29 March 2015

San Diego from Point Loma

Ten grand? For a watch?

Fortune has an article by Philip Elmer-DeWitt about a ridiculously-priced Apple Watch:
The price differential between Beijing and New York City is more than double the cost of a round-trip ticket. Remember the customers carrying bundles of cash who queued up last September of 2014to buy as many iPhones as Apple would sell them? It could happen again.
“We saw this with the iPhone,” said Asymco’s Horace Dediu in a podcast recorded Thursday. “We’ll see it in spades with the gold Apple Watch.” Most analysts expect demand will be strongest for Apple’s aluminum and steel watches, which start at $349 and $549, respectively. Dediu believes Wall Street may be underestimating the intangible appeal of a ten thousand dollar gold watch. Especially one given as a gift, especially in China, with its rich tradition of over-the-top gift giving.
The gold watch has something else going for it. Unlike the value of a Rolex, say, which can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands, the price of the Apple Watch in each of its global markets is fixed; it’s listed on the website.
“It’s like currency,” says Dediu. Factor in local taxes, and you can calculate with some precision what he calls the “global arbitrage opportunities.”
For example, the entry level gold watch, the 38mm 18-Karat Rose Gold with a white sport band (photo) retails in the US for $10.000. The same watch is listed on Apple’s Chinese website for $12,045. Beijing imposes a seventeen percent value added tax. Hong Kong does not. “If someone smuggles one of these into China,” says Dediu, “they’ll pay for their flight ticket, and then some.” He reports that, in Boston, Massachusetts, there were still queues for the iPhone 6 Plus in January of 2015, almost five months after it launched. “They’re mostly Chinese,” he says. “They’re doing it as a business.”
It can be a rough business, as a documentary film shot outside Apple Stores in New York City last September demonstrated. It might be even rougher in April, when buyers could be carrying bundles of cash in units of $10,000. That’s cash that will go almost directly to Apple’s bottom line. Dediu estimates that the margin on a $10,000 gold watch could be as high as 90%. “I wouldn’t be surprised if in the first few months the demand for gold is far, far higher than we imagined,” he says. “They’ll just be out of stock, permanently.”
Rico says there certainly are people with enough money (and stupid enough to part with ten grand) to buy a $10,000 watch, but he ain't one of them (even if he had ten grand, and wore a watch)...

28 March 2015

Four airlines you should never fly

Philly.com has an article by Robert McGarvey about some bad flying:

It has never been safer to fly.
That is despite the apparent purposeful crash of a Germanwings plane that killed a hundred and fifty people earlier this week. The co-pilot is said by French prosecutors to have crashed the plane into the Alps, for reasons currently unknown.
It also is despite the deaths of some three hundred on board Malaysia Air flight 17 when it was shot down over the Ukraine in July of 2014. Western intelligence sources have blamed pro-Russian insurgents. Russia has blamed the Ukrainian government.
And it is despite the disappearance of Malaysia Air flight 370 earlier in 2014, where some two hundred and forty people are believed to have died.
Those three crashes, while all mysterious, captivated the world’s eyeballs on round-the-clock cable news coverage. So the belief has taken hold that flying today is more dangerous than ever. It’s not, insist experts who have crunched the numbers and reached the entirely opposite opinion. Although the experts do acknowledge that some airlines are in fact too dangerous to fly. Names are named below.
As for current safety, numbers compiled by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show that in fact 2014 was remarkably safe. There were thirty-eight million flights and twelve fatal accidents. That compares to thirty-four million flights and twenty-three fatal accidents in 2010. 2014 did top the recent list for fatalities, with 641. In recent years only 2010, with 786, saw more deaths. Note: the IATA excludes MH17 from its count, because that crash was not an “accident”. Add in those 298 souls, and 2014 becomes a very deadly year indeed, but air travel nonetheless remains safe.
Either way, and with no lack of compassion for those who died and their families, dying in the crash of a regularly scheduled commercial flight is statistically comparable to winning the lottery. It just occurs very infrequently, at least in developed nations, especially those in North America and Europe, where pilot training, aircraft safety, and airport policies are advanced and enforced.
Veteran pilot Patrick Smith, who blogs at AskThePilot, is adamant about the safety of the skies. According to Smith: “the past decade has been the safest in civil aviation history, and the cluster of serious accidents over the past year, tragic as they've been, is unlikely to change the overall trend.” Smith added: “The accident rate is still down, considerably, from what it was twenty or thirty years ago, when multiple large-scale accidents were the norm. What's different is that, in years past, we didn't have a constant news cycle with media outlets spread across multiple platforms, all vying simultaneously for your attention. The media didn't used to fixate so intensely on crashes the way it does today.”
Smith is right. Data at PlaneCrashInfo.com, for instance, shows over forty fatal crashes in 1971 alone. There were 35 in 1989. That compares again to twelve in 2014.
Pilot Thomas Morrison refreshed our memories of recent U.S. aviation history:
“The last fatal accident by an American operated airline was Colgan 3407 in February of 2009,” Morrison said. That was a commuter jet carrying forty-nine. All died. But that also means there have been six fatality free years in US flying.
But do not assume passengers are safe everywhere. They are not. Gary Reeves, chief safety pilot at PilotSafety.org, elaborated: “Flying is safer today than it ever has been," he said. "That being said many low-budget foreign based carriers are not held to the higher standards of the FAA. When booking travel on ‘cheap’ international carriers, be aware of what you are getting. Typically you'll get younger much less experienced pilots, as low as one-third the minimum training required for US-certified carriers, at very low pay and worse working conditions. Maintenance and safety inspections may also be a lot less than what is required here.”
Monitoring organization AirlineRatings.com ranks the globe’s commercial carriers, and it gives 149 its top, seven star rating (Australia’s Qantas, with a fatality-free record in the jet era, is the perennial best of the best). But four airlines achieved only one star for safety, the lowest possible rating:
Kam Air (Afghanistan)
Nepal Airlines
Scat (Kazakhstan)
Tara Air (Nepal)
Understand, too, none of the one star carriers are currently permitted to fly in US airspace because the Federal Aviation Administration holds every carrier that wants entry to US commercial aviation standards, and many smaller, foreign carriers don’t qualify.
Pilot Morrison added about the lack of aviation safety in some parts of the world: “This can be attributed to a general lack of oversight and budget constraints by the institutions in these regions. Unfortunately in some areas the social ability to fly outweighs the technical ability to operate up to American standards.”
Malaysia Air, incidentally, despite a difficult 2014, scored five of seven points according to these ratings. Germanwings scored seven of seven.
Bottom line, despite recent horrific crashes, flying is safe. Very safe. As long as it is on a carrier that meets US and Western European standards.

Rico says that statistics won't help you if you're on a plane that's going down. (And the closest that Rico and his father ever came to dying was on a US airline landing, in broad daylight, at Kona Airport in Hawai'i...

27 March 2015

Ten beaches you've never heard of


StumbleUpon occasionally serves up a good one, like this one by Jessica Valentine:

1. Black sand beach in Hawai'i. The name speaks for itself.
2. Pink sand beach in the Bahamas. Again, the name gives it away. Eroded particles from red corals gives this beach a pinkish glow.
3. Bioluminescent beach in the Maldives. And you thought the Maldives couldn’t get any prettier! Bioluminescent phytoplanton are found throughout the Maldives, which glows when agitated, giving the ocean its very own stars.
4. Hidden beach in Mexico. This secret paradise was created when the Mexican government made a bombsite out of the area in the early 1900’s, blasting a huge hole on the canopy of the grotto, causing this idyllic hidden gem.
5. Whitehaven Beach in Australia. Not only is Whitehaven Beach a photographers dream, it has been awarded the most eco-friendly beach in the world. These stunning white beaches contain large amounts of silicia, which doesn’t retain heat, allowing visitors to walk around barefoot even on the sunniest of days.
6. Hot Water beach in New Zealand. Make sure you go there with a shovel because, at this beach, you can dig your very own DIY spa. This beach is geothermal, getting as hot as 147°F! So come down and relax in your very own natural spa.
7. Maho Beach in St. Maarten. We have been lucky enough to visit the mind blowing Maho Beach, here you can literally jump up and touch a plane as it lands meters away from you at Princess Juliana International Airport.
8. Chandipur Beach in India. Every morning, the sea at Chandipur Beach disappears, receding up to five kilometers from the shore. This gives visitors the opportunity to walk in the sea, exploring the sea bed on foot. But you need to keep an eye out for the high tide to come back in, as the sea rushes back into place. This phenomenon happens twice a day throughout the year.
9. Pig Beach at Big Major Cay in the Bahamas. Big Major Cay is populated by feral pigs, who seem to enjoy lounging around and swimming in the clear waters of the Cay.
10. Glass Beach at Fort Bragg in California. This beach is covered in sea glass particles. coming from years of discarded glass washed up on the shore. Similar beaches can also be found in Hawai'i.
Rico says that he probably won't get to most of these, but he'd like to. (But Rico advises against jumping up and touching those planes in St. Maartens...)

Quote for the day

From Lord of Light, by the always-magnificent writer Roger Zelazny:

"The day dawned pink as the fresh-bitten thigh of a maiden."

Will Ferrell movies


Rico says they're all terrible, so rankings don't matter...

Can't have one, but still want one

Rico says that would be a Ural...

Germanwings co-pilot 'hid illness'

The BBC has an article about the recent crash, and the cause:

The co-pilot suspected of deliberately crashing a Germanwings airliner into the French Alps hid details of an illness, German prosecutors say.
Torn-up sick notes were found in the homes of Andreas Lubitz, they say, including one for the day of the crash, which killed 150 passengers and crew.
A German hospital confirmed he had been a patient recently, but denied reports he had been treated for depression.
Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, has announced new flight safety rules. The new regulations are meant to ensure pilots are never left alone in the cockpit. Data from the voice recorder suggests Lubitz purposely started an eight-minute descent into the mountains while keeping the pilot locked out of the flight deck.
There were no survivors when Flight 4U 9525 crashed in a remote mountain valley while en route from Barcelona in Spain to Duesseldorf in Germany. Prosecutors say there was no evidence of a political or religious motive for his actions and no suicide note has been found.
At the scene, Anna Holligan of BBC News in Montabaur:
Two officers stand watch at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac. International television crews focus their cameras on Andreas Lubitz's family home. The blinds are down. A candle has been placed on his parents manicured lawn, with an image of hands clasped in prayer.
Neighbors describe him as a "quiet, affable man". They are struggling to accept that the 27-year-old they once knew could be capable of committing mass murder. Investigators carrying boxes of evidence and a computer have come and gone. With the discovery of a discarded sick note in his Duesseldorf apartment and confirmation that he attended a medical clinic just days before the crash, the suggestion is that this quiet man was hiding something.
That secret may eventually reveal why he took not just his own life but the lives of 149 others. The search for bodies and debris continues.
In a statement (in German), prosecutors said they had seized medical documents from Lubitz' two residences— his Duesseldorf flat and his parents' home north of Frankfurt— which indicated an "existing illness and appropriate medical treatment".
The "fact that, among the documents found, there were sick notes— torn-up, current and for the day of the crash— leads to the provisional assessment that the deceased was hiding his illness from his employer", the report states.
Germanwings confirmed it had not been given a sick note for the day of the crash.
Duesseldorf's University Hospital issued a statement (in German) saying Lubitz had attended the hospital on 10 March 2014 and again last month. Adding that it had handed his medical records over to prosecutors, it said reports the co-pilot had been treated there for depression were incorrect.
Germany's Rheinischer Post newspaper, which spoke to the hospital, quoted its own unnamed sources as saying Lubitz had been suffering from a physical, rather than a mental, illness.
The theory that a mental illness such as depression had affected the co-pilot was suggested by German media, quoting internal aviation authority documents. They said he had suffered a serious depressive episode while training in 2009. He reportedly went on to receive treatment for a year and a half and was recommended regular psychological assessment. Lubitz' employers confirmed his training had been interrupted, but they insisted that he had only been allowed to resume training after his suitability was "re-established".
Police have been coming and going at the home of Lubitz' parents north of Frankfurt, which is also a focus of intense media attention
In the hamlet of Le Vernet, in France, a "viewing tent" was set up where families could look in the direction of the crash site. Families laid flowers and photographs in memory of those lost School students in Haltern, Germany, attended a memorial service for sixteen students and two teachers who died in the crash on their way home from a study exchange
Lufthansa announced it would adopt the "rule of two" as soon as possible, after other airlines swiftly moved to change their safety procedures. "Under the new procedure, two authorised persons must be present in the cockpit at all times during a flight," it said.
Recovery efforts are continuing at the crash site on the third day following the crash.
Investigators continue to comb the crash site for body parts, debris, and the second "black box", which records flight data.
Family members of some of the passengers and crew who died have visited Seyne-les-Alpes, France, near the crash site.
Families are providing DNA samples to allow for identification of victims' remains.
Other incidents thought to be caused by deliberate pilot action:
29 November 2013: A flight between Mozambique and Angola crashed in Namibia, killing 33 people. Initial investigation results suggested the accident was deliberately carried out by the captain shortly after the first officer (also known as the co-pilot) had left the flight deck.
31 October 1999: An EgyptAir Boeing 767 went into a rapid descent thirty minutes after taking off from New York City, killing 217 people. An investigation suggested that the crash was caused deliberately by the relief first officer but the evidence was not conclusive.
19 December 1997: More than a hundred people were killed when a Boeing 737 travelling from Indonesia to Singapore crashed. The pilot, suffering from "multiple work-related difficulties", was suspected of switching off the flight recorders and intentionally putting the plane into a dive.

Rico says he thought it was the responsibility of the physicians to mention this sort of thing, patient privacy be damned (and Rico suspects the relatives of the dead would agree)...

Anti-Muslim ads

Bob Stewart has an article in The Philadelphia Daily News about some soon-to-be-conspicuous ads on SEPTA buses:

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler could be featured on the next bus you ride in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area, after SEPTA decided not to appeal a recent Federal court ruling that said it could not restrict ads that the transit authority previously called "disparaging" and anti-Islamic.
American Freedom Defense Initiative co-founder Pamela Geller called the decision a "victory for truth and free speech" and said the ads will "increase public awareness" of her group's cause.
Abby Stamelman Hocky, executive director of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, yesterday said her organization was prepared "to mitigate whatever harm may be done" by the ads being seen in the community. She said she hopes the ads, which SEPTA officials said will run on 84 buses for four weeks, can provide "a teachable moment" and her group is mulling a Dare to Understand campaign to counteract the ads' messages.
SEPTA general counsel Gino Benedetti said the decision not to appeal hinged on the cost of appealing, and on the fact that SEPTA has since changed its policy to ban political ads altogether to avoid a similar situation in the future. Political ads represent about one percent of SEPTA's total advertising revenue.

Rico says this is over the top, though true...

Shakespeare was right

Sam Wood has an article at Philly.com about a banquet gone wrong:
In one of the largest outbreaks of suspected foodborne illness in Philadelphia, nearly a hundred lawyers and law students were sickened last month after attending a banquet celebrating the Lunar New Year in Philadelphia's Chinatown.
But, even though the restaurant has a history of food-safety problems stretching back several years, the city Health Department says it cannot publicly discuss details of its investigation, citing a 1955 state law. That law has not silenced the outbreak's victims.
About 250 people attended the feast at Joy Tsin Lau, the venerable dim sum restaurant at 10th and Race Streets. Dozens of the diners reported that they felt the first symptoms two mornings later.
Chi Mabel Chan, who has owned Joy Tsin Lau for more than thirty years, denied that the diners had suffered food poisoning from the banquet. "It was not a problem with my restaurant," she said, theorizing that chilly weather or festivities at a karaoke bar after the dinner might be to blame. "Maybe they got cold, or drank too much," she said of the victims.
The eight-course dinner, well-documented on social media, was a fund-raiser for a group of Temple University law students, the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association.
"This was the worst case of food poisoning I've ever witnessed," Antima Chakraborty, a Philadelphia assistant district attorney, wrote on Yelp, the restaurant review site. "Many individuals had to go to the ER."
City inspection reports show that Joy Tsin Lau has long had a problem maintaining food-safety standards. Just seventeen days before the banquet, a Health Department sanitarian was at Joy Tsin Lau to check back on an earlier problem. In a report dated 10 February 2015, Kyria Weng wrote "that current management practices have allowed unacceptable public health or food-safety conditions."
An Inquirer analysis of city inspection reports found that the average eat-in restaurant in Philadelphia last year had 2.3 risk factors for foodborne illness, the more serious of the two main categories defined by the Food and Drug AdministrationWeng cited Joy Tsin Lau for five such risk factors. Several of those— dumplings held at a bacteria-friendly 57 degrees, and a lack of soap and paper towels in the employee restroom— were noted as repeat violations. Weng also found nine lesser violations, called "lack of good retail practices". But that was an improvement over Weng's visit on 22 December 2014, when she cited the restaurant for seven risk factors for foodborne illness (including a chicken held at unsafe temperatures) and thirteen lesser violations.
Back in 2010, the city Health Department filed suit against Joy Tsin Lau after deeming it a "public nuisance", and issued a cease-and-desist order for "failure to ensure that public-health standards for a safe and sanitary operation are being maintained".
City legal officials did not respond to questions asking if the city ever acted on the order, or if the restaurant ever was forced to close.
David S. Haase, a Center City lawyer, said he began to feel nauseated about thirty hours after the banquet. Contrary to Chan's theory, he said he was warmly dressed and did not go to the karaoke bar. A combination of nonstop puking and explosive diarrhea kept him bedridden for four days. "It was freaking terrible," Haase said. "I'd crawl back into bed and curl up into a ball, moaning like a child with the cramps."
Organizers, in a post-banquet e-mail to attendees, said multiple guests had sought medical attention.
Nearly four weeks after the banquet, Health Department spokesman Jeff Moran would say only that a "food source" had been identified for the outbreak.
"We are not permitted, by law, to publicly release the findings of outbreak investigations," Moran said.
He cited the Pennsylvania Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955, which prohibits health authorities from disclosing reports or records of diseases. Though the law primarily addresses patients with venereal diseases and tuberculosis, its confidentiality clause keeps secret the details of all health investigations.
Most states have similar laws, according to Scott Burris, the codirector at Temple University's Center for Health Law, Policy, and Practice. "It's pretty typical," Burris said. "Pennsylvania is not an outlier." Investigators need some secrecy to collect sensitive information, he said, but the laws may go too far when it comes to alerting the public of potential threats. "That's a price we pay," Burris said of secrecy laws. "It's probably worth working on our privacy laws to see if we can find an approach that lowers that price."
But there is no law silencing the sickened.
"If you enjoy being on your back for the 48 hours post-dinner writhing in pain, burning up, and exploding out of all orifices, then this is the restaurant for you," wrote Jack Jiang, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who attended the banquet with his girlfriend.
In an e-mail to a reporter, Jiang said he had been bedridden for three days and suffered lingering effects through the end of the week.
Haase, who missed his daughter's championship track meet due to the illness, said he had contacted a Health Department coordinator, who told him the outbreak was likely brought on by a norovirus.
Norovirus, the most common cause of foodborne illness, sickens about twenty million people a year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The pathogen is often spread by contact with an infected person, or by ingesting food or water contaminated by fecal matter. Acute gastroenteritis strikes usually between one to two days after exposure to the norovirus.
Caroline Johnson, director of the city's division of disease control, said she couldn't talk specifics but, in general, said the goal of investigations "is to find out what happened, correct that problem, and move on." As for the secrecy, she said, "We don't want to drive underground the facts we want to uncover." Her agency told Haase about the norovirus because "we feel that by telling them, they won't need to have the wrong antibiotic prescribed to them or have unnecessary testing. It's the right medical thing to do. I wouldn't withhold information from them because it might have medical significance to their situation." Foodborne illness outbreaks in Philadelphia are relatively uncommon, about ten a year and, when they do occur, they usually strike fewer than twenty people, Johnson said. "They're not always as impressive as this one," she said. "These foodborne outbreaks can happen to the finest of restaurants, and it doesn't necessarily mean that the restaurant did anything wrong," Johnson said.
None of the lawyers or the Temple group said they were planning to sue Joy Tsin Lau, though they have two years before the statute of limitations runs out.
Haase, whose law firm sponsors a table at the banquet each year, said he would continue attending under one condition. "It will have to be at a different place," he said. In the meantime, Haase said he will not collect the two raffle prizes he won at this year's banquet: two dim sum dinners at Joy Tsin Lau.
Full menu for Temple APALSA's 8th Annual Lunar Banquet, on 27 February 2015 at Joy Tsin Lau:
Chicken sweet corn soup
Walnut shrimp
Stir-fry beef celery
Peking duck
Spare ribs
Deep-fried fish Hunan
Veg fried rice
Veg spring rolls
Sautéed string beans
Black bean eggplant
Braised bean curd
5-spice bean curd bean sprouts
Kung pao vegetables
Lo mein
Chinese vegetable with hearts of greens in light gravy
Fresh oranges
Fortune cookies

Rico says remind him not to eat there...

Cartoon for the day

Rico's friend Kelley forwards this Shoe:

Europa may be home to alien life

The BBC has an article by Melissa Hogenboom about Europa:

Jupiter's icy moon hides an ocean that could be home to life, and the key to finding it could be right here on Earth, trapped under four kilometers of ice.
Imagine the bottom of an ocean. The water is icy cold and impenetrably dark, without even a glimmer of sunlight. But, in one patch of the ocean floor, a jet of hot water spurts upwards out of a rocky vent. This water is laced with life-giving chemicals, and around it a collection of strange microorganisms has gathered. These tiny organisms are like nothing anyone has ever seen before. But that's no surprise, because we're not on Earth. We're over six hundred million kilometers from Earth, on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter.
Antarctica's lakes are the best analogue we have for Europa's hidden ocean.
Or at least, we could be. Europa (photo) is one of the few places in our solar system where life could exist. It's believed to have an ocean up to a hundred kil0meters deep, ten times as deep as any ocean on i, which could contain twice as much water as our entire planet. All the conditions for life may be met, somewhere in those dark waters.
So far we haven't looked, so we don't know if anything is alive down there. But there are clues to be found much closer to home, in an environment that's almost as extreme.
Deep under the thick ice of Antarctica, there are hundreds of hidden lakes. Some of them have been isolated for millions of years. But in the last few years, scientists have started to explore them, in the hope of finding life.
Antarctica's lakes are the best analogue we have for Europa's hidden ocean. If life can endure the conditions under the Antarctic ice, the odds of finding it on Europa will improve. What's more, knowing how life survives in these hidden lakes will tell scientists what to look for when they seek it on other worlds.
Europa has held out the promise of alien life since 1979, when NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past it. Voyager revealed that Europa's surface is a thick layer of ice. But there are vivid lines and streaks on this icy crust, suggesting that it has been penetrated by minerals from below the surface.
Most scientists now believe there is an ocean of salty water flowing under Europa's ice. In this water, single-celled microorganisms could have evolved, if the conditions are right.
In 2022, the European Space Agency will launch a space probe called the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) to study three of Jupiter's moons, including Europa.
"The mission is going to do a fantastic job of expanding our understanding of the entire Jovian system," says Kevin Hand, an astrobiologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
JUICE won't specifically look for life, but it will try to find out what Europa's ocean is like. The first step is to find out how deeply it is buried. The answer may be: not very deep at all. An analysis by NASA researchers in 2011 suggested that there is only about three kilometers of ice overlaying the ocean. That is thinner than many areas of the Antarctic ice sheet. JUICE will use radar to find out if this is true, and map out Europa's internal structure.
JUICE will also investigate what is going on at the bottom of the ocean. A key question will be whether there are hydrothermal vents: jets of hot chemical-rich water shooting out of the sea floor. These vents could supply the energy for life in the ocean, just like they do in the depths of the sea on Earth.
So far there is no direct evidence that Europa has hydrothermal vents, but JUICE might be able to help. It could find some crucial evidence drifting above Europa's surface if, that is, Europa is anything like Enceladus.
Enceladus is a moon of Saturn, and in many respects it could be Europa's twin. The surface is a thick layer of ice, and it looks like there is liquid water trapped underneath it. That would explain why Enceladus has geysers.
The Cassini spacecraft has found dozens of water jets spurting out of Enceladus, and has even managed to take samples. A study, published in March of 2015, reports that the jets contain grains of sand, suggesting that the hidden ocean has a floor of rock and sand, and hinting at the presence of deep sea vents.
Hand says Europa might well have similar plumes, and JUICE should be able to spot them. On Enceladus they erupt as high as five hundred kilometers, which makes them easily visible. Europa's will be less obvious, says Hand. Its gravity is stronger, so the plumes would not rise higher than about a hundred kilometers. JUICE won't be able to sample them, but a follow-up mission might.
Finally, JUICE will try to find out if Europa has the right chemicals to support life. It won't land, but it can study the makeup of Europa's thin atmosphere, says team member Andrew Coates of the University College London in the UK. This should reveal something about the makeup of the ocean. "We expect to be able to see water, but the non-water composition will of be of particular interest." That's because life doesn't just need water. It needs other chemicals, such as carbon and nitrogen, and an energy source to keep it going. Sensors called infrared spectrometers will tell us whether these chemicals are present, says Coates.
The JUICE mission is still a long way off. But, fortunately, we don't need to rely on missions into space to understand an environment like Europa. Astrobiologists are paying close attention to the search for extreme life closer to home, in the lakes under Antarctica.
Places like Lake Vostok can tell us whether to expect life in places like Europa. The environments are eerily similar. The Antarctic lakes are dark and cold, trapped under a crushing weight of ice. And, just like Europa's ocean, many of them have been locked away from the outside world for millions of years. The largest subglacial lake is Lake Vostok in east Antarctica. The water there is beneath four kilometers of ice and is up to eight hundred meters deep. Yet many scientists believe there is life down there, life that has adapted to seemingly lethal conditions.
"These life forms in extreme environments on Earth help us develop a framework for habitability of other planets," says Hand. Places like Lake Vostok can tell us whether to expect life in places like Europa.
No two lakes are alike. Some have been trapped for much longer than others, depending when their part of Antarctica froze over. Different lakes also have different flows of chemicals coming in and out. So they are a kind of natural laboratory for discovering the conditions necessary for life. "It's only in this coupled context that we'll understand the limits and habitats for life," says Hand.
Antarctica's subglacial lakes were first identified in the late 1960s, using radio echo sounding. High energy signals were fired into the ice, and the resulting reflections gives insight into what lies beneath. However, these discoveries were "quickly forgotten about because nobody was interested", says glaciologist Martin Siegert of Bristol University in the UK, who has spent over two decades analysing the lakes. That's because no one thought that these extreme environments could harbor life.
The turning point came in 1993, when Siegert and his colleagues discovered Lake Vostok. It had actually been spotted by radio echo sounding in the 1970s, but they were able to use satellite data to confirm not only its existence, but its size: ten thousand square kilometers, making it the largest subglacial lake in Antarctica.
This time, "folk got instantly excited by lakes at the base of Antarctica," says Siegert. Scientists were on the hunt for extremophiles, organisms that could survive in seemingly-lethal conditions. "Vostok became thought about as a potential viable habitat for microbial life."
We now know of almost four hundred such lakes, but Vostok remains the most alluring. That is partly due to its age. The lake's water has probably been trapped for fourteen to fifteen million years, since Antarctica's ice sheet formed. If there is life there, it is ancient. The challenge is getting to it.
Even before Lake Vostok was discovered, a team of Russian scientists was drilling down towards it. They began in 1990, before the satellite studies, says Sergey Bulat of the Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute in Russia. Knowing nothing of the hidden lake, they were drilling for ancient ice that carries records of past climates.
In 1998, the Russian drilling team almost reached the lake, but technical difficulties meant they had to stop drilling at a depth of thirty-six-hundred meters. After that the project stalled, until in 2010 another attempt to sample the lake water got the go-ahead.
In 2012, after over twenty years of drilling, the Russian team finally breached the surface of the lake. A year later, Bulat's team announced that they had discovered a new type of bacterial life.  However, the water they took from the lake was contaminated with drilling fluid, so it's unclear whether the "new life" was truly from Lake Vostok or simply from the drill.
It's a tricky problem. The DNA sequences Bulat found have never been seen before, but that doesn't mean much because most bacteria have never had their DNA sequenced. Nevertheless, Bulat says he is confident that one of the bacteria from the sample is from the lake, while the other forty-eight species were from the drilling fluid.
For now his team has stopped working on samples from this water. They cannot fully sequence the bacteria because of the contamination. But there's another way to get DNA from the lake.
The ice that covers Lake Vostok is actually a thick glacier, which moves across the lake over a period of about ten thousand years. As it does so, water from the lake freezes onto the glacier's underside, forming "accretion ice". This ice eventually gets carried away from the lake. Scott Rogers of Bowling Green State University in Ohio and his colleagues have obtained samples of accretion ice, and scoured it for DNA. They have found evidence of abundant life. So far Rogers has confirmed about forty different species of fungi and bacteria that he could grow in his lab. Additional genetic traces of life in the ice hint at over three thousand more. "The fact that there are living organisms in the accretion ice can only mean that there are living organisms in the lake," says Rogers. The most logical conclusion, he says, is that organisms are growing and multiplying in the lake, with some being trapped in the accretion ice. The organisms Rogers found are highly adaptable. They can grow in temperatures of up to 22 °C, but also survive below 0 °C.
Some of the bacteria were similar to those that live in hot hydrothermal vents on the sea floor, hinting that similar vents might exist on Vostok's bottom. If they do, they could supply its inhabitants with nutrients and energy. The lake could even support larger organisms. Rogers has found the remnants of bacteria known to live in fish intestines. Does that mean there are fish in Vostok? Fish need oxygen to breathe, which ought to be in short supply. But Hand says oxygen could be slowly carried into the lake by the glacier. Oxygen could get trapped in surface snow, be buried in the glacier, and finally seep into Lake Vostok when ice melts off the underside of the ice. "You can think about the ice sheet as a conveyer belt," he says. Still, it would be a tough life. "If there are fish, they must be very tiny, as there's not much to live on down there," says Rogers.
We may have definitive answers as to what the lake water contains fairly soon, Russian scientists have again drilled into the lake, reaching the water in Januaryof  2015. As of March of 2015, a new set of samples are being stored on site, and will be shipped back to Russia in May of 2015.
The success of the Vostok drilling mission stands in stark contrast to the other attempt to breach a deep subglacial lake. In 2012, British scientist,s led by Siegert, tried to drill into Lake Ellsworth in west Antarctica. It's a smaller and shallower lake: less than two hundred kilometers deep and under three kilometers of ice. Still, the water has been sealed off for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the drill they had built didn't work, so the project was called off in December of 2012. It was intensely frustrating, says Siegert, but he plans to go back within the next five years.
However, less than a month after the Ellsworth failure, an American team successfully drilled into Lake Whillans. This lake is quite different to either Vostok or Ellsworth. It is shallower, sitting under just eight hundred meters of ice. It is also only a few meters deep, and is part of a hidden network of rivers and streams under the ice. Water readily flows and in and out of the lake. The team, led by Brent Christner of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, published their results in 2014. Unlike the Vostok samples, there were no contaminants. The water from Lake Whillans turned out to be teeming with microbial life, with around a thousand bacteria per cubic millimeter of water. For the first time, a viable ecosystem had been found under the Antarctic ice.
While it's not as deep as the other two, Lake Whillans is still an extreme place. It is pitch-black, so the organisms must be getting energy from something other than the Sun.
Christner says they could be eating the sediments ground off the underlying rocks by the movement of the ice. They might not sound appetising, but they contain the chemicals life needs. Christner says life in Whillans is "powered by dark forces". So far, they have only found single-celled organisms. But Christner says there might be bigger organisms in the larger lakes, which could have more sources of energy. "The higher life forms we might encounter are things like roundworms," he says.
Lake Whillans is not an ideal guide to conditions on Europa. It is too shallow, and not isolated enough. Vostok is better, because it is buried so deep. It may not be as cold as Jupiter's moons, says Coates, but the environment is certainly the best analogue on Earth.
But that doesn't mean the data from Lake Whillans can't tell us anything. The microbes in the two lakes might be using at least some of the same tricks. Christner's team found several bacteria in Lake Whillans that are similar to those Rogers found in the Vostok accretion ice.
The next step is to get an uncontaminated sample from a deep lake, whether it's Lake Vostok or somewhere else. That won't be easy. It took twenty years to drill into Lake Vostok, and the resulting samples don't look great, while Ellsworth has so far defeated us.
Drilling into the icy crust of Europa, by remote control, will be even harder. But that doesn't mean it's impossible. If Europa does produce plumes of water, getting samples from them would be much easier. Those samples could be the key to discovering life on another planet for the first time.
We could then go even further. There are now almost two thousand known planets outside our solar system. Many of these "exoplanets" could be habitable, but we don't know which ones. So Coates says we should find out where life exists in our own solar system, then use it to guide the hunt for life around other stars.

Rico says they obviously didn't read Arthur C. Clarke on the subject:
2061 is set 51 years after the events of 2010: Odyssey Two. At the end of that novel, the enigmatic aliens who built the Monolith had transformed the planet Jupiter into a mini-sun in order to aid the evolution of life on Jupiter's moon Europa. A message was sent to Earth referring to Jupiter's moons: All these worlds are yours except Europa; attempt no landing there.

Antarctic’s ice shelves are melting

Time has an article by Sabrina Toppa about climate change:
Some of Antarctica’s floating ice shelves are up to eighteen percent thinner than they were two decades ago, according to a new study shedding light on climate change.
Science Daily reports that researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego examined satellite data from the past two decades, and discovered that ice shelves are thinning at precipitous rates, which are accelerating over time.
In 1994 to 2003, Antarctica’s total ice shelf volume– the ice shelf area multiplied by thickness– underwent minimal change. Then thinning began, with the last few years pointing to the highest rate of change.
“Eighteen percent over the course of eighteen years is really a substantial change,” researcher Fernando Paolo told Science Daily. “Overall, we show not only the total ice shelf volume is decreasing, but we see an acceleration in the last decade.”
The ice shelf shrinkage is indirectly linked to rising sea levels, and current volume reduction rates have scientists projecting that half the volume of ice shelves in western Antarctica may be lost in two hundred years.
Rico says be prepared to get your feet wet in certain coastal cities...

No more Downton Abbey

Time has an article by Tessa Berenson about the end of a good thing:
Time to put away your teacups and scones: the coming sixth season of Downton Abbey will be its last.
“We wanted to close the doors of Downton Abbey when it felt right and natural for the storylines to come together and when the show was still being enjoyed so much by its fans,” executive producer Gareth Neame said in a recent press release. “We can promise a final season full of all the usual drama and intrigue, but with the added excitement of discovering how and where they all end up.”
Time asked creator Julian Fellowes whether the show might leap ahead in time before it ended to follow the characters as World War Two broke out, but he poured cold water on the idea. “Lady Mary’s son George would have fought in that war because he was born in 1921, I think,” he says. “He would be called up by 1941 or 1942. We’d have to hope he’d get through it. Of course, fewer people died in the Second World War than the First, but people did die, and we have to just hope little George gets through.”
Downton Abbey is the most nominated British show in Emmy history, according to ITV, with over fifty nominations. The series will air its final episode in the United Kingdom on Christmas Day, and is likely to be shown in the United States in early 2016. But that might not be the very last of it; a Downton movie could happen after the show ends. “A movie is definitely something we’re contemplating, it would be great fun to do,” Neame said to Entertainment Weekly.
For now, look at this farewell post on the Downton Facebook page and start emotionally gearing up to say goodbye to everyone in the Crawley household.
Rico says he and the fiancé will miss it...

Apple for the day

Jack Linshi has a Time article about Apple:

“The mother of all products,” according to Apple CEO Tim Cook, isn’t a new device, but it is high-tech.
The Apple Campus 2, the working name for Apple’s under-construction new corporate campus, will unite all of Apple’s technology and artistic capabilities, Cook told Fortune in an exclusive interview published recenly.
The Cupertino, California campus (“I hate the word ‘headquarters’… It isn’t overhead, and we’re not bureaucrats,” says Cook) brings cutting-edge technology to even the most basic tasks. Parking, for example, will be facilitated by sensors and apps so employees don’t have to waste time or gas finding a spot.
Meanwhile, Apple is settling only for a perfect design, including mocking up entire parts of the campus, then tearing them down if they’re not satisfactory; a luxury afforded by being a seven-hundred-billion-dollar company. Other elements of Apple Campus 2 include an underground, thousand-seat auditorium so the company’s popular product announcements can be on Apple’s own turf and schedule.
The project’s existence has been known for years— the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs spent much of his last two years planning the campus— but never ceases to amaze Apple followers. Many people have even flown drones to get a bird’s eye view of the construction, set to be completed by the end of 2016.

Rico says he'd love to see it...

The Bickersons

Rico says it's reminiscent of how his father and stepmother relate:

Seals with pups in the Cove in La Jolla, California


26 March 2015

Rico's favorites

That would be Rico's father (at left) and the famous Corsair fighter of World War Two (behind us), on the hangar deck of the USS Midway, now anchored in the harbor in San Diego, California.

Apple for the day


Sent from my iPhone

Mark Seymour

DEA "sex parties"

Slate has an article by Jeremy Stahl about more Federal fuckups:

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents took part in cartel-funded “sex parties” with prostitutes in Colombia, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general.
The damning new report paints a portrait of agents who put potentially confidential information at risk and acted with impunity, with some of the agents involved receiving punishments of just two-to-ten-day suspensions.
The incidents allegedly occurred between 2005 and 2008, when a host-country police officer helped set up the parties, according to interviews with Colombian police officers.
The foreign officer allegedly arranged “sex parties” with prostitutes funded by the local drug cartels for these DEA agents at their government-leased quarters, over a period of several years. Although some of the DEA agents participating in these parties denied it, the information in the case file suggested they should have known the prostitutes in attendance were paid with cartel funds. A foreign officer also allegedly provided protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties. The foreign officers further alleged that, in addition to soliciting prostitutes, three DEA SSAs in particular were provided money, expensive gifts, and weapons from drug cartel members.
The report stated that the “sex parties” occurred in government-leased quarters while the agents involved held Top Secret clearances, which raised the possibility that “DEA equipment and information also may have been compromised as a result of the agents’ conduct”.
Specifically, “agents’ laptops, BlackBerry devices, and other government-issued equipment were present, creating potential security risks for the DEA and for the agents who participated in the parties, potentially exposing them to extortion, blackmail, or coercion.”
As Politico reports, the investigation was part of a wider look by the Justice Department into allegations of “sexual harassment and misconduct" in the DEA, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Marshal's Service.
Politico has a rundown of some of the other key allegations in the report, including a deputy US Marshal maintaining a “romantic relationship” with the spouse of a fugitive against agency orders, an ATF official disabling a hotel fire detection system and “modifying a hotel-room door to facilitate sexual play,” and an ATF Program Manager failing to report consensual sex between training instructors and their students.
“You can’t ignore this. This is terribly embarrassing, and fundamentally not right,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told Politico. “We need to understand what’s happening with the culture... anytime you bring a foreign national into your room, you’re asking for trouble.” Chaffetz promised major action from his committee when Congress returns from an upcoming two-week recess, and said he wanted those involved in the alleged misconduct to be fired.

Rico says firing ain' good enough, but that pesky Eighth Amendment prevents proper punishment...

Japan’s mysterious samurai town

The BBC has an article by Jenna Scatena about an unusual town in Japan:

It was early morning in Kanazawa’s historical Higashi Chaya district, a row of old latticed teahouses in a town that’s convoluted in both its layout and history. Steam wafted up from the stone road. A geisha scurried across the empty street like an alley cat, only the clicking of her wooden geta sandals giving her away. Yet I didn’t come here looking for geisha. I wanted to learn about the world of another Japanese icon: the samurai.
Located between the Sea of Japan and the Japanese Alps in western Japan, Kanazawa is considered one of the country’s best places to learn about samurai history. The town was spared from destruction during World War Two and remains one of the best-preserved castle towns of the Edo period. It’s one of the only cities in Japan to still have a samurai district. Of course, samurai were abolished in the late nineteenth century as Japan modernised, so you can’t find samurai here today. But much of their world remains.
Making the trip from Tokyo to Kanazawa used to take five hours and require changing trains. But the trip just got much easier. Starting on 14 March 2015, the new, direct Hokuriku Shinkansen (bullet train) run by West Japan Railway Company cut the travel time in half. And, like the slower trains, it arrives at Kanazawa Station, often listed as one of the world’s most beautiful.
I’d always been fascinated by samurai, those warriors who were almost inhumanly stoic and ever willing to fall on their sword for their masters or slay anyone showing disrespect. At least, that was how I’d imagined samurai to be, thanks to films like The Last Samurai and 13 Assassins. I was about to learn there was more to their story.
On my first morning in Kanazawa, I made a beeline for the neighbourhood of Higashi Chaya and met Kiyoe Nagashima, a sixth-generation resident and Kanazawa Excursions guide. The pounding of a taiko drum in a nearby temple filled the air, summoning the feeling I often have when in a foreign place: of following the city’s beating pulse.
Kanazawa is not a place for theme parks, but a place for living,” she said, her face beaming with pride. In fact, for the most part, the city is a modern metropolis dotted with luxury shops such as Louis Vuitton. Higashi Chaya, however, is anything but modern.
Following Nagashima into the labyrinth of teahouses, temples, and restored samurai houses, I felt like Alice slipping into the rabbit hole. We walked along the row of beautiful latticed buildings and turned down a narrow street lined with yellowing gingko trees. Then we careened up a steep path that was so slender and discreet, I thought we were trespassing in a private driveway. When we arrived at the top, however, the path branched out into more narrow, winding roads. Kanazawa’s streets were partly designed to mislead and disorient outsiders, and I was learning firsthand, they do so quite effectively.
From the top of the hill, we walked into the adjacent neighborhood of Utatsuyama. Samurai once lived in Buddhist temples here, Nagashima explained, working as security guards called boukan. The roofs of the stately wood buildings with detailed carvings sprouted from clusters of gingko and maple trees.
Nagashima made it clear that the samurai who flourished in this city during the Edo Period (1603-1868) were almost nothing like the ferocious warriors I’d imagined them to be. During this peaceful golden age, the feudal military class focused most of its energy on scholarly pursuits and craftsmanship. As the highest social caste during this time, the samurai built extravagant residences and opulent gardens behind thick, earthen walls; you can still see evidence of the walls today. Of course, most samurai in Japan never lived this luxurious, peaceful lifestyle. The refined samurai of Kanazawa were an anomaly, made possible by their ruler’s disinterest in violence and affection for the arts.
Kanazawa’s largest architectural relic of the samurai age is the stunning white Kanazawa Castle, resting on a hill that offers 360-degree views of the city. The castle was built in the sixteenth century by the Maeda family, beloved rulers of Kanazawa until 1868. During the Maeda’s rule, the castle was their fortress, surrounded by a moat and stone wall that still stands today. The castle's striking white tile roof is made of weathered lead. Adjoining the castle, the Kenroku-en garden is home to plum, cherry, and Japanese maple trees and is considered one of Japan’s finest gardens.
We continued on to the Nagamachi neighborhood, which was once home to upper- and middle-class samurai. Many of the original houses were torn down during Japan’s industrial revolution. Still, the district’s cobblestone streets, towering mud walls, and peaceful canal remain, and a couple of restored samurai houses are open to the public, including the Nomura House, which contains artifacts from its namesake family.
I returned to the house the following day and strolled inside, expecting to find swords, armor, and perhaps some paintings immortalizing moments of triumphant battles. Instead, I was greeted by a koi pond and Zen fusuma, painted rice paper panels, created by the Maeda family’s personal artist.
Then I recalled something Nagashima had said on the tour: “To defend Kanazawa, the Maeda clan encouraged the samurai to focus on arts and craftsmanship instead of fighting. That way they did not pose a threat to the clan with the highest power, and so were not invaded. As a result, there was actually almost no fighting in Kanazawa for four hundred years.”
Maybe that was the real lesson of Kanazawa’s samurai. Their greatest weapon was not the sword but their focus on the arts, a sly defense tactic in disguise.

Rico says they still had swords, and knew how to use them...

Robertson denounces atheists

The BBC has an article about a guy who doesn't know when to shut the fuck up:

The star of the reality show Duck Dynasty is facing criticism after a speech that included a graphic story about an atheist family being killed.
Phil Robertson (photo) appeared to be using the imagined story to claim that atheists would not find rape or murder immoral. Atheist groups denounced the speech, saying it was unlikely Robertson actually knows any atheists.
In 2013, he was suspended from his television show, but quickly reinstated, following derogatory remarks about homosexuality. Robertson has since become a political figure. He recently spoke at CPAC, a large gathering of American conservatives that included presidential hopefuls such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
"Two guys break into an atheist's home," Robertson said in the speech. "He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot 'em and they take his wife and then decapitate her in front of him."
He continued: "And they can look at him and say, 'Isn't it great that I don't have to worry about being judged? Isn't it great that there's nothing wrong with this? There's no right or wrong, now is it, dude?'"
Duck Dynasty, now in its seventh season, has broken several ratings records on both A&E and cable television as a whole, with the fourth season premiere drawing twelve million viewers. It follows the lives of the Robertson family, a clan with old-fashioned values who live together in Louisiana, running their multi-million dollar family business, Duck Commander, which makes products for duck hunters.

Rico says some people should not be given a pulpit to preach from... (And he wouldn't watch Duck Dynasty with a gun to his head, though obviously a lot of people do.) But you thought it was Pat Robertson, didn't you?

Red flags about Barbie doll privacy

Benjamin Snyder has a Fortune article about Mattel, fucking up:

Consumer activists are raising red flags about Mattel’s new Hello Barbie doll, which packs Siri-like voice recognition that some say could invade children’s privacy. Kids using the doll press a button to record a message, which is then analyzed by a Mattel partner before an audio response is returned over the Internet.
“Kids using Hello Barbie aren’t only talking to a doll, they are talking directly to a toy conglomerate whose only interest in them is financial,” Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood executive director Susan Linn told BloombergLinn, an activist who previously worked to stop Disney from promoting its Baby Einstein videos as educational, has been leading the charge against the wi-fi enabled doll, which she calls “creepy”. She’s helped organize a sizable social media campaign against the yet-unreleased Barbie.
Mattel is defending the new doll as a safe innovation in children’s toys. “Girls have always wanted to have a conversation with Barbie,” Mattel spokeswoman Michelle Chidoni told Bloomberg. “Through Toy Talk, we were able to create a safe platform that allows us to do so.”
The Hello Barbie doll comes amid struggling sales for the signature Mattel toy. Barbie sales dropped sixteen percent last year, to a billion dollars. In the fourth quarter, Mattel reported that net income fell sixty percent to $149.9 million, or 44 cents a share. Sales fell six percent, to two billion dollars.

Rico says ah, only a fucking billion dollars for the little bitch...

Germanwings co-pilot 'wanted to destroy plane'

The BBC has an article about the recent plane crash:

The co-pilot of the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps, named as Andreas Lubitz, appeared to want to "destroy the plane", officials said.
French prosecutor Brice Robin, citing information from the "black box" voice recorder, said the co-pilot was alone in the cockpit. He intentionally started a descent while the pilot was locked out. Robin said there was "absolute silence in the cockpit" as the pilot fought to re-enter it. He said air traffic controllers made repeated attempts to contact the aircraft, but to no avail. Passengers could be heard screaming just before the crash, he added. Details are emerging of the German co-pilot's past, although his apparent motives for causing the crash remain a mystery.
Lubitz, 27, had undergone intensive training and "was a hundred percent fit to fly without any caveats", according to Carsten Spohr, the head of Lufthansa, the German carrier that owns GermanwingsSpohr said Lubitz' training had been interrupted for several months six years ago, but did not say why. The training was resumed after "the suitability of the candidate was re-established", he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that the co-pilot's apparent actions had given the tragedy a "new, simply incomprehensible dimension".
Police have been searching the co-pilot's home in Montabaur, near Frankfurt, as well as a flat he kept in Duesseldorf.
The Airbus 320 from Barcelona to Düsseldorf hit a mountain, killing all the passengers and six crew, after an eight-minute descent. "We hear the pilot ask the co-pilot to take control of the plane and we hear at the same time the sound of a seat moving backwards and the sound of a door closing," Robin told reporters. He said the pilot, named in the German media only as Patrick S, had probably gone to the toilet. "At that moment, the co-pilot is controlling the plane by himself. While he is alone, the co-pilot presses the buttons of the flight monitoring system to put into action the descent of the airplane. He operated this button for a reason we don't know yet, but it appears that the reason was to destroy this plane."
Meanwhile, online tracking service Flightradar24 said satellite data it had analysed found that someone changed the plane's altitude from 38,000 feet to 100 feet, the minimum setting possible.
"Between 09:30:52 and 09:30:55 you can see that the autopilot was manually changed from 38,000 feet to 100 feet and, nine seconds later, the aircraft started to descend, probably with the 'open descent' autopilot setting," Flightradar24 chief Fredrik Lindahl was quoted by Reuters.
Lubitz was alive until the final impact, Robin said. The prosecutor added that "the most plausible interpretation" was that the co-pilot had deliberately barred the pilot from re-entering the cockpit. He added that the co-pilot was "not known" to have any links to extremism or terrorism. 
Analysis by Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent:
The focus now moves from the mechanics to the man flying the plane. An accident expert has told me the investigators will pore over the co-pilot's background and that of his family, too. Did he owe money? Was there a grudge? They'll look at his religion, whether he was in trouble with the law, whether he had a stable love life. This kind of event is rare, but it has happened before, although the reasons vary widely.
After 9/11, they made cockpits impregnable. It keeps the terrorists out, but in the end it also allows someone to keep their colleagues out too. Airlines have to make a call. Which is the bigger threat: terrorism or suicide?
Passengers were not aware of the impending crash "until the very last moment" when screams could be heard, Robin said, adding that they died instantly.
After Thursday's revelations, several airlines have pledged to change their rules to ensure at least two crew members are present in the cockpit at all times.
Meanwhile, relatives and friends of the victims travelled to the Alpine region where the plane came down, near the town of Seyne-les-Alpes.
Investigators are still searching for the second of the two 'black box' flight data recorders
The disclosure of the likely cause of the crash has provoked anger. "One person can't have the right to end the lives of hundreds of people and families," Esteban Rodriguez, a Spanish factory worker who lost two friends aboard the aircraft, told The Associated Press.
The principal of a German high school that lost sixteen pupils and two teachers in the crash said the latest news was "much, much worse than we had thought".
The second "black box", the one that records flight data, has yet to be found.

Rico says somebody fucked up big time, letting this idiot fly again...

24 March 2015

Spring-like to record cold

John Bolaris has an article at Philly.com about a change in the weather:

Get ready for the Jekyll-and-Hyde month of March to continue. Later this week you’ll need to break out the shorts before you scramble again for the winter coat and scarf.
We’ll see some clouds to sun, along with a continued chill in the air, as temperatures will remain stuck in the unseasonably cold forties. (The normal high is around 55 degrees).
On Wednesday, we will see a transitional day as milder air riding up over the chilly Canadian air will produce a few scattered afternoon showers as temperatures nudge into the fifties.
By Thursday, a strong storm system will be riding up to the west of us and this will allow for strong southerly winds to send temperatures soaring at least into the mid-sixties and in a few places the mercury could make a run at seventy degrees. Unfortunately rain and possible scattered thunderstorms (when was the last time you heard thunderstorms in the forecast?) will make Thursday a dreary day, with the threat of locally heavy rain, but at least it will be very mild.
In the wake of the storm, on Friday a late season arctic front will push through sending temperatures tumbling by day, back into the forties, after a relatively mild Friday morning.
The temperature tumble will continue Friday night back down into the twenties. A reinforcing shot of arctic air will invade Saturday as we have a pretty good chance of some flurries or snow showers. I believe temperatures will never make it out of the thirties on Saturday and, by Sunday morning, some record cold temperatures could fall. Readings by early Sunday morning should bottom out between twenty and twenty-five degrees in Philadelphia and down into the teens in some of our northern and western suburbs.
I see no real prolonged spring warm-up as we start to move into April. I know you’re ready to put this winter behind us, but I still see the possibility of some snow up until 15 April.  After that,  you’ll be safe putting the snow shovels away.

