Sunday, 8 February 2015

Nebula in Turquoise iPad Air Powis Case iPad Air Covers

Here's a great iPad case from Zazzle featuring a Hubble-related design. Maybe you'd like to see your name on it? Click to personalize and see what it's like!

tagged with: turquoise, blue, green, stars, nebula, space, astronomy, clouds, hubble, out of this world, decor, nature, beauty, home, alien

Nebula in Turquoise iPad Air Powis Case Personalize

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Pioneering evaluation of solar lanterns released

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When a person lives on less than \$2 a day — as some 2.7 billion people around the

The post Pioneering evaluation of solar lanterns released has been published on Technology Org.

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Saturn Solar Eclipse Posters

Here's a great poster featuring a beautiful image from deep space

tagged with: space, astronomy, saturn, stars, planets, earth, cassini, sun, exploration, rings, moons

You may think that this is a fake image, but it is actually a real photo taken from the Cassini space craft of Saturn eclipsing the Sun. The rings glow brightly as the light filters through them and the reflect that light all the way around to the back of the planet creating a surreal effect. A special surprise in the photo is that, just to the left of the rings, that bright blue dot is Earth, where you're sitting right now. This is truly a fascinating and beautiful image. Courtesy of NASA and JPL.

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6 tiny scientific mistakes that created huge disasters

Science Focus

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Even when things go according to plan, applied science is rarely cheap and always complicated — and when things go badly, the smallest mistake can end up costing millions or billions of dollars, and even, sometimes, human lives. Here are six reminders of why it's always good to double-check your work, especially when dealing with spaceflight.

(Note: Numbers are not adjusted for inflation.)

The crash of NASA's Genesis probe

The mistake: A pair of parts were installed backwards

Estimated cost: Over \$260 million

(More from World Science Festival: Alan Turing vs. the mechanical Nazi)

What happened: Genesis was a NASA probe meant to bring back space material from beyond Earth's moon. But its September 2004 landing, three years after takeoff, didn't go all that smoothly. The probe, carrying samples of solar wind to return to Earth for analysis, crashed in Utah; the resulting tumble to Earth contaminated many of the probe's precious samples, though some were recovered. A NASA report released in 2009 said that Lockheed Martin workers had inverted the position of the probe's accelerometers; the craft never knew it was decelerating into the Earth's atmosphere, and therefore never deployed its parachute.

The explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger

(Image credit: Wikipedia CC/Bricktop)

The mistake: An "O-ring" gasket failed in unexpectedly cold weather

Estimated cost: \$5.5 billion

What happened: On January 28, 1986, NASA and the world watched in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, just 73 seconds into its flight. The entire crew — Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik — perished. The problem, NASA eventually discovered, lay in Challenger's O-rings, components in the shuttle's solid rocket boosters that can normally withstand tens of thousands of pounds per square inch of pressure. However, these O-rings weren't designed to operate at low temperatures, and the morning of the Challenger launch was unusually cold. The O-ring seal failed at launch, was quickly resealed by aluminum oxides coming from the rocket, and was torn apart seconds later by strong winds, resulting in the explosion.

The Y2K fiasco


The mistake: Programmers allotted just two digits to register years, failing to anticipate the turn of the century

Estimated cost: \$308 billion

(More from World Science Festival: How to grow a microscopic alien garden)

What happened: Also known as the Millenium Bug, the Y2K problem was the result of early computer programmers deciding to use two-digit years for data instead of four digits — making data systems unable to distinguish the year 1900 from 2000. As the year '00' approached, press reports hyped up the prospect of worldwide doom, forecasting ravaged computer systems around the world. Most companies were able to fix the problem before the deadline, except for a few places like the U.S. Naval Observatory, where the clock temporarily displayed the incorrect date. But these preventative fixes, across all the world's computer systems, was costly: In November 1999, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that the total cost of remediation in the U.S. was around \$100 billion; by 2006, that number had risen another \$34 billion. Worldwide, the cost is believed to be around \$308 billion.

The Mars Climate Orbiter is lost

(Image credit: NASA)

The mistake: Some engineers used feet; others used meters

Estimated cost: \$125 million

What happened: The Mars Climate Orbiter was a satellite meant to collect data on Mars for two Earth years (about one Martian year) and act as a relay station for data from the Mars Polar Lander. Launched in December 1998, the Orbiter was set to arrive at the Red Planet later the next year. But on September 23, 1999, NASA announced the orbiter was lost. An investigation revealed the loss was due to confusion in mathematical units: While one team working on the spacecraft had used standard U.S. measurements, like feet, the other team had used the metric system. "The problem here was not the error, it was the failure of NASA's systems engineering, and the checks and balances in our processes, to detect the error. That's why we lost the spacecraft," Dr. Edward Weiler, NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Science said in a statement at the time.

Hubble's vision issue

The galaxy M100, snapped by Hubble before (left) and after (right) its first servicing. | (Image credit: NASA)

The mistake: The Hubble telescope's main mirror was ground down just 2 microns (one-fiftieth the thickness of a human hair) too far, resulting in blurry vision

Estimated cost: \$1.5 billion for a trip to space to repair it (estimated cost of one Space Shuttle launch)

(More from World Science Festival: 11 small wonders captured on camera)

What happened: Soon after the Hubble Space Telescope settled into orbit in 1990, scientists were distressed to find that the images it was sending back were of much lower quality than expected. Turns out the telescope's primary mirror had been ground down just a little too far — towards its edge, the mirror was too flat by just 2 microns — causing light reflecting off the edge of Hubble's mirror to focus at a different point from light bouncing off closer to the center. In 1993, a repair crew took a shuttle flight up to install what basically amounted to eyeglasses for Hubble's unfocused gaze: two mirrors specially designed to correct the aberration caused by the flaw, as well as other correction devices for other components.

Ariane 5 Rocket self-destructs

The mistake: An old piece of software code couldn't store an unexpectedly large integer, triggering a self-destruct

Estimated cost: \$370-500 million

What happened: The European Space Agency's Ariane 5 rocket was designed to vault Europe to the head of space exploration and industry, though its guidance system was running some of the same computer code as its older and slower sibling, Ariane 4. At 36.7 seconds into the launch, the guidance computer routinely attempted to convert the sideways velocity of the rocket from a 64-bit "floating point" format to 16-bit "signed integer" format. But in this case — with Ariane 5's faster rocket — the velocity conversion generated a number that was too big to be represented by a 16-bit signed integer (which can only store values up to 32,767.) The nozzles of two solid rocket boosters and an engine suddenly swung out of position, nearly detaching the boosters from the body of the rocket, triggering a self-destruct mechanism, and the rocket disintegrated 39 seconds into its maiden flight, destroying several extremely expensive satellites.

Ordinarily, "when a program converts data from one form to another, the conversions are protected by extra lines of code that watch for errors and recover gracefully," science historian James Gleick wrote in The New York Times. "Indeed, many of the data conversions in the guidance system's programming included such protection. But in this case, the programmers had decided that this particular velocity figure would never be large enough to cause trouble. After all, it never had been before. Unluckily, Ariane 5 was a faster rocket than Ariane 4."

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Europe to press ahead on new rocket

Science Focus

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Research ministers approve the development of a new Ariane rocket for Europe, with pledges of 5.924bn euros for space programmes. 
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The psychology of bribery and corruption

Science Focus

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This one's a head-shaker. In 2011 and 2012, Robert Lustyik, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent on the counterintelligence squad in White Plains, New York (now retired), and his childhood friend Johannes Thaler, a shoe salesman at a Macy's, solicited bribes in exchange for confidential government information that Lustyik had access to at work — and they texted and emailed about the plan in great detail the entire time.

An acquaintance of Thaler's from Macy's, Rizve Ahmed, paid the pair \$1,000 for the FBI's "Suspicious Activity Report" about his political rival back in his home of Bangladesh. But Lustyik and Thaler wanted much more than that; they discussed how they would sign Ahmed up on a kind of "contract" for a \$40,000 "retainer" as well as a recurring monthly payment of \$30,000. They even intimated that they could set up a secret informant to spy on Ahmed's enemy, and then bring criminal charges against him.

Interestingly, Lustyik and Thaler took the precautions of both giving Ahmed a code name ("Caesar") and only meeting him in a non-descript public place (a food court in a mall in Danbury, Connecticut). And yet they didn't think it necessary to refrain from specifically spelling out the crimes they were committing, and when, and for how much cash, over text message and email. According to the government's criminal complaint, one email from Lustyik to Thaler began, "So. Here is my master plan...we use info from [a] source, within the current Bang[ladeshi] govt and sell it to caesar's people. No one one gets hurt." Just to reiterate: Lustyik worked for the FBI, on the counterintelligence squad. He wrote that. In an email.

It went on and on. In a text-message negotiation about the contract, Ahmed wrote to Thaler, "If this works out, I will be the hero to my party!!!" and emailed them a photograph of a handful of cash. But when negotiations broke down, and Ahmed threatened to find another FBI source instead, Lustyik texted Thaler about Ahmed, "Let's kick his ass…. I hung my ass out the window n we got nothing?... So bottom line. I need ten gs asap. We gotta squeeze C[aesar]... [R]emind him that I deal w Interpol."

The ill-conceived scheme caught up with the trio, somehow, and Thaler and Ahmed pleaded guilty to bribery charges in federal court in October. (Lustyik's charges remain and he awaits trial.) Meanwhile, Lustyik and Thaler also pleaded guilty to a separate scheme in Utah last month; they apparently accepted \$200,000 from a defense contractor in exchange for a promise to sign the contractor up as a government informant so he would be protected from an ongoing federal investigation into a shady \$54 million defense contract in Afghanistan.

What were they thinking? Lustyik and Thaler were likely motivated by greed, and Ahmed by political ambition. But what made them think this was a good idea? The very particular set of thinking and expectations involved in bribery and corruption has been an occasional topic of research for economists and psychologists throughout the years — on the overall cultural, organizational, and personal levels.

Researchers have measured and studied corruption on the global scale, for instance. The World Bank has estimated that \$1 trillion gets paid every year in bribes, worldwide. There's corruption in every government in the world, but what varies is how extreme, how visible, and how tolerated it is. Researchers at the University of Toronto have made a connection between the cultural "collectivism" of a country's population and its acceptance of bribery (as opposed to its "individualism"). It might sound counterintuitive, but the results of their study suggest that "collectivism promotes bribery through lower perceived responsibility for one's actions."

Likewise, researchers writing in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science have found a correlation between the "seemingly unrelated behaviors" of voluntary tipping and bribery. Namely, "countries that had higher rates of tipping behavior tended to have higher rates of corruption" — even after they control for GDP and income inequality. The context surrounding those two acts may be different, but the expectation of a quid-pro-quo for good service rendered seems to be the same.

A duo of psychologists in Germany struggled to identify the particulars of "a corrupt organizational culture in terms of its underlying assumptions, values, and norms." But, writing in the Journal of Business Ethics this year, they found generally that "corrupt organizations perceive themselves to fight in a war, which leads to their taken-for-granted assumption that 'the end justifies the means.'" Wartime attitudes degrade the traditional values of the members of the group, and they start to develop rationalizations and something the authors call "ethical blindness." Corrupt organizations also tend to protect the "social cocoon" they've built up by harshly punishing those members of the group who aren't willing to join in the rule-breaking.

It seems that the structure of the organization itself can have a subconscious effect on its members, as well. When asked about kickbacks and bribes in the U.S. military, a spokesperson for the government watchdog group Project on Government Oversight said that the strict, top-down structure of the military means that commanders must work even harder to set an ethical example for their subordinates. Otherwise, corruption trickles down.

But none of this sheds much light on the curious decisions made by Lustyik and his compatriots — decisions that seem to have been influenced by personal whims rather than by organizational corruption or their national culture at large. How does a person decide whether or not to take that risk — whether one is the briber or the bribed? Mathematicians have employed game theory to map out the decision process, comparing the cost-benefit analysis of the potential money or power gained versus the risk of being caught (and the even greater chance of feeling "moral torture" over that risk in the meantime).

Their complicated mathematical calculations have mostly led them all to the same simple conclusions that psychologists and economists have reached: Punishing bribery after the fact is not a good way to stop it from happening in the future, and it will only stop when the risk outweighs the potential reward. (Some have suggested that the best way for an organization to keep its members from being susceptible to bribes is to pay them more — which is ironic, because it looks a little bit like bribing them to be honest.)

Lustyik and Thaler thought they were looking at \$40,000 plus \$30,000 a month, for as long as Lustyik's FBI database access could keep Rizve Ahmed sated with secret information. That potential benefit probably outweighed the risk of their going to jail. But unfortunately for them, the pair only ever got \$1,000 in a Danbury mall food court for all their trouble — and Thaler and Ahmed, at least, could be facing up to 35 years in jail.

Pacific Standard grapples with the nation's biggest issues by illuminating why we do what we do. For more on the science of society, sign up for its weekly email update or subscribe to its bimonthly print magazine.

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Zazzle Space Gifts for young and old

Pandora's Cluster Detail iPad Covers

Here's a great iPad case from Zazzle featuring a Hubble-related design. Maybe you'd like to see your name on it? Click to personalize and see what it's like!

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A colorful space image galaxy cluster Abell 2744, otherwise known as Pandora's Cluster. Source of image is NASA/Hubble programs.

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Graphene multiplies the power of light

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Could graphene turn light to electricity? Scientists have shown that graphene can convert a single photon into multiple

The post Graphene multiplies the power of light has been published on Technology Org.

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I see no god up here poster

Here's a great poster featuring a beautiful image from deep space

tagged with: atheist, atheism, earth, astronomy, reddit, science, cosmology, nasa, yuri gagarin, see no god up here

I see no god up here

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‘GoreSat’ Is Set to Launch on SpaceX Rocket

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The Deep Space Climate Observatory, a 1,250-pound satellite intended to serve as a sentinel for solar storms, is to lift off Sunday from Cape Canaveral.

via New York Times