Daily Archives: April 11, 2012

MIT researchers seek to create robotic ‘self-sculpting sand’

MIT has tested the potential of “smart sand” with these larger cubes with rudimentary microprocessors inside.

“What used to occupy an entire room now fits on a small fraction of a fingernail. We’ll see the same advances applied to programmable matter systems as well.”

CNN | Apr 4th, 2012

By Doug Gross

It could be something out of “Harry Potter,” or a scene from “Terminator 2” if you want to take it to a creepier place.

Take a box full of sand and tell it what you need – say a hammer, a ladder or a replacement for a busted car part. Bury a tiny model of what you need in the sand, give it a few seconds and – voila! – the grains of sand have assembled themselves into a full-size version of the model.

MIT robotics researchers say such a magical sandbox could be no more than a decade away.

A team from the school’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory says they’ve developed algorithms that could enable “smart sand” – essentially miniscule, simple robots that would communicate with each other about how to align together properly once they’ve been given a model to copy.

The team has already done limited testing with larger cubes – 10 millimeters wide with rudimentary microprocessors inside and magnets on four of their sides. The “robot pebbles” magnets are used not just to connect, but to communicate with each other and share power.

“The ‘robot pebbles’ are not going to turn into true ‘smart sand’ overnight – but it will happen …,” said Kyle Gilpin, a graduate student working on the project.

Gilpin, who authored the paper the team will present at next month’s IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, predicted it could take 10 years, but that “we’ll see incremental improvements along the way.”

The grains of “sand” would essentially work together like the block of stone a sculptor begins with. Once deployed, the grains needed to build an item would move into place, while those that aren’t needed would simply fall away.

“Say the tire rod in your car has sheared,” Gilpin said. “You could duct tape it back together, put it into your system and get a new one.”

Once an item is no longer needed, the grains could be ordered to fall apart and get ready for the next project.

One of the main challenges at this point is getting enough computing power onto items so small. The “robot pebbles” now being tested each have a tiny microprocessor that can store just 32 kilobytes of program code and have two kilobytes of working memory.

But Gilpin said that’s not a reason to lose hope.

“Consider how rapidly and dramatically computers have been miniaturized over the last 50 years,” he said. “What used to
occupy an entire room now fits on a small fraction of a fingernail. We’ll see the same advances applied to programmable matter systems as well.”

US military offers millions for the first humanoid robot

This is an illustration of humanoid robots working in a disaster scenario. DARPA

It needs to walk on two legs, handle power tools and even drive vehicles

msnbc.msn.com | Apr 10, 2012

Uncle Sam wants you to make a military robot capable of walking on two legs, handling power tools and even driving vehicles. Luckily, the U.S. military’s new robotics challenge aims to save lives rather than hunt down human warriors, Terminator-style, on the battlefields of tomorrow.

The $2 million challenge by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency appeared in an official online solicitation Tuesday. DARPA wants a humanoid robot to replace humans doing dangerous work in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, industrial accidents or natural disasters — or a combination of disaster scenarios such as the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear facility after the tsunami.

DARPA expects the robot to show how it can move a cinder block or similar obstacle out of a doorway, open the door by using the handle, and climb a ladder using its arms and legs. The robot must also prove as handy as Tim the Tool Man by using power tools to break through a concrete panel or wall, find and seal off a leaking pipe and manually replace a cooling pump.

DARPA seeks humanoid robots in Grand Challenge

Historian talks ‘Coming War with Robots’

The robot even has to prove capable of steering, accelerating and braking from the driver’s seat of a vehicle — a job much more complex than just putting a robotic “brain” inside a driverless car. Such robots can take orders from human operators, but DARPA will award more points for robots that can handle all these tricky tasks by themselves.

The U.S. military already has thousands of drones soaring above today’s battlefields, as well as wheeled robots to scout buildings or disable improvised explosive devices. But legged robots represent the next stage in robot evolution — the U.S. Navy already has plans to build its own robotic firefighter capable of doing humanoid tasks such as climbing ladders and throwing extinguisher grenades.

