Boeing uses potatoes instead of people to test onboard wi-fi

US planemaker Boeing used an unusual substitute for passengers to test its in-flight wi-fi system – potatoes.

Passenger seats on a decommissioned plane were loaded with huge sacks of the tubers for several days as signal strengths were checked.

The company’s researchers say that potatoes “interact” with electronic signals in a similar way to humans…The technique also took advantage of the fact that spuds – unlike humans – never get bored.

Boeing’s engineers did a number of tests to ensure that passengers would get the strongest possible wi-fi signal while in the air, all while meeting safety standards that protect against interference with an aircraft’s electrical systems…

“You want your laptop to work anywhere it’s located on your seat, [but] there can be significant signal changes just due to the location of the laptop,” said Boeing engineer Dennis Lewis.

To test the signal distribution, the firm turned to spuds instead of human test subjects, filling the seats with 20,000lbs (9,000kg) of potatoes in sacks.

According to Boeing, potatoes’ “interactions” with electronic signals mimic those of a human body, making them “the perfect stand-in for people who would otherwise have had to sit motionless for days while the data was gathered”.

Seems perfectly clear to me. 🙂

Shanghai government grows subsidy for burial of cremains at sea

Scattering ashes of a loved one mixed with flower petals

The local authority has announced a fivefold increase, from 400 yuan/$64 to 2,000 yuan/$320, in subsidies to encourage Shanghai residents to consider the sea option.

Starting next year, Shanghai will subsidize families choosing a sea burial by 1,000 yuan and the another 1,000 yuan will go to pay service providers to cover costs such as ship tickets and insurance, Lu Chunling, director of funeral management under Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, said…”Those opting for burial at sea will save 1 square meter of land in Shanghai, and that would cost about 24,000 yuan if it was a burial plot,” said Lu.

With an increasingly elderly population and 110,000 deaths annually, Shanghai authorities and cemetery operators have been promoting sea burials since 1991…However, most people still shun the option because it is traditionally believed that the soul can find peace only when the body is buried on land…

“Sea burials in Shanghai have increased by 5 to 8 percent each year since 1991,” said Lu. The local government offered a 200 yuan subsidy for each sea burial from 2002 and raised the amount to 400 yuan in 2007.

It’s not all about money, there are cases of people opting for a sea burial without claiming anything,” said Lu. “We’re just sending the signal that it’s the most environmentally friendly way of burial and our government is encouraging residents to do it.”

Shi Hong, 34, from Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, lost his wife last year and said he chose burial at sea because both he and his wife were Buddhists and that was her last wish…”She liked the idea of a sea burial because Zhoushan (the site of one of Buddhism’s sacred mountains in China) has a relatively good location for the ceremony,” Shi said.

Makes good sense all round. Death in all societies is associated with the stoniest of primitive and superstitious beliefs – it still ain’t an easy task growing acceptance, suggesting change.

Protests over rape in India continue — Coppers turn violent! — UPDATED!

India police democracy
Democracy as practiced by police in India – click to enlarge

Protests over a recent gang rape quickly gained force over the weekend, tapping into longstanding fury against entrenched corruption and lopsided justice, and leading to clashes with the police.

Seven days of demonstrations peaked Sunday, as thousands of people joined women’s and students’ groups despite a hastily enacted ban on protesting in New Delhi. The crowds taunted the police and attacked the car of a member of Parliament. The police, in turn, fired tear gas and water cannons, beat protesters with bamboo sticks and arrested dozens.

What corrupt, entrenched politicians and their police flunkies call “even-handed”.

“Many students who were protesting peacefully were attacked,” said Jayati Ghosh, a professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, who had joined the protest with her daughter. “These are patriotic and respectable citizens. You cannot respond to them in this ham-handed manner.”

Kulsoom Rashid, 27, rubbed her eyes and said she had been tear-gassed. “This is how they are responding,” she said, seething. “Hundreds of rapists are running scot-free, and the entire Delhi police is standing here to stop people like me?”

By late afternoon Sunday, political parties had joined the crowd, increasing the number of confrontations with the authorities…

After several recent, highly publicized rape cases, India has been struggling to come to grips with the scale of the vastly underreported problem. Even when rapes are reported, suspects are rarely found and arrested.

In the most recent case, a 23-year-old medical student who boarded what she thought was a public bus on Dec. 16 was brutally raped and beaten nearly to death by a group of men. Six suspects are in jail.

The rapid reaction has done little to stem public anger. On Sunday, protesters jostled with the police, calling them “cowardly,” “corrupt” and “inept,” as they tried to push through the cordon…

“These people have lost patience with a government that has no sense of justice, no sense of accountability and is totally corrupt at the top,” said Prem Shankar Jha, a former editor of the Hindustan Times.

You can witness the reality of what is called democracy in many countries by how police are allowed to treat peaceful demonstrations. Regular readers will know I hold no brief for anarchists and other loonies. They deserve what they get when they try to burn down London or Seattle. But, I was able to follow the course of these demonstrations quite closely over the weekend – via al Jazeera and CCTV9.

The Indian police were merciless in their attacks on peaceful demonstrators, ordinary people, mostly young people, marching because they are fed-up with institutional corruption and injustice. It reminded me of nothing more than early days in our own civil rights movement, North and South.

UPDATE: She has died in hospital in Singapore.

