Archive for June, 2013

New system uses low-power Wi-Fi signal to track moving humans — even behind walls

Posted in Technology on June 30, 2013 by betweentwopines

New system uses low-power Wi-Fi signal to track moving humans — even behind walls

ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTINE DANILOFF/MIT
‘Wi-Vi’ is based on a concept similar to radar and sonar imaging.
Helen Knight, MIT News correspondent
June 28, 2013
The comic-book hero Superman uses his X-ray vision to spot bad guys lurking behind walls and other objects. Now we could all have X-ray vision, thanks to researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Researchers have long attempted to build a device capable of seeing people through walls. However, previous efforts to develop such a system have involved the use of expensive and bulky radar technology that uses a part of the electromagnetic spectrum only available to the military.

Now a system being developed by Dina Katabi, a professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and her graduate student Fadel Adib, could give all of us the ability to spot people in different rooms using low-cost Wi-Fi technology. “We wanted to create a device that is low-power, portable and simple enough for anyone to use, to give people the ability to see through walls and closed doors,” Katabi says.

The system, called “Wi-Vi,” is based on a concept similar to radar and sonar imaging.  But in contrast to radar and sonar, it transmits a low-power Wi-Fi signal and uses its reflections to track moving humans. It can do so even if the humans are in closed rooms or hiding behind a wall.

As a Wi-Fi signal is transmitted at a wall, a portion of the signal penetrates through it, reflecting off any humans on the other side. However, only a tiny fraction of the signal makes it through to the other room, with the rest being reflected by the wall, or by other objects. “So we had to come up with a technology that could cancel out all these other reflections, and keep only those from the moving human body,” Katabi says.

Motion detector

To do this, the system uses two transmit antennas and a single receiver. The two antennas transmit almost identical signals, except that the signal from the second antenna is the inverse of the first. As a result, the two signals interfere with each other in such a way as to cancel each other out. Since any static objects that the signals hit — including the wall — create identical reflections, they too are cancelled out by this nulling effect.

In this way, only those reflections that change between the two signals, such as those from a moving object, arrive back at the receiver, Adib says. “So, if the person moves behind the wall, all reflections from static objects are cancelled out, and the only thing registered by the device is the moving human.”

Once the system has cancelled out all of the reflections from static objects, it can then concentrate on tracking the person as he or she moves around the room. Most previous attempts to track moving targets through walls have done so using an array of spaced antennas, which each capture the signal reflected off a person moving through the environment. But this would be too expensive and bulky for use in a handheld device.

So instead Wi-Vi uses just one receiver. As the person moves through the room, his or her distance from the receiver changes, meaning the time it takes for the reflected signal to make its way back to the receiver changes too. The system then uses this information to calculate where the person is at any one time.

Possible uses in disaster recovery, personal safety, gaming

Wi-Vi, being presented at the Sigcomm conference in Hong Kong in August, could be used to help search-and-rescue teams to find survivors trapped in rubble after an earthquake, say, or to allow police officers to identify the number and movement of criminals within a building to avoid walking into an ambush.

It could also be used as a personal safety device, Katabi says: “If you are walking at night and you have the feeling that someone is following you, then you could use it to check if there is someone behind the fence or behind a corner.”

The device can also detect gestures or movements by a person standing behind a wall, such as a wave of the arm, Katabi says. This would allow it to be used as a gesture-based interface for controlling lighting or appliances within the home, such as turning off the lights in another room with a wave of the arm.

Venkat Padmanabhan, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, says the possibility of using Wi-Vi as a gesture-based interface that does not require a line of sight between the user and the device itself is perhaps its most interesting application of all. “Such an interface could alter the face of gaming,” he says.

Unlike today’s interactive gaming devices, where users must stay in front of the console and its camera at all times, users could still interact with the system while in another room, for example. This could open up the possibility of more complex and interesting games, Katabi says.

Source  http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2013/new-system-uses-low-power-wi-fi-signal-to-track-moving-humans-0628.html

Is climate change to blame?

Posted in Science, Uncategorized on June 28, 2013 by betweentwopines

BY LIVE SCIENCE


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s research vessel Knorr docked before its departure on Sept. 6 to study salinity in the mid-Atlantic ocean. (NASA)

By Wynne Parry

Over the past 50 years, the salty parts of the oceans have become saltier and the fresh regions have become fresher, and the degree of change is greater than scientists can explain.

Researchers are heading out into one particularly salty ocean region, in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, in the hopes of better understanding what drives variation in salinity in the upper ocean.

Ultimately, they hope, research like this will offer insight on the dynamics behind the dramatic changes in the ocean’s salt content.

Many oceanographers have a hunch about what is going on: Climate change, Ray Schmitt, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told journalists during a news conference Wednesday (Sept. 5).

“Climate is changing all the time, and some of that change is due to natural variation,” Schmitt said. “The 50-year trend we are talking about, most of us believe is really due to the general trend of global warming.”

Salt & the global water cycle

This matters because the ocean is at the heart of the planet’s water cycle: 86 percent of global evaporation and 78 percent of global precipitation occur over the ocean, according to NASA, the lead entity behind the project, called Salinity Processes in the Upper Ocean Regional Study (SPURS).

Over the ocean, more evaporation as compared to precipitation translates into saltier water. Meanwhile, in regions where precipitation is favored, water is fresher.

By tracking ocean salinity, researchers can better understand the global water cycle. Global warming is expected to intensify it, but current computer models do not predict the amount of change seen over the last 50 years, Schmitt said.

Aside from an increase in evaporation caused by warming, such factors as winds can also contribute to changes in salinity.

“We have a lot of questions about the basic physics we hope to resolve with this cruise,” Schmitt said.

In addition to instruments attached to the research vessel itself, scientists plan to deploy a variety of drifting, remotely operated and moored sensors. European researchers are also visiting the site and collecting data.

Salinity data is also expected to come from the satellite-borne instrument, called Aquarius, launched about a year ago, as well as the global network of Argo floats, which measure temperature and salinity. [Satellite Gallery: Science from Above]

The research vessel Knorr departed Woods Hole, Mass., for the mid-Atlantic Thursday (Sept. 6). The researchers will spend about three weeks deploying their instruments, leaving some behind for when they return. Due to hurricanes Leslie and Michael, the vessel’s captain decided to travel quickly to the east and then south to miss the worst of the weather on their way to the study site.

Ongoing work

The mid-Atlantic isn’t the only area where researchers hope to study ocean salinity in detail.

“SPURS is named because spurs come in pairs,” said Eric Lindstrom, a physical oceanography program scientist at NASA headquarters, explaining that researchers hope to do something similar in a low-salinity region, such as the Bay of Bengal or an area south of Hawaii.

While researchers think global climate change may be behind the changes in ocean salinity, changes like these are expected to have their own implications for climate. This is because ocean salinity also affects ocean circulation, and as a result, ocean temperatures, which have implications for weather.

Here’s how it works: Compared with fresh water, salty water is heavier, and so more prone to sinking. Temperature has a similar effect, with warmth causing water to rise. Differences in salinity and temperature drive a slow-moving conveyor belt of ocean currents that encircles the planet. The Gulf Stream, which carries warm water across the Atlantic to Europe, is part of this conveyor belt.

It may work out that higher salinity in some regions counterbalances fresher water in others, Schmitt said: “It is a delicate balance and what we think now is it is not too likely the conveyer belt is going to shut down anytime soon.”

 

Source  http://weather.aol.com/2012/09/09/mysterious-changes-in-ocean-salt-spur-nasa-expedition/#page=1

Abenomics: Japan May Data Indicates Success of Prime Minister’s Reflationary Strategy

Posted in Finance on June 28, 2013 by betweentwopines


By JERIN MATHEW: Subscribe to Jerin’s RSS feed | June 28, 2013 7:26 AM GMT

Japan’s PM Abe speaks during a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo
Japan’s economy fared well in May with increased industrial production and retail sales as well as a halt in the decline of consumer prices, signalling that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s anti-deflationary measures are going in the right direction.

Data from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) shows that Japan’s industrial production increased for the fourth consecutive month, rising 2.0% on month in May. The figure was well ahead of economists’ forecast of a 0.2% rise. In the previous month, industrial production rose by 0.9%.

The increased industrial output indicates surged domestic demand for power generation equipment and a pickup in exports in line with the global economic recovery.

On a yearly basis, industrial production declined by 1.0% in May, but it was better than economists’ expectations of a contraction of 2.4% following a 3.4% decline in the previous month.

By sector, production by makers of general purpose and business-oriented machinery increased 7.6% on rising demand for components of steam turbines and boilers from Japanese utilities, according to the official data. Output of electrical machinery also rose 6.1% amid increased solar panel production in the country suffering from energy shortage.

The index of industrial shipments grew 0.8% in May to 96.6 while that of inventories was down 0.3% to 107.1.

The ministry notes that industrial production is showing a moderate pick-up trend. A survey of manufacturers by the ministry predicts a 2.4% fall in industrial production in June followed by a 3.3% increase in July.

Separate data from the METI shows that retail sales increased by 0.8% in May compared to a year earlier and by 1.5% from the previous month, but large-scale retailers saw a 0.4% year-on-year decline in sales. Further, Japanese consumer prices avoided deflationary territory in May despite a surprise decline in household spending.

Consumer prices, excluding fresh food, were little changed from a year before as the yen’s weakness pushed utility costs up at the fastest pace in almost five years. Prices, barring fresh food and energy, fell 0.4% in May from a year earlier.

The latest data offers further evidence of the effectiveness of Abe’s reflationary strategy as he looks to strengthen his political position before next month’s upper house election.

At the same time, the data may ease pressure on Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda to announce further monetary stimulus measures.

 

Source  http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/484251/20130628/japan-industrial-production-consumer-prices-shinzo-abe.htm#

Former East German secret police captain says NSA spying ‘a dream come true’

Posted in Conspiracy, News on June 28, 2013 by betweentwopines

 

By David Ferguson
Thursday, June 27, 2013 15:35 EDT

 

A former agent of the Stasi, the much-feared East German communist secret police, has said that the recently revealed NSA spying program would have been his agency’s “dream come true” because it has collected “so much information, on so many people.” Wolfgang Schmidt, 78, said in an interview with McClatchy newspapers that it is “the height of naivete” to think that the information will never be used against U.S. citizens.

“You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true,” Schmidt said. As a lieutenant colonel in the Stasi, he said that technology limited the secret police’s ability to satisfy its voracious appetite for information. Their listening devices, he said, could only spy on 40 telephone lines at once. Targets had to be prioritized. To take on a new spying subject, an old one had to be let go.

The retired spy said his mind reels at the notion of being able to capture data from millions of cellphones and computers simultaneously. “So much information, on so many people,” he marveled to McClatchy.
The Stasi was one of the most ruthlessly intrusive spy agencies ever to have its records exposed to public scrutiny. Stasi listening agents kept track of when and what their subjects ate, when they visited the toilet and how often they had sex with their spouses or others. Its inner workings were exposed after the thawing of relations between East and West Germany in the 1990s and many Germans still remember the desperate fear that comes from being spied on by one’s neighbors.

Privacy concerns have recently been raised about spying undertaken by the U.S. and British governments as more and more revelations have come to light about the National Security Agency’s extensive surveillance programs both domestically and abroad. President Barack Obama and other U.S. government officials have repeatedly attempted to reassure the public that the programs are only being used fairly and judiciously to track criminals and terrorists.

Schmidt, however, warned darkly that this kind of data collection has a dark side, that even though the U.S. government has claimed that the gathered data serves no nefarious purpose, it someday will.

“It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used,” he said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”

Source  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/06/27/former-east-german-secret-police-captain-says-nsa-spying-a-dream-come-true/

Italy Faces Huge Losses on Derivatives Restructured in Eurozone Crisis

Posted in Finance on June 26, 2013 by betweentwopines

The Financial Times notes that Italy faces billions in losses on Derivatives Restructured in Eurozone Crisis.

 Italy risks potential losses of billions of euros on derivatives contracts it restructured at the height of the eurozone crisis, according to a confidential report by the Rome Treasury that sheds more light on the financial tactics that enabled the debt-laden country to enter the euro in 1999.

A 29-page report by the Treasury, obtained by the Financial Times, details Italy’s debt transactions and exposure in the first half of 2012, including the restructuring of eight derivatives contracts with foreign banks with a total notional value of €31.7bn.

Experts who examined it told the Financial Times the restructuring allowed the cash-strapped Treasury to stagger payments owed to foreign banks over a longer period but, in some cases, at more disadvantageous terms for Italy.

The senior government official who spoke to the Financial Times and the experts consulted said the restructured contracts in the 2012 Treasury report included derivatives taken out when Italy was trying to meet tough financial criteria for the 1999 entry into the euro.

Three independent experts consulted by the FT calculated the losses based on market prices on June 20 and concluded the Treasury was facing a potential loss at that moment of about €8bn, a surprisingly high figure based on a notional value of €31.7bn.

Early last year Italy was prompted to reveal by regulatory filings made by Morgan Stanley that it had paid the US investment bank €2.57bn after the bank exercised a break clause on derivatives contracts involving interest rate swaps and swap options agreed with Italy in 1994.

An official report presented to parliament in March 2012 found that Morgan Stanley was the only counterparty to have such a break clause with Italy and disclosed, for the first time, that the Treasury held derivatives contracts to hedge some €160bn of debt, almost 10 per cent of state bonds in circulation.

The Bloomberg News agency calculated at the time, based on regulatory filings, that Italy had lost more than $31bn on its derivatives at then market values.

The facts seem difficult to piece together, but the amounts are significant. Some of the derivatives date back to 1994-1996 when Italy dressed up its finances to meet Maastricht treaty criteria, including a budget deficit less than 3 per cent.

“Italy had a budget deficit of 7.7 per cent in 1995” but the deficit magically shrunk to 2.7% in 1998, the approval year for Italy joining the eurozone. The odds of that being legitimate are approximately zero percent.

ECB president Mario Draghi was head of the Italian central bank at the time much of this took place, so it’s no wonder details are scant.

Recall that Bloomberg lost a freedom of information lawsuit against the ECB regarding derivatives used to hide Greek debt on the basis “disclosure of the files would have undermined the protection of the public interest so far as concerns the economic policy of the European Union and Greece”.

I would be far more interested to see the complete Italy files, but clearly that’s not going to happen either.

Read more at http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/2013/06/italy-faces-8bn-hit-on-317bn-in.html#mLho8Mtx0wy0OSmM.99

ATS thread http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread955726/pg1

Silver Makes Antibiotics Thousands of Times More Effective

Posted in Health on June 23, 2013 by betweentwopines

The antimicrobial treatment could help to solve modern bacterial resistance

By Brian Owens

 

Like werewolves and vampires, bacteria have a weakness: silver. The precious metal has been used to fight infection for thousands of years — Hippocrates first described its antimicrobial properties in 400 bc — but how it works has been a mystery. Now, a team led by James Collins, a biomedical engineer at Boston University in Massachusetts, has described how silver can disrupt bacteria, and shown that the ancient treatment could help to deal with the thoroughly modern scourge of antibiotic resistance. The workis published today in Science Translational Medicine.

