Monday, April 29, 2013

Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Fever To Tell Turns Ten

We take a look back at the album that made the Yeah Yeah Yeahs stars ten years ago today.
By James Montgomery


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The EPA Just Shook Up the Debate Over Fracking

RELATED: EPA Passes New Fracking Rules

New estimates from the EPA indicate that methane leakage from natural gas production is substantially lower than previously believed. Or, translated to English: Natural gas may be a better solution to rampant global warming than anyone believed.

RELATED: EPA Proposes First Fracking-Related Pollution Rules

The recent boom in natural gas production ??largely a function of improvements in the process of hydrofracturing, or fracking ??has been seen as a mixed blessing by environmentalists focused on curbing the atmospheric warming created by greenhouse gases. One on hand, more natural gas extraction has led to lower natural gas prices, which has led to increased use of natural gas in electricity generation, which has led to lower emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, since natural gas burns more cleanly than coal. On the other hand, natural gas is comprised mostly of methane, a gas that is 21 times better at trapping atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide. When natural gas is produced, some of it escapes. If the amount that escapes is significant enough, the anti-warming benefit of adding less carbon dioxide to the atmosphere could be offset by adding a smaller amount of methane. That's the argument that was made by's Bill McKibben, a prominent environmental activist, last year.

RELATED: EPA's New Fracking Regulations Don't Go Far Enough

For years, environmental groups were torn on the merits of natural gas as what was called a "bridge fuel," a way to ease from heavy-carbon dioxide producing energy systems to clean, renewable ones. At one time, the Sierra Club advocated for increased use of natural gas; the Environmental Defense Fund (with an economic push from Michael Bloomberg) similarly pushes for increased gas use.

RELATED: How Not 'Awesome' Was Lisa Jackson at the EPA?

By revising its estimate of how much methane leaks at production sites, the EPA has substantially bolstered that middle ground. The AP reports on the change:

In a mid-April report on greenhouse emissions, the agency now says that tighter pollution controls instituted by the industry resulted in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010, or more than 850 million metric tons overall. That's about a 20 percent reduction from previous estimates. The agency converts the methane emissions into their equivalent in carbon dioxide, following standard scientific practice.

The EPA revisions came even though natural gas production has grown by nearly 40 percent since 1990.

In other words, the EPA thinks the amount of methane leakage is only about 80 percent as previously thought, despite the boom in natural gas production.

RELATED: Why Obama Can't Say 'Frack'

This drop is significant, but hardly enough to quell all opposition. The EPA's new estimate doesn't come from field testing at production sites, prompting Cornell professor Robert Wowarth, author of a 2011 report suggesting that leakage was higher than believed, to say that he thinks "the EPA is wrong."

Howarth wrote that the EPA seems "to be ignoring the published NOAA data in their latest efforts, and the bias on industry only pushing estimates downward ? never up ? is quite real. EPA badly needs a counter-acting force, such as outside independent review of their process."

It's not only natural gas production that creates methane, as the detailed report articulates, though that is the largest contributor. The second-largest? "Enteric Fermentation" ??burps and flatulence from livestock.

Under the EPA's new estimate, methane now comprises nine percent of all of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2005, emissions have fallen 6.9 percent.

Photo: A worker checks a wellhead at a fracking rig. (AP)


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Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley: All Our Numbers Are Up 10-30% Each Month

VotDyl-9K69KsYmcpScbI4IYPjN6sLudm39VHOHbr5kToday at Disrupt NY 2013, Foursquare founder and CEO Dennis Crowley denied rumors that growth was stagnant for Foursquare. “I think there?s a little bit of perception that we?re not growing,”?Crowley said.?”This is false.” In reality, March 2013 was the best month to date. When it comes to growth numbers, Crowley started by saying that “[they] don?t talk about growth numbers so much.” But Foursquare tracks the number of active users, monthly sign-ups, check-ins, web visitors, etc. “All of these numbers are up 10-30 percent,” Crowley said. Yet, Crowley was very candid about the situation the company is in right now. “We?re not the shiny new thing anymore,” he said. The company is currently trying to become the main location tech company and turn into a recommendation app for restaurants, bars, etc. “A lot of people understand what we?re trying to do, being the location layer on the Internet, but there are a lot of people that don?t,” Crowley said. “People are still skeptical,” he continued. “We are like that company that quietly pushes out big enhancements,” Crowley said. The company just wants to focus on improving the product and generating revenue, even if Foursquare receives negative thoughts from time to time. A good part of Crowley’s fireside chat was about busting rumors and stating that Foursquare is a focused company that is on a good path: “We’ve set ourselves up with nice ambitious targets, and we’re set to hit our goals.”


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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hookah smoking delivers carcinogens and carbon monoxide

Along with nicotine, user gets toxic substances from water pipes

By Nathan Seppa

Web edition: April 26, 2013



Compared with smoking cigarettes, using a hookah (shown) sends more carbon monoxide and carcinogens into a smoker?s body.

Credit: Aptyp_koK/Shutterstock

The tobacco and fruit mixture smoked in public hookah bars might be considerably more dangerous than its pleasant scent would suggest. An analysis of people who smoked from water pipes three times a day finds that the pipes deliver more carbon monoxide and benzene, a carcinogen, than does smoking half a pack of cigarettes daily.

In an upcoming issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, researchers document those and several other cancer-causing compounds that showed up in urine tests of the water-pipe smokers. The research calls into question a common assumption: that hookahs are safe.

?This is a great addition to the literature,? says Thomas Eissenberg, a psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He and his colleagues had previous found toxic substances in hookah smoke. The new paper extends his findings by detecting carcinogens and other bad actors in water-pipe smokers themselves, he says.

Hookah smoking goes back hundreds of years in India, the Middle East and North Africa, but it is newer in parts of Europe and North America. The substances heated in a hookah vary. In the study, researchers used pastes chosen by the participants that were 5 to 10 percent tobacco combined with honey, molasses and bits of fruit. This paste goes in the bowl of the pipe, which is covered with a perforated piece of aluminum foil and topped with a burning piece of charcoal, says study coauthor Peyton Jacob III, a research chemist at the University of California, San Francisco. The smoker then inhales.

In the new study, 13 healthy volunteers -- all smokers who used both cigarettes and hookahs -- smoked only a hookah for four days and then, after a week with no restrictions, only cigarettes. The volunteers averaged three water pipe sessions or 11 cigarettes per day.

Urine tests revealed that the volunteers had higher benzene levels when smoking hookahs than when smoking cigarettes. Benzene inhalation is associated with leukemia and lung cancer. The volunteers? tests also showed higher levels of pyrene, a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon? or PAH, when smoking the hookah. Similar amounts of the probable human carcinogen acrylamide and the PAH phenanthrene showed up during cigarette or hookah smoking. Exposure to PAHs is linked to cancer and immune problems (SN: 3/23/13, p. 19).

Using breath tests, the researchers found that levels of carbon monoxide, a poisonous, odorless gas, were 2.5 times greater in volunteers after the water-pipe sessions than after cigarette smoking. The volunteers? blood samples while smoking the water pipe showed about half as much nicotine as when smoking cigarettes, but researchers estimated that the level was enough to be addictive.

Carbon monoxide and PAHs have been traced to burning charcoal, Eissenberg says. The contributions from the incompletely combusted paste are less clear.

Water-pipe smoking delivers more smoke per puff, Eissenberg says, because the taste is sweet, the smoke is cooled, and inhaling is easier when a smoker doesn?t have to drag air through a filter or tightly packed cigarette. A 2004 study done in an upper class neighborhood in Beirut found that people take 50 to 200 puffs during a water-pipe smoking session, which lasted 20 to 80 minutes. A cigarette smoker takes eight to 12 during an average smoke, the research found.

In the U.S., three in 10 university students have tried a hookah, Eissenberg and colleagues reported in a 2008 survey. Despite the apparent risks, Eissenberg says, hookah pipes and packages of hookah paste carry no regulatory warnings.

?Many water-pipe smokers tell me they know cigarettes are dangerous,? he says. ?It?s written on the pack. They say, ?I haven?t heard anything about water pipe smoking. It must be safe.? ?

N. Seppa. Tracing pollution links to asthma, allergy. Science News. Volume 183, March 23, 2013, p. 19. [Go to]

B. Primack et al. Water-pipe tobacco smoking among middle and high school students in Arizona. NeoReviews. Vol. 123, Feb. 1, 2009, p. e282.?doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-1663. [Go to]

B. Primack et al. Prevalence of and associations with waterpipe tobacco smoking among U.S. university students. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Volume 36, August 2008, p. 81. doi: 10.1007/s12160-008-9047-6. [Go to]

W. Maziak et al. Tobacco smoking using a waterpipe: a re-emerging strain in a global epidemic. Tobacco Control. Volume 13, December 2004, p. 327. doi:10.1136/tc.2004.008169. [Go to]

World Health Organization, ?Waterpipe Tobacco Smoking: Health Effects, Research Needs and Recommended Actions by Regulators.? [Go to]


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Thursday, April 11, 2013

ZTE Geek unveiled with 2GHz Intel Clover Trail+ and a terrible name (video)

ZTE Geek makes a quiet

Oh ZTE you cheeky monkey. Towards the end of day one at IDF in Beijing, we stumbled upon this awkwardly titled Android Jelly Bean phone that is the Geek at ZTE's booth. Needless to say, this is yet another phone powered by an Intel processor -- a 2GHz Clover Trail+ Atom to be exact, which is what Lenovo's K900 also has. The rest of the device isn't too shabby, either: you get a nice 5-inch 720p display with Gorilla Glass, along with an 8-megapixel main camera, a 1-megapixel front-facing camera, 8GB of storage space, 1GB of RAM, 2,300mAh battery and wireless charging. Radio-wise we see UMTS 900/2100 courtesy of Intel's XMM 6260 chip, and there's also the usual lot of 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE and GPS.

Design-wise the Geek takes a huge step away from the Grand X IN and shares a similarly clean look with the Grand S, but without the black eye around the main camera. This particular unit had a glossy white finish as well, but we'd prefer a matte finish for a more premium feel. Since ZTE admitted that it had to rush this prototype for exhibition at IDF, we'll come back to the build quality once we see a final retail unit. Until then, check out our hands-on video and the press release after the break.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Weren?t We Supposed to Have Laser Guns by Now?

The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey. The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) in San Diego, Calif., is a technology demonstrator built by the Naval Sea Systems Command from commercial fiber solid state lasers, utilizing combination methods developed at the Naval Research Laboratory.

Courtesy of John F. Williams/U.S. Navy

The Navy on Monday announced plans to defend its ships in the Persian Gulf by equipping one with a laser. We?ve been hearing about laser warfare for decades, but this is the first deployment of a solid-state laser weapon. Why has it taken so long to develop deployable laser weapons?

The need for a huge a power source, among many other engineering challenges. The theory behind laser weapons is pretty straightforward: destroy a target with a focused beam of electromagnetic energy. (Conventional weapons work on essentially the same theory?a speeding bullet is simply a more tangible way to deliver a lethal dose of energy.) The concept is so simple that people have been batting the idea around for millennia. Legend has it that Archimedes burned enemy battleships with sunlight. The heat-ray used by the martians in H.G. Wells? War of the Worlds was a fictional directed-energy weapon, as was the Death Star that destroyed the planet Alderaan in the Star Wars series. Real-life defense analysts have been expecting laser weapons since the late 1970s. The engineering complications of building a useful laser weapon, however, are vast. First and foremost, weapons-strength lasers require huge amounts of energy. Even in the best models, only 20 percent of the electricity going into the device is fired in the laser. Focusing and targeting the beam uses additional energy. Because of these losses, a 20-kilowatt laser, which could possibly disable or destroy a small boat, consumes hundreds of kilowatts of electricity. (By comparison, a typical window air conditioner uses 1 kilowatt.) That?s the main reason the new laser is being carried on a Navy ship, which has its own robust power supply.

Even if we discovered a portable energy source that could deliver power to a laser in a super-efficient way, a laser gun would still be too large to carry in your hand. A typical laser weapon has three separate beams. The first is sent to measure distortion in atmosphere between the source and the target. When it returns to the device, a computer calculates changes that must be made to adapt the weapon?s beam to the environment. The second beam is a tracking beam. Science fiction depictions notwithstanding, a laser has to remain focused on the target for several seconds to inflict serious damage, and the tracking function enables the beam to keep pummeling a moving target. The third beam carries the actual energy blast and is around 1 meter in diameter. Lasers also get really hot, so the device has to include a cooling system.

There has been one other major obstacle to deploying laser weapons on the battlefield: It?s not enough that they be feasible?they must be either better or cheaper than the weapons we already have. That?s why the military has rolled out the first laser weapons in niche applications rather than building an entire laser-based army. One of the most successful lasers thus far is the Tactical High Energy Laser, which has enough power to destroy small objects like incoming mortar rounds. The Navy faces a different problem from small targets. It?s difficult to hit small, bobbing boats with conventional firearms. A tactical laser, focused on an approaching enemy boat for a few seconds, might melt the gas tank or disable the engine, preventing a repeat of the 2000 USS Cole bombing.

Bonus Explainer: What would it feel like to be shot with a weapons-grade laser? Hot. Lasers deliver energy. A high-powered laser would quickly heat up your skin and eventually the cells underneath. It would certainly hurt, and, if you stood in front of a 20-kilowatt laser for a while, it would kill you. But it?s unlikely that the military would consider using lasers against people anytime soon. Not only are they bulky, they also take too long to kill. The moment you felt the laser, you could simply dive behind any opaque object for protection. (The military is considering a microwave-based weapon to disperse crowds because they trigger the flight response.) A bullet is a far more efficient way to harm a person.

Got a question about today?s news? Ask the Explainer


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Quake hits near Iran's nuclear city Bushehr, 37 dead

By Yeganeh Torbati and Marcus George

DUBAI (Reuters) - A powerful earthquake struck close to Iran's only nuclear power station on Tuesday, killing 37 people and injuring 850 as it destroyed homes and devastated two small villages, Iranian media reported.

The 6.3 magnitude quake totally destroyed one village, a Red Crescent official told the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA), but the nearby Bushehr nuclear plant was undamaged, according to Iranian officials and the Russian company that built it.

"Due to the intensity of this earthquake, this tragedy has deepened and we have seen the destruction of many homes in the region, the deaths of 37 people and more than 850 injured," the governor of Bushehr province, Fereydoun Hassanvand, told Mehr news agency.

Many houses in rural parts of the province are made of mud bricks, which have been known to crumble easily in quake-prone Iran. Some 700 homes were destroyed, Hassanvand said.

Across the Gulf, offices in Qatar and Bahrain were evacuated after the quake, whose epicenter was 89 km (55 miles) southeast of the port of Bushehr, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The early afternoon shock was also felt in financial hub Dubai.

The Russian company that built the nuclear power station, 18 km (11 miles) south of Bushehr, said the plant was unaffected.

"Personnel continue to work in the normal regime and radiation levels are fully within the norm," Russian state news agency RIA quoted an official at Atomstroyexport as saying.

Iran informed the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency that there was "no damage to the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant and no radioactive release from the installation", an agency statement said.

One Bushehr resident said the quake shook her home and the homes of her neighbors but they were not damaged.

"We could clearly feel the earthquake," Nikoo, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said. "The windows and chandeliers all shook."

While initial fears about nuclear fallout receded, nearer the epicenter the rescue efforts ramped up into the night in search of survivors and to feed and house hundreds of residents who were traumatized by at least 16 aftershocks.

A Red Crescent official told ISNA that 20 people had been saved by rescue teams searching through the rubble.

Reports in Iranian media spoke of landslides destroying buildings and crowds gathering in the town of Dashti from outlying areas in search of help. Military officials said army and police units had been deployed to maintain order.

Water and electricity lines were severed and communities stayed in the streets because of the threat from aftershocks.

Iran's most powerful authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offered his condolences to the victims and urged authorities to extend all efforts to save lives and help the afflicted.

Tuesday's quake was much smaller than the 9.0 magnitude one that hit Japan two years ago, triggering a tsunami that destroyed back-up generators and disabled the Fukushima nuclear plant's cooling system. Three of the reactors melted down.

Iran is the only country operating a nuclear power plant that does not belong to the Convention on Nuclear Safety, negotiated after the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl which contaminated wide areas and made 160,000 Ukrainians homeless.

Western officials and the United Nations have urged Iran to join the safety forum.


Tehran has repeatedly rejected safety concerns about Bushehr - built in a highly seismic area - that began operations in September 2011 after decades of delays.

Iran sits on major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 which flattened the southeastern city of Bam and killed more than 25,000 people. In August more than 300 people were killed when two quakes struck the northwest.

A report published last week by U.S. think-tanks Carnegie Endowment and the Federation of American Scientists said that "ominously" the Bushehr reactor sits at the intersection of three tectonic plates.

"Iran's sole nuclear power plant is not at risk of a tsunami similar in size to the one that knocked out the electricity and emergency cooling systems at Fukushima. But, repeated warnings about the threat of earthquakes for the Bushehr nuclear plant appear to have fallen on deaf ears," the report said.

The quake happened on National Nuclear Technology Day when Iran's leaders celebrate the technological advances they say will reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels, leaving more of its abundant oil for export.

Israel, Gulf Arab states and many Western countries fear Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability and the Islamic Republic is under international sanctions aimed at forcing it to curb some of its atomic work.

Iran denies it wants nuclear arms and says its atomic work is for electricity generation and other peaceful uses.

(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Regan Doherty in Doha, Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Michael Roddy and Jon Hemming)


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Spelling bee whizzes will also be quizzed on definitions

Alex Brandon/AP file

Snigdha Nandipati, 14, of San Diego, Calif., spells a word during the finals of the National Spelling Bee in 2012. This year's competitors will also have to know definitions to advance to the semifinals.

By Tracy Connor, Staff Writer, NBC News

It's no longer good enough to spell six-syllable words ? kids who hope to advance to the semifinals and finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee also have to know what the head-scratchers mean.

The organizers of the annual event announced Tuesday that competitors will take multiple-choice definition quizzes that will account for 50 percent of the score that determines who makes it to the last rounds.

The bee's executive director, Paige Kimble, said she thinks the spellers will embrace the big change.

"What we know with the championship-level spellers is that they think of their achievement in terms of spelling and vocabulary being two sides of the same coin," Kimble told the Associated Press. "These spellers will be excited at the opportunity to show off their vocabulary knowledge through competition."

Since 2002, bee contestants have taken a computerized spelling test off-camera during the preliminaries that helped determine who went to the televised semifinals, but they were asked only to spell words.

Now, that test will include vocabulary and those that make to the semifinals will also take it. The results will be combined with the live-round spelling results.

Among the benefits: the organizers will get more control over how many finalists they have.

The 281 competitors in this year's bee, which takes place May 28-30, will be briefed on the new rules Wednesday, meaning they'll have about six weeks to peruse the dictionary.

"It's a short time, that's for sure,"?Srinivas Mahankali, whose son, Arvind, is one of the favorites this year, told the AP. "But the thing is everyone knows about it at the same time, so I think it's fair to everyone."

The Associated Press contributed to this story



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White House says it won't press Dems on gay marriage (Washington Bureau)

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Gas prices falls to $3 a gallon in some markets

If your wallet is still hurting from the painfully high fuel prices much of the country experienced over the winter there?s some good news next time you head to the pump.

The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas has dipped to just $3.58, a three-cent dip since late last week, 15 cents from a month ago, and 36 cents off of what the typical American motorist was spending this time in 2012.

That?s a sharp turnaround from February when some states saw gas surge to near or all-time records, particularly along the West Coast.

The Detroit Bureau: Are Wagons Ready for Revival?

Buyers are still paying an average $4.359 in Hawaii and $4.027 in Washington, D.C., but California is back under the $4 mark, at $3.998, according to, a fuel price tracking service. And it?s down to $3.286 in Montana ? where motorists are paying just $3.261 in Billings.

Some reports indicate that the price has dropped below the $3 mark in a few Rocky Mountain communities near major refineries. And GasBuddy is forecasting still ?more markets? will dip under that break point in the coming days.

The Detroit Bureau: Fisker Fiasco Worsens

While crude prices posted some gains in early Monday trading, petroleum futures have been in sharp decline for several weeks. One key reason, reports the federal Energy Information Administration is that the country?s inventories are now at a 22-year peak.

The U.S. has been rapidly ramping up oil production for several years and is expected to actually be a larger producer than Saudi Arabia and other OPEC providers by mid-decade. That doesn't necessarily translate into lower prices, as petroleum is traded as a global commodity. But despite concerns about Mideast instability ? notably reductions in production in war-torn Syria ? there appears to be a good supply, if not a glut of the black gold now available around the world.

The Detroit Bureau: Germans May Give UAW Breakthrough Chance to Unionize VW "Transplant"

According to Tom Kloza, chief analyst with the Oil Price Information Service, only a major ?disruption in the Mideast? would likely provoke a sharp spike in fuel prices around the world.

That said, analysts warn that Americans can?t be complacent. Traders continue trying to push up the price of crude. And as U.S. motorists have been seeing, regional spikes are becoming more common. That can follow the changeover from summer to winter fuel blends designed to reduce regional air pollution problems. It can also result from maintenance and other issues, such as those that affected large swaths of the Midwest and Pacific Coast over the last year.

Even in areas where prices top the national charts today, the figures are significantly down from year-ago levels ? when California stood at $4.28 a gallon, for example.

The Detroit Bureau: Ford Reveals Alternatives for F-150

The sudden decline in gas prices may be fueling a shift in the U.S. new car market, meanwhile. Sales of pickups, in particular, surged during March and light trucks outsold passenger cars on the whole, despite recent trends moving in the opposite direction.

Copyright ? 2009-2013, The Detroit Bureau


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