Monday, December 30, 2013
Janet Dailey (May 21, 1944 -- December 14, 2013)
Ronnie Biggs (8 August 1929 -- 18 December 2013)
Jimmy Kimmel awards a prize to his 'clip of the year' star.
1) The Snowden revelations. Details revealed by Edward Snowden, accused of spying by America’s National Security Agency – aided by Britain’s GCHQ – had a truly global impact. Mr Snowden initially surfaced in Hong Kong, just days before a US-China summit in which President Obama had planned to put President Xi Jinping on the hot-seat, on the subject of cyber-snooping.
Mr Snowden then moved to Moscow, giving the story a Russian angle. But pretty soon his revelations had gone global. President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil cancelled a long sought-after state visit to Washington, in protest of US spying. There was outrage in Germany at the revelation that America had apparently tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell-phone. The champions of America’s internet economy – Google and Facebook – found themselves facing a real threat to their businesses, as they were implicated in the scandal. Above all the Snowden revelations have forced people to think harder about the implications of the information age, and the intersection of national security and personal privacy. As a result, its ramifications are likely to shape public policy and politics for many years to come.
2) The Big Taper: My list of significant events tends to emphasize wars, coups and elections. But the context for all of these political dramas is the state of the global economy, which in recent years has been shaped by the unprecedented monetary policies pursued by America’s Federal Reserve. Sooner or later, QE ( Quantitative Easing) will have to end – and the big question is what happens then? Will Mr Bernanke’s treatment turn out to have been an inspired medical intervention that saves the patient's life? Or will the world economy behave like a crack addict, needing fix? Even talk of easing or “tapering” (QE) provoked convulsions in the markets in the middle of 2013 – a reaction that was less than encouraging. But when the Fed repeated the experiment at the end of the year, the markets reacted much more calmly. We will probably learn over the course of the next 12-18 months whether the “taper” really can be pulled off, in a reasonably orderly manner. The fate of the world economy – and therefore, indirectly, of international politics – will depend on how it goes.
That leaves me with three events left for 2013 – but plenty of possible candidates.
Events in the world’s biggest powers – the US and China – obviously have to be weighed very heavily in any list of globally-significant happenings. But I’m going to take a pass. It is entirely possible that the Communist Party plenum in Beijing in November will come to be seen as an historic turning point in the story of Chinese economic and political reform. But it is too soon to know if the big talk will be matched by actions. In the US, the biggest political events of the year were the government shut-down and the botched roll-out of Obama’s health-care reform. But, predictably enough, the government re-opened. And the dreaded health-care web-site now seems to be responding to treatment so – with any luck – its early malfunctioning may go down as a technical glitch, rather than an historic setback for social reform in America.
Another event that falls into the “too soon to tell” category is the sudden liberal turn in the policies of Vladimir Putin. The separate releases of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the Pussy Riot members were welcome developments, which most observers have interpreted as a clearing of the decks before the Sochi Winter Olympics. That is probably right. But let’s hope that Mr Putin surprises us in 2014, by taking Russian politics in a more open and liberal direction.
When it comes to Europe, I’m torn between opting for the re-election of Angela Merkel and the apparent final downfall of Silvio Berlusconi. Mr Berlusconi has been such a blight on modern Italy, for so long, that the fact that he has finally been convicted in court in a way that may end his career, is a potentially historic development. But, partly because of the legacy of Mr Berlusconi’s misgovernment, Italy is no longer a really significant political player in Europe. By contrast, during the Merkel era, Germany has once again emerged as Europe’s dominant political and economic power.
3) So my third choice is the re-election of Angela Merkel. The German chancellor will begin her third term in office with opinion poll ratings that Barack Obama, Francois Hollande and David Cameron can only dream of. Her success is also a riposte to those who argue that western democracies are now inherently dysfunctional. I hope those words of praise do not put a curse on Mrs Merkel for 2014.
The Middle East continues to dominate the headlines. The preliminary nuclear deal with Iran may turn out to be an event of historic significance. But we can’t yet know if it will stick – so I’m leaving it out for this year.
Given that the Syrian war has now claimed over 100,000 lives it has to make any list of the most important events of the year. But was there a particular trend in Syria that needs to be picked out? If the use of chemical weapons had led to a western military interventions – as it so nearly did – that would have been the event to highlight. Instead, I will go for:
4) The resurgence of Bashar al-Assad: Syria’s agreement to get rid of its chemical weapons – brokered by its Russian allies – had the perverse effect of strengthening Mr Assad, by making him an interlocutor of the international community. Meanwhile, developments on the battle-field seem to have strengthened the Assad regime, at least in terms of the propaganda war. Western horror at the brutality of Mr Assad’s methods is now balanced by fear of the increasing grip of jihadists on the opposition movement. Although the US continues to insist that any political settlement will have to see Mr Assad go, the previously unthinkable – that Mr Assad will survive the war as president of a rump territory that is still called Syria – now looks distinctly possible.
5) The coup in Egypt: I think we can now accept that the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – even if it did enjoy popular support – was indeed a military coup. Nobody can yet know if the rise of General Sisi et al, marks the final stage in the political upheavals that began with the overthrow of President Mubarak. But I am pretty confident that the Egyptian coup did mark the end of the dream that the largest Arab nation – and the Arab world in general – was heading for liberal democracy.
For that reason, events in Egypt, make my top-five. Let’s hope that in 2014, these kinds of lists will be filled with good news: a nuclear deal with Iran, the revival of the US economy, an easing of tensions between China and Japan, a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians – and peace on earth, good will to humankind....What?
Saturday, December 28, 2013
The UK has already said it aims to double its annual research funding by 2025. The global number of dementia sufferers is expected to triple to 135million by 2050. The G8 said it would "develop a co-ordinated international research action plan" to target the gaps in research and ways to address them.
Dementia across the globe
44 millionglobally have dementia
135 millionwill have the disease in 2050
By then71%will be poor and middle income
$600bnglobal cost of dementia
In the UK, cancer research gets8xas much funding as dementia
Source: Alzheimer's Society
It also called on the World Health Organization to identify dementia as "an increasing threat to global health" and to help countries adapt to the dementia time bomb. In a statement it said "We recognize the need to strengthen efforts to stimulate and harness innovation and to catalyse investment at the global level."
Dementia is incurable and ultimately leaves people needing full-time care as brain function wastes away. There is growing concern that some countries will simply not cope with the growing burden of dementia.
It costs the world billions of dollars each year: $604bn in 2010, according to the World Health Organization. Health ministers from the G8 nations are meeting - under the presidency of the UK - to find the best ways to advance research.
Dementia is heading towards being the biggest health and care problem of a generation so you'd think it would have the funding to match. Yet it really is the poor relation of other diseases. It's a pattern reflected around the world. Part of the problem is that until recently dementia was considered a "normal part of ageing" whereas cancer has been documented as far back as ancient Egypt. It means dementia research is starting from a low base. The UK is aiming to double its spending, but this will still leave dementia significantly behind. The Alzheimer's Society says it expects more.
David Cameron called on governments, industry and charities all to commit more funding. He said the G8 should make this the day "the global fight-back really started". Mr Cameron told the summit: "This disease steals lives, wrecks families and breaks hearts.""If we are to beat dementia, we must also work globally, with nations, business and scientists from all over the world working together as we did with cancer, and with HIV and Aids. This is going to be a bigger and bigger issue, the key is to keep pushing."
The health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "The amount [of money] going into research is too little.
We would like a cure to be available by 2025. It's a big, big ambition to have. If we don't aim for the stars we won't land on the moon." However, so far only the UK has made a definite funding announcement with the other nations committing to "a significant increase in overall dementia research".
"Dementia has come out of the shadows and is centre stage - so we must ensure G8 has a lasting legacy. Every month counts for the millions of people living with dementia worldwide."
Hilary Evans, from the charity Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "This action plan is the best possible news for people living with dementia, it tells them that the world will fight for them, and that the best and most collaborative science is our greatest weapon.
"With the right investment, we can be more optimistic than ever that we will meet if not exceed the G8's 2025 target."
A dementia brain scan will also be introduced for some NHS patients with complicated symptoms.
It could help rule out Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, by hunting for damaged proteins in the brain. A radioactive marker which binds to amyloid, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, will be injected. If there is amyloid in the brain then the tracer will show up on brain scans.
What is dementia?
- It is an umbrella term that describes about 100 diseases in which brain cells die on a huge scale
- All damage memory, language, mental agility, understanding and judgement
- Alzheimer's disease is the most common form, affecting 62% of those living with dementia
- It gets worse with time and eventually people are left completely dependent on carers
- It is incurable...so far
David Cameron: ""If we are to beat dementia, we must work globally"
More than 130,000 householders in parts of the US and Canada still have no electricity supply, after last weekend's ice storm. As of Friday morning, about 64,000 customers remained without power in the US state of Michigan and 12,000 were in the dark in the state of Maine.
Nearly 62,000 in eastern Canada, including 32,000 in Toronto, were still suffering outages. Ten deaths in the US and 17 in Canada have been blamed on the storm. Several of those were from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning caused by generators, charcoal stoves and other appliances that people have been using to heat their homes in freezing temperatures.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford warned at a media briefing on Friday morning that poor weather forecasts could cause further outages. Frustrations have been mounting among off-the-grid customers.
"I mean, it's great that there's a warming centre, but if you don't have a TV or a radio that works, how are you going to know that there's a warming centre?" Toronto resident Rick Medeiros told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
At the height of the power losses following last weekend's ice storms, more than 1.2 million customers had no electricity across the US and Canada. Even the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, was without power on Christmas morning, she told reporters.
The Toronto District School Board has closed all of its facilities until further notice for safety inspection, including child care centres. Utility crews are working around the clock, but warn that some homes could be without power until after the weekend.
Resident Lucy Hockings said, "We're having to melt snow on the BBQ to give us water"
Toronto Hydro has asked the public not to distract its repair workers by engaging them in conversation. The perils of the job were underlined when a repairman fell from a ladder in Lansing, Michigan, suffering broken ribs and a shoulder injury on Tuesday. Consumers Energy repairman Jeff Morrall, who has been on duty in recent days in the west of that state, said the work has been arduous.
"You can barely see out of your safety glasses, they frost over" the 51-year-old, who has spent much of the past week in motel rooms, told the Associated Press.
"When we were working Sunday in Muskegon, you could see the limbs and branches breaking. You hear a big old crash, and think, 'I hope they don't fall on our our heads'." But he said the workers were cheered up by grateful residents who brought them Christmas dinner.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Dear Maxy ,
What do you do with a sibling who has been enabled all of his life when mom is no longer around to provide for him ?
My brother has had a house to live in, a car to drive, insurance, etc. for the past 25 years . He is an alcoholic and a drug user . He doesn't work because he doesn't want to . He has an all-expenses-paid life .
When my mother dies, how do we settle the estate ? If the house is given to my brother, he would lose it because he has no concept of paying bills . My sister thinks we should sell the place , give my brother his share and move on .
Dear Help Me ,
It's difficult to make plans in advance if you don't know whether your mother has a will that leaves the house to your brother , in which case, he is free to let it collapse into ruin .
You should consider all the possibilities, including how much responsibility you will take for your brother when the gravy train stops . Unless he gets help for his addictions, his behavior is unlikely to change . Are you comfortable throwing him out of the house ? You can't force your mother to settle these questions, although please urge her to see a lawyer .
Dear Maxy ,
I live far away from my family, but still try to keep in touch . The problem is my sister "Diane," who always misinterprets what I say .
Last month for example, we were talking about Dr. Oz when I commented that we'd have to wait 20 years to see whether some of those suggestions work . That night, Diane told my brother that I said I wouldn't care if she died . I tried to call, email and text to smooth things over, but she wouldn't answer . My mom doesn't want us to fight . I had no idea we were fighting until my brother told me .
A week later , Diane allowed me to apologize, and things were fine, but it has happened again . I suggested that we limit our Thanksgiving guests to the immediate family (24) people . Again, I got a call from my brother saying Diane thinks I hate her in-laws . I tried to contact her to explain, but she is ignoring me ..
I am tired of being the bad guy . I can't help that she interprets my comments in the worst possible way . How can I end the cycle .
Not a Meanie
Dear Not a Meanie,
Dear Not a Meanie,
Diane sounds as if she is hypersensitive and looking for excuses to be upset with you . One of the reasons she doesn't tell you directly is because she is mulling it over, and it's much more effective if she waits and then tells your brother her own version . Then she punishes you by staying out of contact until you are groveling . She has her technique down cold and you fall for it every time .
If you think you can discuss this with her rationally, then do so . Otherwise, keep conversations short and neutral . If she becomes upset send a sweet email saying you are sorry she is unhappy . Then leave it alone .
Dear Maxy ,
I have been married to the love of my life for 30 years . About 10 years ago we moved to be closer to friends and family . It seemed to coincide with early menopause for my wife, which brought with it zero desire for intimacy . My wife asked me whether I thought it was OK to not have sex any longer and being an acquiescent idiot, I said "fine."
Now I'm frustrated and wondering what the future holds . I am in my mid-60s, and my wife is in her early 50s . Do I go the rest of my life without ? I need the other person to have some passion for me, or it's not worth having .
Lost and Needy
Dear Lost and Needy ,
Dear Lost and Needy ,
You need to revisit this issue . No matter what you agreed to at the time you have become increasingly resentful and your wife deserves to know . This affects your marriage in a critical way . Unfortunately your wife may not agree to more intimacy and even if she does you may not get the passion you desire . Ask if she would be willing to talk to her doctor about it , and then please seek counselling .
All in, 2013 was an embarrassment for the entire tech industry and the engine that powers it—Silicon Valley. Innovation was replaced by financial engineering, mergers and acquisitions, and evasion of regulations. Not a single breakthrough product was unveiled—and for reasons outlined below, Google Glass doesn’t count. If it’s in the nature of progress to move in leaps, there are necessarily lulls in between. Here are all the reasons 2013 was a great big dud for technology as a whole:
1. Mobile phones stagnated
AP Photo/Matt Dunham
2013 was the year smartphones became commodities, just like the PCs they supplanted. Even at the high end, Apple and Samsung’s newest flagship phones weren’t big leaps ahead from previous versions. The most that Apple could think to do with the new, faster processor in the iPhone 5S was animate 3D effects that make some users feel ill and a fingerprint sensor that solved a problem that wasn’t exactly pressing. Apple’s new iOS7 mobile operating system, which felt “more like a Microsoft release,” crippled many older iPhones and led to complaints of planned obsolescence.
Samsung’s update to history’s best-selling Android phone, the Galaxy S series, delivered on the technical specifications but continued the line’s “unpleasant, cheap design.” Packed with new features like touch-free gesture control, the phone also has an “easy mode” in recognition that many will want to switch them off, and suffers from an interface that stutters at odd moments despite its powerful electronics. Meanwhile, Google’s mysterious superphone turned out to be the Moto X, which is a nice Android phone but hardly revolutionary.
The one good thing about all this commodification is that smartphones are cheaper than ever—in 2014 they’ll cost as little as $20 in China—just like high-end televisions. Prices for good tablets have similarly collapsed.
2. Wearables were a letdown
AP Photo/Gero Breloer
The tone-deaf design of Google’s Glass headset—which to anyone but its user is a head-mounted video camera without the tiny light that all other video cameras have to tell you you’re being filmed—made the device such anathema that one pundit wondered whether he should be ashamed to wear it in public. Sergey Brin’s personal campaign to make wearing Glass look normal couldn’t hide the fact that Glass is a technology in search of an application—unless that application is invasions of privacy.
Smart watches were easily the biggest letdown of the year. Despite the fact that nearly every big electronics manufacturer is working on one, the battery and display constraints have stumped designers. Again and again, reviewers have declared existing models unfit for widespread adoption, with both Sony and Samsung unveiling devices that failed to make a compelling case for themselves.
3. Former giants continued their inglorious decline
Reuters/Lee Jae Won
Microsoft lost nearly a billion dollars on the Surface RT tablet, which was to be the device that pole-vaulted the company over Apple’s iPad and the dying PC industry. Insiders revealed Microsoft’s ruinous internal culture, fostered under a leader who probably never should have been CEO, leading those same insiders to conclude that the only solution is a breakup of the company.
The outlook wasn’t much better for Intel, not because the company hasn’t continued to innovate, but because people don’t need as many of its microprocessors, and the ones they do need are less profitable than ever.
BlackBerry, which investors once thought might be broken into smaller businesses with some latent value, proved to be a near-total loss. And while Hewlett-Packard has put the disastrous acquisitions and rapid-fire leadership changes of recent years behind it, the best that can be said so far is that it’s gracefully managing its own decline.
4. M&A replaced innovation
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan (L), Paul Sakuma (R)
Microsoft bought Nokia‘s devices business, which would have been an astonishing turn of events a few years ago, but now felt like a lurch into an unsure future in which Microsoft remains an also-ran in mobile devices. Most big news about Apple was about the company’s tax-avoidanc techniques and general failure to deliver any new products of note. (It still isn’t making phablets, though they’ve been hugely successful for other manufacturers.)
Google killed its much-vaunted 20% time—the policy of allowing engineers to spend a portion of their working time on their own projects—while insisting it hadn’t, leading to a furious (and public) debate among its employees about whether or not the company is still friendly to bottom-up innovation.
5. The arrogance of technology’s ruling class increased
AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
Even as one entrepreneur declared that Silicon Valley should be a separate US state, economists made the case that much of what the internet has accomplished in the past 20 years is the impoverishment of the majority of Americans. While there isn’t much manufacturing left in rich countries to automate, it appears that robot baristas could threaten jobs in the service sector as well. Some in Silicon Valley even made explicit their goal of eliminating workers and their labor protections. And Uber’s CEO alienated customers by insisting that exorbitant “surge pricing” was nothing more than a way to ensure supply at busy times.
Meanwhile, American tech firms flocked to Ireland in order to avoid regulation, while companies like Uber and AirBnB made it apparent that their business model is dependent on avoiding regulations in the state.
6. Social media became profitable, if not compelling
We became more tired of social media than ever. Twitter filled up with machines. Facebook’s response—to mess with the algorithm that determines what’s in your feed, called Edgerank—made the site less appealing to many.
Facebook did crack the code on how to increase its revenue and boost its share price back to the levels of its 2012 IPO. Unfortunately, those methods included obnoxious video ads. Twitter’s IPO, meanwhile, suggested that the company will have to follow in Facebook’s wake—more, and more intrusive, advertising—in order to justify its share price.
7. Media ravenous for stories bought into techno-hype
The value of bitcoin increased at least 10-fold in 2013, thanks to heavy investment—by the media, which helped talk it up. Managing “big data” became the growth plan of companies like IBM, despite the fact that most companies aren’t handling data that’s anywhere close to “big.”
Amazon scored a huge PR coup when its “surprise” announcement of a new drone program gave the company a boost in visibility worth millions, just ahead of the biggest online shopping day of the year. Amazon competitor FedEx and just about everyone else who knows something about drones maligned the plans as a publicity stunt.
8. The NSA spying scandal put a chill on the biggest technological shifts of coming years
As more and more revelations emerged from the documents Edward Snowden lifted from the US National Security Agency, observers seemed numbed by the sheer scope and audacity of the agency’s domestic and foreign internet surveillance. The fallout for the tech industry has just begun: US companies must now prove, especially to foreign customers, that the move to cloud-based services, which necessitates sending all their data through the very same communication nodes to which the NSA has access, won’t put all of their secrets in the hands of US spymasters by default.
The effects are already being felt. Cisco blamed a poor quarter on deals in Russia and Brazil soured by fears about the NSA. Cisco also warned that this will affect many other US firms and that it threatens the future of the internet of things—fitting, since the implications of a world in which every gadget is a potential mole sure are scary.
And as is the case every year, tech pundits made countless dubious calls for which they will never be held to account.
Thanx to Quartz for material
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Friday, December 20, 2013
Virginia Tech's Thor is not ready, so a substitute - seen on the left - will take part this weekend
Some of the most sophisticated robots that exist today are heading to Florida this week for a Defense Department competition. Seventeen humanoid units will be evaluated Friday and Saturday at Homestead Miami Speedway for how well they can complete tasks including getting into an all-terrain vehicle and driving it, and opening doors.
It's all stuff people can do. But the mission for the teams in the competition is to make robots that could function in disaster zones where the conditions could be threatening to humans. Robots were sent into the Japanese nuclear plant after its 2011 meltdown, but only transmitted back video and other data rather than carrying out repairs.
By contrast the DRC trials will be more demanding. They consist of eight tasks:
- Drive a utility vehicle along a pylon-lined course
- Cross a terrain that features ramps, steps and unfastened blocks
- Climb an 8ft-high (2.4m) ladder
- Remove debris blocking a doorway
- Pull open a lever-handled door
- Cut a triangular shape in a wall using a cordless drill
- Close three air valves, each controlled by a different-sized wheel or lever
- Unreel a hose and then screw its nozzle into a wall connector
Hopeful: The robot designed at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University is called CHIMP - for CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform. It is just over 5 feet tall and is one of 10 robots that were designed and built from scratch over the last 14 months for the DARPA challenge
Helping out: The mission for the teams in the competition is to make robots that could function in disaster zones where the conditions could be threatening to humans. During practice runs at CMU, it took CHIMP several minutes to open a door or attach a fire hose to a water faucet
Trials: Seventeen humanoid units will be evaluated Friday and Saturday at Homestead Miami Speedway for how well they can complete tasks including getting into an all-terrain vehicle and driving it, and opening doors. This is NASA's RoboSimian unit
It's advanced, but the robots, which move far slower than humans, are controlled by people telling them what action to take. The top bots will move into the finals next year. The winning team gets $2 million as part of a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The labs did well enough in the virtual version of the competition this year to be supplied a prebuilt robot and allowed to continue to this month's round of the DARPA challenge.
Preparation: Lockheed Martin's robot rests in Pennsauken, N.J., on Thursday, before engineers begin work with the humanoid robot made for the competition. The 6-foot tall, 300-pound robot is one of seventeen humanoid robots that will be evaluated
Tinkering: Engineer Dave Kotfif examines a hand on the same robot. The winners have a chance of claiming $2 million
Humanoid: The formidable frame of NASA's Valkyrie robot will stomp out of the stuff of sci-fi fantasy and into present day reality at the upcoming DARPA Robotic Challenge. The 6 foot, 2 inch tall automaton was designed by a team of engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in just nine months.
Competitors: Florian from Team ViGIR, (left) developed in Virginia, Oregon and Germany, and (right) the robot from Team KAIST, of Daejeon Metro City, Republic of Korea
With the machine already built, Lockheed's team was responsible for the software. "We want the system to be intuitive to untrained operators," said Bill Borgia, the director of Lockheed's intelligent robotics laboratory.
During a practice session last week, an engineer used a joystick and a computer mouse to tell the 6-foot tall, 300-pound robot where - and how - to move as it picked up pieces of rubble. In a real-life rubble removing situation, the controller might not be close to the robot. That's why the operators did their work from behind a black curtain.
They had monitors to show the view from a camera on the robot, but they could not see the whole action from the outside. The robot designed at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University is called CHIMP - for CMU Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform.
It is just over 5 feet tall and is one of 10 robots that were designed and built from scratch over the last 14 months for the DARPA challenge. Other teams are using their software on robots supplied by DARPA.
Arms out: The robot from Team Mojavaton of Grand Junction, Colorado. This machine is 4 feet 10 inches tall and has a wingspan of 6 feet
Greetings: SCHAFT Inc. has built a bipedal robot - walking on two legs presents a major engineering challenge
Anthony Stentz is the director of the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon and the lead researcher on CHIMP. We wanted to design a robot that had roughly human form, so that it fits in the environment that humans operate in. "But we didn't want to take on the difficult task of building a machine that it too humanlike,' Stentz said.
For example, walking on two legs presents a major engineering challenge, so CHIMP rolls on treads, like a small tank. It has treads on its arms, too, and gets down on all fours to go over rough terrain. Like other robots in the competition, CHIMP gets some commands from humans but also has the ability to make limited decisions.
"So we are telling it what to do, and it's deciding how to do it," Stentz said.
Stentz said many people don't really understand how difficult it is to get a machine to do even simple tasks. Robots excel in doing particular things such as welding a car part on an assembly line. But search and rescue missions take place in vastly different and constantly changing environments.
Climber: This design is from Drexel University in Philadelphia
Leggy: Chiron from Kairos Autonomi Salt Lake City, Utah. This robot has a height of 36 inches and weight of 150 lbs
During practice runs at CMU, it took CHIMP several minutes to open a door or attach a fire hose to a water faucet. While less exciting than fictional robots' capabilities, those tasks are more complicated and varied than robots usually do, such as vacuuming a room.
"We think that the public ends up with a sense that robots are far more capable than they really are," Stentz said of how Hollywood portrays the machines. But someday robots will be able to handle most disasters with efficiency and dispatch.
The alarms wail. The nuclear reactor is breached and belching out toxic waste. A mere human would have no chance of survival. But the mechanized rescue team that clanks into action soon has the situation under control. If the Pentagon has its way robot squads will soon handle such man-made disasters.
To spur on the technology the US defence headquarters' research unit has selected 17 teams and their machines - from more than 100 who applied - to compete in the Darpa Robotic Challenge (DRC) trials near Miami, Florida this Friday and Saturday.
Not everyone is comfortable about the US military developing close relationships with the teams.
"Why would Darpa suddenly want to spend millions of dollars on rescue robots at a time when defence budgets are so tight?" asks Prof Noel Sharkey, co-founder of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control.
"It seems more likely that this is part of a long-term agenda to develop ever more sophisticated robot weapons.
"Those involved in competing should do so in the clear knowledge that they are helping the US develop the next generation of automated weapons systems."
The finals will follow in a year's time to decide who wins the $2m prize and gear-driven glory.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Southern Ontario, southern Quebec and parts of the Maritimes may face a one-two punch of ice pellets and freezing rain this weekend as two storms track toward the Great Lakes from Texas, bringing the possibility of a major ice storm.
The first storm should be rolling into Ontario Thursday evening and through southern Quebec that night, bringing a mix of snow, ice pellets and freezing rain. Regions of southwestern Ontario and into the Greater Toronto Area are expected to see the messiest mix overnight tonight and into Friday morning, with regions north of a line from the Bruce Peninsula into eastern Ontario getting mostly snow.
Southwestern Quebec could see some ice pellets and freezing rain closer to the U.S. border.
These conditions will likely create slippery, potentially dangerous driving conditions Thursday night and through Friday morning's commute. Motorists should check road conditions before venturing out and drive cautiously. Any freezing rain or ice pellets in southern Ontario could become just rain Friday afternoon, but should switch back Friday night as the temperature drops again.
Flights, during one of the busiest travel times of the year, could be affected by the freezing rain as well. Anyone travelling into or out of southern Ontario or southern Quebec on Friday should check the status of their flight before leaving.
After what should be a short break from the messy weather on Saturday, a second storm will press into southern Ontario late in the day or into the evening, and this is the one causing the most concern.
According to Environment Canada, there's still some uncertainty in the track of this storm but "it appears that areas along the Highway 401 corridor have the greatest likelihood for significant freezing rain amounts."
For areas affected by this second shot of freezing rain, there will undoubtedly be even more of an impact on travel, both on the roads and for flights. There is also concern about the potential for widespread power outages. Ice-laden tree branches can snap, taking down power lines in the process. Ice buildup on the power lines themselves is capable of weighing them down enough to snap them from their poles, and as we saw during the 1998 ice storm in eastern Ontario and southwestern Quebec, even electrical towers can be brought down if enough freezing rain falls on one area.
There's no indication yet if things will actually get that bad. However, as the saying goes, "forewarned is forearmed."
I just finished watching a piece on the news about young people assaulting others and calling it a game . It seems they walk up to people and throw the hardest punch they can to the face in an effort to knock someone out .
In one instance, a man was hit so hard, he fell face first to the curb and fractured his skull . He died and the person who hit him was charged with manslaughter . The kids being interviewed were all laughing about it, as if it were some sort of party .
The sad part is that they are raised as if their actions have no consequences . Parents, teach your children before it's to late .
Dear Adult ,
It's sad to see a world where children think assault is a sport, where the constant media barrage publicizes and glamorizes violence and where these immature teens either don't understand the consequences of their actions or think prison is simply another badge of toughness . We doubt they'd find this activity so much "fun" if the victim was someone they cared about .
We've forgotten how to be civilized to one another, nor do we value it . Parents not only need to teach responsibility to their children, but they have the added burden of combating the multiple pernicious influences around them . It's hard to raise kids these days and I commend those parents who manage to do it well .
Dear Maxy ,
I have a friend who often asks : "What's happening ?" But when I attempt to tell her, she rudely interrupts and says, "It don't want to hear about it !" It doesn't matter what the subject is . She even interrupts for others, saying, "She doesn't want to hear about it !" She also cuts me off mid-sentence and finishes my thoughts for me . Attempting to carry on a conversation with her is hurtful and I find her to be rude .
However, If the conversation centers on her, it can go on forever . Also , if she is trying to impress people, no matter how boring the conversation, she hangs on to every word . I have to deal with this "conversation bully " often . How am I suppose to handle her ?
Dear Hurting ,
You are already aware that your friend is self-centered and only interested in conversation that is somehow beneficial to her. When she asks, "What's happening ?" she doesn't really want to know . It's simple her way of saying hello . Here are your options : You can tell your friend how rude this is and ask her to be more considerate ; you can restrict your conversation to topics that stroke her ego ; you can find other friends .
Dear Maxy ,
I just lost a lot of weight and want to get rid of clothes that don't fit anymore .
I have a friend who is about the size I used to be . have a lot of great suits and dresses and different things she may like .
I am unsure of how to bring it up to her so that I don't offend her .
Sometimes people get weird around weight loss . Do you think I should offer the clothes to her ?
Dear Giving Spirit ,
It is fine for you to contact your friend about giving her clothing . What you should not do is emphasize your weight lost . Tell her that you have identified a number of clothing items that you want to give away and that you thought she might want them .
If she is interested, arrange a time to show or share them with her . By leaving your weight out of it, you make it easier for her to be comfortable .
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
The US Federal Reserve has announced a slowdown in its effort to boost the US economy. The central bank said it planned to scale back its $85bn a month bond buying program by $10bn a month.Stimulus of this kind is designed to lower interest rates and boost economic activity. The Fed's governing committee cited stronger job growth as a reason for the decision to begin winding down its program of bond buying. The announcement followed a two-day meeting in Washington DC.
The Fed's decision to begin to ease its extraordinary stimulus efforts also indicates that the central bank believes that the US economy has finally strengthened enough that it no longer needs as much support. The $10bn reduction comes from two areas: the Fed will reduce its US Treasury purchases from $45bn to $40bn per month as well as its buying of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) from $40bn to $35bn per month.
In its forecast for the coming years, the Fed said the employment situation will improve faster than previously expected. It said the unemployment rate will fall to 6.3% in 2014 from its current level of 7%. This could set the pace for further reductions in the Fed's stimulus efforts in the coming year.
In a press conference to discuss the Fed's announcement, Chairman Ben Bernanke said: "If incoming data broadly supports the committee's support for employment we will likely reduce the pace of committee's purchases in further steps at future meetings."
However, he also cautioned: "Continued progress is by no means certain. Adjustments will be deliberate and dependent on incoming information."
With its decision, the US's central bank is recognizing the improvement in the world's largest economy. US markets cheered the news. But this is by no means a job done. Ben Bernanke spoke about the many Americans who have dropped out of the workforce. So the Fed is still providing plenty of support to the economy. In exchange for less bond buying, it has made a commitment to keep interest rates near zero for longer. But given the immediate reaction by financial markets, it appears as if the central bank has successfully managed its shift in policy. Now, it falls to incoming chairwoman Janet Yellen to continue taking the Fed's foot off the gas.
The Dow Jones surged to close up 292.71 points, or 1.84%. Both the Nasdaq and S&P 500 indexes were up over 1% as well. That is partially because, while significant, the amount of the pullback in bond-buying was slightly less than expected."Ultimately this a very small amount - it's symbolic rather than more substantive," Steve Wood, chief market strategist at Russell Investments, commented .
"The takeaway from this is that while the Federal Reserve might be reducing the dosage of the antibiotic, they're not going to be discharging the patient anytime soon."
The Fed also said it remained committed to seeing prices rise before it would completely withdraw its stimulus. The central bank sets a target of a 2% rise in prices annually. Currently, inflation levels are below that threshold, with the most recent consumer price index data showing a 1.2% rise in prices overall and a 1.7% rise in core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs.
"Nothing that we did today was intended to reduce accommodation," Mr Bernanke said during the news conference. We are committed to doing what is necessary to getting inflation back to target."
Mr Bernanke insisted that the changing leadership at the Fed had no impact in the committee's decision. Mr Bernanke is scheduled to step down on 31 January 2014 and it is expected that the current vice-chair, Janet Yellen, will be confirmed to take the helm later this week.
"I have always consulted closely with Janet, even well before she was named by the President and I consulted closely with her on these decisions as well. And she fully supports what we did today," said Mr Bernanke.
When asked how he hoped future historians would view his legacy, he remained coy.
"I hope I live long enough to read the textbooks," he said.
Gunshots rang out inside a Nevada hospital this afternoon, leaving the gunman dead from a self-inflicted wound and at least three other people injured, one of them fatally.
The shooting took place at around 2:15pm on the third floor of Renown Regional Medical Center's Center for Advanced Medicine B in Reno. Reno Police Deputy Chief Tom Robinson said just before 3.40pm local time that two people were dead, including the gunman, and at least two others were being treated for gunshot wounds.
Gun violence: At Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada
Bringing the big guns: SWAT team members are trucked from near the Renown helicopter pad to the Renown Medical Center
Police have since confirmed that the unnamed shooter turned the gun on himself following the rampage that resulted in the hospital going on lockdown. Kandy Hall was in the waiting room when she saw a casually dressed, tall white man enter the room with a gun at his side. "He pointed it at me and then he brandished it at everyone else that was sitting against the wall and he said something like, "everybody get out of here," or "you’d all better get out of here." Then he opened the door to go back to where the doctor and the nurses were," she told Reno Gazette-Journal. Eyewitness Daranda Cone was on her way to a doctor’s appointment at Renown when the shooting happened.
"I saw this woman with blood all over her being rushed past me to the ER,’ Cone told Reno Gazette-Journal." According to local news channels, at least two people, one of them a female doctor, suffered serious injuries and are listed in critical condition. The victims were in surgery Tuesday evening. Deputy Chief Robinson told a news conference that no shots were fired by law enforcement officers during the incident, and that the building had been declared 'safe and secure.
Lockdown: Police swarmed the hospital following the deadly incident
Tragic tally: One victim died and two others are listed in critical condition
Gridlock: Officers gather in front of the Renown Regional Medical Center
East 2nd Street near the hospital was shut down as police officers swarmed the area in response to reports of shots fired. KTVN reported that Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval tweeted: 'Kathleen & I send our thoughts and prayers to those affected by today's tragedy @renownhealth. My staff and I are monitoring the situation.'
The dead shooter's motives are not immediately known.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
On Sunday evening, President Obama and his family attended the 32nd annual Christmas in Washington concert, a benefit hosted by Hugh Jackman for the Children's National Health System.
Before the concert began, the first family helped collect gifts for Washington's Children's National Medical Center and met with five of the hospital's young patients, who were all dressed as elves.
Christmas just isn't Christmas without someone making a silly face for the camera.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio is to enter a team in the new electric motor racing championship Formula E. He has co-founded a Monaco-based team with Gildo Pallanca Pastor, owner of electric carmaker Venturi Automobiles.
Formula E racing starts next year, with the declared aim of giving a boost to the electric vehicle market. The actor, an environmental campaigner, said: "The future of our planet depends on our ability to embrace fuel-efficient, clean-energy vehicles." Among several companies investing in Formula E are Renault, McLaren, chassis-maker Dallara, and US technology group Qualcomm, Michelin, and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin group.
The racing series will compete in 10 of the world's leading cities including Beijing, Los Angeles, Miami, Buenos Aires, Berlin and London. The championship is intending to showcase electric car technology and speed up development and innovation among manufacturers. It has the backing of motorsport's governing body, the FIA, and also the European Commission, which has pressed the motorsport industry to do more to promote electric cars and make them more appealing.
In the first year, the teams will compete in cars with the same specifications. After that, manufacturers will be encouraged to enter their own specially built cars. DiCaprio's Venturi outfit is the 10th team to announce it is entering the series. Alejandro Agag, chief executive of Formula E Holdings, said DiCaprio's involvement would boost the championship's profile and interest in electric vehicles.
"Very few environmental leaders have helped more than him to spread the message of sustainability around the world," he said.
"Having people like Leonardo and Richard Branson - global ambassadors for the environment - is a privilege for our Championship and will greatly help us to spread the use of electric cars in cities around the planet."
Leonardo founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Dedicated to protecting Earth’s last wild places and fostering a harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world.
Since 1998, the Foundation has been working on pressing environmental and humanitarian issues through grant making, campaigning and media projects. Areas of focus include; wildlife and habitat preservation, healthy oceans, water access, climate change and disaster relief. The Foundation’s strategic approach to philanthropy for a better planet relies upon active collaboration with effective organizations as well as with other funders who share our goals and can magnify our impact.
Recent philanthropic efforts include;
- Protecting Tigers from Extinction: a conservation effort in Nepal to protect critical tiger habitat led by World Wildlife Fund in collaboration with local communities, and the Nepali government
- Saving the Last Rainforests: a collaborative effort with WWF, Frankfort Zoological Society, the Australian Orangutan Project, Kehati and Eyes on the Forest to save the largest remaining block of rainforest in Sumatra, home to wild tigers, orangutans, elephants and two indigenous tribes
- Protecting Our Oceans: an international funders collaborative called “Oceans 5” dedicated to stopping overfishing and establishing marine reserves, the two highest ecological priorities identified by scientists
- Saving Sharks: a successful effort of six organizations from five different countries to secure international trade restrictions for five species of threatened sharks at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
- Protecting Antarctica: a grant for the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, a coalition of over a dozen organizations working on five continents to secure the largest network of marine reserves on the planet
- Providing Access to Clean Water: a grant to Concern Worldwide, providing 430,000 people in Tanzania, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Darfur with sustainable access to clean water
Justine Winters is Executive Director, she has been working at the Foundation since 2006.
For more information visit www.leonardodicaprio.com.
Hundreds gathered at Washington's National Cathedral to remember those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School
Monsignor Bob Weiss, of Newtown's Catholic church says the candles, marking prayers for the dead, have been replaced twice since last weekend. It is a time of sad reflection and remembering in the small town. People stop on the street to hug each other and chat quietly for a moment. Many churches have been conducting memorial services and are filled to the last pew.
The priest is recalling not just the massacre, but the hoax bomb calls and the sick graffiti that followed. There is a weight upon him. Conducting the funeral services for eight murdered children, comforting the bereaved for a year, has taken a toll. "If these children don't change something in this world then we are in big trouble," he says; although one is tempted to interject, 'We are already in big trouble'.
"We've become so desensitized to violence , so unfortunately children are growing up in what our Holy Father calls a 'culture of death'."
He says as time passes he can remember more about what happened a year ago. The unwelcome memories keep him awake at night. He often thinks about walking up to the school that day, glass crunching underfoot. He says that this is a town where people come to get away from it all, so he has even more respect for those who have stayed and had the courage to stand up and tell the world how it must change.
"I do think people are trying to make sense of it, but there is no way to make sense of it," he said. "I personally believe that we could have all the legislation we want but until people change in their hearts and start respecting each other, nothing is going to change."
Just a month before the tragedy Elizabeth Esty had been elected to Congress for the Democrats, representing Connecticut's 5th district. She was in Boston, in an induction course for the new job, when she got the call from Newtown. The next week was spent in the town's firehouse, comforting the grieving families.
She recalls "unimaginable pain". She sat with a group of young children and read them stories on the 14th. It was her "act of kindness" to mark the anniversary. The watchword of the anniversary was for each person, far and near, to perform an act of kindness for someone, no matter how large or small.
But she is also firm there must be restrictions on guns. So far, each proposal has been blocked by Congress. But she sees some change.
"It's happened in some states. Here in Connecticut, in New York, in Colorado," she said. " Frankly we are seeing the effect of gridlock in Washington. But we are not giving up. We just can't give up."
Does she blame the political determination to block the president's proposal, or it is a genuine worry about the restrictions?
"It is a mix. In part it is the extraordinary historic power of the National Rifle Association which has been able to defeat politicians in the past, and people are afraid, afraid they may be targeted," she said.
"My message to them is 'stand up for your constituents who overwhelmingly support background checks on weapons'.
"Everyone agrees criminals should not have access to weapons, the mentally ill should not have access to weapons. These should not be partisan issues."
Directly after the tragedy President Obama called for the country to ask some "hard questions", and 33 days after the shooting he came up with a list of specific proposals. Background checks. A ban on assault rifles. A ban on high capacity magazines. All have been rejected by Congress.
In one sense, it is all of a piece with the running theme of the president's second term - pushing for well intended proposals which political common sense should tell him are still, at present, beyond his reach. Some think this is a lack of political finesse on the Hill and misplaced confidence in the power of his own rhetoric. Maybe. Others think there is a strong racial undercurrent which throws up roadblocks to his every proposal.
Mr Obama is best as a campaigner, and is a strong believer that political achievements take time and the public's mood also changes with time. That is certainly true. Back in January he said: "I will put everything I've got into this - but I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it.
"And by the way, that doesn't just mean from certain parts of the country. We're going to need voices in those areas and those congressional districts where the tradition of gun ownership is strong to speak up and to say this is important."
After the Naval Yard shooting in Washington in September, he said: "It may not happen tomorrow and it may not happen next week and it may not happen next month, but it will happen because it's the change we need."
That is what Po Murray believes too. She's the vice chair of the Newtown Action Alliance and thinks the killings were a defining, watershed moment. And just as attitudes to drunken driving or smoking have changed over time, so will people's relationship to guns.
"The 'Alliance' is an important word in our name," she said. "We are working with any and all groups from across the nation who are working to reduce gun violence.
"Right now we have about 160 organizations. We have coalesced together on the idea of background checks, so all gun purchases require background checks."
"It represents about 18 million supporters and we are going to grow and it's a counter movement to the corporate gun lobby."
This is going to get more political, not less, as next year's elections approach. I hope the Newtown tragedy is on everyone's mind today. I wish they could see it as the turning point that had to come, because it takes something very big to change the course of human history. Let the tragedy stand for something other than a madman's rampage. Allow it to be a beacon of enlightenment.
Reference material from Mark Mardell