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Science

NASA, NOAA Analyses Reveal Record-Shattering Global Warm Temperatures In 2015 (nasa.gov) 507

vikingpower writes: Earth's 2015 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record keeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Globally-averaged temperatures in 2015 shattered the previous mark set in 2014 by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13 Celsius). Only once before, in 1998, has the new record been greater than the old record by this much. The British Met office also reports on the same phenomenon, even forecasting that global temperatures are very soon going to reach the one-degree-Celsius marker. According to Stephen Belcher, Director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, "We've had similar natural events in the past, yet this is the first time we're set to reach the 1 C marker and it's clear that it is human influence driving our modern climate into uncharted territory."
Technology

Help Is On the Way In the War Against Noisy Leaf Blowers 228

HughPickens.com writes: Perry Stein writes in the Washington Post that the fight against noisy leaf blowers is gaining momentum, in part, because residents are framing it as a public health issue. Two-stroke engine leaf blowers mix fuel with oil and don't undergo a complete combustion, emitting a number of toxins, like carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, which their operators inevitably inhale. Municipalities throughout the country have moved to ban them. "You find two-stroke engines in poorer countries because they're cheap," says James Fallows citing a 2004 National Institutes of Health study showing that two-stroke engines on two- and three-wheeled vehicles in Delhi, India, account for a significant amount of air pollution. "You don't find them in richer countries because they're so dirty and polluting." In Washington DC leaf blowers can't exceed 70 decibels as measured from 50 feet away. (A normal conversation is typically about 60 decibels.) Haskell Small, a composer and concert pianist who is helping to lead the leaf-blower battle in Wesley Heights, describes the sound as "piercing." "When I try to compose or write a letter, there is no way for me to listen to my inner voice, and the leaf blower blanks out all the harmonic combinations."

But help is on the way. A new generation of leaf blowers is more environmentally friendly as the emergence of battery-powered leaf blowers takes us closer to the Holy Grail of equipment that is both (1) powerful and (2) quiet. Fallows supports the notion of a kind of trade-in program, where loud, old leaf blowers are exchanged for the less offensive kind. Ted Rueter, founder of Noise Free America, facilitated one such scheme. In the heat of his front lawn dispute with his neighbor, he offered a solution. "If you agree to use them, I will buy you two new leaf blowers," Rueter told his neighbor. "The offer was accepted and the noise level in his front yard was restored to a peaceful level," says Lawrence Richards. "When it comes to the balancing act of protecting landscaping jobs while reducing noise and emissions, it helps that someone was willing to pay for progress."

Submission + - Peak Oil Predictions Proven Wrong (battleswarmblog.com)

Nova Express writes: Remember how some economists and environmentalists confidently predicted "peak oil" sometime in the 2000s? (Slashdot ran numerous stories on the idea.) It turns out that those predictions of peak oil were wrong. Thanks to improved technology, fracking, shale oil, and declining demand, the world is now going through an oil glut that has prices down around $30 a barrel. "Once again the market has proven much better at adaptation than erroneous neo-Malthusian thinking. Anyone telling you they know exactly how things will unfold should be treated with severe skepticism. The future’s not ours to see."
GNU is Not Unix

The FSF Is 30 Years Old; Where Should They Go From Here? (fsf.org) 231

An anonymous reader writes: The Free Software Foundation is conducting a survey to gather feedback on where they should be focusing their efforts over the next five years. Should they concentrate on IP issues, UX issues, or something else? Is their stance on Free Software versus Open Source a battle that's already lost, and should they compromise? What do users think an ideal world would look like in 2020? And how miserable could things get? Without the FSF (and GNU), today's computing landscape would sure look a lot different.

Comment Or they could, you know, abandon Communism (Score 1, Insightful) 108

And instead embrace freedom and allow their impoverished citizens embrace freedom and capitalism, and exchange information that way.

The reason that "Cuba has little Internet infrastructure" is because communism is a colossal economic and political failure. Free capitalism economies offer a much better model for getting out of poverty and building out an information infrastructure.

The Internet

Cuba's Nationwide Sneakernet: a Model For Developing Nations? 108

lpress writes: Cuba has little Internet infrastructure, but they have a well-organized sneaker net called El Paquete Semanal (the weekly packet). El Paquete distributes a terabyte of digital entertainment nationwide every week using portable drives. The system is reliable and the organization is said to be Cuba's largest private employer, but it is technically illegal and the content is pirated. A legitimatized Paquete would save scarce Internet resources for other applications. El Paquete is also a possible model for other developing nations. Vox has a short documentary about the system.

Comment Re: make it user-selectable (Score 4, Insightful) 235

What you are taught when you learn how to drive is "always brake, never swerve". Which also happens to be exactly what a self-driving car would and should do in an emergency situation.

Reformulated as a trolley problem, this is: do not pull the lever.

Why? Because swerving will almost always put the car in more danger for itself and others, since it may cause the car to spin, or approach cars in incoming lanes or pedestrians on the footpath, or any number of bad things.

Since, by law, other cars must maintain a safe distance behind you, slamming on your brakes is always a safe response to an obstruction. Any other response, such as changing lanes, should be considered if it is safe or not. If it is unsafe, then you shouldn't do it, things like "busses of schoolchildren" is completely outside the parameters of the problem.

This whole self driving car issue took a wrong turn the day that someone had decided that they had the moral imperative to break the law in order to prevent crashes. You do not have that imperative yourself, you have the imperative to follow the law in order to prevent crashes. The reason that two drivers can pass each other at enormous speeds without prior communication is that the law forces them into their lanes. The law is the protocol that all drivers follow to interact, since they are unable to talk to each other and as soon as you break it, you expose yourself and others to untold danger. If the law says "don't leave your lane" and best driving practices says "don't swerve", then you don't swerve.

Comment Re: I must have been sick that day. (Score 1) 34

AFAIK, on a tidally locked body, a sidereal day and a year take the same time. You can pick whichever you wish, depending on how long you wish to sound like. You can just call it a "month" though, since cycle of the phases of the earth correspond to those of the moon (new earth corresponds to full moon, full earth with new moon) and do away with ambiguity.

To veer off topic, something that ticked me off with the Martian is that nobody reminded how long a Martian sol lasts, but they were used for time periods even on earth and in space, meaning I had no idea of elapsed time.

Comment Re:Need to protect it well. (Score 5, Funny) 129

According to Wikipedia, one gram of plutonium-238 generates approximately 0.5 watts of thermal power. Thus, 2420 tonnes of Pu-238 will generate 1.21 GW for decades.

An alkaline AA battery weighs 23 g and can put out just over 1 watt of electrical power without overheating. You would need 27830 tonnes of them to output 1.21 GW for about 2 hours.

A golden hamster weighs 125 grams and apparently generates a maximum of 0.4 watts (according to google). This means you need about 378125 tonnes of hamster to generate 1.21 GW for a few hours.

Thus, PU-238 is clearly the most practical solution of those mentioned.

Comment Re: cultural artifact how? (Score 1) 95

The name "Uluru" is used as the primary name by the Australian government and in school textbooks. Though ordinary people have the right to refer to it however they like.

Aboriginal place names have always been a enthusiastically promoted part of Australia, long before Aboriginals even had the right to vote or hold public office. Why Australians never questioned calling their capital city Canberra (which may or may not mean "breasts" or "cleavage"), but a century later seem to find the name of a rock in the desert a sticking point is beyond me. My guess is 1) inertia 2) the perceived implication that this monolith means comparatively little to non-indigenous Australians.

Comment Re: We should differentiate between the two (Score 1) 141

Southern regimes consider abortion to be harmful to fetus (or as they would say: baby), woman and society. Thus, no-matter what federal courts say, they will do their darnedest to ban it. Federal rulings do have effect on the state level, but states still more or less rule themselves as they see fit (as per the US constitution). Thus, southern states are regimes that only ban things that they consider harmful to the people.

I thought someone might bring up something like North Korea. But Dixie? Too easy!

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