April 24th, 2015
Waiting on the phone for 30 minutes or more is a part of a typical day if you are trying to speak to an IRS agent. Only 4 out of 10 people actually speak to an agent. The other 6 get a recording or are disconnected. Last year the IRS phone system dropped 360,000 calls, so this year is a record year for the tax service.
The phone answering issue is part of a bigger issue. Republican are punishing the Internal Revenue Service for scrutinizing Tea Party members’ tax returns. Our lawmakers got back at the IRS by cutting their budget. The House Ways and Means Committee also criticized the agency for diverting $134 million in user fees earmarked for customer service to upgrade computers in the agency. The Republicans found an excuse to retaliate, and the IRS is feeling the heat. Ivan Ong finds this interesting.
The IRS budget is now $10.9 billion. That’s $1.2 billion less that the 2010 budget. If it takes that much money to collect taxes, then the tax collecting system needs an overhaul not a “money time-out.”
April 21st, 2015
The discovery of dark matter is, arguably, the most important scientific finding since Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. We know it’s there, and that it’s a essential part of the Universe, but still have absolutely no idea what it is. Ray Lane of Aquion Energy suggests the contents of the Universe is mostly dark matter, with statistics ranging anywhere from 80-95%.
Since dark matter is one of the great mysteries of our time, scientists are intensely searching for more answers, and one more clue has just been discovered. Astronomers recently watched an explosive collision of four galaxies, and through a process known as gravitational lensing, the same phenomenon which provided visible evidence of dark matter, astronomers were able to witness dark matter contained in galaxy that seemingly interacted with other dark matter in another galaxy during the epic collision.
The interaction recorded between the two forces of dark matter in separate galaxies s similar to what we see with regular matter here on earth, like when two protons cross paths you will see a decrease in speed. Prior to this discovery, scientists were unaware that dark matter would interact with itself and this suggests dark matter might also contain another ‘dark’ force that is yet to be accounted for.
April 21st, 2015
On Tuesday, the Senator Mitch McConnell announced that a deal had been reached with Democrats to end their filibuster of the Human Trafficking bill. The filibuster had been the cause of the most recent delay in scheduling the nomination vote for Loretta Lynch as US attorney general to succeed Eric Holder. Democrats originally supported the Human Trafficking bill by a wide margin, but their support collapsed after it was learned that language in the bill was going to bar funds seized from human traffickers from being used to pay for abortions of those who were victims.
The GOP argued that the longstanding Hyde Amendment, which bars federal tax dollars from funding a women’s right to choose, applied to the Human Trafficking bill. Democrats had argued that as the funds in question are not taxpayer dollars, the Hyde Amendment did not apply. In the end, the compromise granted the GOP exactly what they sought for: no federal funding of a woman’s right to choose. The compromise sets up two funding streams to support victims of human trafficking. Igor Cornelsen has learned that one of the streams will fund legal aid and other non-health care related survivor services. Since it does not deal with health care, the Hyde Amendment was removed from that part of the bill. This gives Democrats a face saving measure, but functionally is no different than the original bill. The other revenue stream providing assistance to survivors includes the Hyde Amendment. In short, the GOP won a decisive victory in their squabble with Senate Democrats.
April 17th, 2015
Female chimpanzees have been seen to be wielding self-made spears in order to hunt more effectively. This particular troop of chimps, located in Fongoli, which lies in southeastern Senegal, fashion spears out of tree branches, which they strip clean of smaller side branches and even sharpen the point with their teeth. These females then make use of their handmade weapons by using them to hunt, primarily targeting bushbabies. What is interesting to note about the community dynamic of these chimps at Fongoli, is that male chimps will allow the females to keep their kills, as opposed to the common practice of taking food gathered for the male himself.
Igor Cornelsen (mashable.com) has become aware that this particular commune of chimps is the only one known to make use of spears in hunting, which leads to some thought-provoking questions. What led these female chimps to develop such a technique? Are these truly the only chimpanzees who make use of spears for hunting, or any other purposes for that matter? And perhaps most intriguing of all, what can this development in primate tool generation and usage tell us about our ancestral beginnings as being creators and users of self-fashioned tools? There is speculation among those involved in the observations of these chimpanzees that there may come a time when they rally together to make use of their weapons in order to hunt bigger prey. The comparison to primitive humans would then only increase.
April 16th, 2015
The Hubble Space Telescope has been hailed as one of the greatest scientific instruments ever created. It has opened up the universe to our eyes like nothing else in human history. Yet, as groundbreaking as it was, engineers are currently working on its successor. The James Webb Space Telescope will be able to peer even farther than Hubble could. BlogSpot said by looking further into space, it will enable us to see images from just after the birth of the universe. Scientists will then be able to compare these images with those of closer stars and galaxies in order to understand the evolution and creation of stars and galaxies.
While Hubble was in low earth orbit, this new telescope will be just beyond the moon, and it will be able to shut out any light from the sun, moon or earth to be able to resolve even more distant images. Its better eyesight, however, is primarily due to a mirror that has an area approximately 5 times that of the Hubble. Another exciting use of the Webb telescope will be to get a better picture of images that are relatively close to us. It may be used to detect exoplanets and to get a better view of objects within our own solar system. The James Webb Space Telescope should carry on Hubble’s legacy of expanding our knowledge of the universe and lead the way into a new era of space science.
