I, for one, welcome our new robot masters.

The Self-Healing Minefield

by George Smith

Troops on the Afghan front know mine-clearing is risky work. But Taliban minefields are as nothing next to the Yankee ingenuity that -- through the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- is bringing the "self-healing minefield" to the arsenal of freedom.

Utilizing commercial off-the-shelf computer chips and "healing" software, the networked minefield detects rude attempts to clear it, deduces which parts of itself have been removed, and signals its remaining munitions to close the hole using best-fit mathematics. The mines, which can hop, then redistribute themselves, frustrating the enemy and quite probably terrifying him in the process.

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The self-healing minefield is said to be ready for jump-off to the army this spring, when a prototype 50-mine plot is scheduled for demonstration.

On the self-healing minefield Web page at DARPA -- www.darpa.mil -- admirers of American techno-savvy are greeted by a Flash animation of the technology in action. The weapon's snazzy emblem is the knight, the chess piece known for its ability to jump over and around a foe.

Contractors for the smart minefield include not only the big national labs like Sandia and Los Alamos, which designed the highly advanced part that smashes tanks and maims people, but also Pentagon vendors Foster-Miller and the secretive Science Applications International Corporation (also known as Violence Applications to some cynics). Alliant Techsystems, a leading American mine manufacturer, is also on board. The company boasts its mines are almost 100 percent reliable.

Foster-Miller, a Boston firm, is shrewdly playing both sides in the smart-minefield game. In addition to sowing the means of destruction, it engineers and sells robots for dealing with still-buried mines and unexploded bombs.

In the war on terror, whom will we sic the self-healing minefield on? Designed to stop tanks, it would seem not to have a mission, since Al Qaeda has no panzer divisions. Theoretically, Saddam is out, too, because his Republican Guard armor will all be blown up near Baghdad by bombers before our infantrymen get to lay explosive traps in front of it.

Another possibility is the border between the Koreas, a place that can always use more mines, to the military way of thinking.

But, heck, even if we don't need the self-healing minefield, just making it keeps people at the vendors from the soup kitchens. So far, reports Human Rights Watch, taxpayers have spent about $30 million on the program.

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That Darned Cthulhu

Giant jellyfish off Japanese coast

Giant jellyfish with bodies the size of washing machines have turned up off the central coast of Japan in their largest numbers for decades.

The jellyfish, which are three feet wide, weigh as much as 330 pounds.

They began appearing in the Sea of Japan in mid-August, near the town of Echizen.

The species, identified as stomolophus nomurai, were first found in the Sea of Japan in 1920, said Toru Yasuda, a marine biologist formerly at Fukui University.

But fishermen haven't caught the jellyfish in such large numbers since 1958, he said.

"We don't know what caused it (the population surge)," Yasuda said. "One possible reason is the abnormally warm water temperatures."

In September and October, several fishermen reported more than a thousand jellyfish with bodies the size of washing machines trapped in their nets at a time.

The jellyfish can grow as long as 15 feet, but the poison in their tentacles isn't lethal to humans.

Many fishermen have complained that the jellyfish have cut their hauls by more than half, and discoloured or sickened other fish and shrimp in the catch that have been stung by their tentacles, the official said.

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what to get the yakuza who has everything

Plastic pinkies help yakuza sever ties with underworld

[...] "How's the finger's hardness?" she asks a 37-year-old former wiseguy we'll call Taro who is sitting in Arute's office. While still in the mob, he cut off his left little finger in front of his boss to show the remorse he felt for bungling investments made on behalf of the gang.

He left the underworld five years ago and used a fake little finger to hide his past from a would-be boss. As he works in a manual job, he's already had Arute make him four fake fingers to cope with the way they are quickly ground down because he's constantly rubbing the fake digits against the stump of what had been his real one.

Arute uses silicon to make prosthetic body parts for the disabled or maimed. Fukushima became a prosthetic technician at 21, worked for a while in Hollywood and then learned special effects from an Australian living in Japan.

[...] In the wake of the law's passage and the onslaught of the economic downturn that struck the underworld as hard as any other sector of Japanese society, growing numbers of yakuza gave up their life of crime in favor of something more acceptable. Missing fingers, however, prevented many of them from finding legitimate work. [...]


Hu's on First

[[ ... forwards are lost in the mists of time ... ]]

Jim Sherman wrote this the other day after Hu Jintao was named chief of the Communist Party in China.

By James Sherman

(We take you now to the Oval Office.)

    George:   Condi! Nice to see you. What's happening?
    Condi:   Sir, I have the report here about the new leader of China.
    George:   Great. Lay it on me.
    Condi:   Hu is the new leader of China.
    George:   That's what I want to know.
    Condi:   That's what I'm telling you.
    George:   That's what I m asking you. Who is the new leader of China?
    Condi:   Yes.
    George:   I mean the fellow's name.
    Condi:   Hu.
    George:   The guy in China.
    Condi:   Hu.
    George:   The new leader of China.
    Condi:   Hu.
    George:   The Chinaman!
    Condi:   Hu is leading China.
    George:   Now whaddya' asking me for?
    Condi:   I'm telling you Hu is leading China.
    George:   Well, I m asking you. Who is leading China?
    Condi:   That's the man's name.
    George:   That's who's name?
    Condi:   Yes.
    George:   Will you or will you not tell me the name of the new leader of China?
    Condi:   Yes, sir.
    George:   Yassir? Yassir Arafat is in China? I thought he was in the Middle East.
    Condi:   That's correct.
    George:   Then who is in China?
    Condi:   Yes, sir.
    George:   Yassir is in China?
    Condi:   No, sir.
    George:   Then who is?
    Condi:   Yes, sir.
    George:   Yassir?
    Condi:   No, sir.
    George:   Look, Condi. I need to know the name of the new leader of China. Get me the Secretary General of the U.N. on the phone.
    Condi:   Kofi?
    George:   No, thanks.
    Condi:   You want Kofi?
    George:   No.
    Condi:   You don t want Kofi.
    George:   No. But now that you mention it, I could use a glass of milk. And then get me the U.N.
    Condi:   Yes, sir.
    George:   Not Yassir! The guy at the U.N.
    Condi:   Kofi?
    George:   Milk! Will you please make the call?
    Condi:   And call who?
    George:   Who is the guy at the U.N?
    Condi:   Hu is the guy in China.
    George:   Will you stay out of China?!
    Condi:   Yes, sir.
    George:   And stay out of the Middle East! Just get me the guy at the U.N.
    Condi:   Kofi.
    George:   All right! With cream and two sugars. Now get on the phone.
    (Condi picks up the phone.)
    Condi:   Rice, here.
    George:   Rice? Good idea. And a couple of egg rolls, too. Maybe we should send some to the guy in China. And the Middle East. Can you get Chinese food in the Middle East?
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Oxford student killed in catapult stunt

Oxford student killed in catapult stunt

By Simon de Bruxelles, Lewis Smith and Alan Hamilton

A STUDENT at Oxford University has died after a spectacular human catapult stunt went wrong.

Dino Yankov, 19, a member of a dangerous sports club, fell short of a safety net after being fired 100ft through the air from a copy of a medieval siege engine known as a trebuchet. [...]

Mr Yankov and 20 other members of the Oxford Stunt Factory, which is not an official university club, travelled to Middlemoor Water Park at Woolavington near Bridgwater, Somerset, on Sunday to experience being thrown by the machine in an arc into a safety net. Witnesses said that he was the sixth member of his party to be thrown by the machine, but fell short. He struck the side of the safety net and fell 30ft to the ground. [...]

A spokesman for the Oxford Stunt Factory said that the club was "devastated" by the accident. "The net is the size of a tennis court, so why it didn't catch him I have no idea," the spokesman said. "Other people had been on it before, and it was fine. It had been tested; all the safety checks and test weights had been done to judge distances, and then this happened." [...]

Current Music: Xorcist -- Insect ♬

"Food for Thought"

"Food for Thought"

Holidays are always a time to gather around the dining table with family and friends to share good food and stories about times gone by.

Now graduate student David Small, working with Sony Career Development Professor John Maeda in the Media Lab's Aesthetics and Computation group, has found a unique way to merge the stories and the stuffing. He is using the lab's commercial laser cutter, whose usual purpose is for etching plastics and other industrial materials, to "custom engrave" food. Now family favorites-whether text or images-can actually appear on the fruit, nuts, and vegetables being served.

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