Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Obama Playing Video Games on Blackberry All Day

Aides to President Barack Obama have been complaining this past of week of the President’s behavior during meetings. Speaking on condition of anonymity, several high-level staffers have said that the President has seemed distracted since being granted his super-secure blackberry device this past week.

“He’s just always sitting there, not looking at anyone who’s talking to him, just staring at that stupid device. He needs to constantly be re-fed information, and he never gives any input – just sits there button mashing.”

One aide detailed a meeting regarding the revisions to the economic stimulus package that President Obama has been attempting to push through congress. According to the aide, the President was looking down, looking very frustrated during the entire meeting, leading several advisers to believe that he was quite angry with them. It was only when President Obama’s eyes grew large and he exclaimed “Alright! I got an extra life!” that it became clear to everyone that the President was actually playing a video game on his portable device.

“In some meetings, he’s even been playing games that require sound,” said one baggy-eyed aide who claimed she had been responsible for filling the President in on the happenings of a meeting he had attended. “Before it was just Prince of Persia, and Soul Caliber, and stuff like that. Now he’s playing Guitar Hero III during a meeting with the State Department. I thought (Secretary of State) Hilary Clinton was going to kill him! Fortunately, she seems to be a fan. I guess they actually bonded over Rock Band, so that worked out. But still, I mean, is he going to do this with foreign ambassadors? Not ALL of them are going to be Mario Cart fans.”

Although the President playing video games during meetings may be a somewhat new obsession, a recent interviewer with Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe revealed that the tendency for President Obama to become distracted by his favorite device may have been a problem during the campaign.

“The President was always engaged with the campaign,” said Plouffe during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “But there were definitely times, when . . . well, you’d be talking to him, and he’d keep saying ‘uh-huh’, ‘uh-huh’, ‘uh-huh’, and you’d realize that he was updating his Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, he made a lot of progress showing discipline with the blackberry over the course of the campaign, but I think many of us were dismayed when we heard he was getting a super-secure blackberry so that he could keep that thing in the White House. Seriously, it’s like creating a super hard to detect strain of heroin so that an addict can take it with him to work.”

“It’s even worse when (Vice-President) Biden’s in the room,” said another staffer who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity but who bears a striking resemblance to Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton. “The two are constantly smirking and giggling for the entirety of a meeting. They keep looking beneath the table when other people are talking, as if nobody in the room can figure out that they’re texting to each other.”

“It wouldn’t be so damn insulting if they were sitting farther apart,” continued the anonymous source who looks exactly like Bill Burton. “But they’re like two people apart, and having sat in between them before, let me just say it’s really awkward. I’m also more than a little frustrated that – from what I’ve seen – when this stuff goes to the presidential records act, it’s going to be chalk full of things like ‘LOL’ and ‘OMG u r so funny!’”

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Can a Butterfly in Brazil Really Cause a Tornado in Texas?

It's poetic, the notion that the flap of a butterfly's wing in Brazil can set off a cascade of atmospheric events that, weeks later, spurs the formation of a tornado in Texas. This so-called "butterfly effect" is used to explain why chaotic systems like the weather can't be predicted more than a few days in advance. One can't know every little factor affecting the atmosphere — every flutter of every butterfly in Brazil — so there's little hope of foreseeing the exact time and place a storm will touch down weeks later.

The butterfly effect is all the more pleasing because the computer model that led to its discovery resembles a butterfly. The mathematician Edward Lorenz created the model, called a strange attractor, in the 1960s; it's a line that alternately spirals around two adjacent ovals, mapping out the chaotic solution to a set of interrelated equations. Lorenz found that the shape of the attractor was extremely sensitive to initial conditions. Moving its starting point just a wing's scale in any direction caused the line to draw a completely different butterfly.

The strange attractor led scientists to conclude that many real-world systems — the stock market, the Texas tornado season — must be similarly unpredictable, and the butterfly effect has continued to be invoked as an explanation of chaos ever since. However, this is in spite of the fact that it's actually false: A butterfly in Brazil can flutter as hard as it likes, but it still can't whip up a tornado in Texas.

"If a butterfly flaps its wings the effect really just gets damped out," the mathematician and writer David Orrell told Life's Little Mysteries.

Trivial flapping
Each flap of a butterfly's wings exerts a pressure on surrounding air molecules in order to thrust the insect upward. Each flap causes a tiny change in the air pressure around the butterfly, but this fluctuation is insignificant compared to the air's total pressure, which is about 100,000 times larger. Changes in air pressure are one of the key factors involved in changing the weather, but in the case of the butterfly, the air molecules easily absorb the blow of a wing flap, so that a few inches away from a butterfly, the turbulence it causes will have died down.

Orrell, who has a doctorate in prediction of nonlinear systems from the University of Oxford, writes about prediction-making in fields such as meteorology, biology and economics for both scientific and lay audiences. His best-selling book "The Future of Everything: The Science of Prediction" (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006) describes the extreme difficulty meteorologists face in forecasting the weather, which is so sensitive to changes in atmospheric conditions like pressure and temperature that it cannot be accurately projected more than a few days in advance. An estimation of the temperature that is off by just a fraction of a degree-Celsius leads to a cascade of errors later, making predictions that look out beyond a few days, but less than a few weeks, particularly challenging.

However, "the changes that make a difference are far bigger than a butterfly flapping its wings," Orrell said.

"I think mathematically, the Lorenz attractor was a very important discovery," he said. "But then it kind of got taken over as a bit of an excuse. People started applying chaos theory to a lot of systems and saying, 'Well, this property is sensitive to initial conditions, so we can't make accurate predictions.'"

In fact, according to Orrell, only in greatly simplified models of chaos like the strange attractor do microscopic changes have huge consequences, escalating and ultimately causing the attractor to diverge from the path it otherwise would have taken. More complex computer models like those used by meteorologists are much more robust. As Orrell and a team of several other mathematicians demonstrated in 2001, inputting butterfly-flapping-scale disturbances into these weather models don't cause the outcomes of the models to diverge. If other factors in the weather system, such as warm Atlantic Ocean temperatures, high humidity and westerly winds with low wind shear, are joining forces to drive the formation of a hurricane, the flap of a wing, or lack thereof, won't stop them.

And the idea that a wing flap really could have an exponentially increasing effect doesn't make much physical sense, anyway, Orrell said. "If you imagine modeling a volume of air and then perturbing it with the flap of a butterfly wing, you wouldn't expect to get an exponentially larger wave coming out of the other end." Modeling the turbulence using cellular automata, a method developed by the mathematician Stephen Wolfram and explained in his famous book "A New Kind of Science" (Wolfram Media, 2002), also shows that the energy from the wing will dissipate, rather than build. In short,  butterflies can't muster up storms. [5 Seriously Mind-Boggling Math Facts]

So what's the forecast?
If the butterfly effect isn't real, why, then, can't we humans accurately predict the weather more than a few days in advance?

It turns out that the answer to that question is controversial. Based on his research, Orrell believes errors in computer models themselves — for example, an oversimplification of the way atmospheric pressure and humidity interact — affect the outcome of weather systems much more drastically than do small perturbations.  He thinks that meteorologists ought to work on perfecting their models of the atmosphere, rather than throwing their hands up because of chaos.  "My take [is] that model error is a more likely cause of our inability to make weather forecasts than chaos," Orrell said.

Other scientists disagree. Paul Roebber, a mathematician and meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, argues that although butterfly-scale chaos does not affect the success of weather prediction, larger perturbations nonetheless play a significant role.

"I agree with [Orrell] that butterfly-scale effects would get damped out, but influences that are still small-scale influences from a weather perspective, such as individual clouds — those effects are much more likely to grow and be important," Roebber said. "So butterflies: OK. But individual clouds: those can very dramatically influence the forecast five to 10 days from now, and until we can resolve those, improvements in our models won't lead to much improvement in our forecasts."

Ian Palmer, an Oxford professor and principal scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, explained that limitations in our ability to observe the conditions of the atmosphere (such as the locations of all clouds) using weather balloons, surface and satellite measurements, means that we will never be able to input exactly the right initial conditions into our computer models. This isn't always a deal-breaker, but sometimes it is: "When the flow is particularly unstable, errors in initial conditions can grow rapidly and destroy the quality of the forecast in a couple of days. On other occasions, errors in initial conditions will grow more slowly and the forecast will remain skillful for a week or more ahead," Palmer wrote in an email.

According to Roebber, atmospheric convection — the heating and rising of air — is a prime example of a condition that can be inaccurately measured, and which can then give rise to large-scale changes in the weather. For example, convection above the Gulf of Mexico sometimes causes thunderstorms in the southeastern U.S., which then spark snowstorms in the Northeast. [Is All the Wild Weather Connected?]
"To me, the role of atmospheric convection in affecting the large-scale weather and subsequent atmospheric predictability says a lot more about the role of both model errors and analysis errors than the hypothetical butterfly scenario of popular imagination," he said.

New Material Makes Objects Appear Invisible

A very black carbon nanotube coating renders objects into silhouettes and could form the basis of a future stealth device. Like a cloak of invisibility, the material makes things disappear completely when viewed against a black background.

"The most exciting thing is that it makes any 3-D object look like a shadow," said researcher Haofei Shi at the University of Michigan. "You know something is there but you don't know what it is."

The effect works even under direct light and from multiple viewing angles, showcasing the first perfect light-absorbing coating, Shi said. Capable of swallowing a broad spectrum of light, the paper-like material has potential for roomy stealth airplanes and sun-gulping solar cells.

"You can wear a coat made of this material and you will look like a flat sheet of black paper," said co-researcher Jay Guo at the University of Michigan. "They cannot perceive any 3-D aspects of the person in the coat … This would be a very nice winter coat. All of the light waves from outside could be totally absorbed and turned into heat."

A forest of carbon nanotubes, each much smaller than a wavelength of light, manages to trap more than 99.99 percent of light, ranging from ultraviolet to infrared, because of the low density of the tree pattern, Shi said. At less than 10 nanometerswide, each tube is separated its neighbors by an average space of 100 nm.

"If it was a higher density it would be shiny, you would see the profile of the object," Shi said.

While engineers could also use nanotube forests of silicon and metal to construct very black materials, the team chose carbon for its relative ease of fabrication and its impressive abilities as a light absorber.

To create the cloaking material, the researchers grew 1-inch [2.54 cm]squares of the carbon nanotube forest and pasted them onto an object like a piece of paper.

The material's ability to absorb and totally turn light into heat makes it suitable for use in solar heaters and other highly energy-efficient solar-energy applications. "The device works very well in natural sunlight," Shi said.
"Also it could be a stealth technology, a stealth airplane that can fire undetected because it absorbs radar rather than directing back to the radar stations," Guo said.

Though the plane would clearly appear as a very black object in the sky during daytime, in total darkness it would escape detection completely, without having "to be made into this sharp, weird shape" as with current stealth aircraft such as the Blackbird, Guo said. Satellites, as well, could sit against the perfect black of deep space and remain invisible to current instruments.

Secret Coca-Cola Recipe Displayed at Museum

The secret recipe for Coca-Cola, the world's best-selling soft drink, has stayed under lock and key in a bank vault in Atlanta since 1925. That is, until today (Dec. 8), when the priceless list of ingredients was carefully moved to a new vault that is now on display at the World of Coca-Cola Museum in downtown Atlanta.

"The time has come for our secret formula to come back home," The Coca-Cola Company's chief executive officer, Muhtar Kent, said at the unveiling of the new exhibit, according to the Associated Press. While visitors to the beverage company's corporate museum will now be able to experience the titillation of being near the coveted recipe, which dates back to 1886, they won't be able to jot down any notes: It will remain hidden from view, contained in a giant metal vault that can only be accessed by keypad and hand-imprint scanner. As both a marketing ploy and a clever business measure, the Coca-Cola Company makes much ado about the secrecy surrounding the drink's formula, especially the ingredients of a flavoring called "secret 7X." It is said that only a handful of people in the world know what's in it.

The new museum exhibit plays on this secrecy.

However, what will surely get no mention in the museum placards is the fact that the secret Coca-Cola recipe, at least as it was originally formulated by the drink's inventor, John Pemberton, has already been leaked. A handwritten copy of the recipe was found in the back of a druggist's record book in Georgia more than half a century ago, and was later printed in a 1979 issue of The Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

'UFO' Spotted Over Russian Protesters?

Tens of thousands of people gathered on Saturday (Dec. 10) in Moscow's Bolotnaya Square to protest against the regime of Vladimir Putin and his party. But amid the pro-democracy chants and police presence, there was a mysterious visitor: An unidentified craft was spotted hovering high above the event. It was strangely silent, and clearly not a helicopter. The UFO was caught on video, and had some protesters wondering if they were being watched by aliens. According to a report in Britain's the Daily Telegraph, "Witnesses are at a loss to explain the object seen by thousands."

Spacecraft or aircraft? The UFO is unlike most suspected extraterrestrial spacecraft (such as typical "flying saucers") in that it seems to be held aloft by four (or perhaps six) small propellers. Such propellers would be useless to travel through space, as there is no air for the propellers to push against.
Instead, many suspected the UFO of being an unmanned camera drone of the type routinely used by police and journalists — both of whom presumably have more of an interest in the political protests than space aliens.

