Friday, December 20, 2019

White Sands to Become Nation’s Newest National Park

A 120-year-old idea to make New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument a national park could be realized before the end of the year. The wave-like dunes of gypsum sand cover 275 square miles of desert in southern New Mexico and attract thousands of visitors each year. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico says the park designation was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 and approved by the U.S. Senate earlier this week and that President Donald Trump has agreed to sign the legislation. In addition to a name change, the legislation clears the way for a land swap between the National Park Service and the U.S. Army that will enhance missions at White Sands Missile Range. White Sands National Monument is 65 miles north of the White Sands Missile Range, where testing of the first atomic bomb took place in 1945. The idea of making White Sands a national park dates back to 1898, but failed when the Interior Department objected to inclusion of a hunting preserve there. It has been designated a national monument since 1933. (Public News Service)


Maine could have the first floating wind farm in the Americas

Central Maine Power Company recently signed a 20-year contract with Maine Aqua Ventus, which plans to build two floating wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine. The Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine developed the technology behind Maine Aqua Ventus. CMP will buy electricity generated from Maine Aqua Ventus. It developed this floating turbine technology because Maine’s coastline runs too deep for an offshore wind farm, which is tied to the ocean floor. While a wind turbine can be located far from the coast, which could be difficult to get support from the lobster and fishing industries. Right now, there’s a test site several miles off of Monhegan Island, the first pilot project of floating wind technology in the Americas. It is one-eighth the scale of a planned six-megawatt turbine. Since the test site launched in 2013, they have been evaluating its potential impact, including on marine life and birds. In June, Governor Janet Mills signed a bill directing the Public Utilities Commission to approve the Maine Aqua Ventus contract. If the project passes various permitting processes, including local, state, environmental and ecological reviews, the pilot turbines could be complete as soon as 2022. (CNBC)


Sick of huge TV packages?

It seems that a major cable company, Comcast, have heard you and will soon be offering packages starting at $10 a month. These new packages are part of what Comcast calls their Comcast Vision 2020. This is an effort to draw cord cutters back to cable TV. Starting next year, Comcast will start to offer smaller TV packages called “Choice”. These packages will cost between $10 and $20 each allowing customers to build their own TV bundle. There are premade packages for news and entertainment and even a package to add local TV channels. The catch with these new Comcast Choice packages is you will still be paying fees like equipment fees if you want a DVR for example. If you are not careful, these smaller bundles could add up to be more than Comcast’s traditional bundles, which Comcast still plans to sell. Comcast’s smaller $10 packages are an attempt to bring cord cutters back to cable TV. The hope is cord cutters will eventually add additional packages or services like wireless phone or home security to the inexpensive Comcast Choice packages. No exact date has been set for when the new Comcast Choice packages will launch but they will be rolling out in 2020. A few other changes that Comcast is making with their Vision 2020 plan include dropping some channels from their current packages and making it harder for phone agents to offer discounts. Comcast reportedly wants to limit discounts for customers who are no longer considered new to only customers who bundle other services like phone or home security. (Cord Cutters News)


Earth’s Magnetic North Pole Keeps Moving Towards Siberia at a Mysteriously Fast Pace

Our planet is restless, and its poles are wandering. Of course, the geographic north pole is in the same place it always was, but its magnetic counterpart – indicated by the N on any compass – is roaming towards Siberia at record-breaking speeds that scientists don’t fully comprehend. It’s worth stating that while the pace is remarkable, the movement itself isn’t. The magnetic north pole is never truly stationary, owing to fluctuations in the flow of molten iron within the core of our planet, which affect how Earth’s magnetic field behaves. That slow wander has quickened of late. In recent decades, the magnetic north pole accelerated to an average speed of 34 miles per year. The most recent data suggest its movement towards Russia may have slowed down to about 25 miles annually, but even so, compared to theoretical measurements going back hundreds of years, this is a phenomenon scientists have never witnessed before. While researchers can’t fully explain the core fluctuations affecting the north pole’s extreme restlessness, they can map Earth’s magnetic field and calculate its rate of change over time, which helps us to predict how it may be distributed in the future. (Science Alert)


151 years to gender parity?

It will take North America 151 years to close its gender gap, as women’s economic participation is stalling, estimates the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report. The ranking of economic, educational, health and political empowerment finds that while women have more leadership positions than before, their presence and pay in the job market have stalled. Why? Women are more likely to be in roles that are being automated and few are entering positions where wages are quickly growing, the report suggests. (World Economic Forum)


Federal workers win parent perk

As part of the biggest defense spending bill ever — totaling $738 billion — the Senate approved a rider expanding parental leave for federal workers. All 2.1 million civilian U.S. government workers, who now receive 12 unpaid weeks, would get pay for the period. President Trump has said he would sign the bill. The new policy would apply to any birth, adoption or fostering, and proponents hope it will set a precedent for the private sector to match, where the average paid parental leave is 4.1 weeks, according to a 2017 survey. (Vox)


Federal appeals court strikes down ObamaCare rule, setting up Supreme Court showdown

A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that a key aspect of the ObamaCare law is unconstitutional setting up another likely Supreme Court showdown in a presidential election year. The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals by a 2-1 vote concluded the original law’s key funding mechanism known as the individual mandate, requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance or face a tax penalty, was properly eliminated by Congress and therefore the entire law could not be enforced. The appeals panel sent the issue back to the lower court to decide whether other aspects of the Affordable Care Act must fall. The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed with Texas-based U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s finding that the insurance requirement was rendered unconstitutional when, in 2017, Congress eliminated a tax penalty on people without insurance. (Fox News)


FCC funds 25Mbps, data-capped satellite in rural areas

The Federal Communications Commission is giving $87.1 million in rural-broadband funding to satellite operator Viasat to help the company lower prices and raise data caps. The FCC’s Connect America Fund generally pays ISPs to expand their networks into rural areas that lack decent home Internet access. Viasat’s satellite service already provides coverage of 98 percent of the US population in 50 states, so it doesn’t need government funding to expand its network the same way that wireline operators do. But Viasat will use the money to offer Internet service “at lower cost to consumers, while also permitting higher usage allowances, than it typically provides in areas where it is not receiving Connect America Fund support,” the FCC said. Viasat’s $87.1 million is to be used over the next 10 years “to offer service to more than 121,700 remote and rural homes and businesses in 17 states.” Viasat must provide speeds of at least 25Mbps for downloads and 3Mbps for uploads. (ARS Technica)


Finally Friday Snows In On Us With:

  • Games Day
  • International Human Solidarity Day
  • Mudd Day
  • National Sangria Day
  • Poet Laureat Day
  • Underdog Day (3rd Friday)
  • National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day (Friday of Third full week)
  • World Day of Prayer and Action for Children

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