Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8400 on: May 1st, 2013, 08:18am »
Man who packed parachutes used by DB Cooper identified as homicide victim
Published April 30, 2013 Associated Press
SEATTLE – The man who packed the parachutes used by infamous skyjacker D.B. Cooper more than four decades ago has been identified as the victim of a homicide in Washington state.
However, authorities say they have no reason to think the death of 71-year-old Earl Cossey was linked to the Cooper case.
The King County Medical Examiner's Office said Tuesday that Cossey died April 23 of blunt force trauma to the head. Cossey's daughter found his body Friday when she went to his home in the Seattle suburb of Woodinville to check on him, said King County Sheriff's Sgt. Cindi West.
"We have no information that leads us to believe that this case has any relation to the Cooper case," West said in an email.
In November 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper -- later erroneously identified as D.B. Cooper -- hijacked a passenger plane from Portland, Ore., to Seattle. He released the passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in exchange for $200,000 and four parachutes, and asked to be flown to Mexico.
The plane took off again at his direction with some of the crew on board. As the plane neared Oregon, Cooper jumped from its lowered rear stairs. No one knows what happened to him. Investigators doubt he survived the nighttime jump in a frigid rain, and some of his money was found by a boy playing on a Columbia River beach in 1980.
The parachutes provided to the skyjacker came from an Issaquah skydive center, which had recently bought them from Cossey. The one Cooper apparently used was a military-issue NB6, nylon parachute with a conical canopy.
Over the decades, as parachutes were sometimes discovered in the area of Cooper's jump, the FBI sought Cossey's help in identifying them.
"They keep bringing me garbage," Cossey told The Associated Press in 2008, after the FBI brought him a silk parachute discovered by children playing at a recently graded road in Southwest Washington. "Every time they find squat, they bring it out and open their trunk and say, `Is that it?' and I say, `Nope, go away.' Then a few years later they come back."
That didn't keep him from having fun at the expense of reporters. Cossey told some who happened to call him on April Fools' Day that year that the chute was, in fact, Cooper's.
One reporter called him back and angrily said he could be fired for writing a false story, Cossey said. Another said the newsroom was entertained by the prank.
"I'm getting mixed reviews," Cossey said. "But I'm having fun with it. What the heck."
Cossey's family last saw him the night of April 22, the sheriff's office said. Investigators were asking anyone who saw Cossey alive after that night and anyone who knows with whom he associated to contact them.
A reward of up to $1,000 was being offered for information leading to an arrest.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8402 on: May 1st, 2013, 09:21am »
By Sharyl Attkisson April 30, 2013, 5:37 PM
Benghazi whistleblowers still waiting to tell their story
The attorney for a whistleblower on the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, says the Obama administration is impeding efforts to allow her client and other whistleblowers to speak.
Washington D.C. attorney Victoria Toensing has taken the case of an unidentified whistleblower from the State Department. For her client to provide full testimony, Toensing says she needs something the government has yet to provide: the means for her to receive a security clearance to handle the sensitive or classified material involved.
It's been two weeks since Republicans in Congress formally asked the State Department, the CIA and the Defense Department to outline the process for clearing private attorneys for Benghazi whistleblowers, but the agencies have not responded. The House Oversight Committee has identified at least four federal employees whom investigators consider "whistleblowers."
On Friday, House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., followed up with a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, accusing the State Department of impeding or delaying the Oversight Committee's investigation into the Benghazi attacks by restricting access to witnesses; insisting that all documents, even unclassified material, be reviewed privately; and "requiring a State Department minder to be present when investigators review evidence." A State Department spokesman says the agency is in the process of reviewing Issa's letter.
Today, President Obama said he's unaware of the controversy.
"I'm not familiar with this notion that anybody's been blocked from testifying. So what I'll do is I will find out what exactly you're referring to," said Mr. Obama when reporters asked about the whistleblowers. "What I've been very clear about from the start is that our job with respect to Benghazi has been to find out exactly what happened, to make sure that U.S. embassies, not just in the Middle East, but around the world, are safe and secure, and to bring those who carried it out to justice."
There have been no arrests reported in the more than seven months since terrorists reportedly attacked two U.S. compounds in Benghazi. Four Americans were killed, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
According to the House Oversight Committee, "numerous individuals have come forward with information related to the Benghazi attack." On April 16, Issa requested that the State Department make clear to all employees that "they are free to furnish information to Congress in accordance with their statutory rights." But, according to Issa, "the State Department has not even taken the modest step to assure whistleblowers that they will not face retaliation."
Monday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters "I'm not aware of private counsel seeking security clearances or anything in that regard. But let me just take this opportunity to really underscore once again the unprecedented level of cooperation and transparency we provided Congress in terms of the Benghazi situation." Ventrell pointed to eight hearings, 20 briefings, 25,000 pages of documentation and the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board report.
The House Oversight Committee says the State Department's restrictive access to Benghazi documents has been an ongoing problem. "[T]he [State] Department sends an employee to Capitol Hill every morning with boxes" of documents that were "not organized or catalogued in any logical way...were not permitted to be taken away, even temporarily, and ..were returned to the Department at the end of each day." In his letter Friday to Kerry, Issa questioned the motivations for the restrictive procedures, stating that "approximately 80 percent of the documents in question are unclassified."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8403 on: May 1st, 2013, 09:25am »
30 April 2013
Jihadists from Germany are engaging in combat, and dying, on the side of the rebels in Syria. Authorities fear the young and inexperienced fighters will be radicalized before they return to Europe, assuming they survive at all.
A young man in his mid-twenties with a stubbly beard is driving a delivery van through the rubble-strewn streets of the northern Syrian town of Azaz. He speaks excellent German and calls himself Yousuf. The man in the passenger seat is around the same age and also sports a beard. He won't even reveal his first name, but he also speaks nearly perfect German.
"After we go back home, we don't want any problems with Germany's foreign and domestic intelligence agencies," says Yousuf. This also explains why the two men refuse to divulge what city in Germany they come from. "Before we entered Syria, the Turks had already put our passport information into their system," he adds. "They know exactly who we are. If they pass that on to the Germans, we're sunk, even though we're just here on a humanitarian mission."
A humanitarian mission? That's the euphemism foreign jihadists use when they try to explain their presence in Syria.
There are reportedly a few hundred Muslims from Western countries who are fighting alongside the rebels to topple Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. It's a relatively small number compared to the perhaps 100,000 insurgents in the country.
"We know that jihadists from Germany, who we have already been observing here at home, are currently in Syria and fighting there," German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said last week. German intelligence agencies are primarily concerned that such men will be trained during the civil war and later return to the West as radicalized extremists -- assuming they survive.
'I've Come to Help my Muslim Brothers'
Jamal Mohamed Abd al-Kadir, a 24-year-old Canadian who was also in Azaz, often referred to his humanitarian mission -- before he was killed in battle. His family originally came from a village near the Kurdish-Syrian city of Afrin, but Abd al-Kadir grew up in Montreal. He was a university student when war erupted in Syria.
"Assad, this monster, is destroying his country and the entire world is merely watching," the young man with the wavy black hair exclaimed back in September. "That's why I've come here to help my Muslim brothers."
A photo from Abd al-Kadir's college days shows him at home, with his hair in a ponytail and wearing blue jeans. Nothing about him matched the usual image in the West of the hardcore jihadist. The brainwashing that he was subjected to in the Salafist battalions in northern Syria quickly produced the desired effect. Only a few weeks after he arrived in Syria, he said: "Your media in the West is constantly lying. You always talk about al-Qaida, but in reality it's your countries that are the real terrorists. They kill Muslim Afghans and Palestinians."
Later, Abd al-Kadir transferred to the radical Support Front for the People of Greater Syria, widely referred to as the Al-Nusra Front. "The people in the Support Front quickly realized that the Canadian was a clever fellow," says one of Abd al-Kadir's former fellow fighters. "And they always have a use for people like that. They brought him to Damascus, and that's where he was killed," he recalls, adding that "he was his parents' only son, and they had tried to convince him to drop the 'holy war' and come back home."
The 'Land of Sham'
The men of the Islamist Al-Nusra Front, who see their group as part of al-Qaida, are not particularly concerned about losses among their own ranks. In a small shop in Azaz, one of the group's commanders is sitting with a young Libyan who has just arrived.
First, he explains to the new arrival that in the Support Front they don't use the name "Syria," but rather the "Land of Sham." Both "Land of Sham" and "Greater Syria" are nationalist terms that refer to a geographical space covering nearly the entire Levant, which the fighters hope to transform into one big Islamic state.
Then the older man says to the younger one: "I hope that you will soon die in battle and go to paradise."
Many foreign jihadists are between the ages of 18 and 28 and of Arab descent, or at least from Muslim families -- and have no combat experience whatsoever. They are essentially cannon fodder. They come from Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, from North Africa, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain and North America. Most of them receive rudimentary training in camps, primarily in northern Syria.
The Libyans have a special status. Speaking via Skype, a physician from the western Libyan city of Zawiya talks about how he lost a relative in Syria. "When our young men leave Libya, they are very rarely radical Islamists," he says, "but when they return, we hardly recognize them anymore. They have been brainwashed."
Libya is without a doubt the most important source of arms for the Syrian resistance. For the Libyans, it's not about the prospect of exporting ideology or gaining strategic interests. Rather, they know what it means when a dictator is prepared to kill his own people.
Airfare for Kalashnikovs
The Libyan recruits nearly always take the same route to Syria: They fly with Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. Libyans require no visa to enter Turkey. From Istanbul, they catch a connecting flight to Antakya or Gaziantep, and then continue overland to border towns like Reyhanli and Kilis. They often receive help from Islamic networks.
"In Zawiya there is a Salafist sheikh of the most radical sort who is known all over town and helps them," says the Libyan physician. "Anyone who has no money to pay for the trip, " he contends, "brings along his Kalashnikov and hands it over to the sheikh's people" -- who then sell the weapon.
Although most foreign fighters in Syria are extremely young and inexperienced, there are a few veteran fighters. One of them is a 52-year-old Egyptian with a bushy beard. He would rather not mention his name, but he does talk about how he fought alongside the Afghan mujahedeen to expel the Soviets.
After his return from Afghanistan in 1992, he says he was arrested and imprisoned for 15 years under Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "In Syria, young people are forced to do everything they're told -- they can't freely choose their future," he says, referring to the lives of his Syrian brethren under Assad: "In Europe, though, young people are perfectly free to choose their own path in life."
In Europe, he believes, they could have a better chance of following the way of the Prophet Muhammad than in Syria under the dictator Assad. He says that there is more breathing room there, even for Islamists -- which is why he is waging jihad to make Syria a bit more like Europe.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8404 on: May 1st, 2013, 09:27am »
How Petals Get Their Shape: Hidden Map Located Within Plant's Growing Buds
Apr. 30, 2013 — Why do rose petals have rounded ends while their leaves are more pointed? In a new study published April 30 in the open access journal PLOS Biology, scientists from the John Innes Centre and University of East Anglia, UK, reveal that the shape of petals is controlled by a hidden map located within the plant's growing buds.
Leaves and petals perform different functions related to their shape. Leaves acquire sugars for a plant via photosynthesis, which can then be transported throughout the plant. Petals develop later in the life cycle and help attract pollinators. In earlier work, this team had discovered that leaves in the plant Arabidopsis contain a hidden map that orients growth in a pattern that converges towards the tip of the bud, giving leaves their characteristic pointed tips. In the new study, the researchers discover that Arabidopsis petals contain a similar, hidden map that orients growth in the flower's bud. However, the pattern of growth is different to that in leaves -- in the petal growth is oriented towards the edge giving a more rounded shape -- accounting for the different shapes of leaves and petals. The researchers discovered that molecules called PIN proteins are involved in this oriented growth, which are located towards the ends of each cell.
"The discovery of these hidden polarity maps was a real surprise and provides a simple explanation for how different shapes can be generated," said Professor Enrico Coen, senior author of the study.
The team of researchers confirmed their ideas by using computer simulations to test which maps could predict the correct petal shape. They then confirmed experimentally that PIN proteins located to the right sites to be involved in oriented growth, and identified that another protein, called JAGGED, is involved in promoting growth towards the edge of petals and in establishing the hidden map that determines petal growth and shape.
Unlike animal cells, plant cells are unable to move and migrate to form structures of a particular shape, and so these findings help to explain how plants create differently shaped organs -- by controlling rates and orientations of cell growth. From an evolutionary perspective, this system creates the flexibility needed for plant organs to adapt to their environment and to develop different functions.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8405 on: May 2nd, 2013, 09:14am »
Special ops called for military assets to move into position during Libya attack, sources say
By Adam Housley Published May 02, 2013
On the night of the Benghazi terror attack, special operations put out multiple calls for all available military and other assets to be moved into position to help -- but the State Department and White House never gave the military permission to cross into Libya, sources told Fox News.
The disconnect was one example of what sources described as a communication breakdown that left those on the ground without outside help.
"When you are on the ground, you depend on each other -- we're gonna get through this situation. But when you look up and then nothing outside of the stratosphere is coming to help you or rescue you, that's a bad feeling," one source said.
Multiple sources spoke to Fox News about what they described as a lack of action in Benghazi on Sept. 11 last year, when four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens were killed.
"They had no plan. They had no contingency plan for if this happens, and that's the problem this is going to face in the future," one source said. "They're dealing with more hostile regions, hostile countries. This attack's going to happen again."
Under normal circumstances, authority in Benghazi would have fallen under the chief of mission, one source said -- the person in charge of security in the country who in this case was Stevens. But once Stevens was cornered and members of his security detail pushed his distress button, that authority would have been transferred to his deputy. However, that deputy was out of the country.
That meant the authority then reverted directly to the U.S. State Department, and oversight of the response to the attack that night fell to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, who were calling the shots.
Sources said that shortly after the attack began around 9:40 p.m., special forces put out the calls for assets to be moved into position.
"What that does is that enacts ... every asset, every element to respond and it becomes a global priority," one source said. "I would tell you that was given and the only reason it was given is because of special operations pack."
However, the source said, "Assets did not move."
The failure of the State Department or White House to give the military permission to go into Libya, according to the source, only accentuates the significant breakdown in communication among the State Department, military, CIA and White House.
"I can see the initial confusion in the beginning. I mean, you have a situation that's developing. The problem with the State Department is they don't have procedures in place. And if they do, they haven't practiced or exercised them. And now they are making up for all the mistakes they have made, with excuse. And there is no excuse," the source said, describing a "huge breakdown between State and military."
Last October, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta defended the response, saying the military was reluctant to put forces at risk.
"You don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on, without having some real-time information about what's taking place," Panetta said. "And as a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation."
The State Department Accountability Review Board, which investigated the attack and what led up to it, also claimed that "Washington-Tripoli-Benghazi communication, cooperation, and coordination on the night of the attacks were effective."
But one source told Fox News there was "not good communication" between State and Defense "on any level."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8406 on: May 2nd, 2013, 09:16am »
Startling Survival Story at Historic Jamestown: Physical Evidence of Survival Cannibalism
May 1, 2013 — Douglas Owsley, the division head for physical anthropology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, presented today a forensic analysis of 17th-century human remains proving that survival cannibalism took place in historic Jamestown. The findings answer a long-standing question among historians about the occurrence of cannibalism at Jamestown during the deadly winter of 1609-1610 known as the "starving time" -- a period during which about 80 percent of the colonists died.
The announcement was made with chief archeologist William Kelso from the Jamestown Rediscovery Project at Preservation Virginia, and historian James Horn, vice president of research and historical interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg; each expert provided context about the discovery and the history of the site.
Owsley has worked closely with Kelso and his team of archaeologists since 1996, examining skeletal remains to help researchers understand the lives of individual colonial settlers in the Chesapeake. This particular incomplete human skull and tibia (shin bone) were excavated by Jamestown archeologists in 2012 as part of a 20-year excavation of James Fort. The remains were unusual due to their location and extensive fragmentation, so Kelso approached the Smithsonian's forensic anthropologist for a comprehensive analysis.
Owsley and his research team identified a number of features on the skull and tibia that indicated the individual was cannibalized. Four shallow chops to the forehead represent a failed first attempt to open the skull. The back of the head was then struck by a series of deep, forceful chops from a small hatchet or cleaver. The final blow split the cranium open. Sharp cuts and punctures mark the sides and bottom of the mandible, reflecting efforts to remove tissue from the face and throat using a knife.
"The desperation and overwhelming circumstances faced by the James Fort colonists during the winter of 1609-1610 are reflected in the postmortem treatment of this girl's body," said Owsley. "The recovered bone fragments have unusually patterned cuts and chops that reflect tentativeness, trial and complete lack of experience in butchering animal remains. Nevertheless, the clear intent was to dismember the body, removing the brain and flesh from the face for consumption."
Through specialized scientific analyses, Smithsonian scientists determined details about the life and story of this 14-year-old girl from England. By analyzing the dental development of the third molar and the growth stage of her shin bone, the research team determined that "Jane" was approximately 14 years old when she died. The cause of death could not be determined from the remains, estimated to be less than 10 percent of the complete skeleton.
Through a combination of digital and medical technologies, Smithsonian researchers led the effort to reconstruct the girl's likeness through forensic facial reconstruction. After scanning the incomplete remains of the fragmented skull with the museum's CT scanner, a virtual model of the skull was pieced together digitally. This digital rendering was sent to the Medical Modeling company to print a three-dimensional replica of the reconstructed skull. Finally, StudioEIS, in Brooklyn, N.Y., worked with Smithsonian scientists to create a forensic facial reconstruction of the girl's likeness.
On May 3, the facial reconstruction will be on display in the National Museum of Natural History's popular "Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th Century Chesapeake" exhibition, alongside other materials and information about Smithsonian forensic science. The skeletal remains will be on display at Historic Jamestowne near the discovery site on Jamestown Island.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8407 on: May 2nd, 2013, 09:18am »
Special Report: Cheap money bankrolls Wall Street's bet on housing
By Matthew Goldstein
LAS VEGAS Thu May 2, 2013 7:04am EDT
(Reuters) - Michael Marchillo, a plumber, has been trying and failing for months to buy a bigger home for his family here in Sin City. He was pre-qualified by a bank for a $130,000 mortgage, which a year ago would have landed a typical three-bedroom home in the area. No more. Now, the 36-year-old says, it's hard to compete with "greedy investors" who come to the table flush with cash for quick deals.
Marchillo is on to something. The once-beleaguered Las Vegas housing market has been on fire since investment firms led by Blackstone Group LP, Colony Capital and American Homes 4 Rent began buying homes here some eight months ago, backed by $8 billion in investor cash to spend nationally.
These big investors and a handful of others have bought at least 55,000 single-family homes across the U.S. in the past year. In the Vegas area alone, they have accounted for at least 10 percent of the homes sold since January 2012, according to a Reuters analysis of housing transactions.
That added firepower helps explain why home prices in this metropolitan area of 2 million people are up 30 percent over a year ago, far more than the national average of 10 percent. Permits for new home construction are up 50 percent, twice the national average.
Local real-estate broker Fafie Moore says private-equity firms and hedge funds have largely "crowded out" local buyers like Marchillo. That's because the investment firms have broadened beyond their initial focus - buying homes at foreclosure auctions. Now, they are also bidding for homes listed by private owners and banks. In a sign of how freely the money is flowing, Moore notes around 60 percent of all sales are in cash these days.
Fellow broker Trish Nash says she has seen cases where a home gets listed and quickly draws a dozen bids, many in cash. Realtors are talking about a mini-bubble forming here.
"There is an artificial appreciation in our market," says Nash. "I know (the big investors) say they aren't going to be flippers, but for them it is all about the bottom line."
Las Vegas would seem a highly unlikely locale for a new housing bubble. There are at least 20,000 homes in some stage of foreclosure, and the jobless rate hovers near 10 percent, some two points above the U.S. average. A healthy housing market depends on people having good-paying jobs so they can accumulate down payments and finance their mortgages.
But the surge here has another origin: the Federal Reserve's continuing push to buttress growth in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, itself the product of the bursting of a much larger housing bubble.
The central bank is pumping the economy full of cash by buying assets such as U.S. government bonds and mortgage securities. Added demand for those assets is pushing their prices up, and hence their yields down. That's encouraging people to put cheap credit to work at riskier activities that can spur growth - for instance, buying shares in new companies, investing in oil wells or renovating houses.
Prodding investors further out on the so-called risk curve is part of what the monetary mandarins had in mind. But in treating the consequences of the last bubble, the Fed is now spawning new, smaller manias like the Vegas rental rush.
Why Vegas in particular? The market tantalized investors because the crash was so deep here. Even after the recent bounce, prices today are 56 percent below where they were before the bust. The thought was that any recovery would mean easy money. The dry climate makes for lower maintenance costs, too. Similar logic applied to other beaten-down sunbelt cities.
Not everyone is a believer. "The Vegas housing market has only firmed because of speculators," said Jason Ader, a New York money manager and former Wall Street casino analyst who invested in foreclosed homes in Phoenix a year ago but bypassed Vegas. "Vegas is only doing well for now because of the greater-fool theory" - the belief that even if an investment is iffy, you can sell it at a gain to someone else. That kind of thinking is typical of bubbles.
Cracks are showing in Vegas and beyond. Here, rents on single-family homes were down an average of 1.9 percent in March from a year ago. In other regions targeted by institutional buyers, such as Phoenix, Southern California, Atlanta and Florida, rents are either falling or flat, according to online real estate service Trulia.
It's also taking longer than planned for institutional buyers to hire contractors, renovate the acquired homes and get them rented out. Industry insiders estimate that roughly half of the more than 55,000 homes acquired by institutions over the past year in the U.S. have yet to be rented.
The combination of rising acquisition costs, prolonged rental lead times and declining rental income is disrupting the spread-sheet analysis behind Wall Street's bet. That could pose problems for what once seemed like a slam dunk. It could also give pause to stock-market investors as some players list their shares. American Homes 4 Rent, based in Malibu, Calif., has said it expects to file soon for an initial public offering.
"I think it's a little late to start investing in single-family homes, because some of these larger firms are price-indiscriminate, and pushing prices up," says Philip Barach, president and co-founder of DoubleLine Capital, a fixed-income mutual-fund firm with $56 billion under management. DoubleLine reviewed the foreclosed-home trade a year ago but passed on it. "In some markets," Barach says, "they are the only bidders."
TO FLIP OR NOT TO FLIP
What excited Wall Street in late 2011 was the prospect of getting homes at 30 to 40 percent discounts, using a combination of investor dollars and cheap financing made possible by the Fed's easy-money policies. The gross annual rental return envisioned on a $100,000 home ranged from 14 percent to 27 percent, depending on the mix of investor dollars and cheap financing. That didn't include expected annual returns as high as 10 percent from the appreciation in home values.
Those projected returns are eye-popping, considering that the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond is 1.70 percent and big investors can borrow at between 3 and 4 percent.
The calculus: With millions of Americans coming out of the housing crisis unable to get a mortgage because of dented credit histories, renting would be the only option. In a few years, after repairing their credit scores, many of those renters would be buyers.
That was then. Now, some investors are exiting the market, scaling back or dialing down expectations.
Early last year, Oaktree Capital Management agreed to provide up to $450 million in equity to real estate investment firm Carrington Capital Management for its foreclosed-home acquisition program. Carrington was projecting an internal rate of return of 25 percent over a three-year period for its portfolio of single-family homes in several cities, according to a marketing document.
Oaktree is now reluctant to commit more money to the trade after souring on the buy-to-rent strategy, said people familiar with the firms. Oaktree saw returns on rents compress and no longer is comfortable with Carrington's initial heady yield projections, they said.
In October, hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group cited a narrowing in rental income for its decision to put its book of 300 homes in Northern California up for sale — a process it has just about completed.
"The math for investors is looking very different," said Jed Kolko, Trulia's chief economist.
Vegas home prices are up 30 percent over the past year, with the median home now selling for $161,000, according to the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors. Much of that appreciation has come since June, when the institutional buyers began to make their presence known.
Blackstone, which entered the Vegas market in November, has bought over 400 homes at foreclosure auctions, from banks and private listings. Nationally, the private equity firm has bought over 24,000 homes. It is using a combination of $3 billion in investor dollars and a $2.1 billion line of credit arranged by Deutsche Bank.
In Vegas, Blackstone is making up for a slow start. Local realtors Moore and Nash said they've begun getting calls from Blackstone, asking them to contact the firm if pending sales fall through. Colony is buying some newly built homes because of the limited supply of foreclosed homes.
Representatives for Blackstone and Colony said they are not daunted by the slump in rents or delays in readying units for tenants in the half-dozen markets they are largely buying in. The firms said they aren't buying foreclosed homes to flip them and are committed to building out subsidiaries that manage and rent single-family houses.
"This is more of a marathon than a sprint," said Paul Fuhrman, chief investment officer of Colony's single-family home subsidiary, which has acquired more than 8,000 homes.
Marcus Ridgway, the new chief operating officer of Blackstone's Invitation Homes subsidiary, said his firm's strategy doesn't rest on the performance "of one single market, and can rely on other markets to balance returns."
American Homes, which has bought at least 14,000 homes nationally, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Vegas market has unsteady legs. Statistics compiled by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas show some 40,000 homes are largely vacant - 8 percent of the metropolitan area's single-family housing stock. Housing research firm RealtyTrac estimates there are 20,000 single-family homes in the metro area either owned by a bank or in some stage of foreclosure.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8410 on: May 3rd, 2013, 10:21am »
Total Recall: Mini-Camera Records All (and Perhaps Too Much)
By Martin Wolf 3 May 2013
Swedish company Memoto is developing a camera that automatically documents the lives of users by snapping a photo every 30 seconds. The gadget could threaten privacy on both sides of the lens, critics warn.
When they don't happen to be gazing at their computer screens or their iPhones, employees of the Swedish company Memoto can see the Stortorget, the famous square in the old section of Stockholm, from their office windows. The building that houses the Swedish Academy is on Stortorget square, where officials deliberate each year on who should be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, established by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.
The location has symbolic significance. Memoto also handles something that is explosive, figuratively at least, and Memoto also wants to explore how stories are told today. The startup company, launched in 2012, has 17 full-time employees from Sweden, Singapore and the United States. It is currently in the process of changing memory and how we see ourselves by focusing on how people remember things and what they remember, regardless of whether something as old-fashioned as privacy will even exist in the future. According to Memoto founder Martin Källström, who is not a writer but a software developer, the company's goal is to "find a way to re-experience our lives in the future while enjoying the present."
Källström, 37, invites us into the office kitchen for a product demonstration. Like his employees, he doesn't wear shoes in the office, just socks. His friend Oskar Kalmaru, 29, in charge of marketing, places a white cardboard box on the table. Its similarity to the packaging of Apple products is intentional. Källström opens the lid to reveal a prototype of the invention with which Memoto hopes to take the world by storm: It's a camera, but it doesn't look like one, even at a second glance. It's as tiny as a matchbox or an iPod nano.
The Memoto camera can be clipped to your clothing or worn on a chain around your neck. There is no shutter release, no display and no on-off button. The camera simply takes a picture automatically every 30 seconds, which comes to 120 pictures an hour or 2,880 a day. To stop the camera, you have to put it in your pocket. For each photo, the device stores the time and the GPS coordinates of where it was taken. The result is a giant photo diary, or "Lifelog," a term coined by the web community.
Naturally, the images don't remain in the camera. The Memoto app transfers them to the company's server or, more precisely, to a server Memoto rents from Amazon in the United States to store its customers' data.
The Memoto software sorts the photos, organizes them by subject and time, and highlights the best ones from a technical standpoint. The user can then use his or her own computer or smartphone to look at current pictures, search for old ones or post images to a social-networking site, such as Facebook.
These features make Memoto the ideal toy for people who have made online self-expression their mission in life. If the idea takes hold, there will be no events in the future that don't exist in image form. Forgetting will become a thing of the past, and we will no longer be able to sugarcoat our past experiences. Memory will no longer be subjective, but merely an image file on an Amazon server.
A man's daily commute to work will be documented, as will his first encounter with the woman of his life. The Memoto camera is always on, even in situations in which the use of mobile-phone cameras is forbidden. Indeed, chances are that Memoto will become a gigantic job-creation scheme in the world of privacy protection.
The Everyman's Lifelog
Do we want this? Who needs something like this? Källström talks about his childhood on a farm, where there was only a black-and-white TV set in the house. It was an idyllic environment, much like the setting of a novel by Astrid Lindgren. But then Källström's parents died, and many memories were lost.
He began keeping a diary, photographing scenes from everyday life. But soon he had to decide between experiencing life himself and merely documenting his existence. Källström chose to experience life. He started his first company, and he also became a father. He wants to enjoy his time with his children without having to worry about how to preserve their experiences. "Avoid falling into a trap of tracking more than you're living," Memoto warns on its blog.
Källström isn't the first to develop lifelogs. Eccentrics such as Canadian inventor Steve Mann and Microsoft executive Gordon Bell have been experimenting for years with devices to preserve their sensory impressions for eternity. Memoto, however, wants to turn the idea into a large-scale business: total recall for everyone.
Of course, conflicts are to be expected. Not everyone will be enthusiastic about the idea of being photographed constantly. Källström's business partner Kalmaru has already experienced this aversion firsthand. His son's kindergarten, for example, has prohibited the boy from bringing the device with him. The owner of a café in Seattle had similar concerns and has barred patrons from wearing the new Google Glass device in his establishment. Memoto appeals to its customers to "respect that other people might not wish to be photographed sometimes."
An Uncertain Future
But what happens once one, two or a hundred photos have been taken? The programmers at Memoto were already far along with the development of the software when they noticed that there was no function to allow the user to delete photos. The mistake has since been corrected.
The rest is "is the user's business," says Källström. Memoto has no access to the data, nor does the advertising industry. In this respect, Memoto's business model differs from that of companies such as Google or Facebook, whose customer is the advertising industry and whose products are the users who generously leave behind their data trails.
By contrast, Memoto plans to initially make its money with the sale of the cameras. Future customers can already reserve a camera today for $279 (€212). The company expects to start shipping the devices sometime this year, "if everything goes off without a hitch." The price includes a year of photo storage.
And after that? Källström doesn't want to keep his 30-percent stake in Memoto forever, especially since his investor, a London venture capital firm called Passion Capital, eventually wants to cash in. The model, which Källström doesn't mention by name, is called Instagram. The photo app company had 12 employees and was losing money when Facebook acquired it a year ago -- for $1 billion.
A few months after the takeover, Instagram temporarily changed its terms of service and granted itself the comprehensive rights to use and exploit its users' photos.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8411 on: May 3rd, 2013, 10:26am »
NASA Opens New Era in Measuring Western U.S. Snowpack
PASADENA, Calif. - A new NASA airborne mission has created the first maps of the entire snowpack of two major mountain watersheds in California and Colorado, producing the most accurate measurements to date of how much water they hold.
The data from NASA's Airborne Snow Observatory mission will be used to estimate how much water will flow out of the basins when the snow melts. The data-gathering technology could improve water management for 1.5 billion people worldwide who rely on snowmelt for their water supply.
"The Airborne Snow Observatory is on the cutting edge of snow remote-sensing science," said Jared Entin, a program manager in the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Decision makers like power companies and water managers now are receiving these data, which may have immediate economic benefits."
The mission is a collaboration between NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and the California Department of Water Resources in Sacramento.
A Twin Otter aircraft carrying NASA's Airborne Snow Observatory began a three-year demonstration mission in April that includes weekly flights over the Tuolumne River Basin in California's Sierra Nevada and monthly flights over Colorado's Uncompahgre River Basin. The flights will run through the end of the snowmelt season, which typically occurs in July. The Tuolumne watershed and its Hetch Hetchy Reservoir are the primary water supply for San Francisco. The Uncompahgre watershed is part of the Upper Colorado River Basin that supplies water to much of the western United States.
The mission's principal investigator, Tom Painter of JPL, said the mission fills a critical need in an increasingly thirsty world, initially focusing on the western United States, where snowmelt provides more than 75 percent of the total freshwater supply.
"Changes in and pressure on snowmelt-dependent water systems are motivating water managers, governments and others to improve understanding of snow and its melt," Painter said. "The western United States and other regions face significant water resource challenges because of population growth and faster melt and runoff of snowpacks caused by climate change. NASA's Airborne Snow Observatory combines the best available technologies to provide precise, timely information for assessing snowpack volume and melt."
The observatory's two instruments measure two properties most critical to understanding snowmelt runoff and timing. Those two properties had been mostly unmeasured until now.
A scanning lidar system from the Canadian firm Optech Inc. of Vaughan, Ontario, measures snow depth with lasers to determine the first property, snow water equivalent. Snow water equivalent represents the amount of water in the snow on a mountain. It is used to calculate the amount of water that will run off.
An imaging spectrometer built by another Canadian concern, ITRES of Calgary, Alberta, measures the second property, snow albedo. Snow albedo represents the amount of sunlight reflected and absorbed by snow. Snow albedo controls the speed of snowmelt and timing of its runoff.
By combining these data, scientists can tell how changes in the absorption of sunlight cause snowmelt rates to increase.
The Airborne Snow Observatory flies at an altitude of 17,500 to 22,000 feet (5,334 to 6,705 meters) to produce frequent maps that scientists can use to monitor changes over time. It can calculate snow depth to within about 4 inches (10 centimeters) and snow water equivalent to within five percent. Data are processed on the ground and made available to participating water managers within 24 hours.
Before now, Sierra Nevada snow water equivalent estimates have been extrapolated from monthly manual ground snow surveys conducted from January through April. These survey sites are sparsely located, primarily in lower to middle elevations that melt free of snow each spring, while snow remains at higher elevations. Water managers use these survey data to forecast annual water supplies. The information affects decisions by local water districts, agricultural interests and others. The sparse sampling can lead to large errors. In contrast, the NASA observatory can map all the snow throughout the entire snowmelt season.
"The Airborne Snow Observatory is providing California water managers the first near-real-time, comprehensive determination of basin-wide snow water equivalent," said Frank Gehrke, mission co-investigator and chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the California Department of Water Resources. "Integrated into models, these data will enhance the state's reservoir operations, permitting more efficient flood control, water supply management and hydroelectric power generation." Gehrke said the state will continue to conduct manual surveys while it incorporates the Airborne Snow Observatory data. "The snow surveys are relatively inexpensive, help validate observatory data and provide snow density measurements that are key to reducing errors in estimating snow water equivalent," he said.
Painter plans to expand the airborne mapping program to the entire Upper Colorado River Basin and Sierra Nevada.
"We believe this is the future of water management in the western United States," he said.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8412 on: May 3rd, 2013, 10:29am »
Star Trek Into Darkness: Film Review
7:00 PM PDT 5/2/2013 by Todd McCarthy
Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams's second entry in his reboot of the eternal franchise, has been engineered rather than directed, calibrated to deliver sensation on cue and stocked with just enough new character twists to keep fans rapt. At its core an intergalactic manhunt tale about a traitor to the cause, the production gives the impression of a massive machine cranked up for two hours of full output; it efficiently delivers what it's built to do, but without style or personality. The widely admired 2009 series relaunch pulled in $385 million in worldwide box office (an unusual two-thirds of that in the American market), and this one should follow very closely in that trajectory.
Continuity is assured by the full team reboarding the U.S.S. Enterprise for this flight, from the attractive and capable cast headed by Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana to writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (now joined by producer Damon Lindelof) and other key behind-the-scenes hands. As seen in normally dynamic 3D IMAX, however, the film looks surprisingly flat, bordering on cheesy; the images are pale, thin, bleached out, makeup and facial blemishes are magnified and the very shallow depth-of-field in many shots (not the CGI but real photography) works against the point of the format. After a steady progression in the brilliant visual quality of big-budget, effects-heavy major releases over the past couple of years, this one takes a few steps backwards.
Not that this incident-jammed yarn is dull or uneventful, far from it. For a genre film of this sort, extra attention has been paid to provide the leads with morsels of human dimensions, including crises of conscience, uncertainty, fallibility, hidden motives and character traits that determine that they sometimes just can't help themselves; these are details that are not essential but nonetheless prove welcome, as they create undercurrents that weren't always there in Star Trek TV episodes or in the previous 11 feature films.
Right off the bat, feelings that surface between the adamantly unemotional Spock (Quinto) and the overtly admiring Uhura (Saldana) add something to an otherwise rampantly hectic opening action sequence set on a volcanic planet. For his part, Kirk (Pine) contents himself upon his return to Earth with a briefly shown three-way with two babes. But the good times end there, as Kirk is upbraided by his superior (Bruce Greenwood) for insubordination and lying about his last mission, his captaincy revoked, while Spock is reassigned. The fundamental difference between the two is nicely played up all the way through: Kirk will cover for his colleague and do what's expedient at the moment, while a Vulcan, as Spock reminds, cannot lie. Both attitudes can cause trouble.
But nothing like the trauma provoked by out-and-out bad guy John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), an insider who is immediately identified as the terrorist behind a huge explosion within a Starfleet archive, causing enormous damage to a very vertical 23rd century London. With Harrison quickly fled to the planet Kronos to hide, Kirk regains his stripes and the Enterprise sets out to capture the criminal without setting off a full-scale war with the local Klingons.
Even here, moral issues between Kirk and Spock come into play that are marginally more engaging than the cranked-up action sequences that are manufactured every ten or fifteen minutes, too often with a rote, push-button feeling to them. Spock objects to the entire nature of the mission, declaring it illegal and “morally wrong” to assassinate a suspect rather than returning him for trial. The flight seems further compromised by the presence of a stranger, Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), a blonde hottie who's the daughter of a Starfleet admiral (Peter Weller), whose own motives seem more than a bit suspicious given his insistence upon transforming the Enterprise into a warship by the installation of special rocket torpedoes.
The crew manages to take Harrison, but under rather different circumstances than anticipated, and the revelation of his true identity will come as no surprise to fanboys who live to unearth this sort of information. There are deceptions and numerous chess moves made purely on hunches or, in Spock's case, by his exceptional ability to determine the precise odds on any eventuality. Desperate suspense scenes chime in like clockwork, sometimes dully spurred by technical malfunctions, and one has Kirk and Harrison zooming through space in outfits that recall the two decades-old The Rocketeer. In the end, justice is served and the day is won, but not without another major city, San Francisco, taking it severely on the chin.
The returning actors all fit their roles with absolute comfort, while the deep-voiced Cumberbatch asserts fully self-justified treachery and Weller and Eve nicely essay equivocal characters. But after impressing well enough in his previous big screen directorial outings, Abrams works in a narrower, less imaginative mode here; there's little sense of style, no grace notes or flights of imagination. One feels the dedication of a young musician at a recital determined not to make any mistakes, but there's no hint of creative interpretation, personal feelings or the spreading of artistic wings. Those anticipating Abrams's take on Star Wars as he embarks upon that franchise will no doubt have plenty of opinions about its future based on this professionally capable but creatively humdrum outing.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #8414 on: May 4th, 2013, 08:26am »
Published on Mar 10, 2013
A man on parole tries to find those who framed him, has all the ingredients of a good film, murder, mystery, a pretty girl and suspense.
B-movies in the 1930s and 40s were inexpensively made and relatively short films that were shown as part of a double-feature. Many were made by "poverty row" studios--tiny independent companies that often rented space on the major studio lots at night. For the most part, Bs are entertaining enough, but also tend to have lesser actors, writers and directors--sort of like the minor leagues for movie people. Because of this, most B-films are not the quality or entertainment level of an A-picture--though there are many, many exceptions. Robert Kent as Dave Tyler Anne Nagel as Julie Warren Sidney Blackmer as Gregory Warren Victor Kilian as Bennett Norman Willis as Russell Maude Eburne as Mrs. Magruder Ben Alexander as Jeff Palmer Pat Flaherty as Sniffy Carleton Young as Pete Jennings Howard C. Hickman as Warden Joan Barclay as Elaine Harry Strang as Tom Lynch