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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 3281 times)
WingsofCrystal
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« Reply #3975 on: May 13th, 2011, 07:55am »

Geeky Gadgets

Robot Lightsaber Duel Is Awesome Beyond Words
By Glenn Santos
Friday 13th May 2011 8:14 am

So awesome, we were tempted to leave the whole text of this post as “…” but that would have been unprofessional. Pictured below are two robotic arms (made in Japan of course) battling for the fate of the galaxy. Uh, no, it’s just a demo to catch people’s eyeballs. Who can resist a full blown lightsaber duel anyway?





The robot arms are built by Yaskawa, a company that likes to advertise its high tech products via grandiose displays of robotic skill.

http://www.geeky-gadgets.com/robot-lightsaber-duel-is-awesome-beyond-words-13-05-2011/

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« Reply #3976 on: May 13th, 2011, 2:37pm »

Deadline Hollywood

UPDATE: 'Brothers & Sisters' Canceled, As Is 'V'
By NELLIE ANDREEVA
Friday May 13, 2011 @ 11:48am PDT
Tags: ABC, Brothers & Sisters, Cancellation

UPDATE: It's official, there will be no sixth season of ABC's family drama Brothers & Sisters. And V won't return for a third season either. ABC just made the calls.

PREVIOUS: Barring any last-minute miracle, it looks like this is the end of the road for ABC's veteran family drama Brothers & Sisters. There had been a serious effort by ABC and producing studio ABC Studios to find a price point at which they could bring the show back for an abbreviated sixth and final season. There have been talks with star Calista Flockhart to return for six episodes next season.

Last May, Brothers & Sisters clinched a last-minute 18-episode order that was subsequently expanded to 22 episodes. But the indications are, with so many drama pilots scoring high in testings and screenings this year, ABC is ready to say good-bye to the Walker clan.

http://www.deadline.com/2011/05/brothers-sisters-close-to-cancellation/

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« Reply #3977 on: May 13th, 2011, 8:15pm »




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« Reply #3978 on: May 14th, 2011, 07:42am »

New York Times

May 14, 2011
Obama Shifts to Speed Oil and Gas Drilling in U.S.
By JOHN M. BRODER

WASHINGTON — President Obama, facing voter anger over high gasoline prices and complaints from Republicans and business leaders that his policies are restricting the development of domestic energy resources, announced on Saturday that he was taking several steps to speed oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters.

It was at least a partial concession to his critics, who say he has shackled domestic energy development at a time when consumers are paying near-record prices at the gas pump. The Republican-led House passed three bills in the last 10 days that would significantly expand and accelerate oil development in the United States, saying the administration was driving up gas prices and preventing job creation with anti-drilling policies.

Administration officials said the president’s announcement was designed in part to answer these arguments, signal flexibility and demonstrate Mr. Obama’s commitment to reducing oil imports by boosting domestic production. But in fact the policies announced Saturday would not have an immediate effect on supply or prices, nor would they quickly open any new areas to drilling.

The president’s turn to a domestic pocketbook issue comes after two weeks of intense focus on the killing of Osama bin Laden, terrorism more broadly and the multiple crises in the Middle East.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president said the administration would begin to hold annual auctions for oil and gas leases in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, a 23-million-acre tract on the North Slope. The move comes after years of demands for the auctions by industry executives and Alaska’s two senators, Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, and Mark Begich, a Democrat.

The administration will also accelerate a review of the environmental impact of possible drilling off the southern and central Atlantic coast and will consider making some areas available for exploration. The move marks a change from current policy, which puts the entire Atlantic seaboard off limits to drilling until at least 2018.

The president also said he would extend leases already granted for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean off Alaska that had been frozen after last year’s BP spill. The extension will allow companies time to meet new safety and environmental standards without having to worry about their leases expiring.

The government will also provide incentives for oil companies to more quickly exploit leases they already hold. Tens of millions of acres onshore and offshore are under lease but have not been developed.

The moves come after the House passed a series of bills that would force the administration to move much further and faster to open public lands and waters to oil and gas development. The administration had formally opposed the bills as written, but officials said Friday that the White House might accept some provisions in the bills, like extending the frozen leases in the gulf and in Alaska.

Responding to the shift by the administration, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, said, “The president just conceded what his party on Capitol Hill still denies: more American energy production will lower costs and create jobs. This reversal is striking, since his administration has consistently blocked American-made energy.”

Although Mr. Buck characterized the policy changes as “not terribly substantial,” he added that they should “pave the way for legislation, like the bills the House passed in the past two weeks, to reduce the damage from the restrictions he imposed in the past.”

The president, in his address, said he supported increased domestic oil and gas development, if it was done safely and responsibly. “Last year, America’s oil production reached its highest level since 2003,” he said. “But I believe that we should expand oil production in America, even as we increase safety and environmental standards.”

The Alaskan petroleum reserve was set aside in the 1920s as a source of oil for the Navy. There have been fewer than a dozen lease sales there; the most recent one, in 2010, drew only modest industry interest. The government has lowered its estimate of recoverable oil under that vast tract, and the Obama administration is leaving large areas untouched because of their ecological and wildlife value.

Response from environmental advocates was relatively muted. Eric Myers, Alaska policy director for the National Audubon Society, said that conservationists were willing to see an increase in drilling in the Alaskan petroleum reserve as long as it did not threaten wildlife, waters or sensitive lands.

The more environmentally sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska will remain off-limits to oil and gas drillers, administration officials said Friday.

The president noted in his address that the Justice Department had formed a task force to look into potential market manipulation or excessive speculation in oil, and he repeated his call for a repeal of the $4 billion a year in tax incentives the oil industry receives.

“In the last few months, the biggest oil companies made about $4 billion in profits each week,” Mr. Obama said. “And yet, they get $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies each year. Four billion dollars at a time when Americans can barely fill up their tanks. Four billion dollars at a time when we’re trying to reduce our deficit.”

Next week, the Senate will take up a Democratic bill to remove a portion of those subsides, but it is not expected to become law because of united Republican opposition in both chambers of Congress.

Mr. Obama’s last four weekly addresses have been about oil prices, industry profits and alternative energy programs.


http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/us/politics/15address.html?_r=1&hp

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« Reply #3979 on: May 14th, 2011, 07:44am »

Washington Post

Pakistani spy chief offers to resign

By Karin Brulliard and Shaiq Hussain
May 13 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s spy chief offered to resign Friday amid public outrage over the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden, an incident that humiliated the nation’s army and cast doubt on the capabilities of an intelligence network long believed to be nearly omnipotent.

Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, in emotional testimony at a private session of Parliament, apologized for what he said was an intelligence lapse and said he would leave his post if Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani deemed him unfit for the job, according to lawmakers. Yet Pasha also spoke in defiant tones about Pakistan’s alliance with the United States, which was severely strained even before the bin Laden killing.

The testimony came hours after suicide bombers killed 80 paramilitary recruits at a training center near the northwestern city of Peshawar, in an attack the Pakistani Taliban claimed as “revenge” for bin Laden’s death. Although police said they were unsure whether that was the motive, the attack seemed likely to deepen anger over the commando raid by the United States, which many Pakistanis view as an unfaithful ally whose military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan has sparked a violent backlash inside Pakistan.

According to one lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Pasha said that ties with the United States had “gone bad” since the secret U.S. raid in the military garrison city of Abbottabad and that Pakistan would be prepared to “resist” any future such operations.

“They want to take action on their own on our soil,” Pasha said of the United States, according to this lawmaker. “We will not allow their boots on our ground.”

Pasha’s statement and offer to resign appeared to be part of an effort to acknowledge denunciations from opposition parties over the intelligence services’ failure to locate bin Laden’s redoubt in Abbottabad.

It was unclear whether Parliament would take action on the resignation offer, or even whether it had the authority. There were no demands during Friday’s session, which stretched into the early hours of Saturday, to accept the offer from Pasha, who has worked closely with the CIA since assuming his post in 2008. Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who was also present at the session, has already declined to accept Pasha’s resignation, lawmakers said.

Once the session ended, Parliament issued a resolution that condemned the U.S. raid in Abbottabad and asked the government to “revisit and review its terms of engagement with the United States.” The resolution expressed confidence in the Pakistani military but also called for an independent investigation into the bin Laden case and the U.S. operation. Earlier this week, Gillani announced that the military would lead an inquiry, a decision that was widely criticized.

The briefing — by Pakistan’s powerful top brass before a civilian body that has nominal influence — was extremely unusual. The army, of which Pasha’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate is a part, has ruled Pakistan for half of its 64-year existence, and it controls most foreign and security policy matters. As anger over the bin Laden operation has risen, the military has appeared to try to shift blame to the unpopular civilian government.

But the killing of bin Laden within walking distance of the nation’s top military academy has challenged the army’s authority as rarely before. Pakistan was not informed about the helicopter raid, U.S. and Pakistani officials said, nor was it able to stop it once it was underway.

Pakistanis have since deemed the raid a breach of sovereignty and cited it as evidence that the military establishment is unable to protect the nuclear-armed nation or detect dangerous terrorists in its midst. Officials in Washington, meanwhile, have accused Pakistan’s intelligence service of harboring bin Laden to protect its interests in Afghanistan.

In what seemed to be a nod to the public anger, Pasha, who spoke at length while Kayani remained mostly silent, signaled rare deference to Parliament, acknowledging that politicians had criticized the security services for “ignoring” elected officials, according to one lawmaker, Riaz Fatiana.

Yet Pasha also vigorously defended the ISI, saying — as military officials have done repeatedly in the past week — that it has captured or killed hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives and other high-value terrorists. He and other military officials who spoke said they would review Pakistan’s military alliance with the United States if directed by Parliament, Fatiana said.

But in a sign that Pakistan and the United States continue to cooperate despite the tensions, the Pentagon confirmed Friday that Pakistan has allowed U.S. investigators to question three of bin Laden’s wives, who were living with him in Abbottabad when he was killed.

They were taken into custody by Pakistani authorities after U.S. Navy SEALs left bin Laden’s compound with his body. Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Defense Department spokesman, said that “we have had access to the widows.” But he declined to give details, such as where, when and under what circumstances the women were questioned. Pakistani intelligence officials have said one of the wives is Yemeni and two are Saudi.

Doubt over attack motive

Most of the victims of Friday’s bombings were newly minted cadets who were boarding buses for a 10-day leave.

The Pakistani Taliban, a homegrown offshoot of the Afghan militant group, asserted responsibility and said the bombings were meant as revenge for bin Laden’s death. Some local police officials cast doubt on that, saying the militants might have been from the neighboring Mohmand region, a section of Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal area where the army recently re-launched an operation to flush out Islamist militants.

Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan is the hub of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and a host of other affiliated militant organizations. The United States has provided billions of dollars to fund Pakistan’s counterinsurgency fight in the area. and U.S. officials are pressuring Pakistan to wage an offensive in the North Waziristan area, which is the base for several insurgent groups that target NATO forces in Afghanistan.

North Waziristan has been the target of an escalated CIA drone campaign, which is another source of tension between the United States and Pakistan. One such drone strike, the fourth since bin Laden’s death, killed four people in North Waziristan on Friday, authorities said.


Hussain is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Haq Nawaz Khan in Shabqadar, Pakistan, and staff writer Craig Whitlock in Washington contributed to this report.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2-suicide-bombers-kill-80-in-pakistan-in-revenge-for-bin-laden-killing/2011/05/12/AFdoRh1G_story.html?hpid=z2

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« Reply #3980 on: May 14th, 2011, 07:53am »

LA Times

At International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles, student research comes with rewards

The event at the L.A. Convention Center, which showcases exhibits as varied as asteroid detection, biofuel production
and nuclear proliferation, recognizes world-class work with prize money.


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As other students celebrate, Matthew Feddersen, left, and Blake Marggraff, both of Lafayette, Calif., hold the Gordon E. Moore Award,
the top prize at the Intel International Engineering and Science Fair at the L.A.Convention Center.
The Acalanes High School seniors figured out a way to potentially make radiation treatments more effective for cancer patients by placing tin near their tumors.
(Rick Loomis, Los Angeles Times / May 14, 2011)



By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
May 14, 2011


It was a passion for surfing that helped lead Adrienne McColl to the final round of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles this week.

The 18-year-old senior at the San Pedro High School Marine Science Magnet had to put away her surfboard after fracturing her back twice during her sophomore year.

To stay close to the water, she began investigating ways to restore the falling population of California spiny lobsters, focusing her efforts on keeping lobster larvae alive long enough to have a decent shot at reaching adulthood. After more than 2,500 hours of painstaking work, she broke the record for keeping the larvae alive in a lab: 179 days, more than two months longer than professional scientists had been able to manage.

It wasn't enough to win the competition's top prize — that honor went to Matthew Feddersen and Blake Marggraff of Lafayette in the Bay Area, who figured out a way to potentially make radiation treatments more effective for cancer patients by placing tin near their tumors. The seniors from Acalanes High School shared the Gordon E. Moore Award and a total of $83,000 in prize money for scholarships.

But McColl was named winner of the animal sciences division for her project, "Effects of Food Types on Survival and Development of Larval California Spiny Lobsters, Panulirus interruptus."

When she heard her name announced Friday from among a field of more than 1,500 finalists from as far away as Argentina, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, dozens of fellow students from California stood up and cheered. "It was just so overwhelming," she said.

If the very notion of a science fair conjures images of baking-soda volcanoes and plants growing under colored light bulbs, think again. The exhibits on display at the fair, a program of the Society for Science and the Public held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, tackled problems as varied as asteroid detection, biofuel production and nuclear proliferation. The fair draws students from around the world who have demonstrated an aptitude for scientific research.

"I think anybody who's into science wants to be able to apply themselves to something that matters," McColl said. McColl, who won $8,000 in scholarship money, said she'll be studying aquaculture and fisheries next year at the University of Washington in Seattle.

For Dianna Hu, her struggle with spinal muscular atrophy inspired her to create a computer model to analyze the genetic mutations that cause the degenerative disease. Her model simulates the mistakes made by key proteins that put her in a wheelchair. She identified a problem that could be partly responsible for distorting parts of those crucial proteins.

"It's so personal for me," said Hu, an 18-year-old senior from Dix Hills, N.Y., who won the top prize and $8,000 in the biochemistry division. "If [researchers] have a sense of motivation that's very personal to them, that can produce some of the best efforts — and some of the best advancements — in the field."

She hopes to continue her research next year as a Harvard University freshman.

Taylor Wilson, a 17-year-old junior from Reno, won one of the top three awards for building an inexpensive nuclear weapons detector whose main ingredient is water. His invention improves on today's standard-issue neutron detectors, which rely on a rare helium isotope that has three protons instead of the usual two. Instead, Wilson's detector uses water to pick up signs of the presence of plutonium isotopes, a key component of nuclear weapons.

"I love solving problems," said Wilson, whose parents work in business, not engineering. The high school junior plans to patent his award-winning device and said he'd like to use some of his $58,000 in prize money to buy radioactive materials for his work.

Marian Bechtel, self-described hippie from Lancaster, Penn., got the idea for her land-mine detector while playing the piano. She noticed that when she hit certain chords, a banjo hanging on the wall would resonate — and realized she could use the same principle to search for underground mines. She won a $1,000 third-place prize in the electrical and mechanical engineering category.

"I'd love to see this used for humanitarian purposes," said Bechtel, whose cousins in Mozambique live with the threat of mine explosions every day.

Not all of the projects were so weighty. Aseem Mishra, a 17-year-old senior from Hull, England, earned a trip across the Atlantic for building a drum kit into his pants. He drew crowds as he tapped out rhythms on his thighs and even inspired a fellow student to hop into his booth for an impromptu freestyle session.


http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-intel-science-fair-20110514,0,3003186.story

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« Reply #3981 on: May 14th, 2011, 08:03am »

Wired Science

Theory of Recycled Universe Called Into Question
By Lisa Grossman
May 13, 2011 1:52 pm
Categories: Physics


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A map of concentric rings on the actual sky, as measured by WMAP


In November, cosmologists claimed to see echoes of violent collisions that happened before the Big Bang in the form of circular patterns in the early universe’s relic radiation. But two new analyses of the same data, which are the first papers on the subject to be published in peer-reviewed journals, assert that those circles are nothing special.

“We found there was nothing strange in the [cosmic microwave background] data at all,” said astrophysicist Ingunn Wehus of the University of Oslo, coauthor of a paper published online in the Astrophysical Journal Letters May 9. The difference in their analyses, she says, is “We do it correctly, and they do not.”

The original claim, made in research published on arXiv.org by theoretical physicist Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford in England and Vahe Gurzadyan of the Yerevan Physics Institute and Yerevan State University in Armenia, made a small media splash (and was one of Wired Science’s Top Scientific Breakthroughs of 2010).

Penrose had previously championed the idea that the universe got its start well before the Big Bang, and has been cycling through an endless series of bangs for eons. As evidence for this strange claim, he and Gurzadyan pointed out funny concentric circles in the universe’s baby photos, the cosmic microwave background. The CMB shows a universe that looks more or less the same in every direction, with a nearly uniform temperature of about 3 degrees Kelvin.

But some spots are hotter or colder than others. These fluctuations, which ultimately led to the clumps of matter that make up galaxies and other cosmic structures today, are not as random as they look, Penrose and Gurzadyan claimed. Making a statistical search of the CMB revealed concentric circles where the tiny temperature variations between one spot and its neighbors are smaller than average.

Those circles are sure signs of pre-Big Bang activity, Penrose says. He suggests they were generated by collisions between supermassive black holes in an earlier eon, which gave off an intense burst of energy. The burst would radiate outward in a uniform sphere of gravitational waves, which would leave circles on the CMB when they entered the epoch we live in.

“Because they claimed this, they got a lot of media attention. Everybody was talking about this,” Wehus said. “It just seemed strange that nobody else had noticed this before. It’s a very simple thing to check. Since nobody else had checked it, we just decided to do it.”

Wehus and University of Oslo physicist Hans Eriksen redid Penrose’s analysis of data from NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), which spent nine years mapping the glow of the first atoms to release their radiation 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Another independent group led by Adam Moss of the University of British Columbia made a similar analysis, and published their results in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics April 26.

To their surprise, both groups actually saw the same circles that Penrose did. The circles are really there.

But then the skeptical researchers built thousands of random simulations of the CMB, built up from the principles of the commonly accepted standard model of cosmology. The circles showed up there too, in the same numbers.

“In our case we found that the rings are in all the simulations, so they’re just a feature of the standard model,” Wehus said. “It’s not a signature of new physics.”

Moss and colleagues even found concentric equilateral triangles in the CMB, a feature for which Penrose’s cyclic cosmology has no explanation.

“There is nothing special about the presence of low-variance circles on the sky,” Moss concludes. “If there are signals of extraordinarily early times buried in the CMB, they have not yet been found, and we will have to keep looking.”

Penrose and Gurzadyan compared their results to simulations, too, but Wehus and Moss claim they set their simulations to the wrong baseline. Wehus and Moss assumed that the average variations in the CMB were set by the laws of the standard model of cosmology; Penrose’s original paper apparently used white noise. Even an updated version of the paper, posted to arXiv on April 29, failed to hit the mark, Wehus says.

“Some way or another they screwed up their simulations,” Wehus said. “They used wrong simulations.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean the cyclic universe theory is wrong, she adds.

“We are not knocking down the idea of Penrose, of there being a cyclic universe,” she said. “We’re just saying there’s no evidence for it.”

Penrose is sticking to his story. In the most recent paper, he looks for concentric sets of three or more circles in both the WMAP data and a simulated sky. The patterns and colors for the simulated sky look random, he says, but the patterns on the actual sky do not.

“Such a pattern is consistent with [a cyclic cosmology], but hard to square with the standard inflationary view of the origin of the temperature variations,” Penrose wrote to Wired.com in an e-mail. “I think that Eriksen and Werhus may have read that part of our paper rather hastily … evidently not having understood what we were doing.”

“I suppose there may well be further argument about all this — which is to be expected, of course — and maybe we have missed something important,” he added. “But it seems to me that here is something to be taken very seriously.”


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A map of concentric rings on a simulated sky. arXiv/V.G. Gurzadyan and R. Penrose


http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/05/no-cmb-circles/

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« Reply #3982 on: May 14th, 2011, 08:13am »

Hollywood Reporter

'Spider-Man' Writer Boards Ridley Scott's 'Red Riding' (Exclusive)

Columbia’s gritty crime drama is based on the popular British TV movies.
7:57 PM 5/13/2011
by Borys Kit

Jamie Vanderbilt, the Amazing Spider-Man writer who wrote Zodiac, is heading back into gritty crime territory.

The scribe has been tapped to pen the script for Red Riding, Columbia’s adaptation of the popular British TV movies. Ridley Scott is attached to direct and is producing via his Scott Free banner along with Steve Zaillian and Film Rites shingle.

The Red Riding story adapts four books by David Pearce and tracks the disappearance and grisly murders of several young girls as well as police corruption in a British town. The stories took place from 1974 to 1983, followed a large cast consisting of a journalist, a solicitors, a reverend, a male prostitute, a businessman, many police officers, and assorted wives and lovers.

Columbia picked up the rights in 2009.

Scott Free's Michael Costigan and Film Rites' Garrett Basch are exec producing.

Vanderbilt showed he could tackle a sprawling serial killer tale with Zodiac, the acclaimed David Fincher movie that tracked killings that took place in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s and also featured a large cast.

With Riding, Vanderbilt, repped by WME and UFUSE Management, is also proving to be one of Columbia’s go-to scribes. On top of Spider-Man, he did a polish on Total Recall, the studio’s remake of the 1990 sci-fi action film that shoots this summer.


http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/spider-man-writer-boards-ridley-188393

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« Reply #3983 on: May 14th, 2011, 09:26am »

Quote:

"Wired Science

Theory of Recycled Universe Called Into Question

By Lisa Grossman
May 13, 2011 1:52 pm
Categories: Physics

In November, cosmologists claimed to see echoes of violent collisions that happened before the Big Bang in the form of circular patterns in the early universe’s relic radiation. But two new analyses of the same data, which are the first papers on the subject to be published in peer-reviewed journals, assert that those circles are nothing special.
"

Along similar lines, if you have the time, this 15 minute dissertation on multiverses is fascinating:

http://www.wimp.com/distanttime/
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« Reply #3984 on: May 14th, 2011, 12:08pm »

on May 14th, 2011, 09:26am, Swamprat wrote:
Quote:

"Wired Science

Theory of Recycled Universe Called Into Question

By Lisa Grossman
May 13, 2011 1:52 pm
Categories: Physics

In November, cosmologists claimed to see echoes of violent collisions that happened before the Big Bang in the form of circular patterns in the early universe’s relic radiation. But two new analyses of the same data, which are the first papers on the subject to be published in peer-reviewed journals, assert that those circles are nothing special.
"

Along similar lines, if you have the time, this 15 minute dissertation on multiverses is fascinating:

http://www.wimp.com/distanttime/


Thanks for the link Swamprat. Good Saturday morning to you. cheesy

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« Reply #3985 on: May 15th, 2011, 07:45am »

Washington Post

Federal worker pensions emerge as target in debt-reduction talks

By Lori Montgomery
Published: May 14 | Updated: Sunday, May 15, 4:45 PM

The generous pension system enjoyed by millions of federal workers from clerks to senators and judges has emerged as a key target in negotiations between Vice President Biden and congressional leaders looking to restrain the growing national debt.

Republicans have proposed saving more than $120 billion over the next decade by requiring the civilian workforce to contribute more toward retirement — a plan that would effectively impose an immediate 5 percent pay cut on more than 2 million federal employees. President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission has also endorsed the idea, calling the federal system “out of line” with the private sector.

Now, administration officials have expressed interest in raising the amount that employees contribute to their pensions — though probably not as high as the GOP proposal, definitely not as fast and possibly not for all workers, according to people in both parties familiar with the discussions.

If adopted as part of a compromise plan to control federal borrowing, the proposal promises to test the resolve of local lawmakers — particularly Democrats — by forcing them to choose between the lofty goal of debt reduction and the interests of public-sector workers, who have come under fire from Republicans in Washington and several state capitals.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) may be the first to face that dilemma. One of only six lawmakers at the table in the Biden talks, Van Hollen represents a suburban Washington district that is home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of federal employees.

Van Hollen has vocally opposed the GOP pension proposal, which was included in the budget blueprint that passed the House last month. He declined to comment on the closed-door talks at Blair House, which have already set off alarm bells among union leaders.

“We’re very concerned,” said Maureen Gilman, legislative and political director for the National Treasury Employees Union, noting that federal workers were hit in January with a two-year pay freeze.

“These are difficult times, and federal employees understand this,” Gilman said. “But we’d like to see some other people in the shared pot for sacrifice before anybody comes back to us for seconds.”

Hard road ahead

The proposal to change pension funding represents one of the plumpest pots of potential savings under discussion by the Biden group. The White House has not previously endorsed the idea, and a White House spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the private nature of the talks.

The issue illustrates the hard road ahead for policymakers trying to rebalance the federal budget. Participants in the Biden talks have temporarily set aside the most ideologically divisive issues, such as raising taxes and cutting entitlement benefits. But while the remaining targets are smaller, they are also guarded by a thicket of lobbyists and interest groups.

Since May 5, negotiators have focused on a list of proposed reductions to “mandatory” programs, which are financed outside the annual appropriations process. The Republican-controlled House’s budget blueprint includes $715 billion in such savings through 2021; Obama has offered $290 billion.

Negotiators have identified areas of overlap that could save as much as $200 billion over the next decade, sources familiar with the talks said, though that figure is expected to shrink as the two sides hash out details.

“We just tasked the staff with about 10 things we all agree that we had to go back and look at, things that we weren’t crazy about looking at and a lot of things they weren’t crazy about looking at,” Biden told reporters Thursday after the most recent meeting.

The potential savings include as much as $30 billion in farm subsidies, nearly $20 billion from making graduate students pay interest on college loans while still in school and $16 billion in higher premiums for private pensions insured by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

Airlines could face higher security fees. TV stations could be encouraged to sell under-used airwaves. And both sides want to save money by overhauling mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Virtually every idea has a ready stable of opponents: The National Association of Broadcasters opposes voluntary broadcast spectrum sales, fearing that small stations could be pressured by deep-pocket wireless providers. Big business and organized labor both oppose higher PBGC premiums. And rural conservatives in the Senate have long protected the nation’s farmers.

Changing the federal pension system is no exception. Worker advocates vow a fierce fight, arguing that the idea is driven more by partisan ideology than fiscal responsibility.

“There’s a not-so-hidden agenda to go after federal workers and the public employee unions that represent them. And we’ve seen this across the country, whether in Wisconsin or in the federal government,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D), a fiscal conservative whose Northern Virginia district is home to nearly 60,000 federal workers.

Even some Republicans are not happy with the House pension proposal. As he cast a vote for the GOP budget blueprint, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) said, “I regret that the . . . proposal seeks to make government service an unattractive career choice,” in part “by changing retirement plans.”

Bipartisan plan

Still, the pension proposal is hardly partisan. Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, promoted it in a September brief, arguing that federal workers “enjoy one of the most generous retirement plans in the country.”

Created in 1986, the system features a thrift savings program similar to a 401(k) retirement account and a traditional, defined-benefit pension, which is fast disappearing at private companies. The system provides benefits that are slightly “more generous than what most other middle-class families receive in retirement,” the brief says, but federal employees contribute strikingly little. Just $1 of every $15 paid into the pension plan, known as the Federal Employment Retirement System or FERS, comes from workers’ paychecks.

Overall, Third Way calculates that federal taxpayers are far more generous to their employees than private-sector companies, contributing 12.7 percent of payroll to retirement accounts vs. 5.3 percent in the private sector.

“Everyone should have a decent retirement system, but the match there is out of line,” said Jim Kessler, a Third Way co-founder who said he has been interested in the issue since his days as an aide to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“A tiny amount was taken out of my paycheck. And when I left, I kept wondering how the amount I put in could” generate such handsome benefits, he said.

House Republicans picked up Third Way’s proposal to require workers to contribute 6 percent of salary to FERS, equalizing payments with the federal government. Because workers currently contribute 0.8 percent, the change would amount to more than a 5 percent pay cut.

Federal employee unions dispute the need for adjustments, arguing that FERS is already significantly less generous than its predecessor, the Civil Service Retirement System. CSRS paid retirees $2,587 per month on average in 2007, versus $944 for FERS, according to the National Treasury Employees Union, one of the largest representing federal workers. And unlike many state employee pension systems, FERS is fully funded.

“We’re sort of surprised, actually, to see the attacks on this as if it were some kind of a gold-plated system,” said Gilman, the union legislative director.

David John, a retirement expert at the Heritage Foundation, agreed that FERS “is far more responsible than most of the state and local pension plans.” But at a time when the federal government is spending drastically more than it takes in, he said, it is reasonable to ask whether taxpayers can afford it.

In the private sector, less than 20 percent of workers still have access to a traditional pension, John said. “With FERS, everyone does.”


http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/federal-worker-pensions-emerge-as-target-in-debt-reduction-talks/2011/05/14/AFkqTj3G_story.html?hpid=z1

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« Reply #3986 on: May 15th, 2011, 07:53am »

Telegraph

Suffolk inventor's paper milk bottle set to go global

Green Bottle, a tiny Suffolk-based company that has developed a green alternative to plastic bottles
is in advanced talks with a consumer goods giant for a global deal to supply it with environmentally friendly detergent bottles – made out of paper.


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Andy Brent, Green Bottle's managing director, and the company's unique milk bottle
Photo: PA



By James Hurley 8:30AM BST 15 May 2011

The company currently has a deal to supply biodegradable paper milk bottles to 15 Asda stores as a precursor to a planned national roll-out with the supermarket chain later this year.

The bottles consist of a paper shell and an inner plastic liner that holds the liquid. While plastic bottles take an estimated 500 years to decompose and can be recycled just once, a Green Bottle paper shell will decompose in approximately five weeks. The paper casing can also be recycled up to five times or can be disposed of on a compost heap.

Founder and technical director Martin Myerscough came up with the idea when his son brought a papier mache balloon home from school. He claimed the bottle, which has a carbon footprint around one third smaller than that of a plastic bottle, could ease a growing landfill crisis.

More than 15 million plastic milk bottles are used every day in the UK, and even if they're recycled, the vast majority end up in landfill

The price and production speed of the paper bottles is comparable to plastic bottles, said Mr Myerscough.

Green Bottle has been funded with £4.5m from private investors and advertising agency Mother, and is currently trying to raise a further £1m from existing and new investors.

Andy Brent, Green Bottle's managing director – a former marketing director of Alliance Boots and Sky – said he was persuaded to join the start-up because it "was probably the best consumer idea I've ever seen in my career".

"It was nailing the zeitgeist for things that are better for the environment in a rare way – there's no negative for the ordinary person – no cost difference, no usage difference."

The business aims to make a billion bottles in three years.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/businessclub/8513874/Suffolk-inventors-paper-milk-bottle-set-to-go-global.html

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« Reply #3987 on: May 15th, 2011, 07:58am »

LA Times

U.S. manufacturing attempts a high-tech comeback

An unusual public-private partnership to build a high-tech industrial cluster in Albany, N.Y., could provide the framework for economic revitalization nationwide.

By Don Lee, Los Angeles Times
May 15, 2011
Reporting from Albany, N.Y.

If there's hope for 51-year-old Brett Miller, then you could say there's hope for the American dream.

When Miller was a boy, upstate New York and the Hudson River Valley embodied the industrial might of the nation and the broad-based prosperity that made middle-class families such as Miller's the envy of the world.

For 40 years, his father earned a good living from the sprawling General Electric Co. complex in Schenectady that built steam turbines for the nation's electric power companies and nuclear engines for its submarines. When he retired, he had a comfortable pension.

No such dependable future awaited the younger Miller. A wave of corporate downsizing in 2009 abruptly ended his career in marketing, and he's been unemployed ever since.

"I'm starting over," Miller said.

What gives Miller hope — and what could point the way for economic revitalization elsewhere in the United States — is an effort here to test an idea that many gave up on years ago: making things.

For several decades, prominent economists and business leaders argued that so long as Americans came up with the ideas for great new products, it didn't matter where the products were manufactured.

Today there is a growing sense that the nation's lack of production capability is an Achilles' heel. In this view, the country must regenerate its manufacturing base — not necessarily producing the same things it made in bygone years, but churning out high-value goods that can compete on price and quality in today's global marketplace.

Already, manufacturing has played an unexpectedly strong role in a recovery from the recession. Signs of renewal can be seen in many parts of the country.

In Detroit and Cleveland, the long-moribund auto industry is showing surprising strength. In Boston and Chicago, metal fabrication shops are busy again. And in the Bay Area and Austin, Texas, high-tech manufacturing is on the upswing.

The effort in the Hudson Valley represents something new: an unusual partnership between government and private enterprise. And because it is no mere government bailout of a flagging industry and focuses on high-tech, future-oriented products, this initiative has potentially greater staying power.

If it succeeds, what's happening in upstate New York could help the whole country meet one of its most difficult challenges: re-creating the kinds of secure, long-term middle-class jobs that have long been the foundation of American prosperity.

Unless such a revitalization takes place, most economists agree, millions of people will face a more volatile and less prosperous future. And as consumers' ability to spend erodes, so will the prospects for corporate America.

It also will be extremely difficult for the country to deal with government deficits and the soaring cost of such fundamental programs as Social Security and Medicare.

The origins of the problem are well-known: The decline of once-mighty industries, the offshoring of production and jobs, stagnating incomes and other long-term trends — many of them aggravated by the Great Recession — have hollowed out the middle class and left many Americans vulnerable today and anxious about tomorrow.

It used to be that almost anyone willing to work hard could get ahead. Now, that doesn't seem so certain.

"The social contract was ripped in pieces, rendered ineffective by unforeseen forces such as globalization," said former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who teaches at UC Berkeley's law and public policy schools. "It needs to be rewritten for the 21st century."

The catalyst for change in Albany is an unlikely physics-professor-turned-empire-builder named Alain Kaloyeros, who heads the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany.

Kaloyeros, 55, is not your ordinary public servant. He drives a black Ferrari F430 Spider, quotes "Forest Gump" and wears bleached jeans with holes in them. Yet the state pays him a salary four times the size of the governor's because Kaloyeros has done more than build his obscure college into a powerhouse for research with applications for electronics, medicine and other industries.

He has also made the school, part of the State University of New York, a magnet for forward-looking industries across the region.

About 250 companies, including such major high-tech firms as IBM Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Applied Materials Inc., have provided $6 billion to the school for equipment, labs, clean rooms and other resources. Kaloyeros has persuaded New York state to kick in nearly $1 billion more.

At the same time, the promise of what the research center can contribute to developing fresh products and technologies is attracting new manufacturing plants.

Next year, Silicon Valley chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc. will open a $4.6-billion semiconductor factory in Luther Forest, about 20 miles north of Albany. The two-story facility, with a clean room the size of six football fields, is the first major chip plant built in the country in a decade.

The U.S. share of global chip-production capacity, practically 100% in the 1970s, has been sliding for years — down to just 14% in 2009. The domestic industry's workforce has shrunk 45% in the last decade.

The Albany plant is expected to employ about 1,400 workers, many of them $40,000-a-year technicians and equipment operators.

AMD represents the biggest payoff yet for an effort Kaloyeros started some 15 years ago.

Early on in his career in Albany, Kaloyeros zeroed in on the burgeoning field of nanotechnology, the science of manipulating materials at a microscopic level. Nanotechnology is at the heart of computer chips and scores of other high-tech applications.

Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the state Assembly, recalled Kaloyeros knocking on his door 15 years ago asking for several million dollars to build a dust-free room to test electronic equipment.

"That started the whole thing," Silver said.

There are major nanotech centers in Belgium, France and Japan, but Albany has pushed hard to be in the vanguard.

In about a decade, the college has grown from 70 researchers and staff working inside a single building to 2,600 employees spread out across a sprawling campus. Its engineers operate $60-million lithography tools, and rival companies are working together on research projects in a way that was once unthinkable.

A few years ago, Kaloyeros flew to Japan and, over a meal of shabu-shabu, cut a deal with Tokyo Electron Ltd.'s chief. Now the semiconductor equipment maker runs a lab in the school next to its archrival, Applied Materials.

Kaloyeros also persuaded Sematech, a consortium of global chip firms, to relocate to Albany from Austin, Texas. He has lured top industry players from Silicon Valley as well, typically negotiating with them at the local Starbucks.

Willy Shih, a Harvard Business School professor who has researched comparative industrial policies, views the new AMD chip plant as "a great step." And he praises the work at the nanotech center.

But Shih said it's not nearly enough. "The question is, is the battle lost?" he said.

Kaloyeros doesn't think so. He sees AMD as an anchor for a cluster of high-tech manufacturing, research and service companies stretching 100 miles south along the Hudson River to IBM's big chip plant in East Fishkill, N.Y.

Government-subsidized industrial clusters, in which manufacturers, researchers, tool makers and suppliers work side by side, are commonplace in Taiwan, Germany, South Korea and China. These industrial clusters are one reason they dominate world production of many technology products.

U.S. policymakers have long been queasy about this so-called state capitalism, and many have given manufacturing up for dead. Domestic manufacturing employment averaged 11.5 million last year, down from a peak of 19.4 million in 1979.

But that attitude may be changing.

more after the jump
http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-manufacturing-revival-20110515,0,1973190,full.story

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« Reply #3988 on: May 15th, 2011, 08:04am »

Wired Science

Radioactive Core Encases Dwarf Planet in Ice
By Dave Mosher
Categories: Space


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Image: Artist’s rendering of Haumea
(SINC/José Antonio Peñas).



A thin shell of ice formed by a continuous cycle of heating and freezing gives Haumea, a distant dwarf planet discovered in 2004, its distinctive glimmer in deep space.

Astronomers knew Haumea had a frosty coating, but they didn’t know it was made of fresh, highly organized crystals instead of old, amorphous glass-like ice.

“Since solar radiation constantly destroys the crystalline structure of ice on the surface, energy sources are required to keep it organized,” said planetary scientist Benoit Carry of the European Space Agency in a press release May 12. The findings have been accepted for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Named after the Hawaiian goddess of childbirth, the rocky, football-shaped Haumea is one-tenth the size of Earth and about 43 times farther from the sun, located beyond Pluto in the Kuiper belt.

By analyzing sunlight bouncing off Haumea’s surface with the Very Large Telescope in Chile, Carry and other astronomers calculated that its surface ice is constantly replenished. They think heat from radioactive elements, combined with gravitational kneading from its two tiny satellite bodies Hi’iaka and Namaka, melts ice on Haumea’s surface. It soon refreezes, resulting in a perpetual cycle of icy renewal.

Another area of fascination for astronomers is a dark, reddish spot on Haumea’s surface. Irradiated minerals or organic matter may cause the discoloration.

Astronomer Pedro Lacerda of Queen’s University in Belfast said in the press release that it may be an especially rich source of crystalline water ice, a fountain for Haumea.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/05/haumea-ice/#more-60164

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« Reply #3989 on: May 15th, 2011, 08:09am »

Hollywood Reporter

FilmDistrict Inks U.S. Distribution Deal for 'Looper' (Cannes)

5:37 AM 5/15/2011
by Pamela McClintock


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Joseph Gordon-Levitt


Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in Rian Johnson's sci-fi pic about mobsters from the future.

CANNES -- Ending a six-month chase, FilmDistrict has forged a U.S. distribution deal with Endgame Entertainment for Looper, Rian Johnson’s sci-fi pic starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and Paul Dano.

The film will be released by Sony’s TriStar label through its partnership with FilmDistrict.

A time-travel action thriller, Looper is about a killer (Gordon-Levitt) who works for the mob of the future. He and other “loopers” dispose of people that are sent from the future. When he recognizes one victim as his future self (Willis), he hesitates, letting the man escape.

“We have been chasing Looper for six months and it is something my entire team agreed would be a great film for us to distribute. The fact that our friends at Sony feel the same makes it even more exciting,” FilmDistrict CEO Peter Schlessel said.

Looper has been one of the more sought after projects at Cannes. It is Johnson’s third feature after Sundance favorite Brick and The Brothers Bloom. He’s currently shooting Looper in Louisiana.

Ram Bergman and Endgame’s James D. Stern are producing Looper in association with DMG. Endgame’s Doug E. Hansen is executive producing.

“Looper is our second collaboration with Rian and Ram and it’s truly been a thrilling ride,” stated Endgame Entertainment CEO James D. Stern. “We look forward to continuing the journey with Sony and Peter in delivering this commercial thriller to audiences everywhere.”

Glen Basner’s FilmNation Entertainment is handling international sales on Looper.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/filmdistrict-inks-us-distribution-deal-188486

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