Tobacco firms sue NYC for anti-smoking posters

Three tobacco giants are suing the city over graphic anti-smoking posters that stores selling cigarettes have to post near the cash register.

R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris and Lorillard claim the color images of cancer-ravaged lungs, a decayed tooth and a stroke-damaged brain are “unappetizing” and violate the First Amendment.

“The signs…do not describe the risks of smoking in purely factual terms,” claims the lawsuit filed Thursday in Manhattan Federal Court.

The stores are being forced to “undertake graphic advocacy on behalf of the city” – which is barred by the First Amendment, the court papers allege.

The suit was joined by two grocery stores and two retail groups.

Poisonally, I think it’s a wonderful idea. I never would have made to these creaky geek old years if I hadn’t quit smoking when I was twenty-two. Two-and-a-half packs a day, back then.

Mars Express orbiter view of Mars

This movie was generated from 600 individual still images captured by the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) on board Mars Express during the 8194th orbit on 27 May 2010 between 02:00 and 09:00 UTC (04:00-11:00 CEST) and were transmitted to Earth a few hours later via ESA’s 35m New Norcia deep space station in Australia.

The portion of the movie where the planet beneath the spacecraft was dark has been largely removed since no detail was visible.

The images show the spacecraft’s slow descent from high above the planet, speeding up as closest approach is passed and then slowing down again as the distance increases. Towards the start of the video, the giant Martian volcanoes can be seen followed by the beginning of the ice coverage around the South Pole as the spacecraft crosses over to the night side of the planet. Shortly after emerging back onto the day side of the planet, the beautiful North Pole can be observed, followed by the long climb away from the planet over the equator. Finally, at the end of the movie, the disk of Phobos can be seen crossing from top to bottom of the image.

I’d love to see this in person, in place.

Challenge Bibendum – Mister Bib still rocks!

For the tenth time in twelve years, Michelin is sponsoring something called the Challenge Bibendum. This global event has been held in Europe, the U.S., Asia and, now, Brazil. Michelin invited us down to check of some of the work people are doing to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles around the world. We’ll have those reports up throughout the rest of the week, but we wanted to start by understanding why a tire company would go through all the trouble of organizing this many people and cars so many times in so many places. The short answer is that Michelin is able to learn a lot from these events, and that helps the company make the tires that car companies might not know they want yet.

For example, Didier Miraton, one of Michelin’s three managing partners (the company doesn’t have a CEO) said:

Working through the Challenge Bibendum and with all of the players in the electrical mobility industry, we came to realize that autonomy [i.e., range] on an electrical urban vehicle was 30 to 40 percent linked to the fuel efficiency of the tire, therefore, it gave us the thrust to go into the direction of the low-emission tire, the urban electrical vehicle tire, that would provide very fuel low efficiency not just to reduce CO2 impact but actually to allow this kind of vehicle to run because it would bring autonomy that would make them viable…

Terry Gettys, director of the research and development process of the Michelin Group, added:

Fundamentally, designing tires for electric vehicles is not different than for engined vehicles. We are working with car manufacturers to see what specific tuning they require. Many of them, for example, are targeting urban applications, city environments, so they are looking more at lower speed, very low noise tuning. As a result, the tires may be tuned that way, but the fundamental performances are not changed. You still need the impact for handling and comfort, you still need to try and optimize the rolling resistance. The tires that we are demonstrating optimized for electric vehicles go in two design directions. One of them is a very small tire with a very small rim, a 10-inch rim. It’s pretty much a standard rim, but sized small. The vehicle manufacturer has downsized the brake system as well, inspired by some racing systems. … The other concept is a 21-inch tire … a tall and narrow tire. That’s optimizing packaging in the vehicle in a different manner, optimizing the vehicle width space of the vehicle as well as [aerodynamics].

Been following the track via this link – and interesting stuff added every day.

Welcome back Mr Bin Laden!

British Airways is embroiled in fresh controversy after an in-house magazine promoted an iPhone boarding pass service showing a ticket belonging to Osama Bin Laden.

The sample ticket included Bin Laden’s frequent flyer number, suggesting he is a regular passenger with the airline.

