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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lego Donkey Kong

Europe's new space truck takes shape

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News
ATV-2 propulsion unit
The propulsion unit of Johannes Kepler is taking shape

"It's clear from space history that often it was not the prototype that experienced the problems; it was the mission that came later. That's why specific attention has to be paid to what we do now."

Nico Dettmann is in charge of producing the European Space Agency's (Esa) next space freighter.

ATV (Nasa)

  • The ATV is the first completely automated rendezvous and docking ship to go to the ISS
  • The ATV is the largest and most powerful space tug going to the ISS over its mission life
  • It provides the largest refuelling and waste elimination capability for the space station
  • It is the only vehicle on the current timeline able to de-orbit the ISS when it is retired
  • He knows the near-flawless maiden voyage of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) last year does not mean the second flight is guaranteed to turn out the same way. Attention to detail is everything.

    The follow-up ship - dubbed Johannes Kepler - is in the process of being assembled.

    Its propulsion and avionics units are being prepared in Bremen, Germany. Its pressurised module which will hold the cargo - air, water, scientific equipment, food, and clothing - to be taken to the space station is being built in Turin, Italy.

    The various segments should come together in September, into a single line of assembly that will lead to a launch in November 2010.

    Thereafter, ATVs will fly every year for three years. The vehicle is no longer an experimental spacecraft; it is a production spacecraft. And to emphasise the point, if you walk through the cleanroom at EADS Astrium in Bremen, you can already see ATV-3 components.

    "The whole integration process, from the first day until launch, is 28 months. So if you want to launch every 12 months, obviously you have to produce in parallel," explained Esa's Mr Dettmann.

    ATV-2 avionics bay (BBC)
    The brains of ATV - its parallel computers - are inside the avionics bay

    The space freighter has huge significance for Europe.

    On one level, it is the "subscription" Europe must pay to be part of the International Space Station "club". If Europe can deliver about six tonnes of supplies a year to the platform, it is guaranteed six-month residencies at the ISS for its astronauts.

    But ATV has also been a test of European competency. It is the biggest, most sophisticated vehicle the bloc has ever flown in space. Its automatic rendezvous and docking technology allows it to find its own way to the station and attach itself without any human intervention.

    The European Space Agency believes the vehicle's capabilities will feed into many other exploration activities, at the Moon, Mars and other Solar System destinations. Esa is even looking into the possibility of upgrading the robotic truck so that it can carry people - an independent European crew transportation system.

    Astrium Bremen is in sole charge of manufacturing Johannes Kepler. The company's Les Mureaux plant in France had a bigger role on the previous vehicle (known as Jules Verne) but with the switch to routine production, it was felt the lines of responsibility should be simplified.

    "In the past, we had one organisation dedicated to development and one to production. At the end of Jules Verne, it was decided to have just one organisation in order to have maximum consistency going forward," said Astrium's ATV project manager, Olivier de la Bourdonnaye.

    "All of what we did on the Jules Verne adventure belonged to the development of ATV; and it finished a couple of months ago with the post flight analysis."

    Germany carries about 50% of the production effort; and all the sub-contractors - including Europe's other major space concern, Thales Alenia Space - are reporting direct to the German centre.

    Very little is having to be changed on ATV-2, such was the success of Jules Verne.

    There were only two significant hardware issues.

    One, early in the flight, saw the vehicle's propulsion system switch to a back-up chain when anomalous pressures were detected in the complex network of pipes and valves that feed the engines. The other saw a segment of thermal blanket on the exterior of the craft lift away from its Velcro fittings.

    Neither event affected the mission and should be easily remedied on Johannes Kepler.

    Intergrated Cargo Carrier (BBC)
    The pressurised cargo module is being prepared by Thales in Turin

    Perhaps more significant was the slight mismatch that occurred in the advanced GPS systems used on ATV and the Russian Zvezda module on the ISS to align the vehicles prior to docking. Had the discrepancy been more serious, Jules Verne could have been triggered into aborting its approach to the platform.

    It wasn't - and a software correction on the Russian side should fix this issue before Johannes Kepler arrives in 2010.

    The ship will be heavier this time - by some 600kg. This will take it over 20 tonnes, making its launch the heaviest payload in the history of Esa missions.

    The supplies ATV-2 carries will be gratefully received: with six permanent residents now living on the platform, Europe's logistics effort is paramount (the US shuttle should be close to retirement by November 2010).

