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

Journal Archives

Device captures energy from Earth's infrared emissions to outer space

When the sun sets on a remote desert outpost and solar panels shut down, what energy source will provide power through the night? A battery, perhaps, or an old diesel generator? Perhaps something strange and new.

Physicists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) envision a device that would harvest energy from Earth's infrared emissions into outer space.

Heated by the sun, our planet is warm compared to the frigid vacuum beyond. Thanks to recent technological advances, the researchers say, that heat imbalance could soon be transformed into direct-current (DC) power, taking advantage of a vast and untapped energy source.

Their analysis of the thermodynamics, practical concerns, and technological requirements will be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's not at all obvious, at first, how you would generate DC power by emitting infrared light in free space toward the cold," says principal investigator Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at Harvard SEAS. "To generate power by emitting, not by absorbing light, that's weird. It makes sense physically once you think about it, but it's highly counterintuitive. We're talking about the use of physics at the nanoscale for a completely new application."



Transparent, color solar cells fuse energy, beauty

ANN ARBOR—Colorful, see-through solar cells invented at the University of Michigan could one day be used to make stained-glass windows, decorations and even shades that turn the sun's energy into electricity.

The cells, believed to be the first semi-transparent, colored photovoltaics, have the potential to vastly broaden the use of the energy source, says Jay Guo, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, mechanical engineering, and macromolecular science and engineering at U-M. Guo is lead author of a paper about the work newly published online in Scientific Reports.

"I think this offers a very different way of utilizing solar technology rather than concentrating it in a small area," he said. "Today, solar panels are black and the only place you can put them on a building is the rooftop. And the rooftop of a typical high-rise is so tiny.

"We think we can make solar panels more beautiful—any color a designer wants. And we can vastly deploy these panels, even indoors."



Military Cuts Don't Translate Into Less Spending

By Mattea Kramer,

After Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave a major speech at the Pentagon, The New York Times declared that the Pentagon would shrink the Army to pre-World War II levels. While he did announce an intention to reduce a number of military programs, the Pentagon isn’t planning major reductions in spending any time soon.

Despite all of these changes, the new Pentagon budget doesn’t project a commensurate decline in spending. Back in December Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray agreed on a budget blueprint that would allow military spending to grow slightly in fiscal 2015 relative to 2014 and 2013. On top of that, Secretary Hagel’s speech comes at a time when the president is proposing an additional $26 billion on top of that December agreement. That extra cash would support an “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” that would fund “readiness and modernization” efforts. This extra funding is essentially a Pentagon wish list that would continue to protect the military from making any significant spending reductions in the near future.

Meanwhile, new five-year spending projections at the Pentagon show that it plans to exceed the spending caps of sequestration by $115 billion over the next five years. What’s more, the Pentagon receives many tens of billions in additional funding to operate wars overseas, and that money isn’t subject to caps. In fiscal 2014 that war budget, known officially as “Overseas Contingency Operations,” totaled $85 billion — and is being widely criticized for containing funding that wasn’t actually meant for war operations but instead would function as a slush fund for the Pentagon.

the rest


NC cites 5 Duke Energy plants for lacking permits

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina regulators have cited five more Duke Energy power plants for lacking required storm water permits after a massive spill at one of the company's coal ash dumps coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced Monday that Charlotte-based Duke Energy had been issued formal notices of violation for not having the needed permits, which are required to legally discharge rainwater draining from its plants into public waterways.

Two other violations were issued Friday against the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, site of the Feb. 2 spill. The company could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for the violations.

State regulators indicated they had been aware since at least 2010 that some Duke Energy facilities lacked the required storm water permits, yet took no enforcement action until after last month's disaster.



A Republican exposes the GOP tax-reform fraud

By Jay Bookman
Every year since taking control of the U.S. House, Republicans have promised the American people that they would enact tax reform that would slash the top income-tax rate from 39.6 to 25 percent and do so without raising the deficit or hurting the middle class. The policy has been the centerpiece of the GOP "jobs program," such as it is, with promises that once enacted the tax-rate reduction would produce millions of new jobs. It was also embraced by 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who made it the foundation of his economic platform.

And all along, year after year, Democrats have claimed that such tax policy would be mathematically impossible, and that the plan would actually increase taxes on poor and middle-class Americans while slashing them on the richest 1 percent of Americans. Blog posts here and here and here and here documented that case thoroughly.

Now, thanks to U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a Republican from Michigan, we know who was right. It wasn't the Republicans. To the contrary, Camp's work documents thoroughly just how unrealistic and even deceptive the GOP claims had been.

In drafting his 978-page rewrite of the federal tax code, Camp tried heroically to put the vague promises of his fellow Republicans into actual policy. He took them seriously, and found them unworkable. The tax-reform package that he released last week contains a lot of good work, but in the end, after cutting a lot of tax deductions, he was able to bring the top tax rate of 39.6 percent all the way down to ... 35 percent.



Georgia House passes Medical Marijuana bill

By Aaron Gould Sheinin
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Georgia House on Monday gave overwhelming approval to a bill that would legalize a type of medical marijuana to treat certain seizure disorders.

Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, the sponsor of House Bill 885, said it’s an important step toward saving the lives of children who can suffer 100 or more seizures a day. The particular strain of marijuana, known as Charlotte’s Web, has shown it can ease or eliminate symptoms of patients taking the cannabis oil derived from the plant.

In Colorado, where marijuana is legal, there is a waiting list of 2,000 patients who want access to the oil, which does not cause the taker to get high.

While there are obstacles and some warn him he is moving too fast, Peake answered: “We cannot move fast enough.”


Girl, 16, accused of statutory rape of boy, 14

y Marcus K. Garner
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A 16-year-old Rockdale County middle school student was charged with statutory rape for having sex with a 14-year-old boy, according to police reports.

According to the incident report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from the Rockdale County Sheriff Office, Memorial Middle School officials saw video footage of the teens enter the boys’ bathroom together on Feb. 25, and emerge 10 minutes later.

When school officials questioned the teens, both admitted to having consensual sex on the bathroom floor, authorities said.

The 16-year-old girl acknowledged that she was the aggressor, asking the boy to get on the floor with her after they started kissing, according to the incident report.



Carnival Around The World

Performers from the Sao Clemente samba school parade during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, on March 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Performers from the Sao Clemente samba school parade through the Sambadrome, on March 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Performers dressed as witches parade across the market square in Waldkirch, Germany, on March 1, 2014. (AP Photo/dpa, Patrick Seeger)

many more (some topless nudity)


The psychology of hate


Excerpted from “Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want”
One of the most amazing court cases you probably have never heard of had come down to this. Standing Bear, the reluctant chief of the Ponca tribe, rose on May 2, 1879, to address a packed audience in a Nebraska courtroom. At issue was the existence of a mind that many were unable to see.

Standing Bear’s journey to this courtroom had been excruciating. The U.S. government had decided several years earlier to force the 752 Ponca Native Americans off their lands along the fertile Niobrara River and move them to the desolate Indian Territory, in what is now northern Oklahoma. Standing Bear surrendered everything he owned, assembled his tribe, and began marching a six-hundred-mile “trail of tears.” If the walk didn’t kill them (as it did Standing Bear’s daughter), then the parched Indian Territory would. Left with meager provisions and fields of parched rock to farm, nearly a third of the Poncas died within the first year. This included Standing Bear’s son. As his son lay dying, Standing Bear promised to return his son’s bones to the tribe’s burial grounds so that his son could walk the afterlife with his ancestors, according to their religion. Desperate, Standing Bear decided to go home.

Carrying his son’s bones in a bag clutched to his chest, Standing Bear and twenty-seven others began their return in the dead of winter. Word spread of the group’s travel as they approached the Omaha Indian reservation, midway through their journey. The Omahas welcomed them with open arms, but U.S. officials welcomed them with open handcuffs. General George Crook was ordered by government officials to return the beleaguered Poncas to the Indian Territory.

Crook couldn’t bear the thought. “I’ve been forced many times by orders from Washington to do most inhuman things in dealings with the Indians,” he said, “but now I’m ordered to do a more cruel thing than ever before.” Crook was an honorable man who could no more disobey direct orders than he could fly, so instead he stalled, encouraging a newspaper editor from Omaha to enlist lawyers who would then sue General Crook (as the U.S. government’s representative) on Standing Bear’s behalf. The suit? To have the U.S. government recognize Standing Bear as a person, as a human being.



Watch out for this Netflix “tech support” scam

Jerome Segura has been tracking tech support scams for a year, documenting the ploys he's encountered. But even this one found him unprepared.

"Combining a phishing scam with a fake tech support call center is something that I'd never seen before," the Malwarebytes senior security researcher told Wired.co.uk. A video of the find shows Segura trying to enter a fake Netflix login on the streaming service's homepage, only to be presented with a notice telling him the account has been suspended, and telling him to call a fake tech support number.

He dutifully called up and was asked to download "Netflix Support Software"—really the remote control software TeamViewer, which allowed the scammer access to his system. Once he had hopped on, the hacker told Segura he'd been hacked. In fact, the scammer said he'd been hacked nine times, with one coming from Serbia, four from Russia, three from China, and one from Italy. It's all part of a tactic to instill fear and get the user to comply, explains Segura. Like when the helpful voice on the other end of the phone showed him a scan of apparent hacker activity—which was really just custom-made Windows batch script.

"By running their own tool, which looks authentic, the crooks can detect 'problems' that do not exist," says Segura. "Finally, showing those scan results adds to the fear factor, as well as creating a sense of urgency to fix the issue."

As well as scraping plenty of personal information from Segura's system, including a file named "banking 2013," the scammers continued by attempting to secure a payment of $389.97 (with a generous $50 Netflix discount) for Microsoft support to fix the problem. (He was repeatedly told that the problem happened because his security software is not up to scratch).


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