RoboJelly powered by the ocean – could run forever

Researchers have created a silicone submarinal robot that gets about by mimicking the motion of a jellyfish. The robot is powered by heat-producing reactions catalyzed by its surface, and using hydrogen and oxygen present in the water as fuel. It’s claimed that that the Robojelly, so named by its Virginia Tech creators, could run indefinitely, effectively drawing energy from the water in which it swims..

The actuators themselves are made of a nickel-titanium shape memory alloy wrapped with multi-wall carbon nanotube sheets which are themselves coated with a catalytic platinum powder. The reactions, which use hydrgoen and oxygen as fuel, generate heat which in turn “activates” the shape memory alloy actuators. The byproduct of the reaction is vaporized water, which the researchers claim has no adverse environmental effect…

It is hoped that the robot, funded by the Office of Naval Research and in development since 2009, will pave the way for an unmanned surveillance submarine. Should such a robot ever reach the rolling seas, the nations of the world will presumably draw comfort from the fact that their robot jellyfish watchers have an extremely green source of power.

The next phase of the research seeks to energize the robot’s various segments individually, allowing directional control…

Pretty thoughtful project – the idea of constructing a robot fueled by components of the medium it functions within.

Now, how do we do this with air?

ACLU pressure gets pink-haired student “invited” back to school

A school that barred a sixth grader after she dyed her hair pink with her parents’ blessing to celebrate her good grades lifted its ban on Tuesday following an outcry from civil rights advocates.

After missing three days of classes, pink-haired Brianna Moore headed back to Shue-Medill Middle School in Newark, Delaware, on Tuesday after administrators reversed their decision after a call from the Delaware branch of the American Civil Liberties Union…

At his daughter’s request last week, he helped dye her hair a shade called crimson storm, which has a pink hue, as a reward for improving her grades. But when she showed up for school the next day, she was sent home and told not to return until her hair met school policy mandating a “natural color, brown, blond, black, natural red/auburn.”

The ACLU soon got in touch with attorneys for the school district and asked, “Don’t you think this is unconstitutional?” said Kathleen MacRae, ACLU executive director in Delaware.

Moore was invited back to school with assurances she would not be punished, said Wendy Lapham, school district spokeswoman.


Though I have never been a fan of pink hair, I must admit she makes it look good.

Separate studies link daily aspirin use to a reduced risk of cancer

Taking aspirin every day may significantly reduce the risk of many cancers and prevent tumors from spreading, according to two new studies…

The findings add to a body of evidence suggesting that cheap and widely available aspirin may be a powerful if overlooked weapon in the battle against cancer. But the research also poses difficult questions for doctors and public health officials, as regular doses of aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and other side effects. Past studies have suggested that the drawbacks of daily use may outweigh the benefits, particularly in healthy patients.

One of the new studies examined patient data from dozens of large, long-term randomized controlled trials involving tens of thousands of men and women. Researchers at the University of Oxford found that after three years of daily aspirin use, the risk of developing cancer was reduced by almost 25 percent when compared with a control group not taking aspirin. After five years, the risk of dying of cancer was reduced by 37 percent among those taking aspirin.

A second paper that analyzed five large randomized controlled studies in Britain found that over six and a half years on average, daily aspirin use reduced the risk of metastatic cancer by 36 percent and the risk of adenocarcinomas — common solid cancers including colon, lung and prostate cancer — by 46 percent.

Daily aspirin use also reduced the risk of progressing to metastatic disease, particularly in patients with colorectal cancer, the studies reported…

But while some experts called the new findings “provocative” and “encouraging,” mounting evidence about the preventive promise of aspirin puts health providers in a quandary. Aspirin increases the risk of not just of gastrointestinal bleeding, but of hemorrhagic strokes.

The new studies, however, also found that the risk of bleeding in aspirin users diminished over time, and that the risk of death from brain bleeds was actually lower in the aspirin users than in the comparison group…

The randomized clinical trials the Oxford investigators examined were not focused on cancer prevention; they were originally intended to study the effects of aspirin on preventing heart disease…

Though many Americans use baby aspirin daily to reduce their risk of heart disease, patients are generally advised to do so only when their cardiac risk is presumed to outweigh the risks of taking aspirin. Physicians remain extremely reluctant to recommend long-term use of aspirin in a healthy population.

I’m already in that last-named group. Being a cranky geek of the “cranky old geek” variety, my doctors recommended the baby aspirin regimen to me a gazillion years ago. Sorry for the technical term.

One of the critical conclusions of the study is the fact that a large, long-term study to confirm or contradict these studies will probably never be done because it would be very expensive and “aspirin is a cheap generic drug”. Profit supersedes people once again.

Bungee plunge in wheelchair – Woo Hoo!

“I’m used to sitting upright all the time so the first two seconds sideways really made my stomach turn,” said the woman, Christine Rougoor. “It was amazing!”

The 25-year-old from Niagra Falls, Ontario made the amazing plunge last Thursday after winning a charity contest sponsored by an adventure company specializing in helping people with disabilities achieve their extreme sport dreams.

The group 9Lives Adventures was founded by Karim Ladki, who was paralyzed after breaking his neck in an accident but was determined to continue stoking his love for adventure.

The group held a video contest for people with physical disabilities, encouraging them to share their stories. The top three won an all-expenses-paid trip to Whistler to go back-country snowmobiling and bungee jumping…

Rougoor won the trip by submitting a video of her shooting guns, riding high-tech bikes for paraplegics, and playing tennis in her wheelchair.

The education student has been in a wheelchair since she broke her spine in a motocross accident while vacationing in Florida in 2008…

She returned to college and earned a high school teaching license in art and French, but also has been working hard as a fundraiser for people with mobility issues…

So would she encourage other people with disabilities to take the leap?

“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” she said. “The minute I got back, I begged them to push me back over!”


Catholic Church castrated boys to “rid them of homosexuality”

Henk Heithuis – 2nd from left

At least 10 teenage boys or young men under the age of 21 were surgically castrated “to get rid of homosexuality” while in the care of the Dutch Roman Catholic Church in the 1950s.

Evidence of the castrations has emerged amid controversy that it was not included in the findings of an official investigation into sexual abuse within the church last year. The NRC Handelsblad newspaper identified Henk Heithuis who was castrated in 1956, while a minor, after reporting priests to the police for abusing him in a Catholic boarding home.

Joep Dohmen, the investigative journalist who uncovered the Heithuis case, also found evidence of at least nine other castrations. “These cases are anonymous and can no longer be traced,” he said. “There will be many more. But the question is whether those boys, now old men, will want to tell their story.”

Mr Heithuis died in a car crash in 1958, two years after being castrated at the age of 20, while under the age of majority, which was then 21. In 1956 he had accused Catholic clergy of sexually abusing him in his Church run care home.

Two clergymen were convicted of abuse but Mr Heithuis, a victim, was nonetheless transferred by police to a Catholic psychiatric hospital before being admitted to the St. Joseph Hospital in Veghel later that year.

There, court papers confirm, he was castrated “at his own request”, despite no submission of his written consent. Sources told Mr Dohmen that the surgical removal of testicles was regarded as a treatment for homosexuality and also as a punishment for those who accused clergy of sexual abuse

Evidence emerged on Monday that government inspectors were aware that minors were being castrated while in Catholic-run psychiatric institutions. Minutes of meetings held in the 1950s show that inspectors were present when castrations were discussed. The documents also reveal that the Catholic staff did not think parents needed to be involved…

Dutch MPs will today call for a parliamentary investigation into the allegations.

The question is put by Khadija Arib, a Labour MP…”We must find out how many cases there were, who knew about it and why the government did not act.”

Good thing the Catholic Church doesn’t support cruelty like this anymore. Oh.

Republican Party prepare to commit suicide over a pile of crap they call a budget

“We include a coupon for a free hot dog while waiting for your first welfare check”
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

House Republicans, led by…Paul Ryan, unveiled a suicide pact, in the form of a new budget that ignores the clear views of the majority of Americans, and which, if they embrace it almost unanimously, as they did last year’s similar Ryan Budget, will put a gun to the head of Republican attempts to keep control of the House — and then pull the trigger.

The only thing that could save Republicans would be if Democrats, like Oregon Senator Ron Wyden or House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, persuaded their party to ignore American public opinion and join with the GOP in destroying Medicare, cutting Social Security, and slashing public spending in a way that cripples the economy and rewards the wealthy. That’s what the Ryan Republican budget would do, and Democrats — and Americans who believe in majority rule — need to explain the extreme nature of this budget to the American people.

