Therapy for milk allergy

For people with a dairy allergy, gulping down a glass of milk is unthinkable. But many patients came away with that ability after a months-long program of exposure to increasing amounts of milk, researchers from Israel reported February 24 at a meeting of the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology.

But other data released at the conference raise questions about the long-term sustainability of such treatment.


Do ASUS and Samsung really think people will want to make phone calls on a tablet? Yes.

Smartphone screen sizes have reached ridiculous levels since the so-called “phablet” era began, but few sights are as bizarre as the idea of making phone calls on a tablet. That doesn’t mean that making phone calls on an ASUS FonePad or Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 are as crazy as you think.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to hold such a large device up to my head to make a phone call. Even with my massive hands, I’m not even sure that I could. I avoided using a Samsung Galaxy Note II when making calls to my parents because the lengthy periods of time holding the device made me uncomfortable. The thought of trying to replicate that on a tablet is downright absurd.

I understood why people seemed perturbed by the ASUS FonePad and Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 having phone capabilities, but all of the people making jokes and criticizing the manufacturers for creating such large phones failed to realize one thing – these are not phones. The FonePad and Galaxy Note 8.0 are tablets. Yes, ASUS probably made a foolish move by putting a phone reference into the branding, but these are tablets that happen to have phone-calling capabilities, not daily drivers that someone will always try to have lengthy conversations on. These are devices that will be used primarily to read books, watch videos, and draw. Phone calling on these devices is a feature, not the primary use case. To make that point clearer, you can bet neither device will have a calling option if and when they are released in the U.S.

Making phone call on a tablet is not as outlandish as some would have you believe. I have both a smartphone and a 7-inch tablet that I frequently carry, and there have been times where I could see myself making a call on my tablet, which would allow me to save precious power on my smartphone. If someone is already paying monthly service charges to access data on their tablets, I could understand why they might like to have the option of making calls on a tablet as well. In the bizarre event that someone actually plans to use the FonePad or Galaxy Note 8.0 as a primary phone – again, I don’t know why anyone would pursue that option – there’s a little-known invention called a Bluetooth headset that can make the user look less ridiculous.

The ASUS FonePad and Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 are not the first tablets capable of making phone calls. The original Samsung Galaxy Tab also had the feature in European markets, and I doubt there are many people who recall seeing many phone calls made with that giant device. The phone capabilities of these tablets are simply options, and consumers tend to embrace options no matter how ridiculous they make the user appear. In a world where people record entire concerts on their iPad, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see someone want to make occasional phone calls on a device that’s capable of connecting them to another person.

Samsung Wallet announced as an Android alternative for Apple Passbook

Samsung will enter the mobile ticketing game and release an Android app that can save boarding passes, coupons, membership reward information, and more. It’s pretty much Passbook for Samsung’s Android smartphones.

Samsung Wallet debuted earlier today at a developer presentation at Mobile World Congress. Samsung revealed that, just like Apple Passbook, Wallet is designed to store digital copies of the things that would normally appear in your traditional wallet. The app doesn’t support NFC mobile payments, but it stores other data. Developers can access a new SDK and API set to store event tickets, hotel confirmations, membership data, loyalty cards, and more. The app securely stores the data and pushes notifications when near a place or time that Wallet items can be used.

Similar features aren’t surprising given that there are several players attempting to provide an integrated solution for digital wallets. Apps like Cardstar stored membership and loyalty cards long before Passbook came along, and Google Wallet has always sought to merge digital payments, ticketing, and rewards cards. However, as The Verge points out, Samsung Wallet has design similarities in the app and icon that are obviously reminiscent of Apple’s Passbook. That should make for some interesting discussions between the two companies entangled in court cases over alleged copying of each other’s patents and designs.

While the lawyers will surely be even busier soon, Samsung is focused on launching Wallet with as many partners as possible., Expedia, Major League Baseball,, and Walgreens are among the companies that have already signed-on to participate. More news on Wallet will likely appear when Samsung announces the Galaxy S IV next month.

Adobe Photoshop Touch comes to iPhone and Android smartphones

Adobe Photoshop is the most used graphic editing desktop app, and the new Adobe Photoshop Touch app for iPhone and Androids wants to bring the power of its graphic and photo editing to smartphones. Photoshop Touch has been available for tablets since 2011, but Adobe had not made the software available to smartphones until now. Android and iPhone users can now perform the following features with the app:

– Edit images that are 12 megapixels or fewer
– Add layers of multiple images and text
– Use Photoshop tools for selection and extraction, filters, and color adjustments
– Auto-sync images to Adobe Creative Cloud to store up to 2GB of content (free account, no paid subscription required)
– Use Scribble Selection uses a finger to trace to select portions of an image
– Add layers to the camera in real-time with Camera Fill

Photoshop Touch for tablets and smartphones have identical feature sets, according to Adobe, but not all options made the transition to the smaller screen. The app has been formatted to enable photo editing on a smaller device, but it can also be saved in Adobe Creative Cloud to enable further editing on a tablet or Photoshop CS6 on the desktop.

Adobe Photoshop Touch is available now for $4.99. It requires an Apple iPhone 4S or later running iOS 6 or later. The Android versions requires Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or later.

Russia meteor virtually impossible to see coming

Scientists have begun piecing together the characteristics of the meteor that exploded over Russia on the morning of February 15, using data from seismic instruments that track earthquakes and microphones designed to detect sonic booms from nuclear explosions. Unlike the asteroid DA14, which narrowly but predictably missed Earth later that day, the meteor was too small to detect before its contrail appeared in the dawn skies over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.

Yet even an object too small to detect can produce an impressive amount of destruction. The meteor was 15 meters across (compared with 50 meters for 2012 DA14) and weighed more than 7,000 metric tons when it entered Earth’s atmosphere, says Margaret Campbell-Brown, an astronomer at Western University in London, Ontario. She estimates that it was streaking through the sky at supersonic speeds of about 18 kilometers a second before exploding at an altitude of 15 to 20 kilometers, creating a shock wave that shattered glass in a deafening boom once it reached the surface. Various news sources have reported hundreds of buildings damaged and about 1,200 injuries.

Coincidentally, the largest observed meteor to enter the atmosphere since 1908 arrived just hours before a much larger object passed the planet uneventfully at a distance of about 27,000 kilometers.

“The fireball is not related in any way to 2012 DA14,” says Paul Chodas, a planetary scientist with NASA’s Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Among other reasons, the meteor buzzed through the sky from north to south, the opposite trajectory of DA14.

The explosion had the equivalent of up to 500,000 tons of TNT, Campbell-Brown says. That’s about 30 times the energy output of the Hiroshima atomic bomb but only 5 percent of the energy of the famous 1908 Tunguska meteor that downed trees over a 2,000-square-kilometer area in Siberia, some 2,400 kilometers from the February 15 event. The Tunguska meteor is estimated to have been about the size of 2012 DA14.

It is no surprise that scientists did not detect the Russian meteor in advance, says Alan Chamberlin of the Near Earth Object Program. Astronomers around the world use ground-based telescopes that can find only those objects that are large enough to reflect sufficient light for detection. A telescope at La Sagra Observatory in southern Spain spotted DA14 on February 22, 2012 because the asteroid was making a close pass to Earth during its 366-day orbit. Astronomers were not so lucky with the Russian object: It was smaller and approached from a sunward direction, Campbell-Brown says, meaning the sun’s glare eliminated any chance of telescope detection in advance.

In general NASA is hunting much larger objects. In 1998, Congress requested that NASA identify 90 percent of near-Earth asteroids a kilometer or more across, a benchmark NASA has achieved. An impact by such an asteroid would threaten civilization. In 2005, that requirement expanded to asteroids 140 meters or larger. So far NASA has identified more than 9,600 near-Earth objects, most of them larger than 100 meters across and none of them a threat to Earth.

The relative blindness to smaller asteroids and other objects, which would not wipe out humanity but could still cause major damage, has many astronomers calling for a more ambitious search. The B612 Foundation, founded by scientists including former astronauts Ed Lu and Rusty Schweickart, plans to launch a space telescope by 2018 to hunt for near-Earth objects as small as 30 meters in diameter. Astronomers have cataloged only about a half-percent of the million-plus near-Earth asteroids in that size range, Schweickart says.

B612’s telescope likely could spot a Tunguska-like asteroid before it strikes, but identifying a 15-meter rock would be a long shot. For the foreseeable future, these events, while very rare, will continue to come by surprise. “It certainly reminds us what even a smaller asteroid is capable of,” Chodas says. “This is Mother Nature shooting across the bow.”

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Aquatic predators affect carbon-storing plant life

In ecosystems around the world, big guys eat littler guys, who in turn eat plants and other organisms at the base of the food web. A study now finds that removing top predators in freshwater environments allows their prey to flourish — and overgraze on plants and algae. The result of the missing plant matter: a 93 percent reduction in uptake and storage of carbon dioxide.

Several research teams have explored the importance of predators in protecting organisms that store carbon, notes ecologist James Estes of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was not involved in the new research. The new study is particularly strong, he says, because it demonstrates predators’ influence across a broad range of ecosystems. It therefore suggests “that the phenomenon may be fairly general.”

When pesticide runoff, overfishing or other human activities impact ecosystems, the first species to disappear are usually the bigger, top predators, notes freshwater ecologist John Richardson of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and coauthor of the study, published online February 17 in Nature Geoscience. The new work shows that predator losses have effects beyond the loss of biodiversity: “We can see climate effects as well,” he says. “We start seeing a higher flux of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

Study leader Trisha Atwood, then also at the University of British Columbia, and colleagues simulated three freshwater ecosystems outdoors to study the effects lower in the food web of predator loss at the top. They diverted water from streams near Vancouver into six channels they had constructed. Those channels accumulated critters and debris for about six weeks. To simulate ponds, Atwood’s team added water and sediment from ponds in Vancouver to 10 tanks, each about 2 meters across, and let them acquire organisms over 18 months. And to study the water-holding reservoirs among leaves of some plants, the ecologists went to Costa Rica and let the center well of 20 bromeliads — flowering plants found mainly in tropical regions — collect a little water and wildlife over a two-week period.

In half of the simulated ecosystems in each location, the researchers added top predators. For streams, that predator was the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), a 10-centimeter-long fish that feeds on zooplankton in stream water. Stonefly larvae served as the predator in the simulated ponds. And the researchers introduced damselfly larvae to feed on zooplankton in the bromeliads.

At the end of these accommodation periods, the researchers made daylong measurements of carbon dioxide in water. Then they compared the values for environments with and without their top predators.

Adding the top predators decreased the amount of carbon dioxide in the water by an average of 93 percent, Atwood and her colleagues report. When predators are absent, the researchers think the unchecked zooplankton aggressively feed on plants and algae in each ecosystem. Those photosynthetic organisms, had they not gotten eaten, would have used and stored carbon, removing it from the water. That in turn would have pulled more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

This predator effect on carbon dioxide has been reported in a few land-based environments, says David Butman of Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. But, he adds, “there have been few studies to explicitly suggest stream and pond systems may perform similarly.” As such, he argues, the new study is important in unraveling the complexity of natural environments. However, he cautions, scientists must recognize that the results come from artificial manipulations of ecosystems “until similar systems are identified in the wild.”

New home for runaway black hole

The most massive black hole ever measured may be an intergalactic hitchhiker that escaped from one galaxy before getting captured by another. If this scenario, laid out in a paper posted February 18 at, is proven correct, it would be the first time astronomers have definitively spotted a black hole that was expelled from its original galactic home.

Computer simulations of galaxy mergers suggest that some supermassive black holes can be nomads: When the galaxies’ central black holes unite, they can emit an enormous surge of energy in one direction. That burst would rocket the newly formed black hole in the opposite direction, the simulations say, often with enough speed to escape the galaxy.

Astronomers have scoured telescope images for signs of runaway black holes but have come up with only a few controversial possibilities. “We looked at a lot of objects and didn’t find anything,” says Erin Bonning, an astronomer at Quest University Canada in Squamish, British Columbia.

But last November, a study in Nature described a gargantuan black hole, 17 billion times the mass of the sun, at the center of a seemingly run-of-the-mill galaxy called NGC 1277 in the Perseus cluster 250 million light-years away. While most galaxies’ central black holes make up about one-tenth of a percent of their total mass, NGC 1277’s black hole accounts for 14 percent of the galactic mass. “That paper blew everyone’s mind,” Bonning says. “It’s an extraordinary black hole in an ordinary galaxy.”

NGC 1277 and its black hole seemed such an odd couple that Bonning and her colleague Gregory Shields, of the University of Texas at Austin, began to question whether the two had evolved together. They studied images of the Perseus cluster and calculated the gravitational interactions of astronomical objects, trying to determine whether this black hole could have been tossed from another galaxy and then snapped up by NGC 1277.

The key was finding a giant galaxy, the kind that could support a 17-billion-solar-mass black hole, about 325,000 light-years away from NGC 1277. Bonning and Shields propose that this galaxy, called NGC 1275, is the product of a galactic merger that took place billions of years ago. The merging galaxies’ black holes, each about 10 billion times the mass of the sun, orbited each other at nearly the speed of light until they united. Then the scenario from the computer simulations played out: Energy released from the merger flung away the newly formed black hole.

Bonning and Shields suggest that the black hole spent a few billion years whizzing through intergalactic space at about 4.5 million kilometers per hour. It had some companions for its journey: a posse of millions of orbiting stars trapped by the black hole’s intense gravitational pull. Finally the black hole made a close pass to NGC 1277, and over hundreds of millions of years, the galaxy reeled it in to its center.

Bonning and Shields submitted this version of events to Astrophysical Journal Letters and they expect plenty of scrutiny. Avi Loeb, a theorist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., praises Bonning and Shields’ creativity but notes that each of the steps that they describe does not occur frequently in the universe. “Several rare events together are unlikely,” he says. “I would think that there are more likely ways of achieving the same result.”

Shields notes that NGC 1275’s current black hole is slightly smaller than scientists expected, perhaps suggesting that the galaxy had to rebuild from scratch after losing its previous black hole. He and Bonning hope to perform a computer simulation of their proposed scenario. “It was a lot of fun to work on,” Shields says. “Now we need to convince astronomers, including myself, that it’s true.”