Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First Living Building Successfully 'Grown'

Living walls are great--they can reduce pollution, better insulate buildings, and lower the need for maintenance. But it's about time someone expanded the concept. So here's introducing the 'living building'--where trees are actually grown into the structure of a building and melded with cables and metal supports, giving a whole new meaning to the term 'green building'.

Dust, fire and quakes: wild weather batters nation

Extreme conditions are causing mayhem across the country, ranging from Sydney's freakish dust storm, to bushfires in Queensland, hail storms in South Australia and the Hunter Valley, heavy rain in the Mallee and even earthquakes in Victoria.

Fierce winds are lashing the Hunter region and gale-force winds of up to 100km/h are expected to hit Sydney later this morning.

A blanket of red dust has already shrouded most of Sydney, delaying flights and cancelling Sydney Harbour ferries, after the weather system moved in from central Australia and western NSW.

It comes as the state experiences unseasonably warm temperatures and reports of visibility reduced to just 10 metres in Broken Hill.

Monday, September 21, 2009

China is hiring, and young Americans are going

BEIJING - When the best job Mikala Reasbeck could find after college in Boston was counting pills part-time in a drugstore for $7 an hour, she took the drastic step of jumping on a plane to Beijing in February to look for work.

A week after she started looking, the 23-year-old from Wheeling, West Virginia, had a full-time job teaching English.

"I applied for jobs all over the U.S. There just weren't any," said Reasbeck, who speaks no Chinese but had volunteered at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In China, she said, "the jobs are so easy to find. And there are so many."

Young foreigners like Reasbeck are coming to China to look for work in its unfamiliar but less bleak economy, driven by the worst job markets in decades in the United States, Europe and some Asian countries.

Many do basic work such as teaching English, a service in demand from Chinese businesspeople and students. But a growing number are arriving with skills and experience in computers, finance and other fields.

"China is really the land of opportunity now, compared to their home countries," said Chris Watkins, manager for China and Hong Kong of MRI China Group, a headhunting firm. "This includes college graduates as well as maybe more established businesspeople, entrepreneurs and executives from companies around the world."

Watkins said the number of resumes his company receives from abroad has tripled over the past 18 months.

China's job market has been propped up by Beijing's 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus, which helped to boost growth to 7.9 percent from a year earlier in the quarter that ended June 30, up from 6.1 percent the previous quarter. The government says millions of jobs will be created this year, though as many as 12 million job-seekers still will be unable to find work.

Andrew Carr, a 23-year-old Cornell University graduate, saw China as a safer alternative after classmates' offers of Wall Street jobs were withdrawn due to the economic turmoil.

Passing up opportunities in New York, San Francisco and Boston, Carr started work in August at bangyibang.com, a Web site in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen that lets the public or companies advertise and pay for help in carrying out business research, getting into schools, finding people and other tasks.

"I noticed the turn the economy was taking, and decided it would be best to go directly to China," said Carr, who studied Chinese for eight years.

Most of his classmates stayed in the United States and have taken some unusual jobs — one as a fishing guide in Alaska.

China can be more accessible to job hunters than economies where getting work permits is harder, such as Russia and some European Union countries.

Employers need government permission to hire foreigners, but authorities promise an answer within 15 working days, compared with a wait of months or longer that might be required in some other countries. An employer has to explain why it needs to hire a foreigner instead of a Chinese national, but the government says it gives special consideration to people with technical or management skills.

Rules were tightened ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, apparently to keep out possible protesters. That forced some foreign workers to leave as their visas expired.

Some 217,000 foreigners held work permits at the end of 2008, up from 210,000 a year earlier, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Thousands more use temporary business visas and go abroad regularly to renew them.

Reasbeck said it took her two months to find the drugstore job after she graduated from Boston's Emerson College with a degree in writing, literature and publishing. She said she applied to as many as 50 employers nationwide.

Today, on top of her teaching job, she works part-time recruiting other native English-speaking teachers. She makes 14,000 to 16,000 yuan ($2,000 to $2,300) a month.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dangerous staph germs found at West Coast beaches

SAN FRANCISCO — Dangerous staph bacteria have been found in sand and water for the first time at five public beaches along the coast of Washington, and scientists think the state is not the only one with this problem.
The germ is MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – a hard-to-treat bug once rarely seen outside of hospitals but that increasingly is spreading in ordinary community settings such as schools, locker rooms and gyms.
The germ causes nasty skin infections as well as pneumonia and other life-threatening problems. It spreads mostly through human contact. Little is known about environmental sources that also may harbor the germ.
Finding it at the beach suggests one place that people may be picking it up, said Marilyn Roberts, a microbiologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.
"We don't know the risk" for any individual going to a beach, she said. "But the fact that we found these organisms suggests that the level is much higher than we had thought."
She presented results Saturday at an American Society for Microbiology conference in California. Last year, her team reported finding a different type of bacteria, enterococci, at five West Coast beaches. And earlier this year, University of Miami researchers reported finding staph bacteria in four out of 10 ocean water samples collected by hundreds of bathers at a South Florida beach.
Many communities also commonly restrict bathing at beaches because of contamination with fecal bacteria.
In the new study, researchers tested 10 beaches in Washington along the West Coast and in Puget Sound from February to September 2008. Staph bacteria were found at nine of them, including five with MRSA. The strains resembled the highly resistant ones usually seen in hospitals, rather than the milder strains acquired in community settings, Roberts said.
No staph was found in samples from two beaches in southern California.
People should not avoid beaches or be afraid to enjoy them, scientists say.
"It's probably prudent to shower when you come out" to lower the risk of bacteria staying on the skin, said Dr. Lance Peterson, a microbiologist at NorthShore University Health System in Evanston, Ill.
"Make sure you get all the sand off," and cover any open cuts or scrapes before playing in the sand, Roberts added. Digging in the sand or being buried in it seems to raise the risk of infection, she said.

Friday, September 11, 2009

This is How I Remember

Pigeon transfers data faster than South Africa's Telkom

Reuters: "JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African information technology company on Wednesday proved it was faster for them to transmit data with a carrier pigeon than to send it using Telkom , the country's leading internet service provider.
Internet speed and connectivity in Africa's largest economy are poor because of a bandwidth shortage. It is also expensive.
Local news agency SAPA reported the 11-month-old pigeon, Winston, took one hour and eight minutes to fly the 80 km (50 miles) from Unlimited IT's offices near Pietermaritzburg to the coastal city of Durban with a data card was strapped to his leg.
Including downloading, the transfer took two hours, six minutes and 57 seconds -- the time it took for only four percent of the data to be transferred using a Telkom line."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Mice Levitated in Lab

Yahoo! News: "Scientists have now levitated mice using magnetic fields.
Other researchers have made live frogs and grasshoppers float in mid-air before, but such research with mice, being closer biologically to humans, could help in studies to counteract bone loss due to reduced gravity over long spans of time, as might be expected in deep space missions or on the surfaces of other planets.
Scientists working on behalf of NASA built a device to simulate variable levels of gravity. It consists of a superconducting magnet that generates a field powerful enough to levitate the water inside living animals, with a space inside warm enough at room temperature and large enough at 2.6 inches wide (6.6 cm) for tiny creatures to float comfortably in during experiments.
The researchers first levitated a young mouse, just three-week-old and weighing 10 grams. It appeared agitated and disoriented, seemingly trying to hold on to something.
"It actually kicked around and started to spin, and without friction, it could spin faster and faster, and we think that made it even more disoriented," said researcher Yuanming Liu, a physicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. They decided to mildly sedate the next mouse they levitated, which seemed content with floating.
A plastic cage was also designed by physicist Da-Ming Zhu at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, to keep the mice in during levitation. Its top remained open to let in air, food, water and video surveillance, and its bottom was filled with small holes to allow waste removal."


A crying face is revealed in an ice cap located on Nordaustlandet in the Svalbard archipelago in Norway.

A melting glacier has amazingly taken on the form of a face — worryingly resembling Mother Nature in tears at the state of our planet.

The stunning image shocked onlookers who felt the vivid pattern in the melting glacier looked like teary-eyed nature staring straight at them in a foreboding manner.

‘Tears’ in the natural sculpture were created by a waterfall of glacial water falling from one of the face’s ‘eyes’ and painted an alarming picture warning the world about the effects of global warming.

Marine photographer and environmental lecturer Michael Nolan captured the disturbing picture while on a recent annual icy voyage to observe the glacier and surrounding wildlife.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Cheney Still Manipulating People -- Now In Public

Dan Froomkin - August 31, 2009
When he was vice president, Dick Cheney got his way by secretly wielding the instruments of power. Now that he's no longer in government, Cheney is still pulling levers and pushing buttons - he's just doing it in plain view. And it's the media that he's manipulating.

After years of speaking in whispers, operating by proxy, and leaving as few fingerprints as possible, Cheney has figured out that he can say pretty much anything he wants, the networks will show it on TV, and the newspapers will dutifully print it. And best of all, they will fail to put it in any context whatsoever.

The first bit of context for any Cheney comment, of course, is that he is a monstrous liar. News articles about Cheney should routinely reminded readers of some of the things he said in the run-up to war in Iraq. Like, for instance: "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." By any reasonable standard, this man's credibility was shot a long time ago.

Cheney's latest coup is to get the media to obediently recount what Rachel L. Swarns of the New York Times so naively and euphemistically called his "forceful defense of the full range of interrogation techniques used by intelligence officers."

In an interview with beyond-obsequious Fox News anchor Chris Wallace that aired on Sunday, Cheney once again alleged that what he calls "enhanced interrogation tactics" saved "thousands of lives and let us defeat all further attacks against the United States."

It wouldn't have been hard for reporters to put that particular claim in its proper context. Just last week, the CIA released two documents that Cheney had been huffing and puffing (and bluffing) about for months, insisting that they would once and for all definitively prove that torture had, as he put it, "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people."

But just as us critics expected, when those reports were released, they included no such proof -- just a lot of cover-your-ass language from the CIA, vaguely describing intelligence findings gained from the overall interrogation of "high value detainees" generally speaking. There was no evidence that a single American life was saved, or of any valuable intelligence that couldn't have been gathered using traditional methods.

In fact, after all these years, and despite a slew of selective leaks while Cheney was still in power, there remains not one iota of proof that torture accomplished much of anything -- not that it would be OK if it had.

All we know for sure is that torture is still excellent at producing false confessions, just like it was designed to do.

Cheney also criticized Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to launch an extremely limited preliminary review into whether crimes were committed by the handful of interrogators who far exceeded even the Bush DOJ's patently illegal guidelines. Last week, I called this At Best, A Baby Step Toward Justice For Bush's Torturers. But Cheney, in his Fox interview, said the review "offends the hell out of me, frankly." He explained: "[W]e had a track record now of eight years of defending the nation against any further mass casualty attacks from Al Qaeda. The approach of the Obama administration should be to come to those people who were involved in that policy and say, how did you do it? What were the keys to keeping this country safe over that period of time? "

Any normal person -- or reasonable journalist -- would gasp at Cheney's spectacular gall, and marvel at his absolutism. (He even went so far as to say that the conduct being investigated, which includes threatening detainees with a drill, a gun, and the rape of family members to be "OK" by him.) But instead, the coverage was restrained, if not respectful.

And Cheney lied some more, in case anyone was looking for fresh evidence of his mendacity. Asked how much he knew about what the CIA was doing, Cheney replied: "I knew about the waterboarding. Not specifically in any one particular case, but as a general policy that we had approved."

This is a laughably blatant falsehood from the man who was, by many reliable accounts, the chief choreographer of the program, up to his elbows in gory details.

As ABC News reported in April 2008, for instance, top Bush aides including Cheney met in the White House basement to micromanage the application of waterboarding and other torture techniques starting immediately after the CIA captured Abu Zubaydah, the low-level al Qaeda operative whose false confessions sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators chasing after imaginary threats. ABC reported that the CIA briefed the White House group on its plans to use aggressive techniques against Zubaydah and received explicit approval. Indeed, some interrogation sessions were virtually choreographed by the group.

And as blogger Marcy Wheeler points out, Cheney also mischaracterized what President Obama has previously said about who might or might not be prosecuted.

So what is Cheney's goal in all of this? I think Obsidian Wings blogger publius nails a big chunk of it, writing:

[H]e wants to politicize the torture debate as much as possible -- to transform a profound debate about our country's values into just another everyday Republican/Democratic partisan squabble that makes people throw up their hands and despair of knowing "the truth."

If you've noticed, Cheney tends to pop up in the aftermath of damning evidence. We just (re)learned, for instance, that our CIA agents murdered detainees, choked them, and threatened to rape their wives. Normally, you would think these revelations would give pause to even the most ardent Cheney supporters.

But then Cheney comes along, and tries to reframe the whole story. His intended audience isn't the nation as a whole, but conservatives. He wants to make sure that they view these stories through partisan-tinted lenses.

Indeed, muddying the debate was one of the most effective Bush-era communication tactics.

But Cheney has some other obvious motives, as well. As I wrote in May, there's also the small matter of his understandably strong desire to avoid investigation or prosecution -- and ignominy in the history books. After all, the best defense is a good offense.

Meanwhile, Cheney is still operating in the shadows, as well. Indeed, it's impossible not to see him (by proxy) behind what must have been, for him, an extraordinary coup: A front-page Washington Post story on Saturday chock full of anonymous sources implicitly validating his view of torture as a great tongue-loosener, despite the lack of any supporting evidence - and with nothing said about all the lies they uttered while being tortured.