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151
The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project, which are assisting the government with the country’s largest post-conviction review of questioned forensic evidence.

The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison, the groups said under an agreement with the government to release results after the review of the first 200 convictions.

The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.

The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said. The question now, they said, is how state authorities and the courts will respond to findings that confirm long-suspected problems with subjective, pattern-based forensic techniques — like hair and bite-mark comparisons — that have contributed to wrongful convictions in more than one-quarter of 329 DNA-exoneration cases since 1989.


In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, commended the FBI and department for the collaboration but said, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”

“We need an exhaustive investigation that looks at how the FBI, state governments that relied on examiners trained by the FBI and the courts allowed this to happen and why it wasn’t stopped much sooner,” Neufeld said.

Norman L. Reimer, the NACDL’s executive director, said, “Hopefully, this project establishes a precedent so that in future situations it will not take years to remediate the injustice.”

While unnamed federal officials previously acknowledged widespread problems, the FBI until now has withheld comment because findings might not be representative.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a former prosecutor, called on the FBI and Justice Department to notify defendants in all 2,500 targeted cases involving an FBI hair match about the problem even if their case has not been completed, and to redouble efforts in the three-year-old review to retrieve information on each case.

“These findings are appalling and chilling in their indictment of our criminal justice system, not only for potentially innocent defendants who have been wrongly imprisoned and even executed, but for prosecutors who have relied on fabricated and false evidence despite their intentions to faithfully enforce the law,” Blumenthal said.

Flawed forensic testimony by state VIEW GRAPHIC
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), urged the bureau to conduct “a root-cause analysis” to prevent future breakdowns.

“It is critical that the Bureau identify and address the systemic factors that allowed this far-reaching problem to occur and continue for more than a decade,” the lawmakers wrote FBI Director James B. Comey on March 27, as findings were being finalized.

The FBI is waiting to complete all reviews to assess causes but has acknowledged that hair examiners until 2012 lacked written standards defining scientifically appropriate and erroneous ways to explain results in court. The bureau expects this year to complete similar standards for testimony and lab reports for 19 forensic disciplines.

Federal authorities launched the investigation in 2012 after The Washington Post reported that flawed forensic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people since at least the 1970s, typically for murder, rape and other violent crimes nationwide.

The review confirmed that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of “matches” of crime-scene hairs to defendants, backing their claims by citing incomplete or misleading statistics drawn from their case work.

In reality, there is no accepted research on how often hair from different people may appear the same. Since 2000, the lab has used visual hair comparison to rule out someone as a possible source of hair or in combination with more accurate DNA testing.

Warnings about the problem have been mounting. In 2002, the FBI reported that its own DNA testing found that examiners reported false hair matches more than 11 percent of the time. In the District, the only jurisdiction where defenders and prosecutors have re-investigated all FBI hair convictions, three of seven defendants whose trials included flawed FBI testimony have been exonerated through DNA testing since 2009, and courts have exonerated two more men. All five served 20 to 30 years in prison for rape or murder.

University of Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett said the results reveal a “mass disaster” inside the criminal justice system, one that it has been unable to self-correct because courts rely on outdated precedents admitting scientifically invalid testimony at trial and, under the legal doctrine of finality, make it difficult for convicts to challenge old evidence.

“The tools don’t exist to handle systematic errors in our criminal justice system,” Garrett said. “The FBI deserves every recognition for doing something really remarkable here. The problem is there may be few judges, prosecutors or defense lawyers who are able or willing to do anything about it.”

Federal authorities are offering new DNA testing in cases with errors, if sought by a judge or prosecutor, and agreeing to drop procedural objections to appeals in federal cases.

However, biological evidence in the cases often is lost or unavailable. Among states, only California and Texas specifically allow appeals when experts recant or scientific advances undermine forensic evidence at trial.

Defense attorneys say scientifically invalid forensic testimony should be considered as violations of due process, as courts have held with false or misleading testimony.

The FBI searched more than 21,000 federal and state requests to its hair comparison unit from 1972 through 1999, identifying for review roughly 2,500 cases where examiners declared hair matches.

Reviews of 342 defendants’ convictions were completed as of early March, the NACDL and Innocence Project reported. In addition to the 268 trials in which FBI hair evidence was used against defendants, the review found cases in which defendants pleaded guilty, FBI examiners did not testify, did not assert a match or gave exculpatory testimony.

When such cases are included, by the FBI’s count examiners made statements exceeding the limits of science in about 90 percent of testimonies, including 34 death-penalty cases.

The findings likely scratch the surface. The FBI said as of mid-April that reviews of about 350 trial testimonies and 900 lab reports are nearly complete, with about 1,200 cases remaining.

The bureau said it is difficult to check cases before 1985, when files were computerized. It has been unable to review 700 cases because police or prosecutors did not respond to requests for information.

Also, the same FBI examiners whose work is under review taught 500 to 1,000 state and local crime lab analysts to testify in the same ways.

Texas, New York and North Carolina authorities are reviewing their hair examiner cases, with ad hoc efforts underway in about 15 other states.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/fbi-overstated-forensic-hair-matches-in-nearly-all-criminal-trials-for-decades/2015/04/18/39c8d8c6-e515-11e4-b510-962fcfabc310_story.html?postshare=1691429406292855

153
General Discussion / Psych journal bans p-values
« on: April 16, 2015, 11:52:41 PM »
Psychology researchers have recently found themselves engaged in a bout of statistical soul-searching. In apparently the first such move ever for a scientific journal the editors of Basic and Applied Social Psychology announced in a February editorial that researchers who submit studies for publication would not be allowed to use a common suite of statistical methods, including a controversial measure called the p-value.

These methods, referred to as null hypothesis significance testing, or NHST, are deeply embedded into the modern scientific research process, and some researchers have been left wondering where to turn. “The p-value is the most widely known statistic,” says biostatistician Jeff Leek of Johns Hopkins University. Leek has estimated that the p-value has been used at least three million scientific papers. Significance testing is so popular that, as the journal editorial itself acknowledges, there are no widely accepted alternative ways to quantify the uncertainty in research results—and uncertainty is crucial for estimating how well a study’s results generalize to the broader population.

Unfortunately, p-values are also widely misunderstood, often believed to furnish more information than they do. Many researchers have labored under the misbelief that the p-value gives the probability that their study’s results are just pure random chance. But statisticians say the p-value’s information is much more non-specific, and can interpreted only in the context of hypothetical alternative scenarios: The p-value summarizes how often results at least as extreme as those observed would show up if the study were repeated an infinite number of times when in fact only pure random chance were at work.

This means that the p-value is a statement about imaginary data in hypothetical study replications, not a statement about actual conclusions in any given study. Instead of being a “scientific lie detector” that can get at the truth of a particular scientific finding, the p-value is more of an “alternative reality machine” that lets researchers compare their results with what random chance would hypothetically produce. “What p-values do is address the wrong questions, and this has caused widespread confusion,” says psychologist Eric-Jan Wagenmakers at the University of Amsterdam.

Ostensibly, p-values allow researchers to draw nuanced, objective scientific conclusions as long as it is part of a careful process of experimental design and analysis. But critics have complained that in practice the p-value in the context of significance testing has been bastardized into a sort of crude spam filter for scientific findings: If the p-value on a potentially interesting result is smaller than 0.05, the result is deemed “statistically significant” and passed on for publication, according to the recipe; anything with larger p-values is destined for the trash bin.

Quitting p-values cold turkey was a drastic step. “The null hypothesis significance testing procedure is logically invalid, and so it seems sensible to eliminate it from science,” says psychologist David Trafimow of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, editor of the journal. A strongly worded editorial discouraged significance testing in the journal last year. But after researchers failed to heed the warning, Trafimow says, he and associate editor Michael Marks decided this year to go ahead with the new diktat. “Statisticians have critiqued these concepts for many decades but no journal has had the guts to ban them outright,” Wagenmakers says.

Significance testing became enshrined in textbooks in the 1940s when scientists, in desperate search of data-analysis “recipes” that were easy for nonspecialists to follow, ended up mashing together two incompatible statistical systems—p-values and hypothesis testing—into one rote procedure. “P-values were never meant to be used the way we’re using them today,” says biostatistician Steven Goodman of Stanford University.

Although the laundry list of gripes against significance testing is long and rather technical, the complaints center around a common theme: Significance testing’s “scientific spam filter” does a poor job of helping researchers separate the true and important effects from the lookalike ones. The implication is that scientific journals might be littered with claims and conclusions that are not likely to be true. “I believe that psychologists have woken up and come to the realization that some work published in high-impact journals is plain nonsense,” Wagenmakers says.

Not that psychology has a monopoly on publishing results that collapse on closer inspection. For example, gene-hunting researchers in large-scale genomic studies used to be plagued by too many false-alarm results that flagged unimportant genes. But since the field developed new statistical techniques and moved away from the automatic use of p-values, the reliability of results has improved, Leek says.

Confusing as p-values are, however, not everyone is a fan of taking them from researchers’ statistical took kits. “This might be a case in which the cure is worse than the disease,” Goodman says. “The goal should be the intelligent use of statistics. If the journal is going to take away a tool, however misused, they need to substitute it with something more meaningful.”

One possible replacement that might fit the bill is a rival approach of data analysis called Bayesianism. (The journal said it will consider its use in submitted papers on a “case-by-case basis.”) Bayesianism starts from different principles altogether: Rather than striving for scientifically objective conclusions, this statistical system embraces the subjective, allowing researchers to incorporate their own prior knowledge and beliefs. One obstacle to the widespread use of Bayesianism has been the lack of user-friendly statistical software. To this end Wagenmakers’ team is working to develop a free, open-source statistical software package called JASP. It boasts the tagline: “Bayesian statistics made accessible.”

Other solutions attack the problem from a different angle: human nature. Because researchers in modern science face stiff competition and need to churn out enough statistically significant results for publication and therefore promotion it is no surprise that research groups somehow manage to find significant p-values more often than would be expected, a phenomenon dubbed “p-hacking” in 2011 by psychologist Uri Simonsohn at the University of Pennsylvania.

Several journals are trying a new approach, spearheaded by psychologist Christopher Chambers of Cardiff University in Wales, in which researchers publicly “preregister” all their study analysis plans in advance. This gives them less wiggle room to engage in the sort of unconscious—or even deliberate—p-hacking that happens when researchers change their analyses in midstream to yield results that are more statistically significant than they would be otherwise. In exchange, researchers get priority for publishing the results of these preregistered studies—even if they end up with a p-value that falls short of the normal publishable standard.

Finally, some statisticians are banking on education being the answer. “P-values are complicated and require training to understand,” Leek says. Science education has yet to fully adapt to a world in which data are both plentiful and unavoidable, without enough statistical consultants to go around, he says, so most researchers are stuck analyzing their own data with only a couple of stats courses under their belts. “Most researchers do not care about the details of statistical methods,” Wagenmakers says. “They use them only to support their claims in a general sense, to be able to tell their colleagues, ‘see, I am allowed to make this claim, because p is less than .05, now stop questioning my result.’”

A new, online nine-course “data science specialization” for professionals with very little background in statistics might change that. Leek and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins rolled out the free courses last year, available via the popular Coursera online continuing education platform, and already have two million students have registered. As part of the sequence, Leek says, a full monthlong course will be devoted specifically to understanding methods that allow researchers to convey uncertainty and generalizability of study findings—including, yes, p-values.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-perturbed-by-loss-of-stat-tool-to-sift-research-fudge-from-fact/?WT.mc_id=SA_Facebook

154
Dan Price, like a growing number of CEOs in recent months, is raising the minimum wage for his employees.

But while the chief executives of companies ranging from Aetna to Gap, Inc. to Wal-Mart are upping their wage floors by a few dollars an hour to help them compete for better talent, this CEO — who founded credit-card processing firm Gravity Payments — has another goal. On Monday, the New York Times reported that to protect employees' emotional well-being, Price is cutting his own salary and raising his employees' wages to at least $70,000 a year.

The decision is an extraordinary one when you look at the numbers. At the Seattle-based company, the average salary has been $48,000 a year among its 120 employees, the Times reported. Now, 70 of those workers will see a raise and 30 will see their salaries roughly double. To pay for those huge increases, the newspaper reported, Price plans to cut his nearly $1 million salary down to $70,000, as well as use roughly three-quarters of this year's profits. The report said Price would keep his salary low until those profits are earned back.

According to the Times, Price's idea came from research by Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman, who found, essentially, that money can buy happiness — up to a certain point. The duo's research showed that for salaries below about $75,000 a year, increases in income correlated with greater emotional well-being.

The extremely generous raise is, of course, far easier to pull off in a small company with few employees than in one with many. And Price may have a hard time keeping pay at that rate if the company were to struggle at some point — or potentially, if it grows very quickly. But the goodwill he just engendered is likely to pay itself back not only through hard work, greater loyalty and better talent, but through the greater returns that usually follow in such a culture.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2015/04/14/this-ceo-raised-all-his-employees-salaries-to-at-least-70000-by-cutting-his-own/?tid=sm_fb

155
People can control prosthetic limbs, computer programs and even remote-controlled helicopters with their mind, all by using brain-computer interfaces. What if we could harness this technology to control things happening inside our own body? A team of bioengineers in Switzerland has taken the first step toward this cyborglike setup by combining a brain-computer interface with a synthetic biological implant, allowing a genetic switch to be operated by brain activity. It is the world's first brain-gene interface.

The group started with a typical brain-computer interface, an electrode cap that can register subjects' brain activity and transmit signals to another electronic device. In this case, the device is an electromagnetic field generator; different types of brain activity cause the field to vary in strength. The next step, however, is totally new—the experimenters used the electromagnetic field to trigger protein production within human cells in an implant in mice.

The implant uses a cutting-edge technology known as optogenetics. The researchers inserted bacterial genes into human kidney cells, causing them to produce light-sensitive proteins. Then they bioengineered the cells so that stimulating them with light triggers a string of molecular reactions that ultimately produces a protein called secreted alkaline phosphatase (SEAP), which is easily detectable. They then placed the human cells plus an LED light into small plastic pouches and inserted them under the skin of several mice.

Human volunteers wearing electrode caps either played Minecraft or meditated, generating moderate or large electromagnetic fields, respectively, from a platform on which the mice stood. The field activates the implant's infrared LED, which triggers the production of SEAP. The protein then diffuses across membranes in the implant into the mice's bloodstream.

Playing Minecraft produced moderate levels of SEAP in the mice's bloodstream, and meditating produced high levels. A third type of mental control, known as biofeedback, involved the volunteers watching the light, which could be seen through the mice's skin, and learning to consciously turn the LED on or off—thereby turning SEAP production on or off.

“Combining a brain-computer interface with an optogenetic switch is a deceptively simple idea,” says senior author Martin Fussenegger of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, “but controlling genes in this way is completely new.” By using an implant, the setup harnesses the power of optogenetics without requiring the user to have his or her own cells genetically altered. Fussenegger and his co-authors envision therapeutic implants one day producing chemicals to correct a wide variety of dysfunctions: neurotransmitters to regulate mood or anxiety, natural painkillers for chronic or acute pain, blood-clotting factors for hemophiliacs, and so on. Some patients would benefit greatly from having conscious control over intravenous dosage rather than relying on sensors—especially in cases such as pain, which is hard for anyone but the sufferer to measure, or locked-in patients or others who are conscious but cannot communicate.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/thought-controlled-genes-could-someday-help-us-heal/?WT.mc_id=SA_Facebook

156
General Discussion / Memories may not live in Synapses
« on: April 05, 2015, 12:26:21 PM »
As intangible as they may seem, memories have a firm biological basis. According to textbook neuroscience, they form when neighboring brain cells send chemical communications across the synapses, or junctions, that connect them. Each time a memory is recalled, the connection is reactivated and strengthened. The idea that synapses store memories has dominated neuroscience for more than a century, but a new study by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, may fundamentally upend it: instead memories may reside inside brain cells. If supported, the work could have major implications for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition marked by painfully vivid and intrusive memories.

More than a decade ago scientists began investigating the drug propranolol for the treatment of PTSD. Propranolol was thought to prevent memories from forming by blocking production of proteins required for long-term storage. Unfortunately, the research quickly hit a snag. Unless administered immediately after the traumatic event, the treatment was ineffective. Lately researchers have been crafting a work-around: evidence suggests that when someone recalls a memory, the reactivated connection is not only strengthened but becomes temporarily susceptible to change, a process called memory reconsolidation. Administering propranolol (and perhaps also therapy, electrical stimulation and certain other drugs) during this window can enable scientists to block reconsolidation, wiping out the synapse on the spot.

The possibility of purging recollections caught the eye of David Glanzman, a neurobiologist at U.C.L.A., who set out to study the process in Aplysia, a sluglike mollusk commonly used in neuroscience research. Glanzman and his team zapped Aplysia with mild electric shocks, creating a memory of the event expressed as new synapses in the brain. The scientists then transferred neurons from the mollusk into a petri dish and chemically triggered the memory of the shocks in them, quickly followed by a dose of propranolol.

Initially the drug appeared to confirm earlier research by wiping out the synaptic connection. But when cells were exposed to a reminder of the shocks, the memory came back at full strength within 48 hours. “It was totally reinstated,” Glanzman says. “That implies to me that the memory wasn't stored in the synapse.” The results were recently published in the online open-access journal eLife.

If memory is not located in the synapse, then where is it? When the neuroscientists took a closer look at the brain cells, they found that even when the synapse was erased, molecular and chemical changes persisted after the initial firing within the cell itself. The engram, or memory trace, could be preserved by these permanent changes. Alternatively, it could be encoded in modifications to the cell's DNA that alter how particular genes are expressed. Glanzman and others favor this reasoning.

Eric R. Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University and recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on memory, cautions that the study's results were observed in the first 48 hours after treatment, a time when consolidation is still sensitive.

Though preliminary, the results suggest that for people with PTSD, pill popping will most likely not eliminate painful memories. “If you had asked me two years ago if you could treat PTSD with medication blockade, I would have said yes, but now I don't think so,” Glanzman says. On the bright side, he adds, the idea that memories persist deep within brain cells offers new hope for another disorder tied to memory: Alzheimer's.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/memories-may-not-live-in-neurons-synapses/?WT.mc_id=SA_Facebook

157
Big Wall Street banks are so upset with U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren's call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Representatives from Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party's tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week.

Bank officials said the idea of withholding donations was not discussed at a meeting of the four banks in Washington but it has been raised in one-on-one conversations between representatives of some of them. However, there was no agreement on coordinating any action, and each bank is making its own decision, they said.

The amount of money at stake, a maximum of $15,000 per bank, means the gesture is symbolic rather than material

Moreover, banks' hostility toward Warren, who is not a presidential candidate, will not have a direct impact on the presumed Democratic front runner in the White House race, Hillary Clinton. That's because their fund-raising groups focus on congressional races rather than the presidential election

Still, political strategists say Clinton could struggle to raise money among Wall Street financiers who worry that Democrats are becoming less business friendly.

The tensions are a sign that the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis - the bank bailouts and the fights over financial reforms to rein in Wall Street - are still a factor in the 2016 elections.

Citigroup has decided to withhold donations for now to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over concerns that Senate Democrats could give Warren and lawmakers who share her views more power, sources inside the bank told Reuters.

The Massachusetts senator's economic populism and take-no-prisoners approach has won her a strong following among liberals who raised 300,000 signatures for a petition urging her to run for the White House in 2016.

"They can threaten or bully or say whatever they want, but we aren't going to change our game plan," Warren said in a blog post on her website on Friday. "It's up to us to fight back against a financial system that allows those who broke our economy to emerge from a crisis in record-setting shape while ordinary Americans continue to struggle."

JPMORGAN MET DEMOCRATIC OFFICIALS

Citi spokeswoman Molly Meiners declined to comment specifically on the Warren issue, saying the bank's fund-raising political action committee (PAC) "contributes to candidates and parties across the political spectrum that share our desire for pro-business policies that promote economic growth."

JPMorgan representatives have met Democratic Party officials to emphasize the connection between its annual contribution and the need for a friendlier attitude toward the banks, a source familiar with JPMorgan's donations said. In past years, the bank has given its donation in one lump sum but this year has so far donated only a third of the amount, the source said.

Goldman, which already made its $15,000 donation for the year, took part in the Washington meeting between the four banks to talk about anti-big bank rhetoric of some Democratic lawmakers like Warren but has not had any discussions about withholding money, a source close to the bank said.

"We will continue working cooperatively with members of Congress, regulators and the industry to foster constructive discussions around policy questions," said Andrew Williams, a Goldman spokesman.

Bank of America is not coordinating with other banks on when and how much to give, according to a source familiar with the bank's thinking. It has not yet sent in its check.

"Our decision to contribute will be driven more by the fact that many members of both parties understand the important role we play in driving the real economy and serving customers across the country," said a spokesman, Larry Di Rita.

JPMorgan spokesman Andrew Gray said the bank had "always believed in the importance of engaging constructively with our public officials."

Spokesmen for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Warren and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid all declined to comment.

Warren, a former Harvard Law professor who joined the Senate Banking Committee after taking office in 2013, has accused big banks and other financial firms of unfair dealings that harm the middle class and help the rich grow richer.

In a Dec. 12 speech, she mentioned Citi several times as an example of a bank that had grown too large, saying it should have been broken apart by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

In January, Warren angered Wall Street when she successfully blocked the nomination of a banker Antonio Weiss to a top post at the Treasury Department. She argued that as a regulator he would likely be too deferential to his former Wall Street colleagues.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/us-usa-election-banks-idUSKBN0MN0BV20150327

158
Some NFL players spend their offseason working out. Others travel around the world. Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel has done both while also getting an article published in a math journal.

Urschel, the Ravens’ 2014 fifth-round pick who graduated from Penn State with 4.0 GPA, also happens to be a brilliant mathematician. This week he and several co-authors published a piece titled “A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians” in the Journal of Computational Mathematics. You can read the full piece here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1412.0565

Here’s the summary of the paper:

“In this paper, we develop a cascadic multigrid algorithm for fast computation of the Fiedler vector of a graph Laplacian, namely, the eigenvector corresponding to the second smallest eigenvalue. This vector has been found to have applications in fields such as graph partitioning and graph drawing. The algorithm is a purely algebraic approach based on a heavy edge coarsening scheme and pointwise smoothing for refinement. To gain theoretical insight, we also consider the related cascadic multigrid method in the geometric setting for elliptic eigenvalue problems and show its uniform convergence under certain assumptions. Numerical tests are presented for computing the Fiedler vector of several practical graphs, and numerical results show the efficiency and optimality of our proposed cascadic multigrid algorithm.”

When he’s not protecting Joe Flacco, the 23-year-old Urschel enjoys digging into extremely complicated mathematical models.

“I am a mathematical researcher in my spare time, continuing to do research in the areas of numerical linear algebra, multigrid methods, spectral graph theory and machine learning. I’m also an avid chess player, and I have aspirations of eventually being a titled player one day.”

– See more at: http://yahoo.thepostgame.com/blog/balancing-act/201503/john-urschel-baltimore-ravens-nfl-football-math#sthash.avUHj2Tm.dpuf

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

http://its-interesting.com/2015/03/19/baltimore-ravens-offensive-lineman-john-urschel-publishes-paper-in-math-journal/

159
General Discussion / John Quiggin Thinks the TPP Sucks
« on: March 18, 2015, 12:02:39 AM »
JQ is A) a well-known microeconomy theorist (not the best cred for this article, vs macro) & B) Australian and way better than skars.

There can be few topics as eye-glazingly dull as international trade agreements. Endless hours of negotiation on such arcane topics as rules of origin and most favoured nation status combine with an alphabet soup of acronyms to produce a barely readable text hundreds of pages long. But unless you were actually involved in exporting or importing goods, or faced import competition, it used to be safe enough to leave the details to diplomats and trade bureaucrats.

That all changed with the emergence of “new generation” agreements, of which the most ambitious so far is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, which is on course to be completed in May this year. Depending on the content of the final deal, it could affect almost everything we do, from buying a secondhand book to campaigning to protect a local park from development.

Although the new generation agreements are described as trade agreements, this is quite misleading. Except for restrictions on imports of agricultural commodities (which are unlikely to go away any time soon), tariffs, quotas and other restrictions on trade have largely disappeared in our region. The new generation agreements are primarily about imposing a particular model of global capitalism, with the United States as the model and multinational corporations as the main engines of economic activity. It’s already clear that the TPP will fit this pattern.

But what exactly do we know about the deal? If it were not for an embarrassing leak of the negotiated draft text of the intellectual property and environment chapters, released by WikiLeaks in late 2013 and early 2014, ordinary Australians would know nothing more than the barest details, namely that the TPP has been the subject of more than a decade of negotiations involving twelve countries, and that it builds on a web of bilateral deals with the United States at the centre.

Given the lack of public information, the negotiations are often described as secret, but this is not quite correct. While citizens in general have been kept in the dark, corporate lobbyists have been actively involved, apparently to the point of drafting much of the text as it affects their corporate interests.

By the time we do see the final text it will probably be too late to do much about it. So we have to make an educated guess, based on the WikiLeaks material and on previous new generation agreements, of which the most important were the (failed) Multilateral Agreement on Investment, or MAI, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, and the Australia–US Free Trade Agreement, or AUSFTA.

These agreements are primarily concerned with protecting the rights of multinational corporations. This fact was clearest in relation to the MAI, which proposed to give these corporations the right to sue governments over legislation on issues such as environmental protection, cultural policy and labour market standards. These investor–state dispute settlement procedures have become a standard demand of US negotiators in bilateral trade agreements. They bypass normal courts, and are only available to corporations, with no corresponding right for states to sue investors.

The MAI would have made them a core part of the structure of global trade managed by the World Trade Organization. But the agreement was abandoned after a string of governments, beginning with France, withdrew from negotiations in the light of public concerns about its implications. Attempts to implement it by other means have continued, with the TPP being the most recent example.

The TRIPS agreement dealt with “intellectual property,” a term that refers to government-granted monopoly rights such as patents and copyright. As such, it is the direct opposite of a free trade policy. The idea of granting inventors and creators of cultural material a temporary right to control the use of their ideas is an old one and, within limits, generally a good one. But as valuable rights have fallen into the hands of corporations, pressure has increased to make them more permanent and to expand their scope.

When the US copyright system was established in 1790, writers and other creators enjoyed a copyright term of fourteen years, which could be extended for a further fourteen years if the author were still alive. This provided the chance to make a living out of writing while ensuring that the vast majority of literature and other cultural material was in the public domain. Over time, the term of copyright was extended to the author’s life and then beyond, and the scope was expanded to material that would not have been considered worthy of protection in the past. The result was to build up corporate interests centred on the exploitation of the system.

The archetypal example is the Disney Corporation, which derives a huge income from the character of Mickey Mouse. Under the legislation prevailing when Mickey was created in 1928, his copyright would have expired in 1984. Whenever Mickey’s copyright has come close to expiry, though, Disney has succeeded in inducing Congress to legislate for longer terms.

Another Disney property, Winnie the Pooh, is an even more egregious case. Mickey Mouse is at least a Disney product, but the rights to Winnie the Pooh were acquired in 1961, five years after the death of his creator A.A. Milne. Again, if it were not for repeated extensions of copyright, Winnie would be in the public domain.

Restrictions on the use of cartoon characters aren’t of great importance. But the expansion of copyright has had a chilling effect on creative activity of all kinds. Even such a simple act as singing the song “Happy Birthday,” composed over a hundred years ago using an even older tune, can potentially attract copyright action from the global conglomerate Warner/Chappell (which has a dubious claim to own the rights). This possibility becomes a certainty if the song is sung as part of a film or play.

If the copyright situation is bad, that of patents is even worse. The patent system for pharmaceuticals has been abused in various ways, from “me too” products with little additional benefit to “evergreening,” involving marginal changes to extend patent life beyond the legally intended period. Then there is the extension of patent protection to things that were never intended to be covered, from business methods to human genes. The result is to stifle the natural tendency of information to flow freely and contribute to new and unexpected innovations.

At the bottom of the heap are “patent trolls,” companies that file patents on trivially obvious activities, such as using a scanner attached to a network. These patents are invariably granted by the intellectual property authorities, whose job it is to decide whether a novel process has been identified. The trolls then send out letters demanding money from anyone who infringes their supposed patent. In many cases it is cheaper to settle than to fight.

The abuse of the patent system has become so bad that some studies conclude we would be better off abolishing patents altogether. Courts and policy-makers have responded to some extent, for example by finding against patent trolls. Unfortunately, trade negotiators haven’t got the message and are still pushing the most extreme version of the intellectual property agenda.

The implications of intellectual property deals and investor–state dispute mechanisms are best illustrated by the dispute over Australia’s legislation for plain packaging of cigarettes. The tobacco companies fought this legislation through the political process and lost. They took their case to the High Court, claiming that the legislation was an unconstitutional “taking” of their branding rights, a claim rejected by a 6–1 majority.

If it were not for the new generation trade deals, that would have been that. But these deals gave Big Tobacco many more venues for litigation. First, the tobacco companies ginned up such major cigarette producers as Ukraine and Honduras to bring disputes under the TRIPS agreement. Next, Philip Morris undertook a corporate restructure to reinvent itself as a Hong Kong company, taking advantage of a 1993 deal with Australia that incorporated investor–state dispute settlement provisions.

It goes without saying that these cases have no merit. But while they drag on, they deter other countries from following the Australian example. And, should the unaccountable tribunals established under these agreements rule in favour of the tobacco companies (for whatever reason), Australia has access to absolutely no redress.

The emergence of plain packaging legislation as a test case may perhaps prove to be a blessing in disguise. There are few litigants less sympathetic than Big Tobacco, reliant on a deadly and addictive product and marked by a long history of dishonesty, criminality and political corruption. The fact that the countries notionally bringing the dispute have no genuine interest makes the case even more unappealing.

Despite their trappings of legality, the tribunals of the World Trade Organization and similar bodies are political bodies. The WTO in particular has been badly burned by the political reaction against its decision that US policies requiring “dolphin safe” labelling of tuna represent an improper restriction of trade. As a result, it recently reversed its previous stance and upheld EU restrictions on the importation of skins from Canadian seals killed in the infamous clubbing hunt.

The political fallout from a decision in favour of Big Tobacco would be far worse than anything the pseudo-courts of international trade have experienced before. It would instantly confirm the most dire predictions of critics of investor–state dispute procedures and intellectual property rules. Precisely for this reason, it seems likely that the tobacco lawsuits will fail, setting precedents that will constrain future abuses of these provisions. But that doesn’t change the obviously undemocratic nature of agreements under which Australian health policy can potentially be overturned by the machinations of corporate lobbyists.

Given our recent experience with such deals, would an Australian government be willing to expose us to more such action? The Labor government responded to the plain packaging dispute by announcing that it would discontinue the practice of seeking to include investor–state dispute provisions in trade agreements with developing countries. More generally, there was some movement away from strong intellectual property policies in areas such as fair use of copyright materials.

But this shift has been reversed under the Abbott government, with its recent rush of bilateral agreements. Unsurprisingly, political journalists pay hardly any attention to the actual content of these agreements, and their signing is almost invariably treated as a political win for the government of the day.

This uncritical attitude is reflected in the generally favourable press received by trade minister Andrew Robb for the signing of agreements with Korea, Japan and China, bringing a rapid conclusion to negotiations that had proceeded at a glacial pace under Labor. No one in the normally hardbitten press gallery, it seemed, was cynical enough to suggest that the easiest way to conclude a negotiation is to accede to the demands of the other party while withdrawing any sticking points of your own.

In the case of the agreement with Japan, for example, Australia secured some modest concessions regarding tariffs on beef, which will be reduced from 38.5 per cent to 19 per cent over a period of fifteen years. In return, our government accepted the total exclusion of rice from the deal, and the maintenance of most restrictions on dairy products.

The Korean agreement, KAFTA, was arguably even worse. Reversing our previous position, the government agreed to the inclusion of investor–state dispute provisions. This was apparently done not in response to Korean demands but because US negotiators were pushing the provision in the parallel negotiations for the TPP.

It seems certain that the final agreement will involve a substantial loss of Australian sovereignty and an acceptance of economically damaging intellectual property rules. In return, Australia will receive marginal and long-drawn-out improvements in market access for agricultural commodities. While a Labor government might perhaps have held out for a better deal, it seems unlikely that the opposition will reject legislation implementing the agreement.

Ironically, our best hope lies in the United States. The Obama administration, backed by the Republican congressional leadership, is seeking approval to push the TPP through on a “fast track” basis, which would not permit any amendments. But it is facing stiff opposition both from Republicans (concerned about sovereignty and unwilling to grant any additional power to Obama) and from liberal Democrats, who reject the key provisions of the deal. In the current congressional atmosphere, inaction is the most likely result of any contentious process. So, it may be that the deal will fail at this crucial hurdle. We can only hope. •

http://insidestory.org.au/the-trans-pacific-partnership-it-might-be-about-trade-but-its-far-from-free

160
General Discussion / John Quiggin Thinks the TPP Sucks
« on: March 18, 2015, 12:02:16 AM »
JQ is A) a well-known microeconomy theorist (not the best cred for this article, vs macro) & B) Australian and way better than skars.

There can be few topics as eye-glazingly dull as international trade agreements. Endless hours of negotiation on such arcane topics as rules of origin and most favoured nation status combine with an alphabet soup of acronyms to produce a barely readable text hundreds of pages long. But unless you were actually involved in exporting or importing goods, or faced import competition, it used to be safe enough to leave the details to diplomats and trade bureaucrats.

That all changed with the emergence of “new generation” agreements, of which the most ambitious so far is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, which is on course to be completed in May this year. Depending on the content of the final deal, it could affect almost everything we do, from buying a secondhand book to campaigning to protect a local park from development.

Although the new generation agreements are described as trade agreements, this is quite misleading. Except for restrictions on imports of agricultural commodities (which are unlikely to go away any time soon), tariffs, quotas and other restrictions on trade have largely disappeared in our region. The new generation agreements are primarily about imposing a particular model of global capitalism, with the United States as the model and multinational corporations as the main engines of economic activity. It’s already clear that the TPP will fit this pattern.

But what exactly do we know about the deal? If it were not for an embarrassing leak of the negotiated draft text of the intellectual property and environment chapters, released by WikiLeaks in late 2013 and early 2014, ordinary Australians would know nothing more than the barest details, namely that the TPP has been the subject of more than a decade of negotiations involving twelve countries, and that it builds on a web of bilateral deals with the United States at the centre.

Given the lack of public information, the negotiations are often described as secret, but this is not quite correct. While citizens in general have been kept in the dark, corporate lobbyists have been actively involved, apparently to the point of drafting much of the text as it affects their corporate interests.

By the time we do see the final text it will probably be too late to do much about it. So we have to make an educated guess, based on the WikiLeaks material and on previous new generation agreements, of which the most important were the (failed) Multilateral Agreement on Investment, or MAI, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, and the Australia–US Free Trade Agreement, or AUSFTA.

These agreements are primarily concerned with protecting the rights of multinational corporations. This fact was clearest in relation to the MAI, which proposed to give these corporations the right to sue governments over legislation on issues such as environmental protection, cultural policy and labour market standards. These investor–state dispute settlement procedures have become a standard demand of US negotiators in bilateral trade agreements. They bypass normal courts, and are only available to corporations, with no corresponding right for states to sue investors.

The MAI would have made them a core part of the structure of global trade managed by the World Trade Organization. But the agreement was abandoned after a string of governments, beginning with France, withdrew from negotiations in the light of public concerns about its implications. Attempts to implement it by other means have continued, with the TPP being the most recent example.

The TRIPS agreement dealt with “intellectual property,” a term that refers to government-granted monopoly rights such as patents and copyright. As such, it is the direct opposite of a free trade policy. The idea of granting inventors and creators of cultural material a temporary right to control the use of their ideas is an old one and, within limits, generally a good one. But as valuable rights have fallen into the hands of corporations, pressure has increased to make them more permanent and to expand their scope.

When the US copyright system was established in 1790, writers and other creators enjoyed a copyright term of fourteen years, which could be extended for a further fourteen years if the author were still alive. This provided the chance to make a living out of writing while ensuring that the vast majority of literature and other cultural material was in the public domain. Over time, the term of copyright was extended to the author’s life and then beyond, and the scope was expanded to material that would not have been considered worthy of protection in the past. The result was to build up corporate interests centred on the exploitation of the system.

The archetypal example is the Disney Corporation, which derives a huge income from the character of Mickey Mouse. Under the legislation prevailing when Mickey was created in 1928, his copyright would have expired in 1984. Whenever Mickey’s copyright has come close to expiry, though, Disney has succeeded in inducing Congress to legislate for longer terms.

Another Disney property, Winnie the Pooh, is an even more egregious case. Mickey Mouse is at least a Disney product, but the rights to Winnie the Pooh were acquired in 1961, five years after the death of his creator A.A. Milne. Again, if it were not for repeated extensions of copyright, Winnie would be in the public domain.

Restrictions on the use of cartoon characters aren’t of great importance. But the expansion of copyright has had a chilling effect on creative activity of all kinds. Even such a simple act as singing the song “Happy Birthday,” composed over a hundred years ago using an even older tune, can potentially attract copyright action from the global conglomerate Warner/Chappell (which has a dubious claim to own the rights). This possibility becomes a certainty if the song is sung as part of a film or play.

If the copyright situation is bad, that of patents is even worse. The patent system for pharmaceuticals has been abused in various ways, from “me too” products with little additional benefit to “evergreening,” involving marginal changes to extend patent life beyond the legally intended period. Then there is the extension of patent protection to things that were never intended to be covered, from business methods to human genes. The result is to stifle the natural tendency of information to flow freely and contribute to new and unexpected innovations.

At the bottom of the heap are “patent trolls,” companies that file patents on trivially obvious activities, such as using a scanner attached to a network. These patents are invariably granted by the intellectual property authorities, whose job it is to decide whether a novel process has been identified. The trolls then send out letters demanding money from anyone who infringes their supposed patent. In many cases it is cheaper to settle than to fight.

The abuse of the patent system has become so bad that some studies conclude we would be better off abolishing patents altogether. Courts and policy-makers have responded to some extent, for example by finding against patent trolls. Unfortunately, trade negotiators haven’t got the message and are still pushing the most extreme version of the intellectual property agenda.

The implications of intellectual property deals and investor–state dispute mechanisms are best illustrated by the dispute over Australia’s legislation for plain packaging of cigarettes. The tobacco companies fought this legislation through the political process and lost. They took their case to the High Court, claiming that the legislation was an unconstitutional “taking” of their branding rights, a claim rejected by a 6–1 majority.

If it were not for the new generation trade deals, that would have been that. But these deals gave Big Tobacco many more venues for litigation. First, the tobacco companies ginned up such major cigarette producers as Ukraine and Honduras to bring disputes under the TRIPS agreement. Next, Philip Morris undertook a corporate restructure to reinvent itself as a Hong Kong company, taking advantage of a 1993 deal with Australia that incorporated investor–state dispute settlement provisions.

It goes without saying that these cases have no merit. But while they drag on, they deter other countries from following the Australian example. And, should the unaccountable tribunals established under these agreements rule in favour of the tobacco companies (for whatever reason), Australia has access to absolutely no redress.

The emergence of plain packaging legislation as a test case may perhaps prove to be a blessing in disguise. There are few litigants less sympathetic than Big Tobacco, reliant on a deadly and addictive product and marked by a long history of dishonesty, criminality and political corruption. The fact that the countries notionally bringing the dispute have no genuine interest makes the case even more unappealing.

Despite their trappings of legality, the tribunals of the World Trade Organization and similar bodies are political bodies. The WTO in particular has been badly burned by the political reaction against its decision that US policies requiring “dolphin safe” labelling of tuna represent an improper restriction of trade. As a result, it recently reversed its previous stance and upheld EU restrictions on the importation of skins from Canadian seals killed in the infamous clubbing hunt.

The political fallout from a decision in favour of Big Tobacco would be far worse than anything the pseudo-courts of international trade have experienced before. It would instantly confirm the most dire predictions of critics of investor–state dispute procedures and intellectual property rules. Precisely for this reason, it seems likely that the tobacco lawsuits will fail, setting precedents that will constrain future abuses of these provisions. But that doesn’t change the obviously undemocratic nature of agreements under which Australian health policy can potentially be overturned by the machinations of corporate lobbyists.

Given our recent experience with such deals, would an Australian government be willing to expose us to more such action? The Labor government responded to the plain packaging dispute by announcing that it would discontinue the practice of seeking to include investor–state dispute provisions in trade agreements with developing countries. More generally, there was some movement away from strong intellectual property policies in areas such as fair use of copyright materials.

But this shift has been reversed under the Abbott government, with its recent rush of bilateral agreements. Unsurprisingly, political journalists pay hardly any attention to the actual content of these agreements, and their signing is almost invariably treated as a political win for the government of the day.

This uncritical attitude is reflected in the generally favourable press received by trade minister Andrew Robb for the signing of agreements with Korea, Japan and China, bringing a rapid conclusion to negotiations that had proceeded at a glacial pace under Labor. No one in the normally hardbitten press gallery, it seemed, was cynical enough to suggest that the easiest way to conclude a negotiation is to accede to the demands of the other party while withdrawing any sticking points of your own.

In the case of the agreement with Japan, for example, Australia secured some modest concessions regarding tariffs on beef, which will be reduced from 38.5 per cent to 19 per cent over a period of fifteen years. In return, our government accepted the total exclusion of rice from the deal, and the maintenance of most restrictions on dairy products.

The Korean agreement, KAFTA, was arguably even worse. Reversing our previous position, the government agreed to the inclusion of investor–state dispute provisions. This was apparently done not in response to Korean demands but because US negotiators were pushing the provision in the parallel negotiations for the TPP.

It seems certain that the final agreement will involve a substantial loss of Australian sovereignty and an acceptance of economically damaging intellectual property rules. In return, Australia will receive marginal and long-drawn-out improvements in market access for agricultural commodities. While a Labor government might perhaps have held out for a better deal, it seems unlikely that the opposition will reject legislation implementing the agreement.

Ironically, our best hope lies in the United States. The Obama administration, backed by the Republican congressional leadership, is seeking approval to push the TPP through on a “fast track” basis, which would not permit any amendments. But it is facing stiff opposition both from Republicans (concerned about sovereignty and unwilling to grant any additional power to Obama) and from liberal Democrats, who reject the key provisions of the deal. In the current congressional atmosphere, inaction is the most likely result of any contentious process. So, it may be that the deal will fail at this crucial hurdle. We can only hope. •

http://insidestory.org.au/the-trans-pacific-partnership-it-might-be-about-trade-but-its-far-from-free

161
A vocal (and apparently very wealthy) biologist and outspoken “vaccination skeptic” was so confident that not only do vaccinations not work, but the measles wasn’t even real, that he made a public bet with the world’s scientists that if they could prove the measles virus exists, he’d pay them. Hilariously, one medical doctor obliged.

Stefan Lanka, a German biologist (we should probably use that term loosely) who believes the measles are “psychosomatic” and therefore exist only in a person’s head, made the bet on his anti-vaxxer website in 2011. Lanka’s bet is full of bizarre misunderstandings of science, medicine, and even common sense. German newspaper The Local translated the following passage:

“Because we know that the ‘measles virus’ doesn’t exist, and according to biology and medical science can’t exist, and because we know the real cause of measles, we want the reward to get people to enlighten themselves, for the enlightened to help the less enlightened and for the enlightened to influence those in power.”

Calling his bluff, a German doctor David Barden gathered the most up-to-date and comprehensive research on the study of the measles virus and sent the evidence to Lanka’s house.

Predictably, Lanka took one look at the combined effort of thousands of scientists, decades of research and the reams of data compiled and declared none of it valid. He reportedly refused to pay Dr. Barden – who then took the biologist to court.

Unfortunately for our intrepid anti-vaxxer, a German judge reviewed the research and – like most rational people – decided that the existence of the measles was fairly obvious. The doctor had fulfilled all the requirements Lanka had demanded (which in this case was probably not that difficult). Lanka was ordered by law to pay out the $106,000 he had promised.

In an ironic twist, Lanka probably did achieve his goal of “enlightening” people about the measles. Having become an international laughingstock, he further discredits an anti-vaccination movement that is built on quackery, dodgy sources, and an ignorance of science. The result of this has been a resurgence in the measles across the world – including in countries which had at one point largely eradicated the disease completely like the United States and Germany.

http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/03/13/anti-vaxxer-bets-scientists-100000-they-cant-prove-measles-exists-anti-vaxxer-loses-100000/

162
General Discussion / EQNext StoryBricks AI Company Closes Down
« on: March 03, 2015, 08:32:50 PM »
So Long, Farewell, Namárië, Goodbye
Dear all,
The journey we took exactly 5 years ago to change artificial intelligence in games has come to an end. We tried our best, the world changed a bit, and now it's our turn to take a bow and move on. Storybricks is closing down.

Over the past few months we nurtured a desire to go beyond games and find a different vision, one that was more inclusive and could make a difference for a large number of people. This combined with the effect our travel schedule was having on our families made me (Rodolfo) and my co-founder (Stéphane) decide to move onto other projects beyond Storybricks.

It was our own decision and Sony Online Entertainment (now Daybreak Games) bears no fault for it. Sony Online Entertainment had been up for sale for a long time so our exit had no connection with the Columbus Nova acquisition.

We tried to find a new home for our tech so somebody else would have continued our efforts. I can confirm that Storybricks was for sale, but we did not find an agreement with the buyers we wanted. Since this happened over the course of few months everyone affected has been able to find a new job. Brian 'Psychochild' Green is working on Camelot Unchained, Guilherme Töws is at Mediatonic, Wallace Poulter and Brian Schwab are at Magic Leap (but they can't say what they are up to yet. Super secret stuff) and so on.

Majority of the work we have done is about EverQuest Next and is co-owned by Daybreak. But there are few side projects and a demo that we plan to release for free that are unrelated to EQN. It's nothing major but maybe some Storybricks tech can live in other games. Give us some time to sort that out.

We would like to thank the EverQuest Next team at Daybreak Games, particularly Darrin McPherson and Terry Michaels, for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have worked on a great franchise and alongside such talented people. We look forward to the release of EQN. We would also like to thank Ken Levine at Irrational and Kevin Bruner at Telltale Games (and their respective teams - you know who you are.), the many game developers who have reached out to us over the years to advance a medium that we love, as well as the players who have shared our dream of better storytelling through gameplay and AI.

Stéphane and I are starting a new venture unrelated to gaming but we won't disappear completely. We are looking to hire AI engineers and iOS/Android front-end developers in the SF Bay Area (Sunnyvale/Mt View). Please reach out to me at rodolfo[at]metatron.xyz if you are interested.

Rodolfo Rosini & Stéphane Bura


PS.
There is one more story to tell before we part ways.

We fell in love with the EverQuest franchise and we wanted the best possible future for it. We knew Sony Online (300+ employees IIRC) was for sale so Storybricks (barely 10 people) tried to actually buy out the whole division.
We retained an investment banking firm as a proxy and they went directly to Sony Corporate bypassing the local executives. We would have been able to raise the necessary capital, and had interviewed new and existing management ready for a turnover.

Alas, it was not meant to be as the terms offered by Sony Japan were unacceptable to us and to our investors. It is my understanding that other buyers had the same reaction and, in the end, Columbus Nova got a completely different deal that the one we were offered, but by then our investor group had moved on.

Make no mistake the company needed cuts badly, and we would have cut and cut deeply. Possibly as deep as Columbus Nova did but maybe we would have cut more senior management and less game developers instead. It was our intention to try to acquire the 38 Studios assets and made them available to players in EQN. Moreover we would have probably changed the server infrastructure allowing people to run their own servers. It would not have been a very canonical EverQuest but we would have done the best to service our customers with the limited budget of an independent studio who wanted to punch above its weight.

We really did try our best. And our best was not enough.

163
Elizabeth Warren is gearing up for another big fight with the Obama administration, this time over trade.

The Massachusetts senator is stepping up her criticism of the administration’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, a centerpiece of the president’s second-term agenda, saying it could allow multinational corporations to gut U.S. regulations and win big settlements funded by U.S. taxpayers but decided by an international tribunal.

Story Continued Below

“This deal would give protections to international corporations that are not available to United States environmental and labor groups,” Warren said in an interview with POLITICO.

“Multinational corporations are increasingly realizing this is an opportunity to gut U.S. regulations they don’t like.”

Warren’s comments, following an op-ed in The Washington Post, focused on an obscure piece of the TPP agreement, the so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement process, which allows multinational corporations to sue national governments in international forums and win cash judgments that cannot be appealed.

Ordinarily such a wonky provision might fly deeply under Washington’s radar. But Warren has proved highly adept at elevating relatively obscure issues and turning them into major causes with just a few choice words.

Her opposition to President Barack Obama’s choice of a Wall Street banker for the No. 3 slot at Treasury quickly turned the generally low-profile post into a national issue and created a major backlash. The nominee, Antonio Weiss, eventually asked that his name be withdrawn and took a lower-profile, non-confirmed post at Treasury.

Opponents of Obama’s trade agenda seized on Warren’s new comments and said they raised the profile of the opposition and made defeating the deals more likely. The administration is asking Congress for “fast-track” status for the TPP, meaning that lawmakers wouldn’t be able to amend the deal, only vote up or down on what the administration negotiates.

“Having a champion for working families and the environment speaking up like this against parts of TPP sends a real signal to the rest of Congress,” said Ilana Solomon, director for The Sierra Club’s “Responsible Trade” program. “If you are on the side of helping the environment and working families and taking a stand against corporate power, you have to be against fast-track and TPP as well.” Solomon added that Warren was moving strategically to “elevate these issues at a critical moment when fast track and other trade agreements are coming to a head in Congress.”

Administration officials say they always expected Warren, who enjoys strong backing from labor and environmental groups, to be firmly opposed to the TPP agreement. And they say her comments are not really new. In addition, they reject her concerns about ISDS and note that the U.S. currently is party to 50 trade agreements that include the structure.

They say the U.S. has never lost a case when challenged by a multinational company over a U.S. law or regulation. Instead, they said ISDS is included to ensure that U.S. companies investing abroad in countries with less-developed legal systems can have some confidence that their basic rights will be protected.

Despite the private dismissals, the White House clearly felt compelled to quickly respond to Warren’s complaints, posting a piece on its blog by National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients.

“The purpose of investment provisions in our trade agreements is to provide American individuals and businesses who do business abroad with the same protections we provide to domestic and foreign investors alike in the United States,” Zients wrote. “ISDS does not undermine U.S. sovereignty, change U.S. law, nor grant any new substantive rights to multinational companies.”

Warren rejected all of those arguments in the interview with POLITICO, noting that just because the U.S. has not lost a case before an ISDS arbitration panel yet does not mean it will not lose one in the future. She also noted that the number of cases before ISDS panels has been rising rapidly. “I take no comfort in the fact that the U.S. has not lost a case yet,” she said. She added that a multinational company could sue the U.S. before an ISDS panel over U.S. wage or environmental rules they view as unfair and win a large settlement billed to the U.S. Treasury. Administration officials say the way they are drafting ISDS in the TPP agreement would make such outcomes impossible. Administration officials note that the number of U.S. ISDS cases is actually going down.

But Warren also slammed what she called a lack of transparency in the TPP drafting process, saying it was very hard for members of Congress or anyone else to know what is in the latest draft of the agreement, making assurances from the White House difficult to trust.
Administration officials note that any member can view the latest version of the agreement in a classified setting. They also note that letting drafts become public would make it much harder for U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman and others to negotiate the best possible terms for the U.S. They say that once the document is finalized, members and the public will have plenty of time to review it before any final vote.

It is unclear how much Warren’s opposition will change the political calculus on gaining fast-track authority for TPP. The White House, backed by many prominent Republicans including House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, wants to obtain fast-track relatively soon to help speed the process of finalizing TPP.
The administration argues that the dozen or so nations that could sign on to TPP, including Australia, Japan, Singapore Vietnam and others, would be less likely to do so if they think Congress could amend the agreement before a final vote. Fast-track authority would make that impossible. Instead, members of Congress would have to lobby the administration to make changes before the final vote.

The administration is hoping for a fast-track bill to emerge from the Senate Finance Committee soon and then go to the floor. They believe they could pass the measure with mostly Republican support and a handful of Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has signaled his opposition to new trade deals but also said he would not block the administration’s agenda.

Obama has lobbied Democrats hard on the trade deals, saying they will let the U.S. set high standards for labor and environmental regulations in the Pacific Rim while opening new markets to U.S. exporters. In the absence of TPP, the White House argues, China will dictate the terms of Pacific trade with far lower — or nonexistent — standards.

The administration, with few hopes for significant legislative victories with the GOP-controlled Congress — hopes TPP will be a centerpiece accomplishment of Obama’s second term. And officials remain confident in the path forward for TPA and TPP with largely Republican support and just enough Democrats to make up for any GOP defections.
Still, Warren’s ability to rally progressives could make the math of getting the deals done more challenging. In her Post op-ed and comments to POLITICO, she also argued that conservatives who generally oppose ceding any U.S. sovereignty to international bodies should also rally against the Pacific trade agreement.

“Conservatives who believe in U.S. sovereignty should be outraged that ISDS would shift power from American courts, whose authority is derived from our Constitution, to unaccountable international tribunals,” Warren wrote in the Post.

And her efforts are already succeeding to some degree.

In a blog post on Thursday, Daniel Ikenson of the libertarian Cato Institute, wrote that Warren was correct in her opposition to ISDS, though he stopped short of full opposition to the trade agreement over inclusion of the international tribunal.

“In substance, if not style, Sen. Warren’s perspective on ISDS is one that libertarians and other free market advocates should share,” Ikenson wrote. “As a practical matter, investment is a risky proposition. Foreign investment is even more so. But that doesn’t mean special institutions should be created to protect [multinational corporations] from the consequences of their business decisions.”

Proponents of the trade deals in Washington reacted with concern over Warren’s comments. But several said they did not think the Massachusetts senator would be able to rally enough opposition to kills the deals. “I don’t know if she moves people on this or not. I feel like I can make a case either way,” one Washington operative said, asking not to be identified so as not to anger Warren. “Recent history says she could be a real problem, but the lines are different on trade.”

Some pro-trade Democrats were privately dismissive of Warren’s arguments, saying the senator was stoking unrealistic fears.

“Trade opponents use ISDS to stoke protectionist fears but always conveniently leave out the fact that the U.S. is already party to 50 ISDS agreements across the globe, and has never lost a single challenge,” one Democrat said. “Throwing out ISDS based on trade opponents’ nightmare scenarios would be like tearing down the entire U.S. judicial system because someone sued Starbucks over spilling hot coffee.”

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/elizabeth-warren-target-trans-pacific-trade-deals-115561.html#ixzz3SyztMb5q

164
General Discussion / FCC votes to uphold Net Neutrality
« on: February 26, 2015, 01:57:21 PM »
The Federal Communications Commission approved the policy known as net neutrality by a 3-2 vote at its Thursday meeting, with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler saying the policy will ensure "that no one — whether government or corporate — should control free open access to the Internet."

The policy helps to decide an essential question about how the Internet works, requiring service providers to be a neutral gateway instead of handling different types of Internet traffic in different ways — and at different costs.

"Today is a red-letter day," Wheeler said later.

The dissenting votes came from Michael O'Rielly and Ajut Pai, Republicans who warned that the FCC was overstepping its authority and interfering in commerce to solve a problem that doesn't exist. They also complained that the measure's 300-plus pages weren't publicly released or openly debated.

The new policy would replace a prior version adopted in 2010 — but that was put on hold following a legal challenge by Verizon. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled last year that the FCC did not have sufficient regulatory power over broadband.

After that ruling, the FCC looked at ways to reclassify broadband to gain broader regulatory powers. It will now treat Internet service providers as carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which regulates services as public utilities.

Update at 1:22 p.m. ET: Rules Will Apply To Mobile

"The landmark open Internet protections that we adopted today," Wheeler says, should reassure consumers, businesses and investors.

Speaking at a news conference after the vote, Wheeler says the new policy will "ban blocking, ban throttling, and ban paid-prioritization fast lanes," adding that "for the first time, open Internet rules will be fully applicable to mobile."

Update at 1 p.m. ET: FCC Adopts Net Neutrality

By a 3-2 vote, the FCC votes to adopt net neutrality rules to "protect the open Internet."

Update at 12:50 p.m. ET: Wheeler Draws Applause

Chairman Tom Wheeler is speaking, meaning a vote is looming.

"The action that we take today is an irrefutable reflection of the principle that no one — whether government or corporate — should control free open access to the Internet," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, drawing applause and whoops of approval from some of those in attendance.

Update at 12:01 p.m. ET: A Dissenting Vote

Saying the FCC was seizing power in "a radical departure" from its earlier policies. Commissioner Ajut Pai, a Republican, spoke against the proposal. He accused the FCC of "turning its back on Internet freedom."

Pai said that the commissioners were backing the new measure for only one reason: "because President Obama told us to."

Seeing the new policy as an attempt to intrude on the Internet, Pai predicted higher costs for consumers and less innovation by businesses.

Update at 11:25 a.m. ET: 'Open Internet' Portion Has Begun

After dealing with another issue (of municipalities being able to control broadband service), the FCC has turned to the new proposal.

The proposal was introduced at today's meeting by Julie Veach, chief of the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau, who said it "would set forth clear, sustainable, enforceable rules to preserve and protect the open Internet as a place for innovation and free expression."

She said the order "builds on the views of some 4 million Americans" who responded to a request for comments.

Guest speakers included Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson and writer and TV producer Veena Sud, whose show The Killing survived with the help of Netflix. A short video from Tim Berners-Lee was also shown.

Our original post continues:

Precise terms and details of the policy have not been made publicly available — a situation that prompted two Republican FCC commissioners to seek to postpone today's vote. That request was denied.

Summarizing "What You Need To Know" about today's vote, Eyder wrote for the Two-Way, "Without net neutrality rules, ISPs could theoretically take money from companies like Netflix or Amazon to speed up traffic to their sites."

Thursday's vote comes after Commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Ajut Pai asked that the FCC "immediately release the 332-page Internet regulation plan publicly and allow the American people a reasonable period of not less than 30 days to carefully study it."

That request was denied; we'll post the document here when it's available.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/02/26/389259382/net-neutrality-up-for-vote-today-by-fcc-board?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150226

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General Discussion / Elizabeth Warren opposes Audit-the-Fed Bill
« on: February 13, 2015, 04:52:06 PM »
A critical question for Sen. Rand Paul’s effort to expand oversight of the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate decisions is whether he could win support from the central bank’s leftist critics in Congress.

But one of the Senate’s most prominent liberal Democrats says she’s not on board.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), a member of the Banking Committee and an outspoken critic of the Fed’s oversight of big banks, said she does not support Mr. Paul’s proposed legislation, which she said could have “dangerous” implications for monetary policy.

“I strongly support and continue to press for greater congressional oversight of the Fed’s regulatory and supervisory responsibilities, and I believe the Fed’s balance sheet should be regularly audited – which the law already requires,” Ms. Warren said in an emailed statement. “But I oppose the current version of this bill because it promotes congressional meddling in the Fed’s monetary policy decisions, which risks politicizing those decisions and may have dangerous implications for financial stability and the health of the global economy.”

Mr. Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, introduced the so-called “Audit the Fed” bill last month with 30 co-sponsors, of which only one was a Democrat – Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

Republicans control 54 of the Senate’s 100 seats, short of the 60 votes bills usually need to clear procedural hurdles. This means the bill’s prospects are dim unless it can garner Democratic support.

As a member of Senate leadership with a high public profile, Ms. Warren could have given the bill a big lift if she endorsed it. Instead, her opposition could signal that other Democrats are not likely to favor it.

A trio of Fed policy makers spoke out Monday against the bill.

On Tuesday, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker joined the chorus. “If you look at the nuts and bolts of what it really does, it facilitates high-frequency harassment of our decision-making process, our monetary policy decision-making process,” he told reporters in Raleigh, N.C. “I don’t think anyone would view that as a constructive approach to oversight of any other agency, and certainly not one as important as the Federal Reserve.”

Mr. Lacker said he doesn’t think the bill will become law: “I think cooler heads will prevail, ultimately.”

http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/02/10/sen-warren-opposes-audit-the-fed-bill/

reddit's filled with people crying about it. the tears are so delicious

 :smitten: Liz, literally right about everything

166
General Discussion / John Stewart leaves The Daily Show
« on: February 10, 2015, 10:29:08 PM »

167
The final week of January saw an annual ritual in government statistical gathering that few people know about — the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Point-in-Time survey of the homeless population, in which HUD recruits volunteers around the country to go out and try to count up all the homeless people living in America. This year, White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough even joined up, volunteering as part of the San Francisco PIT crew.

Counting the homeless is, of course, a critical element to making appropriate homelessness policy. But good policy also requires greater awareness of a discovery that research continuously confirms — it's cheaper to fix homelessness by giving homeless people homes to live in than to let the homeless live on the streets and try to deal with the subsequent problems.

The most recent report along these lines was a May Central Florida Commission on Homelessness study indicating that the region spends $31,000 a year per homeless person on "the salaries of law-enforcement officers to arrest and transport homeless individuals — largely for nonviolent offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or sleeping in parks — as well as the cost of jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalization for medical and psychiatric issues."

By contrast, getting each homeless person a house and a caseworker to supervise their needs would cost about $10,000 per person.

This particular study looked at the situations in Orange, Seminole, and Osceola Counties in Florida and of course conditions vary from place to place. But as Scott Keyes points out, there are similar studies showing large financial savings in Charlotte and Southeastern Colorado from focusing on simply housing the homeless.

The general line of thinking behind these programs is one of the happier legacies of the George W Bush administration. His homelessness czar Philip Mangano was a major proponent of a "housing first" approach to homelessness. And by and large it's worked. Between 2005 and 2012, the rate of homelessness in America declined 17 percent. Figures released this month from the National Alliance to End Homeless showed another 3.7 percent decline. That's a remarkable amount of progress to make during a period when the overall economic situation has been generally dire.



But the statistical success of anti-homelessness efforts even in the face of a bad economy underscores the point of the Florida study.

When it comes to the chronically homeless, you don't need to fix everything to improve their lives. You don't even really need new public money. What you need to do is target those resources at the core of the problem — a lack of housing — and deliver the housing, rather than spending twice as much on sporadic legal and medical interventions. And the striking thing is that despite the success of housing first initiatives, there are still lots of jurisdictions that haven't yet switched to this approach. If Central Florida and other lagging regions get on board, we could take a big bite out of the remaining homelessness problem and free up lots of resources for other public services.

http://www.vox.com/2014/5/30/5764096/its-three-times-cheaper-to-give-housing-to-the-homeless-than-to-keep

168
General Discussion / Marijuana doesn't damage Lung Exhalations
« on: January 23, 2015, 02:58:06 PM »
Evolving attitudes about marijuana among the majority of Americans, as well as decriminalization laws starting to sweep the nation, have done little to quell questions about the health effects of longtime use among medical professionals, lawmakers, and people on both sides of an ongoing debate about the plant.
Even with a dearth of research, the general consensus in past decades has been that smoking marijuana regularly poses significant health risks. A new study out of Emory University in Atlanta, however, could challenge what has become the fundamental argument for maintaining the plant’s designation as a Schedule 1 drug.

“Lifetime marijuana use up to 20 joint-years is not associated with adverse changes in spirometric (exhalation strength) measures of lung health,” the study, featured in the medical journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society, concluded.

In an effort to measure marijuana’s impact on lung function, researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to conduct a cross-sectional analysis measuring participants’ forced expiratory volume — defined as the amount of air one can forcibly exhale in one second. They found that adults between the ages of 18 and 59 who smoke one marijuana cigarette, also known as a joint, per day had the same expiratory volume as someone who didn’t partake in the plant.

The data collected suggests that it’s unlikely that prolonged marijuana use would cause respiratory diseases in a way that smoking tobacco would. While researchers at Emory University found that marijuana users who smoked joints reported coughing and having a sore throat — symptoms of bronchitis — they attributed that to the use of rolling papers, especially since those who used vaporizers reported similar problems less often.

The results of the Emory University study bear a striking similarity to previous research about marijuana’s effects on lung function. In 2012, government researchers found that people who smoked pot daily for seven years didn’t damage their lungs in a manner similar to that of tobacco smokers. A 2013 study conducted by Donald Tashkin, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles who has led long-term studies on the effects of tobacco inhalation, also confirmed that marijuana use alone didn’t cause significant abnormalities to the lungs.

“The distinction the Emory University study makes is not new,” Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, told ThinkProgress. “It’s ripe with citations from Donald Tashkin who has spent more than 40 years trying to answer the question of what happens to people when they smoke tobacco and marijuana. This new study took things further; today these products aren’t being smoked [in a way] that the product is carbonized and there’s ash. Putting marijuana in your lungs is not the healthiest decision you can make but it’s stark compared to the damage done by tobacco.”

While these findings could be used to further support decriminalization and legalization efforts, issues about other health consequences of pot use — and particularly how it affects long-term brain function in adolescents and fertility in men — remain unsettled, especially in light of research published on these matters.
That’s why lawmakers in states that have either decriminalized or legalized the sale and use of marijuana have expressed a desire to further study its medical benefits and the long-term effects of inhalation. Proponents of additional pot research say that these lingering questions have stalled efforts to shape public policy that reflects empirical data rather than lawmakers’ biases.

This move for more research is out playing in Colorado, a state where the sale of marijuana has been legal for more than two years. While a panel of medical professionals in the state recently applauded state lawmakers for approving an $8 million grant for medical marijuana research, they said that the dollar amount doesn’t suffice in filling conspicuous information gaps.

The panel pointed out that scientists know little about pot use among young adults, especially those between the ages of 18 and 25. Questions about the degree to which Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — marijuana’s active ingredient — would impair skiers have also surfaced. During its meeting earlier this month, the panel, which included doctors, toxicologists, and an addiction specialist agreed that physicians needed more information about pot’s effects on pregnant women.

That consensus hasn’t stopped some lawmakers from acting punitively against marijuana users, particularly those with child. Officials in Colorado introduced a bill requiring pot shops to post warnings about marijuana use by pregnant women. The legislation, if enacted, would also prohibit doctors from recommending medical marijuana to expectant mothers. With little information available about how marijuana affects the fetus, Republicans trying to pass the bill in a majority-Democratic legislature face a tough road ahead of them, further reaffirming the panel’s concerns about the lack of scholarship on the issue of marijuana.

Efforts to learn more about marijuana’s health effects, however, may be thwarted by the current federal restrictions on cultivation and the types of research that scientists can conduct. Those who want the government’s approval to study marijuana can only do so only to determine the amount of bodily harm its causes.
Once they jump that hurdle, scientists have to secure approval from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to obtain and transport large quantities of the plant from the government’s lone research repository at the University of Mississippi, a process that can add months and years to their research timeline.

Even when researchers finally reach the light at the end of the tunnel, they may find out that the federal government doesn’t have the strains of marijuana pertinent to their research. While lowering pot’s substance classification could lift barriers to research, the DEA has stubbornly maintained its position that the plant poses a significant danger to the public and has no accepted medical use.

“If we’re serious public policy people, we would let the scientists figure this out,” St. Pierre told ThinkProgress. “Does one set of vegetative matter produce a certain range of carcinogens? If so, to what degree and amount? How do people consume it? This entire discussion should be based on science. But the laughable thing is that the government is against this type of research. All we have are anecdotes but we need science that meets the standards of a proper peer review.”

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2015/01/22/3614459/new-pot-research/

169
General Discussion / How far is this from you guys, Warren & CEQ?
« on: January 19, 2015, 10:56:13 AM »
Whittier, Alaska, is a sleepy town on the west side of Prince William Sound, tucked between picturesque mountains. But if you're picturing a small huddle of houses, think again.

Instead, on the edge of town, there stands a 14-story building called Begich Towers — a former Army barracks, resembling an aging hotel, where most of the town's 200 residents live.

Isolated By Distance And Winter Weather

Writer Erin Sheehy and photographer Reed Young visited Whittier for a report, "Town Hall," in The California Sunday Magazine.

When they first stepped inside Begich Towers, Sheehy says it felt like the halls of her high school.



"There were bulletin boards along the hallway entrance," she says. "It's concrete blocks that look like cinder block and they were all painted pale yellow."

The post office is near the entrance and the police station is right down the hall.

"It did remind me of, you know, my principal's office," Sheehy says.

Finding your way to the remote town isn't easy. You can get to the town by sea or take a long one-lane tunnel through the mountains, which at any given time only runs one way.

"It's still a fairly inaccessible town," Young says. "Plus, at night, they close the tunnel completely."

Then there's the weather: The 60-mile-per-hour winter winds are brutal. That's why residents inside Begich Towers have everything they need under one roof.

"There's a laundromat, a little market," Sheehy says.

"And there's a convenience store," Reed says. "There is a health clinic." It's not a hospital, but they can handle minor ailments.

There's even a church in the basement.


'They Want That Alaska Swag'

One Whittier resident, June Miller, owns a bed and breakfast on the building's top two floors.

"She prides herself on having the fanciest and prettiest, best interior-designed condos for rent in the whole town," Young says.



"She outfitted all of the bed and breakfast [room]s with binoculars ... most people in town, particularly on the harbor side of the building seem to have binoculars," Sheehy says.

"A lot of people keep them there to watch whales breaching and mountain goats grazing and things like that," Young says. "But June always told us that these are basically for finding out if your husband's at the bar."

Downstairs at the Kozy Korner grocery store, employee Gary Carr sits on a computer.

"The store isn't so busy all the time," Young says. "So he spends a lot of time on that computer. And I remember Gary saying that one of his obsessions was keeping up with Top 40 radio."



Sheehy says residents like Gary Carr were fully aware of how interesting their town was to outsiders.

"When we were setting up our portrait, he said, 'Oh man, maybe I should shave my beard,' " she says. "And this guy who was in the store with him was like, 'No man, they want that Alaska swag, you know? They want that real Alaska.' "

200 Residents, 200 Stories

Erika Thompson, a teacher who lives in Begich Towers, says life is pretty normal in Whittier.

"For me it's just home," she says. "For the most part, you know everybody. It's a community under one roof, we have everything we need."

Thompson teaches at the school directly behind the tower, connected by an underground tunnel.



She's lived there for five years now. She says everyone has a story of how they ended up in Whittier.

"Some people love it because it can be really social," she says. "And some people love it because it can be reclusive."

After Young and Sheehy's two-week reporting trip, they say they have a whole new perspective on their own hometowns.

"The views were just unreal. You have this bay, and then these giant mountains. It's hard to imagine that people get to wake up to that every day," Young says. "It was incredible."

"Coming back to New York, I see the ways that all of us compromise things," Sheehy says. "And for a lot of people in Whittier, it makes more sense to be there than somewhere down here."

http://www.npr.org/2015/01/18/378162264/welcome-to-whittier-alaska-a-community-under-one-roof?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150118

170
General Discussion / UN urges world to reduce meat-dairy consumption
« on: January 12, 2015, 11:07:34 AM »
A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.

As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

It says: "Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."

Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: "Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels."

The recommendation follows advice last year that a vegetarian diet was better for the planet from Lord Nicholas Stern, former adviser to the Labour government on the economics of climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has also urged people to observe one meat-free day a week to curb carbon emissions.

The panel of experts ranked products, resources, economic activities and transport according to their environmental impacts. Agriculture was on a par with fossil fuel consumption because both rise rapidly with increased economic growth, they said.

Ernst von Weizsaecker, an environmental scientist who co-chaired the panel, said: "Rising affluence is triggering a shift in diets towards meat and dairy products - livestock now consumes much of the world's crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides."

Both energy and agriculture need to be "decoupled" from economic growth because environmental impacts rise roughly 80% with a doubling of income, the report found.

Achim Steiner, the UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UNEP, said: "Decoupling growth from environmental degradation is the number one challenge facing governments in a world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes, rising consumption demands and the persistent challenge of poverty alleviation."

The panel, which drew on numerous studies including the Millennium ecosystem assessment, cites the following pressures on the environment as priorities for governments around the world: climate change, habitat change, wasteful use of nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilisers, over-exploitation of fisheries, forests and other resources, invasive species, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, lead exposure, urban air pollution and occupational exposure to particulate matter.

Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, says the report, which has been launched to coincide with UN World Environment day on Saturday.

Last year the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said that food production would have to increase globally by 70% by 2050 to feed the world's surging population. The panel says that efficiency gains in agriculture will be overwhelmed by the expected population growth.

Prof Hertwich, who is also the director of the industrial ecology programme at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said that developing countries – where much of this population growth will take place – must not follow the western world's pattern of increasing consumption: "Developing countries should not follow our model. But it's up to us to develop the technologies in, say, renewable energy or irrigation methods."

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jun/02/un-report-meat-free-diet

171
Across the board, the more CEOs get paid, the worse their companies do over the next three years, according to extensive new research. This is true whether they’re CEOs at the highest end of the pay spectrum or the lowest. “The more CEOs are paid, the worse the firm does over the next three years, as far as stock performance and even accounting performance,” says one of the authors of the study, Michael Cooper of the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business.

The conventional wisdom among executive pay consultants, boards of directors and investors is that CEOs make the best decisions for their companies when they have the most skin in the game. That’s why big chunks of the compensation packages for the highest-paid CEOs come in the form of stock and stock options. Case in point: The world’s top-earning CEO, Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, took in $77 million worth of stock-based compensation last year, according to The New York Times, after refusing his performance bonus and accepting only $1 in salary (he made a stunning total of $96 million in 2012). But does all that stock motivate Ellison to make the best calls for his company?

The empirical evidence before fell on both sides of that question, but those studies used small sample sizes. Now Cooper and two professors, one at Purdue and the other at the University of Cambridge, have studied a large data set of the 1,500 companies with the biggest market caps, supplied by a firm called Execucomp. They also looked at pay and company performance in three-year periods over a relatively long time span, from 1994-2013, and compared what are known as firms’ “abnormal” performance, meaning a company’s revenues and profits as compared with like companies in their fields. They were startled to find that the more CEOs got paid, the worse their companies did.

Another counter-intuitive conclusion: The negative effect was most pronounced in the 150 firms with the highest-paid CEOs. The finding is especially surprising given the widespread notion that it’s worth it to pay a premium to superstar CEOs like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase (who earned $20 million in 2013) or Lloyd Blankfein ($28 million) of Goldman Sachs. (The study doesn’t reveal individual results for them.) Though Cooper concedes that there could be exceptions at specific companies (the study didn’t measure individual firms), the study shows that as a group, the companies run by the CEOS who were paid at the top 10% of the scale, had the worst performance. How much worse? The firms returned 10% less to their shareholders than did their industry peers. The study also clearly shows that at the high end, the more CEOs were paid, the worse their companies did; it looked at the very top, the 5% of CEOs who were the highest paid, and found that their companies did 15% worse, on average, than their peers.

How could this be? In a word, overconfidence. CEOs who get paid huge amounts tend to think less critically about their decisions. “They ignore dis-confirming information and just think that they’re right,” says Cooper. That tends to result in over-investing—investing too much and investing in bad projects that don’t yield positive returns for investors.” The researchers found that 13% of the 150 CEOs at the bottom of the list had done mergers over the past year and the average return from the mergers was negative .51%. Among the top-paid CEOs, 19% did mergers and those deals resulted in a negative performance of 1.38% over the following three years. “The returns are almost three times lower for the high-paying firms than the low-paying firms,” says Cooper. “This wasteful spending destroys shareholder value.”

The paper also found that the longer CEOs were at the helm, the more pronounced was their firms’ poor performance. Cooper says this is because those CEOs are able to appoint more allies to their boards, and those board members are likely to go along with the bosses’ bad decisions. “For the high-pay CEOs, with high overconfidence and high tenure, the effects are just crazy,” he says. They return 22% worse in shareholder value over three years as compared to their peers.

Yet another surprising finding: The high-paid CEOs did poorly for themselves when it came to cashing in their options. Among the bottom-paying firms, 33% of the CEOs held onto their options when they could have cashed them in for a  profit, which the paper calls “unexercised in-the-money options,” while more than twice as many high-paid CEOs, 88%, held onto their options when they could have made money selling.

What can be done about all those negative numbers? The paper doesn’t venture to say but Cooper notes that some finance experts have suggested so-called claw-back provisions. In a CEO pay contract, there would be an item that says, if the firm does poorly compared to its peers, the CEO loses a share of his compensation. “That proposal hasn’t gone over real well,” says Cooper. “There is another school of thought, that CEOs are just too highly paid, period,” he adds. “The U.S. is pretty egregious as far as the ratio between median pay and what the CEO makes.”

Though four years ago the Dodd-Frank law instituted a requirement that firms divulge the ratio between CEOs and median pay, the SEC has yet to issue a final rule ordering it, and companies have been less than forthcoming. But Bloomberg compiled data last year showing that the average multiple of CEO compensation to that of rank-and-file workers was 204, up 20% since 2009. At General Electric, with its star CEO Jeffrey Immelt ($28.2 million in 2013), the ratio was 491, according to Bloomberg.

The Occupy movement, labor unions and some members of Congress have pushed companies to divulge more information about pay ratios, and complained about excess CEO pay, while boards have pushed so-called say-on-pay provisions that would allow them to vote on executive compensation packages. Now those groups have some new empirical evidence to support their positions.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/06/16/the-highest-paid-ceos-are-the-worst-performers-new-study-says/

172
Japan's top research institute on Friday hammered the final nail in the coffin of what was once billed as a ground-breaking stem cell study, dismissing it as flawed and saying the work could have been fabricated.

The revelations come a week after a young researcher at the centre of the scandal, which has rocked the country's scientific establishment, said she would resign after failing to reproduce the successful conversion of an adult cell into a stem cell-like state, known as "STAP" cells.

The failure marked a stunning fall from grace for 31-year-old Haruko Obokata, whose co-researcher committed suicide amid the embarrassing scandal that prompted respected science journal Nature to retract an article detailing the research.

On Friday the government-backed Riken institute, which sponsored the study, said embryonic stem cells had been added in the process of the research, hammering Obokata's contention that she had found an easier way to generate new stem cells in the lab.

"But we can't conclude whether the mixing was done on purpose or by mistake nor can we conclude who did it," probe team chief Isao Katsura, head of the National Institute of Genetics, told a news briefing in Tokyo.

In January, Riken trumpeted Obokata's simple method to re-programme adult cells to work like stem cells.

The study was top news in Japan, where the photogenic Obokata, a Harvard-trained scientist, became a phenomenon.

Yoshiki Sasai, supervisor of Haruko Obokata, a scientist at Riken institute, answers questions during a press conference in Tokyo, on April 16, 2014

But media attention soon grew into scepticism as doubts emerged about Obokata's papers on Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency (STAP).

Mistakes were discovered in some data published in two papers, photograph captions were found to be misleading, and the work itself could not be repeated by other scientists.

On Friday the head of the probe team, which was made up of scientists outside the institute and lawyers, said the committee interviewed Obokata three times.
"During the last of our interviews we told her that we had enough evidence to show the mixing-in (of embryonic stem cells)," Katsura said.

"Then, before us asking anything, Ms.Obokata said 'I've never mixed them.'"
Embryonic stem cells are prototype "mother" cells found in early-stage embryos, with the potential to become any kind of tissue in the body. But critics argue that an embryo is a human life, pointing to ethical problems.

Another way of generating stem cells from adult skin cells, called induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS), are cumbersome compared with the method which Obokata claimed to have discovered, scientists have said.

Obokata, who earlier said she created STAP cells some 200 times, since July has been trying in tandem with independent teams to reproduce her own results.
She claimed there was a secret knack for creating STAP cells, but has refused to publicise it, asserting it is a subject of her future papers.

As the scandal deepened, Obokata's mentor and co-author, stem cell scientist Yoshiki Sasai, hanged himself, further shaking Japan's scientific establishment.
Riken has pledged to restructure its Center for Developmental Biology where the scandal took place.

http://phys.org/news/2014-12-japan-lab-dismisses-ground-breaking-stem.html

173
General Discussion / Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy
« on: December 27, 2014, 04:08:26 PM »
A new study from Princeton spells bad news for American democracy—namely, that it no longer exists.

Asking "[w]ho really rules?" researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

TPM Interview: Scholar Behind Viral 'Oligarchy' Study Tells You What It Means

"The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy," they write, "while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."

As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first.

The researches note that this is not a new development caused by, say, recent Supreme Court decisions allowing more money in politics, such as Citizens United or this month's ruling on McCutcheon v. FEC. As the data stretching back to the 1980s suggests, this has been a long term trend, and is therefore harder for most people to perceive, let alone reverse.

"Ordinary citizens," they write, "might often be observed to 'win' (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail."

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy

174
After a weekend full of heated debate, The Legend of Korra co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko took to their personal blogs to clear up the ending of their animated series. They waited a little before commenting, they say, to make sure everyone had a chance to experience the finale for themselves. I’ll do the same here. What follows, obviously, is a discussion of the ending of The Legend of Korra. If you haven’t watched it and want to remain unspoiled, please proceed with caution.

When the show’s hero, Korra, and her companion Asami walked into the sunset (a.k.a. the spirit portal) hand in hand, gazing fondly at each other was that love or merely friendship? It’s love, people. Bryan and Mike are here to tell you it’s love. From DiMartino’s post:

Our intention with the last scene was to make it as clear as possible that yes, Korra and Asami have romantic feelings for each other. The moment where they enter the spirit portal symbolizes their evolution from being friends to being a couple. Many news outlets, bloggers, and fans picked up on this and didn’t find it ambiguous. For the most part, it seems like the point of the scene was understood and additional commentary wasn’t really needed from Bryan or me. But in case people were still questioning what happened in the last scene, I wanted to make a clear verbal statement to complement the show’s visual one. I get that not everyone will be happy with the way that the show ended. Rarely does a series finale of any show satisfy that show’s fans, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the positive articles and posts I’ve seen about Korra’s finale.

As for why some people didn’t see the romance for themselves, I’ll let Konietzko describe why they chose to depict the scene the way they did and not, as some had wished, with a more explicit embrace. He writes:

Just because two characters of the same sex appear in the same story, it should not preclude the possibility of a romance between them. No, not everyone is queer, but the other side of that coin is that not everyone is straight. The more Korra and Asami’s relationship progressed, the more the idea of a romance between them organically blossomed for us. However, we still operated under this notion, another “unwritten rule,” that we would not be allowed to depict that in our show. So we alluded to it throughout the second half of the series, working in the idea that their trajectory could be heading towards a romance.

But as we got close to finishing the finale, the thought struck me: How do I know we can’t openly depict that? No one ever explicitly said so. It was just another assumption based on a paradigm that marginalizes non-heterosexual people. If we want to see that paradigm evolve, we need to take a stand against it. And I didn’t want to look back in 20 years and think, “Man, we could have fought harder for that.” Mike and I talked it over and decided it was important to be unambiguous about the intended relationship.

We approached the network and while they were supportive there was a limit to how far we could go with it, as just about every article I read accurately deduced. It was originally written in the script over a year ago that Korra and Asami held hands as they walked into the spirit portal. We went back and forth on it in the storyboards, but later in the retake process I staged a revision where they turned towards each other, clasping both hands in a reverential manner, in a direct reference to Varrick and Zhu Li’s nuptial pose from a few minutes prior. We asked Jeremy Zuckerman to make the music tender and romantic, and he fulfilled the assignment with a sublime score. I think the entire last two-minute sequence with Korra and Asami turned out beautiful, and again, it is a resolution of which I am very proud. I love how their relationship arc took its time, through kindness and caring. If it seems out of the blue to you, I think a second viewing of the last two seasons would show that perhaps you were looking at it only through a hetero lens.

Sorry for the lengthy excerpts, but both posts are so good it’s almost impossible to decide what not to include. I recommend you read the full statements from both Bryan and Mike for yourselves.

Hopefully these statements, as elegant, emotional, and poetic as anything Mike and Bryan have produced, put to rest any lingering doubts or concerns. I’m particularly gratified to see Bryan and Mike challenging the heteronormative (and sometimes downright homophobic) assumptions some used to incorrectly interpret the finale. If it had been Mako and Korra or Varrick and Zhu Li or Opal and Bolin gazing lovingly at each other in that portal, the debate wouldn’t have cropped up at all. It’s worthwhile considering why that is and it’s stunning that a Nickelodeon cartoon, of all things, is the show to make us confront those assumptions. As to why they did it? Well, here’s Bryan again:

We did it for all our queer friends, family, and colleagues. It is long over due that our media (including children’s media) stops treating non-heterosexual people as nonexistent, or as something merely to be mocked. I’m only sorry it took us so long to have this kind of representation in one of our stories.

So let’s continue to celebrate both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra for doing so much to challenge expectations and bravely explore content outside the scope of children’s television. In the parlance of the shipping world, Korrasami is canon. And to bend that word slightly, that cannon is firing in celebration of a brave new world. Thanks to Bryan, thanks to Mike, and thanks to the entire Team Avatar.

http://www.vanityfair.com/vf-hollywood/2014/12/legend-of-korra-creators-confirm-korrasami-is-canon

*More likely bisexual?

175
A Fox affiliate in Baltimore aired a segment on Sunday showing footage from a "Justice For All" demonstration in Washington, D.C. in which it edited a chant to sound like protestors were shouting "kill a cop."

"At this rally in Washington, D.C. protestors chanted, 'we won't stop, we can't stop, so kill a cop,'" the WBFF broadcast said.

But the full footage, flagged by Gawker on Monday via C-SPAN, revealed that the chant was "we won't stop, we can't stop, 'til killer cops are in cell blocks."

The protest was attended by Rev. Al Sharpton. YouTube videos of the misinterpreted chant contain labels such as "Sharpton's 'Go Kill A Cop' March."

TPM reached out to WBFF's news director for comment on Monday, but received no response.

In a Facebook post published Monday afternoon, the station addressed the discrepancies between its report and the raw video, and said it would invite one of the protestors on air Monday evening to "discuss the video and recent violence in New York City."

Last night on Fox45 News at Ten we aired a story regarding the increased risk in being a police officer in light of recent grand jury rulings and the shooting deaths of two police officers in New York City. We aired part of a protest covered by CSPAN that appeared to have protesters chanting “kill a cop”. We spoke to the person in the video today and she told us that is not what she was chanting. Indeed, Tawanda Jones, says she was chanting, “We won’t stop ‘til killer cops are in cell blocks”. We invited Tawanda to appear on Fox45 News at 5:00 and Fox45 News at Ten tonight for an interview so we can discuss the video and the recent violence in New York City. She has kindly accepted and we will bring you that tonight.

Here is the original raw footage, via C-SPAN:



And here is an excerpt from the WBFF report:



http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/fox-wbff-edit-protest-kill-a-cop

176
An armed man walked up to two New York Police Department officers sitting inside a patrol car and opened fire Saturday afternoon, striking them both before running into a nearby subway station and committing suicide, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said.

The shooting took place in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Both officers were shot in the head and rushed to a hospital, where they later died.

At a news conference Saturday night, Bratton identified the officers as Wenjian Liu, a seven-year veteran of the NYPD, and Raphael Ramos, who joined the force two years ago.



"They were, quite simply, assassinated -- targeted for their uniform," Bratton said. "They were ambushed and murdered."

"Officer Ramos and Officer Liu never had the opportunity to draw their weapons," Bratton said. "They may never have had the chance to see their murderer."

The gunman, identified as 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, shot himself inside the subway station, Bratton said. A semi-automatic handgun was recovered at the scene. His motives aren't yet clear.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the killing of the officers in the nation's largest department strikes at the heart of the city.   "Our city is in mourning. Our hearts are heavy," said de Blasio, who spoke softly with moist eyes. "It is an attack on all of us."

In statement, President Obama said, "I unconditionally condemn today's murder of two police officers in New York City. Two brave men won't be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification. The officers who serve and protect our communities risk their own safety for ours every single day - and they deserve our respect and gratitude every single day."

Bratton and de Blasio met with the officers' families Saturday evening. Both men leave behind wives -- Wu was just married two months ago -- and Ramos also had a 13-year old son who "couldn't comprehend what had happened to his father," the mayor said.

Scores of officers in uniform lined up three rows deep outside the hospital to honor the fallen police officers as their bodies were taken away amid silence. New York firefighters formed lines on either side of the road as ambulances carried the officers' bodies away.

Bratton said Brinsley had shot and seriously wounded his ex-girlfriend Saturday morning in Baltimore and made posts from her Instagram account that were "very anti-police."

Authorities didn't get into the specifics of the contents of the posts, but a police source told CBS News that Brinsley posted a photo of a handgun on Instagram a few hours before the shooting. CBS News could not independently verify that the message came from the suspect.

"I'm Putting Wings On Pigs Today," the post said. "They Take 1 Of Ours. Let's Take 2 Of Theirs. #ShootThePolice #RIPErivGardner (sic) #RIPMikeBrown This May Be My Final Post. I'm Putting Pigs In A Blanket"


De Blasio urged the public to contact authorities any time they saw threats online or heard them in person.

Baltimore County Police learned that Brinsley had a connection to Brooklyn and had faxed a warning flier to the NYPD, but it was not received until around the same time as the 2:47 p.m. shooting, Bratton said.

A large contingent of police officers and emergency service unit officers responded to the area, near the intersection of of Myrtle Avenue and Tompkins Avenue, with helmets, machine guns and bulletproof vests.

A block from the shooting site, a line of about eight police officers stood with a German shepherd blocking the taped-off street. Streets were blocked even to pedestrians for blocks around.

Derrick Thompson, who lives nearby, said the shooting happened across from the Tompkins Houses public housing development.

"I was watching TV, and then I heard the helicopters," Thompson said. "I walked out, and all of a sudden -- this."

"I heard the shots from the upper end of the corner, I was coming out of the restaurant eating," a witness said. "About four or five shots, and that's what drew my attention to come down here and be nosy."

"They were actually on post here as part of an initiative and somebody came upon them and took their lives," City Councilman Robert Cornegy said at the scene.

The shooting comes at a time when police in New York and nationwide are being heavily criticized for their tactics following the chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black man who was stopped by police for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes and could be heard on an amateur video gasping "I can't breathe" as he was being arrested.

"Everybody is feeling different things, but I don't think anybody in their right mind called for the death of an officer," Cornegy said. "People are frustrated with the results of Staten Island and Eric Garner, but I don't think I know anyone in this community that would agree with taking the lives of an officer."

In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the shootings as "cowardly" and an "unspeakable act of barbarism."

Holder praised law enforcement officers as courageous men and women who routinely incur tremendous personal risks, and place their lives on the line every day to preserve public safety. He says all Americans are forever in their debt.

Saturday's killings were the seventh time since 1972 that NYPD partners were both killed on duty, Bratton said.

The last shooting death of an NYPD officer came in December 2011, when 22-year veteran Peter Figoski responded to a report of a break-in at a Brooklyn apartment. He was shot in the face and killed by one of the suspects hiding in a side room when officers arrived. The triggerman, Lamont Pride, was convicted of murder and sentenced in 2013 to 45 years to life in prison.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-york-city-police-officers-killed-in-patrol-car-shooting/

177
General Discussion / DoT breaks silence on Solar Freakin' Roadways
« on: December 23, 2014, 02:11:51 PM »
Ever since Scott and Julie Brusaw went public with their idea for building solar-powered LED roadways, they’ve faced a constant barrage of skepticism and even outright hostility.

The reaction was expected given how technically difficult it would be to execute their vision of electrifying roads and highways with reinforced solar panels. Some questioned whether the application for solar is even necessary.

But one organization -- the most important agency governing America's roads -- was willing to give them a shot at proving the concept.

In 2009, after a couple years of tinkering in their driveway, the Brusaws secured a $100,000 grant from the Department of Transportation for their company, Solar Roadways. The grant was supposed to be used for gathering information from engineering experts in a variety of fields and developing a concept paper based on the findings.

"I didn't need that much money to have a bunch of professors write a paper. So I asked [the DOT] if we could simply build a prototype," said Scott Brusaw.

In February 2010, the Brusaws built their first panels, a 12-foot by 12-foot array without solar cells, to test whether the underlying electronics would work.

That year, Solar Roadways won a $50,000 community award through GE's Ecomagination challenge, giving it another pool of money to keep experimenting.

Then, in 2011, the DOT followed up its initial support with a $750,000 grant to assist Solar Roadways in developing a second "parking lot" demonstration array with solar cells, LED lights, and a heating system built in.



An up-close image of the prototype solar roadway panels with heating elements and LEDs built in. Photo credit: Solar Roadways.

The DOT's role wasn't just to hand out money. The department also helped test the arrays to figure out if they were actually safe, functional and able to withstand punishing road conditions.

Eric Weaver, a research engineer at the Federal Highway Administration's research and technology arm, took the lead on the testing. When asked what he thought of the plan to blanket America's roads with solar panels and LED lights after years of evaluating the concept, Weaver was blunt: "I'd say it's not very realistic to cover the entire highway system with these panels."

But Weaver was also quick to qualify his statement. "If you don't reach for something, you'll never get there. Just the effort of doing something new creates byproducts," he said.

Earlier this year, Scott Brusaw, himself an electrical engineer, decided he needed more financial resources beyond government grants in order to hire full-time materials experts and civil engineers to prove the concept. So Solar Roadways started an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and created a hyped-up video to woo potential donors.

The campaign was wildly successful, bringing in $2.2 million for Solar Roadways. The reaction to the fundraise ranged from incredulity to loathing. Some were convinced it was an outright scam.

In an interview with Greentech Media, the DOT has opened up about the Solar Roadways testing process for the first time. Although the company made radical claims about the technology's potential in its Indiegogo video, Solar Roadways is not a "scam." The Brusaws continue to work on the technology with engineers from universities, and the product has gone through real-world testing with actual early-stage products to show for it.

But as DOT's Eric Weaver explained, it is very, very far from being proven as envisioned.

The biggest unknown is safety. Driving or walking on a textured glass surface is completely different than asphalt, which is designed specifically to increase traction. Weaver said that the DOT needs to go through more rounds of testing before it can weigh in.

"We can’t say that it would be safe for roadway vehicular traffic," said Weaver. "Further field-traffic evaluation is needed to determine safety and durability performance."

Solar Roadways says it has tested its wet textured glass surface at a university lab and has shown that it can stop a vehicle going 80 miles per hour within the required distance. However, getting approval from a university lab is much different from getting it from federal highway authorities.

Durability is also not fully proven, said Weaver. The DOT uses a weight deflectometer to test impact loads up to 16,000 pounds. But the department was not able to get its equipment up to Solar Roadways' testing headquarters (i.e., Scott and Julie's home) in northern Idaho. So they instead used a 3-D modeling analysis.

"We have no idea how it would hold up to wear under foot or car traffic," said Weaver.



Brusaw said he plans on taking up a new round of testing with universities or the DOT in order to get better simulations. Solar Roadways has an option to continue its relationship with the federal government for a third phase, or it could use some of the Indiegogo money to find additional methods of testing.

The third limitation, said Weaver, was materials and equipment availability. Finding large circuits to put under the glass was very difficult since every company has worked to make circuits smaller, not bigger.

"They spent a lot of time trying to get the circuitry embedded in the glass. But issues with the prototype could be overcome with larger-scale automated production," said Weaver.

Brusaw admitted to supply challenges, but said many of them had been overcome.

"It wasn't necessarily a scarcity of materials; it was suppliers promising things they couldn't deliver," he said.

In one instance, it took two extra months to get plastics for the internal support structure because the supplier didn't have access to a dye color that it had suggested to Solar Roadways in the first place. In another, the winning bidder for the circuits only told the Brusaws afterward that its equipment couldn't support such large boards.

The circuits themselves are now broken down into four sections for easier manufacturing and then assembled onsite. "Anyone can do those four sections," said Brusaw. He said that LED lights have been the easiest thing to supply thus far.

There's one other very important technical detail that hasn't been officially verified: the performance of the solar cells themselves.

Brusaw has been comparing the embedded solar cells flat on the ground to conventional rooftop panels angled toward the sun. What he found surprised him: "We were within 5 percent of theoretical values."

Those results, monitored using Enphase microinverters, have not been independently verified. All the testing has been done onsite at the Brusaws' home, so it's hard to say exactly how the solar component of the road will perform over time.

So with years of testing now done, is it possible to say whether Solar Roadways' long-term vision of paving highways and roads with solar actually makes sense?

Weaver said the DOT isn't even close to saying if it could be used for high-impact environments. But he did not dismiss the concept entirely.

"I believe the application can be used for smaller scale purposes -- potentially, pedestrian walkways and sidewalks that get lower load and have fewer safety considerations," he said. "For roads, there are so many unknowns."

Even if the DOT fully backed the technical possibility of swapping out pavement for solar panels and LEDs, the business case is still undeveloped.

"We haven't done the cost analysis just yet," admitted Brusaw, directly contradicting the claim in the company's promotional video that the panels "pay for themselves" by producing their own electricity.

He did say that Solar Roadways would not permit, install or service the paneling. The company would simply be a manufacturer and let service providers or governments figure out how to finance and build projects. Forget the current technical limitations; navigating the complicated network of private, state and federal rules for transportation planning would also be a major headache.

Brusaw has a couple short-term applications he's working on to get beyond the prototype phase.

The first is a project in downtown Sandpoint, Idaho, near where the inventors reside. The goal is to develop five pilot projects on non-critical applications such as downtown sidewalks, a train station and part of an airport tarmac. All the year-round data about performance will be streamed to the public for monitoring. The second application could be on tribal lands, which have their own rules governing roads. Brusaw envisions installing a parking-lot scale project at a casino, or outfitting a small residential road on a reservation.

At this point, the only solar "roadway" is a 12-foot by 36-foot grouping of panels in a barn in Idaho that is being driven over by tractors on a regular basis. It is not anywhere close to being suitable for real driving applications -- not now, and perhaps not ever.

Brusaw said the next step will be to hire more engineers full time with the new crowdsourced funds, supplanting the part-time graduate students that have been helping him and Julie. "I need some more people under my roof. I want to put them in a room and figure out how to make it work."

But Eric Weaver, who witnessed firsthand the limitations of the technology over years of testing, can't bring himself to side with the hardcore skeptics. He's open to the possibility that something will come of it.

"In terms of the long-term vision, I don’t consider it to be realistic. But I enjoy the vision and appreciate it, and will try to support them to see what other benefits may present themselves," said Weaver.

In the meantime, a lot of eager armchair investors who donated to the company will have a long time to wait before knowing if anything will ever come of their investment.

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Department-of-Transportation-Official-Discusses-Solar-Roadways

also, still no update on the Brusaws' "By the Numbers" page

178
On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it had sold its remaining shares of Ally Financial, the former financing subsidiary of General Motors, for $1.3 billion, effectively ending the auto and bank bailouts it began under President George W. Bush in 2008.

The government also announced that the Troubled Asset Relief Program for banks and the Detroit bailouts yielded $15.35 billion in profit. The investment in what is now called Ally Financial yielded $2.4 billion in profit alone.


Through those programs and related efforts, $426.35 billion in government money was injected into the financial and auto sectors during the turbulence of the financial crisis. Interest payments and stock sales since then have brought in $441.7 billion. The auto rescue itself, however, has not turned a profit, losing $9.5 billion mostly related to General Motors paying back just $39 billion of the $49.5 billion it received.

The government still has less than $1 billion invested in 35 small community banks. It no longer owns any part of the automotive industry.

The bailouts had other impacts besides bringing returns to government coffers. While the auto bailout may not have brought in a profit, a report from the end of last year found that it saved about 2.6 million jobs in 2009 and 1.5 million jobs in 2010. By doing so, it also boosted personal income by more than $284 billion in those years.

Critiques of the bailouts came from both the right and left, and on the right they helped spark the Tea Party movement. Others charged that the government did more to help the financial companies that brought about the crash in the first place than it did struggling homeowners caught up in the foreclosure crisis. The programs aimed at helping underwater borrowers stay in their homes that were included in the bailouts have generally paid out just fractions of what they were given and failed to reach as many homeowners as they said they would. Meanwhile, the National Mortgage Settlement with banks over abusive foreclosure tactics has failed to bring meaningful relief to borrowers or stop those practices.

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/12/22/3606118/bailouts-end-profit/

179
General Discussion / Obama says he still intends to close Gitmo
« on: December 22, 2014, 01:13:30 PM »
On his second day in office in 2009, President Barack Obama ordered that the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be closed within a year.

But it remains open nearly six years later, largely because of a difficulties figuring out what to do with the detainees who remain there.

On CNN’s State of the Union Dec. 21, 2014, host Candy Crowley asked Obama if the detention facility will be closed by the end of 2015.

"I’m going to be doing everything I can to close it," Obama said. "It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held. It is contrary to our values, and it is wildly expensive. We’re spending millions for each individual there."


We wondered: Are American taxpayers spending millions of dollars per year for every detainee held in Cuba?

In 2002, the United States established a detention camp on the 45-acre naval base on Cuba’s south east coast to hold suspects in the war on terror. More than 750 people have been detained in total over the past 13 years. About 2,100 people work there. So how much does it cost?

For fiscal year 2014, the total cost of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is an estimated $443 million, according to a Department of Defense report drafted for the Senate Armed Services Committee. This includes money spent on maintenance, personnel, contracted work, military commissions and Department of Defense-funded studies.

Spread out among 132 people currently detained, that’s about $3.6 million per detainee.

In 2013, with a similar-size budget but more detainees, the cost worked out to about $2.7 million per detainee.

For comparison, inmates at high-security federal prisons cost about $34,000 per year on average, as of 2012.

Part of the reason holding detainees at Guantanamo is so much more expensive than other prisons might be transportation costs, said Madeline Morris, a law professor and director of Duke University’s Guantanamo Defense Clinic. Most people, food and supplies have to be brought in by air, which is an enormous cost.

The number of detainees is going down, but the facility may face extra costs in the future. In August 2014, the New York Times reported that an estimated $200 million in maintenance will be necessary in coming years to keep the detention facility functioning. The infrastructure was originally built to be temporary.

One aspect of Guantanamo that doesn’t cost very much is the land. In 1903, then-President Theodore Roosevelt secured the area from Cuba for $2,000 a year, paid in gold -- worth about $4,085 today. The American government continues to pay the rent each year, but the Cuban government reportedly refuses to cash the checks.

Our ruling

Obama said, "We’re spending millions for each individual" detained at Guantanamo.

The Pentagon has reported that Guantanamo’s cost comes down to about $3 million per detainee per year -- about 100 times the average annual cost of a federal prisoner. We rate Obama’s claim True.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/dec/21/barack-obama/obama-were-spending-millions-each-individual-held-/

180
Spamalot / Spamalot Secret Santa: Steam Info / Addresses
« on: December 21, 2014, 09:06:41 PM »
Just sent out the PMs for secret santa to all the people who signed up.

Post your steam info here if you want to get yo' shit.

Also, if you want to share your physical address you can PM it to me and I can pass it on to your spamalot santa pal (unless someone has a better way of doing this).

Also bunch've Steam addresses here: http://tallonzektimes.org/bb/index.php/topic,48457.0.html

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