Space from the cheap seats

by lestro

A couple of students over at MIT apparently took this picture with a rig that cost them less than $150 total:

The two students (from MIT, of course) put together a low-budget rig to fly a camera high enough to photograph the curvature of the Earth. Instead of rockets, boosters and expensive control systems, they filled a weather balloon with helium and hung a styrofoam beer cooler underneath to carry a cheap Canon A470 compact camera. Instant hand warmers kept things from freezing up and made sure the batteries stayed warm enough to work.

Of course, all this would be pointless if the guys couldn’t find the rig when it landed, so they dropped a prepaid GPS-equipped cellphone inside the box for tracking. Total cost, including duct tape? $148.

Ridiculous.  So that shot above, what’s the deal with that?

The picture you see above was shot from around 93,000 feet, just shy of 18 miles high. To give you an idea of how high that is, when the balloon burst, the beer-cooler took forty minutes to come back to Earth.

And just in case you want to try this at home, they will be posting instructions here.

Amazing. Who needs NASA anyway?

The final frontier

by lestro

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Apollo 11 mission, the absolute apex of the human scientific and engineering experience, the 20th century and American achievement all rolled into one.

To celebrate the event, the NY Times has a long, but exceptional article written by the man who covered the space race the first time around, John Noble Wilford, including details of the run-up to Apollo 11 and what it meant to the country and world, as well as the explanation for how he arrived at one of the single most perfect ledes in the history of print:

I get up and read the articles I have written about the mission up to now. Reporters may feel impelled to write of the next day’s events as the culmination of the space race, the achievement of an ambitious national goal, a historic triumph. I swear to myself that I will not use “historic” in my top paragraph.

I reach for my notebook and try several opening sentences. They must be put on a strict diet. I cross out adjectives. I eliminate clauses that are superfluous and sound too much like heavy music for a movie soundtrack. I begin again: “American astronauts landed.” No, too restrictive and chauvinistic; it will be clear soon enough that the astronauts are American and the goal of a decade has been achieved.

I finally get to the irreducible essence in one short sentence: “Men have landed and walked on the moon.”

Literally, the entire world watched and shared in the joy as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on a planetary body that was not our own.

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Don’t Stop Believing

by twit

This weekend I was insisting that we’d see gay marriage legalized, and sooner rather than later.  After all, it is no longer illegal to be gay in America.  And then I saw this video, which only makes me more sure that equality is on its way.

Even if the military manages to get this video taken down.  This is a postcard from the internets letting us know that our culture is undergoing some kind of a shift.

and they really look like they’re having fun, too.  GO ARMY!

update:  From the New York Times on February 8, 2009:

Last year the principal architects of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” former Gen. Colin Powell and former Senator Sam Nunn, said it was time to “review” the policy.

That’s a polite way of saying they’ve changed their minds.

fun with evolution

by twit

although this video styles itself as a history of the internet…

Inauguration Day!

by twit

the text of President Obama’s Inaugural address:

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.

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The Year Anything Was Possible

by lestro

To me, 2008 was The Year Anything Was Possible. I remember the moment it dawned on me. I had been thinking it all year long, but at about 8:27 p.m. (pacific) or so Oct. 29, I realized without a doubt that in 2008 the rules were being re-written and Anything Really Was Possible.

It had been a year of Believing and Hoping and doing the math over and over, but that night, I knew.

By the end of 2007 it seemed as though there was real potential on so many fronts. And as 2008 dawned, the depression and gray cloud that had hung over the US since the USSC handed Bush the White House finally began to peel back.

The end was finally in sight. His time was over. There really was light at the end of this tunnel. We only had to make it through 12 more months, 12 months in which we would see his influence wane as the next presidency began to take shape right before our eyes. On January 1, that still seemed like either Hillary Clinton (most likely) or Rudy Giuliani (equally as likely, really).

But just three days later, the rest of the country caught up to what many of us saw: a new candidate, who not only talked about change but actually, himself, seemed to represent the very shift this country needed – away from the bickering, away from the personal politics, away from the Boomers.

When, on January 3, Barack Obama, a half-black intellectual with a funny name shocked just about every pundit in the country by thrashing both Hillary and John Edwards in the Iowa Caucuses, the buzz began to build: this guy is different.  This guy could actually do it. Was it really possible?

On the Republican side, John McCain, the one-time Maverick who stood up to the establishment in 2000 and gave George W. Bush all he could handle in the primary (before Bush’s people [allegedly] started planting ugly rumors in South Carolina about Mac’s adopted orphan daughter and knocked the real war hero and bipartisan right off the map) was lagging. But thanks to Rudy’s ridiculous and ultimately suicidal decision to entirely forgo the first two contests, there was no clear leader, allowing smiley unknown Arkansas Conservative Mike Huckabee to sneak in and eke out a victory amongst the corn. Anything was Possible.

A few days later, Hillary came roaring back in New Hampshire, a state that was leaning heavily in Obama’s favor until he picked up the victory in Iowa – Anything Was Possible – and Johnny Mac once again found his name at the top of the pile and the buzz began to once again build behind the former war hero who at one time spoke his mind but had since become a Bush apologist. After being all but left for the wolves in late 2007, Mac was once again the guy to beat, especially after Rudy – whose decision to skip NH and IA meant no one had heard a peep from him in the media for weeks – finally folded like an off-suit 7-2 after Florida. Anything was Possible.

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It is no longer illegal to be gay in America

by twit

via Slog, there is a flickr stream from the Courage Campaign, in protest of the attempts to nullify the marriages of thousands of gay and lesbian couples in California.  For example:

100_4241 by courage.campaign.

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My Selfish Racism

by the squid

I am not a sentimental person; but Tuesday night I was rocked to the core.

My wife and I are raising three mixed-race children; I am the black, she is the white.  We have a nice life, but sometimes I worried. I worried about how our children were going to identify themselves to others and I wondered how they will feel about me and their mother while growing up.

In our community, I am still a minority; however there is a wide range of people and experiences with which my children interact; but to know going forward, for the next four years, they will see a man of color – one the same hue as their father and uncle – being articulate, being vigorously debated, having state dinners, making decisions that matter for millions of people and who has a wife which reminds them of one of their grandmothers really affected me.

After Obama was elected, my wife and I spoke about race (as it occasionally comes up in our lives) and she said, “He is not African-American, he is half white…”  For the record, she said the same thing years ago when Halle Berry won the Oscar.

My wife’s point asks: What about the mother?  My wife doesn’t consider our children Black, but hers, and she feels the mother’s genes should be considered as well.  So my wife and I came up with a name for my wife’s condition: White woman with Black kids syndrome.

For the first time, Wednesday night, my five year old daughter said she was African-American; but to be accurate, our kids may have to identify themselves as half Black, a quarter Irish and a quarter Italian.

However,  America considers them Black because of me.

Now my children will see someone, who looks like me and who is not an actor, or a sports star or an entertainer, but as a person who has to make important decisions about life and limb much like their father, but only on a smaller scale.

It was a selfish racism which, I felt, would deter America from electing a person of color. There have been times in my life where, as a father, I have held myself back with feelings of inferiority and hoped that my fear would not translate or be seen by my children.

Now I feel I have a little bit of help from Mr. Obama.  He won’t be able to pay my mortgage, but he may be able to alleviate a burden my children would have to bear because of me – and that was a point on which both my wife and I agreed.

“… like this!”

by lestro

(photo via NY Times)

Nancy Pelosi vows that with her new majority in the House, she will crush the balls of the remaining Republicans with her bare fists.

welcome to the future

by twit

We knew this was coming

Several makers of brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs — devices that facilitate operating a computer by thought alone — claim the technology is poised to jump from the medical sector into the consumer gaming world in 2008.

and now it is here:


Photo: Jeff Mermelstein

Sixteen sensors actually read your brain’s electrical signatures to let you play a videogame by just thinking about it. Included software lets you use the device to manipulate any PC title. Think run and you’re out of there; think shoot and your enemy is toast.

So when do we get one that can surf the Internet?

Child Genius of the Year

by twit

I’m still stunned by the brilliance of this young person, and by the potential magnitude of his innovation.  William Yuan is only twelve years old, but it appears that he has radically accelerated the development of solar energy technology.  Via Slashdot on September 18, 2008:

Hugh Pickens writes “12-year-old William Yuan’s invention of a highly-efficient, three-dimensional nanotube solar cell for visible and ultraviolet light has won him an award and a $25,000 scholarship from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

‘Current solar cells are flat and can only absorb visible light’” Yuan said. ‘I came up with an innovative solar cell that absorbs both visible and UV light. My project focused on finding the optimum solar cell to further increase the light absorption and efficiency and design a nanotube for light-electricity conversion efficiency.’

Solar panels with his 3D cells would provide 500 times more light absorption than commercially-available solar cells and nine times more than cutting-edge 3D solar cells. ‘My next step is to talk to manufacturers to see if they will build a working prototype,’ Yuan said. “If the design works in a real test stage, I want to find a company to manufacture and market it.””

Wired adds that the award “is usually given out for research at the graduate level.”  Congratulations to William, and thank you for giving us hope for a brighter tomorrow.

a model for a space colony

by twit

via engadget via slashdot

This is what a beginning of the end would look like…

by twit

From the Hindustan Times, by way of Drudge:

What started from one village two weeks ago has now spread to 350 and has so far claimed 160 lives. Thousands more are bed-ridden. On an average, 15 to 20 people have been dying every day; Saturday saw the highest toll in a day: 24.

350 villages in two weeks.

The district’s health department is somewhat confused about the nature of the disease that has struck. At the beginning, the diagnosis was viral fever. Then doctors concluded that it was falciparum malaria. But after two weeks, they have ruled out both but still don’t have an exact answer.

because they are moving as slowly as possible, of course:

Specialists from the Infectious Disease and Surveillance Programme, New Delhi, have collected the blood samples of a few patients. The team will make its findings known in a few days.

In the meantime, if it is contagious, a local quarantine is now impossible:

the fear of the unknown has resulted in a mass exodus of villagers.

Stephen King taught us that…

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“All I know is, there is water where it didn’t used to be”

by twit

Which is apparently why the United States is losing a very Cold War…

From the International Herald Tribune on August 18, 2008:

Admiral Thad Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, who toured Alaska’s Arctic shores two weeks ago with the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, said that whatever mix of natural and human factors is causing the ice retreats, the Arctic is clearly opening to commerce – and potential conflict and hazards – like never before.

“All I know is, there is water where it didn’t used to be, and I’m responsible for dealing with that,” Allen said. Given the 8 or 10 years it would take to build even one icebreaker, he added, “I think we’re at a crisis point on making a decision.”

Really? A crisis point in the Arctic? However could this have happened?

As early as 2001, the navy issued reports saying that it had limited ability to operate ships and planes reliably in the Arctic. But with two costly wars under way, the region has remained an icy backwater and a low priority, with navy budgets for polar analysis declining.

oh. So what does this mean?

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But can they strap it to a shark’s head?

by lestro

So the most interesting part of the laser truck story was that Boeing has apparently already fired theirs. I followed the link and son of a bitch it’s true. But beyond the killing power is an even more powerful weapon for governments the world over:

Boeing announced today the first ever test firing of a real-life ray gun that could become US special forces’ way to carry out covert strikes with “plausible deniability.”

In tests earlier this month at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, Boeing’s Advanced Tactical Laser — a modified C-130H aircraft — “fired its high-energy chemical laser through its beam control system. The beam control system acquired a ground target and guided the laser beam to the target, as directed by ATL’s battle management system.”

Cool. The future is now.

According to the developers, the accuracy of this weapon is little short of supernatural. They claim that the pinpoint precision can make it lethal or non-lethal at will. For example, they say it can either destroy a vehicle completely, or just damage the tires to immobilize it. The illustration shows a theoretical 26-second engagement in which the beam deftly destroys “32 tires, 11 Antennae, 3 Missile Launchers, 11 EO devices, 4 Mortars, 5 Machine Guns” — while avoiding harming a truckload of refugees and the soldiers guarding them.

Wow.

But aside from the killing power – which though impressive doesn’t have all the neat smoke and fire that really gives the brass a hard-on – the laser might also give the higher-ups something even more important – “plausible deniability.”

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The Mobile Laser Cannon

by twit

Coming soon to a warzone near you

Hel_td_beam

Image from Boeing via Danger Room

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Once again, Arab insurgents distract a superpower from the obvious threat… The other superpower

by lestro

In the future, when alien anthropologists or hyper-intelligent insect archaeologists are trying to piece together the end of what we call ‘human civilization,’ they will undoubtedly come to one conclusion:

It was the fault of the Arabs. But not in the way that one might expect.

After 50 years of posturing and bluffing and threats of mutual assured destruction, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union finally seemed to burn itself out in the late 80s. The Soviet Union broke apart and the Doomsday Clock finally turned back a few ticks as everyone was now almost all on the same side.

World War III, at least as we expected it, had been averted.

But the new threat of Islamofacism stepped in to fill the gap, an ideology of destruction and hate, premised on a bastardization of a religion and a total lack of respect for nation states, their leadership and their territorial boundaries.

Eventually, all eyes turned to this rising force as the new potential enemy for World War III. At first, they attacked, we ignored. They attacked again, we swatted at them like flies. They attacked again and we continued to pooh-pooh and downplay the threat to our national security. Then, on September 11, 2001, the little bastards went too far and suddenly everyone – including, finally, the Bush Administration – was paying attention.

Finally we had a new enemy. Finally we could crank our war machine back up. The World War that we had spent 50 years preparing for was finally on our doorstep.

It didn’t matter that it wasn’t the war we expected or that they didn’t play by the rules, we took it to them.

Fer us or agin us. And agin us gets bombed.

If World War III was going to play out, it was obviously going to be between the Civilized World and the Fundamentalist Islamic World.

Made sense at the time.

But history, says the cliché, is written by the victors. And that means much of the story often gets left out. And as recent events in Georgia have shown us, just because we counted out the Soviets and that version of WWIII doesn’t mean they did.

We took our eye off the Russians in favor of the Arabs and it may end up costing us. Just like it did them.

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hallelujah, it’s raining brains

by twit

Good news, everybody! Scientists have figured out how to build living brains:

Because the brain is living tissue, it must be housed in a special temperature-controlled unit — it communicates with its “body” via a Bluetooth radio link.

… From the very start, the neurons get busy. “Within about 24 hours, they start sending out feelers to each other and making connections,” said Warwick. “Within a week we get some spontaneous firings and brain-like activity” similar to what happens in a normal rat — or human — brain, he added.

These built-from-scratch brains are independent:

The robot has no additional control from a human or computer.

and unique, too.

“It’s quite funny — you get differences between the brains,” said Warwick. “This one is a bit boisterous and active, while we know another is not going to do what we want it to.”

Funny is one way to describe it…

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“Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

by lestro

Apparently, the US and UK have decided to cancel scheduled war games with the Russians in light of their recent attacks on Georgia:

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity Tuesday, said that the August 15-23 exercises involving Russian, French, British and US warships in the Sea of Japan “have been scrapped.” The exercises were to involve an onshore component in the Russian port of Vladivostok.

“In the wake of this conflict, there is no way that we can proceed with this joint exercise at this time,” the official said.

I believe Russia’s response was something to the effect of “That’s okay with us, we don’t need the games anymore as we found a real war to practice in…”

Besides, the only good War Games are the ones that involve Matthew Broderick and the WOPR that just wants to play a nice game of chess.

However, given that Russia and the West are once again viewing each other suspiciously through figurative and literal gun sights, maybe we should not have canceled. It does always help to get a close-up view of what your enemy is up to…

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How do you say “Gulf of Tonkin” in Cyrillic?

by lestro

So it looks like Russia launched the first salvo in this war about a month ago.

Weeks before bombs started falling on Georgia, a security researcher in suburban Massachusetts was watching an attack against the country in cyberspace…

Jose Nazario of Arbor Networks in Lexington noticed a stream of data directed at Georgian government sites containing the message: “win+love+in+Rusia.”

Other Internet experts in the United States said the attacks against Georgia’s Internet infrastructure began as early as July 20, with coordinated barrages of millions of requests — known as distributed denial of service, or D.D.O.S., attacks — that overloaded and effectively shut down Georgian servers…

This, combined with reports that South Ossetians have been ethnically cleansing Georgians, leads me to believe that the Russians were hoping to provoke a response that would allow them to move their already-prepared-and-waiting military into their neighbor.

It also explains how they got in there so quickly.

But be prepared, this is what the future of war looks like:

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Russia is so much better at war

by twit

No wonder Kissinger looks so grumpy in this photo:

U.S. President George W. Bush with first lady Laura Bush, left, and daughter, Barbara, right, cheer on the United States' swimmers on Sunday, August 10, 2008, in the games of the XXIX Olympiad in Beijing, China. (Michael Goulding/Orange County Register/MC

Michael Goulding/Orange County Register/MCT via McClatchy

From The Guardian on August 10, 2008:

Moscow appears to have calculated that the west, tied up in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and dependent on Russia for oil and gas, will do nothing to support Georgia beyond expressing impotent concern.

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The Urban Nomad Shelter

by twit

the Urban Nomad Shelter makes sleeping outdoors more aesthetically pleasing:

urbanshelter.jpg

from Electroland

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The 26.5 hour day

by twit

Hello, Dr. Wesch.

It is nice to make your digital acquaintance – and thank you kindly for the videos.

Information, information revolution:

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modern rock art

by twit

from the Boston Globe via slashdot:

Aerial view of CERN and the surrounding region of Switzerland and France.

Three rings are visible, the smaller (at lower right) shows the underground position of the Proton Synchrotron, the middle ring is the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) with a circumference of 7 km and the largest ring (27 km) is that of the former Large Electron and Positron collider (LEP) accelerator with part of Lake Geneva in the background. (© CERN)

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Screw the planet, save the humans

by lestro

Today in the NY Times, Paul Krugman has a column asking “Can This Planet Be Saved?

It’s a good piece about offshore drilling that makes a similar argument to the old philosopher who said that you can either believe in god or not, but if you do believe in god and there is no god, you lose nothing. However, if there is a god and you didn’t believe, you lose it all:

While there’s a chance that we’ll act against global warming only to find that the danger was overstated, there’s also a chance that we’ll fail to act only to find that the results of inaction were catastrophic. Which risk would you rather run?

It’s a great argument for climate policy, even if it is not so good for the whole faith thing.

Martin Weitzman, a Harvard economist who has been driving much of the recent high-level debate, offers some sobering numbers.

Surveying a wide range of climate models, he argues that, over all, they suggest about a 5 percent chance that world temperatures will eventually rise by more than 10 degrees Celsius (that is, world temperatures will rise by 18 degrees Fahrenheit).

As Mr. Weitzman points out, that’s enough to “effectively destroy planet Earth as we know it.” It’s sheer irresponsibility not to do whatever we can to eliminate that threat.

But that being said, the problem is the assumption made right off the bat and then again in that quote:

Recently the Web site The Politico asked Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, why she was blocking attempts to tack offshore drilling amendments onto appropriations bills. “I’m trying to save the planet; I’m trying to save the planet,” she replied.

I’m glad to hear it. But I’m still worried about the planet’s prospects.

I am not. The planet will be fine. Life will be fine. It will continue and evolution will help species adapt to the new, warmer world.

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hello, America

by twit

How’s that American Dream™ treating you these days?

Via the BBC on July 17, 2008:

“The Measure of America reveals huge gaps among some groups in our country to access opportunity and reach their potential,” said the report’s author, Sarah Burd-Sharps.

“Some Americans are living anywhere from 30 to 50 years behind others when it comes to issues we all care about: health, education and standard of living. … the state human development index shows that people in last-ranked Mississippi are living 30 years behind those in first-ranked Connecticut.

… Of the world’s richest nations, the US has the most children (15%) living in poverty.

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anarchy for breakfast

by twit

Via the Raw Story, it looks like there are some plans developing to welcome the Republican National Convention to St. Paul, Minnesota:

Since last summer, an anarchist group calling itself the RNC Welcoming Committee has been advertising its intention to be present at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN this September, even releasing a video showing black-clad figures cheerfully spreading the word.

here’s the video:

but don’t worry, the government is getting ready, too:

CNN’s Ed Lavendera reports that Denver and St. Paul officials have said that the types of weapons being purchased are “top secret.”

Apart from the traditional pepper spray and rubber bullets employed by police for controlling large protests, Denver, Colorado and St. Paul, Minnesota officials may be spending large sums on weapons CNN calls ’science fiction sounding’.

Weapons such as the sonic ray gun, which emits a head-splitting frequency and deafens large groups of people.

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T. Boone Pickens has a plan. Or is he just an old windbag?

by lestro

There’s a new commercial running all across the country in support of a new energy plan put forth by an 80-year-old oil billionaire from Oklahoma.

And here’s the weird thing: It appears to be a really good, progressive plan based bridging the gap to renewable, green power. He calls America the “Saudi Arabia of wind”:

Studies from around the world show that the Great Plains states are home to the greatest wind energy potential in the world — by far.

The Department of Energy reports that 20% of America’s electricity can come from wind. North Dakota alone has the potential to provide power for more than a quarter of the country….

Building wind facilities in the corridor that stretches from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota could produce 20% of the electricity for the United States at a cost of $1 trillion. It would take another $200 billion to build the capacity to transmit that energy to cities and towns.

That’s a lot of money, but it’s a one-time cost. And compared to the $700 billion we spend on foreign oil every year, it’s a bargain.

Also, being a good American capitalist, he pitches it as the economic boom it can be in both technology and in the small towns in flyover country (please note his financial stake in this plan):

Sweetwater was typical of many small towns in middle-America. With a shortage of good jobs, the youth of Sweetwater were leaving in search of greater opportunities. And the town’s population dropped from 12,000 to under 10,000.

When a large wind power facility was built outside of town, Sweetwater experienced a revival. New economic opportunity brought the town back to life and the population has grown back up to 12,000.

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Oh what fun it is to fly

by twit

Thank you Consumerist:

[T]he EMD Safety Bracelet from Lamperd Less Lethal is designed to make flying a fun experience once again. Just check out everything it can do:

Take the place of an airline boarding pass.

Contain personal information about the traveler.

Be able to monitor the whereabouts of each passenger and his/her luggage.

Shock the wearer on command, completely immobilizing him/her for several minutes.

That made my eye twitch. and then on April 18, 2008, Wired reports:

This is the worst air travel security idea I’ve heard of in a long time.

A Canadian company called Lamperd Less Lethal is promoting the EMD Safety Bracelet. It’s equipped with electro muscular disruption technology, which effectively short-circuits the central nervous system. Zap someone and they’ll be completely immobile for several minutes.

The technology isn’t new — cops and security guards have been using it for years in tasers. What’s new is the marketing approach. Lamperd is hawking the EMD bracelet as the ideal tool for fighting terrorists intent on taking over an airplane.

And they’re doing so with a blatantly exploitive promotional video.

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The Great Sonics Swindle of 2008

by lestro

Many thoughts on the Great Sonics Swindle of 2008.

Not being a Sonics fan, I do not have a stake in the team, but I see in the Sonics saga the potential fate of any professional sports team city that has the audacity to stand up and tell billionaires that they are going to have support their own investments.

What happened is this: Former owner and Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz sold the team after failing to get a many hundred million dollar handout form the city and state to renovate the arena they use and reap the profits from. After Schultz realized the people, still sore over the extortion the Seahawks and Mariners laid on them to get Qwest and Safeco Fields, respectively, weren’t gonna pony up for a new stadium, he bailed, selling the team to the group led by Clay Bennett, of Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City picked up a basketball jones after Hurricane Katrina forced the Hornets to relocate to the capital of Flyover Country while their city was pumped out and rebuilding began. Since there is nothing to do in Oklahoma City, the arrival of the NBA was HUGE and the people came out to support the team.

Once the Hornets went back to New Orleans – because the value of a sports team to a city cannot be measured in dollars alone – Oklahoma City got itchy. Sensing opportunity as well as the realization that yes, a sports team has a value that can;t be measured in dollars alone, Bennett turned his sights on the Sonics.

Bennett promised Schultz and the city that he was not there to steal the team – despite internal emails which revealed he was telling his investors exactly the opposite. But even Schultz said he knew selling the team to a guy from Oklahoma City would spur the government into coughing up money for a new stadium.

So Bennett pledged to negotiate in good faith with the city and state to get his shiny new stadium, knowing full well that what he was asking for demanding was ridiculous. Everything went as expected – excepting the offers from other local cities that were also dismissed – and even the NBA Commissioner – and the guy that inducted Clay Bennett into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame – David Stern approved the outright theft of the team.

The owners, of course, were looking out for their own good, knowing that when they wanted shiny new showplaces for their product, their host cities would have no choice but pony up. After all, if the No. 13 market in the country could lose a team to Oklafuckinghoma ( No. 45), anyone could be next.

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Biofuels are a crime against humanity

by twit

We should have known something was wrong the instant biofuels became so enthusiastically supported by the Bush Administration, but it still is something of a surprise that the World Bank has for months sat on a report that details the crimes against humanity caused by the biofuels industry.

Fortunately, there is someone with a conscience working at the World Bank who helpfully leaked the “damning” report to the media. Via the Guardian on July 4, 2008:

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% – far more than previously estimated – according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.

The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises.

The World Bank report also includes an analysis of what this means for the world:

Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as “the first real economic crisis of globalisation”.

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Viacom wants to know what you are watching on YouTube

by twit

The beginning of the end, via Wired on July 2, 2008:

Google will have to turn over every record of every video watched by YouTube users, including users’ names and IP addresses, to Viacom, which is suing Google for allowing clips of its copyrighted videos to appear on YouTube, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Sure, right now they are just suing Google and Youtube, but Jammie Thomas probably has a different perspective on where this can lead. Via Wired on June 30, 2008:

The Recording Industry Association of America on Monday urged a federal judge to leave intact a $222,000 jury verdict against Jammie Thomas, the Minnesota mother of two who has become a public symbol of the RIAA’s litigation campaign of more than 20,000 copyright lawsuits against peer-to-peer file sharers.

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The new mission to Mars

by twit

The Associated Press reports on June 26, 2008:

http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/images/Mars.gif

The Phoenix lander’s first taste test of soil near Mars’ north pole reveals a briny environment similar to what can be found in backyards on Earth, scientists said Thursday.

“There’s nothing about it that would preclude life. In fact, it seems very friendly,” mission scientist Samuel Kounaves of Tufts University said of the soil. “There’s nothing about it that’s toxic.”

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monkeys in the middle

by twit

When the twit looks at how monkey imagery is tossed around in a rollicking sea of interpretation and meaning, the poor monkey seems very much like a kid at the center of a hotly-contested custody battle.

Monkeys haven’t done anything to anybody. Hollywood confirms that Apes will be a problem for humans, but monkeys are alright. Nevertheless, a monkey can be as offensive as a noose, depending on the context.

Monkey shirts, Monkey dolls, and now we have a Monkey God, hallelujah.

From the Times of India on June 24, 2008:

The idol is being presented to Obama as he is reported to be a Lord Hanuman devotee and carries with him a locket of the monkey god along with other good luck charms.

The twit very much wants one of these Obama charm bracelets…

hooray, it’s Monday

by twit

Let’s have a riot for food, since nobody is expecting such a thing:

“We’re still trying to figure out why so many people showed up.”

Since the economy is going so great, food prices are so low and that price of gas makes us the envy of the world…

Milwaukee police said they have restored order but will remain outside of the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center after a crowd awaiting free food vouchers became unruly this morning.

it just makes no sense that 2,500 people would show up at a welfare office first thing on a Monday morning, and then start rushing the door…

Police responded to the building about 7 a.m. after 2,500 people lined up on the sidewalk and eventually began to block traffic in the street. A number of people had rushed the door, and some people became caught in the crush; however, there were no serious injuries, according to Schwartz.

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