23 April 2014

Battushig Myanganbayar aced an edX MOOC, then gave lessons to MIT.

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/04/battushig_myanganbayar_aced_an_edx_mooc_then_gave_lessons_to_mit.html?wpisrc=newsletter_jcr:content&mc_cid=2a3044f961&mc_eid=1e33cda799


Sent from my iPhone

Mark Seymour
215.866.6184
mseymour@proofmark.com

The Curious Murder of Manny Clements

http://www.truewestmagazine.com/jcontent/history/history/investigating-history/6749-the-curious-murder-of-manny-clements


Sent from my iPhone

Mark Seymour
215.866.6184
mseymour@proofmark.com

Hideout Hijinks

http://www.truewestmagazine.com/jcontent/living-the-dream/living-the-dream/firearms/6717-hideout-hijinks


Sent from my iPhone

Mark Seymour
215.866.6184
mseymour@proofmark.com

Hunting His Own Kind

http://www.truewestmagazine.com/jcontent/history/history/history-features/6739-hunting-his-own-kind


Sent from my iPhone

Mark Seymour
215.866.6184
mseymour@proofmark.com

Back off, America

In an exclusive interview with Time, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says America should back off from allegations about Iran's nuclear program:


Rico says that delay is bad for peace, he knows, but good for Armageddon, which he has yet to finish...

Sex, in the unlikeliest of places

In the old souk of Damascus, Syria shops have sprung up to sell sexy lingerie, catering mostly to men and tourists from elsewhere in the Middle East:

Undope

Rico says that, on the other hand, Amsterdam officials threaten to outlaw the sale of marijuana to foreigners in the city's coffee shops, and shop owners and cannabis enthusiasts hope the law goes up in smoke:

Dope

Rico says that, apparently, the time has come for the first marijuana commercial to air on major networks, including Fox, CNN, Comedy Central, and the Food Network:

Jobs for the day

Rico says he still misses the guy:

Phone trick

Rico says it's worth trying:

Stupid then, and now

Rico say it happened on 22 April 1864, in Washington, DC.:
Congress added In God We Trust to all coinage.
Imagine the hoo-hah these days if we tried to get it back off...

Profit falls, but Taco Bell is not a threat


Alison Griswold has a Slate article about McDonald's:
Don Thompson wants customers to know that, at McDonald’s, “we actually crack eggs”. It was a point the CEO kept coming back to in his first-quarter earnings call as he attempted to reassure investors that new competition in the fast-food breakfast wars isn’t a serious threat to the Golden Arches and its flagship Egg McMuffin. “It seems, every year, there's someone new that is making a run, and none of them have really stopped their focus on breakfast, whether that be the closer in competitors or if that's sandwich shops or if that's taco shops or anything else,” Thompson said, in an apparent nod to Taco Bell. “We have not seen an impact relative to the most recent competitor that entered the space.”
Breakfast has come into sharp focus ever since Taco Bell rolled out a new morning menu, and McDonald’s responded with a free coffee promotion. Taco Bell is among the chains vying for a slice of the fast-food breakfast industry, an area where McDonald’s has long enjoyed the lion’s share of sales. The industry did a total of over thirty billion dollars in US sales in 2012, of which McDonald’s claimed about ten billion dollars.
In the earnings call, Thompson said that the new competition “forces us to focus even more on being aggressive relative to breakfast.” He emphasized that McDonald’s excels in preparing its breakfast items fresh and serving them up quickly. “We crack fresh eggs, we grill sausage and bacon, we bake biscuits, and we toast muffins,” he said, adding later, “It’s not a microwave deal.” Taco Bell, the AP reports, has said it thaws and cooks frozen eggs in the morning.
Breakfast aside, McDonald’s wasn’t looking too hot after reporting its first-quarter results. The company said its net income dropped by five percent to just over a billion dollars, or $1.21 per share, worse than what analysts had expected. It was the latest in a string of iffy results for McDonald’s, which has suffered from increased competition, internal missteps, a slowed economy, and, most recently, climbing food prices. McDonald’s shares inched down less than half a percent, to $99.32.
Yum! Brands, the corporation behind Taco Bell, reported rosier results. The company beat bottom-line expectations with earnings of $0.87 a share, but missed on revenue. US same-store sales at Taco Bell declined by one percent and operating profit fell sixteen percent. Same-store sales also edged down at Pizza Hut but rose at KFC, two other chains operated by Yum.
"We experienced disappointing US results, which were impacted by unusually severe weather," David Novak, CEO of Yum!, said in a release. "We have confidence in our plans to drive balance of year improvement and are particularly pleased with the initial results of our recent Taco Bell breakfast launch."
Shares of Yum! Brands were moving higher in after-hours trading and climbed two percent to $77.48 before the bell. The company will hold its first-quarter earnings call soon, which may shed some light on its side of the breakfast battle.
Rico says he does what he can to support the profitability of all of them...

Spain's Robin Hood


Kelly Tunney has a Slate article about a guy who gave it all away:
Enric Duran is a "former table-tennis coach" who, by his own account, took nearly seven hundred thousand dollars from forty banks in Spain between 2006 and 2008 by applying for loans he didn't intend to pay back, giving the money to anti-capitalist activists, and putting out a video announcing what he'd done. He was arrested; last February, he skipped bail and has gone into hiding. The Guardian found him for a short interview about his situation and the burgeoning distaste for capitalism in Spain.
"I don't see legitimacy in a judicial system based on authority, because I don't recognise its authority," he said. His actions, he said, were at the vanguard of a worldwide debate on the economic crisis. The timing pushed the anti-capitalist movement into the light, just as many Spaniards were seeking alternatives to a system that had wreaked havoc on their lives. While the same actions would probably be better understood in today's Spain, he said that they would not be needed. The anti-capitalist movement has grown from a fringe movement to one supported by thousands of Spaniards, he said, evidenced by the seventy or so social currencies in use across the country and widely supported movements such as the indignados.
Duran's timing was superb, as he seems to have been finishing up his theft just as the 2008 economic crisis devastated his country. As for the veracity of his claim to have given the stolen loot away, the Washington Post points to this video, put out by activists who say they received "expropriated" money:

Rico says he'd be Petirrojo Capó if it was translatable...

Not a duck


Tom Phillips has a BuzzFeed article about an oceanic mystery:
The mystery of what is making a loud quacking noise in the ocean, which has puzzled scientists for decades, has been solved, researchers claim. Apparently it’s the Antarctic minke whale and not, as you might have assumed, a giant duck.
The bizarre, repetitive sound, known as the “bio-duck”, was first recorded in the southern ocean by submarine sonar operators five decades ago. But, until now, scientists haven’t been able to pin down what was actually making the noise.
The answer comes in a paper published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.
Here’s a recording of the bio-duck sound from the paper. As you can hear, it doesn't sound anything like a duck, but does sound quite a lot like bass-heavy ambient electronica.
The team behind the paper, led by researcher Denise Risch, got their “conclusive proof” that it was Antarctic minke whales quacking by attaching “multi-sensor acoustic recording tags” to two of the minke whales. The paper says that the recordings, the first of their type ever made of minke whales, provided evidence that the quacking sounds could be “attributed unequivocally” to the whales.
However, the team adds that they still don’t know exactly why the whales are producing bass-heavy ambient electronica.
Rico says he forwarded this to his oceanographer father for comment... (And the old Marx Brothers joke about 'why a duck?' comes to mind.)


Dropping drones on al-Qaeda


Gregory D. Johnsen and Miriam Berger have a BuzzFeed article about a bad day in Yemen:
The United States and Yemen pounded al-Qaeda targets for three days earlier this week across areas in southern Yemen, in another controversial escalation of the US drone campaign against al-Qaeda in Yemen. The operation, which is the most sustained in more than four years, included drone strikes on vehicles, apparent air raids on a suspected al-Qaeda training camp, and a Yemeni ground offensive.
Yemen’s Interior Ministry claimed that the operation had killed at least 55 people, which it labeled “militants”. But that initial assessment was tempered by a separate government press release that noted that Yemen was still “working on confirming the identities of the operatives targeted in the operation”. The Yemeni government also admitted that at least three civilians were killed and another five wounded “when their pickup unexpectedly appeared next to the targeted vehicle.”
The raids appear to have had two main targets: dozens of fighters, including Saudis, who have recently returned from Syria, and a suspected al-Qaeda training camp in Abyan. Although Yemeni officials said they have known about the training camp for some time, this was the first known strike on the area in the remote Mahfad region of Abyan, which is well beyond the day-to-day control of the central government in Sana'a. The strikes, which were more sustained and concentrated than those typically associated with drones, killed the three men running the camp: Muhammad Salim Abdu Rabu al-Mushaybi, Fawaz Husayn al-Muhark, and Salih Sa’id al-Muhark. Those have been the only names released so far by the Interior Ministry. US ships carried out a similarly large-scale strike on a training camp in December of 2009 off Yemen’s southern coast, although that particular raid ended in disaster when it later turned out that the target was a Bedouin encampment and not an al-Qaeda training camp.
The series of raids comes days after CNN aired a video (above), which was originally posted to YouTube, depicting a large meeting of al-Qaeda fighters, who were greeted by Nasir al-Wihayshi, commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the US considers the most dangerous branch of al-Qaeda.
Wihayshi’s appearance in the video is his first known public appearance in more than a year. A reclusive if charismatic figure from Abyan, Wihayshi spent four years as an aide to Osama bin Laden before being separated from the al-Qaeda commander during the Battle of Tora Bora in December of 2001. He later spent time in prison in both Iran and Yemen before escaping in February of 2006. In the eight years since that daring prison break, al-Qaeda in Yemen has grown and evolved from a handful of fugitives to the thousands of estimated fighters currently believed to be in the organization.
In early 2011, while protests calling for the end of then-President Ali Abdullah Salih’s regime further fractured Yemen’s already shaky government and military, al-Qaeda took over parts of Abyan and Shabwa, establishing fledgling “emirates” that adhered to al-Qaeda’s narrow interpretation of Islamic law. That initial effort faltered and failed during the summer of 2012, when a joint US–Yemeni air and ground offensive pushed al-Qaeda out of many of the towns and villages they had occupied. Yemeni officials now believe many of those fighters fell back to the training camp in Mahfad, the region targeted in the recent strikes.
Several media outlets have speculated that the raids may have targeted Ibrahim Asiri, who is often referred to as AQAP’s top bomb maker, or Nasir al-Wihayshi himself. But, despite reports of a helicopter landing to collect bodies for DNA testing, there has been no confirmation that either was targeted. Both men have been reported killed previously, only to reappear unharmed.
The three days of strikes also raise a number of questions regarding US involvement and whether the strikes’ legal justifications, ranging from the “imminence” of the threat to whether US personnel or installations were being targeted, as opposed to Yemeni targets, hold weight. Ryan Goodman, of the New York University School of Law, has a good overview of the legal issues at play here.
There have also been reports that, following a mistaken drone strike in December of 2013 that hit a wedding convoy, the Department of Defense, which carried out that operation, has been sidelined in favor of the CIA. Previously both the DOD and CIA had run parallel drone programs in Yemen, with each maintaining its own separate “kill list”. As with much of the past three days, it is unclear which US agencies or departments took part in the raids. The only thing that is known with any certainty is that there were several strikes and dozens of people are dead.
Rico says it's definitely a bummer for al-Qaeda, but it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between the before-the-drone-strike and after-the-drone-strike in these places...


Apple for the day


Lily Hay Newman has a Slate article about the latest from Apple:
Apple has had mail-in recycling options and trade-in initiatives for a while, but, beginning today you'll be able to take your retired Apple devices to any Apple store in the world for free recycling. And, if one of your castoff is in good shape, you might get store credit for it, too.
The initiative is a tangible action that relates to what CEO Tim Cook was talking about in yesterday's slightly abstract Better video. The goals seemed vague in the video, but this initiative is something that's immediately useful. Apple reports that it has recycled over four hundred million pounds of equipment since 1994, and many Apple recycling events accept devices made by other companies.
E-waste recycling is exactly the type of public service that a company like Apple can provide more efficiently than small groups, thanks to its reach. That doesn't mean small community-based initiatives can't produce meaningful results, it just means that Apple's size gives it an easy opportunity to make responsible decisions. And when it comes to the environment, scale is important.
In the video, Tim Cook says: "Better can't be better if it doesn't consider everything. Our products. Our values. And an even stronger commitment to the environment for the future. ...To us, better is a force of nature." It kind of feels like that doesn't mean anything, but maybe Apple can actually translate some of the PR-speak into action. And being able to drop any old Apple product off at one of the company's stores will just be downright convenient.
Rico says he no longer has spare Apple equipment, but you might...

Women dining in public


DelanceyPlace.com has a selection from The Hotel On Place Vendôme by Tilar J. Mazzeo:
In the 1890s, César Ritz and Auguste Escoffier together redefined luxury hotels and fine dining in London and Paris, and their hotels were where the elite in those cities gathered. Among their innovations were built-in closets, plumbed bathrooms, high tea and the service of dinners in courses. Not everyone approved.
The founder, César Ritz, personally planned the layout of the Hôtel Ritz (photo). Born the son of a Swiss peasant, Ritz had risen through the ranks as a young man, from waiter to hotel manager and now to partner. With Auguste Escoffier, he had redefined at the Savoy in London how the wealthy thought of luxury hotels. In the spring of 1898, he was at the apex of his career, opening one new grand establishment after another.
The Hôtel Ritz epitomized his personal philosophy of modern luxury. On the one hand, it was a palace hotel, meant to be the kind of place in which royalty might feel at home on a jaunt to Paris. The hotel famously had, indeed, famously has, no lobby proper. That was to prevent those who were not in residence from lurking voyeuristically in the foyer. It was part of a whole set of decisions calculated to make the palace feel private and intimate and cozy.
Those admitted to its magic circle needed the chance to strut the stage, however. That was how it worked in high society, where much depended on visual cues and performance. So there was a grand staircase, from which the ladies could descend in their finery, watched by all eyes as they made their dramatic runway entrance. It was not by chance that the Hôtel Ritz was established in the heart of the new Parisian couture district at the very moment that the French were inventing modern fashion. The shops touting the great names of design and luxury were clustered around the Place Vendôme and to its west along the rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré. On the small streets that spun off the Place Vendôme, and along rue Cambon, especially, were milliners and fabric merchants and British tea shops and the ateliers of up-and-coming young designers.
The Hôtel Ritz was a palace hotel, but there was nothing stuffy or ancestral about it, despite its aesthetic or its conveniences. To be sure, the furniture was classic and expensive, in the styles of the French kings. But all the rooms were designed to be contemporary and, since César Ritz had a not unreasonable fear of tuberculosis and cholera spreading among his guests, scrupulously hygienic. Heavy carpets and drapes that gathered dust and germs were anathema, and the bedrooms had newfangled innovations such as built-in closets and private, plumbed bathrooms. In tribute to his Swiss-born zeal for precision, in every room a small bronze clock on the wall kept the time exactly.
As Oscar Wilde complained, bitterly if not entirely logically, the elevators moved too fast and each room had 'a harsh and ugly light, enough to ruin your eyes, and not a candle or lamp for bedside reading. And who wants an immovable washing basin in one's room? I do not. Hide the thing. I prefer to ring for water when I need it'. In 1898, bathroom sinks with indoor plumbing were a novelty. In the coming years, when war would mow down entire generations of young men and when professional careers for women became new possibilities, only the truly rich would be able to keep household retainers to fetch their water.
From the kitchens, Auguste Escoffier modernized dining in Paris. With the help of Lady de Grey, he had already popularized high tea and made it fashionable and accepted for women to dine in public in London. He intended to do the same in the French capital. Escoffier invented the modern meal as we know it, popularizing 'Russian service', the system of serving dishes in courses. For generations before that, the French royalty had feasted on groaning buffets of elaborate dishes. And, for fine restaurant dining, Escoffier invented the prix fixe menu."
Rico says he hasn't eaten or stayed there, yet... 

Oakland Style

Rico used to live in Oakland, California, but didn't realize it had any style, though The New York Times seems to think so, in this video:

St George is a Palestinian hero


The BBC has an article by Yolande Knell about St. George and, no, not the one you're thinking of:
As England celebrates the day of its patron saint, many Palestinians are gearing up for their own forthcoming celebrations of the figure they also regard as a hero.
 A familiar flag flaps in the wind above a Palestinian church in the West Bank village of al-Khadr. The red cross on a white background (photo, left) has been associated with Saint George since the time of the Crusades. It is part of the national flag of England, and is also used as an emblem by other countries and cities that have adopted him as their patron saint.
However, Palestinians have particular reason to display the symbol and revere the early Christian martyr. For them, he is a local hero who opposed the persecution of his fellow Christians in the Holy Land. "We believe he was a great martyr for his faith, who defended Christian faith and values," says Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna. "By making sacrifices for his faith he was able to defeat evil. We take St. George as a patron for people living here and, as he was born in Palestine, we pray to him to remember this holy land."
St. George was a Roman soldier during the Third Century AD, when the Emperor Diocletian was in power. It is said that he once lived in al-Khadr near Bethlehem, on land owned by his mother's family.
While the saint's father is usually traced back to Cappadocia, an area in modern Turkey, it is believed his mother was a Palestinian from Lydda, now Lod, in Israel.
The saint is remembered for giving away his possessions and remaining true to his religion when he was imprisoned and tortured before he was finally executed.
There are many churches in the West Bank and Israel that bear the name of St. George; at al-Khadr, Lod, and in the Galilee, for example.
While the Western world marks St. George's Day on 23 April, in the Palestinian areas it falls on 6 May, according to the older calendar used by the Eastern Churches.
A service is held for the saint at al-Khadr, bringing worshippers from the Bethlehem area, and much further afield, to light candles and say prayers. During the feast, special bread is baked that shows him in his typical pose as a dragon slayer. Such images are also a permanent feature on many Palestinian Christian homes and public buildings. It is thought that the saint brings them protection. "He's a native saint who has done many miracles. We respect him a lot," explains sculptor Akram Anastas. "He's presented as a knight full of peace and grace, riding his horse and always fighting evil, which is symbolised by the dragon. We write underneath, in Arabic: 'God bless our house.'"
Anastas has worked on thousands of stone carvings of the saint during his career, selling them to Palestinian and international buyers. "I like him very much. He's a good friend of mine, and I've found him many times in my life. He's my guardian angel," he says.
With its associations of courage, gallantry, and honor, the Christian name, George, remains one of the most common in the Palestinian Territories. Other variants are Khadr (Arabic for "green one") and Jeries.
In a Bethlehem coffee shop, known locally as "abu George" [the father of George], I sit with members of the Thalgieh family, who are all called George. "Maybe we have ten people named George until now. Perhaps in the future we will reach a hundred," says George Elias Saba Thalgieh. "Here in Bethlehem, it's not just our family. We all believe that St. George will help us when we need him. If you have an accident the first thing you say is 'Ya Khadr'; it means we are calling for St. George to help us.
"I love the name. Our grandfather is George, I am George, so now my sons will name their sons George," adds the older man's nephew, George Nabil George Thalgieh, a well-known singer.
In the photo above, eight men in the Talgieh family stand outside a cafe, known locally as the abu George coffee shop. All the men in the picture are called George or abu George (father of George, as their oldest son is called George). George Elias Saba Thalgieh is second from right, George Nabil George Thalgieh is second from left. The older George also called his son, Khadr, the Arabic variant.  He was having brain surgery when his wife was pregnant and promised St. George he would name his son after him if he would give him protection. Mrs. Thalgieh said it was confusing to have a husband and son called George, so they settled on Khadr. The older George, George Elias Saba Thalgieh, also told me he was called George, as his birthday falls on 23 April.
There are a number of customs associated with the saint. Sometimes the Greek Orthodox priest is asked to insert a key into the mouth of children with speech difficulties, turning it to "unlock" their tongues.
There is a ritual in which visitors put a chain around their neck, pass it over their body and kiss it three times. This is thought to ward off sickness. Letters asking St. George to solve family disputes are placed inside the glass that covers his icon. People appealing to the saint for help also give sheep to the church so it can distribute meat to the poor.
Rico says faith makes people do funny things...

Twitter campaign 'backfires'


The BBC has an article about somebody at the NYPD who didn't understand technology:
A plan by the New York Police Department to use Twitter to boost its image seems to have backfired. Users were asked to tweet a photo of themselves with officers and add the hashtag #myNYPD as part of a social media campaign. But, instead of a steady stream of friendly photos, the hashtag was quickly adopted by users posting images of possible police aggression (photo, bottom). The NYPD said: "Twitter provides an open forum for uncensored exchange."
The original tweet was posted on the NYPD's Twitter feed on Tuesday. Featuring two smiling officers and a member of the public (photo, top), it encouraged users to send in similar photos. But, while several people did so, the hashtag was also picked up by others who used it to identify tweets containing photos of the NYPD in more hostile situations.
By Wednesday, the hashtag had become one of Twitter's top trending terms. The NYPD issued a statement in response to the activity: "The NYPD is creating new ways to communicate effectively with the community. Twitter provides an open forum for an uncensored exchange and this is an open dialogue good for our city."
Other Twitter interactions that have backfired include US Airways posting an explicit photo in response to a customer's tweet, and McDonald's using a hashtag to highlight its farmers, that quickly got taken over by people sharing their bad experiences of the burger chain.
Rico says the word 'twits' is so appropriate here...

Gubs for the day


Sam Frizell has a Time article about, amazingly, suppressors...
A new report shows that gun owners are eager to accessorize, despite silencers often costing more than the weapons they're meant to hush. Sales to civilians in the US rose to about half a million units in 2013, nearly forty percent above the 360,000 sold a year earlier
Silencer sales to civilians shot up 37% in 2013 to nearly 500,000 units, increasing from 360,000 in 2012 and 285,000 in 2011, CNNMoney reports. There’s now a nine-month wait to register silencers with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE).
The silencer-buying frenzy is the second wave of gun-related purchases in the last two years. After the Newtown massacre, gun owners feared that a weapons ban would be enacted, and rushed to buy assault rifles. Now that last year’s push for universal background checks has failed, gun owners have a lot of guns on their hands, and are outfitting them with gadgets including silencers, flashlights, laser scopes, stocks, pistol grips, and rail systems.
“People have gone crazy buying guns, but they’re done buying them for the time being, so they’re buying accessories,” Ben Shim, a firearms instructor and gun industry analyst with CRT Capital Group told CNNMoney.
Silencers are regulated by the 1934 National Firearms Act, and are legal in forty states. While purchasing a gun requires a photo ID and an electronic form submitted to the BATFE, purchasing a silencer requires applicants to mail a photo and fingerprints to the BATFE and pay a two-hundred dollar tax. And they often cost more than guns, approaching prices over a thousand dollars.
The thought of a silenced gun conjures up the image of a black-gloved hand wielding a smoking pistol in some grimy back alley, but advocates say they’re in demand because they allow hunters to fire multiple shots without frightening game. “Silencing is not a crime,” is the slogan of Georgia-based Advanced Armament Corp.
Rico says everyone calls them silencers, but they ain't silent... (And they don't fit Rico's Civil War gubs, either.)

History for the day


On 23 April 1969, Sirhan Sirhan was sentenced to death for assassinating New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy (photo). His sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment.

Duck and cover ain't gonna do it



Rico's friend Kelley forwards this article by Anthony Watts:
A press release from some former NASA astronauts on the current asteroid impact threat to earth, based on data on in-atmosphere detonations since 2001, gleaned from a nuclear weapon detonation detection system has yielded some startling numbers.
The threat is three to ten times higher than previously predicted. The data will be presented at the Flight Museum in Seattle, Washington, on Tuesday, 22 April 2014.
Just last night, another fireball was seen over Russia, caught on a dashcamera. (See the video above.)
Now it becomes apparent why this press release is important.
On Earth Day, Tuesday, 22 April 2014, three former NASA astronauts presented new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… three to ten times more, in fact. A new visualization of data from a nuclear weapons warning network, to be unveiled by B612 Foundation CEO Ed Lu during the event at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, shows that “the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck”.
Since 2001, twenty-six atomic-bomb-scale explosions have occurred in remote locations around the world, far from populated areas, made evident by a nuclear weapons test warning network. In a recent press release, Ed Lu states:
“This network has detected twenty-six multi-kiloton explosions since 2001, all of which are due to asteroid impacts. It shows that asteroid impacts are not rare, but actually three to ten times more common than we previously thought. The fact that none of these asteroid impacts shown in the video was detected in advance is proof that the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck. The goal of the B612 Sentinel mission is to find and track asteroids decades before they hit Earth, allowing us to easily deflect them.”
In partnership with Ball Aerospace, the B612 Foundation will build, launch, and operate an infrared space telescope to find and track the hundreds of thousands of threatening asteroids that cannot be tracked with current telescopes.
Read the press release here
Rico says that (assuming you have the time) it's the old story: bend over and kiss your ass goodbye...

22 April 2014

Apple for the day


Rico says that, no that anyone asked him, but Apple could just put a phone chip in the iPad Mini and solve this whole 'mine's-bigger-than-yours' thing...

Does not live there, alas


Rico says one of the saddest things in the world is an envelope (especially one addressed to one of the most beautiful women that Rico's ever known) that comes back labeled Return to Sender...

Beating the fakes

Tshepo Tshabalala has a SmartPlanet article about medicine in Africa:
The selling of phony pharmaceuticals is a big problem for Africa's developing countries. It is believed the worldwide counterfeit trade is worth about seventy-five billion dollars a year. The World Health Organization estimates that one in four packets of medicine sold in street markets in developing countries could be fake, and that in Africa, phony drugs contribute annually to a hundred thousand deaths, as people die from diseases their "medicine" is supposedly treating.
Many global companies are developing and finding ways to fight this counterfeit trade around the world but, in Africa, Ghana's Bright Simons has put the power in consumers hands'. In 2008, Simons developed mPedigree, a low-tech mobile application that verifies the authenticity of medication with a text message using the most basic cellphone.
Since its inception in various African countries, the system has had an average of over thirty-five thousand weekly verifications. A drug manufacturer in Nigeria tripled its sales in 2013 after it adopted the mPedigree platform, which has helped eliminate the fake reproduction of its products. And, according to Technology Review, mPedigree helped reveal to a major Indian company pilfering at a depot in which genuine anti-malarial medicines would be replaced by counterfeits.
“In the last sixteen months, mPedigree has protected over forty million anti-malarial doses, as well as ten million medicines in other categories such as antibiotics, emergency contraceptives, etc. To this extent we believe that this is only the beginning of what is going to be an industry standard across Africa, as far as safeguarding patients is concerned,” says Selorm Branttie, Strategy Director at mPedigree Network.
The mPedigree platform has won numerous accolades: last year, Simons was given a lifetime achievement award by the International Foundation for Africa Innovation for his work in mobile innovation; in August of 2013 he was named by MIT Technology Review as part of the World’s 35 Top Innovators Under 35; in 2008, the World Economic Forum selected mPedigree as a 2009 Technology Pioneer; in November of 2010 mPedigree became the first Southern Hemisphere organization to win the start-up category of the Global Security Challenge in London, England.
mPedigree works by having manufacturers sign up to its platform and upload information from each pack of medicine into a central registry, using standard mass serialization methods that allow it to show a record of possession from the manufacturer through various wholesalers and pharmacies to the user: its "pedigree".
The consumer buys a product with a label that has a scratch surface with a hidden twelve-digit number, similar to the scratch cards for airtime used across Africa. The consumer is then able to send a free SMS message to query the pedigree information stored in the registry on mPedigree's servers, and receives a quick response to authenticate his or her purchase. The system was initially invented for use in the organic produce trade, but Simons found its best use in the pharmaceutical business.
The counterfeit trade is prevalent over the African continent because many of its borders and entry points, such as ports, are porous. It is very easy to smuggle in fake drugs, because some of them can be disguised in other product packaging and slip through customs and other security checks. “The lack of requisite technology to discover these loopholes, as well as the tendency for bribery and corruption to take place at these ports, means that there is very little incentive to thoroughly check if the medications brought in are truly genuine. For most, it is routine business as usual,” says Branttie. Plus, the art of mimicking product packages and selling fake medication just to deceive consumers is a lucrative business.
The healthcare delivery system and supply chain over Africa is still not fully mature. For many of Africa’s poor, the price of medicines often dictates which brand or prescription patients purchase for a particular ailment, and often the information and efficacy of a drug is not important. “Usually patients are then trapped into buying the cheapest medication available, which usually is the counterfeited version sold at a marginally lower price just to drive sales,” adds Branttie. “Also, some of these medicines are very expensive and might be the equivalent of a week’s wages for the consumer. Buying it at a bargain might be the only way out.”
However, in the streets, slums or shantytowns of many African cities, counterfeits are sold just by infiltrating the supply chain of medicines. “A distributor or wholesaler of medication could be introduced to a consignment of smuggled counterfeits at a lower price. He decides he will make a killing from the lower price and distribute to his clients, who retail to the final consumer,” explains Branttie. These retailers could be anything from registered pharmacists to street side vendors.
The mPedigree platform protects consumers from counterfeit drugs in regions with low literacy and low technical capacity. Through working with about twenty telecom companies, mPedigree has appeared in over six million packs of medicine. Distributors and other middlemen can check the codes to verify that the supply has not been compromised.
In Africa’s newly crowned and biggest economy, Nigeria, mPedigree has become the mainstream. It is now a regulatory mandate that all anti-malarial drugs and, from 1 July 2014, all antibiotics dispensed in pharmacies and chemical shops will adopt the mPedigree technology.
mPedigree’s system has been adopted as the national standard also in Kenya and India, with pilots in Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, and Bangladesh. They've done successful pilots in Sierra Leone and Zambia, where full operational implementation will begin by the end of the second quarter of the year, with plans to go into Rwanda.
Rico says 'bribery and corruption'? In Africa? Rico is shocked, shocked...

Why agriculture?

DelanceyPlace.com has a selection from This Fleeting World by David Christian:
Agriculture arose independently in multiple, unconnected areas of the world in roughly the same historic timeframe. One of the great mysteries of history is why it arose at all. Scientists believe that foragers (or hunter-gatherers) lived comparatively leisurely lives with good nutrition, working just a few hours each day, while those in agricultural communities toiled almost ceaselessly and had comparatively poor nutrition:
At present we lack a fully satisfactory explanation for the origins of agriculture. Any explanation must account for the curious fact that, after two hundred thousand years or more, during which all humans lived as foragers, agricultural lifestyles appeared within just a few thousand years in parts of the world that had no significant contact with each other. The realization that agriculture arose quite independently in different parts of the world has undermined the once-fashionable view that agriculture was a brilliant invention that diffused from a single center as soon as people understood its benefits. That view was also undermined after researchers realized that foragers who know about agriculture have often preferred to remain foragers. Perhaps foragers resisted change because the health and nutritional levels of the first farmers were often lower than those of neighboring foragers, whereas their stress levels were often higher. If agriculture depressed living standards, then an explanation of the origins of agriculture must rely more on 'push' than on 'pull' factors. Rather than taking up agriculture willingly, we must assume that many early agriculturalists were forced to take it up.
The first agricultural villages appeared after many centuries during which foragers intensified their exploitation of particular favored resources, adapting their tools and techniques with increasing precision and efficiency to local environments. This was the first step toward agriculture. The end of the last Ice Age was a crucial enabling feature, making agriculture possible for the first time in perhaps a hundred thousand years.
The end of the last Ice Age also coincided with the final stages of the great global migrations of the era of foragers. As the anthropologist Mark Cohen has pointed out, by the end of the last ice age few parts of the world were unoccupied, and by the standards of foragers some parts of the world may have seemed overpopulated. Perhaps the coincidence of warmer, wetter, and more productive climates with increasing population pressure in some regions explains why, in several parts of the world, beginning ten thousand to eleven thousand years ago, some communities of foragers began to settle down.
Eventually some sedentary or semi-sedentary foragers became agriculturalists. The best explanation for this second stage in the emergence of agriculture may be demographic. As mentioned earlier, modern studies of nomadic foragers suggest that they can systematically limit population growth through prolonged breast feeding (which inhibits ovulation) and other practices, including infanticide and senilicide (killing of the very young and the very old, respectively). However, in sedentary communities in regions of ecological abundance, such restraints were no longer necessary, and may have been relaxed. If so, then within just two or three generations, sedentary foraging communities that had lived in regions of abundance for a generation or two may have found that quite quickly they began to outgrow the resources available in their environment.
Overpopulation would have posed a clear choice: migrate or intensify (produce more food from the same area). Where land was scarce and neighboring communities were also feeling the pinch, there may have been no choice at all. Sedentary foragers had to intensify. However, even those foragers able to return to their traditional, nomads may have found that, in just a few generations, they had lost access to the lands used by their foraging ancestors, and had also lost their traditional skills as nomadic foragers. Those communities that chose to intensify had to apply already-existing skills to the task of increasing productivity. They already had much of the knowledge they needed. They knew how to weed, how to water plants, and how to tame prey species of animals. The stimulus to apply such knowledge more precisely and more systematically was provided by overpopulation. Global warming at the end of the last Ice Age was what made intensification possible by increasing the range and productivity of many edible crops such as wheat and wild rice.
These arguments appear to explain the curious near-simultaneity of the transition to agriculture at the end of the last Ice Age. After agriculture had appeared in any one region, it spread, primarily because the populations of farming communities grew so fast that they had to find new land to farm. Although agriculture may have seemed an unattractive option to many foragers, farming communities usually had more resources and more people than foraging communities. When conflict occurred, more resources and more people usually meant that farming communities also had more power.
Rico says agriculture was, and is, a good thing... 

History for the day


On 22 April 1889, the Oklahoma Land Rush began at noon, as thousands of homesteaders staked claims.

Gun foes, supporters blast away at each other

Dan DiFlillipo has an article in the Philadelphia Daily News about gubs:
Firearm foes from the Philadelphia-based CeaseFire PA have a simple answer for the gun-rights activists who have increasingly targeted them for protest: Bring it!Gun owners have shown up to CeaseFire PA rallies and events in bigger and louder groups, videotaping the goings-on and counter-protesting, said Shira Goodman, the group's executive director. Last month, Pittsburgh-area gun-rights activists visited CeaseFire PA's Center City office, prompting flustered staffers to call police.
But CeaseFire is turning the criticism into cash: Goodman started a Beat Back the Bullies fund and is using her opponents to drum up support for her cause. They've raised almost five thousand dollars so far. "I hate asking you for money. But these bullies are trying to silence us. We need the resources to continue our important work," Goodman blogged to supporters last week in a post titled We Might Need a Restraining Order. Reached by phone yesterday, she added, "If they want to intimidate and bully, we will not back down."
Kim Stolfer, the activist who visited Goodman's office on 26 March 2014, agreed yesterday that he and other gun-rights supporters have stepped up their CeaseFire PA protests, but only because lawmakers have complained about the anti-gun lobby. He insisted that he didn't intend to intimidate or bully, and was polite and professional when he stopped by CeaseFire PA's office after visiting gun supporters regionally as president and chairman of Pittsburgh-based Firearms Owners Against Crime.
But CeaseFire PA staffers got "blustery" with him, demanded that he leave and refused his request for tax paperwork they are legally required to provide upon request, he said. (Goodman said staffers mailed it the next day.) An activist accompanying him videotaped the encounter, but Stolfer declined to release the tape on his lawyer's advice, saying they're mulling legal action. A police spokeswoman confirmed police were called to CeaseFire's office that afternoon, but issued no citations.
Tensions have simmered between the groups for years, in a state where urban lawmakers have repeatedly, unsuccessfully, tried to toughen gun laws. In May of 2013, dueling pro- and anti-gun protests in a Morrisville, Bucks County, park prompted Little League teams to cancel their pre-Mother's Day games there.
Stolfer said he plans to investigate CeaseFire PA's financials. His group and other gun supporters will gather in Harrisburg for their annual Second Amendment rally.
Goodman said she'll consider hiring security for future events if critics' protests escalate. CeaseFire PA's next gun violence prevention rally will be on 10 May 2014 in LOVE Park in Philadelphia.
Rico says he won't be there.

Idiot for the day


Stephanie Farr has an article in the Philadelphia Daily News about yet another dumb criminal:
Police said a strong-armed robber who lost his keys while beating up a woman for her purse in Upper Darby returned to the crime scene to search for his keys and was nabbed by a vigilant cop in an undercover car.
Cordell Kelly (photo), nineteen, of Upper Darby, allegedly beat a thirty-year-old woman for her Coach purse in the middle of Timberlake Road near Midway Avenue about 2:30 am on Saturday.
Unbeknownst to Kelly, his keys fell from his pocket during the assault, and on the keychain was a Modell's MVP card with Kelly's address on it, Upper Darby police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said. On a hunch that Kelly might return for his missing keys, Officer Christopher Karr picked up an unmarked car at police headquarters and waited for Kelly to return.
"About an hour later, here comes a fellow looking underneath the cars on the street where the robbery took place," Chitwood said. "Thank God he's not a rocket scientist."
Karr took Kelly into custody. Police executed a search warrant at the home where Kelly lives with his sister found the victim's purse in Kelly's room, police said. Kelly was charged with robbery, theft, and related offenses.
Rico says that there are smart criminals, just not all of them...

Phantom Badger, reporting for duty


The BBC has an article by Matthew Phenix about a new 'Jeep':
The Willys MB– better known as the original jeep– was a game-changer during World War Two. Small, agile, versatile and durable, jeeps were easy to deploy, easy to operate and easy to maintain, making them perhaps the Allies’ most important battlefield equipment. More than seventy years later, US aircraft maker and defense supplier Boeing has revisited the original jeep’s winning formula in a stocky little bruiser of a car called the Phantom Badger (photo).
Like the MB, the Phantom Badger is compact, just 60 inches wide, and, with four-wheel steering, it is highly manuverable. The setup gives the vehicle a turning circle of just twenty-four feet, fully ten feet tighter than a Mini Cooper’s. Such agility is particularly valuable in urban environments, where the ability to make tight turns and slip through narrow alleys can change the outcome of a battle.
And, like the original jeep, which employed a version of the Go Devil L-head engine from Willys’ civilian Americar line, the Phantom Badger makes use of the three-litre turbo-diesel V6 from the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The engine– which can run on JP-8 jet fuel as well as diesel– produces 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, sufficient to enable the four-wheel-drive Badger to reach a breezy eighty mph on paved surfaces.
In designing the Phantom Badger, amid the usual military concerns for battlefield capability and occupant protection, Boeing remained conscious of such factors as mechanical simplicity, global parts availability, and field serviceability. So the vehicle is light on expensive futuristic technology, and heavy on proven, commercially available hardware. It embodies, says Boeing spokesman Garrett Kasper, “the best of what’s out there today: tires, lug nuts, seatbelts, you name it.”
And the PB is more than merely tough; it is transportable. On 8 April 2014, after a series of torture tests that included form-fit checks, pressure trials and structural evaluations, the US Navy officially certified the Phantom Badger for transport in the belly of the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. a big step toward actual deployment with the Marine Corps and Air Force Special Operations, both of which already operate the Osprey. With the vertical takeoff and landing capability of a helicopter and the speed and range of a traditional turboprop aircraft, the Osprey can deliver cargo to tight spaces and hostile environments and get out quickly. (The current record for off-loading a Badger is just seventeen seconds.) The Osprey first flew in 1989, and has known its share of troubles over the years, including a swollen budget and some highly publicized crashes. But it has since proven its mettle in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on humanitarian missions, including the delivery of relief supplies after Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines in November of 2013. But the arrival of the Phantom Badger gives the thirty-year-old aircraft a whole new lease on life. “There was always an intention to have a dynamic payload [i.e., a vehicle] for the Osprey,” says Kasper, “but the aircraft presented certain challenges, including weight and space restrictions, and a forty-degree break-over angle.” The Osprey’s cargo hold defined the Badger’s size and shape, and the Badger’s height-adjustable suspension and 35-inch tires manage the Osprey’s ramp break-over. Hero, meet sidekick.
The Osprey is merely the smallest aircraft that can accommodate a Phantom Badger. The C-130 cargo aircraft and CH-47 Chinook helicopter hold two apiece, and the mighty C-17 transport can swallow ten of them. (Any one of these options is a major upgrade from the big, slow Waco CG-4 gliders that delivered jeeps and other heavy loads to the front line during World War Two.)
The Badger’s real trick is its extraordinary versatility. The vehicle is designed to accommodate a variety of mission-specific rear modules. Boeing has designed ten so far, including packages for reconnaissance, combat search and rescue, casualty transport, and explosive ordnance disposal, along with mounts for such weapons as a .50-caliber machine gun and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher. Modules attach to the Badger body with six bolts at six connection points, and are interchangeable in the field in thirty minutes or less.
Not a company known for its four-wheeled conveyances, Boeing created the Phantom Badger with the aide of North Carolina-based MSI Defense Solutions. The process, from first computer design to running prototype, took only six months. MSI applied its expertise in off-road racing, NASCAR, and Formula 1 to develop the Badger's suspension and four-wheel-steering systems, and is presently handling the design and fabrication of the interchangeable mission modules.
The Phantom Badger is tough, but it is no armored personnel carrier. It was designed primarily for expeditionary missions, where speed and maneuverability matter, just like the original Jeep. And like its heroic grandfather, the Phantom Badger will be a game-changer on the modern battlefield, able to go places and do things the outsize Hummer never could.
Although contracts with the Department of Defense and other governments are in the works, Boeing has plans for the Phantom Badger that extend beyond the battlefield. The vehicle lends itself to fire-fighting, law enforcement, search & rescue, and other applications. And how about a civilian version?  “Absolutely, yes,” says John Chicoli, Boeing’s Phantom Badger program manager. “It is a commercial vehicle, and Boeing will gladly have a discussion with anyone is interested in purchasing Phantom Badgers for their collection or personal use.” For now, however, Badger pricing remains classified.
Grandpa Jeep would be proud.
Rico says that, in case you haven't noticed, he's a military hardware junkie, and the Phantom Badgers is on his list...

Possible North Korean nuke test


Emily Rauhala has a Time article about rumblings on the Korean Peninsula:
Citing evidence of increased activity at its rival’s nuclear test site, North Korea may be preparing to conduct a nuclear test, South Korean officials have warned. Citing evidence of increased activity at its rival’s nuclear test site, Kim Min-seok said South Korea is “keeping in mind the possibility that North Korea may suddenly conduct a nuclear test in a short period of time”. Alternately, he said, the North may trying to “deceive us with what appears to be a nuclear test”; in other words, a bluff.
Neither would be a surprise. After a successful round of North-South family reunions in February of 2014, relations have taken a turn for the worse, with the two sides exchanging fire across a disputed maritime border and the North vowing to conduct a “new form” of nuclear test. Pyongyang has conducted three prior tests, in 2006, 2009, and 2013.
For South Korea, the timing could hardly be worse. Six days after a ferry capsized off the country’s coast, the nation is in mourning. The vessel was traveling from the port city of Incheon to the resort island of Jeju last week when it went down. As of Tuesday, local time, more than a hundred bodies had been pulled from the wreckage. Almost two hundred are still missing, and scenes of grief-stricken families are dominating the news.
To complicate the picture, President Barack Obama will be in Asia this week visiting Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. His visit is being pitched as evidence of Washington’s “pivot” to Asia and is supposed to signal the country’s commitment to its regional military allies. The North vehemently opposes American armed forces’ presence in South Korea, and considers annual US-South Korea joint military exercises a sort of dress-rehearsal for war.
If the test goes ahead— and that is a big if right now— it will likely be sold differently at home and abroad. Domestically, North Korea’s hard-working propagandists will package it as a testament to the country’s development under young despot Kim Jong Un and a warning to would-be aggressors (real or imagined). Internationally, it is a different game: Pyongyang has a history of using its nuclear weapons program as a bargaining chip. A bold strategy, but one that may backfire if Seoul and Washington are not in the mood to play.
Rico says they're not in the mood...

Apple for the day


Matt Vella has a Time article about a new Apple program:
Apple will now accept any of the company's products for recycling at its Stores at no charge. Even better, if the items look resalable, you might even get a store credit, aka an Apple gift card. CEO Tim Cook last month told shareholders the company wants to “leave the world better than we found it”, and this initiative is part of that.
Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environmental initiatives (and a former EPA administrator) told the AP that Apple aims to “use all our innovation and all of our expertise to make the planet more secure and make the environment better”. The move caps off an evolution from a few years ago, when the company was criticized by some groups as contributing to electronic waste. Since then, Apple has unveiled a number of initiatives aimed at cutting its environmental impact.
Rico says he doesn't have any old Apple stuff around, alas...

War-shrine visit may cloud that of Obama


Hannah Beech has a Time article about the Japs:
Some 147 Japanese legislators visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors its fallen during World War Two, including some convicted of appalling atrocities, a day before President Obama arrives in Tokyo to reaffirm security ties. Japan’s polarizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not among the worshippers. Instead, he sent a traditional tree offering the day before.
The Yasukuni pilgrimage took place during a spring festival of the Shinto faith and included one Cabinet-level official. In December of 2013, when Abe became the first of Japan’s last seven leaders to worship at Yasukuni, the US embassy in Tokyo expressed its disappointment. Reaction in China and South Korea, two nations most ravaged by imperial Japan’s excesses, was far angrier.
Since Abe took office in December of 2012— after a campaign in which he talked tough on China and called for a potential revision to a Japanese apology to wartime Asian sex slaves— Tokyo’s relations with Beijing have cooled. Territorial disputes in the East China Sea and historical grievances over Japan’s attitude toward its wartime past have even affected the two nations’ trade ties. (On 21 April 2014, more than 270 activists, including descendants of Japanese war dead, filed a suit at a Tokyo court, alleging that Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine contravened Japan’s postwar constitution, which was written by the Americans to ensure the country’s commitment to peace.)
Obama is to spend two nights in Tokyo, underscoring the long-standing security alliance between the two nations, and pushing for a trade pact that is facing domestic opposition in both countries. As part of an Asia trip that was postponed last year because of the American government shutdown, the Commander in Chief will also visit South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. (He will not make a stop in China.) Obama will be arriving in a region noticeably tenser than that he last visited. Last year, after years of Chinese double-digit military-budget hikes, Japan upped its defense budget for the first time in more than a decade. Tokyo’s defense commitments also increased this year as well, and Abe has made clear his ambitions of normalizing a Japanese military that is precluded by the postwar constitution from many military maneuvers.
On 19 April 2014, Japan broke ground on a radar facility near islands that both Tokyo and Beijing claim; it is the first new deployment of Japanese armed forces in four decades. Since 2012, when Japan nationalized some of the disputed islands, China and Japan’s military movements in and above these contested waters have markedly increased, although they appear to have dropped over the past six months.
The same day as the ceremony for the future radar station on Japan’s Yonaguni Island, a maritime court in Shanghai seized a Japanese-owned ship docked at a nearby port in order to fulfill a 1930s-era contract. The ship was impounded as payment for two Chinese-owned ships leased long ago by a Japanese firm; those two carriers were commandeered by the imperial Japanese government during the Sino-Japanese war and were lost at sea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the court decision “has nothing to do with Chinese-Japanese war compensation”. But Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed “deep concern”, saying the impounding of the container ship— which is owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, the company that is the successor to the original Japanese lessee— could have an “intimidating effect on Japanese companies doing business in China”. Was the timing of the Shanghai court’s decision, which derived from a 1988 lawsuit filed by descendants of the lost Chinese ships’ owners, a coincidence? Perhaps. But when it comes to relations between Asia’s two biggest powers, history has a way of forcing itself into the present.
Rico says that, in honor of his late stepfather's service in the Pacific, during which he was shot by the Japs, Rico will forego the more polite 'Japanese'. But there are probably one or two graves at Arlington that house people our enemies would consider war criminals...

Nepali relief fund keeps climbing season open


Michelle Arrouas has a Time article about climbing in the Himalayas:
Authorities in Nepal have offered to meet with Sherpas working in the Himalayas to negotiate better compensation for those killed or injured while helping mainly foreign climbers conquer the world's highest peaks The Nepali government has agreed in principle to meet the demands of the Sherpas, including setting up a relief fund for those injured or killed climbing in the Himalayas.
A government official told The New York Times that a relief fund would be financed by profits the Nepali government makes from expeditions to Mount Everest. However, he did not specify the precise amount or functioning of the fund.
Recently, hundreds of Sherpas threatened to cancel the spring climbing season if a list of twelve demands weren’t met by the government within one week. They are demanding better compensation for the families of the thirteen people confirmed killed in an avalanche on the world’s highest mountain last week. Three others are still missing and are unlikely to have survived.
The standard payment by the government is forty thousand rupees, or about $413, to each family, although they also receive around ten thousand dollars from mandatory life insurance policies. Sherpas also want improved working conditions, such as better pensions and educational assistance.
Tensions are also heating up on Mount Everest, where about four hundred foreign climbers and an equal number of guides, as well as many more support staff, have been left in limbo pending the outcome of negotiations. According to Tim Rippel, one of the expedition leaders currently on the mountain, “things are getting very complicated and there is a lot of tension here and it’s growing. The Sherpa guides are heating up, emotions are running wild, and demands are being made to the government to share the wealth with the Sherpa people,” he wrote in a blog post from base camp.
The Nepalese government has said it will negotiate the demands with Sherpa representatives, however, it remains unclear if original demands for around a hundred thousand dollars per individual killed or disabled could be met by the impoverished nation’s government.
Rico says it's not a job he'd want, no matter the insurance...

Changing television forever


Sam Gustin has a Time article about Aereo:
Upstart internet video company Aereo squared off against the nation’s largest television broadcasters in one of the most closely watched Supreme Court cases involving the media business in years. The outcome of the case could have important implications for Internet streaming, cloud computing, and the future of the television industry itself.
Aereo, a two-year-old startup backed by media mogul Barry Diller, has infuriated the major broadcasters because the company pays nothing to capture free, over-the-air television programming using thousands of dime-sized antennas that are rented to individual users. Aereo then transmits that content to its customers over the Internet for eight to twelve dollars per month. The broadcasters, including ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, say this amounts to blatant theft.
If the Supreme Court rules that Aereo’s service is legal, the decision could throw a wrench into the highly lucrative broadcast business model, in which cable and satellite companies pay billions to the television companies for the right to broadcast popular programming. Such retransmission fees are projected to reach four billion dollars this year and nearly eight billion dollars by 2019, according to research firm SNL Kagan.
The broadcasters say that an Aereo victory could prompt them to yank their programming from free television and move it to pay channels like Showtime. The National Football League and Major League Baseball, which are supporting the television companies, have threatened to take high-profile broadcasts like the Super Bowl and World Series to cable. Aereo says such a move would “disenfranchise” millions of Americans who still rely on antennas for local news and other programming.
After oral arguments, a decision is expected some time in the summer.
Last year, two Federal courts agreed with Aereo’s argument that it is transmitting thousands of legally protected “private performances” that individuals have captured using their own leased antennas housed in Aereo’s antenna farms. Those verdicts relied on principles established by the landmark 2008 Cablevision decision, which allowed remote DVR technology. But in February of 2014, a Federal judge in Utah sided with the broadcasters, intensifying the legal uncertainty surrounding Aereo.
“Based on the Cablevision remote DVR verdict, a one-to-one relationship between the consumer’s copy or the antenna driving the stream to the consumer is what the law requires,” Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia (photo) told Time in a recent interview. “We looked at that verdict and set out to comply with the law to the fullest extent possible, and we created a great technology that is solving a real consumer problem and bringing choice to the marketplace.”
The television broadcasters say that Aereo is simply ripping them off. “Nothing about Aereo’s convoluted scheme of miniature antennas and gratuitous copies exempts its commercial retransmission service from the same rules that govern all others,” the companies wrote in their brief. “ Aereo’s unauthorized retransmission of broadcast television to the public is obvious and unambiguous copyright infringement.”
Several prominent legal experts agree, including US Second Circuit Judge Denny Chin, who called Aereo “a sham” and a “Rube Goldberg-like contrivance, over-engineered in an attempt to avoid the reach of the Copyright Act and to take advantage of a perceived loophole in the law.” Judge Chin made those comments in a dissent to the Second Circuit verdict that found Aereo’s service to be legal, and is now being challenged by the broadcasters in the Supreme Court.
In March of 2014, the Obama administration filed a friend of the court brief claiming that Aereo is “liable for infringement”. Last week, Diller, the billionaire media mogul who has poured millions of dollars into Aereo, blasted the White House for signaling “that the preservation of legacy business models takes precedence over lawful technological innovation”.
Meanwhile, several well-known public interest and technology advocacy groups have backed Aereo, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, the Consumer Electronics Association, and Engine Advocacy. Dozens of prominent law professors and legal scholars are also supporting Aereo.
 Aereo simply provides an antenna for viewers to privately transmit free over-the-air broadcast television signals,” says Jodie Griffin, Senior Staff Attorney at Public Knowledge. “It does nothing more than make it easier for viewers to access already free broadcast service.”
Technology advocates warn that a ruling against Aereo could imperil cloud computing services offered by companies like Google, Amazon, and Dropbox, because Aereo relies on the same legal principles as the entire cloud-computing industry, a point that Kanojia made in the Time interview.
“The Aereo case puts the cloud at risk because, when broadcasters have complained about Aereo, their complaints also describe cloud computing,” according to Matt Schruers, vice president for law & policy at the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which is supporting Aereo.
In their appearance before the Supreme Court, the television broadcasters marshaled significant legal firepower to make the case that Aereo is illegal. The companies are represented by Paul D. Clement, the former Solicitor General under George W. Bush who is widely regarded as one of the most skilled and experienced Supreme Court lawyers of his generation.
Rico says that Aereo is probably doomed, but they better not fuck with the iCloud...
 

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