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Apples and oranges.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/07/2020 - 7:32am in

When I was growing up, a copy of the New York Times was on the breakfast table every morning. Even though this is why I feel culturally compelled to maintain my subscription, I suspect I have the same rules that most readers who think like me do: Avoid stories about the denizens of Pennsylvania diners who are sticking with Trump. Don’t click on Bret Stephens’ columns for any reason. Always check the Magazine and the Book Review.

Of course, we college professors understand that the NYT‘s  higher education coverage is often terrible, but I always end up clicking on that stuff anyway and then wish I hadn’t afterwards. I’ll assume you already saw this morning’s virus-related example. My first thought upon reading the headline was, “I’m glad that justifiably worried college professors will see that they’re not alone,” but then I saw the “faculty are the problem” framing build throughout the piece. Nevertheless, it was the final two paragraphs of that story that drove me completely over the edge:

“Nine out of 10 are worried,” he said, especially with the recent rise in cases in California. He is not scheduled to teach until spring, he said, but he expects to sit out that course for health reasons and on principle, because he does not think it is fair to promise students something they will not get.

“It’s not possible to replicate an in-class experience,” he said. “It’s a kind of bait and switch.”

If you’re trying to replicate a face-to-face experience in your online class, buddy, you’re definitely doing it wrong. And while the problem of faculty who think this way is nowhere near as big a problem as the coronavirus, at least this is a problem that we have the power to fix ourselves. 

Before I started teaching online, I got myself a series of appointments with an instructional designer. Literally, the first thing she told me was not to try to move my face-to-face class online because it wouldn’t work. I took this an opportunity to rethink everything about the way I teach. To blow my survey course up and rebuild from the foundation to take advantage of the online environment.

I understand why when the coronavirus first became a thing, everyone’s first inclination was to just start Zooming their lectures. Now that campuses across the United States appear to be ending emergency remote learning  without really fixing the coronavirus problem, if you can use the quality of your online course as a reason to stay safer than you would be otherwise, doing right by your students may just be a matter of life and death. By taking advantage of what an online setting offers you, teaching online will be a lot more like apples and oranges rather than a bait and switch.

If you want to create a good online course, don’t deliver content. Build something useful together instead. Figure out your pedagogical goals; then figure out what tools will help you achieve those goals; then build your course around those tools. Some of them might be in your learning management system. Some of them might be on the open Internet. If you don’t know where to look, there’s probably a center somewhere on your campus that would be delighted to help you find the right ones for you. 

When I first started teaching very late in the last century, I specifically remember telling students that the only Internet sources I wanted them to quote should come from the Library of Congress. That’s obviously changed. Particularly when it comes to history, there has been an absolute explosion of high quality sources available on the Internet. There is no reason that your students, no matter what your discipline, can’t contribute to that huge collective pool of knowledge.

I was too old to get a digital humanities education, so instead it was a 2013 JAH article by Michigan State’s Peter Knupfer that opened my eyes: to what’s possible. He created a class around the Civil Rights Movement in Lansing, Michigan with the public in mind:

The students’ previous work in history had been for an audience of one, their instructor, and once that client had been satisfied the students had moved on. When I asked what had happened to those previous papers and projects, in every case the students told me that the materials were either now discarded, or tucked in the recesses of a hard drive or in a professor’s file cabinet. Yet the students were extremely proud of this work, expressing a strong sense of ownership and intellectual investment in what they had done. The knowledge they had gained from the experience was still available to them, waiting another opportunity for expression, but under what conditions and how that might occur was very difficult for them to say. Some indicated that they planned to use an old paper as a writing sample for a graduate school application. No one had thought of self-publishing it, recasting it as a project for a different audience, or condensing it into a piece to submit as an op-ed, blog post, or other form of publication.

Their work product was a resource guide for a library web site.

As technology has improved since Knupfer’s class, I’ve been bringing students to local archives, teaching students the program Scalar and then publishing those projects on the open internet. As long as archives remain closed or unduly risky, I’m going to use Pressbooks to get classes to write large collectives texts. No matter what tool I use, my goal is to have everyone contribute to the mass pool of collective knowledge rather than try to shut the class off from it.

When you build something, you can turn the Internet in your online classes into a benefit from being online rather than something that draws attention from you during your lectures. While learning new computer tools may seem scary, your willingness to explore them together with your students means you’re modeling good behavior rather than depending upon what used to work for you when you were in college.

Even if you don’t end up building something, when you think outside the box, it becomes possible for any professor in any discipline to build a good online class that won’t leave your students feeling cheated in any way.

These days, your life might literally depend upon it.

Radio 4 Programme on Saturday on Apollo 13

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/07/2020 - 8:31pm in

Also according to next week’s Radio Times, this Saturday’s edition of the Radio 4 The Archive is on the Apollo 13 disaster. This was when an explosive malfunction meant the crew had to abandon their mission to the Moon and use the lunar module as a lifeboat as they made their way back to Earth. The air purification system was also damaged so they had to rig up a quick replacement for one of the damaged systems.

The blurb for the programme on page 115 reads

Kevin Fong explores the story of the aborted 1970 mission to the Moon, as told by the astronauts who flew it and the teams in mission control who saved the day after an explosion aboard the spacecraft. With archive clips of crew members Jim Lovell and Fred Haise, as well as a host of characters who worked round the clock to save Apollo 13 and Nasa from disaster. With contributions from the broadcaster James Burke, who covered the Apollo 13 mission live for the BBC.

Kevin Fong’s a doctor specialising in space medicine. He’s also appeared on several programmes himself, including one in which he, Dan Snow and a female presenter tried to retrace the steps of the prospective miners on the gold rush trail to the Yukon.

James Burke also has two-page piece about the disaster on page 110 of the Radio Times.

I think there’s been several programmes about Apollo 13 already, including the film of the same name that came out in the 1990s.

The programme’s titled Archive on 4: Apollo 13: The Rescue, and its on Radio 4 on Saturday, 4th July at 8.00 pm.

Jewish Board of Deputies Accuses Nigel Farage of Anti-Semitism

Zelo Street reported yesterday that the Board of Deputies of British Jews had taken a break from accusing the Labour party to turn their ire on another British politico. This was Nigel Farage, Fuhrer and CEO of the Brexit Party. According to the Graoniad, the Board had accused the man 2000AD’s Judge Dredd satirised as ‘Bilious Barrage’ because

“Farage’s airing of claims about plots to undermine national governments, and his references to Goldman Sachs and the financier George Soros, showed he was seeking to ‘trade in dog whistles’ … [he] was also condemned by the MPs who co-chair the all-party group against antisemitism”.

They then provide a series of examples from a recent tweet and interview with Newsweek magazine. In the tweet’s video message, the Fuhrage claimed that Britain was facing a wave of ‘cultural Marxism’. This is an idea that has its origins in Nazism, and their claim that Germany was being subverted by Jewish ‘Kulturbolschevismus’. Organisations funded by George Soros were also responsible for companies removing adverts for right-wing TV programmes. This was the trope of the ‘disloyal Jew’.

In the Newsweek article, Nige had ranted about ‘unelected globalists’ shaping the lives of the public based on recommendations from the big banks. ‘Globalists’ was a code word for ‘Jews’ or ‘Jewish bankers’. Goldman Sachs was the only bank he named, which followed another theme from the extreme right.

And Zelo Street also provided a few examples of his own to support the Board’s accusation. In another tweet, the Brexit Party’s Duce Faragissimo had praised Viktor Orban’s Hungary for standing up to the globalists, and wished we all did the same. He also talked about anti-Brexit plots backed by George Soros, including the campaign for a second referendum. Rants against the globalists featured regularly in his tweets. In one, he declared that we were all sick of threats from the globalists. This followed a statement that London was the world’s no. 1 financial centre, and Frankfurt only the 11th. We were, he also announced, heading toward a world where the democratic nation state had made a comeback against the globalists. Former US president Barack Obama, and Chancellor Merkel of Germany were ‘holding a losing party’ for the globalists. And then there was this series of comments about Goldman Sachs

“Goldman Sachs and big business lost the referendum … Congratulations to former EU Commission President [José Manuel Barroso], now over at Goldman Sachs. Global corporatism! … If Goldman Sachs are leaving London for the US, why aren’t they going to their beloved European Union? … Goldman Sachs Chairman thinks those who want border controls are ‘xenophobic’. Badly out of touch”.

