Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Predicting Fish Habitats Months In Advance With New Ocean Forecast

August 31, 2013

Image Credit:
April Flowers for – Your Universe Online
As meteorological science advances, we have all become used to long-term weather forecasts, such as predicting what the coming winter might bring. A new study from the University of Washington and federal scientists, however, has developed the first long-term forecast of conditions that matter for Pacific Northwest fisheries.

“Being able to predict future phytoplankton blooms, ocean temperatures and low-oxygen events could help fisheries managers,” said Samantha Siedlecki, a research scientist at the UW-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean.

“This is an experiment to produce the first seasonal prediction system for the ocean ecosystem. We are excited about the initial results, but there is more to learn and explore about this tool – not only in terms of the science, but also in terms of its application,” she said.

The prototype was launched in January of this year. When it immediately predicted low oxygen this summer off the Olympic coast, people scoffed. However, some skeptics began to take the new tool more seriously when an unusual low-oxygen patch developed off the Washington coast in July. The prototype has predicted the low-oxygen trend will continue, becoming worse in the coming months.
“We’re taking the global climate model simulations and applying them to our coastal waters,” said Nick Bond, a UW research meteorologist and Washington’s state climatologist. “What’s cutting edge is how the tool connects the ocean chemistry and biology.”

Typically, Bond’s research concerns predicting ocean conditions decades in advance. The forecasts he distributes in his job as state climatologist, however, are quarterly weather predictions. He decided to combine the two with this project, creating a season approach to marine forecasts.

“Simply knowing if things are likely to get better, or worse, or stay the same, would be really useful,” said collaborator Phil Levin, a biologist at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
For example, if fisheries had early warning of negative trends, it could help them set quotas.

“Once you overharvest, a lot of regulations kick in,” Levin said. “By avoiding overfishing you don’t get penalized, you keep the stock healthier and you’re able to maintain fishing at a sustainable level.”
The new tool is called the JISAO Seasonal Coastal Ocean Prediction of the Ecosystem, which the scientist dubbed J-SCOPE. J-SCOPE is still in the testing stages and it remains to be seen whether the initial low-oxygen prediction was beginner’s luck or proof it can predict regions where strong phytoplankton blooms will end up causing low-oxygen conditions.

Global climate models that can predict elements of the weather up to nine months in advance are used by J-SCOPE, which feeds those results into a regional coastal ocean model – created by the UW Coastal Modeling Group. This ocean model simulates the intricate subsea canyons, shelf breaks and river plumes of the Pacific Northwest coastline. This is combined with a new UW oxygen model developed by Siedlecki that calculates where currents and chemistry promote the growth of marine plants, or phytoplankton, and where those plants will decompose and, in turn, affect oxygen levels and other properties of the ocean water.

All of these calculations allow J-SCOPE to create a nine month forecast for Washington and Oregon sea surface temperatures, oxygen at various depths, acidity, and chlorophyll, a measure of the marine plants that feed most fish. This fall, the researchers plan to add sardine habitat maps. The team eventually hopes to publish forecasts specific to other fish, such as tuna and salmon.

The model was fine-tuned by comparing its results for past seasons to actual measurements collected by the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS), a UW based group that hosts the forecasts as a forward-looking complement to its growing archive of Pacific Northwest ocean observations.

The new tool should be able to predict elements of the ocean ecosystem up to six months in advance, according to Siedlecki’s analyses. If the forecasts prove as reliable as the researchers hope, they could become part of a new management approach that requires knowing and predicting how different parts of the ocean ecosystem interact.

“The climate predictions have gotten to the point where they have six-month predictability globally, and the physics of the regional model and observational network are at the point where we’re able to do this project,” Siedlecki said. The project will be presented to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, the regulatory body for West Coast fisheries, this year. The researchers will work with NANOOS to reach tribal, state, and local fisheries managers.

Source: April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Labels: , , ,

Protecting Quebec Values

"We know that the separatist government in Quebec would love to pick fights with Ottawa. But that's not our business. Our business is the economy. Our business is job creation for Canadians -- all Canadians, including Quebecers.
"And our job is social inclusion. Our job is making all groups who come to this country whatever their background, whatever their race, whatever their ethnicity, whatever their religion, feel at home in this country and be Canadians. That's our job.
"You know -- there are all kinds of competing rights; rights of religion, rights of gender equality. We will withhold our comment until we see what exactly is in the proposal. And we will assure ourselves, when we look at that proposal, that the fundamental rights of Canadians are protected."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper

The very foundational principles of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms are being challenged by the Parti Quebecois in their intention to pass legislation that would effectively place restrictions on the hiring of public service workers through screening out those whose apparel betray their religious convictions. People living in Quebec respecting their choice of apparel and symbols relating to their religion.

Not simply a choice, but an imperative relating to the very essence of their religion and the cultural-religious attributes defining aspects of that religion. Some people think how quaint it is when they see a religious Jew wearing outlandish clothing; long, black garb and dangling hairpieces over the ears to distinguish men of Orthodox Jewish sects from others, while the women wear wigs and modest clothing.

Their Muslim religious counterparts tend to go them one better with the restrictively over-modest garb of women veiled and voluminously clad. Others find it offensive, inappropriate to a modern society, and deliberately separatist, eschewing homogeneity, embracing social partition. Here is the separatist-yearning government of Quebec, taking umbrage over what they feel are separatist tendencies of minorities/

Sikh headwear covering unbarbered hair and the paraphernalia of largely ornamental knives signifying religious devotion, a skullcap, a headscarf, a crucifix are admittedly less visually intrusive, still identifiable, and presenting little handicap in merging with and accepting the greater social contract within Canada. They represent both moderate and on the other hand, more fundamental symbols of differences between people. Because of their provenance and symbolism, forbidden in the public service.

But they are, for whatever they are worth to the bystander, all protected by laws guaranteeing equality of gender, religion, ideology, ethnicity, culture, heritage and sexual orientation in Canada. Crucifixes,  kippas, hijabs and turbans are all symbols of devotion to faith, of cultural inheritance. Varying geographic sources representing migrations from parts of the world far removed from North America have contributed to the pluralist society that Canada has become, and indeed always has been.

There is some truth to what former Quebec premier Bernard Landry contends, in expanding on the PQ intention: "The rule is, when you change country, you change country. They can't expect to find everything here that they had in their country of origin. Integration is a powerful signal that they need to adjust to a new nation." He speaks, however, in absolutes. And there is nothing whatever simple about human relations, interactions, heritage, custom and religious inheritance.

One of the hallmarks of Canadian values is the general atmosphere of willingness to accept people at the most basic level; we are all human, all have the same basic needs, all share very similar values and emotions, and all humans wish to be accepted. The hard truth is that human nature shrinks from those who present as different than we are. The soft reality is that it is incumbent upon us as decent people to accept those differences that do not impact deleteriously on what we ourselves value.

The PQ's planned proposal to legislatively create two levels of citizenship within the province, to express an outright alienation toward those whose religious customs may offend the secular-oriented values that Quebec largely propounds, will create a democratic social deficit. There are some standards of acceptance that would go well beyond what should be required; a fully burqua-clad teacher in the public school system goes a step too far creating a divisive message by its very unambiguous presence.

Disallowing the appearance of far slighter indications of religious and cultural variations also goes a giant-footprint too far. Canada is a multicultural landscape, even if the concept of official multiculturalism itself has become a social-mediating clunker. If Canadians are truly accepting and as tolerant as they believe themselves to be, the kind of 'accommodation' that it takes to become accustomed to trivial visual variations in personal presentation should not be a shore too far to breach.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, August 30, 2013

All You Need Is Love

"They were executed with machine guns while the key members of the Unhasu Orchestra, Wangjaesan Light Band and Moranbong Band, as well as the families of the victims looked on."
South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper

War criminals? Threats to the stability of the country? Actually a dozen entertainers. Specifically, North Korean singers, musicians and dancers with Hyon Song-wol's band. She was a popular singer, a beautiful young and talented woman. And her name was at one time twinned with that of Kim Jong Un, the ferocious little tyrant of North Korea. They had a long affair, and it was popularly assumed they were lovers.

North Korean singer, Hyon Song Wol of former band Bochonbo Electronic Music Band
North Korean singer, Hyon Song Wol of former band Bochonbo Electronic Music Band

Several years ago the world became aware that the very attractive, lithe young woman seen often at Kim Jong Un's side at official functions was his wife. Not Hyon Song-wol, however. His wife , Ri Sol-ju had also been a comely and talented member of the Unhasu Orchestra. Now she is married to the tyrant of North Korea, and the mother of his child.

Kim Jong Il before his death and before his son Jong Un became leader of the country, disapproved of his son's relationship with Hyon Song-wol. He was ordered to stop seeing her She then married an officer in the military and became a mother herself. The rumours persisted that the two, Jong Un and Song-wol continued to see one another.

Dictator: Kim Jong-un and wife Ri Sol-ju
Dictator: Kim Jong-un and wife Ri Sol-ju

Reason given to the public that merited the machine-gun execution of the dozen entertainers? Accusations levelled against them of having produced pornographic videos of themselves, and putting the videos out for sale. What might have been far worse, however, are accusations that when they were arrested they were found to have bibles in their possession.

Effectively then making of them political dissidents. Rumours also circulated that they supported an opposition political party. A rival political faction in Pyongyang. After their execution, the onlookers, their immediate families who were forced to watch their loved ones executed, were sent off to prison camps; guilty by familial association.

"If these people had only made pornographic videos, then it is simply not believable that their punishment was execution. They could have been made to disappear into the prison system there instead", suggested Toshimitsu Thigemura, professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, and an expert on North Korea. The execution took place, he feels, for "political reasons".

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un (C) applauds during the final of the Torch Cup soccer tournament
kcna/reuters  Delighted: Kim Jong-un laughs and cheers just days after his ex-girlfriend was executed

"Or", he ventured further: " is possible that these executions are more about Kim's wife who objected to the high profile of her husband's former girlfriend". That would have constituted a fairly lethal objection, one with morbid consequences for an unfortunate dozen people.

In a country whose leader values life to such an abysmally low degree that the starvation of millions of North Koreans in exchange for using state treasury to advance nuclear weapons takes precedence over human survival of the unfittest, their mass death due to starvation constitutes an acceptable trade-off.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Dream Realized

"To dismiss the magnitude of this progress, to suggest as some sometimes do that little has changed, that dishonours the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years. But we would dishonour those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete.
"The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice but it doesn't bend on its own. To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency.
"Because they kept marching, America changed. Because they marched, the civil rights law was passed. Because they marched, the voting rights law was signed. Because they marched, doors of opportunity and education swung open so their daughters and sons could finally imagine a life for themselves beyond washing somebody else's laundry or shining somebody else's shoes."
U.S. President Barack Obama
Ceremony: Obama watches on as members of Martin Luther King Jr's family ring a bell beneath the Lincoln Memorial during the ceremony
Ceremony: Obama watches on as members of Martin Luther King Jr's family ring a bell beneath the Lincoln Memorial during the ceremony

Standing at the Lincoln Memorial, before the image of the very man whose vision of an end to slavery in America created a national upheaval in a bloody, fierce civil war, the black man who is the inheritor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream spoke movingly of what he knows very well. With him, the King family, and with them former presidents of the United States.

In a strangely partisan show of unity. But one has to ask what kind of unity is it when American blacks celebrate their equality and the two major political parties of the country mutually exclude one another? Where were the Republican presidents to join with the Democratic presidents? It was not solely Democrats who supported Martin Luther King's vision in the final analysis, but Republican ones as well.

President Obama's immediate predecessor was responsible for elevating blacks to positions of elite political administrative authority during his lengthy presidency; Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, for example. The sad and sorry spectacle of the memorial presenting as a unitary political event speaks ill of the organizers, the current administration and the party he represents.

President Obama himself spoke disparagingly of his political opponents at a time when there should have been a memorial session of a great American historical event to bring them together in unity of purpose. Speaking of them as those who "practise the old politics of division". In fact, there is division aplenty within the black community itself. The division of the social elite, the black aristocracy and achievers, and the greater unwashed community of the rudely ungroomed, social failures.

And the culture that unites them, black celebrity figures in entertainment, politics, sports and society and rap with its sexist, racist, criminal clever asides. Black America has its black comics, actors, singers, television personalities and intellectuals of note. And it has its shadowy, sorry criminal class of dope dealers and gangs, preying on one another and causing social unrest and misery among their own. A culture of single mothers, absent fathers, poverty and children abandoned to fate.

A one-time community organizer and briefly state senator is now the towering figure of president of the United States of America. There is pride in the black community; the ultimate has been achieved. But has it? The figure of commanding authority is there, but has that made any difference whatever to the status of black youth intent on gangs, drugs, guns and criminal activities? A crime rate that continues and continues to prey on its own?

An event that overtook history and made America giddy with the prospects of its own racial freedom, salvation from the history that so shamed them. And so impressing the international community that nothing seemed impossible And because nothing seemed impossible the Nobel Peace prize was awarded rather precipitously to someone who had distinguished himself by nothing more than high-flown rhetoric, promising that element that resides deep in the emotional hearts of all of humankind; 'hope'.
Crowds: Tens of thousands of spectators watch President Obama speak at the service marking 50 years since the iconic address
Crowds: Tens of thousands of spectators watch President Obama speak at the service marking 50 years since the iconic address

The audacity of his vision so enthralled his people, the electorate, the nation and the global community that he towered well above the office he held. He has since floated back to ground, his once-ebony hair grey, the global problems laid at his office door too numerous to count, his decisions uncertain, their outcomes problematical.

And the world continues to spin on its axis.

Labels: , , , , ,

Astrophoto: Flames of the Milky Way

Photographer Florian Breuer—who took the incredible Namibian Quiver Trees photo—has created another breathtaking shot: The Milky Way arcing over Theewaterskloof Dam in South Africa.

Milky Way arcing over Theewaterskloof dam in South Africa.
The Milky Way arcing over Theewaterskloof dam in South Africa. Click to galactinate.
Photo by Florian Breuer, used by permission

[The image is very wide for its height, so you really want to click to embiggen it.]

The arcing isn’t real; that’s due to the use of a wide-angle lens. The light on the horizon is from clouds illuminated by the nearby towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. And while I am no fan of light pollution, it does provide a pretty dramatic scene, like the Milky Way itself is erupting into flames as it approaches the horizon.

The trees in the lake are haunting. On his page describing how he created this image (a mosaic of 20 separate exposures) he talks about the bleached stumps straining out of the water. It’s worth a read, especially for the close-up photo he took of one of the stumps. It’s actually quite lovely and eerie.

In fact, go look at his (all-too-brief) portfolio on Google+. He’s a gifted photographer, and you’ll be glad you visited.

Labels: , ,

Viral video from Syria shows rare bright moment in war

Viral video from Syria shows rare bright moment in war

The video, posted four days after an alleged chemical weapons attack, shows a father reuniting with his son who was presumed killed. 

By Staff writer / August 29, 2013
A member of a UN investigation team takes samples of sands near a part of a missile is likely to be one of the chemical rockets according to activists, in the Damascus countryside of Ain Terma, Syria, Wednesday.  United Media Office of Arbeen/AP

An amateur video showing a Syrian father being reunited with a young son he thought had died in a chemical weapons attack has captured the hearts of people around the world, getting more than 2 million views on YouTube since being posted on Aug. 25.

In the video, first highlighted in the Western media by The Washington Post’s Max Fisher, a young boy is brought to the arms of his sobbing father, who is so overcome with emotion that the crowd of men around him have to hold him up.

Once inside, however, he holds the boy on his lap and reassures him, holding him tight and kissing his cheeks. "Don't be upset,” he says, according to a translation by The New York Times. “I am beside you, my darling. I am beside you."

The source of the video is unclear, and Western media were careful to note that they could not independently verify it. But numerous reports say it was shot in Zamalka or East Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus, in the area where Syrian rebels reported a devastating chemical-weapons attack on Aug. 21, triggering intensified discussion in Washington about a potential US strike.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Exploiting Human Nature

"The manufacture and distribution of this illegal commodity fuels the growth of organized criminal networks, and the viability of this illegal commodity results in losses of federal and provincial taxes and excise duties and undermines significant government investment and public health objectives.
"These illegal products are then transported through a national pipeline for sale to consumers as a cheaper alternative to legitimate tobacco products, thereby making it more accessible to youth."
RCMP briefing document
Released under access to information legislation, data have been published meant originally as a briefing document forwarded to the Canadian public safety minister. It outlined a number of statistics, the most interesting among them perhaps the figure of 50 contraband tobacco manufacturers whose production lines operate on First Nations territories in Ontario and Quebec.

Tax-free cigarettes. Illegal, of course, but widely available on a casual drive through those reserves. Reserves whose welcome signs state that on driving onto reserve land one is entering 'national' territory of First Nations. As nations they feel little obligation to obey Canadian law which the manufacturing of illegal tobacco products states is illegal.

Trouble at the smoke shack tax-free native cigarettes, a big business in Ontario and Quebec, are now a problem for Western provinces, too
Tim Smith/Brandon Sun

Illegal as well is their sale. With no revenues accruing to the government. Because the enterprise is illegal, it represents criminal activity. And because the manufacture of contraband is illegal it attracts criminal gangs, both local and international in scope. With everyone concerned, the manufacturers, the dealers and the gangs eager to obtain as much of a piece of the revenue-pie as possible.

Proceeds from these activities also fund and enable other types of criminal activities. Ranging from the smuggling of contraband liquor, to illegal weapons. And perhaps most problematical, human smuggling. Local criminals make their living in this way and foreign groups, including foreign groups specializing in violent war-mongering and terrorism, also get their cut of the action.

The product sells, it is popular because it is far less expensive than the legitimate product. The very fact that taxes are removed also removes an enormous part of the cost of purchase. The creation of a 50-member RCMP anti-contraband force appears to have slowed opportunity down somewhat, but the trafficking of contraband tobacco, illicit drugs and firearms and human smuggling all interrelated, continue.

It isn't only the government that would like to be able to pull the plug on these immoral, illegal and dangerous activities. Dangerous to human health from the consuming perspective, and dangerous to safety and security from the perspective of upholding the law and as well the predictable violent events that occur as a result of gang-related competition. Revenue loss also translates to higher social services costs.

The Kahnawake reserve in Quebec and Six Nations reserves in Ontario are identified as the sites hosting those 50 contraband operations. Allied with another ten manufacturers on the American side of the Akwesasne Mohawk territories, straddling the borders of Ontario, Quebec and New York State: "giving rise to jurisdictional and legal challenges between federal, provincial and state laws."

The document points out that the aforementioned challenges are being exploited by organized crime groups. A 2012 Criminal Intelligence Service Canada national threat assessment identified roughly 58 organized crime groups embroiled across the country, some 35 of their number located within Central Canada.

Tobacco is a legal product. It is also, for many a lethal product, a fact that is widely recognized and well enough known. To prohibit its use on the basis of its being a carcinogen, to protect users from the consequences of long-term use, and to husband the medical-hospitalization reserves of the country thereby is unworkable.

As much as the market for illegal tobacco hugely benefits itself at the present time with a legal product produced and distributed illegally, the situation would become even more fiercely competitive and dangerous as even greater numbers of crime syndicates would become involved.

But the cheaper cost and availability of the illegal product ensnares youth, the young who believe nothing untoward would ever impact their lives. With less cash to spare, they form one segment of the population eager to advantage themselves by the procurement of a less expensive product.

No one will ask them to prove their age at purchase.

Labels: , , ,

Symphony of Science: Black Holes

black hole
Black holes can gobble down matter and spew out vast beams of matter, focused by intense magnetic fields. Click to ergospherenate.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Black holes are intrinsically cool.

Don’t believe me? You should. As evidence, here are two random things about black holes:
1) In the center of every big galaxy lies a supermassive black hole. Our Milky Way has one, four million times more massive than our Sun.

2) Not only that, but there are tens of millions or possibly billions of smaller black holes wandering the galaxy! Never fear, though: The odds of one getting close enough to Earth to do us any harm are so small that the Universe could be a thousand times its current age, a million times, and we’d still never get close to one.

But just knowing they’re out there…yikes. And see? That’s cool. There’s something fascinating and forbidding and compelling about black holes. They’re weird, they defy our everyday logic, they’re the ultimate endpoints of matter.

But they’re fun, too, which is why I’m so happy to see them as the topic of the latest Symphony of Science—music videos using autotuned scientists. This one is called  “Monsters of the Cosmos”:
You’ll see a lot of familiar faces in there. I was pleased to see my old friend Brian McNamara (in the blue shirt, first appearing at the 1:38 mark) there, too. We were in grad school together at UVa, and that video is (I believe) actually from a PBS show called “Monster of the Milky Way”, which I worked on a bit a few years back (the show was funded in part by a NASA mission I was involved with). So that was fun to see him again.

I’m a big fan of the Symphony of Science series, too. Heck, I’m in one. But they’re all pretty good, and well worth your time to watch. You can find them all on melodysheep’s YouTube channel.

And if you want to learn more about black holes, here’s something for you: an article I wrote called Ten Things You Don’t Know About Black Holes. How many did you not know?

Labels: , , ,

NASA Hands Autonomous Navigation Reins Over To Curiosity For Trip To Mount Sharp

August 28, 2013 -- Red Orbit

Image Caption: This mosaic of images from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the scene from the rover's position on the 376th Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Aug. 27, 2013). The images were taken right after Curiosity completed the first drive during which it used autonomous navigation on unknown ground. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online
NASA’s Curiosity rover already has a year under its belt of driving on the surface of the Red Planet, but the Martian explorer is just now using its autonomous navigation for the first time.

The latest addition to the rover gives Curiosity the capability to decide for itself how to drive safely across Mars. Autonomous navigation will help the rover cover the remaining ground en route to Mount Sharp, where NASA plans to investigate geological layers in order to understand a bit more about the history of Mars.

Curiosity will be able to use the software to analyze images taken during a drive to calculate a safe driving path. This software enables the rover to evaluate its path ahead of what the scientists at NASA are able to do. For example, NASA said the rover used its autonomous navigation on Tuesday to drive on ground that could not be confirmed safe before the start of the drive.

“Curiosity takes several sets of stereo pairs of images, and the rover’s computer processes that information to map any geometric hazard or rough terrain,” said Mark Maimone, rover mobility engineer and rover driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “The rover considers all the paths it could take to get to the designated endpoint for the drive and chooses the best one.”

The rover drove about 33 feet autonomously on Tuesday, bringing the daily driving mileage to about 141 feet. Curiosity plotted part of the drive itself, but kept it within an area operators had identified as safe.

“We could see the area before the dip, and we told the rover where to drive on that part. We could see the ground on the other side, where we designated a point for the rover to end the drive, but Curiosity figured out for herself how to drive the uncharted part in between,” said JPL’s John Wright, a Curiosity rover driver.

The latest drive brings the rover’s full tally since leaving Glenelg to 0.86 miles (4,540 feet). Curiosity still has about 4.46 miles (23,548 feet) to go before reaching Mount Sharp, although NASA says this driving route could be longer or shorter.

NASA has picked out a few waypoints along the path to Mount Sharp where Curiosity may pause for a few days in order to perform a little science. The rover has nearly a third mile left until it reaches the first of these waypoints, which is located within bedrock.

“Each waypoint represents an opportunity for Curiosity to pause during its long journey to Mount Sharp and study features of local interest,” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of Caltech. “These features are geologically interesting, based on HiRISE images, and they lie very close to the path that provides the most expeditious route to the base of Mount Sharp. We’ll study each for several sols, perhaps selecting one for drilling if it looks sufficiently interesting.”

Curiosity’s last science target, Glenelg, is where the rover found evidence that Mars used to host conditions favorable for microbial life. The rover moved from this area back in July and is heading towards one of the mission’s main target objectives.

Mount Sharp is in the middle of Gale Crater, and scientists believe its exposed layers will offer up even more evidence about the history of the Red Planet.

Source: Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sex Boxes

"Safety for the prostitutes. At least it's a certain kind of a shelter for them. They can do their business, and I respect them. 
"They do a great job, and they have better working conditions here... They're not exposed to the bosses, to the pimps, in here."
Daniel Hartmann Zurich lawyer

In this Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 photo, a row of open wooden garage-style “sex boxes” are seen in Zurich, Switzerland. Prostitutes will be concentrated in a small city park built for more than USD $2 million in the Altstetten area of Zurich. It officially opens for business Monday. Prostitution is legal in Switzerland, but Zurich restricts it to certain areas, and is experimenting with the drive-in facilities to relocate the activity and improve safety and sanitation. The public had its first view of the completed facilities on Saturday. (AP Photo/John Heilprin)
"We built the place to be secure for the sex workers. It also had to be discreet for the sex workers and the clientele. But we thought if we build the place we can also make it look good.
"We can't solve the whole problem of exploitation and human trafficking, but at least we want to reduce the harm, especially the violence."
Michael Herzig, Zurich social welfare department

In this Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 photo, visitors watch the wooden garage-style “sex boxes” at a construction site in Zurich, Switzerland. Prostitutes will be concentrated in a small city park built for more than US $2 million in the Altstetten area of Zurich. It officially opens for business Monday. Prostitution is legal in Switzerland, but Zurich restricts it to certain areas, and is experimenting with the drive-in facilities to relocate the activity and improve safety and sanitation. The public had its first view of the completed facilities on Saturday. (AP Photo/Keystone, Ennio Leanza)

Switzerland, or at least Zurich, has found what may be for them a solution to the violence afflicting the sex trade anywhere in the world. A manner in which the municipality can control what happens in the privacy of small self-contained drive-in "sex boxes" built in a park, to restrict prostitution to certain areas of the city, minimizing their social nuisance factor in other city areas, and at the same time offering protection to vulnerable women.

These publicly funded facilities have bathrooms, lockers, cafe tables, a laundry and shower. Each box comes complete with a panic button in the event that sex workers feel threatened by a client and need to call for assistance. These are open wooden garages. The planning is that prostitutes will appear in a small circular park in a former industrial area, and there they may solicit, lawfully, and protected from harm.

The cost of building the park and its enclosures came to the equivalent of $2.7-million, an expenditure approved by voters. Its purpose was to move sex traffic from busy downtown areas and to give protection to the workers. Upkeep amounts to around $800,000 annually. There are no doors; the emergency call button is on the passenger side of the structure setting off a flashing light and loud alarm.

A nearby office building will have social workers trained to provide a measure of security on call. And the Zurich police plans to increase patrols on the perimeter. Sex workers planning to use the boxes obtain a permit amounting to a cost of $45.50 yearly, in addition to a nightly tax of $5.70 for use of the new facilities, with their assurances of comfort and security.

Sex boxes in Zurich, Switzerland. Voters in Zurich approved the project as a way of moving sex traffic away from a busy downtown area where it had become a public nuisance and safety concern. Photograph: Ennio Leanza/AP
The use of the sex boxes represents as well a way for the municipality to take the initiative on curbing trafficking by crime syndicates. In Switzerland prostitution, escorts and massage parlours represent a thriving business. Street sex workers are required to register with city and health authorities. They are also offered health checks, and must be at least 18 years of age.

Sex boxes in Zurich, Switzerland. Modelled after drive-in brothels used in Germany and the Netherlands, the sex boxes will be open daily from 7pm to 5am. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters 
Earnings are taxed, subject to social insurance just as with any other economic activity. The focus is also on protecting youth in recognition of and maintaining the guidelines of the Council of Europe convention on protecting children from exploitation and abuse.

Labels: , , , ,

Red Rock, Black Spider, Blue Moon

Uluru and the Moon
The allure of Uluru and the Moon. Click to downunderenate, and you want to.
Photo by Storm DiCostanzo, used by permission

Your word of the day is lunation.
This is the term given to a single cycle of the phases of the Moon, from new to full and back to new again. A lunation is about 29.5 days (think “moonth” if that helps). Each lunation is given a unique number—there are various systems, but the most common starts with the cycle that began in January 1923. In that case, as I write this, we’re in Lunation 1121.

This last full Moon was interesting. Some people were calling it a Blue Moon, which made me chuckle: The term has no scientific meaning but has a cultural one of being the second full Moon that occurs in a calendar month. However, that can’t be true in this case, since the full Moon was just after midnight on the evening of Aug. 20-21. If it takes nearly 30 days to go through a set of phases, the Blue Moon has to happen on the last couple of days of the month.

Some people say a Blue Moon is the fourth full Moon in a season, but even that is more folklore than anything else. The term really just means something very rare and was later adopted to pertain to the actual phase of the Moon. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with the color of the Moon. So there.
Still, because of the buzz, a lot of folks went out to look at the Moon (I tweeted about it, too—twice actually, the second one being a joke). A lot of people sent me pictures of it, and a couple from this current lunation were cool enough that I wanted to share.

The first (shown above) comes from my friend Storm DiCostanzo, aka “and Storm”, one half of the musical geek duo Paul and Storm. He and his wife happened to be in Australia at the same time I was recently, and we got together to spend an afternoon in Sydney. They told me they were going to Uluru, aka Ayers Rock, and I was jealous; I’ve always wanted to visit. But that jealousy increased hugely when I saw the amazing shot Storm took.

Uluru is a several-hundred-million-year-old sandstone inselberg (island rock) in central Australia. It’s difficult to get to and is incredibly isolated from cities. The skies there get substantially dark, though the nearly full Moon would bleach out the stars. Still, if it means getting a photo like Storm’s, then maybe that’s worth it.

The second shot is a bit more whimsical and was sent to me by Steve Marr (arachnophobes, you may want to skip this one):

spider and the Moon
This spider may've bitten off more than it can chew. [Alt.: We're gonna need a bigger web.]
Photo by Steve Marr, used by permission

This is actually what’s called a high-dynamic range or HDR picture. When you take a picture with your camera, it sees light linearly; that is, something twice as bright looks twice as bright in the picture. Our eyes don’t really see that way, though. It’s complicated, but overall we see logarithmically: Something twice as bright might only appear fractionally brighter to our eye. That’s why most pictures overexpose so quickly while our eyes see the same scene just fine.

HDR photography compensates for this a bit. The camera takes three exposures—one short, one medium, and one long—to be able to see bright, medium, and faint highlights. It then combines them into one shot that more closely mimics what the eye can see.

That’s what Marr did for this lunar arachnophilic picture. It also gives the picture a slightly creepier edge to it—like it really needs it.

We see the Moon almost every day, sometimes at night, sometimes during the day, sometimes full, sometimes new, and with every phase in between. It’s always changing, always different, and always lovely to behold. If you can, go take a look.

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 26, 2013

Living Crisis Laboratory

"Nobody knows when this is going to end. We've suspected (leaks into the ocean) from the beginning. ... TEPCO is making it very difficult for us to trust them."
Masakazu Yabuki, Iwaki fisherman

Experts are now of the opinion that underground seepage from the Fukushima's tsunami-crippled nuclear power station; the reactor and turbine building area -- is massively larger and more radioactive than has been thought. Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s response to the disaster has been ineffectual. Compounded by the fact that nowhere in the world has a situation quite like this one ever surfaced before.

Nuclear reactors are generally recognized to be a safe, reliable, relatively inexpensive source of energy. But because they are nuclear installations and radiation is such a powerful weapon of nature inimical to the survival at high enough levels of all life, they must be handled with sensitivity and care. Nuclear reactors should never be built on unstable ground; say for example, over sub-oceanic plates known to move and rub together.

And where there are earthquake zones there are also chances of high probability that tsunamis will result from the massive upheaval of the earth when tectonic plates abrade. This is called double-jeopardy, isn't it, when oblivious hubris results in catastrophe on the scale that Japan experienced two and a half years ago. It was touch-and-go for long enough as the national utility, politically driven as it was, desperately attempted to cope with their melt-down.

Two national, incompatible powerful energy grids, operated separately and in competition with one another is a sign of extremely poor planning to begin with. Now it emerges that the plant is increasingly incapable of containing vast quantities of radioactive water, with the discovery of a leak from a tank storing contaminated water used to cool the reactor cores.
This is a 300-ton leak. Its potential rates equal in fall-out to the March 2011 situation when three of the plant's reactors melted down when the power and cooling functions were knocked out thanks to the tsunami. Poor planning and construction screamed out all over the place; its cooling towers non-existent in conventional reactor core cooling.

Emergency generators were to come on line to power electronics and coolant systems (from sea water) but the tsunami flooded the low-lying rooms where the emergency generators had been placed rendering them completely useless. Another bit of really, really bad planning. Power was cut to the critical pumps meant to cool the cores when the generators flooded and failed.

Fishing in the area is banned already. But fishermen like Mr. Yabuki in nearby Iwaki City were hoping they might be able to conduct some test catches to evaluate the level of contamination. They no longer have reason to hope. A makeshift system of pipes and hoses funnelled water into the broken reactors, the resulting radioactive water treated and stored in aboveground tanks. Which have developed leaks.

But water has been found to be leaking into the basements of the reactors then through cracks into surrounding earth and groundwater; an estimated 400 tons seep into the reactor and turbine basements from mountain streams daily, becoming contaminated as well. Bottom-dwelling fish have been identified with high radioactive cesium levels, which led scientists to suspect the plant was leaking radioactive water, which TEPCO denied.

They no longer can. The ocean is about 150 metres from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant turbine buildings. A Japan Atomic Energy Agency document states the contaminated underground water is spreading at a rate of about four metres a month toward the sea. "This is a race against the clock" said Toyoshi Fuketa, a commissioner on Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority, of attempts to block the leaks.

About one thousand steel tanks built at the plant contain close to 300 million litres of partially treated contaminated water. A third of the tanks have rubber seams good for five years before deteriorating. "It's like a haunted house, one thing happening after another. But we must take any steps that would reduce risks to avoid a fatal accident", said Nuclear Regulation Authority chairman Shunichi Tanaka.

Japan has been hugely reliant on nuclear energy for decades, to fuel its manufacturing. The islands are mountainous, they sit over some of the world's most active tectonic plates. Earthquakes of various levels take place constantly. Although Japan prides itself on its engineering prowess, its superior products, its peerless product assurances of quality control, it missed the boat on this most critical of all areas of its power production capabilities.

Labels: , , , , ,

Orion And The Asteroid

Orion And The Asteroid

Orion And The Asteroid

August 26, 2013 -- Red Orbit

This image shows the potentially hazardous near-Earth object 1998 KN3 as it zips past a cloud of dense gas and dust near the Orion nebula. NEOWISE, the asteroid-hunting portion of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, mission, snapped infrared pictures of the asteroid, seen as the yellow-green dot at upper left. Because asteroids are warmed by the sun to roughly room temperature, they glow brightly at the infrared wavelengths used by WISE.

Astronomers use infrared light from asteroids to measure their sizes, and when combined with visible-light observations, they can also measure the reflectivity of their surfaces. The WISE infrared data reveal that this asteroid is about .7 mile (1.1 kilometers) in diameter and reflects only about 7 percent of the visible light that falls on its surface, which means it is relatively dark.

In this image, blue denotes shorter infrared wavelengths, and red, longer. Hotter objects emit shorter-wavelength light, so they appear blue. The blue stars, for example, have temperatures of thousands of degrees. The coolest gas and dust appears red. The asteroid appears yellow in the image because it is about room temperature: cooler than the distant stars, but warmer than the dust.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The principal investigator, Edward Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Intractability of Gender Relations in Society

"The RCMP will accommodate me back to work. Unfortunately, however, the RCMP broke my brain. And so I have PTSD. In order for me to go back to work, I have to be healthy and the RCMP have done nothing to help me with that.
"They want to get rid of me because I complained."
RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford

One of B.C.'s highest profile Mounties says she's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after years of sexual harassment.RCMP harassment allegations

Catherine Galliford made accusations of systematic harassment, that she suffered over years of bullying while an employee of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She also complained of sexual assault. Harassment complaints may be symptomatic of an emotionally sensitive personality, but sexual assault is a fact, a violation, a physical and psychological attack assuming brutality and the ultimate invasion of personal privacy.

Her original complaints appear to have unleashed a veritable flood of complaints of similar issue from many others whose experience within the employ of the RCMP was less than a stellar one. It stands to reason that the ensuing embarrassment and highlighting of a culture of male empowerment over the presence of females in a stereotypical former male occupation, would result in no little amount of resentment against Ms. Galliford.

And while that resentment and the begrudging need to investigate the veracity of her complaints and hold those responsible to account may not have been entirely satisfactory, it became a larger issue more latterly, one that society demanded a powerful response to. Obviously enough a situation prevailed that required attention and rectification. And this two successive heads of that highly respected security agency which has fallen on sad times, promised would occur.

Institutions become hidebound in their long-established routines provoking them through those who make the rules, reluctant to change what they feel has worked very well in the past. In all societies where security, police work, rough-and-tumble responses to crime and masculinity is barely screened by a veneer of respectable law-enforcement, oppression of women, at the very least advantage-taking, occurs.

How to wholesale and swiftly expunge those attitudes displayed by some segments of the male character from public offices and to do it successfully is another story. Invoking attitudes of respect, decency and professionalism work for many but never for all who feel themselves above such mundane issues of respecting equality. To them equality represents unrestrained boorishness displayed before both genders alike. Which men may not complain of, but women may.

It seems obvious enough that Catherine Galliford was a victim of the kind of male atmosphere that holds it is perfectly normal to take advantage of the presence of women by regarding them as prey in the game of sexual conquest. It could happen anywhere, and it does. That it occurs within a professional community which is expected to respect the law is doubly damning but it does express human nature; the unfortunate side of human nature.

Ms. Galliford now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She has been on fully paid sick leave since 2006 as a result of her experiences, which no doubt stemmed from the abuse she suffered, and was added to by her dissatisfaction with the manner in which her officially lodged complaints were handled. When she recently received a letter which was a "notice of intent to discharge", she was not the least bit pleased.

The RCMP was out to sunder its official relationship with her "for reason of physical and/or mental disability. This discharge is based on the grounds that your disability has impaired your ability to perform your duties ... and the limitations and occupational restrictions resulting from your condition are such that accommodation elsewhere in the force has not been possible", the letter explained reasonably enough.

The conclusion was reached by a health services officer that she was deemed unfit for either operational or administrative duties. Her inability to fit either of these two categories to resume active work was considered to a permanent state of affairs. She herself hadn't responded to a previous letter giving her 30 days to discuss "workplace accommodations"; requested to come forward and help address the situation she failed to respond.

She is not the only individual to be singled out for discharge for similar reasons. An additional thirty employees also on long-term sick leave received similar letters of intent to sever employment through administrative job dismissal. The argument being, logically enough, that the federal police force could not possibly continue to pay full salaries ad infinitum to employees with health issues severe enough to keep them disengaged while on the payroll.

Commissioner Bob Paulson is very well aware of prevailing opinion that the policing agency was deliberately targeting those employees who had filed harassment complaints. Which is just what Ms. Galliford contends. On the other hand, even while she complains the RCMP is attempting to rid itself of her presence because of her complaints, she says too she could never again work for the force considering the environment "too toxic".

"The RCMP will accommodate me back to work. Unfortunately, however, the RCMP broke my brain. And so I have PTSD. In order for me to go back to work, I have to be healthy and the RCMP have done nothing to help me with that", she explains. And then adds that having received the notice of intent to discharge is likely "more of a blessing than anything else so I can move forward".

Which is it, then? Will the final intention of Catherine Galliford in view of the foregoing, please step forward? Should anyone who refuses to return to a workplace they deem beyond redemption, expect that taxpayers will forever fund full salaries, while those involved nurse their grievances and refuse to return to the scene of the crime, however amended?

Mixed messages, confusion, indecision.

As a result of a flood of complaints resulting in lawsuits and a proposed class-action lawsuit filed against the force, it has claimed to have implemented a number of measures urged upon it by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. Which has resulted, it claims, in its having revised its internal harassment policy to develop new "respectful workplace" training.

Labels: , , , ,

()() Follow @rheytah Tweet