There’s a boa constrictor hitching a ride under your car, lady!

A woman was startled last Monday afternoon after she found a boa constrictor wrapped underneath her car.

Two men noticed the unwanted passenger, described to be a four-foot long red-tail boa, wrapping itself in the undercarriage of Lora Ledbetter’s car parked outside of a Subway near West 77th Street and State Line Road in Kansas City, MO.

“I got there in time to see the tail go up over the back wheel well, and I could see this big, big, spotted snake,” Ledbetter said.

Others came outside to coax the snake, they were unsuccessful, so Lakeside Nature Center was called to assist animal control who helped remove the snake about 1 p.m.

They sprayed the snake with water to loosen its grip and they managed to get it loose from under the car.

Animal control took the snake, but it is expected to be turned over to Lakeside Nature Center to be adopted out.

As far as I know – no one’s come forward to claim their snake. Har.

Wi-fi and the Web inspire “Bi-fi” for bioengineering

The internet has revolutionized global communications and now researchers at Stanford University are looking to provide a similar boost to bioengineering with a new process dubbed “Bi-Fi.” The technology uses an innocuous virus called M13 to increase the complexity and amount of information that can be sent from cell to cell. The researchers say the Bi-Fi could help bioengineers create complex, multicellular communities that work together to carry out important biological functions.

Cells naturally use chemicals to communicate with the chemical signals typically acting as both the message and the messenger. However, this method of communication is extremely limited in terms of complexity and bandwidth.

“If your network connection is based on sugar then your messages are limited to ‘more sugar,’ ‘less sugar,’ or ‘no sugar’” explains Drew Endy, PhD, an assistant professor of bioengineering. By separating the messenger and the message, Endy and Monica Ortiz, a doctoral candidate in bioengineering, have been able to greatly increase the amount of data that can be transmitted.

They chose the virus M13 to act as the messenger because when it infects bacteria, it doesn’t kill its host but makes itself at home indiscriminately sending out DNA strands that it reproduces within its host. The engineers are able to control these strands of DNA, so custom DNA messages can be wrapped within proteins produced by M13 and sent out to infect other cells. Once they arrive in a new host, they release the packaged DNA message…

Using DNA to store the message means that it can contain any sort of genetic instruction. M13 is known to have packaged DNA strands containing as many as 40,000 base pairs, which is far in excess of the majority of genetic messages of interest in bioengineering that range from several hundred to many thousand base pairs…

The researchers believe that their Bi-Fi biological internet could lead to the development of biosynthetic factories consisting of huge masses of microbes collaborating to produce complex fuels, pharmaceuticals and other useful chemicals. Even more exciting, the researchers say that with improvements, the technology could one day be used in more complex three-dimensional programming of cellular systems, such as the regeneration of tissue of organs.

Looks like one of those qualitative processes that could be as scary as useful. Why, oh why, does my poor brain switch into sci-fi plots starring Milla Jovovich?

The positive side no doubt is where the research bucks will go. I hope.

Flying robot quadrocopters cooperate to play catch

Swiss researchers have published a new video showcasing the impressive aerial cooperation capabilities of robotic quadrocopters. In the demonstration, a trio of quadrocopters tethered to a net fly in formation to catch balls tossed at them. Once they’ve caught the ball in the net, they are able to launch it upwards by stretching the net at each end.

“To toss the ball, the quadrocopters accelerate rapidly outward to stretch the net tight between them and launch the ball up. Notice in the video that the quadrocopters are then pulled forcefully inward by the tension in the elastic net, and must rapidly stabilize in order to avoid a collision. Once recovered, the quadrotors cooperatively position the net below the ball in order to catch it.” explained Robin Ritz, Lead Researcher at ETH Zurich’s Flying Machine Arena.

“Because they are coupled to each other by the net, the quadrocopters experience complex forces that push the vehicles to the limits of their dynamic capabilities. To exploit the full potential of the vehicles under these circumstances requires several novel algorithms…

Click the link in the first sentence to see notes about algorithms, etc. Beyond me. 🙂

California governor signs off on driver’s licenses for migrant labor

Best new smart-ass sign in a demonstration

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill letting an estimated 400,000 young undocumented immigrants qualify for California drivers licenses.

The bill, which Brown signed late Sunday, lets young people qualify for licenses if they are accepted by a federal program giving work permits to immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16 and are now 30 years old or younger.

