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Stink Bugs Invade Pennsylvania

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 22 (UPI) — Pennsylvania is under assault by stinkbugs looking for a winter home in what scientists are calling an epidemic of the invaders.

Linda Hyatt, a horticulture program assistant for Penn State, says the brown marmorated stink bugs have begun to find their way into homes, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Wednesday.

The pests have been in Pennsylvania since 1998, but Hyatt calls this year an epidemic.

“This is definitely the worst year for them that we’ve seen,” Hyatt said.

They’re called stink bugs because they have scent glands on their bodies, Hyatt said, and leave an unpleasant odor if crushed.

On sunny days the insects will gather on the south and west sides of buildings where the sun is warmest, she said, but as colder weather sets in they will be looking for ways to enter homes.

The bugs don’t do any damage, Hyatt said. They don’t bite, don’t chew on wood and don’t reproduce while in people’s homes during the winter.

“They’re not going to do any damage once they do get in,” she said. “They’re just a nuisance.”

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Brain Connects Better Looking at Nature

SHEFFIELD, England, Sept. 18 (UPI) — Environmental scenes of natural features such as the ocean cause distinct brain areas to become “connected” with one another, British researchers say.

However, University of Sheffield researchers say man-made environments, such as highways, disrupt these brain connections.

Dr. Michael Hunter of the University of Sheffield’s Cognition and Neuroimaging Laboratory and colleagues at the Institute of Medicine and Neuroscience at Julich, Germany, carried out functional brain scanning at the University of Sheffield to examine brain activity when people were presented with images of tranquil beach scenes and non-tranquil highway scenes.

Waves breaking on a beach and traffic moving on a highway produce a similar sound and the study participants were shown the scenes while they listened to the same sound.

“People experience tranquility as a state of calmness and reflection, which is restorative compared with the stressful effects of sustained attention in day-to-day life,” Hunter says in a statement.

Professor Peter Woodruff of the University of Sheffield says the finding may have implications for the design of more tranquil public spaces and buildings, including hospitals, because it provides a way of measuring the impact of environmental and architectural features on peopleĀ“s psychological state.

The findings are published in the journal NeuroImage.

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Scientists Say London Vulnerable to Quake

LONDON, Sept. 16 (UPI) — The earthquake threat to London has been underestimated and the vulnerability of the British capital is greater than many people realize, scientists say.

Researchers with the British Geological Survey say the southeast of England is not likely to be hit by the kind of devastating quakes experienced in other parts of the world but planners should prepare for events that will produce damaging shaking, the BBC reported Thursday.

The biggest U.K. quake on record occurred in the North Sea off the Yorkshire coast in 1931, the BBC said.

The magnitude 6.1 event shook the eastern side of England all the way to London, scientists say.

In April 1580 a quake centered on the Dover Strait, where clay soils tend to amplify any shaking, killed two people and damaged large numbers of buildings in London.

Sometime in the future a similar earthquake is almost certain to happen, researchers say, with an increased risk to society.

“The same earthquake happening tomorrow will impact far more people than was the case in the 16th Century,” Roger Musson of the BGS said. “The size of London in terms of population is about 50 times more today than it was then. So if two people were killed in London in 1580, you can imagine for yourself what sort of scaling up that could mean for a contemporary earthquake of the same size.”

While London’s modern skyscrapers should easily handle a magnitude 5.5 quake, it’s the city’s older historical buildings that worry scientists.

“If you go round the streets of London today and just look up at the roof line, you will probably see a lot of weak, old ornaments and chimneys,” Musson said. “Those are the things that are most likely to be damaged.

“It may not sound very dramatic compared to buildings collapsing, but if you are walking in the street and a chimney falls on you — that’s bad news,” he said.

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New Method for Computers to See Studied

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 9 (UPI) — Computer vision systems can better understand an image if programmed to make assumptions about the physical constraints of the scene, U.S. researchers say.

Carnegie Mellon University scientists say that like a child using toy building blocks to assemble something that “looks like” a building, a computer could analyze an outdoor scene by using “virtual blocks” to build an approximation of the image based on parameters of volume and mass, a university release reported.

“When people look at a photo, they understand that the scene is geometrically constrained,” Abhinav Gupta of CMU’s Robotics Institute said. “We know that buildings aren’t infinitely thin, that most towers do not lean, and that heavy objects require support.

“It might not be possible to know the three-dimensional size and shape of all the objects in the photo, but we can narrow the possibilities,” he said.

“In the same way, if a computer can replicate an image, block by block, it can better understand the scene.”

Automated scene analysis could eventually be used to understand not only the objects in a scene, but the spaces in between them and what might lie behind areas obscured by objects in the foreground, Alexei A. Efros, associate professor of robotics and computer science at CMU, said.

That level of detail would be important, for instance, if a robot needed to plan a route where it might walk, he noted.

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Laser Backpack Measures Interiors

BERKELEY, Calif., Sept. 8 (UPI) — A portable laser backpack than can produce fast, automatic and realistic 3-D mapping of difficult interior environments has been developed, officials say.

The reconnoitering backpack was developed at the University of California, Berkeley, and funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Army Research Office, an Air Force release said Tuesday.

The backpack is the first system designed to work without having to be strapped to a robot or attached to a rolling cart.

Its data acquisition speed is very fast, collecting data in real time while the human operator is walking, in contrast to existing systems in which the data is collected in a stop-and-go fashion, resulting in days and weeks of data acquisition time, the Air Force said.

The technology will allow military personnel to collectively view the interior of modeled buildings and interact over a network in order to achieve military goals like mission planning, researchers said.

The cutting-edge technology has been successfully tested on the university campus.

“We have already generated 3-D models of two stories of the electrical engineering building at UC Berkeley, including the stairway, and that is a first,” Avideh Zakhor, lead researcher and professor of electrical engineering, said.

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Study Says Sheltering Better Nuclear Plan

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 (UPI) — A U.S. study says that in a nuclear detonation people in large cities would be better off sheltering in place rather than trying to evacuate immediately.

Researchers at Stanford University say that unless a lengthy warning period is provided, clogged exit roads would pose more significant risks by exposing evacuees to radiation than if people were to remain in place at the center of large buildings or in basements, a release from the Society for Risk Analysis says.

The Stanford research uses sophisticated mathematical models to investigate the impact of various response strategies.

“The logistical challenge of an evacuation appears to be beyond current response capabilities,” study author Lawrence M. Wein of Stanford said.

The Stanford researchers cite previous studies saying first responders are unlikely to be able to establish evacuation stations until 12-48 hours after an attack, no significant federal response would be likely for 24 hours, and a full federal response is not likely to be achieved for 72 hours.

“Unlike a bioterror or chemical attack, it may not be possible for the government to provide timely advice to the populace after such an event,” the study said.

The research was published in the journal Risk Analysis.

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It's 'lights Out' in N.Y. — for the Birds

NEW YORK, Sept. 2 (UPI) — An increasing number of New York skyscrapers are turning their lights off at night — not to save energy but to save birds’ lives, officials say.

The “lights out” project to help reduce the number of birds hitting the high rise building was organized by the New York City Audubon Society and will run until Nov. 1, when migratory birds are expected to have completed their autumn migrations, the BBC reported.

Organizers of the annual program, now in its fifth year, say the bright lights disorient migrating birds and override their natural navigational cues.

An estimated 90,000 birds each year are killed in the city as a result of striking glass-faced buildings.

Volunteers will patrol many of the buildings at night.

“The monitoring and research improves our understanding of the causes behind urban bird [strikes], and studies ways to prevent future [strikes] from occurring,” Susan Elbin, director of conservation for NYC Audubon, said.

Among the buildings dimming their lights are the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

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Ancient Roman Mill Uncovered in U.K.

LONDON, Aug. 26 (UPI) — British archaeologists say they’ve discovered a Roman “industrial park” that may have been home to a famous missing legion.

The unearthed site in North Yorkshire includes the remains of a water-powered flour mill used to grind grain and produce food, clothes, graves and pottery for the soldiers, The Daily Telegraph reported Wednesday.

The site was excavated as part of a $494 million upgrade of a major U.K. highway.

The newly uncovered site is close to a ruined fort at Healam Bridge, part of the Roman frontier in northern England 2,000 years ago.

It is believed the military outpost was used by the Roman Ninth Hispanic Legion, which disappeared sometime in the 2nd Century AD.

“We know a lot about Roman forts, which have been extensively studied, but to excavate an industrial area with a mill is really exciting,” team leader Blaise Vyner said.

“We hope it can tell us more about how such military outposts catered for their needs, as self-sufficiency would have been important.”

The industrial area comprised a series of large timber buildings, mostly on the north side of a mountain stream that powered the mill, researchers said.

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Weather's Effect on Old Buildings Eyed

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Aug. 23 (UPI) — Scottish researchers say they’ve developed a method of forecasting weather damage to historic buildings and statues that could help in their preservation.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have devised a method of forecasting decay caused by weather to stone buildings and statues, monuments and other historic sites, as well as modern masonry buildings, a university release said Monday.

The slow deterioration of buildings is often caused by ground water rising up through the stone then evaporating, leaving crystallized salts on the surface. The impact of ice forming and melting during cold weather can also cause physical damage, researchers say.

This weathering damage can cause damage to monuments and buildings and lead to crumbling or collapse.

Higher temperatures and lower humidity expected with global climate change would come increased rates of evaporation and damage, researchers say.

Scientists at the university’s school of engineering have developed a computer model of water movement within stone, the first of its kind, which will allow for predicting effects of future climate changes.

“This research allows us to predict the effect of climate change on water movement through buildings, enabling engineers to decide on the most appropriate method of preservation in the years ahead,” Andrea Hamilton of the University’s School of Engineering said.

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Survey: More Favor Restaurant Smoking Ban

PRINCETON, N.J., Aug. 7 (UPI) — Fifty-nine percent of U.S. adults say smoking should be banned in restaurants, up 5 percentage points from 2007, a survey indicates.

However, the USA Today/Gallup telephone — land line and cellphone — poll of 1,020 U.S. adults, says 23 percent say there should be no smoking restrictions in bars.

From 1987, when Gallup first started polling on the issue of smoking in public places, the percentage of regular cigarette smokers among the U.S. adult population as measured by Gallup has declined from 30 percent to 22 percent.

Fifty-five percent of those polled say secondhand smoke poses a significant health risk for non-smokers, compared with 36 percent in 1994, the year Gallup first measured opinions involving secondhand smoke.

Currently, half of U.S. states have broad bans on smoking in indoor public places, such as workplaces, public buildings, restaurants and bars. The rest of the states have more limited restrictions, such as requiring designated smoking areas in restaurants and workplaces, or prohibiting smoking only in government buildings and schools.

The poll was conducted July 8-11 and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

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