Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Monday, 24 June 2013

If You Thought Wearing Google Glass Was A Privacy Concern, Just Wait Until We're Eating Computers  - 

If you think wearing a pair of glasses with a camera and microphone attached to them is a privacy nightmare, you're not going to like the next big thing in medicinal technology.

Biotech researchers are working on pills with sensors and wireless transmitters that can send updates to your phone when it's time to take another dose. They can also monitor things like your vitals and body temperature, then send the information to your local doctor, Nick Bilton of  New York Times reports.

Eventually these swallowable devices will be used for more than health care. Another use case: broadcasting your passwords several feet around your body, letting you unlock your car and start it without a key or sign into your computer just by sitting at your desk.

Obviously a location-monitoring, password-knowing pill raises concerns. Your body essentially becomes the "device" sending out your personal information for others to hack and large companies are already eying the opportunity. Motorola's executives talked about utilizing such tech at AllThingsD's D11 conference.

John Perry Barlow, a founder of Electronic Frontier Foundation sums up the privacy concerns surrounding ingestible computers:

"The wonderful [part] is that there are a great number of things you want to know about yourself on a continual basis, especially if you’re diabetic or suffer from another disease," he tells Bilton. "The terrible is that health insurance companies could know about the inner workings of your body.”

But the one thing more precious than your privacy is your life. So most people will be swallowing mini computers voluntarily, at least where their health is concerned.

As Eric Schmidt recently explained to a bunch of Googlers: "If it makes the difference between health and death, you’re going to want this thing."


IRS Sent $7,319,518 in Refunds to One Bank Account Used by 2,706 Aliens -

IRS Sent $7,319,518 in Refunds to One Bank Account Used by 2,706 Aliens - 

The Internal Revenue Service sent $7,319,518 in tax refunds in 2011 to what theoretically were 2,706 aliens who were not authorized to work inside the United States and who all used the same bank account, according to an audit report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

Since 1996, the IRS has issued what it calls Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) to two classes of persons: 1) non-resident aliens who have a tax liability in the United States, and 2) aliens living in the United States who are “not authorized to work in the United States.”

The 2,706 tax refunds worth a combined $7,319,518 that the IRS sent to a single bank account in 2011 were all paid on tax returns that used Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers.

The inspector general's audit report revealing this remarkable payout was spurred by two IRS employees who went to members of Congress "alleging that IRS management was requiring employees to assign Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) even when the applications were fraudulent.”

The report was completed in June 2012 and released in August 2012. In an August press release that accompanied the report, TIGTA said the report “validated” the complaints of the IRS employees.

“TIGTA’s audit found that IRS management has not established adequate internal controls to detect and prevent the assignment of an ITIN to individuals submitting questionable applications,” said Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George. “Even more troubling, TIGTA found an environment which discourages employees from detecting fraudulent applications.”

The one bank account that got 2,706 refunds worth $7,319,518 in 2011 was not the only singular account that in 2011 received many hundreds of tax refunds theoretically paid to aliens who were not authorized to work in the United States.

In its audit report, TIGTA published a partially redacted list of the Top 10 bank accounts getting tax refunds in 2011 for aliens using ITINs. The list did not include the full account number or the name of the bank holding the account. But it did say that one account—00731XXX22—got 8,393 tax refunds in 2011 worth $236,747. A second account—200005XXX4---got 3,912 refunds worth $186,966. A third—199372XXX2—got 1,608 refunds worth $4,564,264. A fourth—200004XXX9—got 1,428 refunds worth $149,375. A fifth—200004XXX3—got 1,332 refunds worth $391,510. A sixth—630163XXX0—got 1,191 refunds worth $861,162. A seventh—00731XXX30—got 1,084 refunds worth $93,065. An eighth—20000XXX95—got 1,053 refunds worth $810,589. And a ninth—457020XXX8—got 853 refunds worth $1,814,730.

CNSNews.com asked the Office of the Treasury Inspector General if these bank accounts were in the United States. A spokesman said TIGTA did not look at that issue.

As CNSNews.com reported last week, this same TIGTA audit report also listed the Top 10 addresses in the United States where the IRS had sent multiple tax refunds presumably to aliens not authorized to work in the United States who had filed tax returns using ITINs.

The top address was one in Atlanta, Ga., where in 2011 the IRS sent 23,994 refunds worth $46,378,040.

Read more -

U.K. to demand tourists from India, and other 'high risk' countries pay $4,600 cash bond for a Visa -

U.K. to demand tourists from India, and other 'high risk' countries pay $4,600 cash bond for a Visa - 

It's about to get more difficult for India's heralded middle class to travel abroad.

Indian news channel NDTV reports that the U.K. is introducing a plan to demand visitors from India, Pakistan, Nigeria and other countries whose nationals are deemed to pose a "high risk" of immigration abuse provide a cash bond before they are allowed to enter the country.

Adults over 18 will be forced to pay $4,600 for a six-month visit visa. They will surrender the money if they overstay in Britain after their visa has expired. The pilot project will also target visitors from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Ghana.

The fee, which will not be charged to all tourists, will begin in November.

The U.K. plans to extend it to all visa types, including work and student visas, the Economic Times of India reports.

It will be interesting to watch India's reaction to the news, and to see whether it imposes some kind of tit-for-tat fee on British tourists.

Reaction to the news on Twitter was mixed. While some Indians said they understand Britain's right to ensure its immigration system isn't abused, others were angry.

"Can what you looted from us be the guarantee?" the Twitter user @Vanish_Forever posted, referring to India's 300 years as a British colony.

Commenting on an online story about the new fee, Needhirajan Thenmozhi wrote, "Visitors from India do not need to come to UK. They can visit other European countries. There is nothing special to see in Britain. There is only lot of hate in local people nowadays. The weather is miserable most of the time. Paying 3,000 pounds is not worth (it) for a visit. Visit Southeast Asian countries which have more history, beauty and humanity."         

Last year, the U.K. granted six-month visas to 296,000 applicants from India, 101,000 from Nigeria, 53,000 from Pakistan and 14,000 each from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Officials at the U.K. High Commission to India are already in damage-control mode.  They tell the Independent's Andrew Buncombe that in 2012, 88 per cent of 370,000 Indian visa applicants were approved for visas.


Doctors Report Major Step Toward 'Artificial Pancreas'... -

Doctors Report Major Step Toward 'Artificial Pancreas'... - 

Doctors are reporting a major step toward an “artificial pancreas,” a device that would constantly monitor blood sugar in people with diabetes and automatically supply insulin as needed.

A key component of such a system — an insulin pump programmed to shut down if blood-sugar dips too low while people are sleeping — worked as intended in a three-month study of 247 patients.

This “smart pump,” made by Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc., is already sold in Europe, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing it now. Whether it also can be programmed to mimic a real pancreas and constantly adjust insulin based on continuous readings from a blood-sugar monitor requires more testing, but doctors say the new study suggests that’s a realistic goal.

“This is the first step in the development of the artificial pancreas,” said Dr. Richard Bergenstal, diabetes chief at Park Nicollet, a large clinic in St. Louis Park, Minn. “Before we said it’s a dream. We have the first part of it now and I really think it will be developed.”

He led the company-sponsored study and gave results Saturday at an American Diabetes Association conference in Chicago. They also were published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study involved people with Type 1 diabetes, the kind usually diagnosed during childhood. About 5 percent of the 26 million Americans with diabetes have this type. Their bodies don’t make insulin, a hormone needed to turn food into energy. That causes high blood-sugar levels and raises the risk for heart disease and many other health problems.

Some people with the more common Type 2 diabetes, the kind linked to obesity, also need insulin and might also benefit from a device like an artificial pancreas. For now, though, it’s aimed at people with Type 1 diabetes who must inject insulin several times a day or get it through a pump with a narrow tube that goes under the skin. The pump is about the size of a cellphone and can be worn on a belt or kept in a pocket.

The pumps give a steady amount of insulin, and patients must monitor their sugar levels and give themselves more insulin at meals or whenever needed to keep blood sugar from getting too high.

A big danger is having too much insulin in the body overnight, when blood-sugar levels naturally fall. People can go into comas, suffer seizures and even die. Parents of children with diabetes often worry so much about this that they sneak into their bedrooms at night to check their child’s blood-sugar monitor.

In the study, all patients had sensors that continuously monitored their blood sugar. Half of them had ordinary insulin pumps and the others had pumps programmed to stop supplying insulin for two hours when blood-sugar fell to a certain threshold.

Over three months, low-sugar episodes were reduced by about one-third in people using the pump with the shut-off feature. Importantly, these people had no cases of severely low blood sugar — the most dangerous kind that require medical aid or help from another person. There were four cases in the group using the standard pump.

“As a first step, I think we should all be very excited that it works,” an independent expert, Dr. Irl Hirsch of the University of Washington in Seattle, said of the programmable pump.

The next step is to test having it turn off sooner, before sugar falls so much, and to have it automatically supply insulin to prevent high blood sugar, too.

Dr. Anne Peters, a diabetes specialist at the University of Southern California, said the study “represents a major step forward” for an artificial pancreas.

