Coming Soon: FX-7?

FX-7 from The Empire Strikes Back and The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager.

Pentagon Seeks To Create Robotic Battlefield Surgeon

from AFP

WASHINGTON - Before the Terminator, the US military is looking to hire the Operator, a top-notch battlefield surgeon. But those made of flesh and blood need not apply.

A contract awarded by the Pentagon to a consortium of universities and high-tech firms on Monday calls for creating a versatile robot able to perform life-saving surgery on wounded soldiers right on the battlefield.

"The result will be a major step forward in saving lives on the battlefield," said Scott Seaton, an executive director with SRI International, a company that will be the lead contractor on the $12 million, two-year project.

The request comes amid mounting military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, where US troops are trying to hunt down Islamic militants. The two wars have already claimed the lives of 1,686 US servicemen and left a total 11,877 others wounded, according to the latest Defense Department figures. The wounds of more than half of those hurt turn out to be serious enough that they require extended treatment.

If everything works according to plan, the "trauma pod," as the robotic surgical system is called, will be able to stabilize injured soldiers within minutes and administer medical and surgical care prior to or during evacuation.

The concept is a step up from the Da Vinci surgical system approved by the US government five years ago and already used in dozens of hospitals, officials said. When using it, the surgeon is seated comfortably at a console away from the operating table. Viewing a three-dimensional image of his target, the doctor relies on master controls to operate robotic arms that respond to every movement of his hands, wrists and fingers and wield surgical instruments inside the patient according to his wishes.

2-1B from The Empire Strikes Back and the plastic surgeon from Logan's Run.


Illustration of the Week

From The Player's Handbook in the Best of the D&D Art Galleries...


'Honey, Warm Up the Cloner!'

Scientists Recover Tissue From T. Rex

from Associated Press

WASHINGTON - For more than a century, the study of dinosaurs has been limited to fossilized bones. Now, researchers have recovered 70-million-year-old soft tissue, including what may be blood vessels and cells, from a Tyrannosaurus rex.

If scientists can isolate proteins from the material, they may be able to learn new details of how dinosaurs lived, said lead researcher Mary Higby Schweitzer of North Carolina State University.

"We're doing a lot of stuff in the lab right now that looks promising," she said in a telephone interview. But, she said, she does not know yet if scientists will be able to isolate dinosaur DNA from the materials.

It was recovered dinosaur DNA — the blueprint for life — that was featured in the fictional recreation of the ancient animals in the book and film Jurassic Park.

The soft tissues were recovered from the thighbone of a T. rex, known as MOR 1125, that was found in a sandstone formation in Montana. The dinosaur was about 18 years old when it died.

The bone was broken when it was removed from the site. Schweitzer and her colleagues then analyzed the material inside the bone.

"The vessels and contents are similar in all respects to blood vessels recovered from ... ostrich bone," they reported in a paper bring published Friday in the journal Science.

Brooks Hanson, a deputy editor of Science, noted that there are few examples of soft tissues, except for leaves or petrified wood, that are preserved as fossils, just as there are few discoveries of insects in amber or humans and mammoths in peat or ice.

Soft tissues are rare in older finds. "That's why in a 70-million-year-old fossil it is so interesting," he said.

John R. Horner of the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University, said the discovery is "a fantastic specimen," but probably is not unique. Other researchers might find similarly preserved soft tissues if they split open the bones in their collections, said Horner, a co-author of the paper.


Thank You, Todd McFarlane!

Satan Destroys Pet Shop!

'Satan' Said to Appear on Turtle's Shell

from Associated Press

MICHIGANTOWN, Ind. - Could it be... Satan? A central Indiana pet shop owner says a turtle that was the only animal to survive an October fire has developed an image of Satan's face on its shell.

Bryan Dora says it looks like the devil wants us to know that he was there.

Dora says he can see a goatee and a pair of pointy horns on the shell of the palm-sized red-eared slider turtle named Lucky.

He says Lucky is healthy and its behavior hasn't changed.

Investigators could not determine the cause of the fire, which destroyed the A-Dora-ble Pet Shop and several other businesses in Frankfort, about 40 miles northwest of Indianapolis.

Dora has produced a DVD of the turtle's story that he plans to auction on the Internet. He will also offer the winning bidder the chance to buy Lucky off-line.

Illustration of the Week

From Races of Destiny in the Best of the D&D Art Galleries...


Gallery Update: MMn3, PHb, RcsD, RcsW & Sand

I've completed the Best of the WotC Art Galleries, adding illustrations from Monster Manual III, Player's Handbook, Races of Destiny, Races of the Wild, and Sandstorm...

Gamers Unfit for Israeli Military

Army Frowns on Dungeons and Dragons

from Y Net News

Does the Israel Defense Forces believe incoming recruits and soldiers who play Dungeons and Dragons are unfit for elite units? Ynet has learned that 18-year-olds who tell recruiters they play the popular fantasy game are automatically given low security clearance.

“They're detached from reality and suscepitble to influence,” the army says.

Fans of the popular roleplaying game had spoken of rumors of this strange policy by the IDF, but now the army has confirmed that it has a negative image of teens who play the game and labels them as problematic in regard to their draft status.

So if you like fantasy games, go see the military psychologist.

Dungeons and Dragons (also known as D&D) has been a popular roleplaying game for decades and is based on a fantasy world. One player assumes the role of “Dungeon Master,” which entails directing the game and controlling the labyrinth, while the others select from a large selection of characters that includes warriors, magicians, dwarfs, and thieves. The game focuses on the results of decisions made by the players as determined by the roll of the dice.

In a more "active" version of the game, players leave the table and go out, dressed as the characters they assume for the game, along with the requisite equipment of swords (not real) to play outside, usually in the forest or woods. Most D&D players do not don costumes, and participants in such costume games are called "LARPers" (for live-action role playing).

Thousands of youth and teens in Israel play D&D, fighting dragons and demons using their rich imaginations. The game has also increased in popularity due to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

However the IDF does not approve of this unusual hobby and prevents D&D players from being considered for sensitive army positions by labeling them with low security clearance.

"We have discovered that some of them are simply detached from reality," a security source told Ynet.

Game enthusiasts are aware of their problematic image in the army and prefer to maintain their anonymity. Many of them are from the former Soviet Union, where the game is very popular.

In Israel there are thousands of players, between the ages 16 to 35, and include lawyers, high-tech workers, and businessmen. Matan, 22, and Igor, a 21-year-old IDF soldier, organize activities for groups of players. Soon hundreds of fans are expected to meet in a forest in the southern part of Israel for a two-day game of pure fantasy.

"It's not a game of winners and losers," Matan says, "but rather entry into another world with stories and plot changes."

He is aware of the game's problematic reputation, especially in the IDF. The army is not indifferent to the unique hobby and is trying to locate soldiers who in their free time dress up as witches and play in forests.

A security official tells Ynet there are specific criteria for deciding the level of a soldier's security clearance.

"One of the tests we do, either by asking soldiers directly or through information provided us, is to ask whether they take part in the game," he says. "If a soldier answers in the affirmative, he is sent to a professional for an evaluation, usually a psychologist."

More than half of the soldiers sent for evaluation receive low security clearances, thus preventing them from serving in sensitive IDF positions, he says.

Igor says exposing soldiers who play the game could result in the soldiers being sent to a military psychologist or even being kicked out of the army.

"Exposing them could also harm their chances at being accepted to other military courses," he says.

Matan says he has personally met soldiers whose military career was harmed due to their connection to the game. Most soldiers who play Dungeons and Dragons simply do not admit to it while they are in the army, he says.

Why does IDF believe game is dangerous?

"These people have a tendency to be influenced by external factors which could cloud their judgment," a military official says. "They may be detached from reality or have a weak personality - elements which lower a person's security clearance, allowing them to serve in the army, but not in sensitive positions."

Unsurprisingly, Igor, Matan and thier friends do not approve of this IDF policy. They say the game is only a colorful, non-violent hobby.

"Many people who play served in the most classified units," David says. "They are intelligent and any attempt to label them as 'weird' is incorrect and unfair."

But in the struggle between the gameplayers and the Defense Minister, the latter wins - or at least this is the case in the real world of the IDF.


Illustration of the Week

From Races of Stone in the Best of the D&D Art Galleries...


Illustration of the Week

From Underdark in the Best of the D&D Art Galleries...

Putting a Price on Wonder

This photograph released in 2003, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in 1999, captures a small region within M17, a hotbed of star formation. The uncertain fate of the Hubble Space Telescope, whose images have helped unravel some of the universe's deepest mysteries, has sparked debate in the US Congress and the scientific community due to the growing costs of keeping it among the stars.(AFP/NASA/HO/file)


Hobbit a Human Offshoot?

'Hobbit' Brain Supports Species Theory

from Associated Press

Scientists working with powerful imaging computers say the spectacular "Hobbit" fossil recently discovered in Indonesia had distinctive brain features that could justify its classification as a separate — and tiny — human ancestor.

The new report, published Thursday in the online journal Science Express, seems to support the idea of a human dwarf species marooned for eons while modern man spread across the planet. Detractors of the theory, however, said the computer models were unconvincing.

The new research produced a computer-generated model that compared surface impressions on the inside of the fossil skull with brain casts of modern and ancient humans, as well as chimps and other primates. The scientists said the model shows that the 3-foot specimen, nicknamed Hobbit, had a brain unlike anything they had seen before in recent human lineage. The brain is chimplike in size, between 380 and 420 cubic centimeters.

Despite being up to two-thirds smaller than a modern human brain, the Hobbit fossil's brain shared wrinkled surface features with the brains of both modern humans and Homo erectus, tool-making human ancestors that lived more than 1 million years ago, the researchers said. Some of those features are consistent with higher cognitive traits, they report.

At the same time, they said the Hobbit brain was different from the brain of a modern human pygmy or a human with abnormal brain growth.

"This is something new," said Florida State University anthropologist Dean Falk, who led the study. "This discovery has flummoxed the field of anthropology."

In October, scientists from Indonesia and Australia caused an international sensation with their report of a trove of fossils found in a cave on the equatorial island of Flores. As many as seven tiny individuals were represented by the bones in layers that were dated from 95,000 to 12,000 years ago. The Hobbit skeleton was the most complete specimen to be described.


When (Naked) Blackguards Attack!

Naked Man Threatens Neighbors With Sword

from Associated Press

NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa - A man threatened his neighbors with a sword after they complained about him being naked in his front yard, police said. Curtis D. Rarick, 44, was charged with assault while displaying a dangerous weapon.

Rarick had been naked in his yard and became angry when neighbors asked him to put clothes on Sunday afternoon, police said.

He went inside and came back out with a 2 1/2-feet long sword and began threatening the neighbors, court records show.

If convicted, Rarick could face up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine.