Jan 30, 2008

Money tales from the Great Depression

Amid the din of impending-recession rumors, I've noticed friends voicing anxiety about their jobs, finances and futures, and after hearing and reading an increasing number of reports on economic anxieties (like Dave Carpenter's fine overview in last week's Chronicle,) I've also started to worry about how dire it might get.

I wanted to collect some firsthand accounts of how bad the American economy actually has gotten in the past, at least in living memory. So I sought out some perspective from those who had grown up during the Great Depression.

I suspect that, like me, many middle class Americans have a hard time imagining giving up their iPods, let alone selling apples on the street to make ends meet, and it seems worthwhile to keep in mind the sorts of real, large-scale hardship that can befall any country at any time.

And, although it's hard to find an expert today that would predict an economic calamity akin to the 1930s slump, I wanted to put a check on my own (and media pundits') occasionally alarmist tendencies by contrasting the recent forecasts about the current downturn with stories from a real historical enormity. In other words, it could be much, much worse.

Finally, I simply wanted to add a few more Great Depression voices to the record. As one of my interviewees, Naomi Zipkin, put it, "There aren't a lot of us here anymore — and soon there aren't going to be that many people around to talk to."

Following are excerpts from my conversations with five individuals who were born in the 1910s or '20s and grew up during the prolonged economic downturn that followed the U.S. stock market crash of 1929. They talked about their memories of the hardships that they — or their parents, friends or relatives — endured, and about how their experiences during the Depression may have affected their views of money and finances.

Alice (not her real name) was born in Pomona in 1923 and grew up in the San Fernando Valley. She now lives in San Clemente (Orange County). "I remember when they came and took our car away — that made a big impression," she says. "And I remember my mother worrying about what to feed us. "My father was a real estate broker. Then the housing market crashed — sort of like today but 10 times worse. Nobody was buying homes. What little money my parents had was gone when the banks closed.

"My father starting raising some vegetables in our yard. I remember we didn't have new clothes; you grew and your clothes didn't fit anymore. I never went to a dentist; I had crooked teeth. "My grandmother lost her only son in World War I, so she was a Gold Star Mother and got $50 a month. So there were times when she'd send part of that to my mother to help us out.

"The Depression made a saver of me; that's been the most important thing, ever since. When I was young, my father once tried to explain to me how a bank could close. Can you imagine trying to explain that to a kid? For a long time I didn't have a great trust of banks.

"My father had a friend named Oscar who had quite a bit of money. After the bank closures, he didn't trust banks, and he buried his money in fruit jars in his back yard. When the Depression was over, Oscar dug up all the jars and bought (some real estate) with the money. "It still scares me to death when people run up big credit bills. That's not something I could do. I'm very careful. My house has to be clear, so that no one can take it away.

Lucille Gold was born in New York City in 1920. She now lives in Oceanside (San Diego County). "My mother and father were immigrants," she says. "They came here (from Russia) before World War I as teenagers. My father got to be very rich in the 1920s: He opened a chemical company of sorts. I never knew, but I suspect it might have had something to do with Prohibition. Our family was rich — we had a nanny and lived in the upper Bronx in a very elegant home. My father also invested in a lot of things like radio and film. And then he lost everything in the stock market crash.

"I remember listening in to lots of my parents' conversations after my sister and I were supposed to be in bed. My mother would be crying, wondering what we would do ... She found a job as a bookkeeper for another family, and my father applied for New York City welfare. I remember it was $25 a week for a family of four. "We had an uncle who had come to California and invested in real estate, and who was not hurt by the Depression. He let my family live rent-free in an apartment that he owned in the Bronx. That was one of the ways we survived.

"I've had a fantastic life — not rich, but full of wonderful things. What the Depression really did was make me very political and very radical. I can't understand the political apathy I see in this world today. I resent living in a country that prides itself on being so rich and yet people still have to worry about getting old, getting sick, losing a job."

Naomi Zipkin is Lucille Gold's younger sister. She was born in 1926 and currently lives in Walnut Creek. "My father was a real romantic, and one of his great pleasures was reminding our mother of their anniversary in late December with a gift of a dozen long-stemmed red roses," she says. "Roses at that time in New York were very costly, and finances were a real problem for my family. (During the Depression) he would bring home these roses and my mother would, as they say now, 'go ballistic.'

"We were reliant on welfare for period of our lives. I can vividly remember my parents eating differently from my sister and I. In Jewish custom, my mother fed us well — she would buy good nutritious food for us; I don't remember what (my parents) ate instead. "I still have some of the Depression mentality, and I'm 81. I still find that decisions I'll make are kind of based on the sense of you only have yourself that you can count on for security. Life isn't always predictable.

"I also probably came away with a sense of the importance of having savings, and not wanting to be reliant upon my children, for example — having them actualize themselves in the way they need to, and not feeling responsible for my husband and me. "When I graduated from college, I knew that I'd have to go out and go to work; one didn't think of anything else. Grad school was only for the wealthy. I would have loved to go to graduate school. I look at my grandchildren, and my grandson just graduated from college, and he's not sure what he wants to do with his life. He'd like to spend some time thinking about what he'd like to do next — I think it's wonderful, I'm not judging it — but in no way would that have fit into my own expectation for myself."

Nathan Zipkin is Naomi's husband. He was born in Los Angeles in 1921. "We never had money for clothes," he remembers. "In those days people darned their socks; it was not like today where you throw them away. In the summer time we didn't wear shoes. "There was always food in our house, but dinners quite often were just potato soup or just rice and gravy. My mother sacrificed a lot for us. "FDR declared a bank holiday after he first became president. When it was over, the bank that my parents had some savings in failed — it was gone. They lost all their savings — about $1,000. Even as a young kid, I could understand this was a serious thing.

"Then my parents started having trouble paying their mortgage. Congress had passed a law setting up the HOLC (the Home Owners' Loan Corporation). You had to apply to them, and I remember my mother going down every day to the office of the HOLC to try to get them to give us relief — to lower the payments on the mortgage — similar to what they're talking about today, but for different reasons. One day my mother came home and said, 'They approved our application.' She broke down and said, 'We're not going to lose our house.' That was 1934; I'm going on 87. I was a young kid then, but I can still remember it clearly.

"I know that in my high school years, which were 1936 to 1939, I was thinking, 'I have to get a job out of high school, what am I going to do? There was no emphasis on going to college; my father had been an orphan and he labored. He was never out of work during the Depression. He owned a little laundry store and he worked long, long, long hours. He was gone in the morning while it was still dark, he came home after work, exhausted, had dinner and fell into bed. And then he'd get up and do it again, morning after morning. Shortly after I graduated from high school in June, 1939, I got a job in a laundry for $12 a week; it was a 50-hour week that we worked.

"One son of mine is doing very well now — he's a consultant in a computer business. I keep talking to him and saying, 'Whatever you're saving, be sure you're saving a large enough chunk, so if you're out of work for a couple years you'll be able to live. I don't know if relaying my situation to my kids had an impact. From time to time I've told them what it was like.

"What I don't want to do is ever be in a position where I'd have to go to (my children) for help. I can't emphasize how important Social Security is in our lives, and in my mother and father's lives. I keep thinking what's going to happen with my kids; I think this country is going to be faced with a major financial upset. There will be some hard times."

John Manola was born in 1917 in East Orange, N.J. He now lives in Philadelphia. "My father worked as a mason," he says, "and when the Depression came, he lost his job, along with many, many others. I remember hearing my folks talk about not having any income at all. He got unemployment of some kind and then eventually got a job with the WPA. "My uncle had a very good job on Wall Street; he lost everything. He almost committed suicide; he became very emotionally disturbed. "I remember that my mother would cry a lot when she couldn't pay the bills. (Collectors) would come to our house and she'd have to talk to them. I remember hearing all this.

"The Depression made me realize how I had to work for everything. I started to have little jobs. My mother's brother had a chicken farm and he asked my mother if I would want to sell some eggs. I would take the eggs out and sell them. "The experience of growing up during the Depression has definitely permeated my life. One thing it made me do is save. You always have to have something to fall back on. And I've always been careful with credit cards.

"I think when I hear that word 'recession' now, I really feel it more than maybe some people that didn't go through (the Great Depression). When I started reading about the latest recession news, I called my broker — I have a few things in stocks and so forth — and I asked him, 'Am I to be afraid about this?' The fear is there. But I trust that something will adjust. "I'm not fatalistic; I'm more optimistic than pessimistic, but I still have sort of a feeling of how quickly things can disappear. And I also know that you really don't have to have too much to get along. You can get along very well with very little. You don't have to keep trying to be a millionaire. If I won $1 million, I wouldn't know what to do with it."

Mid-life crisis really does exist, new study claims

PEOPLE are most likely to feel depressed in middle-age, according to new research.
Experts found a consistent pattern that happiness and depression follow a U-shape over a lifetime, with the happiest times being at the start and end of life.

They discovered the peak age for depression in the UK was about 44. Meanwhile, pensioners can experience the same degree of happiness at 70 as at 20.

Researchers from Warwick University and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in the United States a
nalysed data from two million people from more than 70 nations.

Professor Andrew Oswald, from Warwick University, believes the U-shaped effect stems from internal changes.

He said signs of mid-life depression have no connection to external factors such as having young children in the house, divorce, or by changes in jobs or income.

Professor Oswald added: "Some people suffer more than others but in our data the average effect is large.

"It happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor, and to those with and without children. Nobody knows why we see this consistency.

"What causes this apparently U-shaped curve, and its similar shape in different parts of the developed and even often developing world, is unknown."

The paper – Is Wellbeing U-Shaped over the Life Cycle? – will be published in the forthcoming Social Science & Medicine Journal.

Depression risk 'highest in 40s'

We’re happy when we’re young, and again in our final years; the problem is that rather large bit in the middle. Researchers in Britain and America studied the relative cheerfulness of more than two million people in 80 countries. They found that our sense of wellbeing follows a U-shaped route through life, peaking at the beginning and end, while sinking in between. In Britain the time of minimum happiness occurs at about age 40 for women and 50 for men.

Andrew Oswald, of the University of Warwick, and David Blanchflower, of Dartmouth College, conclude, in a paper to be published in Social Science and Medicine, that relative wellbeing is not caused by having children, by divorce or by changes in jobs or income. Professor Oswald said: “It happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor, and to those with and without children. Nobody knows why we see this consistency. One possibility is that individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses and in mid-life quell their infeasible aspirations. Another possibility is that cheerful people live systematically longer. A third is that a kind of comparison process is at work in which people have seen similar-aged peers die and value more their own remaining years. Perhaps people somehow learn to count their blessings.

“It looks, from the data, like something happens deep inside humans. For the average person in the modern world, the dip in mental health and happiness comes on slowly, not suddenly in a single year. “Only in their 50s do most people emerge from the low period. But, encouragingly, by the time you are 70, if you are still physically fit, then on average you are as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year-old.”

Depression risk 'highest in 40s'

Life may begin at 40, but research suggests that 44 is the age at which we are most vulnerable to depression.

Data analysis on two million people from 80 countries found a remarkably consistent pattern around the world.

The risk of depression was lowest in younger and older people, with the middle-aged years associated with the highest risk for both men and women.

The study, by the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College in the US, will feature in Social Science & Medicine.

One possibility is that individuals learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and in mid-life quell their infeasible aspirations
Professor Andrew Oswald
University of Warwick

The only country which recorded a significant gender difference was the US, where unhappiness reached a peak around the age of 40 for women, and 50 for men.

Previous research has suggested that the risk of unhappiness and depression stays relatively constant throughout life.

However, the latest finding - of a peak risk in middle age - was consistent around the globe, and in all types of people.

Researcher Professor Andrew Oswald, an economist at the University of Warwick, said: "It happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor, and to those with and without children."

He said the reason why middle age was a universally vulnerable time was unclear.

Mid-life crisis occurs globally, says study

Miserable middle age is a global phenomenon, according to an analysis of depression and happiness among 2m people in 80 countries. People everywhere follow a U-shaped curve of psychological well-being, with a nadir in their mid 40s.

Two economics professors, Andrew Oswald of Warwick University and David Blanchflower of Dartmouth College in the US, carried out the study, to be published shortly in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
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Prof Oswald said the findings contrasted with many previous studies and with applied psychology textbooks – suggesting that, on average, our mood stays relatively consistent as we age.

The researchers analysed information from several different social surveys, including the Eurobarometer Surveys, the US General Social Surveys, the World Values Survey and more specialised surveys of mental health.

The findings were similar in rich and poor countries, with the probability of unhappiness reaching a peak in middle age – slightly earlier in women than in men.

The authors believe the U-shaped effect is intrinsic to human nature. They show that mid-life depression is not caused by external factors such as having small children in the house, divorce, or changes in jobs or income.

“Some people suffer more than others but in our data the average effect is large,” said Prof Oswald. “It happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor, and to those with and without children. Nobody knows why we see this consistency.”

The most likely explanation, the researchers speculate, is that people “learn to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses, and in mid-life quell their infeasible aspirations”. Minor contributing factors might include a “selection effect”, with people living longer if they are cheerful than miserable, and – towards the end of life – a “comparison process” in which people count their blessings as they see their old friends dying off.

“For the average person in the modern world, the dip in mental health and happiness comes on slowly,” said Prof Oswald. “Only in their 50s do most people emerge from the low period. But, encouragingly, by the time you are 70, if you are still physically fit then on average you are as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year-old. Perhaps realising that such feelings are completely normal in mid-life might even help individuals survive this phase better.”

Jan 29, 2008

Who or what gets the RFID tags?

There’s a new push on for RFID tags in medicine.

Mostly it’s patients getting active RFID chips. Newborns, Alzheimer’s patients, surgical patients, and even some cardiology patients are being chipped.

But the push to RFID stuff is getting more intense, too, as Wal-Mart mandates their use in warehouses and pushes the technology into stores.

This is happening because the technology is maturing. Costs are declining, supplies are increasing. Integration with GPS means RFID can track supplies on the highway.

There are two types of RFID tags. Active tags carry their own radios. Passive tags are read by scanning radios.

Millions of consumers already have RFID tags in their cars, for use on toll roads. These are passive tags. They carry little more data than a bar code, and it’s their ability to be read remotely which makes them useful.

Privacy advocates are more concerned with active tags, which contain their own radios. When people talk of their dogs being “chipped” they are talking about active tags.

The mandate to use RFID in passports, which hackers have already begun cloning, also causes concern. Since you’re supposed to carry your passport with you overseas, and they can be read, criminals as well as law enforcement could know who you were and where you come from.

The good news here is technology may be breaking through some of the privacy concerns.

So is this the year the RFID revolution takes off in medicine?

Jan 27, 2008

The synthetic genome

From Frankenstein’s monster through I, Robot to the lost young cyborg of Steven Spielberg’s AI, the idea of creating artificial life from inert matter has long inspired human imagination.

Last week that thrilling but unsettling goal appeared to have come a step closer with the announcement by Craig Venter, the maverick scientist, that his laboratory had constructed the world’s first completely synthetic genome.

He described how he had used laboratory chemicals to recreate an almost exact copy of the genetic material found inside a tiny bacterium - and was now attempting to slot it into an empty cell in the hope of creating a new life form.

For the layman, he compared his work with the building of a computer. His breakthrough was the equivalent of creating the software for a computer’s operating system. Now what he had to do was insert it into the computer itself - the empty cell - and “boot it up”.

What’s more, he announced, he was already working on the next stage of his great project. He would build an entirely synthetic organism, which he would then use to save the world from global warming.

For Venter, the showman of the world of science, the result could hardly have been better. Details of the breakthrough went around the world generating positive headlines. The prospect that a painless way of solving the problems of climate change might have been found was particularly attractive.

As the fuss dies down, however, questions remain. Has Venter really come close to creating a new life form? Will the benefits really be so powerful and clear cut? What might the acquisition of such godlike powers actually mean for humanity?

VENTER himself has long been a man of supreme immodesty. Since the 1990s he has scorched his way through the burgeoning science of genomics, leaving a trail of enemies in his path as he set about mapping the human genome.

The feelings he provokes are so intense that one profile in The New Yorker magazine from 2000 began with a quote from a string of fellow scientists, saying: “Craig Venter is an asshole. He’s an idiot. He is a thorn in people’s sides and an egomaniac.”

Venter’s first breakthrough was in developing what is now known as shotgun sequencing, a method for analysing the human genome faster and more cheaply than ever before.

At the time, however, it was unproven and too risky for the government-funded institution where he worked so, after many rows, Venter left and raised the money himself.

An instinctive entrepreneur, he might have expected to feel more at home mixing with fast moving risk-takers like himself, but instead the rows became even more intense. His first business partnership collapsed and his relationship with Celera Genomics, with whom he completed the genome, also proved tempestuous.

Even the publication of the genome itself proved controversial. Fearing that Venter would patent the genome and charge for access, a consortium of scientists launched their own publicly funded rival effort.

The race became so bitter that Bill Clinton, then US president, had to step in to negotiate a truce, with both teams agreeing to publish their findings simultaneously in 2001.

It was supposed to mark the end of hostilities but when Venter held a party his fellow scientists boycotted the event, leaving Venter glowering over a near-empty dance floor.

Soon after he was sacked by Celera. Insiders made clear the firm could no longer sustain such a huge ego.

Again Venter bounced back, using his £100m share of Celera’s stock to found the J Craig Venter Institute. It now has more than 400 scientists and staff based in Rockville, Maryland, and La Jolla, California. For Venter, however, perhaps its most priceless asset is that he controls it.

The years since then have seen Venter repeatedly in the headlines. Last June he announced success in transplanting the entire genome of one bacterium into another, effectively causing the recipient to change species.

Then, in September, he published his own genome, the first time any individual person’s DNA had been sequenced. It was perhaps a mixed blessing, revealing that Venter is at risk of Alzheimer’s, diabetes and hereditary eye disease.

For scientists the benefits of his institute’s synthetic genome are, however, much clearer. Although they have long been able to make synthetic DNA they have only been able to produce it in short lengths. This is because the chemical “bases” that make up the building blocks of DNA – adenine, thy-mine, cytosine and guanine – are very difficult to work with.

DNA chains are built from pairs of these bases all linked together to form the familiar “twisted ladder” shape. In the test tube, however, the chains become increasingly brittle the longer they get. This means that the largest synthesised DNA chain contained only 32,000 base pairs until now.

Dr Jim Haseloff, a Cambridge University expert in synthetic biology said: “The true breakthrough here is that Venter has built a DNA sequence containing 583,000 base pairs. There is a very good chance that if he can transplant it into a bacterial cell it will start working.”

This event may be far closer even than Venter is saying. The paper published last week was actually written five months ago, since when it has been undergoing peer review by other researchers. In that time the research has intensified.

Dan Gibson, who led the research, and Hamilton Smith, the Nobel prize-winning biologist who worked with him, said: “We are now working towards the ultimate goal of inserting a synthetic chromosome into a cell and booting it up to create the first synthetic organism.”

What it means is that pretty soon we are likely to see the first truly synthetic microbes – and that will be sure to spark fierce debate. Some will accuse Venter of playing God. Others will raise fears of new bioweap-ons. The simple question is: just what will humanity be able to do with this new technology? ONE thing that is clear is that there is no chance of Venter’s techniques being applied to create synthetic human genomes. Or indeed of it leading to the halting of the human ageing process, as some scientists have speculated.

Mycoplasma genitalium, the bacterium on which Venter’s team worked, was chosen purely because it has a relatively tiny genome. Most bacteria have far more – typically up to 10m base pairs long, while fungi have around 38m and plants 115m. Mammals are thousands of times more complex again with humans having around 3 billion base pairs.

Professor Paul Freemont, head of molecular biosciences at Imperial College, London, said: “There are just 485 genes in Mycoplasma, while humans have 20,000. It is science fiction to think Venter’s work could give scientists control of the human genome.”

There are, however, many other possibilities, some of which were set out by Venter himself in a telling article published last autumn. He described how, in 2003, his team had synthesised the first artificial genome, of an obscure virus called phi-X174.

As news of the breakthrough got out, he was invited to a meeting with John Marburger, the president’s chief scientific adviser. Venter said: “We told him now we had achieved this goal, we could begin to move to creating new types of microorganisms that could be used in numerous ways, as green fuels to replace oil and coal, digest toxic waste or absorb greenhouse gases.”

Alongside these attractive benefits, Venter also set out a more sinister possibility. “We could now probably also syn-thesise any virus with a genetic code of fewer than 10,000 ‘letters’ of DNA in under a week in the lab, and larger viruses such as the Marburg or Ebola virus [both very unpleasant] in a month or so.”

For Marburger the implications were clear and, soon after, Venter’s research was put under scrutiny by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity which oversees research deemed potentially dangerous.

In public, however, little was said about such fears. Perhaps the only clue came at a press conference when Hamilton Smith blurted out: “We could make the smallpox genome.” Venter later spoke of his relief when only one reporter repeated Smith’s reference to the “possibility of making deadly pathogens”.

It is a worry that plays on people’s minds. Literature and films are littered with the human race being imperilled by biological innovations that have spiralled out of control. Such fears will never go away. Synthetic biology is after all a powerful technology and, just like genetic modification, crossbreeding and every other method for altering the genetic make-up of other living things, can be used for good or evil.

For now, however, the biggest barrier for making any use of such techniques at all lies in our limited understanding of how DNA works.

The researchers who praise Venter’s breakthrough also warn that predicting how a given sequence of synthetic DNA will actually perform is a far harder task.

Jason Chin, who leads a synthetic biology research group in Cambridge, said: “DNA communicates with a cell by prompting it to make proteins, but we have a long way to go in understanding the relationship between a given DNA sequence, the proteins it generates and the final properties of an organism.”

So, for now at least, scientists will be limited to producing synthetic versions of DNA sequences found in nature and tinkering with them.

When will we see the benefits? The history of biotechnology is littered with other reminders that we may have to wait a long time. Stem cells, gene therapy and cloning were all great scientific discoveries but the practical benefits are taking much longer to emerge.

Venter’s ecological claims for his breakthrough have been greeted with cautious optimism by his peers. But they note that there would be significant regulatory hurdles surrounding the release of a new organism into the environment to overcome. The benefits would most likely not been seen within a decade.

For Venter, however, such cautionary notes are simply a challenge. His vision, he told Newsweek magazine last year, is of creating the first “trillion-dollar organisms” - patented bugs that could excrete bio-fuels, generate clean energy in the form of hydrogen and even produce tailor-made foods.

It is a startling vision of a brave new world, but it also sounds like a world that would be largely controlled by J Craig Venter.

Coroner rules woman's death was preventable

LAWYERS for the family of a woman who died after giving birth at a Melbourne hospital in 2004 have labelled her case one of the state's most serious medical mishaps after a coroner ruled her death was preventable.

In her finding on Piyanat Siriwan's death, coroner Paresa Spanos yesterday attacked South Eastern Private Hospital and two doctors responsible for the 33-year-old woman after she gave birth to her first child on April 1, 2004.

After the arrival of her healthy baby girl, Nerissa, about 8am, Mrs Siriwan suffered massive blood loss. She died at Monash Medical Centre at 2.15pm, where she had been transferred for an emergency hysterectomy.

Ms Spanos said that while the transfer between hospitals was a "study in chaos", not enough was done to save Mrs Siriwan's life as she continued to deteriorate at South Eastern Private Hospital.

"With competent medical management, including more timely and less chaotic decision-making, Mrs Siriwan had a reasonable chance of survival — in that sense I find that her death was preventable," she said.

Ms Spanos said the decision to transfer Mrs Siriwan to another hospital for an emergency hysterectomy was delayed by about 20 minutes after her obstetrician, Dr Maurice Lichter, realised the Siriwans did not have private health insurance.

He switched the transfer to Monash Medical Centre, despite Mrs Siriwan's husband Harrinat telling Dr Lichter he would pay for whatever treatment his wife needed.

The inquest heard Mrs Siriwan then went into cardiac arrest during the transfer after her anaesthetist, Dr Emlyn Williams, was not told blood had been packed into the ambulance for her.

While an immediate hysterectomy was performed upon arrival at Monash Medical Centre, Mrs Siriwan failed to respond and died a short time later.

In her finding, Ms Spanos said nursing staff complained of a lack of medical support in their care for Mrs Siriwan.

Ms Spanos said that while she did not make adverse findings against professionals lightly, "regrettably there was compelling evidence to do so against Dr Lichter and Dr Williams for their clinical management of Mrs Siriwan."

She referred the case to the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria to take "whatever action it deems appropriate" against the two doctors. She also said the case highlighted the need for hospitals to have strict procedures in place for timely transfers to other hospitals.

"So long as women are admitted to give birth there will always be a risk of known, even if rare, complications. This behoves the need to have established and well-rehearsed processes for arranging such transfers with clear role definition and lines of communication," she said.

Outside court, Mr Siriwan's lawyer, Kathryn Booth, of Maurice Blackburn, said the finding was "very, very strong".

"This is a case, in our opinion, of gross medical negligence and it will go down in history as one of the most serious medical mishaps in this state," she said.

Ms Booth said Mrs Siriwan, a Thai national, had decided to give birth in Australia because she believed it was safer than giving birth in Thailand.

She said Mr Siriwan had issued Supreme Court proceedings against Dr Lichter, Dr Williams and the South Eastern Hospital for general and exemplary damages.

"My client now has to care for his little girl for the rest of his life without her mother's services."

When asked to comment on the finding, Mr Siriwan said: "She could have been here. She could have been standing right here."

Dr Lichter, Dr Williams and South Eastern Private Hospital were not available to comment on the finding yesterday.

Jan 24, 2008

CIA: Cyberattack caused multiple-city blackout

A cyberattack has caused a power blackout in multiple cities outside the United States, the CIA has warned.

The SANS Institute, a computer-security training body, reported the CIA's disclosure on Friday. CIA senior analyst Tom Donahue told a SANS Institute conference on Wednesday in New Orleans that the CIA had evidence of successful cyberattacks against critical national infrastructures outside the United States.

"We have information that cyberattacks have been used to disrupt power equipment in several regions outside the U.S.," Donahue said. "In at least one case, the disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities."

Donahue added that the CIA does not know who executed the attacks or why but that all of the attacks involved "intrusions through the Internet."

The CIA analyst added that his agency had evidence of blackmail demands following demonstrations of successful intrusions.

"We have information, from multiple regions outside the U.S., of cyberintrusions into utilities, followed by extortion demands," Donahue said. "We suspect, but cannot confirm, that some of these attackers had the benefit of inside knowledge."

The CIA does not normally make this information public. According to Donahue, the CIA actively and thoroughly considered the benefits and risks of making this information public and came down on the side of disclosure, the SANS Institute reported.

Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, warned more than three years ago about demonstrations of denial-of-service attacks to computer systems, followed by demands for cash.

Jan 15, 2008

One solarium trip raises melanoma risk 98%

NEW research has found that people under the age of 35 who use solariums toemulate the Aussie ideal of a golden tanare increasing their risk of developingdeadly melanoma skin cancer by 98 per cent.

The Queensland Institute of Medical Research study, led by scientist Louisa Gordon, compiled results from 21 investigations and found tanning beds were the cause of between 12 and 62 new cases of melanoma in Australia each year.

The research found one trip to a solarium was all it took to increase the risk of developing melanoma by 22 per cent, compared with a person who had never used a tanning bed.

Australians are diagnosed with more than 9500 melanomas each year, ending in more than 1100 deaths. The study exploded the myth that indoor tanning beds were safer than sunbaking outside.

Dr Gordon said tanning salons were very dangerous and were not a safe or healthy option. "Solariums emit stronger UVB rays, stronger than the outdoor sun ... it's very dangerous, it's very high levels of radiation that we shouldn't be exposed to," Dr Gordon said in Brisbane yesterday.

She urged governments to tighten regulations on the rapidly expanding solarium industry, which could prevent 1000 melanomas in the next generation of young Australians. Dr Gordon said voluntary standards that prohibited people under 18 and those with fair skin from using sun beds should be legally enforced.

A meeting of the nation's health ministers late last year resolved to develop a national approach to the regulation of the solarium industry. Queensland looks set to become the first state to introduce legislation for tanning salons.

State Health Minister Stephen Robertson will urge cabinet to legislate for tighter regulations within the next couple of months.

Jan 14, 2008

The future: virtual unreality

General Motors has developed a car that drives itself, leaving its owner free to check their emails, read the paper or have a snooze while being chauffeured to work.

A Sydney version of the car will be programmed to speed, run red lights, honk at pedestrians and barge cyclists off the road. A hologram of a giant hand will emerge from the driver's window every now and then to give other cars the virtual finger.

The self-driving Chevrolet Tahoe, nicknamed Boss, successfully navigated a 100-kilometre urban course in November to win a US Defence Department prize and was demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.

"The electronic technology in vehicles such as Boss can provide society with a world in which there are no car crashes, more productive commutes and very little traffic congestion," said GM vice-president of R&D and strategic planning, Larry Burns.

If the car could park itself, get the lift up to the office, grab a coffee and get through a nine o'clock meeting without yawning, that would be real progress.

People will be far too busy playing with new gadgets to actually go to work themselves. Other technological advances unveiled at the electronics show included a swimming mask with a camera built in. It means snorkellers no longer have to go through the tedious process of looking at fish. They can film their dive while checking their emails on their waterproof BlackBerry, and replay the footage later to find out what they missed.

They can then use the world's smallest projector to display the images onto their wall at home. The projector is the size of an iPod and uses three tiny lasers to project images onto any light-coloured surface.

This could herald the return to popularity of the home slide show, at which friends, families and neighbours are forced to endure endless hours of footage of people walking around historic ruins while listening to their MP3 players and sitting on idyllic beaches sending text messages on their mobile phones. Fortunately, invited guests won't have to attend the slide show as they will be able to send digital avatars of themselves instead. The guests can stay at home controlling their avatars by computer, instructing them to whisper sarcastic comments to each other throughout the presentation and drink copious amounts of the host's beer before getting into a virtual brawl over whether the Big Banana or Big Pineapple is Australia's greatest monument.

Jan 13, 2008

Ceramic Hybrid Needles Take the Sting Out of Shots ...

Needle phobes everywhere are one step closer to realizing their dream of painless blood draws, medication delivery, and vaccinations.

Developing a way to deliver drugs intravenously with minimal pain and trauma, by someone without medical expertise, has long been a mission of biomedical engineers. Until recently, their most promising product had been stainless steel and titanium microneedles. These metal microneedles, though, are prone to break on impact with skin.

Researchers led by Roger Narayan, MD, PhD, of the University of North Carolina , used two-photon polymerization of organically modified ceramic (Ormocer®) hybrid materials to create microneedles resistant to breakage. Another benefit of the hybrid needles is that they can be made in a wider range of sizes than those made with conventional microfabrication techniques.

The first patients Narayan imagines will benefit from his technique are those who require frequent injections or blood monitoring.

"Microneedles may be integrated with micropumps and biosensors to provide autonomous sampling of blood, analysis, and drug-delivery capabilities for treatment of chronic disease," he said. "For example, one needle, pump and sensor unit would assay the glucose level in interstitial fluid of patients with diabetes mellitus. Another needle, pump and drug-delivery unit would deliver insulin in a continuous or programmed manner."

Jan 11, 2008

Secrets of Weight Loss Revealed!

Gina Kolata says losing weight is nearly impossible. Brian Wansink says it’s easy. But they don’t really contradict each other, because they’re talking about different kinds of weight loss.
Although their new books offer very different messages for dieters, Kolata and Wansink share a suspicion of collectivist responses to the “obesity epidemic.” Both writers are intensely interested in the question of why people weigh as much as they do, but they do not leap from research findings to policy prescriptions aimed at making us thinner by restricting our choices. At a time when almost every discussion of weight in America seems to end with a list of things the government should do about it, their restraint is commendable.

In Rethinking Thin, Kolata, a veteran New York Times science reporter, focuses on a group of obese people enrolled in a University of Pennsylvania diet study. They exhibit the usual pattern of initial success followed by setbacks, typically ending up about as fat as they were to begin with. She uses these case studies to illustrate her general point that “very few people lose substantial amounts of weight and keep it off” because genetic factors play a large role in determining how much a given person will weigh as an adult.

By contrast, in Mindless Eating, Wansink, a marketing professor at Cornell University who has studied consumers’ food-related decisions for decades, focuses on the sort of gradual, modest weight loss that Kolata concedes is achievable. Declaring that “the best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on,” he urges small changes in everyday behavior that over the course of a year can result in a weight loss of 10 to 25 pounds. His book will not be much help to people like the research subjects Kolata interviews, who generally want to lose 50 to 100 pounds.

Kolata’s message, as it pertains to the very fat, is mostly discouraging, while Wansink’s, which is addressed mainly to the somewhat overweight, is relentlessly upbeat. But both distinguish themselves from the “obesity epidemic” doomsayers by casting a skeptical eye on efforts to make Americans thinner through social engineering. They show that it’s possible to discuss the issue of weight without laying out a Plan of Action that treats us all as an undifferentiated blob of blubber.

Jan 10, 2008

iPods that Kill

These days, if you're walking around town, going out for a run, or riding mass transit, you'll probably see quite a few people wearing the ubiquitous white Apple earbuds. But are they dangerous? Aside from hearing damage issues, a number of people have also opined that wearing iPods in cities or while running could get you hurt, since you can't hear cars or horns if the music is pumping. The Australian state of New South Wales apparently subscribes to that view, and recently released an advertising campaign illustrating the dangers of iPods.

As you can see, the ads are a bit of a twist on the usual silhouette ads, with those ubiquitous white headphones appearing in the place of the usual chalk outlines for bodies. The message, of course, is that iPods and traffic don't mix, and can even cause you to get run over and fall in a dramatic pose. It's unclear if iPod-related fatalities are a big problem in New South Wales, or if the state is just trying to make people aware of the dangers (and pick up a bit of press as well).

I think the argument for this type of warning makes some sense, but as a number of other sites have pointed out, there are plenty of other devices out there that are equally distracting. My guess is that iPods were used in the ads because they're easily recognized, and perhaps also because the ads look a bit like something Apple would make (minus the dead bodies, of course). I'd like to see some numbers from New South Wales about just how big a problem this is. Just make sure you look left and right before crossing the street, kids.

Jan 9, 2008

Robot Snowplow from Japan Eats Up Snow, Poops Out Bricks

Meet Yuki-taro, a self-guided, GPS and camera equipped robot snowplow that somehow manages to look as cute as Pokemon's Pikachu - this is Japan, after all!

Snow? In Japan? Yes indeed, and not just on top of Mount Fuji. Some parts of northern Japan can receive a surprising amount of snow in wintertime, enough to block roads and isolate people living in mountain villages. Elderly people in particular are at risk in these areas, both from being shut-in and from trying to shovel all the snow. That's where "Yuki-taro, the friendly snowbot", comes in!

Jan 6, 2008

Robot violinist doesn't need nagging to practise

Of all the new and emerging technologies, few are as disappointing as robots. Even the simplest household tasks are still beyond them. You could surround yourself with the very latest in robotics, but if you want a ham sandwich, you still have to make it yourself.

Anything like the Jetson's robot housemaid is not even on the horizon. Robot vacuum cleaners are available, but vacuuming is all they can do. Ask a robot vacuum to fold the laundry, say, and it will just carry on vacuuming. Even this, it won't do very well. Robot vacuums don't do stairs or baseboards and they reportedly pick up only the most superficial dirt. Really, they're more like robot carpet sweepers. It's 19th-century technology harnessed to a circuit board.

Robot lawn mowers are likewise limited. They won't pick up dog droppings, for example. They just mow right over them. Sadly, a robot smart enough not to step in dog poo remains in the distant future.

Robots are somewhat more useful in manufacturing. They're good at boring, repetitive tasks. That's why automakers use so many robots on their assembly lines. Once installed and programmed, a robot will do the same job 24 hours a day for years on end, and without pay or benefits. A robot Buzz Hargrove wouldn't stand for it, if there was such a thing.

It figures that an automaker recently unveiled the latest breakthrough in robotics. Developed by Toyota, it's a robot that plays the violin. Humanoid in appearance, it holds, bows and fingers the instrument with articulated arms and hands, more or less like a real violinist. The difference is that the robot will practise for hours without any nagging. Even so, the thing reportedly knows only one tune and plays it at a level you'd expect at a school band concert.

Toyota believes this robot technology will one day be used to assist the elderly, but I'm not sure how. They can listen to badly-played music already on their old record players.

For a machine to play an instrument is not exactly new, anyway. Consider the player piano, developed more than a century ago. The instrument played the most complex pieces, with power coming from an electric motor and instructions from interchangeable, perforated paper rolls. In terms of repertoire and musicality, an antique player piano far outperforms Toyota's violin-playing robot. The other big difference is that no one ever claimed player pianos would one day help the elderly.

Granted, the violin is more difficult to play than the piano, or at least more difficult to begin. To generate even one decent note on a violin requires touch, dexterity and considerable practise. For a robot to manage a whole tune is not unimpressive. Of course, this is after years of development. If your kid took as long to learn one tune, you'd have to think seriously about letting him switch to drum lessons.

Unlike a lot of violin-playing children, robot musicians almost certainly will continue to improve. There might even come a time when a robots could play cello for the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. Then, if there was still labour turmoil, you'd know it must be management's fault.

Jan 3, 2008

Day of reckoning looms for world economy – and it will be painful

THE world economy has had several good years. Global growth been strong, and the divide between the developing and developed world has narrowed, with India and China leading the way, experiencing GDP growth of 11.1 per cent and 9.7 per cent in 2006 and 11.5 per cent and 8.9 per cent in 2007, respectively. Even Africa has been doing well, with growth in excess of 5 per cent in 2006 and 2007.
But the good times may be ending. There have been worries for years about the global imbalances caused by the United States' huge overseas borrowing. The US, in turn, has said that the world should be thankful: by living beyond its means, it helped keep the global economy going, especially given high savings rates in Asia, which accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars in reserves. But it was always recognised that US growth under President George Bush was not sustainable. Now the day of reckoning looms.

America's ill-conceived war in Iraq helped fuel a quadrupling of oil prices since 2003. In the 1970s, oil shocks led to inflation in some countries, and to recession elsewhere, as governments raised interest rates to combat rising prices. And some economies faced the worst of both worlds: stagflation.

Until now, three critical factors have helped the world weather soaring oil prices. First, China, with its enormous productivity increases – based on resting on high levels of investment, including investments in education and technology – exported its deflation. Second, the US took advantage of this by lowering interest rates to unprecedented levels, inducing a housing bubble, with mortgages available to anyone not on a life-support system. Finally, workers all over the world took it on the chin, accepting lower real wages and a smaller share of GDP.

That game is up. China is facing inflationary pressures. What's more, if the US convinces China to let its currency appreciate, the cost of living in the US and elsewhere will rise. And, with the rise of biofuels, the food and energy markets have become integrated. Combined with increasing demand from those with higher incomes and lower supplies due to weather-related problems associated with climate change, this means high food prices – a lethal threat to developing countries.

Prospects for the US's consumption binge continuing are also bleak. Even if the US Federal Reserve continues to lower interest rates, lenders will not rush to make more bad mortgages. With house prices declining, fewer Americans will be willing and able to continue their profligacy.

The Bush administration is hoping, somehow, to forestall a wave of foreclosures – thereby passing the economy's problems on to the next president, just as it is doing with the Iraq quagmire. Its chances of succeeding are slim. For the US today, the real question is only whether there will be a short, sharp downturn, or a more prolonged, but shallower, slowdown.

Moreover, the US has been exporting its problems abroad, not just by selling toxic mortgages and bad financial practices, but through the ever-weakening dollar, in part a result of flawed macro- and micro-policies.

Europe, for instance, will find it increasing difficult to export. And, in a world economy that has rested on the foundations of a "strong dollar", the consequent financial market instability will be costly for all. At the same time, there has been a massive global redistribution of income from oil importers to oil exporters – a disproportionate number of which are undemocratic states – and from workers everywhere to the very rich. It is not clear whether workers will continue to accept declines in their living standards in the name of an unbalanced globalisation, whose promises seem ever more elusive. In the US, one can feel the backlash mounting.

For those who think that well-managed globalisation has the potential to benefit both developed and developing countries, and who believe in global social justice and the importance of democracy (and the vibrant middle class that supports it), all of this is bad news. Economic adjustments of this magnitude are always painful, but the economic pain is greater today because the winners are less prone to spend.

Indeed, the flip side of "a world awash with liquidity" is a world facing depressed aggregate demand. For the past seven years, the US's unbridled spending has filled the gap. Now American household and government spending is likely to be curbed, as both parties' presidential candidates promise a return to fiscal responsibility. After seven years in which the US has seen its national debt rise from $5.6 trillion to $9 trillion, this should be welcome news – but the timing couldn't be worse.

There is one positive note in this dismal picture: the sources of global growth today are more diverse than they were
a decade ago. The real engines of global growth in recent years have been developing countries.

Nevertheless, slower growth – or possibly a recession – in the world's largest economy inevitably has global consequences. There will be a global slowdown. If monetary authorities respond appropriately to growing inflationary pressure – recognising that much of it is imported and not a result of excess domestic demand – we may be able to manage our way through it. But if they raise interest rates relentlessly to meet inflation targets, we should prepare for the worst: another episode of stagflation.

Rhys Blakely: Talk of ‘super-thin’ Apple laptop

Apple is set to unveil a new ultraportable laptop on January 15, according to the army of online pundits dedicated to tracking the iPod maker’s every move. MacWorld, the company’s annual jamboree, is still two weeks away, but already the web is buzzing with details of expected new products and business partnerships – including a series of deals with Hollywood studios under which Apple will enter the online rental video market, and a rumoured upgrade to the iPhone that would give the device a GPS-type function.

However, the expected launch at the San Francisco-based event of a lightweight, super-thin laptop – a device seemingly pitched between the iPhone and its current MacBook line of computers – is kindling the greatest interest among Apple aficionados.

Suggestions that such a machine, said to be fitted with flash-based memory and an external disk drive, is imminent were stoked last month when digitimes.com, the industry site, revealed that Apple has secured a supply of 13.3-inch LED backlight units, used for ultraportable computer displays, from Taiwan.

Commenting on a proliferation of more detailed reports in recent days, engadget.com , the closely-read blog, said: “While anything is obviously possible, it sure seems like the safe bet is that Apple will unveil some form of ultraportable laptop at MacWorld in a couple of weeks.” Mac Rumors, another website, said it had received "reliable confirmation" on a number of features of Apple’s forthcoming “sub-notebook” including the omission of an internal optical drive to cut down on size and weight.

“Instead, Apple is said to be offering an external optical drive with the sub-notebook. This detachable external drive would allow customers to read/write from CDs or DVDs as usual, but would allow users to leave this extra bulk at home when on the road,” the site said.

It added that Apple is also expected to announce upgrades to its current line of MacBook and MacBook Pro computers. The rash of speculation suggests that Apple is fighting a losing battle in its efforts to clamp down on the leaks and speculation that accompany its product launches. Last month it reached a legal settlement with Think Secret, a site it had sued for allegedly leaking industrial secrets.

The addition of a new ultra-portable machine would fit with Apple’s recent thinking. The iPhone, which comes equipped with a fully-fledged web browser, was heralded as much as a miniature computer as a telephone when it was revealed at last year’s MacWorld.

Apple also has close links with Google, which is bidding for a spectrum license in the US that could be used to roll-out a wireless broadband network.

Rival internet players such as Yahoo, meanwhile, believe that more people will soon access the internet through mobile devices than through conventional computers.

The launches of iPod models, and more recently of the iPhone, have garnered the bulk of the media coverage lavished on Apple, but the company’s computer business has also made great strides.

In its latest financial statement, Apple said that it sold a record 2.16 million Macintosh computers in its forth quarter, 34 per cent than for the same period the year before. Of those, sales of laptops rose 37 per cent, contributing to a 67 per cent leap in profits to $904 million (£445 million). The news helped push Apple shares above $200 for the first time.

Recent surveys suggest that the company has since continued to make up ground on the PC.

According to Net Applications, a group that tracks internet use, more than 7 per cent of visits to websites in December came from Apple’s Mac computers, a record high. Computers powered by Microsoft’s Windows operating system still dominated, however, accounting for more than 90 per cent.

The death of privacy

If advertisers didn’t want to know, and influence, consumers’ desires, Google wouldn’t exist. Internet search is a fantastic way to collect data, and create highly effective, targeted advertising. Not only do advertisers waste less money on sending their message to the wrong people, they can also target small groups that couldn’t be reached economically through mainstream media.

The next step in the evolution of internet advertising, knowing and influencing how groups of people relate, is potentially far more valuable. A number of so-called web 2.0 businesses and services have sprung up to find this El Dorado. Yet the trade-off between privacy and economic desires is far more evident in the internet’s second wave. In fact, the forfeiture of privacy is fundamental to the success of web 2.0.

Of course, privacy problems aren’t new. Search engines have their own set of them. Years ago, AOL released the search histories of more than 650,000 anonymous users. User 4967938 for example, searched for "happy birthday mary-kate & ashley", "ugly puppies" and "how to make a bomb". A sample of searches can make a normal person look like a polygamous hypochondriac with criminal tendencies – or vice versa. One can imagine the damage such information could cause in the wrong hands.

So what’s changed? New broadband services make it easier and faster for people to upload lots more data about themselves. This has fostered giant new businesses such as social networks MySpace and Facebook. Users like the fact that they can keep their friends up to date. They, and advertisers, also like to peer into other users’ lives. Both activities present conflicts – which can alienate customers and lower the amount of advertising revenues that can be harvested from each user.

For example, in September 2006, when Facebook first unveiled its “News Feed", which made users’ changes in their profiles public, the backlash was huge. Within a day, protests among Facebook’s then-collegiate audience of 8 million users surged. One group that promised a petition got 285,000 members in 24 hours. Users were part of the News Feed unless they specified otherwise.

Over time, Facebook’s users actually grew to love the feed. That clearly emboldened the website to push things further. A little over a year later, Facebook launched a service that collects data about users’ purchases from partner sites and makes that (potentially embarrassing information) visible across its social network. The ensuing controversy caused advertisers to hesitate. Management eventually apologised and made it easier for customers to opt out of the program.

Python's fangs prised off woman's leg

A python that bit a woman and wrapped itself around her leg had to be killed and its head prised off the bite on Moreton Island yesterday.

The woman was airlifted to a hospital north of Brisbane after the bite from the 1.8 metre-long snake.

The 26-year-old was holidaying on Moreton Island, off Brisbane, when a carpet python bit her above the left ankle about 1.15pm (AEST).

The attack took place in the bathroom of the Deception Bay woman's accommodation.

Energex community rescue helicopter pilot Brent Hall said the snake then coiled itself around her leg in a tight grip.

People staying with the woman tried in vain to pull the snake from her leg, Mr Hall said.

"Because it was such a ferocious attack, they had trouble getting the snake's fangs out of her leg and had to kill the snake and prise the head and fangs from her leg," he said.

The woman was treated by the chopper's paramedic and flown to Redcliffe Hospital, where she is in a stable condition.

Jan 1, 2008

Robot Boats to Hunt High-Tech Pirates

The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have expressed interest in the 30-ft.-long Protector, a robot boat which comes mounted with a machine gun and could be retrofitted for commercial use.

Robots versus pirates -- it's not as stupid, or unlikely, as it sounds. Piracy has exploded in the waters near Somalia, where this past week United States warships have fired on two pirate skiffs, and are currently in pursuit of a hijacked Japanese-owned vessel. At least four other ships in the region remain under pirate control, and the problem appears to be going global: The International Maritime Bureau is tracking a 14-percent increase in worldwide pirate attacks this year.

And although modern-day pirates enjoy collecting their fare share of booty -- they have a soft spot for communications gear -- they're just as likely to ransom an entire ship. In one particularly sobering case, hijackers killed one crew member of a Taiwan-owned vessel each month until their demands were met.

For years now, law enforcement agencies across the high seas have proposed robotic boats, or unmanned surface vessels (USVs), as a way to help deal with 21st-Century techno Black Beards. The Navy has tested at least two small, armed USV demonstrators designed to patrol harbors and defend vessels. And both the Navy and the Coast Guard have expressed interest in the Protector, a 30-ft.-long USV built by BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Israeli defense firm RAFAEL.

The Protector, which comes mounted with a 7.62mm machine gun, wasn't originally intended for anti-piracy operations. But according to BAE Systems spokesperson Stephanie Moncada, the robot could easily fill that role. 'Down the line, it could potentially be modified for commercial use as well,' she says. Instead of being deployed by a warship to intercept and possibly fire on an incoming vessel, a non-lethal variant of the Protector could be used to simply investigate a potential threat.

A favorite tactic of modern-day pirates is to put out a distress call, then ambush any ships that respond. The unmanned Protector could be remote-operated from around 10 miles away, with enough on-board sensors, speakers and microphones to make contact with a vessel before it's too late. 'Even without the machine gun, it could alert the crew, give them some time to escape,' Moncada says.

The 55-mph Interceptor could become the long-range patrol boat of the future, while the jetski-size Sentry could help prevent a terrorist plot such as Al Qaeda's attack on the USS Cole in December 2000.