Saturday, March 15, 2014

Los Angeles Subway Dig Finds Prehistoric Artifacts

Los Angeles Subway Dig Finds Prehistoric Artifacts

Los Angeles Subway Dig Finds Prehistoric Artifacts

Posted: 15 Mar 2014 11:03 AM PDT

(LOS ANGELES) — Scientists have long known that years before hipsters and tourists were trekking along Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile, dinosaurs were doing so.

Now, thanks to a subway dig, they’re discovering that sea lions may have been there, too.

The Los Angeles Times reports that an exploratory subway shaft dug down the street from the La Brea Tar Pits has uncovered a treasure trove of other prehistoric artifacts in the land where dinosaurs roamed.

The artifacts include mollusks, asphalt-saturated sand dollars and possibly the mouth of a sea lion.

The sea creatures’ residency dates back millions of years, to a time when the Pacific Ocean extended several miles inland.

The shaft was dug ahead of work scheduled next year to extend a subway line across LA’s West side.

India’s Supreme Court Stays Hanging Of 2 Gang Rape Convicts

Posted: 15 Mar 2014 10:51 AM PDT

India’s Supreme Court temporarily stayed the hanging on Saturday of two men who were involved in the brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman on a New Delhi bus in 2012.

A defense attorney for the two men had requested the stay order, saying the appeals court that confirmed the death sentence this past week had ignored their defense. Another hearing has been scheduled for March 31, the Associated Press reports. An attorney for two other men sentenced to death for the crime said he would also approach the court soon.

The four men were sentenced to death after taking gang raping a 23-year-old medical student on a bus, penetrating her with a rod and causing severe internal injuries that led to her death two weeks later. One other who was involved hanged himself in prison, and another, who was a juvenile at the time, has been ordered to a reform home.

The incident aroused a wave of public anger at sexual violence against Indian women, and the trial was fast-tracked in September.


Los Angeles Sues Time Warner Cable Over Unpaid Fees

Posted: 15 Mar 2014 10:42 AM PDT

The city of Los Angeles is suing Time Warner Cable for allegedly cheating on its franchise fees to the city, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

The city is seeking $9.7 million in payments after Time Warner Cable “blatantly refused to live up to its obligations to the city” said the suit, even as the company received $500 million a year from customers in the city for providing cable network services, the LA Times reports.

The suit claims that Time Warner Cable owed $2.5 million in franchise fees and public, education and governmental channel fees in 2008 and 2009, and $7.2 million in 2010 and 2011.

Time Warner Cable denied the allegations, calling them “without merit.”

The city charges cable companies franchise fees that amount to 5% of a cable operators’ revenues, instead of charging rent for the public right-of-way to install and maintain the company’s wires and cable boxes.

[LA Times]

Suspect in Deadly South By Southwest Crash Charged

Posted: 15 Mar 2014 10:25 AM PDT

(AUSTIN, Texas) — The drunken-driving suspect who police say killed two people after he smashed his car through a street barricade at the South By Southwest festival did not use his brakes and even accelerated as he approached crowds, according to an arrest warrant released Friday.

Rashad Charjuan Owens was charged Friday with one count of capital murder, though additional charges can be added later. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has said Owens intentionally steered toward pedestrians early Thursday in hopes of escaping an officer who was trying to pull him over. Acevedo has suggested Owens could face two capital murder charges and as many as 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle.

The 21-year-old from Killeen, about 70 miles north of Austin, remains in police custody after a district court judge set his bail at $3 million. Jail records did not list an attorney for him.

According to the arrest warrant, Owens told police that he “got scared” when he saw police lights behind him around 12:30 a.m. Thursday because outstanding warrants meant he could go to prison for five years. The warrant says Owens said he’s facing kidnapping warrants issued as part of a custody battle over his daughter.

A breath test indicated Owens’ blood-alcohol content was .114, exceeding the legal limit of .08, the warrant says.

The officer who tried to pull over Owens was looking for suspected drunken drivers when he spotted a 2012 gray Honda Civic that didn’t have its headlights turned on, the arrest warrant says. Owens then made a turn from a middle lane and “would have caused a crash” with the police cruiser had the officer not turned to avoid it, according to the warrant.

Investigators say Owens then cut through a gas station and sped the wrong way down a one-way street before crashing through police barriers blocking a street closed for South By Southwest festivities — forcing another police officer manning the roadblock on foot to dive out of the way.

Police say Owens then plowed into a crowd of concertgoers, hitting and killing a man from the Netherlands on a bicycle and an Austin woman on a moped. Investigators say he eventually crashed into a taxi and parked van and tried to run before police subdued him with a stun gun.

The warrant says a video from the police unit giving chase “shows the Honda accelerating into crowds, not simply crowded areas but crowds of people who are hit by the car and flung into the air.” It adds that Owens drove “for almost three city blocks, accelerating into crowds and does not use his brakes, as in the video there are no brake lights visible from the rear of the Honda.”

Court records indicate that Owens pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Fairbanks, Alaska, in October 2011, when he was 19. He also was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, but that was later dismissed.

Owens also faced 2012 charges in Alaska of criminal mischief, and a warrant was issued for him after he failed to appear in court. In 2010, meanwhile, he was arrested in Texas by Killeen Independent School District police for criminal trespassing and pleaded guilty.


Startup Says It Can Turn You and Your Cat’s DNA into Works of Art

Posted: 15 Mar 2014 10:00 AM PDT

Fast Company just profiled a New York City startup called Genetic Ink, which aims to produce art based on human — even pet! — DNA.

The company will send consumers a DNA collection kit, and they will have to send a cheek swab back. DNA from dogs and cats can be imaged as well. In its FDA-approved lab, the startup will use an algorithm to sequence the DNA, and it keeps samples anonymous to protect clients’ privacy. The artwork can be produced in 17 different colors and four different sizes, and can reportedly range from $200 for a 12-by-16-inch canvas to $700 for a 3-by-4-foot one.

It is the latest example of DNA being used to create art. In fact, last year, artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg made headlines for making 3D faces from genetic material on cigarette butts, gum, and strands of hair that she picked up off of the street.

While critics have called that kind of work “very creepy,” Alex Pyatetsky, a senior advisor at Genetic Ink, told Fast Company, “We can express your DNA in a way that really expresses you, and it can be beautiful.”

This Is What a 3D-Printed House Looks Like

Posted: 15 Mar 2014 08:55 AM PDT

AMSTERDAM — Hundreds of years after wealthy merchants began building the tall, narrow brick houses that have come to define Amsterdam’s skyline, Dutch architects are updating the process for the 21st century: fabricating pieces of a canal house out of plastic with a giant 3-D printer and slotting them together like oversized Lego blocks.

Hedwig Heinsman of architect bureau Dus says the goal of the demonstration project launched this month is not so much to print a functioning house — in fact, parts of the house will likely be built and re-built several times over the course of three years as 3-D printing technology develops.

Rather, it is to discover and share the potential uses of 3-D printing in construction by creating new materials, trying out designs and testing building techniques to see what works.

“There’s only one way to find out,” she says. “By doing it.”

She envisions a future in which personalized architecture may be custom-crafted on the spot, or perhaps selected from an online store for architectural designs, downloaded and tweaked.

At the core of the project is a 6-meter (20-foot) -tall printer dubbed the Kamermaker, or “room-builder.” It’s a scaled-up version of the open-source home 3-D printer made by Ultimaker, popular with hobbyists.

It takes the Kamermaker about a week to print each massive, unique, honeycomb-structured block, layer by layer. The first block, which forms one corner of the house and part of a stairway, weighed around 180 kilograms (400 lbs).

The blocks will later be filled with a foam material, still under development, that will harden like concrete to add additional weight and bind the blocks together.

Dus expects to add more printers and change designs along the way, with help from Dutch construction company Heijmans, German chemicals manufacturer Henkel, and anybody else who wants to participate and can make useful contributions.

The construction site in northern Amsterdam is also an exhibition, open to the public for 2.50 euros ($3.00).

Now Airlines Are Actually Nixing Fees and Adding Some Services

Posted: 15 Mar 2014 08:49 AM PDT

Airlines are rolling out entertainment amenities that travelers want—expanded Wi-Fi and connectivity, fresh content for streaming on personal devices—and in a big surprise, they’re much cheaper than previous options. In some cases, they’re free. But don’t get used to it.

When airlines began widely offering Wi-Fi on planes five or so years ago, the general response by travelers was a reluctance to pay for service that was of a lower quality and higher cost compared to the Wi-Fi they were accustomed to on the ground—which more often than not, was and remains free. More recently, the results of a survey from Honeywell demonstrated that travelers clearly want Wi-Fi when traveling by plane: Nearly 9 out of 10 travelers said they’d be willing to forsake an amenity, such as extra legroom, in exchange for faster, more consistent in-flight Wi-Fi.

That survey, however, didn’t factor the cost of Wi-Fi into the equation. Gogo, by far the largest provider of airline Wi-Fi, charges $14 for 24-hour access and $49.95 per month for unlimited use on all participating airlines. It seems like the costs, combined with the perception of service that’s not as good as one gets for free at Starbucks, as well as the vast array of other fees encountered by airline passengers today, has left the average traveler thinking that in-flight Wi-Fi is just not a particularly good value. A different poll, published last summer, showed that only 7% of coach-class passengers said that in-flight Wi-Fi was worth the price. (By contrast, roughly two-thirds of the big shots in first class and business class thought Wi-Fi was worth the money, but then again, they were probably traveling with expense accounts.)

