Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Friday, 27 March 2015

You know you are a Terrorist if you are Yawning, Whistling, Blinking... or if you have body odor... -

You know you are a Terrorist if you are Yawning, Whistling, Blinking... or if you have body odor... - 

Next time you go through airport security, do your best to avoid yawning, whistling, or complaining too much: Any of those behaviors could make you look like a terrorist in the eyes of a Transportation Security Administration screening agent, according to newly disclosed government documents.

A secret 92-point checklist, obtained and published Friday by The Intercept, reveals for the first time what kind of passenger behavior can merit a red flag for TSA agents responsible for pulling possible terrorists and criminals out of airport security lines.

The checklist reveals a step-by-step process for assessing whether passengers deserve additional scrutiny. Those deemed suspicious under "observation and behavior analysis" are pulled aside and searched for "unusual items" such as almanacs and prepaid calling cards. During the inspection, TSA agents are also instructed to look for "signs of deception," which can include a fast rate of eye-blinking.

Other suspicious signs listed include exaggerated yawning, gazing down, a pale face due to a recent beard shaving, widely open staring eyes, wearing of "improper attire," and arriving late for a flight.

The program, known as Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, has been in use nationwide since 2007 and has cost taxpayers upwards of $1 billion dollars.

SPOT has been dogged with accusations that it is based on pseudoscience and promotes racial and ethnic profiling among the some 3,000 TSA agents tasked with observing unusual behavior. Two years ago, a review by the Government Accountability Office found no clear evidence that the protocol used by SPOT-trained agents to detect terrorists was any better than random selection. The GAO report recommended that Congress halt funding for the program.

Despite the scathing conclusions, however, the SPOT program has continued, and its screening checklist has been kept largely secret until now. Its backers say the program is an essential layer of TSA's multipronged airport security approach and expressly forbids any kind of discriminatory profiling.

In a statement, a TSA spokesman said the agency would not comment on or confirm the checklist published by The Intercept.

"Behavior-analysis techniques that have been successfully employed by law enforcement and security personnel both in the U.S. and internationally," the spokesman said. "No single behavior alone will cause a traveler to be referred to additional screening or will result in a call to a law enforcement officer."

The "observation and behavior analysis" section of the checklist adheres to a point-counting formula to determine which passengers should be referred for a screening. Designated stress factors, such as "strong body order," count for 1 point. Fear factors, like "bulges in clothing" or "rigid posture," count for 2 points. Finally, deception factors—appearing confused or in disguise or repeatedly patting upper body with hands—count for 3 points.

TSA agents are directed to refer passengers who score 4 or 5 points to a screening. Passengers that score at least 6 points are referred to a screening and reported to a law-enforcement officer.

The formula allows for some subtraction. Traveling as a member of a family will deduct 2 points from a passenger's score, as will the appearance of traveling as a married couple where both spouses are 55 or older. Women over the age of 55 and men over the age of 65 are deemed "low risk" and can have one point subtracted.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union sued TSA for access to records related to the SPOT program's efficacy, which the agency has so far refused to hand over.

"What we know about SPOT suggests it wastes taxpayer money, leads to racial profiling, and should be scrapped," said Hugh Handeyside, staff lawyer with the ACLU. "The TSA has insisted on keeping documents about SPOT secret, but the agency can't hide the fact that there's no evidence the program works. The discriminatory racial profiling that SPOT has apparently led to only reinforces that the public needs to know more about how this program is used and with what consequences for Americans' rights."

The SPOT program has also in recent years attracted the scrutiny of lawmakers in both parties skeptical of its efficacy and concerned about the high price tag. In 2013, Rep. Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican, extensively questioned former Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole at a Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing about whether the SPOT program held any merit or was necessary given the other layers of airport security.

"You go through a screening system which essentially undresses somebody, you send their equipment through radar detection and other devices," Sanford said. "The question is, from a civil-liberties standpoint, given those other tests, do you in addition have to go through a screening process based on somebody's interpretation of what might be in your brain?"

Pistole was resolute in his defense of the program, but conceded, "There's no perfect science, there's no perfect art of this." He told Sanford that the value in the SPOT program was difficult to measure, as it had only led to only a handful of arrests—none on terrorism charges—but that it aided in deterrence.



Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Ford's new car will force you to obey the speed limit -

Ford's new car will force you to obey the speed limit - 

Much as we'd like to emulate our NASCAR heroes, breaking the speed limit often comes at a price. Ford is hoping to prevent accidents and speeding tickets by introducing cars that can see what the speed limit is and preventing heavy-footed motorists from driving any faster. Ford's Intelligent Speed Limiter tech will first appear on the new Ford S-Max that's launching in Europe that could just change the way that we drive.

A camera mounted on the windshield scans the road signs on the sides of the highway and, when the vehicle enters a 20mph zone, the system reduces the top speed to match. Rather than controlling the speed with automatic braking, the car limits its own velocity by adjusting the amount of fuel being pushed to the engine.

If a burst of speed is required, however, users can either deactivate the system by pressing a button on the console or temporarily get past it with a hard press on the gas pedal. If the vehicle is coasting downhill and starts to build up speed, the car will sense its motion and sound an alarm to get you braking. It's not the only bit of new safety tech available on the new whip, either, since deep-pocketed motorists can also get pedestrian detection and collision warnings. That frees drivers up to wonder why any car firm would call a car SMAX and think we wouldn't notice.


Woman Imprisoned in Mental Hospital for 8 DAYS after claiming Obama follows her on Twitter - turns Out he DOES follow her -

Woman Imprisoned in Mental Hospital for 8 DAYS after claiming Obama follows her on Twitter - turns Out he DOES follow her - 

In a truly bizarre case, a woman was recently locked up in the psychiatric ward of a Long Island hospital, and forced to undergo medical procedures against her will for over a week, after she told police that The President follows her on Twitter.

And it turned out that Obama DOES really follow the woman on Twitter.

The incident is only just coming to light now but took place last September. Kam Brock was attempting to retrieve her car from police after it was impounded

In an attempt to convince police that she was a good citizen, Brock told cops at the Public Service Area 6 NYPD station that Obama was a follower of her Twitter account, which is true. However, the cops decided Brock was insane and had her forcibly committed to Harlem Hospital.

Brock’s lawyer notes that she was upset, but certainly not “emotionally disturbed,” as was claimed by the police in their report.

What was supposed to be a 72-hour detention actually lasted for EIGHT DAYS as doctors evaluated her, believing she was delusional and suffering from bipolar disorder.

Medical records presented in court show that Brock was given forced injections of powerful sedatives and oral doses of lithium, while being mandated to undergo group therapy.

“Next thing you know, the police held onto me, the doctor stuck me with a needle and I was knocked out.” Brock told the New York Daily News.

“I woke up to them taking off my underwear and then went out again. I woke up the next day in a hospital robe.” she adds.

When the ordeal was finally over, the hospital forced Brock to sign a statement saying she had lied about Obama following her on Twitter. At no point did anyone, police or doctors, actually check her Twitter account to verify her claim.

“Objective: Patient will verbalize the importance of education for employment and will state that Obama is not following her on Twitter,” the hospital document reads.

Doctors also refused to believe Brock worked in a bank. Again, no one checked out the claim, instead opting to assume Brock had an “inability to test reality, unemployment.”

She was also charged with a bill of $13,637.10 upon her release, all for being held against her will.

Brock explained that her claims regarding Obama were made to show “the type of person I am. I’m a good person, a positive person.”

Brock is suing the NYPD and the hospital on charges of false imprisonment.


Giant rats sniff out tuberculosis -

Giant rats sniff out tuberculosis - 

Giant rats may strike fear and disgust into the hearts of homeowners worldwide, but researchers in impoverished Mozambique are improbably turning some of them into heroes.

At Eduardo Mondlane University in the capital Maputo, nine giant rats are busy at work -- sniffing out tuberculosis-causing bacteria from rows of sputum samples.

These are no ordinary rats, as they have undergone six months of training in Tanzania. Their most distinguishing asset is their impeccable sense of smell.

Placed inside a glass cage, a rat darts from sample to sample, then stops or rubs its legs, indicating that a sample is infected with a TB causing bacteria.

Once the task is complete, it is given a treat through a syringe for a job well done.

"Within 30 minutes, the rat can test close to a hundred samples, which normally takes a laboratory technician four days," said Emilio Valverde, TB program director at APOPO, the organisation leading the research.

The project, which started in February 2013, has brought hope to thousands of TB sufferers who sometimes receive false results and test negative using the standard laboratory system.

In 2006, tuberculosis was declared a national emergency in Mozambique, with 60,000 people in 2014 said to be infected, according to the ministry of health.

That number was a 10 percent increase from 2013.

Samples delivered to the university for testing are collected from 15 health centres across Maputo.

- Rats in training -

Belgian group APOPO is planning to expand the program to other parts of the country, while working on getting the system approved by the World Health Organization.

The organisation claims rat testing is more cost effective than other conventional methods.

Each rat costs around $6,700 to $8,000 to train, with a six-to-eight-year life span.

The cost is lower compared to rapid diagnostic test GeneXpert, which costs up to $17,000 per device, setting the state back between $10 and $17 per test.

The kitten-size rats are also used by APOPO to detect landmines by sniffing out explosives.

They are light enough to cross terrain without triggering the mines, and are followed by de-mining experts who reward the rats with bananas.

The rats weigh up to 1.5 pounds and are said to be "easier to catch and train" -- according to Valverde.

Samples pointed out by the rats to contain TB bacteria are then sent for further tests using fluorescence microscopy, a more sensitive laboratory technique.

The results are sent back to health centres, allowing patients to start treatment early.

Although TB is a treatable disease, in underdeveloped countries like Mozambique it can be deadly if left untreated and is particularly harmful to people living with HIV.

Mozambique is one of the countries worst affected by TB and 1 in 10 adults is HIV-positive.

With World Tuberculosis Day being marked on Tuesday, the Mozambican Ministry of Health said it was cautiously monitoring the APOPO work.

"This technique has to be compared to others that are available and already WHO approved, such as GeneXpert or LED microscope," said Ivan Manhica, who heads the national programme for tuberculosis at the health ministry.

According to the WHO, TB killed 1.5 million people in 2013.


Man Awarded $5.5 Million After Cops ‘Accidentally’ Shot Him 16 Times -

Man Awarded $5.5 Million After Cops ‘Accidentally’ Shot Him 16 Times - 

Dustin Theoharis was shot 16 times by police, but they say it was all a big “mistake.” When Dustin woke up from a nap back on February 11th of 2012, two police officers shot him 16 times.

But the cops say that they were trying to serve a warrant for somebody else. They just happened to think that Theoharis was reaching for a gun when he was in fact trying to grab his wallet.

Theoharis filed two lawsuits as a result, the payouts now totaling $5.5 million. Theoharis says the suit is justified by the fact that he lost his job as a result of being shot and still suffers daily. He also says that he has trouble socializing due to suffering from post-traumatic stress. His left arm and hand also don’t function fully due to the multiple gun shot injuries he sustained from the trigger-happy cops.

“It’s a tough job they have to do,” Theoharis said to the Seattle Times. While he acknowledges police have “a tough job,” he says that doesn’t mean they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions when “they make mistakes.”

In this case the “mistakes” were huge and could have cost an innocent man his life.

Theoharis was napping at an apartment he was renting in his friend Cole Harrison’s home in Washington. Police weren’t looking for Theoharis or even his friend Harrison, but instead for Harrison’s son.

Harrison’s son hadn’t done anything particularly catastrophic. Instead, he had failed to check in with his state Department of Corrections probation officer.

They didn’t find Harrison or his son. The King County sheriff’s deputy Aaron Thompson and corrections officer Kristopher Rongen found Theoharis sleeping. They woke him up and asked him for ID. When he reached for it, they unloaded on him.

“I woke up and there were two guys standing at the door,” Theoharis said. “They asked me for ID and I went to grab for it and that’s when I was shot.”

Theoharis was shot in the jaw, both upper and lower arms, his wrist, hand shoulder and abdomen, and both legs according to medical records. He never made it out of bed and never made a move that could in any way be interpreted as “threatening” the officers. He was simply responding to what they told him to do.

The original suit was for $20 million, but a $3 million settlement was agreed upon, followed by an additional $2.5 million paid out by the state.

Most outrageous of all is the fact that neither officers Thompson and Rongen were ever charged.


Monday, 23 March 2015

STUDY: 45 minute power nap boosts memory five-fold... -

STUDY: 45 minute power nap boosts memory five-fold... - 

A power nap of just 45 minutes can boost memory by five times, research has found.
A short doze helps you to retain information you have learned and 'significantly' improves recall, scientists said – meaning naps really could help students revising for exams.
Participants in the study learned 90 single words and 120 unconnected word pairs such as 'milk taxi'. 

Happy napping: A 45-minute nap helps you to retain information you have learned and 'significantly' improves recall, scientists said – meaning naps really could help students revising for exams
Sleep study: The scientists at Saarland University found that a nap 'produces a five-fold improvement in information retrieval from memory'

Some then watched a DVD while others slept. 
When they were then retested, those who had slept remembered more word pairs, the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory reports. 

The scientists, from Saarland University in Germany, said that during sleep, bursts of brain activity known as sleep spindles play an important role in consolidating newly learned information.
Professor Axel Mecklinger said a nap of just 45 minutes to an hour 'produces a five-fold improvement in information retrieval from memory' 
'The memory performance of the participants who had a power nap was just as good as it was before sleeping, that is, immediately after completing the learning phase.
'Strictly speaking, memory performance did not improve in the nap group relative to the levels measured immediately after the learning phase, but they did remain constant.'
'A short nap at the office or in school is enough to significantly improve learning success. Wherever people are in a learning environment, we should think seriously about the positive effects of sleep,' says Axel Mecklinger. 
'Enhancing information recall through sleeping doesn't require us to stuff bulky tomes under our pillow. 
'A concentrated period of learning followed by a short relaxing sleep is all that's needed.'


US "Loses" $500 Million In Weapons Given To Yemen, Now In Al-Qaeda Hands -

US "Loses" $500 Million In Weapons Given To Yemen, Now In Al-Qaeda Hands - 

Nobody could have possibly foreseen that yet another US foreign diplomacy "success story" would turn out to be an epic disaster. Well, nobody except for those can predict that virtually every US intervention abroad is now a staggering fiasco. As for Yemen, the outcome was clear long ago:

Yemen's US-Backed Government & President Resign
Obama's "Partners" In Yemen Overthrown As Presidential Palace Falls To Local Militiamen
Deserted US Embassy In Yemen Immediately Seized By Armed Rebels
The Coup Is Complete: US Embassy In Yemen Shutting Down, Ambassador To Leave By Wednesday
And, naturally, after noting that "the employees said that more than 20 vehicles were taken by the fighters after the Americans departed from Sanaa's airport" we asked how long until we have a "tabulation of losses to US taxpayers, just like the great Islamic State 'robbery' of hundreds of millions in US military equipment in Iraq?" That, of course, was another epic US intervention success story.

Anyway, thanks to WaPo we have an answer: according to Jeff Bezos' recent media acquisition, "the Pentagon is unable to account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid given to Yemen."

Obviously, "can't account for" means "has lost." But while the US does not know where nearly half a billion in weapons can be found, it is more than informed who is the current owner: there are "fears that the weaponry, aircraft and equipment is at risk of being seized by Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda, according to U.S. officials."

And just like that, America's now laughable, pathetic foreign policy has not only resulted in another US-supported administration to be exiled or worse, but is has directly armed the adversary. And to think it was only 6 months ago when the Teleprompter in Chief was praising the "Yemen success story." From Obama's Statement on ISIL as of September 10, 2014:

Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL.  And any time we take military action, there are risks involved –- especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions.  But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.  This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.  This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.  And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year:  to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.
Some may find it odd then, that 6 months later this "strategy" has been flipped on its head, and the Obama administration is taking out its partners (in Yemen), while supporting the terrorists who threaten us.

But almost everyone will say this was obvious from day one.

Here is what else was obvious:

With Yemen in turmoil and its government splintering, the Defense Department has lost its ability to monitor the whereabouts of small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies donated by the United States. The situation has grown worse since the United States closed its embassy in Sanaa, the capital, last month and withdrew many of its military advisers.

U.S. firearms supplied to the Interior Ministry in Yemen, which has
$500 million in aid from the United States since 2007 under an
array of 
Defense Department and State Department programs. (GAO)

In recent weeks, members of Congress have held closed-door meetings with U.S. military officials to press for an accounting of the arms and equipment. Pentagon officials have said that they have little information to go on and that there is little they can do at this point to prevent the weapons and gear from falling into the wrong hands.

“We have to assume it’s completely compromised and gone,” said a legislative aide on Capitol Hill who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

* * *

Washington has supplied more than $500 million in military aid to Yemen since 2007 under an array of Defense Department and State Department programs. The Pentagon and CIA have provided additional assistance through classified programs, making it difficult to know exactly how much Yemen has received in total.
Below is a graphic representation of all the equipment that has been "misplaced."

Another day for the US State Department under John Kerry, another day of endless embarrassment.

U.S. military officials declined to comment for the record. A defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, said there was no hard evidence that U.S. arms or equipment had been looted or confiscated. But the official acknowledged that the Pentagon had lost track of the items.

“Even in the best-case scenario in an unstable country, we never have 100 percent accountability,” the defense official said.
It gets better:

U.S. government officials say al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen poses a more direct threat to the U.S. homeland than any other terrorist group. To counter it, the Obama administration has relied on a combination of proxy forces and drone strikes launched from bases outside the country.
And now it is relying on an even more radical strategy: arming al-Qaeda directly.

But the absolute punchline is the way the US government justifies this most recent fiasco:

Although the loss of weapons and equipment already delivered to Yemen would be embarrassing, U.S. officials said it would be unlikely to alter the military balance of power there. Yemen is estimated to have the second-highest gun ownership rate in the world, ranking behind only the United States, and its bazaars are well stocked with heavy weaponry. Moreover, the U.S. government restricted its lethal aid to small firearms and ammunition, brushing aside Yemeni requests for fighter jets and tanks.
See, it's no biggie that US taxpayers are half a bill out of pocket: the Yemen branch of Al-Qaeda was already armed to the teeth anyway, peace out.

Up next? US-trained Ukraine troops with ultra-modern equipment mysteriously defect, and end up in the Russian army?

The winner? The US Military Industrial Complex, because as General Sline said in Spies Like Us, "a weapon unused is a useless weapon." And if there is anything the US military-industrial complex is good at, it is exporting war first courtesy of the CIA operating the in the shadows of incompetent figureheads like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, followed promptly - like in this case - by arms to fight it (while HSBC, JPM and others provide the funding).


Scientists plan to mine human feces for precious metals... -

Scientists plan to mine human feces for precious metals... - 

Every year, Americans are flushing a fortune down the toilet. Literally. More than 7 million tons of biosolids—treated sewage sludge—pass through US wastewater facilities annually. Contained within our shit are surprisingly large quantities of silver, gold, and platinum.

But our days of wasting human waste may be numbered, if Kathleen Smith of the US Geological Survey has anything to say about it. She’s leading a new research program that’s examining the feasibility of extracting precious metals from sewage. As Smith will explain Tuesday at a press conference at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, recovering metals from waste could reduce the need for environmentally-destructive mining programs, and make biosolids a safer source of fertilizer to boot.

“There are metals everywhere,” Smith said in a statement. “If you can get rid of some of the nuisance metals that currently limit how much of these biosolids we can use on fields and forests, and at the same time recover valuable metals and other elements, that’s a win-win.”

At treatment plants, raw sewage is processed by a series of physical, biological and chemical processes and transformed into treated water and biosolids. Roughly 60 percent of biosolids are applied as fertilizer to fields and forests. The rest are either incinerated or buried. While biosolids are routinely screened for hazardous heavy metals including lead, arsenic, and cadmium, few studies have tested our waste for anything as valuable as, say, gold or platinum.

But that’s starting to change. Earlier this year, a study led by Paul Westerhoff at Arizona State University profiled over 50 metals in biosolid samples from 94 wastewater treatment plants across the US. Most samples were substantially enriched in rare and precious platinum-group metals, silver, and gold. Extrapolating from their data, the authors worked out that the waste produced annually by a million Americans could contain as much as 13 million dollars worth of metals. That’s over four billion dollars worth of gold coming out of our collective arses every year.​

Microscopic gold-rich and lead-rich particles in a municipal biosolids sample. Image: Heather Lowers, USGS Denver Microbeam Laboratory
Smith’s team is now on a mission to figure out which metals are the most economically viable to recover, and how we can extract them.

“We have a two-pronged approach,” she said. “In one part of the study, we are looking at removing some regulated metals from the biosolids that limit their use for land application. In the other part of the project, we’re interested in collecting valuable metals that could be sold, including some of the more technologically important metals, such as vanadium and copper that are in cell phones, computers and alloys.”

To do so, the team is working to modify extraction procedures used in industrial mining to leach metals out of minerals. “Traditional extractants will behave differently with the organic matter [in biosolids],” Smith told me over the phone. “But if we can find an extractant that does a good job, this procedure may be incorporated into current biosolid treatments.”

Smith and her fellow researchers are also planning to test biosolids across the country for precious metals, to search for any geographic or demographic patterns in their distribution. So far, the group has collected waste from several small towns in the Rocky Mountains, rural areas, and big cities. Astonishingly, in nearly all the samples they’ve examined, the team has found commercially mineable concentrations of gold.

“What’s interesting is that we’re seeing nearly the same amount of gold in all of these samples,” Smith told me. “It seems like there’s some source of gold that’s prevalent across the board.”

It's not entirely clear how these precious metals are getting into our waste, Smith says. Potential culprits include hair products, cosmetics, and detergents. But humans could also be playing a more direct role, by concentrating the trace metals we eat during digestion, and sending gold-and-silver-fortified defecations down the tube.

Whatever the reason, one thing’s clear: our sewers are a lot prettier than we realized.


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Report : Obama buys Hawaii Mansion - 'MAGNUM P.I.' Home... -

Report : Obama buys Hawaii Mansion - 'MAGNUM P.I.' Home... - 

A well-known Waimanalo home has been sold, but the big question is who is the buyer?

Waimanalo is known for its friendly atmosphere and beautiful Windward Oahu beaches.

"We enjoy this. I don't know if it will be the same. If it's the same, it's all good," said Waimanalo resident Uncle Nawai.

The sale of the Waimanalo property named Pahonu has people talking about potential changes to their community.

"It started a couple of weeks ago with people saying, 'Have you heard who is buying the place?'"said Waimanalo resident Lee Siegel.

According to state records, the home was just bought by Waimanalo Paradise LLC, and the man who purchased it was Seth Madorsky, a Chicago attorney who has ties to President Obama. The property was then sold to another limited liability corporation in Colorado.

Oahu residents are familiar with the impact the President has when he visits, so many are wondering what would happen if he has a home here.

"He's going to be protected by the Secret Service all the time, there will be all kinds of traffic woes," said Nawai.

"People are wondering what the security situation will be like, and will they be stopped every time they come home. I'm thrilled about it. I'm a fan. I think it is great, not just for Waimanalo and me, but for the state," said Siegel.

Siegel has lived a house away from Pahonu for the past four years. He's used to the property attracting attention -- after all, it is the estate featured in the "Magnum P.I." television series.

"Magnum P.I. fans will come and look for it and ask me, 'Which is the Magnum house?'," said Siegel.

The home was built in 1933 on three acres. It features a tennis court -- and a separate bath house and boat house. It was owned by Eve Anderson and sold for $8.7 million.

"She moved out this weekend, probably to prepare for fixing things up -- like putting in a basketball court and a heliport," said Siegel.

There are what appear to be piles of boxes still on the property.

The estate accesses a protected beach, one that is hard for other people to reach -- even from neighboring properties. The Pahonu estate has some seclusion, but the neighborhood still has that laid-back Waimanalo atmosphere.

"People are friendly with each other. It's got a good vibe. People watch out for one another, so he'll fit right in," added Siegel.

Pahonu is visibly in need of repairs and upkeep. While the estate sold for $8.7-million, the new owner got a mortgage for $9.5 million, which could include the cost of those repairs.

Island residents may find out if Pahonu is the president's new winter home during his annual vacation to Hawaii in December.


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Game turns Google's search suggestions into 'Family Feud' -

Game turns Google's search suggestions into 'Family Feud' - 


Think you're good at predicting Google's search suggestions? You now have an easy way to prove it. A new (and decidedly unofficial) Google Feud game challenges you to make Family Feud-style guesses about what comes next in Google's autocomplete box. The closer you are to the top result, the more points you get; guess outside of the top 10 and you'll get a strike. There's sadly no easy way to challenge others, but this should still be a fun way to demonstrate your search savviness to your friends.


Surprise: Tech Company Valuations Are Completely Made Up -

Surprise: Tech Company Valuations Are Completely Made Up - 

Talk of a massive bubble in the red hot world of private tech companies is getting louder of late. As we noted last week, Prem Watsa recently highlighted what he called excessive “speculation” in tech stocks and predicted that at the end of the day, habitually slapping billion-dollar valuations on unproven companies that often have little more than an app and a dream will end “very badly.” This comes on the heels of Mark Cuban’s warning that stretched valuations in private tech companies are far more dangerous than any perceived Nasdaq bubble 2.0, as at least with overvalued publicly traded firms there’s liquidity. 

Well, now that everyone is jumping on the “there’s no way that app is worth $50 billion” bandwagon, Bloomberg is out with a startling revelation: “Snapchat, the photo-messaging app raising cash at a $15 billion valuation, probably isn't actually worth more than Clorox.” 

No, probably not, but it sure is more fun than doing laundry, which is why it absolutely makes sense that the number VCs are putting on the app makes absolutely no sense. Here’s Bloomberg:

Here's the secret to how Silicon Valley calculates the value of its hottest companies: The numbers are sort of made-up. For the most mature startups, investors agree to grant higher valuations, which help the companies with recruitment and building credibility, in exchange for guarantees that they'll get their money back first if the company goes public or sells. They can also negotiate to receive additional free shares if a subsequent round's valuation is less favorable.
Ok so it’s all completely made up, which is what we suspected, but as Bloomberg discovered when they spoke to some of the billionaires involved in funding early stage tech companies, the term “valuation” doesn’t actually mean what sane people think it means. In fact, having to equate the amount of money one throws at something with an assessment of how much the business is actually worth turns out to be really inconvenient when it comes to fleecing employee shareholders and people who got in earlier which is why VCs would rather just not talk about it, but when pressed, here’s what they’ll say: 

“These big numbers almost don't matter," says Randy Komisar, a partner at venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "Those numbers are just a middling shot at a valuation, and then it's adjusted later" 
Got it. So while we thought “valuations” were numbers that indicate how much something is worth, what they actually are are complete shots in the dark which, if necessary, can be “adjusted” later to reflect economic realities. The reason this makes sense is because these companies often command huge market shares in markets they made up and also because their founders are arrogant. Here’s Bloomberg again: 

Some VCs defend the practice by saying valuations are just a placeholder number, part of an equation fueled by other, more important factors. Those can include market share, growth projections, and a founder's ego. 
If those are the “more important factors,” what are the less important factors? 

“A tech startup's cash flow is less important than you might think. It's something investors look at for a sense of how quickly a startup is growing its revenue, if the company has any.” 
So just as the term “valuation” does not, as we mistakenly thought, indicate what something is worth, a business’s ability to generate cash flow is “less important” than we might have suspected, and it’s a good thing, because a lot of these business don’t make any money at all:

Financiers also look to find the number of people using the product, regardless of whether they pay for it. 
Another mistake the market often makes when thinking about valuing these companies revolves around the bad habit of factoring in costs, and especially operating costs, which, like cash flow, actually don’t matter:

Costs, especially operations costs, are largely ignored for fast-growing companies.
All of this makes complete sense of course, but it does lead us to wonder how valuations for the next Facebook are determined because ultimately, you’re still left with the annoying task of having to get a funding round done, and even if it’s just a “middling shot,” it’s still a shot you have to take. Fortunately, there’s one completely unbiased party who is always willing to step in and tell you how much the business is really worth: 

The number is typically set by the company…

A founder often starts off with a number in mind, based on the startup's last valuation, the valuations of competitors, and, for good measure, the valuation of the company's neighbor down the street.
The punchline to the whole thing is that when this highly scientific process ends up spitting out a number that doesn’t make any sense (so like when Snapchat is supposedly as valuable as Campbell’s Soup for instance), the VCs never get hurt because, in consultation with the founder, they make sure to put in ironclad “downside protection.” 

Buried in their corporate filings, startups tuck away all sorts of provisions that reward investors for accepting these mega-valuations. The practice is more regular and egregious in financing rounds for mature companies. Their capital requirements tend to be much larger, so they must turn to more sophisticated investment firms that demand these kinds of terms. Startups that are generous with these guarantees can garner much higher valuations.

Each provision covers different ways to make sure new investors get paid back, even if disaster strikes, if an initial public offering gives the company a market cap far less than its private number, or, more commonly, if the startup has to raise money again at a lower valuation. One stipulation, called senior liquidation preference, ensures that a certain group gets its money back before anyone else, including employees. Another class, called downside protection or ratchets, automatically grants additional shares in the event of a declining valuation, removing a great deal of risk that the stake will ever lose value.

And while company founders and VCs are busy making up numbers, employees (who may or may not have been lured into working for the companies with promises of stock option riches), get the short end of the stick because unlike the VCs, the value of their stake is based on real numbers: 

The valuation based on common stock, which is generally what employees receive, and it's calculated by professional auditors. That figure usually isn't anywhere close to the headline number


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Solar eclipse, Supermoon, Spring equinox: Friday will see three rare celestial events -

Solar eclipse, Supermoon, Spring equinox: Friday will see three rare celestial events -

As the eclipse plunges the UK and other places into darkness this Friday, two other rare if less spectacular celestial events will be taking place, too: a Supermoon and the Spring equinox.

A Supermoon, or perigee moon, happens when the full or new moon does its closest fly-by of the Earth, making it look bigger than it normally does. And the spring equinox refers to the time of the year when the day and night are of equal duration, mid-way between the longest and shortest days.

The solar eclipse refers to a phenomenon where the sun and moon line up, so that the latter obscures the former. And while it won’t be affected by the two other events, it is rare that the three events happen even individually.


Most of the time, there are between three and six Supermoons a year. There is set to be six in 2015, two of which have already happened. The next will take place on March 20, the day of the eclipse, and the others will come in August, September and October.

In pictures: The biggest supermoon of 2014
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Perigee moon
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Eclipses can only happen at new moon, when the moon appears is entirely in shadow. And the spectacular Supermoon images that are often spotted can only happen when the moon is full, since it can only be seen then.

As a result, only the last three Supermoons of this year will be visible — because the moon is new rather than full on March 20, it won’t be seen. But it will be gliding past us closer than ever, and its shadow will be visible as it blocks out the sun on Friday morning.

Spring equinox

The equinox will also happen on March 20. While it won’t have any discernable, direct impact on how the solar eclipse looks, it will contribute to a rare collision of three unusual celestial events.

On March 20, the Earth’s axis will be perpindecular to the sun’s rays — which only happens twice a year, at the two equinoxes. After that, it will start tipping over, making the days longer in the northern hemisphere.

As such, the equinox has long been celebrated as a time of beginning and renewal, by a number of historic cultures, and is linked to Easter and Passover.

The equinox will happen at the same time as a solar eclipse in 2053 and 2072, though it doesn’t always appear as close together as that.

Read more -

For Every Dollar Spent Influencing US Politics, Corporations Get $760 Back -

For Every Dollar Spent Influencing US Politics, Corporations Get $760 Back - 

I almost don’t want to write it, but if one is OK with crony capitalism, essentially stealing from the American citizenry via any number of official means, investing a few bucks in cronies gives amazing returns.

I am always astounded by the favors (almost always legal favors) politicians give out for relatively paltry sums. Sure Mr X goes to work for Y company after working at Z agency and Y company just happens to get a contract. But that contract(s) might be worth billions. The newly hired ex-bureaucrat costs maybe a few hundred thousand dollars per year. Chump change.

A solid return on investment. And with campaign contributions to congresspeople the ROI is often even better.

(From Zerohedge)
According to the foundation’s analysis, between 2007 and 2012, 200 of America’s most politically active corporations spent a combined $5.8 billion (with a B) on federal lobbying and campaign contributions. What they gave pales compared to what those same corporations got: $4.4 trillion (with a T) in federal business and support.
For the record I don’t have a big problem with Citizens United. Corporations are collections of people and if they want to support politicians it is quite literally the right of each of those individuals to do it collectively if they so choose.

However, that does not mean that the citizenry has to like it when a company throws around its money. The voters can ultimately punish a politician. Unfortunately that rarely happens.

If we want to reduce the ROI on lobbying and other types of influence peddling it is up to the citizenry to reduce it. We have the tools. The question is whether people will really hold their “leaders” accountable or not. To date it’s mostly been not.

Companies, unions, wealthy individuals, etc. can only buy politicians if we let them.


Friday, 13 March 2015

WARNING: Cell Phone Users, you are BUSTED! - track your movements 24/7 for the last several years -

WARNING: Cell Phone Users, you are BUSTED! - track your movements 24/7 for the last several years - 

If you want to see what your history has, go to here: https://maps.google.com/locationhistory/b/0/ and Login with your gmail username / password

If you have an iphone with google maps installed (prior to version 3.2.1), then you can access the same information.

More information on this is here: https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/4388034?hl=en

You can see on google maps EVERYWHERE you've ever went. I saw an article today while searching for videos, figured I'd try it myself. Sure enough, I can track my movements 24/7 for the last several years. Worst part is, so can the police and anyone else that has your login info.

Facebook Does it Again – Company Sends Funeral Home Advertisements To Cancer Sufferer -

Facebook Does it Again – Company Sends Funeral Home Advertisements To Cancer Sufferer - 

I don’t know what it’s going to take to get people to stop using Facebook. I really don’t.

Last month, I highlighted an extremely important warning from Salim Varani in the post, A Very Disturbing and Powerful Post – “Get Your Loved Ones Off Facebook.” If you somehow missed that piece, go ahead and read it now. Here’s a an excerpt to give you a little taste:

“Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask you why you’re getting off Facebook,” is the guilty and reluctant question I’m hearing a lot these days. Like we kinda know Facebook is bad, but don’t really want to know.

I’ve been a big Facebook supporter – one of the first users in my social group who championed what a great way it was to stay in touch, way back in 2006.

I got my mum and brothers on it, and around 20 other people. I’ve even taught Facebook marketing in one of the UK’s biggest tech education projects, Digital Business Academy. I’m a techie and a marketer — so I can see the implications — and until now, they hadn’t worried me. I’ve been pretty dismissive towards people who hesitate with privacy concerns.

With this latest privacy change on January 30th, I’m scared.
Given the company’s aggressive push to monetize all their users’ personal data and conversations, it was only a matter of time before we’d see an egregious real world example of what can go wrong.

It all went wrong for Daniel Kapp, an Austria-based strategic consultant diagnosed with prostrate cancer last month. Shortly after googling the disease, he became bombarded with funeral home advertisements on Facebook. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get rid of them.

The Daily Mail reports that:

A cancer patient who searched online for support about his disease was left horrified when Facebook began placing advertisement for funeral directors on his Facebook feed.

Daniel Kapp, 46, was diagnosed with prostate cancer last month. Shortly after he used the web to learn more about the illness.

When he opened Facebook the following day he said he was ‘bombarded’ with ‘insensitive’ promotions that he couldn’t remove.

‘I was just knocked off my feet to see that there on the screen,’ said Mr Kapp, who works as a strategic consultant in Austria.

‘It is just completely insensitive. And every time I tried to delete it, it appeared again.’ 

He blamed Facebook for monitoring the data about the searches he had done and then using it in order to sell it on to potential advertisers.

When contacted by local media, the directors of the funeral companies said they were shocked their adverts were being used to target people in this way. One said: ‘I can confirm that this should never have happened.’

It gathers information about devices, sites people visit, searches they’ve made and demographic data they have entered into their account on the social network.

Initially these cookies were just used on the site, but in September Facebook launched its Atlas ad platform that monitors these movements around the wider web.

Today Facebook added a new tool called Topic Data that now additionally scans what people are ‘saying about events, brands, subjects and activities.’
More abuses to come. Virtually guaranteed.

Facebook has not yet responded to MailOnline’s request to comment on Mr Kapp’s complaints.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. One of the most significant indications things are turning around for the better and that humanity is growing up, is when Facebook begins to bleed users. Until then…


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Greece Passes Law To Plunder Pension Funds -

Greece Passes Law To Plunder Pension Funds - 

Having previously hinted that they might 'dip' into public pensions funds for some short-term cash to payback The IMF, and then confirming that the plan is to repo that cash from pension cash reserves (raising concerns about how they will unwind the repo - i.e. pay it back); the Greek government finally signed the bill today that enables them to plunder the Greek people's pension funds (for their own good).The massive irony of this bill is the bill enables greek deposits to be fully invested in Greek sovereign bonds... which Tsipras and Varoufakis both admitted today is "unsustainable" and "will never be repaid."

As Bloomberg reports,

Cash reserves of pension funds and other public entities kept in Bank of Greece deposit accounts can be fully invested in Greek sovereign notes, according to amendment to be submitted in parliament, country’s finance ministry says in e-mailed statement.

Cash reserves can be used for repos, reverse repos, buy and sell-back, sell and buy-back transactions

Pension funds, public entities will be able to claim damages from Greek state in case of overdue repayment, partial repayment

Pension funds are not obliged to transfer their reserves to the Bank of Greece, according to finance ministry statement
*  *  *

We wonder how the increasingly disenfranchised Greeks will react when they find their savings (whatever there is left) are now being directly plundered to fund the nation's transfer payments (via The IMF) to Ukraine.

Greece remains second only to Ukraine for default risk....


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Exploding E-cigarette burns California man, starts fire... -

Exploding E-cigarette burns California man, starts fire... - 

A Santa Ana man suffered burns to his face Monday after an electronic cigarette he was smoking exploded, sending shrapnel flying throughout his room and lighting his bed on fire, authorities said.

The man, described as being in his 20s, was treated for flash burns to his face and hand, which was cut during the blast, said Capt. Steve Concialdi of the Orange County Fire Authority.

“It was like a bomb that exploded in his face,” Concialdi said.

The man was smoking a modified e-cigarette about 1:45 a.m. inside his bedroom in the 100 block of MacArthur Boulevard, when it started humming, Concialdi said.

As he quickly pulled the cigarette from his face, it exploded, authorities said.

Concialdi said the powerful explosion sent pieces of the battery-operated device flying with one bit lodged in his bedroom ceiling. The bed, which was covered in clothing, burst in flames.

Last month, authorities said an Anaheim Hills teen was burned when an e-cigarette he was using exploded.  In San Diego, a man was hospitalized Feb. 8 after an e-cigarette exploded inside his smoke shop.

Concialdi said e-cigarette users should avoid overcharging their devices, which could cause them to overheat.


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Venezuela To Start Fingerprinting Shoppers before they can buy bread and other staples, to combat food shortages -

Venezuela To Start Fingerprinting Shoppers before they can buy bread and other staples, to combat food shortages - 

Back in August, when we wrote about the latest instance of trouble in Maduro's socialist paradise, we cautioned that as a result of the economic collapse in the Latin American nation (and this was even before the plunge in crude made the "paradise" into the 9th circle of hell), Venezuelans soon may need to have their fingerprints scanned before they can buy bread and other staples. This unprecedented step was proposed after Maduro had the brilliant idea of proposing mandatory grocery fingerprinting system to combat food shortages. He said then that "the program will stop people from buying too much of a single item", but did not say when it would take effect.

Privacy concerns aside (clearly Venezuelans have bigger, well, smaller fish to fry) there was hope that this plunge into insanity would be delayed indefinitely, as the last thing Venezuela's strained economy would be able to handle is smuggling of the most basic of necessities: something such a dramatic rationing step would surely lead to.

Unfortunately for the struggling Venezuelan population, the time has arrived and as AP reported over the weekend, Venezuela "will begin installing 20,000 fingerprint scanners at supermarkets nationwide in a bid to stamp out hoarding and panic buying" as of this moment.

The government has been selectively rolling out the rationing system for months at state-run supermarkets along the western border with Colombia where smuggling of price-controlled goods is a major problem.

On Saturday, President Nicolas Maduro said that seven large private retail chains had voluntarily agreed to install the scanners.
Last month the owners of several chains of supermarkets and drugstores were arrested for allegedly artificially creating long queues by not opening enough tills.

It gets better: Maduro also accused Colombian food smugglers of buying up price-controlled goods in state-run supermarkets along the border.

For the first time in recent history the economists who say the effort is bound to fail, are right. They blame Venezuela's rigid price controls that discourage local manufacturing and the recent slide in world oil prices that has further diminished the supply of dollars available to import everything from milk to cars.

As BBC further adds, in January the hashtag #AnaquelesVaciosEnVenezuela ("Empty shelves in Venezuela") became a worldwide Twitter trend, with over 200,000 tweets as Venezuelans tweeted pictures of empty supermarket shelves around the country.


New memories implanted in mice while they sleep... - Same technique could alter human mind... -

New memories implanted in mice while they sleep... - Same technique could alter human mind... - 

Sleeping minds: prepare to be hacked. For the first time, conscious memories have been implanted into the minds of mice while they sleep. The same technique could one day be used to alter memories in people who have undergone traumatic events.

When we sleep, our brain replays the day's activities. The pattern of brain activity exhibited by mice when they explore a new area during the day, for example, will reappear, speeded up, while the animal sleeps. This is thought to be the brain practising an activity - an essential part of learning. People who miss out on sleep do not learn as well as those who get a good night's rest, and when the replay process is disrupted in mice, so too is their ability to remember what they learned the previous day.

Karim Benchenane and his colleagues at the Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institution in Paris, France, hijacked this process to create new memories in sleeping mice. The team targeted the rodents' place cells - neurons that fire in response to being in or thinking about a specific place. These cells are thought to help us form internal maps, and their discoverers won a Nobel prize last year.

Benchenane's team used electrodes to monitor the activity of mice's place cells as the animals explored an enclosed arena, and in each mouse they identified a cell that fired only in a certain arena location. Later, when the mice were sleeping, the researchers monitored the animals' brain activity as they replayed the day's experiences. A computer recognised when the specific place cell fired; each time it did, a separate electrode would stimulate brain areas associated with reward.

When the mice awoke, they made a beeline for the location represented by the place cell that had been linked to a rewarding feeling in their sleep. A brand new memory - linking a place with reward - had been formed.

This must be the place

It is the first time a conscious memory has been created in animals during sleep. In recent years, researchers have been able to form subconscious associations in sleeping minds - smokers keen to quit can learn to associate cigarettes with the smells of rotten eggs and fish in their sleep, for example.

Previous work suggested that if this kind of subconscious learning had occurred in Benchenane's mice, they would have explored the arena in a random manner, perhaps stopping at the reward-associated location. But these mice headed straight for the location, suggesting a conscious memory. "The mouse develops a goal-directed behaviour to go towards the place," says Benchenane. "It proves that it's not an automatic behaviour. What we create is an association between a particular place and a reward that can be consciously accessed by the mouse."

"The mouse is remembering enough abstract information to think ‘I want to go to a certain place', and go there when it wakes up," says neuroscientist Neil Burgess at University College London. "It's a bigger breakthrough [than previous studies] because it really does show what the man in the street would call a memory - the ability to bring to mind abstract knowledge which can guide behaviour in a directed way."

Benchenane doesn't think the technique can be used to implant many other types of memories, such as skills - at least for the time being. Spatial memories are easier to modify because they are among the best understood.

His team's findings also provide some of the strongest evidence for the way in which place cells work. It is almost impossible to test whether place cells function as an internal map while animals are awake, says Benchenane, because these animals also use external cues, such as landmarks, to navigate. By specifically targeting place cells while the mouse is asleep, the team were able to directly test theories that specific cells represent specific places.

"Even when those place cells fire in sleep, they still convey spatial information," says Benchenane. "That provides evidence that when you've got activation of place cells during the consolidation of memories in sleep, you've got consolidation of the spatial information."

Benchenane hopes that his technique could be developed to help alter people's memories, perhaps of traumatic events (see "Now it's our turn", below).

Loren Frank at the University of California, San Francisco, agrees. "I think this is a really important step towards helping people with memory impairments or depression," he says. "It is surprising to me how many neurological and psychiatric illnesses have something to do with memory, including schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder."

"In principle, you could selectively change brain processing during sleep to soften memories or change their emotional content," he adds.

Now it's our turn
It's a familiar feat from films such as Inception and Total Recall, but will we ever really be able to plant a memory in someone else's mind as they sleep?

Karim Benchenane at the Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institution in Paris, France, who implanted new memories into mice while they snoozed (see main story), hopes his technique can be developed to alter problematic memories in people. The idea is to attach good thoughts to bad memories, such as those that linger after traumatic experiences. "If you can identify where in the brain a person is reactivating a phobia-associated experience, you might be able to create a positive association," he says.

Fake friends

You could probably use the same approach to alter a person's memory to your own advantage.

Evidence suggests that single neurons can represent specific people in the brain – such cells have been termed "Jennifer Aniston cells" after a woman in a study was found to have one brain cell that only fired in response to images of the actress (Nature, doi.org/cmzdk9). If you could identify a neuron that represents you in someone else's brain and then stimulate areas of the brain that create a rewarding feeling every time that neuron fires, you might – in theory – be able to make that person like you more. "The fact that you can do it during sleep is a bit worrying, in that it implies that you could make somebody want something even if they didn't really," says Neil Burgess at University College London.

It is much more difficult to create an entirely new memory from scratch. Benchenane's team drew on the mice's existing memories of space and altered them. "It's not like they have created a whole new space that the animal is exploring in its head," says Loren Frank at the University of California, San Francisco. "Real experiences involve all of our senses and movement through space, and people, places and things," he says. "We are nowhere near recreating that richness – what we can do is take advantage of it and modify it."

These modifications could be for better or worse, says Frank. "There are a few ways of thinking about this – there's the medical application, and there's the more Orwellian application, where the government gets inside people's heads and starts to control them," he says. "It's unbelievably hard to do any of this, so I'm not deeply worried about it, but it's not impossible that it could happen."

Read more -