The Street noted that these snippets showed the Fuhrage being promoted by the Beeb, Sky News and the Heil. By doing so, they were also promoting anti-Semitism. The Street concluded

Serious anti-Semitism always comes from the far right. Nigel Farage is living proof of that.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/nigel-farage-theres-real-anti-semitism.html

Farage’s rants and denunciations of the globalists, Goldman Sachs and George Soros are the latest forms of the anti-Semitic fears about Jewish bankers that first appeared in the Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They also have their roots in some of the conspiracy theories that emerged in the 1970s about the Bilderberg group and the Trilateral Commission. Many leading bankers, like Bernard Baruch, had backed the formation of the United Nations, Trilateral Commission and the elite Bilderberg group, which meets annually to discuss global politics. Thus the UN and the other organisations were seen as devices by which Jewish bankers sought world domination, culminating in a one-world dictatorship, the enslavement of gentiles and the extermination of the White race. Not all versions of this theory are necessarily quite so anti-Semitic. Some of them distinguish between Jewish bankers and the rest of the Jewish people, noting that some of the former, like the Rothschilds, advanced credit and loans to Nazi Germany even when the Nazis were persecuting the Jews. Other forms of the theory are more bonkers still. In one of them, the Trilateral Commission takes its name from the Trilateral ensign, the flag of the Grey aliens from Zeta Reticuli, with whom the US has made a Faustian pact. The aliens are allowed to abduct and experiment on humans in return for providing extraterrestrial technology like velcro.

I wouldn’t like to say that Farage is definitely an anti-Semite, but his rhetoric and beliefs about evil globalists comprising banks like Goldman Sachs and the Jewish financier George Soros are certainly part of a series of conspiracy theories, some of which are viciously anti-Semitic.

The Board is right to denounce Farage for spouting these theories. However, this hasn’t changed my mind about the Board as a whole. Most of its accusations of anti-Semitism, along with those of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Chief Rabbinate and their allies in the Labour Party, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel, have been directed against Labour, its former leaders Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband, and Corbyn’s followers. They have done so not out of concern about real anti-Semitism, but from a determination to defend Israel and its barbarous ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from criticism. At the same time the Board denounced the Fuhrage yesterday, it was also attacking Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, for demanding the government impose a block on the import of goods manufactured in the Occupied Territories if Israel begins its planned annexation of a third of the West Bank tomorrow.

It looks to me that the Board’s accusation of Farage for anti-Semitism is intended to soothe its left-wing critics by showing them that it doesn’t just attack the Labour Party. It really does attack other parties for anti-Semitism, really. But this doesn’t change the fact that the Board seems packed with Tories and Tory supporters. And it doesn’t change the fact that Board’s chief motivation for its attacks on the Labour Party is simply an attempt to excuse the inexcusable and defend entirely reasonable and proper criticism of Israel.

The Board is right to accuse Farage. But its accusations against the Labour Party are still wrong and politically motivated.

 

 

Trump’s Space Force Breaks International Law

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/06/2020 - 3:08am in

Remember when Trump announced a few months ago that he was setting up a space force to protect America from attack from that direction? He was immediately criticised because such a force would break the current international treaties governing the exploration and use of space. Mitchell R. Sharpe discusses these treaties in his book Satellites and Probes: The Development of Unmanned Spaceflight (London: Aldus Books 1970).

Sharpe writes

As the tempo of space exploration increases and more nations become involved through international agreements, it is obvious that problems in international law will ultimately arise. In this field, the UN took an early interest and is now the principal organization for studying and proposing space law. After manned space flight began in 1961, the General Assembly laid down some brief principles of a space code. On December 13, 1963, these were expanded; and an international treaty based upon them was signed in Washington, Moscow, and London on January 27, 1967. In brief, the treaty states that space exploration is available to all nations equally and that there will be no use of space for military purposes. Other international agreement provide that there will be no annexation of other planets by Earth powers and that astronauts are to be returned to their own nations in case they land by accident in other countries.

Pp. 30-1 (my emphasis).

The book notes that international relations in space have been strained, but nevertheless is optimistic about future cooperation between countries in the High Frontier.

The road to harmonious international cooperation in space research and exploration is not a smooth one. It has been strewn with obstacles of mutual suspicion, and distrust through conflicting political ideologies, outright chauvinism, cumbersome coordinating organizations, periodic temperature changes in the Cold War. However, the progression has been steadily forward despite these momentary checks…

As the second decade of the Space Age dawned, Man was beginning to realize the space, in its infinity, precludes all petty approaches to its exploration and eventual exploitation. International cooperation in both seemed an imperative for the ensuing decade, and the signs of a growing effort toward this were encouraging. (p. 31).

By the time of the publication of Michael Freeman’s Space Traveller’s Handbook (London: Hamlyn 1979), international relations had become much colder and the prospects for cooperation much less optimistic. The joint American-Soviet space mission of 1975, which saw astronauts from the two nations link up in orbit and exchange greetings was then four years in the past. The new Cold War that would dominate the global situation until the Gorbachev era and the fall of Communism was just beginning. The Space Traveller’s Handbook is a fictionalized treatment of rocketry and space exploration using the framework of a history book from 2061. The section on space law makes it plain that international legislation concerning space is extremely fragile and expects it to be broken. This is laid out in the section’s final two paragraphs.

International law is no law.

The most unsatisfactory aspect of the whole legal question in space is that the effectiveness of international legislation depends entirely on the good will of nations. Not all nations are signatory to all treaties, some elements of international space law are plainly at odds with the national law of some countries. and in the final analysis a nation can simply ignore the findings of the International Court of Space.

Basically, international law, on Earth as well as in space, is a conflict of law, the confrontation of two nations, each with its own set of internal laws. Legislation must be by treaty, and legal disputes tend to follow diplomatic channels in the first instance. The setting up of the International Court of Space by the ISA was an attempt to regulate disputes, but its only means of enforcing its judgements is to present its recommendations to the ISA. Essentially, the only punishment is sanction, [such as was applied to Rhodesia after UDI]. This is only effective if a sufficient number of nations agree to undertake it. Even criminal cases against individuals must in the end be referred to national courts. (p. 49).

The ISA and the International Court of Space, or at least the latter, are fictitious, and part of the book’s future history. It’s interesting, though, that the book predicted it would be set up ten years ago in 2010. I am not aware that any institution like it actually has.

Trump’s projected space force clearly is in breach of international law, and it seems to bear out Freeman’s prediction that it would eventually prove to be toothless. However, he hasn’t set it up just yet, and it remains to be seen whether it will actually become reality. If it does, I fear it will lead to a disastrous arms race in outer space, a race that may well bring us once again to the brink of nuclear armageddon as the Earth-based arms race did far too many times in the past.

For humanity’s sake, let us follow the vision of the late, great comedian Bill Hicks. Hicks used to end his show by stating that if the world spent what it does on armaments instead on peaceful projects, we could explore and colonize space and feed our world.

No one need starve, and we could go forth in peace forever.

Meanwhile, Trump’s announcement has provided yet more subject matter for the satirists. Netflix is launching a new comedy series, Space Force. Here’s the trailer from YouTube.

I think The Office mentioned in the title credits must be the American version of the show, rather than the British original made infamous by Ricky Gervaise. It stars Steve Carell and Lisa Kudrow, who older readers may remember as Phoebe in the ’90s comedy series, Friends.

 

Personal Hobby Rocket Based on NASA Mercury Capsule

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/06/2020 - 8:57pm in

A little while ago I put up a piece about a paper I had published several years ago in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS). This argued that as flying enthusiasts now attempt to recreate the experience of the great pioneering age of aviation by flying hang-gliders and microlight aircraft, so there is an opportunity for developing personal leisure rockets to take space enthusiasts on very short rocket trips in order to recreate some of the experience of real spaceflight. The rockets and the capsules don’t have to be very large – just enough to carry a single person or so to a height of a few thousand feet.

