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STOLEN?

“Stolen,” eh?

Secret Service hunts for stolen laptop with Trump Tower floor plans

A Secret Service laptop containing sensitive information about Trump Tower, details about the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe and other national security secrets was swiped from an agent’s motorcycle in Brooklyn, police sources said Friday.

The computer was taken Thursday morning from the driveway of agent Marie Argentieri’s Bath Beach home, the sources said.

The thief drove up to Argentieri’s home around 8:40 a.m., walked right up to her Bajaj motorcycle and took the items. He was then caught on video fleeing the scene on foot, sources said.

Argentieri told investigators that the laptop held sensitive information about national security, the floor plans for Trump Tower, evacuation protocols and details about the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server.

While none of the info pertains to White House officials or foreign leaders, she said it could ultimately compromise national security. Sources told The Post that the laptop cannot be remotely erased or traced.

A black bag with the Secret Service insignia on it was also taken — along with an access keycard, several lapel pins that Secret Service agents are required to wear when protecting the president and other sensitive documents, sources said.

An agency-issued radio, used for closed-circuit communications between agents, was also among the stolen items, according to Politico.

“The U.S. Secret Service can confirm that an employee was the victim of a criminal act in which our Agency issued laptop computer was stolen,” the agency said in a statement Friday.

“Secret Service issued laptops contain multiple layers of security including full disk encryption and are not permitted to contain classified information. An investigation is ongoing and the Secret Service is withholding additional comment until the facts are gathered.”

The NYPD is assisting the agency in their investigation. It is unclear if the theft was targeted or simply a random act.

The black bag and some other items were later discovered at nearby Poly Prep HS by the head of security, Carol Bongnan, and returned to Argentieri.

But the laptop and lapel pins were still missing as of 2:30 p.m. Friday, sources said.
Sources said somebody had brought left it at the school.

Thursday’s heist is just the latest in a long line of public embarrassments for the Secret Service in recent years.

A Congressional investigation in 2015 found that it had transformed into an “agency in crisis” — entrenched in low morale, heavy boozing and dimwitted security decisions.

In Sept. 2014, President Barack Obama’s Secret Service detail allowed a security guard with a gun and three prior convictions for assault and battery into an elevator with him for a photo.

Two years after that, a pair of agents allegedly got drunk and interfered in a bomb investigation outside the building.

In 2014, a man was able to bypass Obama’s security detail and speak to him by pretending to be a congressman.

Most recently, two agents came under investigation after snapping selfies with President Trump’s 8-year-old grandson, Donald III, last weekend.

WHO’D A THUNK?

Well, I’ll be darned. Who’d a thunk it, huh?

Dungeons and Dragons, Pokémon card games and role-playing games are more than entertainment — they’re inspiration for the CIA.

David Clopper, senior collection analyst with 16 years’ experience at the CIA, also serves as a game maker for the agency. From card games to board games, Clopper creates games to train CIA staffers including intelligence agents and political analysts for real-world situations.

“Gaming is part of the human condition. Why not take advantage of that and incorporate into the way we learn?” Clopper said Sunday at a games-themed panel discussion at the South by Southwest Interactive technology festival. Clopper and other CIA officers discussed how the agency uses games to teach strategy, intelligence gathering and collaboration.

Related: SXSW coverage: Why Facebook tracks internet outages around the world

Clopper, who began making training programs based on popular tabletop games in 2008, described some of his creations for the CIA.

In “Collection,” Clopper’s first CIA game, teams of analysts work together to solve international crises against a ticking clock. His second title, “Collection Deck,” is a Pokémon-like card game in which where each card represents either an intelligence collection strategy or a hurdle like red tape or bureaucracy.

cia collection game

For instance, a player could lay out a card to collect intelligence via satellite photos, but an opponent could block them by playing a “ground station failure” card. It’s meant to mimic situations analysts might run into in their actual work.

Related: Congressman: We need a National Guard for cybersecurity

Also speaking on the panel was Volko Ruhnke, who is an intelligence educator at the CIA and a freelance game designer. Ruhnke said he is particularly interested in one type of game: a simulation tabletop game to train analysts and help with analytic tasks. It could help forecast complex situations by forcing players to handle multiple scenarios simultaneously.

Ruhnke himself created a commercial board game to simulate the Afghanistan conflict and walk players through military, political, and economic issues in the region. It gives players “a much more dynamic understanding of the issues of modern Afghanistan,” Ruhnke said, adding that a similar game could be of use internally at the CIA as well.

Old school games are the main inspiration for popular training programs — for now. But analysts expect to be using virtual reality gaming in training programs soon. Multiple branches of the military have used VR training for years, immersing service members in real life experiences through visual and audio simulations.

“The sooner we can get involved in using VR in games, the better,” Rachel Grunspan, Chief Strategy Officer at a digital innovation organization inside the CIA, said during the panel discussion.. “You want to get their heads inside the intelligence question you’re trying to answer, and VR does an amazing job doing that.”

MENTENIS

“My father’s is taller still, and has a golden button on top!”
 
Always go for the golden button on top. That’s where all the good stuff is.
 
And on a more serious note, it is a real shame that modern man has lost so much of his rural festival and celebration backgrounds, those from both pagan and Christian times.
 
Those things used to hold us to the ground, made us realize things about time, made us grateful for things working. Losing those things weakens us, make us think that only technology and science is important. (And I do happen to like and to think most science and technology is important just not all-important.) Makes us think we are the inevitable and undisputed masters of our own fate (and nowadays we control much of our own fate, but much still is beyond our control and we should be reminded of that, and appreciative of that).
 
Most of all though we’ve lost our ties to our neighbors, to the seasons, to the Earth, and to our own blood. And I don’t mean this modern Nazi-era shit of resurgent, hyperzealous, omni-political tribe, race, clan, class, etc. but of our own blood, and bodies, and muscles, and of where we came from. As individuals.
 
We’re far too urbanized now. Too much like insects in nests and colonies. Too constricted and herded, and herdish. Too puny by ourselves and in nature. Which is where we truly thrive. Despite, or because of it’s hardships and dangers. You can’t become tough or strong in a sheltered, sterile world. Much less stay tough and strong in such a world.
 
Too weak to wander.
 
Two other things. Living so far from nature masks of animals might seem creepy I guess. To many moderns. They don’t to me though. They are not scary at all to me.
 
And yeah, I like the idea of throwing kids over fences. When I was a kid I got tossed over fences on numerous occasions. I thought it was grand.
 
I hated fences.

It’s February 23, Metenis Day. An ancient festival looks like the lovechild of Christmas and Halloween

Love Christmas and Halloween?  The ancient Latvian Spring waiting holiday of Meteņis or Meteni combines eerie and cheery.

Also called Lastavāgs, Aizgavēnis, Miesmetis, Buduļi Eve, and Pie Day, Metenis includes a masked parade, singing, dancing, feasting and drinking.

A Latvian spirit in charge of growing flax, Metenis was believed to arrive on a sleigh.

Now Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians celebrate by sledding, which they believe will make the flax grow longer.

The faster and longer the sled glides, the faster and higher the flax will grow.  Though a ride on a sled, a horse-drawn carriage, or even skating on a pond will do.

You might hear traditional sledding cries:

“My father has tall flax!”
“My father’s is taller!”
“My father’s is taller still, and has a golden button on top!”

Any journey is significant.  People used to walk from farm to farm to encourage the flax and (for some reason) throw children over the fence.

Some popular Meteņi traditions are: wearing masks, chasing away Metenis, searching for the button of happiness, driving away moles from gardens and cooking delicious Meteņi porridge.

To drive away Winter,  a symbolic dragon, straw dolls and logs are burned.  The ashes are spread across the land for a fruitful New Year.

Traditional Masks of Metenis

The most well-known masks are a crane, a bear, hay vāls, butthead, Wolf, Gypsy, the living dead and death.

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Meteņi is about people eating and drinking as much as they want. During this time pigs were slaughtered, so the traditional holiday dishes are pig’s head and fritters. Parents throw gifts to their children from a height as if the goddess Laima is raining gifts from the heavens.

The Metenis table is loaded with treats – pea balls, beans, barley porridge, pancakes, smoked pork boiled into a porridge of barley and potatoes, pork head, pork ears and tail and bacon buns.

Round shaped scones symbolise the upcoming spring.  Beer used to be specially brewed for the celebrations.  Now you can probably enjoy some very nice craft beers.

If you want to celebrate Metenis Day today, be sure to eat pig, wear a mask and go on a journey.

Just remember – the longer Meteņis is celebrated, the better the harvest is expected following summer.

 

TRAPPIST IN SPACE

Astronomers discover 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby star

Story highlights

  • Seven Earth-sized planets have been found orbiting an ultracool dwarf star 40 light-years away
  • The planets are temperate, meaning they could have liquid water
  • The researchers believe this is the best place outside of our solar system to look for life

(CNN)Astronomers have found at least seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the same star 40 light-years away, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The findings were also announced at a news conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

This discovery outside of our solar system is rare because the planets have the winning combination of being similar in size to Earth and being all temperate, meaning they could have water on their surfaces and potentially support life.
“This is the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” said Michaël Gillon, lead study author and astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium.
The seven exoplanets were all found in tight formation around an ultracool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Estimates of their mass also indicate that they are rocky planets, rather than being gaseous like Jupiter. Three planets are in the habitable zone of the star, known as TRAPPIST-1e, f and g, and may even have oceans on the surface.
The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it.

The researchers believe that TRAPPIST-1f in particular is the best candidate for supporting life. It’s a bit cooler than Earth, but could be suitable with the right atmosphere and enough greenhouse gases.
If TRAPPIST-1 sounds familiar, that’s because these researchers announced the discovery of three initial planets orbiting the same star in May. The new research increased that number to seven planets total.
“I think we’ve made a crucial step towards finding if there is life out there,” said Amaury Triaud, one of the study authors and an astronomer at the University of Cambridge. “I don’t think any time before we had the right planets to discover and find out if there was (life). Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to what we have on Earth, we will know.”
Life may begin and evolve differently on other planets, so finding the gases that indicate life is key, the researchers added.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Answering the question ‘are we alone?’ is a top science priority, and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”
And as we’ve learned from studying and discovering exoplanets before, where there is one, there are more, said Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seager and other researchers are encouraged by the discovery of this system because it improves our chances of finding another habitable planet, like Earth, in the future, by knowing where to look.

What we know

The planets are so close to each other and the star that there are seven of them within a space five times smaller than the distance from Mercury to our sun. This proximity allows the researchers to study the planets in depth as well, gaining insight about planetary systems other than our own.
The seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 compared with Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

Starting closest to the star and moving out, the planets have respective orbits from one and a half to nearly 13 Earth days. The orbit of the farthest planet is still unknown.
Standing on the surface of one of the planets, you would receive 200 times less light than you get from the sun, but you would still receive just as much energy to keep you warm since the star is so close. It would also afford some picturesque views, as the other planets would appear in the sky as big as the moon (or even twice as big).
On TRAPPIST-1f, the star would appear three times as big as the sun in our sky. And because of the red nature of the star, the light would be a salmon hue, the researchers speculate.
The researchers believe the planets formed together further from the star. Then, they moved into their current lineup. This is incredibly similar Jupiter and its Galilean moons.
Like the moon, the researchers believe the planets closest to the star are tidally locked. This means that the planets always face one way to the star. One side of the planet is perpetually night, while the other is always day.
What the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like.

Based on preliminary climate modeling, the researchers believe that the three planets closest to the star may be too warm to support liquid water, while the outermost planet, TRAPPIST-1h, is probably too distant and cold to support water on the surface. But further observation is needed to know for sure.

How the discovery was made

TRAPPIST-1 barely classifies as a star at half the temperature and a tenth the mass of the sun. It is red, dim and just a bit larger than Jupiter. But these tiny ultracool dwarf stars are common in our galaxy.
They were largely overlooked until Gillon decided to study the space around one of these dwarfs.
The researchers used a telescope called TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) to observe its starlight and changes in brightness. The team saw shadows, like little eclipses, periodically interrupting the steady pattern of starlight. This is called transiting. The shadows indicated planets, and further observation confirmed them.
In July, the team was able to determine that two of the closest planets to the stars had atmospheres that were more compact and comparable to those of Earth, Venus and Mars by observing starlight through the planets’ atmosphere.
By using a global network ground-based telescopes like TRAPPIST and space-based telescopes like Spitzer, the researchers continued looking toward the TRAPPIST system and were able to determine the orbital periods, distances from their star, radius and and masses of the planets.

What’s next

Over the next decade, the researchers want to define the atmosphere of each planet, as well as to determine whether they truly do have liquid water on the surface and search for signs of life.
Although 40 light-years away doesn’t sound too far, it would take us millions of years to reach this star system. But from a research perspective, it’s a close opportunity and the best target to search for life beyond our solar system.
“If we learn something now, it can determine if we looked in the right place,” Gillon said.
In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch and be positioned 1 million miles from Earth with an unprecedented view of the universe. It can observe large exoplanets and detect starlight filtered through their atmosphere.
The researchers are also searching for similar star systems to conduct more atmospheric research. Four telescopes named SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) based in Chile will survey the southern sky for this purpose.
This star system will probably outlive us because this type of star evolves so slowly. When our sun dies, TRAPPIST-1 will still be a young star and will live for another trillion years, Gillon said. After we are gone, if there is another part of the universe for life to carry on, it may be in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
“This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations,” said Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California. “Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”

UTOPIA IS NOT ONLY CREEPY, IT IS ENTIRELY UNTRUE

Personally I think the actual truth lies somewhere in the middle between the hyper-life of the modern technologist and the future will be bleak anti-technologist. It depends almost entirely on not only what man invents but how he chooses to actually employ his inventions/technology. 

That being said I am a firm anti-Utopian. I do not believe in the human utopia (not socialistic, not economic, not technological or scientific, etc.) , either that it is possible, or desirable. It is a badly conceived, utterly juvenile and naive, and entirely impractical idea.

By the way, in listening to him, I can’t help but wonder if Nicholas Carr is not in some way related to Caleb Carr one of my favorite contemporary fiction writers.

 

Brett | February 7, 2017

Personal Development & Philosophy, Podcast

Podcast #276: Utopia is Creepy

A few weeks ago, I had futurist Kevin Kelly on the podcast to discuss the technological trends that are shaping our future. From driverless cars to artificial intelligence that will make new scientific discoveries, Kevin paints a fairly rosy picture of what’s to come.

My guest today sees a different side of the coin, and argues that the future envisioned by many in Silicon Valley is, well, kind of creepy.

His name is Nicholas Carr, and he’s the author of several books that critique the wide-eyed utopianism of technologists. In his book The Shallowshe reported on the research that shows how Google is making us dumber; in The Glass Cage he explored the science on why outsourcing our work and chores to computers and robots might actually make us miserable and unsatisfied in life; and in his latest book, Utopia is CreepyCarr pulls together all the essays he’s written over the years on how the rapid changes in technology we’ve seen in the past few decades might be robbing us of the very things that make us human.

Today on the show, Nicholas and I discuss why he thinks our utopian future is creepy, how the internet is making us dumber, and why doing mundane tasks that we otherwise would outsource to robots or computers is actually a source of satisfaction and human flourishing. We finish our discussion by outlining a middle path approach to technology — one that doesn’t reject it fully but simultaneously seeks to mitigate its potential downsides.

Show Highlights

  • Why the ideology that Silicon Valley is promoting and selling is bad for human flourishing
  • How the frictionless ideal of tech companies isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
  • Why is the idea of utopia so creepy?
  • Why don’t tech companies see that what they’re doing can be perceived as creepy?
  • The illusion of freedom and autonomy on the internet
  • What “digital sharecropping” is and why it exploits content creators
  • The myth of participation and the pleasures of being an audience member
  • Information gathering vs developing knowledge
  • Why Nicholas doesn’t use social media
  • The real danger that AI present humanity (and it’s not necessarily the singularity)
  • Is virtual reality going to catch on? Does it present any problems for society?
  • How can we opt out of the ideology that Silicon Valley is trying to sell?
  • How to ask questions of our technology

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

If you’re a bit leery of technology like myself, then you’ll definitely enjoy all of Nicholas’ books. Utopia Is Creepy gives you a big picture look at all of Nick’s ideas on the often overlooked downsides of our unquestioned adoption of digital technology. Pick up a copy on Amazon.

Connect With Nicholas Carr

Nicholas’ website

Nicholas’ blog, Rough Type

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)

 

 

 

 

 

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DEPENDS ON YOUR PRECISE DEFINITIONS

This is not really a new suspicion or discovery, more like a confirmation of suspicions and prior tracking.
 
Nevertheless my wife and I were watching a NASA video today and she asked me something about how far out a probe had went and I told her, in giving my answer, that I suspected our own solar system was much larger than we thought, and that it some ways may even extend to the edge of or even encompass the closest next solar system. That therefore, despite current thinking, that in some ways our solar system may very well share elements with, let’s say, Proxima Centauri. That is to say that we may be or even share stellar matter with Proxima Centauri or even be part of a Solar Cluster including our own and the Centauri systems. Therefore the probe was not really likely to leave our real solar system any time soon.
 
It depends very much on what we have in common (materially, energetically, and gravitationally) with neighboring solar systems, what we share, and precisely how you define a “Solar System.” In addition to how sensitive we are in being able to detect possible connections, correlations, and shared associations.
 
But in any case I’ve always suspected, even as a child, and going back to my earliest studies of astrophysics that our solar system was much larger than thought and that it contained other matter and energy systems than those which we can currently detect.
 
That’s was before I saw this which only further confirms these suspicions that I have had for many, many years now.

Exciting news everyone, a potential new dwarf planet has just been discovered in the Kuiper Belt at the edge of the Solar System. Called 2014 UZ224, it’s located beyond the orbit of Pluto, and may be one of a hundred such objects still undiscovered.

This particular object is thought to be about 530 kilometers (330 miles) across, compared to 2,374 kilometers (1,475 miles) for Pluto, one of the other five confirmed dwarf planets at the moment. The others are Ceres, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea. Another candidate, 2015 RR245, was announced earlier this year.

It was found by a team led by David Gerdes from the University of Michigan, as part of a larger map of galaxies called the Dark Energy Survey (DES). Using specialized computer software, they found the moving object about 13.7 billion kilometers (8.5 billion miles) from the Sun, about twice as far as Pluto. It completes an orbit in about 1,100 years.

According to NPR, it has taken two years to confirm the existence of 2014 UZ224. It is thought to be the third most distant known object in the Solar System.

We don’t know much else about the dwarf planet at the moment, aside from its size and orbital characteristics. But the discovery hints at even more objects in the outer Solar System, most notably Planet Nine, a world thought to be 10 times as massive as Earth. The search for this world continues.

The existence of 2014 UZ224 has been officially verified by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), but like 2015 RR245 before it, it’s not clear if it will be given official dwarf planet status yet. That will depend on a number of factors, including whether it is spherical. If so, though, it would be the smallest dwarf planet found so far.

Dwarf planet or not, our Solar System just got a little bit busier.

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