Friday, June 4, 2021

Man attacked by gator in Myakka River

A 25-year-old man had only been in the Myakka River for one minute before a gator snapped its jaws around his skull. The man said he frequently dives in Florida waters, looking for fossilized Megalodon shark teeth. As a commercial spearfisherman, ethically sourcing shark teeth is his passion project. He said, “I come up for a breath and I felt like I got hit by a boat going 50 miles an hour,” he said. “Felt like a propeller to the head and it pulled me down.” He quickly realized what struck his head, wasn’t a boat. “I look up and the gator’s just looking at me about four feet in front of me,” he said. He was able to get out of the water before the gator could reach him again. Witnesses nearby called 911 and EMS arrived within minutes. He said while the gator could have easily taken one of his limbs, his skull was strong enough to withstand the gator’s teeth, while protecting his brain. Had he been knocked unconscious by the blow, his story may have ended very differently. Even after the gator nearly killed him, he blames himself for what happened. “I was in its territory,” he said. “I didn’t weigh the risk to the rewards. Technically it’s gator mating season, so this was probably a female protecting her eggs.” Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission confirmed a licensed nuisance trapper would remove the gator. (NBC 2)


Guns to Help Promote COVID Vaccine in West Virginia

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced new COVID-19 vaccine incentives earlier this week, including a $1.5 million cash prize, custom-outfitted trucks, and custom hunting rifles and shotguns. Weekly lotteries will take place from June 20th to August 4th, with a drawing for five custom hunting rifles and five custom shotguns taking place on June 20 for Father’s Day and the state’s birthday. Any West Virginian who has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose will be eligible to register. The lottery also includes a $1.5 million grand prize, a $500,000 second prize, full scholarships to public universities in West Virginia, weekend vacations at state parks, and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses. Vaccinated residents ages 16-35 can also register to receive a $100 savings bond or gift card. Not to be undone, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham unveiled a vaccine lottery that includes $10 million in cash prizes, topped by a $5 million grand prize. (Forbes)


Twitter has launched its first subscription service, Twitter Blue, though it’s only in Canada and Australia to start

The product contains an “undo send” feature, which allows users to quickly retract a tweet they had published before it goes live. Subscribers will also have the option to bookmark tweets and scroll through threads in a simpler “Reader Mode.” Twitter Blue starts at $3.49 per month in Canada or $4.49  per month in Australia. Twitter didn’t say when the product will launch for  users in the United States, but previous listings on app stores suggest that Twitter Blue will cost $2.99 per month in the U.S. and £2.49 per month in the U.K. Subscribers will also get new color theme and icon options. (The Verge)


Ally Financial became the first major U.S. bank to end overdraft fees

The bank said overdraft fees were not a major source of its profits and disproportionately impacted Black and Latino customers. Over 80% of overdraft fees nationwide are paid by people living paycheck to paycheck, according to the Ally Financial CEO. The change will impact about 3.6 million accounts. Ally previously charged a maximum of $25/day for overdrafting. One in 12 Ally bank customers has overdrafted at some point. Americans paid $12.4 Billion Dollars in overdraft fees in 2020. (NBC News)


The Supreme Court tossed the conviction of a former Georgia police officer who “improperly accessed a license plate database,” limiting the number of charges that can be brought under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)

Officer Nathan Van Buren had been convicted of accepting $6,000 for looking up the information of a private citizen in a license plate database. The person who paid him was actually an FBI informant and the officer was arrested. Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote in her majority opinion that, though Van Buren “plainly flouted” department policies, his actions did not violate the CFAA. She wrote that, if the CFAA were to apply to the man’s actions, it would mean that even very commonplace activities, like checking personal email on a work computer, would also be considered illegal. Three conservative justices and the court’s three liberal justices all sided with the majority. Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito all dissented. The majority argued that officer’s actions were lawful, even if they violated the policies of his department, because he had access to the database as part of his job. Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissent that the CFAA should apply to his actions because he was “expressly forbidden” from accessing such information under the circumstances in which he used the database. (Reuters)


The Mayor of Paris, France plans to ban most vehicle traffic crossing the city center in 2022

The proposal suggests a ban on through traffic to the heart of the French capital city, a 14-square kilometer zone. The move aims to reduce pollution and noise levels, create more space for trees, cycle lanes, and pedestrian use areas. The restriction will not apply to zone residents, hotel guests, people with disabilities, public transit, or deliveries and services. The city estimates that this policy would reduce the traffic flow by 55% or 100,000 vehicles on average per day. City officials will monitor vehicles in this zone. A similar restriction in London was implemented by using image recognition cameras. The city has already banned heavily polluting diesel cars from a part of the city, restricted the Seine quayside to only pedestrian use, limited car access on major streets, and turned areas previously reserved for driving and parking into green spaces and sidewalks. (Bloomberg)


Stimulus checks over the past six months significantly reduced food insecurity, anxiety, and depression in the poorest U.S. households

In offering most Americans two more rounds of stimulus checks in the past six months, totaling $2,000 a person, the federal government effectively conducted a huge experiment in safety net policy. A new analysis of Census Bureau surveys argues that the two latest rounds of aid significantly improved Americans’ ability to buy food and pay household bills and reduced anxiety and depression, with the largest benefits going to the poorest households and those with children. Among households with children, reports of food shortages fell 42 percent from January through April. A broader gauge of financial instability fell 43 percent. Among all households, frequent anxiety and depression fell by more than 20 percent. While the economic rebound and other forms of aid no doubt also helped, the largest declines in measures of hardship coincided with the $600 checks that reached most people in January and the $1,400 checks mostly distributed in April. The study does not address the critics’ main complaints, that the spending swelled the deficit, that much of the money went to economically stable families who did not really need it and that the checks were part of a pattern of aid over the last year that left some people with less incentive to find jobs. Some analysts say hardship would have fallen anyway as a result of job growth and other safety net programs. (Distinct Today)


Puppies are born with “an innate ability to interact with humans,” according to new research

In a result that won’t come as a surprise to dog lovers, US researchers have found that puppies are born with an innate ability to interact with humans. The team studied eight-week-old puppies to see how they responded to human gestures without much (if any) training by giving 375 dogs the exact same tasks. They found that up to 40% of a puppy’s capacity to interact comes down to its genes. The study found that based on their genetics some puppies have a better innate ability than others to interact with humans, with 40% of the variation in following human gestures explained by inherited genes. All of the dogs in the study were budding service dogs with a similar rearing history and known pedigrees, allowing the researchers to build a statistical model that could assess genetic factors in comparison to environmental factors. These findings not only add to our understanding of how dogs develop their abilities to think and problem solve, but also have implications for determining what makes a successful service dog. The next step is to identify specific genes contributing to the displayed behaviors and to keep tabs on these puppies to see whether success on these early tests can predict their successful graduation into service dogs. (Cosmos Magazine)


NASA has approved two new missions to Venus, the closest planet to Earth and the second planet from the sun

The missions, Davinci+ and Veritas, aim to develop our understanding of how “Venus became an inferno-like world, capable of melting lead at the surface,” NASA administrator said. The missions will also help explain how Earth evolved and “why it’s habitable”. NASA has allocated $500 Million Dollars to each mission. The launches are slated for between 2028 and 2030. Davinci+ will measure the composition of Venus’s atmosphere and help us understand how it formed and evolved. Veritas will map Venus’s surface and determine why it developed so differently than Earth’s. Venus has not been visited since 1990, when NASA’s Magellan orbiter first mapped the planet’s surface. (BBC)


The U.S. has announced tariffs on six countries in response to digital-service taxes that target revenue generated by tech giants, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon

The tariffs were immediately suspended for six months to allow for international tax negotiators to reach a solution. The countries facing the tariffs are Austria, Britain, India, Italy, Spain, and Turkey. The 25% tariffs will apply to over Two Billion Dollars worth of imports, including clothes, cosmetics, and optical lenses. The proposed tariffs would collect the same amount of money as the digital-service taxes applied to U.S. firms. (Reuters)


The Scottish city of Glasgow has announced plans to plant 18 million trees over the next ten years

The initiative, named Clyde Climate Forest, aims to “link up existing woodlands” that have been broken apart due to urbanization. Planting the equivalent of 10 trees per resident will help Glasgow reach its net-zero carbon emission targets and see the city’s woodland cover rise from 17% to 20%.  (BBC)


Amazon has announced its support for a federal bill to legalize cannabis throughout the United States 

The e-commerce giant also declared that it would stop testing most job applicants for cannabis use. Behind Walmart, Amazon is the second-largest private employer in the United States. In May, Amazon announced it would be hiring 75,000 workers in the U.S. and Canada with an average starting salary of $17 per hour. Amazon’s expansion plans focus on states where Marijuana is either already legal or becoming legal, such as Virginia and New York. Having previously disqualified prospective workers for cannabis use, Amazon has “changed course” because of “where state laws are moving across the U.S.,” the company said in a blog post. (Amazon)


Stanford University kicked off its study to explore how VR impacts the psychological well-being and relationships of older adults

The research begins with 1,200 residents of the John Knox Village senior community in suburban Fort Lauderdale. Wearing VR headsets, seniors will be able to skydive, hike, and visit Paris, Venice, and other cities, for example. It’s expected to be one of the largest studies ever to examine VR’s effects on older populations, including their overall health and wellness. Other U.S.-based senior communities will join the study later. MyndVR’s goal is to create a platform that brings the world back for seniors, who start to lose connections with people, nature, and animals as some become less mobile. MyndVR sells and donates its VR systems to senior living and nursing facilities, continuing care retirement communities, and veterans’ homes. Last summer, it launched an at-home version with a headset and tablet to reach seniors during the pandemic. (Associated Press)


Friday Gets Sideways With:

  • Audacity To Hope Day
  • Banana Split Days
  • Cheese Day
  • Clean Beauty Day
  • Cognac Day
  • Doughnut Day or Donut Day (Salvation Army)
  • Gun Violence Awareness Day (First Friday)
  • Hug Your Cat Day
  • Horseradish Days (First Weekend)
  • International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression
  • International (World) Hug Your Cat Day
  • Old Maid’s Day
  • Punk Day
  • SAFE Day


Historical Events

  • 1802 – Grieving over the death of his wife, Marie Clotilde of France, King Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia abdicates his throne in favor of his brother, Victor Emmanuel.
  • 1825 – French American Revolutionary War General Lafayette speaks at what would become Lafayette Square, Buffalo, during his visit to the United States.
  • 1876 – An express train called the Transcontinental Express arrives in San Francisco, California, via the First Transcontinental Railroad only 83 hours and 39 minutes after leaving New York City.
  • 1912 – Massachusetts becomes the first state of the United States to set a minimum wage.
  • 1928 – President of the Republic of China Zhang Zuolin is assassinated by Japanese agents.
  • 1961 – In the Vienna summit, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev sparks the Berlin Crisis by threatening to sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany and ending American, British and French access to East Berlin.
  • 1973 – A patent for the ATM is granted to Donald Wetzel, Tom Barnes and George Chastain.
  • 1989 – Ali Khamenei is elected the new Supreme Leader of Islamic republic of Iran by the Assembly of Experts after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
  • 1989 – Solidarity’s victory in the first (somewhat) free parliamentary elections in post-war Poland sparks off a succession of peaceful anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Europe, leads to the creation of the so-called Contract Sejm and begins the Autumn of Nations.
  • 1996 – The first flight of Ariane 5 explodes after roughly 20 seconds. It was a Cluster mission.