Thursday, 23 January

14:00 EST

Africa's Richest Woman Now Formally A Suspect In Angolan Corruption Probe [News : NPR]

Isabel dos Santos, seen here attending a screening of BlacKkKlansman at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival in France, has been accused of embezzlement and money laundering in Angola.

Prosecutors say Isabel dos Santos, billionaire daughter of Angola's ex-president, engaged in rampant financial misconduct — following the release of over 700,000 documents known as the Luanda Leaks.

(Image credit: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

Can Airport Screening Help Stop The Spread Of Wuhan Coronavirus? [News : NPR]

Airport officials screen for possible cases of the novel coronavirus at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, China, where the illness originated.

A new illness is spreading throughout China and other parts of the world, including one confirmed case in the U.S. As airports ramp up screening efforts, public health experts question if they help.

(Image credit: Emily Wang/AP)

Attorney General William Barr's Unwavering Support Of Trump, Explained [News : NPR]

The New Yorker's David Rohde says Barr acts as Trump's political "sword and shield," which has made him the most feared, criticized and effective member of the president's cabinet.

Switzerland’s drone delivery program to resume after crashes [The Verge - All Posts]

Image: Swiss Post

A Switzerland drone delivery service run by the Swiss Post is set to resume on January 27th, following a suspension of the program in August 2019 after two drone crashes, including one where the drone’s parachute malfunctioned.

In that time, Swiss Post and Matternet — the US company that operates the drone fleet — set up an “independent board of experienced aviation specialists” to review the companies’ safety procedures and operations and provide suggestions for improvements.

“Swiss Post and Matternet maintain high safety standards and a high level of safety awareness. The processes that were examined were at a high standard even before the incidents,” according to Michel Guillaume, one of the members of the review board. “There are no...

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Google launches collaborative game to reveal when I/O 2020 is happening [The Verge - All Posts]

Image: Google

Every year, Google launches a game or puzzle that people can play to eventually learn the dates for the company’s annual I/O conference, and this year’s game is now live (via 9to5Google).

It’s a space-themed game where users have to work collaboratively to restore an intergalactic satellite network. When you first visit the game’s site, you’ll see the “map” of the galaxy I’ve included at the top of this post as well as a message about the mission and a few progress bars (which have been slowly rising as I’ve been writing this story):

Image: Google

If you accept the mission, a command line box appears with this text:

The satellite cluster nearest your current location has been located. Determine its proper name, then...

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Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri was swatted last November [The Verge - All Posts]

WIRED25 Summit 2019 - Day 1 Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for WIRED

Adam Mosseri, the CEO of Instagram and a longtime Facebook employee, became a target of an anonymous online attacker who called in a fake hostage situation at his San Francisco home last November. The phone calls eventually led a SWAT team to Mosseri’s door, according to a new report in The New York Times that was published on Thursday.

The practice, known as swatting, has long been a particularly extreme form of online attack, and in some situations, it has even led to violence. After a Kansas swatting attack over an online match of Call of Duty led to the accidental police shooting of a 28-year-old Wichita man in 2017, the perpetrator — a serial swatter who had also called in numerous bomb threats in years prior — was sentenced to 20...

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TikTok’s licensing deal with Merlin will give the platform access to a huge indie music selection [The Verge - All Posts]

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

TikTok has signed a deal with the digital rights agency Merlin that will give the platform access to a huge selection of independent music. Effective immediately, the agreement includes licensed music from tens of thousands of indie record labels worldwide.

TikTok, home to parody videos, memes, lip syncing, and more through clips that last for only a matter of seconds, has steadily grown in popularity over the last few years. Music is a crucial part of the platform, whether it’s setting up a joke or launching a new meme. The platform has even helped launch musicians like Lil Nas X into stardom with breakout songs like “Old Town Road.”

Merlin, one of the top global digital rights agencies for independent labels, licenses music to...

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13:00 EST

DirecTV races to decommission broken Boeing satellite before it explodes [Ars Technica]

Illustration of a satellite orbiting Earth.

Enlarge / Illustration—not the actual Boeing satellite used by DirecTV. (credit: Getty Images | 3DSculptor)

DirecTV is scrambling to move a broken Boeing satellite out of its standard orbit in order to limit the risk of "an accidental explosion."

As Space News reported today, DirecTV asked the Federal Communications Commission for a rules waiver so it can "conduct emergency operations to de-orbit the Spaceway-1 satellite," which is at risk of explosion because of damage to batteries. The 15-year-old Boeing 702HP satellite is in a geostationary orbit.

DirecTV, which is owned by AT&T, is coordinating with Intelsat on a plan to move Spaceway-1 into a new orbit. DirecTV already disabled the satellite's primary function, which is to provide backup Ka-band capacity in Alaska. The satellite can operate on power reserves from its solar panels, but that won't be possible during the coming eclipse season, DirecTV explained in its FCC filing:

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Jewel beetle’s bright colored shell serves as camouflage from predators [Ars Technica]

The brightly colored shell of this jewel beetle is a surprisingly effective form of camouflage, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Bristol.

Enlarge / The brightly colored shell of this jewel beetle is a surprisingly effective form of camouflage, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Bristol. (credit: Bristol Museums, Galleries, and Archives)

Artist and naturalist Abbott Handerson Thayer became known as the "father of camouflage" with the publication in 1909 of a book on coloration in animals. He was particularly fascinated by the phenomenon of iridescence: many species exhibit bright, metallic jewel tones that shift hues depending on viewing angle. While iridescence is often viewed as a means of sexual selection—think the magnificent peacock, shimmering his feathers to attract a willing peahen—Thayer suggested that in some species, it was also an effective means of camouflage.

Thayer endured a fair bit of mockery for his ideas, most notably from Theodore Roosevelt, a big game hunter who thought Thayer had grossly overstated his case. Indeed, there has been very little empirical support for Thayer's hypothesis in the ensuing century. But researchers from the University of Bristol have now uncovered the first solid evidence for this in the jewel beetle, according to a new paper in Current Biology.

What makes iridescence in nature so unusual is the fact that the color we see doesn't come from actual pigment molecules but from the precise lattice-like structure of the wings (or abalone shells, or peacock feathers, or opals, for that matter). That structure forces each light wave passing through to interfere with itself, so it can propagate only in certain directions and at certain frequencies. In essence, the structure acts like naturally occurring diffraction gratings. Physicists call these structures photonic crystals, an example of so-called "photonic band gap materials," meaning they block out certain frequencies of light and let through others.

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DirecTV Fears Explosion Risk From Satellite With Damaged Battery [Slashdot]

DirecTV is racing to move its Spaceway-1 satellite out of the geostationary arc after the 15-year-old satellite suffered a crippling battery malfunction that the company fears could cause it to explode. From a report: DirecTV told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that it does not have time to deplete the remaining fuel on Spaceway-1 before disposing of it by boosting it 300 kilometers above the geostationary arc, a region home to most of the world's large communications satellites. Spaceway-1 is a Boeing-built High Power 702 model satellite that was designed to last 12 years. Launched in 2005 on a Sea Launch Zenit 3SL rocket, the 6,080-kilogram satellite originally provided high-definition television direct broadcasting services from its orbital slot at 102.8 degrees west longitude. More recently, Spaceway-1 was being used to backup Ka-band capacity over Alaska. In December, an unexplained anomaly caused "significant and irreversible thermal damage" to Spaceway-1's batteries, DirecTV said in a filing dated Jan. 19. Boeing, the filing says, concluded that the batteries are at high risk of bursting if recharged, since the damaged cells can't be isolated.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Love Letters to Hitler [Boing Boing]

The American poet Hannah Cushman Howes sent a letter to Adolf Hitler in the early part of 1933. It contained a poem she composed especially for him:

TO CHANCELLOR HITLER

Heed not those alien, rabble foes,
That tear and rend our land,
Our land was built by Patriots,
Who by their country stand.

And you, today, are your land’s hope
Its savior whom traitors fear;
In you the glowing flame leaps high
That once stirred Paul Revere.

She also included a handwritten note to clarify her sentiments further.

“...America’s enemies, most of them Russians - I saw them. Jews from Russia, Poland, Italy, and Germany too. You may send this letter to him if it makes clear our feelings.”

Howes was active in the America First movement and was listed as one of the rally sponsors at Madison Square Gardens in October 1941, featuring speakers such as real estate developer and diplomat, John Cudahy, Senator Burton Wheeler from Montana, and famed pilot Charles Lindburgh.

Howes’ early letter of affection and affiliation and many other examples of correspondence were archived by Hitler’s office and are maintained with other honorifics in the German federal archives at Berlin-Lichterfelde.

The files include poems, drawings, handicrafts, and other expressions of unconditional obedience. Among the letters that Hitler’s office retained were birthday telegrams, ranging from representatives of Daimler Benz to a “Louis Philippe” from Philadelphia.

While these letters were private correspondence, nationwide, a larger public phenomenon had been brewing since mid-1932 in which German cities publicly offered fealty to Hitler. The “highest honor” a municipality can bestow upon an individual in Germany is honorary citizenship -Ehrenbürgerrecht.

By 1933, over 1000 municipalities had extended offers of honorary citizenship to Hitler in rapid succession. A map of the cities that bestowed the honor is posted online.

The enthusiasm and rush to honor Hitler serve as a bellwether of the Nazi party’s rise to power. Towns also sought to personally deliver the certificate of honorary citizenship to Hitler and members of the city council proudly signed their names, a problematic discovery when municipalities uncover these documents in their archives today.

The city of Berlin gushed in their proclamation:

“Mr. Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler, the German man who, arisen from original German lineage, found his self-chosen fatherland early in the German Reich, for whose existence and honor he dedicated life and limb to the last, the far-sighted leader, as a volunteer of the World War, in whose soul burned since the darkest days of German history the desire to save his people from shame and disgrace, the passionate fighter who never bowed to ignorance, hatred or adverse fate, carried the great thoughts of the national, social, and protective ethnic community to the German people, above all to the youth, and did not rest until he had secured victory against everything that was un-German and fake, against disintegrating heresy, the destroyer of the community and the culture of the German people, for the architect of the new German Reich, who, at the side of the venerable President of the Reich von Hindenburg, supported by the trust and love of the people and in alliance with all the pure and willing forces of the nation of the Reich, took reconstruction into his young and strong hands, we confer honorary citizenship on our city.”

In the case of Hitler and with other notable despots, many individuals, towns, and organizations lined up early on to demonstrate their eager fealty and adoration via a slew of honorifics and other tokens of affection.

File R 43-II/979-81 in the German federal archives outlines the “naming of streets, squares, bridges, bells, schools, trees, etc.” after Hitler. It includes diverse offerings of fealty such as the Adolf Hitler Bad (Adolf Hitler Swimming Pool) in Munich, the renaming of flower varieties such as the Hitler Rose, the planting of Hitler Oaks across Germany, and repeated requests for Hitler to be the grand marshall for festivals.

In some cases, these honorifics were turned down, as in the case of the Adolf Hitler Konditorei (Adolf Hitler Confectionery). Hitler did, however, gladly accept a mirror carp from the organization of German pond farmers. He sent a letter of gratitude in February of 1934.

After 1933, the adoration had already served its purpose and was slowed purposefully by the government. The correspondence became obsessive. It even became a problem for the Reich Chancellery, because the drive to affiliate with Hitler through honors generated a bureaucratic burden on the office.

The correspondence seems mundane, but it indicates the relationship that always exists between leaders that seek absolute obedience and a public all too willing to oblige.

Google ads look like search results now, hard to tell difference [Boing Boing]

Google's new redesign of desktop search results makes ads pretty much look exactly like search results. Critics identify it as a dark pattern.

Writes Jon Porter at The Verge today:

Last week, Google began rolling out a new look for its search results on desktop, which blurs the line between organic search results and the ads that sit above them. In what appears to be something of a purposeful dark pattern, the only thing differentiating ads and search results is a small black-and-white “Ad” icon next to the former. It’s been formatted to resemble the new favicons that now appear next to the search results you care about. Early data collected by Digiday suggests that the changes may already be causing people to click on more ads.

The Guardian’s Alex Hern is one of many commenters to point out the problem, noting that there’s now next to no visual distinction between ads and search results.

IMAGE: The blurring of ads and search results. Screenshot by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

Read more:
Google’s ads just look like search results now
[theverge.com, Thu. Jan. 20, 2020]

Citing experience selling marijuana, unemployed Chicagoans seek permits to sell legally [Boing Boing]

Sweet home, Chicago!

Chicago Defender:

The men and women, some ex-felons, have turned to Tio “Mr. Ceasefire” Hardiman, executive director of Violence Interrupters, to assist them in their quest to secure permits, just like food vendors, to distribute and sell marijuana legally in their neighborhoods. For those who have felonies from illegal drug sales, they are requesting that Governor J.B. Pritzker clears the road for amnesty as soon as possible.

Hardiman and those seeking permits and amnesty will hold a rally and press conference outside The Herbal Care Center, 1301 S. Western Ave., on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, at 10:30 AM, calling on Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to assist them in getting permits.

“Everyone is promising to direct profits from the sale of marijuana into the communities that have been most impacted by the sale of illegal drugs,” Hardiman said. “Well, these unemployed men and women are saying they can’t wait until that happens. And to be frank, they don’t believe it will happen. History shows those promises are never kept. The licensed cannabis businesses are already making millions of dollars from sales since January 1, and those citizens with the most experience in the industry are still in the streets unemployed.”

Clearview AI founder linked to Trump world and Far-Right, NYPD denies facial recognition firm's boast that it helped catch terrorist suspect [Boing Boing]

Hoan Ton-That, founder of facial recognition tech firm Clearview AI, previously connected to Trump world figures and online hate extremists, reports Buzzfeed News

Chuck Johnson, Mike Cernovich, and Rudy Giuliani are among the linked figures named in Buzzfeed report

NYPD disputes facial recognition firm Clearview AI's claim that it identified a terrorism suspect

Clearview AI is reported to have built a database of billions of photos that it says can reveal pretty much anyone's identity.

Twitter just told them to stop scraping photos, lawmakers are concerned about the implications, and now Buzzfeed News raises troubling questions about the company's past.

From the Buzzfeed report by by Ryan Mac, Caroline Haskins, and Logan McDonald:

Clearview AI, a facial recognition company that says it’s amassed a database of billions of photos, has a fantastic selling point it offers up to police departments nationwide: It cracked a case of alleged terrorism in a New York City subway station last August in a matter of seconds. “How a Terrorism Suspect Was Instantly Identified With Clearview,” read the subject line of a November email sent to law enforcement agencies across all 50 states through a crime alert service, suggesting its technology was integral to the arrest.

It’s a compelling pitch that has helped rocket Clearview to partnerships with police departments across the country. But there’s just one problem: The New York Police Department said that Clearview played no role in the case.

That's the first question. The NYPD says they're full of shit.

“The NYPD did not use Clearview technology to identify the suspect in the August 16th rice cooker incident,” NYPD TOLD BuzzFeed News. “The NYPD identified the suspect using the Department’s facial recognition practice where a still image from a surveillance video was compared to a pool of lawfully possessed arrest photos.”

Here's the second problem.

Hacker and Clearview founder Ton-That is linked to various Trump allied far-right figures, this report states, naming Rudy Giuliani, Michael Cernovich, Chuck Johnson, Pax Dickinson, the details of which go back some years.

Here's what that swirl led to in 2016:

By the election, Ton-That was on the Trump train, attending an election night event where he was photographed with Johnson and his former business partner Pax Dickinson.

The following February, Smartcheckr LLC was registered in New York, with Ton-That telling the Times that he developed the image-scraping tools while Schwartz covered the operating costs. By August that year, they registered Clearview AI in Delaware, according to incorporation documents.


Read more at Buzzfeed News:

Clearview AI Says Its Facial Recognition Software Identified A Terrorism Suspect. The Cops Say That's Not True.

ALSO:
Our Cory Doctorow wrote about Clearview AI recently here at Boing Boing.

IMAGE, TOP: Courtesy Buzzfeed News, these Clearview marketing materials “were sent to the police department in Bradenton, Florida, which claim its technology was used in recognizing a suspect.”

I love this Logitech gaming mouse and have no idea why it is cheaper than similar models [Boing Boing]

I use this Logitech G502 Hero SE. It is wonderful.

I recently switched from controller to Keyboard + Mouse for my video gaming. This mouse is just great.

The shape of the mouse and the button placement just feels right in my hand. The adjustable weight system let me fine-tune the devices gravitas as I wing it around, trying to headshot some 13-year-old before they shoot me.

While the 'Hero' sensor reads upto 16000 dpi, I usually set it way down to 800 in Fortnite. This lets me turn in a more controlled manner and doesn't have the mouse zipping all over the place.

I don't really care much about the ever-changing colors that light the mouse up, but it seems all my PC gaming gear likes to do this rainbow display... and it is kinda pleasing.

I have no idea why this SPECIAL EDITION of the mouse is cheaper than the regular one, but it is and I like it!

I am gonna admit right now that moving back to KB+M over controller may screw my carpal tunnel right to hell, but I'll be super sensitive to it, and try to stop before I feel any pain. I am already playing less, but enjoying the games I play more. Sacrifices we make, right?

Logitech G502 SE Hero High Performance RGB Gaming Mouse with 11 Programmable Buttons via Amazon

Masters Thesis Idea: Conversational Flight Planner [Philip Greenspun’s Weblog]

In working on the slides for a flight planning section of our FAA Private Pilot Ground School at MIT (videos and slides available free online), it occurred to me that none of the fancy computer tools were as convenient or efficient as talking to a competent human.

What about a system where the input is, e.g.,”I’m thinking about going from Bedford to Washington, D.C. this weekend.” (could be entered via menus; does not have to be natural language)

The Conversational Flight Planner responds after looking at the voluminous official FAA briefing and some of the long-term weather forecast products, such as MOS:

There will be a strong wind from the north so you should consider paying up to fly into Dulles and land Runway 1R rather than deal with the crosswind at KGAI.

Looks like ice is possible on Sunday evening so you’ll need to depart Sunday at noon.

It will be below freezing overnight Saturday night so you need to arrange for a hangar or a preheater plug-in.

Interesting Master’s Thesis project for a computer science or aero/astro major?

France will delay controversial tech tax [The Verge - All Posts]

Macron Addresses Business Leaders At Elysee Palace Photo by Antoine Gyori/Corbis via Getty Images

France and the United States have reached a truce on a debate over a controversial French “digital tax” that was set to hit some of America’s biggest tech companies.

This year, France passed a law requiring large digital service companies to pay a 3 percent tax on total annual revenue generated by providing services to French users. The US immediately pushed back on the plan, saying the tax was aimed squarely at major American tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. In response, the US threatened to implement massive tariffs on French goods.

But French president Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter this week that he’d had a “great discussion” with President Donald Trump about the tax....

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How to secure your WhatsApp account from social hacking [The Verge - All Posts]

Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service is incredibly easy to set up, but this easy setup process means that your account is open to abuse if you’re not careful. Thankfully, it’s fairly simple to enable an extra layer of security on your account, which means that you won’t lose it if your six-digit activation code gets compromised.

These security options unfortunately won’t stop you from a serious hack such as the one that hit Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. What it will do is offer another layer of protection if someone manages to trick you into sharing your security code, which is a process known as “social hacking.”

If you need any convincing about why it’s a good idea to use this extra security, then allow me to share a friend’s recent...

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Everything you need to know about the new coronavirus in China [The Verge - All Posts]

HONG KONG-HEALTH-VIRUS Photo by VIVEK PRAKASH/AFP via Getty Images

Public health experts around the globe are scrambling to understand, track, and contain a new virus that appeared in Wuhan, China at the start of December.

You can see where and how many cases have been reported in this real-time map created by US researchers. So far, there have been over 600 confirmed cases and 18 deaths. The majority of the illnesses are in Wuhan, but cases have been reported in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Macau, Hong Kong, and the US.

As this important story continues to unfold, The Verge will update this page with all the latest news and analysis. Our hope is to answer all your questions as people work to understand this virus and contain its spread.

Table of contents

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Google’s search engine for scientists upgraded for better data scouring [The Verge - All Posts]

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google’s search engine for datasets, the cunningly named Dataset Search, is now out of beta, with new tools to better filter searches and access to almost 25 million datasets.

Dataset Search launched in September 2018, with Google hoping to slowly unify the fragmented world of online, open-access data. Although many institutions like universities, governments, and labs publish data online, it’s often difficult to find using traditional search. But by adding open-source metadata tags to their webpages, these groups can have their data indexed by Dataset Search, which now covers a huge range of information — everything from skiing injuries to volcano eruptions to penguin populations.

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Comcast plans price hikes for cable customers as it looks ahead to streaming Peacock launch [The Verge - All Posts]

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

If you’re a Comcast cable subscriber, get ready to pay more. The company said on Thursday that rate “adjustments” are planned for 2020, as cable customers continue to shed their bundled cable / internet packages in favor of streaming channels.

The company’s cable division continued to lose subscribers at a faster rate than expected in the fourth quarter, even though those losses slowed somewhat from a year ago. But the company is still ahead of Wall Street’s expectations. Even though Comcast’s fourth quarter results were dinged by lost cable subscribers and a terrible box office for the movie Cats, the company continued to add broadband subscribers, pushing its profits up 26 percent.

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The Doomsday Clock is now at 100 seconds to midnight [The Verge - All Posts]

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Humanity is now 100 seconds away from the apocalypse, according to the Doomsday Clock, which was updated today. That’s 20 metaphorical seconds closer to the moment humans destroy the planet, at least according to a group of scientists who keep track of the many ways humanity might bring about its own end.

This is the closest humans have been to the end of days — aka midnight — according to the nonprofit Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Bulletin’s science and security board convened in November to decide what time to set the clock. The time was set long before heightened military actions between the US and Iran and before North Korea’s decision to end its freeze on nuclear...

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This powerful Alienware m17 gaming laptop is $700 off for a limited time [The Verge - All Posts]

Image: Alienware

Alienware’s previous-generation m17 gaming laptop is usually $1,999.99, but it’s steeply discounted right now from Dell. This 17-inch model houses Intel’s 9th Gen i7 processor (the hexa-core 9750H with a base clock speed of 2.6GHz and a maximum clock speed of 4.5GHz) and Nvidia’s midrange RTX 2060 graphics chip. It also comes with 16GB of DDR4 RAM installed and a fast 512GB PCIe M.2 SSD. One note about the RAM: you can add more if you’d like, unlike the m17 R2 model released in May 2019 that has RAM soldered to the board.

There are a few more reasons to consider this model if you’re looking for a gaming laptop. Its 17-inch QHD (1560 x 1440) display has a 120Hz refresh rate, which means the games that can run smoothly on this machine will...

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12:00 EST

Amazon Asks Court To Halt Microsoft's Work on Pentagon 'War Cloud' [Slashdot]

Amazon has asked a U.S. federal court to stop Microsoft from working with the Pentagon to implement a $10 billion cloud-computing contract, arguing that the project should stall until the courts work out whether Microsoft deserved to receive the lucrative deal. From a report: Amazon is suing the Department of Defense (DOD) over allegations that it allowed President Trump to exert "improper influence" over the contract process, ultimately steering the cloud-computing project away from the online retail giant and towards Microsoft. Amazon was the clear front-runner in the competition before Trump began intervening in the process over the summer. Even as Amazon sues in federal court, Microsoft and the Pentagon have been forging ahead to lay the groundwork for the enormous cloud-computing project. But Amazon says it's improper for the deal to move forward until the U.S. Court of Federal Claims makes the final call. "It is common practice to stay contract performance while a protest is pending and it's important that the numerous evaluation errors and blatant political interference that impacted the JEDI award decision be reviewed," an Amazon Web Services spokesperson said late Wednesday night, adding the company "is absolutely committed to supporting the DoD's modernization efforts and to an expeditious legal process that resolves this matter as quickly as possible."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Facebook, Amazon and Apple Set Records in Annual Spending on Lobbying [Slashdot]

Facebook, Amazon and Apple spent record amounts on lobbying in 2019, with Mark Zuckerberg's social-media company leading the so-called FAANG companies in outlays aimed at influencing Washington, according to disclosures filed this week. From a report: Facebook shelled out $16.7 million last year, well above its 2018 total of $12.6 million, its disclosures show. Amazon has reported spending $16.1 million in 2019 vs. $14.4 million a year ago, and Apple said it put forth $7.4 million, topping its 2018 outlay of $6.7 million and its 2017 total of $7.2 million. The other two FAANG companies -- Netflix and Alphabet's Google business -- didn't set records with their 2019 lobbying spending. Netflix disclosed shelling out $850,000 last year, up from $800,000 in 2018 but below its 2015 total of $1.3 million. Google spent $11.8 million last year, down sharply from its 2018 total of $21.7 million as the search heavyweight reorganized its lobbying effort. The spending -- which already was on a record pace for some companies after last year's third quarter -- has come as Big Tech increasingly finds itself in lawmakers and regulators' cross hairs.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

In Appreciation: The LumoPro LP180 [2013-2020] [Strobist]



The LumoPro LP180 is no more.

You could make a strong case that the LP180 was the best manual hot shoe flash ever produced — and maybe that ever will be produced. It was a beast of a flash, with a fluid user interface and features designed specifically for off-camera lighting photographers. Now, it's the last of a bygone era.

Why did it have to die? What made it so good? And what will replace it as the flash of choice for discerning-but-frugal off-camera shooters?

Read more »

Asteroid Not Volcanism Killed the Dinosaurs [NeuroLogica Blog]

The popular belief is that an asteroid impact caused the mass extinction at the K-Pg (formerly K-T) boundary 66 million years ago. This is the mass extinction that killed off the non-avian dinosaurs along with 75% of species on Earth. However, in reality there is a raging scientific debate about the exact causes of the extinction event. The two contenders are the asteroid impact, which we know happened right at that time, and extreme volcanism at the Deccan traps in what is now India.

Scientists fall along a spectrum in this debate. At one end there are those who believe the asteroid was the main event, and the volcanic eruptions played little to no role. At the other end are those who believe that climate change caused by the volcanoes, with both global warming from the CO2 and acidification of the oceans, was the main driver of extinction. The asteroid impact, at most, was the coup de grace. In between are those who feel that both events were important to extinction to varying degrees, and we’re just trying to sort out their relative contributions.

The evidence has gone back and forth on this debate, although I think it has been strongly favoring the asteroid impact as the dominant factor. A new study contributes to this debate, and heavily favors the asteroid impact. In fact, the authors argue that their evidence suggests the volcanism at the Deccan traps played no role at all in the extinction. The modeled the outgassing from the Deccan traps and compared the models with the evidence to see which one fit the best. This is what they found:

We found support for major outgassing beginning and ending distinctly before the impact, with only the impact coinciding with mass extinction and biologically amplified carbon cycle change. Our models show that these extinction-related carbon cycle changes would have allowed the ocean to absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide, thus limiting the global warming otherwise expected from postextinction volcanism.

Essentially the outgassing from the Deccan traps started, according to their model that best fits the evidence, 350,000-200,000 years prior to the impact and extinction. This caused a global warming event of about 2 C, which further lead to a migration of many species toward the poles. However, the outgassing and warming stopped prior to the extinction, the Earth cooled back to its prior baseline, and the various species returned to their previous locations. So the ecosystem has returned to its prior baseline, without any mass extinction, and then the asteroid hit and caused the mass extinction all by itself.

Their model also addresses a separate question. The asteroid impact itself caused secondary volcanism and another round of outgassing, but this time there wasn’t a warming event. Why not? Their model suggests that the mass extinction itself was a major disruption to the environment (of course) that changed the carbon cycle and allowed for the oceans to absorb a massive amount of CO2 more than they would have. Because the oceans absorbed most of the CO2 it did not build up in the atmosphere and cause warming.

Meanwhile, other studies have been showing how deadly that asteroid impact was (not that this is any surprise). The power of the impact was recently estimated at 10 billion Hiroshima-level atomic bombs. As an aside, I’m not sure why that is now the universal units by which powerful events are measured. I guess it makes for good headlines. The impact also released  325 billion metric tons or more of sulfur. All of this sulfur, and the CO2 absorption, rapidly acidified the world’s oceans, contributing to the mass extinction and delaying the recovery of life. This analysis also concludes that the asteroid was the main event that caused the mass extinction.

From all of this it seems like the Deccan traps eruptions are mostly a red herring – a major ecological event that happened around the same time at the K-Pg extinction event, but ultimately having nothing to do with it. Interestingly, the science has come full circle, back to the impact hypothesis. So anyone not paying attention to this scientific debate is now again correct in believing that the dinosaur extinction was caused by an asteroid. But of course, science is about the debate and the process that is used to resolve it, not the conclusion. The debate is far more interesting.

Unauthorized Charcoal: GE fridges won't dispense ice or water unless your filter authenticates as an official ($55!) component [Boing Boing]

@ShaneMorris: "My fridge has an RFID chip in the water filter, which means the generic water filter I ordered for $19 doesn't work. My fridge will literally not dispense ice, or water. I have to pay @generalelectric $55 for a water filter from them."

Sound familiar?

(Image: GE, Cryteria, CC-BY, modified)

Uncovering two lost comedy albums from cult comic Dick Davy, who once championed civil rights and antiracism [Boing Boing]

Jason Klamm from the Comedy on Vinyl podcast (previously) writes, "In late 2018, I uncovered the true identity of comic Dick Davy. Since starting his archive, I've come across some real gems, but in August, one find took the cake. His niece, Sharon, mailed me two records that had been sitting in a box, and it turns out these are unreleased acetates of material no one has heard in almost sixty years. I had Firesign Theatre archivist Taylor Jessen transfer and do a quick clean-up of them. This episode discusses their contents and what their future might be." (MP3)

Today in history 1983: NBC airs 'The A-Team' [Boing Boing]

The Los Angeles underground is absolutely one of my favorite places.

I can not speak highly enough about The A-Team. I adore the entire cast. Mr. T has been and will remain a personal hero. Read his autobiography and be inspired.

While the B.A. in B.A. Barrakus stood for bad attitude it was Captain H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock that I wanted to play, when my friends and I portrayed the team. Dwight Schultz was a delight and I can not watch him in Star Trek without thinking of his time on the A-Team.

Dirk Benedict's 'Starbuck' may have been overshadowed by another, but Templeton 'The Faceman' Peck? Faceman always had the coolest cars, and his backstory was the best on the program.

I liked to think that George Peppard's 'John 'Hannibal' Smith' had been so shattered by Holly Golightly's bullshit that he ended up enlisting in Viet Nam. Only by keeping his tight cadre of good-hearted, All-American soldiers alive could he mask the pain.

I love it when a plan comes together!

I'm re-reading The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession [Boing Boing]

I'm re-reading The Emperor of Scent, by Chandler Burr. It's a non-fiction book about a guy named Luca Turin who is obsessed with odors, specifically, perfume fragrances.

Turin is a biophysicist who wrote a best-selling book that reviewed hundreds of perfumes, in the same way a wine reviewer would write about wine. He believes that the odor of a substance has to do with the way it vibrates on a molecular level. Our noses, he says, contain the equivalent of a scanning electron microscope. This flies in the face of conventional thought on the subject. The reigning theory is that smell is a function of a molecule’s shape, not the way it vibrates.

Burr makes a great case for Turin’s vibration theory, and the story of how nobody in academia will listen to Turin was a real eye opener. The peer review system for scientific journals is revealed to be totally corrupt.

Turkey introduces a get-of-jail-by-marrying-the-child-you-raped law [Boing Boing]

Lawmakers in Turkey are hoping to pass a bill that would allow men who have sex with minors to avoid going to prison if they agree to marry their victim, reports The Independent.

From the article:

United Nations agencies warned the bill would generate a landscape of impunity for child abuse and leave victims vulnerable to experiencing additional mistreatment and distress from their assailants.

“Marry-your-rapist” bills have been seen across the world and are pushed in the name of protecting and safeguarding family “honour”.

Image by Salih Altuntaş from Pixabay

JOHN WILCOCK: Valerie Solanas Shoots Andy Warhol [Boing Boing]

Valerie Solanas Shoots Andy Warhol, by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

SCUM Manifesto author Valerie Solanas' effort to get her play "Up Your Ass" produced by Andy Warhol leads to deadly confrontations. With cameos from Maurice Girodias, Paul Krassner, and Barney Rosset.

From John Wilcock, New York Years, by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall.

(See all Boing Boing installments)

US releases proposed rule to ban emotional support animals on planes [Boing Boing]

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is seeking to ban emotional support animals from airplane cabins, reports Roll Call. Under the proposed rule, only specially trained dogs that assist disabled people would be permitted on planes.

