Practicing Looking for Life on Mars in Chile’s Atacama Desert

Practicing Looking for Life on Mars in Chile’s Atacama Desert

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A team of scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been in Chile’s Atacama Desert to test a new computer—in part because the region is so arid and lifeless that it makes an able stand-in for Mars. Sending robotic probes to our planetary neighbor is expensive and time-consuming, so it’s important to get the technology they send up there just right. There’s a few places on Earth extreme enough for this work, and the Atacama is one of them.

The new computer, dubbed the Chemical Laptop, tests for the presence of 17 specific amino acids, the building blocks of proteins and, in turn, life. Samples from the Atacama Desert are bone dry—as the Martian samples will be—so the device mixes collected soil and dust with water, and then heats it up to a whopping 392 degrees Fahrenheit. The amino acids dissolve in the water, where a fluorescent dye then attaches to them, and the Chemical Laptop can measure how much of each amino acid is present with a laser.

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The Atacama Desert is the perfect venue for these tests. It is one of the driest nonpolar regions, and harbors some of the hardiest microbes on the planet. It’s these microbes that give scientists hope that they’ll find life on the inhospitable Martian surface. More tests are planned for the new device, in the Atacama and in Antarctica. Scientists are trying to bring the entire process together in one compact package that a rover can use on Mars, or even on an icy moon such as Enceladus or Europa. "The idea is to automate and miniaturize all the steps you would do manually in a chemistry lab on Earth," said Fernanda Mora, the Chemical Laptop’s lead scientist, in a release. "That way, we can do the same analyses on another world simply by sending commands with a computer."

Until then, practice on Earth makes perfect.

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April 27, 2017 at 12:37PM

Fireplaces of Tattershall Castle in Tattershall, England

Fireplaces of Tattershall Castle in Tattershall, England

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There is a medieval castle in Lincolnshire that rises five stories above the countryside, with stunning tapestries and grand fireplaces inside intricate brick walls. What many don’t know is that those fireplaces and tapestries tell an unexpected tale of architectural plunder, and ultimately historic preservation.

Tattershall Castle, which dates to the early 15th century, has parapets, great halls, two moats, stately fireplaces, and a legacy of helping to save dozens of architectural wonders. The removal of Tattershall’s fireplaces spawned Britain’s Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act of 1913, one of today’s most effective architectural protection laws.

The year was 1910, and owners of historic buildings in the UK could mostly do with them as they wished. Tattershall, one of the first and most impressive castles of its type (brickwork was quite rare at the time) had suffered through years of neglect and fallen into disrepair. The entire place was bought, not to preserve it, but to break it up, pack it up, and ship it in pieces to the highest bidder. This included the historic tapestries and huge fireplaces, which were on the block to be sold to a buyer in the United States (rumored, maybe apocryphally, to be William Randolph Hearst).

The travesty of this remarkable structure succumbing to such a fate spurred the former Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, to buy the castle and recover the fireplaces. Prehistoric sites in the UK had been protected since 1882, but more recent buildings (and in Britain, the 15th century counts as “more recent”) had no such protection. It was Curzon who introduced the first legislation to prevent the destruction of these important structures, beginning with Tattershall.

Lord Curzon fully restored the crumbling castle, and in 1925 left it in public hands where it is now part of the National Trust. At the time, his legislation only protected medieval buildings and earlier, but it was the precursor to later laws that have provided some of the most effective architectural conservation anywhere.

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April 27, 2017 at 01:00PM

Chipotle Investigating Possible Credit Card Breach

Chipotle Investigating Possible Credit Card Breach

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Been craving a loaded burrito lately? So much so that you went to Chipotle and used a credit card to make your purchase. (Of course you did — for the points!) Well, Chipotle is now informing customers that there was a potential credit card breach in its systems.

This week, the chain, which has lately been bogged down with food safety disasters, told its customers that there may have been a breach in its credit card systems. In the statement, the company said that it had recently detected unauthorized activity on the network it uses to process payments. The chain said that since the unauthorized activity was first detected, it’s worked with cyber security firms, law enforcement and the payment processor to investigate what happened.

The investigation is focusing on transactions made at restaurants between March 23, 2017 and April 18, 2017. That’s about as far as the details go at this point. Because the investigation is ongoing, Chipotle said the complete findings aren’t yet available and it’s too early in the process to provide other details. However, the chain did say that it plans to notify affected customers when there’s further clarity about the timeframe and restaurant locations that may have been hit by this breach.

At this point in its investigation, Chipotle is advising its customers to monitor their credit card statements for unauthorized charges. Chipotle’s profits fell by 95% in 2016 following a number of food safety issues. This data breach comes in the midst of its efforts to win customers back by introducing new menu items and improved ingredients.

Featured image courtesy of Andrew Renneisen via Getty Images.

H/T: Eater

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April 27, 2017 at 12:18PM

Cottingley Beck in Bingley, England

Cottingley Beck in Bingley, England

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Frances Griffiths with Fairies

There are fairies in the stream that runs through the village of Cottingley in West Yorkshire. It’s true; there are pictures to prove it.

The now-famous Cottingley Fairies refers to five photographs taken by two schoolgirls between 1917 and 1920 near Cottingley Beck, a narrow stream. Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, cousins living at Elsie’s house in the village, liked to play by the stream at the bottom of the garden, claiming they went there to see the fairies. One day, they came back with photographic "proof": a picture showing Frances behind what appeared to be four small dancing fairies.

The first snapshot was followed by four others, taken with a camera given to the girls by Edward Gardner, head of the Theosophical Society, who believed the photographs were real when Elsie’s mother brought them to the society’s attention. He wasn’t the only one.

Ironically enough, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a spiritual man despite being famous for creating the highly rational detective Sherlock Holmes, also believed the fairies were real. He even went on the record declaring the photo authentic in an issue of The Strand Magazine in 1920. 

Others, including Elsie’s father, were less convinced of the pictures’ authenticity, claiming the image was manipulated or faked with cardboard cutouts. Representatives of the Eastman Kodak Company said that the pictures at once “showed no signs of being faked” but were not necessarily “authentic photographs of fairies.”

There were no more fairy photos after 1920, but in 1921 Geoffrey Hodson, a clairvoyant visiting the girls, claimed that he saw fairies everywhere around the beck. Frances Griffiths always maintained that some of the fairies in the pictures were real, but in 1983 Elsie Wright told the BBC that the pictures had been staged with using cutouts, hatpins, and twigs. And yet, some still believe.

The photographs and two of the cameras are on display at the National Media Museum in Bradford, not far from Cottingley Beck. Bus conductors have been known to welcome passengers to “Fairyland” when letting them off the bus at Cottingley Bar. The story inspired the 1997 movie Fairy Tale: A True Story.

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April 27, 2017 at 12:09PM

Cottingley Beck in Bingley, England

Cottingley Beck in Bingley, England

http://ift.tt/2pmChw4

Frances Griffiths with Fairies

There are fairies in the stream that runs through the village of Cottingley in West Yorkshire. It’s true; there are pictures to prove it.

The now-famous Cottingley Fairies refers to five photographs taken by two schoolgirls between 1917 and 1920 near Cottingley Beck, a narrow stream. Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, cousins living at Elsie’s house in the village, liked to play by the stream at the bottom of the garden, claiming they went there to see the fairies. One day, they came back with photographic "proof": a picture showing Frances behind what appeared to be four small dancing fairies.

The first snapshot was followed by four others, taken with a camera given to the girls by Edward Gardner, head of the Theosophical Society, who believed the photographs were real when Elsie’s mother brought them to the society’s attention. He wasn’t the only one.

Ironically enough, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a spiritual man despite being famous for creating the highly rational detective Sherlock Holmes, also believed the fairies were real. He even went on the record declaring the photo authentic in an issue of The Strand Magazine in 1920. 

Others, including Elsie’s father, were less convinced of the pictures’ authenticity, claiming the image was manipulated or faked with cardboard cutouts. Representatives of the Eastman Kodak Company said that the pictures at once “showed no signs of being faked” but were not necessarily “authentic photographs of fairies.”

There were no more fairy photos after 1920, but in 1921 Geoffrey Hodson, a clairvoyant visiting the girls, claimed that he saw fairies everywhere around the beck. Frances Griffiths always maintained that some of the fairies in the pictures were real, but in 1983 Elsie Wright told the BBC that the pictures had been staged with using cutouts, hatpins, and twigs. And yet, some still believe.

The photographs and two of the cameras are on display at the National Media Museum in Bradford, not far from Cottingley Beck. Bus conductors have been known to welcome passengers to “Fairyland” when letting them off the bus at Cottingley Bar. The story inspired the 1997 movie Fairy Tale: A True Story.

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April 27, 2017 at 12:03PM

Southwest Plans to Discontinue Flight Overbookings

Southwest Plans to Discontinue Flight Overbookings

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What do you think when you hear of an airline “overbooking” passengers? Chances are — especially given recent events like United’s #BumpGate — you picture passengers being forced off a plane just because an airline is greedy in wanting to make money with the possibility of sacrificing a seat guaranteed for everyone. Since the #BumpGate occurred and the aftermath unfolded (think of United CEO Oscar Munoz’s half-hearted apology), airlines have taken to reacting in their own way.

Today, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly shared the low-cost carrier’s plans to combat an overbooking scenario — by avoiding it altogether.  “The company has made the decision that we’ll cease to overbook going forward,” Kelly said today on CNBC.

In the interview, Kelly said that each airline has to make the decision itself when it comes to overbooking. Even though the airline doesn’t charge change fees, Southwest currently overbooks “very, very modestly,” Kelly said, with the reasoning being to try and fill empty seats so it can keep its fares low. And even though it doesn’t overbook very often as of right now, Kelly said that it’ll be discontinuing the practice altogether very shortly.

Since the #BumpGate incident, Southwest’s Gary Kelly is the first CEO of a US airline to come out and say that it will discontinue overbooking its flights, though JetBlue already doesn’t overbook flights. Others, such as United and Delta, have said that they’ll increase the amount of compensation offered. This is a proactive solution from Southwest, and one that its flyers will surely be happy to hear.

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April 27, 2017 at 12:00PM

Canadian Immigration Firm Sees Boom in the Trump Era

Canadian Immigration Firm Sees Boom in the Trump Era

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Canada by Choice is a small, family-run immigration consultancy in Windsor, Ontario. It gives legal advice to people who are interested in moving to Canada and helps them fill out the necessary paperwork to enter the country. Hussein Zarif has worked on marketing and outreach at the company for the past four years—it’s his job to find clients and connect them with the firm’s staff. The clientele come mostly from the Middle East, China, and India, and that’s where Zarif has always focussed his outreach budget, placing online ads that appear on Facebook and Google. That was before Donald Trump. Since November 8th, the firm has been flooded with calls from the U.S., and the Web site has crashed a few times because of heavy traffic. Zarif knew that Americans often threatened to move to Canada after a contentious election, but he hadn’t ever taken them seriously. “Maybe there is something behind all this,” he remembers thinking. “I’ll put some ads out and see what happens.” He used recent quotes from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a tagline for ads on Facebook and Google which ran in the U.S.: “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”

Zarif, who is twenty-four, and whose father runs the business, has become an unlikely expert in the anxiety currently plaguing immigrants in America. “I’m not a political person, and I don’t know the U.S. very well,” he said. He wasn’t looking to entice American citizens—in his experience, they tended to stay put. The idea, instead, was to find promising immigrants living in America who were anxious to leave. From his desk at the firm’s office, in a strip mall just across a bridge from Detroit, he started tinkering with the filters for his targeted digital ads—the ones that pop up when someone is using Facebook or Google—trying to insure that they reached the right people. His first attempts to target people based on age, language, and location brought uneven results—Americans looking to retire to Canada, immigrants with poor English-language skills. (Canada awards work visas using specific criteria, such as language skills, education, and professional experience.) Then he refined the terms further, to include anyone who had ever typed “how to immigrate to the U.S.” into Google. A few days later, he received a call from an Egyptian client in his mid-thirties, with a master’s degree, a long employment history, and a well-paying job in Detroit. He and his wife, who were raising a child, were ready to emigrate. “These weren’t the people I thought would be interested in coming to Canada,” he said. “They had status in the place where they lived. They made a hundred thousand dollars, had good jobs. These are the people who want to leave?” The man had an H-1B visa, a temporary U.S. work visa for specialty occupations in engineering, medicine, and tech. At the time, Zarif—who entrusts the legal side of the business to the firm’s experts—didn’t know what an H-1B visa was.

On the campaign trail, Trump had attacked the H-1B program, which admits eighty-five thousand people a year, claiming that companies were using it to undercut American workers. When Trump won, many expected him to take steps to curb the program. The Egyptian and his wife had decided that the uncertainty was too much. Zarif heard a similar story, a few days later, from a Pakistani living in the U.S., then from another man, who was Indian. “I started noticing a pattern,” Zarif said. “Each time, they had just the qualifications I was looking for. I thought, Wow, I can actually help them! And, each time, they told me they had this special visa called H-1B.” He went back to his ad filters and added “H-1B” to the search terms. As of this month, H-1B visa holders who live in the U.S. account for half of Canada by Choice’s clients seeking permanent residency and eighty per cent of the firm’s clients seeking a work visa—about seventy people altogether.

Foreign-exchange students, who also figure among Canada by Choice’s clients, have been reacting to Trump’s ascendancy, too. In a recent survey of two hundred and fifty American colleges and universities, forty per cent of the institutions reported a decline in applications from international students for the fall of 2017. Zarif has been fielding calls from Mexican and other Central American students who have told him they’d prefer to study in Canada because of the political climate in the U.S. Others are already in the U.S., finishing master’s-degree programs, and are newly concerned about their ability to secure jobs after graduation. The calls can get difficult. “I’m trying to be professional,” he said. “The person on the other end of the line is swearing at Donald Trump. I’m trying to keep politics out of the workplace. I try to calm them down. But I understand where they’re coming from.”

Canada by Choice is just one small shop, and it’s still too early to tell whether Trump’s Presidency will have a measurable effect on the population of legal immigrants living and working in the U.S. But the number of H-1B applications has already begun to dip. Canada, meanwhile, is becoming more attractive to high-skilled job seekers. The country is projected to create more than two hundred thousand new jobs in the tech sector by 2020, and Canadian firms have been aggressively recruiting foreigners. In the past, Canadian companies have struggled to match the salaries offered by their American counterparts, but now Canadian tech C.E.O.s are reporting an uptick in interest from immigrants who are uncomfortable staying in the U.S.

Marwan Zarif, Hussein’s father, has begun to hire more staff. Marwan, who was born in Lebanon and educated in the U.S., told me, “When I came in, the morning after the Inauguration, I couldn’t get my Web site to work. I went to the government of Canada’s Web site as well. It wasn’t working, either.” In late January, when Trump took office and was signing his first executive orders, traffic to Canada by Choice’s Web site increased from a few dozen daily visits to hundreds; it saw another spike in February. “I thought this was a temporary situation, that it would calm down in two or three weeks. But it’s constantly increasing,” Marwan said.

Last week, the Administration announced a new executive order, called “Buy American, Hire American,” which calls on government agencies to crack down on “fraud and abuse” in the H-1B visa program. On the day of the announcement, I texted Hussein Zarif, who’d seen the news earlier that morning. “It’s pretty vague,” he replied. “But it will play into the fears of the visa holders right now.” Already there’d been a fresh wave of calls, and the traffic to the Web site was spiking once again.

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April 27, 2017 at 11:29AM

Lee Harvey Oswald’s Apartment in Minsk in Minsk, Belarus

Lee Harvey Oswald’s Apartment in Minsk in Minsk, Belarus

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It is a private residence but the building can be seen from the outside.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy might never have occurred if it wasn’t for the dull nightlife of Minsk in the 1960s.

Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin accused of shooting President John F. Kennedy, defected to the USSR in the early ’60s, after he was discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps. His hope was to attend the Moscow State University, but instead the Soviet authorities sent him to work as a lathe operator in Minsk.

Apart from his job at Gorizont Electronics, which produced radios, televisions and electronics for space and military use, he was given Russian lessons and a government-subsidized studio apartment in downtown Minsk, more luxurious than any working class Russian could dream of. He even met a pharmacology student Marina Prusakova there, and married her in 1961.

The apartment and cushy lifestyle did come with a price. As a U.S. citizen, Oswald and his wife were under constant surveillance from the neighboring apartment. A KGB agent on duty could hear the married couple’s conversation through the thin walls and there was even a peephole with a magnifying lens into their bedroom.

Oswald’s life in the USSR did not pan out the way he expected. In his diary he wrote, "I am starting to reconsider my desire about staying. The work is drab, the money I get has nowhere to be spent. No nightclubs or bowling alleys, no places of recreation except the trade union dances. I have had enough." Shortly afterwards, he wrote to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow requesting his American passport back, since he never formally renounced his U.S. citizenship.

The following year, Oswald returned to the U.S., along with his wife and their infant daughter. He made history a few years later, when he was accused of killing President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Who knows, if Minsk had had in the ’60s a fraction of the night clubs, bars, bowling establishments, cinemas and restaurants it has today, history might have taken a completely different turn. 

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April 27, 2017 at 11:12AM

Lee Harvey Oswald’s Apartment in Minsk in Minsk, Belarus

Lee Harvey Oswald’s Apartment in Minsk in Minsk, Belarus

http://ift.tt/2qaZ3Hm

It is a private residence but the building can be seen from the outside.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy might never have occurred if it wasn’t for the dull nightlife of Minsk in the 1960s.

Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin accused of shooting President John F. Kennedy, defected to the USSR in the early ’60s, after he was discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps. His hope was to attend the Moscow State University, but instead the Soviet authorities sent him to work as a lathe operator in Minsk.

Apart from his job at Gorizont Electronics, which produced radios, televisions and electronics for space and military use, he was given Russian lessons and a government-subsidized studio apartment in downtown Minsk, more luxurious than any working class Russian could dream of. He even met a pharmacology student Marina Prusakova there, and married her in 1961.

The apartment and cushy lifestyle did come with a price. As a U.S. citizen, Oswald and his wife were under constant surveillance from the neighboring apartment. A KGB agent on duty could hear the married couple’s conversation through the thin walls and there was even a peephole with a magnifying lens into their bedroom.

Oswald’s life in the USSR did not pan out the way he expected. In his diary he wrote, "I am starting to reconsider my desire about staying. The work is drab, the money I get has nowhere to be spent. No nightclubs or bowling alleys, no places of recreation except the trade union dances. I have had enough." Shortly afterwards, he wrote to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow requesting his American passport back, since he never formally renounced his U.S. citizenship.

The following year, Oswald returned to the U.S., along with his wife and their infant daughter. He made history a few years later, when he was accused of killing President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Who knows, if Minsk had had in the ’60s a fraction of the night clubs, bars, bowling establishments, cinemas and restaurants it has today, history might have taken a completely different turn. 

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April 27, 2017 at 11:06AM

Found: An Unusually Beautiful Bathroom Hidden Beneath a Factory Floor

Found: An Unusually Beautiful Bathroom Hidden Beneath a Factory Floor

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There are 8 ceramic sinks hidden underneath the floor.
There are 8 ceramic sinks hidden underneath the floor. Middleport Pottery

Stoke-on-Trent, the “World Capital of Ceramics,” became famous for its industrial-scale pottery operations all the way back in the 17th century. This is where famous brands like Spode and Wedgwood were founded: the clay in this area was just right for ceramics production.

Today, the Middleport Pottery historic site stands as example of a model Victorian ceramics factory, originally designed in 1888. Recently, the site uncovered a long-lost feature of the factory: an ornately decorated worker’s washroom that had been hidden for decades.

“The wash house is almost part of folklore,” director John Lowther said in a release. People who had visited the site in the past had vague memories of it, but it had been sealed beneath the factory floor.

Soon this room could be open to the public.
Soon this room could be open to the public. Middleport Pottery

Now the historical site is opening the wash room back up and preparing to open it to the public. It has 8 ceramic sinks and a large, oversized bath, all decorated with fancy ceramic techniques, perhaps intended to showcase the factory’s best work. The site believes the wash room was still used as recently as the 1960s, but they don’t know much else about it.

The design of the sinks is unusually ornate.
The design of the sinks is unusually ornate. Middleport Pottery

It’s rare for a community to get this excited about a bathroom, but in this case the guardians of the wash room think there’s more history to uncover. They’re hoping locals will come forward with more memories or stories of the wash room and its past.

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April 27, 2017 at 10:30AM

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