Video Games and Cigarettes: Syria's Disneyland for Jihadists
By Christoph Reuter 27 September 2013
Foreign Islamists coming into Syria have been gathering in the relatively quiet north. But many of them are finding transit towns -- with good food, video games and smoking -- preferable to the front. When they do end up fighting, it's often with each other.
Atmeh looks like the set for a movie about al-Qaida. New arrivals pulling suitcases on wheels search for their emirs, Africans and Asians can be seen on the village streets, and long-haired men dressed in traditional Afghan clothing walk around wielding AK-47s. There are patrons at the local kebab stand whose northern English dialect is peppered with Arabic words and phrases. "Subhan'Allah, bro, I asked for ketchup," says one man. The many languages heard on the street include Russian, Azerbaijani and Arabic spoken with a guttural Saudi Arabian accent.
The once-sleepy smugglers' nest on the Turkish border has become a mecca for jihad tourists from around the world. A year ago, SPIEGEL reporters in Atmeh met with one of the first foreign fighters in Syria, a young Iraqi who said that he had come to overthrow the dictatorship. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 jihadists are staying in and around Atmeh, making it the densest accumulation of jihadists in all of Syria. Ironically, while war rages in the rest of the country, the foreign jihadists have made one of Syria's quietest spots into their base. Or perhaps they have chosen Atmeh precisely because it is so quiet. Once they arrive, many are reluctant to leave.
The Turkish mobile phone network provides strong reception, and the shops carry Afghan pakol wool hats, al-Qaida caps and knee-length black shirts made of the same coarse material used in the Pakistani tribal regions. New restaurants have popped up, and a company called International Contacts books flights and exchanges Saudi riyals, British pounds, euros and US dollars into the local currency. The pharmacy sells miswak, a teeth-cleaning stick from Pakistan with which the Prophet Muhammed supposedly brushed his teeth. The package label promises that the use of miswak increases the effectiveness of subsequent prayers by a factor of 70.
The Jihadist is Always Right
A third Internet café opened in mid-June to accommodate the many jihadists wanting to communicate with their relatives and friends at home via phone, email or chat programs. This prompted the owner of the first café to hang al-Qaida flags above his computers as a sign of loyalty to his customers. The move has improved business despite the growing competition. The heavily armed customers use Skype to tell their friends at home about what a paradise Atmeh is. The rents are cheap, they say, the weather and food are good, they can walk around with their weapons and, with a little luck, they can even find wives. In the evenings, the sound of several jihadists playing Counter-Strike spills into the streets in a cacophony of video game warfare. In Atmeh, the holy war is a costume spectacle, and everyone can feel as if he were part of it -- without suffering any harm. In August, a restaurant specializing in various national dishes for the international crowd of jihadists opened in Atmeh. Falafito has koshari for Egyptians, falafel for Saudis and chicken tikka for Pakistanis, to list just a few offerings.
Even local business owners are pleased about their fanatical clientele. The Syrian salesman in a mobile phone shop says: "A man from Dagestan comes here every few days. First he bought a Samsung Galaxy, a week later he bought an iPad, and then he bought a newer model of the Samsung Galaxy. He must have spent more than $1,000 (€740) here."
Why are the foreigners in Atmeh in the first place, asks an exasperated local commander with the Free Syrian Army (FSA)? "If they have come here to fight, then the front is that way," he adds, pointing east.
In fact, Atmeh is a transit station for jihadists who usually arrive at the nearby Turkish airport in Hatay. Some remain in the region, while others continue on to Aleppo, to the mountains of Latakia, to Rakka in the east, or to wherever the unclear front happens to be.
Some Syrian rebels team up with the jihadists, but many find the foreigners sinister. And even when the latter do fight against regime troops, FSA commanders are puzzled as to why commanders like Abu Omar al-Shishani, from Chechnya, aren't using the ammunition and anti-aircraft missiles they have obtained. Indeed, the FSA commanders fear the jihadists could use their weapons against Syrian rebels or even in terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world.
'We Can't Afford a Second Front'
"We hope that the jihadists leave again after (Syrian President Bashar) Assad has been overthrown," says Hassan Hamada, a former colonel in Syria's air force who made headlines a year ago when he defected to Jordan with his MiG-21. Hamada is now a member of the FSA leadership in northern Syria. "For now, we can't afford a second front," he says.
So, for the time being, they are fighting side by side, and jihadist and secular fighters still coexist. Shops in Atmeh sell music CDs, and women still wear trousers in the streets. This is because there is no power vacuum in Atmeh like the one there was in Iraq in 2003. Instead, there is a complicated structure of local councils, FSA brigades and moderate Islamists with whom the radicals must come to terms.
When the foreign fighters are asked about their plans, they only mention Syria as a stage. "First there is jihad here, until we achieve victory! Then we will liberate Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine," says a young Arab from the UK. Israel is no longer of paramount importance now that Shiites are seen as the real enemies. Although Shiites are also Muslims, the Sunni radicals believe they are worse than any infidel.
These are the kinds of things they say in Atmeh, but their influence is already fading in Daret Azzeh, a city 25 kilometers (16 miles) away, where the FSA thwarted the jihadists' efforts to assume power. Now the two groups work rotating shifts at checkpoints. But when the town council asked for help in repairing a water line, the jihadists merely shrugged their shoulders. "They want to take over half the world," says Ahmed Rashid, a lawyer and town council member, "but they would already fail in a small city."
Disparate Groups Lacking Solid Leadership
Meanwhile, in Atmeh, the jihadists are practicing a way of life that existed in the days of the Prophet, albeit with such amenities as Facebook and Counter-Strike. Though unintended, the scene is reminiscent of the early days of Islam, after the death of the Prophet, when three of the first four caliphs grappled with rivals from within their own ranks. All the radicals in Atmeh want a theocracy, but this doesn't stop individual groups from constantly maligning each other, becoming rivals and occasionally starting feuds. In mid-June, there were at least five jihadist groups in and around Atmeh:
Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-Iraq wa bilad al-Sham (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), a growing group with more than 200 adherents
Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Helpers), with about 170 fighters
Abu al-Banat, a group of about 70 men, named after its emir and consisting almost exclusively of Chechens, Dagestanis and Azerbaijanis. Its numbers are declining.
Abu Musab al-Jazairi, named after its Algerian founder and financier, with about 60 members Jabat al-Nusra (Front of Defense), with about 100 fighters
Al-Nusra is the murkiest of the groups, and it is in the process of disintegrating, at least in Idlib province, now that its leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, who has never appeared in person, swore allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in April 2013. The rank and file in Syria have a low opinion of Zawahiri for several reasons. The Egyptian is not seen as particularly charismatic, and although he managed to have himself named the successor of former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden from his hiding place in the Afghan-Pakistani border region, he has failed to unite the terrorist conglomerate, allowing new groups to grow along its fringes.
In addition, jihadist pilgrims want a leader to call the shots. They want an emir in the flesh, someone who issues commands and delivers verdicts in person. But al-Nusra lacks such an emir. Even in their own propaganda videos, all that one sees of Abu Mohammed al-Golani is a figure with a tinny, distorted voice and pixelated face. Members often say that they know someone who knows someone who has met the emir, but that, upon closer examination, their stories often come to nothing. Several former al-Nusra members from Aleppo, Idlib and Damascus have said in recent months that no one has ever seen or even spoken with the man.
Besides, says a Syrian who left al-Nusra to join Dawla, the latter is "cooler." Members can smoke, he says, as long as no one is watching. This is an important competitive advantage in the chain-smoking Syrian rebel community. Cigarettes are normally taboo among the jihadists because "smoking drives away the angels and delays our victory," says the former al-Nusra member, quoting his local ex-emir.
Taking Extremism Too Far
While many of the Syrian al-Nusra members have gravitated to more moderate groups, the foreigners have joined Dawla, which has become the strongest group in the north.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is suing North Carolina for alleged racial discrimination over its tough new voting rules, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday.
