What’s Happening In Sunspot?

The National Solar Observatory is located, appropriately, in Sunspot, New Mexico, on Sacramento Peak. It was closed by the FBI on September 6 and the employees told to stay home until further notice. Even the Otero County Sheriff doesn’t know what’s going on.

James McAteer, a New Mexico State University professor who is also the director of the Sunspot Solar Observatory said the “telescope did not see aliens. All data will be made public in its unaltered form. Nothing is hidden or kept secret.” (Source)

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, which runs the observatory, issued a statement saying

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is addressing a security issue at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) facility at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico and has decided to temporarily vacate the facility as a precautionary measure until further notice. All other NSO facilities are open and operating normally. AURA, which manages Sacramento Peak with funding from the National Science Foundation, is working with the proper authorities on this issue.

The FBI is not commenting.

My guess is that someone has made a threat against the observatory or its personnel. That person may be inside or outside the observatory community. But not aliens or a sunspot that will destroy the Earth.

Photo from Space.com.

And Open Thread!



Another Storm Resource

The Energy Information Administration has an interactive map of energy infrastructure with storm information. It looks like something that energy nerds could spend some time with even when we’re not expecting major storm disruptions. The graphic at the top of the post is a screen grab. Check out the real thing. Also lots of useful links to energy information on the page.

Open thread, also too.

 



New EU Internet Copyright Bill, Articles 11 and 13

The infosphere is aflame with a new battle in an old war: how copyright should be handled on the Internet.

The Guardian has background:

It is an argument that has drawn in the likes of Paul McCartney, Plácido Domingo and the Vienna Philharmonic, as well as pioneers of the internet from Tim Berners-Lee to the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales.

Fought with hashtags, mailshots, open letters and celebrity endorsements, the battle over the European Union’s draft directive on copyright heads for a showdown this week.

After two years of debate, members of the European parliament will vote on Wednesday on the legislation, which could change the balance of power between producers of music, news and film and the dominant websites that host their work.

[…]

Critics claim the proposal will destroy the internet, spelling the end of sharing holiday snaps or memes on Facebook. Proponents are exasperated by such claims, described by German Christian Democrat Axel Voss as “totally wrong” and “fake news”.

Two sections in particular are controversial: Articles 11 and 13. Both sides (both sides!) are being very hyperbolic about these. The gist is that groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and people like Cory Doctorow say these are “internet-destroying regulations,” and the proponents’ response (from what I’ve seen on Twitter) is to paint all opponents as paid industry shills who hate artists. I’ve attempted here to come up with what I hope is an even-handed summary. I Am Not A Lawyer, so please tell me what I’ve gotten wrong.

This is a bit long, so click through if you’re interested. Note of course that these are EU laws, but so is the GDPR, and we’ve all experienced the effects of that. Read more



Late Night Luddite Open Thread: But Those Musk-y Pheromones!

Of all the striking things about the interview with Elon Musk The New York Times published Thursday night—the tears, the lack of regrets over certain tweets, the fact that rapper Azealia Banks may somehow be part of Tesla’s financial future—was Musk’s claim that he’d be ready to abandon his role as Tesla CEO and chairman…

… But there’s no replacing Elon Musk. Because the man is not just a CEO. To many, the man is a legend.

Start with the tale of Tesla. When the company launched in 2003, car salesmen were stocking up on the 12-mpg Hummer H2. The most popular battery-powered vehicles were golf carts. The American auto industry is famously brutal to newcomers, and the idea of one succeeding with electric vehicles racked up the lolz. For years, skeptics waited to bury Tesla alongside Tucker, DeLorean, Fisker. Musk defied them. He made electric cars capable (and sort of self-driving). He made them easy to charge (on an infrastructure he built). But most importantly, he made them desirable. Owning a Tesla became a status symbol; about 400,000 people are on a waiting list to own the Model 3. The entire venture proved you didn’t have to be GM or Ford or Chrysler to make cars in America. And you didn’t have to be BMW or Mercedes or Lexus to make luxury cars appealing to Americans.

Simultaneously, Musk was running SpaceX. Under his leadership, the commercial space company defied entrenched aviation giants like Boeing by breaking into the rocket science business. Musk promised to colonize Mars. As his side hustles, he wished a hyperloop industry into creation, dabbled in artificial intelligence, and won a contract to dig tunnels under Chicago.

