So, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms sets up a fake storefront in Milwaukee as a honeypot to buy stolen goods. They don't put a burglar alarm on the the place—or even proper locks, apparently—and the contents get stolen by the truckload. Their expensive, ineffective operation is exposed by reporters when the Feds destroy the landlord's property and won't pay damages or even rent.
Repeat for similar stories in Wichita, Portland, Oregon, Pensacola, Albuquerque, Atlanta, and Phoenix.
Great stuff from TechDirt's coverage:
When [the Milwaukee landlord] tried to collect, they didn't pay up. In fact, an ATF lawyer warned him that if he kept asking for the money, it could be seen as harassing federal agents.
The other thing that becomes clear in all of this is that these "undercover" ATF agents aren't just sloppy and stupid, they seem to go out of their way to be ineffective and dangerous.
[...]The whole effort has resulted in some attempts to actually disband the entire ATF, which might not be such a bad idea. While we hadn't been following the agency that closely (and hadn't been aware of all of these fake storefronts and the crazy stories behind them), in the past we've reported on how the ATF made up an entire robbery plot in order to entrap a group of poor young men in a "crime" that wouldn't have existed, but for the ATF's fantasy.
It would be nice to trust law enforcement officials, but they keep giving us reasons not to trust them at all.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Buck Rogers surely couldn’t have seen this one coming, but at NASA’s request, University of Florida researchers have figured out how to turn human waste -- yes, that kind -- into rocket fuel.
Adolescent jokes aside, the process finally makes useful something that until now has been collected to burn up on re-entry. What’s more, like so many other things developed for the space program, the process could well turn up on Earth, said Pratap Pullammanappallil, a UF associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering.
[...]“We were trying to find out how much methane can be produced from uneaten food, food packaging and human waste,” said Pullammanappallil, a UF Institute Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member and Dhoble’s adviser. “The idea was to see whether we could make enough fuel to launch rockets and not carry all the fuel and its weight from Earth for the return journey. Methane can be used to fuel the rockets. Enough methane can be produced to come back from the moon.”
Abstract can be found here, along with the paywalled full research paper.
Phys.org has an interesting article on a study from the University of Sussex that found girls to be better than boys at not just the story creation but also the coding involved in creating story-based video games.
Teenage boys are perhaps more known for playing computer games but girls are better at making them, a University of Sussex study has found.
Researchers in the University's Informatics department asked pupils at a secondary school to design and program their own computer game using a new visual programming language that shows pupils the computer programs they have written in plain English.
Dr Kate Howland and Dr Judith Good found that the girls in the classroom wrote more complex programs in their games than the boys and also learnt more about coding compared to the boys.
Now to me, simple under-representation has never been a valid argument for desiring more women in the software design field. Less women also go to prison; should we be trying to solve that? This, however, shows extremely valid and even capitalistic reasons for attempting to get more women into at least the game creation end of software design.
According to Dale Nash, executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, while the damage assessment is still ongoing, it is anticipated that the final cost estimate will not exceed $20 million. Both Virginia senators indicated that they are working to determine if federal funding sources could be tapped to help pay for the repairs.
Nash also was "optimistic" that the repairs could be completed prior to the next Antares launch, currently targeted for early 2016.
Wherever there is a buying frenzy of unsophisticated investors, scammers and con artists are certain to follow. And in the case of crowdfunding, well-meaning but incompetent dreamers. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.
Nick Shchetko has written a piece in the Wall Street Journal summarizing several recent cases of crowdfunding apparently gone bad. The companies soliciting the funds on Kickstarter or Indiegogo were either ridiculously overconfident in their abilities to deliver, or perhaps weren't especially ethical in the first place. Since the two sites each collect a portion of the proceeds of a successful fundraising campaign (5 percent for Kickstarter; between 4 and 9 percent for Indiegogo), they aren't necessarily incented to thoroughly vet projects. It's the projects' backers who can end up out of luck.
All five projects Shchektko mentions are consumer gadgets, and four are wearables.
Ritot, a bracelet that projects the time in a large font onto the back of the wearer's hand (Indiegogo). The team drew heat when it was revealed that they initially provided fake names for their founders, and falsely implied that the company is based in the USA; they are actually in the Ukraine. More serious concerns were raised by netizens regarding the technical feasibility of the device; while the project is not yet late, it has been noted that no working prototype has been demonstrated.
