30 September 2013

Odd, but cute

Rico says he finds these ladies, both of whom work for CBS, have preternatually wide mouths:
Lesley van Arsdall
Nancy Cordes

It's, of course, simple

Rico says it's simple: if the government shuts down because of the self-serving stupidity of Congress (which is, sadly, redundant), then EVERY member of Congress needs to be voted out at the next election, even if we have to vote in a couple hundred baboons and wildebeests to replace them (as if we'd even notice the difference).

Okay, not a second...

...but close enough to impress Rico, who can't do one in, like, ever:

The robot in the above video leverages the miracle of computing to analyze a jumbled up Rubik’s cube, and then solve it in less than a second. The initial analysis of the cube takes longer than a second, though. I realize you must be disappointed after having clicked your way here, only to learn that it actually takes more than a second. Feel free to read one fewer thing on the Internet today to make up for it...
If you’re looking for a robot that handles both analyzing and solving in one fell swoop, take the below LEGO-fied CubeStormer II for a whirl. Caveat: It takes just over five seconds for the CubeStormer II to scan the Rubik’s cube and then solve it. “But I need something that can scan and solve a Rubik’s cube much faster than that,” you whine. Well, then, grow your fingernails out and get really good at peeling off the stickers, I guess.

And the blind shall see...

Nick Bilton has an article in The New York Times about new uses for technology:
Luis Perez loves taking photographs. He shoots mostly on an iPhone, snapping gorgeous pictures of sunsets, vintage cars, old buildings, and cute puppies. But when he arrives at a photo shoot, people are often startled when he pulls out a long white cane. In addition to being a professional photographer, Perez is almost blind.
“With the iPhone I am able to use the same technology as everyone else, and having a product that doesn’t have a stigma that other technologies do has been really important to me,” said Perez, who is also an advocate for blind people and speaks regularly at conferences about the benefits of technology for people who cannot see. “Now, even if you’re blind, you can still take a photo.”
Smartphones and tablets, with their flat glass touch screens and nary a texture anywhere, may not seem like the best technological innovation for people who cannot see. But advocates for the blind say the devices could be the biggest assistive aid to come along since Braille was invented in the 1820s.
Counterintuitive? You bet. People with vision problems can use a smartphone’s voice commands to read or write. They can determine denominations of money using a camera app, figure out where they are using GPS and compass applications, and, like Perez, take photos.
Google’s latest releases of its Android operating systems have increased its assistive technologies, specifically with updates to TalkBack, a Google-made application that adds spoken, audible, and vibration feedback to a smartphone. Windows phones also offer some voice commands, but they are fewer than either Google’s or Apple’s.
Among Apple’s features are ones that help people with vision problems take pictures. In assistive mode, for example, the phone can say how many heads are in a picture and where they are in the frame, so someone who is blind knows if the family photo she is about to take includes everyone.
All this has come as a delightful shock to most people with vision problems. “We were sort of conditioned to believe that you can’t use a touch screen because you can’t see it,” said Dorrie Rush, the marketing director of accessible technology at Lighthouse International, a nonprofit vision education and rehabilitation center. “The belief was the tools for the visually impaired must have a tactile screen, which, it turns out, is completely untrue.” Rush, who has a retinal disorder, said that, before the smartphone, people who were visually impaired could use a flip-phone to make calls, but they could not read on the tiny two-inch screens. While the first version of the iPhone allowed people who were losing their vision to enlarge text, it wasn’t until 2009, when the company introduced accessibility features, that the device became a benefit to blind people.
While some companies might have altruistic goals in building products and services for people who have lost their sight, the number of people who need these products is growing.
About ten million people in the United States are blind or partly blind, according to statistics from the American Foundation for the Blind. And some estimates predict that over the next thirty years, as the vast baby boomer generation ages, the number of adults with vision impairments could double.
Apple’s assistive technologies also include VoiceOver, which the company says is the world’s first “gesture-based screen reader”, and lets blind people interact with their devices using multitouch gestures on the screen. For example, if you slide a finger around the phone’s surface, the iPhone will read aloud the name of each application.
In a reading app, like one for a newspaper, swiping two fingers down the screen will prompt the phone to read the text aloud. Taking two fingers and holding them an inch apart, then turning them in a circle like opening a padlock, calls a slew of menus, including ones with the ability to change VoiceOver’s rate of speech or language.
The iPhone also supports over forty different Braille Bluetooth keyboards.
On all the mobile platforms, people with vision loss say, the real magic lies in the hundreds of apps that are designed specifically to help people who are blind.
There are apps that can help people see colors, so pointing their phones at an object will yield a detailed audio description of the color, like “pale yellow green” or “fresh apricot.” People who are blind say these apps open up an entirely new way of seeing the world. Light detection apps can emit a sound that intensifies when someone approaches a light source. This can be used to help people find a room’s exit, locate a window or turn off a light. There are apps that read aloud emails, the weather, and stock prices, as well as Twitter and Facebook feeds.
In the United States, one of the biggest challenges for blind people is figuring out a bill’s denomination. While coins are different sizes, there is no such differentiation between a one-dollar bill and a hundred-dollar bill. In the past, people with impairments had someone who could see help them fold notes differently to know which was which, or they carried an expensive third-party device, but now apps that use the camera can identify the denomination aloud.
“Before a smartphone was accessible we had to carry six different things, and now all of those things are in one of those devices,” Rush said. “A $150 money reader is now a $1.99 app.” She added: “These devices are a game-changer. They have created the era of inclusion.”
While some app makers have made great efforts to build products that help people with impairments, other developers overlook the importance of creating assistive components.
Perez said what he could do now with his smartphone was inconceivable just a few years ago. But even well-known apps like Instagram, which he uses to share some of his photos, do not mark all of their features. “When some developers design their apps, they don’t label all of their buttons and controls, so the screen reader just says, ‘This is a button,’ but it doesn’t say what the button actually does,” Perez said. “That’s an area where we need a lot of improvement.”
Rico says he has a friend, blinded in Vietnam, who might benefit from this...

History for the day

On 30 September 1938, British, French, German, and Italian leaders agreed at a meeting in Munich that Nazi Germany would be allowed to annex Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland.

Rico says look how well that turned out...

Apple for the day

According to an article by Stuart Elliott in The New York Times, Apple has passed Coca-Cola as the most valuable brand name:
Named the most valuable brand by Interbrand, a corporate identity and brand consulting company, Apple is one of five technology companies among the top ten.

29 September 2013

Idiots for the day

The BBC has an article about Alaskan (okay, dumb) drivers:
An Alaskan airport has closed an aircraft access route because of a flaw with Apple's Maps app. Fairbanks International Airport told a local newspaper that in the past three weeks two motorists had driven along the taxiway and across one of its runways. Apple's app had directed users along the taxiway but did not specifically tell them to drive onto the runway. The firm has now issued a temporary fix. Users searching for directions are told they are "not available" rather than showing the earlier route. A spokesman for Apple was unable to provide comment.
The airport said it had first complained to the phone-maker three weeks ago via the local attorney general's office. "We asked them to disable the map for Fairbanks until they could correct it, thinking it would be better to have nothing show up than to take the chance that one more person would do this," Melissa Osborn, chief of operations at the airport, told the Alaska Dispatch newspaper. She added that barricades had since been erected to block access to the final stretch of the taxiway, and that they would not be removed until Apple had updated its directions.
The BBC still experienced the issue when it tested the app, asking for directions to the site from a property to the east of the airport. By contrast the Google Maps app provided a different, longer route which takes drivers to the property's car park.
A spokeswoman for the airport said that Apple had finally disabled the faulty directions at about 19:00BST.
Apple faced criticism after it ditched Google's service as its default maps option last year.
Complaints of inaccuracies followed, including placing Dublin Airport about eleven miles away from its true location, after apparently confusing the site with a farm named Airfield.
The Australian police went so far as to warn that Apple's software was "life threatening" after motorists became stranded in a national park after being given the wrong directions to the city of Mildura, Victoria.
Chief executive Tim Cook posted a letter to the firm's website apologizing for the "frustration" caused and promised "we are doing everything we can to make Maps better".
The company has since taken over several other mapping software developers including Locationary, Hopstop, and Embark.
Reviews of its latest operating system, iOS 7, noted that its Maps product had improved, with the Guardian newspaper reporting that Apple's "POI (points of interest) database is getting better".
However, the latest mishap indicates problems remain. Fairbanks Airport said the drivers involved in the 6 September and 20 September incidents had both been from out of town and had ignored signposts warning them that they should not be driving along the taxiway.
Barricades now prevent drivers following Apple's directions.
"They must have been persistent," the airport's assistant manager Angie Spear told the BBC. "They had to enter the airport property via a motion-activated gate, and afterwards there are many signs, lights, and painted markings, first warning that aircraft may share the road and then that drivers should not be there at all. They needed to drive over a mile with all this before reaching the runway. But the drivers disregarded all that because they were following the directions given on their iPhones."
The runway the motorists crossed was used by 737 jets among other aircraft. No one was injured. "All these types of mapping software have flaws, but the problem for Apple is that because it's such a high-profile brand, it gets a lot of attention," said Neil McCartney from the McCartney Media and Telecoms consultancy. "It's very important for a company in that sort of situation to acknowledge a problem when it is reported and then put it right as fast as possible."
Nick Dillon, senior device analyst at research house Ovum, added that Fairbanks Airport's complaint illustrated how hard the mapping business was to get right. "With Apple Maps, the firm has made a rare misstep by releasing a product which has not lived up to its own high standards. Apple evidently did not fully grasp the complexity involved in deploying a mapping service, and its continuing woes show that it is not an easy thing to fix."
Rico says that blaming Apple for their stupidity is ridiculous...

One solution

The BBC News has a very British solution to one farmer's problem:
Big increases in lamb prices have led to a five hundred percent jump in reported thefts of livestock, according to the agriculture insurance specialists NFU mutual.
One Dartmoor farmer has had enough, and has come up with a unique and eye-catching solution to stop his sheep from being stolen: paint them orange.
Rico says it's easier than sitting up all night with the traditional shotgub...

Another thing Rico won't be doing

The BBC has the story:
American wingsuit flyer Jeb Corliss has performed a jump and dive through a narrow crevasse in the Langshan Mountain in Quzhou, in eastern China's Zhejiang Province.
The 298m-deep valley is twenty meters wide at its widest point and less than four meters wide at its narrowest point.
Two years ago he successfully performed a similar stunt through Tianmen Hole; an actual hole through a mountain in China's Hunan province.
Rico says he's not sure how crazy you have to be to try this, but he's not even close...

Space for the day

Jonathan Amos has a BBC News article about the latest delivery to the ISS:
The new Cygnus freighter has arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) carrying about three-quarters of a ton of food and other supplies. Astronauts on the platform reached out with a robotic arm and grabbed the vessel.
Cygnus is on a demonstration mission to prove its technology. It is one of two commercial ventures seeded by NASA to pick up America's ISS re-supply requirements following the retirement of the space shuttles.
The new vehicle, developed by the Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC), made its approach using a mix of GPS, inertial navigation, and lidar.
It parked itself a little over ten meters under the station, within reach of the Canadarm2.
Operated by astronauts Italian Luca Parmitano and American Karen Nyberg, the robotic limb then grappled the freighter, pulling it into the ISS' Harmony module.
Capture (the securing of bolts mating Cygnus to Harmony) occurred at 1244 GMT, when the ISS was moving over the Indian Ocean.
Cygnus has arrived at the station a week later than planned, after an initial attempt last Sunday encountered software problems. This left the freighter unable to establish the correct communications and navigation links with the space station.
Cygnus was commanded to loiter more than two thousand kilometers from the ISS while engineers developed, tested, and uploaded a patch. The arrival mid-week of a new crew at the station then pushed the second berthing attempt back even further.
Astronauts will wait a day before entering the freighter to start removing its stores. The current schedule calls for Cygnus to stay at the platform for about a month, after which it will be sent into a destructive dive into the atmosphere.
NASA is attempting to hand over routine human spaceflight operations in low-Earth orbit to commercial industry, in a way similar to how some large organizations contract out their payroll.
The carriage of freight is the first service to be bought in from external suppliers; the transport of astronauts to and from the station will be the second, later this decade.
The US space agency hopes these arrangements will save it money that can then be invested in exploration missions far beyond Earth, to destinations such as asteroids and Mars.
To this end, it offered Orbital a series of incentive payments to help it develop a cargo-delivery system, with the carrot of a bumper, eight-flight, two billion dollar operational contract once it was up and working.
NASA has also seeded California's SpaceX company in the development of its Dragon capsule. This vehicle has already completed two missions in a twelve-flight, 1.6 billion dollar contract.
Cygnus has significant European involvement. The pressurised vessel that holds the cargo is produced in Turin, Italy, by Thales Alenia Space (TAS). Its design is based on the logistics modules that TAS produced for the space shuttles when the orbiters ran cargo deliveries to the station.

Rico says space stuff is so cool...

Movie review for the day

Rico says he doesn't even like Leonardo DiCaprio (photo, right) but Martin Scorsese got a good performance out of him in Shutter Island, a convoluted story about a crazy guy who doesn't know he's crazy...
Set on a (fictional) island in Boston Harbor that's a psychiatric hospital for 'the worst of the worst', it also stars Ben Kingsley (photo, left), Mark Ruffalo (photo, center), Max von Sydow, and Ted Levine (who Rico remembers as Lieutenant Wade in The Bridge), with Michelle Williams as his dead wife, Dolores.
It's one of those wheels-within-wheels plots, where you're not sure who's doing what to whom, or why, until the end.
Rico says it's seeing...

More gubs for the day

Michael Luo and Mike McIntire have an article in The New York Times about kids and gubs:
The .45-caliber pistol that killed Lucas Heagren, three, on Memorial Day of 2012 at his Ohio home had been temporarily hidden under the couch by his father. But Lucas found it and shot himself through the right eye. “It’s bad,” his mother told the 911 dispatcher. “It’s really bad.”
A few days later in Georgia, Cassie Culpepper, eleven, was riding in the back of a pickup with her twelve-year-old brother and two other children. Her brother started playing with a pistol his father had lent him to scare coyotes. Believing he had removed all the bullets, he pointed the pistol at his sister and squeezed the trigger. It fired, and blood poured from Cassie’s mouth.
Just a few weeks earlier, in Houston, a group of youths found a Glock pistol in an apartment closet while searching for snack money. A fifteen-year-old boy was handling the gun when it went off. Alex Whitfield, who had just turned eleven, was struck. A relative found the bullet in his ashes from the funeral home.
Cases like these are among the most gut-wrenching of gun deaths. Children shot accidentally— usually by other children— are collateral casualties of the accessibility of guns in America, their deaths all the more devastating for being eminently preventable.
They die in the households of police officers and drug dealers, in broken homes and close-knit families, on rural farms and in city apartments. Some adults whose guns were used had tried to store them safely; others were grossly negligent. Still others pulled the trigger themselves, accidentally fracturing their own families while cleaning a pistol or hunting.
And there are far more of these innocent victims than official records show.
A New York Times review of hundreds of child firearm deaths found that accidental shootings occurred roughly twice as often as the records indicate, because of idiosyncrasies in how such deaths are classified by the authorities. The killings of Lucas, Cassie, and Alex, for instance, were not recorded as accidents. Nor were more than half of the 259 accidental firearm deaths of children under age fifteen identified by The Times in eight states where records were available. As a result, scores of accidental killings are not reflected in the official statistics that have framed the debate over how to protect children from guns.
The police investigation report in the Cassie Culpepper case indicates that her brother, Nicholas, shot her accidentally. But the state medical examiner classified her death as a homicide, a common practice for unintentional firearm deaths in which one person shoots another.
The National Rifle Association cited the lower official numbers this year in a fact sheet opposing “safe storage” laws, saying children were more likely to be killed by falls, poisoning, or environmental factors— an incorrect assertion if the actual number of accidental firearm deaths is significantly higher.
In all, fewer than twenty states have enacted laws to hold adults criminally liable if they fail to store guns safely, enabling children to access them. Legislative and other efforts to promote the development of childproof weapons using “smart gun” technology have similarly stalled. Technical issues have been an obstacle, but so have NRA arguments that the problem is relatively insignificant and the technology unneeded.
Because of maneuvering in Congress by the gun lobby and its allies, firearms have also been exempted from regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission since its inception.
Even with a proper count, intentional shooting deaths of children— including gang shootings and murder-suicides by family members— far exceed accidental gun deaths. But accidents, more than the other firearm-related deaths, come with endless hypotheticals about what could have been done differently.
The NRA's lobbying arm recently posted on its website a claim that adult criminals who mishandle firearms— as opposed to law-abiding gun owners— are responsible for most fatal accidents involving children. But The Times’ review found that a vast majority of cases revolved around children’s access to firearms, with the shooting either self-inflicted or done by another child.
A common theme in the cases examined by The Times, in fact, was the almost magnetic attraction of firearms among boys. In all but a handful of instances, the shooter was male. Boys also accounted for more than eighty percent of the victims. Time and again, boys could not resist handling a gun, disregarding repeated warnings by adults and, sometimes, their own sense that they were doing something wrong.
When Joshua Skorczewski, eleven, took an unloaded twenty-gauge shotgun out of the family gun cabinet in western Minnesota on 28 July 2008, it was because he was excited about going to a gun safety class that night, and wanted to practice.
But, for reasons that he later struggled to explain to the police, Joshua loaded a single shell into the gun and pulled the hammer back. He decided he should put the gun back, but his finger slipped. It fired, killing his twelve-year-old sister, Natasha, who was standing in the kitchen with him. When his mother called from work to check on them, a shaken Joshua told her he had just called 911: “Mom, I shot Tasha.”
Alex Whitfield, eleven, of Houston, was accidentally shot and killed by a fifteen-year-old friend with a gun they found in a closet in his father's apartment. Christina Wenzel, the mother of Alex Whitfield, had tried to make sure he did not visit anyone’s house if guns were present. What she did not know, when Alex went to his father’s apartment in April of 2012, was that a family member had stored three loaded guns there.
“I always thought I had Alex protected from being killed by another child by a gun that was not secured,” Wenzel said. “Unfortunately, I was mistaken.”
Compiling a complete census of accidental gun deaths of children is difficult, because most states do not consider death certificate data a matter of public record. In a handful of states, however, the information is publicly available. Using these death records as a guide, along with hundreds of medical examiner and coroner reports and police investigative files, The Times sought to identify every accidental firearm death of a child age fourteen and under in Georgia, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Ohio dating to 1999, and in California to 2007. Records were also obtained from several county medical examiners’ offices in Florida, Illinois and Texas.
When children are killed in unintentional shootings, medical examiners and coroners classify many as homicides, or even suicides. A detailed examination by The New York Times of death records, available in just a handful of states, found that Federal statistics appeared to understate the actual count.
The goal, in the end, was an in-depth portrait of accidental firearm deaths of children, one that would shed light on how such killings occur and might be prevented. In all, The Times cataloged 259 gun accidents that killed children ages fourteen and younger. The youngest was just nine months old, shot in his crib.
In four of the five states— California, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio— The Times identified roughly twice as many accidental killings as were tallied in the corresponding Federal data. In the fifth, Minnesota, there were fifty percent more accidental gun deaths. (The Times excluded some fatal shootings, like pellet gun accidents, that are normally included in the Federal statistics.)
The undercount stems from the peculiarities by which medical examiners and coroners make their “manner of death” rulings. These pronouncements, along with other information entered on death certificates, are the basis for the nation’s mortality statistics, which are assembled by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Choosing among five options— homicide, accidental, suicide, natural, or undetermined— most medical examiners and coroners simply call any death in which one person shoots another a homicide.
“A homicide just means they died at the hands of another,” said Dr. Randy L. Hanzlick, the chief medical examiner for Fulton County, Georgia. “It doesn’t really connote there’s an intent to kill.”
These rulings can be wildly inconsistent.
In Bexar County, Texas, for example, the medical examiner’s office issued a finding of homicide in the death of William Reddick, a nine-month-old who was accidentally killed on 17 May 1999, when his two-year-old brother opened a dresser drawer while in the crib with him, grabbed a pistol, and pulled the trigger.
But the next year, when Kyle Bedford, two, was killed by his five-year-old brother, who had found a gun on a closet shelf, the same office classified the death as an accident.
The circumstances behind the accidental shooting deaths of Kyle Bedford and William Reddick were similar. But the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office ruled one was a homicide and the other was an accident, highlighting just how inconsistent these pronouncements can be.
Even self-inflicted shootings that are clearly accidental, like that of Lucas Heagren in Ohio, can wind up classified as homicides. Lucas’ father, Joshua Heagren, had tried to teach the three-year-old to respect firearms. The boy had gotten a .22 rifle for Christmas, and his father showed him how to fire it. But he also warned him to handle it only when an adult was present.
Lucas Heagren with his father, Joshua, on Christmas of 2011, holding a .22 rifle that was a present. The photograph was evidence in Heagren's negligent homicide trial after Lucas shot himself. Even cases in which children accidentally shoot themselves can wind up being classified as homicides, as shown in the Summit County Medical Examiner's report on the death of Lucas Heagren:
“He never even attempted to touch guns when Josh wasn’t around,” Lucas’ mother, Kaitlin Campbell, testified at Heagren’s trial, where he was convicted of negligent homicide and endangering children. “He knew.”
On the day of the accident, Heagren had been planning to go out shooting, so he took his pistol from the bedroom, where he normally kept it in a holster between the mattress and the box spring, according to his court testimony. When Campbell and Lucas returned from buying an inflatable swimming pool, Heagren slid his gun under the couch before heading outside to set up the pool.
At some point, with his mother distracted by her phone a few steps away, Lucas discovered the gun, grabbed the butt, and squeezed the trigger with his thumbs, according to the authorities.
“Our thought process was, parents have a duty to keep their child safe,” said Dr. Lisa Kohler, the Summit County medical examiner, whose office classified the case as a homicide. “Leaving a loaded weapon in an area where the child can easily access it is neglect in our mind. Therefore parents have failed to keep a child safe, and therefore it’s a homicide.” Dr. Kohler said that, because of the neglect issue, her office would almost never classify a firearm-related death as accidental, but added: “Different jurisdictions are going to handle things differently.”
Bob Anderson, the chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, explained that the Federal data on firearm deaths are “only as good as the information that comes in. I try to tell people when they look at the accidental data, particularly for children, you have to recognize it’s an underestimate,” he said.
A few public health researchers have noted the undercount in the past, based on their own academic studies. (One study found the opposite phenomenon— an overcount— among fatal gun accidents involving adults because of a different quirk in the data.) To get more accurate information about firearm deaths, researchers have pushed for the expansion of the National Violent Death Reporting System.
The effort first started in the 1990s at the CDC. but was shut down shortly afterward when Congress, at the urging of the NRA, blocked firearms-related research at the centers. The project was revived in 2002 after researchers decided to expand its scope beyond guns, but it is up and running in only eighteen states. President Obama has called for increased financing for the program, part of a package of gun-related proposals made after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012.
Another important aspect of firearm accidents is that a vast majority of victims do not die. Tracking these injuries nationally, however, is arguably just as problematic as tallying fatalities, according to public health researchers. In fact, national figures often cited from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website are an estimate, projected from a sampling taken from hospital emergency departments. Nevertheless, in 2011, the most recent year with available data, the agency estimated that there were 847 unintentional nonfatal firearm injuries among children fourteen and under.
More concrete are actual counts of emergency department visits, which are available in a small number of states. In North Carolina, for instance, there were more than 120 such visits for nonfatal gun accidents among children seventeen and under in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available.
On a hot and humid August afternoon in 2012 in Hinesville, Georgia, Matthew Underhill, a staff sergeant in the Army, was mowing the lawn while his wife, Tessa, was in the house watching television with their five-year-old son, Matthew. Their other son, Tristan, 2, was scampering down a hallway toward the bedrooms.
It had been a good day for Tristan. He had used the potty for the first time. He and his mother had danced a little jig. Down the hall, Tristan entered the bedroom where his father had been staying because of quarrels with his wife. She had chided her husband in the past for forgetting to safely store his .45-caliber handgun. But he had recently put a lock on his door to keep out his wife and children. He thought he had locked the door before going out to cut the grass.
Tristan Underhill, two, died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound after he found his father's gun under a pillow in an unlocked bedroom. The lock, though, had failed to catch. Tristan found the loaded gun under the pillow on his father’s bed. He pointed it at his own forehead and pulled the trigger. Hearing the gunshot, Sergeant Underhill sprinted inside to find Tristan face down on the bed, the gun beneath him. When he called 911, the sergeant was screaming so hysterically that the dispatcher initially mistook him for a woman. “My two-year-old just shot himself in the head,” he said breathlessly. “He’s dead.”
Tristan’s death underscored several themes running through the cases examined by The Times. While about sixty percent of the accidental firearm deaths identified by The Times involved handguns, as opposed to long guns, that number was much higher— more than 85 percent— when the victims were very young, under the age of six. In fact, the average handgun victim was several years younger than long gun victims: between seven and eight, compared with almost eleven.
Over all, the largest number of deaths came at the upper end of the age range, with ages thirteen and fourteen being most common— not necessarily surprising, given that parents generally allow adolescents greater access to guns. But the third-most common age was three (tied with twelve), a particularly vulnerable age, when children are curious, and old enough to manipulate a firearm, but ignorant of the dangers.
About a quarter of the victims shot themselves, with younger children again especially susceptible. More than half of the self-inflicted shootings involved children five or under; the most common age was three.
About half of the accidents took place inside the child’s home. A third, however, occurred at the house of a friend or a relative, pointing to a potential vulnerability if safe-storage laws apply only to households with children, as in North Carolina.
In opposing safe-storage laws, some gun rights advocates have argued that a majority of accidental shootings of children are committed by adults with criminal backgrounds. The Times’ review found that was not the case— children were most often the shooters— and that the families involved came from all walks of life.
On 1 December 2006, Beth Dwyer was getting her two boys, ages five and eight, ready for school. Her husband, Daron, the minister of music at the family’s church in Gastonia, North Carolina, was not home because he had enrolled in a seminary several hours away. The night before, Dwyer had taken the family’s .25-caliber handgun from the top drawer of a dresser and placed it next to her on the bed. In the morning, she forgot to put it away.
Her eight-year-old found the gun. He initially tried to cock it and pulled the trigger, pointing the gun at the bathroom floor, but nothing happened, according to the medical examiner’s report. Evidently thinking the gun was empty, he tried again, pointing the gun at his brother, Matthew, who was crouched on the bathroom counter, having just finished brushing his teeth. This time, with a live round in the chamber, the gun went off, and Matthew toppled to the floor, shot through the forehead.
Even in accidental shootings where criminals were in some way involved, they usually were not the ones pulling the trigger. Rather, they— like many law-abiding adults in these cases— simply left a gun unsecured.
As a felon, Anthony Wise was not supposed to have a firearm. But he was able to buy a .38 Special revolver on the street for thirty dollars. He had it in his ex-girlfriend’s apartment in Venice, Illinois on 29 January 2007, when he left it next to a computer in the living room and went to another room. Within minutes, a four-year-old boy, one of several small children in the apartment, picked up the gun and pointed it at his two-year-old cousin, Timberlyn Terrell. The gun fired. The boy later told an investigator what happened next: “Blood came out of her forehead,” the boy said, according to a transcript of the interview. He then said he did not want to talk about it anymore and asked for “my mama”.
Timberlyn died. Wise was convicted of felony firearm possession, but his ten-year federal prison sentence was based in part on the judge’s determination that he had also endangered a child with his negligence. “Wise would have been a felon in possession even had he possessed the gun in a more responsible way— say, if he had kept it unloaded in a locked cabinet, or if he had kept it unloaded with a trigger lock,” an appellate judge wrote in rejecting his bid for leniency. “More than likely, though, responsible possession would not have endangered the lives of children.”
The impact of the undercount of accidental gun deaths emerges in stark relief in the statehouse battles over gun-storage laws. In state after state and often with considerable success, gun rights groups have cited the federal numbers as proof that the problem is nearly inconsequential and that storage laws are unnecessary. Gun Owners of America says on its website that children are “130 percent more likely to die from choking on their dinner” than from accidental shootings.
In February of 2012, the NRA issued a member alert about a proposed safe-storage law in Washington State, arguing that shootings are “at the bottom of the list of causes of accidental harm to children.” The group accused State Senator Adam Kline, who introduced the measure, of being interested only in “making life miserable for law-abiding gun owners”. The legislation never made it out of committee.
Under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures, in fact, gun accidents were the ninth-leading cause of unintentional deaths among children ages one to fourteen in 2010. (The agency reported 62 such killings that year.) If the actual numbers are, in fact, roughly double, however, gun accidents would rise into the top five or six.
Gun rights groups have certainly called on gun owners to safely store their firearms. The National Shooting Sports Foundation says that it has distributed thirty-six million free firearm safety kits, and that manufacturers have shipped sixty million locks with guns sold since 1998. But the groups argue that requiring gun owners to lock up their weapons could make it harder to use them for self-protection.
The NRA and its allies also often note that studies on the impact of safe-storage laws have found mixed results. But those studies are based on flawed government statistics. “When we’re evaluating child access laws, we’re using total trash data,” said Catherine Barber, a researcher at the Injury Control Research Center of the Harvard School of Public Health.
Getting a definitive count of the number of states with a safe-storage law is difficult, but The Times identified only eighteen, using information from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and researchers who have studied the laws. And, in most of those states, charges can be brought only if the child uses the weapon in a threatening manner, injures someone with it or displays it in public.
Even so, in one state, North Carolina, where the law is narrowly drawn to apply only to adults with minors living at home, the authorities charged about 150 people between June of 2006 and June of 2011, an analysis of court records shows.
Fourteen-year-old Noah McGuire was accidentally shot by a friend, with a gun that had been kept behind a television.
Jodi Sandoval of Ohio discovered the limits of her state’s laws after her fourteen-year-old son, Noah McGuire, was accidentally killed on 5 July 2012, in a suburb of Columbus.
Noah had slept over at the home of his close friend Levi Reed, who lived with his grandparents. In the morning, with no adults around, the boys went looking for a lighter to set off some fireworks. Instead, they found a .45-caliber handgun behind a television in a bedroom, one of three guns that Levi’s grandfather later told the police he had kept there for protection. Though his grandfather had always admonished him never to handle the weapons, Levi, fourteen, removed the magazine, pointed the gun at his friend and pulled the trigger. He did not realize that a round had remained in the chamber.
Levi was recently sentenced in juvenile court to twelve months of probation for reckless homicide, a felony. Sandoval strongly opposed the prosecution, telling the court at Levi’s sentencing that the adults who failed to properly secure the gun were the ones who should be punished. But there is no safe-storage law in Ohio. “There are no accidents,” Sandoval said. “There are simply irresponsible, stubborn, cowardly adults unwilling to stand up against the gun lobby and those who support it.”
A safe-storage bill was introduced in the Ohio legislature in February of 2013, prompted by a shooting that killed three students at a high school in suburban Cleveland. But the measure, which would prohibit storing a firearm in a residence in a place readily accessible to a child, has encountered skepticism from the Republicans who control the legislature. “The tenor was, somebody breaks in, do I have time enough to get to my gun?” said State Representative Bill Patmon, a Democrat who introduced the bill. A similar measure introduced in Louisiana this year also went nowhere.
The NRA has long argued that better education is the key to preventing gun accidents, citing its Eddie Eagle GunSafe program, which teaches children as young as three that if they see a gun, they should “stop, don’t touch, leave the area and tell an adult”. The association, which did not respond to a request for comment, says its program has reached more than 26 million children in all fifty states, and should be credited for the deep decline in accidental gun deaths shown in federal statistics dating to the mid-1980s.
Beyond the unreliability of the Federal data, public health experts have disputed the NRA’s claims, pointing to other potential explanations for the decline, including improvements in emergency medical care, along with data showing fewer households with firearms. They also highlight research indicating that admonishing children to stay away from guns is often ineffective.
“I have no problem with that message, and I would hope every child in America could follow it,” said Dr. Arthur Kellermann, a co-author of a study published in 2001 in the journal Pediatrics. “I just know that they won’t.”
As part of Dr. Kellermann’s study, researchers watched through a one-way mirror as pairs of boys ages eight to twelve were left alone in an examination room at a clinic in Atlanta. Unknown to the children, an inoperative .38-caliber handgun was concealed in a cabinet drawer.
Playing and exploring over the next fifteen minutes, one boy after another— three-quarters of the 64 children— found the gun. Two-thirds handled it, and one-third actually pulled the trigger. Just one child went to tell an adult about the gun, and he was teased by his peers for it. More than ninety percent of the boys said they had had some gun safety instruction.
Other research has found that simply having a firearm in the household is correlated with an increased risk of accidental shooting death. In one study, published in 2003 in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, the risk was more than three times as high for one gun, and almost four times as high for more than one.
As a solution, many behavioral researchers advocate greater emphasis on child-proofing firearms, along with safe-storage laws. But requiring, or even encouraging, efforts to introduce “smart gun” technology remains unpopular with the gun lobby, which has worked to undermine such research and attempts to regulate firearms as a dangerous consumer product.
In 2000, after President Bill Clinton proposed spending ten million dollars to help develop a gun that could be fired only by its owner, the NRA ran derisory radio ads. One, called Mad Scientist, featured a Clinton impersonator and a bumbling scientist “deep in the White House laboratory”, trying in vain to get the new technology to work.
A commercially successful smart gun has, in fact, proved difficult to develop. Hurdles include creating fail-safe user-recognition technology, integrating delicate electronic components that can withstand shock from repeated firings, and allaying concerns of manufacturers fearful of liability if a supposedly safe gun was to fail.
Technologies exist, but a lack of research financing has hobbled their progress to the market, as have questions about whether consumers would actually want them. The opposition from gun rights advocates has certainly not helped. Some gun control advocates, meanwhile, fear that such technologies would lead to greater acceptance of firearms in the home.
In the mid-2000s, an Australian defense technology company called Metal Storm teamed with the gun maker Taurus International Manufacturing and the New Jersey Institute of Technology to develop a gun in the United States that would have fired only when gripped by its owner. New Jersey became the first state to require that handguns use smart-gun technology within three years after it is deemed safe and commercially available.
But Taurus backed out within a few months, citing competing priorities, and the project fell apart. Charles Vehlow, Metal Storm’s chief executive at the time, said that, while he did not know exactly what pressures Taurus faced, there was a general wariness of smart-gun efforts among manufacturers and pro-gun groups. “There was no question that the NRA was very sensitive and was aware of what we were doing,” he said.
The Colt’s Manufacturing Company and Smith & Wesson experienced a backlash against their own smart-gun programs, which were abandoned amid financial problems caused, in part, by boycotts from gun groups and others in the industry. So unpopular was the whole smart-gun concept that Colt’s Manufacturing later could not even find a buyer for its patents, said Carlton Chen, a former lawyer for the company. “I think people looked at Colt’s, they looked at the boycott, and they looked at Smith & Wesson, and they thought: ‘Do we really want to go it alone?’” Chen said. “Gun companies have to be fairly careful about what they do.”
Gun rights lobbyists have also helped keep firearms and ammunition beyond the reach of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has the power to regulate other products that are dangerous to children. The NRA argues that the commission would provide a back door for gun control advocates to restrict the manufacture of firearms. Proponents of regulation say guns pose too great a hazard to exclude them from scrutiny.
“We know in the world of injury control that designing safer products is often the most efficient way to reduce tragedies,” said Dr. Kellermann, the co-author of the boys-and-guns study, who is a dean at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. “Why, if we have childproof aspirin bottles, don’t we have childproof guns?”
A few months ago, Daron Dwyer took his fourteen-year-old son shooting for the first time, six years after he accidentally killed his brother with the gun he found in his parents’ North Carolina bedroom. Matthew Dwyer, five, was shot by his brother with a pistol his mother had left out at their home in North Carolina.
Dwyer had removed all the guns from the house, sending them to his father. But about a year ago, his son started asking if he could learn to shoot. Dwyer said he would think about it.
It was a question that Dwyer, who now works as a fitness director at a YMCA, knew would come. Relatives would often go shooting together during family gatherings. His son was fascinated by all things military. Guns were simply a part of life where they were from. “In my context, there’s a part of a young man’s growing-up experience that includes exposure to firearms,” Dwyer said. “That’s one of the responsibilities, like learning how to drive a car.” Dwyer also saw an opportunity for forgiveness. “It’s kind of a tangible expression of the reality of ‘I do not hold this against you’,” he said.
So, alone in the Tennessee woods with his son this past spring, Dwyer watched him fire a .22 rifle a few times, and a twelve-gauge shotgun. In the shattering of the stillness of the forest clearing, both sensed the import of the moment. “I’m a quietly emotional person usually,” Dwyer said. “And so I didn’t burst into tears or anything, but inside that’s exactly what it was, mostly in the sense of me wanting him to realize this whole thing of forgiveness, to really feel the impact of the weight lifted, which I think he did.”
Dwyer’s feelings on guns today are complicated. He still firmly believes in “the right for people to defend themselves.” At the same time, he said: “It is also right to protect children from danger. Those are things you have to hold in tension.”
Under North Carolina law, his wife could have been charged for failing to keep the gun that killed their younger son stored safely. But she was not. Dwyer described her mistake as a momentary mental lapse, not blatant negligence. And he said that while he agreed with the law in principle, he also had sympathy for the objections to it. “For defense at night,” he said, “I don’t think you should have to have a lock on it because you’re going to have to access it quickly.”
The deep hold that guns have on American culture also emerges in interviews with several other parents who lost children to firearms accidents.
In the summer of 2009, Joshua Skorczewski finally completed the gun safety classes he had been planning to attend a year before, the night he accidentally killed his sister in Minnesota. His parents thought that it would be good for him to be schooled on safety, that the training would be helpful, “so he would not be afraid of guns,” said his mother, Wendy Skorczewski, who had once planned to go through the classes too, but later decided against it. “I don’t want nothing to do with them anymore,” she said.
For two years after Joshua went through the training, the family’s rifles and shotguns remained locked away. Joshua and his father returned to bowhunting, but it was not until 2011 that they took out the shotguns again to hunt pheasants.
Skorczewski explained that, in her part of the country, hunting is “in your blood”. She knew she could not ask her husband to get rid of his guns. He needs the escape that hunting provides, she said: “You got to have something to do in your life other than work.”
Tessa Underhill at the playground where she and her son Tristan used to come to play. She holds an urn with his ashes. Tessa, whose son was killed last year in Georgia, has also struggled over where to draw the line. As a former corrections officer and Army veteran, she is no stranger to firearms. She used to enjoy going out shooting. Now she is finished with guns, refusing to allow them in her house. “My child living is more important to me than somebody stealing my flat screen,” she said.
She knows, however, that her husband, whom she is in the process of divorcing, still has a rifle. Her other son, Matthew, now six, is therefore still exposed to firearms. When asked if she would want Matthew to go shooting with his father one day or be a gun owner himself, she paused. “That’s a hard question,” she said. “I know that’s something men do, that fathers and sons do. You need to know how to use one,” she added. “Do I want him to have a gun case full of guns? If he keeps them unloaded and is safe about it.”
Rico says he's been lucky, and all his gubs are gone now, but he's not sure how stupid you have to be to let a child under the age of, say, sixteen even handle a gub. (We don't let them drive, which is slightly less dangerous, right?) But a lot of this looks suspiciously like Daddy-with-a-testosterone-problem incidents...

Gubs on campus

While Rico is sure they'd never need to use them (sarcasm intended), Kathy Boccella has an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer about arming the cops at Villanova:
Villanova University is considering joining the ranks of colleges with a full-service police force, a national trend that has accelerated since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and amid stepped-up concern about student safety.
But the Main Line university, which announced a series of campus meetings to discuss a possible upgrade from its current public-safety department, will not yet discuss details of what it is considering, such as whether officers would carry guns. Even without much information, Villanova's tentative steps have sparked concern among some students and surprised police in Radnor Township, who were not consulted.
"I would have liked a little more professional courtesy," said Radnor Police Superintendent William Colarulo, who said he had had a good relationship with Villanova in the past and was "a bit taken aback". He said he had heard rumors of the move a few months ago and was initially told they were not true but, when the talk persisted, his lieutenant was told it was "a possibility".
Villanova now has 46 patrol officers, who are mostly responsible for parking enforcement, residence-hall protection, building security, and crime prevention, according to its website. They call on Radnor Township police when there is a crime on campus and to make arrests.
Colarulo said his force responds to four to five hundred calls a year from the 10,600-student Catholic university. "We're in the process of having a dialogue," Villanova spokesman Jonathan Gust said, adding that the university did not want to talk publicly about the proposal until the meetings were over this week.
The majority of American colleges and universities– including many area schools such as Penn, Drexel, and West Chester University– have armed campus police with the power to make arrests. Bucknell University, with 3,500 students in central Pennsylvania, joined that roster in 2008.
"You hate to say it, but society as it is, the school shootings... you want people trained who can respond as quickly as possible," said Stephen Barilar, chief of Bucknell's force. Since getting firearms, he said, his officers have not had to use them.
The last major survey of campus security by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2004-05 found that 74 percent of colleges and universities had sworn law enforcement officers with arrest powers, and two-thirds of those had armed campus police. Experts say those numbers are certainly higher today, in part because of efforts to reassure students and their parents about safety after episodes like the Virginia Tech shooting, which claimed 33 lives.
"We got calls from a lot of schools thinking of going to an armed agency," said Christopher G. Blake, chief staff officer of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. He said a switch to guns typically means increased liability insurance costs, and requires additional officer training as well as decisions on what weapons to purchase and policies on when officers can use lethal force.
Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus, said she, too, thought more colleges were looking to hire armed officers rather than rely on local municipalities. "The best way to increase safety on campus is with officers with arresting power who are armed," she said.
Some students and others at Villanova are not so sure. Samuel White, 21, a senior mathematics and humanities major, said he supports having a trained, sworn police force but without weapons. At a meeting White attended, Dave Tedjeske, director of Public Safety, stressed the need for armed officers in the event of a campus shooting, White said.
Will Kapcio, also a senior, thinks that scenario is unlikely. "This is a pretty safe area," he said, but added, "I'd be okay with maybe Tasers, as they probably should be able to defend themselves, but firearms seem unnecessary since the Radnor Police Department is so close."
Rico says that, yeah, you're always safe until you're not, and then Radnor will be a long way away...

History for the day

On 29 September 1957, the New York Giants played their last game at the Polo Grounds, losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-1. The Giants (including Willie Mays, in the photo) moved to San Francisco for the next season.

28 September 2013

The Civil War in, of all places, Hawai'i

Chris Tanaka has an article in Hawai'i News Now about a little-known aspect of the Civil War:
Nanette Napoleon walks the grounds of the Oahu Cemetery.  A rudimentary plot map shows her that somewhere in the vicinity of where she stands, Private J.R. Kealoha is buried.  There is no headstone to mark the spot.
Little is known about Private Kealoha. All that Napoleon has is his record of death, and information from a newspaper article written in 1865. "He actually served under a different name, as many of the Hawai'ians did. Instead of Kealoha, he would have been given a nom de guerre, which is a name that was one that was easier to pronounce," said her research partner, Dr. Justin Vance.
Nonetheless, Napoleon and Vance have recently finished paperwork petitioning the Veterans Administration for a military headstone on behalf of Kealoha.
His is a tale like many others that the two have uncovered over the years. They have identified 119 soldiers from Hawai'i who participated in the conflict. "Most of our guys served in the Union army, but not all of them. Some of them were in the Confederate Navy," noted Napoleon.
It's these stories Napoleon, Vance, and Todd Ocvirk are bringing to light in the upcoming documentary Hawai'i Sons of the Civil War.
Their motivations are simple. "Those from Hawai'i who served in the war have been forgotten since the 1870's until the 2000's," said Vance.
While still in the fundraising stage, the trio hopes to have the film debut in 2015, during the Sesquicentennial of the end of the war. They are also hoping their petition to have Kealoha receive a headstone will be accepted by then.
While that is a major goal of theirs, Napoleon is quick to note that it's not the only one. "One of our ‘Holy Grails' is to find a descendant of Kealoha".
If you would like to make a donation for production of the documentary, you can do so here.
Rico says he sent them a few bucks; it's a good cause, and he'd like to see it.

Global gun control

The NRA has its take on the Obama administration:
Shortly before he was reelected, President Obama proclaimed, to the rapturous cheers and applause of his supporters: "We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America."
Many at the time wondered exactly what sort of "fundamental transformation" was needed in what was already the most prosperous, peaceful, just, egalitarian, and powerful nation the world has ever known. A simple return to first principles, some would argue, is the better prescription to preserve the country's preeminence in the future.
Nevertheless, taking his cues directly from the anti-gunner's playbook we reported on recently, President Obama recently turned a memorial service for victims of a heinous crime into a platform to call for yet another "transformation", this one in the federal gun laws under which the nation's violent crime rate has fallen to a 42-year low. In a breathtaking display of opportunism and self-centeredness, an event meant to display a nation's mourning and remembrance degenerated into an expression of the president's personal agenda and his vision of a "transformed" America.
As with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who remarked last year that she "would not look to the Constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012," the President found inspiration in the examples of foreign nations. Despite America's falling violent crime rate, the President scolded the nation that gun violence "ought to obsess us" and invoked the United Kingdom and Australia as modeling the correct paradigm.  After "just a single mass shooting occurred in those countries", he said, "they… mobilized and they changed…"
Let that sink in for a moment. The President of the United States "honored" America's dead by calling on the nation to model its gun control policies after the very monarchy from which it won its independence. Of course, America's existence as a sovereign country was itself achieved in part through the use of privately-owned firearms and after British authorities had attempted to disarm American colonists. Somewhere, Piers Morgan, to say nothing of King George III, must have felt vindicated by the President's remarks.
A website coincidentally published by the University of Sydney in Australia summarizes the British gun control that the president referenced, with links to relevant provisions of British law. The "right to private gun ownership is not guaranteed by law", it states. That much is obvious by citing just a few specifics:  "Civilians" are not allowed to possess semi-automatic firearms or handguns. Acquisition, possession, or transfer of a firearm or ammunition requires a license, and applicants for such licenses are required "to prove genuine reason to possess a firearm." Each firearm must be registered, and carrying a firearm in public, whether openly or concealed, is prohibited. Firearm licensees, moreover, may only possess "approved" quantities of ammunition.  Similar polices apply in Australia. Transformative, in short, would be an understatement.
The extent to which the president seeks international guidance for American gun control became even more evident three days later, when Secretary of State John Kerry signed the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty on behalf of the Obama administration. Secretary Kerry marked the event by stating, "The United States is proud to have worked with our international partners in order to achieve this important step towards a… more peaceful world, but a world that also lives by international standards and rules."
We have often reported on the dangers posed by the broad and inherently ambiguous language of the Arms Trade Treaty. While it purports to focus on international trade in such items as "battle tanks", "combat aircraft", and "warships", its inclusion of "small arms and light weapons" is universally understood to encompass ordinary firearms. This is underscored by the treaty's non-binding, preambular reference to "the legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities, where such trade, ownership, and use are permitted or protected by law".  Needless to say, "battle tanks" and "warships" are nowhere used for "recreational" and "sporting" activities.
On the other hand, while the treaty recognizes the "inherent right of all States to individual or collective self-defense", it nowhere acknowledges what the United States Supreme Court called the "central component" of the Second Amendment, the right of individual persons to self-defense.
Among many other things, the treaty establishes factors a participating country would have to consider before authorizing an export of covered arms to another country, including whether the exported arms would "contribute to or undermine peace and security" or the risk of their "being used to commit or facilitate serous acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children…"  To mitigate these supposed risks, the exporting state could extract "confidence building measures" from the importing state.
To this end, "Each importing State Party shall take measures to ensure that appropriate and relevant information is provided, upon request, pursuant to its national laws, to the exporting State Party, to assist the exporting State Party in conducting its national risk assessment…  Such measures may include end use or end user documentation."
In other words, even if the United States never ratifies the treaty, it could be subject, as a condition of receiving firearms exported from a participating nation, to a requirement to hand over lists of individual "end users" of such guns.  Thus, the stage is set for the United States either to be ostracized as an outlier in the global gun control community or to establish a national registry of firearms imported from other countries, as well as the Americans who eventually own them. Worse, the exporting nation could insist this registry be provided to it for "risk assessment" purposes.
The October 2013 edition of America's First Freedom reports on a draft document known as ISACS (International Small Arms Control Standard) 03.30, produced as part of the UN's efforts to get countries to "voluntarily" adopt gun control.  Its standards, not coincidentally, echo those described above with respect to Australia and England.  Eventually, the ISACS 03.30 standards could be considered best practices to implement the treaty. As the article notes, "once a critical mass of countries voluntarily adopt the standards, they could attain the status of an international 'norm' and be used to portray the United States as a 'rogue nation' on the subject". The result could be restrictions on America's ability to engage in international trade in firearms and ammunition or even "changes in domestic policy as a result of international pressure to conform".  
How real is the danger? Incredibly, while the Obama administration was eager to embrace this global regime, Canada has, for now, declined, citing concerns over how it would affect lawful firearm owners and it possible links to firearm registration (Canada recently abolished a national registry of long guns).
Fortunately, though, members of Congress are already mobilizing in opposition. Senator James Inhofe (a Republican from Oklahoma) sent a letter to Secretary Kerry expressing opposition to the signing, while Senator Bob Corker (a Republican from Tennessee) warned the administration that the treaty "raises significant… constitutional questions" and must not be implemented by executive action unless and until the treaty is ratified by the Senate and Congress has passed its own implementing legislation.
Rico says that could be problematic...

A pointy breakthrough

Harry McCracken has a Time article about new technology:
“If you see a stylus, they blew it.” Steve Jobs famously said that when he introduced the iPhone and its finger-driven interface. With all due respect, there are plenty of instances in which a stylus is darn useful— especially on an iPad, where one is much better for note-taking and drawing than a finger ever will be. Which is why there’s a booming market for third-party styluses designed for use with Apple’s tablet.
A company called Adonit has been making some of the best ones, but like all such implements, its Jot products have had to deal with the fact that Apple’s hardware and software were designed for fingertips. Rather than equipping its styluses with soft, stubby, fundamentally unsatisfying points— which is the way every other manufacturer does it— it’s given them a sharp, ballpoint-like tip with a little clear disk on the end. It works surprisingly well, but you never forget that it’s a technical workaround.
But today, at the Evernote Conference in San Francisco, Evernote and Adonit unveiled the closest thing I’ve seen to a no-compromise stylus for the iPad (and other iOS devices) It’s a $75 battery-powered model called the Jot Script Evernote Edition (photo), shipping in October of 2013.
And while I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, I did chat with Adonit’s David Sperry and Kris Perpich. They appear to have built something that seemed impossible: a digital pen for the iPad that looks and feels like a pen, with a tip you might mistake for one on a mundane ink-on-paper writing instrument. Unlike many styluses, it’s long enough for a comfy grip, and is beautifully weighted.
The Jot Script uses an accelerometer to help it interpret your strokes, and Bluetooth LE to communicate with the tablet. If an application builds in support for the stylus— as numerous programs have done for previous Adonit products— it’ll permit the most precision. But Jot Script will work with any app.
This Evernote-branded stylus was designed with Evernote’s Penultimate note-taking app in mind. It isn’t pressure-sensitive, which is a downside if you’re drawing with natural-media tools in art program such as SketchBook Pro or Procreate. I can’t wait to try doodling with it anyhow. Sperry and Perpich told me they’re working on adding pressure-sensitivity to future models; they’re also collaborating with Adobe on Mighty, a stylus due in 2014 that aims to be the ultimate digital art instrument for tablets.
If this technology lives up to its promise, it could be the most important thing to happen to writing and drawing on an iPad since… the iPad.
Rico says he'll check it out...

Killing flies with a sledgehammer

Mark Thompson has a Time article about the usual military excess:
With many defense experts concluding that the Air Force’s B-1 bomber fleet should be retired to save money (for a newer, better bomber, of course), the B-1’s backers aren’t giving up without a fight.
“Ten to twenty years from now, we are going to need a bomber force,” says Todd Harrison, a defense-budget expert at the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “How do you do that? Well, if you are going to need a new bomber program, you may have to give up some of your legacy bombers.”
Not so fast, say the Bone’s backers (don’t confuse “Bone,” as in “B-one,” the needle-nosed bomber’s unofficial nickname, with its official nickname of the Lancer… not to be confused with the British medical journal the Lancet). The Air Force recently used one of its $200 miilion B-1 bombers to take out a small, moving boat in the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s an age-old story: as a weapon begins to show its age, those whose careers are invested in it scurry to find new ways to justify its continued operation.
“Many of the dynamic targeting skills we’ve refined over the past decade on land are directly applicable in the maritime environment,” Captain Alicia Datzman, an Air Force weapons expert, says in a service news story. “This is the perfect opportunity to validate and refine these tactics.”
Adds Lieutenant Colonel Alejandro Gomez, the special projects officer with the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron that carried out the test on 4 September 2013: “Future wars might not all be on land, some may include surface combat, so we are evaluating the way we employ the B-1 to aid in completing the mission.”
Many of the bombs dropped from the B-1 are guided to their targets by GPS, which isn’t much help when it comes to taking out moving targets, like motorboats. But a laser designator can follow a moving target and guide the bomb to it.
With terrorists (okay, “pirates” if you must) increasingly using small boats to seize commercial vessels in the Indian Ocean, and with the Pentagon’s pivot to the Pacific, best known for 64 million square miles of water, what better mission for an aging strategic bomber, than sending small boats to Davy Jones’ locker?
Of course, Navy and Marine aircraft, far more common in the Pacific, also carry the GBU-10 laser-guided bomb the B-1 used to blast the boat.
It’s a bit of a step down for a warplane— resurrected by Ronald Reagan, after Jimmy Carter killed it— built to make the Kremlin cower.
Rico says desperation is an ugly thing...

Hiding in iOS 7

Time has an article by Fox Van Allen about iOS7:
Apple’s new iOS 7 is either the company’s most beautiful operating system yet, or a hideous abomination, your choice. Either way, there’s a lot more to iOS 7 than just a handful of new icons– there are a lot of powerful new features under the hood. Upgrade your phone to the newest version of iOS, if you haven’t already, and then check out ten of my favorites:
1. Design-Conscious BackgroundsAre you among the many who don’t like the aesthetic look of iOS 7? Part of the problem may be that you’re using a photo as your wallpaper; the real world seems to clash with the operating system.
If you want to give your background more of a Jony Ive feel, open the Settings app, then tap Wallpapers & Brightness. Give one of the minimalist, solid color gradient backgrounds a try– they look great on the new iPhone 5C. Or maybe try one of the funky kaleidoscopic new iPad backgrounds, if your retinas can handle that much color.
2. Correct Siri’s PronounciationApple digital assistant Siri is great at a lot of things– she can tell you the score of the big game, offer movie times at your local theater, and even make reservations at restaurants for you through OpenTable. One thing she’s terrible at, though, is pronouncing long names.
At least now there’s a way to correct her pronunciation. The next time Siri garbles a name, tell her “that’s not how you pronounce that”. You’ll be given alternative pronunciations to choose from, and Siri will remember your pick.
Want to give Siri’s pronunciation an international flair? Open the Settings app, then tap General. Tap Siri and you’ll be given a number of new options for your digital assistant. You can choose a language and accent (English is available in American, British, Canadian, and Australian flavors) and you can even give Siri a sex change if you’d like.
3. Built-in LevelIs that picture on the wall really level? Now there’s an easy way to check, as iOS 7 has a built-in bubble level function. To activate it, just open your phone’s Compass app, then swipe to the right.
4. FlashlightThere’s no need to fumble around in the dark anymore now that iOS 7 has a built-in flashlight. To access it, simply swipe up from any screen (even the lock screen) to bring up the handy new Control Center. Touch the little flashlight icon in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen to turn on your phone’s light. Tap it again to turn it off.
The Control Center is also where you can instantly access your calculator, timer, and camera. You’ll also find one-touch controls for Bluetooth, WiFi, and more. Shutting these off when not in use is a simple way to extend your battery life.
5. Automatic App UpdatesOne of the nicest new features of iOS 7 is automatic app updates; you no longer need to approve each update manually. But to take advantage of the new feature, you’ll need to activate it. Open the Settings app, then scroll down and tap iTunes & App Store. At the bottom of this new menu, you’ll find toggles to enable automatic downloads of music, apps, and updates. Be sure to pay attention to the Use Cellular Data toggle on the same page– make sure that’s turned off to keep data overage charges at bay.
6. Swipe Down SearchTrying to find something on your phone? The contact info for your son’s coach, or maybe an app you just can’t seem to locate? No worries – just swipe your finger down from the middle of any home screen to bring up Spotlight Search. It’s the quickest way to find just about anything that’s hiding on your phone.
7. New Privacy SettingsIt wouldn’t be a new operating system if Apple didn’t play a shell game with the location of your phone’s privacy features. Even if you’ve reviewed your phone’s privacy settings in the past, you’ll definitely want to review these toggles; they’re all set to ‘on’ in iOS 7 by default.
Open the Settings app, then tap Privacy. Tap Location Services. Scroll to the bottom of the page and tap System Services. Toggle Location-Based iAds to off (and Diagnostics & Usage, if you’d like), then tap Frequent Locations. If you don’t want your phone keeping constant track of where you’ve been and when, you’ll want to toggle Frequent Locations to off. You can also tap Clear History to command your phone to forget all the places it’s been.
8. iTunes RadioYou’ve no doubt heard a little bit about iTunes Radio, Apple’s answer to Internet radio station Pandora. The ad-supported service offers over 250 DJ-curated stations and, of course, functionality that makes it easy to buy whatever song happens to be currently playing. For some reason, Apple chose to bury its iRadio feature. You’ll find it hiding in the Music app. It’s free, so give it a try.
9. Block Unwanted NumbersDo you get a phone call from the same telemarketer over and over? Is an old flame sending you unwanted text messages? No longer: iOS 7 finally gives us the ability to block calls and texts ourselves, directly from your phone. To stop getting calls from an unwanted number, visit your Recent call list and tap the i symbol next to the offender. Scroll to the bottom of the Info menu and tap Block this Caller.
Getting texts instead? Open up the text message and hit Contact in the top right of your screen, as if you were about to add the number to your address book. Tap the i icon that appears. Scroll to the bottom of the menu to find the Block this Caller option.
10. Go In-Depth with the WeatherApple’s updated Weather app isn’t just a design update; there’s new functionality built in as well. Swipe left on the hourly forecast in the app and you’ll be able to see as far out as the next twelve hours.
Unsure whether to bring an umbrella? Just tap the numerical readout of the temperature and you’ll be able to see more detailed meteorological information, including humidity and wind chill. And yes, it’ll even tell you the day’s chance of rain.
Rico says he's still gonna wait awhile...

Homophobia

John Featherman has an article at Philly.com about fag bashing:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), Protestant pastor and public foe of Adolf Hitler

I am not gay.
But you wouldn’t know it from my unyielding support for LGBT equality.
Consequently, I can no longer be comfortable as a heterosexual living in America until every person of every sexual orientation is guaranteed the same life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that I am.
I can no longer fully enjoy the sacred marriage to my beautiful and caring wife until I know that my gay and lesbian friends and family can have the same public and private legal protections and enjoyment that I do.
And, as of today, I will no longer buy or eat my favorite pasta– Barilla Penne– because, like Nazi foe Martin Niemöller realized, late in the game, I can’t and I won’t idly stand by as our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, and our sons and daughters are being targeted, harassed and morally torn apart by heterosexual supremacist European food magnate Guido Barilla.
Barilla, whose self-named firm holds roughly a quarter of the pasta market in the United States, told Italy’s La Zanzara radio show recently: "For us, the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company. I would not do it but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering others… but I don't see things like they do, and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family."
If that wasn’t enough, Barilla, who ironically claims he supports gay marriage (that’s laughable), clearly does not support what marriage means for many couples– heterosexual or gay– and that is children.
“I have no respect for adoption by gay families because this concerns a person who is not able to choose,” Barilla said. Asked what impact he thought his position would have on gay consumers of his pasta, Barilla added: "Well, if they like our pasta and our message they will eat it; if they don't like it, and they don't like what we say they will… eat another."
You are absolutely right, Signore Barilla. “They”, and their heterosexual allies, will eat another. And we’ll make it easy to eat another. We will organize to eat another, any other.
We will accept your invitation to boycott your homophobic firm (on Twitter and Change.org) and all of its products.
John Sternlicht, a gay married man living in Seattle, had this to say via Facebook: “I am one of the gays who eats carbs, but I will accept his invitation to no longer buy Barilla pasta or sauce. It's one thing to believe, quite another to condemn, exclude, and foment opposition and discrimination. His right to feel as he does, and our right to make him feel the consequences of hate in his European man-purse.”
I remind people that it’s one thing to support "traditional marriage". I have some heterosexual and, surprisingly, some gay friends who support "traditional marriage", but none are anti-gay and certainly wouldn't exclude gays from ads or make such a vile statement– especially someone who says he supports gay marriage. That’s what makes this incident so bizarre and disturbing.
Yes, to cover your ass, Barilla's US website issued the following apology of sorts: “At Barilla, we consider it our mission to treat our consumers and partners as our neighbors– with love and respect– and to deliver the very best products possible. We take this responsibility seriously, and consider it a core part of who we are as a family-owned company. While we can’t undo recent remarks, we can apologize. To all of our friends, family, employees, and partners that we have hurt or offended, we are deeply sorry.”
Don’t you get it, Barilla? When your leader makes those kinds of asinine and hurtful remarks, it hurts all of us.
We are forgiving. But it won’t happen overnight. A lame apology is not enough. You will have to atone for your sins. I’d recommend taking out some new ads that include gays and lesbians. How about a publicity campaign in Passyunk Square– you know, the new Gayborhood?
If you don’t mind, no chicken and pasta dishes, though. Brings back a bad taste, if you know what I mean. Some may forgive you then, but not as long as Barilla pasta is, as one journalist put it tongue-in-cheek: “Vladimir Putin’s pasta of choice.”
Rico says that, fortunately, we don't eat Barilla products at his house...

Apple for the day

Ben Taylor has a Time article about the 'failings' of the iPad:
If you came here to read about how the iPad is doomed, you’re in the wrong place. By all accounts, the iPad is still the best tablet on the market, with better reviews, strong sales, and (arguably) the most engaged user base.
The iPad and its top competitors:
Of course, raw specs alone can be misleading, which is why we take expert reviews into account for our overall scores. To wit: most of the iPad’s advantages are conceptual rather than spreadsheet-specific. “The iOS user interface is simple and easy for anyone to use,” said Joshua Weiss, CEO of mobile app development firm TeliApp. “Unlike Windows and Android tablets, there is very little that any user can do to ‘screw something up’.”
Developers love the iPad for its app selection and quality as well. “While Apple’s App Store has been caught by Google Play in terms of the number of apps, the quality of the apps in the Apple App Store is still far superior, especially when looking at tablets,” said Jeff Weisbein, CEO of BestTechie. Weisbein also points to the iPad’s ecosystem (“people have been using iOS products for years… they’re heavily invested”) and consistency (“the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch have all looked and functioned essentially the same for years.”).
Still, even lead designer Jony Ive would concede that Apple’s once iron grip on first place is now more of an aluminum clutch. According to an International Data Corporation report, Apple sold only 32.4% of all tablets in Q2 of 2013, down from roughly 75% when the iPad launched in 2010. Granted, it’s been nearly twelve months since Apple announced its current iPad, but Google, Samsung, Amazon, and Microsoft have cut larger and larger slices out of the Apple pie over the last few years.*
*Okay, maybe not Microsoft.
As a result, many analysts, tech geeks, and armchair web surfers have begun cataloging the iPad’s inferior features. Sure: it’s mostly overblown speculation in search of a compelling narrative, but there are a few apple cores of truth in all the complaints. Here are seven ways Apple’s iPad falls short of its competitors, followed by my assessment of how problematic each “shortcoming” truly is for the Cupertino tech giant. 
1. Front camera quality
You can’t go two commercial breaks without seeing another FaceTime ad celebrating a pregnancy, electronic family reunion, or new puppy adoption. Apple churns these television spots out faster than iPad Smart Covers. So why doesn’t Apple update the front camera with the same enthusiasm? Sitting at a pedestrian 1.2 megapixels, the iPad’s front camera is tied for last place among today’s top tablets. The rear camera— which everyone stops using three days after buying the device— stands at five megapixels. This seems backwards to me.
Problem rating: 10/10
Bottom line: no excuse 
2. Rear Camera Quality

Rear camera quality on tablets is like NBC’s fall television lineup: initially kind of interesting, and then forever useless. Beyond one relative who brings her iPad to every family barbecue, I’ve never seen anyone take a serious picture with a tablet. This October, don’t be surprised when your favorite Apple blog goes crazy over some sort of new rear camera flash technology in the next iPad’s camera. Humor the blogger, then calmly scroll along to the features you’ll actually use.
Problem rating: 1/10
Bottom line: who cares? 
3. Battery Life

In the world of smartphones, your best bet is to manipulate standby and talk time numbers until you can claim the phone will last through the zombie apocalypse, all while streaming the entire MLB playoffs in full HD. With tablets? Nearly all manufacturers agree that ten hours is perfectly fine. Yes, the Dell Lattitude 10 and ASUS Nexus 7 report even stronger numbers, but as long as Apple can add new features while retaining that ten hour sweet spot, they should be fine.
Problem rating: 3/10
Bottom line: no big deal 
4. Weight

According to legend, Steve Jobs and Jony Ive would finalize a device’s design first, then demand that engineers find a way to get all the components to fit. With the Retina Display iPad (third and fourth generations), Apple’s engineers may have finally failed. The iPad 2 (3G) weighed in at an especially-impressive-for-its-time 1.35 lbs, while sporting a peel-thin depth of 0.34″. The current iPaddue to the   and a larger battery—clocks in at 1.4 lbs with a depth of 0.37″. These are still admirable specs, but I’d bet Jony Ive raised his champagne glass just a tad lower once the latest iPad’s construction was complete.
Among top tablets, the iPad with Retina Display is now one of the heavier choices (iPad Mini aside), with products like the Samsung Nexus 10 and Sony Xperia Tablet Z presenting feather-like alternatives. Most consumers won’t care about a fraction of a pound, but I bet Apple does.
Problem rating: 5/10
Bottom line: Apple won’t stand for it, even if we will 
5. Pixel Density

It’s been nineteen months since Apple first released the iPad with Retina Display, and those 264 pixels per inch remain solid next to the iPad’s top competitors. That said, the Retina Display is no longer a market-leading feature, with the comparably-sized Samsung Nexus 10 featuring an even sharper display.
It’s hard to argue that Apple needs to improve the iPad’s display; it simply can’t use the Retina Display as an excuse for lower battery life or a heavier weight.
With the iPad Mini, however, the story’s a bit different. Similar-sized tablets like the ASUS Nexus 7, Amazon Kindle Fire HD, and Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 all beat the Mini handily when it comes to resolution. With many consumers torn between purchasing a full-sized iPad with Retina Display and a lower-resolution Mini, Apple has a huge opportunity to win over fence-sitting customers with a Retina Display-enabled Mini.
Problem rating: 1/10 for the Retina Display iPad; 7/10 for the Mini
Bottom line: depends on the model
6. Price (16 GB, base models)
A favorite talking point for Apple’s competitors, the iPad is an unapologetically expensive device. Compared to top 16 GB alternatives, Apple’s tablet is among the costliest choices, unless you opt for the lower-res iPad Mini.
Still, don’t wait for a price drop. Apple isn’t likely to change any of its tablet pricing: they’re happy selling their devices at a huge margin so long as people keep lining up at midnight to buy the newest release. In this comparison, you might say that price is the opposite of weight: it’s by far the most important attribute for the average buyer, but at this point, Apple couldn’t care less, and they don’t have to.
Problem rating: 3/10
Bottom line: Apple doesn’t care about the low-end of the market 
7. RAM

Nowhere are the iPad’s raw technical deficiencies more clear than with RAM. The iPad’s 1 GB—and the Mini’s 512 MB—sit well below all of Apple’s competitors.
It’s tempting to overstate Apple’s disadvantage here, but the iPad’s RAM shortage may represent more of a philosophical difference than a true drawback. Apple has always designed its mobile devices to focus on the task at hand, with each app filling the whole screen, and an app-switching system that has often felt more like a glorified “alt-tab” than a true multi-tasking experience. Apple can get away with the lower memory because of this one-app-at-a-time interface, and because it designs its hardware and software to work together seamlessly. In contrast, tablets like the Surface require additional memory to pull off all the multi-window functionality.
With all that said, I’ll be slightly concerned if Apple’s new iPads don’t at least match the memory of their year-old competitors.
Problem rating: 6/10
Bottom line: becomes a bigger problem if Apple doesn’t improve it 
Conclusion:While Apple’s biggest advantages aren’t found on the spec sheet, the raw numbers still matter. Consumers are greedy by nature; they want something without compromise— fast, lightweight, visually crisp, and incredibly easy-to-use. Remarkably, the next iPad has a chance to be that very device. Apple just needs to solve the right problems, and ignore the wrong ones.
Rico says he's gotta agree; they all try, but nobody's come out with a better one. (And, as Steve Jobs would say if he were here, sure, it's only thirty percent, but it's the best thirty percent...)
 

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