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July 10, 2014

This Week In The Civil War: Life & Death In Petersburg, VA

This Week in the Civil War - This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources.

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, July 13:  Life and death in the trenches near Petersburg, Virginia.

The Boston Evening Transcript of Boston, Massachusetts reported July 15, 1864, on the death of a beloved Massachusetts officer fighting for the Union in Petersburg, Virginia, when it came under siege 150 years ago in the Civil War. The dispatch said Col. P.S. Davis  was ``mortally wounded in the trenches near Petersburg.’’  War dispatches gave an account of his death: ``One of the rebel shell entered his tent on Monday, and after rolling under the chair in which he was quietly seated, reading a newspaper, exploded and wounded him in so shocking a manner, that he expired within an hour.’’  Just 40 years old, Davis left behind a wife and three children in Massachusetts, along with a business selling books and stationery in Boston.  

The Boston paper reported that under Davis’ command, his regiment had flourished and ``was frequently mistaken for regulars, from their admirable bearing and discipline.’’ It added Davis was deeply missed by many: ``Beloved in all the walks of private life, his public career as an officer of the union army has been honorable to himself and the State which claimed him as one of its most patriotic citizens.’’

MIT Developing ‘Finger Reader’ To Help Visually Impaired

By RODRIQUE NGOWI

Associated Press

Cambridge, MA - (AP) Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing an audio reading device to be worn on the index finger of people whose vision is impaired, giving them affordable and immediate access to printed words.

The so-called FingerReader, a prototype produced by a 3-D printer, fits like a ring on the user’s finger, equipped with a small camera that scans text. A synthesized voice reads words aloud, quickly translating books, restaurant menus and other needed materials for daily living, especially away from home or office.

Reading is as easy as pointing the finger at text. Special software tracks the finger movement, identifies words and processes the information. The device has vibration motors that alert readers when they stray from the script, said Roy Shilkrot, who is developing the device at the MIT Media Lab.

For Jerry Berrier, 62, who was born blind, the promise of the FingerReader is its portability and offer of real-time functionality at school, a doctor’s office and restaurants.

``When I go to the doctor’s office, there may be forms that I wanna read before I sign them,’’ Berrier said.

He said there are other optical character recognition devices on the market for those with vision impairments, but none that he knows of that will read in real time.

Finger Reader

Berrier manages training and evaluation for a federal program that distributes technology to low-income people in Massachusetts and Rhode Island who have lost their sight and hearing. He works from the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts.

``Everywhere we go, for folks who are sighted, there are things that inform us about the products that we are about to interact with. I wanna be able to interact with those same products, regardless of how I have to do it,’’ Berrier said.

Pattie Maes, an MIT professor who founded and leads the Fluid Interfaces research group developing the prototype, says the FingerReader is like ``reading with the tip of your finger and it’s a lot more flexible, a lot more immediate than any solution that they have right now.’’

Developing the gadget has taken three years of software coding, experimenting with various designs and working on feedback from a test group of visually impaired people. Much work remains before it is ready for the market, Shilkrot said, including making it work on cellphones.

Shilkrot said developers believe they will be able to affordably market the FingerReader but he could not yet estimate a price. The potential market includes some of the 11.2 million people in the United States with vision impairment, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Current technology used in homes and offices offers cumbersome scanners that must process the desired script before it can be read aloud by character-recognition software installed on a computer or smartphone, Shilkrot said. The FingerReader would not replace Braille, the system of raised dots that form words, interpreted by touch. Instead, Shilkrot said, the new device would enable users to access a vast number of books and other materials that are not currently available in Braille.

Developers had to overcome unusual challenges to help people with visual impairments move their reading fingers along a straight line of printed text that they could not see. Users also had to be alerted at the beginning and end of the reading material.

Their solutions? Audio cues in the software that processes information from the FingerReader and vibration motors in the ring.

The FingerReader can read papers, books, magazines, newspapers, computer screens and other devices, but it has problems with text on a touch screen, said Shilkrot.

That’s because touching the screen with the tip of the finger would move text around, producing unintended results. Disabling the touch-screen function eliminates the problem, he said. Berrier said affordable pricing could make the FingerReader a key tool to help people with vision impairment integrate into the modern information economy.

``Any tool that we can get that gives us better access to printed material helps us to live fuller, richer, more productive lives, Berrier said.

20 Million Year Old Fossils Revealed At Dam Site

Fremont, CA (AP) -- Giant teeth from a 40-foot-long shark and portions of what could turn out to be an entire whale skeleton are among more than 500 fossils that have been unearthed at a dam construction site in Silicon Valley, a newspaper reported.

Most of the fossils uncovered at the Calaveras Dam replacement project in Fremont are believed to be about 20 million years old, dating to the Miocene Epoch, when the ocean extended as far inland as Bakersfield, California, the San Jose Mercury News reported Monday.

Scallops, clams, barnacles and the teeth of an extinct hippopotamus-like creature called a Desmostylus have all been dug up since 2011, when work on the project began.

“We started finding fossils here before construction even started,” paleontologist Jim Walker, who is working alongside construction crews on the project, said. “It was exciting. We were finding scallops, and I said, ‘I want to get a whale.’ And we did.”

Crews have discovered nine whale skulls. Plant fossils and fossils of animal tracks and burrows have also been discovered.

The $700 million dam replacement project is part of a 15-year, $4.6 billion upgrade to the Hetch Hetchy water system, which relies primarily on the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park and serves about 2.6 million customers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Megalodon teeth found at the site (right)

The reservoir created by the Calaveras Dam is among several local reservoirs that supply the region. The dam, completed in 1925, is being replaced with one more capable of withstanding earthquakes.

Crews are currently removing earth in front of the dam, the Mercury News reported. Construction on the new dam itself, which will go up about 400 yards downstream, is expected to start in 2016, with completion expected two years later.

Paleontologists will continue working with construction workers for the next few years. The fossils eventually will end up at a museum in the Bay Area, according to officials from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is building the dam.

Meanwhile, in a separate find in the West, crews doing road construction in northwestern New Mexico unearthed artifacts that officials said might be from the ancient Puebloan culture.

The workers were widening a highway bordering the Salmon Ruins, an archaeological site in Bloomfield, when one of them last week noticed something red and black glinting in the sun, the Daily Times reported Sunday. Crews ended up finding buried pottery pieces and fragments of charcoal, burned corn fibers and other material.

Salmon Ruins Executive Director Larry Baker said he thought the pottery might be from the Pueblo III-era — between 1100 and 1300 A.D. — based on the design on the shards.

“I’m speculating, but I believe it’s midden, a trash deposit, based on the diversity of shards,” Baker said. “This is great.”

He added employees are in the process of recording the discovery, which will be keep at the ruins as part of its artifact collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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