For its challenge, DARPA plans to hold a “Virtual Disaster Response Challenge” to test robot software in a virtual simulation, as well two “Disaster Response Challenges” set in a real-world training grounds.

Teams without their own robots can test out their software on a robot expected to be provided by Boston Dynamics — a robotics company already working on a robotic mule and a fast-running robotic cheetah for the military. That humanoid robot will resemble Boston Dynamics’ pre-existing humanoid robot models, known as Atlas and PETMAN.

Companies can apply for five contracts worth $3 million if they plan on making both robotic hardware and software, or can apply for 12 contracts worth $375,000 if they  plan on only trying out software. DARPA has also made room to accept up to 100 teams with no funding that can compete with funded teams for later contracts worth $750,000 and $1 million in the later stages of the challenge.

Competitors with deep pockets can also go on their own without military funding and still try to win the final $2 million prize. But given the steep challenges ahead, they’ll need all the money and confidence they can get.

The challenge is expected to begin on Oct. 1, 2012, and last until about Dec. 31, 2014.

Dental X-rays linked to brain tumors – study

washingtonpost.com | Apr 10, 2012

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

A study published Tuesday in the American Cancer Society journal Cancer reported a link between certain kinds of dental X-rays and the most common brain tumor, one that is almost always benign but can still be debilitating.

The study found at a general level that people with meningioma were more than twice as likely as people without the brain tumor to have had a bitewing X-ray sometime in their life. For a bitewing X-ray, the patient holds the film in place by biting down on a tab.

The exposures to dental X-rays in the study took place in the 1960s, when dental X-rays delivered higher doses of radiation than today’s do. The study compared the self-reported dental X-ray histories of 1,433 adults who had been diagnosed with the tumor with 1,350 who had not.

The study also found an association between the less commonly used panorex X-rays, which are taken outside the mouth and deliver a panoramic view of the full set of top and bottom teeth, and meningioma risk.

People who reported having had a panorex exam before they turned 10 were 4.9 times as likely to develop meningioma as those who had them at any other time, and those who had had them most frequently (but not necessarily at that young age) were about three times as likely to do so as those who had never had a panorex exam.

The study reports that ionizing radiation is the major environmental risk factor for meningioma and that dental X-rays are the most common artificial source of exposure to ionizing radiation in the United States.

Lead author Elizabeth Claus, professor at the Yale School of Public Health and a neurosurgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, noted that risk factors for meningioma, the most commonly diagnosed form of brain tumor, remain poorly understood, in part because meningioma was only added to brain tumor registries in the United States in 2004.

She added that it generally takes 20 to 30 years after exposure to an environmental trigger such as radiation for meningioma to develop.

The tumor can reach sizes larger than a baseball and can cause headaches, vision problems and loss of speech and motor control.

The American Dental Association recommends that dentists be judicious in their use of X-rays. For patients whose teeth are healthy and who are not at increased risk of developing cavities, the ADA suggests children have X-rays about every one to two years; adolescents, every year and a half to three years; and adults, every two to three years.

iBrain can ‘read your mind’, upload it to computers

yahoo.com | Apr 9, 2012

By Eric Pfeiffer


Dr. Philip Low wearing the "iBrain" (Misha Gravenor/TechnologyReview.com)

A team of California scientists have developed the world’s first portable brain scanner, and it may soon be able to “read a person’s mind,” playing a major role in facilitating medical breakthroughs.

“This is very exciting for us because it allows us to have a window into the brain. We’re building technology that will allow humanity to have access to the human brain for the first time,” said the project’s leader, Phillip Low.

KGTV reports that the device, created by San Diego-based NeuroVigil, and dubbed the iBrain, fits over a person’s head and measures unique neurological patterns connected to specific thought processes.

Low says the goal is to eventually have a large enough database of these brainwaves that a computer could essentially read a person’s thoughts out loud. One person who has already tried out the iBrain is famed physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking.

