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Archive for December 7th, 2012

First autonomous Wave Glider robot crosses Pacific ocean

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Last November, a fleet of four small autonomous Wave Glider aquatic robots set out from San Francisco to sail across the Pacific ocean. They reached Hawaii this March, at which point they parted ways – as according to plan, one pair struck out for Japan, while the other two headed for Australia. The first of the two Australia-bound Wave Gliders has reached its destination, setting a new world record for the longest distance traveled by an autonomous vehicle.

Made by California- and Hawaii-based tech firm Liquid Robotics, each Wave Glider consists of a floating surf board-like “boat” tethered to an underwater winged platform. The motion of the waves causes these wings to paddle the boat forward, while solar cells on the deck of the boat provide power to its sensors and transmitters.

These sensors measure oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature, wave characteristics, weather conditions, water fluorescence, and dissolved oxygen. GPS and a heading sensor also help the craft to orient themselves.

Papa Mau, which is the name of the Wave Glider that has reached Australia, was pulled from the ocean in Hervey Bay near Bundaberg, Queensland. It was the end of a one-year journey that spanned approximately 16,668 kilometers, and that saw the robot withstanding challenges such as gale force winds and inquisitive sharks. Along the way, it also gathered and transmitted an assortment of oceanographic data, including measurements of a chlorophyll bloom along the Equatorial Pacific.

Bravo! And this was only a startup demonstration.

It’s also nice to see the trial work. I blogged about the beginning.

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Written by Ed Campbell

December 7, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Supreme Court to review same-sex marriage as a civil right

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The Supreme Court has seized center stage in a historic social policy debate over same-sex marriage by agreeing to review the validity under the Constitution of a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

In an order, the court also announced that it would consider a challenge to California’s ban on gay marriage, known as Proposition 8, which voters narrowly approved in 2008.

Same-sex marriage is a hot-button issue in a country where 31 of the 50 states have passed constitutional amendments banning it while Washington, D.C., and nine states have legalized it, three of them on Election Day last month.

Yet even where it is legal, married same-sex couples do not qualify for a host of federal benefits because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, passed by Congress, only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman.

Gays and lesbians married under state laws have filed suits challenging their denial of such benefits as Social Security survivor payments and the right to file joint federal tax returns. They argue the provision, known as Section 3, violates equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

The court could follow the model of some lower courts and rule narrowly…or it could demonstrate the courage of previous courts and come down on the side of equal civil rights for all Americans, recognize a right to marriage equality.

My concerns are obvious, the same experienced by any American confronting the political theater our legal system has become. There is no shortage of bigots and fools who would apply the heart of constitutional freedoms only to a limited number of citizens. Egalitarian law applied to all citizens doesn’t occur to many who base their beliefs on superstition instead of science, privilege instead of equal opportunity.

I have more confidence in the legal flunkies of the Right who sit on the Supreme Court bench being more concerned – for once – with their image and reputation in future legal histories than with bending to the sound and fury of their class. It would be even more pleasing to see them stand up for the spirit of our constitution.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 7, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Best place to be born in 2013 — Switzerland

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Switzerland is the best country for a baby to be born in 2013, according to a new study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which is based on both subjective and objective quality of life factors.

The variables include life expectancy, gender equality, political freedoms, and even climate, but because the study looks at where “to be born” not “where to live,” some of the factors look at what life will be like in those countries in 2030, when children born in 2013 reach adulthood.

Rounding out the top 10 are:

2. Australia
3. Norway
4. Sweden
5. Denmark
6. Singapore
7. New Zealand
8. Netherlands
9. Canada
10. Hong Kong

The report authors write:

Being rich helps more than anything else, but it is not all that counts; things like crime, trust in public institutions and the health of family life matter too. In all, the index takes 11 statistically significant indicators into account.

The United States didn’t crack the top 10 this year, because American “babies will inherit the large debts of the boomer generation,” the researchers write. Could have included mediocre education, crumbling infrastructure in that same sentence.

In the 1988 survey, the United States came in first, followed closely by mostly European countries and several high-performing Asian ones, such as South Korea and Japan…

Now, Japan and South Korea rank 25 and 19, respectively, perhaps because their economies have become more troubled in recent years.

Europe has also slipped in the rankings because the ongoing euro-zone crisis there has caused severe unemployment and “eroded both family and community life,” the authors write…Germany has dropped to 16 – a tie with the United States.

Disagree with the list? The full methodology can be found here.

The Economist is a magazine grounded in conservative economics. That’s conservative in the traditional sense, rather like the term used to be in the United States before today’s Republican Party started their outreach policy for governance by homophobes, religious nutballs, various and sundry bigots.

So, the list will be accused of being part of a mythic liberal conspiracy – regardless of credentials.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Falling sperm count sparks fertility concerns in France

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We’re French. We have more nuclear weapons than anyone else in Europe.

The sperm count of French men plunged by a third between 1989 and 2005, a finding which fuels concern that environmental pollutants or lifestyle are crimping fertility…

Exceptional in scope, the study is believed to be the first country-wide, long-term probe into sperm quality, the team said.

“This constitutes a serious public health warning. The link with the environment particularly needs to be determined,” they warned in the European journal Human Reproduction.

Researchers examined data for semen samples provided by 26,609 men at 126 in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) centres in France over 17 years…

Over this period, the sperm count — fell continuously, by an average annual rate of about 1.9 percent, totalling 32.2 percent…

Speculating on the source of the declines, the scientists point to suspects which have already been fingered in lab research.

They could be chemical pollutants called endocrine disruptors that change hormone levels.

“They might also be linked to other known semen-altering factors that would have changed over the study period, like an increase in body-mass index, stress, nutrition or infections.”

At least it’s a new excuse to offer the Pope when he whines about birth control.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 7, 2012 at 8:00 am

Hedge-trimmer cuts through the roof of a loaded school bus

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Four children have been hurt after a tractor’s hedge-trimming tool cut open the roof of a double-decker bus like a tin can.

Paramedics were called to the accident in Wivenhoe, Essex, at 8.22am on Thursday…Trevor Redburn, assistant general manager for the East of England ambulance service in north Essex, said: “We arrived within five minutes and it was quite a scary-looking scene. We counted 45 children who were all shocked and confused.”

The four who were hurt were described as having “slight injuries”.

The vehicle responsible had been trimming branches along Alresford Road in Wivenhoe, from where the bus was transporting pupils to secondary school in Brightlingsea.

A replacement bus service was organised and parents arrived to take the injured children to hospital.

Cripes. I worry enough about kids being injured in their school bus. Few municipalities require seat belts and the tin cans they ride in have a surplus of hard surfaces to bump into – whilst flying through the air after a collision.

But, I never thought I’d have to worry about decapitation.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 7, 2012 at 2:00 am

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