Technology helps US identify Pearl Harbor dead

Among science’s more amazing advances is its ability to identify the long dead.

On Monday, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said in a statement that the remains of Navy Fireman 3rd Class Willard Lawson, killed when the USS Oklahoma was sunk by Japanese torpedoes on Dec. 7, 1941, had been identified.

Lawson will be buried April 27 in Madison, Ind., according to the Defense Department.

Last week the Defense Department announced that military officials had identified the remains of 37-year-old Seaman 1st Class Hale McKissack of Talpa, Texas, and 26-year-old Ensign Charles M. Stern Jr. of Albany, N.Y., both of whom were also Oklahoma crew members. McKissack is scheduled to be buried May 4, in nearby Winters, Texas, while Stern will be buried outside Albany sometime this summer.

Seventy-eight years after the Oklahoma was capsized in Pearl Harbor (aftermath shown in image above), taking the lives of 415 sailors and 15 Marines, identification of its dead is proceeding at relatively dizzying pace.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack through 2003 only 35 of the 429 members of the Oklahoma’s crew who died on Dec. 7 were known. But since 2015 more than 200 Oklahoma crew members have been identified, thanks to technology and a push by officials to account for as many members of the ship’s crew as possible.

USS Oklahoma

The Oklahoma’s story isn’t as well known as that of the USS Arizona, which remains at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, where hundreds of its crew were entombed following its destruction on Dec. 7. The site is marked by the famed USS Arizona Memorial.

The Oklahoma was among the first ships to be hit by Japanese torpedo bombers, which quickly struck the Nevada-class battleship with three torpedoes in the opening moments of the attack. As the Oklahoma began to capsize, she was struck by two more torpedoes and within 12 minutes had rolled over.

Following the disaster of Dec. 7, 1941, the Oklahoma lay capsized in Pearl Harbor for 18 months before being righted. Remains of Oklahoma crew continued to be collected through June 1944, with the Navy interring the dead in the Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries in Hawaii.

The remains were disinterred by the American Graves Registration Service from the two cemeteries in September 1947, and transferred to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. Fewer than 10 percent of the dead had been identified.

The 394 unknowns were buried in plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

In 2015, as part of the USS Oklahoma Project, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, through a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, exhumed all of the unknown remains from the Oklahoma, and began the lengthy identification process.

“It is remarkable for us to reach the 200th identification,” said Sean Patterson, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System’s DNA Operations Quality Management Section DNA Analyst. “We’ve identified so many people in a short amount of time using new technology such as the next-generation sequencing as well as with conventional technology.”

Since the start of 2019, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has announced the identities of 35 American service personnel, dead from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. These include 15 from the USS Oklahoma and one from the USS West Virginia, also sunk on Dec. 7 at Pearl Harbor.

In addition, there are likely others that have been identified since the start of the year, but next of kin have not been located as yet.

(Top: USS Oklahoma, capsized in the Pearl Harbor, following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack by Japan. Men can be seen atop the ship’s hull and one of her propellers, or screws, can be seen in the foreground. The USS Maryland is next to the Oklahoma.)

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Toddlers and phones: as smooth together as onions and eyeballs

Enter this under: Things to do to torment my children.

An unattended Chinese toddler locked his mother’s iPhone for nearly 47 years earlier this year after repeatedly entering the wrong passcode while playing with it.

The phone was given to the youngster to watch education videos but when the mother, who was only identified by her surname Lu, came home, she was horrified to find that the phone had been locked until the year 2066.

“iPhone is disabled, try again in 25,114,984 minutes,” the phone notification read, according to the Global Times.

(The story did not detail if the mother left the 2-year old home alone, or with some sort of apparently lackluster supervision.)

When Lu took her phone into an Apple store in Shanghai, Wei Chunlong, a technician, told her she could either choose to wait a few years before attempting to re-enter the passcode or reset her device, which will cost her all data not yet uploaded to the cloud, added Newsweek.

And I’ve been getting a good chuckle out of locking my girls’ phones for five minutes when they leave said devices unattended. I look like a bush leaguer compared to this Chinese toddler.

Smartphone technology drags Luddite into 21st century

While I may not have been the last able-bodied adult in the Western world to switch from flip phone to smartphone, it certainly seemed that way at times.

Mind you, this generally wasn’t perceived as a negative, at least by me, particularly when watching hordes of students wandering across streets oblivious to everything but the little toy in their hands, or witnessing families in restaurants silently engrossed in their individual phones rather than talking with one another.

But with a passel of children who don’t do email and prefer instead to text, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I would have to make the move at some point.

An example: in the time it would take me to poke out a finger-by-finger response to one of my daughters’ texts, three more would arrived. Recognizing that, due to some sort of logarithmic progression, I could only fall further and further behind, I would at that point simply pick up the phone to stop the madness.

But what finally convinced me to make the jump a couple of months back was the incredible quality of smartphone cameras.

The above photo was taken recently by Daughter No. 1 at sunset in Lexington County, SC. I have used a Kodak EX with optical zoom for the past 10 years and even compensating for operator error, there is no way my camera could have managed a photo as stunning as that above.

Even more remarkable is that she doesn’t have a state-of-the-art 2017 model, but one that is somewhere between three and five years old.

The technological advances made in smartphone cameras have been nothing short of remarkable over the past 10 years.

“The main technical difference between smartphone cameras and standalone digital cameras is that smartphones use tiny lenses and tiny sensors. The smartphone’s results ought to be much worse. They are not,” according to The Guardian. “Smartphones produce high-quality results by using their powerful processors and built-in graphics engines to process the image data and compensate for their technical limitations.”

Best of all, phones with high-quality cameras that were quite pricey two or three years ago are now very affordable. The same will almost certainly be the case two or three years down the road with what is cutting-edge today.

One supposes it has never been easier or more convenient to take high-quality images at any time in history.

Earth Hour: the Dogged Drive of Inane Intentions

We in the West are drowning in a cornucopia of ill-conceived special celebrations.

From National Bike to Work Day (May 19) to Global Forgiveness Day (Aug. 27) to International Peace Day (Sept. 21), there are a rash of events that the self-righteous have concocted in order to make themselves feel good, if not morally superior, to those around them.

These events are largely limited to the Western world because the rest of the globe is too busy trying to stay alive to be bothered with such claptrap.

This Saturday (8:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. for those of you keeping score at home),  the annual self-congratulatory activity known as Earth Hour will be held under the guise of “United People to Save the Planet.”

Rather than list my many objections to this bit of imbecility, I’ll let you read the words of Canadian economist Ross McKitrick, who, in 2009, was asked by a journalist for his thoughts on the importance of Earth Hour:

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity.

Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. Getting children out of menial labor and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.

Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.

Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases. Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity from fossil-fuel based power generating stations. After all, that’s how the west developed.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity. Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.

People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their refrigerator, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour. And pop down to the cardiac unit at the hospital and shut the power off there too.

I don’t want to go back to nature. Travel to a zone hit by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes to see what it’s like to go back to nature. For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance. People who work for the end of poverty and relief from disease are fighting against nature. I hope they leave their lights on.

Here in Ontario, through the use of pollution control technology and advanced engineering, our air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, despite the expansion of industry and the power supply.

If, after all this, we are going to take the view that the remaining air emissions outweigh all the benefits of electricity, and that we ought to be shamed into sitting in darkness for an hour, like naughty children who have been caught doing something bad, then we are setting up unspoiled nature as an absolute, transcendent ideal that obliterates all other ethical and humane obligations.

No thanks. I like visiting nature but I don’t want to live there, and I refuse to accept the idea that civilization with all its tradeoffs is something to be ashamed of.

If I possessed that eloquence, I’d probably have more than half a dozen readers and wouldn’t be living in a van down by the river a much larger bank account.

No word on whether Earth Hour is just a giant charade cooked up by Big Candle to boost profits, but come Saturday evening I’ll be happily burning every old-fashioned 100-watt incandescent light bulb I can find.

(Top: One can only hope that the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital, which saves hundreds of newborns each year, won’t turn off its life-saving equipment this coming Saturday night for Earth Hour.)

Internet diagnosis: The common cold or breakbone fever?

webquack-image

Thanks in part to spending a full hour walking the rows of Longterm Lot No. 2 at the Charlotte International Airport searching for my car at 1 am, I recently found myself under the weather. As in, sick enough to miss work, which happens about once every five years.

After several days of feeling generally awful, and having little else to do, I decided to enter my symptoms into a certain Internet site, just to make sure I didn’t have something other than the common cold. Schistosomiasis is said to be on the uptick in these regions, or so rumor has it.

Fortunately, I’m not the easily excited type as the exercise proved, yet again, the utter absurdity of how knowledge is used on the World Wide Web.

I went to a very well-known site – which I will simply call WebQuack – and entered my symptoms, none of which were unusual: Headache, hoarse voice, nasal congestion, nighttime wheezing, post-nasal drip, runny nose and sore throat.

Be forewarned: this is not an exercise for those who might lean toward hypochondria.

After I entered the relatively straightforward symptoms, I was given 97 possible diagnoses. Only a very few seemed probable, such as sinusitis, nasal congestion, hay fever and the common cold.

Others seemed to have little relation to the listed symptoms: astigmatism, nearsightedness, farsightedness, post-concussive syndrome, toxic shock syndrome, sunburn, chemical burns, thermal burn of mouth or tongue, goiter, insulin reaction, hernia and narcotics abuse.

Some were almost comical: caffeine withdrawal, excessive caffeine use, foreign object in nose, malocclusion (bite out of alignment), botox injection and constipation.

Others were dreadful: diabetes, stroke, meningitis, brain aneurysm, brain infection, brain tumor, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, throat cancer, intracranial hematoma, multiple sclerosis, scarlet fever, typhoid fever and whooping cough.

Then there was the handful of potential afflictions that seem utterly improbable: plague, radiation sickness, cyanide poisoning and ricin poisoning.

Plague? I generally keep my distance from flea-infested rodents, particularly in large Third World cities where the Black Death is still a problem.

Radiation sickness? I haven’t been to the Chernobyl or Fukushima nuclear power plants, and stay clear of spent nuclear fuel whenever possible.

Cyanide? I think I’d have a few more symptoms that those I listed, such as seizures, profuse vomiting and cardiac arrest.

Ricin?!? That’s what Soviet-bloc agents used to do away with enemies of the state. Unless I, in my misspent youth, angered a Stasi agent with a long memory but incredibly poor tracking skills who’s just getting around to evening the score, this seems quite unlikely. That, and the fact I’d be dead before I could have typed my symptoms in WebQuack.

So, what’s the point of this aspect of WebQuack? One supposes it’s to get people to go see doctors, ask for products advertised on WebQuack’s website and drive revenues to said advertisers. As for being helpful, it seems anything but.

Locusts: Not just for stripping crops anymore

bomb sniffing locusts

Technophobes worry about a world dominated by robots bent on enslaving humans. Others are vexed by the thought of a society corrupted by an over-reliance on technology that leaves humans unable to function on their own. I say: Beware the cyborg insects!

Lest one think that last bit is just another of this blog’s idiotic rants (which, for the uninitiated, it is), consider what’s being attempted at Washington University in St. Louis:

Researchers are trying to take locusts, the same insects that love to strip the fields of already-starving populations, and marry their keen sense of smell with nanotechnology in a bid to create living bomb detectors.

A “heat-generating tattoo on the wings of the insects can allow the team to control where they fly, while a small computer attached to its body will capture their neural signals,” according to Red Orbit. “The computer will then decode the signals as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ message, which will be sent back to the team. There, it will cause a red or green LED to light up, signaling either that a bomb is present or that it is not.”

While relying on an insect over a bomb-sniffing drone or dog might seem fanciful, the bottom line, according to team leader Baranidharan Raman, is that simpler is better.

Dogs have one of the most powerful senses of smell amongst animals, but require years of training – and a great deal of expense; locusts have a strong sense of smell, and can be directed much more simply, according to Red Orbit. Plus, the locust system might perform better than man-made ones.

“It took only a few hundred milliseconds for the locust’s brain to begin tracking a novel odor introduced in its surroundings,” Raman told the BBC. “The locusts are processing chemical cues in an extremely rapid fashion.

“Even the state-of-the-art miniaturized chemical sensing devices have a handful of sensors. On the other hand, if you look at the insect antennae, where their chemical sensors are located, there are several hundreds of thousands of sensors and of a variety of types,” he added.

And, let’s face it, it’s unlikely anyone’s going to get attached to “Elijah,” the bomb-sniffing locust, making him considerably more expendable than a police squad’s bomb dog or an expensive robot.

These “cyborg” locusts are currently in their early phase of testing, but Raman believes that the technology could become available within two years.

Raman’s team recently received a grant of $750,000 from the US Office of Naval Research for his project.

That will either move the project considerably along or, if they’re already in the advanced stages, procure a whole mess of locusts.

(A researcher holds a locust that has sensors implanted in its brain to decode neural activity. Photo courtesy of Baranidharan Raman, Washington University, St. Louis.)

New app allows users to rent backyards in crowded cities

tiny urban backyard

This blogger makes no secret of his love of the outdoors. Whether its woods or wilderness; swamps or savannas; fields or fens; meadows or marshes; pastures or plains, I’ll take being outside most any day to being enclosed in the glass and steel of the city.

Yes, there are plenty of interesting things to do in a metropolis, but if I have to pick one over the other, my first choice is always going to be the countryside.

As such, I’ve never understood those that willing live in crowded cities where greenery is almost non-existent and it’s a lengthy drive to romp in legitimate open space.

Apparently in the San Francisco Bay Area, green space is at such a premium that a new sharing app has been launched to allow you rent out your backyard or rooftop by the hour.

Nookzy allows the reservation of small “creative urban spaces,” according to its website.

In fact, it is currently beta testing a selection of backyard-based spas and saunas in San Francisco and Oakland, and is in the process of finding swimming pools and other amenities to list.

It has been called the “Airbnb of backyards,” referring to the website that enables people to list, find and rent lodgings for short periods.

Nookzy users can reserve spaces for as little as 30 minutes and as long as hosts are comfortable with.

Upon booking, guests will receive access permission and instructions, agreeing to host-specified conditions for conduct. During their reservation, guests will receive text message notifications, including when they have 15 minutes remaining in their reservation. Guests may extend their reservation if the space is still available.

I never cease to be amazed by the ingenuity of some. Those behind this app apparently identified a need and have created a means to fill it. Good for them.

On the other hand, I can’t help but feel for kids who live in an environment with so little green space that their parents have to go online to rent a backyard or pool. Seems like a rather Dickensian childhood in some respects.

(HT: Carpe Diem blog)