Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Quake Swarm - 1,200 tiny quakes hit Yellowstone Park - strongest between magnitudes 3.0 and 3.8 -

Reading - Quake Swarm - 1,200 tiny quakes hit Yellowstone Park - strongest between magnitudes 3.0 and 3.8 -

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Yellowstone National Park is shaking again, but jitters seem few so far.

Over eight days, more than 1,270 mostly tiny earthquakes have struck between Old Faithful and West Yellowstone. The strongest dozen or so have ranged between magnitudes 3.0 and 3.8.

That's strong enough to feel - barely. The vast majority have been too weak to be felt even nearby.

Likewise, online chatter about an imminent volcanic eruption in Yellowstone hasn't really picked up compared with the attention that a similar quake swarm drew just over a year ago.

"Perhaps we have done a better job in the past year or so helping the public understand that earthquake swarms are not unusual in Yellowstone," park spokesman Al Nash said Monday.

The largest quakes in the current swarm have included two of magnitude 3.1 and one of magnitude 3.0 late Sunday and early Monday, according to the University of Utah, which helps monitor seismic activity in Yellowstone.

Those who've felt some of the recent quakes include Tim Townsend, a law enforcement ranger at Old Faithful. Most haven't been alarming, he said, although one last week "had me running to cover, for sure."

One of the world's largest volcanoes slumbers at the core of Yellowstone.

The volcano last had a caldera-forming eruption 640,000 years ago and last spewed lava 70,000 years ago. Geologists say Yellowstone could erupt again, although the probability of an eruption within anyone's lifetime is extremely low.

That hasn't discouraged speculation. One Web site during last year's swarm carried a "Yellowstone Warning" urging everyone to flee the Yellowstone area, saying there was a risk of poisonous volcanic gases venting from the earth.

Others have tied the Yellowstone volcano to the end of the world in 2012, as some people fancifully interpret the ancient Mayan calendar to predict.

Relatively mundane fault slippage is believed to be causing the latest quakes, said Jamie Farrell, a researcher at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Not that the swarm isn't interesting to geologists - quite the opposite.

"It gives us an opportunity to maybe get a better idea of what the processes are that are causing the earthquakes we're seeing," Farrell said. "Hopefully, each time we get one of these, we can get maybe a little better idea of what's going on down there."

Read more - http://www.missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/article_9db5e032-0a22-11df-95bc-001cc4c002e0.html

Friday, 29 January 2010

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Niagara Falls Frozen

Top Ten DIRTIEST Hotels - #1 - Heritage Marina Hotel, San Francisco, California - list -

Reading - Top Ten DIRTIEST Hotels - #1 - Heritage Marina Hotel, San Francisco, California - list -

Dirtiest Hotels - United States

(based on TripAdvisor traveler reviews)

By the time Debbiie White spotted some uninvited guests of the insect kind in her hotel room, she had already had enough.

Earlier, the Sunnyvale, California, resident had found a dirty wash rag in the bathroom and a takeout container with old food in the microwave.

The room was filthy and the sheets creeped her out, White said, so she, her husband and their 10-year old niece slept on their own blankets.

But it was the bugs that pushed her over the edge.

"When we saw the cockroaches and I killed two of them, that was it. We were gone," White, 51, said of her stay at the Heritage Marina Hotel in San Francisco, California, over the New Year's holiday.

The travel review Web site TripAdvisor.com last week released its fifth annual list of what it calls the country's top 10 dirtiest hotels, with the Heritage Marina grabbing the unenviable top spot.

The hotel -- whose Web site bills it as "one of San Francisco's best values" -- has 320 reviews on TripAdvisor.com, with half rating it as "terrible." Eighty percent of TripAdvisor travelers who reviewed it did not recommend it.

The hotel's general manager said the rankings were based on "subjective, irate, anonymous postings" that did not reflect the true condition of the hotel nor the opinions of the thousands of guests who have stayed there. Any maintenance issues for the hotel from 2009 have been addressed, said Dan Brannan in a written statement, and a detailed renovation will continue through 2010.

TripAdvisor's list is based on reviews posted on the Web site by travelers, who are asked to rate a hotel's cleanliness on a scale of one to five whenever they evaluate a property. TripAdvisor then takes data submitted from January to December and sorts it using the cleanliness category to come up with the rankings for the year.

The Web site makes sure the list is based on a wide array of reviews, said Amelie Hurst, a TripAdvisor spokeswoman, but she declined to specify the minimum amount required for a hotel to be considered in the rankings, calling it internal company information.

"Regardless of a hotel's room rate or location, all guests have the right to expect good levels of cleanliness," Hurst said.

