Daily Archives: January 22, 2008

Unmanned aerial vehicles the size of a cigarette fit into a soldier’s pocket

 
(Credit: Oklahoma State University)

CNET | Jan 19, 2008

by Mark Rutherford

Researchers at Oklahoma State University are working with DARPA to deliver a sophisticated, unmanned aircraft small enough to fit into a soldier’s pocket, reports the Daily O’Collegian.

A state-of-the-art propulsion system, one that uses plasma thrusters with no moving parts, could provide power for micro and nano unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV.) This class of airplane can measure anywhere from a foot to less than 6 inches long.

“What we want the infantrymen to be able to do is pull a pack of six or so out of their pocket and have them ready for use,” Jamey Jacob, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering told the Daily.

The new line of aircraft would take over some of the duties performed by today’s UAV fleet, mainly surveillance of hostile areas, and would be a significant improvement over the UAV equipment available to soldiers today, according to Jacob. OSU students are working on another DARPA project, an aircraft that can stay aloft for five years at a stretch.

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Mistrust of voting machines on the rise

Houston Chronicle | Jan 21, 2008

By ALAN BERNSTEIN

In December, Colorado rejected the kind of touch-screen voting machines in wide use across Texas.

Ohio called for a return to paper ballots after deciding that the kind of click-wheel voting machine used in the Houston area, as well as the touch-screen model, were unreliable and too vulnerable to computer-savvy manipulation of election results.

California found in mid-2007 what it called serious security flaws in the same kinds of equipment.

Amid growing concern about glitches in electronic election systems, the states also are requiring that voting machines produce receipts of a sort so voters can check whether their ballot choices are recorded correctly.

Texas, however, plans no such scientific re-evaluation of its computerized voting machines. And the state has yet to require the ATM-style record known as a Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail, though the Democratic and Republican state parties say in their platforms that Texas should use the technology.

Critics say Texas is merely behind the curve of buttressing public confidence in vote-counting as it gears up for the March 4 primaries and the November presidential elections.

But some election officials say there has been little demand for change in the state because Texas urban areas have had comparative success with the modern equipment due to their relatively early, and more gradual, use of the vote-count systems since 2001. They also say that the lack of evidence of voter fraud in the use of the systems should be reassuring.

Regardless, it’s balloting as usual in Texas, which is expected to record more than 7.5 million votes in the presidential election.

State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, is restless, though.

“We need to make sure voters have the maximum confidence in the voting process,” said the vice chairman of the House Elections Committee.

Bohac co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill last year to require the paper trail. County officials balked at the costs and logistics, he said.

House Speaker Tom Craddick has instructed the committee to collect information on the accuracy and security of the machines certified for use in Texas — and to look at whether the state should adopt the paper trail technology.

Private sector computer experts work with the state to test and certify voting equipment, but Bohac said that like the other states, Texas should circle back and see if the machinery meets up-to-date standards.

“A full, top to bottom evaluation would be an asset,” the lawmaker said. “This is an issue that continues to come up.”

It came up in November in Wharton County a few weeks after a voter saw, and election officials confirmed, that his ballot choices “flipped” from yes to no or no to yes in an election on state propositions.

The local Republican Party turned its back on the the iVotronic touch screen machines, manufactured by Election Systems & Software of Omaha, and in the March primary will use paper ballots, similar to standardized test forms tabulated by optical scanners.

Ivotronic touch screens or other ES&S products are used in Dallas, San Antonio and most counties in the state. The other big supplier of election equipment in Texas is Hart Intercivic of Austin, whose eSlate machines record the vote in Harris, Fort Bend and other counties.

Ohio last month expressed little confidence in the security of such equipment.

“In an era of computer-based voting systems, voters have a right to expect that their voting system is at least as secure as the systems they use for banking and communication,” Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said.

Her statement contrasts with Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson’s written responses to questions from the Houston Chronicle.

“I have confidence in the processes and systems currently in place,” he said, and his staff will continue to see if any improvements are needed.

He said the findings in other states should be taken seriously. But Wilson and Beverly Kaufman, who administers elections in Harris County, are among the Texas officials who say those studies reflect erratic equipment changes and shifting standards unlike what has been seen in the Lone Star State.

Ballot scrutiny

Wilson said his staff has rejected the use of a paper trail because of concerns about the equipment’s potential malfunctions, errors and paper jams.

And with machines that generate a backup paper record for each voter to examine, he said, there may be a way after an election is over for someone to find out how individual voters voted.

“The office believes it is better to err on the side of ballot security than risk subjecting a person’s record to public scrutiny,” Wilson stated.

And yet Wilson also said he will follow the Legislature’s guidance on the issue.

Bohac, the elections committee vice chairman who advocates the paper trail technology, said he looks forward to scheduling hearings that will include testimony from Wilson.

Manufacturers, meanwhile, are appealing the Colorado rejections or working to dissolve some of the complaints in time for the November elections.

ES&S and Hart Intercivic also say that the security tests in other states were conducted without the human factor: election officials and monitors and precinct judges who work to safeguard hi-tech equipment and the results on election winners and losers.

With proper training of election administrators on the use of touch-screen and click-wheel tablets, the companies say, votes will be counted with the highest degree of accuracy.

“We want to make sure we are building something that meets the standards and serves the voters,” said Peter Lichtenheld cq of Hart Intercivic, supplier of eSlate machines. “We are just as passionate that every vote counts as the naysayers.”

Illegal immigrants to be refused Michigan driver’s licenses

Associated Press | Jan 21, 2008

By TIM MARTIN

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Illegal immigrants no longer will be able to get Michigan driver’s licenses starting Tuesday under a policy that requires more documentation to get behind the wheel.

Some who legally are in Michigan but not permanent residents also will be denied licenses unless state law is changed. Legislation to allow those on temporary work or student visas to get licenses is pending in the state Legislature.

Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land made the announcement Monday, aimed at complying with an opinion issued last month by Attorney General Mike Cox. Opinions by the attorney general’s office are legally binding on state agencies and officers unless reversed by the courts.

The new policy applies to first-time applicants for a Michigan driver’s license or identification card. Updated procedures for renewals soon will be released.

New applicants will be asked to show a document showing their Social Security number or show they are ineligible for one. They also will have to document legal and permanent residency in the U.S., as well as Michigan residency, through documents such as a birth certificate, passport and billing statements featuring name and address.

With Michigan changing its policy, seven states still allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses or driver’s cards. The practice has come under increasing scrutiny since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“This is one more tool in our initiative to bolster Michigan’s border and document security,” Land said in a statement. “It also puts Michigan’s procedure in line with those of most other states.”

Michigan law prohibits the secretary of state from issuing a driver’s license to a nonresident. Cox, a Republican, said in his opinion that a person who is not a lawful resident of the U.S. cannot be a resident of Michigan for purposes of obtaining a driver’s license. He said the Legislature stated a clear intent that a resident for purposes of Michigan’s vehicle code must be permanent and not temporary or transient.

His decision reversed an early opinion by former Democratic Attorney General Frank Kelley made in 1995. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has criticized Cox’s ruling, saying it would drive illegal immigrants further underground and make them a more invisible population.

Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm has said she opposes giving driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, spokeswoman Liz Boyd said Monday.

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Caffeine Consumption Raises Miscarriage Rate

Two Daily Cups of Coffee Found to Double Rate of Pregnancy Termination

Women who drank two or more cups of coffee daily during pregnancy had double the rate of miscarriages, according to a new medical study.

ABC News | Jan 21, 2008

By AUDREY GRAYSON

Expectant mothers have been confused for years about whether drinking that morning cup of joe could do harm to their unborn child.

Some previous studies have shown that consuming caffeine during pregnancy increases a woman’s risk for miscarriage, while others have found that drinking just a couple cups of coffee a day doesn’t pose much of a threat.

The latest research to examine the risk of caffeine consumption during pregnancy reveals that women who said they drank more than two cups of coffee per day had nearly double the risk of miscarriage compared with women who consumed no caffeine.

Researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Research Division in Oakland, Calif., followed 1,063 women during their pregnancy and asked about their caffeine intake. From October 1996 to October 1998, researchers examined the effects of the stimulant among the women who said they never decreased their caffeine consumption during their pregnancy.

They found that women who consumed 200 milligrams or more of caffeine daily — the equivalent of two or more cups of coffee or five 12-ounce cans of soda — had twice the risk for miscarriage. Moreover, the study found that even those women who consumed less than 200 milligrams of caffeine daily had about 40 percent increased risk for miscarriage.

Coffee: ‘Toxic Stuff’

“I am not at all surprised by this study,” said Dr. Sherman Silber, director of the Infertility Center at St. Lukes Hospital in St. Louis. “Coffee is toxic stuff.”

But does this study carry enough weight to finally answer the question of whether pregnant women should give up caffeine altogether?

Dr. De-Kun Li, primary study investigator, said that he hopes the research will convince doctors to tell their pregnant patients to avoid coffee completely.

“This is something you can control if you’re worried about a miscarriage,” Li said. “There’s lots of things we can’t control, but this is one thing that you can.”

However, Li admitted that the study fails to answer the question of whether small amounts of caffeine significantly increase a woman’s chance for miscarriage.

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Seawater spray cures kids colds

Reuters | Jan 21, 2008

By Michael Conlon

CHICAGO, Jan 21 (Reuters) – For parents worried about how to treat children’s colds now that some medicines have been called into question, the answer may be a dose of salt water.

A nasal spray made from Atlantic Ocean seawater eased wintertime cold symptoms faster and slowed cough and cold symptoms from returning among children ages 6 to 10, researchers in Europe reported on Monday.

It may be that the salt water has a simple mechanical effect of clearing mucus, or it could be that trace elements in the water play some more significant role, though the exact reason why such a solution works is not known, said Dr. Ivo Slapak and colleagues at the Teaching Hospital of Brno in the Czech Republic.

The study, published in the January issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology, was paid for by Goemar Laboratoires La Madeleine, Saint-Malo, France, which makes Physiomer, the seawater nasal spray used in the investigation.

The authors said that while saline washes have long been mentioned as a treatment for colds, scientific evidence about whether they work is poor.

The report was published days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said children under 2 should not be given nonprescription cough and cold medicines because they are too dangerous for that age group, with deaths, convulsions and rapid heart rates reported in rare cases.

U.S. health officials have not yet decided if the widely sold medicines made by companies such as Wyeth (WYE.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N: Quote, Profile, Research) are appropriate for older children, and have said they hope to have a ruling covering appropriate use for children 2 to 11 later this year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has said cough and cold products are ineffective for children under age 6, and may also be risky.

The Czech study involved 390 children with uncomplicated cold or flu symptoms. Some of the children were given standard treatments such as nasal decongestants. Others received those same medications plus the saline nasal wash, which the authors said “preserves the concentrations of ions and trace elements at levels comparable with those of seawater.”

The study lasted for 12 weeks in the winter of 2006. Children given the salt water spray got it six times a day initially and three times a day in the latter part of the study when the investigators were looking at whether it would prevent symptoms from redeveloping.

The noses of children given the spray were less stuffy and runny the second time they were checked, the study said. And eight weeks after the study began, those in the saline group had significantly fewer severe sore throats, coughs, nasal obstructions and secretions than those given standard treatments.

Fewer children in the saline group had to use fever-reducing drugs, nasal decongestants and mucus-dissolving medications or antibiotics, the researchers said. In addition children who used the salt spray were sick less often and missed fewer school days.