Exploding watermelons with your mind

Games that are played by using your hands are so last year – why not do something a little more fun? For instance, why not explode watermelons … with your mind? One hackerspace took that idea and ran with it, turning a mind-reading toy into a melon blasting machine.

The set-up, created by Chris and Brad from Louisville, Kentucky-based hackerspace LVL1, uses the Star Wars Force Trainer. It’s essentially a consumer level electroencephalograph (EEG), which scans your brain waves. When you reach a certain level of concentration, the device triggers an action.

However, in this case, the payoff for your concentration is far greater than with the off-the-shelf Force Trainer. The original Star Wars-inspired device merely caused a fan to turn on and push a ball up through a plastic tower, so as to mimic Jedi-like telekinetic powers…

Instead of connecting to a fan, this custom rig links the Force Trainer to an air compressor, the signal being handled by Arduino-based electronics. When concentration reaches an acceptable level, the compressor lets off a burst of air, enough to shred said watermelon to pieces.

While this may not be a production-line device for the masses (yet), we like to think it could prove to be the party game of the future.

Cripes! I can think of a dozen ways to get in trouble with this concept.

Catholic bishop failed to stop priest’s upskirt obsession

Bishop Finn in his work clothes

On the surface, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan was just the kind of dynamic new priest that any Roman Catholic bishop would have been happy to put in a parish. He rode a motorcycle, organized summer mission trips to Guatemala and joined Bishop Robert W. Finn and dozens of students on a bus trek to Washington for the “March for Life,” a big annual anti-abortion rally.

But in December 2010, Bishop Finn got some disturbing news: Father Ratigan had just tried to commit suicide by running his motorcycle in a closed garage. The day before, a computer technician had discovered sexually explicit photographs of young girls on Father Ratigan’s laptop, including one of a toddler with her diaper pulled away to expose her genitals.

The decisions that Bishop Finn and his second-in-command in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Msgr. Robert Murphy, made about Father Ratigan over the next five months ultimately led to the conviction of the bishop in circuit court on Thursday on one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse. It was the first time a Catholic bishop in the United States had been held accountable in criminal court in the nearly three decades since the priest sexual abuse scandals first came to light.

Both Bishop Finn and Monsignor Murphy, as ministers, were required by law to report suspected child abuse to the civil authorities. But they were also required to report under policies that the American bishops put in place 10 years ago at the height of the scandal — policies that now hold the force of canon law…

Finn did neither.

This is an account of how, as recently as 2011, in violation of both church and civil laws, a bishop and church officials failed to stop a priest from pursuing his obsession with taking pornographic photographs of young girls. Eventually it was Monsignor Murphy, not Bishop Finn, who turned in Father Ratigan.

The witnesses never told their stories in court. The verdict was decided by a judge in a bench trial that lasted less than an hour and a half. But the facts of the case are known and even agreed upon by both the prosecution and the defense — summed up in a nine-page stipulation of testimony that contained details about the case that were not public until they were submitted to the judge on Thursday. Many details were also revealed in what is known as the Graves report, an independent investigation commissioned by the diocese last year and conducted by a former United States attorney, Todd P. Graves…

RTFA for the details. Some will be surprised the church hasn’t learned from its disreputable history – and consequences. I am not.

Bishop Finn and the diocese were indicted by a grand jury in October 2011. Monsignor Murphy was given immunity for cooperating with the prosecution. He testified that he turned Father Ratigan in because he had grown concerned that he was truly a pedophile. The monsignor said that when the bishop learned he had turned in Father Ratigan, “It seemed he was angry.”

After Father Ratigan was arrested, Bishop Finn met with his priests. Asked why Father Ratigan was not removed earlier, the bishop replied, according to the testimony, that he had wanted “to save Father Ratigan’s priesthood” and that he had understood that Father Ratigan’s problem was “only pornography.”

“Only pornography” does not separate child pornography. No need to explain the differences in the eyes of the law – or in the understanding of child development, maturity and ability to understand adult situations. Things vary with societies and cultures around the world, some relying more on science, some relying on folk myth and justifying exploitation. A separate discussion.

What is at issue here is church hierarchy treating civil, criminal and canonical law as something to be obeyed only as whim. A view that is centuries out of date.

Best copper’s website in the country

Click on the photo to get to the website

Most police departments’ websites look like they’re stuck in the bygone era of GeoCities, but not this one. Check out the gorgeous website of the Milwaukee Police Department, as created by Cramer-Krasselt.

