NASA’s “swarmies” robots designed to explore alien worlds


What could possibly go wrong?

A collection of autonomous robots designed to scuttle around on distant planets looking for resources and materials in much the same way that members of insect colonies do on Earth are currently being tested by NASA engineers. The robots, dubbed “swarmies,” are designed to individually survey an area, signal the others when they have found something of value, and then divide up the task of collecting the material and returning it back to base.

Currently, four of these robots have been built, each of which is fitted with a webcam, a Wi-Fi system to communicate with each other, and a GPS unit. Whilst the test terrain is a little less alien than they one day may encounter – the swarmies are being deployed in an empty car park at Kennedy Space Center in Florida – the tests are meant only to prove that the software is functioning as it should and that the robots are operating as expected.

In the tests the robots are searching for barcoded pieces of paper. However, in the future similar robots deployed on an asteroid, the moon or Mars could continuously scan the surface for water, fuel resources or other commodities vital to an away mission…

“Assuming this pays off, we know somebody’s going to take this and extend it and go beyond the four or five rovers we have here,” said Kurt Leucht, a Kennedy Space Center engineer working on the project. “So as we design this and work it through, we’re mindful about things like minimizing bandwidth. I’m sure there will be a team whether it’s us or somebody else who will take this and advance it and scale it up.”

A proper hive mentality, hive consciousness with complex interrelationships and specialization is an obvious avenue.

Of course, anyone who fears – or is comfortable with – the Borg will have interesting dreams. I’m not worried about any variety developed by government agencies. Redundancy will always be designed to guarantee the safety of the slow.

Now, when surplus gear becomes available on the cheap in some 22nd Century flea market – that’s a different story.

Thanks, Mike

Do-Nothing Republicans don’t care if the US is represented abroad

party of NO

As fighters affiliated with the self-declared Islamic State roll across the porous Turkish border into Syria, the United States has a problem: It has no ambassador to Turkey.

As the Ebola virus rages in Sierra Leone, the United States has no ambassador there. And as North Korea poses a nuclear threat, the United States has no ambassador in South Korea.

The same is true when Turkey demands an answer for US spying.

Nominations for the posts are among dozens languishing in the Senate, many for months. The would-be ambassador to Sierra Leone, for example, has been waiting more than 400 days for an up-or-down vote. Veteran diplomats say the Senate’s persistent gridlock over domestic matters is hurting the United States on the world stage.

The number of nominees awaiting confirmation now stands at 55 out of 226 positions, about one-fourth of all ambassador-ranked posts. For the vast majority of nominees who have been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are awaiting a full vote in the Senate, the average wait has been more than seven months, according to State Department statistics…

Unlike years past, when political clashes have held up small groups of nominees for brief periods, the current stand-off is more widespread and long-lasting, preventing all but a trickle of nominees from getting a vote.

“It really makes a joke of us abroad,” said Charles A. Ray, a former ambassador to Cambodia and Zimbabwe who spent 30 years in the foreign service. “Having the Senate literally block ambassadorial positions really sends a negative signal to countries we have relationships with. It makes them think that relationship doesn’t matter to us much.”

Cripes. I think half the backwater Neo-Confederate Republicans in Congress don’t even care about a relationship with the rest of the United States. As long as NASCAR keeps trundling around in a circle and state courts are allowed to enforce 19th Century rules about women – they’re as happy as can be.

Just keep those contributions coming in from coal companies and military-industrial gun-thugs.

Latest Snowden revelations piss off Turkey


“Do you think Snowden will ever go away?”

Turkey’s foreign ministry on Monday summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires, currently Washington’s most senior diplomat in Ankara, over a media report that the United States had spied on Turkey…

Here we go with 2 x stupid!

1. The Turkish government can’t summon the US ambassador because Republican do-nothings in Congress blocked that appointment. They would rather we have a dysfunctional government than to give in to the fact that Americans elected a non-white president.

2. The Democrat in the White House proves to be as dumb as his Republican predecessor – holding his hands over his eyes and hoping the NSA digital goon squad won’t be noticed by our “allies”. Somehow, hoping Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing will go away as if by magic.

German magazine Der Spiegel said in an article on its website on Sunday that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency had carried out “wide-scale spying against Turkey“, citing documents from the archive of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“For the reasons that the United States’ name was mentioned, and such claims were made … the charge d’affaires has been called to the foreign ministry and information has been received from him,” Arinc told reporters after the first meeting of Turkey’s new cabinet following a presidential election.

Der Spiegel said the U.S. intelligence services had also worked closely to support Ankara in its efforts to battle Kurdish militants, who waged a three-decade insurgency for greater Kurdish rights in the country’s southeast.

Yup. The United States cares so deeply about minority rights that we turn over whatever info our spies discover – to the heads of state who have dedicated their political careers to the suppression of minorities.

Then, the folks in the White House who rely on wishful thinking to manage foreign relations skip blithely past all the corruption previously made public by Edward Snowden and ignore the rest of the bad news waiting to come out. With half a brain, someone might have contacted the rest of our “friends” and let them know in advance how the paranoid policies of George W. Bush have been continued by “nice guy” Obama.

Is red the new black?


Click to enlargeRex Features

Crimson tide: Is red the new black? The presence of at least 14 scarlet women at the Emmys last night would seem to suggest so. Finding a shade that flatters skintone but doesn’t clash or merge into the carpet is a styling challenge.

Used to be celebrities hated to be seen in public looking very much like another celebrity.

California legislature passes a seafood labeling bill the Feds should read

…The California Senate passed seafood labeling legislation in a vote of 25-10, directly following passage off the Assembly floor in a vote of 57-15. SB 1138, authored by Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), will begin to tackle the complex problem of seafood fraud in the Golden State by requiring that all fish and shellfish be accurately labeled by the common name. Additionally, the legislation requires wholesalers and processors to label whether a species was wild-caught or farm-raised, and if it was domestically caught or imported…

…Said Senator Alex Padilla. “The seafood we order should be the seafood we are served.”

Americans are routinely urged to eat more seafood as part of a healthy diet. Yet consumers are often given inadequate, confusing or misleading information about the seafood they purchase. With more than 1,700 different species of seafood from all over the world available for sale in the U.S., it is unrealistic to expect the American consumer to be able to independently and accurately determine what they are actually eating unless it is clearly labeled. SB 1138 will begin to turn the tide on seafood fraud…

Oceana, the bill sponsor, conducted one of the largest seafood fraud investigations worldwide between 2010 and 2012 by collecting more than 1,200 seafood samples from grocery stores, restaurants, and sushi venues across 21 states to determine if they were honestly labeled. DNA testing found that one-third (33%) of the samples analyzed nationwide were mislabeled. Alarmingly, California fared among the worst in the nation with 38% of seafood tested in Northern California mislabeled and 52% of seafood tested in Southern California mislabeled…

Finding the same fraud elsewhere – shouldn’t be a surprise. I expect the Northeastern group of states which supports wide commerce in seafood will work to emulate California’s model leadership.

Overdue and worth California legislators taking pride in doing what their craft is called to do by our Constitution.

Thanks, Mike

Palliative care, end-of-life counseling moves forward even if politicians don’t

Pain

Five years after it exploded into a political conflagration over “death panels,” the issue of paying doctors to talk to patients about end-of-life care is making a comeback, and such sessions may be covered for the 50 million Americans on Medicare as early as next year.

Bypassing the political process, private insurers have begun reimbursing doctors for these “advance care planning” conversations as interest in them rises along with the number of aging Americans. People are living longer with illnesses, and many want more input into how they will spend their final days, including whether they want to die at home or in the hospital, and whether they want full-fledged life-sustaining treatment, just pain relief or something in between. Some states, including Colorado and Oregon, recently began covering the sessions for Medicaid patients.

But far more significant, Medicare may begin covering end-of-life discussions next year if it approves a recent request from the American Medical Association, the country’s largest association of physicians and medical students. One of the A.M.A.’s roles is to create billing codes for medical services, codes used by doctors, hospitals and insurers. It recently created codes for end-of-life conversations and submitted them to Medicare.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs Medicare, would not discuss whether it will agree to cover end-of-life discussions; its decision is expected this fall. But the agency often adopts A.M.A. recommendations, which are developed in meetings attended by its representatives…and discussion with bible-thumping populist idjits is useless as ever. Why waste the time?…

Continue reading

Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager named as Ron Paul’s bribery bagman


“Just make the check out to cash!”

The campaign manager for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican locked in a tough re-election battle, resigned late Friday in fallout from a scandal stemming from his time with the 2012 Ron Paul presidential campaign.

McConnell is facing Kentucky’s Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in a race Republicans view as important if they are to secure control of the Senate.

While denying any wrongdoing during his time working for Paul, Jesse Benton said blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Benton was the spokesman for the libertarian Paul’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign when, during the Republican primary season, a supporter of a rival candidate was secretly paid by a Paul staffer to publicly switch sides.

Former Iowa Republican state Senator Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty this week to concealing $73,000 he was paid to endorse Paul over U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann.

McConnell has dropped Benton like the hot potato he obviously is.

Maybe handling a smooth job of bribery was one of the qualities that appealed enough to McConnell to choose him as campaign manager. Lots of money floating around the political career of a bought-and-paid-for hack like Mitch McConnell.

Row over cow settled by DNA tests


The cow in question

A woman in the southern Indian state of Kerala is set to win a court battle to keep a cow after DNA tests proved it belongs to her, her lawyer says…The woman, TS Sashilekha, had been accused by her neighbour Geetha of stealing the animal.

The acrimonious dispute even saw the cow in question appear in court.

It is thought to be the first time an ownership battle over an animal has been decided by DNA tests in India, where Hindus consider cows to be holy.

The legal battle between the two women began last year when Geetha claimed that a cow in her herd was the mother of the disputed animal…But DNA tests ordered by the court did not match, meaning that Sashilekha will get to keep the cow.

…N Chandra Babu, lawyer for Sashilekha, told the BBC, “It is a rare case and possibly the first of its kind in history. Perhaps this is the first time a DNA test was held on a cow to find out its real owner.”

After the disputed cow was produced in court, Sashilekha was allowed to keep it in her possession – but only after paying 45,000 rupees in securities.

I understand why the court would ask the eventual victor to provide security presumably covering the value of the cow. Hopefully, returned without charges. Another good reason why she is suing the accuser for costs and compensation.

California first in line to ban single-use plastic bags in the United States

California lawmakers have approved a measure that would make the state the first to impose a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

SB270 cleared the Senate on a 22-15 vote Friday and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown. It was approved by the Assembly a day earlier.

Senators who had previously opposed the bill, including incoming Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, this time supported the measure after protections were added for plastic bag manufacturers.

The bill by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles would prohibit single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and large pharmacies in 2015 and at convenience stores in 2016.

It includes $2 million in loans to help manufacturers shift to producing reusable bags and lets grocers charge 10 cents each for paper and reusable bags.

Typical American copout politicians. There isn’t a single one of these companies that needs a loan to shift production. If they’re that incompetent – they shouldn’t be in business.

The bill had sparked one of the most contentious debates in the last weeks of the legislative session, with aggressive lobbying by environmentalists and bag manufacturers.

For years, a statewide plastic bag ban has been an elusive goal for lawmakers trying to reduce the buildup of plastic waste in oceans and waterways that costs millions of dollars to cleanup. About 100 local jurisdictions in California already have adopted similar bans, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

You may as well ask your Congress-critter, now, when will they get round to passing a matching national regulation. I expect I won’t still be alive when that happens.

Thanks, Mike