This hour, we examine three very different kinds of black boxes—those peculiar spaces where it’s clear what’s going in, we know what’s coming out, but what happens in-between is a mystery. From the darkest parts of metamorphosis, to a sixty year-old secret among magicians, to the nature of consciousness itself, we confront the stubborn gaps in our understanding.
Matt and I listened to this while driving this weekend. The butterfly part is crazy!
Just because it's a baby koala!!!!
Fog season is with us once again. And whether it’s the ground-level “pea soup” of legend or the looming overcast known as the marine layer, there’s a reason it’s called California’s natural air-conditioning: fog and clouds are vital cogs in keeping the coastal thermostat turned down.
But that advantage could be disappearing.
KQED Science Editor Craig Miller talks with climate scientist Park Williams about his recently published work on California’s vanishing clouds. Williams is an assistant research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, but the gray mantle of the California’s summer coastline keeps drawing him back here — and it’s not just the romance of it. It turns out that fog — any kind of cloud, actually — is a great regulator not just of heat, but of drought.
Park Williams: Yeah, fog regulates drought. It does it in a couple of ways. In ecosystems, fog drops water directly on plants. And when the water collects on the plants, it then drops into the soil and is available for the plants to use. Fog, and clouds that are higher than fog, also shade the sun, and that allows plants more time to use the water they’ve collected from the fog. In cities, fog and clouds that are higher than fog — overcast clouds — are important as well, because they regulate surface temps.
Craig Miller: And it seems like cities are where the problem is.
PW: We looked at Southern California and found that in large cities — L.A. and San Diego — the heights of low clouds during summertime have been increasing; they’ve been rising away from the city.
CM: Why would that be?
PW: Cities have been warming, and essentially you need to go higher into the atmosphere before you finally get to where it’s cool enough to have water droplets condense and clouds can form.
CM: This is sounding like the “urban heat island” effect at work here. Is there a smoking gun for that?
PW: The minimum temperature at night has been rising rapidly. During the daytime we’ve seen slow warming, but not nearly at the pace that nighttime warming is. That’s the fingerprint of the urban heat island that we expect. The urban heat island effect really is a nighttime phenomenon because cement takes a long time to get rid of its heat, and that causes nighttime temperatures to rise.
CM: And where urbanization reaches inland, like, say, the Inland Empire region east of L.A., this phenomenon seems to follow. For example, looking at readings from airports, you found there’s 87 percent less fog in Ontario since 1950, and that overall cloud cover — technically the “frequency” of clouds — has been reduced by about half. That’s stunning.
PW: That means Ontario is getting a lot more sunlight in the morning hours, which is then feeding back to heat up Ontario and make clouds less likely in the future.
CM: You’re describing a kind of vicious cycle.
PW: Clouds will become thinner over Los Angeles. That allows more sunlight to be absorbed by the ground, which causes more surface heat, which causes clouds to have to form higher up, which causes clouds to be thinner, which perpetuates this process of more sunlight, higher clouds — and eventually more sunlight, no clouds.
CM: But you don’t foresee fog and overcast vanishing everywhere along the coast, only in the most urbanized areas?
PW: It depends on where you are. Since these fog and low marine clouds during the summer are regulators of drought, and since global warming is projected to enhance drought in much of California, these clouds could be very nice moderators of the global warming process and increased drought in coastal California.
CM: But in the cities …
PW: Then we see basically the moderating effect of these clouds probably getting canceled out, and rapid increases of drought in the mountain ecosystems surrounding the cities of Southern California.
CM: It sounds like when you get north into the coast redwoods, which are so dependent on the fog, the prognosis isn’t so bad.
PW: I think it’s not so bad. We’ll have to wait and see. Certainly these clouds are complicated and there are aspects to them we still don’t understand so well. We’ve had a tough time getting computers to actually model the behavior of these clouds.
CM: It makes you wonder if we might come to miss the June Gloom.
PW: I think the ways it’ll be missed are — energy bills rise because everything’s warmer, heat waves will be warmer and that’ll have some public health implications. But there’ll be benefits, too. People like going to beach when it’s sunny and not cloudy, so June Gloom gets in the way of family vacations. It’ll be nice to have better beach weather.
CM: I’d call that a silver lining except I think you need a cloud for that.
Congrats, you have an all male presidents’ panel!
The true Startist. Not that I'm feeling this whole California-lifestyle to begin with, but if this happens, I'm getting the hell out ASAP!
Tim Draper is undaunted in his fixation with fixing California, even after his failed 2014 quest to carve California into six separate states.
“I am open to the idea that maybe there’s even something better,” said Draper.
Now, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist and tinkerer is going at things a different way, launching a website for government innovators to lay out their own ideas and entice a wealthy donor (or donors) to bankroll them.
“We want to create real venture governance,” said Draper in an interview at KQED News’ Sacramento bureau on Tuesday.
Draper is unveiling his “Fix California Challenge” this week, an effort to essentially match good ideas with the money to make them reality. And he’s well aware of what that could cost; last year, Draper spent $4.9 million of his own money to try and put his “Six Californias” idea on the ballot — a proposal to carve the Golden State into six separate states, one that attracted a lot of national attention in the process.
(And by the way, Draper still thinks he collected enough signatures and that elections officials rejected some that were valid. But we digress.)
The website pretty much works like this: You submit an idea, be it a ballot initiative or a nonprofit to help government run better, and then you wait to see if a venture capitalist will come forward and fund it. Draper says that he has a few wealthy backers ready to participate, and that one of those potential funders may be him.
“It could be a number of different things,” he said, about what kinds of government reform ideas could be chosen.
Draper plans to take it even further: He is mulling a kind of contest, inspired by the reality entrepreneur TV show “Shark Tank,” where Californians with a ballot initiative idea would vie for the chance to have that proposal be funded by … well, him.
The collapse of his own effort in California’s direct democracy system hasn’t deterred the wealthy player in the tech world. In fact, he almost likens his attempt to go around the traditional system to the drive that led reformers in the early 20th century to create the initiative process itself.
“The government looks like a monopoly to me,” said Draper.
Happy May Day!
Member of the Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (known as G.U.L.F.) unveiled a large parachute in the Guggenheim Museum rotunda with the words “Meet Workers Demands Now” (all images by the author for Hyperallergic)
At noon today, a group of artists and activists including members of the Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (known as G.U.L.F.) unfurled a large parachute in the atrium of the Guggenheim Museum, demanding to meet with a member of the institution’s board of trustees to discuss the labor conditions at its Abu Dhabi site. At the appointed time, members of the collective threw leaflets inspired by the current On Kawara exhibition from the museum’s upper levels and the protesters articulated their demands through a human microphone chant.
Some of the multilingual On Kawara-influenced flyers dropped in the Guggenheim atrium during today’s protest.
“It’s the most beautiful piece in the show,” remarked a French tourist watching from the top of the museum’s rotunda. I asked an older man visiting the museum if he knew what the protest was about, and he said: “I think it has something to do with treatment at a university.” Nearby, a Guggenheim employee was explaining to two visitors that “they’re protesting the museum’s expansion in Abu Dhabi.” Throughout the occupation, protesters explained the purpose of the demonstration to curious museum-goers.
Though the protesters’ banner was swiftly destroyed by a guard wielding scissors, the group was allowed to remain seated in the museum atrium. As many as six NYPD officers arrived on the scene but, an hour after the protest began, they were called off by the museum administration.
“The museum doesn’t want to arrest us,” Amin Husain, one of the organizers, told the group after consulting with NYPD officers. “The museum has communicated to us through the cops that we can stay in this number, but we can’t grow.” The announcement was met with cheers.
After the parachute was confiscated, protesters still occupied the main level.
While the museum has remained open since the protest began — no effort was made to clear the building — no new visitors have been admitted for over an hour now and a long line has formed outside the building.
The Guggenheim has not acquiesced to the protestors’ demands by sending a trustee to meet them, but reportedly sent a deputy legal council to the museum from its offices on Hudson Street in Lower Manhattan.
Protesters on the ground floor of the Guggenheim Museum.
According to various tweets, protesters, including members of the Guerrilla Girls, are outside the Fifth Avenue museum with banners that read “Right to Organize” and “Debt Jubilee Now.”
Today’s event is the latest in a series of actions that began in February 2014 at the Guggenheim Museum related to the labor issues at the museum’s Abu Dhabi franchise.
— Ayasha Guerin (@urban_praxis) May 1, 2015
Protesters’ On Kawara-inspired leaflets floating in the Guggenheim Museum fountain.
We will update this story as it evolves.
Update, 1:45pm ET: The One Million Years reading in the atrium of the Guggenheim — which invites volunteers to read years aloud — stopped when the occupation began at noon but resumed roughly 20 minutes later.
This is currently the view in the museum atrium:
Update, 2:07pm ET: The protesters have three demands, which are on the back of their flyers:
And the occupying group’s specific demand is to meet with a Guggenheim trustee to discuss these points.
Update, 2:20pm ET: The On Kawara reading stopped at 2pm. It’s unclear if the break was scheduled, or because of something else, like the readers not being able to get into the building.
Update, 2:37pm ET: The museum has tweeted that it will close for the day, though there are still small scheduled group tours coming in. It appears that a lot of staff members have been sent home.
Update, 2:55pm ET: Still about a dozen protesters outside the museum chanting “Listen up Guggenheim,” “Shut it Down,” and other messages, while they are holding up banners with the three demands.
The On Kawara reading has also resumed.
Update, 4:11pm ET: Protesters just spelled out the word “Win” in the Guggenheim lobby:
Update, 4:45pm ET: Protesters are discussing their next move:
Update, 5:25pm ET: The 16 remaining members of the group that took over the lobby of the Guggenheim left the museum and gave a public declaration outside.
The declaration said:
Today we successfully occupied the museum with bodies and voices, inside and out. The Guggenheim authorities would rather shut down the museum for the day than talk to their critics. We didn’t come to shut the museum — we came to ask to attend a meeting with the Board of Trustees, and we hope that meeting happens soon.
Today is International Workers’ Day. When workers in Abu Dhabi — who are not allowed to organize — go on strike, they may be arrested, beaten, and deported. We repeat the demands for a living wage, a debt jubilee, and the right to organize.
We appreciate all the workers we spent time with. On this May Day, we also stand in solidarity with the struggles of workers everywhere, including the museum guards who make $11 an hour, and the groundskeepers who make $9 an hour, which is not a living wage in New York City.
The art we brought with us was shared by all but then violently destroyed by the museum. We thank SASI (South Asian Solidarity Initiative), DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving), the Taxi Workers Alliance, the Guerrilla Girls, Mahina Movement, and our allies in the South Asian community who rallied in support outside.
This is part of an ongoing campaign, with 52 weeks of actions to come. The museum’s disdain for the public and criticism will mean that this movement only grows.
When the group left, it was met with 20 pizzas sent by art nonprofit Creative Time.
Update, 6:40pm ET: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, which operates the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the forthcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, responded to our request for a comment on today’s action with the following statement:
We are disappointed that the actions of today’s demonstrators forced the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to close its doors and turn away thousands of members of the public.
We have met with representatives of the group behind today’s demonstration on several occasions and have tried to maintain open lines of communication. We share their concerns about worker welfare in the Gulf Region, but these kinds of disruptive activities run counter to our objective of building the cooperation and goodwill necessary to further change on an extremely complex geopolitical issue.
Despite erroneous reports to the contrary, construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has not yet begun and a contractor has not yet been selected. In preparation for these milestones, the Guggenheim has been working with our partner, the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), and other authorities and stakeholders inside and outside of the UAE to continue to advance progress on conditions for workers.
The Guggenheim seeks, as we have from the start, to advance meaningful and verifiable actions. This is evidenced by our continuing contributions to the TDIC Employment Practices Policy (EPP). Significant and documented progress has been made on a number of fronts, including worker accommodation, access to medical coverage, grievance procedures, and retention of passports.
We believe the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project presents an opportunity for a dynamic cultural exchange and to chart a more inclusive and expansive view of art history. These efforts at real action will take time to become a reality on the ground. We understand that this endeavor comes with great responsibility and we believe strongly in the transformative potential of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city's publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city's police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.
The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today's riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made:
Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson ....
And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims—if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him—a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”
The money paid out by the city to cover for the brutal acts of its police department would be enough to build "a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds." Instead, the money was used to cover for the brutal acts of the city's police department and ensure they remained well beyond any semblance of justice.
Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and "nonviolent." These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it's worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?
The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray's death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray's death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.")
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is "correct" or "wise," any more than a forest fire can be "correct" or "wise." Wisdom isn't the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.
This article was originally published at http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/nonviolence-as-compliance/391640/
Ugh, I HATE Uber and all these stupid places.
Taxes have always been pretty easy for Enrique. He received W-2s, did the calculations himself and usually got a nice return. Then last year all that changed, after he signed up to drive for Lyft and Uber.
The income Enrique earns from driving for these ride-service companies makes him a sort of independent contractor, which raises a lot more tax questions than working as an employee does. Now Enrique has to keep track of his income and deductions, maintain records and save receipts.
“It’s a brand-new world,” Enrique says. And he’s still trying to figure it all out.
Enrique does not want to use his full name because he is afraid the companies won’t appreciate his criticism. He says it’s pretty much all up to the drivers to figure out everything about this job — what’s legal, what’s safe and how to do the taxes.
I’ve got firsthand experience for this story. Last winter I drove some for Lyft. I was interviewing passengers to make a podcast. I’ve worked as a freelancer for years, so I was used to handling more complicated taxes. But that is not the case for Enrique.Albert Einstein once said, ‘The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.’Quote on Lyft website
Like many new gig workers, Enrique has never owned a business nor been an independent contractor. He is unsure what to deduct and what records to keep. He says it is hard to get the information he needs. That’s why he met with tax adviser Matthew Whatley.
Uber and Lyft provide drivers with statistics about their rides, but on their websites they urge drivers to seek professional tax advice. Whatley says people who come to him, like Enrique, are unprepared come tax time.
“I’ve never seen a single person from Lyft or Uber come in that had any idea of what their tax liability was or what kind of records to keep,” Whatley says. “Not one.”
Taxes for this new kind of gig work are confusing, Whatley says. Not every gig company handles taxes the same way. Sometimes workers get tax forms stating their income; other times they don’t. Some drivers haven’t paid taxes for a few years, he says. Others are paying more than they should.
“These people are literally thrown to the wolves,” Whatley says. “They are being put in a tax meat grinder.”‘I’ve never seen a single person from Lyft or Uber come in that had any idea of what kind of records to keep. Not one.’Matthew Whatley, tax adviser
Whatley says many don’t realize the extra load put on contractors when it comes to taxes. First, contractors have higher tax burdens than employees. That’s because for employees, companies pay half the Social Security and Medicare taxes. Contractors also have to keep their own records — mileage logs, gas receipts and other deductible expenses.
This is all a surprisingly big obligation the companies are not upfront about, Enrique says. The advertisements soliciting drivers say how much they will make hourly — before expenses, taxes and the time spent maintaining records and figuring out deductions.
One of the things gig workers like Enrique have to figure out is a relatively new tax form, the 1099-K. It is different from the 1099 form contractors normally use.
The 1099-K shows total credit card transactions, in this case between the riders and the company. Drivers then have to subtract expenses like tolls and fees they pay to Uber and Lyft. This makes it trickier for drivers to keep track of income, says Patricia Cain, law professor at Santa Clara University.
Cain gives this example: Let’s say a driver earns $18,000 of income, but there was $3,500 in fees and tolls that Uber charged to riders. The 1099-K the driver receives would show $21,500 gross income because that was the total of credit card transactions between the riders and Uber. The driver would then have to account for all the expenses that make up the difference.
Cain says 1099-Ks were not originally designed for this kind of gig work. They were developed in 2008 to track income that people make from sites like eBay and Etsy.
So, why are these gig companies using the new forms? In an email, Lyft wrote that the 1099-K complies with tax rules. Uber did not respond.
David Gamage is a professor of tax law at UC Berkeley. He says the 1099-K could be part of a business strategy. It may be an effort to look more like an online marketplace that connect drivers with riders, rather than a company that contracts with those drivers.
“It’s entirely possible that a primary reason for their adopting these structures is to want to distance themselves from the actions of their drivers,” Gamage says.
The exact nature of the relationship between the companies and drivers is an important issue. Right now there are two class-action lawsuits in California in which drivers are alleging that they are actually employees rather than independent contractors. If the lawsuits succeed, companies like Uber and Lyft would have to pay a lot more in taxes.
For Enrique, doing his taxes has been illuminating. He finally saw what he was actually earning — less than minimum wage. He realized he needed to drive more than 30 hours a week to have anything left over after expenses.
“I know I need to be driving more,” Enrique says, “but I want to be able to live a life and see the sun.”
Now though, Enrique is committed to gig work. Last year he quit his day job and bought a Prius. He has car payments and high insurance premiums.
Enrique’s plan is to drive more. He just signed up to deliver food through another gig website.
I worry that she'll lose that clear voice for the middle and lower class if she runs. I think the fuck fest of the presidency would take her away from these issues.
The unsettling oddness was there from the first moment, on March 8, when Malaysia Airlines announced that a plane from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing, Flight 370, had disappeared over the South China Sea in the middle of the night. There had been no bad weather, no distress call, no wreckage, no eyewitness accounts of a fireball in the sky—just a plane that said good-bye to one air-traffic controller and, two minutes later, failed to say hello to the next. And the crash, if it was a crash, got stranger from there.
My yearlong detour to Planet MH370 began two days later, when I got an email from an editor at Slate asking if I’d write about the incident. I’m a private pilot and science writer, and I wrote about the last big mysterious crash, of Air France 447 in 2009. My story ran on the 12th. The following morning, I was invited to go on CNN. Soon, I was on-air up to six times a day as part of its nonstop MH370 coverage.
There was no intro course on how to be a cable-news expert. The Town Car would show up to take me to the studio, I’d sign in with reception, a guest-greeter would take me to makeup, I’d hang out in the greenroom, the sound guy would rig me with a mike and an earpiece, a producer would lead me onto the set, I’d plug in and sit in the seat, a producer would tell me what camera to look at during the introduction, we’d come back from break, the anchor would read the introduction to the story and then ask me a question or maybe two, I’d answer, then we’d go to break, I would unplug, wipe off my makeup, and take the car 43 blocks back uptown. Then a couple of hours later, I’d do it again. I was spending 18 hours a day doing six minutes of talking.
As time went by, CNN winnowed its expert pool down to a dozen or so regulars who earned the on-air title “CNN aviation analysts”: airline pilots, ex-government honchos, aviation lawyers, and me. We were paid by the week, with the length of our contracts dependent on how long the story seemed likely to play out. The first couple were seven-day, the next few were 14-day, and the last one was a month. We’d appear solo, or in pairs, or in larger groups for panel discussions—whatever it took to vary the rhythm of perpetual chatter.Most notable: The segment in which Don Lemon floated the possibility that MH370 had been sucked into a black hole. A screen shot that included my face flashed onscreen during a Jon Stewart segment eviscerating CNN’s coverage. This represents my media apotheosis to date. [video]1
I soon realized the germ of every TV-news segment is: “Officials say X.” The validity of the story derives from the authority of the source. The expert, such as myself, is on hand to add dimension or clarity. Truth flowed one way: from the official source, through the anchor, past the expert, and onward into the great sea of viewerdom.
What made MH370 challenging to cover was, first, that the event was unprecedented and technically complex and, second, that the officials were remarkably untrustworthy. For instance, the search started over the South China Sea, naturally enough, but soon after, Malaysia opened up a new search area in the Andaman Sea, 400 miles away. Why? Rumors swirled that military radar had seen the plane pull a 180. The Malaysian government explicitly denied it, but after a week of letting other countries search the South China Sea, the officials admitted that they’d known about the U-turn from day one.
Of course, nothing turned up in the Andaman Sea, either. But in London, scientists for a British company called Inmarsat that provides telecommunications between ships and aircraft realized its database contained records of transmissions between MH370 and one of its satellites for the seven hours after the plane’s main communication system shut down. Seven hours! Maybe it wasn’t a crash after all—if it were, it would have been the slowest in history.Not that slow crashes are unprecedented. In 2005, Helios Airways Flight 522 en route from Cyprus to Athens lost cabin pressure and flew for nearly three hours with unconscious pilots before the engines failed and it crashed. 2
These electronic “handshakes” or “pings” contained no actual information, but by analyzing the delay between the transmission and reception of the signal— called the burst timing offset, or BTO—Inmarsat could tell how far the plane had been from the satellite and thereby plot an arc along which the plane must have been at the moment of the final ping.Fig. 3 That arc stretched some 6,000 miles, but if the plane was traveling at normal airliner speeds, it would most likely have wound up around the ends of the arc—either in Kazakhstan and China in the north or the Indian Ocean in the south. My money was on Central Asia. But CNN quoted unnamed U.S.-government sources saying that the plane had probably gone south, so that became the dominant view.Because the northern parts of the traffic corridor include some tightly guarded airspace over India, Pakistan, and even some U.S. installations in Afghanistan, U.S. authorities believe it more likely the aircraft crashed into waters outside of the reach of radar south of India, a U.S. official told CNN. If it had flown farther north, it’s likely it would have been detected by radar. [article & video]4
Other views were circulating, too, however.Fig. 5 A Canadian pilot named Chris Goodfellow went viral with his theory that MH370 suffered a fire that knocked out its communications gear and diverted from its planned route in order to attempt an emergency landing. Keith Ledgerwood, another pilot, proposed that hijackers had taken the plane and avoided detection by ducking into the radar shadow of another airliner. Amateur investigators pored over satellite images, insisting that wisps of cloud or patches of shrubbery were the lost plane. Courtney Love, posting on her Facebook time line a picture of the shimmering blue sea, wrote: “I’m no expert but up close this does look like a plane and an oil slick.”Fig. 6
Then: breaking news! On March 24, the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, announced that a new kind of mathematical analysis proved that the plane had in fact gone south. This new math involved another aspect of the handshakes called the burst frequency offset, or BFO, a measure of changes in the signal’s wavelength, which is partly determined by the relative motion of the airplane and the satellite. That the whole southern arc lay over the Indian Ocean meant that all the passengers and crew would certainly be dead by now. This was the first time in history that the families of missing passengers had been asked to accept that their loved ones were dead because a secret math equation said so. Fig. 7 Not all took it well. In Beijing, outraged next-of-kin marched to the Malaysian Embassy, where they hurled water bottles and faced down paramilitary soldiers in riot gear.
Guided by Inmarsat’s calculations, Australia, which was coordinating the investigation, moved the search area 685 miles to the northeast, to a 123,000-square-mile patch of ocean west of Perth. Ships and planes found much debris on the surface, provoking a frenzy of BREAKING NEWS banners, but all turned out to be junk. Adding to the drama was a ticking clock. The plane’s two black boxes had an ultrasonic sound beacon that sent out acoustic signals through the water. (Confusingly, these also were referred to as “pings,” though of a completely different nature. These new pings suddenly became the important ones.) If searchers could spot plane debris, they’d be able to figure out where the plane had most likely gone down, then trawl with underwater microphones to listen for the pings. The problem was that the pingers had a battery life of only 30 days.
On April 4, with only a few days’ pinger life remaining, an Australian ship lowered a special microphone called a towed pinger locator into the water.Fig. 8 Miraculously, the ship detected four pings. Search officials were jubilant, as was the CNN greenroom. Everyone was ready for an upbeat ending.
The only Debbie Downer was me. I pointed out that the pings were at the wrong frequency and too far apart to have been generated by stationary black boxes. For the next two weeks, I was the odd man out on Don Lemon’s six-guest panel blocks, gleefully savaged on-air by my co-experts.
The Australians lowered an underwater robotFig. 9 to scan the seabed for the source of the pings. There was nothing. Of course, by the rules of TV news, the game wasn’t over until an official said so. But things were stretching thin. One night, an underwater-search veteran taking part in a Don Lemon panel agreed with me that the so-called acoustic-ping detections had to be false. Backstage after the show, he and another aviation analyst nearly came to blows. “You don’t know what you’re talking about! I’ve done extensive research!” the analyst shouted. “There’s nothing else those pings could be!”
Soon after, the story ended the way most news stories do: We just stopped talking about it. A month later, long after the caravan had moved on, a U.S. Navy officer said publicly that the pings had not come from MH370. The saga fizzled out with as much satisfying closure as the final episode of Lost.
Once the surface search was called off, it was the rabble’s turn. In late March, New Zealand–based space scientist Duncan Steel began posting a series of essays on Inmarsat orbital mechanics on his website.Fig. 10 The comments section quickly grew into a busy forum in which technically sophisticated MH370 obsessives answered one another’s questions and pitched ideas. The open platform attracted a varied crew, from the mostly intelligent and often helpful to the deranged and abusive. Eventually, Steel declared that he was sick of all the insults and shut down his comments section. The party migrated over to my blog, jeffwise.net.
Meanwhile, a core of engineers and scientists had split off via group email and included me. We called ourselves the Independent Group,Member roster: Brian Anderson, Sid Bennett, Curon Davies, Pierre-Michel Decombeix, Michael Exner, Tim Farrar, Yap Fook Fah, Richard Godfrey, Bob Hall, Bill Holland, Geoff Hyman, Victor Iannello, Barry Martin, L. Rand Mayer, Henrik Rydberg, Duncan Steel, Don Thompson, and me.11 or IG. If you found yourself wondering how a satellite with geosynchronous orbit responds to a shortage of hydrazine, all you had to do was ask.Answer: It starts to wobble, creating an error in the frequency of received signals from which scientists can later attempt to extract clues about an airplane’s motion.12 The IG’s first big break came in late May, when the Malaysians finally released the raw Inmarsat data. By combining the data with other reliable information, we were able to put together a time line of the plane’s final hours: Forty minutes after the plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, MH370 went electronically dark. For about an hour after that, the plane was tracked on radar following a zigzag course and traveling fast. Then it disappeared from military radar. Three minutes later, the communications system logged back onto the satellite. This was a major revelation. It hadn’t stayed connected, as we’d always assumed. This event corresponded with the first satellite ping. Over the course of the next six hours, the plane generated six more handshakes as it moved away from the satellite.
The final handshake wasn’t completed. This led to speculation that MH370 had run out of fuel and lost power, causing the plane to lose its connection to the satellite. An emergency power system would have come on, providing enough electricity for the satcom to start reconnecting before the plane crashed. Where exactly it would have gone down down was still unknown—the speed of the plane, its direction, and how fast it was climbing were all sources of uncertainty.
The MH370 obsessives continued attacking the problem. Since I was the proprietor of the major web forum, it fell on me to protect the fragile cocoon of civility that nurtured the conversation. A single troll could easily derail everything. The worst offenders were the ones who seemed intelligent but soon revealed themselves as Believers. They’d seized on a few pieces of faulty data and convinced themselves that they’d discovered the truth. One was sure the plane had been hit by lightning and then floated in the South China Sea, transmitting to the satellite on battery power. When I kicked him out, he came back under aliases. I wound up banning anyone who used the word “lightning.”
By October, officials from the Australian Transport Safety Board had begun an ambitiously scaled scan of the ocean bottom, and, in a surprising turn, it would include the area suspected by the IG.The Independent Group had published a formal analysis of the signals incorporating research we’d done into aircraft performance and autopilot modes. We’d wound up concluding that the official search area at the time was hundreds of miles off. [pdf]13 For those who’d been a part of the months-long effort, it was a thrilling denouement. The authorities, perhaps only coincidentally, had landed on the same conclusion as had a bunch of randos from the internet. Now everyone was in agreement about where to look.
While jubilation rang through the email threads, I nursed a guilty secret: I wasn’t really in agreement. For one, I was bothered by the lack of plane debris. And then there was the data. To fit both the BTO and BFO data well, the plane would need to have flown slowly, likely in a curving path. But the more plausible autopilot settings and known performance constraints would have kept the plane flying faster and more nearly straight south. I began to suspect that the problem was with the BFO numbers—that they hadn’t been generated in the way we believed.Others were having doubts, too, including Tim Clark, the presidents of Emirates Airlines, which operates more 777s than any other company in the world. “We have not seen a single thing that suggests categorically that this aircraft is where they say it is,” Clark said in an interview with Der Spiegel.14 If that were the case, perhaps the flight had gone north after all.
For a long time, I resisted even considering the possibility that someone might have tampered with the data. That would require an almost inconceivably sophisticated hijack operation, one so complicated and technically demanding that it would almost certainly need state-level backing. This was true conspiracy-theory material.
And yet, once I started looking for evidence, I found it. One of the commenters on my blog had learned that the compartment on 777s called the electronics-and-equipment bay, or E/E bay, can be accessed via a hatch in the front of the first-class cabin.You can see how easily in this video. [youtube]15 If perpetrators got in there, a long shot, they would have access to equipment that could be used to change the BFO value of its satellite transmissions. They could even take over the flight controls.Incredibly, an Australian graduate student named Matt Wuillemin had recognized the potential the hatch presented for hijackers and tried to warn authorities. He was ignored. [pdf]16
I realized that I already had a clue that hijackers had been in the E/E bay. Remember the satcom system disconnected and then rebooted three minutes after the plane left military radar behind. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how a person could physically turn the satcom off and on. The only way, apart from turning off half the entire electrical system, would be to go into the E/E bay and pull three particular circuit breakers. It is a maneuver that only a sophisticated operator would know how to execute, and the only reason I could think for wanting to do this was so that Inmarsat would find the records and misinterpret them. They turned on the satcom in order to provide a false trail of bread crumbs leading away from the plane’s true route.
It’s not possible to spoof the BFO data on just any plane. The plane must be of a certain make and model, Has to be one of the newer models of Boeing; in Airbus jets the E/E bay hatch is inaccessible from the passenger cabin, and older Boeing planes lack the ability to autoland.17equipped with a certain make and model of satellite-communications equipment,A crucial piece of satcom hardware, the satellite data unit, must be built by Honeywell/Thales, not its competitor, Raytheon, for this to work.18 and flying a certain kind of routeOne that begins near the equator and heads in a direction opposite to a large body of water.19 in a region covered by a certain kind of Inmarsat satellite.One that is running low on fuel.20 If you put all the conditions together, it seemed unlikely that any aircraft would satisfy them. Yet MH370 did.
I imagine everyone who comes up with a new theory, even a complicated one, must experience one particularly delicious moment, like a perfect chord change, when disorder gives way to order. This was that moment for me. Once I threw out the troublesome BFO data, all the inexplicable coincidences and mismatched data went away. The answer became wonderfully simple. The plane must have gone north.
Using the BTO data set alone, I was able to chart the plane’s speed and general path, which happened to fall along national borders.Fig. 21 Flying along borders, a military navigator told me, is a good way to avoid being spotted on radar. A Russian intelligence plane nearly collided with a Swedish airliner while doing it over the Baltic Sea in December. If I was right, it would have wound up in Kazakhstan, just as search officials recognized early on.
There aren’t a lot of places to land a plane as big as the 777, but, as luck would have it, I found one: a place just past the last handshake ring called Baikonur Cosmodrome.Fig. 22 Baikonur is leased from Kazakhstan by Russia. A long runway there called Yubileyniy was built for a Russian version of the Space Shuttle. If the final Inmarsat ping rang at the start of MH370’s descent, it would have set up nicely for an approach to Yubileyniy’s runway 24.
Whether the plane went to Baikonur or elsewhere in Kazakhstan, my suspicion fell on Russia. With technically advanced satellite, avionics, and aircraft-manufacturing industries, Russia was a paranoid fantasist’s dream.At the time of MH370’s disappearance, he had just used special forces to annex Crimea and was running civil war by proxy in eastern Ukraine via military intelligence.24 (The Russians, or at least Russian-backed militia, were also suspected in the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 in July.) Why, exactly, would Putin want to steal a Malaysian passenger plane? I had no idea. Maybe he wanted to demonstrate to the United States, which had imposed the first punitive sanctions on Russia the day before, that he could hurt the West and its allies anywhere in the world. Maybe what he was really after were the secrets of one of the plane’s passengers.Aboard the flight were 20 employees of Freescale Semiconductor, which develops processors and sensors for the “Internet of Things.”25 Maybe there was something strategically crucial in the hold. Or maybe he wanted the plane to show up unexpectedly somewhere someday, packed with explosives. There’s no way to know. That’s the thing about MH370 theory-making: It’s hard to come up with a plausible motive for an act that has no apparent beneficiaries.
As it happened, there were three ethnically Russian men aboard MH370, two of them Ukrainian-passport holders from Odessa.All were in their mid-40s, old enough to be experienced, young enough for vigorous action—about the same age as the military-intelligence officer who was running the show in eastern Ukraine.26 Could any of these men, I wondered, be special forces or covert operatives? As I looked at the few pictures available on the internet, they definitely struck me as the sort who might battle Liam Neeson in midair.
About the two Ukrainians, almost nothing was available online.Fig. 27 I was able to find out a great deal about the Russian,Fig. 28 who was sitting in first class about 15 feet from the E/E-bay hatch.Fig. 29 He ran a lumber company in Irkutsk, and his hobby was technical diving under the ice of Lake Baikal.His dive club’s annual New Year’s party under the ice. [video]30 I hired Russian speakers from Columbia University to make calls to Odessa and Irkutsk, then hired researchers on the ground.When MH17 was shot down, it seemed to so perfectly tie the bow between the Ukraine war and the other Malaysia Airlines 777 that I was terrified I’d gotten my freelancer in Irkutsk in deep trouble; I texted her, and she replied that she was fine. She didn’t seem concerned. 31
The more I discovered, the more coherent the story seemed to me.In fact, I wrote the whole thing up in an e-book, The Plane That Wasn’t There: Why We Haven’t Found MH370. [amazon]32 I found a peculiar euphoria in thinking about my theory, which I thought about all the time. One of the diagnostic questions used to determine whether you’re an alcoholic is whether your drinking has interfered with your work. By that measure, I definitely had a problem. Once the CNN checks stopped coming, I entered a long period of intense activity that earned me not a cent. Instead, I was forking out my own money for translators and researchers and satellite photos. And yet I was happy.
Still, it occurred to me that, for all the passion I had for my theory, I might be the only person in the world who felt this way. Neurobiologist Robert A. Burton points out in his book On Being Certain that the sensation of being sure about one’s beliefs is an emotional response separate from the processing of those beliefs. It’s something that the brain does subconsciously to protect itself from wasting unnecessary processing power on problems for which you’ve already found a solution that’s good enough. “ ‘That’s right’ is a feeling you get so that you can move on,” Burton told me. It’s a kind of subconscious laziness. Just as it’s harder to go for a run than to plop onto the sofa, it’s harder to reexamine one’s assumptions than it is to embrace certainty. At one end of the spectrum of skeptics are scientists, who by disposition or training resist the easy path; at the other end are conspiracy theorists, who’ll leap effortlessly into the sweet bosom of certainty. So where did that put me?
Propounding some new detail of my scenario to my wife over dinner one night, I noticed a certain glassiness in her expression. “You don’t seem entirely convinced,” I suggested.
“Okay,” I said. “What do you think is the percentage chance that I’m right?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Five percent?”I recently reminded her of this conversation. “I was trying to be nice,” she said. What she really thought was, Zero. 33
Springtime came to the southern ocean, and search vessels began their methodical cruise along the area jointly identified by the IG and the ATSB, dragging behind it a sonar rig that imaged the seabed in photographic detail. Within the IG, spirits were high. The discovery of the plane would be the triumphant final act of a remarkable underdog story.
By December, when the ships had still not found a thing, I felt it was finally time to go public. In six sequentially linked pages that readers could only get to by clicking through—to avoid anyone reading the part where I suggest Putin masterminded the hijack without first hearing how I got there—I laid out my argument. I called it “The Spoof.”
I got a respectful hearing but no converts among the IG. A few sites wrote summaries of my post. The International Business Times headlined its story “MH370: Russia’s Grand Plan to Provoke World War III, Says Independent Investigator” and linked directly to the Putin part. Somehow, the airing of my theory helped quell my obsession. My gut still tells me I’m right, but my brain knows better than to trust my gut.
Last month, the Malaysian government declared that the aircraft is considered to have crashed and all those aboard are presumed dead. Malaysia’s transport minister told a local television station that a key factor in the decision was the fact that the search mission for the aircraft failed to achieve its objective. Meanwhile, new theories are still being hatched. One, by French writer Marc Dugain, states that the plane was shot down by the U.S. because it was headed toward the military bases on the islands of Diego Garcia as a flying bomb.His scenario ignores the ping rings entirely.34
The search failed to deliver the airplane, but it has accomplished some other things: It occupied several thousand hours of worldwide airtime; it filled my wallet and then drained it; it torpedoed the idea that the application of rationality to plane disasters would inevitably yield ever-safer air travel. And it left behind a faint, lingering itch in the back of my mind, which I believe will quite likely never go away.
*This article appears in the February 23, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.
Read more posts by Jeff Wise
The Makauwahi sinkhole on Kauai, as seen from the caves on the south side of this hidden bowl. (Craig Miller/KQED)
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Left: Perugia Altarpiece left panel by Fra Angelico, 1437 / Right: Kanye West and Pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr at Kim & Kanye’s wedding. May 24, 2014 Florence Italy
Living the dream! Flexible work, thanks technology!
The outsourcing of errands and odd jobs has fueled the growth of companies like TaskRabbit. With the click of a button, you can find someone to assemble your Ikea furniture or drive you to the airport.
But individuals aren’t the only ones using such sites to get work done. Businesses, large and small, are tapping into the so-called gig economy to find short-term labor.
Uber has a Web page specifically for companies, as does Shyp, which delivers packages to post offices. Then there is Wonolo. It offers on-demand labor exclusively for small businesses, like Wendy Lieu’s chocolate shop.By some estimates, about 34 percent of the U.S. workforce now consists of freelancers.
Lieu has only a handful of employees at her San Francisco shop. To pack orders for the holiday rush, she got people through Wonolo. She says it is convenient because she does not have to increase staff or pay overtime.
Gig companies like Wonolo are providing businesses with workers, no strings attached. That helps cut costs, says Leslie Henthorn. She is a marketing programs manager at the tech company Twilio.
Henthorn says she orders people from TaskRabbit mainly to work events. “You don’t want to be committing to paying someone for eight hours when they don’t work for eight hours,” she says.
Henthorn says there are always “taskers” available, so Twilio does not have to rely on the same people. That is one of the things Twilio likes about it, she says. “Even when we have a great relationship,” she says, “when you need people on demand, a lot of times they are going to be busy.”
Are Gigs Replacing Regular Jobs?
The way companies are using these gig services scares Rebecca Smith. She is deputy director at the National Employment Law Project. Businesses are starting to replace more regular jobs with these gigs, Smith says, which is bad news for workers.
Most gigs don’t have the kind of protections that workers fought for in the early 20th century — things like unemployment benefits and workers’ comp. Smith says “We’re at risk of becoming a country of isolated individual workers who are scrambling to piece together a few hours of low-wage, hourlong gigs that lack our most basic labor protections.”
There aren’t great numbers yet on how these gigs are impacting the labor force, but Smith says they are part of an established trend toward less stable employment. She says traditional temp work is at an all-time high nationally.
“Major corporations are hiring someone to do a tiny task for an almost insignificant amount of time,” Smith says, “and they are doing that repeatedly.”
In terms of labor protections, some gig companies are trying to improve. TaskRabbit, for example, now has on-the-job insurance and guarantees minimum wage. Also, the increased flexibility for this kind of work is a big perk for workers. It’s a quick way to earn some extra cash, or even to subsist entirely without having to become a permanent employee.
But Smith says it’s high unemployment that is driving workers to short-term gigs. People are desperate for income — people like Stephen.
Stephen does a lot of work for tech startups in the Bay Area. Mostly he helps companies move into new offices by setting up desks, PCs, telephones. But Stephen isn’t employed by those startups or a moving business. He is a contractor hired by the hour through TaskRabbit.
Stephen doesn’t want to use his last name because he’s worried a potential employer might see how hard up he is for work. Stephen started at TaskRabbit after being unemployed for nine months.
At first, TaskRabbit was great. He got a string of gigs at tech companies and started making some income. But then Christmas rolled around, everyone went on vacation and the work stopped. Stephen thought he might fall behind on rent and default on debts.
Thankfully, the work has picked up, but Stephen worries it could stop again. He needs a real job, he says, but as more gig services pop up, those could be harder to come by.
By some estimates, about 34 percent of the U.S. workforce now consists of freelancers, including temps, moonlighters and independent contractors. A 2006 report from the U.S. General Accountability Office said about 31 percent of workers in this country were employed on a contingency basis.
Curious about the boom/bust cycle that is reshaping the Bay Area? Check out our Boomtown series.
Exactly what's wrong with Silicon Valley. Make a "green" community but keep it out of the actual community.
Allison Arieff, an architecture critic for the New York Times, says there’s more to sustainability than solar panels and recycled water. It’s about engaging the community too. “They’ve definitely taken the approach of building as object, with not so much interest in anything else that’s happening apart from that object,” says Arieff.
The main building will be a concrete and glass ring a mile in circumference. “Everything in the building is designed to accommodate these curves,” says Dan Whisenhunt, the company’s Vice President of Real Estate and Development. (Anya Schultz/KQED)
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