Rico says enough already...

23 March 2015

The song in Rico's head

Billy Joel, of course:

Apple for the day

Brian Chen and Alexandra Alter have an article in The New York Times about Steve Jobs:
Steve Jobs prized secrecy from his executives and employees during his tenure at Apple. Now his top lieutenants are speaking out to help shape the legacy of Steve Jobs.
Through interviews and tweets, Apple brass, including the current CEO, Timothy D. Cook, are throwing their weight behind a new unauthorized biography of the Apple co-founder, Becoming Steve Jobs, which goes on sale soon. In the book, executives take aim at another title, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, an authorized biography published shortly after Jobs’ death in 2011.
Isaacson’s best seller did a “tremendous disservice” to the Apple founder, Cook said in the new book, written by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli, and excerpted in the April of 2015 issue of Fast Company. “It didn’t capture the person,” Cook said. “The person I read about there is somebody I would never have wanted to work with over all this time.”
Jony Ive, Apple’s longtime design chief, added his criticism of Isaacson’s biography last month in a New Yorker profile. “My regard couldn’t be any lower” for the book, he said, noting that he had read only parts of it.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s chief of software and Internet services, endorsed the new book about Jobs on Twitter last week: “Best portrayal is about to be released: Becoming Steve Jobs. Well done and first to get it right.” Apple’s iBooks account also tweeted that Becoming Steve Jobs is the only book about Steve recommended by the people who knew him best”.
The book-on-book criticism is a rare public cavalcade from Apple executives, who under Jobs kept quiet about the company’s activities. It shows the lengths that Apple is going in its effort to reshape the posthumous image of Jobs as a kinder spirit, rather than a one-dimensional mercurial and brash chief. To that end, Apple gave the authors of Becoming Steve Jobs interviews with four executives, including Cook. In another sign of the company’s implicit approval of the biography, the writers will discuss the book and field questions about it at the Apple store in New York City.
Apple’s cooperation wasn’t easily won, Schlender and Tetzeli said in an email interview. When the veteran tech journalists first approached the company about the book in 2012, both were told executives would not give any interviews. Apple changed its mind eighteen months later, they said. “I think our patience and quiet perseverance was what eventually won them over,” said Schlender, who covered Jobs for almost 25 years. He said he wanted to write the book because he felt there was a side of Jobs’ personality that had never been captured by journalists. While the authors fact-checked portions of the book with Apple and other sources and showed the finished volume to the company, Apple wasn’t allowed to have “any editorial input whatsoever,” Tetzeli said.
“After a long period of reflection following Steve’s death, we felt a sense of responsibility to say more about the Steve we knew,” Steve Dowling, an Apple spokesman, said. “We decided to participate in the book because of Brent’s long relationship with Steve, which gave him a unique perspective on Steve’s life. The book captures Steve better than anything else we’ve seen, and we are happy we decided to participate.”
A handful of influential tech bloggers received early copies of the book, including John Gruber, who wrote on his website Daring Fireball that the book was “smart, accurate, informative, insightful and at times, utterly heartbreaking.”
Philip Elmer-DeWitt, a Fortune writer, said in a blog post that Schlender’s long relationship with Jobs helped distinguish the new book from past titles about the Apple founder. “It’s through Schlender’s stories, freshly told, often from taped interviews, that we get to know Steve Jobs as Schlender knew him,” Elmer-DeWitt wrote.
In an interview, Isaacson, chief executive of the Aspen Institute and a former managing editor of Time, said he had tried to take a balanced view of Jobs that did not sugarcoat the Apple co-founder’s flaws. He interviewed Jobs more than forty times and spoke to more than a hundred of his friends, relatives, rivals and colleagues, including Cook, Ive, and Cue.
In the introduction to Steve Jobs, Isaacson wrote that Jobs, who handpicked him as his biographer, didn’t try to exert any control over the book, except for weighing in on the cover. The biography proved enormously popular, selling more than three million copies in the United States alone. The book was published shortly after Jobs’ death in 2011. Cook said Isaacson’s best seller did a “tremendous disservice” to Jobs. “My book is very favorable and honest, with no anonymous slings,” Isaacson said, adding that he was criticized at times for being too soft on his subject. Isaacson said he was pleased to see more biographies and movies— a documentary on Jobs recently debuted at the South by Southwest festival, and a biopic featuring the actor Michael Fassbender as Jobs is also in the works— that would help the public’s understanding of Apple’s former leader. “It’s really cool that there are other books coming out by people who knew Steve and where those who really loved him can put forth their views, because that’s how history is made,” he said.
Apple’s active participation in Becoming Steve Jobs is also another sign of how Cook has shaped the company into one that is more open and vocal. Over the last six months, Apple executives have been on an extensive media campaign to promote new retail stores, the Apple Watch, and Apple Pay, a new mobile payment service.
Cook has not been shy about defending Apple’s image, either. When Yukari I. Kane published Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs last year, Cook publicly dismissed the book as “nonsense”. Kane said the colorful remarks from Apple executives about Isaacson’s book reflect a looser discipline at the company. “Jobs was a mastermind at controlling the narrative on Apple, and one of the ways he did that was to make sure that he was the sole spokesperson and that, officially at least, the company stayed above all the fracas,” Kane said. She added that Cook’s critical comment ended up being used for the cover of her book by overseas publishers.
Becoming Steve Jobs paints him as a caring mentor, as well as a delegator and skillful manager who brought the best out of his team. In the Fast Company excerpt, Cook told a story of what happened after he learned that Jobs needed a liver transplant in 2009. When Cook discovered that he and Jobs shared the same rare blood type, Cook offered a part of his liver to his ailing friend. “I really wanted him to do it,” he said in the book. “He cut me off at the legs, almost before the words were out of my mouth. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I’ll never let you do that. I’ll never do that!’ ” “Somebody that’s selfish,” Cook continued, “doesn’t reply like that.” Later in the excerpt, Cue noted that, in Jobs’ final years, the Apple chief did everything he could to have people treat him as if he were not sick. “You could see it in the meetings; he was taking morphine, and you could see he was in pain, but he was still interested,” Cue said. Cue has become a vocal defender of Jobs’ legacy, too, and he took to Twitter recently to criticize the filmmaker Alex Gibney’s new documentary about the former Apple chief as “an inaccurate and mean-spirited view of my friend. It’s not a reflection of the Steve I knew.” Minutes later, Cue praised Becoming Steve Jobs.
Of course, endorsements from corporate executives hardly ensure that the book will be popular. Becoming Steve Jobs is the latest entry to a crowded subgenre of breathless technology books aiming to unravel the mysteries of the late pioneer, works that include Inside Steve’s Brain, The 66 Secrets of Steve Jobs, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and, for would-be Keynote stars, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.
The publisher of Becoming Steve Jobs, the Crown Publishing Group, is promoting the book as the first account to get the story right, calling it “the definitive history”. Crown has increased the print run to eighty-five thousand copies from a planned first printing of forty thousand.
Roger Scholl, vice president and executive editor of Crown Publishing, said the market for Steve Jobs books was not even close to saturated. “He led such a rich and full life, there’s more to be done on him,” he said.
Rico says the photo is about the era (late 1970s) when Rico first met Jobs; Rico's then- (and now late) wife supervised a similar photo of him when she worked at the Regis McKenna ad agency in Palo Alto, California. And the guy was a fucking (if difficult) genius...

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