Signs of a failing infrastructure?

Livonia Water Tank Explosion

One of the things I’ve started to notice is the failure or sheer disasters associated with infrastructure or other related items lately.  A ten million gallon water tank in my neighborhood explodes, dousing the neighborhood in massive amounts of water — which, due to the pressure blew water mains all around, the Texas fertilizer plant explodes, a refinery in Detroit on Fort Street catastrophically fails and blew its top off last evening, causing evacuations around the neighboring city.

Fort Street Refinery Fire in Detroit

The sudden apparent-surge in explosions in things that one would think are regulated makes me wonder if we have a serious two-fold problem: a lack of oversight, and a failing infrastructure.

Infrastructure isn’t just roads, highways and avenues…  It’s pipes.  It’s tanks.  All of these things, particularly when they’re related to anything hazardous.  All of this stuff requires oversight and inspection.  Is it just a freak occurrence in quick succession, or is it a symbol of things to come?

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Are Athlete Fraudsters Liable for Reimbursing Funders?

Lance Armstrong finishing 3rd in Sète, taking ...

Lance Armstrong finishing 3rd in Sète, taking over the Yellow Jersey at Grand Prix Midi Libre 2002 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Late Tuesday afternoon, the United States Government filed a lawsuit against former Olympic-Gold Medalist cyclist Lance Armstrong, citing the fact that he defrauded them out of millions of dollars in his doping campaign.

The Government, citing the False Claims Act, state that he defrauded the United States Postal Service by doping, and under that law, the USPS is, technically entitled to triple the amount of funds spent, or money in excess of US$120 Million; as the Government is contesting US$40 Million.

The United States asserts in its suit that a use of performance enhancing drugs is a violation and breach of contract of the agreement he signed with the USPS, originally in 1998 – through 2004.

Should any entities who chose to fund people be entitled to collect monies if they were unable to  prove during that time that the athlete/etc in question was doping, or taking other performance enhancing drugs?  While I agree it’s a great deterrent, when people make bad investments, often they are told they “are out of luck.”

Could such a ruling, for instance, be worked into such a precedent as Bankers and Executives for financial companies making and funding bad loans to be held responsible for them; and repayment as well?

Why I am a Tibetan Blue Book Holder…

English: Emblem of Tibet, used by the Tibetan ...

Tibet is a very special place.  It’s not only home to the top of the world, it’s got a rich, deep, incredible history, including that of a mainstream branch of Buddhism.  It’s also smack in the center of what will arguably be the future hub of the world: Asia — almost exactly between China and India; the two major commerce centers of the future world.

Tibet was taken over by the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s, following the Chinese civil war, and has since maintained a death grip over the region.  As a province-level government, the Tibet Autonomous Region is managed by a Chairman that is subordinate to the Communist Party of China.  Indeed, any attempt at any form of full autonomy or separation from the PRC has met with the PRC government’s full force to quash.  Pro-independence arguers state that Human Rights abuses commonly associated with China take place in Tibet as much as anywhere else in the authoritarian nation.

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama (Photo credit: Joi)

I’ve always been a believer in self-determination — in that the people of a region have a right to determine whether or not they are aligned with a government, or not; particularly if the government in question is particularly oppressive or does not hold the best interests of its people in mind.  Knowing China’s repression of civil and political freedoms as well as I do, I decided to financially support the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and accept a Blue Book from their Government.

Similar to that of a passport, the Tibetan Blue Book shows that the holder has officially become a “friend” of the Tibetan government and people, and have pledged to support their cause; as I had when I was invited to become a friend to the Tibetan people.

Lead by the spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, the Central Tibetan Administration is effectively the Tibetan government-in-exile, operating out of Himachal Pradesh, India with the 14th Dalai Lama as the Head of State.  The Buddhist philosophy of non-violence and spirituality has always served as a source of inspiration to me — and their political [if none other] oppression at the hands of the Chinese government has always served to me as a reminder of what complacency can do if we allow ourselves to serve the interests of a government, rather than the government serving the interests of US.

I am a Friend of Tibet.

The Earth is Burning…

centralia

Literally.  In Centralia, Pennsylvania USA that is, anyway.

In 1979, a local gas station owner dipped a stick into one of his fuel tanks to check the level of gas he had to sell.  When he pulled it back up, he noticed it was extremely warm — and subsequently lowered a thermometer on a string to the bottom of the tank for a few minutes.  Bringing it back up, he was extremely alarmed to find the temperature of his fuel to be over 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  Shortly after, in another part of town, a 12 year old boy fell into a sinkhole that opened below his feet — thankfully saved by another boy, as the steam coming out of the hole was filled with lethal levels of carbon dioxide.

This drew state and eventually federal attention to the fact that Centralia, a mining community, had a MASSIVE fire burning beneath their feet — literally below the ground itself, and it was so large, nothing humanly feasible could stop it.

The fire was traced to a mine event in 1962 where the anthracite in an active mine caught fire, and was abandoned and collapsed for protection.  What people didn’t know was that the fire raged on… and subsequently; and somehow, spread to the abandoned mines under Centralia… and continued burning.  Anthracite is, in a way, self-oxidizing, and can burn without direct oxygen feed from the surface — something that has been demonstrated by this fire for the last 51 years.

Panoramic view of Route 61 through Centralia, PA

Panoramic view of Route 61 through Centralia, PA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1992, when the State of Pennsylvania learned of the threat to life brought by the fire and the damage it was causing property, the Governor of Pennyslvania at the time, Bob Casey, invoked the laws of eminent domain and declared the entire borough of Centralia — stating that the entire town’s buildings were to be condemned, and all people were to be relocated and compensated.   While most left without much question, many chose to stay, including Centralia’s Mayor, Carl Womer — who continues to serve as Mayor.  While a very few homes remain, almost all of them have been demolished by the county authority or by nature itself.  Some residents remain as well, but against the advice and indeed, order of the state’s executive.

Since 1992, the Anthracite fire has spread to the mines beneath the neighboring town of Byrnesville, which was completely abandoned with the last home was torn down in 1996,  Scientists believe that the fire could continue to burn for at least another century before it will self-extinguish by depleting the anthracite, and could very well have burned for 200 years by the time it ceases.

Higgs Boson: Mission Accomplished!

An example of simulated data modelled for the ...

An example of simulated data modelled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider.

It looks like the verdict is in: we’ve finally found the Higgs Boson — one of the most elusive particles; with the exception of Dark Matter, in nature.  Science has theorized of it’s existence for years, but it was always just beyond our grasp.

Today, we’ve finally confirmed the existence of what we believe is the Higgs Boson.  Last July, physicists and scientists from the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or known more properly by it’s French acronym CERN, announced that it’s Large Hadron Collider (or LHC) had conducted a particle acceleration test that revealed the presence of a subatomic particle that had the distinctiveness of what physicists postulated as the characteristics of the elusive particle.

Why is the Higgs so important?  So what?  In essence, the Higgs is, according to Gauge theory published in 1964, gives all conventional matter “mass.”  The average particle of matter contains mass, no matter how minuscule.  However, items of other types of matter, such as neutrinos which are able to pass right through solid matter without being interrupted, and the ever-elusive dark matter, seem not to have this subatomic particle in it’s makeup, according to the math.  Dr. Michio Kaku explains more here why the Higgs is so important.

With the numbers all working out, Science has finally [mathematically and now, via observation] proven the existence of the Higgs Boson.  How was such a feat accomplished, nearly 50 years after it’s postulation?

With the Large Hadron Collider, of course!  The largest particle accelerator on Earth, and in human history, the LHC is so large, it stretches through the border of France and Switzerland;

Large Hadron Collider

Large Hadron Collider (Photo credit: Randall Niles)

and remains one of the largest and most complex structures ever to be built by humankind.  Indeed, it’s literal atom-smashing power is in excess of 7 Tetra-electron volts (7 TeV) — or, to put it in some sort of perspective, a single visible photon of light is approximately 3.4 electron volts.  One Tetra-electron volt is 10E12, or ten to the twelfth electron volts.  Indeed, the atom-smashing power of this collider exceeded the previous most-powerful smasher by over seven times.  Some theorists postulated the idea that the LHC, at full power, had enough power to create a black hole if atoms were smashed at full intensity.  Luckily, this seems to have been proven wrong.

What has been proven right on the other hand, has effectively proven that we’re on the right track, and further, have taken another step toward understanding our universe.

What else is out there?  What more do we have to learn?  Plenty, I feel.

The Future of Technology — Licensure?

English: Apple director Steve Jobs shows iPhone

English: Apple director Steve Jobs shows iPhone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Google recently announced (likely only for it’s developer-model) that if you receive a Google Glass  — it’s only for you.  Nobody else.  You can’t even loan it.

Indeed, the Terms of Service for it clearly state:

quote-open“…you may not resell, loan, transfer, or give your device to any other person. If you resell, loan, transfer, or give your device to any other person without Google’s authorization, Google reserves the right to deactivate the device, and neither you nor the unauthorized person using the device will be entitled to any refund, product support, or product warranty.”

While I assume that this is because it’s still a developing product, and it’s to keep people from making massive amounts of money by placing them on an auction site like eBay or something else; likely making a major profit.

It made me wonder if this, along with what Apple tried to do with the iPhone — is that you’re not buying the ITEM itself, you’re buying a LICENSE to USE the item, and the manufacturer maintains control and ownership.  Apple successfully did this until a lawsuit ended “part” of this, exactly how, I’m still not entirely sure how it works… but it does make one wonder:

Is the future of technology and hardware in licensure of USE, not OWNING the hardware itself? Will we be paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars simply for a right to use something we don’t even own? What does this say about our future privacy, as well?

Is Apple finally starting to feel the Post-Steve Era?

Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad in San Fr...

Steve Jobs while presenting the iPad in San Francisco 27th January 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today brought some bad news for Apple: iPhone sales on Verizon‘s network plunged 33% in the past quarter.  With the advent of the new iPhone 5, this is a shocking revelation that even *I* was’t expecting to see.

It brought me back to the journal entry a few weeks ago that I wrote regarding Apple’s future now that Steve Jobs is gone, and can’t come back this time.  The last time Apple found itself without Steve, it found itself having innovation problems, and found itself with an image it couldn’t shake — without welcoming Steve back.

Are smartphone companies like Samsung or HTC [seemingly?] out-innovating Apple?  To their own admission, Apple hasn’t had a benchmark product since the iPad (and to a lesser point, Siri); while products like the Samsung Galaxy S III and the Note II have shown what Smartphones can do when given drastically different dimensions, systems-on-a-chip and the proper innovation.

Where will the future go for Apple?  Will they be able to tread water while their next bench-breaker product is being developed?  Or is this the signal of something else for Apple — long term?

Guantanamo Bay Prison — The 21st Century Manzanar?

ImageThe more and more I give thought to it — the more and more I wonder if history will look back on our generation, and judge the indefinite imprisonment of those at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as our version of Manzanar.

Japanese Issei, Nisei or Sansei were often the most targeted group for forced relocation during World War II — relocated almost strictly due to their lineage, family ties, or just because they even looked Japanese.  Other groups were forced to relocate as well, but Japanese Issei and Nisei were the groups targeted the most.

Thankfully, none of the prisoners at Guantanamo are children or family members; but many similarities exist: they are not afforded a civil trial, as the prisoners have been designated as “unlawful military combatants,” in that while they are not a member of a recognized, uniformed military service, they either conduct, have been trained to conduct, or otherwise engage in or support militarized warfare.  However, interestingly enough, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Human Rights Watch maintain that the United States has not held the Article 5 tribunals required by the Geneva Conventions. The International Committee of the Red Cross has stated that, “Every person in enemy hands must have some status under international law: he is either a prisoner of war and, as such, covered by the Third Convention, a civilian covered by the Fourth Convention, [or] a member of the medical personnel of the armed forces who is covered by the First Convention. There is no intermediate status; nobody in enemy hands can fall outside the law.”

I do give the United States Intelligence Community credit when I say that they are privy to information about these people that we, as civilians, do not know.  It’s quite possible these people are as dangerous as the US Government says they are — why otherwise hold them?  But…  why is there a[n apparent] lack of jurisprudence for these people?  Do those who fall between the cracks of the law just sit there, and wait for a trial that may never come?  Will history look back on Guantanamo Bay Detention as a necessary evil, and something that kept the United States safe?

Or…

Image

…will it be a stain of blood on our hands that even time can’t wash away?

The hidden tricks and tips of NFC!

ImageOne little perk many newer cell phones in America come with is a feature that few know more than the name of.  It can do everything from allow the exchange of contact information, pictures and files, direct off-network communications and even allows you to unlock your doors at home, given the right equipment.   Called Near Field Communication, also known as NFC; this concept, while not entirely new, is beginning to find a presence in the United States.

ImageNFC is a set of communications protocols that operate similar to Radio Frequency Identification, most commonly known as RFID.  RFID is the system that commonly operates the “badge readers” for doors in offices, or those boxes that are attached to windshields to electronically debit tolls from your bank account or credit card.

Most RFID operates between 120kHz and 13.5MHz — fairly low-power, inexpensive and readily deployable with ease; and operate in close proximity to a power source, particularly if the tag that contains the information, authentication or some other information that is to be conveyed, is unpowered.

ImageNFC operates quite similarly.  In 2004, Nokia, Philips and Sony created the “Near Field Communications Forum,” a roundtable to discuss a form of communication that could be conducted wirelessly and at proximity, but also be very inexpensive.  Two years later, the Nokia 6131 debuted as the first phone with NFC technology, a reader that could detect and read small tags similar to RFID tags, on the device itself — which was able to communicate anything from showtimes from a “smart poster” to allowing an individual to make a purchase with his phone to charge his or her credit card or bank account.

Now gaining ground with American cell phones, popular uses for NFC have been included automation — for example, next to the door on the wall, inside the house, a person may place an NFC tag on the wall to instruct his phone to automatically connect to his home Wifi network, disable GPS and put volume and screen brightness to maximum — or to send an SMS message to someone else to say “I’m home!”

NFC chips can even be programmed for a “Capture the Flag” or a “Follow Me!” style game — where individuals scan tags placed innocuously, similar to a Geocache, that that others scan to check in, or find the next check-in point through a set of communicated instructions.

While NFC is still in its infancy in America, it’s already highly successful in East-Asia as a form of mobile payment and other forms of communications, particularly in conjunction with Wifi — it promises to expand the usability of the smartphone even more than it’s already become.

Property Zoning… Past Residential, does it matter?

Proposed_LU_ranges_July 7 2007I’ve been working on a small research project for a couple of months on Zoning ordinances and people’s trust in the government.  While I’ve noticed no major correlation, it has raised an interesting point I thought I’d share.

While I’ve always understood the need for Zoning residential property — as it ensures the ground is not contaminated, or otherwise unsafe for residences, why are there oodles upon oodles of commercial or industrial zoning regulations, aside from the fact that, say, a nuclear power plant can’t sit next to a farm?  That much I get…

But for instance, say an adult store, or a strip club (which I’m using as an example in my paper, actually) wants to open its doors in a particular city.  I can understand people’s desire not to have one in their town…  but — instead of having a government board tell an otherwise-legal [assuming it is in that area] business owner, who is conducting business that s/he can’t open the business there… why can’t people just *not* patronize it?

Further, again, leaving out safety issues such as a nuclear waste facility next to a cattle farm — is this just an example of local government trying to just appropriate things JUST for the sake of appropriating them?  Is telling a car-wash that it can’t open next to a library when the land has been bought and paid for and the business owner follows rules like the reasonable person should — that “Your business can’t be there”?

Again, just food for thought…  discuss amongst yourselves… or here.  😀