Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Why the Earth is farting -

Why the Earth is farting - 

Every day, you have a close personal encounter with methane, a key ingredient of something we don't usually mention in polite company: farts.
Perhaps that's why methane is also called "natural gas." Unfortunately, neither propriety nor intestinal discipline can suppress its unpleasantness lately, because now not just us, but the Earth itself is farting.
Recently, three new craters, one of which measured approximately 100 feet wide and over 200 feet deep, were discovered in the Siberian permafrost. The explanation for them is even more alarming than asteroid strikes: Apparently, after two consecutive summers averaging 5 degrees Celsius hotter than normal, frozen methane is not merely thawing, it's exploding. Scientists fear that, like chronic bad digestion, this phenomenon could be ongoing. Methane in the air surrounding these craters already measures 53,000 times the normal concentration.
Alan Weisman
Alan Weisman
Then, just a week into a research trip, a team from Stockholm University found "vast methane plumes" shooting from the sea floor off the Siberian coast. Columns of gas bubbles, they reported, were surfacing around their icebreaker in waters saturated with 10 to 50 times more methane than usual.
This was the marine equivalent of melting permafrost, the undoing of frozen crystals called methane hydrates, locked solid for millennia by the pressure and temperature of deep oceans.
The U.S. Office of Naval Research calculates that methane hydrates hold trillions of tons of hydrocarbons, from two to 10 times the amount as all conventional deposits of fossil fuels, but they're probably too costly or unsafe to harvest. Now, as ocean temperatures rise, they've begun collapsing, spewing as much gas skyward as the thawing tundra.
 Mysterious crater baffles scientists
Airborne methane produces 86 times the heat-trapping greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide. Although CO2 remains in the atmosphere far longer, after 100 years methane is still 30 times more potent. With sea level increases from 3 to 6 feet already predicted by the century's end, such stunning global flatulence isn't merely embarrassing, but devastating for civilization.
So what do we do? First, we recognize that the reason this is happening involves a misleading term: positive feedback loop. It's misleading because for us there's nothing positive about it. It means that as temperatures rise, warming land and seas fart (belch, if you prefer) more methane -- which then warms things further, so dangerous eruptions accelerate. Feeding back on itself, warming begets more warming.
Second, we admit that this loop began with us. By now, the link between fuel that jet-propels our industrialized civilization and excess CO2 and methane in the atmosphere is challenged only by those who profit obscenely from it.

Third, we stop compounding the problem by ceasing to pretend that energy derived by shattering our bedrock to squeeze even more natural gas from it is somehow "clean." Not only does burning methane crank planetary heat higher, but fracking wells also inevitably leak. At least 2% of their methane output, the EPA conservatively estimates, seeps into the atmosphere, thickening the gas layer that's already turning Earth into a hothouse.
Nor will the other 98% go to heat our homes. Enormous pipelines are now proposed to transport fracked methane through New England's conservation lands and orchards, through northern Minnesota's prime tourism and wild rice lake districts, and across the Ogallala Aquifer-fed farms of our nation's heartland. Each will terminate at a port, where its gas will be exported, not used domestically.
What will remain is scarred land and the methane that escapes or explodes (most recently on June 26, in East Bernard, Texas, into 150-foot flames). Such pipelines will be subsidized by rate-payers, not by vastly wealthy corporations that own them -- unless we refuse to let them be built, and instead commit our energy funding henceforth to truly cleaner options, like wind and solar.
The last time there was this much atmospheric CO2 was 3 million years ago, when seas were 80 to 100 feet higher. Since the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric methane has more than doubled, and the amount now gushing from the seas alone is 34 times what we thought just seven years ago.
Until we stop putting more carbon dioxide and methane overhead, prepare for more rude farts to foul your air, and our future. With coastal cities, fertile deltas and much of the world's rice crops threatened by floods or salination from encroaching seas -- and with grain harvests predicted to fall 10% for each added 1 degree C of average temperature -- passing greenhouse gases isn't merely vulgar -- it's deadly.

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How your cat could be used to hack neighbors' Wi-Fi - the "War Kitteh" -

How your cat could be used to hack neighbors' Wi-Fi -  the "War Kitteh" - 

Coco looks and acts like a cat -- and hackers could exploit that.

Gene Bransfield, a principal security engineer at Tenacity Solutions, Inc., in Reston, Virginia, outfitted the Siamese cat with a custom-made collar that mapped dozens of neighbors' Wi-Fi networks.

As reported in Wired, Bransfield outfitted a cat collar with a Spark Core chip loaded with his custom-coded firmware, a Wi-Fi card, a tiny GPS module, and a battery.

The customized collar allowed Bransfield to map all the Wi-Fi networks in the neighborhood, which could also be done by a home intruder or a person intent on stealing a home's Wi-Fi.

The project was jokingly entitled "War Kitteh," and Branfield's presentation at last weekend's DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas was entitled "How to Weaponize Your Pets."

Bransfield says his goal wasn't to create dangerous house pets, but to make users aware of privacy issues and entertain the group's hacker audience.

"My intent was not to show people where to get free Wi-Fi," says Bransfield, "but the result of this cat research was that there were a lot more open and WEP- encrypted hot spots out there than there should be in 2014."

Updating an old hacking technique

In the 1980s, hackers looked for unprotected computers by "wardialing" -- cycling through numbers with their modems. After the advent of Wi-Fi, "wardriving" saw hackers attaching an antenna to a car and driving through the city looking for weak and unprotected networks.

Bransfield says he built the "War Kitteh" collar for less than $100, and it became easier in the past months, when the Spark Core chip became easier to program, Wired reports.

Bransfield doesn't own a cat. Coco is his wife's grandmother's cat.

In a three-hour walk through the neighborhood, Coco found 23 Wi-Fi hot spots, more than one-third of which were open to snoops with the simpler-to-crack WEP instead of the more modern WPA encryption.

Bransfield says many of the WEP connections were Verizon FiOS routers with their default settings left unchanged.


Washington D.C. news crew robbed while reporting on "sketchy" neighborhoods -

Washington D.C. news crew robbed while reporting on "sketchy" neighborhoods - 

Sometimes - but not always - news reporters get exactly what they are looking for when covering a story.

For one news crew from CBS News affiliate WUSA in Washington, D.C., they got a little more.

The news crew's vehicle was burglarized while they were working on a story about a controversial app that alerts people to "sketchy" neighborhoods, WUSA reports.

The crew had locked their news van on a street in Petworth in Northwest, D.C. while they were out in the neighborhood conducting interviews. When they returned they found the lock had been popped out of the door of their news van, and that most of the crew's gear had been stolen.

Because the thieves stole the cell phone of one of the crew members, they were able to use the "Find my iPhone" app to track down some of their goods to dumpsters in another D.C. neighborhood.

The crew was able to recover some of the stolen items from the dumpsters. The entire crew returned to WUSA's broadcast house unharmed.

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