Day: June 30, 2016

Humans and robots are on a collision course for a war, says Examiner

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When you’re attacked by an alligator, the National Enquirer has some great advice for you: “Run!”

That’s just one of the really useful survival tips in this week’s helpful tabloids.

Don’t drive – “driving can be hazardous to your health,” the Enquirer claims, noting a medical study that found motorists who drove more than an hour daily were on average six pounds heavier.

“Sleep for health,” advises the National Examiner, which also offers “10 ways to beat menopause” and how to live with “losing a limb.” Is this a problem among their sedentary readership, or has Oscar Pistorius bought a life-time subscription?

But what’s the point of staying healthy, since the world will be ending soon?

“Humans and robots are on a collision course for a war that could break out by the middle of the century,” according to the Examiner, which cites experts ranging from a Canadian novelist to Stephen Hawking. Maybe now is a good time to make sure that robots have a five-day waiting period before buying guns – or might the NRA object to that?

The Globe continues its obsession with fat-shaming celebrities who dare gain an extra ounce or two. Candice Bergen is branded a “blue whale,” Jeff Bridges is “fat and sassy,” country singer Blake Shelton is suffering “fat shame” about his “soft belly and man-boobs,” and actress Tara Reid sports a “belly bulge.” “Diet lowers cancer risk” and “teen pounds are lethal,” state two articles on the Globe’s health page, all of which makes me hunger for People magazine’s recipes this week for eggs Benedict, strawberries & cream parfait, and apple rhubarb scones.

The Globe’s elite informers inside Buckingham Palace report on the British Royal Family: “William tells Charles: It’s okay if you’re gay,” claiming “He wants Dad to stop hiding taste for men.” Despite his rather public marriages to Princess Diana and Camilla, Prince Charles allegedly “has desperately tried to hide his gay secret for decades.” So kind and caring of the Globe to share his “secret” with the world.

The Enquirer returns to its favorite theme of “Crooked Hillary” with a cover emblazoned: “CORRUPT!” An Enquirer investigation claims that Hillary accepted $139 million for political favors, and used the Clinton Foundation as a slush fund for “fraud & bribes,” concluding: “Money-grubbing Hillary Clinton should be disqualified from the presidency!” It makes Fox News actually seem fair and balanced.

Fortunately we have the crack investigative team at Us magazine to tell us that Heidi Klum wore it best (compared to Courtney Love . . . is that even a fair fight?) and that soul singer Maxwell ”would love a pet,” Nia Long carries Dior mascara, Nivea Creme and dental floss in her Street Level vegan leather tote, and that the stars are just like us: they ride bikes, buy in bulk, play musical instruments and climb ropes (though I can’t recall the last time I climbed a rope or played an instrument, so maybe the stars are different after all.)

Us mag worries that TV’s ‘Bachelorette’ …read more

Adnan Syed of 'Serial' podcast will get a new trial

Adnan Syed leaves the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse Feb. 5, 2016. REUTERS

A Maryland judge today granted a retrial to Adnan Syed, whose conviction for the 1999 murder of his former girlfriend was the subject of the first season of the popular podcast “Serial.”

Syed’s lawyer C. Justin Brown announced the news Thursday afternoon via Twitter, and confirmed to reporters later that the motion for a new trial was granted by Judge Martin Welch.

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Nancy Grace out at CNN

This is the HLN we know and love.

After 12 years of true-crime bullshit and an official twitter account so demented as to be indistinguishable from parody, Nancy Grace is out at CNN.

A network spokesperson tells The Hollywood Reporter that a new series — one that will “utilize the expertise of the current team” — will replace Nancy Grace in the ‪8 p.m. slot following the airing of the final episode ‪on Oct. 13. The decision was a difficult one, according to Grace, who in an emotional interview with THR admits to being “really mixed” about taking a step she’s been “thinking a lot about” for the past three years.

Grace’s reputation is for shouting down guests and making dubious accusations, at least two of which preceded her targets’ apparent suicides. Her professional background was as a supposedly brilliant prosecutor, and her crime-fighting origin story was a fiance’s murder, but it never quite added up. The New York Times:

Ms. Grace came by her victimhood honestly when her fiancé, Keith Griffin, was killed when she was just 19. In her book “Objection,” Ms. Grace suggested that a stranger with a criminal record shot Mr. Griffin outside a convenience store, was arrested and denied any involvement. By her recollection, she had to sit through three days of agonizing deliberation and then the prosecutor asked her if the defendant should be given the death penalty. She said no, she had no stomach for it.

