Saturday, May 31, 2014

Absurd Creature of the Week: The Parasitic Worm That Turns Crickets Into Suicidal Maniacs

Source: Wired Motherboard

More commonly known as the horsehair worms, because folks with a limited understanding of reality once thought they were horsehairs that animated upon hitting water, the 350 or so known species invade insects like the luckless cricket above. After developing for several months, the worms mind-control their hosts to make a kamikaze dive into water, then escape through holes bored in the insect’s exoskeleton. The parasites end up in a tangled knot that can be as heavy as the tattered—and oftentimes very much alive—host they leave behind.
“I always tell students this way to think about it,” said Hanelt. “Imagine if I told you to walk over to your car and remove half of its weight, but still have the car be able to get you to the airport. And somehow these worms have figured out how to do that within the cricket host, that they’re able to take half of everything that’s within that cricket but still make it tick. It’s kind of amazing.”

Friday, May 30, 2014

Encryption software TrueCrypt closes doors in odd circumstances

Source: The Guardian

Encryption tool TrueCrypt has closed its doors, removed its downloads and advised users to switch to a competitor, citing only the end of life of Windows XP as a reason.
The TrueCrypt development team has always remained anonymous, and isn't speaking about the software's death beyondthe sparse advice left on its download page – leaving users who don't believe the rationale ample room to speculate about other possibilities.

One of the more popular suggestions is that the act is a version of what's known as a "warrant canary". Warrant canaries are legal tricks employed by conscientious organisations to get around the fact that certain demands from the US government cannot be disclosed publicly. For instance, a company which has received a national security letter, commanding it to turn over user data, may not tell its users that fact.

Read Snowden’s comments on 9/11 that NBC didn’t broadcast

Source: Russia Today

“You know, and this is a key question that the 9/11 Commission considered. And what they found, in the post-mortem, when they looked at all of the classified intelligence from all of the different intelligence agencies, they found that we had all of the information we needed as an intelligence community, as a classified sector, as the national defense of the United States to detect this plot,”Snowden said. “We actually had records of the phone calls from the United States and out. The CIA knew who these guys were. The problem was not that we weren’t collecting information, it wasn’t that we didn’t have enough dots, it wasn’t that we didn’t have a haystack, it was that we did not understand the haystack that we have.”

“The problem with mass surveillance is that we’re piling more hay on a haystack we already don’t understand, and this is the haystack of the human lives of every American citizen in our country,”Snowden continued. “If these programs aren’t keeping us safe, and they’re making us miss connections — vital connections — on information we already have, if we’re taking resources away from traditional methods of investigation, from law enforcement operations that we know work, if we’re missing things like the Boston Marathon bombings where all of these mass surveillance systems, every domestic dragnet in the world didn’t reveal guys that the Russian intelligence service told us about by name, is that really the best way to protect our country? Or are we — are we trying to throw money at a magic solution that’s actually not just costing us our safety, but our rights and our way of life?"

Thursday, May 29, 2014

We Are Now In Command of the ISEE-3 Spacecraft

Hooray for the nerds who made contact with a NASA probe that has survived well beyond its planned mission!
The International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-3) is a spacecraft that was launched in 1978 to study Earth's magnetosphere and repurposed in 1983 to study two comets. Since 1983 the ICEE-3 probe has been traveling in a heliocentric orbit slightly faster than Earth and it will return close to Earth in August.  NASA has insufficient funding to communicate with ICEE-3 and therefore gave a private project team permission to communicate and control the probe.
Donations helped fund the project and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico was updated with a Software Defined Radio and a custom-made amplifier. Today the team was successful in communicating with the probe and they believe that they can order the probe to burn a thruster and move into orbit near earth until it can later be directed to observe a comet.

Source: Space College

By Keith Cowing on May 29, 2014 4:07 PM

The ISEE-3 Reboot Project is pleased to announce that our team has established two-way communication with the ISEE-3 spacecraft and has begun commanding it to perform specific functions. Over the coming days and weeks our team will make an assessment of the spacecraft's overall health and refine the techniques required to fire its engines and bring it back to an orbit near Earth.

First Contact with ISEE-3 was achieved at the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. We would not have been able to achieve this effort without the gracious assistance provided by the entire staff at Arecibo. In addition to the staff at Arecibo, our team included simultaneous listening and analysis support by AMSAT-DL at the Bochum Observatory in Germany, the Space Science Center at Morehead State University in Kentucky, and the SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array in California.

Of course this effort would not have been possible without the assistance of NASA and the Space Act Agreement crafted by NASA Headquarters, NASA Ames Research center, and the System Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI).

Monday, May 26, 2014

Melting Ice Sheets Are Dumping Nutritious Iron into Earth's Oceans

Source: VICE Motherboard

... large volumes of dissolved iron currently being released into the oceans from melting ice sheets might help take some of the hit out of global warming. This is according to a study ... describing a feedback mechanism in which melting ice releases bioavailable iron, promoting the growth of phytoplankton ... which in turn act to capture atmospheric carbon while serving as a food source for seagoing animals.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Source: AL Jazeera

The Obama administration intends to publicly reveal a secret memo outlining its legal justification for using drones to kill U.S. citizens it accuses of terrorism overseas, it emerged Tuesday.
The decision to release the document came a day before the Senate is to vote on advancing President Barack Obama's nomination of the memo's author, Harvard professor and former Justice Department official David Barron, to sit on the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had vowed to attempt to block Barron's confirmation with a filibuster if the document was not made public. Paul issued a statement Tuesday saying he still opposes Barron's nomination.

Top Donor for House Education Chair is For-Profit College Facing Federal and State Fraud Probes

Source: Republic Report

As reported yesterday by OpenSecrets, Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has no serious opposition in her bid for reelection, yet has received more than $800,000 in campaign contributions. More than half of that money has come from outside North Carolina, much of it from corporate special interests.

...the for-profit colleges have cash to spend, because their industry has been getting as much as $33 billion per year from taxpayers.
The single biggest donor group to Foxx, by almost a factor of two, is Santa Ana, California-based, for-profit Corinthian Colleges.
the for-profit colleges have cash to spend, because their industry has been getting as much as $33 billion per year from taxpayers.
Corinthian, which operates Everest, Heald and WyoTech colleges, has a troubling record. The company faces a major lawsuit from California attorney general Kamala Harris, who has charged that Corinthian has engaged in “false and predatory advertising, intentional misrepresentations to students, securities fraud and unlawful use of military seals in advertisements.”

Ending Pain Could Make Us Live Longer

Source: VICE Motherboard

...Knocking out a pain receptor that goes wild in older people seems to extend the lives of mice by roughly 15 percent.

Assuming an average age of 80 years or so, you're looking at a good half decade or more of high-quality life, if the results of the study can be translated to humans.

After bin Laden backlash, CIA promises: No more vaccination campaigns for spyinng

Source: Yahoo News

“I wanted to inform you that the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) directed in August 2013 that the agency make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers,” President Obama’s top counterterrorism and homeland security advisor, Lisa Monaco, wrote to the deans of 12 public health schools. Yahoo News obtained a copy of the May 16 letter (below).

“Similarly, the Agency will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs,” Monaco wrote. “This CIA policy applies worldwide and to U.S. and non-U.S. persons alike.”

The Central Intelligence Agency had enlisted a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to collect intelligence under the guise of an immunization effort in the city of Abbottabad as part of planning for the high-risk May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound there.

Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas

Source: The Intercept

By Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald andLaura Poitras

The Intercept has confirmed that as of 2013, the NSA was actively using MYSTIC to gather cell-phone metadata in five countries, and was intercepting voice data in two of them. Documents show that the NSA has been generating intelligence reports from MYSTIC surveillance in the Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and one other country, whichThe Intercept is not naming in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence. The more expansive full-take recording capability has been deployed in both the Bahamas and the unnamed country.
The Bahamas’ Listening Devices Act requires all wiretaps to be authorized in writing either by the minister of national security or the police commissioner in consultation with the attorney general. ... The office of the Bahamian data protection commissioner, which administers the act, said in a statement that it “was not aware of the matter you raise.”
The NSA documents don’t reflect a concerted focus on the money launderers and powerful financial institutions – including numerous Western banks – that underpin the black market for narcotics in the Bahamas. Instead, an internal NSA presentation from 2013 recounts with pride how analysts used SOMALGET to locate an individual who “arranged Mexico-to-United States marijuana shipments” through the U.S. Postal Service.
The presentation doesn’t say whether the NSA shared the information with the DEA. But the drug agency’s Special Operations Divison has come under fire for improperly using classified information obtained by the NSA to launch criminal investigations – and then creating false narratives to mislead courts about how the investigations began.
The tactic – known as parallel construction – was first reported by Reuters last year, and is now under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
SOMALGET operates under Executive Order 12333, a Reagan-era rule establishing wide latitude for the NSA and other intelligence agencies to spy on other countries, as long as the attorney general is convinced the efforts are aimed at gathering foreign intelligence.

In 2000, the NSA assured Congress that all electronic surveillance performed under 12333 “must be conducted in a manner that minimizes the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of information about unconsenting U.S. persons.” In reality, many legal experts point out, the lack of judicial oversight or criminal penalties for violating the order render the guidelines meaningless.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Afghanistan Corruption Fostered by U.S., Pentagon Finds

Source: Bloomberg

...the initial U.S. focus in late 2001 on defeating the Taliban and al-Qaeda “created mutually dependent relationships” that “empowered” warlords, “expanded their opportunities for financial gain and impeded later” efforts to counter corruption.
“Once ensconced within ministries and other government posts,” Northern Alliance warlords that the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. military special forces teams came to depend on often “used their positions to divert” government resources, sometimes “transforming them into what came to be known as ‘criminal patronage networks.’”
“The deluge of military and aid money into Afghanistan” contributed to a “culture of impunity” that overwhelmed the government’s capacity to adsorb the cash. “Coupled with weak oversight” by the coalition, it “created ample opportunities for corruption,” the assessment found.

The U.S. Congress since 2002 has appropriated $103 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction, including $64 billion since 2010, according to figures compiled by Sopko’s office.


Source: The New Yorker

Joe Davis, the artist in residence at George Church’s genetics lab, at Harvard Medical School, ... plans to use synthetic biology to insert a DNA-encoded version of Wikipedia into the apple and create a living, literal tree of knowledge.
The first step, translating English words into the letters of DNA, is easy, as long as one maintains a code. By analogy, Morse code does a similar thing with only two symbols, a dot and a dash. “Malus ecclesia” can, for example, be compressed using common English letter pairings and written in DNA as agtgtagcccaatcgcagaccctcaa.
To get the DNA into the apple, Davis will use a type of bacteria uniquely evolved to insert its genome through plant cell walls. ... Because the changes to the fruit are biologically inert, the final apples will look like normal apples hanging from normal apple trees. Wikipedia will not fit into a single apple, bits and pieces of it will instead be spread across many apples and many trees.
“To some extent, if [our data] is out there in the wild, it increases the possibility that it will survive through any kind of disaster,” said George Church, a longtime collaborator of Davis’ and the head of a Harvard research lab studying DNA data storage.

“The advantage of DNA is that it has a record of longevity,” Church told me in an interview.  “You could store it, left in optimal conditions, for seven hundred thousand years. There’s no disk drive that has anything close to that record.”

Friday, May 16, 2014

Local Protesters Are Killing Big Oil and Mining Projects Worldwide

Source: VICE Motherboard

The researchers, led by Daniel Franks, took a look at 50 planned major extractive projects (oil drilling, new mine construction, that sort of thing) and found that in fully half of them, local people launched some sort of “project blockade.” In 40 percent of the projects, someone died as a result of a physical protest, and 15 of the projects were suspended or abandoned altogether, according to Franks' study, published inProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The reason these projects, such as the Minas Conga gold mine in northern Peru and Lanjigarh bauxite mining project in Orissa, India, were abandoned wasn’t borne out of some sense of social responsibility to not pollute the environment or to not push people off their land. It was because the protests and resulting government backlash was so great that it became financially unviable to move forward.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Elon Musk’s SpaceX granted injunction in rocket launch suit against government

Source: Washington Post

U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge issued an injunction late Wednesdayprohibiting a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing from proceeding with plans to buy Russian-made rocket engines.

Judge Susan G. Braden’s ruling came after SpaceX, a California-based rocket company, sued the federal government Monday, protesting the Air Force’s award of a lucrative space contract, saying itshould have been competitively bid.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Last Chance to Stop the NDAA

This week the US Supreme Court refused
Hedges v. Obama. Below is an excerpt of Hedges' article on the topic.

Source: Truth Out

Monday, 02 September 2013 11:29

By Chris Hedges

I and my fellow plaintiffs have begun the third and final round of our battle to get the courts to strike down a section of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that permits the military to seize U.S. citizens, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military facilities. Carl Mayer and Bruce Afran, the lawyers who with me in January 2012 brought a lawsuit against President Barack Obama (Hedges v. Obama), are about to file papers asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear our appeal of a 2013 ruling on the act’s Section 1021.

“First the terrorism-industrial complex assured Americans that they were only spying on foreigners, not U.S. citizens,” Mayer said to me recently. “Then they assured us that they were only spying on phone calls, not electronic communications. Then they assured us that they were not spying on American journalists. And now both [major political] parties and the Obama administration have assured us that they will not detain journalists, citizens and activists. Well, they detained journalist Chris Hedges without a lawyer, they detained journalist Laura Poitras without due process and if allowed to stand this law will permit the military to target activists, journalists and citizens in an unprecedented assault on freedom in America.”

Automatic Collision Avoidance Technology (ACAT)

Source: NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center


... flight tests of an Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto-GCAS) ... adapted ... into a smartphone application that at a minimum could warn the pilot of an impending ground collision, or in an advanced version be tied into an aircraft's autopilot and actually take control of and command evasive maneuvers to recover the aircraft. That developmental software application was installed on a smartphone using the Android operating system linked to a small Piccolo autopilot, and flight-tested on a small Dryden Remotely Operated Integrated Drone, or DROID, aircraft in 2011-2012. The system consistently initiated evasive maneuvers or recoveries when it sensed that the aircraft was in danger of imminent collision with the ground or mountainous terrain.

Another NYPD Officer Got Drunk and Shot Someone

Source: New York Magazine

April was a banner month for drunk NYPD officers embarrassing themselves and endangering others. ... three different off-duty cops managed to wind up with DWIs ... one of the men accidentally shooting the other ... an NYPD officer is being questioned for "shooting and critically wounding" a civilian in Westchester while off-duty...
NYPD chief Bill Bratton acknowledged that the drunken shooting was on trend. "We are always concerned about any of our officers in off-duty activities that result in criminal activity," he told reporters. "At the same time, we’re very concerned with a number of reports. I, personally, am very disturbed about the number of incidents in recent weeks that are part of a longer term problem of inappropriate use of alcohol by members of our department." 

The New Abolitionism

Source: The Nation

By Christopher Hayes
In 2012, the writer and activist Bill McKibben published a heart-stopping essay in Rolling Stone titled "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math." ...

... human civilization cannot survive in any recognizable form a temperature increase this century more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Given that we've already warmed the earth about 0.8 degrees Celsius, that means we have 1.2 degrees left ... we can release about 565 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere by mid-century. Total. ...

... the total amount of known, proven extractable fossil fuel in the ground at this very moment is almost five times the amount we can safely burn.

... the work of the climate movement is to find a way to force the powers that be, from the government of Saudi Arabia to the board and shareholders of ExxonMobil, to leave 80 percent of the carbon they have claims on in the ground.
... one financial analyst puts the price at somewhere in the ballpark of $20 trillion. So in order to preserve a roughly habitable planet, we somehow need to convince or coerce the world's most profitable corporations and the nations that partner with them to walk away from $20 trillion of wealth. ...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Trampoline to Space? Russian Official Tells NASA to Take a Flying Leap

Source: NBC News

"After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline"

--Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin