Xenophilia

Xenophilia

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Xeno’s Daily Strange News Awards Blog

Posted By: Xeno     Mar•08•2013

Welcome. This is the web site of Xeno, a slightly mad scientist musician. It is a mirror (minus the WordPress.com ads) of Xeno’s current blog plus original articles. Note: Items in a dotted line box are quoted excerpts. Click the link to view the original article. Password protected posts are available to the super rich for an annual fee of $50,000. Click the “Unspace” checkbox above right if you don’t want the space theme.


Taking a break from blogging.

Posted By: Xeno     Mar•26•2014

20140326-123244.jpgHi Everyone,
After years of almost daily blogging, I’ve decided to slow down a bit. Lately I’ve become exited about Open Courseware and the availability of entire training programs free on line as a supplement to paid courses and direct experience. What this means is I’m spending my free time learning in my field instead of reading and blogging strange news from around the world. I’ll still be surfing the apocalypse and posting anything dramatic, so subscribe and you won’t miss it when I tell you the aliens are here, for real. ;-) *

Xeno

Footnote: *if life was seeded on earth by comets then we are alien to this world, and thus, yes, there are aliens on earth. This explains our lack of caring for the place as we would our true home.

Tired of PayPal fees? Try Square Cash

Posted By: Xeno     Mar•23•2014

Tech tip: If you’d like to send someone money for non-business reasons via email, you might try https://square.com/cash

WordPress Plugin for Square Cash? Not impossible technically but currently not permitted due to policy:

You are not currently able to use Square to accept payments online through your own website, any third party websites, or systems.

If you have items for sale in Square Market, you can embed them on your own website. When your customers click to buy an item, they will be redirected to your Square Market page. The item shown will adjust proportionally to the size of the area and browser window. For detailed steps on sharing items, please visit: https://squareup.com/help/article/5168

Finally, Square Cash is tailored for non-business payment transactions. You are unable to use this service for commercial payments.

Please feel free to send peer to peer payments with Square Cash by email or the free Square Cash app. Learn more about Square Cash at: https://square.com/cash.

You can find more information on the terms and conditions of using Square Cash by visiting the following page: https://squareup.com/legal/cash-ua

Fair enough, but it would be cool so I hope they change the policy to be able to compete with PayPal someday.

Something on Mars… Moved

Posted By: Xeno     Mar•22•2014

20140322-235908.jpgA new gully has appeared on a sloped crater wall on Mars. The channel, which was absent from images in November 2010 but showed up in a May 2013 photo, does not appear to have been formed by water. Exactly what caused this Red Planet rivulet remains a mystery.

The winding gully seems to have poured out from an existing ribbon channel in a crater in Mars’ Terra Sirenum region. The leading hypothesis on how the gully formed is that debris flowed downslope from an alcove and eroded a new channel. Though it looks water-carved, the gully is much more likely to have been formed when carbon dioxide frost accumulated on the slope and grew heavy enough to avalanche down and drag material down with it.

Because the pair of images, taken by the orbiting HiRISE camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, were taken more than a year apart, scientists don’t know in exactly which season the new gully formed. Similar activity has been seen to occur during the Martian winter at temperatures too cold for water, which is why researchers think carbon dioxide is a likelier cause. While the formation of these gullies on Mars is well documented, scientists have yet to work out exactly how they work.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2014/03/mars-gully-not-water

It looks like the gully was ready to cave in before. How big is it? Has NASA made the connection with the spice yet? ;-)

There are so many mysteries left to uncover. For example, why this wacky WordPress updated app for the iPhone demands a “greater than” sign at the end of whatever I decide to type here.

LA Police: ALL Cars Under Criminal Investigation As Part Of License Plate Reader Surveillance

Posted By: Xeno     Mar•21•2014

Police in LA have attempted to justify an Automatic License Plate Reader surveillance program by claiming that every single car in the city is part of a criminal investigation.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently acquired documents under the Freedom Of Information Act that show the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department in LA argued that “All [license plate] data is investigatory.” The law enforcement departments also stated that the fact that the data will likely never be connected to any specific crime is insignificant.

The claims were made by police in briefs filed in response to a lawsuit brought by EFF and the ACLU seeking a week’s worth of the License Plate Reader data. The rights groups have taken issue with the surveillance program because the cameras used automatically and indiscriminately photograph all license plates, without any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

EFF states that the response from law enforcement is “completely counter to our criminal justice system.”

“We assume law enforcement will not conduct an investigation unless there are some indicia of criminal activity.” the group states. “In fact, the Fourth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution exactly to prevent law enforcement from conducting mass, suspicionless investigations under “general warrants” that targeted no specific person or place and never expired.”

This video from Vigilant Solutions, a private license plate tracking specialist company, shows how its system builds a comprehensive dossier on a person simply by capturing or inputting a license plate. Police have access to the databases, as do government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security.

The License reader program, which records the time, date and location of registered vehicles (and therefore their drivers) operates “without an officer targeting a specific vehicle and without any level of criminal suspicion.” the group urges.

“Taken to an extreme, the agencies’ arguments would allow law enforcement to conduct around-the-clock surveillance on every aspect of our lives and store those records indefinitely on the off-chance they may aid in solving a crime at some previously undetermined date in the future.” EFF also warns.

While both law enforcement agencies do admit that there are substantial privacy concerns with the surveillance program, they have done so only as a way of justifying keeping secret all the data garnered from it, EFF argues.

A hearing on the case has been scheduled for next month.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that the Department of Homeland Security revealed via a Federal Business Opportunities solicitation that it was set to activate a national license plate tracking system that will be shared with law enforcement. When privacy advocates balked at the plan, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson immediately ordered its cancellation, according to The Post.

However, as noted this week by Dan Froomkin of The Intercept, it was not the overall program that was “cancelled”, it was only the solicitation for services, pertaining to data retention by a private vendor, that was scrapped.

“…the Post had gotten it all wrong.” Froomkin writes. “DHS wasn’t planning to create a national license-plate tracking database – because several already exist, owned by different private companies, and extensively used by law enforcement agencies including DHS for years.”

“And far from going away, the databases are growing at a furious pace due to rapidly improving technology and ample federal grant money for more cameras and more computers.” Froomkin adds.

“So rather than being the tale of an averted threat, the bulk license-plate tracking saga is actually a story about yet another previously unimaginable loss of privacy in the modern information age.” the writer concludes.

The following video from 8 years ago in 2006 shows that police have been using license plate surveillance for close to a decade.

There is already ample evidence proving that the license plate readers have previously been used by cops to target innocent Americans. In one case, police used the system to track political activists by having their vehicles added to a “hotlist” following attendance at protests. It is not hard to imagine how the system could be further used to target other thought criminals, as this ACLU video highlights:

Rights groups continue to warn that Automatic License Plate Reader programs are just another form of mass surveillance that have been quietly implemented in the US and in many other countries around the world, as we sleepwalk into a Panopticon prison society.

http://www.infowars.com/la-police-all-cars-under-criminal-investigation-as-part-of-license-plate-reader-surveillance/

Edward Snowden: Here’s how we take back the Internet (video | TED talk)

Posted By: Xeno     Mar•19•2014

Appearing by telepresence robot, Edward Snowden speaks at TED2014 about surveillance and Internet freedom. The right to data privacy, he suggests, is not a partisan issue, but requires a fundamental rethink of the role of the internet in our lives — and the laws that protect it. “Your rights matter,” he says, “because you never know when you’re going to need them.” Chris Anderson interviews, with special guest Tim Berners-Lee. >
> http://www.ted.com/talks/edward_snowden_here_s_how_we_take_back_the_internet

Time for change. I find it interesting that Snowden can appear virtually at this event without being traced to his location by the NSA.

NASA Study: Civilization collapse difficult to avoid on current course

Posted By: Xeno     Mar•17•2014

20140319-213029.jpgA new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent.”

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with “Elites” based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

“… accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

“Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from “increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput,” despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.” In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

“…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that “with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites.”

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases).”

Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

“While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

“Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.”

The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business – and consumers – to recognise that ‘business as usual’ cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.

… a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.

Continuity of Government, if the elites want it, is not going to be had by digging underground cities, stockpiling food, gas and water and waiting out the storm. Instead, get everyone to understand that we all fail if we don’t pull together. Teamwork or die.

Physics lecture: Universe could wink out of existence

Posted By: Xeno     Mar•16•2014

During a 7 mile hike around Mt. Diablo today, I was asked why, if atoms are 99.9% empty space, things seem solid.

The best answer I could give is that there are two classes of all particles, bosons which can move through each other and fermions which can’t, due to the Pauli Exclusion Principle.

Fermions are the constituents of matter: electrons, protons, neutrons; while bosons are particles that transmit interactions (force carriers), or the constituents of radiation: Photons, the force carriers of the electromagnetic field, W and Z bosons, the force carriers that mediate the weak force and gluons the force carriers underlying the strong force.

This is not an answer, of course. It merely says that we have observed and named minute details of reality.

You might say that it would require infinite energy for two fermions to be in the same place at the same time. Why? Because that’s the nature of fermions.

Clear as mud?

Oh, and if the universe winks out, it will be at the speed of light. You probably won’t feel a thing.

Company proposes meat from celebrity tissue samples

Posted By: Xeno     Mar•16•2014

20140316-203013.jpg“It’s people! Soylent green is made out of people”, to quote from the classic 1973 science fiction film and Charlton Heston’s memorable line. …

Once more life imitates art, and a startup called BiteLabs is looking for support to create meat products from celebrity body parts, aiming to take cells from willing celebs and using them to grow protein into test-tube meat.

LATimes.com spoke with a representative of the organization: “At the moment, our primary goal is to provoke discussion and debate around topics of bioethics and celebrity culture.” …

Los Angeles Times’ “Daily Dish” reports on the newest and ’coolest’ way to devour ourselves:

[...]Here’s how it will work, according to the BiteLabs website. A sample of tissue containing myosatellite cells (the type of cells that help repair and regrow damaged muscle) will be taken from a person during a biopsy. Those cells are multiplied in a lab using a medium that acts as an artificial blood to grow muscle.

Once the cells are mature enough, they will be ground and mixed with different kinds of meat, spices, fats and oils for flavor using one of the company’s “time-honored recipes for the creation of fine cured meats.” It will then be stuffed into casings, seasoned again then dry aged and cured before packaging for distribution.

The company outlines how this type of test-tube meat would eliminate environmental and ethical concerns associated with livestock production, claiming its celebrity meat production would require less than 1% of the land used in traditional farming. The site also notes, the lab meats will not be affected by growth hormones or come into contact with any pesticides or chemicals.

And as far as the celebrity angle, BiteLabs is hoping they can use celebrities to warm people up to the idea of consuming the meat. …

http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-79519061/

Record numbers of UFO sightings in 2013

Posted By: Xeno     Mar•15•2014

UFO sightings reach near-record numbers in Canada

The number of UFO sightings reported in Canada during 2013 was 1,180. According to UFOlogy Research, this is the second highest number of sightings recorded in the past twenty five years.

The Winnipeg-based group compiles data to publish its annual Canadian UFO Survey. The 2013 survey, which was published on Monday, March 10, explains that 2013 was bested only by 2012, when approximately 2,000 UFO sightings were reported. UFOlogy Research director Chris Rutkowski suggests that 2012′s incredible spike in sightings was likely an anomaly due to the excitement surrounding 2012 and the Mayan Calendar, causing more people to report mundane lights in the sky as UFOs.

Based on the survey, more than forty percent of Canada’s 2013 UFO reports were in Ontario. And the typical sighting lasted approximately thirteen minutes. But more interestingly, based on the data, approximately fourteen percent of Canada’s 2013 UFO reports were classified as unexplained.

As the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation explains, although the Canadian government and its various federal agencies used to track and investigate UFOs, “it’s now up to civilian volunteers to report what’s going on up in the sky.”

Although Canada’s 2013 UFO reports reached a near-record high, the number pales in comparison to the number of UFO reports in the United States. According to the Mutual UFO Network, there were 6,457 U.S. UFO sighting reports filed in 2013. . X

http://www.openminds.tv/ufo-sightings-reach-near-record-numbers-canada/26492

Abandoning the people of Afghanistan?

Posted By: Xeno     Mar•13•2014

20140313-184207.jpgMarine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford’s remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee appeared intended to shape the White House’s deliberation over whether to leave behind a contingent for training and counterterrorism missions beyond 2014 or pull out entirely. …

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that al-Qaeda’s network in that country is in “survival mode,” but warned that a full American military drawdown after the end of the year would allow the terrorist group to regenerate there.
Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford’s remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee appeared intended to shape the White House’s deliberation over whether to leave behind a contingent for training and counterterrorism missions beyond 2014 or pull out entirely. The decision has been delayed by the Afghan president’s refusal to sign a security pact with Washington.
“A withdrawal, in my mind, means abandoning the people of Afghanistan, abandoning the endeavor that we’ve been here on for the last decade, and then providing al-Qaeda the space within which to begin again to plan and conduct operations against the West,” Dunford said.

http://m.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-commander-in-afghanistan-warns-that-full-withdrawal-will-allow-al-qaeda-to-regroup/2014/03/12/4f7f6288-aa20-11e3-8599-ce7295b6851c_story.html

What makes Afghanistan a place terrorists can plan to attack the USA? What have we really done there in the last ten years?