One participant, Spears Mallis, 34, a manager for a cancer center in Gainesville, Ga., wishes these devices were available now. He typically gets low-sugar about 8 to 10 times a week, at least once a week while he’s asleep.

“I would set an alarm in the middle of the night just to be sure I was OK. That will cause you to not get a good night of rest,” he said.

His “smart pump” stopped giving insulin several times during the study when his sugar fell low, and he wasn’t always aware of it. That’s a well-known problem for people with Type 1 diabetes — over time, “you become less and less sensitive to feeling the low blood sugars” and don’t recognize symptoms in time to drink juice or do something else to raise sugar a bit, he said.


Thirdhand smoke damages human cells - 

Thirdhand smoke, the residue from cigarette smoke that lingers on surfaces and in dust long after the cigarette is out and the smoke has cleared, may damage human cells, a new study finds.
The researchers used two standard laboratory tests to assess the toxicity of thirdhand smoke. They showed that a compound found in smoke residue, called tobacco-specific nitrosamine, significantly damages DNA in human cells.
"This is the very first study to show that thirdhand smoke is mutagenic and causes DNA damage, which is considered as one of the first steps toward cancer," said study researcher Lara Gundel, of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.
Though the harmful effects of cigarette smoking are well-known, the question of whether exposure to thirdhand smoke is also a health concern has often been overlooked, the researchers said.
Thirdhand smoke is the smell that remains on the clothes and hair of someone who has just smoked, or the odor left in hotel rooms where smokers stayed. The chemicals are derivatives of nicotine, and remain in indoor environments, absorbed in the fabric of curtains and carpeting, and on the surface of other objects.
However, the extent to which the chemicals could be hazardous to people is still unknown.

"The purpose of the study was to find how toxic and hazardous some compounds in thirdhand smoke are, and by what mechanisms they can cause harm," Gundel said.
In the study, the researchers put paper strips in smoking chambers. Some of the samples were left for only 20 minutes, after which the researchers measured the residue; the researchers called this "acute exposure." Other strips were left for nearly 200 days in a smoking chamber that was ventilated, to create a "chronic exposure" condition.
The researchers then extracted the chemicals from the paper strips, and exposed cellsto the chemicals.
The results showed that the chronic samples had a higher concentration of thirdhand smoke residue than the acute samples. The chronic samples also caused higher levels of DNA damage.
"The cumulative effect of thirdhand smoke is quite significant," Gundel said. "The findings suggest the materials could be getting more toxic with time."
One important characteristic of thirdhand smoke is that its residue can interact with compounds in the air, such as ozone, and produce new toxins, the researchers said.
It is difficult to say when it is safe to enter a place where a smoker has formerly lived, as the emission seems to continue for a long time.
Cleaning a home or a car that has been smoked in doesn't seem to solve the problem. The researchers said they encountered people who complained about buying a used car that didn't smell at first but after a few days started to smell as if somebody had smoked in it.
"Even when you paint the walls, it covers the smell for a short time, but then the compounds work their way through the painting," Gundel said.
"We can take up markers from former smoking months, and sometimes even years after the smoker has left," the researchers said.


Gross Monica Lewinksy Items to Be Auctioned Off: Sorry, Blue Dress Not Included -

Gross Monica Lewinksy Items to Be Auctioned Off: Sorry, Blue Dress Not Included - 

What Washington woman doesn’t want a bunch of plus-sized clothing, including a sheer black negligee once owned by Monica Lewinksy?

As emotionally devastating as this is, we may just have to pass on the “extraordinary lot” of 32 Lewinksy items examined by Kenneth Starr leading up to the impeachment proceedings of then-President Bill Clinton. The event, by Nate D. Saunders Auctions, is scheduled for June 27.

The items were originally gifted to Lewinsky’s former high school teacher, Andy Bleiler, with whom she had a 5-year affair. Good times. Not surprisingly, it was Bleiler’s ex-wife, Kate Nason, who coughed up the items for the auction. The offerings, which include letters and presidential chocolates and such, were dated during the Clinton-Lewinksy affair.

“Items owned by Monica Lewinsky, especially relating to the Clinton scandal and Ken Starr investigation are exceedingly rare,” said Nate Sanders in a release. “This is, to my knowledge, the only collection of this nature to come to light.”

All clothing is sized L or XL, including some European sizing that translates to a size 14. The lot does not include the semen-stained blue dress, but there is a slightly crushed box of presidential M & M’s. We don’t even want to know where they’ve been.


Have you seen Rusty? - A male Red Panda has turned up missing at the Smithsonian National Zoo -

Have you seen Rusty? - A male Red Panda has turned up missing at the Smithsonian National Zoo - 

A male red panda has turned up missing at the Smithsonian National Zoo, a spokeswoman said Monday, and zoo officials have been combing the grounds searching for him.

Rusty, who is less than a year old and is about the size of a raccoon, was not seen in his enclosure at 7:30 a.m. Monday, and the zoo sounded a “Code Green” alert for an escaped animal at 8 a.m.

The zoo gates were closed temporarily as the search began, but were reopened at 9:45 a.m., after the animal wasn’t found, said spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson.

“We have been searching all morning,” she said. “It is most likely that he has not really left the vicinity. He would have to have some very strong motivation to leave the area.”

Red panda’s have thick reddish fur, long tails ringed with white circles, and very long whiskers. They like to climb trees. Like their huge cousins, the Giant Pandas, they are native to China.

The zoo’s giant pandas are safe and “inside slumbering,” Baker-Masson said.

Rusty is relatively new to the zoo. He arrived from a zoo in Lincoln, Neb., in late April and has been on exhibit about three weeks. The zoo also has a female Red Panda, Shama, and planned to breed the two.

“This animal is not dangerous to any human,” Baker-Masson said. “He is vaccinated.” He was last seen Sunday night at 6.

She said Rusty, who is said to be friendly and mild-mannered, might have managed to get out of his enclosure and is just hiding somewhere on the zoo grounds.

She said he might have escaped and is sick or has died somewhere on the grounds. There is also the possibility that he was stolen. “We have to think of everything,” she said.

Zoo curators continue to search the facility for him, using binoculars.

Baker-Masson said the enclosure’s “hot wires,” which deliver a small shock to prevent escapes, were on. She said curators noted that Rusty has not seemed interested in food the last few days.

The zoo asked that if visitors spot Rusty they should not approach him, but tell an official or call the zoo at 202-633-4888.


$347 Million Pension debt threatens future of Girl Scouts... - That is a lot of Cookies... -

$347 Million Pension debt threatens future of Girl Scouts... - That is a lot of Cookies... - 

Given the friction and financial woes facing the Girl Scouts these days, perhaps it's time for a giant friendship circle. Under that long-standing tradition, a ring of Scouts clasp hands and give a little squeeze, accompanied by a silent wish of good will.

Just a year after its centennial celebrations, the Girl Scouts of the USA finds itself in a different sort of squeeze. Its interconnected problems include declining membership and revenues, a dearth of volunteers, rifts between leadership and grassroots members, a pension plan with a $347 million deficit, and an uproar over efforts by many local councils to sell venerable summer camps.

The tangle of difficulties has prompted one congressman to request an inquiry by the House Ways and Means Committee into the pension liabilities and the sale of camps.

"I am worried that America's Girl Scouts are now selling cookies to fund pension plans instead of camping," wrote Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, in a letter last month to the committee chairman.

Compounding the problems are tensions at GSUSA headquarters in New York, where several senior executives have quit or been ousted since Anna Maria Chavez took over as CEO in 2011. Last week, some of the roughly 325 employees there were invited to take early retirement, and Chavez said an unspecified number of layoffs were expected in August to offset the revenue losses.

Chavez insists the GSUSA is on the right track, although she acknowledged that sweeping changes in structure and programs over the past 10 years have been difficult for many in the Scouts' extended family.

"Change can be unsettling and it is not surprising that some would prefer for us to remain static," she said. "But doing so would be a disservice to girls who need us now more than ever."

Indeed, there's a common denominator between the GSUSA leaders and their critics — earnest expressions of devotion to the Girl Scouts and fervent hopes that it manages to thrive.

"I care so much about this organization, and that's why I hate to see it pulled down," said Suellen Nelles, CEO of a local council based in Fairbanks, Alaska. "We have leadership at the top who are toxic to this organization and need to go."

Connie Lindsey, the president of GSUSA's governing board, said the board had confidence in Chavez, despite the various problems.

"Our board supports our CEO," said Lindsey, a corporate executive from Chicago. "We know it's a difficult charge we've given her."

Since 2003, the Girl Scouts have undergone what they describe as a "complete transformation" aimed at making their programs and image more relevant to a diverse population of girls and parents. Changes have affected uniforms, handbooks, merit badges, program materials, even the logo and the fine print on the boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

"Our brand, as iconic as it is, was misunderstood — it was dated," Chavez said in an interview in her Manhattan office Friday.

Yet today the Girl Scouts have about 2.2 million youth members, down from more than 2.8 million in 2003. Donations to the national office and local councils plunged to $104 million in 2011 from nearly $148 million in 2007.

The biggest change — implemented from 2006 to 2009 by Chavez' predecessor, Kathy Cloninger — was a realignment that slashed the number of local councils from 312 to 112. It was intended to increase efficiency, but resulted in the departure of many longtime employees and volunteers.


Airlines rank lower in customer satisfaction than the post office -

Airlines rank lower in customer satisfaction than the post office - 

Fliers are slightly more satisfied with the service offered by U.S.-based airlines since last year.

But with the airline industry ranked below the U.S. Postal Service for customer satisfaction, it still has a way to go.

The findings come from an annual survey of about 70,000 Americans and show that the airline industry ranks higher than only subscription TV and Internet service companies.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index, an independent benchmarking business developed at the University of Michigan, concluded that the industry improved 3% in 2013 to a rating of 69 on a 100-point scale. Not surprisingly, airline travelers were most turned off by crowded seating, extra passenger fees and poor customer service, according to the report.

Low-cost carriers JetBlue and Southwest airlines led the industry with scores of 83 and 81, respectively, while network airlines Delta, American, US Airways and United scored no better than 68, the survey found.

Industry officials defended the nation’s carriers, saying airfares have increased at only half the rate of inflation since 2000, even when accounting for those extra passenger fees.

Airlines also compare favorably with other modes of transportation such as taxis, said Jean Medina, spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation’s airlines.

For example, she noted that the U.S. Department of Transportation received 1.18 complaints against airlines for every 100,000 passengers that flew in 2011. By comparison, New York City taxicabs got 3,125 complaints for every 100,000 passengers that year, she said.

“We have great numbers compared to other modes of transportation,” Medina said.


Ancient Egyptian Statue Moves On Its Own, Curators At Manchester Museum Say - had never moved in 80 years -

Ancient Egyptian Statue Moves On Its Own, Curators At Manchester Museum Say - had never moved in 80 years - 

Don't go running to mummy just yet: the spooky movements of this Egyptian statue probably have a logical explanation, even if museum curators are in de-Nile about it.

Staff at the Manchester Museum in Manchester, England say the 4,000-year-old statue, recovered from a mummy's tomb, has been spinning without anybody moving it, NDTV reports.

The 10-inch tall statue of a man named Neb-Senu was originally an offering to the god Osiris and has been in the museum for 80 years.

Up until a few weeks ago, the statue had appeared to be stationary.

"I noticed one day that it had turned around," curator Campbell Price, 29, told NDTV. "I thought it was strange because it is in a case and I am the only one who has a key."

Price told the Sun this week that "most Egyptologists are not superstitious people," and said when he first noticed the object had moved, his first instinct was to wonder who moved it.

“But the next time I looked, it was facing in another direction — and a day later had yet another orientation," he told the Sun this week.

Price returned the statue to its original position and set up a time-lapse video, which he says shows the statue moving without the help of humans.

According to Price, "ancient Egyptians believed that statuettes such as these could act as an alternative home for the spirits of the people they represented, should the body be damaged or destroyed."

Nevertheless, even the Egyptians didn't expect these statues to move on their own.

TV physicist Brian Cox thinks he might have a scientific explanation for the spooky movement, according to the Daily Mail: differential friction.

"Cox suggested that two surfaces, the serpentine stone of the statuette and glass shelf it is on, cause a subtle vibration which is making the statuette turn," Price told the Daily Mail.

Cox's theory is supported by the fact that in the video, the statue appears to only be moving when visitors are in the museum.

Price, however, is skeptical of this theory, since the statuette has been on the same surface for 80 years and has never moved before.

Maybe the mummy's curse will actually be a blessing for the museum, as Price urges the public to visit and try to figure out the mystery for themselves.


Beijing Pollution So Bad That International Schools Build Filtered Air Domes for Children -

Beijing Pollution So Bad That International Schools Build Filtered Air Domes for Children - 

After nearly two decades in Beijing, David Wolf knew it was time for a change when his 11-year-old son, Aaron, somberly asked him, “Dad, when you were growing up, did you ever have PE outdoors?”
Wolf had grown up in smog-choked Los Angeles in the 1970s, but even that wasn’t nearly as bad as Beijing today. His son, like many young students in the city, has been kept inside for months, with the luckier children getting the chance to exercise under huge air-filtered domes that their international schools have built.
Later this month, when school lets out, Aaron and his mother will move to Southern California for good, and Wolf begins a new way of doing his consulting work, splitting his time between Beijing and their new home at Channel Islands Harbor.
“I want them to leave before they hate this place,” Wolf, 49, said on a recent morning as he checked Beijing’s air quality on a smartphone app, something that many people here, expats and locals alike, routinely do several times a day.

Read more -