Journalist/developer. Interactive editor @frontlinepbs. Builder of @HomicideWatch. Sinophile for fun. Past: @WBUR, @NPR, @NewsHour.
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After a stunning news conference, there’s a newly crucial job for the American press

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Putin must wonder what else America knows about Russia

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Visualizing street orientations on an interactive map

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A screenshot from an interactive map of road orientations

Cities can look and feel very different depending on how they were planned and built, and this is especially apparent when you explore them from above, on a map. Some cities strictly align to a grid, others seem like they grew without any structure, and in some cases, patterns only appear when you examine a city more closely, with each neighborhood having their own distinct style. Could we visualize these patterns?

Seth Kadish invented one great way to do this, and recently Geoff Boeing rediscovered it. They divided 360° into a set of orientation ranges, counted how many road segments belong to each range, and produced a polar histogram that gives us a profound insight into the street pattern of each particular city:

Road orientations visualization by Seth Kadish
Detroit from City Street Orientations by Geoff Boeing

When I saw this, I was hooked instantly— what an ingenious way to look at how a city is built! But I wanted to explore more. How would such a chart look for my city, Kyiv? Or for some of my favorite but lesser known places? How would different neighbors of the same city compare? Or, on a larger scale, how would a European road network compare to the one in the US?

Extracting and processing the road data for every place of interest to generate a polar chart seemed like too much work. Could I do it on an interactive map? It turns out that this is a perfect use case for Mapbox vector maps — since the map data is there on the client, we can analyze and visualize it instantly for any place in the world. Play with the map below to see it in action!

How I built it

The full app is about 80 lines of code. After initializing the map, we set it up to update the visualization every time we move it:

map.on('load', function () {
map.on('moveend', updateOrientations);

In the update routine, we can fetch all the roads on the screen with a single line of code, getting the results in GeoJSON format for easy processing:

var features = map.queryRenderedFeatures({layers: ['road']});

To make sure we only visualize road segments that we actually see, not including parts of roads that go off the view, we use a tiny library called lineclip to clip every road feature to the current bounding box:

var clippedLines = [];
for (var j = 0; j < lines.length; j++) {
clippedLines.push.apply(clippedLines, lineclip(lines[j], bbox));

Calculating orientations and lengths for every road segment can be expensive if there are hundreds of thousands of them in our view. So we use cheap-ruler, a library for very fast approximations of geodesic calculations like this:

var ruler = cheapRuler(map.getCenter().lat);
for (var i = 0; i < line.length - 1; i++) {
var bearing = ruler.bearing(line[i], line[i + 1]);
var distance = ruler.distance(line[i], line[i + 1]);

For every road segment, we calculate the “bin” it belongs to (we have 64 bins that cover 360°) and accumulate segment lengths for every bin, while also counting every two-way road twice (in both directions):

var k0 = Math.round((bearing + 360) * numBins / 360) % numBins;
var k1 = Math.round((bearing + 180) * numBins / 360) % numBins;
bins[k0] += distance;
if (isTwoWay) bins[k1] += distance;

Finally, to get those pretty, uniform rainbow colors for all orientations on our chart, we use the sinebow function popularized by my coworker Charlie Loyd.

That’s it!

Now play with the interactive map — I spent hours exploring it, and hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Check out the full source code, and hit me up on Twitter if you have any questions!

Visualizing street orientations on an interactive map was originally published in Points of interest on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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The Motherboard Guide to Amazon Prime Day's Best Deals

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Today is Amazon Prime Day, a 36-hour shopping event invented to celebrate Jeff Bezos’s online marketplace dominance.

It’s hard to remember a time before this invented holiday “Prime Day,” but it started just three years ago in 2015, on Amazon’s 20th birthday. The following year, the company saw a 60 percent jump in orders placed on Prime Day.

As comrades around the world go on strike to protest Amazon’s workplace conditions, let’s take a look at the best Prime Day deals:

Best Deals on Being an All-Consuming Mega Retailer That Eats Up Small Businesses

Amazon Is Trying to Control the Underlying Infrastructure of Our Economy
Jeff Bezos's big bet is that he can make buying from Amazon so effortless that we won't notice the company's creeping grip on commerce and its underlying infrastructure, and that we won't notice what that dominance costs us. Amazon has unprecedented power to steer our choices. Ask Alexa to send you batteries and you won't get the option of Duracell or Energizer; you'll be shipped Amazon-branded batteries. Browse the Kindle bestseller list and you'll see many books published by Amazon. Peruse the "customers also bought" carousel and Amazon's algorithms will favor displaying its own products, even when they're not the best match.

Amazon Is Burying Sexy Books, Sending Erotic Novel Authors to the 'No-Rank Dungeon'
“There's no way for an indie author to make a living without Amazon, so whatever nonsense they decide they're pulling this month is just one other thing we've got to put up with,” Trout said. “And that sucks, but they're a private business and they get to do what they want, so we can only really complain from a consumer standpoint. It's not censorship, it's just a big bullshit hassle, so there's really no recourse for us.”

Amazon Wants You to Shop at Amazon as Long as You Follow the Rules It Doesn't Tell You About
In recent years, Amazon’s dominance of the retail industry has resulted in many small and local businesses shutting down all over the country. In its mission to “dominate retail,” Amazon has hollowed out mainstreet, and is increasingly where many Americans do all their shopping. The retail business Amazon has built now exists as a walled ‘obey-to-play’ garden, where people are encouraged to shop for everything, and have it delivered. As such, Amazon has placed itself in a new role as a provider of an entire city’s worth of retail from a single vendor.

Amazon Prime Is a Blessing and a Curse For Remote Towns
After Amazon ended free shipping for Prime customers in some remote parts of Canada in 2015 , many Iqalummiut are worried worried Amazon would cut off their regions from free Prime shipping, too. "It would be very, very bad, I don't want to say pandemonium, but maybe something akin to that," David Marineau-Plante told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation . [...] "Shipping is subsidized by Amazon in order to lock consumers into their ecosystem and to destroy competing retailers," Stacy Mitchell, the co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance , said. "They are an extractive force, economically. All of the dollars these communities are spending in Amazon are leaving the local economy completely."

Best Deals on Building a Creeping Surveillance State

“A total privacy invasion. Immediately, I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again because I can’t trust it.’”
She’d installed Echo devices and smart bulbs in every room in her house, accepting Amazon’s claims that they were not invading her privacy. But today she asked the company to investigate after an Alexa device recorded a private conversation between her and her husband and sent it to a random number in their address book without their permission.

With Echo in Hotel Rooms, Amazon Can Now Track Your Travel Habits
Previously, hotels might have had access to pieces of this data from other vendors and their own phone logs, but not near complete narratives of what happens when a customer occupies a room. [...] And that is what Amazon continues to collect—who we are wholly. What we read and watch, what we buy, where we stay, what we do while we stay, how we manage our homes, and with Whole Foods, what we eat.

Hack That Turns Amazon Echo Into a Spying Device Can’t Be Fixed By Software Patch
With the malware installed, Barnes could remotely monitor the Echo's " always listening " microphone, which is constantly paying attention for a " wake word ." (The most popular of these is "Alexa.") Barnes took advantage of the same audio file that the device creates to wait for those keywords. "I'm listening to that same file. I'm effectively listening the same way that processor is listening for a keyword.”

“It allows them to connect you to other instances of yourself and to identify your relationship to other people”
Civil liberties experts are worried that these and other expanding uses of speaker recognition imperil the right to privacy. “This creates a new intelligence capability and a new capability for abuse,” explained Timothy Edgar, a former White House adviser to the Director of National Intelligence. “Our voice is traveling across all sorts of communication channels where we’re not there. In an age of mass surveillance, this kind of capability has profound implications for all of our privacy.”

Best Deals on Reducing Human Labor to Algorithmic Profit

Brutal life working in Amazon warehouse
Timed toilet breaks, impossible targets and exhausting, “intolerable” working conditions are frequent complaints. Staff have been paid less than the living wage, and it even emerged drivers had faced fines for “early” deliveries. As experts warn of workers facing an increased risk of mental and physical illness, Amazon repeatedly promised to clean up its act. But a whiteboard in the plant for staff comments suggests it has far to go. There were complaints of filthy toilets and breaks still too short. One asked: “Why are we not allowed to sit when it is quiet and not busy? We are human beings, not slaves and animals.”

Amazon faces fines following the death of a second warehouse worker in as many months
The Associated Press reported that the victim, Phillip Terry of Indianapolis, “was fatally crushed when a forklift’s lift fell on him while he was doing maintenance work on it.” Terry was killed on Sept. 24 at an Amazon facility in the Indianapolis suburb of Plainfield.

Amazon warehouse jobs push workers to physical limit
On an average day, 51-year-old Connie Milby covered more than 10 miles in her tennis shoes, walking and climbing up and down three flights of stairs to retrieve tools, toys and a vast array of other merchandise for <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> shoppers. [...] “At my age around here, there are not very many other opportunities to make what we make,” Milby said before beginning her 6:30 a.m. shift last October. “As long as my body holds up, I will keep working. But the way it feels, I don’t know how long that will be.”

The Life and Death of an Amazon Warehouse Temp
What bothers her most is how expendable her husband seemed to be inside the warehouse system. She believes that had he not died as a second-class temp worker, his family might have been in a better position to sustain the loss. “Just feeling like he wasn’t human, like he was just a piece of paper,” she said. “You know, [they] can dispose of you. It kind of hurt.”

Almost 13,000 join boycott against
Working conditions at Amazon's Breinigsville shipping hub gained national attention and a public response from the company after a Sept. 18 article in The Morning Call revealed employee complaints about heat in the warehouse complex and rapid production requirements many could not sustain. Amazon hired ambulance crews to park outside the complex on hot summer days in case workers experienced heat-related problems. A local emergency room doctor who treated Amazon workers for heat stress reported an "unsafe environment" to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which inspected and recommended corrective steps.

Amazon workers left out in the cold
Grady, 53, has chronic joint pain and a heart condition he said make him especially sensitive to the cold. After attendance was taken to make sure all employees had evacuated, Grady said, he identified himself to a manager as someone with a disability and asked to be allowed in the building. Some warehouse managers were inside at that time, he said, and he asked to join them. Grady said his request was denied and he was forced to remain outside without a coat for about three hours, which he said left him aching and stiff. Amazon maintains the evacuation lasted approximately one hour and 45 minutes.

Top Reviews from People Who Worked There

“If you’re a good Amazonian, you become an Amabot.”

“The company is running a continual performance improvement algorithm on its staff.”

“One time I didn’t sleep for four days straight.”

“That’s when the ulcer started.”

Happy Prime Day!

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Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, dies at 90

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Steve Ditko, who co-created the Spider-Man and Doctor Strange characters for Marvel Comics, has died, New York police said. He was 90.

Lt. Paul Ng said Ditko was found June 29 in his Manhattan apartment and was pronounced dead at the scene. No further details were immediately available.


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10 days ago
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He is a Member of a Violent White Supremacist Group; So Why is He Working for a Defense Contractor with a Security Clearance?

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Documenting Hate logo

This story is part of an ongoing collaboration between ProPublica and FRONTLINE that includes documentaries scheduled to begin on PBS in August 2018.

If you’ve witnessed or experienced hate crimes, harassment or incidents of bias, you can use this form to send information to FRONTLINE, ProPublica and other partners in the Documenting Hate project.

There likely isn’t such a thing as a “typical” violent white extremist in America in 2018. Still, Michael Miselis — a University of California, Los Angeles doctoral student with a U.S. government security clearance to work on sensitive research for a prominent defense contractor — makes for a pretty unusual case.

For months, ProPublica and FRONTLINE have been working to identify the white supremacists at the center of violent demonstrations across the country, including the infamous Unite the Right rally last August in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Rise Above Movement, a Southern California group that expresses contempt for Muslims, Jews, and immigrants, became a focus of that effort. ProPublica and FRONTLINE were able to quickly identify a number of the group’s leaders, and find evidence that put them in the middle of violence in Charlottesville and Berkeley, California, among other places.

But one seeming member of RAM was harder to nail down. In video shot in Charlottesville, a bearded, husky man is seen in a red Make America Great Again hat with his hands wrapped in tape that came in handy for the brawling that occurred that day. During one encounter, the unidentified man in the red hat pushed an African-American protester to the ground and began pounding on him, video of the episode shows; moments later, a known RAM member choked and bloodied a pair of female counter-protesters. The possible RAM member also had turned up in video shot during hours of combat at a Trump rally in Berkeley, as well. Wearing protective goggles to ward off pepper spray, the man fought alongside RAM members, wrestling one protester to the ground and punching others.

Ultimately, ProPublica and FRONTLINE determined the man in the violent footage was Miselis, a 29-year-old pursuing a Ph.D. in UCLA’s aerospace engineering program. Miselis was identified using video footage and social media posts, and reporters confirmed his identity in an encounter with him outside his home. In interviews, a number of California law enforcement officials said Miselis was a member of RAM.

In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Miselis works as a systems engineer for Northrop Grumman, the giant defense contractor with a plant in Redondo Beach, California.

When approached by ProPublica and FRONTLINE in front of his home in Lawndale, a small city south of Los Angeles, Miselis said he “didn’t know anything” about what happened in Charlottesville.

“I think you got the wrong guy,” he said before driving off in his car.

Miselis did not respond to questions about his involvement with RAM. He did not answer additional questions sent by email.

Several current and former employees at Northrop Grumman told ProPublica and FRONTLINE that Miselis has received a security clearance to work in a computer modeling and simulation group within Northrop’s aerospace division. Such security clearances are typically issued in a two-step process. The federal Office of Personnel Management conducts an investigation into the individual. The agency’s findings are then forwarded to a special unit within the Department of Defense, which makes the final determination on whether the person should receive a clearance, a status that often allows the person access to classified or otherwise sensitive information concerning national security.

Public affairs officers at the Defense Department declined to comment about Miselis and his security clearance. The federal personnel management office referred questions regarding Miselis to Northrop Grumman.

Northrop Grumman did not respond to several requests for comment. However, interviews with current and former Northrop employees, as well as an internal email, make clear the company knows of Miselis’ actions in Charlottesville and involvement with RAM. Miselis informed his superiors about his contact with reporters from ProPublica and FRONTLINE, as is required by any individual who holds a higher-level security clearance, the people said.

So far, it seems, the company has taken no action against Miselis, who remains employed.

Keegan Hankes, an analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center who follows RAM closely, said he was surprised that nothing has been done about Miselis’ employment and security clearance.

“It’s ridiculous,” Hankes said.

“They’re openly motivated by racism,” he added of RAM.

As ProPublica has previously reported, RAM first surfaced publicly last spring and has quickly established itself as one of the violent groups in the resurgent white supremacist scene; members, who regularly train in boxing and martial arts, have been documented engaging in a string of melees. Founded in early 2017 by Robert Rundo, a Queens, New York, native who served an 18-month prison sentence for stabbing a rival gang member six times during a 2009 street fight, the group’s core membership is small —15 to 20 young men — but capable of real menace, ProPublica’s reporting has shown.

Rundo has recruited followers from the Orange County and San Diego chapters of the Hammerskin Nation, the country’s largest Nazi skinhead gang, and one the authorities say has been behind at least nine murders. One of the Hammerskins who joined up with RAM, Matthew Branstetter, went to prison in California in 2011 on hate crime charges for robbing and assaulting a Jewish man in an Orange County park. The attack left the victim with “a concussion, broken jaw, eye socket fracture, broken nose, cracked ribs, severe facial bruising, and cuts and bruises to his body and face,” according to a news release issued by county prosecutors at the time. Other RAM members have spent time in prison and Los Angeles County jail on charges for robbery, firearms possession and other offenses.

The FBI has taken notice. Several law enforcement officials familiar with the bureau’s work said agents have opened a formal investigation into RAM. In a statement, the FBI said: “While the FBI neither confirms nor denies the existence of an investigation, our agents investigate activity which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security. Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on criminal activity. The FBI cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of their First Amendment rights, and we remain committed to protecting those rights for all Americans.”

Since last August, local prosecutors have brought charges against a handful of participants in the Charlottesville rally, successfully convicting several men so far, including activists on both sides of the clashes. Now federal authorities are targeting neo-Nazi James Alex Fields, the man accused of killing counter-protester Heather Heyer and injuring more than two dozen others. Federal prosecutors recently filed 30 charges against Fields, including 28 hate crime charges.

A native of Stockton, California, Miselis earned a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from UCLA in 2011. UCLA’s website today lists Miselis as a Ph.D. candidate in the engineering department’s hypersonics and computational aero-dynamics group. After FRONTLINE and ProPublica began making inquiries about Miselis, the school issued a brief statement saying only that he is technically on leave from the doctoral program.

Miselis was clearly prepared for the unrest in Berkeley in the spring of 2017. At the Trump rally he wore protective goggles to ward off pepper spray or tear gas, taped his hands up like a boxer, and wore a gray active-wear uniform, as did several other RAM members that day. In video footage reviewed by ProPublica and FRONTLINE, Miselis can be seen fighting alongside other RAM members.

The event turned into a multi-hour street battle pitting Trump supporters, including fascists and extreme-right activists, against counter-protesters, some of them militant anti-fascists. Police made 20 arrests, confiscating knives, pepper spray, a stun gun, an axe-handle and many wooden dowel rods, which were used as clubs by participants. At least seven people were transported to the hospital for their injuries. Rundo, RAM’s founder, was arrested and detained for assault on a police officer, but Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley declined to file charges. “We determined we didn’t have enough evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Teresa Drenick, an Alameda County deputy district attorney.

After the Berkeley rally, Miselis traveled across the country to take part in the massive white supremacist convergence in Charlottesville, where his activities were photographed and recorded on video, both by professional journalists and other people equipped with smart phones. At the rally on Aug. 12, pictures taken by photojournalist Jason Andrew show Miselis walking alongside two other RAM members previously identified by ProPublica, Tom Gillen and Ben Daley.

At roughly 10 a.m., Miselis and the other RAM members confronted counter-protesters a few steps away from Emancipation Park, where white supremacists had gathered beneath a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Daley attacked two female counter-protesters, kicking and punching them, a scene captured in video obtained by ProPublica and FRONTLINE. He wrapped both hands around the throat of one woman, throttling her until she fell to the ground, blood seeping from a gash on her temple. The other woman emerged from the incident with a laceration across her forehead. On video, she screams as blood drips across her face.

Miselis jumped into the fracas. In addition to FRONTLINE and ProPublica, National Geographic produced video documenting the brawl.

A sequence of pictures shot by photojournalist Edu Bayer, who was on assignment for The New York Times, show Miselis hurling what appears to be a can of soda at a counter-protesters. In one photo he flexes his biceps muscles in celebration.

It’s this sort of street combat that worries the SPLC’s Hankes. In his view, such brazen criminal activity should be a red flag for both Northrop Grumman and the Pentagon.

“I can’t believe that participation in an organized white supremacist group focused on street-level violence wouldn’t jeopardize your security clearance,” Hankes said.

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