Friday, December 31, 2010

Reasons to be Cheerful - Charlie's Diary

Reasons to be Cheerful

Elsewhere on the interwebbytubes, an acquaintance asked, somewhat grumpily, if anything good had happened in the past decade (aside from the iPod).

So I went dumpster-diving in memory lane for things to feel good about ...

Prior to 1988, diagnosis with AIDS was essentially a death sentence.

Between 1988 and 2000, chemotherapy became available that was pretty horrible but made it more or less survivable if you were good at sticking to the treatment regime and had potloads of money (or your healthcare providers did).

Between 2000 and 2010, AIDS somehow turned into a non-fatal-if-treated chronic medical condition, and the drugs got cheap enough that even developing world countries can afford them; and despite the huge epidemic, AIDS is no longer killing more people than tuberculosis or malaria or the other classic hench-plagues of the grim reaper.

I'd call that an improvement. Wouldn't you?

Oh, and we're close to exterminating polio and dracunculiasis (aka guinea worm disease) in the wild. (Two extinctions I won't be shedding any tears over.)

In other news of improvements, both China and India underwent annual economic growth averaging around 10% per year throughout the decade. The sheer scale of it is mind-numbing; it's as if the entire population of the USA and the EU combined had gone from third-world poverty to first-world standards of living. (There are still a lot of dirt-poor peasants left behind in villages, and a lot of economic — never mind political — problems with both India and China's developed urban sectors, but overall, life is vastly better today than it was a decade ago for around a billion people.)

The number of people living in poverty and with unsafe water supplies world-wide today is about the same as it was in 1970. Only difference is, there were 3 billion of us back then and today we're nearer to 7 billion. Upshot: the proportion of us humans on this planet who are living in third world poverty (unable to afford enough food, water, clothing and shelter) has actually been halved.

Africa averaged around 5% growth throughout the decade, too. It's unevenly distributed, and there's still the fallout from the hideous war in the Congo, but: net improvement. And Africa is huge — again, over a billion people have, in many cases, seen a significant improvement in their wealth and health.

Warfare ... we haven't nuked ourselves. It is now two-thirds of a century since an invading army crossed the Rhine, marking the longest period of peace in Europe since the height of the Roman Empire. Despite certain inadvisable excursions in the middle east and central Asia, the absolute number of people living in states in conditions of civil war or external warfare has dropped significantly since the previous decade, which in turn experienced a massive drop after the end of the Cold War (and proxy conflicts fuelled by it). It would be premature to hail an age of world peace, but we do seem to be fighting a lot less.

Our computers are about ten times faster in clock speed than they were circa 2000, but have vastly more (and faster) storage, are cheaper, and are crawling into everything from hotel room doorhandles to automobiles and TVs. My mobile phone today is significantly faster and more powerful — and has a higher resolution display and more storage! — than my PC in 2000. And my broadband today runs roughly 32 times as fast as it did in 2000. (Whether this is good or not is a matter of opinion, but at least it's available if you want it.)

There's been enormous progress in genomics; we're now on the threshold of truly understanding how little we understand. While the anticipated firehose of genome-based treatments hasn't materialized, we now know why it hasn't materialized, and it's possible to start filling in the gaps in the map. Turns out that sequencing the human genome was merely the start. (It's not a blueprint; it's not even an algorithm for generating a human being. Rather, it's like a snapshot of the static data structures embedded in an executing process. Debug that.) My bet is that we're going to have to wait another decade. Then things are going to start to get very strange in medicine.

Finally? The war on terror seems to be dampening down. While 9/11 was traumatic, for all their chest-beating Al Qaida failed to score a repeat. Even the horrors of the Madrid and London bombings didn't come close. It turns out that organizing major terrorist atrocities on the scale of 9/11 is hard, and folks with the brains and persistence to do so are more likely to pursue their political ends through conventional channels; what we're left with are the idiot clown-car brigade trying to set fire to their underpants or blow up their shoes.

I'm sorry to note that most of the good stuff didn't happen to those of us in the developed world — but the human world is indisputably in better shape overall in 2010 than it was in 2000. And what makes my neighbour happier without damaging me makes my world a better place.

How WikiLeaks Enlightened Us in 2010 - World Watch - CBS News

(Credit: Getty Images/Oliver Lang)

WikiLeaks has brought to light a series of disturbing insinuations and startling truths in the last year, some earth-shattering, others simply confirmations of our darkest suspicions about the way the world works. Thanks to founder Julian Assange's legal situation in Sweden (and potentially the United States) as well as his media grandstanding, it is easy to forget how important and interesting some of WikiLeaks' revelations have been.

WikiLeaks revelations from 2010 have included simple gossip about world leaders: Russia's PM Vladimir Putin is playing Batman to President Dmitri Medvedev's Robin; Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is crazy and was once slapped by a Revolutionary Guard chief for being so; Libya's Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has a hankering for his voluptuous blond Ukrainian nurse; and France's President Nicholas Sarkozy simply can't take criticism. 

CBS News Special Report: WikiLeaks

However, WikiLeaks' revelations also have many  major implications for world relations. The following is a list of the more impactful WikiLeaks revelations from 2010, grouped by region.

The United States

- The U.S. Army considered WikiLeaks a national security threat as early as 2008, according to documents obtained and posted by WikiLeaks in March, 2010.

- Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commanders repeatedly, knowingly lied to the American public about rising sectarian violence in Iraq beginning in 2006, according to the cross-referencing of WikiLeaks' leaked Iraq war documents and former Washington Post Baghdad Bureau Chief Ellen Knickmeyer's recollections.

- The Secretary of State's office encouraged U.S. diplomats at the United Nations to spy on their counterparts, including collecting data about the U.N. secretary general, his team and foreign diplomats, including credit card account numbers, according to documents from WikiLeaks U.S. diplomatic cable release. Later cables reveal the CIA draws up an annual "wish-list" for the State Department, which one year included the instructions to spy on the U.N.

- The Obama administration worked with Republicans during his first few months in office to protect Bush administration officials facing a criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies that some considered torture. A "confidential" April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid obtained by WikiLeaks details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.

- WikiLeaks released a secret State Department cable that provided a list of sites around the world vital to U.S. national security, from mines in Africa to labs in Europe.


- A U.S. Army helicopter allegedly gunned down two journalists in Baghdad in 2007. WikiLeaks posted a 40-minute video on its website in April, showing the attack in gruesome detail, along with an audio recording of the pilots during the attack.

- Iran's military intervened aggressively in support of Shiite combatants in Iraq, offering weapons, training and sanctuary, according to an October, 2010, WikiLeaks release of thousands of secret documents related to the Iraq war.

- According to one tabulation, there have been 100,000 causalities, mostly civilian, in Iraq - greater than the numbers previously made public, many of them killed by American troops but most of them were killed by other Iraqis, according to the WikiLeaks Iraq documents dump. 

- U.S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished, according to the WikiLeaks Iraq documents dump.


- U.S. special-operations forces have targeted militants without trial in secret assassination missions, and many more Afghan civilians have been killed by accident than previously reported, according to the WikiLeaks Afghanistan war document dump.

- Afghan President Hamid Karzai freed suspected drug dealers because of their political connections, according to a secret diplomatic cable. The cable, which supports the multiple allegations of corruption within the Karzai government, said that despite repeated rebukes from U.S. officials in Kabul, the president and his attorney general authorized the release of detainees. Previous cables accused Karzai's half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, of being a corrupt narcotics trafficker.


- Pakistan's government has allowed members of its spy network to hold strategy sessions on combating American troops with members of the Taliban, while Pakistan has received more than $1 billion a year in aid from Washington to help combat militants, according to a July, 2010, WikiLeaks release of thousands of files on the Afghanistan war.

- A stash of highly enriched uranium capable of providing enough material for multiple "dirty bombs" has been waiting in Pakistan for removal by an American team for more than three years but has been held up by the country's government, according to leaked classified State Department documents.

- Despite sustained denials by US officials spanning more than a year, U.S.military Special Operations Forces have been conducting offensive operations inside Pakistan, helping direct U.S. drone strikes and conducting joint operations with Pakistani forces against Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in north and south Waziristan and elsewhere in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, according to secret cables released as part of the Wikileaks document dump.

- China was behind the online attack of Google, according to leaked diplomatic cables. The electronic intrusion was "part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government."

- Secret State Department cables show a South Korean official quoted as saying that North Korea's collapse is likely to happen "two to three years" after the death of the current dictator, Kim Jong Il. The U.S. is already planning for the day North Korea implodes from its own economic woes. China has "no will" to use its economic leverage to force North Korea to change its policies and the Chinese official who is the lead negotiator with North Korea is "the most incompetent official in China."

- North Korea is secretly helping the military dictatorship in Myanmar build nuclear and missile sites in its jungles, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Although witnesses told the embassy that construction is at an early stage, officials worry Myanmar could one day possess a nuclear bomb.

- Five years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross told U.S. diplomats in New Delhi that the Indian government "condones torture" and systematically abused detainees in the disputed region of Kashmir. The Red Cross told the officials that hundreds of detainees were subjected to beatings, electrocutions and acts of sexual humiliation, the Guardian newspaper of London reported Thursday evening.

- The British government has been training a Bangladeshi paramilitary force condemned by human rights organisations as a "government death squad", leaked US embassy cables have revealed. Members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which has been held responsible for hundreds of extra-judicial killings in recent years and is said to routinely use torture, have received British training in "investigative interviewing techniques" and "rules of engagement".

- Secret U.S. diplomatic cables reveal that BP suffered a blowout after a gas leak in the Caucasus country of Azerbaijan in September 2008, a year and a half before another BP blowout killed 11 workers and started a leak that gushed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Middle East

- Saudi Arabia's rulers have deep distrust for some fellow Muslim countries, especially Pakistan and Iran, despite public appearances, according to documents from the late November, 2010, WikiLeaks U.S. diplomatic cable dump. King Abdullah called Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari "the greatest obstacle" to the country's progress and he also repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program to stop Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.

- Iranian Red Crescent ambulances were used to smuggle weapons to Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group during its 2006 war with Israel, according to the leaked U.S. diplomatic memos.

- In a leaked diplomatic memo, dated two weeks after elections that landed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in office, a senior American diplomat said that during a meeting a few days before "Netanyahu expressed support for the concept of land swaps, and emphasized that he did not want to govern the West Bank and Gaza but rather to stop attacks from being launched from there."

- The United States was secretly given permission from Yemen's president to attack the al Qaeda group in his country that later attempted to blow up planes in American air space. President Ali Abdullah Saleh told John Brennan, President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, in a leaked diplomatic cable from September 2009 that the U.S. had an "open door" on terrorism in Yemen.

- Contrary to public statements, the Obama administration actually helped fuel conflict in Yemen. The U.S. was shipping arms to Saudi Arabia for use in northern Yemen even as it denied any role in the conflict.

- Saudi Arabia is one of the largest origin points for funds supporting international terrorism, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged U.S. diplomats to do more to stop the flow of money to Islamist militant groups from donors in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government, Clinton wrote, was reluctant to cut off money being sent to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan.

- The U.S. is failing to stop the flow of arms to Middle Eastern militant groups. Hamas and Hezbollah are still receiving weapons from Iran, North Korea, and Syria, secret diplomatic cables allege.

- A storage facility housing Yemen's radioactive material was unsecured for up to a week after its lone guard was removed and its surveillance camera was broken, a secret U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks revealed Monday. "Very little now stands between the bad guys and Yemen's nuclear material," a Yemeni official said on January 9 in the cable.

- Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, constructed with apparent help from North Korea, fearing it was built to make a bomb. In a leaked diplomatic cable obtained by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice wrote the Israelis targeted and destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor just weeks before it was to be operational.

- Diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks indicate authorities in the United Arab Emirates debated whether to keep quiet about the high-profile killing of a Hamas operative in Dubai in January. The documents also show the UAE sought U.S. help in tracking down details of credit cards Dubai police believe were used by a foreign hit squad involved in the killing. The spy novel-like slaying, complete with faked passports and assassins in disguise, is widely believed to be the work of Israeli secret agents.

- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Al Jazeera network that some of the unpublished cables show "Top officials in several Arab countries have close links with the CIA, and many officials keep visiting US embassies in their respective countries voluntarily to establish links with this key US intelligence agency. These officials are spies for the U.S. in their countries."


- Of the 500 or so tactical nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, it is known that about 200 are deployed throughout Europe. Leaked diplomatic cables reveal that dozens of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons are in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

- NATO had secret plans to defend the Baltic states and Poland from an attack by Russia, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. NATO officials had feared "an unnecessary increase in NATO-Russia tensions," and wanted no public discussions of their contingency plans to defend Baltic states from Russian attack.

- The Libyan government promised "enormous repercussions" for the U.K. if the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, was not handled properly, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. The Libyan government threatened "harsh, immediate" consequences if the man jailed for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 died in prison in Scotland. 

- Pope Benedict impeded an investigation into alleged child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Not only did Pope Benedict refuse to allow Vatican officials to testify in an investigation by an Irish commission into alleged child sex abuse by priests, he was also reportedly furious when Vatican officials were called upon in Rome.

- Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness carried out negotiations for the Good Friday agreement with Irish then-prime minister Bertie Ahern while the two had explicit knowledge of a bank robbery that the Irish Republican Army was planning to carry out, according to a WikiLeaks cable. Ahern figured Adams and McGuinness knew about the 26.5 million pound Northern Bank robbery of 2004 because they were members of the "IRA military command."


- Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has infiltrated the highest levels of government in Nigeria. A high-ranking executive for the international Shell oil company once bragged to U.S. diplomats, as reported in a leaked diplomatic cable, that the company's employees had so well infiltrated the Nigerian government that officials had "forgotten" the level of the company's access.

- Mozambique is fast on its way to becoming a narco-state because of close ties between drug smugglers and the southeastern African nation's government, according to U.S. Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks. The cables say cocaine, heroin and other drugs come in from South America and Asia, and are then flown to Europe or sent overland to neighboring South Africa for sale.

- Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe-appointed attorney general announced he was investigating Mugabe's chief opposition leader on treason charges based exclusively on the contents of a WikiLeaks' leaked cable. The cable claimed Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai encouraged Western sanctions against his own country to induce Mugabe into giving up some political power.


- Mexican President Felipe Calderon told a U.S. official last year that Latin America "needs a visible U.S. presence" to counter Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's growing influence in the region, according to a U.S. State Department cable leaked to WikiLeaks.

- A newly released confidential U.S. diplomatic cable predicts Cuba's economic situation could become "fatal" within two to three years, and details concerns voiced by diplomats from other countries, including China, that the communist-run country has been slow to adopt reforms.

- The Honduran military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired in 2009 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. However, the constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by the President and resolving conflicts between the branches of government.

- Venezuela's deteriorating oil industry and its growing economic problems are taking a toll on President Hugo Chavez's popularity. In one confidential leaked diplomatic cable dated Oct. 15, 2009, the U.S. Embassy said "equipment conditions have deteriorated drastically" since the government expropriated some 80 oil service companies earlier that year. It said safety and maintenance at the now state-owned oil facilities were in a "terrible state."

- China has been reselling Venezuela's cheap oil at a profit, according to a classified U.S. document released by WikiLeaks. President Hugo Chavez was upset that China apparently profited by selling fuel to other countries, fuel that it had sold China at a discount in order to gain favor. The cable also describes falling crude output in Venezuela caused by a host of problems within the national oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA.

- Jamaica's counter-drug efforts have been so sluggish that exasperated Cuban officials privately griped about their frustrations to a U.S. drug enforcement official, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable. The communique released by WikiLeaks said Cuban officials painted their Caribbean neighbor to the south as chronically uncooperative in stopping drug smugglers who use Cuban waters and airspace to transport narcotics destined for the U.S.

- A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable published Saturday depicts the leader of Mexico's army "lamenting" its lengthy role in the anti-drug offensive, but expecting it to last between seven and 10 more years. The cable says Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan mistrusts other Mexican law enforcement agencies and prefers to work separately, because corrupt officials had leaked information in the past.

- McDonald's tried to delay the US government's implementation of a free-trade agreement in order to put pressure on El Salvador to appoint neutral judges in a $24m lawsuit it was fighting in the country. The revelation of the McDonald's strategy to ensure a fair hearing for a long-running legal battle against a former franchisee comes from a leaked US embassy cable dated 15 February 2006.

In 2010, WikiLeaks released only about 2,000 of the approximate 250,000 cables it claims to possess, and the pace of those releases dropped dramatically as the holidays approached. If Assange's promises are to be believed, 2011 will be another important year for learning about the hidden forces that drive our world.

Intel Lifts the Hood on its "Single-Chip Cloud Computer" - IEEE Spectrum

Photo: Intel

9 February 2010—Chips that can simulate a supernova or predict a hurricane are yesterday’s goal, if Intel’s recently unveiled 48-core research chip is any indication. Today’s goal is squeezing all the simple but extensive work of a data center onto a single chip. Big IT firms have huge, sophisticated networks of servers, says Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technology officer and director of Intel Labs. But ”they’re not computing the mass of a proton,” he says. ”They’re searching for the needle in a haystack.”

In response to the need for better, faster data mining, Intel Labs has developed what it’s calling a single-chip cloud computer. The 1.3-billion-transistor research chip, the company reported yesterday at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference, consists of 48 Pentium-class IA-32 cores formed into a network of 24 tiles. Each tile has two cores plus one router to allow intercore communication. The keys to its efficiency at handling needle-in-a-haystack-type tasks are two new software-based techniques: one for rapidly transferring data between its many cores and the other for controlling the power those cores consume.

Normally, for data to get from one core to another, it must leave the first core, zip over to main memory, and then make its way to the second core, says Intel’s Jason Howard, who authored the paper presented at ISSCC, in San Francisco. That process takes time, so the Intel researchers set up each core with the ability to transfer data directly. A 16-kilobyte message-passing buffer on each tile (384 KB total on die) transfers data from one core’s cache to another’s without running the data all the way out to main memory.

But keeping one cache from interfering with data in another cache traditionally requires complicated and power-hungry hardware. So Intel chose to rely on software instead of hardware to keep the data from being corrupted. The software tells the sending cache to get rid of its copy of the data after sending it and tells the receiver to delete old copies before grabbing the new message. ”So there’s only one owner of data at any time,” says Howard. These adaptations speed up message passing by 15 times, compared to previous techniques.

The chip uses software to control another key feature as well: power. According to Nitin Borkar, the director of advanced microprocessor research at Intel Labs, the biggest challenge for the future will be ”controlling power consumption as you put more and more cores on a chip.”

In today’s generation of multicore processors, for example, some parts that aren’t in use are still on and wasting power. Because voltage and frequency are typically governed by the operating system, it may take a long time for the system to change power levels or even to realize that the power levels need to be changed.

Intel’s design lets the application developer control how to tune the performance of the machine, Borkar says, rather than letting the OS decide. The chip is divided into voltage and frequency ”islands,” which allow different tiles to be controlled independently. An application designer can make a simple adjustment in programming code to throttle each island as needed, from 25 to 125 watts.

That could be useful for such tasks as running a video-processing program overnight, Borkar says. If you don’t need the program to finish in a half hour, it could run at a higher power efficiency instead of simply higher power. Or a program could start up using all 48 cores at once, at high voltage and high frequency, and then throttle each one back as it finishes its computations, while others stay on full blast. This feature provides the ”compute on demand” function of a traditional data center, Borkar says. And because ”change” commands are processed quickly—within seven clock cycles—they can ensure that power is running at optimum levels at all times.

Giving that control to application designers is so new, Howard adds, that some aren’t sure how to use it, though many have shown an interest in learning.

Intel is partnering with researchers in academia and industry to design experiments with the chip to help alter its architecture, so that it will be most useful ”for data-intensive apps, versus compute-intensive apps,” Rattner says.

The research chip has already booted up Linux and runs standard, commercially available software, unlike the proprietary applications required of previous high-performance-based chips.

2011 3D Printing Predictions - MakerBot Industries

2011 3D Printing Predictions

Dec 31, 2010

When we first started MakerBot, we were most interested in what individuals would do with access to a 3D  printer. Thingiverse shows everyday that amazing things are possible with this new tool. The question I’ve been asking myself is what can a community of 3000 MakerBot Operators do together? Last night on my personal blog I made some predictions for 2011 and two have to do with MakerBot Operators.

  1. The community of more than 3000 MakerBot Operators will do something on a global scale. I’m not sure what, but I feel it coming.
  2. Someone will upload a digital design to Thingiverse that will have an impact on lives in places where there isn’t a daily postal service. Not sure what, but got a feeling about this one too.

My predictions are pretty vague, but I can feel the potential energy of the community. I just know that the MakerBot community is going to do some special things in 2011. Got any ideas for giant collaborative or world changing projects? Post them in the comments!

This morning Joris over at i.materialize posted eleven predictions about 3D printing on TechCrunch.

  1. Makerbot will sell more than 10,000 3D printers in 2011.
  2. Bre Pettis will appear on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek magazine in 2011.
  3. A designer will have revenues of over one million US dollars with a single 3D printed product in 2011.
  4. Both Stratasys and Objet will release $5000 desktop 3D printers at Euromold 2011.
  5. Zcorp & EOS will be the only major 3D printer manufacturers not to offer a desktop 3D printer in 2011.
  6. 3D Systems will launch a 3D printing service for consumers in 2011.
  7. At least five 3D printing startups aimed at consumers will launch during 2011.
  8. Adobe will buy Autodesk in 2011.
  9. Microsoft buys Dassault Systemes in 2011.
  10. 3D modeling software vendors will start to offer “light 3D printing” versions of their products
  11. 3D printed products will win at least two Red Dot Design Awards in 2011.

In 2009, we sold 750 MakerBots and in 2010, we’ve sold 2300 MakerBots. 10,000 more MakerBots is a pretty wild prediction, but it might just happen if 3D printing keeps going the direction it’s going! Joris’ predictions match up with my feelings that 2011 will see a lot of action in the 3D printing space!

I’d love to hear what your 3D printing predictions for 2011 are. Drop a note in the comments!

by Bre Pettis | Categories: The Future |

The next "plastics"?

10 Happiness Tips for Busy People | Tiny Buddha

Return to Washington Square Park, Aug 2009 - 69

by Lori Deschene

“Life is what happens while you are making other plans.” ~John Lennon

I am someone who enjoys doing a lot of different things, and yet I don’t always enjoy being busy. Sometimes when my schedule gets full, I feel almost as if I’ve lost a part of me.

Just like some people become codependent in relationships, I can be codependent with work. When it has my attention, everything else can easily fall to the wayside—my social life, my hobbies, you name it.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in a riptide of doing without ever evaluating what you’re sacrificing, why, and if it’s actually in your best interest.

Sometimes it is worth it, though you might need to make minor adjustments to enjoy the journey more. Other times you need to make major changes to experience the happiness you might think you’re chasing.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to ensure my busy-ness doesn’t compromise my happiness:

1. Assess just how busy you’re willing to be.

New research indicates that a key indicator of happiness is the distance between the hours you’d like to work and the hours you actually do. If you don’t want to work more than 40 hours per week because you have a hobby you’re passionate about, but you’re working over three hours more than that, you will inevitably feel dissatisfied.

In some cases, this may be beyond your control. If you just can’t afford your mortgage unless you push yourself, that’s one thing. But sometimes you do have a choice; you just think it’s too difficult to make it. Downsizing or moving into a new place may seem like an unnecessary hassle, but it’s worth the uncomfortable transition if it allows you to do with your time as you’d like.

2. Consider whether your schedule conflicts with your priorities.

When you have internal or external conflict, it’s difficult to maintain your center and sense of joy. If fitness is a priority but you’re working 60 hours a week, leaving you little time to exercise, you will feel conflicted. Even if you want to keep working hard, you’ll feel frustrated that you’re not meeting your own needs.

If you absolutely can’t scale back your work to allow for regular exercise, consider rearranging things to make exercise easier. Wake up 20 minutes earlier for a quick job; something is better than nothing. Or see if you can take a class during your lunch break. Happiness is honoring you needs—all or most of them.

3. Be sure your goals align with your values.

Most people would prefer not to overwhelm their lives with work, but oftentimes we push ourselves because we have our eye on the prize, so to speak. There’s nothing wrong with having a dream and working toward it; but if you’re going to sacrifice much of your now for later, be sure you’re really headed where you want to go.

Does the future you envision align with your values in life? If your family is one of your top priorities, but achieving your goal might compromise that, all your busy-ness might lead you somewhere that doesn’t truly make you happy.

4. Find joy in the way things are.

Oftentimes when we’re busy, we’re fixated on the way things can be, should be, or will be on the other side of overexertion. It’s all too easy to get caught up in a race toward some fantasy tomorrow that inevitably will fall short of your expectations. Someday dreams usually do because they’re more about avoiding the present than building the future.

Regardless of how things might be after your efforts pay off, life always takes place in the present. You never know what the future holds—whether or not you’ll still have good health or the people you love will still be around. The opportunity to enjoy those things is now. Find the time to appreciate and engage with them, even if only in small doses.

5. Make time for relationships.

Studies have shown that the quality of our relationships correlates directly with our overall sense of happiness. Sometimes while we’re working toward a larger life we forget to do the things that remind us we’re part of something larger than ourselves. We need meaningful contact with other people to feel fully alive. We need interaction, engagement, and the time to just be in the presence of other.

Make time for people, even if it’s just a quick meal. It’s worth sacrificing your working lunch to experience life outside your office.

6. Allow yourself completely disconnected time.

This can be difficult in the Internet age when work can seem like a 24-7 commitment. At least that’s my experience. I’ve checked my email at 11:00 PM, 5:00 AM and every time in between. I know that I won’t ever bookmark work between 9:00 and 5:00. But sometimes I need to shut off.

We all do. We all need complete breaks from work where we can be fully present in something else. Whether it’s an afternoon at the movies, a yoga class, or a complete day and night of relaxation, compartmentalizing life for a while can be rejuvenating.

7. Say no liberally.

A few different writers have tackled this subject in the past, including Sonya Derian in her post The Halfhearted Yes: Why We Don’t Say No and How to Start and Karen Mead in her post Compassionate Boundaries: Saying No Without Guilt.

Saying no is hard when you want to please people. You might assume only spineless, needy people struggle with this, but the truth is we all do. None of us want to disappoint people, and on some level we all want approval.

Just like on airplane you need to put your own mask on before helping someone else, we need to take care of our needs before we can even begin to be valuable for other people. We need time to decompress, do what we love, and just plain call the shots, without reacting to other people’s needs.

8. Prioritize rest.

In a perfect world, we’d all sleep eight hours a night. We’re best equipped to handle life’s challenges when we’re not fatigued. But sometimes that’s not an option. When you are exhausted, take care of yourself using these tips to function better when you’re tired.

To the best of your ability, take time to nap, meditate, or practice deep breathing. A past yoga instructor once told me a certain pose was the equivalent of a good night’s sleep. I don’t know if I believe that entirely, but I do know certain yoga poses help me shut off my mind to fall asleep sooner at night.

9. Expel less mental energy.

This is a good practice in life in general—one I need to constantly work at—but it’s especially helpful when you’re busy. If your circumstances seem a little overwhelming, your inner state may start to parallel that. You may over-analyze, worry about every little decision, stress over whether you’re doing the right things.

Trust your gut. Learn and adjust as you go, but give yourself a break from the constant overanalyzing—whether the meeting went well enough, or your report was detailed enough, or if you sales calls are compelling enough. Don’t make yourself do the work twice—once in the doing and again in the rehashing.

10. Embrace the chaos.

Nobody forces us to live busy lives. We do it because we want to feel a sense of purpose, commitment, and accomplishment. You may have to maintain a full schedule out of obligation—kids to feed or loans to pay off—but there are a lot of things we could sacrifice if we truly wanted a simpler life.

If you’ve chosen to do various different things, engage with many people, and strive toward numerous goals, realize a lot will feel out of control at times. The more elements you introduce to your life, the more unpredictable the days will be. Sometimes the uncertainty is both the most exciting and terrifying part. Choose to focus on the former. Why fight the game you’ve chosen to play?

What do you do to stay happy and balanced when life gets busy?

My Resolution for 2001!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Spaceflight Now | STS-133 Shuttle Report | Inspections reveal four more cracks on Discovery's tank

Inspections reveal four more cracks on Discovery's tank
Posted: December 30, 2010;
Updated after meeting with decision deferred

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL--Engineers examining the shuttle Discovery's external tank in the Vehicle Assembly Building have found four more small cracks in three structural ribs, or stringers, on the opposite side of the tank from the orbiter that could not be inspected at the launch pad. Four cracks on the shuttle side of the tank were repaired earlier, and it's not yet clear what, if any, additional work might be needed to develop "flight rationale" for another launch attempt as early as Feb. 3.

Discovery in VAB. Credit: NASA


NASA managers met Thursday to review the on-going tank analysis and to discuss potential modifications to beef up the stringers to either side of the tank's massive booster-attachment thrust panels that experience the most stress during fueling and launch. All of the cracks found to date are located on stringers to either side of the left thrust panel.

But senior managers deferred any decisions about additional modifications pending further analysis of the newly discovered cracks. Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon told engineers to repair the cracks using the same techniques employed to fix the four found after the Nov. 5 launch try. That work will take two to three days to complete. Another review is planned for Monday.

If the modifications are ordered and no other major problems develop, NASA could roll Discovery back to launch pad 39A around Jan. 14 for work to ready the ship for another launch try Feb. 3.

But an on-going analysis of structural safety margins is not yet complete and it's not yet clear how the latest cracks might play into that discussion. Laboratory tests of stringers using mockups of external tank hardware to determine worst-case loads and failure modes are expected to begin next week.

NASA managers had hoped to launch Discovery on a space station resupply mission -- the orbiter's 39th and final flight -- on Nov. 1. But the launching was repeatedly delayed by relatively minor technical problems and finally, on Nov. 5, by a gaseous hydrogen leak in a 7-inch vent line quick-disconnect fitting on the side of the external tank.

During work to drain the tank, engineers spotted cracks in its foam insulation near the top of the intertank compartment that separates the tank's hydrogen and oxygen sections. When the damaged foam was removed, four cracks were found in two adjacent stringers near the tank's left-side booster attachment thrust panel, which helps carry the load during launch.

The cracks were repaired by splicing in replacement sections, along with so-called doublers to provide additional strength. But analysts have been unable to identify a single root cause explaining why the cracks formed in the first place, a key element in developing flight rationale showing the tank is structurally sound and able to withstand the rigors of fueling and launch.

Inspections being performed in VAB earlier this week. Credit: NASA


To collect additional data, sophisticated X-ray-like scanners were used to examine the stringers on the side of the tank facing the shuttle -- the side engineers could access at the launch pad -- to make sure no additional cracks were present. None were found.

Dozens of strain gauges and temperature sensors then were attached to the tank for a full-scale fueling test Dec. 17. The sensor readings showed the stresses and strains experienced by the tank after it was loaded with more than a half-million gallons of supper-cold propellants matched up well with computer models as did the measured shrinkage of critical components. No sudden changes were noted in the stress data that might indicate additional stress-relief cracks.

To make the test as realistic as possible, the countdown was carried to the T-minus 31-second mark and the hydrogen and oxygen tanks were pressurized as they would be for a real launch. But pressurization had no major effect on the strain gauge data.

Based on data collected to that point, it appeared the cracks were the result of manufacturing issues that resulted in a build up of stress in the stringers in question that reached the breaking point when the tank was loaded with propellants Nov. 5. Overall, officials said, the data indicate the tank's design is robust and that the structure is as strong or stronger than initially believed.

But the shuttle's service gantry does not provide access to the back side of the external tank at the launch pad. To carry out additional X-ray inspections, Discovery was hauled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building Dec. 22. The four new cracks were spotted Wednesday on stringers six, seven and 11 on panel No. 6. Facing the left side of the tank, panel 6 is located to the left of the left-side booster thrust panel. The previously discovered cracks were located on panel No. 2, located on the right side of the left-side thrust panel.

All of the newly discovered cracks were smaller than the four found in the wake of the Nov. 5 launch attempt, measuring between 2.3 inches and 4 inches long.

Engineers already were considering the installation of special stiffeners on the 36 stringers -- nine to either side of the two thrust panels -- that experience the most stress during fueling and launch. All of the cracks discovered to date would be included in any such repair.

NatGeo: Lightning Captured by X-Ray Camera—A First

Lightning Captured by X-Ray Camera—A First

Giant camera stops the action at one-sixth the speed of light.

Scientists triggered lightning using rockets (pictured) and then took x-ray images of the bolts (not pictured).

Photograph courtesy Dustin Hill

Richard A. Lovett in San Francisco

for National Geographic News

Published December 23, 2010

The first x-ray images of a lightning strike have been captured by a, well, lightning-fast camera, scientists say. The pictures suggest a lightning bolt carries all its x-ray radiation in its tip. (Get lightning facts.)

During recent thunderstorms in Camp Blanding, Florida, the camera's electronic shutter "froze" a lightning bolt—artificially triggered by rockets and wires—as it sped toward the ground at one-sixth the speed of light.

"Something moving this fast would go from the Earth to the moon in less than ten seconds," said Joseph Dwyer, a lightning researcher at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.

Scientists have known for several years that lightning emits radiation, said Dwyer, who revealed the photos at an annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco earlier this month.

But until now scientists didn't have the technology to take x-ray images quickly enough to see where the radiation comes from, he said.

(Read "New Lightning Type Found Over Volcano?")

Lightning Imaged by 1,500-Pound Camera

Making a camera capable of taking such quick images was an achievement in and of itself, Dwyer emphasized.

"You can't just go buy a camera and point it at lightning," he said. "We had to make it."

The resulting 1,500-pound (680-kilogram) camera—created by Dwyer's graduate student Meagan Schaal—consists of an x-ray detector housed in a box about the size and shape of a refrigerator. The box is lined with lead to shield the x-ray detector from stray radiation.

X-rays enter the box through a small hole that in turn focuses them, like an old-fashioned pinhole camera.

Speedy Trade-Off: Less Data Space

Because lightning moves blindingly fast, the camera was required to take ten million images per second. (Interactive: Make your own lightning strike.)

One challenge in taking such fast pictures is storing the data. To do so, the x-ray detector had to take pictures at a relatively low resolution of 30 pixels, which produced images on a crude, hexagonal grid—as shown in the chart below.


A chart shows x-ray observations of a lightning discharge.
A chart shows x-ray observations of a lightning discharge.

Diagram courtesy Joseph Dwyer

Even so, the resolution was sharp enough to reveal a bright ball of x-rays at the head of the bolt, with almost no lingering radiation along the bolt's trail.

"Almost all the x-rays are from the tip," Dwyer said. "We see the x-ray source descending with the lightning at up to one-sixth the speed of light."

Triggered Lightning Effective

The lightning bolts were triggered by launching small rockets into the thunderstorms. (See "Volcanic Lightning Sparked by 'Dirty Thunderstorms,' Study Finds.")

The rockets trailed wires behind them to direct the lightning through the camera's field of view.

Artificially triggering the lightning strike likely didn't alter the natural workings of the thunderstorm, Dwyer noted.

And, he said, "the advantage of triggered lightning is that we can repeat it."

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

It takes many galaxies' worth of amazing people to make science fiction and fantasy rock our world... but every year, there are some people who stand out as especially influential. Here's this year's list of the genre's movers and shakers.

As with the previous two years' power lists, these aren't our favorite people, or the people we wish were powerful. They're people who can make things happen in the genre — or help the genre reach a wider audience of people who don't consider themselves fans. These are the people who've used their power in the industry to help make science fiction and fantasy stories a national obsession — as well as helping to fuel our personal obsessions. Because we do the power list every year, we tend to focus on people who've particularly stood out in the past year.

And as always, feel free to debate our choices in the comments, or suggest your own candidates for the power list. We had to whittle down a list of dozens of names to get to 20 people, so we're aware we've left out some great choices.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Anne Sweeney and Jeff Bader, ABC television

Straight-up science fiction, that wears its genre credentials on its sleeves, is becoming an endangered species on network television these days. So it's a minor miracle that ABC is continuing to stand behind overtly SF shows like V and No Ordinary Family. We have ABC President Sweeney and Scheduling Chief Bader to thank for that — and here's hoping their gamble pays off.
Up next: ABC has a number of SF or quasi-SF shows in the Fall 2011 pipeline, including Marvel shows AKA Jessica Jones and Incredible Hulk, plus Being Erica, Hallelujah, Once Upon A Time and Patient Zero.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Tom Hardy

He damn near stole Inception from its all-star cast. And now, the man we used to think of as Picard's shoulder-pad-hobbled clone has become 2010's new hotness.
Up next: He's got an unspecified role in The Dark Knight Rises, and he's starring in the delayed Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

John Lasseter, Pixar/Disney

As creative director of both Pixar and Disney, Lasseter deserves a great deal of the credit for some of 2010's most high-profile science fiction and fantasy films, including Toy Story 3, Tangled and Tron Legacy. Lasseter, who was inspired by the original Tron as a young animator, was part of a group of Pixar pioneers who viewed an early cut of Tron Legacy and suggested reshoots that, by all accounts, helped improve the story.
Up next: Fanciful Disney and Pixar movies in the pipeline include Cars 2, Mars Needs Moms and Tim Burton's Frankenweenie.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Steven Moffat

This was the year of the Moff. He took over as showrunner of that great British institution, Doctor Who, and propelled it to new heights of popularity overseas. And he co-created a new Sherlock Holmes series that reinvented the great detective for the modern era.
Up next: Another year of Doctor Who, plus Moffat helped with the scripting of the new Tintin movie.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Steven Spielberg

He's been powerful forever, but lately he seems to be wielding his power for the benefit of science fiction. He's got three television shows in the pipeline, including Falling Skies and Terra Nova. He's signed on to direct Robopocalypse. And he's inspired pop culture's great remixer, J.J. Abrams, to create the Spielberg tribute Super-8.
Up next: Robopocalypse, plus the Tintin movie with Peter Jackson.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Paolo Bacigalupi

His adult novel The Windup Girl has won almost every major science ficiton award and "stomped the competition" (as Locus puts it) on the trade paperback bestseller list five months running. More than that, though, he's brought hard science fiction back, helping to prove that hard SF can still be relevant and popular. Meanwhile, his YA novel Ship Breaker was a National Book Award finalist and brought new smarts to the "dystopian YA" trend.
Up next: He keeps tweeting that he's hard at work at another project. Work faster!

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Christopher Nolan

We already had him on our 2008 power list, but the incredible success of Inception — almost $300 million in U.S. ticket sales — proves that his strength goes beyond merely recharging the superhero genre. The fact that a big-budget weird-fest like Inception even got made, much less that it became such a huge hit, is a minor miracle. People have been saying this means Hollywood will green-light more big films by quirky auteurs — but really it remains true that a few people, like Nolan, can make something like Inception happen.
Up next: The Dark Knight Rises.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Tim Holman, Orbit Books

Orbit launched its U.S. imprint in 2007, with Holman relocating to New York to head it up as publishing direcotr. Since then, its list has grown rapidly and Orbit has been scoring bestseller after bestseller. Looking at Orbit's 2010 titles, too, you're struck by their range, from hard science fiction icon Greg Bear to space opera master Iain M. Banks, and from postmodern epic fantasy author N.K. Jemisin to steampunk innovator Gail Carriger. Not to mention a lot of weird zombie books, from Mira Grant's Feed to Jesse Petersen's Flip This Zombie. Holman has been instrumental in making Orbit a force to be reckoned with in the United States.
Up next: Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes, and Walter Jon Williams' long-awaited sequel to This Is Not A Game, Deep State.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Diane Nelson and Geoff Johns, DC Entertainment

DC Comics and its parent company, Warner Bros., have lagged behind Marvel/Disney in putting their classic superheroes on screen lately, apart from Smallville and Nolan's Batman films. That's about to change — Nelson signaled a shift in the company's priorities when she moved all its multimedia operations to L.A. Nelson and Johns are the president and chief creative officer, respectively, of DC Entertainment, and their only mission is to make DC's universe into the next Harry Potter. A lot depends on how the Green Lantern movie, which was already in production when they stepped up, performs.
Up next: A Flash movie, a Wonder Woman TV series, and probably a number of other projects yet to be announced.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Tom Doherty

He's the publisher at Tor Books, which he founded and still runs, and he also owns 1/3 of Baen Books. His influence can be felt in every area of science fiction and fantasy, as much today as 30 years ago. And this has been a banner year for Tor — out of Kirkus Reviews' top 15 SF/fantasy books of the year, nine of them came from Tor, including books by Kage Baker and Mary Robinette Kowal. The publisher also had a record 20 books on the New York Times bestseller list this year. Meanwhile, Tor's magazine,, has continued to set the conversation among science fiction and fantasy readers and writers.
Up next: John Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation, Hannu Rajaniemi's acclaimed The Quantum Thief, and George R.R. Martin's Fort Freak.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Richard Pleper and Michael Lombardo, HBO

HBO's True Blood was already a pop-culture phenomenon, and becoming more overtly fantasy-oriented with the inclusion of fairies 'n' stuff, when Pleper and Lombardo decided to take a chance on a second fantasy series: Game of Thrones, based on the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin.
Up next: Winter is coming! Game of Thrones launches next year.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Janelle Monae

The Archandroid is appearing on lists of the year's best albums all over the place, and she's influencing a whole generation of futuristic pop and R&B artists, with her cyborg visuals and her ultra-eclectic sounds. Plus she's witty, clever and she claims Octavia Butler as her great inspiration.
Up next: She's touring Europe after doing a show in New York with Prince.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Darren Aronofsky

In 1999, Aronofsky saw The Matrix, and it inspired him to think about new ways to reinvent science fiction. The result was The Fountain, a movie that seems to divide people about evenly into evangelists and iconoclasts. But Aronofsky's never stopped thinking about how to tell other-worldly stories in a new way, and the proof is Black Swan, the ballerina movie about horror and art that's getting Oscar buzz.
Up next: The Wolverine — and let's hope Aronofsky's got enough power to keep the suits from messing this Wolverine film up. Plus Machine Man, based on the cyborg novel by Max Barry.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Sandra Bullock

Some people are on this list for work they did in 2010, but others are mostly on here for work that was announced in 2010 — and Bullock is definitely in the latter camp. She's one of the most powerful actresses in Hollywood, but this was the year she chose to use that power for good — she's starring in Gravity, the new space movie by Alfonso CuarĂ³n (Children of Men), and that film would not be getting made if Bullock wasn't in it. (Already, some are comparing Bullock's move to Halle Berry making Catwoman right after winning an Oscar.) We can't think of a movie project we're more excited about than Gravity, and Bullock has rescued it from development hell.
Up next: She's also filming Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the 9/11 movie based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel. Gravity is supposed to start filming in the Spring.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Jon Favreau

Iron Man 2 was one of the year's most successful movies, and one of the biggest comic book adaptations of all time. And now Favreau is setting out to reinvent the Western and the alien-invasion movie in one movie with a silly title: Cowboys and Aliens. It's a testament to his clout that he was able to get Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig on board this wagon.
Up next: After Cowboys and Aliens, he's taking on an even more daunting task: making Disneyland cool, with The Magic Kingdom.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Suzanne Collins

We loved The Hunger Games, but with the third and final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, Collins showed that she's got the potential to join J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer in the ranks of authors whose books people camp out for. We still hear people debating that ending — no spoilers here — wherever we go. And now it's going to be a movie, from Gary "Pleasantville" Ross.
Up next: Whatever Collins writes next, we'll be first in line to read it.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

George Lucas

He has a successful TV series — that he made without any studio input — on the air, with two more series (a live-action Star Wars show, and Seth Green's Star Wars comedy) in the pipeline. Plus, he still controls the multi-squillion-dollar Star Wars brand including hit games, books and comics, and his Industrial Light & Magic effects shop is the essential ingredient in countless science fiction blockbusters.
Up next: Clone Wars returns next week, and we're still hopeful the live-action Star Wars series gets off the ground despite some delays. (A "movie of the week" plus 50 other episodes are already scripted, they just have to wait for technology to advance enough to make it cheap enough to film, says Lucas.) Plus the original films are coming to Blu-Ray and being converted to 3D. He'll just take your wallet now, for safe-keeping.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Matt Fraction

He's writing two of Marvel's biggest titles (Iron Man and Thor) to critical acclaim and commercial success — and he's in charge of Marvel's grand crossover for next year ("Fear Itself"). And he consulted on set during Iron Man 2. He's established himself at Marvel, in a position that at one point was Brian Michael Bendis' purview.
Up next: Fear Itself, plus hopefully more Casanova, now being published by Marvel's Icon imprint.

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Jennifer Brehl and Diana Gill, Harper Collins

Between the two of them, these editors are publishing some of the most exciting science fiction and fantasy authors out there — including Christopher Moore, Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, Richard Kadrey, Terry Pratchett and Ray Bradbury. But also, in 2010, they worked with Harper's editors in Australia and the U.K. to create a global science fiction imprint — Harper Voyager, with Gill serving as the Executive Editor in the U.S. This means that any title published by Harper can have support in all of the biggest English-speaking markets simultaneously.
Up next: Harper Voyager has already signed two authors for their worldwide debut, Karen Anziger and David Wellington (writing as David Chandler).

The Power List: 20 people who rocked science fiction and fantasy in 2010

Gale Ann Hurd

The legendary producer of The Terminator was instrumental in getting The Walking Dead on our television screens this year, and it became one of the biggest new shows of the Fall season, proving that zombies — and relatable survivors — could carry an ongoing television series.
Up next: She blew up the internet the other day by suggesting she'd like to take the Terminator series back under her wing. Make it happen, Pacificor!

Muppets with People Eyes

Obama's High-Speed-Rail Projects in California and Florida -- Printout -- TIME

Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010

High-Speed Rail: Obama's High-Stakes Gamble

By Michael Grunwald

The master builder Robert Moses had a legendary strategy for ambitious public-works projects: start now, and figure out how to finish later. "Once you sink that first stake," he liked to say, "they'll never make you pull it up." And that, in essence, is the Obama Administration's strategy for spreading high-speed passenger rail across the United States.

It's an understandable strategy, since a true national network of bullet trains could cost as much as $1 trillion, and Obama has secured only $10.5 billion to start. But it's also a risky strategy, because the Administration is preparing to sink stakes in projects that might make perfect sense as links in that larger chain but look silly on their own. The first bullet train, an Orlando-Tampa line, has the feel of a glorified Disney shuttle. The boldest project, a Los Angeles–San Francisco line, was initially designed to begin with a train from nowhere to nowhere. Ohio got $400 million to launch a "high-speed" passenger service — with an average speeds of only 39 m.p.h. (63 km/h). (Can high-speed rail help make America green?)

Yes, you've got to start somewhere. Yes, the first stretch of the first interstate highway probably looked like a road to nowhere, and the transcontinental railroad must have seemed like a pipe dream until its two ends linked up in Utah. And yes, high-speed rail has the potential to reduce carbon emissions, highway deaths and hassle while improving productivity, promoting smarter growth and launching a new domestic manufacturing industry.

Nevertheless, the optics are awful, and Republican politicians are exploiting them. The plodding Ohio line is already dead, thanks to Republican Governor-elect John Kasich; so is an $810 million Milwaukee-Madison train, killed by Wisconsin GOP Governor-elect Scott Walker. Now the Obama Administration has shifted most of the Ohio and Wisconsin money to California and Florida, doubling down on its biggest investments, hoping to build short-term momentum toward its long-term vision of a new way to move around the country.

