Happy Holidaze from Santa and his machine guns

It has all the hallmarks of a traditional Christmas: an ornate tree piles of presents and a pair of lovingly clasped machine guns.

A gun club in Arizona is cashing in on its members fondness for their weaponry by offering them the chance to be photographed holding their armaments and their loved ones.

Visitors to the Scottsdale Gun Club can pay $5 – $10 for non-members – to be pictured with a pair of heavy weapons and a slightly nervous looking Santa Claus.

In the backdrop of the photos is a Garwood Minigun, which can fire up to 6,000 rounds per minute…

The club’s website exhorts readers to “Get your holiday picture with Santa & his machine guns!

Several of the example pictures include young children either holding guns or sitting in Santa’s lap as their parents pack heat.

This is not a joke, folks. I know that our readers around the world – especially those who have suffered the pain of war, the invasion of their homeland by political criminals like Hitler, will wonder if all the citizens of the United States are as irresponsible, demented and foolish as this lot?

The answer is – enough of them to be dangerous.

Sadly, they have the political support of the Republican Party – and the cowards in the Democratic Party are such opportunist wimps they haven’t the courage to stand up in opposition.

I’ve been a gun owner most of my life. There have been periods when I truly enjoyed handgun hunting – though I don’t hunt anymore. I have always supported registration, licensing and legitimate questions associated with gun purchases. The kind of thing these nutballs never approve of.

Octopus-like flexible robot crawls through tight spaces

Harvard scientists have built a new type of flexible robot that is limber enough to wiggle and worm through tight spaces.

It’s the latest prototype in the growing field of soft-bodied robots. Researchers are increasingly drawing inspiration from nature to create machines that are more bendable and versatile than those made of metal.

The Harvard team, led by chemist George M. Whitesides, borrowed from squids, starfish and other animals without hard skeletons to fashion a small, four-legged rubber robot that calls to mind the clay animation character Gumby…

The Harvard project, funded by the Pentagon’s research arm…took two months to construct, is 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) long. Its four legs can be separately controlled by pumping air into the limbs, either manually or via computer. This gives the robot a range of motions including crawling and slithering.

The researchers tested the robot’s flexibility by having it squirm underneath a pane of glass just three-quarters of an inch from the surface.

Scientists maneuvered the robot through the tiny gap 15 times using a combination of movements. In most cases, it took less than a minute to get from side to side.

Researchers eventually want to improve the robot’s speed, but were pleased that it did not break from constant inflation and deflation.

It was tough enough to survive,” said Harvard postdoctoral fellow Robert Shepherd, adding that the robot can traverse on a variety of surfaces including felt cloth, gravel, mud and even Jell-O.

There were drawbacks. The robot is tethered to an external power source and scientists need to find a way to integrate the source before it can be deployed in the real world…

I love this stuff. Of course, I can see the first battlefield simulation being defeated by a Jack Russell terrier.

Or the first real-life use searching for earthquake survivors in a collapsed building? I can hear some poor bugger trapped in the rubble screaming in panic when he sees a version of this wriggling towards him in the dust and darkness.

End of cash predicted for years – will the wake be held in Turkey?

Consumers will not need any form of wallet to go shopping by 2016, the online payment firm Paypal says. But it is not the UK or the US that is leading the march to empty their pockets, it is Turkey, not known for its early adoption of new technology.

The death of cash has been talked about for a while. Claims were made by Visa a few years ago that the date would be 2012, which now seems unlikely. Now analyst firm Forrester, in a report paid for by Paypal, is the one wading in on the debate saying the tipping point is just five years away.

Near-field communication (NFC) on both mobile phones and in cards allows quick payments for smaller purchases by using a radio signal that activates when the chip is placed near a reader.

Market research company Allied Business Intelligence thinks that the watershed – or wallet-shed – moment will be even earlier, in 2014…

The countries which most prominently use credit cards – the US, the UK and Canada – have been relatively slow to change their ways. But one surprising country is amongst the leader in trialling the way forward for mobile payments – Turkey…

There are not that many branches of banks outside Istanbul so, until very recently it has been a cash-based society. ATMs are a fairly new concept. Not all cards work in all machines and the banking industry has been very fragmented.

In a country which is still classed as a “developing nation”, no one system of electronic transfer has yet become established so new ideas have less of a problem getting accepted. Another advantage it has is that the country has a relatively young population, willing to try new things who have not developed long-term habits which are notoriously difficult to change.

Mobile phone operator Turkcell is responsible for one of the success stories. Within four months of launching, 100,000 pre-paid cards registered on mobile phones were sold. They are used to buy goods from shops or for sending money and can be used without a bank account. Money can even be taken from ATMs.

Ironically, there is no money to made from cash transactions so making it as easy as possible to spend digital money is in a company’s interest, taking small percentages of the cost of payment as a transaction fee and lowering the cost of processing physical money.

It is those smaller transactions, still predominantly in cash, that could be the biggest change…

It’s all OK with me. As long as I am assured by my bank these transactions are secure – and insured by the bank – I only foresee one problem. As much of a geek as I am, since I’ve retired I have no need for a smartphone. So, my cell phone is capable of nothing more than voice calls. 🙂

Godless in America

Listening to the national discourse, one could be forgiven for imagining that America is becoming an ever more religious place. The amount of God talk in the public square has dramatically increased in a generation…Republicans, especially, claw over each other to demonstrate fealty to a very narrow, fundamentalist view of Christianity that forbids gay rights, reproductive rights, and requires you to believe that evolution never happened….Americans seem not just more religious, but more drawn to reactionary religion than ever before.

That is, until you start to dig into the actual facts. If you poll actual Americans, you’ll find that the trend is not towards more religiosity, but towards less. Much less, in fact. Recent research from the Pew Research Center on politics and generational differences shows that interest in religion is actually declining from one generation to the next, and not only that, but interest in mixing religion and politics is on the decline…

So how to square away declining rates of belief with the perception that America is a land where the Bible is thumped regularly in the public square? What we’re seeing with the heightened emphasis on religion in politics is the death throes of the old order. After all, in the past, where it was assumed that a vast majority of Americans were not only religious, but Christian, those who wanted Christianity to dominate didn’t feel they had anything to prove. It’s only when they started to feel their power threatened did they become defensive, and in doing so, became much louder.

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Mexico City claims world record zombie walk – WTF?

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Nearly 10,000 people have paraded in Mexico City dressed as zombies in what organisers claim is the biggest “zombie walk” ever held. Wearing ghoulish make-up and rags splattered with fake blood, the “undead” shambled and groaned through the heart of the capital.

The current Guinness world record is held by Asbury Park in the US, where 4,093 zombies marched in 2010…

The craze for dressing up as the “living dead” has been fuelled by movies, television, video games and literature…

Cultural critics have variously suggested the phenomenon may be linked to economic austerity or a critique of consumerism. They are idiots.

Participants usually say they are doing it for fun.

Correspondents say the craze has particular resonance in Mexico, where the “Day of the Dead” is a national celebration and where brutal killings by drugs gangs dominate the news.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Lima in Peru, Santiago in Chile and Sao Paulo in Brazil have all staged zombie walks this year.

Probably healthier than swallowing live goldfish or trying to see how many people can be crammed into a Fiat 500.