Archive for the ‘awesome’ Tag

Hundreds of French workers take bosses hostage

Hundreds of French workers take bosses hostage

PARIS, France (CNN) — Hundreds of French workers, angry about proposed layoffs at a Caterpillar factory, were holding executives of the company hostage Tuesday, a spokesman for the workers said.

It is at least the third time this month that French workers threatened with cutbacks have blockaded managers in their offices to demand negotiations. Executives were released unharmed in both previous situations.

The latest incident started Tuesday morning at the office of the construction equipment company in the southeastern city of Grenoble.

The workers were angry that Caterpillar had proposed cutting more than 700 jobs and would not negotiate, said Nicolas Benoit, a spokesman for the workers’ union.

They did not want to harm the Caterpillar executives, Benoit told CNN.

One hostage was released Tuesday evening leaving workers with four captives inside the Caterpillar building.

The released man was a human resources director identified only as Mr. Petit, because he has heart problems, union representative Bernard Patrick told CNN. Petit had a heart attack a few weeks ago, Patrick said.

The four others still being held are Nicolas Polutnik, the head of operations; two other executives; and Petit’s personal assistant, he said.

About 500 employees were also outside the building protesting.

A top Caterpillar executive called the hostage-taking unhelpful.

Of MEART and Men

Today, via Cracked’s 9 real life mad scientists (one of the people involved came in at number four), I became aware for the first time of MEART.

In brief: MEART consists of a collection of rat neurons wired up to circuits in Atlanta. These are connected via the internet to a robotic arm in Australia. The arm is capable of drawing, and sends feedback to the neurons.

The creators put it like this:

MEART is suggesting future scenarios where humans will create/grow/manufacture intuitive and creative “thinking entities” that could be intelligent and unpredictable beings. They may be created by humans for anthropocentric use, but as they will be creative and unpredictable they might not necessarily stay the way they were originally intended.

We refer to the wetware/software/hardware hybrid we have created as a Semi-Living artist as it is made of both living and artificial components; part grown – part constructed. While the artistic values of the outcomes of the process (the marks on paper left by the drawing arm) are still in the eye of the beholder, the questions regarding the possibilities are real. What will happen when such a system starts to express qualities that are considered uniquely human aptitudes such as art? Its identity extends beyond our cultural comprehension of living systems. Made from living biological matter, mechanics and electronics simultaneously, it questions the viewer’s perceptions of the concept of sentience.

MEART has a technologically created identity. It is an identity created as a result of the progression and combination of various technologies. Its “brain” is growing in Atlanta and its “body” (or multi bodies) could be anywhere in the world thus highlighting the ubiquitous nature of its existence and identity.

I think my brain just melted.

Brit loonies adventurers headed to Timbuctoo by ‘flying car’

Brit loonies adventurers headed to Timbuctoo by ‘flying car’

An adventurous office developer and “extreme golfer” who was the first man to circumnavigate the UK by jetski now plans an expedition to Timbuctoo in a combination motorised parachute and dune buggy. The “Skycar” vehicle is described as “the world’s first bio-fuelled flying car”.
Concept art from Parajet – the proposed “Road Sport” Skycar

The poor man’s flying car.

Neil Laughton is a modern British adventurer of the usual sort, having undertaken dozens of corporately-sponsored desperate ventures around the world in aid of good causes. Like many of his wilderness-prowling colleagues he is a regular on the after-dinner speaking circuit, on top of his day job as chairman of an office development firm.

So far, so what. But in recent times Mr Laughton’s CV suddenly becomes interesting – according to his website, during 2008 he “developed the World’s first high performance, road legal, bio-fuelled flying car”. That’s enough to make the Reg flying-car desk sit up and take notice.

Tomorrow, Laughton’s “Parajet Skycar” will set off on an expedition to the fabled desert city of Timbuctoo/Timbuktu/Tombouctou in Mali. The Skycar will do much of the journey by road, but will take to the air to get over the Alps and the Straits of Gibraltar, apparently. It will be accompanied by a large cast of adventurous nutters in various support vehicles.

Unfortunately, the Skycar is basically just a paramotor/powered paraglider with wheels – or a dune buggy with a propulsion fan on the back, able to fly along suspended beneath a fabric wing closely related to advanced parachutes. Though Mr Laughton will lead the Mali expedition, the Skycar actually comes from paramotor company Parajet, run by Laughton and Grylls’ Everest backpack-birdman buddy Gilo Cardozo.

CES 09: Mattel Mindflex

Out of this world: British teddy bears strapped to helium weather balloon

Out of this world: British teddy bears strapped to helium weather balloon

It’s not often that Britain can claim a win in the space race. But these teddy bears drifting nearly 20 miles above Earth have become the first soft toys to take part in extra-vehicular activity (to use correct NASA jargon) at such an altitude.

The soft toys MAT and KMS were named after the first initials of the pupils who helped make their space suits.

Along with their two intrepid colleagues, they were strapped to a beam attached to a foam-padded box containing instrumentation and cameras on Monday.

Article contains photos.

And awesome.

Wood on Mars?

Photos released by NASA from the Mars Rover have got some of the conspiraloons in a bit of a tizzy. The pics, which can be found here, show a landscape on Mars. Present in the photos is an object which, it is claimed, is a log of plank of wood.

I find the pictures beautiful in their own stark, bizarre way. As for the plank, as yet I’m not worried. Yet. Rumour has it they are working on an upgrade – a plank of wood with a nail through it!.

Update: it’s a rock. Or so they say.

Astronaut loses toolbag in Grease-gun incident

Own stem cells save woman’s lung

Own stem cells save woman’s lung

A woman has become the first person in the world to be given an entirely laboratory-engineered organ in a landmark operation that could change the face of transplant surgery.

Claudia Castillo’s own stem cells were used to create an artificial airway which replaced the bronchus to her left lung which had collapsed after she suffered a serious tuberculosis infection.

The 30-year-old Columbian-born mother-of-two is also believed to be the first transplant patient not to need powerful drugs to subdue the immune system.

Even though she received no immunosuppressive drugs, so far doctors have seen no hint of Ms Castillo’s immune system rejecting the transplant.

Researchers from the UK, Italy and Spain worked together to grow tissue from Ms Castillo’s own bone marrow stem cells, use them to fashion a new bronchus – a branch of the trachea or windpipe – and carry out the transplant operation.

Without the pioneering operation in June, Ms Castillo’s lung would have been removed by surgeons.

The scientists believe in years to come the same approach will be used to create engineered replacements for other damaged organs, such as the bowel, bladder or reproductive tract.

Exoplanets finally come into view

Exoplanets finally come into view

The first pictures of planets outside our Solar System have been taken, two groups report in the journal Science.

Visible and infrared images have been snapped of a planet orbiting a star 25 light-years away.

The planet is believed to be the coolest, lowest-mass object ever seen outside our own solar neighbourhood.

In a separate study, an exoplanetary system, comprising three planets, has been directly imaged, circling a star in the constellation Pegasus.

While several claims have been made to such direct detection before, they have later been proven wrong or await confirmation.

The search for exoplanets has up to now depended on detecting either the wobble they induce in their parent star or, if their orbits are side-on to telescopes, watching them dim the star’s light as they pass in front of it.

Being able to directly detect the light from these planets will allow astronomers to study their composition and atmospheres in detail.

Forcefields will guard Mars ships from solar ion storms

Forcefields will guard Mars ships from solar ion storms

A team of top boffins believe that they have cracked one of the main problems of interplanetary travel – that of surviving deadly solar radiation storms. The physicists say they have come up with an idea for a crafty forcefield which could stand off the protoplasm-punishing particle squalls of deep space.

Thus far, only a very few people have ever travelled beyond the protection of the Earth’s magnetosphere – the Apollo astronauts who went to the Moon in the 1960s and 70s. All other humans in space – including the crews of the present-day International Space Station – have remained within the protective magnetic field of their home planet.

The Apollo missions were reasonably safe because they were brief – only days long. The risk of a major solar radiation storm was minimal. Even so, had there been a serious solar event during an Apollo mission the results might have been disastrous – the more so as there is no lunar atmosphere to protect explorers.

A journey to Mars, however, is projected to take 6 months – and then there’s the return trip to consider. Even though the astronauts would be protected by the Martian atmosphere (and the planet itself) during their stay, a year in deep space would be very dangerous. Even normal background radiation could be expected to use up much of an astronaut’s lifetime exposure limit.

A solar storm, more or less bound to occur over such a period, would breach the health guidelines and create an unacceptable risk of cancer. A bad particle squall could cause radiation sickness severe enough to incapacitate or even kill a Mars-ship crew on the spot.

But now boffins at the Rutherford Appleton Lab and the Universities of York, Strathclyde and Lisbon have shown that it’s possible to generate a “portable magnetosphere” or magnetic forcefield just a few hundred metres across, which would prevent ionised particles reaching a space ship. It had previously been thought that only mighty planetary-scale fields could possibly be effective, but new computer simulations suggest that just a small “hole” in the solar winds could be enough.