Thursday, December 8, 2016


I can’t help but think of Lawrence Fishburne as Morpheus when I ask you this rhetorical question: What if I told you that it’s possible to have a store that has no checkout counters nor cashiers?

What if I told you that in this store, shoppers can just walk in, grab an item or two from the shelves, then walk straight out and have their purchases paid for the moment they exit the door? A decade or so ago, that story would have been greeted with skepticism and consigned into the world of fantastical science fiction. But now is now.

Now, according to CNet, powerhouse online retailer Amazon is making that flight of fancy a reality, or at the very least they’re testing to see if it’ll really work long-term. This in encapsulated in Amazon go, a retail store in the real world, with a wide variety of food products including packaged fresh produce, that customers can simply enter and pick up then leave without bothering with long lines. That’s pretty much the promise of the pilot Amazon Go store in Seattle, and it’s powered by what Amazon cheekily refers to as “just walk out technology”, a sendup to shoplifting. But this is not.

The way Amazon Go is proposed to work is that shoppers who want to give it a try must be carrying a smartphone or other digital gadget with an Amazon Go mobile app installed. They simply swipe their apps on the entry turnstiles to register themselves as customers to the store’s intricate computer system, a meticulous amalgamation of advances in computer vision through surveillance cameras, deep-thinking algorithms and learning software, all to process the managing of the store’s inventory, tracking the purchase choices of finicky customers, and of course electronically ringing up their purchases when the shoppers walk out the door.

And it all comes down together into an efficient and borderline uncanny competent system that really can do away with human presence. Through the store cameras the Amazon Go network can list up all items the shopper has picked up, reflected and updated on their mobile apps. By checking against inventory the system can add an item to a customer’s purchase list when they pick it up, remove it when they put it back, then re-list it if they should come back for the thing later. Anyway, one the shopper’s done and walks through the doors the system finalizes their purchases on the app and charges the customer through their Amazon account, paid for in the usual Amazon fashion.

While the trial store in Seattle is so far for Amazon employee use only, rest assured that the online giant means to make Amazon Go a national fixture for all, starting this early 2017.

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Nobody could have expected what happened last week towards the end of November, when a charter flight of Bolivian airline LaMia, LMI2933 on board an Avro RJ85 crashed while en route from Santa Cruz to Rionegro in Colombia to face local team Atletico Nacional in the final leg of the Copa Sudamerica (South America Cup). Aboard were a near majority of the current playing roster of the Brazilian Chapecoense football club (ACF), their support crew, club officials and journalists.

When the crash site was surveyed later by emergency workers, only seven people out of the 77 passengers and plane crew were found alive, and one of them succumbed to his injuries afterwards. Three of these were survivors were Chapecoense players; added with players that did not join the tragic flight, the club looked to be at a very sorry state indeed, on top of their great losses.

In the midst of their grief however came a most heartwarming gesture from unexpected quarters. BBC reports that the Colombia Atletico Nacional, which the ACF would have faced last November 30 and again on December 7 during the Finals leg of the Copa Sudamerica, have instead petitioned the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) that this year the cup ought to be awarded to the ACF. The request was granted by CONMEBOL and on December 5, two days before what would have been the second finals game on Colombian soil, the ACF received the 2016 Copa Sudamerica trophy.

It was a measure of comfort for the survivors, relatives and fans of the fallen members of the Chapecoense, something to assuage the pain they all felt when the coffins of the fallen team members and head coach were returned to Brazil and presented before the crowd at home stadium with military bearers. The pictures of grief then had been many, from three of the remaining players sitting at the team’s empty locker room to the widow of Dener Assunção Braz; the two should have been married after the first finals game. They were not alone in mourning, as other footballs teams all over the world paid tribute to ACF before every game during this week.

Meanwhile, in another show of solidarity, at least four major Brazilian clubs have offered to lend the Chapecoense some of their own players to fill out the undermanned roster, with the volunteer temporary transfers even free of charge. The expenses for embalming of the casualties and transport back to Brazil was also footed in full by a local insurance company.

For their graciousness, Colombia Atletico Nacional was honored by the CONMEBOL with the "Centenario Fair Play" award. Other clubs have requested that the Brazilian Football Confederation to keep the AFC’s standing in the first division for the next three seasons while it rebuilds.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Hey, I’m sure you remember my having written about Hawaii not so long ago, but now here’s a little news story happening there that’s quite interesting. Everybody knows that Hawaii is a tropical paradise out in the middle of the Pacific, where it’s ideally warm and sunny to enjoy the surf and sea, or the natural sights further inland. But did you know that even here snow also falls? Indeed, in certain highly elevated locations of the state such as its highest peaks Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, one can expect the heaviest concentration of snowfall anywhere in Hawaii, giving the two their white peaks.

But as BBC tells it, this year there has been a report of snow falling at even much lower altitudes than the usual, according to local weather experts. In fact certain locations in the state have actually received warnings of winter weather, and in the past few days these parts of the state saw record snowfall of up to three feet in depth. In other parts however, where it’s still warm enough, the snow has instead turned into flash flooding. And it doesn’t seem to be about to let up any time soon.

Meteorologist Matt Foster further explains the mechanics of snow as it usually is in Hawaii. As stated before, the white stuff is most likely to fall on the peaks of Mauna Kea and Loa, owing to their heights of nearly 4,260m. That’s plenty high enough to ensure that they get snow at about five or six times in a years, although this tended to be only two to three feet for a few days at most. And in fact there have been times when the mountains become snow-free all year, like in 2015.

However, the slight overabundance of falling snow on the slopes were enough to cut off road access to the two peaks for at least until Monday December 5, when skiers and snowboarders are expected to troop up to enjoy the holidays.

Elsewhere though, Hawaii is seeing some heavy rains instead of snow with temperatures running at just about 20°C. According to the US National Weather Service, this unusual weather pattern came about due to a combination of low atmospheric pressure and deep tropical moisture. At least there will be sunshine whenever the rain breaks, thankfully.

The summits of both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are home to several independent research facilities and astronomical observatories, with several large telescopes on site.

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Not so long ago, just this September in fact, a mother living in the besieged eastern half of the Syrian city of Aleppo created a Twitter account for her daughter. Working in concert, 7-year- old Bana Alabed with the help of her mother Fatemah, began to chronicle her daily life in a community that has been a hideaway of Anti-Syrian government insurgents and was therefore a target of artillery and airstrikes from that same government, sometimes with even the aid of Russian military forces. Her pictures and coached words touched the world at large, which explains her over 100,000 international followers.

But now it would appear that the social media may not be hearing from Bana and her mother for a long time, perhaps never again. According to CNN this Sunday December 4, Bana’s Twitter account was deactivated and deleted, without any reason given. This occurred about roughly the same time that Syrian government troops reinforced by militia forces allied with the regime of President Bashar Al- Assad have broken the defense line of rebels in the eastern half of Aleppo and have secured about 20% of its territory, starting from the northeastern corner.

The Alabed Family had braved the constant shelling of their neighborhood to remain where they are, but now it’s become uncertain what has happened to them, whether they have fallen to insurgent, militia or military hands. Bana’s last Tweet has made her followers fear for the worst when it came up: "We are sure the army is capturing us now. We will see each other another day dear world. Bye.- Fatemah #Aleppo"

Days before this final downer message, the Alabed’s have already lost their home in November 27, after it was hit dead on by an artillery shell. Bana, or perhaps her mother, posted a Tweet that time describing their harrowing experience, how she “almost died”, along with a picture of the Aleppo girl covered in soot with a stunned look in her face. Yet even with this stroke of grave misfortune she managed to ask for people to pray for them and the other citizens trapped in the city.

Bana’s situation has managed to catch the attention of some big global names, including that of celebrated British author JK Rowling, who was impressed by how Bana remarked that reading the first book of her “Harry Potter” series helped her forget the war going on outside her door. Rowling’s agent later arranged for Bana to receive digital eBook copies of all the Potter books for Bana and her siblings to enjoy. Now nobody knows where they are.

Starting Monday, Twitter messages began to flood the network, all expressing support for Bana and her family, or wishing them well wherever they might be.

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It’s been a few days now since the unfortunate incident in Oakland, California where a fierce blaze gutted through a two-story warehouse that was home to The Ghost Ship, an informal arts haven frequented by local artists, musicians and their aficionados. Already city authorities have been describing the fire that broke out there the evening of December 2 to Oakland’s most severe fire-related disaster. The fact that it happened during a public party with a popular guest performer made it even worse with how many people were reported to have been present when it all came down, as evidenced by the number of bodies still being found until this writing.

USA Today reports that at the latest, the death toll for the Ghost Ship warehouse fire has reached 33, with the possibility that it’ll get even higher before the week is out. A number of the fatalities have been identified as teenagers, among them the son of a police deputy. By the afternoon of Sunday December 4 the recovery workers have only managed to comb about a third of the total area occupied by the warehouse structure, as told by Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda Sherriff’s Office at a recent news conference.

Meanwhile Mayor Libby Schaaf has described the scope of the fire as a “tremendous calamity”, and noted that a criminal investigation team has been assembled by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley, and that the investigators were already at work examining the charred remains of The Ghost Ship. She also revealed that at least seven families who have had members present at the warehouse during the blaze have been informed of their relatives’ passing. “It is with so much grief and so much compassion that we as your city family share with you this horrific news" she told them.

The gathering at the Ghost Ship on the night of the fire was for an electronic rave party, with mixing being done by DJ Golden Donna. Holding such performances was apparently how the Ghost Ship’s leaseholder Derick Ion Almena had been able to acquire funding to pay for rent to the warehouse owner. It should be noted however that the building has not been well maintained, with notations received regarding fire code violations and the large amounts of trash and debris in the surrounding premises that were considered fire hazards. The interiors were even worse according to other members of the Bay art communes that frequented The Ghost Ship. The rooms had been crammed with old wooden furniture and various flammable supplies.

As family members flock to the partially collapsed hulk of the warehouse waiting for word, other people have begun leaving flowers and other tokens near the scene. Therapy dogs have also been provided by organizations to ease the pain of the worried and grieving relatives present.

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