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NHNE News Brief 76
Friday, September 5, 1997
"A thought-provoking exploration
of the extraordinary times in which we live."
848 days until January 1, 2000
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After All Is Said & Done
Millennium Bug Bravado
Quiet Hurricane Season
Ancient Peruvian Artifact Flies
THE LIGHTER SIDE:
Othello Champion Loses to Computer
NEWS BRIEF SPONSOR:
The Online Noetic Network
FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK
Top 100 of the Millennium
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
With You All the Way
Good for You!
What a Gift!
Colloidal Silver Caution
Major El Nino Brewing
EPA to Publicize Pollution Data
Biocontrol to the Rescue
Smoking in China
Autos Going Smokeless
The Ten Riskiest Places in the U.S.
Time vs. Money
Robot Breaks New Ground
Global Positioning System Overview
ABOUT NHNE & HOW TO JOIN US
AFTER ALL IS SAID & DONE
"After all is said and done, more is said than done."
(Source: Anita Manning, USA TODAY, 9/4/97)
The discovery of a strain of bubonic plague in Madagascar that is resistant to antibiotics has set alarm bells ringing around the world, according to scientists in Paris and Madagascar, who isolated the bacteria. Bubonic plague has staged a resurgence in recent years, but up to now has responded to treatment by antibiotics. The report underscores "how an isolated occurrence in a localized, distant place could have implications widely," says David Dennis of the CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION in Atlanta. (JG)
MILLENNIUM BUG BRAVADO
(Source: REUTERS, 8/15/97)
In a recent speech at the NATIONAL ARCHIVES in Washington which may have been more bravado than substance, President Clinton pledged that government computers will not be plagued by the "Millennium Bug," a flaw that will have some systems mistakenly calculating the year 2000 as 1900. "We can't have the American people looking to a new century and a new millennium with the very symbol of modernity holding them back. We are determined to see that it doesn't happen," Clinton said. Estimates for correcting the problem worldwide range as high as $600 billion, but administration officials have said the government can correct its computers for less than $3 billion. Despite these brave words, a report by the OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET released in July confirmed a charge by industry officials that the government is moving too slowly to assess and correct the flaws. The report found 71 percent of the government's most important computers yet to be repaired or replaced. "Their schedules are slipping and they're not where they need to be," said Bob Cohen, spokesman for the INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA. Clinton's speech was light on details, and largely focused on celebrations planned for the year 2000. He said first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton would lead a millennium project overseeing the U.S. celebration of the new century. (JG)
QUIET HURRICANE SEASON
(Sources: USA TODAY, 9/2/97; ECR, 7/97 & 9/7; FEMA Press Release, 9/4/97)
Despite predictions to the contrary, this year's Atlantic hurricane season is shaping up to be a quiet one. In fact, for the first time in over 25 years, and for only the third time in recorded history, the month of August had NO hurricanes or tropical storms. During this year's hurricane season, high-altitude winds have been shearing the tops off tropical depressions before they can develop into tropical storms. In July 1997, Gordon-Michael Scallion predicted that there would be 20 named storms in 1997 and an additional 12 in 1998. As the hurricane season begins to wind down, there have only been five named tropical storms in the Atlantic, including the latest -- Tropical Storm Erica -- which is brewing off the coast of Antigua. (JG)
ANCIENT PERUVIAN ARTIFACT FLIES
(Source: Filip Coppens, CNI NEWS 9/1/97)
30 years ago, when "ancient astronaut" researcher and author Erich von Daniken made the claim in his book "Chariots of the Gods" that an artifact dug up from an Incan grave was the model of a flying machine, he was labeled a lunatic by more conservative experts. Recently, however, two Germans, Algund Eenboom and Peter Belting, put the theory to the test and came up with some startling results. At the recent ANCIENT ASTRONAUT SOCIETY WORLD CONFERENCE in Orlando, Florida, the two researchers showed extensive footage of their model planes. The hand-launched propeller-powered version flew perfectly stable, but it was the jet-engine model that really wowed the crowds, with an impeccable take-off, flight and landing. It was an exact match to the artifact found in the Inca grave. (JG)
THE LIGHTER SIDE:
(Source: DISCOVER, 9/97)
It is not a widely-known fact that any living being, when exposed to a strong enough magnetic field, itself become a magnet, as the atoms in its cells shift their electrons to oppose the external magnetic field. Physicists Jan Kees Maan and Andre Geim of the UNIVERSITY OF NIJMEGEN in the Netherlands have discovered that when placed in a magnetic field 100,000 times that of Earth's, an animal generates a force strong enough to cancel gravity and create levitation. So far, experiments have only extended to floating frogs, which seem to suffer no ill effects from their weightless experience. Using the technique, scientists can now conduct microgravity experiments on Earth, instead of having to send animals up in a space shuttle. (JG)
(Source: Richard Monastersky, SCIENCE NEWS, 8/23/97)
In a challenge to popular opinion, Robert G. Johnson of the UNIVERSITY OF MINNEAPOLIS is convinced that the world is poised on the brink of another ice age and he has the solution to prevent it. In Johnson's opinion, the Mediterranean is the key to the start of past and future ice ages. His thinking goes like this: typically, changes in the Earth's orbit reduce rainfall in Africa; less fresh water flows into the Mediterranean which becomes saltier; the denser, saltier water flows into the Atlantic diverting the Gulf Stream towards Labrador, which triggers more snow, which builds ice sheets. This time it's global warming and dams on the Nile that are creating precursors for an ice age. Johnson says that the only solution is to dam the Mediterranean at Gibraltar to prevent the flow of salty water into the Atlantic. The scientific establishment does not take Johnson's ideas seriously. (JG)
(Source: DISCOVER, 9/97)
James Czarnowski, formerly of the MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, has invented a boat that uses flippers instead of propellers for propulsion -- a system he claims is 17 percent more efficient. He thinks that converting conventional ships to the new propulsion system has the potential of saving millions of dollars and millions of gallons of fuel annually. So far, he has demonstrated his "penguin power" using a 12-foot prototype dubbed "Proteus;" his next step is to build a 140-foot test boat. Czarnowski still has to develop a steering mechanism, but he is confident that with a little tinkering, the flippers can also serve as rudders. (JG)
OTHELLO CHAMPION LOSES TO COMPUTER
(Source: I. Peterson, SCIENCE NEWS, 8/16/97)
Add Othello to the list of games that computers can now play at the world champion level. In August, the computer program "Logisello" soundly defeated the top-ranked human player, Takeshi Murakami. Othello is the modern variant of a 19th-century game known as Reversi. It is a game of skill and strategy played on a eight-by-eight square board with black and white colored disks. While the rules are simple, it takes years to master the subtleties of the game. It was those very subtleties that fascinated computer programmer, Michael Buro, at the NEC RESEARCH INSTITUTE in Princeton, New Jersey who created the "Logisello" program. (JG)
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FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK:
TOP 100 OF THE MILLENNIUM
As the century and the millennium draw to a close, it is a time of reflection. We noticed that in their August 18 edition, TIME MAGAZINE was compiling a list of the top 100 people of the century who have had the most impact on our world and the way we will live in the future.
NHNE would like to go one step further and solicit your selection of the top movers and shakers and the top events of the millennium that have shaped out future. Send us your comments and suggestions, and we will share them with our readers in a couple of weeks.
James Gregory, Editor-in-Chief
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
WITH YOU ALL THE WAY
"It was with delight and a tinge of sadness that I read the Letters to the Editor in News Brief 75. You and your co-workers at NHNE have gotten off your behinds, put your money where your mouths are and are actively out there every day putting together this information to send out to the Steve Glanzs and the Robin Goolsbys of this world so they can feel a little better about themselves. If they are not prepared to support your efforts, stuff 'em! I realise that is very unfashionable thing to say, but you can help only those who want to be helped. Don't throw good energy after bad. If they or any of the other authors of the similar letters imagine for one minute that you are making yourselves rich off the $100 yearly subscription fees, then they are either incredibly stupid or have never worked out the math of employing staff, collating information, setting up Web sites, making telephone calls, faxing papers, sending out mail, and the many other expenses that go into to producing one edition of the News Brief. Steve Glanz was right in one sense -- this information is far too important to quibble over the $100 that it takes to keep the News Brief going. Anyone who says it isn't, is not paying attention to the things your News Brief says about life and living.
"Incidentally, I have just returned from Egypt. The action the authorities have taken to cover up the true age the sphinx is criminal. They have totally ruined what was an incredible piece of history under the guise of restoration. I have never seen anything so disgusting in all my travels."
---Adam Williams, Hong Kong, China
GOOD FOR YOU!
"I am glad you are valuing what you do and asking that others value it also. (Of course that is easier for me to say since I just renewed my subscription for a year in July.) You all deserve a living wage. It's great to be able to put your energy where your interests lie, but there is no law that you need to be financially strapped to do so. You have a unique product, and it is worth what you are asking for it."
---Kathy McClure, La Grange, Illinois
WHAT A GIFT!
"I loved your VisionQuest Game edition of Wind & Wings. What a gift! I am planning to put together a game from David Sunfellow's descriptions and the site info and present it to the spiritual group of friends I recently began meeting with."
---Gail Rossi, Casco, Maine
COLLOIDAL SILVER CAUTION
"I am writing in response to your article about the benefits of colloidal silver (News Brief 46). A friend of mine who has used colloidal silver for years recently came down with kidney cancer. Another friend who has a Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering tells me that colloidal silver cannot be eliminated by the body and accumulates in the organs. As proof, he cites a report by Schmahl and Steinhoff in the government bulletin "Element Concentrations Toxic to Plants, Animals and Man" (GSC 1466), that claims that colloidal silver produces tumors in experimental animals. I thought your readers would like to have this information before accepting the extravagant claims that are routinely made for colloidal silver."
---Don Giacobbe, Cottonwood, Arizona
MAJOR EL NINO BREWING
(Sources: DRUDGE REPORT, 9/1/97; J. Madeleine Nash, TIME, 8/18/97; USA TODAY, 9/4/97)
For the last six months, a broadening band of tropical warmth has been spreading east across the Pacific Ocean towards South America. Once again, El Nino is gathering strength. The current El Nino weather pattern could be the most severe ever recorded and lead to more deaths and damage to crops than the worst in 1982-83 which left 2,000 people dead and $13 billion in economic losses, according to the UNITED NATIONS' WORLD METEOROLOGICAL ORGANIZATION (WMO) which has declared: "The major El Nino in tropical Pacific could be the climatic event of the century." Forecast models, ocean observations and satellite data are showing that the sea surface temperature in the eastern tropical Pacific in July exceeded all previous records. Until recently, most weather scientists paid scant attention to the periodic episodes of warm water that has appeared off the coast of Peru for centuries. It took the disastrous weather of 1982-83 to catch their attention. El Nino usually peaks around December, thus accounting for the name given to the phenomenon by Peruvian fishermen ("the Christ child").
The swath of equatorial ocean under its influence extends to a quarter of the world's circumference. If the warming trend continues, scientists say the incipient El Nino could pump so much heat into the ocean that average sea-surface temperatures might rise by 7 degrees F. If this happens, the effects will last far into the new year. Among the disasters that would be likely are landslides, flash floods, droughts, and crop failures.
Until recently, El Ninos came more or less periodically every two to seven years. But in the early 1990s, several El Ninos appeared in a row, one right after another. After dying down in '95 and '96, El Nino is back. Scientists have yet to determine if the increase in frequency is caused by global warming or just random fluctuations in the natural cycle.
Scientists have come to realize that El Nino is part of a larger cycle called the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) which flip flops between the El Nino warming trend and a cold-water state called La Nina. Taken as a whole, ENSO is a powerful driver of global weather patterns and is now recognized as THE major cause of month-to-month variations in world climate.
As a curious side effect of El Nino, record-high water temperatures off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Franciso are attracting an exotic mix of tropical fish rarely seen in the region, such as swordfish, albacore tuna, marlin and sardines. The temperature of the water off the coast of Northern California has been measured at 67 degrees F -- 12 degrees above normal. (JG)
EPA TO PUBLICIZE POLLUTION DATA
(Source: John H. Cushman Jr., NEW YORK TIMES, 8/12/97)
People who live near hundreds of factories in five major industries may soon be able to access mountains of data about the pollution given off by the plants. The U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA) profiles will include each factory's pollution permit violations, inspections, toxic releases and even the demographics of surrounding communities, which might help track whether any group is being disproportionately affected. The ambitious project is the latest and in some ways the most innovative step so far in a steady campaign by the Clinton Administration to expand "right to know" initiatives -- environmental programs that seek to inhibit pollution by exposing polluters to pressure from a well-informed public. The project expands on the well-known Toxics Release Inventory, an annual survey that has been credited with encouraging companies to voluntarily control their pollution. The industries are trying to block the project, arguing that the release of the information, which will be weighted to highlight the most hazardous types of pollution, will confuse and alarm the public. Despite the concerns, agency officials are pressing ahead. The full set of data is scheduled to be released for review in draft form by the end of the year and published on the agency's Web site shortly thereafter. (JG)
BIOCONTROL TO THE RESCUE
By James Gregory and Suzanne DeSutter
[In News Brief 71, we presented a number of opportunistic pests which were threatening niches in the ecosystem. In this article, we continue the discussion and one possible cure -- biocontrol.]
Purple loosestife first arrived in North America from Europe in the 19th century, found no enemies, and began to spread. After 100 years of unchecked growth throughout the continent, this tall, hardy plant is strangling the nation's wetlands and threatens local wildlife which depends on other plants for nesting materials and food. For 10 years, Bernd Blossey, an ecologist from CORNELL UNIVERSITY in Ithaca, New York, has been looking for natural enemies of loosestrife. He finally found a tiny brown beetle in Europe called Galerucella calmriensis that feeds on purple loosestrife and nothing else. The next step was to convince both federal and state review boards that the bug posed no threat of biodisaster. By presenting his exhaustive research, Blossey was able to put such fears to rest -- in the absence of purple loosestrife, Galerucella will starve to death rather than eat anything else. This summer, hundreds of thousands of the loosestrife munchers were being released at 500 different locations in the U.S. and Canada.
The ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY has just approved the use of a fungus called Metathizium anisopliae against termites. It kills insects by growing through their exoskeletons. It is not as exacting a biocontrol agent as the Galerucella beetle, since it also attacks cockroaches and houseflies. Fortunately, they too are considered undesirable pests. Honeybees and ladybugs are not affected by the fungus.
Cassava is a staple for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world. The cassava green mite feeds on the starchy root crop, diminishing crop yields in a part of the world that already doesn't have enough food. The INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTION OF TROPICAL AGRICULTURE in Ibadan, Nigeria has started field testing a Brazilian mite that preys on the green mite. Now established in 11 countries, the predatory mite is proving to be such a successful control agent on a continental scale that the project appears to be poised on the threshold of a spectacular success. The resulting increased cassava production in Benin, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria is generating an additional $60 million annually.
In a related story, monk parakeets have taken a foothold in 15 states in the U.S. and are poised to take over the entire country according to Stephen Pruett-Jones of the UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO. In Argentina and Uruguay, where the vivid green parrots are natives, they have a reputation as agricultural pests and pose a threat to crops. The nesting and social habits of these birds are very unusual. Monk parakeets are the only one of 330 species of parrots that build their own nests. The nest can be for one family or a colony housing hundreds of families in separate but joined dwellings. Occasionally, an altruistic third parrot will assist the two parents in raising their offspring. Since the early '70s, the population of monk parakeets in the U.S. has been growing by leaps and bounds, prompting California to pass a law against having monk parakeets as a pets, and other states to mount eradication programs -- all unsuccessful. To date, no effective biocontrol as been found, and Pruett-Jones predicts that, left unchecked, the birds will spread throughout the entire contiguous U.S. within 20 years.
One final thought: biocontrol is a wonderful tool, as long as the cure doesn't turn out to be worse than the disease. This appears to have happened in 1972 when the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE introduced the flowerhead weevil to control the spread of European weed thistles in Nebraska pastures and rangelands. Within a few years, the bugs seemed to be doing their job -- the population of the offending thistle diminished as eventually did the weevils. But now the critters have resurfaced -- eating native thistles. Scientists are worried that the native thistles and the wildlife that rely on them as a food source, such as goldfinches and pictured wing flies, are at serious risk. (Sources: Theodore Gideonese & Thomas Hayden, NEWSWEEK, 8/4/97; Glenn Zorpette, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 7/97; Christine Mlot, SCIENCE NEWS, 7/28/97; Christine Mlot, SCIENCE NEWS, 8/16/97)
SMOKING IN CHINA
(Source: Joe McDonald, ASSOCIATED PRESS via AOL NEWS, 8/23/97, thanks to Joya Pope)
Home to one-third of the world's smokers, China is deeply split over smoking. In a country where an estimated 70 percent of men smoke, the habit accounts for 10 percent of government's revenues, yet according to health officials, costs more than that in smoking-related diseases and fires. Premier Li Peng says selling cigarettes is immoral, but with the help of foreign partners, the state-owned CHINA NATIONAL TOBACCO CORPORATION (CNTC) -- the largest in the world -- has boosted its exports to $650 million a year. The government has banned smoking in buses, planes, trains and public buildings. Cigarette packs carry health warnings, and print and broadcast advertising is banned. Restaurants and stores in Beijing were ordered in July to remove hundreds of awnings, posters and other cigarette advertisements.
