Earth’s magnetic pole reversal happens all the [geologic] time

Scientists understand that Earth’s magnetic field has flipped its polarity many times over the millennia. In other words, if you were alive about 800,000 years ago, and facing what we call north with a magnetic compass in your hand, the needle would point to ‘south.’ This is because a magnetic compass is calibrated based on Earth’s poles. The N-S markings of a compass would be 180 degrees wrong if the polarity of today’s magnetic field were reversed. Many doomsday theorists have tried to take this natural geological occurrence and suggest it could lead to Earth’s destruction. But would there be any dramatic effects? The answer, from the geologic and fossil records we have from hundreds of past magnetic polarity reversals, seems to be ‘no.’

Reversals are the rule, not the exception. Earth has settled in the last 20 million years into a pattern of a pole reversal about every 200,000 to 300,000 years, although it has been more than twice that long since the last reversal. A reversal happens over hundreds or thousands of years, and it is not exactly a clean back flip. Magnetic fields morph and push and pull at one another, with multiple poles emerging at odd latitudes throughout the process. Scientists estimate reversals have happened at least hundreds of times over the past three billion years…

Earth’s polarity is not a constant. Unlike a classic bar magnet, or the decorative magnets on your refrigerator, the matter governing Earth’s magnetic field moves around. Geophysicists are pretty sure that the reason Earth has a magnetic field is because its solid iron core is surrounded by a fluid ocean of hot, liquid metal…The flow of liquid iron in Earth’s core creates electric currents, which in turn create the magnetic field. So while parts of Earth’s outer core are too deep for scientists to measure directly, we can infer movement in the core by observing changes in the magnetic field. The magnetic north pole has been creeping northward – by more than 600 miles (1,100 km) – since the early 19th century, when explorers first located it precisely. It is moving faster now, actually, as scientists estimate the pole is migrating northward about 40 miles per year, as opposed to about 10 miles per year in the early 20th century.

Another doomsday hypothesis about a geomagnetic flip plays up fears about incoming solar activity. This suggestion mistakenly assumes that a pole reversal would momentarily leave Earth without the magnetic field that protects us from solar flares and coronal mass ejections from the sun. But, while Earth’s magnetic field can indeed weaken and strengthen over time, there is no indication that it has ever disappeared completely. A weaker field would certainly lead to a small increase in solar radiation on Earth – as well as a beautiful display of aurora at lower latitudes — but nothing deadly. Moreover, even with a weakened magnetic field, Earth’s thick atmosphere also offers protection against the sun’s incoming particles.

I couldn’t resist posting this. I know a Christian science teacher who’s stuck into the idea of incoming solar activity roasting us on the playing field of life. I’m not certain if he plans to purchase some kind of anti-radiation suit or just move underground for a couple hundred years.

Don’t piss off a snake charmer in Uttar Pradesh!

An angry snakecharmer in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has let loose dozens of snakes in a government office, sparking chaos and panic.

Hakkul, of Lara village in Basti district, dumped the snakes, including a number of cobras, at the land revenue office in Harraiya town on Tuesday…No-one was bitten or injured but the snakes are yet to be caught.

Mr Hakkul is usually called in whenever a snake is spotted in the area and he has saved many lives over the years, local journalist Mazhar Azad told the BBC. Mr Hakkul has petitioned various government offices over the years demanding a plot of land where he can “conserve” his snakes…

Mr Hakkul says his request has been cleared by senior authorities, but the local officials keep delaying it.

On Tuesday, Mr Hakkul went to the Tehsil [revenue] office with a group of supporters and emptied out his bags containing poisonous snakes.

“Snakes were climbing up the tables and chairs. The office was full, there were nearly 100 officials and clerks and many more visitors,” Mr Azad said. “There was total chaos for several hours. Some people started taking photos with their telephone cameras, others brought out sheets to try to cover the snakes…

Mr Hakkul and his men escaped in the confusion and are yet to be caught.

So are the snakes who are still hiding in the building.


Fed + Five Central Banks = Rate Cut on Dollar Swaps

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Six central banks led by the Federal Reserve made it cheaper for banks to borrow dollars in emergencies in a global effort to ease Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis.

Stocks rallied worldwide, commodities surged and yields on most European debt fell on the show of force from central banks aimed at easing strains in financial markets. The cost for European banks to borrow dollars dropped from the highest in three years, tempering concerns about euro’s worsening crisis after leaders said they’d failed to boost the region’s bailout fund as much as planned…

The premium banks pay to borrow dollars overnight from central banks will fall by half a percentage point to 50 basis points, the Fed said today in a statement in Washington. The so- called dollar swap lines will be extended by six months to Feb. 1, 2013. The Fed coordinated the move with the European Central Bank and the central banks of Canada, Switzerland, Japan and the U.K.

The six central banks also agreed to create temporary bilateral swap programs so funding can be provided in any of the currencies “should market conditions so warrant.” Those swap lines were also authorized through Feb. 1, 2013…

Two hours before the Fed announcement, China cut the amount of cash that the nation’s banks must set aside as reserves for the first time since 2008. The level for the biggest lenders falls to 21 percent from a record 21.5 percent, based on past statements.

While today’s move by the six central banks is likely to ease tensions in money markets, it falls short of some calls for the ECB to step up and act as lender of last resort for the governments of the 17-member euro area and buy unlimited amounts of government bonds. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has resisted the idea, arguing it isn’t the ECB’s job to do so and would only be a temporary fix…

Under the dollar liquidity-swap program, the Fed lends dollars to the ECB and other central banks in exchange for currencies including euros. The central banks lend dollars to commercial banks in their jurisdictions through an auction process…

The coordinated action “lowers the cost of emergency funding and increases the scope,” Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive officer, of PIMCo. said in a radio interview today on “Bloomberg Surveillance” with Ken Prewitt and Tom Keene. Central banks “are seeing something in the functioning of the banking system that worries them,” El-Erian said.

Mohamed El-Erian would be understated about the end of the universe as we know it. 🙂

Part of the problem includes Euroland banks unwilling to get in bed with each sufficiently to loan dollars to each other. As long as Angela Merkel tries to stay in office and refrain from supporting bonds issued by the ECB – nothing will happen at the northern end of the European Union. The EU is still stuck with the laggard economies they invited in by winking and nudge-nudge machinations over sovereign debt and fiscal practices in southern Europe.

There are a couple of potential long range solutions none of which are palatable to the EU as presently constituted. Especially the idea of having a two-stage membership, fiscal union or currency.

I’d love to know if it was Ben Bernanke or Tim Geithner – or both – who worked behind the scenes to get this herd of cats into an assembly of thrift and economic repair that should last at least a week or two. I’m convinced it was one or the other. And Euro egos are so tender they won’t be seen admitting either.

Yamaha shows retro 188 mpg motorbike for commuting, errands

Yamaha’s press conference at the Tokyo Motor Show today was a genuine sign of the times. Four brand new world premiers were shown. The largest internal combustion engine amongst them was a 250cc model with fat tires designed to go anywhere – the SUV of motorcycles was the claim.

There was also a three-wheeled electric commuter, a fold-up electric pedal-assist bicycle and, wait for it, a 188 U.S. miles/gallon retro 125cc commuter that’s somewhere between a bicycle and motorcycle – it weighs just 80 kg and it is beautiful…

Modeled on Yamaha’s first motorcycle, the YA-1, the Yamaha Y125 is a modern interpretation of that motorcycle. Though the YA-1 was itself a copy of the German DKW RT125 and was powered by a two-stroke engine, I am certain readers will agree the Yamaha concept has faithfully updated the YA-1.

The YA-1 weighed around 140 kilograms and produced 5.6 bhp @ 5000 rpm for what was at the time, a highly competitive motorcycle not just on the road, but on the racetrack.

The big difference with the Y125 is in the fuel consumption. Yamaha claims the bike uses its “world” 125cc four-stroke motor, though the engine certainly seems to have been lightened and polished and beautified, and heaven knows what they’ve done with the internals.

The Y125 uses what is by today’s standards, close to a bicycle frame with sophisticated lightweight suspension and similarly, the brakes are also featherweight. The end result is a bike that tips the scales at 80 kg – just a tad more than half the original YA-1’s total…

The “world” motor Yamaha claims is used in the bike produces double the horsepower of the original YA-1, so the Y125 will never be embarrassed for acceleration or top speed on urban roads. The 80kg weight will ensure it is far quicker than your average scooter to ride, and the fuel consumption…is testimony to what can be done when you really want to achieve economy in a two-wheeler.

