Investors were convinced that the solar company was the harbinger of an alternative-energy boom. But the market changed too swiftly.
By Ken Bensinger, Stuart Pfeifer and Neela Banerjee, Los Angeles Times 9:40 PM PDT, September 24, 2011
Reporting from Los Angeles and Washington
It was the better mousetrap.
From Silicon Valley to the White House, Solyndra's unique solar panels left everyone gasping for a piece of the action.
Analysts gushed over the cylindrical design, so much more exciting than the dull, flat panels coming out of China. Company executives promised huge revenue, supporting thousands of permanent jobs, while a stream of state and federal politicians toured the Fremont plant, basking in what felt like the glow of the future.
Investors, convinced that Solyndra was the big one, the harbinger of a solar boom, poured more than $1 billion into the company, with the U.S. government guaranteeing 50% more in loans.
Then suddenly, the bottom dropped out last month. In a matter of days, Solyndra ceased operations, plunged into bankruptcy, was raided by the FBI and found itself thrust into a national political firestorm.
Nearly all the attention in the Solyndra case has revolved around the Obama administration's $528-million bad bet, with partisan congressional finger-pointing growing increasingly nasty. But in many ways, Solyndra's tale is one of irrational exuberance, a collective belief unswayed by blown sales projections, yanked IPOs, shuttered factories and fired executives.
Almost to the end, private investors continued to pump millions into the company. Officials in Sacramento; Madison, Wis.; and other statehouses, thrilled to see jobs being created in a terrible economy, extended the public's largesse, offering sales tax breaks and loan guarantees to Solyndra suppliers.
And when the balance sheet got really grim, everyone doubled down.
Whether corporate managers issued misleading financial information or covered up growing problems remains to be determined as federal authorities probe the company, which fired its roughly 1,100 employees on the last day of August and filed for Chapter 11 protection Sept. 6.
But to grasp the saga of Solyndra's rapid rise and even faster fall, one has to understand the dazzling appeal of its product. The company's advancement in solar power was hailed as an invention so brilliant that it blinded everyone to the truth: Solyndra never had much of a chance in a fast-changing market.
"It was revolutionary," said Walter Bailey, a former Macquarie Capital investment banker who specialized in green technology and visited Solyndra in 2008. "You had some of the smartest money in the world getting behind it. It was a real company with a huge factory and an extremely unique product.
"The only problem," said Bailey, now a senior partner at boutique investment bank Focus Capital in New York, "was that it never penciled out."
Unlike the increasingly ubiquitous flat solar panel, Solyndra's design completely rethought the process of turning sunlight into electricity, creating a product perfect for flat roofs of warehouses, supermarkets and other commercial buildings.
Its rectangular panels, called modules, are made of dozens of horizontally arrayed cylindrical tubes — hence the name Solyndra. As the sun tracks across the sky, the curved surfaces stay perpendicular to its rays all day, unlike conventional flat panels. And light reflecting off the roof hits the underside of the tubes, increasing production.
In addition, Solyndra's product weighs much less than flat panels and is far simpler to install. Best of all, said Laura Weilert, a Denver solar engineer, is the way the modules let air circulate through them.
"Wind tends to pull every other kind of panel off a building, but not Solyndra," said Weilert, who has installed Solyndra modules on about 170 buildings in Colorado and had $300,000 of additional modules on order when the company shut down. "For the right market, it's hands down the best thing out there."
Solyndra's founder, Chris Gronet, invented the panels and left his job as an executive at Applied Materials Inc., a major supplier to high-tech companies such as IBM Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Texas Instruments Inc., to focus on solar full time.
He formed his own company in 2005 and lured investors with another selling point of his modules — the fact that they didn't use silicon, an essential and expensive component of conventional solar cells.
By early 2008, the price of high-grade silicon had reached almost $1,000 a pound, nearly 10 times what it had been just a few years earlier. Venture capitalists raced to get in, making Solyndra one of the hottest bets in Silicon Valley at a time when solar was rapidly expanding in the U.S. and Europe thanks to government subsidies.
"They were considered very exciting," said Shayle Kann, managing director of consulting firm GTM Research's solar practice. "They had the potential to substantially reduce solar costs at the time, and they had attracted an enormous amount of private investment."
One investor, British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Green Fund, bragged that it had selected only Solyndra from a pool of 117 solar companies seeking backing. Other investors included billionaire Oklahoma oil baron George Kaiser, and a fund that manages the money of the family behind Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Wall Street heavyweight Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was its lead investment banker.
"Very high-profile money was all over that company," said Bailey, the investment banker. "Nobody else had anything as strikingly different as Solyndra."
