A pioneering lighting system that can kill hospital superbugs -- including MRSA and C. difficile -- has been developed by researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.
A new technology known as HINS-light decontaminates the air and exposed surfaces by bathing them in a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Strathclyde)
The technology decontaminates the air and exposed surfaces by bathing them in a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths, known as HINS-light.
Clinical trials at Glasgow Royal Infirmary have shown that the HINS-light Environmental Decontamination System provides significantly greater reductions of bacterial pathogens in the hospital environment than can be achieved by cleaning and disinfection alone, providing a huge step forward in hospitals' ability to prevent the spread of infection.
This novel decontamination technology was discovered and developed by a multidisciplinary team of experts, Professor Scott MacGregor (Electrical Engineer), Professor John Anderson and Dr Michelle Maclean (Microbiologists) and Professor Gerry Woolsey (Optical Physicist).
Professor Anderson said: "The technology kills pathogens but is harmless to patients and staff, which means for the first time, hospitals can continuously disinfect wards and isolation rooms.
"The system works by using a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths to excite molecules contained within bacteria. This in turn produces highly reactive chemical species that are lethal to bacteria such as meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and Clostridium difficile, known as C.diff."
Dr Maclean added: "The clinical trials have shown that the technology can help prevent the environmental transmission of pathogens and thereby increase patient safety."
The technology uses HINS-light which has a violet hue, but the research team have used a combination of LED technologies to produce a warm white lighting system that can be used alongside normal hospital lighting.
Professor Scott MacGregor, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, said: "New approaches to disinfection and sterilisation are urgently needed within the clinical environment, as traditional methods have significant limitations.
"Decontamination methods involving gas sterilants or UV-light can be hazardous to staff and patients, while cleaning, disinfection and hand washing, although essential routine procedures, have limited effectiveness and problems with compliance.
"HINS-light is a safe treatment that can be easily automated to provide continuous disinfection of wards and other areas of the clinical environment. The pervasive nature of light permits the treatment of air and all visible surfaces, regardless of accessibility, either through direct or reflected exposure to HINS-light within the treated environment."
The technology was developed in Strathclyde's pioneering Robertson Trust Laboratory for Electronic Sterilisation Technologies (ROLEST), which is dedicated to controlling infection in today's healthcare environments.
The research has been supported by the University of Strathclyde, The Robertson Trust and the Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept Programme, which supports the pre-commercialisation of leading-edge technologies emerging from Scotland.
Nov. 15, 1864: Sherman’s March to the Sea Changes Tactical Warfare By Tony Long November 15, 2010 | 7:00 am | Categories: 19th century, Warfare and Military
1864: Union troops under Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman burn the heart of Atlanta to the ground and begin their March to the Sea. By the time they’re done, the tactics of warfare will be changed forever.
Sherman grasped this and, though he wasn’t the first military proponent of total war, he was the first modern commander to deliberately strike at the enemy’s infrastructure. The scorched-earth tactics were effective. The fragile Southern economy collapsed, and a once-stout rebel army was irretrievably broken.
Meanwhile, the marshals of Europe watched Sherman’s progress with fascination. And they learned.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1878 on: Nov 15th, 2010, 2:18pm »
Huge turnout for funeral of alleged Montreal Mafia don By Paul Cherry, Postmedia News November 15, 2010
MONTREAL — Security was tight Monday for the funeral of Nicolo Rizzuto, reputed patriarch of the Montreal Mafia who was gunned down last week as he sat in his kitchen.
Five bodyguards spread out onto Dante Street in a very co-ordinated manoeuvre as a long line of limousines arrived at the church, one carrying the coffin with Rizzuto's remains.
As the bodyguards surveyed the street, Rizzuto's relatives filed into the church, including his grandsons Leonardo Rizzuto and Calergero Renda and his granddaughter Bettina Rizzuto.
Security appeared to be tight in the minutes before the funeral began at Montreal's Notre Dame de la Defense church. At least two large men wearing earpieces stood at the front door of the church and watched as mourners walked through.
The church was filled to capacity at more than 800.
Toronto writer James Dubro, who has published several books on organized crime, was removed from the church just before the funeral began. The bodyguards could be seen directing Dubro, dressed in khaki pants, out the front door.
Dubro said he was inside the church for about 30 minutes until a bodyguard asked him who he was. Dubro was up front about it, and said it didn't take long before seven bodyguards were around him in the church.
He said that as he was escorted out the front door a bodyguard gently pushed him out. He said the men were polite but forceful.
Earlier, a suspicious package left at the church was checked out and then cleared by Montreal police.
Montreal police Const. Daniel Lacoursiere said the package was a black box with a white cross and it contained a note.
Lacoursiere said the note will be analyzed but he would not disclose what it said.
The funeral for Rizzuto, 86, ended just before 12:30 p.m. ET.
Two priests led the coffin to the front of the church and it was quietly returned to the hearse that brought it.
Rizzuto's wife followed behind it, supported by an elderly man.
Behind her was Rizzuto's daughter, Maria, followed by his grandchildren.
People who attended the funeral described it as a basic Catholic funeral with no eulogies.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1880 on: Nov 15th, 2010, 8:15pm »
Clues Suggest Stuxnet Virus Was Built for Subtle Nuclear Sabotage By Kim Zetter November 15, 2010 | 4:00 pm | Categories: Cybersecurity
Photo: A worker rides a bike in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran, Oct. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour)
New and important evidence found in the sophisticated “Stuxnet” malware targeting industrial control systems provides strong hints that the code was designed to sabotage nuclear plants, and that it employs a subtle sabotage strategy that involves briefly speeding up and slowing down physical machinery at a plant over a span of weeks.
“It indicates that [Stuxnet's creators] wanted to get on the system and not be discovered and stay there for a long time and change the process subtly, but not break it,” says Liam O Murchu, researcher with Symantec Security Response, which published the new information in an updated paper (.pdf) on Friday.
The Stuxnet worm was discovered in June in Iran, and has infected more than 100,000 computer systems worldwide. At first blush it appeared to be a standard, if unusually sophisticated, Windows virus designed to steal data, but experts quickly determined it contained targeted code designed to attack Siemens Simatic WinCC SCADA systems. SCADA systems, short for “supervisory control and data acquisition,” are control systems that manage pipelines, nuclear plants, and various utility and manufacturing equipment.
Researchers determined that Stuxnet was designed to intercept commands sent from the SCADA system to control a certain function at a facility, but until Symantec’s latest research it was not known what function was being targeted for sabotage. Symantec still has not determined what specific facility or type of facility Stuxnet targeted, but the new information lends weight to speculation that Stuxnet was targeting the Bushehr or Natanz nuclear facilities in Iran as a means to sabotage Iran’s nascent nuclear program.
According to Symantec, Stuxnet targets specific frequency converter drives — power supplies that are used to control the speed of a device, such as a motor. The malware intercepts commands sent to the drives from the Siemens SCADA software, and replaces them with malicious commands to control the speed of a device, varying it wildly, but intermittently.
The malware, however, doesn’t just sabotage any frequency converter. It inventories a plant’s network and only springs to life if the plant has at least 33 frequency converter drives made by Fararo Paya in Teheran, Iran, or by the Finland-based Vacon.
Even more specifically, Stuxnet targets only frequency drives from these two companies that are running at high speeds – between 807Hz and 1210Hz. Such high speeds are used only for select applications. Symantec is careful not to say definitively that Stuxnet was targeting a nuclear facility, but notes that “frequency converter drives that output over 600Hz are regulated for export in the United States by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as they can be used for uranium enrichment.”
“There’s only a limited number of circumstances where you would want something to spin that quickly -– such as in uranium enrichment,” said O Murchu. “I imagine there are not too many countries outside of Iran that are using an Iranian device. I can’t imagine any facility in the U.S. using an Iranian device,” he added.
The malware appears to have begun infecting systems in January 2009. In July of that year, the secret-spilling site WikiLeaks posted an announcement saying that an anonymous source had disclosed that a “serious” nuclear incident had recently occurred at Natanz. Information published by the Federation of American Scientists in the United States indicates that something may indeed have occurred to Iran’s nuclear program. Statistics from 2009 show that the number of enriched centrifuges operational in Iran mysteriously declined from about 4,700 to about 3,900 beginning around the time the nuclear incident WikiLeaks mentioned would have occurred.
Researchers who have spent months reverse-engineering the Stuxnet code say its level of sophistication suggests that a well-resourced nation-state is behind the attack. It was initially speculated that Stuxnet could cause a real-world explosion at a plant, but Symantec’s latest report makes it appear that the code was designed for subtle sabotage. Additionally, the worm’s pinpoint targeting indicates the malware writers had a specific facility or facilities in mind for their attack, and have extensive knowledge of the system they were targeting.
The worm was publicly exposed after VirusBlokAda, an obscure Belarusian security company, found it on computers belonging to a customer in Iran — the country where the majority of the infections occurred.
German researcher Ralph Langner was the first to suggest that the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran was the Stuxnet target. Frank Rieger, chief technology officer at Berlin security firm GSMK, believes it’s more likely that the target in Iran was a nuclear facility in Natanz. The Bushehr reactor is designed to develop non-weapons-grade atomic energy, while the Natanz facility, a centrifuge plant, is designed to enrich uranium and presents a greater risk for producing nuclear weapons.
The new information released by Symantec last week supports this speculation.
As Symantec points out in its paper, frequency converter drives are used to control the speed of another device -– for example, a motor at a manufacturing facility or power plant. Increase the frequency, and the motor increases in speed. In the case of Stuxnet, the malware is searching for a process module made by Profibus and Profinet International that is communicating with at least 33 frequency converter drives made by either the Iranian firm or the Finnish firm.
Stuxnet is very specific about what it does once it finds its target facility. If the number of drives from the Iranian firm exceeds the number from the Finnish firm, Stuxnet unleashes one sequence of events. If the Finnish drives outnumber the Iranian ones, a different sequence is initiated.
Once Stuxnet determines it’s infected the targeted system or systems, it begins intercepting commands to the frequency drives, altering their operation.
“Stuxnet changes the output frequency for short periods of time to 1410Hz and then to 2Hz and then to 1064Hz,” writes Symantec’s Eric Chien on the company’s blog. “Modification of the output frequency essentially sabotages the automation system from operating properly. Other parameter changes may also cause unexpected effects.”
“That’s another indicator that the amount of applications where this would be applicable are very limited,” O Murchu says. “You would need a process running continuously for more than a month for this code to be able to get the desired effect. Using nuclear enrichment as an example, the centrifuges need to spin at a precise speed for long periods of time in order to extract the pure uranium. If those centrifuges stop to spin at that high speed, then it can disrupt the process of isolating the heavier isotopes in those centrifuges . . . and the final grade of uranium you would get out would be a lower quality.”
O Murchu said that there is a long wait time between different stages of malicious processes initiated by the code — in some cases more than three weeks — indicating that the attackers were interested in sticking around undetected on the target system, rather than blowing something up in a manner that would get them noticed.
“It wanted to lie there and wait and continuously change how a process worked over a long period of time to change the end results,” O Murchu said.
Stuxnet was designed to hide itself from detection so that even if administrators at a targeted facility noticed that something in the facility’s process had changed, they wouldn’t be able to see Stuxnet on their system intercepting and altering commands. Or at least they wouldn’t have seen this, if information about Stuxnet hadn’t been released last July.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1881 on: Nov 16th, 2010, 08:27am »
New York Times
November 16, 2010 Thailand Extradites Russian Arms Suspect to U.S. By SETH MYDANS
BANGKOK — Thailand extradited Viktor Bout, an accused arms trafficker, to the United States on Tuesday, drawing Russia’s anger after the government abandoned the diplomatic balancing act it had conducted for more than two years between Washington and Moscow.
Viktor Bout, an accused arms trafficker, was escorted by Thai police in Bangkok on Tuesday
Two motorcades — one apparently a decoy — made the trip to the airport and shortly afterward an airport official confirmed that Mr. Bout had left on a chartered American aircraft. The Bangkok Post reported that about 50 police, including snipers, were at Don Muang airport to protect Mr. Bout. The 20-seat aircraft also carried two pilots and six officials from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
Since his arrest in March 2008, Mr. Bout’s case has spurred a tug-of-war between Washington and Moscow, which does not want him to go on trial in the United States. Douglas Farah, who co-authored a book about him, has said that Mr. Bout “knows a lot about Russian intelligence as it has been restructured” in the past decade or more.
Russia quickly called the extradition illegal.
“From a legal perspective, what has occurred cannot have a rational explanation and justification, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. There is no doubt that the illegal extradition of Viktor Bout came about as a consequence of unprecedented political pressure exerted by the U.S. on the government and judicial authorities of Thailand. It is deeply regrettable that the Thai authorities succumbed to political pressure from outside and undertook the illegal extradition.”
American officials accuse Mr. Bout of running an arms trafficking network that encompassed Africa, Afghanistan and South America. He faces charges in a 2008 indictment of selling arms to a terrorist group and conspiring to kill American citizens. Mr. Bout is expected to arrive in New York Tuesday evening and be arraigned in United States District Court in Manhattan on Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York declined comment.
He was arrested in a sting operation at a Bangkok hotel after he agreed, according to the authorities, to sell millions of dollars in weapons to undercover American agents posing as rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
FARC is a leftist insurgency that has been fighting Colombia’s government for decades and is known to finance itself partly through the cocaine trade.
Mr. Bout, 43, a former Soviet Air Force officer, has been dubbed the “Merchant of Death” for providing weapons to armed groups around the world. A gifted linguist, he is said to have inspired the 2005 film, “Lord of War,” starring Nicolas Cage.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said Mr. Bout is an innocent businessman, as he himself claims, and that the extradition demand from the United States is politically motivated. It has warned that extradition could damage bilateral relations.
Pressure from both Washington and Moscow has put Thailand in a difficult position as it attempted not to offend either nation.
In October, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva tried to evade a decision, urging Russia and the United States to decide the issue on their own.
“We have certainly indicated that they should talk, rather than putting all the burden on us,” he said. “It would make it easy for us if they could come up with a common position because, after all, these kinds of decisions must be made with a view to maintaining good relations, which is in the interests of the Thai people and also our friends.”
But when the time came, it appeared that Thailand had offended the Russian side by whisking Mr. Bout to a waiting American aircraft without informing the Russians.
“This information did not arrive at the embassy officially. There were neither notes nor telephone calls,” the chief of the Russian Embassy’s consular service, Andrei Dvornikov, told the Interfax news agency on Tuesday.
Mr. Bout’s Thai lawyer, Lak Nitivat, said Thai authorities had not informed him, Mr. Bout’s wife or the Russian Embassy in Bangkok about the move.
“Alla Bout and I were so confused and shocked since they didn’t inform us about the extradition,” Mr. Nitivat said, referring to Mr. Bout’s wife. “We just learned about this late in the morning. Yesterday, we went to visit him at the prison and everything was normal.”
Mr. Nitivat said Tuesday he would take legal action against Thai courts for allowing the transfer of Mr. Bout.
“The next step for us is to sue to the court because Thai authorities have violated the law.”
Clifford J. Levy contributed reporting from Moscow and Benjamin Weiser from New York.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1882 on: Nov 16th, 2010, 08:31am »
New York Times
November 16, 2010 A Digital Key for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches By PATRICIA COHEN
A history of the humanities in the 20th century could be chronicled in “isms” — formalism, Freudianism, structuralism, postcolonialism — grand intellectual cathedrals from which assorted interpretations of literature, politics and culture spread.
The next big idea in language, history and the arts? Data.
Members of a new generation of digitally savvy humanists argue it is time to stop looking for inspiration in the next political or philosophical “ism” and start exploring how technology is changing our understanding of the liberal arts. This latest frontier is about method, they say, using powerful technologies and vast stores of digitized materials that previous humanities scholars did not have.
These researchers are digitally mapping Civil War battlefields to understand what role topography played in victory, using databases of thousands of jam sessions to track how musical collaborations influenced jazz, and searching through large numbers of scientific texts and textbooks to track where concepts first appeared and how they spread.
This alliance of geeks and poets has generated exhilaration and also anxiety. The humanities, after all, deal with elusive questions of aesthetics, existence and meaning, the words that bring tears or the melody that raises goose bumps. Are these elements that can be measured?
“The digital humanities do fantastic things,” said the eminent Princeton historian Anthony Grafton. “I’m a believer in quantification. But I don’t believe quantification can do everything. So much of humanistic scholarship is about interpretation.”
“It’s easy to forget the digital media are means and not ends,” he added.
Digital humanities scholars also face a more practical test: What knowledge can they produce that their predecessors could not? “I call it the ‘Where’s the beef?’ question said Tom Scheinfeldt, managing director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.
Hoping to find the “beef,” the National Endowment for the Humanities teamed up with the National Science Foundation and institutions in Canada and Britain last year to create the Digging Into Data Challenge, a grant program designed to push research in new directions.
As Brett Bobley, director of the endowment’s office of digital humanities, explained, analyzing unprecedented amounts of data can reveal patterns and trends and raise unexpected questions for study. He offered the human genome project as an example of how an area of study can be transformed: “Technology hasn’t just made astronomy, biology and physics more efficient. It has let scientists do research they simply couldn’t do before.”
Mr. Bobley said the emerging field of digital humanities is probably best understood as an umbrella term covering a wide range of activities, from online preservation and digital mapping to data mining and the use of geographic information systems.
Most humanities professors remain unaware, uninterested or unconvinced that digital humanities has much to offer. Even historians, who have used databases before, have been slow to embrace the trend. Just one of the nearly 300 main panels scheduled for next year’s annual meeting of the American Historical Association covers digital matters. Still, universities, professional associations and private institutions are increasingly devoting a larger slice of the pie to the field.
“The humanities and social sciences are the emerging domains for using high-performance computers,” said Peter Bajcsy, a research scientist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
In Europe 10 nations have embarked on a large-scale project, beginning in March, that plans to digitize arts and humanities data. Last summer Google awarded $1 million to professors doing digital humanities research, and last year the National Endowment for the Humanities spent $2 million on digital projects.
One of the endowment’s grantees is Dan Edelstein, an assistant professor of French and Italian at Stanford University who is charting the flow of ideas during the Enlightenment. The era’s great thinkers — Locke, Newton, Voltaire — exchanged tens of thousands of letters; Voltaire alone wrote more than 18,000.
“You could form an impressionistic sense of the shape and content of a correspondence, but no one could really know the whole picture,” said Mr. Edelstein, who, along with collaborators at Stanford and Oxford University in England, is using a geographic information system to trace the letters’ journeys.
He continued: “Where were these networks going? Did they actually have the breadth that people would often boast about, or were they functioning in a different way? We’re able to ask new questions.”
One surprising revelation was the paucity of letters between Paris and London, Mr. Edelstein said. The common narrative is that the Enlightenment started in England and spread to the rest of Europe. “You would think if England was this fountainhead of freedom and religious tolerance,” he said, “there would have been greater continuing interest there than what our correspondence map shows us.”
Mr. Edelstein said that many of his senior colleagues view his work as whimsical, the result of playing with technological toys. But he argues such play can lead to discoveries.
In Mr. Scheinfeldt’s view academia has moved into “a post-theoretical age.” This “methodological moment,” he said, is similar to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when scholars were preoccupied with collating and cataloging the flood of new information brought about by revolutions in communication, transportation and science. The practical issues of discipline building, of assembling an annotated biography, of defining the research agenda and what it means to be a historian “were the main work of a great number of scholars,” he said.
Figuring out how to collect, house and connect more than 350 years of scholarship motivated Martin K. Foys, a medievalist at Drew University in Madison, N.J., to create a digital map of the Bayeux Tapestry, a gargantuan 11th-century embroidery displayed in a museum in Bayeux, France, that depicts the Battle of Hastings, when the Normans conquered England. At 224 feet long, about two-thirds the length of a football field, this tapestry is both a work of art and a historical document that mingles text and image.
“It is almost impossible to study traditionally,” Mr. Foys said. No single person could possibly digest the work’s enormous amount of material, and no single printing could render it accurately, so Mr. Foys created a prize-winning digital version with commentary that scholars could scroll through. Such digital mapping has the potential to transform medieval studies, Mr. Foys said.
His latest project, which he co-directs with Shannon Bradshaw, a computer scientist at Drew, and Asa Simon Mittman, an art historian from California State University, Chico, is an online network of medieval maps and texts that scholars can work on simultaneously. Once specific areas of maps are identified and tagged with information, it becomes possible to analyze and compare quantifiable data about images and sources, he explained, adding, “We have a whole new set of tools not dominated by the written word.”
The online network of maps is distinct from most scholarly endeavors in another respect: It is communal. The traditional model of the solitary humanities professor, toiling away in an archive or spending years composing a philosophical treatise or historical opus is replaced in this project with contributions from a global community of experts.
“The ease with which a community can collaborate on the production of scholarship is something that is fundamentally changing the way we do our work,” said Mr. Foys, whose 2007 book, “Virtually Anglo-Saxon,” discusses the influence of technology on scholarship.
Digital humanities is so new that its practitioners are frequently surprised by what develops.
When the collected published works of Abraham Lincoln were posted online a few years ago, the director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, Daniel W. Stowell, said he expected historians to be the most frequent visitors to his project’s site. But he was surprised to discover that the heaviest users were connected to Oxford University Press; editors of the Oxford English Dictionary had been searching the papers to track down the first appearance of particular words.
“People will use this data in ways we can’t even imagine yet,” Mr. Stowell said, “ and I think that is one of the most exciting developments in the humanities.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1883 on: Nov 16th, 2010, 08:35am »
Royal wedding: Kate Middleton will be first middle class queen-in-waiting Kate Middleton will permanently change the Royal family when she becomes Britain’s first middle class queen-in-waiting.
By Gordon Rayner, Chief Reporter 1:49PM GMT 16 Nov 2010
For a future king to marry a woman from such an ordinary background amounts to a revolution in Royal terms.
Opinion is sharply divided over whether her marriage to Prince William will rejuvenate or diminish the monarchy in the public’s eyes. Some commentators have suggested Miss Middleton will bring stability to the monarchy, while others believe she will remove its much-needed mystique.
She will not, however, be the first commoner to marry a future king.
The Duchess of Cornwall, Queen Elizabeth and Anne Boleyn could be classed as commoners in the strictest sense of the word, though all were either from aristocratic families or were distinctly upper class.
Although the then Camilla Parker Bowles was the granddaughter of a baron and a direct descendant of William the Conqueror, she had no title, something she shared with Elizabeth Woodville, the woman who broke the mould when she secretly married Edward IV in 1464.
Widely regarded as the first commoner to marry a king of England, Elizabeth was a Lancastrian sympathiser who became a key figure in the Wars of the Roses, as her marriage caused the Yorkist Earl of Warwick to withdraw his support for the king.
Although she was technically a commoner because her father, Sir Richard Woodville, was not a member of the nobility, she had aristocratic roots because her mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, was the daughter of a French count.
Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, is also regarded as a commoner by many historians, partly because of a narrower definition of what constituted a commoner in Tudor times; her father was an Earl and her mother a Countess, making her an aristocrat but not Royalty.
Anne Hyde, who secretly married the future James II in 1659, is often cited as the last commoner to marry an heir to the throne, though she came from an aristocratic family and had served as maid of honour to Mary, Princess Royal.
The most famous – or infamous – commoner to marry a member of the Royal family was Wallis Simpson, for whom Edward VIII gave up the throne in 1936, but it wasn’t her low-born status that was the problem, but the fact that she had been married and divorced twice before.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1884 on: Nov 16th, 2010, 08:41am »
Video: Tomorrow’s Weapons of Doom By Spencer Ackerman November 16, 2010 | 7:00 am | Categories: Army and Marines
The Army held its annual pageant, known as the Association of the U.S. Army conference, in Washington D.C., last month. For three days, we walked the floor of the cavernous conference hall, checking out the weapons, vehicles and ideas that hundreds of military contractors are developing for the Army — and what futuristic stuff they're trying to pawn off on the nation's ground forces. Whatever these companies come up with, rest assured you're going to be paying for it.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1885 on: Nov 16th, 2010, 08:44am »
Navy’s Super-Laser Hunts for Cosmic Energy Secret By Spencer Ackerman November 15, 2010 | 7:00 am | Categories: Lasers and Ray Guns
The Navy has lots of plans for the “Holy Grail” of energy weapons, from burning enemy missiles out of the sky to helping aim a ship’s traditional guns. But the Navy has a more expansive use in mind for its Free Electron Laser: find the basic power source of the universe.
Oliver K. Baker is a 51 year-old Yale particle physicist. Every few months, he leaves tweedy New Haven for the Jefferson Lab in Newport News, Virginia, where he powers up the Navy’s Free Electron Laser, a laser the size of a schoolbus that uses supercharged electron streams to generate photons in one of a multitude of wavelengths. He fires the resultant beam of light into a tube containing a vacuum — all in the hope of finding trace elements of so-called “dark energy,” the stuff God uses to heat His celestial home. (Well, maybe, kinda sorta.) Far off as Baker’s research may be from hitting paydirt, the Office of Naval Research, which runs a $163 million project to turn the laser into a death ray, writes the checks that make it possible.
Dark energy is purely theoretical, for the time being: no one’s actually discovered it. But physicists figure that since the universe is accelerating as it expands outward from its Big Bang origins, something must be powering that expansion. Finding the cosmic energy source is a proposition that intrigues the Navy, considering how epochal its discovery and harnessing would be for humanity.
“If proven correctly through quantum mechanics,” explains Quentin Saulter, the Office of Naval Research’s program manager for the Free Electron Laser, dark energy “would comprise the majority of the energy in our universe. The majority of energy in our universe. And we don’t use it.”
Find dark energy, figure out how to make it an applicable power source, and humanity enters a new era. Hydrocarbons become irrelevant against a theoretically unlimited power supply. And that’s just the start: imagine sending emails to the furthest reaches of space. Theoretically, “dark matter particles can go through entire planets with no degradation, so we could communicate through suns, planets and stars,” Baker says. “They have all kinds of applications if we could prove their existence. Energy is just one of them.”
That’s why Saulter dug nearly $300,000 out of his budget just last year alone to fund Baker’s hunt for the mystery particles. It’s an effort that stretches back to 2005, when Baker was a Jeff Lab scientist who asked Saulter if he could borrow the Office of Naval Research’s super-laser from time to time. Saulter was intrigued and provided Baker with access to the Free Electron Laser and seed money to perform related experiments on the Yale campus, using a compact accelerator to generate 34-gigahertz microwave photons. “Right now, the only funding I get to pursue this research is ONR money,” Baker says.
And the money would be irrelevant if ONR didn’t let Baker shoot its laser. To simplify and summarize his research, Baker’s team of around a dozen scientists uses the Free Electron Laser to look for something called a chameleon particle, predicted in some models of dark energy. A chameleon particle is a unit of dark energy whose mass changes depending on its environment. Inside the vacuum of space, the particle would have mass of zero, the same mass a photon possesses.
Couple a Free Electron Laser with a magnetic field, shooting the laser into a length of empty pipe with transparent flanges sealing the ends, and “I can create chameleon particles, if they exist in this mass and coupling range,” Baker says. “If they tried to penetrate the glass flange, their mass would grow rapidly, so they’d violate energy conservation. They have an energy that’s tuned to the original photon that made them.” The Free Electron Laser generates a higher average power than other lasers, making it ideal for such research.
Then it’s a matter of turning off the laser while the magnetic field remains on. The particles, in theory, should change back into photons. (They’re “chameleons,” after all.) If there are photons still bouncing around the tube — and the Free Electron Laser works with the team’s photon detectors more easily than any regular old laser — Baker will have made a remarkable discovery.
Not that it’s worked so far. “You never know,” Baker says. “We could see something new. Or the theories could be wrong. Or theories could be right but we’re not sensitive enough with our instruments.”
For now, Saulter’s happy to fund the search. After all, the Free Electron Laser’s budget is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Using a funding arrangement with Jeff Lab, the Office of Naval Research has given Baker about $900,000 over the past five years — a total that amounts to digging through Saulter’s couch cushions for loose change.
“If we can understand [dark energy] and control it and use it to our benefits, we can see things like fossil fuels going away, new types of communications,” Saulter says. “If we can change dark energy… back into regular energy, now you’re talking about Star Trek-like ‘Beam me up, Scotty’-type stuff.”
The Office of Naval Research is still years away from fielding a Free Electron Laser weapon on any ship. It’s safe to say that by the time the weapon comes on board, it won’t be generating its intended 100 kilowatts of power from any dark energy. “FEL will not be powered by dark energy,” concedes Tammy White, a spokeswoman for the office. We’re just looking ahead and into the far future.”
Then again, Baker says, “You just never know. We could be around the corner, we could be years away.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1886 on: Nov 16th, 2010, 12:07pm »
New Cowboys and Aliens trailer shows Daniel Craig at his most brutal
San Francisco, 10:02 AM Tue Nov 16 by Alasdair Wilkins
We got an early look at Wednesday's Cowboys & Aliens trailer. Daniel Craig's alien-fighting cowboy puts James Bond to shame; Harrison Ford has never been nastier; and this really is both a serious western and serious alien invasion movie.
Last week, we were one of a handful of sites invited to the edit bay for Cowboys & Aliens, where we saw the teaser trailer as well as rough, unfinished cuts of the first two reels of the movie, totaling about forty minutes of the movie. We can't say too much about that just yet, but we'll have more to say about what we saw — as well as our conversation with director Jon Favreau — a little later.
For now, here's some of what you can expect from the trailer, which hits the web this Wednesday. The filmmakers have long stressed that this movie isn't a parody or pastiche, and everything we saw confirmed that. Based on what we saw, the trailer accurately captures the movie's serious — but, importantly, never too serious — tone, and it offers tantalizing hints of how the movie will handle both its Western and alien invasion elements. There are definitely images in the trailer that a western movies buff will be able to pick up on as homages to classics of the genre.
But what really excited us — and took us by surprise — was all the pure action on display in the trailer. Daniel Craig's work as James Bond has featured some of the most wonderfully brutal fight scenes in recent memory, and he might actually outdo his super spy alter ego in Cowboys & Aliens. He fights early and often, using any weapons available to him, and he aims to kill, whether he's licensed to or not.
The trailer also hints at how the other main characters fit in. Colonel Dolarhyde is a rare villainous role for Harrison Ford, and the trailer gives us a first look at some unexpected nastiness. The trailer also suggests that Olivia Wilde's Ella isn't all she appears to be. This is something Jon Favreau in part credits to the unique qualities Wilde brings to her acting, which he first noticed when his nine-year-old boy developed an inexplicable fixation with Year One.
Much of the project has been shrouded in secrecy - indeed, the new image up top is only our second real hint at what the film looks like. That's going to change this Wednesday when the trailer premieres over at Yahoo. For now, we'll just have to keep making do with the movie's impressive pedigree. Director Jon Favreau is joined by the Star Trek writing team of Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzmann, and Damon Lindelof, as well as producers Steven Spielberg, Brian Grazer, and Ron Howard.
Favreau showed with the Iron Man films his ability to assemble an amazing cast, particularly for a genre movie, but Cowboys & Aliens really takes that to a whole new level. Beyond Craig, Ford, and Wilde, there are supporting turns by Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine, Walton Goggins, and the Kurgan/Lex Luthor himself, Clancy Brown. Everything we saw suggests the cast members have been given material that's worthy of their talents.
Official description of the movie:
1873. Arizona Territory. A stranger (Craig) with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don't welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford). It's a town that lives in fear.
But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known.
Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he's been, he realizes he holds a secret that could give the town a fighting chance against the alien force. With the help of the elusive traveler Ella (Olivia Wilde), he pulls together a posse comprised of former opponents-townsfolk, Dolarhyde and his boys, outlaws and Apache warriors-all in danger of annihilation. United against a common enemy, they will prepare for an epic showdown for survival.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1887 on: Nov 16th, 2010, 12:57pm »
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In Founding Brothers, Ellis (whose American Sphinx won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1997) has written an elegant and engaging narrative, sure to become a classic. Highly recommended. --Sunny Delaney --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal:
Having considered Thomas Jefferson in his National Book Award winner, American Sphinx, Ellis expands his horizons to include Jefferson's "brothers," e.g., Washington, Madison, and Burr.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1888 on: Nov 16th, 2010, 3:40pm »
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Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #1889 on: Nov 16th, 2010, 3:47pm »
TSA head in for grilling on security measures By Jordy Yager - 11/16/10 06:00 AM ET
Lawmakers are expected to grill the head of TSA on Tuesday over increased security measures at U.S. airports that have sparked public fury.
John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, is expected to be hit with questions about new pat-down techniques that air passengers have complained are invasive. He is scheduled to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee about air-cargo security measures put in place since an attempted terrorist attack from Yemen.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the new search methods on Monday, telling reporters they are necessary to ensure the public’s safety. She said the agency is open to making adjustments as the techniques are put into common practice.
But Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — referencing a picture circulating online of a nun being patted down by airport security officials — told The Hill that voters are going to continue to be upset at TSA’s use of pat-downs and whole-body imaging technology until a balance is struck between personal privacy and security.
“We have to become more effective and less invasive,” he said. “That’s what people are demanding. There is a false choice being presented that suggests we have to give up all of our liberties in the name of security.
“I think there will be a continued steady drumbeat as more and more nuns get felt up by their local TSA agent,” he said. “This is not an issue that’s going to go away. More and more people are going to be offended.”
A spokeswoman for Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said that his office had received several concerned e-mails from voters about the new methods as well, and that he planned on pushing Congress to look into how to ensure the privacy of passengers.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate panel, backed Napolitano on Monday and said that the new methods are being put into place because they have proven to deter terrorists.
"Overall — these are tough decisions — but I come down on the side of the pat-downs," he said. "I understand it's unusual, but we've got to all think, as we're feeling uncomfortable about the pat-down, that we could be on a plane on which somebody is prepared to blow themselves and us up unless there is such a pat-down."
The House Homeland Security Committee does not have any hearings on the techniques scheduled for the lame-duck session, according to a spokesman.