Adage writes:

“Truth is, 99% of government websites are no pleasure to visit or navigate, with key information scattered or buried. But [Milwaukee Police Chief Edward A. Flynn] gave us a rare opportunity: the chance to turn bureaucracy into a thing of beauty,” said Cramer-Krasselt Milwaukee ECD Chris Jacobs. The agency worked on the campaign pro-bono. Bold 3D photography was used to create a parallax effect that adds some depth and movement to pictures on the screen. “In the end, we created a government social website that doesn’t feel anything like a government social website,” said Jacobs.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

European Union ready to ban hot rods

The European Commission is drawing up plans for a “roadworthiness test” which would mean that all components had to conform with those which were on the car when it was first registered.

Motoring organisations have been warned by the Department for Transport that this “may prevent most modifications” and would apply to “many components and to all types of vehicle.”

It remained unclear last night whether this could extend to routine modifications such as fitting alloy wheels, for example, or bringing cars up to 21st century standards.

The move comes within months of the Government in Britain drawing up its own plans to exempt classic cars – those built before 1960 – from the MoT test altogether…

The Department for Transport believed that exempting them from the MoT was justified because classic cars were normally lovingly maintained and had a lower accident rate than newer models.

However according to the EU document “Vehicles of historic interest are supposed to conserve heritage of the époque they have been built”.

What you’re liable to see in my neighborhood

The article doesn’t mention “hotting” your ride. Only the preservation of classic apparently comes to mind of legal types.

There have to be as many folks in the UK as there in most American neighborhoods who often go ahead and modify everything from suspension to power output to the appearance of their rides.

An indication that Omega-3 may help struggling children to read

Children with the worst reading skills could improve their literacy with daily supplements of fatty acids found in fish, seafood and some algae, researchers claim.

Scientists gave a daily 600mg omega-3 fatty acid pill to children aged seven to nine and found that those whose reading skills were in the lowest fifth of the normal range improved over the four months of the study.

On average, the children in the bottom 20% for literacy boosted their reading age by three weeks more than a control group taking a daily placebo. Those in the lowest 10% for literacy improved their reading age by 1.9 months compared with the placebo group.

The idea that omega-3 supplements can improve brain function in some children is controversial, and the latest study, from researchers at Oxford University, has already drawn criticism. The study was funded by a company called DSM Nutritional Lipids, which makes omega-3 supplements, though the study was performed at Oxford independently.

Sorry, but I don’t accept that corporate or industry funding by definition makes a study suspect. How the study is run determines that.

One contentious point is that the study, involving 74 Oxfordshire schools, looked at reading and behavioural problems in 362 children who were in the lowest third for literacy skills. Analysis on this group of children found no improvements in reading or working memory, and while parents said their children had fewer behavioural problems, their teachers reported no change on these scores.

The positive effects of the pills were seen only in a subgroup of the worst-performing 224 children and for reading only. Again, teachers recorded none of the improved behaviour parents saw, such as less hyperactivity and “so-called opposition-defiant behaviour”.

Alex Richardson, who led the study at Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention, said the original trial had been designed to look at children in the poorest 20% for reading skills, but children in the bottom third were added to get the right number of participants for the study.

Despite the study’s shortcomings, Richardson said the potential improvement in the poorest readers warranted follow-up work to confirm or rule out the effect.

As long as legitimate procedures and methods are followed, there ain’t ever going to be any harm from further study. It’s what real science is about.

Ice field in Patagonia is melting 1.5 times faster than previously

The color image is the same HPS 12 glacier in 2010 using data from the ASTER instrument onboard the NASA Terra satellite…The loss of ice thickness is comparable to the height of the Empire State Building

A little-studied mass of ice in South America is undergoing some big changes: The Southern Patagonian Ice Field lost ice volume at a 50 percent faster rate between 2000-2012 than it did between 1975-2000, according to new analysis of digital elevation models performed by Cornell researchers.

The researchers from Cornell’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences developed a new way of using digital topography maps obtained from a stereo camera on a NASA satellite to draw their conclusions…

The researchers stacked more than 100 of the digital maps, Michael Willis explained, so that a time-stamped pixel on one map is at the same place as a time-stamped pixel on a second map, and so on, like a pile of perfectly aligned pancakes, oldest on the bottom. At any particular place, there is a time series of ice topography changes coded by color…

The Cornell analysis better isolates the ice field changes only, Andrew Melkonian said. “While it’s not directly measuring mass, it is isolating the ice field signal, and by making some assumptions about what the density is, we can say how much mass these ice fields are actually losing,” he said…

Though it’s not nearly as studied as Greenland and Antarctica, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the world’s second-largest temperate (not frozen all the way through) ice field. The researchers call Patagonia a “poster child” for rapidly changing glacier systems, so studying them could be key to learning how melting cycles work and how they may be affected by climate change.

Ah, Patagonia. A terrible place to climb. Which means, of course, the world’s best mountain climbers always want to climb there.