5 Intriguing Things: Monday, 2/10

A lonely spacecraft, ad automation, cyberattack indemnity, Calvin and Hobbes, and what's wrong with everything.

International Cometary Explorer (NASA)

1. Sad: we launched a spacecraft in 1978 that is now returning to Earth, but we've lost the technical ability to communicate with it.

"Communication involves speaking, listening and understanding what we hear. One of the main technical challenges the ISEE-3/ICE project has faced is determining whether we can speak, listen, and understand the spacecraft and whether the spacecraft can do the same for us. Several months of digging through old technical documents has led a group of NASA engineers to believe they will indeed be able to understand the stream of data coming from the spacecraft. NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) can listen to the spacecraft, a test in 2008 proved that it was possible to pick up the transmitter carrier signal, but can we speak to the spacecraft? Can we tell the spacecraft to turn back on its thrusters and science instruments after decades of silence and perform the intricate ballet needed to send it back to where it can again monitor the Sun? The answer to that question appears to be no.

The transmitters of the Deep Space Network, the hardware to send signals out to the fleet of NASA spacecraft in deep space, no longer includes the equipment needed to talk to ISEE-3. These old-fashioned transmitters were removed in 1999. Could new transmitters be built? Yes, but it would be at a price no one is willing to spend. And we need to use the DSN because no other network of antennas in the US has the sensitivity to detect and transmit signals to the spacecraft at such a distance.

This effort has always been risky with a low probability of success and a near-zero budget. It is thanks to a small and dedicated group of scientists and engineers that we were able to get as far as we have. Thank you all very much."

+ This should be required reading for all science fiction writers.

2. Ad-automation firm Rubicon Project does 100 billion advertising transactions per month and had revenue of $56 million in the first nine months of 2013. This is how they make money, according to their IPO filing

"We generate revenue from buyers and sellers who use our solution for the purchase and sale of advertising inventory. Buyers use our solution to reach their intended audiences by buying advertising inventory that we make available from sellers through our solution. Our solution enables buyers and sellers to purchase and sell advertising inventory, matches buyers and sellers and establishes rules and parameters for open and transparent auctions of advertising inventory. We recognize revenue upon the completion of a transaction, that is, when an impression has been delivered to the consumer viewing a website or application, subject to satisfying all other revenue recognition criteria. We are responsible for the completion of the transaction. We generally bill and collect the full purchase price of impressions from buyers. We report revenue net of amounts we pay sellers for the impressions they provide. In some cases, we generate revenue directly from sellers who maintain the primary relationship with buyers and utilize our solution to transact and optimize their activities. Our accounts receivable are recorded at the amount of gross billings to buyers, net of allowances, for the amounts we are responsible to collect, and our accounts payable are recorded at the net amount payable to sellers. Accordingly, both accounts receivable and accounts payable appear large in relation to revenue reported on a net basis."

3. Of course companies want the government to protect them from lawsuits after cyberattacks.

"Some of the perks that are most desirable to industry, like giving participating companies protection from lawsuits after a cyberattack, are benefits that only Congress can confer. But lawmakers have struggled to pass such legislation — and they’re showing no signs of taking action now. Members are divided over how much legal immunity to give companies, and the fallout from Edward Snowden’s surveillance leaks has chilled practically any conversation involving national security on Capitol Hill."

4. Calvin and Hobbes exhibit at Ohio State.

"Six-year-old Calvin, named after the 16th-century theologian John Calvin, has a vivid imagination; an aversion to homework, chores, and girls; and a penchant for discussing the meaning of life.  Hobbes, named for the 17th-century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes, appears to most of the strips’ characters as a stuffed animal, but from Calvin’s perspective, he is a living, breathing—sometimes even dangerous—tiger.  He’s also a best friend, a playmate, a co-conspirator, and occasionally the voice of reason.  The strip follows the two as they navigate the bumpy ride of life, surrounded by a supporting cast that includes Calvin’s parents, his neighbor Susie, his babysitter Rosalyn, the school bully Moe, and his teacher, Mrs. Wormwood.

The exhibition, curated by BICLM curator Jenny E. Robb, explores Watterson’s mastery of the comic strip art form through engaging characters, thoughtful writing, and creative layouts.  It will also include original art by cartoonists who influenced Watterson, chosen by the artist from the BICLM’s collection, such as Charles Schulz, George Herriman, Jim Borgman, Berkeley Breathed, Garry Trudeau, and Ralph Steadman."

5. Maybe Dave Eggers was right. It's time to shut it all down.

"The team behind the Startup and Tech Mixer events think the demand for raucous and potentially career-building events is huge, and they might be right: This was their biggest work-centric rave yet, by far.

Vecchio, who was chewing gum, blew a bubble and then said he would be leading his friends, two young women named Jessica, on a tour of the mixer. The Jessicas, who were playing Anki Drive, a racing game made famous when its founders debuted it at an Apple conference, agreed.

The Serenity Space had terrariums and a projected starscape on the wall. People lounged on the sofas. Representatives from Kind, which makes healthful snack bars, were handing them out for free.

Upstairs, Vecchio, whose day job is at 'a stealth startup,' nodded when he saw the packed crowd in the expansive Workroom 2. A mechanical bull tossed startup founders off its back. A few women were giggling in a nap pod. People lined up to play the row of classic arcades like Donkey Kong and Street Fighter. There was a costume parlor with wigs and pharaoh hats hanging by a photo studio."

Margaret Nicholson's English usage tips from her 1957 book are back:

annihilate makes -lable. The word means blot out of existence, destroy completely, and should not be used in combination with utterlytotally, &c. See INCOMPATIBLES. 

Risky with a Low Probability of Success and a Near-Zero Budget

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