The problem I found when I was going through the equations for just such a vehicle is that the amount of fuel needed would make a rocket that was actually smaller than the capsule for the hobby ‘astronaut’. It would simply be impossible to follow the conventional rocket design in which the capsule stands atop the rocket, as it would simply overbalance. A few years ago I found a couple of videos from the Danish company, Copenhagen Suborbitals, who were also trying to develop their own, private spacecraft. They seemed to be trying to solve the problem by placing the rocket in front of the personnel capsule, like the arrangement of the escape tower on the manned NASA rockets – Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, which preceded the spaceshuttle.

I think the Mercury rocket would actually make a fitting design for such a small hobby rocket. They were the first American rockets which took men into space, after a series of unmanned, automated tests and then using chimpanzees. The capsules were small, designed for only one man, measuring 2 meters in diameter at their widest point, and about 3 meters tall, not counting the escape tower. The rocket that was initially used for them was the Redstone, and it was a Mercury-Redstone combination that took John Glenn in Friendship 7 on his epoch flight into space. This was a suborbital flight from one side of America to the other.

Mercury Restone rocket from The Space Traveller’s Handbook, Michael Freeman (London: Hamlyn 1979) 54.

Obviously, you don’t want a rocket as powerful as a Redstone, as even a suborbital, transcontinental trip would be too far. You’d only need an arrangement like the Mercury capsule and its escape tower. The escape towers on all the NASA manned rockets supported small, solid fuel rocket motors. If there was a problem with launch rocket, they were designed to carry the capsule to safety. Thus they were developed to take crewed capsules on the kind of very short trips of the kind that a crewed hobby rocket may also make.

Mercury capsule from the above book, page 56.

As a hobby rocket would not actually travel beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, it would not need retro-rockets and heat shield. It would still obviously need to carry a parachute, which would also still need to be above the rest of the capsule for the safety and stability of the hobby astronaut. I’m thinking of short trips that go up and straight down, with the capsule landing on its base. From the above illustrations it looks like the escape tower rocket minus its aerodynamic spike was 172 cm long and 43 cm wide. Looked at closely, it also seems that it had three nozzles arranged at equal spaces around its base, angled away from the body of the capsule to provide thrust while maintaining stability.

In addition to the problem of stability, the escape tower arrangement also poses some difficulty in that in order for the parachutes to open, the escape rocket itself must be jettisoned. This complicates the design of capsule. It struck me, however, that this could be solved if the single escape rocket was replaced by three solid rockets 572 cm long at the rear of the capsule, spaced at equal distances around its circumference in order to provide stability as shown in my sketch below.

If the rockets and their exhaust nozzles aren’t able to support the weight of the capsule, perhaps landing legs somewhat like those of the lunar module the Apollo astronauts used to land on the Moon could be added.

I’m not a rocket scientist, just an ordinary person who has read some of the science and physics involved, so don’t take this as solid fact. But I think the three rockets together would provide the same amount of thrust as a single rocket of three times the length of one of them. However, as the three rockets would fire together, the actual burn time would be shorter and so imagine it would ascend with a greater acceleration than a single, larger rocket would. But the speed reached, and thus the height after the rockets stopped firing, should be the same.

I think the design’s practical, though it would obviously have to undergo extremely rigorous tests before any aspiring hobby astronaut got anywhere near it. However, there is already a large hobby rocketry milieu. They largely fire off models rockets, but these can be quite large. One group of enthusiasts, according to the magazine High Power Rocketry, sent up a Minuteman missile one year. And last year an American built his own steam rocket which successfully took him a mile up. The man was an eccentric – he wanted to make the journey as he really believed the world was flat and wanted to see if it was round. But his rocket worked, although he lost his life making a subsequent flight. And if one man wants to make an amateur, hobby rocket flight, there are probably others. This is an idea waiting to be developed by professional aerospace technicians and engineers.

But if successful, it would create a new age of personal rocketry and interest and enthusiasm for real spaceflight, just like those flying hang-gliders and microlights are enthusiastic about conventional aircraft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Controversial Data-Mining Firm Palantir Vanishes From Biden Adviser's Biography After She Joins Campaign

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/06/2020 - 8:20am in

In the run-up to the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign is putting together a foreign policy team for a potential future administration. Among those described as being part of the team is Avril Haines, former deputy director of the CIA during the Obama administration. According to an NBC News report from last week, Haines has been tapped to work advising on policy, as well as lead the national security and foreign policy team.

