Vicissidude writes: The role of telecommunications companies in intelligence surveillance is under increased scrutiny as the Bush Administration seeks to shield the companies from any liability associated with their cooperation in what may be illegal warrantless surveillance. As part of that scrutiny, a copy of Comcast's Comcast Cable Law Enforcement Handbook was recently obtained by Secrecy News. The cost of your privacy and the privacy of all Comcast customers? Upon lawful request and for $1,000.00, Comcast, one of the nation's leading telecommunications companies, will intercept its customers' communications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The cost for performing any FISA surveillance "requiring deployment of an intercept device" is $1,000.00 for the "initial start-up fee (including the first month of intercept service)," according to the manual.
Thereafter, the surveillance fee goes down to "$750.00 per month for each subsequent month in which the original [FISA] order or any extensions of the original order are active."
Vicissidude writes: AT&T mobility informed its nationwide help desk employees that their jobs will be outsourced to IBM beginning next year. The company told the employees in an email and a nationwide conference call on October 4th, "This is to let you know that your job functions and position will be transitioned to IBM effective January 1, 2008."
At least 100 employees in the Bothell, WA location will lose their jobs, and scores of other workers around the country in locations such as CA, NJ and GA will also be impacted.
However, their jobs could have been saved. WashTech, a union for high-tech workers, attempted to organize the Bothell IT department in 2005, but failed in gathering a majority of workers in signing union recognition cards. Union organizers at the time raised the outsourcing issue noting that without the protections of a union contract, the company can outsource these jobs at any time. Employees at the time cockily responded that their jobs would never be outsourced.
Vicissidude writes: A Boise man says he's lucky to be alive after he was sucked partially out of a medical evacuation airplane 20,000 feet in the air.
Chris Fogg is a critical-care nurse with an air ambulance company. He said he was flying with a patient from Idaho to Seattle last Wednesday when he got out of his seat on a two-engine turbo prop to fetch a water bottle.
When he sat back down he heard a loud boom and the window next to him exploded. He hadn't yet buckled his seat belt, and his head and his right arm were sucked out of the window.
Vicissidude writes: As if the debate over immigration and guest worker programs wasn't complicated enough, now a couple of robots are rolling into the middle of it.
Vision Robotics, a San Diego company, is working on a pair of robots that would trundle through orchards plucking oranges, apples or other fruit from the trees. In a few years, troops of these machines could perform the tedious and labor-intensive task of fruit picking that currently employs thousands of migrant workers each season.
The robotic work has been funded entirely by agricultural associations, and pushed forward by the uncertainty surrounding the migrant labor force. Farmers are "very, very nervous about the availability and cost of labor in the near future," says Vision Robotics CEO Derek Morikawa.
Vicissidude writes: Ford supplanted Toyota as the leader of the pack in initial quality rankings, taking the top spot in five of 19 segments in the 2007 survey by J.D. Power and Associates, released on Wednesday.
Porsche again dominated the overall ranking of brands, averaging 91 problems per 100 vehicles as it had last year. That compared with a 2007 industry average of 125 problems per 100 vehicles. Last year it was 124.
Ford Motor Co. earned segment awards for the Ford Mustang, Lincoln Mark LT, Lincoln MKZ, Mercury Milan and Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Toyota Motor Corp., which grabbed the top spot in 11 segments last year, captured only three this year, as did Mercedes-Benz. Toyota's 2007 awards were for the 4Runner, Sequoia and Tacoma.
Ford's Lincoln brand took third in overall nameplate rankings, averaging 100 problems per 100 vehicles. It was behind Porsche and Toyota's Lexus luxury brand, which averaged 94 problems per 100 vehicles.
Vicissidude writes: Does America need more scientists and technical workers from abroad? The idea of a scientist shortage is "almost universally accepted [in political circles], and there's almost no one in Washington and no one on the Hill who says that there's a glut of scientists," says Ron Hira, a policy expert at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC. Despite these perceptions, tens of thousands of PhDs, many of them American-born and American-educated, are stuck in dead-end positions, struggling to find careers commensurate with their training and experience. Many others with technical expertise watch companies use H-1B visas to move their jobs offshore.
Far from signaling a shortage of trained scientific talent, current conditions suggest that what this country fails to produce is suitable career opportunities for thousands who have extensive scientific and technical training.
Regardless of the citizenship of these scientists, the arrival of additional people with comparable qualifications has been shown to depress income and increase competition. Still, "the only two organizations that I know about that have been actively involved in the debate on immigration" on the side of workers represent electrical engineers and computer programmers. "I don't see any scientists involved in this at all.... What is confusing to me is who's representing their interests. Nobody, as far as I can tell."
Vicissidude writes: As an ice cream melts in your mouth this summer, take a moment to contemplate the protein that may be bringing you that sense of cool relief — and numbing your tongue. Researchers have pinned down the particular protein in mice used by the body to sense cold temperatures, and think that a similar one in humans does the same job. Mice rely on a single protein, called TRPM8, to sense both cold temperatures and menthol, the compound that gives mints their cool sensation.
The sensor also controls the pain-relieving effect of cool temperatures, but does not seem to play an important role in the response to painfully cold temperatures below 10 C. TRPM8 is in the same family as the protein that detects heat and capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers hot. These proteins lie in the cell membranes of select neurons, and form channels that open and close in response to external signals.
Vicissidude writes: With the expiration of a key patent, major gas-grill manufacturers have scrambled to bring infrared cooking to the masses. The grills are still powered by propane and have traditional gas burners that heat mostly by convection — or hot air. But they also can cook foods with radiant heat generated by one or more infrared burners. Char-Broil says its advanced burners operate at 450 to 900 degrees, hotter than the 450 to 750 degrees of standard gas burners. And unlike charcoal, which can require 20 to 30 minutes to reach its 700-degree cooking temperature, heat from the infrared burners can be adjusted quickly. Bill Best, founder of Thermal Electric of Columbia, S.C., developed the technology in the 1960s, primarily to give automakers a faster way to dry the paint on cars.
Vicissidude writes: At the National Targeting Center, the ATS program harvests up to 50 fields of passenger data from international flights, including names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers, and uses watchlists, criminal databases and other government systems to assign risk scores to every passenger. When passengers deplane, Customs and Border Protection personnel then target the high scorers for extra screening. Data and the scores can be kept for 40 years, shared widely, and be used in hiring decisions. Travelers may neither see nor contest their scores. The ATS program appears to fly in the face of legal requirements Congress has placed in the Homeland Security appropriations bills for the last three years, which states, "None of the funds provided in this or previous appropriations Acts may be utilized to develop or test algorithms assigning risk to passengers whose names are not on government watch lists." The prohibition most recently appeared in section 514(e) of Congress' 2007 appropriation, which was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 4th. Marc Rotenberg, the director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said he was unaware of the language but that it clearly applies to the Automated Targeting System, not just Secure Flight, the delayed successor to CAPPS II. "Bingo, that's it — the program is unlawful," Rotenberg said. "I think 514(e) stands apart logically (from the other provisions) and 514 says the restrictions apply to any 'other follow-on or successor passenger prescreening program'. It would be very hard to argue that ATS as applied to travelers is not of the kind contemplated (by the lawmakers)."
Vicissidude writes: General Motors has begun work on a mass-produced plug-in hybrid vehicle as part of what the world's biggest car maker sees as an inexorable shift towards electrically-powered cars and trucks. The concept of plug-in hybrids, with more powerful batteries than the conventional hybrid petrol-electric vehicles already on the road, has enjoyed growing attention in recent years. The batteries of plug-in hybrids would typically be recharged at night. Plug-in supporters estimate fuel costs at half those of conventional hybrids. The vehicles would cut greenhouse gas emissions in half. A small number of conventional hybrids have been converted to plug-ins, but the cost and weight of the batteries have so far discouraged commercial production. Rick Wagoner, GM's chief executive, said that GM aimed to mass produce a plug-in hybrid version of the Saturn Vue crossover utility vehicle.
Vicissidude writes: Millions of viewers of NBC's Heroes know actor Masi Oka as Hiro Nakamura, the bored young Japanese office worker who discovers he has the power to alter time and teleport. What they probably don't know is that Masi Oka's been working behind the scenes for years as one of Industrial Light & Magic's top programmers. Since graduating from Brown University in 1997, Oka has worked on more than 30 big-budget Hollywood films at ILM. During that time he has written more than 20 programs and 100 plug-ins for the leading special-effects house. While audiences might not have known his name or face until Heroes, they've seen his programming magic on the big screen in films like The Perfect Storm, Star Wars: Episode II, Terminator 3 and the first two Pirates of the Caribbean movies.