"It continues to amaze me that some properties in the USA fall short, given that as a country, we're world-renowned for offering great customer service."

Why they stay afloat

It is indeed hard to believe that in the age of extensive online ratings and reviews, dirty hotels still exist and manage to stay in business.

Sometimes they're in a convenient location, like an interstate exit, which brings in lots of customers and allows the hotel to thrive without repeat business.

Still others offer what some travelers care about the most: Rock bottom prices.

"People are looking for the cheapest room rate, so if a hotel offers an inexpensive rate then customers are willing to overlook almost anything," said Chris Elliott, a travel columnist and National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.

"I don't think anyone gets into the hotel business and says, 'I'm going to run a fleabag motel.' They do it because there's money to be made."

Max Hartshorne said his girlfriend will never let him forget the time he booked a hotel room in Los Angeles, California, based on the low price.

The couple, from South Deerfield, Massachusetts, were on their way to New Zealand and just needed a room for the night. Hartshorne, the editor of the travel Web site GoNomad.com, said he had a bad feeling when the hotel shuttle that was to pick them up from the airport turned out to be a dented, decrepit van. The hotel itself was a dump in a seedy neighborhood, Hartshorne said.

"It was dirty, it was a bummer and it was the classic thing where the woman is telling the man not to do something and the man thinks it's the cheapest," he added. The couple ended up scrambling to find another place to stay.

Few firm rules for hotels

Travelers may be surprised that it's up to each hotel to decide how it handles many cleanliness matters.

Hotels are subject to certain sanitation regulations, but there are no laws governing issues such as how often bed sheets have to be changed, the toilet scrubbed or the rug vacuumed in a hotel room, said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Big brand hotels, however, do set some rules for their franchisees.

"All the major chains have standards and specifications for their properties," McInerney said. "As an industry, we don't set standards ... but we provide a lot of educational materials."

There are 44,000 hotels with 50 rooms or more in the United States and some will not be clean, he said. The TripAdvisor list makes him cringe because it reflects badly on the industry, but his organization has no "hammer" to punish the offenders, McInerney said.

The state of hotel cleanliness has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, especially after high-profile media investigations that used black lights in various hotel rooms to reveal traces of urine and semen on items like bedspreads.

Many hotels have responded to those concerns by moving away from bedspreads to duvets, which they can better launder, said Daniel Mount, associate professor of hospitality management at Pennsylvania State University. Some hotels have even tried to reassure guests by declaring themselves "black-light clean."

"It's creepy if you imagine the possibilities, but if you experience the realities, the reality is that the large majority of hotels do a good job," Mount said.

Still, he recently had his own bad experience at a hotel. While pulling back the duvet on his bed, he found a 2-inch stain on the sheet. There may not be standards covering such issues, but a properly trained staff should have pulled the sheet from service, Mount said.

Check it out before you check in

Spotting and avoiding dirty hotels takes a little research and action. Don't be blinded by a hotel's low room rate, experts said, and be sure to read the property's reviews on several Web sites, like TripAdvisor, Travelocity and Yelp, to get an idea of what you can expect.

"It is a much more sophisticated marketplace out there for consumers," Mount said. "You've got to read the reviews. It's a great tool now, where 10 years ago you had nothing. You'd show up and it's like, 'Oh my God, the place is a dump.' "

Organizations like the AAA have their own hotel rating systems, which can be helpful. Elliott also advised checking the word of mouth on a hotel, asking friends who have stayed there about their opinion, for example.

If you can't research ahead of time and stop to stay at an unknown hotel, be sure to check out your room first before committing to stay for the night, McInerney said.

April fool or April Fools! - California controller: State will run out of cash before April -

Reading - April fool or April Fools! - California controller: State will run out of cash before April -

State Controller John Chiang issued a stern warning Friday about California's cash reserves, telling legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger they must act on nearly $9 billion in budget cuts the governor is seeking by March — or the state will run out of cash to pay its bills.

Without making those cuts — which Chiang says will pump $1.3 billion into the state's checking account — California would be broke by April 1, no fooling.

The state wouldn't climb back to what's considered a safe level of cash on hand, $2.5 billion, until later that month, when tax revenues are expected to begin flowing into Sacramento.

"While our current cash condition is marginally better than it was one year ago," Chiang wrote to leaders, "it is still precarious."

Even with the budget cuts, the state's cash reserve would still be far below that cushion in March and April.

To that end, Chiang is calling for an additional $2 billion in cash-flow "solutions." Looking at previous cash crunches, that could mean some payments, like income tax refunds, would be delayed for a few weeks to keep the cushion intact.

"Call it overdraft insurance," said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Finance Department. He stressed that officials are still huddling over specific solutions.

If the budget gridlock lingers all the way to July, then IOUs could come back into play.

And because many budget cuts require months of ramp-up to take effect, delaying action on a new budget could inflate the state's overall $19.9 billion deficit by $2 billion, Palmer warned.

"Inaction ignores the projected cash shortfall which we face in less than 70 days," Chiang wrote. "Only you can prevent history from repeating this year."

Read more -http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_14249833?source=most_viewed

Fullest Moon of the year 2010 - Tonight! - Just go outside and look up -

Watching - Fullest Moon of the year 2010 - Tonight! - Just go outside and look up -

Tonight's full moon -- called the wolf moon -- will be the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. It offers anyone with clear skies an opportunity to identify easy-to-see features on the moon.

Tonight's full moon will be the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. It offers anyone with clear skies an opportunity to identify easy-to-see features on the moon.

This being the first full moon of 2010, it is also known as the wolf moon, a moniker dating back to Native American culture and the notion that hungry wolves howled at the full moon on cold winter nights. Each month brings another full moon name.

But why will this moon be bigger than others? Here's how the moon works:

The moon is, on average, 238,855 miles from Earth. The moon's orbit around Earth -- which causes it to go through all its phases once every 29.5 days -- is not a perfect circle, but rather an ellipse. One side of the orbit is 31,070 miles closer than the other.

So in each orbit, the moon reaches this closest point to us, called perigee. Once or twice a year, perigee coincides with a full moon, as it will tonight, making the moon bigger and brighter than any other full moons during the year.

Tonight it will be about 14 percent wider and 30 percent brighter than lesser full Moons of the year, according to Spaceweather.com.

As a bonus, Mars will be just to the left of the moon tonight. Look for the reddish, star-like object.

Full moon craziness

Many people think full moons cause strange behavior among animals and even humans. In fact several studies over the years have tried to tie lunar phases to births, heart attacks, deaths, suicides, violence, psychiatric hospital admissions and epileptic seizures, and more. Connections have been inclusive or nonexistent.

The moon does have some odd effects on our planet, and there are oodles of other amazing moon facts and misconceptions:

* A full moon at perigee also brings higher ocean tides. This tug of the moon on Earth also creates tides in the planet's crust, not just in the oceans.
* Beaches are
more polluted during full moon, owing to the higher tides.
* In reality, there's no such thing as a full moon. The full moon occurs when the sun, Earth and the moon are all lined up, almost. If they're perfectly aligned, Earth casts a shadow on the moon and there's a total lunar eclipse. So during what we call a full moon, the moon's face is actually slightly less than 100 percent illuminated.
* The moon is
moving away as you read this, by about 1.6 inches a year.

The moon illusion

Finally, be sure to get out and see the full moon as it rises, right around sunset. Along the horizon, the moon tends to seem even bigger. This is just an illusion.

You can prove to yourself that this is an illusion. Taking a small object such as a pencil eraser, hold it at arm's length, and compare its size to that of the moon just as it rises. Then repeat the experiment later in the night and you'll see that the moon compares the same in both cases.

Alternately, snap two photos of the moon, with a digital camera or your cell phone, when the moon is near the horizon and later when it's higher in the sky. Pull both photos up on your computer screen and make a side-by-side comparison.

Astronomers and psychologists agree that the moon illusion is just that, but they don't agree on how to explain it.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Pope John Paul II used to beat himself with a belt and sleep naked on the floor to bring himself closer to Christ -

Reading - Pope John Paul II used to beat himself with a belt and sleep naked on the floor to bring himself closer to Christ -

Pope John Paul II used to beat himself with a belt and sleep naked on the floor to bring himself closer to Christ, a book published Wednesday says.

The late pope had a particular belt for self-flagellation and brought it with him to his summer residence, according to the book, "Why he is a Saint: The True story of John Paul II."

"As some members of his own entourage were able to hear with their own ears, both in Poland and in the Vatican, Karol Wojtyla flagellated himself," the book says, using the name the pope was given at birth.

"In the closet, among the cloaks, a particular pant-belt hung from a hook, which he utilized as a whip and one which he always had brought to Castel Gandolfo," the book says.

The book was written by a Vatican insider, Slawomir Oder, with Italian journalist Saverio Gaeta of the Catholic weekly Christian Family. Oder is head of the Vatican committee investigating whether John Paul II should be declared a saint. John Paul died in 2005.

The evil albino monk in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" may be the best-known example of self-flagellation these days, but the practice is not unusual in Catholicism -- or nearly as extreme as it is shown in the movie.

