El Niño monitoring system in the eastern Pacific is failing


Nearly half of the buoys in the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean array have failed

An ocean-monitoring system that extends across the tropical Pacific is collapsing, depriving scientists of data on a region that influences global weather and climate trends.

Nearly half of the moored buoys in the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array have failed in the last two years, crippling an early-warning system for the warming and cooling events in the eastern equatorial Pacific, known respectively as El Niño and La Niña. Scientists are now collecting data from just 40% of the array.

It’s the most important climate phenomenon on the planet, and we have blinded ourselves to it by not maintaining this array,” says Michael McPhaden, a senior scientist at…NOAA. McPhaden headed the TAO project before it was transferred out of NOAA’s research arm and into the agency’s National Weather Service in 2005.

…Researchers from around the world will meet next week at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, to discuss possible solutions. NOAA has indicated that the agency will put additional resources into the program this coming year, but few expect that this will be enough to fully restore the array.

Wouldn’t it be a pleasant change if we repopulated Congress, the White House and relevant agencies with science-literate folks to a point where projects like this received adequate funding as readily as, say, subsidies for tobacco farmers or Exxon-Mobil?

I doubt if even a virtual sperm whale would be capable of holding its breath long enough to live to see that happen.

The likely future of Voter ID laws


 
“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal”

It’s way too early to forecast the fate of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, the federal legislation introduced Thursday in response to the United States Supreme Court’s decision last June in Shelby County v. Holder which struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. This sensible new measure has bipartisan support. But already there are grumblings on the right that the bill either isn’t necessary or that it too boldly protects the rights of minority citizens to be free from…discriminatory voting practices…

But it’s not too early to know that state voter identification laws will have an exalted place of protection in the Congressional response to Shelby County no matter what the final legislation looks like. In an effort to garner bipartisan support, that is to say in an effort to appease Republican lawmakers, the bill’s sponsors specifically exempted state voter ID laws from the litany of discriminatory voting policies and practices that would count under the new “coverage formula” contemplated by Section 4 of the proposed law. It’s like proposing a law to ban football and then exempting the Super Bowl.

The VRAA tells us that it will be left to state and federal judges around the nation to render their own judgment about the constitutionality of voter ID laws. And right on cue, the day after the federal measure was introduced on Capitol Hill, a judge in Pennsylvania did just that. Following a lengthy trial last summer, and six months of agonizing delay, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley on Friday struck down Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law as violative of the constitutional rights of state voters…

The ruling is significant on its own terms, of course; it’s a major victory for voting rights advocates and a setback for vote suppressors in the state and everywhere else. As a matter of politics the import is clear. Pennsylvania is an eternal swing state—although it has swung blue most recently in national contests—and it is still considered a must-win for Democratic candidates for president. By blocking a law that would have erected practical impediments to mostly poor, young, old, and minority voters, Friday’s ruling makes it more likely that those likely Democratic voters will have their votes counted in 2014, at least…

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Freedom Industries chemical tanks ordered removed


Click to enlargeAP Photo/Steve Helber

The company whose storage tank spilled a chemical that tainted the water supply of 300,000 people in West Virginia must begin removing its above-ground storage tanks by March 15, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered on Saturday.

Freedom Industries must dismantle and remove 17 tanks and related equipment at its coal processing plant in Charleston, West Virginia, under Tomblin’s directive, part of a consent order signed by the company’s president and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection…

A January 9 spill of the 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or crude MCHM, into the Elk River prompted the state to impose a ban on the use of tap water for 300,000 people in the Charleston region. The ban lasted as long as 10 days for some residents…

Tomblin declared a state of emergency while the chemical, used in coal processing, was flushed out of the water system.

Three of the 17 tanks at the Freedom Industries facility contained crude MCHM and the chemical PPH, and all three tanks are now empty, according to Tomblin’s statement. Material in the remaining 14 tanks contain calcium chloride and glycerin, the statement said.

It is criminal in this day and age to confront an interlocking directorate of politics and poisonous industries leftover from the 19th Century. In West Virginia, in most parts of the United States where extractive industries provide the only employment – you generally find a population never educated to look for better, work for anyone better. The opportunity to broaden, grow and modernize an economy hasn’t arrived on its own and local politicians couldn’t care less.

Mine owners pick up the tab for their elections along with additional out-of-state support from the sources you’d expect to back primitive working and living conditions: US Chamber of Commerce, chemical industry associations, fossil fuel speculators. The politics stink. The jobs stink. The earth and water stink!

Camera-ready Pocket Drone for less than $500

The Pocket Drone…squeaks in under the $500 mark and is made to carry a GoPro…it also folds down for easy transport…The Pocket Drone comes with a carrying case The drone has a battery runtime of about 20 minutes…

Two of the Pocket Drone’s three prop arms swing in to either side of the third arm, which itself telescopes down. The landing struts also retract, and even the propeller blades fold back to one side. That prop design is additionally claimed to make the drone safer, as the propellers will swing back should they hit an obstacle (such as a person), instead of cutting into it.

When everything is folded down and otherwise withdrawn, the aircraft has a smaller footprint than that of a 7-inch tablet, and is less than three inches thick.

One charge of the lithium-polymer battery should be good for about 20 minutes of flight time, with a GoPro attached. That relatively long runtime is due largely to the fact that the Pocket Drone is a tricopter as opposed to a quadcopter – this means that it’s lighter, and has one less motor to power. It’s also claimed to be considerably quieter than a quadcopter, and more maneuverable.

Along with real-time remote control (via an included controller or an app on a mobile device), the drone can also fly on its own using plotted GPS waypoints, or it can automatically follow a GPS-enabled mobile device. Additionally, its flight control software is open-source, in case users have any bright ideas for functions that they’d like to add.

AirDroids is currently raising production funds for its drone on Kickstarter, and has already more than quintupled its financial goal. A pledge of $495 will get you a Pocket Drone of your own, when and if they’re ready to take to the skies.

Another delightful piece of tech thoroughly capable of getting you into all the trouble you can imagine.