5 Intriguing Things: Friday, 1/17

CIA drones, superhabitable planets, cringe-inducing augmented reality, death TV, and tropical pigeons.
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1. Drone strikes will stay within the CIA, says Congress.

"An effort by President Obama to transfer America’s lethal, highly classified drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon appears to have been thwarted by lawmakers wielding a secret weapon of their own.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that members of Congress inserted a provision in a classified annex to the $1.1 trillion government spending bill introduced this week that would restrict funding or authorization to transfer from one to the other.

The move is an unusual one for Congress, and the debate over it will be closed to a small circle because of the classified nature of the addendum."

 

2. Superhabitable planets. Better than Earth

"[Rene Heller, an astrophysicist at Canada's McMaster University] and co-author John Armstrong of Weber State University in Utah have come up with a long list of traits that might make a planet 'superhabitable.'

Such planets would most likely be older than Earth and two to three times bigger, the researchers say. And they would orbit stars that are somewhat less massive than our sun.

Any liquid water wouldn't be in a giant, deep ocean, but would be scattered over the surface of the planets in shallow reservoirs. The planets would need a global magnetic field to serve as protection from cosmic radiation, and they would probably have thicker atmospheres than the Earth does."

 

3. Probably the most cringe-inducing augmented-reality concept video I've seen yet.

"INT. FANCY BILLIARD HALL

Man wearing Google Glass-like face computer approaches bar, orders a whiskey from hot bartender.

[Quick Fact flashes on heads-up display: hot bartender is a Gemini]

'You don't happen to be a Gemini, do you?' the man says.

'Wait, how did you know that?' she asks, obviously impressed.

[Emotion analyzer begins to run on her voice.]

'Just a hunch.'

'Oh you had a hunch,' she says. 'OK.'

[Voice analyzer definitely pointing to Intrigued. She is also definitely playing with her hair. And he doesn't need his face computer to tell him that means it is on.]

'Listen, I gotta run but we should get together later,' he says.

'Sure, sounds good,' the beautiful woman says.

[Man gets back into Ferrari.]"

 

4. On the need for greater drone autonomy, from the Department of Defense's Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY2011-FY2036

"'Today an analyst sits there and stares at Death TV for hours on end trying to 
find the single target or see something move or see something do something that makes it a valid target. It is just a waste of manpower. It is inefficient!' 

– Gen James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during 
remarks to the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation on 4 Nov 2010"

+ Death TV?

 

5. These artists caught pigeons, dyed them crazy colors, and released them in Venice. They are German.

"A collaboration between the Berlin-based artists Julius von Bismarck and Julian Charriere, 'Some pigeons are more equal than others' can be considered something between street art and art installation, with side result, a series of beautiful pictures.

The artists dyed 35 pigeons, using a «Pigeon Apparatus» that trapped and sprayed the birds with non-harmful dyes. Once dyed this new 'tropical birds' were released once again to mingle with the other, creating a somehow exotic scenario in the middle of this year’s Venice Biennale."

 

Today's 1957 English Usage Tip

all right. The words should always be written separately; there are no such forms as all-right, allright, or alright, though even the last, if seldom allowed by the compositors to appear in print, is often seen (through confusion with already altogether) in MS. This rule holds not only when the two words are completely independent, as in The three answers, though different, are all right, but also where they may be regarded as forming a more or less fixed phrase: The scout's report was 'All right' (i.e. all is right)./Is he all right?/'Will you come for a walk?' 'All right.'/Oh, I know them apart, all right. (Standard, est. idiom; colloq.; slang respectively.)

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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