• The Thanksgiving gag that ended NASA pranks forever

    The early days of space flight were quite different. Rocket scientists would sometimes even pull practical jokes on their team, such as the time Gene Kranz convinced flight director Chris Kraft that an Atlas rocket had actually taken off during a flight simulation. But a 1991 incident put a stop to all that. One Thanksgiving morning, Lead Flight Director Milt Heflin was informed that a dormant Turkish satellite could possibly collide with the space shuttle in flight in 15 minutes.

    There was no way for Heflin's engineers to calculate an avoidance maneuver, wake the crew, and communicate with them before the blackout period began. Heflin was livid—why had the Air Force not given more warning about a potential collision? Typically, they provided about 24 hours' notice. By God, if that satellite hit Atlantis, they could very well lose the astronauts as they slept. The crew of STS-44 might never awaken.

    An experienced flight director who had started work at the space agency more than two decades earlier during the Apollo program, conducting oceanic recovery operations after the Moon landings, Heflin was largely unflappable. But now, he grew tense. "When I think about all of my time, I don't remember ever being so nervous or upset about something as I was then," he told Ars recently.

    The "Turkish satellite" turned out to be a Thanksgiving turkey, crudely drawn on a computer monitor. But Heflin was too busy look at it, and the joke went so far as to stop all practical jokes at Mission Control forever. Read what happened at Ars Technica.

    [via Digg]

  • T-shirt and jeans is not the Mandalorian way

    In the latest episode from The Mandalorian's second season, "The Siege", an anachronism was spotted by viewers. Some guy, presumably working on the movie, was visible in the background of a shot featuring the main characters in an Imperial space station.

    Lucasfilm Ltd.

    Unless the Empire does an extremely casual Friday this is one of those fun blunders that reminds us that shows/movies are still made by humans (See coffee cup on Game of Thrones set).

    Crazy as it is that some joker is visible in a rolling shot that viewers would have to catch in a second or less, is that the still photo above was actually used as an official promotional photo for the episode. Hmmmm, could this be a covert ploy to get the series in view of a few more eyes by way of internet? Fine by me either way. This show deserves even more viewers.

  • This handy adapter ties your Nintendo Switch, smartphone, and Bluetooth headphones' audio together

    A kid in tech-savvy 2020 has a lot of plates to keep spinning. That avalanche of technology often requires making some difficult choices, like this one: what happens when you want to listen to music streaming from your phone and play a game on your Nintendo Switch? Since you're obviously going to be wearing headphones, and they can only sync to one source, which one do you choose?

    Tough call. Thankfully, the HomeSpot Bluetooth Audio Adapter Pro for Nintendo Switch is now a part of the mix, allowing those conflicted users to just go with both instead.

    The HomeSpot plugs right into your Switch and offers an unprecedented level of audio control. In fact, it's the world's first Bluetooth adapter for the Switch that can connect to both Bluetooth headphones and a smartphone at the same time.

    And, it doesn't just connect both audio streams. It actually uses a Bluetooth 5.0 chipset along with an advanced DSP algorithm to let users mix both feeds. The blue button on the left controls the headphones, including microphone features and pairing, while the red button on the right controls playing and pausing music on the smartphone, as well as making and receiving calls.

    Separate volume level and mixing proportion controls offer supreme decision-making over your audio, letting users set just the balance they like.

    Yes, the HomeSpot is all about communication, offering voice chat support on the Switch that is usually spotty at best. While many games don't have a chat feature, and the Switch itself doesn't have a mic, the HomeSpot works to allow for voice chatting through the Nintendo Switch Online app.

    Compatible with both iOS and Android smartphones, the HomeSpot is an easy way to integrate the Switch with all your other tech devices, while perfectly balancing your optimal audio bubble.

    The HomeSpot Bluetooth Audio Adapter Pro for Nintendo Switch retails for $49, but with the current offer, you can trick out your Switch now for just $42.99.

    Prices subject to change.

    Do you have your stay-at-home essentials? Here are some you may have missed.

  • "IvanKKKa is a Nazi" by a new wave band that's "definitely not" Green Day

    The mysterious new wave band The Network, who swear they're not Green Day even though everyone knows they're Green Day, have released their first new music since their 2003 debut, Money Money 2020.

    The 4-song EP Trans AM includes such a danceable synth-rock bangers as "Ivankkka is a Nazi" (above), which you should listen to if you've ever wanted to hear someone sing about "Gucci Swastikas."

  • Apple's head of security indicted in iPads-for-gun-licenses bribery case

    Apple's Chief Security Officer Thomas Moyer was charged with bribery Tuesday after allegedly giving 200 iPads to local officials in exchange for concealed-carry gun licenses for Apple's security team. The Morgan Hill Times reports that others indicted included Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office Undersheriff Rick Sung, Capt. James Jensen, and local businessman Harpreet Chadha, also reportedy seeking the licenses.

    In a written statement, [District Attorney Jeff] Rosen said Sung and Jensen "treated CCW licenses as commodities and found willing buyers."

    "Bribe seekers should be reported to the District Attorney's Office, not rewarded with compliance," he admonished.

    Facebook's security team is also implicated, according to the story.

    Just how heavily-armed is tech company security? How many divisions has the Zuck?

  • Google AI helps you write a poem in the style of famous poets of the past Screenshot of Google AI tool

    Google has released "Verse by Verse", a AI tool that lets you pick several poets from the past, and then write a poem with the AI suggesting lines composed in their style.

    As Engadget describes it:

    You can select up to three poets for inspiration, including the likes of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Edgar Allen Poe. Once you've made your choices and picked a structure for your poem, the tool will ask you to compose your first line of verse. The AI will then suggest some more options.

    Verse by Verse won't lock you into using those suggestions. You can ditch or tweak them, or accept them as is. The tool is supposed to inspire you, not generate an entire poem on your behalf — though you can more or less do that too. Once you have perfected a stanza, you can add more of them to your future masterpiece.

    To build the tool, Google engineers fed the system "a large collection of classic poetry." They then used each poet's own work to fine tune the AI models in an attempt to ape their writing styles. They also wanted the AI to make relevant suggestions, so, according to engineer Dave Uthus, "the system was trained to have a general semantic understanding of what lines of verse would best follow a previous line of verse. So even if you write on topics not commonly seen in classic poetry, the system will try its best to make suggestions that are relevant."

    I decided to give a whirl myself.

    For my dead-poet collaborators, I picked Emily Dickinson, Emma Lazarus (author of "The New Colossus", the poem about the Statue of Liberty that included the famous lines "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"), and Sara Teasdale (who's utterly metal and who I wrote an essay about a while ago).

    You can pick whether you're writing in quatrains, couplets, or free verse, how many syllables per line, and whether the poem should rhyme or not. (I picked quatrains rhyming in ABAB format, with 10 syllables — so, mostly iambic pentameter.) I wrote this first line …

    The Internet is darkest 'fore the dawn

    … and then accepted, in their entirety, the next three lines the software suggested. The second one was by the AI Emily Dickson; the third line, by the Sara Teasdalebot; and the fourth, by the undead pen of Emma Lazarus, as replicated by a neural net that feasted upon a vectorized meal of her life's work.

    The result was thus; I added the title after the bots were done with their dark work …

    It's … not bad?

    Deep-learning AI poetry is, in my experience, pretty hit or miss, with a highly bimodal distribution: The vast majority of the time it produces perfectly-fine, if unremarkable lines, metaphors, ideas, and turns-of-phrasings — and then every so often you get a burst of pure WTF, how-did-a-bot-do-that greatness. In this poem here, the lines the AI wrote here are really just serviceable; not great. To be fair, my original line is pretty meh too; not much for the AI to work off of.

    I suspect Google's right, and this type of tool is a bit dull if you use it to autogenerate a whole poem — and much more interesting if you employ it as a prompt, to crack the ice of the mind and get you moving. If you were to roll up your sleeves and tweak/edit the lines the AI generates, it'd be more like the "centaur" intelligence — part machine, part humanity — that chess master Garry Kasparov pioneered back in the 90s.

    After being beaten by Deep Blue, Kasparov decided human vs. AI was a rather boring competition, and it'd be more productive to cooperate with AI. So he invented a form of chess where a human using chess software is pitted against another human using chess software. Kasparov found that, once you give a human the machinelike ability to ponder tons of different moves, it produced a creatively new style of human chess. Players explored different routes they'd not have previously had time to investigate. (I wrote about this in the first chapter of my first book; a wee excerpt is here.)

    So theoretically one could get the same increased possibility space out of "Verse by Verse". You rapidly iterate a ton of possible poetic gambits, then focus in on the few gems, and hone them. The act of poetic creation becomes less one of composing lines as editing them — the lines produced by the machine. This is more or less how musicians have been using new tune-generating AI. About a year ago I wrote a piece for Mother Jones about that scene, and the songwriters told me the AI tended to have a terrible signal-to-noise ratio: Tons of dreadful ideas, punctuated by some wild ones. So they ran it as as volume business. They used the AI to toss out gazillions of tunes, and their human task became curatorial, trying to sift flakes of gold from the slurry of mud. The French songwriter Benoit Carré used a Sony music-generating AI, and described it to me this way:

    "You are a little bit like an artistic director or a producer, and you have a crazy musician in the room," he told me. "Most of the time it is crap," but every so often the machine kicked out a melody he would never have thought of. Carré helped write the lyrics and recorded the album with a group of meatspace musicians. It certainly wasn't push-button easy. If anything, sifting through the AI's output for useful, provocative passages was like panning for gold—probably more work than writing everything himself. But the silicon intelligence helped Carré break out of ruts. "In pop music, you know, it is always the same chords," he says, so to do something new "you have to be surprised, you have to be shaken." 

    A while ago, Robin Sloan, a writer I've known since our blogging days in the early 00s, crafted his own experimental text-generating AI trained on old sci-fi magazines. He found that it was intriguing, and took your mind in usefully alien directions — but it wasn't just a free gift. It was a tool, the productive use of which required work, and required figuring out how to use it:

    I should say clearly: I am absolutely 100% not talking about an editor that "writes for you," whatever that means. The world doesn't need any more dead-eyed robo-text.

    The animating ideas here are augmentation; partnership; call and response.

    The goal is not to make writing "easier"; it's to make it harder.

    The goal is not to make the resulting text "better"; it's to make it different — weirder, with effects maybe not available by other means.

    This nails it, really. I'm going to play around some more with "Verse by Verse" and see if I can get it to drag my brain into a corner I wouldn't normally go on my own.

    (As as side note, it looks like the poets they used to train the AI are from before 1923 — so they're in the public domain, in the period before copyright slams down. It's too bad; I'd have loved to be able to do this with some poets from later in the 20th century.)

  • Wait, "fossil galaxies" are a thing?

    I had no idea there was such a thing as fossil galaxies, remnants of older galaxies that exists within a current galaxy. Apparently such a fossil galaxy has been discovered in the center of the Milky Way.

    Scientists working with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Surveys' Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE) have discovered a "fossil galaxy" hidden in the depths of our own Milky Way.

    This result, published today in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, may shake up our understanding of how the Milky Way grew into the galaxy we see today.

    The proposed fossil galaxy may have collided with the Milky Way ten billion years ago, when our galaxy was still in its infancy. Astronomers named it Heracles, after the ancient Greek hero who received the gift of immortality when the Milky Way was created.

    The remnants of Heracles account for about one third of the Milky Way's spherical halo. But if stars and gas from Heracles make up such a large percentage of the galactic halo, why didn't we see it before? The answer lies in its location deep inside the Milky Way.

    Read the rest of Phys.org.

    Image: Danny Horta-Darrington (Liverpool John Moores University), NASA/JPL-Caltech, and the SDSS

  • A guy, a beer and a giant tip

    With restaurants and bars closing due to Covid-19, some going the carry-out-only route and others shutting their doors altogether, helping these people and places becomes that much more vital to our communities. In Cleveland, Ohio a patron ordered one beer at a bar, which cost him $7.02. He then decided to add a gratuity on the order of 427.35%. A gigantic $3,000 tip added to the tab. That is what you call helping.

    Brendan Ring, the owner of Nighttown, was shocked at the amount and thought the man might have made an error.

    From AP:

    "I ran after him and he said no mistake we will see you when you reopen!"

    Ring said he would not post the customer's name because he thinks the man wouldn't want that. The owner said he and his serving staff were "humbly grateful for this incredibly kind and grand gesture."

    I'm hoping that man at least got himself a nice Edmund Fitzgerald porter or an Eliot Ness amber lager, both by Great Lakes Brewing Company which is headquartered in Cleveland. If a Bud or Miller Lite was the selected beer, there is little hope for humanity.

  • The dark art of playing world-class Scrabble

    You might enjoy playing Scrabble with your family and friends, but when you get outside your social bubble and run into a serious or even tournament-grade Scrabble player, well, that's a whole different world.

    When the top players gathered in Torquay, England, last year for the World Scrabble Tournament (this year's contest should have been this week, but has been cancelled thanks to you-know-what), it was to use 'words' like these in their games: dzo, ch, foyned, ghi…

    Yep, that's right; a whole lot of words that, let's be frank about this, are not words. That's why my spell-checker underlines them in red. The top players, you see, don't win tournaments by being cleverer than the rest of us. They do it by memorizing a long list of non-words so they can avoid the problems ordinary players encounter.

    Those words can be handy, but they're fairly incomprehensible. World-class Scrabble players don't have to know what they mean; they just have to know they are in the Scrabble dictionary. But that's not the only way elite Scrabble culture is different from that of us everyday players. Read more about top-level Scrabble culture in an article from The Spectator. Here's a non-paywalled link.

    [Thanks, WTM!]

  • Trump "Will never concede to fake ballots & 'Dominion'"

    We regret to inform you that outgoing President Donald Trump is back on his bullshit again.

    Hours after the GSA notified Joe Biden the transition could now begin, and right after Trump finally acknowledged that Joe Biden won the election 16 days ago, Trump is now tweeting disinformation about "fake ballots" and "will never concede," plus there's a whole bullshit narative about Dominion voting machines and the ghost of Hugo Chavez.

    So, here's the tweet:

    What does GSA being allowed to preliminarily work with the Dems have to do with continuing to pursue our various cases on what will go down as the most corrupt election in American political history? We are moving full speed ahead. Will never concede to fake ballots & "Dominion".

    And here's earlier news from today on the Biden transition.

  • Millions of American travel and gather for Thanksgiving, despite COVID warnings

    Coronavirus case rates are spiking throughout the United States, and the CDC has issued guidance that says the best way to avoid spreading the virus is stay home and not do Thanksgiving gatherings with anyone from outside your immediate household. Americans are largely ignoring these warnings, and we can expect COVID-19 rates to reflect this in the coming weeks.

    "About 1 million Americans a day packed airports and planes over the weekend even as coronavirus deaths surged across the U.S. and public health experts begged people to stay home and avoid big Thanksgiving gatherings," AP reports,

    And the crowds are only expected to grow. Next Sunday is likely to be the busiest day of the holiday period.

    To be sure, the number of people flying for Thanksgiving is down by more than half from last year because of the rapidly worsening outbreak. However, the 3 million who went through U.S. airport checkpoints from Friday through Sunday marked the biggest crowds since mid-March, when the COVID-19 crisis took hold in the United States.

    Many travelers are unwilling to miss out on seeing family and are convinced they can do it safely. Also, many colleges have ended their in-person classes, propelling students to return home.

    We are so screwed.

  • These 5 highly-rated password managers are on sale for an extra 40% off ahead of Black Friday

    How many years has everyone been screaming about password security? Yet, even with all of the warnings, NordPass recently dropped the list of the most common passwords of 2020. And they're the same embarrassing assortment we see every year. The top 5 were: 123456, 123456789, picture1, 12345678, and the perennial favorite–password…sigh.

    You're obviously not one of these people. We assume you can't be. 

    However, password security really isn't a joke. So, if you have any questions about your online protection, do something about it. Right now, you can check out sale prices on five of the best password managers around and apps that can clean up your entire password game, while making sure you never fall prey to online crooks. And, not only are these five elite password managers on sale, you can even take an extra early Black Friday 40% off by using the promo code BFSAVE40 at checkout.

    Sticky Password Premium: Lifetime Subscription – $23.99 after coupon; originally $149

    With Sticky, you'll never need to struggle to remember a long or complicated password again. 

    This award-winning password management and form-filler solution protects your online identity with strong encrypted passwords on each and every one of your accounts, all managed by a single master password known only to you. It even has new biometric authentication features, making this PCMag Editors' Choice pick more secure than ever.

    Password Boss Premium: Lifetime Subscription (Unlimited Devices) – $20.99 after coupon; originally $499

    Once you set your master password, Password Boss goes to work, creating iron-clad passwords composed of randomized character strings for maximum security and ultimate peace of mind. This premium version of the popular free app also comes with a host of extra features, including online backups, 2-step verification, and unlimited, secure password sharing. It even allows you to combat data theft by deleting information from lost devices.

    NordPass Password Manager: 1-Yr Subscription – $17.99 after coupon; originally $59

    One of the all-time deans of online security, NordPass brings that experience as part of their full package of password protection abilities. At the same time, it also handles simple digital business we all face, like auto-filling details in all your online forms and logins. Their hardcore protection is built around the latest security practices and industry standards, including XChaCha20, zero-knowledge architecture, backups, and two-factor authentication. 

    Cyclonis Password Manager for Unlimited Devices: Lifetime Subscription – $17.40 after coupon; originally $180

    PC World called Cyclonis a password manager that "simplifies and organizes your online life." Secured by an end-to-end military grade AES-256 bit encryption algorithm, they safely store all your personal, payment, and login information in one highly-protected place. Cyclonis will even assess each of your passwords and give you an estimate of its strength. The user-friendly interface also makes updating and changing passwords incredibly simple.

    Enpass Password Manager – $8.99 after coupon; originally $36

    Since you weren't born to remember passwords, Enpass was. On PCMag's List of the best password managers of 2020, Enpass does it all, creating random, strong passwords while storing all your logins, credit card numbers, bank accounts, licenses, files, documents, and other sensitive information. You can even create multiple password vaults to separate your personal, family, and work data. It can sync to the cloud via all the most popular cloud services, and works on all mobile and desktop devices.

    Prices subject to change.

    Do you have your stay-at-home essentials? Here are some you may have missed.

  • Start 2021 as an electrical engineer with this training for less than $20

    Considering how 2020 has played out, it feels like making resolutions about what you hope for in 2021 is a little underwhelming. Under the circumstances, you may need something a little stronger than a simple New Year's Eve promise to achieve your goals.

    If your job situation isn't the greatest right now, consider this: starting electrical engineers with less than a year of experience have an average annual salary over $88,000. On top of the healthy paycheck, the need for men and women who understand electricity requirements and how to facilitate them should remain a very marketable skill for years and years to come.

    The training in The Electrical and Circuits Engineering Certification Bundle can get you started down that bright career path. Throughout the 13 courses packed into this mega-bundle, learners get a firm foundation in all the basics, including everything from electrical systems and circuits to machinery, power generation, and more.

    This bundle starts with the Basic Concepts and Basic Laws of Electric Circuits course. Even if you've never done any serious electrical training before, this introduction provides the fundamentals any new engineering student needs to know, including foundational concepts around current, voltage, power, and energy. Newbies also explore some basic laws of electrical circuits like resistance, conductance, KVL, KCL, and more.

    Armed with those basics, the supporting coursework delves into other major disciplines, so a new electrical engineer is versed in how to handle power delivery systems of any size. Four courses cover different types of power electronic switches, including uncontrolled, semi-controlled, and fully controlled switches. Rectifiers, inverters, and AC and DC choppers may sound like another language now, but with these courses, their role in directing and regulating power becomes clear.

    You will learn how both DC and synchronously-powered motors are run, and how each affects machine electricity flow. Students also get some very practical examinations of how a house's electrical system drives everything from fire alarms to phone systems. You'll also get the other end of the spectrum, with a full overview of how to deal with high voltage operations, including how the power plant in your community creates and distributes electricity.

    Normally, this career-redefining training is a nearly $1,300 value. But, when you use the early Black Friday access pricing happening right now, you can save an extra 70% off the already discounted total. Entering the promo code BFSAVE70 during checkout cuts your final price down to less than a tank of gas, just $18.

    Prices are subject to change.

    Do you have your stay-at-home essentials? Here are some you may have missed.

  • Trump, after GSA: 'Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country,' formal transition to Biden will begin

    • Via tweet, Trump authorizes his government to begin transition to President-elect Joe Biden's administration

    • 16 days after Biden won the election, the Trump administration acknowledges that Biden won the election

    Donald Trump appears to be ending his overt attempt to overthrow the results of the recent U.S. election that made Joe Biden our new President.

    GSA director and Trump lickspittle Emily Murphy just ascertained for Biden, and announced that the transition will formally begin.

    In a tweet that followed the GSA ascertainment letter by a matter of minutes, outgoing President Trump directs his team to cooperate on transition for President-elect Joe Biden, and Trump vows to "keep up the fight" against, more or less, America.

    Trump, just now, on Twitter:

    I want to thank Emily Murphy at GSA for her steadfast dedication and loyalty to our Country. She has been harassed, threatened, and abused – and I do not want to see this happen to her, her family, or employees of GSA. Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good…

    …fight, and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.

    Sir, this is an Arby's.

  • GSA tells Joe Biden the Trump administration is ready to begin the formal transition process

    NEWS: Federal agency ascertains Biden 'apparent winner' of election, clears way for start of transition from Trump.

    The GSA (General Services Administration) has informed president-elect Joe Biden that the Donald Trump administration is now ready to begin the formal transition process, according to a letter that GSA administrator Emily Murphy sent Monday afternoon, obtained by CNN.

    It's over.

    Michigan was the breaking point.

    This means the funding and other transition support can start flowing from the federal government.