The Groundscraper

For most hotels the key selling point is a room with a view, particularly if it towers over a bustling cityscape or sprawling countryside.

But designers behind this new luxury resort have gone in the completely opposite direction to attract customers – by creating a ‘groundscraper’ hotel built 16 floors beneath the earth’s surface.

The hugely ambitious underground hotel project will see a 19-storey, 380-room structure chiselled out of a giant quarry in Songjiang, near Shanghai.

Designers have set aside a site about 30 miles from the city of Shanghai, in an abandoned quarry at the foot of Tianmashan Mountain.

While towering skyscrapers boast of rooftop restaurants and penthouse luxury, the InterContinental Shimao Shanghai Wonderland’s bottom two floors will include an underwater restaurant, athletic complex for water sports and 10-meter deep aquarium.

Surrounding the unique hotel will be a 428,000 square-meter theme park, complete with room for bungee jumping and rock climbing overlooking the descending 16 floors.

Project developers Shimao Property Group worked with British engineering firm Atkins to design the imaginative hotel, which they hope to complete in late 2014 or early 2015.

It is thought the vast project will cost at least $555 million, with nightly rooms starting at around $320.

Attribution: Mail Online

Europa gets Drilled

A laser-powered drill could be used to penetrate the thick layers of ice on Jupiter’s frozen moon Europa, allowing robot probes to explore the oceans beneath.

The problem scientists who hope to study the oceans beneath the crust of Europa have faced has always been the amount of energy needed to melt through the miles of ice.

Batteries would not last long enough, even a small nuclear reactor would be too big, and solar power would be absolutely useless so deep in the depths of the moon’s oceans.

But the VALKYRIE drill would leave its bulky power plant on the surface of the moon, with a high-powered laser shooting down a fibre-optic cable to run the device.

Once it had penetrated icy crust of Europa, it could then explore the oceans beneath collecting and analysing samples before melting its way back to the surface, sealing the hole behind it.

Inventor and explorer Bill Stone unveiled the design yesterday at Nasa’s Astrobiology Science Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

He told Wired Science: ‘Our modest goal over the next three years is to use a 5,000-watt laser to send a cryobot through up to 250 meters of ice.’

‘All the data show there are no show-stoppers for doing that. But from my standpoint, this is child’s play compared to what we could do.’

Dr Stone’s team combined several simultaneous advances in different fields, where researchers weren’t necessarily aware of each others’ work.

Bart Hogan, an optics expert and principal engineer on the project, told Wired: ‘It’s like you have all these groups making lenses for better eyeglasses, and someone says, “Hey, we can put these lenses together and build a telescope,”‘

With a doctorate in structural engineering and 11 patents to his credit, Dr Stone has already designed a range of robot explorers, of which VALKYRIE is just the latest.

His first robot, DEPTHX, descended deep into flooded Mexican hydrothermal springs to to find and collect samples of previously unknown microbial species between 2003 and 2007.

The next, called ENDURANCE, did the same thing in a freshwater lake hidden beneath a permanent ice cap in Antarctica in 2008 and 2009, creating the first 3-D chemistry map of a sub-glacial lake.

It was while testing ENDURANCE in advance of the Antarctic mission that Dr Stone came up with the novel power solution for VALKYRIE.

ENDURANCE used a tiny fibre optic cable – thinner than a strand of human hair – to communicate with the team sitting at the surface.

Dr Stone was suddenly struck with the idea that a much bigger cable could carry immense amounts of energy in the form of photons.

Researching the possibilities, he found that while there had been huge developments in both industrial lasers and fibre optic cables, no one had tried to fire the former down the latter.

Most development in the technology of fibre optic cables had been in the field of telecommunications, which uses very low power, Dr Stone told Wired.

While big industrial lasers, which can be powerful enough to cut a car in half, were usually only used in sealed units, with safety as the overriding concern, he added.

However, whether the new concept works or not, it is unlikely to make a mission to Europa anytime soon.

Nasa still have no clear, high-resolution pictures of what the surface of the moon is like and whether or not it is possible to land a spacecraft on there.

Mr Stone’s team has already built and tested the laser-fibre-optic power system at his laboratory in Texas.

They now plan to test a prototype of VALKYRIE at the Matanuska Glacier, Alaska, in June 2013.

Attribution: Wired Science, Mail Online

Going Postal

From Hope Yen of the AP:

WASHINGTON — A Senate bill aimed at saving the U.S. Postal Service would make it harder to close thousands of low-revenue post offices and end Saturday mail delivery, even though the struggling agency says those moves are just what’s needed to reduce its massive debt and become profitable again.

The measure takes steps to help the agency avert bankruptcy as early as this fall, through a cash infusion of $11 billion to pay off debt and reduce costs by offering retirement incentives to 100,000 employees. But the bill sidesteps decisions on postal closings, buying time for lawmakers who would rather avoid the wrath of voters in an election year.

The Senate planned to vote quite soon on a final bill, after considering amendments that could restrict the Postal Service from further cuts to first-class mail delivery. During debate, lawmakers agreed to hold off closing rural post offices for a year, give communities new ways to appeal, prevent any closings before the November elections but also shut five of the seven post offices on the Capitol grounds.

The final bill was expected to pass the Senate but faces an uncertain future. The House has not taken up its own version, which would create a national commission with the power to scrap no-layoff clauses in employee contracts.

“This of course kicks the can down the road,” complained Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who unsuccessfully pushed for a commission in the Senate bill. He said the current proposal failed to address longer-term fixes and delayed major decisions. “We’ll be on the floor in two years addressing this issue again, because it is not a solution.”

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe also has criticized the Senate bill as a short-term answer. Noting that more people every year are switching to the Internet to send letters and pay bills, he has called the Postal Service’s business model “broken.” The agency has estimated that the Senate bill would only provide it enough liquidity to continue operating for two years or three years.

The Postal Service said Wednesday it preferred legislation “that will provide it with the speed and flexibility to adapt to a changing marketplace for mailing and shipping products.”

At stake are more than 100,000 jobs, part of a postal cost-cutting plan to save some $6.5 billion a year by closing up to 252 mail-processing centers and 3,700 post offices. The agency, $12 billion in debt, says it needs to begin closings this year. At the request of Congress, Donahoe agreed to delay closings until May 15 to give lawmakers time to pass legislation.

The Senate bill proposes cutting about half the mail processing centers the Postal Services wants to close, from 252 to 125, and allowing more areas to maintain overnight first-class mail delivery for at least three more years. Beyond the one-year freeze on closing rural post offices, the Postal Service would face additional layers of approval before closing any mail facility.

The Postal Service on Tuesday circulated a smaller list of mail processing centers that probably would close under the Senate bill; many in more rural or small states would be spared. For instance, centers would survive in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Missouri and Vermont, whose senators were sponsors of the postal bill or pushed amendments, according to the preliminary list obtained by The Associated Press. A facility in Easton, Md., also would stay open. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., previously attempted to block the postal bill in protest of that specific closure.

Also surviving were all four mail processing centers in Nevada, home to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as all eight centers in Colorado and all five centers in Utah.

The Postal Service would get an infusion of roughly $11 billion, which is basically a refund of overpayments made in previous years to a federal retirement fund. The money could pay down debt and finance buyouts to 100,000 postal employees.

The agency could make smaller annual payments into a future retiree health benefits account, gain flexibility in trimming worker compensation benefits and find additional ways to raise postal revenue under a new chief innovation officer.

An amendment approved Tuesday would bar the Postal Service from closing post offices for one year if they are in areas with fewer than 50,000 people, unless there was no significant community opposition.

After one year, the agency would have to take rural issues into special consideration. Post offices generally would be protected if the closest mail facility was more than 10 miles away.

“Our post offices are the lifeblood for towns across our state and a source of good-paying jobs in areas hard-hit by the economic downturn,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who co-sponsored the amendment. “This amendment protects rural post offices, with a realistic eye toward the future.”

Attribution: Karen

Joke of the Day

A Groaner

A spokesperson for the U.S. Mint announced that a new fifty-cent piece was being issued to honor two great American patriots.

On one side of the coin would be Teddy Roosevelt and on the other side, Nathan Hale.

Asked why two people were going to be on the same coin, the spokesman replied, “Now, when you toss a coin you can simply call…. ‘Ted’s or Hale’s’.”

New Town Management

No doubt, most of us have probably seen or at least heard of the demonstration of EPA civility. If you have, it bears another look. If you haven’t, this article is a good synopsis of events. As you read and watch,  just imagine if this were the Bush adminstration and Inhofe was maybe, Chuckie Schumer. Imagine the theatre, the spectacle, the wailing and nashing of teeth by every news outlet in the land. We all assume this administrator was speaking metaphorically, but with bunch, who knows.

 

From Craig Bannister at CNS News:

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) took to the Senate floor today to draw attention to a video of a top EPA official saying the EPA’s “philosophy” is to “crucify” and “make examples” of oil and gas companies – just as the Romans crucified random citizens in areas they conquered to ensure obedience.

Inhofe quoted a little-watched video from 2010 of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official, Region VI Administrator Al Armendariz, admitting that EPA’s “general philosophy” is to “crucify” and “make examples” of oil and gas companies.

In the video, Administrator Armendariz says:

“I was in a meeting once and I gave an analogy to my staff about my philosophy of enforcement, and I think it was probably a little crude and maybe not appropriate for the meeting, but I’ll go ahead and tell you what I said:

“It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go in to a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them.

“Then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”

“It’s a deterrent factor,” Armendariz said, explaining that the EPA is following the Romans’ philosophy for subjugating conquered villages.

Soon after Armendariz touted the EPA’s “philosophy,” the EPA began smear campaigns against natural gas producers, Inhofe’s office noted in advance of today’s Senate speech:

“Not long after Administrator Armendariz made these comments in 2010, EPA targeted US natural gas producers in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming.

“In all three of these cases, EPA initially made headline-grabbing statements either

Indoctrinate the Children

insinuating or proclaiming outright that the use of hydraulic fracturing by American energy producers was the cause of water contamination, but in each case their comments were premature at best – and despite their most valiant efforts, they have been unable to find any sound scientific evidence to make this link.”

In his Senate speech, Sen. Inhofe said the video provides Americans with “a glimpse of the Obama administration’s true agenda.”

That agenda, Inhofe said, is to “incite fear” in the public with unsubstantiated claims and “intimidate” oil and gas companies with threats of unjustified fines and penalties – then, quietly backtrack once the public’s perception has been firmly jaded against oil and natural gas.

Is That Your 401k?

I recall speaking to some folks a few years ago about the possible confiscation of peoples retirement as the government runs out of money. I also recall, everyone I spoke with called me a crazy person. Well, here we are a few years later and looky, looky. They aren’t proposing full confiscation yet, but it’s a start.

Feds eye retirement-fund tax to cut $16 trillion-plus deficit

By GREGORY BRESIGER

Uncle Sam, in a desperate attempt to fix its $16 trillion-plus deficit, is leering over Americans’ retirement nest egg as its new bailout fund.

Capitol Hill politicians are assessing tax changes that could let the Internal Revenue Service lay claim to a portion of the $18 trillion sitting in 401(k) accounts and other tax breaks used by middle-class workers, including cutting the mortgage tax deduction.

A commission looking for ways to close the deficit, and, noting the extent of 401(k) tax breaks, recommends an examination of the system as one way to prevent government bankruptcy.

Besides 401(k)s, other possibilities include the mortgage-interest deduction on second homes, as well as benefits from employer-provided health insurance, which are untaxed now.

Under current 401(k) rules, total employee/employer contributions can’t exceed $50,000. In the proposed rule change, employer/employee contributions would be limited to 20 percent of the employee’s compensation, with a maximum of $20,000, the so-called 20/20 proposal.

Another proposal being discussed in Congress says all tax deductions on 401(k)s and IRAs to be replaced with an 18 percent credit. The credit, according to a proposal that has been endorsed by economist William Gale, would be placed directly in a person’s retirement account.

“Unlike the current system,” Gale told Congress, “workers’ and firms’ contributions to employer-based 401(k) accounts would no longer be excluded from income and would be subject to taxation, contributions to IRAs would no longer be tax-deductible and any contributions to a 401(k) plan would be treated as taxable income.”

In other words, the employee and employer would no longer get a deduction under the Gale plan, they would qualify for a credit. And the credit would “increase [government] revenues by about $458 billion,” Gale says.

Last week a group of retirement industry experts went to Capitol Hill to criticize these proposed changes in retirement-plan rules. “These changes could have unintended consequences,” warns Lynn Dudley of the American Benefits Council (ABC).

Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee about the proposals, Randolf Hardock, of ABC’s board of directors, said, “[The idea] could seriously undermine the retirement savings system.”

Jack VanDerhei, research director of Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), believes either of the two proposed 401(k) changes under review would have a “catastrophic” effect on the current retirement saving system.

The 20/20 plan provisions curtailing non-taxable contributions would freeze out many higher-paid employees from signing up for a 401(k), which could lead some companies, according to critics, to question if plans would still be worth offering employees.

Reducing retirement-plan contributions for those at the higher end of the wage scale will inevitably have a bad effect on those in the middle and at the bottom, ABC’s Dudley says.

Joke of the Day

Two men were out playing golf on a nice Saturday afternoon.

They were getting frustrated, though, because the two women who were playing right in front of them were quite slow, and were holding up the men’s game.

“Don’t they know their supposed to let us play through?!” asked the first man.

The other man shook his head. “I’m going to go ask them if we can play through,” said the first man, emphatically, “Enough is enough!”

He started walking over toward the women, but as he got close, he suddenly turned around and came back, white as a ghost.

“Oh God,” he said to his friend, “This is awful. You’re going to have to ask those women if we can play through. You see, one of them is my wife, and the other is my mistress!”

The other man shrugged, and said “No sweat.”

He walked over toward the women, and just as he was getting close, turned around and came running back to his pal. His eyes wide open, he said – “Small world isn’t it!”