Congressman Cunningham admits taking bribes

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Congressman Cunningham admits taking bribes

Monday, November 28, 2005

U.S. Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (RCA) pled guilty today to conspiring to take bribes in exchange for using his influence as a member of the House Appropriations Committee to help a defense contractor get business. In total he pled guilty to one count of income tax evasion and four counts of conspiracy, namely mail fraud, wire fraud, bribery of public official and accepting bribes. U.S. District judge Larry A. Burns scheduled Cunnigham to be sentenced on February 27. He is facing up to 10 years in prison and nearly $500,000 in fines, as well as forfeiture of unspecified amounts of cash and property.

In the court hearing, Cunningham admitted to accepting “bribes in exchange for performance of official duties” between “the year 2000 and June of 2005”, taking “both cash payments and payments in kind” and following up by “trying to influence the Defense Department”.

The federal investigation against Cunningham was triggered by his sale of his California residence to defense contractor Mitchell Wade in late 2003. However, Wade never moved in and sold the house at a $700,000 loss three quarters of a year later. At the same time Wade’s company MZM won tens of millions of dollars in defense contracts. Subsequent investigations discovered more questionable business transactions, including interactions with the defense contractor ADCS. In his plea agreement he testified that, among other charges, he “demanded, sought and received at least $2.4 million in illicit payments and benefits from his co-conspirators in various forms, including cash, checks, meals, travel, lodging, furnishings, antiques, rugs, yacht club fees, boat repairs and improvements, moving expenses, cars and boats.”

Cunningham announced his resignation after the hearing. In a written statement released by his law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP he declared “The truth is — I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my high office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family.”

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BP says Gulf oil spill slowed as estimates of oil spilled increase

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BP says Gulf oil spill slowed as estimates of oil spilled increase

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A US Coast Guard official said today that BP’s latest effort to plug the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been successful in slowing the amount of oil leaking from the well.

The official, Admiral Thad Allen, said that the procedure, known as a “top kill” operation, has been able to block some of the leaking oil at the source, the top of the damaged well. The operation involves pumping material into the well to plug the leak before cement is used to permanently seal the leak. Allen said the operation has “been able to force mud down and not allow any hydrocarbons to come up.”

BP hasn’t confirmed the success of the top kill operation, saying only that the “operation is proceeding as we planned it,” and that there had been no major incidents thus far. Although the possibility of failure is still present, experts say that the longer the procedure continues, the less likely it will be that anything goes wrong.

The procedure began yesterday afternoon, after diagnostics on the damaged equipment on the ocean’s surface indicated that it could withstand the added pressure of the mud being pumped into the well. Although engineers involved with the operation wore concerned that the pressure of the mud might not be able to overcome that of the oil, that has thus far not been the case.

Separately, a group of US scientists announced new estimates of how much oil was flowing from the well, ranging from 12,000 to 25,000 barrels a day, far higher than BP’s original estimate of 5,000 barrels a day, a figure which BP warned was possibly inaccurate.

In a press conference Thursday afternoon, US president Barack Obama also announced new measures in response to the spill, which include:

  • Suspending off-shore test drilling for six months
  • Extending the moratorium on issuing drilling permits for an additional six months
  • Cancelling the sale of leases for off-shore drilling.

In statements, Obama criticized the “scandalously close relationship” between government officials and oil companies in the past, saying that the Mineral Management Service, which is the agency responsible for monitoring off-shore drilling, had been corrupt for years.

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Rower Tuijn halfway across Pacific in record attempt

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Rower Tuijn halfway across Pacific in record attempt

Monday, July 9, 2007

Dutch adventurer Ralph Tuijn has reached the halfway point of his attempt to be the first person to row across the Pacific Ocean unaided.

The 16,000 kilometre journey from the coast of Peru to the seaside city of Brisbane, Australia, the widest section of the Pacific, has never been crossed absolutely unaided by a rower, and Tuijn says just nine people have rowed it even with assistance.

Tuijn reached the central point of his crossing, an insignificant point of water in the ocean, 111 days after setting off from Peru in March. He has been making good progress, and has since cut his estimated time of arrival in Brisbane by a month.

The Dutchman, who now expects to reach his destination on October 20, has kept in touch with those tracking his movements through daily internet postings from his laptop computer, including his wife Winnie. His boat, the Zeeman Challenger, is a seven-metre custom plywood vessel.

Tuijn has overcome a variety of obstacles to reach the halfway point. He is suffering from the constant attention of sharks, who often bump his boat and disrupt his attempts at sleep. One particular shark, dubbed ‘Gomulka’ by Tuijn, has been trailing the adventurer’s boat for extended periods.

He has also accidentally burnt himself when he spilled hot water on his foot whilst trying to make coffee, apparently also from a shark ‘bump’. He is also forced to manually pump water for cooking and drinking after his automatic water pump broke down not long into his journey.

“Physically everything feels great and I can’t help feeling that I could do this for 500 days, but mentally it’s still hard to be on your own for such a long time”

His vessel has no motors or sails, but relies on his physical rowing power to move. The boat does have a solar power system to provide energy for his laptop, a telephone and a global positioning system.

Tujin, who is raising money for a children’s home in Mumbai, India, is rowing at an average speed of 58 kilometres each day. His diet consists of freeze-dried foods and fish, which are keeping him physically well-conditioned despite tiring mentally.

Tuijn is a serial adventurer and experienced rower. He has rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, as well as cycled across Russia and the icy terrain of Greenland.

Posted on April 22nd, 2019 by sJqm9TRa

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US stock markets reach 12-year lows

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US stock markets reach 12-year lows

Thursday, March 5, 2009

US stock markets dropped to twelve-year lows on Thursday, amidst falling confidence in the financial sector and worries over whether the US automobile manufacturer General Motors will be able to keep operating.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 4.08%, or 280.52 points, at the closing bell, reaching a level of 6595.32, a new 12-year low. The Nasdaq Composite lost 54.15 points, or 4%, to 1299.59, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 plunged by 30.27 points, or 4.25%, closing at 682.60.

Every stock in the Dow Jones, other than Wal-Mart, either lost ground or remained even, and all stocks in the S&P 500 index lost ground.

General Motors’ shares lost 15.5% after the auto firm announced that its auditors had “substantial doubt” over whether it would be able to keep operating.

Shares of financial companies were lower by nine percent, with Bank of America losing 11.7% and Citigroup falling by 9.7%.

“What’s most worrisome is that we haven’t hit the crescendo yet,” said Bill Groeneveld, the head trader for vFinance Investments. “Asset-management divisions are getting calls to just liquidate everything, and we haven’t seen the big players come back in at all.”

“This is one of the worst bear markets in the last 100 years; it started out with the credit crisis and the subprime [loans], but it is like a forest fire that has raced across the clearing and ignited other parts: Autos, auto parts, the insurance companies have been hit very hard. The credit crisis is causing an unraveling of industry after industry because the banks don’t lend,” said David Dreman, the chief investment officer of Dreman Value Management.

European markets were also lower today, with the London’s FTSE index losing 3.2% and the DAX index of Germany falling by five percent.

Posted on April 18th, 2019 by sJqm9TRa

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Keep your eyes peeled for cosmic debris: Andrew Westphal about Stardust@home

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Keep your eyes peeled for cosmic debris: Andrew Westphal about Stardust@home

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Stardust is a NASA space capsule that collected samples from comet 81P/Wild (also known as “Wild 2) in deep space and landed back on Earth on January 15, 2006. It was decided that a collaborative online review process would be used to “discover” the microscopically small samples the capsule collected. The project is called Stardust@home. Unlike distributed computing projects like SETI@home, Stardust@home relies entirely on human intelligence.

Andrew Westphal is the director of Stardust@home. Wikinews interviewed him for May’s Interview of the Month (IOTM) on May 18, 2006. As always, the interview was conducted on IRC, with multiple people asking questions.

Some may not know exactly what Stardust or Stardust@home is. Can you explain more about it for us?

Stardust is a NASA Discovery mission that was launched in 1999. It is really two missions in one. The primary science goal of the mission was to collect a sample from a known primitive solar-system body, a comet called Wild 2 (pronounced “Vilt-two” — the discoverer was German, I believe). This is the first US “sample return” mission since Apollo, and the first ever from beyond the moon. This gives a little context. By “sample return” of course I mean a mission that brings back extraterrestrial material. I should have said above that this is the first “solid” sample return mission — Genesis brought back a sample from the Sun almost two years ago, but Stardust is also bringing back the first solid samples from the local interstellar medium — basically this is a sample of the Galaxy. This is absolutely unprecedented, and we’re obviously incredibly excited. I should mention parenthetically that there is a fantastic launch video — taken from the POV of the rocket on the JPL Stardust website — highly recommended — best I’ve ever seen — all the way from the launch pad, too. Basically interplanetary trajectory. Absolutely great.

Is the video available to the public?

Yes [see below]. OK, I digress. The first challenge that we have before can do any kind of analysis of these interstellar dust particles is simply to find them. This is a big challenge because they are very small (order of micron in size) and are somewhere (we don’t know where) on a HUGE collector— at least on the scale of the particle size — about a tenth of a square meter. So

We’re right now using an automated microscope that we developed several years ago for nuclear astrophysics work to scan the collector in the Cosmic Dust Lab in Building 31 at Johnson Space Center. This is the ARES group that handles returned samples (Moon Rocks, Genesis chips, Meteorites, and Interplanetary Dust Particles collected by U2 in the stratosphere). The microscope collects stacks of digital images of the aerogel collectors in the array. These images are sent to us — we compress them and convert them into a format appropriate for Stardust@home.

Stardust@home is a highly distributed project using a “Virtual Microscope” that is written in html and javascript and runs on most browsers — no downloads are required. Using the Virtual Microscope volunteers can search over the collector for the tracks of the interstellar dust particles.

How many samples do you anticipate being found during the course of the project?

Great question. The short answer is that we don’t know. The long answer is a bit more complicated. Here’s what we know. The Galileo and Ulysses spacecraft carried dust detectors onboard that Eberhard Gruen and his colleagues used to first detect and them measure the flux of interstellar dust particles streaming into the solar system. (This is a kind of “wind” of interstellar dust, caused by the fact that our solar system is moving with respect to the local interstellar medium.) Markus Landgraf has estimated the number of interstellar dust particles that should have been captured by Stardust during two periods of the “cruise” phase of the interplanetary orbit in which the spacecraft was moving with this wind. He estimated that there should be around 45 particles, but this number is very uncertain — I wouldn’t be surprised if it is quite different from that. That was the long answer! One thing that I should say…is that like all research, the outcome of what we are doing is highly uncertain. There is a wonderful quote attributed to Einstein — “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called “research”, would it?”

How big would the samples be?

We expect that the particles will be of order a micron in size. (A millionth of a meter.) When people are searching using the virtual microscope, they will be looking not for the particles, but for the tracks that the particles make, which are much larger — several microns in diameter. Just yesterday we switched over to a new site which has a demo of the VM (virtual microscope) I invite you to check it out. The tracks in the demo are from submicron carbonyl iron particles that were shot into aerogel using a particle accelerator modified to accelerate dust particles to very high speeds, to simulate the interstellar dust impacts that we’re looking for.

And that’s on the main Stardust@home website [see below]?

Yes.

How long will the project take to complete?

Partly the answer depends on what you mean by “the project”. The search will take several months. The bottleneck, we expect (but don’t really know yet) is in the scanning — we can only scan about one tile per day and there are 130 tiles in the collector…. These particles will be quite diverse, so we’re hoping that we’ll continue to have lots of volunteers collaborating with us on this after the initial discoveries. It may be that the 50th particle that we find will be the real Rosetta stone that turns out to be critical to our understanding of interstellar dust. So we really want to find them all! Enlarging the idea of the project a little, beyond the search, though is to actually analyze these particles. That’s the whole point, obviously!

And this is the huge advantage with this kind of a mission — a “sample return” mission.

Most missions rather do things quite differently… you have to build an instrument to make a measurement and that instrument design gets locked in several years before launch practically guaranteeing that it will be obsolete by the time you launch. Here exactly the opposite is true. Several of the instruments that are now being used to analyze the cometary dust did not exist when the mission was launched. Further, some instruments (e.g., synchrotrons) are the size of shopping malls — you don’t have a hope of flying these in space. So we can and will study these samples for many years. AND we have to preserve some of these dust particles for our grandchildren to analyze with their hyper-quark-gluon plasma microscopes (or whatever)!

When do you anticipate the project to start?

We’re really frustrated with the delays that we’ve been having. Some of it has to do with learning how to deal with the aerogel collectors, which are rougher and more fractured than we expected. The good news is that they are pretty clean — there is very little of the dust that you see on our training images — these were deliberately left out in the lab to collect dust so that we could give people experience with the worst case we could think of. In learning how to do the scanning of the actual flight aerogel, we uncovered a couple of bugs in our scanning software — which forced us to go back and rescan. Part of the other reason for the delay was that we had to learn how to handle the collector — it would cost $200M to replace it if something happened to it, so we had to develop procedures to deal with it, and add several new safety features to the Cosmic Dust Lab. This all took time. Finally, we’re distracted because we also have many responsibilities for the cometary analysis, which has a deadline of August 15 for finishing analysis. The IS project has no such deadline, so at times we had to delay the IS (interstellar, sorry) in order to focus on the cometary work. We are very grateful to everyone for their patience on this — I mean that very sincerely.

And rest assured that we’re just as frustrated!

I know there will be a “test” that participants will have to take before they can examine the “real thing”. What will that test consist of?

The test will look very similar to the training images that you can look at now. But.. there will of course be no annotation to tell you where the tracks are!

Why did NASA decide to take the route of distributed computing? Will they do this again?

I wouldn’t say that NASA decided to do this — the idea for Stardust@home originated here at U. C. Berkeley. Part of the idea of course came…

If I understand correctly it isn’t distributed computing, but distributed eyeballing?

…from the SETI@home people who are just down the hall from us. But as Brian just pointed out. this is not really distributed computing like SETI@home the computers are just platforms for the VM and it is human eyes and brains who are doing the real work which makes it fun (IMHO).

That said… There have been quite a few people who have expressed interested in developing automated algorithms for searching. Just because WE don’t know how to write such an algorithm doesn’t mean nobody does. We’re delighted at this and are happy to help make it happen

Isn’t there a catch 22 that the data you’re going to collect would be a prerequisite to automating the process?

That was the conclusion that we came to early on — that we would need some sort of training set to be able to train an algorithm. Of course you have to train people too, but we’re hoping (we’ll see!) that people are more flexible in recognizing things that they’ve never seen before and pointing them out. Our experience is that people who have never seen a track in aerogel can learn to recognize them very quickly, even against a big background of cracks, dust and other sources of confusion… Coming back to the original question — although NASA didn’t originate the idea, they are very generously supporting this project. It wouldn’t have happened without NASA’s financial support (and of course access to the Stardust collector). Did that answer the question?

Will a project like this be done again?

I don’t know… There are only a few projects for which this approach makes sense… In fact, I frankly haven’t run across another at least in Space Science. But I am totally open to the idea of it. I am not in favor of just doing it as “make-work” — that is just artificially taking this approach when another approach would make more sense.

How did the idea come up to do this kind of project?

Really desperation. When we first thought about this we assumed that we would use some sort of automated image recognition technique. We asked some experts around here in CS and the conclusion was that the problem was somewhere between trivial and impossible, and we wouldn’t know until we had some real examples to work with. So we talked with Dan Wertheimer and Dave Anderson (literally down the hall from us) about the idea of a distributed project, and they were quite encouraging. Dave proposed the VM machinery, and Josh Von Korff, a physics grad student, implemented it. (Beautifully, I think. I take no credit!)

I got to meet one of the stardust directors in March during the Texas Aerospace Scholars program at JSC. She talked about searching for meteors in Antarctica, one that were unblemished by Earth conditions. Is that our best chance of finding new information on comets and asteroids? Or will more Stardust programs be our best solution?

That’s a really good question. Much will depend on what we learn during this official “Preliminary Examination” period for the cometary analysis. Aerogel capture is pretty darn good, but it’s not perfect and things are altered during capture in ways that we’re still understanding. I think that much also depends on what question you’re asking. For example, some of the most important science is done by measuring the relative abundances of isotopes in samples, and these are not affected (at least not much) by capture into aerogel.

Also, she talked about how some of the agencies that they gave samples to had lost or destroyed 2-3 samples while trying to analyze them. That one, in fact, had been statically charged, and stuck to the side of the microscope lens and they spent over an hour looking for it. Is that really our biggest danger? Giving out samples as a show of good faith, and not letting NASA example all samples collected?

These will be the first measurements, probably, that we’ll make on the interstellar dust There is always a risk of loss. Fortunately for the cometary samples there is quite a lot there, so it’s not a disaster. NASA has some analytical capabilities, particularly at JSC, but the vast majority of the analytical capability in the community is not at NASA but is at universities, government labs and other institutions all over the world. I should also point out that practically every analytical technique is destructive at some level. (There are a few exceptions, but not many.) The problem with meteorites is that except in a very few cases, we don’t know where they specifically came from. So having a sample that we know for sure is from the comet is golden!

I am currently working on my Bachelor’s in computer science, with a minor in astronomy. Do you see successes of programs like Stardust to open up more private space exploration positions for people such as myself. Even though I’m not in the typical “space” fields of education?

Can you elaborate on your question a little — I’m not sure that I understand…

Well, while at JSC I learned that they mostly want Engineers, and a few science grads, and I worry that my computer science degree with not be very valuable, as the NASA rep told me only 1% of the applicants for their work study program are CS majors. I’m just curious as to your thoughts on if CS majors will be more in demand now that projects like Stardust and the Mars missions have been great successes? Have you seen a trend towards more private businesses moving in that direction, especially with President Bush’s statement of Man on the Moon in 2015?

That’s a good question. I am personally not very optimistic about the direction that NASA is going. Despite recent successes, including but not limited to Stardust, science at NASA is being decimated.

I made a joke with some people at the TAS event that one day SpaceShipOne will be sent up to save stranded ISS astronauts. It makes me wonder what kind of private redundancy the US government is taking for future missions.

I guess one thing to be a little cautious about is that despite SpaceShipOne’s success, we haven’t had an orbital project that has been successful in that style of private enterprise It would be nice to see that happen. I know that there’s a lot of interest…!

Now I know the answer to this question… but a lot do not… When samples are found, How will they be analyzed? Who gets the credit for finding the samples?

The first person who identifies an interstellar dust particle will be acknowledged on the website (and probably will be much in demand for interviews from the media!), will have the privilege of naming the particle, and will be a co-author on any papers that WE (at UCB) publish on the analysis of the particle. Also, although we are precluded from paying for travel expenses, we will invite those who discover particles AND the top performers to our lab for a hands-on tour.

We have some fun things, including micromachines.

How many people/participants do you expect to have?

About 113,000 have preregistered on our website. Frankly, I don’t have a clue how many will actually volunteer and do a substantial amount of searching. We’ve never done this before, after all!

One last thing I want to say … well, two. First, we are going to special efforts not to do any searching ourselves before we go “live”. It would not be fair to all the volunteers for us to get a jumpstart on the search. All we are doing is looking at a few random views to make sure that the focus and illumination are good. (And we haven’t seen anything — no surprise at all!) Also, the attitude for this should be “Have Fun”. If you’re not having fun doing it, stop and do something else! A good maxim for life in general!

Posted on April 18th, 2019 by sJqm9TRa

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Iraqi constitution met by Sunni resistance

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Iraqi constitution met by Sunni resistance

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Most points of disagreement on Iraq’s new constitution have been ironed out, and the constitution should be ready before the Monday deadline, the President Jalal Talabani said in an announcement Saturday morning.

“The meetings are still going on and we have gone forward,” Talabani told reporters. “There is a meeting today and another meeting tomorrow and God willing we will finish the job tomorrow.”

The largest disagreement is over the governing the Kurdish and Shiite areas of central and southern Iraq, as well as the role of Islam in the state.

Constitutional committee members have said the remaining major stumbling blocks were federalism, a Kurds-style autonomy given sudden Shiite support by the call from its leading politician Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Sunni groups have called the move for federalism a deal breaker.

The controversy caused by the sudden Sunni call for federalism cast doubt on the chances for approval of the constitution draft by Monday’s deadline. Sunnis fear that federal-autonomy zones will keep them from a share of the world’s second largest known oil reserves. Those are concentrated in the Kurdish north and Shiite south.

But a Sunni participant Saleh al-Mutlaq said on Saturday, “An in principle agreement has been reached late yesterday that Iraq’s oil revenues will be shared between the Shia, the Kurds and the Sunnis.” The federal government would receive a percentage of oil revenues, and the rest would go to each governorate according to its population size.”

Sunnis have still not agreed to any of the main points of the constitutional draft, but Kurdish National Assembly member Mahmud Othman said that Kurdish and Shiite groups could use their majority in the parliament to get the charter approved by Iraq’s legislature.

The United States has played a strong role in the 71-member constitution committee writing the document described as the Transitional Administrative Law. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has acted as a broker between the Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab blocs.

Posted on April 18th, 2019 by sJqm9TRa

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Egypt protests: Army say they will not use force on demonstrators as Mubarak announces cabinet

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Egypt protests: Army say they will not use force on demonstrators as Mubarak announces cabinet

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The president of Egypt has suffered a “devastating blow” after the country’s army announced they would not use force against their own people, who continue to protest against the government tonight. The news came hours after six journalists who reported on the protests were released from custody.

Hosni Mubarak yesterday announced a new cabinet, which does not include several figures who protesters largely do not approve of. Analysts have, however, suggested little had changed within the government; many positions, they say, are filled with military figures.

To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people … have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people.

In a statement broadcast on state media in Egypt, the army said: “To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people … have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people.” A BBC correspondent in Cairo said the announcement meant it “now seems increasingly likely that the 30-year rule of Mr Mubarak is drawing to a close.”

“The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and wellbeing. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people,” the statement added. “Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody.”

Earlier today, six journalists from the independent news network Al-Jazeera were released from custody after being detained by police. The U.S. State Department criticized the arrests; equipment was reportedly confiscated from the journalists.

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Egyptian officials yesterday ordered the satellite channel to stop broadcasting in the country. Al-Jazeera said they were “appalled” by the government’s decision to close its Egyptian offices, which they described as the “latest attack by the Egyptian regime to strike at its freedom to report independently on the unprecedented events in Egypt.”

In a statement, the news agency added: “Al-Jazeera sees this as an act designed to stifle and repress the freedom of reporting by the network and its journalists. In this time of deep turmoil and unrest in Egyptian society it is imperative that voices from all sides be heard; the closing of our bureau by the Egyptian government is aimed at censoring and silencing the voices of the Egyptian people.”

On Friday, Wikinews reported the government had shut off practically all Internet traffic both out of and into the nation, as well as disrupting cellphone usage. A spokesperson for the social networking website Facebook said “limiting Internet access for millions of people is a matter of concern for the global community.”

A reported 50,000 campaigners, who are demanding the long-time leader step down and complaining of poverty, corruption, and oppression, filled Tahrir Square in Cairo today, chanting “We will stay until the coward leaves.” It is thought 100 people have so far died in the demonstrations. Today there have been protests in Suez, Mansoura, Damanhour, and Alexandria.

Speaking to news media in the area, many protesters said the new cabinet did little to quell their anger. “We want a complete change of government, with a civilian authority,” one said. Another added: “This is not a new government. This is the same regime—this is the same bluff. [Mubarak] has been bluffing us for 30 years.”

In Tahrir Square today, protesters played music as strings of barbed wire and army tanks stood nearby. Demonstrators scaled light poles, hanging Egyptian flags and calling for an end to Mubarak’s rule. “One poster featured Mubarak’s face plastered with a Hitler mustache, a sign of the deep resentment toward the 82-year-old leader they blame for widespread poverty, inflation and official indifference and brutality during his 30 years in power,” one journalist in the square reported this evening.

Posted on April 14th, 2019 by sJqm9TRa

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Wikinews interviews biologist Chris Simon about periodical cicadas

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Wikinews interviews biologist Chris Simon about periodical cicadas

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In May, periodical cicadas with 17 years life cycle emerged on the East Coast of the USA after underground development as juveniles since 1996. Researchers and scientists worked to map and study the rare wave, and the locals prepared for the noisy event. First recorded in 1666, the Magicicada septendecim species recently emerged in 1979, 1996, this year, with a next wave due in 2030.

This week, Wikinews interviewed Chris Simon, an ecology and evolutionary biologist at University of Connecticut, about the cicadas.

((Wikinews)) What caused your initial interest in periodical cicadas?

Chris Simon: As an undergraduate student, I was interested in the formation of species so when I went to graduate school I looked for a study organism that was likely to be in the process of forming new species. I chose periodical cicadas because they are broken up into reproductively isolated broods (or year classes). Reproductive isolation leads to speciation so I planned to study biochemical differences among the broods.

((WN)) You study the emergence of the periodical cicadas. What do you study? What observations are you making?

CS: We record exactly where each cicada population emerges (using GPS automated mapping and crowd sourcing). We record the presence or absence of each of the three morphologically distinct species groups of periodical cicadas (Decim group, Cassini group, and Decula group). We collect specimens for DNA analysis. We look for cicadas coming up one and four years early and late. We dig up cicada nymphs and monitor their growth rates.

((WN)) What equipment do you use?

CS: Nets, shovels, automated GPS recorders, cameras, laptop computers, automated DNA sequencers.

((WN)) Do you study the periodical cicadas with anyone else? What is their role?

CS: Yes, there are a large number of people studying periodical cicadas in my lab and in other labs. My lab is made up of Research Scientists, Postdoctoral Researchers, a technician, graduate students, and undergraduates. Research Scientist John Cooley is the leader of the GPS mapping project; he invented the automated GPS recorder; he built our crowd-sourcing website, and he is instrumental in public outreach. Postdoctoral research David Marshall also participates in the mapping project and leads the part of the research related to the mapping of stragglers. John and Dave and Technician Kathy Hill all study periodical cicada mating behavior and conduct mating and hybridization experiments. One of my graduate students Beth Wade has participated in the nymph collections and will soon start genetic work involving genome wide association mapping designed to locate genes related to life cycle. My graduate student Russ Meister is studying the genes of the bacterial endosymbionts of cicadas. My current undergraduate honors student Erin Dwyer is also studying the development of Magicicada nymphs and is helping to design a lab exercise for college students around the eastern US to do the same. Many of my past undergraduate students have studied the biochemical genetics and development of periodical cicadas. See the Simon Lab website.
CS: We are collaborating with Teiji Sota at the University Kyoto and Jin Yoshimura at Shizuoka University in Japan. They are studying the phylogeography of Magicicada. We are collaborating with John McCutcheon of the University of Montana who is studying the endosymbiont genomes.
CS: We are also collaborating with ecologists Rick Karban and Louie Yang, both professors at UC Davis who have an interest in cicada population dynamics and nutrient cycling in the ecosystem.

((WN)) You studied the periodical cicadas in 1979 and 1996 too. What changes with time?

CS: I have studied periodical cicadas since I was a student back in 1974. What changes with time is increased human development constantly shrinking the patch size of cicada populations.

((WN)) What are your thoughts on the long life span of the periodical cicadas? Why could it be so? What advantages and what disadvantages does it have?

CS: Most or all cicadas have long life cycles compared to your typical annual insect. Examples have been found of two-year to 9-year cycles in different species. Periodical cicadas evolved an even-longer life cycle and I think that part of this relates to the evolution of their synchronized life cycles and peculiar safety-in-numbers strategy for survival. To become synchronized, periodical cicadas had to evolve an exact length life cycle and all adults would have to appear in the same year. Because the nymphs grow at different rates underground, a longer life cycle and a way of counting years must have evolved so that the individuals that get to the last nymphal (underground juvenile) stage first would wait long enough for all other individuals in the population to become ready to emerge.

((WN)) News reports mention this is ‘Brood II’ of the periodical cicadas. What are the distinctive features of this specific species and what is its full scientific name?

CS: The same species exist in multiple broods. No species is restricted to Brood II. The three species present in Brood II are: Magicicada septendecim, M. cassini, and M. septendecula. These same three species are found in every 17-year brood (except the farthest north which only has M. septendecim).

((WN)) At what depth do the cicadas juveniles live underground?

CS: Most live within the top foot of soil but some have been found deeper. We do not know if they go deeper in winter. We need to do much more digging to understand the nymphs.

((WN)) How do people prepare for the cicada emergence?

CS: Of course various people prepare in different ways. Ideally, everyone prepares by studying information available on the web (especially on our websites Magicicada Central and Magicicada.org).

((WN)) Do cicadas affect transport in the local area?

CS: No, not really. Occasionally individuals can be seeing flying across highways and sometimes they smash into cars.

((WN)) Do cicadas usually stay outside or do they also invade houses too?

CS: They stay outside. One might accidentally fly in through an open window but that would be rare.

((WN)) What do the cicadas eat?

CS: Cicadas suck xylem fluid (the watery fluid coming up from the roots of plants) in deciduous forest trees and herbs. Essential amino acids in the cicada diet are supplied by their bacterial endosymbionts. There are two species of endosymbionts. One makes 8 essential amino acids and one makes two essential amino acids.

((WN)) Do cicadas damage crops or city vegetation? What damage?

CS: Cicadas do not chew leave so they do not damage crops like other insects. They can inflict some damage by their egg laying. Cicadas lay eggs in pencil-sized tree branches. If there are not enough branches available, too many female cicadas may lay eggs in a single branch weakening it and making it susceptible to breakage by wind. This can sometimes cause damage in fruit orchards. If the branches break, the eggs die so this behavior is selected against by natural selection.

((WN)) Thank you.

CS: You’re welcome. I am happy to have this opportunity to communicate with your readers!

Posted on April 14th, 2019 by sJqm9TRa

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Telecom New Zealand to sell Yellow Page Group

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Telecom New Zealand to sell Yellow Page Group

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Telecom New Zealand has announced that it is going to sell its Yellow Page Group business and is expecting at least NZ$2 billion. The Yellow Page Group includes the Yellow Pages, White Pages (which includes both offline and online services), New Zealand Retirement Guide and New Zealand Tourism Online.

However Chief Financial Officer, Mark Bogoievski, will not comment on how much the reserve price is.

The company says that the money they get from selling the directories will be used to repay almost $3.5 billion worth of debt.

Theresa Gattung, Chief Executive of Telecom, said: “There has already been considerable interest shown in the future of Yellow Pages Group based on recent media speculation. We expect that the sale should be completed by the end of this financial year.”

The Yellow Page Group generates $250 million worth of revenue per annum and employs 600 people.

Ms Gattung said: “In the long term the business will be dominated by the global players. It’s really prudent off us to take this opportunity to see what value we can get looking at the sale of this business at this stage.”

Analysts are warning Telecom that it would miss out on the digital media possibilities. “It looks to me that it is a bit of a panic reaction in order to generate some quick cash,” said, telecommunications expert, Paul Budde, “I think it’s a short-term sort of strategy to generate some cash, but it will undermine its long term strategy to move from the old Telecom’s world into the new digital media world.”

Ms Gattung said that the privacy of the individuals will be kept, “obviously we’re only going to sell to a very reputable party.”

Telecom is also hinting at cutting hundreds of jobs to invest in new technology to beat off competition.

Posted on April 14th, 2019 by sJqm9TRa

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Billy West, voice of Ren and Stimpy, Futurama, on the rough start that shaped his life

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Billy West, voice of Ren and Stimpy, Futurama, on the rough start that shaped his life
This article mentions the Wikimedia Foundation, one of its projects, or people related to it. Wikinews is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ren and Stimpy. Bugs Bunny. Philip J. Fry and Professor Hubert Farnsworth on Futurama. Sparx. Bi-Polar Bear. Popeye the Sailor Man. Woody Woodpecker. You may not think you have ever heard Billy West, but chances are on a television program, a movie, a commercial, or as Howard Stern’s voice guru in the 1990’s, you have heard him. West’s talent for creating personalities by twisting his voice has made him one of a handful of voice actors—Hank Azaria and the late Mel Blanc come to mind—who have achieved celebrity for their talent. Indeed, West is one of the few voice actors who can impersonate Blanc in his prime, including characterizations of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and other characters from Warner Bros. cartoons.

What is the fulcrum in Mr. West’s life that led him to realize a talent to shape personalities with his voice, and how did the discovery of that gift shape him? Wikinews reporter David Shankbone found that like many great comedians, West faced more sour early in life than he did sweet. The sour came from a physically and emotionally abusive alcoholic father (“I could tell you the kind of night I was going to have from the sound of the key in the door or the way the car pulled up.”), to his own problems with drug and alcohol use (“There is a point that you can reach in your life where you don’t want to live, but you haven’t made the decision to die.”).

I’m telling you stuff that I never said to anybody…

If sin, suffering and redemption feel like the stages of an endless cycle of American existence, West’s own redemption from his brutalized childhood is what helped shape his gift. He performed little bits to cheer up his cowed mother, ravaged by the fact she could not stop her husband’s abuse of young West. “I was the whipping boy and she would just be reduced to tears a lot of times, and I would come in and say stuff, and I would put out little bits just to pull her out of it.”

But West has also enjoyed the sweet. His career blossomed as his talent for creating entire histories behind fictional characters and creatures simply by exploring nuance in his voice landed him at the top of his craft. You may never again be able to forget that behind the voice of your favorite character, there is often an extraordinary life.

Below is David Shankbone’s interview with renowned voice actor Billy West, who for the first time publicly talks about the horrors he faced in his childhood; his misguided search for answers in anger, drugs and alcohol; and the peace he has achieved as one of America’s most recognizable voice actors.

Contents

  • 1 The use of celebrities for voiceovers
  • 2 Iconic characters and choosing projects
  • 3 Discovering his talent
  • 4 “It was a horror chamber where I grew up”
  • 5 West moves to Boston after his parents divorce
  • 6 How West dealt with his father’s abuse
  • 7 Rehabilitation and sobriety
  • 8 Is West glad he experienced addiction?
  • 9 West on his career
  • 10 West on politics
  • 11 Billy West on modern American society
  • 12 Billy West on telling it like it is
  • 13 Source

Posted on April 14th, 2019 by sJqm9TRa

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