24 November 2017

Your Astronomy Geeking of the Day

Astronomers have found the first interstellar object in the solar system, named 1I/2017 U1 (`Oumuamua):

A few weeks ago, we reported on a small object visiting from beyond our solar system. Now astronomers have scrutinized data from this object, which has been given the name `Oumuamua, and which must have traveled through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. The conclusion is that it’s a dark, reddish, highly-elongated rocky or high-metal-content object. And, indeed, it is the first known asteroid from interstellar space. These new results were published today (November 20, 2017) in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

Some astronomers thought the object was a comet when the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawai`i first picked it up on October 19, as a faint point of light moving across the sky. Others thought it looked like a typical fast-moving small asteroid. As they tracked its motion through space, astronomers began to be able to calculate its orbit, showing beyond any doubt that this body did not originate from inside our solar system, like all other asteroids or comets ever observed.

Instead, this object was doubtless from interstellar space.

………

Bottom line: Astronomers report on the first known interstellar asteroid, which swept nearest our sun in September, then sped away again. Astronomers have named this object `Oumuamua and say it is dark red and very elongated.
For some reason, the Arthur C. Clarke novel Rendezvous with Rama comes to mind.

Proper Lawn Care, Raging Lunatic Edition

You may recall that Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was savagely beaten by a neighbor.

He had 5 broken ribs.

It now appears that this was a long running feud driven by a dispute regarding lawn care.

I've never gotten this whole lawn thing, but it appears that some men, and it is always men, are obsessed over this:
If it is possible for a man, as he's being hauled in front of a judge for his arraignment, to somehow still project an air of haughty superiority, well, that man would look like Rene Boucher did as he appeared in court just over a week ago.

A retired anesthesiologist, Boucher—who stands accused of a bizarre beating earlier this month that left his neighbor, the Kentucky senator Rand Paul, with six broken ribs—strode into the jammed courtroom wearing a well-pressed blue suit. His back was ramrod straight, his head was held high, his nose not quite in the air. Seven other accused criminals who joined Boucher on the court's docket that morning had been schlepped to the courthouse from the adjoining county jail in orange jumpsuits.

Not Boucher. He'd stayed the night before at a friend's place—all the easier to comply with the court order requiring him to remain at least 200 feet away from his badly injured neighbor, whose house sits exactly 269 feet from Boucher's own.

………

In the days after the dust-up, local newspapers suggested a long-simmering spat over yard care. But the senator's own spokesman quickly refuted the notion that the two men had been feuding: He said Paul hadn't had a conversation with Boucher or any of his family members in "over a decade." Instead, right-leaning outlets in Washington—and Paul himself—have pushed the idea that the alleged assault was actually motivated by politics. Specifically, the theory goes, it was Boucher's "socialist" beliefs and his antipathy for Donald Trump that led him to confront his Republican neighbor. (The FBI is said to be looking into that claim, which, if true, could turn Boucher's simple assault charge into a trickier federal case.)

But to many people in Bowling Green, there's nothing about this that smacks of politics. From the locals who know both men well, a portrait emerges of something much more personal and petty: a clash between a big-deal politician, living in a small town and rarely realizing the ways in which he rubs people the wrong way, and his neighbor, a proud, fiery, and meticulous former doctor. In other words, something far less Sumner-Brooks than Hatfield-McCoy. "It's like the old hillbilly feud over the property line," said longtime Bowling Green resident Bill Goodwin, who has known Paul for the better part of two decades and has become friends with Boucher in recent years.

………

How did a United States senator—just out mowing his lawn—wind up in an altercation that put him in the hospital? Was it a politically motivated attack? Or was it something far more petty? To separate rumor from reality, Ben Schreckinger slipped inside Rand Paul’s gated Kentucky community, where the neighbors tried to help him solve one of the weirder political mysteries in years.

If it is possible for a man, as he's being hauled in front of a judge for his arraignment, to somehow still project an air of haughty superiority, well, that man would look like Rene Boucher did as he appeared in court just over a week ago.

A retired anesthesiologist, Boucher—who stands accused of a bizarre beating earlier this month that left his neighbor, the Kentucky senator Rand Paul, with six broken ribs—strode into the jammed courtroom wearing a well-pressed blue suit. His back was ramrod straight, his head was held high, his nose not quite in the air. Seven other accused criminals who joined Boucher on the court's docket that morning had been schlepped to the courthouse from the adjoining county jail in orange jumpsuits.

Not Boucher. He'd stayed the night before at a friend's place—all the easier to comply with the court order requiring him to remain at least 200 feet away from his badly injured neighbor, whose house sits exactly 269 feet from Boucher's own.

A slight man, Boucher spent only a few moments inside the courtroom, enough time to approach the bench and plead not guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault. He and his lawyer then hustled toward the door, leaving behind them a pack of reporters and a still-lingering mystery: What exactly happened earlier this month in Rand Paul's yard, and why?

The apparent scuffle was as odd as it was rare. Not since 1856, when a cane-wielding congressman named Preston Brooks nearly killed the abolitionist Charles Sumner, had a sitting United States senator suffered such a violent drubbing. Brooks at least had the decency to perform his beat-down in front of witnesses in the Senate chamber, and to announce his motive: a beef over slavery. There's been no such clarity in the weeks since Rand Paul was sent to the hospital.

In the days after the dust-up, local newspapers suggested a long-simmering spat over yard care. But the senator's own spokesman quickly refuted the notion that the two men had been feuding: He said Paul hadn't had a conversation with Boucher or any of his family members in "over a decade." Instead, right-leaning outlets in Washington—and Paul himself—have pushed the idea that the alleged assault was actually motivated by politics. Specifically, the theory goes, it was Boucher's "socialist" beliefs and his antipathy for Donald Trump that led him to confront his Republican neighbor. (The FBI is said to be looking into that claim, which, if true, could turn Boucher's simple assault charge into a trickier federal case.)

But to many people in Bowling Green, there's nothing about this that smacks of politics. From the locals who know both men well, a portrait emerges of something much more personal and petty: a clash between a big-deal politician, living in a small town and rarely realizing the ways in which he rubs people the wrong way, and his neighbor, a proud, fiery, and meticulous former doctor. In other words, something far less Sumner-Brooks than Hatfield-McCoy. "It's like the old hillbilly feud over the property line," said longtime Bowling Green resident Bill Goodwin, who has known Paul for the better part of two decades and has become friends with Boucher in recent years.

On the afternoon of November 3, Paul was mowing his lawn in the well-to-do gated community where he's lived for 17 years. It's an enclave dotted with swimming pools, an artificial lake, and at least one private tennis court—a place where the Greek revival homes feature grand columns out front that support porticos and little balconies. Actually, the columns on Paul's house are rather modest by the standards of the neighborhood—a fact that doesn't escape notice. "They pick on Rand because he has the smallest one out there," one local confided in me.

According to The New York Times, he had just stepped off of his riding lawnmower when Boucher tackled him from behind. The senator apparently never heard Boucher coming because he was wearing "sound-muting earmuffs." Describing the alleged attack, Paul's spokesman, Sergio Gor, said his boss was "blindsided."

Jim Skaggs, who lives nearby (and is also one of the developers of the Rivergreen community), said that he thinks that Boucher charged at Paul from the street. From that direction, Paul's yard slopes steeply downward, toward the lake at the rear of his property. Barreling downward about 30 degrees, this imagined path would increase the force of a running tackle, perhaps explaining how a man of Boucher's diminutive stature—an acquaintance of the two men estimates that they both stand five-foot-six and weigh about 140 pounds—could do so much damage.

State police initially said that Paul had suffered a "minor injury," but reports later emerged that he had been hospitalized with five broken ribs and that the attack had left him with trouble breathing. Paul finally tweeted that he in fact had broken six ribs and suffered a "pleural effusion," an accumulation of excess liquid in his chest.

According to Tim Pritts, director of surgery at the University of Cincinnati medical school and an expert in trauma, the liquid in question was probably blood.

But even if you grant Boucher the momentum of a downhill charge, the injuries Paul suffered are extreme, according to Pritts (who hasn't treated Paul). An unarmed assault rarely results in more than a broken rib or two. The injuries Paul suffered sound to him more consistent with a car accident, or a fall down a flight of stairs—or even from the top of a building. "I've seen a few from people getting kicked by horses," added Pritts, who speculated that Paul's injuries may indicate he was stomped on while lying on the ground.

