This app will let you know which political parties are really benefiting when you buy groceries
If the thought of buying a product that might benefit a political party you can't stand makes you recoil in horror, the BuyPartisan app is for you.
The goal of this free app is to let people find out more information about the brands they purchase and the ideologies of their leaders and employees. After downloading the app, a user just has to scan a bar code using their phone's camera, and then wait for the information to pop up: the number in red is for contributions to the Republican Party, blue for the Democratic Party, and green for others.
— Carl Norman (@CarlNorman) August 20, 2014
"For the first time ever, you're able to take that product and bring it to a whole new light," developer Matthew Colbert, a former Capitol Hill staffer, told the Los Angeles Times. "A quarter or tenth of a penny that went to a political contribution might not be something you know."
BuyPartisan looks at campaign finance data from top Fortune 500 companies, and the averages are computed after looking at the donation histories of the CEO, board of directors, employees, and affiliated political action committees. For example, by using that data, BuyPartisan found that Procter & Gamble scores an average of 70.25 percent Republican, while Celestial Seasonings is 91 percent Democratic.
The app has some critics, including Jack Marshall, president of ProEthics. Marshall told the Times that it's best to avoid intense partisanship, which could be fanned by this app. "You don't want every day to be an election," he said. "That's why we have elections periodically, so people can calm down and work together."
Obama drops plan to cut tax benefits on 529 savings accounts
On Tuesday, President Obama dropped his proposal to remove the ability for people to withdraw money tax-free from 529 college savings plans.
The administration said that the tax break disproportionately benefited the wealthy, with more than 70 percent of accounts held by families who make at least $200,000 annually, and wanted to redirect more money to the middle class, The Washington Post reports. The White House faced criticism from parents and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who said the accounts are one of the best ways for families to save for college. "The President's plan has the puzzle pieces necessary to bring the middle class back, but this particular piece didn't fit," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said.
Officials say the backlash became "such a distraction" that it was decided the plan needed to be abandoned.
Former Russian spy may have been poisoned twice
In London, an inquiry is now underway into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in late 2006 and died weeks later.
Lawyer Robin Tam said that evidence would be shown that Litvinenko "was poisoned with polonium not once, but twice," the Los Angeles Times reports. In November 2006, Litvinenko met with two Russians for tea at a hotel in London, where his drink was spiked. He died a few weeks later after being hospitalized for radiation poisoning, but before he passed away, Litvinenko said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hit. Russia denied the allegation and said it would not extradite the men Britain identified as the prime poisoning suspects: Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi.
Tam said this wasn't the first time that Litvinenko became ill after being with the men; following a meeting in mid-October, Litvinenko complained of not feeling well. Ben Emmerson, a lawyer for the Litvinenko family, said he was killed because he had shared information with countries looking into ties between organized crime syndicates and the Kremlin: "He had to be eliminated — not because he was an enemy of the Russian state itself or an enemy of the Russian people — but because he had become an enemy of the close-knit group of criminals who surround Vladimir Putin and keep his corrupt regime in power."
Scientists just found a way to 'unboil' an egg
Anyone can boil an egg, but scientists have figured out a way to "unboil" one, The Huffington Post reports. University of California, Irvine, and Australian scientists reversed the effects boiling has on proteins found in egg whites.
"In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold," researcher Gregory Weiss said in a news release. "We start with egg whites boiled for 20 minutes at 90 degrees Celsius and return a key protein in the egg to working order."
Reconstituting proteins could streamline manufacturing cheese and other foods. It could also speed up development of drugs used to treat cancer.
Huge ring system around distant exoplanet is heavier, bigger than Saturn's
The sixth planet from the sun has nothing on J1407b, a giant expolanet with rings 200 times larger than Saturn's.
— Mark Thompson (@PeoplesAstro) January 27, 2015
The planetary ring system was discovered in 2012, and is the first of its kind to be found outside of the solar system. In Astrophysical Journal, researchers write that the scale of the rings is even greater than first thought: More than 30 individual rings are tens of millions of miles in diameter, and between each ring there are gaps that point towards the presence of exomoons, Discovery News reports.
"The star is much too far away to observe the rings directly, but we could make a detailed model based on the rapid brightness variations in the star light passing through the ring system," lead author Matthew Kenworthy of Leiden Observatory said. "If we could replace Saturn's rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon."
Government revamps social media security after Central Command hack
Remember the embarrassing U.S. Central Command hack on Twitter and YouTube from earlier this month? No classified information got out, but there were a whole lot of pro-ISIS posts.
Agencies should set up "social media stakeholder teams" to quickly respond to incidents like Central Command's, the guidelines say. They should also set up two-step verification for all logins and follow federal recommendations for setting up strong passwords. Oh, and ensure no former employees have access to the accounts.
Check out the full list of guidelines here.
Snowstorm forecasts weren't actually that far off
As New Yorkers woke up to less snow than anticipated, many questioned the validity of weather forecasts predicting a possibly historic blizzard. But forecasters and atmospheric scientists said the models weren't far off.
The storm was extremely powerful, but the intensity hit 50 to 100 miles east of forecasts, and New York City fell just outside the blizzard range.
"In the big picture, this was not a bad forecast," Columbia University atmospheric scientist Adam Sobel told The New York Times. "But if you sit in New York City, this was a bust."
Arguably, some New Yorkers should be thanking the skewed forecasts for getting them a day off work.
Apple smashes revenue expectations behind massive iPhone sales
Apple Inc. on Tuesday reported a record profit for the last fiscal quarter, which ended Dec. 27, thanks in part to enormous sales totals of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
The tech giant sold 74.5 million iPhones in that three-month span, a 44 percent spike from the same quarter last year. The sales surge helped the company post $74.6 billion in quarterly revenue — a 30 percent increase from last year's $57.6 billion haul, and well above the roughly $67.7 billion analysts expected.
Study: Sleeping aids could increase the risk of Alzheimer's
A new study from the University of Washington School of Pharmacy found that over-the-counter sleeping drugs could increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday, found that some sleep aids and anti-allergy pills contain "anticholinergic" blocking effects, which, if taken in large doses, can increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's. Anticholinergic drugs block acetylcholine, a chemical transmitter in the nervous system that Alzheimer's patients often lack.
The researchers suggested that doctors prescribe lower doses and fewer anticholinergic drugs for older patients, though more research is needed to understand sleep aids' potential risks.
Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig lead cast of all-female Ghostbusters reboot
The cast for the long-awaited return of the Ghostbusters franchise has finally been assembled. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon are reportedly set to take the lead roles in an all-female reboot of the franchise.
The casting hasn't been formally confirmed, but is widely expected to go through. Melissa McCarthy has already signed on, and The Hollywood Reporter says that "negotiations are ongoing" for the remaining three stars. Most tellingly, director Paul Feig has already tweeted a picture of the quartet:
— Paul Feig (@paulfeig) January 27, 2015
The Ghostbusters reboot comes at the end of a long, long road for the franchise, which saw the prospect of a third Ghostbusters movie dangled in front of fans for more than a decade. The 2014 death of original Ghostbusters star Harold Ramis, along with the continued reluctance of Bill Murray to join the project, led to the idea of a reboot instead of a sequel.
Indonesian military's search for crashed AirAsia jet is officially over
Indonesia's military has withdrawn its search for the bodies of AirAsia Flight 8501. Seventy of the 162 passengers' bodies have been recovered.
The plane crashed over the Java Sea in December while en route from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. Rescue divers have recovered the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.
"The operation has been ongoing for 30 days, so the joint team has been pulled out," Rear Admiral Widodo, head of the navy's western fleet, told Reuters. "We apologize to the families of the victims. We tried our best to look for the missing victims."
The civilian National Search and Rescue agency has said it may continue the search for the bodies, and it will hold a press conference on Wednesday.