Archives February 2016

China Is Evicting 9,000 People From Their Homes To Build a Telescope

Chinese officials have recently announced that they will be relocating more than 9,000 people in order to build “the world’s largest radio telescope” during 2016, TIME reports.

The project, titled the Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), will cost as estimated $180 million USD and will be located in the southwestern province of Guizhou.

According to Chinese news source Xinhuanet, several members of the Guizhou Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) made an agreement with the government last year to have residents relocated before the facility is built.

All residents within five kilometers (approximately three miles) are being “evacuated,” Xinhuanet reports, so that “a sound electromagnetic wave environment” can be created for the telescope.

When the construction is complete, FAST is expected to span 500 meters in diameter, making it the world’s largest facility of its kind. At the moment, the largest radio telescope is located in Puerto Rico at the Arecibo Observatory and is only 300 meters in diameter.

In order to make room for the facility, the government has agreed to resettle approximately 9,110 residents, who are currently living in Pingtang County and Luodian County, into four new settlements in September. According to Mirror, the government is paying each household 12,000 yuan (roughly $1,800 US) as compensation — although the majority of these residents are already living in poverty and aren’t likely to find much better lodgings with such a bare-bones compensation package.

For Americans, the notion of being forcibly relocated by the government is hard to fathom, especially on such a big scale as China will be seeing. Americans generally move to new residences by choice, usually for career aspirations or to live into a better neighborhood. Very rarely are homeowners forced to vacate their properties without having any say in the matter.

It’s likely that these 9,000 Chinese residents aren’t too thrilled by their government’s decision either, but it’s far too late for construction of the telescope to be stopped now.

These Researchers X-Rayed Fried Food To Understand Its Deliciousness

What exactly makes fried foods so impossible to ignore?

Pawan Takhar, a researcher and “food scientist” at the University of Illinois decided to use an interesting new method to find out the answer: an X-ray machine.

As reported by UPI, , Takhar and his team of researchers conducted a study on fried foods using an X-ray micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) machine to create 3-D images of fried potato disks that had been deep-fried for varying lengths of time.

Because X-ray machines can accurately scan and map items that are incredibly small — sometimes as small as .5 mm in length — Takhar found that the resulting 3-D images would be able to accurately depict the microstructures of the food as more oil saturated it.

Researchers used russet potatoes cut into disks that measured 45 mm in diameter and 1.5 mm thick. The disks were fried at 190 degrees Celsius for 20, 40, 60, or 80 seconds and then freeze-dried before being scanned and examined to understand how the oil was distributed.

When food is deep-fried, explains, the food is immersed in hot oil and water in the food evaporates very quickly. This results in steam pressure, and the pressure builds up so much that it affects the microstructure and the porosity of the food. As the food becomes more porous, “pathways” of pores open up and allow more oil to seep in.

Using the X-rayed images, the researchers were able to see how different porous pathways formed when the same type of food was heated for different lengths of time. The pathways are very complex at first and make it difficult for oil to penetrate past the surface. As the food heats up, the pathways become looser and the oil is able to soak farther into the food.

This is exactly what makes fried foods — especially french fries — so tempting, Takhar says. The foods are cooked at a very high temperature for a very short length of time and this results in a crispy exterior and softer interior.

Takhar has been studying frying for about 10 years now and he still says that researchers probably “only understand about 10 percent of what is taking place during frying.” Hopefully, he says, this recent research will help food scientists figure out how to make healthier foods just as tempting as fried foods — and without any frying involved.

Companies Change Terms and Conditions As Data Breaches Become More Common

A vicious cyber-attack against the electronic toys maker VTech has resulted in more than 6.3 million children becoming vulnerable online. The hackers gained access to both photos and chat logs.

VTech has responded to the nightmare by updating its End User License Agreement, adding the caveat that the company cannot provide 100% guarantee that it wont be hacked again.

The toy maker also shifted some responsibility onto the parents. “You acknowledge and agree that any information you send or receive during your use of the site may not be secure and may be intercepted or later acquired by unauthorized parties,” the company said in a statement.

Commenting on the move, security expert Jonathan Lierberman, the VP of Product Strategy at Lieberman Software, commented that it was only a matter of time before every online business has Terms and Conditions that limit their liability in cases of cybercrime.

Indeed, online crime and data breaches pose a mounting problem. According to 24/7 Wall Street, the latest count from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) shows that there has been a total of 69 data breaches recorded through Feb. 9, 2016, and almost 1.4 million records have been exposed since the beginning of this year.

The largest data breach involved medical information on 950,000 subscribers to a company’s health insurance products. The data, stored on six hard drives, is still unaccounted for.

Data breaches pose serious problems for businesses that store crucial and private information in the cloud or online — and not just as serious liabilities. They are a serious internal risk, as almost 35% of all data breaches can be traced back to current employees.

The government and military sector has suffered about five data breaches this year, while the medical sector has suffered the largest percentage, at 34.8%. The educational sector has seen 10 data breaches so far in 2016.

At this rate, online businesses will be scrambling to protect their customers — and themselves against their customers in the event of loss of information.

Renowned Author Claims Preschool Education Has Become Too Rigid and Structured

Preschool has always been known as a place for toddlers to explore their creativity, but a famous author is now saying that today’s childcare is too focused on educational development.

According to the Huffington Post, Erika Christakis, a renowned author and childhood development specialist at Yale University, recently released her newest book, “The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups.”

In the book, Christakis argues that preschools are now too rigid and structured, as opposed to the preschools of yesteryear that catered to a child’s imagination.

Christakis believes that this new focus on scholastic development is preventing children from being themselves, which in turn leads them to become less inquisitive and hinders their potential moving forward.

“Why, when kids are so programmed to learn, are they having trouble? We know they’re having trouble because we have an actual epidemic of preschool expulsions, kids are being medicated off-label as early as two or three [years old] with attention management drugs, and also we have more anecdotal evidence that parents are very frustrated,” said Christakis.

Families spend an average of 7.8% of their monthly income on childcare, so it wasn’t surprising when parents began demanding an increased focus on education in preschools.

However, Christakis creates a distinction between scholastic and cognitive development, claiming that it’s more important to grow a child’s mind than it is to fill their brains with information.

“An academic focus is not necessarily a cognitively rich focus,” Christakis said. “What you lose in a preschool environment with those kinds of expectations is things like open-ended free play, [which] can be squeezed in favor of more narrowly targeted skills like alphabet awareness.”

Preschool curriculum has been a national topic of debate for several years, and those who endorse changes to the current system just lost one of their most fervent supporters.

According to The Sacramento Bee, Bev Bos, an author, teacher, and play-based learning advocate, recently passed away at the age of 81. Those who knew her say that no one was as passionate about helping children grow than Bos.

“She taught us and gave us the ability to trust our children, that they are capable,” said Dina Miller, who worked with Bos at the Roseville Community Preschool.

As for Christakis and her new book, the author is also fighting to expand preschool availability for low-income children. While some may not agree with her opinions, the publication is sure to cause rumblings within the world of childcare.

Several State and Local Parks Set to Increase Camping Fees in 2016

Camping is one of America’s favorite pastimes, allowing families to bond without overspending. Now, several parks all around the country are planning to increase camping fees, much to the dismay of fervent campers.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry is hiking up the price of camping, increasing state park fees for the first time in 14 years.

As part of the price changes, camping reservation fees for state parks in Maine have increased from $2 to $5. Additionally, actual camping fees have skyrocketed from $3 to $10.

A spokesman for the department, John Bott, claims that even these considerable price increases won’t even cover the costs of programs and maintenance for state parks.

“They’re raises but they’re relatively modest in comparison to what other states have done over a period of time. We feel that right now we’re still in the middle of the pack in terms of the cost of state parks in other states and if you compare us to the private sector, we’re an even better bargain,” said Bott.

Camping is a $15 billion dollar industry, though much of that revenue is based on private sector campgrounds. However, the increased price of camping is not limited to Maine, nor is it limited to state parks.

The Tomah Journal recently reported on a potential camping fee increase for McMullen Memorial County Park in Wisconsin. The price hike was approved by the Monroe County Board of Supervisors.

Daily rates for McMullen Memorial County Park will increase by $2, from $19 to $21, while monthly rates will go from $350 to $375.

While the price increases aren’t as severe as the ones announced in Maine, the situation in Wisconsin is yet another example of the high price of camping in 2016.

According to the St. George News, the Bureau of Land Management-Utah increased several camping fees in September, affecting at least eight different campgrounds.

It remains to be seen if people will camp less because of the price increases, but those who are upset by the changes should know that it’s happening all over the country.

Quicken Loans Criticized For Their “Rocket Mortgage” Super Bowl 50 Ad

Just as many people watch the Super Bowl for the ads as they do for the football. But this year, more than a few of the commercials left viewers scratching their heads and asking “Why?”

This is especially true for Quicken Loans, the mortgage lender company whose minute-long Super Bowl 50 commercial stirred quite a bit of controversy on the Twitter-sphere.

The commercial advertised Quicken Loans’ new “Rocket Mortgage” service, an app-based service that supposedly makes it both easy and fast for buyers to get a mortgage loan. In the commercial, the voiceover tells of a world where buying a home can be as simple as buying a pair of shoes online and can take as little as ten minutes — or even less.

“What if we did for mortgages what the Internet did for buying music and plane tickets and shoes?” the voiceover’s casual, undoubtedly Millennial-directed voice muses. “You would turn an intimidating process into an easy one. You could get a mortgage on your phone. And if it could be that easy, wouldn’t more people buy homes?”

And while the premise does sound appealing in an idealistic way, anyone who lived through the housing crisis of 2008 finds the logic of the Quicken Loans ad to be troubling and downright dangerous.

In fact, immediately after the advertisement aired, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took to Twitter in order to warn consumers that diving into a “right-minute mortgage” might not be the best idea.

Launched in December, the Quicken Loans “Rocket Mortgage” promises potential home buyers that they can qualify for a mortgage online in under 10 minutes. Unlike FHA 203K loans offered by the Federal Housing Administration that offer 3.5% down payments, the service cuts out the middle and instantaneously analyzes your financial and credit history, determining your loan eligibility on the spot.


Ultimately, critics of the Quicken Loans “Rocket Mortgage” service seem to be criticizing the tone-deaf nature of their campaign.

However, it’s important to note that Quicken’s program doesn’t actually speed up the house-buying process itself. It simply condenses it by letting potential borrowers skip initial paperwork, instead authorizing Quicken Loans to communicate with their financial institutions directly.

And Quicken is by no means offering mortgages to those who don’t qualify for them.

“These are qualified mortgages, fully underwritten loans. Nothing that we’re doing is shifting or changing that,” says Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson. “The reality is, we’re doing nothing but safe lending.”