"When members or former members [of Opus Dei] see the monk go at it in the movie, they just burst out laughing, it's so nutty," said the Rev. Michael Barrett, a priest of the Catholic Opus Dei sect.

In actual Catholic self-flagellation, "there is no blood, no injury, nothing to harm a person's health, nothing traumatic. If it caused any harm, the Church would not allow it," he wrote on Opus Dei's Web site when the movie came out in 2006.

"This voluntarily accepted discomfort is a way of joining oneself to Jesus Christ and the sufferings he voluntarily accepted in order to redeem us from sin. 'The Da Vinci Code's' masochist monk, who loves pain for its own sake, has nothing to do with real Christian mortification," Barrett said.

Mother Teresa is among famous Catholics who self-flagellated in some way, Barrett said.

Catholics are not alone in choosing to inflict pain on themselves for religion reasons. Some Shiite Muslims lash themselves until they bleed when marking the mourning period of Ashura, while fasting is practiced by people in several religions, including Jews on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.

David Gibson, a journalist who worked for Vatican Radio when John Paul II was pope, pointed out that the pontiff wrote an apostolic letter -- essentially a papal position paper -- on suffering in 1984.

"Christ did not conceal from his listeners the need for suffering. He said very clearly: 'If any man would come after me ... let him take up his cross daily,' " the pope wrote, quoting the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus, the pope wrote, "suffered in place of man and for man. Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished.

"In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ," says the letter, Salvifici Doloris, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering.

"John Paul was a product of a very Old World Polish Catholicism," said Gibson, who now writes on religion for Politics Daily.

"He was a very disciplined man and a very rigorous man in his personal spirituality," he said.

The authors of the new book clearly approve of any whipping the pope did of himself, he added.

"Even though it's going to weird people out, it's obviously seen by his postulators as a sign of his holiness," he said, using the technical term for the person who investigates a person's qualifications for sainthood.

He said the idea is not as bizarre as it might sound to contemporary ears.

"The idea of fasting, renouncing something, giving up your Starbucks latte so you can send money to Haiti -- you can't simply look down your nose at it without rejecting a lot of other ideas about self-sacrifice," he said.

The authors of the book based it on interviews with 114 "witnesses" and access to unedited documents in the Vatican's archives, according to the publisher, Rizzoli.

The book is available only in Italian, but the publisher is having it translated into Polish and other languages.

Faulty gas pedal, at the centre of Toyota’s massive recall of 2.3M vehicles - manufactured at a plant in Ontario -

Reading - Faulty gas pedal, at the centre of Toyota’s massive recall of 2.3M vehicles - manufactured at a plant in Ontario -

A faulty gas pedal, manufactured at a plant in Ontario, is at the centre of Toyota’s massive recall of eight models and some 2.3 million vehicles.

Toyota's suspension of U.S. sales on an unprecedented scale to fix faulty gas pedals deals a blow to the automaker's reputation for quality and endangers its fledgling earnings recovery.

The suspect parts are made by a Canadian subsidiary of U.S. supplier, but they are also found in its European-made vehicles, an official with the automaker said Wednesday. Toyota said it hasn't decided what to do there.

The problem part is manufactured at a plant in Ontario by supplier CTS Corp., based in Elkhart, Ind., according to a report Toyota handed to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week.

CTS has not replied to a request for comment sent earlier this week.

Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. announced late Tuesday it would halt sales of some of its top-selling models to fix gas pedals that could stick and cause unintended acceleration. Last week, Toyota issued a recall for the same eight models affecting 2.3 million vehicles.

Toyota is also suspending production at six North American car-assembly plants, including two in Canada, beginning the week of Feb. 1. It gave no date on when production could restart. The Japanese automaker produces the Corolla and Matrix at its plant in Cambridge, Ont., and the RAV4 at its plant in Woodstock, Ont. The company employs about 5,900 people at the two Canadian plants.

The timing could not be worse for Toyota. Two years ago, the company beat out General Motors Co. to become the world's largest automaker. Now just weeks into 2010, it is stopping some sales in its biggest market, the U.S., at a time when it desperately needs to sell cars here after reporting its first-ever annual loss last year.

The sales and production halt involves several best-selling U.S. models, including the Camry and Corolla sedans and the RAV 4 crossover, a blend of an SUV and a car. RAV 4's sales surged last month.

In addition, the problem could spread to Europe, where a similar accelerator part is being used, said Toyota spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi. She declined to give the number of vehicles affected. The company was studying possible responses there, including a recall, she said.

"For Europe, the number and models potentially concerned are under evaluation," said Philippe Boursereau, spokesman for Toyota France.

