iStruct robot ape evolves to upright because of its active spine

Back in June the world got its first glimpse of the iStruct, a robot ape developed at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) and the University of Bremen. We predicted that in addition to the stability afforded by walking on all fours, the robot ape could feasibly stand up to free its hands for other kinds of work. Now the team has published a video that shows how their robot accomplishes this maneuver with the help of its flexible spine and sensitive feet.

The iStruct’s primary innovation is its active spine, which gives its added flexibility an…A close-up of the iStruct’s active spineiStruct’s upper-body can tilt and turn thanks to its spineBy standing upright, the robot can put its arms and hands to work.

In email correspondences with Daniel Kühn, iStruct’s primary researcher, he explained that while it’s referred to as a “space robot” (and is being tested in a mock lunar landscape), his focus was designing biologically-inspired robotic structures…

Currently, it may only stand and maintain its balance. However, its multi-contact feet could provide the necessary data to maintain the robot’s balance as it transitions from a quadrupedal to bipedal gait. “There are only a few robots out there with an actuated spine that are actually moving and walking around,” Kühn says. “We want to investigate whether it is beneficial for the locomotion or not – but we think it is. For example, in a two legged posture we have an increased arm range of motion, since the spine is active…”

Helluva beginning. Since it can evolve faster than a Darwinian pace, I expect we’ll see a lot more progress over something short of geologic time.

State senator aided workers’ comp fraud worth millions — FBI

State Sen. Ronald Calderon accepted bribes from a Southern California hospital executive who ran an alleged workers’ compensation scheme that brought the executive tens of millions of dollars, according to a sealed FBI affidavit obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

In exchange for payments to family members, Calderon, a Democrat who represents a suburban district here, protected the interests in Sacramento of Michael Drobot, who ran a busy spinal surgery clinic in Long Beach, Calif., the affidavit says. The document says Calderon ensured that changes to state law would not injure Drobot’s lucrative business of providing spinal fusion surgery, which joins two or more vertebrae.

The California State Compensation Insurance Fund, a quasi-governmental organization that makes payments on workers’ compensation claims, filed racketeering charges against Drobot and his medical companies earlier this year. The complaint alleges that he received $161 million through inflated surgery room and spinal implant reimbursement fees in what the state calls “multiple fraudulent schemes.” The allegations are contained in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Santa Ana, Calif.

Until now, Calderon’s alleged behind-the-scenes role in the workers’ compensation payment controversy has never been revealed…

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US spied on the Vatican in run-up to choosing the new pope

The US National Security Agency allegedly eavesdropped on cardinals before the conclave in March to elect a new pope, Italian weekly magazine Panorama claimed on Wednesday.

“The National Security Agency wire-tapped the pope,” the magazine said, accusing the United States of listening in to telephone calls to and from the Vatican, including cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he was elected Pope Francis.

The allegations follow a report on surveillance website, Cryptome, which said the US intercepted 46 million telephone calls in Italy in December last year and early January this year…

“It is feared that the great American ear continued to tap prelates’ conversations up to the eve of the conclave,” it said, adding that there were “suspicions that the conversations of the future pope may have been monitored”.

Bergoglio “had been a person of interest to the American secret services since 2005, according to Wikileaks”, it said.

The bugged conversations were divided into four categories: “leadership intentions”, “threats to financial systems”, “foreign policy objectives” and “human rights”, it claimed.

The Vatican says they’re not worried about NSA bugging their phone calls. They didn’t make it clear whether that was because they think their conversations are boring – or because God is on their side.

Florida woman arrested for attacking her fiance with a knife – and mashed potatoes

Police in Florida said they arrested a woman accused of attacking her fiance with a fillet knife and hot mashed potatoes.

Sebastian police said they responded to an address in the city…on a report of a domestic incident and the fiance of Kimberly Francisco, 42, told officers the couple had been arguing and Francisco allegedly “began throwing hot mashed potatoes and gravy at him…”

The fiance said Francisco then retrieved a fillet knife and attempted to stab him.

“Upon check of the residence, I noticed food, to include mashed potatoes, appeared to be thrown around the kitchen area,” the police arrest affidavit stated.

