The AP reports that American airplane passengers, squeezed by increasingly tight seating aboard planes, are lashing out, actually getting into in-flight fights over knee room: Three U.S. flights have made unscheduled landings in the past eight days after passengers got into fights over the ability to recline their seats. Disputes over a tiny bit of personal space might seem petty, but for passengers whose knees are already banging into tray tables, every bit counts. ... Southwest and United both took away 1 inch from each row on certain jets to make room for six more seats. American is increasing the number of seats on its Boeing 737-800s from 150 to 160. Delta installed new, smaller toilets in its 737-900s, enabling it to squeeze in an extra four seats. And to make room for a first-class cabin with lie-flat beds on transcontinental flights, JetBlue cut the distance between coach seats by one inch.
U.S. military involvement in Iraq is heating up again; the sudden rise of the organization known as the Islamic State has put a kink in the gradual, ongoing winding down of U.S. military presence in that country, and today that kink has gotten a little sharper. From The New York Times: The United States launched a fresh series of airstrikes against Sunni fighters in Iraq late Saturday in what Defense Department officials described as a mission to stop militants from seizing an important dam on the Euphrates River and prevent the possibility of floodwaters being unleashed toward the capital, Baghdad. The attacks were aimed at militant fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as they were moving toward the Haditha Dam, officials said. The operation represented another expansion of the limited goals that President Obama set out when he announced last month that he had authorized airstrikes in Iraq.
reifman (786887) writes "A thousand unionized healthcare workers protested outside Microsoft's Seattle offices over its Nevada tax dodge on Friday. Microsoft shareholders have pocketed more than $5.34 billion in tax savings as Washington State social services and schools have taken huge cuts. In a hearing Wednesday, the Supreme Court suggested it may hold the Legislature in contempt and order it to repeal all tax breaks to restore proper funding to K-12 schools and universities." I suspect Microsoft's lawyers are careful to engage in legal tax avoidance rather than illegal tax evasion. Geekwire notes "The South Lake Union satellite facility is not a major office for Microsoft, compared to its presence in Redmond. It’s not clear why the workers didn’t protest at Microsoft headquarters."
An anonymous reader writes with this news from Government Attic: "The FAA has released a set of cease and desist letters sent in 2012 and 2013 to people operating drone vehicles for a variety of purposes including: tornado research, inspecting gas well stacks, aerial photography, journalism education, and other purposes. Drone cease and desist letters sent during 2014 are available from the FAA upon request." The text of the letters (bureaucratically polite, but bureaucratically firm) often starts with notes indicating to the UAV operators to whom they were sent that the FAA became interested in them because it "became aware of" their web sites, or even because someone tipped them off about an article in a community newsletter. The letters go on to outline the conditions under which the FAA allows the operation of unmanned aircraft, and specifically notes: Those who use UAS only for recreational enjoyment, operate in accordance with Advisory circular 91-57. This generally applies to operations in remotely populated areas away from airports, persons and buildings, below 400 feet Above Ground Level, and within visual line of sight. On February 6, 2007 the FAA published UAS guidance in the Federal Register, 14 CPR Part 91 / Docket No. FAA-2006-25714 I Unmanned Aircraft Operations in the National Airspace System. Toward the end of the docket it says, ''The FAA recognizes that people and companies other than modelers might be flying UAS with the mistaken understanding that they are legally operating under the authority of AC 91-57. AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and thus specifically excludes Its use by persons or companies for business purposes." Update: 09/07 02:16 GMT by T : Pray forgive the OCR that turned "persons" into "pecions" and "circular" into "arcular"; updated to fix those. Update: 09/08 11:07 GMT by T : Correction: Carl Malamud is not affiliated with Government Attic as this story originally described: sorry for the error.
Paul Fernhout writes: Lee Gomes at MIT's Technology Review wrote an article on the current limits of Google self-driving car technology: "Would you buy a self-driving car that couldn't drive itself in 99 percent of the country? Or that knew nearly nothing about parking, couldn't be taken out in snow or heavy rain, and would drive straight over a gaping pothole? If your answer is yes, then check out the Google Self-Driving Car, model year 2014. Google often leaves the impression that, as a Google executive once wrote, the cars can 'drive anywhere a car can legally drive.' However, that's true only if intricate preparations have been made beforehand, with the car's exact route, including driveways, extensively mapped. Data from multiple passes by a special sensor vehicle must later be pored over, meter by meter, by both computers and humans. It's vastly more effort than what's needed for Google Maps. ... Among other unsolved problems, Google has yet to drive in snow, and Urmson says safety concerns preclude testing during heavy rains. Nor has it tackled big, open parking lots or multilevel garages. ... Pedestrians are detected simply as moving, column-shaped blurs of pixels — meaning, Urmson agrees, that the car wouldn't be able to spot a police officer at the side of the road frantically waving for traffic to stop."
An anonymous reader writes: NASA's Opportunity rover has been rolling around the surface of Mars for over 10 years. It's still performing scientific observations, but the mission team has been dealing with a problem: the rover keeps rebooting. It's happened a dozen times this month, and the process is a bit more involved than rebooting a typical computer. It takes a day or two to get back into operation every time. To try and fix this, the Opportunity team is planning a tricky operation: reformatting the flash memory from 125 million miles away. "Preparations include downloading to Earth all useful data remaining in the flash memory and switching the rover to an operating mode that does not use flash memory. Also, the team is restructuring the rover's communication sessions to use a slower data rate, which may add resilience in case of a reset during these preparations." The team suspects some of the flash memory cells are simply wearing out. The reformat operation is scheduled for some time in September.
jfruh (300774) writes "The scene was a little surreal. Bill Gates, who became one of the world's richest men by ruthlessly making Microsoft one of the word's most profitable companies, was giving a commencement address at Stanford, the elite university at the heart of Silicon Valley whose graduates go on to the endless tech startups bubbling up looking for Facebook-style riches. But the theme of Gates's speech was that the pursuit of profit cannot solve the world's problems."
An anonymous reader writes, quoting Business Insider: "Eight different law enforcement agencies in Indiana have purchased massive Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAP) that were formerly used in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mark Alesia reports for the Indy Star. Pulaski County, home to 13,124 people, is one of the counties that have purchased an 55,000 pound, six-wheeled patrol vehicles, from military surplus. When asked to justify the purchase of a former military vehicle, Pulaski County Sheriff Michael Gayer told the Indy Star: "The United States of America has become a war zone."'
The Guardian carries Edward Snowden's detailed rebuttal to critics who say that his recent live-TV interaction with Vladimir Putin, in which Snowden asked whether the Russian government was engaged in spying on Russian citizens' communications, was a scripted moment intended to curry or maintain favor with Putin. After all, Snowden is currently living in Russia, where he has been granted only temporary harbor, goes this argument, so he is at the mercy of the Russian government, and has just gamely thrown Putin a softball. (Slashdot reader Rambo Tribble said the exchange had a "canned quality," a sentiment widely echoed.) Snowden writes that, far from being a whitewash of actual policies by the Russian government, his question ("Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals' communications?") "was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion"; he decribes Putin's answer as a combination of inconsistent denial and evasion. Snowden writes: "I blew the whistle on the NSA's surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them. Last year, I risked family, life, and freedom to help initiate a global debate that even Obama himself conceded 'will make our nation stronger.' I am no more willing to trade my principles for privilege today than I was then. I understand the concerns of critics, but there is a more obvious explanation for my question than a secret desire to defend the kind of policies I sacrificed a comfortable life to challenge: if we are to test the truth of officials' claims, we must first give them an opportunity to make those claims."
mikejuk (1801200) writes "Gofor is a new company that is promoting the idea of drones on demand. All you have to do is use the app to request a drone and it shows you were they are and how long before one reaches your location. You want to take the ultimate selfie? Scout ahead to see if the road is clear or just find a parking space? No problem just task a drone to do the job. For the photo you simply flash your phone camera at it and it pinpoints your location for an aerial selfie. If it is scouting ahead then it shows you what awaits you via a video link. See the promo video to see how it might work. Flight of fancy? Possibly but the company claims to be operational in five US cities." I wish my car had a drone for instant scouting of traffic-jam alternates.
An anonymous reader writes "A high school science teacher at Grand Arts High School in Los Angeles was suspended from the classroom in February, after two of his science fair students turned in projects deemed dangerous by the administrators. "One project was a marshmallow shooter — which uses air pressure to launch projectiles. The other was an AA battery-powered coil gun — which uses electromagnetism to launch small objects. Similar projects have been honored in past LA County Science Fairs and even demonstrated at the White House."
Ars Technica has nothing good to say about the scientific understanding (or at least public understanding) that led Portland to drain 38 million gallons of water after a teenage prankster urinated into the city's water supply. Maybe SCADA systems shouldn't be quite as high on the list of dangers, when major utilities can be quite this brittle even without a high-skill attack.
An anonymous reader writes "The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a Scientology front group, has received a 'grant from Google in the amount of $10,000 per month worth of Pay Per Click Advertising to be used in our Orange County anti-psych campaigns.' CCHR believes that ALL psychiatrists are evil. They believe that psychiatrists were behind the holocaust, and these shadow men were never brought to justice. CCHR also believes that psychiatrists were behind the 911 attacks. Scientologists believe that psychiatrists have always been evil, and their treachery goes back 75 million years when the psychiatrists assisted XENU in killing countless alien life forms. Thanks Google! We may be able to stop these evil Psychs once and for all!"
theodp (442580) writes "'The government is not the only American power whose motivations need to be rigourously examined,' writes The Telegraph's Katherine Rushton. 'Some 2,400 miles away from Washington, in Silicon Valley, Google is aggressively gaining power with little to keep it in check. It has cosied up to governments around the world so effectively that its chairman, Eric Schmidt, is a White House advisor. In Britain, its executives meet with ministers more than almost any other corporation. Google can't be blamed for this: one of its jobs is to lobby for laws that benefit its shareholders, but it is up to governments to push back. As things stand, Google — and to a lesser extent, Facebook — are in danger of becoming the architects of the law.' Schmidt, by the way, is apparently interested in influencing at least two current hot-button White House issues. Joined by execs from Apple, Oracle, and Facebook, the Google Chairman asserted in a March letter to Secretary of State John Kerry that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is not in the economic interests of the U.S.; the Obama administration on Friday extended the review period on the pipeline, perhaps until after the Nov. 4 congressional elections. And as a 'Major Contributor' to Mark Zuckerberg's FWD.us PAC, Schmidt is also helping to shape public opinion on the White House's call for immigration reform; FWD.us just launched new attack ads (videos) and a petition aimed at immigration reform opponent Rep. Steve King. In Dave Eggers' The Circle, politicians who impede the company execs' agenda are immediately brought down. But that's fiction, right?"
The mission of NASA's LADEE probe was brought to an intentional violent end yesterday, when it smashed into the far side of the moon. As the Ars Technica report explains, "NASA's policy is to treat the locations of the Moon landings as historical sites, and it takes pains to preserve them from possible damage. LADEE didn't have the fuel to control its orbit indefinitely. As a result, the controllers had been preparing to terminate the probe for several weeks. ... The exact moment of impact isn't clear, since the precise terrain it hit couldn't be determined in advance. (If it hit a ridge, it would have happened earlier than if LADEE plowed across a plain. What is clear is that the impact destroyed the probe." Before the end of LADEE's mission, besides close up observations, the craft was used to test a new laser-based communication system.