Toyota's report says it first received reports in March 2007, of gas pedals being slow to come back in the Tundra pickup, and fixed the problem in February 2008.

Starting in December 2008, similar problems were reported in Europe with the Aygo and Yaris models. Toyota said it lengthened a part and changed the material to fix the problem, starting in August 2009.

The latest problem emerged in North America, culminating in the decision for the recall earlier this month, Toyota said in the report.

John Wolkonowicz , a longtime auto analyst with IHS-Global Insight, said Toyota is fortunate in that it has a loyal customer base — primarily baby boomers who have been buying Toyotas for decades. That, he said, will help minimize the sales impact in the short term.

"But it will further impede their ability to get the younger buyers that they so dearly want to get into the Toyota fold," Wolconowicz said.

Toyota has said it was unaware of any accidents or injuries due to the pedal problems associated with the recall, but could not rule them out for sure.

The sales halt calls into question the aggressive growth strategy pursued under former President Katsuaki Watanabe, a cost-cutting expert, who led the Japanese automaker to the No. 1 spot in global vehicle sales in 2008, analysts say.

Hitting that milestone coincided with a 437 billion yen ($4.86 billion) loss during its last fiscal year, marking the worst performance in the company's 72-year history.

The automaker said the U.S. sales suspension includes the following models: the 2009-2010 RAV4, the 2009-2010 Corolla, the 2007-2010 Camry, the 2009-2010 Matrix hatchback, the 2005-2010 Avalon large sedan, the 2010 Highlander crossover, the 2007-2010 Tundra pickup and the 2008-2010 Sequoia large SUV.

"This action is necessary until a remedy is finalized," said Bob Carter, Toyota's group vice-president and general manager.

Toyota spokesman Mike Goss said most workers were expected to be at their jobs during the assembly line shutdown. Workers will receive additional training or work on improvements to their assembly processes. They can also take vacation or unpaid leave, he said.

About 300 workers who build V8 engines at a Toyota plant in Huntsville, Ala., will be affected, said Stephanie Deemer, a spokeswoman for the plant. Goss said the shutdowns will also affect engine plants in Georgetown, Ky., and Buffalo, W.Va.

Toyota dealers said they were concerned the move would hamper sales. They hoped parts to fix the problem could be distributed quickly.

John McEleney, who owns a Clinton, Iowa, Toyota dealership, said the sales stoppage affects about 60 per cent of the inventory on his lot. He said he was hopeful Toyota would come up with a fix soon — especially because the longer a vehicle stays on a dealer lot, the more money a dealer pays in interest fees.

"Short term, it's going to be difficult," he said. "It will certainly set us back, but I think the impact will be very short lived."

Mamoru Katou, analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research, said Toyota was likely reorganizing production plans, such as switching suppliers, and shipping in parts from Japan.

"The problem is extremely serious," said Katou. "The models are precisely those Toyota had been preparing to sell in big numbers."

Toyota expects to sell 2.19 million vehicles in North America in 2010, up 11 per cent from 2009, according to sales targets released Tuesday. Globally, Toyota said it was planning sales of 8.27 million vehicles this year, up 6 per cent from 2009.

But those numbers have not figured in the U.S. sales stoppage, Takeuchi said.

The automaker's problems in the U.S. may be an extension of the spate of quality problems that plagued Toyota several years ago in Japan, its home market, during the aggressive growth strategy pursued under Watanabe.

In 2006, the Japanese government launched a criminal investigation into accidents suspected of being linked to vehicle problems, though nobody was charged. Watanabe later acknowledged overzealous growth was behind the quality problems.

Watanabe was replaced last year by Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota's founder.

Tuesday's announcement follows a larger U.S. recall months earlier of 4.2 million vehicles because of problems with gas pedals becoming trapped under floor mats, causing sudden acceleration. That problem was the cause of several crashes, including some fatalities.

About 1.7 million vehicles fall under both recalls.

The auto company said the sales suspension wouldn't affect Lexus or Scion vehicles. Toyota said the Prius, Tacoma, Sienna, Venza, Solara, Yaris, 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, Land Cruiser and select Camry models, including all Camry hybrids, would remain for sale. Those vehicles contain gas pedals produced by a different North American supplier from the one whose parts are involved in the current sales halt, Toyota has said.

Toyota sold more than 34,000 Camrys in December, making the midsize sedan America's best-selling car. It commands 3.4 per cent of the U.S. market and sales rose 38 per cent from a year earlier. Sales of the Corolla and Matrix, a small sedan and a hatchback, totalled 34,220 last month, with 3.3 per cent of the market and sales up nearly 55 per cent from December of 2008.

Read more - http://www.wheels.ca/Article%20Category/article/784056