US military unveils XM25 “smart gun”

This is a preview of the XM25 recorded a year ago

A new gun the US military hopes will help take on the Taliban has been unveiled. Called the XM25 it has been described by the US Army as a ‘game changer’.

It uses a laser guidance system and specially developed 25mm high explosive rounds which can be programmed to detonate over a target.

Richard Audette helped develop it for the US Army and says it’s a big leap forward because it’s the first small arms weapon to use smart technology. “The way a soldier operates this is basically find your target, then laze (laser) to it, which gives the range, then you get an adjusted aim point, adjust the fire and pull the trigger.

“Say you’ve lazed out to 543 metres… When you pull the trigger it arms the round and fires it 543 metres plus or minus one, two or three metres.”

It means the weapon can be used to target insurgents hiding behind walls or in ditches without the need to call in air strikes.

Haven’t yet read comments on effectiveness – though it surely sounds like solid technology. The prime consideration, as always, is how well does it hold up under combat conditions

New Yorker jumps to save subway rider – and get to work on time

A New York grocery clerk, fearing he might be late for work, jumped onto city subway tracks to haul an injured passenger to safety after he fainted, authorities said.

The victim was taken to a local hospital after his rescue on Sunday by Carlos Flores, who said he leaped to save the man so he would not be late for work.

I was thinking, if he gets hit I can’t go to work. It’s Sunday. I can’t miss out. It’s a time-and-a-half day,” Flores was quoted as saying in the New York Daily News.

A Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman said the incident, while heroic, was dangerous.

“We do not recommend that people jump down to the roadbed,” spokeswoman Deirdre Parker said on Monday.

This dude is entirely too honest.

U.S. high school dropout rate improves – and still sucks!

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

With one in four U.S. public school students dropping out of high school before graduation, America continues to face a dropout epidemic. Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic…shows that we can end the dropout epidemic, even in schools from lower-income, urban and rural districts that many previously thought were hopeless…

The U.S. graduation rate increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008. The report reveals that the number of “dropout factory” high schools fell by 13 percent – from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,746 in 2008. While these schools represent a small fraction of all public high schools in America, they account for about half of all high school dropouts each year. Experts say targeting these high schools for improvement is a critical part of turning around the nation’s dropout rate.

More than half of all states – 29 in total – increased their statewide graduation rate from 2002 to 2008.

The state of Tennessee and New York City led the nation by boosting graduation rates 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Most of the decline in dropout factories – 216 of the 261 – occurred in the South.

Just as Secretary of State George C. Marshall launched a plan to rebuild Europe after World War II, we must rebuild our broken school system. We are launching a “Civic Marshall Plan,” comprising policymakers, educators, business leaders, community allies, parents and students to address the dropout epidemic by focusing on the dropout factory high schools and their feeder elementary and middle schools. In tune with the call from President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan earlier this year to increase the U.S. graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020, we are working to mobilize Americans to quicken the pace. To reach these national goals, the graduation rate must rise by an average of 1.5 percentage points per year over the next decade. The Civic Marshall Plan outlines the benchmarks to ensure the attainment of those goals, and focuses on the strategic deployment of human resources to help school districts and states accelerate improvement.

Please, please read the report [.pdf]. There is little hope for improvement in any and all aspects of life in this land without leadership from an educated citizenry.

The creeps marching at the front of rightwing mobs will badmouth General Powell, whine about the cost of decent schooling – but, then, they would do so, regardless of the conclusions and methods endorsed by this work.

For a nation that once was at the forefront of freedom to learn we have come long way down towards incompetence. It’s been 45 years or more since first I bumped into the decline and included the struggle for better education into the panoply of civil rights and needs worth fighting for. Little enough has been accomplished.

Time to get off your rusty dusties, folks.

US military backs repeal of gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

The campaign to allow gays to serve openly in the US military will gain momentum today when the Pentagon releases a report on the impact a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would have on morale. It will be sent today by the defence secretary, Robert Gates, to President Barack Obama and to Congress.

Officials told the Washington Post last month that the report, a survey of opinion among soldiers, other military personnel and their spouses, found an overwhelming majority either supporting or, at least, not opposing the reform. A majority said it would have no impact on morale…

Gates and Mullen back the change, as does Obama, but repeal of the existing policy, in which gays can serve but not openly, needs to be done by Congress. The House has voted in favour of repeal of the existing law but the Senate is stalling.

The Senate is to hold hearings on Thursday and Friday and its Democratic leader, Harry Reid, has promised a vote before Christmas. However, senators such as the Republican John McCain are holding out, saying there has not been sufficient scrutiny…

Supporters of reform fear that if the vote, which would be part of a defence spending bill, is delayed until next year, the new Congress will have even more Republicans, possibly making reform tougher. Several Republican and Democratic senators have said they would not make up their mind until they had read the Pentagon report…

The survey is based on responses by some 115,000 troops and 44,200 military spouses to more than a half million questionnaires.

Everyone knew the report was coming – with a positive response. Hypocrites like John McCain have already been working out revisionist recasting of their original objections – which were based on waiting for the report.

No doubt he will find a sentence here, a sentiment there, which support his cowardice and bigotry. For a politicians who makes a big deal of his dedication to military preparedness, more than anyone else in Congress, John McCain is the best single example of relying on lies and deceit to advance his political career.

Principles – and civil rights – be damned.

Oppose net neutrality? Here comes the Comcast toll booth!

Comcast has begun imposing a fee on Internet middleman Level 3 Communications, one of the companies that Netflix has hired to deliver movies and TV shows to Web customers.

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable TV company, has set up an Internet “toll booth,” charging Level 3 whenever customers request content, the Broomfield, Colorado-based company said in a statement yesterday.

Level 3 plans to complain to U.S. regulators who may enact so-called net-neutrality rules next month. The Federal Communications Commission is seeking to bar phone and cable providers from interfering with legal traffic on their networks. The rules are backed by President Barack Obama and companies led by Google, EBay and IAC/InterActiveCorp. Phone and cable companies say rules aren’t needed and may hurt investment.

“This action by Comcast threatens the open Internet and is a clear abuse of the dominant control that Comcast exerts in broadband access,” Thomas Stortz, Level 3’s chief legal officer, said in the statement. “With this action, Comcast is preventing competing content from ever being delivered to Comcast’s subscribers at all, unless Comcast’s unilaterally determined toll is paid.”

Comcast, which is seeking regulatory approval to acquire majority ownership of NBC Universal, defended the fee in a statement, saying it is based on “long established and mutually acceptable commercial arrangements” with Level 3’s peers…

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in proposing net neutrality rules last year, called for a principle of non- discrimination by Internet-service providers. The FCC will meet on Dec. 21.

This means they cannot block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks,” Genachowski said.

And, btw, putting a surcharge, a toll on your traffic is the same as blocking traffic. If you don’t pay the toll, your traffic doesn’t go through – or Comcast will slow it down enough to make it unwatchable.

Throughout most of the United States, Comcast has been working their semi-competent buns off installing throttling mechanisms. They told everyone – including the Feds – this was to protect consumers from the exorbitant demands of nerds and illegal downloads. Shock and amazement! It’s just of an accident of nature that it can be used as a weapon to extract tolls from companies using the Web for business purposes.

Steven Chu warns of “Sputnik moment” in technology race

Steven Chu’s favorite Energy Cupcakes
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

The United States faces a “Sputnik moment” in the global clean energy race and risks falling far behind advances by China and other countries, the US energy secretary, Steven Chu, warned today.

Hours before the opening of the United Nations climate summit in Cancún, Chu said that the US urgently needed to invest in research and innovation – much as it responded to the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first space satellite in 1957 – if it wanted to remain a leader of innovation.

“We face a choice today. Are we going to continue America’s innovation leadership or are we going to fall behind?” Chu said in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington.

Chu, a Nobel prize winner in physics, said his own career had been shaped by the orbit of that first space satellite. But, he said, over the last 15 years the US had steadily been losing ground to China and India in research and hi-tech manufacturing.

For the first time last year, the majority of US patents were awarded to inventors based outside America.

Meanwhile, China had emerged as the world’s largest producer of wind and solar power, and was breaking ground on 30 new nuclear reactors. It now has the fastest high-speed trains in operation, with running speeds of 220mph.

Gao Guangsheng, a senior Chinese official for climate change policy, told a conference in California this month that China was gearing up for even bigger investment in clean energy technology in its next five-year plan.

Gao went on to tell the conference, which was hosted by California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, that China had reached its goal for wind power 10 years ahead of schedule.

The only goals our Congress is good at establishing are those for fund-raising for political campaigns.

In 1957 we had a Republican president who recognized the military-industrial complex as a danger to American culture and commerce. Republicans and Democrats still occasionally worked in bi-partisan fashion to accomplish tasks which benefitted ordinary citizens to some extent.

Eisenhower accepted a significant challenge in rolling back the fascist-minded thugs clustered around Senator Joe McCarthy – much like today’s crusading, populist, teabaggers.

Steven Chu – thinks that version of America still exists.

Mercedes-Benz BIOME Concept

Get ready to have your concept of how a car is manufactured flipped upside-down and turned inside-out. Picture a production process that has plenty in common with agar jelly (used to culture organic materials in laboratories) and little in common with what we would normally think of as production-line automotive manufacturing. You are starting to get close to what the people at Mercedes-Benz have spawned with the BIOME – one of the most outlandish and ambitious concepts in this year’s Los Angeles Design Challenge…

This vision includes growing a material called BioFibre which would be lighter than metal or plastic, yet stronger than steel. The resulting car would weighs in at 875.5 lbs (around 394 kg). The entire vehicle would also be completely biodegradable.

“The interior of the BIOME grows from the DNA in the Mercedes star on the front of the vehicle, while the exterior grows from the star on the rear. To accommodate specific customer requirements, the Mercedes star is genetically engineered in each case, and the vehicle grows when the genetic code is combined with the seed capsule. The wheels are grown from four separate seeds,” Mercedes-Benz explained.

Once on the road the vehicle would run on “BioNectar4534” stored in the car’s BioFibre, of which the only by-product is oxygen.

Wildly ambitious? Yes. Completely implausible? Maybe. Bound to piss off Luddites as much as Rednecks.