And all along the way, much of the world cheered him on. Musk graced magazine covers. He inspired songs. He went on talk shows, appeared on The Simpsons and South Park, made Page Six headlines. Sure, he had a sizable ego (who wouldn’t?) and habit of belittling those who doubted or opposed him (haters!), but the public largely forgave him these minor transgressions given his major skills in proposing big, bold ideas, and delivering on them.

But over the past year, this goodwill has started to fade…

The pressure to perform has eased, but its effects, it seems, endure. Musk cares deeply about what people think of him and his companies. His harsh reactions to negative press often beget more of the same, a surely unsettling shift from the years of mostly adoring coverage he received, of the publicly validated self-worth he must have come to expect. And while he retains a loyal army of Twitter followers, his mantle as a Renaissance Superman, gifted by an enthralled public—and media—is slipping…


 
Yes, I find PayPal very useful too, but I’m beginning to suspect Elon Musk’s unique genius is… well… Look, some of the greatest minds of the ancient world spent their lives working out Ptolemaic planetary regression charts. And that was perfectly respectable! Their work is still used by modern astrologers; modern astronomers, not so much.

Honest questions: Have I missed something technologically significant? All this showmanship around SpaceX and ‘hyperloops’ — is it just a fun way of boosting the sales of high-end branded electric cars?



Not-Election-Results Open Thread: Go, Robotics Team Naatsis’aan!

ELECTION RESULTS DISCUSSION, GO DOWN ONE POST. This is for all the *other* comments, which are not election-related, because this is a full-service blog &etc.

Thought about saving this for tomorrow dawn, but wottahell, we could all use some positivity right now. From the AP, “Navajo robotics team heads to international competition”:

A team of Navajo high school students from a remote town in southern Utah is building a robot to represent North America in an international robotics competition.

The teenagers have worked all summer on the project, scheduling meetings between long drives to jobs far from the red rock and sage country of Navajo Mountain, where there is little paid work, said teacher Heather Anderson.

The team was specially invited to compete in the First Global Challenge that starts Aug. 14 in Mexico City. Teams from more than 190 countries will create robots for energy generation, especially renewable power. Teams hail from countries ranging from Congo to Ukraine, and also include separate teams representing specifically the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Team Naatsis’aan, a Navajo name that translates to Navajo Mountain, has been competing for two years in Utah and ranks among the best in the state at that level, said Chelsey Short, the regional director for FIRST Robotics. They got started after an Australian team reached out online and supportive coaches kept it going, but sustaining the program at a high school with a total of 30 students has been challenging…

Team member Jason Slender, 16, said he grew up repairing laptops and phones, skills that came in handy when it comes to building robots. “The best part was brainstorming how we should design the robot, and managing to all agree on one,” he said Tuesday. He’s taking his first plane ride for the event.

Each of the teams heading to Mexico City is building a robot capable of feeding power plants to scale and an efficient transmission network. The Navajo team will have to work in alliances with other teams to score points in the challenge organized by the robotics nonprofit First Global. Since they speak different languages, they’ll use a system of hand gestures to communicate, Bitsinnie said…



The President Has A Science Advisor

But something seems to have gone wrong in the selection process.

Kelvin Droegemeier seems to be a competent meterologist, accused of no crimes. There are serious questions as to whether he can fit in at the White House.

Compounding the problem is that he has advocated for “Balanced, predictable and stable funding” of science to keep the United States leading position in science.

Most science advisors in the past have been physicists, but now that global warming is becoming obvious, a meterologist may be a good choice. Drogemeyer has served on the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation, under presidents Obama and George W. Bush. He is an expert on extreme weather.

The president’s science advisor advises on all sorts of things, including nuclear weapons issues, funding for universities, extreme weather events, and science issues in commerce. He also interacts with the scientific community, so he needs to grow a thick skin in this anti-science administration.

Everything I’ve seen about him is good. That can change, of course, and there is no guarantee that the president will listen to him any more than he does any other advisor.

Good luck, Kelvin Droegemeier!

And open thread.

Pulled this one back when I saw I bigfooted Doug.

 

Edited to correct the spelling of Droegemeier’s last name.



Interesting Read: “Tim Berners-Lee, the Man Who Created the World Wide Web, Has Some Regrets”

I’m counting on all you tech wizards to explain how and where this all goes wrong, but *I* thought it was interesting. Katrina Brooker, in Vanity Fair:

For people who want to make sure the Web serves humanity, we have to concern ourselves with what people are building on top of it,” Tim Berners-Lee told me one morning in downtown Washington, D.C., about a half-mile from the White House. Berners-Lee was speaking about the future of the Internet, as he does often and fervently and with great animation at a remarkable cadence. With an Oxonian wisp of hair framing his chiseled face, Berners-Lee appears the consummate academic—communicating rapidly, in a clipped London accent, occasionally skipping over words and eliding sentences as he stammers to convey a thought. His soliloquy was a mixture of excitement with traces of melancholy. Nearly three decades earlier, Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. On this morning, he had come to Washington as part of his mission to save it…

Berners-Lee, who never directly profited off his invention, has also spent most of his life trying to guard it. While Silicon Valley started ride-share apps and social-media networks without profoundly considering the consequences, Berners-Lee has spent the past three decades thinking about little else. From the beginning, in fact, Berners-Lee understood how the epic power of the Web would radically transform governments, businesses, societies. He also envisioned that his invention could, in the wrong hands, become a destroyer of worlds, as Robert Oppenheimer once infamously observed of his own creation. His prophecy came to life, most recently, when revelations emerged that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 presidential election, or when Facebook admitted it exposed data on more than 80 million users to a political research firm, Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Donald Trump’s campaign. This episode was the latest in an increasingly chilling narrative. In 2012, Facebook conducted secret psychological experiments on nearly 700,000 users. Both Google and Amazon have filed patent applications for devices designed to listen for mood shifts and emotions in the human voice.

For the man who set all this in motion, the mushroom cloud was unfolding before his very eyes. “I was devastated,” Berners-Lee told me that morning in Washington, blocks from the White House. For a brief moment, as he recalled his reaction to the Web’s recent abuses, Berners-Lee quieted; he was virtually sorrowful. “Actually, physically—my mind and body were in a different state.” Then he went on to recount, at a staccato pace, and in elliptical passages, the pain in watching his creation so distorted.

This agony, however, has had a profound effect on Berners-Lee. He is now embarking on a third act—determined to fight back through both his celebrity status and, notably, his skill as a coder. In particular, Berners-Lee has, for some time, been working on a new software, Solid, to reclaim the Web from corporations and return it to its democratic roots. On this winter day, he had come to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the World Wide Web Foundation, which he started in 2009 to protect human rights across the digital landscape. For Berners-Lee, this mission is critical to a fast-approaching future. Sometime this November, he estimates, half the world’s population—close to 4 billion people—will be connected online, sharing everything from résumés to political views to DNA information. As billions more come online, they will feed trillions of additional bits of information into the Web, making it more powerful, more valuable, and potentially more dangerous than ever…

The idea is simple: re-decentralize the Web. Working with a small team of developers, he spends most of his time now on Solid, a platform designed to give individuals, rather than corporations, control of their own data. “There are people working in the lab trying to imagine how the Web could be different. How society on the Web could look different. What could happen if we give people privacy and we give people control of their data,” Berners-Lee told me. “We are building a whole eco-system.”

For now, the Solid technology is still new and not ready for the masses. But the vision, if it works, could radically change the existing power dynamics of the Web. The system aims to give users a platform by which they can control access to the data and content they generate on the Web. This way, users can choose how that data gets used rather than, say, Facebook and Google doing with it as they please. Solid’s code and technology is open to all—anyone with access to the Internet can come into its chat room and start coding. “One person turns up every few days. Some of them have heard about the promise of Solid, and they are driven to turn the world upside down,” he says. Part of the draw is working with an icon. For a computer scientist, coding with Berners-Lee is like playing guitar with Keith Richards. But more than just working with the inventor of the Web, these coders come because they want to join the cause. These are digital idealists, subversives, revolutionaries, and anyone else who wants to fight the centralization of the Web. For his part, working on Solid brings Berners-Lee back to the Web’s early days: “It’s under the radar, but working on it in a way puts back some of the optimism and excitement that the ‘fake news’ takes out.”…

It’s hard to believe that anyone—even Zuckerberg—wants the 1984 version. He didn’t found Facebook to manipulate elections; Jack Dorsey and the other Twitter founders didn’t intend to give Donald Trump a digital bullhorn. And this is what makes Berners-Lee believe that this battle over our digital future can be won. As public outrage grows over the centralization of the Web, and as enlarging numbers of coders join the effort to decentralize it, he has visions of the rest of us rising up and joining him. This spring, he issued a call to arms, of sorts, to the digital public. In an open letter published on his foundation’s Web site, he wrote: “While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people—and can be fixed by people.”…