Iowa Reeling From Flood Damage, Expects More This Week

Iowa state officials are expecting a presidential disaster declaration for parts of the state that have been hit by severe weather damage, including extensive flooding. So far, the weather and flooding has damaged crops, 150 homes, and public infrastructure such as roads, bridges and public buildings. The damage to publish infrastructure alone is estimated to be a future cost of $15.5 million.

Gov. Terry Branstad has issued state disaster declarations for 18 counties so far, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will decide on whether to create a federal designation after they review damage assessments through the rest of the month. Mark Schouten, the director of the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department, says that there are still secondary roads underwater, and “we don’t know how much damaged they’ve sustained.”

Hail and flooding plagued different parts of the state, including Northwest Iowa, which has typically been one of the driest areas, and consequently was ill-prepared to handle extensive flooding. “We will have substantial crop damage separate and above what we’ve discussed here today,” said Branstad in a recent news conference.

According to Sioux City Journal, Eastern Iowa is preparing for the Cedar River to flood after Sunday delivered an additional bout of rain on the area — the river has already risen six feet since then. City officials are setting up pumps, sandbagging the sewage plant, and closing levee gates. One of the most important preventative measures a home can have is a sump pump; property too close to the flooding river, though, would stand little chance. Luckily, earlier extreme floods in 1999 and 2008 have meant that few properties lay beyond the city’s levee protection.

So far, residents have had to be evacuated from about 150 homes that have been damaged or destroyed by the floodwater.

Iranian Hackers Targeted U.S. Military, Government and Media Over Three Years Using Social Media, Says Report

A recent report from iSIGHT Partners, a Dallas-based computer-security firm, has exposed a three-year long cyber espionage campaign coming out of Iran. The attacks affected approximately 2,000 U.S. personal computers since 2011, and they specifically targeted U.S. military members, Senators, diplomats, lobbyists, and Washington-based journalists.

The Iranian hackers used social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to spread malware to their targets. Those who fell victim to the cyber attacks were directed to links that unleashed malware and phishing attempts with fake log-in screens used to steal usernames and passwords.

The hackers even impersonated journalists and defense contractors and set up a fake news website, NewsOnAir.org (not to be confused with India’s NewsOnAir.com). The news site used content copied from other websites, with real writer names swapped out for fake ones.

iSIGHT Partners, which dubbed the threat “NEWSCASTER,” was able to pinpoint Iran as the source of the attacks based on data collected from the attack website. The website used for the attacks was registered in Tehran, with other sites the hackers used hosted in Iran, as well. The malware contained several Persian words, and the time stamps for the hackers’ activity matched the professional working hours in Tehran, with time off on Iranian weekends and holidays.

Military and government computers typically use plenty of software protections, in addition to military-grade transit cases commonly used by the Aerospace industry and Boeing, as well, to physically protect equipment. However, when it comes to hackers, the protections are becoming more and more difficult to utilize as time goes on and Iran begins to catch up with the more complex hacking methods used in China and Russia.

The findings, according to iSIGHT Partners, reveal three “critical insights”: that social media is a powerful and covert way to lure in government leaders and others in related industries; that the hackers may have used this technology to gain knowledge to develop weapons systems; and that these attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated by using multiple social media platforms.

It’s unclear what sort of information was taken by the hackers, but iSIGHT Partners concludes that this effort “is unprecedented in complexity, scale, and longevity,” and that any organizations that may have information of strategic or tactical interest to U.S. enemies should be concerned about threats like NEWSCASTER.

Internet Didn’t Kill Radio Stars, but It is Transforming Them

Forbes is reporting that internet radio is more popular than ever. Perhaps most surprising is the fact that the vast majority of radio is consumed live. In the United Kingdom, for example, 97.3% of all radio is listened to through the web while it’s happening. In this age of podcasts and prerecorded web series on Youtube, this is truly a fascinating finding. 

Despite Early Predictions, Radio is Thriving in the Internet Age
When Napster, Limewire, and all those other peer-to-peer applications lawmakers and music industry professionals love so much started gaining traction during the early 2000’s, many industry insiders believed that the internet would spell the end of radio as we know it. In other words, internet would kill the radio star. More than two-billion people now use the internet, so those early estimations are, at least in a way, accurate. SEO business is booming, as are SEO reseller organizations.