Francisco told police she did not throw the potatoes, they fell on the floor. She said her fiance made up the story about the attempted stabbing.

Francisco was arrested on a charge of felony aggravated assault with deadly weapon.

I can only presume the coppers considered the “deadly weapon” to be the knife.

A year after Superstorm, Hoboken prepares for the next disaster

A year after superstorm Sandy caused extensive damage to Hoboken, New Jersey, the city is looking to its past in order to plan for the future. “Hoboken: One Year After Sandy,” an exhibit that recently opened at the Hoboken Historical Museum, aims to not only remember the storm, but to highlight the city’s vulnerabilities and emphasize the need for long-term changes that Hoboken must make in order to continue thriving on the Hudson river waterfront.

The city of over 50,000 people…sits right on the Hudson River, as does much of its critical infrastructure. The Hoboken Terminal serves as one of the New York metropolitan area’s most important transportation hubs, with thousands of commuters passing through via New Jersey Transit, the Metro North Railroad line, Path train, and more each day. The waterfront is dotted with parks and offers spectacular views of Manhattan’s mighty skyline. Further inland (which isn’t very far at all) Hoboken is filled with pastel-colored buildings dating back to the late 19th or early 20th century, and many residents live in ground-floor or basement-level apartments.

According to Juan Melli, communications manager for Mayor Dawn Zimmer, Hoboken sustained over $100 million in private property damage from Sandy and $10 million in public property damage.

Hoboken’s peculiar topography caused uneven flooding throughout the city; much of the city sits in a flood basin below sea level but some areas occupy a higher elevation. Some streets were spared, while others were submerged beneath several feet of contaminated water.

The museum’s exhibit demonstrates this phenomenon with an interactive computer map of Hoboken that models how floodwaters engulfed the city during the storm; it poured in from the north and south, and quickly pooled in lower-lying areas.

Residents have been encouraged to submit multimedia to the exhibit, as well as to share their story of Sandy in a guestbook or record it in a quiet booth off to the side. The museum hopes to create an archive of the accounts and make them available to the public online once the exhibit closes next year…

A recent analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that sea levels are rising faster than previously – and Hoboken itself was mentioned by the report’s author as being in danger. Future planning is key.

“We’re very comprehensive,” Melli said of the city’s plans to protect itself from future storms. The city has partnered with the Department of Energy to create a “smart grid” that will be more resilient to power outages. The city has also purchased additional flood pumps, is growing its emergency response team, promoting greener and stronger infrastructure, in addition to exploring a plethora of other options.

Know-nothing conservatives, whether Tea Party ignoranuses or simply cheapskate Republicans, in state after state, city, shore or mid-American farm country continue apace in their denial of any change in climate. Rejecting science is considered holy writ in bastions of superstition. They rely on the American tradition of providing aid to communities too stupid to care for themselves, so perverse in their reliance on 14th Century ideology they refuse to allow investigation of future danger or preparation for safety of citizens at risk.

Cities like Hoboken will prove themselves representative of the best of American standards in political action – while bird-brains and turd-brains from North Carolina to Nebraska take chances with the lives of generations to come.

German parliament called to hold session on U.S. spying

The German parliament will hold a special session in November on alleged U.S. spying that included monitoring of mobile phone communications of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the chancellor’s party said Monday…

There have been calls for a special parliamentary investigative committee on the spying accusations, with some deputies demanding to summon whistleblower Edward Snowden to act as a witness.

Germany’s Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told local media on Monday that the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office will have to consider the possibility of interrogating Snowden as a witness if suspicions on the spying prove correct and a case is opened…

German newspaper Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported on Sunday that U.S. President Barack Obama was aware of the alleged monitoring of mobile phone communications of Merkel years ago, but the claim was denied by the U.S. side.

The German government has voiced its anger at possible U.S. intelligence’s tapping of Merkel’s phone, saying it would be “a serious breach of trust” if confirmed.

High-ranking representatives of German security services as well as the chancellery will travel to Washington this week to seek clarifications of widespread spying allegations, German government spokesman Georg Streiter said on Friday.

Some members of the German Parliament want to offer Snowden asylum in Germany – adding to the list of nations willing to do so. “Christian Ströbele of the Green Party has proposed granting asylum to Snowden in Germany – or providing him with witness protection, at the very least. “He’s an important, but vulnerable, witness…”

It’s understandable why every failing church from the Vatican to fundamentalist Protestant sects looks to the United States to be their bastion against change. We are the last best hope of preservation through hypocrisy.

We condemn those nation-states which support violence against our country in the name of regime change – and pile on sanctions, fund guerilla bands and bandits doing exactly the same in other lands. We condemn spying by other countries on political and commercial entities within our borders – and lead the world in the use of technology to spy on every other nations’ political leaders and corporate commanders.

Thawing permafrost key to coastal erosion in Eastern Siberia


One year of erosion, 2011-2012, Muostakh cliffs

The high cliffs of Eastern Siberia – which mainly consist of permafrost – continue to erode at an ever quickening pace. This is the conclusion which scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute…have reached after their evaluation of data and aerial photographs of the coastal regions for the last 40 years.

According to the researchers, the reasons for this increasing erosion are rising summer temperatures in the Russian permafrost regions as well the retreat of the Arctic sea ice. This coastal protection recedes more and more on an annual basis. As a result, waves undermine the shores. At the same time, the land surface begins to sink. The small island of Muostakh east of the Lena Delta is especially affected by these changes. Experts fear that it might even disappear altogether should the loss of land continue.

The interconnectedness is clear and unambiguous: The warmer the east Siberian permafrost regions become, the quicker the coast erodes. “If the average temperature rises by 1 degree Celsius in the summer, erosion accelerates by 1.2 metres annually,“ says AWI geographer Frank Günther, who investigates the causes of the coastal breakdown in Eastern Siberia together with German and Russian colleagues, and who has published his findings in two scientific articles.

In these studies, he and his team evaluated high resolution air and satellite photos from 1951 to 2012 as well as measurements of the past four years. In addition, the researchers surveyed four coastal sections along the Laptev Sea and on the island of Muostakh…

For the little island of Muostakh east of the harbour town of Tiksi, this may well mean extinction. “In fewer than one hundred years, the island will break up into several sections, and then it will disappear quickly,“ predicts Frank Günther. On its northern tip, the island shows fluctuating annual erosion rates between 10 and 20 meters per year, and it has already lost 24 per cent of its area in the past 60 years. Because the subsurface here consists of more than 80 per cent of ice that has formed within the soil, and since the ice is gradually melting, the island’s surface collapses as well.

RTFA for details and analysis. I put my time in over a decade ago learning – and deciding to back the overwhelming science -about climate change.

If you want additional up-to-date evidence from scientists and their peer-reviewed studies, I suggest you click the link in the RH sidebar for RealClimate.

Spain sets inquiry into NSA spying on millions of citizens

Spain’s public prosecutor’s office announce…that it had launched a preliminary inquiry into the alleged widespread surveillance of Spanish citizens’ private phone calls and emails by the US National Security Agency, to determine whether it could be prosecuted under Spanish law.

It was reported on Monday that the NSA had monitored 60.5m Spanish phone calls in the space of one month alone, in the latest revelations from the documents leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden…

The outcry comes days after it emerged that the NSA spied on the phone calls of scores of allies, including the personal phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

On Monday, the Spanish foreign minister warned the US that, if the monitoring of tens of millions of phone calls was confirmed, it could “lead to a breakdown in the traditional trust” between the two countries. José Manuel García Margallo said that the NSA’s alleged activities could have broken Spain’s privacy laws, which prohibit the collecting of data in relation to electronic communications.

Madrid had earlier on Monday summoned the US ambassador to Spain, James Costos, to meet with government officials and explain the extent of US surveillance…

Many in Spain feel that the government has not done enough to protect its own interests and had previously shown a surprisingly relaxed attitude to US spying when the allegations first began to emerge in the press last week. Human rights groups have called on the government, led by Mariano Rajoy of the rightwing People’s party, to do more to protect its citizens.

Rajoy fits snugly into the mold of Spanish right-wingers. I’d be mightily surprised if he’s interested in protecting much more than Spanish bankers, the Roman Catholic church – and his own wallet.