X-Ray Vision?


Public release date: 28-Jun-2013   Contact: Sarah McDonnell

Massachusetts Institute of Technology   s_mcd@mit.edu  617-253-8923

Low-power Wi-Fi signal tracks movement — even behind walls

‘Wi-Vi’ is based on a concept similar to radar and sonar imaging

CAMBRIDGE, MA — The comic-book hero Superman uses his X-ray vision to spot bad guys lurking behind walls and other objects. Now we could all have X-ray vision, thanks to researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Researchers have long attempted to build a device capable of seeing people through walls. However, previous efforts to develop such a system have involved the use of expensive and bulky radar technology that uses a part of the electromagnetic spectrum only available to the military.

Now a system being developed by Dina Katabi, a professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and her graduate student Fadel Adib, could give all of us the ability to spot people in different rooms using low-cost Wi-Fi technology. “We wanted to create a device that is low-power, portable and simple enough for anyone to use, to give people the ability to see through walls and closed doors,” Katabi says.

The system, called “Wi-Vi,” is based on a concept similar to radar and sonar imaging. But in contrast to radar and sonar, it transmits a low-power Wi-Fi signal and uses its reflections to track moving humans. It can do so even if the humans are in closed rooms or hiding behind a wall.

As a Wi-Fi signal is transmitted at a wall, a portion of the signal penetrates through it, reflecting off any humans on the other side. However, only a tiny fraction of the signal makes it through to the other room, with the rest being reflected by the wall, or by other objects. “So we had to come up with a technology that could cancel out all these other reflections, and keep only those from the moving human body,” Katabi says.

Motion detector

To do this, the system uses two transmit antennas and a single receiver. The two antennas transmit almost identical signals, except that the signal from the second receiver is the inverse of the first. As a result, the two signals interfere with each other in such a way as to cancel each other out. Since any static objects that the signals hit — including the wall — create identical reflections, they too are cancelled out by this nulling effect.

In this way, only those reflections that change between the two signals, such as those from a moving object, arrive back at the receiver, Adib says. “So, if the person moves behind the wall, all reflections from static objects are cancelled out, and the only thing registered by the device is the moving human.”

Once the system has cancelled out all of the reflections from static objects, it can then concentrate on tracking the person as he or she moves around the room. Most previous attempts to track moving targets through walls have done so using an array of spaced antennas, which each capture the signal reflected off a person moving through the environment. But this would be too expensive and bulky for use in a handheld device.

So instead Wi-Vi uses just one receiver. As the person moves through the room, his or her distance from the receiver changes, meaning the time it takes for the reflected signal to make its way back to the receiver changes too. The system then uses this information to calculate where the person is at any one time.

Possible uses in disaster recovery, personal safety, gaming

Wi-Vi, being presented at the Sigcomm conference in Hong Kong in August, could be used to help search-and-rescue teams to find survivors trapped in rubble after an earthquake, say, or to allow police officers to identify the number and movement of criminals within a building to avoid walking into an ambush.

It could also be used as a personal safety device, Katabi says: “If you are walking at night and you have the feeling that someone is following you, then you could use it to check if there is someone behind the fence or behind a corner.”

The device can also detect gestures or movements by a person standing behind a wall, such as a wave of the arm, Katabi says. This would allow it to be used as a gesture-based interface for controlling lighting or appliances within the home, such as turning off the lights in another room with a wave of the arm.

Unlike today’s interactive gaming devices, where users must stay in front of the console and its camera at all times, users could still interact with the system while in another room, for example. This could open up the possibility of more complex and interesting games, Katabi says.

Written by Helen Knight, MIT News Office




Google to add the Galapagos to StreetView


  A team has visited the remote Galapagos Islands to capture footage for Google Maps.
Google to add the Galapagos to StreetView

The StreetView team also captured underwater views of the Galapagos Photo: Catlin Seaview Survey

Associated Press 10:22AM BST 24 May 2013

Few have explored the remote volcanic islands of the Galapagos archipelago, the landscape inhabited by the world’s largest tortoises and other creatures that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Soon it will take only the click of a mouse or finger swipe on a tablet to explore some of the Galapagos Islands’ most remote areas, surrounding waters and unique creatures.

Google sent hikers to the Galapagos with Street View gear called “trekkers,” 42-pound (19-kilogram) computer backpacks with ball-like cameras mounted on a tower.

Image courtesy of Google

Each orb has 15 cameras inside it that have captured panoramic views of some inaccessible places on the Galapagos. Crews from The Catlin Seaview Survey worked with Google to capture 360-degree views of selected underwater areas too.

“We spent 10 days there hiking over trails … and even down the crater of an active volcano,” Raleigh Seamster, the project’s leader for Google Maps said. “And these are islands, so half of the life there is under the water surface. So (we brought) Street View underwater to swim with sea lions, sharks and other marine animals.”

Google is processing the footage and is trying to stitch it together. It hopes to post it to make it available on Google Maps later this year.

The cameras captured the nesting sites of blue-footed boobies, the red-throated “magnificent frigatebirds,” swimming hammerhead sharks and the island’s giant tortoises.

Scientists working with Google are exploring the footage for other species and hope to update the pictures regularly throughout the years as they study the effects of invasive species, tourism and climate change on the island’s ecosystems.

“We hope that children in classrooms around the world will be trying to discover what they can see in the images, even tiny creatures like insects,” said Daniel Orellana, a scientist with the Charles Darwin Foundation.

“We can use this as an education experience for children, and there is a huge opportunity for rare discoveries.”

Orellana and others supervised the Google trekkers and helped guide them to rarely visited remote areas, some of them off-limits to tourists.

Image courtesy of Google

They also captured images of the areas frequented by tourists so they can keep track of how this access is affecting the environment.

Since launching Street View in 2007, Google has expanded from urban neighborhoods accessed easily by its mapping cars to harder to access sites like the ocean floor, the Amazon rain forest and the Arctic. Earlier this year it released images of the Grand Canyon.


Transgender Child



VIDEO:    http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/24/us/colorado-transgender-girl-school/

Transgendered 1st grader wins the right to use girls’ restroom

By Ed Payne, CNN  Mon June 24, 2013

Transgender child’s family fights school


  • Coy Mathis wins complaint under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act
  • Coy was denied use the girls’ restroom at her elementary school
  • The school district says Coy can use other restrooms in the school
  • Ruling says district was “objectively and subjectively hostile”

(CNN) — A transgendered first-grader who was born a boy but identifies as a girl has won the right to use the girls’ restroom at her Colorado school.

The Colorado Rights Division ruled in favor of Coy Mathis in her fight against the Fountain-Fort Carson School District.  Coy’s parents had taken her case to the commission after the district said she could no longer use the girls’ bathroom at Eagleside Elementary.

In issuing its decision, the state’s rights division said keeping the ban in place “creates an environment that is objectively and subjectively hostile, intimidating or offensive.”

Coy’s mother, Kathryn Mathis, said she’s thrilled that Coy can return to school and put this behind her.  The first-grader has been home-schooled during the proceedings

“Schools should not discriminate against their students,” Mathis said. “All we ever wanted was for Coy’s school to treat her the same as other little girls. We are extremely happy that she now will be treated equally.”

Mathis and her husband Jeremy will hold a noon (2 p.m. ET) news conference to discuss the case.

The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund praised the ruling that was filled under Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act.  “It is a victory for Coy and a triumph for fairness,” said Michael Silverman, the group’s executive director. “This ruling sends a loud and clear message that transgender students may not be targeted for discrimination and that they must be treated equally in school.”

A girl’s life

For most of the past year, Coy has dressed as a girl.  Coy’s passport and state-issued identification recognize her as female.

Transgender kids: Painful quest to be who they are

Mathis said she got a call “out of the blue” from the school in December saying that Coy could use the boys’ bathroom, gender-neutral faculty bathrooms or the nurse’s bathroom, but not the girls’ facilities.

The district “took into account not only Coy, but other students in the building, their parents and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older,” a letter the family’s attorney received in December said.  “However, I’m certain you can appreciate that, as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls’ restroom.”

CNN was unable to reach the school district early Monday for comment on the ruling. But in February, the district’s attorney, W. Kelly Dude, said: “The district firmly believes it has acted reasonably and fairly with respect to this issue.”

A little-studied group

Transgender children experience a disconnect between their sex, which is based on their anatomy, and their gender, which includes behaviors, roles and activities, experts say.

For the general public, transgender identity may be a new concept, though many might recall Chaz Bono, the child of entertainers Sonny and Cher. Born female, Bono underwent a transition in his 40s to become a man. He wrote in his book “Transition” that, even as a child, he had been “aware of a part of me that did not fit.”  He appeared last year as a man on “Dancing with the Stars,” in part, he said, to destigmatize being transgender.

Being transgender no longer a mental ‘disorder’ in diagnostic manual

Comprehensive data and studies about transgender children are rare. International studies have estimated that anywhere from 1 in 30,000 to 1 in 1,000 people are transgender.

Some children as young as age 3 show early signs of gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder, mental health experts who work with transgender children say.  These children are not intersex — they do not have a physical disorder or malformation of their sexual organs. The gender issue exists in the brain, though experts do not agree on whether it’s psychologically or physiologically based.

Many transgender people report feeling discomfort with their gender as early as they can remember.

Transgender job seekers face uphill battle

Gender identity is often confused with sexual orientation. The difference is that “gender identity is who you are, and sexual orientation is who you want to have sex with,” said Dr. Johanna Olson, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Southern California, who treats transgender children.

Children around age 3 are probably not interested in sexual orientation, she said. But experts say some children who look like they will be transgender in early childhood turn out to be gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Differences in schools

School policies toward transgender students vary across the United States.  In New York, for example, the law says students can’t be discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity.  But in Maine, a court ruled in November that a school district did not violate a transgender student’s rights when she was told she couldn’t use the girls’ bathroom.

Gender nonconformity is not a disorder, group says

Dude, the Colorado school district’s attorney, has said there is nothing in that state requiring public schools to permit transgender students to use restrooms intended for the gender with which they identify.  At the time, he argued that the Fountain-Fort Carson School District adheres to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act in all respects: “Coy attends class as all other students, is permitted to wear girls’ clothes and is referred to as the parents have requested.”

Girl Scouts accept transgender kid, provoking cookie boycott


Carnivorous Plant Keeps House With Ants


A carpenter ant climbs on a pitcher plant in Borneo.

A diving ant walks along the tendril of a pitcher plant in Borneo.

Photograph by Mark Moffett/Minden Pictures/Corbis

A Carpenter Ant swimming unharmed in the juices of a Pitcher Plant. Insects inside a pitcher plant. Photograph by Mark Moffett, Minden Pictures/Corbis

Jane J. Lee  National Geographic   May 22, 2013

Deep in a forest on the island ofBorneo (map), an ant wanders around on a carnivorous plant, seemingly courting a grisly death. But new research shows that the diving ant (Camponotus schmitzi) has nothing to fear from the fanged pitcher plant (Nepenthes bicalcarata), because the two organisms need each other alive.

Mutualistic relationships between insects and plants are nothing new: Some insects guard their plant hosts against herbivores, while others bring in nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable to the plant. The insects get a ready source of nectar and a place to live. (Read about carnivorous plants in National Geographic magazine.)

But this most recent find, published May 22 in the journal PLoS ONE, solves the mystery of a relationship that seems one-sided on the surface. It turns out that the ant keeps a precious nutrient—nitrogen—from leaving the pitcher plant. (Related:“Meat-Eating Plants Getting ‘Full’ on Pollution.”)

Pitcher plants have jug-shaped leaves filled with digestive juices. Insects that get too close to the edge and slip in are then slowly dissolved and digested in the fluid. But diving ants have no problem going in after these unfortunate souls and consuming the drowned insects, thereby stealing the plant’s meal. (Related:“Carnivorous Plants Glow to Attract Prey.”)

But rather than trying to rid themselves of these interlopers, the fanged pitcher plant actually houses diving ant colonies.

“[That] is generally an indication that the ants give [the plant] some benefit,” saidJudith Bronstein, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who was not involved in the study.

“But it’s always been a mystery what the benefit is,” she explained.

Something for Nothing?

Fanged pitcher plants with diving ant colonies grow more quickly than pitcher plants without the ants present, the study authors write.

But no one has been able to satisfactorily explain why the ants and the pitcher plants cooperate, said Mathias Scharmann, an ecologist who performed the study while at Cambridge University in England.

So Scharmann and his colleagues set out to see if the ants were enhancing the plant’s nutrients, and if so, how.

The scientists used a form of nitrogen—a precious and limited nutrient for the pitcher plant—and traced its path from the diving ants to their plant host.

It turned out that when the diving ants excreted their waste or died, the pitcher plants absorbed the nitrogen contained in the feces and carcasses.

No Escape

But diving ants aren’t the only insects that use the fanged pitcher plant. Flies and mosquitoes lay their eggs in the pitcher-shaped leaves, and their larvae also feed on the drowned insects. Once the larvae metamorphose into adults, they fly away, removing nutrients that could have gone to the pitcher plant.

Diving ants prey on these larvae, ultimately allowing the pitcher plant to keep their precious load of nitrogen.

If all of the fly and mosquito larvae never escaped the pitcher plant, the plant would have about 19 percent more nitrogen available, said study author Scharmann.

“It’s a very elegant study,” said Brigitte Marazzi, a botanist at the National Council for Science and Technology (CONICET) in Argentina and a former National Geographic grantee.

No one was able to demonstrate what the nutrient path from the ant to the plant looked like until now, explained Marazzi, who was not involved in the study.

Bronstein agrees, saying that the study authors’ explanation as to why the diving ants and the fanged pitcher plants cooperated was pretty convincing.

“The insects that the ants are mostly eating are insects that have the ability to escape the pitcher plants,” Bronstein said. “So the ants are keeping the nutrients in the plants that would otherwise be lost.”

“This is a great example of why you wouldn’t be able to understand [a relationship like] this if you only took two species into account,” she said. Had the study authors only looked at the pitcher plant and the diving ant, they might have missed what was going on with the fly and mosquito larvae, Bronstein added. (See more pictures of carnivorous plants.)

Book on Obama’s 2nd Campaign


I’m enjoying Jonathan Alter’s  new book, The Center Holds; Obama’s Enemies.

I’ve heard Alter on the radio a couple of times and especially liked his description of Obama’s digital data program:  gave on-line exams to select applicants with strong data analysis background though mostly young.  They developed systems to do things like this:  identify supporters on Facebook who would give names of friends who needed to do something to prepare to vote, example someone who needed to register—send Facebook message to that person naming the friend  who is “hoping you will register.  Can we help you?” — then later send a human to the person’s door to check whether he had registered.  These people in “the cave” did a lot of work in data analysis  and persuasion that business is now using.


REVIEW:  in this engrossing account of the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign. Journalist Alter follows up his bestselling The Promise: President Obama, Year One with a savvy dissection of the 2010–2012 election cycle and related political dogfights, including budget and debt-ceiling showdowns, the Republican primary circus, and the “Obama Derangement Syndrome” infecting Tea Partiers and talk-radio hosts.

At the center are rich portraits of the antagonists: Obama is seen as a cerebral antipolitician with no “schmooze gene” who hates back-slapping, slogan-spewing theatrics; Romney is portrayed as a well-meaning candidate forced to pander to the rabid Right, and unable to convince the middle class he is anything other than a calculating businessman trying to close a deal.

Alter’s well-paced narrative delights in campaign folderol, but he also analyzes deeper currents—including state-level Republican “voter-suppression” efforts aimed at Democrats, and the immense Obama field operation that wedded digital modeling and social networks to old-fashioned door-to-door organizing in revolutionary new ways.

He makes the horse race coherent by teasing out the class politics and demographic shifts driving it. Lucid, entertaining, and alive to the reality behind the posturing, Alter’s report reveals the high stakes and far-reaching import of the 2012 decision. (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)

How Rock ‘N’ Roll Can Explain The U.S. Economy


How Rock ‘N’ Roll Can Explain The U.S. Economy   by SCOTT HORSLEY

June 15, 2013 5:24 AM

Listen to the Story  Weekend Edition Saturday


3 min 53 sec

  In music, and increasingly in other industries, a relative handful of top performers take more and more of the spoils, says White House chief economist Alan Krueger.

White House economic adviser Alan Krueger took some ribbing from his boss this week. President Obama noted that Krueger will soon be leaving Washington to go back to his old job, teaching economics at Princeton.

“And now that Alan has some free time, he can return to another burning passion of his: ‘Rockanomics,’ the economics of rock and roll,” the president said. “This is something that Alan actually cares about.”

In fact, Krueger gave a speech this week at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, where he said the music business offers valuable lessons about the broader U.S. economy.

Read Alan Krueger’s full speech

Krueger titled his speech “Land of Hope and Dreams,” in honor of his fellow New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen.

Springsteen boasted the second-highest-grossing concert tour last year — right behind Madonna — with 72 shows that together raked in more than $199 million. That makes The Boss a fitting emblem of our modern “superstar economy.”

In music, as in so many industries, Krueger says, the lion’s share of the money now goes to a relative handful of top performers.

“The lucky and the talented — and it is often hard to tell the difference — have been doing better and better, while the vast majority has struggled to keep up,” Krueger says.

Economists point to a variety of explanations for that growing concentration of wealth, like technology and globalization. Krueger highlights the role of luck, noting that for every superstar, there are other, equally talented performers who don’t catch the same breaks.

He notes that Columbia Records almost passed on the hit single thatRolling Stone later called the greatest rock ‘n’ roll song ever. Lucky for us, Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” was released. And thanks to modern recording technology, Dylan was able to reach a worldwide audience.

More recently, of course, technology has upended the music business, depressing album sales so artists depend more on concerts to make money. Krueger says that’s a big reason concert tickets have gotten more expensive. But as every good scalper knows, many artists still don’t charge as much as they could, for fear of breaking an implicit bargain with their fans.

“Along these lines, Tom Petty once said, ‘I don’t see how carving out the best seats and charging a lot more for them has anything to do with rock and roll,’ ” Krueger says.

He says for much of the last century, the whole U.S. economy was governed by a similar “social compact” — the idea that economic gains should be widely shared. He argues the philosophy was reinforced in the decades after World War II by a progressive tax system, labor unions and a rising minimum wage.

“I’ll argue that that social compact was good for business, and it was good for the economy,” Krueger says. “But the social compact began to fray in the 1980s.”

Since then, top earners have seen their incomes skyrocket, while the middle class has been treading water, and those at the bottom of the income ladder have actually fallen a few rungs.

Not surprisingly, as an adviser in a Democratic White House, Krueger advocates policies designed to mitigate that trend. He says a stronger middle class would not only fuel more economic growth but also promote more equal opportunity. Otherwise, he says, the next Bob Dylan, Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen might never get his hands on a guitar.


Dexterity For Children With No Fingers


3-D Printer Brings Dexterity To Children With No Fingers

By Steve Henn  Tuesday, June 18, 2013
VIDEO    http://www.capradio.org/news/npr/story?storyid=191279201
An enterprising carpenter and a creative puppeteer teamed up on a do-it-yourself project to build a mechanical hand for a little boy. They created an inexpensive prosthetic and published their designs on the Internet. So far, over 100 children have been outfitted.

Richard Van As was working in his home near Johannesburg, South Africa, in May of 2011, when he lost control of his table saw.  “It’s a possibility that it was a lack of concentration,” he says. “It’s just that the inevitable happened.”

The carpenter lost two fingers and mangled two more on his right hand. While still in the hospital, he was determined to find a way to get back to work. Eventually, solving his own problem led him to work with a stranger on the other side of the world to create a mechanical hand using a 3-D printer. Other prosthetics, including a lower jaw, have been made with the technology before, but making a hand is particularly tricky.

As soon as he got out of the hospital, Van As began researching prosthetics online. They cost thousands of dollars — money he didn’t have.

So in the meantime, he rigged up an artificial index finger for his right hand with materials from his shop. But he kept looking for help or a collaborator — someone who could help him fix his hand.

In time, Van As came across a YouTube video from Ivan Owen. In the video, Owen, a special effects artist and puppeteer in Bellingham, Wash., was demonstrating one of his creations, a big puppet hand that relies on thin steel cables to act like tendons, allowing the metal digits to bend.

“The complexity of the human hand has always fascinated me [and] really captured my imagination,” Owen says.

The two began working together long distance — Skyping, sharing ideas, even sending parts back and forth. Finally, Owen flew to South Africa to finish the work in person with Van As. And today, Van As has a working mechanical finger to assist him with his work.

But something else happened on Owen’s visit to South Africa: While he was there, Van As received a call from a woman seeking help for her 5-year-old son, Liam Dippenaar, who was born without fingers on his right hand. The cause was a rare congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. In ABS, fibrous bands can wrap around a hand or a foot in utero and cut off circulation.

Van As says he and Owen looked at each other and were of one mind: ” ‘Yeah, easy, no problem.’ ”

Within days, they developed a crude, mechanical hand for Liam, with five aluminum fingers that opened and closed with the up and down movement of Liam’s wrist. Owen still remembers the 5-year-old’s reaction when they rigged up the device for the first time.

“He bent his wrist and made the fingers curl,” Owen says. “You could see the light bulbs go off and he looked up and said, ‘It copies me.’ It was really an incredible moment.”

When Owen flew back to the United States, he wondered if the device could be turned into printable parts.

So he emailed MakerBot, a firm that makes 3-D printing equipment, to see if the company would help out. It did, offering both Owen and Van As a free 3-D printer. “Then there was no stopping us,” Van As says.

What had previously taken the pair a week’s time or more — milling finger pieces, adjusting and tweaking parts — now took 20 minutes to redesign, print and test.

Eventually, Liam’s crude hand was replaced with the improved 3-D-printed version, which Van As and Owen call “Robohand.”

“After practicing with it for a little while, Liam was able to pick up a coin, grab objects of different shapes and sizes,” Owen says. “He’s a really determined little guy.”

They posted the design and instructions for Robohand on Thingiverse, a website for sharing digital designs. Anyone can download the plans and — with a 3-D printer and about $150 in parts — make a hand.

Videographer Paul McCarthy and his 12-year-old son, Leon, live in Marblehead, Mass. They discovered Robohand on the Web and decided to make one for Leon, who was born with no fingers on his left hand. Printing the parts (using a friend’s borrowed 3-D printer) was easy, the two say. But it took them a month to figure out how to string, screw and bolt together what they describe as the “Frankenstein” version. It’s still a work in progress, they say, but several weeks ago, Leon wore it to school for a tryout.

“I’m able to hold a pencil and piece of paper,” Leon says. “I’ve done a lot more than I ever thought I could, so it’s opened up a lot of new doors in my life.”

Paul McCarthy says there were few options for his son. The doctor’s advice when Leon was very young was to get used to using his hand without prosthetics and try to acquire a full range of abilities and motion. Leon should first learn to navigate the world relying on his one fully functioning hand and the partial dexterity of his other hand, the doctor advised.

“So the last time we went to visit his hand doctor, he recommended maybe we could start looking for prosthetics,” Paul McCarthy says.

And that’s when father and son found the YouTube videos of little Liam in South Africa.

So far, in addition to his work as a carpenter, Van As has fitted more than 100 children with Robohands. He doesn’t charge anything — not even for the parts — but he does want to train others to learn how to assemble the devices and properly fit kids with them.

To do that, he’s raised some money, and with more people helping, more people will get hands, he says.

Like Leon McCarthy.

“Leon came bouncing out of school with this biggest smile,” Paul McCarthy remembers. He remembers Leon saying: “Look, it’s working, the Frankenstein hand is functioning! I am holding my lunch bag.”

But getting the fit just right was hard for McCarthy and his son, and experts in prosthetics say users are bound to have these kind of challenges.

Matthew Garibaldi, director of orthotics and prosthetics in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, says that making sure a prosthetic device fits is essential for it to work well.

And there are limited options for pediatric prosthetics, Garibaldi says, because there aren’t many kids with upper-extremity amputations. That’s one reason a device like Robohand is so appealing, he says. “Its primary function is to decrease manufacturing costs and increase productivity.”

“The timeliness of this technology couldn’t be better,” Garibaldi says.

And the world of 3-D printing is moving quickly. A new version of Robohand is now available — it’s designed to snap together like Legos. Materials for this version will cost just $5.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.



How Diving Mammals Stay Underwater for So Long


National Geographic Daily News

Positive charges on oxygen-binding proteins are key to diving mammals’ success.

Diving mammals evolved adaptations allowing them to stay underwater for prolonged periods of time.

Jane J. Lee  National Geographic  June 14, 2013

 Imagine holding your breath while chasing down a giant squid (Architeuthis dux)—multi-tentacled monsters wielding suckers lined with tiny teeth—in freezing cold water, all in the dark. That would take a lot out of anybody, yet sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) do this day in and day out.

The ability to dive underwater for extended periods is a specialized feat marine and aquatic mammals have evolved over millions of years. Diving mammals will slow their heart rate, stop their breathing, and shunt blood flow from their extremities to the brain, heart, and muscles when starting a dive. (Related: “Can Diving Mammals Avoid the Bends?”)

But champion divers, such as elephant seals, can hold their breath for about two hours. “It was known that they rely on internal oxygen stores when they’re down there,” said Michael Berenbrink, a zoologist at the University of Liverpool, England, who specializes in how animals function.

But there was something else going on in the bodies of these animals that researchers were missing, until now.

So what’s new? A study published June 13 in the journal Science reports that diving mammals—including whales, seals, otters, and even beavers and muskrats—have positively charged oxygen-binding proteins, called myoglobin, in their muscles.

This positive characteristic allows the animals to pack much more myoglobin into their bodies than other mammals, such as humans—and enables diving mammals to keep a larger store of oxygen on which to draw while underwater.

Why is it important? Packing too many proteins together can be problematic, explained Berenbrink, a study co-author, because they clump when they get too close to each other.

“This [can cause] serious diseases,” he added. In humans, ailments like diabetes and Alzheimer’s can result.

But myoglobin is ten times more concentrated in the muscles of diving mammals than it is in human muscles, Berenbrink said.

Since like charges repel each other—think of trying to push together the sides of two magnets with the same charge—having positively charged myoglobin keeps the proteins from sticking to each other.

What does this mean? Berenbrink and colleagues found this positive charge in the myoglobin of all the diving mammals they examined, although some had larger positive charges than others.

This study provides a nice example of convergent evolution—where different lineages living in similar environments evolve the same answer to a common problem, wrote Randall Davis, a biologist who studies the physiology and behavior of marine birds and mammals at Texas A&M University in Galveston, in an email.

“[And it] sheds light on the origins of myoglobin and its role in extending breath-hold duration in aquatic mammals,” said Davis, who was not involved in the study.

“It will raise some controversy, but at the same time I think it’s going to stimulate more research, which I couldn’t be more pleased about,” said Jerry Kooyman, an animal physiologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego who was not involved in the study.

Kooyman cautions that some of what’s known about aspects of diving behavior, such as dive duration, is based on small sample sizes. So researchers must be careful when trying to draw connections between diving ability and how much myoglobin a species can claim.

What’s next? Berenbrink hopes to look at the myoglobin in humans from societies with a history of diving behavior to see if they show similar changes in their oxygen-binding protein.

“There are ethnic groups around the world who have relied on diving to get food. Some of these humans can stay underwater for a very long time,” he said.



NYC to Recycle Garbage


June 16, 2013  New York Times

Bloomberg’s ‘Final Recycling Frontier’: Food Waste   By MIREYA NAVARRO  

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has tried to curb soda consumption, ban smoking in parks and encourage bike riding, is taking on a new cause: requiring New Yorkers to separate their food scraps for composting.

Dozens of smaller cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, have adopted rules that mandate recycling of food waste from homes, but sanitation officials in New York had long considered the city too dense and vertically structured for such a policy to succeed.

Recent pilot programs in the city, though, have shown an unexpectedly high level of participation, officials said. As a result, the Bloomberg administration is rolling out an ambitious plan to begin collecting food scraps across the city, according to Caswell F. Holloway IV, a deputy mayor.

The administration plans to announce shortly that it is hiring a composting plant to handle 100,000 tons of food scraps a year. That amount would represent about 10 percent of the city’s residential food waste.

Anticipating sharp growth in food recycling, the administration will also seek proposals within the next 12 months for a company to build a plant in the New York region to process residents’ food waste into biogas, which would be used to generate electricity.

“This is going to be really transformative,” Mr. Holloway said. “You want to get on a trajectory where you’re not sending anything to landfills.”

The residential program will initially work on a voluntary basis, but officials predict that within a few years, it will be mandatory. New Yorkers who do not separate their food scraps could be subject to fines, just as they are currently if they do not recycle plastic, paper or metal.

Mr. Bloomberg, an independent, leaves office at the end of the year, and his successor could scale back or cancel the program. But in interviews, two leading Democratic candidates for mayor, Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, expressed strong support for the program — including the plan to eventually make it mandatory.

Sanitation officials said 150,000 single-family homes would be on board voluntarily by next year, in addition to more than 100 high-rise buildings — more than 5 percent of the households in the city. More than 600 schools will take part as well.

The program should expand to the entire city by 2015 or 2016, the sanitation officials said.

Under the program, residents collect food waste — like stale bread, chicken bones and potato peels — in containers the size of picnic baskets in their homes. The contents are then deposited in larger brown bins on the curb for pickup by sanitation trucks.

Residents of apartment buildings dump pails of food scraps at central collection points, most likely in the same places they put plastics and other recyclable material.

The city has historically had a relatively mediocre record in recycling, diverting only about 15 percent of its total residential waste away from landfills.

Still, the residential food-waste program would represent the biggest expansion of recycling efforts since the city began separating paper, metal and plastics in 1989.

The city spent $336 million last year disposing of residential trash, exporting most of it to landfills in Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Food waste and other organic materials account for almost a third of all residential trash, and the city could save about $100 million a year by diverting it from landfills, said Ron Gonen, who was hired last year as deputy sanitation commissioner for recycling and sustainability, a new job at the department.

Experts have long criticized recycling as a weak spot in Mr. Bloomberg’s environmental record. But he appears to want to close out his tenure with a push to improve the program.

In his State of the City address in February, Mr. Bloomberg called food waste “New York City’s final recycling frontier.”

“We bury 1.2 million tons of food waste in landfills every year at a cost of nearly $80 per ton,” he said. “That waste can be used as fertilizer or converted to energy at a much lower price. That’s good for the environment and for taxpayers.”

The city does not handle commercial waste — businesses must hire private carters. But the administration intends to propose legislation that would require restaurants and other food businesses to recycle their food waste.

A central question for the next mayor and City Council will be when to make residential recycling of food waste mandatory, with violators subject to fines.

Mr. de Blasio called diverting trash from landfills “crucially important to the environment and the city’s fiscal health” and said he would like to have a mandatory program within five years.

Ms. Quinn said the City Council would take up a bill this summer to require pilot programs across the city to ensure that voluntary recycling of food waste continues, regardless of who is mayor.

She said a mandatory program should be in place by 2016.

“We’re going to lock it in,” she said. “When New York makes composting part of everyday life, every other city will follow through. This is going to create an urban trend.”

Sanitation officials said they had been heartened by recent pilot programs.

At the Helena, a 600-unit building on West 57th Street in Manhattan, bins are kept in the trash rooms on each floor and emptied daily by workers.

The building’s owner, the Durst Organization, said the weight of the compostable material had been steadily rising, to a total  of 125 pounds daily.

In the Westerleigh section of Staten Island, the city offered 3,500 single-family homes brown bins, kitchen containers and compost bags last April. “There’s a new bin on the block,” a mailer announced.

Residents were told to separate out all foods, and even soiled paper like napkins and plates. Already 43 percent are placing their bins out on the curb for weekly pickups, said Mr. Gonen, the senior sanitation official.


Pilots (Maritime)


In August, Susan and I will meet my brother Patrick Nugent and sister-in-law Jenny for lunch at Schaeffer’s Canal House in Maryland  (photo at http://www.schaeferscanalhouse.com)  which is right on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal joining the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays at their north ends.

Boats can tie up at the restaurant.  Big ships pass  by,  changing pilots without slowing down (takes a lot of energy to accelerate a ship).

The pilot station is next door to the restaurant.  The pilot for the bay to which the ship is going goes out in a small boat, boards the ship, and the pilot for the bay the ship has left goes ashore.                                            rjn


A maritime pilot is a local officer with  skill in ship-handling and special knowledge of a certain body of water, bay, harbor, river, strait, and who is licensed to maneuver ships in that place.  A ship my be required by law to take on a pilot before entering certain water, the Delaware Bay for instance. Pilots are paid very well in most places, famously in San Francisco Bay–about $500,000 a year.

Here are excerpts from a seaman’s note about piloting:

When I was thinking about leaving the deep sea life, I thought about becoming a pilot, which was not as easy as it might appear, as vacancies seemed few and far between and newcomers had to spend an awful long time learning the trade and earning no money while doing it, in most pilotage districts with which I was familiar.

A couple of factors put me off – firstly it seemed to me that all the pilots I knew seemed to spend half their lives in trains, but more importantly I genuinely wondered about whether I could hack the job. Did I have the spatial awareness – the sixth sense that is apparent in a good pilot, who is able to sense whether the tide has cut in early when they are coming off the berth, and realising before anyone else that the helmsman, who speaks no known language, has put the wheel the wrong way? So I found something else to do with my life, and pilotage probably had a narrow escape.

Some years ago, at my nearest port, the pilot boat was off the port for the arrival of a short sea ship, which failed to slow down and was heading straight for the breakwater. The pilot boat went alongside and the pilot leaped onto the foredeck and sprinted to the bridge where he found the master fast asleep in his chair, and no other soul aboard the ship awake. That’s instructive.

The pilot is important because there never has been a time when there has been such intolerance of maritime accident, and the presence of the pilot can be one very useful item of insurance against this happening. Sure, pilots can make mistakes, but they can also stop an enormous number of mistakes happening as by definition, they will be experienced people with a lot of local knowledge.

In Praise of Piloting  http://www.impahq.org/news_display.cfm?id=93