September 15th: A great day out at Arizona insect festival
By Felicity Muth September 4, 2013
I used to have a summer job in Edinburgh’s Butterfly and Insect World. One of the things I would see time and time again would be parents coming in who had already decided that they ‘didn’t like bugs’, and who would influence their children likewise. However, after just a short conversations where they learned a bit about the insect or spider they were less than keen on, their interest would be sparked and they would say that they would see the animal in question differently in the future (and normally with greater respect).
I only knew a little bit about insects when I was having these conversations, and yet it was still enough to spark interest in even the most sceptical. On the 15th September, people have the opportunity to meet actual specialists in insect research, scientists from the University of Arizona, at the Arizona Insect Festival. I’m sure that this year, like previous years, children but also adults, will have a great time handling insects, playing insect-related games, learning some cool facts and meeting interesting people who spend their lives thinking about insects.
What’s great about outreach like this is that it gives people an opportunity to take the kids for a fun day out, where they will actually learn about the nature around them (both on a local and global scale), but at the same time get to themselves hear about the cutting edge research going on using insects.
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — President Barack Obama says his administration will work with the governments of Brazil and Mexico to resolve tensions over allegations that the U.S. monitored their communications.
Obama met separately with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (PAYN'-yuh nee-EH'-toh) and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on the sidelines of an international economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Obama says he assured both leaders that he takes very seriously the allegations of spying on their communications by the National Security Agency. He says he promised to address their concerns.
Both leaders have expressed outrage over revelations that the NSA kept tabs on their communications. Pena Nieto says it would constitute an illegal act. Rousseff responded by canceling a trip to Washington by a team of aides preparing for her upcoming U.S. visit.
China's Xi tells Obama Syria crisis can't be resolved with military strike
By Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING | Fri Sep 6, 2013 8:36am EDT
(Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping told his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama on Friday that the crisis in Syria should not be resolved through a military strike and urged him to consider a political solution, state news agency Xinhua said.
Xi's are the highest-level comments from China since an August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria. They follow remarks by a foreign ministry spokesman, who urged a role for the U.N. Security Council in resolving the crisis after the United States said it had given up trying to work with the council on Syria.
"A political solution is the only right way out for the Syrian crisis, and a military strike cannot solve the problem from the root," Xinhua quoted Xi as telling Obama on the sidelines of a G20 summit in St. Petersburg in Russia.
"We expect certain countries to have a second thought before action."
China has called for a full and impartial investigation by U.N. chemical weapons inspectors in Syria into the attack, and has warned against pre-judging the results. It has also said that whoever used chemical weapons had to be held accountable.
Xi stressed to Obama China's position on adhering to the two principles of "maintaining the basic norms of international law and relations" and the prohibition of the use of chemical weapons, according to remarks broadcast by state television.
He urged the international community to work toward a meeting on Syria at a second conference in Geneva, with the aim of discussing an open political transition in Syria.
Russia and China have both vetoed previous Western efforts to impose U.N. penalties on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But China has also been keen to show it is not taking sides and has urged the Syrian government to talk to the opposition and take steps to meet demands for political change. It has said a transitional government should be formed.
Remarks on Thursday by Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, left no doubt that Washington would not seek U.N. approval for a military strike on Syria in response to the chemical attack.
Asked about those comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Security Council needed to be used.
"China supports the important role that the U.N. Security Council plays in properly resolving the Syria issue," Hong told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
"We hope relevant parties can continue communications and coordination and hold deep consultations so as to resolve the relevant issue in a peaceful way," he added.
Separately, Xi urged Obama to adopt an "objective and fair attitude" in matters related to the Asia-Pacific region, where there are disputes over maritime rights and islands.
Xi also reiterated China's long-held view on resumption of six-party talks on the Korean peninsula.
(Additional reporting by Wang Lan; and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Critics of Syria intervention blast McCain during Phoenix town hall
By Dan Nowicki Thu Sep 5, 2013 3:43 PM
Sen. John McCain felt the heat of opposition to U.S. military intervention in Syria on Thursday during a town-hall meeting in Phoenix that exposed the emotions and ethic and religious tensions connected to crisis in the Middle East.
During his opening remarks at the more than one-hour session, McCain, R-Ariz., had just started making the point that he was against “having a single American boot on the ground” in the Syrian civil war when he was interrupted by war opponents who shouted “not good enough” and “not good enough at all.”
“You don’t respect our view! We didn’t send you to get war for us, we sent you to stop the war,” one man yelled from the audience of about 125 people inside an auditorium at the Burton Barr Central Library.
Throughout the meeting critics in the audience told McCain that the United States shouldn’t get involved when Syria’s neighbors are refusing “to lift a finger” to help; that the U.S. public is against a new war; and that the U.S. has domestic priorities to focus on instead of an attack. One noted that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq used chemical weapons in the 1980s without a similar response from the United States.
The crowd waved signs with messages such as “Don’t Bomb Syria!!!” and “Shame on McCain!”
President Barack Obama has asked Congress to authorize a limited military strike against Syria in response to the administration’s conclusion that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has used chemical weapons against his own people. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, McCain on Wednesday voted in support of a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria. The full Senate and the House are expected to vote as early as next week.
“First of all, I understand your skepticism,” McCain told the at-times hostile crowd, which leaned strongly against attacking Syria. “I understand your concern about the United States of America getting involved in another conflict the way that we got involved in Iraq, telling the American people that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That was the reason to commit our American blood and treasure, and it turned out it was not true.”
However, McCain said the situation is serious because it is very clear that Assad’s regime used chemical weapons to kill more than 1,000 people.
“I’m sure that all of you have seen those graphic and terrible pictures on television, of those children’s bodies stacked up,” McCain said. “It breaks our heart to see that kind of thing happening to innocent women and children.”
McCain emphasized that there is no contemplation of American troops on the ground because Congress wouldn’t agree to it and the American public wouldn’t stand for it.
To the point about Syria’s neighbors, McCain said some of them “are the only ones right now ... that are providing weapons to the (opposition) Free Syrian Army.”
Unless the U.S. acts, Assad would get “a green light to use chemical weapons again” and Iran and North Korea also would be emboldened, he said, and doing nothing could lead to bigger problems for the U.S. in the future.
“There’s no good option here. If I had a good option for you, I would tell you exactly what it is,” McCain said.
But Jumana Hadeed, a Syrian-American who lives in Phoenix, said the best option is “diplomacy and negotiation, not bombs.”
Hadeed told McCain that an 18-year-old cousin of hers was killed 10 days ago “by the so-called rebels and al-Qaida,” adding that foreign fighters are streaming into Syria for the fight.
“Enough is enough. We do not want another engagement in the Middle East,” she said. “Whether you like Bashar Assad or not — I am not a fan, either — but at least he has a secular government going on over there.”
After the town-hall meeting, McCain told members of the media that he is listening to his constituents. He said some in the audience support intervention in Syria and “there’s passion on both sides.”
As McCain was speaking to reporters, one Assad critic from Chandler who identified himself only as “Ra’ed” urged him to make the point that Assad was responsible for American military deaths in Iraq.
McCain called on Obama to better communicate to the American people why the action against Syria is necessary.
“I think that it’s clear that the American people are frustrated by Iraq, and understandably so,” McCain said. “I think they’re very reluctant for what may appear to be further American involvement that would endanger any American boot on the ground. And I think that the president of the United States, speaking from the Oval Office, can provide the American people with the assurance that is necessary. And the president is the only person who can do that.”
McCain grew impatient with a journalist who asked a question suggesting that he had made up his mind on Syria.
“Do you think I would be having a town-hall meeting if I had my mind totally made up? Do you?” McCain responded. “Well, you’re asking a dumb question. You’re really asking dumb questions.”
McCain had another town-hall meeting scheduled in Tucson on Thursday afternoon and in Prescott on Friday.
Automattic was replacing the web server software that underpins its popular WordPress blogging platform, and things weren’t going well.
