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Member Since 03 February 2012 - 03:42 PM
Online Last Active Sep 23 2020 07:59 PM

Topics I've Started

Food, Diets, and Health

21 September 2020 - 10:37 AM

I started this thread to separate out scientific studies on foods, diet, and their health impacts. To kick it off here's a song by Joe Jackson.

Phosphine in Venus's Atmosphere is a Possible Sign of Life

14 September 2020 - 10:48 AM

The detection of phosphine gas, which apparently has no known abiotic sources, may be evidence of microbes on Venus.


Venus’ clouds appear to contain a smelly, toxic gas that could be produced by bacteria, a new study suggests.

Chemical signs of the gas phosphine have been spotted in observations of the Venusian atmosphere, researchers report September 14 in Nature Astronomy. Examining the atmosphere in millimeter wavelengths of light showed that the planet’s clouds appear to contain up to 20 parts per billion of phosphine — enough that something must be actively producing it, the researchers say.

If the discovery holds up, and if no other explanations for the gas are found, then the hellish planet next door could be the first to yield signs of extraterrestrial life — though those are very big ifs.

“We’re not saying it’s life,” says astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales. “We’re saying it’s a possible sign of life.”

Venus has roughly the same mass and size as Earth, so, from far away, the neighboring planet might look like a habitable world (SN: 10/4/19). But up close, Venus is a scorching hellscape with sulfuric acid rain and crushing atmospheric pressures.

Still, Venus might have been more hospitable in the recent past (SN: 8/26/16). And the current harsh conditions haven’t stopped astrobiologists from speculating about niches on Venus where present-day life could hang on, such as the temperate cloud decks.

“Fifty kilometers above the surface of Venus, the conditions are what you would find if you walk out of your door right now,” at least in terms of atmospheric pressure and temperature, says planetary scientist Sanjay Limaye of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who was not involved in the new study. The chemistry is alien, but “that’s a hospitable environment for life.”

Previous work led by astrochemist Clara Sousa-Silva at MIT suggested that phosphine could be a promising biosignature, a chemical signature of life that can be detected in the atmospheres of other planets using Earth-based or space telescopes.

On Earth, phosphine is associated with microbes or industrial activity — although that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant. “It’s a horrific molecule. It’s terrifying,” Sousa-Silva says. For most Earthly life, phosphine is poisonous because “it interferes with oxygen metabolism in a variety of macabre ways.” For anaerobic life, which does not use oxygen, “phosphine is not so evil,” Sousa-Silva says. Anaerobic microbes living in such places as sewage, swamps and the intestinal tracts of animals from penguins to people are the only known life-forms on Earth that produce the molecule.

Wildfires and How to Prevent Them

01 September 2020 - 12:42 PM

The concept of fuel buildup causing much larger and more intense wildfires has been around since at least the turn of the century and probably much longer. The issue is known and yet governments refuse to act. Here's a viewpoint on the fuel load laying around California's landscape, what it would take to get it down to some level of normalcy, and how far they are from that.


The pattern is a form of insanity: We keep doing overzealous fire suppression across California landscapes where the fire poses little risk to people and structures. As a result, wildland fuels keep building up. At the same time, the climate grows hotter and drier. Then, boom: the inevitable. The wind blows down a power line, or lightning strikes dry grass, and an inferno ensues. This week we’ve seen both the second- and third-largest fires in California history. “The fire community, the progressives, are almost in a state of panic,” Ingalsbee said. There’s only one solution, the one we know yet still avoid. “We need to get good fire on the ground and whittle down some of that fuel load.”

Yes, there’s been talk across the U.S. Forest Service and California state agencies about doing more prescribed burns and managed burns. The point of that “good fire” would be to create a black-and-green checkerboard across the state. The black burned parcels would then provide a series of dampers and dead ends to keep the fire intensity lower when flames spark in hot, dry conditions, as they did this past week. But we’ve had far too little “good fire,” as the Cassandras call it. Too little purposeful, healthy fire. Too few acres intentionally burned or corralled by certified “burn bosses” (yes, that’s the official term in the California Resources Code) to keep communities safe in weeks like this.

Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California. Between 1982 and 1998, California’s agency land managers burned, on average, about 30,000 acres a year. Between 1999 and 2017, that number dropped to an annual 13,000 acres. The state passed a few new laws in 2018 designed to facilitate more intentional burning. But few are optimistic this, alone, will lead to significant change. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.

It seems that between fear of liability, complaints about smoke, and complaints about ugly scorched areas people are as much a part of the problem. Of course then they screech when they are victims of the inevitable outcomes of their own demands.

And then there's the privatization...

Vanguard Outsources Its IT & Development to India

13 August 2020 - 10:37 AM

Vanguard has long been a star in investment reliability but Jim Bogle's vision is quickly disappearing as they go more and more to the class U.S. model of cost cutting their way to poor quality. They have now turned over much of their IT to InfoSys, a massive consulting firm based in India.


Shares of Infosys Ltd., an India-based company to which scores of U.S. corporations are outsourcing information-technology work, rose sharply last week after announcing a pact to move 1,300 jobs from Malvern-based Vanguard Group to Infosys by October.

Those Vanguard staff — or “crew,” as Vanguard calls its 18,000 workers — track five million Americans’ retirement money in 401(k) plans and other defined-contribution accounts. That work accounts for about $1.7 trillion of Vanguard’s $6.5 trillion in total customer assets. The Times of India reported the value of the deal to Infosys, with $13 billion (corrected) in annual sales, at $700 million. Chief operating officer PravinRao declared the Vanguard agreement “the largest deal in Infosys history” when he announced it Wednesday at an investor conference call.

It was a big step for Vanguard. The company already hires contractors, but in-house technology was at the heart of founder John Bogle’s vision of Vanguard as a branchless, low-cost investment alternative to Wall Street firms with their Main Street sales offices.

Focused on marketing and cost-cutting, Bogle’s successors let Vanguard tech fall behind. The company has relied for too long on dated mainframe computers and “software that is decades old,” according to a video presentation by the transferred workers’ boss, Martha King, who will also join Infosys.

She said Infosys will move record-keeping “into the cloud” of remote servers, easier to update. Transferred workers are guaranteed Vanguard benefits and no salary cuts if they remain with Infosys during the next year.

If investors cheered, the news concerned some Vanguard crew, as well as customers and investors so fond of the firm that they are known as “fans.” Founded in 1981, Infosys, along with its U.S.-, Europe-, and India-based competitors, saves clients’ money by consolidating IT work. This work starts in U.S. locations, where it reviews and update client technology, then moves to low-cost centers in countries such as India, where most of Infosys’ 240,000 employees work.

I've had some personal experienced with InfoSys people in the past few years. It was a complete and total trainwreck. Their top manager spent all his time trying to get more work rather than solving problems. Project managers were clueless. Across the board the developers we had couldn't have passed a freshman college programming course. After we dumped them most of what they "accomplished" had to be thrown away or fixed.

Just as an example of how bad the devs really were here's a slightly altered (i.e. no specifics) example of how they fixed a bug. If the variable thingy was set to the string "CaptainCrunch!#@%!" it caused a crash. Their "fix" was to literally write an if thingy == "CaptainCrunch!#@%!" statement. For those of you who are not coding literate this is something that a 10-year old might do in his first two months of teaching themselves to program. These people weren't just poor at their jobs, they were flat out incompetent and wouldn't have been able to land the most basic, entry level position in the U.S.

Republicans Preparing for Leadership Battle in Event of a Trump Loss

03 August 2020 - 01:17 PM

There could be quite the internal fight if the Republicans get wiped out in November. And there's no time like the present to begin jockeying for position if current leadership takes the fall. It would be great to watch them rip and tear at each other but if Moscow Mitch holds onto his seat I doubt they'll oust him. He's been very effective. Not at governing, of course, but very effective just the same.


The maneuvering for power in a possible post-Trump world has already broken out among House Republicans — a worrisome preview for the GOP of potentially chaotic leadership fights this fall.

The party’s long-simmering divides were largely papered over after Donald Trump won the White House in 2016. But members expect the truce among the GOP’s warring factions to crumble if Trump’s presidency ends, and the current leadership could face the fallout.

How that will shake out for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney is not completely certain. But according to interviews with over a dozen Republican lawmakers and aides, there’s a growing sense that if Trump loses the White House — and the GOP fails to make meaningful gains in the House — the fight for the future of the party will play out in challenges across leadership.

“If Trump loses, there’s gonna be a mad scramble if we’re in the minority,” said one Republican lawmaker, who was granted anonymity to speak more freely. “There’s people seeing this as an opportunity. … I think it’s gonna be a real fight.”

The early feuding that has already erupted inside the House GOP is being fueled by Trump’s dismal poll numbers and growing fears that Republicans could sink even further into the House minority, underscoring the anxiety in the GOP conference just three months before the election.

Several sources familiar with the party’s internal dynamics cautioned that any potential effort to push out the top Republican leaders might be difficult. Only a simple majority is needed to secure a leadership post in the House minority, and the caucus does not contain a deep bench of potential challengers. There are also positions lower down that could become competitive and offer an outlet for ambitious Republicans, from head of the House GOP’s campaign arm to an open slot as vice conference chair.

But Trump loyalists and more establishment-type conservatives are already trying to stake out ground ahead of the elections: During a recent private GOP conference meeting first reported by POLITICO, some of Trump’s fiercest allies unloaded on Cheney for not being loyal enough to the president and said she’ll be to blame if Trump and the GOP stumble in November.

The infighting then spilled into public view, with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) calling on Cheney — the highest-ranking Republican woman — to be removed from her position as conference chair.