Infantry: New Armor Fixes Old Problems

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

I’m fighting the urge to make a bad “I want my MTV” joke. Infantry: New Armor Fixes Old Problems:

Last year, the U.S. Army introduced new body army, the Modular Tactical Vests (MTV), this year. This replaced the 1990s era Interceptor body armor. The MTV, true to its name, provides many protection options. If troops only want the same level of protection the Interceptor vests provides, the MTV is about three pounds lighter. But if the side armor, and several other additions, are included, MTV weighs about a pound more (18 pounds) than Interceptor. With all these options, the MTV costs about $2,700 each. The army has bought 230,000 of the new vests. The U.S. Marine Corps adopted the MTV about six months before the army did, and spearheaded the new acceptance of the new armor.

The MTV adds more protection to the sides, back and throat. Troops wearing MTV are expected to suffer 5-10 percent fewer casualties than those wearing the older armor. A precise figure will be available after users experience several thousand combat hours with the new armor. MTV is much more user friendly. It has a quick-release system that enables troops to drop the vest in seconds in emergencies. This has proved very popular with troops who have been in vehicle accidents, or just been hit by a roadside bomb. Without the quick release, they might not have been able to get out of a burning vehicle, or avoid enemy fire on the vehicle. Medics have also found the quick release a life saver, enabling them to treat wounds more quickly.

The vest puts more of the weight on the waist, making it more comfortable to wear. Also included are a lot of nice little features, like channels for radio and computer wires. There’s a rifle bolster, making it easier to handle a rifle while wearing the vest. The improved closure system makes it easier to put the MTV on, even after using the quick release.


Saturday, January 26th, 2008

After following a series of links from Wikipedia’s cold reading page, I ended up at Professor Richard Wiseman’s Quirkology YouTube Channel, which includes some fun illusions, like his Corkology demonstration:

Did he really do that in one continuous shot, with no editing and no CGI? Yes:

After the fact, it’s obvious how he does the psychological card trick, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun the first time through:

I also enjoyed the colour changing card trick:

Swing by his Quirkology site to learn more.

Dangerous Minds

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

In Dangerous Minds, which originally ran in the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell puts criminal profiling under the magnifying glass, and he finds that it bears an uncanny resemblance to cold reading:

A few years ago, Alison went back to the case of the teacher who was murdered on the roof of her building in the Bronx. He wanted to know why, if the F.B.I.’s approach to criminal profiling was based on such simplistic psychology, it continues to have such a sterling reputation. The answer, he suspected, lay in the way the profiles were written, and, sure enough, when he broke down the rooftop-killer analysis, sentence by sentence, he found that it was so full of unverifiable and contradictory and ambiguous language that it could support virtually any interpretation.

Astrologers and psychics have known these tricks for years. The magician Ian Rowland, in his classic “The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading,” itemizes them one by one, in what could easily serve as a manual for the beginner profiler. First is the Rainbow Ruse—the “statement which credits the client with both a personality trait and its opposite.” (“I would say that on the whole you can be rather a quiet, self effacing type, but when the circumstances are right, you can be quite the life and soul of the party if the mood strikes you.”) The Jacques Statement, named for the character in “As You Like It” who gives the Seven Ages of Man speech, tailors the prediction to the age of the subject. To someone in his late thirties or early forties, for example, the psychic says, “If you are honest about it, you often get to wondering what happened to all those dreams you had when you were younger.” There is the Barnum Statement, the assertion so general that anyone would agree, and the Fuzzy Fact, the seemingly factual statement couched in a way that “leaves plenty of scope to be developed into something more specific.” (“I can see a connection with Europe, possibly Britain, or it could be the warmer, Mediterranean part?”) And that’s only the start: there is the Greener Grass technique, the Diverted Question, the Russian Doll, Sugar Lumps, not to mention Forking and the Good Chance Guess—all of which, when put together in skillful combination, can convince even the most skeptical observer that he or she is in the presence of real insight.

“Moving on to career matters, you don’t work with children, do you?” Rowland will ask his subjects, in an example of what he dubs the “Vanishing Negative.”

No, I don’t.

“No, I thought not. That’s not really your role.”

Of course, if the subject answers differently, there’s another way to play the question: “Moving on to career matters, you don’t work with children, do you?”

I do, actually, part time.

“Yes, I thought so.”

After Alison had analyzed the rooftop-killer profile, he decided to play a version of the cold-reading game. He gave the details of the crime, the profile prepared by the F.B.I., and a description of the offender to a group of senior police officers and forensic professionals in England. How did they find the profile? Highly accurate. Then Alison gave the same packet of case materials to another group of police officers, but this time he invented an imaginary offender, one who was altogether different from Calabro. The new killer was thirty-seven years old. He was an alcoholic. He had recently been laid off from his job with the water board, and had met the victim before on one of his rounds. What’s more, Alison claimed, he had a history of violent relationships with women, and prior convictions for assault and burglary. How accurate did a group of experienced police officers find the F.B.I.’s profile when it was matched with the phony offender? Every bit as accurate as when it was matched to the real offender.

Rambo Death Chart

Friday, January 25th, 2008

I haven’t seen the new Rambo, but this Rambo Death Chart is priceless:

Too Much Cola Can Cause Kidney Problems

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Too Much Cola Can Cause Kidney Problems:

In a study published in the journal Epidemiology, the team compared the dietary habits of 465 people with chronic kidney disease and 467 healthy people. After controlling for various factors, the team found that drinking two or more colas a day — whether artificially sweetened or regular — was linked to a twofold risk of chronic kidney disease.

But drinking two or more noncola carbonated drinks a day, they found, did not increase the risk.

The authors of the study say more research is needed, but their findings support the long-held notion that something about cola — the phosphoric acid, for example, or the ability of cola to pull calcium from bones — seems to increase the risk of kidney stones, renal failure and other conditions affecting the kidneys.

Startup Says It Can Make Ethanol for $1 a Gallon, and Without Corn

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Startup Says It Can Make Ethanol for $1 a Gallon, and Without Corn:

Coskata uses existing gasification technology to convert almost any organic material into synthesis gas, which is a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Rather than fermenting that gas or using thermo-chemical catalysts to produce ethanol, Coskata pumps it into a reactor containing bacteria that consume the gas and excrete ethanol. Richard Tobey, Coskata’s vice president of engineering, says the process yields 99.7 percent pure ethanol.

Gasification and bacterial conversion are common methods of producing ethanol, but biofuel experts said Coskata is the first to combine them. Doing so, they said, merges the feedstock flexibility of gasification with the relatively low cost of bacterial conversion.

Tobey said Coskata’s method generates more ethanol per ton of feedstock than corn-based ethanol and requires far less water, heat and pressure. Those cost savings allow it to turn, say, two bales of hay into five gallons of ethanol for less than $1 a gallon, the company said. Corn-based ethanol costs $1.40 a gallon to produce, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

The company plans to have its first commercial-scale plant producing up to 100,000 gallons of ethanol a year by 2011. Friedman and Greene said the timeline is realistic.

May Wu, an environmental scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, says Coskata’s ethanol produces 84 percent less greenhouse gas than fossil fuel even after accounting for the energy needed to produce and transport the feedstock. It also generates 7.7 times more energy than is required to produce it. Corn ethanol typically generates 1.3 times more energy than is used producing it.

Making ethanol is one thing, but there’s almost no infrastructure in place for distributing it. But the company’s method solves that problem because ethanol could be made locally from whatever feedstock is available, Tobey said.

“You’re not bound by location,” he said. “If you’re in Orange County, you can use municipal waste. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you can use wood waste. Florida has sugar. The Midwest has corn. Each region has been blessed with the ability to grow its own biomass.”

FEMA Independent Study Program

Friday, January 25th, 2008

FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute has an Independent Study Program with a large selection of classes on disaster preparedness.

[Insert joke here.]

Seriously, take a look. The materials are free to download.

Understanding art for geeks

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Understanding art for geeks is a lot of fun — at least if you’re both net-savvy and art-savvy.

(Hat tip to Drawn!)

Edit: The owner made the photo set private! Argh!

Dos and don’ts with babies

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

I enjoyed this illustrated guide to Dos and don’ts with babies:

Virginia’s Sangria Ban At Issue in 2 Hearings

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Virginia's Sangria Ban At Issue in 2 Hearings:

A Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agent conducting a routine inspection in 2006 cited La Tasca Spanish Tapas Bar and Restaurant in Old Town Alexandria for violating an obscure 75-year-old state law:

It’s illegal to serve sangria in Virginia.

The fruity cocktail of wine and brandy that is a must-have at Spanish restaurants violates a law that forbids mixing wine or beer with spirits. If convicted, a bartender could go to jail for a year.

Apparently spirits should never be mixed with government.

Capturing Warmth from Hot Asphalt

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

BusinessWeek‘s latest Green Biz column mentions an unusual “green” idea:

A Dutch civil engineering company says it is exploiting an abundant source of energy that has been beneath us for many years—or rather, beneath our car tires. It’s the heat captured by asphalt baking under the hot sun. Ooms Avenhorn Holding’s Road Energy Systems are networks of pipes woven into asphalt, plus storage systems beneath the ground. Water in the pipes is heated, stored, then pumped to nearby buildings. In winter, the same pipes can help keep ice off the roads, reducing the need for salt, Ooms contends. The company has already begun some experimental installations, including a Dutch industrial park that captures heat from pipes in a 36,000-square-foot swath of pavement.

Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good?

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good? Probably not:

The dramatic 36% figure has an asterisk. Read the smaller type. It says: “That means in a large clinical study, 3% of patients taking a sugar pill or placebo had a heart attack compared to 2% of patients taking Lipitor.”

Now do some simple math. The numbers in that sentence mean that for every 100 people in the trial, which lasted 3 1/3 years, three people on placebos and two people on Lipitor had heart attacks. The difference credited to the drug? One fewer heart attack per 100 people. So to spare one person a heart attack, 100 people had to take Lipitor for more than three years. The other 99 got no measurable benefit. Or to put it in terms of a little-known but useful statistic, the number needed to treat (or NNT) for one person to benefit is 100.

Lackadaisy Cats

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Matt from Drawn! lauds the “unbelievably lush cartooning and edible character designs from Tracy J Butler in her webcomic, Lackadaisy Cats” — and I think he’s on to something.

24: The Unaired 1994 Pilot

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Somehow I haven’t managed to watch 24 yet, but I got a kick out of 24: The Unaired 1994 Pilot.

(Hat tip to Bryan Caplan.)


Monday, January 21st, 2008

Most Americans know very little about the eastern front during World War 2. They know even less about Khalkhin-Gol and the conflict between Russia and Japan:

In August 1939, just weeks before Hitler invaded Poland, the Soviet Union and Japan fought a massive tank battle on the Mongolian border — the largest the world had ever seen.

Under the then unknown Georgy Zhukov, the Soviets won a crushing victory at the batte of Khalkhin-Gol (known in Japan as the Nomonhan Incident). Defeat persuaded the Japanese to expand into the Pacific, where they saw the United States as a weaker opponent than the Soviet Union. If the Japanese had not lost at Khalkhin Gol, they may never have attacked Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese decision to expand southwards also meant that the Soviet Eastern flank was secured for the duration of the war. Instead of having to fight on two fronts, the Soviets could mass their troops — under the newly promoted General Zhukov — against the threat of Nazi Germany in the West.