When the company emerged from what it called "stealth mode" in October 2008, it had already raised $600 million and was the toast of Silicon Valley. It also had applied for the Department of Energy loan guarantee, which would be granted in 2009.
That guarantee, the first approved in the program, made Solyndra a symbolic standard-bearer for the Obama administration's push for investing in green jobs.
Under terms of the deal, the Energy Department would guarantee the loan, issued by the Treasury's Federal Financing Bank and carrying a tiny 1% interest rate. The money would pay the lion's share of a new $733-million factory, the company's second, needed to increase capacity dramatically and streamline manufacturing.
That was key, the company said, because it urgently needed to bring costs down.
By the time the loan was conditionally approved, sinking demand for solar energy had helped drive the price of silicon off a cliff, to less than $100 a pound. Heavily subsidized Chinese flat-panel makers began slashing prices faster than Solyndra could.
Solyndra's prices were 66% higher than competing flat panels in late 2009, according to public documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
What's more, Solyndra was selling them for almost half what they cost to make in an effort to build market share, which only led to mounting losses.
The company never made a profit. By 2009, the company had lost $373 million. Less than a year later, losses grew to $558 million, enough to get auditor PriceWaterhouse to issue a stark warning about Solyndra's financial viability.
Solyndra argued, however, that it could get its prices down if it could just buy more time. The company pointed to successes such as a 3-megawatt installation in Belgium and a 500-kilowatt Costco Wholesale Corp. rooftop in New Jersey that won a national solar award. Even as the company was losing millions, the Wall Street Journal ranked it the top clean-tech company in the country.
"It was a really nice technology," said Mike Anderson, vice president for marketing at Solar Power Inc., which installed Solyndra panels on the Costco in Hazlet, N.J.
In mid-2008, his firm inked a deal with Solyndra to buy up to $325 million of its modules. But with prices falling much faster for other types of panels, Solar Power completed only one other project using the technology.
"It just didn't get to a point where it could compete," said Anderson, pointing out that the much lower cost of conventional panels outweighed the design advantages of Solyndra's product.
Meanwhile, more red flags kept popping up.
Just weeks after President Obama visited Solyndra's factory in May 2010, touting the permanent jobs it had created, Solyndra yanked a planned $300-million initial public offering. Soon thereafter, it named a new chief executive — who had no experience in solar panels.
The turmoil spurred an exodus of talent, according to Michael Kohlstadt, a research and development engineer who worked at Solyndra for four years before being laid off Aug. 31.
He had dreamed of cashing in his 13,000 stock options for as much as $250,000, but now is left with a lawsuit against the company for unpaid vacation time owed when Solyndra shut down.
"They were still hiring people the prior week," Kohlstadt said.
In the year and a half before its collapse, the company was able to raise $175 million in private loans, despite the continuing stream of alarming news. In February, the administration allowed Solyndra to take $75 million in additional outside loans that would take priority over its own debt, a desperation move that put taxpayers behind private equity firms in terms of getting repaid.
Behind the scenes, the company was pumping nearly $2 million into a lobbying effort designed to present a positive face to the government.
As late as July, the company sent a barrage of upbeat information to politicians, claiming that it was financially "on track" and "at pace with the industry" in terms of cost-cutting.
Obama Administration Weighs Idea to Give Hezbollah Leader Military Tribunal in U.S.
Published September 25, 2011 | Associated Press
The Obama administration is considering a military trial in the United States for a Hezbollah commander now detained in Iraq, U.S. counterterrorism officials said, previewing a potential prosecution strategy that has failed before but may offer a solution to a difficult legal problem for the government.
While the U.S. hasn't made a decision, officials said a tribunal at a U.S. military base may be the best way to deal with Ali Mussa Daqduq, who was captured in Iraq in 2007. He has been linked to the Iranian government and a brazen raid in which four American soldiers were abducted and killed in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala in 2007.
No military commission has been held on U.S. soil since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. President George W. Bush tried holding a few suspected terrorists at military bases inside the U.S., but each detainee ultimately was released or transferred to civilian courts.
President Barack Obama has said that, because of changes to the military commissions that give prisoners more rights, he supports them as an option in the fight against terrorism. Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group that the U.S. has branded a terrorist organization.
But a tribunal for Daqduq probably would draw criticism from both liberals, who say a civilian court should be used, and conservatives, who don't want suspected terrorists brought to the U.S. regardless of the venue.
The officials who discussed the deliberations spoke on condition of anonymity because no decision has been made.
The Bush administration had planned to prosecute Daqduq in an American civilian court. To prepare for that, intelligence officials questioned Daqduq, then had the FBI restart the interrogation from scratch so his answers would be admissible in court.
In a twist of political irony, however, that plan has been effectively scuttled because of opposition from Bush's own Republican Party.
A decision must be made soon. Daqduq is among a few of the remaining U.S. prisoners who, under a 2008 agreement between Washington and Baghdad, must be transferred to Iraqi custody by the end of 2011. U.S. officials fear that if he is turned over to Iraq, he will simply walk free.
Ghosts, Aliens, Quantum Gravity, Extra Dimensions, Sci Fi--and the Rules of Science
In this excerpt from the new book Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World (Harper Collins, 2011), you'll learn why, although it's true that scientists sometimes have been wrong, that doesn't mean there are no rules--or that everything is possible
By Lisa Randall | Thursday, September 22, 2011
Among the many reasons I chose to pursue physics was the desire to do something that would have a permanent impact. If I was going to invest so much time, energy and commitment, I wanted it to be for something with a claim to longevity and truth. Like most people, I thought of scientific advances as ideas that stand the test of time.
My friend Anna Christina Büchmann studied English in college whereas I majored in physics. Ironically, she studied literature for the same reason that drew me to math and science. She loved the way an insightful story lasts for centuries. When discussing Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones with her many years later, I learned that the edition I had read and thoroughly enjoyed was the one she helped annotate when she was in graduate school.
Tom Jones was originally published 250 years ago, yet its themes and wit resonate to this day. During my first visit to Japan, I read the far older Tale of Genji and marveled at its characters’ immediacy, too, despite the thousand years that have elapsed since Murasaki Shikibu wrote about them. Homer created the Odyssey roughly 2,000 years earlier than Genji. Notwithstanding its very different age and context, we continue to relish the tale of Odysseus’s journey and its timeless descriptions of human nature.
Scientists rarely read such old—let alone ancient—scientific texts. We usually leave that to historians and literary critics. We nonetheless apply the knowledge that has been acquired over time, whether from Newton in the 17th century or Copernicus more than 100 years earlier still. We might neglect the books themselves, but we are careful to preserve the important ideas they may contain.
Science certainly is not the static statement of universal laws we all hear about in elementary school. Nor is it a set of arbitrary rules. Science is an evolving body of knowledge. Many of the ideas we are currently investigating will prove to be wrong or incomplete. Scientific descriptions certainly change as we cross the boundaries that circumscribe what we know and venture into more remote territory where we can glimpse hints of the deeper truths beyond.
The paradox scientists have to contend with is that, while aiming for permanence, we often investigate ideas that experimental data or better understanding will force us to modify or discard. The sound core of knowledge that has been tested and relied on is always surrounded by an amorphous boundary of uncertainties that are the domain of current research. The ideas and suggestions that excite us today will soon be forgotten if they are invalidated by more persuasive or comprehensive experimental work tomorrow.
When the 2008 Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee sided with religion over science—in part because scientific “beliefs” change whereas Christians take as their authority an eternal, unchanging God—he was not entirely misguided, at least in his characterization. The universe evolves and so does our scientific knowledge of it. Over time, scientists peel away layers of reality to expose what lies beneath the surface. We broaden and enrich our understanding as we probe increasingly remote scales. Knowledge advances and the unexplored region recedes when we reach these difficult-to-access distances. Scientific “beliefs” then evolve in accordance with our expanded knowledge.
Nonetheless, even when improved technology makes a broader range of observations possible, we don’t necessarily just abandon the theories that made successful predictions for the distances and energies, or speeds and densities, that were accessible in the past. Scientific theories grow and expand to absorb increased knowledge, while retaining the reliable parts of ideas that came before. Science thereby incorporates old established knowledge into the more comprehensive picture that emerges from a broader range of experimental and theoretical observations. Such changes don’t necessarily mean the old rules are wrong, but they can mean, for example, that those rules no longer apply on smaller scales where new components have been revealed. Knowledge can thereby embrace old ideas yet expand over time, even though very likely more will always remain to be explored. Just as travel can be compelling—even if you will never visit every place on the planet (never mind the cosmos)—increasing our understanding of matter and of the universe enriches our existence. The remaining unknowns serve to inspire further investigations.
My own research field of particle physics investigates increasingly smaller distances in order to study successively tinier components of matter. Current experimental and theoretical research attempt to expose what matter conceals—that which is embedded ever deeper inside. But despite the often-heard analogy, matter is not simply like a Russian matryoshka doll, with similar elements replicated at successively smaller scales. What makes investigating increasingly minuscule distances interesting is that the rules can change as we reach new domains. New forces and interactions might appear at those scales whose impact was too tiny to detect at the larger distances previously investigated.
The notion of scale, which tells physicists the range of sizes or energies that are relevant for any particular investigation, is critical to the understanding of scientific progress—as well as to many other aspects of the world around us. By partitioning the universe into different comprehensible sizes, we learn that the laws of physics that work best aren’t necessarily the same for all processes. We have to relate concepts that apply better on one scale to those more useful at another. Categorizing in this way lets us incorporate everything we know into a consistent picture while allowing for radical changes in descriptions at different lengths.
Partitioning by scale—whichever scale is relevant—helps clarify our thinking—both scientific and otherwise—and why the subtle properties of the building blocks of matter are so hard to notice at the distances we encounter in our everyday lives. In doing so, we can also elaborate on the meaning of “right” and “wrong” in science, and why even apparently radical discoveries don’t necessarily force dramatic changes on the scales with which we are already familiar.
People too often confuse evolving scientific knowledge with no knowledge at all and mistake a situation in which we are discovering new physical laws with a total absence of reliable rules. A conversation with the screenwriter Scott Derrickson during a recent visit to California helped me to crystallize the origin of some of these misunderstandings. At the time, Scott was working on a couple of movie scripts that proposed potential connections between science and phenomena that he suspected scientists would probably dismiss as supernatural. Eager to avoid major solecisms, Scott wanted to do scientific justice to his imaginative story ideas by having them scrutinized by a physicist—namely me. So we met for lunch at an outdoor café in order to share our thoughts along with the pleasures of a sunny Los Angeles afternoon.
Knowing that screenwriters often misrepresent science, Scott wanted his particular ghost and time-travel stories to be written with a reasonable amount of scientiﬁc credibility. The particular challenge that he as a screenwriter faced was his need to present his audience not just with interesting new phenomena, but also with ones that would translate effectively to a movie screen. Although not trained in science, Scott was quick and receptive to new ideas. So I explained to him why, despite the ingenuity and entertainment value of some of his story lines, the constraints of physics made them scientifically untenable.
Scott responded that scientists have often thought certain phenomena impossible that later turned out to be true. “Didn’t scientists formerly disbelieve what relativity now tells us?” “Who would have thought randomness played any role in fundamental physical laws?” Despite his great respect for science, Scott still wondered if—given its evolving nature—scientists aren’t sometimes wrong about the implications and limitations of their discoveries.
Some critics go even further, asserting that although scientists can predict a great deal, the reliability of those predictions is invariably suspect. Skeptics insist, notwithstanding scientific evidence, that there could always be a catch or a loophole. Perhaps people could come back from the dead or at the very least enter a portal into the Middle Ages or into Middle-earth. These doubters simply don’t trust the claims of science that a thing is definitively impossible.
Despite the wisdom of keeping an open mind and recognizing that new discoveries await, however, a deep fallacy is buried in this logic. The problem becomes clear when we dissect the meaning of such statements as those above and, in particular, apply the notion of scale. These questions ignore the fact that although there will always exist unexplored distance or energy ranges where the laws of physics might change, we know the laws of physics on human scales extremely well. We have had ample opportunity to test these laws over the centuries.
Ratings Rat Race: Modest Start For ‘Gifted Man’; ‘Fringe’, ‘CSI: NY’, ‘Supernatural’ Down
By NELLIE ANDREEVA Saturday September 24, 2011 @ 10:21am PDT
Maybe Ghost Whisperer was the only scripted series able to get a demo number at 8 PM on Fridays. CBS is trying a second consecutive drama with ghosts in the slot following the cancellation of Ghost Whisperer, to similar modest results. In its premiere last night, A Gifted Man (1.4/5) matched the season debut in the hour of Medium last year. (Medium was canceled a couple of months later.) That was down 39% from the season opener of Ghost Whisperer the year before. In total viewers, Gifted Man represented a vast improvement vs. last fall with 9.3 million viewers vs. 6.1 million for Medium. That was CBS’ largest audience in the hour since May 2009 when the network had Ghost Whisperer on. At 9 PM, veteran CSI: NY (1.8/6, 10.7 million) was down 10% in the demo from last season’s debut in the slot but finished No. 1 in the hour. 10 PM anchor Blue Bloods (2.0/6, 11.8 million) was down 9% in the demo from its series premiere last fall. It tied NBC’s Dateline as the highest-rated program of the night in 18-49 and was tops in viewers. CBS (1.7/5, 10.6 million) edged the competition to finish No. 1 for the night in 18-49 and total viewers.
