February 29, 2008

Houston, we are 'go'

Posted: 03:11 PM ET

Unless technical problems crop up or last-minute bad weather presents itself, the shuttle Endeavour will rocket into space in a dramatic night launch at 2:28am ET on Tuesday March 11.


Shuttle Endeavour rolls out to launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on February 18, 2008

That's the word from NASA managers who wrapped up Endeavour's flight readiness review today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and officially cleared the shuttle to fly.

Endeavour astronauts will deliver and install the first of several components of the Japanese laboratory complex to the International Space Station, as well as a Canadian-built robotic arm called Dextre.

The 16-day mission, designated STS-123, will be the longest shuttle visit to date to the International Space Station. It will be the 122nd shuttle flight, the 21st flight of Endeavour, the 25th shuttle mission to the ISS, the 97th post-Challenger mission, the ninth post-Columbia mission, and there will be 12 more shuttle flights (including this one) remaining in the shuttle program before NASA retires the fleet in 2010.

The Endeavour astronauts, led by Commander Dom Gorie, will conduct five spacewalks to install the new hardware, tinker with a malfunctioning rotating solar array, and test tile repair techniques.

Endeavour's mission comes close on the heels of the STS-122 flight of Atlantis, which landed just nine days ago. That shuttle crew delivered and installed the European Columbus laboratory onto the ISS. Now that the Japanese components are going up, the station is really starting to take on a multinational character. The three-member station crew currently consists of American Peggy Whitson, Russian Yuri Malenchenko, and Frenchman Leo Eyharts – though Eyharts will be replaced with U.S. astronaut Garrett Reisman who is flying up on Endeavour. If all goes as planned and the build-out of the station continues on track, the ISS crew will expand to six members next year.

If you are really a shuttle junkie, check out NASA TV on Monday. Flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston will be holding a series of briefings for the media to go over the plan for the mission in detail ... and in the afternoon the crew will answer questions at a press conference. Here's the schedule for all that if you want to check it out.

All times are Eastern ...

9 a.m. – STS-123 Program Overview Briefing

10:30 a.m. – STS-123 Mission Overview Briefing

12:30 p.m. – STS-123 Spacewalk Overview Briefing

2 p.m. – STS-123 Crew News Conference

6 p.m. STS-123 Mission Specialist Takao Doi News Conference to Japan

–Kate Tobin, Senior Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: NASA • Space

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February 27, 2008

Weather lab detects Asian air pollutants in the Rockies

Posted: 11:09 AM ET

We were in Steamboat Springs, CO, for a weather conference recently.  Climatologists and meteorologists from around the country engaged in lively debate and discussion on topics ranging from global warming to the latest forecasting technology. 

The week was quite illuminating, especially if you like heady science stuff.  We also got in a little skiing, which was amazing with 22 inches of fresh powder.   

I was there with CNN weather anchor Rob Marciano, who had the opportunity to visit the Storm Peak Laboratory  high atop Mt. Werner.  I produced a news piece about it for CNN’s American Morning, which ran today.   

At elevation 10,500 feet, the only ways to reach the lab are to ski, snowmobile, or climb.  On a clear day you are able to see for miles.  Rob skied up there when it was about 9 degrees and blowing snow, and he was a little out of breath in the thin air. 

He interviewed the two researchers who run the lab: Dr. Anna Gannet Hallar and her colleague Ian McCubbin.  What they had to say was fascinating. Did you know they can detect pollution from Asia in the middle of the Colorado Rockies?  Startling!  Scary! 

Dr. Hallar explained that large dust storms in Asia loft air and collect industrial plumes from coal-fired power plants in China, India and other countries.  You can even see these storms – and pollution clouds – in satellite imageryThe industrial plumes are sucked into weather systems and travel across the Pacific to the United States. 

Storm Peak Lab is so high that it’s actually “in-cloud” about 25-30% of the time.  Its sophisticated probes detect and analyze particulate matter in the clouds.  The size, shape and chemistry of cloud particles yield clues about the origin of particular pollutants.   

So how do they know it’s pollution from Asia?  They are finding mercury.  McCubbin told us that coal in Asia is known to have high mercury content, and that he was surprised that the toxin was still present in the air thousands of miles from the source. 

Now, of course it’s not a whole lot of mercury, but it is evidence of just how far this anthropogenic – or manmade – pollution can travel.  Nothing makes air dirtier than burning coal, and coal-fired plants have been linked to global warming, acid rain, and even asthma. 

And just think, once mercury is in the clouds, precipitation brings it right back down to earth where it enters our streams, lakes, rivers, oceans and into the fish we eat.     

- Alex Walker, Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Uncategorized

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February 26, 2008

Get Your Game On – 02.26.08

Posted: 02:47 PM ET

Here's a quick rundown of some of this week's notable video-game releases.

The Club (Sega)

”ALTSet in the world of a deadly underground bloodsport, "The Club," is a violent arcade style first-person shooter. Short on story, "The Club" relies heavily on fast-paced, timed action. Players choose from eight different characters, each with their own unique skills and fighting style, and set them loose in a variety of urban environments with a singular agenda: kill or be killed. As the body count piles up, points are assessed for accuracy and "flair." Definitely NOT recommended for the younger crowd. (Rated M for Mature; 360, PC and PS3)

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney (Capcom)


The fourth entry in the popular "Ace Attorney" series features a new, young attorney, stepping into the lead role. As "Apollo Justice," players take on the case-load of a rookie attorney as attempts to investigate a the crimes and defends of new a roster of hapless clients. This particular title is the first in the series created specifically for the Nintendo DS and makes great use of the handheld's touch-screen to control the action. (Rated T for Teen; Nintendo DS exclusive)


Frontlines: Fuel of War

”ALTExperience intense, futuristic battles on the open-world battlefield of "Frontlines: Fuel of War." Players can choose from one of two fictional nations as they battle for global supremacy in gameplay that combines first-person shooter action with capture-the-flag tactics. While reviews have been critical of the game's single-player action, it has received high marks for it's multiplayer mode which is capable of handling up to 50 players at once via Xbox Live or Games for Windows. (Rated M for Mature; 360 and PC)

Other News and Notes:


BioWare has announced May 6th as the official date that PC gamers can get their hands on the PC version of the award winning "Mass Effect." Originally released for the Xbox 360 console to critical acclaim, the epic space saga has been re-tooled specifically for the PC and will include all new controls as well as an exclusive mini-game.



- Matt West, CNN Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Games • Gaming

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Sharks and Suits

Posted: 01:31 PM ET

Two very different environmental stories are out there today: A fatal shark attack off the Bahamas, and the U.S. Supreme Court's hearing of arguments in the Exxon Valdez lawsuit.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the release of the 2007 worldwide death toll for shark attacks on humans: One person died in a shark attack last year, a vacationing French diver in the South Pacific. We discussed the media's fascination with sharks, despite the rare rate of fatalities. More people are killed each year by snakes, deer collisions, or falling vending machines than by sharks. There were some great reader responses, too - although a few folks took a political turn, questioning my use of the title "Swift-Boating the Sharks."

On Monday, an Austrian attorney and dive enthusiast was fatally injured as he participated in a "swim with the sharks" expedition. The Florida-based excursion boat had traveled to Bahamian waters, where the crew allegedly chummed the water to attract sharks. Such activities are illegal in Florida waters. This tragedy is sure to raise more debate about such expeditions, and about our relationship to these fascinating, potentially dangerous creatures.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is ready to hear arguments Wednesday on a $2.5 billion punitive judgment against Exxon for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. In 1994, a jury found Exxon and Joseph Hazelwood, the ship's Captain, guilty of recklessness, awarding $287 million in actual damages and $5 billion in punitive damages. While an appeals court later cut the punitive damages in half, it remains as one of the biggest such judgments ever. Exxon is asking the high court to wipe out the rest of the punitive judgment - saying Exxon's already spent over $3 billion in fines and cleanup costs related to the spill. But the plaintiffs - 33,000 fishermen, business and land owners, Native Alaskans, and communities – – hope to see the verdict upheld.

Quite a few things have changed in the nineteen years since the spill: Exxon is now Exxon/Mobil; nearly 20% of the original 33,000 plaintiffs have died without seeing a final decision in the case. For his part, Captain Hazelwood has kept a low profile. During the 1990's he worked for a time as a paralegal in the law office that handled his case. He also worked at the SUNY Maritime College on his native Long Island - as a safety instructor aboard the college's training ship.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science and Technology

Filed under: Animal attacks • environment • oil spills • Sharks

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February 21, 2008

GDC '08: Fun and Games and Networking

Posted: 04:20 PM ET

It could only happen at GDC.

Only when more than 50,000 people who work in the video-game industry get together are you going to find people who make a game out of networking.

Enter: Destroy All Developers

Destroy All Gamers

Created by online game developer GameLab, "Destroy All Developers" turns the obligatory business of exchanging business cards into a game by challenging conference attendees to collect as many cards as they can. The "players" with the most cards that contain such information as International Area Codes and Zip Codes with 4-digit extensions are eligible to win prizes.

Considering a potential pool of nearly 60,000 attendee, all carrying business cards, all potential players, "Destroy All Developers" brings new meaning to the term "massively multiplayer."

Watch: Gametap's Victor Lucas on the floor at GDC

– Matt West, CNN Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Games • Gaming

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Two Very Different Shades of Green

Posted: 02:54 PM ET

The League of Conservation Voters came out today with its annual Scorecard on Congress. 

Using fifteen Senate votes that LCV deems to be "key" environmental measures, and another twenty in the House of Representatives, the organization graded every Member of Congress on their green behavior.

 LCV's grades break down along both party lines and regional lines:  Democrats tend to draw higher scores than Republicans; Members of Congress from urban areas, and the Northeast, tend to score higher than Members from rural areas in the South, Midwest, and West.

 California, home to both ardent environmentalists and anti-regulatory Conservatives, has five members of the House who received perfect "100" scores, and six who got zeroes.

And, of course, the grades are in for three Senators who have been getting a lot of attention. 

Presidential candidate John McCain, with a lifetime LCV score of 24 percent and a 41 percent rating in the 109th Congress (in 2005 and 2006);  Hillary Clinton holds an 87 percent score lifetime, and 89 percent in the last Congress.  Barack Obama scored 86 percent for his Senate career, and 96 percent in the last Congress.

 But for 2007, the first year of the 110th Congress, all that time on the campaign trail has knocked the candidates' grades down:   Clinton scored 73 percent, Obama 67 percent, and McCain pitched a shutout:   0 percent. 

 Those numbers may be misleading, however:   McCain didn't vote against the environmentalists' side this year, he just didn't vote at all, missing all fifteen "key" votes in 2007, presumably due to his campaign schedule.  Clinton and Obama missed four votes each. 

McCain supporters are quick to point out that the Arizona Senator has championed global warming legislation for years.

LCV's member organizations include many major American environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth. 

But there's a mirror-image scorecard produced annually by the American Land Rights Association.  ALRA's scorecard is not out yet, but they say they're working on it.   They award their grades based on Congressional bills affecting public lands, private property rights, and environmental regulation. 

ALRA is a staunch opponent of what they feel is excessive federal regulation and is a strong advocate for private property rights and the free market.  They're reliably on the other side of LCV and most conservation groups on most issues. 

In their most recent scorecard, based on Congressional votes in 2006, McCain drew a 56 percent grade, while both Clinton and Obama came in at 11 percent, according to the ALRA numbers.

 Following tonight's Democratic debate on CNN, be sure to catch "Broken Government:  Scorched Earth."   It's an investigative look at failed government programs that have costs billions of taxpayer dollars.  

Miles O'Brien hosts at 11pm ET/8pm PT Thursday, with replays over the weekend.

- Peter Dykstra   Executive Producer   CNN Science

Filed under: environment

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Censored Science

Posted: 02:49 PM ET

One of the stories in tonight's "Broken Government: Scorched Earth" special tells the tale of Gretchen Cook-Anderson, a NASA public affairs officer who says her job publicizing the agency's research into global warming put her on a collision course with political appointees at the top of NASA's communications office.

Initially excited about working the global warming beat, Gretchen said she soon found herself in the hot seat as her bosses pushed her harder and harder to soft-pedal or even squelch any news suggesting climate change has a human cause.

She says she was even ordered to telephone NASA's leading climate researcher, Dr. James Hansen, and tell him to stop talking to the media altogether except on agency vetted, approved and supervised occasions. And when she resisted, she found her career prospects swirling down the drain.

Gretchen's story is compelling. It seems to illustrates a disturbing trend where by government bureaucrats are seemingly manipulating scientific findings to serve a political agenda, rather than the truth.

Reporter Miles O'Brien and I want to give full credit to Mark Bowen, who first told Gretchen's story in his book "Censoring Science," and to Andrew Revkin, the New York Times correspondent who first reported the political machinations going on at the NASA Headquarters Public Affairs Office.

Revkin told us that after his story ran, it was like a cork popping out of fizzy bottle.

"I started getting all these e-mails from Yahoo accounts and NASA people across the country, from Goddard Space Flight Center down in near Washington and from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory - with actually worse stories, in some ways. There was a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who'd had a press release rewritten with a quotation inserted to divert it from being about climate to being about space exploration - that he had never approved, but it was in his words. That was pretty bad. And things like that were happening, and and as I dug in deeper this story kind of got some legs. "

Bowen has a PhD in physics from MIT, and comes at his his subject matter as a scientist and interested citizen - and he didn't hold back in expressing his outrage to us at what he sees as a political agenda at work:

"It is very clear a destructive policy toward global warming has been pursued by this administration since the beginning...and they bent facts, or reality, or whatever you want to call it, to fit what was really and ideological goal. And it seems as though it was a financial goal. So I don't think an administration has a right to do that, I think it was betraying democracy."

-Kate Tobin, Senior Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Watch “Broken Government: Scorched Earth” on Thursday, February 21, at 11 p.m. ET, immediately following the CNN Debate live in Austin, Texas.

Filed under: Scientists

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GDC '08: Creating Community

Posted: 02:41 PM ET

One word you hear time and again in the world of video games is "community."

Whether you're talking about gamers playing together online or attending a summit of creative pros, there is a true sense of camraderie within the "gaming community."

Among the thousands of creative professionals attending GDC looking for not only the latest tools to help them in their craft, but also at the developments of their colleagues, there are just as many games enthusiasts trying to break in.


Producers and developers use GDC in their efforts to recruit new talent each year, but for amateur coders unable to attend, opportunities to show their talents can be elusive.During Microsoft's keynote address on Wednesday, John Schappert unveiled an exciting new opportunity for amateur programmers looking to "level-up" to pro with the addition of "Community Games" to the industry leading Xbox Live.

Expanding on the successful release of XNA Game Studio, "Xbox Live Community Games" will accept submissions from amateur programmers for consideration to join the Xbox Live suite of downloadable games.

Chris Satchell of XNA studios revealed the details of the program in which games submitted to the community are then reviewed by the community. Those games that receive the highest overall reviews are then eligible to make the leap to Xbox Live where they can be downloaded and played by any of the service's millions of members.

Calling it "the democratization of games," Microsoft is hoping that by opening the doors to anybody who wants to create – the next generation of up-and-coming talent will do more than get a foot in – and possibly blow it right off its hinges.

Read more

Watch: Get Your Game On

– Matt West, CNN Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Games • Gaming • Uncategorized

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February 20, 2008

Environment suffers as politics simmer

Posted: 05:11 PM ET

Of all the issues on Earth, the values of clean air and a healthy environment aren't where you would expect to find a broken government and political gridlock.


Concerns about global warming, endangered species, energy and water supplies are mounting and many see the environment as the staging ground for a great train wreck between science, politics, money and ideology.

CNN's “Broken Government: Scorched Earth,” examines tangled policies and ambitions and finds that the federal government has often stood in the way of environmental solutions. And, in some cases, well-intended programs have made problems worse rather than better.

In the Badlands of South Dakota, rancher Marv Jobgen is less than thrilled to share his federally-subsidized grazing land with prairie dogs, which are competing with his cattle to graze on grass. One federal agency hopes to expand a prairie dog poisoning program - on the same land where a rival federal agency is working to save the prairie dog.

The rodents may be competition for Jobgen’s cattle, but they’re dinner for the highly-endangered black-footed ferret. The ferrets are staging a government-backed comeback from the brink of extinction, but it all may be imperiled when the same government begins poisoning their food supply. Jobgen’s frustration is shared on all sides: environmentalists, government biologists who oversaw the ferret’s recovery, and ranchers.

“That’s what happens when you get agencies where nobody talks to anybody,” says Jobgen.

“Scorched Earth” also takes viewers to Iowa, the so-called “Kuwait of the Midwest,” where an estimated 30 percent of the nation’s corn crop is now grown - not for food - but for fuel. Corn is being touted as a “green” alternative and an antidote to America’s addiction to foreign oil.

But a backlash is building as some researchers find growing corn for fuel may actually cost more than it saves. Some experts have also blamed the corn crop for the explosive growth of the “Dead Zone” thousands of miles downstream at the mouth of the Mississippi River, where this nearly oxygen-free ocean area is wreaking havoc on the catches of Louisiana fisherman.

We also traveled to El Paso, Texas, where a century-old copper smelter stands amid a bleak landscape of lead pollution and health impacts, which some medical experts have linked to pollutants from the smelter.

Shuttered since the late ‘90s, when copper prices hit rock bottom, ASARCO recently got permission to reopen the plant. Even though ASARCO declared bankruptcy two years ago, citing “environmental liabilities” which may total $11 billion, the company recently received clearance to reopen. Some bankruptcy experts, local residents and city leaders are crying foul and say federal laws are protecting the company from paying cleanup costs.

– Miles O’Brien, CNN Science & Technology Correspondent

Watch “Broken Government: Scorched Earth” on Thursday, February 21, at 11 p.m. ET, immediately following the CNN Debate live in Austin, Texas.

Filed under: Politics

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GDC 2008: A Deeper Experience

Posted: 10:48 AM ET

Now that the video-game industry is firmly seated in the "next generation" with the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii setting the standard for the game console experience, the question inevitably turns to what's next.


With no new consoles being announced this year, the eyes of the industry turn to as IGN publisher Peer Schneider told me in an earlier conversation, "creating a deeper experience for the player."

While for producers and programmers, that could mean crafting deeper story and play experience for gamers, along the lines of BioWare's critically praised "Mass Effect," other developers are turning to their attention towards the way in which players actually physically experience their game.

One such company, Dreamflyer, has captured the attention of a number of visitors to the Moscone Center's 3rd floor with a state-of-the-art flight simulator chair.

The chair features a system of weights and counterbalances that work in concert with a highly realistic set of pilot's controls to create one of the most realistic flight simulator experiences outside of actually flying. By incorporating a realistic range of motion into the simulation playing out on screen, wanna-be pilots become truly immersed in the experience. The controls, according to Dreamflyer CEO Rahul Lakote, will work with any flight program on the market including Microsoft's "Flight Simulator."

Though the version on display at GDC was fully loaded with a three monitor display, the system can be scaled down to work with just a single display. However, if you have the money to spend on the $3000 device, holding back on the number of monitors seems almost counter-intuitive.

According to Lakote, the high-end device is selling well, especially on the international market where the Dreamflyer has sold in countries such as Australia and Spain. Lakote hopes that by combining a successful showing at last month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with their exposure as part of Intel's exhibition at GDC, that sales of the Dreamflyer will soon take off here in the U.S.

– Matt West, CNN Entertainment Producer

Filed under: Games • Gaming

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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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