GoBe, a bracelet that automatically measures caloric intake by monitoring glucose levels (Indiegogo). The product has been declared to be a scam by some in the tech press and medical community; the company, based in Russia, defends its product.
Eyez (aka Zioneyez, Zeyez), eyeglasses with a high-def recording camera that automatically uploads video streams to Facebook (Kickstarter). The team collected $340K from 2100 backers in July 2011, but has yet to deliver a product; they've also been unresponsive to their backers and to the press.
Scribble, a pen that reproduces any color, mixing matching color ink on the fly (Kickstarter). A fundraising campaign in August 2014 was cancelled, but the team promised a new campaign at a later date after they finished the prototype. One blogger thought that the physical dimensions of the product was impossible, given that the ARM chip mentioned in the product's specifications.
Kreyos, a smartwatch with voice and gesture control, and many other promised features (Indiegogo). They did deliver a product to backers, but it was immediately derided as an expensive piece of junk. This is officially a failed project; CEO Steve Tan has written a blog apologizing for the failure, which he blamed on a poor choice of suppliers.
Science is reporting on a plan by the European Commission to divert science research funds into a new economic investment package.
In his first big move after about three weeks in office, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed diverting €2.7 billion from Horizon 2020, the bloc's €70-billion, 7-year research funding program, into a new "Investment Plan for Europe.”
The launch of the investment fund is covered in this EU Commission press release.
The response from research organisations has not been positive. The League of European Research Universities (LERU) in a statement responding to the announcement, quoted in the Science article:
Money diverted from Horizon 2020 could in theory lead to more private R&I investments and outcomes. In practice however we all know this is unlikely to happen, as money will be diverted to quick win projects that may please politicians and citizens but that will not invest in Europe's future. If we want to survive as a forward looking continent, we must invest in research, innovation and technology.
Common Dreams reports:
According to the 2014 Index(pdf) released [by the Legatum Institute in London] earlier this month, in the measure of personal freedom, the United States has fallen from 9th place in 2010 to 21st worldwide--behind such countries as Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Uruguay, and Costa Rica.
The scores are based on 2013 polling data provided by Gallup, which questioned citizens' satisfaction with the nation's handling of civil liberties, freedom of choice, tolerance of ethnic minorities, and tolerance of immigrants.
According to the Legatum researchers, "evidence suggests that the greater the level of freedom in society the greater the satisfaction with life."
Blame fell on the ad network due to the sporadic nature of the outages, which are difficult to replicate and spread over a number of sites.
Such symptoms are common for attacks delivered through an ad or content delivery network, which serves third-party code across a number of websites.
The Center for American Progress reports:
On Tuesday evening, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Retail Workers Bill of Rights, the country's first-ever legislation aimed at improving life for retail employees.
The new rules will require retail chains that have 11 or more locations across the country and employ 20 or more people in San Francisco to provide advance notice of schedules, improve the treatment of part-time employees, and give current workers the opportunity to take on more hours before hiring new people. Employers will have to give their workers at least two weeks' advance notice of their schedules, and if they fail to do so they will have to give those workers additional "predictability pay." Workers also get paid if they're required to be on call but their shifts are canceled. Employers will have to give part-time employees the same starting wage as those working full time in the same position and access to the same benefits.
The bill's passage comes at a time when erratic schedules are increasingly wrecking havoc on people's lives, particularly in retail. Nearly half of part-time workers and just under 40 percent of full-time ones only find out their schedules a week or less in advance.(NYT paywall) In a survey of more than 200 retail employees in New York City, nearly 40 percent said they don't get a set minimum of hours they'll work each week and a quarter are required to be on call for shifts, often finding out just hours ahead of time that they'll have to go to work. Many say schedules are posted on Saturdays for workweeks that start on Sunday.
Workers also show up just to be told to go home thanks to computer software that uses algorithms to determine if there are too many employees compared to sales volume. McDonald's employees have sued the company over its use of exactly this technology.
At the same time, workers often struggle to get enough hours to survive. [...] getting more hours or full-time status is treated like a reward and docking hours is used as a punishment.
[...]Bills similar to its Retail Workers Bill of Rights are being pushed in Milwaukee, New York, and Santa Clara, California. Federal lawmakers have taken notice as well. In July, Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Schedules that Work Act(PDF).
Devuan is spelled in Italian and it is pronounced just like "DevOne" in English.
[...]is it really a fork?
This is just the start of a process, as bold as it sounds to call it a fork of Debian.
[...]Devuan aims to be a base distribution whose mission is protect the freedom of its community of users and developers. Its priority is to enable diversity, interoperability and backward compatibility for existing Debian users and downstream distributions willing to preserve Init freedom.
Devuan will derive its own installer and package repositories from Debian, modifying them where necessary, with the first goal of removing systemd, still inheriting the Debian development workflow while continuing it on a different path: free from bloat as a minimalist base distro should be. Our objective for the spring of 2015 is that users will be able to switch from Debian 7 to Devuan 1 smoothly, as if they would dist-upgrade to Jessie, and start using our package repositories.
Devuan will make an effort to rebuild an infrastructure similar to Debian, but will also take the opportunity to innovate some of its practices. Devuan developers look at this project as a fresh new start for a community of interested people and do not intend to enforce the vexation hierarchy and bureaucracy beyond real cases of emergency. We are well conscious this is possible for us mostly because of starting small again; we will do our best to not repeat the same mistakes and we welcome all Debian Developers willing to join us on this route.
Gerrymandering is the practice of establishing a political advantage for a political party by manipulating district boundaries to concentrate all your opponents votes in a few districts while keeping your party's supporters as a majority in the remaining districts. For example, in North Carolina in 2012 Republicans ended up winning nine out of 13 congressional seats even though more North Carolinians voted for Democrats than Republicans statewide. Now Jessica Jones reports that researchers at Duke are studying the mathematical explanation for the discrepancy. Mathematicians Jonathan Mattingly and Christy Vaughn created a series of district maps using the same vote totals from 2012, but with different borders. Their work was governed by two principles of redistricting: a federal rule requires each district have roughly the same population and a state rule requires congressional districts to be compact. Using those principles as a guide, they created a mathematical algorithm to randomly redraw the boundaries of the state’s 13 congressional districts. "We just used the actual vote counts from 2012 and just retabulated them under the different districtings," says Vaughn. "”If someone voted for a particular candidate in the 2012 election and one of our redrawn maps assigned where they live to a new congressional district, we assumed that they would still vote for the same political party."
The results were startling. After re-running the election 100 times with a randomly drawn nonpartisan map each time, the average simulated election result was 7 or 8 U.S. House seats for the Democrats and 5 or 6 for Republicans. The maximum number of Republican seats that emerged from any of the simulations was eight. The actual outcome of the election -- four Democratic representatives and nine Republicans – did not occur in any of the simulations. "If we really want our elections to reflect the will of the people, then I think we have to put in safeguards to protect our democracy so redistrictings don't end up so biased that they essentially fix the elections before they get started," says Mattingly. But North Carolina State Senator Bob Rucho is unimpressed. "I'm saying these maps aren't gerrymandered," says Rucho. "It was a matter of what the candidates actually was able to tell the voters and if the voters agreed with them. Why would you call that uncompetitive?"
Under close scrutiny from the US Department of Education for fraudulent and conspiratorial practices, the for-profit chain of career colleges, previously valued at $3.4B, has sold 56 of its 107 properties for $24M.
Inside Higher Ed reports
The ECMC Group [(Educational Credit Management Corporation)], a nonprofit organization that runs one of the largest studSent-loan guaranty agencies, announced [November 20] that it will purchase 56 campuses from Corinthian Colleges, a crumbling, controversial for-profit chain.
ECMC will create a nonprofit subsidiary, called the Zenith Education Group, to run the campuses, which enroll more than 39,000 students. The sale price is $24 million, according to a corporate filing from Corinthian. After having absorbed more than half of Corinthian's enrollment and assets, Zenith will operate the nation's largest chain of nonprofit career-oriented campuses.
Corinthian's Everest, Heald, and Wyotech chains include 107 campuses, which in July enrolled 72,000 students and employed 12,000. The company has been attempting to sell 85 U.S. and 10 Canadian locations while gradually closing 12 campuses.
Corinthian has also run afoul of Nasdaq rules again.
Federal Crackdown On For-Profit Colleges Claims Its First Victory
A Star Trek like shield has been discovered 7,200 miles about earth that blocks ultrafast "killer electrons" from moving deep into the Earth's atmosphere. It was observed that the "shield" blocked these electrons in a similar manner to the force fields on Star Trek repelling alien weapons.
A team led by the University of Colorado Boulder has discovered an invisible shield some 7,200 miles above Earth that blocks so-called “killer electrons,” which whip around the planet at near-light speed and have been known to threaten astronauts, fry satellites and degrade space systems during intense solar storms.
The barrier to the particle motion was discovered in the Van Allen radiation belts, two doughnut-shaped rings above Earth that are filled with high-energy electrons and protons, said Distinguished Professor Daniel Baker, director of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). Held in place by Earth’s magnetic field, the Van Allen radiation belts periodically swell and shrink in response to incoming energy disturbances from the sun.
As the first significant discovery of the space age, the Van Allen radiation belts were detected in 1958 by Professor James Van Allen and his team at the University of Iowa and were found to be comprised of an inner and outer belt extending up to 25,000 miles above Earth’s surface. In 2013, Baker -- who received his doctorate under Van Allen -- led a team that used the twin Van Allen Probes launched by NASA in 2012 to discover a third, transient “storage ring” between the inner and outer Van Allen radiation belts that seems to come and go with the intensity of space weather.
The latest mystery revolves around an “extremely sharp” boundary at the inner edge of the outer belt at roughly 7,200 miles in altitude that appears to block the ultrafast electrons from breeching the shield and moving deeper towards Earth’s atmosphere.
“It’s almost like theses electrons are running into a glass wall in space,” said Baker, the study’s lead author. “Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on Star Trek that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons. It’s an extremely puzzling phenomenon.”
Pamela Hartzband And Jerome Groopman write in an op-ed in the NYT that hidden financial forces are beginning to corrupt medical care in the US and undermine the bond of trust between doctors and patients because insurers, hospital networks and regulatory groups have put in place rewards and punishments that can powerfully influence your doctor’s decisions. "For example, doctors are rewarded for keeping their patients’ cholesterol and blood pressure below certain target levels. For some patients, this is good medicine, but for others the benefits may not outweigh the risks. Treatment with drugs such as statins can cause significant side effects, including muscle pain and increased risk of diabetes," write the authors. "Physicians who meet their designated targets are not only rewarded with a bonus from the insurer but are also given high ratings on insurer websites. Physicians who deviate from such metrics are financially penalized through lower payments and are publicly shamed, listed on insurer websites in a lower tier."
According to Hartzband and Groopman these measures are clearly designed to coerce physicians to comply with the metrics. Thus doctors may feel pressured to withhold treatment that they feel is required or feel forced to recommend treatment whose risks may outweigh benefits. Some insurers are offering a positive financial incentive directly to physicians to use specific medications. For example, WellPoint, the largest for-profit managed health care company in the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, recently outlined designated treatment pathways for cancer and announced that it would pay physicians an incentive of $350 per month per patient treated on the designated pathway (PDF). The authors propose a public website to reveal the hidden coercive forces that may specify treatments and limit choices through pressures on the doctor. "Medical care is not just another marketplace commodity. Physicians should never have an incentive to override the best interests of their patients."
It is common knowledge that white roofs (or plant covered roofs) can help reduce building cooling costs in sunny areas. The effect varies depending on latitude, and can reduce the Urban Heat Island effect which contributes 2-4% of the gross global warming.
Not everyone agrees, and there is at least one study that suggest reflecting roofs may not be helpful in fighting global warming even if they do reduce air-conditioning costs. The problem is that reflected light can heat existing pollution and dust in the atmosphere.
ScienceMag is reporting on a new development by engineers at Stanford University that has the potential to not only reflect sunlight, but also re-radiate heat directly into space, without heating the atmosphere.
The first part of the new cooling technology, reflecting, is easy to grasp: Just look in a mirror. The second part, radiating away heat, is less intuitive. Buildings, trees, and people all radiate heat in the form of infrared light.
Typically this infrared radiation occurs over a broad range of wavelengths between 6 and 30 micrometers. Because molecules in the air can absorb [heat] at the top and bottom of that range, the radiation heats up its surroundings. Wavelengths between 8 and 13 micrometers, however, pass right through the air into the cold vastness of space.
The engineer's developed a complex seven layer material that reflects 97% of the light striking it, but it also radiates heat (fed to it by the building itself) through that golden window of 8 and 13 micrometers, which dumps the heat directly to space without heating the atmosphere.
The coating can cool building roofs 5°C below ambient temperature. Still unknown is if the material can be installed cheaply enough to be cost effective.