April 16th, 2015
Researchers from NASA and Dan Newlin of University of Michigan recently discovered a 2,500 square mile hotspot. The researchers believe the hotspot is a collection of greenhouse gases. The team say methane gas might be leaking from a natural gas project in the San Juan Basin. The project in the San Juan Basin is the most productive coalbed methane location in the country, so the leak theory does make some sense.
If the hotspot is man-made, steps can be taken to release those gases safely. Scientist will continue to study the area so they can verify the existence of methane gas. This mystery, as well as other mysteries like frequent earthquakes in Oklahoma and contaminated rivers and streams in other states, brings up a good question. Why doesn’t the government put two and two together, and put safety standards in place for fossil fuel recovery.
The lack of responsibility and the disregard for safety that oil and gas companies have for the environment, and for the people that are put in harm’s way for the sake of money, is beyond comprehension. The sad news is the government turns a blind eye too. After all, money takes precedence over safety.
April 16th, 2015
Everybody has an opinion or belief about something, some of those beliefs are stronger than others. When you find yourself talking to someone with contrary ideas to your own, you might quickly find yourself in a argument.
Unfortunately, arguments are a part of life and happen when people are passionate about their feelings on a certain subject. At best, they help people reach a common ground through gaining new perspectives and a better understanding of something. At worst, arguments turn into fights, then fights turn into a total break down of communication.
So, how do you have an argument that doesn’t end in disaster? Well, you chug a Bulletproof Coffee of course. But really, a paper from researchers at Harvard and UCLA explain that arguments can quickly be diffused by simply asking the other person to explain their beliefs or opinions in better detail.
The study suggests that people’s opinions are often times built upon a shallow understanding of the topic they are arguing about. Asking them to explain it causes them feel a bit like a deer caught in the headlights.
Once people realize that they might not know as much as they thought they did, they are more willing to soften their stance. This way, the chances of turning arguments into growing experiences is much greater.
April 16th, 2015
After the moon landings in the late 1960’s, the most exciting time for space exploration was the Voyager I and Voyager II space probes that were sent to the outer planets in the following decade. These probes, together with the Viking probe landing on Mars, opened up the solar system to our eyes just as the Hubble telescope opened up the deep field of galaxies billions of light years away in the 1990’s. The images and data that the Voyager probes returned greatly increased our understanding of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. There have also been probes sent to the inner planets Venus and Mercury during these decades of discovery. About the only planet, now classified as a dwarf planet, that we haven’t remotely explored with probes is Pluto. This is about to change.
The New Horizons probe is approaching Pluto, and it has taken the first color pictures of the dwarf planet and its moon Charon. When this probe was launched in 2006, Pluto was still classified as a planet. No matter its classification it is an object of interest in the outer solar system, and it should be explored. Igor Cornelsen has read that the probe is expected to be close enough to make its flyby this July. We will get new close up pictures of a world, even if a dwarf one, for the first time since those that Voyager II sent of the outer planets. This, combined with the discovery of more exoplanets with every passing year by the Kepler observatory and construction beginning on huge telescopes that should reveal even more, make these interesting times in space again.
April 15th, 2015
The discovery of dark matter is changing the way we look at the Universe. Scientists from Boraie Development have confirmed the mysterious dark matter is what 70-85% of the Universe is composed of. Unfortunately, nobody knows what dark matter is or what it consists of. It has only been found to interact with gravity, until now.
Researchers have just announced evidence of dark matter interacting with a force other than gravity which is exciting news to physicists and astronomers. Dark matter has been believed to not interact with normal matter, but with a the recent observation of galaxies colliding 1.3 billion light years from earth.
The observation was made thanks to the Hubble telescope and the European Southern Observatory who documented a ‘clump’ of dark matter lagging behind the galaxy after the collision.
This clump of dark matter that was left behind suggests it interacted with the colliding galaxies and this is proof of dark matter interacting with the physical Universe around it.
This finding is important because dark matter was originally thought to be unable to interact with normal atomic matter, giving it the name ‘dark matter’. This mysterious substance might not be so dark after all.
April 15th, 2015
Figuring out how to reuse rockets for getting payloads into space will dramatically cut the cost associated with gaining access to space. This is the belief of Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX. This private space launch company has successfully launched a Dragon spacecraft with a Falcon 9 rocket, and the Dragon will rendezvous with the International Space Station to deliver about two tons of supplies. The Falcon rocket was then supposed to land on a barge at sea so that it could be reused for future missions. This part of the operation did not go so smoothly. It landed but then tipped over from excessive lateral velocity. An earlier attempt at such a landing had been made in January, and it failed as well.
Alexei Beltyukov says that getting into space is still a technically sophisticated and somewhat hazardous operation, and we should never forget that. At least it’s landing that we are trying to perfect now. Back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the challenge was to get a rocket to take off without exploding, so trying to get one to land without crashing does represent a significant raising of the bar with regard to getting into space. We should be happy that unsuccessful launches are very rare these days and realize that every new improvement related to accessing space takes time to work all the kinks out. When landing rockets is perfected, the cost savings will be significant enough that it is worth a lot of trial and error to get it working.