Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7982 on: Feb 3rd, 2013, 08:16am »
New York Times
February 3, 2013
‘American Sniper’ Author Shot and Killed in Texas By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
GLEN ROSE, Texas — A former Navy SEAL and the author of "American Sniper," Chris Kyle, was shot and killed along with another man Saturday at a Texas gun range, a county sheriff has told the Texas news media.
The sheriff of Erath County, Tommy Bryant, said Mr. Kyle, 38, and a second man were found dead at Rough Creek Lodge’s shooting range west of Glen Rose, according to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Stephenville Empire-Tribune. Glen Rose is about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
Mr. Kyle wrote the best-selling book, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History," detailing his 150-plus kills of insurgents from 1999 to 2009.
Mr. Bryant did not immediately return phone calls to The Associated Press seeking comment. A woman who answered the phone at the lodge where the shooting occurred declined to comment and referred calls to the sheriff’s office.
Investigators did not immediately release the name of the second victim, according to the newspapers.
Witnesses told sheriff’s investigators that a gunman opened fire on the men around 3:30 p.m. Saturday, then fled in a pickup truck belonging to one of the victims, according to The Star-Telegram. The newspapers said a 25-year-old man was later taken into custody in Lancaster, southeast of Dallas, and that charges were expected.
Lancaster police did not immediately return calls for comment.
The motive for the shooting was unclear.
Mr. Kyle was sued by the former governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, over a portion of the book that claims Mr. Kyle punched Mr. Ventura in a 2006 bar fight over unpatriotic remarks. Mr. Ventura says the punch never happened and that the claim by Kyle defamed him.
Mr. Kyle had asked that Ventura’s claims of invasion of privacy and "unjust enrichment" be dismissed, saying there was no legal basis for them. But a federal judge said the lawsuit should proceed. Both sides were told to be ready for trial by Aug. 1.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7983 on: Feb 3rd, 2013, 08:21am »
Google Glass, the web giant's augmented reality spectacles, create sound by sending vibrations directly through the wearer's skull, it's been revealed.
By Telegraph reporters 8:00AM GMT 03 Feb 2013
Documents filed with American regulators show the hardware, due to be introduced in later this year in an experimental form, uses "bone conduction" to create sound instead of a traditional speaker.
The technology, which sends vibrations to the inner ear through the skull, is not new but has not been widely adopted. Panasonic introduced a prototype set of bone conduction headphones at this year's Consumer Electronics show, however.
A major advantage of bone conduction audio is that it allows the listeners to hear the noise in the environment too. For a Google Glass wearer crossing a busy street the technology could be a life saver.
Google filed a patent for bone conduction spectacles last month, and the Federal Communication Commission this week published it approval for Google Glass, including "integral vibrating element that provides audio to the user via contact with the user's head".
Google's co-founder Sergey Brin, who is leading the development, has already been pictured testing Google Glass on the New York subway.
As well as unusual audio, the spectacles feature Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity, and a small screen that appears in the wearer's normal field of vision. The tiny computer inside Google Glass runs the Android mobile operating system and responds to voice commands.
It is planned that wearers will be able to summon up maps and other useful data from the web with having to look at a smartphone or other mobile device.
The first complete Google Glass hardware will be sent to developers who have paid $1,500 to help the firm refine the technology. Google has said it hopes to introduce Google Glass commercially in 2014.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7984 on: Feb 3rd, 2013, 08:24am »
From booze to bulldozers, analysts scour for emerging market data
By Carolyn Cohn LONDON | Fri Feb 1, 2013 7:54am EST
(Reuters) - From phone bills in Lagos to bulldozers in Beijing, analysts are looking creatively at ways to measure the strength of emerging market economies where official data sometimes comes up short.
How much Guinness are Nigerians drinking? How full are hotels in the Gulf? What about enrolment in international schools?
All are methods being used to track the ups and downs of economies where timeliness, transparency and accuracy do not always meet develop market standards.
The explosion of interest in emerging markets - Lipper data shows $90 billion in fund inflows last year - has drawn in many investors who are less familiar with analyzing risky assets and need help.
Quarterly economic growth data, for example, is the most comprehensive and complete set of statistics on any developed economy's economic health.
Yet the availability of even this most-basic economic speedometer is fraught with caveats when it comes to emerging markets.
It is released too late to be of much use in the case of many African countries, or not at all in many Middle Eastern countries. In China, meanwhile, this key release arrives unsettlingly early for some.
So some analysts have started looking at other data or even creating their own datasets to assess how investible such markets are.
"In emerging markets it's more difficult (to get good data) than in developed markets, because it's expensive to run a good statistics office - it does not tend to be a priority," said Graham Stock, strategist at frontier fund Insparo, adding: "You have to use proxies."
BOOZE AND BULLDOZERS
Proxies that Stock and others look at to judge the strength of the growing consumer class in Africa - cited frequently by investors as one of the huge attractions of the continent - include quarterly consumption data from local breweries such as Guinness Nigeria (GUINNES.LG) and Zimbabwe's Delta (DLTA.ZI).
"We get more thorough data through going to the companies themselves - not as broad a coverage, but much more timely," Stock aid.
Investment in financial services stocks in Nigeria were boosted by an examination of mobile phone subscriptions.
The monthly data is released within a few weeks where quarterly gross domestic product data takes a few months.
It showed, for example, a 3 percent rise in active mobile phone subscriptions between September and November Nov 2012 to 110 million, in a country with a population of 170 million.
Based on that rise, which brings the December 2011-November 2012 gain in subscriptions to 16 percent, investors expect bank accounts - currently estimated at 20 million - to follow.
As a result, they have bought Nigerian banks, a good call in recent months. Zenith Bank (ZENITHB.LG) shares, for example, jumped 20 percent in the fourth quarter.
Analysts will have to wait several more weeks for the formal fourth quarter GDP data.
By contrast, analysts point to the speed with which China releases GDP - only a couple of weeks after the end of a quarter - as a sign it may not be accurate, encouraging them to look at other ways to replicate aspects of the data.
Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, watches data from a firm which checks satellite monitors on Chinese construction equipment to see if the machinery is in use.
"That's been an area of concern, whether property markets are becoming overheated," Zandi said. "If they stop growing, that could be a problem for Chinese growth."
In the Gulf, investors may look at anything from hotel occupancy rates, to work visa approvals, to enrolment rates at international schools to assess the level of economic activity.
SURFING AND SUPERMARKETS
Not content with looking at these kinds of things, some investors have developed their own models or turned to those of academics in the search for data that more accurately measures economic trends.
State Street incorporated data on online shopping prices from U.S. company PriceStats into its own research in 2011, covering many developed markets as well as emerging markets such as Russia, South Africa, and Latin American countries.
The regularly updated data acts effectively as a leading indicator for official inflation data, according to a State Street study based on U.S. inflation.
In China, the surveys of food and supermarket prices show price deflation for most of December and January, in contrast to consensus expectations for inflation to quicken in China this year.
BlackRock, the world's largest fund manager, started its own sovereign risk indices in 2011 across major and emerging markets, amid concern about risk in many developed sovereigns.
"Our backtesting has shown that our index tends to highlight deteriorating fundamentals before the ratings agencies," said Thomas Christiansen, an investment strategist in the BlackRock Investment Institute.
(Additional reporting by Joel Dimmock; editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7988 on: Feb 4th, 2013, 09:06am »
U.S. Navy Cuts Fleet Goal to 306 Ships
Feb. 4, 2013 - 06:13AM By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS
The U.S. Navy has revised its overall fleet size requirement from 313 to 306 ships — a modest downscaling that reflects modified operational requirements and is not the result of the ongoing budget crisis.
One of the key changes is a reduction in the long-standing 55-ship littoral combat ship (LCS) requirement to 52 ships — a decrease, the Navy said, resulting from a lessening of the presence requirement to support U.S. Africa Command.
The changes are reflected in a congressionally mandated report sent Jan. 31 to key lawmakers.
The fleet reduction modifies the 313-ship number established in 2005. Navy leaders in recent years have called that figure “about 313 ships,” reflecting several assessments that moved the number up or down, but until now have not settled into a figure officials were willing to declare.
“A 306-ship force structure represents the minimum level of capability and capacity to meet projected threats and support the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance,” Navy spokeswoman Lt. Courtney Hillson said. “Our operational tempo over the past year reaffirms our need for a minimum of 306 ships. That said, we need to have the right mix of ships in terms of their capabilities that are ready to meet combatant commander demands.”
The new number is not intended as a hard figure the fleet will grow to and then maintain. Rather, it is an overall combat force structure requirement, around which actual numbers are expected to rise or fall.
The fleet has 288 ships, up from a low in May 2007 of 275 ships. The count fell below 300 in August 2003.
Other key changes in the requirements from 2010, when the Navy last spelled out its fleet, are:
• A reduction of large surface combatants — cruisers and destroyers — from 94 to 88 ships, directly related to plans to move four ballistic-missile defense destroyers from the U.S. East Coast to form a forward-deployed naval force based at Rota, Spain. The Navy previously noted 10 ships were needed to meet the rotational requirement in the Mediterranean region.
• Elimination of the four-ship guided-missile submarine requirement, known as SSGNs. The Navy said in its report that should the need continue, the ships could be replaced by Virginia-class submarines “with an enhanced strike capability.”
• Adding one T-AGOS surveillance ship “for sustained operations and crisis response in the Pacific.”
• Adding six ships for the two newly revamped maritime prepositioning squadrons, including two mobile landing platforms and two afloat forward staging base ships.
One Capitol Hill source observed that the new fleet requirement, seen in the context of the contentious budget environment, might be more problematic than possible.
“This comes at a time when we have to start asking whether any plan in the 300-plus range is going to be viable in the budget,” the source said.
“This could be the last gasp of the 300-something-ship plan, before the Navy, if it has to work under a lower top line, changes it to something clearly below 300.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7989 on: Feb 4th, 2013, 09:13am »
Slain ex-SEAL devoted to vets
Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL known as America’s deadliest sniper, sometimes took fellow veterans shooting as therapy. Authorities say a struggling former soldier on just such an outing on Saturday shot and killed Kyle and another man.
By MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ The New York Times
Since retiring from the Navy SEALs, Chris Kyle, who was known as America’s deadliest sniper, would occasionally take fellow veterans shooting as a kind of therapy to salve battlefield scars.
Kyle, 38, author of the best-selling book “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” was with a struggling former soldier on just such an outing Saturday, hoping a day at a shooting range would bring some relief, said a friend, Travis Cox.
But Texas authorities said Sunday that for unknown reasons, the man turned on Kyle and a second man, Chad Littlefield, 35, shooting and killing both before fleeing.
“Chad and Chris had taken a veteran out to shoot to try to help him,” Cox said. “And they were killed.”
On Sunday, the police identified the shooter as Eddie Ray Routh, a 25-year-old veteran with a history of mental illness who had served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The police offered no information about a possible motive.
A spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety’s Highway Patrol Division, Sgt. Lonny Haschel, said in a statement that Routh shot the men at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, at the Rough Creek Lodge, an exclusive shooting range about 50 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
Routh then fled in a pickup and was arrested Saturday night at his home in Lancaster, a southern Dallas suburb. He has been charged with two counts of capital murder, Haschel said.
Cox, the director of a foundation that Kyle created, said he was not acquainted with Routh, but said Kyle had devoted his life since his military retirement to helping fellow soldiers overcome post-traumatic stress.
In 2011, Kyle created the FITCO Cares Foundation, to provide veterans with exercise equipment and counseling. He believed that exercise coupled with the camaraderie of fellow veterans could help former soldiers ease back into civilian life.
“He served this country with extreme honor, but came home and was a servant leader in helping his brothers and sisters dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Cox, also a former military sniper, said by telephone.
Kyle, who lived outside Dallas, had his own difficulties adjusting after retiring from the SEALs in 2009.
He was deployed in Iraq during the worst years of the insurgency, perched in or on top of bombed-out apartment buildings with his .300 Winchester Magnum.
His job was to provide “overwatch,” preventing enemy fighters from ambushing Marine units as they moved through Iraqi towns.
He did not think the job would be difficult, he wrote in his book, but two weeks into the war in Iraq, he found himself staring through his scope into the face of an unconventional enemy.
A woman with a child standing close by had pulled a grenade from beneath her clothes as several Marines approached. He hesitated, he wrote, but then shot.
“It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it,” he wrote. “My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman’s twisted soul.”
Over time, his hesitation diminished and he became proficient at his job, and was credited for more than 150 kills.
He became the scourge of Iraqi insurgents, who put a price on his head and reportedly nicknamed him the “Devil of Ramadi.”
In his book, he describes taking out a fighter wielding a rocket launcher 2,100 yards away, a very long distance for a sniper and his farthest kill.
“Maybe the way I jerked the trigger to the right adjusted for the wind,” he wrote of the kill. “Maybe gravity shifted and put that bullet right where it had to be.
“Whatever, I watched through my scope as the shot hit the Iraqi, who tumbled over the wall to the ground.”
Kyle received two Silver Stars and five Bronze medals for valor.
Later he would describe his service in humble terms, preferring to talk not about the enemies killed, but the lives saved.
“I feel pretty good because I am not just killing someone, I am also saving people,” he said in a January 2012 interview with The Dallas Morning News. “What keeps me up at night is not the people that I have killed. It is the people I wasn’t able to save.”
His book, published in January last year, spent months on The New York Times best-seller list, and turned Kyle into a celebrity. He appeared on talk shows like “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
He also played a role in the NBC reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” in which celebrities pair with elite soldiers on military-style missions.
For all his success, friends and fellow veterans described Kyle as a humble warrior and down-to-earth family man who loved his wife and two children.
In gatherings with other veterans, he would deflect the praise of the inevitable well-wishers and play up the achievements of his comrades.
“He wasn’t the American Sniper to all of his friends,” Cox said. “He was Chris Kyle and he was right alongside you. He was proud to be a veteran and he would do anything he could to serve veterans.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7990 on: Feb 4th, 2013, 09:15am »
Injectable Foam Blocks Internal Bleeding on the Battlefield
Field medics want to use a novel foam to seal off hemorrhaging organs, but safety concerns persist
By John Eischeid
Despite their best efforts to stabilize abdominal wounds sustained on the battlefield, military first-responders have few options when it comes to stanching internal bleeding caused by, for example, gunshots or explosive fragments. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) says it is studying a new type of injectable foam that molds to organs and slows hemorrhaging. This could provide field medics with a way to buy more time for soldiers en route to medical treatment facilities.
The polyurethane foam begins as two liquids stored separately and injected together into the abdominal cavity. One liquid is a polyol, a type of alcohol. The other is made of isocyanates, a family of highly reactive chemicals widely used in the manufacture of flexible and rigid foams. Within about one minute after a medic inserts the liquids at the midline—near the belly button—the mixture expands to nearly 30 times its original volume and then turns solid. It slows or halts hemorrhaging by sealing wounded tissues. Once the patient can get to intensive care, doctors would remove the solid mass and then perform surgery to permanently stop any bleeding.
“Initial battlefield care is provided in austere, often hostile conditions by field medics,” says Brian Holloway, program manager for DARPA’s Wound Stasis System program, which was launched in 2010 to find a technological solution to control internal hemorrhaging. The foam, made by Arsenal Medical, Inc., indiscriminately blocks the sources of the bleeding, almost like a scorched-earth campaign against blood loss.
“We’ve been waiting for this," says Donald Jenkins, trauma director at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn., and a 24-year Air Force veteran who has spent more than 700 days in combat zones, including in Afghanistan and Iraq. When asked how often he has seen soldiers suffer from abdominal hemorrhaging caused by explosives or gunshot wounds, he pauses and says, “Too many times.”
Arsenal Medical initially developed the foam to serve as a delivery mechanism for another treatment that would differentiate between healthy and wounded tissue, and then stop bleeding by binding only to the wounded portion. Using swine as subjects, researchers induced liver injury by wrapping a wire around the organ during surgery, closing the animal, and then pulling on a portion of the wire that had been left protruding through the skin. They waited 10 minutes between pulling the wire and injecting the two liquids in order to allow the blood to pool inside the body, as it often does in combat wounds.
Researchers were surprised at what they found when they removed the solidified foam. “When we saw the animal models that we had used, we realized that we had solved the [internal hemorrhaging] problem,” says Upma Sharma, lead researcher on the project. The foam reduced blood loss sixfold in those tests, and three hours after the injury the survival rate was 72 percent in the treatment group versus only 8 percent in the control group. Swine are often used as test subjects because pigs have an organ structure very similar to humans.
This particular foam is one of about 1,300 that Arsenal Medical researchers tested as they experimented with variables such as the rate of expansion and the amount of time in which the two chemical precursors became a solid foam. The researchers also had to consider whether or not the foam reacted with other fluids in the body. “We specifically engineered it as a two-part system so it would interact with itself,” Sharma says, explaining that the liquids, once injected, could not have a chemical reaction with other bodily fluids. Some foams also would not work because they could not push against the blood flow or they stuck to the tissue.
Although Arsenal Medical’s foam has a lot of potential, it still needs some work before it is field ready. After the material solidifies, it can cause bruising. In addition, the reaction between the two liquids generates heat, which raises the temperature of surrounding tissue by about 2 or 3 degrees Celsius. Sharma says this temperature increase is on par with a high-grade fever. Some patients might also have an allergic reaction to the foam.
Jenkins points out another potential problem: Pieces of solidified foam could break off inside the body and go adrift in a patient’s bloodstream, eventually blocking blood flow to the legs or lungs. Sharma says the researchers have not seen any evidence of this happening, however.
Nevertheless, Jenkins sees some promise in this new approach to a common problem for field medics, and perhaps first-responders in remote rural areas. “If half the deaths on the battlefield are torso hemorrhaging, and you were able to save 10 percent, would the survivors say it’s worth [the risk]?” he asked. “I’d say yes.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7992 on: Feb 5th, 2013, 09:34am »
Russian Minister Unhappy with French Warship Buy
Feb. 5, 2013 - 08:31AM By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
MOSCOW — Two warships Russia is buying from France will be difficult to operate and maintain because of a lack of proper fuel and possible other problems, a top official said Feb. 5.
“The problems Russia may face when operating the Mistrals are currently under consideration,” Russian news agencies quoted Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister in charge of defense issues, as saying.
Russia and France in 2011 signed a contract worth more than a billion euros for Moscow to buy the two ships, its first purchase of military hardware from a NATO member. Rogozin, Russia’s former NATO envoy, said the type of fuel needed for the helicopter-carrier warships was not produced in the country, so Russian chemists would have to find a solution.
The state ITAR-Tass news agency quoted a military expert as saying that Mistral-class warships needed around 50 types of fuel, many of which were not produced in Russia. The country also did not have special tankers needed to refuel the warships at sea, the expert, who the news agency said did not want to be named, was quoted as saying.
“Even in time of peace operating, the Mistrals will most likely become a true torture for our seamen, to say nothing of a period of threat and especially real military engagement,” ITAR-Tass quoted the expert as saying.
Last month, Rogozin was quoted as saying that Mistral-class ships do not operate properly under temperatures of seven degrees below zero, making them unusable in the waters of the Russian Arctic.
Negotiations over the purchase began in 2009 but repeatedly stalled over price and technology transfer amid strong resistance from the powerful military lobby in Russia. Under the deal, two more Mistral ships are to be built in Russia to the French design in an unprecedented transfer of technology.
In an apparent bid to calm the storm caused by the remarks, Rogozin wrote on his blog that Russia was fulfilling its obligations on the first two ships and any “questions that have unexpectedly appeared” would be discussed in talks this month.
Over recent months former President Dmitry Medvedev, now prime minister, has repeatedly come under criticism for a number of decisions made while he served as president in what analysts describe as a campaign to discredit him.
In November, President Vladimir Putin fired Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov over a corruption scandal. The minister had spearheaded a major military reform that included the Mistral purchase.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7993 on: Feb 5th, 2013, 09:36am »
New York Times
February 5, 2013
Memo Cites Legal Basis for Killing U.S. Citizens in Al Qaeda
By CHARLIE SAVAGE and SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — Obama administration lawyers have asserted that it would be lawful to kill a United States citizen if “an informed, high-level official” of the government decided that the target was a ranking figure in Al Qaeda who posed “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” and if his capture was not feasible, according to a 16-page document made public on Monday.
The unsigned and undated Justice Department “white paper,” obtained by NBC News, is the most detailed analysis yet to come into public view regarding the Obama legal team’s views about the lawfulness of killing, without a trial, an American citizen who executive branch officials decide is an operational leader of Al Qaeda or one of its allies.
The paper is not the classified memorandum in which the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel signed off on the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico and who died in an American drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. But its legal analysis — citing a national right to self-defense as well as the laws of war — closely tracks the rationale in that document, as described to The New York Times in October 2011 by people who had read it.
The memo appears to be a briefing paper that was derived from the real legal memorandum in late 2011 and provided to some members of Congress. It does not discuss any specific target and emphasizes that it does not go into the specific thresholds of evidence that are deemed sufficient.
It adopts an elastic definition of an “imminent” threat, saying it is not necessary for a specific attack to be in process when a target is found if the target is generally engaged in terrorist activities aimed at the United States. And it asserts that courts should not play a role in reviewing or restraining such decisions.
The white paper states that “judicial enforcement of such orders would require the court to supervise inherently predictive judgments by the president and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force against a member of an enemy force against which Congress has authorized the use of force.”
It also fills in many blanks in a series of speeches by members of the Obama legal team about the use of force in targeted killings, including remarks by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. at Northwestern’s law school in March. He asserted that the Constitution’s guarantee of “due process” before the government takes a life does not necessarily mean “judicial process” in national security situations, but offered little specific legal analysis.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, called the paper “a profoundly disturbing document,” and said: “It’s hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances. It summarizes in cold legal terms a stunning overreach of executive authority — the claimed power to declare Americans a threat and kill them far from a recognized battlefield and without any judicial involvement.”
The release of the white paper comes as President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser and nominee as C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, awaits a confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. Pressure has been growing on the administration to make the secret legal documents public, or at least to provide the Intelligence Committees with more of them.
On Tuesday, eight Democratic and three Republican senators, including some Intelligence Committee members, wrote to Mr. Obama asking for the legal opinions authorizing the killing of Americans. The letter followed one sent by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, a member of the Intelligence Committee who has long sought access to the legal opinions.
The senators wrote that they needed the legal opinions to judge “whether the president’s power to deliberately kill American citizens is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #7994 on: Feb 5th, 2013, 09:40am »
Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell
By Philip D. Lapsley 02.05.13 6:30 AM
There it was again.
Jake Locke set down his cup and looked more closely at the classified ad. It was early afternoon on a clear spring day in Cambridge in 1967. Locke, an undergrad at Harvard University, had just gotten out of bed. A transplant from southern California, he didn’t quite fit in with Harvard’s button-down culture — another student had told him he looked like a “nerdy California surfer,” what with his black-framed eyeglasses, blond hair, blue eyes, and tall, slim build. Now in the midst of his sophomore slump, Locke found himself spending a lot of time sleeping late, cutting classes, and reading the newspaper to find interesting things to do. Pretty much anything seemed better than going to classes, in fact. (“John Locke” is a pseudonym).
It was a slow news day. The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, didn’t have much in the way of interesting articles, so Locke once again found himself reading the classified ads over breakfast. He had become something of a connoisseur of these little bits of poetry — people selling cars, looking for roommates, even the occasional kooky personal ad probably intended as a joke between lovers—all expressed in a dozen or so words.
But this ad was different. It had been running for a while and it had started to bug him.
WANTED HARVARD MIT Fine Arts no. 13 notebook. (121 pages) & 40 page reply K.K. & C.R. plus 2,800; battery; m.f. El presidente no esta aqui asora, que lastima. B. David Box 11595 St. Louis, MO 63105.
Locke had seen similar classified ads from students who had lost their notes for one class or another and were panicking as exams rolled around. They often were placed in the Crimson in the hopes that some kind soul had found their notes and would return them. Fine Arts 13 was the introductory art appreciation class at Harvard, so that fit.
But nothing else about the ad made any sense. Fine Arts 13 wasn’t offered at MIT. And what was all the gibberish afterward? 2,800? Battery? M.f., K.K., C.R.? What was with the Spanish? And why was somebody in St. Louis, Missouri, running an ad in Cambridge, Massachusetts, looking for a notebook for a class at Harvard? Locke had watched the ad run every day for the past few weeks. Whoever they were, and whatever it was, they clearly wanted this notebook. Why were they so persistent?
One way to find out.
Locke looked around for a piece of paper and a pen. He wrote: “Dear B. David: I have your notebook. Let’s talk. Sincerely, Jake.”
He dropped the letter in the mail on his way into Harvard Square to find something interesting to do.
An envelope with a St. Louis, Missouri, postmark showed up in Locke’s mailbox a week later. Locke opened the envelope and read the single sheet of paper. Or rather, he tried to read it. It wasn’t in English. It seemed to be written in some sort of alien hieroglyphics. It was brief, only a paragraph or so long. The characters looked familiar somehow but not enough that he could decipher them.
Locke showed the letter to everyone he saw that day but nobody could read it. Later that evening, as Locke sat at the kitchen table in his dorm room and stared at the letter, trying to puzzle it out, one of his roommates came home. Shocked that Locke might actually be doing something that looked like homework, his roommate asked what he was working on. Locke passed the letter across the table and told him about it.
His roommate took one look and said, “It looks like Russian.”
Locke said, “That’s what I thought. But the characters don’t seem right.”
“Yeah. They’re not. In fact …” His roommate’s voice trailed off for a moment. “In fact, they’re mirror writing.”
“You know, mirror writing. The letters are written backwards. See?”
Locke looked. Sure enough: backwards.
Locke and his roommate went to the mirror and transcribed the reversed lettering. It was Cyrillic — Russian letters. Fortunately, Locke’s roommate was taking a Russian class. They sat back down at the table and translated the letter.
“Dear Jake,” the letter read. “Thank you very much for your reply. However, I seriously doubt that you have what I need. I would strongly advise you to keep to yourself and not interfere. This is serious business and you could get into trouble.” Signed, B. David.
Locke sat back. Someone had put a cryptic ad in the newspaper. He’d responded. They sent him a letter. In mirror writing. In Russian. In 1967. During the cold war.