"By restricting access and ease of voter participation, this new law would shrink, rather than expand, access" to voting, Holder said at a news conference. "Allowing limits on voting rights that disproportionately exclude minority voters would be inconsistent with our ideals as a nation."
The lawsuit is the latest effort by the Obama administration to counter a Supreme Court decision that struck down the most powerful part of the landmark Voting Rights Act and freed states, many of them in the South, from strict federal oversight of their elections.
North Carolina has a new law that scales back the period for early voting and imposes stringent voter identification requirements. It is among at least five Southern states adopting stricter voter ID and other election laws. The Justice Department on Aug. 22 sued Texas over the state's voter ID law and is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit over redistricting laws in Texas that minority groups consider to be discriminatory.
Republican lawmakers in southern states insist the new measures are needed to prevent voter fraud, though such crimes are infrequent. Democrats and civil rights groups argue the tough new laws are intended to make voting more difficult for minorities and students, voting groups that lean toward Democrats, in states with legacies of poll taxes and literacy tests.
The North Carolina lawsuit challenges the state law's elimination of the first seven days of early voting opportunities and its elimination of same-day voter registration during the early voting period. Same-day registration allows voters to cast a ballot immediately after presenting election officials with proof of their name and home address.
The Justice Department challenge also is aimed at a provision eliminating the counting of certain types of provisional ballots by voters who cast ballots in their home counties but do not vote in the correct precincts.
Finally, the federal government is challenging a provision in the new law that requires voters to present government-issued identification at the polls in order to cast ballots. In North Carolina, a recent state board of elections survey found that hundreds of thousands of registered voters did not have a state-issued ID. Many of those voters are young, black, poor or elderly.
In remarks Sept. 20 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Holder said his department would not allow the Supreme Court's action to be interpreted as "open season" for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.
The Justice Department is asking a federal judge to place the four provisions in North Carolina's new law under federal scrutiny for an indeterminate period — a process known as pre-clearance. However, the provision of the Voting Rights Act that the department is relying on may be a difficult tool to use.
A handful of jurisdictions have been subjected to pre-clearance, or advance approval, of election changes through the Civil Rights Act provision it is relying on, but a court first must find that a state or local government engaged in intentional discrimination under the Constitution's 14th or 15th amendments, or the jurisdiction has to admit to discrimination. Unlike in other parts of the voting law, the discriminatory effect of an action is not enough to trigger court review.
Nowhere is the debate over voting rights is more heated than in Florida, where the chaotic recount in the disputed 2000 presidential race took place.
Florida election officials are set to resume an effort to remove noncitizens from the state's voting rolls. A purge last year ended in embarrassment after hundreds of American citizens, most of whom were black or Hispanic, were asked to prove their citizenship or risk losing their right to vote.
AP reporter Michael J. Mishak contributed to this report.
UFO Sightings: 3 UFOs Captured with Zoom and Night Vision Over Wittenberge, Germany [VIDEO]
By Jenalyn Villamarin September 30, 2013 4:17 PM EST
Three UFOs were captured last September 18, Wednesday, over Wittenberge, Germany with the use of a camera's zoom and night vision features. UFOFilesTV shared the video online with the person who videotaped the UFO sighting remaining anonymous.
TheSOP report describes the UFOFilesTV as the "new kind of UFO agency on YouTube." The UFOFilesTV goal is "to upload real UFO sightings because with today's modern Computer technology, you can fake many things."
The shared UFO video shows three unidentified flying objects, two were triangular-shaped while the third one appears to be circular. As the UFOs move close to each other, the triangular-shaped objects can be seen individually rotating until the two resisted each other when they came close comparable to a magnet's opposite sides.
Before the video ends, it showed how the triangular-shaped object took off at an unbelievable speed. The shared video had no reference points like trees, hills or buildings which made former FBI Special Agent Ben Hansen comment in an email to the Huffington Post that the UFOs were "too defined."
