Wednesday, October 16, 2019

From 'Most People Will Believe Anything' File

Somnox sleep robot – like being in bed with a baby Darth Vader
The kidney-shaped cushion comes with a birth certificate and mirrors your breathing patterns to help you nod off. I would rather spoon a fork

Rhik Samadder

Tue 15 Oct 2019 02.00 EDT

‘A witchetty grub herald of post-human dystopia’ ... Rhik tries the Somnox sleep robot. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

"There are two types of people who would
utilize a device like this;
those who are totally mental morons and those
who are 100%

Read On Folks

Ron Ernie

Once you cyborg, you never go borg? We’ll see. This week I am testing a sleep robot (£549, that aims to banish insomnia, aiding natural rest and reducing stress. It is an example of soft robotics, and could be revolutionary in the field: most tech is hard-edged, and many overnight devices merely track sleep rather than promoting it. Somnox describes itself as a “sleep companion.” The kidney-shaped, possibly sentient cushion breathes softly in and out, and plays calming noises. The idea is that users hold it close to them in bed, building up an emotional bond over time. Every night, you breathe together in time until you fall sleep, perchance to dream of electric sheep.

There is obvious industry and sophistication here. The product is made of high-quality material, with nothing extraneous in the design. It is heavy – like organic-material heavy. It is the weight of a baby. And it is comforting, cushioned with foam and soft, thick fabric. We climb into bed and I switch it on. A warm light within the fabric comes to life, pulsing in and out. The robot has a soft belly part, which gently expands and deflates, with a noise like a discreet ventilator. I start getting a strange feeling in my belly, too. “Creating life is our design philosophy” is the chilling strapline printed on the “birth certificate” included with each purchase. “It took us nine months to create your new sleep companion, just like a real baby.” (I hope the process wasn’t exactly the same.) It is a weird timeframe. Nine months to R&D, prototype, test and market a complex robot sounds insufficient. Unless they are talking about the manufacture of the specific item I am holding, in which case that is way too long. You couldn’t scale a cookie business if each biscuit took a month to make.

Creating life may be Somnox’s focus; I wish it was creating apps. Their one doesn’t work, at least not after the firmware update I installed. The Bluetooth pairing with the robot dropped a few times, and needed to be reinstated; eventually, the app and device stopped recognising each other completely.

While it was working, I tried the deep sleep exercise: essentially a timed breathing pattern of longer exhalations. (The other options are nap and relaxation modes.) I selected a few of the soothing musical options, which include “forest walk”, “pink noise” and “cosmic moon” but they didn’t work. Each time, an identical mechanical wheeze emerged from the speaker in perfect sync with the breathing. Like being in bed with a baby Darth Vader. The robot has CO2 sensors in its head, which adapt to the user’s breathing to help slow it down. But I had to cover the device with the duvet to muffle the maddening noise. My breathing was getting more and more rapid with irritation anyway, until I turned the thing off. This happened the next night, too, and then the app packed up entirely. I was quite relieved, as it had been keeping me awake.

Without the in-app exercises, the device still works. Is it nice? It’s more … odd, this breathing baby-weight. More useful in the daytime, when noise issues aren’t so big an issue. I don’t have a cat, so used this as a substitute, sitting it on my lap with a bowl of minestrone while I watched Friends – I am aware how lonely this sounds; can we not focus on that? – and the weight was soothing. The delicate rasp could be purring. If anything, it is slightly more affectionate than a couple of cats I could care to mention, and didn’t wake me up with a claw to the nostril. But frankly I would take the claw, or the empty bed, over this witchetty grub herald of post-human dystopia.

The sleep robot feels like an uncomfortable blurring of categories. Soft robotics is not yet a gamechanger in the field of, er, night-time technology and I am glad. I like my robots hard, so they have no place in my bed. Others will have different needs. They may come to rely on Somnox for comfort. I would rather spoon a fork. Not the other way round, I stress.
The Times They Are a-Brandin

It is weird to have a product that comes with a birth certificate AND a manifesto. But maybe all babies should have a manifesto? Never too soon to gain that competitive edge.
Wellness or hellness?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Federal judge overturns ObamaCare transgender protections

Nathaniel Weixel
05:29 PM EDT

A federal judge on Tuesday overturned ObamaCare protections for transgender patients, ruling that a 2016 policy violates the religious freedom of Christian providers.

Judge Reed O’Connor in the Northern District of Texas vacated an Obama-era regulation that prohibited insurers and providers who receive federal money from denying treatment or coverage to anyone based on sex, gender identity or termination of pregnancy.

It also required doctors and hospitals to provide “medically necessary” services to transgender individuals as long as those services were the same ones provided to other patients.

O’Connor, the same judge who last year ruled that the entire Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, said the rule violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

His ruling is likely to be appealed.

The ObamaCare rule was initially challenged in court in 2016 by a group of Christian providers called the Franciscan Alliance as well as five conservative states.

They argued that the rule forces insurers to pay for abortions and compels doctors to perform gender transition services even if they disagree with those services on moral or medical grounds.

O’Connor agreed and issued a nationwide injunction against enforcing the rule. The injunction meant that even though the provisions remained in effect, the Obama administration could not sue a hospital or provider for not complying.

President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services initially defended the rule, but the Trump administration decided to drop its defense and argued the rule should be sent back to the agency to be rewritten.

The Trump administration is working on a regulatory fix and has issued a proposed rule that would scrap ObamaCare's definition of "sex discrimination" to remove protections for gender identity.

Advocates argue removing those protections will allow health care providers, hospitals and insurers to discriminate against transgender patients.

Pelosi: No House vote on impeachment inquiry By

Scott Wong
Mike Lillis
06:51 PM EDT

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday she will not stage a vote on the House floor to officially launch an impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

The decision came after Democratic leaders, returning to Washington following a two-week recess, had reached out to members of their diverse caucus to gauge the party's support for such a vote.

After back-to-back meetings with party leaders and then the full caucus, Pelosi announced that no such vote would take place. Democratic aides emphasized, however, that the process remains fluid and that Pelosi may reverse course and stage such a vote at any point in the future.

"There's no requirement that we have a vote, and so at this time we will not be having a vote," Pelosi told reporters during a last-minute press briefing in the Capitol.

The decision arrives as Trump and his Republican allies are amping up the pressure on Pelosi to hold a formal vote to begin the investigation — a move they believe would grant the GOP more power and influence in the process, including the ability to call and subpoena their own witnesses.

"The minority has been shut out of the process," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters Tuesday. "It is being done in a ... classified briefing room behind closed doors when it should be in front of the American people so that all can see in a very transparent way the testimony of these witnesses."

As Republicans have scrambled to defend Trump from allegations that he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, the absence of a floor vote launching the process has emerged as a central talking point.

Last week, White House counsel Pat Cipollone delivered a letter to Pelosi warning that administration officials would not cooperate with requests for documents or witness testimony because they deem the inquiry illegitimate. He cited the Democrats' refusal to vote to launch the process on the floor — a step that preceded the impeachment investigations into former Presidents Nixon and Clinton.

Pelosi, for months, had resisted even a mention of impeachment, fearing the potential political harm the issue could do to moderate Democrats facing tough reelections next year. That changed last month after the airing of allegations from a government whistleblower that Trump had leveraged U.S. military aid to Ukraine in return for political favors from that nation's leaders.

In response, scores of Democrats endorsed impeachment in some form. And Pelosi announced the launch of an official inquiry shortly afterward. The number of Democrats now endorsing impeachment in some form stands at 228.

Trump has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong in the July 25 call with Zelensky and dismissed the Democratic probe as a "witch hunt." He and Republicans have charged Democrats with seeking to topple a president through impeachment they cannot defeat at the polls.

Taking much of the pressure off of Pelosi to stage a formal vote, Democrats appeared to be nearly unanimous in thinking there's there's no need to do so. Many warned that it would create the impression that Republicans were dictating the terms of the process.

"I don't consider it necessary myself," said Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). "I think all these process arguments are diversions, put out there by people who don't want to take about the substance because the substance is so incredibly damaging."

The White House last week said it would not cooperate with the Democratic inquiry in part because of the lack of a formal vote to begin it, but that decision has not prevented Democrats from speaking to witnesses.

House Democrats have held a series of closed-doors hearings in recent weeks with administration officials involved in Ukraine policy, including former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch on Friday, former Trump Russia adviser Fiona Hill on Monday, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent on Tuesday.

Pelosi's announcement came less than two hours before the Democratic 2020 primary field is set to hold its first debate since the impeachment inquiry began.

Pocahontas Takes Heat!