One polling station, one man, one vote!

Mr. Darshandas

India has 828,804 polling stations in the current general election, but one of them is unique. It has just one voter. The BBC’s Soutik Biswas travels into the forest to meet him.

In a desolate, seemingly endless, lion-infested forest in India, a single man waits to exercise his fundamental right.

On 30 April, five polling officials accompanied by two policemen will travel into the wild to pick up the ballot of Guru Bharatdas Darshandas, who looks after a temple in the Gir forest in the western state of Gujarat.

Mr Darshandas is the only voter at the polling station of Banej in Gir, the last abode of the Asiatic lion.
Barely a few hundred metres from the Shiva temple where Mr Darshandas lives and work is the freshly whitewashed forest office that will serve as the polling station.

In the search for Mr Darshandas, I travel over stony, brown earth and parched rivers and thin streams, past cacti and bougainvillea and trees wilting in the oppressive heat. I pass sluggish deer and antelope and wild cats and buffaloes tethered to huts.

It is 100F (38C) in the shade in this sprawling, 1,412 sq km forest and even our beat-up SUV is groaning. I spot none of the more than 300 lions that live here; the heat must have driven them deeper into the shade.

Read the whole tale. Sitting before your computer, consider Mr. Darshandas who feels honored by his vote, honored by “how India values its democracy.”

Another 180 miles of the Great Wall have been found

The Great Wall of China turns out to be even greater than had been thought.

A two-year government mapping study has uncovered new sections of the wall that total about 180 miles, according to a report posted on the Web site of the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping.

Using infrared range finders, GPS devices and other mapping technology, experts discovered parts of the wall that had been concealed by hills, trenches and rivers, stretching from Hu Mountain in northern Liaoning Province to Jiayu Pass in western Gansu Province, China Daily reported.

The newly mapped parts of the wall were built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), to protect against invaders from the north; some were submerged over time by sandstorms in the arid region, the study said.

The discovery of the additional sections means that the Great Wall, which Chinese emperors began constructing more than 2,000 years ago to keep out Mongols and invaders, spans about 3,900 miles through the northern part of the country.

The kind of research I love. I’d like to pace off the added discovery, photographing it as I go. How exciting to be a part of this rediscovery.

Medical nano-robots ready to pass for bacteria

For the first time, ETH Zurich researchers have built micro-robots as small as bacteria. Their purpose is to help cure human beings.

Artificial bacterial flagella are about half as long as the thickness of a human hair. They can swim at a speed of up to one body length per second. This means that they already resemble their natural role models very closely.

They look like spirals with tiny heads, and screw through the liquid like miniature corkscrews. When moving, they resemble rather ungainly bacteria with long whip-like tails. They can only be observed under a microscope because, at a total length of 25 to 60 µm, they are almost as small as natural flagellated bacteria. Most are between 5 and 15 µm long, a few are more than 20 µm.

The tiny spiral-shaped, nature-mimicking lookalikes of E. coli and similar bacteria. are called “Artificial Bacterial Flagella” (ABFs), the “flagella” referring to their whip-like tails. They were invented, manufactured and enabled to swim in a controllable way by researchers in the group led by Bradley Nelson, Professor at the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at ETH Zurich. In contrast to their natural role model, some of which cause diseases, the ABFs are intended to help cure diseases in the future.

RTFA. This is a trip! One of those early moments when and where something as new as nano-tech begins to get exciting.

Heck Aurochs, recreated in the Nazi era, shipped to Devon farm

Their meat will not be reaching the Sunday lunch table any time soon and nobody would dare get close enough to try to milk them. But a herd of “super cows” descended from animals bred in Nazi Germany is making an impressive sight on a farm in the south-west of England.

The “Heck” cattle were designed by brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck in an attempt to recreate the extinct European wild ox, the aurochs, an important beast in German mythology.

Only a few survived after the second world war, but farmer and conservationist Derek Gow has imported 13 of the animals from Belgium to Broadwoodwidger, on the Devon-Cornwall border, where they have joined a growing collection of beavers, polecats and water voles.

Rather than allowing his Heck cattle to be hunted, as some of the Nazi leaders wanted to do, Gow will be offering photographers the chance to take pictures of the animals.

He also hopes to begin his own breeding programme because he believes the Heck cattle may one day have an important conservation role to play, taking the place of the aurochs in the cycle of life.

One of the pleasant results of throwing cows off the bosque of the Santa Fe River – along with the reintroduction of willows and cottonwoods – many varieties of birds, especially raptors have returned as have beavers. And they did it on their own.

All that’s been required from the community of La Cieneguilla is a bit of stronger fencing for those of us living alongside the river bosque. The beavers almost took out one of our apricot trees.

AT&T doubling 3G capacity – in your dreams

AT&T is in the process of doubling the capacity of its 3G networks, using software enhancements to squeeze one last boost in bandwidth from its current generation networks before it begins its migration to evolved 3G and eventually 4G.

AT&T is increasing the downlink capacity on its high-speed packet access (HSPA) from 3.6 megabits per second to 7.2 Mb/s through software upgrades at the base station, said Scott McElroy… AT&T currently has the enhanced networks running in two test markets but plans to extend those capabilities to its entire network. Later this year, AT&T plans to start migrating its 3G networks to evolved-HSPA (or HSPA+), which would triple peak speeds.

Theoretically HSPA can support up 14.4 Mb/s of capacity over a 5-MHz downlink, but when the technology was first introduced, commercial equipment wasn’t able to meet HSPA’s full potential. The results have been a series of iterations in the HSPA standard that operators have been implementing as vendors release both the upgrade modules needed at the base station and the enhanced device chipsets required to support the increased capacities. AT&T, then Cingular, launched its network in 2005, supporting 1.8 Mb/s, but boosted that capacity to 3.6 Mb/s by 2008. Most of the laptop cards and smartphones AT&T sells, including the iPhone, have the silicon necessary to access that additional capacity.

All this is wonderful – if you believe and, especially, if you live in an urban focus of wireless communication. I don’t qualify for either.

I can’t help looking at this software upgrade as being perfectly analogous to magnification doubling in a digital camera. Yes, you end up with an image double that of the capacity of the optics of the camera – and half the clarity. And it sucks!

No doubt there are boffins whose general livelihood is grounded in being on the right side of AT&T – who can explain the difference to me. I think it makes more sense to continue to sit out any commitment to AT&T. Wait and see what T-Mobile is sliding into my neck of the prairie at the end of summer. Then, decide if there’s any good reason at add 3G anything to my life?

House Dem from California wiretapped with Israeli agents

I trust Cylon Centurions more than these greed-powered politicians
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

One of the leading House Democrats on intelligence matters was overheard on telephone calls intercepted by the National Security Agency agreeing to seek lenient treatment from the Bush administration for two pro-Israel lobbyists who were under investigation for espionage, current and former government officials say.

The lawmaker, Representative Jane Harman of California, became the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee after the 2002 election and had ambitions to be its chairwoman when the party gained control of the House in 2006. One official who has seen transcripts of several wiretapped calls said she appeared to agree to intercede in exchange for help in persuading party leaders to give her the powerful post.

It is not clear exactly when the wiretaps occurred; they were first reported by Congressional Quarterly on its Web site.

The official with access to the transcripts said someone seeking help for the employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent pro-Israel lobbying group, was recorded asking Ms. Harman, a longtime supporter of its efforts, to intervene with the Justice Department…In return, the caller promised her that a wealthy California donor — the media mogul Haim Saban — would threaten to withhold campaign contributions to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who was expected to become House speaker after the 2006 election, if she did not select Ms. Harman for the intelligence post…

Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman were fired from Aipac in March 2005 and indicted a few weeks later. They were charged with violating the World War I-era Espionage Act when they shared with colleagues, journalists and Israeli Embassy officials information about Iran and Iraq they had learned from talking to high-level United States policy makers.

Same old, same old. Israel can do no wrong unless they interfere with lobbyists and military contracts. They get a slap on the wrist and the beat goes on. The only surprise is a politician actually being caught – and revealed.

iPod as a weapon of war! Who’da thunk it?

US soldiers overseas have a new tool to help them negotiate tricky battlefield interactions: Apple’s iPod Touch. The handheld personal-media player is a hit with soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan, Newsweek reports.

What place does an iPod have on the battlefield? The devices are prized for their ability to smooth translations, make sense of cultural nuances, and even help with ballistics calculations.

And they’re cheap. The typical military spec. handheld device costs taxpayers between $600 and $700. The California-designed iPod Touch rings up at $230.

The U.S. Marine Corps is funding an application for Apple devices [including the iPhone] that would allow soldiers to upload photographs of detained suspects, along with written reports, into a biometric database. The software could match faces, making it easier to track suspects after they’re released.

The simple part of this process is that someone figured out it’s easier to utilize a device soldiers already know how to use – than to spend million$ developing something new, getting bids to produce it [including the cut for lobbyists and politicians] and then having to train soldiers how to use the damned thing.

When did common sense sneak into the profitable side of war?

Pentagon ends crony contract with Lockheed

The U.S. Defense Department announced Monday it was taking back responsibility for billions of dollars in pay and benefits for veterans, a task handled since 2002 by Lockheed Martin Corp, the Pentagon’s No. 1 contractor by sales.

A switch to using government workers, prompted by Congress, will save $22 million to $25 million over the next 10 years, said Tom LaRock, a spokesman for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat who led an investigation and held hearings into the matter, said Lockheed’s performance under its contract had been marked by “mishandling, delay, poor quality and exorbitant charges.”

This is a great day for veterans and a victory for government oversight,” Kucinich said in a statement…

Kucinich’s investigation found delays of as much as 5-1/2 years in delivering retroactive pay awards to eligible disabled veterans under legislation enacted by Congress in 2003 and 2004. He blamed government mismanagement and Lockheed Martin…

“I hope that this experiment in privatization will demonstrate to other agencies the costs, both financial and otherwise, of outsourcing the responsibilities of government,” he said.

Bush and Cheney kept their buds at Lockheed rolling in the green for providing mediocre support to our vets. These past eight years have been an exercise in corporate cronies getting payoffs – and the taxpayer getting the shaft.

Oh, yeah. A footnote to the whiners who babbled their fears about Kucinich over the span of the last couple of elections. It wasn’t the Kerrys and the McCains of this political world that led the fight to repay our vets.

Tankers “waiting orders” – and the market – in Lyme Bay


In the shadow of the tanker, the water sits a deep and lustrous blue. It is quiet out here, 20 minutes from the shore; just the sound of the gulls and the soft, steady lap of the waves. Before us the great black belly of the hull, furled by ribbons of orange rust.

Three hundred and 33 metres long, 58 metres wide, with a draught of 22 metres and a deadweight of nearly 300,000 tonnes, the Darab is an Iranian ship, though she is registered in Valletta, Malta. She carries crude oil, and a crew of 36…

The Darab is one of nine oil tankers currently lying idle in Lyme Bay, off the coast of Devon. Two weeks ago, there were 10 tankers from all over the world, one of which had been here for eight weeks. It is the largest number of oil tankers off this point of the British coastline since the 1980s.

The reason for their presence has prompted much speculation. Officially they are “awaiting orders”, though the general consensus is that they are biding their time, waiting for oil prices to rise. There are currently some 60 tankers around the world idling like these, each laden with up to 250,000 tonnes of crude oil. The oil is bought and sold several times over while still at sea, and eventually these tankers will head to refineries. But for now they lie here, sleeping giants on the horizon…

The idling tankers have meant a boom for the local economy. The crews take advantage of this quiet time to attend to various chores: doctors, dentists and hairdressers are sailed out to the tankers, hotels brace themselves for sailors taking shore leave, engineers are flown in to attend to ship maintenance.

A picture with and without motion. Ships at rest, ready for the longest reach of commerce. A lovely piece about an aspect of life almost at sea you won’t often experience.

Reflecting, I wonder if C.Itoh is still the largest buyer and seller of oil on the high seas. That venerable Japanese firm had occupied that seat for years – when I knew them back in the 1980’s.