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Comment Just a few observations... (Score 5, Informative) 88

The key word there in that article is *could* give residents the chance to see the aurora. If you look at the chart on the Solar Cycle Progression and Prediction webpage (http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/SolarCycle/) then you'll notice that the predicted sunspot activity and the actual activity are still very far apart. Additionally, the predicted maximum sunspot number is going to be well below the past two cycles (1991 hitting a sunspot number of 147, and 200/2001 hitting a high of 120. For this cycle, they're predicting a high of only 90 for the sunspot number, a level that hasn't been that low since the 1880's.

So while it is possible that folks south of 45 degrees latitude might see the aurora, it'll have to be courtesy of a really strong CME (coronal mass ejection) aimed in our general direction. Otherwise, it'll probably be a rather boring solar cycle 24.

Comment Re:what is really cool now is ... (Score 1) 52

This is true, but the resolution is not going to be at the same level as the images you see on television or online. NOAA does provide guides for anyone with the equipment to receive the transmissions. Still, it is a fun kind of receiving watching an image appear on the screen one line at a time. (I'm old enough to remember when the transmissions were more like a fax signal, a fax being exactly what was hooked to the receiver to generate the image.)

Comment Re:Not a Soviet first? (Score 1) 52

There is a way to do this, using a Molniya type orbit pattern. Three satellites in a Molniya orbit would give you 24 hour coverage over the high altitudes and polar regions, but in order to use such data you'd need at least two ground stations tracking the satellites constantly. It's just much easier to view the earth from a geosynchronous orbit instead and not worry about polar information so much.

Comment Weather Satellites are indispensabe now (Score 5, Informative) 52

TIROS 1 was one of those major milestones that we take for granted today. With today's coverage via the GOES and POES (Polar Orbiting Environment Satellite, along with the older ESSA and NIMBUS satellite systems from the mid 1960's and 1970's) weather forecasting took a giant step forward from the late 1950's to today. Just as an example, take hurricane forecasting. Back in the 1950's and early 1960's, discovery of a hurricane forming would have been from a ship report in the Gulf of Mexico, reports from the Leeward Islands, or a Hurricane Hunter randomly coming across the storm during routine patrols. Once satellites were added into the mix, the discovery of the storm became easier with increased advance notice for populated areas. What used to be 12 hours warning for an area (New Orleans, Hurricane Betsy 1965) became 35 hours warning (New Orleans/Biloxi, Hurricane Katrina, 2005). This made a significant difference not only in being able forecast the movement of the storms, but also to get the warnings out to evacuate people and save lives.

The weather satellite is perhaps the best example of how our technology has improved our lifestyle overall.

Comment Re:Does anyone beiieve this number? (Score 1) 175

Let me state that at the company I work for, disk encryption is *MANDATORY* for all computer systems, including servers. In addition, encryption is also mandatory for anything being saved to removable media (read thumb drives, portable hard drives, but not CD and DVD media), and that digital rights management is installed for email so that you can protect a message by restricting it to only those recipients and prevent (or at least mitigate) the ability to copy that message.

Admittedly this does make my job of supporting the systems more complicated, as previously if the operating system suffered a failure, I could still access the user's data. Today, the odds of being able to decrypt the drive (yes, there is a procedure for it) and recover data is slim... and if the user didn't install/use the company data backup software that is provided to them, then their data is lost.

But all these requirements are for the company's safety, not necessarily the user's.

Comment Re:Tornado 101 for those unfamiliar (Score 1) 112

They happen any season, though the highest frequency is during the summer months they have been known to happen even in wintertime, and in those cases are even more dangerous (trying to find a grayish-white funnel with grayish-white clouds and white snow covered ground while snowing is extremely difficult). Basically any combining of cold dry air with warm humid air has a potential for creating tornados and funnel-clouds. In winter, such combinations are often what bring on your basic snow storms.

In the south, winter is the most dangerous time when it comes to tornadoes. For example, just from February, 2008, there were 12 killer tornadoes with 59 fatalities. Snow had nothing to do with it, there were your average supercell thunderstorms combined with warm, humid air from the Gulf mixing to create a dangerous situation.

Comment Re:Tornado 101 for those unfamiliar (Score 1) 112

A few additional comments from someone who has lived in both Tornado Alley and Hurricane Central (aka the Gulf Coast):

1. Are tornadoes really that dangerous? Yes that can be very dangerous, capable of rendering concrete building to rubble in seconds.

Even an EF0 tornado (which is viewed as incredibly weak) can do substantial damage to small buildings, mobile homes, and vehicles.

However they tend to very erratic, they can destroy one house, leave the next door house intact and destroy the one after that.

Part of that is due to the tornado having multiple vortices, where you can have a weak vortex and inside is a much stronger vortex. See Xenia, Ohio, 1974 for an explanation.

2. Why don't people live away from where tornadoes exist?

The United States just happens to have the exact sort of geographic and weather patterns that are very conducive for tornadoes to spawn. Again, see April, 1974 for an extreme (but surprisingly common) example of a tornado outbreak.

3. Are tornadoes all that dangerous?

All tornadoes have the potential of being dangerous. Even if it's in open farmland, or a forest area, a tornado still can cause damage, and even death. (See Iowa, June 2008 and the death of 4 at a Boy Scout Camp)

4. Can they occur at night?

While tornadoes can occur at any hour of the day, there are two general periods of time when tornadoes are more likely. For what is called Tornado Alley (Texas through the Dakotas) the most likely time is in the afternoon hours into the early evening. But for what might be called Dixie Alley (which is the southestern US) the most likely times are from 10pm to 5am in the mornings.

I'm not a meteorologist, but I did for a few years study meteorology with an intent to go into the career field.

Comment Re:Lies, damn lies, and PR (Score 1) 111

I work with Dell hardware every day as part of my job. [The company I work for is about 99% Dell-centric when it comes to desktops and laptops.] As such, I have had to deal with a lot of Dell issues in the past, such as the GX270 motherboard problem (we haven't quite gotten to swapping out all of the system boards, but it's been a fair number), and the previous recalls of batteries from Dell. In the previous recall, it was the C600/C610 notebooks that were affected, not their current generation of systems. But still, there is a question of quality at times. The only good is that we can have a replacement on hand in most cases within 24 hours, if the device failed in some way. With the battery recall, we're being told we have to follow the same instructions if we have 1 battery or 100 batteries to send back, the corporate Dell help line is not allowed to process them specifically for the company.

At least in our case we don't have the sort of issues that the average customer is going through. We have a specific phone number to call for tech support, and I'll at least say this much: the techs I work with over the phone won't ask if we've done X to fix the issue. They know if I'm calling up, I've already done X, Y, and Z and it's dead, Jim.

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