Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Google tools to power virtual worlds

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By Daniel Terdiman, News.com Published on ZDNet News: Oct 9, 2007

Get ready for online games set in your favorite Google Earth locations.
Virtual-worlds platform developer Multiverse Network is set to announce a partnership Tuesday that will allow anyone to create a new online interactive 3D environment with just about any model from Google's online repository of 3D models, its 3D Warehouse, as well as terrain from Google Earth.
The idea is simple: Multiverse's technology--which gives game developers tools to design custom virtual worlds--will let those designers pick and choose from most of the millions of 3D models created using Google's 3D software tool SketchUp, and to import pieces of terrain, as defined by entering specific longitude and latitude data, from Google Earth.
If you want to build a virtual world centered on, say, downtown San Francisco, you could use the new technology to create the area itself and populate it with the digital versions of real-world buildings that have been created and uploaded to the 3D Warehouse.
"The goal is to grab things from the 3D Warehouse when looking at things in Google Earth and then make an instant multiverse world," said Multiverse co-founder Corey Bridges. "What we've done is provide a more streamlined interface for using (Google's technology) as a virtual-world production tool."
Until now, incorporating this kind of information from Google has mostly been the province of fantasy. For some time, Multiverse has made it possible to upload some SketchUp models into a virtual world created using its platform. But the technology the company plans to announce Tuesday, informally called "Architectural Wonders," brings the concept to much more well-rounded fruition, and answers what some people have been crying out for as obvious and necessary technology integration.
"Google's mission statement is to make all the world's information universally available and useful," said Jerry Paffendorf, co-author of the Metaverse Roadmap and co-founder of a stealth start-up called Wello Horld. "So I would say this (is about) making all the world universally available and useful, and that's why this is so fascinating."
For Paffendorf, one of the most vocal proponents of a 3D massively multiplayer environment based on Google Earth and SketchUp information, Multiverse's innovation is nothing short of groundbreaking.
He said he's particularly excited and hopeful that the Architectural Wonders project will allow virtual-world designers to incorporate not just models and terrain from Google Earth, but also much of the metadata that makes it so powerful: the personal notations and photographs that millions of users have added to it.
Of course, Multiverse's project is not the only one that has sprung up to make use of this data. Google is rumored to be working on a prototype virtual world, a beta test of which may or may not be under way at Arizona State University.
Another project is SceneCaster, a new technology unveiled at last week's Demo conference that allows anyone to make 3D "scenes" incorporating models from the 3D Warehouse that can then be attached to blogs or Facebook pages or even to Flickr.
Both SceneCaster and Multiverse's Architectural Wonders projects will be shown at the Virtual Worlds conference, which starts Wednesday in San Jose, Calif.
But because not much is known about Google's stealth project and since SceneCaster does not appear to be a massively multiplayer experience, Multiverse's Architectural Wonders efforts may well prove to be the first publicly available attempt to bring vast amounts of data and models Google is making freely accessible into a working virtual world.
For now, the technology is in its very early iterations. A demonstration seen exclusively last week by CNET News.com revealed what is still fairly rudimentary technology, featuring a single avatar wandering around a largely barren terrain. However, as the avatar moved, it eventually arrived in an area where it was able to move easily among models of structures like the Empire State Building, the St. Louis arch and Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Twin Towers.
Multiverse also showed News.com its tool for selecting terrain grabbed from Google Earth. It appears to be a simple design that will make it easy for designers creating virtual worlds using Multiverse's platform to quickly enter geographic data and then to import whatever territory is defined directly into their new 3D environment.
Multiverse's technology has reached the point where it can support as many as 1,000 users per server, meaning any virtual world built using its platform and incorporating the Google Earth and 3D Warehouse models could see hundreds or even thousands of users running around inside it.
And while some might wonder why anyone would want to spend time in a virtual New York when they could be in the real place, Paffendorf, who lives in Brooklyn, has an answer.
"Simply put, if you're not there, you don't have that option," he said. "I would go exploring Brooklyn like that, for sure, to see what I'm missing."

Biologists Close In On Mystery Of Sea Turtles' 'Lost Years'

  • Closeup of a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas).
  • (Credit: iStockphoto/Rainer Schmittchen)

Science Daily — Biologists have found a major clue in a 50-year-old mystery about what happens to green sea turtles after they crawl out of their sandy nests and vanish into the surf, only to reappear several years later relatively close to shore.

In a paper set to appear Wednesday in the online edition of the journal Biology Letters, three University of Florida sea turtle scientists say they found the clue by analyzing chemical elements ingrained in the turtles’ shells.
Their conclusion: The turtles spend their first three to five “lost years” in the open ocean, feeding on jellyfish and other creatures as carnivores. Only after this period do they move closer to shore and switch to a vegetarian diet of sea grass – the period in their lives when they have long been observed and studied.
“This has been a really intriguing and embarrassing problem for sea turtle biologists, because so many green turtle hatchlings enter the ocean, and we haven’t known where they go,” said Karen Bjorndal, a professor of zoology and director of UF’s Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research. “Now, while I can’t go to a map and point at the spot, at least we know their habitats and diets, and that will guide us where to look.”
The discovery is important not only because it’s a first, but also because it may aid in conservation of the turtles -- which, like all sea turtles, are classified as endangered. “You can’t protect something,” said Bjorndal, “if you don’t know where it is.”
The paper’s lead author is Kimberly Reich, a UF doctoral student in zoology who did the work as part of her dissertation research. The other authors are Bjorndal and Alan Bolten, a faculty member in zoology and associate director of the sea turtle center.
Famed sea turtle biologist Archie Carr first discussed the mystery of the green sea turtles’ “lost years” in his 1952 book, “The Handbook of Turtles.” Half-dollar sized hatchlings trundle off subtropical and tropical beaches worldwide, then vanish, only to reappear, dinner-plate-sized, over continental shelves in depths of less than 650 feet. Only a tiny number of green turtles between the half-dollar and plate-sizes have ever been spotted.
To solve the problem, Reich, Bjorndal and Bolten turned not to scouring the ocean but rather to a technique that over the past two decades has become increasingly important in questions related to ecological origin: stable isotope analysis.
The higher an animal on the food chain, the more heavy isotopes it accumulates. As a result, the technique, which measures the ratios of heavy to light isotopes, can distinguish samples from herbivorous versus carnivorous creatures and where on the food chain they lie.
The researchers captured 44 turtles off a long-term study site near Great Inagua in the Bahamas. The sample included 28 that had been tagged in previous years, indicating they were residents of the site, and 16 untagged turtles assumed to have recently arrived.
They cut off tiny pieces near the center of the turtles’ shells in a harmless process that Bjorndal likened to trimming one’s fingernails. The biologists used a mass spectrometer, a machine that separates isotopes according to charge and mass, to analyze the oldest, or earliest-grown, portions of the shell sample versus the newest portions.
The analysis revealed that with the new arrivals to the site, the ratio of light to heavy nitrogen isotopes in the older versus new shell samples was “significantly different,” as the paper said. The ratios were very similar to ratios observed in oceanic-stage loggerhead turtles known to be carnivorous. For these reasons, among others, the researchers concluded the turtles spend their first three to five years in the open ocean.
Green turtles nest on subtropical and tropical beaches worldwide. That suggests the young turtles are widely distributed in the oceans during their oceanic stage, but Bjorndal said further study is required to confirm that.
Green turtles are the ocean’s largest hard-shelled turtle, with only soft-shelled leatherbacks eclipsing their size. They were heavily exploited for food by native peoples and then by explorers and colonists who prized the animals for remaining alive and fresh for months on ships. Although they were among the first animals listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, they and their eggs continue to be hunted in much of their range today.
Said Bjorndal, “Anything that helps us discover geographically where they are is going to stand us in good stead to be able to protect them.”
Note: This story has been adapted from material provided by University of Florida.

Elephants' Fear Of Angry Bees Could Help To Protect Them

Science Daily — At a time when encroaching human development in former wildlife areas has compressed African elephants into ever smaller home ranges and increased levels of human-elephant conflict, a study in Current Biology, suggests that strategically placed beehives might offer a low-tech elephant deterrent and conservation measure.

The researchers found that a significant majority of African elephants fled immediately after hearing the sound of bees, providing "strong support" for the idea that bees, and perhaps even their buzz alone, might keep elephants at bay. By contrast, the elephants ignored a control recording of natural white-noise, the authors reported.
"We weren't surprised that they responded to the threatening sound of disturbed bees, as elephants are intelligent animals that are intimately aware of their surroundings, but we were surprised at how quickly they responded to the sounds by running away," said Lucy King of the University of Oxford. "Almost half of our study herds started to move away within 10 seconds of the bee playback." King is also affiliated with Save the Elephants, a Kenya-based organization that aims to secure a future for elephants.
Earlier studies had suggested that elephants prefer to steer clear of bees. For instance, one report showed that elephant damage to acacia trees hosting occupied or empty beehives was significantly less than in trees without hives, the researchers said. In Zimbabwe, scientists have also seen elephants forging new trails in an effort to avoid beehives.
In the new study, the researchers tested the response of several well-known elephant families in Kenya to the digitally recorded buzz of disturbed African bees. Sixteen of the 17 families tested left their resting places under trees within 80 s of hearing the bee sound, the researchers reported, and half responded within just 10 seconds. Among elephants hearing the control sound, none had moved after 10 s, and only four families had moved after 80 s. By the end of the 4 min sound playback of bee buzz, only one elephant family had failed to move, whereas eight families hearing the control sound had not moved.
This behavioral discovery suggests that bees might very well be a valuable addition to the toolbox of elephant deterrents used by farmers and conservation managers across Kenya, King said. She added that such innovative approaches are sorely needed "to avoid extreme solutions such as shooting problem animals."
She cautioned that the use of beehives to shoo elephants away might prove to have limited application and that more research is needed if we are to understand its effectiveness. "But if we could use bees to reduce elephant crop raiding and tree destruction while at the same time enhancing local income through the sale of honey, this could be a significant and valuable step towards sustainable human-elephant coexistence."
The researchers include Lucy E. King of the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford in Oxford and Save the Elephants in Nairobi; Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants in Nairobi; and Fritz Vollrath of the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford in Oxford and Save the Elephants in Nairobi.
This work was supported by ESRC/NERC, The Wingate Foundation and Save the Elephants.
King et al.: "African elephants run from the sound of disturbed bees." Publishing in Current Biology 17, R832-R833, October 9, 2007.
Note: This story has been adapted from material provided by Cell Press.

Scientists 'Weigh' Tiny Galaxy Halfway Across Universe


Science Daily — A tiny galaxy, nearly halfway across the universe, the smallest in size and mass known to exist at that distance, has been identified by an international team of scientists led by two from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The scientists used data collected by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. This galaxy is about half the size, and approximately one-tenth the "weight" of the smallest distant galaxies typically observed, and it is 100 times lighter than our own Milky Way.
"Even though this galaxy is more than six billion light years away, the reconstructed image is as sharp as the ordinary ground-based images of the nearest structure of galaxies, the Virgo cluster, which is 100 times closer to us," said lead author Phil Marshall, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Santa Barbara.
Second author Tommaso Treu, assistant professor of physics at UCSB, explained that the imaging is made possible by the fact that the newly discovered galaxy is positioned behind a massive galaxy, creating an "Einstein ring." The matter distribution in the foreground bends the light rays in much the same way a magnifying glass does. By focusing the light rays, this gravitational lensing effect increases the apparent brightness and size of the background galaxy by more than a factor of 10.
Treu and his colleagues in the Sloan Lens ACS Survey (SLACS) collaboration are at the forefront of the study of Einstein ring gravitational lenses. With gravitational lensing, light from distant galaxies is deflected on its way to Earth by the gravitational field of any massive object that lies in the way. Because the light bends, the galaxy is distorted into an arc or multiple separate images. When both galaxies are exactly lined up, the light forms a bull's-eye pattern, called an Einstein ring, around the foreground galaxy.
The mass estimate for the galaxy, and the inference that many of its stars have only recently formed, is made possible by the combination of optical and near infrared images from the Hubble Space Telescope with longer wavelength images obtained with the Keck Telescope. "If the galaxy is representative of a larger population, it could be one of the building blocks of today's spiral galaxies, or perhaps a progenitor of modern dwarf galaxies," said Treu. "It does look remarkably similar to the smallest galaxies in the Virgo cluster, but is almost half the way across the universe."
Another key aspect of the research is the use of "laser guide star adaptive optics." Adaptive optics systems use bright stars in the field of view to measure the Earth's atmospheric blurring and correct for it in real time. This technique relies on having a bright star in the image as well, so it is limited to a small fraction of the night sky.
The laser guide star adaptive optics system in place at the Keck Telescope uses a powerful laser to illuminate the layer of sodium atoms that exist in the Earth's atmosphere, explained Jason Melbourne, a team member from the Center for Adaptive Optics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The laser image acts as an artificial star, bright enough to perform adaptive optics correction at an arbitrary position in the sky, thus enabling much sharper imaging over most of the sky.
Marshall's postdoctoral fellowship research is funded by the TABASGO Foundation through UCSB. Treu's research is supported by the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation, and the Sloan Foundation.
Other researchers involved in the project are: Raphael Gavazzi of UC Santa Barbara; Kevin Bundy of the University of Toronto; S. Mark Ammons of Lick Observatory and the Center for Adaptive Optics (CfAO) at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Adam S. Bolton of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii; Scott Burles of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; James Larkin of the University of California, Los Angeles; David Le Mignant of the W. M. Keck Observatory and CfAO at UC Santa Cruz; David C. Koo of the Lick Observatory at UC Santa Cruz; Leon V.E. Koopmans of the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, the Netherlands; Claire E. Max of the Lick Observatory and CfAO at UC Santa Cruz; Leonidas A. Moustakas of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology; Eric Steinbring of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, National Research Council of Canada; and Shelly A. Wright of UCLA.
The findings will be published in the December 20, 2007 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
Note: This story has been adapted from material provided by University of California, Santa Barbara.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Happy Weekend

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Star Cluster Bursts into Life in New Hubble Image

Thousands of sparkling young stars are nestled within the giant nebula NGC 3603. This stellar "jewel box" is one of the most massive young star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. NGC 3603 is a prominent star-forming region in the Carina spiral arm of the Milky Way, about 20,000 light-years away. This latest image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows a young star cluster surrounded by a vast region of dust and gas. The image reveals stages in the life cycle of stars.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Floyds Best Blog Awards- October 2007 Winners

Beginning September 1st,2007 Floyds Free Money will review your blogs and Post Winners each Month.
If you would like your blog reviewed, post the link in comments.

The awards are not based on blog design, but on the spirit of the Blogger .

Congratulations to Floyds Best Blog Award Winners.
Message to the Winners:
Each of You were carefully chosen. Each of you Deserves to be Recognized by your peers for Your Bright Shining Spirit and Your Outstanding contribution to the International Blogging Community.
If You are selected, copy the Blue Ribbon and place it on your site. Link it to the post announcing your win, so that your friends can see the announcement.
use this link (not required) to link your blue ribbon to the announcement post:
October 2007- Floyds Best Blog Winners:
You have been hand picked as the Cream of the Crop by:
Floyd Craig and William Thomas
And The Winners From BumpZee Are:
And The Winners From MyBlogLog are:

The Winners From BlogCatalog Are:

Last Months Winners (Sept. 2007):
Winners From BumpZee Are: