Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7995 on: Feb 5th, 2013, 09:43am »
3-D Printing Breakthrough With Human Embryonic Stem Cells
Feb. 4, 2013
— A team of researchers from Scotland has used a novel 3D printing technique to arrange human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) for the very first time.
It is hoped that this breakthrough, which has been published Feb. 5 in the journal Biofabrication, will allow three-dimensional tissues and structures to be created using hESCs, which could, amongst other things, speed up and improve the process of drug testing.
In the field of biofabrication, great advances have been made in recent years towards fabricating three-dimensional tissues and organs by combining artificial solid structures and cells; however, in the majority of these studies, animal cells have been used to test the different printing methods which are used to produce the structures.
Co-author of the study, Dr Will Wenmiao Shu, from Heriot-Watt University, said: "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that hESCs have been printed. The generation of 3D structures from hESCs will allow us to create more accurate human tissue models which are essential for in vitro drug development and toxicity-testing. Since the majority of drug discovery is targeting human disease, it makes sense to use human tissues."
In the longer term, this new method of printing may also pave the way for incorporating hESCs into artificially created organs and tissues ready for transplantation into patients suffering from a variety of diseases.
In the study, the researchers, from Heriot-Watt University in collaboration with Roslin Cellab, a stem cell technology company, used a valve-based printing technique, which was tailored to account for the sensitive and delicate properties of hESCs.
The hESCs were loaded into two separate reservoirs in the printer and were then deposited onto a plate in a pre-programmed, uniformed pattern.
Once the hESCs were printed, a number of tests were performed to discern how effective the method was. For example, the researchers tested to see if the hESCs remained alive after printing and whether they maintained their ability to differentiate into different types of cells. They also examined the concentration, characterisation and distribution of the printed hESCs to assess the accuracy of the valve-based method.
Dr Shu said: "Using this valve-based method, the printed cells are driven by pneumatic pressure and controlled by the opening and closing of a microvalve. The amount of cells dispensed can be precisely controlled by changing the nozzle diameter, the inlet air pressure or the opening time of the valve.
"We found that the valve-based printing is gentle enough to maintain high stem cell viability, accurate enough to produce spheroids of uniform size, and, most importantly, the printed hESCs maintained their pluripotency -- the ability to be differentiated into any other cell type."
Roslin Cellab has a track record of applying new technologies to human stem cell systems and will take the lead in developing 3D stem cell printing for commercial uses.
Jason King, business development manager of Roslin Cellab, said: "This world-first printing of human embryonic stem cell cultures is a continuation of our productive partnership with Heriot-Watt. Normally laboratory grown cells grow in 2D but some cell types have been printed in 3D. However, up to now, human stem cell cultures have been too sensitive to manipulate in this way.
"This is a scientific development which we hope and believe will have immensely valuable long-term implications for reliable, animal-free drug-testing and, in the longer term, to provide organs for transplant on demand, without the need for donation and without the problems of immune suppression and potential organ rejection."
hESCs have received much attention in the field of regenerative medicine. They are originally derived from an early stage embryo to create "stem cell lines" which can be grown indefinitely and differentiate into any cell type in the human body.
"In the longer term, we envisage the technology being further developed to create viable 3D organs for medical implantation from a patient's own cells, eliminating the need for organ donation, immune suppression and the problem of transplant rejection," continued Dr Shu.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7996 on: Feb 6th, 2013, 08:14am »
February 6, 2013
First Test of Seismic Invisibility Cloak
The ability to steer electromagnetic waves around regions of space has revolutionised optics and sparked a global interest in Harry Potter-style invisibility cloaks. But it isn’t only photons that are the target of these devices.
Various engineers and physicists have also begun work on acoustic versions that steer sound. In particular, a few groups have begun to think about how this technology might be used to steer seismic waves round buildings. The idea would be to protect high value buildings such as nuclear power stations or airports. We examined just such a proposal last year.
So far, all these ideas have been numerical studies. Today, a group from the Institut Fresnel in Marseille and the ground improvement specialist company, Menard, both in France, say they’ve built and tested a seismic invisibility cloak in an alluvial basin in southern France. That’s the first time such a device has been constructed.
The secret of invisibility cloaks lies in engineering a material on a scale smaller than the wavelength of the waves it needs to manipulate. The appropriate sub-wavelength structures can then be arranged in a way that steers waves.
The French team created its so-called metamaterial by drilling three lines of empty boreholes 5 metres deep in a basin of silted clay up to 200 metres deep. They then monitored the area with acoustic sensors.
The experiment consisted of creating waves with a frequency of 50 Hertz and a horizontal displacement of 14 mm from a source on one side of the array. They then measured the way the waves propagated across it.
The French team say its metamaterial strongly reflected the seismic waves, which barely penetrated beyond the second line of boreholes.
The metamaterial is designed to work at the specific wavelength used in the test andseismic waves cannot be guaranteed to have this same wavelength. But by matching the array to the resonant frequency of a building, the thinking is that it could still provide some protection.
There are important caveats, however. One problem with this kind of array is that the reflected waves could end up doing more damage to buildings nearby. That’s why some groups are looking at metamaterials that absorb energy rather than steer or reflect it.
Nevertheless, there are bound to be installations that could benefit from this kind of protection. And since creating these arrays looks relatively simple, it looks to be only a matter of time before we will see them in action for real.
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1301.7642: Seismic Metamaterial: How to Shake Friends and Influence Waves?
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7997 on: Feb 6th, 2013, 10:07am »
RBS fined $615 million for rate rigging
By Matt Scuffham and Kirstin Ridley LONDON | Wed Feb 6, 2013 10:40am EST
(Reuters) - Britain's Royal Bank of Scotland will pay U.S. and British authorities $615 million and plead guilty to wire fraud in Japan to settle allegations it manipulated global benchmark interest rates.
"The RBS board acknowledges that there were serious shortcomings in our systems and controls and also in the integrity of a small group of our employees," Chairman Philip Hampton said on Wednesday.
"This is a sad day for RBS, but also an important one in continuing to put right the mistakes of the past."
More than a dozen traders at RBS offices in London, Singapore and Tokyo manipulated the London interbank offered rate (Libor), which is used to price trillions of dollars worth of loans, from at least 2006 until 2010.
The rigging continued even after traders learned that Libor submissions were being probed.
In a bid to avoid a political firestorm, the part state-owned bank will cut into its staff bonuses to pay the fines, the second-largest so far in an international investigation that has already implicated Switzerland's UBS and Britain's Barclays.
Some 87.5 million pounds ($137.1 million) will be paid to Britain's Financial Services Authority, $150 million to the U.S. Department of Justice and $325 million to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Like UBS, RBS did not have to admit criminal liability in the United States, meaning it can retain its banking license there and avoid a fire sale of its U.S. business Citizens.
The bank said John Hourican, head of RBS's investment bank, had agreed to leave following the misconduct of staff in that business. Hourican had no involvement in or knowledge of the misconduct, RBS said.
Critics say the scandal over manipulation of Libor shows banks' riskier activities should be separated from basic lending functions.
UBS agreed in December to pay fines of $1.5 billion to regulators in the United States, Britain and Switzerland over Libor rigging. Its unit in Japan, where much of the wrongdoing occurred, pleaded guilty to criminal fraud. U.S. prosecutors also filed criminal conspiracy charges against two former UBS traders allegedly at the heart of the scheme.
Barclays got a non-prosecution agreement and paid $453 million in penalties. Barclays' three most senior executives, including then chief executive Bob Diamond, were also forced to leave the bank in the wake of the Libor debacle.
(Additional reporting by Tim Castle and Myles Neligan; Editing by Mark Potter)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8000 on: Feb 8th, 2013, 09:19am »
Compounding pharmacies have been linked to deaths, illnesses and safety failures for years
By Kimberly Kindy, Lena H. Sun and Alice Crites Published: February 7
Shoddy practices and unsanitary conditions at three large-scale specialty pharmacies have been tied to deaths and illnesses over the past decade, revealing that the serious safety lapses at a Massachusetts pharmacy linked to last fall’s deadly meningitis outbreak were not an isolated occurrence, records and interviews show.
The series of safety failures happened long before national attention focused on the New England Compounding Center, whose contaminated steroid shots were linked to 45 deaths and 651 illnesses.
A Washington Post analysis found that state and federal authorities did little to systematically inspect and correct hazards posed by specialty pharmacies, which custom-mix medications for individual patients, hospitals and clinics. In the lightly regulated industry, pharmacies were rarely punished even when their mistakes had lethal consequences.
The Post reviewed hundreds of records, including lawsuits and Food and Drug Administration documents, and interviewed dozens of government and industry officials. The review found serious problems at three of 15 large-scale compounding pharmacies that dominate the industry. These multimillion-dollar companies mass-produce medications and ship them across state lines, often without individual patient prescriptions.
Three of the firms, in addition to the NECC, have experienced significant safety problems over the past decade that were tied to at least 39 illnesses. Two companies’ missteps were linked to at least six deaths. The problems included medications that were too potent or laced with bacteria.
One of the three firms identified by The Post — the California-based Central Admixture Pharmacy Services — is under investigation at its Massachusetts facility by the FDA, according to industry and government officials.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8001 on: Feb 8th, 2013, 09:24am »
Senate Republicans Rap Joint Chiefs Chair Over Benghazi
Feb. 7, 2013 - 01:20PM By JOHN T. BENNETT
U.S. Republican senators roughed up America’s top general Thursday, questioning his decision against moving military assets closer to a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya despite the threat of an attack.
Repeatedly, GOP Senate Armed Services Committee members thanked outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who also testified, for his decades-long public service in Washington. And numerous times, they immediately pivoted to criticize Gen. Martin Dempsey’s decision-making before and during the deadly Sept. 11 attack.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., labeled Dempsey’s prepared statement to the committee, in which he said the U.S. military was unable to position forces closer to Benghazi before the attack, “the most bizarre” opening statement he has ever seen a witness bring to the committee chamber.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., called some of Dempsey’s actions on Sept. 11 and statements during the hearing “inadequate” and “weak.”
New Hampshire GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte criticized Dempsey for opting against deploying combat assets, given threat warnings about a possible Benghazi attack.
“You didn’t have armed assets in the region.”
Ayotte and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., used their lawyerly skills to pry from Dempsey that his ultimate boss, President Barack Obama, spoke to the duo only once on Sept. 11 during a 30-minute telephone conversation about the attack.
Dempsey defended his actions, telling McCain he “stands by his testimony.”
To Ayotte, he cooly told her no F-16s were around nor deployed because they would have been “the wrong tool for the job.”
Dempsey later clarified that once the attack was underway, DoD did begin moving some forces toward Benghazi.
And Dempsey defended the man who nominated him for the Joint Chief’s chairman post.
Dempsey told Ayotte that while Obama was not in constant contact with the Pentagon, senior White House staff members were constantly connected to the National Counterterrorism Center, “which is how it would usually work.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8002 on: Feb 8th, 2013, 09:28am »
New Evidence Suggests Comet or Asteroid Impact Was Last Straw for Dinosaurs
Feb. 7, 2013
— The demise of the dinosaurs is the world's ultimate whodunit. Was it a comet or asteroid impact? Volcanic eruptions? Climate change?
In an attempt to resolve the issue, scientists at the Berkeley Geochronology Center (BGC), the University of California, Berkeley, and universities in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have now determined the most precise dates yet for the dinosaur extinction 66 million years ago and for the well-known impact that occurred around the same time.
The dates are so close, the researchers say, that they now believe the comet or asteroid, if not wholly responsible for the global extinction, at least dealt the dinosaurs their death blow.
"The impact was clearly the final straw that pushed Earth past the tipping point," said Paul Renne, BGC director and UC Berkeley professor in residence of earth and planetary science. "We have shown that these events are synchronous to within a gnat's eyebrow, and therefore the impact clearly played a major role in extinctions, but it probably wasn't just the impact."
The revised dates clear up lingering confusion over whether the impact actually occurred before or after the extinction, which was characterized by the almost overnight disappearance from the fossil record of land-based dinosaurs and many ocean creatures. The new date for the impact -- 66,038,000 years ago -- is the same within error limits as the date of the extinction, said Renne, making the events simultaneous.
He and his colleagues will report their findings in the Feb. 8 issue of the journal Science.
The crater of doom
The extinction of the dinosaurs was first linked to a comet or asteroid impact in 1980 by the late UC Berkeley Nobel Laureate Luis Alvarez and his son, Walter, who is a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of earth and planetary science. A 110-mile-wide crater in the Caribbean off the Yucatan coast of Mexico is thought to be the result of that impact. Called Chicxulub (cheek'-she-loob), the crater is thought to have been excavated by an object six miles across that threw into the atmosphere debris still be found around the globe as glassy spheres or tektites, shocked quartz and a layer of iridium-enriched dust.
A comet or asteroid impact 66 million years ago excavated a 110 mile-diameter crater, dubbed Chicxulub, centered off the coast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Renne's quest for a more accurate dating of the extinction began three years ago when he noticed that the existing date conflicted with other estimates of the timing of the extinction and that the existing dates for the impact and the extinction did not line up within error margins.
Renne and his BGC colleagues first went to work recalibrating and improving the existing dating method, known as the argon-argon technique. They then collected volcanic ash from the Hell Creek area in Montana and analyzed them with the recalibrated argon-argon technique to determine the date of the extinction. The formation below the extinction horizon is the source of many dinosaur fossils and one of the best sites to study the change in fossils from before and after the extinction.
They also gathered previously dated tektites from Haiti and analyzed them using the same technique to determine how long ago the impact had occurred. The new extinction and impact dates are precise to within 11,000 years, the researchers said.
"When I got started in the field, the error bars on these events were plus or minus a million years," said paleontologist William Clemens, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of integrative biology who has led research in the Hell Creek area for more than 30 years, but was not directly involved in the study. "It's an exciting time right now, a lot of which we can attribute to the work that Paul and his colleagues are doing in refining the precision of the time scale with which we work. This allows us to integrate what we see from the fossil record with data on climate change and changes in flora and fauna that we see around us today."
Dinosaurs at the tipping point
Despite the synchronous impact and extinction, Renne cautions that this doesn't mean that the impact was the sole cause. Dramatic climate variation over the previous million years, including long cold snaps amidst a general Cretaceous hothouse environment, probably brought many creatures to the brink of extinction, and the impact kicked them over the edge.
"These precursory phenomena made the global ecosystem much more sensitive to even relatively small triggers, so that what otherwise might have been a fairly minor effect shifted the ecosystem into a new state," he said. "The impact was the coup de grace."
One cause of the climate variability could have been a sustained series of volcanic eruptions in India that produced the extensive Deccan Traps. Renne plans to re-date those volcanic rocks to get a more precise measure of their duration and onset relative to the dinosaur extinction.
"This study shows the power of high precision geochronology," said coauthor Darren F. Mark of the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Center, who conducted independent argon-argon analyses on samples provided by Renne. "Many people think precision is just about adding another decimal place to a number. But it's far more exciting than that. It's more like getting a sharper lens on a camera. It allows us to dissect the geological record at greater resolution and piece together the sequence of Earth history."
Renne's colleagues, in addition to Mark, are UC Berkeley graduate student William S. Mitchell III; BGC scientists Alan L. Deino and Roland Mundil; Leah E. Morgan of the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Center in Kilbride, Scotland; Frederik J Hilgen of Utrecht University; and Klaudia F. Kuiper and Jan Smit of Vrije University in Amsterdam.
The work was supported by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, UC Berkeley's Esper S. Larsen Jr. Fund and the National Science Foundation.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8003 on: Feb 8th, 2013, 09:37am »
Investigators Pinpoint a Short Circuit Within a 787 Dreamliner Battery
By Jason Paur
The National Transportation Safety Board believes an internal short circuit within a single cell inside a lithium-ion battery led to a fire aboard a Boeing 787, shedding new light on the battery problem that has grounded every one of the 50 Dreamliners in service worldwide.
The agency said Wednesday that it has completed disassembling the 32-volt battery that caught fire on a Japan Airlines 787 after passengers had disembarked in Boston on January 7. Investigators found evidence that the fire — called “thermal runaway” — started with a short circuit in cell no 6. There are eight cells in the 63-pound lithium-ion battery, and the NTSB said it found evidence that cell no. 6 sustained multiple short circuits. Investigators have ruled out mechanical damage as a cause of the short, as well as the possibility that the short circuit occurred between the cell and the battery case. Rather, the damage to the case containing the battery was caused by the fire that resulted from the short.
“The short circuit came first, the thermal runaway followed in cell no. 6 and it propagated to the other cells,” NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman told reporters in a press conference this morning. Hersman said they have yet to find the cause of the short circuit but are looking at several possibilities.
“We are looking at the state of charge of the battery cells, we are looking at manufacturing processes and we are looking at the design of the battery,” she said.
The new information came the same day that Boeing flew a 787 from its paint facility in Texas back to its factory north of Seattle. The flight was a one-time-only ferry flight approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and only the pilots were allowed aboard. They closely monitored the battery during the flight to Paine Field and experienced no problems during the three-and-a-half-hour trip. It was the first flight of a 787 since the entire fleet of Dreamliners was grounded pending an investigation by the FAA.
Late today the FAA announced they will allow limited test flights by Boeing to collect data about the battery and electrical systems during flight. The test flights will be flown over unpopulated areas with just the Boeing crew on board the aircraft. Like today’s flight, pilots will carefully monitor the batteries and will be required to land immediately in the case of a battery malfunction. One of Boeing’s 787 flight-test work horses, ZA005, will be used for the flights.
Boeing, along with investigators in the United States and Japan, have focused on the lithium-ion battery from the start. And today’s announcement that the problem appears to have started with a short circuit within a cell is exactly what battery expert Dr. K.M. Abraham suggested was the problem when we spoke with him last month. The lithium-ion cells within the 787 batteries use a graphite-coated copper anode and a lithium cobalt oxide-coated aluminum cathode. The anode and cathode are separated by a very thin polyethylene film known as the separator.
The separator is roughly the same thickness as cellophane and behaves in a similar way. There doesn’t need to be a tear or a hole to create a short circuit that can cause thermal runaway. The material is very thin – typically around 25 microns, according to Abraham – and small irregularities in the thickness can be enough to lead to problems. A section of the separator that is just 20 microns thick might be enough.
“It could be a stretch, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a big hole, just a weak point where you have low resistance,” Abraham said. “It can be a problem when you have such a very large surface area electrode where there is a lot of inhomogeneity in the current distribution.”
The variable thickness of the separator material could be a result of manufacturing, but also could occur during charging and discharging of the battery. A very small short might lead to the growth of a lithium crystal within the battery cell.
“Sometimes what happens is you start with a very small dendrite growth due to an internal short,” Abraham says of the small fibers of lithium metal that can grow in the cell, “but it gradually heats up because gas can pass through it and heat up that location.”
And just like cellophane, the separator can shrink when it is heated, Abraham says, “once it starts heating up slowly it will shrink and then a small short will become a massive short.”
Abraham, agreeing with comments made by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, said the relatively large cells in the 787 battery pose a problem. The large surface area of each cell increases the chance that an irregularity could lead to a short, Abraham said. The problem of the separator changing thickness due to heating is something addressed in the batteries used in the Chevrolet Volt. The separator is less likely to change thickness due to heating, according to Abraham.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8006 on: Feb 10th, 2013, 08:42am »
NASA rover drills into its first Martian rock
By Irene and Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Sun Feb 10, 2013 12:22am EST
(Reuters) - The Mars rover Curiosity drilled into the Martian surface for the first time as part of an effort to learn if the planet most like Earth in the solar system ever had conditions to support microbial life, NASA said on Saturday.
Pictures beamed back to Earth on Saturday showed a hole about 0.63 inches wide and 2.5 inches deep in a patch of fine-grained sedimentary bedrock that appears to have been in contact with water.
The drilling, which took place on Friday, produced a small pile of powder that will be fed into two onboard laboratory instruments to determine the rock's chemical makeup.
"First drilling on Mars to collect a sample for science is a success," NASA posted on Twitter.
Engineers spent days preparing to use Curiosity's drill, including boring practice holes earlier in the week. Previous Mars probes have had tools to scrape and grind into rock, but never a drill to collect interior samples.
Curiosity's first drill target was a rock laced with veins of what appear to be water-deposited minerals. The rover, which landed on Mars on August 6 for a two-year mission, is looking for geologic and chemical conditions needed to support and preserve microbial life.
Engineers do not yet know exactly how much powder was produced, but are confident there is enough for a planned instrument cleaning and lab analysis, Avi Okon, a drill engineer with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.
NASA's lead scientist, John Grunsfeld, said using the drill was "the biggest milestone accomplishment for the Curiosity team since the sky-crane landing last August."
Curiosity's ultimate target is a 3-mile- (5-km) high mound of layered sediment rising from the floor of the Gale Crater landing site.
The drill is the last of the rover's 10 science instruments to be tested.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8007 on: Feb 10th, 2013, 08:45am »
New York Times
February 9, 2013
Mali War Shifts as Rebels Hide in High Sahara
By ADAM NOSSITER and PETER TINTI
DAKAR, Senegal — Just as Al Qaeda once sought refuge in the mountains of Tora Bora, the Islamist militants now on the run in Mali are hiding out in their own forbidding landscape, a rugged, rocky expanse in northeastern Mali that has become a symbol of the continued challenges facing the international effort to stabilize the Sahara.
Expelling the Islamist militants from Timbuktu and other northern Malian towns, as the French did swiftly last month, may have been the easy part of retaking Mali, say military officials, analysts and local fighters. Attention is now being focused on one of Africa’s harshest and least-known mountain ranges, the Adrar des Ifoghas.
The French military has carried out about 20 airstrikes in recent days in those mountains, including attacks on training camps and arms depots, officials said. On Thursday, a column of soldiers from Chad, versed in desert warfare, left Kidal, a diminutive, sand-blown regional capital, to penetrate deep into the Adrar, said a spokesman for the Tuareg fighters who accompanied them.
“These mountains are extremely difficult for foreign armies,” said the spokesman, Backay Ag Hamed Ahmed, of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, in a telephone interview from Kidal. “The Chadians, they don’t know the routes through them.”
These areas of grottoes and rocky hills, long a retreat for Tuareg nomads from the region and more recently for extremists from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, will be the scene of the critical next phase in the conflict. It will be the place where the Islamist militants are finally defeated or where they slip away to fight again, military analysts say.
French special forces are very likely already operating in the Adrar des Ifoghas, performing reconnaissance and perhaps preparing rescue operations for French hostages believed to be held in the area, said Gen. Jean-Claude Allard, a senior researcher at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris. But African forces are likely to be assigned the brunt of the combat operations, going “from well to well, from village to village,” General Allard said.
The few Westerners who have traveled in this inaccessible region bordering Algeria say it differs from Afghanistan in that the mountains are relatively modest in size. But its harsh conditions make it a vast natural fortress, with innumerable hide-outs.
“The terrain is vast and complicated,” said Col. Michel Goya of the French Military Academy’s Strategic Research Institute. “It will require troops to seal off the zone, and then troops for raids. This will take time.”
The number of militants who remain is in dispute, with estimates varying from a few hundred fighters to a few thousand. They are becoming more dispersed and are hiding themselves ever more effectively, Western military officials say.
The French military has been flying fewer sorties over the region in recent days, “from which I deduce a lack of targets,” said a Western military attaché in Bamako, Mali’s capital, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “They are just not finding the same targets. Clearly they are hiding better and dispersing more widely.”
A ranking Malian officer stationed in the northern town of Gao said: “We don’t know how many there are. They have learned to hide where the French can’t find them.”
The militants are versed in survival tactics in the hills, supplying themselves from the nomads who pass through and getting water from the numerous wells and ponds, said Pierre Boilley, an expert on the region from the Sorbonne. Still, the sources of water are an opportunity for the French and Chadian forces, as they can be monitored without too much difficulty, experts said.
“It’s a sort of observation tower on the whole of the Sahara,” General Allard said. The fighters have had years to build installations, modify caves, and stock food, weapons and fuel, he said, and the precise locations of their refuges remain a mystery.
Even if the bulk of the militants have retreated into the mountains, pockets remain around the liberated towns of Timbuktu and Gao, said a French military spokesman, Col. Thierry Burkhard. Last week, French forces patrolling the area around Gao engaged in firefights with militants, some of whom fired rockets, officials said.
“We’re encountering residual jihadist groups that are fighting,” said Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s defense minister.
On Friday, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a military checkpoint in Gao, wounding a soldier, an act that provided further evidence of the continued threat of the militants.
The attack, from an insurgent reported to have ties to the militants who carried out the recent hostage-taking on the internationally managed gas field in eastern Algeria, could signal the opening of a campaign against French and African forces, a senior United States intelligence official said Friday.
“This is what they’re going to do — I.E.D.’s and small attacks,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, referring to improvised explosive devices, the homemade bombs that were the hallmark of insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With France insisting that its presence in the country will be short-lived, more attention has been focused on the liabilities of the tattered Malian Army and troops deployed from neighboring countries.
On Friday, there were clashes between rival factions of the Malian Army in Bamako, with gunfire heard echoing from a barracks of paratroopers hostile to the element that supported a military coup in March.
About 2,000 troops from neighboring countries have arrived, eventually to replace French troops. A Western military official in Bamako said, “There is a difference between them operating in a theater under French control and one where the French have disengaged.”
Nor have the militants been completely flushed out of the towns that France has claimed to have liberated.
Amid concerns of violent score-settling, local officials in Gao have broadcast radio messages over the past 10 days asking for the citizens to report suspects to state authorities rather than take matters into their own hands. Community leaders, including local chiefs, youth groups and imams, have held meetings to discourage acts of vengeance.
In one episode on Jan. 26, a crowd encircled an already bloodied militant whose comrades had recently abandoned Gao, recalled Dani Sidi Touré, a resident who was one of those intent on revenge.
“He said, ‘Please, for Allah’s sake, do not kill me,’ ” Mr. Touré said. “And then I took my screwdriver and stabbed him in the neck.”
Others joined in the attack. “When I tried to pull the screwdriver out, the handle came off but the metal stayed inside him,” he continued. “A man with a big knife came over and chopped him on his head. He fell to the ground, and others came with pieces of wood and big stones and started beating him.”
American officials monitoring the situation from afar said that the extremists who once controlled much of northern Mali would be difficult to eliminate from the region entirely.
“Realistically, probably the best you can get is containment and disruption so that Al Qaeda is no longer able to control territory,” Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, said in a speech in Washington last month.
The authorities are investigating numerous other suspected militants as local citizens’ patrols circulate in search of the extremists and their allies, which at one time included the Tuaregs.
Adam Nossiter reported from Dakar, and Peter Tinti from Gao, Mali. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Scott Sayare and Steven Erlanger from Paris.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8008 on: Feb 10th, 2013, 08:50am »
Check Out This Tiny 3-D Printed Spaceship
By Nadia Drake
The tiny spaceship in the video above was built using a microscale 3-D printer. At 125 micrometers long, the craft is about the length of a dust mite, and it took less than 50 seconds to produce. The super-fast, high-resolution printer that made the spaceship was introduced this week at the Photonics West fair by Nanoscribe GmbH, a company based in Germany that specializes in nanophotonics and 3-D laser lithography.
The printer crafted the spaceship using two-photon polymerization, in which ultra-short laser pulses activate photosensitive building materials. Afterward, the ship — based on a Hellcat fighter from the Wing Commander Saga — was inspected using an electron microscope. While the spacecraft can’t fly, thereby limiting its usefulness for space exploration (unlike, say, 3-D printed astrofood), the technology’s other tiny products include biological scaffolds, ultralight metamaterials, and channels that have found homes in biological research, photonics, and microfluidics.
Next step? We’d love to watch this thing launch into space, piloted by an army of microbes.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8009 on: Feb 10th, 2013, 09:04am »
HASC Chair Blasts White House Sequestration Fact Sheet
Feb. 9, 2013 - 01:20PM By JOHN T. BENNETT
Pro-military Republicans continue criticizing President Barack Obama over pending budget cuts, and one is “stunned” the commander in chief is not directly working to void them.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., is taking umbrage with a Feb. 8 White House fact sheet on the so-called sequestration cuts that did not mention the pending $500 billion, 10-year defense cuts set to kick in March 1.
The White House fact sheet focused mainly on the broader economic impacts of the defense cuts and an equal amount of cuts to planned domestic spending.
“I wouldn’t downplay those important impacts, but I was stunned at the president’s silence on national security risks,” McKeon said in a statement, “and I am frustrated that he continues to look to our men and women in uniform to pay the cost of America’s debt crisis.”
The military already is taking steps to cut costs as it prepares for the cuts to planned spending, and threatening an array of other moves that McKeon and other hawkish lawmakers say would “hollow out” the military and make America less safe. (Some defense experts dispute those charges, arguing the full sequester cut would be a small amount when considering the annual DoD budget is projected to exceed $500 billion through 2023.)
"There was not one mention of the military, which is half of sequester's cuts, in the White House's fact sheet,” McKeon said. “I don't know which is worse, the deafening silence from the White House or the tone-deafness about sequester's impact on national security.”
McKeon spokesman Claude Chafin said the HASC chairman has “expressed” his opposition to additional defense cuts to Boehner. It will be up to Boehner, not McKeon, to negotiate with Obama and congressional Democrats in coming weeks as both sides look for a way to avoid or delay the cuts to planned defense and domestic spending.
The trouble is Obama says a “balanced” plan featuring federal cuts and new revenues is best; Republicans want to turn off the sequester by replacing them with just other cuts. And it remains unclear whether Boehner and ultra-conservative House Republicans feel as strongly about the defense cuts as McKeon and House hawks.
The HASC chairman also panned a White House plan floated this week by Obama’s press secretary.
“The deal that he put forward to Speaker Boehner in December, which, unfortunately, the speaker walked away from, remains on the table,” Jay Carney said during a Feb. 5 press briefing.
Sources at that time said Obama had floated about $100 billion in additional cuts to projected national defense spending as part of a bigger deficit-reduction proposal.
But one senior House GOP source said Feb. 8 that Obama is proposing $250 billion in new defense cuts as part of a broader deficit-paring plan.
That just won’t do, the senior House GOP source said.
“If you do the full math, it’s $250 billion out of defense,” said the senior House GOP aide. “And at this point — if you do $250 billion more — you might as well do the $500 billion from the sequester, because you would have already hollowed out defense.”