Sunday, May 31, 2009

Last Survivor of 'Unsinkable' Titanic Dies at age 97

Millvina Dean, who as a baby was wrapped in a sack and lowered into a lifeboat in the frigid North Atlantic, died Sunday, having been the last survivor of 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic.

She was 97 years old, and she died where she had lived - in Southampton, England, the city her family had tried to leave behind when it took the ship's ill-fated maiden voyage, bound for America.

She died in her sleep early Sunday, her friend Gunter Babler told the Associated Press. It was the 98th anniversary of the launch of the ship that was billed as "practically unsinkable."

Babler said Dean's longtime companion, Bruno Nordmanis, called him in Switzerland to say staff at Woodlands Ridge Nursing Home in Southampton discovered Dean in her room Sunday morning. He said she had been hospitalized with pneumonia last week but she had recovered and returned to the home.

A staff nurse at the nursing home said late Sunday that no one would comment until administrators came on duty Monday morning. Dean just over 2 months old when the Titanic hit an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912. The ship sank in less than three hours.

Dean was one of 706 people — mostly women and children — who survived. Her father was among the 1,517 who died.

Babler, who is head of the Switzerland Titanic Society, said Dean was a "very good friend of very many years."

"I met her through the Titanic society but she became a friend and I went to see very every month or so," he said.

The pride of the White Star line, the Titanic had a mahogany-paneled smoking room, a swimming pool and a squash court. But it did not have enough lifeboats for all of its 2,200 passengers and crew.

Dean's family was steerage passengers setting out from the English port of Southampton for a new life in the United States. Her father had sold his pub and hoped to open a tobacconists' shop in Kansas City, Missouri, where his wife had relatives.

Initially scheduled to travel on another ship, the family was transferred to the Titanic because of a coal strike. Four days out of port and about 600 kilometers (380 miles) southeast of Newfoundland, the ship hit an iceberg. The impact buckled the Titanic's hull and sent sea water pouring into six of its supposedly watertight compartments.

Dean said her father's quick actions saved his family. He felt the ship scrape the iceberg and hustled the family out of its third-class quarters and toward the lifeboat that would take them to safety. "That's partly what saved us — because he was so quick. Some people thought the ship was unsinkable," Dean told the British Broadcasting Corp. in 1998.

Wrapped in a sack against the Atlantic chill, Dean was lowered into a lifeboat. Her 2-year-old brother Bertram and her mother Georgette also survived.
"She said goodbye to my father and he said he'd be along later," Dean said in 2002. "I was put into lifeboat 13. It was a bitterly cold night and eventually we were picked up by the Carpathia."

The family was taken to New York, and then returned to England with other survivors aboard the rescue ship Adriatic. Dean did not know she had been aboard the Titanic until she was 8 years old, when her mother, about to remarry, told her about her father's death. Her mother, always reticent about the tragedy, died in 1975 at age 95.

Born in London on Feb. 2, 1912, Elizabeth Gladys "Millvina" Dean spent most of her life in the English seaside town of Southampton, Titanic's home port. She never married, and worked as a secretary, retiring in 1972 from an engineering firm.
She moved into a nursing home after breaking her hip about three years ago. She had to sell several Titanic mementoes to raise funds, prompting her friends to set up a fund to subsidize her nursing home fees. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the stars of the film "Titanic," pledged their support to the fund last month.

For most of her life Dean had no contact with Titanic enthusiasts and rarely spoke about the disaster. Dean said she had seen the 1958 film "A Night to Remember" with other survivors, but found it so upsetting that she declined to watch any other attempts to put the disaster on celluloid, including the 1997 blockbuster "Titanic."
She began to take part in Titanic-related activities in the 1980s, after the discovery of the ship's wreck in 1985 sparked renewed interest in the disaster. At a memorial service in England, Dean met a group of American Titanic enthusiasts who invited her to a meeting in the U.S.

She visited Belfast to see where the ship was built, attended Titanic conventions around the world — where she was mobbed by autograph seekers — and participated in radio and television documentaries about the sinking.

Charles Haas, president of the New-Jersey based Titanic International Society, said Dean was happy to talk to children about the Titanic. "She had a soft spot for children," he said. "I remember watching was little tiny children came over clutching pieces of paper for her to sign. She was very good with them, very warm."
In 1997, Dean crossed the Atlantic by boat for the first time, on the QEII luxury liner, and finally visited Kansas City, declaring it "so lovely I could stay here five years." She was active well into her 90s, but missed the commemoration of the 95th anniversary of the disaster in 2007 after breaking her hip.

Dean had no memories of the sinking and said she preferred it that way. "I wouldn't want to remember, really," she told The Associated Press in 1997. She opposed attempts to raise the wreck 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) from the sea bed.
"I don't want them to raise it, I think the other survivors would say exactly the same," she said in 1997. "That would be horrible."

The last survivor with memories of the sinking — and the last American survivor — was Lillian Asplund, who was 5 at the time. She died in May 2006 at the age of 99. The second-last survivor, Barbara Joyce West Dainton of Truro, England, died in October 2007 aged 96.

Source: abcnews

Friday, May 29, 2009

7.1 Earthquake Rocks Honduras and Belize

A powerful earthquake collapsed more than two dozen homes in Honduras and Belize early Thursday, killing a teenager and injuring two more. The magnitude-7.1 quake struck at 4:24 a.m. EDT. (May 28)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Web- and computer Is an Ally in Quit-Smoking Fight

May 26, 2009 -- As every smoker knows, it's incredibly hard to quit, but help might be as close as the keyboard on your computer, new research suggests.

Web- and computer-based smoking-cessation programs, including some that are interactive, seem to be effective, shows a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Such methods are cost-effective alternatives to telephone hotlines or counseling services, study researcher Joel Moskowitz, PhD, tells WebMD. Moskowitz is director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health.

These web-based programs generally help users evaluate the benefits of quitting tobacco, telling them "how much money you'll save, how much longer you'll live," he says. "They set up rewards for smokers. Some are discussion forums, like blogs. On some you can post pictures. Some have hundreds of thousands of people coming in and going out."

"Some have 'quit meters' you can download to your desktop," Moskowitz says. "They help you track how long you've quit. It's important to have immediate reinforcement, to make a public commitment."

The researchers analyzed pooled data from 22 trials in which smokers enrolled in web- or computer-based smoking-cessation programs, and smokers who quit without them. The trials had data on almost 30,000 participants, including 16,050 who were randomly assigned to a web- or computer-based program. The trials were conducted in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, and Switzerland.

Although cessation rates at three months were similar between the two groups, the researchers found that 9.9% managed to stay away from smoking for a year after the web- or computer-based cessation programs, compared to 5.7% who were not enrolled in a computer- or web-based program.

Data spanned 19 years and included three to 12 months' worth of follow-up information.

"Currently, Web and computer-based smoking cessation programs are not commonly recommended because evidence of their effectiveness has been inconsistent," study researcher Seung-Kwon Myung, MD, staff physician at the Smoking Cessation Clinic at the National Cancer Center in South Korea, says in a news release. "But our review of the evidence to date suggests that Web and computer-based programs have a legitimate place in tobacco dependence treatment options."

Myung, who conducted research while a visiting scholar at Berkeley, says computer-based programs won't necessarily supplant existing treatment options, such as medications or counseling. But they could help people who can't afford to pay for treatment or who are concerned about the stigma associated with seeking treatment.

Moskowitz tells WebMD that many smokers may prefer computer or web systems over face-to-face or person-to-person phone counseling sessions to avoid embarrassment.

"Some of these programs give immediate reinforcement, and that's important," Moskowitz says. And computer programs can easily be translated into many languages, which means they could benefit a diverse group of people.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Three cases of swine flu has confirmed in Baltimore

Baltimore has its first three confirmed cases of H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, the city health department said Sunday.

All of the three people infected with the virus are adults, but not elderly, according to health officials. One of the people who fell ill is in a local hospital.

Health officials have released few details about the infected individuals, citing confidentiality.

The three cases are still under investigation, according to Dr. Anne Bailowitz, medical director for Environmental Health and Emergency Programs at the City Health Department.

To date, there have been 46 confirmed cases reported in Maryland, according to the health department. There have been no deaths resulting from the virus in the state.

"We continue to closely monitor these cases and the spread of H1N1 flu here in the city," Interim Commissioner Olivia Farrow said in a news release. "The outbreak of H1N1 in Maryland continues to involve generally mild symptoms similar to ordinary seasonal flu."

Initially, the virus caused widespread panic. But health officials now believe that cases have been mostly mild. Health officials have even backed off on closing schools at which students are sick.

In a statement, Mayor Sheila Dixon said: "I urge city residents to do their part to stop the spread of this illness by washing their hands frequently, practicing good cough hygiene and staying home if flu-like symptoms do develop."


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Iraq bombings killed 26 in Baghdad and Kirkuk

At least 23 people, including three US soldiers, have been killed in a series of deadly bombings in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad and Kirkuk.

In the deadliest attack, a suicide bomber struck at a market in Baghdad's Dora district, killing 12 people, including three US soldiers.

The Kirkuk blast targeted members of the Awakening Council, a US-allied Sunni militia, killing eight people.

A third bombing inside a Baghdad police station killed three recruits.
Concerns over violence

The attacks come a day after at least 40 people were killed in a car bomb attack in north-western Baghdad.

Both the Iraqi government and the US say recent attacks are isolated incidents that do not undermine security gains. They say the attacks are not as sophisticated as they once were.

April was the bloodiest month in Iraq this year, with a 40% rise in the number of people killed over March - but the toll for May had been lower.

However the BBC's Natalia Antelava, in Baghdad, says many people in the capital feel the situation is deteriorating and could get worse once US troops withdraw from Iraqi cities at the end of June.

Three blasts

The US military said it could not immediately confirm Iraqi police reports of the deaths of three US soldiers in the attack in Dora, a district that was one of the city's most dangerous areas until a year ago.

The Kirkuk blast earlier on Thursday targeted members of the so-called Awakening Councils - a movement of former militias and insurgents who have turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and allied themselves with the US and Iraqi militaries.

The attacker, dressed in the group's uniform, joined a group of men waiting to receive their pay and then detonated explosives, officials said.

The attack at Baghdad's Al-Mamoun police station, in the west of the city, claimed the lives of three policemen and injured 19 people, including eight civilians.
Police said the bomb was planted inside a garbage container - the first time an explosive had gone off inside a police station.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009


It's been a long time since smokers could light up on a plane or during a business meeting, but a new product is allowing them to do exactly that.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wolfram Alpha Launched Computational knowledge search engine

How long does it take to get to Saturn at, say, the speed of light?

With Wolfram Alpha, the online "computational knowledge engine" that launched Monday, the answer - 75 minutes - can be found in a fraction of a second.

Web users can submit customized questions to the service, and Wolfram Alpha will try to work out the answer on the fly. The chance that a healthy 35-year-old woman will contract heart disease in the next 10 years? One in 167. The temperature in Washington, D.C., during the July 1976 bicentennial? An average of 74 degrees.

For questions like these, Google and Wikipedia, perhaps the two best known online reference tools, would search through vast databases of existing Web pages hoping for a match.

Not so with Wolfram Alpha. "We're not using the things people have written down on the Web," said Stephen Wolfram, the project's creator and the founder of Wolfram Research Inc., which is based in Champaign, Ill. "We're trying to use the actual corpus of human knowledge to compute specific answers."

To do that, Wolfram and his team of human curators have equipped their system with a wide array of mathematical equations, as well as 10 terabytes of data from thousands of sources: scientific journals, encyclopedias, government repositories and any other source the company feels is credible. That generally doesn't include user-created websites.

How much data is 10 terabytes? Ask Wolfram Alpha: It'll tell you that's about half the text-based content held by the Library of Congress.

And there's more to come.

Adding more data and computational capability is an endless process, Wolfram said. "The main thing we have to do is to work with experts in every possible domain."

Whether all that specific knowledge will translate into advertising dollars remains to be seen. Some analysts are skeptical about the site's potential to become a Google-like thoroughfare for online consumption.

Most search revenue comes from people doing commerce-related searches, said Douglas Clinton, an analyst at investment firm Piper Jaffray Cos. "You're not going to want an answer from Wolfram Alpha's computer about what the best digital camera is, because there's not really an algorithmic answer to a question like that."

As a much-hyped entrant into the knowledge search market, Wolfram Alpha has not escaped comparisons to Google and speculation about whether it could steal some of the search giant's massive market share.

But their mission statements make it clear that the two services are not identical.

Google famously hopes to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

The focus of Wolfram Alpha, on the other hand, is to "make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything."

Lofty hopes, but neither is there yet.

Wolfram Alpha can display the molecular structure of the solvent acetone. It can list recent earthquakes near most U.S. cities. And it can tell you the rate of inflation in Tanzania.

Yet it gets tripped up on a question as simple as "What time is it?"

As Wolfram himself points out, making the engine smarter is not just a matter of shoveling in more data. Even when the answer already exists in the database, the software may simply be unable to understand the question.

"What time is it in California," for instance, yields the correct result.

Half the battle, then, is teaching the program to parse human language so it knows what it's being asked to do.

But as rough as it may seem now, Wolfram Alpha looks to be the leading edge of a newer, smarter crop of search engines.

It's the use of so-called semantic technologies, where computers grapple with concepts and simple learning, that may define the next generation of Web services.

Does that mean artificial intelligence? Not quite yet, said James Hendler, a professor of computer science at New York's Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

"Computers are getting very good at the sort of powerful learning that comes from recognizing patterns in very large sets of data," he said. "But they still haven't gotten at all good at figuring out the very general, intuitive, complex things that make us human."


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Women won four seats in Kuwait parliamentary elections

SANA, Yemen - Women won four seats in the Kuwaiti parliamentary elections over the weekend, a historic first and one of several electoral surprises that appeared to reflect a deep popular frustration with the political deadlock in the oil-rich gulf state of Kuwait.

Liberal Kuwaitis celebrated the landmark with fireworks and parties after the elections on Saturday. Women gained the right to vote and run for office in 2005, but none had been elected until now. Many conservatives resisted the idea, and in recent weeks Islamists urged voters not to elect women to the 50-seat assembly.

The elections came two months after Kuwait's ruler, Sheik Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, dissolved Parliament to end its latest standoff with the cabinet. It was the third time in three years that there had been such a standoff. Each time, lawmakers accused cabinet members of misconduct or corruption, creating a noisy spectacle and cabinet resignations. Sheik Sabah has consistently reappointed as prime minister his nephew, Sheik Nasser al-Muhammad al-Sabah.

The tensions have slowed economic reforms in Kuwait that many analysts view as essential.

Such tensions seem likely to continue, despite some noteworthy electoral shifts, political analysts said. Sunni Islamist candidates, who gained ground last year in the most recent election, lost some seats on Saturday, results showed. Liberals and independent candidates slightly increased their representation.

But many incumbents retained seats, including some who are widely considered to be responsible for the confrontations with the executive branch.

Voter turnout was down, and some popular incumbents won by narrow margins, in an apparent sign of discontent with many members of Parliament over the political turmoil.

"The main theme of this election was frustration," said Ghanim al-Najjar, a newspaper columnist who is a professor of political science at Kuwait University. “People have a negative attitude toward the M.P.’s.”

Kuwaitis are proud of their relatively democratic political traditions, an exception in a region dominated by autocracies. Parliament sets the emir’s salary and is the nation’s sole source of legislation.

But many believe that their country, one of the world's leading oil exporters, has fallen behind its autocratic gulf neighbors Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Some Kuwaitis are eager for public investment and economic reforms, and say the constant parliamentary battles are to blame.

The election of women to the assembly is a separate matter and a source of intense pride for many Kuwaitis.

The winners were Rola Dashti, an American-educated economist; Salwa al-Jassar and Aseel al-Awadi, who are both professors; and Massouma al-Mubarak, who in 2005 became the country’s first female cabinet minister.

Some Kuwaitis said the election results might be less important than the announcement of the new cabinet in the coming weeks.

"If it's the same cabinet and the same prime minister, we will get the same result again," said Nasser al-Sane, an Islamist and former Parliament member.


Friday, May 15, 2009

British fighter jet crashes in southern Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) - A British Harrier fighter jet crashed in southern Afghanistan Thursday, injuring the pilot, NATO said.

The alliance said in a statement that the aircraft had made an emergency landing at Kandahar Airfield in the south of the country. The pilot ejected and was believed to have suffered only minor injuries. There were no other casualties.

"The exact cause of the incident is not yet known, however there is currently no suggestion that the incident was caused by enemy action," the alliance said in a statement.

Earlier a spokesman blamed mechanical failure for the crash, which he said had taken place shortly after takeoff.

Royal Air Force has had BAE Harrier GR7 aircraft deployed in Afghanistan since 2006, adding more advanced Harrier GR9s in early 2007.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

'Slumdog' Child Star's Home Torn Down

The 10-year-old child star of "Slumdog Millionaire" was awakened Thursday by a policeman wielding a bamboo stick and ordered out of his home. Minutes later it was bulldozed along with dozens of other shanties. (May 14)

Family Of Woman Who Died While Sick With Swine Flu

HARLINGEN, Texas - The family of a woman from Harlingen, who died of the swine flu, is exploring the possibility of filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Steven Trunnell, husband of Judy Trunnell, who died May 5, has filed a discovery petition in court against Smithfield Foods, Inc. and its subsidiary Granjas Carroll de Mexico.

The widower Trunnell says in the petition that Smithfield Foods, Inc. has a pig farm in Mexico, where the swine flu is believed to have originated. He says the pigs are kept in deplorable conditions on the farm in La Gloria.

Judy Trunnell, 33, had given birth to a baby by emergency caesarian section approximately two weeks before her death. She worked as a special education teacher in the Mercedes Independent School District.

Trunnell's death was the first reported swine flu death in the U.S.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

General Instructions for Disposable Respirators

This podcast, intended for the general public, demonstrates how to put on and take off disposable respirators that are to be used in areas affected by the influenza outbreak.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Google unveils new search tools

Google said in its quest to create the perfect search engine, it cannot afford to rest on its laurels.

The company's comments came at an event billed as a "state of the union" on search as it unveiled new products that aim to push search in a new direction.

Google has over 63% of the US market compared to rival Yahoo with 20%.

"The race in search is far from over and innovation and continued improvement is absolutely pivotal," said Google's Marissa Mayer.

"I've said this many times but search is still in its infancy. Our engineers are worried about what is the next big thing in search and how are they going to find it," said Ms Mayer who is the vice president of search products and user experience.

She said last year Google released over 365 products and in the first quarter of this year it was 120. Ms Mayer added that this was proof that "Google gets better all the time."

Google has in the past said that despite its lead in the marketplace, users were "one click away" from switching to other alternatives.

Vanessa Fox of SearchEngineLand told the BBC that Google's ability to constantly innovate gives them a leading edge.

"Google is saying we have to provide for all searchers and do things at scale. It means they have to launch all sorts of features while some companies can concentrate on just one thing. The key thing behind why they are still ahead is because they are able to innovate at such a pace," said Ms Fox.

Google Squared

During the "Searchology" event at Google's Mountain View headquarters, Ms Mayer and her team showcased four new products that she said would give users a "different way to look at the web."

One of the more experimental was called Google Squared which will go public in the next month or so. It takes information from the web and displays it in a spreadsheet in "split seconds," something Ms Mayer said would normally take someone a half a day to do.

During the demonstration, a query for "small dog" was typed into the search box. Seconds later a table popped up showing photographs of various dogs, their origin, weight and height in a clear and simple layout.

While Ms Mayer described this product as "transformative" she would only hint at the specific techniques that Google uses to drive this feature.

"I think we can open the kimono a little bit without talking about the computer science behind it.

"What they are basically doing is looking for structures on the web that seem to imply facts. Like something 'is' something.

"Different tables, different structures, and then corroborating the evidence around whether or not something is a fact by looking at whether that fact occurs across pages.

"This is all in the secret sauce of what we are doing and it takes an incredible amount of compute power to create those squares," said Ms Mayer.

"Refine, filter and view"

Google Search Options is a tool that is aimed at letting users "slice and dice" results so they can manipulate the information and get what they want faster.

They come into play after a normal web search and allow users to drill down into the results by offering an option for different genres like product reviews, forum posts or videos. Other choices include recently added blogs, images, timelines and so on.

Ms Mayer said this new feature should help people who struggle with the "vexing" problem of exactly what query they should type into the search box.

It is meant to give users the opportunity to "refine, filter and view results in a different way."

Another feature is called "Rich Snippets" which are search results that return more information in every listing.

For example, users looking for reviews of a new restaurant might get a "rich snippet" of average review scores, number of reviews and the restaurant's price range.

"This is a step toward making the whole internet smarter," said Google product manager Kavi Goel.


A final feature had Ms Mayer "reaching for the stars" with an app for mobile phones using the Android operating system.

"For a long time here at Google we joked could we actually find physical things like keys and now with the power and technology of Android, coupled with search, you can see we are starting to find some physical things like stars," said Ms Mayer.

Skymap displays the constellations. By using the smart phone's GPS capability, it offers the user a dynamic star map that knows where they are standing and which way they are pointing

The feature came about as a result of Google's 20% time that allows engineers to spend one fifth of their time working on pet projects.

The app is now available on the Android app market.

"Clearly Google is still pushing the envelope with all these new additions," said Rob Hof, Silicon Valley editor of Business Week.

"They are certainly continuing to improve daily. Whether it makes a difference and will stave off the competition, I don't know. But they are not standing still."

Ms Mayer said keeping the user happy is at the heart of everything they do.

"There is a shoe company called Stuart Weitzman and their slogan is "a little obsessed with shoes."

"Google is a little more than obsessed with search," confessed Ms Mayer.


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