Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Revealed: How Mars Lost Its Atmosphere

Mars used to have an atmosphere, interesting that man was not involved in its loss. That said, we should be good stewards of our planet regardless. Aivars Lode

The Red Planet lost its protective blanket of air billions of years ago. Now astronomers are certain why
By Jeffrey Kluger

One of the biggest challenges about flying to Mars is remembering why you went there in the first place. The Curiosity rover has been on the Red Planet for almost a year now, and the landing itself — an outrageous feat achieved by a stationary hovercraft that lowered the 1-ton Mars car to the surface by cables — was a global television event. But once the wheels touched the soil and all of the high fives had been exchanged, most people outside of the space community turned away.
Curiosity, however, went to Mars to work, and if its sister rovers Spirit and Opportunity — both of which arrived in 2004 and one of which is still chugging — are any indication, it should be at it for a long time. In the past year, Curiosity has already made some intriguing discoveries about the mineralogy of Mars and the planet’s watery past, and this week it delivered again. In a pair of papers published in the journal Science, investigators announced new findings from the spacecraft about one of Mars’ most long-standing mysteries: how it lost its atmosphere, and why.
Mars’ modern atmosphere is only 1% the density of Earth‘s, but the planet’s watery phase is believed to have lasted for the first billion of its 4.5 billion years, which means its air must have been around that long too. But things were never likely to stay that way. Mars has only half Earth’s diameter, 11% its mass and 38% its gravity, making it easy for upper layers of the original atmosphere to have boiled away into the vacuum of space and been blasted out by meteor hits. And that cycle would build on itself: the thinner the air became, the easier it would be for space rocks to hit the ground, unleashing still more explosive energy and, in effect, blowing still more holes in the sky.
But that’s only one mechanism. Planets can lose their air not just from the top up but also from the bottom down, as elements of the atmosphere bond with — and retreat into — the soil. Martian meteorites that landed on Earth have often been found to include gas bubbles from the Martian sky, evidence that this commingling was going on.
Curiosity scientists sought to settle the matter with the help of the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments, a collection of sensors that sniff the air for its chemical makeup — particularly its mix of isotopes. Elements don’t come in just one form, but in different sizes and weights — such as carbon 12 and carbon 13 — determined by the number of neutrons in the nucleus. That weight issue is critical in atmospheric studies, because just as heavier metals sink downward and lighter ones rise as a molten planet is forming, so do gases stratify themselves in the atmosphere by weight.
Earlier measurements of Mars’ current atmosphere had always shown a high concentration of the heavy isotopes of carbon and oxygen — convenient elements to measure because Mars’ atmosphere is overwhelmingly made of carbon dioxide. Those findings differ from the isotopic makeup of the sun and the early solar system as a whole, in which lighter isotopes were more evenly represented. Mars, like Earth and all of the other planets, would have started out with that same relatively even mix. The fact that the heavy isotopes dominate the remaining Martian air means its lighter, high-altitude gases bled away first — supporting the top-down theory.
“As atmosphere was lost, the signature of the process was embedded in the isotopic ratio,” said NASA‘s Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator for the SAM team, in a statement. That was the theory anyway, but it took a suite of instruments like SAM to sample the air with enough sensitivity to prove the heavy-isotope imbalance. As the Science paper revealed, Curiosity indeed sealed that deal.
The findings are considered particularly reliable because Curiosity used two different instruments to do its work: the tunable laser spectrometer, which analyzes how Martian air pumped into a chamber reflects two different frequencies of infrared laser; and the mass spectrometer, which, as its name suggests, measures the entire spectrum of elements present in an air sample according to their mass. “Getting the same results with two very different techniques increased our confidence that there’s no known systematic error,” said NASA’s Chris Weber, lead author of one of the new papers.
Mars’ lost air is never coming back, but the little bit it does have still makes the planet a chemically active place — and plays a major role in the combination of parachutes and braking-rockets spacecraft from Earth rely on to reach the surface safely. But change is a constant everywhere in the universe, and even today, the Red Planet’s atmospheric loss is thought to be continuing. How fast that’s happening will not be known until the arrival of NASA’s next Mars probe, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which is set for launch in November. The already harsh Mars, MAVEN may find, is fast becoming harsher still — one more reason to appreciate the improbably verdant Earth.

The Over Diagnosis of Cancer in the US

Unfortunately surgens make money by cutting. Now it is coming to light that there is an over diagnosis of cancer. Aivars Lode


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Whatever Happened to Global Warming?

The headline says it all. Aivars Lode

Now come climate scientists' implausible explanations for why the 'hiatus' has passed the 15-year mark.
By Matt Ridley
On Sept. 23 the United Nations will host a party for world leaders in New York to pledge urgent action against climate change. Yet leaders from China, India and Germany have already announced that they won't attend the summit and others are likely to follow, leaving President Obama looking a bit lonely. Could it be that they no longer regard it as an urgent threat that some time later in this century the air may get a bit warmer?
In effect, this is all that's left of the global-warming emergency the U.N. declared in its first report on the subject in 1990. The U.N. no longer claims that there will be dangerous or rapid climate change in the next two decades. Last September, between the second and final draft of its fifth assessment report, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change quietly downgraded the warming it expected in the 30 years following 1995, to about 0.5 degrees Celsius from 0.7 (or, in Fahrenheit, to about 0.9 degrees, from 1.3).
Even that is likely to be too high. The climate-research establishment has finally admitted openly what skeptic scientists have been saying for nearly a decade: Global warming has stopped since shortly before this century began.
First the climate-research establishment denied that a pause existed, noting that if there was a pause, it would invalidate their theories. Now they say there is a pause (or "hiatus"), but that it doesn't after all invalidate their theories.
Alas, their explanations have made their predicament worse by implying that man-made climate change is so slow and tentative that it can be easily overwhelmed by natural variation in temperature—a possibility that they had previously all but ruled out.
When the climate scientist and geologist Bob Carter of James Cook University in Australia wrote an article in 2006 saying that there had been no global warming since 1998 according to the most widely used measure of average global air temperatures, there was an outcry. A year later, when David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London made the same point, the environmentalist and journalist Mark Lynas said in the New Statesman that Mr. Whitehouse was "wrong, completely wrong," and was "deliberately, or otherwise, misleading the public."
We know now that it was Mr. Lynas who was wrong. Two years before Mr. Whitehouse's article, climate scientists were already admitting in emails among themselves that there had been no warming since the late 1990s. "The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998," wrote Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia in Britain in 2005. He went on: "Okay it has but it is only seven years of data and it isn't statistically significant."
If the pause lasted 15 years, they conceded, then it would be so significant that it would invalidate the climate-change models upon which policy was being built. A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) written in 2008 made this clear: "The simulations rule out (at the 95% level) zero trends for intervals of 15 yr or more."
Well, the pause has now lasted for 16, 19 or 26 years—depending on whether you choose the surface temperature record or one of two satellite records of the lower atmosphere. That's according to a new statistical calculation by Ross McKitrick, a professor of economics at the University of Guelph in Canada.
It has been roughly two decades since there was a trend in temperature significantly different from zero. The burst of warming that preceded the millennium lasted about 20 years and was preceded by 30 years of slight cooling after 1940.
This has taken me by surprise. I was among those who thought the pause was a blip. As a "lukewarmer," I've long thought that man-made carbon-dioxide emissions will raise global temperatures, but that this effect will not be amplified much by feedbacks from extra water vapor and clouds, so the world will probably be only a bit more than one degree Celsius warmer in 2100 than today. By contrast, the assumption built into the average climate model is that water-vapor feedback will treble the effect of carbon dioxide.
But now I worry that I am exaggerating, rather than underplaying, the likely warming.
Most science journalists, who are strongly biased in favor of reporting alarming predictions, rather than neutral facts, chose to ignore the pause until very recently, when there were explanations available for it. Nearly 40 different excuses for the pause have been advanced, including Chinese economic growth that supposedly pushed cooling sulfate particles into the air, the removal of ozone-eating chemicals, an excess of volcanic emissions, and a slowdown in magnetic activity in the sun.
The favorite explanation earlier this year was that strong trade winds in the Pacific Ocean had been taking warmth from the air and sequestering it in the ocean. This was based on a few sketchy observations, suggesting a very tiny change in water temperature—a few hundredths of a degree—at depths of up to 200 meters.
Last month two scientists wrote in Science that they had instead found the explanation in natural fluctuations in currents in the Atlantic Ocean. For the last 30 years of the 20th century, Xianyao Chen and Ka-Kit Tung suggested, these currents had been boosting the warming by bringing heat to the surface, then for the past 15 years the currents had been counteracting it by taking heat down deep.
The warming in the last three decades of the 20th century, to quote the news releasethat accompanied their paper, "was roughly half due to global warming and half to the natural Atlantic Ocean cycle." In other words, even the modest warming in the 1980s and 1990s—which never achieved the 0.3 degrees Celsius per decade necessary to satisfy the feedback-enhanced models that predict about three degrees of warming by the end of the century—had been exaggerated by natural causes. The man-made warming of the past 20 years has been so feeble that a shifting current in one ocean was enough to wipe it out altogether.
Putting the icing on the cake of good news, Xianyao Chen and Ka-Kit Tung think the Atlantic Ocean may continue to prevent any warming for the next two decades. So in their quest to explain the pause, scientists have made the future sound even less alarming than before. Let's hope that the United Nations admits as much on day one of its coming jamboree and asks the delegates to pack up, go home and concentrate on more pressing global problems like war, terror, disease, poverty, habitat loss and the 1.3 billion people with no electricity.
Mr. Ridley is the author of "The Rational Optimist" (HarperCollins, 2010) and a member of the British House of Lords.

Monday, September 1, 2014

China Is Awash in Grain Crops

There are reports of oversupply of grains out of China; so my question is, who is shorting grain or US farm land? Aivars Lode

Surpluses Will be Sold Into a Global Market Already in Oversupply
By Isabella Steger
Villagers harvest wheat in north China's Shanxi province. Xinhua/Zuma Press
China's grain cupboard is overflowing.
As the harvest looms next month, the country is on track for an 11th year of bumper grain crops. But production is too much, even for the world's most populous nation, with warehouses bursting at the seams and posing a dilemma for policy makers.
Estimates from state media say the government will be sitting on 150 million tons of grains that include three of the most important crops for China: rice, wheat and corn. That is double the 75 million tons last year and adds to an oversupply of these agricultural commodities that is pressuring prices lower.
"Chinese officials always talk about having a big harvest," said Fred Gale, an economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "That sounds like a good thing, as they have been worried about supply keeping up with demand. But now, China seems to be struggling with surpluses of most of their commodities."
The glut of grains is being lauded in a country that grappled with acute food shortages and starvation as recently as a few decades ago. But China is paying far more than necessary to feed its people and it will be forced to sell down its surpluses into a global market already suffering from oversupply, potentially driving down prices further.
The situation has exposed China's inefficient and expensive government subsidy program aimed at keeping farmers' incomes up. The government is struggling with how to protect its rural residents while cutting production of these perishable commodities to save money and keep surpluses down.
The precise size and costs of the subsidy program are hard to come by. Official data show that China buys up one-third of corn production, while an estimate by state media said the government spent $36 billion in the last two years to buy up corn when the market price has fallen below a minimum floor.
"The stockpiles are absolutely ginormous, way out of line with anything that you could justify holding onto on any sort of commercial basis," said Thomas Pugh, an economist at Capital Economics in London. "These are perishable goods, so they will start to deteriorate."
He estimates China holds about 40% of the world's corn stocks. China plans to build storage facilities to hold 50 million metric tons more of grain by 2015 to cope with the excess, according to state media.
About 70% of China's corn consumption goes to feed for livestock as the country's appetite for meat rapidly rises, and the rest is processed into syrups or starches.
It is a particularly vexing problem for China this year, as crop production is also booming in the U.S. and dragging down prices there to near four-year lows, while Chinese prices have remained elevated because of the subsidies. That creates an incentive for Chinese traders to import corn from overseas, exacerbating China's already huge stockpile, said Jikun Huang, director of the government's Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy in Beijing.
The USDA forecast this month that U.S. corn production will exceed 14 billion bushels, far above last year's record harvest.
Corn on China's Dalian Commodity Exchange traded at around 2,390 yuan ($388) a ton as on Monday, compared with corn on the Chicago Board of Trade which traded at about 367 cents a bushel — equivalent to about 890 yuan a ton.
China has tried to curb corn U.S. imports this year, citing the presence of genetically modified strains. But Mr. Huang says traders are getting around it by importing other feed substitutes such as barley and sorghum.
And ridding China of these huge stockpiles isn't easy.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (foreground) inspects grain in July at China Grain Reserves Corporation in Zhuzhou, China. Xinhua/Zuma Press
A recent government auction of corn from Heilongjiang province held by the Chinese government went awry, with only a fifth of it sold at the price of 2,200 yuan a ton, "more than twice what U.S. feed mills are paying for corn right now," said the USDA's Mr. Gale.
The government has signaled that it recognizes the problem. State media have said the shortage of storage is a problem and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has been photographed on visits to grain depots recently.
"In the past we have focused on expanding production and grain quality…now we need reforms for better buying, selling, and storage, to contribute to national security," Mr. Li is quoted as saying on the State Administration of Grain website.
China's surplus couldn't have come at a worse time for U.S. farmers, who are expected by the USDA to harvest a record 14 billion bushels. Corn futures have dropped 15% this year after falling 40% last year, and China's unwillingness to buy U.S. corn will further pressure prices, said Jason Britt, president of brokerage Central States Commodities Inc. in Kansas City, Mo.
"China's [lack of buying] has been a contributing factor in these lower prices," he said. "Now, the job of the market is to go down to a level where we find demand.
"It's amazing that China can overlook GMOs when stocks are tight, but when they're trying to protect their domestic farmers or they're in surplus, they can come up with things to mess with us—they're trade barriers, let's just call them what they are."
In January, the government said it would start trial programs in cotton and soybeans—two less-strategically important crops—to end stockpiling, and implement a target price system instead, first for cotton in Xinjiang and soybeans in the northeast, so that commodity prices are more market-driven.
The government will pay farmers the difference when the market price falls below the target price, but the government doesn't buy the commodity in the market to keep prices at a certain level. The idea is to set target prices for agricultural commodities at more market-based levels, which should in turn influence how much farmers decide to produce.
China is also in the process of unwinding its 10 million-ton cotton stockpile since late last year, which means China's appetite for cotton imports is likely to fall in coming years. That has hit cotton prices hard. In the U.S., cotton futures have fallen more than 20% this year.
"The government is moving in the right direction, step by step," said Cherry Zhang, a corn analyst at Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. "But much depends on how the changes for cotton and soybeans pan out in practice."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Get Paid To Click on Ads

How crazy is this? A company has been created to pay you for your click as they are making money in the arbitrage between what they pay you and the amount that the advertiser pays them. Aivars Lode

If you've ever searched online (so, pretty much everyone) this applies to you.

A London-based startup called Qmee will pay you to click on links that surface in search queries.
"Why wouldn't you want to get something back for something you do every day?" said Qmee founder Jonathan Knight.Once you've installed the Qmee toolbar in your browser, searches on every major engine (Google(GOOG)Yahoo (YAHOF) and Bing, as well as Ebay(EBAY, Tech30) and Amazon (AMZN, Tech30)) will yield a list of results in the left-hand column. Clicking on these links (which look a lot like Google ads) can earn you four to 15 cents apiece.
The more common the search (like "men's shoes" or "plane tickets"), the more likely there will be Qmee results. Theoretically, the results are directly related, although one search for women's dresses turned up for results for men's shoes.
As the search industry ages -- Google (GOOG) just celebrated its tenth anniversary as a public company -- is Qmee giving users a peek into the future of search?
Don't bet on it just yet.
Right now, Qmee said people should expect to see results just 15% of the time. They said this will grow as they partner with more ad networks. (They work with six networks right now, each with "thousands of clients.")
When I tested the app at CNNMoney, countless searches (everything from "prom dresses" to "movie tickets") turned up zero Qmee results. But on my home computer, searching the same terms turned up multiple Qmee results.
A Qmee representative said my experience at work was abnormal and not a complaint they've received (although a coworker had a similar experience).
Knight and co-founder Nick Sutton, both software executives, launched the "search loyalty" firm last year (the only one that offers up actual cash, according to Knight).
The intention is to let users get a little something when searching online. After all, users provide data about their behavior every time they click a search result links.
"Many loyalty programs require the customer to jump through hoops to redeem rewards," said Knight.
Qmee cash is redeemable through a PayPal account (or you can choose to donate to charity).
The company is not yet profitable, as 90% of its revenue goes to customers and just 10% goes to the firm. (The partnerships with ad networks are all monetized on a cost-per-click or cost-per-purchase model.)
Knight says while this ratio could change in the future, "a larger percentage of our revenues will always go to our users."
So far, it's just chump change for users -- the person who's accumulated the most money earned about $200 over the course of a year.
But it has the potential to take a bigger piece of the pie. ZenithOptimedia values the U.S. paid search industry at $16.8 billion this year.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Number One Job Skill in 2020

This is totally in line with where the jobs came from in Aussie over the decade following the crash in the 90’s. Aivars Lode

What's the crucial career strength that employers everywhere are seeking -- even though hardly anyone is talking about it? A great way to find out is by studying this list of fast-growing occupations, as compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Sports coaches and fitness trainers. Massage therapists, registered nurses and physical therapists. School psychologists, music tutors, preschool teachers and speech-language pathologists. Personal financial planners, chauffeurs and private detectives. These are among the fields expected to employ at least 20% more people in the U.S. by 2020.
Did you notice the common thread? Every one of these jobs is all about empathy.
In our fast-paced digital world, there's lots of hand-wringing about the ways that automation and computer technology are taking away the kinds of jobs that kept our parents and grandparents employed. Walk through a modern factory, and you'll be stunned by how few humans are needed to tend the machines. Similarly, travel agents, video editors and many other white-collar employees have been pushed to the sidelines by the digital revolution's faster and cheaper methods.
But there's no substitute for the magic of a face-to-face interaction with someone else who cares. Even the most ingenious machine-based attempts to mimic human conversation (hello, Siri) can't match the emotional richness of a real conversation with a real person.
Visit a health club, and you'll see the best personal trainers don't just march their clients through a preset run of exercises. They chat about the stresses and rewards of getting back in shape. They tease, they flatter -- maybe they even flirt a little. They connect with their clients in a way that builds people's motivation. Before long, clients keep coming back to the gym because they want to spend time with a friend, and to do something extra to win his or her respect.
It's the same story in health care or education. Technology can monitor an adult's glucose levels or a young child's counting skills quite precisely. Data by itself, though, is just a tool. The real magic happens when a borderline diabetic or a shy preschooler develops enough faith and trust in another person to embark on a new path. What the BLS data tells us is that even in a rapidly automating world, we can't automate empathy.
Last week, when the BLS reported that the U.S. economy added 175,000 jobs in May, analysts noted that one of the labor market's bright spots involved restaurants and bars. Waiters, cooks and bartenders accounted for a full 16% of the month's job growth. As the Washington Post's Neil Irwin put it, "A robot may be able to assemble a car, but a cook still grills burgers."
Actually, it's the people in the front of the restaurant -- and behind the bar -- that should command our attention. The more time we spend in the efficient but somewhat soulless world of digital connectivity, the more we will cherish a little banter with wait-staff and bartenders who know us by name. We will pay extra to mingle with other people who can keep the timeless art of conversation alive.
By George Anders

Monday, August 11, 2014

Yahoo Reports Another Decline in Advertising

Is this a sign of things to come for the industry as google and others become harder to use awash with spam advertising? Yahoo reports a decline in advertising. Aivars Lode
Two years into Marissa Mayer's tenure at Yahoo Inc., YHOO +0.06% advertisers are still sitting on the sidelines.
Yahoo on Tuesday reported that its total revenue, minus commissions paid to partners for Web traffic, fell 3% in the second quarter, its fourth decline in the past five periods and below the company's estimates. Of particular concern, revenue from display ads, excluding the traffic costs, dropped 6.9% to $394 million.
"A transformation of this size will take several years," Ms. Mayer told analysts. "It will take a little longer than we originally forecasted."
That sentiment differs from Ms. Mayer's comments just three months ago, when she said the first quarter was "evidence we are on the right course." Those results—Yahoo's first revenue growth in more than a year—now appear to be a blip as Ms. Mayer struggles to persuade advertisers to shift their budgets from Google Inc. GOOGL -0.18% and Facebook Inc., FB +0.29% which command the bulk of the online and mobile ad markets.
Yahoo's shares fell 2.3% in after-hours trading to $34.78. Its market capitalization is about $35 billion.
The troubling progress report comes as Ms. Mayer needs advertisers most. Pressure on the chief executive is increasing as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., the Chinese e-commerce company in which Yahoo owns a 23% stake, prepares to hold an initial public offering that will shift investor focus from that asset to Yahoo's stagnant core business.
Alibaba will give investors something to cheer about for the time being. Alibaba and Yahoo agreed to reduce the number of shares that Yahoo is required to sell at the IPO to 140 million shares from 208 million shares. That will give Yahoo less cash from the IPO but will allow it to hold on to shares that could increase in value as Alibaba grows. Yahoo will unload about 27% of its stake in Alibaba, rather than a previously planned 40%.
Alibaba's expected IPO valuation is a moving target. The e-commerce company last week valued itself at $130 billion ahead of the offering, but some Wall Street analysts valued the company at as much as $230 billion.
Yahoo's chief financial officer, Ken Goldman, said he expected the sale of Yahoo's Alibaba shares to be fully taxed and would return at least half of the proceeds to shareholders, though he didn't specify how.
B. Riley & Co. analyst Sameet Sinha estimated Yahoo's total stake in Alibaba is valued at about $38 billion. Assuming it pays a capital-gains tax of 35%, Yahoo would make about $6.7 billion in IPO proceeds, Mr. Sinha said. That would give shareholders more than $3 billion in the form of share buybacks or dividends.
The average price for Yahoo ads declined 24% in the second quarter—compared with a 5% drop three months earlier. The drop was a sign that Yahoo's new ad offerings, such as "in-stream" ads that appear in the center of sites such as Yahoo News and Yahoo Finance, aren't attracting much demand from advertisers.Regardless of the Alibaba outcome, Yahoo must find a way to turn around its advertising business before investors lose patience.
Ms. Mayer also said demand has dropped off for one particular type of ad, the FPAD, a small, square-like advertisement on its home page, which she plans to reconfigure and reprice.
More generally, advertisers are moving away from higher-priced, graphical banner ads that have been Yahoo's specialty. In their place, they are spending more on cheaper ads targeted to individual visitors, an area where Facebook and Google have excelled.
Ms. Mayer's reorganization of the company's executive ranks hasn't stopped the bleeding. The company's ad sales still declined in the wake of Ms. Mayer's firing of Henrique de Castro, her former operations chief and top liaison to the ad industry.
"It's remarkable how bad" ad revenue in the quarter was, said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research. "Such are the problems when there is no head of ad sales."
That job has been taken up by Ms. Mayer herself, who says she has recently gone on a listening tour meeting with more than 500 ad-industry executives representing more than 50 top brands. But she is still seen by some in such circles as a technologist out of touch with Madison Avenue. In one highly publicized incident, she arrived nearly two hours late for a meeting with top ad-agency executives in Cannes, France.
Yahoo has announced a bevy of new ad offerings—such as native ads, digital magazines and Web video shows—but marketers say Yahoo still lacks the popular appeal with consumers. "They all feel like 'could-be's' for brands, not big money bets," said Greg March, the CEO of ad agency Ikon3.
Yahoo reported second-quarter profit of $272.6 million, down from $335 million a year earlier.
—Mike Shields contributed to this article.