Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2070 on: Dec 3rd, 2010, 08:09am »
Track Record: Man-Made Footprints on Other Worlds By Lisa Grossman December 3, 2010 | 7:00 am Categories: Astronomy, Space
One of the Mars exploration rovers looks back at where it's been. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Humans have scribbled "We were here" all over the solar system. From footprints on the moon to burnt-out landers on Titan, the visible records of our excursions past Earth are badges of pride — not to mention unique opportunities to do science.
"Aside from just a curiosity, it allows us to know exactly where all the lunar samples came from relative to one another," said planetary scientist Jeff Plescia of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, who uses the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft to look for human artifacts on the moon.
But our tracks won't last forever. A new paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research traces how tracks left by the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity are wiped away by the wind, usually within a Martian year.
"It's a little humbling," said planetary scientist Paul Geissler of the U.S. Geological Survey, lead author of the new paper. "Mars will just clean up after us, and wait for the next visitors."
This gallery takes a quick tour through the solar system through the visible marks we've left behind.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2075 on: Dec 3rd, 2010, 6:35pm »
Texas resident Aron Embry was talking on his Droid 2 smartphone when he heard a pop. He claims the phone had exploded in his ear. Embry was rushed to the hospital, where he got 4 stitches.
Embry told afterdawn.com:
"I heard a pop. I didn't feel any pain initially. I pulled the phone down. I felt something dripping. I realized that it probably was blood. I went into the house and as I got into the bathroom and once I got to the mirror and saw it, it was only then I kinda looked at my phone and noticed the screen had appeared to burst outward."
Honestly, we'd be fine if this happened on our iPhone if it meant it didn't drop calls every five minutes.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2080 on: Dec 4th, 2010, 08:45am »
New York Times
December 3, 2010 Yemen Sets Terms of a War on Al Qaeda By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — One Obama administration security official after another was visiting to talk about terrorism, and Yemen’s redoubtable president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, seemed to be savoring his newfound leverage.
The Americans are “hot-blooded and hasty when you need us,” Mr. Saleh chided one visitor, Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s counterterrorism chief, but “cold-blooded and British when we need you.”
It was Jan. 31, just a few weeks after a young Nigerian trained and equipped in Yemen had tried to blow up an airliner as it approached Detroit. The wave of attention to Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch and its American-born propagandist, Anwar al-Awlaki, might not do much for tourism, but paradoxically it did give the Yemeni leader more influence.
Mr. Saleh said coyly that while he was “satisfied” with the military equipment the United States was supplying, he “would like to be more satisfied in the future,” according to an account of the meeting sent to Washington.
Diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to several news organizations offer the most intimate view to date of the wily, irreverent and sometimes erratic Yemeni autocrat, who over the past year has become steadily more aggressive against Al Qaeda. But he appears determined to join the fight on his own terms, sometimes accommodating and other times rebuffing American requests on counterterrrorism.
The cables do not substantially alter the public picture of Mr. Saleh (pronounced SAH-leh), 68, a former military officer who has led Yemen for three decades. But with direct quotations from private meetings, the cables are like crisp color photographs of what was previously in fuzzy black and white.
Yemen, long an arid, impoverished afterthought for the United States, now draws high-level American attention far out of proportion to its size. In October, militants in Yemen sent off printer cartridges packed with explosives to Chicago addresses. The bombs were intercepted, but the plot set off a furor and prompted the latest in a series of phone calls between President Obama and his Yemeni counterpart about counterterrorism and aid.
At times, the cables show, Mr. Saleh has not hesitated to use his country’s daunting problems as a kind of threat.
“Referencing the high poverty rate and illicit arms flows into both Yemen and Somalia, Saleh concluded by saying, ‘If you don’t help, this country will become worse than Somalia,’ ” said a September 2009 cable from the American ambassador, Stephen A. Seche, describing Mr. Saleh as being in “vintage form.”
The cables portray Yemen, a land of 23 million people that is nearly the size of Texas, as a beleaguered, often baffling place, bristling with arms and riven by tribal conflict, where shoulder-launched missiles go missing and the jihad-curious arrive from all over the world. The Americans are seen coaxing the Yemenis to go after Al Qaeda, working out the rules for American missile strikes, seeking a safe way to send Yemeni prisoners home from the Guantánamo Bay prison and sizing up Americans caught in Yemeni security sweeps.
Always at the center of the diplomatic traffic is Mr. Saleh, who first appears seeking a half-million tons of wheat in a 1990 meeting with James A. Baker III, then the secretary of state. These days, his most pressing requests are for heavy weapons and military training. But he also has become more cooperative with the American campaign against Al Qaeda.
In a 2009 meeting with John O. Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, Mr. Saleh offered an unusual bargain. He “insisted that Yemen’s national territory is available for unilateral CT operations by the U.S.” — but with a catch. If there were to be an attack on a Western target, Mr. Saleh said, it would not be his fault.
“I have given you an open door on terrorism,” he said, “so I am not responsible.”
In fact, despite such rhetoric, Mr. Saleh has imposed strict limits over American operations in his country, even as he has helped disguise them as his own.
When the first two American missile strikes against Qaeda camps in Yemen took place in December 2009, Mr. Saleh publicly claimed that they were Yemeni strikes to avert any anti-American backlash. Gen. David H. Petraeus flew to Yemen to thank the president, who promised to keep up the ruse. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Mr. Saleh said, according to a cable.
A deputy prime minister, Rashad al-Alimi, had already assured the Americans that “U.S. munitions found at the sites” of strikes “could be explained away as equipment purchased from the U.S.”
Moreover, Mr. Alimi implied that Yemeni officials accepted as inevitable that the missiles had killed civilians along with militants. They were Bedouin families — “poor people selling food and supplies to the terrorists” and thus “acting in collusion with the terrorists and benefiting financially,” he said.
Still, Mr. Saleh told General Petraeus that “mistakes were made” in the killing of civilians. He agreed to the American commander’s proposal that to improve accuracy, future strikes would be carried out by American aircraft rather than by cruise missiles fired from distant ships.
But he firmly denied General Petraeus’s request to send American advisers along on Yemeni counterterrorism operations. For his part, General Petraeus put off Mr. Saleh’s request for 12 armed helicopters, even though the president promised to use them “only against Al Qaeda.” The United States has been wary of fueling the Yemeni government’s long-running conflicts with the so-called Houthi rebels in the north and secessionists in the south.
The two sides also sparred over Yemen’s restrictions on material the United States shipped to its embassy in the diplomatic pouch, which the Yemenis evidently suspected was being used to import eavesdropping equipment. The Americans have complained about poor security at the airport in Sana, Yemen’s capital, including X-ray screeners who do not watch their monitors, and also security officers who “harass” American diplomats.
Beyond such testy bargaining, emptying the Guantánamo Bay prison, where Yemenis are the single largest group remaining, has been a regular source of tension. When Mr. Saleh rejected an American plan to send the Yemenis to a Saudi rehabilitation program in March 2009, a cable described him as “dismissive, bored and impatient” and said he had “missed a good chance to engage the new administration on one of its key foreign policy priorities.”
At the same time, the embassy was tracking the growing number of Yemeni arrests of expatriate Americans suspected of having links to militants. By last February, such arrests were occurring about once a week, and Mr. Seche wrote to Washington that the embassy’s “sharply increased workload” urgently required more personnel.
“In the past two years, the Muslim convert community of Amcits living in Yemen,” Mr. Seche wrote, using shorthand for American citizens, “has been increasingly linked to extremist activities.” Sorting out such cases was difficult, a February cable said, citing an American woman who had reported the midnight arrest of her husband but appeared to be “omitting or manipulating critical details.”
Yemen had become a magnet for would-be jihadists from around the globe, and a January cable listed 23 Australian citizens and residents to be added to terrorism watch lists because of activities in Yemen or connections to Mr. Awlaki, the radical cleric hiding there. Many of the Australians were women, and Qaeda operatives in Yemen were seeking “to identify a female for a future attack,” the cable said.
The cables report on American and Yemeni attempts to track down and destroy stocks of the shoulder-fired missiles known as “manpads,” for man-portable air-defense systems. Their lethality against aircraft make them a major counterterrorism concern.
Yemen’s Defense Ministry insisted that it had no stocks of such missiles, but Yemen’s National Security Bureau — a newer agency that works closely with the United States — told the Americans that the Defense Ministry “does indeed have MANPADS, but would never speak of them because they are considered a state secret.”
A close ally in the counterterrorism efforts, the cables make clear, is Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the deputy interior minister in neighboring Saudi Arabia, who in October tipped off American officials about the parcel bomb plot. Shortly after the attempted bombing of the airliner bound for Detroit, Prince Nayef told Gen. James L. Jones, then President Obama’s national security adviser, that the only way to combat Al Qaeda in Yemen was to “keep them on the run” and that Yemeni and American strikes on Al Qaeda were proving effective.
Saudi authorities “have been monitoring conversations of Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen very closely, and whereas before the attack they were hearing relaxed 20-minute phone conversations over cellphones, after the attack the phones went virtually silent,” Prince Nayef said, according to a cable. That showed that Qaeda operatives “are more focused on their own security rather than on planning operations,” he said.
Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2081 on: Dec 4th, 2010, 08:47am »
New York Times
December 3, 2010 China to Tighten Monetary Policy By EDWARD WONG
BEIJING — China will tighten its monetary policy next year, the country’s leaders said Friday, a sign that they are increasingly concerned about inflation and an overheated economy.
The move, announced in an article by Xinhua, China’s official news agency, comes as other nations, including the United States, continue to grapple with a global recession.
Xinhua reported that the Politburo, the elite team led by nine members at the top of the Communist Party hierarchy, had decided that China’s monetary policy should shift “from relatively loose to prudent next year.” The article also said China “will continue its proactive fiscal policy,” meaning that investment spending would not be severely curbed.
China’s economy has continued to grow rapidly, bolstered in part by an enormous government stimulus package and liberal lending by state banks after the global financial crisis began in late 2008. The move to rein in liquidity and bank lending, presumably through interest rate increases and other means, indicates that Chinese leaders feel confident enough in prospects for future growth that they can afford to cool down the economy.
The Xinhua article did not discuss the implications of a tighter monetary policy for the value of the renminbi. But one reason China has kept its monetary policy loose for the last several years has been to issue more renminbi and buy United States dollars.
That currency market intervention has kept the renminbi weak and has made Chinese exports more competitive in foreign markets while making foreign goods more expensive in China. The United States, Europe and some developing countries have become increasingly concerned; they say the relative weakness of the renminbi has caused the transfer of jobs and economic growth to China. And the Obama administration in particular has been putting pressure on China to let the renminbi appreciate.
Tightening the money supply might mean China’s central bank would buy fewer dollars and might strengthen the renminbi against the dollar and other major currencies — the effect critics of China’s monetary policy have been seeking. But analysts do not expect the shift in policy to lead to significant currency appreciation.
The government reported that the consumer price index, an indicator of inflation, rose 4.4 percent in October from the same month in 2009. The increase was the largest in 25 months and higher than the rate policy makers in Beijing are comfortable with. The government wants the average throughout all of 2010 to be no higher than 3 percent; in May, the index nudged up to 3.1 percent over May 2009 and has been gradually rising since.
Some analysts say the government will raise interest rates throughout 2011 to curb spending.
In October, the government slightly raised a benchmark lending rate, apparently to slow real estate speculation. The property market in China has been booming. Rising property prices, along with the government stimulus money and loose bank lending, have spurred new developments across the country, from the windswept plains of Inner Mongolia to the tropical southern island of Hainan. Some analysts say this has resulted in a dangerous bubble in the real estate market, while others argue that the capacity will be put to good use.
A record $560 billion of residential property was sold in 2009, an increase of 80 percent over 2008, according to government statistics.
Some officials in the central government have indicated they recognize there is a risk to loose bank lending and presumably want to slow it. Victor C. Shih, an associate professor at Northwestern University, has estimated that state banks have lent $1.6 trillion to companies owned by local governments, and that a significant portion of that is likely to pile up as bad loans, posing a risk to state banks.
Low wages have helped to hold down inflation. But those wages, coupled with the hot property market, mean that migrant workers from the interior of China are less tolerant of poor work conditions on the coasts, where many of China’s export manufacturing factories are located. Many workers are now choosing to stay closer to home in the interior provinces.
China Daily, an official English-language newspaper, reported on Monday that two large manufacturing hubs, the Pearl River Delta and the Yangtze River Delta, are experiencing severe worker shortages. The Pearl River Delta could be short by as many as 900,000 workers, the newspaper reported, citing a recent survey by the human resources department of Guangdong Province.
Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Hong Kong.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2082 on: Dec 4th, 2010, 08:52am »
Taj Mahal falling victim to chronic pollution The Taj Mahal, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, is falling victim to chronic pollution, according to an Indian government report.
The Taj Mahal Photo: Reuters/Brijesh Singh
By Dean Nelson and Jalees Andrabi in New Delhi 3:30PM GMT 03 Dec 2010
Its celebrated white marble façade is gradually turning yellow because of air pollution caused by petrol fumes and illegal building works.
A report by India's National Environment Engineering Research Institute has found that several conservation schemes costing millions of pounds have failed to protect its white marble stones from discolouring.
Since 1998, when India's Supreme Court ordered new measures to protect the Taj Mahal from pollution, more than £90 million has been spent on restoring the country's most recognisable monument.
Fumes from city traffic, nearby housing developments and water pollution from raw sewage which flows in the nearby Yumuna River have taken their toll on the mausoleum built by Emperor Shah Jahan after the death of his favourite wife Mumtaz.
In the last 12 years conservationists have tried a number of measures to curb the pollution which has grown along with the city's rising population. At one stage, conservationists even used 'Multani Mitti', a chalk-based face pack used by women in South Asia to clean their skin, in the hope it would draw out the impurities from the marble. Local residents and the monument's many tour guides however complained the treatment had further discoloured its façade.
Dr JS Pandey of the National Environment Engineering Research Institute, whose report has been submitted to the country's Environment ministry, said the city needed comprehensive action to stop pollution from unauthorised and unplanned construction further damaging the Taj Mahal.
"There's no doubt it is because of the air pollution and environment, acid rain. The main culprit is atmosphere pollution. The measures taken so far to contain this have not worked. There is too much building, extensions, encroachment of unplanned developments. We need a unified, integrated urban development plan," he said.
Ram Pratap Singh, head of the Agra chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, said the while monument's structure remains sound, falling water levels in the Yumuna River could damage its foundation.
"From the engineering point of there is no threat to the structure from pollution but less water in the Yamuna and change of course of the river might have an impact on the foundations," he said.
"Certainly there is a threat to the white marble from the city pollution. We have to look at the entire city. We have thousands of vehicles plying on the roads and emitting pollutants at an alarming level. The city roads are so congested that for a 15 minutes drive, one has to spend an hour thus consuming more fuels and emitting [more] pollutants."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2083 on: Dec 4th, 2010, 08:55am »
WikiLeaks: new diplomatic cables contain UFO details, Julian Assange says.
New leaked diplomatic cables set to be published by Wikileaks will contain fresh details on UFOs, according to the website's founder Julian Assange.
By Andrew Hough 11:00PM GMT 03 Dec 2010
The 39 year-old Australian, who is wanted by Interpol over a charge of rape and sexual assault in Sweden, said there were some references to extraterrestrial life in yet-to-be-published confidential files obtained from the American government.
He did not disclose what information was contained in the diplomatic memos obtained by the whistleblowing website. It also remains unclear when they will be published.
Mr Assange said his website, under considerable strain in recent days over its "Cablegate" series of leaks, received emails from “weirdos” claiming to have seen UFOs.
“Many weirdos email us about UFOs or how they discovered that they were the anti-christ whilst talking with their ex-wife at a garden party over a pot-plant,” he wrote when asked if any of the documents he had received referred to extraterrestrial life.
“However, as yet they have not satisfied two of our publishing rules. 1) that the documents not be self-authored; 2) that they be original."
“It is worth noting that in yet-to-be-published parts of the cablegate archive there are indeed references to UFOs.”
Last year there were almost 400 reported sightings to the Ministry of Defence of UFOs throughout Britain – a figure that had tripled from the previous year.
The so-called "X Files" reported to the MoD's UFO desk, which has since been closed, was the busiest year on record.
Some websites later speculated that the cables could offer answers to claims from US military pilots that aliens have landed, infiltrated British nuclear missile sites and deactivated the weapons.
Mr Assange’s comments were made during a webchat with The Guardian, during which he confirmed his team were taking security precautions due to "threats against our lives".
Mr Assange is under intense scrutiny worldwide after his website began releasing a selection of more than 250,000 classified US diplomatic cables passed to the whistle-blowing website.
Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, has called for him to be hunted down like the al-Qaeda leadership while other members of her party have directly called for a capital sentence against WikiLeaks personnel.
"The threats against our lives are a matter of public record. However, we are taking the appropriate precautions to the degree that we are able when dealing with a super power," Assange wrote in response to a reader's question.
A Canadian pundit called earlier this week for him to be assassinated for leaking US diplomatic cables, while former Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said those responsible for the leaks should face execution.
The Swedish authorities are also seeking Mr Assange over a charge of rape and sexual assault. Interpol has issued an international warrant for his arrest.
British police requested more information about the penalties Mr Assange could face if convicted, according to a statement on the Swedish Prosecution Authority's website.
It is understood that this has now been provided, although the Metropolitan Police refused to discuss whether officers from its extradition unit were preparing to arrest Mr Assange.
Mr Assange's UK lawyer said that neither the British nor the Swedish authorities had sought to speak to his client.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2084 on: Dec 4th, 2010, 09:02am »
Secret Space Plane Finally Lands; Twin Preps for Launch By David Axe December 3, 2010 | 9:48 am Categories: Science!
Photo: U.S. Air Force
After 225 days in orbit the Air Force’s mysterious X-37B space plane touched down Friday at 1:16 a.m. local time at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. It was only the second fully automated re-entry and runway landing in the history of space flight. The Soviets achieved the first in 1988 with the robotic prototype of their Buran Space Shuttle clone.
Space-plane program manager Lt. Col. Troy Giese says that “today’s landing culminates a successful mission” which “completed all the on-orbit objectives.” But the Air Force has been consistently vague about what that mission really was. For a while, military personnel claimed they didn’t even know when the X-37B was coming back to Earth.
With a payload bay roughly the size of a pickup-truck bed, the 29-foot-long robot could carry sensors or even weapons. Its maneuverability — amateur skywatchers tracked the X-37 making four major course changes — means it could sneak up on and hijack other nations’ satellites. Or it could be a mere flying laboratory, as the Air Force insists.
“I still stand by my initial assessment that its primary mission was likely to be test flight of new sensors or satellite hardware,” says Brian Weeden from the Secure World Foundation. He adds that he thinks the X-37 has “pretty much zero utility as a ’space bomber’” or satellite-killer.
One thing is clear: the X-37 saga has just begun. The Air Force has commissioned Boeing to build a second X-37 to enter service next spring. And the first X-37 could find itself back in orbit in short order, as well.
After all, one of the advantages of airplane-style spacecraft is their reusability. Lacking disposable stages like a rocket capsule, they don’t have to be pieced back together post-mission. Just check out the electronics and the plumbing, inspect the skin for cracks and, in theory, you’ve got a spaceworthy vehicle.
“It will be interesting to see how fast they can turn the X-37B around for another launch,” Weeden says. “That is going to be a key indicator of how ‘operational’ the technology is and its value to supporting the war-fighter.”
Even if its initial tests were a bust and it proves incapable of quickly returning to space, the X-37 has already changed the world. The vehicle’s mere existence threatened to spark a minor space race between the United States and rival powers. And the X-37 boosted the ambitions of commercial space-launch advocates who are wheedling NASA for access to their own reusable, low-orbit space plane.