From Roll Call:

The rule comes amid a spate of high-profile stories of airplane passengers trying to bring support animals, including miniature horses, capuchin monkeys and peacocks, on airplanes. Airlines facing such menageries had little specific guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Airlines want all passengers and crew to have a safe and comfortable flying experience, and we are confident the proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone," said Nicholas E. Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, a trade association.

Cats, rats, capuchin monkeys and any animal other than a dog would not qualify as a service animal under the rule, which would limit the number of service animals a passenger can bring to two.

Watch the planet breathe [Pharyngula]

This is a dramatic video of arctic ice growing and shrinking.

It was presented at Davos, as if those rich assholes matter. We should spend less effort trying to persuade the wealthy to do the right thing, and more effort stripping the wealthy of their power. Let’s make the rich irrelevant!

Brings back old memories [Pharyngula]

There was a shooting in Seattle yesterday, at 3rd & Pine, and I said to myself, “I know that place — that’s where I was shot at!” This was around 1978, and I was often catching a late night bus at 3rd & Pike. This one evening, there was an altercation on Pine; a sex worker (I was there so often I recognized many of the ladies working those corners) was screaming angrily at someone in a car, and I could hear it a block away. Then she pulled out a handgun and started firing away.

She didn’t hit the guy, she didn’t even hit the car. The bullets were coming my way — I’d see a flash and hear a little “tch” sound as they struck the sidewalk near me, followed by a faint “pop” from the gun. I scrambled to hide behind a lamp post, thinking this would be a really stupid way to die, as an unintentional target of an angry woman who couldn’t hit a car ten feet away from her. Honestly, though, it was some small caliber pistol, shots were all over the place — one did make a little “pok” sound when it punched through a store window — even if one hit me by chance, it was unlikely to be lethal. I don’t think her target was hit at all, and he just drove away.

So just like the shooting yesterday, in the same place at least. Except this time the shooter was a bit more heavily armed and went on a far more determined shooting spree: one dead, seven injured, including a 9 year old boy.

We can’t change human nature easily — there will always be angry incidents and violent responses, just as there were in 1978 and 2020. What we could control, if we had the will, was the availability of lethal technology. The shooting yesterday was a product of human nature amplified by deadly weapons that had no place on a civilized city street.

11:00 EST

No one hurt in Firefly “anomaly” as company tests its Alpha first stage [Ars Technica]

An earlier image from Firefly showing a nighttime stage test at its Briggs Test Stand in Central Texas.

Enlarge / An earlier image from Firefly showing a nighttime stage test at its Briggs Test Stand in Central Texas. (credit: Firefly Aerospace)

On Wednesday evening at Firefly Aerospace's test site about an hour north of Austin in Central Texas, some sort of anomaly occurred. The Burnet County Sheriff's Office reported that the incident took place at 6:24pm CT (00:24 UTC, Thursday), and that officers had called for evacuations of residences within one mile of the test site.

Earlier in the evening, in a subsequently deleted tweet, the company stated that it was loading liquid oxygen onto the rocket and about to attempt a qualification hot fire test of the first stage of its Alpha booster. This rocket is powered by four Reaver engines and has a reported capacity of 1 metric ton to low-Earth orbit. Firefly has been working toward the inaugural launch of the rocket, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, in April.

Later Wednesday night, the company issued a statement about the test, noting that no one had been hurt.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FCC shuts New York out of $20B broadband fund, and senators are angry [Ars Technica]

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand speaks at a podium during a news conference while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer looks on.

Enlarge / Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrats from New York, during a news conference on the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund in Washington, DC, on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

The Federal Communications Commission has unfairly shut New York state out of a planned $20.4 billion broadband-funding program, US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai last week.

ISPs in 48 states are eligible for funding in the FCC rural-broadband program, which will distribute the money over 10 years to providers that expand their networks to new homes and businesses. The FCC said it blocked New York and Alaska from Phase I of the program "because of previously established programs to fund rural broadband in these states." (Phase I will distribute $16 billion of the $20.4 billion.)

The FCC previously established a separate funding program for Alaska with $1.5 billion over 10 years. But Schumer and Gillibrand say New York has only gotten its fair share of nationwide FCC programs, rather than something extra.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Huawei Postpones Its Developers Conference Over Deadly Coronavirus [Slashdot]

Huawei has postponed its upcoming HDC.Cloud developer conference as Chinese authorities try to control the spread of the deadly coronavirus detected in the southeastern city of Wuhan. From a report: The controversial company's event was going to take place in Shenzhen -- which lies more than 700 miles south of Wuhan -- Feb. 11-12, but it's been rescheduled to March 27-28. "Based on the prevention and control of the pneumonia epidemic situation of the new coronavirus infection, we attach great importance to the health and safety of all the participants," Huawei said in its announcement. It also asked staff to avoid traveling to Wuhan and limit contact with animals, Reuters reported, and said it set up an outbreak prevention and control team in the city.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

WCAG-EM Report Tool: Accessibility Evaluation Report Generator is Updated [W3C News]

The Accessibility Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG) has published an updated version of WCAG-EM Report Tool: Website Accessibility Evaluation Report Generator. The tool helps you generate website accessibility evaluation reports according to Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology (WCAG-EM). WCAG-EM is an informative W3C Working Group Note. It describes an approach for evaluating how websites, including web applications and websites for mobile devices, conform to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). We welcome feedback on this version of the WCAG-EM Report Tool and suggestions for improvements for the next version.

Microsoft employs a giant plush Clippy whose performer has a large Clippy tattoo [Boing Boing]

@radmint tweeted a photo from her Microsoft New Employee orientation in which she is posed with a "celebrity Clippy"; the eagle-eyed Kristen Seversky noted that the forearm of the actor in the Clippy suit is adorned with a seemingly permanent, very prominent Clippy tattoo.

From the Wikipedia entry for "Office Assistant", AKA Clippy: "The default assistant Clippit has been heavily mocked in popular culture, being parodied, appearing in memes, and even being made fun of by Microsoft themselves from 2001 onwards."

(via Super Punch)

Watch this cobbler do a magical restoration of a totally thrashed pair of dress shoes [Boing Boing]

In this episode of Trenton & Heath, master cobbler Heath Potter resurrects a totally thrashed pair of Ferragamo loafers. You may think that 26 minutes is a long time to watch someone restore a pair of shoes, but just allow yourself to be enveloped by the artisinality of it all. The time will fly by and perhaps, like me, you will leave the experience deeply regretting having donated that pair of beat-up wingtips in the back of your closet.

Catching up with the Primitive Technology channel [Boing Boing]

It's been a while since we've looked in on John Plant, the Primitive Technology guy. Here are some of his recent videos. It's always good to stay current on your post-apocalyptic, nothing but bare hands, bare feet, and cargo shorts survival skills.

Video about heroin users who travel from Sweden to Denmark to shoot up [Boing Boing]

Vice has an interesting video about what happens when neighboring countries have different drug policies. (Uncensored version here.)

While Sweden rigidly sticks to its zero tolerance laws, liberal Denmark introduced drug consumption rooms (DCRs) in 2012, with special areas surrounding them where you won’t get arrested for drug possession if it’s for personal use. Copenhagen is home to one of the world’s largest government funded drug consumption rooms, H17, where users can safely smoke or inject their drugs with clean needles and medical staff on hand.

This has resulted in the local areas being safer and cleaner, as there are no longer thousands of used needles littering the streets. But Denmark’s liberal policy has had an unexpected consequence: an influx of heroin users from neighboring Sweden. We find out why Swedish heroin users prefer to sleep rough on the streets of Copenhagen rather than stay in Sweden, and which of these policies is most effective at tackling overdoses.

Image: YouTube

German proposal to control links to news stories: headlines, 3s of video, 128 pixel thumbnails [Boing Boing]

One of the two very controversial proposals in last year's EU Copyright Directive fight was the "link tax," which would require licenses for links to news-sites that contained even a few consecutive words from the article or headline -- links and excerpts that would otherwise be considered fair dealing under EU law.

The rule squeaked into law last March by five votes (and later, ten MEPs said they'd been confused and had pressed the wrong buttons). Now, the EU member-states have to turn the rule into domestic law, and thus far, it's a shitshow.

The latest installment comes from Germany, which was also where the proposal for a ban on linking without permission originated, courtesy of Germany's aristocratic newspaper families, who wield enormous political influence.

The proposed German implementation would limit links to news sites to quoting the headline alone, accompanied by a maximum of 3 seconds of video and/or a 128px x 128px thumbnail. This would apply to memes, mashups, and summaries of the article in directories such as Google News or websites like this one.

This is likely to be enforced by mandatory upload filters, which are required under Article 17 of the Directive, and the German rules are likely to end up being EU-wide, given the complexity of setting up country-by-country filter rules.

You can send comments on this proposal to konsultation-urheberrecht@bmjv.bund.de (the deadline is Jan 31).

The proposal states that the new ancillary copyright does not apply to hyperlinks, or to "private or non-commercial use" of press publishers' materials by a single user. However, as we know from the tortured history of the Creative Commons "non-commercial" license, it is by no means clear what "non-commercial" means in practice. Press publishers are quite likely to insist that posting memes on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter -- all undoubtedly commercial in nature -- is not allowed in general under the EU Copyright Directive. We won't know until top EU courts rule on the details, which will take years. In the meantime, online services will doubtless prefer to err on the side of caution, keen to avoid the risk of heavy fines. It is likely they will configure their automated filters to block any use of press publishers' material that goes beyond the extremely restrictive limits listed above. Moreover, this will probably apply across the EU, not just in Germany, since setting up country-by-country upload filters is more expensive. Far easier to roll out the most restrictive rules across the whole region.

Germany Wants To Limit Memes And Mashups Derived From Press Publishers' Material To 128-by-128 Pixels In Resolution, And Three Seconds In Length [Glyn Moody/Techdirt]

Polypropylene tie-down cam straps [Cool Tools]

As a whitewater kayaker, I am a frequent user of 1″ wide, polypropylene tie-down straps for easy and secure tying of boat to roof rack, but over the years there have been many instances where I have been glad to have them in the car for other purposes. This week, I used them for securing an Ikea bed frame to the roof when it didn’t fit inside the car. Past uses include strapping up a falling-off bumper, tying bundles of firewood, and as a guy-line for a tarp. Just about anywhere a rope will do, a cam strap will do better.

I got my first set of straps as a giveaway with a paddling magazine subscription 7 years ago. They’ve been in continuous use and are just about as good as new. I’ve never seen or heard of one failing.

Sometimes, I’ll see new paddlers trying other systems: ratcheting buckles, ropes, etc…but they always end up with simple, not-too-tangly, no-knots-required, versatile cam straps.

The old standby comes from NRS and runs $4.00 to $7.75, depending on length, but you can get all kinds of custom options from strapworks.com. My unreasonably organized and clever friend got various colors in lengths equal to the number of letters in the color: 3′ red, 5′ white, 10′ camouflage, etc.

Oh, and you can open bottle caps with the cam. What else do you need?

-- Jordan Yaruss

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013]

NRS 1-inch Tie Down Strap ($4 and up depending on length)

Available from Amazon

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