Co-founder of Oklahoma Tea Party arrested for blackmail


Al Gerhart was charged Tuesday with two felonies involving an email that threatened a state senator to pass a bill…A co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party was charged Tuesday with blackmail over an email that he admits sending to a state senator.

Both counts are felonies…

Gerhart sent the email March 26 to Sen. Cliff Branan, promising to make the senator a laughing stock unless the Senate Energy and Environment Committee passed a bill dealing with a United Nations plan.

Branan, R-Oklahoma City, is chairman of the committee. The senator turned the email over to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Misspelling one word, Gerhart wrote: “Branan, Get that bill heard or I will make sure you regret not doing it. I will make you the laughing stock of the Senate if I don’t hear that this bill will be heard and passed. We will dig into your past, yoru family, your associates and once we start on you there will be no end to it. This is a promise…”

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater commended Branan for reporting the email.

“I believe he was very courageous in the way he handled this knowing there could be further repercussions to him or to his family,” Prater said Tuesday. “The manner in which Sen. Branan has handled this situation will hopefully prevent this … from happening in the future.”

Branan said Tuesday that once he turned the email over, it was “out of his hands.”

A judge…set bail at $15,000.

Apparently Tea Party nutballs consider extortion and blackmail protected by constitutional rights – and no longer are crimes.

Cicadapocalypse imminent!

For those who live on the East Coast, this spring means the emergence of periodic cicadas for the first time in 17 years, an event affectionately dubbed Cicadapocalypse. In just a few weeks, parts of Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia will see hordes of these insects rise up from the ground, blanket the skies and descend upon the earth, issuing their loud, shrill mating calls all the while.u

If this sounds doomsday-esque, don’t be alarmed — despite their ominous appearance, cicadas are harmless. These herbivores are concentrated solely on finding mates and laying eggs. They carry no diseases, and they neither bite nor sting. And contrary to popular belief, they are not locusts (or even closely related to them)…

Periodic cicadas emerge to mate, lay eggs in tree twigs and beget the next generation. Cicadas spend the first 12 or 16 years of their lives (depending on the species) underground, sucking out nutrients from tree roots for survival and molting several times. Upon their final molt, they tunnel out into the world and males begin to attract females to mate. They do this by congregating and producing songs through membranes on their bodies. These songs — which are more akin to loud, whirring buzzes — can be as loud as 100 decibels and arouse female cicadas. The matured cicadas then mate, the females lay eggs, and the process begins anew.

Cicada waves are known as broods, and each brood covers a different swath of the country. This year, the Brood II cicadas will surface; next year, Brood III will emerge in the Midwest. Cicadas emerge generally when the soil where they lay dormant reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit. The best way to know the date that cicadas will emerge in your area is by checking old records and asking longtime residents. The season of the cicadas usually starts between April and June and should end by late July.

At their worst, periodic cicadas are irritating. Their mating calls are ear-splitting, and they can overwhelm outdoor areas. It’s not uncommon to find tens to hundreds of thousands of periodic cicadas per acre — so it might not be the best idea to get married outdoors in New England this summer. If you run a garden, nursery or orchard, be sure to protect your plants by bringing them indoors or covering them with screening material.

To me, cicadas are a favorite sign of summer coming. As a kid, school was ending soon and my sister and I would be traveling to upstate New York to spend the summer at our grandparents’ Turkey Hill farm.

And many areas of the country have a local, annual variety of cicada whose arrival signals the downhill side of summer. Another familiar sound of summer as common as a mourning dove or catbird.

Gambling nun found guilty of stealing $130K from rural churches

A Catholic nun has pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $130,000 from rural churches in the US state of New York to fuel a casino gambling addiction, police have said.

Sister Mary Anne Rapp, 68, was arrested in November when the theft was uncovered during a routine audit.

The nun, of the order of the Sisters of St Francis, said she stole the money between 2006-2011…She is due to be sentenced on 1 July and could face six months in jail.

She may also have to pay “reasonable restitution” for the money she spent at casinos in western New York, according to the Daily News of Batavia newspaper.

Sister Rapp, a nun for almost five decades, has agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors, the newspaper reported…She was placed on leave in 2011 and agreed to attend addiction treatment.

I wonder what would have happened if she had a winning streak?

More realistically – I wonder what would have happened if she was a poor Borinqueña housekeeper stealing from the churches – instead of a nun?

Liquid Robotics shows next-gen Wave Glider sea-going robot

Barbara Block, Stanford University – using SV2, Plans for SV3

Last December, Liquid Robotics made headlines when one of its Wave Glider aquatic robots completed a “swim” from San Francisco to Australia. It marked the longest distance ever traveled by an autonomous vehicle of any type. The research/surveillance robot was part of a fleet of four that took part in the demo project. One of the others successfully reached Australia later, while the other pair are still on their way to their alternate destination of Japan.

Besides making the much-publicized PacX trans-Pacific crossing, the company’s “base” model of the Wave Glider (the new version of which is now known as the SV2) has been used by a variety of clients in a number of different projects, since its launch in 2009. “We’ve built over 200,” Liquid Robotics CEO Bill Vass told us. “About a third or so are on missions at any one time. A lot more customers are moving to running 20 at a time instead of one at a time…”

Monday, the company announced its SV3 – the new-and-improved version of the existing Wave Glider robot. Like the SV2, the SV3 consists of two main parts that are tethered together.

On the surface is a floating surfboard-like “boat,” that contains the sensors which allow the robot to measure oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature, wave characteristics, weather conditions, water fluorescence, and dissolved oxygen. Also on board are a GPS unit, a heading sensor, transmitters/receivers and other electronics – all of which are powered by built-in solar cells. Below the surface is a winged platform that catches the underwater motion of the waves, allowing it to paddle itself forward, along with the tethered boat…

More intriguingly, however, the SV3 additionally features a thrust-vectoring electric motor. Its propeller folds out of the way when not in use, but can be lowered and activated (either autonomously or by satellite remote control) when the robot needs an extra push – such a push might be helpful if it encounters doldrums or cross currents, or if a sudden change in its route is required. The motor is powered by a battery that is in turn charged by the solar cells, as with the other electric components.


Solving the problems of autonomous function and durability are the hard bit. Hardware, that is. One of the smartest things they’ve done in the software is designing in a system that can diagnosis a problem that may hinder mission completion – whereupon the Wave Glider changes course and heads for the nearest repair facility. Phoning home about the problem, of course.