(MORE: Airline Travelers, Your Future Will Look a Lot Like … Cleveland)

Lately, airlines have shown interest in providing Wi-Fi and in-flight streaming services at cheaper rates, or sometimes totally for free. This is especially noteworthy because as anyone who has hopped on a flight periodically over the past decade can attest, the general industry trend has involved adding more fees for services that used to be included in the price of travel, and raising fees for services that have always cost extra.

Yet JetBlue introduced free Wi-Fi in December, and Delta added a $1.95 option to use Wi-Fi and mobile apps on smartphones on flights shorter than two hours. Previously, Southwest rolled out an alternative to its usual $8-per-flight Wi-Fi, allowing travelers to text via Wi-Fi for a $2 fee.

Now, United Airlines announced that starting in April and spreading to most domestic aircraft by the end of the year, passengers will be able to stream hundreds of movies and TV shows on personal devices free of charge on planes. There will be no need to pay for United’s usual in-flight Wi-Fi in order to access the content, which includes “Downton Abbey” and the Netflix original “House of Cards among the TV options, as well as movies you’d actually want to watch, such as all three “Iron Man” films. Apple smartphone and tablet users must download the United app for access, while laptop users don’t have to bother. (Android users are shut out for now, but the airline says they should have access too before the end of the year.)

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Travelers will surely enjoy the rare freebie doled out by United and other carriers. But they shouldn’t necessarily expect to have these services at their disposal for free indefinitely. When JetBlue rolled out its free Wi-Fi, it stated that the service was only available on a complimentary basis “through June 2014.”

As for United, the cost of its new streaming entertainment option is initially being covered by a sponsor, the airline’s MileagePlus Explorer credit card. When the Chicago Tribune asked the airline if and when passengers may be forced to pay for the service, United offered no clue about what’s likely to happen. “We can’t speak about what might happen in the future,” a spokesperson said.

In other words: Given the industry’s track record, at some point down the line, you should be prepared to cough up some cash.

The Poor Writer’s Life, Now With Free Travel … and Free Houses

Posted: 15 Mar 2014 08:47 AM PDT

Yes, free travel and free housing are possible for writers thanks to with two new residency programs. This isn’t a open-ended free-for-all, however: Note that the free travel comes via Amtrak, and the free houses being given away are in Detroit.

A couple dozen writers’ dreams may come true, courtesy of … Amtrak? America’s national rail service recently introduced the #AmtrakResidency program, in which up to 24 writers will be granted a free round trip on one of Amtrak’s long-distance routes. “Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration,” the application form explains. In exchange for a rail journey valued at up to $900, the writer is expected to, well, write while on board, in long form (blog posts, poetry, maybe a few chapters in a novel) and short form (Twitter) alike. Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis through the end of March.

As a post on The Wire summed up in late February, the writer-in-residency idea is one that popped up and evolved over the course of several months. In an interview in December, the author Alexander Chee mentioned his love of writing on trains, and that he wished “Amtrak had residencies for writers.” The comment kicked off tons of discussion—and similar yearnings—by writers on Twitter, and eventually Amtrak reached out to one of these writers, Jessica Gross, to see if she’d be interested in a train writer-in-residency test run. Of course, she was “on board,” and the results can be seen partially in a piece published by The Paris Review, in which Gross ruminates on (of course) train travel, among other things. A brief excerpt:

Train time is found time. My main job is to be transported; any reading or writing is extracurricular. The looming pressure of expectation dissolves. And the movement of a train conjures the ultimate sense of protection—being a baby, rocked in a bassinet.

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Apparently the test run was considered a success, because Amtrak opened the residency program up to the masses last week. Understandably, Chee, the program’s unintentional visionary, was overjoyed. “It’s one thing to dream about these things. It’s another thing to try to create them,” Chee said in an NPR interview. “And usually when people try to create residencies for artists and writers, you have to go through so much red tape.”

Amtrak haters, on the other hand, are using the residency program as an excuse for criticizing the rail operation, which has a very long history of losing money. In a letter sent to Amtrak’s president (and the media), U.S. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), wrote of the residency program, “Given Amtrak’s prodigious annual taxpayer subsidies, this plan raises multiple red flags.”

In Detroit, meanwhile, a program offers writers a lot more than just a train trip. Various artist colonies welcome writers-in-residences to free lodging for a year or some other specified period of time. But the non-profit Write a House project stands out because if a participating writer fulfills the program’s requirements—including living in a rehabbed Detroit home and writing about the experience for two years—the house is his or hers to keep. Three houses are up for grabs, and project organizers are in the process of raising money and renovating them.

"People who move here will have to be prepared for some boarded-up houses on their blocks,” Sarah Cox, co-founder of Write a House, explained to the New Yorker. “But you'll get the opportunity to be part of a community, own a house, and see real change happening.”

Applications will start being accepted this spring.

(MORE: Airline Travelers, Your Future Will Look a Lot Like … Cleveland)

Other kinds of artists aren’t entirely left out of such freebie-barter arrangements. As pointed out recently while highlighting Amtrak’s new residency program, Canada’s Via Rail service grants free food and long-haul trips to singers and musicians in exchange for performances in the economy-class lounge car.

"It's such a charming place to play music, and it's a captive audience to say the least," one musician said to the Globe and Mail of his experience playing on the train. “There's not that much space for an audience, in the tens of people for sure. So it is really intimate.”

China Widens Currency’s Fluctuation Against Dollar

Posted: 15 Mar 2014 08:44 AM PDT

(BEIJING) — China announced on Saturday a modest easing of exchange rate controls that have been criticized by Washington and other trading partners, adding to a flurry of reform initiatives aimed at making its slowing economy more efficient.

The range in which the tightly controlled yuan is allowed to fluctuate against the dollar each day will double in size, though to a still relatively narrow 2 percent.

The move was widely expected after Premier Li Keqiang promised in an annual policy speech last week to give market forces a “decisive role” in allocating credit and other resources in the state-dominated economy.

The ruling Communist Party says it wants to inject more competition into the economy and nurture self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumption instead of trade and investment.

In a steady drumbeat of recent changes, authorities also have announced plans to create China’s first privately financed banks and promised to ease the tax and regulatory burden on entrepreneurs.

Widening the trading band will help to “optimize the efficiency of capital allocation and market allocation of resources to accelerate economic development,” the central bank said in a statement.

The U.S. Treasury Department had no immediate reaction to the announcement.

China’s rapid economic growth tumbled to a two-decade low of 7.7 percent last year. This year’s official growth target is slightly lower at 7.5 percent, but Li said this week Beijing will be flexible about it as long as the economy generates enough new jobs.

Washington and other governments complain Beijing suppresses the value of the yuan, unfairly making Chinese exports cheaper abroad and hurting foreign competitors.

The relatively small size of Saturday’s change appeared unlikely to mollify Beijing’s foreign critics. Some U.S. lawmakers have demanded punitive tariffs on Chinese goods if Beijing failed to ease controls, but the White House has resisted imposing sanctions.

Beijing reported a $260 billion global trade surplus last year, a $30 billion increase over 2012 and among the largest ever recorded by any country.

Chinese leaders say they plan eventually to let the yuan float freely, but private sector analysts say that might be decades away.

Beijing is reluctant to allow big changes in the currency for fear of hurting exporters that employ millions of workers. But analysts say they might have gained confidence from recent strong trade performance.

Allowing the yuan to rise in value would increase the buying power of Chinese households, helping to achieve the ruling party’s goal of nurturing more sustainable economic growth based on domestic consumption instead of trade and investment.

A stronger yuan also could help to suppress pressure for politically sensitive consumer prices to rise by making imports cheaper.

Reform advocates say that by suppressing the yuan’s value, Beijing has been forcing even poor households to subsidize exporters.

In recent weeks, the central bank has been guiding the yuan’s exchange lower against the dollar in what analysts said was an effort to discourage speculators who are moving money into China to profit from the currency’s rise.

Beijing allowed the yuan to gain about 20 percent against the dollar beginning in 2005 but movement stopped after the 2008 global crisis as the government tried to protect struggling exporters.

The yuan has been trading at about six to the dollar. Analysts say Beijing might allow that to rise to 5.88 to the dollar by mid-2014, a rise of about 2 percent. That would be small by global currency market standards but unusually large for China.

Ted Cruz Shows Off His Tattoos In L.A.

Posted: 15 Mar 2014 08:43 AM PDT

Ted Cruz made an appearance in Los Angeles looking rougher around the edges than you’d expect of a U.S. senator. Inked up and dangling a cigarette from his lips, the Texas senator could be seen in several locations around the city, shirtless and revealing a magnificent tattoo of an eagle stretched across his sculpted pectoral muscles.

Of course, Cruz is tattooed in poster form only. Some mischief-maker posted his photoshopped (we think!) image around town ahead of a speaking engagement for the congressmen at Beverly Hills’ Claremont Institute. The event was scheduled for Saturday night.

The senator caught wind of the prank and countered with a tongue-in-cheek tweet.


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