After hottest year, are milder days ahead?

A NASA graphic shows how much hotter temperatures were in the 2012-2016 time frame, compared with the 20th-century average. (NASA Graphic)

A NASA graphic shows how much hotter temperatures were in the 2012-2016 time frame, compared with the 20th-century average. (NASA Graphic)

Today’s outlook for climate trends is a good-news, bad-news situation for the Pacific Northwest.

First, the bad news: NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say 2016 ranked as the hottest year on record in terms of global mean temperatures.

NOAA said the year’s average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 58.69 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 1.69 degrees F above the 20th-century average and 0.07 degrees F above the previous record, set in 2015.

NASA used a slightly different set of figures, including more readings from the Arctic, to determine that last year’s global average was 1.78 degrees above the 20th-century average and 0.22 degrees above 2015. By either measure, the average is the highest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880.

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Obama says ‘new cyber age’ needs new tools

Obama press conference

President Barack Obama takes questions at the White House. (White House via YouTube)

In the wake of a presidential campaign marred by hacking and social-media skulduggery, President Barack Obama says America’s digital architecture will have to be fine-tuned to preserve democracy.

The issue arose today during Obama’s final White House press conference – just two days before President-elect Donald Trump is due to take the reins of power.

Obama’s comments on cybersecurity came up with regard to his decision to commute the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning, an Army soldier who was convicted in 2013 on charges of leaking classified information via WikiLeaks.

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Complex life may have gotten a false start

Stromatolite

This is a 1.9-billion-year-old stromatolite — or mound made by microbes that lived in shallow water — called the Gunflint Formation in northern Minnesota. Such formations provide evidence of oxygen-rich settings on ancient Earth.. (UW Photo / Eva Stüeken)

Researchers say multicellular life could have arisen in Earth’s oceans more than 2 billion years ago, only to fall victim to a drop in oxygen levels.

That scenario is based on a study of concentrations of the element selenium of sedimentary shale, led by researchers at the University of Washington. The findings – published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – shed light not only on the origins of life on Earth, but on the potential for detecting life on distant planets.

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Wild-haired moth named after Donald Trump

Neopalpa donaldtrumpi

Two views of the moth now known as Neopalpa donaldtrumpi highlight the yellowish-white scales on its head. (Vazrick Nazari Photo via ZooKeys / Pensoftbiolo

Donald Trump isn’t even sworn in as president yet, but he already has a species named after him: a micro-moth with a bushy head of yellowish-white scales.

Neopalpa donaldtrumpi is found in a habitat that, ironically, stretches across the U.S.-Mexico border – from California to Baja California. Biologists have long known that twirler moths inhabited the region, but until recently, they thought there was only one species in the genus.

Canadian evolutionary biologist Vazrick Nazari discovered that wasn’t the case when he examined insect specimens from the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California at Davis. A few of the moth specimens didn’t match the description for Neopalpa neonata.

Among the distinguishing features for the outliers were yellowish-white scales on the moth’s head, and an orange-yellow coloration on the upper side of the forewing. The scales reminded Nazari of Trump’s signature comb-over, and led him to go with “donaldtrumpi” as the species name.

Nazari’s findings were published online today by the open-access journal ZooKeys.

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Boeing is in the middle of NASA-Russia deal

Soyuz

A Russian Soyuz craft approaches the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

NASA is considering a convoluted arrangement to reserve five more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules heading to and from the International Space Station, with the Boeing Co. as the middleman.

The plan to reserve more trips to orbit would give NASA additional breathing room as it waits for Boeing and SpaceX to complete the development of their commercial space taxis.

The first crewed test flights of those space taxis aren’t scheduled to occur until 2018. And in a procurement notice issued today, NASA acknowledged that they are “not expected to begin fully operational flights to the ISS until 2019.”

NASA has made a limited number of reservations on Soyuz craft in 2018, at a cost of more than $80 million per seat. But there’s not much of a margin to deal with further delays in the commercial crew schedule.

By a strange set of circumstances, Boeing could help fill the gap, even if its own CST-100 Starliner spacecraft isn’t yet ready to fly.

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Treasure Truck wins patent amid big ambitions

Treasure Truck

When the Treasure Truck is opened up, customers see a flashy array of signs. (GeekWire Photo)

If you’re thinking about building a knockoff of Amazon’s Treasure Truck, the funky delivery vehicle for flash deals ranging from cameras to candy, consider yourself warned: The design is now patented.

The patent was issued today, covering the ornamental design for the heavily modified Isuzu cab-over truck. The truck is typically stocked several times a month with one or two types of discounted goodies and makes deliveries to a few locations in the Seattle area.

The Treasure Truck been compared to an ice cream truck for grownups: Amazon app users can get alerts about the deals on their smartphones, but once all the goods are spoken for, that’s it. (Today’s deal, offering two pounds of wild Dungeness crab for $35, is already sold out.)

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Amazon patents self-driving lane control system

Amazon Fresh truck

An Amazon Fresh truck goes out for deliveries. (Image by Atomic Taco, via Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0)

There’s been a lot of speculation about Amazon’s interest in self-driving delivery trucks, and a newly issued patent suggests that the Seattle-based retailer is putting a lot of thought into how such a system would work.

The patent, issued today, concentrates on how a wireless control system could help autonomous vehicles negotiate changes in reversible lanes.

The arrangement would keep self-driving cars and trucks in contact with a central roadway management system. That system would track how lanes are allocated, and could even shift lanes from one direction to the other depending on demand.

“The roadway management system can identify a period of time and a particular lane of the roadway that is best suited to assign to the autonomous vehicle while taking into account an outcome directive,” Amazon’s inventors explain.

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