However, ostensibly, the internet hasn’t harmed the world of radio. In fact, it could be argued that the transformative nature of the worldwide web has taken radio and music to a whole new level. According to the most recently available statistics from IFPI, an international body for protecting artists’ music and their income, 39% of all global music sales came from digital sources in 2013, whether from popular music stores, like iTunes, or from digital radio services, like Spotify.

While the Forbes piece focused on online radio consumption in the United Kingdom, the Brits aren’t alone in their voracious appetite. Current estimations have 54.7% of Americans filling their need for radio online, with that number expected to climb to nearly 68% by 2016. While it can and, indeed, should be said that radio has had to change to fit the different flavor that Millennials are looking for, much as they look for online blogs, it should equally be argued that the web propped up and bettered an otherwise failing industry.

Dental and Medical Professionals Stress Importance of Fluoride in Traverse City Tap Water

Traverse City, Colo. has entered the debate on whether tap water shoflourideuld be fluoridated.


According to a June 13 UpNorthLive.com article, local dentists, doctors and health officials are speaking publicly on the importance of keeping fluoride in Traverse City’s water, something the city has done since 1951. Traverse City’s dental and health community are stressing that scientific evidence has “overwhelmingly found fluoridated water is safe and prevents tooth decay” among both children and adults, the article reports.

Health officials are making statements on the benefits of water fluoridation after a small group asked the city to remove its funding for the water fluoridation program from its budget.

Opponents of water fluoridation say that fluoride is a toxic substance that should not be in public water supplies. Wendy Trute, a health officer for Grand Traverse County, told UpNorthLive.com that many items and substances we use every day can be considered toxic if used in high enough concentrations.

“Medicines, or even vitamins, are good examples,” Trute said. “These items enhance our lives when used appropriately, but can pose a health risk if they are consumed in too high of a quantity. The same applies to fluoride in the drinking water. When added to a community water supply at the proper level, fluoride has been scientifically proven to be a safe and effective means of preventing tooth decay in all populations, especially the poor and underserved.”

Fluoride is one of the top ways to prevent tooth decay and dental cavities, and can even reverse decay that has taken place, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Along with accidents and athletic injuries, tooth decay is one of the leading causes of tooth loss in people younger than 35.

According to Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes, the city’s water fluoridation program costs its users less than a dollar each year.

“Water fluoridation is one of the hallmarks of a modern, desirable community that values and helps protect public health,” Estes said. “Medical, dental and public health experts are in near unanimous agreement that water fluoridation is safe and effective, and we simply must continue our water fluoridation program for the public health of our citizens.”

Automatic Doors? They’re Literally for the Birds in This University Building!

Ever since 1960, automatic entry doors and systems have provided universal access to millions of people. Today, we find them in supermarkets, hospitals, schools, shopping malls, and variety of other public buildings, and although they are not mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act in the U.S., they are still essential in making lives easier for many individuals. 

A recent video on YouTube shows that they are also making buildings accessible for… birds?

At the University of Victoria in British Columbia, a group of swallows had begun nesting in an underground parking garage. When the building was converted into a campus bike center, the birds soon learned to use the structure’s new automated doors by hovering long enough to trigger the mechanism that opens them. 

The birds, as seen in the photographer Grant Hughes’s video from May 17, are shown flying up to the door’s sensors and then flying back out of the building. The birds are also seen reentering the building in the same manner.

Hughes wrote in the description, “The swallows quickly learned how to trigger the motion detectors to open the doors and go in and out whenever they want. Smart birds!” The video currently has over 660,000 hits.

Animals frequently have a habit of entering human spaces, sometimes as pests and other times for amusement. In 2012, a monkey named Darwin, wearing a small coat, was found and filmed walking around outside an IKEA store in Toronto, Ontario.

