AT&T Buys DirecTV in $49B Stock-And-Cash Deal – NBC

AT&T Buys DirecTV in $49B Stock-And-Cash Deal

DALLAS — AT&T Inc. on Sunday agreed to buy DirecTV for $48.5 billion, or $95 per share, a move that gives telecommunications company a larger base of video subscribers and increases its ability to compete against Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which agreed to a merger in February.

AT&T’s proposed combination, which is subject to government review, could improve its Internet service by pushing its existing U-verse TV subscribers into video-over-satellite service, and thereby free up bandwidth on its telecommunications network.

AT&T currently offers a high-speed Internet plan in a bundle with DirecTV television service. The acquisition would help it further reap the benefits of that alliance.

With 5.7 million U-verse TV customers and 20.3 million DirecTV customers in the U.S., the combined entity would serve 26 million. That would make it the second-largest pay TV operator behind a combined Comcast-Time Warner Cable, which would serve 30 million.

The companies expect the deal to close within 12 months. Under the terms agreed to Sunday, DirecTV shareholders will receive $28.50 per share in cash and $66.50 per share in AT&T stock. The total transaction value is $67.1 billion, including DirecTV’s net debt.

The deal could face tough scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission and antitrust regulators at the Department of Justice.

Unlike Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable — which don’t compete in the same territory — AT&T’s U-verse, offered in 22 states, does compete directly for TV customers with DirecTV, which is available nationwide.

Image: DirecTV satellite dishes sit atop an apartment roof in Los Angeles, Calif.JONATHAN ALCORN / REUTERS

DirecTV satellite dishes sit atop an apartment roof in Los Angeles, Calif.

The combination would reduce consumers’ options for pay TV providers from four to three for about 25 percent of U.S. households, according to Morgan Stanley analyst Ben Swinburne. Fewer competitors could result in higher prices, a situation that usually gives regulators cause for concern.

Analysts have also questioned the strategic benefits of a deal that would give AT&T a larger presence in the mature market for pay TV.

Last year, pay TV subscribers fell for the first time, dipping 0.1 percent to 94.6 million, according to Leichtman Research Group.

While AT&T and DirecTV are doing better than cable companies at attracting TV subscribers, DirecTV’s growth in the U.S. has stalled while AT&T is growing the fastest of any TV provider.

Long term, the deal may offer little help to AT&T as viewers continue to watch more video online.

DirecTV offers neither fixed-line nor mobile Internet service, and its rights to airwave frequencies for satellite TV are not the kind that AT&T can use to improve its mobile phone network.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has spoken exuberantly about how the growth of online video helps boost demand for its Internet and mobile services. Last month, AT&T entered a joint venture with the Chernin Group to invest in online video services.

AT&T is based in Dallas. DirecTV would continue to be based in El Segundo, California, following the merger, the companies said.

 AT&T Buys DirecTV in $49B Stock-And-Cash Deal – NBC

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Joke of the Day

A young executive was leaving the office late one evening when he found the CEO standing in front of a shredder with a piece of paper in his hand.

“Listen,” said the CEO, “this is a very sensitive and important document here, and my secretary has gone for the night. Can you make this thing work for me?”

“Certainly,” said the young executive. He turned the machine on, inserted the paper, and pressed the start button.

“Excellent, excellent!” said the CEO, as his paper disappeared inside the machine. “I just need one copy…”

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Income Inequality Emerges As Key Topic To Avoid In 2014 Elections | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source

Income Inequality Emerges As Key Topic To Avoid In 2014 Elections

WASHINGTON—Citing the recent failure to increase the federal minimum wage and the continuing struggles of the country’s shrinking middle class, political strategists reported Monday that income inequality has emerged as the most important topic for politicians to avoid in this year’s upcoming elections. “The well-documented and steadily increasing gap between the rich and poor has come to the fore as the hot-button issue that all congressional candidates will be dodging at town halls, in televised debates, and at voter meet-and-greets in 2014,” said political analyst Rebecca Diemer, noting that both Democrats and Republicans were already holding meetings with top aides and focus groups to strategize the best way to brush aside the subject before they hit the campaign trail. “Come November, voters are going to have a lot of questions about economic disparity, taxes, CEO pay, and public welfare programs, which candidates are going to have to be prepared to address with noncommittal and completely insubstantial answers no more than one sentence long. It’s going to be a subject you’ll hear candidates divert from over and over again right up until Election Day.” Diemer added that immigration had also surfaced as the leading issue for candidates to completely forget about once they are elected.

Income Inequality Emerges As Key Topic To Avoid In 2014 Elections | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source.

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Mother’s Day


Bob Englehart - The Hartford Courant - Mother's DayCOLOR - English - mothers day, mom,moms,mothers,step-mothers, Cartoon.

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Nation Stunned to Learn Congress Accomplished Something Fifty Years Ago : The New Yorker





WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Millions of Americans were in a state of shock this past week after learning that Congress had accomplished something fifty years ago.

Although the incident was widely reported throughout the week, the revelation that Congress had achieved something positive and substantial for the country a half century ago left many incredulous and baffled.

Adding to their disbelief were reports that the accomplishment came as the result of collaboration between a Democrat in the White House and Republicans in Congress.

Making the scenario even more far-fetched, politicians of both parties came to an agreement without the interference of corporate paymasters operating them like puppets.

Tracy Klugian, thirty-four, was one of many Americans who found “the whole thing hard to swallow.”

“I searched for it on Google, and it’s true: Congress did actually get something done for the good of the country and all,” he said. “Still, when I first heard about it, it sounded like a hoax.”

Get news satire from The Borowitz Report delivered to your inbox.

Above: President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, 1964. Photograph courtesy Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office.

 Nation Stunned to Learn Congress Accomplished Something Fifty Years Ago : The New Yorker.

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The struggle to ban killer robots | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

05/07/2014 – 17:10

The struggle to ban killer robots

Kristin Bergtora SandvikNicholas MarshMaral Mirshahi


The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots was launched in April 2013 with the objective of achieving a ban on the development, production, and deployment of lethal autonomous weapons. The same month, Christof Heyns, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, called for a moratorium on the development and deployment of such weapons while an international commission considered the issue. Within a remarkably short period of time, the campaign has achieved significant traction. Every month, a flurry of media reports, international conferences, and policy events are dedicated to the issue. The campaign is succeeding at something very important: bringing politics to bear on what are, at the most basic level, sets of computer algorithms designed to accomplish particular military tasks.

From May 13 to 16, a meeting of UN experts in Geneva under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons will discuss questions relating to emerging technologies in lethal autonomous weapon systems. At this stage, it is inevitable that there will be much debate and discussion over the scope and meaning of any future prohibition. The campaign is still being shaped; if it is to succeed, a group of states and governments must coalesce around a shared understanding of the problem and its solutions over the next couple of years. What is the way forward?

Most important, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots needs to strike a balance between establishing a wide-ranging prohibition and pragmatically accommodating the interests of potential state supporters. Would-be signatories need to be reassured that they won’t have to give up something they perceive to be militarily essential. If it is not possible to persuade states that a prohibition is needed, the campaign will most likely not find the support required to form a coalition and negotiate a successful treaty. To move into the next phase, the nongovernmental organizations that make up the campaign need to agree among themselves on a set of key issues.

A primary task will be to clarify what, exactly, should be subject to new laws and regulations, what type of rules (if any) should apply, how they should be implemented, and under whose oversight. So far, much attention has been given to whether lethal autonomous weapons are unlawful under international humanitarian law. The jury is still out on the complex issue of illegality, and the campaign must think strategically about the emphasis put on existing legal norms. If lethal autonomous weapons are not unlawful, but one wants them to be, a ban is needed. If they are unlawful, but one wants to end the discussion once and for all, a ban would still be useful. At the same time, agreement on international law alone does not resolve the matter.

One of the most contentious issues is likely to concern the threshold at which a weapon system is deemed to be “fully autonomous.” The minimum level that is set would determine which systems are banned and which are allowed to continue in operation. Setting the threshold of autonomy is going to involve significant debate, because machine decision-making exists on a continuum. A key task for the campaign will be to create consensus on this issue among both nongovernmental organizations and the states that would have to negotiate and then implement a ban.

Furthermore, the world must be convinced that a ban is realistic. Those who disagree with a need for a ban often argue that it’s too late because the technology is already in the pipelines; that it is unfeasible given the difficulty of defining automated and autonomous processes; or, in a version of the “regulate the use, not the technology” argument, that a ban is unnecessary. The campaign must address each objection.

Finally, there is the challenge of reaching a public that is already debating the use of artificial intelligence technology for civilian purposes. While the public imagination is most easily captured by fantasies of menacing-looking hardware, the problem with lethal autonomous weapons is one of decision-making and software development. The campaign needs to provide a convincing analysis of what distinguishes killer software from non-killer software, and find effective ways to communicate this distinction to governments and citizens worldwide.

In sum, the campaign must balance engagement in technical expert conversations with active participation in public debate. Identifying and arguing for broad ethical principles while keeping the objective narrow appears to be the most feasible strategy, along with insisting that the development of lethal autonomous weapons is not inevitable. Political choices and priorities will determine what kind of algorithms result.

 The struggle to ban killer robots | Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Genes and intelligence: The 3% solution | The Economist

Genes and intelligence

The 3% solution

A potent source of genetic variation in cognitive ability has just been discovered

May 10th 2014




PEOPLE are living longer, which is good. But old age often brings a decline in mental faculties and many researchers are looking for ways to slow or halt such decline. One group doing so is led by Dena Dubal of the University of California, San Francisco, and Lennart Mucke of the Gladstone Institutes, also in San Francisco. Dr Dubal and Dr Mucke have been studying the role in ageing of klotho, a protein encoded by a gene called KL. A particular version of this gene, KL-VS, promotes longevity. One way it does so is by reducing age-related heart disease. Dr Dubal and Dr Mucke wondered if it might have similar powers over age-related cognitive decline.

What they found was startling. KL-VS did not curb decline, but it did boost cognitive faculties regardless of a person’s age by the equivalent of about six IQ points. If this result, just published in Cell Reports, is confirmed, KL-VS will be the most important genetic agent of non-pathological variation in intelligence yet discovered.

Dr Dubal and Dr Mucke made their discovery when they looked at 220 volunteers aged 52 to 85, to study the effects ofKL-VS on ageing. They assessed their volunteers’ faculties of memory, attention, visuo-spatial awareness and language. From these, they constructed a composite measure of cognition.

That measure suggested people with a VS version of the KLgene in their chromosomes had better cognition than those without one. When they analysed data collected by two other groups who work independently on KL-VS they discovered these researchers had found the same thing. That comparison brought the number of people examined to 718, a fifth of whom were possessors of KL-VS.

The six-point IQ gap is an extrapolation, since the cognitive tests did not measure general intelligence directly. But if it is correct, variation in the KL gene could account for as much as 3% of the variation of IQ in the general population (or, rather, in the population from which the researchers’ samples were drawn, namely white Americans). In comparison, the previous record-holders, HMGA2 and NPTN, each account for only half a percent of that variation.

This sort of result, it must be cautioned, has a tendency to come and go. The genome has so many genes in it that flukey correlations between one of them and some human trait are common. But there are two reasons to believe this is not a fluke. One is that these three independent studies have found it. The second is that Dr Dubal and Dr Mucke did not rest on their laurels, but did some experiments on mice to investigate KL-VS’s actions.

Up the junction

To do this they added the murine equivalent of KL-VS to the genomes of some mice. Doing this increases klotho levels in mice (an effect also seen in KL-VS-positive people). The genetically engineered animals did much better than regular mice at learning how to navigate mazes and other memory tests which psychologists like to inflict on their subjects. And analysis of their brain tissue revealed differences from regular mice in the structure of their synapses, the junctions between nerve cells (illustrated above) that act as neural switches.

Signals cross synapses in chemical form. The most common messenger chemical, known as glutamate, is picked up by the receiving cell using molecules called NMDA receptors. It is known from previous work that glutamate stimulation of NMDA, or the lack of it, can strengthen or weaken synaptic connections. This is believed to be the basis of memory.

The team’s genetic engineering changed the nature of the NMDA receptors in the mice’s hippocampuses and frontal cortices—two regions of the brain particularly involved in memory formation—by doubling in them the number of a particular sort of molecular subunit, GluN2B. Previous research has found links between GluN2B levels and cognitive performance. Dr Dubal and Dr Mucke discovered that blocking GluN2B with a drug called ifenprodil abolished the genetically engineered mice’s advantage. That suggests klotho works its magic, at least in part, by increasing the number of GluN2B subunits in the NMDA receptors of the brain’s memory and learning circuits.

Dr Dubal and Dr Mucke hope, despite their failure to show any protective effect of KL-VS on age-related cognitive decline, that this knowledge may be put to use. A drug that elevates klotho levels, or mimics that protein’s function, might indeed enhance cognition, and there is no obvious reason why such a drug should be restricted to the elderly. If it could be developed everyone—except, maybe, those already in possession of a copy of KL-VS in their genes—might be able to take pills to make themselves a little brighter.

 Genes and intelligence: The 3% solution | The Economist.

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Cheap microscopes: Yours to cut out and keep | The Economist

Cheap microscopes

Yours to cut out and keep

Apr 14th 2014, 16:30 by




IF EVER a technology were ripe for disruption, it is the microscope. Benchtop microscopes have remained essentially unchanged since the 19th century—their shape a cartoonist’s cliché of science akin to alchemical glassware and Bunsen burners. And that lack of change has costs. Microscopes are expensive (several hundred dollars for a reasonable one) and need to be serviced and maintained. Unfortunately, one important use of them is in poor-world laboratories and clinics, for identifying pathogens, and such places often have small budgets and lack suitably trained technicians.

That, thinks Manu Prakash, a bioengineer at Stanford University, provides an opening for a bit of lateral thinking. And Dr Prakash’s mental sideways movement has led him to design a microscope made almost entirely of paper, which is so cheap that the question of servicing it goes out of the window.

Individual Foldscopes, as Dr Prakash dubs them, are printed on A4 sheets of paper (ideally polymer-coated for durability). A pattern of perforations on the sheet marks out the ’scope’s components, which are colour-coded in a way intended to assist the user in the task of assembly—for the Foldscope has no written instructions to guide, or possibly frustrate, the user.

The Foldscope’s non-paper components, a poppy-seed-sized spherical lens made of borosilicate or corundum, a light-emitting diode (LED), a watch battery, a switch and some copper tape to complete the electrical circuit, are pressed into or bonded onto the paper. (The lenses are actually bits of abrasive grit intended to roll around in tumblers that smooth-off metal parts.) A high-resolution version of this costs less than a dollar, and offers a magnification of up to 2,100 times and a resolving power of less than a micron. A lower-spec version (up to 400x magnification) costs less than 60 cents.

The whole device weighs less than 10 grams, can fit in someone’s pocket, requires no external power and takes standard microscope slides. Sliding and flexing the Foldscope’s struts with thumb and fingers (see picture) lets the user move a slide around and then focus on the relevant bit of it. The Foldscope can be adapted, by fitting it with a more powerful LED, to project what it sees onto a screen, and the design can be modified to accommodate multiple lenses or filters. Dunk it in water, drop it from a rooftop or stamp on it (though not with a slide inside), and it will still work.

Dr Prakash sees the Foldscope’s main use as a diagnostic tool for tropical diseases. Malaria, for example, can be caused by several species of parasite. Knowing which is responsible in a particular case can affect the treatment chosen. Foldscopes should also help diagnose other widespread diseases, such as schistosomiasis, loiasis and sleeping sickness.

He hopes, too, that they will help enthuse the next generation of doctors and scientists. To this end he and his team have drummed up more than 10,000 people from 130 countries to devise simple, relevant microscopy-based experiments. A Mongolian farmer, for instance, wants to show his fellows why they should boil milk to make it safer. An American beekeeper proposes to use Foldscopes to show his fellow apiculturalists how to identify bee-killing mites and fungi. And a 12-year-old Qatari would like to study the Namib desert beetle, which scavenges drinking water from morning fogs. The results, when published on the web, will become part of a manual of microscopy for everyman (and woman) that Dr Prakash hopes will encourage yet more experimentation.

Cheap microscopes: Yours to cut out and keep | The Economist.

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Republican War on Voters


I have said in the past that unless Republicans stop their war on women’s reproductive rights, and come to some form of compromise on immigration, they will not win any nationally elected office in the foreseeable future.  This was proven out when Romney failed to unseat President Obama, despite Obama’s abject failure at delivering on the many promises he made during his 2008 campaign, when he ran under the banner of “Hope and Change.”

In the 2012 elections, Romney won the white vote with 59%, compared to 39% for Obama, but it went downhill from there.  African-Americans chose Obama over Romney by a whopping 93% to 6%.  Hispanics also went for Obama by a 71% to 27% margin.  The Asian margin was 73% to 26%.  And most importantly women, who account for 53% of all voters, chose Obama by a 55% to 44% margin.  These numbers were impossible to overcome…

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America, Get Ready for ‘A2 Milk’ – Proponents say it’s healthier than current variety, which is rich in A1 protein

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America, Get Ready for ‘A2 Milk’


By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff 

Posted Mar 15, 2014 7:17 AM CDT 

(NEWSER) – Those sickened by US milk may not be lactose intolerant—in fact, if they were to head abroad, one in four might find the stuff easier to drink. That’s because of a protein known as A1 that’s typically predominant in the milk of Holstein cows, which are widespread in the US, explains Mother Jones. In Asia and Africa, you’ll often find milk that instead has more A2 protein; it’s also predominant in Jersey and Guernsey cows, not to mention human and goat milk. “More than 100 studies suggest links between the A1 protein and a whole range of health conditions,” says a New Zealand professor.

Those conditions include heart disease, autism, and diabetes. Drinking A1 releases a chemical known as beta-casomorphin7, which appears to exist in higher amounts in the blood of people with autism and schizophrenia, for instance. Milk with more A2 is hard to find in the US right now, though A2 Holsteins do exist, and with money and time, the US dairy industry could make a transition. Meanwhile, a New Zealand company is preparing to send A2 milk our way this year, the New Zealand Herald reports. “We’ve already been talking with farmers,” says the head of A2 Corporation, and “we’re starting to engage with (US) retailers.” (As for lactose intolerance, raw milk may hurt drinkers more than it helps.)

American dairy cows may be providing you with less-healthy milk.

American dairy cows may be providing you with less-healthy milk.   (Shutterstock)

America, Get Ready for ‘A2 Milk’ – Proponents say it’s healthier than current variety, which is rich in A1 protein.

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