Alien's Ripley Is My Favorite Action Hero Ever

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Image from Alien via screengrab

Not heroine. Hero, period. While it’s rad that Ellen Ripley happens to be a woman, that doesn’t at all impact her level of badassery—though it does inform her character in ways that make her much more interesting than virtually any other cinematic hero. She’s complicated, she feels real, and I have total confidence the Alien movies would not have become classics without her.

When we first meet Ripley, she’s just an ordinary person with a job to do. She’s not in charge of the Nostromo, but she has a certain amount of authority as warrant officer, a job that she clearly takes pride in. When crew member Kane has his much-too-close encounter with a Facehugger, Ripley is the voice of reason, reminding everyone about the necessary quarantine period. When she’s undermined, first by Dallas (who orders her to disobey the rules) and then by Ash (who pops open the door, since he has secret motivations of his own), she’s pissed. But she’s still a team player. She cares about Kane and while she doesn’t forget the slight, she rolls past it in the interest of tackling the next crisis at hand.

That incident—which obviously ends up proving Ripley so completely right, because of course you should not let that guy with a damn alien clamped to his face onto the ship—moves the plot forward into horror movie territory, but it also illustrates the level of human (artificial and otherwise) bullshit Ripley has to put up with on a regular basis. Obviously fighting the alien is the flashier way of demonstrating one’s heroism, and Ripley does that capably using a variety of tactics. But her employer and some of her co-workers are the other monsters in the Alien movies. Imagine going through all of the events of Alien, only to wake up decades later in Aliens, surrounded by a snooty, dismissive panel of corporate superiors who flat-out don’t believe your story. Burke, Paul Reiser’s sleazeball company-man character in the sequel, is arguably the biggest menace in a movie that still features a giant alien queen that oversees the annihilation of an entire space colony and the deaths of multiple Colonial Marines.

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Somehow, Ripley is able to get through the movie without strangling Burke, even though his behavior endangers not just the crew, but also potentially the entire human race if he’s able to carry out his plan of bringing alien specimens back home. And Burke isn’t the only idiot-with-power that Ripley has to contend with in Aliens. Lt. Gorman puts the whole team at risk when he proves incapable of making quick decisions when things are shitty. Meanwhile, Ripley is capable and cool-headed in nearly every situation, to the point where she just takes charge when the Marines’ initial investigation into the lost colony at LV-426 suddenly becomes a bloodbath. She knows when to follow the rules, but also when to break them, that sometimes you have to disobey an inexperienced leader, and most importantly, what’s most important is getting all the survivors the hell away from a terrible situation.

Obviously, she is extremely brave, but she’s also human. She gets scared. She has nightmares. In Aliens, she sparks with Hicks and feels a powerful maternal connection with Newt. She even loves Jonesy the cat. And her emotions are capable of evolving. When she first meets Bishop, she’s suspicious of him because of her bad experience with the insidious Ash in the first film. But as things fall apart in Aliens, she can still recognize that Bishop is incredibly loyal and self-sacrificing.

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A lot of Ripley’s triumphs as a character are obviously due to Sigourney Weaver’s intense and layered performance; even in Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection (in which Ripley... isn’t Ripley), she is the most magnetic thing in them. I saw Alien: Covenant last night, which I went into with very low expectations and ended up enjoying more than I thought I would—but its biggest problem may be that it has no Ripley. I don’t mean her, specifically; I mean there’s no remarkable central character for the audience to connect with, to care about. Nobody will walk out of Covenant remembering how awesome the hero was.

For all its attempts at delving into the Alien series’ mythology, Covenant is really just a big, silly monster movie set in space. There are lots of movies that fit that description.

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But there is only one Ripley.

Time to Flex Those Savings Muscles: Bowflex's Popular Dumbbells Are Back Under $200

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The price of these popular Bowflex adjustable dumbbells has been yo-yoing for weeks, but generally speaking, any time they’ve dipped below $200, they’ve sold out fairly quickly. So if you missed out on the last few opportunities, Amazon’s spotting you another chance today.


Instagram Won't Stop Showing Me the Mother's Day Photos I Don't Want to See

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Image: Sam Woolley

After four and a half years of not speaking to my mom I’ve learned to stay away from social media on Mother’s Day.

I’m a member of an enormous population of people who struggle with family-oriented holidays due to trauma, death, incarceration, betrayal, non-existence, or any number of other complicating factors. Relationships with family are tough. Now that we all live online, maintaining healthy relationships with our own feelings about our families is tougher.

Last year, Instagram rolled out an algorithmic timeline similar to that of Facebook, its parent company. Both sites want, or need, you to see what’s deemed to be of the most value; i.e. what’s garnered the most engagement. It’s why posts with “engagement,” “congrats,” and other markers of life milestones hang out atop your feed for days at a time. Want to draw attention to something in a hurry? Add the word “pregnant” to the post and it’ll fly to the tops of your friends’ feeds.

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The algorithmic prioritization of these posts can be useful if you’ve been buried under a pile of paperwork during a long workday. But it can be quite cruel if you’ve made an effort to avoid a day, a trend, a news cycle.

On Saturday night I closed Facebook and Instagram and prepared to package up my emotions and put them in storage for the day. I’ve spent enough Mother’s Days (and Father’s Days and Christmases and Thanksgivings) worked up about my screwed-up relationship with my family. I no longer need to be in touch with those feelings for the sake of a Hallmark holiday of reflection.

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Though I’m largely past the point of bitterness or envy toward my friends when it comes to Mother’s Day—and what people portray on the internet typically relays only its most pleasant dimensions—it is still difficult to see the wave of family photos that have become an integral way we celebrate holidays in the digital age. It’s an overwhelming reminder of what I’m without; the day becomes a big, blinking neon sign that is made up of the composite of the posts, not any one friend or family specifically.

My friends’ functional relationships with their families do not make mine any more fucked up. It simply exists like that on its own. But it’s still fucked up.

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On Monday night I figured the coast was probably clear of posts that might make me a little raw, and opened up Facebook first. Surprise! Mother’s Day posts get a lot of engagement, and Facebook was very concerned that I may have missed them. It was fine. The site still has an option to use a chronological timeline (though it reverts to algorithmic upon each reload), so I went about my day getting my fill of news stories, self-promo, and a lot of posts about the heightened pollen levels this season.

But on Instagram, there was no reprieve. A full day was apparently not enough to push the photos from the top of my feed, so I closed it out quickly, lamenting the missed opportunity to scroll for photos of my friends’—and let’s be honest, strangers’—dogs. On Instagram there’s no way to toggle to a chronological timeline, so I figured I’d just check back on Tuesday.

Tuesday, of course, brought much of the same. By this time I was aggravated by seeing “two days ago” appear at the bottom of the photos in the first few slots of my Instagram timeline; I no longer cared about the content, I just cared about the inability to opt-out of this algorithm. There’s no customer service line for an algorithm. I was just stuck with it.

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By Wednesday morning my Facebook feed had moved on entirely. Maybe it’s because the country seems to be ripping apart at the seams, because there’s more content on the site, or because Facebook likes to keep things fresh for your social voyeurism needs, but it was serving me posts that occurred mostly within the past 24 hours.

Instagram, however, has refused to budge. It’s now Friday morning, and Instagram is still putting photos from five days ago in the first few slots on my timeline.

I’ve cleared my search history, I’ve restarted the app, and I’ve searched for some friends’ accounts and scrolled through their pics hoping to game the system without a full timeline scroll. No dice. I’m stuck in this battle of me versus the algorithm. I’m locked out from the most vacuous social network I’m signed up for, and it’s pissing me off.

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It’s a frustrating paradox: Instagram is likely keeping the photos at the top of my feed because I haven’t seen them, but I haven’t been scrolling through my timeline because they are still at the top.

By now you’d think I’d have just gotten over it, scrolled through them, detached myself from any feelings on the content. But I’m frustrated on principle, and I’m stubborn, too. I feel the app should work for me, not the reverse.

There’s no way to set a precise filter that excludes posts of a certain genre (Mother’s Day, engagements, politics, you name it), so everyone is eventually going to find themselves a little sad about something that appears in the timeline. It’s human nature. You can unfriend people and you can stay away from the network, but that only changes the behavior you can control, not the behavior of the algorithms.

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I’ve learned this week just how stubborn an algorithm can be. But can an algorithm really be stubborn? No, it’s not sentient. But despite programmers’ best efforts, an algorithm can never be wholly intuitive either.

'World’s Hottest Pepper' Will Have You Breathing Fire, But It Won’t Kill You

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Image: Lauren Topor / Flicker Creative Commons

Not all hot peppers are created equal, and few are as unequal as the Dragon’s Breath chili—a new breed that may soon find itself atop the “world’s hottest” throne. Forged by Wales horticulturalist Mike Smith, the red-orange, fingernail-sized fruit is the unintentional product of a trial of a new performance-boosting plant food developed by Nottingham Trent University. Smith says the ferocious fruit is the spiciest on the planet, just over 1.5 times as spicy as a Carolina reaper—the current record holder. That’s pretty fiery, but despite what much of the media coverage of this new pepper has claimed, the Dragon’s Breath is not lethally hot.

Smith had the pepper tested and claims it registers 2.48 million Scoville heat units (SHUs), which, if verified by the folks at Guinness, would be a world record for heat. But in case blinding agony isn’t enough to dissuade a daredevil’s heart, the Daily Post, which was first to report on the pepper, includes an even graver warning paraphrased from the university: “...it could potentially cause a type of anaphylactic shock for someone who eats it, burning the airways and closing them up.” It didn’t take long for the pepper’s alleged lethality to dominate the news coverage, burning its way across the Internet like actual dragon’s breath.

As with all hot peppers, the Dragon’s Breath chili’s extreme heat is mainly the result of capsaicin, which tricks sensory neurons into telling the brain that they are literally burning. Eat enough of it, and you can experience more serious effects, like vomiting, abdominal pain and yes, even death—but only at high enough doses. A study in mice found the minimum lethal dose of capsaicin is 100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Since the average adult person weighs 58-81 kilograms, a fatal human dose would be between 5.8 and 8.1 grams, if we go off of the mouse numbers.

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If, as Smith contends, the Dragon’s Breath registers 2.48 million Scoville heat units, it’d be nearly 1 million SHUs more intense than the Carolina reaper, which averages 1.57 million. The Scoville scale is based on dilution: 1,000 SHUs means that you have to dilute the extract from 1 gram of dried pepper 1,000 times before you stop tasting the heat. Pure capsaicin registers a staggering 16 million SHUs. Scientists can convert between the amount of capsaicin per gram of dried pepper and SHUs; the Dragon’s Breath’s 2.48 million SHUs translates to 0.155 grams of capsaicin per gram of dried pepper. Since hot peppers are ~85% water, that means there are 0.023 grams of capsaicin per gram of fresh Dragon’s Breath.

So, to consume the minimum lethal dose of 5.8 grams of capsaicin, you’d have to eat nearly 250 grams—just over half a pound—of peppers. For an habanero-sized pepper, which look twice as large as the fruits Smith created, that would be about 25-30 peppers.

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Realistically, it’s probably impossible to breed a pepper so spicy that just one could kill you with its heat. That’s because if we assume a hot pepper is around 10 grams in size (habanero to jalapeño-sized), more than half of its tissues by weight would have to be capsaicin—which doesn’t leave a lot of room for the pepper’s structural parts, let alone water (a Dragon’s Breath pepper is ~2.3% capsaicin). You could potentially create a lethal single pepper if you bred one that is far larger and much hotter at the same time. A strain twice as hot as a Dragon’s Breath at the size of a bell pepper would theoretically do it, but is not likely biologically feasible.

But what about that note about anaphylactic shock issued by the university? That’s just a standard medical warning.

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Anaphylactic shock occurs when allergic reactions go nuclear. There are tens of thousands of known allergens out there, any of which could potentially cause a life-threatening case of anaphylaxis in someone who is allergic. And yet, despite decades of study including injection trials, there are no published cases of capsaicin-induced anaphylaxis. Capsaicin and similar chemicals are being explored as a way of reducing allergic responses.

Peppers can carry other allergens, however. Spice allergies, including those to pepper-derived paprika and cayenne, do exist, but they are rare and due to pollen-like compounds, not capsaicin. There have also been severe allergic reactions to bell peppers, all of which means that doctors can’t rule out the possibility that someone could have an allergic reaction to the Dragon’s Breath. Similar warnings are common for any drug or supplement where anyone has had a serious reaction, including Advil and Aspirin.

In the end, the only people who have to worry about anaphylaxis from Dragon’s Breath are those who are already allergic to peppers or pepper-derived spices of any kind, and they have as much to fear from a jalapeño as they do from this new one. Smith, for his part, believes the Dragon’s Breath may wind up serving a beneficial medical purpose, as the potent oils from its flesh could be used as anaesthetic.

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So chiliheads out there—with their iron stomachs and appetite for pain—can rejoice in knowing that the Dragon’s Breath is not especially lethal. Not that they will get their chance to experience the cripplingly-hot flesh of this pepper anytime soon. The only way to see the peppers for now is to attend the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show in the U.K. next week, where Smith will be displaying his prized creation.

Jake Buehler is a science writer based in the Seattle area with a fanatical obsession with biology’s weirdest and under-acknowledged stories.

Inside The Russian Bomber That’s Been Flying America’s Coastline

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A Russian Tu-95 ‘Bear.’ Photo credit: Russian Ministry of Defense

The Russian Tu-95/-142 Bear has been showing up in a lot of places it maybe shouldn’t be over the past month, as the Russian Air Force and Navy continues to probe the air defenses of several nations.The sixty-year-old symbol of the Cold War has been able to remain a viable weapon system despite its age, much the way the B-52 has managed. Russian Bears have pushed close to the United States, Canada and Japan forcing each nation to scramble fighter jets to meet the Bears.

There has been a significant increase in probing missions since 2014, and while these events are interesting, it is nothing that the U.S or it allies do every day around the world. B-1 bombers flew over South Korea a few weeks ago to further get North Korea’s attention, and almost everyday some sort of spy plane can be seen sniffing and pushing at the Russian enclave in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. These missions are mostly routine, but things can go wrong. A U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II was forced to land in China not too many years ago after colliding with a Chinese fighter, and a Russian plane buzzed a Swedish airliner when it came within 300 feet with its transponder off.

Since April 12, Russian Bears have been intercepted on six different days by Japanese F-15J Eagles, American F-22 Raptors and Canadian CF-18 Hornets. Each encounter brings with it the uncertainty of intentions and the risk of an accidental collision which would create an international incident. The intercepts have been described as “safe and professional,” but while Japan experiences these encounters more frequently, it has been years since America or Canada had to scramble alert fighters into the air to challenge Russian aircraft as they approached their borders.

A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 intercepts a Russian Tu-95 back in 2007. Photo credit: RCAF

These intercepts mark the first time since July 4, 2015 that American fighters have intercepted Russian military aircraft off America’s coast. On that day, two Bear bombers flew along the California coast and got to within 39 miles north of San Francisco. One of the Russian pilots reportedly greeted the American fighter pilots with “Good morning, American pilots. We are here to greet you on your Fourth of July Independence Day.” Two other Bears also skirted the Aleutian Islands.

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It is very likely that these missions close to the United States are a continuation of Russian aircrew training to launch cruise missiles against military targets. In Alaska, the potential targets could be Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson , Fort Greely (which is a launch site for anti-ballistic missiles), the COBRA DANE radar on the Aleutians, or even the Alaskan pipeline. Russian bomber crews have been believed to have practiced launching cruise missiles multiple times, flying into “launch baskets” from which their missiles can reach their intended targets. By revealing rhat a nuclear strike was practiced against Sweden in 2013 by Russian Tu-22M3 Backfire-C bombers, NATO has confirmed the Russians are obviously looking at a lot of potential targets.

The United States, along with about twenty other nations, have established air defense identification zones (ADIZ) that stretch off their coasts. The ADIZ is a product of the Cold War and the first American ADIZ was established by President Truman in 1950 during the Korean War to reduce the possibility of a surprise attack by the Soviet Union. An ADIZ is a known boundary that extends beyond national territory, and is almost always in international airspace. Within the ADIZ, unidentified aircraft are expected to be challenged until their intent can be verified. The U.S. has five ADIZs: East and West Coast, Alaska, Hawaii and Guam.

There are no international agreements regarding the establishment of an ADIZ, and just because one nation has declared the boundaries of an ADIZ does not mean they have extended their legal borders. Over the East China Sea there are ADIZs established by Japan, South Korea and China which overlap creating a very complicated situation.

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Each of the recent Bear flights have involved penetrating someone’s ADIZ, and the first of the recent activity occurred April 12 along the coast of Japan. Three Russian Tu-95MS Bears flew from their base at Ukrainka in the Far East, and flew nearly the length of Japan’s east coast. At the same time a single Il-20 Coot - which is an electronic intelligence (ELINT) gathering platform - flew down Japan’s west coast. Japan scrambled 14 fighters at different times during the Russian Bears’ flight. In 2016 Japan scrambled jets in record numbers to investigate unidentified aircraft entering its ADIZ. On over 1,000 occasions Japanese fighters raced into the air to protect the country’s ADIZ. Of those occurrences, 301 were to ward off Russian aircraft. Of the 882 remaining scrambles, 851 were to push back Chinese aircraft probing Japan’s air defenses. Earlier this year, two Russian Tu-95s flew around Japan.

Japan’s ADIZ. Image credit: Japanese Ministry of Defense

On April 17 Russia would kick off four straight days of flying at Alaska when two Tu-95MS bombers were intercepted by two American F-22s as the Russian bombers got to within 100 miles of Kodiak Island and penetrated the Alaskan ADIZ. The American pilots escorted the bombers for 12 minutes before returning to base. A KC-135 tanker and E-3 Sentry AWACS were also scrambled to meet the Russian bombers, the first to in two years to have targeted Alaska.

An American F-22 Raptor intercepts a Russian Tu-95 Bear bomber. Photo credit: United States Air Force

The next day two more Bear bombers were again off Kodiak Island, this time closing to within 36 miles before turning back. No American fighters were scrambled to intercept this pair but another E-3 AWACS was sent aloft to monitor the bombers.

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On April 19, two Russian aircraft passed south of the Aleutian Islands and this time, there was no intercept, as they were were Il-38 May maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft.

On the fourth day, two more Tu-95MS bombers flew north of Alaska and Canada. American F-22s and Canadian CF-18 Hornets intercepted and escorted the bombers as they flew along the coast of both countries. For the Canadians, it was the first time in more than two years a Russian aircraft was intercepted off its northern coast.

An F-22 takes off from Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. Photo credit: United States Air Force

But the most interesting encounter was the most recent one, when another pair of Tu-95MS bombers were intercepted by F-22s about 50 miles southwest of Chariot, Alaska on May 3. Only this time, the Bears were not alone. With them were two of Russia’s newest and most capable fighter, the Su-35S Flanker-E. Farther back a Russian A-50 Mainstay AWACs aircraft monitored the mission, but at no time did the Mainstay stray into U.S. territory nor was it intercepted. This was the first escort mission for the Su-35S along the Alaskan coast, though it is probably not the first time the F-22 and Su-35S have encountered each other, as both aircraft were flying missions over Syria at the same time.

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The Russian Bear has been probing not only American, but NATO and Japanese air defenses as well for decades. Its shape is unmistakable with huge swept wings, a protruding refueling probe over the nose, and its four large and loud NK-12 engines attached to two four-blade contra-rotating propellers. The propeller-powered Bear is limited to a maximum speed of just over 500 mph, much like the American jet-engined B-52, but typically flies around 450 mph during the duration of its seemingly endless missions that can stretch toward fourteen hours or longer depending on the availability of in-flight refueling.

The aircraft have ranged over the oceans, hunting submarines and aircraft carrier battle groups, and practiced penetrating American airspace to deliver nuclear bombs during the Cold War before settling in as a cruise missile launching platform.

The Tu-95 first flew in November 1952, and production of the aircraft stretched from 1955 to 1992, with over 500 of the airframes were built to a slew of different designations. Of those built, less than 90 remain airworthy, with most of the airframes belonging to the Tu-95 Bear-H missile-carrying variant.

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The Bear has been familiar to the opposing air forces since 1956, when the airframe became operational as a nuclear bomber designed to take off from the Soviet Union, fly over the Arctic and deliver a series of nuclear bombs to the U.S. To cement this idea of capable nuclear delivery platform a Tu-95 dropped the Tsar Bomba on the island of Novaya Zemlya in 1961. The Tsar Bomba is the largest man-made explosion in history with the thermonuclear weapon having a yield of 50 megatons. The blast from the 60,000-pound weapon could be seen from as far away as 600 miles.

Today Russia operates three main types of the Bear family: the Tupolev Tu-95 Bear-H strategic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-142 Bear-F maritime patrol aircraft and the Beriev Tu-142MR strategic communications aircraft. Both the Bear-H and the Bear-F have multiple variants. The Tu-95MS Bear-H is a strategic intercontinental-range cruise missile carrier and these were built between 1982 and 1992. There are two current variants of the Tu-95MS flying today. Older aircraft have the Osina missile system that only allows the employment of the Kh-55 (NATO calls it the AS-15 Kent) armed with a 200 kiloton nuclear warhead. Six missiles were carried on an internal rotary launcher, but newer aircraft use the Sprut system to deliver the Kh-55 and can carry sixteen missiles, adding ten under the wings.

From 2003 the Bear-H was modified to carry six Kh-555 cruise missiles that are conventionally armed versions of the nuclear Kh-55.

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The Sprut version of the Tu-95MS has also been modified to carry the conventional Kh-101 long-range stealth cruise missile and the Kh-102 nuclear version. These weapons are longer than the Kh-55 and will not fit in the rotary launcher and must be carried under the Bear’s wings with a maximum carry of eight. With a full load of Kh-101/-102 the range of the Bear is quite reduced to around 4,300 miles.

The Tu-95 MSM looks to be a final upgrade program that was launched in late 2009 to update the bomber’s capabilities. Some of the upgraded equipment will include a new radar, modernization of the navigation system, a “glass” cockpit, enhanced defensive measures and improved engines, which will provide better fuel efficiency to help counter the loss of range accompanied with the external carriage of the Kh-101/-102. At least one Tu-95MSM made its combat debut by launching missiles at Syria in November 2015.

The least recognized of the Bear family is the Beriev Tu-142MR Bear-J strategic radio-relay aircraft. Designed to ensure that Moscow can maintain contact with its ballistic missile submarines, the aircraft is externally very similar to the Tu-142MK Bear F with a few notable differences including a forward-facing pod atop the tail. The mission of the Bear-J is similar to the U.S. Navy’s E-6B Mercury TACAMO (TAke Charge And Move Out), which provides the ability to communicate with submerged submarines, specifically the ballistic missile submarine fleet. The Bear-J first flew in 1978 and entered service with 1982.

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Operated by a crew of nine (including a rear gunner), they are protected against electromagnetic radiation by a special window coating, as they may have to conduct their mission during a nuclear exchange. Rather than carrying weapons in the bomb bay, the Bear-J carries the trailing wire antenna that will be deployed via an external ventral pod. The 25,187-foot wire antenna takes 37 minutes to be fully extend, and 48 minutes to retract. While deployed, the Bear-J will fly an extended series of tight turns to ensure the wire is as close to vertical as possible ensuring the best situation to conduct VLF communications with submerged SSBNs. Approximately 10 Bear-J airframes remain and are based primarily at two airfields. One is at Kipelovo (formerly Fedotovo), and is about 400 kilometers north of Moscow, and these aircraft serve the ballistic missile subs of the Northern Fleet on the Kola Peninsula. The other base is in the far east at Mongokhto and serves the Russian Pacific Fleet from the base on the Strait of Tartary.

The location of the base at Mongokhto. Image credit: Google Maps

The last type of Bear currently operating is the Bear-F, designated either the Tu-142MK Bear-F Mod 3 or the Tu-142MZ Bear-F Mod 4, and is a long-range anti-submarine warfare aircraft. With a crew of 10 the Bear-F has a maximum endurance of over 16 hours, and can patrol 2,485 miles from base for over four hours locating and prosecuting ASW contacts. Over 100 Tu-142s were built between 1968 and 1994 but only 12 remain in service with two squadrons of six aircraft operating from the same bases as the Bear-J. Six Tu-142MKs at Kipeolov and six Tu-142MZs at Mongokhto.

The differences between the MK and MZ designation is the system used to process information received from deployed sonobuoys, with the MZ being a newer design able to accommodate the processing power need to interpret the information obtained from the dropped buoys. The Bear-F has two internal weapons bay for carrying torpedoes, depth charges, mines and sonobuoys. Typically, the Bear-F would be armed with three torpedoes and over 120 sonobuoys to locate, track and attack submarines.

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With the development of stand-off cruise missiles, the Bear received a life extension and subsequently turned into a capable delivery platform, able to threaten almost anywhere in the world. It is this version of the Bear – the Tu-95MS – that currently causes the most headaches for alert aircraft from Alaska to Canada and Japan to England. Armed with as many as eight KH-101/-102 stealth cruise missiles, with an estimated range of 3,100 miles, the Bear no longer has to be over the target to hit it. Those stealth cruise missiles conveniently come with either a nuclear of conventional payload.

In recent years there have been a few incidents that potentially warn about the condition of the aging Bear fleet. In 2015 two accidents prompted a temporary grounding of the Tu-95/Tu-142 airframes. One aircraft crashed near Khabarvosk, which is close to the Chinese border. Two pilots were killed but seven survived by parachuting from the stricken aircraft. Another exploded on takeoff from its base at Ukrainka resulting in the loss of one crew member.


The Tu-95/142 Bear airframe is not the most modern of designs by any stretch of the imagination. It will not sneak up on anyone these days, but it no longer has to. First flown during the same period when the American military was putting its first jet powered bombers such as the B-45 Tornado and the B-47 Stratojet into the air, the Bear’s survivability was openly questioned. The Bear’s propeller-driven design was predicted to have a short life-span in the new era of jet fighters and the recently developed surface-to-air missile. Yet, here the Bear is sixty plus years after the design was introduced still threatening the country it was designed to target. No longer with nuclear bombs but with cruise missiles potentially armed with nuclear warheads. The Bear has survived and adapted. One of the most durable aircraft ever built, each time a Bear takes off, it carries with it the enduring legacy of Russian military aviation.

Gary Wetzel is an experienced military and aviation writer who has authored two books examining the combat operations of the A-10 Warthog in Afghanistan. He also served over six years in the U.S Navy as sonar technician aboard USS Philadelphia and USS Dallas.

Federal Agents Are Now Using ‘Stingrays’ to Track and Capture Undocumented Immigrants

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Photo: Getty

Controversial cellphone tracking technology is being deployed as a tool in President Donald Trump’s expanding effort to arrest and deport illegal US residents.

In March, US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deployed a cell-site simulator, often colloquially referred to as a “Stingray,” to track a Michigan man in the country illegally, according to recently unsealed court documents reported first by The Detroit News.

The local news outlet reported Thursday evening that a team of FBI and ICE agents in Detroit used a cell-site simulator to locate Rudy Carcamo-Carranza, a restaurant worker from El Salvador who had twice entered the country illegally. The 23-year-old reportedly accused of driving drunk and being involved in a hit-and-run crash.

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This represents the first known case of such a device being used to hunt down an undocumented immigrant. Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union and widely recognized expert on cell-site simulator use, told the Michigan paper that he had never before seen a warrant approved in an immigration enforcement operation.

The use of cell-site simulators is a closely guarded secret among US law enforcement, typically bound by a nondisclosure agreement between agencies, the FBI, and the Harris Corporation, a US-based company which produces the “Hailstorm” model, an advanced version of the more widely known “Stingray.”

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A portable device the size of a suitcase, the Hailstorm operates by emulating base transceiver stations, or “cell towers.” By transmitting a radio signal more powerful than that of legitimate cell towers in the vicinity, the Hailstorm forces nearby cellphones to drop their connections to legitimate networks—those operated by AT&T, Verizon, and other providers—and re-connect instead to the police device. This works by exploiting the fact that cellphones are intentionally designed to always seek out the most powerful signal nearby in an effort to reserve battery power. The process, however, is more complex than just that.

The Harris device isn’t just passively collecting information on nearby cellphone users by pretending to be something it’s not. With regards to modern LTE networks on which most cellphones in the US operate, a more apt description for the Hailstorm is a “cellular hacking device.” Older GSM networks only require cellphones to authenticate in one direction: the cellphone, in other words, must prove it is authorized to be on the network, but the cell tower does not have to respond in kind. LTE, however, uses a more secure protocol known as “two-way authentication.”

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What this means, essentially, is that the only way a Hailstorm can fool a cellphone is by authenticating itself back to the device, perfectly emulating a complex, multi-step “handshake” with fraudulent credentials. (A hack by any other name is still a hack.)

The use of these devices under any circumstance poses unique risks to bystanders. Cell-site simulators are known to disrupt calls, even ones placed to 911. A 2014 case in Canada noted that cell-site simulators pose inherent risks to “innocent third parties,” particularly those trying to reach emergency services. Canadian authorities instituted a three-minute rule with regards to their use after tests showed frequent malfunctions in software designed to allow emergency calls to go through. No such limitations have been imposed in the US, however.

Because coverage blackouts are a byproduct of using cell-site simulators they’ve often been compared to cellphone jammers, the use of which constitutes a federal crime.

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The Federal Communications Commission defines a cellphone jammer as a device that prevents cellphones from “making or receiving calls, text messages, and emails,” and further notes that jammers do not “discriminate between desirable and undesirable communications.” While that definition appears to fit the bill, and federal law prohibits police from using cellphone jammers under any circumstance, the FBI and other federal agencies routinely provide state and local police with access to cell-site simulator technology. Other agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, are known to share their devices with local agencies.

Law enforcement operations to locate, detain, and deport individuals in the US illegally are skyrocketing. Figures released this week by Acting ICE Director Tom Homan show a nearly 40 percent uptick in detentions during President Trump’s first 100 days in office. As many as 41,300 undocumented immigrants have been arrested, and of those, nearly 11,000 had no prior criminal convictions—that’s double the number arrested over the same period last year.

While Homeland Security requires ICE and other agencies under its umbrella to obtain warrants before deploying cell-site simulators, should their use become typical, the result may be increased network issues for law abiding citizens. Due to the secrecy surrounding use of these devices, it will be well-nigh impossible to attribute any such disruption to ICE’s enforcement operations.

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In a statement to The Detroit News yesterday, an ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls defended the agency’s use of cell-site simulators: “ICE officers and special agents use a broad range of lawful investigative techniques in the apprehension of criminal suspects,” he said. “Cell-site simulators are invaluable law enforcement tools that locate or identify mobile devices during active criminal investigations.”

The Venom Movie Has Chosen Its Star/Symbiote Host: Tom Hardy

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Tom Hardy, seen here at Bane, is playing Venom. Image: Warner Bros.

Variety is reporting that Tom Hardy, who played Bane in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, will next play another iconic comic book villain, Venom. The frequent Spider-Man villain is getting his own film next year, which will be directed by Ruben Fleischer, who made Zombieland.

A few months back, Sony surprised movie fans everywhere by putting a Venom movie on their release schedule. Rumors of a film based on the character had been going around for years but, once Spider-Man started being shared with Marvel Studios, they sort of went away.

With Hardy and Fleischer now aboard, Venom will lead what’s expected to be Sony’s own unique sliver of the Marvel universe—one that’ll feature other famous Spider-Man rogues, and may include a Black Cat and Silver Sable film. No one knows if these villain films will crossover, or just tell one-off comic book stories; what is almost certain, however, is that Spider-Man won’t be part of them.

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Sony confirmed the news on their Twitter:

Venom is scheduled for release October 5, 2018.

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A 'Superbug' Fungus Is Spreading Across the US

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Candida auris. Image: CDC

Over the past nine months, the number of US cases of an emerging, multi-drug resistant fungus has ballooned from 7 to more than 122. What’s more, the fungus, Candida auris, seems to be spreading, according to a field report the Centers for Disease Control released Thursday.

So-called ‘superbugs’ usually reference bacteria that are especially hard to kill, having evolved resistance to multiple antibiotics. Superbugs have become a major problem, with some bacteria evolving resistance to so many drugs there is no longer a readily available way to kill them. To stave off an antibiotic apocalypse, we may eventually need to discover lots of new drugs, or alternate methods of vanquishing these tough critters.

