks that Bell should screen the material before puts it out to the public on the mass media. "The show has sort of a schizophrenic condition. He talks about it being entertainment, yet he presents supposedly reliable, scientific information [without] making any attempt to verify whether any of this stuff is true or not." Cenoni charges that Bell is linked to the mass suicides of Heavens' Gate. Last November, an astronomer called into the show claiming that he had discovered a large object shadowing the Hale-Bopp Comet. A few days later, the head of a group of remote viewers called to say that his team had determined that the object was full of aliens and that he had the photos to prove it. Months later, shortly after the photos were proved to be fakes, the Heaven's Gate suicides took place.

In his defense, Bell claims that the Heaven's Gate people knew the photos were hoaxes and that their action was in no way linked to anything that happened on his show. He maintains that he does screen guests to a degree, but unlike other radio talk shows he does not screen his callers. "I will let people say anything. If it is something that is not provable, I don't shine a light in their face and beat them up."

Bell didn't always function as a cosmic guru. Until his meteoric rise to the top this year, the show's main topic was politics -- mostly the same kind of right-wing Clinton-bashing stuff that made "Rush" a household word. But Bell became bored with politics and so did his listeners. It is probably no coincidence that he broadcasts from his home in Pahrump, Nevada, which is only a few miles from the legendary Area 51, also named "Dreamland." One night four years ago, he and his wife watched in awe as a massive black triangular craft swept silently over their car and hovered for several minutes over Pahrump Valley. The Air Force claimed it was a C-130, but Bell was unimpressed: "If it was a C-130, it would have rattled our teeth. Maybe we have this kind of craft at Area 51. If we do, it's a big story. If it is not ours, then it's [still] a big story." Bell is also of the opinion that the lights seen over Phoenix last March may not have been of human origin. He points out, "There are a lot of legitimate questions about what happened in Phoenix and not a lot of legitimate answers."

These days Art Bell is more than just his radio shows ("Coast to Coast" airs five hours each night, Monday through Friday; "Dreamland" is a three-hour show that airs on Sundays and then is repeated the following Saturday) -- he is an entire industry. He has a complicated and multilinked Web site (www.artbell.com), a bulletin board system where listeners can post observations, and chat clubs are springing up in various cities (11 at last count) where members can meet in person to discuss topics and meet guests from the radio show. Bell has also written book called "The Quickening" that discusses the rapidly increasing pace of change in society, its causes and implications for the future.

But even Art Bell has his limits. One of the most frequent and popular guests on his show is Richard Hoagland. A former science consultant to the TV networks, for the last 15 years Hoagland has relentlessly pursued the notion that an ancient civilization flourished on Mars, and "the face on Mars" and related pyramid shapes in a area known as Cydonia, are artifacts left over from that time. The Mars Global Surveyor, due to arrive at the Red Planet on September 12, should clear up the controversy one way or the other as it maps the planet in great detail from space. In the meantime, Hoagland has taken the bizarre stand that the Mars Pathfinder has not yet landed on Mars, but will only do so on July 20, a date that coincides with an auspicious planetary alignment that is an important element of his conspiracy theory. Bell doesn't buy Hoagland's claim that the dramatic photos the world has been seeing for the last two weeks are simulations based on earlier Mars landings. "What's bothering me about Richard is that all his good work is in jeopardy because he refuses to acknowledge the obvious -- we are really on Mars." (JG)

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SPACE WATCH:
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PATHFINDER, WEEK TWO
(Source: Jane E. Allen, ASSOCIATED PRESS via USA TODAY, 7/16/97)

Pathfinder's second week on Mars saw the rover get hung up on rock, and get knocked out of commission by a computer malfunction. By the end of the week, the rover was back on track and had communed with a soil-covered rock called Yogi, finding it to be much more primitive than quartz-rich Barnacle Bill, which it visited last week. Yogi "has not gone through the cooking Bill went through," explained James Greenwood, a member of the Pathfinder mineralogy science team, and there is the possibility that Yogi may have resulted from the impact of a meteorite. This is exactly the varied kind of geology that the scientists were hoping for when they decided to land Pathfinder on a flood plain. All the different kinds of rock are thought to have washed down from the Martian highlands. Next on the itinerary are visits to the nearby Cabbage Patch, Scooby Doo, Half Dome, Wedge, Shark and Flat Top. And did you know that the Pathfinder's onboard flight computer is an RS/6000 manufactured by IBM -- the same kind of computer that made up Deep Blue, the silicon wonder which defeated chess master Garry Kasparov this past spring? (JG)

