MIT Robot Can Assemble Itself

The newly developed robots have potential for more sophisticated applications, such as space research | Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Harvard University

The “geek” in me just loves this story. An origami inspired robot….wow.


A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University has developed an Origami-inspired robot that can assemble itself into a complex shape and move without human intervention. The robot, powered by small batteries, is made almost entirely from parts produced by a laser cutter.

According to the researchers, the invention expands the scope of ways to quickly and inexpensively manufacture robots that can interact with the environment and automate much of the design and assembly process. The researchers explained their latest development in a study published in the journal Science on Thursday, saying that the newly developed robots have potential for more sophisticated applications, such as space research.

“Imagine a ream of dozens of robotic satellites sandwiched together so that they could be sent up to space and then assemble themselves remotely once they get there. They could take images, collect data, and more,” Sam Felton, a doctoral student at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

The robot has five layers of material that are cut according to digital specifications by a laser cutter. The middle layer is copper, which is fixed into a complex network of electrical leads and is squeezed in between two structural layers of paper. The external layers are made of a shape-memory polymer, a material that has the ability to fold when heated.

After the laser-cut materials are layered together, a microprocessor and one or more small motors are attached to the top surface. Each motor, synchronized by the microprocessor, controls two of the robot’s legs with eight mechanical “linkages,” each to convert the force applied by the motor into movement.

The new design, the researchers said, was inspired by Origami, an ancient Japanese art of folding a single sheet of paper into complex designs. This approach helped them avoid the traditional “nuts and bolts” process used to assemble machines, the researchers said, adding that each Origami robot costs about $100 to make, while the body, minus the motors, batteries and microprocessor, costs only $20.

Origami robotics is “a pretty powerful concept, because cutting planar things and folding is an inherently very low-cost process,” Ronald Fearing, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California at Berkeley, said in a statement. “If you have a hollow-shell structure, then you have something that is very strong and very lightweight. If you put motors on there, you end up with a robot that is very powerful for its weight.”


U.S. adults lag behind counterparts overseas in skills

Factory town
Tesla workers cheer on the first Tesla Model S cars sold during a rally at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., in 2012. The high-tech electric cars sell for more than $60,000 each. American workers sometimes lag behind their foreign counterparts in certain basic skills such as math and problem-solving.
(Photo: Paul Sakuma, AP)


No surprise here.  The Obama administration has tried to carry out programs like the National Core Standard.  Resistance from the far right has limited the program to most states but Texas and Arkansas are adamantly against the program.   Many other states run by Republican governors have also limited the program dramatically.

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. 

U.S.A. Today

Americans trail adults in other countries in math, literacy, problem-solving.

Americans have been hearing for years that their kids are lagging behind the rest of the developed world in skills. Now it’s the adults’ turn for a reality check.

A first-ever international comparison of the labor force in 23 industrialized nations shows that Americans ages 16 to 65 fall below international averages in basic problem-solving, reading and math skills, with gaps between the more- and less-educated in the USA larger than those of many other countries.

The findings, out Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Education, could add new urgency to U.S. schools’ efforts to help students compete globally.

The new test was given to about 5,000 Americans between August 2011 and April 2012. The results show that the typical American’s literacy score falls below the international average, with adults in 12 countries scoring higher and only five (Poland, Ireland, France, Spain and Italy) scoring lower. In math, 18 countries scored higher, with only two (Italy and Spain) scoring lower. In both cases, several countries’ scores were statistically even with the USA.

States like Arkansas and Texas have consistently refused government initiatives to improve the education process in the United States.  Far Right-Wing politicians are adamantly opposed to these initiatives.  Hence, we are far below standard when  compared to other nations.  This has to change…

The new test was given to about 5,000 Americans between August 2011 and April 2012. The results show that the typical American’s literacy score falls below the international average, with adults in 12 countries scoring higher and only five (Poland, Ireland, France, Spain and Italy) scoring lower. In math, 18 countries scored higher, with only two (Italy and Spain) scoring lower. In both cases, several countries’ scores were statistically even with the USA.

TEST YOURSELF: Could you solve these problems?

The oldest Americans in the sample turned in a higher-than-average performance in reading, with 9% of test-takers between 55 and 65 years old scoring at the top proficiency level, compared to just 5% worldwide. In math, however, they were even with the 7% international average.

The problem, the new findings suggest, is with younger U.S. workers, who lag in nearly every category.

The results are “quite distressing,” says Harvard University’s Paul Peterson, co-author of Endangering Prosperity, a recent book on education and international competitiveness. “Other countries have been catching up for some time,” he says. “At one time, we had a really significant lead, but those people are disappearing from the workforce.”

“Adults who have trouble reading, doing math, solving problems and using technology will find the doors of the 21st century workforce closed to them,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan says. “We need to find ways to challenge and reach more adults to upgrade their skills.”

Other findings:

• Average literacy scores ranged from 250 in Italy to 296 in Japan. The U.S. average: 270.

• Average math scores ranged from 246 in Spain to 288 in Japan. The U.S. average: 253.

• Only 9% of U.S. adults performed at the highest proficiency level on math. Just three countries — South Korea, Italy and Spain — had a lower average.

• Overall, about one in eight Americans turned in a top performance in reading — seven countries had a higher percentage of top performers. In math, 15 countries had more top performers.

What brought the U.S. average down was a larger-than-average gap in skills between groups, such as those with or without a college degree, and between workers whose jobs do or don’t require advanced math and reading skills.

While those gaps may not show up immediately in productivity totals, Peterson says, in time they’ll have an effect. “There’s a 20-year delay between the quality of the educational system and its impact,” he says. “It’s sort of like watching a car crash in slow motion.”


Ivy Fight! Harvard and Princeton Tussle on Twitter Over… Math

Gotta love Twitter’s nerd fights…


Last night Kanye West called Jimmy Kimmel a p***y on Twitter.  Today Harvard and Princeton went back and forth on Twitter over a mathematical proof. I think that pretty much covers the spectrum, don’t you?

If you were never much of a math person, then you’re really not going to understand this, as opposed to the rest of us, who only sort of understand it. First Princeton tweeted out what at first looks like someone forgot to turn Wingdings off, but was in fact a complex mathematical proof.

Harvard shot back with… wait, I took high school calc, I should know this…

Anyway, here’s how Harvard responded.

Princeton sent out their pithy little response shortly after.

OH IT’S ON! The ivies have been tickled!

This being Twitter, naturally a lot of people noticed and commented on what I think we can all affectionately call a nerd fight.

We laugh now, but remember: the people who understand what’s going on here will run the world in a matter of years.


Monday Blog Roundup – 5-20-2013

Welcome to the Darrell Issa Hall of Shame

Gingrich Warns Republicans About Overreach

Harry Reid eyeing July for the `nuclear option’

Obama, lawmakers tackle military sexual assault

North Korea Fires Three Missiles Off Its East Coast

 New Audit Allegations Show Flawed Statistical Thinking

The most vulnerable House members in 2014, in two charts

In IRS scandal, why is any political group exempt from taxes?

1,200 Harvard Students Demand Investigation Into Jason Richwine’s Thesis On Hispanic IQ

CNN’s Crowley Adopts False Right-Wing Claim That Obama Didn’t Call Benghazi A Terrorist Attack


Is The War On Drugs Nearing An End?

Beginning in the 1980s, many critics of the American criminal-justice system complained that the penalties for possession of crack cocaine, a drug most often used by poor blacks, were much harsher than the penalties for possession of powder cocaine, whose users were typically affluent whites. The implication was that the harsh anti-crack penalties, initially imposed in the eighties, were rooted at least partially in racism. –  Crack vs. Powder Cocaine

The Huffington Post

For four decades, libertarians, civil rights activists and drug treatment experts have stood outside of the political mainstream in arguing that the war on drugs was sending too many people to prison, wasting too much money, wrenching apart too many families — and all for little or no public benefit.

They were always in the minority. But on Thursday, a sign of a new reality emerged: for the first time in four decades of polling, the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

That finding is the result of decades of slow demographic changes and cultural evolution that now appears, much like attitudes around marriage equality, to be accelerating. More and more people, including Pat Robertson and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), are rejecting the tough-on-crime rhetoric so long directed toward drug use.

But in its latest budget, the White House still requested $25.6 billion to combat drug use just at the federal level, with well more than half of that going toward a strategy centered around law enforcement. The drug war has helped swell America’s prison and jail population to 2.2 million people — meaning that a country with five percent of the world’s population contains one quarter of its prisoners.

recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found that few Americans think these efforts have been worthwhile. Only 19 percent of respondents to that poll said that the war on drugs has been worth the costs, while 53 percent said it has not been. That discomfort with the drug war was shared by respondents across the political spectrum.

The question now, experts and advocates say, is just how quickly Washington will catch up to public opinion, and what that shift will mean for the war on drugs and the criminal justice system in general.

The answer could have tremendous ramifications abroad — 10,000 people die drug war deaths every year in Mexico — and at home in the United States.


Much of the movement in public opinion toward marijuana use has been driven not necessarily by the arguments drug reformers have made for years — that it is safer than alcohol, that we waste too much money on incarceration, that drug use is a victimless crime — but by simple generational change, said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University.

“Younger generations are much more supportive of having choices, they’ve had much more experience with it, and also in general on many social issues, people are getting more libertarian, more open to less restriction,” he said.

When Blendon studied public opinion on the drug war in the mid-1990s, the results were clear: although the American public believed the drug war was failing, they still thought of using drugs as morally wrong and worthy of punishment.

It was a time when Nancy Reagan’s maxim — just say no to drugs — was still treated as gospel. But two decades later, Blendon said, there are simply too many people who have tried marijuana themselves to believe in that.

According to the Pew survey, 48 percent of Americans say they have smoked weed themselves, up 10 percent from a decade ago. Fifty percent of Americans, meanwhile, say smoking marijuana is not a moral issue, compared to 32 percent who believe that it is. That’s a mirror image of the 50 percent moral opposition and 35 percent indifference Pew found just seven years ago.

The shift has come fast, Pew found. In just the past three years, pro-legalization sentiment has spiked 10 percent. And a relatively new phenomenon has emerged: it’s not just liberals or libertarians speaking out. Increasingly, it is the names most identified with conservatism.

Continue here…


Romney’s misguided bashing of his alma mater

I’ve said it before and I must reiterate it again:  Rachel Maddow is the best news person on TV.  The way she breaks an issue down to it’s bare bones is what makes her so popular.

The Maddow Blog

Just last night, Rachel explained Mitt Romney’s habit of identifying his perceived weaknesses, and then assigning those weaknesses to President Obama. The segment was not short on examples.

Today, however, the list got a little longer. Romney, perhaps concerned about being perceived as an Ivy League elitist, targeted Obama’s time at Harvard.

For those who can’t watch clips online, Romney said, “We have a president who I think is a nice guy, but he spent too much time at Harvard, perhaps. Or maybe just not enough time actually working in the real world. I think to create jobs in the private sector it helps to have had a job in the private sector.”

First, Obama has worked in the real world. Second, the private sector has created about 4 million jobs in the last three years.

But the part of this that stands out, of course, is the notion that Obama — unlike Romney — “spent too much time at Harvard.”

I get the whole “I’m rubber, you’re glue” strategy. I even understand that anti-intellectualism goes a long way with Republican voters. But this incessant talk about Harvard is a bit much.

For one thing, Romney has two post-graduate degrees from Harvard, and he has three sons with post-graduate degrees from Harvard. Obama spent too much time there?

For another, Romney routinely points to members of the Harvard faculty as a major influence on his political views.

While we’re at it, let’s also not forget that many of Romney’s top policy aides are either Harvard alums, Harvard professors, or both. (If he’s going to talk about how awful it is to get advice from the “Harvard faculty lounge,” as he has many times in reference to Obama, it’d help if Romney weren’t getting advice from the Harvard faculty lounge.)

And finally, in case these ties weren’t quite enough, Romney is also enjoying the generous financial support of members of the Harvard faculty lounge.

There has to be an easier way for the former Massachusetts governor and Harvard alum to pretend to be a normal person.

Palin: Obama Wants To Return To The “Days Before The Civil War” When People Weren’t Considered Equal

Sara Palin wants to be relevant again…but as usual, she gets it all twisted.

Think Progress

Sean Hannity brought Sarah Palin on his Fox News show yesterday to continue his discussion from the night before over the biggest non-story of the week— a video of President Obama from his days at Harvard Law School.

But during their discussion, Palin opened up a new front in her attack of President Obama, apparently suggesting America’s first black president wants to return to the days “before the Civil War”:

Now, it has taken all these years for many Americans to understand that that gravity, that mistake, took place before the Civil War and why the Civil War had to really start changing America. What Barack Obama seems to want to do is go back to before those days when we were in different classes based on income, based on color of skin.

Watch it:

The “different classes” system Palin seems to be referring to is perhaps better known as slavery.

The entire conversation is based on the mischaracterization of Derrick Bell, a pioneer in legal scholarly work. Bell was the first tenured black professor at Harvard Law School, and the video that Hannity insists is a scandal shows Barack Obama, then a student, speaking at a rally in support of Professor Bell. Students and faculty were protesting to urge Harvard to hire more minority faculty.

Of course, Palin has struggled with history before.

Breitbart’s ‘Bombshell’: The President Still Fights For Racial Equality

Seen on Think Progress’ comment section from the following article:

The “bombshell” video combined with the right wing conspiracy theorist who thought the President had Breitbart offed should be having them ask themselves the question “how stupid are we?”. Of course they won’t because as you know all they will do is start disowning Brietbart. It’s funny, I already see it happening.

Think Progress and Fox News believe that President Obama’s affiliation with the late Harvard professor Derrick Bell, as evidenced from a hug they share in a video from 1990, is some kind of “smoking gun” for his perspectives on “racial division and class warfare.” Bell was the first tenured African-American law professor at Harvard University and helped establish the study of Critical Race Theory (CRT). This morning, editor Joel Pollak appeared on CNN to repeat this claim, but Soledad O’Brien was quick to point out that he had absolutely no understanding of CRT and that the clip presented no “bombshell” for the President:

O’BRIEN: What part of that was the bombshell? Because I missed it, I don’t get it. What was the bombshell?

POLLACK: Well, the bombshell is the revelation of the relationship between Obama and Derrick Bell—

O’BRIEN: Okay, so he’s a Harvard law student and a Harvard law professor. Yeah?

POLLACK: That’s correct. And Derrick Bell is “the Jeremiah Wright of academia.” He passed away last year, but during his lifetime he developed a theory called Critical Race Theory, which holds that the Civil Rights Movement was a sham and that White Supremacy is the order and it must be overthrown. Barack Obama was—

O’BRIEN: I’ll stop you there for a second and then I’m going to let you continue, but that is a complete misreading of Critical Race Theory. As you know, that’s an actual theory and you could Google it and someone would give you an good definition, so that’s not correct.

Watch it:

Critical race theory does not have an absolute set of principles, but later in the interview O’Brien accurately describes it as a theory that “looks into the intersection of race and politics and the law.” CRT emerged from a broader movement known as critical legal studies, which examines how factors such as race, gender and social class can often skew legal decisions in favor of privileged groups. Critical legal theory is, by definition, critical of how our law has developed and often calls for significant departures from existing law—but its central premise that judges are prone to decide cases in ways that advantage their own social group has certainly been vindicated by cases such as Citizens United.

CRT looks specifically at how race and racial privilege shapes the law. The purpose of CRT isn’t to wage war against white people, as Pollak and others of his anti-liberal ilk would have us believe. Indeed, its entire goal is to ensure that race not be forgotten as a significant factor in the operation of society. The value of this perspective is certainly demonstrated through voter ID laws, immigration policies, and drug enforcement penalties that disproportionately impact non-white populations. Policies that target racial majorities, by contrast, would never become law in the first place because the majority possesses the power to veto them.

The President should be applauded for standing with great minds who do not accept that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 marked an endpoint in the fight for racial equality. It is those who seek to disregard the experiences of all people of color — lest they confront the persisting effects of racial injustice — who should be ashamed.

(H/t: Yankee Clipper)

At Harvard, Obama Dived Into Diversity Fight

This is an amazing video of a then 30 year-old Barack Obama at Harvard Law School making a speech on race and diversity.  It’s amazing to see how young he was yet his voice and the causes that he took on remain consistent.

Buzz Feed

In this video, not previously available online but licensed by BuzzFeed from a Boston television station, the future president speaks at a 1991 campus protest organized to demand tenure for minority and female law professors.

It was perhaps Barack Obama’s most intense immersion in the charged campus racial politics of the late 1980s and early 1990s: As President of the Harvard Law Review in the spring of his final year there, 1991, he aligned himself with Professor Derrick Bell’s dramatic protest for diversity on the faculty of Harvard Law School.

Bell was the first black tenured professor at the school, and a pioneer of “critical race theory,” which insisted, controversially, on reading issues of race and power into legal scholarship. His protest that spring was occasioned by Harvard’s denial of tenure to a black woman professor, Regina Austin, at a time when only three of the law school’s professors were black and only five women. He told Harvard he would take a leave of absence — a kind of academic strike — “until a woman of color is offered and accepted a tenured position on this faculty,” and he launched a hunger strike to dramatize his point.

Obama was a major figure on campus, the first black president of the Law Review. Some friends, in a prescient joke, just referred to him as “the first black president.” He had a reputation as a conciliatory figure, not a confrontational one like Bell.

“”How Obama would react to Derrick Bell’s protest was a matter of some interest,” New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote in his exploration of Obama and race, The Bridge.

It was a situation in which clear lines had been drawn, and Obama sided with Bell. In a speech before the law school’s Harkness Commons — and sounding very much like his future presidential self — he described Bell as “the Rosa Parks of legal education.”

Obama’s stand provided a major boost to the protests, Keith Boykin, one of their organizers, later recalled.

Barack was always supportive and sympathetic to our campaign for faculty diversity. He spoke about it at one of our rallies. But he was not actively involved in the protest movement. Nor did he need to be. As I said, his presence alone made the case. And even if he agreed with the cause of the movement, he didn’t need to be involved in the more radical protests we launched because our tactics were controversial on campus.

In video, licensed by Buzzfeed from the WGBH Boston television station’s Media Library and Archives, now available online at BuzzFeed in it’s entirety, Obama praised the “excellence of his scholarship.”

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Racism Will Find You, Even at the Harvard-Yale Game: Club Mistakes Black Harvard Crowd For “Local Gangbangers”


Above The Law

The Harvard-Yale Game was this weekend. I didn’t attend. I’m at that uncomfortable age where I’m too old to go to The Game and get black-out drunk at the keg, but too young to show up in a fur coat handing out glasses of Cristal (rhymes with “Mystal”) while my butler grills porterhouse steaks out of the back of my Range Rover.I look forward to going to The Game in the future, but I’m really glad I didn’t go this year. If I had, I might have been arrested. Seriously, you would have logged on to Above the Law this morning and been entertained by my “Letter From a Boston Jail” or something.

Because if I had gone to The Game, I probably would have gone to the party hosted by the Harvard’s Black Law Student Association (and other affinity groups) at a new Boston club called Cure Lounge. And had I gone to that, when the club owners shut down the party essentially because too many black people were gathering in one place, I would have had major objections and been thrown in jail for “being an angry black person in Boston” (or whatever the hell they are calling it these days).

CORRECTION: According to the Harvard BLSA president, “Harvard BLSA was not involved in organizing or running the party in question…. [T]he event was run by a group that is not affiliated with Harvard BLSA or Harvard Law School. Harvard BLSA did cover the ticket cost of several members who attended the party.”

I wouldn’t have been able to adjust quickly enough to being back in a place like Boston, so I would have gone nuclear when somebody suggested that too many African-American Harvard and Yale students might attract “gang-bangers.”

Was there a lawyer in the line outside the club who could have objected? Actually, it wouldn’t have mattered….

The story first appeared on Jezebel and has been bouncing around my inbox since yesterday. Here’s how multiple sources describe what went down at Cure Lounge in Boston on Friday night:

  • Current Harvard and Yale students, as well as alumni from both schools, pre-purchased tickets to the gathering.
  • There was a line.
  • Concerned about uninvited people coming to the club, the bouncers were told that only people with a Harvard or Yale student I.D. could enter the club.
  • The event organizers protested, stating that (obviously) alumni were probably not clinging to their student IDs.
  • Access was re-granted to all ticket-holding individuals for a time.
  • At 11:15 p.m. the entire event was shut down by the club’s owner.
  • Multiple people claim they were told: “there are black women in line… who attract black men… which looks bad” for a new club like Cure.

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