Friday, October 30, 2015

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Zombie Caught on Dash Cam

Zombie Caught on Dash Cam

Proof the zombie apocalypse is upon us about 45 seconds in...

Star Wars Arcade

Star Wars Arcade

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sen. Marco Rubio should resign, not rip us off

Sen. Marco Rubio should resign, not rip us off

After five years in the U.S. Senate, Marco Rubio does not like his job. A long-time friend told The Washington Post “he hates it.” Rubio says hate might be too strong a word, but he sure acts like he hates his job.

Rubio has missed more votes than any other senator this year. His seat is regularly empty for floor votes, committee meetings and intelligence briefings. He says he’s MIA from his J-O-B because he finds it frustrating and wants to be president, instead.

“I’m not missing votes because I’m on vacation,” he told CNN on Sunday. “I’m running for president so that the votes they take in the Senate are actually meaningful again.”

Sorry, senator, but Floridians sent you to Washington to do a job. We’ve got serious problems with clogged highways, eroding beaches, flat Social Security checks and people who want to shut down the government.

If you hate your job, senator, follow the honorable lead of House Speaker John Boehner and resign it.

Let us elect someone who wants to be there and earn an honest dollar for an honest day’s work. Don’t leave us without one of our two representatives in the Senate for the next 15 months or so.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks during a campaign rally at the Utah State Fairpark Monday, Oct. 19, 2015, in Salt Lake City. Rubio pitched himself as a fresh face in his party’s crowded primary contest during the campaign stop in Utah.

You are paid $174,000 per year to represent us, to fight for us, to solve our problems. Plus you take a $10,000 federal subsidy — declined by some in the Senate — to participate in one of the Obamacare health plans, though you are a big critic of Obamacare.

You are ripping us off, senator.

True, it’s not easy to raise money and run a presidential campaign while doing your day job. But two other candidates — Sens. Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders — have missed only 10 Senate votes during their campaigns for the White House. You, on the other hand, have missed 59, according to a tally by Politico. This includes votes on the Keystone pipeline, the Export-Import Bank and trade, to name just a few.

It is unpersuasive — and incredible, really — that you say your vote doesn’t matter. “Voting is not the most important part of the job,” you told CNN.

And it is unconscionable that when it comes to intelligence matters, including briefings on the Iran nuclear deal, you said, “we have a staffer that’s assigned to intelligence who gets constant briefings.”

And you want us to take you seriously as a presidential candidate?

House Benghazi Hearings: Too Much Too Late

House Benghazi Hearings: Too Much Too Late

Last week the US House of Representatives called former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to appear before a select committee looking into the attack on a US facility in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. The attack left four Americans dead, including US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.

As might be expected, however, the “Benghazi Committee” hearings have proven not much more than a means for each party to grandstand for political points.

In fact, I would call these Congressional hearings “too much, too late.”

Four years after the US-led overthrow of the Libyan government – which left the country a wasteland controlled by competing Islamist gangs and militias – the committee wants to know whether Hillary Clinton had enough guards at the facility in Benghazi on the night of the attack? The most important thing to look into about Libya is Hillary Clinton’s e-mails or management style while Secretary of State?

Why no House Committee hearing before President Obama launched his war on Libya? Why no vote on whether to authorize the use of force? Why no hearing after the President violated the Constitution by sending the military into Libya with UN authorization rather than Congressional authorization? There are Constitutional tools available to Congress when a president takes the country to war without a declaration or authorization. At the time, President Obama claimed he did not need authorization from Congress because the US was not engaged in “hostilities.” It didn’t pass the laugh test, but Congress did next to nothing about it.

When the Obama Administration decided to attack Libya, I joined Rep. Dennis Kucinich and others in attempt to force a vote on the president’s war. I introduced my own legislation warning the administration that, “the President is required to obtain in advance specific statutory authorization for the use of United States Armed Forces in response to civil unrest in Libya.”

We even initiated a lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia asking the courts to rule on whether the president broke the law in attacking Libya.

Unfortunately we got nowhere with our efforts. When it looked like we had the votes to pass a resolution introduced by Rep. Kucinich to invoke War Powers Resolution requirements on the president for the use of force in Libya, Speaker Boehner cancelled the vote.

Why were there no hearings at the time to discuss this very important Constitutional matter? Because the leadership of both parties wanted the war. Both parties — with few exceptions — agree with the ideology of US interventionism worldwide.

Secretary Clinton defended the State Department’s handling of security at the Benghazi facility by pointing out that there are plenty of diplomatic posts in war zones and that danger in these circumstances is to be expected. However she never mentioned why Benghazi remained a “war zone” a year after the US had “liberated” Libya from Gaddafi.

Why was Libya still a war zone? Because the US intervention left Libya in far worse shape than it was under Gaddafi. We don’t need to endorse Gaddafi to recognize that today’s Libya, controlled by al-Qaeda and ISIS militias, is far worse off – and more of a threat to the US – than it was before the bombs started falling.

Rand Paul Says He’ll Filibuster Debt Ceiling Bill

Rand Paul Says He’ll Filibuster Debt Ceiling Bill

Republican presidential candidate and Kentucky senator Rand Paul says he’ll filibuster a bill to raise the debt ceiling, he told reporters on Tuesday.

“I will filibuster the new debt ceiling bill,” Paul said before a campaign appearance at the University of Colorado. “I think it’s a horrible — it’s hard for me to not use profanity in describing it.”

“It’s a bill that shows a careless disregard for debt,” he said. “It will raise the debt with no limit.”

Congressional leadership reached a budget deal with the White House this week that would raise the federal debt limit, avoiding a potential shutdown. The deal, which would raise discretionary spending limits by $80 billion, has been been opposed by some Capitol Hill conservatives, though it is expected to pass. The House may vote on the bill on Wednesday, and a vote has not yet been scheduled in the Senate.

“I will do everything I can to stop it, I will filibuster it, I will not let them condense the time,” Paul said. “I will make sure that the country is aware that really both sides appear to have given up, right and left.”

“The right wants more money for the military and the left wants more money for welfare,” Paul said. “Guns and butter, that’s what we’re going to have, guns and butter, but as a consequence they’re destroying the country by adding more debt.”

Massive Debt, Budget Deal Introduced In Dead of Night, Vote Violates Another Boehner Pledge

Massive Debt, Budget Deal Introduced In Dead of Night, Vote Violates Another Boehner Pledge

The text is 144 pages long and increases the debt ceiling beyond when President Barack Obama leaves office, all the way until March 2017. It also, according to Politico, increases spending by $50 billion this year and $30 billion more the following year.

As AP reports, House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) is pushing for a Wednesday vote, this would be yet another instance in which he has broken his promise to give members and the public three full days—72 hours—to read legislation before voting on it.

“We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives,” Boehner’s “Pledge to America” reads. “No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents, and the public. Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on.”

In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February 2010, Boehner also promised that three full days meant “at least 72 hours.”

By scheduling a vote on Wednesday—any time before 11:36 p.m. on Thursday, actually—Boehner would be violating that pledge.

Boehner is also putting the chances of his likely successor, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), at risk. Ryan has indicated he thinks the “process stinks” on this, but is planning to review the deal in its entirety before making a decision one way or the other.

Ryan’s office has refused to answer a series of basic questions from Breitbart News on whether he believes all Republicans in the House should support or oppose the deal, what took him so long to comment on the deal at all (he still hasn’t weighed in on the substance just the process), whether he would support Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) remaining on as Majority Leader if he becomes Speaker after McCarthy contradicted him on the process of the deal, and whether Ryan would allow staffers who were involved in this process who currently work for Boehner to remain working for the Speaker’s office if and when this takes over. Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck, over the course of several emails on Tuesday, openly refused to answer each of those questions.

Texas Student Spent 52 Days in Coma After Being Tased by Police at School

Texas Student Spent 52 Days in Coma After Being Tased by Police at School

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Computer Play – Issue Number 2 – September 1988

Computer Play – Issue Number 2 – September 1988

The X Window System by Douglas A. Young

This completely updated and revised version of the best-selling First Edition describes how to develop interactive applications for the X Window System using the Motif user interface toolkit.The X Window System is the industry-standard software system that allows programmers to develop portable graphical user interfaces. Motif is a high-level user-interface toolkit that makes it easier to write applications that use the X Window System. Shows how to use the facilities of all three Motif libraries—Xlib, Xt Intrinsics, and visual components. Explains the Resource Manager; primitive Motif widgets; manager widgets; menus; dialogs; events and other input techniques; using color; bitmaps, pixmaps, and images; graphics contexts; text and fonts; Xlib graphics; interclient communication; creating new widget classes; creating manager widget classes; and constraint-based widget classes. For programmers developing interactive applications for the X Window System using the Motif user-interface toolkit.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What Happened to Seattle’s Job Market After Minimum Wage Hike

What Happened to Seattle’s Job Market After Minimum Wage Hike

The $15 minimum wage increase in the Seattle area “is getting off to a pretty bad start,” according to a new report.

Data shows that the Seattle Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) lost 700 restaurant jobs from January to September of this year, and a report from the American Enterprise Institute suggests that this could be the product of adverse effects of minimum wage hikes on restaurant jobs.

“What is also noteworthy about the loss of Seattle restaurant jobs this year is the fact that restaurant employment in the rest of Washington state is booming this year,” writes Mark Perry, an AEI scholar and professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus.

A report by Perry, published Wednesday on AEI’s public policy blog Carpe Diem, notes that there has been an increase of 5,800 new restaurant job positions in the rest of the state of Washington.

While the overall job growth rate this year for the Seattle MSA is higher than the national average, the drop in restaurant jobs stands out. The past three years have seen restaurant employment in the Seattle MSA area at an average job gain of almost 4,000 employees during January-September, according to Perry’s work.

“One likely cause of the stagnation and decline of Seattle area restaurant jobs this year is the increase in the city’s minimum wage,” Perry wrote.

The Seattle City Council passed a $15 minimum wage ordinance that is currently being phased in. On April 1, the minimum wage jumped to $11 per hour.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A health law fine on the uninsured will more than double

A health law fine on the uninsured will more than double

The math is harsh: The federal penalty for having no health insurance is set to jump to $695, and the Obama administration is being urged to highlight that cold fact in its new pitch for health law sign-ups.

