news item

A 6 ton satellite fell on my house and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

As of 9:30 p.m. EDT Sept. 22, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 110 mi by 115 mi (175 km by 185 km). Re-entry is possible sometime during the afternoon or early evening of Sept. 23, Eastern Daylight Time. The satellite will not be passing over North America during that time period. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 24 hours.

Follow the drama at NASA

Have you ever wanted a mid-morning snack and heard the sudden crack of a sonic boom only to look up and see a 6 ton flaming satellite careening towards your house at terminal velocity?

Yeah, me neither.

But it looks like one lucky winner just might experience this later today.

The sky is falling– literally. 

It turns out Ronald Reagan was right all along. We really do need a series of satellites to shoot down threats from space before they do damage to the American people. As it turns out, we didn’t need that to protect against Russian ICBMs. We needed it as protection from our own space junk.

See that crater over there? 

— Yeah.

That was Joe Johnson’s house.

— Really? What happened? All I see is a pond with a chimney sticking out of it. 

Satellite fell on him. 

— Huh.

Question: If a satellite falls on your house do you get to keep it? 

Mac news item Poll

POLL: Are you willing to pay to read news online?

From subscription to free to subscription and back

Quietly, newspapers are starting to charge online visitors subscription fees for full access to their sites. In just a few days, The New York Times, will noticeably switch from a free system to a 3-tiered pay system.

I believe The New York Times Company, like Rupert Murdoch from News Corp, have been emboldened on this concept by The Wall Street Journal’s alleged success with online subscriptions. News Corps brand new iPad-only newspaper, The Daily, will cost you $39.99 per year. I download the iPad app, and while it is brilliantly beautiful, the reality is that it the actual news is just news I can get on or for free.

Also, in a weird twist of fate, the iPad versions are actually more expensive and just as ad filled as the print editions. (I get the print edition of Wired for less than $1 per issue. Why would I pay $3.99 per issue to get it on my iPad?) This messes with people’s internal cost vs. benefit analysis and stops them from buying more than one “curiosity” edition. Conversely, subscription rates are going down and not up for iPad versions.

At the end of the day I don’t think this strategy will last very long. When the payment gateways pop in on folks current sources for news, eyeballs will shift from paid content to free content, and the big news companies will re-evaluate their strategies. (At the same time giving lesser known sources of news incredible new levels of traffic.)

Think about it: When you hit a payment gateway when looking for a news story, what are you going to do? Google it and find a free version of the same story. Duh.

The Tortoise and the Hare

What’s really interesting here is that the big news companies will lose money on a silly, short-sighted strategy. They are going to spend big money building these gateways and even more money trying to market these new ideas. Whereas, the smaller companies who might want to go to a subscription model, but just not have the capital to make it happen, will likely be the big winners.

A better idea

My opinion? Why in the world are these companies asking individuals to pay? Why not force the ISPs to pay, like ESPN did with That’s where the money is. Even if cable companies raised rates on their customers to cover these new costs, we wouldn’t whine because we are addicted to high-speed internet.

All of this begs the poll above. Are you willing to start paying for news that you get for free today?

news item

TSA Resistance

Do you really want to be seen like this?

Sometimes I embarrass my wife. And on our July trip to Haiti I offered her one very embarrassing moment when I refused to go through the new backscatter TSA screening machines while opting for a manual pat down instead.

The TSA made the process of opting-out a hassle. While there were plenty of officers on duty they managed to make me wait for about 10 minutes while they played their keystone cop routine.

Call me a jerk all you want. But I don’t like that the government wants to take pictures of its people naked for the sake of “security.” The media has shown over and over again that all of this extra screening doesn’t stop people from smuggling weapons aboard a plane. It’s really just for passengers to feel safe while traveling and little else.

Back at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. I had completely dug in on my decision.

Kristen quickly went through the line, got her nudey pic taken, put her shoes back on, and glared at me in the way only a wife could.

Finally, an older TSA agent had me go through the metal detector and directed me to the screening area. He explained that he was going to pat me down and that he intended to touch my private parts with the back of his hands.

Obviously, I’m not dangerous and they didn’t find anything.

As the officer took his gloves off he looked in my eyes and asked asked me why I had opted out. My reply, “When it comes to governmental invasions of privacy, I prefer personal over digital.

That moment revealed the heart of the matter. If the TSA agents had to look hundreds of thousands of passengers in the eyes and manually search them– we’d actually be safer.

Dehumanizing the screening procedure is not how you make airline flight safer. Humanizing it is.

I’m not alone in this desire to resist the new scanners

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg shares his desire to resist as well as documents the new procedure to feel up your thigh until they feel “resistance.” (Obviously, women lack resistance.)

“But what about people who hide weapons in their cavities? I asked. I actually said “vagina” again, just to see him blush. “We’re just not going there,” he reiterated.

I asked him if he was looking forward to conducting the full-on pat-downs. “Nobody’s going to do it,” he said, “once they find out that we’re going to do.”

In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the $%*#-Measuring Device over molestation? “That’s what we’re hoping for. We’re trying to get everyone into the machine.” He called over a colleague. “Tell him what you call the back-scatter,” he said. “The $%*#-Measuring Device,” I said. “That’s the truth,” the other officer responded.

The pat-down at BWI was fairly vigorous, by the usual tame standards of the TSA, but it was nothing like the one I received the next day at T.F. Green in Providence. Apparently, I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, “Get new gloves, man, you’re going to need them where you’re going.”

Here is another story of a pilot who refused the pat down and was suspended from his job. Ridiculous.

So– it’s come to this. If you want to fly you are left with an awful choice. Do you want someone looking at you naked or someone touching your genitals? We aren’t talking about a doctor here… we’re talking about a TSA agent. A person hired by the Department of Homeland Security for just above minimum wage with no qualifications. Seriously, TSA screeners either have to have a high school diploma or GED or one years experience working security.

Call me crazy. But I think if enough people opt-out we can force the issue and make the government remove these devices.

Call me a conspiracy theorist: But I would like to know how much American Science & Engineering, Inc gave to their members of congress and senators to lobby for selling these machines. (They are $170,000 each!)