    Its role in boosting the ISS will be significant, also. With no shuttle visiting the station, the ATV's power will be needed to lift the platform higher into the sky to avoid the drag from residual air molecules at the top of the atmosphere.

    "We're supposed to lift the station significantly because after the shuttle retirement the ISS will raise its average altitude from 330-350km to almost 400km to produce less drag," said Mr Dettmann.

    "Today the ISS altitude is linked - let's say - to low shuttle performance. After shuttle is gone, ISS can fly higher but ATV will have to deliver a major part of that altitude increase."

  • Total cargo capacity: 7.6 tonnes, but first mission flew lighter
  • Mass at launch: About 20 tonnes depending on cargo manifest
  • Dimensions: 10.3m long and 4.5m wide - the size of a large bus
  • Solar panels: Once unfolded, the solar wings span 22.3m
  • Engine power: 4x 490-Newton thrusters; and 28x 220N thrusters
  • Development cost: 1.3bn euros; Subsequent missions: 400m euros
  • Story from BBC NEWS:

    Michael Jackson's Rare Footage Pepsi Commercial Accident In 1984

    Durango bike star crashes with marijuana bust in N.Y.

    The marijuana haul from the Missy Giove bust all 400 pounds of it. Giove was used to making big money in bike racing. At the height of her career, she had a $450,000 sponsorship contract. (Courtesy of

    Missy Giove lived her life astounding those around her.

    The iconic mountain biker, who resided in Durango for more than a decade, won 14 national titles and was the world champion downhill racer in 1994. She screamed down slopes on the edge of control, landing in either an ambulance or on the podium.

    Her persona — she dangled a dried piranha around her neck and tucked her dead dog's ashes in her bra when she raced — and talent made her mountain biking's highest-paid athlete, earning her well over $2 million.

    Then last month, six years after she formally retired from racing, federal agents busted the 37-year-old and an accomplice with 400 pounds of marijuana and $1 million in cash.

    "Everyone in the circle of

    Missy Giove was mountain biking's "first rock star." She faces drug-trafficking charges. (The Denver Post)
    mountain biking is shocked by the news — not because she was arrested, because that was not surprising. She had numerous car wrecks and slight problems with authority," said Giove's longtime friend and former bike racer Craig Glaspell. "The fact she might be involved in some pretty heavy drug trafficking is the crazy thing. I mean, real crazy."

    According to authorities, on June 16, a team of federal drug cops watched Giove meet a confidential informant at a hotel in Albany, N.Y., and drive away in a rented truck pulling her own trailer. Cops had already found 350 pounds of marijuana in the trailer. Giove drove the rig to the Wilton, N.Y., home of Eric Canori, 30, where police found another 50 pounds of the weed and $1 million packed into a duffel bag in a hallway closet.

    Mountain biking "rock star"

    Giove bailed out of jail on June 22 on a $250,000 bond, facing a possible $2 million fine and up to 40 years in prison if convicted. She could not be reached for comment.

    Days after her arrest, her public defender, Tim Austin, alleged the drugs were planted in Giove's possession, possibly by police. Her next hearing is scheduled Tuesday.

    While it was shocking to hear of Giove's arrest, her friends say it is not that surprising that "Missy the Missile" would be found at the top level of anything she was doing.

    "When she was riding, she was willing to throw it all out there. She was either going to win or crash hard," said Scott Montgomery, who, as vice president of marketing for Cannondale in the mid-1990s, enlisted Giove to ride for his team. "She was mountain biking's first rock star. She transcended the sport. She was larger than life."

    She was sponsored by Reebok. She appeared on MTV, Conan O'Brien's show and David Letterman's "Late Show." She drew thousands of fans to formerly obscure mountain-biking events.

    She was unquestionably gifted on her bike and carefully fostered her Dennis Rodman-esque image.

    "That got her a huge amount of publicity, attention and money," said Alison Dunlap, a professional mountain biker who raced cross country during Giove's downhill blitzkrieg. "She knew what she was doing."

    But she didn't roll like a rock star. Yes, she trained part time in the south of France. But in Durango, she drove a modest car and lived in a yurt behind a friend's house. It was her father, who died three years ago, who secured big dollars for his daughter.

    Montgomery remembers a "shrewd and tough" Ben Giove, working with executives at Cannondale and Volvo on her sponsorship contract. She earned $250,000 a year after her world title in '94. In 1997, Cannondale-Volvo upped Giove's year-long contract to $450,000.

    "The next year, (Ben) came back even more aggressively, and we had to cut her," Montgomery said.

    Toward the late '90s, mountain biking's luster began to wane — and with it racers' income.

    Invested in dad's restaurant

    "She was still making some good money, and I think she took a lot of her money and invested it in her father's restaurant," said Brent Foes, who still has posters of Giove hanging in his Pasadena, Calif., bike-making headquarters. "If she had invested properly, she probably wouldn't be in the situation she is now."

    By 2002, Giove's litany of injuries was catching up to her. By her own tally — reported in various bike magazines during her heyday — Giove suffered 33 fractures, including cracked ribs; broken wrists, collarbones, legs, vertebrae, heels, knee caps; and a cracked sternum. She endured concussions regularly. During the 2001 World Cup races in Vail, she went airborne, twisted and landed on her head. The blow knocked her unconscious and caused her brain to bleed.

    It was "the very worst I have ever seen her crash," said Glaspell, who raced with Giove on the professional circuit for almost a decade. "I don't think she was the same since then."

    Giove retired from racing in 2003 and left Durango. But she didn't stop racing. While she lived in the East, most recently in Chesapeake, Va., she would show up at local races, handily beating all comers. She briefly worked peddling indoor bike-training equipment at cycling shows.

    "She really didn't know what she wanted to do after racing. She once said she wanted to be a rapper and this and that," said Foes, who would occasionally help her out with a bike to keep her racing.

    Staunch drug foe

    The most shocking aspect of Giove's arrest, say people who knew her, was her longtime anti-drug stance. Back in the early 1990s, drugs were part of the counter-cultural scene that went with mountain biking.

    "Missy was always the one who was giving people crap about it, saying, 'Don't drink, don't smoke, stay clean and stay focused,' " said Montgomery, who now manages Scott USA's bike division.

    As a fledgling racer in her early 20s, Giove coached other young racers on how to eat healthy and stay strong, Glaspell said. She pushed natural diets and meditation and a strict training regimen.

    "I never ever, ever saw Missy smoke pot, never saw her do any drugs. She was always into super heavy hippy homeopathic (stuff)," Glaspell said.

    That leads many to wonder whether, if the charges are true, the adventurous thrill of drug-running appealed to Giove.

    "You are one step away from going to federal prison. The challenge of getting away with it, making money at it, I am sure that is incredibly invigorating and thrilling," said fellow bike-racer Dunlap. "Maybe for Missy, when she was used to that kind of feeling when she was racing, not having it anymore was a like a withdrawal from a drug."

    Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374 or

    Buried City in Oasis Lends View of Ancient Egypt

    By Rob Goodier, LiveScience Staff

    A trench that was cut through collapsed mud bricks and the compacted debris of buildings leveled centuries ago is revealing a dusty scene of roof-topped streets in ancient Amheida, a city marooned on an oasis deep in Egypt’s western desert.

    The latest in a chain of archaeological discoveries in a site that dates back at least 5,000 years, the covered streets are a glimpse into rural life under the Egyptian sun.

    At Amheida, archaeologists led by Roger Bagnall at New York University have sifted through the remains of a settlement far removed from the thoroughfares of the Nile Valley. The site is in the Dakhleh Oasis, 500 miles (800 kilometers) from Cairo and 185 miles (300 kilometers) from Luxor, a religious and political hub of ancient Egypt.

    The archaeological work has yielded a treasure trove of art and writing. Through this rural lens, archaeologists are shifting their notions of education in ancient Egypt during the Greek and Roman empires. And they have noticed deep connections between powerful central governments and the outposts in the oases.

    Bagnall described the latest discoveries at a conference in Manhattan last month.

    First glimmer of Egyptian culture

    The Dakhleh Oasis stretches several hundred square miles below a barren escarpment, hedged by the dunes of the eastern Sahara that roll to its edges. The sand contrasts with the farms and the cattle-grazed meadows within. Wine, olives and dates remain important to the economy for the 75,000 residents of the oasis today.

    People settled in Dakhleh at least 5,000 years ago during the Neolithic period, the twilight of the Stone Age as agriculture began to catch on. At that time, the climate was wetter and residents were surrounded not by a desert, but a savanna. Bagnall suspects that Egypt's first farmers may have worked in the oasis before agriculture arrived in the Nile Valley.

    “They may well have contributed something to the development of Egypt before the time of the pharaohs,” Bagnall said.

    The early settlers of the oasis cultivated figs, dates and, later, olive groves and littered the site with pits. They were expert vintners, as well, likely producing finer wines than those available in the Nile Valley, in part because they could control the irrigation. Until the 19th century, those who lived in the oases may also have been the sole producers of cotton in the Roman period, a luxury at the time.

    “They were always, in some sense, peripheral or marginal,” Bagnall said. “But they were important sources of things people couldn't produce in the [Nile] Valley.”

    By the time the Greeks and then the Romans conquered the region, excavated statues and paintings suggest that Amheida followed the dominant culture in lockstep. In spite of their geographic isolation, they were fully integrated in the Roman world, Bagnall said, displaying the same art and mythology found throughout the Roman Empire.

    The surprising quality of education

    Scholars have thought that schools in Roman Egypt were chintzy affairs, often with just one teacher who held forth to a handful of students and charged their parents for his effort.

    “I always laugh because they were exactly like the teachers now. They were kind of looked down upon.” said Raffaella Cribiore, a classics professor at Columbia University in New York. Today, like then, teachers are paid little, she explained. But the denigration of the profession cut even deeper centuries ago. “If someone said your father is a teacher, it was a common slur, it was really an offense,” she said.

    The school room that archaeologists uncovered at Amheida lent a different perspective. Divided into three rooms lined with benches for more than 50 students, it more closely resembled today's formal institutions. Students were segregated by subject and age, and the teacher’s lessons were scrawled on the walls, which were treated like blackboards at the time. What remains of that writing has caught Cribiorre’s attention.

    "There you have a poem written on the wall in the column in red ink. The poem speaks of rhetoric. It says, 'come on, get up, get to work,'" she explained. "It's encouragement from a teacher of rhetoric to his students. But it's all poetry. In Greek."

    Scholars had thought that rhetoric, not poetry, was taught in Roman Egyptian schools. The schools churned out politicians and bureaucrats, aristocratic young men destined for leadership. Prior to the find, Cribiore had suspected that they might also have learned poetry, and this confirmed it. The teacher had written his lessons in verse, showing that schools from the period were more formal than once believed.

    Brasso and sagging stairs

    The archaeologists at Amheida apply dental tools,Brasso metal polish and gentler chemicals to hundreds of Roman coins and sift through millions of potsherds, sorting and drawing some of them for records.

    "You can learn a lot from pottery," said Jen Thum, an undergraduate student from Barnard College who accompanied Bagnall early this year. They can help date a site, for example, or a concentration of them in one spot is a telltale sign of an ancient kitchen.

    Like many of the oasis' residents, Thum lived in a mud-brick house, ate variants of falafel called tameya and watch televised soccer games. The walls of her borrowed home cracked and the earthen staircase sagged during an especially intense rain storm this year. It's a quirk of excavation in the rural oases. Bagnall and his team continue to piece together this oblique perspective on ancient Egypt. Still on the docket are the hunt for a church, and the exploration of large, buried cemeteries.

    Greatest Bow Hunter of All-Time

    Sports Videos, News, Blogs

    Heath Getty of St. John has been target shooting since he was just out of diapers. Now he's trying to perfect a feat that any gun or bow hunter would be amazed by. Getty can shoot moving clay targets out of the sky with a compound bow.

    The Birth of Boomboxes: 1976-1981

    Despite common opinion, boomboxes can be traced back to a humble start in the mid-70s, when the idea of a "personal" stereo experience was a bit of a novelty. Panasonic, Sony, Marantz and GE were quick to debut this hybrid stereo--not quite a home stereo console, but more than a portable combination radio-cassette. The models were small, heavy an.....

    click here for the gallery...

    Pot law leaves cops high & dry: Many blow off $100 fines

    By Edward Mason and Jessica Van Sack
    Photo by Herald file

    Thumbing their noses at the state’s lax new pot law, Bay State stoners are brazenly lighting up in front of cops and then refusing to pay fines - leading some frustrated police chiefs to all but give up the fight.

    Local police report widespread defiance of the six-month-old law, and a Herald review shows a vast majority of potheads cited by cops blowing off their $100 fines.

    Some egregious examples of tokers flaunting the law include:

    In Arlington, a public works employee was cited by the local police chief for smoking a pot pipe as he stood next to his town-issued tractor.

    At bustling Park Street Station, a pair of nonchalant lovers out on the town openly lit up a joint and continued toking even after confronted by off-duty Milton Chief Richard Wells.

    In East Boston, four teens spotted in a “smoke-filled vehicle” unabashedly told a cop they were “just smoking marijuana.”

    A man caught near a Dorchester playground laughed when police said he faced a $100 fine - and then taunted the cops with an expletive-laced tirade.

    All told, a staggering 83 percent of 415 tokers cited in Boston since the law took effect in January have refused to pony up the $100, a Herald review shows.

    In Braintree, 15 of 28 citations went unpaid, while in Brookline 26 of 33 blew off the fines.

    Somerville Deputy Chief Paul Upton said his officers are now writing few if any citations, in part because enforcing the law costs more money than it’s worth.

    “If we send an officer to court, it’s going to cost us $250,” Upton said. “We’re not getting a lot of (citations) written.”

    In Milton, Chief Wells said the new pot law is unenforceable because there’s nothing encouraging scofflaws to pay fines or even give their real names to police.

    Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless, head of the state prosecutors group that fought against relaxing pot sanctions, said, “It’s exactly what we were afraid of, and what we predicted would happen. They’d issue citations, and they’d be ignored.”

    Proponents argued pot convictions made youthful indiscretions into lifelong liabilities. But while unpaid parking tickets can cost drivers their licenses, unpaid pot fines carry no repercussions.

    “There’s nothing that can happen,” Capeless said.

    Thomas Kiley, the Beacon Hill powerbroker who crafted the measure, insisted the law has teeth.

    Tucked in the law is language that places pot possession on par with other citations, and police can haul a scofflaw into court, Kiley said. “We did (anticipate) this,” Kiley said.

    But Cheryl A. Sibley, chief administrator for the Boston Municipal Court Department, said police are powerless because that provision is neutralized by language clearly stating the only penalty the offender pays is the $100 fine.

    Meanwhile, in Braintree on Monday night, police spotted a suspected perv smoking pot in a car filled with coils of rope, a pair of handcuffs and bottles of NyQuil. But they had to let the man go, even though he was awaiting trial on child sexual assault charges.

    Said Deputy Chief Russell Jenkins, “Had the law not been changed, he absolutely would have been placed under arrest.”

    Article URL:

    Build a DIY Portable Air Conditioner

    We've shown you how to make an air conditioner (even for as low as $30), but what if you wanted something you can put in your car and take with you?

    Instructables user CameronSS has a guide to building a portable air conditioner out of materials that you may already have in your garage (if you don't, he lists the average cost for each part and where it can be purchased), including a portable cooler, 12V battery, fans, and a generous helping of ice. Plenty of pictures and sage advice from his father guide you through the building process, and CameronSS ends the instructions with a list of potential modifications to improve the already great gadget.

    Oh, and if you have doubts about how well a DIY air conditioning unit could work, he reported back with these results after putting it to the test in a hot truck:

    When the unit was started, the air in the cab was 95 degrees, parked in the shade after a morning of sun, and the outside heat index was 108 degrees. Within five minutes the cab had cooled to 75 degrees, and the air output was 65 degrees. With two quarts of water that had been refrigerated and 8 pounds of ice cubes, the ice had melted after 40 minutes, leaving 50 degree water, with an output of 65 degree air.

    Not only does the unit work, but it works well and efficiently!

    Check out the link below for detailed instructions on how to build your very own portable air conditioner and while you're down there, hit up the comments section and tell us about how you battle the summer heat.

    Producer Claims That He Created LOST 32 Years Ago


    Anthony Spinner, a television producer whose credits include Baretta and Babes in Toyland, is suing ABC and Touchtone Television with the claim that he created the tv show Lost 32 years ago. Spinner says that he wrote a television pilot for the network in 1977 titled Lost, which contains many ideas and characters that Spinner claims were later used for the hit television series Lost.

    Spinner was paid $30,000 to write a TV pilot, but the network passed on the show in 1977, 1991 and 1994. Spinner is suing for damages and a cut of royalties, profits among other things. You might be wondering why Spinner waited five years to sue. Well, apparently he tried to file a lawsuit a few years back but it was dismissed for procedural reasons.

    A list comparing the two shows has been leaked to TMZ which accounts for a lot of similar storylines and characters. His show featured a airplane headed to Los Angeles which crashes into a tropical jungle-like island, and tells the story of the survivors through the use of flashback sequences to their regular lives, pre-crash. The castaways included:

    • Doctor (Jack?) who was the humanitarian voice of the group,
    • Trailblazer (Locke?) who challenges the group to accept that they are stuck on the island,
    • Strategic military man (Sayid?),
    • Stubborn and reluctant semi-her (Sawyer?) who challenges the leadership and has a dark father-son past,
    • Drug addicted survivor (Charlie?),
    • Physically fit young woman who can perform many of the same tasks as the men (Kate?),
    • An ethnic minority character (Sayid?) that has to deal with the racial slurs from another survivor (Sawyer?),
    • Lone survivor of a scientific expedition (Roussau?) is found with gunpowder, secure shelter, and a relationship with others who were on the island before them (The Others)
    • Female lead with criminal past (Kate?)

    The show also involved a love triangle like Jack/Kate/Sawyer, the discovery of a cold weather animal in the warm tropical jungle (a saber tooth tiger instead of a Polar Bear), and a raft built that is destroyed by the natives.

    And of course, there is always the possibility that the two shows stumbled onto a lot of the same ideas. Most of the characters are regular archetypes. Concepts like love triangles and natives on the island aren’t exactly original, and could have easily come from taking the idea to their logical conclusions. That said, the concept, complete with character-based flashbacks, is awfully similar. Who knows if these claims are accurate, but the producer seems a little bit more credible than the usual crazy crackpot.

    It should be noted that some people believe this is just viral marketing for the show, especially considering that the teleplay was written in 1977.

    A Brief History Of Pablo Escobar's Cocaine Hippos

    A hippo critical situation

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    Inside The KKK Of Today The Department of Homeland Security recently issued a chilling report: Americans, it said, can expect an upsurge in "rightwing extremism" from White nationalists, militias, and groups like the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan, of course, has had a hand in some of the nation's most infamous acts of racial terror and murder.

    Rap Around The World - 30 Languages, One Awesome

    Post Pic

    Very cool video of Rap/Hip-Hop being presented in 30 different countries around the globe. It comes in all shapes and sizes.

    Here is a sampling of 30 different raps, from 30 different countries (in alphabetical order). While I’m not the biggest fan of the genre, this video really showcases how different Rap/Hip-Hop can sound depending on what part of the world you come from. Same concept but way different look and sound.

    Considering it’s only been a few decades since Rap started dominating the U.S. Billboard charts, it amazes me how fast a style of music can spread with a little word of mouth and a lot of love from the internet.


    F.Y.I. The Chinese version takes the cake for me!

    List by appearance:

    American: Missy Elliott
    British: Lady Sovereign
    Cantonese: LMF
    Chinese: Wang Lee-hom
    Croatian: Tram 11
    Danish: Tue Track
    Filipino: Parokya Ni Edgar
    Finnish: Pikku G
    France: Booba
    Germany: Samy Deluxe
    Greek: Stereo Mike
    Hebrew: Shi 360
    Hungarian: Ganxsta Zolee
    Icelandic: Forgotten Lores
    Italy: Frankie Hi-NRG MC
    Japanese: Japanese Rap Sta
    Korean: Yoon Mi Rae (Tasha/T)
    Norwegian: Don Martin (Gatas Parlament)
    Polish: Abradab
    Romania: Daddy Caddy (Bug Mafia)
    Russia: Михей (Mihey)
    Slovenian: Murat & Jose
    Spanish: Violadores del Verso
    Swedish: Fronda
    Swiss: EKR
    Turkish: Ceza
    Vietnamese: VNR
    Wolof: Bad’s Diom

    Inhabitat July 14, 2009 Hybrid Double Decker Volvo Buses Hit London Streets

    by Jorge Chapa

    sustainable design, green design, volvo, hybrid double decker bus, london, fuel efficient vehicle

    London’s iconic double-decker buses recently received an eco update as six highly efficient hybrid Volvo vehicles hit the streets for the first time. The new B5L two-story buses retain their classic red color, but under the hood a hybrid drivetrain saves 25% on fuel consumption while significantly reducing emissions and noise. The buses have entered service in the city as part of a trial run, and if all goes according to plan they will be joined by additional vehicles in the future.