That means the 2016 sign-up season starting Nov. 1 could see penalties become a bigger focus for millions of people who have remained eligible for coverage, but uninsured. They’re said to be squeezed for money, and skeptical about spending what they have on health insurance.

Until now, health overhaul supporters have stressed the benefits: taxpayer subsidies that pay roughly 70 percent of the monthly premium, financial protection against sudden illness or an accident, and access to regular preventive and follow-up medical care.

But in 2016, the penalty for being uninsured will rise to the greater of either $695 or 2.5 percent of taxable income. That’s for someone without coverage for a full 12 months. This year the comparable numbers are $325 or 2 percent of income.

Marketing usually involves stressing the positive. Rising penalties meet no one’s definition of good news. Still, that may create a new pitch:

The math is pretty clear. A consumer would be able to get six months or more of coverage for $695, instead of owing that amount to the IRS as a tax penalty. (That example is based on subsidized customers now putting in an average of about $100 a month of their own money.)

Backers of the law are urging the administration to drive the math lesson home.

“Given that the penalty is larger, it does make sense to bring it up more frequently,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a liberal advocacy group. “It’s an increasing factor in people’s decisions about whether or not to get enrolled.”

“More and more, people are mentioning the sticks as well as the carrots,” said Katherine Hempstead, director of health insurance coverage for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that has helped facilitate the insurance expansion under Obama’s law.

Cowardly Cop Knocks on Innocent Family’s Door, Kills their Dog and then Walks Off

Cowardly Cop Knocks on Innocent Family’s Door, Kills their Dog and then Walks Off

A cowardly cop put another family pet to death on October 20, leaving a mother and her children grief-stricken.

As surveillance video shows, a Florida City police officer knocks on the front door of the unfortunate family. He was going to inform them that they left a car door open.

The daughter opens the door slightly and their dog, named Duchess, was able to get out first. The cop reaches for his gun as the 40-pound dog emerges and fires three rounds into its head without hesitation.

“She was curious. She wasn’t barking (and) she wasn’t growling. There was no reason for him to think she was aggressive in any way,” said the mother, Gillian Palacios.

The daughter comes out immediately after, and could only stand paralyzed in horror at the scene of murder. Duchess is lying on the sidewalk, still alive but fatally wounded, and the repugnant cop is out of the camera’s view.

Palacios is yelling at the cop while her daughter cradles the dying dog in her hands. Duchess can be seen wagging her tail, perhaps finding some comfort in her owner’s embrace.

The cop said “your dog charged me” and promptly left the scene, telling them Animal Services would pick up the dog later.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

For most children, summer vacation is something to look forward to. But not for our 13-year-old hero, who's forced to spend his summers with an aunt, uncle, and cousin who detest him. The third book in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series catapults into action when the young wizard "accidentally" causes the Dursleys' dreadful visitor Aunt Marge to inflate like a monstrous balloon and drift up to the ceiling. Fearing punishment from Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon (and from officials at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry who strictly forbid students to cast spells in the nonmagic world of Muggles), Harry lunges out into the darkness with his heavy trunk and his owl Hedwig.

As it turns out, Harry isn't punished at all for his errant wizardry. Instead he is mysteriously rescued from his Muggle neighborhood and whisked off in a triple-decker, violently purple bus to spend the remaining weeks of summer in a friendly inn called the Leaky Cauldron. What Harry has to face as he begins his third year at Hogwarts explains why the officials let him off easily. It seems that Sirius Black--an escaped convict from the prison of Azkaban--is on the loose. Not only that, but he's after Harry Potter. But why? And why do the Dementors, the guards hired to protect him, chill Harry's very heart when others are unaffected? Once again, Rowling has created a mystery that will have children and adults cheering, not to mention standing in line for her next book...

Monday, October 19, 2015

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

Pyramids is the seventh book in the award-winning comic fantasy Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

In Pyramids, you'll discover the tale of Teppic, a student at the Assassin’s Guild of Ankh-Morpok and prince of the tiny kingdom of Djelibeybi, thrust into the role of pharaoh after his father’s sudden death. It's bad enough being new on the job, but Teppic hasn't a clue as to what a pharaoh is supposed to do. First, there's the monumental task of building a suitable resting place for Dad -- a pyramid to end all pyramids. Then there are the myriad administrative duties, such as dealing with mad priests, sacred crocodiles, and marching mummies. And to top it all off, the adolescent pharaoh discovers deceit, betrayal—not to mention a headstrong handmaiden—at the heart of his realm.

Search For Intelligent Aliens Near Bizarre Dimming Star Has Begun

Search For Intelligent Aliens Near Bizarre Dimming Star Has Begun

The search for signs of life in a mysterious star system hypothesized to potentially harbor an “alien megastructure” is now underway.

Astronomers have begun using the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a system of radio dishes about 300 miles (483 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, to hunt for signals coming from the vicinity of KIC 8462852, a star that lies 1,500 light-years from Earth.

NASA’s Kepler space telescope found that KIC 8462852 dimmed oddly and dramatically several times over the past few years. The dimming events were far too substantial to be caused by a planet crossing the star’s face, researchers say, and other possible explanations, such as an enormous dust cloud, don’t add up, either.

The leading hypothesis at the moment involves a swarm of comets that may have been sent careening toward KIC 8462852, possibly after a gravitational jostle by a passing star. But it’s also possible, astronomers say, that the signal Kepler saw was caused by huge structures built by an alien civilization — say, a giant assortment of orbiting solar panels.

That latter possibility, remote though it may be, has put KIC 8462852 in the crosshairs of scientists who hunt for signals that may have been generated by intelligent aliens.

The People We Trust to ‘Save’ Women From Prostitution Keep Paying Them for Sex—and Worse

The People We Trust to ‘Save’ Women From Prostitution Keep Paying Them for Sex—and Worse

Here’s a horrifying story out of Chicago, where at least two police officers are under investigation for the sex trafficking of a 14-year-old girl. The local Fox news station is referring to it as a “sex scandal,” but I think depraved and egregious abuse of power is probably a better descriptor. The officers were originally under scrutiny for possessing child pornography. An Internal Affairs investigation has since uncovered evidence that they were advertising a 14-year-old girl and potentially other teens for commercial sex.

This story comes just a few days after the FBI announced the “rescue” of “149 child sex trafficking victims” across the country. By children, the FBI means teenagers, and by sex trafficking victims, they mean any teen selling sex, regardless of whether force or coercion are involved. As more media reports of these so-called rescues are released, the inhumanity and futility of this model of “saving” teens in the sex trade becomes clear.

Take this account out of Michigan, where the FBI heralded the takedown of 12 alleged pimps and the recovery of 19 minors engaged in prostitution. After identifying “escort” advertisements featuring teens, Michigan State Police and FBI agents swarmed houses and hotel rooms en masse and raided them with weapons drawn. Teens they found were given two options: reunite with their parents or guardians, or receive no help at all—nevermind that some of these girls likely had good reason for running away from foster homes or parents in the first place.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Glennon, who led the Detroit sting, told the Free Press that some of the “19 children rescued” this week have already returned to the sex trade. But at least everyone got to add them to press releases about how many victims were rescued first, right?

This is what so many well-meaning people don’t seem to understand: the tough-on-crime approach to sex-trafficking is about arresting as many people as possible and wresting as many assets as possible from them, not legitimately helping sex trafficking victims (legitimately helping people means paying attention to what they actually need, not threatening them with arrest if they don’t testify against others or sending them to church-run “prostitution diversion” camps or giving them bags filled with socks and toiletries and calling it a day.) Just look at the language used by Marinus Analytics, a company getting lots of attention for using big data analysis to aid in human trafficking investigations. In its intro, Marinus promises to help cops and prosecutors “focus your attention to high value criminal targets” and “track the highest value criminal targets in less time.”

The assets that can be seized are the prize, the teens selling sex are just convenient cover. And sometimes worse, as in the case of the two Chicago officers.

Federal Whistleblower Investigator Fired After Blowing The Whistle On His Own Agency

Federal Whistleblower Investigator Fired After Blowing The Whistle On His Own Agency

A federal whistleblower investigator who put his career on the line to expose what he calls bureaucratic dysfunction has been fired, NBC Bay Area has learned.

Darrell Whitman, a former San Francisco-based investigator for the Whistleblower Protection Program administered by OSHA, claimed the agency failed to defend workers who faced retaliation for reporting illegal activity and public safety concerns.

“They got rid of the squeaky wheel,” Whitman said.

He now views his own termination from OSHA as retaliation for raising red flags about the agency.

“I was going to report what I thought to be violations of law and policy,” Whitman said. “They were going to have to answer to those reports and they didn’t like that.”

In an interview with NBC Bay Area earlier this year, Whitman said he tried to warn OSHA leaders that his managers pressured investigators to close complaints without proper review to clear a backlog of cases. He also said his supervisor altered his reports by changing his conclusions and dismissed cases even when Whitman found they had merit.

Whitman wrote letters to OSHA leadership and to the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez.

“I had gone through every conceivable channel and what I saw was inaction,” Whitman said.

In a Notice of Removal written in May, OSHA states it fired Whitman for six different reasons including “lack of candor during an investigatory meeting” and “unauthorized release of government documents.”

“The real reason was that I appeared on [NBC Bay Area News],” Whitman said.

Whitman is now a complainant before the Office of Special Counsel, another government agency which protects federal employees from retaliation for whistleblowing. If he is successful, Whitman’s claim could result in a settlement with OSHA or include financial reinstatement.

Tom Devine, the legal director for the Government Accountability Project based in Washington D.C., is representing Whitman. Over the past three decades Devine has testified before Congress, helped pass whistleblower laws and assisted thousands of whistleblowers defend themselves against retaliation.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Atari 2600)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Atari 2600)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

EPA spends millions on military-style weapons, watchdog group reports

EPA spends millions on military-style weapons, watchdog group reports

Sorry, Bernie Sanders. Raising the Minimum Wage to $15 an Hour Wouldn’t Create Millions of Jobs. But It Might Destroy Them.

Sorry, Bernie Sanders. Raising the Minimum Wage to $15 an Hour Wouldn’t Create Millions of Jobs. But It Might Destroy Them.

Anonymous Faction Launches Attacks Against ISIS

Anonymous Faction Launches Attacks Against ISIS

A division of the hacker group Anonymous says it has hit two of ISIS’ most important web platforms. The attacks come during a week in which it has gloated online about the wave of deadly attacks carried out in its name, including one day of attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and possibly France and the most recent attack in Egypt.

Both of the cyber attacks occurred Wednesday, perpetrated by the Anonymous-affiliated group “GhostSec” which has declared war on ISIS and its growing social media presence. The platforms attacked by the hackers are, a prominent ISIS forum used by the group’s supporters to communicate among themselves, and, a cloud service used by ISIS followers to disseminate propaganda on social media channels. The forum was hit with a DDOS attack (Distributed Denial of Service), a brute force attack usually used to make a server or a network resource unavailable to users. It was back up shortly after the attack, however remained down over 13 hours after the attack occurred.

The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy

The Most Mysterious Star in Our Galaxy

In the Northern hemisphere’s sky, hovering above the Milky Way, there are two constellations—Cygnus the swan, her wings outstretched in full flight, and Lyra, the harp that accompanied poetry in ancient Greece, from which we take our word “lyric.”

Between these constellations sits an unusual star, invisible to the naked eye, but visible to the Kepler Space Telescope, which stared at it for more than four years, beginning in 2009.

“We’d never seen anything like this star,” says Tabetha Boyajian, a postdoc at Yale. “It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out.”

Kepler was looking for tiny dips in the light emitted by this star. Indeed, it was looking for these dips in more than 150,000 stars, simultaneously, because these dips are often shadows cast by transiting planets. Especially when they repeat, periodically, as you’d expect if they were caused by orbiting objects.

The Kepler Space Telescope collected a great deal of light from all of those stars it watched. So much light that Kepler’s science team couldn’t process it all with algorithms. They needed the human eye, and human cognition, which remains unsurpassed in certain sorts of pattern recognition. Kepler’s astronomers decided to found Planet Hunters, a program that asked “citizen scientists” to examine light patterns emitted by the stars, from the comfort of their own homes.

In 2011, several citizen scientists flagged one particular star as “interesting” and “bizarre.” The star was emitting a light pattern that looked stranger than any of the others Kepler was watching.

The light pattern suggests there is a big mess of matter circling the star, in tight formation. That would be expected if the star were young. When our solar system first formed, four and a half billion years ago, a messy disk of dust and debris surrounded the sun, before gravity organized it into planets, and rings of rock and ice.

But this unusual star isn’t young. If it were young, it would be surrounded by dust that would give off extra infrared light. There doesn’t seem to be an excess of infrared light around this star.

It appears to be mature.

And yet, there is this mess of objects circling it. A mess big enough to block a substantial number of photons that would have otherwise beamed into the tube of the Kepler Space Telescope. If blind nature deposited this mess around the star, it must have done so recently. Otherwise, it would be gone by now. Gravity would have consolidated it, or it would have been sucked into the star and swallowed, after a brief fiery splash.

Boyajian, the Yale Postdoc who oversees Planet Hunters, recently published a paper describing the star’s bizarre light pattern. Several of the citizen scientists are named as co-authors. The paper explores a number of scenarios that might explain the pattern—instrument defects; the shrapnel from an asteroid belt pileup; an impact of planetary scale, like the one that created our moon.

The paper finds each explanation wanting, save for one. If another star had passed through the unusual star’s system, it could have yanked a sea of comets inward. Provided there were enough of them, the comets could have made the dimming pattern.

But that would be an extraordinary coincidence, if that happened so recently, only a few millennia before humans developed the tech to loft a telescope into space. That’s a narrow band of time, cosmically speaking.

And yet, the explanation has to be rare or coincidental. After all, this light pattern doesn’t show up anywhere else, across 150,000 stars. We know that something strange is going on out there.

When I spoke to Boyajian on the phone, she explained that her recent paper only reviews “natural” scenarios. “But,” she said, there were “other scenarios” she was considering.

Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.

“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright told me. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

Boyajian is now working with Wright and Andrew Siemion, the Director of the SETI Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. The three of them are writing up a proposal. They want to point a massive radio dish at the unusual star, to see if it emits radio waves at frequencies associated with technological activity.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Private Moon Race Heats Up with 1st Verified Launch Deal

Private Moon Race Heats Up with 1st Verified Launch Deal

A team from Israel called SpaceIL has signed a contract to launch its robotic lunar lander toward the moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the second half of 2017. SpaceIL is therefore a strong contender to win the $20 million top prize in the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP), contest organizers said.

“We are proud to officially confirm receipt and verification of SpaceIL’s launch contract, positioning them as the first and only Google Lunar X Prize team to demonstrate this important achievement thus far,” X Prize Vice Chairman and President Bob Weiss said in a statement.

“The magnitude of this achievement cannot be overstated, representing an unprecedented and monumental commitment for a privately funded organization, and kicks off an exciting phase of the competition in which the other 15 teams now have until the end of 2016 to produce their own verified launch contracts,” Weiss added. “It gives all of us at X Prize and Google the great pride to say, ‘The new space race is on!'”

SpaceIL is not the only GLXP team with firm plans to head to the moon. For example, California-based Moon Express announced its own launch deal with the spaceflight company Rocket Lab last week, and Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic signed a contract with SpaceX back in 2011.

Moon Express aims to launch its robotic MX-1 lander to the moon for the first time in 2017, while Astrobotic team members have said they plan to loft their Griffin lander atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sometime next year.

But SpaceIL is the only team so far to initiate the verification process, in which contest organizers review and assess the launch contract and supporting documents, X Prize representatives told This milestone is a big deal: At least one GLXP team had to announce a verified launch contract by the end of 2015 for the competition to be extended through Dec. 31, 2017.

The Google Lunar X Prize was created in 2007 to encourage the development of the private spaceflight industry, and hopefully help usher in a new era of affordable access to the moon and other space destinations.

The first privately funded team to successfully land a robotic craft on the moon, have the lander move at least 1,650 feet (500 meters), and beam high-definition video and photos back to Earth by the end of 2017 will win the $20 million grand prize. The second team to accomplish these goals will get $5 million; another $5 million is set aside for other milestones, bringing the total purse to $30 million.

Arizona Takes Asset Forfeiture to a Despicable New Low

Arizona Takes Asset Forfeiture to a Despicable New Low

In The Law, Frederic Bastiat warned against what he termed “legal plunder” — the government forcibly taking one person’s property and giving it to another. It’s morally wrong and leads to the progressive destruction of civil society as more and more people and groups seek to live at the expense of others through the state.

One of the most odious modern examples is called civil asset forfeiture.

Under federal and state civil asset forfeiture laws, individuals can have their property (cash, vehicles, real estate, or anything else) confiscated by law enforcement officials merely on the allegation that the property was somehow involved with or obtained from criminal activity. The individual need not even be accused of any illegal conduct, much less convicted, in order for officials to seize the “guilty” property.

Once the property has been seized, it is up to the owner to battle through difficult legal obstacles to recover it. In such proceedings, the burden of proof is on the individual to show that the seizure was wrongful and that he’s entitled to have the property returned. Police and prosecutors love civil asset forfeiture because the proceeds actually go into their own budgets, and they are not inclined to cooperate with innocent victims of their confiscations.

To see how despicable this is, consider a recent case that arose in Pinal County, Arizona.

In April 2013, Rhonda Cox purchased a used pickup truck, which she titled and insured in her name. She often allowed her son Chris to use her truck, and one day in August 2013, he drove it to a store. Upon returning to the vehicle, Chris was confronted by Pinal County sheriff’s deputies who were investigating the theft of a tonneau cover (which goes over the back of a pickup truck) and a truck hood.

The deputies concluded that the cover and the hood on Cox’s truck were the stolen items and therefore put Chris under arrest. And, of course, they confiscated the truck under Arizona’s civil asset forfeiture statute.

Chris called his mother, and she rushed to the scene, where she found one deputy remaining, guarding her truck. She explained that the vehicle belonged to her and asked how she could get it back. The deputy smugly replied that she would never get it back. When Rhonda protested that she had nothing to do with the alleged crime, the deputy merely said, “Too bad.”

The sheriff’s department initiated seizure proceedings against the truck. Rhonda was unable to afford an attorney and attempted to fight it on her own. That was when she learned about Arizona’s intimidating law about attorneys’ fees in asset forfeiture cases.

In an email, deputy Craig Cameron told her that she was merely a “straw owner,” who had no standing to contest the seizure, that she had a duty to ensure that the vehicle was not used in any crime and, crucially, that “Under A.R.S. 13-4314(G) the State is due attorney fees from a party who does not prove they are entitled to an exception to forfeiture.”

Capcom (1988)


MIPCOM: New ‘X-Files’ Wows at World Premiere

MIPCOM: New ‘X-Files’ Wows at World Premiere

Cynical industry journalists turned into gawking fanboys at the MIPCOM television trade fair on Tuesday night when Fox screened — in its world premiere — the first episode of the hotly anticipated return of The X-Files.

X-Files creator Chris Carter attended the launch, held in Cannes, France, and said that returning to the show, which went off the air in 2002, felt “surreal.” He added that it was “a dream come true” to bring back FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, played by original stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

“I’ve been doing this for a little over a third of my life, so it’s obviously very important for me, so I jumped at the chance to do it,” said Carter.

The audience packed into Cannes’ Grand Auditorium broke out in spontaneous applause multiple times — including when Duchovny and Anderson first appeared — and the crowd whooped and cheered as the closing credits rolled. But perhaps the biggest applause came earlier, when the opening credits — with The X-Files’ trademark intro music — hit the screen.

In a treat for X-Files’ traditionalists, Carter has kept the series’ original opening credits exactly as they were when the show first aired back in 1993.

“We thought about doing some changes to the original credits, but then it seemed like like sacrilege,” said Carter. “Those credits were on 202 episodes. They belong on these next six.”

The new series brings The X-Files, and the Mulder and Scully characters, into the present day, with ripped-from-the-headlines conspiracies involving government surveillance and corporate malfeasance added to the show’s trademark paranormal paranoia. The plot has Mulder and Scully — now separated from one another privately and professionally — joining forces and reopening the X-Files after new evidence comes to light involving alien abductions and a possible global conspiracy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Web Services: Principles and Technology by Michael Papazoglou

Web services represent the next generation of web-based technology. They allow new and improved ways for enterprise applications to communicate and integrate with each other and, as such, are having a profound effect on both the worlds of business and of software development.