Like those bacteria, C. auris appears to have evolved resistance to multiple drugs. It causes severe illness and has a high-mortality rate, especially among high-risk, hospitalized patients. The fungus was first identified in 2009 and has now been reported in more than a dozen countries. According to the CDC, which issued an initial warning last June, 77 cases have been identified in hospitals in seven states, mainly in elderly people. The number jumped to 122 when close contacts of those patients were also screened.

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C. auris is opportunistic—you’re unlikely to get it unless you’re already sick and in the hospital for something else. So far, most US cases have been treatable using antifungal drugs, but health care officials are concerned because some strains are resistant to all three major classes of antifungal drugs. It can also survive on surfaces in places like hospitals, and easily spread between patients. The CDC has labeled it “a serious global health threat.”

For now, C.auris appears to be relatively rare in the US. But perhaps the most frightening thing about antibiotic-resistant bacteria is that because state and federal agencies have done a poor job keeping track of superbug-related deaths, we really don’t have a handle on how big the problem is. Let’s hope that as these super fungus spread, we do a better job keeping track of them.

All the Dangerous Things You Shouldn't Be Doing With Your Fidget Spinners

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Like lawn darts, nano-magnets, and slap bracelets, fidget spinners are only one stupid stunt away from becoming yet another forgotten fad. And as usual, instead of enjoying them responsibly, the internet is hard at work trying to find ways to make spinners as dangerous as playing with firecrackers. This is why we can’t have fun things.

It goes without saying, but we’re going to say it anyways: Please don’t try any of these experiments at home. There’s enough people out there trying to hurt themselves with fidget spinners.


Making a fidget spinner fly

Revving a fidget spinner up to thousands of RPMs while it’s grasped firmly between someone’s fingers already seems dangerous enough. But add a pair of incredibly powerful magnets to the mix, and suddenly you’ve got a hovering fidget spinner that’s a few RPMs away from breaking free and flying across the room in search of a victim.


Building a fidget spinner slingshot blaster

In the wrong hands, any object can be potentially dangerous. Like the hands of Joerg Sprave, who’s found a way to weaponize everything from Lego bricks, to Nerf darts, and now even fidget spinners with a custom slingshot blaster that launches them with enough power to make you wish you weren’t in his crosshairs before he pulls the trigger.


Putting a fidget Spinner in the microwave

Popcorn, a microwave’s closest ally, can barely survive spending a few minutes in your futuristic oven. So what are the odds a fidget spinner will survive? Slim. This one wasn’t completely destroyed, but the bearings that actually make it spin, its sole raison d’être, were totally nuked.


Accelerating a fidget spinner to over 10,000 RPMs

Using a steady blast of compressed air, you can get a fidget spinner up to over 10,000 RPMs so that it sounds like a jet engine ready to take off. But should you be holding it during a stunt like that? Not if you like having five fingers on each hand.


Replacing a skateboard’s wheels with fidget spinners

On multiple occasions Tony Hawk has landed his famous 900 trick, which is a full two-and-a-half rotations in the air after launching off the top of a half pipe. But there is little chance you could convince him to drop into a bowl on a deck with fidget spinners replacing its wheels.


Jumping off a deck onto a fidget spinner-covered trampoline

Jumping onto soft pillows is fun, jumping onto fidget spinners—made of hard plastic surrounding a steel bearing—is not. Even adding a trampoline to the mix isn’t going to soften the landing, but at least you’ll have some amazing bruises the next morning.


Use a chainsaw to spin a fidget spinner

The internet is chock full of terrible ideas, and using a chainsaw to get a fidget spinner spinning certainly ranks among the worst. Losing a finger is the least terrible thing that could result from an experiment like this.


Cramming a fidget spinner into a waffle iron

Waffle irons have brought nothing but joy and deliciousness to mankind. So aside from the risks of breathing in the toxic fumes of melting cheap plastic fidget spinners, deliberately destroying a waffle iron in the process, for the sake of clickbait science, might be the worst part of this experiment.


Crushing a fidget spinner in a hydraulic press

Actually, this one is fine. By now every corner store, bodega, and gas station in the country has a counter stocked with fidget spinners. Flattening one to a pulp with a giant hydraulic press is a drop in the bucket, but an important first step towards putting an end to this annoying fad.

Automate An Outlet With TP-Link's Alexa-Compatible Smart Plug, Now Just $21

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TP-Link Smart Plug, $21. Discount shown at checkout.

Like the idea of a Belkin WeMo Switch, but not willing to spend $40-$50 to try one out? This TP-Link alternative has a nearly identical feature set for half the price.

Just like a WeMo switch, TP-Link’s Smart Plug will let you turn appliances on and off from your smartphone, and set schedules to toggle them automatically. The only major feature it’s lacking is IFTTT support, but it will integrate with an Amazon Alexa for voice control. Just note that you won’t see this discount until checkout.