Monday, April 11, 2005
- NPR on the new RFID-equipped U.S. passports, which privacy rights advocates call a significant security risk because their encoded personal information can be read from a distance.
- Who knew you could make a "dry, pale and crisp" wine that tastes like "pinot grigio or a white bordeaux" out of army worm caterpillars? "'If I was looking for a wine made from larvae, I'd choose this,' quipped Andrew Swanson of Fitger's Wine Cellars in Duluth [MN]." Is army worm wine real? Check out the story on the Duluth News Tribune
- Another pretty amazing example of reality copying fiction - Japanese scientists have apparently developed a workable external "bionic" suit that can help the disabled walk and move, or amplify an individual's limb strength [via New Scientist]:
Dubbed HAL, or hybrid assistive limb, the latest versions of the suit will be unveiled this June at the 2005 World Expo in Aichi, Japan, which opened last month. A commercial product is slated for release by the end of the year.
HAL is the result of 10 years' work by Yoshiyuki Sankai of the University of Tsukuba in Japan, and integrates mechanics, electronics, bionics and robotics in a new field known as cybernics. The most fully developed prototype, HAL 3, is a motor-driven metal "exoskeleton" that you strap onto your legs to power-assist leg movements. A backpack holds a computer with a wireless network connection, and the batteries are on a belt.
Two control systems interact to help the wearer stand, walk and climb stairs. A "bio-cybernic" system uses bioelectric sensors attached to the skin on the legs to monitor signals transmitted from the brain to the muscles. It can do this because when someone intends to stand or walk, the nerve signal to the muscles generates a detectable electric current on the skin's surface. These currents are picked up by the sensors and sent to the computer, which translates the nerve signals into signals of its own for controlling electric motors at the hips and knees of the exoskeleton. It takes a fraction of a second for the motors to respond accordingly, and in fact they respond fractionally faster to the original signal from the brain than the wearer's muscles do.
- Robots may someday not only help us move, but they may build our houses as well [via Slashdot]
- Jason Kottke interviews the University of Chicago's Steve Levitt, about his new book, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. The book's catching a serious buzz lately, with nods showing up in Slate, NPR, and other outlets
- Freaky: these days payphones are an endangered species in Maine, but in Wisconsin, feral cats may become fair targets for varmint shooters.
- Whoa, tiger: "Sigfried, Roy Attacker Ruled Delusional" (CBS2 Chicago)
[Cole] Ford, 32, a former kicker for the Oakland Raiders, has been ruled incompetent to stand trial and sent to a mental health facility for treatment.
Ford maintained he never intended to harm anyone and his actions were intended to "warn the world of the illusionists' unhealthy danger to them and to animals," according to the report published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "While watching Siegfied and Roy, he had a sudden realization that what was wrong with the world was linked to the illusionists' treatment, dominance and unhealthy intimacy he saw them having with their animals," Roitman wrote.
Ford told Roitman that he thought the entertainers' contact with their animals was sexual and related to the development of viruses such as AIDS. "He felt they threatened (the) world, and he began to figure out how he could stop them," Roitman said. No one was hurt in the Sept. 21 drive-by shooting, but police said shotgun pellets shattered windows and left a hole in an outside wall at the magicians' home.
- The Internationale, a 19th Century melody popularized as the anthem of the Fourth International Communist Party of the former Soviet Union, is inexplicably still in copyright. [via BoingBoing]
- The "largest collection of old Russian posters on the Internet," via Swen's Blog