Friday Morning Open Thread: Pioneering Figures

Something I did not know, via McClatchy DC:

More than 100 astronauts have visited the International Space Station since it was first launched in 1998. Of the 101, the U.S. has accounted for 49 of those visitors, a fraction of the hundreds of astronauts NASA has sent into space over the decades.

But now, for the first time ever, an African-American will call the International Space Station home, NASA announced Wednesday.

Jeanette Epps will be part of Expedition 56 to the ISS in 2018 and will remain on board as part of Expedition 57, per a press release. That will make her the first African-American to crew the station, as well as the 13th woman.

Epps has served as an astronaut since 2009 and has a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. She has also spent several years as a CIA technical intelligence officer, according to her biography.

NASA’s announcement comes just before the release of the film “Hidden Figures,” which tells the story of three African-American women who were pivotal in the launch of the first American into orbit, John Glenn. The movie, which has enjoyed a warm reception from critics, per Rotten Tomatoes, has been praised for its authentic feel and adherence to history, per Space.com

Been looking forward to Hidden Figures for a while now — I’m hoping we can get our schedule in order to see it this weekend.

Apart from happy planning, what’s on the agenda as we wrap up the week?
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Open Thread: Fake News, Real Malware?

Any of you more tech-competent people want to tell us whether this story should alarm the rest of us?

… For nearly a decade, various hacker groups accused of working for the Russian government have used fake news in cyberespionage campaigns targeting U.S. government, law enforcement, and military officials—not to mention think tanks, defense contractors, and universities. That’s according to more than a dozen reports and warnings issued by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and other federal agencies over the last three years and reviewed by The Daily Beast. Private industry security firms, conducting their own research, have reached similar conclusions…

Most recently, hours after Donald Trump became president-elect, a post-election campaign was launched against political supporters from both sides of the aisle. The hackers, believed to be tied to the Russian government, used fake news sent from Gmail addresses and what appeared to be hacked email accounts at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, according to security firm Veloxity. Two of the emails claimed to be forwarded from the Clinton Foundation; others contained malicious links to efax or PDF attachments of news articles on topics including:

• “Elections Outcome Could Be revised [Facts of Elections Fraud]”
• “The ‘Shocking’ Truth About Election Rigging”
• “Why American Elections Are Flawed”
• “Clinton Foundation FYI #1”

That same group—sometimes referred to as “the Dukes,” “APT29,” and “CozyBear”—is believed to be affiliated with Russia’s premiere intelligence service, the FSB. Both the U.S. government and private security analysts say that “CozyBear” was one of two that penetrated the DNC in the run-up to the 2016 election. Their hacks have used fake news in targeted cyberespionage campaigns since at least 2008, according to a report on their activity by F-Secure, a second cybersecurity firm…



Open Thread: Think Good Thoughts!

On the other hand, BuzzFeed has a list of “16 Things That Happened In 2016 That Will Actually Cheer You Up“:

1. Half the world became free of war.
In September, the Colombian government signed a pact with FARC, the communist rebels with whom it had been fighting a bitter civil war for 52 years. That war was the last one in the Western hemisphere – there are now no active conflicts anywhere in the entire half of the world west of Greenwich…

3. The hole in the ozone layer has shown signs of healing for the first time…

6. Malaria is on the wane worldwide…

11. The number of AIDS deaths was way down…

14. Global carbon dioxide emissions have stopped going up.
They’ve stayed steady for the last two years, after going up an average of 3.5% a year during the 2000s.

It’s a product of a growing reliance on renewable energy and much slower growth in coal and oil use. We’re still pumping huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into in our atmosphere, and the stuff that’s already there will hang around. But if you were optimistic, you could see this as the peak; maybe emissions will start to drop…

Onward we trudge, one starfish at a time.
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What’s on the agenda as we start the Wrap-Up-2016 Weekend?



Friday Morning Open Thread


(Commentor Delk‘s dog Gav, who is even cuter than a cartoon bunny in a top hat)
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Upbeat story from the Washington Post:

Anita Foeman’s students had just gotten the results from their genetic tests, and they couldn’t wait to talk…

“Some people have never had a happy conversation about race,” Foeman said. But in her class at West Chester University, there’s laughter. Eagerness. And easy connections where there might have been chasms. “Our differences are fascinating,” she said.

At a time when tensions over race and politics are so raw, the stakes, Foeman said, seem particularly high. Her students have been talking all fall about riots, building walls, terrorist attacks, immigration, the election. “You can feel it buzzing around the halls like electricity,” Foeman said.

Asking people to take DNA tests — an idea that has spread to a campuswide effort at this public university — grew out of consulting work Foeman does in race mediation. Instead of a confrontational approach, trying to provoke people into recognizing their own biases, she wanted something that would pull people together, or at least give them a neutral place from which to start to talk. And with racial divides so stark, she wanted to add some nuance and depth.

She wondered: What if people started finding out things they didn’t know about themselves?

So she begins with a short survey asking people their race and what they know about their ancestry. They spit into a vial. Several weeks later, they get an email with an estimate of their ethnic makeup, a color-coded map of their past.

That leads to questions, stories and curiosity. It is a welcome reset from awkwardness, defensiveness, suspicion. Now that the DNA tests are cheaper, Foeman is able to ask all the students in her honors class — almost all of them freshmen just getting to know or redefine themselves — to take the test…

Foeman, who is African American — and genetically more than one-quarter European, as she now knows — would like to test as many people as she can. It’s a way to study everything from medicine to history. Most of all, she’d like to get everyone talking.

She has found people willing, even eager, to take part, with more than 1,500 on campus volunteering.

“I think people want this,” she said. “That surprises me — in a good way.”…

And to think how excited we were, forty years ago, just to test for our own blood types in freshman biology. The main reason I haven’t (yet) bothered to take one of those mail-order gene tests — apart from the Round Tuit issue — is that I have every reason to believe it would be excessively boring. Celtic, with a strong dash of Nordic-Viking, plus some percentage of Anglo-Saxon from the grandmother we never knew had been born (Irish Protestant) Orange until after she and her only son were dead. I’d probably be more interested if I or any of my five sibs had kids…
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What’s on the agenda as we wrap up the week that (hopefully) wraps up this misbegotten year?



Early Morning Open Thread: This Crappy New Sci-Fi Dystopia Series Needs Better Scripters

Even the entities responsible for Star Wars Holiday Special are going, “Too cartoonish, dudes! You’re gonna lose your audience, dumb and uncritical as they are…”

Per the Washington Post:

A dozen or so technology executives filed into a conference room on the 25th floor of Trump Tower on Wednesday wearing suits not usually seen in Silicon Valley. Their combined net worth — at least $136 billion — was gilded even for the likes of Trump Tower. After months of acrimony that at times felt personal, they had come to make nice with President-elect Donald Trump.

And make nice they did…

But behind the cordiality was a sense of trepidation. While technology companies were among the most critical of Trump on the campaign trail, many understand that he will soon hold power over issues critical to them and their shareholders, including government contracts, high-skilled immigrant visas, Chinese imports and trade deals…

The infotech company with which Trump is most familiar didn’t get a seat:

But of course Peter Thiel did. Per the Post, again:

The president-elect also heaped praise on Facebook board and transition team member Peter Thiel, shaking his hand and calling him a “special guy.”

Trump made a point of saying that Thiel, who convened the meeting, nixed companies that were too small from attending. But one relatively small company with ties to Thiel made the cut: Palantir. Unlike the other companies in attendance, the data-mining start-up, which Thiel founded in 2004, is private and had revenue last year of less than $300 million, according to a person familiar with the matter. A large portion of Palantir’s business involves contracts with federal agencies, and the company is currently engaged in a lawsuit with the Department of Defense over the right to compete for more contracts…



Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Walter Says Happy Holidays

walter-says-happy-holidays-thanx-debit-2016

Sure, there are some dogs (hi, Ellie) who hold their dignity too high to willingly participate in these ridiculous human rituals. Walter says there’s worse ways to spend one’s days than with a full belly, a soft warm bed, and a household of welcoming companions.

(And if you send me a jpg of your holiday-celebrating household companions, yes I will front-page them, too also.)

Apart from happy rescue updates, what’s on the agenda for the day?

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I owe a couple commentors a hat tip for this — If you are looking to make a year-end tax-deductible contribution to a very worth cause, consider throwing a few bucks or bitcoins at the people responsible for the Wayback Machine site:

You have come to the Internet Archive in search of knowledge, or perhaps to find a part of the Web you may have lost.For 20 years through the Wayback Machine, we’ve backed you up. Now we ask for your help in return.

The Internet Archive is a non-profit library with a huge mission: to give everyone access to all knowledge. By making a tax-deductible donation today, you can ensure that everyone has free and open access to information, forever.

The history of libraries is one of loss. Libraries like ours are susceptible to different fault lines: earthquakes, legal regimes, institutional failure.

So this year, we have set a new goal: to create a copy of Internet Archive’s digital collections in another country. We are building the Internet Archive of Canada because lots of copies keeps stuff safe. To achieve our goal, we aim to raise $5 million by January 20, and we need your help to get there.

Right now a generous supporter will match your donation 1‑to‑1. So you can double your impact! For every dollar you donate right now, the Internet Archive will receive $2!…

Gosh, I wonder if there’s any significance to that “January 20” deadline, she said piously.



Tuesday Evening Open Thread: Stay Watchful

The Geminids are the last meteor shower of 2016, and you should be able to catch them between December 12 and December 15. The peak of the shower will be late at night on December 13 and early in the morning of December 14.

You’ll see the most meteors at around 2 a.m. local time, when the meteors radiate from directly overhead. The supermoon will also be visible, and even though the bright moon will make it harder to see the meteors, the Geminids are large enough that you should still be able to catch the brightest shooting stars.

Anybody going to be out there watching for meteors tonight?

(Our attempt this summer to see the Leonids shower was a major #FAIL, which ended with us & three wired little dogs stuck in a six-hour pre-dawn traffic tie-up, so I’m not even gonna mention this to the Spousal Unit… )

Speaking of immense fusterclucks, here’s a small piece of good news from The Resistance:


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Apart from scienterrific scienterrorism, what’s on the agenda for the evening?