The New York Observer fact-checked her written account and discovered that Mr. Griffin was killed by a former co-worker with no criminal record who confessed to the crime immediately. At trial, he was convicted within hours and the prosecution did in fact ask for the death penalty, but was denied. Ms. Grace explained the variance by telling The Observer, “I have tried not to think about it.”

It seems CNN, though, has finally tired of all this shit, replete as it is with relentless lawsuits and dead-eyed efforts to trend hashtags such as #BabyInDryer and #TooFatToDie on their chyron.

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Chemtrail activists want Marriott hotels to remove wall art

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It’s bad enough that the reptilian power elite routinely release mind-numbing chemicals into the atmosphere in order to pacify Earth’s domesticated primates. Now they’re adding insult to injury by installing pro-chemtrail propaganda disguised as art on Mariott hotel room walls. It’s an outrage, and activists who have thus far managed to evade the deleterious effects of the gas are doing something about it, in the form of a Change.org petition. I’m cheering them on from my lair in a secret deep underground military base.

From the petition:

M

arriott’s newly decorated “chemtrail rooms” promote chemtrails and geoengineering by making guests grow accustomed to the sight of chemtrails (as if this is a natural occurrence!) This is outrageous and they should not be promoting this government secret agenda. Please sign to boycott Marriott and raise awareness of the global issue of chemtrails. Whether intentional or unintentional, promotion by Marriott and corporate America will not be tolerated, or the public will hit where it hurts…in their wallets.

[via]

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U.S. military ends trans ban

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter addresses reporters at the Pentagon. REUTERS

The Pentagon today ended its rule that transgender people were barred from serving in the U.S. military. The historic announcement formally removes some of the risks faced by an estimated thousands of U.S. troops, who could have been expelled from the armed forces because of their gender identity. Trans people who serve in the armed forces still have harassment, sexual violence, physical assault, and prejudice to face, but the hatred and sickness no longer has a Pentagon directive to hid behind.

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A look at Bulgaria's "bride's market"

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Bulgaria’s 18,000-person Kalaidzhi Roma clan holds an annual “bride market, where young virgins are paraded in front of suitors who bid on them.”

From Tai-wiki-widbee

Every year young Roma women attend “bride markets” with the intention of getting married to the highest bidder. “If you have gold jewelry and shoes that match your dress… the better family we come from, the higher price we get.” The average bride price is about USD$300-350. “But it’s more like massive speed-dating than the forced marriage market that the media reports.”

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Irving Harper – The genius furniture designer created stunning paper sculptures for fun

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Irving Harper: Works in Paper

by Irving Harper (artist) and Michael Maharam (editor)

Skira Rizzoli

2013, 176 pages, 8.3 x 10.3 x 1.1 inches

$33 Buy a copy on Amazon

Anyone familiar with the American version of the hit comedy The Office might remember a scene in which Michael Scott attends an art show where Pam exhibits her paintings. Struck by a painting she made of the office building, Michael buys it and muses, “It is a message. It is an inspiration. It is a source of beauty. And without paper, it could not have happened.” The quote could just as easily be said of famed designer Irving Harper, an alchemist who transforms paper into works of wonder. One look at Irving Harper: Works In Paper will be sufficient to astonish those who are not yet acquainted with the genius of design, and to further amaze those who are already fans of his.

Irving Harper was famous primarily as a furniture designer who championed the modernist style, becoming famous for the “Marshmallow Sofa” which comprises 18 plush discs arranged on a wire frame, and the “Ball Clock,” which resembles an asterix with multi-colored balls punctuating the tip of each line. Harper was not a sculptor by profession, but he created paper sculptures at home as a pastime to relieve himself of the stress of his regular job. This book features the astonishing results of someone who was ultimately more artist than hobbyist. Within these pages, a series of masks with graceful, Kabuki-like features can be found alongside vivid and striking depictions of wildlife including a wizened owl with expressive eyes, a snarling wolf hovering over its prey and a stoic elephant made with spare grace. A lavish cathedral skillfully depicts a stained glass window with a seraph in an arched doorway, while a sparse rendition of a scowling soldier on horseback offers a remarkable contrast. A series of abstract sculptures reminiscent of some of Robert Rauschenberg’s bold experiments also capture the reader’s attention.

The book offers a brief introduction to Irving Harper and discusses his design career in some detail, but the majority of the pagers are devoted to stunning full-color and black-and-white images of his paper sculptures. One photograph stands out: Harper, surrounded by his magnificent creations in his living room, idly scans a newspaper from his easy chair. The image remains in the mind even after closing the book as a quiet and powerful document of a humble genius who gave shape to his imagination with the simplest of resources. It is, as Michael Scott suggested, a source of beauty. And it couldn’t have happened without paper.

– Lee Hollman

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#Brexit pusher Boris Johnson drops his run to be next Prime Minister of Britain

Vote Leave campaign leader, Boris Johnson,  delivering his speech in London, Britain June 30, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

It’s been a day of “intrigue and betrayal” in UK politics, as the New York Times puts it. The man widely predicted to be a solid candidate as the next prime minister of Britain, Boris Johnson, says he won’t run. This appears to be a response to today’s unexpected news of a candidacy launch by Michael Gove, a key Boris ally in the Brexit campaign. It’s hard to keep up, I know.

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Ku Klux Klan sees Donald Trump as a sign things are going their way

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With historic familial ties to the hate based organization, it is no wonder the Klan loves Trump. Klansmen across the nation see Trump’s successes within the GOP electorate as a sign their message is getting across.

Via TPM:

KKK leader Brent Waller, imperial wizard of the United Dixie White Knights in Mississippi, said stopping immigration — not blocking minority rights — is the Klan’s No. 1 issue today.

And other Klan leaders say Donald Trump’s ascendancy in the GOP is a sign things are going their way.

“You know, we began 40 years ago saying we need to build a wall,” Arkansas-based Klan leader Thomas Robb said.

Despite trying to rebrand itself, the Klan has not stepped away from burning crosses. As the sun set on a warm Saturday in April,Klan members gathered in a huge circle in a northwest Georgia field to set a cross and Nazi swastika afire.

“White power!” they chanted in unison.

“Death to the ungodly! Death to our enemies!”

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Video about a cool gravity-fed marble "computer" game that beats human players

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Matt Parker is a “standup mathematician.” In this entertaining video, he demonstrates a 1960s plastic toy that plays the game of Nim against a human opponent. Interestingly, Dr. Nim is an ingenious mechanism that uses plastic levers to control the number of marbles it chooses to drop. If you go first, Dr. Nim will always win. In the video, Matt shows you how to play and win Nim every time, including a cheat that lets you win even if you go first.

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"Dark Overlord"'s health record dumps were calculated, reputation-building spectacles

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“The Dark Overlord” is a hacker who’s made headline by advertising the availability of millions of health records on darknet sites, sending samples to news-outlets to validate their authenticity; in an interview with Motherboard’s Joseph Cox, Dark Overlord reveals that the disclosures are timed to put the pressure on other victims to pay ransoms to guarantee that their stolen data won’t leak.
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Cooking hotdogs on an air-cooled motorcycle

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The guys at Been there Done That drove around Portland, Maine with some hotdogs wired to the jugs of an Ural motorcycle. Unsurprisingly, the amazing airhead engine is too efficient at dissipating heat, and the hot dogs don’t get very cooked.

The story behind IMZ-Ural Motorcycles is also pretty cool, both the Soviet-ization of a BMW R71, and the handwork to keep the factory open and making bikes. If you want a bike with a sidecar, they make some cool ones.

(Thanks Kent K. Barnes!)

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Alvin Toffler, Future Shock author, dies at 87

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“Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time,” according to Alvin Toffler, who died on June 27 at the age of 87. Toffler wrote a massively best selling book of the same called Future Shock, which made him a celebrity.

I saw Alvin Toffler at a Chin Chin Chinese restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood 20 years ago. I stared at him, slack jawed, until he finally said, “Yes, it’s me!” He seemed friendly, so I approached him and we talked for about 20 minutes. I was impressed with his energy level. I told him I was an editor at Wired magazine, and mentioned that we had just backed out of an IPO. “Sometimes, retreat is the smart thing to do,” he said.

Some Toffler quotes:

“You can use all the quantitative data you can get, but you still have to distrust it and use your own intelligence and judgment.”

“It is better to err on the side of daring than the side of caution.”

“One of the definitions of sanity is the ability to tell real from unreal. Soon we’ll need a new definition.”

“Anyone nit-picking enough to write a letter of correction to an editor doubtless deserves the error that provoked it.”

“Technology feeds on itself. Technology makes more technology possible.”

“Science fiction is held in low regard as a branch of literature, and perhaps it deserves this critical contempt. But if we view it as a kind of sociology of the future, rather than as literature, science fiction has immense value as a mind-stretching force for the creation of the habit of anticipation. Our children should be studying Arthur C. Clarke, William Tenn, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and Robert Sheckley, not because these writers can tell them about rocket ships and time machines but, more important, because they can lead young minds through an imaginative exploration of the jungle of political, social, psychological, and ethical issues that will confront these children as adults.”

He is survived by his wife, Heidi Toffler, who co-authored his post Future Shock books.

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Paying for the Road to Mars

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While the world’s focus, understandably, is on the amazing technologies being demonstrated by SpaceX and Blue Origin, it is their financial and strategic plans that may matter most.

Unlike NASA or anyone else in the space industry, SpaceX and Blue Origin have plans to pay for their goals in space. The idea of major space projects paying for themselves, unfortunately, is just as unprecedented as the companies’ technologies.

The new technologies are certainly impressive — and necessary to achieve the financial goals.

On Dec. 21, 2015, SpaceX did what most had considered impractical, if not impossible: the first stage of an orbital launch vehicle returned to its launch site and landed. This success followed a five year, mostly privately-funded “trial-and-error” development effort, featuring multiple spectacular failures. Less than four months later and after more crash landings, on April 8, 2016, they achieved an even greater improbability: successfully landing on a wave-tossed barge on the open ocean. Since then, they’ve executed more landings, and sustained one more failure.

As if successful landings were not enough, SpaceX also demonstrated another technology that had been believed impractical. Super-cooling liquid oxygen to slush at minus 207 degrees Celsius increases its density, allowing more to be loaded into the rocket’s tanks. That reduces the tank size and mass per unit oxidizer, meaning that more propulsive power can be carried in a given tank.

It also requires loading the tanks and launching fast before the oxidizer can warm and expand – both difficult issues the company struggled with on subsequent flights.

The tanks themselves are larger than those on the old Falcon, and the second stage engine has a larger bell, making it more efficient in vacuum. All the changes increase performance enough to return the first stage to the launch site while still orbiting a useful payload. Alternatively, if the first stage is expended, the new version of Falcon-9 can lift relatively heavy loads for a medium-sized rocket. Even before the Falcon Heavy flies, the company is pushing farther into the market for larger satellites, currently dominated by rockets like the Ariane 5 and Atlas 5.

Blue Origin achieved their own return and landing on Nov. 23, 2015, a month before SpaceX, with a single stage suborbital vehicle capable of carrying six passengers briefly into space. Video of the Blue Origin New Shepard suggests it employs a unique aerodynamic ring to achieve a safe separation of the passenger cabin, followed by a parachute landing.

The first stage then landed at the center of its launch pad, a precision that was later relaxed to allow for greater stability. On Jan. 22, 2016, Blue Origin repeated the feat with the same rocket, becoming the first company to use the same first stage twice. Proving that no fluke, they have since flown the same stage a total of four times.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos poses in front of his rocket. Credit: Blue Origin

SpaceX’s stage dwarfed Blue Origin’s suborbital vehicle, returned from a …read more

What if school was out, forever?

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Today a future without schools. Instead of gathering students into a room and teaching them, everybody learns on their own time, on tablets and guided by artificial intelligence.

Flash Forward: RSS | iTunes | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Patreon | Reddit

In this episode we talk to a computer scientist who developed an artificially intelligent TA, folks who build learning apps, and critics who wonder if all the promises being made are too good to be true. What do we gain when we let students choose their own paths? What do we lose when we get rid of schools?

Illustration by Matt Lubchansky.

▹▹ Full show notes

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Eye-Fi orphans 14 products, which will therefore cease to function

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Eye-Fi makes clever wifi hotspots in the shape of SD cards; your camera sees them as SD cards but you can mount them on your network and automatically feed the images captured by your camera to a nearby laptop. But to make all this work with some models, you need an account on “Eye-Fi Center,” a cloud service run by the company that sends configuration data to your card.
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Star Trek's USS Enterprise restored and back on display at the Smithsonian

Photos by Dane A. Penland, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The Smithsonian has restored and put the studio model of the NCC-1701 back on display! This video is full of awesome information, and shot vertically so people can complain! There is also a fantastic blog post about the process, and the small modifications they’ve made.