"Although the latest night vision technology is very good, when we film in near total darkness, the most intensely lit objects typically give off a slight 'halo' or 'blooming' effect. The video has signs of night vision fakery. It looks like they added a night vision video effect with a green tint and even some 'grainy noise' -- the sparkling pixels which are common when night vision is shot in near complete darkness," Mr Hansen, lead investigator of Syfy Channels' "Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files" series, stated.
The former FBI Agent further added that he was expecting to see a brighter sky even if the video recording used the older night vision technology to have more information in analyzing Germany's UFO sighting. "Perhaps the trickiest aspect about the proliferation of alleged UFO evidence online is that many of them choose to remain anonymous," Mr Hansen declared.
He further explained: "Not only are they nameless 'witnesses', but the videos get reposted by so many users that it's sometimes impossible to determine the identity of the original videographer. This often makes the Internet a hoaxer's amusement park. They don't have to answer questions. They don't have to provide further details."
NSA stores metadata of millions of web users for up to a year, secret files show
• Vast amounts of data kept in repository codenamed Marina • Data retained regardless of whether person is NSA target • Material used to build 'pattern-of-life' profiles of individuals
by James Ball Monday 30 September 2013 12.35 EDT
The National Security Agency is storing the online metadata of millions of internet users for up to a year, regardless of whether or not they are persons of interest to the agency, top secret documents reveal.
Metadata provides a record of almost anything a user does online, from browsing history – such as map searches and websites visited – to account details, email activity, and even some account passwords. This can be used to build a detailed picture of an individual's life.
The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that the NSA keeps only the content of messages and communications of people it is intentionally targeting – but internal documents reveal the agency retains vast amounts of metadata.
An introductory guide to digital network intelligence for NSA field agents, included in documents disclosed by former contractor Edward Snowden, describes the agency's metadata repository, codenamed Marina. Any computer metadata picked up by NSA collection systems is routed to the Marina database, the guide explains. Phone metadata is sent to a separate system.
"The Marina metadata application tracks a user's browser experience, gathers contact information/content and develops summaries of target," the analysts' guide explains. "This tool offers the ability to export the data in a variety of formats, as well as create various charts to assist in pattern-of-life development."
The guide goes on to explain Marina's unique capability: "Of the more distinguishing features, Marina has the ability to look back on the last 365 days' worth of DNI metadata seen by the Sigint collection system, regardless whether or not it was tasked for collection." [Emphasis in original.]
On Saturday, the New York Times reported that the NSA was using its metadata troves to build profiles of US citizens' social connections, associations and in some cases location, augmenting the material the agency collects with additional information bought in from the commercial sector, which is is not subject to the same legal restrictions as other data.
The ability to look back on a full year's history for any individual whose data was collected – either deliberately or incidentally – offers the NSA the potential to find information on people who have later become targets. But it relies on storing the personal data of large numbers of internet users who are not, and never will be, of interest to the US intelligence community.
Marina aggregates NSA metadata from an array of sources, some targeted, others on a large scale. Programs such as Prism – which operates though legally-compelled "partnerships" with major internet companies – allow the NSA to obtain content and metadata on thousands of targets without individual warrants.
The NSA also collects enormous quantities of metadata from the fibre-optic cables that make up the backbone of the internet. The agency has placed taps on undersea cables, and is given access to internet data through partnerships with American telecoms companies.
About 90% of the world's online communications cross the US, giving the NSA what it calls in classified documents a "home-field advantage" when it comes to intercepting information.
By confirming that all metadata "seen" by NSA collection systems is stored, the Marina document suggests such collections are not merely used to filter target information, but also to store data at scale.
A sign of how much information could be contained within the repository comes from a document voluntarily disclosed by the NSA in August, in the wake of the first tranche of revelations from the Snowden documents.
The seven-page document, titled "The National Security Agency: Missions, Authorities, Oversight and Partnerships", says the agency "touches" 1.6% of daily internet traffic – an estimate which is not believed to include large-scale internet taps operated by GCHQ, the NSA's UK counterpart.
The document cites figures from a major tech provider that the internet carries 1,826 petabytes of information per day. One petabyte, according to tech website Gizmodo, is equivalent to over 13 years of HDTV video.
"In its foreign intelligence mission, NSA touches about 1.6% of that," the document states. "However, of the 1.6% of the data, only 0.025% is actually selected for review.
"The net effect is that NSA analysts look at 0.00004% of the world's traffic in conducting their mission – that's less than one part in a million."
However, critics were skeptical of the reassurances, because large quantities of internet data is represented by music and video sharing, or large file transfers – content which is easy to identify and dismiss without entering it into systems. Therefore, the NSA could be picking up a much larger percentage of internet traffic that contains communications and browsing activity.
Journalism professor and internet commentator Jeff Jarvis noted: "[By] very rough, beer-soaked-napkin numbers, the NSA's 1.6% of net traffic would be half of the communication on the net. That's one helluva lot of 'touching'."
Much of the NSA's data collection collection is carried out under section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act. This provision allows for the collection of data without individual warrants of communications, where at least one end of the conversation, or data exchange, involves a non-American located outside the US at the time of collection.
The NSA is required to "minimize" the data of US persons, but is permitted to keep US communications where it is not technically possible to remove them, and also to keep and use any "inadvertently" obtained US communications if they contain intelligence material, evidence of a crime, or if they are encrypted.
The Guardian has also revealed the existence of a so-called "backdoor search loophole", a 2011 rule change that allows NSA analysts to search for the names of US citizens, under certain circumstances, in mass-data repositories collected under section 702.
According to the New York Times, NSA analysts were told that metadata could be used "without regard to the nationality or location of the communicants", and that Americans' social contacts could be traced by the agency, providing there was some foreign intelligence justification for doing so.
The Guardian approached the NSA with four specific questions about the use of metadata, including a request for the rationale behind storing 365 days' worth of untargeted data, and an estimate of the quantity of US citizens' metadata stored in its repositories.
But the NSA did not address any of these questions in its response, providing instead a statement focusing on its foreign intelligence activities.
"NSA is a foreign intelligence agency," the statement said. "NSA's foreign intelligence activities are conducted pursuant to procedures approved by the US attorney general and the secretary of defense, and, where applicable, the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court, to protect the privacy interests of Americans.
"These interests must be addressed in the collection, retention, and dissemination of any information. Moreover, all queries of lawfully collected data must be conducted for a foreign intelligence purpose."
It continued: "We know there is a false perception out there that NSA listens to the phone calls and reads the email of everyday Americans, aiming to unlawfully monitor or profile US citizens. It's just not the case.
"NSA's activities are directed against foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements from US leaders in order to protect the nation and its interests from threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
7 pics merging old and new Trek casts reveal perfect Enterprise crew
What happens when you combine the cast of the original Star Trek with those from the reboot? Let's find out.
William Shatner, nearly half a century later, is still the James T. Kirk. Chris Pine's take on Captain Kirk is pretty stellar, too. And the same can be said for all the cast members from the original show and the new movies.
So, rather than choose which is better (like we used to back in the Kirk vs. Picard days), instead let's just combine them. That's exactly what ThatNordicGuy did and the results are pretty stellar. So check out the 7 perfect crew members of the Enterprise, and then click here to see Pike and Khan get the combo treatment, too.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #9203 on: Oct 1st, 2013, 10:39am »
Secretive Vatican bank takes step to transparency
By NICOLE WINFIELD — Oct. 1 11:25 AM EDT
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican took another step in its efforts to be more financially transparent by publishing a first-ever annual report for the Vatican bank on Tuesday. It comes as Italian prosecutors investigate alleged money-laundering there, a Vatican monsignor remains in detention and the pope himself probes the problems that have brought such scandal to the institution.
Net earnings at the bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works, rose more than four-fold to 86.6 million euros ($116.95 million) in 2012, the report said. More than 50 million euros of that was given to the pope for his charitable works.
The improvement in earnings was driven by profits made on the value of securities that the bank held and sold — net trading income rose to 51.1 million euros from a loss of 38.2 million euros in 2011.
The picture may not be so rosy for 2013, with rising interest rates cutting into profits and millions of euros earmarked for the IOR's ongoing transparency process, which has involved hiring outside legal, financial and communications experts to revamp its procedures, review its client base and remake its image.
"Overall, we expect 2013 to be marked by the extraordinary expenses for the ongoing reform and remediation process, and the effects of rising interest rates," bank president Ernst von Freyberg said in a statement.
He said the publication of the report meets the bank's commitment to providing transparency about its activities.
Aside from the earnings, the 100-page report published Tuesday provides some fascinating reading about the secretive institution: The IOR in 2012 had 41.3 million euros in gold, metals and precious coins, owned a real estate company and was bequeathed two investment properties worth 1.9 million euros. It also made some 25.8 million euros in loans in 2012.
The Vatican has long insisted the IOR isn't a bank but a unique financial institution aimed at managing assets for religious or charitable works — a distinction that presumably helped it avoid typical banking regulations. Yet in the past year, the IOR has slowly revealed itself to work very much like a bank, providing asset management services to its clients, earning some 12.2 million euros in fees and commissions for such services in 2012 and making loans.
The Vatican is about to enter a second round of international scrutiny by the Council of Europe's Moneyval committee, which helps countries comply with international norms to fight money laundering and terrorist financing. The Vatican passed Moneyval's inaugural inspection last year, but evaluators gave the IOR and the Vatican's financial oversight agency poor or failing grades for insufficient controls to ensure that its clients and assets were clean.
The report was released as Rome prosecutors continue to investigate a Vatican accountant, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, who was arrested in an alleged plot to bring 20 million euros into Italy from Switzerland without declaring it at customs. Scarano is also under investigation in his native Salerno for allegedly laundering money through his IOR account. His lawyer has insisted the money was clean and that he was only trying to help out friends.
The IOR's former top managers, Paolo Cipriani and Massimo Tulli, meanwhile, are under investigation by Rome prosecutors for alleged violations of Italy's anti-money laundering norms. Rome financial police launched the investigation in 2010, seizing 23 million euros ($30 million) from a Vatican account at an Italian bank after determining that the IOR hadn't provided sufficient information about the transaction. The Vatican has said it was a misunderstanding and money was eventually ordered released.
Cipriani and Tulli resigned in July.
Around the same time, Pope Francis created a commission of inquiry into the IOR to look into every aspect of its operations to get to the bottom of the scandals that have bedeviled it. The commission has wide-ranging authority to obtain documents, data and information, even overriding traditional banking secrecy rules to get it. Francis also named a trusted prelate to be his eyes inside the bank to figure out what really goes on inside the tower just inside the Vatican walls.
The Vatican bank was founded in 1942 by Pope Pius XII. It employs 114 people, runs the Vatican pension system and oversees about 6.3 billion euros in customer assets. Its customer base has been reduced from some 21,000 customers in 2011 to 18,900 last year, thanks to efforts to close inactive accounts. Customers include religious orders; Vatican offices, embassies and employees; individual cardinals, bishops and priests and foreign embassies accredited to the Holy See.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #9204 on: Oct 1st, 2013, 10:43am »
Amazing Facial Hair Photos From a National Beard Brawl
By Doug Bierend 10.01.13 6:30 AM
The House of Blues in New Orleans became the House of Beards recently when it hosted the 2013 National Beard and Moustache Championships. Photographer Greg Anderson was there to document some of the most audacious facial fabrications descending on Naw’lins to compete.
Having just learned about the 2012 championships the day after it rolled through Las Vegas, where Anderson lives, he was determined catch it the next time around. With an interest in producing technically pristine photos, he wanted to see these magnificent specimens portrayed in the right light.
“It’s been done badly a lot of times, and I think I took this as an opportunity to put my spin on it and show what I could do with it,” says Anderson.
