Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Tyler LeBlanc writes that Ottawa has a problem — a goose problem. Every summer the wandering waterfowl return to the beaches that line the Ottawa River leaving high concentrations of geese poop on beaches and in shallow water that can lead to outbreaks of infection in human populations, particularly children. In the past the city has tried a number of different methods of ridding their beaches of the pesky poopers, but this year, they are going high-tech. Steve Wambolt, the founder of Aerial Perspective, modified a drone with some flashing lights and speakers and took to the skies. “I took existing land-based anti-pest technology and put it on a helicopter,” says Wambolt. “When I tested it at the beach a few days later it worked remarkably well.” Using pre-recorded predatory calls from hawks, eagles, owls, ravens and even wolves, Wambolt stalks the beaches of Petrie Island in an attempt to scare the loitering geese away from the area for good. Wambolt likens geese to snowbirds — people who travel south each winter to avoid winter. “Say if you were driving to Florida each year and you always stop at the same restaurant for lunch. If one year you stopped and someone was in your face harassing you, you’d probably leave, and likely not return to that spot. That’s basically what we’re trying to do here. We don’t want to hurt them, we just want them to move somewhere safer."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: NPR reports that the Spanish man whose court battle against Google resulted in a European court ruling in his favor – and for the "right to be forgotten" – says he is pleased with the case's outcome. Mario Costeja Gonzalez had his home repossessed 16 years ago. If you Google his name, you can still see newspaper stories about his debts. 'It hurts my reputation,' Costeja says in Spanish. 'My debts are long paid, but those links were the first thing you'd see.' Costeja sued, and won. The European Court of Justice says Google must edit some search results, if people like Mario Costeja request it. Costeja says he's pleased — that he's always considered Google a 'great tool' — and he says now it's even better. The ruling will now be used to address the more than 200 cases waiting in Spanish courts, he says, the majority of which involve asking Google to eliminate links. "People ask me how much I spent on Costeja. It did cost me money but at the end all that's important is the fact that ideas won out." He refused to even estimate what he had personally spent on the case, saying that a number would only "dirty what was a fight for ideals". The court said people could request the removal of data related to them that seem to be "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: BBC reports that Autodesk — the leading 3D modelling software-maker — is going into hardware with its own 3D printer and in addition to selling the machine, Autodesk will also allow other manufacturers to make their own versions of the printer or power their own models off its software at no cost. "The printer is a bona fide attempt to prove the interoperability and open source nature of Autodesk's platform," says Pete Basiliere. "And by sharing its design we could see a second wave of small start-ups creating stereolithography machines just as the makers did when the early material extrusion patents expired." Chief executive Carl Bass likened the new printer to Google's first Nexus smartphone, a product meant to inspire other manufacturers to install Android on their handsets rather than become a bestseller itself. In Autodesk's case the idea is to drive the adoption of its new Spark software, a product it likens to being an "operating system for 3D-printing". Although Autodesk is giving away both Spark and the printer's design, the company should still profit because the move would drive demand for the firm's other products. "If 3D printing succeeds we succeed, because the only way you can print is if you have a 3D model, and our customers are the largest makers of 3D models in the world."
Instead of the extrusion technique most commonly used by existing budget printers, Autodesk's printer uses a laser to harden liquid plastic to create the objects delivering smoother, more complex and more detailed objects. "We're making a printer that, rather than just being able to load in proprietary materials, you can load in any material you want. You can formulate your own polymers and experiment with those. That's an important next step because we think material science is a breakthrough that has to happen to make [the industry] go from low-volume 3D-printed stuff to where it really starts changing manufacturing." Bass said, its printer is targeted at more professional users–for creating small objects like medical devices or jewelry–and will likely end up closer to the $5,000 range, though exact pricing has not been set.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Ryan Reed writes that when most Game of Thrones fans imagine George R.R. Martin writing his epic fantasy novels, they probably picture the author working on a futuristic desktop (or possibly carving his words onto massive stones like the Ten Commandments). But the truth is that Martin works on an outdated DOS machine using Eighties word processor WordStar 4.0, as he revealed during an interview on Conan. "I actually like it," says Martin. "It does everything I want a word processing program to do, and it doesn't do anything else. I don't want any help. I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lower case letter and it becomes a capital letter. I don't want a capital. If I wanted a capital, I would have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key." “I actually have two computers," Martin continued. “I have a computer I browse the Internet with and I get my email on, and I do my taxes on. And then I have my writing computer, which is a DOS machine, not connected to the Internet."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Adrienne LaFrance reports at the Atlantic that for people of a certain age, if you've tried listening to any of the old CDs lately from your carefully assembled collection from the 1980's or 1990's you may have noticed that many of them won't play won't play. "While most of the studio-manufactured albums I bought still play, there's really no telling how much longer they will. My once-treasured CD collection—so carefully assembled over the course of about a decade beginning in 1994—isn't just aging; it's dying. And so is yours." Fenella France, chief of preservation research and testing at the Library of Congress is trying to figure out how CDs age so that we can better understand how to save them. But it's a tricky business, in large part because manufacturers have changed their processes over the years and even CDs made by the same company in the same year and wrapped in identical packaging might have totally different lifespans. "We're trying to predict, in terms of collections, which of the types of CDs are the discs most at risk," says France. "The problem is, different manufacturers have different formulations so it's quite complex in trying to figure out what exactly is happening because they've changed the formulation along the way and it's proprietary information." There are all kinds of forces that accelerate CD aging in real time. Eventually, many discs show signs of edge rot, which happens as oxygen seeps through a disc's layers. Some CDs begin a deterioration process called bronzing, which is corrosion that worsens with exposure to various pollutants. The lasers in devices used to burn or even play a CD can also affect its longevity. "The ubiquity of a once dominant media is again receding. Like most of the technology we leave behind, CDs are are being forgotten slowly," concludes LaFrance. "We stop using old formats little by little. They stop working. We stop replacing them. And, before long, they're gone."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Daniel Gilbert reports at the WSJ that Oklahoma oil man George Kaiser is breaking with fellow energy executives in asking the state to raise taxes on oil companies, including his own. "Oklahoma is in desperate financial circumstances," says the billionaire philanthropist, who controls Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. Kaiser says a higher tax on oil-and-gas production could help the state pay for education and much needed infrastructure improvements and is asking legislators to return the state’s gross production tax to 7 percent, challenging a plan proposed by fellow oil company executives who want to see the rate settle at 2 percent for the first four years of production. But many of Kaiser's competitors disagree. Several energy companies and the State Chamber of Oklahoma say that lower tax rates for the costliest oil and gas wells are necessary to continue drilling at a pace that has stimulated economic activity and created other sources of revenue. Berry Mullennix, CEO at Tulsa-based Panther Energy, credits the tax program for helping his company grow to more than 90 employees, up from 18 a few years ago. “I would argue the tax incentive is a direct reason we have so much horizontal drilling in the state today,” Mullennix says. “The companies used the credit to help discover this massive wealth in oil and natural gas.” When companies decide to drill a well, they make their best guesses on how much it will cost to drill the well, how much the well will produce and what the commodity price will be. All of those estimates can vary widely, Kaiser says. “With ad valorem taxes, the difference among states is 2 or 3 or 4 percent. The other factors can vary by 50 or 100 percent.” Compared with those other factors, Kaiser says the tax rate is incidental. “It’s a rounding error."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Tim Nudd writes that it's the perfect match: Young Brazilians want to learn English. Elderly Americans living in retirement homes just want someone to talk to. Why not connect them? The advertising company FCB Brazil did just that with its "Speaking Exchange" project for CNA language schools where young Brazilians and older Americans connect via Web chats, and they not only begin to share a language—they develop relationships that enrich both sides culturally and emotionally. "The goal of the Speaking Exchange project is to transform lives," says Luciana Fortuna. "Our students have the opportunity to practice English with people who are willing to listen. During the chat sessions, the students discuss ideas and information from their lives in Brazil with the American senior citizens, many of whom have never had contact with anyone from Brazil before." The pilot project was implemented at a CNA school in Liberdade, Brazil, and the Windsor Park Retirement Community in Chicago. The conversations are recorded and uploaded as private YouTube videos for the teachers to evaluate the students' development. "The idea is simple and it's a win-win proposition for both the students and the American senior citizens. It's exciting to see their reactions and contentment. It truly benefits both sides," says Joanna Monteiro.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Rhonda Schwartz reports that master counterfeiter Frank Bourassa has been allowed to walk free after turning over a huge quantity of fake US $20 bills that authorities say are “not detectable by the naked eye.” “I’m safe, absolutely,” says Bourassa after paying a $1,500 fine in Montreal, Canada, and spending only a month and a half in jail after Canadian authorities agreed that they would not extradite him to the United States for prosecution. “They can’t do nothing about that." Bourassa’s fake $20 first showed up in Troy, Michigan in 2010 and US and Canadian authorities spent almost four years tracking the source to Bourassa. “To detect the counterfeit on this one is very difficult,” says RCMP investigator Dan Michaud. Bourassa says he spent two years studying the details about currency security on the website of the US Secret Service to learn how to produce his fake money. Although special security features were added to US $100 bills in 2010, security features added to the $20 in 2003 have not been updated since then. US bills are “the easiest of them all” to counterfeit says Bourassa, because they are not printed on polymer. “Even third world countries in Africa have polymer bills already." The RCMP and the US Secret Service raided Bourassa’s home, but he still had a card to play because authorities did not know where the remainder of his special paper and fake twenties was hidden. In the end, Bourassa agreed to turn over the remaining fakes and paper in return for a deal his lawyer worked out with Canadian prosecutors that let him walk free. Bourassa regards his accomplishment as a complete victory over the United States government. "It was, like, screw you."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Time Magazine reports that Wyoming, the nation's top coal-producing state, has become the first state to reject new K-12 science standards proposed by national education groups mainly because of global warming components. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are a set of science standards developed by leading scientists and science educators from 26 states and built on a framework developed by the National Academy of Sciences. The Wyoming science standards revision committee made up entirely of Wyoming educators unanimously recommended adoption of these standards to the state Board of Education not once but twice and twelve states have already adopted the standards since they were released in April 2013. But opponents argue the standards incorrectly assert that man-made emissions are the main cause of global warming and shouldn’t be taught in a state that ranks first among all states in coal production, fifth in natural gas production and eighth in crude oil production deriving much of its school funding from the energy industry. Amy Edmonds, of the Wyoming Liberty Group, says teaching “one view of what is not settled science about global warming” is just one of a number of problems with the standards. “I think Wyoming can do far better." Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has called federal efforts to curtail greenhouse emissions a “war on coal” and has said that he’s skeptical about man-made climate change.
Supporters of the NGSS say science standards for Wyoming schools haven't been updated since 2003 and are six years overdue. "If you want the best science education for your children and grandchildren and you don’t want any group to speak for you, then make yourselves heard loud and clear," says Cate Cabot. "Otherwise you will watch the best interests of Wyoming students get washed away in the hysteria of a small anti-science minority driven by a national right wing group – and political manipulation."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Marguerite Reardon writes at Cnet that within a week of Google's declaration last spring that it planned to build a fiber network in the city of Austin, AT&T announced its own Austin fiber network and in less than a year's time, AT&T and local cable operator Grande Communications have beaten Google to market with their own ultra-high speed services using newly built fiber networks. AT&T maintains it has been planning this fiber upgrade for a long time, and that Google's announcement didn't affect the timing of its network but Rondella Hawkins, the telecommunications and regulatory affairs officer for the city of Austin, said she had never heard about AT&T's plans before Google's news came out. Hawkins was part of the original committee that put together Austin's application to become the first Google Fiber city. "Our application for Google would have been a good tip-off to the incumbents that we were eager as a community to get fiber built," says Hawkins. "But we never heard from them. Until Google announced that it was going to deploy a fiber network in Austin, I was unaware of AT&T's plans to roll out gigabit fiber to the home." Grande Communications' CEO Matt Murphy admits that without Google in the market, his company wouldn't have moved so aggressively on offering gigabit speeds. It also wouldn't be offering its service at the modest price of $65 a month, considering that the average broadband download speed sold in the US is between 20Mbps and 25Mbps for about $45 to $50 a month.
It's not surprising, then, that in every city in AT&T's 22-state footprint where Google is considering deploying fiber, AT&T also plans to bring GigaPower. That's a total of 14 markets, including Austin, the Triangle region of North Carolina, and Atlanta, home to AT&T's mobility division. While AT&T refuses to acknowledge that its gigabit fiber plans are answering the competitive challenge posed by Google Fiber, others say that Kansas City may have been a wake-up call. "I think all the providers have learned some valuable lessons from Google's Kansas City deployment," says Julie Huls, president and CEO of the Austin Technology Council. "What Google did instead was say, 'We're going to build you a Lamborghini, but price it at the same price as a Camry,'" says Blair Levin. "And that's what's so disruptive about it."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Joan Lowy writes for AP that the Department of Transportation has issued an emergency order requiring that railroads inform state emergency management officials about the movement of large shipments of crude oil through their states and urged shippers not to use older model tanks cars that are easily ruptured in accidents, even at slow speeds. The emergency order follows a warning two weeks ago from outgoing National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman that the department risks a "higher body count" as the result of fiery oil train accidents if it waits for new safety regulations to become final. There have been nine oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada since March of last year, many of them resulting in intense fires and sometimes the evacuation of nearby residents, according to the NTSB. The latest was last week, when a CSX train carrying Bakken crude derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va., sending three tank cars into the James River and shooting flames and black smoke into the air. Concern about the safe transport of crude oil was heightened after a runaway oil train derailed and then exploded last July in the small town of Lac-Megantic in Canada, just across the border from Maine. More than 60 tank cars spilled more than 1.3 million gallons of oil. Forty-seven people were killed and 30 buildings destroyed in resulting inferno. Hersman says that over her 10 years on the board she has "seen a lot of difficulty when it comes to safely rules being implemented if we don't have a high enough body count. That is a tombstone mentality. We know the steps that will prevent or mitigate these accidents. What is missing is the will to require people to do so."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Carolyn Lochhead reports in the SF Chronicle that the White House has announced a plan allowing spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the United States, a coup for Silicon Valley companies that have been calling for more lenient rules for immigrants who come to the United States to work in technology. "The proposals announced today will encourage highly skilled, specially trained individuals to remain in the United States and continue to support U.S. businesses and the growth of the U.S. economy," says Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. "A concurrent goal is for the United States to maintain competitiveness with other countries that attract skilled foreign workers and offer employment authorization for spouses of skilled workers. American businesses continue to need skilled nonimmigrant and immigrant workers."
Currently, spouses of H-1B visa holders are not allowed to work unless they obtain their own visa but tech companies have been calling for more H-1B visas, and supporters of the rule change argue that it will bring in more talented workers. Critics say they believe expanding the H-1B visa program will allow lower-paid foreign workers to take American jobs. The plan immediately drew fire from Republicans. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, accused the administration of acting unilaterally to change immigration law and bring in tens of thousands of potential competitors with Americans for jobs. "Fifty million working-age Americans aren't working," Sessions said in a statement, adding that as many as "half of new technology jobs may be going to guest workers. This will help corporations by further flooding a slack labor market, pulling down wages."