Despite getting hammered by Democrats last year, the GOP is gambling that going big and bold on their fiscal blueprint — think major changes to Medicare and Medicaid — will convince voters the GOP is the nation’s responsible party, comprised of lawmakers attuned to the nation’s fiscal woes.

But there is a reason Democrats hammered them last year: poll after poll assembled by CAF’s American Majority Project show definitively that while the deficit may be a big issue inside the beltway, being perceived as creating jobs is a far better public image than being perceived as a budget cutter…

Just like last year, the new Ryan Republican budget will first cut taxes for the very wealthy, and then, having blown a bigger hole in the revenue side of the budget, achieves much of its long-term spending savings by turning Medicare into a voucher to buy private health insurance… They presume we’re all looking forward to giving more pork to insurance companies.

Ryan’s made it clear the goal of his Social Security…”expedited process” would: 1) raise the full retirement age to 69, and the earliest eligibility age to 64…2) cut the cost of living allowance by adopting the Chained CPI, cutting $108 billion in benefits over 10 years. The essential solution hasn’t changed. Remove the cap on paying into SSA.

What do Americans think of messing with Social Security? They are against cutting Social Security benefits. They are against raising the retirement age. And they know that Social Security has its own revenue source (the Social Security taxes we pay) and therefore doesn’t contribute to the deficit…

So, the brand-new Ryan Republican budget, so very like last year’s Ryan budget, is already unpopular with the American majority, in all of its major elements. Progressives and Democrats should immediately publicize its many unpopular pieces so the public knows about them all. We should immediately demand to know whether the Republican candidates for president embrace it. And we should keep a wary eye out for Democrats who are willing to give the Republicans cover. When the Paul Ryan Republicans — enemies of everything the American majority believe in — are putting a gun to their heads and are about to pull the trigger, progressives should get out of the way and publicize the results — from now until the November elections.

I would only add that Blue Dog Democrats who continue to vote against American working people on economic and social issues deserve to get off the bus and ride in the rumble seat of the Republican limo. That’s where they belong. A little honesty might do them some good – even if they find themselves unemployed alongside a significant number of their True Believer ideologues.

As I’ve said before, I think our primary system sucks; but – if it means I have to register as a Democrat for a spell to help get rid of someone as useless as their bubbas on the Republican side of Congress – I’ll hold my nose and do it.

A biplane may be the quietest way to break the sound barrier

For 27 years, the Concorde provided its passengers with a rare luxury: time saved. For a pricey fare, the sleek supersonic jet ferried its ticketholders from New York to Paris in a mere three-and-a-half hours — just enough time for a nap and an aperitif. Over the years, expensive tickets, high fuel costs, limited seating and noise disruption from the jet’s sonic boom slowed interest and ticket sales. On Nov. 26, 2003, the Concorde — and commercial supersonic travel — retired from service.

Since then, a number of groups have been working on designs for the next generation of supersonic jets. Now an MIT researcher has come up with a concept that may solve many of the problems that grounded the Concorde. Qiqi Wang, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, says the solution, in principle, is simple: Instead of flying with one wing to a side, why not two?

Wang and his colleagues Rui Hu, a postdoc in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Antony Jameson, a professor of engineering at Stanford University, have shown through a computer model that a modified biplane can, in fact, produce significantly less drag than a conventional single-wing aircraft at supersonic cruise speeds…

This decreased drag, according to Wang, means the plane would require less fuel to fly. It also means the plane would produce less of a sonic boom…

With Wang’s design, a jet with two wings — one positioned above the other — would cancel out the shock waves produced from either wing alone. Wang credits German engineer Adolf Busemann for the original concept. In the 1950s, Busemann came up with a biplane design that essentially eliminates shock waves at supersonic speeds…

The team’s next step is to design a three-dimensional model to account for other factors affecting flight. While the MIT researchers are looking for a single optimal design for supersonic flight, Wang points out that a group in Japan has made progress in designing a Busemann-like biplane with moving parts: The wings would essentially change shape in mid-flight to attain supersonic speeds.

Between fuel savings and quiet transition to supersonic speed it would be terrific to have a plane capable of Concorde-level service once again. Not that I’m interested in ever flying again until we rid that transportation mode of governance by paranoids.