FactCheck.org on Boehner vs. Castro on the Exchange "As a result of an amendment by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, Boehner is barred from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. He must buy insurance on the exchange created by the law. But that’s a costly switch for Boehner, who is 64 years old. The exchange plans charge higher premiums based on age — unlike his current employer-sponsored plan."
Saturday, December 07, 2013
Krystal Higgins made Free “Game of Thrones”-inspired snowflake patterns "I came up with GoT-inspired snowflake patterns. I’m sharing them as free, printable JPGs so everyone can enjoy them!" I made the Targaryen one and it worked well.
Math with Bad Drawings is pretty cute. "This blog is about the things I like. It’s also about the things I can’t do. I hope that the juxtaposition here – polished, thoughtful writing alongside art that my wife (charitably) likens to ‘the average 6th grader’ – captures the contradictory state of the teacher, of the mathematician – and, what the hell, of the human. We are all simultaneously experts and beginners, flaunting our talents while trying to cover our shortcomings the way an animal hides a wound. You could call this a ‘math blog,’ or a ‘teaching blog,’ but I would call it a blog about owning up to weakness and drawing strength from successes, however transient or trivial they may seem."
Friday, December 06, 2013
Court to rule on patent rights "Renewing its recent fascination with the kinds of inventions that can be patented, the Supreme Court on Friday agreed to clarify when an analytical method implemented by a computer or by a link on the Internet is eligible for monopoly protection. This was the only new case granted. The Court will be reviewing a widely splintered decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in the case of Alice Corporation Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank International (docket 13-298). The en banc Federal Circuit found the method at issue ineligible for a patent, but a majority could not agree on a standard for making such decisions."
"The CDC just announced that measles cases in the United States in 2013 tripled over the annual average. There were 175 cases (so far), when usually there are about 60. Why? Well, let’s see. In March, there were 58 cases alone in Brooklyn, N.Y., tied to a Jewish community that refused or delayed vaccinations. In Texas, a megachurch that preached anti-vaccination views had an outbreak with at least 20 cases. In North Carolina, 23 cases were reported in one outbreak; most of them in a religious (Hare Krishna) community that was largely unvaccinated. In all three of these outbreaks, someone who had not been vaccinated traveled overseas and brought the disease back with them, which then spread due to low vaccination rates in their communities. "
MIT Tongue Twister Is The Trickiest To Say "The old saying ‘Sally sold seashells by the seashore’ has nothing on a tongue twister created by researchers at MIT. The verbal puzzle, ‘pad kid poured curd pulled cod,’ tripped up test subjects who tried to spit out so much, that psychologists believe it could be the toughest one there is to date."
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Andrew Sullivan explains Where Government Is And Isn’t Gridlocked. The ideological differences between the House and Senate are keeping Congress from functioning but in the states, "a record number of state governments under single-party control." "One consequence of all this activity is that life in one state is starting to look really different from life in the next state over."
New York City's Energy Infrastructure Transformed Last Month and Nobody Noticed - Technology - The Atlantic "An $856-million pipeline expansion began ramping up service, allowing more natural gas to get to New York City consumers. The New York-New Jersey expansion project moves more gas the last few miles from Jersey, which is the terminus for much of the Marcellus Shale gas flowing out of Pennsylvania, into Manhattan. The Energy Information Administration called it 'one of the biggest... expansions in the Northeast during the past two decades.' It will bring an additional 800 billion British thermal units (BTU) of gas to the area per day."
New Research: Cheating on Exams with Smartwatches "A Belgian university recently banned all watches from exams due to the possibility of smartwatches being used to cheat. Similarly, some standardized tests in the U.S. like the GRE have banned all digital watches. These policies seems prudent, since today’s smartwatches could be used to smuggle in notes or even access websites during the test. However, their potential use for cheating goes much farther than that."
"As a proof of concept, I developed ConTest, an application for the Pebble smartwatch that shows how students could inconspicuously collaborate on multiple-choice exams in real time. ConTest allows students to select a question, vote on answers, and view the most popular solution based on all of the responses from other students taking the exam. Prior to an exam, students pair their watches with their smartphones and choose the exam that they are taking. During the exam, the smartphone—hidden in the student’s pocket or backpack—facilitates communication between the smartwatch and a cloud-based aggregation service. All user interaction during the exam takes place on the smartwatch itself with simple, inconspicuous button presses."
WonkBlog has Five startling facts about pregnancy and abortion in America. And of course there are graphs like this one:
Everyone's heard about the 60 Minutes surprise report about Amazon's experiments to use drones to deliver packages. Here's some other stuff.
Wired writes Navy Doubles Down on Versatile 'Blackjack' Drone. "After more tests completed last month, the Navy and Marines have decided that the RQ-21A Blackjack drone is worth the gamble. They’re putting money on the program that could provide them with a dedicated multi-intelligence drone in a matter of months."
"“It has a configurable payload that allows you to integrate new and unique payloads that are specific to the mission in addition to an [electro-optical/infrared] camera,” said Maj. Wayne Phelps, the Marine Corps’ requirements officer of the aviation branch. ”You can have multi-mission ability. This allows you to do some type of unique cross-cueing types of missions.” Blackjack, which is 8 feet long and has a wingspan of 16 feet, weighs 80 pounds, making it a small tactical drone that can fly as fast as 104 mph and as high as 19,500 feet for more than 13 hours. It can be launched and recovered on land or at sea without runways using a hydraulic launcher and a net recovery system."
Time writes The Navy Can Now Launch Drones From Submerged Submarines "Powered by an electric fuel cell, the eXperimental Fuel Cell Unmanned Aerial System (XFC UAS) was launched from the torpedo tube of the USS Providence earlier this year. While the exact date and location of the launch were not disclosed, according to a press release the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory released Thursday, the drone flew for several hours before landing at the Naval Sea Systems Command Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center in the Bahamas. The launcher fits inside the same canisters already used for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles on submarines."
Kent State University students will learn how to build and fly drones. "Beginning next fall Kent State University will teach college students how to build and fly them. Its College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology will offer a minor in unmanned aircraft systems. It will be an option for students enrolled in any of the five aeronautics degree concentrations."
"Dozens of colleges with aviation programs now offer courses in unmanned aerial systems, the New York Times has reported. The University of North Dakota was first, in 2009, and has about 120 students in the field. Other universities with programs include Kansas State University Salina, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Indiana State University."
Badass Digest reports on the Oscars short list of Visual Effects potential nominees, Oscars Snub MAN OF STEEL VFX. This list is:
- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
- Iron Man 3
- The Lone Ranger
- Star Trek Into Darkness
- Thor: The Dark World
- Pacific Rim
- World War Z
I've seen the bold ones. I'm betting on Gravity winning.
io9 writes Congress Just Held a Remarkable Two-Hour Hearing on Aliens "In a refreshingly pro-science move, the House Science Committee set aside two hours yesterday to discuss the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life. The ensuing conversation was fascinating, but at times infuriating, with the experts discussing everything from alien biosignatures to the possibility that we're being watched."
Time reports Facebook, Gmail and Twitter Hacked, 2 Million Passwords Stolen. "Hackers have stolen some two million usernames and passwords from 93,000 websites, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and LinkedIn. CNN reports that the cybersecurity firm Trustwave traced the massive breach to a server in the Netherlands. Security experts said the confidential information on the server came from a piece of malware which recorded users’ keystrokes at login screens."
Trustwave has some analysis of the of the passwords, they're pathetic.
Ars reports, Credit card fraud comes of age with advances in point-of-sale botnets. "Underscoring the growing sophistication of Internet crime, researchers have documented one of the first known botnets to target point-of-sale (PoS) terminals used by stores and restaurants to process customers' credit and debit card payments." Yes cash registers now have viruses. And also, I will never read PoS as Point-of-Sale.
Meanwhile The NSA says it ‘obviously’ can track locations without a warrant. That’s not so obvious. In that article, Andrea Peterson puts the original Smith v Maryland SCOTUS case in some modern perspective.
Open Culture writes, Watch the Rolling Stones Write “Sympathy for the Devil”: A Highlight in Godard’s ’68 Film One Plus One. "After the Rolling Stones’ partly misguided, partly inspired attempt at psychedelia, Their Satanic Majesties Request, the band found its footing again in the familiar territory of the Delta Blues. But with the 1968 recording of Beggar’s Banquet, they also retained some of the previous album’s experimentation, taken in a more sinister direction on the infamous “Sympathy for the Devil.” In the studio, with the band during those recording sessions, was none other than radical French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, who brought his own experimental sensibilities to a project he would call One Plus One, a document of the Stones’ late sixties incarnation—including an increasingly reclusive Brian Jones."
If only it had been a young Martin Scorsese in the studio instead of Godard.
In Focus shows A Sea of Clouds Fills the Grand Canyon "Weather conditions in Arizona's Grand Canyon last week gave rise to a rare phenomenon called total cloud inversion. Last Friday, and again on Sunday, the ground apparently released some of its heat rapidly enough at dawn to create a layer of cool, damp air inside the canyon, trapping it beneath the unusually warmer sky above the canyon walls and filling the space with a sea of fog. Park officials said the phenomenon is a once-in-a-decade occurrence and ran to capture these fantastic photos. (If your display can support it, I recommend selecting the 1280px option below.) [12 photos]"
Salon wrote Sad fact: America’s silent films are disappearing "According to a study conducted by the Library of Congress, 70 percent of American silent films are lost–and a good portion of the remaining ones aren’t exactly in great shape, either. Of the 11,000 films made before ‘talkies’ came into the picture, only about 3,300 are left. Of those, 17 percent are incomplete, and some, like the only missing Greta Garbo feature, The Divine Woman, are down to a single remaining reel. What happened?"
The Library of Congress report is here in pdf form.
SpaceX Just Made History. Again. "SpaceX scored a spectacular launch success [Tuesday] when the maiden flight of their upgraded Falcon 9 rocket scorched the sky of the Florida Space Coast and successfully delivered a commercial space satellite to geostationary orbit for the first time ever – thereby revolutionizing the commercial space industry from this day forward."
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
The Washington Post reports NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show
"The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.
The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.
The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones ‘incidentally,’ a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result."
Interesting slideshow: What A Week Of Groceries Looks Like Around The World.
A month ago the ACLU wrote Anal Probe for a Traffic Stop?.
"David Eckert was pulling out of a Wal-Mart parking lot when police officers pulled him over for failing to stop at a parking lot stop sign. Police ordered Eckert to step out of his vehicle, and that's when he committed the highly suspicious act of 'clenching his buttocks.' The officers' natural reaction? This man must be hiding narcotics in his anal cavity.
Being pulled over for a minor traffic violation is never a pleasant experience, but these Deming, New Mexico police officers took it to an atrocious new level, forcing Mr. Eckert to undergo a colonoscopy, anal probes, and defecation in a search for drugs. Yes, you read that correctly: the War on Drugs is being waged on minor traffic violators with enemas and sedatives."
Nautilus writes about The Curious Case of the Exploding Pig Farms.
"Hog farms in the Midwest are great big barns sitting on top of great big pits filled with a great deal of awful-smelling manure. The pigs walk about on a slatted floor that lets manure fall into the pit several feet below. Around 2007, farmers began noticing pig poop acting funny. The normally liquid mixture started producing foamy bubbles, rising up and up, past the slats, right to the pigs’ cloven hooves.
Then it got worse. Among the gases in the bubbling in the foam are two of special note: methane and hydrogen sulfide—both highly flammable. All it takes is a small spark and Kaboom! In September 2011, a barn explosion killed 1,500 pigs and seriously injured one worker. It was just the most serious in a string of barn explosions that have cost farmers millions of dollars in the past several years."
The coincidental theory is that a new feed which is a byproduct of ethanol production is altering the manure, though quick experiments have proved difficult to replicate the real world situation. As a short term solution they are now using more antibiotics in pigs to avoid gas bloating. "It works, though no one knows why." Which is really reassuring when pig shit is literally exploding.
David Warsh looks at the Financial CrisisFive Years Later "Lost decades, secular stagnation — gloomy growth prospects are in the news. To understand the outlook, better first be clear about the recent past. The nature of what happened in September five years ago is now widely understood within expert circles. There was a full-fledged systemic banking panic, the first since the bank runs of the early1930s. But this account hasn’t yet gained widespread recognition among the public. There are several reasons."
New MIT Media Lab Tool Lets Anyone Visualize Unwieldy Government Data | Co.Design | business + design "To wade through what César Hidalgo, director of the Macro Connections group at the MIT Media Lab, calls 'the last 10 inches' separating people from their government's incoherent tables and spreadsheets, Hidalgo turned to visualization. DataViva, a website Hidalgo and a few collaborators helped develop with the Brazilian state government of Minas Gerais, offers a wide array of web apps that turn those spreadsheets into something more comprehensible for the average user, whether that's a policy maker, someone working for the World Bank, an entrepreneur, or a student. The site, which officially launched last week, can be a bit overwhelming to navigate, but it has lofty goals: to visualize data encompassing the entire Brazilian economy over the last decade, with more than 100 million interactive visualizations that can be created at the touch of a button in a series of apps. The future of open government isn't just dumping raw datasets onto a server: It's also about making those datasets digestible for a less data-savvy public."
Ars Technica writes Launch code for US nukes was 00000000 for 20 years.
"The codes, known as Permissive Action Links (PALs), were supposed to prevent the use of nuclear weapons—and the nuclear weapons under joint control with NATO countries in particular—without the authorization of the president of the United States. The need for such controls became clear during the 1963-1964 Cyprus crisis, when NATO members Turkey and Greece were reportedly seeking control of NATO nuclear weapons—to use on each other.
At least that's the way it was supposed to work, following an executive order from President John F. Kennedy. But at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, more than half of the missiles in Europe, including those in Turkey, lacked PAL controls. And while Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara directly oversaw the installation of PALs on the US-based ICBM arsenal, US Strategic Command generals almost immediately had the PAL codes all reset to 00000000 to ensure that the missiles were ready for use regardless of whether the president was available to give authorization."
Everyone hates passwords
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
The Incidental Economist says Medicaid and access: Not what you think | The Incidental Economist "My point is that one can get a misleading impression of Medicaid access by relying only on studies that compare it to ‘any private’ coverage and/or on studies that only survey physicians or their offices. Studies show that access can in fact be comparable to that of some private plans, particularly those that consider the direct experience of patients. It’s worth also mentioning that the literature is more consistent in finding that the uninsured have even worse access than Medicaid or private plan enrollees. Medicaid is less than ideal, but not as bad as many might think; it’s also better than nothing."
It's because of stories like this, An underhanded anti-Obamacare stunt by the California GOP that I think the two parties are not equally at fault in today's political dysfunction. While I'm sure some far left groups have done similar things, I don't think the actual Democrat party (national or state) has done anything like this. Time and time again I hear or see such lies from the GOP.
British artist Kyle Lambert made a photo-realistic painting of Morgan Freeman on his iPad. The video is very impressive. This isn't the first such painting he's done but it's the first with a video. More info in this Gizmodo article, This Incredible Portrait of Morgan Freeman Was Painted on an iPad
15 Documentary Features Advance in 2013 Oscar® Race "The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 15 films in the Documentary Feature category will advance in the voting process for the 86th Oscars." Here they are alphabetically:
- The Act of Killing
- The Armstrong Lie
- The Crash Reel
- Cutie and the Boxer
- Dirty Wars
- First Cousin Once Removed
- God Loves Uganda
- Life According to Sam
- Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
- The Square
- Stories We Tell
- Tim’s Vermeer
- 20 Feet from Stardom
- Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington
I've seen three of them, all at IFFBoston this year.
- The Act of Killing - One of the most amazing docs (and film) I've seen
- Dirty Wars - Jeremy Scahill investigates our special ops forces, very good, gets a little lost at the end
- 20 Feet from Stardom - A lot of fun about backup singers, a few women have sung virtually every song you know
Bad Astronomy shows us Exoplanets: Three directy imaged planets added to list "After all these years, only about a dozen planets have been directly photographed, and even then some are controversial; their ages aren’t well known, and that affects their measured mass. Some might be brown dwarfs, objects intermediate in mass between planets and stars. But now we have three more exoplanets baby pictures! Here’s what we know about them."
Monday, December 02, 2013
"Hirsch offers them an orange pill, which they swallow. Underneath the pill’s outer shell are several smaller gel capsules. Inside the smallest capsule is a glycerin-suspended clump of bacteria that’s been extracted from human feces. ‘It’s like a Russian doll,’ Hirsch told me. ‘With a surprise in the middle.’ Hirsch is one of just a few dozen specialists in the country who perform fecal transplants—procedures used primarily to treat people who have severe gut infections caused by an overgrowth of a bacteria called Clostridium difficile."
How odd, but given all we're learning about the microbiome it makes sense.
Sunday, December 01, 2013
Marc Ambinder has assembled The NSA's org chart "Here is the latest version of the National Security Agency's unofficial org chart, a mind map I have been updating ever since Edward Snowden made it cool to obsess about the NSA. My goal is to turn the map into a functional description of how NSA works, not just what NSA is. It's a work in progress."
Thursday, November 28, 2013
In Focus on the National Geographic Photo Contest 2013, Part II "Time is running out to enter this year's National Geographic photo contest, the deadline for submissions is Saturday, November 30. One first-place winner will be chosen from each of the three categories, and the winning photographs will be published in National Geographic magazine. The overall grand-prize winner will be announced in December of 2013. National Geographic was once more kind enough to let me choose among its entries so far, for display here on In Focus. Gathered below are 36 more images, with captions written by the individual photographers. Be sure to also see Part I, earlier on In Focus. [36 photos]"
The Big Picture shows us Photographing an African safari "As a photojournalist, you’re always looking to capture moments that define life. In the wild, you’re witnessing life or death situations, and it’s a truly humbling experience. We’re used to living in a world where we humans are top predators and life is extremely safe. When you find yourself in an environment where you’re no longer the top predator, it puts things in perspective to see how and where we fall within the food chain. I never thought I’d be excited photographing nature, but I found myself completely entranced by the whole experience and I can’t wait to do it again. ( 27 photos total)"
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Kevin Drum charts America is the Stingiest Rich Country in the World "The United States is one of the richest countries in the world, with a top 1 percent that's seen its income triple or more in the past three decades. And yet, we also do the least to fight the rising tide of income inequality. Government programs in America reduce the level of inequality by only 26 percent. Nobody else is so stingy."
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
NASA outlines ingenious plan to resurrect the Kepler planet hunter "As photons are absorbed and emitted, they generate a small force on the object doing the absorbing (it's the same force that causes some asteroids to spin). Kepler is powered by solar panels that are arranged symmetrically across the probe's long axis. If the probe can be oriented so that the sunlight strikes these panels evenly, the photons will exert a constant and symmetric force against the probe. Kepler's two remaining reaction wheels can then push against that force and keep the telescope gazing steadily at one point in the sky, just as it was designed to do."
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Friday, November 22, 2013
"The IceCube neutrino observatory buried at the South Pole is one cool telescope. It has detected extremely high-energy neutrinos, which are elementary particles that likely originate outside our solar system. The discovery of 28 record-breaking neutrinos was announced earlier – with two of the particles — nicknamed Bert and Ernie – drawing particular attention because of the their off-the-chart energy of over 1,000,000,000,000,000 electron volts or 1 peta-electron volt (PeV).
Now, a new analysis of more recent data discovered 26 additional events beyond 30 teraelectronvolts — which exceeds the energy expected for neutrinos produced in the Earth’s atmosphere, and one of those events was almost double the energy of Bert and Ernie. This one has been dubbed ‘Big Bird,’ and in combination, these events provide the first solid evidence for astrophysical neutrinos from distant cosmic accelerators, which might help us understand the origin of origin of cosmic rays. The detection has suggested a new age of astronomy is beginning, offering a new way to look at the Universe using high-energy neutrinos."
io9 says the Unprecedented neutrino discovery is a "Nobel Prize in the making" and puts Bert and Ernie in some context. "But not all neutrinos are the same. The ones discovered by the IceCube team are about a billion times more energetic than the ones coming out of our sun. A pair of them had energies above an entire petaelectron volt. That's more than 1,000 times the energy produced by protons smashed at CERN's Large Hadron Collider."
"So whatever created them must have been extremely powerful. Like, mindboggingly powerful — probably the remnants of supernova explosions. Indeed, as a recent study has shown, these cosmic explosions are more powerful than we could have ever imagined — to the point where they're defying known physics. Other candidates for neutrino production include black holes, pulsars, galactic nuclei — or even the cataclysmic merger of two black holes."
Dylan Matthews says Americans think John F. Kennedy was one of our greatest presidents. He wasn’t. The article makes good points on the policies.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Wow, I wasn't paying attention to the news today and just saw this, It’s official: The Senate just got rid of part of the filibuster.
A majority of Democrats voted on Thursday to modify the Senate's rules on filibusters for the first time since 1975. From now on, judicial nominees to federal courts can be confirmed by a simple majority vote. So can the president's executive-branch nominations.
It's not a complete repeal of the filibuster: Supreme Court nominees can still be blocked by 41 senators, as can all legislation. But even this smaller rule change — a move known as the "nuclear option" — is a big break with precedent.
In all, 52 Democrats voted to change the filibuster rules, while all 45 Republicans and 3 Democrats opposed the move. (West Virginia's Joe Manchin, Michigan's Carl Levin, and Arkansas's Mark Pryor were the three dissenting Democrats.)
Ezra Klein lists Nine reasons the filibuster change is a huge deal. I only found two of them interesting.
The practical end of the Senate's 60-vote threshold is not plunging the chamber into new and uncharted territories. It's the omnipresence of the filibuster in recent decades that plunged the chamber into new and uncharted territories. At the founding of the Republic, the filibuster didn't exist. Prior to the 1970s, filibusters — which required 67 votes to break for most of the 20th century — were incredibly rare.
Republicans take a lot of the blame here. They've used the filibuster more aggressively than Democrats, by a wide margin. They've also been less willing to cooperate with Democrats on general legislative efforts, making the presence of the filibuster more costly to the Democratic Party. And they've been so unwilling to work with Democrats this year that they essentially removed all reason for Democrats to stay their hand. The way Senate Democrats saw it was that if they weren't going to get immigration reform or gun control or jobs bills or anything big that they cared about, then at least they would get their judicial and executive-branch nominations.
In part this came up because of the three vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and in fact, Reid's rule change came on a vote for Patricia Millett to this court. The D.C. Circuit is the court at the center of the filibuster fight. Here’s why it matters.
Ezra Klein also points out that One huge effect of filibuster reform: Obama can actually fire people. "The constant use of the filibuster against political appointments made it extraordinarily difficult for the White House to fire anyone because they didn't know whether they'd be able to appoint a replacement -- or, if they could appoint a replacement, who Republicans would actually accept. And the more political controversy there was around an issue the more dangerous a personnel change became." It also means the grueling vetting process might get a little easier.
Dylan Matthews talked with The world’s leading filibuster expert on what happened today and what to expect next. but it was mostly about the specific technique Reid used, so skip that if you're not interested.
Matthews also wrote Everything you need to know about Thursday’s filibuster change and the last half is interesting about how Obama dawdled with judicial nominees.
As for speculation about how this will play out when or if the Democrats are in the minority, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good response, More Scalias and Thomases Please.
Threatening to appoint "more Scalias and Thomases" is basically threatening to appoint more judges who would unwaveringly hew to their vision of the country. That any political party would like to do this strikes me as unsurprising. The place to decide whether we're going to have "more Scalias and Thomases" is the ballot box. That's why during debates candidates are usually asked about the kind of judges they'd appoint. The place to decide whether having "more Scalias and Thomases" actually worked out is the election following.
Elections don't always have consequences, but they should. You can't judge a party's agenda if they don't get a chance to actually implement. Judicial and executive appointments are indispensable to that endeavor. If you don't want to even have the experiment, if you don't like being in the minority, win the damn election—which is another way of saying, make the case to the American people.
Ed Kilgore agrees, No Buyer’s Remorse Here on the Filibuster by Ed Kilgore. "For one thing, it was a foregone conclusion that Republicans would “go nuclear”—certainly over judges, and maybe over everything—if and when they were back in power. I mean, seriously, does anyone think that after forty years of promises to the Christian Right the GOP is going to be able to deny its “base” the fifth sure Supreme Court vote (perhaps) necessary to overturn Roe v. Wade? Over a Senate rule? No way. The judicial filibuster power was doomed anyway, and all it served to do at present was as a temporary instrument for GOP power that would be exercised by any means available."
Andrew Sullivan collects some other interesting reactions, The Senate Partially-Nukes The Filibuster: Reax
Gizmodo went with the headline The space station is now fully armed and operational with a cannon. Personally I would have said it can now launch Borg cubes.
What Is This Bizarre-Looking Flying Machine Doing Near Google HQ?. Apparently now Google has a flying car.
Stephen Wolfram announced he's Putting the Wolfram Language (and Mathematica) on Every Raspberry Pi. "Last week I wrote about our large-scale plan to use new technology we’re building to inject sophisticated computation and knowledge into everything. Today I’m pleased to announce a step in that direction: working with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, effective immediately there’s a pilot release of the Wolfram Language—as well as Mathematica—that will soon be bundled as part of the standard system software for every Raspberry Pi computer."
I never would have guessed that the new Wolfram Language would (ever) run on a $25 computer, let alone first. I'm going to have to rethink what the future will be like.
"Then there are two applications on the Pi powered by this engine. The first is a command-line version of the Wolfram Language. And the second is Mathematica with its notebook user interface, providing in effect a rich document-based way of interacting with the Wolfram Language..."And it’s the whole system. Nothing is left out. All 5000+ Wolfram Language functions. All capabilities of Mathematica and its notebook interface."
"In 2010 a Chinese ISP momentarily hijacked the Internet. Due to a misconfiguration, some traffic that should have gone to Dell, CNN, Starbucks and Apple was sent to China instead. The incident lasted for only a few minutes and the responsible party claimed it was an accident. But it highlights a dangerous security weakness in one of the Internet's fundamental protocols."
"Experts say that the Internet's fundamental routing protocol, called the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), is surprisingly reliant on trust among the administrators of the many networks that comprise the Internet."
I hadn't heard of BGP but none of this is too surprising to me.
"It's long been theorized that this sort of re-routing could be weaponized as a technique for intercepting traffic. In fact, Anton Kapela and Alex Pilosov demonstrated a technique for eavesdropping on traffic via BGP at DEFCON in 2008. But now Renesys, an Internet monitoring company, says it has seen a series of what they describe as "man-in-the-middle" attacks using BGP targeting "financial institutions, VoIP providers, and world governments" in the wild. "Internet route hijacking has been around for years, it's really just the emergence of this specific man-in-the-middle variance that has taken off in 2013," Renesys Chief Technology Officer Jim Cowie told me last week."
I'm sure this is also a place where the law is far behind the technology. Is it illegal to reroute internet traffic? There are almost by definition multiple countries involved. If you see an issue who do you contact? Is this something that network admins should just handle on their own?
"Renesys believes this kind of attack is a serious threat to Internet security, but may have a very limited shelf life. "This is not a very subtle attack -- you can't carry it out without publishing your false routes all over the planet," said Cowie. "If everyone would take care to watch how their networks are being advertised around the world it would disappear overnight." So beyond the specifics on the incidents revealed by Renesys, one of the major takeaways from its research might be the need for increased scrutiny of the protocols that make the Internet tick."
Update: Ars Technica has more, Repeated attacks hijack huge chunks of Internet traffic, researchers warn
A Basic Rule of Chemistry Can Be Broken, Calculations Show: Scientific American "Most of us learned in high school chemistry class that chemical bonds can only form when electrons are shared or given away from one atom’s outer shell to another’s. But this may not be strictly true. A chemist has calculated that under very high pressure not just the outer electrons but the inner ones, too, could form bonds."
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Unknown Bacteria Discovered in Two Spacecraft Clean Rooms "Scientists have discovered a microbe that – to their knowledge – can be found just two places on Earth. The first: a spacecraft clean room in Guiana. The second: a spacecraft clean room in Florida, some 2,500 miles away."
" Clean rooms – where space agencies like NASA and ESA prepare spacecraft prior to launch – are certainly among the most sterile places on Earth, and therefore seem a rather unlikely place to find new forms of life. And yet, it bears mentioning that this is not the first time scientists have found one to harbor a microbe. In fact, in 2007, despite scientists' best efforts to zap them into oblivion with intense heat, chemical cleaning, and UV radiation, samples collected from three different NASA cleanrooms turned up close to 100 different kinds of bacteria, about half of which were new to science. Point being: even in the cleanest of places, microbial life finds a way."
InfoSec Institute describes Analyzing Malicious PDFs. "Several vulnerabilities were found in previous years and it keeps increasing day by day, so it’s important to analyze any PDF before opening it because just the simple act of opening the PDF file could exploit a vulnerability to automatically download malicious code from the Internet. We can analyze any PDF by using online approach or offline approach. For the protection we have to use the alternative PDF reader and always install the update or patch of PDF reader."
I didn't realize there were online services that let you scan a pdf to see if it's safe.
Bonus: There are some trojan servlets for tomcat, All Your Tomcat Are Belong to Bad Guys?.
Kevin Drum has an interesting piece on Why Are American Doctors Paid So Damn Much?.
"That's damn peculiar, isn't it? If Econ 101 is to be believed, higher pay should produce more doctors. And yet, even though the United States pays doctors far more than any other country on the globe, we're in the bottom third. We have more doctors per capita than poorish countries like Mexico and Poland, but far fewer than Belgium and Britain and Germany—all of which pay doctors considerably less than we do here. So what's going on? As Matt says, the basic answer is that U.S. doctors operate as a cartel. They artificially limit their own ranks, which drives up their compensation."
"If the market were allowed to produce as many doctors as there's demand for, they'd already be getting paid less. Right now they're enjoying the substantial rents that come from squeezing their own supply, and they've fought like lemmings for decades to keep it that way."
Update: Kevin Drum has more today, It's Doctors Who Control the Number of Doctors in America, Not the Government.
Clay Shirky wrote about Healthcare.gov and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality. I'm not sure if he has any knowledge of the actual project but he explains common project management wisdom in clear terms. He begins with this story:
Back in the mid-1990s, I did a lot of web work for traditional media. That often meant figuring out what the client was already doing on the web, and how it was going, so I’d find the techies in the company, and ask them what they were doing, and how it was going. Then I’d tell management what I’d learned. This always struck me as a waste of my time and their money; I was like an overpaid bike messenger, moving information from one part of the firm to another. I didn’t understand the job I was doing until one meeting at a magazine company.
The thing that made this meeting unusual was that one of their programmers had been invited to attend, so management could explain their web strategy to him. After the executives thanked me for explaining what I’d learned from log files given me by their own employees just days before, the programmer leaned forward and said ‘You know, we have all that information downstairs, but nobody’s ever asked us for it.’
I remember thinking ‘Oh, finally!’ I figured the executives would be relieved this information was in-house, delighted that their own people were on it, maybe even mad at me for charging an exorbitant markup on local knowledge. Then I saw the look on their faces as they considered the programmer’s offer. The look wasn’t delight, or even relief, but contempt. The situation suddenly came clear: I was getting paid to save management from the distasteful act of listening to their own employees."
He debunks a common refrain exposing it as bad management.
The idea that “failure is not an option” is a fantasy version of how non-engineers should motivate engineers. That sentiment was invented by a screenwriter, riffing on an after-the-fact observation about Apollo 13; no one said it at the time...And for anything it might have meant in its screenplay version, here that sentiment means the opposite; the unnamed executives were saying “Addressing the possibility of failure is not an option.”
"Healthcare.gov is a half-billion dollar site that was unable to complete even a thousand enrollments a day at launch, and for weeks afterwards. As we now know, programmers, stakeholders, and testers all expressed reservations about Healthcare.gov’s ability to do what it was supposed to do. Yet no one who understood the problems was able to tell the President. Worse, every senior political figure—every one—who could have bridged the gap between knowledgeable employees and the President decided not to."
Finally he explains what all engineers know:
If I had to design a litmus test for whether our political class grasps the internet, I would look for just one signal: Can anyone with authority over a new project articulate the tradeoff between features, quality, and time?
When a project cannot meet all three goals—a situation Healthcare.gov was clearly in by March—something will give. If you want certain features at a certain level of quality, you’d better be able to move the deadline. If you want overall quality by a certain deadline, you’d better be able to delay or drop features. And if you have a fixed feature list and deadline, quality will suffer.
Intoning “Failure is not an option” will be at best useless, and at worst harmful. There is no “Suddenly Go Faster” button, no way you can throw in money or additional developers as a late-stage accelerant; money is not directly tradable for either quality or speed, and adding more programmers to a late project makes it later. You can slip deadlines, reduce features, or, as a last resort, just launch and see what breaks.
"‘The real issue is about the cash, and in fiscal year 2014 it is about an $198 million cash shortfall,’ said Turbeville. He blames the shortfall on a number of factors, including the Great Recession, a dwindling tax base, and declining state aid. But pension obligations, which have stayed mostly flat over the past five years, are not a significant factor in Turbeville’s analysis.
A much larger factor appears to be city’s debt to Wall Street. As of 2011, Detroit owed $3.8 billion to major financial institutions because of financial instruments called interest rate swaps. Those swaps allow cities to trade variable interest rates on their municipal bonds to the banks in exchange for fixed-interest payments.
Cities across the country, including Detroit, bought up these swaps because fixed interest rates were more predictable, and therefore seemed safer; but when the federal government drove down interest rates in response to the financial crisis, banks ended up making billions off of swaps while municipalities were stuck with the bill. Now, Turbeville writes that those institutions ‘are now demanding upwards of $250-350 million in swap termination payments.’"
Presidential Medal of Freedom honors diverse group of Americans "President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to 16 recipients Wednesday morning, recognizing the achievements of a diverse group of Americans ranging from Ernie Banks and Benjamin C. Bradlee to Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey."
The International Space Station is 15 years old today, Gizmodo lists 15 awesome facts about the International Space Station.
The EFF reports Encrypt the Web Report: Who's Doing What "We’ve asked the companies in our Who Has Your Back Program what they are doing to bolster encryption in light of the NSA’s unlawful surveillance of your communications. We’re pleased to see that four companies—Dropbox, Google, SpiderOak and Sonic.net—are implementing five out of five of our best practices for encryption. In addition, we appreciate that Yahoo! just announced several measures it plans to take to increase encryption, including the very critical encryption of data center links, and that Twitter has confirmed that it has encryption of data center links in progress. See the infographic.
By adopting these practices, described below, these service providers have taken a critical step towards protecting their users from warrantless seizure of their information off of fiber-optic cables. By enabling encryption across their networks, service providers can make backdoor surveillance more challenging, requiring the government to go to courts and use legal process."
Badass Digest says Watch The Short Film That Ties Into GRAVITY. "Late in Gravity Sandra Bullock's Dr. Ryan Stone is stuck in a space capsule, desperately trying to make contact with the Earth. She ends up talking to some guy whose language she doesn't know, listening to his dogs and his baby as she prepares to die. Now we can see the other side of that conversation. Alfonse Cuaron's son Jonas directed a short film that ties in with this scene, revealing to us just who the man on the other end of the radio was."
io9 lists Every Single Doctor Who Story, Ranked from Best to Worst. I only know the rebooted series and am not that great at the titles. I do agree that Blink should be at the top, it's the only one I leave permanently on my TiVo.
Lock Down Your Security Settings In iOS 7 is a good description of the various settings though I'm not doing many of the suggestions. Here's where I differ:
- I allow Siri when locked and have used it occasionally (Passbook too though I barely use it)
- I use a simple 4 digit pin
- I have Erase Data set to OFF
- In Notifications I allow access on the lock screen of Notifications and Today Views
- I allow access to the Control Center on the Lock Screen
- I also "have “Location-Based iAds” turned off, but I keep “Popular Near Me” on, even though it’s almost useless."
The new Mac Pro is a radically new design for a computer. Personally, I'm waiting to see the R2D2 modifications that will eventually come. For now. Atomic Delights describes How Apple Makes the Mac Pro "What makes Apple fascinating is not that they are using some wiz-bang alien technologies to make things - even here in Portland, Oregon, all the technologies Apple shows in this video are in-practice across numerous local factories. What makes Apple unique is that they perform their manufacturing with remarkable precision and on a scale that is simply astonishing, using techniques typically reserved for the aerospace or medical device industries."