“Resistance is growing, while the number of new antibiotics in development is dropping,” says Collins. “We wanted to find a way to make what we have work better.”

Collins and his team found that silver — in the form of dissolved ions — attacks bacterial cells in two main ways: it makes the cell membrane more permeable, and it interferes with the cell’s metabolism, leading to the overproduction of reactive, and often toxic, oxygen compounds. Both mechanisms could potentially be harnessed to make today’s antibiotics more effective against resistant bacteria, Collins says.

Resistance is futile
Many antibiotics are thought to kill their targets by producing reactive oxygen compounds, and Collins and his team showed that when boosted with a small amount of silver these drugs could kill between 10 and 1,000 times as many bacteria. The increased membrane permeability also allows more antibiotics to enter the bacterial cells, which may overwhelm the resistance mechanisms that rely on shuttling the drug back out.

That disruption to the cell membrane also increased the effectiveness of vancomycin, a large-molecule antibiotic, on Gram-negative bacteria — which have a protective outer coating. Gram-negative bacterial cells can often be impenetrable to antibiotics made of larger molecules.

“It’s not so much a silver bullet; more a silver spoon to help the Gram-negative bacteria take their medicine,” says Collins.

Toxic assets
Vance Fowler, an infectious-disease physician at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, says the work is “really cool” but sounds a note of caution about the potential toxicity of silver. “It has had a checkered past,” he says.

In the 1990s, for example, a heart valve made by St. Jude Medical, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, included parts covered with a silver coating called Silzone to fight infection. “It did a fine job of preventing infection,” says Fowler. “The problem was that the silver was also toxic to heart tissue.” As a result the valves often leaked.

Before adding silver to antibiotics, “we’ll have to address the toxicity very carefully”, says Fowler. Ingesting too much silver can also cause argyria, a condition in which the skin turns a blue-grey color — and the effect is permanent.

Collins says that he and his colleagues saw good results in mice using non-toxic amounts of silver. But, he adds, there are ways to reduce the risk even further. “We’re also encouraging people to look at what features of silver caused the helpful effects, so they can look for non-toxic versions,” he says.

This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on June 19, 2013.

 Source  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=silver-makes-antibiotics-thousands-of-times-more-effective

DEVELOPER: KAN. CAVERNS COULD PRESERVE HUMAN RACE

Posted in News on June 20, 2013 by betweentwopines

 

ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) — After most of the world’s population is wiped off the map by a wayward meteorite or hail of nuclear missiles, the survival of the human race might just depend on a few thousand people huddled in recreational vehicles deep in the bowels of an eastern Kansas mine.

That’s the vision of a California man who is creating what he calls the world’s largest private underground survivor shelter, using a complex of limestone caves dug more than 100 years ago beneath gently rolling hills overlooking the Missouri River.

“I do believe I am on a mission and doing a spiritual thing,” said Robert Vicino, who has purchased a large portion of the former U.S. Army storage facility on the southeast edge of Atchison, about 50 miles northwest of Kansas City, Mo. “We will certainly be part of the genesis.”

Before it comes time to ride out Armageddon or a deadly global pandemic, though, Vicino says the Vivos Survival Shelter and Resort will be a fun place for members to take vacations and learn assorted survival skills to prepare them for whatever world-changing catastrophe awaits.

Jacque Pregont, president of the Atchison Chamber of Commerce, said some people think the shelter plan sounds creepy or that Vicino has “lost his mind,” while others are excited because they will finally get a chance to tour the property.

Atchison is known as the birthplace of Amelia Earhart and one of the most haunted towns in Kansas, Pregont said, so the survival shelter is likely to add to the town’s tourism draw.

“It’s quirky, and quirky gets attention,” she said.

Recent Hollywood movies have done big business exploring themes about threats to the human race, either through climate shifts, meteor impacts or zombie invasions. And the National Geographic Channel show, “Doomsday Preppers,” documents the efforts of Americans who are preparing for the end of the world with elaborate shelters and plenty of freeze-dried rations.

Paul Seyfried, who belongs to a group that promotes preparing for manmade or natural disasters, said Americans have become complacent ever since the death of John F. Kennedy, the last president who urged people to build fallout shelters.

“There has been no war on our soil in over 100 years, so the horror of war is not stamped indelibly in Americans’ minds,” said Seyfried, a member of The American Civil Defense Association’s advisory board.

Ken Rose, a history professor at California State University-Chico, is an outspoken critic of underground shelters. Though he acknowledged that interest in underground shelters is growing, he called projects like the Kansas facility a “colossal waste of time and money.”

“Some people are just obsessed by this idea,” Rose said. “… Without minimizing the terror threat here today, the threats were much greater at the height of the Cold War. At least then anxiety was based on a realistic scenario.”

The Kansas caverns are 100 feet to 150 feet below the surface and have a constant natural temperature in the low 70s. They are supported by thick limestone pillars six times stronger than concrete and will have blast doors built to withstand a one-megaton nuclear explosion as close as 10 miles away, Vicino said.

Other than being surrounded by more than a mile and a half of 6-foot-high chain-link fence topped with sharp rows of barbed wire, the land above ground isn’t distinguishable from expanses of hills and trees that surround it. The proposed shelter’s entrances — nondescript concrete loading docks tucked discretely into the wooded hillside — are easily defensible against any potential intruders provided there’s not a full-scale military attack, Vicino said.

The Army used the caverns — created by limestone mining operations that started in the late 1880s — for decades as a storage facility before putting them up for auction last year. The winning bid in December was $1.7 million, but financing fell through and the site was put up for sale again.

Springfield, Mo., investor Coby Cullins submitted his winning $510,000 bid for the property in early April, and he immediately started looking for ways to use it. One of his ideas was to lease the land to a company that builds survival bunkers.

Vicino, whose company is based in Del Mar, Calif., said he received an email from Cullins and flew to Kansas two days later to check out the property. Vicino agreed to purchase 75 percent of the complex, rather than lease it, while Cullins retained the rest and is marketing it to local businesses.

The complex consists of two fully lighted, temperature-controlled mines with concrete floors. The east cave, which Cullins owns, encompasses about 15 acres and contains offices, vaults, restrooms and other developed work spaces. The much larger west cave, which covers about 45 acres, is mostly undeveloped and will be converted into the Vivos facility.

The shelter will have enough space for more than 1,000 RVs and up to about 5,000 people. Members will be charged $1,000 for every lineal foot of their RV to purchase their space, plus $1,500 per person for food. That means a person who plans to park a 30-foot vehicle in the shelter with four people inside will pay $30,000 for the space and $6,000 for food.

Actual sales won’t begin until a “critical mass” of reservations are received and processed, Vicino said, which hasn’t happened yet at the Kansas shelter.

Vivos also owns a shelter in Indiana with room for 80 people to live comfortably for up to a year. There, members pay $50,000 per adult and $35,000 per child, so a family with two adults and two children would have to come up with $170,000 to be part of the post-apocalyptic generation.

Purchasers will be required to pay for the full balance before taking possession of their shelter space, though the company has offered limited financing in the past with a sizable down payment.

Vicino says he won’t say specifically where the Indiana shelter or any of his smaller facilities are located because he fears there would be anarchy in the event of a world-changing catastrophe.

And it doesn’t matter who comes knocking at the “moment of truth,” Vicino said, they’re probably not getting in.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘I will just show up at the door,'” he said. “Our response is, ‘great, where is the door?’ At our secret shelters, you don’t know where to go, and your cash will be worthless at that time.”

 

Source  http://bigstory.ap.org/article/developer-kan-caverns-could-preserve-human-race

The Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis

Posted in Finance on June 20, 2013 by betweentwopines

The Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis

It’s long been suspected that ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s helped trigger the meltdown. A new trove of embarrassing documents shows how they did it

The Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis
Victor Juhasz
June 19, 2013 9:00 AM ET

What about the ratings agencies?

That’s what “they” always say about the financial crisis and the teeming rat’s nest of corruption it left behind. Everybody else got plenty of blame: the greed-fattened banks, the sleeping regulators, the unscrupulous mortgage hucksters like spray-tanned Countrywide ex-CEO Angelo Mozilo.

But what about the ratings agencies? Isn’t it true that almost none of the fraud that’s swallowed Wall Street in the past decade could have taken place without companies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s rubber-stamping it? Aren’t they guilty, too?

Man, are they ever. And a lot more than even the least generous of us suspected.

Thanks to a mountain of evidence gathered for a pair of major lawsuits, documents that for the most part have never been seen by the general public, we now know that the nation’s two top ratings companies, Moody’s and S&P, have for many years been shameless tools for the banks, willing to give just about anything a high rating in exchange for cash.

In incriminating e-mail after incriminating e-mail, executives and analysts from these companies are caught admitting their entire business model is crooked.

“Lord help our fucking scam . . . this has to be the stupidest place I have worked at,” writes one Standard & Poor’s executive. “As you know, I had difficulties explaining ‘HOW’ we got to those numbers since there is no science behind it,” confesses a high-ranking S&P analyst. “If we are just going to make it up in order to rate deals, then quants [quantitative analysts] are of precious little value,” complains another senior S&P man. “Let’s hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of card[s] falters,” ruminates one more.

Ratings agencies are the glue that ostensibly holds the entire financial industry together. These gigantic companies – also known as Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations, or NRSROs – have teams of examiners who analyze companies, cities, towns, countries, mortgage borrowers, anybody or anything that takes on debt or creates an investment vehicle.

