Friday, April 30, 2010

Soliders in Afghanistan Channel Lady Gaga

The Smoking Gun has ID'ed the soldiers who made their international online debut yesterday with "Telephone: The Afghanistan Re-make"—a war themed tribute to the epic and unavoidable Lady Gaga video. The Afghanistan remix opens with two soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division lip-synching the song, and scenes alternates between the pair dancing figure-skater style in a garage, and a group of soldiers posing around in what appears to be bondage gear. The video was shot at the Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan's Farah Province, and it was masterminded by 24-year-old Aaron Melcher. Describing the video as "the hotness," Melcher uploaded it to Facebook on Thursday, telling friends to "feel free to share it with the world." (He's since told the Smoking Gun he'd like to stay out of the spotlight). "Telephone: The Afghanistan Re-Make" has since received nearly 200,000 hits on YouTube, and been described as possibly "the most entertaining music video homage ever shot in a war zone." In response to the video's success, soldier/performer James Conley wrote on Facebook that "this is what people do with they free time in Afghanistan. Its crazy out here."

Loch Ness Monster had police protection in 1930s

Archives recently made public by the Scottish government included some curious correspondence from a police chief expressing concern for the safety of the Loch Ness monster.

William Fraser, the chief constable of Inverness-shire in the 1930s, wrote a letter to a government official noting that a man from London, Peter Kent, "stated that he was having a special harpoon gun made and that he was to return [to Loch Ness] with some 20 experienced men on August 22 for the purpose of hunting the monster down." Fraser added that he warned Kent not to hunt for the creature, and suggested that some official government protection might be established. Still, he was not optimistic: "That there is some strange creature in Loch Ness seems now beyond doubt, but that the police have any power to protect it is very doubtful."

It's not clear whether Kent and his posse returned to the lake, though presumably his success in capturing or killing the monster would have been announced around the world.

Much has been made of the fact that a chief of police believed in the existence of Nessie, though this is not particularly remarkable. People with some level of authority (police officers, ministers, politicians, etc.) often report — and believe in — unproven and unexplained phenomena, from lake monsters to ghosts to psychic powers.

Nor is Fraser alone in his concern for the health of animals never proven to exist. In fact, just about all unknown (and possibly mythical) creatures have believers concerned for their safety. Sandra Mansi, the Vermont woman who took the most famous photograph of Champ, the monster said to inhabit Lake Champlain, is a strong advocate of measures designed to protect the creature. (Later scientific analysis of Mansi's photograph demonstrated that she probably snapped a photo of a floating log, mistaking it for the monster.)

Quasi-legal measures to protect unknown creatures have been promoted by monster enthusiasts and politicians. For example, Champ is "officially" protected by proclamations from both the New York State Assembly and the Vermont Legislature. Similar measures have been proposed that would outlaw the shooting of Bigfoot creatures.

There is of course a strong economic incentive to protect monsters like Nessie and Champ, even if only symbolically: tourism. Loch Ness is the main tourist draw in the Scottish highlands. It's a beautiful lake in its own right, but tourists come from all over the world hoping for a glimpse of the famous monster. The irony is that a dead monster may be the only way to scientifically prove these creatures exist—if indeed they do.

Credits: Benjamin Radford, Christian Science Monitor

Massey Offers $3M Each To Dead Miners' Families

The owner of the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, where 29 miners died in a massive explosion April 5, is offering cash settlements to the families of the victims.

Three people familiar with the offers say they involve $3 million in cash payments to each family.

Some of the families have filed wrongful death suits or have indicated they intend to sue. At least two of those families were not offered settlements.

Massey Energy declined to confirm details of the settlement offers.

"There have been private conversations with families, yes," Karen Hanretty, an acting spokeswoman for the company, said. She added that Massey was "not going to make public comments about those confidential conversations."

The family of Benny Ray Willingham of Corinne, W.Va., was among those approached by Massey officials last week. Willingham was 61 when he died in the blast and had worked in coal mines for more than 30 years.

"We don't want the money," his daughter, Michelle McKinney, said. "We would like to have our daddy back alive."

McKinney said she, her mother and her two brothers met with Massey officials April 21. She wouldn't disclose the amount of the settlement offer but said the family was not given a deadline for a response and was not asked to keep the offer confidential.

"Once we agree," McKinney said, "the case is closed. We can't sue."

The families will also receive death benefits not connected with any settlement and in addition to a cash payout. The death benefits include health insurance coverage, life insurance (five times the annual salary of the mineworker), college tuition and ongoing weekly paychecks (until widows remarry).

"Some of the miners hadn't been in the ground four or five days," McKinney said, referring to the timing of the offer.

"This is a particularly difficult time for these families to be called upon by Massey Energy to make decisions that would affect them, their children and their grandchildren for generations," said Mark Moreland, an attorney who filed the first wrongful death suit stemming from the disaster.

Settlements would help Massey keep its cash payouts in line with its liability insurance for claims resulting from the disaster. They would also help Massey avoid lawsuits that could result in punitive damage awards for reckless conduct. And those awards can be "exponential," according to Moreland.

Moreland added that settlements help companies like Massey "avoid answering hard questions raised publicly in litigation."

McKinney said she believes Massey is trying to keep families from complaining about the company's litany of safety citations and fines.

"They're trying to make us happy," she added. "But we'll never be happy again. We'll never be the same family again."

Credits: Howard Berkes, NPR

Happy Birthday, Nancy Drew!

This one is for my wife, Angenette. She was a huge Nancy Drew fan growing up and still is to a certain extent now.

This week, a grand female icon of American culture turned 80. No, it's not Barbie. For literary-minded women, it's actually a much more revered figure: Nancy Drew. (After all, have Bette Davis, Barbara Walters, Hillary Clinton, Mary Tyler Moore, Joan Mondale, Fran Lebowitz, Beverly Sills, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg ever mentioned Barbie as a favorite role model?)

The titian-haired sleuth from Riverdale, Calif., first appeared to the American public on April 28, 1930, when "The Secret of the Old Clock" was published. Since then "Nancy Drew" books have gone on to sell more than 65 million copies in the US and 200 million worldwide in 25 different languages. (She's "Kitty Drew" in Sweden and "Alice Roy" in France.)

There is also a new series of "Nancy Drew" graphic novels and, of course, there was the 2007 movie starring Emma Roberts.

Most of us who grew up loving the books now know that there was no Carolyn Keene (the author name that appears on every book's spine) and that Nancy has had various ghost writers over the decades. (For the full story of her creation, try "Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her" by Melanie Rehak.)

To mark the occasion of Nancy's birthday, original publisher Grosset & Dunlap is releasing an 80th-anniversary edition of the first book, "The Secret of the Old Clock." The book will mark a return to the 1959 version of the story (with just a bit of updating to remove some unfortunate racial stereotyping).

For those of us who loved the old blue roadster (as opposed to the blue hybrid she drives in Simon & Schuster's updated series), it should be a treat. In fact, if you're looking for a Mother's Day gift for a woman anywhere between the ages of 18 and 80, you would be well advised to grab a copy.
Credits: Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor

'Cuddle hormone' makes men more empathetic

A nasal spray can make men more in tune with other people's feelings, say a team of German and UK researchers.

They found that inhaling the "cuddle hormone" oxytocin made men just as empathetic as women.

The study in 48 volunteers also showed that the spray boosted the ability to learn from positive feedback.

Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers said the spray may be useful for boosting behaviour therapy in conditions such as schizophrenia.

Oxytocin is a naturally produced hormone, most well-known for triggering labour pains and promoting bonding between mother and baby.

But it has also been shown to play a role in social relations, sex and trust.

Study leader Professor Keith Kendrick, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University, said by giving the hormone nasally, it quickly reaches the brain.

In the first part of the study, half the men received a nose spray containing oxytocin and half were given a dummy spray.

They were then shown photos of emotionally charged situations including a crying child, a girl hugging her cat, and a grieving man, and were asked questions about the depth of feeling they had towards the subjects.

Those who had the hormone spray had markedly higher levels of empathy - of a similar magnitude to those only usually seen in women who are naturally more sensitive to the feelings of others.

Neither group were able to accurately guess whether they had received the oxytocin or the dummy spray.

Positive feedback

In a second experiment, the researchers measured "socially motivated learning" where the volunteers were asked to do a difficult observation test and were shown an approving face if they got the answer right and an unhappy face if they got it wrong.

In these types of experiments, people generally learn faster if they get positive feedback but those who had taken the oxytocin spray responded even better to facial feedback than those in the placebo group.

Professor Kendrick said the oxytocin spray may prove to be useful in people with conditions associated with reduced social approachability and social withdrawal, such as schizophrenia.

And other researchers are already looking at its potential use in autism.

"The bottom line is it improved the ability of people to learn when they had positive feedback and that is pretty important because this might help improve the effectiveness of behavioural therapy or even be useful in people with learning difficulties."

Professor Gareth Leng from Edinburgh University said the research used some cleverly-designed tests.

He added there has been a lot of interest recently on oxytocin and social behaviour.

"This study is the latest of several that suggest that intranasal oxytocin seems to 'sensitise' people to become more aware of social cues from other individuals - and more likely to be sympathetic to them."

Credits: Emma Wilkinson, BBC

Will Puerto Rico Be the 51st State?

By a margin of 223-169, the House passed a bill on Thursday that could allow Puerto Rico to vote on whether or not it wants to be the 51st state. The legislation still needs to make it through the Senate, but if passed, Puerto Rico would be faced with a two-step vote about their relationship to the U.S. First, the territory would vote on whether they want to change their status from a "self-governing commonwealth," and next, they'd decide whether they prefer independence, statehood, or "sovereignty associated with the US." An amendment passed soon after added a fourth option: retaining the status of commonwealth. While the proposal has worked some right-wing pundits up into a lather—Glenn Beck described Congressmen who support the bill as "sheep being led to slaughter"—it's also been praised by American Puerto Rican lawmakers. "For the first time in 112 years, the Congress of the United States will ask the 4 million American citizens in Puerto Rico what they wish their relationship to the United States to be," Rep. Jose Serrano said on Thursday. Historically, Puerto Rico has rejected opportunities for either independence or statehood.

Credits: Slate

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

They That Wait - Fred Hammond ft John P. Kee

What in inspirational song!

Spring 2010

These are pictures that I have taken during me and Angenette's evening walks with the kids. Let me know what you think!!!

Malcolm X Assassin Is Freed

He has admitted to killing another human being. In my opinion, he should spend the rest of his life in jail.

I do not think that him spending his remaining years on earth behind bars is going to make this world any better. But, on the other hand, he took the life of another person whom had done him nor his family any harm. For that he should have to pay with his life. Not through the death penalty, but by never having his freedom again.

Thomas Hagan, the only person to admit to the killing of Malcolm X in 1965, has been freed on parole.
Hagan was known as Talmadge X Hayer when, on Feb. 21, 1965, he was one of three men who shot Malcolm X at Harlem's Audubon Ballroom. Hagan said at the time that the two men convicted with him were not involved; they insisted they were innocent and were pardoned in the 1980s.

The assassination stemmed from Malcolm X's split from the Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah Muhammad, in 1964. The Nation of Islam has always denied any involvement in the murder.

Hagan was freed from the minimum-security Lincoln Correctional Facility in Harlem, which is at the intersection of West 110th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard.

Malcolm X would have turned 85 next month.

Credits: Ken Rudin, NPR

Chinese Gymnasts Stripped Of Olympic Bronze Medal

I am so glad that the IOC righted this wrong even if it did take nearly ten years. Unfortunately, the U.S. womens team, who will move from fourth to third in the team medal standings, will never get their chance to stand on the podium. I certainly hope that the IOC takes a closer look at the documents provided to them in the future for age verification.

China was stripped of a bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics on Wednesday for fielding an underage female gymnast, with the women's team medal now going to the United States.
The International Olympic Committee acted after investigations by the sport's governing body determined that Dong Fangxiao was only 14 at the 2000 Games. Gymnasts must turn 16 during the Olympic year to be eligible.

Dong's results from Sydney were nullified in February by the International Gymnastics Federation. Because her scores contributed to China winning the team bronze, the FIG recommended the IOC take the medal back.

As expected, the IOC executive board upheld the request and formally stripped the medal on the first day of a two-day meeting in Dubai.

The U.S. women, who had been fourth, move up to the bronze.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Dong was also stripped of her sixth-place result in the individual floor exercises and seventh place in the vault.

Questions about Dong's eligibility arose during the FIG's investigation into the ages of China's team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games. Media reports and Internet records suggested some of the girls on that team could have been as young as 14.

The FIG cleared the Beijing Games gymnasts in October 2008 after Chinese officials provided original passports, ID cards and family registers showing all of the gymnasts were old enough to compete. But the FIG said it wasn't satisfied with "the explanations and evidence provided to date" for Dong and a second gymnast, Yang Yun.

Dong's accreditation information for the Beijing Olympics, where she worked as a national technical official, listed her birthday as Jan. 23, 1986. That would have made her 14 in Sydney - too young to compete. Her birth date in the FIG database is listed as Jan. 20, 1983.

Dong's blog also said she was born in the Year of the Ox in the Chinese zodiac, which dates from Feb. 20, 1985, to Feb. 8, 1986.
FIG investigators didn't find sufficient evidence to prove Yang, who also won a bronze medal on uneven bars in 2000, was underage. She received a warning from the FIG.
The bronze medal salvages what had been a disappointing Olympics for the U.S. women. The squad — Amy Chow, Jamie Dantzscher, Dominique Dawes, Kristin Maloney, Elise Ray and Tasha Schwikert — left Sydney empty-handed, the only time since 1976 the American women had failed to win a single Olympic medal.
Credits: NPR via the Associated Press

Detroit leads the way in urban farming

Detroit, which revolutionized manufacturing with its auto assembly lines, could once again be a model for the world as residents transform vacant, often-blighted land into a source of fresh food.

With growing interest in locally raised food, cities including New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle are looking at ways to foster and manage urban agriculture. San Francisco's mayor has proposed creating community gardens on vacant public land citywide.

But no city seems to have as much potential for urban farming as Detroit, where land is cheap, empty lots are plentiful, and residents are desperate for jobs. The number of community gardens has been growing each year, and bigger, commercial agriculture could be coming as city planners draw up land use rules for farming.

Vacant land to be put to good use

"Most other cities aren't quite ready to think about large-scale agriculture," said Michael Score, president of Hantz Farms, which has plans to create the world's largest urban farm in the city. "We have vacant land and that used to be something that we were ashamed of."

Decades of population decline left Detroit with an estimated 40 square miles — more than 25,000 acres — of vacant property, and gardens have sprung up on empty lots in many neighborhoods. Often, they are just a few rows of greens and tomatoes. Others are more akin to small farms and include lots next to homes where pigs or goats roam behind fences and honeybees buzz.

The vacant property in Detroit covers nearly the same space as the entire city of San Francisco. New York, which has more than twice as much land as Detroit, has only an estimated 11,000 vacant acres, according to its planning department.

Farming was a big part of Detroit from the 1700s until the early 20th century, when a building boom pushed most agriculture outside the city limits.

Is bigger better?

This year, Detroit could again see commercial crops. Hantz Farms is in talks with the state to use 40 acres of the state fairgrounds for a demonstration farm before expanding to other parts of the city. It plans tightly packed rows and greenhouses, where it will raise fruit and vegetables as well as plants for landscaping. Less lucrative commodity crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat aren't part of the plan.

John Hantz, a Detroit resident who runs a network of financial services businesses, has promised to invest $30 million in the project aimed at creating jobs, providing fresh food to residents, and making the city a leader in urban farming.

The plan has sparked some skepticism among the community growers who have been the driving force behind agriculture in Detroit. Hantz Farms says there's room in the 139-square-mile city to coexist, but community activists worry that a bigger, for-profit venture might not benefit Detroit residents.

Credits: David Runk, Christian Science Monitor

Monday, April 26, 2010

Snore Wars

The man I love is as calm and pleasant as the day is long. He treats me with love and respect. He's gentle and soft-spoken, a perfect joy to be with. But when night falls, Mark undergoes a ghastly transformation. No, he's not a vampire. Are you kidding me? Vampires are hot and trendy.

It's much worse. Mark snores.

He doesn't just snore. He also mutters and shouts and flails around. I love the guy, but he's a challenging bed partner.

My ex was just the opposite. Asleep, he was gentle as a lamb; it was when he awoke that I had to watch out. He and I slept quietly in each other's arms. I'd fall asleep holding him and wake up eight hours later, still holding him.

Mark and I start out quietly holding each other. Then he falls asleep and the wild rumpus starts. He moans. He cries out. His legs bicycle wildly. He slams his fists down on the bed, jolting me awake. Entering deep sleep, he sprawls onto his back and emits a variety of noises that are loud enough to set off car alarms, stopping only to shout nonsense phrases, or worse, yell "Oh no!" or "Look out!"

Last night I awoke to the sound of his moaning in fear, "It's on the third step! It's on the third step!" I nudged him into a more wakeful state. "Skip the third step, Sweetie," I suggested. "Try going right from the second step to the fourth step."

"Can I do that?" he whispered.

"Of course you can," I soothed.

He fell back into deep sleep, smiling. I enjoyed 10 wonderful minutes of calm before the sound and fury started up again.

Because Mark sleeps through it all, from his point of view, I'm the awful bed partner, the harpy who spends the night inexplicably shouting, "Cut that out!" and pushing him around. He'll pin me under the dead weight of a restless leg. I'll shove it off. He'll attempt to roll over onto me. I'll push him away. He'll cry out. I'll shush him. After I've woken up a dozen times, my responses can become quite testy, if not rude. OK, downright hostile. By the time we rise from bed in the morning, it's a wonder we're still talking to each other.

Many of my friends sleep apart from their partners because of snoring. My Internet research tells me that 25 percent of the population snores. And 80 percent of couples with a snorer sleep in separate bedrooms! I also learned that astronauts rarely snore in space. Even if you snore on planet Earth, there's something about deep space that makes snoring subside. Some nights, after being jolted awake once too often, I'd happily send my beloved into orbit. But I'm pretty sure I'd miss him in the morning.

Appliances come with warning labels. So do drugs and toys. Why not men? "This man appears quiet and amiable but will emit loud gibberish and thrash around when unconscious. Approach with extreme caution." If Mark had carried this warning label, would I have turned and fled? Maybe not. But at least I'd have gone into sleeping with him with my eyes open.

Credits: Rosalind Warren, Christian Science Monitor

When Teachers Snap

A science teacher beat a pupil around the head with a dumbbell while shouting "die, die, die."

First, thanks to Elisabeth for posting ths article on her blog.

Second, while nothing besides self-defense could ever justify a teacher doing this to one of his students, I must say that after hearing some of the stories my wife has told me about her students and their parents, I can definitely see where a rage like this might come from.

In the Moof for Chocolate?

I eat chocolate every single day. And I regularly supply chocolate to others. So I was particularly interested when I heard about a study looking at chocolate and depression.

It turns out the more you eat, the more likely you are to have symptoms of depression. In an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine entitled "Mood Food," the researchers note that there are a lot of stories about chocolate's effect on mood. When they Googled "chocolate" and "mood" a month ago, they got about 5.7 million hits. I just did it, and got 6.4 million. But there's not all that much solid research out there, and what there is has uncertain results.

So three researchers from the University of California, San Diego asked 931 people who'd come in for an unrelated study about cholesterol how many times a week they ate chocolate. The people also filled out a depression questionnaire.

People in the group with screening scores suggesting that they might have major depression ate 12 or more servings a month. A serving, for those of you wondering, was a small bar. People in the group with "possible depression" ate eight servings a month. Those who screened negative for depression ate only five servings a month.

Now, the findings don't mean people who eat a lot of chocolate are necessarily depressed, but it does seem that people with depression are more likely to eat chocolate.

But why would there be an association at all? It could be that people are self-medicating. The researchers can't say that on the basis of this study. Other possibilities: depression may somehow initiate chocolate cravings, or chocolate may trigger depression (though they note this isn't likely). Or there could be some complicated chemical interactions going on. Figuring out the answer would require a different kind of study, they say.

I know what I think. I would be very depressed if I didn't have chocolate. I'll focus on studies showing that it lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and I'll visit my very favorite chocolate website.

Beatrice Golomb, one of the researchers who worked on the study, admits to making a substantial contribution to the chocolate industry's profits with her own consumption, despite or maybe because of an absence of depressive symptoms. And if you're wondering who funded the chocolate-and-depression study, it was the National Institutes of Health and the UCSD, not the chocolate industry.

Credits: Joanne Silberner, NPR

George W. Bush memoir set for release on Nov. 9

The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that former president George W. Bush's memoir "Decision Points" is set for release on November 9. While his wife, former First Lady, Laura Bush's memoirs are due out early next week.

While I was not a big fan of a lot of the things that Mr. Bush did during his eight years in office, I anticipate reading his memoirs. With the attacks on September 11 happening only nine months into his first year in office, I strongly believe that he didn't get a fair shake at running this great country of ours. I look forward to hearing about this time in our history from his point of view and I wonder if there are anythings that he would do differently if he were given the opportunity (not that I am saying we should give him another chance).

Also from the article on Christian Science Monitor:
"Laura Bush's memoir "Spoken from the Heart," will be released next week on May 4, and I hope to learn more about the former president in his wife's account of her own experience. Given that she revealed relatively little of her own perspective during her husband's years in office, Laura Bush's book may prove a particularly powerful draw."
I also anticipate her foresight into those eight years.

Credits: Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor

How to pick a password that's secure and easy to remember

The man accused of one of the juicier hacking cases of the past few years is no Internet mastermind. On June 24, a French citizen who goes by the pseudonym "Hacker Croll" will face charges that he broke into Facebook pages, e-mail accounts, and the Twitter feeds of then-Sen. Barack Obama, singer Britney Spears, and other celebrities.

How did he break in? Police say that he's just a good guesser.

By cruising through blogs and social-networking pages posted online by his victims, he allegedly dug up enough information to guess people's passwords and security questions.

This trick is pretty easy to pull off. Try combinations of family names, graduation dates, birthdays, favorite bands or sports teams – all information that many of us share willingly online.

This isn't a call to scrub down your Face­book profile until it's pointless. But Hacker Croll's story is the latest of many (often-ignored) reasons to improve your online passwords. But since doing so is such a nuisance, here's a simple, easy-to-remember way to craft secure passwords for all the websites that you visit.

Before we roll out the grand plan, let's walk through why most passwords stink.

First, do not use common words or patterns. The most frequent password on the Internet is "123456" – nearly 1 in every 100 people uses it. It's simple, can be typed quickly, and is the first thing hackers will try. Throw in the next 4,999 most popular terms and they make up 20 percent of all passwords used online.

These numbers come from computer security firm Imperva in Redwood Shores, Calif. The company stumbled upon a list of 32 million passwords posted by a bragging hacker who had recently snatched the data from RockYou, which designs software for Facebook and MySpace.

This rare look into people's password habits showed how lax or at least unoriginal people can be, says Rob Rachwald, who helped write Imperva's report.

Hacker Croll's tactic works well when targeting specific people, but Mr. Rach­wald says that most online thieves cast wide nets.

"It's not me trying to guess individual passwords," he says. "Hackers use so-called 'dictionaries,' " lists of common terms and phrases that a computer tries one after another until it finds a match.

Since 1 in 5 accounts draws from the same pool of 5,000 passwords, an automated program has pretty good odds – especially since Imperva estimates that modern PCs can race through 110 tries each second.

That leads to the second rule: The longer a password, the better. Eight to 10 characters work best.

Why? Even if you avoid common terms, some hackers could still attempt to "brute force" their way into your account. This means telling a computer to try every permutation that it can think of until it busts in. On average, a five-character password will last a couple of hours against such a barrage, according to John Pozadzides, CEO of software company iFusion Labs. Eight characters will hold up for centuries. (See chart, above.)

This also explains why sticking to lower-case letters is a bad idea. "Adding just one capital letter and one asterisk," Mr. Pozadzides says in his report, "would change the processing time for an eight-character password from 2.4 days to 2.1 centuries." (While he calculates hacker speeds differently from Imperva, the scale is what's impressive.)

The solution? To pick a lengthy string that's easy to remember, but gibberish to others, think of a phrase. For example, Hamlet's line: "To be, or not to be: that is the question." Boil this down to an initialism: TbontbTitq. Now swap in some numbers and special characters: Maybe "2" instead of "to" and "?" to replace "question". (Zeroes make nice "O's" and "3" works as an "E".) You've now got 2bon2bTit? – a 10-character chain with all the fixings.

Add another layer of security by extending it for each website. That way, if someone figures out one of your passwords, they don't gain access to all of your accounts. Attach Fk to your Facebook password or maybe Hm to Hotmail. Better yet, reverse the order of these additional letters to further obscure their meaning.

Credits: Chris Gaylord, NPR

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Could Cleaner Air Actually Intensify Global Warming?

As much of the world marked Earth Day this past week, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that air pollution has declined dramatically over the last 20 years. It sounds like good news, but science writer Eli Kintisch argues that there's a surprising downside: Cleaner air might actually intensify global warming.

"If we continue to cut back on smoke pouring forth from industrial smokestacks, the increase in global warming could be profound," Kintisch writes in an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times.

Kintisch isn't talking about greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide; he's talking about another kind of pollutant we put in the sky -- "like aerosols from a spray can," he tells NPR's Guy Raz. "It turns out that those particles have a profound effect on maintaining the planet's temperature."

Greenhouse gases and aerosol pollutants work in opposing ways on the Earth's climate, Kintisch explains. "The greenhouse gases warm the planet when they're emitted, because they absorb heat reflected up from the ground -– the greenhouse effect. These aerosols, though, do the opposite. They block sunlight, they make clouds more reflective -- and by doing that, they actually cool the planet.

"The problem is that we're cutting the cooling pollution as we make our air cleaner," he says.

The Scope Of The Problem: Still A Mystery

Some scientists, he says, are confident that this is connected to global warming, but they don't know how large the effect is. "That's the frightening thing, because if it's a big cooling effect, it means that we've been actually warming the planet more than we know," Kintisch says. "As we take away that unexpectedly helpful cooling mask, we're going to be facing more global warming than we expected.

"If, however, the aerosol cooling is less than we fear, then it won't be such a big deal as we clean our air, though it will still be an effect."

The solution, of course, isn't to stop cutting air pollution. "We have to continue doing that, because these pollutants contribute to asthma, they contribute to respiratory diseases, they cause all sorts of health problems and they make our environment dirty," he says. "But there's a variety of answers that are more sophisticated than simply continuing to pollute."

Gunk To The Rescue

One of those answers is pretty radical: injecting new pollutants into the stratosphere while we continue to clean up our emissions. It's one of the theories of "geoengineering" that Kintisch explores in his new book, Hack the Planet.

It sounds contradictory, but the idea is actually based on a natural polluter -- volcanoes. Kintisch points out that nearly 20 years before the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland shut down air traffic across Europe, a much bigger volcano in the Philippines affected the climate over a much broader area.

"In 1991, when Mount Pinatubo erupted, it put tons of sulfur into the stratosphere," he says. "Those sulfur aerosols cooled the planet by as much as a degree Celsius in a decade."

So if we found ourselves in a climate crisis where oceans were rising rapidly and coastal areas were flooding, some scientists think "we could mimic the cooling effect of natural volcanoes and make man-made volcanoes by putting our own gunk, essentially, up in the upper atmosphere," Kintisch says.

"It's unclear whether we would be able to respond and actually stop a disintegrating ice sheet situation," he cautions. "However, some scientists think we're getting near that worse-case scenario right now."

Credits: NPR

Mr. Rogers - Unnecessary Censorship - Jimmy Kimmel

Just for the record...I idolize this man. This was just too funny to pass up.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

On Hubble's Anniversary, A Look Up And A Look Back

NASA celebrates the 20th anniversary of the launching of the Hubble Space Telescope
on Saturday. Though it had a rocky start, Hubble has become an important tool for amateur
and professional astronomers alike.

Twenty years after it first reached space, the Hubble Space Telescope still tirelessly circles the Earth, snapping images of the cosmos and continuing to fulfill its role as the beloved Comeback Kid of celestial imaging.

"I don't think anybody thought Hubble would be around this long. It's sort of like the little engine that could," says Kevin Marvel, executive officer of the American Astronomical Society, in Washington, D.C. "It's just produced result after result after result."

Thousands of stars forming in the cloud
of gas and dust known as the Orion Nebula.
The venerable telescope blasted off inside space shuttle Discovery back on April 24, 1990, and the crew of astronauts deployed the telescope the next day.

Since then, the orbiting telescope has become an object of public fascination -- in part because it's repeatedly faced possible failure followed by total triumph, but mostly because of its seemingly endless production of mind-blowing snapshots of supernovae, nebulae and far-away galaxies.

Mesmerizing Images

In celebration of the telescope's 20 years in space, for example, NASA has released a new Hubble photo of the Carina Nebula, a region of our galaxy where stars are being born.

Such mesmerizing scenes have become a part of popular culture over the last two decades, gracing everything from textbooks to postage stamps to coffee cups.

Marvel says that people seem to truly love this telescope. "That has always floored me and I think that's really the true accomplishment of Hubble," he says. "It's managed to take discoveries and knowledge about the universe and make them relevant and important to the American people."

It wasn't always this way. Astronomers had longed for a large orbiting observatory located above the Earth's atmosphere, which can distort light. But soon after the telescope was launched, NASA realized that its main mirror had a serious flaw. All of the images came back fuzzy. This "Hubble trouble" turned the multibillion-dollar telescope into a laughingstock.

This newly released image from Hubble
shows scorching radiation and fast winds
from super-hot newborn stars are shaping
 this pillar of gas and dust. This stellar nursery
is called the Carina Nebula and located
7,500 light-years away.
100 Times Stronger Than Its Early Days

"After the launch of Hubble we went from being a media star -- everybody was anticipating the great science -- to what the media called 'the great American disaster,'" NASA's head of science Ed Weiler recalled recently. "Our neighbors were walking up to us and saying, 'Gee, we really feel sorry for you.'"

"I thought that this was a disaster, to be honest, that was my first reaction," says Mario Livio, an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

But engineers on the ground quickly modified a spare camera to compensate for the mirror's flaws. When astronauts installed that new camera, along with other modifications, in 1993, the images that came back were perfect. And Hubble's long run of science began. So far, it's observed more than 30,000 targets and has collected more than half a million pictures in its archive.

Astronauts have repaired and refurbished the telescope five times. It looked like its last servicing mission would be canceled because of concerns about the safety of the space shuttles in the wake of the Columbia disaster in 2003 -- a prospect that dismayed scientists. But NASA officials reconsidered and the final servicing mission, in May of last year, made the telescope 100 times more powerful than when it was launched, according to NASA.

'Revolutionizing Astronomy'

Hubble's discoveries over the years have helped astronomers understand everything from how stars form in our own galaxy to the composition of the atmospheres of planets outside our solar system. Its "Ultra Deep Field" image revealed the most distant objects in the universe. The telescope has also contributed to the study of dark energy and the understanding that the expansion of our universe is speeding up, says Livio.

"Hubble has touched literally on every area of astronomy and astrophysics today. It has really revolutionized astronomy," says Livio. "I would say Hubble exceeded all expectations."

The most recent repairs are expected to keep Hubble going for another five years or so. Because NASA is focused on building a successor to Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope, no additional servicing missions are planned.

At some point, the telescope will break down. Eventually, NASA expects to deorbit it and send it crashing down over the Pacific.

Credits: Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR

Friday, April 23, 2010

The evaporating Mediterranean Sea

Thanks to Elisabeth for this.

Marquis Teague picks Kentucky

Rick Pitino desperately needed to win the battle for Marquis Teague's commitment. He didn't.

Instead, after years of Louisville recruiting, close ties to Pitino through his father Shawn, and a common assumption that Louisville would be his choice -- until John Calipari arrived at Kentucky and changed everything, that is -- the No. 4-ranked player in the 2011 class defied long-held consensus and selected the University of Kentucky as his collegiate basketball destination. The commonwealth's latest heated recruiting war is over, and Calipari is the victor. Again.

At his news conference (which immediately followed the NCAA's teleconference on its new rights deal; talk about overshadowing the kid's big moment) Teague gave unsurprising reasons for his choices. He told reporters he thought Kentucky was a good fit for him. He believes Calipari coaches guards well, an opinion his brother Jeff Teague, a former point guard at Wake Forest and a current NBA rookie, shared. He isn't worried about the NBA, Teague said, instead saying he wanted to win, get an education, and build a "dynasty." Alongside Michael Gilchrist, the No. 1 overall player in ESPNU's class of 2011, who has also committed to Kentucky, that dynasty is eminently plausible.

The on-court impact is simple: Teague and Gilchrist will headline another elite Kentucky team built around an insane Calipari recruiting class. Many observers will pick the Wildcats to win the 2011-2012 title before either player steps foot in Lexington. They'll be that good.

As fun as that will be to watch, the off-court intrigue might be the most interesting part of this story. For years, Teague was Rick Pitino's recruit. When John Calipari entered the equation, Teague wavered, and now Calipari has pulled off the sort of recruiting heist that will make Pitino's hair whiter than the suit he wears for home white-outs. Neither coach likes the other. Neither program, or their fan bases, get along very well. Pitino not only needed Teague to get the Cardinals back to the lofty levels they've enjoyed for much of Pitino's tenure, he needed Teague to prove that he is every bit the recruiting force and program-building monster that Calipari is.

That reputation took a major hit today. Rick Pitino is a legendary coach, and losing one recruit doesn't change that. But it does tilt the balance of power in the Commonwealth's intense basketball universe. Maybe for good.

Credits: Eamonn Brennan, ESPN

Make Music With Your...(Wait For It)...Shoes

Footwear has come a long way since the primitive days of just being used to, you know, cover your feet. Sure, it can make you run faster and jump higher, measure your distance and heart rate, even make phone calls. Shoes can now make music.

As this video shows, you can now transform shoes into musical instruments. It's part of a new Japanese Nike ad campaign to show off how flexible and twisty (and, therefore, comfortable?) the new Nike's Free Run+ running shoes are.

To do so, Nike invited the help of a pair of inventive Japanese sound artists (including Daito Manabe, an innovator in alternative musical interfaces) to convert the shoes into DIY interactive musical instruments that can cue and manipulate samples and sounds. In the process, they've unveiled perhaps the first line of "footware."

With a little ingenuity, and a boatload of accelerometer sensors (the things that make you able to shake your iPhone) and software (in this case Ableton Live), they discovered that they can plug the shoes into a computer and mixers. They can then create beats and trigger other sounds by flexing and bending and banging the shoes -- not totally unlike how any MIDI-controlled interface or DJ turntable works. The difference is, in the right hands, the shoes seem to display a lot of potential for subtle motion to tweak the sounds just right. It's fascinating to watch as it unfolds live.

Unfortunately, as the closing disclaimer notes, these sweet kicks won't come music-ready for the general consumer any time soon. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to continue duct-taping my vintage Discman to my worn-out sneakers.

For the programmers, gearheads and electronic-music geeks out there who are interested in how they rigged everything up, check out the blog Create Digital Music, which spoke to Manabe about the process and all those nitty-gritty technical details.

Credits: Michael Katzif, NPR

Expansion: What we know (and don't know)

Today brought some fantastic news: Contrary to popular belief, the NCAA tournament isn't expanding to 96 teams. I know, right? Deep breaths. Sigh of relief. All that and more. Considering the widespread consensus that the NCAA's decision to opt out of its current contract with CBS and pursue a richer deal was pursuant on its new network having more NCAA tournament games to show, this news wasn't just pleasant. It was also surprising. In this case, who doesn't love a good surprise?

Based on the NCAA's news release and its subsequent teleconference with the media Thursday afternoon, we now know more about the new-look NCAA tournament than we did even 24 hours ago: How many teams it will have, where the games will be shown, and what direction the broadcasts will take in the future. There is also much we don't know, including just how impermanent the NCAA's 68-team decision will be. So let's recap: Below is a list of things we know and don't know about NCAA tournament expansion, a one-stop primer for today's big news. Onward.

What we know

How many teams will the NCAA tournament have in 2011? This is easy: 68. Or, to be fair, the NCAA tournament will almost certainly have 68 teams in 2011. Right now, that number comes from one thing: The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee's unanimous recommendation to the NCAA board of directors that the tournament expand to 68 teams. The board of directors still has to approve that measure at its meeting on April 29.

That approval is a formality at this point. The board of directors will almost certainly approve that recommendation. It would be a major plot twist if the board rejected it. The 68-team number is non-binding -- and in their new broadcast rights contract, the NCAA holds full discretion over whether the tournament would expand -- but for now, it appears 68 is our number. That barely qualifies as expansion, so those worried that a 96-team tournament would be on our doorstep soon can rest easy. For now.

Where will we be watching? CBS, TNT, TBS, and TruTV. Of course, the main reason the NCAA investigated expansion in the first place is to drive up the price of its new rights contract. The bidders came down to ESPN and a joint CBS-Turner group, which won out in the end.

How does this network split work? It's not quite as cut-and-dry as, say, ESPN and CBS' joint ownership of the rights to the Masters, but it's close. The first and second rounds of the tournament will be split between the four networks. CBS and Turner will split the Sweet 16.

Here's where it gets a little tricky: Through 2015, the Elite Eight and Final Four will be the sole province of CBS. Beginning in 2016, the Elite Eight and Final Four will be split between Turner and CBS. The two networks will trade years for the national title game -- CBS will have it one year, TBS the next. This deal lasts until 2024. Plan your viewing accordingly.

How much money is the NCAA making? Quite a bit: $10.8 billion over 14 years. That's about $776 million a year, or on average around $200 million per annum more than the NCAA was making in its old deal, an 11-year contract for $6 billion with CBS. Some questioned whether a new deal would net more than the NCAA stood to gain from the last three years of its current deal with CBS -- the last three years of its contract were three of the richest -- given the current economic climate and declining tournament ratings over the last decade. That squeamishness proved a little conservative. The NCAA ended up eclipsing that number, and easily so.

What we don't know

How many teams will the NCAA tournament have in, say, 2016? Ah, the $11 billion question. NCAA interim president Jim Isch and senior vice president for basketball and business strategies Greg Shaheen refused to say whether the NCAA tournament would stick with this 68-team format in the years after 2011. When asked, Isch would merely say the 68-team recommendation was "for now." The NCAA has sole control over whether the tournament will expand in the future or not.

This raises the possibility that the NCAA tournament will be expanding again at some point. Cynics might even say the NCAA is softening its expansion blow in the face of widespread criticism, and they could have a point. By 2016 (the year itself isn't important, but just for argument's sake), the NCAA could have decided that a 96-team tournament is in the best interest of its member institutions and student-athletes, passing a similar recommendation and blowing the tournament out into the unwieldy mess you see here. It's possible.

But perhaps the most important part of today's news is that the NCAA managed to score a very rich deal without immediately expanding the tournament to 96 teams, and according to the heads of CBS and Turner, that deal isn't contingent on having 96 teams -- in 2011 or afterward. Clearly, 96 teams isn't a deal-breaker. If this format works well, and the NCAA has no financial incentive to expand, will it still expand? That seems possible too, but it also seems unlikely. Messing with a good thing makes sense when there are billions of dollars at stake. It makes zero sense when there aren't.

How does 68 teams work? This is one detail the NCAA will finalize after the 68-team recommendation is finalized, so we won't know for at least a few weeks. The simplest method would see the NCAA create four more play-in games, similar to the current play-in game, involving non-BCS schools playing for a chance to square off against the No. 1 seed in each region. Simple doesn't always mean ideal, though, and it would figure that the NCAA and its partners at CBS and Turner would prefer that the pool of expanded teams include big schools like Illinois, one of this year's last four out. One possibility is that the eight final at-large inclusions play four play-in games for the four No. 12 seeds. It's a bit of a non-traditional change, but compared to a 96-team tournament, it's decidedly small potatoes.

Credits: Eamonn Brennan, ESPN

'Tea party' founder: Why our movement will succeed -- and why it's good for America

While I am not sure how I feel about the "tea party" movement, this article really has me thinking.
Imagine that the “tea party” movement continued to expand in size and influence. At some point in the future, tea partyers, regardless of political party affiliation, would dominate the executive and legislative branches of federal government. Our influence on the courts would increase. In this scenario, the tea party would eventually change the face of the federal government.

What would America look like then?

Before we answer that question, remember that no single person speaks for the tea party movement. Tea partyers hold political views that run the gamut from traditional Christian conservative to libertarian. We can’t describe a tea party future without answering the question, “Which tea partyer are you talking about?”

If we select the most common points of agreement, however, we can paint a fairly accurate picture of the changes tea partyers would likely make to our government and how those changes could alter your relationship to Washington. First let’s look at the most common themes among tea partyers.

While many local tea party organizations involve themselves in local or state issues and races, the movement’s primary interest lies in Washington. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans distrust the federal government, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. Among tea partyers, that statistic is closer to 9 in 10. That’s important because it highlights a very important common theme: a libertarian view of Washington’s role.

Tea partyers would reduce the scope of federal power in two ways. First, we would trim federal legislation, reducing the Federal Register – the daily publication of federal rules, regulations, orders, and notices – from more than 69,000 pages to, say, 10,000 pages, as it was in 1950. Second, we would eliminate the legislative power of federal departments and agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency would no longer be able to declare the mud puddle in my backyard federally protected wetlands citing nothing more than bureaucratic fiat.

For you, this means that Washington would have less direct influence over your life. You could plan for the future knowing that your property is your property. You would not need a Washington bureaucrat’s permission to paint your house blue or to put in a swimming pool. You would not have to buy government-approved health insurance or drive a government-made car.

This change will significantly increase your personal political power. Today, Washington has undue influence over your life. And changing federal law is nearly impossible. You either have to hire an expensive team of lobbyists or convince at least half of all Americans voters to support the candidates for Congress who support your idea of reform. Do you have that kind of time and money?

Tea partyers want to restore the balance of power in America, making state and local governments more important than the federal government, as was intended by the US Constitution, and which was the case for the first half of US history. Under this arrangement, the number of people you’d need to influence to change the law drops quickly. Federalism and a smaller national government means individuals carry more power.

The Constitution lists a very limited number of activities that the United States may perform on our behalf. The tea party movement would implement a plan to phase out those activities, departments, and agencies that came about outside the amendment process of the Constitution. Expect to see the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs disappear over time. Homeland Security, which comprises some legitimate activities, would be splintered into more manageable parts.

If we want to hold on to an existing department whose mission is beyond the constitutional roles of government, then Congress and the states would have to adopt a constitutional amendment to establish that new power.

For you, this would mean far less dependency on a faceless Washington bureaucrat. No more “No Child Left Behind” dictates that teach 20th-century lessons to 21st-century students. As with all of the tea party’s ideas, this one leaves you freer than you started out.

The tea party movement is most closely associated with anger over bailouts, taxes, spending, and debt. But the financial problems our government faces are symptoms of the problems addressed earlier. Reducing the government’s onerous and unsustainable spending is both an objective and a consequence of the changes above.

In 1949, federal spending equaled 14 percent of gross domestic product (GDP); in 2009, the government spent 25 percent of GDP, a 70 percent increase. According to the Congressional Budget Office, by 2019, the national debt will equal 90 percent of GDP, a tipping point associated with harmfully slower economic growth, according to economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. We aim to stop that.

Outside of defense spending, the three largest items in the federal budget – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – would be phased out unless proponents could muster support for a constitutional amendment. These extra-constitutional programs amount to massive Ponzi schemes that fall apart without significant population growth. I would propose phasing these programs out by age, with anyone at or near retirement receiving full benefits. We want to keep the previous generation’s promise to retirees, even if that promise was illegitimate.

For you, this change means a more secure financial future, a better education for your kids, and more predictable retirement. Eventually, your federal tax burden would ease significantly. Reduced federal spending will reduce the annual budget deficits and allow us to begin paying down our nation’s massive debt.

Since 2008, the American people have paid off more personal debt than we’ve taken on. It’s time for government to apply this simple practice of household finance.

While I don’t pretend to speak for all tea partyers, I believe these reforms represent a common theme among the various factions that make up the larger tea party movement. These themes – increased personal power, a smaller federal government, fiscal responsibility, and lower taxes – carry a lot of power in the American psyche.

As tea partyers learn to translate passion and energy into electoral success this fall, we will stop and reverse our country’s recent sprint toward socialism – a sprint never authorized by the Constitution. These principles will result in some victories in 2010 and even more success in 2012 and beyond.

To ensure victory in the fall, we have formed our own political action committees and political nonprofits. These organizations give grass-roots conservatives a stronger voice in the political process.

In St. Louis, we are spreading the word by creating hundreds of tea party block captains who will recruit small teams to visit every home in the area before Election Day.

These teams will deliver a simple message and a copy of the United States Constitution, asking the people they visit to read that document and decide for themselves whether or not our government is protecting or infringing on our rights and our national promise.

Finally, I know the tea party movement will succeed because of the people who support it. When my cofounder, Dana Loesch, and I planned the first St. Louis tea party in February 2009, we hoped for a crowd of 50.

To our delight, more than 1,000 patriots filled the steps of the Gateway Arch on the banks of the Mississippi. Since then, the people of this tea party have continued to organize, influence, and grow.

Together, we are simply pilgrims on the road to that Shining City on a Hill, and we will not rest until we get there.
Credits: Bill Hennessy, cofounder of the St. Louis Tea Party, Christian Science Monitor

How much do you really save by air-drying your clothes?

When I was growing up, my mother always hung clothes out to dry, sometimes even in the winter. Where I currently live, there’s not really a place to install a clothesline that would catch any wind at all (I could put one at the edge of our property where it would catch a little wind, but this would really disrupt the open area our children use to play). A clothesline is one thing I definitely wish to have when we eventually move to the country.

So I sometimes use an alternative solution. I simply hang up a clothesline from our laundry room over to the guest bedroom, taking up part of the hallway in our basement. On that line, I can hang quite a few clothes without a problem. It takes most of a day to air dry them – this is aided on windy days when I can open all of the windows and doors in the basement to help the process.

Given the time that this takes compared to just tossing the clothes into the dryer, is it really worth my time? Let’s run the numbers a bit to find out.

The “Saving Electricity” website reports that the average dryer uses 3.3 kilowatt hours of energy and estimates an average of 11 cents per kilowatt hour. A small load of clothes takes about 45 minutes in the dryer, so the cost of that load is $0.36.

When I hang up my own line, I can hang up about three small loads of clothes at once on it. This is on average – I can do a bit more if it’s mostly my clothes and a bit less if it’s mostly kid’s clothes, but the three loads per line is a good calculation. That means that filling up the line and letting it air dry saves about $1.08.

Is it worth it? The real question comes from how long it takes me to do it. I can string up the line in about fifteen seconds, and I can hang a load’s worth of clothes in about two minutes or so – it’s really not that hard. I probably spend another fifteen seconds opening up doors and windows to maximize air drying, so the total extra time investment for that $1.08 is about six and a half minutes.

This means that if I repeated this exercise about nine times, I’d end up devoting about an hour to hanging up laundry and I’d save $9.96. As always, that’s $10 an hour after taxes – you don’t have to take income tax out of those “earnings.”

There are a couple other factors worth considering here.

Dryer sheets

If you’re hanging up the clothes, you’re not using dryer sheets. I usually use a quarter cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle as our laundry softener, so this isn’t really a concern for us, but if you use dryer sheets, you’ll either be abandoning them (a savings) or switching to something else. I encourage you to try vinegar – it seems to soften really well and doesn’t add any smell to the clothes.

The environment

Anything that cuts down on home energy use is a good thing and dryers certainly suck down the juice. Of course, if you’re opening windows for the purpose of air flow, you might also be doing this to help you keep the air conditioning off, which is another big environmental (and financial) boon. We try to resist using our air conditioner except during the day on particularly hot days, so opening the windows here is a natural thing to encourage air flow.

To put it simply, hanging up laundry is a decent but not world-beating saver. It’s worth doing particularly if you have environmental concerns for doing so, but other factors can easily trump it (like air conditioning, for instance). I, for one, like the smell of air-dried clothes quite a lot and it’s a good, repetitive activity that lets my mind wander in creative directions while doing it, so I think I’ll continue to hang laundry on a fairly regular basis.

Credits: Husna Haq, Christian Science Monitor

Bo's press conference

The "First Dog" steals the show from the First Lady. How amusing is this video?

Credits: Jeanne Moos, CNN

Thursday, April 22, 2010

NCAA on verge of 68-team men's tournament

The NCAA plans to expand the men's basketball tournament from 65 to 68 teams beginning next year and announced a new, $10.8 billion broadcasting deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting on Thursday that will allow every game to be shown live for the first time.

"This is an important day for intercollegiate athletics and the 400,000 student-athletes who compete in NCAA sports," interim NCAA president Jim Isch said. "This agreement will provide on average more than $740 million annually to our conferences and member schools."

The men's tournament last expanded in 2001, adding one team to the 64-team field that was set in 1985. Talk of tweaking March Madness again generated a lot of chatter from fans worried about watering down the competition and those fearing the additional bracket guesswork involved in predicting a winner.

Less than four weeks ago, turning the NCAA's signature event into a 80- or even a 96-team field seemed like all but a done deal.

During the Final Four, NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen talked extensively about the plans to go to 96, saying the three-week event would start two days later and eliminate the play-in game. But more games would have been added to Week 2, and that caused concerns about how much class time the athletes would miss.

Shaheen also cautioned then that nothing had been decided.

Any move hinged on the NCAA's $6 billion, 11-year television deal with CBS Sports, which has broadcast championship games since 1982. The deal, signed in 1999, had a mutual opt-out until July 31, and the NCAA took it amid speculation that ESPN might become a partner in one of the most popular and lucrative tournaments in sports.

"We made an aggressive bid and believe our combination of TV distribution, digital capabilities, season-long coverage and year-round marketing would have served the interests of the NCAA and college fans very well," ESPN said in a statement. "We remain committed to our unparalleled coverage of more than 1,200 men's and women's college basketball games each season."

The NCAA's new, 14-year agreement with CBS and Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System Inc. runs from 2011 through 2024. It means that every game next March will be shown live -- on CBS, TBS, TNT or truTV -- for the first time in the tournament's 73-year history.

Next year, everything through the second round will be shown nationally on the four networks. CBS and Turner will split coverage of the regional semifinal games, while CBS will retain sole coverage of the regional finals, the Final Four and the championship game through 2015.

Beginning in 2016, coverage of the regional finals will be split by CBS and Turner; the Final Four and the championship game will alternate every year between CBS and TBS.

"This is a landmark deal for Turner Broadcasting and we're extremely pleased to begin a long-term relationship with the NCAA and our partners at CBS and to have a commitment that extends well into the next decade," said David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports for Turner Broadcasting.

The NCAA said the Division I Men's Basketball Committee unanimously passed the proposal and it will be reviewed by the board of directors next Thursday.

How critical is the deal to the NCAA?

More than 95 percent of the governing body's total revenue comes from the broadcast rights to the men's basketball tournament. And it was clearly important to New York-based CBS. Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, said the "new strategic partnership" was a core asset -- and a profitable one.

The National Association of Basketball Coaches has long advocated expansion, citing the fact that while the number of Division I teams has expanded greatly over the last quarter-century, the tourney has added only one team. A 96-team field would have likely enveloped the 32-team NIT, the NCAA's other, independently run season-ending tournament.

The proposal is strictly for the men's tournament. Another NCAA committee is looking at whether to expand the women's tournament or keep it in the current format.


Black Americans Look To Health Plan For New Hope

I don't take care of my self the way I should and I have not for a long time. But, an article posted on NPR today debates "whether the coming health-care changes will actually ease the health disparities that black Americans face."

Black Americans Look To Health Plan For New Hope

Today, I am going to be the pot and call the metaphorical kettle black. I am going to say "no" simply for these reasons. Having insurance coverage to see a doctor does not mean that you are going to heed his warning or take his advice when you leave his office. It does not mean that you are going to actually get more exercise or take your medication everyday like you should. It does not mean that you are going to bake your chicken this Sunday instead of frying it. Having health care coverage does not do any of these things. It simply provides you a tool (the doctor) to help you get yourself where you need to be health wise.

Until we, black folks as a collective whole actually start following the doctors orders, then it will not matter if he have no health-care coverage or free health-care coverage, we can not be a healthier people.

Credits: Cheryl Corley, NPR

Happy Earth Day: Apologies for the late thank-you card

This Earth Day image by NASA updates the
"blue marble" image taken by astronauts
in an earlier era of space exploration.
The product rollout was done with little fanfare: a soft launch followed by an extremely long beta, even longer than the one for Google Gmail. We’re actually still in beta, though everyone agrees the product is terrific.

And talk about green! It practically defined the term.

People can’t get enough of Earth. It’s a totally immersive experience and a platform for an impressive array of apps. Check out Art and Music. Their databases and functionality are way deeper than iTunes and YouTube. Spend some time with Cities, Forests, and Oceans, all in stunning 3-D. Wow. Into social networks? Families and Communities outclass Farmville, Facebook, and Second Life in terms of multiuser involvement.

In this critic’s humble opinion, Earth is easily one of the Top 10 must-haves of the eon.

Earth Day commemorates our planet for good reason. Without our blue-green orb, life would be bleak. We’re talking cold, airless, meteor-pocked bleak. Earth is our comfortable home in an unforgiving cosmos. It occupies the Goldilocks position in the solar system – not too far from the sun and not too close, protected from asteroids by Jupiter and Saturn. It’s the perfect garden for biology.

Cherishing and protecting the home planet is the least we can do. (A Monitor special report on the use of carbon offsets indicates some of our methods are falling short.) Here’s the embarrassing part, though: We’ve enjoyed Earth’s hospitality for 4.5 billion years but have been celebrating its special day for only 40. Considering how long it’s been around and how fond of it we are, that’s woeful.

The first Earth Day – April 22, 1970 – was a memorably unifying moment after the tumult of the 1960s. You didn’t need to be for or against the Vietnam War to mark Earth Day. Consciousness had been slowly rising for years. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson had promoted conservation and early environmentalism. The Boy and Girl Scouts taught generations to “take only photographs, leave only footprints.” Even Woodstock, with its “get back to the garden” vibe contributed.

Meanwhile, popular outrage over pollution was rising. Massive oil spills off Santa Barbara, Calif., and Cornwall, England, in the late 1960s produced shocking scenes of devastation. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969.

But perhaps the most powerful impetus for Earth Day was the photo that Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders took of our gorgeous planet rising over the rocky gray surface of the moon. “Earthrise,” as the photo was dubbed, was a revelation.

Posters appeared everywhere. Life magazine called it one of 100 photos that changed the world. The poet Archibald MacLeish was so moved that he penned these immortal words: “To see the earth as we now see it, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the unending night – brothers who see now they are truly brothers.”

Honoring Earth got us outside our parochial disputes, if only for a day. So, thank you, big ‘E’ Earth. And we might as well thank little ‘e’ earth as well, which variously means the firmament, our present state of existence, and that sweet layer of humus that makes magic happen this time of year. Spading up spring soil, tucking tomato plants in the ground, and watching the Northern Hemisphere leaf out in late April tangibly connects us with our planet.

So breathe deep. Earth probably has only 1.5 billion more years before an enlarging sun makes it uninhabitable, at which point its product life expires. It will have been a good run. Depending on where humans are at that point, April 22 should still honor the place we got our start.

Credits: John Yemma, Christian Science Monitor.

40th Earth Day a planet-wide movement

More than 1 billion people all over the globe will observe the 40th anniversary of Earth Day today, which promises to be the largest since that first event in 1970. In 2010, the environmental challenges we face are global and call for new solutions.

Forty years ago we were reactive. In 1969, the year before the first Earth Day, two environmental disasters grabbed the country's attention: a massive oil spill coated the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, grew so polluted that it actually caught fire.

Forty years later, with climate change looming and no strong international agreement in place despite the Copenhagen Climate conference, environmental activists are taking a proactive stance. They are arming themselves with the internet and social media to create another grass-roots movement for change, even larger than the first.

How countries like India and China solve their future energy needs has an impact on people everywhere -- many developing countries are now pulling ahead of the United States on renewable energy -- and how the United States addresses its key issues will have an equal impact.

Americans of all political stripes can agree on certain essential goals, such as how we must preserve the world's natural wonders for generations to come and how we must live in harmony with this world of finite natural resources.

But not everyone sees the bigger picture -- that the global economy will improve by moving away from dependence on fossil fuel, that investments in renewable energy can create jobs and that a new revolution is needed to replace the outdated Industrial Revolution.

It took 150 years to transform our agrarian society to an industrial one. But today, we don't have the luxury of time. Climate solutions are urgently needed.

The challenge is to move from carbon-based energy and industrial systems into a post-carbon, or green, economy. A green economy relies on renewable energy and the creation of green jobs to prevent further pollution and resource depletion and sustain economic growth.

Economic growth, quality jobs and energy independence are not mutually exclusive. According to studies gathered by the Environmental and Energy Study Group, a Washington energy think tank, energy efficiency employs 8 million and renewable energy employs 450,000 in the United States.

The Earth Day Network and its partners are orchestrating large events in New York; Rabat, Morocco; Kolkata, India; Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Tokyo, Japan. A massive climate rally is planned for Washington on April 25.

Earth Day Network is backed by more than 20,000 organizations spanning 190 countries. All these organizations have a stake in climate change, development and growth, national security and energy policy -- geopolitical issues that must be addressed.

Earth Day has become a year-round imperative. From public meetings to civic action, Earth Day's influence has created a green generation of activists, business leaders, and government leaders who are creating a new global green future worthy of the aspirations of the first Earth Day.

Credits: Kathleen Rogers, Earth Day Network, CNN

This is an editorial that was written by Kathleen Rogers. Ms. Rogers is the president of Earth Day Network, an international nonprofit that coordinates Earth Day events. She has worked more than 20 years as an environmental attorney and advocate. She was chief wildlife counsel for the National Audubon Society, environmental representative on the U.S. Delegation-Free Trade Area of the Americas and responsible for bringing the first citizen complaint before the Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ten ways to a simple life and better money

Simplifying life is not always an easy task. While we have a lot of different technologies and conveniences that can help us simplify life, sometimes these things ultimately overwhelm us.

There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about how to automate or un-automate everyday tasks, so I thought I’d touch on these concepts and show how they can be beneficial in certain circumstances.

In a financial context, simplifying life can be a means to saving and making money. But how? In what ways can we simplify to lead more efficient financial lives? Let’s start with ways we can save some money.

Simplify Your Life to Save Money

Lifestyle design is a huge part of the process of saving money. Everything from the houses we choose to the electricity we use has an effect on our financial picture. For those of us who were not born rich or married someone who was rich, saving money early in our lives is of vital importance.

Here are some ways we can simplify our lives to save money:
Pay bills electronically. Why waste money on stamps? Paying bills online can also simplify your workload and save you valuable time.

Get rid of those pesky credit cards. Besides all the interest you’ll be saving, you won’t have to worry about another bill to pay! The fewer bills you have to pay the better. Also, the less margin for error you have! Credit cards can really eat away your time, money, and sanity.

Move down in house! Got extra room that really isn’t needed? Maybe it’s time to do a little minimalist living and simplify your living quarters to save some money on your payments. You’ll also probably save money on utilities by doing so.

Make simple meals at home. Buying groceries that you can use to make simple meals at home will save you lots of money. Families spend way too much money when they eat out all of the time. Enjoy a simple meal at home and save some cash!

Combine entertainment options. If you’re subscribed to cable, try canceling it for some time! Use your internet connection instead to watch movies and TV shows online!
There are many more ways to save money through simplification. It just takes a few moments of thought and a hint of sacrifice!

Simplify Your Life to Make Money

Making money isn’t always easy. Too many of us have bought into the lie that we must complicate our lives in order to make more money! On the contrary, you can simplify everything and end up making more money than you ever thought possible.

Here are some ways we can simply our lives to make money:

Get rid of non-essential things. Many of us have junk laying around that is worth something to someone. Sell it on Ebay or Craigslist. Have a garage sale. Maybe you have an old car that is sitting in your back lot that needs to be scrapped for parts (or even donated to charity). You get the idea! Non-essentials can really weigh us down and can be turned into cash.

Focus on the 20% of your clients that are providing 80% of your income. This concept helps simplify your business model while freeing up time to find other valuable clients. If you’re an owner of a small business, think about how this might improve your income.

Turn your hobby into your dream job. Taking what you love doing and turning it into work can be one of the most rewarding endeavors. Dare to dream. You can take your work to a whole new level and make more money at the same time.

Clean your workspace to be more efficient. I don’t know about you, but I often have clutter on my desk. I’ve found that by taking this clutter and organizing it, I became a more productive person! Trust me, organize your workspace and you’ll make more money through productivity.

Don’t juggle everything at once. If you have a large project that you’re working on, try to break it up into smaller parts and focus on one part at a time. This focus will enable you to get more done in a short amount of time. Increasing your productivity in this fashion will help improve your income.
What are some ways you can simplify your life to make money? What has worked for you before?

Last Thoughts

There is something to be said for un-automating certain areas of your life. In other words, becoming more intimate with your financial situation can prove beneficial. However, I believe that automating as much as possible produces a better lifestyle for those who adhere to good principles. If you’re just starting out in your pursuit to improve your finances, you may want to think about un-automating everything to ensure you understand how money works in specific circumstances.

After you have simplified your life and work, you’ll soon find that your bank account is much healthier than before. What do you do with all this money? You need a financial turnaround. Pay down your debt, save for rainy days, invest, and give! You’ll be there soon. Simplify today!

Credits: John Frainee, Christian Science Monitor