This was 2008, and the company was intent on moving WordPress to software in line with its open source philosophy. The world’s best-known web server, Apache, was the obvious choice, but when engineers started tinkering with the way the software was setup, Apache would crash, especially when WordPress was really busy. “We realized that it wasn’t super-stable under production traffic,” says Barry Abrahamson, a WordPress “systems wrangler” who helped manage the transition.
So Automattic pulled the plug on its Apache migration and bet the company on a then-unknown open source project called Nginx. Five years later, WordPress still runs on Nginx — pronounced “Engine X” — and so many others have followed suit.
At a time when the world’s best-known web servers are losing marketshare, Nginx is growing, fueled by a no-frills philosophy and its knack for handling myriad web connections at the same time. Apache is still the king of all web servers, but use of Nginx has nearly doubled over the past two years, according to internet research outfit Netcraft.
It now runs about 15 percent of all websites, including everyone from startups such as CloudFlare and Parse (bought by Facebook earlier this year) to web giants such as Automattic and Netflix. “We use it for everything,” says Automattic’s Abrahamson. “We run as much of our software stack as possible on top of Nginx.”
In many ways, it’s an unlikely success story, but one that underscores the global power of open source software, software that anyone can use and modify — for free.
Nginx was created as a pet project by a Russian systems administrator named Igor Sysoev. The 42-year-old started work on the project in 2002, and the first public code came out that October. Like many open source project leaders, he was trying to scratch an itch. At the time, he worked for Rambler, a fast-growing Russian internet portal, and he needed a server that could handle more traffic than the open source alternatives.
As he developed Nginx, he was able to test the code on Rambler’s web properties. But that wasn’t where it first went live. It got picked up first by the MP3 download site, Zvuki, — that was back in 2003 — then an Estonian online dating service and finally it powered Rambler’s own photo-sharing site.
By 2005, there were maybe 100 users, but it was hard for English speakers to figure out how to get up and running. Most of the project’s documentation was in Russian and so was the its most active discussion list. But in 2006, Engish speakers started posting to Ngnx’s discussion list, even as Russian language speakers in the U.S. and other countries helped the project spread, sharing configuration files on blogs and helping to translate the complex documentation so others could pick it up.
When sites like YouTube and Facebook started taking off, Nginx remained obscure, but it was perfectly positioned for the next generation of internet companies, and by the end of decade, it was roping in companies like Automattic and CloudFlare.
In 2009, CloudFlare was building a company that sold websites protection from cyber attacks and services that sped up their performance, and it needed web server software that would work with modern machines that used multi-core processors — computer chips that behave like many chips. According to CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince, Nginx worked better on multi-core and multiprocessor systems, and it could connect with many more web clients without overwhelming the computer’s memory.
Would they have considered obscure Russian software if they hadn’t been able to examine the source code? “Never in a million years,” Prince says. “If it hadn’t been open-source, we wouldn’t have trusted it.”
Instead, CloudFlare offered Sysoev a job (he declined) and bet the company on the project. Today, the company serves more than 1 trillion web requests per month using Nginx. “The great thing about tech is great tech rises to the top,” says Prince. “If it solves the problem… and if it’s open source, you can go in and read the source and, worst-case, you can change it.”
Tokyo 2020 Olympics: hugs, tears and shouts of 'banzai' greet news of victory
Jubilation and relief as Tokyo is chosen over Madrid and Istanbul to host Olympic Games in seven years' time
Justin McCurry in Tokyo Sunday 8 September 2013 05.55 EDT
TV presenters struggled to rein in their emotions while newspapers rushed out special editions. Olympians yelled "Banzai!" and a rainbow emerged through the drizzle as Tokyo greeted the news that it had been chosen to host the 2020 Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Jacques Rogge, had barely finished uttering the city's name thousands of miles away in Buenos Aires when thousands of Tokyoites began celebrating. There were hugs, tears, and relief that the Games were coming to their city for the second time.
The 2,000 supporters who had gathered at a gymnasium near Komazawa stadium – built for the first Tokyo Olympics in 1964 – cheered as the IOC's decision was relayed from Buenos Aires via a big screen. Gold ticker tape fell from the ceiling while TV reporters struggled to make themselves heard.
Some had stayed up all night to wait for the announcement at 5.20am local time; others woke early, buoyed by the news that Madrid – long seen as Tokyo's main rival – had been squeezed out of the running by Istanbul in the first round of voting.
After a two-year campaign that has been far from trouble free, the jubilation was matched by a huge sense of relief.
In recent days, Tokyo's bid appeared to be fading amid a slew of bad news from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 140 miles to the north.
But enough of the 96 voting members of the IOC – if they had any doubts over Fukushima at all – were won over by 11th-hour assurances from Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, that radiation from the plant posed no threat to Tokyo.
"Let me assure you the situation is under control," said Abe, who had left the G20 summit in Russia early to make Tokyo's final pitch. "It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo."
In the end, the margin of victory – 60 votes for Tokyo to Istanbul's 36 – was wider than Japanese bid officials could have dared hoped for.
"My heart was pounding before the announcement – I am so happy," Abe told reporters, adding that Japan would respond to the support it received "by holding a successful Games. I think we conveyed the message that we can hold a safe Olympics."
Mitsushi Matsufuji, a company worker who had jogged from his home to Komazawa to watch the announcement, said the decision had given Japan "courage and hope, especially after the March 2011 disaster".
He added: "I'm willing to trust the government to take care of the problems in Fukushima. It's going to be tough to organise the Games, but this is our chance to tell the rest of the world that Japan is OK."
In another part of the city, more than 1,200 Olympic athletes and dignitaries crammed into a convention hall greeted the news with the traditional victory cry of "Banzai!"
"This is a credit to the efforts of the entire nation," Saori Yoshida, a three-time gold medallist in women's wrestling and a bid ambassador, said. "The chance to see the highest level of sport live is a great chance for everyone, and as an Olympic athlete I'm thrilled."
Having offered assurances that the Fukushima water leaks posed no threat to the health of greater Tokyo's 35 million residents, Abe is expected to come under renewed pressure to address the mounting problems at the plant.
Benghazi haunting Obama effort to win support for Syria strike
By Julian Pecquet 09/08/13 06:00 AM ET
The first anniversary of the Benghazi, Libya terror attack is making it more difficult for President Obama to win support for a military strike against Syria.
Tea Party lawmakers say the Obama administration lacks credibility on Syria because of the Benghazi attack.
“I can't discuss the possibility of the U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war without also talking about Benghazi,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) told Secretary of State John Kerry during a testy exchange at Wednesday's House Foreign Affairs hearing.
“The administration has a serious credibility issue with the American people due to the unanswered questions surrounding the terrorist attack in Benghazi almost a year ago,” Duncan said.
Duncan's line of questioning drew the angriest response of the hours-long hearing.
“We're talking about people being killed by gas and you want to go talk about Benghazi and Fast and Furious,” Kerry replied. “We don't deserve to drag this into yet another Benghazi discussion when the real issue here is whether or not the Congress is going to stand up for international norms.”
The sharp exchange underscored the deep disconnect between the administration and congressional Republicans over Benghazi.
Those who want to punish the Bashar Assad regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons have trouble seeing any connection with Benghazi. But many Americans are convinced of a nefarious cover-up involving covert CIA operations and gun-running to Syria.
Benghazi will share the spotlight with Syria on Wednesday, when thousands come to Capitol Hill for events commemorating the one-year anniversary.
For the first time, the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack will also be marked by people who want the nation to remember Benghazi.
Special Forces Speaks, a group of special forces veterans, is sending about 50 supporters to Congress early next week to press lawmakers to vote “no” on Syria, the group told The Hill. The veterans will be targeting House Republicans and urging them to resist any intervention in Syria until after Congress creates a select committee to investigate Benghazi and the panel's findings are made public.
“It'll help us determine all the players in this [Syria] conflict,” said the group's political director, Larry Ward. “We need a clear picture.”
Duncan seemed to agree at last week's hearing.
“The American people deserve answers about Benghazi before we move forward with military involvement in Syria's civil war,” he said.
Ward said his group's members overwhelming oppose intervention in Syria. The Syria debate, he said, “is fueling the grassroots and fueling the calls for an investigation into Benghazi because our foreign policy is a disaster.”
“All we're doing is making the rest of the world angry at us,” he said.
Those sentiments are widely shared by Tea Party Republicans on Capitol Hill. Some 131 House members – 100 Republicans and 31 Democrats – were leaning “no” as of Friday afternoon, according to The Hill's whip list, versus only 31 leaning “yes.”
Some lawmakers have gone as far as suggesting Obama's call for military action is timed to detract attention from Benghazi and other issues they deem to be “scandals.” President Bill Clinton faced similar accusations in 1998 when he ordered strikes against Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan.
“With the president's red line, why was there no call for military response [after reports of chemical weapons use] in April?” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) asked Kerry on Wednesday. “Was it delayed to divert attention today from the Benghazi, IRS, NSA scandals, the failure of Obamacare enforcement, the tragedy of the White House-drafted sequestration, or the upcoming debt limit vote?”
Others have been more diplomatic.
“Secretary Kerry, you spoke about how the use of this gas breached the norms of civilized behavior,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.). “As I look at this, that same line of reasoning should have applied to Benghazi.
“The assassination of a diplomat breaches norms that were recognized probably far longer than norms against use of sarin gas. And yet the U.S. has not acted to avenge the death of the four Americans, including our ambassador, who were massacred in Benghazi.”
It’s currently the world’s longest and fastest stretch of maglev train, reaching speeds as high as 310 mph in a demonstration last week. But Japan’s L-Zero only lives on 26 miles1 of test track, and we’re still more than a decade away from completion.
After five years of trials, plus some starts and stops, Central Japan Railway Co. is finally starting construction on a maglev line between Nagoya and Tokyo, a 177-mile trip that will be cut from 95 minutes on today’s high-speed trains to just 40 minutes with maglev by 2027. To put that kind of speed in perspective, Amtrak’s Acela takes about 3 hours and 40 minutes to go about 210 miles. A trip from Boston to New York on maglev would take under an hour.
By 2045, JR Central hopes to extend the line to Osaka, which will cut the number of passengers on the frequent flights between the two cities. When built, the maglev will join an airport line in Shanghai and a low-speed train in Nagoya, among other rail systems that use magnets to float rail cars above a track to reduce friction and increase stability.
While Japan’s maglev promises to be an impressive technical feat, there’s some worry that Japan’s population won’t be big enough to sustain it. The Nagoya extension alone is expected to cost anywhere from $52 billion to as much as $90 billion, 2 thanks to the difficulty of tunneling through cities and mountains to make a straight track.
According to Bloomberg, there’s a good chance that the construction will face significant delays. If demographic trends continue, that means Japan’s population may fall low enough to significantly reduce demand for the train once it’s built.
Luckily, JR Central is a hugely profitable company with a history of high profits from its current bullet trains. Last fiscal year, the company had a cash flow of $2.95 billion dollars. Along with loans and bonds, that money can easily pay for a major infrastructure project.
That kind of confidence was on display as journalists, railway executives and other VIPs rode the test track. Even though it beat a world speed record and accelerated to more than four times highway speed limits, those on board were merely pleased — not necessarily impressed.
“Compared with the bullet train, there was a slightly noticeable feeling of speed,” Transport Minister Akihiro Ohta told Bloomberg.
This Chrome U, magnet, or horse shoe shaped object with a light, was sighted and recorded on August 17th around 5pm in Hawaii after a group of people reported seeing this object very low to the ground by the 7-11 parking lot in Kalihi, near Honolulu, Hawaii. (island of Oahu). It was described as the size of a large car, looked chrome like but not reflective, and made no sound.
As of now this is considered an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) and we are putting it out there to see if anyone has seen this before or has any feedback. We are open for thoughtful and respectful opinions.
By Marcel Rosenbach, Laura Poitras and Holger Stark 9 September 2013
Michael Hayden has an interesting story to tell about the iPhone. He and his wife were in an Apple store in Virginia, Hayden, the former head of the United States National Security Agency (NSA), said at a conference in Washington recently. A salesman approached and raved about the iPhone, saying that there were already "400,000 apps" for the device. Hayden, amused, turned to his wife and quietly asked: "This kid doesn't know who I am, does he? Four-hundred-thousand apps means 400,000 possibilities for attacks."
Hayden was apparently exaggerating only slightly. According to internal NSA documents from the Edward Snowden archive that SPIEGEL has been granted access to, the US intelligence service doesn't just bug embassies and access data from undersea cables to gain information. The NSA is also extremely interested in that new form of communication which has experienced such breathtaking success in recent years: smartphones.
In Germany, more than 50 percent of all mobile phone users now possess a smartphone; in the UK, the share is two-thirds. About 130 million people in the US have such a device. The mini-computers have become personal communication centers, digital assistants and life coaches, and they often know more about their users than most users suspect.
For an agency like the NSA, the data storage units are a goldmine, combining in a single device almost all the information that would interest an intelligence agency: social contacts, details about the user's behavior and location, interests (through search terms, for example), photos and sometimes credit card numbers and passwords.
Smartphones, in short, are a wonderful technical innovation, but also a terrific opportunity to spy on people, opening doors that even such a powerful organization as the NSA couldn't look behind until now.
From the standpoint of the computer experts at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the colossal success of smartphones posed an enormous challenge at first. They opened so many new channels, that it seemed as if the NSA agents wouldn't be able to see the forest for the trees.
According to an internal NSA report from 2010 titled, "Exploring Current Trends, Targets and Techniques," the spread of smartphones was happening "extremely rapidly" -- developments that "certainly complicate traditional target analysis."
The NSA tackled the issue at the same speed with which the devices changed user behavior. According to the documents, it set up task forces for the leading smartphone manufacturers and operating systems. Specialized teams began intensively studying Apple's iPhone and its iOS operating system, as well as Google's Android mobile operating system. Another team worked on ways to attack BlackBerry, which had been seen as an impregnable fortress until then.
The material contains no indications of large-scale spying on smartphone users, and yet the documents leave no doubt that if the intelligence service defines a smartphone as a target, it will find a way to gain access to its information.
Still, it is awkward enough that the NSA is targeting devices made by US companies such as Apple and Google. The BlackBerry case is no less sensitive, since the company is based in Canada, one of the partner countries in the NSA's "Five Eyes" alliance. The members of this select group have agreed not to engage in any spying activities against one another.
In this case, at any rate, the no-spy policy doesn't seem to apply. In the documents relating to smartphones that SPIEGEL was able to view, there are no indications that the companies cooperated with the NSA voluntarily.
When contacted, BlackBerry officials said that it is not the company's job to comment on alleged surveillance by governments. "Our public statements and principles have long underscored that there is no 'back door' pipeline to our platform," the company said in a statement. Google issued a statement claiming: "We have no knowledge of working groups like these and do not provide any government with access to our systems." The NSA did not respond to questions from SPIEGEL by the time the magazine went to print.
In exploiting the smartphone, the intelligence agency takes advantage of the carefree approach many users take to the device. According to one NSA presentation, smartphone users demonstrate "nomophobia," or "no mobile phobia." The only thing many users worry about is losing reception. A detailed NSA presentation titled, "Does your target have a smartphone?" shows how extensive the surveillance methods against users of Apple's popular iPhone already are.
In three consecutive transparencies, the authors of the presentation draw a comparison with "1984," George Orwell's classic novel about a surveillance state, revealing the agency's current view of smartphones and their users. "Who knew in 1984 that this would be Big Brother …" the authors ask, in reference to a photo of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. And commenting on photos of enthusiastic Apple customers and iPhone users, the NSA writes: "… and the zombies would be paying customers?"
In fact, given the targets it defines, the NSA can select a broad spectrum of user data from Apple's most lucrative product, at least if one is to believe the agency's account.