Latest Mass Shooting Leads to More Questions About Gun Regulation, Mental Health Reform

guncontrol

By now, the news of Elliot Rodger’s shooting spree on the University of Santa Barbara’s campus that left six dead and 13 wounded is old news. Rodger’s belief that he was unfairly scorned by women in a time of his life he thought should be all about expressing his sexuality has been buried beneath layers of nonsense ranging from “if only people were nicer to him” to “what a poor, misunderstood guy.” Regardless of the mass media’s disturbing take on what should be a clear cut case of misguided value’s and mental illness, Rodger’s assault that ended in taking his own life is prompting lawmakers across the country to reconsider gun control laws, mental health reform, and the role of the media, just as has been the case with every other mass killing for the last decade.


Rodger’s Rampage Kicks up Talk of Gun, Mental Health Reform
Mr. Rodger bought the semiautomatic weapons used in the Santa Barbara slayings legally. He had no criminal history nor any background of mental health issues that a background check would have flagged. This ability for someone that has demonstrated publicly a desire to do others harm is prompting some legislative changes in California. Many lawmakers are now supporting so-called “gun violence restraining orders.” These orders can be issued by judges. As when seeking out a lawyer, those seeking out a judge’s assistance would have to demonstrate the credibility of their claims and the target individuals actions for the event or events they are seeking assistance. It’s a mild measure when compared to calls for complete prohibition on Capitol Hill, but it could be an effective one.


Of course, as those paying attention to national politics will know, there are many who believe that any sort of gun control legislation will have no effect on deranged individuals’ ability to do harm. Instead, many argue the focus should be placed on mental healthcare reform. Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA) is currently supporting a bill that would give families the ability to make decisions for their loved ones who demonstrate that they might have a problem. Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ) is similarly supporting a mental health measure that would expand federal programs that aim to treat people with mental illness. As is so often the case after a shooting, however, there was a lot of immediate support for reform, but it quickly died out as the issue began to fade from collective memory.


Others Push for Greater Responsibility for Media Outlets
For many, both mental health reform and stricter gun control laws can and should work together to form a tighter net that will catch the criminally deranged before they take any legal action. However, many also argue that the media needs to be made responsible for their part. Consider Youtube’s role in all of this: Google has confirmed that some of Mr. Rodger’s videos that demonstrated his declining mental health as he prepared for his attack on Santa Barbara were removed from Youtube for violating its terms of service. However, with no legal responsibility to report Elliot Rodger as a threat to public security, the company did nothing more than that. 


For that reason, many are calling for laws that would place a legal burden on Google and other online outlets to report people they believe to be a threat to authorities as part of a digital Good Samaritan law. Perhaps then, in concert with gun law and mental health reform, we can finally see an end to these mass killings that have become so common.

Nine Groups of Scientists Receive State Funding To Commercial Clean Energy Initiatives

clean energy

New York State Andrew Cuomo will fund researchers’ initiatives to develop clean energy alternatives. Nine groups of scientists are competing in the New Energy Xcelerator to bring clean energy technologies to the general public. “Participants in the program receive roughly $55,000 in funding, mentoring and support to develop a clean-tech innovation,” The Rochester Business Journal writes. “Additionally, regional seed fund Excell Partners Inc. has committed to investing $150,000 to one or more teams that emerge from the program, which is managed by High Tech Rochester Inc. and partially funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.”



Scientists are developing a wide range of clean energy innovations, from water-based technologies to efficient LED lighting and even mass-produced fuel cells. The SUNY College of Environmental Forestry in Syracuse, NY is, for example, “developing a proprietary process that converts organic waste into high-value biomaterials,” The Rochester Business Journal continues. “David Wetter Consulting and Kelson Solutions,” on the other hand, “are working on a method to mass-produce fuel cells to provide low-cost, efficient electricity,” according to The Democrat and Chronicle. Ultimately, the groups are working to improve any and all energy expenditures — on both residential and commercial levels. Air conditioning, for example, is widely used in U.S. housing — with at least 87% of American households using some kind of air conditioning, according to The Atlantic. Reducing these costs and improving AC energy efficiency would make an incredible difference. 



Officials selected the nine teams from an original pool of 56 applicants. The ongoing event is managed by proof-of-concept center NEXUS-NY, which is, in turn, funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and High Tech Rochester.