Indian boy mirrors plight of millions of kids


NEW DELHI – Arun Kumar was born to disabled parents, beaten by his grandparents, ran away from home, got a job in a garment factory and had all his savings stolen by the police.

He was only 11.

Today, at 13, he shares a cramped, dingy shelter with 63 other runaways and former street kids in New Delhi.

He is one of the lucky ones.

Twenty years after the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, multitudes of children across the globe are still suffering from poverty, abuse and disease.

Each year, 4 million babies die before they are a month old, 150 million children are engaged in child labor, more than 500 million have been affected by violence and 51 million have fallen so far through the cracks they have not even had their births registered, according to the United Nations.

In China, infant mortality rates are five times higher in rural areas than in the wealthier cities. In Mexico, more than a million children under the age of 14 are working.

The U.N. convention, adopted Nov. 20, 1989 and ratified by every country except the United States and Somalia, calls on nations to protect children from abuse and sexual exploitation, reduce child mortality and give children access to health care and education.

There have been successes. Fewer young children are dying or underfed, more are attending school and getting vaccinated and dozens of countries have adopted laws recognizing child rights.

In Russia, an epidemic of homeless children in the 1990s was beaten back by a concerted government effort. In South Africa, some children infected with HIV are getting lifesaving medicines that were out of reach only a few years ago.

President Bill Clinton’s administration signed the convention but never submitted it to the U.S. Senate for ratification because of claims that it infringed on the rights of parents and was inconsistent with state and local laws. But President Barack Obama says he wants to try again for ratification.

The convention “has had positive impacts across the world, but we need to say it hasn’t had as much impact as we’d have hoped,” said Jennifer Grant, a child rights specialist with Save the Children in London. “Children are not a political priority for governments.”

Some of the worst abuses play out every day on the dusty streets of India, where government and aid groups’ efforts to help children are overwhelmed by the staggering poverty and the dislocation of millions of rural villagers who flood the cities in search of jobs.

Two million children under 5 die every year, more than 20 million are not in primary school and child marriage is routine. Children, some as young as 3 and clutching baby siblings, work the traffic-clogged streets begging for money. Others are constantly on the move, living on the construction sites where their parents work, with no access to education.

Arun was born in the northern Indian province of Himachal Pradesh to parents who cannot hear or speak, and grew up in his grandparents’ crowded house. He was so ignored his family thought he had inherited his parents’ disability, until at age 7 his grandfather sat down with Arun and taught him to speak.

As he grew older, Arun, a short, slight boy, began skipping school and fighting with his younger cousins, who teased him about his parents and his own late development.

“I used to make mistakes,” he said of his behavior. And the abuse began. His grandmother would hit him with her hands. His grandfather, who had so patiently taught him to speak, used a stick, he said.

“Suddenly he started beating me. All the love was gone,” he said.

One Sunday when he was 10, he took the family goats to the pasture and left them to graze while he went off to play with friends. When he returned, one of the goats had disappeared.

His grandmother viciously beat him, he said, looking at the floor, biting his nails and nervously cracking his fingers.

He had finally had enough. He took 2,000 rupees (about $40) he had collected over nearly three years by saving the tiny sums his parents gave him for treats and he fled to Delhi.

“I had no plan. I just got on the bus,” Arun said.

Many runaways become street children, picking pockets, begging or scavenging to survive. Others end up in the sex trade. But Arun had the good fortune to befriend an older boy on the bus, who brought Arun to a garment factory in New Delhi, the capital, where they both got jobs.

Arun was trained on a sewing machine and stitched together jeans. He was fed, given a place to stay and wasn’t beaten, he said — relatively good conditions for a child factory worker.

After a year, he collected his 13,000 rupees (about $260) in earnings, gave 2,000 ($40) to his friend, and quit. He bought new clothes, shoes, a small radio, and treated himself to a lavish meal of chicken curry and rice, he said.

At the end of the day, a police officer confronted the 11-year-old, frisked him and stole his remaining 9,000 rupees ($180), he said. Arun was then sent to a shelter that he compares to a prison.

Finally, after insisting on going back to school, he was moved to a boys shelter run by the Salaam Baalak Trust in Paharganj, a slum.

Now he lives with 64 other boys in a gray room on the second floor of a dank community center. A world map is painted on one wall. A mural of Batman, Spiderman and Superman is on another. Dozens of thin mattresses are stacked in the corner.

At mealtime, the boys roll out long mats on the floor, sit cross-legged and eat. During the day, they pull out desks and take classes. In the evening it becomes a recreational room and at night, they scatter the mattresses across the floor and sleep.

“This is their home, and we are their family,” said Anjani Tiwari, the shelter’s director.

The children get supplemental schooling and vocational training at the center, and some have gone on to work as photographers, tailors and cafe workers, he said.

Everything that is Arun’s — clothes, books, a karate poster, a broken camera — is jammed into a tiny rusted locker hidden in the corner of a stairwell.

“I’m going to show you one of my favorite things,” he said with a smile. He dug through his locker for several minutes, but couldn’t find what he was looking for — a small toy elephant.

“Maybe I left it outside the locker last night and someone took it, or maybe I lost it,” he said quietly.

Quick restart of Big Bang machine stuns scientists

GENEVA – Scientists moved Saturday to prepare the world’s largest atom smasher for exploring the depths of matter after successfully restarting the $10 billion machine following more than a year of repairs.

The nuclear physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider were surprised that they could so quickly get beams of protons whizzing near the speed of light during the restart late Friday, said James Gillies, spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

The machine was heavily damaged by a simple electrical fault in September last year.

Some scientists had gone home early Friday and had to be called back as the project jumped ahead, Gillies said.

At a meeting early Saturday “they basically had to tear up the first few pages of their PowerPoint presentation which had outlined the procedures that they were planning to follow,” he said. “That was all wrapped up by midnight. They are going through the paces really very fast.”

The European Organization for Nuclear Research has taken the restart of the collider step by step to avoid further setbacks as it moves toward new scientific experiments — probably starting in January — regarding the makeup of matter and the universe.

CERN, as it is known, had hoped by 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) Saturday to get the beams to travel the 27-kilometer (17-mile) circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border, but things went so well Friday evening that they had achieved the operation seven hours earlier.

Praise from scientists around the world was quick. “First beam through the Atlas!” whooped an Internet message from Adam Yurkewicz, an American scientist working on the massive Atlas detector on the machine.

“I congratulate the scientists and engineers that have worked to get the LHC back up and running,” said Dennis Kovar of the U.S. Department of Energy, which participates in the project.

He called the machine “unprecedented in size, in complexity, and in the scope of the international collaboration that has built it over the last 15 years.”

Later Saturday the organizers decided to test all the protection equipment while there still is a very low intensity proton beam circulating in the collider at 11,000 times a second. The tests will take 10 days, Gillies said.

The current beam has relatively few protons to avoid damage to the LHC should control of them be lost.

Gillies said CERN decided against immediately testing the LHC’s ability to speed up the beams to higher energy or to start with low-energy collisions that would help scientist calibrate their detection equipment.

In the meantime CERN is using about 2,000 superconducting magnets — some of them 15 meters (50 feet) long — to improve control of the beams of billions of protons so they will remain tightly bunched and stay clear of sensitive equipment.

Gillies said the scientists are being very conservative.

“They’re leaving a lot of time so that the guys who are operating the machine are under no pressure whatsoever to tick off the boxes and move forward,” he said.

Officials said Friday evening’s progress was an important step on the road toward scientific discoveries at the LHC, which are expected in 2010.

“We’ve still got some way to go before physics can begin, but with this milestone we’re well on the way,” CERN Director General Rolf Heuer said.

With great fanfare, CERN circulated its first beams Sept. 10, 2008. But the machine was sidetracked nine days later when a badly soldered electrical splice overheated and set off a chain of damage to the magnets and other parts of the collider.

Steve Myers, CERN’s director for accelerators, said the improvements since then have made the LHC a far better understood machine than it was a year ago.

The LHC is expected soon to be running with more energy the world’s current most powerful accelerator, the Tevatron at Fermilab near Chicago. It is supposed to keep ramping up to seven times the energy of Fermilab in coming years.

This will allow the collisions between protons to give insights into dark matter and what gives mass to other particles, and to show what matter was in the microseconds of rapid cooling after the Big Bang that many scientists theorize marked the creation of the universe billions of years ago.

When the machine is fully operational, the magnets will control the beams of protons and send them in opposite directions through two parallel tubes the size of fire hoses. In rooms as large as cathedrals 300 feet (100 meters) below the ground the magnets will force them into huge detectors to record what happens.

The LHC operates at nearly absolute zero temperature, colder than outer space, which allows the superconducting magnets to guide the protons most efficiently.

Physicists have used smaller, room-temperature colliders for decades to study the atom. They once thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of the atom’s nucleus, but the colliders showed that they are made of quarks and gluons and that there are other forces and particles. And scientists still have other questions about antimatter, dark matter and supersymmetry they want to answer with CERN’s new collider.

The Superconducting Super Collider being built in Texas would have been bigger than the LHC, but in 1993 the U.S. Congress canceled it after costs soared and questions were raised about its scientific value

Gillies said the LHC should be ramped up to 3.5 trillion electron volts some time next year, which will be 3 1/2 times as powerful as Fermilab. The two laboratories are friendly rivals, working on equipment and sharing scientists.

But each would be delighted to make the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, the particle or field that theoretically gives mass to other particles. That is widely expected to deserve the Nobel Prize for physics.

More than 8,000 physicists from other labs around the world also have work planned for the LHC. The organization is run by its 20 European member nations, with support from other countries, including observers Japan, India, Russia and the U.S. that have made big contributions.

Obama trumpets Asia trip as boost to US economy

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s eight-day trip to Asia produced no tangible wins for the United States, though he is citing talks with Asian allies that he says could help create thousands of job and open new markets for American goods in the future.

Citing progress on a trip that took him from Tokyo to Seoul, Obama noted that “Asia is a region where we now buy more goods and do more trade with than any other place in the world — commerce that supports millions of jobs back home.”

“I spoke with leaders in every nation I visited about what we can do to sustain this economic recovery and bring back jobs and prosperity for our people — a task I will continue to focus on relentlessly in the weeks and months ahead,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address taped while he was in Seoul, the South Korean capital, and released Saturday.

The president pitched his trip as a way to reintroduce the U.S. to those trading partners, including China.

The Chinese government is the United States’ biggest foreign creditor with $800 billion of federal U.S. debt, which gives it extraordinary power in the relationship. And Beijing feels the global recession, sparked by U.S. financial industry excesses, vindicates its authoritarian leadership.

Obama told Americans that there can be no solutions to climate change or energy without the cooperation of Asian and Pacific nations. Repeating a theme he used abroad, Obama told the U.S. audience that the discussions directly affect U.S. national security.

“We made progress with China and Russia in sending a unified message to Iran and North Korea that they must live up to their international obligations and either forsake nuclear weapons or face the consequences,” he said.

Obama’s trip included a town hall-style event with students in Shanghai and discussion about a coming climate summit in Copenhagen. He also prodded China to loosen restrictions on Internet access and increase freedoms of speech and religion.

Obama repeatedly has said the United States does not wish to contain China’s rise. Instead, on Saturday, he said that if the United States can increase exports to the Asia-Pacific region by 5 percent, then the markets would create “hundreds of thousands” of jobs as a trading partner.

“Even though it will take time, I can promise you this,” Obama said. “We are moving in the right direction … the steps we are taking are helping and I will not let up until businesses start hiring again, unemployed Americans start working again, and we rebuild this economy stronger and more prosperous than it was before.”

1st Senate vote looms on health legislation

WASHINGTON – A crucial first Senate vote on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul in a rare Saturday night session looms as a test of Democratic unity and the president’s prestige.

Democratic leaders are optimistic of success, but they need every Democrat and both independents to vote “yes,” and two moderates remained uncommitted ahead of the roll call, which is expected around 8 p.m. The vote will determine whether debate can go forward on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2,074-page bill to dramatically remake the U.S. health care system over the next decade.

Most everyone would be required to purchase insurance under Reid’s legislation, and billions in new taxes would be levied on insurers and high-income Americans to help extend coverage to 30 million uninsured. Insurance companies would no longer be allowed to deny coverage to people with medical conditions or drop coverage when someone gets sick.

The two holdouts are Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. A third centrist, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, announced Friday that he’d be supporting his party on the test vote, while cautioning that it didn’t mean he’d be with them on the final vote.

“It is not for or against the new Senate health care bill,” Nelson said. “It is only to begin debate and an opportunity to make improvements. If you don’t like a bill, why block your own opportunity to amend it?”

If that same reasoning holds with Lincoln and Landrieu, Reid, D-Nev., will have the 60 votes he needs to prevail in the 100-seat Senate. The 40 Republicans are unanimously opposed.

Landrieu has made comments suggesting she’ll support the move to debate, but Lincoln, who faces a difficult re-election next year, carefully avoided taking any public position Friday.

Republicans used their weekly radio and Internet address to slam the legislation, calling it a government takeover of health care that would increase taxes and raise medical costs.

“This 2,000-page bill will drive up the cost of health care insurance and medical care, not down,” Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said in the address. “This is not true health care reform, and it is not what the American people want. This bill will result in higher premiums and higher health care costs for Americans — period.”

Democrats said their legislation could make historic and necessary improvements in the country’s social safety net.

“Prices of health care are marching relentlessly upwards, and so too many people don’t have coverage,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. “The purpose of all of this is to try to get a handle on it somehow.”

The White House issued a statement late Friday praising the Senate measure. “This bill provides the necessary health reforms that the administration seeks — affordable, quality care within reach for the tens of millions of Americans who do not have it today, and stability and security for the hundreds of millions who do,” the statement said.

The action in the Senate comes two weeks after the House approved a health overhaul bill of its own on a 220-215 vote. After the vote Saturday night, senators will leave for a Thanksgiving recess. Upon their return, assuming Democrats prevail on the vote, they will launch into weeks or more of unpredictable debate on the health care bill, with numerous amendments expected from both sides of the aisle and more 60-vote hurdles along the way.

Senate leaders hope to pass their bill by the end of the year. If that happens, January would bring work to reconcile the House and Senate versions before a final package could land on Obama’s desk.

The bills have many similarities, including the new requirements on insurers and the creation of new purchasing marketplaces called exchanges where self-employed individuals and small businesses could go to shop for and compare coverage plans. One option in the exchanges would be a new government-offered plan, something that’s opposed by private insurers and business groups.

Differences include requirements for employers. The House bill would require medium and large businesses to cover their employees, while the Senate bill would not require them to offer coverage but would make them pay a fee if the government ends up subsidizing employees’ coverage.

Another difference is in how they’re paid for. The Senate bill includes a tax on high-value insurance policies that’s not part of the House bill, while the House would levy a new income tax on upper-income Americans that’s not in the Senate measure. The Senate measure also raises the Medicare payroll tax on income above $200,000 annually for individuals and $250,000 for couples. Both bills rely on more than $400 billion in cuts to Medicare.

The Senate bill was written by Reid in private negotiations with White House officials, combining elements of two committee-passed bills and making additional changes with an eye to getting the necessary 60 votes.

Along the way, Reid sweetened the pot for individual senators, adding federal funds for Louisiana and agreeing to support an amendment written by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that would expand eligibility for the purchasing exchanges.

How Twitter is ruining comedians’ career

The curious case of Twitter: Comedians claim that their stand-up routines are being pilfered by viewers who then reproduce their work online.

 Comedians are fuming as their jokes are being plagiarised on Twitter and other websites.

Comics have complained that the reason some of their gags were falling flat was that many people in the audience had already read them online.

They claim that their stand-up routines are being pilfered by viewers who then reproduce their work online.

Legal experts have suggested that comedians should save their jokes on computer as soon as they write them and record the date to provide evidence to fight potential copyright cases.

An up-and-coming British comedian has raised the issue after becoming embroiled in a row with a comedy website.

Gary Delaney noticed that a number of his one-liners had been posted without attribution on, a huge online joke compendium. When he contacted the site and requested that they be taken down, he was subjected to a torrent of abuse at the hands of its users.

The comedian was first alerted to the situation when he noticed that crowds seemed to know what he was about to say, even while he was performing relatively recent material.

Delaney told the comedy website Chortle: “A couple of jokes, I can tell from the audience reaction, have very quickly started to get around.

“A joke I had… I could tell that sometimes the audience knew it before I did the punchline, when I hadn’t even been doing it that long.” Delaney also said that his work was being devalued by people posting his jokes on the micro-blogging site Twitter.

“If I post a joke on Twitter, I can’t get annoyed if people post that round because I’ve already done it on a public forum,” the Telegraph quoted him as saying.

“But the jokes from my club set are how I make my living, my best and biggest jokes. It used to be the case that a comic’s set would last decades. But now I’ve got jokes I wrote in May, June and July that aren’t working by October because they’ve been absolutely trashed around the Internet,” he added.

New software for sharing quick pictures on networking sites

JOY OF SHARING: Developed by US-based firm AirMe Inc, photoWall enables users to take photos, instantly tag them and send to their Flickr or Facebook accounts.

Internet social networking is set to enter a new phase with the launch of a new photography software that allows sharing of pictures taken through mobile phones instantly.

Developed by US-based firm AirMe Inc, photoWall enables users to take photos, instantly tag them and send to their Flickr or Facebook accounts.

Users can also create an instant photo album on the web with respect to a context, to which multiple people can contribute from their mobiles.

PhotoWall, to be launched tomorrow, has been created to be “a global platform for sharing real time user generated mobile content”, Apporva Ruparel, co-founder and Vice-President Strategy and Marketing of AirMe, told PTI.

“PhotoWall is the only of its kind in the world which uploads pictures from mobile phone and can sync it to other social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter”, he said, adding it is “a free and light downloadable” application.

PhotoWall users can also add a seven-second voice tag, describing their click in their own voice, Ruparel said.

Being a country of people with very close social ties and a huge geographic spread, applications like photoWall bring family and friends closer, he said.

To a question he said, “PhotoWall has been field tested successfully in India on low end phones and our media upload performances have been benchmarked in low speed 2G networks.”

“PhotoWall’s quality control process does not allow any inappropriate content to be shared,” he added.

New handheld camera uses microwave signals to bring invisible into view

In the not-so-distant future, the technology may be customized to address many critical inspection needs. A normal handycam at a showroom

 A group of researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology in the US has developed a handheld camera that uses microwave signals to non-destructively peek inside materials and structures in real time.

The compact system can produce synthetically focused images of objects – at different planes in front of the camera – at speeds of up to 30 images per second. A laptop computer then collects the signal and displays the image in real-time for review. The entire system, powered by a battery similar to the size used in laptops, can run for several hours, rendering it portable. “In the not-so-distant future, the technology may be customized to address many critical inspection needs, including detecting defects in thermal insulating materials that are found in spacecraft heat insulating foam and tiles, space habitat structures, aircraft radomes and composite-strengthened concrete bridge members,” said Dr. Reza Zoughi, the Schlumberger Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering at Missouri S and T, who is leading the research effort.

The technology could help medical professionals detect and monitor a variety of skin conditions in humans, including cancer and burns. It could also help Homeland Security personnel detect concealed contraband (such as weapons). Even homeowners could see a direct benefit from the technology as it potentially could be used to detect termite damage.

The idea for developing a real-time, portable camera came to Zoughi in 1998 while he was on sabbatical in France. In 2007, Zoughi’s research group completed the first prototype and has spent the past two years increasing its size and overall efficiency.

“Unlike X-rays, microwaves are non-ionizing and may cause some heating effect,” Zoughi said. “However, the high sensitivity and other characteristics of this camera enables it to operate at a low-power level,” Zoughi added.

Currently, the camera operates in the transmission mode, meaning objects must pass between a transmitting source and its collector to be reviewed. The team is working on designing and developing a one-sided version of it, which will make it operate in a similar fashion to a video camera.

“Further down the road, we plan to develop a wide-band camera capable of producing 3D or holographic images,” Zoughi said.

Golden chariot for Chennimalai temple soon

A file picture of Golden Chairot at Sri Arunachaleswarar Temple, Tiruvannamalai

 A golden chariot would be built at a cost of Rs 1.50 crore for the Chennimalai temple near here, according to the Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR & CE) P R Sampath.

Inspecting the construction of a five tier ‘Rajagopuram’ of the temple on Friday night, he said it would be built with four kilograms of gold available in the temple and gold donations and funds collected from the public.

He said renovation work worth more than Rs 2 crore has been undertaken in the temple, including construction of a pilgrim waiting hall and a compound wall for the temple.

He said the Kasiviswanathar and Sri Margandewarar temples would also be developed in the hill temple premises at cost of Rs 80 lakh. All the development and renovation work would be completed within the end of this financial year.

A ration card in the name of Mahatma Gandhi!

Believe it or not — the authorities in Andhra Pradesh have issued a ration card in the name of Mahatma Gandhi along with his picture!

What is more shocking is that the card named Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi, as his father. Godse, however, has been misspelt as Godsay.

Chittoor district collector V. Seshadari has ordered a probe after the ration card, carrying a fictitious address, was detected during a verification drive in the district to wee out bogus cards.

The card was issued in Chuttagunta village of Ramachandrapuram mandal in Chittoor district. It carried the picture of Gandhi with the name of M.K. Gandhi Thatha (Thatha in Telugu means grandfather), age 65, father’s name Godsay, address 15-46541, Gandhi Street, Gandhi Road. The address was that of a fair price shop owner.

Mr. Seshadari has constituted a three-member committee to probe the matter and take action against the officers responsible.

Action is likely to be taken against those who were entrusted with the task of taking photographs of the person on whose name the card is issued and affix it on the card. The revenue officials also failed to check the name and address.

This is not the first incident of its kind. In the past, bogus cards in the name of politicians, film stars, sportspersons and even Hindu Gods were detected. However, this time the officials have taken a serious note of the incident as it involved the name and picture of the father of nation.

In June, a ration card issued to one Laxmi of Vizianagaram district with a photograph of tennis star Sania Mirza was detected.

The latest incident once again exposed the collusion between the officials and fair price shop dealers. The authorities have intensified verification as several dealers have managed to get dozens of ration cards in fictitious names.

The authorities had launched door-to-door verification campaign early this year when it was found that the number of ration cards issued in some districts exceeded the population. The number of bogus cards in the state is estimated to be 3.5 million.

How blind people fearlessly cross busy roads??

NO FEAR: Blindness causes structural changes that could help brain reorganize itself functionally, in order to adapt to a loss in sensory input

 Wondering how blind people appear to fearlessly navigate busy sidewalks or roads with just a cane? Well, UCLA researchers claim to have found the answer for you.

They have found that blindness causes structural changes that could help brain reorganize itself functionally, in order to adapt to a loss in sensory input.

Lead researcher Natasha Lepore, a postgraduate researcher at UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, has found that visual regions of the brain were smaller in volume in blind individuals than in sighted ones. However, for non-visual areas, the trend was reversed – they grew larger in the blind.

This, the researchers say, suggests that the brains of blind individuals are compensating for the reduced volume in areas normally devoted to vision.

“This study shows the exceptional plasticity of the brain and its ability to reorganize itself after a major input – in this case, vision – is lost,” said Lepore. The expert added, “In other words, it appears the brain will attempt to compensate for the fact that a person can no longer see, and this is particularly true for those who are blind since early infancy, a developmental period in which the brain is much more plastic and modifiable than it is in adulthood.”

During the study, researchers used an extremely sensitive type of brain imaging called tensor-based morphometry, which can detect very subtle changes in brain volume, to examine the brains of three different groups: those who lost their sight before the age of 5; those who lost their sight after 14; and a control group of sighted individuals. The analysis revealed that loss and gain of brain matter depended heavily on when the blindness occurred.

Only the early-blind group differed significantly from the control group in an area of the brain’s corpus callosum that aids in the transmission of visual information between the two hemispheres of the brain. The researchers suggest this may be because of the reduced amount of myelination in the absence of visual input. Myelin, the fatty sheaf that surrounds nerves and allows for fast communication, develops rapidly in the very young. When the onset of blindness occurs in adolescence or later, the growth of myelin is already relatively complete, so the structure of the corpus callosum may not be strongly influenced by the loss of visual input.

In both blind groups, however, the researchers found significant enlargement in areas of the brain not responsible for vision. For example, the frontal lobes, which are involved with, among other things, working memory, were found to be abnormally enlarged, perhaps offering an anatomical foundation for some of blind individuals’ enhanced skills.

The study appears online in journal NeuroImage.

Canada introduces express business visas for Indians

Canada has announced a new liberal business visa regime for Indian businessmen to catch up with other industrialised nations in boosting trade with India.

The new visa regime was announced by the government here close on the heels of the visit of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to India.

Under the new system, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said applications from Indian citizens for business visas will be cleared within 24 hours. The express visa service offers multiple entry visas to applicants.

Along with the liberal visa regime, Toronto has also announced that a new nuclear cooperation pact and a mutual investment protection agreement was on the fast track. The nuclear agreement will pave the way for supply of enriched uranium for India’s civil nuclear energy needs.

“We’re actively negotiating a nuclear cooperation pact and have an investment protection agreement, and have established one of our most widespread overseas networks in India, with three new trade offices opened by our government since 2006,” Kenney said.

“We have also decided to double the number of Indian students coming to Canada,” the minister said adding that the country is working with India on several initiatives aimed at boosting bilateral trade, currently at a “ridiculously low” level, to around USD 15 billion in next five years.

The minister was speaking at a function last night organised by the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce also attended by Indian Consul General to Canada, Preeti Saran.

Malaysian homes, offices to have mega-speed Net connection

More than 1.2 million households and business premises across Malaysia will be wired up with optical fibre to enable them access to mega-speed Internet connection.

The country’s telecommunication company Telekom Malaysia has been tasked with laying the optical fibre and is expected to complete half the job by next year.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said the high-speed broadband network of between 10 Mbps and 1G bps would give the public, businesses and government agencies a competitive boost via cutting edge communications.

He said Malaysia needed a new paradigm not only to help the country catch up from where it was left behind but also take on a quantum leap to the ranks of developed nations.

It would also offer the country a platform to develop the information and communication technology of tomorrow, Najib said yesterday at the opening of the 12th Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) International Advisory Panel meeting here.

He said the step would help the country catch up with global leaders in industrial developments.

He felt that the country’s prior focus on attracting foreign investment as a lowcost producer had now created a dilemma.

Google adding automatic captions to YouTube videos

Think of it as closed captioning for the new media world.

Google Inc. said it is introducing automatic, machine-generated captions for videos on its YouTube site. The new service, being launched this week, is intended to make online videos accessible to the deaf and hearing-impaired.

Hundreds of thousands of videos on Google sites already contain caption tracks that users have created and added manually with Google’s existing captioning service. But with 20 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, most videos on the site still lack captions.

So Google is tapping into the speech-recognition technology that it uses for its Google Voice call management service to make captions an automatic feature on YouTube.

Because the speech-recognition technology is still a work in progress, Google is launching the automatic captioning service on the YouTube channels of just a handful of partners, including PBS, National Geographic and a few big universities. But the company promises that the technology will improve over time – and it hopes for a much broader rollout.

In the meantime, Google is adding a new “auto-timing” feature to its existing manual captioning service to make it easier to use. Video creators will now simply have to create a text file with all the words spoken in a video and Google’s speech recognition technology will take it from there – matching the text to the words as they are spoken. Google hopes this will encourage more users to add captions to their videos.

Indian NGO conducts free eye-surgeries on 9000 Nigerians

A non-government organisation from India has conducted free surgeries on more than 9000 patients suffering from eye ailment in Nigeria, where over one million people are blind.

Indo Eye Care Foundation (IECF) in cooperation with Rotary Eye Institute, Navsari and Rotary Club of Lagos led the initiative in three states of the West African country, where according to the Nigeria Federal Ministry of Health, over one million are blind.

“In Nigeria, facilities for treatment are very scarce as compared with the population,” Secretary of Rotary Eye Institute, Navsari, Viral K Purohit, who is also an eye specialist, said.

While presenting some of the beneficiaries to the King of Lagos, His Royal Highness Oba Rilwan Babatunde Akiolu, Purohit said, “A great number of less privileged people who find it impossible to take care of their eye ailment due to monetary problems were benefited by the initiative.”

Following the success of the NGO, the government of Lagos has granted a land for permanent eye care project, he said.

“This permanent eye-care hospital will cost of over $1.3 million, which will be donated by the Indian community in Nigeria and many other corporate organisations,” Mr. Purohit said, adding that the hospital would be fully operational by 2011.

Vodafone seeks more time to reply to tax claim

AFP/File – Auto-rickshaws pass by a billboard of British mobile phone giant Vodafone at a bus-stop in New Delhi. …

NEW DELHI (AFP) – British mobile phone giant Vodafone Group Plc has sought an extra two months to reply to a two-billion-dollar Indian tax claim over its purchase of India’s third-largest mobile operator.

Vodafone had been told late last month to explain by November 16 the reasons why it did not deduct tax when paying 11.2 billion dollars to buy a majority stake in Indian mobile phone operator Hutchison Essar in 2007.

The company “has requested for further time till January 29, 2010,” junior finance minister S.S. Palanimanickam told parliament in a written reply, news reports said on Saturday.

The company has now been asked “to show cause why it should not be treated as an assessee in default for its failure to deduct and pay the tax”, Palanimanickam added, according to the Press Trust of India.

The answer was tabled in the lower house of parliament late Friday.

Vodafone argues capital gains tax is usually paid by the seller, not the buyer.

But Indian tax officials argue Vodafone should have withheld two billion dollars for the Indian government from the sum it paid to a unit of Hong Kong’s Hutchison Whampoa for its Indian subsidiary.

In 2008, the Bombay High Court rejected Vodafone’s petition for exemption from the tax department demand. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case and ruled that the Central Board of Direct Taxes should rule.

The board is slated to take a “final view” after Vodafone replies to the tax notice.

Vodafone and the tax department are at loggerheads over whether the purchase of the Indian unit, which had been held by a company registered in the Cayman Islands, is subject to Indian taxes.

The company has said it “is confident that no tax is payable on this transaction”.

Indian tax department officials insist tax is payable on the purchase of the company as it is located in India.

Vodafone bought 67 percent of Hutchison Essar — now called Vodafone Essar — to break into the world’s fastest-growing mobile phone market as the London-listed company struggled with slowing sales in the developed world.

But cut-throat competition in India’s increasingly crowded cellular market has hit revenues from Vodafone’s Indian arm.

Teen Dating…is it safe?

Assuming your kids won’t abide by the “You can date once you turn 40” rule, you’ll need to talk about dating during their teenage years. Researchers at Maryland’s McDaniel College found that the dating rules you set for your kid actually may reflect how satisfied you are with your own marriage. Parents in stable, romantic marriages often manage their kids’ curfew, impose age restrictions for dating, and set limits on where kids can hang out, as well as on their sexual behavior. In turn, these parents develop closer, more positive relationships with their kids. Researchers aren’t sure why, but these parents may be more conservative in general, and as a result, their kids engage in less risky behavior on dates.

Top 3 Tips for Talking to Your Teen about Dating

  1. Ask your son a lot of questions about who he’s going with, how he feels about this person, and what he thinks might happen on the “date.”
  2. Make sure he is prepared to be respectful of the girl and her feelings, and that neither feels pressured to make something “happen” because it’s a “date.”
  3. It’s okay to make rules like “I have to meet her first,” or “The first few dates have to be at our house.” Teens may balk at rules like this, but on some level they do appreciate you setting the guidelines for them.

Experts say the best way to instill good dating habits in your kid is to forgo setting strict rules and encourage open communication — without butting in too much. So instead of saying, “If you want to go out, tell me exactly where you’ll be,” try saying something like, “Hey, can you let me know what you’re doing tonight and just check in if plans change?” That way, you’ll focus on your role as a parent, not matchmaker. And you’ll reap the benefits — experts say that the parents who don’t micromanage have the healthiest relationships with their children overall.


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What Moms Can Do to Help Teens Cope with a Breakup

Once your teen begins dating, it is likely that he/she will at some point experience the heartbreak involved with a breakup. Psychologist Dr. Lisa Boesky, author of “When to Worry: How to Tell if Your Teen Needs Help — and What to Do About It,” shares the following pointers for how moms can help teens get through a tough split:

Don’t minimize the extent of your teen’s pain. You know they will fall in love again, but they don’t. Their pain is real and should be validated — whether they were with their boyfriend or girlfriend weeks, months, or years.

Allow your son or daughter to feel what they feel — sadness, disillusionment, anger. You might secretly think they should be over it in days or weeks, but it could take months. Be patient.

Encourage your teen to stay busy with friends. Many people unintentionally ditch their pals when they’re in a relationship. It’s time for your teen to make calls, apologize for being MIA, and make plans to hang out.

Distract your teen with family activities. Someone who’s in the midst of a breakup needs to know people love and care about them.

Have your teen write down and talk about the negative traits of their ex. After a breakup, many teens idealize their ex and only think of the positive times. But no one’s ex is perfect — help your teen remember that.

Help your teen make plans for the future — this weekend, next week, next month. It’s so easy to get stuck in the past and reminisce about what could have been. Get them looking ahead — even if it’s just in slow baby steps.

Remind them that this is not the time for major life decisions. After a major breakup, many teens want to change schools, move out of state, or ditch college plans. These decisions are often a direct backlash against the one they loved and are not a good idea. Minor life decisions, like Miley Cyrus dyeing her hair black or a teen listening to a new kind of music, are normal, however, and are nothing to be concerned about.

Know when it’s time to get help. If your teen begins using drugs or alcohol, withdraws from friends or family, starts to do poorly in school, or their mood has taken a major downturn for two weeks or more, talk to a professional to make sure their typical teen blues aren’t turning into major depression or even suicidal behavior.

Sri Lanka to release 136,000 Tamil war refugees

AP – In this photo provided by the United Nations, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John …

MANIK FARM, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka will release next month the remaining 136,000 Tamil refugees still in the squalid and overrun government camps where they’ve been detained since the country’s civil war ended six months ago, a top official said Saturday.

Some 300,000 war refugees were forced into the camps after fleeing the final months of the government’s decades-long war with the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, which ended in May.

The ethnic-minority Tamils are being held against their will. More than half were released in recent months amid pressure from rights groups and foreign governments. Authorities say nearly 136,000 people remain detained in the camps, which are guarded by soldiers and strung with barbed wire.

Basil Rajapaksa, a senior adviser to his brother, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said Saturday the refugees will be free to return to their villages after Dec. 1, and the camps will be completely closed by Jan. 31.

The announcement came two days after the U.N. humanitarian chief, John Holmes, pressed Sri Lanka to allow the war refugees to leave.

Sri Lanka pledged in September to the U.N. that all civilians would be sent home by the end of January.

Rights groups say the detention is an illegal form of collective punishment for the ethnic group. Access to the camps is heavily restricted.

The government has maintained that Tamils must be screened for rebel ties and detainees’ villages de-mined before the camps can be closed.

On Saturday, Rajapaksa said the military was given the green light to release the detainees as no security threats remain. Detainees can settle in areas cleared of mines, he said.

Government troops routed the Tamil Tigers in May, ending their 25-year fight for an independent homeland for the country’s minority Tamils. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in the violence.

Did U.S. make mistake in skipping vaccine additive?

Shortage Forces Doctors To Pick Who Gets H1N1 Shot

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As U.S. health officials struggle to vaccinate tens of millions of Americans against the pandemic of swine flu, some are looking regretfully at one easy way to instantly double or triple the number of doses available — by using an immune booster called an adjuvant.

These additives, often as simple as an oil and water mixture, broaden the body’s response to a vaccine, reducing the amount of active ingredient called antigen needed.

They are widely used in European flu vaccines as well as in Canada. But not in the United States — even though the federal government has spent nearly $700 million buying them.

The reason — people might not trust them.

“If we really do want pregnant women to trust this vaccine or even parents, we have to think about what is acceptable to them,” Dr. Anne Schuchat of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an interview.

“We have so much vaccine hesitancy in this country,” agreed Jeff Levi of the non-profit Trust For America’s Health. “To add … a new element could well have undermined the efficacy of this campaign,” Levi told a hearing this week before a Congressional subcommittee.

This frustrates the World Health Organization, which says the global capacity to make influenza vaccines is about 3 billion doses a year — not enough to cover the population of 6.8 billion people. WHO has hoped rich countries would donate leftover H1N1 vaccine to others.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department was ready to try adjuvants had the pandemic been worse. H1N1 swine flu has infected an estimated 22 million Americans and killed 3,900, but it so far does not appear to be any deadlier than seasonal influenza.

The worry is that it is affecting younger adults and children instead of the elderly usually targeted by flu, and has the potential to mutate into something more deadly.

“If things had been worse and this would have been a more severe pandemic, we may well have needed to go that way anyway,” Levi said.


Instead, the United States has stuck with what CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden has repeatedly called the “tried and true” approach — the same formulation used in seasonal flu vaccines. Five companies have contracts — Sanofi-Aventis, CSL, Novartis, AstraZeneca unit MedImmune and GlaxoSmithKline.

Polls show that only about half of Americans plan to be vaccinated against H1N1. Of those who do not, about half say they worry about safety.

Even so, long lines have formed as people try to get the 50 million or so swine flu doses that have rolled out of factories. Drug companies have struggled with an unpredictable virus that does not grow well in eggs, as well as changes to U.S. orders that slowed down packaging.

Studies suggest the supply that is out now could have been tripled.

In September, GlaxoSmithKline found a single shot of its H1N1 vaccine protected 98 percent of volunteers, using an adjuvant and just 5.25 micrograms of antigen. A standard dose without adjuvant takes 15 micrograms of antigen.

Vaccine makers urged Congress this week to help federal agencies find ways to approve the use of adjuvants, and to assure skeptical Americans about their safety.

Dr. Vas Narasimhan, president of Novartis Vaccines USA, noted adjuvants had been licensed for use in Europe for 10 years and tested in 200,000 people.

“Adjuvanted vaccines produce higher immune response than unadjuvanted vaccines particularly in the elderly and young children,” Narasimhan told a hearing this week.

He said they may protect better than standard vaccines against viruses that have drifted a little — the single biggest reason that flu vaccines must be re-formulated every year.

They may also eventually help require less vaccination. “Adjuvanted vaccines have been shown to more broadly prime patients’ immune response (up to seven years later), requiring fewer vaccinations to the newly circulating strain,” he said.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is intrigued. Last month it awarded $60 million to researchers and companies to develop new adjuvants.

Australians warned over iPhone virus

Computer experts interviewed on radio warned that a variant of the so-called Rickrolling worm could allow hackers to pilfer confidential data like contact lists and internet bookmarks

 Australians were warned on Thursday that a harmless worm, affecting iPhones, could prompt hackers to steal data.

Last week, Australian software whiz Ashley Towns, released a worm that installs on the iPhone wallpaper a photograph of 1980s pop singer, Rick Astley.

The 21-year-old said it was a bit of fun and to remind the small number of iPhone users that leave their devices unprotected by pass codes that they are vulnerable to hacking.

Computer experts interviewed on radio warned that a variant of the so-called Rickrolling worm could allow hackers to pilfer confidential data like contact lists and internet bookmarks.

Computerworld magazine also warned owners of Apple mobile phones who have “jail-broken” their devices so they can install unauthorized software that they have effectively torn down their own phone’s security system.

Forget about rotten tomatoes


UAS Bangalore’s Biotechnology Department to develop a variety that stays for a month

Research likely to be completed in two years

Krishi Mela a hit with farmers

BANGALORE: Tired of tomatoes rotting within days of purchase? Wait, it is question of time before you get new tomato varieties which will have a shelf life of 30 to 40 days instead of the present varieties that will last for about a week.

The Biotechnology Department of the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, has taken up a research project to increase the shelf life of tomatoes. The project has started showing positive results. According to university officials, the research on the new tomato variety with a shelf life of 30 to 40 days is expected to be completed in about two years. The counting of shelf life duration begins after the fruit ripens.

A brief mention about this research project has been made at a stall put up by the BT Department in Krishi Mela-2009 which is on at the UAS, Bangalore, campus. The university officials said such a project would not only reduce inconvenience for consumers, but also help farmers as well as the country by reducing post-harvest losses in tomato crop. While post-harvest losses are more in perishable commodities like vegetables, the losses are particularly of higher level in tomato crop.

Meanwhile, the four-day Krishi Mela which is under way in the UAS is becoming a hit with farmers as a large number of them are visiting it. Farmers had come from distant places such as Dakshina Kannada to update their knowledge on recent crop varieties and innovative practices.

Such was the crowd at the mela on the second day (Friday) that it was difficult to move freely. But nobody was complaining as everyone was busy visiting stalls or having counselling session with agricultural experts.

The saplings of gum-less variety of jackfruit were in great demand at the mela from farmers.

These plants had been displayed at a stall put by the Bio-Resources Complex Project, a pilot project of the Union Biotechnology Department, which is being implemented by the UAS-B with a mandate to increase the incomes of farmers. The stall has sold about 1,000 gum-free varieties of jackfruit plants on the first day of the mela. The gum content is said to be lesser by about 80 per cent in this variety when compared with normal jackfruit variety.

The animal husbandry and poultry section which had displayed different varieties of sheep and goat weighing more than 100 kg and varieties of poultry birds including emu were also centre of attraction