“We’d like to find a way to bypass his body, pretty much hack his brain,” said Low. This past summer, Low traveled to Cambridge, England, where he met with Hawking, who was asked to think “very hard” about completing various tasks while wearing the device.

NeuroVigil says the device could be used at home by individuals and worn during sleep. It comes equipped with a USB port for transferring the recorded data to a local computer.

Beyond so-called mind reading, the device has potential medical applications, such as enlisting the iBrain to help doctors prescribe the correct levels of medication based on a person’s brainwave responses.

“This is the first step to personalized medicine,” Low said.

Alaska’s cruel winter: Anchorage sets snowfall record

Mark Brady shovels snow from a downtown Anchorage walkway on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012. The National Weather Service is putting Anchorage on track to have the snowiest winter on record. AP Photo

washingtonpost.com | Apr 9, 2012

By Jason Samenow

In the lower 48 states, warm weather fans rejoiced in the record-setting mild conditions. But across much of Alaska, the cold and snow have been relentless and more extreme than usual.

After 4 inches of snow this past weekend, Anchorage achieved its snowiest winter on record with 134.5 inches. It broke the record of 132.6 inches from 1954-1955. The average seasonal snowfall there is 74.5 inches.

Stormy (snowy) weather has plagued the Last Frontier since the cold season began in October. Recall a huge “life-threatening epic storm” slammed the coast of the Bering Sea in early November. That was followed by the state’s 5th wettest December on record (since 1918).

In early January, up to five feet of snow crippled towns in southeast, Alaska. January through March ranked as the 38th wettest on record across the state.

On top of the snow, Alaska had its ninth coldest January-March period on record, more than 5 degrees below average.

January was coldest on record, a stunning 14 degrees below the 1971-2000 average. Look at these frigid record-breaking average temperatures: Nome (-16.6 degrees F), Bethel (-17.3 degrees F) McGrath (-28.5 degrees F), and Bettles (-35.6 degrees F).

February offered a brief reprieve – 16th warmest on record, 6.5 degrees above average.

But the state fell back into the deep freeze during March, when its monthly temperature plummeted to 7.9 degrees below average, 10th coldest on record. Fairbanks, Alaska never rose above freezing during the month for the first time since 1919.

There are signs of progress, though. Last Thursday, the high in Fairbanks climbed to a comparatively balmy 49 degrees (12 degrees above the average of 37) – its warmest day in almost 6 months (it hit 50 October 14).

A Ron Paul deal with Mitt Romney: what’s in it for him?

Mitt and Dr. Paul are BFF…

washingtontimes.com | Apr 6, 2012

by Catherine Poe

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2012 — The rumors just won’t go away. They continue to swirl around Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. No matter how quickly the Paul people try to quash such talk, the rumors flare up again.

For months now, insiders have been claiming that the two candidates have not only made a pact not to go after each other at the debates or in their ads, but that Paul will throw his full support behind Romney and not run as a Third Party candidate. In return, Paul supposedly will get one of the following

1. a VP slot for his son Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

2. a position in a Romney administration

3. a prime time spot at the convention for him and/or his son  to speak

4. an adoption of at least some of his Libertarian tenets

5. a seat at the all-important table of the nominee.

Now still another account from sources close to the Ron Paul campaign has materialized, acknowledging that an alliance has been forged. Business Insider said that the confidants, who preferred to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, confirmed what we all have suspected, “The courtship [between the two candidates] has been underway for a long time.”

This even as  Ron Paul’s campaign manager was saying, “Our most cordial relationship is probably with Romney’s people, but cordiality doesn’t imply anything other than that we are civil. Just because we’re polite doesn’t mean we’re cutting deals.”

However, “sources close to the campaign told Business Insider that, behind the scenes, there have been ongoing discussions between the two campaigns that appear to include, or at least be the precursor to, an eventual deal.”

Of course, both Paul and Romney have vehemently denied the allegations. But then again, they would. Wouldn’t look so good for the pure as driven snow Dr. Paul to be making side deals with the likes of Romney, an anathema to most of his supporters. And Mitt wouldn’t look so good either if it were known he was a back room kind of guy, cutting secret deals. Despite the denials, there is an old saying that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

It looks as though this emerging strategic partnership has been in the works for a while and despite ideological differences, the two men struck up a friendship back in 2008 when both were running in the presidential primary. A Republican strategist back in February confirmed that the two candidates are quietly in touch through their aides. In fact, the two campaigns have even coordinated on minor details “such as staggering the timing of each candidate’s appearance on television the night of the New Hampshire primaryfor maximum effect.”

Rick Santorum has been complaining about the chumminess of his two rivals for months now. After one of recent debate, Santorum suggested that Paul and Romney had ganged up on him, part of backroom “running mate deal.” When asked at a Tea Party Rally about the perceived bashing he took at the hands of his rivals, Santorum said: “The coordination that I felt at that debate was pretty clear. I felt like messages were being slipped behind my chair. It’s pretty remarkable that in 20 debates, Ron Paul never attacked Mitt Romney.”

Even the likes of Rush Limbaugh has added his two cents, speculating about the advantages of the new bromance that is brewing between the two candidates:

“I’m just beginning to see huge advantages to Romney if Ron Paul stays in. I can see Romney offering a plum to Ron Paul’s son (every father cares about such things.) I can see Romney offering a plum to Paul’s son and to not run a third party to set his son up for the future. If you’ve noticed, Ron Paul never rips Romney, which I know Romney appreciates. In fact, Ron Paul joins the chorus of those defending Romney sometimes.”

Even though as recently as last Monday, Paul said he wasn’t sure if he would endorse the ultimate Republican candidate, the rumormongering goes on unabated. Paul’s campaign advisors told Business Insider on the record that “Ron Paul’s principles will not be compromised. I’m shocked that anyone would think that.”

Still other supporters protest that what observers may think their being simpatico is actually more likely Dr. Paul’s animosity toward Santorum and Gingrich than any “friendship” with Romney. (Both men have opposed the candidacy of both Paul and his son Senator Paul in the past.)

If it turns out that there is a deal, the impact will be interesting to watch. In the long run, Romney’s supporters probably could care less. Whatever secures the nomination for their candidate is ok with them. But for the fervent, often zealous supporters of Congressman Paul, this could be a disappointment of monumental proportions. It might be equal to learning that your parents lied to you and there is no Santa Claus.

Dr. Paul has been known as a man of integrity or at least that is his campaign persona. He gives ground to no one on his Libertarian principles even when they ruffle the feathers of the Republican Party. He doesn’t play to crowd in the debates, telling them what they want to hear.

He says what he thinks they should hear. His followers are like disciples going out among the great unwashed and bringing the gospel of Libertarianism. They are probably hoping to see him on the ballot come November as a Third Party candidate, not that they truly believe he can win, but so he can continue to carry the message.

In fact, to some degree Paul’s Libertarian message has penetrated the GOP, which has moved much closer to where Dr. Paul stands than it did just ten years ago. Paul didn’t move closer to the GOP’s long held positions, it shifted his way.

For Ron Paul, all this political jockeying is merely a means to an end if he and his supporters are to gain a toehold in the Republican Party. They have organized at the grassroots level, gotten themselves on county committees, and even run to be delegates and state officers. Their goal all along has been to bring the libertarian vision into the mainstream.

However, do not expect to see a Mitt Romney and Ron Paul joint press conference after the primary, one in which the two rivals now swear allegiance to one another. After all, the Congressman, who is retiring this year, has his legacy to preserve.

So how will we know if a pact was made? Look for two things to happen:

  1. Paul does not start a Third Party insurgency;
  2. Romney allows Paul his moment in the sun at the GOP August convention during prime time.

“Ron Paul wants a presence at the convention,” one Paul adviser told Business Insider, and  if Romney is the GOP nominee he would grant that wish.

That in turn would bring out an important constituency, one that works hard, tirelessly, some might say relentlessly, into the Romney fold. The Paul supporters could be the tipping point in Mitt Romney’s drive to defeat President Obama.

That is why Mitt and Dr. Paul are BFF.

Former Chicago Mayor Daley To Answer Questions During Police Torture Conspiracy Cover-up Trial

huffingtonpost.com | Apr 10, 2012

CHICAGO — Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has agreed to answer questions under oath about allegations that he was part of a conspiracy to cover up police torture decades ago, attorneys said Tuesday.

Daley and City Hall had fought for years to keep him from being brought before lawyers suing the city on behalf of men who say they were tortured by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge or detectives under his command in the 1970s and the 1980s.

Daley was Cook County state’s attorney for much of the 1980s and became mayor in 1989.

At a federal hearing Tuesday, the city relented and agreed to make Daley available for questioning by the lawyers, said Flint Taylor, who represents a former inmate suing the city over the allegations. No date has been set.

Representatives for Daley did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment. Paul Michalik, a lawyer representing the city, confirmed Daley would appear at his deposition.

Taylor said he’s concerned that City Hall will try to set limits on the scope of the questioning when they meet with the plaintiff’s lawyers Thursday.

“We’ve been frustrated over the last seven months,” Taylor said of the city’s resistance. “We’re troubled they want to limit the scope of the deposition. They say the devil is in the details. Certainly, we don’t believe there is any reason to limit the scope.”

Daley is named in a civil suit filed by Taylor’s client, Michael Tillman, who claims Chicago police waterboarded him with soda decades ago to make him confess to a crime he didn’t commit. Tillman served nearly 24 years in prison before his rape and murder conviction was vacated and the charges were dismissed in 2010.

In documents filed in federal court last month, Daley denied knowing anything about an alleged conspiracy to cover up police torture by Burge and his men when he was serving as state’s attorney and mayor.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled that Daley could be sued by those claiming a cover-up conspiracy, saying while he had prosecutorial immunity from lawsuits as state’s attorney, he was offered no such protection as mayor.

Burge was convicted in 2010 of lying about the torture of suspects and is serving four and a half years in prison.

Author: We live in “Ritual America” where the average citizen is an unconscious Masonic initiate

Images: Freemasonry Watch

huffingtonpost.com | Apr 10, 2012

by Adam Parfey (co-author of “Ritual America”)

Just about every single village, town and city in the United States has at least several buildings used as secret society lodges, hidden in plain sight: various forms of Freemasonry, Odd Fellows, Shriners, Woodmen of the World, Improved Order of the Red Men, Jesters, Druids, subordinate orders meant for women or children of these groups–Rebekah, Order of the Eastern Star, Job’s Daughters, DeMolay or one of six hundred different orders that ran strong in this country.

It might come as a surprise that the banal business and patriot groups, like the Lion’s, Optimists, Elks, Eagles, and the Rotary Club are also secret societies who are joined by initiates who swear secret oaths.

At the turn of the twentieth century, several well-regarded insider books on fraternal orders claimed that as many as one-third the population of the country belonged to among six hundred different secret orders. Now that’s a mother lode of secrecy.

A dozen major factories in the country made costumes and uniforms, strange lodge ephemera, banners, books, and strange hazing pranks for a huge and not-too-secret fraternal marketplace.

What’s the attraction of belonging to such groups?

It seems that a small percentage were attracted to learning esoteric wisdom. Others were drawn to having a place where they could meet with friends and drink away from the wife and kids. A surprising number of fraternal orders outside the Ku Klux Klan–which based its structure on Freemasonry–froze out the participation of other races and religious beliefs. A good number of secret orders provided life insurance and care for families at a time when social security, Medicare and life insurance did not exist. Some original secret orders have since dropped the rituals and esoteric pretense to morph into full-time insurance companies.

With the distractions of television, video games, the Internet, fast food, microwave meals and full-time employment for mothers of the family, membership in secret orders has dropped precipitously since the late ’60s. Bruce Webb, a friend from Waxahachie, Texas, runs an art gallery that nearly exclusively features purchases he made from newly defunct Lodges.

A member of the Scottish Rite temple bemoaned to me the dissolution of fraternal orders, and suggested that I read the book Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam to glean a better idea why the communitarian aspect of American culture has collapsed, and why lodge membership seems like a faint throwback to a weird and ancient era.

Today, Orders like the Scottish Rite Temple are trying to find ways to attract new members who don’t have enough interest or drive to spend months memorizing complex ideas to climb the 32 degrees of the Order’s hierarchy. Many Scottish Rite lodges today offer the 32 degree climb within a day or two… Less work equals more “raised” members.

In opposition to the decline today of secret society membership is the continued strength of fraternal membership among the police and military, or the so-called Brotherhood of the Gun.

Accompanying this article are patches of Masonic police brotherhoods. Coincidentally, the Middle East has been a fraternal obsession since the turn of the twentieth century. Masonic publishing companies have published novels and non-fiction books about Baghdad and The Temple of Solomon. An online Shriners magazine called The Scimitar discusses military lodge work in Baghdad. A New York Times article from 1912 discusses a “scheme” of Freemasons to purchase and rebuild The Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.

The co-author of Ritual America [Feral House, $29.95] and I believe that although membership of esoteric orders are declining by the day, the esoteric groundwork of modern America has already been established. Although traditional structures–with notable exceptions in police and military ranks–are in decline, other forums for fraternal fun have emerged, from sports bars (somewhat akin to early Masonic meetings in colonial taverns) to megachurches and their venues of entertainment. At the same time, modern America has been permeated by many of the gnostic concepts of the secret societies, making formal affiliations a bit moot. We might say that modern America has truly become Ritual America at a deeper level, and the average citizen is an unconscious initiate, a dweller in the long historical shadows of secret societies.

Police warn of 24-hour ticket blitz

Announcement a shot in union battle over quota

norwichbulletin.com | Apr 4, 2012

By Don Bond

Danielson, Conn. — The Connecticut State Police Union took the unusual step Tuesday of warning motorists of what the union claims will be a 24-hour ticket blitz today in the northeastern Connecticut territory covered by the Danielson barracks.

The union’s warning indicated the ticket blitz will run from midnight through 11:59 p.m. today in the 13 northeastern Connecticut towns the barracks patrols.

The warning is part of the union’s ongoing battle with state police administrators, claiming the efforts by barracks commanders to increase enforcement efforts by writing more tickets is creating a quota system.

It cites a memo issued by the commanding officer of Troop I in Bethany who, on March 30, told his troopers they needed to write “at least 60 infraction/misdemeanor tickets on each of the troop’s three shifts for a total of 180 infractions to outperform both Troop F and Troop G.”

State police administrators have said there is no quota system, and department spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance has characterized the memo as an effort by a barracks commander to increase enforcement to help prevent accidents.

Vance did not return several calls to his office Wednesday for comment for this story.
While saying troopers are committed to making Connecticut roads safer, the union said it “strongly objects to any quotas or initiatives where the public is targeted as a means of generating revenue for the state.”

The union said Section 29-2(b) of the Connecticut General Statutes prohibits “a specified number for motor vehicle violations to be issued within a specified period of time.” The union also said department policy and state law give troopers the authority to use discretion when enforcing traffic laws.

In its warning, the union cited a memo written by Lt. Timothy Madden, commanding officer at Troop D, who allegedly urged troopers to be “highly productive and perhaps we can be the top dog in the district.”

In its news release, the union claims its members were “alarmed and spoke out against this action to no avail.”

“State police union members are committed to making the roads and highways of this state as safe as possible,” the news release concludes. “However, we believe this can be better accomplished through a combination of public awareness announcements and appropriate enforcement action, not through a process of competition and rewards.”

The news release did not attribute the union’s comments to Sgt. Andrew Matthews, union president, or to any other officer of the union.

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