Security chief at coal mine where 29 died gets 3 years in prison

The former security chief at a coal mine where 29 miners died in 2010 was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in prison for lying to federal agents and obstructing an investigation into the worst accident in the U.S. mining industry in four decades.

Hughie Elbert Stover of Clear Fork, West Virginia, had faced a maximum possible sentence of 25 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger in Beckley, West Virginia.

He was convicted last October of giving false statements to FBI and Mine Safety and Health Administration investigators and with obstructing the federal investigation into the cause of the Upper Big Branch disaster.

An explosion at the mine, owned by the now-defunct Massey Energy, killed 29 miners in April 2010…

Prosecutors said Stover had lied when he told FBI and mine safety investigators that security guards had not routinely warned mine personnel when inspectors were on their way to the mine. But investigators discovered that Stover himself warned mine personnel when mine safety inspectors were on their way. Stover also instructed another person to destroy thousands of Massey Energy documents related to the UBB mine, prosecutors said…

Last week, a former superintendent of the mine was charged with felony conspiracy, accused of tipping off employees to safety inspections and concealing dangerous violations…

Three reports, including a preliminary report by the mine safety administration and a report released by the United Mine Workers of America, blame Massey for the disaster by allowing unsafe conditions in the mine.

Throw away the key.

And while you’re at it, lock up the politicians in the state legislature and Congress who cave in to the mine owners every time the question of safety arises. The only body that ever fights for miners is the UMWA. They deserve all the thanks for dedication to mine safety.

Giant Jurassic fleas sucked — but couldn’t jump

Among a horde of insect fossils recovered from China and Mongolia, Diying Huang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences has discovered several species of giant fleas. There are nine individuals from three different species, and they hail from the middle Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods. “These outcrops have given us thousands of exquisitely preserved insects, but fewer than ten fleas,” says Andre Nel, who led the study.

The fossilised insects had many features that identify them as fleas – ancient precursors to the ones we know and loathe. But they had many unusual traits too. For a start, they were much bigger. While modern fleas are just a few millimetres long, some of these ancient forms were ten times bigger. The males grew between 8 and 15 millimetres in length and the females reached between 14 and 20 millimetres.

They also hadn’t evolved many of the extreme specialisations that today’s fleas possess. They didn’t have the long hindlegs that allow modern fleas to leap great distances. Instead, their legs ended in long, curved claws, suggest that they were adapted to hang onto fur or feathers. They probably hung on to the coats of feathered dinosaurs and the earliest mammals.

And they would have certainly stabbed their hosts’ skin and sucked their hosts’ blood. Huang found that their mouthparts that were much longer and stouter than those of modern fleas – like drinking straws compared to hypodermic needles.

The stabbing siphons also provide a clue about the origins of fleas. They are very much like those of scorpionflies – a group of insects named after the males’ large genitals, which look like a scorpion’s sting. Many scorpionflies (like the one below) have long snouts that they use to probe the depths of flowers, and suck up nectar and pollen. At some point in their history, some of their members adapted to sucking a bloodier liquid.

“They probably began to reduce their antennae, eyes and wings, and to develop legs adapted for grasping on the bases of the feathers or fur,” says Nels. That takes us up to the earliest fleas at the start of the Cretaceous period. By the end of the Cretaceous, these insects had also evolved specialised legs that allowed them to jump from one host to another. They started to look like Tarwinia, another extinct species that, until now, was the earliest known flea.

Reflect for a moment on the fascinating history that is missed by fools who reject science, evolution, the study of processes that took us from the distant past to today – and beyond. They not only miss an expanding knowledge of how what occurs – does so – they miss some plain and fancy interesting reading.

South Asia thumbs their noses at Obama’s sanctions on Iran


A portion of the Chabahar port

India remains undeterred by US and EU pressure to stop importing Iranian oil, indicating clearly that it would continue to be driven by its own domestic interests in the matter.

Reacting to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments that the US was engaging in “very intense and very blunt” conversations with India and others like China and Turkey to stop importing oil from Iran in order to pressure Tehran over its covert nuclear programme, officials in New Delhi yesterday said they would not be “coerced” by any country.

And reinforcing its stand defying Western sanctions, India recently used Chabahar port in southeastern Iran for the first time ever to transport 100,000 metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan as part of its humanitarian aid to the war-torn country.

India helped build Chabahar a decade ago to provide it access to Afghanistan and Central Asia- banned by neighbouring nuclear rival Pakistan- and is involved in constructing a 560-mile long rail line from the Zabul iron ore mines in southern Afghanistan to the Iranian port.

Along with Iran and Afghanistan it also has an agreement to accord Indian goods, headed for Central Asia and Afghanistan preferential treatment and tariff reductions at Chabahar, an arrangement it plans to exploit imminently.

A defiant India was also dispatching a large trade delegation to Iran later this month to explore business opportunities created by Western sanctions…

Continue reading

Microsoft Azure cloud cuckoo cockup blamed on Leap Day

The outage on Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud computing platform that caused the UK government’s G-Cloud service to go offline was the result of a calculation error caused by the extra day in February due to the leap year.

Writing on the Azure blog the firm’s corporate vice president for service and cloud, Bill Laing, said while the firm had still to fully determine the cause of the issue, the extra date in the month appeared the most likely cause…

“While final root cause analysis is in progress, this issue appears to be due to a time calculation that was incorrect for the leap year…”

“Some sub-regions and customers are still experiencing issues and as a result of these issues they may be experiencing a loss of application functionality. We are actively working to address these remaining issues,” he added.

The outage affected customers across the globe, with the G-Cloud service from the government one of the most high-profile accounts to be affected, as it was only launched last week as part of Whitehall’s attempt to improve the use of IT services in the public sector.

Relying on Microsoft for problem-solving seems like an exercise in self-flagellation.

If one of the largest technology companies in the world – with tens of thousands of purportedly competent coders – simply forgets the way the calendar works and therefore brings down its shiny new cloud worldwide, how are we supposed to have confidence in the rest of the operation?

The freedom of solitude – is 1 really the loneliest number?


Amy Kennedy runs in place during TV commercials and talks to herself in French

If there is any doubt that we’re living in the age of the individual, a look at the housing data confirms it. For millenniums, people have huddled together, in caves, in mud huts, in split-levels and Cape Cods. But these days, 1 in every 4 American households is occupied by someone living alone; in Manhattan, mythic land of the singleton, the number is nearly 1 in 2.

Lately, along with the compelling statistics, a stealth P.R. campaign seems to be taking place, as though living alone were a political candidate trying to burnish its image. Two notable examples: Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University, recently published “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone,” a mash note to domestic solipsism, which he calls “an incredible social experiment” that reveals “the human species is developing new ways to live.” And last fall, an Atlantic magazine cover story examined the rise of the single woman, a piece in which the author Kate Bolick fondly invoked the Barbizon Hotel and visited an Amsterdam apartment complex for women committed to living solo…

True, the benefits of living alone are many: freedom to come and go as you please; the space and solitude to recharge in a plugged-in world; kingly or queenly domain over the bed…

In a sense, living alone represents the self let loose. In the absence of what Mr. Klinenberg calls “surveilling eyes,” the solo dweller is free to indulge his or her odder habits — what is sometimes referred to as Secret Single Behavior. Feel like standing naked in your kitchen at 2 a.m., eating peanut butter from the jar? Who’s to know?

Amy Kennedy, 28, a schoolteacher who has a two-bedroom apartment in High Point, N.C., all to herself, calls it living without “social checks and balances.”

The effects are noticeable, she said: “I’ve been living alone for six years, and I’ve gotten quirkier and quirkier…”

What emerges over time, for those who live alone, is an at-home self that is markedly different — in ways big and small — from the self they present to the world. We all have private selves, of course, but people who live alone spend a good deal more time exploring them…

Ronni Bennett, who is 70 and writes a blog on aging, timegoesby.net, has lived alone for all but 10 or so years of her adult life. She said she has adopted a classic living-alone habit: “I never, ever close the bathroom door.”

The longer she lives alone, she said, the less flexible she becomes — and the less considerate of others’ needs…

RTFA. Beaucoup anecdotes and not a lot of conclusions. Some of these folks think they could re-socialize if they wished to, if it became necessary. Some don’t. Most don’t see any need to find out if they could. I can understand that.

Fossil forest dating back 380 million years unearthed in upstate NY

One of the earliest forests in the world was home to towering palmlike trees and woody plants that crept along the ground like vines, a new fossil find reveals. The forest, which stood in what is now Gilboa, N.Y., was first unearthed in a quarry in the 1920s. But now, a new construction project has revealed for the first time the forest floor as it stood 380 million years ago in the Devonian period.

“For the first time, we actually have a map of about 1,200 square meters of a Devonian forest,” said study researcher Chris Berry, a scientist at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. “We know which plants were growing where in this forest, and how they were interacting.”

The fossilized forest floor contained three types of enormous plants. The first, known as the Gilboa tree or Eospermatopteris, was once thought to be the only type of tree in the forest; quarry workers have been carting specimens out of the area since the fossil plants were first discovered. This tree was tall and looked like today’s palm trees, with a crown of branches at the very top.

But an even stranger specimen lurked in this ancient forest. Amid the towering Gilboa trees were woody creeping plants with branches about 15 centimeters in diameter. These giant plants, known as progymnosperms, seemed to lean against the Gilboa trees for support, perhaps even climbing into them occasionally, Berry said…

The researchers also found a fragment of a third type of tree, lycopsids, which would later dominate the Carboniferous period from about 360 million to about 300 million years ago…

The new view of the ancient forest is changing paleontologists’ understanding of what the landscape looked like. The earliest researchers thought the forest was in a swamp, but Berry and his colleagues, including study leader William Stein of Binghamton University in New York, now believe the forest stood in a flat coastal plain near an ancient shoreline. It was probably buried and preserved when a river channel shifted, bringing in loads of sand to cover the forest floor…

“I’ve spent 20 years trying to imagine what these plants were like as individuals, and yet I really had no conception of them as an ecosystem,” Berry said. “Going to Gilboa and sitting in the middle of the forest floor, you could almost see them growing out of the ground. … The fossil forest came to life in front of my eyes in a way that has never happened before.”

More broadly, a deeper understanding of the forest helps paleontologists piece together the ecology of the very earliest forests on Earth. The Devonian period marks a time when plant life began to shift from small, scattered vegetation to large-scale forests, Berry said. Plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and during the Devonian forest boom, carbon dioxide levels may have dropped from 15 times that of today to modern levels…

We’ve gone from knowing about plants to knowing about a forest,” Berry said. “That’s really been the breakthrough for me.”

Bravo! I know the area fairly well. Hiked the region a lot – seems like a few centuries ago. 🙂