Archive for February, 2008

Blog rating and reading level

February 29, 2008

I retested my blog rating:

and blog reading level:
blog readability test
for my WordPress blog. The results are the same as before.

More military technology…

February 29, 2008

According to the Army’s news page, the eight new Manned Ground Vehicle (MGV) types proposed as part of the Army’s “Future Combat Systems” (FCS) modernization program will all be hybrid-electric vehicles. Further, they will be constructed so that the diesel engine/generator can be pulled easily, to be replaced by fuel cells should that technology reach the needed capability. They also note that the MGVs’ electrical systems will also be able to help support many of the advanced systems that are also part of the FCS program.

Ricin

February 29, 2008

With the recent discovery of ricin in a Las Vegas hotel room, it has become a topic of interest all over the internet. Ricin is a potent toxin (with a lethal dose as small as 0.2 mg), naturally contained in castor beans (Ricinus communis), the source of castor oil (ricin is water-soluble, and thus remains separate from the oils of the bean when properly processed).
Greg Laden of ScienceBlogs has a post about it, which contains a quote about ricin’s mechanism of action; namely, that it attacks and disables eukaryotic ribosomes (source abstract here).
The post also has a picture of the ricin molecule’s 3d structure.

Cool but creepy

February 29, 2008

At the recent Greener Gadgets Design Competition, Jim Mielke demonstrated an interesting device: the “Digital Tattoo Interface” a subcutaneously implanted 2×4-inch touch-screen Bluetooth device powered by a coin-sized fuel cell that runs on blood (or more specifically, the glucose and oxygen carried by it). It uses a field-sensitive material in microscopic spheres, similar to tattoo ink, to change colors between clear and black to form the display. It also monitors the blood flowing through it for signs of various blood disorders, warning the person of health problems. As noted, it is still in the concept stage.

Pre-emptive PC Censorship in the UK

February 29, 2008

Nathalie Rothschild has an article in Spiked Online about the new trend of censoring expression that might offend someone, before it has actually done so. Primary is the case of the promotional poster for Fat Christ, Gavin Davis’ comedic play about a financially struggling chubby man who makes a deal with a London art dealer to crucify himself. Officials at Transport for London (TfL) blocked the poster for the play from being displayed in Underground stations for fear that someone might see it and be offended:
“Millions of people travel on the London Underground each day and they have no choice but to view whatever adverts are posted there… We have to take account of every passenger and endeavour not to cause offence in the advertising we display.”

Where does it stop? I find myself again reminded of Connie Willis‘ 1991 short story “Much Ado About [Censored],” (which can be found in 2041 A.D.: Twelve Short Stories, edited by Jane Yolen), wherein a school production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is reduced to a few lines following removal of all ‘objectionable’ material (such as when the ‘Drapery Defense League’ objects to Polonius being stabbed while hiding behind a curtain).

Libertarians for Obama

February 29, 2008

Kevin D. Williamson has another great post over at NRO’s Media Blog, this time about the illogic of libertarians who support Barack Obama. There was one well-written paragraph that I particularly enjoyed:

I understand and, to a great extent, sympathize with the libertarian objection to American military involvement around the world, but I’ve got some bad news for you, Sunshine: We’re not leaving Iraq. McCain, Obama, Hillary, Ron Paul—we could elect Grover from Sesame Street president, and we’re not leaving Iraq. We still have troops in Germany, Okinawa, and Korea—and people think we’re pulling out of Iraq, where there’s still actual fighting going on, and where, even the most moonbatty anti-Bush picket-bearer will enthusiastically agree, we have strategic interests? (The Left only approves of military action where the U.S. has no national interest at stake, i.e. Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia, Darfur, &c.)

Go and read the rest right now.

Game theory, the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and Super Delegates

February 29, 2008

Jay Cost has an interesting essay at RealClearPolitics using a Prisoner’s Dilemma-style game-theoretic arguement as to the flaws of the Democratic Party’s “super delegates” system.

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords

February 29, 2008

I’ve got several news items for those interested in robotics and related technology.

I. Remember the powered exoskeleton for farmers being developed by the Japanese? Well, now Nagayo University’s Departments of Micro-Nano Engineering, Mechanical Science and Engineering of the Graduate School of Engineering have teamed up to develop a wearable robotic device for carpenters. It is designed primarily to reduce arm fatigue in the difficult task of fitting ceiling boards in place. In the words of Gizmodo, this suit makes the “most powerful carpenters since Jesus.

II. You might have heard of the robotic medical dummies used to train medical students at The University of Portsmouth. Well, now trainee dentists in Japan may have something similar: Simroid. With a mouth loaded with sensors, she responds to mistakes by the trainee that would be painful to a real patient, including saying ouch and grimacing. It also exibits a gag reflex when instruments are inserted too deeply. It also contains sensors in the breasts to record any inappropriate touching by the trainee (here). A video of Simroid in action can be seen here.

III. According to this post, iRobot Corporation is exploring a sensor system that combines 2D camera sensor methods with laser range finding to create a “3D scanner” sensor for their next generation military robot.

IV. Crusher, Carnegie Mellon University’s 6.5 ton Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle (UGCV), is completing two weeks of testing at Fort Bliss, Texas. Video of the rough off-road terrain field tests can be seen here.

V. Atlanta bar owner Rufus Terrill devised a unique solution to the vandals, drug dealers, and petty thieves he claims have been roaming the streets outside his bar. Combining an old meat smoker, a three-wheel scooter, a spotlight, an infrared camera, a water cannon, a loudspeaker, and impact resistant rubber, he created a remote-control security robot. Reactions to this are mixed.

VI. The Transterpreter Group have created a cross-platform IDE for creating and running robot code in the occam-π language.

VII. The Newman Lab for Biomechanics and Human Rehabilitation at MIT has developed robots for rehabilitation therapy for those suffering motor imapirment due to stroke, spinal cord damage, or other nervous system injury. These machines represent a first step in contact robotics [pdf], where robots can safely interact physically with humans.

VIII. Also at MIT, the Aerospace Controls Laboratory of the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department has been testing autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) indoors with the Real-time indoor Autonomous Vehicle test Environment, or RAVEN. This has allowed them to bypass many of the difficulties found in the usual outdoor tests. Some of their accomplishments include a giving a single-propeller fixed-wing UAV the capacity to hover tail down, transition to and from level flight, and land on a vertical landing platform, as described in this paper [pdf].

IX. Then, of course, there’s the recently publicized comments by University of Sheffield professor Noel Sharkey that the falling costs of robotic technology may make it possible for militant groups to build killer robots in the near future. He estimates that a GPS-equipped flying drone with an autopilot could be built for about £250.

Of course, if people get worried about robot attacks, you may soon see products like this [Requires QuickTime].

First Amendment

February 29, 2008

Charles Krauthammer has an article at National Review Online about the oft-forgotten petition clause of the First Amendment, and it’s relation to political lobbying:
“It calls it the right ‘to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’ Lobbyists are people hired to do that for you, so that you can actually stay home with the kids and remain gainfully employed rather than spend your life in the corridors of Washington.”
A good read, and a needed reminder to many of an important right of the American people.

Good news

February 29, 2008

Steve Warshak, founder and president of Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, has been convicted of fraud. Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals are the makers of Enzyte, amongst other “herbal suppliments.” Hopefully, we’ll see an end to those obnoxious “smiling Bob” ads soon!