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Archive for May, 2004


Friday, May 28th, 2004

seaglider_small.jpgSome of the Navy’s top minds sailed into New York today, and brought with them a literal boatload of gadgets: spray-on armor; remote control rifles; camera phones that can read Arabic and Farsi; and this drone to the left, the Seaglider, which can swim for months at a time.
The Office of Naval Research docks its “Afloat Lab” on Manhattan’s West Side each May, as part of the annual Fleet Week celebration here. It’s a way to demonstrate to the taxpayers what Navy-funded scientists have been doing with their hard-earned lucre. This year, the 108 foot-long patrol craft is showing off nearly two dozen technology projects — many of which are bound for Iraq, or have just returned from the Middle East.
My Wired News article has an article on a bunch of the gizmos on display. One device that didn’t make it into the story, however, was a new-fangled headband.
Brian McClimens is working on ways for soldiers to hear their communications in 3D. Turns out that cross-chatter gets a whole lot more understandable when you separate out the voices, spatially. G.I.s can’t wear headphones on the battlefield, though. So Brian’s idea is to give a soldier a headband, with speakers on it. Sounds come out of the speakers, bounce of the helmet, and go into the grunt’s ears spatially correct.
After a bit of soul searching, I decided not to publish the mildly embarrasing pictures of Brian wearing his invention. Appropriately grovelling e-mails may get me to change my mind, however.


Thursday, May 27th, 2004

Since early April, U.S. commanders in Iraq have been vowing to “kill or capture” the renegade cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Now, they appear to be backing off of that promise.
The Times is reporting that American forces and Sadr’s guerillas have struck a deal to end the fighting in the holy cities of Najaf and Kufa.

The agreement, hammered out between Mr. Sadr and Iraqi leaders and approved by the Americans, calls for [Sadr’s] Mahdi Army, whose fighters have held the city since April 5, to put away their guns and go home, and for the American forces to pull most of their forces out of the city. Under the agreement, the Americans can maintain a handful of posts inside the city and may still run patrols through the city center…
In a major concession to Mr. Sadr, the Americans and Iraqi officials promised to suspend the arrest warrant issued against him for his suspected involvement in the murder of a rival cleric in April 2003
In a news conference today, the Americans and the Iraqis said Mr. Sadr’s fate was open to negotiation. Some Shiite leaders said plans were in the works to offer Mr. Sadr or people around him positions in the new government, scheduled to take over when the Americans transfer sovereignty here on June 30.
(emphasis mine)


Thursday, May 27th, 2004

sov-2-front.jpgIt may not be as sexy as liquid armor or soldier-sized scarab shells, but the “Dragon Skin” bulletproof vests sound damn tough.
According to Defense Review, the Skin is basically your standard body armor, laced with silver-dollar sized ceramic discs. These are configured lover the vest ike scales (hence the “Dragon” sobriquet). And they make the outfits super light — but strong enough to stop armor-penetrating bullets.


Wednesday, May 26th, 2004

15720.jpgWaking up with his wife dead was only the beginning of Steve Kurtz’s troubles. Within a few days of her untimely passing, the FBI had raided his Buffalo home. Health workers dressed in hazmat moon suits had turned the place into a quarantine zone. Now, in Kurtz’s livelihood may be in jeopardy, too. And let’s not even get into the legal bills.
Kurtz is a University of Buffalo professor and artist specializing in biotechnology-inspired works: subversive remixes of big pharma corporate materials, kits to see if food is genetically modified. Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, New York’s New Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC displayed his art. The New York Times and Washington Post, among others, have looked on it favorably.
Earlier this month, Kurtz woke up to find his wife, Hope, dead of apparent heart failure. In shock, he called the police. But when the officers came over, they saw strange things: test tubes, Bunsen burners, Petri dishes, and the like. So they brought in the local counter-terror task force, and the FBI.
Kurtz was detained on the way to the funeral home. His house was cordoned off, while the county health department searched for chemical or biological agents and the local TV cameras rolled. And Kurtz’s equipment was all confiscated, for further testing and investigation.
The artist was planning to use some of that gear in a new show at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, slated to open Sunday. Now, that’s not happening. Other works including a book in progress are also on hold. And Kurtz has a $10,000 mountain of legal bills; he’s retained celebrity lawyer Paul Cambria (Larry Flynt and DMX’s defender) to represent him.
Some would say Kurtz had it coming; a 2002 workshop by his group in Halifax two years back lead to a scare with a feaux “bomb.” But, to others, Kurtz’s story is yet another example of how brittle rights can be in Ashcroft’s age of terror.


Wednesday, May 26th, 2004

chris_bomb_1.jpgBack to Iraq’s Chris Allbritton has only been in Baghdad for a few days. And he’s already in the thick of it.
He e-mails friends to say:
“Nasty car bomb today at about 8:15 a.m. Maybe 100 m from my hotel. Im fine, but I was in the Internet caf and every wall and window shook. People poured out of hotels. Too much to do now, but Im fine. Speculation that the car, a blue VW, was carrying wired artillery or mortar shells, based on shrapnel in the street and complete absence of the car. (All that was left of it was the hood which landed about 100 m away, and the engine block, which landed near the hotel.) A window in my kitchen was broken.
The bomb went off right in front of the al-Karma hotel, which makes the black jokes obvious. 5 people injured. Two critically, including a boy 10–11 years old.

Later, Chris sent on a slew of pictures from the scene. Here’s one.
THERE’S MORE: Chris’ heart-breaking full report is now up.


Wednesday, May 26th, 2004

New York City’s chief medical examiner is planning “to test hundreds of DNA samples a day from nearly every crime scene, including burglarized homes and stolen cars,” the Times reports. Before, DNA testing was only done routinely only in homicides, rapes and the most serious assaults.
“Because many property crimes do not yield blood, semen or saliva, the lab will use DNA samples previously considered too minuscule to collect, like skin cells left in a smudged fingerprint or a ski mask, and match them against databases of convicted felons, suspects and DNA profiles from crime scenes and rape kits.”


Tuesday, May 25th, 2004

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who’s leading U.S. military forces on the ground in Iraq, is going to be replaced.
“Sanchez has been besieged lately by questions about his oversight of detainee operations in Iraq, especially his role in the scandal over the abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad,” the Washington Post notes. “But administration officials said the move to install a new four-star commander has been under consideration for months, well before the mistreatment of detainees became major news. “
The Army’s second-in-command, Gen. George Casey, is the main contender for Sanchez’ job. But whoever the new American leader is, it’s clear that he won’t have control over all the forces keeping order in Iraq. The New York Times reports that with “the sharp deterioration of the security situation in recent months, American officials appear to have resigned themselves to working with [private and tribal] militias in Falluja, Baghdad and elsewhere even as American soldiers die fighting them in street battles in Karbala and Najaf.“
THERE’S MORE: “An Army summary of deaths and mistreatment involving prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan shows a widespread pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known,” according to the Times.


Tuesday, May 25th, 2004

natick 1103 004_small.jpgEver since they tangled with the Red Coats, American generals have been giving their grunts more and more and more gear to lug — from rations to radios, body armor to batteries. Now, for the first time, the Army has decided to junk the old uniforms and start from scratch.
“We’re stripping the soldier down to his skin, and building out from there,” said Jean-Louis “Dutch” DeGay, an equipment specialist at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center, which is supervising the seven-year, $250 million overhaul, dubbed Future Force Warrior, or FFW.
One of the most obvious changes is that the new uniforms are unisex. The zipper has been extended, and the uniform’s butt flap has been expanded, so GI Janes aren’t literally caught with their pants down if they have to pee.
FFW’s body armor is probably the biggest improvement, however. It sits on a series of foam pads around the rib cage, so there’s a 2.5-inch gap between the harness and the body. It keeps the GI cool. And it’s almost imperceptibly light — unlike today’s bulletproof vests, many of which are about as comfortable as that lead apron the dentist makes you wear during X-rays. But the scarab-like shell can take five to seven direct hits from a machine gun, and it doubles as a holster for ammunition and grenades.
It also protects the computer that future infantrymen are expected to rely on. Instead of the bulky cables that ordinarily connect the computer to a PDA or a helmet-mounted display, FFW is supposed to use “e-textiles” — durable cloth, with wires woven in. The helmet will integrate night vision into a built-in, half-inch monocle, and bone-conduction microphones will replace radio headsets.
At first, the sensors were metal. But tests showed that “some people’s heads were literally too thick for that to work,” DeGay said. Now, the metal has been replaced with a gel-based sensor that’s sensitive enough to transmit pulse and breathing rates back to base, too.
My Wired News article has details.


Monday, May 24th, 2004

ascender2.jpg“Next month, a V-shaped airship bigger than a baseball diamond is due to rise from the West Texas desert to an altitude of 100,000 feet, navigate by remote control, linger above the clouds and drift back to earth,” Defense Tech pal (and MSNBC correspondent) Alan Boyle writes.
For the U.S. Air Force, the feat will demonstrate the feasibility of a new kind of semi-autonomous craft that could hover in “near space,” to do reconnaissance and relay battlefield communications.
That vision is ambitious enough. But for JP Aerospace, the California-based company that built the airship for the military, the flight would represent just one more small step toward an even bigger conceptual leap: a system of floating platforms that gossamer spaceships could use as high-altitude way stations.

Defense Tech took a tiny peak at JP’s blimp here. More on airships here, here, and here, too.


Monday, May 24th, 2004

First, Donald Rumsfeld clamped down on Defense Department websites, claiming the information they offered was a national security threat. Now, he’s going after digital cameras and camera phones, according to AFP.

Mobile phones fitted with digital cameras have been banned in US army installations in Iraq… the US Defence Department believes that some of the damning photos of US soldiers abusing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were taken with camera phones.
“Digital cameras, camcorders and cellphones with cameras have been prohibited in military compounds in Iraq,” it said, adding that a “total ban throughout the US military” is in the works.
(via Boing Boing)

THERE’S MORE: “I spoke to several NJ Army Guard transportation NCOs just back from Iraq and they told me that availability of free email services like YAHOO and HOTMAIL had been shut down on military provided internet computers in theater,” one Air Force NCO tells Soldiers for the Truth.

In the ANG [Air National Guard] here in CONUS [the continental United States], wing level communications flights and squadrons are DENYING or removing access to free email services for members of each ANG unit. I LOST my access to both YAHOO mail and HOTMAIL on 5/20/04. Prior to that, I used to make contact using these sites even while at my unit. Now, I can no longer do so…
Many of the folks I spoke to used words like “censorship” and “big brother” because they know that their mil domain email accounts are subject to monitoring. These same folks said they feared saying anything critical on a mil domain computer for fear of prosecution.

AND MORE: The report of a Defense Department-wide camera phone ban is bogus, Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin now says. But there is a new directive limiting the use of commercial wireless technology on the DoD’s “Global Information Grid.“
AND MORE: Xeni’s got a kick-ass round-up of the issue in today’s Wired News.