Kit OConnell

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Thursday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Thursday August 21, 2014 7:27 pm

 

A lone cyclist approaches the many spires of the Temple of Transition as dust blows

Scientists document the long-term psychological effects of Burning Man.

Tonight, the Firedoglake Watercooler is in solidarity with Block the Boat, the recent record-breaking boat blockade for Gaza that prevented an Israeli ship from unloading in the Port of Oakland. Protesters kept the ship from unloading for almost four days, and inspired upcoming solidarity actions in other cities.

The protesters gathered Sunday at the port to stop the ship from docking and unloading, but it docked at the port Sunday evening The demonstration was under the auspices of the Block the Boat coalition organized by the San Francisco-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center.

Unionized dockworkers at the port on Sunday honored the picket line and refused to unload the ship.

‘Workers honored our picket and stood on the side of justice, as they historically have,’ the center said in a statement on its website. ‘Oakland said no to Zionism and blocked the boat for an entire weekend. This is the first time in history that this has happened. Israeli apartheid is falling one port at a time.’

‘Zim has undoubtedly suffered significant economic losses, and we have set a powerful precedent for what international solidarity with Palestine, through boycott, divestment and sanctions, can look like,’ Reem Assil of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, said.

Similar actions are expected to take place at ports in Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., this week and later in Vancouver.

More information on the union perspective is available in this article from Working In These Times.

Thousands are preparing to attend Burning Man, the massive counterculture art festival in Nevada’s Black Rock desert, next week. Though much in the media has been made of the multimillionaires who attend Burning Man, many people of more modest means continue to find meaning in the week long event and it’s more inexpensive regional alternatives. A recent article by Eric W. Dolan, writing on Psypost, summarizes a recent study showing that attending Burning Man alters your emotional responses.

‘What first drew me to study emotion regulation at Burning Man is that Burning Man has very explicit values (the ten principles of Burning Man) and one of them is radical self-expression,’ [lead author Kateri] McRae explained. ‘I thought it would be really interesting to see how that explicit value impacted the types of emotion regulation that people use when they’re there. And indeed, we find that people inhibit their emotional expression less often when they’re at Burning Man than typically at home.’

For their study, the researchers surveyed 16,227 individuals at Burning Man over the course of four years to investigate two emotional regulation strategies, expressive suppression and cognitive reappraisal.

Going to Burning Man made individuals less likely to inhibit the expression of both positive and negative emotions. Those at Burning Man were more open about their emotions in general, but were more likely to feel uninhibited about expressing positive emotions rather than negative ones. McRae and her colleagues found decreases in the suppression of positive emotion were considerably stronger than the decreases in the suppression of negative emotion.

‘What was most surprising to us was that this decreased inhibition was not global,’ McRae told PsyPost. ‘In other words, people aren’t “letting loose” in every sense when they are at Burning Man (which is one stereotype that some people hold about the event). In fact, people use an emotion regulation strategy called reappraisal MORE often when they’re there.’

‘So the paradox of Burning Man is that people are more open, less inhibited when expressing their emotions, but also more thoughtful in terms of reframing, reconsidering or reevaluating their emotions (which is what reappraisal entails).’

When it comes to rich attendees I don’t think an event that encourages the wealthy to give away more of their money is necessarily a bad thing — but too many probably come more to gawk than to share (I seriously doubt Grover Norquist will grok the gift economy this year). My experiences of radical self-expression within the Burning Man community (largely at Texas regional events) have inspired much of my activism — though sadly Burning Man’s freedom itself is now increasingly threatened by overzealous police. I hope the event survives, and more importantly, that the community finds ways to make the experience more accessible to others.

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Wednesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday August 20, 2014 8:43 pm

 

A model of a neanderthal with a walking stick

“So, want to go out for drinks on Friday?”

Tonight’s video is “Giant Rubber Duck Sails Into Port of Los Angeles,” from LA’s ABC7.

The famous giant duck, designed by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, sailed into the Port of Los Angeles early Wednesday morning.

The duck is just one of the attractions at the five-day Festival of Tall Ships.

At 2 p.m., the six-story-tall duck sculpture will lead a parade of domestic and international ships making their way along the Main Channel.

Event organizers say the rubber duck is an impressive sight to see.

‘This is 61 feet, 11 tons, about 85 feet wide and about 110 feet long,’ said Craig Samborski, spokesperson for the Festival of Tall Ships. ‘I was shocked when I saw the size of it right in front of me.’

Until recently, scientists mostly agreed that Homo sapiens wiped out the neanderthals. Then came evidence of interbreeding. Now a new study suggests that neanderthals faded gradually and were assimilated over time into the human population as their numbers dwindled, rather than the widespread violent extermination believed before. From Live Science:

To help solve the mystery of when Neanderthals went extinct, scientists analyzed bone, charcoal and shell materials from 40 archaeological sites from Russia to Spain. They employed advanced techniques for more precise dating of these specimens that involved ultra-filtering molecules from bone samples for examination and removing organic contaminants that could make specimens seem younger than they actually are.

The new findings suggest that Neanderthals disappeared from Europe between about 41,000 and 39,000 years ago.

‘I think that, for the first time, we have a reliable extinction date for Neanderthals,’ said study author Tom Higham, a radiocarbon scientist at the University of Oxford in England. ‘This has eluded us for decades.’

The Neanderthal extinction occurred across sites ranging from the Black Sea to the Atlantic Coast of Europe. The timing and geography suggest Neanderthals may have overlapped with modern humans for 2,600 to 5,400 years, opening the door for genetic and cultural exchanges between the two groups for millennia.

These findings suggest that modern humans did not rapidly replace Neanderthals in Europe — say, via violent means. Rather, the Neanderthal extinction ‘might have been more complex and drawn out than previously thought,’ Higham told Live Science.

There is some genetic evidence that Neanderthals in Western Europe may have experienced declining genetic diversity about the time when the first modern humans began arriving on the continent, Higham said. “This might mean that they were fading out at this time, although, of course, our evidence suggests that there was a long period of overlap during which this occurred,” he said.

Neanderthals may not even have truly disappeared, but instead have been assimilated into modern human populations. “We know, of course, that we have a genetic legacy from Neanderthals of about 1 to 2 percent, so there was interbreeding,” Higham said.

Bonus: A right-wing think tank was forced to apologize for telling Amnesty International to “suck it,” via Talking Points Memo

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Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday August 19, 2014 8:32 pm

 

Tonight’s video is “How do you know you exist?” from TED-Ed.

How do you know you’re real? Is existence all just a big dream? Has some mad scientist duped us into simply believing that we exist? James Zucker investigates all of these questions (and more) in this mind-boggling tribute to René Descartes’s “Meditations on First Philosophy.”

Lesson by James Zucker, animation by Stretch Films, Inc.

 

Painting of a woman with her arms up. Don't Shoot, It's Right to Rebel!

But how does the rest of the world see Ferguson?

Readers could have been forgiven for thinking the headline came from The Onion:Egypt urges US restraint over Missouri unrest.” No it’s real news, but the Egyptian government is definitely having a laugh at our expense, especially since their statement echoes our own from last year.

Al Jazeera America took a broad look at how the world media is covering the uprising in Ferguson.

Russian and Iranian media have, perhaps unsurprisingly, printed scathing judgments about the police response to protests in Missouri. One Russian site, Svobodnaya Pressa, coined the term ‘Afromaidan,’ implying that the U.S. is getting a dose of its own medicine for backing anti-Russian Euromaidan rallies in Kiev, Ukraine. The article poked fun at the notion of a land of opportunity, signaling that America’s ‘race war’ proves Washington’s hypocrisy.

PressTV in Iran led with the Ferguson story on its website Monday. A news feature quoted an African-American historian referring to ‘institutionalized racism’ in the U.S. and calling the country a ‘human rights failed state.’ And Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Facebook page read Sunday: ‘Look at what they do to the black community in their own country … . The police may beat them to death over the crime of having dark skins!’

[...] German media site Deutsche Welle, meanwhile, highlighted similarities between minorities in Germany and the U.S. while publishing some commentary on the tone of American television broadcasts: ‘In the current U.S. media coverage of Michael Brown’s death, his photo is almost nowhere to be seen. Media reports are dominated by the images of burning suburban streets and a militarized police force – a visual language that suggests war rather than the tragic death of an unarmed young man shot by a police officer.’ Other German news portals are similarly critical, with scathing evaluations of America’s ‘postracist’ society, and of the quick deployment of weapons in Ferguson.

[...] In Turkey, the pro-government newspaper Takvim has treated the Ferguson unrest as it perceives U.S. media covered protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park last summer. A recent headline derisively referred to American officials as monkeys. An excerpt from the article read: ‘Units patrolling in armored vehicles caused terror. They beat up journalists who were taking photos and sent them to prison.’

Brazilian news site O Globo ran an article on Ferguson emphasizing how U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ‘appealed to U.S. authorities to ensure protection of the rights of demonstrators.’

And in closing:

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Monday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Monday August 18, 2014 8:24 pm

 

A sign advertising Deep Fried Frozen Margaritas at the Texas State Fair.

Deep fried oreos? That’s SO five years ago.

Tonight the Firedoglake Watercooler is in solidarity with a dam blockade underway in Manitoba, Canada.

Elder Winston Wutunee Blessing PH 280 Blockade.

Backed by four of the five band councillors, members of Tatakweyak Cree Nation are now blocking Manitoba Hydro traffic on Provincial Road 280, the only route to the site of the recently approved Keeyask Dam.

West Coast Native News explains more about the Keeyask dam blockade and their demands.

Members of Tataskweyak Cree Nation (TCN) in Split Lake are blocking construction and Manitoba Hydro vehicles from passing through Split Lake on Provincial Road 280 near the site of the Keeyask Generating Station construction site to protest the deterioration of the highway and the Crown corporation’s treatment of the First Nation.

‘We have been left behind,’ said TCN Coun. Melanie Spence, one of the blockade organizers, in a press release. ‘Now that Hydro has our consent to build Keeyask, the company is treating us more like an obstacle than a partner.’

[...] The Keeyask site is 58 kilometres from Split Lake, the main TCN community. Split Lake is located about 140 kilometres northeast of Thompson, also along PR 280. Councillor Melanie Spence, one of the blockade organizers, says people in the community are fed up with being treated like second class citizens. While Manitoba Hydro reaps huge benefits off TCN lands and waters, local people are left to endure conditions and a level of health and infrastructure services that most Canadians would never tolerate.

According to the official release, their demands include:

  • paving of PR 280;
  • resolution of a range of outstanding hydro-related damage claims from trappers and commercial fishers;
  • good faith dealings by Hydro with respect to various construction work contracts that were to be granted to TCN-owned companies (related to Bipole III, PR 280 upgrades and Keeyask);
  • a better hiring process and better working conditions for TCN members at the Keeyask site;
  • a solution to hydro bills that are much higher than the provincial average;
  • a reasonable compensation package for the family in whose home are Keeyask is being built; and
  • environmental mitigation measures related to existing hydro operations.

The State Fair of Texas begins next month and fried food vendors are already vying for the Big Tex Awards, named for the fair’s giant talking statue rebuilt last year after an electrical fire. From KVUE:

The competition, which began in 2005, picks the most creative and best tasting options from the fair vendors’ newest concoctions each year. Last year, Fried Thanksgiving Dinner took the title for most creative while the Fried Cuban Roll won best tasting.

The contestants presented their creations to the State Fair of Texas earlier this month, and the field has been narrowed to eight. Here are the finalists and their descriptions, as written in a fair press release:

[...] Chicken Fried Loaded Baked Potato by Butch Benavides

The creamy and moist insides of a baked potato, loaded with generous amounts of butter, bacon, and cheddar cheese, are coated and battered with a delectable blend of spices and flour that create a perfect combination of fried crispy crust and delicious, creamy loaded baked potato. Served with a ranch dipping sauce.

Deep Fried “Breakfast for Dinner” by Edna Sutton & Tom Grace

A twist on a favorite American dinner — “Breakfast for Dinner.” This is a 10″ flour tortilla stuffed with eight favorite breakfast items – scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage, bacon, potatoes, ham, onion, cheddar cheese and gooey cinnamon roll bits – that are deep fried until golden brown and served with a creamy country gravy, salsa and a pico-queso dip.

[...] Fried Sriracha Balls by Mark Zable

A lip-smacking combination of shredded chicken, corn, green chilies, tomatoes, and Sriracha hot sauce, formed into balls and coated with crispy tortilla chips. It is then flash-fried until golden brown. For those who like their food higher on the Scoville Scale, extra Sriracha Sauce is available.

Thanks to Katey Psencik for the tip.

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Cartoon Friday Watercooler: Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket)

By: Kit OConnell Friday August 15, 2014 8:27 pm

 

It’s Cartoon Friday, again!

A Bolivian woman in colorful traditional clothes and dark hat.

Please visit Texas, Grandmother Cricket!

Tonight’s viewing is Abuela Grillo, which translates as Grandmother Cricket. It’s a global project, that tells a Bolivian story:

Animated short-film produced in The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark. By The Animation Workshop, Nicobis, Escorzo, and the Community of Bolivians Animators and is supported by the Danish Government. Animated by 8 Bolivian animators, directed by a French director, music by the Bolivian ambessador in France, composed by another French citizen, a Danish project, hepled for the production by a Mexican and German.

The blog Chai Kadai summarizes the plot of this short animate film:

The Ayoreo are the nomadic indigenous people of Eastern Bolivia. They believe in the legend of Direjná, the grandmother of a cricket whose songs can bring rain to this earth. She owned all the waters, and where she was it rained. But one day, she sang and sang in overjoy until the rain fell so hard and the lands were flooded. So, her grandchildren asked her to leave, and she retired to the second heaven. The hot, dry days of famine took over the earth. From the second heaven, Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket) sends rain every time someone tells her story.

In the years 1999 to 2000, there were massive protests in Cochabomba, in Bolivia, against the privatization of municipal water supply. In 2009, eight animators from Bolivia worked with French filmmaker Denis Chapon and The Animation Workshop of Denmark, chose to retell her story. Abuela Grillo sings as she walks the lowlands and mountains in the borders of Paraguay and Bolivia. She settles in a village where she is initially welcomed. Overjoyed, she sings and sings until the valleys are flooded. The villagers get angry and chase her away.

While traveling, she is lured by the black-suited, white-collared corporate giants who promise her fame and applause. They harness the rains, bottle water and sell it to the people. Now, the villagers whose lands had plenty start to run dry. Abuela Grillo gradually grows tired of the stage shows, but realizes she cannot leave. The corporations have her in captivity. They force her to sing more and more, until they tap her tears.

The villagers come to know of Abuela Grillo’s plight and realize their mistake. They march into the city with all utility weapons they can find demanding the corporates let their grandmother go. Unfortunately, the white collars wage war against them with tear gas. Not able to stand it anymore, Abuela screams and her floods wash away the tear gas and destroys everything in the city. Free now, Abuela walks away, and is welcomed back in the village, where she sings and brings harvest all along her way.

Von Diaz, writing for the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at NYU, explains more of the film’s background in Bolivia’s struggle over water rights:

The Abuela Grillo character is based on a myth from the Bolivian lowlands, but the film tells the story of a historic moment in Bolivian water politics. Water issues reached a boiling point in 2000 after water privatization legislation led to a significant spike in prices for Bolivian citizens. Demonstrations rocked Cochabamba in what is also known as the Cochabamba Water Wars.  Though they began as peaceful protests, demonstrations quickly  grew violent, leading to dozens of civilian and police injuries and casualties.  Then President Hugo Banzer was forced to resign.

But of course another theme in Abuela Grillo is that  is that we’ve forgotten the value of our elders. From Pimpernelle:

The grandmother as key to the community, for all the women that we take for granted because of their age. Perhaps, her purpose has become less obvious to us or maybe because we’ve relinquished her purpose, an untapped source of wealth for the community.

Seen any good cartoons lately? What are you watching on TV these days?

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Exposing ALEC’s Corporate Sausage Factory in Dallas

By: Kit OConnell Friday August 15, 2014 6:39 pm

 

A cowboy hands out bottled water to protesters.

Protesting in the Texas summer is thirsty work.

DALLAS — We’d gathered at Eddie Deen’s Ranch to interrupt the American Legislative Exchange Council at dinner. I was wearing a pink cowboy hat, temporarily inducted into the CODEPINK Posse, an effort organized by the local branch of the well-known national rabble rousers for peace. About 30 of us stood along the sidewalk outside the Ranch, watched by a half-dozen police officers looking bored, a chatty police detective and a pair of startled horses held by two men dressed as cowboys. Overhead, an airplane circled, towing a warning about corporate corruption.

Powerful people in suits laughed at us and snapped smartphone photos as they disembarked from the chartered buses they rode to the Western-themed restaurant. It was July 31 and ALEC was in town for its 41st meeting. After the first of several days of corporate backroom deals at the Hilton Anatole, ALEC’s members wanted to pretend they were cowboys while they ate.

The buses kept coming and out poured some of the world’s most powerful: corporate executives, rich investors, state legislators and their families. Though they’d normally disdain public transportation — when they aren’t orchestrating cuts against it in the name of austerity — I imagined the atmosphere on the bus was jovial, as if the “1%” was on a field trip.

CODEPINK are no strangers to using humor to fight evil. Duded up in pink Western-wear, with faux handcuffs and a “RUN ALEC OUT OF TEXAS” banner, they were aiming for laughter. As the suits’ humor peaked, CODEPINK Dallas — mostly older women — began chanting, “WE MAY BE FUNNY, BUT YOU ARE CORRUPT!”

Speaking out is thirsty, thankless work in the Texas heat. After two hours, a Ranch worker dressed as a cowboy brought us all bottled water.

ALEC: Where the corporate sausage is made

For over 40 years, ALEC has had a corrupting influence on state politics. Its corporate sponsors and rich private investors write legislation, then their hand-picked, loyal legislators introduce those bills into law. The mainstream media rarely connects the dots, even when covering ALEC-related laws. And while many have heard of Stand Your Ground and its contribution to the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, few are aware of ALEC’s sponsorship of that law in multiple states.

In the summer of 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy unveiled ALECexposed.org, bringing ALEC widespread negative attention for the first time in its four-decade-long history. The site features over 800 model bills and dozens of corporate sponsors. The agenda revealed was startling in its breadth: to name just a few of its policies, ALEC seeks privatization of education and policing, aides the Koch brothers in undermining laws that support renewable energy, and attacks the rights of unions and the retired.

 

On July 30, Jim Hightower, a former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture and publisher of the popular newsletter The Hightower Lowdown, was on hand at the Community Brewery after a noon rally at the Hilton Anatole was attended by hundreds of activists, retirees and union members in honor of ALEC’s 41st national conference. After a rousing speech to encourage the crowd, he told this reporter, “The only way we’re going to take power back for ordinary working people to become a self-governing people again is to confront the corporate interests and to expose them.”

As much as protesters wanted to reach ALEC with their objections, another purpose of the week’s events was to expose the Dallas public to ALEC’s existence among them.

“Most people never heard of ALEC,” he continued. “This big rally we had at the Anatole hotel today, that showed to a lot of people maybe just driving by that there’s something out there called ALEC. [...] If people see it, they will be disgusted by what’s happened. This is the most visible, the most ostentatious merger of corporate power with right-wing legislative power and they meet in secret. [...] If you want to see where the sausage is made, we were at that factory today.”

I spoke with Connor Gibson, a Greenpeace researcher who studies ALEC and similar groups, about how a newcomer to the movement can begin to unravel this complex network of corporate corruption. “The most important thing to do is learn about ALEC [. ...] It’s actually a really complicated organization. It’s state politicians, it’s corporate lawyers and lobbyists and it’s ALEC’s staff. They convene and have a weird governance and the more people understand that, the more people know what to look out for.”

He continued:

Thursday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Thursday August 14, 2014 8:45 pm

 

A giant redwood towers high above the camera

See you at the top!

Tonight’s video is “What’s Hidden Among the Tallest Trees on Earth?” from TED-Ed.

When Stephen Sillett was a boy, he took to the forests of Pennsylvania with his brother and grandmother. Looking up into the dense branches and leaves, his curiosity was piqued: What was hidden up there? Wendell Oshiro tells the story of an adult Sillett’s bold (if not a little dangerous) exploration of the canopy of an ancient redwood and details some of the fascinating discoveries he made.

Lesson by Wendell Oshiro, animation by Black Powder Design.

Patent trolls — corporations which only exist to bully legitimate businesses with frivolous lawsuits over vague technological innovations they supposedly own. But trolls depend on the prohibitive legal costs of fighting their lawsuits to keep companies from fighting, and a Brooklyn law clinic just rescued a company by offering free supportBoing Boing has a summary of what happened:

When they were approached by a small NYC startup that was being sued by a patent troll called 911 Notify, LLC, who had a ridiculous patent on ‘notifications’ (basically, if someone calls 911, look up their emergency contact info and call that number) that wanted $250,000 to settle, they went to work.

By putting the troll on notice that there was an unlimited amount of free legal hours from third-year law students available to the defendant — students who got more out of the experience if they got to work on a full-blown trial that could invalidate the dumb-ass patent — they terrified the troll into dropping the suit and running away.

I think there are other ways of recreating this dynamic (though this is a great way, because it gets law students really valuable experience that they would otherwise have to get after graduation while interning, provides a community service, and makes the world a better place), without relying on an infinite supply of third-year law students.

Patent lawyer Eric Adler, writing in Medium, explains in much detail how it was done and how other companies or student legal clinics can adopt his strategy.

Bonus: Rawstory reported on a group of strippers from Ohio that fought back against harassment by a local church with a topless counterprotest.

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Wednesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday August 13, 2014 7:24 pm

 

A woman in old-fashioned French clothing offers a cheeseburger and fries to a black cat, under the McDonald's logo.

“I can has satellite?”

Tonight’s music video is “Blood Like Cream” by Red Fang.

Would you like fries with that satellite? Civilian scientists, operating from an abandoned McDonald’s in Mountain View, California took control of an equally abandoned satellite after a successful crowdfunding campaign. From Beatbeat:

The ISEE-3 is a disco-era satellite that used to measure space weather like solar wind and radiation, but went out of commission decades ago. Now, a small team led by [Keith] Cowing has taken control of the satellite with NASA’s silent blessing. Mr. Cowing is a former NASA employee, and now runs a handful of space news sites, like NASA Watch and SpaceRef. Sitting out in the desert one night after a documentary shoot, Mr. Cowing asked Bob Farquhar, an old NASA researcher who worked with the ISEE-3 in its glory days, what it would take to bring the satellite out of retirement.

The satellite’s battery has been dead for over 20 years, but it had solar panels to power 98 percent of the satellite’s full capabilities. In its heyday, it ran missions around the Moon and Earth, and flew through the tail of a comet. But technology gets old, and everyone happily let the successful satellite go, knowing it would be back in Earth’s orbit someday—namely, 2014. Since the satellite went offline, the team had retired, the documentation was lost and the equipment became outdated. They could still hear the satellite out there talking, but they’d need to build the equipment to talk back.

[... T]hey began a crowdfunding campaign that would beat its $125,000 goal and go on to raise $160,000. Within another six weeks, a small team was in Puerto Rico, running around Arecibo Observatory running tests, hoisting a transmitter into place with a helicopter, ready to make contact. At the outset of the crowdfunding campaign, they brought the idea to NASA, but there was no precedent on which to base an agreement. No external organization has ever taken command of a spacecraft, but NASA didn’t want to say no, so they asked the team if they needed any help.

[...] Their new control center, dubbed ‘McMoon’s,’ fit all of the criteria they needed: the doors locked, and it was free. For their console, they pulled a broken flatscreen TV from a government dumpster and fixed the power supply. The other pieces are from eBay, including a Mac laptop and some radio parts. [...] Until now, when NASA wanted to conduct research, they’d collect data and disappear with it for a few months before publishing. But the data from ISEE-3 is going to be available to anyone who wants access to it. It’s a spacecraft funded by the public, and available for the public.

‘We’re allowing anybody who is interested and has a computer to be able to do something with the data,’ Mr. Cowing said.

Bonus: Consumerist reports than a Wal-Mart in Indiana is “under siege by feral cats.”

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