The bill makes California conform with President Barack Obama’s June 15 executive action that let hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children remain in the country without fear of deportation and able to work.

“Gov. Brown believes the federal government should pursue comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,” Brown spokesman Gil Duran was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying. “President Obama has recognized the unique status of these students, and making them eligible to apply for driver’s licenses is an obvious next step.”

Opponents argued California should be careful in giving drivers licenses because they are used as identification blah, blah, blah…

Assembly Bill 2189, introduced by Democratic state Assemblyman Gilbert Cedillo of Los Angeles, says any papers issued by the federal program are sufficient to get a license.

“I’m proud the governor chose public safety over the politics of the day,” Cedillo said.

Dealing with realities makes life a little bit easier for all of us. In this instance, easier for coppers and insurance companies.

I have a particular historic beef with illegal migrant labor used as scabs – literally replacing an entire workforce to cut wages as was done in the meat-packing industry and the laborer side of home-building here in the United States. But, the responsibility to fight that crap should be layed at the feet of the unions and politicians who rolled over for beancounters and lobbyists.

California banishes gay cure therapy to dustbin of quackery

California has become the first state in the US to ban controversial “gay cure” therapies from being administered to children and teenagers. Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed the bill into law on Saturday…

The bill, sponsored by state senator Ted Lieu, bars mental health providers “from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts”…

Brown said…This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.

Such therapies have been denounced by by mainstream psychiatry in the US. The American Psychiatric Association has condemned so-called “conversion therapy” and says it is unethical…

The idea that homosexuality can be cured – by therapy and/or prayer – persists in conservative Christian circles.

Surely no one expects science, history or even a minimal understanding of human behavior to alter the ideology of religious fanatics. When superstition overrules something as simple as family life, opportunities as basic as sharing love and life with the person you care for the most – there is no concern for freedom and liberty for someone outside your church.

Not all votes are equal in the Land of the Free

When it comes to voting for president, not all votes are created equal. Chances are yours will count less than a select few. Each state’s Electoral College votes are based on the size of its congressional delegation, not its population. Because of that, a presidential vote in Wyoming mathematically counts more than three times as much as a vote in Ohio, at least in terms of choosing electors…

A statistical analysis of the state-by-state voting-eligible population by The Associated Press shows that Wyoming has 139,000 eligible voters – those 18 and over, U.S. citizens and non-felons – for every presidential elector chosen in the state. In Ohio, it’s almost 476,000 per elector, and it’s nearly 478,000 in neighboring Pennsylvania.

But there’s mathematical weight and then there’s the reality of political power in a system where the president is decided not by the national popular vote but by an 18th century political compromise: the Electoral College…

When you combine voter-to-elector comparisons and battleground state populations, there are clear winners and losers in the upcoming election.

More than half the nation’s eligible voters live in states that are losers in both categories. Their states are not closely contested and have above-average ratios of voters to electors. This is true for people in 14 states with 51 percent of the nation’s eligible voters: California, New York, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, Louisiana and Kentucky. Their votes count the least.

The biggest winners in the system, those whose votes count the most, live in just four states: Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada. They have low voter-to-elector ratios and are in battleground states. Only 4 percent of the nation’s eligible voters – 1 in 25 – live in those states…

It’s a terrible system; it’s the most undemocratic way of electing a chief executive in the world, ” said Paul Finkelman, a law professor at Albany Law School who teaches this year at Duke University. “There’s no other electoral system in the world where the person with the most votes doesn’t win…”

But Finkelman said his reading of history is that the compromise wasn’t about power between small and large states as much as it was about power of slave-holding states. He said James Madison wanted direct popular election of the president, but because African-American slaves wouldn’t count, that would give more power to the North. So the framers came up with a compromise to count each slave as three-fifths of a person for representation in Congress and presidential elections

No one in the Party-formerly-known-as-Republican will ever admit publicly to the bigotry that decides so much of their platform and policies. They even have to fiddle to alter the stupidity that would have them saying – it’s been this way a long time and that’s good enough. The sort of ideology that would keep buggy whip manufacturers in business while the rest of the world drives by.

Nope – just one more issue that needs to be sorted by voters having the backbone to push opportunist politicians out the door to seek an honest job. Replacing them with someone committed to knowledge, liberty, science and society moving forward.