Despite such activism, smoking rates have not dropped, and the government clearly has mixed feelings about tobacco. The government could close CNTC -- but only at a tremendous short-term cost. The company, which makes 1.7 trillion cigarettes a year - three times the U.S. total - also provides 500,000 jobs. In the southern tobacco-producing provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou, taxes on the industry pay for half the provincial budget. "It's a dilemma faced by every government," said Dr. Judith MacKay, a Hong Kong-based anti-smoking campaigner. Eager for access to their technology and skills, CNTC has set up joint ventures with all of the major foreign tobacco companies, starting with R.J. REYNOLDS in 1988. MacKay said the attitude of CNTC, which once acknowledged smoking was unhealthy and talked freely to health workers, changed after it got involved with foreign tobacco companies. "They're not meeting with health officials. They're not cooperating," she said. (JG)
AUTOS GOING SMOKELESS
(Sources: Robin Fields, SUN SENTINEL via THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 7/12/97)
The growing wave of the anti-smoking movement has reached the auto industry. A 1995 MARKET OPINION RESEARCH survey showed that almost 80 percent of drivers don't smoke in their cars or allow passengers to do so. Armed with these numbers more and more automakers are offering smoking packages -- lighters and ashtrays -- as options rather than standard features. In 1996, the Honda Civic went smokeless; earlier this year Chevrolet made the move as did some Mazdas and Volvos; recently the Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus joined the fray. Neither Ford not Toyota have yet to make the move. Smoking packages cost $15 to $90 to install and 25 to 30 percent of customers choose to pay for the option when it is not offered as a standard feature. Manufacturers, who like the trend because nonsmoking cars cost less to make, have experienced little backlash. Nonsmokers, while concerned that the lack of ashtrays may increase roadside litter, appreciate the extra space for compact disk changers, storage bins, and the trendiest addition of all -- cup holders. (JG)
THE TEN RISKIEST PLACES IN THE U.S
(Sources: ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE, 8/12/97; Randolph E. Schmid, ASSOCIATED PRESS via USA TODAY, 8/12/97)
Mark Monmonier, a map expert who teaches mapmaking at SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY in New York, has charted the 10 riskiest places in the U.S. in his book, "Cartographies of Danger: Mapping Hazards in America."
His list of is topped by "almost any place in California," and not just because of earthquakes. He points out that there are wildfires, landslides, active volcanoes, tsunamis, as well as smog, freeway snipers, riots, oil spills and water shortages.
Seattle is second on Monmonier's risky list because it is located just 70 miles from active volcanoes on Mount Rainier and Glacier Peak.
His list also includes a number of popular vacation destinations, such as North Carolina's Outer Banks, located in prime hurricane territory, and Alaska and Hawaii, where coastlines are vulnerable to earthquake-generated giant waves, and major cities in the South, where the warm weather provides year-round comfort for thieves and vagrants.
The danger area related to tornado activity shifts over time. In April, a tornado is more likely to occur in Indiana or Illinois. Tornado Alley spreads to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri in May, then moves north and west in June.
Miami, the Louisiana coast, the floodplains of the Mississippi and other rivers, and the area near any nuclear power plant, round out his list.
Is there a safe place to live? "I'm living in one now," says Monmonier from his office in Syracuse. "I'm not on a flood plain. I'm not in an earthquake zone. I'm not where tornadoes are a problem." He does admit that Syracuse's snow and low winter temperatures can be a problem for people who have heart trouble and decide to shovel their driveways anyway. Sometimes you just can't escape danger. (JG)
TIME VS. MONEY
(Source: Ann Kathleen Bradley, NEW AGE JOURNAL, July-Aug/97)
Both the abundance mentality and voluntary simplicity emphasize that money should not control our lives, but that's where the similarity seems to end.
However, Katherine Crowley, a Manhattan therapist who specializes in work and life issues, suggests that striving for simplicity and abundance may be just two consecutive steps on the path to a more satisfying financial life. Gordon Davidson, co-founder and President of the CENTER FOR VISIONARY LEADERSHIP in Washington, D.C., agrees that voluntary simplicity can pave the way for abundance. "When you are following your soul's purpose, you'll have what you need to fulfill it." He admits that developing this level of trust can take a long time and takes real courage to live this way in the modern world.
When Frank Butler retired from his prestigious job with KODAK in the U.S., he and his wife travelled to India to work with Mother Theresa. Upon their arrival and much to their surprise, Mother Theresa told them to go back home and work with people there. "I have never seen such loneliness as the poverty of affluence in America," she declared.
One initiative for redirecting wealth is the TRICKLE UP PROGRAM founded by Glen and Mildred Robbins Leet in 1979 in New York City to help poor people start their own small businesses. The Leets began with $1,000 of their own money, which they gave away in $100 seed grants to entrepreneurs on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Today, with a full-time staff of 14, TRICKLE UP has a record of helping 60,000 projects start or expand worldwide.
David Spangler distinguishes between the old and new laws of manifestation. In the old law, you visualized a specific outcome that you wanted as already existing; in the new regimen, you "align with your higher intention, and what is appropriate for you will come to you. It is more a question of allowing than specifying."
In her new book "Creating True Prosperity," Shakti Gawain emphasizes that "we can experience prosperity at every level of wealth. Money, Gawain continues, "is just a symbol for our creative energy and a way to exchange it. So instead of asking for material abundance, we need to ask, 'What is my soul yearning for?' then focus on the experience of having enough of THAT. There's always enough of whatever we truly need and truly, deeply desire."
Rick Jarow, an assistant professor of religion at VASSAR COLLEGE in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. who also offers workshops on seeking meaningful work, thinks the abundance/simplicity debate turns on a deeper issue -- self esteem. "At least 80 percent of the people in my workshops are dealing with the feeling that, 'I am not good enough.' They don't feel worthy of having work that is more fruitful financially." (JG)
ROBOT BREAKS TRAVEL RECORD
(Source: Richard Monastersky, SCIENCE NEWS, 8/23/97; NASA Press Release, 8/5/97, thanks to Chris Czech)
A hardy traveler named "Nomad" recently set a record by traveling 133 miles over rough territory -- farther than any remotely controlled robot has before. The 1,600-pound robot, which is the size of a small car, picked its way across Chile's rugged Atacama Desert from June 15 to July 31, during a field experiment designed to prepare for future missions to Antarctica, the Moon and Mars.
Scientists from NASA's AMES RESEARCH CENTER, Moffett Field, CA, and CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY's ROBOTICS INSTITUTE in Pittsburgh performed experiments with Nomad for 45 days, conducting both technology demonstrations and scientific activities. Nomad's unique onboard panospheric camera provided live 360-degree, still images of the robot's surroundings and color stereo video cameras with human-eye resolution were used for geology. Guided by its sharp visual acuity, the robot often worked on its own to avoid obstacles and, in a clear foreshadowing of the future duties of similar robots, it recognized meteorites planted in the desert as a test and may even have found a fossil -- in June 25, NASA scientists were driving the robot remotely from their laboratory at Ames, more than 5,455 miles away, when the robot found a rock that appeared to contain algae fossils.
To maneuver through rough terrain, the robot has four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering with a chassis that expands to improve stability and travel over various terrain conditions. Four aluminum wheels with cleats provide traction in soft sand and snow. NASA and CARNEGIE MELLON are formulating plans to use Nomad to look for meteorites in Antarctica in 1998. (JG)
GLOBAL POSITIONING SYSTEM OVERVIEW
(Source: Karen Nakamura, TIDBITS, 7/14/97)
Until about ten years ago, the Global Positioning System (GPS) existed only in the realm of high-tech thrillers. Fictional spies would tote hand-held units that precisely displayed their locations or their objectives anywhere on earth, complete with street maps and 3D topographic representations. Then three amazing things happened: the U.S. military opened up the Global Positioning System for civilian use; the price of receivers plummeted; and advanced computer-controllable units appeared, making integration with personal computers a reality. Now with your Mac and about $300 in additional hardware and software, you can do things that were science fiction just a little while ago.
Developed by the U.S. military at a cost of several billion dollars, GPS makes use of a network of 24 orbiting satellites which broadcast a precise data signal that allow GPS receivers to locate themselves anywhere on the planet. A receiver can calculate its position (latitude and longitude), altitude, velocity, heading, and precise time of day. Most units also have a built-in mapping feature that displays their positions relative to waypoints you've pre-programmed into them and a plot trail that shows where you've travelled. Advanced models have built-in street or waterway maps, plus serial ports for computer connections.
Military and high-end survey-grade models have the incredibly small margin of error of less than 1/16 of an inch. However, standard over-the-counter civilian models are nominally accurate to "only" about 100 meters (roughly a city block). This is due to military-induced "selective availability" -- a euphemism for scrambling the GPS signal just enough to reduce the accuracy to sub-military levels. The rational behind such a move is that while garbling the signal somewhat leaves the it accurate enough to find your favorite fishing hole, it prevents sinister elements from dropping a cruise missile directly onto the Oval Office of the White House. This attitude seems to be changing -- an FM radio receiver called a Differential GPS unit (DGPS) is now available which can be used in conjunction with your GPS receiver to provide three-to-ten meter accuracy. The U.S. COAST GUARD broadcasts DGPS signals for free along the entire coastline of the U.S., and inland for a small subscription cost from various DGPS broadcast companies. The inland cost should soon be eliminated because the FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION wants to use GPS for all aircraft and plans to begin wide-scale broadcasting of free DGPS signals around the year 2000. DGPS receivers currently go for about $500, but once the FAA plan goes into action, all new GPS units would have built-in DGPS receivers.
The 24 satellites have a staggered orbit designed so at least four satellites are visible from any location on Earth 95 percent of the time. Each satellite broadcasts a repeating message, indicating the position and orbital parameters of itself and the other satellites, a bill of health for the satellites, and the precise atomic time. The information is encrypted into a signal with strict timing characteristics. GPS uses a principle similar to echolocation -- if you send out a pulse of sound or radio waves and wait for them to bounce off something and come back, you can determine the distance to the object by dividing the time it took for the reply by the speed of transmission. GPS works on much the same principle, except that unlike radar or sonar, where the transmitter is also the receiver of the signal, GPS satellites transmit the timing data pulses and GPS receiver units receive. The Global Positioning System uses triangulation geometry, precise clocks and microwave signals that travel at the speed of light. The signals can pass through glass, but are absorbed by water molecules and heavy foliage, and reflect off concrete, steel, and rock. This means that GPS units have trouble operating in rain forests, urban jungles, deep canyons, inside automobiles and boats, and in heavy snowfall. These environmental obstacles can degrade positional accuracy and make it impossible to get a fix on your location.
GPS receivers come in two varieties: sequential single-channel and parallel multi-channel. Single-channel GPS units have only one radio receiver unit, and they must step sequentially through all possible satellites. This takes time and degrades their accuracy, since they may lose a "lock" each time they switch channels. Parallel units have from 4 to 12 receivers, each dedicated to one particular satellite signal, so strong locks can be maintained on all the satellites. Parallel-channel units are up to 15 times faster in satellite acquisition times and are able to lock onto the satellite signals even in difficult situations like forests or city centers. Boaters may be content with single or dual channel sequential units, since there are few environmental obstacles on the open ocean, but others shouldn't settle for anything less than a full 12-channel parallel system, especially since the price differential has closed greatly in the last six months.
Some of the most popular and easy-to-use GPS receivers are from GARMIN, INC. Their main handheld unit, the Garmin GPS 12XL, runs about $250. The 12XL is designed for handheld use and fits in your palm. It runs on 4 AA batteries for about 12 hours and has a backlight for night use. Their GPS II+ is designed for vehicular use and sits on a dashboard or console. It has dedicated zoom buttons which make it easier for one-handed use while piloting (though not recommended while driving). And while many other GPS brands can only transmit their current positional information, the Garmin units have built-in serial ports which allow you to transfer their waypoint databases, route tables, and other useful information and are the best choice for computer-based use. For more information on GPS units, check out: <http://www.gpsy.com/gpsinfo/index.html#resellers>. (JG)
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