Their primary function is to help define what’s safe to buy, and what isn’t. A triple-A rating is to the financial world what the USDA seal of approval is to a meat-eater, or virginity is to a Catholic. It’s supposed to be sacrosanct, inviolable: According to Moody’s own reports, AAA investments “should survive the equivalent of the U.S. Great Depression.”

It’s not a stretch to say the whole financial industry revolves around the compass point of the absolutely safe AAA rating. But the financial crisis happened because AAA ratings stopped being something that had to be earned and turned into something that could be paid for.

That this happened is even more amazing because these companies naturally have powerful leverage over their clients, as they are part of a quasi-protected industry that enjoys massive de facto state subsidies. Largely that’s because government agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission often force private companies to fulfill regulatory requirements by retaining or keeping in reserve certain fixed quantities of assets – bonds, securities, whatever – that have been rated highly by a “Nationally Recognized” ratings agency, like the “Big Three” of Moody’s, S&P and Fitch. So while they’re not quite part of the official regulatory infrastructure, they might as well be.

It’s not like the iniquity of the ratings agencies had gone completely unnoticed before. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission published a case study in 2011 of Moody’s in particular and discovered that between 2000 and 2007, the agency gave nearly 45,000 mortgage-backed securities AAA ratings. One year Moody’s doled out AAA ratings to 30 mortgage-backed securities every day, 83 percent of which were ultimately downgraded. “This crisis could not have happened without the rating agencies,” the commission concluded.

Thanks to these documents, we now know how that happened. And showing as they do the back-and-forth between the country’s top ratings agencies and one of America’s biggest investment banks (Morgan Stanley) in advance of two major subprime deals, they also lay out in detail the evolution of the industrywide fraud that led to implosion of the world economy – how banks, hedge funds, mortgage lenders and ratings agencies, working at an extraordinary level of cooperation, teamed up to disguise and then sell near-worthless loans as AAA securities. It’s the black box in the American financial airplane.

In April, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s settled the lawsuits for a reported $225 million. Brought by a diverse group of institutional plaintiffs with King County, Washington, and the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank taking the lead, the suits accused the ratings agencies of conspiring in the mid-to-late 2000s with Morgan Stanley to fraudulently induce heavy investment into a pair of doomed-to-implode subprime-laden deals, called Cheyne and Rhinebridge.

Stock prices for both companies soared at the settlement, with markets believing the firms would be spared the hell of reams of embarrassing evidence thrust into public view at trial. But in a quirk, an earlier judge’s ruling had already made most of the documents in the case public. Although a few news outlets, including The New York Times, took note at the time, the vast majority of the material was never reported, and some was never seen by reporters at all. The cases revolved around a highly exotic and complex financial instrument called a SIV, or structured investment vehicle.

The SIV is a not-so-distant cousin of the special purpose entity, or SPE, which was the main weapon of destruction in the Enron scandal. The corporate scam du jour in those days was mass accounting fraud, in which a company would create an ostensibly independent corporate structure that would actually be controlled by its own executives, who would then move their company’s liabilities off their own books and onto the remote-controlled SPE, hiding the firm’s losses.

The SIV is a similar concept. They first started showing up in the late Eighties after banks discovered a loophole in international banking standards that allowed them to create SPE-like repositories full of assets like mortgage-backed securities and keep them off their own books.

These behemoths operated on the same basic concept as an ordinary bank, which borrows short-term cash from depositors and then lends money long-term in the form of things like mortgages, business loans, etc. The SIV did the same thing, borrowing short-term from investors and then investing long-term on things like student loans, car loans, subprime mortgages. Like banks, a SIV made money on the spread between its short-term debt and long-term investments. If a SIV borrowed on the commercial paper market at 3 percent but earned 6.5 percent on subprime mortgages, that was an easy 3.5 percent profit.

The big difference is a bank has regulatory capital requirements. A SIV doesn’t, and being technically independent, its potential liabilities don’t show up on the books of the megabank that created it. So the SIV structure allowed investment banks to create and take advantage of, without risk, billions of dollars of things like subprime loans, which became the centerpiece of the new trendy corporate scam – creating and then selling masses of risky mortgage-backed securities as AAA investments to institutional suckers.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-last-mystery-of-the-financial-crisis-20130619#ixzz2WizCcIY8
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We’ll be uploading our entire MINDS to computers by 2045 and our bodies will be replaced by machines within 90 years, Google expert claims

Posted in Science on June 20, 2013 by betweentwopines

  • Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, believes we will be able to upload our entire brains to computers within the next 32 years – an event known as singularity
  • Our ‘fragile’ human body parts will be replaced by machines by the turn of the century
  • And if these predictions comes true, it could make humans immortal

By VICTORIA WOOLLASTON

PUBLISHED: 09:22 EST, 19 June 2013 | UPDATED: 09:22 EST, 19 June 201

In just over 30 years, humans will be able to upload their entire minds to computers and become digitally immortal – an event called singularity – according to a futurist from Google.

Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, also claims that the biological parts of our body will be replaced with mechanical parts and this could happen as early as 2100.

Kurweil made the claims during his conference speech at the Global Futures 2045 International Congress in New York at the weekend.

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Ray Kurzweil - director of engineering at Google - claims that by 2045 humans will be able to upload their entire minds to computers and become digitally immortal - an event called singularityRay Kurzweil – director of engineering at Google – claims that by 2045 humans will be able to upload their entire minds to computers and become digitally immortal – an event called singularity. He made the statement at the Global Futures 2045 International Congress in New York

WHAT IS SINGULARITY?

Technological singularity is the development of  ‘superintelligence’ brought about through the use of technology.

The first use of the term ‘singularity’ refer to technological minds was by mathematician John von Neumann. Neumann in the mid-1950s.

He said: ‘ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.’

The term was then used by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge who believesbrain-computer interfaces are causes of the singularity.

Ray Kurzweil cited von Neumann’s use of the term in a foreword to von Neumann’s classic The Computer and the Brain.

Kurzweil predicts the singularity to occur around 2045 while Vinge predicts it will happen before 2030.

The conference was created by Russian multimillionaire Dmitry Itskov and featured visonary talks about how the world will look by 2045.

Kurzweil said: ‘Based on conservative estimates of the amount of computation you need to functionally simulate a human brain, we’ll be able to expand the scope of our intelligence a billion-fold.’

He referred to Moore’s Law that states the power of computing doubles, on average, every two years quoting the developments from genetic sequencing and 3D printing.

In Kurweil’s book, The Singularity Is Near, he plots this development and journey towards singularity in a graph.

This singularity is also referred to as digital immortality because brains and a person’s intelligence will be digitally stored forever, even after they die.

He also added that this will be possible through neural engineering and referenced the recent strides made towards modeling the brain and technologies which can replace biological functions.

Examples of such technology given by LiveScience include the cochlear implant – an implant that is attached to the brain’s cochlear nerve and electronically stimulates it to restore hearing to someone who is deaf.

Other examples include technology that can restore motor skills after the nervous system is damaged.

Also at the conference, Ray Kurzweil, pictured, said that 'frail, biological parts' of human bodies will be replaced with 'non-biological' parts in the future. Ray Kurzweil, pictured, said that ‘frail, biological parts’ of human bodies will be replaced with ‘non-biological’ parts in the future. He added that the non-biological part will become so powerful it can completely model and understand the biological part and make it redundant

Earlier this year, doctors from Cornell University used 3D printing to create a prosthetic ear using cells of cartilage.

A solid plastic mould was printed and then filled with high-density collagen gel.The researchers then added cartilage cells into the collagen matrix.

Kurweil was invited to the conference because he has previously written books around the idea of singularity.

Expanding on this idea Martine Rothblatt, CEO of biotech company United Therapeutics introduced the idea of ‘mindclones’.

These are digital versions of humans that can live forever and can create ‘mindfiles’ that are a place to store aspects of our personalities.

She said it would run on a kind of software for consciousness and told The Huffington Post: ‘The first company that develops mindware will have [as much success as] a thousand Googles.’

Rothblatt added that the presence of mindware could lead to replacing other parts of the body with ‘non-biological’ parts.

During Kurzweil's conference talk, and in his book The Singularity Is Near, he refers to Moore's Law of Computing, pictured.During Kurzweil’s conference talk, and in his book The Singularity Is Near, he refers to Moore’s Law of Computing, pictured. The law claims that the power of computing doubles, on average, every two years which puts us on course for singularity by 2045

This is a concept that Kurweil also discussed and was the basis of his book Fantastic Voyage.

In this book he discusses immortality and how he believes the human body will develop.

He said: ‘We’re going to become increasingly non-biological to the point where the non-biological part dominates and the biological part is not important any more.

‘In fact the non-biological part – the machine part – will be so powerful it can completely model and understand the biological part. So even if that biological part went away it wouldn’t make any difference.

 

DIGITAL AVATARS USED TO CURE SCHIZOPHRENIA

 

An avatar system that can help schizophrenics control the voices in their heads is being developed by British researchers.

As part of the therapy, patients create an avatar by choosing a face and a voice for the person, or persons, they believe are inside their head.

Therapists can then encourage the patients to oppose the avatar and force it away, which boosts their confidence in dealing with their hallucinations.

The first stage in the therapy is for the patient to create a computer-based avatar, by choosing the face and voice of the entity they believe is talking to them.

The system then synchronises the avatar’s lips with its speech, enabling a therapist to speak to the patient through the avatar in real-time.

The therapist encourages the patient to oppose the voice and gradually teaches them to take control of their hallucinations.

The avatar doesn’t address the patients’ delusions directly but the study found the hallucinations improve as an overall effect of the therapy.

This is because patients can interact with the avatar as though it was a real person, because they have created it, but they know it cannot harm them.

Many of the voices heard by schizophrenics threaten to kill or harm them and their family.

‘We’ll also have non-biological bodies – we can create bodies with nano technology, we can create virtual bodies and virtual reality in which the virtual reality will be as realistic as the actual reality.

‘The virtual bodies will be as detailed and convincing as real bodies.

‘We do need a body, our intelligence is directed towards a body but it doesn’t have to be this frail, biological body that is subject to all kinds of failure modes.

‘But I think we’ll have a choice of bodies, we’ll certainly be routinely changing our parent body through virtual reality and today you can have a different body in something like Second Life, but it’s just a picture on the screen.

‘Research has shown that people actually begin to subjectively identify with their avatar.

‘But in the future it’s not going to be a little picture in a virtual environment you’re looking at. It will feel like this is your body and you’re in that environment and your body is the virtual body and it can be as realistic as real reality.

‘So we’ll be routinely able to change our bodies very quickly as well as our environments. If we had radical life extension only we would get profoundly bored and we would run out of thing to do and new ideas.

‘In additional to radical life extension we’re going to have radical life expansion.

‘We’re going to have million of virtual environments to explore that we’re going to literally expand our brains – right now we only have 300 million patterns organised in a grand hierarchy that we create ourselves.

‘But we could make that 300 billion or 300 trillion. The last time we expanded it with the frontal cortex we created language and art and science. Just think of the qualitative leaps we can’t even imagine today when we expand our near cortex again.’

VIDEO: Ray Kurzweil – Immortality by 2045

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2344398/Google-futurist-claims-uploading-entire-MINDS-computers-2045-bodies-replaced-machines-90-years.html#ixzz2WircDQ00

Russia blast: Multiple explosions rock arsenal storing ‘millions’ of shells (VIDEO)

Posted in News on June 19, 2013 by betweentwopines

Published time: June 18, 2013 17:11
Edited time: June 19, 2013 15:55

 

 


Huge explosions have ripped through a munitions depot in Russia’s Samara Region where up to 13 million shells were stored. More than 1,500 firefighters were deployed to combat the blaze, which killed one person and forced thousands to flee.

Fires in the surrounding areas have been eliminated, however  explosions at the landfill site are continuing.

“A fire defense tank has been deployed at the landfill site. Six aircraft are controlling the temperature around the hazardous object. The hardest part is to stop the explosions,” Andrey Tretyakov, deputy head of EMERCOM (National Crisis Management Centre of the Ministry for Emergency Situations) in the Volga Region said adding that 237 shells have been found in a settlement near the ammunition depot.

Local authorities declared a state of emergency after artillery shells began exploding at an ammunition depot about 15 kilometers from the city of Chapaevsk. The first blast was heard at around 15:00 GMT on Tuesday, with further detonations rocking the area through the night.

Firefighters initially had difficulty reaching the blaze, as shell shards were scattering around the area. The depot housed some 13 million shells of various calibers at the time the explosions began.

Nearly 6,000 of these rounds were 122-millimeter artillery shells, and the rest were 23- and 30mm anti-aircraft shells, the Emergencies Ministry reported. A self-detonated artillery shell may travel as far as 1.5 kilometers before exploding, the ministry warned, urging civilians to avoid the area. The facility also had a number of 80mm rocket launcher rounds, which are stored in a separate secure depot.

One person was confirmed killed in the incident on Wednesday after a body was discovered while rescuers searched through the rubble. The deceased was confirmed to be a man who was in a steam room when the accident happened, and was unable to escape. According to preliminary reports he was a general worker, and is believed to be a 30-year-old citizen of Kazakhstan.

Ten people were taken to hospital, while 31 others required on-site medical attention and were released afterwards, the ministry said.

Police have cordoned off the area, and ordered at least 6,500 people from a nearby community to evacuate. Rescuers used an armored vehicle to pick up a depot staffer near the epicenter of the fire –well within the area threatened by the exploding ammo.

More than 1,500 firefighters and rescuers with 240 vehicles were deployed to fight the blaze. The Emergencies Ministry also dispatched two planes with robot-equipped bomb disposal experts. Russia’s defense ministry has ordered nearly 40 sappers from five mine-clearing groups to be deployed to tackle the fire and explosions. Rescuers monitored the area with reconnaissance drones overnight before ruling that it was safe to send in crews.

Ammunition depot explosions are not a rare occurrence in the Russian Federation. Over the last three years, more than a dozen incidents have shocked the nation taking the lives of both civilians and military personnel.

The tragic highlights include July 2010 in the Altai region where six people died from explosions, including four civilians. In April 2011, an explosion at a military warehouse claimed the lives of four civilians employed by the Defense Ministry. In the Udmurtia region, a blast in June 2011 killed seven soldiers and wounded more than 100 people.

Last year alone ten such incidents lit up the skies. The most tragic ones include an explosion in May 2012 in which six people were killed and four were injured. That accident, in the Nizhny Novgorod region, was followed by an explosion two weeks later in the Far East in which two people died. In September, while dismantling pieces of ammunition, an explosion claimed the life of one soldier in the Orenburg region.

“Chapaevsk is covered by smoke. The shells are exploding at a military depot in Nagorny community. The federal highway has been blocked,” the city resident @andygoalkeeper posts on Twitter.

 

SOURCE   http://rt.com/news/ammunition-depot-blasts-russia-888/