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Archive for August 23rd, 2010

Cairn Energy strikes oil in Arctic waters off Greenland

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A British oil firm will announce that it has struck oil off Greenland, a find that could trigger a rush to exploit oil reserves in the pristine waters of the Arctic.

Cairn Energy, the first company to win permission to drill for oil in this sensitive environment, will break the news to the London stock market along with its half-yearly financial results…

The news will delight the oil industry, which has long believed the Arctic harbours some of the last huge reserves. It will also delight a Greenland government desperate to diversify its fragile economy away from a dependence on fishing, tourism and cash handouts from Denmark, which still formally has sovereignty over the world’s largest island…

The Arctic find will reinforce the reputation of Cairn in the oil industry. The firm has a strong track record of making discoveries in new frontiers. It made a name for itself by buying assets in Rajasthan, India, from Shell, then going on to make huge discoveries. Cairn has recently hived off this business at a big profit through a separate stock market flotation.

Asked whether he expected good news from Cairn, Mininnguaq Kleist, a senior official in Greenland’s department of foreign affairs, said only: “Yes, I hope so.” The department is choosing its words carefully because the exact scale of the oil find must still be assessed. The well has not been drilled to its true depth yet, and appraisal holes have to be made before the size of any reservoir can be assessed.

It is expensive to operate in deep waters and in such inhospitable terrain, and there would have to be a lot of oil in place to justify building platforms and pipelines. But most analysts believe the Arctic holds billions of new barrels – and the find will set their imaginations racing.

I left out the portion of this article dealing with Greenpeace. Though I’ve been an environmental activist for 40 years, they are not anyone I especially regard as either constructive or willing and able to consider the needs of working people.

After decades of being a colonial property, the last thing the people of Greenland need is a clot of middle-class twits descending upon them with religious preaching and rule-making.

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Written by Ed Campbell

August 23, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Brit bacteria survive 553 days in space – unprotected!

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Returning home after a year-and-a-half

Bacteria taken from cliffs at Beer on the South Coast have shown themselves to be hardy space travellers.

The bugs were put on the exterior of the space station to see how they would cope in the hostile conditions that exist above the Earth’s atmosphere. And when scientists inspected the microbes a year and a half later, they found many were still alive.

These survivors are now thriving in a laboratory at the Open University (OU) in Milton Keynes.

The experiment is part of a quest to find microbes that could be useful to future astronauts who venture beyond low-Earth orbit to explore the rest of the Solar System…

The Beer microbes were placed on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Technology Exposure Facility, a collection of experimental boxes at the end of the International Space Station’s (ISS) Columbus Laboratory.

The bacteria were sent up still sitting on, and in, small chunks of cliff rock. They would have been exposed to extreme ultraviolet light, cosmic rays, and dramatic shifts in temperature. All the water in the limestone would also have boiled away into the vacuum of space.

Quite how they managed to come through their 553-day ordeal is now being investigated.

Bacterial spores have been known to endure several years in orbit but this is the longest any cells of cyanobacteria, or photosynthesising microbes, have been seen to survive in space.

“The ones we have are related to Antarctic species but they’re also generally quite well-known in hot deserts. So, as well as the colony-forming habit, I suspect they’ve got quite good DNA-repair processes, too…”

“We could send up the spores of known ‘extremophiles’ and we can be pretty sure they will survive because we know already they’re really resistant,” Dr Olsson-Francis told BBC News.

“Whereas in this case, we just used a community to select for these organisms. These are just everyday organisms that live on the coast in Beer in Devon and they can survive in space.”

Yet another species that travels better than human beings. Give them little nano-robot-brains and they might yet achieve something beyond our solar system.

Send for us when they’re ready for company.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 23, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Pic of the Day

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“And that’s how I spell relief !”

____________________
Reuters: A man performs Jal Neti, or nasal wash, an ancient yogic technique,
during a yoga session at Mohali in the northern Indian state of Punjab
August 6, 2010. Many Indians believe that Jal Neti cures diseases related to
the eyes, nose, throat and brain.

Papal visit-nannies OK flags – but, no alcohol or barbecues

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Demonstrating maximum allowed number of cameras
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The Catholic Church has issued a list of dos and don’ts to pilgrims hoping to attend public events during the Pope’s visit to Britain next month.

Catholics hoping to see Pope Benedict XVI at gatherings in London and Birmingham may bring sunblock, banners and torches – but not animals, candles or vuvuzelas.

Other unwelcome items includes alcohol, gazebos, canopies and barbecues which are considered to be “things that…could pose a threat to yourself or others”.

Flags, cushions and small folding chairs have been approved

They advise people to bring “provision for all weather conditions”, “medication as needed for the duration of your time away from home” as well as emergency contact numbers.

Also suggested is wet weather gear and “provision for sunny conditions”…

Around 80,000 people are expected in Hyde Park, London, on September 18, with 65,000 in Birmingham’s Cofton Park the following day. They can expect sound levels of up to 96 decibels, according to the website, marginally louder than a lawnmower…but, not as useful.

The beatification of Cardinal Henry Newman, a convert from the Church of England, at Cofton Park will be the “culmination” of the pope’s four-day visit, said a papal spokesman.

The Pope will also meet with politicians including Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman, both of whom are married to Roman Catholics.

Isn’t it fun getting ready for medieval theatre?

Written by Ed Campbell

August 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Who’s in charge of food safety? Who’s blocking it?

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As the recall of tainted eggs grew to more than a half-billion late last week, three federal agencies were involved in the response, yet it was not clear which one was in the best position to lead.

On August 13, the Food and Drug Administration posted on its website a press release from Wright County Egg, one of the nation’s largest egg producer, that millions of eggs were being voluntarily recalled because of possible Salmonella contamination. In the days that followed, FDA inspectors were reportedly dispatched to Wright County Egg facilities.

“Because USDA is responsible for egg safety at processing plants, it is troubling that FDA is the lead agency in this investigation even though it has never inspected the Wright County Egg facility,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a leading Congressional food safety advocate. “Instead of reinforcing each other’s work, the current food safety system of split jurisdiction appears to have resulted in a disjointed inspection process.”

So, when did the USDA do any inspections?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ed Campbell

August 23, 2010 at 9:00 am

If we’re looking for alien life, we should look where they may be hanging out – especially if they ain’t meat machines like us!

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Just a different kind of shiny

Seti, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, has until now sought radio signals from worlds like Earth. But Seti astronomer Seth Shostak argues that the time between aliens developing radio technology and artificial intelligence (AI) would be short. Writing in Acta Astronautica, he says that the odds favour detecting such alien AI rather than “biological” life.

Seti searchers have mostly still worked under the assumption – as a starting point for a search of the entire cosmos – that ETs would be “alive” in the sense that we know. That has led to a hunt for life that is bound to follow at least some rules of biochemistry, live for a finite period of time, procreate, and above all be subject to the processes of evolution.

But Dr Shostak makes the point that while evolution can take a large amount of time to develop beings capable of communicating beyond their own planet, technology would already be advancing fast enough to eclipse the species that wrought it.

“If you look at the timescales for the development of technology, at some point you invent radio and then you go on the air and then we have a chance of finding you,” he told BBC News. “But within a few hundred years of inventing radio – at least if we’re any example – you invent thinking machines; we’re probably going to do that in this century.

So you’ve invented your successors and only for a few hundred years are you… a ‘biological’ intelligence…”

Dr Shostak says that artificially intelligent alien life would be likely to migrate to places where both matter and energy – the only things he says would be of interest to the machines – would be in plentiful supply. That means the Seti hunt may need to focus its attentions near hot, young stars or even near the centres of galaxies.

“I think we could spend at least a few percent of our time… looking in the directions that are maybe not the most attractive in terms of biological intelligence but maybe where sentient machines are hanging out.”

Makes sense to me. But, then, I made the transition to understanding our species as meat machines decades ago. Another transition to more durable construction is a natural.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 23, 2010 at 6:00 am

Doctor in assisted suicide case has no regrets

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A retired GP who has been told she will not be charged over allegations she advised a seriously ill woman on how to die has said she has “no regrets” but has admitted she feared the police investigation would put her in “deep, deep trouble”.

Dr Libby Wilson, 84, was the first person to be arrested in connection with an assisted suicide after new guidelines on euthanasia were published by Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions. She allegedly spoke to Cari Loder, 48, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, twice on the telephone in the days before she took her own life last year.

Speaking yesterday after the case against her was dropped, Dr Wilson, the founder of Friends At The End (Fate) lobby group, pledged to carry on helping people end their lives. “I have no regrets over what I did and I would do the same thing again.

“I don’t wish to become a martyr to the cause and realise people may try to get me into more trouble. I will have to live with that. I have a conscience and it is perfectly clear.

“My sons and daughters were far more worried than I was. I just could not see how they could put an 84-year-old great grandmother in jail for 14 years for twice speaking to someone on the telephone.

If I was some little flower it could have finished me off but, thankfully, I’m not and I didn’t lose too much sleep. My main worry was if the police had started going in to Fate. I did think about getting rid of my computer hard drive as it was full of documentation about other cases…

“My main concern is that pro-life campaigners call pretending to be people looking for advice on how to kill themselves. These people may try to trap me and start a new case. That’s a risk I will just have to take.

“I have campaigned for more than 30 years for assisted suicide to be legalised and I will continue to do so.”

Bravo! A brave doctor, a doctor with a conscience and more courage than any ten politicians or priests.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 23, 2010 at 2:00 am

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