Send in the clowns – and other Republican party songs

When thinking about the state of the Republican Party, I defer to a point that the Democratic consultant James Carville made the other day: “When I hear people talking about the troubled state of today’s Republican Party, it calls to mind something Lester Maddox said one time back when he was governor of Georgia. He said the problem with Georgia prisons was ‘the quality of the inmates.’

The problem with the Republican Party is the quality of the people who vote in their primaries and caucuses. Everybody says they need a better candidate, or they need a better message but — in my opinion — the Republicans have an inmate problem.” The political obsessions of the Republican base — from denying global warming to defending assault weapons to opposing any tax increases under any conditions, to resisting any immigration reform — are making it impossible to be a Republican moderate, said Carville. And without more Republican moderates, there is no way to strike the kind of centrist bargains that have been at the heart of American progress — that got us where we are and are essential for where we need to go.

Republican politicians today have a choice: either change your base by educating and leading G.O.P. voters back to the center-right from the far right, or start a new party that is more inclusive, focused on smaller but smarter government and market-based, fact-based solutions to our biggest problems.

But if Republicans continue to be led around by, and live in fear of, a base that denies global warming after Hurricane Sandy and refuses to ban assault weapons after Sandy Hook — a base that would rather see every American’s taxes rise rather than increase taxes on millionaires — the party has no future. It can’t win with a base that is at war with math, physics, human biology, economics and common-sense gun laws all at the same time.

Do you know how troubled this party is? Two weeks ago, the former G.O.P. Senate majority leader Bob Dole, a great American, went to the Senate floor in his wheelchair to show his support for Senate ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities. Nevertheless, the bill failed to win the two-thirds needed for ratification, because only eight Republicans dared to join Democrats in support of the treaty, which was negotiated and signed by George W. Bush! It essentially requires other countries to improve to our level of protection for the disabled, without requiring us to change any laws. It has already been ratified by 126 countries. But it failed in the Senate because Rick Santorum managed to convince the G.O.P. base that the treaty would threaten U.S. “sovereignty.” Santorum stopped just short of warning that space aliens would take over our country if we ratified the treaty…

The G.O.P. today needs its own D.L.C. The Democratic Leadership Council was founded by a group of Democratic governors and activists, led by Bill Clinton, in 1985 to lead the party back to the center from a failing leftward course that had resulted in it being repeatedly shut out of the presidency, except after Watergate…

Republicans need to go through a similar process of building new institutions and coalitions to support candidates who can move the party back to the center-right. Today, all their institutions, from think tanks to Fox TV…“are reinforcing the trends that are marginalizing their party.”

Unfortunately, we don’t have a decade to wait for a G.O.P. D.L.C. Some leaders in that party need to stand up for sane compromises right now.

Please RTFA. I agree with what Friedman is trying to say – if for no other reason than we could use more of a consensus-oriented crowd in Congress to achieve anything while we’re still stuck in the TweedleDeeDumb two-party farce. I don’t think the rightwing sect within the Republican Party will allow that. The Center-Left amalgamation in the Democrat Party will be able to get change accomplished – most likely – by a definitive majority of American voters kicking out more of the cowards along with the nutballs. They’ve already done that with over half the so-called Blue Dogs that dumbed-down the Democrats.

I also think it’s foolish to make direct comparisons with Clinton and what preceded the DLC. Control of the Democrat Party may have painted itself into a Leftish corner – only because the popular revolt against American warlords settled on Democrats to win the final push against everything from the draft to the VietNam War. And succeeded on the issues. Trouble is – settling on a Center-Left clown show without building a nationwide grassroots organization left that party twisting in the veritable wind, hanging by a red-white-and-blue parachute.

I expect the Republicans to do the same. If I had faith in anyone’s crystal ball – and I don’t – I’d expect to see a center-right party like that proposed by Mike Bloomberg to take over the role of the traditional conservative Republican Party and leave what’s left of today’s Republicans alone to finish screwing up the economy of the Confederacy.

A thumb-drive that will make her enjoy the memory – WTF?

Flash memory drives come in many odd forms — disguised as plastic sushi pieces, Swiss Army knives and Hello Kitty figures. Now, a contender for the oddest: a vibrator.

An erotic toy with built-in flash memory is the latest addition to a growing, evolving industry. The toy’s maker is Crave, a new San Francisco company begun by a Stanford University designer-engineer whose Duet vibrator started showing up this year in stores like Good Vibrations in San Francisco and Babeland in New York and recently hit a handful of boutique retailers around the country.

The obvious question: Why computer memory? Has multitasking jumped the shark?

Including memory was not Crave’s original intent. The idea was simply that the device’s USB port would be chargeable by computer, eliminating the need for cords or batteries.

But “a bunch of the testers asked: ‘Can we store stuff on this?’ ” said Michael Topolovac, a co-founder of Crave…

Mr. Topolovac said testers and others explained that they would like to use vibrator memory to store private material — not just erotic files, but documents. Users can remove the vibrating part at the top, he said, and be left with what might pass at a Starbucks as just a fancy flash memory stick…

More broadly, the Duet looks to be an exception that proves the rule. The exception: Mr. Topolovac said there do not appear to be other vibrators on the market with a built-in computer memory, though there are a growing number that can be charged through via USB ports…

In the case of Crave, adding computer memory to a sex toy is just the beginning of the innovation.

“Next year, we’ll be introducing products with memory and wireless capability,” Mr. Topolovac said. Wireless? “To control the device,” he said vaguely, but declined to elaborate as to exactly how that might work or why it would be useful, citing that Silicon Valley standby: fear of divulging intellectual property secrets before their time.

Uh, OK.