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Camera Robot Made For Disney Now Inspects Bridges

txchnologist:

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by Michael Keller

Bridges are made to transport vehicles, not to make it easy for inspectors to do their job. That’s why inspecting the undersides and support pillars of tall ones is no easy task, either requiring people looking for problems to perform feats of contortion or the structure to go without review.

But infrastructure left without scrutiny is infrastructure bound to fail. In the case of the reinforced concrete that makes bridges, the test is a fairly straightforward one.

Inspectors use a device that checks for unseen corrosion within the concrete. The tool is an electrode attached to a wheel that detects big differences in electric potential within the material. This is a sign that corrosion—either from deicing salt that eats away the steel inside or atmospheric carbon dioxide that seeps in and changes the concrete’s chemistry—has set in and needs to be monitored. 

The question is just how to get to those hard-to-reach spots. Now engineers and roboticists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) have developed a solution. 

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thinksquad:

An explosion in Paris has levelled a four-storey apartment building, killing six people including three children and leaving others trapped in rubble.

Rescue teams working with sniffer dogs searched through what remained of the building in Rosny-sous-Bois, trying to find two people missing.

Among the victims were a 10-year-old boy, a mother and two children aged between 14 and 18. The bodies of a 45-year-old woman and another adult were also recovered.

Eleven people, four of them seriously wounded, were rescued, he said.

Gaetan de Raucourt, head of the Paris firefighting department, said there was still hope that occupants had found “pockets of air” amid the wood and concrete which was piled a storey high and fanned out into the street.

"People might be sheltering there. We still have hope of finding survivors," he said.

Emergency crew chief Bernard Tourneur said the search would continue for at least 24 hours with care, since the remainder of the building left standing “is threatening to cave in”.

One side of the building was ripped off, exposing the interiors of the apartments. Early indications were that it was caused by an accidental gas explosion.

"Our house moved. We were trembling from fear," said Pauline, a neighbour who lives 100 metres from the collapsed building.

She said the explosion was so loud that “our ears were ringing”.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-31/six-killed-as-explosion-flattens-paris-building/5708892

thinksquad:

Fearing a Russian invasion and occupation of Alaska, the U.S. government in the early Cold War years recruited and trained fishermen, bush pilots, trappers and other private citizens across Alaska for a covert network to feed wartime intelligence to the military, newly declassified Air Force and FBI documents show.

Invasion of Alaska? Yes. It seemed like a real possibility in 1950.

"The military believes that it would be an airborne invasion involving bombing and the dropping of paratroopers," one FBI memo said. The most likely targets were thought to be Nome, Fairbanks, Anchorage and Seward.

So FBI director J. Edgar Hoover teamed up on a highly classified project, code-named “Washtub,” with the newly created Air Force Office of Special Investigations, headed by Hoover protege and former FBI official Joseph F. Carroll.

The secret plan was to have citizen-agents in key locations in Alaska ready to hide from the invaders of what was then only a U.S. territory. The citizen-agents would find their way to survival caches of food, cold-weather gear, message-coding material and radios. In hiding they would transmit word of enemy movements.

This was not civil defense of the sort that became common later in the Cold War as Americans built their own bomb shelters. This was an extraordinary enlistment of civilians as intelligence operatives on U.S. soil.

This account of the “Washtub” project is based on hundreds of pages of formerly secret documents. The heavily censored records were provided to The Associated Press by the Government Attic, a website that publishes government documents it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The Russians never invaded, of course.

So the covert cadre of “stay-behind agents,” as they were known, was never activated to collect and report wartime information from backwoods bunkers. It was an assignment that federal officials acknowledged (to each other, if not to the new agents) was highly dangerous, given that the Soviet Union’s military doctrine called for the elimination of local resistance in occupied territory.

To compensate for expected casualties, a reserve pool of agents was to be held outside of Alaska and inserted by air later as short-term replacements. This assignment was seen as an easier sell to potential recruits because “some agents might not be too enthusiastic about being left behind in enemy-occupied areas for an indefinite period of time,” one planning document noted dryly.

"Washtub" was not, however, a washout.

It operated from 1951-59, according to Deborah Kidwell, official historian of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, or OSI.

"While war with the Soviet Union did not come to Alaska, OSI trained 89 SBA (stay-behind agents), and the survival caches served peacetime purposes for many years to come," she wrote in an OSI magazine last year.

With the benefit of hindsight, it would be easy to dismiss “Washtub” as a harebrained scheme born of paranoia. In fact it reflected genuine worry about Soviet intentions and a sense of U.S. vulnerability in a turbulent post-World War II period.

As the plan was being shaped in 1950, Soviet-backed North Korea invaded South Korea, triggering a war on the peninsula that some in the Pentagon saw as a deliberate move by Moscow to distract Washington before invading Europe. The previous summer the Soviets stunned the world by exploding their first atomic bomb. Also in 1949, the U.S. locked arms with Western Europe to form the NATO alliance, and Mao Zedong’s revolutionaries declared victory in China, adding to American fear that communism was on the march.

"Washtub" was known inside the government by several other codenames, including Corpuscle, Stigmatic and Catboat, according to an official Air Force history of the OSI, which called it one of OSI’s "most extensive and long-running Cold War projects." The FBI had its own code word for the project: STAGE.

"Washtub" had two phases.

The first and more urgent was the stay-behind agent program. The second was a parallel effort to create a standby pool of civilian operatives in Alaska trained to clandestinely arrange for the evacuation of downed military air crews in danger of being captured by Soviet forces. This “evasion and escape” plan was coordinated with the CIA.

Among those listed as a stay-behind agent was Dyton Abb Gilliland of Cooper Landing, a community on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage. A well-known bush pilot, Gilliland died in a plane crash on Montague Island in Prince William Sound in May 1955 at age 45. FBI records say he spent 12 days in Washington D.C., in June-July 1951 undergoing a range of specialized training, including in the use of parachutes.

The agents also got extensive training in coding and decoding messages, but this apparently did not always go well. Learning these techniques was “an almost impossible task for backwoodsmen to master in 15 hours of training,” one document said. Details in the document were blacked out.

Many agent names in the OSI and FBI documents also were removed before being declassified.

None of the indigenous population was included. The program founders believed that agents from the “Eskimo, Indian and Aleut groups in the Territory should be avoided in view of their propensities to drink to excess and their fundamental indifference to constituted governments and political philosophies. It is pointed out that their prime concern is with survival and their allegiance would easily shift to any power in control.”

Recruiters pitched patriotism and were to offer retainer fees of up to $3,000 a year (nearly $30,000 in 2014 dollars). That sum was to be doubled “after an invasion has commenced,” according to one planning document. The records do not say how much was actually paid during the course of the program.

At least some recruits were fingerprinted and all were secretly screened by the FBI for signs of disloyalty.

The FBI linked one candidate, a resident of Stony River, to a list of names in a 1943 bureau file on “Communist Party activities, Alaska” that tracked U.S. subscribers to a magazine called “Soviet Russia Today.”

Another candidate was flagged — falsely, it turned out — as a likely communist sympathizer based on an FBI informant’s tip about membership in the “Tom Paine Club, Communist Party, Spokane, Washington.”

One was described in a May 1952 OSI memo to the FBI office in Anchorage as the postmaster in Kiana, Alaska; another was manager of a hotel in Valdez. One agent candidate worked for a tin-mining company at Lost River on the Seward Peninsula, one of the higher-priority areas for placing “Washtub” stay-behind agents.

The peninsula is named after Secretary of State William H. Seward, the primary negotiator in the 1867 purchase of the Alaska territory for $7.2 million from czarist Russia.

The FBI tapped its local contacts, including federal judges, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, an Anchorage physician and others for names of reliable Alaskans to be approached.

"Washtub’ was crafted in painstaking detail. But just as the first trained agents were to be put in place in September 1951, Hoover pulled out, leaving it in OSI’s hands, even though one month earlier his top lieutenants had advised him the FBI was "in these programs neck deep," with an "obvious and inescapable" duty to proceed.

Hoover worried that when the shooting in Alaska started the FBI would be “left holding the bag.”

"If a crisis arose we would be in the midst of another ‘Pearl Harbor’ and get part of the blame," Hoover wrote in the margin of a Sept. 6, 1951, memo from an aide, to whom Hoover added one final order: "Get out at once."

Three years later, Hoover was pulled back in, briefly.

In October 1954, an envelope and a typewritten letter containing a coded message were turned over to the FBI by a woman in Anchorage. It had been misaddressed by the anonymous sender in Fairbanks. Espionage was suspected, triggering flurries of FBI internal memos. Hoover was informed that bureau code breakers were urgently trying to decipher the message.

They never broke the code but eventually declared the crisis over. The mystery message, they determined, was not from an enemy spy. It was a “practice message” sent errantly by one of the “Washtub” agents.

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/us-trained-alaskans-secret-stay-behind-agents

thinksquad:

Despite a federal court order directing Microsoft to turn overseas-held email data to federal authorities, the software giant said Friday it will continue to withhold that information as it waits for the case to wind through the appeals process. The judge has now ordered both Microsoft and federal prosecutors to advise her how to proceed by next Friday, September 5.

Let there be no doubt that Microsoft’s actions in this controversial case are customer-centric. The firm isn’t just standing up to the US government on moral principles. It’s now defying a federal court order.

"Microsoft will not be turning over the email and plans to appeal," a Microsoft statement notes. "Everyone agrees this case can and will proceed to the appeals court. This is simply about finding the appropriate procedure for that to happen."

http://windowsitpro.com/paul-thurrotts-wininfo/microsoft-defies-court-order-will-not-give-emails-us-government

Judge temporarily blocks law that could close all Louisiana abortion clinics

A U.S. federal judge on Sunday temporarily blocked enforcement of a Louisiana law that advocates say would likely have closed all five abortion clinics in the state.

The measure, signed into law by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in June and due to take effect Sept. 1, would require doctors who perform abortions to have patient admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice.

However, the judge’s ruling means that for the time being doctors can continue to perform legal abortions while seeking such privileges.

"Plaintiffs will be allowed to operate lawfully while continuing their efforts to obtain privileges," Federal Judge John deGravelles wrote in the decision.

A hearing will be scheduled within a month for the judge to make a more permanent ruling on the law.

(Source: yahoonews)

thinksquad:

David Cameron will make it easier for intelligence agencies to access information about airline passengers and announce measures to intensify cooperation with Turkey and Germany as the government moves to stem the flow of British-born jihadis travelling to and from Syria and Iraq.

As the king of Saudi Arabia warned that terror groups would attack Europe in the next month unless they were confronted with “power and speed”, the prime minister will hold a final round of talks with Nick Clegg on Monday before outlining the package of measures to parliament.

The prime minister and his deputy have reached broad agreement on plans to make it easier to strip suspected jihadis of their passports in Britain and to improve the flow of data about airline passengers to the intelligence agencies.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/aug/31/david-cameron-nick-clegg-spy-agencies-terrorism-powers

descentintotyranny:

Is It Torture Now? ISIS Apparently A Fan Of CIA’s Waterboarding Techniques

Aug. 29 2014

Among the many, many, many problems with running a torture program (beyond being morally problematic and with no history of effectiveness) is the fact that it makes it easier for others to justify torture programs as well. It’s now come out that ISIS has been waterboarding prisoners, including reporter James Foley whom they recently beheaded. Waterboarding, of course, was one of the CIA’s favorite torture techniques. And, of course, people had warned for years that having the CIA waterboard people would only encourage others to use the technique against Americans. Hell, even Senator Dianne Feinstein condemned waterboarding a few years ago, because it would lead others to do it against the US:

Waterboarding dates to the Spanish Inquisition and has been a favorite of dictators through the ages, including Pol Pot and the regime in Burma. Its practice is designed to nearly drown a subject and make them think they’re going to die.

Torture - including waterboarding - is immoral and illegal. It violates U.S. and international law and the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering. Condoning torture opens the door for our enemies to do the same to captured American troops in the future.

Of course, beheading people is even worse that waterboarding them, and that seems to be the “defense” that administration officials are using to downplay the discovery of ISIS waterboarding techniques. “Hey, at least it’s not as bad as beheading” is hardly a compelling response to finding out that ISIS is using CIA and DOJ-approved torture techniques.

The FBI, which is investigating Foley’s death and the abduction of Americans in Syria, declined to comment. The CIA had no official comment.

“ISIL is a group that routinely crucifies and beheads people,” a U.S. official, using one of the acronyms for the militant group. “To suggest that there is any correlation between ISIL’s brutality and past U.S. actions is ridiculous and feeds into their twisted propaganda.”

Yes, it’s true that ISIS seems to have little concern about what techniques it’s using, but to argue that the CIA’s prolific use of torture and waterboarding has had no impact on how groups treat captured Americans seems like a stretch. At the very least, it takes away any chance of a moral high ground to argue about the specific techniques being used, and at worst contributes to the reasons why these groups feel justified in what they’re doing.

Feds: More than 1,000 businesses hit by same cyberattack that struck Target

breakingnews:

New York Times: More than 1,000 American businesses have been affected by the cyberattack that hit the in-store cash register systems at Target, Supervalu and most recently UPS Stores, the Department of Homeland Security said Friday.

The attacks are much more pervasive than previously reported, and hackers are pilfering the data of millions of payment cards from American consumers without companies knowing about it, according to a new advisory released Friday afternoon.

ALS Association Responds To Public Outcry; Withdraws Trademark Application On Ice Bucket Challenge | Techdirt

wordbomb:

Well, it’s too bad that these charitable people can’t sue other charities for infringing on the idea they didn’t even originate.

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