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THE COMING STORM
(Sources: Ron Cowen, SCIENCE NEWS, 6/14/97; Jeffery Winters, DISCOVER, 8/97)

The Earth is poised to plunge headlong into the most intense celestial dust storm it has encountered in 33 years. The Leonid Meteor Shower occurs each November, when the Earth passes through a broad, tenuous band of dusty meteoroids expelled by Comet Temple-Tuttle during its centuries of passages near the Sun. Typically, as the debris burns up in the Earth's atmosphere, some 100 meteors an hour grace the skies.

Once every 33 years, Comet Temple-Tuttle sweeps by the Sun, leaving in its wake a swath of fresh debris. On November 17, 1998, the Earth will plow into the Leonid stream only nine months after the comet has passed by. In that short interval, the torrent of new meteoroids won't have had time to spread out, and our planet will encounter a dense debris field, creating a veritable tempest.

At the storm's peak, observers should be treated to a terrific light show, with as many as 100,000 meteors an hour streaking through the sky. Scientists are proposing to launch a pair of spacecraft to monitor the event and obtain a three-dimensional orbit of the debris. They will also be looking for evidence of a special class of clouds, predicted to condense high in the atmosphere around electrified dust grains from the storm.

Peter Jenniskens, an astronomer at the AMES RESEARCH CENTER near Mountain View, California has identified 13 similar meteor streams that probably come from long-period comets, and he estimates that there might be as many as 70 such bodies that cross the Earth's path at some point in their orbit. One such outburst, is the Monocerotoid Shower (all meteor showers are named after the constellation from which they seem to radiate) which puts in an appearance each year in late November. Strangely, some years are more intense than others. Jenniskens theorizes that not only are meteor showers caused by the passage of comets, they are also influenced by the gravitational pull of the more massive planets such as Jupiter and Saturn which make the debris fields weave in and out of Earth's orbit. Depending on the position of the planets, Earth may miss the debris field entirely, and at other times experience a particularly brilliant cosmic light show. Based on his calculations, he predicted that there would be such an event on November 22, 1995. Before that, the Monocerotoids had only put in appearances on 1925, 1935 and 1985. His diligence was rewarded: for 50 minutes on the morning of November 22, 1995, the sky loosed a torrent of meteors. By studying the trajectories of the meteors, he was able to determine that the orbit of this debris stream extended out ten times further than Pluto.

Jenniskens thinks these earth-crossing debris fields should be closely watched. Somewhere in there are comets that could pose a significant hazard. Instead of plowing through the dust of a meteor stream, Earth could find itself on a collision course with the comet responsible for the debris. (JG)

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TECH WATCH:
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SAY WHAT?
(Source: DISCOVER. 7/97)

Each day, Post Office workers struggle to read 50 million hand-addressed envelopes. Sargur Srihari, Director of the Center of Excellence for Document Analysis at the STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK in Buffalo is trying to eliminate that frustrating and time-consuming task.

He has come up with a handwriting-recognition computer program capable of using sleuthing techniques to decipher the chicken scratch on letters. Similar programs, like the ones on hand-held personal digital assistants have been around for a while, but they have the advantage of being able to "learn" the unique characteristics of a person's handwriting style over a period of time. Such software is woefully inaccurate in dealing with addresses on a first-time basis, especially when individual characters are obscure or missing altogether.

Rather than trying to read one character at a time, Srihari has taught the program to consider the overall address, and look for important clues. For example, if the program can read the zip code, town and state, but can only make out some of the letters of the street name, then it can look up all the street names in that particular zip code that are similar and select the best match.

While the program is not perfect in its present form (it can only read 40 percent of handwritten addresses), in a recent 34-state, one-month test it saved the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) $5 million. By September, the technology will be installed in every processing center across the country, saving the USPS $50 million a year. (JG)

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SWEET ENERGY
(Source: DISCOVER, 7/97)

Hydrogen is a perfect fuel -- it is plentiful and when it burns, only water and carbon dioxide are left behind. Hydrogen can power fuel cells, a cheap and efficient method of making electricity. But even though it is part of commonplace water, pure hydrogen is rare. Jonathan Woodward, a biochemist working at OAK RIDGE NATIONAL LABORATORY and employed by LOCKHEED MARTIN ENERGY RESEARCH CORPORATION set out to develop an environmentally-sound method for making hydrogen from sugar, the main product of photosynthesis. He researched the current scientific literature and found that if you mix glucose (a sugar molecule) with an enzyme called glucose dehydrogenase and a compound called NADP, one of glucose's hydrogen atoms will attach itself to the NADP molecule, turning it into NADPH. In 1996, he discovered a way to reclaim that hydrogen molecule using hydogenase, an enzyme found in heat-loving deep-sea bacteria. Hydrogenase releases the hydrogen from NADPH as a gas, allowing Woodward to collect it.

Not being satisfied with this breakthrough, Woodward is now trying to figure out how to break down the process's only nonrecyclable product, gluconic acid. If he succeeds, he could theoretically produce 12 molecules of hydrogen for every molecule of glucose, with carbon dioxide as the only byproduct. Glucose can be found in old newspapers, grass clippings, and other types of waste. Points out Woodward, "Eventually, we're going to run out of fossil fuels, but we're not going to run out of garbage." (JG)

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YOU TALK -- YOUR COMPUTER TYPES
(Source: Lisa Price, CNN ONLINE, 4/29/97)

Susan Fulton, an Administrative Assistant with THE NEW YORK TIMES, used to live with traditional repetitive strain injuries (RSI) in her wrists. Then she switched over to the voice-activated computer. Now, the technology has become "like my servant, and helps me do my work. And I like to show other people what it can do," Fulton said. Renee Griffith also likes the device. A one-time computer keyboard user, she developed painful RSI symptoms. Now she runs a company, ZEPHYR BUSINESS SERVICES, where employees rely on voice-activated systems. "It's allowed many of the disabled population to come back to work," Griffith said. "In fact, I've hired a great number of those folks because there's nothing wrong with their brains."

But it now seems the technology often credited with helping prevent RSI in the wrists may in fact be causing RSI of another kind. In order for the computer to recognize commands, the user must speak in a slow, controlled and nearly expressionless voice. It's a style of delivery that can place strain on the vocal cord muscles in much the same way repetitive action at a keyboard might strain tendons or muscles in the arm or wrist. A formal study about such complaints is still under way. In the meantime, experts say, go slow, and try the product before buying it. "It's an unnatural way to speak, and if you do something unnatural for an extended period of time you're going to get into a misuse/abuse problem," warns Lois Singer, a speech language pathologist. (JG)

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MILLIONAIRE BUYS HUGE CHUNK OF CHILE
(Source: ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 7/8/97)

Chile has granted permission to wealthy American environmentalist Doug Tompkins to purchase 677,000-acres of pristine land which he intends to set up as a nature preserve. Tompkins' dream of preserving virgin rain forest drove him to become one of the largest landholders in Chile, acquiring the property that stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Argentine border (News Brief 8).

His purchase, which he estimated cost him around $18 million, caught the attention of the military, pro-development interests and Chilean nationalists. Critics protested that Tompkins' Pumalin Park, which is about 1,100 miles south of the capital, Santiago, essentially divides Chile in half and was too much land in the hands of a foreigner. Newspapers accused him of trying to buy an island in Chile's center, of circumventing immigration controls, and of pressuring local landowners to sell their property. An influential senator, Gabriel Valdes, argued that land purchases by foreigners should be regulated. "It is not possible that we allow someone to buy a land the size of Holland," he said.

