January 29, 2010

FREE Admission to King Tut at the De Young Museum



San Francisco, CA--Free tickets to the special exhibition Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park will be available to the general public on Saturday, February 20, and Sunday, February 21, sponsored by Target.  Tickets will be available on site only, with a limit of four tickets per adult for that day.  All tickets are first-come, first-served and timed and dated.   The permanent collections of the de Young will be free to the public all weekend and free programming will include children’s art making, fortune tellers, tarot card readers, belly and sword dancers and a dj spinning in Wilsey Court, as well as a festival of mummy movies screened from noon to 5 pm in the Koret Auditorium.

Admission Specifics:

  • There will be no advance ticketing for Free Tut Weekend Sponsored by Target.
  • Tickets are first-come, first-served with a limit of four tickets per adult.  Demand will be high and Tut tickets for the day will be claimed early in the day. 
  • Visitors without Tut tickets can visit the de Young’s permanent collection free of charge on both days and the Museum Store, Museum Caf√© and Tower will also be open.
  • The de Young box office will open at 8:30 am on February 20–21 with first exhibition entry at 9 am.
  • Museum hours on February 20–21 will be from 9 am–5:15 pm with last entry to the Tut exhibition at 4 pm.
  • Strollers, baby carrying backpacks, diaper bags and regular backpacks must be checked before entering the special exhibition galleries. 

January 28, 2010

California High Speed Rail Plans Back On Track?

California will receive $2.25 billion, the largest amount for any state, in federal economic stimulus funds to develop a high-speed rail line running from Anaheim to San Francisco. That could be a huge boost for the long-discussed project aimed at accelerating the state's economic recovery.

According to the L.A. Times:
Overall, the Obama administration plans to distribute $8 billion for work on 13 rail corridors. Those include a Midwest line from Chicago to St. Louis and one in Florida running from Tampa to Orlando.

Trains on the proposed Anaheim-to-San Francisco line, which is projected to cost about $42 billion, would whisk passengers the 400 or so miles in no more than 2 hours, 40 minutes. The project would take a decade to complete, with extensions to San Diego and Sacramento planned.
A White House official said that the money will help "lay the groundwork for a nationwide infrastructure expansion that will spur economic growth in communities across the country, provide faster and more energy-efficient means of travel, and establish a new industry in the U.S. that provides stable, well-paid jobs." Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said he was "delighted" by the news, and noted that California had pledged to match the federal funds to create a world-class high speed rail system that will help to drive California's economy into the 22nd century. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) added that the funding would "create tens of thousands of jobs across California, reduce air pollution and congestion on our roads, and help us build a cleaner, more efficient transportation system."

Even more funding for modern trains may be forthcoming. An additional $2.5 billion was included for high-speed rail in the recently approved transportation spending bill, and lawmakers have talked about including as much as $50 billion for such transit in a bill that will be written later this year.

January 27, 2010

What Did the United States Congress Accomplish in 2009?

The 111th U.S. Congress has been a popular target for armchair critics throughout the past year. Now that the super majority has been lost, they are drawing fire from bloggers and cartoonists galore. Jumping on the bandwagon to poke fun of the 111th Congress for not getting anything done is fun and easy, right? It's also inaccurate. In the face of an infinitely long to-do list and brutal opposition, the 111th Congress tackled a relatively huge number of items in it's first year. Among other things, legislation has been enacted to help ensure fair pay for women and minority workers; the budget is being balanced; credit card companies now have to warn customers before raising interest rates; tax credits have been issued to real people (not just to corporations); workers, homeowners, and small business owners have received aid; health insurance companies may soon have to offer fair services at fair prices; and more. Read on for the complete list of enacted and proposed legislation.

Enacted

  • January 29, 2009: Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Pub.L. 111-2
  • February 4, 2009: Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, Pub.L. 111-3
  • February 17, 2009: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Pub.L. 111-5
  • March 11, 2009: Omnibus Appropriations Act, Pub.L. 111-8
  • March 30, 2009: Omnibus Public Land Management Act, Pub.L. 111-11
  • April 21, 2009: Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, Pub.L. 111-13
  • May 20, 2009: Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, Pub.L. 111-22
  • May 22, 2009: Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act, Pub.L. 111-23
  • May 22, 2009: Credit CARD Act, Pub.L. 111-24
  • June 22, 2009: Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, as Division A of Pub.L. 111-31
  • June 24, 2009: Supplemental Appropriations Act, including the Car Allowance Rebate System (Cash for Clunkers) Pub.L. 111-32
  • October 28, 2009: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Pub.L. 111-84
  • November 6, 2009: Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act, Pub.L. 111-92

January 26, 2010

Midas Bait-And-Switch Franchise Owner Shut Down, Fined

Have you ever taken your car in for some routine maintenance, such as new brake pads or a fluid change, and been told that the car required more expensive work? Some of those repairs are legitimate, but sometimes they are bait-and-switch schemes. Bait-and-switch schemes essentially involve luring customers in with inexpensive offers, then pressuring those customers into purchasing something much more expensive.

After a four year, undercover investigation, the State of California charged the owner of 22 Midas auto shops with a bait-and-switch scheme. In a settlement, the franchise will pay $1.8 million and sell its shops back to Midas. Midas International Corporation will buy back Glad's 22 California franchises, and has agreed to honor any guarantees or warranties that were given to his customers.

January 25, 2010

California Beaches Awash in Garbage

After a week of heavy rain, much of the Southern California coastline, particularly near the mouths of rivers, is littered with the debris of wasteful human lifestyles. Huge piles of bottles, cans, tires, old shoes, shopping carts, animal carcasses, and even sewage cover the sand and fill the water. "It's gross...the water was really murky," said Kelsey Widman, a surfer who braved the piles of refuse to catch some waves at Seal Beach. "It's awful," Tina Cassar told reporters as she walked along the trash-covered shore. "It just shows what kind of pollution comes through the river system."

If people become accustomed to wading through garbage, instead of doing something about it, then what hope is there for the future of the planet? Fortunately, it seems that action is being taken and awareness is rising. If out of sight is out of mind, then perhaps seeing our garbage front and center can help to spur change:

After rainstorms, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health warns people to stay away from ocean waters near storm drains, creeks and rivers to avoid the bacteria and chemicals that can contaminate the area. On Sunday, however, some surfers still couldn't resist enjoying the sewage-laced sea swells that glittered attractively under the Southern California smog. "It's dirty, but the waves are fine," said Stuart Sherman, who'd arrived at the beach mid-morning. Sherman said the murky water smelled of sewage, but he planned to stay in it for a while.

You may also like to read about the Giant Floating Garbage Island in the Pacific.

January 23, 2010

What Do Tokyo Rail Engineers and Mold Have in Common?

Researchers in Japan and England have discovered that slime mold will build nutrient channel networks that are strikingly similar to those of the Tokyo rail system. The researchers presented slime mold with oat flakes in the same pattern as Japanese cities surrounding Tokyo. 26 hours later the mold had built a network of channels to carry nutrients which looked almost exactly the same as that of the Tokyo rail system.

Just as the Tokyo railway has to accommodate the needs of millions of people, the channels that carry nutrients for Physarum polycephalum have to distribute the food in an efficient manner. Researchers are using this information to build a mathematical description of networks like this, and hope to use it to answer other biological questions, such as how tumors are supported by blood vessel networks.

January 22, 2010

Stanford University Goes iTunes Ap

Stanford is now making information and course content available on iTunes U, which can probably be best described as an online (corporate-owned) version of the British Open University. EH feared it might be a publicity stunt on Stanford's part, but we find ourselves rather impressed by the whole idea and the execution thereof. We can't help but wonder how many and which universities will follow suit. Stanford on iTunes U provides access to a wide range of Stanford-related digital audio content via the iTunes Store, Apple’s popular online music, video, and podcast service. The project includes two sites. Here is a public site which includes Stanford courses, faculty lectures, event highlights, music, sports, and more. There is also an access-restricted site for the Stanford community which includes CourseWork-linked iTunes U sites for course-based materials Stanford Community iTunes U for the campus community.

January 21, 2010

Is Pacifica, California falling into the Pacific Ocean?

Pacifica, California coastline
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Another mandatory evacuation was called for on Thursday, January 21st 2010 as the cliffs of Pacifica, California, just south of San Francisco, crumble away. Incidentally, those cliffs are covered in houses and apartment buildings that the residents are hoping to hold on to.

The ocean views are creeping closer by the day. Small sections of deck fell from beneath a block of apartments again Wednesday morning, but "small" becomes "significant" with so little land remaining. "First we weren't that worried because we felt we were 20, 40 feet from the cliff, even if it gets closer to the ones next door. But, now we're getting a little bit insecure," said engineer Steve O'Connor. "The problem is that the shoreline is eroding," O'Connor explained.

"Basically, we're being proactive this time instead of reactive," supervisor Tony Fortunato told ABC 7 News. However, is it enough? The people who live perched on the cliffs of Pacifica enjoy beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean (when it isn't foggy). Likewise, people who live along the French Riviera enjoy beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea. However, the Rivera cliffs are made of stone, while the cliffs of Pacifica and many other coastal California cities are made of sand. Efforts to shore up private buildings standing on sandy cliffs are futile efforts to suspend a changing coastline in time. Tremendous amounts of money have been spent in never-ending efforts to stop soft cliffs from eroding into the sea. Coastlines change, and a house built upon a wall of sand may as well be built out of straw. Don't expect either to last forever.

January 20, 2010

California to Limit Waiting Time to See a Doctor

Have you ever called a doctor to make an appointment and been told that the next available appointment is several months in the future? If so, then you are not alone. Expensive emergency rooms in California are seeing huge numbers of patients who don't actually have emergencies, but who can't wait months to see a doctor. Studies have shown that the average health care patient in California has to wait 59 days just to see a primary care physician. Many patients are unable to find doctors that are taking new patients or that are within driving distance. That's why, finally, California is about to become the first state in the nation to enact time limits on how long patients must wait for an appointment with a nearby doctor. Time will tell if the new regulations can be effectively enforced and if they can make a significant difference.

Cindy Ehnes, director of California's Dept. of Managed Health Care, says regulations will start in 2011 making California a pioneer by limiting the time that patients must wait to see a doctor.

January 18, 2010

Video Games A Recession Proof Industry? Perhaps Not

NPD Group recently reported that the Video Games industry brought in $5.53 billion in December, 2009. This was in part due to an increase in console and software title sales, however December was only 1 of 4 months in 2009 that saw any increase in sales over the same months in 2008. The result is a total drop in annual sales compared to 2008, from an industry that was described as being "recession proof" when the economy started to go downhill

While all of this may look not so bad on the surface, one has to look deeper to see that many companies and people suffered greatly during this time. Midway Games and 3D Realms were just two of the many studios which were shut down in 2009. Electronic Arts laid off 1100 employees in February, and has begun merging studios which will likely result in more layoffs.

Believing an industry to be "recession proof" is hubris that shows a lack of understanding. Could these layoffs and studio closures have been avoided? Perhaps not, but the lesson to take away is that everything is connected, even if the connection is not obvious. Those who claimed their business was impervious to the recession need to take a long, hard look at what has happened in this last year, and plan accordingly for the future.

January 15, 2010

The Last Flight of the Endeavour

2010 will be the final year of active flights for the Endeavour, Atlantis, and Discovery, which have worked tirelessly to fly components of the International Space Station to their destination. While the ships have a replacement, the Orion, on the way, it will not begin flights until 2015 at the earliest.

NASA has released information on the five remaining flights of the Endeavour and it's sister ships, which will all be completed by the end of July. The final missions of these ships will be to aid in completing:
  1. An observation deck
  2. A set of experiment racks, for observing the astronauts and Earth
  3. The Mini-Research Module 1, for Russia's Federal Space Agency
  4. An Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, weighing 7 tons and costing $1.5 billion
  5. A delivery of vital spare parts and supplies
In honor of the accomplishments of these fine space vessels, here are some videos of the International Space Station:



January 12, 2010

California City Hires Birds to Solve Squirrel Problem

Brown tree squirrels have moved into Walnut Creek, California in large enough numbers to make the news. After several years of rampant residential development during the real estate bonanza (a.k.a. housing bubble), so many squirrels have lost their homes that they have had to move into Walnut Creek and are doing significant damage, there. However, the city has found an all-natural solution. Instead of doing something nasty or environmentally damaging, such as poisoning the little animals, the Contra Costa County's Agriculture Department says the county is luring native predatory birds to move in and solve what some are calling a crisis.

The city is building raptor perches around the city, giving hawks and other raptor birds attractive places to sit and, perhaps, hunt for squirrels for their lunch. "We want to encourage the hawks which are a lot more suburban, residential friendly to reduce the squirrel population," says Slate. This fall, the county built 20 of the perches, strategically placing them next to large colonies of burrows to attract raptors. "They like to perch in an open area looking over an open field and swoop down and get their prey," says Agricultural commissioner Vince Guise.

The county complains that it is being overrun by ground squirrels. They've been on a rampage, wrecking havoc on gardens and digging up lawns. Their burrows are everywhere. One resident says that they're devouring the vegetables in his garden. The rodents are also destroying infrastructure. Their burrows have weakened a set of old ranch buildings and undermined roads such as this one.

January 11, 2010

$250 Million for Math & Science Teacher Training

President Barack Obama announced a $250 million initiative Wednesday to train more math and science teachers, to help propel America's students from the mediocre middle to the top of the pack in those subjects during the next ten years. Obama also gave awards for excellence in teaching and mentoring to more than 100 educators. This combination of public and private investment in the nation's education system are being made with future competitiveness in mind. "Make no mistake: Our future is on the line," he said. "The nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow."

"I believe so strongly in the work that you do," Obama said at a ceremony in the White House East Room. Obama went on to explain that teacher quality is the most important single factor that influences whether students succeed or fail in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. U.S. students currently don't measure up to students around the world. Obama said a substantial shortage of teachers in these subject areas will deepen unless steps are taken to reverse the trend.

Obama said the $250 million in public and private investments for his "Educate to Innovate" campaign will help train more than 100,000 teachers and prepare more than 10,000 new educators in the next five years. Financial backing is expected from Intel Corporation, the National Math and Science Initiative, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the National Science Teachers Association, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and the presidents of more than 75 of the largest public universities in the United States. In addition to the financial support, Obama also called on the 200,000 scientists who work for the federal government to help by speaking at schools and participating in hands-on projects and school science labs to help stoke students' interest in science.

January 9, 2010

Cold Iguanas Do Fall Out Of Trees

As temperatures have plunged to uncharacteristic lows in Florida, the Sunshine State, reports are showing up all over the news media of cold iguanas falling out of trees. What sounds like an urban legend is actually true, and there is video footage that proves it. WPLG-TV got some night-time footage of the poor creatures dropping like, well, iguanas. Iguanas are cold blooded animals, which means that they produce little or no body heat and thus sensitive to external temperatures. They live in trees and when the air temperature gets too cold, the iguanas are rendered unconscious, causing them to fall out of the trees in an undignified manner.

We are informed that the iguanas don't usually get hurt. Apparently they wake up again and walk away when the temperatures rise. Florida residents and visitors are advised to not assume that a seemingly-dead iguana really has gone to meet its maker. It might just be cold.

January 8, 2010

Record-Breaking Swiss Speeding Ticket

Ferrari Testarossa, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Do you ever fantasize about driving a high-end sports car at break-neck speed along a winding village road at the foothills of the Swiss Alps? One man has recently been fined US$290,000 for turning that dream into a reality.

According to Wired Magazine, "If you decide you want to speed your way through Switzerland, be warned there is no such thing as a standard fine for driving say, 35 mph over the limit. No, no, no. If you’re caught speeding in the land of fine watches and neutrality and you have a lot of money, you better hope you’ve kept your money stashed somewhere the Swiss can’t find it (a Swiss bank account?). A 53-year-old man learned that lesson after receiving a record-setting fine of nearly $290,000 for driving 85 mph in a 50 mph zone through the small town of St. Gallen. Adding insult to injury, he was driving a car worth a fraction of the fine — a Ferrari Testarossa."

But why was the speeding fine so high? Because back in 2002 Swiss voters approved replacing prison terms for some offenses, including speeding, with fines based on the offender's income. According to Tages Anzeiger, the recently-fined Ferrari Testarossa driver has an annual income of more than $820,000 and is currently worth well over $20 million. Hence the proportional traffic fine.

However, the fine was initially only $90,000, but was increased to $290,000 after the lead-footed driver tried to claim diplomatic immunity. He tried to get out of the ticket by arguing that he was a diplomat from the Republic of Guinea-Bissau. Obviously, the claim had the opposite of the desired effect. “The accused ignored elementary traffic rules with a powerful vehicle out of a pure desire for speed” the court reportedly said.

The latest news is that the driver apparently he has to pay only half of the fine now. The rest is deferred and may be eliminated for good behavior.

January 7, 2010

Peek Inside the International Space Station

As the International Space Station orbits the earth, have you ever looked up at it and wondered what life is like for the astronauts working and living inside? Watch the video, set to The Lion Sleeps Tonight (by the Tokens) and get a sample of life inside the International Space Station, or ISS. Enjoy, courtesy of NASA!

January 5, 2010

What is the Future of American Teacher Education?

"All is in a state of flux; the only constant is change," said Heralitus of ancient Greece. He was correct. The world is changing, economies are changing, motivations and lifestyles are changing. And according to a recent report on National Public Radio (NPR), some university teacher education programs, including the one at the University of Michigan, are adapting to meet the changing needs of future elementary and secondary school teachers.

America's teachers' colleges are facing some pressure to reinvent themselves. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been leading the assault, with a series of speeches calling for better teacher training. Duncan says it's crucial that education schools revamp their curricula so they can help replace a wave of baby boomers who will soon retire from teaching. At the University of Michigan School of Education, Dean Deborah Ball and her faculty have taken apart their training program and reassembled it, trying to figure out what skills teachers really need.

January 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton(1643 –1727) was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian who is perceived and considered by a substantial number of scholars and the general public as one of the most influential scientists in history. His 1687 publication of the Philosophi√¶ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (usually called the Principia) is considered to be among the most influential books in the history of science, laying the groundwork for most of classical mechanics. In this work, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. Newton showed that the motions of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies are governed by the same set of natural laws by demonstrating the consistency between Kepler's laws of planetary motion and his theory of gravitation, thus removing the last doubts about heliocentrism and advancing the scientific revolution.

January 3, 2010

Palindrome Dates in the 21st Century

Following the date pattern of mm-dd-yyyy, January 2, 2010 was a palindrome, meaning that it reads the same forward and backward (01022010). It was the second date of that pattern for this century. The first one was October 2, 2001 (10022001). The last one before that was 621 years ago on August 31, 1380 (08311380).

While palindrome words and phrases can be fun (kayak, name no one man, madam I’m Adam) and palindrome numbers are infinite, palindrome dates are rare. For the fun of it, electrical engineering professor Aziz Inan at the University of Portland, Oregon has compiled a complete list of palindrome dates. Here is the list:
Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

1. October 2, 2001 (10022001)
2. January 2, 2010 (01022010)
3. January 10, 2011 (1102011)
4. November 2, 2011 (11022011)
5. February 10, 2012 (2102012)
6. March 10, 2013 (3102013)
7. April 10, 2014 (4102014)
8. May 10, 2015 (5102015)
9. June 10, 2016 (6102016)
10. July 10, 2017 (7102017)
11. August 10, 2018 (8102018)
12. September 10, 2019 (9102019)
13. February 2, 2020 (02022020)
14. January 20, 2021 (1202021)
15. December 2, 2021 (12022021)
16. February 20, 2022 (2202022)
17. March 20, 2023 (3202023)
18. April 20, 2024 (4202024)
19. May 20, 2025 (5202025)
20. June 20, 2026 (6202026)
21. July 20, 2027 (7202027)
22. August 20, 2028 (8202028)
23. September 20, 2029 (9202029)
24. March 2, 2030 (03022030)
25. January 30, 2031 (1302031)
26. March 30, 2033 (3302033)
27. April 30, 2034 (4302034)
28. May 30, 2035 (5302035)
29. June 30, 2036 (6302036)
30. July 30, 2037 (7302037)
31. August 30, 2038 (8302038)
32. September 30, 2039 (9302039)
33. April 2, 2040 (04022040)
34. May 2, 2050 (05022050)
35. June 2, 2060 (06022060)
36. July 2, 2070 (07022070)
37. August 2, 2080 (08022080)
38. September 2, 2090 (09022090)

According to Inan, "The last palindrome date of this (third) millennium is to occur on Sept. 22, 2290 (09222290). After that, no more palindrome dates will happen for another 711 years until the next one in 3001, on Oct. 3rd (10033001)."

January 2, 2010

What is the DARPA Challenge?

Robotic surgeons and cars that drive themselves may sound like the makings of a sci-fi flick, but they're just items on the to-do list for employees at the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

DARPA funds unique and innovative research through the private sector, academic and other non-profit organizations as well as government labs. DARPA research runs the gamut from conducting scientific investigations in a laboratory, to building full-scale prototypes of military systems. They fund research in biology, medicine, computer science, chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, material sciences, social sciences, neuroscience, and more. DARPA created the Internet and runs the annual DARPA Challenges.

Here is what DARPA has to say about itself, "DARPA was established as a Department of Defense agency in 1958 as America’s response to the Soviet Union’s launching of Sputnik. In the years since, DARPA’s freedom to act quickly and decisively with high quality people has paid handsome dividends for Department of Defense in terms of revolutionary military capabilities. Today, America faces completely different threats and adversaries than it did when DARPA was established in 1958, and the Agency continually evolves to reflect this changing national security landscape. DARPA’s proud history of achievement and its culture of excellence are testimony to the vital role the Agency has played in the nation’s security and technological superiority."