LHR News – a staff magazine covering Heathrow Airport – carried the image on its front page…

Worse still, Bin Laden’s seat number – 7C – suggests he is in for a comfortable ride in a first class seat…

Sure, we all know how this probably happened. Someone filled in the blanks and forgot to change it before they got to publication.

You’d be surprised to learn how many bank accounts are opened for John Q. Public.

North American red squirrels sometimes adopt orphans

The study by [University of] Guelph Prof. Andrew McAdam, along with researchers from the University of Alberta and McGill University, revealed that red squirrels will adopt pups that have lost their mother.

It’s a significant finding because while such adoptions are typical among species that live in extended family groups, it’s much less common among asocial animals, such as squirrels…

In all five adoption scenarios, the pups were nieces, nephews, siblings or grandchildren to the adoptive mother.

“From an evolutionary perspective, the phenomenon of adoption raises the question of why an animal would adopt in the first place given that it jeopardizes the survival of their own offspring,” said McAdam. “Under the right conditions, an animal can propagate more copies of its genes by helping relatives to raise their offspring than by producing offspring of their own. So in some cases it might be a good bet to adopt and accept these costs.”…

The study was part of a long-term field experiment in Yukon aimed at investigating the importance of food abundance to the ecology and evolution of red squirrels. Under the Kluane Red Squirrel Project ( begun in 1987, scientists have monitored behaviour and reproduction of about 7,000 squirrels.

One nugget from the study: “When J.B.S. Haldane was asked whether he would lay down his life to save his brother, he famously replied ‘No, but I would to save two brothers or eight cousins’.” See the study for the context.

Related Link:
The full study is here: Red squirrels adopt kin

Baghdad embassy loses track of million$ in supplies

World’s leading example of bunker architecture

The largest U.S. embassy in the world has very large problems keeping track of vehicles and millions of dollars of other equipment, from cell phones to medical supplies, according to a new State Department Inspector General’s report…

One glaring problem is tracking down vehicles or even knowing how many the embassy needs, according to the report. There are 1,168 standard and armored vehicles assigned to the embassy but 159 are unaccounted for and an additional 282 don’t show up on the official database.

“Motor pool personnel have struggled to ascertain the owners and users of these vehicles to properly inventory them,” the report says. “Denying fuel and maintenance to vehicles until they are accounted for may solve this issue.”

The inspector general warns too little oversight of medical supplies, especially of controlled substances, such as morphine and oxycodone, risks “a significant vulnerability for misuse and fraud.”

Millions of dollars of communications gear are improperly tracked, according to the audit. Cell phones that are unassigned still rack up monthly charges, wasting an estimated $286,000 dollars a year.

“Some assigned phones are underused or unused, and extensive charges for overseas calls have been associated with both assigned and unassigned phones,” the report says. The investigators calculated “the embassy could save more than $740,000 by disconnecting unassigned and underused phone lines and curtailing international calls…”

In other words, Embassy Baghdad is still being run like Congress. We get to pay for both.

Iridium expansion largest commercial space project in the world

The mobile satellite services provider Iridium has ordered 81 spacecraft to upgrade its global network.

Thales Alenia Space of France will build the satellites – 66 to form the operational constellation, the remainder to act as spares.

The order makes the Iridium Next venture the biggest commercial space project in the world today.

The $2.1bn deal has largely been underwritten by the French export credit guarantee organisation, Coface. The overall cost of the Iridium Next project is likely to be about $2.9bn, much of which the company expects to finance out of its own cash flow…

Iridium, which allows subscribers to make a phone call and data connection anywhere in the world, began operating in 1998 but soon ran into financial difficulties.

It was purchased out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2000 by investors who paid a fraction of the cost of setting up the first constellation.

Today, the company, which is based in McLean, Virginia, has about 360,000 subscribers worldwide, earning revenues amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. Just under a quarter of those revenues come from US government and Department of Defense contracts.

Rock on, Iridium. Most geeks only remember the failure of the original company and haven’t a clue about the current successes.

Yet, part of properly equipping a whole range of folks from global commercial travelers to journalists to spooks – is a satellite phone.