Those four states help illustrate its Moses strategy, its high-stakes game of high-speed chicken. It's an awkward approach in an era of intense partisanship and brutal budget crises, and it's off to a rough start. But that doesn't mean it's doomed to failure. After all, neither Ohio nor Wisconsin had sunk any stakes before canceling their fledgling projects. (See the top 10 American political prodigies.)

OHIO: "High-speed rail" conjures up images of sleek bullet trains that whip around Europe and Asia at over 200 m.p.h. (320 km/h), but so far Obama is pushing bullet trains only in California and Florida. Much of his program is actually "higher-speed rail": gradual upgrades to Amtrak lines that share track with freight railroads and can never exceed 110 m.p.h. (180 km/h). This is not crazy. When the goal is to provide alternatives to long drives and short flights, top speeds matter less than overall trip times, and relatively modest investments can generate real improvements that attract new riders — which in turn can generate momentum for additional investments, and so on. Slicing an hour off Chicago–St. Louis makes sense. Improving Charlotte-Raleigh in North Carolina makes sense.

The proposed "3-C" route that would have linked the Ohio cities of Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland at top speeds of 79 m.p.h. (127 km/h) — and average speeds of half that — did not make sense. Even as a first step towards 110 m.p.h., it seemed a pitiful alternative to driving on Rust Belt highways that aren't particularly congested. If anything, it was likely to destroy momentum for investments in high-speed rail during a time of limited resources. Republican Congressman John Mica, the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, says "dogs" like the Ohio train could imperil the entire program. "Believe me, they can really affect its future," Mica says. He'll take over the program's purse strings in January, so he's not talking about a theoretical future. (See photos of China's high-speed-rail system.)

CALIFORNIA: Before Kasich and Walker scuttled their trains, construction on the Los Angeles–San Francisco line was supposed to start with a 65-mile (105 km) stretch from Corcoran, a tiny town south of Fresno, to Borden, an even tinier town north of Fresno. Obviously, the goal of this train from nowhere to nowhere was to pave the way for a train from somewhere to somewhere, but the optics would have been even worse than Ohio's. California fortunately got more than half of the $1.2 billion diverted from Ohio and Wisconsin, which will help it expand its first link to cover 120 miles (190 km) between Fresno and Bakersfield, the Central Valley's two largest cities. (Comment on this story.)

That said, no one in their right mind would spend billions of dollars to build a Fresno-Bakersfield line in isolation either. It could only make sense as a jump-start for a line connecting L.A. to San Francisco in less than half the driving time; laying track around the densely populated endpoints would have been much more expensive, controversial and time-consuming than in the primarily agricultural Central Valley. And starting in the middle is a faster way to sink some stakes by 2012, create some jobs — high-speed rail was part of Obama's stimulus package, even though it didn't provide much stimulus — and build support for funding the rest of the $43 billion line so the completed patch wouldn't look like a preposterous boondoggle.

See more about the high-speed-rail plan in the U.S. following the stimulus package.

But there are serious questions about the rest of the line: the route, the ridership projections, how much it will cost, who will pay for it and whether it will get the political support it needs to survive. California is already facing a $28 billion budget gap, and even rail-friendly legislators are afraid that massive high-speed cost overruns could lead to vicious cuts in social services and existing transportation projects. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has clearly adopted a Moses strategy, which is why opponents want to kill the project before construction can begin. "Once this gets started, there's an unspoken mandate to finish the entire system," says a high-speed-rail cheerleader. "That's what the other side is afraid of."

FLORIDA: The L.A.-S.F. route, for all its problems, would be genuine high-speed rail. America's first planned bullet route, an 84-mile (135 km) hop from Tampa to Orlando featuring five stops and a top speed of 168 m.p.h. (270 km/h), is really too short and too slow to earn that distinction. It was fast-tracked because it's the nation's most shovel-ready project — it has all the needed permits plus the land on the Interstate 4 median — and it's Obama's only hope for a bullet train that could be ready to ride during his second term. But it's hard to justify as anything but the first link of Tampa-Orlando-Miami. Mica represents Orlando, but even he is skeptical of the Tampa end of the line; he suspects that most of the riders will be tourists shuttling a few miles between Disney World and the Orlando airport. And Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott, also a Republican, has suggested that he's willing to kill the train if his state has to help pay for it. (See the top 10 green stories of 2010.)

Thanks to Ohio and Wisconsin, Tampa-Orlando just got another big chunk of money, so Scott probably won't have to make good on that threat. The feds have now covered almost 90% of the estimated $2.7 billion cost, and the contractor selected to build and operate the line — at least seven major firms are planning bids — will be likely to cover the difference, partly because a subsequent Orlando-Miami segment is seen as a potential cash cow, and partly for the publicity sure to surround the first bullet train. "If the endgame was Tampa-Orlando, I can't say it makes sense," concedes Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. "But as a first piece of a national system, it makes a lot of sense."

China plans to spend $300 billion building a national high-speed-rail system by 2020; Spain hopes to complete a $200 billion network that same year. It's not possible to build a national system in the U.S., or even a complete regional corridor, with $10.5 billion. So the Obama Administration spread its initial grants around 31 states, hoping to build political momentum for the program around the country. Maybe states will like what they get and decide they want more. Maybe states will see Florida's spiffy bullet train zipping past traffic stalled on I-4 and decide they want something like it — even if it's not zipping as fast as it ought to be. (See a brief history of high-speed rail.)

WISCONSIN: Then again, maybe they won't. Chicago-Milwaukee has been a big success, Amtrak's fastest-growing line outside the Northeast Corridor. Milwaukee-Madison was expected to be equally popular and a crucial step toward a Chicago-Minneapolis line that could transform the region. But Walker ran against the new train as the local embodiment of Big Government, and he won easily. No, stakes hadn't been sunk, but the feds had committed $810 million; Moses always expected politicians to cash checks like that. Walker didn't, even though the costs to the state would have been minimal.

Big Government is always a convenient political opponent, especially when times are tough and families are cutting back, and the Administration was clearly overconfident that high-speed rail would inevitably expand once stakes were sunk. Still, it's one thing to complain about federal spending and quite another thing to divert it elsewhere. Shortly after Wisconsin's money was redistributed, the Spanish firm Talgo announced plans to shut down its U.S. train-manufacturing operations in Milwaukee and relocate the jobs to a state that continues to pursue high-speed rail. "I can't wait to see the ads in Wisconsin in 2014," an Obama aide says. "You'll have some guy working on the train in Florida: 'Thanks for my job, Governor Walker!' " (See photos of the world's longest railroad tunnel.)

The aide didn't say whether he expected to see high-speed-rail ads in 2012. By then, the first stakes will be sunk in Florida, and opponents will be mocking the Tampa-Orlando project as a ridiculous relic of a free-spending era, while supporters will be hailing it as an inspiring throwback to the days when America dreamed big and built big. It will be a proxy for a larger argument about the role of American government, and the outcome may well determine whether Obama gets to ride the train as President — and, perhaps, whether the train ever really leaves the station.

All Aboard!!