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Environmental Scientist

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CIA funding Geo-engineering Study

The Central Intelligence Agency is funding a scientific study that will investigate whether humans could use geo-engineering to alter Earth's environment and stop climate change. The National Academy of Sciences will run the 21-month project, which is the first NAS geo-engineering study financially supported by an intelligence agency. With the spooks' money, scientists will study how humans might influence weather patterns, assess the potential dangers of messing with the climate, and investigate possible national security implications of geo-engineering attempts.

The total cost of the project is $630,000, which NAS is splitting with the CIA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA. The NAS website says that "the US intelligence community" is funding the project, and William Kearney, a spokesman for NAS, told Mother Jones that phrase refers to the CIA. Edward Price, a spokesman for the CIA, refused to confirm the agency's role in the study, but said, "It's natural that on a subject like climate change the Agency would work with scientists to better understand the phenomenon and its implications on national security." The CIA reportedly closed its research center on climate change and national security last year, after GOP members of Congress argued that the CIA shouldn't be looking at climate change.

The goal of the CIA-backed NAS study is to conduct a "technical evaluation of a limited number of proposed geo-engineering techniques," according to the NAS website. Scientists will attempt to determine which geo-engineering techniques are feasible and try to evaluate the impacts and risks of each (including "national security concerns"). One proposed geo-engineering method the study will look at is solar radiation management—a fancy term for pumping particles into the stratosphere to reflect incoming sunlight away from the planet. In theory, solar radiation management could lead to a global cooling trend that might reverse, or at least slow down, global warming. The study will also investigate proposals for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The National Academies has held two previous workshops on geo-engineering, but neither was funded by the intelligence community, says Edward Dunlea, the study director for the latest project. The CIA would not say why it had decided to fund the project at this time, but the US government's apparent interest in altering the climate isn't new. The first big use of weather modification as a military tactic came during the Vietnam War, when the Air Force engaged in a cloud seeding program to try to create rainfall and turn the Ho Chi Minh Trail into muck, and thereby gain tactical advantage. Between 1962 and 1983, other would-be weather engineers tried to change the behavior of hurricanes using silver iodide. That effort, dubbed Project Stormfury, was spearheaded by the Navy and the Commerce Department. China's "Weather Modification Office" also controversially seeded clouds in advance of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, hoping to ensure rain would fall in the Beijing suburbs instead of over the Olympic stadiums.



Researchers turn off Down’s syndrome genes

by Beth Mole

The insertion of one gene can muzzle the extra copy of chromosome 21 that causes Down’s syndrome, according to a study published today in Nature1. The method could help researchers to identify the cellular pathways behind the disorder's symptoms, and to design targeted treatments.

“It’s a strategy that can be applied in multiple ways, and I think can be useful right now,” says Jeanne Lawrence, a cell biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, and the lead author of the study.

Lawrence and her team devised an approach to mimic the natural process that silences one of the two X chromosomes carried by all female mammals. Both chromosomes contain a gene called XIST (the X-inactivation gene), which, when activated, produces an RNA molecule that coats the surface of a chromosome like a blanket, blocking other genes from being expressed. In female mammals, one copy of the XIST gene is activated — silencing the X chromosome on which it resides.

Lawrence’s team spliced the XIST gene into one of the three copies of chromosome 21 in cells from a person with Down’s syndrome. The team also inserted a genetic 'switch' that allowed them to turn on XIST by dosing the cells with the antibiotic doxycycline. Doing so dampened expression of individual genes along chromosome 21 that are thought to contribute to the pervasive developmental problems that comprise Down's syndrome.



$25 gadget lets hackers seize control of a car

Updated 17:52 17 July 2013 by Paul Marks


That looks set to change on 27 July, when Spanish engineers Javier Vázquez Vidal and Alberto Garcia Illera will give a demonstration at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. They have built a $25 device that lets them bypass security in a car's electronic control unit.

The brains of a modern car, the ECU is a computer that controls engine power, transmission and braking. Mechanics can diagnose faults by plugging a laptop into it via standard wired connectors such as the CAN bus. Alternatively, remote diagnostics and software updates can take place over a cellular network, as happens with services such as General Motors' OnStar and Mercedes-Benz's Mbrace.

Vázquez Vidal and Garcia Illera will show how their device – which they claim uses a $1 chip to break encryption – can read from and write data to the flash memory of commonly used ECUs, made by Bosch of Germany. In this way, they can get more horsepower out of a car, or tell it to burn less fuel. "And it would take no time to gain total control over a vehicle – deploying an airbag, activating the brakes, or immobilising a car at any moment," says Vázquez Vidal.

How they have done this is unclear. "My best guess is that they have managed to put the ECU into an unencrypted test state, possibly by playing around with power-up sequences," says Peter Highton, a senior engineer with Freescale Semiconductor in Aylesbury, UK, which makes ECU microchips for racing cars as well as ordinary vehicles.

the rest:


Cosmic collisions spin stellar corpses into gold

18:00 17 July 2013 by Lisa Grossman

Rumpelstiltskin would be jealous. A recently observed flash in the distant universe suggests that smacking two dense, dead stars together can create gold in vast amounts – with a mass 10 times that of the moon. The finding may help settle a debate about whether colliding stars or supernovae are the main sources of heavy metals in the universe.

"We see a signature that we interpret as the production of very heavy elements – gold, platinum, lead – exactly the kind of material whose origin was unclear," says Edo Berger of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After the big bang, the universe contained only hydrogen, helium and lithium. Most of the other elements are built up in the cores of massive stars, and released when stars die. But stars lack the energy and the spare neutrons to be able to forge elements heavier than iron.

One idea often put forward to explain how such elements are made is that supernovae explosions of massive stars produce a powerful, fast-moving wind of freed neutrons and protons, which can convert lighter atomic nuclei released during the explosion into those of heavier elements.

But computer simulations of the process did not always produce the proportions seen in nature of certain elements. Some researchers suggested that neutron stars, the dense balls of mostly neutrons that are left over after a supernova, could build heavy elements more efficiently when they collide.



Horn-Faced Dinosaur Fossils Discovered in Utah

Meet Nasutoceratops titusi, a newly described dinosaur that looks like a cross between an overgrown bull and a Dr. Seuss character. The beast’s Latin name means Large-Nosed Horned Face, and it wielded some pretty heavy duty headgear: Large horns, roughly 2.5 feet long, curve forward and extend to the tip of its oversized, beak-like nose.

The dinosaur, described July 17 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the newest member of the Ceratopsid assemblage – the same crew that includes Triceratops – and suggests that dinosaurs in the American west clustered in distinct communities.

Nasutoceratops titusi in the Late Cretaceous forests of the Kaiparowits Formation. (Raúl Martín)
In 2000, scientists began finding N. titusi fossils in southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Layered and remote, the region’s Kaiparowits Plateau is a treasure chest of fossils from the Late Cretaceous; roughly 75 million years ago, the area belonged to an island land mass called Laramidia that extended from northern Alaska to Mexico. Here, west of paleo-Appalachia, is where Nasutoceratops and its friends roamed, eating vegetation and flaunting their ornamented skulls.

Nasutoceratops is only the second horned dinosaur unearthed in southern Laramidia. Its closest relative is Avaceratops lammersi, a species that lived in the northwest about 2 million years earlier. Together, the two form a group that diverged from the rest of the ceratopsid lineage about 81 million years ago, evolving larger horns and simpler frills than other species. Scientists have debated whether these, and other large dinosaurs, roamed contiguously through North America, or if the giant reptiles could evolve independently and occupy localized communities. With Large-Nosed Horned Face emerging from the southern Utah rocks, the data suggest that at least two pockets of dinosaurs independently coexisted in Laramidia, for more than a million years.


Off-duty Police officer arrested, fired for pointing gun at store clerk

Posted: Jul 16, 2013 10:47 PM by Nathan O'Neal

TUCSON - A 23-year-old off-duty Tucson Police officer was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after he pointed a gun at a convenience store clerk Tuesday.

Kyle James McCartin and another unidentified man entered the Giant gas station located near Sunrise and Kolb around 3 a.m. on Tuesday.

Pima County Sheriff's deputies say the men were drunk when surveillance cameras caught McCartin pointing his gun at the clerk multiple times. When deputies arrived on the scene they caught up with McCartin at a nearby apartment complex.

McCartin was arrested and booked into the Pima County Jail for two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

"Once deputies made contact with him, they found out that he was an off-duty TPD officer," said PCSD Deputy Jesus Banuelos.



Heartening Moves Toward Real Progress in Bank Regulation


With their simultaneous display of hubris, remorselessness, incompetence and corruption, the banks have finally ignited a modicum of courage in banking regulators.

The postcrisis bad behavior — reckless trading at a JPMorgan Chase unit in London, the rampant mortgage modification and foreclosure abuses, manipulation of the key global interest rate benchmark — went just a tad too far. For the first time since the financial crisis, the banks are losing some battles on tougher regulation.

Last week, banking regulators, led by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, but including the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, proposed a rule to raise the capital at the largest, most dangerous banks.

Separately, Gary Gensler, the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, who has been waging an underfunded and lonely fight to tighten the markets for those side bets called derivatives, managed to push forward a rule to regulate the complex markets. Banks and his fellow commissioners had resisted, pushing for more delay and more study. Nothing is ever killed in Washington; it’s just studied into a perpetual coma.

These moves are heartening, if only because financial regulation has been so parched in the years since the financial crisis. There are many caveats, and I will get to them. But it’s worth enumerating and celebrating some of the positives because reform advocates have been wandering this desert, searching futilely for honest regulators.



Quebec mayor forced to apologize for saying how much he enjoys killing kittens with his car

In the last year Canada has seen mayors slapped with corruption accusations and gangsterism charges. One was linked to a crack-smoking video. Another quit in a sex scandal.

Now one says he kills kittens.

The mayor of Huntingdon, Que., Stephane Gendron, has been forced to apologize for joking about how he enthusiastically kills cats with his car — even newborns.

The small-town mayor, whose other career is radio shock-jock, has posted a letter on the website of his show explaining that his “dark humour” had done nothing to raise the level of debate over animal control.

“When I see a cat in the street, I accelerate,” Gendron had said, days earlier, on his radio show.

“Stray cats have no business on the street,” he said, raising his voice to a shout for dramatic emphasis: “So bang! I accelerate.”



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