Via the National Air and Space Museum’s blog:

The final stages of the conservation treatment came together in the last few months. In April 2016, the Enterprise model, in pieces, was in the large artifact booth in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar. Special Advisory Committee member Gary Kerr was dubbed our “oracle,” double-checking his notes and diagrams before any detail went onto the model. (There are 952 holes in the faux grill inside the starboard nacelle. He counted.) And Bill George and John Goodson, both of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), worked with Kim Smith of Pulse Evolution to carry out the physical detailing. Together, they were consummate professionals, bringing their expertise into an ongoing conversation with the Museum staff. More than once, the whole team stopped work to discuss the choices being made, assuring that everyone agreed before proceeding.

Photo by Dane A. Penland, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Before this dream team of model painters arrived, the Enterprise model’s body had already been expertly cleaned, reinforced, and repaired by Engen Conservation Chair Malcolm Collum, Dave Wilson, and Sharon Norquest (with a much-appreciated assist by Lauren Horelick). Then the whole model (minus the upper saucer paint, of course, which is original paint from the 1960s) was painted with a base color that had been carefully matched by the Museum’s Dave Wilson to the production base color that had been uncovered in multiple places on the model in sanding tests.

Kim’s first step was mixing the colors that would be used for the weathering, details, and markings. The detail paints were mixed to match the colors that Dave had carefully revealed, and were adjusted and balanced for appropriate contrast and intensity based on comparisons with the historic images.

A full-scale mockup of several of the model’s parts (nacelles and secondary hull) provided a way to test paints, techniques, and finishes before applying any paint to the actual artifact. Some eagle-eyed fans even caught sight of the mockups on the Restoration Shop floor and wondered online whether the Enterprise work was underway. The actual artifact pieces stayed in the paint booth, the large artifact bay, or otherwise out of public view through most of the process.

The masking was an art form itself. Bill, John, and Kim layered up Post-it® notes because the low-tack adhesive would be least likely to affect the base paint. And then they created fine edges using masking tapes, burnished to create a seamless transition between colors. The end result, as you can see in these photos, is beautiful – bringing the model back to what it would have looked like at the end of shooting season two, after the Trouble with Tribbles episode.

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Facebook: We did ‘a test’ last year using some people's location data to suggest friends

Photo: Reuters

Facebook recently told Fusion reporter Kashmir Hill that Facebook uses location data to recommend friends.
People freaked out. Facebook retracted the statement. Then, the social media giant said what, that’s crazy, LOL, no. No, we didn’t do that at all. Now, Facebook’s communications team tells Hill the confusion arose “because there was a brief time when the social network used location for friend suggestions,” which involved a small percentage of Facebook users and stopped last year.

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Intelsat announces private placement to repurchase debt after bank route blocked

Intelsat's banner hung from the New York Stock Exchange when the company went public in 2013. Credit: Intelsat

TOULOUSE, France – Satellite fleet operator Intelsat, stymied in attempts to obtaining bank financing to buy back its debt by an activist bondholder’s allegations the company had violated debt covenants, on June 30 said it had concluded a private placement of $490 million in debt to finance the repurchase of a portion of three of its bonds.

The transaction is designed to end a six-week blockage during which Intelsat was unable to secure bank financing for the bond repurchase because Aurelius Capital Management LP of New York, a private investment firm, had cast doubt on whether Intelsat had respected its bond covenants and had spread allegations of loan default.

Intelsat declined to disclose the maturity date of the privately placed notes but said they carried a 9.5 percent interest rate. The company also reduced the maximum payment it would make to holders of the three bonds subject to the tender, to $463 million from the previous ceiling of $625 million, apparently to steer clear of any issue that could provide fodder for Aurelius. The company again extended the deadline for tenders, to July 14.

Since its original May 12 announcement, the tender has proved popular with the bonds’ owners, some of whom likely made their purchases at even further discounted rates given Intelsat’s delicate financial position.

In its June 30 statement, Intelsat said owners of the three bonds have offered up a total of some $2.3 billion, or five times the maximum amount Intelsat set.

The company’s business of leasing telecommunications satellite capacity to commercial and government customers has hit a near-zero-growth period. Intelsat must use a large percentage of its total free cash flow to service its debt, which as of March 31 was $15.8 billion, or about eight times its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

Aurelius, which has declined to disclose the size of its own Intelsat bond holding, has exchanged a series of letters with Intelsat since May 13, the day after Intelsat announced its bond tender offer.

The language has been anything but friendly, studded with veiled threats of forcing a court case. Aurelius Chairman Mark D. Brodsky said Intelsat had defaulted on its loan terms in a September 2015 transaction in which one Intelsat-owned entity appeared to provide funds to another Intelsat-controlled entity.

At one point during the transaction, Aurelius said, Intelsat’s total debt surpassed the maximum of six times its adjusted EBITDA as set by its loan covenants. But not by much: Aurelius came up with a figure of 6.07 times adjusted EBITDA.

Aurelius has said it represents an “ad hoc” group that together represents 25 percent of the owners of an Intelsat bond due in 2020 that is subject to the tender offer.

Intelsat Chief Financial Officer Jacques Kerrest has gone back and forth with Aurelius’s Brodsky in exchanges of letters, demanding that Aurelius disclose its holdings and its motivations so that Intelsat could determine if the investor “has positions that would profit from causing harm to Intelsat.” Kerrest has denied that any of the transactions constituted a default.

Kerrest also …read more

Grizzly unseats and kills Montana mountain biker

Image: Yellowstone National Park

Near Glacier National Park, a surprised grizzly bear attacked three mountain bikers. Two were able to escape, but the third, Brad Treat, was killed.

Via Alaska Dispatch News:

Treat died Wednesday afternoon after being attacked by a grizzly bear just south of Glacier National Park. Though he had maintained his athleticism — he was riding his mountain bike, after all — Treat, who was just 38 years old and a law enforcement officer with the U.S. Forest Service, couldn’t escape his fate.

But his companion did. Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry told the Associated Press that Treat and another man had been biking near Halfmoon Lakes when they came across the bear, surprising it. The other man escaped unscathed and sought help while the bear knocked Treat off his bike.

Help arrived too late, and Treat was declared dead on the scene. The bear has not been found, though authorities are searching for it, and campers were briefed on the incident.

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Scientist uses magic (and psychology) to implant thoughts and read minds

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In a new scientific study, McGill University researcher Jay Olson combined stage magic with psychology to make people think that an fMRI machine (actually a fake) could read their minds and implant thoughts in their heads. Essentially, Olson and his colleagues used “mentalist” gimmicks to do the ESP and “thought insertion” but convinced the subjects that it was real neuroscience at work. The research could someday help psychologists study and understand why some individuals with mental health problems think they are being controlled by external forces. Vaughan “Mind Hacks” Bell blogged about Olson’s research for the British Psychological Society. From Vaughan’s post:

(The subjects) reported a range of anomalous effects when they thought numbers were being “inserted” into their minds: A number “popped in” my head, reported one participant. Others described “a voice … dragging me from the number that already exists in my mind”, feeling “some kind of force”, feeling “drawn” to a number, or the sensation of their brain getting “stuck” on one number. All a striking testament to the power of suggestion.

A common finding in psychology is that people can be unaware of what influences their choices. In other words, people can feel control without having it. Here, by using the combined powers of stage magic and a sciency-sounding back story, Olson and his fellow researchers showed the opposite – that people can have control without feeling it.

Using a cocktail of magic and fMRI, psychologists implanted thoughts in people’s minds(BPS)

Simulated thought insertion: Influencing the sense of agency using deception and magic(Consciousness and Cognition)


Illustration by Rob Beschizza

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Orbital Insight raises $20 million to wring Earth imagery for actionable intelligence

An example of imagery Orbital Insight processes for customers interested in counting cars in shopping center parking lots. Credit: DigitalGlobe and Airbus.

SAN FRANCISCO — Investor enthusiasm remains strong for companies that provide information drawn from Earth observation satellites, judging by $20 million in new investments for geospatial data company Orbital Insight.

Orbital Insight announced June 27 that it raised $15 million in Series B funding from venture capital groups and garnered another $5 million in investment and product development work for In-Q-Tel, the non-profit investment arm of the U.S. intelligence community.

With the additional funding, Orbital Insight plans to expand its range of analytic data products. To date, the firm has focused on a relatively small number of observation targets, including counting cars in retail parking lots and gauging the amount of oil stored in tanks by observing the shadows cast by floating lids.

Through conversations with industry and government customers, Orbital Insight has compiled a list of more than 100 additional targets it wants to develop algorithms to measure, including cars, trucks, trains, ships, steel plant activity, refinery activity, imports, exports, oil drilling and deforestation, said James Crawford, Orbital Insight founder and chief executive.

Orbital Insight also plans to expand its sales force. More than 30 people now work for the firm. Crawford said he does not have a specific personnel goal in mind, but the firm is “continuing to make a lot of hires.”

Orbital Insight’s Series B investment round was led by GV (formerly known as Google Ventures). New investor CME Ventures joined Sequoia Capital, Lux Capital and Bloomberg Beta, investment firms that already were backing Palo Alto, California-based Orbital Insight.

Although the Earth observation field is becoming crowded, Orbital Insight is unique because it does not have the high capital expenditures of the other satellite imaging companies, Bill Coughran, Sequoia Capital partner, said by email. Rather than flying its own satellites, Orbital Insight obtains data through contracts with constellation owners, including DigitalGlobe, Airbus, Planet, Rapid Eye and Urthecast. “Orbital Insight is solely focused on building best-in-class software to extract insights from the satellite and aerial imagery,” Coughran added.

Orbital Insight also differs from its competitors by gathering data on a grander scale, Crawford said. “When we count cars, we count them in parking lots of every major U.S. retailer, in a million parking lots. When we look at oil in China, we ingest imagery of the whole country,” he said.

Crawford, who earned a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Texas at Austin, expects the Earth observation market to move away from surveys as customers seek objective measurements of various targets. He also expects additional types of geospatial information to be folded into the mix, including synthetic aperture radar data.

Lux Capital partner Shahin Farshchi agrees. “We are very excited about the Earth observation space as a whole,” he said. “We view satellite imagery as not being the only data source that can generate insights.”

Bloomberg Beta’s confidence in Orbital Insight stems from its belief that the Earth observation market will continue to grow and faith in the firm’s leadership. “When machine intelligence meets new, enormous sources of data, many people see an opportunity,” Roy …read more

Airbus, Safran finalize Ariane joint venture

Ariane 5 on the launch pad. Credit: Arianespace

Airbus and Safran have finalized the creation of their launch vehicle joint venture.

Two companies announced they had closed the deal to create Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) that will be responsible for the manufacturing of the Ariane 5 and future Ariane 6 vehicles.

ASL was already managing that work while their parent companies worked out final terms of the agreement.

Under that new deal, Safran will pay Airbus 750 million euros ($835 million), 50 million euros less than originally planned, to give the companies a 50-50 share of ASL. [Reuters]


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NASA negotiated discounts and other considerations from SpaceX after the failure of a Dragon cargo mission last year. A report issued this week by the NASA Office of Inspector General said that NASA received discounted pricing on five additional cargo missions added to SpaceX’s existing contract, as well as other “significant consideration” from the company to help compensate for the loss of the Dragon on a June 2015 mission to the International Space Station. The report praised NASA for negotiating those discounts, but also recommended that the agency improve how it investigates commercial cargo launch failures to better understand both technical and other causes. [SpaceNews]

Canada is planning a multibillion-dollar satellite system to provide communications for the country’s Arctic regions. The Enhanced Satcom Project system, estimated to cost Canadian $2.4 billion (US$1.9 billion), would include at least two satellites in elliptical orbits to provide 24-hour communications, a Canadian military official said this week. The Arctic region is not well served by satellites in geostationary orbit because of its high latitudes, requiring alternative approaches. Enhanced Satcom Project replaces Polar Communications and Weather, a concept studied several years ago by the Canadian Space Agency but shelved because of its high price. [SpaceNews]

Bright patches seen on the surface of dwarf planet Ceres are salts that form in the presence of liquid water. Scientists reported in the journal Nature Wednesday that the bright patches seen in the floor of one crater by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft are sodium carbonate, a salt that on Earth is formed when water evaporates from a lake or hot springs. Scientists had previously speculated that the bright patches were ice or Epsom salt. A related study, also based on Dawn data, suggests that Ceres’ surface is made primarily of rock and not ice. [SPACE.com]

The Japanese space agency JAXA will include a space debris removal experiment on an upcoming ISS cargo flight. The next HTV, or Kounotori, mission to the station, scheduled for launch this fall, will include a tether that will deploy from the spacecraft after it departs from the station at the end of its mission. The spacecraft will run a current through the tether to test its ability to use the Earth’s magnetic field to slow down. That technology, JAXA believes, could be used to help deorbit space debris. [Kyodo]

ESA’s Rosetta comet mission will formally come to an end in three months. The agency announced Thursday that the spacecraft, which …read more

Gun nut mom's rampage was to punish her husband

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The recent double murder of her two daughters, by mentally ill gun-enthusiast Christy Sheats was evidently meant to punish her husband for their impending divorce.

Houston Chronicle:

The 45-year-old father told investigators his wife gunned down his two beloved daughters in front of him last week amid tensions that their rocky marriage was headed for divorce.

It was her choice, Jason Sheats said, that he survived the carnage last Friday.

“He felt Christy wanted him to suffer,” Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls said Wednesday, after speaking with the distraught father. “Mr. Sheats stated Christy knew how much he loved Taylor and Madison and how much they loved him.”

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Man pointed gun at priest "the whole time" he was giving confession

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A priest at St. Christopher Parish in Rocky Hill, Ohio says a man resembling this police sketch reportedly gave confession while pointing a gun at him the entire time. The fellow is still at large.

“He just came in, you know, to go to confession, and before he sat down, he pulled out this gun from behind his back,” the priest said in a call to 911 after the incident. “So I did confession at gunpoint.”

The question is, what did he confess? Well, that’s between him and his priest, and the man of god isn’t breaking “the sacred seal of confession.”

(ABC News)

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Turn into a web guru with the Complete Web Developer Course 2.0 - now only $19

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This course features nearly 300 lectures and over 30 hours of content on all things code, from fundamental disciplines like HTML5, CSS3 and Python to more advanced practices like jQuery, PHP 7, and Twitter Bootstrap.

You’ll follow practical lessons creating real functioning websites, whether it’s developing e-commerce sites with WordPress or learning techniques to create your own Twitter clone. You’ll even get a free year of unlimited web hosting to try your creations out.

The Complete Web Developer Course 2.0 puts all your web creation tools under one umbrella — and at nearly 85% off its regular price, it’s perfect for adding to your development arsenal.

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Timur and the Dime Museum's 'Cobalt Blues'

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Timur and the Dime Museum one up glam-rock into an incredible theatrical experience. Check out the just released video for Cobalt Blues, a track off their new album COLLAPSE.

I first experienced a performance of Timur’s last year, and I was pretty much instantly swept away. He is an incredible tenor, who combines amazing classic operatic skill with glam rock theatrics and style. It is a huge win.

The video was directed, shot and edited by Sandra Powers, muusic and words by Daniel Corral, and was produced by Nick Urata and Nick Tipp.

More info:

Glam-rock theatrical act Timur and the Dime Museum (TDM) release their third album Collapse on June 30th, 2016, produced by Nick Urata of DeVotchKa. Written and composed by TDM member Daniel Corral, Collapse is a glam-rock requiem with sardonic songs about the environmental catastrophes caused by humans with trenchant commentary and arch theatrical flair – by turns grungy, poppy, and apocalyptic. Collapse is available for download on iTunes, Amazon and other outlets.

The album Collapse is based on Collapse: A Post-Ecological Requiem, a staged production that premiered in 2015 at REDCAT, Los Angeles, with performances at Miami Light Project, Operadagen Rotterdam Festival, and BAM 2015 Next Wave Festival. The show garnered wide critical praise, including LA Times (“nastily seductive, dangerous…Timur embodies centuries’ worth of musical styles”), Miami Herald (“full of intensity and dark humour”), Artinfo Magazine (“upbeat hooks, slamming power chords, a Mercurian falsetto”) and LA Weekly (“a haunting and hyperbolic song cycle”).

Collapse is conceptualized as a theatrical Requiem, where different stories are refracted through the hauntingly eclectic sound of the four-member band – keys, bass, guitar and drums and the vibrant voice of the Kazakh-American tenor Timur, playing the role of Moloch, a God of human sacrifice, lamenting the environmental degradation of the past, present and future.

Congrats to the whole band, and crew, ‘Cobalt Blues’ is beautiful!

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