Sunday, March 30, 2014

FBI asked Tsarnaev to work as informant before Boston bombing, defense claims

Source: Russia Today

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the suspected bombers behind the Boston Marathon bombing last year, was approached by the FBI because of his extremist views and asked to work as an informant, according to court records filed by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense team.

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The court request said “the FBI made more than one visit to talk with Anzor, Zubeidat [Dzhokhar and Tamerlan’s parents] and Tamerlan, question Tamerlan about his internet searches, and asked him to be an informant, reporting on the Chechen and Muslim community,” as quoted by WBUR Boston.

The defense speculated that Tamerlan may have misinterpreted the intention of the conversations, which may have acted as a “stressor that increased his paranoia and distress.” They specifically note that the interviews should not be interpreted as a motivation for the attack, only that they represent “an important part of the story of Tamerlan’s decline.”

“The underlying data concerning the brothers’ activities, state of mind, and respective trajectories is critical,” attorneys wrote, as quoted by the Boston Globe, adding that evidence “shows Tamerlan to have had a substantially longer and deeper engagement than his younger brother with extremist and violent ideology is mitigating for the light that it sheds on their relative culpability.”

The FBI declined comment to Boston news outlets, but cited a bureau statement issued last year declaring that Tamerlan was not under surveillance and that the “brothers were never sources for the FBI nor did the FBI attempt to recruit them as sources.” Prosecutors told the Globe they have “no evidence that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was solicited by the government to be an informant.”

Record-breaking inflatable wind turbine to float 1000 feet above Alaska

Source: Tree Hugger

 Altaeros Energies inflatable Airborne Wind Turbine, which was claimed to be able to produce double the power at half the cost of wind turbines mounted at conventional tower heights, but the company has just announced their plans to deploy the next generation of the device at a height of 1000 feet off the ground.

The new version of their high altitude turbine is called the Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), and when deployed at the end of the 18 month demonstration project, this device is expected to break the world's record for the highest wind turbine, beating the current record set by a Vestas V164-8.0-MW installed at the Danish National Test Center for Large Wind Turbines in Østerild.

"Altaeros has designed the BAT to generate consistent, low cost energy for the remote power and microgrid market, including remote and island communities; oil & gas, mining, agriculture, and telecommunication firms; disaster relief organizations; and military bases. The BAT uses a helium-filled, inflatable shell to lift to high altitudes where winds are stronger and more consistent than those reached by traditional tower-mounted turbines. High strength tethers hold the BAT steady and send electricity down to the ground. " 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Der Spiegel: NSA Put Merkel on List of 122 Targeted Leaders

Source: The Intercept

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A series of classified files from the archive provided to reporters by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, also seen by The Intercept, reveal that the NSA appears to have included Merkel in a surveillance database alongside more than 100 others foreign leaders.
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Monday, March 24, 2014

Smoking Is More Dangerous Than Fukushima Radiation

Source: Forbes

Even the most affected individuals — those who remained in highly contaminated towns within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone for four months following the disaster — only have a faintly higher risk of developing cancer. Last year, the World Health Organization reported a “7% higher risk of leukemia in males exposed as infants, a 6% higher risk of breast cancer in females exposed as infants and a 4% higher risk, overall, of developing solid cancers for females.” The WHO also reported that, for girls exposed as infants, 1.25 out of 100 will develop thyroid cancer, compared to the previous rate of 0.75 out of 100.

By comparison, smoking raises the risk of lung cancer by upwards of 2000%.

Now, a new study from a massive team of Japanese researchers shows that for people living more than twenty kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi, the elevated cancer risk is even more diminutive. Their results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Are Babies Dying in the Pacific Northwest Due to Fukushima? A Look at the Numbers

Source: Scientific American

By Michael Moyer | June 21, 2011

A recent article on the Al Jazeera English web site cites a disturbing statistic: infant mortality in certain U.S. Northwest cities spiked by 35 percent in the weeks following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

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Let’s first consider the data that the authors left out of their analysis. It’s hard to understand why the authors stopped at these eight cities. Why include Boise but not Tacoma? Or Spokane? Both have about the same size population as Boise, they’re closer to Japan, and the CDC includes data from Tacoma and Spokane in the weekly reports.

More important, why did the authors choose to use only the four weeks preceding the Fukushima disaster? Here is where we begin to pick up a whiff of data fixing.

Ambri - MIT’s Liquid Metal Stores Solar Power Until After Sundown

Source: Bloomerg

A 40-foot trailer loaded with 25 tons of liquid metals may be the solution to the renewable-energy industry’s biggest challenge: making sure electricity is available whenever it’s needed.

A Boston-area startup founded by MIT researchers is working to turn this new concept into a commercially viable product, liquid-metal batteries that will store power for less than $500 a kilowatt-hour. That’s less than a third the cost of some current battery technologies.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Atomic States of America

The Atomic States if America is available on Netflix.

See also Pandora's Promise available on Netflix.

Source: Democracy Now

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll come back to Sheena Joyce, co-director of Atomic States of America, and Kelly McMasters, author of Welcome to Shirley...

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, the largest festival of independent cinema in the United States, as we continue with our conversation with Sheena Joyce, the director of the film Atomic States of America, and Kelly McMasters, author of Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town.

AMY GOODMAN: When I first started in radio, one of the first documentaries I did was looking at the Shoreham nuclear power plant and the Three Mile Island disaster, because a number of people from Three Mile Island went to Shoreham, Long Island, to warn people: "Don’t let this nuclear power plant go online." And when people succeeded in preventing the Shoreham nuclear power plant from going full power, I think most people in this country thought nuclear power was dead, at least on Long Island.

KELLY McMASTERS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: But Kelly McMasters, talk about this plant you just referred to, the Brookhaven National Lab plant, how it is that that was sort of, if you will, under the radar.

KELLY McMASTERS: It was very under the radar. And even the people in my town, who worked mostly service jobs there, didn’t quite get what was going on there. Because it was a federal laboratory and because it is enclosed in these Pine Barrens, you literally can’t see it. It’s on an old Army base, and you can’t—you have no access to it.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s not providing electricity for the people of Long Island.

KELLY McMASTERS: No, no. And it has won, you know, Nobel Prizes in physics, and it’s done some fantastic medical research. But since 1955, it’s also been leaking and having a really detrimental effect on the neighborhoods around it. It was actually when Shoreham became sort of a focal point of the island, and people realized—you know, we were all saying, "We don’t want nuclear power on the island," A, because it’s an island. There’s no way off if something happens. We are all on a sole source drinking water aquifer, so if something goes into the water, then it hits everybody, all three million people on the island. Once they started saying, "We don’t want nuclear on the island," and then they heard, "Wait, we already have it on the island?" and then all the picketers sort of moved from Shoreham over to the lab.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to The Atomic States of America, a remarkable film that has premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. In this clip, you, Kelly, and a local resident introduce us to Carlton Road, which is nicknamed "Death Row" because so many sick people live there.

KELLY McMASTERS: So right now we’re standing on Carlton, the street that was nicknamed "Death Row." Pretty much almost every house on this street had somebody who was sick with cancer or something else. People started realizing that they weren’t the only sick ones. Their neighbors were sick, as well.

RANDY SNELL: We would meet in people’s basements and their kitchens, and we’d talk about what we found. And, you know, we’d do research, and somebody would find something.

KELLY McMASTERS: All signs seemed to point to what was beyond this barbed-wire fence.

RANDY SNELL: These are all rhabdomyosarcoma cases. A is my daughter. Shirley, here, all the other cases are all within the confines of real close to the Brookhaven National Laboratory. I knew there was a laboratory at Brookhaven. But I pictured this as a bunch of guys in white coats with test tubes, heating them up and, you know, doing whatever type of experiments.

REPORTER: The Brookhaven National laboratory conducts sophisticated nuclear experiments, producing an enormous amount of deadly waste.

RANDY SNELL: The only research I had said that my daughter’s cancer was caused by low-level radiation. And Brookhaven National Laboratory was the only source of that.

REPORTER: The lab sits atop the primary underground water supply for 1.3 million residents of New York’s Long Island.

ROBERT CASEY: It’s certainly not a risk to people outside the lab.

RANDY SNELL: What was explained to me is that "We’re the scientific minds out here. We know what we’re doing. And you need to trust us that we wouldn’t do anything to intentionally harm you."

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from a new film called The Atomic States of America. Go further with "Death Row."

Some Facts About How NSA Stories Are Reported

Glenn Greenwald offered some of the key facts about the release of secrets by himself and several other journalists.

Source: The Intercept

(1) Edward Snowden has not leaked a single document to any journalist since he left Hong Kong in June: 9 months ago.

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(2) Publication of an NSA story constitutes an editorial judgment by the media outlet that the information should be public.

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(3) Snowden has made repeatedly clear that he did not want all of the documents he provided to be published.

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(4) The jingoistic view of what is “newsworthy” is baseless and warped.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Is Revealing Secrets Akin to Drunk Driving? Intelligence Official Says So

Source: The Intercept

”Not every drunk driver causes a fatal accident, but we ban drunk driving because it increases the risk of accidents.  In the same way, we classify information because of the risk of harm, even if no harm actually can be shown in the end from any particular disclosure.”

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“There ought to be an adversarial approach between the press and the government,” Litt said. “But,” he added with a touch of menace, ”it’s a two-way process.”

-- Robert Litt, general counsel to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Heading Out - Neil deGrasse Tyson - Nuclear Energy

Below are a few excerpts about nuclear energy by Neil deGrasse Tyson from Natural History Magazine, July-August 2005

Source: Hayden Planetarium

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Since the early 1960s, space vehicles have commonly relied on the heat from radioactive plutonium as a power supply. Several of the Apollo missions to the Moon, Pioneer 10 and 11(now more than 8 billion miles from Earth, and headed for interstellar space), Viking 1 and 2 (to Mars), Voyager 1 and 2 (also destined for interstellar space and, in the case of Voyager 1,farther along than the Pioneers), and Cassini (now orbiting Saturn), among others, have all used plutonium for their radioisotope thermoelectric generators, or RTGs. An RTG is an inefficient but long-lasting source of nuclear power. Much more efficient, and much more energetic, would be a nuclear reactor that could supply both power and propulsion.

Nuclear power in any form, of course, is anathema to some people. Good reasons for this view are not hard to find. Inadequately shielded plutonium and other radioactive elements pose great danger; uncontrolled nuclear chain reactions pose an even greater danger. And it's easy to draw up a list of proven and potential disasters: the radioactive debris spread across northern Canada in 1978 by the crash of the nuclear-powered Soviet satellite Cosmos 954; the partial meltdown in 1979 at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant on the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 in what is now Ukraine; the plutonium in old RTGs currently lying in (and occasionally stolen from) remote, decrepit lighthouses in northwestern Russia. The list is long. Citizens' organizations such as the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space remember these and other similar events.

But so do the scientists and engineers who work on NASA's Project Prometheus.

Rather than deny the risks of nuclear devices, NASA has turned its attention to maximizing safeguards. In 2003 the agency charged Project Prometheus with developing a small nuclear reactor that could be safely launched and could power long and ambitious missions to the outer solar system. Such a reactor would provide onboard power and could drive an electric engine with ion thrusters—the same kind of propulsion tested in Deep Space 1.

To appreciate the advance of technology, consider the power output of the RTGs that drove the experiments on the Vikings and Voyagers. They supplied no more than a hundred watts, about what your desk lamp uses. The RTGs onCassini do a bit better: they could power your thousand-watt microwave oven. The nuclear reactor that will emerge from Prometheus should yield as much as 200,000 watts of power, equivalent to the energy needs of a small school—or a single SUV. To exploit the Promethean advance, an ambitious scientific mission has been proposed: the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter, or JIMO. Its destinations would be Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa—three of the four moons of Jupiter discovered by Galileo in 1610. (The fourth, Io, is studded with volcanoes and is flaming hot.) The lure of the three frigid Galilean moons is that beneath their thick crust of ice may lie vast reservoirs of liquid water that harbor, or once harbored, life.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Feds confirm Bush-era e-mail surveillance

Source: Politico

"Specifically, the President [George W Bush] authorized the the NSA to collect metadata related to Internet communications for the purpose of conducting targeted analysis to track Al Qaeda-related networks. Internet metadata is header/router/addressing information, such as the 'to,' 'from,' 'cc,' and 'bcc' lines, as opposed to the body or 're' lines, of a standard e-mail. Since July 2004, the collection of Internet metadata has been conducted pursuant to an Order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."
-- a still-unidentified official from NSA's Signals Intelligence Directorate

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Navy’s Plan to Beam Down Energy From Orbiting Solar Panels

Source: Wired Danger Room

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is building technology that will allow the military to capture solar power in orbit and project it back down to Earth.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Virgin Galactic To Start Service To Space This Year

Source: Independent

So far, nearly 700 people have paid either $200,000 or $250,000 (€146,000 or €183,000) for a two-hour trip into space inside the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, a trip that includes five minutes of weightlessness. (Virgin raised the price by $50,000 [€37,000] in May 2013 to adjust for inflation: some future astronauts paid their $200,000 as long ago as 2004, when tickets first went on sale and Branson predicted a 2007 launch. Tom Hanks has booked, along with Angelina Jolie and Princess Eugenie.)

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Now they are only months away. Branson says the first unmanned test flight will take place "soon"; he and his children will take the first commercial space flight later this year.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Earth's Plasma Shield Weathers Solar Storms

Source: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/earths-plasma-shield-weathers-solar-storms

Whenever there’s a solar storm, NASA astronomers begin worrying about what’s going to happen with the charged particles associated with it—if the storm ejects enough of them at us, they can short out satellites and can potentially do damage to Earth’s electrical grid. But, normally, there are very few impacts on Earth. Researchers have finally discovered why: Earth has a plasma shield that pushes back against those particles during an incoming storm.

Earth's Plasma Shield Weathers Solar Storms

Researchers explain why the power grid is safe from all but the craziest solar storms.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Two New Decisions Strengthen Cell Phone Privacy in Texas and Washington

Source: EFF

EFF filed an amicus brief explaining that a cell phone really isn't anything like a pair of pants given the immense amount of data stored on the phone, meaning that police needed to get a warrant to search it. The Texas high agreed, with Judge Cathy Cochran writing unequivocally:

"[W]e conclude, as did the court of appeals, that a cell phone is not like a pair of pants or a shoe. Given modern technology and the incredible amount of personal information stored and accessible on a cell phone, we hold that a citizen does not lose his reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of his cell phone merely because that cell phone is being stored in a jail property room."