These aren’t your average crumb catchers, with elaborate designs that extend from whiskers to wardrobe to persona. Is your beard a full Geribaldi or a partial Musketeer? Is your mustache Imperial or Hungarian? In the case of full beards, a U.S.-dominated category on the international stage, extra points are given for density, shape and color in addition to the standard appraisal of overall length. The 17 categories of facial hair are held to rules that govern parameters like length, shape, use of styling aids, coloring, fullness and whether the beard is connected to the mustache.
Many contestants stay in touch as friends outside of the contest, with the annual competition serving as a sort of a main event. Sponsorship from a beer distributor also helped keep spirits loose and easy at this year’s event, but people were still there to win — to compete in the facial hair-arena, you have to be fully committed. Anderson, normally clean-shaven, decided he would stick to taking pictures and left the scruff to the professionals.
“I thought about growing a mustache or some sort of beard, but I didn’t want to be seen as pandering,” he says.
Shooting these portraits wasn’t all fun and games — Anderson took around 2,500 shots over the course of two days, lugging some of his own equipment and renting others, bringing an assistant along to help. Using a medium-format camera that takes extra time to focus, he shot by hand without the help of a tripod throughout sessions that lasted over six hours. Convincing the contestants to pose for the series, however, was not so tough.
“Growing a beard in general is an attention-grabber — you set up the lights and they show up,” says Anderson.
A calendar and book of photos are in the works, and Anderson has been named the official photographer of the 2014 world series being held in Portland, Oregon. It’ll be the third ever world championship held in the States, with this year’s being held in Germany, a dominant nation in the world of bearding. Anderson plans on producing a coffee table book of that competition. While this series remains a personal project for him, he says it has opened the door to a new community of great people. Anyone interested in being part the bearding community and getting into this photo series should start preparing now, though — this is a competition that’s on the grow.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #9205 on: Oct 1st, 2013, 10:45am »
Ingredient of Household Plastic Found in Space
Sep. 30, 2013 — NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected propylene, a chemical used to make food-storage containers, car bumpers and other consumer products, on Saturn's moon Titan.
This is the first definitive detection of the plastic ingredient on any moon or planet, other than Earth.
A small amount of propylene was identified in Titan's lower atmosphere by Cassini's Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS). This instrument measures the infrared light, or heat radiation, emitted from Saturn and its moons in much the same way our hands feel the warmth of a fire.
Propylene is the first molecule to be discovered on Titan using CIRS. By isolating the same signal at various altitudes within the lower atmosphere, researchers identified the chemical with a high degree of confidence. Details are presented in a paper in the Sept. 30 edition of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
"This chemical is all around us in everyday life, strung together in long chains to form a plastic called polypropylene," said Conor Nixon, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and lead author of the paper. "That plastic container at the grocery store with the recycling code 5 on the bottom -- that's polypropylene."
CIRS can identify a particular gas glowing in the lower layers of the atmosphere from its unique thermal fingerprint. The challenge is to isolate this one signature from the signals of all other gases around it.
The detection of the chemical fills in a mysterious gap in Titan observations that dates back to NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft and the first-ever close flyby of this moon in 1980.
Voyager identified many of the gases in Titan's hazy brownish atmosphere as hydrocarbons, the chemicals that primarily make up petroleum and other fossil fuels on Earth.
On Titan, hydrocarbons form after sunlight breaks apart methane, the second-most plentiful gas in that atmosphere. The newly freed fragments can link up to form chains with two, three or more carbons. The family of chemicals with two carbons includes the flammable gas ethane. Propane, a common fuel for portable stoves, belongs to the three-carbon family.
Voyager detected all members of the one- and two-carbon families in Titan's atmosphere. From the three-carbon family, the spacecraft found propane, the heaviest member, and propyne, one of the lightest members. But the middle chemicals, one of which is propylene, were missing.
As researchers continued to discover more and more chemicals in Titan's atmosphere using ground- and space-based instruments, propylene was one that remained elusive. It was finally found as a result of more detailed analysis of the CIRS data.
"This measurement was very difficult to make because propylene's weak signature is crowded by related chemicals with much stronger signals," said Michael Flasar, Goddard scientist and principal investigator for CIRS. "This success boosts our confidence that we will find still more chemicals long hidden in Titan's atmosphere."
Cassini's mass spectrometer, a device that looks at the composition of Titan's atmosphere, had hinted earlier that propylene might be present in the upper atmosphere. However, a positive identification had not been made.
"I am always excited when scientists discover a molecule that has never been observed before in an atmosphere," said Scott Edgington, Cassini's deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "This new piece of the puzzle will provide an additional test of how well we understand the chemical zoo that makes up Titan's atmosphere."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #9206 on: Oct 1st, 2013, 10:48am »
Jellyfish clog pipes of Swedish nuclear reactor forcing plant shutdown
Tuesday 1 October 2013 11.34 EDT
A huge cluster of jellyfish forced the Oskarshamn plant, the site of one of the world's largest nuclear reactors, to shut down, by clogging the pipes conducting cool water to the turbines.
Operators of the plant, situated in south-east Sweden on the Baltic coast, had to scramble reactor number three on Sunday after tons of jellyfish were caught in the pipes.
By Tuesday the pipes were cleaned of the jellyfish and engineers were preparing to re-start the 1,400MWe boiling water reactor, said Anders Osterberg, a spokesman for OKG, the plant operator.
All three Oskharshamn reactors are boiling-water types, the same technology used for Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant, which suffered a catastrophic failure in 2011 after a tsunami breached the facility's walls and flooded equipment.
Jellyfish are not a new problem for nuclear power plants. Last year the Diablo Canyon facility, in California, had to shut its reactor two after sea salp, a gelatinous, jellyfish-like organism, clogged intake pipes. In 2005, the first unit at Oskarshamn was temporarily turned off due to a sudden jellyfish influx.
Nuclear power plants need a constant flow of water to cool their reactors and turbine systems, which is why many plants are built near large bodies of water.
Marine biologists said they would not be surprised if more jellyfish shutdowns occurred in the future.
"It's true that there seems to be more and more of these extreme cases of blooming jellyfish," said Lene Moller, a researcher at the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment. "But it's very difficult to say if there are more jellyfish, because there is no historical data."
The species that caused the Oskarshamn shutdown is known as the common moon jellyfish.
"It's one of the species that can bloom in extreme areas that … are over-fished or have bad conditions," said Moller. "The moon jelly likes these types of waters. They don't care if there are algae blooms, they don't care if the oxygen concentration is low. The fish leave … and [the moon jelly] can really take over the ecosystem."
Moller said the biggest problem was that there was no monitoring of jellyfish in the Baltic sea to produce the data that scientists needed for decisions on tackling the matter.
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Dolphins Help Save Dog from Drowning
On Marco Island, Florida a group of dolphins came to the aid of a lost Dog that had fallen into a canal and couldn't get out. The dolphins made so much noise, it attracted the attention of people living nearby, who then rescued the dog. The Dog was believed to have spent 15 hours in the canal water before he was pulled out by fire personnel and reunited with his owner.
One of the people whose attention was captured by the noisy, demonstrative dolphins said, "They were really putting up a ruckus, almost beaching themselves on the sandbar over there. If it wasn't for the dolphin, I would have never seen the dog.” (Source: ABC7news) He said also if the dolphins hadn't persisted enough to get their attention, they dog would have died in the canal. The dog had fallen over the edge of a concrete wall down into the water far enough that it had no chance of getting back up by itself. The dog was exhausted from being in the cold water for hours, and most likely suffering from hypothermia.
Dolphins have been known to sometimes help stranded or injured people as well. In 2007, a pod of dolphins formed a ring around a surfer who was injured and bleeding after being bitten by a Great White shark. The surfer survived because they prevented further bites. No one knows exactly why dolphins have intervened in such emergency situations, and helped save the lives of other species. Suffice to say they are capable of empathy and heroic actions.