Signal from distant star an invitation from LinkedIn

❝ Astronomers have confirmed the existence of semi-intelligent alien life with the discovery of an interstellar LinkedIn message.

The invite came from a star in the Hercules constellation and included a request to swap notes on ‘new and exciting ways’ of using Powerpoint.

❝ Professor Henry Brubaker, of the Institute for Studies, said: “This proves that we are not alone in the universe but we will probably spend a lot of time pretending we are.

“I’d always dreamt that first contact would be a sublime moment of consciousness meeting consciousness across the inky void of space but instead I’m going to have to pretend I haven’t checked my telescope for messages.”

❝ The race is now on to develop a spam filter for messages from distant planets to avoid other alien civilisations thinking humans are an easy touch and bombarding Earth with special offers for Wowcher and 38 Degrees petitions to sign.

Everyone tries to recreate The Onion. Not a bad job on this one – albeit aimed mostly at geeks.

And it did make me smile.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

Nearly three-quarters of Florida voters approve solar tax relief


AP/Alan Diaz

❝ Solar advocates finally got a win in the Sunshine State on Tuesday, as voters approved a measure to get rid of property taxes on solar equipment.

With more than 1,970,000 Floridians checking ‘yes,’ the measure, known as Amendment 4, received more support than the state’s two U.S. Senate primary winners, Marco Rubio (R) and Patrick Murphy (D), combined.

❝ It’s not surprising that the measure passed, although the overwhelming support was a morale boost for the industry, which has faced hurdles in Florida. Amendment 4 received 72 percent approval overall — and needed only 60 percent to pass…

Supporters are hoping the tax break will spur companies such as Walmart, IKEA, and Costco, which have made massive investments in solar elsewhere in the country, to install solar panels on their Florida stores. It will also allow solar leasing companies such as SolarCity to improve their margins.

❝ According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group, Florida has the third-most potential for solar in the country, but it is only 14th in amount of installed solar — even while installing 90 percent more solar in the past year. Massachusetts, Colorado, and North Carolina all have more installed solar.

Not that Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and other fossil fuel pimps have given up. They still have Amendment 1 on the horizon for November.

❝ If Amendment 1 passes, it will prohibit Floridians from selling their electricity to third parties. In effect, it would do away with Floridians’ rights to lease solar panels, since, in that situation, the owner of the panels generally sells the electricity to the homeowner. Leasing solar systems has been an effective and popular way to allow homeowners to go solar without paying for the system up front…

Amendment 1 will also face a 60 percent threshold for approval, but there is expected to be a significant media campaign encouraging people to vote yes on 1.

What? You actually believe the Trumpkin crap that the owners of mass media are all lefties and liberals. Don’t kid yourself. They believe wholeheartedly in kissing the butt of corporate advertisers.

Here’s how our kinder, gentler Border Patrol treats migrants


Photo courtesy U.S. District Court Tucson

Those are human beings wrapped in mylar emergency blankets trying to get warm

❝ For more than two years, the Border Patrol has assured the public that its processing facilities, while cramped, are perfectly sanitary places to hold migrants found in the country illegally. On the rare occasions when their facilities were put into public view, the cells were sparkling, empty and warm.

❝ Recently, for the first time in the Border Patrol’s history, images of the occupied cells were unsealed as part of a federal court case. Several images show dozens of men crowded into a single cell while nearby cells remain empty. Photos show people sleeping on benches or the concrete floor while bedding is available, unused, in adjacent cells.

The images do not show a thermometer, but appear to support migrants’ accusations that the facilities are kept at conditions so cold that they have earned the name hieleras — Spanish for iceboxes. Detainees huddle in some images; a row of legs in another image can be seen sticking out from under a Mylar emergency blanket.

Women and children are supposed to be given a mat and a blanket when they enter the processing facilities. The images, which were taken from security camera footage last summer, show women and children in a cell without adequate bedding, wrapped in emergency blankets.

❝ Processing centers are not the major detention facilities like in Artesia, N.M., or Eloy, Ariz., where federal immigration authorities have held migrants for months. Instead, the centers are designed to hold people for only a few hours, though their detentions can sometimes stretch to days…

❝ The National Immigration Law Center and other organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, allege the conditions in the cells are so deplorable that it is unconstitutional…The lawsuit also accuses the Border Patrol of actions that cannot be documented on camera, such as not allowing detainees to shower or providing them access to basic sanitation and hygiene, including toothbrushes.

❝ The Border Patrol replied in court blah, blah, blah.

The Border Patrol fought the release of the images…But U.S. District Court Judge David C Bury ruled against them and the…video stills were unsealed by the court.

All-American xenophobes and populists don’t give a damn about how one of our police agencies treats people in custody. Which is as stupid as most of their politics. Sooner or later, the truth will manage to get out and the whole world ticks off one more box on the checklist of American officials demonstrating their white supremacist mindset.

Mapping a city’s microbes with bees

You share more than a zip code with your neighbors. You also share bugs — microscopic organisms (think bacteria, fungi, and viruses). These microbial communities are called microbiomes, and they seem to have an impact on everything from digestion to allergies. They also happen to be everywhere — from your intestines to your phone’s screen to the sidewalk beneath your feet.

But those bugs are tough to understand, because you can’t see them. “There’s like this whole other invisible planet,” says Kevin Slavin, head of the Playful Systems group at the MIT Media Lab. In a new project called Holobiont Urbanism, Slavin’s team is working to sample, sequence, and visualize the microbial makeup of New York City. Some of the team members are designers, engineers, and biologists.

Some of them are bees.

Bees typically forage no more than a mile and a half from their hives, but in their expeditions they come into contact with the microbes in their range, and those microbes stick. Slavin’s group worked with apiarists to build beehives with removable trays at the bottom that collect detritus from the bees, like a crumb-catcher in a toaster. Then they put those hives all over Brooklyn and Queens (and Sydney, Melbourne, Venice, and Tokyo).

Researchers can gather up all those bee-crumbs and sequence the DNA they find. Subtract the bee genes and what’s left represents the neighborhood microbiome. Slavin’s team mapped all those genes into a a circular evolutionary tree…but for specific urban areas. They also mapped microbes to their homes. New York City and Sydney, for example, both harbor the genera Polaromonas, Sphingopyxis, and Alicycliphilus, all of which feed on pollutants. But Venice has Meyerozyma guilliermondii and Penicillium chrysogenum, two dampness-loving fungi associated with wood rot.

What does that teach you about cities? Maybe not much. Cataloging bug DNA might not say much about the urban microbiome as a whole…just being able to see this invisible microbial world is at least a step toward understanding it…A city is about more than architecture and infrastructure and people; it’s about the bugs everyone shares, too.

Some of those little critters are harmful to us. Some aren’t. Many of them probably affect our lives in a number of ways which can’t be categorized in simple fashion. But, increasing knowledge also increases the likelihood of expanding understanding.

Syrian refugees bring new life to Italian village


Aljazeera

Mohamed al-Okla and his wife Amal fled Syria’s civil war with their five children in order to resettle in Italy…Hoping for a fresh start away from the horrors of war, the family has found a place they can call home.

In stark contrast to the transitory way of life in migration centres, the small village of Camini in southern Italy has helped bring a sense of normality to the Syrian family.

“The children are happy here, and so am I,” Mohamed told Al Jazeera. “Here, it’s calm, tranquil, it’s good. We’re now living in a democratic country and, most importantly, there is peace.”

While the continuous influx of refugees is seen as a concern for most European nations, the Camini community has welcomed their arrival as it has helped bring new life to the village.

Half a century ago, hundreds of locals were driven away by poverty and lack of opportunities.

But with homes being refurbished and children filling up classrooms, the town in the region of Calabria is undergoing a revival…

Rosaria Zulzolo, who leads the cooperative, appreciates the increased business the inflow of refugees and migrants has brought.

“We never thought it would be like a resource for us,” said Zulzolo. “We just wanted to receive people who were running away from war and offer them hospitality.

“And in this hospitality, we saw that shopkeepers were selling more goods, more work was being created.”

Around 105,000 refugees and migrants have reached Italy by boat so far this year, according to data from the International Organization for Migration.

A brief description of life springing into fruition in a couple of ways. Syrian refugees finding a new life in freedom. A village returning to full life as a community with children, new ways, new crafts and trade from the spirit of fresh citizens.

Half my antecedents came from just such a village. From an Italy worn and beaten down by war over a century ago. This was an important part of the story of how America grew. Isolated from European wars. Room to grow.

Yes, it is a curious thing how different people find opportunity in the same places other have left behind.

John Hersey’s Hiroshima revealed the horror of the bomb


This book has never been out of print

At the end of this month 70 years will have passed since the publication of a magazine story hailed as one of the greatest pieces of journalism ever written. Headlined simply Hiroshima, the 30,000-word article by John Hersey had a massive impact, revealing the full horror of nuclear weapons to the post-war generation, as Caroline Raphael describes.

❝ I have an original copy of the 31 August 1946 edition of The New Yorker. It has the most innocuous of covers – a delightful playful carefree drawing of summer in a park. On the back cover, the managers of the New York Giants and the New York Yankees encourage you to “Always Buy Chesterfield” cigarettes.

Past the Goings on About Town and movie listings, past the ritzy adverts for diamonds and fur and cars and cruises you find a simple statement from The Editors explaining that this edition will be devoted entirely to just one article “on the almost complete obliteration of a city by one atomic bomb”. They are taking this step, they say, “in the conviction that few of us have yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon, and that everyone might well take time to consider the terrible implications of its use”.

Seventy years ago no-one talked about stories “going viral”, but the publication of John Hersey’s article Hiroshima in The New Yorker achieved just that. It was talked of, commented on, read and listened to by many millions all over the world as they began to understand what really happened not just to the city but to the people of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and in the following days…

Hersey’s editors, Harold Ross and William Shawn, knew they had something quite extraordinary, unique, and the edition was prepared in utter secrecy. Never before had all the magazine’s editorial space been given over to a single story and it has never happened since. Journalists who were expecting to have their stories in that week’s edition wondered where their proofs had gone. Twelve hours before publication, copies were sent to all the major US newspapers – a smart move that resulted in editorials urging everyone to read the magazine…

All 300,000 copies immediately sold out and the article was reprinted in many other papers and magazines the world over, except where newsprint was rationed. When Albert Einstein attempted to buy 1,000 copies of the magazine to send to fellow scientists he had to contend with facsimiles. The US Book of the Month Club gave a free special edition to all its subscribers because, in the words of its president, “We find it hard to conceive of anything being written that could be of more important at this moment to the human race.”

By November, Hiroshima was published in book form. It was translated quickly into many languages and a braille edition was released. However, in Japan, Gen Douglas MacArthur – the supreme commander of occupying forces, who effectively governed Japan until 1948 – had strictly prohibited dissemination of any reports on the consequences of the bombings. Copies of the book, and the relevant edition of The New Yorker, were banned until 1949, when Hiroshima was finally translated into Japanese by the Rev Mr Tanimoto, one of Hersey’s six survivors.

Please read the book. It is one of the three books reflecting the War that formed much of my life. Certainly my feelings about the cruelty of war. My family still has the free copy we received from the Book-of-the-month club.

Sorry. I can write no more this morning. Too many tears.

He tried to cash in a bearer bond for how much???

There were plenty of clues that a billion-dollar U.S. bearer bond that a man tried to cash in Fort Lauderdale was just too good to be true

The bond, supposedly issued in 1934, appears to have been printed on an inkjet printer and seemed to contain a security thread – both technologies that did not exist until many years later, investigators said. The counterfeit bond also featured a photograph of Grover Cleveland, who was president in the 1880s and 1890s.

But perhaps the biggest clue was the eye-popping billion-dollar figure on the face of the bond. U.S. Secret Service Agent Charles Callahan told a judge Wednesday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale that the highest-valued bearer bond in that era was $10,000 and the highest-valued bond ever was a $1 million one issued in 1978.

Hugo Barrios Briceno, the 50-year-old Venezuelan man accused of trying to cash the counterfeit bond at a Fort Lauderdale financial business earlier this month, will remain locked up because he is a potential flight risk, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hunt ruled Wednesday…

The judge asked to see the document during the court hearing, joking: “Believe it or not, I’ve never seen a billion-dollar bond before.”

“That’s because they don’t exist — not legally anyway,” prosecutor Daniel Cervantes quipped…

Prosecutors said that the bond would have an equivalent value of 19 billion dollars in today’s currency. They also said that a simple Google search would have shown Barrios Briceno that billion-dollar bonds are not legitimate.

The judge said the evidence presented so far was sufficient but not “overwhelming,” adding that he thinks the outcome of the prosecution will hinge on precisely what Barrios Briceno said during an audio-and-video-recorded meeting with undercover Secret Service agents in Fort Lauderdale.

It would not be a crime to try to verify if the bond was genuine but it would be illegal to attempt to cash it while claiming it was valid…

Hey, maybe he was hustled by some dude who used it for loan collateral back in South America. Or maybe he’s a con man who didn’t do his homework.

New Mexico’s methane hot spot

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released a new study…examining what caused a methane “hot spot” to form in New Mexico. This new study of methane emissions generated by the oil and gas industry in the state’s San Juan Basin is a major step forward in understanding the causes of New Mexico’s methane “hot spot.” It follows up on a 2014 satellite-based study that initially found the “hot spot” and sought to identify its specific causes.

The NASA study found that roughly 50 percent of basin-wide methane emissions come from more than 250 very large polluters that were detected by intensive NASA aerial surveys and ground crews. According to the authors, this finding confirms researchers’ earlier speculation that most of the basin’s methane emissions are related to natural gas extraction and coal mining.

But this is only half of the story as the study did not determine the source of the remaining 50 percent of emissions. Given the more than 20,000 (mainly older) gas wells, myriad storage tanks, thousands of miles of pipelines and several gas processing plants in the area, NASA’s finding that the oil and gas industry is primarily responsible for the “hot spot” is not surprising. In fact, the researchers found only one large source of methane not related to oil and gas operations: venting from the San Juan coal mine. This discovery renders attempts to point the finger at other potential emissions sources, like coal outcrops and landfills, definitively refuted.

Today’s Republicans do nothing by definition. Most of the state’s leading Democrats worry about meeting budget requirements defined almost solely by reliance on fossil fuel extraction. There is nothing approaching a Green Party and hasn’t been for 22 years.

The few activist enviro organizations fight the good fight — like the Wild Earth Guardians. There are more. Just not enough.

All U.S. energy consumption in one giant diagram

This graphic is special type of flow chart, called a Sankey diagram…This particular one shows the total estimated energy consumption in the United States in 2015, and how energy flowed from source to the final destination. The graphic comes to us from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Department of Energy.

The beauty of a Sankey is in its simplicity and and effectiveness. No information is left out, and we can really see the full energy picture from a 10,000 foot view.


Click to enlargeThe Visual Capitalist

❝ What’s a quad? It’s equal to a quadrillion BTUs, which is roughly comparable to any of these:

8,007,000,000 gallons (US) of gasoline
293,071,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh)
36,000,000 tonnes of coal
970,434,000,000 cubic feet of natural gas
25,200,000 tonnes of oil
252,000,000 tonnes of TNT
13.3 tonnes of uranium-235

It’s a lot of energy – and if you look at the diagram, you’ll see most of it is actually wasted.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz