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July 22nd, 2018:

Weekend link dump for July 22

“Here’s a clever new twist on an old email scam that could serve to make the con far more believable. The message purports to have been sent from a hacker who’s compromised your computer and used your webcam to record a video of you while you were watching porn. The missive threatens to release the video to all your contacts unless you pay a Bitcoin ransom. The new twist? The email now references a real password previously tied to the recipient’s email address.”

The Westworld producers say they know how the show will eventually end. Fingers crossed.

“The final Blockbuster storefront standing is located in Bend, Oregon.”

Spiders use the earth’s electromagnetic field to travel via the air.

“In the case of Brexit, we have (a) an explicitly nonbinding referendum (b) that passed by a hair (c) with the help of a foreign adversary, (d) and is causing tremendous problems. May would be well within her rights to call for a second referendum, perhaps with different options, in order to give British voters a second chance at something that’s going to have a heavy influence on their lives.”

“As anyone who has dealt with an addicted loved one knows, you cannot help them until they hit rock bottom and sincerely ask for help. Until that happens, any aid you give simply enables their addiction. The GOP must also hit rock bottom before decent people should lend a hand.”

“The two ways Russia may have helped Trump steal the election aren’t what you think”.

“Every single one of these actions on Trump’s part are weighted against our allies and in favor of Russia. This cannot be an accident.”

“Two Koch-affiliated groups account for more than one-quarter of the House and Senate advertising from groups that don’t disclose their donors, according to a tally of broadcast ads tracked by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.”

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”

RIP, Anne Baker Cravens, longtime Houstonian and survivor of a German U-boat attack in 1939.

Sports make the world a sadder place. Seriously. We’ve got data.”

“It’s always been obvious that Trump does not hold Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election, which he publicly encouraged and gleefully benefited from, against Putin. None of us yet know the exact contours of Trump’s relationship with Russia, whether Putin is his handler, his co-conspirator or just his hero. But it’s clear that Trump is willing to sell out American democracy for personal gain.”

“Really, any member of Trump’s national security team who doesn’t resign immediately—or perhaps better, offer to testify about any incriminating information they might possess—is from this point on doing a disservice to the United States.”

“After Trump and Putin met in Helsinki, many pundits and politicians struggled to understand what it is they saw, to rationalize it, to explain it away, to speculate on what kinds of kompromat the Russians could have on Trump, when the answer—like infidelity or death—was staring them, us, in the face. Yes, Putin has something on Trump: He helped him win. That’s the kompromat.”

“We all had good reason to suspect in real time that Russia was interfering, and Trump relished it, and even encouraged it, as it happened. Now that Mueller’s indictments have started fleshing out the fuller dimensions of this sabotage and its now-confirmed goal of electing Trump, this can no longer be about guarding appearances of legitimacy, because his current conduct makes that more suspect. The only conceivable explanation is that he was both perfectly happy to benefit from Russian interference and wants to obstruct/or and delegitimize the ferreting out of the truth.”

“Google says it’s not reading your Gmail, except when it does“.

“Text-message reminders are a cheap and effective way to reduce pretrial detention”.

“The discovery was made in Jordan’s Black Desert, where researchers uncovered 24 flatbreads near two ancient fireplaces at a site known as Shubayqa 1. The flatbreads appear to have been made from domesticated cereal grains (wild einkorn) and club-rush tubers. Somewhere, a Paleo-diet enthusiast just fainted.”

“Wyden told Motherboard that installing remote-access software and modems on election equipment ‘is the worst decision for security short of leaving ballot boxes on a Moscow street corner.'”

RIP, Ann Hopkins, plaintiff in landmark gender stereotyping case.

In which the descendants of Colonel Sanders heap scorn on Papa John.

RIP, Constance Adams, pioneer of space architecture.

RIP, Adrian Cronauer, disc jockey whose story inspired the movie Good Morning, Vietnam.

“This is why it’s so important to assume that everything Trump says is a lie. If he says the sky is blue, check it. If he says he had oatmeal for breakfast, check it.”

“Fetal remains” trial ends

Now we wait for a ruling.

State and reproductive rights attorneys wrapped up a five-day trial in federal court on Friday that will determine whether a Texas law requiring health providers to cremate or bury fetal remains can go into effect.

U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra told attorneys on Friday that he has “not made up my mind on how I’m going to rule on this case” and is awaiting written closing arguments due on Aug. 3.

He’s expected to rule around the end of August.

The law at the center of the case is Senate Bill 8, passed in 2017, which requires the burial or cremation of fetal remains. Legislators passed the bill following a ruling that year by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks that struck down a similar rule implemented by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Sparks said that rule was vague, caused undue burden on women and had high potential for irreparable harm.

Throughout the five-day trial, a wave of patients, health providers, state agency officials, bioethicists, cemetery directors and religious leaders flowed through the witness stand.

Before dismissing attorneys Friday morning, Ezra rattled off a list of questions and concerns he wanted both sides to answer in his closing arguments, including: What authority does Texas have to pass laws around giving dignity to the unborn? What would happen to women’s access to care — for abortions and miscarriages — if health providers did not have a facility to handle fetal remains? And how many facilities — secular or otherwise — have committed to helping with burials and cremation?

Ezra noted that the case is unique because state attorneys waived the argument that SB 8 protects the health or safety of patients and plaintiff’s attorneys waived arguments about costs to patients and providers.

The dynamics involved “makes this case extremely unique in many ways and makes finding precedent all the more difficult because those issues are generally not only present in these kind of abortion-related cases — they’re often paramount in those cases,” Ezra said.

See here for the background. The judge’s questions, which the Observer examined in more detail, are the key to the case. During the trial, there was testimony by Blake Howard Norton, the daughter of State Rep. Donna Howard, about how she felt coerced by the Catholic hospital where she was going through a miscarriage into making a decision about disposing of the fetus, and there was more useless testimony from paid state witnesses who lacked any expertise in the subject matter and the law. I feel like the judge is skeptical of the law, but we’ll see what he has to say about it. The Chron has more.

Final Four returns to Houston

Mark your calendars.

The NCAA announced Monday that Houston and NRG Stadium will host the 2023 men’s Final Four. College basketball’s marquee event will be held April 1 and 3.

It will mark the fourth time the event will be held in Houston, joining 1971 in the Astrodome and 2011 and 2016 at NRG Stadium.

[…]

The NCAA also announced Phoenix/Glendale (2024), San Antonio (2025) and Indianapolis (2026) will host Final Fours.

The latest announcement joins a growing list of major sporting events that will be held in the city over the next several years. Houston will host a 2020 NCAA Tournament men’s basketball regional, the College Football Playoff national championship game in 2024 and is among 17 cities vying to host as part of the winning North American bid for the 2026 World Cup.

“Houston’s on a roll,” said Janis Burke, chief executive officer for the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. “We keep getting bigger, better and stronger when you look at our footprint.”

I’m always happy for Houston to get these events. I think by now it’s very well established that we have good facilities and we do a good job with them. It’s a little hard to believe now, but Houston was a total no-go zone for 15 years for big sporting events. Between the 1989 NBA All-Star Game at the Astrodome and Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, as far as I can tell from googling around there was bupkis. New stadium construction and downtown revitalization have turned that around completely. That may change again – Houston did host several events in the 1980s, so perhaps there is another dry spell in our future. I kind of doubt it, though. Good for us.

Algae farms

Food for the future.

Inside a high-tech lab in a modular building in the West Texas desert here, a young scientist peered through a microscope at a slide of live and multiplying algae. She was on the prowl for “grazers,” a sort of cellular-level locust that could wreak havoc on the multimillion-dollar crop proliferating in thick green ponds outside.

It’s the equivalent of a cotton farmer walking rows in search of disease-carrying bolls, explained Rebecca White, the 38-year-old microbiologist who runs one of the world’s few commercially viable algae farms.

The harvest? For now, kilos upon kilos of biomass that is a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, which in recent years have become all the rage for lowering cholesterol, promoting healthier skin and promising other health benefits. Common practice has been to consume them via a hunk of salmon or supplements derived from fish or krill. But since fish and krill actually get their omega-3 from algae, White and her team have figured out how to cut out the “middle fish” and capitalize on cultivating the source.

In a sign of how commonplace the practice has become, White, whose family has for generations raised cotton and cattle in the Texas Panhandle, says her grandfather has begrudgingly acknowledged that domesticating aquatic microorganisms counts as real farming.

The farm in Imperial is owned by Houston-based Qualitas Health, which partnered with H-E-B for the alGeepa line of supplements and is now expanding into the $33 billion omega-3 market with iWi. The latter line rolled out at Amazon.com, the Vitamin Shoppe and Sprouts Farmers Market in June.

[…]

The United Nations in 1974 called algae “the most ideal food for mankind,” and the Food and Agriculture Organization declared it “the best food for tomorrow.” But so far not even NASA’s been able to get people to want to eat it. At least, not the average American.

With more people eschewing certain foods and a world population expected to approach 10 billion by 2050, however, a new generation of scientists says the mainstreaming of algae is inevitable.

“Most people’s experiences with algae are a contamination event of some sort,” White said. “Your pool, the dog bowl, the Great Lakes, your swimming hole — that’s all negative. But algae has been doing so many positive things for so many years that they don’t talk about in a way that gets people’s attention. … Our goal is to make people think about algae as food.”

If you can package it as a meat substitute the way soy is, you’re probably most of the way there. That won’t be for everyone, of course, but I’d bet the market will be pretty substantial over time. It’s a long story, so read it and see what you think.