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Miscellaneous

Some stories don't really fit into a topic that we deal with, yet we think you'll find them interesting enough that we want you to see them.

This is where we catch stories that otherwise would fall through the cracks.

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Facebook looks to know more about you than you do

2018-Jun-25By: Barry Shatzman

Wanna know when your friends will die? Facebook does.

Among the patents the social media company has applied for is a method to use information such as what you buy and where you buy it, as well as your posts and messages, to predict future life events - including death.

Virtually all of Facebook's revenue comes from advertising, and predictions such as this would help them target ads to you that you're more likely to respond to.

Other patents Facebook has applied for include...

o Using your phone's front-facing camera to ascertain your reaction to what you just read, and its microphone to determine what you're watching on TV (and even whether ads are muted).

o Classifying your personality - including your degree of emotional stability.

o Using your phone's location in the middle of the night to determine where you live.

Obtaining a patent does not necessarily mean that the feature will ever be used. Overall, Facebook has applied for thousands of patents. And some patents are obtained defensively - simply to prevent someone else from using the technology.

Taken together, however, "Facebook's patents show a commitment to collecting personal information," the New York Times' Sahil Chinoy wrote in an opinion article.

Nobody wants your autograph

2018-Apr-11By: Barry Shatzman

You may have noticed that your signature isn't needed as often when using a credit card. By next month, you'll need it even less.

Credit card companies are dropping the signature requirement for most purchases, the New York Times reported.

The reason is that technology has made signatures obsolete.

Signatures used to be used by merchants to verify the card's owner actually made the purchase. But microchips embedded in credit cards now make them almost impossible to duplicate. And other types of purchases - such as online or with a smartphone - often don't use signatures anyway.

In some instances not requiring a signature could just be a small convenience. But it also might speed up a checkout line.

Some businesses might still choose to require signatures - such as a restaurant that might be worried about losing tips.

Strange replacement for Sessions' Senate seat

2017-Feb-09By: Barry Shatzman

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has named Luther Strange to replace Sen. Jeff Sessions in the Senate, after Sessions was confirmed to be Attorney General.

As Alabama's attorney general, Strange had been investigating a sex scandal involving Bentley. The Alabama legislature was working on impeachment proceedings against the governor. In November 2016, Strange requested that the legislature delay the proceedings.

Bentley will choose Strange's replacement for state attorney general also.

Fla. Rep wants U.S. to inhabit the moon

2017-Feb-03  (Updated: 2017-Feb-20)By: Barry Shatzman

Rep. Bill Posey has introduced a bill that would direct the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to work toward establishing a sustained human presence on the moon.

The Reasserting American Leadership in Space Act lists reasons for doing so...

o It would allow researchers to "leverage new technologies in addressing the challenges of sustaining life on another celestial body, lessons which are necessary and applicable as we explore further into our solar system, to Mars and beyond."

o It would motivate young people to "excel in the vital subjects of math and science, subjects in which American students lag behind our international competitors."

o It would enhance "commercial interest among United States companies in developing systems, like landers, habitats and surveying technology..."

o It would enhance our national security, allowing the United States to "possess and maintain the capabilities of unfettered operation in the cislunar space domain, and not cede this domain to other nations."

Posey's Florida district is the home of NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Trump: Religions should be able to endorse candidates

2017-Feb-02By: Barry Shatzman

President Trump announced at the National Prayer Breakfast that he would work to eliminate the law prohibiting churches and charities from participating in political campaigns.

The 1954 Johnson Amendment prohibits tax-exempt organizations from supporting (or opposing) candidates in elections.

Constitutional amendment proposed to prohibit flag desecration

2017-Feb-02By: Barry Shatzman

Rep. Steve Womack has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the U.S. flag.

Living near a freeway may cause dementia

2017-Jan-05By: Barry Shatzman

How susceptible are you to dementia later in life? Your risk could depend on how close you live to a freeway.

A 10-year study of 2 million people in Canada showed those living within 200 feet of a major road were more than 5 percent likely to become a victim of dementia.

Researchers did not determine the reason - whether air pollution, noise, or something else.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that 3 million people die every year from air pollution.

Trump may keep private security while president

2016-Dec-20  (Updated: 2017-Jan-04)By: Rob Dennis

President-elect Donald Trump plans to keep at least some of his private security staff after he takes office, according to a report by Politico.com.

There is no known precedent of a president keeping a private security staff working alongside Secret Service protection.

Members of his security staff have been accused by protesters of racial profiling and excessive force. But using security guards who have not undergone Secret Service training also can put the president in harms way. For instance, a law enforcement source cited by Politico said Trump's head of security Keith Schiller was "too slow" and blocked an evacuation route when a man rushed the stage at a Trump rally in March in Dayton, Ohio.



In the video, Schiller arrives from the right, about a second after agents.

Trump has indicated he might continue to hold rallies around the country after he becomes president, and that they might be paid for using private funding.

It's an important distinction. At an event paid for by the government, only law enforcement can remove protesters - and only if they break the law, American Civil Liberties Union senior staff attorney Lee Rowland told Politico. But at a private event, "the host can decide whether and when to revoke attendees' invitations," Rowland said. "That would make them trespassers and allow them to be legally removed."

Protesters have filed lawsuits against Trump and his campaign...

o In one suit, protester Henry Brousseau alleges that Trump supporters punched him in the stomach at a March rally in Louisville, Ky. Brousseau told Politico that Trump security guards "did not seem to be interested at all in public safety. They were there to keep the rally on message."

o Another lawsuit claims Trump security guards assaulted protesters on a public sidewalk outside Trump Tower in New York in September 2015. Click here to see a video of the incident.

Trump has chosen to make Trump Tower, where he lives and works, his headquarters during the campaign and now the transition period. New York City officials have asked the federal government to reimburse the city for an estimated $35 million in security costs through Inauguration Day.

Update 2017-Jan-04: Trump appointed Schiller deputy assistant to the president and director of Oval Office operations.

Our government (as we know it) turns 227 years old today

2016-Mar-04By: Barry Shatzman

The U.S. government as we know it turns 227 years old today.

It was on March 4, 1789 that Congress held its first session. It took over from the Confederation Congress that had operated under the Articles of Confederation since the country won its independence in the Revolutionary War.

Things did not start smoothly. Although the Confederate Congress chose the date for the change, the Constitution specified the first Monday in December as the day to begin business. It was a problem that would not be fully resolved until 1933 - when the 20th Amendment was ratified.

Textbook refers to slaves as "workers"

2015-Oct-05By: Barry Shatzman

Textbook publisher McGraw-Hill announced it will revise a history textbook which refers to slaves brought to the United States as "workers".

Though the correction will be made immediately in the digital version of the book and included in the next printing, classes might still use the current version for several years.

"Happy Birthday to You" is free to be played

2015-Sep-23By: Barry Shatzman

You soon may start hearing "Happy Birthday to You" in restaurants and on television more.

If you haven't had anyone sing it in a while , it's probably because somebody didn't want to pay a royalty to Warner Music Group. The company acquired the rights to the song in 1988 and has been bringing in about $2 million a year from licensing it.

But a federal judge has ruled that the copyright is not valid.

Judge George H. King ruled in Los Angeles that the company actually had acquired the rights to the song as it was published in 1893 - as "Good Morning to You" - and not to the subsequent change that made it the standard birthday song.

Unless the ruling is overturned, the song will become part of the public domain. The court now will need to decide if Warner Music Group will need to refund licensing fees it collected from those who used the song.

Mt. Mckinley renamed to Denali

2015-Aug-28By: Barry Shatzman

The Obama administration has renamed the tallest mountain in North America from Mt. McKinley to Denali.

Denali is a Native American word meaning "the great one". The Alaskan mountain, as well as the name, has been part of native Alaskan culture for thousands of years.

In 1896 a prospector exploring the mountain, William Andrews Dickey, named it in honor of William McKinley - before McKinley was inaugurated president in 1897. The government formally recognized the name in 1917 - ten years after McKinley was assassinated.

In 1975 by then Alaska Governor Jay S. Hammond asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) to change the name, but the request wasn't acted on. In 1980 however, the national park it's located in was named Denali National Park and Preserve.

To make the change now, the administration used the 1947 Uniformity in Geographic Nomenclature law, which allows the Secretary of the Interior to take action "in any matter wherein the Board does not act within a reasonable time".

McKinley was from Ohio, and Ohio representatives in Congress objected to the name change.

"I'm certain (President Obama) didn't notify President McKinley's descendants, who find this outrageous," Rep Michael Turner said.
(McKinley had no descendants - both of his daughters died in childhood)

Amazon.com to test delivery drones outdoors

2015-Mar-19By: Barry Shatzman

Online retailer Amazon can can start outdoor testing of drones, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced. Until now, Amazon has been testing its drones indoors.

It still may be several years before the online retailer can use autonomous drones to deliver products to customers. The FAA has imposed several restrictions on the testing...

o The testing will take place over approved private property.
o The drone must be controlled by a licensed pilot.
o The drone must be flown in daylight, and must always be visible to the pilot.
o The drone cannot fly higher than 400 feet.

Amazon will be required to provide data to the FAA each month, including the number of flights and any malfunctions.

Study links fast food consumption to lower academic performance

2014-Dec-23By: Barry Shatzman

A new study links fast food consumption to lower test scores in children.

The Ohio State University study showed that eighth-grade students' math, science, and reading achievement could be predicted by the amount of fast food they ate in fifth-grade. The study accounted for other factors such as socioeconomic status, fitness, and TV watching.

The study did not point to a cause for the poor performance, nor did it prove that eating fast food causes poor learning. However, previous studies have linked the overall composition of fast food (high fat and cholesterol and low iron) to poorer brain development and memory.

Airlines sue website offering cheaper tickets to hidden cities

2014-Nov-19  (Updated: 2015-Jan-06)By: Barry Shatzman

United Airlines and online travel company Orbitz are suing a website that can give consumers lower fares.

The website, Skiplagged.com, takes advantage of the situation where an airline would charge a lower fare for a city on the same flight that is beyond your planned destination.

Take for example, a flight from Atlanta to Baltimore to Chicago. The airline might charge a lower fare for the longer flight to Chicago than the shorter flight to Baltimore. A passenger could save money by booking the flight to Chicago, and simply get off the plane in Baltimore.

It's completely legal, but most airlines will not knowingly allow you to do this, and travel agents are prohibited from selling these fares to hidden cities. Also, it only will work if you are not checking luggage, since checked luggage would continue all the way to the ticket's final destination. And it will not work for round-trips, as the airline may cancel your return trip if you do not continue to the ticketed destination.

United Airlines says there is more to this than the lost money. These itineraries make it difficult to obtain passenger head counts and cause delays if the airline holds a connecting flight for passengers who leave the airport rather than boarding.

Skiplagged doesn't book flights directly. Rather, it finds these hidden city flights, and provides a link directly to the airline or Orbitz for you to book the flight. The airline and Orbitz claim that this creates the false impression of an affiliation with Skiplagged.

Car thefts are decreasing

2014-Aug-12By: Barry Shatzman

Cars are being stolen less frequently these days.

One reason is technology. Newer cars have ignitions that won't allow the car to start without a microchip in the key that's programmed to match the car. Older cars still are as easy to steal, but their value is decreasing over time because of lower demand.

The Department of Justice also has played a large role. Car title information is maintained in the National Motor Vehicle Title Investigation System, making it easy to identify if a car being sold was stolen.

Racial bias shown at crosswalks

2014-May-22

How long does it take you to cross a busy street in a crosswalk? Turns out the answer has to do with your skin color.

A study by Portland State University and University of Arizona found that drivers were much more likely to stop for white pedestrians than for black ones. On the average, black pedestrians had to wait 30 percent longer for cars to stop for them.

This is more than just a matter of convenience. With fewer drivers stopping for them, minorities are more likely to take risks when crossing a street. The study reports that African Americans have a 60 percent higher rate of pedestrian deaths than whites.

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