    Volvo’s new B5L buses feature a parallel hybrid I-SAM (Integrated Starter, Alternator, Motor) system, which uses an electric motor and a hybrid engine to power the vehicle. The buses can go up to 12mph in electric mode, after which, the diesel engines steps in. The speed of 12mph might not sound like much, but it is quite perfect for most bus routes.

    The vehicles are operated by the bus operator Arriva London and last week they joined several other hybrid bus lines in the city. Managing Director of Arriva London Mark Yexley stated, “With the support of Transport for London, this is a pioneering project for Arriva to be involved with. These six vehicles will provide an excellent opportunity to assess the benefits and the whole life cost proposition of hybrid technology in a real life day to day operating environment.”

    Calif. tax officials: Legal pot would bring $1.4B

    SAN FRANCISCO – A bill to tax and regulate marijuana in California like alcohol would generate nearly $1.4 billion in revenue for the cash-strapped state, according to an official analysis released Wednesday by tax officials.

    The State Board of Equalization report estimates marijuana retail sales would bring $990 million from a $50-per-ounce fee and $392 million in sales taxes.

    The bill introduced by San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano in February would allow adults 21 and older to legally possess, grow and sell marijuana.

    Ammiano has promoted the bill as a way to help bridge the state's $26.3 billion budget shortfall.

    "It defies reason to propose closing parks and eliminating vital services for the poor while this potential revenue is available," Ammiano said in a statement.

    The way the bill is written, the state could not begin collecting taxes until the federal government legalizes marijuana. A spokesman says Ammiano plans to amend the bill to remove that provision.

    The legislation requires all revenue generated by the $50-per-ounce fee to be used for drug education and rehabilitation programs. The state's 9 percent sales tax would be applied to retail sales, while the fee would likely be charged at the wholesale level and built into the retail price.

    The Equalization Board used law enforcement and academic studies to calculate that about 16 million ounces — or 500 tons — of marijuana are consumed in California each year.

    Marijuana use would likely increase by about 30 percent once the law took effect because legalization would lead to falling prices, the board said.

    Estimates of marijuana use, cultivation and sales are notoriously difficult to come by because of the drug's status as a black-market substance. Calculations by marijuana advocates and law enforcement officials often differ widely.

    "That's one reason why we look at multiple reports from multiple sources — so that no one agenda is considered to be the deciding or determining data," said board spokeswoman Anita Gore.

    Advocates and opponents do agree that California is by far the country's top pot-producing state. Last year law enforcement agencies in California seized nearly 5.3 million plants.

    If passed, Ammiano's bill could increase the tension between the state and the U.S. government over marijuana, which is banned outright under federal law. The two sides have clashed often since state voters passed a ballot measure in 1996 legalizing marijuana for medical use.

    At the same time, some medical marijuana dispensary operators in the state have said they are less fearful of federal raids since U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would defer to state marijuana regulations.

    Advocates pounced on the analysis as ammunition for their claim that the ban on marijuana is obsolete.

    "We can't borrow or slash our way out of this deficit," said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The legislature must consider innovative sources of new revenue, and marijuana should be at the top of that list."

    Ammiano's bill is still in committee. Hearings on the legislation are expected this fall.

    Also Wednesday, three Los Angeles City Council members proposed taxing medical marijuana to help close the city's budget gap.

    Council members Janice Hahn, Dennis Zine and Bill Rosendahl backed a motion asking city finance officials to explore taxing the drug.

    Hahn said that with more than 400 dispensaries operating in the city, the tax could generate significant revenue. The motion pointed out that a proposed tax increase on medical marijuana in Oakland, which has only four dispensaries, was projected to bring in more than $300,000 in 2010.

    Meanwhile, marijuana supporters have taken the first official step toward putting the legalization question directly to California voters.

    A trio of Northern California criminal defense attorneys on Wednesday submitted a pot legalization measure to the state attorney general's office, which must provide an official summary before supporters can begin gathering signatures.

    About 443,000 signatures are necessary to place The Tax, Regulate and Control Cannabis Act on the November 2010 ballot. The measure would repeal all state and local laws that criminalize marijuana.