Wednesday, September 30, 2009

China to stage mass celebrations: 60 years of Communist Power

Security forces have been deployed in force across Beijing, ahead of a military parade expected to showcase previously unseen missile technology.

A pageant featuring ordinary people will also be held in Tiananmen Square.

Some 30,000 people have been invited to watch the events, but others are being encouraged to stay at home and watch it on TV to "avoid complications".

Armed police in body armour have taken up positions at major road junctions in the capital, with snipers spotted on buildings along the parade route on Chang'an Avenue.

The BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing says roads have been blocked off, the international airport will be closed and the subway disrupted.

Many shops and businesses have been closed along the route and a new portrait of Mao Zedong has been installed in Tiananmen Square, he adds.

Some reports say the extravaganza will use twice as many fireworks as featured in the opening ceremony to last year's Olympic Games.

National Day is an annual highlight for the Chinese government, but extra effort has been made to mark the 60th anniversary of what China sees as the start of its transformation from an impoverished country to a global contender.

On the eve of the festivities, the country's leaders held a dinner for 4,000 people in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Premier Wen Jiabao praised China's development and said was looking forward to celebrating "the centenary of New China" in 40 years' time.

Undocumented patients wary of offers to return to home countries

(CNN) -- Going back to Mexico is not an option, said the 43-year-old man, kneeling next to his wife's wheelchair.
Ignacio Godinez Lopez worries about where to get regular access to dialysis after a public clinic closes this week.

His wife, 45, lost her eyesight to diabetes. She also has high blood pressure. And her kidneys are failing.

For years, he has taken her to a dialysis clinic attached to a public hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. The facility that gave her free care plans to close Saturday.

They are illegal immigrants with no health insurance and, they say they have nowhere to go for his wife's vast medical needs. The closing clinic offered to help return them to Mexico.

The Atlanta clinic is the latest known case of a medical institution that's offering to send illegal immigrants who can't afford treatment back to their native countries -- a practice that critics liken to patient dumping.

Returning to the country of origin is completely voluntary, said Matt Gove, a spokesman for Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital. "We can't make anybody do anything," he said. "To patients who've expressed a need or desire to go to their home country, if we can help them, then we try."

Hospitals have offered medical transfers to foreign countries, but there are no nationwide data tracking the practice. It's unclear how many undocumented patients have returned and whether the repatriations are voluntary.

Last year, a hospital in Chicago, Illinois, was planning to discharge an undocumented comatose patient to Mexico, but he died while his family fought to prevent the deportation. A Stuart, Florida, hospital sent an illegal immigrant who had brain damage back to Guatemala after the man racked up $2 million in unpaid medical bills. A Florida jury vindicated the hospital for its actions in July.

Medical repatriations are happening because hospitals bear the financial burden for uncompensated care, said one expert.

"When they have a large volume of uncompensated care or people who aren't able to pay their bills, and they have limited resources coming in from the government and from insurers, they have to do the best they can," said Carla Luggiero, a senior associate director of federal relations for the American Hospital Association.

Some question who should be responsible for the medical care of illegal immigrants.

"There is no reason why the U.S. taxpayers should have to pick up the tab- when the person is a citizen of another country- it ought to be the responsibility of that government," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for Federation for American Immigration Reform or FAIR, a group that favors strict limits on immigration.

The Atlanta couple, who asked to be identified only by the husband's initials, G.L., and the wife's, A.L., said they rejected Grady Memorial Hospital's offer to return to Mexico because they had seen bad medical outcomes there. The woman's mother, sister and niece died of kidney failure in the country despite receiving care, they said.

"In Mexico, dialysis does not guarantee life like it does here," G.L. said. "Maybe they live one year. Here, people can last up to 10 years or more. ... To go back to Mexico would be a death sentence."

Dialysis replaces kidney function, mechanically cleaning the blood.

A judge ruled last week that Grady could close this week, rejecting a legal request by 36 patients who sought to keep the clinic open until they could find permanent treatment elsewhere. The hospital agreed to pay for three more months of dialysis at a different clinic, according to a court document.

The immigrant couple worry where A.L. will find consistent treatment after the Grady Dialysis Clinic closes. Without dialysis, fluids and toxins accumulate in her body, which can lead to brain damage or respiratory problems that could result in death.

On top of a wooden dresser in their studio apartment, there are rows of orange prescription drug containers: statins, lisinopril for her hypertension, furosemide for her swelling. There's also a plastic Virgin Mary.

"As humans, we have a right to life," said her husband, a mariachi band musician.

When the treatment ends, they will most likely have to go to emergency rooms, he said.

By federal law, hospitals must treat emergency patients regardless of citizenship or ability to pay. But emergency care is more expensive than regular care. Dialysis is a lifelong treatment and the only alternative is a transplant.

Grady's dialysis clinic provides care to the poor and uninsured regardless of citizenship.

Crippled by the economy and growing financial pressures, the public hospital, which served about 724,000 patients last year, has a $33 million deficit. Its dialysis clinic has a $2 million deficit and needs another $2 million to upgrade its equipment, said Grady's attorney, Bernard Taylor. More than half of its 96 patients were illegal immigrants

"It presents challenges to hospitals like us who want to do everything they can to meet needs of the community, but have to make certain decisions in order to stay open," Gove said. "We have to make difficult decisions in order to ensure the hospital stays open."

Patients said the clinic gave them three options: Use emergency rooms, move to another state or leave the country.

Paul Root Wolpe, director of Emory University's Center for Ethics, said that when it comes to repatriating patients, the choices are not always black and white.
Health Library

"To have an illegal immigrant sent home to their death where they don't have access to proper care is ethically indefensible," he said. "Assuming they can get proper care, it's no different than sending anyone home if they are in a country illegally. The gray area has to do with sending someone home to significantly inferior care."

For Ignacio Godinez Lopez, who crossed the border with his parents illegally when he was 14, the choice was clear.

"I don't want to go back. I have no family back there ... " said Lopez, 23 ,who relied on Grady for dialysis three times a week for kidney failure.

"The only person out there (Mexico) is my grandma and grandpa. They're old. They're sick, too. If I get sick, there's going to be nobody to take care of me and give me medicine, so I prefer to stay here than go over there."

A Grady spokesman declined to say how many of its dialysis patients returned to their countries. At least six patients returned to Mexico, and one is in the process, according to the Mexican consul in Atlanta.

Sonal Ambegaokar, a health policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, which protects the rights of low income immigrants, expects medical deportations to increase as long as health care problems remain unresolved. She likened the practice to patient dumping: "It's this underlying current of 'You shouldn't be here, let's send them overseas.' "

"By trying to deport immigrants, a hospital is going beyond its authority," she said. "We would argue that they are acting as immigration agents without any authority to do so."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Venezuela summit criticises West

The leaders of Libya and Venezuela have called on Africa and South America to create a new alliance to counter Western dominance.

They were speaking at the second South-America-Africa (ASA) summit held in the Venezuelan island of Margarita, attended by nearly 30 leaders.

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez called on the two continents to unite to secure prosperity for future generations.

Libya's Muammar Gaddafi said he was in favour of a military-style pact.

The summit agenda covers hunger in Africa, the global economic crisis, energy, and the creation of a joint investment fund between Africa and South America.

The leaders agreed to launch a new development bank for South America, the Banco del Sur, with an initial start up investment of $20bn.

Nato of the South

President Chavez also offered to create a "South-South bank" with African nations in the future.

We have to fight to build our own power
Col Muammar Gaddafi

During his address at the summit, Col Gaddafi said Western countries wanted to hold on their to power.

"When they had the chance to help us, they treated us like animals, destroyed our land. Now we have to fight to build our own power."

Col Gaddafi proposed a defence alliance of South American and African nations, calling it "a Nato of the South".

The political crisis in Honduras is expected to figure prominently at the meeting, especially in bilateral talks between the Latin American leaders.

Other attending leaders include Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Chile's Michelle Bachelet and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tom Lehrer, Silent E

More about Tom Lehrer (born April 9, 1928),
American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician :

Tom Lehrer's official site:

Silent E, created for the Electric Company

'LY', created for the Electric Company

Tom Lehrer, National Brotherhood Week

Poisoning Pigeons in the Park

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pinball Number Count

I've searched for this animation before and finally ran across it. The music and animation is great.

Apparentley it's the Pointer Sisters:

Water Found on the Moon

By Andrea Thompson
Senior Writer
posted: 23 September 2009
06:17 pm ET

This story was updated at 10:49 p.m. EDT.

Since man first touched the moon and brought pieces of it back to Earth, scientists have thought that the lunar surface was bone dry. But new observations from three different spacecraft have put this notion to rest with what has been called "unambiguous evidence" of water across the surface of the moon.

The new findings, detailed in the Sept. 25 issue of the journal Science, come in the wake of further evidence of lunar polar water ice by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and just weeks before the planned lunar impact of NASA's LCROSS satellite, which will hit one of the permanently shadowed craters at the moon's south pole in hope of churning up evidence of water ice deposits in the debris field.

The moon remains drier than any desert on Earth, but the water is said to exist on the moon in very small quantities. One ton of the top layer of the lunar surface would hold about 32 ounces of water, researchers said.

"If the water molecules are as mobile as we think they are — even a fraction of them — they provide a mechanism for getting water to those permanently shadowed craters," said planetary geologist Carle Pieters of Brown University in Rhode Island, who led one of the three studies in Science on the lunar find, in a statement. "This opens a whole new avenue [of lunar research], but we have to understand the physics of it to utilize it."

Finding water on the moon would be a boon to possible future lunar bases, acting as a potential source of drinking water and fuel.

Apollo turns up dry

When Apollo astronauts returned from the moon 40 years ago, they brought back several samples of lunar rocks.

The moon rocks were analyzed for signs of water bound to minerals present in the rocks; while trace amounts of water were detected, these were assumed to be contamination from Earth, because the containers the rocks came back in had leaked.

"The isotopes of oxygen that exist on the moon are the same as those that exist on Earth, so it was difficult if not impossible to tell the difference between water from the moon and water from Earth," said Larry Taylor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who is a member of one of the NASA-built instrument teams for India's Chandrayaan-1 satellite and has studied the moon since the Apollo missions.

While scientists continued to suspect that water ice deposits could be found in the coldest spots of south pole craters that never saw sunlight, the consensus became that the rest of the moon was bone dry.

But new observations of the lunar surface made with Chandrayaan-1, NASA's Cassini spacecraft, and NASA's Deep Impact probe, are calling that consensus into question, with multiple detections of the spectral signal of either water or the hydroxyl group (an oxygen and hydrogen chemically bonded).

Three spacecraft

Chandrayaan-1, India's first-ever moon probe, was aimed at mapping the lunar surface and determining its mineral composition (the orbiter's mission ended 14 months prematurely in August after an abrupt malfunction). While the probe was still active, its NASA-built Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) detected wavelengths of light reflected off the surface that indicated the chemical bond between hydrogen and oxygen — the telltale sign of either water or hydroxyl.

Because M3 can only penetrate the top few millimeters of lunar regolith, the newly observed water seems to be at or near the lunar surface. M3's observations also showed that the water signal got stronger toward the polar regions. Pieters is the lead investigator for the M3 instrument on Chandrayaan-1.

Cassini, which passed by the moon in 1999 on its way to Saturn, provides confirmation of this signal with its own slightly stronger detection of the water/hydroxyl signal. The water would have to be absorbed or trapped in the glass and minerals at the lunar surface, wrote Roger Clark of the U.S. Geological Survey in the study detailing Cassini's findings.

The Cassini data shows a global distribution of the water signal, though it also appears stronger near the poles (and low in the lunar maria).

Finally, the Deep Impact spacecraft, as part of its extended EPOXI mission and at the request of the M3 team, made infrared detections of water and hydroxyl as part of a calibration exercise during several close approaches of the Earth-Moon system en route to its planned flyby of comet 103P/Hartley 2 in November 2010.

Deep Impact detected the signal at all latitudes above 10 degrees N, though once again, the poles showed the strongest signals. With its multiple passes, Deep Impact was able to observe the same regions at different times of the lunar day. At noon, when the sun's rays were strongest, the water feature was lowest, while in the morning, the feature was stronger.

"The Deep Impact observations of the Moon not only unequivocally confirm the presence of [water/hydroxyl] on the lunar surface, but also reveal that the entire lunar surface is hydrated during at least some portion of the lunar day," the authors wrote in their study.

The findings of all three spacecraft "provide unambiguous evidence for the presence of hydroxyl or water," said Paul Lucey of the University of Hawaii in an opinion essay accompanying the three studies. Lucey was not involved in any of the missions.

The new data "prompt a critical reexamination of the notion that the moon is dry. It is not," Lucey wrote.

Combined, the findings show that not only is the moon hydrated, the process that makes it so is a dynamic one that is driven by the daily changes in solar radiation hitting any given spot on the surface.

The sun might also have something to do with how the water got there.

There are potentially two types of water on the moon: that brought from outside sources, such as water-bearing comets striking the surface, or that that originates on the moon.

This second, endogenic, source is thought to possibly come from the interaction of the solar wind with moon rocks and soils.

The rocks and regolith that make up the lunar surface are about 45 percent oxygen (combined with other elements as mostly silicate minerals). The solar wind — the constant stream of charged particles emitted by the sun — are mostly protons, or positively charged hydrogen atoms.

If the charged hydrogens, which are traveling at one-third the speed of light, hit the lunar surface with enough force, they break apart oxygen bonds in soil materials, Taylor, the M3 team member suspects. Where free oxygen and hydrogen exist, there is a high chance that trace amounts of water will form.

The various study researchers also suggest that the daily dehydration and rehydration of the trace water across the surface could lead to the migration of hydroxyl and hydrogen towards the poles where it can accumulate in the cold traps of the permanently shadowed regions.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

British Delegates Walk Out On Ahmadinejad

British delegates joined a series of other nations in staging a walk-out in protest at remarks made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a speech to the UN.

Delegates walk out as Ahmadinejad prepares to speak at the UN General Assembly

Canadian delegates left the room before Mr Ahmadinejad had even begun to speak

In his address, Mr Ahmadinejad launched a scathing attack on Israel, a frequent target of his fury, accusing it of adopting "inhuman policies" in the Palestinian territories.

He claimed greater global freedom and the "awakening of nations" would force Israel to abandon its "hypocrisy and vicious attitudes".

"It is no longer acceptable that a small minority would dominate the politics, economy and culture of major parts of the world by its complicated networks, and establish a new form of slavery, and harm the reputation of other nations, even European nations and the US, to attain its racist ambitions," he said.

British delegates joined American and French representatives in leaving the room at the UN headquarters at this point.

Mr Ahmadinejad went on to accuse foreign troops of spreading "war, bloodshed, aggression, terror and intimidation" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He lashed out at capitalism, arguing it had reached the end of the road and would suffer the same fate as Marxism.

And he also used his speech to brush off accusations that his re-election in June was a fraud, describing the polling day as "glorious and fully democratic".

Notably absent from Mr Ahmadinejad's podium address was the subject of Tehran's stand-off with Western powers over its nuclear ambitions.

As the Iranian leader prepared to address delegates, the UN Security Council members announced that they were expecting Iran to engage with them on the issue.

"We expect a serious response from Iran and will decide, in the context of our dual track approach, as a result of the meeting, on our next steps," Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on behalf of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Producers

This band is from Atlanta, one of the first bands I saw on early MTV. Silly video, really catchy tune.

Not sure why, but it surfaced in my memory this morning. Hard to find a recording - not available on iTunes (some covers, but not by The Producers), and only on an expensive used compilation disc available on amazon.

If anyone has a recording of She Sheila, drop me a line, OK?

She Sheila

What's He Got

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Quantum Electric Motor Powered by 2 Atoms

Friday, September 18, 2009
Blueprint for a Quantum Electric Motor
Place a couple of cold atoms in an alternating magnetic field and you've got a quantum version of an electric motor.

How small can you make an electric motor? Today, Alexey Ponomarev from the University of Augsburg in Germany and a couple of pals describe how to do it with just two atoms. Yep, an electric motor made of just two ultracold atoms.

Their motor consists of one neutral atom and one charged atom trapped in a ring-shaped optical lattice. The atoms jump from one site in the lattice to the next as they travel round the ring. Placing this ring in an alternating magnetic field creates the conditions necessary to keep the charged atom moving round the the ring.

However, starting the motor is another matter. Kickstarting the motor requires some kind of asymmetry which is provided by a combination of a symmetry-breaking driving field and the presence of the neutral atom, which the charged atom effectively pushes off against.

The result is a quantum electric ac-motor which Ponomarev and co go on to prove can do useful work.

Their paper is the first detailed analysis of how such a motor works and under what conditions it best works but curiously, it turns out that a team from the University of Glasgow in the UK actually built one of these quantum motors back in 2007, which they called an optical ferris wheel for ultracold atoms.

The next step say Ponomarev and co is to attach the motor to a nanoscopic resonator, such as a spring board or nanomushroom, and make it vibrate. If you can do that, they say, you'd be powering a classical object using a quantum motor. Now there's a trick.

Ref: Quantum Machine Using Cold Atoms

Thursday, September 17, 2009

'Old friends' Cuba, China strengthen ties

Why is the world's third-largest economy spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Cuba, an impoverished island with few natural resources and a history of making things difficult for foreign investors?

The answer is simple: China is the world's third-largest economy.

A series of deals from Beijing to Havana are partly in line with Chinese economic expansion across the world — trade between China and Latin America grew from $10 billion in 2000 to $140 billion in 2008 — but there's also a nuanced political bond between the two that seems to go beyond cash.

The growing relationship suggests that China's financial clout has put it in a position to cultivate something like client states, in the case of Cuba at least, among smaller countries that receive relatively large amounts of Chinese funding and in return toe the line when it comes to issues such as Beijing's controversial policies toward Tibet and Taiwan.

When a Chinese legislative delegation flew to Havana earlier this month, among the reported $600 million in aid and loans — a figure reported by the Agence France Presse wire service that officials in Beijing wouldn't confirm — were promises to update Cuba's traffic signal system and dispatch technicians to a vegetable canning factory.

Since becoming China's president, Hu Jintao has visited Cuba more times — twice — than any other Latin American country, including oil- and soybean-rich Brazil and Venezuela. It's a very close level of involvement for a country that hasn't been of much strategic importance since the Cold War ended.

"We are old friends," said Wang Youming, an analyst at the China Institute of International Studies, a foreign ministry policy institute.

Wang referred not just to the fact that China and Cuba are among the last communist nations still standing, but also to what Beijing considers important public backing from Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul on Taiwan and Tibet.

Trade between the countries is often cited as being more than $2.5 billion, but that's peanuts for a powerhouse such as China.

"The political returns are the most important,'' Wang said. "Cuba has provided consistent support for China's international stance, especially with the Taiwan issue.''

China claims Tibet and Taiwan as parts of its domain, and has bristled at Western support for what it calls separatist movements in both places. Cuban officials have said repeatedly that they share China's view.

The Chinese government "sees questions like Tibet, Taiwan ... to be of the highest strategic import,'' said Daniel Erikson, a Latin America expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a nonpartisan research center on Western Hemisphere affairs. "The fact that Cuba is always on their side in these issues is crucial to China.''

There are, of course, financial considerations — China is now Cuba's second-biggest trading partner, and there are hopes in Beijing that as Havana opens its markets, Chinese companies will get a big chunk of industries such as cellphones and consumer goods. China has made a $500 million deal to invest in Cuban nickel, a key component in the steel needed by China's construction boom.

Cuba also gives Beijing a vantage point for the rest of the Caribbean and a source of informed counsel in a Latin American neighborhood where some governments have turned left in recent years.

As much as Beijing has advanced in Cuba, though, it won't pursue matters there at the risk of its far more lucrative economic ties with the United States, according to observers in Beijing and Washington. That approach mirrors China's dealings in places such as Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez regularly hurls invective at Washington.

"They will seek as much political and economic advantage as they can get without jeopardizing their relationship with the United States,'' Erikson said in a phone interview.

Mindful that America has maintained an embargo against Cuba for more than 45 years, Chinese officials have been careful to avoid any connection — rhetorical or otherwise — to flare-ups between Havana and its northern neighbor.

"China does not want to get itself involved with the bilateral relationship between Cuba and the U.S.,'' said Jiang Shixue, a senior analyst and administrator at the government-funded Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who's a previous deputy director of its Latin America studies program. "China wants to do business. If you put economic cooperation and political interference in the same basket, things will be terrible.''

Beyond those sensitivities, Jiang said, there's no reason why friends can't make deals.

Tom Lasseter, McClatchy's Moscow Bureau Chief, is on temporary assignment to Beijing.

Venezuela says signs new $16 billion China oil deal

CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez said on Wednesday Venezuela signed a $16 billion investment deal with China over three years to raise oil output by several hundred thousand barrels per day in the OPEC member's Orinoco belt.

Chavez gave few details of the deal he said was signed on Tuesday. But he appeared to be talking about a new investment, separate from a similar amount China has promised Venezuela in return for future shipments of fuel oil.

"We have struck an agreement with China for the Orinoco belt over the next three years for $16 billion more," Chavez said on state television. He said that between a recently signed Russian project and the Chinese deal, output would rise by 900,000 bpd.

Last week, Venezuela and Russia formed a joint venture to develop the Junin 6 field with a $20 billion investment. Venezuela says the project will produce up to 450,000 bpd

(Reporting by Eyanir Chinea and Patricia Rondon; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

U.S. scraps missile defense shield plans

"The Obama administration will scrap the controversial missile defense shield program in Eastern Europe, a senior administration official confirms -- a move likely to please Russia, which had fiercely opposed the plans."

Before reading this article, my quick interjection. Not that a missle defense shield is necessarily the best solution, but a move likely to 'please Russia'? To quote Patton Oswalt "...bend over Abigail May, cuz here comes a gravy pipe!"

Let's review some key points:

1. Russia is supplying missles and tanks to Venezuela (along with several other South American countries) out of concern for the U.S. presence in Colombia intended to combat drug cartels.

2. Russia is currently drilling for oil and natural gas off of Cuba.

3. Venezuela supplies Europe with cocaine via West Africa, and the drug cartels are now driving into and operating out of the U.S. via Mexico which they all but control.

4. Iran is buying oil from Venezuela to fund Venezuela's nuclear program. (Like Iran needs oil from Venezuela.) Venezuela has declared alliance with Iran to combat common imperialist foes.

5. Iran is currently being assisted by North Korea in the testing of nuclear weapons - North Korea now in the final uranium phase with plutonium now being weaponised.

6. Following on the heels of Israel's recent move towards expansion into the West Bank, Osama Bin Laden declares Barack Obama “powerless” to stop the war in Iraq and Afghanistan because the Israel lobby and corporate interests control US policy.

7. ...and massive economic and strategic alliances continuing to grow between South America and China.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Obama administration will scrap the controversial missile defense shield program in Eastern Europe, a senior administration official confirmed to CNN Thursday.
The U.S. has been testing the ability of ground-based interceptor missiles to hit long-range ballistic missiles.

The comment followed similar statements from officials in Poland and the Czech Republic -- where key elements of the system were to be located -- but was the first confirmation from an American official.

Vice President Joe Biden earlier refused to confirm to CNN that the George W. Bush-era plan was being shelved.

But he did explain the logic of doing so, saying Iran -- a key concern for the United States -- was not a threat.

"I think we are fully capable and secure dealing with any present or future potential Iranian threat," he told CNN's Chris Lawrence in Baghdad, where he is on a brief trip.

"The whole purpose of this exercise we are undertaking is to diminish the prospect of the Iranians destabilizing that region in the world. I am less concerned -- much less concerned -- about the Iranian potential. They have no potential at this moment, they have no capacity to launch a missile at the United States of America," he said.

Biden said he is "deeply" involved in the review of the missile defense program. See how the system would work » | See a map of the proposed sites »

The Bush administration had cited the perceived nuclear threat from Iran as one of the key reasons it wanted to install the missile shield in eastern Europe.

The U.S. reversal is likely to please Russia, which had fiercely opposed the plans.

Is the U.S. right to scrap plans for a missile defense shield in Europe? Sound Off below

A U.S. delegation held high-level meetings Thursday in both Poland and the Czech Republic to discuss the missile defense system. While the outcome of the meetings wasn't clear, officials in both countries confirmed the system would be scrapped.

Czech Prime minister Jan Fischer said in a statement that U.S. President Barack Obama told him in a Wednesday phone call that the United States was shelving its plans. Fischer did not say what reason Obama gave him for reconsidering.

A spokeswoman at the Polish Ministry of Defense also said the program had been suspended.

"This is catastrophic for Poland," said the spokeswoman, who declined to be named in line with ministry policy.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. James E. Cartwright, who is vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday morning. The Defense Department has not announced what will be discussed, but Cartwright is the point man for the missile defense shield program.

Poland and the Czech Republic had based much of their future security policy on getting the missile defenses from the United States. The countries share deep concerns of a future military threat from the east -- namely, Russia -- and may now look for other defense assurances from their NATO allies.

"At the NATO summit in April, we adopted a resolution focusing on building a defense system against real, existing threats, i.e. short-range and medium-range missiles," Fischer said. "We expect that the United States will continue cooperating with the Czech Republic on concluding the relevant agreements on our mutual (research and development) and military collaboration, including the financing of specific projects."

By contrast, Russia may view the move as a diplomatic victory after complaining about the program consistently for years.

There was no comment Thursday morning from Russian officials. But the issue has been a sore point in relations between Washington and Moscow, with Russia believing the shield would ultimately erode its own strategic nuclear deterrent.

With the program scrapped, it opens the way for Russia to join with the United States in taking a harder line on Iran, CNN Correspondent Matthew Chance reported from Moscow.

The United States proposed the plans under then-President George W. Bush, but since taking over this year, the Obama administration has been reviewing whether to move ahead with them.

The missile shield issue came up in July during a meeting between Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow. Obama maintained that Russia had nothing to fear from such a system, which would be designed to intercept a solitary missile from Iran or North Korea, as opposed to "a mighty Russian arsenal."

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Things You See...

On my way to Madison, I passed this '55 Chevy Bel Air and turned around to pull over for a closer look. Seriously, click to view the higher resolution.

Master Gene That Switches On Disease-fighting Cells Identified By Scientists

ScienceDaily (Sep. 14, 2009) — The master gene that causes blood stem cells to turn into disease-fighting 'Natural Killer' (NK) immune cells has been identified by scientists, in a study published in Nature Immunology Setember 13. The discovery could one day help scientists boost the body's production of these frontline tumour-killing cells, creating new ways to treat cancer.

The researchers have 'knocked out' the gene in question, known as E4bp4, in a mouse model, creating the world's first animal model entirely lacking NK cells, but with all other blood cells and immune cells intact. This breakthrough model should help solve the mystery of the role that Natural Killer cells play in autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Some scientists think that these diseases are caused by malfunctioning NK cells that turn on the body and attack healthy cells, causing disease instead of fighting it. Clarifying NK cells' role could lead to new ways of treating these conditions.

The study was carried out by researchers at Imperial College London, UCL and the Medical Research Council's National Institute for Medical Research.

Natural Killer cells – a type of white blood cell - are a major component of the human body's innate, quick-response immune system. They provide a fast frontline defence against tumours, viruses and bacterial infections, by scanning the human body for cells that are cancerous or infected with a virus or a bacterial pathogen, and killing them.

NK cells - along with all other types of blood cell, both white and red - are continuously generated from blood stem cells in the bone marrow over the course of a person's lifetime. The gene E4bp4 identified in today's study is the 'master gene' for NK cell production, which means it is the primary driver that causes blood stem cells to differentiate into NK cells.

The researchers behind this new study, led by Dr Hugh Brady from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, are hoping to progress with a drug treatment for cancer patients which reacts with the protein expressed by their E4bp4 gene, causing their bodies to produce a higher number of NK cells than normal, to increase the chances of successfully destroying tumours.

Currently, NK cells isolated from donated blood are sometimes used to treat cancer patients, but the effectiveness of donated cells is limited because NK cells can be slightly different from person to person. Dr Brady explains: "If increased numbers of the patient's own blood stem cells could be coerced into differentiating into NK cells, via drug treatment, we would be able to bolster the body's cancer-fighting force, without having to deal with the problems of donor incompatibility."

Dr Brady and his colleagues at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research proved the pivotal role E4bp4 plays in NK production when they knocked the gene out in a mouse model. Without E4bp4 the mouse produced no NK cells whatsoever but other types of blood cell were unaffected. As well as proving their hypothesis about the function of the E4bp4 gene, this animal model will allow medical researchers, for the first time, to discover if NK cell malfunction is behind a wide range of medical conditions, including autoimmune disorders, inflammatory conditions, persistent viral infections, female infertility and graft rejection.

Dr Brady explains: "Since shortly after they were discovered in the 1970s some scientists have suspected that the vital disease-fighting NK cells could themselves be behind a number of serious medical conditions, when they malfunction. Now finally, with our discovery of the NK cell master gene and subsequent creation of our mouse model, we will be able to find out if the progression of these diseases is impeded or aided by the removal of NK cells from the equation. This will solve the often-debated question of whether NK cells are always the 'good guys', or if in certain circumstances they cause more harm than good."

The researchers were initially studying the effect of E4bp4 in a very rare but fatal form of childhood leukaemia when they discovered its importance for NK cells.

The study was funded by the charities CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA and Leukaemia Research.
Adapted from materials provided by Imperial College London, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

(Chimney swifts) Bats in the Belfry - 5 Points - Athens, GA

I stand corrected. Cathy Dailey has identified this phenomenon as chimney swifts. I Googled around and found some other video, and no doubt, that's the deal.

So, for those of you reading this post ipso facto, you will make allowances for the edits below. Regardless, if you are in Athens, this is amazing, so go check it out next time you head over to Five Points, 8pm.

A few nights ago, I noticed a swarming funnel of (chimney swifts) bats whirling over the roof tops in Five Points (Athens, GA) and decided to return a few nights later to capture video. Unfortunately, the compression makes it really hard to see clearly.

View the video on my blog:

I'm not sure how early the (chimney swifts) bats begin their swarm - presumably a means of (going to bed) herding mosquitoes - but they disappear into the chimney between 8-8:10pm just before the sky goes completely dark.

Standing in front of Five Points Bottle Shop, look across the street at the roof tops you will see and hear the bat storm. I can only imagine how it sounds from inside the apartment and how much guano must be stacking up (birds or bats, this has got to be loud and caked).

There was some speculation about the flock being swallows, but no doubt these are (chimney swifts) bats.

The Big Picture:


Streaming into the Chimney:

September 9, 2009 First Algae-Powered Car Attempts to Cross US on 25 Gallons

Just yesterday San Francisco saw the unveiling of the world’s first algae fuel-powered vehicle, dubbed the Algaeus. The plug-in hybrid car, which is a Prius tricked out with a nickel metal hydride battery and a plug, runs on green crude from Sapphire Energy — no modifications to the gasoline engine necessary. The set-up is so effective, according to FUEL producer Rebecca Harrell, that the Algaeus can run on approximately 25 gallons from coast to coast!

“Powering our cars with algae-based fuel could be the next Apollo mission.” That’s what Rebecca Harrell, co-founder of the Veggie Van Organization and producer of the upcoming film FUEL, told me yesterday in front of San Francisco’s City Hall. Over the next 10 days she’ll be joined by Fuel director and Veggie Van Organization cofounder Josh Tickell as they take the Algaeus, along with a caravan of other green energy vehicles (including the Veggie Van and the biodiesel-powered big green energy bus), on a cross-country road trip. “It hit us that we needed to drive the car across the country,” Harrell said. “People think of algae fuel as this long-term, far off thing. But seeing is believing.”

And of course, the cross-country tour will also serve to promote FUEL, a film about America’s ongoing dependence on foreign oil. Unlike many environmentally-themed films that serve up upsetting bits of information without offering concrete solutions (An Inconvenient Truth, anyone?), FUEL discusses the ways that we can transition away from oil right now. “What’s important for everyday people is information. People don’t say ‘Can you give me something else to be scared about?’ They say, ‘How can I get my car to run on algae fuel?’, Tickell explained.

Green crude won’t be sold at your local gas station any time soon — Sapphire Energy is ramping up production of algae-based jet fuel this year, with plans to produce 2 million gallons of algae-based diesel fuel each year in the next two years–but eventually the company expects that green crude will be cost-competitive with fossil fuels. And while the Algaeus only runs on a 5% blend of algae fuel, Harrell and Tickell hope that the vehicle can prove to consumers that green fuel solutions are on the horizon. “Up until now the environmental movement has been reactionary. We have no discourse about energy,” Tickell said.” And we want to shift that.”

FUEL will be released in New York City, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Washington DC on September 18th.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Venezuela to get Russian missiles

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has announced that the country will soon take delivery of Russian missiles with a range of 300km (185 miles).

Returning from a 10-day tour of Africa, Asia and Europe, including Russia, Mr Chavez is also planning to buy Russian T-72 and T-90.

"Soon some little rockets are going to be arriving... and they don't fail," he announced at the presidential palace.

But he denied they would be used for offensive purposes.

"We are not going to attack anybody, these are just defence tools, because we are going to defend our country from any threat, wherever it may come from," the president said.

Venezuela is involved in a long-running diplomatic stand-off with neighbouring Colombia, over the latter's plans to allow US troops greater access to its military bases.

Colombia says the US forces will help in the war against drugs and left-wing guerrillas and will not destabilise the region.

Mr Chavez, a fierce opponent of US foreign policy, did not say how many missiles he had ordered.

Russia has been strengthening its ties with several Latin American countries, including Venezuela.

The two countries held joint naval exercises in Venezuelan waters last November.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cyborg Exoskeletons May Soon Become as Common as Bicycles

Cyborg Exoskeletons May Soon Become as Common as Bicycles
Written By: Surfdaddy Orca
Date Published: September 2, 2009 | View more articles in:

Great grandma can soon put aside that powered wheelchair she uses to terrorize the residents at her rest home. Japan's robotics venture Cyberdyne's robot-suit "HAL" (Hybrid Assistive Limb) is now available for rent and is being tested on the streets of Tokyo:

HAL, an exoskeleton, is a mind-controlled wearable machine that gives humans enhanced mobility.

The HAL exoskeleton –- described in a popular article for the first edition of h+ ("I am Ironman!") – helps the wearer to carry out a variety of everyday tasks, including standing up from a chair, walking, climbing up and down stairs, and lifting heavy objects. The suit can operate for almost five hours before it needs recharging.

Cyberdyne’s HAL isn’t quite ready for great grandma just yet. But until it is, Toyota researchers in Japan have built a brain/machine interface (BMI) that has been demonstrated to control a wheelchair using a person's thoughts. The wheelchair enables a person to make it turn left or right or to move forward simply by thinking the commands –- and it has a 125 millisecond response time.

The HAL exoskeleton, on the other hand, has robotic limbs that strap to your arms and legs -- providing much fuller mobility than a wheelchair. The suit's backpack contains a battery and computer controller. When a HAL-assisted person attempts to move, nerve signals are sent from the brain to the muscles, and very weak traces of these signals can be detected on the surface of the skin. The HAL exoskeleton identifies these signals using a sensor, and a signal is sent to the suit's power unit telling the suit to move in synch with the wearer's own limbs.

HAL comes in three sizes -- small, medium and large and weighs in at 23kg (50.7 lbs). A single leg version rents for 150,000 yen ($1,570) a month, while a two-leg unit goes for 220,000 yen ($2,300) a month. Cyberdyne has yet to announce when HAL will go on sale to the public or what the price tag will be.

Great grandma won't be the only one who will benefit from a thought-controlled exoskeleton. Seiji Uchida, paralyzed from the neck down for over two decades, was able to get within 500 yards of the summit of the 13,741-foot Breithorn Mountain in Switzerland with the help of a HAL exoskeleton worn by his friend Takeshi Matsumoto. Mr. Matsumoto was able to carry the quadriplegic Mr. Uchida because Matsumoto was wearing the exoskeleton. Imagine a next-phase exoskeleton that Mr. Uchida can control himself without the assistance of Mr. Matsumoto. HAL shows tremendous potential to help mobilize the disabled to perform day-to-day tasks.

If anyone is physically challenged, it’s the soldier carrying a huge load on the battlefield. Exoskeletons give soldiers the ability to move faster while carrying more weight. For nearly a decade, a project launched by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been looking at ways to help with the heavy lifting. The Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation, a program with the goal “to develop devices and machines that will increase the speed, strength and endurance of soldiers in combat environments,” is a way to create super soldiers that can lift hundreds of pounds as easily as lifting 10 pounds and can run twice their normal speed.

Under contract from the Army, a team at Raytheon Sarcos, led by Stephen Jacobsen, built an exoskeleton called XOS. Looking something like Ripley wearing the industrial exo-suit power loader in the classic SF film Aliens, software engineer Rex Jameson used his XOS to run, jump, and even speed box a punching bag. Jameson also was able to do a lengthy series of reps on a weight machine using 200 lb weights. “He stopped because he got bored,” Jacobsen says, “not because he was tired.” Here’s a video of the Sarcos exoskeleton:

Cyberdyne’s exoskeleton is considerably more sleek and stylish. Tokyo rentals were initiated in August, 2009. Like Segways, the popular 2-wheeled, self-balancing electric vehicles now being using by police to patrol the streets of major cities, it’s easy to imagine Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco, Chicago, or even Albuquerque providing exoskeleton rentals.

The next phase in bicycle rentals is high-tech bike-sharing systems -- an investment in public bicycles worldwide. Walk up to a kiosk, swipe a credit or membership card and ride away. Return it there or at another station, like renting a luggage cart at the airport. Cyberdyne’s exoskeletons appear to be easier to use than bicycles, particularly for weary travelers. Why not rent an exoskeleton rather than a bicycle?

With fashionable cyborg exoskeletons now available for rent on the streets of Tokyo, can major U.S. cities be far behind?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Israel backs settlement expansion

Israel has officially approved the construction of more than 450 new homes in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli defence ministry has announced.

It says the decision to build 455 housing units has been authorised by Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

This is the first new government-approved construction project in the West Bank since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to power in March.

It comes despite a US pressure to halt building at settlements.

Palestinians have ruled out resumption of peace talks with Israel until a complete freeze to the settlements.

A senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Israel's decision further undermined its credibility as a partner for peace.

Construction of settlements began in 1967, shortly after the Middle East War
Some 280,000 Israelis now live in the 121 officially-recognised settlements in the West Bank
A further 190,000 Israelis live in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem
The largest West Bank settlement is Modiin Illit, where 38,000 people live
There are a further 102 unauthorised outposts in the West Bank which are not officially recognised by Israel
The population of West Bank settlements has been growing at a rate of 5-6% since 2001
Source: Peace Now
Challenge of Israeli settlements

"Israel's decision to approve the construction nullifies any effect that a settlement freeze, when and if announced, will have," Mr Erekat said.

Mitchell's visit

"Defence Minister Ehud Barak has authorised the construction of 455 housing units in settlement blocs," the Israeli defence ministry said in a statement.

It updated its earlier statement that said Mr Barak had approved the building of 366 housing units.

The homes will be built in six settlements - all of which are included in the settlement blocs that Israel wants to keep under any peace agreement, according to Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

It says the settlements include Har Gilo, Modiin Ilit and Ariel.

Last week, Israeli officials announced that Mr Netanyahu would give the go-ahead for the new housing units.

The issue is expected to be discussed when Mr Netanyahu's aides meet US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, later this week.

BBC Jerusalem correspondent Tim Franks says there is little doubt that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is feeling pressure from the settlers - who dismissed this latest approval to build as insultingly limited.

But today's announcement can only complicate a possible resumption of meaningful peace talks with the Palestinians.

The Americans, who are trying to broker new peace negotiations, have already expressed their displeasure.

They say they are trying to build credibility across the Middle East in a new Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The question for the US special envoy is whether he will, in the end, accept the Israeli version of a settlement freeze, our correspondent says.

Close to 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.

Some 2,500 housing units are currently under construction.

The settlements are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Things You See...

Who ordered lobster?

Discovered this "Southern Devil" drowned in the catcher of my kitchen sink. I put him in a dish of water for the photo and added an M & M for size reference.

I bumped up the levels and saturation only a little in Photoshop for clarity to compensate for the lighting - this is a Canon Powershot, very small digital camera, 10 megapixels, not very forgiving with light.

I've only encountered scorpions on one occasion in Georgia - around Mark Limbo's pool.

Chavez pledges closer ties with Iran

(CNN) -- Iran and Venezuela plan to stand up against "imperialist" foes by strengthening bilateral cooperation on a range of issues, including nuclear power, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday.
Chavez: "Tehran and Caracas should help revolutionary nations through further expansion and consolidation of their ties."

Chavez: "Tehran and Caracas should help revolutionary nations through further expansion and consolidation of their ties."

"Expansion of Tehran-Caracas relations is necessary given their common interests, friends and foes," Ahmadinejad said after a meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart President Hugo Chavez, according to Iran's semiofficial FARS news agency.

Chavez was in Tehran on Saturday with a team of high-ranking officials for a two-day visit.

Chavez reiterated the goal: "Tehran and Caracas should help revolutionary nations through further expansion and consolidation of their ties."

Venezuela announced a new agreement with Iran for a joint geological study in the South American country's Andean belt, the state-run ABN news agency said.
Don't Miss

* Anti-Chavez marches fail to draw crowds

Chavez highlighted bilateral projects already under way, including the construction of ethanol plants in Venezuela, and gas exploration in Iran by Venezuela's state-run oil company.

On Saturday, Chavez hinted of future projects as well.

The Venezuelan president said he aims to build a "nuclear village" with Iranian help in his country, according to Iran's Press TV. The details of such a plan were unknown.

Chavez backed Iran's claims that its nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes.

"There is not a single proof that Iran is building ... a nuclear bomb," Chavez said after the leaders met, according to Press TV. "Soon they will accuse us also of building an atomic bomb."

The visit was Chavez's eighth to Iran, and the first since Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election.

Chavez's trip to Iran follows visits to Libya, Algeria and Syria. He will visit Belarus and Russia before returning to Venezuela.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Anti-Chavez Protest Marches in Latin America

By Will Grant
BBC News, Caracas

Supporters of Honduran de facto President Roberto Micheletti march against President Chavez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras
The overwhelming theme of the anti-Chavez protests was 'no more Chavez'

Protests against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have got under way in several cities across Latin America.

The demonstrations were organised by Colombian activists after Mr Chavez criticised Colombia for allowing US forces access to seven military bases.

Organisers used social networking sites to set up "No more Chavez" protests.

President Chavez's supporters have also turned out to show their solidarity with the socialist leader by marching through Venezuela's capital, Caracas.

Organised from Colombia through the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, the protests brought thousands of opponents of the Venezuelan leader onto the streets in the east of Caracas to make their point.

Competing rallies

It was a demonstration which was repeated on a smaller scale in several other cities in Latin America, the United States and Spain.

Protesters wore white shirts and carried placards opposing Mr Chavez, not only on the issue of military bases, but on everything from his education policy to the high levels of crime in Caracas.

"It is a worldwide manifestation, which begins in Colombia but many countries have joined this manifestation," said one anti-Chavez demonstrator.
Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez demonstrate in Caracas
Supporters of President Chavez held a rival demonstration in Caracas

"It is important that we show the world we are not with Chavez."

While the opposition was holding their protests, the president's supporters were holding rallies of their own, one of them in the Plaza Bolivar in Caracas.

Among those addressing the crowd was Freddy Bernal, a key leader of the president's United Socialist Party.

He spoke out for what he called the Bolivarian revolution.

"If we have to march a thousand times, or be out on the streets all year round, then we'll do it," he said. "Because this revolution is non-negotiable and is not up for sale."

That Venezuela is a country in a state of constant conflict over Mr Chavez is nothing new.

But many ordinary people are becoming disillusioned with the extent to which both sides often seem to focus more on protests than policies.

Man's Finger Bitten Off in Scuffle at Health Care Rally,0,7135717.story

THOUSAND OAKS -- A 65-year-old man had his finger bitten off Wednesday evening at a health care rally in Thousand Oaks, according to the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff's investigators were called to Hillcrest and Lynn Road at 7:26 p.m.

About 100 protesters sponsored by were having a rally supporting health care reform.

A group of anti-health care reform protesters formed across the street.

The finger-biting incident occurred after a member of the group protesting health care reform, William Rice, 65, of Newbury Park, became involved in a heated discussion with a member of Code Pink, sheriff's Capt. Ross Bonfiglio said.

After the argument, Rice returned to where his own group was standing.

A man from's area then walked over to the opponents and verbally confronted Rice, allegedly calling him names and acting aggressively, Bonfiglio said.

Rice later told investigators he felt threatened by the man and punched him in the nose, Bonfiglio said.

The punch set off a fist fight between the two men, during which the tip of Rice's left pinky finger was bitten off, Bonfiglio said.

Rice drove himself to Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.

Another man found the bitten-off portion of the finger and brought it to Rice at the hospital, Bonfiglio said.

The suspect fled the scene, authorities said.

He was described as a short man with a medium build, wearing a blue cap, black shirt and black shorts.

Sheriff's officials are investigating the incident.


Info from: Ventura County Star

N Korea 'in final uranium phase'

North Korea has entered the final phase of uranium enrichment, the country's state media has reported.

"Uranium enrichment tests have been successfully carried out and that process is in the concluding stage," the North's KCNA news agency said.

Uranium enrichment would give Pyongyang a second way to make a nuclear bomb - but it also said it was continuing to reprocess and weaponise plutonium.

The UN passed tougher sanctions after a nuclear test by Pyongyang in May.

Both that test and an earlier nuclear test by North Korea in 2006 were understood to have been carried out with plutonium.

The worry is that uranium enrichment is a process that can be easily hidden, and in addition, North Korea has ample natural reserves of the raw material, says the BBC's John Sudworth in South Korea.


KCNA reported that North Korea's delegation at the United Nations had written to the UN Security Council, saying Pyongyang was now ready "for both sanctions and dialogue".

"Reprocessing of spent fuel rods is at its final phase and extracted plutonium is being weaponised," it said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il

How the nuclear fuel cycle works

"If some permanent members of the UN Security Council wish to put sanctions first before dialogue, we would respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence first before we meet them in a dialogue," the delegation said.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry condemned what it calls "threats and provocative acts."

The United States' special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, said the enrichment claim was "of concern".

"Obviously, anything that the North is doing in the area of nuclear development is of concern to us," he said.

North Korea has gone from completely denying that it was enriching uranium just three months ago to admitting processing, says our correspondent.

The statement may seem to be at odds with recent gestures from Pyongyang that many observers saw as an attempt to lower tensions.

But South Korea's defence minister warned in June that "it is clear" the North was going ahead with plans to enrich uranium.

Lee Sang-hee said an uranium enrichment programme would be far easier to hide than reprocessing plutonium from spent fuel rods, as it can be conducted in a space as small as 600 sq metres (6,500 sq feet).

North Korea's plutonium programme is based on the Yongbyon reactor, which is under US satellite observation.

Observers say the US has long suspected the existence of a secret uranium enrichment programme in the North, though experts say it remains little-developed.

Renewed tensions

But recently, the secretive communist nation has made more conciliatory gestures on the world stage.

Two US reporters and a South Korean worker were released from detention and Pyongyang said it was interested in resuming cross-border tourism and industrial projects with the South.

Less than two weeks ago, the first meeting between officials from the North and South for nearly two years took place unexpectedly in the South's capital, Seoul.

However, the KCNA report indicates the North is unhappy that the UN allowed South Korea to launch a satellite last month, having condemned its own rocket launch in April.

The communique also reiterated Pyongyang's opposition to continuing the long-running six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, China, Russia, the US and Japan, on the nuclear issue.

"We have never objected to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and of the world itself," it said.

"What we objected to is the structure of the six-way talks which had been used to violate outrageously [North Korea's] sovereignty and its right to peaceful development".

Pyongyang has in the past said it is open to direct talks with the US, but US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in June that the six-party talk framework was "the appropriate way to engage with North Korea".

Correspondents said Pyongyang's latest remarks appeared to seek once again to ratchet up tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Airborne Boeing laser blasts ground target

The airborne military laser which promises to destroy, damage or disable targets with little to no collateral damage has for the first time actually blown something up.

Boeing and the US Air Force today said that on Aug. 30, a C-130H aircraft armed with Boeing's Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) blasted a target test vehicle on the ground for the first time. Boeing has been developing the ATL since 2008 under an Air Force contract worth up to $30 million.

According to Boeing, the C-130 fired its 12,000lb high-power chemical laser through the beam control system while flying over White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The beam control system acquired the ground target and guided the laser beam to the target.

The ATL team includes L-3 Communications/Brashear, which made the laser turret, and Hytec which made various structural elements of the weapon system, Boeing said.

The ATL is complementary to the Airborne Laser (ABL), which Boeing is developing for the US Missile Defense Agency to destroy airborne ballistic missiles. The ABL consists of a megawatt-class chemical laser mounted on a Boeing 747-400 freighter aircraft. According to Boeing the C-130H transport, which belongs to the U.S. Air Force's 46th Test Wing, has been modified to carry the high-energy chemical laser and battle management and beam control subsystems.

Both systems employ a Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) that is made by combining a bunch of nasty chemicals - potassium, peroxide, chlorine, iodine and other stuff and then fired at supersonic speeds. According to as post on Wikipedia, each COIL burst produces enough energy in a five-second burst to power a typical American household for more than one hour. The system doesn't so much evaporate its target as melts or damages it rendering it useless. In the case of using it against missiles, the missile is typically weakened and then explodes, experts said.

The extreme scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency today said last month they want to develop a laser system the goes way beyond today's opto-mechanical, acousto-optical or electro-optical systems to establish photonic integrated circuit (PIC) technology that will provide video frame rate beam steering speeds, and emit multiple beams with a total output power of 10 W.

DARPA said Opto-mechanical scanning devices are usually bulky and relatively slow, while acousto- and electro-optical technologies utilize devices that while small in size, cannot provide the steering speeds and versatility necessary for many of the advanced applications the military envisions.

Known as the SWEEPER, which is wicked short for short-range wide-field-of-view extremely-agile electronically-steered photonic emitters, DARPA said it expects the new laser technology to draw from phased array concepts that revolutionized RADAR systems.

DARPA said it expects SWEEPER will provide a compact, agile alternative to mechanically steered technology, and recognizing the recent advances in photonic device density, circuit complexity, and performance capabilities in the emerging PIC technology, the SWEEPER program should extend phased array beam steering to the optical domain in the near infra red (0.8 to 2 μm range) by developing PIC technology for optical phased arrays. Such arrays will require the integration of thousand of closely packed optical emitting facets, precise relative electronic phase control of these components, and all within a very small form factor with a total output power of 10W, DARPA stated.

The Things You See...

This spider was on the roof of a car parked downtown. I got very close up and it was lunging at me.

Zoom for detail.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Things You See...

This frog was in the water at the park where I take my dog. I was struck not only by the size and color (though this one is mostly covered in mud) but also because I am used to seeing only toads or maybe tree frogs, though those were mostly in coastal Georgia.

Click to zoom.

Inside Out: The Scoop on Kellogg's Fiber Plus Antioxidant Bars

They lend a whole new meaning to consumer confidence.

How did I discover these treats? Most inadvertently.

I was backed up with work. Work, I said. And, I thought a chocolatey snack might get me through the stretch. But, I must admit, I had just completed a diet and was perhaps seeking relief from fasting and a little work anxiety.

Good intentions paved the road. I headed for...Sam's Club, home of the econo-family sized boxes. My primary intention was Asian stir fry vegetables and tilapia. And maybe some trail mix to keep close by as I grind through some long hours. Hmmm, no trail mix on this aisle, but lots of granola bar options and I noticed one that looked inviting - a photo of a chocolate and caramel cluster on a dark brown background and the word 'antioxidants' registered. I thought to myself how manipulative these companies are about adorning their packaging with health tags to license consumers to committing to their impulses. Like when the candy corn bag brags about being 'a fat free snack'.

How I didn't notice the 'Fiber Plus' part of the packaging is just out of the realm of my conscious acknowledgment and within the scope of dismissing a glimmering healthy attribute such that I just blocked it entirely. On the way home I reached back and heaved the suitcase of snack bars to the front seat and began sampling. My choices from the four smaller boxes contained within included dark chocolate almond and chocolate chip. I usually go for cashews or maybe dried fruit, though if I do indulge I don't mess around much with snack bars. On occasion I will head for the Tolberone and that's that, but I know chocolate is not the thing to tamper with, regardless of the hype. So, my expectations were low and somewhat mitigated by the flimsy rationalization of having chosen a healthy alternative.

But, much to my surprise, this was not the average chewy granola bar. This was a brilliant confection, and of a design that would permit furious consumption due to its startlingly light composition. It was like eating a high-end composite tennis racket covered in chocolate and caramel. No impact and such a seemingly impossible marriage of flavor with a most pleasant texture. Usually such a decadent combination would only allow for just a few bites due to the sheer richness, but this configuration seduces much in the same way that a paper mache boulder might delight a child to swagger around in the role of a giant threatening to destroy an imaginary city. Like when I was about seven years old and I saw that Stride Rite Zips commercial that showed kids jumping over trees and I believed that they would make me run faster, I had found a sixth gear in these snack bars, and I wanted to see what I could do. These...Fiber Plus bars.

After the first day I had consumed two of the four boxes. More accurately, within the short span of a few hours of the first day. Despite my remarkable reaction, I repeated the same consumption the next day with the same results, perhaps by this point seeking confirmation that it was the food causing my seismology and not the worry. Note, however, that one bar remains, representative of a point at which the goldfish acknowledged out of self preservation a threshold for yielding to caution.

I was curious enough by the end of the second day to return to the packaging to search for clues about what I had consumed. And that's when 'Fiber Plus' sang out its name to me, and the doors of enlightenment opened. And I'm not going to bore anyone with trite jests about doors opening or about starting my own Cash for Clunkers / Clunk in the Trunk or what not. But I will attest to the effectiveness of this fiber product, and that I specifically sought out a warning label as I scoured the packaging and read the ingredients. Chicory root fiber, rolled oats, crisp rice, etc. 35% of your daily fiber per bar, each box containing 5 bars, and I ate two boxes each day. Again, I thought surely a warning label might be found, and in a small yellow rectangle it doth read: 'NEW USERS: Increase your fiber intake gradually. Gastrointestinal discomfort may occur until your body adjusts.'

Remember that old skit on Saturday Night Live about Colon Blo?

What exactly did I experience? Well, ask my roommate, a programmer whose contract had just abruptly ended after only staying with me for a month, and had just announced that he would be returning to his home town of Dallas, TX. I made no attempt to muffle or dampen the acoustics out of any consideration or modesty and attended to my new fascination with complete disregard. For a moment, however, I began to speculate whether my nervous neighbor might think to call the police.

Suffice to say that I was simply beside myself. And I also noticed that my nose kept running. Whew, for a moment I thought it might be blood! Likely an expectorant effect of the chocolate. This morning I'm hearing the theme song from the Greatest American Hero. Follow up a fast with a case of Fiber Plus and you will advance human evolution.

New 'users'? One doesn't think to 'administer' a snack, although that is the correct way to think about food, isn't it? Afterall, a snack is what a person eats to extend energy or maybe to keep metabolism moving. And my intention was to cook a meal and get a balanced eating plan in order again after fasting. But the 'snack' kept on with no apparent impact on my appetite. Since I hadn't eaten a proper meal either day, I did wise up long enough to fix something more substantial later in the evening. Did I mention how good and healthy Amy's burritos are? Mmmm. Black bean and rice non-dairy, Indian spinach and tofu, Southwestern. Three or four usually do the trick:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Apple Blames 'External Forces' For Exploding iPhones

Apple says it has seen no evidence that overheating batteries had caused screens on some of its iPhone devices to explode, blaming incidents in France on "external force."

French authorities have opened an investigation into the safety of the cult smartphone, following claims by several users in France and elsewhere that their iPhone screens had shattered in a dangerous manner during use.

"To date, there are no confirmed battery overheating incidents for iPhone 3GS and the number of reports we are investigating is in the single digits," the firm said in a statement to AFP.

"The iPhones with broken glass that we have analysed to date show that in all cases the glass cracked due to an external force that was applied to the iPhone," the company added.

Ten French consumers have come forward to say their iPhone screens exploded or cracked without explanation, according to an AFP tally, including a case in mid-August in which a teenager was said to have suffered an eye injury.

An 80-year-old pensioner from the Paris suburbs said on Wednesday his iPhone screen cracked up in his hands, a day after a supermarket watchman claimed he was also hurt in the eye when his screen suddenly shattered this week.

Apple's commercial director in France, Michel Coulomb, met the country's consumer affairs minister Herve Novelli on Friday to discuss the probe launched by a state safety agency following the consumer complaints.

Afterwards, Novelli confirmed Apple's interim findings, but said it was too soon to apportion blame or say whether the users themselves had been responsible for the damage.

"The first results show, according to Apple management, that the iPhones weren't damaged by a battery defect leading to an explosion, but that there had been a prior shock that cracked the screens," the minister said.

He added that in one of the cases, the injured party had so far refused to hand over the phone to Apple's management for testing, so it was not year clear what had caused the incident.

Apple has sold 26 million iPhones and 200 million iPod music players around the world.

It is accused of trying to hush up 15 cases of iPods heating up and bursting into flames in the United States and one similar British case, all apparently due to overheated lithium ion batteries.

None of the cases caused a serious injury but Apple was forced to defend the safety of the iPhone before the European Union this month, insisting they were "isolated incidents".

French To Probe Case Of Exploding iPhones

28 August, 2009, by Desire Athow
Show All12Next

France's official consumer affairs watchdog, the DGCCRF, has launched an official investigation over the curious case of exploding iPhones in what seems to be a worldwide epidemic.

Similar incidents have been reported in Britain, Holland, Sweden and the US already. The case is said to be so serious that someone from Apple France will be meeting the French consumer affairs minister Herve Novelli to discuss the matter.

Head of communications at Apple Europe told Agence France Presse that they were aware of these reports and were waiting to receive the defective iPhones from the customers for closer examination. Until then, he added, the company won't have anything further to add.

An 80-year old Parisian pensioner said that his iPhone screen broke up days after he purchase it. "I took it out of my pocket and held it to my ear and saw the screen crack up like a car windscreen," he added.

There are fears that Apple have had issues with its lithium batteries. Back in June, a French website published pictures

Read more: