#0050 RRS Newsletter for August 29, 2007
This post is a bit shorter than usual, but still some interesting stuff, to be sure.
Table of Contents
RRS Radio stream will be sporadic over next few days
JIST OF THIS POST: EXPECT THE STICKAM ROOM TO BE DOWN OFTEN OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS. WE MIGHT EVEN MISS OUR FRIDAY NIGHT BROADCAST.
I have finally taken the plunge and spent quite a bit of money on enhancing the performance of the several computers we have here to run our show and everything else we do. As many of you know, I've had an issue since I started hosting our stickam stream 24/7 (or as close as I could come). I was unable to edit audio and host the stream at the same time. Because of this I have about 10 weeks of material on my desktop that isn't being touched because if I do so, I have to shut down the stream (or allow you to listen to my editing). Rooks computer (an ancient dog right now) in our office will soon double as the computer for the stream and my computer will be freed up for more editing. Both computers are getting major performance upgrades. I'll post the data I'm compiling from tests designed to show how well a computer is performing, when my enhancements are complete. I might even post a list of all the upgrades and let you nerds flame away. Sticking out tongue
Total expenses so far are around $3,000. If we make the enhancements to our sound (pro tools, new compatible mixer, pro audio card, and new mics) that we should make to step up our game, we'll be looking at about another $2,000. I am waiting to see how much our sound quality is enhanced when we try our new and improved computers, before I take that plunge. I should note, all of this was purchased with personal savings from before I started RRS, RRS doesn't generate enough income to make purchases like these (yet). I feel I'm investing in our future, I hope you folks stick around and enjoy it with us.
Because of all these enhancements, parts coming on different days, major computer overhauls, and product switching, a total of 4 computers being worked on, and my lack of knowledge on some of the installation procedures... you can expect that the stream will be down quite a bit over the next few days. I hope to have all of the work done by Tuesday (Aug 28th) of this coming week and we'll be stronger and better than ever before. The RRS conference room will be up as usual.
We have also made enhancements to our bandwidth, including two more enhancements on the way. This should max out the potential of audio and video being transmitted via the web. Once all of the upgrades are made, it will be reasonable to exclude our home as the source of any lag you receive while hanging out with us on stickam.
If you happen to build computers for a living or have a very thorough knowledge of the trade (intel cpus), and would be willing to be our tech support if we have any issues, please feel free to reach out. I think I have it covered, but it would be great to know I can call someone for a quick tip if needed. (skype search: "Brian Sapient")
RRS Michigan social gathering at Alberts
I've decided the next meeting will simply be a social gathering at a nearby restaurant/bar called Alberts on the Alley on Thursday, August 30th. I'll be getting there around 6:00 pm. If your not familiar, it's at the corner of Ford Rd. and Middlebelt at 5651 Middlebelt Rd, Garden City, MI - (734) 525-5231. The food is good, and the drink and food prices are great! I'm hoping this will draw more of you reclusive bastards out so we can discuss and just get to know each other. Hope to see you all there, but please RSVP me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I know how many will be attending.
I plan on getting everyone who attends up to speed on what the other RRS Local affiliates are up to lately, and what we can do to help their efforts.
Hope to see you there!
and the RRS MI team
Ohio Rational Responders Activist Discussion
Come and join us for coffee and activist discussion in the Barnes & Noble Cafe!
Sorry this is so short notice guys - please come out if you can! This will be a bi-weekly event for those who are interested! Feel free to bring a friend!
Wednesday Aug 29, 2007
at 8:00 PM
Barnes & Noble
1739 Olentangy River Rd
Columbus, OH 43212
Restoring Sight, One Pixel At A Time
Science Daily — Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) are developing a tiny camera for prosthetic systems that can be implanted directly into the human eye and connected to the retina, the part of the eye that converts visual information into electric signals that travel to the brain. Such an implantable camera would represent an important milestone in the ultimate goal of providing limited vision to those rendered blind by certain diseases, via a fully implantable retinal prosthetic device.
In both retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration ¡V two of the most common causes of vision loss ¡V the photoreceptor layer of the retina is destroyed, but the inner layers remain largely intact, still capable of responding to incoming signals and transmitting output signals to the brain's visual cortex via the optic nerve. The discovery several years ago that direct electrical stimulation of retinal nerve cells in blind test subjects produced some sense of vision led to the development of the first retinal prosthesis.
Current retinal prostheses are designed to be used with an external (extraocular) camera mounted in a pair of glasses ¡V awkward because subjects must move their heads in order to scan the environment. The miniaturized prototype being developed by the USC team would be directly implantable and would allow for natural eye and head movements.
In order to optimize the design constraints for their ultra-miniature camera, the group performed a series of studies to determine the minimum requirements for vision-related tasks like object recognition, face recognition, navigation, and mobility. They found that surprisingly few pixels were required to achieve good results for many of those tasks: approximately 625 pixels in total, compared to more than a million for a typical computer display. They also found that in many cases blurring images ¡V both before and after they were converted into pixels ¡Vresulted in significantly improved object recognition and tracking ¡V even better for moving objects than for static ones.
Taken together, these findings have made it possible to substantially relax the once extremely stringent design requirements of key components of the intraocular camera, thereby reducing the prototype intraocular camera's size and weight from an object the size of a Tylenol tablet down to an object that is now about one-third the size of a Tic-Tac. Early prototypes have been highly successful in initial tests, although human FDA trials are still at least two years out.
Reference: Paper FThT1, "Intraocular Camera for Retinal Prostheses: Design Constraints Based on Visual Psychophysics"
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Optical Society of America.
Space-time Distorts Near Neutron Stars As Einstein Predicted
Science Daily — Using European and Japanese/NASA X-ray satellites, astronomers have seen Einstein’s predicted distortion of space-time around three neutron stars, and in doing so they have pioneered a groundbreaking technique for determining the properties of these ultradense objects.
Neutron stars contain the most dense observable matter in the universe. They cram more than a sun’s worth of material into a city-sized sphere, meaning a few cups of neutron-star stuff would outweigh Mount Everest. Astronomers use these collapsed stars as natural laboratories to study how tightly matter can be crammed under the most extreme pressures that nature can offer.
"This is fundamental physics," says Sudip Bhattacharyya of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and the University of Maryland, College Park. "There could be exotic kinds of particles or states of matter, such as quark matter, in the centers of neutron stars, but it’s impossible to create them in the lab. The only way to find out is to understand neutron stars."
To address this mystery, scientists must accurately and precisely measure the diameters and masses of neutron stars. In two concurrent studies, one with the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory and the other with the Japanese/NASA Suzaku X-ray observatory, astronomers have taken a big step forward.
Using XMM-Newton, Bhattacharyya and his NASA Goddard colleague Tod Strohmayer observed a binary system known as Serpens X-1, which contains a neutron star and a stellar companion. They studied a spectral line from hot iron atoms that are whirling around in a disk just beyond the neutron star’s surface at 40 percent the speed of light.
Previous X-ray observatories detected iron lines around neutron stars, but they lacked the sensitivity to measure the shapes of the lines in detail. Thanks to XMM-Newton’s large mirrors, Bhattacharyya and Strohmayer found that the iron line is broadened asymmetrically by the gas’s extreme velocity, which smears and distorts the line because of the Doppler effect and beaming effects predicted by Einstein’s special theory of relativity. The warping of space-time by the neutron star’s powerful gravity, an effect of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, shifts the neutron star’s iron line to longer wavelengths.
"We've seen these asymmetric lines from many black holes, but this is the first confirmation that neutron stars can produce them as well. It shows that the way neutron stars accrete matter is not very different from that of black holes, and it gives us a new tool to probe Einstein’s theory," says Strohmayer.
A group led by Edward Cackett and Jon Miller of the University of Michigan, which includes Bhattacharyya and Strohmayer, used Suzaku’s superb spectral capabilities to survey three neutron-star binaries: Serpens X-1, GX 349+2, and 4U 1820-30. This team observed a nearly identical iron line in Serpens X-1, confirming the XMM-Newton result. It detected similarly skewed iron lines in the other two systems as well.
"We’re seeing the gas whipping around just outside the neutron star’s surface," says Cackett. "And since the inner part of the disk obviously can’t orbit any closer than the neutron star’s surface, these measurements give us a maximum size of the neutron star’s diameter. The neutron stars can be no larger than 18 to 20.5 miles across, results that agree with other types of measurements."
"Now that we’ve seen this relativistic iron line around three neutron stars, we have established a new technique," adds Miller. "It’s very difficult to measure the mass and diameter of a neutron star, so we need several techniques to work together to achieve that goal."
Knowing a neutron star’s size and mass allows physicists to describe the "stiffness," or "equation of state," of matter packed inside these incredibly dense objects. Besides using these iron lines to test Einstein’s general theory of relativity, astronomers can probe conditions in the inner part of a neutron star’s accretion disk.
The XMM-Newton paper appeared in the August 1 Astrophysical Journal Letters. The Suzaku paper has been submitted for publication in the same journal.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.
U.S. Says Pope Immune From Molestation Lawsuit
ROME — The U.S. Justice Department has told a Texas court that a lawsuit accusing Pope Benedict XVI (search) of conspiring to cover up the sexual molestation of three boys by a seminarian should be dismissed because the pontiff enjoys immunity as head of state of the Holy See.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Peter Keisler said in Monday's filing that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would be "incompatible with the United States' foreign policy interests."
There was no immediate ruling from Judge Lee Rosenthal of the U.S. District Court for the southern district of Texas in Houston. However, U.S. courts have been bound by such "suggestion of immunity" motions submitted by the government, Keisler's filing says.
A 1994 lawsuit against Pope John Paul II (search), also filed in Texas, was dismissed after the U.S. government filed a similar motion.
Keisler's motion was not unexpected, as the Vatican Embassy in Washington had asked the U.S. government to issue the immunity suggestion and do everything it could to get the case dismissed.
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (search) was named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit by three plaintiffs who allege that Juan Carlos Patino-Arango, a Colombian-born seminarian on assignment at St. Francis de Sales church in Houston, molested them during counseling sessions in the church in the mid-1990s.
Patino-Arango has been indicted in a criminal case by a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, and is a fugitive from justice.
The lawsuit alleges Ratzinger, who headed the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before becoming pope, was involved in a conspiracy to hide Patino-Arango's crimes and help him escape prosecution.
The lawsuit cites a May 18, 2001, letter from Ratzinger written in Latin to bishops around the world, explaining that "grave" crimes such as the sexual abuse (search) of minors would be handled by his congregation and that the proceedings of special church tribunals handling the cases were subject to "pontifical secret."
Daniel Shea, attorney for one of the plaintiffs, has said such secret proceedings amounted to a conspiracy to cover up the crimes.
The Vatican (search) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have insisted the secret church procedures in the sex abuse case were not designed to cover up abuse nor to prevent victims from reporting crimes to law enforcement authorities. The document deals with church law — not keeping secrets from secular authorities, they say.
The pope's lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, said Tuesday it was "appropriate" the Justice Department had determined the pope was "the sitting head of state of the Holy See."
In a telephone interview, Lena said the motion would now be considered by the Texas court, "which should be bound by the executive's determination" and rule accordingly.
Many lawsuits stemming from the U.S. church sex abuse crisis have named the pope, the Vatican and other high-ranking church officials, but they failed because the officials could never be served with the papers. This case got further than most because Ratzinger was actually served with the documents.
Shea said Tuesday he would challenge the constitutionality of the U.S. diplomatic recognition of the Holy See on the grounds that it goes against the First Amendment's "establishment clause" that bars any laws respecting the establishment of religion.
Shea noted that in trying to have the case dismissed, Ratzinger's lawyers have already admitted in court papers that the Holy See is a church. A May 26 motion to dismiss the suit, citing the First Amendment, says the case should be thrown out because it would "invite court intrusion into the internal affairs of the Roman Catholic Church."
However, legal experts said such a challenge would be difficult to win, partly because previous challenges have failed and because the U.S. has maintained diplomatic relations with the Vatican since 1984.
"The courts have become a lot less interested in the establishment clause in the last few years," said Kent Greenawalt, a professor of First Amendment and legal philosophy at Columbia Law School.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See said they were familiar with the case but had no other immediate comment. The Vatican said it had no comment.
Along with the pope, the lawsuit names as defendants Patino-Arango, the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza and the Rev. William Pickhard, Patino-Arango's vocational director.
Mother Theresa: Hitchens vs. Donahue
Opus, the full version of the controversial comic strip
Last week I posted an Opus comic that was being refused print by the Washington Post. The picture I posted was straight from the Opus site, but it wasn't the whole picture, merely a single frame of it. Here is the full strip that the Post thinks might offend Muslims.
Iran agrees to reveal nuclear infoBy GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer
VIENNA, Austria - Iran on Monday offered some cooperation with an International Atomic Energy Agency probe of an alleged secret uranium processing project linked by U.S. intelligence to a nuclear arms program.
The Iranian pledge was contained in a memorandum reached between Iran and the IAEA and published on the agency's Web site at the request of Tehran's mission to the agency. In it, Tehran also outlined its timetable for providing other sensitive information sought by the IAEA in its probe of more than two decades of nuclear activity by the Islamic republic, most of it clandestine until revealed more than four years ago.
The document reiterated Iran's allegations that the search for information on the so-called "Green Salt Project" was "politically motivated" and founded on "baseless allegations."
But as a "sign of good will and cooperation with the agency .. . Iran will review" documentation on the project provided by the agency "and inform the agency of its assessment," according to the memorandum
There was no official comment from the IAEA.
Less than a week ago, Iran and the Vienna-based IAEA announced an agreement on the timetable for full Iranian cooperation with the agency's nuclear investigation. It is only one of the demands set by the U.N. Security Council in attempts to dispel suspicions that Iranian claims it wants to develop a full nuclear cycle for generating power is merely a cover for a covert weapons program.
But of most concern to the council are activities that could lead directly to the making of nuclear weapons. Tehran has defied demands to stop developing its uranium enrichment program, which can produce fuel and the core of warheads, and mothball construction of a plutonium-producing reactor which, once completed, can also make weapons material, leading to two sets of council sanctions.
In the past, Iran has refused to answer questions about secret plutonium experiments in the mid-1990s and IAEA findings that Iran has not accounted for all the plutonium it has said it possessed.
Public mention of the "Green Salt Project" first surfaced in an IAEA report drawn up last year.
The report voiced concern that under the "Green Salt Project," conversion of uranium — a precursor of enrichment — was linked to suspected tests of "high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which could have a military nuclear dimension."
Diplomats familiar with the report said the IAEA was basing its concerns on several pages of U.S. intelligence that had been declassified and shared with agency officials so that they could confront the Iranians with it. Among the links, they said, was the participation of several officials on conversion, high explosives — which can be used to detonate a nuclear charge — and warhead design work.
Uranium conversion is the chemical process that changes raw uranium into the gas fed into centrifuges and spun repeatedly to separate out isotopes. Low enriched uranium can be used to make energy — which Iran insists is its only goal. But highly enriched uranium is used to make nuclear weapons.
Kucinich on the healthcare system
Atheist Blood Drive
In an attempt to show the world that atheists are every bit as charitable as the religious of society, and that we need no "divine warrent" to be so, the RRS has set up a daughter organization called Atheist Volunteers. We hope you will all chip in. The most prominent of it's projects is the Atheist Blood drive.
Atheists for Autism Research Charity!
Check these guys out, and donate if you can!
Religious Victim of the day
Religious folk use disaster as an opportunity to gain converts
In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, Christian groups have been criticized for distributing Bibles in relief camps. A U.S. missionary group, World Help, planned to help raise 300 Muslim children in a Christian children's home in Jakarta. The project was abandoned after the government protested. An Islamic militant group in the hard-hit Indonesian province of Aceh recruited members as it collected bodies; other Islamic groups handed out thousands of Qurans in relief camps.
The Existence of God: The Infinite "Cunt" Argument
I will apologize in advance if this is offensive, but it was just WAY too funny not to post!
Wisdom of the Bible "How to Catch an Adulteress"
Kathy Griffin on Scientology
South Park & Family Guy on Cold Reading Psychics
Huge thanks go to everyone that has helped me out on this endeavor. Specifically, Zombie, head of RRS Ontario for multple article submissions, Voiderest of RRS Texas, my coding guru without whom many of the features of this newsletter (like the Table of Contents) would not be in place, Brian Sapient for his guiding hand and for the space in which this is published, and all of you who have contributed articles. Cheers go out to you all!!!
The darkness of godlessness lets wisdom shine.