In addition to her past national security work and impressive presence in the D.C. think tank world, Haines has in the past described herself as a former consultant for the controversial data-mining firm Palantir. Haines’s biography page at the Brookings Institute, where she is listed as a nonresident senior fellow, boasted of this affiliation until at least last week, when it suddenly no longer appeared on the page.

The nature of the consulting work that Haines did for Palantir is not clear. As of press time, requests for comment to her, the Biden campaign, Palantir, and Brookings were not answered. Prior to being removed from the Brookings page, the connection to the data-mining company was listed alongside a long list of other affiliations that were similarly pared down.

The affiliation — and its apparent disappearance — raises questions for a campaign that has posed itself as the antithesis to President Donald Trump’s far-right governance. Co-founded by a far-right, Trump-supporting tech billionaire, Palantir, whose business has benefited from a slew of government contracts, has been accused of aiding in the Trump administration’s immigration detention programs in the U.S. and helping the Trump administration build out its surveillance state.

“Palantir’s information technology systems have given the Trump administration the ability to carry out mass deportations that have been tearing apart and terrorizing our immigrant communities,” said Yasmine Taeb, senior policy counsel at Demand Progress, a group that marshals support for causes ranging from human rights to transparency.

Haines’s biography on the Brookings site was captured by the Wayback Machine, which archives websites, on May 9. At that time, the page showed the Palantir affiliation. A printout of the Google cache of the page as recorded on June 20 — the same day that Biden’s campaign announced Haines as an adviser — shows the affiliation. By June 25, the Google cache shows the Palantir affiliation has disappeared; it is not clear when between those dates the listing was removed.

The ties to the Trump administration aren’t the only aspect of Palantir’s history that raises questions. The company has also been accused in the past of plotting to intimidate journalists involved in reporting documents released by WikiLeaks. And Palantir has also provided services to police — another move that appears to put the company out of step with the current political moment. The company also aided the National Security Agency by creating the tools to facilitate worldwide spying.

The firm’s co-founder, Peter Thiel, is a billionaire libertarian financier with close links to the Republican Party. A rare, prominent Silicon Valley supporter of Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention that year. He has emerged as a generous contributor to a variety of right-wing causes across the country. In 2020, however, the Daily Beast reported that Thiel has been privately grumbling about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and has so far withheld public or financial support for the president’s reelection campaign. Thiel’s political giving in this cycle has been limited to supporting Kris Kobach, a Kansas politician, Trump ally, and immigration hard-liner who is running for the U.S. Senate.

In recent months, the Biden campaign seems to have capitalized from Trump’s collapsing national popularity. Polls across the country, including in key battleground states, show Biden taking impressive leads over the incumbent. As his campaign gains relative momentum, the composition and affiliations of his transition team is looking more like an early indicator of how he would govern once in office.

The post Controversial Data-Mining Firm Palantir Vanishes From Biden Adviser’s Biography After She Joins Campaign appeared first on The Intercept.

Disposing of Cars with Alternative Energy Sources

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/06/2020 - 7:12am in

Tags 

Technology

Electric vehicles (EVs) have been hailed to answer the pollution and environmental damage that gas-powered cars produce. While they do offer many benefits to both drivers and the environment, electric vehicles are not perfect.  The greatest damage electric vehicles can cause comes from the very thing that makes them environmentally friendly: their batteries. While these…

The post Disposing of Cars with Alternative Energy Sources appeared first on Peak Oil.

NASA Film Explaining Their Plan to Return to the Moon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 11:47pm in

Here’s a short film from NASA. Narrated by William Shatner, Star Trek’s original Captain Kirk, it explains that the space agency intends to return to the Moon after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed there fifty years ago. This time the agency intends to stay.

It discusses some of the problems that have to be overcome, like isolation, radiation, gravity and the harsh environment of space. To get there, NASA has produced the SLS -Space Launch System – rocket, the most powerful yet developed, to lift heavier payloads into space. The crew will be carried by a new space capsule specially developed for the mission, Orion. The film also states that they’re developing new instrument system for exploring the Moon with their commercial partners.

They want to create fully reusable lunar landers that can land anywhere on the Moon’s surface. The simplest way to enable them to do this is to create an orbiting platform – a space station – around the Moon. This will also contain experiments as well as humans, and has been called ‘Gateway’. Gateway has been designed so that it will move between orbits, and balance between the Earth’s and Moon’s gravity.

It was discovered in 2009 that the Moon contains millions of tons of water ice. This can be extracted and purified for use as drinking water, or separated to provide oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel.

They also state that the Moon is uniquely placed to prepare and propel us to Mars and beyond. The film also declaims that humans are the most fragile part of the mission, but humans are at the heart of it. NASA is going back for all humanity, and this time the Moon isn’t a checkpoint, but a way station for everything that lies beyond. Shatner ends with ‘Our greatest adventure lies ahead of us. We are going.’ This last sentence is repeated as a slogan by the many engineers, technicians, astronauts and mission staff shown in the video. They are shown working on the instruments, rocket engines, launch infrastructure, training aircraft, mission control centre, and the huge swimming pool used to train prospective astronauts in zero G. NASA’s staff and crew are both men and women, and people of all races, Black, White and Asian. One of the ladies is Black, clearly following in the footsteps of the three Afro-American female mathematicians who helped put America’s first men in orbit.

It also includes footage of the first Apollo astronauts walking to their Saturn V rocket and landing on the Moon, with computer simulations of the planned missions, as well as Mars and Jupiter.

From the video, it looks like NASA has returned to its original strategy for reaching the Moon. This was to build a space station between the Earth and Moon at which the powerful rockets used for getting out of Earth’s gravity well would dock. Passengers to the Moon would then be transferred to the landers designed to take them down the Moon. These would be less powerful because of the Moon’s lower gravity.

This was the infrastructure of lunar missions that Wernher von Braun originally intended. It’s the plan shown in Floyd’s journey from Earth to Clavius base on the Moon in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. America, however, needed to beat the Russians to the Moon in the space race for geopolitical reasons, and so chose to go directly to the Moon instead of building the intermediate space station. As a result, after the cuts of the 1970s, America and humanity never returned.

There was talk of a commercial mission to the Moon in the 1990s, using Titan-Centaur rockets assembled into a lunar vessel in orbit. Just as there were also confident predictions that by this year, humanity would have put an astronaut on the Moon. Or perhaps a taikonaut, the Chinese term for it. Stephen Baxter in an article on possible Mars missions in this present century suggested that the first person to walk on the red planet would be a Chinese woman. Who knows? The Chinese are making great strides in their space programme, so I think that’s still a real possibility.

 

Ren Wicks’ painting for NASA of 2019 mission to Mars, from Peter Bond, Reaching For The Stars: The Illustrated History of Manned Spaceflight (London: Cassell 1993).

Fifty years is far too long for us to have stayed away from the Moon. I can remember all the books on space from the 1970s and early ’80s which predicted that by this time there’d be holidays in space, orbital colonies, a base on the Moon and expeditions to Mars and beyond. These haven’t materialised. The last section of Shatner’s voiceover for the video was a piece of oratory designed to evoke JFK’s classic speech, in which he declared America was going to the Moon. ‘We intend, before this decade is out, to put a man on the Moon. We do this, and the other thing, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.’

I wish NASA and all the other space agencies and companies around the world all the very best in realizing the ancient dream of taking people into space. Despite the economic and medical crises caused by the virus, I hope they are successful and in four years’ time put people on the Moon at last. And that this will be just the first in a series of further steps out onto the High Frontier.

As somebody whispered on that fateful day when the Saturn V rocket carrying Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins took off, ‘Godspeed’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio 4 Programme on DNA and Art

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 8:33pm in

Radio 4 are also broadcasting next week what looks like an interesting programme on art and poetry based on DNA science. It’s titled The Art of Now: Recombinant Rhymes and DNA Art. The blurb for it in next week’s Radio Times simply says

Anna McNamee meets the artists and poets collaborating with genetic scientists to create work inspired by biotechnology, examining the connection between DNA and art.

Some genetic engineers and biotech scientists have already used their skills to create works of art. Way back in the ’90s a group of such scientists created specially genetically engineered organisms. This included a cactus that had hairs instead of spines. Later on another pair of scientists created a jacket made out of living skin. I’m not sure whether these creations were art, or simply monsters created by people with twisted morals and a perverse aesthetic sense.

If you want to listen to it, the programme’s on at 11.30 am on Thursday, 2nd July 2020.

FBI Expands Ability to Collect Cellphone Location Data, Monitor Social Media, Recent Contracts Show

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 4:56am in

The Federal Bureau of Investigation may be watching what you tweet and where people gather.

The federal law enforcement agency’s records show a growing focus on harnessing the latest private sector tools for mass surveillance, including recent contracts with companies that monitor social media posts and collect cellphone location data.

On May 26, as demonstrations around the country erupted over the police killing of George Floyd, the FBI signed an expedited agreement to extend its relationship with Dataminr, a company that monitors social media.

A few days later, the agency modified an agreement it signed in February with Venntel, Inc., a Virginia technology firm that maps and sells the movements of millions of Americans. The company purchases bulk location data and sells it largely to government agencies.

The FBI has long pursued advanced technological tools to rapidly predict crime and locate potential suspects, capabilities that have raised concerns that the agency targets lawful forms of protest and free expression. Earlier this year, the agency released a bid proposal for technological solutions to “obtain early alerts on ongoing national security and public safety-related events through lawfully collected/acquired social media data.”

It’s not clear exactly how the February Venntel contract was modified. Chris Gildea, the president of Venntel, did not respond to a request for comment. The company is a subsidiary of Gravy Analytics, a major data broker that sells location-tracking information to advertisers and other clients, which also declined to comment “due to the confidential nature of that work.” A spokesperson for the FBI also declined to comment for this article.

Dataminr, which already held contracts with the FBI worth over $1 million, monitors social media for breaking news and events. “Dataminr provides the FBI with First Alert, a product that delivers breaking news alerts on emergency events, such as natural disasters, fires, explosions and shootings,” noted a spokesperson for Dataminr in a statement.

The statement claimed that the service “was designed and built to technologically restrict all forms of surveillance and be compliant with the user protection and data use policies of social media platforms.”

Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, has warned that “terrorism today moves at the speed of social media.” During testimony last year, Wray told lawmakers that threats from “everything from anarchist groups to racially-motivated violent extremist groups” tend to “begin mostly online.”

But critics of the agency are concerned that the new reach could encroach upon First Amendment-protected speech.

“We are deeply concerned that the FBI is further expanding their surveillance capacity,” said Mary Zerkel, coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee’s Communities Against Islamophobia program.

“The FBI has for decades used surveillance and racial profiling to target Muslims, immigrants, people of color, activists in general, and Black activists in particular. AFSC itself has a substantial FBI file,” added Zerkel. “Mass data collection tools will only serve to further criminalize protests and free speech, and expand the criminalization of Muslims and people of color.”

Few regulations exist to restrict the use of location-tracking data, a form of data collection that many common phone applications collect and monetize. The Supreme Court’s 2018 Carpenter v. United States ruled that government prosecutors require a warrant to obtain cellphone location data from service providers. But many experts worry that the ruling may not apply to third-party data brokers such as Venntel.

The Intercept has reported that since the recent wave of street demonstrations, FBI agents have questioned at least one individual for simply tweeting in jest that they are members of “antifa,” a reference to a style of violent activism popular among some on the activist far-left. Members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force have also questioned protest organizers at their homes — sometimes within hours of posting an event on social media.

The FBI has tapped other notable surveillance firms in recent years, including Palantir, which builds tools to visualize relationships using an array of information, from social media to license plate numbers.

But the embrace of powerful mass location data through a firm such as Venntel represents a potential new era for the agency.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had tapped Venntel for tax and immigration enforcement, respectively. After the initial story ran, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., reportedly reached out to the company to inquire about the federal government’s use of the technology — but that the company declined to answer most questions.

The post FBI Expands Ability to Collect Cellphone Location Data, Monitor Social Media, Recent Contracts Show appeared first on The Intercept.

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