Friday, October 29, 2010

Destination Space for Virgin Galactic

UPHAM, N.M. — Virgin Galactic's Sir Richard Branson, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and prospective astronauts gathered in the southern New Mexico desert Friday to celebrate the completion of the runway at the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

Spaceport America is the world's first facility designed specifically to launch commercial spacecraft. The celebration of its nearly-two-mile-long runway comes less than two weeks after another major step for Virgin Galactic: the first solo glide flight of its space tourism rocket ship.

"Today is very personal as our dream becomes more real," Branson said. "People are beginning to believe now. I think the drop flight two weeks ago, which went beautifully, I think it made people sit up and realize this is really reality."

The British billionaire said the next is more rocket testing, and getting the vehicle called SpaceShipTwo into space. He said he expects flights for space tourists to begin in nine to 18 months, and he will be among the first passengers.

Stretching across a flat dusty plain 45 miles north of Las Cruces, the runway is designed to support almost every aircraft in the world, day-to-day space tourism and payload launch operations.
Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant of the taxpayer-funded spaceport and plans to use the facility to take tourists on what will first be short hops into space. State officials want to add companies for other commercial space endeavors, such as research and payload delivery missions.

"Each flight we make, we'll learn more, we'll experience, we'll open up more opportunities that we cannot even conceive of today," Branson said. "This history, we're making it right now."
Virgin Galactic's White Knight Two — the special jet-powered mothership that will carry SpaceShipTwo to launch altitude — also made an appearance Friday, passing over the spaceport several times before landing on the new runway.

Tickets for suborbital space rides aboard SpaceShipTwo cost $200,000. The 2½-hour flights will include about five minutes of weightlessness. Some 380 customers have already made deposits totaling more than $50 million, Virgin Galactic officials said Friday.

Branson, the president of Virgin Group, which counts airlines, entertainment and mobile communications among its businesses, partnered with famed aviation designer Burt Rutan on the venture.

Until now, space travel has been limited to astronauts and a handful of wealthy people who have shelled out millions to ride Russian rockets to the international space station.

Some of the soon-to-be astronauts attended Friday's runway dedication, joined by Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon in 1969 as part of NASA's Apollo 11 mission.

While space tourism projects such as Virgin Galactic's venture receive plenty of publicity, the commercial space industry is seeing rapid developments with companies like SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif., seeking to win NASA work to supply the International Space Station.

SpaceX has successfully placed a dummy payload into orbit and has contracts to lift satellites next. Other firms, including Masten Space Systems of Mojave, Calif., and Armadillo Aerospace of Rockwell, Texas, are testing systems that would carry unmanned payloads to space.

Last month, Congress approved legislation that affirms President Barack Obama's intent to use commercial carriers to lift humans into near-Earth space.


Book a flight directly from Virgin Galactic for $200,000 - deposit of $20,000

[Source Virgin Galactic and AP]

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trigun: The Acts of the $$60 Billion Dollar Man

 Post by Chandra Jenkins

A man of many names, Vash the Stampede serves as the main character for what may be one of the best anime series ever.

Set in the distant future, on a distant planet, Trigun follows the gun slinging exploits of Vash. He has an extremely large bounty on his head, which makes him the target of every dodgy character and bounty hunter in the world. And he has two very nice insurance agents, Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, on his trail to hold him accountable for the devastation he leaves behind in every town he stops in.

From the opening, viewers are set to follow the amazing exploits of a gunslinger extraordinaire. And then you meet Vash. He would be the best bet for a team scrambling to grab the final scraps of food in town, and he would make you and everyone else alive cry from laughing. His heart for people becomes obvious as the list of towns rebuilding, but not burying piles of dead, grows longer. As he meets up with another gunslinger, Nicholas D. Wolfwood, we learn that Vash intentionally stops people from being fatally shot. And as the series hits its stride, Knives, Vash’s brother and antithesis, walks into the series.

I have loved this series since my best friends shared their DVD set with me between college assignments. Though laughter creates a large part of the sound track, this series deals with the tough issues humanity would face in the end. The lack of equal access to food and the constant threat of the desert surroundings provide ample situations where the best, and the worst, of humanity shine through. The secondary characters provide the heart, and drive Vash to ultimately face the soul of the world they all inhabit.

The series could have focused solely on the gun fighting ability of Vash, or made him a monster that had to be tamed. Instead, Trigun follows an outcast who follows his heart and tries to make sense of a world devastated by some ancient and almost forgotten disaster. If the world is half as together after we blow ourselves up or suffer some great natural disaster as the world Vash and the others wander through, I think I’d be pretty content.

Trigun has been nearly impossible for those of us on a budget prepped for the worst to find in recent years. But Funimation is releasing the entire series on DVD Oct. 26, 2010. I’m very excited to relive the adventures of Vash and pick up tips on how best to survive in a wasteland. Maybe this time when I watch the series the ending will make sense.

Watch 8 minutes of Episode 1:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kelly Kettle - woodburning portable stove

I scour the net for material for this site - part of it is survival/camping/outdoor gears, I came across this beauty called he Kelly Kettle. It's a woodburning portable kettle/stove. Has a unique design and boils water pretty fast based on some videos I've been watching. This is definitely on my wish list.

Here's a good video of a camp out and using the Kelly Kettle to boil water and cook. Doesn't take much to get the fire started.


Here's another video of a review for Kelly Kettle - he actually times how long it takes to get a rolling boil which doesn't take very long at all and he only had to use a few sticks and twigs he found in the yard to get the fire going. Good demo footage.


Visit the Kelly Kettle site.

Zombie tribute poster

Check out this detailed poster using names of 978 zombie movies, books, and games.

Go here for a larger image.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bug out Bag (BOB)

A bug-out bag is a portable kit that contains the items one would require to survive for seventy two hours when evacuating from a disaster. It is also known as a 72-hour kit, a grab bag,a battle box, and other popular names include GO Bag and GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge)bag. The focus is on evacuation, rather than long-term survival, distinguishing the bug-out bag from a survival kit, a boating or aviation emergency kit, or a fixed-site disaster supplies kit. The kits are also popular in the survivalism subculture. (From Wikipedia - BOB)

The bug-out-bag is probably the most clichéd emergency preparation in the history of survivaldom. Some people focus so much on compiling their BOB that they lose track of much more important survival matters, while others are so biased against the ‘bug out’ concept that they refuse to even consider putting one together. In the world of survival research, preppers sometimes position themselves on the far ends of the opinion spectrum. To be sure, some strategies simply do not work and will never work, and to be uncompromising in those instances is reasonable, especially when you are dealing with such extremes as economic collapse. However, in my endless war against ‘assumption’, I would point out that rigidity in thinking often leads to tragedy for those in the midst of a social breakdown. Adaptability is the key to survival, and because of this, we cannot discount certain options out of hand.

The bug-out-bag should not be a primary concern of the survivalist, but it should be somewhere on their list. First and foremost, those who wish to prepare for a collapse event or other disaster should focus on survival location (where will you be safest? At home, or at a retreat?), food storage (a year’s worth for each person in your family or group is really the bare minimum, though some retreatists have the skill to get by on less), water allocation (if the tap stops running, how will you maintain a water supply? Remember, the average person can die after three days without water), and self defense (how are you going to defend the supplies you have from those wandering looters who did not prepare? How many people do you know that you can actually count on to stand their ground when the situation grows truly frightening?) If you haven’t already addressed these important issues, having a BOB will do you no good.

Have you ever watched a boxing or martial arts match and known immediately which guy was going to lose? That’s how I feel about those people who are obsessed with the bug-out strategy. They have lost before the fight has even begun.

On the other hand, there are those preppers who believe they are so safe in their survival location that they can’t be bothered with secondary retreats or even a bug-out-bag. This is equally foolish. As intuitive and as well researched as survivalists are, we still have no way of knowing what would really happen in the event of a total meltdown. Could your homestead be the future site of a refugee highway? Could your retreat and your independence be considered a threat by “authorities” intent on restoring their brand of order? Could a poorly maintained campfire on one side of your county set a forest fire that sweeps through to the other side, right through your home where you have staked all your survival hopes? There are an infinite number of reasons why you may one day have to leave your primary retreat location, possibly without warning. No one is invincible, and sometimes it’s better to walk away and live to fight another day. This is where the BOB comes in…
The bug-out-bag offers you a CHANCE at survival when all else seems lost. This is its purpose. The more ingenuity invested in the design of your BOB, the better your chance will be. Finding items and tools that streamline efficiency, space, weight, or serve two or more functions at once is crucial in organizing a high performance pack. In this way, building a BOB becomes a sort of art form. In this article, we will go over some great methods for taking your bug-out-bag to the next level.

Bug Out Bag Essentials
Most people who frequent survival sites are well aware of BOB basics. For the sake of those who are new to the concept, I’ll rehash most of these items (we all started somewhere). It’s possible I will forget to include some gear that people find essential. Hey, there’s a lot to remember! By all means, please leave a comment listing the items you believe should be included, but don’t send me emails admonishing me for my negligence (I once left out ‘toilet paper’ in a survival gear article and received dozens of finger-wagging letters in my mailbox).
The items below should adequately cover the Big Four; food, water, shelter, and self defense, as well as the special tools used in their acquisition, and those items required for personal health.

Bug-Out Backpack: A lot of people forget to include research on the ‘bag’ part of the “bug-out-bag”. Your choice of pack is probably the most important of all, and will affect your comfort and efficiency throughout any survival situation. Things to consider include size, durability, as well as how much you can honestly carry over long distances.
Most hiking packs are categorized by size, which measures their carrying capacity in liters. Smaller packs, or ‘daypacks’ are usually between 15 and 35 liters, multi-day packs range between 40 to 75 liters. For your purposes, a multi-day pack is the best choice.
Some packs are set on a frame which helps your body in supporting the weight of your gear over long distances. I have found though that a frame is not absolutely necessary and tends to be a matter of preference. Military ‘molle’ wear also offers the ability to easily strap compatible pouches onto your existing bag
There seems to be quite an ongoing debate among survivalists as to the “appearance” of the BOB pack. On one side, people hold that military grade bags in camo should be standard. On the other, people scoff at the idea of hiking across the countryside in military gear, possibly scaring the bejeezus out of everyone you come across. My personal take; go for the military style gear, or at least look for very subdued and earthy colors. I find that the anti-military gear argument is rather faulty. In a collapse scenario that is so disastrous it calls for a survivalist to “bug out”, it seems rather unlikely that the average person you run into will be in a position to care about what you are wearing, let alone be able to do anything about it. If a prepper was to run around in combat duds and a camo combat pack today, I would call him crazy. In a social breakdown tomorrow, I would call him smart.
Camo makes you less visible. I’m not sure what the problem is here. Unless you enjoy being chased relentlessly by thugs and maniacs, I suggest choosing a military surplus pack over that nifty new bright red JanSport.

Bug-Out Food: Food acquisition is probably the most difficult obstacle in a bug-out scenario. Weight and space are at a premium. You could load up enough food in your pack to last you a week or more, but that would leave little space for anything else. This is where you have to apply the art of efficiency.
What you are looking for are food items that cover a wide range of health requirements, contain a high amount of calories, and take up very little space. I have found that protein and energy bars, trail mixes, chocolates, and jerky, are all perfect for the BOB. Peanuts and other legumes are very high in calories (some trail mixes contain over 1000 calories in a single cup). Protein bars usually hold around 250 to 300 calories in a very small package, not to mention, they are a good source of necessary vitamins and minerals. Jerky is not very high in calories, but it does give you protein and that satisfying feeling of “fullness”, which is sometimes just as important. Chocolate is high in calories, fats, and sugars. In our regular environment where active people are rare, we are taught to avoid these things, but in a survival situation, you want as much calories, sugar, and fat as you can get!
Despite these space saving foods, your supplies will run out quickly, likely far faster than you had hoped. Prepare for this eventuality carefully. Memorize the wild edible plants common to your region of the country, and carry a small edible plant guide for good measure (never forget, dandelions are your friend). Be sure to carry snare wire for catching small game, and a small fishing kit with extra hooks, sinkers, and strong line.
Survival fishing is not a leisure activity. You will not need a rod and you will not be sitting around waiting for a bite. Staking a line across a river with several baited hooks for the day is your best chance of catching at least one if not several fish, all while your out making better use of your time. Gill Nets are also an option, though illegal for sport fishing in most states today, it is doubtful you will care much during a collapse.
Hunting will be difficult. Carrying more than one standard firearm when bugging out is not recommended, and if you have to choose only one, take your primary defense weapon. There are options, though. A combat rifle in .308 can also be loaded with hunting ammo for large game, serving two purposes at once. Another option, for smaller game, is the Henry AR-7 .22 rifle, which weighs less than a full canteen, collapses down into its waterproof floating stock, and is acceptably accurate out to 50 yards:

While perhaps a little too bulky to fit inside your pack, it could still be easily strapped to the side of your pack and the extra weight is negligible. 200 rounds of .22 LR ammo weighs virtually nothing and can be nestled into your BOB without trouble.

Bug-Out Water: Water is a weight killer. Don’t expect to carry much. Plan your bug-out route to intersect natural water sources, and carry at least one thick plastic sheet, garbage bag, or poncho for rain collection in conjunction with your canteen. Water purifying tablets are great in the short term, but a portable water filtration unit is a must for longer term situations, especially when dealing with very dirty water sources. The Katadyn Hiker Pro is one of the most common units used today and the filters are widely available in sporting goods stores:

There are many other brands available, but I would stress using filters that are common, mainly because you are more likely to find replacement filters for trade in a post-collapse environment. Be sure to stock at least one extra filter cartridge to avoid having to make this trade too soon.

Bug-Out Shelter: Hopefully, if you have to bug out, you already have a pre-planned destination. There is nothing more dangerous than wandering around aimlessly during a collapse hoping to stumble across a good situation. As you travel, you will need temporary shelters to get you to that designated primary shelter.
Hiking anywhere takes a lot of energy, and you will probably need to set camp at some point along the way. In a group, you can sleep in shifts while others stand watch. If you are alone, the safety hazards are considerable. Sleeping at all will take effort due to the pressing uncertainty in the back of your mind, especially when a single moment of unconsciousness could leave you vulnerable.
Carrying a tent, even a top of the line lightweight all-season tent, is not realistic during a bug-out trek. The extra weight could be used for more important items, such as food, and one can easily build a makeshift shelter from available materials. 550 paracord is extremely useful in shelter construction. Plastic zip ties also work well. Dead wood from the forest floor supplies the rest. Choosing the right location is the number one priority. On high ground, in treacherous terrain, away from water sources, is actually ideal. The harder it is for you to get to your temporary shelter, the harder it will be for other people to get there as well. Terrain alone can deter most would be attackers. Generally, looters and other undesirables look for easy prey on easy ground.

Using existing rock formations, fallen trees, caves, etc. helps to obscure your presence, and covering your shelter with live mosses and fauna blends its shape in with the surroundings. A heavy duty thermal blanket can be used to insulate your shelter during cold nights. Light and fire discipline cannot be overstated, which is another reason why eating foods that require no preparation is important, at least a majority of the time. The goal is to avoid altercation, to go as unnoticed as possible until you reach your primary retreat.

Bug-Out Health: Without your health, you aren’t worth much to anyone, especially yourself. A bug-out event favors those who are energetic, athletic, and immune system conscious. Before an event even occurs, you should already be focusing on improving the mechanics of your body to the utmost precision. You should be a fine tuned and flexible machine (or at least as close as you can get). This includes the old guys out there who are grumbling at me as they read this. I’m not old, but I’m not so young anymore either. If you are serious about survival preparation, exercise a little everyday, and I mean EVERYDAY, especially jogging for endurance.

Get off the garbage prepackaged foods filled with poisonous chemicals and preservatives. Go organic if you can afford it. Quit smoking, quit drinking (at least cut down. No one can resist a good beer every once in a while, not even me), quit heavy drug use (this includes illegal and legal psychotropic substances), and get in shape for heaven’s sake! I know, it sounds like I’m telling you to have no fun. I’m not. I’m telling you to have a little less fun for the sake of your own survival. It’s worth it, trust me.
Pack wool socks. If you damage your feet due to cold, and lose your mobility, you will not survive. Frostbite is a notorious problem in survival situations.
Include a ‘snivel kit’ in your pack for minor illness and injury, with bandages, aspirin, pepto chewables, etc. I hate to say it, but diarrhea will probably be a more formidable enemy than any looters you might come across in a bug-out scenario. Normally, it’s just a minor irritation, but during a collapse, it could easily dehydrate and kill you. Packing preventative medications and choosing your water sources carefully could save you from a most excruciating experience.
Use herbal supplements or teas, like Echinacea and Elderberry, to maintain a resilient immune system. I have not used any antibiotics or vaccinations in a decade and I am rarely ill. Your immune system can handle almost anything if you take care of it properly.
Pack a camper towel and biodegradable liquid camper soap. Stay clean as often as possible. Take good care of your teeth! Imagine a tooth problem during a bug-out! Carry non-fluoride baking soda toothpaste and a brush. Use a dab of peroxide to kill germs. Not only does this save you from tooth loss, it also keeps your smile pretty, which seems irrelevant, but during a collapse, you need every advantage. Flash a rotted gnarly grin at someone who could help you, and they will instinctively want to walk the other way, no matter how nice you act. That’s just how people are. Keeping teeth white during a collapse? Try eating wild strawberries or strawberries from a garden if you can. Strawberries are filled with malic acid, which removes plaque.
Rest when you are sick, even if it takes a few days. Do not try to push on until you have battled your cold or flu back. Otherwise, it will stick with you for weeks, and even cause serious damage.

Bug-Out Tools: Here is a broad list of items every bug-out-bag should have, in no particular order…
Magnesium Striker
Waterproof Matches
Snare Wire
Fishing Kit
2 Compasses
Compact Binoculars
Topographical Map (know the terrain you are heading towards)
Camper Knife/Fork/Spoon Combo
Camp Knife (for work)
Combat Knife (for defense)
Leatherman Multi-tool
Wire Saw (get one with leather straps, not metal rings)
Folding Camper Saw (for bigger jobs)
550 Paracord
Plastic Zip Ties
Carabiners (numerous uses)
Small Sewing Kit (pack extra needles)
Snivel Kit (don’t forget Quick-Clot and poison oak/ivy soap)
Folding Shovel
Small Knife Sharpening Stone
Compact Mess Kit (get steel for durability and stay away from aluminum)
TOILET PAPER!!! (get a thick roll, cut out the cardboard center, and smash it down)
2 Thick Emergency Thermal Blankets
Small Camp Stove (I recommend the Bushbuddy Stove)
Water Purification Tablets
Katadyn Water Filter
LED Flashlight (cover light with small piece of clear red plastic to reduce visibility)
Rechargeable Batteries
2 Pairs of Wool Socks (even if you bug-out in the Summer)
Solid Leather Boots (wear these, and make sure they’re worn in before an event occurs)
Small Survival Guide (helps you to remember possible strategies)
Wild Edible Plant Guide
This seems like an incredible amount of items to carry around on your back, but all of it should fit quite easily into your BOB if you use the space wisely, and the weight should not be an issue. Pack contents will also vary depending on personal survival strategies, but most of these tools should be present in your bag regardless of conditions.

Advanced Bug-Out Gear

So now that you have all your essentials organized, and have found that you actually still have room in your pack for more goodies, you’re wondering what items could give you that extra edge, that advantage that tips the odds in your favor. Let’s go over a few special pieces of gear that could make bugging out much easier.

Brunton 26 Folding Solar Panels: The Brunton 26 is just the right size for your bug-out-bag; not too big, but not so small that it has trouble charging your electronic items. I have this system myself and have no complaints. A small intermediary battery pack may be necessary though when connecting to such items as 15 minute battery chargers, so that current is properly regulated. I can think of numerous electronics that are useful during a collapse, and these durable solar panels ensure they will always be operational.

Two Way Radios: If you travel by yourself, these aren’t very practical to carry, but if you are working in a group, they are a must. There are many models to choose from, but finding a set with security and private channel options is a priority, ensuring that other people will not be listening in on your conversations. They often advertise a range of 15 miles or more, but their real range when not in perfectly flat terrain usually ends up being around 2-3 miles, which should still be adequate for your purposes.

Night Vision, IR Flashlight: I’ve written quite a bit about night vision for the survivalist, and I think the advantages are obvious. I suggest buying a decent but cheaper model, and then finding a powerful IR Flashlight. Night vision uses IR rays like an invisible spotlight, and adding another IR flashlight could increase your range greatly.

Mini-Digital Video Camera: This serves several purposes. It can be used for surveillance and for mapping dangerous areas. Instead of sitting in a hazardous place drawing a site picture, you can walk up, take a minute of video, and then walk away for later viewing. Another use; video diary. If you are alone in a survival situation, you might find yourself losing your mental composure. Talking to the camera and recording your thoughts might take the edge off the tension and help you get through alive. Finally, you never know what you might see on your trek. Perhaps things no one would believe if you told them. Video evidence might be important, even during a collapse.

Shotgun Signal Alarm: A cheap trip wire device that sets off a blank 12 gauge shell, or sometimes a flare. Gives you a heads up and a head start on anyone moving towards your camp. Also can deter those who now know that you know that they are coming.

Smoke Grenade: These are perfectly legal to own and not too difficult to find on the web for purchase. Especially useful during an ambush in which you are at a severe disadvantage. Gives you an opportunity to make a clean getaway, or at least buys you time to find a better tactical position.

NukAlert Key Chain: You never know what you might run into during a collapse, especially if international tensions are involved. A meter which is always running and alerts you when approaching dangerous radioactivity could save your life. Though most highly volatile gamma radiation falls to safe levels after two weeks of initial exposure, you should still be concerned about consumption of affected substances. Irradiated water sources, for instance, are undetectable to the eye, and without a device like the NukAlert, you would never know what you were drinking. The device is very small, and is also designed to be immune against an Electromagnetic Pulse.

The Most Important Bug-Out Tool Of All
I could probably go on for another several pages about gear options and items, but that would be overlooking the most important tools of all; your brain, and your spirit.
Smart survivalists, with a solid knowledge base and a powerful intuition, are the most likely to succeed under the worst of conditions. Intelligent, logical, and precise action can turn a catastrophe into any other day, and this is no exaggeration. Most catastrophes befall those who are unprepared, those who lack knowledge. For the smart survivalist, a catastrophe is simply an obstacle he has already trained to remove, and nothing to be overly frightened of.

The spirited survivalist draws on an inexhaustible well of determination. He is like a human avalanche, bursting through any barrier no matter how impassable it might seem. He never stops. He never gives up. He knows there is ALWAYS a way, an answer to any problem. He understands that most people who die in survival situations die on the inside first. They give in to the elements psychologically, and the rest follows from there.
A bug-out event is definitely one of the worst scenarios I can think of, mainly because it involves so many unknowns. But, with a well planned BOB, a level head, and a defiant heart, nothing is impossible. You can live through it. Never forget it. It can be done!

[Source NeitherCorp Press]

Sidenote: This is just one variation of a BOB. It'll vary based on your situation/needs/location. I'm currently putting together a couple of emergency backpacks (1 to leave in truck, 1 for home). Will post it here when fully assembled. If you have one at home, even a very basic one - feel free to send me photos and a list of what you have, Would be more than happy to post it here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Solar power plane takes flight

On September 21, 2010, Swiss company Solar Impulse  flew its first solar powered plane from Payerne to Geneva. André Borschberg, pilot and co-founder of Solar Impulse, notes the significance of this flight, saying, “the Swiss solar flights represent a major step forward for our team, taking us away from our customary airspace. We have learned to work together with international airports, merging in with the heavy Swiss air traffic.”The pioneering flight lasted about four hours and twenty minutes, with the plane’s speed averaging 50 km/h. The solar plane is powered by four electric motors that produce up to 10 hp, and by 12,000 solar cells, which charge the batteries enough for flights to be taken at nighttime, as well. The time has finally come; not only can we create cars and businesses that let out zero-emissions, but airplanes as well.

This plane is scheduled to fly internationally by 2011 and trans-Atlantic by 2012. The team–comprised of Bertrand Piccard, André Borschberg and Raymond Clerc, among others–is already in the process of creating a faster and more efficient plane, one they hope to fly around the globe by 2013. The company hopes to inspire the next generation of aviators and engineers. Bertrand Piccard believes that “using the solar plane as a symbol, our goal is to promote the pioneering spirit in young people, making them aware of the importance of renewable energy, energy saving and new technologies.”

 [Source:  Olive Branch]

Monday, October 11, 2010

Earth rivers in crisis according to latest study

Click here for larger image

The world's rivers are in crisis, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Limnology and the City College of New York (CCNY) that is published in the Sept. 30, 2010 issue of the scientific journal Nature. The study, led by UW-Madison limnologist and professor of zoology Peter McIntyre and CCNY modeler Charles Vörösmarty, combines, for the first time, indices of water security and biodiversity for all of the world's rivers, many of which are severely degraded due to issues of pollution, water diversion and introduced species.

The world's rivers, the single largest renewable water resource for humans and a crucible of aquatic biodiversity, are in a crisis of ominous proportions, according to a new global analysis.

The report, published on Sept. 30 in the journal Nature, is the first to simultaneously account for the effects of such things as pollution, dam building, agricultural runoff, the conversion of wetlands and the introduction of exotic species on the health of the world's rivers.

The resulting portrait of the global riverine environment, according to the scientists who conducted the analysis, is grim. It reveals that nearly 80 percent of the world's human population lives in areas where river waters are highly threatened posing a major threat to human water security and resulting in aquatic environments where thousands of species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction.

"Rivers around the world really are in a crisis state," says Peter B. McIntyre, a senior author of the new study and a professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Limnology.

The Nature report was authored by an international team co-led by Charles J. Vörösmarty of the City University of New York, an expert on global water resources, and McIntyre, an expert on freshwater biodiversity.

Examining the influence of numerous types of threats to water quality and aquatic life across all of the world's river systems, the study is the first to explicitly assess both human water security and biodiversity in parallel. Fresh water is widely regarded as the world's most essential natural resource, underpinning human life and economic development as well as the existence of countless organisms ranging from microscopic life to fish, amphibians, birds and terrestrial animals of all kinds.

Over many millennia, humans have exerted an increasingly pervasive influence on fresh water resources. Rivers, in particular, have attracted humans and have been altered through damming, irrigation and other agricultural and engineering practices since the advent of civilization. In recent times, chemical pollution, burgeoning human populations, and the accidental as well as purposeful global redistribution of plants, fish, and other animal species have had far-reaching effects on rivers and their aquatic inhabitants.

"Flowing rivers represent the largest single renewable water resource for humans," notes Vörösmarty. "What we've discovered is that when you map out these many sources of threat, you see a fully global syndrome of river degradation."

What jumps out, say McIntyre and Vörösmarty, is that rivers in different parts of the world are subject to similar types of stresses, such things as agricultural intensification, industrial development, river habitat modification and other factors. Compounding the problem is that some of the negative influences on rivers arrive in indirect ways. Mercury pollution, for example, is a byproduct of electricity generation at coal-fired power plants and pollutes surface water via the atmosphere.

"We find a real stew of chemicals
flowing through our waterways," explains Vörösmarty, noting that the study represents a state-of-the-art summary, yet was unable to account for such things as threats from mining, the growing number of pharmaceuticals found in surface water and the synergistic effects of all the stresses affecting rivers.

"And what we're doing is treating the symptoms of a larger problem," Vörösmarty explains. "We know it is far more cost effective to protect these water systems in the first place. So the current emphasis on treating the symptoms rather than the underlying causes makes little sense from a water security standpoint or a biodiversity standpoint, or for that matter an economic standpoint."

Among the startling conclusions of the study is that rivers in the developed world, including much of the United States and Western Europe, are under severe threat despite decades of attention to pollution control and investments in environmental protection. Huge investments in water technology and treatment reduce threats to humans, but mainly in developed nations, and leave biodiversity in both developed and developing countries under high levels of threat, according to the new report.

"What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe," says McIntyre, who began work on the project as a Smith Fellow at the University of Michigan. "Americans tend to think water pollution problems are pretty well under control, but we still face enormous challenges."

The hard lessons learned by the developed world, says McIntyre, can help governments and planners in other parts of the world avoid making the same mistakes and experiment with new strategies for promoting water security and protecting biodiversity. Instead of investing billions of dollars in expensive remediation technologies, strategies such as protecting watersheds, for example, can reduce the costs of drinking water treatment, preserve floodplains for flood protection and enhance rural livelihoods.

Rivers of the world least at risk are those where human populations are smallest. Rivers in arctic regions and relatively inaccessible areas of the tropics appear to be in the best health.

The analysis used data sets on river stressors around the world. Built into state-of-the-art computer models, the data yield maps that integrate all of the individual stressors into aggregate indices of threat. The same strategy and data, say Vörösmarty and McIntyre, can be used by governments worldwide to assess river health and improve approaches to protecting human and biodiversity interests.

"We've created a systematic framework to look at the human water security and biodiversity domains on an equal footing," Vörösmarty says. "We can now begin presenting different options to decision makers to create environmental blueprints for the future."

[Source: Phys Org]

Friday, October 8, 2010

Zenith - a transmedia conspiracy film

Zenith is a 2010 American psychological thriller about two men attempting to solve the same conspiracy theory. The title refers to a grand 'Zenith Conspiracy' formed by the film's protagonist, Ed Crowley. The film also utilizes an alternate reality game and transmedia storytelling to augment its narrative. (wiki page)


 Ed Crowley's Tape 6

Starting from a fictional recreation of Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority experiment, Zenith plunges into exploring multifaceted dimensions of the human experience. The film follows two parallel stories - of father and son - now, and 40 years into the future. Searching for the same elusive conspiracy, both father and son find no answers; instead, their journeys unravel their lives and force them to look deep and hard at themselves and their surroundings. In the end, they are both confronted with the same Faustian bargain - but each one chooses a very different path.

Sidenote: The main site will lead you down a handful of related media and interactive sites. I understand the intent but the end product can be too confusing - it's like the choose your own adventure books on steroids. I wouldn't be surprised if transmedia films would be the next trend, right behind all the 3D movies.  Personally, I think it's too much work, I watch movies for its entertainment value. You'll have to decide for yourself.

Mayan Calendar accuracy questioned

For nearly half a century, Maya scholars have relied on a fixed numerical value called the GMT constant as a means of correlating the dates on the ancient Maya calendar with those on the Gregorian - or modern - calendar.

Now, however, research conducted by Gerardo Aldana, associate professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barbara, suggests that the GMT constant - which has never actually been proved conclusively - could be inaccurate by 50 to 100 years, or more. Aldana’s findings challenge the accepted Gregorian dates of all Classic Mayan historical events, as well as the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it 2012 prophecies. His research is included in “Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World” (Oxbow Books, 2010), the second in a series edited by John Steele, associate professor of Egyptology and Ancient West Asian Studies at Brown University.

Aldana’s research, in general, focuses on reconstructing Mayan astronomical practices, which for the most part can be recovered from their applications. Most of the data found in the archeological record amount to ritual events timed by astronomical phenomena; architecture oriented to observable astronomical events; or numerology tying together science, history, and religion with hieroglyphic inscriptions carved in stone.

“One of the principal complications is that there are really so few scholars who know the astronomy, the epigraphy, and the archeology,” said Aldana. “Because there are so few people who are working on that, you get people who don’t see the full scope of the problem. And because they don’t see the full scope, they buy things they otherwise wouldn’t. It’s a fun problem.”

For this article, however, Aldana turned the lens away from just the archaeological record to include a critical attention to the methods used by modern scholars to access the astronomical events viewed by ancient astronomers.

The GMT constant, which is based in part on astronomical events, is named for early Mayanists Joseph Goodman, Juan Martinez-Hernandez, and J. Eric S. Thompson. Each contributed to its calculation. “Goodman worked at the turn of the 20th century, and Martinez shortly thereafter,” said Aldana. “Neither of them found much of a following because at the time, the work of Sylvanus Morley and Herbert Spinden was considered the strongest.”

According to Aldana, the early work of Goodman, Martinez, Morley, and Spinden put heavy emphasis on the dates recovered from colonial documents written in Mayan languages and recorded in the Latin alphabet. “Thompson did a much more thorough job of addressing as much data as possible,” Aldana said.

Aldana’s article centers, for the most part, on the work of Floyd Lounsbury, an American linguist, anthropologist, and Mayanist scholar and epigrapher. Lounsbury examined the problem of the GMT constant by focusing on the data in the Dresden Codex Venus Table, a combination calendar and almanac that charts specific dates related to the movements of Venus.

“Astronomy had been considered in the past, but none had put the emphasis on the Venus Table as much as Lounsbury did,” explained Aldana. “As I demonstrate in the article, he took the position that his work removed the last obstacle to fully accepting the GMT constant. Others took his work even further, suggesting that he had proven the GMT constant to be correct. Because of its convenience for specific types of research, et cetera, the acceptance of the GMT in scholarly circles today is very close to unanimous.”

However, Aldana’s review of Lounsbury’s conclusions demonstrates that they are far from irrefutable. “This may not seem to be much, but what it does is destabilize the entire argument,” he said. “If the Venus Table cannot be used to prove the GMT as Lounsbury suggests, its acceptance depends on the reliability of the corroborating data. The rest of the article historically unpacks each element of corroborating data to show that they are even less stable and/or persuasive than the Venus data. And the overall argument behind the GMT constant falls like a stack of cards.”

Although he identifies the problems of the GMT constant, Aldana, who is not the first to question the calendar correlation, offers neither a solution nor a replacement. In line with the volume, his goal is simply to study the soundness of the arguments presented in support of - and in opposition to - the GMT constant and attempts others have made at identifying a solution. “A few scholars have stood up and said, ‘No, the GMT is wrong,’” said Aldana. “But in my opinion, what they’ve done is try to provide alternatives without looking at why the GMT is wrong in the first place.”

A sound demonstration of the incorrectness of the GMT is a necessary first step in deriving a sound replacement, he said.

[Source: Independent]

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stretchable electronic skin by Nokia

Nokia has started work on a kind of stretchable electronic skin which are flexible, relying on evaporated gold as a conductor to deliver an electronic touchpad which can be stretched like a rubber band without sacrificing functionality.

The team at Nokia Research Center, based in Cambridge have been able to create a stretchable electronic touchpad, able to stretch by up to 20 per cent of its original length without affecting performance.

From Nokia site:
The potential application: This research has at its heart new form factors for devices of the future. The possibilities might sound hard to believe, but working technology which can be twisted and distorted like a rubber band could enable a unique range of wearable devices or even enable technology to feasibly become part of our clothing. After we’d seen it, the talk from the group was of us having completely different ways of us interacting with technology in the future. What is solid and known to us right now, could be flexible and entirely different in the future.