The profile of the UFO, as seen in blurry video footage, exactly matches camera drones: A dark body in two main segments roughly resembling a figure 8. The upper half is the engine and control (with, as one witness described, "five extended tendrils or pylons emanating from the body of the vehicle"), while the lower half is a hanging camera. It has a blinking red light on one side and a blinking white light on the other side — again, a feature that is typical of known aircraft, and atypical of UFO reports.

Police around the world have used similar radio-controlled "eyes in the skies" for years; British police frequently use a small, battery-powered "Microdrone" for surveillance, for example. In the end, this "Moscow UFO" was identified as a drone camera launched by the Russian Ridus news agency, which has not only covered earlier protests against Putin but released photos taken by their high-flying drone camera at that same event. Unless extraterrestrials are moonlighting as freelance photographers, it seems this case is closed.
It's not clear whether the Russian protesters really believed they were being visited by aliens or the video footage was too good not to hype into a UFO report. Either way this case is a good reminder that the "U" in UFO stands for "unidentified" — and it only takes one person to be unable to identify something in the sky to spawn a UFO story.

Saudi 'Witch' Beheaded for Black Magic

An accused witch, Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar, was beheaded in Saudi Arabia earlier this week. She had been convicted of practicing "witchcraft and sorcery," according to the Saudi Interior Ministry. Such a crime is a capital offense in Saudi Arabia, and so Nassar was sentenced to death. Nassar's sentence was appealed — and upheld — by the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council.
Nassar, who claimed to be a healer and mystic, was arrested after authorities reportedly found a variety of occult items in her possession, including herbs, glass bottles of "an unknown liquid used for sorcery," and a book on witchcraft. According to a police spokesman, Nassar had also falsely promised miracle healings and cures, charging ill clients as much as $800 for her services.
Many Shiite Muslims — like many fundamentalist Christians — consider fortune-telling an occult practice and therefore evil. Making a psychic prediction or using magic (or even claiming or pretending to do so) are seen as invoking diabolical forces. Fortune-telling, prophecy and witchcraft have been condemned by Saudi Arabia's powerful religious leaders. There is some question as to whether Saudi law technically outlaws witchcraft, though in a country where politics and religion are so closely aligned the distinction is effectively moot.
Just last year a Lebanese man named Ali Sabat, who for years had dispensed psychic advice and predictions on a television show, was accused of witchcraft. Sabat was arrested in Saudi Arabia by the religious police, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. His crime, like that of Nassar, was practicing sorcery, and Sabat was condemned to death in April 2010, though it's still unknown if his sentence has been carried out.
Accusations of witchcraft and sorcery are not unheard of around the world, especially in political campaigns where they are used as a smear tactic. Close associates of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were accused last year of using witchcraft and summoning genies by influential clerics in that country. According to news reports, about two dozen of Ahmadinejad's close aides have been arrested and charged with being "magicians." One man, Abbas Ghaffari, was reportedly accused of summoning a genie who caused a heart attack in a man who was persecuting him.
Even the United States is not immune; Christine O'Donnell, the Republican who ran a failed bid for a Senate seat in 2010, had to answer political questions about whether she had practiced witchcraft. For centuries, accusations of (and laws against) witchcraft have been used as a tool by those in power to silence dissenters; whether that was the case with Nassar is unknown, but herdeath is a reminder that belief in magic is taken very seriously in many parts of the world — and can have grave consequences.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Top Ten Money Saving Tips

• Save Money Tip 1

• Spend Less. This is not over simplifying the best way to save money! It is essential if you are serious about being a long term money saver and being able to save money every day. Review what you spend and look at ways you can save money. Consider making telephone calls for instance only at off-peak times. Do you really need to have newspapers and magazines delivered? Can you do without those coffees you buy at break time everyday - would a flask of coffee taken to work save you money? What about using the public lending library instead of buying books or music CDs or DVDs? Try to never waste money and make every purchase a considered purchase. Once you start looking for little ways to save money and spend less you will quickly become an expert and really save money fast. Spending less means you value every penny of your money - you will not be so quick to throw that money away on impulse - after all you worked so hard to earn it! Save Money Tip One
• Save Money Tip 2

• Establish a personal budget. This is essential for families and individuals and can be the fastest way to save money. You will instantly see your incomings and outgoings once you create your budget. You will not be able to save money unless you know how much money you have coming in, and how much money you have going out. Once you have prepared a budget of incoming money and outgoing money, you WILL be able to identify areas where you can save. It is MUCH more difficult to save money over a long period of time (the rest of your life?) without a budget. Save Money Tip Two
• Save Money Tip 3

• Bulk is good. Think about shopping and buying in bulk. Save money grocery shopping by planning meals in advance and bulk-buying. You can also save money by cooking in bulk. This is a real way you can save money with little preparation and almost no extra outlay. Always purchase generics when you can. Prepared foods and convenience foods will always be much more expensive than the generic ingredients needed to make the food. Preparing food in bulk and in advance also gives you the opportunity to plan ahead and be more accurate in your budget. Save Money by buying in bulk whenever you can. One thing to be aware of when buying in bulk is to be sure that any product you buy will get used before it goes bad - you won't save money if you have to throw stuff away. Buying in bulk is not only a good way to save money it is also a good strategy for coping with and surviving emergencies. Save Money Tip Three
• Save Money Tip 4

• Make sure a sale is a sale. By this I mean do your price research before you commit to making an expensive purchase in a retailers money-off sale. You have to be sure the sale really is a sale and not a creative marketing strategy of the store to encourage you to spend your money without thinking. Once you have researched the true price of a product (any product) you are in a good position to take advantage of a sale, special offer or discount and really save money. "Buy one get one free", "50% off", and "Huge Discount" will only help you save money if the actual price you pay is lower than you would pay somewhere else for exactly the same product. Save Money Tip Four
• Save Money Tip 5

• Buy used. Sure, we all like to buy new. But there are huge money savings to be made in buying used. Typically cars lose one-third of their value in the first 24 months from new. Why not buy a car 24 months old? Other items such as clothes can be worth even less just the day after new. Look for ways to buy "as good as new" items and save money. Typical products you might consider buying used to save money include: cars, clothes, electrical goods, garden items... tools and sheds, household items... pots and pans, the list of used goods where you can save money is endless. Save Money Tip Five
• Save Money Tip 6

• Don't carry excessive debt. Some debt in our lives may be essential. We may need a mortgage to purchase a home, we may need to use our credit card to make purchases until pay-day, but your aim to save money should be to have as little debt as possible. Credit Card deb is typically the most expensive debt we may carry. You will be able to save money every month if you make it an absolute rule to pay off your outstanding balance every month. If you can have the discipline to do this you will save money by effectively having no debt, and thus no interest charge on your credit card(s). Save Money Tip Six
• Save Money Tip 7

• Save Money. No, I mean really save some money. Each week or each month get into the habit of putting an amount, however small into your savings. You could start by saving a very small fixed amount each time and then move to putting in larger amounts once you begin to save money from your other money saving strategies. You will find that by saving money on a regular basis you will quickly build up a store of reserve money and also feel motivated to save more. The hardest part is to take the first step and start saving money - so START TODAY and save some money NOW! If you find it impossible to save money once you have it, consider having money deducted from your paycheck direct each month. This can be a great way to save money rapidly as once it is set up you will not notice it is being collected and your savings will grow with no more effort from you. Save Money Tip Seven
• Save Money Tip 8

• Shop Wisely. Consider markets, superstores, farmer's markets, local shops, marts and stores. Anywhere is worth checking out to see if you can save money. Farmer's Markets can be particularly good places to save money. Typically you are buying direct from the producer of the product so the savings are passed on to you. Use your bulk buying strategy here - farmer's markets often offer opportunities to save money by buying larger quantities of staples, for instance potatoes, rice or corn. Save money and shop wisely. Save Money Tip Eight
• Save Money Tip 9

• Eat in rather than out. This is a huge area where you can save money. A cup of coffee taken out could easily cost you TWENTY times (or more) what it would cost you to make it at home. So think before you drink when you are out. Eating is the same. Fast food restaurants are counting on you eating food that you perhaps don't really need at that time but buy just because it is quick. Why not wait until you get home and have a more nutritious meal and save money at the same time. Save Money Tip Nine
• Save Money Tip 10

• Use less. This money saving tip is a lesson we all need to learn. We live in a consumer society where waste is a huge problem. If we could all use and consume less there would be less waste, less power consumption, and the benefits for you are SAVING MONEY. Consider using less shampoo when you wash your hair, this may not mean washing your hair less effectively it means not flushing the excess shampoo and your money down the drain. What about saving on heating? Turn the thermostat down or put on extra clothes when you are cold. Turn off lights, the TV and the computer when they are not in use. Each little saving you make will build up and enable you to save money. Huge savings in energy can be made which will save you money and be good for our planet and the other people on it.