I’d be willing to risk these old bones on a critter as attractive and economical as this for errands to town – or wandering back roads for opportunistic photography sessions. Heavier rear springs to aid attaching a dual bag carrier would be nice for a grocery catch-up trip that loses control.

It surely is a pretty little bike.

Support for the Tea Party drops even in Republican Party strongholds – which is plummeting faster and further!

Support for the Tea Party — and with it, the Republican Party — has fallen sharply even in places considered Tea Party strongholds, according to a new survey.

In Congressional districts represented by Tea Party lawmakers, the number of people saying they disagree with the Tea Party has risen sharply over the year since the movement powered a Republican sweep in midterm elections, so that almost as many people disagree with the Tea Party as agree with it, according to the poll by the Pew Research Center.

Support for the Republican Party has fallen more sharply in those places than it has in the country as a whole. In the 60 districts represented in Congress by a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, Republicans are viewed about as negatively as Democrats.

The survey suggests that the Tea Party may be dragging down the Republican Party heading into a presidential election year, even as it ushered in a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives just a year ago.

Which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Folks outside the ranks of True Believers looked at who bought and paid for the “movement” and recognized them for what they are – and always have been. The moneybags for rightwing extremists and reactionaries who found a home in the Republican Party decades ago.

Many of those inside the Tea Party were either deluded by their own ignorance – or the agitprop they were fed. Many of those, especially seniors, have realized how truly dumb it would for them to be working to scuttle Social Security or Medicare. How foolish it would be to continue the downward spiral of American education – especially for their own kids and grandkids.

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Patrolling Greenland by dog sledge – through the winter

Since the Cold War, Denmark has staked its claim to northern Greenland – and its untapped mineral wealth – with dog sledge patrols. This is the Sirius Patrol in numbers…

Each autumn, six dog sledge teams – each manned by two soldiers from the Royal Danish Navy – spend up to six months patrolling an area of 160,000 sq km. They are the only people in a vast wilderness about three times the size of Denmark, or the equivalent of Britain and France combined.

During winter the sun disappears for two months. The average yearly temperature is -10C and the mercury can dip as low as -55C – the lowest recorded temperature in the area.

There are up to 14 dogs in each team, and a day’s patrol will typically cover 30km. At night the soldiers retire to a hi-tech tent. The dogs sleep outside, even in the depths of winter.

The unit selectively breeds Greenlandic dogs for endurance and strength. Each dog works for five years. By the time it retires, a dog in the Sirius Patrol will have pulled sledges for more than 20,000km.

During a two-year placement with the unit, the soldiers are paid a monthly salary of 22,000 Danish kroner after tax. That’s a little over $3,700. Their arctic training includes dog handling, building emergency snow shelters, and hunting for food…

In 1950, with the Cold War cooling international relations, Denmark decided to establish a permanent military presence. Initially christened Operation Resolut, it was renamed Sirius in 1953 after the brightest star in the dog constellation.

The Cold War has long since ended, but Greenland remains a desirable territory, rich in oil and precious metals. The environment is too extreme for current mining technology, but the patrols secure Denmark’s claim to this valuable wilderness simply by their presence.

Their presence is tolerated by the newly independent government of Greenland. It’s handier than spending your own money on the military. The dogs are always welcome.

Happy Holidaze from Santa and his machine guns

It has all the hallmarks of a traditional Christmas: an ornate tree piles of presents and a pair of lovingly clasped machine guns.

A gun club in Arizona is cashing in on its members fondness for their weaponry by offering them the chance to be photographed holding their armaments and their loved ones.

Visitors to the Scottsdale Gun Club can pay $5 – $10 for non-members – to be pictured with a pair of heavy weapons and a slightly nervous looking Santa Claus.

In the backdrop of the photos is a Garwood Minigun, which can fire up to 6,000 rounds per minute…

The club’s website exhorts readers to “Get your holiday picture with Santa & his machine guns!

Several of the example pictures include young children either holding guns or sitting in Santa’s lap as their parents pack heat.

This is not a joke, folks. I know that our readers around the world – especially those who have suffered the pain of war, the invasion of their homeland by political criminals like Hitler, will wonder if all the citizens of the United States are as irresponsible, demented and foolish as this lot?

The answer is – enough of them to be dangerous.

Sadly, they have the political support of the Republican Party – and the cowards in the Democratic Party are such opportunist wimps they haven’t the courage to stand up in opposition.

I’ve been a gun owner most of my life. There have been periods when I truly enjoyed handgun hunting – though I don’t hunt anymore. I have always supported registration, licensing and legitimate questions associated with gun purchases. The kind of thing these nutballs never approve of.

Octopus-like flexible robot crawls through tight spaces

Harvard scientists have built a new type of flexible robot that is limber enough to wiggle and worm through tight spaces.

It’s the latest prototype in the growing field of soft-bodied robots. Researchers are increasingly drawing inspiration from nature to create machines that are more bendable and versatile than those made of metal.

The Harvard team, led by chemist George M. Whitesides, borrowed from squids, starfish and other animals without hard skeletons to fashion a small, four-legged rubber robot that calls to mind the clay animation character Gumby…

The Harvard project, funded by the Pentagon’s research arm…took two months to construct, is 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) long. Its four legs can be separately controlled by pumping air into the limbs, either manually or via computer. This gives the robot a range of motions including crawling and slithering.

The researchers tested the robot’s flexibility by having it squirm underneath a pane of glass just three-quarters of an inch from the surface.

Scientists maneuvered the robot through the tiny gap 15 times using a combination of movements. In most cases, it took less than a minute to get from side to side.

Researchers eventually want to improve the robot’s speed, but were pleased that it did not break from constant inflation and deflation.

It was tough enough to survive,” said Harvard postdoctoral fellow Robert Shepherd, adding that the robot can traverse on a variety of surfaces including felt cloth, gravel, mud and even Jell-O.

There were drawbacks. The robot is tethered to an external power source and scientists need to find a way to integrate the source before it can be deployed in the real world…

I love this stuff. Of course, I can see the first battlefield simulation being defeated by a Jack Russell terrier.

Or the first real-life use searching for earthquake survivors in a collapsed building? I can hear some poor bugger trapped in the rubble screaming in panic when he sees a version of this wriggling towards him in the dust and darkness.

End of cash predicted for years – will the wake be held in Turkey?

Consumers will not need any form of wallet to go shopping by 2016, the online payment firm Paypal says. But it is not the UK or the US that is leading the march to empty their pockets, it is Turkey, not known for its early adoption of new technology.

The death of cash has been talked about for a while. Claims were made by Visa a few years ago that the date would be 2012, which now seems unlikely. Now analyst firm Forrester, in a report paid for by Paypal, is the one wading in on the debate saying the tipping point is just five years away.

Near-field communication (NFC) on both mobile phones and in cards allows quick payments for smaller purchases by using a radio signal that activates when the chip is placed near a reader.

Market research company Allied Business Intelligence thinks that the watershed – or wallet-shed – moment will be even earlier, in 2014…

The countries which most prominently use credit cards – the US, the UK and Canada – have been relatively slow to change their ways. But one surprising country is amongst the leader in trialling the way forward for mobile payments – Turkey…

There are not that many branches of banks outside Istanbul so, until very recently it has been a cash-based society. ATMs are a fairly new concept. Not all cards work in all machines and the banking industry has been very fragmented.

In a country which is still classed as a “developing nation”, no one system of electronic transfer has yet become established so new ideas have less of a problem getting accepted. Another advantage it has is that the country has a relatively young population, willing to try new things who have not developed long-term habits which are notoriously difficult to change.

Mobile phone operator Turkcell is responsible for one of the success stories. Within four months of launching, 100,000 pre-paid cards registered on mobile phones were sold. They are used to buy goods from shops or for sending money and can be used without a bank account. Money can even be taken from ATMs.

Ironically, there is no money to made from cash transactions so making it as easy as possible to spend digital money is in a company’s interest, taking small percentages of the cost of payment as a transaction fee and lowering the cost of processing physical money.

It is those smaller transactions, still predominantly in cash, that could be the biggest change…

It’s all OK with me. As long as I am assured by my bank these transactions are secure – and insured by the bank – I only foresee one problem. As much of a geek as I am, since I’ve retired I have no need for a smartphone. So, my cell phone is capable of nothing more than voice calls. 🙂