For Boucher, 59, an arrest of this sort is an unlikely claim to fame. His allegedly inflicting on his state's junior senator the type of damage more commonly associated with a horse surprised plenty of those who know him. The son of a New England gym teacher, Boucher had served as a doctor in the Army before embarking on a lucrative career in Kentucky, where he raised two bright, successful children.

But there have been setbacks for Boucher in recent years. In 2005, a bicycle accident left him with a badly injured back. He had already been tinkering with an idea for an invention to relieve pain: a vest filled with rice that could be heated in the microwave. Following his accident, he turned misery into good fortune, perfecting the vest and convincing the home-shopping network QVC to begin selling it.

Goodwin, who described Boucher as fiercely principled, said part of the motivation for inventing the vest was to reduce patients' reliance on painkiller medication. He added that Boucher once stopped working with a particular pain clinic after concluding that it was too loose in prescribing opioids, and that his own friendship with Boucher became strained for a time because of an acquaintance that Boucher was apparently convinced had occasionally smoked marijuana.

"His father taught him the old way, but he lives in a new world," Goodwin said, describing a man apparently at odds, on occasion, with those around him. (It is perhaps no wonder that Boucher has not hit it off with Paul, who has called for repealing the federal marijuana prohibition and who in college was said to take bong hits and worship a mysterious deity he called "Aqua Buddha.")

In 2008, Boucher's wife, Lisa, filed for divorce. After that, Boucher was ready to move out of the Rivergreen community, and he put his home on the market. In April 2012, a couple agreed to buy the place but then backed out at the last minute, alleging problems with the house's air-conditioning units and prompting Boucher to sue them for breach of contract. He ended up getting the $10,000 deposit the couple had put in escrow, which they had offered to forfeit from the outset anyway. According to the Daily Mail, Boucher may have been angered by Paul's decision to plant trees that now block the view of the lake once enjoyed from Boucher's house, lowering the property value. If Boucher had been a luckier man, he might be living now in happy obscurity in Florida, where his son practices law, which, according to Skaggs, had been his intention.

Instead, he's stayed put and poured a good deal of attention into his yard. A Bowling Green resident who said she's known Boucher and his ex-wife for close to a decade but asked that her name be withheld said Boucher has "some OCD issues." Others corroborate this description.

"He's kind of a neatnik in his yard," said Skaggs, the co-developer who built Rivergreen 20 years ago. "You'd see all the little clippings sitting in little plastic bags waiting for pickup every week." Indeed, on a recent afternoon, a black garbage bag filled with yard clippings still sat in Boucher's driveway in front of his three-car garage. Planters flanking the front steps and the back of the house were all neatly stacked with the same seasonal ornament: a greenish-black-and-white gourd on top of a solid white gourd on top of an orange pumpkin.

Like most everyone else in the Rivergreen development, Goodwin told me, Boucher pays in the ballpark of $150 a month for professional landscaping, while Paul insists on maintaining his yard himself. Goodwin said that part of what nagged at Boucher was the difference in grass length between his lawn and that of his libertarian neighbor's. "He had his yard sitting at a beautiful two-and-a-half, three inches thick, where Rand cuts it to the nub," Goodwin said.

Goodwin recalled picking up Boucher, a devout Catholic, at his home after church one Sunday afternoon several years ago. Boucher had confronted Paul about his yard-maintenance practices a few minutes before Goodwin's arrival, to no avail, and Goodwin saw Boucher grow agitated as they both watched Paul blow grass onto his lawn. "I've asked him and I've asked him and I've asked him," Goodwin recalls Boucher fuming. "How long can you sit there taking someone plucking a hair out of your nose?" Goodwin asked. "How long could you take that before losing your temper?"
Well, now we know how long before he loses his temper.

Requiem for My Nemesis


RP's Film Debut


In the Cat Run
You may not be aware, but I have a nemesis.

The Perry the Platypus to my Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz was RP the Cat, the smartest, fastest, and most ferocious representative of the species Felis silvestris catus that I have ever met.


In late 2011, I caught one of the colony of feral cats in the area with the goal of adopting it.

It was RP the cat, and much mayhem ensued, all of which involved much blood loss on my part.

She, we later saw her with her litters, found a way to get into and out of the house

When we adopted cats from the Humane Society, RP came into the house and ate the cat food, a fact that we verified with a time lapse camera.

At this point, Charlie named the cat Rodentia Phage, eater of rodents, RP for short, though after my escapades with the cat, RP came to stand for Ravage and Pillage.

We were unamused with the situation, as RP brought in things from the outside, most notably fleas.

At this point, this cat came to be my great white whale.

So, I set up a "Have a Heart" trap that fed into a cat cage (about 1m x 1.5m x 1m), and when that did not work because RP knew not to step on the touch plate, so I used more computing power than was used to put Neil Armstrong on the moon to improve the cat.

It worked, but I never managed to tame her, and eventually I slipped up, and she got out, and she was in the house, but had forgotten how to get out, so for the next 5 years she was in the house skulking around and successfully evading us.

Two days ago, we noticed some blood on the couch, and after examining our cats, realized that it had to be RP.

I searched, and found her in an awful state, barely able to move, with a wound on her neck and trouble breathing.

She was feeble enough that I could catch her and get her to the vet.

The diagnosis was that it was an abscess that went septic, and there was nothing that could be done, so we had her put to sleep.

Valhalla has added its most hard core new resident.

I will be downing a bourbon in her honor tonight.

What follows is a list, in chronological order of my interactions with, and reflections about, RP the cat:
  1. It Appears that I Do Have Time to Bleed
  2. All that Blood, So Little Cat
  3. I have a Cat Infestation
  4. Who Knew that I Would Be the Proprietor of a Cat House?
  5. This is Not Going to End Well………
  6. Well, I got the Cat Trap Together
  7. No Cat in Trap Yet………
  8. How I Vanquished the RP!
  9. Light Posting Tonight
  10. Moar Katnip, or the Dog Gets It!
  11. An Old Home Remedy that Worked for Me
  12. Squee!!!!!

23 November 2017

Thanksgiving Party Poopers


This is Brilliant
It appears that members of her family are not fond of her HR Giger inspired food sculptures:
Fancy scaring the hell out of your family this Thanksgiving? Try serving up this Alien inspired Facehugger, a seriously mean looking fusion of whole roast chicken, snow crab legs and a chicken sausage tail.

The Facehugger is the work of Hellen Die, researcher, chef, food stylist, photographer, writer and dishwasher of The Necro-Nom-Nom-Nomicon, a horror-inspired collection of recipes that go beyond your standard Halloween novelty fare into a more gourmet, grown-up ghoulishness for foodies.

………

Clearly a fan of the Alien films, last year she went with the Chestburster emerging hideously out of the centerpiece turkey, a move that got her removed from cooking duties this time around by her family. You gotta admit it looks pretty awesome though doesn’t it?
She has a whole website of recipes.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

22 November 2017

I See Nothing!


I really want to stop living in Bizarro World:
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, released a statement on Wednesday apologizing for a graphic nude photo of him that circulated on social media earlier this week.

"While separated from my second wife, prior to the divorce, I had sexual relationships with other mature adult women," he said. "Each was consensual. Those relationships have ended. I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down."

It is still unclear how the photo got onto social media, who put it there, or whether its posting would constitute revenge porn, which is illegal under Texas law.

Barton, who announced his re-election bid earlier this month, is navigating in a political environment charged with emerging stories of sexual misbehavior in politics, in business and in the media. The photo, which appeared on an anonymous Twitter account, set off speculation within Texas GOP circles about his political future.
Seriously.  Don't.  Just don't.  Ever.

21 November 2017

Travis Kalanick Continues to Leave a Trail of Slime

It turns out that Uber had a major data breach, with frightening levels of personal data taken about their drivers, and their response was to pay off the hackers and cover the whole affair up:
Hackers stole the personal data of 57 million customers and drivers from Uber Technologies Inc., a massive breach that the company concealed for more than a year. This week, the ride-hailing firm ousted its chief security officer and one of his deputies for their roles in keeping the hack under wraps, which included a $100,000 payment to the attackers.

Compromised data from the October 2016 attack included names, email addresses and phone numbers of 50 million Uber riders around the world, the company told Bloomberg on Tuesday. The personal information of about 7 million drivers was accessed as well, including some 600,000 U.S. driver’s license numbers. No Social Security numbers, credit card information, trip location details or other data were taken, Uber said.
I'm not inclined to believe Uber's statements as to the limited scope of the breach.
At the time of the incident, Uber was negotiating with U.S. regulators investigating separate claims of privacy violations. Uber now says it had a legal obligation to report the hack to regulators and to drivers whose license numbers were taken. Instead, the company paid hackers to delete the data and keep the breach quiet. Uber said it believes the information was never used but declined to disclose the identities of the attackers.
That is so Uber.
Hackers have successfully infiltrated numerous companies in recent years. The Uber breach, while large, is dwarfed by those at Yahoo, MySpace, Target Corp., Anthem Inc. and Equifax Inc. What’s more alarming are the extreme measures Uber took to hide the attack. The breach is the latest scandal Khosrowshahi inherits from his predecessor, Travis Kalanick. 
Like the chicken said, "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred."

BTW, Kalanick knew of the hack almost as soon as it happened.

Dara Khosrowshahi may have the worst job on the face of the earth.

Now John Conyers

More allegations of sexual harassment, this time John Conyers (D-MI), and the allegations are pretty f%$#ing awful:
Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat and the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not “succumb to [his] sexual advances.”

Documents from the complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News include four signed affidavits, three of which are notarized, from former staff members who allege that Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sex acts, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public. Four people involved with the case verified the documents are authentic.

Conyers confirmed he made the settlement in a statement Tuesday afternoon, hours after this story was published, but said that he "vehemently denied" the claims of sexual harassment at the time and continues to do so.
This is seriously f%$#ed up.

Being Evil………

Many people realize that smartphones track their locations. But what if you actively turn off location services, haven’t used any apps, and haven’t even inserted a carrier SIM card?

Even if you take all of those precautions, phones running Android software gather data about your location and send it back to Google when they’re connected to the internet, a Quartz investigation has revealed.

Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers—even when location services are disabled—and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.

Quartz observed the data collection occur and contacted Google, which confirmed the practice.

………

The practice is troubling for people who’d prefer they weren’t tracked, especially for those such as law-enforcement officials or victims of domestic abuse who turn off location services thinking they’re fully concealing their whereabouts. Although the data sent to Google is encrypted, it could potentially be sent to a third party if the phone had been compromised with spyware or other methods of hacking. Each phone has a unique ID number, with which the location data can be associated.

The revelation comes as Google and other internet companies are under fire from lawmakers and regulators, including for the extent to which they vacuum up data about users. Such personal data, ranging from users’ political views to their purchase histories to their locations, are foundational to the business successes of companies like Facebook and Alphabet, built on targeted advertising and personalization and together valued at over $1.2 trillion by investors.
Clearly the solution to Google cyber-stalking us is to eliminate regulatory oversight.  That way the market will solve everything.

Finally


Meet the New Boss………
Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 and once proclaimed that “only God will remove me,” resigned as president on Tuesday shortly after lawmakers began impeachment proceedings against him.

The speaker of the Parliament, Jacob Mudenda, read out a letter in which Mr. Mugabe said he was stepping down “with immediate effect” for “the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and the need for a peaceful transfer of power.”

Lawmakers erupted into cheers, and jubilant residents poured into the streets of Harare, the capital. It seemed to be an abrupt capitulation by Mr. Mugabe, 93, the world’s oldest head of state and one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to Zimbabwe,” Perseverance Sande, 20, said in central Harare minutes after news of the resignation began spreading, as crowds of people started singing around her. “I’ve been waiting so long for this moment.”
It is widely expected that Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former VP, whose firing precipitated the coup, will succeed him, so I'm not expecting much in the way of political change.

Mnangagwa was, after all, hip deep in the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in the early 1980s.

Linkage


A high tech automotive fraud.  It reminds me of Tesla: