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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Space pics from Shuttle Discovery's mission

The current mission, which is also the last mission for space shuttle Discovery:


See more photo's posted daily on flickr by one of the astronauts:

magisstra's photostream

You can see daily news updates here:

Complete Coverage: Discovery's Final Mission
     

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Final shuttle mission brings robot to the ISS


Robot Butler Hitching Ride to Space on Shuttle Discovery
[...] Robonaut 2, which will become the first humanoid robot in space, looks a bit like a boxer's training aid.

The $2.5 million space bot consists of a head and torso, along with a pair of dexterous arms that pack down into a puncher's pose. R2 stands 3 feet, 4 inches (1.01 meter) tall and weighs about 330 pounds (150 kilograms).

R2 is a joint project of NASA and carmaker General Motors. It's the product of a cooperative agreement to develop a robotic assistant that can work alongside humans, whether they're astronauts in space or workers at GM plants here on Earth, NASA officials have said.

The bot is made primarily of aluminum and steel. Its head houses five cameras — including one infrared camera in the mouth — to provide stereo vision and depth perception. The torso contains 38 PowerPC processors, and R2 carries a backpack that can be filled with batteries or a power conversion system.

Each of R2's arms can carry about 20 pounds (9.1 kg), and its hands have articulating fingers and thumbs. The robot, which builds on NASA's work with its first Robonaut project, should be able to use the same tools astronauts on the space station use, agency officials said.

The robot's job

Astronauts will install Robonaut 2 inside the station's U.S. Destiny laboratory and put it through some test paces. The goal is to see just what the robot helper can do — how it can work side-by-side with astronauts to make station operations run more smoothly.

"We're going to use Robonaut on orbit to learn more about how robots can take over astronaut tasks — some mundane things and then potentially some of the more dangerous tasks," said Scott Higginbotham, payload manager for Discovery's STS-133 mission.

Robonaut 2 was designed to use both internal and external interfaces, so future bots could eventually be installed on the station's exterior to aid in spacewalks and other difficult or dangerous tasks. However, R2 itself will likely stay inside, officials said, since the bot lacks protection against the extreme cold of space. [...]

It really sounds more like an experiment, than a "Butler". I'm sure we will be hearing more about it as the experiment progresses.


Also see:NASA Robot Will Help Kick Off Super Bowl Sunday

     

Get a detailed look at Robonaut 2, NASA's first humanoid robot to fly to space, in this infographic.

Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration

Who knows what applications may be found for the robot in the future:

Project M
     

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Friday, February 25, 2011

A Government "In Drag"

Our government might be a drag, but a least they don't do drag:

Why Did Burma's Leader Appear on TV in Women's Clothes?

General Than Shwe of Burma, the dour and taciturn leader of one of the world's most repressive military regimes, isn't known for his feminine side. His contempt for pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is rooted in part, most Burma analysts say, to the fact that she is a woman.

And so many Burmese were baffled earlier this month when Than Shwe and other top generals, appearing at a nationally televised ceremony, shed their dress uniforms for the Burmese equivalent of women's dresses. "I don't understand why the generals were wearing women's [sarongs] but they looked very weird," said a Rangoon mechanic, Myint Oo. Others put a more sinister spin on the generals' sartorial selection. "It's yadaya," said a Rangoon-based astrologer who asked not to be named, referring to Burma's particular brand of black magic.

Burma has had three rulers during the past half-century and all have been devotees of yadaya. Gen. Ne Win, who ruled from 1962 to 1988 reportedly shot his own reflection in a mirror, on the advice of a fortune teller, to foil a foretold assassination attempt. His obsession with numerology led him to demonetize all bank notes in 1987 so new notes could be printed - all divisible by his lucky number nine. The move wiped out the savings of most Burmese and contributed to an uprising one year later. His successor, Gen. Saw Muang, was replaced after erratic behavior that included a rambling, semi-coherent nationally televised speech brimming with references to magic and astrology. The man who replaced him, Than Shwe, is reported to have seven personal astrologers, several of whom are tasked with focusing solely on Aung San Suu Kyi, according to his biographer Ben Rogers.

[...]

According to Wai Moe, a journalist with the Irrawaddy, an online magazine run by Burmese exiles, two interpretations of the the general sporting a ladies' sarong have gained the most currency. The first is that astrologers have predicted a woman will rule Burma, and so by donning women's clothes, Than Shwe and the other generals are attempting to fulfill the prophecy through some superstitious sleight of hand. The second, fuzzier interpretation, is that by dressing in women's clothing, the generals are somehow trying to neutralize Suu Kyi's power. After Than Shwe brutally suppressed an uprising led by Burmese monks in 2007, anti-regime activists launched a campaign asking people to send women's underwear to the leader because they said the generals believe that contact with women's underwear will sap their power. By wearing sarongs, they may believe they are cancelling out Suu Kyi's ability to sap what they view as the virile male power that underpins their leadership. [...]

Gosh. No matter how fed up I get with our government, it's good to be reminded that you don't have to to look very far to find something worse. Even if it's superstitious men in drag:



Than Shwe Skirts the Issue
The sight of junta supremo Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his close aides on national TV dressed in women's longyis at a state dinner in Naypyidaw has become the talk of the town in Burma and the brunt of many an unkind joke.

Marking the 64th anniversary of Union Day on Feb. 12 in Naypyidaw, 78-year-old Than Shwe appeared at the event accompanied by other top military brass, including: junta No.2 Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye; No.3, the new Lower House speaker ex-Gen Shwe Mann; Prime Minister and President-in-waiting ex Gen Thein Sein; No. 4 ex-Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo who is vice-president-in-waiting; and No. 5 ex Lt-Gen Tin Aye.

All appeared on state TV on Feb. 12 wearing gongbong (traditional Burman headscarves), and acheik (colorful sarongs worn by women at weddings and formal occasions).

“When I saw the ruling generals in acheik on the news and in the papers, I was somewhat intrigued as to why they were dressed as women,” said a 22-year-old female engineering student in Rangoon. “I have one—the same style and colors as the longyi worn by Than Shwe.”

In footage of the ceremony, Than Shwe greeted women members of parliament. All the officials in the scene wore the same ceremonial dress, although in a variety of colors. However, a general staff officer from the War Office, Brig-Gen Soe Shein, several male MPs and the retinue's bodyguards are shown in traditional male attire.

[...]

“They [the generals] know and must know that these acheik were designed for women,” said a senior journalist in Rangoon. “But they wore them nevertheless. We all know this is yadaya to counter the influence of The Lady [Aung San Suu Kyi] and to reverse her karma.”

Many fortunetellers have predicted that a woman will rule Burma one day, and so the generals’ fortune-tellers have advised them to dress as women, he added.

Or ironically, perhaps the people of Burma will now choose a woman ruler, 'cause they figure if they have to look at a leader in a dress, they may as well have a leader that looks good in one.
     

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

End Union Thuggery and Mob Rule

I've said previously that Government Employee Unions are Ruining Us. And even the "Progressive" president Franklin Delano Roosevelt believed that government Unions needed restrictions, because of the potential for corruption. Public sector unions in particular become corrupt and destructive when they use their funding to buy political power, and turn the taxpayers into hostages. They need to be limited, before they destroy the foundations we are all standing on:

Capitol Chaos: Could Union Bill Be Passed Separately Tuesday?
MADISON - Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says his chamber of the Wisconsin legislature will convene to pass non-spending bills and act on appointments on Tuesday even if minority Democrats remain out of state in an effort to block a vote on Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill.

Could one of those bills be the union aspect of the budget bill, in a separate vote on Tuesday?

Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach told The Associated Press on Monday that Republicans could attempt to attach the part of the proposal taking away collective bargaining rights to an unrelated bill and pass it Tuesday. [...]

YES! I hope it goes through. It won't destroy the unions, just put them in their place. If the Union leaders had any sense, they would stop trying to destroy the taxpayers who make their jobs possible.

I've heard that a recall effort is being mounted for the missing Democrats who are "hiding", shirking their jobs. I hope the recall succeeds. They need to be made an example of what happens to cowards who shirk the jobs they were elected to do.


Also see:

Apocalypse Now: Wisconsin vs. Big Labor; Plus: More out-of-state union recruiting & another teacher speaks up for Walker; police order for AWOL Dems; America agrees: End public union monopoly

Teachers teaching kids it's okay to lie

Rank-and-file teachers speak truth to prog power
     

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Liberalism's long and winding road

How the Western world went from genuine Classical Liberalism to the corrupt Big Government Thugery that oppresses us today:

The Decline of Liberalism
AMERICAN LIBERALISM, synonymous today with big government, the exact opposite of the liberalism of Edmund Burke and other British champions of individual liberty, arose essentially from the use of the state to alleviate the most severe economic inequalities in society. In Great Britain this began in the competition between the Liberal and Conservative leaders, William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, between 1865 and 1880, and among major European powers with the quest for an unthreatening working class with the founder and first chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck. Britain had a great battle over pensions under the chancellor of the exchequer just before the First World War, David Lloyd George. [...]

It goes on for quite a bit, detailing the history of Classical Liberalism, as it goes through many twists and turns, and eventually becomes something else altogether. History buffs will find it interesting. It explains a lot. It concludes:
[...] Liberalism saved America and led it to its greatest days under Roosevelt and Truman. And it essentially continued under Eisenhower, a nonpartisan war hero who pretended to be above politics. Under Kennedy and Johnson and their inept Democratic successors, liberalism ceased to be perceived as helping the deserving and instead became taking money from those who had earned it and giving it to those who hadn't in exchange for their votes. Nixon saved the country from the Kennedy-Johnson failure to redefine liberalism successfully, but freakishly squandered the political credit for doing so. Reagan won the battle for the conservatives against the liberals, and the Democrats have only won since when they ran an ostensibly moderate candidate against a very weak Republican. (Bob Dole and John McCain, whatever their merits as senators, were hopeless blunderbusses as presidential nominees.)

Liberalism will revive, as conservatism did, when it redefines itself as something that is new, looks likely to succeed, favors economic growth, and is no longer tainted by envy, hypocrisy, and the mere bribery of voting blocs. This will take a leader of the stature of a Roosevelt or Reagan. No such person is now visible, in either party, but neither were they seen in that light before they were elected and became candidates for Mount Rushmore.

Amen.
     

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Does gridlock mean bigger government?

It would, by default. What could make a difference? Perhaps the Toomey bill:

Debt-Limit Remedy Gives Fiscal Hawks Leverage
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? House Republicans can pass all sorts of legislation to reduce the burden of government spending, but they don't control the Senate and they can't override a presidential veto. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, lacks the power to compel Congress to approve Democratic goals, including higher taxes.

This is a recipe for gridlock. And gridlock means bigger government: Democratic proponents of the status quo are in much stronger position to prevail because there are few ways for budget cutters to exert their will.

But there is some hope because of a "must-pass" piece of legislation. The president wants Congress to increase the statutory debt ceiling of $14.3 trillion so that government operations remain unaffected. Republicans oppose this business- as-usual approach and are insisting on real fiscal reforms in exchange for a higher ceiling.

[...]

Quite simply, Toomey's bill would require the federal government to fulfill obligations to bondholders before making any other disbursements.

To the extent that investors actually are worried, Toomey's legislation would remove ambiguity and, to borrow from the title of the bill, make clear that the "full faith and credit" of the U.S. government would be preserved.

Toomey's proposal has generated a lot of angst among Beltway insiders because it would change the political dynamics of the budget fight. Politicians love to pontificate about the dangers of debt, but many of them are MIA when it comes to putting real limits on the growth of government spending.

It's much easier to put the budget on auto-pilot and delay tough choices, which is usually what happens with closed-door budget compromises in Washington.

Powerful Weapon
If the Toomey legislation is adopted, fiscal reformers will have a powerful weapon at their disposal. Secure in the knowledge that default no longer is a possibility, they can be much tougher in their negotiations with the politicians who favor the status quo. [...]

THAT would be change I could believe in.
     

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Our recent Solar Weather continues

It really started getting interesting with the "Valentine's Day Flare":



Mega Solar Flare Fuels Earthly Disruption and Light Shows
A whopper of a solar flare that fired up earlier this week is wreaking havoc on some radio communications on Earth, and could spark exceptional auroras soon.

The class X solar flare – the most powerful kind of solar flare – spewed from the sun Monday (Feb. 14), unleashing a massive wave of charged particles speeding toward Earth. Now the flare has triggered a geomagnetic storm in our planet's magnetic field that interrupted radio communications in China and could disrupt satellites and power grids as well, AFP reported.

[...]

Monday's class X flare was the most powerful solar eruption in four years. It came on the heels of a few less powerful flares in the days before. [...]

The article has an embedded link, with video footage of the flare occurring.

I had read elsewhere that the number of sunspots had rapidly doubled in the days leading up to this. And particles from the CME will be continuing to hit the earth.

Catastrophe Looming? The Risks of Rising Solar Storm Activity
The sun let loose its most powerful eruption in more than four years Monday night (Feb. 14), disrupting radio communications in China and generating concern around the world. But it could have been a lot worse, experts say.

[...]

Solar flares are intense bursts of radiation that send waves of photons streaming toward Earth. The scale measuring their strength has three general categories – Class C, Class M and Class X – with Class X flares being the most powerful.

Monday's Valentine's Day solar flare registered a Class X2.2 on that scale.

Other storms, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), are large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun's surface, sending lots of particles our way.

Both flares and CMEs have the same root cause — a disruption of the magnetic field in the sun's outer atmosphere. And both events can affect life here on Earth. Major flares, for example, can interfere with satellites, causing disruptions in GPS and high-frequency radio communications that can last from a few minutes to a few hours.

These impacts are felt almost immediately, since it only takes light about 8 minutes to travel from the sun to Earth.

"It's like the sun is a giant noise source," said Bob Rutledge, head of the forecast office at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center. "It can disrupt anything that depends on a link between the ground and satellites."

But the most severe damage comes from powerful CMEs. The particles from these outbursts take longer to reach us — up to three days or so. But when they get here, their interaction with Earth's magnetic field can cause massive "geomagnetic storms," which have the potential to wreak long-lasting havoc on power and communications infrastructure around the globe.

[...]

But Earth has been walloped by monster solar storms before. One of the most powerful hit us in 1859, a blast that Rutledge estimates may have been 30 times more powerful than Monday's event, though it's tough to put hard numbers on such comparisons.

The 1859 storm shorted out telegraph wires, causing fires in North America and Europe, and spawned spectacular auroras — the light shows visible near Earth's poles — bright enough to read by, according to some accounts.

If the 1859 storm occured these days, it would likely have devastating impacts, since our electrical and communications infrastructures are so much more developed. A recent report by the U.S National Academy of Sciences found that such a severe storm could cause up to $2 trillion in initial damages by crippling communications on Earth and fueling chaos around the world.

It might take up to 10 years for authorities to re-assert control and get everyting fixed, the report concluded. For comparison, Hurricane Katrina likely inflicted somewhere between $80 billion and $125 billion in damage. [...]

I recently posted about a theory that solar flares affect people and stimulate political rebellions. The rapid increase in sunspots and the occurrence of these flares sure is a coincidence with the rebellions in the Middle East.

And I have posted previously about the hazards of solar storms to our technology (see links below). In the past few decades we have added thousands of communication satellites, and adopted widespread use of new technologies (like GPS) that are very sensitive to solar weather. A storm that previously we would have considered not so big or dangerous, might now present more concerns than it used to. Some precautions are being taken, by hardening the electrical grid, but has enough been done? Let's hope we don't have to find out the hard way.


Also see:

Our growing reliance on satellite technology, and it's vulnerability to solar flares. Why it matters.

Solar activity and it's disruption of GPS functions

Solar Flare: The "Carrington Event" of 1859
     

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"Watson" won. But did it really?


A database dishing up answers can be quick, but just how intelligent is it?

Computer finishes off human opponents on 'Jeopardy!'
(CNN) -- Start the "computers are conquering the world" jokes now. "Jeopardy!" master Ken Jennings already has.

The IBM supercomputer Watson won its second "Jeopardy!" game in Wednesday's edition of the TV show, completing a sweep of its two human opponents, including Jennings, who acknowledged mankind's trivia inferiority before the match was even over.

"I for one welcome our new computer overlords," Jennings wrote under his correct Final Jeopardy! solution, prompting laughter from the studio audience.

Watson -- despite being far from perfect -- was too far ahead in the two-game match to be caught. It beat Jennings and fellow "Jeopardy!" champion Brad Rutter, earning $41,413 for the day and $77,147 for the two-game total.

Jennings, who led for a good portion of the second game before succumbing to a late string of correct Watson answers, ended the game ($19,200) and match ($24,000) in second place.

The "IBM Challenge" match was spread over three days, with the first game taking two days so that host Alex Trebek could take time explaining what Watson is.

A massive machine represented at the studio by a tablet-like avatar, Watson was in development for years and has the processing power of 2,800 "powerful computers." IBM trumpets Watson as a machine that can rival a human's ability to answer questions posed in natural human language.

For the games, the computer -- stored in a separate building in New York -- received clues through digital texts and buzzed in against the two other contestants like any other player would. [...]

It made some mistakes, but not many. The example they gave wasn't a question I would have been able to answer, either. Watson won a million dollars, which IBM will donate to charity.

It did so well, I doubt it has a future on Jeopardy. The winner would be a forgone conclusion. But that may have more to do with the question format of the show, than any real intelligence on the part of the machine.

Is calling it "Artificial Intelligence" too much? That depends on how you define the phrase. IBM calls Waston a "Question Answering System". If you look at some of the Videos on Youtube, you can see that it went through quite a bit of training before it was ready to compete on Jeopardy; it was prone to breakdowns where it would start getting everything wrong. Perhaps it's really more of a victory for voice recognition and database retrieval?

This article goes into more detail about Watson's weaknesses:

Why Watson's win doesn't make humanity obsolete -- yet
(CNN) -- Well humans, it's been a good ride, but after being eviscerated by IBM's supercomputer Watson on "Jeopardy!," it's probably time to pack up the truck and let the machines inherit the Earth.

Or is it?

Despite Watson's tremendous performance, the Final Jeopardy question at the end of Tuesday night's airing revealed the Achilles' heel that computer scientists have known all along: Watson doesn't really "think" anything, and it struggles with simple questions that most humans can answer without a second thought.

Most of the clues on the "Jeopardy" board mention proper nouns -- specific places, events, people, songs, books and so on, says Dr. Douglas Lenat, a machine learning pioneer, former Stanford professor of computer science and CEO of Cycorp, a company that develops semantic technologies.

"This gives the Watson algorithm a great deal of 'traction.' To us viewing the show, it's impressive if it correctly knows that Franz Schubert's birth date was January 31, 1797. But if that date had been part of the clue, could Watson correctly pick out [Schubert's] maternal grandmother's birth date from a list where only one of the dates was earlier than 1797?"

We could, because we understand that everyone is younger than their own mother and grandmother, but Watson is unable to understand this, Lenat explained.

At the end of the day, Watson is not really conceptualizing a clue's meaning. It simply number-crunches its way to the right answers by comparing vast amounts of data. This is why it dominates the "fill in the blank" knowledge clues (Aeolic, spoken in ancient times, was a dialect of this), but falters on some more "common sense" deductions.

The biggest blunder was in the first game's Final Jeopardy round. [...]

It goes on with more examples of Watson's limitations. Then goes on to describe how the technology could be applied, as a useful tool.

What people call "Artificial Intelligence" (or A.I.) is really just programing that compares data, and mimics human intelligence. Some programs can even "learn" in a limited capacity, but all lack the depths and subtleties of a real living, intelligent consciousness. But it is an interesting, budding technology that will continue to grow and find new uses, as tools and entertainment.

I like the spin IBM put on the victory:

Humans win!
The challenge is over. Watson, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter concluded their final round of Jeopardy! and the winner was… resoundingly, humankind. Watson’s advances in deep analytics and its ability to process unstructured data and interpret natural language will now be applied to humanity’s most vexing problems. If we can teach a computer to compete on Jeopardy! what could it mean for science, finance, healthcare and the future of society?

Watch the video and see how Watson has the potential to transform industries. [...]

The video is interesting. It shows how, for some questions, the humans were able to think of the answers more quickly than Watson could. Watson also got some wrong answers. And if it hadn't been lucky enough to get a "Daily Double" question, perhaps it would not have won the tournament. So it was really a bit of a close call.

I recommend watching the video. It shows how that, while Watson may seem to formulate answers like it's human competitors, it actually uses very different processes to get those answers. And questions with multiple components can slow it down or stump it. Still, it's fascinating to see how it works, it has all sorts of possibilities for future utilization. The way it sorts through data to find answers, combined with voice recognition and speech, make it a tool with great potential. For Watson and the team that build it, this is only the beginning.


Also see:

Ultra HAL, your personal computer assistant

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

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

When ALICE met Jabberwacky
     

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

TheTchijevsky Index of Mass Human Excitability

Excitability, due to solar activity? I had previously posted about this last May. But with the recent increase in solar activity as we enter our Solar Maximum, I can't help but think of the Middle East. Compare what Tchijevsky said, and what is happening there now:

A. L. Tchijevsky’s Theory of Sunspot Activity and Human Activity
[...] That sunspot cycle activity increased and decreased in a cycle of approximately 11 years was established in the 1750s when astronomers began to make the first charts of the numbers of sunspots over time. During World War I, A. L. Tchijevsky, a Russian professor of Astronomy and Biological Physics who continued his studies at the war front, noticed that particularly severe battles regularly followed each solar flare during the sunspot peak period of 1916-17.

To test his hypothesis that sunspot cycle influenced human activity, Tchijevsky constructed an Index of Mass Human Excitability covering each year form 500 BC to 1922 AD. He then investigated the histories of 72 countries during that period, noting signs of human unrest such as wars, revolutions, riots, expeditions and migrations, plus the numbers of humans involved.

Tchijevsky found that fully 80% of the most significant events occurred during the 5 years of maximum sunspot activity. (Tchijevsky's merely noting that the 1917 Russian Revolution occurred during the height of the sunspot cycle earned him almost 30 years in Soviet prisons because his theory challenged Marxist dialectics.)

Tchijevsky divided the eleven year sunspot cycle into four social periods:

Period 1: (approximately 3 years, minimum sunspot activity). Peace, lack of unity among the masses, election of conservatives, autocratic, minority rule.

Period 2: (approx. 2 years, increasing sunspot activity). Increasing mass excitability, new leaders rise, new ideas and challenges to the elite.

Period 3: (Approximately 3 years, maximum sunspot activity). Maximum excitability, election of liberals or radicals, mass demonstrations, riots, revolutions, wars and resolution of most pressing demands.

Period 4: (Approximately 3 years, decreasing sunspot activity). Decrease in excitability, masses become apathetic, seek peace.

Tchijevsky did not believe solar disturbances caused discontent as much as they acted as detonators that set off the smoldering discontent of the masses--discontent often channeled into war by their rulers. Nor did he deny that even during minimum solar activity some people would rebel against intolerable conditions or that nations would seek advantage through war and conquest. Some have since noted that the number of sunspots during any period may not be as significant as whether there is a rapid increase in the numbers, triggering unexpected passions. [...]

In terms of solar activity, we are in a "period 3" now. Sunspot activity has been steadily increasing. Recently, we've had an X-class solar flare, with a coronal mass ejection. Does that count as a "sudden increase"?

Aurora borealis activity possible February 17-18, NOAA X-class solar flare
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that the most energetic solar flare in four years occurred on February 15, 2011. This X2 class solar flare also produced a coronal mass ejection which will increase the likelihood of aurora borealis activity, also known as the northern lights, on the night of February 17/18.

The solar flare originated from Sunspot 1158. X class solar flares are the most energetic solar flares. Flares also have sub classifications represented by numbers from 1 to 9, with the larger numbers representing more energetic flares. This X2 flare is energetic but near the lower end of X class flares.

This flare also produced a coronal mass ejection (CME) which is likely to strike Earth on February 18 (UTC date). During a CME the Sun spews out charged particles which can interact with Earth's magnetic field to cause aurora. The most likely night to see aurora activity (northern or southern lights) from this solar flare is the night of February 17/18, but it is also possible on the night of February 16/17.

This illustration shows how Earth's magnetosphere deflects, for the
most part, a magnetic cloud of plasma from a coronal mass ejection.


At high latitudes, NOAA predicts a 45% chance of aurora causing geomagnetic activity and a 25% chance of a minor geomagnetic storm. At mid latitudes the probabilities are 35% and 20%. [...]

It goes on to predict continuing activity from this sunspot.

I know that scientifically, there is insufficient data to prove any connection with political unrest in the Middle East. But still, I think it's "interesting" none the less.

But even if one considers that people are affected by solar activity, is the affect necessarily a negative one? Other research has shown that the peaks of solar activity have also been times of great advancement in human endevors, such as the arts and sciences:

Sunspots and Human Behavior
[...] In another historical study Suitbert Ertel writes in his article “Synchronous Bursts of Activity in Independent Cultures; Evidence for Extraterrestrial Connections” that evidence has been reported suggesting a link between historical oscillations of scientific creativity and solar cyclic variation. Eddy’s discovery of abnormal secular periods of solar inactivity (Maunders minimum type) offered the opportunity to put the present hypothesis to a crucial test. Using time series of flourish years of creators in science, literature, and painting (A.D. 600-1800) It was found as expected:

1. Cultural flourish curves show marked discontinuities (bursts) after the onset of secular solar excursions synchronously in Europe and China;

2. during periods of extended solar excursions, bursts of creativity in painting, literature, and science succeeded one another with lags of about 10-15 years;

3. The reported regularities of cultural output are prominent throughout with eminent creators. They decrease with ordinary professionals. The hypothesized extraterrestrial connection of human culture has thus been strengthened.

The evidence seems to show that during the maxima of sunspot activity human behavior is stimulated. [...]

Could it be that, solar maximums don't stimulate people in ways that make them agitated, but rather, they stimulate human creativity, causing people to strive for improvement. But in places where that creativity is stifled and repressed, where their creative energy has no creative outlet, no chance of improvement, that energy would then be directed to removing obstacles to the manifestation of that creativity and improvement? It's an interesting idea.
     

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Can someone be accidentally buried alive, even after rigor mortis has set in?

The answer would seem to be "yes":


Woman wakes after heart stopped, rigor mortis set in
"Val Thomas’ doctors honestly can’t explain how she is alive today.

Thomas, who lives in West Virginia, is being called a medical miracle after she suffered two heart attacks and had no brain waves for more than 17 hours; reports NewsNet5.com.

Thomas’ heart stopped around 1:30 a.m. Saturday and doctors said she had no pulse. Rigor mortis started to set in, and she was placed on a respiratory machine.

“Her skin had already started to harden and her fingers curled,” Thomas’ son, Jim, told NewsNet5.com. “Death had set in.”

Thomas, 59, was rushed to a West Virginia hospital, where she was put on a special machine to induce hypothermia. This would allow her body to cool down for 24 hours before they would warm her up again, doctors explained.

However, Thomas’ heart stopped again after the procedure.

Her family said their goodbyes and Thomas’ tubes were removed, but she remained hooked on a ventilator as the possibility of organ donation was discussed.

However, Thomas woke up 10 minutes later and started talking.

“The nurse said, ‘I’m so sorry, Mrs. Thomas,’ and mom said, ‘That’s OK, honey, that’s OK,’” Jim Thomas said. [...]

I don't know which is worse; them thinking she's dead when she's not, or them wanting to harvest her organs while she's still alive.

I remember when an uncle of mine died in the state of Maine, state law said the body could not be buried for three days. At the time I thought, "There must be a reason for that". Well, now I know why!

There is a VERY informative article on the topic at snopes.com:

Just dying to get out

Snopes doesn't let you copy excerpts, so you'll just have to follow the link. Some very horrific, but even some very funny, stories on the subject. And did you know that even now, some people want to be buried with their cell phones, "just in case?".

Golly, how do you test your cell phone reception for six feet under ground? I'm sure that's one that the "Can you hear me now?" guy hasn't tested.

Well, I guess now you know what the conversation is like around our dinner table sometimes! Pat's been complaining that my posts about impending financial Armageddon are too depressing, and suggested that I should post about something more cheerful, like this, so here ya go. ;-)
     

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Will Obama's railroad plans, meet John Galt?

In the movie, I mean. Here is a trailer for "Atlas Shrugged", Part 1. It looks like it will be set in contemporary times:



Atlas Shrugged, the Movie?
[...] You may recall that one of the central themes of Atlas Shrugged is government nationalization of the railroads. So it’s ironic to note that, as the movie release draws near, our Dear Leader is claiming the solution to our economic woes is a wonderful new government railroad. It seems that life does indeed imitate art. [...]


Video: Trailer For Atlas Shrugged Movie Released
[...] Interesting that the setting is modern America as opposed to the original setting of the book. This should make the similarities between Rand’s original plot and Obama’s America all the more palpable. [...]

     

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Is it growth, or inflation?

Is job growth slow, because the economy isn't growing as much as they say it is?

Another view on why there is no robust job growth
[...] there's something else that almost nobody is considering: perhaps the economic recovery just isn't as strong as Washington thinks (which, incidentally, isn't very strong to begin with.)

Nobody, of course, wants to hear this. But let me make the case.

[...]

The December estimates put into the GDP are about as solid as a Jello mold.

Worse, according to economist John Williams, 3.44 percentage points of the annualized growth in the fourth quarter -- more than the total 3.2 percent reported -- came from a sudden, inexplicable decline in imports.

Without the reduction in imports GDP would have been down in the fourth quarter and we'd be hearing talk right now -- again -- about a possible double-dip recession!

The Commerce Dept. also attributed a lot of the gain in fourth quarter GDP to retail spending.

But we already know -- from a column I did during the holiday shopping season -- that much of the sales increase in December wasn't coming from a sudden burst in consumerism, but instead from rising prices on things like energy.

That isn't growth; it is inflation. And inflation is bad.

Despite all the inflation that you and I see in the real world, the Commerce Dept. barely noticed that prices were rising in its GDP calculations.

It used 0.3 percent as the annualized deflator in the GDP report when the consumer price index (the CPI, which itself understates inflation) is up 2.6 percent from a year earlier.

Let me explain it a different way.

Each point that inflation rises decreases the GDP by a point.

So, for instance, if the GDP deflator had simply stayed at the 2.0 percent reported in the third quarter the annualized GDP growth in the final three months of the year would have been an extremely modest 1.2 percent annualized, not 3.2 percent.

Countries get them selves into trouble when they publicize false economic data, whether the deceit is intentional or not. [...]

     

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Egyptian change, and ignoring the inconvenient

Well at least most of the MSM has been:

Krauthammer Tells Inconvenient Truth About Egypt and Muslim Brotherhood Media are Ignoring
[...] CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Everything said about Egypt - the educated population, the proud history, the long civilization - all of it applies to Iran in 1979 as well, and it ended up hijacked by the Islamists. That’s the threat in Egypt today. The Brotherhood wants the institution of Sharia law. On its website it says that no Christian or woman can be the president of Egypt.

This is not the Salvation Army as described by our director of National Intelligence who ought to be canned for the testimony he gave the other day about how benign and secular an organization it is. It wants the institution of Sharia law. Our job is to strengthen the democrats, of which there are many in Egypt but who need help, organization and assistance so they can challenge the Brotherhood and create a democracy that is actually going to live and not be one man, one vote, one time.

Rather than share this real threat with their readers, listeners, and viewers, America's Obama-loving media have castigated those that have as being right-wing extremists and fear mongers.

But the job of a journalist should be to explore all possibilities of a developing situation rather than just those they either hope will happen for the good of the society or wish for in order to assist a president they support.

For the most part, the coverage of this crisis since the moment it began a little over two weeks ago has been deplorable. From blaming it on former President George W. Bush to tying the unrest to global warming, what we've witnessed from our press has been laughable.

But on the deadly serious side was their almost universal misrepresentation of the Muslim Brotherhood and the real risk of Egypt becoming a radical Islamic theocracy.

However small that risk might be - and there are many that believe it to be extremely possible - the media's responsibility was to constantly explore it. [...]

The media gave up exploring possibilities a long time ago. They seem more interested in trying to make the news than reporting it.

I'd like to say that Egypt isn't Iran, and that this isn't the 1970's. That even though there are many similarities with Iran's Islamic revolution, there are differences too, and that those differences may win out in the end.

No doubt the outcome will not be exactly the same. But how much will it be the same? Or not? And is there anything we can do to help the process along, in a positive way? To help the Egyptians create a multi-party democracy, instead of a theocratic dictatorship? And will the Obama administration do it? Or just sit on their hands like Jimmy Carter did with Iran, and let whatever would happen, happen?

We shall see.
     

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Obama's New Deal: destroy and replace?

Well, that looks like the plan for this Administration:

Does Obama Want the Best for America or Does He Want to Destroy It?
[...] Obama knows that his economic policies are productive of neither liberty as traditionally conceived by Americans nor prosperity. He would have to be, not just the most incompetent president ever, but among the most dense of human beings, for given the extensive exposure that he has had to both Keynesian and neo-Marxian philosophy -- anyone who takes the time to read his memoirs, particularly his first, and who considers the worldview of the people with whom he has surrounded himself for most of his life would know this -- he could only know by now full well the fruits that these policies promise to reap.

But from this it doesn't follow that Obama anticipates the ruination of America as such. There can be no doubt, I think, that he wants to preside over an America that is morally superior and, hence, better, than the country that elected him two years ago. The problem, though, is that the America of Obama's imaginings is radically unlike the America to which most of its citizens have an acquired affection and even more unlike the America within which their ancestors made their home. That is, the "fundamental transformation" that Obama wants to visit upon America demands nothing more or less than the death of America as it is currently constituted; only once America as a living reality is eliminated can America as Obama's ideal be substituted for it.

The philosopher Ronald Dworkin once said that "a more equal society" -- a society the resources of which are equally "distributed" -- is better than the contrary, even if its citizens prefer inequality. Anyone who has paid any attention at all to Obama must know that he couldn't agree more with this thought.

So, our president does indeed think that as a people, Americans will be "better" in the wake of the "fundamental transformation" that he wants to impose upon us. [...]

Duh! He meant what he said about "change". Too bad nobody insisted he be more specific and explain it, though I doubt he would ever admit it was change of the Cloward-Piven kind.

Elections have consequences, and we are living it now.

     

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

No more magic: "Why should I get a ham license just so that I can talk to a bunch of old geezers about their latest heart bypass operations?"

I recently read this in a thread in the QRZ forums. Has radio lost it's "magic" for the younger generation? Is amateur radio a dying hobby? I'm not certain, but here is an argument that makes some interesting points about it:

Thread: Why Ham Radio Endures in a World of Tweets
[...] I'm not arguing the point that our numbers are "up" a bit from a few years ago. And I certainly hope that positive trend continues.

But, as I've also said, nowhere in any of those figures is the AGE of those licensees noted.

And what's also disturbing is the fact that there are now some 700,000 licenses (696,302 to be exact) that are due to expire in the United States between now and June of 2018. That number is roughly equivalent to the ENTIRE database of currently licensed US hams. Remember, our licenses are all on a ten year renewal cycle. So, if we were "holding our own" it should follow that the number of license renewals should be spread out over ten years, not seven.

Or, to put it another way, for some reason, the number of expiring licenses now appears to be "front end loaded" with a significant number of those license expirations occurring in the next four or five years. Could this be yet another indication that a growing number of US hams are either not renewing (or upgrading) their licenses, or that more and more of them are now dying and their survivors haven't (yet) notified the FCC of that fact? Remember...the ARRL has already reported that the rate of new license grants (for all classes of licenses in the United States) is also slowing...down some 13% from 2008.

However, I suggest you don't take my word for it. Rather, you may want to visit Joe Speroni's (AHOA) FCC Amateur Radio Statistics Web site and do your own analysis of these data:

http://www.ah0a.org/FCC/index.html

And while the "jury is still out" as to whether (or not) these numbers indicate that our hobby is expanding or shrinking, I think the anecdotal evidence that we are slowly aging and dying is now all around us. For example, I invite you to go to any hamfest, club meeting or other amateur radio gathering these days and take note of the preponderance of graying (or balding!) heads (and rapidly expanding waistlines) of the participants. Then, I dare you to tell me we are attracting significant numbers of youthful newcomers.

That is, while we may now be attracting significant numbers of "codeless" retirement age newcomers, it is an inescapable fact that those people, too, will eventually age and die. And, by the laws of nature, these retirement-age newcomers will be dying off far sooner than their more youthful counterparts.

What's more, all the evidence I've seen (anecdotal and otherwise) shows that the vast majority of the youngsters of today who will eventually "grow old" aren't showing the slightest interest whatsoever in becoming hams when they do.

Maybe that's because, for most of us in our hobby today, radio is "magic". It's the idea that something we do in our shacks (or with our own voice or fingers) can be heard (or felt) at a distance without wires. But, how many other ways (besides Ham Radio) can youngsters of today do that? Indeed, how many youngsters of today have even HEARD of amateur radio?

Here's another example: Back last fall, I was honored to be part of a ham radio demonstration station at a local Boy Scout camporee. However, once we got everything set up and working, we very quickly discovered that our biggest problem in explaining what we were doing was in finding a common reference point with which to describe our hobby. For starters, we were absolutely flabbergasted that our attempts to contrast what we do with CB drew mostly blank stares! Indeed, most of these (largely urban-based) Scouts had never heard of CB!

It was only after we hit on a comparison of what we do to the Internet, MSN and Facebook (except that we do it all without wires!) were we able to get even the faintest glimmer of understanding.

But even then, we mostly got yawns and "can we go now"? from the bulk of these elementary and junior high school youngsters. One of my compatriots later (and quite rightly) noted that if we had been offering military face painting (like the Army exhibit next door) we might have gotten more interest.

So, as I see it, one of our other recruitment and retention problems (that is, besides maintaining an absolutely arcane, 1950s-era licensing and regulatory system that included such things as psycho-motor tests for Morse well into the 21st Century) is that "radio" is no longer magical for these youngsters. And I contend that its the "magic" of radio that brought a lot of us into the hobby back in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and even into the 70s...despite our systemically discriminatory, "incentive licensing" system in the United States. What's more, it's that "magic" that is probably also what has since kept many of us active in the hobby today.

But the truth is that those days are now LONG GONE! And they aren't coming back. Indeed, "radio" (in a dizzying array of forms and formats) has now moved into the mainstream of our society. As a result, most youngsters today take the "radio" that's implied in their cell phones, PDAs, satellite televisions, and MP3 players for granted.

Indeed, I've continually asked my 18-year-old daughter if she would be at all interested in getting her ham license...if for no other reason that it might look good on a resume someday. Her consistent reply to me over the years (while she was usually busy texting her friends on her cell phone) has been, "Why should I get a ham license just so that I can talk to a bunch of old geezers about their latest heart bypass operations?"

Yes, Emily, why indeed?

Clearly (and unlike our older generation) for the younger set, the medium is no longer the message. Increasingly, its the message that has now become the message and most youngsters of today could absolutely care less how that message gets into (or out of) the wired or wireless devices they now routinely hold in their hands.

In many ways, I think we've now become victims of our own success. Others in these forums have (rightly) noted that amateur radio was, in many ways, the first "Internet" and, indeed, many of the early handshaking protocols of that medium were first used by hams.

But the truth is that the rest of the communications world around us (both sociologically and technologically) has LONG SINCE moved on. As I've also said, increasingly we in ham radio are viewed by the younger set as the "Radio Amish", a quaint, ancient holdover from the early days of radio. And for today's youngsters, the "early days" increasingly means before there were such things as high speed wireless Internet, MSN, Facebook, satellite and cable television, PDAs and Internet-capable cell phones.

THIS is why I'm not holding out much hope that attracting retirement-age "oldsters" is going to sustain our ranks (let alone grow them!) over the long term.

To the contrary, everything I've experienced, seen and read indicates that the best and brightest youth of today have little interest in someday pursuing a hobby that, for them, is not (and never has been) "magical". So my hunch is that they probably won't be interested in doing so when they reach retirement age unless WE somehow figure out a way to make it so.

And sadly, (and as I noted earlier) some of us are now simply too busy "having fun enjoying this wonderful hobby" to care much about the future of same.

The bottom line here is that, while I sincerely hope that I'm absolutely wrong in all of this, I still cannot help but conclude that interest in our hobby WILL continue to fade as those of us who still view radio as "magic" continue to age and die in ever increasing numbers.

And despite a lot of verbal arm waving and emotional "say it isn't so" appeals (not to mention boorish personal attacks) from some people in these forums, I still find it interesting that nobody has (yet) offered a single shred of credible evidence to dispute any of my predictions.

Clearly, as time goes on (and unless the current perception of our hobby rapidly changes among the youth of today), there are going to be fewer and fewer youthful newcomers down the road to take our places as we, too, eventually go the way of the dinosaur. [...]

Today's youth are not impressed by "old" technology. Yet I think there is some renewed interest in amateur radio for EmComm (Emergency Communications: "When all else fails"), and the newer technologies like digital radio modes, and "air" mail, etc. The technology that ham radio uses and interacts with is constantly evolving.

I think the demographics of licensees are changing as well. Many of the members of my local radio club are women, almost half the membership. They have their own "YL" net where they meet once a week and chat about things that interest them.

For all the talk about kids not being interested in radio, there are exceptions. The ARISS program (Amateur Radio from the International Space Station) has been very popular with children in schools that participate in making space contacts. Other space related things like Moonbounce (a.k.a. "EME", Earth-Moon-Earth) communications are much easier to do now thanks to cheaper hardware, the internet and software. There are also a growing number of DX contest competitions that some would enjoy.

Some kids at one of our local schools expressed an interest in learning Morse Code, because it's faster than text messaging. Some schools now incorporate ham radio into their science curriculum, and encourage their students to get licensed as part of their learning.

As the people who are using amateur radio, and the reasons they are using it continue to change, interest in amateur radio may also change accordingly. But whether any of that will be enough to attract ham licensees in significant numbers in the future remains to be seen. I wouldn't give up hope just yet though; it's an evolving situation.

For me, it remains an interesting world of possibilities.


Also see:

Radio Communications in a Changing World

Learning Ham Radio; start with a Police Scanner?

The ARRL, my missed opportunity, and my fun new hobby

Oregon Emergency Amateur Radio in Action

How I passed the Ham Radio Technician's Test

Shortwave Radio Nostalgia for a Sunday

Nostalgia for "tube" radios, a.k.a. "boat anchors"

The convergence of Ham Radio with the Internet
     

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Egypt's "Facebook" Revolution. Being hyjacked?

Perhaps not yet. And hopefully, not at all. But can the youth hang on to it?


Is it really the internet, things like Facebook, Twitter and Google, that sparked the revolution? And is it now being usurped by others? Many of the younger Egyptians seem to think so:

Freed young leader energizes Egyptian protests
CAIRO – A young leader of Egypt's anti-government protesters, newly released from detention, joined a massive crowd in Cairo's Tahrir Square for the first time Tuesday and was greeted with cheers, whistling and thunderous applause when he declared: "We will not abandon our demand and that is the departure of the regime."

Many in the crowd said they were inspired by Wael Ghonim, the 30-year-old Google Inc. marketing manager who was a key organizer of the online campaign that sparked the first protest on Jan. 25 to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Straight from his release from 12 days of detention, Ghonim gave an emotionally charged television interview Monday night where he sobbed over those who have been killed in two weeks of clashes.

He arrived in the square when it was packed shoulder-to-shoulder, a crowd comparable in size to the biggest demonstration so far that drew a quarter-million people. He spoke softly and briefly to the huge crowd from a stage and began by offering his condolences to the families of those killed.

"I'm not a hero but those who were martyred are the heroes," he said, breaking into a chant of "Mubarak leave, leave." When he finished, the crowd erupted in cheering, whistling and deafening applause.

Ghonim has emerged as a rallying point for protesters, who reject a group of traditional Egyptian opposition groups that have met with the government amid the most sweeping concessions the regime has made in its three decades in power.

Protesters have lacked a clear, representative voice and many worry the traditional parties are trying to hijack the uprising, which began when activists used the Internet to mobilize protester. The mostly youthful protesters are insisting that no concessions will do unless Mubarak steps down.

In his first television interview Monday night, Ghonim dubbed the protests "the revolution of the youth of the Internet" and proclaimed defiantly: "We are not traitors."

About 130,000 people have joined a Facebook group nominating Ghonim as the spokesman of their uprising. The page is called "I delegate Wael Ghonim to speak in the name of Egypt's revolutionaries." [...]

Not only is this story not over yet, it's clearly just beginning. Where it's going, I don't think anyone knows for sure. The Facebook youth may have opened the door, but is it creating the "void" that Hillary Clinton warned about, where whoever has the most brute force on the ground can rush in and seize power? Can that be prevented?

And while the internet certainly is playing a role, I believe the actual spark has more to do with economics:

The Economic Roots Of the Revolt
Few countries have been less integrated into the global economy than Egypt.
The mass movement engulfing Egypt exposes a fact that has been hiding in plain sight: In a decade during which China has brought more people out of poverty at a faster rate than ever in human history, in a period of time where economic reform has been sweeping the world from Brazil to Indonesia, Egypt has missed out.

A decade ago, IBM ran a series of commercials featuring its global reach. One included a fisherman sailing on the Nile, tapping into a wireless network. It was an enticing image—and almost completely fictional. Few countries have been less integrated into the global economy.

The country ranks 137 in the world in per-capita income (just behind Tonga and ahead of Kirbati), with a population in the top 20. And while GDP growth for the past few years has been respectable, averaging 4%-5% save for 2009 (when all countries suffered), even that is at best middle of the pack in a period where the more competitive dynamic nations have been surging ahead.

Egypt has long been famous for crony inefficiency. Yet Hosni Mubarak was graced with nearly $2 billion in annual U.S. aid, another $5 billion from dues from the Suez Canal, and $10 billion in tourism, so he could buy off a considerable portion of the 80 million Egyptians. [...]

It goes on into a lot of detail. While some of the problems are unique to Egypt, others are endemic to the region.

Many countries of the Middle East are borrowing money to keep food prices down, instead of creating jobs. Like the Western nations, they are also accumulating massive debts. It's an unsustainable situation. Where is it going to lead to?


Also see: Tahrir photos

     

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Can expired pancake mix be deadly?

I got an email about this. Apparently, under the right circumstances, it can:

A student at HBHS (high school) had pancakes this week and it almost became fatal. His Mom (registered nurse) made him pancakes, dropped him off at school and headed to play tennis. She never takes her cell phone on the court but did this time and her son called to say he was having trouble breathing. She told him to go to the nurse immediately and proceeded to call school and alert the nurse. The nurse called the paramedics and they were there in 3 minutes and worked on the boy all the way to the hospital. He came so close to dying. Evidently this is more common then I ever knew.

Check the expiration dates on packages like pancakes and cake mixes that have yeast which over time develop spores. Apparently, the mold that forms in old mixes can be toxic! Throw away ALL OUTDATED pancake mix, brownie mixes, Bisquick, cake & cookie mixes, etc., you have in your home.

P.S. Tell this to your children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and anyone else who keeps these types of mixes in the cupboard.*

P.P.S. This warning especially applies to any person(s) with mold
allergies.


Snopes.com confirms it:

Flapjack Flap: Mold that forms in pancake mix can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction

The Snopes article goes into more detail. It doesn't just magically happen after the expiration date, the package has to be exposed to moisture for some time. I believe it also applies to cake, biscuit and brownie mixes, if they have been opened and then are left past their expiration date, or even if they haven't been opened, but moisture somehow got into the packaging. Follow the Snopes link for details.

People with mold allergies are the most susceptible, but why even take a chance? If in doubt, throw it out.
     

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Smoke Detectors: Photoelectric VS Ionization

Our smoke detectors are over 10 years old now, and should be replaced. One of them has been "chirping" in the early hours of the morning, when the temperature gets cold, which led me to investigate why. So I've ordered two of these as replacements:


First Alert SA720CN Smoke Alarm Photoelectric Sensor with Escape Light
[...] The SA720CN alarm uses photoelectric sensing technology, which is generally more sensitive than commonly used ionization technology, to detect large smoke particles. Large smoke particles tend to be produced in greater amounts by slow-to-burn fires (often caused by cigarettes burning in couches or bedding), which may smolder for hours before bursting into flame.

An added bonus, photoelectric sensing technology reduces false alarms like those caused by cooking smoke and shower steam.

As easy to operate as it is effective, the SA720CN boasts patented OptiPath technology, which provides 360-degrees of direct access to the smoke sensor. Additionally, a mute button quickly silences false alarms for up to 15 minutes and also doubles as an alarm test button. [...]

Most of the smoke detectors nowadays have both photoelectric and ionization technology. But I bought this one, which only uses photoelectric, because of this customer comment:

Ionization detectors DO NOT WORK
Folks,
Ionization detectors DO NOT protect you. The results and test methods are false due to the fire industy's cozy relationship with smoke detector manufacturers (yes, direct kick backs, look it up) and money for lobbyists in Sacramento and Washington DC. The profit margin on ionization detectors is much higher than photoelectric. Only photoelectric (required in commercial buildings - why not residential?) WORK. 75% of ionization detectors did not sound AT ALL in smoke filled rooms lethal to humans and have failed repeated independent tests.

I'm a 20 year veteran of the fire service and a paramedic. I can guarantee you will DIE from smoke inhalation before an ionization alarm EVER goes off. No one dies from being burnt, you die from asphyxiation due to smoke and poisonous gases. Read this and only buy photoelectric. There's too much information for me to go into it here. Be sure and follow the World Safety Fire Foundation link. If that doesn't convince you to go photoelectric you're playing with death. Email [...] and if you send a SASE I will send you a dvd proving much of these assertions to you. It includes a show from Canadian TV that is ILLEGAL to show in the US as well as other information. BE SAFE! My dept's Chief's message is below:
BD

Chief's Message
Warning: Your smoke alarm may not detect smoke

Currently, there is great confusion regarding the topic of smoke alarms. There are two types of smoke alarms used to protect residents in the event of a fire; photoelectric and ionization smoke alarms- both respond differently to smoke and flame.

Ionization smoke alarms react poorly to deadly smoke but faster to flames while photoelectric alarms react much faster to smoke. Ionization alarms are present in over 95% of homes in America and have a high failure rate when it comes to detecting smoke. The problem is, most deadly fires are smoldering fires and not fast flaming fires. By now, most people understand it is deadly smoke and heat that kills you before the flames even reach you. Ionization alarms should be labeled flame alarms and not smoke alarms.

An example of a fast flaming fire would be a Christmas tree fire, which certainly have claimed their share of resident's lives, but nowhere near the number of lives claimed by smoldering fires. Other fast flaming fires would be kitchen fires, which are the leading cause of residential fires, but rarely do they claim lives. I implore you to watch the following videos and audio clips: video 1, video 2, video 3, video 4 (University of Cincinnati presentation), audio clip 1.

Arguably, a greater problem with the ionization alarm is the number of false alarms it renders, thus leading to residents disconnecting the alarm all together. I must include an interesting story - a couple of years ago, with my infinite knowledge, I installed a combination ionization/photoelectric smoke alarm in my living room. Because my home is not large, the house is heated by a wood burning stove. After numerous false alarms (initiated by the invisible smoke) started by my stove, I gave up using the hush button (as it did not silence long enough) and disconnected the battery and remained disconnected until I went to bed.

Finally after one season, I placed the combination alarm in my bedroom (replacing the older alarm) and placed a new photoelectric alarm in my living room. Do I need to tell you the results? Not one false alarm. So my point is, how many residents (worldwide) give up and just permanently disconnect the ionization alarm and expose themselves to a potential lethal smoldering fire? Moreover, there have been many fire deaths worldwide with working ionization smoke alarms present but failed to detect smoke. Regrettably, the fire industry has yet to take an official stand to eliminate ionization smoke alarms once and for all.

Sincerely,

Marc McGinn

Albany Fire Chief

P.S. I urge you to immediately replace your current ionization smoke alarms that do not detect smoke, with photoelectric smoke alarms, and for more extensive information please visit [...]. If you have any additional questions or need assistance I welcome your phone call at [...].

[...]

I've read that ionization detection is supposed to be good for detecting flash fires, like Christmas trees and waste paper baskets, that flare up suddenly with lots of flame an little smoke. The ionization supposedly detects invisible particles that these kinds of fires generate.

Perhaps they do. Unfortunately, they also detect dinner cooking, steam from the shower, your wood stove working normally, etc. The result can be too many false alarms.

I'm one of those people who pulls the battery out when the alarm goes off too often. So IMO, it stands to reason that, a properly sensitized smoke detector with the battery in it is going to be more effective than an overly sensitive one with the battery removed. So I've opted for the photoelectric ONLY model (Actually it's also the only one like it that I saw on Amazon.com; the rest all seem to be "duel" technology).

So that's how I came to make that choice. And just in case, we have another back-up system, too... DOGS.
     

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