Monday, April 14, 2014

China’s New Panda Hotel Is as Creepy as It Is Cute

China’s New Panda Hotel Is as Creepy as It Is Cute

China’s New Panda Hotel Is as Creepy as It Is Cute

Posted: 14 Apr 2014 10:56 AM PDT

Rarely do you hear someone say, “You know what the world has too much of? Pandas.”

Not only would that statement be categorically false—in 2004, there were only 1,600 giant pandas left in the wild!—but even if there was an overabundance, who would complain? Pandas are adorable! Until now…

Welcome to China’s Panda Inn, a panda-themed hotel set to open next month that not only boasts panda decor but a very involved panda-costumed staff that will do everything from keep you company during tea time to playing the Jack to your Rose in the hotel’s Titanic-themed room.

There’s a Sailor Moon-themed room as well:

A panda toy on a bed in a room of a panda-themed hotel AFP/Getty Images

There lies at the foot of Emei Mountain and isn’t far from panda reserves:CHINA-LIFESTYLE-PANDA-HOTEL

A person wearing a panda suit introducing the rooms in a panda-themed hotel at the foot of Emei Mountain in Emeishan, southwest China’s Sichuan province. AFP/Getty Images

How could no one think of this completely non-terrifying idea sooner?

(h/t: Thrillist)

Robyn Gets Ready to Do It Again With New EP: Listen

Posted: 14 Apr 2014 10:53 AM PDT

It’s time to call your girlfriend and let her know that when May 26th comes around, the only thing you’ll be listening to is the new EP from Scandinavian pop superheroes Robyn and Röyksopp.

The platinum-blond pixie behind “Dancing On My Own” announced the Do It Again tour with Norwegian duo Röyksopp earlier this year, but on Monday the performers revealed plans for a collaborative mini-album of the same name. Even better, the news also came with a minute-and-a-half preview of the eerie mid-tempo “Monument,” which you can hear above.

On her last album, 2010′s Body Talk, Robyn didn’t just wow listeners with her poignant electropop, she also impressed them with her work ethic. Robyn released the album in three parts over the span of one year to minimize fans’ wait for new music while she toured and recorded simultaneously.

Perhaps that experiment didn’t work: Besides the news that she’s been in the studio with Janet Jackson hitmaker Jimmy Jam (of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis fame), it’s practically been radio silence from Team Robyn—until now. Time to dust off your reverse-somersault floor-hump.

French School Carries Out DNA Dragnet in Rape Case

Posted: 14 Apr 2014 10:49 AM PDT

(PARIS) — French investigators began taking DNA samples Monday from 527 male students and staff at a high school — including boys as young as 14 — as they searched for the assailant who raped a teenage girl on the closed campus.

Testing began Monday at Fenelon-Notre Dame high school in western France. All those who received summonses last week were warned that any refusal could land them in police custody, and no one rejected the sweeping request to test the high school’s male population.

The testing of students, faculty and staff at the school is expected to last through Wednesday, with 40 DNA swabs recovered inside two large study halls. Prosecutor Isabelle Pagenelle said investigators had exhausted all other leads in the Sept. 30 rape of the girl in a dark bathroom at the school.

“The choice is simple for me,” she said. “Either I file it away and wait for a match in what could be several years, or I go looking for the match myself.”

While there have been other situations in which DNA samples have been taken en masse, the case is complicated for France, where acceptance is widespread for DNA testing and a national database maintains profiles of people detained for even minor crimes. But children’s civil liberties are considered sacred, especially within schools.

France has stringent privacy protections — Google, for example, has come under legal attack for storing user data, as well as for lapses in images from Street View. Questions of criminality are a different matter — the government’s DNA database has expanded radically since it was first created in 1998, and now encompasses 2 million profiles, or about 3 percent of the population.

“It’s clearly a situation where people do not have a choice,” said Catherine Bourgain, a genetic researcher and author of “DNA, Superstar or Supercop.” ”One you have a DNA file it’s very difficult to get that information erased.”

Authorities have promised to discard the DNA collected once a donor is eliminated as a suspect, but Bourgain said she hoped that would also include the profile information, which during the usual course of French investigations is computerized and transmitted to the database.

Police recovered genetic material from the girl’s clothing but found no matches among current profiles.

“This happened during the school day in a confined space,” Chantal Devaux, the private Roman Catholic school’s director, told French media. “The decision to take such a large sample was made because it was the only way to advance the investigation.”

Summonses went out last week to 475 teenage students, 31 teachers and 21 others — either staff or males who were on campus at the time. Pagenelle’s office, which required parental permission for minors, promised to discard any DNA results from people who were eliminated as suspects.

“Even if they have the agreement of their parents they could refuse,” Jean-Francois Fountain, La Rochelle’s mayor, told RTL radio. “I’m trying to put a more positive view of things: If you do this, you clear yourself. There are hundreds of people today who will be cleared.”

Devaux acknowledged that all the results could still come back negative, sending investigators back to the drawing board.

From a legal standpoint, the decision is completely logical, said Christopher Mesnooh, an American lawyer who works in Paris.

“Of the 500 or so men there’s really only one who should have any concern,” Mesnooh said. “What you have to do in this kind of case is you have to balance each person’s right to privacy against what happened to this girl.”

Such testing has occurred in the past. A small town in rural Australia, Wee Waa, tested the entire male population or about 500 men in 2000 after the rape of a 93-year-old woman. It led to the conviction a farm laborer, Stephen James Boney.

English police trying to solve the rape and murder of two teenage girls in the village of Narborough were the first to use mass DNA collection in 1986, sampling 5,000 men in the earliest days of genetic testing. Police found the killer, Colin Pitchfork, after he asked a friend for a substitute blood sample.

France has also used DNA dragnets, including in 1997 when police trying to solve the rape and murder of a 13-year-old British girl ordered testing for about 3,400 men and boys. In 2004, investigators trying to solve the murder of an 11-year-old boy took 2,300 samples. Neither crime was solved.

Last year, a judge in Brittany ordered DNA tests for all 800 men and boys ages 15 to 75 living in a town plagued with arson fires. The man ultimately charged, a local grocer, had been tested but was arrested only after two more fires and more investigation.

When the DNA database was created, French privacy rights advocates said they were comfortable with it because it had clear limitations, said Jean-Pierre Dubois of the French League of Human Rights. Over time, he said, those limits have blurred.

“We are very surprised that the police officers have not been able to be a bit more precise. When you make an inquiry, you have other evidence and other testimony,” Dubois said. “Otherwise, you could say why only the people in the school? Why not all the inhabitants of the town or the region?”

Manning’s Conviction, 35-Year Sentence Upheld

Posted: 14 Apr 2014 10:45 AM PDT

An Army general is upholding Private Chelsea Manning’s conviction and 35-year prison sentence for giving reams of classified U.S. government information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

The Military District of Washington said Monday that Maj. Gen. Jeffery Buchanan has taken final action in the court-martial of the former intelligence analyst from Crescent, Okla.

Manning was sentenced in August 2013 for six Espionage Act violations and 14 other offenses for leaking more than 700,000 secret military and State Department documents while serving in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

As commander of the jurisdiction in which the trial was held, Buchanan could have approved or reduced the court-martial findings.

His action clears the way for an automatic appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.

Manning’s appellate lawyer said the sentence was excessive compared to past cases.

Michael Phelps Will Compete Once Again

Posted: 14 Apr 2014 10:37 AM PDT

American Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is coming out of retirement to compete for the first time since 2012′s London Olympic Games.

The 28-year-old Olympian who retired from competitive swimming in 2012 will compete at an event in Mesa, Ariz. on April 24-26.

“I think he’s just going to test the waters a little bit and see how it goes,” Phelp’s trainer, Bob Bowman, told the Associated Press. “I wouldn’t say it’s a full-fledged comeback.”

Bowman said Phelps hasn’t yet decided if he’ll compete in the U.S. national championship if he qualifies. Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, has previously said he wouldn’t compete past age 30.

“He’s really doing this because he wants to — there’s no outside pressure at all,” Bowman said.


Silicon Valley Startup Seeks To Repair U.S. Politics

Posted: 14 Apr 2014 10:37 AM PDT

Guided by its scrappy startup ethic, Silicon Valley has disrupted entrenched industries from hotels to rental cars to pizza delivery, but a group of tech barons are raising the stakes with what may be their biggest challenge yet: American democracy.

Former Facebook president and Napster co-founder Sean Parker will command a $9.3 million war chest as CEO of Brigade Media LLC, a startup aimed at improving civic engagement in the U.S., according to an SEC filing made Monday.

With financial backing from other Silicon Valley bigwigs, including early Google investor Ron Conway and CEO Marc Benioff, Brigade will take aim at boosting political engagement in government from the federal level down to state and local politics. "When you get beyond the federal level and certain statewide offices, most voters don't know who's making decisions on their behalf," one anonymous source reportedly familiar with the matter told Politico.

Other big Silicon Valley names will join Parker on the company’s board, including Adam Conner as vice president of politics, John Thrall as vice president of engineering and David Henke on the board.

Citing anonymous insiders, Alex Wilhelm at Techcrunch reports Brigade will address the view that American democracy is not "scaling" properly to keep pace with changes in American society. Brigade, he says, will apply digital solutions to help voters stay informed and choose leaders.

N.Y. Con Man Gets Life for Failed Decapitation Plot

Posted: 14 Apr 2014 10:32 AM PDT

(NEW YORK) — A con man already imprisoned in a collectible coin scam has been sentenced to life in prison for a failed plot to decapitate a New York judge and prosecutor.

Another judge in Brooklyn imposed the sentence on Monday against Joseph Romano.

Before hearing his fate, Romano told the judge he was innocent. He says he was framed by federal agents to keep him from exposing misconduct in the coin fraud investigation.

Romano was convicted in January in the decapitation plot. Jurors heard recordings of him agreeing to pay $40,000 to an agent posing as a hit man.

Prosecutors say the plot unfolded in 2012 after Romano was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $7 million in the coin scheme, which victimized elderly investors.

Your Grilling Season Budget Just Went Up in Smoke

Posted: 14 Apr 2014 10:10 AM PDT

It’s finally the time of year to break out the barbecue and cook outdoors. Now if only you could afford some steaks to toss on the grill.

This shouldn’t be coming as a surprise. Beef prices have been rising sharply since the beginning of the year, and the increases have come as a result of factors in play long before then. Thanks to long periods of drought, shrinking cattle herds, soaring feed prices, and high demand among consumers, analysts have been saying that beef prices will remain high for years to come.

So this week’s Associated Press headline indicating that beef prices in the U.S. have hit their highest levels in nearly three decades shouldn’t catch anyone off guard. Just how high are prices? USDA choice-grade beef reached $5.28 a pound in February, up from $4.19 a year prior and $3.97 in 2008, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Retail beef prices usually decrease after the winter holidays, hand in hand with a fall-off in demand after the period of New Year’s parties and Christmas gatherings is over. But that never really happened in early 2014. A Department of Agriculture reported released earlier this year indicated that average beef prices were up to $5.04 per pound, a record high that was quickly surpassed when the next Department of Agriculture study was published.

What’s a hungry home griller to do? Well, there’s always Meatless Monday. Long before the dramatic rise in beef prices, the concept of scaling back on meat consumption has been pushed as a way to improve one’s health and finances. Data cited by Bloomberg News indicates that Americans are eating less red meat than they have in the recent past. The USDA forecasts that Americans will eat an average of 101.7 pounds of red meat this year, compared to 104.4 pounds in 2013.

Even so, due to the exceptionally small number of cattle in the U.S., as well as growing demand for beef overseas, the supply-demand ratio has pushed prices higher—and likely, higher still down the road. Understandably enough, beef prices generally rise during “grilling season,” which peaks from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Penny-pinching experts always roll out essentially the same handful of tips for coping with higher meat prices. You can make do with cheaper cuts, for instance, or eat more pork, poultry, or yes, even vegetables. Buying in bulk—at a warehouse club like Costco, or perhaps via a service like Zaycon Foods, which sells meat wholesale in church parking lots and other prearranged locations—is a classic bit of advice.

In fact, not that this will do us much good now, but back in January, observers who were taking note of the trajectory of wholesale prices were advising people to stock up on beef and freeze what meat couldn’t be used in the short-term. Prices were high then, but forecasts indicated that they’d be higher later on. And now we know, the forecasts were correct.

Get Ready to Pay for Stuff Online With … Facebook

Posted: 14 Apr 2014 10:07 AM PDT

Facebook may be eyeing a significant move into the world of mobile payments. The company is close to receiving regulatory approval in Ireland to launch a service that would allow users to store money and make electronic payments through the social network, according to a report in the Financial Times. Such a service would put Facebook in direct competition with eBay’s PayPal division and Google's Wallet app.

Facebook has long had an interest in online payments. The company launched the virtual currency Facebook Credits in 2011 as a way for users to pay for games on the social network, but shuttered the program the next year because it was overly complicated to convert Credits into international currencies. Early last year the company debuted Facebook Cards, reusable gift cards that can be loaded with credits, available in a variety of physical and digital stores. In the fall Facebook began a partnership with PayPal to allow users to tie their credit card info to their Facebook login to more quickly make online purchases around the Web.

A financial payments service that links directly to customers' bank accounts would go a step further than past efforts. As people become more comfortable performing financial transactions online, there's a growing demand for secure payment options, especially in emerging markets. The new Facebook service will reportedly target those markets, where the social network is focusing much of its energies these days. (For example: the $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp and the plan to beam affordable Internet to more parts of the world using drones.) A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the report.

If successful, a payments service would be a huge boon for all parts of Facebook's business. Though the company makes most if its money from advertising, it pulled in nearly $900 million last year by claiming a fee on transactions carried out via the social network, usually for in-app purchases in video games. However, the migration of casual gaming to mobile apps has caused these fees to decline significantly as an overall portion of Facebook's revenue, from 18 percent at the beginning of 2012 to 9 percent at the end of 2013. Expanding the ways people can spend money on Facebook could reverse this trend.

The service would also make Facebook's ad units more appealing. The social network already has a massive trove of personal data on its 1.2 billion users. More information about exactly when users spend money would only drive up the value of this data for crafting targeted ads. The company could even incorporate point-of-purchase sales directly into users' News Feeds, a feature Twitter is currently considering.

Still, users have so far not latched onto Facebook’s previous attempts en masse. Meanwhile competitors like Google have lost money in the sector. But with other companies like Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent already attempting to merge social networking and commerce, this may be another example of Facebook staking a claim in an emerging sector to ensure the survival of its core business.

What’s Not To Love About Bubba Watson’s Masters Win?

Posted: 14 Apr 2014 10:06 AM PDT

For the second time in three years, Bubba Watson won the Masters tournament on Sunday, and this time the celebration was a family affair.

The 35-year-old golfer celebrated with his wife and two-year-old son, Caleb, in front of a cheering crowd at Augusta National. Watson had tears in his eyes as his son walked out to greet him on the 18th green.

And to make Watson’s Masters win even sweeter, the player hit a Waffle House somewhere near Augusta National with family and friends to celebrate. “Champ dinner @WaffleHouse” he tweeted at about 2.40 am.


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