Apple urges Californians to vote “NO” on Prop 8

Apple is publicly opposing Proposition 8 and making a donation of $100,000 to the NO on 8 campaign.

Apple was among the first California companies to offer equal rights and benefits to our employees’ same-sex partners, and we strongly believe that a person’s fundamental rights — including the right to marry — should not be affected by their sexual orientation.

Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8.


Brits use anti-terror laws in banking fight with Iceland. WTF!

Thousands of Icelanders are sending a message to Gordon Brown that they are not terrorists after the UK used terror laws to freeze their assets.

An online petition was launched this week following the UK government’s attempt to protect British savings in Iceland’s failed Landsbanki.

The petition has been signed by about 40,000 people and shows Icelanders with signs saying they are not terrorists.

Signatories to the petition have uploaded wry photographs of themselves in an attempt to show the absurdity of categorising an Icelandic bank as a terrorist organisation.

The photographs show ordinary Icelanders – including a fisherman, a baby and a man in a Father Christmas costume – holding up hand-written signs stating: “Mr, Brown, we are not terrorists.”

But despite the light-hearted tone of their protest, Icelanders are furious by what they see as the high-handed actions of the UK government, its implied slur on their national character and the dire consequences for the Icelandic economy.

Like most Americans, I imagine most Brits never paid attention to the crap “anti-terror” laws being enacted “on their behalf”. After all, if it’s against terrorists, it must be OK, right?

Wrong! The so-called Patriot Act in the United States has been used more often by local law enforcement to snoop and sniff around people the government doesn’t approve of – or just wants to nose around – than to actually bother someone interested in bringing down a democratic nation.

The clowns in government suits don’t need any help to do that on their own, thank you.

U.S. nuclear industry set to build again

Construction under way in – Bulgaria

After three decades without starting a single new plant, the American nuclear power industry is getting ready to build again…

But now, 21 companies are seeking permission to build 34 new power plants across the United States, from New York to Texas. Factories are springing up in Indiana and Louisiana to build reactor parts.

The trend echoes what is under way in Britain and parts of Eastern Europe, where concerns about climate change are beginning to outweigh those about the risks of nuclear accidents. Unlike most sources of power, nuclear plants do not emit the gases that cause global warming, once they have been built.

Other countries, like France, Japan and China, have been building nuclear plants for a long time

The change of fortunes for the nuclear industry in the United States has come so fast that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington has had to hire hundreds of new engineers to handle the sudden increase in applications.

It is still unclear how many of the 34 proposed plants will actually start operating one day, and how many billions of dollars they might cost. It is uncertain if financing can be found in today’s troubled credit markets, and how the overall cost might compare with those of other power sources. But experts who follow the power industry increasingly think that it is likely that at least some of the plants will produce nuclear energy one day.

The only surprise – I guess – is that the United States finally removed it’s political head from the sand and looked around and saw, Voila!, other nations are progressing with less costly, more reliable, less polluting electricity.

I never expect American politicians to pay more attention to engineers than pundits; so, I guess this is just a momentary lapse in the plan. Public pressure to do something-or-other must have penetrated. And there’s always the opportunity to revive the sort of corporate welfare state that was predominant in the earlier boom in nuclear electricity.

Back in the day, I worked for a major vendor within the nuclear infrastructure. We knew how to bid competitively; but, we didn’t have to. We knew how to build safe components and – I’m glad to say – we always did. But, there never was a need to cut corners with the amount of money poured into every aspect of the industry. It took some serious greed and carelessness to build crap.

Will the Kindle Get an Oprah Bump?

Oprah Winfrey doesn’t really strike me as a gadget girl. Of course, I’ve never even watched her show, so maybe she is. One way or another, when I saw the Financial Times reporting that the cultural icon looked ready to endorse the Amazon Kindle today, I made a point of setting my DVR. I also trundled over to Amazon’s site to check out the trailer for the show, in which Oprah trills about her new “favorite gadget,” calling it “life-changing.”

If Oprah convinces her viewers to buy a Kindle it would certainly be life-changing for Amazon, but it would also show consumers how useful wireless broadband connectivity could be if it were built into devices that aren’t phones or computers. Amazon’s pricing of the broadband service into the cost of downloads could also be life-changing for carriers evaluating different business models associated with integrating broadband into other devices.

Oprah is an international superstar who has in the past delivered an “Oprah bump” to books, devices and even to Barack Obama. Given the down economy, I may not be getting a Kindle for Christmas this year.

We’ll see if Oprah can address the $359 price tag.

Even cooler? Stacey’s Post [above] was quoted in the NY TIMES, today.

Rock on, Om!

Hire sniffer dogs to check out your kids!

Uh, what’s that in your sock drawer?

Retired sniffer dogs that have spent years on police patrol are now working in the private sector in the US – sniffing out teenagers’ bedrooms. Parents can rent a dog and handler for $200 an hour from Sniff Dogs, a firm operating in New Jersey and Ohio…

The company says the animals can smell marijuana from up to 15 feet away and residue on clothing from drugs smoked two days earlier.

The dogs sit when they detect the drugs but they leave the final inspection to the parents.

Pat Winterstein from Washington, New Jersey decided to use the service to search the bedrooms of her three children.

“I trust my kids, but you only can trust them so far.”

Great. Truly positive communications between parent and child.

Bureaucratic rules force Stephen Hawking be “retired”

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking will retire from his prestigious post at Cambridge University next year, but intends to continue his exploration of time and space.

Hawking, 66, is Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a title once held by the great 18th century physicist Isaac Newton. The university said Friday that he would step down at the end of the academic year in September, but would continue working as Emeritus Lucasian Professor of Mathematics.

“We look forward to him continuing his academic work at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, playing a leading role in research in cosmology and gravitation,” said Professor Peter Haynes, who heads the department.

Hawking became a scientific celebrity through his theories on black holes and the nature of time, work that he carried on despite becoming paralyzed by motor neurone disease.

University policy is that officeholders must retire at the end of the academic year in which they become 67. Hawking will reach that milestone on Jan. 8.

The rules are more important than the people and circumstances they govern. Which needn’t be so. Even though the typical bureaucrat accepts them as cast in stone.

There are any number of variables which should be allowed for – including freedom of choice for the governed.

Radioactive scrap used to make elevator buttons

India’s nuclear authorities have admitted radioactive scrap was exported from the country to make elevator buttons in France.

French firm Mafelec sent thousands of lift buttons to the elevator maker Otis, which put them in hundreds of elevators in the country over the summer.

Otis said it removed the buttons after France’s nuclear safety authority (ASN) announced this week that 20 workers who handled them were exposed to doses of radioactivity ranging from 1 to 3 millisievert (mSv). The French legal limit for people who do not work in the nuclear industry is 1mSv per year.

The ASN said it had classified the incident at Mafelec as level two on the international nuclear event scale. The scale goes from zero, which means no safety risk, to seven, which means a major accident…

Indian foundries are not required to install radiation detectors to check scrap, but the government has a programme to put radiation monitors at ports to check cargo.

Which obviously didn’t produce the desired result.

So, next time you get into a dimly-lit elevator, you may be able to see the buttons just fine.

Science Friction: X-Rays energized by adhesive tape

It may sound bizarre—or like some kind of high school science fair project, but it’s not: Researchers have discovered that peeling adhesive tape ejects enough radiation to take an x-ray image. If they stick, the findings could set the stage for a less expensive x-ray machine that does not require electricity.

Lead researcher Carlos Camara, a physicist at the University of California, Los Angeles, reports in Nature today that his team captured x-rays of a finger on film (positioned behind it) by using a simple tape-peeling device (placed in front of it).

How is that possible? It turns out that radiation is released when tape is ripped from a surface. The reason, says Camara: electrons (negatively charged atomic particles) leap from a surface (peeling off of glass or aluminum works, too) to the adhesive side of a freshly yanked strip of tape, traveling so fast that they give off radiation, or energy, when they slam into it.

The result of this process when recorded by radiographic film is a fuzzy x-ray of the finger bone of physicist Seth Putterman, who runs the lab in which it was made.

Now, that is absolutely mind-boggling. Yes, I’ve already duplicated the triboluminescence the article notes at the end.

Fun-loving students disciplined for “Hit a Jew Day”

At least four students from a suburban St. Louis middle school face punishment for allegedly hitting Jewish classmates during what they called “Hit a Jew Day.”

The incident happened last week at Parkway West Middle School in Chesterfield.

District officials said Thursday they believe that fewer than 10 children of the district’s 35 Jewish students were struck.

District spokesman Paul Tandy said that in most cases, the students were hit on the back of their shoulders but one student was slapped in the face.

District officials believe a handful of children were directly involved. Those who actually struck classmates could face suspension and required counseling, Tandy said. Others who weren’t directly involved but taunted Jewish students or egged on classmates could face lesser penalties.

I hope school authorities look a little further and deeper. In my experience, 6th-graders don’t spontaneously invent ethnic hatred. One of those habits you pick up at home.

Afghanistan holding unofficial peace talks with Taliban

Afghanistan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta admitted that there are peace talks with Taliban in Saudi Arabia but emphasized that no official is representing the government in the talks.

Spanta, in a regular press conference in Afghan capital Kabul, described the talks as “informal”, saying former Foreign Minister of Taliban’s ousted regime Mawlawi Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil and its ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, President Hamid Karzai’s brother and some religious leaders from Afghanistan attended the informal meeting in Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, Spanta stressed that “any one wants to talk must accept the national constitution.”

We talk to Taliban but there are some boundaries must not be violated,” he said, “these are human rights, women equity with men and freedom of press which have been envisaged and guaranteed in the national constitution.”

Moreover, the Afghan Foreign Minister maintained that war is not the solution adding “we should talk to the armed and unarmed oppositions.”

All of what we’re hearing, so far, are the paper cutouts, sound bites and snippets cut and folded for redistribution in the world’s press. Still – it’s a necessary and possibly useful beginning.