SpuriousLogic writes "The pressure in Mount Fuji's magma chamber is now higher than it was in 1707, the last time the nearly 4,000-metre-high Japanese volcano erupted, causing volcanologists to speculate that a disaster is imminent.
The new readings, taken by the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention, reveal that the pressure is at 1.6 megapascals, nearly 16 times the 0.1 megapascals it takes to trigger an eruption.
This, lead volcanologist on the case Eisuke Fujita told Kyodo News, is "not a small figure".
Researchers have speculated for some time that the volcano, located on Honshu Island 100km southwest of Tokyo, is overdue an eruption. In 2000 and 2001 a series of low-frequency earthquakes were recorded beneath the volcano, leading to widespread predictions of an imminent blow. Since the March 2011 tsunami and the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that followed four days later, Japan has been on tenterhooks, and in May 2012 a professor from Ryukyu University warned that a massive eruption within three years would be likely because of several major factors: steam and gases are being emitted from the crater, water eruptions are occurring nearby, massive holes emitting hot natural gases are appearing in the vicinity and finally, the warning sign that pushed the professor to make the announcement, a 34km-long fault was found underneath the volcano. The fault, experts suggested, could indicate a total collapse of the mountainside if there is another significant shift, and it would probably cause a collapse in the event of an eruption, leading to huge mud and landslides.
The new readings prove that the localised tectonic shifts of 2011 have indeed put immense pressure on the magma chamber, but the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention has qualified its warning by noting that pressure is just one contributory factor to an eruption. The 1707 quake, however, was itself caused by a recent earthquake that amped up the pressure in its magma chamber.
"It's possible for Mount Fuji to erupt even several years after the March 2011 earthquake, therefore we need to be careful about the development," a representative said.
A 2004 government report originally estimated that an eruption would cost the country £19.6 billion. However, new studies are underway by Honshu Island's Shizuoka prefectural government. The study is focussing on the potential damage that would be caused by a series of simultaneous earthquakes in the Tokai, Tonankai and Nankai regions located along the Nankai Trough, where it is feared another earthquake will soon take place. The most recent models have revealed that, in the worst-case scenario, 323,000 people would die and the tremors could trigger an eruption at Mount Fuji.
Regions that would be affected, including Kanagawa, Yamanashi and Shizuoka, plan to hold a test run of an evacuation by 2014, with a meeting of local governments covering progress of the plans and of shelter preparations slated for April 2013." Link to Original Source top
Samsung overtakes Apple as leading phone manufacturer
SpuriousLogic writes "Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd increased its lead over Apple Inc. and Nokia in the global cellphone market in the second quarter, helped by strong demand and large marketing campaigns for its latest flagship model, the Galaxy S III, according to a Reuters poll.
Samsung and Apple have been neck-and-neck for several quarters in the battle to be the largest smartphone vendor, but the May launch of the new Samsung model created a clear gap between the two, the poll of 41 analysts showed.
Samsung is expected to have sold 50 million smartphones in the quarter, compared with Apple's forecast sales of 30.5 million iPhones.
"Samsung is expected to be the smartphone hero in the second quarter," said IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo. "We are also expecting to see the biggest smartphone volumes ever shipped from one single vendor in one quarter, driven by strong demand of the Galaxy portfolio, particularly the Galaxy S II and S III," he said.
Samsung is benefiting from its wide smartphone portfolio when competing against Apple, whose sales are dependent on launch schedules for the next versions of the iPhone.
In the overall cellphone market, when also including basic cellphones, Samsung ended Nokia's 14-year reign as the world's largest in the first quarter and is expected to stretch that lead. Samsung is estimated to have sold 15.7 million more phones than Nokia in the second quarter, the poll showed. In the first quarter, it sold 3.4 million more phones than Nokia, according to Gartner.
SpuriousLogic writes "Yesterday, after searching for whatever firearm-related term on Google — “5.56 ammo,” for example — not only would one see general search results, but also a few shopping results.
Not anymore, it seems. According to an online retailer who contacted us to shed light on this outrage, they received a lengthy email from Google Shopping stating per the company’s new policies, all firearms, ammo and accessories will not be approved to be listed.
Indeed, it seems Google is sticking to their guns, if you’ll pardon the expression; search results for even the broadest terms turn up no results on Google shopping (see screenshot at left).
Google Shopping outlined its new policy — part of the company’s transition to its new identity, Google Commercial — in an email sent to the retailer that they were kind enough to forward directly to Guns & Ammo:
We’re writing to let you know about some upcoming changes to the product listings you submit to Google. As we recently announced, we are starting to transition our shopping experience to a commercial model that builds on Product Listing Ads. This new shopping experience is called Google Shopping. As part of this transition, we’ll begin to enforce a set of new policies for Google Shopping in the coming weeks. A new list of the allowed, restricted, and prohibited products on Google Shopping is available on our new policy page – http://www.google.com/appserve/mkt/ApI7UWRj6OCZpd.
Based on a review of the products you’re currently submitting, it appears that some of the content in your Merchant Center account, HamLund Tactical, will be affected by these policy changes. In particular we found that your products may violate the following policies:
When we make this change, Google will disapprove all of the products identified as being in violation of policies. We ask that you make any necessary changes to your feeds and/or site to comply, so that your products can continue to appear on Google Shopping.
To help you through this new set of policies and how to comply with them, we would like to give you some specific suggestions regarding the changes needed to keep your offers running on Google Shopping.
We’re constantly reviewing our policies, and updating them when necessary, to ensure we’re offering the best experience possible to our users. We’ve identified a set of policy principles to govern our policy efforts on Google Shopping in the U.S. These principles are:
1) Google Shopping should provide a positive experience to users. Showing users the right products at the right time can truly enhance a user’s experience. When people trust us to deliver them to a destination that’s relevant, original, and easy to navigate this creates a positive online experience to the benefit of both users and merchants.
2 ) Google Shopping should be safe for all users. User safety is everyone’s business, and we can’t do business with those who don’t agree. Scams, phishing, viruses, and other malicious activities on the Internet damage the value of the Internet for everyone. Trying to get around policies or “game the system” is unfair to our users, and we can’t allow that.
3) Google Shopping should comply with local laws and regulations. Many products and services are regulated by law, which can vary from country to country. All advertising, as well as the products and services being advertised, must clearly comply with all applicable laws and regulations. For the most part, our policies aren’t designed to describe every law in every country. All advertisers bear their own responsibility for understanding the laws applicable to their business. Our policies are often more restrictive than the law, because we need to be sure we can offer services that are legal and safe for all users.
4) Google Shopping should be compatible with Google’s brand decisions. Google Shopping must be compatible with company brand decisions. Our company has a strong culture and values, and we’ve chosen not to allow ads that promote products and services that are incompatible with these values. In addition, like all companies, Google sometimes makes decisions based on technical limitations, resource constraints, or requirements from our business partners. Our policies reflect these realities.
We’ve given much thought to our stance on this content, as well as the potential effect our policy decision could have on our Merchants, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.
Well. This is disappointing — and pretty odd, considering gun sales are through the roof. So exactly what criteria is this ban based on? Let’s break it down point by point.
Google Shopping should provide a positive experience to users. This, of course, applies to all who are opposed to guns, or to criminals looking to score a Saturday Night Special. But what about law-abiding, responsible gun owners? Clearly Google hasn’t taken us into account. Google Shopping should be safe for all users. As was stated, Google isn’t necessarily referring to weapons or keeping users physically safe, but rather their computers from malware and viruses — which admittedly is a smart move, but that should be a no-brainer for any website. Even if Google was referring to the physical well-being of its users, we could point out that it’s still OK to shop for kitchen knives, which work just the same on people as they do on veggies. Google Shopping should comply with local laws and regulations. So in which state is it absolutely, 100-percent illegal to purchase guns, ammo or accessories? Sure, there are plenty of regulations in place, but just saying, “Ah screw it,” and banning a legal practice rather than comply with state regulations — no matter how much of a pain in the you-know-what it is — on every sale is just laziness. Google Shopping should be compatible with Google’s brand decisions. Ah yes, Almighty Google and its moral high horse. We’d actually love to see Google’s official ethical code, considering this is the same company that was keen on limiting search results in China, per the request of the country’s Communist government. For a company whose unofficial motto is, “Don’t be evil,” Google has some pretty questionable business practices. If they think limiting gun sales won’t make much of a difference, their sorely mistaken, and chances are, it’s a lesson they’re about to learn the hard way.
SpuriousLogic writes "The Chicago Tribune is launching a redesigned website that will give it the ability to sell digital subscriptions.
Beginning this week, registration will be required to access premium features such as columnists, reviews, in-depth and investigative reporting and new content from outside news sources.
No fees for premium content will be required at this time, and visitors who don't sign up will still have unlimited access to basic content. Rather, newspaper executives described the new website as a first step toward putting up a pay wall.
"We know there has been a lot of buzz in the media lately about our plans for launching a pay model around our content," Bill Adee, vice president for digital development and operations at the Chicago Tribune, said in a memo to employees Tuesday. "We expect to eventually charge for some level of premium content and are looking at several options, but we want user feedback to help shape our next steps. "
The relaunched site will include a number of new features including "drop-down" navigation, linking Facebook comments to a user's social profile and the full integration of TribLocal suburban coverage into chicagotribune.com.
The site will also include new premium content from The Economist and Forbes, available for registered users.
A new mobile-friendly version of chicagotribune.com is several weeks away from being released, according to the memo.
Requiring registration for premium content sets the table for digital subscriptions down the road, but the Tribune has offered no specific timetable for putting the "pay" into its pay wall.
"We'll be testing content and our readers' reactions to the expanded, relaunched site, and we're going to sort through all of that before we determine how much to charge," said Maggie Wartik, Tribune spokeswoman." Link to Original Source top
A 200-pound person could harbor as much as 6 pounds of bacteria
SpuriousLogic writes "WASHINGTON— They live on your skin, up your nose, in your gut — enough bacteria, fungi and other microbes that collected together could weigh, amazingly, a few pounds.
Now scientists have mapped just which critters normally live in or on us and where, calculating that healthy people can share their bodies with more than 10,000 species of microbes.
Don't say "eeew" just yet. Many of these organisms work to keep humans healthy, and results reported Wednesday from the government's Human Microbiome Project define what's normal in this mysterious netherworld.
One surprise: It turns out that nearly everybody harbors low levels of some harmful types of bacteria, pathogens that are known for causing specific infections. But when a person is healthy — like the 242 U.S. adults who volunteered to be tested for the project — those bugs simply quietly coexist with benign or helpful microbes, perhaps kept in check by them.
The next step is to explore what doctors really want to know: Why do the bad bugs harm some people and not others? What changes a person's microbial zoo that puts them at risk for diseases ranging from infections to irritable bowel syndrome to psoriasis?
Already the findings are reshaping scientists' views of how people stay healthy, or not.
"This is a whole new way of looking at human biology and human disease, and it's awe-inspiring," said Dr. Phillip Tarr of Washington University at St. Louis, one of the lead researchers in the $173 million project, funded by the National Institutes of Health.
"These bacteria are not passengers," Tarr stressed. "They are metabolically active. As a community, we now have to reckon with them like we have to reckon with the ecosystem in a forest or a body of water."
And like environmental ecosystems, your microbial makeup varies widely by body part. Your skin could be like a rainforest, your intestines teeming with different species like an ocean.
Scientists have long known that the human body coexists with trillions of individual germs, what they call the microbiome. Until now, they've mostly studied those that cause disease: You may recall health officials saying about a third of the population carries Staphylococcus aureus harmlessly in their noses or on their skin but can infect others.
But no one knew all the types of microbes that live in healthy people or where, and what they do. Some 200 scientists from nearly 80 research institutions worked together for five years on this first-ever census to begin answering those questions by unraveling the DNA of these microbes, with some of the same methods used to decode human genetics. The results were published Wednesday in a series of reports in the journals Nature and the Public Library of Science.
First, the researchers had to collect tissue samples from more than a dozen body sites — the mouth, nose, different spots of skin, the vagina in women, and from feces. Then they teased apart the bacterial DNA from the human DNA, and started analyzing organisms with some daunting names: Lactobacillus crispatus, Streptococcus mitis, Corynebacterium accolens.
Our bodies are thought to be home to about 10 bacterial cells for every human cell, but they're so small that together microbes make up about 1 percent to 3 percent of someone's body mass, explained Dr. Eric Green, director of NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute. That means a 200-pound person could harbor as much as 6 pounds of bacteria.
There are about 22,000 human genes. But the microbes add to our bodies the power of many, many more — about 8 million genes, the new project estimated.
Those bacterial genes produce substances that perform specific jobs, some of which play critical roles in the health and development of their human hosts, said Dr. Bruce Birren of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, another of the project's investigators. Genes from gut bacteria, for example, lead to digestion of certain proteins and fats. They also produce certain beneficial compounds, like inflammation-fighting chemicals.
Another surprise: There isn't one core set of bacteria that perform those functions. A wide variety can do the same jobs, the researchers found.
That's fortunate considering people carry a customized set of microbes, one that varies dramatically depending on where you live, your diet and a host of other factors. Your microbial zoos also can change, such as when taking antibiotics that kill infection-causing germs as well as good intestinal bacteria that may be replaced with different but equally effective bugs.
"We don't all have the same bacteria although they all seem to have been organized to do the same things," Birren said. It may be that our lifestyle and environment "induces each of us to have arrived at a solution that works for us."
With this first snapshot of what normal looks like, studies now are under way to see how the microbes differ in people with certain diseases, in hopes of learning how to prevent or treat the illnesses.
Consider the intestinal superbug named C. difficile that people all too often catch while they're in the hospital, and that sometimes kills. Washington University's Tarr wants to know what mixture of gut bacteria can fend off the diarrhea-causing germ or make it more likely to infect — so that doctors might one day know who's more vulnerable before they enter a hospital.
Also, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine reported Wednesday that the kind of bacteria living in the vagina changes during pregnancy, perhaps to give the fetus as healthy a passage as possible. Previous research has found differences in what first bacteria babies absorb depending on whether they're born vaginally or by C-section, a possible explanation for why cesareans raise the risk for certain infections.
All new information in some ways is humbling, because it shows how much more work is needed to understand this world within us, noted infectious disease specialist Dr. David Relman of Stanford University, who wrote a review of the project's findings for the journal Nature.
For example, the project included mostly white volunteers who live around Houston and St. Louis. Relman said more work is needed to define a normal microbiome in people with different racial, ethnic and geographic backgrounds.
And there are many remaining questions about how these microbes interact with human genetics.
"We are essentially blind to many of the services that our microbial ecosystems provide — and on which our health depends," Relman wrote." Link to Original Source top
Google 'infringed' Oracle's Java in split trial result
SpuriousLogic writes "Internet giant Google has been found guilty of breaching copyright in a case brought by Oracle over its Java programming language.
But the US jury but was unable to agree on whether Google's actions constituted "fair use" under copyright law.
Oracle was asking for $1bn (£630m) in compensation in one of the biggest such technology lawsuits to date.
The language is used by many business applications as well as other software, such as the video game Minecraft.
The jury in San Francisco were asked to consider four questions on Oracle's claim that Google violated several of its patents and copyrights, but could only agree on the three.
Oracle claimed Google's Android system infringes intellectual property rights relating to the programming language.
Java history The case did not centre on Google's use of Java itself — which is free for anyone to use without licence — but rather the Android-maker's use of 37 application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow developers to write Java-compatible code.
Java was first released in 1995 and allows software to be run across computer platforms, rather than just being limited to one type of operating system.
Oracle — a business hardware and software provider — inherited the intellectual properties when it took over Java's original developer, Sun Microsystems, in 2009.
Oracle argued that by using its intellectual property, and then giving Android away for free, Google undermined the possibility of it licensing Java to mobile phone makers." Link to Original Source top
Code can't be stolen under federal law, court rules
SpuriousLogic writes "The government's effort to prosecute corporate espionage was dealt a setback today when a federal appeals court ruled that downloaded code did not qualify as stolen under a federal theft statute. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled today that former Goldman Sachs programmer Sergey Aleynikov was wrongly charged with theft of property under the National Stolen Property Act, which makes it illegal to steal trade secrets. Aleynikov, 42, was convicted in December 2010 of downloading code for Goldman Sachs' high-speed computerized trading operations and uploading it to an overseas server before he left the Wall Street investment bank in 2009. "Because Aleynikov did not 'assume physical control' over anything when he took the source code, and because he did not thereby 'deprive [Goldman] of its use,' Aleynikov did not violate the NSPA," Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote in the three-judge panel's unanimous decision (see below). "We decline to stretch or update statutory words of plain and ordinary meaning in order to better accommodate the digital age." Aleynikov was sentenced to eight years in prison but was released in February when the judges found that Aleynikov had also been wrong charged with espionage under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. While conceding that the code was "highly valuable," Jacobs said the code was never intended to be sold or licensed. "The enormous profits the system yielded for Goldman depended on no one else having it," Jacobs ruled. "Because [the high-frequency trading system] was not designed to enter or pass in commerce, or to make something that does, Aleynikov's theft of source code relating to that system was not an offense under the EEA." The ruling comes a day after an appeals court in San Francisco rejected the government's broad interpretation of a nearly 30-year-old anti-hacking law in trying to prosecute a man for misappropriation of trade secrets. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the government's interpretation of the 1984 federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could lead to millions of Americans being subjected to prosecution for harmless Web surfing at work." Link to Original Source top
Apple overturns Motorola's German iPad and iPhone sales bans
SpuriousLogic writes "Apple has been granted a temporary suspension of a sales ban imposed on some of its products in Germany.
Motorola Mobility had forced Apple to remove several iPad and iPhone models from its online store earlier today after enforcing a patent infringement court ruling delivered in December.
An appeals court lifted the ban after Apple made a new licence payment offer.
However, Germany-based users may still face the loss of their push email iCloud service after a separate ruling.
Patent consultant Florian Mueller, who attended the review, said that the suspension may only last a few days or weeks — but that Apple's revised proposal had been enough to allow it to restart sales.
"The Karlsruhe higher regional court believes that Apple's new offer needs to be evaluated before this injunction can enter into force again," he wrote on his blog.
"A suspension like this is available only against a bond, but Apple is almost drowning in cash and obviously won't have had a problem with obtaining and posting a bond."
He said that the bond amount was likely to have been about 120m euros ($158m, £100m).
Unresolved A statement from Apple said: "All iPad and iPhone models will be back on sale through Apple's online store in Germany shortly.
"Apple appealed this ruling because Motorola repeatedly refuses to license this patent to Apple on reasonable terms, despite having declared it an industry standard patent seven years ago."
However, Motorola signalled that it would try to restore the ban.
"We are pleased that the Mannheim court has recognized the importance of our intellectual property and granted an enforceable injunction in Germany against Apple Sales International," a statement said.
"Although the enforcement of the injunction has been temporarily suspended, Motorola Mobility will continue to pursue its claims against Apple."
Pulled products The sales ban relates to Motorola's patent for a "method for performing a countdown function during a mobile-originated transfer for a packet radio system".
Motorola licenses the patent to other companies on Frand (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms.
Frand-type patents involve technologies that are deemed to be part of an industry standard. In this case Motorola's innovation is deemed crucial to the GPRS data transmission standard used by GSM cellular networks across the world.
Companies must offer Frand-type patents for a reasonable fee to anyone willing to pay.
Apple had previously said it would be willing to pay the fee going forward, but the two firms dispute how much Apple should pay for failing to license the technology up until now. Missed payments are not covered by the "reasonable" rule, and Motorola is able to demand a more expensive price.
Apple's iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 had all been affected — but not its newer iPhone 4S. All 3G models of the iPad were involved, but not their wi-fi-only counterparts.
Email technology The separate push email ban would only come into effect if Motorola decided to enforce a second judgement that Apple's iCloud and MobileMe infringed another of its innovations.
The patent relates to two-way communications between pagers and other devices and was granted in 2002.
If Motorola decides to enforce the judgement some iPhone users in Germany would lose the ability to automatically receive emails as soon as they have been sent. Instead they would either have to manually check their accounts or set their devices to periodically check for updates.
This patent is not deemed to be critical to an industry standard, so the firm does not have to license the technology to Apple even if the iPhone-maker offered to pay.
Apple said that it believed the patent involved was invalid, adding that it was appealing against the decision.
Although the two cases only apply to Germany they may have implications for other European lawsuits. EU rules say different countries' courts can reach different conclusions, but must explain why.
Mr Mueller Mr Mueller notes on his blog that Apple has brought patent claims of its own against Motorola in Germany, and that Motorola also faces a lawsuit filed by Microsoft which is due to be considered next Tuesday." Link to Original Source top
SpuriousLogic writes "As far as I can tell, these iPads are just as useful as the real things...
"As many as 10 fake iPad 2s, all made of slabs of modeling clay, were recently sold at electronic stores in Vancouver, British Columbia. Best Buy and Future Shop have launched investigations into how the scam was pulled off. The tablet computers, like most Apple products, are known for their sleek and simple designs. But there's no mistaking the iPad for one of the world's oldest "tablet devices." Still, most electronic products cannot be returned to stores. For the the stores and customers to be fooled by the clay replacements, the thieves must have successfully weighed out the clay portions and resealed the original Apple packaging. Future Shop spokesman Elliott Chun told CTV that individuals bought the iPads with cash, replaced them with the model clay, then returned the packages to the stores. The returned fakes were restocked on the shelve and sold to new, unwitting customers. "Customers don't expect to receive this kind of product from Future Shop, so it's a very serious matter and something we are addressing right away for anyone who has been impacted," Chun told CTV British Columbia. "It really saddens Future Shop that people stoop to be this opportunistic and make money in this kind of organized way." The scam was first brought to CTV's attention by a victim of the crime, Mark Sandhu. Sandhu says after purchasing what he thought was an iPad 2 for his wife for Christmas, he tried to return the clay, only to be rebuffed. "Maybe the way I was dressed, I don't know," he said. "She made me feel like I'm trying to scam them out of $700. I was the one getting scammed." Sandhu contacted Future Shop's head office, Apple and local police, but no one believed his story. Future Shop has since apologized and given Sandhu a full refund along with a free tablet--a real one."" Link to Original Source top
US Judge rules Motorola did not infringe Apple pat
SpuriousLogic writes "Motorola Mobility Inc. did not violate Apple's patented technology in making its Droid, Cliq, BackFlip and other smartphones, a judge at the U.S. International Trade Commission said in a preliminary decision issued on Friday.
The full ITC will issue a final decision in March.
Apple had filed a complaint with the ITC in October of 2010, accusing Motorola Mobility of infringing three Apple patents to make its smartphones.
Two of the patents have to do with how the devices accept manual input when users type or handwrite on them while the third relates to ways for consumers to add applications without jumping through hoops like rebooting the smartphone.
The complaint, like many patent battles focusing on smartphones, is part of a larger fight between Apple and Google Inc's fast-growing Android operating system, which Motorola uses.
The ITC is a popular venue for patent disputes because it can order devices made with infringing technology barred from importation.
Google has reached an agreement to buy Motorola Mobility, and is seeking the antitrust approval needed to close the sale." Link to Original Source top
SpuriousLogic writes "True believers have lost faith. Factions squabble. The enemies are not only massed at the gates of the kingdom, but they have also broken through.
This may sound like the back story for an epic trilogy. Instead, it’s the situation faced by the makers of Dungeons & Dragons, the venerable fantasy role-playing game many consider to be the grandfather of the video game industry. Gamers bicker over Dungeons & Dragons rules. Some have left childhood pursuits behind. And others have spurned an old-fashioned, tabletop fantasy role-playing game for shiny electronic competitors like World of Warcraft and the Elder Scrolls.
But there might yet be hope for Dungeons & Dragons, known as D&D. On Monday, Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro subsidiary that owns the game, is expected to announce that a new edition is under development, the first overhaul of the rules since the contentious fourth edition was released in 2008. And Dungeons & Dragons’ designers are also planning to undertake an exceedingly rare effort for the gaming industry over the next few months: asking hundreds of thousands of fans to tell them how exactly they should reboot the franchise.
The game “is a unique entertainment experience because it’s crafted by the players at the table, and every gaming session is different,” said Liz Schuh, who directs publishing and licensing for Dungeons & Dragons. “We want to take that idea of the players crafting that experience to the next level and say: ‘Help us craft the rules. Help us craft how this game is played.’ ”
Dungeons & Dragons, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, was the first commercially published role-playing game when it came out in 1974. In the game imagination is the playscape, assisted by graph-paper maps, miniature figurines of orcs and hobbits and a referee called a “dungeon master” who moderates an improvised story with a pretend fellowship of wizards, warriors and rogues.Players toss polyhedral dice and consult tomes of rules to determine outcomes. It has shades of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, except that in the game players assembled around a table get to be the characters.
“There is something fundamental to the D&D role-playing game that answers a need for people,” said Mike Mearls, senior manager of Dungeons & Dragons research and development — that need being telling your own heroic story. Throughout the 1970s and ’80s Dungeons & Dragons grew from a cult sensation into something more, surviving, even thriving, after unfounded accusations that it led teenagers to practice black magic and commit suicide. Since the game’s birth an estimated 20 million people have played it and spent $1 billion on its products. Many computer coders once dabbled in the hobby, which explains why so many video games today use a “run through a dungeon and kill monsters” premise, and borrow concepts — avatars, levels, open-ended stories, cooperative game play — pioneered by Dungeons & Dragons. The nerdy pastime has even become a badge of honor for hipsters and artists, with the likes of the film director Jon Favreau, the comedian Stephen Colbert, the N.B.A. star Tim Duncan and the actor Vin Diesel professing their love of the game, and the NBC comedy “Community” using it as a plot point in a recent episode.
But Dungeons & Dragons has slumped, buffeted by forces external and internal. The company does not release sales figures, but analysts and gaming experts agree that sales of the game, and all tabletop role-playing ones, have been dwindling for years. Ryan Scott Dancey, chief executive of the game company Goblinworks and a former vice president at Wizards of the Coast, said the overall market peaked between 1999 and 2003 and has been in steady decline since 2005. “My instincts are it’s slower than ever,” he said.
Electronic games have done the most damage, as entries like World of Warcraft and the currently hot-selling Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim let players (represented by tricked-out avatars) conquer acres of fantastically rendered digital landscapes without the need for hours of time spent writing the story line and sketching Middle Earth-like maps.
“If all you’re looking for is fulfillment of your wish to be an idealized projection of yourself who gains in wealth and power by overcoming monsters, there are lots of ways to do that nowadays,” said Tavis Allison, a game designer in New York who has made his own role-playing game, Adventurer Conqueror King. “In the ’70s Dungeons & Dragons was the only game in town.”
Edition wars have also wounded the game. Various rules systems have been released over Dungeons & Dragons’ 38-year history: Basic, Advanced, Advanced 2nd edition, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0. Devotion to particular rules can be fanatical. Hostilities about how to best play the game — for example, how a sorcerer casts spells — flare up among the core fan base.
A result, said David M. Ewalt, a senior editor at Forbes and the author of a forthcoming history of Dungeons & Dragons, has been a fractured fan base. The game is a group activity, he said, and playing together is tricky when players use different rules. “Imagine trying to organize a basketball team, if the point guard adheres to modern league rules, but the center only knows how to play ancient Mayan handball.”
When the N.B.A. adopted the 3-point shot in 1979, purists cried foul at rules changes, just as many D&D devotees dismissed the rules of the game’s fourth edition as dumbed down, overeager to mimic multiplayer online games like Warcraft — and favoring killing over the role-playing and storytelling roots of Dungeons & Dragons. Some began playing other role-playing games like Pathfinder, which won over disgruntled players. Miniature war games like Warhammer or Wizards of the Coast’s own trading-card game Magic: The Gathering have also diluted Dungeons & Dragons’ dominance.
With the new edition and the call for feedback, in a “hearts and minds” campaign, Wizards of the Coast is attempting to rally players to the cause . The strategy centers on asking them what they’d like to see in a new version and giving everyday gaming groups the chance to test new rules. “We’re really lucky that we have such passionate fans,” Ms. Schuh said, “and we anticipate they’ll roll up their sleeves and help us in this effort.”
Greg Tito, games editor for The Escapist, an online games culture magazine, will be one of them. “The long open testing period for the next edition, if handled correctly, could be exactly what’s needed to make players feels invested in D&D again,” he said.
The rule changes are part of several efforts to keep the brand relevant. Wizards of the Coast already publishes a steady stream of products set in the D&D universe: fantasy novels (by authors like R. A. Salvatore), comic books and board games. To combat the perception that the game requires hours of planning, the company organizes weekly drop-in sessions called D&D Encounters, run in game shops nationwide; they’re billed as an easy way “to fit your game in after school or work.”
Wizards of the Coast has also made previous forays into the digital realm. Dungeons & Dragons Online was released in 2006. Since becoming free to play, the game has gained over one million new players, an impressive figure for D&D but relatively insignificant compared to World of Warcraft’s 10-million-plus paid subscribers. A Facebook game called Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter made its debut this fall. Also, a “virtual tabletop” product to allow Dungeons & Dragons acolytes to play online is being Beta-tested.
Still, a new edition could backfire, if the changes requested by hard-core fans can’t be reconciled or if players believe the company is merely paying lip service to their concerns. Nonetheless the company remains “absolutely committed” to the core tabletop game-play, Ms. Schuh said. “People want that face-to-face experience.”
Certainly committed players will remind you that tabletop role-playing games still outperform computer games in one key arena: improvisation. Video games have limits. Some dungeon doors can’t be opened because a programmer didn’t code them to open. Dungeons & Dragons remains a game where anything can happen.
So while Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Portal 2 may have their day in the sun, “they can’t compete with a live Dungeon Master for throwing thrills at the players,” James W. Ward, a game designer and former vice president of TSR Inc., the company that originally published D&D, wrote in an e-mail. “The fun of growing a character while your friends do the same thing around a table munching on M&M’s and other snacks is difficult to duplicate.”
Even if players increasingly bring their iPads, loaded with Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks, to the gaming table." Link to Original Source top
PETA asks Illinois to build roadside memorials for
SpuriousLogic writes "It was a gruesome accident May 22: A truck driver lost control and his rig carrying 36 cows partially tipped over on an overpass along Interstate Highway 80 near Hazel Crest, sending some of the animals plunging about 25 feet onto Interstate Highway 294.
The death toll totaled 16 head of cattle, including one badly injured animal that police shot to end its suffering.
An animal-rights group now wants the Illinois Department of Transportation to erect an official roadside memorial sign. It would serve as a tribute to the victims, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which also seeks installation of a second memorial to six cows killed in traffic after they were thrown from a truck that overturned on Oct. 14 near Cambridge, Ill.
"Cows are intelligent, sensitive animals that feel pain the same way we do," said Tracy Patton, a campaigner for PETA.
The markers would be the first official highway memorials in the U.S. dedicated to animals killed in traffic accidents. Two previous applications submitted in Virginia, to honor almost 200 pigs killed in traffic wrecks, were turned down.
"These proposed signs would also remind tractor-trailer drivers of their responsibility to the thousands of animals they haul to their deaths every day," said Patton, 26, who lives in Arlington Heights. "It's a big enough tragedy that these animals end up in slaughterhouses, where they are kicked, shocked with electric prods and finally dragged off the trucks to their deaths. Sparing them from being tossed from a speeding truck and deprived of care afterward, sometimes for several hours, seems the least that we can do."
A state law passed in 2007 allows the family members of victims killed in drunken-driving accidents to request that IDOT install memorial signs along Illinois highways. It's called "Tina's Law" to honor Tina Ball, a road construction worker and mother of seven who was killed by a drunk driver while she was working on Interstate Highway 57 on Sept. 15, 2003.
Seven applications have been submitted, and five signs installed so far, officials said.
The law was amended this year to allow memorials for any highway fatality, not just DUIs.
"The law was expanded this year partly to discourage the practice of unofficial roadway memorials, such as crosses, stuffed animals and flowers, all of which can be a distraction to drivers," IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said.
IDOT removes unofficial memorials placed along state routes. It's up to local jurisdictions whether to take down unofficial memorials outside the state-designated right of way, officials said.
The official IDOT memorial markers are 36-by-24-inch blue signs with white lettering. People requesting a sign are required to pay a fee.
The state law governing the memorial markers says that the signs can be requested only by a "qualified relative of a deceased victim."
In her applications, Patton asked IDOT to waive the "qualified relative" requirement, citing in an accompanying letter to the state's roadside memorial coordinator the absence of "surviving family members for animals in the meat trade." She applied as a "concerned Illinois resident in lieu of living relatives."
Patton said PETA is awaiting a response to its application from IDOT.
But Tridgell told your "Getting Around" reporter that, while this marked the first request for an official roadway memorial on behalf of animals, the law is clear, and the application will be denied." Link to Original Source top
Feds investigating Illinois ''pump failure' as pos
SpuriousLogic writes "Federal officials confirmed they are investigating Friday whether a cyber attack may have been responsible for the failure of a water pump at a public water district in Illinois last week. But they cautioned that no conclusions had been reached, and they disputed one cyber security expert's statements that other utilities are vulnerable to a similar attack.
Joe Weiss, a noted cyber security expert, disclosed the possible cyber attack on his blog Thursday. Weiss said he had obtained a state government report, dated Nov. 10 and titled "Public Water District Cyber Intrusion," which gave details of the alleged cyber attack culminating in the "burn out of a water pump." Weiss declined to identify the state — or the region — where the water utility was located, saying the report was marked "For Official Use Only."
But in its statement, the DHS said the water system was located in Springfield.
Such an attack would be noteworthy because, while cyber attacks on businesses are commonplace, attacks that penetrate industrial control systems and intentionally destroy equipment are virtually unknown in the United States.
According to Weiss, the report says water district workers noted "glitches" in the systems for about two months. On Nov. 8, a water district employee noticed problems with the industrial control systems, and a computer repair company checked logs and determined that the computer had been hacked.
Weiss said the report says the cyber attacker hacked into the water utility using passwords stolen from a control system vendor and that he had stolen other user names and passwords. Weiss said the Department of Homeland Security has an obligation to inform industry about the "water pump" attack so they can protect themselves from similar assaults.
But a DHS spokesman said the cause of the water pump failure is unknown. The DHS and FBI are "gathering facts," DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard said in a statement. "At this time there is no credible corroborated data that indicates a risk to critical infrastructure entities or a threat to public safety," he said.
If DHS identifies any useful information about possible impacts to additional entities, it will disseminate it as it becomes available, Boogaard said.
And another computer expert familiar with the incident said the government was acting properly.
"This is just one of many events that occur almost on a weekly basis," said Sean McGurk, former director of the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center. "While it may be nice to speculate that it was caused by a nation-state or actor, it may be the unintended consequence of maintenance," he said.
DHS does not have the luxury of jumping to conclusions, McGurk said. "The department has to ensure that they're sharing information in a way that's valuable to the community," he said.
McGurk also said the state report may be in error, especially if the writer was not a water or control systems engineer. "We see that all the time — initial reports that turn out to be wrong," he said.
Weiss, a frequent critic of DHS, said he was revealing details of the state document because he believes other utilities should be aware of the incident so they could take precautions. DHS should have distributed information about the attack through several entities set up to share information, as well as to private industry groups, he said." Link to Original Source top
SpuriousLogic writes "AMARILLO, Texas (AP) — The last of the nation's most powerful nuclear bombs — a weapon hundreds of times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — is being disassembled nearly half a century after it was put into service at the height of the Cold War. The final components of the B53 bomb will be broken down Tuesday at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, the nation's only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility. The completion of the dismantling program is a year ahead of schedule, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, and aligns with President Barack Obama's goal of reducing the number of nuclear weapons. Thomas D'Agostino, the nuclear administration's chief, called the bomb's elimination a "significant milestone." First put into service in 1962, when Cold War tensions peaked during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the B53 weighed 10,000 pounds and was the size of a minivan. According to the American Federation of Scientists, it was 600 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II. The B53 was designed to destroy facilities deep underground, and it was carried by B-52 bombers. Since it was made using older technology by engineers who have since retired or died, developing a disassembly process took time. Engineers had to develop complex tools and new procedures to ensure safety. "We knew going in that this was going to be a challenging project, and we put together an outstanding team with all of our partners to develop a way to achieve this objective safely and efficiently," said John Woolery, the plant's general manager. Many of the B53s were disassembled in the 1980s, but a significant number remained in the U.S. arsenal until they were retired from the stockpile in 1997. Pantex spokesman Greg Cunningham said he couldn't comment on how many of the bombs have been disassembled at the Texas plant. The weapon is considered dismantled when the roughly 300 pounds of high explosives inside are separated from the special nuclear material, known as the pit. The uranium pits from bombs dismantled at Pantex will be stored on an interim basis at the plant, Cunningham said. The material and components are then processed, which includes sanitizing, recycling and disposal, the National Nuclear Security Administration said last fall when it announced the Texas plant's role in the B53 dismantling. The plant will play a large role in similar projects as older weapons are retired from the U.S.'s nuclear arsenal." Link to Original Source top
SpuriousLogic writes "Dozens of Americans who claim to have been made ill by wi-fi and mobile phones have flocked to the town of Green Bank, West Virginia There are five billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide and advances in wireless technology make it increasingly difficult to escape the influence of mobile devices. But while most Americans seem to embrace continuous connectivity, some believe it's making them physically ill.
Diane Schou is unable to hold back the tears as she describes how she once lived in a shielded cage to protect her from the electromagnetic radiation caused by waves from wireless communication.
"It's a horrible thing to have to be a prisoner," she says. "You become a technological leper because you can't be around people.
"It's not that you would be contagious to them — it's what they're carrying that is harmful to you."
Ms Schou is one of an estimated 5% of Americans who believe they suffer from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS), which they say is caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields typically created by mobile phones, wi-fi and other electronic equipment.
Hiding in a cage Symptoms range from acute headaches, skin burning, muscle twitching and chronic pain.
Diane Schou says she was forced to live in a shielded cage in Iowa, prior to moving to West Virginia "My face turns red, I get a headache, my vision changes, and it hurts to think. Last time [I was exposed] I started getting chest pains — and to me that's becoming life-threatening," Ms Schou says.
To alleviate the pain, her husband built an insulated living space known as a Faraday Cage.
He covered a wooden frame with two layers of wire mesh and a door that could be sealed shut to prevent radio waves from entering.
Diane spent much of her time inside it, sleeping on a twin mattress on a plywood base.
"At least I could see my husband on the outside, I could talk to him," she says.
Diane believes her illness was triggered by emissions from a mobile phone mast.
Her symptoms were so severe that she abandoned her family farm in the state of Iowa and moved to Green Bank, West Virginia — a tiny village of 143 residents in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains.
Outlawed wireless technology Green Bank is part of the US Radio Quiet Zone, where wireless is banned across 13,000 sq miles (33,000 sq km) to prevent transmissions interfering with a number of radio telescopes in the area.
The largest is owned by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and enables scientists to listen to low-level signals from different places in the universe.
Others are operated by the US military and are a critical part of the government's spy network.
As a result of the radio blackout, the Quiet Zone has become a haven for people like Diane, desperate to get away from wireless technology.
The world's largest, fully steerable radio telescope is operated in the town of Green Bank "Living here allows me to be more of a normal person. I can be outdoors. I don't have to stay hidden in a Faraday Cage," she says.
"I can see the sunrise, I can see the stars at night, and I can be in the rain.
"Here in Green Bank allows me to be with people. People here do not carry cell phones so I can socialise.
"I can go to church, I can attend some celebrations, I can be with people. I couldn't do that when I had to remain in the Faraday Cage."
But EHS is not medically recognised in the US.
Debated 'condition' The wireless association, CTIA, says that scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that wireless devices, with the limits established by government regulators, do not pose a public health risk or cause any adverse health effects.
And the World Health Organization, while acknowledging that the symptoms are genuine and can be severe, says: "EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem."
However, new research by scientists at Louisiana State University and published by the International Journal of Neuroscience, claims to show that EHS can be caused by low frequency electromagnetic fields found in the environment.
Continue reading the main story “ Start Quote
Towards the end of my normal life when I still could watch television I could actually cut my pain off and on with the remote control device”
Nichols Fox West Virginia resident "The study provides direct evidence that linking human symptoms with environmental factors, in this case EMF," says Dr Andrew Marino, a neurology professor who led the study.
"It's a watershed in that regard. There have been no previous studies that scientifically assess whether electromagnetic fields in the environment could produce human symptoms.
"And the symptoms matter because they are the first steps that show how EMFs produce human disease."
Scientists conducted a number of tests on a 35-year-old physician who had diagnosed herself with EHS.
She was seated on a wooden chair while voltage was applied to metal plates for pulses of 90 seconds to create a series of magnetic fields. The woman was asked to describe her symptoms after each exposure and after random sham exposures when, unknown to her, there was no voltage.
She reported headaches, pain and muscle twitching during the genuine exposures and no symptoms for the majority of the sham exposures.
The scientists concluded that such consistency could not be attributed to chance.
But other experts still disagree that a link exists.
Technological 'ignorance' Bob Park is a physics professor at the University of Maryland.
He says that the radiation emitted by wi-fi is simply too weak to cause the type of changes in the body's chemistry that could make people sick.
Nichols Fox lives alone in a home powered primarily by gas just outside the Quiet Zone "The bigger problem that we face is that in our society, driven by technological change, people have very little education," he says.
"There are lots of things people need to learn and they're not learning it. The thing that's going to kill them is ignorance."
Seventy-year-old Nichols Fox says she understands such scepticism — it took several years before she became convinced that her debilitating pain and fatigue were caused by electromagnetic radiation emitted by her computer.
"Towards the end of my normal life when I still could watch television I could actually cut my pain off and on with the remote control device," she says. "It was such an enormously clear association there was just no denying it."
Her symptoms are so severe that she has isolated herself almost entirely, living in a remote house surrounded by fields and woods just outside the Quiet Zone. She says even the low-level electromagnetic fields generated there affect her health.
She uses hardly any electricity — her refrigerator operates on gas, light comes from kerosene lamps and a wood-burning stove provides most of her heat.
A thermostat is set to switch on electric heaters if the temperature drops to a level where she is in danger of hypothermia.
"It's so important that people understand that this is a very serious disability, it's a life-changing disability. It leads to an earlier death — I have absolutely no doubt about that and I think it's just unfortunate that this is not recognised," she says.
But even in this secluded part of America, the incursion of wireless technology is relentless. Planning permission has been granted for a cell tower a few miles from her home, and Nichols says she'll have to move.
"I'm getting older and I really don't know where I'm going to go or what I'm going to do," she says. "It's really quite frightening."" Link to Original Source top
Woman who recorded cops acquitted of eavesdropping
SpuriousLogic writes "Frustrated, Tiawanda Moore quietly flipped on the recorder on her BlackBerry as she believed that two Chicago police internal affairs investigators were trying to talk her into dropping her sexual harassment complaint against a patrol officer.
But Moore was the one who ended up in trouble — criminally charged with violating an obscure state eavesdropping law that makes audio recording of police officers without their consent a felony offense.
On Wednesday, though, a Criminal Court jury quickly repudiated the prosecution's case, taking less than an hour to acquit Moore on both eavesdropping counts.
The case offered a rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes work of Chicago police's internal affairs division, which investigates complaints by the public of wrongdoing by rank-and-file officers. And it turned out to be an unflattering look.
The surreptitious recording made by Moore proved crucial for the jury, which heard the four-minute snippet during the trial and replayed it during the deliberations.
"The two cops came across as intimidating and insensitive," said one juror, Ray Adams, 57, a pharmacist from the western suburbs. "Everybody thought it was just a waste of time and that (Moore) never should have been charged."
The case against Moore as well as pending charges against a Chicago artist have drawn the attention of civil libertarians who argue that the state's eavesdropping law is unconstitutional.
Illinois is one of only a handful of states that make it illegal to record audio of public conversations without the permission of everyone involved. Laws in Massachusetts and Oregon are similarly strict but not as broad, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
If the victim is a law enforcement officer, the potential penalties increase sharply — up to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence Moore faced if she had been convicted.
Critics contend that the statute is obsolete in a world where so many people carry cellphones with recording devices and surveillance cameras populate virtually every corner of the city. They also argue it prevents citizens from documenting misconduct by law enforcement officers in public.
"This law is wrong," said Joshua Kutnick, a lawyer who represents Christopher Drew, the artist awaiting trial in Cook County on similar eavesdropping charges. "It's antiquated, and it has no place in our society, where everybody has a recording device."
The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit in Chicago last year challenging the law, saying it was unconstitutional to prevent people from openly recording police officers working in public. A federal judge dismissed the suit, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments next month in the ACLU's appeal of the decision.
"There's nothing private about a police officer doing his duties on the public way," said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois. "The way that they police and conduct themselves is a matter of public importance."
But Pat Camden, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, said the union supports the law because it prevents people from making baseless accusations against officers by recording them and then releasing snippets that don't reveal the full context of the incident.
Moore's case centered on an exception in the Illinois statute that allows citizens to obtain evidence through a surreptitious recording if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that a crime may be committed.
Her attorney, Robert W. Johnson, argued that Moore believed that the internal affairs investigators, Sgt. Richard Plotke and Officer Luis Alejo, were dragging their feet on her complaint, which could be construed as official misconduct, a criminal charge.
"The plan was to kill this complaint from the very beginning," Johnson told jurors Wednesday in his closing argument. "They were stalling, they were intimidating her and they were bullying her into not making that complaint."
In the recording, which the one juror said was replayed several times in the jury room, Alejo was heard explaining to Moore that she might be wasting her time because it was basically her word against that of the patrol officer. Alejo also said they could "almost guarantee" that the officer would never bother her again if she dropped the complaint.
"When we heard that, everyone (on the jury) just shook their head," juror Adams said in a telephone interview. "If what those two investigators were doing wasn't criminal, we felt it bordered on criminal, and she had the right to record it."
Moore alleged that the patrol officer who answered the domestic disturbance call at her home had fondled her and given her his personal phone number.
In a statement issued after the verdict, the Cook County state's attorney's office defended bringing the charges, saying it acted "in good faith based on credible evidence."
"The defense in this case was inconsistent with the original statements that were made by the defendant and differed drastically from the statements that she had originally made to investigators," the statement said.
Shortly after she was charged, Moore went back to police headquarters with an attorney and filed her sworn affidavit of sexual harassment against the patrol officer. The complaint is "still officially an open investigation going through process of review," a police spokeswoman said Wednesday.
But the two internal affairs investigators were never investigated by the department; in fact, Plotke was promoted to lieutenant, according to testimony. Both he and Alejo took the stand at Moore's trial and denied pressuring her to back off her complaint, saying it was she who wavered and that they were simply explaining her options.
Moore, 20, who testified tearfully in her own defense, said she was "still shaking" following the verdict at how close she came to prison.
"If I would have known I was going to get in trouble, I might never have come in and filed the complaint in the first place," she said." Link to Original Source top
SpuriousLogic writes "Normally I am a big supporter of NASA and other government funded scientific ventures, but this recent report has me rethinking the viability of NASA. How many schools could be built for $38 billion? How many kids could be sent to college for that cost? To me it seems we might get a better return on science investment from better science education, rather than this mission. Let alone that SpaceX thinks it could do it for $3 billion...
Reporting from Washington— The rocket and capsule that NASA is proposing to return astronauts to the moon would fly just twice in the next 10 years and cost as much as $38 billion, according to internal NASA documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.
The money would pay for a new heavy-lift rocket and Apollo-like crew capsule that eventually could take astronauts to the moon and beyond. But it would not be enough to pay for a lunar landing or for more than one manned test flight, in 2021.
That timeline and price tag could pose serious problems for supporters of the new spacecraft, which is being built from recycled parts of the shuttle and the now-defunct Constellation moon program. In effect, it means that it would take the U.S. manned-space program more than 50 years — if ever — to duplicate its 1969 landing on the moon.
Such an outlook is certain to infuriate NASA supporters in Congress, who last year ordered the agency to build a new heavy-lift rocket by December 2016, a deadline NASA says it can't meet. And it may well convince others that there's no good reason not to slash NASA's budget as part of a recent deal to cut federal spending by at least $2.1 trillion over 10 years.
"It's easier to balance the budget by going after the big numbers rather than the little numbers," said Howard McCurdy, a space policy expert at American University in Washington. He said the new rocket might be spared if NASA keeps the program within its budget, a big if considering NASA's history of significant cost overruns.
"That's what is going to get them [NASA officials] in trouble, if they come back hat in hand asking for money," McCurdy said.
According to preliminary NASA estimates, it would cost $17 billion to $22 billion to ready the new rocket and Orion capsule for a test flight in December 2017 that would put an unmanned capsule into a lunar orbit. An additional $12 billion to $16 billion would be needed to launch the first crew on a lunar flyby in August 2021.
NASA spokesman David Weaver said nothing was yet final, however, and that the agency still was crunching numbers.
"We want to get this right and ensure we have a sustainable program so we don't repeat the mistakes of the past," Weaver said in a statement.
The agency has contracted with Booz Allen Hamilton, a Virginia consulting firm, to conduct an independent assessment. The firm's findings are expected this month, and even agency insiders expect Booz Allen Hamilton to come back with a higher price tag given NASA's history of lowballing initial cost estimates.
The high cost and 10-year schedule are being floated despite a 2010 agreement by Congress and the White House that all but requires NASA to rely on existing shuttle parts and remnants of the now-defunct Constellation moon program, which cost taxpayers $13.1 billion through April without producing a flyable rocket or capsule. The intent was to get the rocket built quickly and comparatively cheaply.
NASA has not officially announced a design, but internal NASA documents show the agency intends to replicate much of the shuttle design, retaining the shuttle's orange fuel tank and side-mounted boosters. The plane-like orbiter would be replaced by the Orion capsule, left over from the Constellation program, atop the tank.
U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) a frequent NASA critic, said the money would be better spent by investing in commercial rocket companies or converting military rockets rather than recycling equipment from NASA's scrap yard.
"This is an absolute waste of borrowed money," Rohrabacher said in a statement. He said that "for much, much less than $38 billion" NASA could invest in new technologies, such as orbiting fuel depots, that would help NASA use military or commercial rockets and "explore the solar system with our existing American launch vehicle fleet."
NASA has been working to jump-start a commercial space industry that would ferry crews and cargo to the International Space Station this decade. And though the rockets and capsules are smaller and less complex than would be required to go to the moon, initial cost estimates for commercial spaceflight appear much lower than NASA's numbers.
Last week, Boeing announced that it intended to build its own capsule to fly aboard an existing rocket, the Atlas V, which it said could be ready to fly crews to the space station by 2015.
John Elbon, manager of Boeing's commercial crew program, said the company could meet the milestone if it received some of the $850 million per year that President Obama has requested for the next five years for commercial spaceflight.
Another contender is Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp, or SpaceX, which last year designed, built and flew its Dragon capsule into orbit and safely returned it to Earth for less than $1 billion. Founder Elon Musk has told friends that he thinks SpaceX could build a rocket able to fly to the moon for about $3 billion." Link to Original Source top
SpuriousLogic writes "Schools of fish have shown engineers how to squeeze much more power from wind farms.
A new wind farm design mimics a school of fish to exploit wind turbulence, and could dramatically improve power output.
Familiar propeller-style wind turbines with large sweeping blades have almost reached their limit of efficiency.
But in a wind farm, they must be spaced widely apart to avoid turbulence from the other turbines.
This has limited wind farm power output to around two watts per square metre of land at favourable sites.
But redesigned wind farms could perhaps get up to 10 times more power from the same land.
A test array in the California desert takes a whole new approach to the problem, according to a study published in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.
This new study uses "vertical axis" wind turbines that resemble upright, spinning egg whisks. Although they are less efficient individually than the propeller-style turbines, they are able to use turbulent winds from many directions." Link to Original Source top
SpuriousLogic writes "A Manhattan federal judge set a Sept. 15 deadline for Google, authors and publishers to come up with a legal plan to create the world's largest digital library, expressing frustration that the six-year-old dispute has not been resolved.
At a hearing on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said if the dispute is not "resolved or close to resolved in principle" by mid-September, he will set a "relatively tight schedule" for the parties to prepare for a possible trial.
"I'm a little bit concerned. This is a six-year-old case," Chin said. "One thought is to put you on a schedule, give you a deadline."
Citing antitrust and copyright concerns, Chin had on March 22 rejected a $125 million settlement. He said it went "too far" in allowing Google to exploit digitized copyrighted works by selling subscriptions to them online and engaging in "wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission."
Google, which runs the world's largest Internet search engine, had scanned about 12 million books, saying it would ease access to materials for readers and researchers.
After Tuesday's hearing, Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker said the company is exploring "a number of options" to address Chin's concerns. Google made a similar statement after Chin's last hearing in the case on June 1.
OPT-IN STRUCTURE SOUGHT
The rejected settlement would have resolved a lawsuit by The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers.
Google would have been allowed to sell online access to millions of out-of-print books. The Mountain View, California company would have created a registry of books and paid $125 million to people whose copyrighted books had been scanned and to locate authors of scanned books who had not come forward.
But Amazon.com Inc, Microsoft Corp and various academics and authors said the agreement gave Google too much power or violated antitrust and copyright law. The Justice Department also said it appeared to violate the law.
Amazon sells the Kindle digital reader, which is not compatible with Google's library. Sony Corp, which makes an compatible e-reader, favored the agreement.
Chin has urged that a settlement include only books whose copyright owners agree to the arrangement, rather than require authors to "opt out."
Michael Boni, a lawyer representing The Authors Guild, told the judge that "we are trying to settle this case with an opt-in structure."
Chin was elevated last year to the federal appeals court in New York, but retained jurisdiction over the Google case.
The case is The Authors Guild et al v. Google Inc, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 05-08136." Link to Original Source