In this new book, Michael Papazoglou offers a comprehensive examination of web services which gives you all you will need to know to gain a solid foundation in this area.

Zero correlation between state homicide rate and state gun laws

Zero correlation between state homicide rate and state gun laws

The correlation between the homicide rate and Brady score in all 51 jurisdictions is +.032 (on a scale of -1 to +1), which means that states with more gun restrictions on average have very slightly higher homicide rates, though the tendency is so small as to be essentially zero. (If you omit the fatal gun accident rates, then the correlation would be +.065, which would make the more gun-restricting states look slightly worse; but again, the correlation would be small enough to be essentially zero, given all the other possible sources of variation.) If we use the National Journal data (adding the columns for each state, counting 1 for each dark blue, which refers to broad restrictions, 0.5 for each light blue, which refers to medium restrictions, and 0 for each grey, which refers to no or light restrictions), the results are similar: +0.017 or +0.051 if one omits the fatal gun accident rates.

Now of course this doesn’t prove that gun laws have no effect on total homicide rates. Correlation, especially between just two variables, doesn’t show causation.


But since people have been talking about simple two-variable correlations between gun laws and crime, I thought it would be helpful to note this correlation — or, rather, absence of correlation.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Caucus State Leaders Endorse Rand Paul for President

Caucus State Leaders Endorse Rand Paul for President

Rand Paul for President today announced several major endorsements from caucus state leaders in Nevada, Minnesota, Kansas and Utah, demonstrating that Sen. Paul’s political organization is leaps and bounds ahead of all other Republican campaigns. These elected officials join Rand Paul for President Caucus state leaders Congressman Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming; State Sen. Owen Hill and Former State Sen. Scott Renfroe, Colorado; and State Sen. Eric Brakey, Maine. These leaders will play a pivotal role in winning the caucuses and put Sen. Paul one step closer towards the 2016 Republican nomination.

Paul Maintains Lead Over Rubio In New Poll

Paul Maintains Lead Over Rubio In New Poll

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sen. Rand Paul Jumps Cruz Rubio In New Reuters Poll

Sen. Rand Paul Jumps Cruz Rubio In New Reuters Poll

Judging by the latest polling numbers from Reuters, rumors of the death of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s 2016 GOP Presidential campaign have been greatly exaggerated. According to the Reuters poll, Paul has jumped ahead of Senate colleagues Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. Paul garners 5.6 % while Rubio is at 5.3% and Cruz at 5.1% Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina continue to lead the field.

While the first nominating contests are still four months away, the poll is an immensely positive sign for Paul after a recent slump. His performance at the Reagan Library debate where he schooled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on the 10th Amendment and state’s rights could definitely be a factor in Paul’s bounce.

California Labor Union That Fought for $15 Minimum Wage Now Wants an Exemption

California Labor Union That Fought for $15 Minimum Wage Now Wants an Exemption

The labor union that led the charge for a $15 minimum wage hike in cities across California is now moving to secure an exemption for employers under union contracts.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor buried the exemption on the eighth page of its 12-page proposal for the Santa Monica City Council to review Tuesday while deciding whether to follow Los Angeles and increase the minimum wage.

The loophole would allow employers with collective bargaining agreements to sidestep the wage hike and pay their union members below the proposed $15-per-hour minimum wage.

James Sherk, a research fellow in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation, said the exemption is a union attempt to encourage businesses to unionize by making themselves the only low-wage option as union membership continues to drop off.

“This proposal would force any worker in Santa Monica whose labor is worth less than $15 an hour to purchase union representation in order to hold a job,” Sherk said.

NASA Selects Investigations for Future Key Planetary Mission

NASA Selects Investigations for Future Key Planetary Mission

NASA has selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020. The submitted proposals would study Venus, near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids.

Each investigation team will receive $3 million to conduct concept design studies and analyses. After a detailed review and evaluation of the concept studies, NASA will make the final selections by September 2016 for continued development leading up to launch. Any selected mission will cost approximately $500 million, not including launch vehicle funding or the cost of post-launch operations.

“The selected investigations have the potential to reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its dynamic processes,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Dynamic and exciting missions like these hold promise to unravel the mysteries of our solar system and inspire future generations of explorers. It’s an incredible time for science, and NASA is leading the way.”

NASA’s Discovery Program requested proposals for spaceflight investigations in November 2014. A panel of NASA and other scientists and engineers reviewed 27 submissions.

The planetary missions selected to pursue concept design studies are:

Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI)

DAVINCI would study the chemical composition of Venus’ atmosphere during a 63-minute descent. It would answer scientific questions that have been considered high priorities for many years, such as whether there are volcanoes active today on the surface of Venus and how the surface interacts with the atmosphere of the planet. Lori Glaze of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the principal investigator. Goddard would manage the project.

The Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission (VERITAS)

VERITAS would produce global, high-resolution topography and imaging of Venus’ surface and produce the first maps of deformation and global surface composition. Suzanne Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California is the principal investigator. JPL would manage the project.


Psyche would explore the origin of planetary cores by studying the metallic asteroid Psyche. This asteroid is likely the survivor of a violent hit-and-run with another object that stripped off the outer, rocky layers of a protoplanet. Linda Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona is the principal investigator. JPL would manage the project.

Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam)

NEOCAM would discover ten times more near-Earth objects than all NEOs discovered to date. It would also begin to characterize them. Amy Mainzer of JPL is the principal investigator, and JPL would manage the project.


Lucy would perform the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, objects thought to hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system. Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado is the principal investigator. Goddard would manage the project.

Created in 1992, the Discovery Program sponsors frequent, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. The program has funded and developed 12 missions to date, including MESSENGER, Dawn, Stardust, Deep Impact, Genesis and GRAIL, and is currently completing development of InSight. The Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama manages the program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

Putin Is in Syria: So What?

Putin Is in Syria: So What?

Vladimir Putin is having a field day in the Middle East. He has sent Russian planes to bomb rebels in Syria. He has reached an intelligence-sharing agreement with Syria, Iran and Iraq. At the U.N. Monday, he reaffirmed his commitment to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He seems determined to fill the regional vacuum allegedly left by the United States.

Republicans regard this as a calamity. But what’s the downside? There are two main ways this gambit could go. And neither would be a bad deal for us.

The first possibility is that he will inflict significant damage on Islamic State. In that case, one of our most vicious enemies would be weakened—at little cost or risk to Americans. The only thing better than defeating Islamic State is getting someone to do it for us.

In that scenario, of course, another enemy, Assad, would survive. But someone named Assad has held power in Syria since 1970. We managed fine before this civil war. If Putin can bring it to an end with the Assad government still in power, we’ll manage fine afterward.

The second possibility is that Putin will fail: His bombing raids will prove unavailing, the insurgents will gain ground, and the regime will be in jeopardy. Then he may be forced to send ground troops.

He could find himself in a costly, bloody war. Or he might decide the prize is not worth the effort and pull back, which would dash his dreams of regional power and discredit him at home. Either way, he’s worse off, and we’re not.

Why should we stand in his way? It’s not as though we have a better plan. President Barack Obama has largely stayed out of the Syrian war because 1) there are no “moderate” rebel factions with a plausible chance of prevailing, 2) he’s never been willing to take the risks of intervening in a way that would matter, and 3) the outcome could be awful even if we somehow got our way.

Critics regard Syria as a colossal tragedy that Obama could have prevented. More likely, it’s a colossal tragedy that he could not have prevented. Removing a hostile regime by force, as we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, is not a ticket to tranquility. Syria is a disaster. But it’s a disaster that has claimed no U.S. soldiers and very little U.S. money.

The assumption is that anything Putin seeks in the Middle East will come at our expense. Marco Rubio declared, “Putin wants nothing less than the recognition of Russia as a geopolitical force.” I hate to break the news to him, but Russia is already a recognized geopolitical force. Those alarmed about Putin supposedly displacing us in the region mistake symbolism for substance.

His latest move suggests anxiety, not strength. If Assad falls, Russia stands to lose its only naval base outside of the old Soviet Union—not to mention its closest ally in the Middle East.

For a long time, the U.S. has been the dominant military power in the region. What has been so great about that? Instead of making us safer, our role has given us more enemies. If Putin wants to invite jihadists to turn their attention from attacking America to attacking Russia, more power to him.

We got involved in the region mainly to assure access to Persian Gulf oil. That imperative is less urgent than before, since we are producing more oil at home and consuming less. In any case, the U.S. is not about to leave and let the chips fall where they may. Our power has rested mainly on our Navy, whose continued presence and supremacy are not in doubt.

Carly Fiorina may be an inspiring candidate, but many of her positions are awful

Carly Fiorina may be an inspiring candidate, but many of her positions are awful

Following Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina’s commanding performances at the first two Republican debates, her poll numbers and name recognition have skyrocketed.

The reason for this is that Fiorina is, pardon my French, a badass.

She’s a high-ranking businesswoman who clearly knows how to hold her own in boys club contexts.

She’s well-versed in the policy positions she espouses—she’s no Sarah Palin who puts optics over substance.

She has neatly avoided pandering while still using her unique position as a woman in the GOP race to her advantage.

And she’s ably met the challenge—amplified by the presence of the perpetually boorish and misogynist Donald Trump—of confronting and condemning sexism in campaign politics.

When Trump infamously critiqued Fox News’ Megyn Kelly by suggesting she only posed hard questions at the first Republican debate because she was on her period, Fiorina not only claimed the moral high ground but turned the conversation on its head.

“When I started this campaign, I was asked on a national television show whether a woman’s hormones prevented her from serving in the Oval Office,” she said. “My response was, can we think of a single instance in which a man’s hormones might have clouded his judgment?”

Fiorina’s cool and concise response to Trump’s transparent attack on her looks was equally on-point.

So I can understand why Fiorina’s campaign is refreshing to Millennial women eager to see the White House’s glass ceiling broken—and who, prior to Fiorina’s rise, only had Palin and Hillary Clinton as options for that goal (there was Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, too, I suppose, but her brief campaign is on no one’s radar anymore).

But here’s the thing: When was the last time you heard someone say, “This male candidate’s policies are totally different from mine, but he’s just so well-spoken and composed that I like him anyway”? Jeb Bush, for instance, often comes off as a smart and likeable guy, but I don’t see anyone cutting him similar slack.

Because whatever one think’s of Fiorina’s demeanor and wit, many of her policies are awful.