Fox’s Fringe (1.5/5) and its lead-in, Kitchen Nightmares (1.6/6) were both down from January when the network first paired them together on Friday and the two series debuted Friday with a 1.9/6 each. Still, a 1.5 and 1.6 was good enough for Fox to post its highest-rated premiere Friday in six years and finish second for the night in 18-49, tied with NBC. (Comparisons to last fall’s premiere Friday are largely irrelevant as Fox aired a Human Target rerun followed by the soon-to-be-gone The Good Guys, none of which cracked the 1 demo rating mark.)
Looking at Dateline (2.0/6 in 18-49, 7.1 million viewers from 9-11 PM) performing way better than many of NBC’s scripted series this week (Playboy Club, Prime Suspect, Harry’s Law, Free Agents) despite airing on a low-rated night like Friday has got to give NBC brass pause. Will we see another Dateline pop up somewhere else on the schedule soon to replace any of the underachievers, or could Brian Williams’ new newsmagazine be summoned sooner than midseason? And will the network proceed with its plan to launch a new scripted series, Grimm, Fridays at 9 PM next month? With repeats of promising new comedies Up All Night and Whitney and Dateline, NBC (1.6/5, 5.8 million) finished tied for second in the demo with Fox. ABC aired reruns of Modern Family and its most promising new series so far, Revenge, leading in to 20/20 (1.0/3, 3.3 million) as the network stayed out of contention (1.0/3, 3.7 million)
CW’s new schedule-mates, Nikita and Supernatural, were down dramatically from last fall, when both had strong lead-ins. Supernatural (0.8/2, 2 million) was down 33% in the demo from last September when it followed Smallville on Friday. Nikita (0.6/2, 1.9 million) was down 47% in viewers from its premiere behind The Vampire Diaries on Thursday.
AFGHANISTAN: One American killed at CIA base in Kabul September 26, 2011 | 3:15 am
REPORTING FROM KABUL -- In a rare and lethal security breach at the CIA's main base in Kabul, an Afghan employee shot and killed one U.S. citizen and wounded another, American and Afghan officials confirmed Monday. It was the second attack in less than two weeks on a U.S. Embassy installation in the Afghan capital.
The assailant was also shot and killed in the firefight, which broke out late Sunday, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement. The embassy declined to say whether the dead and injured Americans were CIA operatives, but it would be unusual for anyone not closely associated with the agency to be inside the heavily fortified base late at night. The NATO force said they were not members of the military.
The compound-within-a-compound where the shooting took place -- close to the Afghan presidential palace and the U.S. Embassy -- has been described by former intelligence officials as the CIA's main headquarters in the capital. The embassy referred to the site only as an "annex" of the embassy. Worldwide, it is common practice for the CIA to base itself on embassy property.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility from the Taliban movement, which in the past has frequently managed to infiltrate Afghan army and police units with sleeper agents who then turn their guns on Westerners. The embassy said in a statement that the motive for the shooting was under investigation.
If the U.S. citizen who was killed is confirmed to be a CIA worker, it would be the first such known fatality since December 2009, when a suicide bomber -- believed at the time to be a high-level informant -- was escorted onto a CIA base in Khost province to meet with agency staffers. Seven CIA workers were killed in that blast, considered one of the most serious intelligence debacles of the Afghan war.
The attack came amid escalating security jitters in the Afghan capital. On Sept. 13, a squad of insurgents seized an unfinished high-rise structure a short distance from the embassy and used it to mount a 20-hour siege on the diplomatic compound and the adjoining headquarters of NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
A week later, the Afghan government's chief peace negotiator, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was killed by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy. That attack took place in Rabbani’s home a few blocks from the embassy.
Can the NYPD Shoot Down a Plane? Kinda, Sorta, Not Exactly. By Noah Shachtman September 26, 2011 | 10:47 am Categories: Crime and Homeland Security
Last night, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly made a startling claim: that the NYPD has “some means to take down a plane,” in the event of another terror attack.
But don’t let your imagination run too wild: There’s no stealth jet emerging from 1 Police Plaza; there are no anti-aircraft missiles mounted on the top on the Williamsburg Bank. Kelly’s talking about a simple sniper rifle, which an NYPD helicopter crew could carry into the air and target the engines of a plane. A small plane, I’m guessing.
Which makes Kelly’s eye-popping assertion, issued on Sunday’s edition of 60 Minutes, accurate in only the most narrow, literal sense. Police sources tell the New York Post that the (potentially) plane-shooting Barret .50 caliber rifle is stored in an NYPD safe and is deployed only for ’special occasions,’ such as when the president is in town.”
Under Kelly, the NYPD has had a decade-long history of, oh, let’s call it information operations, to go along with their substantive counterterror ops. This anti-aircraft talk is just the latest example.
The Department’s heavily armed Hercules Teams make for an imposing display of force — and look great on a network newscast. The number of attacks they’ve really deterred is questionable, at best. When the NYPD started stringing up surveillance cameras around town, top cops publicly proclaimed that they’d be able to spot the next terror attack before it went down. The technology was never quite able to back up the bold statement. “The cameras become a great subject for conversation because they’ll all be in public areas,” then-assistant chief John Colgan told me in 2008. “And quite frankly, we want people to see them.”
“A big part of security is psychological warfare,” added RAND specialist Brian Jenkins. The NYPD uses it to make New York look like an uninviting target, and to assure residents and tourists that they’ve got nothing to fear by being here.
The gun is question here, I believe, is the Barret M82 or its successor, the M107. And it is a mean weapon, capable of punching through concrete and metal from a mile away. Military bomb squads will occasionally fire off a round to blow a detonator to bits. Coast Guard aviation units use the rifle to shoot out the engines of go-fast boats.
So sure, the NYPD could, in theory, take out a plane’s engine. If the President happens to be in town, the helicopter crews have their .50 cals. If the plane is small enough. And if the NYPD sniper gets extremely lucky — hitting a target flying hundreds of miles per hour while firing from something as unstable as a copter would be one hell of a shot. (No wonder New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the NYPD’s anti-air arsenal couldn’t prevent a 9/11 repeat.) Realistically, the cops’ best bet to take down a plane is to pick up the phone and call in the Air Force.
Paranormal Symposium gets set to launch from new location
Posted: Monday, September 26, 2011 9:03 am Updated: 9:24 am, Mon Sep 26, 2011. By Tempo staff
The countdown is ticking for the 2011 Paranormal Symposium and Film Festival as it gets ready to launch from its new location in Taos. The event has rounded itself out into five activity-filled days with a schedule "rivaling any paranormal conference on the planet," according to promotional materials.
The Symposium, presented by Alliance Studying Paranormal Experiences (ASPE), will take place Oct. 25-30 at the Best Western Kachina Lodge, 413 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Visit www.aspesymposium.com for details.
Ten expert keynote speakers and nine workshop presenters, as well as 20 metaphysical practitioners and exhibitors will explore a variety of paranormal subjects addressing the event's "Connecting Science and Spirit" theme.
Also scheduled: a film festival and diverse special activities, along with appearances by previous Symposium speakers, celebrity filmmakers and authors, and live radio coverage throughout the event. Many activities during the event are free to the general public.
Instead of the usual opening night "meet and greet" gathering, The 2011 Symposium weekend will begin with an interactive dinner/debate, during which speakers, workshop presenters, and audience members will all discuss science and spirituality connections across numerous paranormal fields of study. The dinner/debate will be filmed for future television broadcast, recorded for radio programs, and will also be available as a webinar, according to a press release.
"As far as I know, a ‘debate' format is new at this type of conference," said event organizer Janet Sailor. "I'm anticipating a lively dialogue discussing the relationship between physics and fantasy, evidence and opinion, and science and spirit ... This Symposium is stacked with smarts, so I'm advising everyone to bring their brains. With speakers and presenters exploring theories of quantum and theoretical physics, parallel universes, UFOs, string theory, human origins, native prophecies, ET contact, spirituality, transformative consciousness, exorcism, and ancient aliens, thinking will definitely be required!"
Celebrity filmmakers and a variety of films with paranormal themes are featured at the free Symposium Film Festival. Pocket Watch Productions will be on hand to premier "The Haunted Elkhorn Lodge" and "Walking History of the Matchless Mine."
Travis Walton will make a special appearance introducing "Fire in the Sky," the popular feature film documenting his 1975 abduction experience. Walton, who will open himself to questions and discussions about his abduction experience, will also appear at a Steven Jones lunchtime presentation with details of his ET contact experiences, a book/CD/DVD signing afternoon with celebrity authors and filmmakers.
Terra Nova Reviews: Tell Us Again How the Dinosaurs Compare to the People 9/26/11 at 12:30 PM
Terra Nova premieres tonight, and the reviews are in: It's the perfect opportunity to dust off the Jurassic Park material and make some dinosaur jokes! Every review mentions the show's attempts to be a "family drama," and things get more repetitive from there.
JPMorgan seeks to move Lehman's $8.6 billion lawsuit
By Nick Brown Tue Sep 27, 2011 7:28am EDT
(Reuters) - JPMorgan Chase & Co is asking to move to federal court a lawsuit from Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc accusing it of siphoning $8.6 billion from Lehman's estate in the days leading up to its record bankruptcy.
In court papers filed late Monday, JPMorgan said the case, filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, should be moved to federal court in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's contentious June ruling in former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith's inheritance battle.
The case, Stern v. Marshall, pitted the late Smith against the estate of her deceased former husband J. Howard Marshall. The court ruled against Smith's estate, saying bankruptcy courts lack authority to decide claims brought by a bankruptcy debtor against a creditor, unless the claims are fully rooted in bankruptcy law.
JPMorgan said in court papers Monday that Lehman's 49-count complaint goes "above and beyond" bankruptcy law, including accusations of fraud, coercion and breach of contract.
Lehman defended the bankruptcy court's jurisdiction, saying in a Monday court filing that the lawsuit's allegations carry a bankruptcy context because they challenge JPMorgan's original proofs of claim against Lehman.
The suit, filed in May 2010, accuses JPMorgan of illegally siphoning about $8.6 billion of desperately-needed assets in the days leading up to Lehman's bankruptcy.
Lehman said JPMorgan, its main clearing bank, used "unparalleled access" to the details of its financial distress to extract the collateral, hastening its $639 billion bankruptcy, which remains the largest ever and was a major catalyst of the financial crisis.
JPMorgan countersued in December, saying Lehman stuck it with more than $25 billion in toxic loans that might never be repaid.
A spokeswoman and lawyer for Lehman did not respond to requests for comment Monday. An attorney and spokeswoman for JPMorgan were also not immediately available Monday night.
The scope of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Smith case has engendered frustration among bankruptcy judges, some of whom have expressed uncertainty as to whether the ruling could stunt their authority.
Judge Robert Drain, of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, said at the American Bankruptcy Institute's Views from the Bench conference earlier this month that the ruling causes bankruptcy judges to "doubt their reason for being."
Judge James Peck, who oversees Lehman's dispute with JPMorgan, said at the conference that he believes the ruling will ultimately have "relatively limited" application in the day-to-day role of a bankruptcy judge.
But Peck added that the ruling has been "weaponized ... on the theory that that which is not nailed down gets picked up."
"This is an argument that is thrown at me in settings that I am confident that (Supreme Court Chief) Justice (John) Roberts never contemplated and would be horrified if he knew about," Peck said at the conference.
Lehman's case against JPMorgan is slated for trial in 2012.
The case is Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. v. JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-ap-03266. The main bankruptcy case is In re: Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc in the same court, no. 08-13555.
Autonomous Flying Robots Flock Like Birds By Danielle Venton September 26, 2011 | 1:29 pm Categories: Tech
Swarms of flying robots, flocking autonomously like birds, have taken to the air near Lake Geneva, Switzerland.
At Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale’s Laboratory of Intelligence Systems in Lausanne, Sabine Hauert, Severin Leven and Dario Floreano have found a way to make small, fixed-wing machines fly together, migrate and avoid crashing. The swarms can be used for imaging and mapping the ground. In the future they may fly on search and surveillance missions.
The swarming behavior is based on a three-dimensional algorithm that represents the movements of schools of fish and flocks of birds. The algorithm, developed in 1986 by Craig Reynolds, was first used as a computer graphics tool. In the algorithm, as in real flocks, the individual agents behave simply. They respond to their close neighbors without considering the movements of the group. Yet out of the noise, larger patterns emerge, coherent and beautiful.
“Flocking requires three things. You need to move with the same speed and direction as your neighbors, you need to avoid hitting them and you need to stay close,” said Hauert, who is now a post-doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When programming the robots, Hauert and Floreano added in a fourth ability: migration. With this ability, the robot swarm can travel to a set location, making them more useful as search and surveillance tools.
The robots were built by senseFly, a Swiss startup founded in late 2009, as a spin-off of the work done at the Floreano’s lab. The bots communicate with each other via a simple WiFi dongle connected to the on-board Linux computer that runs the autopilot program. In this project, Hauert and Floreano searched for the best balance between the robots’ weight, cost, turning ability and the range of their communications, while keeping their ability to flock.
“You can imagine two robots working together like holding hands with someone,” Hauert said. “If one of you changes direction, but the other person can’t respond quickly enough, then you break the connection.”
To perfect the technology, they tested the robots over 200 times in the field, without any crashes. The trials began simply, eventually reaching a flock of 10 autonomous fliers. More could be added, they believe. They’ve simulated up to 100 flocking robots. Next Floreano is interested in adding different kinds of sensors, such as cameras modeled on insect eyes, so the robots would be able to avoid obstacles while staying as a flock.
Hauert and Floreano will present their work at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, held from Sept. 25 to Sept. 30 in San Francisco. The research is part of the SMAVNET project, supported by the Swiss Federal Department of Defense.
Plaque in Portsmouth commemorates America’s first alien abduction
By Connor Clerkin Contributing Writer Published: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 Updated: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 00:09
Sept. 19 marked the 50th anniversary of the first widely reported alien abduction in the United States, which allegedly occurred somewhere in the White Mountains while a couple was returning home from a vacation in Canada to their home in Portsmouth.
Though there previously had been many reported UFO sightings, this was the first reported abduction. Betty, a University of New Hampshire graduate, and Barney Hill were on the road Sept. 19, 1961, when they began to see a large white light in the sky moving erratically.
They stopped the car and briefly got out. Barney retrieved a pistol from the trunk of the car while Betty attempted to observe what she then thought was some sort of aircraft with a pair of binoculars.
Later, while under hypnotic therapy, she claimed, "It was turning. It was rotating, and it would go along and fly in a straight line for a short distance, and then it would tip over on its side and go straight up."
The couple got back into their car and attempted to evade the craft, but they were later forced to stop. They reported that the car then began to vibrate and finally was taken up into the craft by the vehicle's eight to 11 occupants, who were apparently humanoid in appearance and clothed in some sort of garments.
According to the Hills, the beings then conducted various medical examinations on them both, taking samples and scrapings from multiple parts of their bodies. Barney heard them speaking to each other in some unidentified language, while they communicated with him via a form of telepathy. Betty was shown a three-dimensional map of a star system that included what she was told were "trade routes."
Finally, they were taken from the ship and escorted back to their car without any real physical harm. Betty escaped the incident with a torn dress and broken binocular strap, while Barney had a scraped shoe.
The next day the two called in to Pease Airforce Base and told them what little they had remembered, that they had "lost" two hours of time from their memory and that some form of aircraft had pursued them. The remainder of the description of the incident comes from a number of hypnotic therapy sessions the couple underwent afterwards. The story was kept fairly quiet for a while, but became widespread after being reported in the Boston Herald in 1965.
The university library holds a special collection of documents regarding this event, including correspondence, news clippings, various notebooks, the Air Force intelligence report, and even the transcripts from the hypnosis sessions as well as the results of their polygraph tests.
Recently, the state of New Hampshire has placed a plaque on the New Hampshire Highway to commemorate the event. The plaque summarizes the events that occurred that night, though it sticks to the original report rather than using information from the hypnosis sessions.
Betty later claimed to see many more UFOs throughout the course of her life. She died in 2004 of cancer. Barney died in 1969 of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Engineers to Rappel Down Cracked Washington Monument
September 26, 2011 By Molly O'Toole
Engineers plan to rappel down the 555-foot/170-metre Washington Monument to assess damage from a rare earthquake and storms that struck the U.S. capital last month.
The National Park Service said four engineers will inspect the well-known obelisk on Tuesday. The Washington landmark has been closed to the public since the Aug. 23 quake.
"It's structurally sound and not going anywhere," said Bob Vogel, Superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, standing below the monument Monday.
The monument, finished in 1884, sustained cracks more than an inch wide during the 5.8-magnitude earthquake, with water from Hurricane Irene and summer storms seeping in and causing damage, according to the park service.
Engineers will rappel on all four faces of the monument from two ropes each, anchored from a safety hatch near the top of the structure.
The NPS anticipates the monument's overall assessment will finish in mid-October.
"The Washington Monument is a national treasure," said Vogel. "We want to get this right." (Editing by Jerry Norton and Doina Chiacu)
Connor got the location wrong, and now you are, too!
The plaque is in Lincoln - NOT Portsmouth. There is only one plaque. The Hill's lived in Portsmouth and were driving through Lincoln. This is what the plaque has written on it: "On the night of September 19-20, 1961, Portsmouth, N.H., couple Betty and Barney Hill experienced a close encounter with an unidentified flying object and two hours of "lost" time while driving south on Rte 3 near Lincoln. They filed an official Air Force Project Blue Book report of a brightly-lit cigar-shaped craft the next day, but were not public with their story until it was leaked in the Boston Traveler in 1965. This was the first widely-reported UFO abduction report in the United States."
There is a building on the UNH campus that houses a display of memorabelia of the incident, donated by Betty's niece, Kathy Marden. A student of UNH should have known that information existed on campus and better yet, gone to see it. That way it would have been reported correctly.