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UPI NewsTrack Science and Technology News

Jan. 15, 2013 at 7:01 PM   |   Comments

Facebook adds 'social' search function

MENLO PARK, Calif., Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Facebook has announced a search feature it says will allow users to search the site for information about their friends' interests, and for photos and places.

The feature -- dubbed Graph Search and introduced Tuesday by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg -- will allow Facebook users to examine material shared by their friends and use natural language search questions for information like "friends who live in my city" or "Indian restaurants liked by my friends in India," the company said in a statement on its site.

The feature has launched as a beta version, but users must put their name on a waiting list to try out the new search function, The Washington Post reported.

Searches within Facebook will allow the social media site to compete with Google and Microsoft for advertising dollars by offering advertisers a way to utilize the contextual data of "likes" that users share, analysts said.

Motley Fool analyst Andrew Tonner said that will be attractive to advertisers looking for ways to build brand engagement on Facebook.

"The social link gives you additional context," he said. "You're more likely to take some sort of action if someone you know has also had a favorable experience."


Record extreme weather events seen in 2012

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- 2012 saw thousands of monthly weather records broken in communities throughout the United States, a year-end review of weather indicates.

An updated extreme weather mapping tool and year-end review released by the Natural Resources Defense Council has tallied record-breaking heat, rainfall and snow events and cataloged them by state.

Some 3,527 monthly weather records were broken in 2012, surpassing the 3,251 records smashed in 2011, an NRDC release said Tuesday.

Some of those newly broken records had stood for 30 years or more, the release said.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has estimated 2012 will surpass 2011 in aggregate costs for U.S. annual billion-dollar disasters, due in large part to the destruction wrought by Superstorm Sandy and from the yearlong drought.

Sandy devastated states along the Atlantic seaboard, while summer brought the worst drought in 50 years across the country's breadbasket, with more than 1,300 U.S. counties across 29 states declared drought disaster areas.

The top 10 states reporting record-breaking weather events in 2012 were Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin, the NRDC said.

An interactive map of 2012's extreme events has been posted at http://www.nrdc.org/health/extremeweather/default.asp.


Ancient stones in Panama possibly healer's

BOQUETE, Panama, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Archaeologists say unusual stones found in Panama represent the earliest material evidence of shamanistic practice in lower Central America.

Researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama said the placement and unusual composition of a cluster of 12 stones, dated as at least 4,000 years old, suggests they were used by a shaman or healer.

Charcoal found directly underneath the cache of stones in the back of a small, prehistoric rock-shelter was radiocarbon dated to 4,800 years ago, while a second fragment of charcoal in a level above the stones was dated to 4,000 years ago, a Smithsonian release reported Monday.

"There was no evidence of a disturbance or pit feature to suggest someone had come along, dug a hole and buried the stones at a later date," said Ruth Dickau, a post-doctoral researcher from the University of Exeter in Britain. "The fact that the stones were found in a tight pile suggests they were probably deposited inside a bag or basket, which subsequently decomposed."

Shamans or healers belonging to early peoples in Central and South America often included special stones among the objects they used for ritual practices, the researchers said.

Although the rocks and crystals found in the rock shelter are commonly associated with gold deposits in Central America, they said, there is no evidence the stones were collected in the course of gold prospecting.

"But the collector of the stones clearly had an eye for unusual stones and crystals with a special significance whose meaning is lost to us," geologist Stewart Redwood said.


Satellites, GPS help combat bird strikes

PARIS, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- A European project using satellite data and bird tracking could trim bird strikes that have killed hundreds of people in the last two decades, researchers say.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says bird strikes have killed more than 231 people and destroyed over 220 aircraft worldwide since 1988.

The European Space Agency, in partnership with the air forces and research institutions of several European countries, has been conducting a FlySafe project that uses weather and environmental data from Earth-observing satellites and tracking of individual birds from space using global positioning system tags. The information is combined with local migration information from ground radar to improve national bird-warning systems.

"Air forces use the system in combination with their surveillance radars for en route bird strike prevention, during low-flying exercises, for example," said Siete Hamminga, head of the Dutch company Robin Radar Systems, which has been offering a commercial version of the system.

"With their long-range detection, these systems can scan hundreds of kilometers around. When a bird strike risk through high migration densities is identified, it is relatively easy for air forces to postpone flights or bring them in," Hamminga said in a release from ESA's Paris headquarters.

The space agency's involvement has provided a "significant contribution to the rise of Robin.

"This is the explosive mixture you get when combining applied science with entrepreneurship."

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