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HughPickens.com writes Jacob Hodes writes in Cabinet Magazine that there are approximately two billion wooden shipping pallets in the holds of tractor-trailers in the United States transporting Honey Nut Cheerios and oysters and penicillin and just about any other product you can think of. According to Hodes the magic of pallets is the magic of abstraction. "Take any object you like, pile it onto a pallet, and it becomes, simply, a "unit load"—standardized, cubical, and ideally suited to being scooped up by the tines of a forklift. This allows your Cheerios and your oysters to be whisked through the supply chain with great efficiency; the gains are so impressive, in fact, that many experts consider the pallet to be the most important materials-handling innovation of the twentieth century." Although the technology was in place by the mid-1920s, pallets didn't see widespread adoption until World War II, when the challenge of keeping eight million G.I.s supplied—"the most enormous single task of distribution ever accomplished anywhere," according to one historian—gave new urgency to the science of materials handling. "The pallet really made it possible for us to fight a war on two fronts the way that we did." It would have been impossible to supply military forces in both the European and Pacific theaters if logistics operations had been limited to manual labor and hand-loading cargo.
To get a sense of the productivity gains that were achieved, consider the time it took to unload a boxcar before the advent of pallets. "According to an article in a 1931 railway trade magazine, three days were required to unload a boxcar containing 13,000 cases of unpalletized canned goods. When the same amount of goods was loaded into the boxcar on pallets or skids, the identical task took only four hours." Pallets, of course, are merely one cog in the global machine for moving things and while shipping containers have had their due, the humble pallet is arguably "the single most important object in the global economy."
213 comments | yesterday
Slate reports that even old movies are enough to trigger a pretty strong knee jerk: Team America, World Police, selected as a tongue-in-cheek replacement by Dallas's Alamo Drafthouse Theater for the Sony-yanked The Interview after that film drew too much heat following the recent Sony hack, has also been pulled. The theater's tweet, as reprinted by Slate: "due to circumstances beyond our control,” their Dec. 27 Team America screening has also been canceled." If only I had a copy, I'd like to host a viewing party here in Austin for The Interview, which I want to see now more than ever. (And it would be a fitting venue.)
230 comments | 3 days ago
An anonymous reader writes Australia is starting a public consultation process for new legislation that further restricts the publication and export of technology on national security grounds. The public consultation starts now (a few days before Christmas) and it is due by Jan 30th while a lot of Australians are on holidays. I don't have the legal expertise to dissect the proposed legislation, but I'd like some more public scrutiny on it. I find particularly disturbing the phrase "The Bill includes defences that reverse the onus of proof which limit the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty" contained in this document, also available on the consultation web site.
90 comments | 3 days ago
An anonymous reader writes The Navy is testing a new underwater drone called GhostSwimmer, which is designed to a look like a shark and conduct surveillance work. It is being adapted by the chief of naval operations' Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) project, Silent NEMO, in Norfolk, Va.. GhostSwimmer is 5 feet long and weighs almost 100 pounds. It can operate in water depths from 10 inches to 300 feet, and is designed to operate autonomously for long periods of time, according to the Navy.
45 comments | 4 days ago
An anonymous reader writes: I graduated with a degree in the liberal arts (English) in 2010 after having transferred from a Microbiology program (not for lack of ability, but for an enlightening class wherein we read Portrait of the Artist). Now, a couple years on, I'm 25, and though I very much appreciate my education for having taught me a great deal about abstraction, critical thinking, research, communication, and cheesily enough, humanity, I realize that I should have stuck with the STEM field. I've found that the jobs available to me are not exactly up my alley, and that I can better impact the world, and make myself happier, doing something STEM-related (preferably within the space industry — so not really something that's easy to just jump into). With a decent amount of student debt already amassed, how can I best break into the STEM world? I'm already taking online courses where I can, and enjoy doing entry-level programming, maths, etc.
Should I continue picking things up where and when I can? Would it be wiser for me to go deeper into debt and get a second undergrad degree? Or should I try to go into grad school after doing some of my own studying up? Would the military be a better choice? Would it behoove me to just start trying to find STEM jobs and learn on the go (I know many times experience speaks louder to employers than a college degree might)? Or perhaps I should find a non-STEM job with a company that would allow me to transfer into that company's STEM work? I'd be particularly interested in hearing from people who have been in my position and from employers who have experience with employees who were in my position, but any insight would be welcome.
279 comments | 5 days ago
schwit1 writes The Army's ever-growing use of unmanned aerial systems has gotten to the point where two of the most commonly used UAS are getting their own airport. The service's Corps of Engineers at Fort Worth, Texas, has awarded a $33 million contract to SGS to build a 150-acre unmanned aircraft launch and recovery complex at Fort Bliss for Grey Eagle and Shadow UAS. In related news, the FAA has just cleared 4 companies (Trimble Navigation Limited, VDOS Global, Clayco Inc. and Woolpert Inc.) to use drones commercially, for purposes such as site inspection and aerial surveys. (A lot of drones are already in use, of course, but the FAA doesn't like it.)
48 comments | about two weeks ago
mi writes The U.S. Navy has declared an experimental laser weapon on its Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) in the Persian Gulf an operational asset and U.S. Central Command has given permission for the commander of the ship to defend itself with the weapon. The 30 kilowatt Laser Weapon System (LaWS) was installed aboard USS Ponce this summer as part of a $40 million research and development effort from ONR and Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) to test the viability of directed energy weapons in an operational environment. No word yet on a smaller, shark-mounted version.
225 comments | about two weeks ago
mrspoonsi sends this news from the BBC: The CIA carried out "brutal" interrogations of terror suspects in the years after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., a U.S. Senate report has said. The summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report said the CIA misled Americans on the effectiveness of "enhanced interrogation." The interrogation was poorly managed and unreliable, the report said. President Obama has previously said that in his view the techniques amounted to torture. The Senate committee's report runs to more than 6,000 pages, drawing on huge quantities of evidence, but it remains classified and only a 480-page summary (PDF) is being released. Publication had been delayed amid disagreements in Washington over what should be made public. CIA Director John Brennan has posted a response.
772 comments | about two weeks ago
New submitter cyberjock1980 tips news that an engineer has been caught trying to deliver schematics for an aircraft carrier to the Egyptian government. The 35-year-old civilian received security clearance four months ago after working for the U.S. Navy since February. FBI agents made contact with him, pretending to be with the Egyptian government. They struck a deal to buy documents about the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, the first in a new line of improved, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The man sold four CAD drawings for the carrier, and was later seen photographing another set of schematics. A bond hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
388 comments | about two weeks ago
HughPickens.com writes: Ju-Min Park and James Pearson report at Reuters that despite its poverty and isolation, North Korea has poured resources into a sophisticated cyber-warfare cell called Bureau 121, staffed by some of the most talented, and rewarded, people in North Korea, handpicked and trained from as young as 17. "They are handpicked," says Kim Heung-kwang, a former computer science professor in North Korea who defected to the South in 2004. "It is a great honor for them. It is a white-collar job there and people have fantasies about it." The hackers in Bureau 121 were among the 100 students who graduate from the University of Automation each year after five years of study. Over 2,500 apply for places at the university, which has a campus in Pyongyang, behind barbed wire.
According to Jang Se-yul, who studied with them at North Korea's military college for computer science, the Bureau 121 unit comprises about 1,800 cyber-warriors, and is considered the elite of the military. As well as having salaries far above the country's average, they are often gifted with good food, luxuries and even apartments. According to John Griasafi, this kind of treatment could be expected for those working in the elite Bureau. "You'd have to be pretty special and well trusted to even be allowed on email in North Korea so I have no doubt that they are treated well too." Pyongyang has active cyber-warfare capabilities, military and software security experts have said. In 2013, tens of thousands of computers were made to malfunction, disrupting work at banks and television broadcasters in South Korea. "In North Korea, it's called the Secret War," says Jang.
102 comments | about two weeks ago
v3rgEz writes You may have heard that the image-conscious Los Angeles Unified School District chose to return the grenade launchers it received from the Defense Department's surplus equipment program. You probably have not heard about some of the more obscure beneficiaries of the Pentagon giveaway, but now you can after MuckRock got the Department of Defense to release the full database, letting anyone browse what gear their local department has received.
191 comments | about two weeks ago
itwbennett writes: For the past two years, a team of Iranian hackers has compromised computers and networks belonging to over 50 organizations in 16 countries, including airlines, defense contractors, universities, military installations, hospitals, airports, telecommunications firms, government agencies, and energy and gas companies, researchers from IT security firm Cylance said in an extensive report released Tuesday (PDF). According to the report, "ten of these victims are headquartered in the U.S. and include a major airline, a medical university, an energy company specializing in natural gas production, an automobile manufacturer, a large defense contractor, and a major military installation."
61 comments | about three weeks ago
An anonymous reader writes: Today President Obama announced $263 million worth of funding for law enforcement agencies around the country to outfit officers with body cameras and improve training. The money requires matching funds from state and local authorities, and the $75 million dedicated to body-cams should buy about 50,000 of them. This is in response to the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. "Obama also plans to overhaul how the federal government disperses military equipment to local police departments, the White House said Monday. ... The Ferguson police department deployed officers wearing gas masks, military fatigues, stun guns and rubber bullets during the initial protests. Studies show the procurement of military equipment by police departments has been on the rise as law enforcement has been allowed to cheaply purchase gear originally deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan."
262 comments | about three weeks ago
An anonymous reader writes: A team of hackers is collaborating with military and industry groups to develop cyber security defenses for commercially available cars, in response to a growing threat from criminals and terrorists. In the U.K., hackers are now responsible for a third of car thefts in London and there are fears that while technology is progressing, older models will remain vulnerable to attack. Although there have been no reported instances of a car being completely commandeered outside of controlled conditions, during tests hackers come out on top every time – unlocking car boots, setting off windscreen wipers, locking brakes, and cutting the engine.
114 comments | about a month ago
rossgneumann writes: Pentagon officials are worried that the U.S. military is losing its edge compared to competitors like China, and are willing to explore almost anything to stay on top—including creating robots capable of becoming fighting machines. A 72-page document throws detailed light on the far-reaching implications of the Pentagon's plan to monopolize imminent "transformational advances" in biotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence, information technology, nanotechnology, and energy.
117 comments | about a month ago
KentuckyFC writes: The halting problem is to determine whether an arbitrary computer program, once started, will ever finish running or whether it will continue forever. In 1936, Alan Turing famously showed that there is no general algorithm that can solve this problem. Now a group of computer scientists and ethicists have used the halting problem to tackle the question of how a weaponized robot could decide to kill a human. Their trick is to reformulate the problem in algorithmic terms by considering an evil computer programmer who writes a piece of software on which human lives depend.
The question is whether the software is entirely benign or whether it can ever operate in a way that ends up killing people. In general, a robot could never decide the answer to this question. As a result, autonomous robots should never be designed to kill or harm humans, say the authors, even though various lethal autonomous robots are already available. One curious corollary is that if the human brain is a Turing machine, then humans can never decide this issue either, a point that the authors deliberately steer well clear of.
335 comments | about a month ago
An anonymous reader writes "Californian comm-tech company Aoptix is testing new laser+radio hybrid communications technology with three major U.S. internet carriers. The equipment required can be bolted onto existing infrastructure, such as cell-tower masts, and can communicate a 2gbps stream over 6.5 miles. The system was developed over 10 years at a cost of $100 million in conjunction with the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the military implementation of it is called Aoptix Enhanced Air Ground Lasercom System (EAGLS). The laser component of the technology uses a deformable mirror to correct for atmospheric distortion over the mast-hop, in real-time. The laser part of the system is backed-up by a redundant radio transmitter. The radio component has low attenuation in rainy conditions with large refracting raindrops, while the laser is more vulnerable to dense fog. The system, which features auto-stabilization to compensate for cell-tower movement and is being proposed as an alternative to the tremendous cost p/m of laying fiber cable, is being tested in Mexico and Nigeria in addition to the three ISP trials.
150 comments | about a month ago
HughPickens.com (3830033) writes David Wagner writes that a predictive computer model using machine learning methods is helping to identify soldiers in the United States Army most likely to commit suicide. Computers combed through data on more than 40,000 soldiers who'd been hospitalized for mental health problems looking at 421 variables on each soldier drawn from 38 military data systems. Using a method known as "machine learning," the researchers identified roughly two dozen factors that are most important in predicting soldiers most likely to commit suicide. The soldiers most likely to take their own lives were men with past suicidal behavior and a history of psychiatric disorders and criminal offenses, including weapons possession and verbal assaults. Soldiers with hearing loss also faced heightened risk — a strong indicator that they had suffered a head injury. So did enlisting in the Army after age 27, most likely because those soldiers had already experienced trouble finding their way in life. "There's this group that comes to the Army later in life — they're smart, they have skills, they tend not to be married and they have no career or have left a career to join," Dr. Kessler said. "We don't know why they should be at higher risk, but they appear to be."
Murray Stein, co-author of the new study, found that among soldiers recently discharged from psychiatric hospitals, more than half of suicides were committed by just five percent of patients. "The most impressive thing is that they identified this high-risk group in the hospital, and by just focusing on one in 20 of them, you're really dramatically improving your ability to predict," says Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University who was not involved in the study. "Clinicians don't do a very good job predicting suicide risk, even though we think we do."
74 comments | about a month ago
theshowmecanuck (703852) writes A group calling itself the Russian Union of Engineers has published a photograph, picked up by many news organizations (just picked one, Google it yourself to find more), claiming to show that MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter plane. The interesting thing is the very quick ad hoc crowd sourced debunking of the photograph using tools from Google maps, online photos/data, to their own domain knowledge backed up with the previous information. It would be interesting to understand who the "Russian Union of Engineers" are and why they in particular were chosen to release this information.
340 comments | about a month ago
mpicpp writes with this story about Chinese hackers breaching the federal weather network. "Hackers attacked the U.S. weather system in October, causing a disruption in satellite feeds and several pivotal websites. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, said that four of its websites were hacked in recent weeks. To block the attackers, government officials were forced to shut down some of its services. This explains why satellite data was mysteriously cut off in October, as well as why the National Ice Center website and others were down for more than a week. During that time, federal officials merely stated a need for "unscheduled maintenance." Still, NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen insisted that the aftermath of the attack "did not prevent us from delivering forecasts to the public." Little more is publicly known about the attack, which was first revealed by The Washington Post. It's unclear what damage, if any, was caused by the hack. But hackers managed to penetrate what's considered one of the most vital aspects of the U.S. government. The nation's military, businesses and local governments all rely on nonstop reports from the U.S. weather service."
76 comments | about a month ago