Solving the Mystery of the White Box That Fell From the Sky

❝ Fifty-five years ago, in the woods outside Moncton, New Brunswick, around 160 miles east of the Maine border, David McPherson Sr. found a very large white box adorned with some very large lenses. It was attached to a parachute, so McPherson thought it might be an American spy camera, possibly launched by the Central Intelligence Agency. The fact that Canadian military tried to take the box from him — before McPherson and his family voluntarily relinquished it in exchange for answers that never came — only added to his suspicions.

McPherson died 18 months ago, never having gotten to the bottom of the mystery. But this week his son, David McPherson Jr., said that his father had been right all along. Declassified CIA documents reveal that the white box was part of a CIA program to send cameras into the sky with balloons to spy on the Soviets. The McPhersons’ box likely hit some wind and went astray…

❝ The CBC helped the McPhersons crack the mystery after running a story Monday about the “thing in the woods.” A rush of tips soon came in, leading the family to some declassified documents on the CIA website, in addition to the Military Communications and Electronics Museum in Kingston, Ontario, both of which had photos of apparatuses that looked like the one they had found. Documents also reveal that the box was likely part of Project Genetrix, a program started under President Dwight D. Eisenhower that used balloons to conduct surveillance over Russia and China, according to the CBC.

It’s unclear where the box is now — maybe in a government warehouse somewhere — but the McPhersons still have some two-dozen photos from its discovery. They also now have closure.

Of course it would have been beyond stupid to think this thing was a weather balloon. Anymore than the replacement – shot down over the Society Union, the U2 spy plane – was doing weather research. The sad bit is that our government simply never feels there is an appropriate time to tell the truth to taxpayers picking up the tab.

Wonder what’s on the shelf labeled ROSWELL?

Happy 150th Birthday

If we borrowed a few politicians from Ottawa, Americans might learn we could do all of these things for the amount of money we currently spend in our federal and state budgets. Starting with Universal Health Care. We could get rid of gerrymandered elections. Can’t guarantee we’d win the Stanley Cup with all American-born players, though. Yet.

Foreign Energy Giants Flee Canada’s Tar Sands

❝ When ConocoPhillips signed a $13.3 billion deal last month to shed many of its Canadian assets, it became the latest in a growing list of foreign firms to sell tar sands holdings to a Canadian company…

All told, five American and European companies have sold nearly $25 billion worth of Canadian oil and gas projects over the past 12 months, the vast majority of them in the tar sands. This week, Reuters reported that Chevron is exploring a sale of its major oil sands stake.

❝ Tar sands projects are among the most expensive sources of oil, and the extraction produces more greenhouse gas emissions than most conventional drilling. With oil prices remaining low, multinationals are shifting investment to higher-return projects like shale in the United States. When Marathon Oil announced the sale of its tar sands projects for $2.5 billion in March, for example, it also highlighted a $1.1 billion purchase in the Permian Basin of New Mexico and Texas. While economics is the leading factor in the sales, some advocates argue that climate change is playing a role, too…

There is one notable exception to the trend: ExxonMobil. The company has been a leader in exploiting the tar sands for half a century, largely through its Canadian affiliate Imperial Oil. Even before the sales, it pumped more oil from Alberta than any foreign company. And despite Exxon’s recent announcement that it had wiped off its books all 3.5 billion barrels of reserves at one of its tar sands projects — a move forced by financial reporting rules — the company has said it remains committed to the resource. That position is now looking increasingly isolated.

I’m really not certain why anyone is carrying tar sands projects forward. It will always require producers to expend more energy per BTU-capability of product and natural gas just keeps getting cheaper to produce. Even our so-called President with his plans to cut environmental requirements for coal can’t beat the lower cost of natgas and renewables like solar.

I guess Canadian companies figure they can always get bailed out by the Canadian government if and when the projects flop. Conservative government or otherwise.

Here’s Canadian PM’s Plan to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

❝ Canada is advancing plans to become the first G7 nation to legalize recreational marijuana nationally, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is keeping key details hazy and allowing arrests to continue while parliament debates his plan.

Trudeau’s justice minister introduced proposed laws Thursday in the Ottawa legislature that set a minimum consumption age of 18, with individual provinces allowed to raise it as they see fit. Rules on retail sales will also be left to the provinces, with the government targeting legalization by July 2018 for a market analysts estimate to reach US$4.5 billion by 2021.

❝ Under the bills, possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis would be allowed, and up to four plants can be grown per residence. Exports of marijuana will remain a serious criminal offense and a new penalty for those convicted of impaired driving will be imposed. Details on prices, licensing fees and taxes will be announced in coming months.

The government’s aim is “putting drug dealers and organized crime out of the cannabis business,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in a statement accompanying the legislation. “It will allow law enforcement to focus on other serious offences, including the distribution of cannabis to children and youth and driving under the influence of drugs.”…

❝ Trudeau’s proposal — expanding on medical marijuana, which is already legal in Canada — is expected to spur merger activity and insiders…are already taking profits. The governing Liberals have a majority in the House of Commons that will all but guarantee the legislation’s passage. The country’s Senate typically rubber-stamps legislation, though has grown more unpredictable since measures by Trudeau boosted its independence.

All the usual phonies are whining. Nothing new. Same sort of unreal, anti-science, crap promoted by pharmaceutical manufacturers who see diminishing profits in all the US states which have already gone through this process. Still, it will be a big step forward for a G7 nation. Pointing out the silliness and hypocrisy of the rest of that political establishment.

Canadian AI company uses humans to mentor robots


The one on the left is the CEO of the company

❝ A secretive Canadian startup called Kindred AI is teaching robots how to perform difficult dexterous tasks at superhuman speeds by pairing them with human “pilots” wearing virtual-reality headsets and holding motion-tracking controllers.

The technology offers a fascinating glimpse of how humans might work in synchronization with machines in the future, and it shows how tapping into human capabilities might amplify the capabilities of automated systems. For all the worry over robots and artificial intelligence eliminating jobs, there are plenty of things that machines still cannot do. The company demonstrated the hardware to MIT Technology Review last week, and says it plans to launch a product aimed at retailers in the coming months. The long-term ambitions are far grander. Kindred hopes that this human-assisted learning will foster a fundamentally new and more powerful kind of artificial intelligence…

❝ Kindred’s system uses several machine-learning algorithms, and tries to predict whether one of these would provide the desired outcome, such as grasping an item. If none seems to offer a high probability of success, it calls for human assistance. Most importantly, the algorithms learn from the actions of a human controller. To achieve this, the company uses a form of reinforcement learning, an approach that involves experimentation and strengthening behavior that leads to a particular goal…One person can also operate several robots at once…

❝ …The technical challenges involved with learning through human tele-operation are not insignificant. Sangbae Kim, an associate professor at MIT who is working on tele-operated humanoid robots, says mapping human control to machine action is incredibly complicated. “The first challenge is tracking human motion by attaching rigid links to the human skin. This is extremely difficult because we are endoskeleton animals,” Kim says. “A bigger challenge is to really understand all the details of decision-making steps in humans, most of which happen subconsciously.”

❝ “Our goal is to deconstruct cognition,” Geordie Rose, cofounder and the CEO of Kindred says. “All living entities follow certain patterns of behavior and action. We’re trying to build machines that have the same kind of principles.”

Sooner or later, all this interesting stuff will come together in some sectors of the world’s economy – and a significant number of humans will be declared redundant. The good news is that pretty much every educated industrial society already has a diminishing population. Independent, self-conscious women with easy access to birth control are taking care of that.

Won’t make the transition period any easier for middle-age not-so-well-educated guys.

It’s a good time to be an immigration lawyer in Canada


Click to enlargeAnthony Maw

Gastown District, Vancouver

❝ The quaint cobblestone streets of the historic Gastown district of Vancouver belie its status as a fast-growing technology hub.

Drawing on links with nearby Seattle, and San Francisco further south, a tech boom in Canada’s third-largest city has pulled in tens of thousands of skilled workers and start-up entrepreneurs in recent years, sparking a fierce fight for the limited supply of office space.

Now the commercial centre of Canada’s most westerly province of British Columbia is braced for a fresh influx of talent — this one driven by the shifting immigration policies of the Trump administration in Washington.

❝ A month after Donald Trump entered the White House, the US tech sector is still trying to figure out how to adapt to the sweeping immigration reform promised by the new president…

The sector now fears that Mr Trump could push ahead with further legislation, including tearing up the H1B visa programme they rely upon to hire skilled foreign workers.

This has led many in Silicon Valley and beyond to consider their options, including looking further afield to more liberal Canada…

❝ Many of the world’s largest tech groups already operate in Vancouver, which regularly tops lists of the world’s most liveable cities and has the mildest climate in Canada.

Amazon is looking to add to its 700 staff in Vancouver, while Microsoft opened an office in the city last year for 750 employees. Cisco Systems, Samsung and SAP also operate there…

The tech industry and a booming construction sector have made Vancouver the fastest growing area of Canada’s economy, with GDP growth averaging 3.5 per cent in the past five years. “Resource economies historically were important, but tech now has more jobs than forestry, oil and gas, and mining combined,” says Mr Robertson.

Too bad 3rd World states like New Mexico can’t figure this out. The cost of doing business here would be a boon – if only we had an education system to match. It’s not just that we can’t supply much to incoming tech sector startups and established firms. Who wants to move somewhere where the public school system offers nothing more than a mediocre education to their children?

Looking for work in a growth [har] industry?

❝ …Indeed, the marijuana industry seems set to explode. This week, Arcview Market Research announced that in 2016, the legal weed market in North America generated $6.7 billion, up 30% from 2015, when marijuana was the second-biggest growth industry in the US (after peer-to-peer lending platforms).

❝ Washington DC, and 28 states have passed laws, with various caveats, allowing medical marijuana use. As of this month, recreational cannabis is legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and DC. Possession has been decriminalized in 13 states. Overall, more than 20% of adult Americans now have access to weed, medically or recreationally.

❝ …“Canadians have had a medical marijuana program since the 1990s. I grew up knowing adults who smoked weed,” Lisa Harun, co-founder of Vapium, explains. “It’s medically recommended for 200 conditions, and it could help a lot of people who are popping pills right now.”

After more than a year of research and development, in early 2014, Vapium released its first device and there’s no going back for Harun or the company. She was a little nervous to talk to her “elders” about the new manufacturing plans at first, explaining, “I do a pulse check before launching any conversation.” But everyone’s been surprisingly receptive, from her 12-year-old nephew…to her 85-year-old great aunt, who expressed hope that the cannabis vaporizers find use in every home.

❝ Harun believes the increasing recognition of weed as therapy makes it ever-easier to get into the industry. She suggests that anyone who is interested consider either applying an existent passion to the developing marijuana market — like law or baking, say — or for those who don’t know what they love yet, use this trick to figure out a way in: “Think of a problem you want to solve and the people who suffer from it — even something simple like stress, or menstrual pain — and consider how cannabis could be or is being used to address it.”

I guess I should look at the baking side of the equation. It’s been almost 60 years since I quit smoking and even a half-legit rationale for vaping couldn’t tempt me. OTOH, if I get to where I need chemical/pharmaceutical management techniques for pain management – I’d probably try working some weed into my weekly batch of bran/blueberry muffins.

Canada will be rid of coal power plants by 2030


Vintage Architecture

❝ While US President-elect Trump has promised to bring jobs back to the coal-mining industry despite market forces favoring cheaper natural gas, America’s northern neighbor is pressing to move beyond the fuel that started the Industrial Revolution.

On Monday, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna announced a plan to completely phase out coal-burning power plants by 2030 — unless those plants capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions.

❝ In October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that all provinces would be required to implement carbon emissions pricing programs by 2018. British Columbia has had a carbon tax since 2008, while Alberta will have a carbon tax starting on January 1. Ontario and Quebec are already operating carbon cap-and-trade schemes. Either sort of program will fulfill the requirement as long as the price per ton of emissions meets the federal standard.

❝ While Canada currently gets about 80 percent of its electricity from “non-emitting sources” (renewables and nuclear), it is aiming to hit 90 percent by 2030…to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels…

Bravo! Hope some of that good sense leaks over the border into the brains of American politicians, American voters.