Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Ten US Cities With Less Than Ten Days Of Cash On Hand -

The Ten US Cities With Less Than Ten Days Of Cash On Hand - 

As the Detroit bankruptcy hearing heats up following news that the city's unsecured creditors, among them pensioners, are set to recover pennies on the dollar, 16 to be precise, the question of which are the next cities to follow in the footsteps of bankrupt Motown, becomes relevant once again. Courtesy of the WSJ, and the second part of its series on "U.S. Cities Grapple With Finances", here is a list of the US cities that when push comes to shove metaphorically, and when the money runs out literally, will have no choice but to knock on the door of the local regional bankruptcy court and submit that long-prepared bankruptcy petition. Specifically, here are the cities that have 10 days or less in cash on hand available. Because, unless one is the Fed, cash and lack thereof is all that matters.

The list below ranks the top 10 cities in terms of days cash on hand. Needless to say, a city with a low number in this category (such as 0.0) may have trouble paying bills, bribes, lap dances and other core municipal outlays.

Shifting away from the stock, and looking at the flow, as Detroit showed the world the very hard way, cities mired in pension costs will ultimately default and lead to massive haircuts to the retirees. The following 10 cities have the greatest percentage of pension costs as a percentage of the city's general fund.

Of course, cash on hand while perhaps the most important factor, especially if a city becomes a net cash burner, is hardly the only indicator to keep an eye on. Additional consideration must be given to amount of reserves, or the ratio of a city's total fund balance to expenditures, because if this is negative it means the city spends more than is available.


Beijing divorces soar over property tax... -

Beijing divorces soar over property tax... - 

Beijing's divorce rate has soared as couples seek to avoid a property tax imposed earlier this year by using a loophole for those whose marriages end, state media reported Tuesday.

Nearly 40,000 couples divorced in the Chinese capital in the first nine months of this year, up 41 percent on the same period in 2012, the Beijing Youth Daily said, citing official figures.

In March China introduced a nationwide capital gains tax of 20 percent on the profits owners make from selling residential property.

But the terms allow couples with two properties who divorce and put each house into one person's name to then sell them tax-free under certain conditions -- after which they can remarry.


UN Plans to Fight Asteroids with 'Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space'... -

UN Plans to Fight Asteroids with 'Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space'... - 

It's a scenario familiar to any science fiction fan: An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, and humans must deflect or destroy it to save themselves and every other living creature on the planet.

But unlike most sci-fi plots, this one is a real threat, right now. And the United Nations is on it.

Last week, the U.N. General Assembly approved the creation of an International Asteroid Warning Group. Former NASA astronaut Ed Lu and other members of the Association of Space Explorers have been calling for the formation of a global asteroid-fighting group for years, but the meteor that exploded above Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February got people taking the ASE's recommendations seriously.

The new U.N. plan to save Earth from killer astroids has three basic components, drawn heavily from the Association of Space Explorers and Lu's asteroid-battling nonprofit, the B612 Foundation.

Part 1: Get prepared
This may seem like a letdown: Isn't forming an International Asteroid Warning Group preparation enough for the big space rock? The problem is that the U.N. relies largely on member states, and the world's space superpowers are woefully behind the curve, says ASE member Rusty Schweickar, who flew on Apollo 9 in 1969.

"No government in the world today has explicitly assigned the responsibility for planetary protection to any of its agencies," Schweickar said at an Oct. 25 discussion at the American Museum of Natural History. "NASA does not have an explicit responsibility to deflect an asteroid, nor does any other space agency." Among other things, lots of research is needed on the best way to derail an asteroid.

Countries also have to come up with contingency plans in case the U.N.'s new group doesn't detect a huge asteroid in time. That could mean spotting the projectile years before projected impact. "If we don't find it until a year out, make yourself a nice cocktail and go out and watch," Schweickar deadpanned.

Here are Lu, Schweickar, and their ASE colleagues at the American Museum of Natural History, in a discussion on the asteroid threat hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson (it's almost an hour long):

Part 2: Find the asteroids before they find us
The Chelyabinsk meteorite was a wake-up call because nobody saw it coming. "The world's space agencies found out along with the rest of us, on Twitter and YouTube," says Clara Moskowitz at Scientific American. This will be the main mission of the new International Asteroid Warning Group: To act as a clearinghouse of information from nations or groups that have found potentially deadly asteroids or other space rocks.

The IAWG will also have its own asteroid-detecting infrared telescope, the Sentinel Space Telescope, developed with private financing by the B612 Foundation. Once the Sentinel is launched, hopefully in 2017, the U.N. will have its own eye in the sky. "There are 100 times more asteroids out there than we have found," Lu warns. "There are about one million asteroids large enough to destroy New York City or larger."

If Step One is the Boy Scout motto ("Be prepared"), Step Two is the catchphrase from the old GI Joe cartoon: Knowing is half the battle. "Early warning is important because it increases the chance of being able to deflect a threatening asteroid once it is found," explains Scientific American's Moskowitz. "If a spacecraft struck an asteroid five or 10 years before the rock was due to hit Earth, a slight orbital alternation should be enough to make it pass Earth by."

Part 3: If necessary, blast that sucker out of our path
This is where the U.N. really gets in on the action. If the International Asteroid Warning Group discovers a deadly projectile speeding Earthward, the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space — yes, that's a real agency, formed in 1959 and tucked into the U.N. Office of Outer Space Affairs — springs into action.

Or at least bureaucratic action: The committee will help coordinate an international mission to deflect the asteroid by slamming a space ship into it.

That's probably the easiest method of defense: "Smashing spacecraft into threatening asteroids, causing them to veer off course," says Nicholas Tufnell at Wired. But it isn't the only one for the group to consider. There's also "a nuclear explosive device, kinetic impact, a gravity tractor, or even wrapping the asteroid in a sheet of reflective plastic such as aluminized clingfilm, which will act as a solar sail," Tufnell adds.

The Week's Chris Gayomali, looking at the same question, ruled out nukes as impractical and not up to the task. Ramming a rocket into the object to change its trajectory is probably our safest bet. "And just in case that same pesky asteroid circles back around the sun, we send a second probe hitchhiking behind the impactor for extra insurance."

This probe wouldn't crash into it again. Rather, it would move to a "station-keeping position" near the space rock, "using its own gravity to very gently tug the rock into a safe orbit." No messy nuclear explosion necessary. [The Week]

If that still sounds like a long shot, you can take some comfort that there is now an internationally sanctioned group of scientists charged with coming up with the best way to protect the Earth from hostile rocks. It's too bad it takes an existential threat to bring us together. Kumbaya.


Facebook knows when you’re going to break up -

Facebook knows when you’re going to break up - 

Facebook can predict when you’re going to break up.
Yes, apparently the fate of your relationship is not written in the stars but in your social circle.
Cornell University researcher Jon Kleinberg and Facebook senior engineer Lars Backstrom proved as much when they presented their co-written research paper at a social computing conference in February.
The researchers took the datasets of 1.3 million Facebook users listed as being in a relationship, and found that the more well connected their mutual friends were, the more likely they were to break up.
This theory is described as dispersion.
Couples with high dispersion have mutual friends who are not well connected.
Couples with low dispersion have mutual friends who are well connected.
Therefore the Facebook theory suggests that if you and your partner share the same social circle on Facebook (low dispersion), you’re less likely to have your own lives and therefore the relationship is more likely to implode.
A healthy relationship, according to Facebook, is one where both partners have connections to a lot of different groups of people, even if those friendships aren’t particularly strong.
“Instead of embededness, we propose that the link between and an individual and his or her partner should display a ‘dispersed’ structure: the mutual neighbors of u and v are not well connected to one another and hence u and v act jointly as the only intermediaries between these different parts of the network,” the researchers wrote in the study.
In a nutshell, get your own damn lives and friends.
Of course, this algorithm might not take into account the fact that some couples don’t take their social circles on Facebook particularly seriously and therefore might look like they don’t have as wide group of friends when they actually do.
Probably because they are out living their lives.


STUDY: People look more at women's chests than their faces... -

STUDY: People look more at women's chests than their faces... - 

A new study has confirmed something women have been complaining about for years.

The research, out of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and published in the Springer-published journal Sex Roles, essentially corroborates the belief that people tend to focus more on the breasts and figure of a woman when analyzing her appearance than they do on her face.

According to researchers, the study was the first ever to use eye-tracking technology to examine the glances of men when the “ogle” or “check out” women, whereas previous research had used only women’s self-reported experiences.

After monitoring how the gazes of 29 women and 36 men from a large Midwestern university reacted to images of the same group of female models with various body shapes, scientists concluded that participants focused more on the female’s chests and figure when asked to evaluate their appearance than they did on the women’s facial features.

Unsurprisingly, women with narrow waists, full breasts and larger hips – the classic hourglass figure – were rated more favorably than their less voluptuous counterparts, even when men were asked to assess a woman’s personality (rather than attractiveness) based on her appearance in the photos.

But perhaps what’s most interesting is that women also tended to objectify other females in the same way that men did. They, too, spent more time focusing on figure than face.


A very modern milestone: One in three kids use a mobile phone or tablet before they can talk -

A very modern milestone: One in three kids use a mobile phone or tablet before they can talk - 

Nearly a third of children now learn to use a mobile phone or a tablet computer before they can talk, a report has revealed.
Some 29 per cent start using the gadgets as toddlers, with 70 per cent mastering them completely by primary school age.
The report also found that by the time they reach the age of nine, children have typically sent 116 texts and 85 emails.

But despite believing that their child will benefit from using technology, 57 per cent of parents said they still worry about their safety.
The survey, commissioned by US pressure group Common Sense Media and electronic learning experts VTech, found that 38 per cent of children aged under two have used gadgets like iPhones or Kindles for playing games or watching films.
In 2011 the same figure was just 10 per cent.
The researchers said that the findings showed a ‘fundamental change in the way kids consume media’.
They should also serve as a wake-up call to parents who increasingly turn to gadgets to entertain their children - but could be doing them harm.
The current recommendation from the American Academy of Paediatrics is that the under-twos should have no screen time at all.

Jim Steyer, director of Common Sense Media said: ‘Kids that cannot even talk will walk up to a TV screen and try to swipe it like an iPad or an iPhone.’
The survey results showed the speed at which mobiles and other gadgets are becoming a fact of life, even for babies, when they were compared to a similar study that was carried out in 2011.
Back then, 38 per cent of under-eights had used a phone or a Kindle. Now that same statistic applies to the under-twos.
But despite the rise in the use of gadgets, TV still is the dominant media that children consume
Despite the rise in the use of gadgets, TV still is the dominant media that children consume
In 2011 the amount of time the under-eights spent on their phones or tablets was just five minutes a day.
The figure for this year is 15 minutes, on average.
The study, called ‘Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America, 2013’ was based on a national survey of 1,463 parents with children under eight.
Vicky Rideout, the author of the report and the similar one released in 2011, said: ‘I was blown away by the rapidity of the change.
‘iPhones and tablets are game changers, because they are so easy to use.
‘While there was some floor on how young you could go with computers and video games, a young child can touch a picture, can open an app, or swipe the screen.’
A spokesman from VTech, which commissioned the survey, said: There’s no shying away from the fact children are more tech savvy and connected to the world and each other than ever before. 
‘They are actively consuming digital technology from a very early age.’
Among the other findings were that children now typically spend an hour a day in front of screens, though that covers everything from watching TV to using computers and watching films.
Children aged two to four average two hours a day, and those aged five to eight averaged two hours and 20 minutes.
But despite the rise in the use of gadgets, TV still is the dominant media that children consume.
Almost 100 per cent of children under eight have a TV and cable.
Thirty per cent have the Internet with their TVs meaning they can watch films on demand.


Did you smell my text? Device sends scented alerts -

Did you smell my text? Device sends scented alerts - 

Move over, ring tone alerts.

Scentee, a new device you can attach to your smartphone, releases a burst of fragrance of your choice whenever you receive a text, email or other notification, Engadget reported.

Made in Japan, the plug-in accessory attaches to the headphone socket of your iPhones or Android smartphone.

An LED light also glows when you have an incoming notification.

In no particular order, the aromas you can choose from include bacon, rose, mint, cinnamon roll, coffee, curry, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lavender, apple, coconut, strawberry and even...corn soup?

The Scentee also has a timer that can release the fragrance of your choice however often you want to smell it, according to The Huffington Post.

The gadget costs about $35 on Amazon and each cartridge goes for $5, according to Engadget.

It's currently only available in Japan, but the company said it plans on making Scentee available to Americans at some point.

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