Bomb parts smuggled past rent-a-cops into 10 federal buildings

A contrite head of the Federal Protective Service took the blame Wednesday for security lapses that allowed covert investigators to sneak bomb components into 10 federal government buildings…

Plainclothes investigators testing the effectiveness of private contract guards at federal office buildings were able to smuggle in bomb components in all 10 attempts. Only one investigator was stopped and questioned, but he was allowed to pass with the components of a liquid bomb.

Once inside the facilities, the testers assembled the bombs in restrooms, put them in briefcases and “walked freely” into government offices, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Asked point-blank at a Senate hearing Wednesday why the security guards had failed, Protective Service Director Gary Schenkel said, “It’s purely a lack of oversight on our part…”

Although police officers formerly protected federal buildings, the agency now uses a core cadre of 1,200 sworn federal officers or “inspectors” to oversee a small army of about 13,000 private security guards who man the X-ray machines and magnetometers at building entrances…

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Chinese firms can’t hire fast enough in economic recovery

Migrant workers arrive in Beijing for training as domestic help
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Chinese employment service providers said domestic firms have started a fresh round of hiring, especially for management level position, as part of the efforts to cash in on the economic recovery, but most of these firms are still finding it hard to get the right candidates.

Three industries — real estate, hi-tech and retailing — are at the forefront of the current round of hiring, according to China Daily.

DoWelljoin Hunter…sees clients back for new hires last month. Its business has grown by 40 percent last month compared with the previous months. The growth rate was even higher than a year earlier.

However, companies in China are still finding it difficult to get the right candidates for the wanted positions, said a survey by Manpower.

According to the survey, 15 percent of the employers are struggling to fill up positions. The top three jobs that they are having difficulties to fill up this year are technicians, management or executives and sales representatives.

We’ll have to loan them some Republicans who can stand around say, “there is no recovery, there is no recovery. No. no. no!”

Our government pledges food safety. Slightly overdue!

Researchers discovered during the Reagan administration that contaminated fresh eggs sickened thousands of people, but federal officials squabbled for two decades about how to solve the problem.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration released a rule to deal with the nation’s egg problem and used the moment to promise a sweeping overhaul of the system to ensure the safety of spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, melons, beef and chicken — foods that lead to millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths a year…

Most of the measures announced Tuesday are more aspirational than actual. The Agriculture Department promised to develop new standards to reduce salmonella levels in chickens and turkeys by the end of the year. The Food and Drug Administration promised to advise the food industry by the end of the month on how to prevent contamination of tomatoes, melons, spinach and lettuce. And within three months the F.D.A. plans to release advice about how farmers, wholesalers and retailers can build systems to trace contaminated foods quickly from shelf to field.

But many rules that even industry representatives call essential are years away. “We’ve got to move to mandatory regulatory standards, and this is a step along the way,” said Michael Taylor, a food specialist who is a senior adviser at the food and drug agency…

Agriculture officials set up a pilot program in Pennsylvania in 1992 to test regulatory efforts and found that one source of contamination was mouse and rat feces in chicken feed. Another problem was infected breeder hens. Pest controls, certified breeders, regular manure testing and other measures helped reduce the share of infected henhouses in the state to 7 percent from 39 percent, said Paul H. Patterson, a professor of poultry science at Pennsylvania State University…The egg rule released Tuesday largely copied Pennsylvania’s voluntary program but made it mandatory.

Howard Magwire, vice president of the United Egg Producers, said his industry supported the new rule. About 250 major egg producers in the United States account for 99 percent of fresh egg production, Mr. Magwire said, and most already abide by the rule. Since the rule applies only to producers with 3,000 or more laying hens, thousands of small producers are exempt.

Federal researchers estimated that more than 130,000 people are sickened every year and 30 die as a result of contaminated eggs, and the government estimated that the new rule would cut illnesses by 60 percent and save $1.4 billion in health costs.

Looking in from the outside, I suppose we could get mired down over who gets the most blame: the fools leading both parties in ideological stasis; bureaucrats arguing over responsibility, turf and budget; or both segments of the political bedrooms striving to bend over further for a corporate screwing.

Finally, we have an administration willing to commit to change. It will likely take a couple of terms to get all of this shorn of clutter and copout. At least, we now have a chance at trying for sensible regulation and protection.

Scientists claim first creation of human sperm – UPDATED

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Scientists claim to have created human sperm for the first time, in a breakthrough they say could lead to new treatment for male infertility.

The sperm was grown in a laboratory in Newcastle from embryonic stem cells. Led by Professor Karim Nayernia, researchers developed a method of growing early-stage sperm from human embryonic stem cells by using retinoic acid, a vitamin A derivative…

Nayernia, of Newcastle University and the North East England Stem Cell Institute (Nesci), described the cells as “fully mature, functional” sperm, which he called In Vitro Derived (IVD) sperm.

He said: “This is an important development as it will allow researchers to study in detail how sperm forms and lead to a better understanding of infertility in men – why it happens and what is causing it…

“It will also allow scientists to study how cells involved in reproduction are affected by toxins, for example why young boys with leukaemia who undergo chemotherapy can become infertile for life – and possibly lead us to a solution…”

Professor Robin Lovell Badge, from the Medical Research Council Institute of Medical Research…questioned the findings, saying that “they need much better evidence that such in-vitro derived sperm are normal” but added that any progress by the team “will be very important for research” and “ultimately, although definitely not yet, fertility treatments”.

Nayernia responded by saying that his research paper was clearly labelled a “proof of principle” which concludes that it is in its early stages and further research is needed. He said: “We are not claiming this research is complete but we are saying that we have found human sperm.”

Of the hundreds of news reports on this study, I happened to choose this one from The Guardian. For two reason:

1. They didn’t waste time and space on religious wingnuts who will lose sleep over the “soul” of critters produced by this sperm – or the usual array of quasi-ethical crap questions about humans and monsters. The nutball brigade will take care of that on their own, thank you.

2. The Guardian actually reported responsible questions [and answers] from those qualified by virtue of trying to advance the science – instead of playing at skeptic for media perks.

The single worst discussion I’ve seen was on CNN, this morning – where an anchor-lady ventured discourse with a science-lady about how the ongoing experiments affected “girl mice” and “mice children”.

Where the frack is Miles O’Brien when you need him?

UPDATE: The journal article has been withdrawn over questions of attribution of part of the introductory text. None of the science has been questioned or removed. It will be rewritten and published again.

Some of you need all the help you can get – to find your way

A report presented recently to the US Congress warned that sat-nav – satellite navigation – systems could start to fail from next year as the US Air Force’s satellites deteriorate. It is yet another episode in our long and fraught relationship with in-car navigation – a phenomenon that is more ancient than you might think.

Today’s sat-navs are really a number of older inventions cobbled together. In fact, mechanical in-car navigation stretches back further than most people would think – 100 years to be precise.

Honda’s Electro Gyrocator was the first computerised in-car navigation system. Developed in Japan, it was…a solid-state system that could not respond to the changing narrative of the drive. So if you went wrong the errors soon stacked up and, unlike a broken watch, it would not even be right some of the time.

However, unbeknown to most motorists, the technology for a real-time system already existed. The US Defense Department had developed GPS (global positioning by satellite) in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that President Reagan made it available for civilian use.

The other technological piece of the sat-nav jigsaw was digital mapping, which was pioneered by a tiny British firm, NextBase, which grew out of a circle of friends who met as teenagers, programming some of the earliest home PCs at a school holiday computer camp in Northampton…

The technology for sat-nav, in other words, was around for several years before it was developed. All these different inventions simply needed to be brought together…

We still don’t quite trust the electronic voice to get us where we want to go. Since before even the arrival of the car, people have worried that maps sever us from real places, render the world untouchable, reduce it to a bare outline of Cartesian lines and intersections. Sat-nav feeds into this long-held fear that the cold-blooded modern world is destroying local knowledge, that roads no longer lead to real places but around and through them.

You can sense it in all those fearful newspaper headlines about motorists guided by their sat-navs to the edges of cliffs or deposited in village ponds. We may have grown to rely on in-car navigation, but it will be a long while before we learn to love it.

Cripes. If I was still on the road, I’d have one in my car in an instant.

I’ve used my old handheld GPS – in conjunction with Google Earth – to retrace trails that go back 500 years. We build tools to aid our lives, our knowledge.

Google introduces the Chrome OS, today

Today, we’re announcing a new project that’s a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System. It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

Quick. Someone send a truckload of Tums over to Redmond.

Of course, damned near anything that smacks of change, adroitness, speed – upsets folks at Microsoft. That’s a shame. There was a time when “innovation” really did reside with the Gates Family Singers. Not anymore, man.

Open Source is a pair of words that thrills me less than “standards” and “craftmanship”. But, Google’s leadership can make a difference. Should be an interesting project – one which makes waves through the business side of the geek world.

Thanks, Mr. Justin

ABA gives Judge Sotomayor a unanimous top rating

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor got a boost in what is expected to be a relatively easy road to Senate confirmation when an influential U.S. lawyer’s group gave her its top rating.

The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary based its unanimous “well qualified” evaluation on a review of the integrity, competence and judicial temperament of Sotomayor, a federal judge for 17 years who seems headed to become the first Hispanic on the highest U.S. court…

Sotomayor is expected to win confirmation by the full Democratic-led Senate, perhaps overwhelmingly, to replace David Souter, who recently retired. Her hearings begin on Monday.

Sotomayor, 54, would likely not change the balance on the often divided nine-member court. Like Souter, she is seen as a liberal though Democrats insist she is mainstream.

Liberalism in most aspects of criminal and civil law are mainstream in America. Those who don’t admit it – oppose it. Simple enough.

There is little difference between Left and Right in enforcing law. There is significant difference in moving it forward into contemporary life. The reactionaries on the Supreme Court – beholden to their Republican masters – try their damndest to push the life of our society back to the 18th Century.

The ABA, with more than 400,000 members, describes itself as the world’s largest voluntary professional membership organization. Founded in 1878, it has been providing evaluations of judicial nominees since 1953, a spokeswoman said.

Clarence Thomas is the only current member of the Supreme Court not to receive a “well qualified” from the ABA. He was rated a notch below at “qualified,” the spokeswoman said.