Thursday, May 28, 2020

Homeowners association in California confiscates graduation yard signs, upsetting kids and parents

A community is upset because the graduation signs they put up in their yards were taken down by a homeowners association. There hasn’t been much to celebrate for, but the graduation signs in people’s front yard brought joy during an otherwise difficult time. Some homeowners said “We put it up and were so excited. You walk around your neighborhood and get excited to see which school each of the seniors are from. There’s fifth-graders that are graduating from elementary school and the eighth-graders.” The fun ended recently though after several of the students’ signs disappeared from inside of the Gates of Mirasol – a townhome community with HOA regulations enforced by a board of directors. On Zoom, during a virtual HOA meeting, a board member admitted that they were taken down because placement in the common areas violates the HOA rules. The property manager said, “The board of directors has no comment on this matter other than to say that the signs will be returned to the respective owners upon request.” “It’s just ridiculous, cold and cruel, and we should be coming together as a community right now, not finding ways to pick fights,” a concerned resident said. One family’s 11-year-old’s sign is gone, but the fifth-grader’s little brother felt so bad, he came up with his own sign and hung it on the garage. It even says, “Do not remove.” (MSN)


The Earth’s magnetic field is weakening between Africa and South America, causing issues for satellites and space craft

Scientists studying the phenomenon observed that an area known as the South Atlantic Anomaly has grown considerably in recent years, though the reason for it is not entirely clear. Using data gathered by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Swarm constellation of satellites, researchers noted that the area of the anomaly dropped in strength by more than 8 per cent between 1970 and 2020. “The new, eastern minimum of the South Atlantic Anomaly has appeared over the last decade and in recent years is developing vigorously,” said  a spokesperson from the German Research Centre for Geosciences. One possibility, according to the ESA, is that the weakening field is a sign that the Earth’s magnetic field is about to reverse, whereby the North Pole and South Pole switch places. The last time a “geomagnetic reversal” took place was 780,000 years ago, with some scientists claiming that the next one is long overdue. Typically, such events take place every 250,000 years. (Independent UK)


NASA is looking for participants to isolate in a Russian lab for 8 months

NASA is seeking US citizens for an eight-month study on social isolation in preparation for missions to Mars and the moon. The research is being done to study the effects of isolation and confinement as participants work to complete simulated space missions. Participants will be staying in a lab located in Moscow, and they will experience environmental aspects similar to those astronauts are expected to experience on future missions to Mars that will have crew members from different nations. NASA is looking for healthy individuals between the ages of 30 and 55 who are fluent in both English and Russian. They must also have a M.S., PhD., M.D. or have completed military officer training. NASA will consider other participants with a bachelor’s degree and other qualifications such as military or professional experience. Participants will be compensated, and there are varying levels of pay depending on whether you’re associated with NASA. (CNN)


Robot dog manages flock of sheep

A video, featuring an autonomous canine, a robot dog, has created quite a stir online. The video shows the use of the robot named “Spot”, made by Boston Dynamics, in managing a flock of sheep. While the technological advancement amazed some, most people didn’t warm up to this shepherd robot. A few also wrote that this is the kind of innovation which will result in ‘AI robot apocalypse’ in future, a hypothetical scenario where AI overpowers humans to become the dominant form of intelligence on Earth. “The use of autonomous robots in agriculture is increasing the efficiency of food production. Robots, like Spot from Boston Dynamics, increase accuracy in yield estimates, relieve the strain of worker shortages, and create precision in farming,” the company wrote and shared the video. (Hindu Stan Times)


Venezuelan high court orders DirecTV property seized

Venezuela’s high court ordered the immediate seizure of all DirecTV property after the U.S. company abandoned its services in the South American nation, citing U.S. sanctions. The Supreme Court ruling told the nation’s telecommunications agency to seize satellite dishes and office space at transmission centers. It also said DirecTV programming should immediately return to the airwaves, in an order that was not likely to be heeded. AT&T cut off pay TV services in Venezuela, saying U.S. sanctions prohibit its DirecTV platform from broadcasting channels that it is required to carry by the administration of President Nicolás Maduro. However, Venezuelan lawmakers said the company is legally bound to uphold its programming. The abrupt move cutting off entertainment, news and sports channels, sparked widespread protests at least two nights in a row, with residents leaning from their windows across the capital of Caracas banging pots and pans. Venezuelans have been ordered to stay home on quarantine since mid-March to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, which officials say has killed at least 10 people and sickened hundreds. AT&T joins a number of other U.S. companies, the likes of General Motors, Kellogg and Kimberly-Clark, that have abandoned Venezuela due to shrinking sales, government threats and the risk of U.S. sanctions. Around 700 Venezuelans depended on the unit for employment. AT&T hasn’t made money from its Venezuelan operations for years due to strict government controls that keep the price of its packages artificially low,  a few pennies per month. The situation has become so dire that DirecTV in 2012 stopped importing set-top boxes, choking its growth. In 2015, it wrote down its assets in the country by $1.1 billion. (Yahoo News)


A Kentucky school surprised a little girl by including a photo of her service dog in the yearbook

An elementary school in Kentucky saved a special spot in its yearbook for one very good girl — her service dog. St. Patrick Catholic School in Louisville, Kentucky surprised a 7-year-old girl by including a photo of the Labradoodle among its kindergarten class. The young student suffers from epilepsy, a neurological disorder that causes seizures. Without the pooch, the little girl might not be alive. At school, the Labradoodle watches over the young girl constantly. The 4-year-old pooch, who bonded with hero when she was just a puppy, is able to recognize when the up-and-coming first grader is having an episode. When these episodes happen at school, the dog alerts teachers that something is wrong by barking. During seizures, the dog also lies down next to the girl and moves her body under the child to cushion her fall. (CNN)


Air Force removes height restrictions for pilots

The U.S. Air Force announced this week that it is changing its height restrictions for pilots. Applicants below 64 inches (5’4″) or above 77 inches (6’5″) can now enter a cockpit without a waiver.  Under the Air Force’s previous requirements, an Air Force pilot applicant (barring waivers) needed to have a standing height between 5’4″ to 6’5″ and a sitting height of 34-40 inches. That requirement eliminated about 44% of the U.S. female population between the ages of 20 and 29, according to the Air Force. “Studies have shown that women’s perceptions about being fully qualified for a job makes them less likely to apply, even though there is a waiver option,” said the Air Force mobility planner and programmer in a press release issued recently. The change is part of the Air Force’s “on-going effort to encourage a more diverse pool of applicants to pursue careers in aviation,” according to its press release. In place of the blanket height requirement, the Air Force will now use an “anthropometric screening process” to asses individual applicants “for placement in an aircraft they can safely fly.” Anthropometry is a science that defines physical measures of a person’s size, form, and functional capacities. In addition to measuring height, an anthropometric assessment also takes into account weight, body mass index, body circumferences (waist, hip, and limbs), and skinfold thickness. (CBS News)


Malls consider ‘shop by appointment’

One of the largest U.S. mall owners is subtly shaking up the way American consumers shop to expedite the opening of stores and ease anxieties around the coronavirus pandemic. The mall giant Westfield will allow shoppers to schedule an appointment to visit an individual retailer via its mobile app, for instance, and also provide information on how many shoppers are in the mall and when it’s likely to be less crowded. Reopened malls nationally have attracted modest crowds so far, suggesting “shoppers are not quite ready to return.” (CNBC)


Summer slump limits teen jobs

The coronavirus pandemic is having a noticeable impact on seasonal jobs available to young Americans wanting to work this summer. As teenagers on break from school swarm the temporary job market, they are confronting an unemployment rate of 32% for workers aged 16 to 19. And that rate is expected to soar as summer progresses. Compounding the issue, retail jobs are in short supply, while pools, restaurants, and golf course roles are limited by social distancing requirements. (The Wall Street Journal)


Woman celebrates 108th birthday with a parade

The sound of sirens kicked off a birthday parade in Terry, Mississippi for Eula V. Polk, who turned 108 years old. She was born in 1912. Her great niece made sure it was a memorable, grand occasion after reaching such a milestone. “Always had a big celebration and with the pandemic that’s going on now, we had to come up with another way of how we can make a grand day for her as well,” her niece said. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, friends and family came up with the parade. People drove by with handmade signs and cheers. Polk was able to have a close view of the parade from a special birthday golf cart. She said even at 108 years old, her great aunt is still sharp and witty. The birthday lady is also loved by many who stood outside to watch the parade and honor her. Although the pandemic changed plans this year, her family hopes to have a traditional party for the woman next year. As for Mrs. Polk she doesn’t take her years on this earth for granted. She believes it was God’s will that has allowed her to live so long. “Just try to live as along as you can do the best you can while God got you here,” said Polk. (WLBT)


Facebook reportedly ignored its own research showing algorithms divided users

An internal Facebook report presented to executives in 2018 found that the company was well aware that its product, specifically its recommendation engine, stoked divisiveness and polarization. Yet, despite warnings about the effect this could have on society, Facebook leadership ignored the findings and has largely tried to absolve itself of responsibility with regard to partisan divides and other forms of polarization it directly contributed to, the report states. Changes might disproportionately affect conservatives and might hurt engagement, the report says. “Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” one slide from the presentation read. The group found that if this core element of its recommendation engine were left unchecked, it would continue to serve Facebook users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.” A separate internal report, crafted in 2016, said 64 percent of people who joined an extremist group on Facebook only did so because the company’s algorithm recommended it to them. (The Wall Street Journal)


YouTube is deleting comments with two phrases that insult China’s Communist Party

YouTube is automatically deleting comments that contain certain Chinese-language phrases related to criticism of the country’s ruling Communist Party (CCP). The company confirmed this was happening in error and that it was looking into the issue. “This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating,” said a YouTube spokesperson. The company did not elaborate on how or why this error came to be, but said it was not the result of any change in its moderation policy. But if the deletions are the result of a simple mistake, then it’s one that’s gone unnoticed for six months. There’s evidence that comments were being deleted as early as October 2019, when the issue was raised on YouTube’s official help pages and multiple users confirmed that they had experienced the same problem. Comments left under videos or in live streams that contain the words “共匪” (“communist bandit”) or “五毛” (“50-cent party”) are automatically deleted in around 15 seconds. These phrases seem to have been accidentally added to YouTube’s comment filters, which automatically remove spam and offensive text. The comments are removed too quickly for human moderation and are deleted even if the banned phrases are used positively. YouTube says it’s been relying more on its automated filters in recent months due changes to its workforce brought about by the pandemic. (The Verge)


Alligator rumored to have belonged to Hitler dies in Moscow

An alligator that many people believe once belonged to Adolf Hitler has died in the Moscow Zoo. The zoo said the alligator, named Saturn, was about 84-years-old when he died recently. According to the zoo, Saturn was born in the United States and later sent to the Berlin Zoo, from which he escaped when the zoo was bombed in 1943. His whereabouts were unknown until 1946, when British soldiers found him and gave him to the Soviet Union, the zoo said. (NBC News)


Thursday Creeps In With:

  • Amnesty International Founders Day
  • Ascension of Baha’u’Llah
  • Menstrual Hygiene Day
  • National Brisket Day
  • Shavuot (Sundown)
  • Sierra Club Day
  • Slugs Return From Capistrano Day

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