The Life-Saving Gifts of the World's Most Venomous Animal ( 33

tedlistens writes: It was a terrible sting off the coast of Hawaii that inspired Angel Yanagihara, a biology researcher, to spend her life studying the bizarre culprit. Comprising some 50 species, box jellyfish are not like other jellyfish: they have 24 eyes, can move with intention and at surprising speed, and have something resembling a brain. They are also considered to be among the most venomous animals on Earth, killing more people every year than sharks do. Once inside the body, its venom acts "like buckshot" on blood cells. One species, the four-pound, nine-foot-long sea wasp, is said to have enough venom at any one time to kill ninety to one hundred and twenty humans.

As ocean currents and biomes change, various species of dangerous box jellyfish have shown up in places where they have not recently been abundant, including Japan, India, Israel, Florida, and the Jersey Shore. But compared to other venoms, research on jellyfish has remained in the dark ages. New methods for collecting venom—including one that relies on beer—along with a better understanding of box-jelly biochemistry may point to better non-antibiotic protections from them, and to novel defenses for humans against other fatal infections from anthrax and the antibiotic-resistant "superbug" MRSA, says Yanagihara. (Venoms are already the basis of a handful of FDA-approved drugs that have generated billions for the pharma industry.) Now the U.S. military is helping to fund Yanagihara's research, and applying a cream she developed to thwart box jellyfish, which have already left serious stings on a dozen Army divers at a training facility in Florida, and forced one diver out of the program.

The Military

Antineutrino Detection Is About To Change the Game In Nuclear Verification ( 96

Lasrick writes: There may be a new option for the detection of illicit nuclear weapons programs worldwide: Antineutrino detection is an existing technology that, if political and diplomatic hurdles are overcome, could be put in place before the 10-year ban on Iranian enrichment R&D is lifted. Difficult to evade, antineutrino detection technology could allow the international community to reliably monitor a country's nuclear activities in real-time, potentially without setting foot in the country. Similar in cost and technological scale to the space-borne reconnaissance methods governments use for detection today, antineutrino detection could not only help identify undeclared nuclear reactors, but could monitor nuclear facilities and detonations throughout the Middle East and beyond.
The Military

DARPA's ICARUS Program To Develop Self-Destructing Air Delivery Vehicles ( 63

Zothecula contributes this excerpt from Gizmag that illustrates the latest chapter in the long history of denying equipment of military technology to the makers' adversaries: Two years ago, DARPA started developing self-destructing electronics as a way to prevent advanced military gear falling into the wrong hands. Now the agency is expanding on the idea with its Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS) program, which is tasked with developing small, unmanned, single-use, unpowered air vehicles that can can be dropped from an aircraft to deliver supplies to isolated locations in the event of disasters, then evaporate into thin air once their job is done.

The Top Secret Chinese Military Project That Led To a Nobel Prize 73 writes: Jeff Guo reports at the Washington Post that development of qinghaosu — or artemisinin — is one of modern China's proudest accomplishments winning a Noble Prize in Medicine this year for Tu Youyou, but it's also a story about Communism, Chairman Mao, and China's return to the world economy. On May 23, 1967, Chinese scientists commenced Project 523, a secret effort that enlisted hundreds of researchers to discover a new malaria drug during the Vietnam War. Although in a better warfare position, the People's Army of Vietnam (North Vietnamese Army) and its allies in the South, Viet Cong, suffered increasing mortality because of malaria epidemics. The project began at the height of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, a brutal time during which academics and intellectuals were murdered, imprisoned, or sent to "reeducation camps" in mass purges.

For doctors and chemists. Project 523 was a lifeline, according to Professor Zhou Yiqing. "By the time Project 523 had got under way, the Cultural Revolution had started and the research provided shelter for scientists facing political persecution." Tu's husband had been banished to the countryside when she was asked to get involved in Project 523. Tu's research project sought to find modern logic in ancient ways, much as the French researchers identified quinine from the bark of the cinchona tree. According to Tu, she and her team screened over 2,000 different Chinese herbs described in old texts, of which about 200 were good enough to test in mice. That's when they hit upon a plant called Artemisia annua: annual wormwood, or qinghao in Chinese. At the time, all of this work remained a Chinese military secret; some of the results were published in Chinese-language journals, but it would be well after the death of Mao Zedong until China would reveal that it had discovered a surprisingly potent new weapon against malaria.

According to Guo the lion's share of the credit rightly goes to Tu and the countless other Chinese scientists who worked on Project 523. But Oxford anthropologist Elisabeth Hsu suggests that the political climate at the time also deserves recognition. Qinghaosu might never have been discovered had it not been for Maoist China's nationalist infatuation with Chinese folk medicine. "It was thus a feature specific to institutions of the People's Republic of China that scientists, who themselves had learnt ways of appreciating traditional knowledge, worked side by side with historians of traditional medicine, who had textual learning," Hsu argues. "This was crucial for the 'discovery' of qinghao."

Prison Debate Team Beats Harvard's National Title Winners 191 writes: Lauren Gambino reports at The Guardian that months after winning this year's national debate championship, Harvard's debate team has fallen to a debate team of three inmates with violent criminal records. The showdown took place at the Eastern correctional facility in New York, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College, and where inmates have formed a popular debate club. The Bard prison initiative has expanded since 2001 to six New York correctional facilities, and aims to provide inmates with a liberal arts education so that when the students leave prison they are able to find meaningful work. A three-judge panel concluded that the Bard team had raised strong arguments that the Harvard team had failed to consider and declared the team of inmates victorious. "Debate helps students master arguments that they don't necessarily agree with," says Max Kenner. "It also pushes people to learn to be not just better litigators but to become more empathetic people, and that's what really speaks to us as an institution about the debate union."

The prison team has proven formidable in the past, beating teams from the US military academy at West Point and the University of Vermont. They lost a rematch against West Point in April, setting up a friendly rivalry between the teams. The competition against West Point has become an annual event, and the prison team is preparing for the next debate in spring. In the morning before the debate, team members talked of nerves and their hope that competing against Harvard—even if they lost—would inspire other inmates to pursue educations. "If we win, it's going to make a lot of people question what goes on in here," says Alex Hall, a 31-year-old from Manhattan convicted of manslaughter. "We might not be as naturally rhetorically gifted, but we work really hard."
The Military

F-35 Ejection Seat Fears Ground Lightweight Pilots 179

An anonymous reader writes: Writing for Defense News, Lara Seligman and Aaron Mehta report that "[c]oncerns about increased risk of injury to F-35 pilots during low-speed ejections have prompted the US military services to temporarily restrict pilots who weigh less than 136 pounds from flying the aircraft. During August tests of the ejection seat, built by Martin-Baker, testers discovered an increased risk of neck injury when a lightweight pilot is flying at slower speeds. Until the problem is fixed, the services decided to restrict pilots weighing under 136 pounds from operating the plane, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, F-35 integration office director, told Defense News in a Tuesday interview."
United States

US Bombs Hit Doctors Without Borders Hospital 409

Prune writes: According to multiple news sources, U.S. airstrikes partially destroyed a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Afghanistan, killing at least nine staff members and at least 50 overall, including patients, and this after giving its coordinates to U.S. forces multiple times. I'm especially saddened to report this given I had become one of the supporters of this charity after recommendations from Slashdot members in a discussion about choosing charities to donate to a while back.

The Global Struggle To Prevent Cyberwar 57

blottsie writes: What constitutes war in the 21st century? In an age of almost constant cyberattacks against major corporations and world governments, the consensus among international-law experts is clear: Nobody knows. This sweeping Daily Dot investigation explores the ongoing struggle to define "cyberwar," the increasing geopolitical aggression in cyberspace, and the major players now attempting to write the rules of online battlefields before it's too late.

"Technical experts and legal scholars repeatedly stress that the idea of a 'cyber Pearl Harbor'—a devastating sneak attack on U.S. infrastructure by a powerful state actor that launched a sustained international conflict—is wildly overblown. Right now, Watts said, 'states bite at one another’s ankles in a way to impede progress or to harass them,' but 'as for the likelihood of a major cyber war, I would rate it pretty low.'

Cyber armageddon may be extremely unlikely, but the many attacks below the level of formal armed conflict have still extracted a staggering price, in both economic and political terms. ... For starters, cyber-arms control is effectively hopeless. There’s no point, experts say, in trying to contain the spread of offensive cyber technology. Instead, the best hope for international law is to focus on reducing the incentives for malicious behavior."
United States

Raytheon Wins US Civilian Cyber Contract Worth $1 Billion 62

Tokolosh writes: Raytheon is a company well-known in military-industrial and political circles, but not so much for software, networking and cybersecurity. That has not stopped the DHS awarding it a $1 billion, five year contract to help more than 100 civilian agencies manage their computer security. Raytheon said DHS selected it to be the prime contractor and systems integrator for the agency's Network Security Deployment (NSD) division, and its National Cybersecurity Protection System (NCPS). The contract runs for five years, but some orders could be extended for up to an additional 24 months, it said. Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services, said the company had invested over $3.5 billion in recent years to expand its cybersecurity capabilities. He said cybersecurity incidents had increased an average of 66 percent a year worldwide between 2009 and 2014. As you might expect, Raytheon spends heavily on political contributions and lobbying.
The Military

Don't Worry, That Blimp Isn't Watching You Much 43

According to the Baltimore Sun, and despite claims by its maker Raytheon that the system is "performing well right now," the expensive tethered-blimp observatory called JLENS (for "Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System") seems to be mostly a boondoggle. The report focuses on the JLENS installation that was launched in Maryland last year. The Sun makes much of the flight taken by disaffected postal worker Douglas Hughes last April to the White House lawn, directly in the JLENS observation area -- the success of which (to be charitable) casts doubt on the effectiveness of the flying observatory system. Beyond its evidently low utility in doing its job, JLENS seems to be a brittle system, amplying its potential costs as well as its military vulnerability with grand, expensive failures as well as everyday difficulties: in 2010, "a civilian balloon broke loose from its mooring, destroying a grounded JLENS blimp that had cost about $182 million." The article lays out some political shenanigans, too: politicians in a wide range of states have supported the project, which has a nationwide footprint of contractors and possible deployment locations. From the article: Within the Pentagon, Marine Corps Gen. James E. "Hoss" Cartwright, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to JLENS' defense, arguing that it held promise for enhancing the nation's air defenses. At Cartwright's urging, money was found in 2011 for a trial run of the technology in the skies above Washington. Cartwright retired the same year — and joined Raytheon's board of directors five months later. By the end of 2014, Raytheon had paid him more than $828,000 in cash and stock for serving as a director, Securities and Exchange Commission records show.
The Military

Tank Hack Ensured Farmland Didn't Thwart the Invasion of Europe 143

szczys writes: Ingenuity reigns supreme when trying to overcome obstacles standing in your way. So was the case during the Allied invasion of Europe during WWII. Land features in the Normandy bocage region were especially difficult for tanks to navigate. The obstacles were earthen dikes topped with mature trees originally put in place to contain livestock. The solution was to reuse materials from the Axis' own anti-tank measures to build a tank attachment to cut through the obstacles. The Allies were able to take the Axis by surprise as it was assumed the armored divisions wouldn't be able to break through this area.

The Effort To Create an 'Iron Man' Type Exoskeleton 52

Nerval's Lobster writes: Tony Stark, as played by Robert Downey, Jr., is the epitome of suave wit—but without his metal shell, he's just another engineer who's made good. The exoskeleton is a technology platform that, while young, is gaining traction in industrial, medical and military circles. For several years, the U.S. Special Operations Command has been working on a Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or "TALOS," that would provide "provide [infantry with] comprehensive ballistic protection and peerless tactical capability," in the words of Gen. Joseph Votel, SOCOM's commander. Meanwhile, several companies—including Raytheon, Ekso Bionics and US Bionics—are working on products that could help the disabled become more mobile, or allow warehouse and other workers to handle physical tasks with greater efficiency and safety. That means people who specialize in robotics, artificial intelligence, and other areas have an increasing opportunity to get involved. According to Homayoon Kazerooni, president of Berkeley-based US Bionics and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley, control and software engineers are the leads in developing these next-generation products. Although he can't estimate the ultimate size of the market for these intelligent exoskeletons, Kazerooni describes the industry as "fast-growing, but infant," with "very diverse uses" for the suits. Just don't expect the aforementioned suits to allow you to fly or blow anything up anytime soon.

British Movie Theater Staff To Wear Night-Vision Goggles To Combat Movie Piracy 279

Ewan Palmer writes: Movie theater across the UK will be required to don military-style night vision goggles in order to help crack down on movie piracy ahead of the release of potential box office smashes such as Spectre and Hunger Games. The initiative is part new measures to combat piracy as in recent years, pirates have found new and inventive ways to illegally record movies while using a smartphone to film through a popcorn box. Kieron Sharp, director general of the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), said: "The bigger the film and the more anticipated it is, the higher-risk it is. We have staff on extra alert for that. James Bond is a big risk and we will be working with cinema operators and the distributors making sure we will keep that as tight as possible. We really don't want to see that recorded. They [cinema staff] are on alert to really drill down on who is in the auditorium and who might possibly be recording. They still do the sweeps around the auditoriums with the night vision glasses regardless of the film. But sometimes extra security is put in place for things like Bond."

Russia's Plan To Crack Tor Crumbles 122

mspohr writes: It looks like Russia's effort to crack Tor was harder than they anticipated. The company that won the contract is now trying to get out of it. Bloomberg reports: "The Kremlin was willing to pay 3.9 million rubles ($59,000) to anyone able to crack Tor, a popular tool for communicating anonymously over the Internet. Now the company that won the government contract expects to spend more than twice that amount to abandon the project. The Central Research Institute of Economics, Informatics, and Control Systems—a Moscow arm of Rostec, a state-run maker of helicopters, weapons, and other military and industrial equipment—agreed to pay 10 million rubles ($150,000) to hire a law firm tasked with negotiating a way out of the deal, according to a database of state-purchase disclosures. Lawyers from Pleshakov, Ushkalov and Partners will work with Russian officials on putting an end to the Tor research project, along with several classified contracts, the government documents say."

Sci-Fi Author Joe Haldeman On the Future of War 241

merbs writes: Joe Haldeman wrote what is hailed by many as the best military science fiction novel ever written, 1974's The Forever War. In this interview, Haldeman discusses what's changed since he wrote his book, what hasn't, and what the future of war will really look like. Vice reports: "...The Vietnam War may have ended decades ago, but our military adventuring hasn’t. Our moment can somehow feel simultaneously like a crossroads for the technological future of combat and another arbitrary point on its dully predictable, incessantly conflict-laden trajectory. We’re relying more on drones and proxy soldiers to fight our far-off wars, in theaters far from the conscionable grasp of homelands, we’re automating robotics for the battlefield, and we’re moving our tactics online—so it seems like an opportune time to check in with science fiction’s most prescient author of military fiction."
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General Atomics To Build Drone Pilot Training Academy In North Dakota 29

An anonymous reader writes: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems plans to build a drone pilot training academy in the Grand Sky Unmanned Aerial Systems park just outside of Grand Forks Air Force Base. From UAS Magazine: "Hoeven made the official announcement about the San Diego-based General Atomics training academy at the Ninth Annual UAS Summit and Expo in Grand Forks, N.D., on Monday. General Atomics signed a 10-year-lease, Hoeven said, and plans to train 60 international flight crews annually. The flight crews will be from countries across the globe including the Netherlands, France and Italy, who come to the academy to fly Predator and Reaper drones, Hoeven said."
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The WWII-Era Inspired Plane Giving the F-35 a Run For Its Money 320

schwit1 writes: The US military almost adopted the A-29 Super Tucano, a $4 million turboprop airplane reminiscent of WWII-era designs that troops wanted, commanders said was "urgently needed," but Congress refused to buy. "It's a great plane," says recently retired Air Force Lt. Col. Shamsher Mann, an F-16 pilot who has flown A-29s. "Pilots love it. It handles beautifully, sips gas, and can go anywhere. If you want to get into the fight and mix it up with the guys on the ground, the Super T is a great platform." The Super Tucano provided the "low-end" air-to-ground attack capability the United States simply never had in Afghanistan-a capability the Pentagon's F-35 could never hope to replicate.
The Military

Forget Hashtag Activism: a Millennial's Guide To Nuclear Weapons Realism 258

Lasrick writes: Matthew Costlow is frustrated with his generation's tendency of "hashtag activism" and would like Millennials instead to get real on the issue of nuclear weapons. He writes: "Allow me to suggest a radical new mindset for my generation as it confronts the issues of nuclear disarmament, Russian and Chinese aggression, and nuclear proliferation: extreme humility. Instead of 'boldly' proclaiming the need to raise awareness, let's utilize our generation's greatest asset—access to data—and truly understand the issues before trying to solve anything. Instead of proposing 'fresh ideas' for their own sake, let's recognize that we are not the first generation to deal with these issues and probably will not be the last. Instead of studiously avoiding specifics or hard choices, let's face a messy reality and not simplify an increasingly complex world to bumper-sticker activism."
The Military

Researchers Fly 50 Autonomous Planes Simultaneously 39

New submitter MagicRuB writes: Researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA recently flew fifty small autonomous planes together in what they claim is a "record-breaking drone swarm". These aircraft were built from lightweight foam wings with hobby-grade components, and were equipped with an autopilot running firmware based on the open-source Ardupilot project as well as a companion computer running custom autonomy software built on top of ROS and an 802.11n wireless device to communicate with other planes and ground stations. The researchers are using this swarm as a platform for advancing drone technology, and hope to see results implemented in agriculture, search and rescue, and defense applications.