Favorite new photos: Bat embryos

Bat embryos – Molossus rufus (black mastiff bat) – photographed by Dorit Hockman of Cambridge University, one of the finalists in the Nikon Small World 2012 photomicrography competition.

I haven’t visited the daily GUARDIAN Eyewitness photography section in a while. Cranked it up on my iPad and this is among the latest goodie published.

Turning up at his own wake produces exactly the reaction you would expect – Aaaaaah!!

Gilberto and his mom

A 41-year-old car washer from northeastern Brazil shocked his family by turning up at his own wake after his family mistakenly identified a murdered local man at the morgue as him…

Family and friends in the town of Alagoinhas in Bahia state were gathered around the body of another car washer resembling Gilberto Araujo when he showed up after being told of his “death” by a friend who had spotted him in the street.

“I said, ‘guys, I’m alive, pinch me,'” Araujo told the O Globo news website. He had not seen his family for about four months until then.

His mother, shopkeeper Maria Menezes, said some of those attending the wake fainted while others fled.

“It was a fright … I’m very happy because what mother has a son that they say is dead then turns up alive?” she said.

On first learning of the confusion, Araujo tried to call an acquaintance at the wake to inform them he was alive, but his call was dismissed as a prank. The corpse has now been returned, O Globo reported.

Cripes! My family would beat the crap out of me. Then, we’d have a party.

System guarding nuke triggers at Los Alamos doesn’t work!

A new $213 million security system designed to increase protection for the nation’s nuclear bomb-building lab doesn’t work, federal officials acknowledged…the latest in a series of cost-overruns and questions about the integrity of work on projects aimed at upgrading the aging plutonium facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory…

The lab and its oversight board confirmed there are major problems with the system, which has been under construction for seven years, after a memo from the National Nuclear Security Administration about the project surfaced.

“The performance on this project has been unacceptable and we will hold LANS fully accountable for all costs,” said Joshua McConaha, a spokesman for the NNSA, the federal agency that oversees Los Alamos. “We take our responsibility to protect taxpayer dollars seriously. We will use all the tools available to correct the situation.”

He said the agency is sending a team to the lab “to examine the financial and management issues that led us to this point. As always, protection of Category 1 material is our top priority, and we will ensure that the project is completed while maintaining full compliance with all protection requirements.”

Lab spokesman Kevin Roark emphasized…blah, blah, blah.

Technical Area 55 is the only place in the country where nuclear weapon triggers can be made and includes a concrete, bunker-like complex that houses two aging labs where most of LANL’s work with dangerous plutonium is done. Work to upgrade those facilities and make sure they are structurally able to withstand a major earthquake also has been plagued by cost overruns. The complex sits atop major fault lines…

It’s a pretty big black-eye,” Greg Mello, executive director of the watchdog Los Alamos Study Group, said of the latest revelations…

“The notion that the security systems guarding plutonium at the nation’s premier plutonium site are deficient and need compensatory measures has not just national but international ramifications. It makes it difficult for the United States to tell other countries that their security is inadequate.”

I always have mixed feelings about the Los Alamos National Labs. As did the original group of scientists on a project tasked with developing nuclear weapons to counter the parallel effort in Nazi Germany. The best of the lot, Leo Szilard and Robert Oppenheimer, turned their energy towards world peace and a rejection of nuclear weapons as soon as the war ended. They were reviled by our politicians and targeted by McCarthyite scum.

There are a number of scientists who came to the Labs after the End of the Cold War – responding to Clinton’s realignment of goals as part of the “peace dividend”. Goals which have since been set aside by Bush and Cheney and their Department of Homeland Security. Trying to finish the work they started must be seriously frustrating. And while they work, the right wing of American politics – tied tightly as ever to a military-industrial complex – continues to call for single-minded dedication to global death and destruction.

Four magic tricks for fiscal conservatives – if you believe!

The United States is famous for its ability to innovate. Aspiring fiscal conservatives around the world thus might be interested in learning four tricks that American politicians commonly use when promising to cut taxes while simultaneously reducing budget deficits.

These are hard promises to keep, for the simple reason that a budget deficit equals government spending minus tax revenue. But, each of the four tricks has been refined over three decades. Indeed, they first acquired their colorful names in the early years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency: the “magic asterisk,” the “rosy scenario,” the Laffer hypothesis, and the “starve the beast” scenario. As shop-worn as these tricks are, voters and journalists still fall for them, so they remain useful tools for anyone posing as a fiscal conservative.

The first term was coined by Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman. Originally, it was an act of desperation, because the numbers in the 1981 budget plan did not add up. “We invented the ‘magic asterisk,’” Stockman wrote in The Triumph of Politics in 1986. “If we couldn’t find the savings in time – and we couldn’t – we would issue an IOU. We would call it ‘Future savings to be identified.’”

Ever since, the magic asterisk has become a familiar American device. Recent examples include the recommendation of the Simpson-Bowles commission…to cut real spending growth by precise amounts, without saying where the cuts would be made. US presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s spending plans contain the same conjuring trick…his plan to eliminate enough tax expenditures to offset the $5 trillion in revenue lost from cutting marginal tax rates by 20%, while refusing to say which tax loopholes he would close…

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Kyosho Space Ball – radio-controlled Death Star and air freshener

Almost a year ago, the Japanese Ministry of Defense made quite a splash when it revealed a spherical, remote-controlled aircraft that could zip around a room, roll along the ground, and even bounce off obstacles without losing control. But while it was mainly designed for search and rescue operations, many R/C enthusiasts took one look at that hovering orb and said, “I have got to get me one of those.” Luckily, toy company Kyosho must have been listening, since it recently released a similar flying machine of its own for consumers. Kyosho’s “Space Ball” can remain airborne while taking just as much punishment and even emits a fragrance to freshen up a room in the process.

It’s not nearly as state-of-the-art as the version from the JMD, but the Space Ball…can still zip around the room like a sentient dodge ball. The central tail rotor gives it a full 360 degrees of movement, while the 20 cm shock-absorbing frame lets it bounce off furniture and walls without spinning away wildly. Aside from protecting the rotors and electronics, the frame also helps the Space Ball right itself on the ground. Most of the aircraft’s weight is on the bottom, so the whole thing naturally rolls until it rests upright on the flat bottom…

The most surprising feature of the Space Ball, however, is the optional absorbent sheets, which can be soaked in fragrant oils to spread an aroma around the room. Seems like a lot of trouble for an air freshener, but it could be fun to essentially crop dust your house.

Imagine the interesting [demented?] alternatives to air freshener serious geeks might come up with!

Renault Twizy EV prototype for Paris firefighters

When Renault showed the two-seat Twizy electric city car at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, we never expected to see it haul firefighters – meter maids, maybe, but not firefighters. The vehicle is about as far from a fire truck as you can get while still discussing motorized vehicles. That hasn’t stopped the French company from outfitting its diminutive electric car for the purpose of firefighting.

Renault and its vehicle conversion subsidiary Renault Tech worked closely with the Paris firefighter brigade to create this response-ready prototype. Envisioned as a complement to, not a replacement for, more traditional fire trucks, the prototype is designed as an early response vehicle, with the anticipation that actual fire trucks with water, hoses and gear will be close behind. For that purpose, Renault ripped out the rear seat and replaced it with a storage trunk to house emergency response equipment including two fire extinguishers, two oxygen tanks, a fire suit and helmet, and a first aid kit.

From next month, Paris firefighters will begin an eight-month test of the Twizy prototype before a decision is made about a more permanent fleet of light electric vehicles.

You might think this wacky; but, my racing days go back to the 1950’s when the Sûreté had a version of Renault’s little 4CV tuned for 120mph top speed and had internal racks for holding a couple of machine guns. Woo-hoo!