In March, weary of the battle, Tompkins froze his plans to donate Pumalin Park to Chile. This threat seemed to diminish the controversy and clear up any remaining governmental stalling. For his part, Tompkins has agreed not to buy any more land in the region for at least a year, giving Chile time to establish "clear regulations" over land purchases in strategic southern areas. Tompkins intends to transfer ownership of the land to a special foundation, and the government, in turn, will give the land sanctuary status, exempting it from property taxes. With the quarrel resolved, Tompkins said he will soon start developing the park to give Chileans and nature-lovers better access to his long-sought preserve. (JG)

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FOOD WATCH:
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GLOBAL FOOD PICTURE UNCERTAIN
(Sources: Geri Guidetti, THE ARK INSTITUTE, thanks to Joya Pope; PROJECT CENSORED WEB PAGE via NEXUS, June-July/97; Curt Anderson ASSOCIATED PRESS via THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 7/12/97)

When the grain harvest began in 1996, world carryover stocks had dropped to 51 days of consumption, the lowest level on record. Despite exceptionally favorable weather and a record 1996 harvest of 1.84 billion tons, depleted carryover grain stocks were rebuilt by only four day's worth of consumption. This 55 days of consumption was the second lowest on record and leaves the world living close to the edge at least through the 1997 harvest. Carryover stocks of 70 days of consumption are needed to reduce price volatility and restore some semblance of stability to grain markets.

The experience of 1996 indicates that rebuilding stocks as we approach the new millennium will not be easy. Over most of the last half-century, this was a relatively simple matter of returning idled cropland to production, but unfortunately all of the land previously set aside in the U.S. was back in production in 1996, leaving only a modest amount of set-aside land in Europe.

Water scarcity is also emerging as a major constraint on efforts to expand world food production, as water tables decline precipitously in many of the major food-producing regions including the southern Great Plains of the U.S., the Punjab of India and much of central and northern China. For example, Texas -- one of the largest U.S. agricultural states -- has lost 14 percent of its irrigated area since 1980. Yet, in the southwestern U.S., sunbelt cities like Denver, Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas are expanding their water consumption at the expense of farmers.

In many parts of the world, farmers are faced with a diminishing response of grain yield to the use of additional fertilizer. After rising at 2.1 percent a year annually from 1950 to 1990, land productivity during the '90s appears to have dropped to roughly 1 percent a year. As the growth in production slows, the growth in demand is accelerating. While public attention focuses on the role of population growth in boosting the demand for grain, rising affluence has become an even stronger source of additional demand for grain in some rapidly expanding economies. The rise in demand for meat is so strong that even the doubling of corn prices in 1996 was not sufficient to halt the growth in world consumption. Much of the rise in affluence is occurring in Asia, led by China, enabling China's 1.2 billion people to move up the food chain and eat more pork, poultry, eggs, and beef, and drink more beer -- all of which require grain.

The causes of widespread famine are often the result of several years of either drought or floods -- natural disasters. Political alliance with or alienation from states not currently affected by these natural phenomena will usually determine who survives and who doesn't. For example, most of the free world is dragging its feet on feeding North Korea for fear the food aid will go to its million plus military, in lieu of its starving children.

According to PROJECT CENSORED (http://censored.sonoma.edu/projectcensored/stories1996.html), a media analysis and research program out of SONOMA STATE UNIVERSITY in California, the world-wide food scarcity is one of the top ten censored stories for 1996. They predict the food shortage will become even more acute in light of the conclusions of the WORLD FOOD SUMMIT in November 1996, the first in 22 years, which decided that poor countries will be responsible for feeding their own people, without the aid of wealthier nations.

Fortunately, this grim news is lightened by the fact that a cool spring in the southern U.S. Plains has produced a bumper winter wheat crop projected to be 20 percent bigger than last year's, according to the AGRICULTURAL DEPARTMENT. "The elevators are so full, we have to start piling it on the ground for storage," said Terry Young, Coordinator of the Wheat Harvest Office in Great Bend, Kansas. The DEPARTMENT is also forecasting an 11 percent increase in this year's soybean crop. And while it looks like spring wheat numbers will be down this year, the overall wheat production is estimated to be 7 percent greater than 1996. (JG)

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