December 9, 2007

Packers Clinch Division

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the Green Bay Packers have clinched the NFC North Division title and a playoff berth with their 38-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders Sunday.

Led by two special teams touchdowns by cornerback Will Blackmon, the Packers cruised to an easy victory after losing to the Dallas Cowboys a week earlier.

Blackmon who has missed a lot of the season due to a broken foot, scored on a 57 yard punt return and also recovered a muffed punt in the endzone for a touchdown.

Ryan Grant also had a sensational game for the Packers as he rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown. Grant has more rush yards after week 8 than any other running back in the league.

The balanced attack of the Packers allowed for Brett Favre to ease into the game, a week after separating his shoulder and bruising his throwing elbow forcing him to leave the game against Dallas. By starting he increased his consecutive starts streak to 250 regular-season games.

He demonstrated that he was still an elite quarterback, even while being banged up, as he threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80 yard touchdown to Greg Jennings.

Wisconsin Changing Directions of Biofuel

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports about the new generation of biofuels that Wisconsin seeks to develop to reduce carbon emissions.

Ethanol which has been praised by many as the next big alternative fuel, has considerable opponents as it doesn't eliminate a high amount of greenhouse emissions as it takes a great deal of petroleum to produce it.

Therefore Madison researchers as well as northern Wisconsin papermakers have begun to research the possibility of alternative fuels made from wood chips to switchgrass.

Interest in next-generation ethanol, known as cellulosic ethanol, is percolating because of the federal government's goal to produce 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels by 2017, said Masood Akhtar, president of the nonprofit consulting firm CleanTech Partners Inc. in Middleton. The energy bill in Congress is aiming for 36 billion gallons by 2022. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel )

Meanwhile, laboratories at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are getting rolling on scientific research to more easily break down the sugars in cornstalks and other plants. Earlier this year, UW received a $125 million award to establish its first federal research center in nearly a century, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel )

Thousands Brave the Cold For Chance At Money

The Star Tribune reported that over 8,000 people waited outside for "Deal or No Deal" auditions on Saturday at Denny Hecker's Inver Grove Heights Toyota dealership.

The show gives contestants a chance of winning $1 million dollars by picking the proper briefcase.

Casting officials were on hand looking for contestants to be on the show this season or the next. Luke Conklin, casting director said that the Twin Cities and Philadelphia were their only stops for the upcoming shows.

"I'm looking for energy, fun, and someone I want to root for," Conklin said. "I could make their dreams come true right now." (Star Tribune)

One of the more creative ideas was put forth by Mike and Lynda Dupre who advocated for a couples edition of the show. They showed up for their interview dressed as an angel and a devil.

The Pioneer Press reports that over 10,000 were present to wait in line for 7 hours in order to audition for the show.

After a day of waiting in the cold, a handful of people had required medical attention as waiting outside in the cold all day and then going into warm buildings caused them to feel faint. A woman wearing high-heeled leather boots developed mild frostbite.

U.S. Nuclear Lab Computers Hacked

The New York Times reports that the Department of Homeland Security released information that a cyber attack linked to China occurred at a federal government's nuclear weapons laboratory.

Attacks on Oak Ridge National Laboratory computers in Tennessee occurred from web and internet adresses that had origins in China, but no proof was evident that is was the Chinese government or Chinese citizens. Officials said that classified information was not compromised.

“At this point, we have determined that the thieves made approximately 1,100 attempts to steal data with a very sophisticated strategy that involved sending staff a total of seven ‘phishing’ e-mails, all of which at first glance appeared legitimate,? laboratory Thom Mason wrote in an e-mail message sent to employees on Monday. “At present we believe that about 11 staff opened the attachments, which enabled the hackers to infiltrate the system and remove data.? (New York Times)

The original email and first chance of stolen data occurred on October 29, 2007.

The Washington Post reports that the assault appeared "to be part of a coordinated attempt to gain access to computer networks at numerous laboratories and other institutions across the country," lab director Thom Mason said in a memo to the 4,200 employees at the Department of Energy facility.

"There was no classified data of any kind compromised," lab spokesman Bill Stair said Thursday. "There are people who think that because they accessed this database that they had access to the lab's supercomputer. That is not the case. There was no access at all." (Washington Post)

The lab currently posses the second faster supercomputer in the world and is planning to build another.

Defense Security Contends Iran Still a Threat

The New York Times reports that Defense Security Robert M. Gates believes that Iran is still threat even without nuclear weapons.

Days ago the United States intelligence report showed that Iran had frozen its nuclear weapons program. However Gates said that they could restart the program at anytime.

He also said that while nuclear weapons may not be present other risks are still likely.

“I assume that it will also embrace as valid American intelligence assessments of its funding and training of militia groups in Iraq, its deployment of lethal weapons and technology to both Iraq and Afghanistan, its ongoing support of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas that have murdered thousands of innocent civilians and its continued research and development of medium-range ballistic missiles that are not particularly cost-effective unless equipped with warheads carrying weapons of mass destruction,? Gates said. (New York Times)

Opposition to the U.S. Middle East policy have criticized the U.S. for allowing Israel to maintain a nuclear arsenal while condemning other countries efforts.

The Washington Post reports Gates taking a strong stance against Iran.

"Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or cost in the blood of innocents," Gates said in a speech to defense leaders from 23 countries attending the Manama Dialogue, a security conference organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. (Washington Post)

He also stated that all Arab nations should help and aid the Iraq government for if Iraq fails as a state the Middle East will be in trouble.

December 2, 2007

Blog on Records/CAR

In the Star Tribune story, "13 Seconds in August", computer assisted reporting was essential.

First, the designers and journalists involved with the project had to be able to search databases to be able to find the individuals involved in the tragedy. In order to do so various electronic databases must of been used. Knowledge to properly use search terms and skills were necessary to be able to associate victims along with the cars that they were driving when the bridge collapsed.

After specific names were obtained, their contact information or family information had to be obtained on the internet so that interviews could be obtained for the project.

Besides skills that were necessary to gain information, various computer program skills were needed. The article allows for readers to interact by clicking on specific areas of the computer screen to obtain information about the various victims of the disaster. Knowledge in some design program was needed to be able to do this.

There was also some videos embedded in the article that would require some computer expertise.

November 30, 2007

Clinton Campaigners Taken Hostage

The New York Times reports that a man has taken two Clinton campaign workers hostage at a Rochester, New Hampshire campaign office.

Senator Clinton was supposed to appear before the Democratic National Committee today in Virginia but has canceled her appearance as she deals with the ongoing situation in NH.

As Democratic national chairman Howard Dean made the announcement in a hotel ballroom here, gasps were heard from the crowd of several hundred delegates and party officials.“Details are sketchy at this time,? Mr. Dean said. “We will keep them in our prayers and hope for a resolution of this situation.? (New York Times )

Reports from WMUR state that witnesses claim that the armed man who has taken two campaign workers hostage has a bomb-like device strapped to his chest. The man has demanded to speak to Mrs. Clinton directly.

Currently police have surrounded the building with guns drawn. "There are sharp shooters on the roof, and police are negotiating with someone in the building," said another witness, who did not want to be identified. "The police are notifying all the business owners on the street to evacuate. There are fire trucks behind the Hillary Clinton office." (WMUR )

Minnesota Braces for First Winter Storm

The Star Tribune reports that the seasons first big winter storm is expected to hit Minneapolis on Saturday.

The storm which is currently forming in the Rocky Mountains, has the potential of delivering sleet, freezing rain and as much as 10 inches of snow.

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch in effect until Saturday, as the chance for precipitation is 100 percent. Poor driving conditions are also expected to be poor as winds from 10 to 25 miles per hour will cause blowing and drifting snow.

More snow is in the forecast for Tuesday as well.

KARE 11 reports that the heaviest snow could fall north of the Twin Cities in a large band from Alexandria to Duluth and up the North Shore.

November 29, 2007

Victims' lawyers denied access to collapsed bridge information

According to the Star Tribune a Hennepin County judge has decided that a Minneapolis law firm will not be given access to additional data about the bridge collapse.

Minneapolis law firm Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben, sought to obtain all the information that has been collected in regards to the bridge collapse and access to where pieces of the bridge are stored, so that it could better represent bridge victims.

After hearing arguments for weeks, District Judge Herbert Lefler decided that the firms claim of the bridge information falling into the state's data practices act was not correct. The act states that "government data collected, created, received, maintained or disseminated by a government entity shall be public unless classified by statute ... or federal law, as nonpublic or protected nonpublic." Because the data is not public under federal law, the law firm won't have access, Lefler wrote. (Star Tribune)

The Pioneer Press reports that he Minnesota Department of Transportation maintains it cannot release that information because federal law bars it, unless the National Transportation Safety Board approves it.

November 28, 2007

ABC News and Facebook Establish Partnership

According to the New York Times Facebook and ABC News have reached an agreement that will allow for Facebook members to interact with ABC reporters.

Along with the announcement of their partnership they also made it public that they will co-sponsor Democratic and Republican debates in New Hampshire on Jan. 5.

“There are debates going on at all times within Facebook,? David Westin, the president of ABC News and a new Facebook member, said. “This allows us to participate in those debates, both by providing information and by learning from the users.? (New York Times)

A few weeks ago the partnership started when Rick Klein, the author of ABC’s widely read political newsletter The Note, and Sunlen Miller, who has been covering Barack Obama, created Facebook personal pages that people could react with them on.

Encouraging users to interact with reporters is a significant step for a news organization like ABC News. Until recently, a viewer wanting to respond to Mr. Klein’s daily essay could only write a comment or send an e-mail message to a generic address. Now, they can send private messages directly to reporters or can post them on the reporters’ public Facebook pages. (New York Times)

No money was exchanged in the deal, as both parties are just seeking mutual benefits that come along with the deal. ABC News gets its content put on a site with 56 million active users, whereas Facebook adds a credible and new source of news for its political section.

November 27, 2007

Potential Peace?

The New York Times reports that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have decided to work towards peace.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas joined President Bush in Annapolis, Md., where he said a “road map to a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," was established.

The agreement between Israel and Palestine simply sets up negotiations that should occur in the coming weeks. Key issues that must be discussed include Israeli's in the West Bank, Palestinian state borders, final status of Jerusalem, and whether Palestinian refugees can return to their homes in Israel.

Delegations from 49 countries and international organizations were present at the event held at the United States Naval Academy. Among them were China, Brazil, Poland and South Africa.

As a sign of how difficult the talks will be, violence broke out during demonstrations in the West Bank even as the leaders spoke, killing at least one, when security forces loyal to Mr. Abbas clashed with Islamists who brand him a traitor for taking part in the Annapolis talks. (New York Times )

Many believe that no matter the outcomes of negotiations, that to even have the two sides talking and working towards a solution is a victory.

Mr. Bush acknowledged that a difficult road lied ahead. “Achieving this goal will not be easy,? he said in the excerpts of his prepared remarks. “If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago.? (New York Times )

November 18, 2007

The Show Must Go On

The New York Times reports that "Saturday Night Live" continued live performances Saturday night, even during the on-going writers strike.

However this episode of NBC's late night television show was out of the ordinary. There were no television cameras, it didn't take place at Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center, rather it was at Upright Citizens Brigade theater, and there was no new material.

All current cast members and some returnees performed an array of sketches that had either been previously aired favorites or ones that were scratched from prior shows. Cast members did their own makeup and even searched for their own props to prepare for the show.

“We’re like cranky trained monkeys if we don’t get to perform,? said Amy Poehler, who is also founder of the theater. “We all thought about what we’re going to do during the strike, and because we have no other skills, we just scraped this together.?

She added: “We’re treating this as an optimistic night. We’re celebrating all the hard-working people who have been laid off.? (New York Times)

Proceeds from the tickets were to go to SNL’s production staff, most of whom had had been recently laid off; some were in the audience. But the performance was less about money than community. (A sold-out live version of “30 Rock,? the Tina Fey comedy, is scheduled for 8 p.m. Monday at the theater.) (New York Times)

Strike negotiations are expected to resume on Nov. 26 with writers seeking to gain some sort of payment for online content that their shows provide for the networks.

November 16, 2007

New Saftey Measure At U

According to the Star Tribune the University Minnesota has started a new service to alert students of dangerous situations and school closings.

Starting today, students on the Twin Cities campus can sign up for TXT-U, a service that sends alerts to their cell phone. The university already sends alerts to email accounts and posts them on their website.

School officials realized that in today's society college students usually always have their cell phones on them. Whereas, it may take a couple a couple hours for them to check their email.

According to M:Metrics, a company that measures how mobile technology is used, more than 75 percent of people in the 18 to 24 age group use text messaging. (Star Tribune )

After the Virginia Tech incident it has become a priority for schools to alert their students of dangers.

The system and program will cost the university about $10,000 a year.

The text-messaging system will be used only on rare occasions. A gunman on campus or a bomb scare will certainly prompt a text messaging, but a crime alert about auto break-ins probably wouldn't. A tornado warning or a campus being closed for a blizzard are likely text candidates, but a thunderstorm won't be. (Star Tribune )

Metro Transit Goes Green

The Star Tribune reports that Metro Transit bought 17 new hybrid buses and paraded them through Nicollet Mall on Thursday.

The hybrids cost $557,000 each, and the ones already in Metro Transit's fleet have averaged 4.71 miles to the gallon, compared with 3.86 for a standard bus. (Star Tribune )

The federal government pays 80 percent of the cost of a new bus, with local sources paying the rest.

With the new buses Metro Transit plans to save 1,965 gallons of fuel annually for each bus. Soot and other pollutants will be lessened as well.

The hybrid buses also are more quiet than the standard bus noted Theresa Cooke, who commutes from northeast Minneapolis to downtown. (Star Tribune )

Over the next four years 150 more hybrids will be purchased.

To promote the addition of the "green" Metro Transit will give free rides on routes 17 and 18 on Monday, and a hybrid will be moving to random routes for the rest of the year offering free rides.

Planes Avoid Midair Collision

The New York Times reports that two airliners almost collided 25,000 feet about Indiana Tuesday night.

A United Express and a Midwest Airlines plan came within 600 vertical feet of each other. The safety limit is 1,000 feet. They were able to avoid catastrophe due to an onboard collision alert system that alerted the pilots of both planes to separate further.

The near collision was the result of the third error in about six weeks from a radar control center in Illinois. Which has many questioning how safe the crowed Chicago airspace is.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating, classifies errors at radar control centers on an A-through-D scale, with A the most serious. The error Tuesday was classified a B, the third B-grade mistake since Oct. 1 at the Chicago Center, one of about 20 regional traffic control centers around the country. ( New York Times)

“Part of our review is to determine how and why this happened,? said an F.A.A spokeswoman, Elizabeth Isham Cory, “to find ways of preventing it from happening again.? ( New York Times)

The maneuver was so smooth, according to Midwest spokeswoman Carol Skornicka, that passengers and the flight attendant didn't notice. She said it was "too close for comfort" but added that the chance of a collision was "very remote." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel )