Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chilean Earthquake, tidal wave warnings


Huge quake hits Chile; tsunami threatens Pacific
TALCA, Chile – One of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded struck Chile on Saturday, toppling homes, collapsing bridges and plunging trucks into the fractured earth. A tsunami set off by the magnitude-8.8 quake threatened every nation around the Pacific Ocean — roughly a quarter of the globe.

Chileans near the epicenter were tossed about as if shaken by a giant.

It was the strongest earthquake to hit Chile in 50 years. President-elect Sebastian Pinera said more than 120 people died, a number that was rising quickly.

The quake shook buildings in Argentina's capital of Buenos Aires, and was felt as far away as Sao Paulo in Brazil — 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) to the east.

In Talca, just 65 miles (105 kilometers) from the epicenter, furniture toppled as the earth shook for more than a minute in something akin to major airplane turbulence. The historic center of town largely collapsed, but most of the buildings of adobe mud and straw were businesses that were not inhabited during the 3:34 a.m. (1:34 a.m. EST, 0634 GMT) quake.

Neighbors pulled at least five people from the rubble while emergency workers, themselves disoriented, asked for information from reporters.

Collapsed roads and bridges complicated north-south travel in the narrow Andean nation. Electricity, water and phone lines were cut to many areas — meaning there was no word of death or damage from many outlying areas.

In the Chilean capital of Santiago, 200 miles (325 kilometers) northeast of the epicenter, a car dangled from a collapsed overpass, the national Fine Arts Museum was badly damaged and an apartment building's two-story parking lot pancaked, smashing about 50 cars whose alarms rang incessantly.

The jolt set off a tsunami that raced across the Pacific, setting off alarm sirens in Hawaii, Polynesia and Tonga. Tahitian officials banned all traffic on roads less than 1,600 feet (500 meters) from the sea and people in several low-lying island nations were urged to find higher ground.

Hawaii could face its largest waves since 1964 starting at 11:19 a.m. (4:19 p.m. EST, 2119 GMT), according to Charles McCreery, director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Officials evacuated people and boats near the water and closed shore-side Hilo International Airport. [...]

The article goes on to say that on May 22nd, 1960, a magnitude 9.5 quake in the same area killed 1,655 people, and left two million people homeless. It also produced deadly tsunami waves.

Waves are supposed to reach us here at 14:02 PST. I doubt they will be very dangerous, because of the angle it's coming from. But places like Hawaii, that are in the direct path of the released forces, have real cause for concern.

The death toll is expected to rise. No doubt the architecture in Chile is better now than it was in 1960, but I suspect there is a lot more people living there now, too. We shall see as the situation unfolds.

The photo of the apartment building on it's side is quite unnerving. As are many of the photos coming from Chile now.
     

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Message from the Summit: A bipartisan health care reform agreement can only be achieved when the Republicans sign on to Democrat ideas

That would seem to be the Democrats definition of "bipartisan".

From Neal Boortz:
THINGS WE LEARNED FROM THE HEALTHCARE SUMMIT
So yesterday's summit on healthcare was a big snoozer. I'm sorry, it was. For those of you who took the time to watch it, I commend you for being engaged. What was being discussed in that room will affect you life far more than American Idol or Entertainment Tonight. But we did come away from this summit with a clearer understand of a few things. So here we go with a list of things we learned from yesterday's healthcare summit.

* Barack Obama is the president. Got it?

* John McCain is NOT the president (and he may be very bitter about that)

* The GOP was worried that it would look like Obama was "standing up there like God" over them. Well the guy is "sort of a God" .. isn't he?

* Nancy Pelosi says their healthcare bill will create 4 million jobs

* Nancy Pelosi is worried about your health "security"

* The Republicans want to start over. The Democrats don't.

* CBO results can be skewed to support whatever you want them to support

* Obama doesn't appreciate it when Republicans bring the Democrat healthcare bill to a summit on healthcare reform

* Now what?

* Any ideas that the Republicans bring to the health care debate were essentially out of order because they aren't part of the Democrat plan and, thus, aren't really on the discussion agenda.

* A bipartisan health care reform agreement can only be achieved when the Republicans sign on to Democrat ideas.

* I would have loved to hear Lamar Alexander say "Excuse me, Mr. President, but you're the one who called this summit. Did you call us here to listen to you say the same things you've been saying for a year, or did you call us here to listen to and give some consideration to different ideas?"


THE TALK CLOCK
Here's the minute-by-minute talking time count of the health care summit yesterday.

DEMOCRATS (including President Obama) 233 minutes.

REPUBLICANS 110 minutes.

OBAMA solo 119 minutes

Someone out there really loves the sound of his own voice. But then I wasn't at the summit.


WHAT DID THE VOTERS THINK?
For this we go to Frank Luntz.

Watching Luntz this morning discussing the summit with a panel in Philadelphia. The overwhelming majority felt that the Republicans looked better and made better points at the summit. One detractor said the Republicans came with props. Well .. that certainly put the Republicans in their place, didn't it?

Another panel member says that the Democrats were totally condescending to the Republicans.

Here's the amazing part. After the Republicans discussed ideas such as tort reform, selling health insurance across state lines and creating insurance pools, there were still a few members of this panel who stated that the Republicans had no ideas, only objections.

Can we get a big WTF out there?

No ideas? It would seem that some of the Democrats are following the adage that, if you repeat a lie often enough, people will start to believe it's true.

Just for the record, the actual definition of bipartisan is:
Representing, characterized by, or including members from two parties or factions.
Unless Republican ideas are also included in any healthcare reform legislation, it won't be bipartisan. Duh.
     

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The origins of the game "Chinese Checkers"


It isn't from China, or even Asia. It's from America, via Germany, via America again, via the British:

Chinese checkers - History
[...] Despite being called “Chinese Checkers”, the game did not originate in China or any part of Asia, nor is it a variation of checkers. The game was invented in Germany in 1893 under the name “Stern-Halma”, as a variation on the older American game of Halma.[1] The “Stern” (German for star) refers to the star-shape of the board (in contrast with the square board of Halma). The name “Chinese checkers” originated in the United States, as a marketing scheme by Bill and Jack Pressman in 1928. The Pressman company's game was originally called "Hop Ching Checkers". [...]

It eventually made it's way to China, via the Japanese. Whodathunkit? More here:


The Mystique of Chinese Checkers
You may have grown up playing with one. And, if you rummage through your attic, chances are you may still find that game board with the six-pointed star called Chinese checkers. Despite its simplicity and popularity with people of all ages, the curious thing about Chinese checkers is that it is neither Chinese in origin nor a game of checkers.

The origin of Chinese checkers can be traced to "Halma," that became popular in Great Britain in the 1870s, and which in turn was based on an older British board game called "Hoppity." The six-pointed star, or "Stern," was later introduced in 1892 into the board by the German game company, Ravensburger, and called the game "Stern-Halma." Then, in 1928, latching on to the interest in the Oriental mystique sweeping the world at that time, such as the introduction of Mah Jong in 1923 and the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922, J. Pressman & Co. called it "Chinese Checkers." A craze for the game hit America in the 1930s. Despite the popularity of the game, its past was not totally obliterated and is still called Halma in Germany where it is still played under the original rules. [...]

I ended up researching this topic a bit, because Patrick bought a foot-stool at a thrift shop today, that turned out to have a board game compartment under the cushion, with games like chess, checkers, and Chinese checkers. We were speculating about the origin of Chinese checkers, so I looked it up.

There is more history, with photos too, here:

Halma & Chinese Checkers


     

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I have a new favorite Sci-Fi AI: "GERTY"

We watched the movie "Moon" last night. It was a rather low-budget sci-fi flick. Some of the special effects were just a little bit... well, not big budget, but really not bad either. I could pick the film to pieces on some points, but overall, it was different enough and enjoyable enough. I liked it.

I won't talk about the story, because it would be too easy to spoil it. But one of the things I liked best was the Artificial Intelligence character, the robot companion called GERTY.


At first it may seem that this machine is a lot like the malevolent computer "HAL" from the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey". But as the story progresses, you find out that the robot's relationship to the Astronaut, and the situation, is more... complex.

The robot itself is pretty cool, it even has a detached arm with three fingers, that moves around separately but works with the robot. GERTY also has a rather icky "emoticon" screen, which can be both creepy and poignant at times.

I would think that by the time people can build a base on the moon, they would be able to come up with something better than an emoticon screen. We already have software like People Putty, that can do a better job than an emoticon. Surely in the future there would be software at least as good or even better? But yes, I am nit-picking. Here are some clips from the movie, scenes with GERTY.

*** SPOILER ALERT! *** If you haven't seen the movie yet, then beware, the clips give away some of the story:



I can't say much more without spoiling it. If you like sci-fi and robots/AI, you will probably enjoy this flick.

Meanwhile, if you want to have your own HAL/GERTY at home on your own PC, check out some of these links:

Ultra Hal Assistant 6.2

Ultra HAL, your personal computer assistant

Ultra Hal: His "Second Life" is really his first one

Haptek products and downloads

Artificial voice synthesis, 1939 to the present




Enjoy!

     

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The Cracked-pots in the Tea Party Movment

The Tea Party and Extremism
Two weeks ago, I said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY: Some of these Tea Party people are nuts. They are. They're crazy. I mean, we sent Jesse Watters down there, and he puts the number at about 10 percent that are just loons, out of their mind. Every group has that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

And that's true. No matter what group you're talking about, you'll find loons.

Enter The New York Times, which is finally taking the Tea Party seriously. In a front-page article Tuesday, they put forth that Tea Party people are primarily extremists. They lump in the John Birch Society, the Patriot movement, Friends for Liberty and other groups that are on the fringe.

The Times also attempts to link Fox News to Tea Party extremists.

"Talking Points" predicted this would happen; that a movement with the potential power of the Tea Party would be attacked by the left-wing media. At first, The Times ignored the Tea Party. Now it's trying to diminish the brand.

But the Tea Party people themselves should be careful. Most Americans are not ideologues. They are just folks who want a fair system and a noble country. Every time a Tea Party person threatens to overthrow the government or other nonsense, the brand gets hammered.

That being said, the Tea Party movement is at a disadvantage. There's no central authority. Every Tea Party group is different. There's no party platform other than disenchantment with big government. With that kind of structure, you can expect chaos and some extremism, which the liberal media will use that to attack the Tea Party.

"Talking Points" has always admired sincere Americans who get involved in trying to improve their country, and that is what most Tea Party people do. They are regular folks who are fed up. [...]

Exactly. Every group has their fringe. Trying to paint all the tea party folks as fringe extremists is just disingenuous partisan obfuscation.

Crackpots always try to hitch their agenda to other peoples wagons. It's something everyone has to watch out for.


Also see:

Tea Party impostors
     

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Finally, a Change I can Believe In

At last, President Obama is about to do something I can approve of:

Obama to announce financing for two nuclear reactors
President Barack Obama will announce on Tuesday plans for the government to help finance the construction of two nuclear reactors -- the first in nearly 30 years, a top US official said.

Obama, who has advocated reducing foreign energy dependency and cutting back on greenhouse gases, will use a 2005 law that authorizes the Energy Department to guarantee loans to projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama "has long believed that nuclear power should be part of our energy mix," a senior administration told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

[...]

Currently only 20 percent of the country's energy needs are met by nuclear power.

The operation will result in some 3,000 construction jobs, and eventually some 850 permanent jobs, the official said, citing company figures. [...]

Hooray! Nuclear power is safer than it's ever been. 80% of nuclear waste can be recycled and rendered harmless. The rest can be stored safely until technological advances allow us to recycle it as well. It's a genuine "green" answer to the quest for clean energy.

No doubt the Leftist "Watermelons" (green on the outside, red on the inside) will fight this. They may yet sandbag Obama's plans, but on this issue, I'll be firmly rooting for the President.

It was once said that only Nixon could go to China. Well maybe only Obama can build nuclear power plants. We shall see!


Also see:

Small nuclear reactors?
[...] The other day I read (I'm not sure where) that we should build small nuclear reactors instead of big ones. There are real problems with big reactors such earthquakes on the West Coast, the NIMBY syndrome and especially red tape. Whoever wrote that mentioned how we had the Army Corps of Engineers building dams and wondered why we couldn't use the Navy's atomic engineers to run small civilian nuclear reactors such as those which power some of our submarines and other warships. [...]

Read the whole thing. For a variety of reasons, small reactors may be the best answer to the worlds energy needs.
     

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Another Clueless Obama Administrator

National security nightmare: John Brennan and the notorious flying imam
It's outrageous. Is ANYONE in the Obama administration paying attention to what's going on around them, or even who they are talking to?

     

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Oregon tax hikes lead to cut jobs, higher prices

Portland Business Journal: Tax hikes create anxiety
After voters approve increases, companies plan layoffs, shut divisions, consider moving
Barely two weeks after Oregonians increased taxes on businesses, some doomsday scenarios are coming true, with businesses employing hundreds of workers planning layoffs, shuttering divisions, delaying expansions or moving their businesses altogether.

Among the activity:

• Comnet Marketing Group Inc., a Medford-based telephone survey group, will move most of its 150 jobs within four years. It is also foregoing expansions that would have added another 150 jobs to its Oregon work force.

• Blue Line Transportation Co., a Portland trucking firm, will likely move a division that generates $2 million in annual sales to Idaho. The hikes would have boosted the division’s yearly taxes to $10,000.

• MLS Inc., a 52-year-old publishing firm that specializes in small newspaper printing, is also considering whether to remain in Eugene.

• Farmers and agricultural suppliers have also told the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation that they’ve shed workers.

• Even established companies wonder whether the new taxes will force them out of business.

The 74-year-old Star Oilco laid off one of its 15 employees in anticipation of paying the 2009 retroactive taxes. The Portland fuel distributor, which operates on margins ranging between 0.5 percent and 2 percent, would need to earn an extra $81 a day to pay its $15,000 corporate minimum tax bill. [...]

Read the whole thing for more details. Firms that stay are planning price hikes to stay in business. There are no free rides. The California disease, redux.


Related Links:

Oregon; following California's example?

Oregon nears highest income tax in the nation
     

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Solar activity and it's disruption of GPS functions

Sunspot activity is becoming stronger than it's been in many years. During the past several years, GPS technology has been dramatically increasing in use. It will now be facing interference on a scale not seen before. Are we ready for it?


Solar flares set to wreak havoc on GPS signals
The sun's activity isn't usually a hot topic around these parts, but when it threatens to derail satellite navigation services around the world, it must surely take center stage. UK researchers have corroborated Cornell's 2006 warning that our solar system's main life-giver is about to wake up and head toward a new solar maximum -- a period of elevated surface activity and radiation. It is precisely that radiation, which can be perceived in the form of solar flares, that worries people with respect to GPS signaling, as its effects on the Earth's ionosphere are likely to cause delays in data transmission from satellites to receivers and thereby result in triangulation errors. Still, it's more likely to be "troublesome than dangerous," but inaccuracies of around 10 meters and signal blackouts that could last for hours are being forecast in the absence of any intervening steps being taken. So yes, you now have another reason not to trust your GPS too much.

Follow the link to the orginal post on Engadget, which has embedded links.


GPS set for problems from the Sun
Researchers say the Sun is awakening after a period of low activity, which does not bode well for a world ever more dependent on satellite navigation.

The Sun's irregular activity can wreak havoc with the weak sat-nav signals we use.

The last time the Sun reached a peak in activity, satellite navigation was barely a consumer product.

But the Sun is on its way to another solar maximum, which could generate large and unpredictable sat-nav errors.

The satellite navigation concept is embodied currently by the US GPS system and Russia's Glonass network, with contenders to come in the form of Europe's Galileo constellation and China's Compass system.

It depends on what is - at its root - a simple triangulation calculation.

A fleet of satellites circling the Earth are constantly beaming a radio signal with two bits of exceptionally precise information: where exactly they are, and at exactly what time.

A sat-nav receiver on Earth - or on a ship or plane - is equipped with a fairly precise clock and the means to collect signals from the satellites that happen to be in its line of sight.

It then works out, based on how long it took those signals to arrive, how far it is from each of those satellites. Some simple geometry yields its position.

• 1. Satellites advertise their exact position, and the precise time at which they are sending it

• 2. The signal travels through the outer atmosphere, the ionosphere; its speed depends on how much the Sun's radiation and particle winds are affecting the ionosphere's composition

• 3. A receiver on Earth determines how long the signals took to arrive from a number of satellites, calculating the position from the time differences


But those signals are incredibly weak and, as researchers have only recently begun to learn, sensitive to the activity on the Sun.

Solar flares - vast exhalations of magnetic energy from the Sun's surface - spray out radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from low-energy radio waves through to high-energy gamma-rays, along with bursts of high-energy particles toward the Earth.

The radiation or waves that come from the Sun can make sat-nav receivers unable to pick out the weak signal from satellites from the solar flare's aftermath.

There is little that current technology can do to mitigate this problem, with the exception of complex directional antennas used in military applications.

Sat-nav receivers will be blinded for tens of minutes, probably a few times a year at the solar maximum.

Charged up

A further complication comes from the nature of the outermost layer of the Earth's atmosphere, the ionosphere.

That is composed in part of particles that have ionised, or been ripped apart by radiation from the Sun, with the composition dependent on how much radiation is coming from the Sun at a given time. [...]

Read the whole thing for further explanation and details.


Another detailed article from the BBC is here:

Sat-nav devices face big errors as solar activity rises

It explains the problem well, and even offers some suggestions for how it might be coped with in some instances.
     

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Iran continues crushing all opposition

Iran crushes opposition protests with violence
ran’s regime thwarted the opposition’s hopes of turning the 31st anniversary celebrations of the Islamic revolution into another massive protest today.

It out-manoeuvred the so-called Green movement by swamping the official proceedings with huge numbers of its own supporters, preventing the media from covering anything else and blanketing the rest of the capital with security forces who forcefully suppressed the opposition’s relatively muted demonstrations.

President Ahmadinejad also sought to grab the headlines and divert attention from the protests by announcing that Iran had produced its first stock of 20 per cent-enriched uranium. He declared that Iran was now a “nuclear state”.

Opposition websites claimed a young woman named Leila Zareii, was killed and many others were wounded or arrested. The opposition leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammed Khatami - a former president - were attacked, as was Zahra Rahnavard, wife of the Green Movement’s other leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Even Zahra Eshraghi, granddaughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 revolution, was briefly arrested. She and her brother, Hassan, are both opposition sympathisers and she is married to Mr Khatami’s brother.

[...]

Opposition websites said Revolutionary Guards and basiji militiamen were stationed everywhere and that they moved swiftly and violently to break up opposition demonstrations.

They claimed the security forces used live ammunition, knives, teargas and paintballs that would enable them to identify protesters later and that they were beating and arresting women as well as men. They were backed up by water canon, new Chinese anti-riot vehicles and helicopters. Some, wearing plain clothes, infiltrated the protesters. The mobile telephone, internet and text messaging systems were seriously disrupted. [...]

Here is further reporting from an Iranian blogger:

Full Account of What Happened to Karroubi the Lion Heart This Morning
Many of Karroubi's known supporters and associates were rounded up in recent days, some were imprisoned and some were forced to make written pledges not to take part in the protests today. Karroubi himself had received such a letter. Despite all this intimidation Karroubi set out to join the protesters at Sadeghieh Sq. at 10:00 am Tehran time as he had promised. From 8:00 am this morning however there were heavy clashes between people and the repressive forces around Sadeghieh Sq. The special units kept dispersing the people but the people kept returning.

Approaching Sadeghieh Sq. Karroubi decided to get out of his car and walk the rest of the way to Sadeghieh Sq. due to heavy car traffic. Around 500 people spontaneously started walking behind Karoubi without any chanting. After they had walked for 200 metres, a large group of hired thugs and Special Units on motor bikes attacked Karroubi and the people around him using machetes, knives and truncheons. They also used tear gas and shot people with paint pellets so that the paint marks would identify them later. The clashes were very severe and lasted 4 to 5 minutes. One of Karroubi's bodyguards was hurt very badly and is in critical condition in hospital. Karroubi was finally whisked away and a car driver offered to take Karroubi away. Hired thugs then spotted the car driver and smashed his windscreen and windows but the driver put his foot down on the accelerator and managed to get away. [...]

Of course the Western Leftists turn a blind eye to it all:

More Treachery by UK Universities

The Iranian regime has many enablers among Western Leftists.
     

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Space shuttle delivers viewing window to ISS



Endeavour to Deliver a Room With a View
The International Space Station has been moving steadily closer to completion for the past several years. But what house is complete without a utility room, a gym and a picture window?

During the STS-130 mission, space shuttle Endeavour will deliver the Tranquility node and its cupola, a dome-shaped extension from Tranquility made up of seven windows. They will be the last major U.S. modules to be added to the space station, and together they’ll help clear out premium workspace in other areas of the station – as well as offer a window on the world.

At 15 feet wide and 23 feet long, the Tranquility node will provide a centralized home for the station’s environmental control equipment – one of the systems that remove carbon dioxide from the station’s air, one of the station’s bathrooms and the equipment that converts urine into drinkable water, all of which is currently taking up space in the Destiny laboratory. And there’s enough room left over to house the station’s new treadmill and its microgravity equivalent of a weight machine, moving it out of the Unity node where it’s in the way whenever spacewalk preparations are going on inside the adjacent Quest airlock.

“It gives us a much needed addition to the house, so to speak,” said Bob Dempsey, lead space station flight director for the mission. “We’re getting to the point where we’re really cramped for space. You might be surprised at that, considering we’re essentially the volume of a 747 and we’ve been adding modules for the last couple of years. You might think we’d be sitting around in a big empty house. But no – every inch is really getting packed up there.”

STS-130 Commander George Zamka put it another way.

“It’s like exercising in the office,” he said. “This will be a more logical organization, more focused.”




Though the node has an intensely practical function, there are still fanciful aspects to Tranquility. For one, its name, which was chosen with the help of a naming contest on NASA.gov.

“It harkens back to the Sea of Tranquility, where humans made their very first tentative landing on the moon,” Zamka said. “They were only there for a few hours, and it was at the very limits of what human beings could do. From that beginning, we’re now putting up a node that will house the majority of the life support equipment for the station, where we’re going to have a permanent presence in space.”

But everyone agrees that the real scope for the imagination will be provided by Tranquility’s 6.5-by-5-foot annex: the cupola. Its true purpose will be to provide a true view of robotics operations on the station’s exterior – such as those that will be required when the next module, the Russian Rassvet, is added during STS-132 – and in that it will be invaluable.

“Out the window is the truth,” Zamka said. “The video views that we use now, you’re trying to stick together and have a mental image of where things are. When you look out the window, you don’t have to imagine. It’s all right there for you.”

But there’s no question that many people – including Zamka – are looking forward to looking out of it for other views.

“Just the idea of providing this great view of the station and the world beneath us is going to be pretty great,” he said. “That’s not what it’s for, but it will be spectacular.” [...]

A pretty neat combination of form and function, it's both practical and fanciful. Follow the link for more pics and information.



     

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New Solar Probe to Launch Thursday

Launch of rocket with solar probe reset for Thursday
(CNN) -- NASA has postponed for one day the scheduled launch of a rocket carrying a solar probe.

The space agency plans to launch an Atlas V rocket carrying its Solar Dynamics Observatory, which it says will study the sun "in greater detail than ever before."

[...]

The agency says the observatory will provide a better understanding of the sun and its role in space weather events such as solar flares, which can wreak havoc on Earth.

The observatory is designed to deliver solar images with resolution 10 times better than high-definition television, according to NASA.

The five-year mission "will determine how the sun's magnetic field is generated, structured and converted into violent solar events like turbulent solar wind, solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections," according to the agency.

The solar wind, a stream of electrically charged particles flowing out from the sun, fills the entire solar system with charged particles and magnetic fields, according to NASA.

Solar flares are actual explosions in the sun's atmosphere, the largest of them equal to billions of one-megaton nuclear bombs. And Coronal Mass Ejections, or CMEs, are eruptions that launch solar material into space at a high rate of speed.

Such events can put astronauts at risk, as well as aircraft flying over Earth's North or South Poles, and can also disrupt satellite communications, navigational systems and power grids, NASA said. In 1969, for instance, a solar current knocked a power grid serving Quebec, Canada, off-line for nine hours. "That's a direct impact on life and society," said Richard Fisher, director of NASA's Heliophysics Division.

[...]

There's no way to predict space weather. Officials hope the Solar Dynamics Observatory can provide information to help change that.

"This is the most advanced spacecraft we've ever designed to study the sun and its dynamic behavior," Fisher said. The sun, he said, "has this trick of converting magnetic energy into other kinds of energy that can affect the Earth."

"I believe we're up to the point now where we can probably predict when something like this is more or less likely and you can at least take precautions," Fisher said about solar weather. A warning system, for example, could help power grid operators avoid an outage by taking some of the grid's load off or finding alternative configurations.

The sun's effect wasn't an issue for the Earth until the technological advances in electronics over the last hundred years, he said.

The observatory is "going to give us good awareness of the dynamics of the sun, and we're going to be able to make estimates on when we should take precautions with our satellites or with airline operations or with Department of Defense systems," Fisher said. "We have an increasing pressure on science to try and predict what's going to happen on the sun, and that's the scientific bent of this (SDO) satellite, is to try to get a handle on it." [...]

The solar storm they mention, affecting Qubec in 1969. I think they meant 1989 (see link below). The damage done to Quebec's power grid very nearly had a domino effect that came close to bringing down much of the power grid on the North American continent. A huge disaster that was only narrowly avoided.

This is very important solar research. We are continually becoming more and more dependent on advanced electronics, which are increasingly fragile and vulnerable to solar weather. We need a warning system, so we can take precautions to protect our electronic infrastructure. Failure is not an option.


Also see:

Solar Flare: The "Carrington Event" of 1859

The Solar Storm that hit Quebec in 1989

     

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Is the EU’s currency, the euro, in trouble?

Apparently the Euro is threatened, because of Spain and Greece:

The EU’s Horrible Honeymoon
[...] At this point Europe is not even halfway its 100-day political “honeymoon” since the Treaty of Lisbon, which transformed the EU into a state in its own right, came into force. So far the honeymoon has been a nightmare. Since the beginning of the year, the EU’s currency, the euro, is on the brink of collapse; Greece has been placed under EU financial supervision to prevent it from going bankrupt. Now U.S. President Barack Obama has announced that he will not attend next May’s EU summit in Madrid. It was to have been Obama’s first visit to post-Lisbon Europe – the consecration of the new political order.

[...]

Although Obama’s snub hurts Europe’s pride, the euro’s monetary problems are far more serious. They not only affect Europe’s finances and economy, but may also tear down the political EU framework. When the European Commission placed Athens under EU supervision last week, Greece was almost bankrupt. Brussels has forced the Greek government to present a plan to drastically reduce its budget deficit from 13% to 3% by the end of 2012. The plan will cost the Greeks blood, sweat and tears. It includes a freeze on civil service wages and the postponement of the retirement age. Brussels has invoked new EU powers under Article 121 of the Lisbon Treaty, which allow it to reshape the structure of Greece’s pensions, healthcare, labor market and private commerce.

“The envisaged correction of the deficit is feasible but subject to risks,” says EU Commission President Barroso – an understatement. The Commission fears a backlash from the Greek unions, who might organize strikes and bring down the Greek government. Trade unions in other countries are nervous, too. They warn that it is unacceptable that the European Commission intervenes in setting national wages.

The EU’s Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia declared that the Greek targets will be enforced strongly and that, if necessary, even more draconian measures will be taken. “Every time we see or perceive slippages, we will ask for additional measures to correct these slippages. Never before have we established so detailed and tough a system of surveillance,” Almunia said. He has demanded quarterly updates on progress towards reduction targets, as well as a first report on 16 March. “This is the first time,” he said, “we have established such an intense and quasi-permanent system of monitoring.”

Much is at stake. In the coming weeks, the strength of the euro will depend on whether the markets believe that the government in Athens is strong enough to implement the reforms or trust that the other eurozone countries will bail out the Greeks. This year the eurozone governments have already borrowed a record €110bn from the markets, thereby forcing up the cost of borrowing for countries with the weakest public finances, such as Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy.

[...]

Even if the situation in Greece can be stabilized, the EU’s nightmare is far from over. The next eurozone dominos that might fall are Portugal and Spain. Portugal’s deficit reached 9.3% of GDP last year, Spain’s 11.4%. [...]

The article describes how there is a great deal of resistance to the idea of "bailing out" Greece, and that Greece may even be "excluded from the Eurozone" before a bailout were allowed to happen, although such an exclusion would contravene the laws of the EU.

But worse still, is the threat of Spain's financial collapse. It has the fourth largest economy in the EU. If it fails, it will be devastating for the EU.

     

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Afganistan, Iraq wars, worse than useless

Diana West received a letter from one soldier, who is very frank in his assessment of what we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's devastating:

How Muslims Defeated the United States
Today, I am posting an extraordinary letter from a soldier currently stationed in Iraq, a sometime penpal of mine to whom I sent my three-part series on the aftermath of the surge to elicit his opinion. Knowing how thoughtful he is, I expected a substantive response. Given his time constraints alone, I did not expect an essay of this scope and I decided, with his permission, to present it here. It is unlike any commentary I have read from Iraq; it is both coolly reasoned and deeply passionate, and certain to challenge and disturb readers across the political spectrum: PC-believing liberals, Iraq-as-success-believing conservatives, Islam-as-a-religion-of-peaceniks of both Left and Right. [...]

She prints his letter in it's entirety. It's not what most of us would like to hear. I don't agree with everything he says, but enough of it rings true to find it very disturbing. What have we done, what are we doing, and what are the likely long-term consequences? If this soldier is correct, we may not like the answers to those questions. In any case, we shall see as time goes on.
     

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Bipartisianship? Not without genuine liberals

Gerard Alexander: Why are liberals so condescending?
Every political community includes some members who insist that their side has all the answers and that their adversaries are idiots. But American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration. Indeed, all the appeals to bipartisanship notwithstanding, President Obama and other leading liberal voices have joined in a chorus of intellectual condescension.

[...]

This condescension is part of a liberal tradition that for generations has impoverished American debates over the economy, society and the functions of government -- and threatens to do so again today, when dialogue would be more valuable than ever.

[...]

Indeed, when the president met with House Republicans in Baltimore recently, he assured them that he considers their ideas, but he then rejected their motives in virtually the same breath.

"There may be other ideas that you guys have," Obama said. "I am happy to look at them, and I'm happy to embrace them. . . . But the question I think we're going to have to ask ourselves is, as we move forward, are we going to be examining each of these issues based on what's good for the country, what the evidence tells us, or are we going to be trying to position ourselves so that come November, we're able to say, 'The other party, it's their fault'?" [...]

I'm tired of this grandstanding. The article goes into great detail, with many examples, of how the left refuses to listen to anything the right has to say. Yet it also acknowleges some similar resistance on the right, though it claims it's less prevelant.

Liberal isn't a dirty word to me, so I hate the way the word is used in this article. But it gets used like this, because so many people who are calling themselves liberal are really anything but.

A genuine liberal is easygoing, open-minded, and is flexible; not rigidly ideological. I think that description fits a lot of independents and people near the political center: conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. Their voices need to be heard more, because it is they who can bring about genuine bipartisan consensus where it's desperately needed.

All the rest of it is too much fiddling, while Rome burns. Enough already.
     

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Monday, February 08, 2010

House GOP responds to Obama's Heath Care Summit Invite: The sad truth about it all

From NRO's The Corner:
Monday, February 08, 2010

House GOP Responds to Summit Invite [Robert Costa]

House GOP Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Whip Eric Cantor (R., Va.) just sent White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel a letter regarding the upcoming health-care summit:

Mr. Emanuel:

We welcome President Obama’s announcement of forthcoming bipartisan health care talks. In fact, you may remember that last May, Republicans asked President Obama to hold bipartisan discussions on health care in an attempt to find common ground on health care, but he declined and instead chose to work with only Democrats. Since then, the President has given dozens of speeches on health care reform, operating under the premise that the more the American people learn about his plan, the more they will come to like it. Just the opposite has occurred: a majority of Americans oppose the House and Senate health care bills and want them scrapped so we can start over with a step-by-step approach focused on lowering costs for families and small businesses.

Just as important, scrapping the House and Senate health care bills would help end the uncertainty they are creating for workers and businesses and thus strengthen our shared commitment to focusing on creating jobs. Assuming the President is sincere about moving forward on health care in a bipartisan way, does that mean he will agree to start over so that we can develop a bill that is truly worthy of the support and confidence of the American people? Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said today that the President is “absolutely not” resetting the legislative process for health care.

If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate. Assuming the President is sincere about moving forward in a bipartisan way, does that mean he has taken off the table the idea of relying solely on Democratic votes and jamming through health care reform by way of reconciliation? As the President has noted recently, Democrats continue to hold large majorities in the House and Senate, which means they can attempt to pass a health care bill at any time through the reconciliation process.

Eliminating the possibility of reconciliation would represent an important show of good faith to Republicans and the American people.If the President intends to present any kind of legislative proposal at this discussion, will he make it available to members of Congress and the American people at least 72 hours beforehand? Our ability to move forward in a bipartisan way through this discussion rests on openness and transparency. Will the President include in this discussion congressional Democrats who have opposed the House and Senate health care bills? This bipartisan discussion should reflect the bipartisan opposition to both the House bill and the kickbacks and sweetheart deals in the Senate bill. Will the President be inviting officials and lawmakers from the states to participate in this discussion?

As you may know, legislation has been introduced in at least 36 state legislatures, similar to the proposal just passed by the Democratic-controlled Virginia State Senate, providing that no individual may be compelled to purchase health insurance. Additionally, governors of both parties have raised concerns about the additional costs that will be passed along to states under both the House and Senate bills. The President has also mentioned his commitment to have “experts” participate in health care discussions.

Will the Feb. 25 discussion involve such "experts?" Will those experts include the actuaries at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), who have determined that the both the House and Senate health care bill raise costs – just the opposite of their intended effect – and jeopardize seniors’ access to high-quality care by imposing massive Medicare cuts? Will those experts include the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which has stated that the GOP alternative would reduce premiums by up to 10 percent? Also, will Republicans be permitted to invite health care experts to participate? Finally, as you know, this is the first televised White House health care meeting involving the President since last March.

Many health care meetings of the closed-door variety have been held at the White House since then, including one where a sweetheart deal was worked out with union leaders. Will the special interest groups that the Obama Administration has cut deals with be included in this televised discussion?Of course, Americans have been dismayed by the fact that the President has broken his own pledge to hold televised health care talks. We can only hope this televised discussion is the beginning, not the end, of attempting to correct that mistake. Will the President require that any and all future health care discussions, including those held on Capitol Hill, meet this common-sense standard of transparency and openness?

Your answers to these critical questions will help determine whether this will be a truly open, bipartisan discussion or merely an intramural exercise before Democrats attempt to jam through a job-killing health care bill that the American people can’t afford and don’t support. ‘Bipartisanship’ is not writing proposals of your own behind closed doors, then unveiling them and demanding Republican support. Bipartisan ends require bipartisan means.These questions are also designed to try and make sense of the widening gap between the President’s rhetoric on bipartisanship and the reality. We cannot help but notice that each of the President’s recent bipartisan overtures has been coupled with harsh, misleading partisan attacks. For instance, the President decries Republican ‘obstruction’ when it was Republicans who first proposed bipartisan health care talks last May.

The President says Republicans are ‘sitting on the sidelines’ just days after holding up our health care alternative and reading from it word for word. The President has every right to use his bully pulpit as he sees fit, but this is the kind of credibility gap that has the American people so fed up with business as usual in Washington.We look forward to receiving your answers and continuing to discuss ways we can move forward in a bipartisan manner to address the challenges facing the American people.

Sincerely,

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH)

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA)

I'm tired of the repeated lies that Republicans have no alternatives to the Democrats plans, and most of the Media going along with it. I sincerely hope that game is now over. Enough is enough:

Obama’s Kabuki summit invitation: Just say no
Please.

The White House spends a full year trashing Republicans for having no ideas on health care reform.

The White House spend a full year promising transparency while subverting it.

And now, after a year’s worth of closed backroom meetings and midnight holiday weekend legislative sessions in which Republicans had severely curtailed ability to offer amendments, President Obama wants to invite them to a televised health care summit to talk about the GOP alternatives he said didn’t exist?

[...]

Unlike the question-time session with Republicans, the White House political machine will be in full control of the staging.

Republicans should feel zero obligation to participate in yet another White House health care dog-and-pony show:

Just say no.

If Obama really wants to learn about GOP health care reform plans, he can look them up online, where they have been for months.

Here is Sen. Jim Demint’s Health Care Freedom Plan.

And here is the here is the Patients’ Choice Act of Sens. Coburn and Burr and Reps. Ryan and Nunes.

And here is House GOP leader Boehner’s health care reform page.

Obama has enough human stage props to feed his ego and advance his agenda.

Republicans should not be a party to it.

***

Here’s an idea: Republicans can tell Obama they’ll participate in his health care summit after he provides transcripts of his s backroom meetings with Big Labor/SEIU. [...]

The MSM clearly doesn't want to talk about Republican ideas, but I think most Americans would welcome a genuinely bi-partisan approach, and a completely transparent process.

Are the Democrats going to try to ram their bills through anyway? I think they might. It's hard to believe that things have gotten this bad already.
     

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Will literacy become a thing of the past, to be replaced by a new VIVOlutionary "oral" culture?

I came across this book, which seems to predict the end of written language as being not only inevitable, but also as a good thing! Listening replaces reading:


VIVO [Voice-In/Voice-Out]: The Coming Age of Talking Computers
Review
"A welcome addition to the discussion about voice-recognition technology and the social implications of talking computers." -- Edward Cornish, President, World Future Society, Bethesda, Maryland

"Audacious and mind-stretching. Crossman sees our reliance on the printed word coming rapidly to an honorable end." -- Arthur B. Shostak, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"If you are an educator, you need to read this book." -- Les Gottesman, Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California

Product Description
A positive look at how talking computers, VIVOs, will make text/written langauge obsolete, replace all writing and reading with speech and graphics, democratize information flow worldwide, and recreate an oral culture by 2050.

Text is an ancient technology for storing and retrieving information; VIVOs will do the same job more quickly, efficiently, and universally. Among VIVO's potential benefits: 80% of the world's people are functionally nonliterate; they will be able to use VIVOs to access all information without having to learn to read and write.

VIVO's instantaneous translation function will let people speak with other people around the world using their own native languages. People whose disabilities prevent them from reading and/or writing will be able to access all information.

Four "engines" are driving us irreversibly into the VIVO Age and oral culture: human evolution, technological breakthroughs, young people's rejection of text, and people's demand for text-less, universal access to information.

Future generations, using eight key VIVOlutionary learning skills, will radically change education, human relations, politics, the arts, business, our relation to the environment, and even human consciousness itself. Worldwide access to VIVO technology looms as a key human rights issue of the 21st century.

Clearly the trend exists. I've seen in my lifetime, people reading less and less; getting their information from TV, radio, videos and movies, more than reading. But will it go so far as to actually make text and reading obsolete?

Imagine if there is a blackout or prolonged power outage. Nobody can read, because they get all their information from electronic devices that talk to them. Suddenly, everyone is a dumb-ass moron, until the power comes on again? Are we just becoming too dependent on electronic devices? If power goes out for an extended time, due to either natural or man-made causes, an illiterate population with no books would be in double trouble.

Oh Brave New World, with such (illiterate) people in it...
     

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

National Debt, Deficits and our National Security

Deficit Balloons Into National-Security Threat
[...] The U.S. government this year will borrow one of every three dollars it spends, with many of those funds coming from foreign countries. That weakens America's standing and its freedom to act; strengthens China and other world powers including cash-rich oil producers; puts long-term defense spending at risk; undermines the power of the American system as a model for developing countries; and reduces the aura of power that has been a great intangible asset for presidents for more than a century.

"We've reached a point now where there's an intimate link between our solvency and our national security," says Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a senior national-security adviser in both the first and second Bush presidencies. "What's so discouraging is that our domestic politics don't seem to be up to the challenge. And the whole world is watching."

In the 21st-century world order, the classic, narrow definition of national-security threats already has expanded in ways that make traditional foreign-policy thinking antiquated. The list of American security concerns now includes dependence on foreign oil and global warming, for example.

Consider just four of the ways that budget deficits also threaten American's national security:

• They make America vulnerable to foreign pressures.

The U.S. has about $7.5 trillion in accumulated debt held by the public, about half of that in the hands of investors abroad.

Aside from the fact that each American next year will chip in more than $800 just to pay interest on this debt, that situation means America's government is dependent on the largesse of foreign creditors and subject to the whims of international financial markets. A foreign government, through the actions of its central bank, could put pressure on the U.S. in a way its military never could. Even under a more benign scenario, a debt-ridden U.S. is vulnerable to a run on the American dollar that begins abroad.

Either way, Mr. Haass says, "it reduces our independence."

• Chinese power is growing as a result.

A lot of the deficit is being financed by China, which is selling the U.S. many billions of dollars of manufactured goods, then lending the accumulated dollars back to the U.S. The IOUs are stacking up in Beijing.

So far this has been a mutually beneficial arrangement, but it is slowly increasing Chinese leverage over American consumers and the American government. At some point, the U.S. may have to bend its policies before either an implicit or explicit Chinese threat to stop the merry-go-round. [...]

It goes on to give many more examples of the threats this is creating to our sovereignty and our national security. Yikes. What ARE we doing? And what should we be doing differently, to stop or reverse this trend?

More on that theme follows, in this interview with David Walker, author of the book "Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility." Here is an excerpt of the interview:

What Every American Should Know About the National Debt
[...]

Q. Who do we owe the money to?

A. Fifty percent is owed to foreign lenders. China is number one, Japan is number two, a block of oil producing nations comes next.

Q. Do you think that affects our foreign policy toward China?

A. Yes, it does. It's already been manifested because one of the reasons American tax payers now guarantee $5 trillion in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt is because the Japanese and the Chinese demanded it.

Q. Is there a point at which China could say, 'We've decided to stop lending you money?'

A. What's more likely is that China will say, 'We're not going to lend you money unless you pay us higher interest rates.'"

Q. What should people expect their elected officials to do if they're acting responsibly and taking care of the country?

A. In the short term the deficits are going to be high because of the recession, because of two wars, because of unemployment, but what we need to deal with is the structural imbalance. Once the economy recovers, once unemployment gets down, and the wars are over, we still have large and looming deficits. That's what threatens the ship of state.

President Obama says he wants to freeze a part of discretionary spending for three years. That's a good first step, but we're going to have to do a lot more than that. He supports pay-as-you-go rules, but there are big loopholes in the pay-as-you-go-rules. Thirdly, he talks about creating a fiscal commission that would make recommendations on tougher budget controls, Social Security, Medicare and tax reforms. We clearly need to do that to engage the American people and to get a vote in Congress in 2011. That's very, very important to maintain the confidence of our foreign lenders...if we lose the confidence of our foreign lenders, we're in deep trouble.

Q. What does trouble look like?

A. That means the dollar will drop dramatically, interest rates will go up, unemployment would go up dramatically and you'll have something much worse than a recession. It would be ugly. The important thing is we can avoid that and that's what the book's about. [...]

More and more this is becoming obvious. When will the the politicians in D.C. "get it?" Walker has written a book about solutions, it's not as if there aren't any. We need to start applying those solutions NOW.
     

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Government Bureaucracy and Unions versus Us

Class War: How public servants became our masters
[...] There was a time when government work offered lower salaries than comparable jobs in the private sector but more security and somewhat better benefits. These days, government workers fare better than private-sector workers in almost every area—pay, benefits, time off, and job security. And not just in California.

According to a 2007 analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics by the Asbury Park Press, “the average federal worker made $59,864 in 2005, compared with the average salary of $40,505 in the private sector.” Across comparable jobs, the federal government paid higher salaries than the private sector three times out of four, the paper found. As Heritage Foundation legal analyst James Sherk explained to the Press, “The government doesn’t have to worry about going bankrupt, and there isn’t much competition.”

In February 2008, before the recession made the disparity much worse, The New York Times reported that “George W. Bush is in line to be the first president since World War II to preside over an economy in which federal government employment rose more rapidly than employment in the private sector.” The Obama administration has extended the hiring binge, with executive branch employment (excluding the Postal Service and the Defense Department) slated to grow by 2 percent in 2010—and more than 15 percent if you count temporary Census workers.

The average federal salary (including benefits) is set to grow from $72,800 in 2008 to $75,419 in 2010, CBS reported. But the real action isn’t in what government employees are being paid today; it’s in what they’re being promised for tomorrow. Public pensions have swollen to unrecognizable proportions during the last decade. In June 2005, BusinessWeek reported that “more than 14 million public servants and 6 million retirees are owed $2.37 trillion by more than 2,000 different states, cities and agencies,” numbers that have risen since then. State and local pension payouts, the magazine found, had increased 50 percent in just five years.

These huge pension increases have eaten away at public finances, most spectacularly in California, where a bipartisan bill that passed virtually without debate unleashed the odious “3 percent at 50” retirement plan in 1999. Under this plan, at age 50 many categories of public employees are eligible for 3 percent of their final year’s pay multiplied by the number of years they’ve worked. So if a police officer starts working at age 20, he can retire at 50 with 90 percent of his final salary until he dies, and then his spouse receives that money for the rest of her life. Even during the economic crisis, “3 percent at 50” and the forces behind it have only become more entrenched.

In the midst of California’s 2008–09 fiscal meltdown, with the impact of deluxe public pensions making daily headlines, the city of Fullerton nevertheless sought to retroactively increase the defined-benefit retirement plan for its city employees by a jaw-dropping 25 percent. What’s more, the Fullerton City Council negotiated the increase in closed session, outside public view. [...]

The article is long, but identifies the rot with many specifics. Government bureaucracies and unions are milking us all dry, killing the goose that lays the golden eggs; our productivity and job and wealth creation. So more and more taxes have to be collected from a continually shrinking tax base.

Here is a link to seven charts, that show us where all this is leading:

7 Charts Worth How Many Trillion Dollars?

This is unsustainable. Government Bureaucracies and unions have become parasites that are killing the host who pays them. Somethings gotta give.

     

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Is the Sex Industry Advancing Robotics?

Some of the biggest advances in internet website technology were developed by the on-line porn industry. Will that industry also advance robotics?




Inventor unveils $7,000 talking sex robot
Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) -- To some men, she might seem like the perfect woman: She's a willowy 5 feet 7 and 120 pounds. She'll chat with you endlessly about your interests. And she'll have sex whenever you please -- as long as her battery doesn't run out.

Meet Roxxxy, who may be the world's most sophisticated talking female sex robot. For $7,000, she's all yours.

"She doesn't vacuum or cook, but she does almost everything else," said her inventor, Douglas Hines, who unveiled Roxxxy last month at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Lifelike dolls, artificial sex organs and sex-chat phone lines have been keeping the lonely company for decades. But Roxxxy takes virtual companionship to a new level.

Powered by a computer under her soft silicone "skin," she employs voice-recognition and speech-synthesis software to answer questions and carry on conversations. She even comes loaded with five distinct "personalities," from Frigid Farrah to Wild Wendy, that can be programmed to suit customers' preferences.

"There's a tremendous need for this kind of product," said Hines, a computer scientist and former Bell Labs engineer.

Roxxxy won't be available for delivery for several months, but Hines is taking pre-orders through his Web site, TrueCompanion.com, where thousands of men have signed up.

"They're like, 'I can't wait to meet her,' " Hines said. "It's almost like the anticipation of a first date."

[...]

Hines, a self-professed happily married man from Lincoln Park, New Jersey, says he spent more than three years developing the robot after trying to find a marketable application for his artificial-intelligence technology.

Roxxxy's body is made from hypoallergenic silicone -- the kind of stuff in prosthetic limbs -- molded over a rigid skeleton. She cannot move on her own but can be contorted into almost any natural position. To create her shape, a female model spent a week posing for a series of molds.

The robot runs on a self-contained battery that lasts about three hours on one charge, Hines says. Customers can recharge Roxxxy with an electrical cord that plugs into her back.

A motor in her chest pumps heated air through a tube that winds through the robot's body, which Hines says keeps her warm to the touch. Roxxxy also has sensors in her hands and genital areas -- yes, she is anatomically correct -- that will trigger vocal responses from her when touched. She even shudders to simulate orgasm.

When someone speaks to Roxxxy, her computer converts the words to text and then uses pattern-recognition software to match them against a database containing hundreds of appropriate responses. The robot then answers aloud -- her prerecorded "voice" is supplied by an unnamed radio host -- through a loudspeaker hidden under her wig.

"Everything you say to her is processed. It's very near real time, almost without delay," Hines said of the dynamics of human-Roxxxy conversation. "To make it as realistic as possible, she has different dialogue at different times. She talks in her sleep. She even snores." (The snoring feature can be turned off, he says.)

Roxxxy understands and speaks only English for now, but Hines' True Companion company is developing Japanese and Spanish versions. For an extra fee, he'll also record customizable dialogue and phrases for each client, which means Roxxxy could talk to you about NASCAR, say, or the intricacies of politics in the Middle East. [...]

I had to snort when I read that. Just what every man wants: a sex robot that can converse about the intricacies of politics in the Middle East!

And yet, the article goes on to say that he already has 4,000 orders for the robot. At $7,000.00 apiece, that's already $28,000,000.00. Maybe Mr. Hines is a really smart guy. He's figured out a way to market his AI technology by combining it with something that will sell; sex.

Robots have come a long way. Here is an enlightening video from youtube, showing a history of Robotics, right up until the present. The Japanese especially, have really done a lot to advance this science.



Now add some sex to sell it, and what do you get? Oh Brave New World...


Also see:

Ultra HAL, your personal computer assistant
[...] Remember that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, The 6th Day? There is one scene where the Arnold character is at the home of a divorced friend. The friend has a female talk-bot on the screen, and they flirt with each other. The Ulta Hal program can work with a variety of 3rd party "characters" that function in much the same way. Check out this on-line, interactive, talking People Putty Demo by Haptek. There are even various plug-ins for Ultra Hal, including alternate voices, brains, speech engines, and animated faces and characters, even flirty sex-bot characters, precursors to the one in the movie. The future is closer than you think. [...]


     

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Is internet security approaching a crisis?

According to this, yes:

Intel Chief: U.S. at Risk of Crippling Cyber Attack
The United States is at risk of a crippling cyber attack that could "wreak havoc" on the country because the "technological balance" makes it much easier to launch a cyber strike than defend against it, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said Tuesday.

Blair, speaking to the House Intelligence Committee, said U.S. tools are not yet up to the task to fully protect against such an attack.

"What we don't quite understand as seriously as we should is the extent of malicious cyberactivity that grows, that is growing now at unprecedented rates, extraordinary sophistication," Blair said. "And the dynamic of cyberspace, when you look at the technological balance, right now it favors those who want to use the Internet for malicious purposes over those who want to use it for legal and lawful purposes."

Blair said the United States must "deal with that reality," and warned of the catastrophic consequences of a major attack.

"Attacks against networks that control the critical infrastructure in this country ... could wreak havoc," Blair said. "Cyber defenders right now, it's simply the facts of the matter, have to spend more and work harder than the attackers do, and our efforts frankly are not strong enough to recognize, deal with that reality."

He said one critical "factor" is that more and more foreign companies are supplying software and hardware for government and private sector networks.

"This increases the potential for subversion of the information in ... those systems," Blair said.

Blair also told Congress Tuesday that the Internet is providing the fuel for the growing problem of "homegrown radicalization." [...]

It goes on to talk about how the internet is also being used organize attacks and communicate instructions and arrange financing, by the very people who would destroy it. It also reports that senior intelligence officials told Congress Tuesday that Al Qaeda could try to carry out an attack in the United States in the next three to six months. Read the rest for details of what that could mean.

Our business, government and utilities have become increasingly dependent on the internet, for day to day functioning. I doubt people are going to realize how much so, until a major attack occurs, and things we all take for granted no longer work, and we see how many functions of things and systems are affected, directly and indirectly.

I've posted about this before. I would much rather post about solutions to these problems, but I've not seen any. I'm really hoping that some great minds are working on solutions for this situation, and that we see some real defenses created, to halt this growing imbalance. Right now it's looking bleak.

This is one of the reasons I'm learning about Ham Radio. It's not dependent on 3rd party networks or infrastructure, and may be one of the few things that works when nothing else does.
     

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Zen Driving, Hypermiling, from WikiHow

How to Practice Zen Driving
Driving can be stressful, since people can become very impatient, selfish and discourteous when behind the wheel. By applying the principles of Zen, however, you can make driving an enjoyable, relaxing experience, no matter how everyone else is driving. [...]


How to Hypermile
Hypermiling refers to a collection of driving techniques aimed at improving your car's fuel efficiency by reducing the demands placed on the engine. Since it's possible to improve fuel economy by 37% just by changing the way you drive[1] hypermiling is gaining interest in light of high fuel costs. While some hypermiling methods are controversial and potentially dangerous, this article will focus on safer techniques that can still save you gas and money. [...]


     

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Monday, February 01, 2010

NASA's Planned Return to the Moon - Cancelled?

There's been talk about this since Obama won the election, and now it looks like it's about to happen:

Orion Spacecraft; to launch in 2013 2014? Or... Never?


Obama budget would cut NASA moon plan
Companies to take over space taxi flights
NASA to focus on future technologies for Mars, beyond
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Feb 1 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's proposed budget gives NASA a $6 billion 5-year boost but aborts early attempts to return to the moon and turns over space transportation to commercial companies.

The space agency's budget would grow to $19 billion in 2011 under the proposed budget released on Monday, with an emphasis on science and less spent on space exploration.

It "adds $6 billion to NASA's budget over five years and draws upon American ingenuity to enable us to embark on an ambitious 21st Century program of human space exploration," the budget proposal reads.

But the plan ends the Constellation program "which was planning to use an approach similar to the Apollo program to return astronauts back to the Moon 50 years after that program's triumphs."

The budget notes that an independent panel found the moon program was years behind schedule.

"Instead, we are launching a bold new effort that invests in American ingenuity for developing more capable and innovative technologies for future space exploration," it reads.

The new budget, which is subject to change by Congress, also extends operations at the International Space Station past its planned retirement date of 2016, suggesting such potential additions as inflatable space habitats.

Obama's proposal hands over more space operations to the commercial sector, saying it will create thousands of new jobs and hold costs down.

NASA already has spent $9 billion on Constellation and likely would owe millions more to cancel existing contracts. Prime contractors on the Ares rocket program include ATK Launch Systems, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Boeing Co. [...]

The Constellation program fell behind, because George Bush failed to deliver the funding that he promised for it.

I actually like the idea that they are talking about involving the private sector more in the space program, to create more jobs. They should have done it long ago. But talking about skipping the moon and going on to Mars in nonsense.

Any astronauts sent to Mars would best be trained on lunar missions first, where they would gain experience. Also, the moon is much closer, useful, and doable; Mars is very far away, and I believe manned missions to Mars are even farther away still. Pie in the Sky, at this point. And if we can't even make it back to the moon, then we have no business even trying to go to Mars. The moon is the stepping stone to the rest of the solar system. It would be foolish to skip it.

Besides, if the Constellation program is canceled now, the billions that have already been spent will be wasted. Why not revise the program to include more private sector involvement and investment?

I know some people think manned space exploration is wasteful, yet look at how small NASA's budget is, compared to other government spending:



Unlike entitlement spending, the space program creates jobs, and new technologies that can be adapted to other uses to improve our lives here on Earth.

Opening up our space program to more private sector involvement IS change I could believe in. I just want to see the Constellation program continue, under those changes. Let the seed money the government has already spent on it be invested, not wasted. Let it be used instead to jump start a new partnership with NASA and private sector companies, to streamline the Constellation program and keep it on track, on time, and within it's budget.


Also see:

Will Obama cancel NASA's Moon Mission?

     

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