Sunday, November 2, 2008

Should An Infant With No Seat Have To Pay A $320 Fuel Surcharge?

By Meg Marco

Here's an interesting situation. When babies fly domestically, they fly for free — but international flights require a ticket and, apparently, a huge fuel surcharge.


The agent asked for our ticket for our son. I will not go into all of the details, but an hour later (and 35 minutes to flight departure), we were forced to pay 332 euros ($423.10) to get my son a ticket so he could return back to the states.

Words cannot describe my outrage at the time, especially the justification of the fees ($320 fuel surcharge - $160 each way??!!). How can they legally charge that much when our ten pound infant does not even have a seat?

Delta responded to this complaint with a form letter explaining that kids need a ticket — which is 10% of the regular fare. The only problem? He'd already paid that fee when he booked the tickets. The $320 was explained to him as a fuel surcharge.

Should passengers who don't even get a seat and weigh 10 lbs be charged this fee? Seems a little silly doesn't it?

Waaaa! Baby gets socked with surprise $320 fuel surcharge on Delta flight [Elliott] (Thanks, Shaula!)
(Photo: So Cal Metro )

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Ryanair set for £8 flights to US

Ryanair jet landing
Ryanair plans to undercut its struggling competitors on prices

Budget airline Ryanair is to offer flights to the US for eight pounds, by buying planes from struggling rivals.

The plan will be revealed when chief executive Michael O'Leary announces the firm's quarterly results on Monday.

"Economy class will be very cheap, around 10 euros, but our business class will be very expensive," he said in a newspaper interview.

Ryanair's second quarter profits are expected to fall, due to higher fuel prices and its decision to cut fares.

Mr O'Leary is expected to announce plans to buy more than 50 extra aircraft, as part of plans to beat the recession by undercutting more expensive rivals.

"We'll just have to keep flying more aircraft, opening up more routes and offering people more cheap flights," Mr O'Leary said.

Profits down

The flights - which could begin by the end of next year - would be available for those booking early. Passengers would pay airport taxes on top of the fares.

The transatlantic flights are likely to go from Stansted and Dublin airports to New York, Florida, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston.

Meanwhile, it is expected that Ryanair's quarterly profits will drop significantly.

Royal Bank of Scotland is forecasting net earnings of 145m euros (£115m; $184m) for Ryanair for the second quarter, down from 260m euros last year.

While the oil price has come down lately, analysts say Ryanair is still suffering because it insured against changing fuel costs at too high a price.

Mr O'Leary has said he expected the airline to make a profit for the full year as long as oil stays below $70 a barrel.

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Drunken fight forces plane back


Jetstar flight JQ61 carrying 172 passengers from Darwin to Singapore was forced to turn around about half an hour after it took off from Darwin airport on Thursday night.

Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway said it was believed the men had been drinking duty-free alcohol before they boarded the plane.

Despite being intoxicated, they passed several security checkpoints and boarded the plane.

Mr Westaway said the men became "disruptive" about 30 minutes after take-off, leaving the captain no option but to turn the plane around.

"We originally contemplated having security meet them in Singapore but the captain made the decision to go back to Darwin," he said.

Australian Federal Police officers were waiting at Darwin airport and escorted the five Malaysian men off the plane.

Two men were taken into protective custody. The other three were allowed to leave on their own.

The two men in custody were later released after Jetstar informed the AFP it did not want to pursue charges.

The disruption delayed the flight by about three hours.

"We are doing our own investigation as to how these individuals got on to the plane while intoxicated," Mr Westaway said. But he said Jetstar management supported the captain's decision to turn the plane around.

"Our captain and crew have a duty of care to all passengers," he said.

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Miami sees a month without homicides

MIAMI, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- For the first time since May 1966, Miami went more than a month without a single homicide the city's police detectives say.

"That's an amazing thing," said Lt. John Buhrmaster, a Miami homicide investigator. "It's a great record when people are not killing each other."

The last homicide occurred Sept. 26 with the shooting death of 26-year-old Demetrius Sherman, The Miami Herald reported, noting Miami, so far, has had 55 homicides in 2008 as compared with 87 in all of 2007.

The lack of recent homicides has allowed detectives to investigate other cases, such as the deaths Friday of three migrants who drowned after jumping from a grounded cargo ship near Fisher Island, the Herald reported.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Do We Still Need Embryonic Stem Cells?

By Erin Richards

Since their discovery, stem cells have been hailed as the ultimate answer for crippling and incurable diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other conditions that leave vital organs like heart or nerves damaged beyond repair.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, under the leadership of Professor Austin Smith, Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research at the University of Cambridge, recently published a paper detailing a new technology that can transform adult stem cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). This technique is able to reliably reprogram adult cells into iPS rapidly and can forego the need to rely on mammalian embryos to generate pluripotent stem cells.

Working with stem cells has proved a much greater challenge than foreseen, however, as both scientific and ethical challenges confront stem cell research from all sides. Stem cells are tricky to work with and although they are indefinite, can stop dividing at any time. The best stem cells are also the cells with the least amount of differentiation (or development). These cells occur during embryonic development and the harvesting of such cells results in the death of the rest of the embryo. The resulting loss of the embryo is the cause of the ethical dilemmas concerning the usage of stem cells and the development of stem cell research.

Embryonic stem cells have a great deal of potential but the restrictions put in place for federally funded research projects have limited their use and the controversy over the ethical issues has consumed a great deal of time in the science community. This ethical dilemma can be bypassed altogether if adult mammalian cells are reprogrammed to form iPS, which are cells almost identical to those from embryonic stem cells but which come from adult tissue instead of embryos, and the same results can be obtained.

The technique for reprogramming relies on the usage of a combination of chemical inhibitors provided by Stem Cell Sciences, a company providing commercial use of stem cells and stem cell technologies. These chemical inhibitors, including use of enzymes MEK and GSK3 in combination with a cell growth promoter and leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) provide the key to transition fully differentiated adult cells into cells that are indistinguishable from authentic embryonic stem (ES) cells.

Stem Cell Sciences developed this Culticell iSTEM™ media range to overcome the limitations in current approaches to producing reprogrammed pluripotent stem cells. Smith and his team developed this key step in the successful complete transfer of adult cells into iPS using this specific combination of enzymes, inhibitors and cellular growth indicators.

"This proprietary technique greatly facilitates the simple, most reliable and efficient route to obtaining authentic induced pluripotent stem cells and will form the basis for the industrialization of iPS cell production," noted Dr. Tim Allsopp, Chief Scientific Officer of Stem Cell Sciences. "This is an important validation of the technology Professor Smith and his team have developed and Stem Cell Sciences is very pleased to be working with Cambridge University and Professor Smith's team on this important breakthrough."

This breakthrough of complete transformation follows on the heels of previous studies in which progression to iPS was limited and extremely inefficient. This process has greatly improved both the success and efficiency rate making a reliable source to generate iPS without depending on embryonic cells.

Stem cells are unique because they have the potential to be any number of various cell types. They are undifferentiated cells, and if at the earliest stage of development, they have the ability to create a completely new individual. As such, they can be directed to make any number of useful tissues, including nervous tissue, heart tissue or a new liver.

Research with stem cells can help us develop procedures like gene therapy, testing drugs with lessened need for animal and human test subjects, genetic disorder correction and replacement of damaged tissues or organs. The possibilities are endless, applications in real world situations limitless and now the technology to propel us into the future of stem cell applications is very real.

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A Moving Skyscraper for N.Y.?

Each of the floors of the Dynamic Tower rotates independently, giving the building different shapes throughout the day. (Dynamic Architecture/ David Fisher)

Would you like to see a building twisting itself into different shapes night and day on the New York skyline? Would you like to live in an apartment with a view that rotates 360 degrees? It may be a little hard at the moment to arrange financing for such tower — or any other new skyscraper in Manhattan — but the architect David Fisher is looking for a place to build it here someday.

He’s already designed such an edifice in Dubai called the Dynamic Tower, billed as the “world’s first building in motion.” Dr. Fisher, an architect based in Florence, he told me that he hopes groundbreaking for the Dubai tower will occur “within a matter of weeks,” and said that the problems in the credit market haven’t affected the project.

The tower is supposed to generate enough electricity to supply the power needs for itself as well as buildings nearby. The electricity will come from horizontal wind turbines tucked away between each of its 80 floors, and from solar photovoltaic cells on the roof each story. As the individual floors move, about 20 percent of each roof is expected to be exposed to the sun at any time of the day.

Dr. Fisher, who’s working on another of these towers for Moscow, was in town this week to discuss plans for New York. Where might it go? “We are currently looking at a few sites,” he told me. “It should be a place from where the view is attractive and also where people can stand and watch the building changing its shape.”

Any suggestions for him? Any predictions on how well those turbines and photovoltaic cells will work? And would you pay a premium to live in a room with a moving view?

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Test predicts when menopause will begin

The Daily Telegraph

Biological clock
Tick tock ... new tests could tell women how many years they are away from menopause, offering them a 'roadmap' to their reproductive life.
NEW tests could tell women how many years they are away from menopause, offering them a "roadmap" to their reproductive life.

For the first time, overseas scientists believe they have developed a blueprint to accurately predict when a woman's reproductive cycle is likely to end by testing hormone levels in blood.

But Australian experts yesterday said the test gave "false hope".

They said there was still no conclusive way of measuring when a woman would begin menopause.

The University of Michigan studied changes in hormones FSH and inhibin B, which stimulate eggs, in more than 600 women over 14 years.

It found hormones dropped significantly five years before menopause, meaning she was also at her least fertile.

Scientists also tested another 50 women each year for changes in the hormone AMH, which is already used as a predictor of fertility.

Researcher Maryfran Sowers said the results could help women choosing to have later-in-life babies.

"The information provides a roadmap as to how fast women are progressing through the different elements of their reproductive life," Ms Sowers said yesterday.

"We finally have numbers from enough women evaluated over a long time period to describe the reproductive ageing process."

The hormone AMH fell to a very low or non-measurable level five years prior to the final menstrual period.

But IVF Australia chairman Michael Chapman said doctors already used a similar test measuring AMH to predict a woman's fertility.

"The measurement of these hormones has been done for the last 10 years," he said. "We have recognised that AMH is a marker of predicting the number of eggs in ovaries.

"Our experience is, it might be that the ovaries are running short of eggs but it doesn't mean that menopause is due to start in the next one or five years. Menopause could still be years off."

Similar studies have been conducted in Australia but are yet to produce conclusive results.

Mother-of-two Jodie Earnshaw, 39, said a test to predict menopause would help women make choices. "I think a test like this would be good for women aged in their early 30s," she said.

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Secrets Of Great Characters, According To 6 Science Fiction Authors

By Charlie Jane Anders

Amazing stories need great characters. And when you're writing a story set in a futuristic or fantastical world, it's more important than ever for readers to be able to relate to your characters. It's also harder than ever, because your characters' lives and experiences will be totally different than your readers'. How do you make people identify with someone who lives in the future, or on another planet? How can your main character stand out, against a bizarre and colorful backdrop? We asked six great science fiction authors for their advice.

Get to know them as individuals, rather than types. If your characters are cut off from all the present-day cultural references, like "lawyer who went to Harvard," then it's even more important to think of them as individuals, says Elizabeth Bear, Campbell- and Hugo-winning author of Carnival and Undertow. "Try very hard to know them as people," she urges. "That goes for any setting, past or present or future — or alternate reality."

In particular, you should think, "'This is a person who happens to have the following traits, and all that they imply,' rather than 'this is a nuclear physicist who grew up in Iowa.'"

Try making your characters scientists. Or at least, have them be obsessed with stuff that's relavant to your storyline, advises Kim Stanley Robinson, Hugo- and Nebula-winning author of the Mars trilogy and the Science In The Capital series. Having scientists as your characters lets you "explore the setting and the character at once." And it helps if your characters obsess about the mysteries and explanations in your story. They can also be obsessed with a planet, spaceship, new procedure or alien.

Base them on people you know. The most realistic characters are often based closely on your friends or people you've met, says Rudy Rucker, Philip K. Dick-winning author of the -Ware novels and Postsingular. That goes double for your aliens, A.I.s and robots, he adds. It's always better to copy your friends than to lift from "received ideas about how SF characters might behave. Who wants to see yet another a humorless talking head with a BBC accent? The absolute worst thing in Matrix III was when Keanu gets to the virtual office of the Big Computer Mind, and he meets, like, a tweedy professor with a white beard. Ugh! At the very least it should have been a fat hacker in a T-shirt, preferably high on pineal extract." Also: to make your characters stand out, try having them say quirky, unexpected things. "Forget your Star Trek memories, and remember your wild and crazy friends — the ones who say things that Make No Sense," Rucker advises.

Give them a thought-out world. The more carefully thought out the world you're placing your characters into, the more we'll be able to believe that they live there, says Tobias Buckell, author of Sly Mongoose. And that also makes it easier to "contrast them against this imaginary place."

Figure out what they love, and what they fear. Try to find what drives your characters, including what they want and need, Bear urges. And understand what traumatizes them. "I tell people I like to know what they'd want on their tombstone: that seems to give me a really good handle on who they are."

She adds:

Characters we can relate to have fears and damage, but moreover, for me they have to be devoted to something — an ideal, a person, whatever. Even villains become much more sympathetic when we're introduced to whatever it is that they love.

Kage Baker, author of the Company novels, agrees: "It isn't the way a person relates to his hovercar that makes him memorable; it's what's going on in his heart." No matter what planet or time you're living in, there will be "certain constants in human existence: struggle against poverty, rebellion against authority, love and desire, loneliness, curiosity. Any reader can relate to those." Make sure your character has loves and hatreds that readers can see themselves in, and the rest will take care of itself.

Don't aim for larger-than-life — and overshoot. One pitfall with science fiction characters is that authors sometimes make their characters "bigger than life, or archetypal" to let them compete with the big, brash colorful worlds they live in. A common mistake is veering past archetypal, all the way into "over the top, or maybe somewhat cliche." If you do try for archetypal characters, think of the classics from all genres, like Sherlock Holmes' quirky genius or Captain Ahab's drive.

Don't obsess too much about setting and toys. If you spend pages and pages on dense descriptions of your settings and how exactly your hovercar works, you're distracting the reader from your characters, says Baker.

It's enough to say "He climbed into his hovercar" and your reader will get the idea. You don't need to give a geography lesson: "They were sitting in the courtyard drinking fire-palm wine" or "She trudged back from the well, balancing her water jar" or "They looked out across the desert and saw the yellow mountains of Califia before them" all give brief, intense impressions of a place, without stopping the narrative in its tracks or drawing focus from the main character.

Find out who's hurting. If your story involves a new situation or technological breakthrough, figure out who suffers as a result — maybe that should be your main character, says Robinson, quoting from Damon Knight (who was quoting James Blish in turn.)

Keep your characters grounded. The stranger the setting, the more ordinary your characters should be, says Terry Bisson, Hugo- and Nebula-winning author of Bears Discover Fire. "For example, in my most recent story, the narrator 'had a job and an apartment, but that was all.' The story wasn't about the setting but about the character."

Your characters should be "totally convinced they live in the present, rather than the future. Because, of course, it IS the present to them," says David J. Williams, author of The Mirrored Heavens. Make sure your world, and your characters, both have a believable past, that anchors their present. "As Gibson said, the future's already here, it's just unevenly distributed. Same is true for the past: it's always with us, but sometimes beneath the surface. How one handles that is the key to character."

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