Herbal Viagra actually contains the real thing

IF IT looks too good to be true, it probably is. Several "herbal remedies" for erectile dysfunction sold online actually contain the active ingredient from Viagra.

Michael Lamb at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and colleagues purchased 10 popular "natural" uplifting remedies on the internet and tested them for the presence of sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. They found the compound, or a similar synthetic drug, in seven of the 10 products – cause for concern because it can be dangerous for people with some medical conditions.

Lamb's work was presented last week at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington DC.

This article appeared in print under the headline "Herbal Viagra gets a synthetic boost"

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President Tony Tan hosts reception for 2013 Special Olympics team

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Special Olympians had a special reception at the Istana on Saturday.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife hosted the athletes, officials and coaches who represented the nation at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games, held in Pyeongchang, South Korea last month.

The athletes were invited to the Istana, after bringing home an unprecedented eight medals. Four of them were gold medals.

The medals were won in the short track speed skating category.

The skaters and the floor hockey team were introduced to the president, who paid tribute to the athletes.

President Tan said: "Not only was this an achievement, the team which we sent also won the first medals for Singapore at an international skating competition. Our athletes in this Special Olympics Winter Games, have, I believe, indeed been very brave and very courageous. They flew the Singapore flag high at the Special Olympics World Winter Games, and they were an inspiration to many Singaporeans."

- CNA/xq

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Hallmark shop fades into history

I noticed when I shopped for Valentine's Day cards that the supply at my local Hallmark store was woefully thin. I chalked that up to my own procrastinating.

But when I went back this week to buy a thank-you card to mail to a friend, I found a note taped to the door that moved me uncomfortably close to tears.

To our Valued Friends, it read. Thank you for 20 years of patronage and friendship! We are now permanently closed for business."

Greeting cards, it seems, are becoming passe in an era of Evites, Facebook birthday posts and thank-yous via text.

Grace's Hallmark in Granada Hills had become the latest victim of a generational and technological shift that has laid waste to bookstores, newspapers, magazines and age-old rituals of human interaction that don't require a computer, a tablet or a cellphone.


The card shop's owners, Grace and Dan Lee, were packing to leave Monday when I stopped by. They officially closed the day before, but customers were still trickling in for goodbyes and last-minute bargains on things they hadn't known they wanted.

Stragglers pawed through leftovers: Easter and St. Patrick's Day cards, picture frames, coffee mugs, Christmas decorations and wedding goblets — all cash only, 50% off.

A father and daughter came looking for Precious Moments figurines. He had bought dozens over the years, marking family milestones at this store.

A couple of ladies stopped by with champagne; hugs accompanied the bubbles.

Grace Lee said she's been surprised by the emotional response to their departure. "Some people come in crying," she said.

Grace's Hallmark opened in 1993, survived the damage of the Northridge earthquake and the shifting fortunes of the Granada Village shopping center to become a neighborhood staple. You could buy a card from Grace and Dan, walk a few steps to the post office and drop it in the mailbox.

They are shutting down because their lease expired, and it doesn't make sense to recommit to an industry that's dying.

"Business has been trending down for years," Grace Lee said. "Young people don't come in anymore. They order [gifts] on Amazon and send their cards online.

"It's the older people who like to buy cards. And they like to receive them."

People like me... who also like to browse bookstore racks and page through the newspaper when it lands each morning in the driveway.

The cyber world can't replicate the sifting and studying, the prospect of discovery, the sync between what's on my mind and what I'm holding in my hand.

The satisfaction of the search is part of what's lost as we leave print and concrete behind. There's a visceral pleasure in those tactile, tangible things — picking, sending, opening a card — that a Facebook post can't match.


I admit I'm still bitter about the closing of our local Borders 18 months ago. It was the last of what used to be a half-dozen bookstores within a few miles of my Northridge home. Now it's a sporting goods store.

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We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.

In the story of how the dog came in from the cold and onto our sofas, we tend to give ourselves a little too much credit. The most common assumption is that some hunter-gatherer with a soft spot for cuteness found some wolf puppies and adopted them. Over time, these tamed wolves would have shown their prowess at hunting, so humans kept them around the campfire until they evolved into dogs. (See "How to Build a Dog.")

But when we look back at our relationship with wolves throughout history, this doesn't really make sense. For one thing, the wolf was domesticated at a time when modern humans were not very tolerant of carnivorous competitors. In fact, after modern humans arrived in Europe around 43,000 years ago, they pretty much wiped out every large carnivore that existed, including saber-toothed cats and giant hyenas. The fossil record doesn't reveal whether these large carnivores starved to death because modern humans took most of the meat or whether humans picked them off on purpose. Either way, most of the Ice Age bestiary went extinct.

The hunting hypothesis, that humans used wolves to hunt, doesn't hold up either. Humans were already successful hunters without wolves, more successful than every other large carnivore. Wolves eat a lot of meat, as much as one deer per ten wolves every day-a lot for humans to feed or compete against. And anyone who has seen wolves in a feeding frenzy knows that wolves don't like to share.

Humans have a long history of eradicating wolves, rather than trying to adopt them. Over the last few centuries, almost every culture has hunted wolves to extinction. The first written record of the wolf's persecution was in the sixth century B.C. when Solon of Athens offered a bounty for every wolf killed. The last wolf was killed in England in the 16th century under the order of Henry VII. In Scotland, the forested landscape made wolves more difficult to kill. In response, the Scots burned the forests. North American wolves were not much better off. By 1930, there was not a wolf left in the 48 contiguous states of America.  (See "Wolf Wars.")

If this is a snapshot of our behavior toward wolves over the centuries, it presents one of the most perplexing problems: How was this misunderstood creature tolerated by humans long enough to evolve into the domestic dog?

The short version is that we often think of evolution as being the survival of the fittest, where the strong and the dominant survive and the soft and weak perish. But essentially, far from the survival of the leanest and meanest, the success of dogs comes down to survival of the friendliest.

Most likely, it was wolves that approached us, not the other way around, probably while they were scavenging around garbage dumps on the edge of human settlements. The wolves that were bold but aggressive would have been killed by humans, and so only the ones that were bold and friendly would have been tolerated.

Friendliness caused strange things to happen in the wolves. They started to look different. Domestication gave them splotchy coats, floppy ears, wagging tails. In only several generations, these friendly wolves would have become very distinctive from their more aggressive relatives. But the changes did not just affect their looks. Changes also happened to their psychology. These protodogs evolved the ability to read human gestures.

As dog owners, we take for granted that we can point to a ball or toy and our dog will bound off to get it. But the ability of dogs to read human gestures is remarkable. Even our closest relatives-chimpanzees and bonobos-can't read our gestures as readily as dogs can. Dogs are remarkably similar to human infants in the way they pay attention to us. This ability accounts for the extraordinary communication we have with our dogs. Some dogs are so attuned to their owners that they can read a gesture as subtle as a change in eye direction.

With this new ability, these protodogs were worth knowing. People who had dogs during a hunt would likely have had an advantage over those who didn't. Even today, tribes in Nicaragua depend on dogs to detect prey. Moose hunters in alpine regions bring home 56 percent more prey when they are accompanied by dogs. In the Congo, hunters believe they would starve without their dogs.

Dogs would also have served as a warning system, barking at hostile strangers from neighboring tribes. They could have defended their humans from predators.

And finally, though this is not a pleasant thought, when times were tough, dogs could have served as an emergency food supply. Thousands of years before refrigeration and with no crops to store, hunter-gatherers had no food reserves until the domestication of dogs. In tough times, dogs that were the least efficient hunters might have been sacrificed to save the group or the best hunting dogs. Once humans realized the usefulness of keeping dogs as an emergency food supply, it was not a huge jump to realize plants could be used in a similar way.

So, far from a benign human adopting a wolf puppy, it is more likely that a population of wolves adopted us. As the advantages of dog ownership became clear, we were as strongly affected by our relationship with them as they have been by their relationship with us. Dogs may even have been the catalyst for our civilization.

Dr. Brian Hare is the director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center and Vanessa Woods is a research scientist at Duke University. This essay is adapted from their new book, The Genius of Dogs, published by Dutton. To play science-based games to find the genius in your dog, visit www.dognition.com.

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Smartphone projector breathes life into storybooks

Hal Hodson, technology reporter

Remember your favourite storybook from childhood? Now imagine that the characters that graced its pages didn't only appear in print, but acted out scenes right in front of you, à la magic Harry Potter paintings.

HideOut, a smartphone projector system developed by Karl Willis at Disney Research in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, does exactly that by using invisible-ink markers to guide the projected characters of a storybook through an entire other layer of activities.

The projector also lets the user move a digital, animated character over surfaces in the real world. By passing the camera over another of the hidden patterns - which are visible only in infrared - the character can even seem to interact with physical obstacles, as in the video above.

In a paper describing the system, presented this month at the Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction conference in Barcelona, Spain, Willis laid out how projection will move past games and playing to become an important computer-human interaction technology, freeing digital content from the screens.

Willis writes that future smartphones with embedded projectors will be used to browse digital files projected on any wall or table, to augment theme parks with digital characters, or to make digital board games that jump out of the table. "Enabling projected content to be mapped onto everyday surfaces from mobile devices is an important step towards seamless interaction between the digital and physical worlds."

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Canada's Q4 GDP flat, growth at 1.8% for 2012

OTTAWA: Canada's economy grew 1.8 percent last year, a bit less than the central bank's forecast and down from 2.6 percent in 2011, the government statistics agency said on Friday.

Gross domestic product in the fourth quarter was up 0.2 percent, similar to the previous quarter's gains, as mining and oil and gas extraction was up and manufacturing recorded a significant decrease.

The arts and entertainment sector, transportation and warehousing as well as wholesale trade also declined while construction, the public sector, utilities and the finance and insurance sector increased in the last three months of 2012.

Household spending was up.

Business investment on machinery and equipment continued to be weak, with fewer purchases of heavy trucks and buses, and more aircraft and computer outlays. Following 12 months of anaemic government spending, it ticked up slightly in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Business inventories were "sharply lower" in the fourth quarter, said Statistics Canada. Manufacturers' and wholesalers' inventories were down while retailers' inventories rose.

Imports were down, and exports edged up. Disposable income inched up, but Canadians saved less.

- AFP/al

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Las Vegas Strip shooting suspect is arrested in L.A.

A man suspected in a deadly car-to-car shooting in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip was arrested Thursday at a Studio City apartment complex, bringing an end to a weeklong manhunt.

Los Angeles police and FBI agents surrounded the suburban apartment complex in the 4100 block of Arch Drive about noon and ordered Ammar Harris to surrender. Officers said there was a woman inside the apartment where he was holed up; she was not arrested.

Harris, 26, is being held on suspicion of murder and is expected to be extradited back to Nevada.

"This arrest is much more than just taking Ammar Harris," said Las Vegas Sheriff Doug Gillespie, speaking at police headquarters near the Strip. "The citizens of our community as well as tourists who visit and work in the Las Vegas Valley are entitled to a safe community."

Harris — described by law enforcement officials as a man with an "extensive and violent criminal history" — is accused of being the gunman in the Feb. 21 shooting that killed three people, including Kenneth Cherry Jr., an Oakland native and rapper known as Kenny Clutch.

Las Vegas police said Harris opened fire from his Ranger Rover on Cherry's Maserati on Las Vegas Boulevard after an altercation at a valet stand at the Aria hotel resort.

The Maserati then sped into the intersection at Flamingo Road, where it rammed a Yellow Cab, which erupted in flames near the mega-wattage casinos of the Bellagio, the Flamingo and Ceasars Palace. The explosion killed the taxi driver and passenger inside.

Cherry and a passenger in his Maserati were taken to a hospital, where Cherry was pronounced dead. Four other vehicles were involved in the fiery crash, which left three other people with injuries.

"What I can tell you is that Mr. Harris' behavior was unlike any other I've seen, and I've been in this community in law enforcement for 32 years," Clark County Dist. Atty. Steve Wolfson said.

"I cannot imagine anything more serious than firing a weapon from a moving vehicle into another moving vehicle on a corner such as Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo."

Even in a city accustomed to spectacle, the shooting and collision were shocking.

On the night of the shooting, Harris was accompanied by three people in his Range Rover, none considered suspects, said Lt. Ray Steiber of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. On Saturday, Las Vegas police found Harris' black Range Rover at an apartment complex in the city. The district attorney charged Harris with murder even though he could not be located, and a federal magistrate signed off on a charge of fleeing the jurisdiction.

Federal court documents show Las Vegas homicide detectives suspected that Harris may have fled to California because his phone showed he made calls in the state.

According to law enforcement sources, Harris operated as a pimp in Las Vegas. In a video released by Las Vegas police, Harris flashed a fistful of $100 bills as he bragged about the money. He boasted about money, guns, expensive cars and run-ins with the law on social media accounts, authorities said.

On one social media site, using the name Jai'duh, someone authorities believe was Harris posted pictures of stacks of $100 bills and a Carbon 15 pistol.

Harris' record includes a 2010 arrest in Las Vegas on suspicion of pimping-related offenses of pandering with force and sexual assault. He has previously been arrested on suspicion of a variety of crimes in South Carolina and Georgia, authorities said.

Harris is slated to appear in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Monday for an extradition proceeding.




Glionna reported from Las Vegas. Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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Scarred Duckbill Dinosaur Escaped T. Rex Attack

A scar on the face of a duckbill dinosaur received after a close encounter with a Tyrannosaurus rex is the first clear case of a healed dinosaur wound, scientists say.

The finding, detailed in the current issue of the journal Cretaceous Research, also reveals that the healing properties of dinosaur skin were likely very similar to that of modern reptiles.

The lucky dinosaur was an adult Edmontosaurus annectens, a species of duckbill dinosaur that lived in what is today the Hell Creek region of South Dakota about 65 to 67 million years ago. (Explore a prehistoric time line.)

A teardrop-shaped patch of fossilized skin about 5 by 5 inches (12 by 14 centimeters) that was discovered with the creature's bones and is thought to have come from above its right eye, includes an oval-shaped section that is incongruous with the surrounding skin. (Related: "'Dinosaur Mummy' Found; Have Intact Skin, Tissue.")

Bruce Rothschild, a professor of medicine at the University of Kansas and Northeast Ohio Medical University, said the first time he laid eyes on it, it was "quite clear" to him that he was looking at an old wound.

"That was unequivocal," said Rothschild, who is a co-author of the new study.

A Terrible Attacker

The skull of the scarred Edmontosaurus also showed signs of trauma, and from the size and shape of the marks on the bone, Rothschild and fellow co-author Robert DePalma, a paleontologist at the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History in Florida, speculate the creature was attacked by a T. rex.

It's likely, though still unproven, that both the skin wound and the skull injury were sustained during the same attack, the scientists say. The wound "was large enough to have been a claw or a tooth," Rothschild said.

Rothschild and DePalma also compared the dinosaur wound to healed wounds on modern reptiles, including iguanas, and found the scar patterns to be nearly identical.

It isn't surprising that the wounds would be similar, said paleontologist David Burnham of the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, since dinosaurs and lizards are distant cousins.

"That's kind of what we would expect," said Burnham, who was not involved in the study. "It's what makes evolution work—that we can depend on this."


Phil Bell, a paleontologist with the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative in Canada who also was not involved in the research, called the Edmontosaurus fossil "a really nicely preserved animal with a very obvious scar."

He's not convinced, however, that it was caused by a predator attack. The size of the scar is relatively small, Bell said, and would also be consistent with the skin being pierced in some other accident such as a fall.

"But certainly the marks that you see on the skull, those are [more consistent] with Tyrannosaur-bitten bones," he added.

Prior to the discovery, scientists knew of one other case of a dinosaur wound. But in that instance, it was an unhealed wound that scientists think was inflicted by scavengers after the creature was already dead.

It's very likely that this particular Edmontosaurus wasn't the only dinosaur to sport scars, whether from battle wounds or accidents, Bell added.

"I would imagine just about every dinosaur walking around had similar scars," he said. (Read about "Extreme Dinosaurs" in National Geographic magazine.)

"Tigers and lions have scarred noses, and great white sharks have got dings on their noses and nips taken out of their fins. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and [Edmontosaurus was] unfortunately in the line of fire from some pretty big and nasty predators ... This one was just lucky to get away."

Mysterious Escape

Just how Edmontosaurus survived a T. rex attack is still unclear. "Escape from a T. rex is something that we wouldn't think would happen," Burnham said.

Duckbill dinosaurs, also known as Hadrosaurs, were not without defenses. Edmontosaurus, for example, grew up to 30 feet (9 meters) in length, and could swipe its hefty tail or kick its legs to fell predators.

Furthermore, they were fast. "Hadrosaurs like Edmontosaurus had very powerful [running] muscles, which would have made them difficult to catch once they'd taken flight," Bell said.

Duckbills were also herd animals, so maybe this one escaped with help from neighbors. Or perhaps the T. rex that attacked it was young. "There's something surrounding this case that we don't know yet," Burnham said.

Figuring out the details of the story is part of what makes paleontology exciting, he added. "We construct past lives. We can go back into a day in the life of this animal and talk about an attack and [about] it getting away. That's pretty cool."

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Leap Motion unveils contents of its own app store

Paul Marks, chief technology correspondent


(Image: Leap Motion)

The Next Big Thing now has the next big app store. The Leap, the forthcoming 3D gestural control device that could by all accounts replace the mouse, the joystick and even the keyboard, will launch on 13 May alongside a fully stocked app store called Airspace.

The $80 gadget's maker, Leap Motion of San Francisco, numbers at least two senior Apple executives among its staff - Steve Jobs's former mobile ad expert Andy Miller and interactive marketeer Michael Zagorsek - so it is perhaps little surprise that the app store model has been harnessed by the ambitious start-up.

Yesterday, Leap announced that the apps on offer will range from serious high-fidelity gesture-based 3D design tools from AutoCAD author Autodesk, via a weather channel app offering Minority Report-style map movements, to drawing packages and games galore - from speedway racing to a hand-wavy version of mobile hit Cut The Rope.

Quite how the Leap manages its extraordinary resolution - it can track a 10-micrometre movement of your fingers at rates of up to 290 times per second - is still wrapped up in patents and a heavy dose of the company's own secret sauce. But with Leap - and Microsoft's lower-resolution Kinect system before it - having demonstrated the potential in this (volumetric) space, other firms not known for 3D work are now waking up to the possibilities.

For instance, the invention-licensing firm Intellectual Ventures of Bellevue, Washington, has recently filed US patents on processing 3D gestures and a TV with built-in gesture control. Let's  hope the 3D gesture-control space does not end up a minefield of patent litigation like the smartphone arena.

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US pledges US$60m for Syria opposition

ROME: The United States on Thursday pledged US$60 million in "non-lethal" assistance for the Syrian political opposition to President Bashar al-Assad as well as the first direct US aid to rebel fighters in the form of food and medical assistance.

"The US will be providing an additional US$60 million in non-lethal assistance to support the efforts of the Syrian opposition coalition over the coming months," US Secretary of State John Kerry said after talks between the 11-nation Friends of Syria and the opposition in Rome.

"We will be sending medical supplies and food to the (rebel) Supreme Military Council, so there will be direct assistance," he added.

"All Syrians... must know that they can have a future," Kerry said.

A State Department official said the US$60 million (49 million euros) in aid would be used to help local councils and communities in liberated areas in Syria, to provide basic goods and services and "fulfil administrative functions including security, sanitation and education services."

The official said the new money was in addition to US$50 million in non-lethal support Washington has already provided to help Syrian opposition activists, including communications equipment.

That aid was provided through Turkey, while the United States has also contributed some US$380 million dollars in humanitarian aid through UN agencies and aid groups.

Asked about congressional approval of the funding, Kerry told journalists he was "very confident for rapid delivery".

He said the goal was to give a boost to the opposition and show Assad that he could not use violence to resolve the conflict.

"This is the beginning of the process that will change (Assad's) calculation."

The announcement of aid came as news broke of a car bomb explosion in a suburb of the flashpoint city of Homs that left "dead and wounded", according to state news agency SANA, which blamed "terrorists" for the blast.

Kerry had earlier met for about an hour with opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib at the 16th-century Villa Madama on a hilltop above Rome.

The Rome talks come two days before an important meeting of the main opposition National Coalition on Saturday in Istanbul, where the umbrella group is to elect a prime minister and government to run parts of Syria seized from Assad's control.

A watchdog reported, meanwhile, that rebels had seized control of the Umayyad Mosque in the second city of Aleppo after days of fierce clashes that damaged the historic building.

Regime troops were forced to withdraw at dawn, taking up positions in buildings around the landmark structure, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Officials from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates took part in the Rome talks, as well as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The Syrian opposition -- which initially vowed a boycott -- had been lured back to the meeting after the US and Britain promised specific offers of help.

In Paris on Wednesday, Kerry said he wanted to hear from Khatib about how best to end the violence in Syria, where the United Nations says at least 70,000 have died and hundreds of thousands have been uprooted since the conflict broke out in March 2011.

US media including The New York Times and Washington Post have reported that the "non-lethal" aid to be provided to the opposition could include equipment such as vehicles, communications gear and night-vision goggles.

The New York Times also reported that a US mission training rebels at a base in the region was already under way.

Russia, Assad's most powerful supporter, has kept up pressure for the two sides in the Syrian conflict to sit down for negotiations.

In Moscow, French President Francois Hollande said ahead of a meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that a political solution to the Syrian crisis was possible within weeks.

"I think that in the next few weeks we will manage to find a political solution that will stop the conflict from escalating," Hollande told Echo of Moscow radio station in comments translated into Russian.

Hollande stressed Russia's key role as a member of the UN Security Council, where it has vetoed resolutions that would have put pressure on Assad to end hostilities.

"We must finally start the process of political dialogue that has not yet started on the territory of Syria."

"President Putin and I both understand all the seriousness of the situation. And even though our positions at the moment differ, we want to find the best solution for Syria."

- AFP/xq

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