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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

NASA’s Long-Lived Mars Opportunity Rover Sets Off-World Driving Record

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, working on Mars since January 2004, passed 25 miles of total driving on July 27, 2014. The gold line on this map shows Opportunity's route from the landing site inside Eagle Crater (upper left) to its location after the July 27 (Sol 3735) drive.

NASA's Opportunity Mars rover, which landed on the Red Planet in 2004, now holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 25 miles (40 kilometers) of driving. The previous record was held by the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 rover.
"Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world," said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance."

A drive of 157 feet (48 meters) on July 27 put Opportunity's total odometry at 25.01 miles (40.25 kilometers).This month's driving brought the rover southward along the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover had driven more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) before arriving at Endeavour Crater in 2011, where it has examined outcrops on the crater’s rim containing clay and sulfate-bearing minerals. The sites are yielding evidence of ancient environments with less acidic water than those examined at Opportunity’s landing site.


Senate Leader: Israel May Need More US Aid for War

Most funding requests go through a period of debate where the administration requests a set amount and various congressional factions start trying to pare it down to a more manageable sum. That is not the case with Israel aid.

A new Pentagon request for $225 million in “emergency” aid for Israel, above and beyond the billions sent there annually, was panned by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as far too low.

“We should not give the Israeli people the minimum amount of aid and then cross our fingers and hope it all works out in the future,” insisted Reid, without detailing exactly how many more hundreds of millions of dollars he would throw at Israel.

The latest military aid package comes in spite of administration efforts to convince Israel to agree to a ceasefire, though Congressional eagerness to bankroll Israel above all other concerns means that Israel can safely ignore calls for a ceasefire without risking the gravy train.



Comcast Confessions: when every call is a sales call

By Adrianne Jeffries

When AOL executive and Comcast customer Ryan Block recently tried to cancel his internet service, he ended up in a near-yelling match with a customer service representative who spent 18 minutes trying to talk him out of it.

Rep: I’m just trying to figure out here what it is about Comcast service that you’re not liking.
Block: This phone call is actually a really amazing representative example of why I don’t want to stay with Comcast. Can you please cancel our service?
Rep: Okay, but I’m trying to help you.
Block: The way you can help me is by disconnecting my service.
Rep: But how is that helping you? How is that helping you? Explain to me how that is helping you.
Block: Because that’s what I want.
Rep: Okay, so why is that what you want?

Block posted a recording of the call online, where it has been listened to more than 5 million times. During the ensuing media frenzy, The Verge put out a call and sought out current and former Comcast employees, hoping to shed light on the inner workings of the largest broadcasting and cable company in the country. More than 100 employees responded, including one who works in the same call center as the rep in Block’s recording.

These employees told us the same stories over and over again: customer service has been replaced by an obsession with sales, technicians are understaffed and tech support is poorly trained, and the massive company is hobbled by internal fragmentation.



NASA is testing a laser-powered drill to explore Jupiter's ice moon

By Russell Brandom

While Mars gets all the press, a group of NASA scientists are laying the groundwork for a more exotic destination: the ice-covered moon of Europa, locked in orbit above Jupiter. The oceans beneath the ice are thought to be fertile grounds for alien life, so scientists are eager to explore it if they can figure out how. And since the first step is drilling through the ice, the group is testing out its laser-powered drill on the Matanuska glacier in Alaska to see how it holds up in the field.

The mission itself might be closer than you think. President Obama set aside $15 million of NASA's 2015 budget specifically for Europa exploration, and some researchers think the project could launch an explorer probe as early as 2022. Even if NASA doesn't make it, the research might be useful to others: a privately funded European group is also laying the groundwork for a trip. You can see video of NASA's test below, complete with dramatic music, courtesy of the New Scientist:

video at link

The judges who approve phone surveillance are buying Verizon stock

On May 28 last year, Judge James Zagel, a FISA Court member since 2008, purchased stock in Verizon. In June of this year, Zagel signed off on a government request to the FISA Court to renew the ongoing metadata collection program.

He's not the only one. We filed a request to the courts for the personal finance statements for all of the FISA Court judges. About a month ago, federal judges began turning in their disclosures, which cover the calendar year of 2013. The disclosures show that FISA Court Judge Susan Wright purchased Verizon stock valued at $15,000 or less on October 22. FISA Court Judge Dennis Saylor has owned Verizon stock, and last year collected a dividend of less than $1,000. The precise amount and value of each investment is unclear—like many government ethics disclosures, including those for federal lawmakers, investments amounts are revealed within certain ranges of value.

The FISA Court continually rotates with respect to how it deals with requests from the government. In essence, each judge takes turns overseeing surveillance asks from the Feds. Judge Roger Vinson, the judge who signed off on the order disclosed by Snowden last year, requested an extension for filing his personal finance statement. While it's not clear how the rotation schedule works, it's certainly plausible Judge Saylor or Judge Wright will soon be asked to renew the next request by the NSA for metadata from telecom companies.



French Mayor Who Opposes Gay Marriage Officiates Son's Same-Sex Wedding

Raymond Bardet, the mayor of Ville-la-Grand in south-eastern France, has been a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage. In January 2013 he went so far as to perform mock nuptials between his communications officer and general services manager. (The general services manager was wearing a bridal veil. Hilarious, right??)

Well, apparently there are exceptions to the rule. Bardet officiated his first real same-sex marriage earlier this month, when he officiated his son's gay nuptials.

But, wait! Don't assume Bardet's had a grand epiphany now that same-sex marriage is sitting across from him at the dinner table.

He's still not in favor of it; he says:

“No, I have not changed my mind, I think this is not what nature intended.”

He also said: “I will never do any other gay marriages; I did it because it’s my son.”



Donald Sterling loses court battle to prevent sale of Clippers

Source: LA Times

Judge Michael Levanas allowed the sale of the Clippers to go forward Monday afternoon, ruling in favor of Shelly Sterling on all three counts in a probate court trial against Donald Sterling.

The ruling in Los Angeles Superior Court included an extraordinary order that essentially renders any appellate court intervention meaningless.

Levanas made the announcement after almost two hours of closing arguments between lawyers for Donald Sterling and Shelly Sterling.

Shelly Sterling was successful in having the judge uphold the removal of her husband as trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers, on grounds of mental incapacitation. The ruling clears the way to implement her May agreement to sell the franchise to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/sports/sportsnow/la-sp-sn-sterling-donald-shelly-clippers-judge-ruling-20140728-story.html

Monday Toon Roundup





The Issue


Cause Found For Large Chemical Spill In West Virginia

By Rebecca Trager and ChemistryWorld
Freedom Industries

The lack of a rigorous inspection program at Freedom Industries is at least partly to blame for the massive leak of (4-methylcyclohexyl) methanol (MCHM) from a tank at a the company’s storage site in West Virginia in January, according to the Chemical Safety Board (CSB).

The board found no record of a formal, industry-approved inspection performed on any of the speciality chemical company’s storage tanks prior to the incident on 9 January.

The CSB – an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents – concluded that the chemical spill resulted specifically from two small corrosion holes in the bottom of the 48,000-gallon tank.

The damage likely resulted from water leaking through holes in the roof and settling on the tank floor. The board also found a similar hole penetrating the bottom of a nearby tank that contained MCHM. Investigators examined similar tanks at Freedom Industries and reported that several showed signs of pitting and metallurgical damage.



Report from the Koch's Creepy Carnival

by David Weigel

The stilt walker was the first clue that something strange had come to Washington. A few long blocks from the Capitol, with the dome in full view, a colorless midsize tent was ringed by circus performers, waving and beckoning tourists into something-or-other. It was Wednesday evening, and the street traffic was sparse, but a few tourists made it in, where they signed in with one of a dozen red-shirted, iPad-wielding libertarian millennials.

Then they were in—they’d made it to the Creepy Carenival. This was the big summer project of Generation Opportunity, the youth outreach group funded by at least $5 million from the Koch network to tamp down under-30 enrollment in health care exchanges. Over the fall and winter, they’d worked tailgates and raffled off iPads. Now, after weeks of promo, they’d find out if free food and circus games could be as popular as free beer. Perfect timing, too: The D.C. Circuit had just ruled their way the day before, arguing that Obamacare subsidies (which made health care plans affordable for middle- and lower-income people) were illegal in states that did not set up their own health care exchanges.

After a good-size crowd had found the tent, Generation Opportunity’s president, Evan Feinberg, took his place onstage. A tightrope-walking blade juggler took a respectful break behind him, straddling and listening, as Feinberg laid out the manifesto.

“Young Americans have been asked to pay as much as three times as much for their health care to get nothing out of it—to pay for an older, sicker generation’s health care,” said Feinberg. “To pay for an intrusive bureaucracy that we can’t trust.”

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