Mobile payment plans alternative to Visa, MasterCard

Three of the top four U.S. mobile service providers — Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile USA — are working together to build a network that would let consumers pay for goods with their phones.

Their Isis joint venture, which was formally announced on Tuesday, plans to take market share from dominant payment networks Visa and MasterCard, which currently process most U.S. credit and debit card payments. Sources told Reuters on Monday that an announcement was imminent.

Isis said the network would use Discover Financial Services’ national payment network at its roughly 7 million U.S. merchant partners and that Barclaycard U.S., a unit of Barclays Plc is expected to be the first lender on the network to offer mobile payment products.

We’re a competitive alternative” to Visa and MasterCard, Isis CEO Michael Abbott told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday. Abbott, a former GE Capital credit cards executive, was named chief executive of the venture…

The idea behind mobile payments is for consumers to be able to wave their phone at a machine to pay for items such as train tickets, potentially eliminating the need to carry a wallet…

The venture is a coup for Discover, the fourth-place U.S. processing network, which is trying to take market share after long lagging Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

This already rocks in Japan. We all know the single most effective way for this to catch on in the United States. It’s ging to have to save someone some money.

Don’t expect to see this in anything smaller than a big box store for a number of months.

Oshkosh diesel-electric hybrid entered in Baja 1000

It has been an exciting year for hybrid power train development in major racing series, with the teams deciding that KERS will return to Formula One in 2011, the growing success of the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup and now the news that Oshkosh Corporation will be fielding a 400 bhp hybrid diesel-electric Light Concept Vehicle in the Baja 1000 desert race which begins later this week in Mexico. Perhaps even more interesting than the hybrid powertrain is its TAK-4 suspension which offers 20 inches of independent wheel travel…

Just what to expect of the Oshkosh LCV is difficult to predict. It’s Oshkosh ProPulse® diesel-electric powertrain design will obviously deliver excellent fuel economy, but it’s not really been designed for desert racing. The U.S. military uses two sources of power on the battlefield – everything with an internal combustion engine runs on diesel and everything else runs on electricity. This latter category accounts for an increasing percentage of the military’s in-theatre energy requirements, and one of the many advantages of the ProPulse® drivetrain is that it is capable of exporting “significant levels of electrical power”. One day soon, the LCV might well be used as an in-theater, high-speed, autonomous electrical power station.

That’s only part of its unique and ingenious design. The ProPulse system also simplifies the transmission of power to the wheels. The diesel engine powers an electric generator, which provides direct power to the wheels, eliminating the torque converter, automatic transmission, transfer case and drive shafts. The system has no batteries, using ultracapacitors for energy storage. A regenerative system uses the traction motors as generators for vehicle braking, storing the energy and then uses it during the next acceleration event, thus reducing wear and tear on the brake system…

In honesty though, the race participation is all about testing new technologies, and the truly fascinating aspect of the LCV for me is the next-generation TAK-4® independent suspension system. I have been riding off-road racing bikes since a few inches of suspension travel was state-of-the-art, and hence the Oshkosh patented TAK-4® suspension system, which is designed to use up to 20 inches of travel on each wheel, is … astonishing. That’s a lot of suspension travel at race speeds and controlling that much wheel travel at high speeds with obstacles arriving at 90 mph is highly problematic. The press release claim that its speeds may be up to 40% faster than the competition will make it well worth watching.

The extreme wheel travel is clearly being developed so that it can transport goods (and humans), very quickly, over very rough terrain, without damaging its cargo. Military R&D has been delivering breakthrough technology to peacetime society for thousands of years, and it’ll be interesting to see how the TAK-4 suspension copes at racing speeds, given it’s raison d’etre is unquestionably to increase off-road mobility, improve vehicle maneuverability and provide a smoother ride for military purposes. Could the next quantum leap in desert racing be provided by the military?

Worth checking in on the race, this weekend. No matter which way things end up, this is an exciting vehicle and development program. Oshkosh has already kicked the snot out of traditional suppliers to the Pentagon with some of their earlier iron.

An animal lover who hunts and kills her holiday turkey

My Christmas dinner was up in one of those trees. It was snowing lightly on a minus-two-degree dawn, and I was lying on my belly bundled in white camo, pointing the muzzle of a Benelli 12-gauge through a cluster of fireweed.

The cold hurt my hands in a way I wondered if I should worry about. In front of me, a snow-coated field stretched for 500 yards to a line of bare trees silhouetted against a blush of sunrise. The trees’ branches were dotted with roosting turkeys, and their occasional gobbles carried back across the field to where I waited, breathing into my face mask.

Next to me, rising on his knees to better see the birds, was Brent Lawrence, a friend who worked for the National Wild Turkey Federation, a nonprofit conservation group. We were hunting together outside the town of Kearney, Nebraska, for three days in December — one of which had already passed.

Now he tapped my shoulder and pointed: The dots had started flapping to the ground, and single-file lines of birds were bobbing into the field, their chatter echoing in the cold air. I took a deep breath and adjusted my grip on the gun.

I’d started hunting a few years before, shocking everyone who knew me…My reformative logic went like this: For every turkey wrap or club sandwich I’d ever eaten, something had been killed for my benefit — I’d just never done the killing myself. The deer hunt invitation seemed an opportunity, a challenge even, to reclaim my place in the food chain by assuming responsibility for the meat on my plate…

Gradually the turkeys spread out, and one wandered a little closer to us. It pecked at the ground, then raised its head and stood perfectly still for one moment. I squeezed the trigger.

The blast of the gun is always a bit of a surprise — more like something that happens to me than something I initiate. All at once, my ears were ringing, the turkey was thrashing in the snow, and Brent and I were racing down the hill toward it.

“Don’t worry; it’s dead,” he shouted. Though its wings were flapping, its head was limp on the ground. I wanted to look away but didn’t — this was part of my responsibility.

RTFA. Read the whole article.

I think anyone who’s hunted has wandered through the same maze of ethic and emotion. This is a serious piece of existential reflection whether you hunt or not, eat like a typical omnivore or restrictive vegan.

Enjoyable writing and reading from someone worth reading.

Cutting deficit is no easy task – but, the Canadians did it

When Paul Martin became finance minister of Canada in 1993, the government was spending itself into a deep hole. Its spiraling debt was prompting observers to compare it to a Third World country. Martin unveiled budgets that steeply cut the $42 billion deficit and eliminated it in four years without long-term damage to the economy.

The example of Canada has been cited and debated as governments in developed countries around the world are looking for ways to cut spending and reduce the size of their debts. Britain has embarked on sweeping spending cuts with an eye toward Canada as a model. In the United States, the midterm elections focused attention on the size of the budget deficit.

Martin, a Liberal Party member who later became prime minister, says lessons can be learned from his nation’s experience, though he says many differences exist between Canada’s situation in the 1990s and the U.S. economy today. For one thing, the U.S. is now recovering from the most serious recession in decades. He accepts the view of many economists that the U.S. economy is too fragile for deep spending cuts now, but believes there should be progress on a medium-term plan to cut the deficit.

RTFA. Martin spoke to CNN earlier this month; here is an edited transcript.

There is another significant difference. Canada has never tried to takeover the imperialist crown from the Brits as has the United States. Uncle Sugar looked around after WW2 and noted the old imperial powers from Europe were in retreat. Their citizens demanded attention at home. Colonial peoples were throwing off the yoke of subjugation.

We waltzed in and tried to be the Emperors of Earth. We pick up the tab for American troops stationed in 170 military bases and more – around the world. About as counterproductive as it gets.

A “Roman army knife” from 2,000 years ago

A 2000-year-old tool that has gone on display in a Cambridge museum has been taken as proof that the Romans invented the Swiss army knife.

The Roman version of the famous multi-purpose tool includes a spoon, knife, three pronged fork, spike and even what looks like a toothpick.

At only 15cm long it would have fitted easily into the pocket of a discerning diner and is easy to clean and sharpen thanks to the silver and iron used to make it.

The Roman eating implement has been estimated to date from between 201 to 300 AD and originates from the Mediterranean region of Europe.

The tool is currently on display for the first time at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Lucy Theobald, a spokesperson for the museum, said: “It’s believed to be an example of a Roman ‘Swiss army knife’ – a silver implement with a knife, spoon, fork, a spike for extracting meat from snails, and a spatula, which is believed to have been used for poking sauce out of narrow-necked bottles.”

No plastic, either. Every bit is repairable or easily replaceable. If you don’t remember when repairing things used to be part of design.

California court rules illegal immigrants get reduced tuition

In a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that illegal immigrants can be eligible for the same reduced tuition at public colleges and universities as legal residents of the state.

The ruling is the latest in a series of high-profile battles about state immigration policies. In addition to Arizona’s strict new immigration law, which the United States Department of Justice has challenged in court, nine other states have laws similar to California’s, with lawsuits pending in Nebraska and Texas.

Currently, students who attend at least three years of high school in California and graduate are eligible for in-state tuition at public schools, which can save them as much as $12,000 a year compared with students who come from other states.

Illegal immigrants remain ineligible for state or federal financial aid.

The California court ruled that the 2001 state law does not conflict with a federal prohibition on education benefits for illegal immigrants based on residency, in part because United States citizens from other states who attend high school in California may also benefit…

“This law makes higher education affordable for so many students who have the added difficulty of not being eligible for federal financial aid,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “If they are both ineligible for aid and then face higher tuition rates, it becomes virtually impossible for students to go on to higher education.”

In hard times – which is where we are at – I find it hard to reconcile decisions like this with budget-cutting for schools and education programs.

If we’re taking out the results of free market philandering on our children, cutting educational opportunities for those who first of all are legally qualified – how do we justify dedicating a portion of those diminished funds to educate those who are here illegally?

Liberal largesse is great in an economy of abundance. That has nothing to do with this chunk of economy after 8 years of Bush/Cheney corruption and theft.

3-year-old says, “there’s something in my shoe…”

After a 3-year-old Boston girl complained that her foot hurt, her preschool teacher took off her sneaker and made a startling find: 17 small plastic bags containing crack cocaine.

Police say teachers at the Walnut Grove preschool were adjusting the girl’s sneaker Monday when they found the individually wrapped bags of crack inside a larger plastic bag.

The teachers told police the girl said her mother had put “candy” inside her sneaker. “Where’s my shoe? Mommy’s going to be mad at me,” the girl allegedly told an assistant teacher, according to police.

But the girl’s mother told police she knew nothing about the drugs.

Demare Gary, 19, of Boston, the mother’s boyfriend, was arrested after he allegedly told police the crack was his. Officer Eddy Chrispin said Gary told police he put the crack inside the girl’s sneaker the night before and forgot about it.

The mother was not arrested, but police said the investigation is continuing.

Ain’t nothing like a caring family. At least, not this one.

I hope the wee ‘un survives her childhood.