Saturday, November 28, 2009

Walmart Shuts Down For 3 Hours After Shoppers Go Crazy

The Los Angeles Times says that a Walmart in Upland, California had to kick everyone out and shut down for 3 hours this morning, because shoppers lost their damned minds.

The store called police for help at around 2:44 a.m.:

Employees said customers began tearing into merchandise that had been shrink-wrapped and were supposed to be opened at 5 a.m.

Several officers were sent and stood by as shoppers were kicked out and the store closed down. The bargain hunters were told to line up in the parking lot.

Meanwhile, the carts were emptied and all the items returned to the shelves, employees said. But they said that outside, people began “yelling and screaming,” pounding on the glass doors and trying to sneak into the store through the lawn and garden section.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Young Americans Move In With Their Parents

By Justin Charity
The Pew Research Center is in the holiday spirit; today they published results of a recent survey showing that Thanksgiving travel will prove convenient for millions of young Americans this year since so many of them have already been forced to move back in with their parents:

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 13% of parents with grown children say one of their adult sons or daughters has moved back home in the past year. Social scientists call them "boomerangers" -- young adults who move in with parents after living away from home. This recession has produced a bumper crop.

Census Bureau data confirm that proportionately fewer young singles are living solo now than before the recession. Overall, the proportion of adults ages 18 to 29 who live alone declined from 7.9% in 2007 to 7.3% in 2009. Similar drops in the proportion of young people who live by themselves occurred during or immediately after the recessions of 1982 and 2001.

The current decline has been particularly steep among young women; the proportion who live by themselves fell by a full percentage point to 6.1%. Among young men, the share living on their own fell 0.2 percentage points to 8.4%, a statistically insignificant change.

Still more disheartening:

Among 16- to 24-year-olds, less than half, or 46.1 percent, are currently employed, the smallest share since the government began collecting such data in 1948. At the same time, a record high of about 11.5 million Americans ages 18 to 24, or nearly 40 percent, attended college in October 2008.

If you're young and heading home to suffer through yet another awkward, vulgar Thanksgiving dinner with your parents, at least you can be thankful that you don't live with them every day of your life anymore.

Ten Things Progressives Can Be Thankful For This Thanksgiving

By Ken Kupchik
As Thanksgiving approaches and the turkeys go from writing their bucket lists to brine buckets, we should all stop and realize that there is a lot to be thankful for. Here is Air America's top ten list of things every progressive should be smiling about.

10) A president who can form a coherent sentence, and answer serious questions without a perpetual smirk.

9) Lou Dobbs running for president, disproving the theory that he is a narcissistic, arrogant, entitled demagogue who believes that he is of ultimate importance to everyone in the country.

8) The Internet, where within minutes we can pull up footage of Rudy Guiliani saying literally the opposite of what he said just several years ago about holding terrorist trials in New York.

7) Ron Regan, who can keep his cool while speaking to a person accusing President Obama of being a terrorist while the rest of us just smash our heads against the keyboard.

6) China for vaccinating pandas for H1N1, and having the highest credit-card limit on the planet.

5) Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who manage to take mind-numbing-hypocrisy, and turn it into gut-busting-laughter, until Gingrich or Kristol show up and turn it into frantic-channel-changing.

4) Alan Grayson, who is still telling it like it is every single chance he gets. Who wouldn't love to bring that guy to turkey dinner at your conservative in-laws' house?

3) Glenn Beck and DVR, saving you the money and trouble of going out to buy a bottle of Absinthe.

2) Sarah Palin for her new book Going Rogue.

1) Michael Steele, who is probably secretly working for the Democrats.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Proton beams circulate in Big Bang machine

GENEVA - Scientists switched on the world's largest atom smasher Friday night for the first time since the $10 billion machine suffered a spectacular failure more than a year ago.

It took a year of repairs before beams of protons circulated late Friday in the Large Hadron Collider for the first time since it was heavily damaged by a simple electrical fault.

Circulation of the beams was a significant leap forward. The European Organization for Nuclear Research has taken the restart of the collider step by step to avoid further setbacks as it moves toward new scientific experiments — probably starting in January — regarding the makeup of matter and the universe.

Progress on restarting the machine, on the border between Switzerland and France, went faster than expected Friday evening and the first beam circulated in a clockwise direction around the machine about 10 p.m., said James Gillies, spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

"Some of the scientists had gone home and had to be called back in," Gillies told The Associated Press.

The exact time of the start of the Large Hadron Collider was difficult to predict because it was based on how long it took to perform steps along the way, and in the end it happened about nine hours earlier than expected, Gillies said.

This is an important milestone on the road toward scientific discoveries at the LHC, which are expected in 2010, he said.

About two hours later the scientists circulated another beam in the opposite direction, which was the initial goal in getting the machine going again and moving it toward collisions of protons, CERN said. The LHC also will be used later for colliding lead ions — basically the nucleus of the element that is about 160 times as heavy as a single proton. That should reveal still more scientific secrets.

"It's great to see beam circulating in the LHC again," said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. "We've still got some way to go before physics can begin, but with this milestone we're well on the way."

With great fanfare, CERN circulated its first beams Sept. 10, 2008. But the machine was sidetracked nine days later when a badly soldered electrical splice overheated and set off a chain of damage to massive superconducting magnets and other parts of the collider, in a 27-kilometer (17-mile) circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border.

CERN has $40 million on repairs and improvements on the machine to avoid a repetition.

"The LHC is a far better understood machine than it was a year ago," said Steve Myers, CERN's director for accelerators. "We've learned from our experience and engineered the technology that allows us to move on. That's how progress is made."

The LHC is expected soon to be running with more energy the world's current most powerful accelerator, the Tevatron at Fermilab near Chicago. It is supposed to keep ramping up to seven times the energy of Fermilab in coming years.This will allow the collisions between protons on the machine to give insights into dark matter and what gives mass to other particles, and to show what matter was in the microseconds of rapid cooling after the Big Bang that many scientists theorize marked the creation of the universe billions of years ago.

The two parallel tubes the size of fire hoses send billions of protons whizzing around the collider in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light. In rooms the size of cathedrals 300 feet (100 meters) below the ground the magnets force them into huge detectors to record what happens.

The beams traveled Friday night at a relatively low energy level, but Gillies said the LHC was expected soon to start accelerating them soon so that the collisions they make will be more powerful — and revealing — creating as yet unseen insights into nature.

The LHC operates at nearly absolute zero temperature, colder than outer space, which allows the superconducting magnets to guide the protons most efficiently.

Physicists have used smaller, room-temperature colliders for decades to study the atom. They once thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of the atom's nucleus, but the colliders showed that they are made of quarks and gluons and that there are other forces and particles. And scientists still have other questions about antimatter, dark matter and supersymmetry they want to answer with CERN's new collider.

The Superconducting Super Collider being built in Texas would have been bigger than the LHC, but in 1993 the U.S. Congress canceled it after costs soared and questions were raised about its scientific value

"The next important milestone will be low-energy collisions, expected in about a week from now," said Gillies.

These will give the experiments their first collision data, enabling them to calibrate their equipment for the scientific work ahead, eagerly awaited by particle physicists from countries around the world, he said.

Until now all the data they have recorded has comes from cosmic rays from outer space.

Gillies said the LHC should be ramped up to 3.5 trillion electron volts some time next year, which will be 3 1/2 times as powerful as Fermilab. The two laboratories are friendly rivals, working on equipment and sharing scientists.

But each would be delighted to make the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, the particle or field that theoretical gives mass to other particles. That is widely expected to deserve the Nobel Prize for physics.

More than 8,000 physicists from other labs around the world also have work planned for the LHC. The organization is run by its 20 European member nations, with support from other countries, including observers Japan, India, Russia and the U.S. that have made big contributions to the LHC.

CERN has received support from around the world in getting the LHC up and running again, the organization said.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Depressed woman loses benefits over Facebook photos

A Quebec woman on long-term sick leave is fighting to have her benefits reinstated after her employer's insurance company cut them, she says, because of photos posted on Facebook.

Nathalie Blanchard, shown here on a beach holiday during her sick leave. (Facebook)Nathalie Blanchard, 29, has been on leave from her job at IBM in Bromont, Que., for the last year and a half after she was diagnosed with major depression.

The Eastern Townships woman was receiving monthly sick-leave benefits from Manulife, her insurance company, but the payments dried up this fall.

When Blanchard called Manulife, the company said that "I'm available to work, because of Facebook," she told CBC News this week.

She said her insurance agent described several pictures Blanchard posted on the popular social networking site, including ones showing her having a good time at a Chippendales bar show, at her birthday party and on a sun holiday — evidence that she is no longer depressed, Manulife said.

Blanchard said she notified Manulife that she was taking a trip, and she's shocked the company would investigate her in such a manner and interpret her photos that way.

"In the moment I'm happy, but before and after I have the same problems" as before, she said.

Blanchard said that on her doctor's advice, she tried to have fun, including nights out at her local bar with friends and short getaways to sun destinations, as a way to forget her problems.

She also doesn’t understand how Manulife accessed her photos because her Facebook profile is locked and only people she approves can look at what she posts.

Insurer confirms it uses Facebook

Her lawyer Tom Lavin said Manulife's investigation was inappropriate.

"I don't think for judging a mental state that Facebook is a very good tool," he said, adding that he has requested another psychiatric evaluation for Blanchard.

"It's not as if somebody had a broken back and there was a picture of them carrying with a load of bricks," Lavin said. "My client was diagnosed with a major depression. And there were pictures of her on Facebook, in a party or having a good time. It could be that she was just trying to escape."

Manulife wouldn't comment on Blanchard's case, but in a written statement sent to CBC News, the insurer said: "We would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook." It confirmed that it uses the popular social networking site to investigate clients.

Insurance companies must weigh information found on such sites, said Claude Distasio, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.

"We can't ignore it, wherever the source of the information is," she said. "We can't ignore it."

Blanchard estimated she’s lost thousands of dollars in benefits since Manulife changed her claim.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Headtime: Giant Scalp-Massage Helmet Unveiled

Stressed? Have a headache?

Headtime, a gigantic silver helmet equipped with 29 silicon balls, 34 ceramic balls, and speakers, can supposedly help.

The scalp-massaging helmet from Kinatech promises to give your a robotic head message (with heat, if you'd like) and soothe you with the sound of birds chirping and waves crashing piped into your Headtime hat.

The news website Aving says of the gadget,

This product comes in the shape of a helmet and can be comfortably worn like a regular hat while sitting down to study or when under stress and with a headache.

Inside the product, there is a sound therapy speaker with sounds of creeks, birds, rain, waves and nature flowing and an LED lighting that help to find mental stability.

This scalp massager made to relieve stress for office workers is expected to gain a favorable response also from housewives tired from housework.

The Korean manufacturer, Kinatech, pictures happy Headtime users wearing the awkward silver helmet while sipping tea, brushing their teeth, or sitting in the park.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hypnosis has 'real' brain effect

BBC NEWS: "Hypnosis has a "very real" effect that can be picked up on brain scans, say Hull University researchers.
An imaging study of hypnotised participants showed decreased activity in the parts of the brain linked with daydreaming or letting the mind wander.
The same brain patterns were absent in people who had the tests but who were not susceptible to being hypnotised.
One psychologist said the study backed the theory that hypnosis "primes" the brain to be open to suggestion.
Hypnosis is increasingly being used to help people stop smoking or lose weight and advisers recently recommended its use on the NHS to treat irritable bowel syndrome.
It is not the first time researchers have tried to use imaging studies to monitor brain activity in people under hypnosis.
But the Hull team said these had been done while people had been asked to carry out tasks, so it was not clear whether the changes in the brain were due to the act of doing the task or an effect of hypnosis.
In the latest study, the team first tested how people responded to hypnosis and selected 10 individuals who were "highly suggestible" and seven people who did not really respond to the technique other than becoming more relaxed.
The participants were asked to do a task under hypnosis, such as listening to non-existent music, but unknown to them the brain activity was being monitored in the rest periods in between tasks, the team reported in the journal Consciousness and Cognition."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Yike Bike: electric folding penny-farthing blends 19th century tech with 21st

If you don't mind your handlebars being located beside your butt and endless giggles and smirks as you roll by then perhaps the YikeBike is the fancy bit of urban mobility kit you've been yearning. Looking something like a space-age version of that charming British improvement on the French boneshaker bike, this mini penny-farthing is minimalist but packs some cool features. Not only is it equipped with turning and braking indicators but it is the first "bike" to feature anti-locking brakes. The carbon fiber frame ensures strength but keeps it light enough (10 kg/22 lb) to carry up a couple flights of stairs after you spend the 15 seconds it takes to fold it up.

It's said that its 1 kW motor offers a power to weight ratio better than many sports cars and makes acceleration brisk but the electronically set speed limit of 20 km/h (12.5 mph) will keep you from overtaking any Porsches on the straightaways. Unless there's heavy traffic. That's where the Yikebike's small footprint and maneuverability might turn smirks of superiority to expressions of envy. The lithium battery can take you 9 to 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) and takes 20 minutes to charge 80 percent. Don't look for this sleek set of wheels on sale in America anytime soon as the roll out early next summer includes only a handful of European countries and its home turf, New Zealand. With a price to be set somewhere between €3,500 - €3,900 ($4,989 - $5,559) we suspect it won't cause cities to be designed around them as the Segway was supposed to do but if they ever figure out a way to play polo on them, look out!

Nubs, the Iraq war dog, arrives at his new home

Marine Capt. Eric Sjoberg and his wife, Chrissy, greeted Nubs at Lindberg Field. They will be looking after the German shepherd/border collie mix for Maj. Brian Dennis.

Nubs wasted no time melting hearts.
Big, tough Marines said things like, “Oooohhh,” and gently stroked his fur as they cradled him. Reporters and camera crews swarmed around him.

The German shepherd/border collie mix was sweet, gentle and a little on the scrawny side when he arrived at Lindbergh Field in San Diego yesterday evening. But he should gain a few pounds now that he'll be fed regularly.

Life in Iraq can be tough on a dog. Count Nubs among the luckiest. He got out thanks to a San Diego-based Marine, Maj. Brian Dennis, who befriended him and then had him flown home.

War brings horror, tragedy, the most heart-wrenching of moments. At least, sometimes, along comes something like this.

“It's amazing, he's finally home,” said Capt. Eric Sjoberg, who's going to care for Nubs with his wife Chrissy until Dennis, a Marine buddy, returns from Iraq in the spring.

Nubs licked Sjoberg's face. He panted patiently as cameras filmed and snapped pictures. “You're seeing first-hand why the guys over there fell in love with him,” Sjoberg said.

Nubs is about 2. When young, his ears were slashed off because an Iraqi thought that would make him tough and alert.

That's why Dennis named him Nubs. That's all he had left of his ears.

And that was hardly Nubs' worst moment. Once, he was stabbed with a screwdriver. Dennis patched him up as best he could, but didn't think Nubs would make it. The wound was deep. He slept with him that night to keep him warm as temperatures dipped to 18 degrees.
Dennis fell for the dog hard. The e-mails he sent to friends spoke of his life in Iraq and they always seemed to mention this tough little dog, said Maj. Chris Collins, his roommate in San Diego.

“It seemed that something bad would always happen,” Collins said. “He'd get into a fight or something. Nubs was always in bad shape.”

Dennis, who is based at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, is serving along the border between Iraq and Syria, where he is helping to train Iraqis. It's rough terrain. Nubs and other dogs lived in an old Iraqi fort and survived on food scraps.

Nubs ran wild. He had no owner, no home, no collar, nobody to play fetch with, no one to bring a slipper to, no Alpo, nobody to scratch behind his ear. No name, even, until Dennis came along.

But even Dennis didn't think the relationship would last. He's in a war zone, after all. When Dennis and his team were ordered to move 70 miles away, he figured life with Nubs was over.

It wasn't. Nubs somehow tracked the Marines to their new location, showing up two days after they did. Dennis was amazed. How'd he do it? He was convinced then that he couldn't leave this dog behind.

He couldn't keep him in Iraq, of course. It's against the rules. So he wrote home, saying he wanted to take Nubs back to the U.S.

“We thought he was crazy. We didn't think it was possible,” Sjoberg said.

Friends rallied, raising more than $3,500, and the wheels were put in motion.

Yesterday, after a couple stops along the way, Nubs came home.

And soon he'll be frolicking in the sands of a local dog beach, far away from the stark desert sands of Iraq.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Community College Admission Now Aspirational

Thanks to the recession-era glut of job-seekers, Starbucks barista jobs now require a postgraduate degree. But you shouldn't worry about that, because you can no longer even get into community college.

In much the same way that "emergency fallback" jobs have now become aspirational, emergency fallback schools are now out of reach for you, the average jerk. The New York Times reports that whereas NYC's six f'n humongous two-year colleges have always accepted everyone, at all times in the past, now they've had to put early deadlines on enrollment and turn thousands of applicants away. "I've never seen anything like this," says Laguardia CC president Gail O. Mellow. "We used to pretty much be an open door."


A NASA graphic traces the asteroid 2009 VA's path within the moon's orbit and past
Earth. Each dot on the 2009 VA line indicates an hour of time along the route.
Asteroid-watchers say a space rock about as big as a garage came within 9,000 miles (14,000 kilometers) of Earth last Friday, just 15 hours after it was detected.

Experts quickly determined that the asteroid 2009 VA would miss us - and even if it came directly at us, it wouldn't have caused a catastrophe. Nevertheless, the close encounter serves as a reminder that someday a much bigger rock may well hit us and that it's best to be prepared.

In this week's recap of the event, NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office reported that 2009 VA came well within the moon's orbit - so close, in fact, that the asteroid's orbital path was bent by Earth's gravitational pull.

NASA and other space agencies around the world have been keeping increasingly close track of near-Earth asteroids and comets, with a strong assist from amateur astronomers. In this case, the object was first detected by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona. It was quickly identified by the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., as a close-approaching asteroid. Then NASA experts worked out its orbit and gave the all-clear.

Why wasn't the rock found sooner? Well, smaller objects are more difficult to detect in advance, and this one was estimated to be only 7 meters (23 feet) wide. That's nowhere near as big as the 10-kilometer-wide (6-mile-wide) object that apparently did in the dinosaurs 65 million years ago - or even the 30-meter-wide (100-foot-wide) Tunguska object that was thought to have wreaked destruction in a Siberian forest in 1908.

For what it's worth, the Defense Department's Joint Space Operations Center tracks about 19,000 orbital objects down to the size of 10 centimeters (4 inches), and NASA tracks bits of space junk that are even smaller. But incoming near-Earth objects are trickier to track until they're almost upon us.

In the close-but-no-collision category, this one was No. 3 on NASA's list for cataloged asteroids: A meter-wide (yard-wide) asteroid came within 6,150 kilometers (3,821 miles) in October 2008, while another space rock about the size of 2009 VA passed within 6,535 kilometers (4,060 miles) in March 2004.

If 2009 VA had entered the atmosphere, it almost certainly would have blown itself up before hitting the ground - just as a larger asteroid did a month ago, without warning, in the skies over Indonesia. A somewhat smaller asteroid met a similar fate in the skies over Africa about 13 months ago. (Months later, students in Sudan found 4 kilograms (8.7 pounds) of meteorites that fell to Earth after last year's blast.)

Such atmospheric blow-ups release energy equivalent to about a kiloton of TNT. In comparison, the Hiroshima atomic bomb set off a roughly 15-kiloton blast.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sharp-toothed shark acts as midwife

NZ Herald News: "Visitors to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World were stunned to see one shark give another shark an impromptu caesarean section.
Staff were initially dubious when visitors came running to tell them there were baby sharks spilling from a wound in a female school shark's stomach - courtesy of a large bite by another shark.
But they found a female with a large gaping stomach wound and four babies swimming in the tank.
Kelly Tarlton's aquarist Fiona Davies said it was common for sharks to take chunks out of each other, even in the wild, but she had never heard of anything like this.
"It had to bite a certain part to let them out and do it without killing them [the babies] or her [the mother]."
Ms Davies said the unusual delivery had probably saved the baby sharks' lives.
Staff did not know the mother was pregnant and, had she given birth naturally, most likely at night, the babies would have been eaten by adult sharks and stingrays before staff could rescue them.
The young sharks have been taken to a "nursery" tank with some baby eagle rays, where visitors can see them before they are released into the wild."

UI teaching, research assistants prepared to strike

URBANA – The University of Illinois' graduate teaching and research assistants could be going on strike for the first time.

On Monday, the Graduate Employees' Organization announced the results of its strike authorization vote. Spokesman Peter Campbell said 92 percent of participating GEO members chose to authorize a strike against the UI Board of Trustees in votes taken over the course of three days last week.

Campbell said the vote is "a clear mandate to call a strike at any time."

"The strike committee met on Sunday, and there is a strike plan in place," Campbell said. "We've sent a letter asking the administration to meet (for negotiations) this week. We are interested in resolving this through negotiation."

Nov. 17 is the next meeting planned for negotiations.

In a mass e-mail Monday from the office of interim Provost Robert Easter, the UI said it expected the strike would begin on Nov. 16.

Peter Campbell, spokesman for the Graduate Employees' Organization, announces the passage of an intent-to-strike vote. The press conference was held Monday outside the McKinley YMCA at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

According to the GEO, its 2,700 bargaining unit members teach more than 23 percent of course hours at the undergraduate level on the Urbana campus.

The union, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers/Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6300, AFL-CIO, has been negotiating with UI administrators for more than six months, seeking a contract that would set the minimum salary for a 50 percent nine-month appointment at the UI's estimate of a living wage for a graduate student, as well as protect tuition waivers for TAs and GAs.

Urbana campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said she was disappointed with the vote.

"We don't think it's in the best interest of the GEO or the UI to hold a strike, but we are planning for that eventuality," she said. "We're letting instructors know what's expected of them to provide an education for our students."

The provost's e-mail said:

"Financial planning is now focused on meeting and coping with financial stresses exceeding any the university has encountered for many, many years. Although we have seen welcome increases in research funding, and there have been successes in the advancement campaign, it must be understood that funds from those sources cannot be used for TA salaries. For these reasons, the GEO's request for a nearly 20 percent raise in the minimum stipend is untenable. As you know, other employees of the university did not receive raises this year, and the state's economic situation may yet require furloughs and other cost-saving measures before the end of the fiscal year."

The GEO said the administration's initial contract proposal sought to freeze GEO wages for three years, reserve the right to furlough and lay off graduate employees in good standing and to count "in-kind" compensation such as housing or meal vouchers toward the minimum.

Kaler said average total compensation for 50 percent assistants teaching 20 hours a week for nine months ranges from $27,840 to $45,430, including benefits and tuition waivers.

Almost 60 percent of graduate assistants are in that range, she said.

The GEO's figure is that a minimum salary is $13,430, Campbell said, and the union objects to counting tuition waivers as paid compensation.

"The administration doesn't count tuition toward its estimate of $16,086 as a living wage. This means that even if you count tuition waivers as part of compensation, grad employees would still make less than what is required to live on if they were required to pay tuition," Campbell said.

The GEO contends that its members' salaries are only 6.5 percent of Urbana's state funding, compared with 55 percent for faculty salaries.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Confusion Over Where Money Lent on Kiva Goes "Last month, David Roodman, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, pressed a button on his laptop as his bus left the Lincoln Tunnel in Manhattan and started a debate that has people re-examining the country’s latest celebrated charity,
Oprah Winfrey extolled Kiva on her TV show. Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, sang its praises. “I lent $25 each to the owner of a TV repair shop in Afghanistan, a baker in Afghanistan, and a single mother running a clothing shop in the Dominican Republic,” Mr. Kristof wrote in a 2007 column.
Kiva, a nonprofit organization, promoted itself as a link between small individual lenders and small individual borrowers like Maryjane Cruz in the Philippines, who recently sought a $625 loan to support her family’s farm.
But Mr. Roodman’s blog post said that lenders like Mr. Kristof were not making direct loans. Borrowers like Ms. Cruz already have loans from microfinance institutions by the time their pictures are posted on Kiva’s Web site.
Thus, the direct person-to-person connection Kiva offered was in fact an illusion. Kiva’s lenders were actually backstopping microfinance institutions, and since Kiva and other online giving and lending models pride themselves on their transparency, Mr. Roodman and others suggested it might better explain what its lenders’ money — about $100 million over four years — was really doing.
“The person-to-person donor-to-borrower connections created by Kiva are partly fictional,” he wrote. “I suspect that most Kiva users do not realize this.”"

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Bill Clinton, George W. Bush cancel appearances in L.A., N.Y.

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush on Saturday abruptly pulled out of a joint appearance scheduled for this winter in Los Angeles after growing unhappy with the way the event was being promoted.

Earlier this week, the two called off an upcoming appearance in New York City.

"We canceled the event because of a violation of contract and a promoter who insisted on billing it as something it wasn't," said Matt McKenna, a spokesman for Clinton. David Sherzer, a spokesman for Bush, confirmed the event was off.

McKenna said the forum was never intended to be a clash between the 42nd and 43rd presidents -- "the hottest ticket in political history," a news released called it -- but rather a moderated panel discussion.

"It's unfortunate that an overeager promoter ruined the opportunity to hear a serious discussion of the issues between two former presidents who have a great deal of respect for each other," he said.

Officials of the promotion company, hired by New York's Madison Square Garden, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Democrat Clinton, who beat Bush's father in 1992 to win the presidency, and Republican Bush, who succeeded Clinton after defeating his vice president, Al Gore, in 2000, appeared together at an hourlong forum in Toronto in May.

The two were set to appear Feb. 22 at Universal City's Gibson Amphitheatre as part of the American Jewish University's public lecture series. The appearance was announced in August, with tickets set to go on sale this week for $75 to $125.

A second appearance was scheduled for Feb. 25 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, with tickets ranging from $60 to $160.

McKenna would not discuss the fee passed up by the two former presidents, but they reportedly received $150,000 apiece for their Toronto appearance. McKenna said money was not a consideration in their decision to cancel the events.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Colbert swoops in to save speedskating team

Imagine the possibilities for this strange new relationship between Stephen Colbert and America’s speedskaters.

Maybe we’ll be seeing a new segment, “Better Know A Speedskater.” (The fightin’ medalists!)

“I see your name is APOLO Anton Ohno,” the master of mock punditry asks when he gets one of America’s top Winter Olympians in the hot seat. “So, what’s it like to speedskate on the moon?”

Maybe Colbert can take a few lessons from Shani Davis or Chad Hedrick, just enough to give us an Ice Capades-like redux of that memorable dance down a hallway behind none-too-amused congressman Barney Frank.

And, of course, there’s always the chance for another “Green Screen Challenge” — hey, who can come up with a video that makes Canadians actually look interesting? (Sorry, neighbors to the north, but you are one of Colbert’s favorite foils.)

Whatever the case, this sport that draws little attention in the United States other than a couple of weeks every four years has a chance to really shine in the months leading up the Vancouver Olympics, thanks to an unlikely lifeline.

The host of “The Colbert Report,” a four-times-a-week cultural phenomenon that airs late night on Comedy Central, heard that U.S. Speedskating has lost its main sponsor, the bankrupt Dutch bank DSB. Always looking for the chance to mix humor with a serious cause, Colbert stepped in with a unique way to make up a $300,000 funding shortfall.

In exchange for becoming the new primary sponsor of the sport’s governing body, Colbert agreed to put up a fundraising link on his popular Web site — a tactic he used to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for wounded military members and their families — and provide unparalleled media exposure for this underexposed sport.

“This is something that’s never happened before,” said Derek Parra, the coach of the U.S. all-around team and a former gold medalist himself. “We have interest from outside the sport of speedskating.”

The announcement was made on Monday’s show, when Colbert brought up the monetary crisis during one of his regular skits, the “Sport Report” (pronounced “Spor Repor” in a nod to the silent ’t’ in the host’s name).

‘Food was dropping out of my mouth’
The skaters, who are used to competing in virtual anonymity, were stunned when they heard of the quickly arranged deal.

In Berlin, where the long-track team is getting ready to compete in a World Cup meet this weekend, Colbert fan Matthew Plummer got the news from a fellow skater at breakfast.

“Food was dropping out of my mouth,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I was like, ‘No way.’ This is really cool. A lot of things could happen. Wow, maybe he’ll come to one of our practices. Maybe we’ll get a spot on his show or something like that. Maybe he’ll have multiple segments about speedskating. For myself and others, we’d sure like a shot to be on ‘The Colbert Report.”’

On Tuesday’s show, Colbert acknowledged the Web link used to make donations wasn’t working at first. Surely the work of Canadian hackers, he quipped, trying to get an edge for Vancouver. But the link was repaired, and more than $40,000 was donated in the first 24 hours.

Chad Hedrick, who won three speedskating medals at the 2006 Turin Olympics, was glad someone stepped in, though he’s not exactly a huge Colbert fan.

“I read a little bit of his book,” Hedrick said. “I didn’t finish the book, to be honest with you. No offense.”

What about his TV show?

“I don’t know a lot about his show,” Hedrick acknowledged, sounding more and more like a Canadian. “I don’t watch a lot of television.”

But he does know speedskating was in a bind. There was talk of skipping meets after the Olympics and cutting back on developmental programs. Some coaches wondered if they would be paid once the flame went out.

Speedskating has produced more medals (75) for the U.S. than any other Winter Olympic sport, and some top stars at these games figure to be found at the long-track oval (Davis, Hedrick, Trevor Marsicano) and short-track rink (Ohno is back for a third Olympics after winning gold in both 2002 and ’06).

Ohno has come closest to gaining mainstream appeal, the result of his win on “Dancing With the Stars.” But that did more for his soul-patched image than lifting up an entire sport. The deal with Colbert might provide a better conduit for attracting new fans.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Device like ‘Star Trek’ replicator is in the works

Technology uses electron beam to melt metals, build objects layer by layer
Space explorers have yet to get their hands on the replicator of "Star Trek" to create anything they might require. But NASA has developed a technology that could enable lunar colonists to carry out on-site manufacturing on the moon, or allow future astronauts to create critical spare parts during the long trip to Mars.

The method, called electron beam freeform fabrication (EBF3), uses an electron beam to melt metals and build objects layer by layer. Such an approach already promises to cut manufacturing costs for the aerospace industry, and could pioneer development of new materials. It has also thrilled astronauts on the International Space Station by dangling the possibility of designing new tools or objects, researchers said.

"They get up there, and all they have is time and imagination," said Karen Taminger, the materials research engineer heading the project at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia.

Taminger's project has undergone microgravity tests aboard NASA's "vomit comet" aircraft. Now she hopes to get EBF3 scheduled for launch to the International Space Station, so that space trials can commence.

Shaping metals at will
EBF3 requires a few crucial components: power for its electron beam, a vacuum environment, and a source of metals. While "Star Trek's" replicator could work without a supply of subatomic particles, reality is a different story.

"It'd be nice if we could build something from nothing, but it doesn't work that way," Taminger told

For EBF3, metal wires continually feed into the tip of an electron beam. The beam melts the wires and applies them carefully on top of a rotating plate to build an object up slowly, layer by layer.

A few similar technologies exist, but EBF3 has several advantages. First, its electron beam requires far less power than comparable devices and produces less radiation compared to more powerful beams. Its dual wire feeders also allow scientists to create mixes of new materials that vary in strength or other properties within the same solid piece.

Catch a blast from the sun, a clash between galaxies and other outer-space highlights from October.
"We can change the composition on the fly," Taminger explained. "You can add alloys of different chemistries and then adjust the speed that you feed the wires, and that would change the chemistry of the parts we build."

The flexibility of the manufacturing could also embed fiber optic cables inside a solid piece of metal, either for use in communication or for monitoring stresses within the manufactured part.

Major aerospace manufacturers have already begun running thousands of strength tests with the EBF3 device to see whether it can produce certified parts for engines and airframes, researchers said. They foresee cost savings of up to $1,000 per pound of manufactured parts, compared to the usual forging and machining methods that require a 6,000-pound block of titanium to produce a 300-pound part.

Former presidents to face off in debate

Bubba and Dubya are going to engage in a presidential debate for the ages.
Former President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will square off on the same stage at Radio City Music Hall in February as part of a series pitting liberal and conservative thinkers.
The event is part of MSG Entertainment's third annual "Minds That Move The World" speakers series.
The event -- billed as "The Hottest Ticket in Political History" -- will take place on Feb. 25, 2010, at 8 p.m., according to organizers.
Clinton, a Democrat who served two terms starting in 1993, and Bush, a Republican, who also served two consecutive terms starting in 2001, will engage in an "uncensored, unedited and unpredixctable" debate.

"We hope that [the debate] will not only provide guests with an informative and empowering experience that will help them make educated political decisions, but also encourage people to engage in continued dialogue surrounding the most significant current events of our day," said Melissa Miller Ormond, who serves as COO of MSG Entertainment.
The moderator has not been named.
Tickets range from $60 to a whopping $1,250. Tickets go on sale this Sunday.

Monday, November 02, 2009

For ‘Big Bang’s’ Sheldon, the nerd is the word

MSNBC:: "Sheldon Cooper is narcissistic, socially awkward, childish, hurtful, naive, irascible, selfish, rude, and irrepressible.
He is also extremely popular with viewers and even lovable. As "The Big Bang Theory" character has said, "This would be one of those circumstances that people unfamiliar with the law of large numbers would call a coincidence."
It is no coincidence that Sheldon has become one of TV's most popular characters, and has helped CBS' "Big Bang Theory" grow from a middling, predictable comedy to television's best multi-camera sitcom, and one that is still adding fans in its third season."