Thursday, February 23, 2017


Ed Felton reports RIP, SHA-1 "Today’s cryptography news is that researchers have discovered a collision in the SHA-1 cryptographic hash function. Though long-expected, this is a notable milestone in the evolution of crypto standards."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nebula Award Nominees

The Nebula Award nominees have been announced. I prefer The Verge's list as it includes links to the stories that are available online. Go fill your Instapaper or other reading list.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Today in Obamacare: the GOP’s Latest Plan Gives the Wealthy Extra Help to Buy Insurance

Sarah Kliff at Vox explains Today in Obamacare: the GOP’s latest plan gives the wealthy extra help to buy insurance.

Both Obamacare and the Republican replacement plans provide tax credits to help make insurance more affordable. But while Obamacare’s credits are based on income, meaning poorer people get more help, the Republican plan would base them on age. The result would be regressive: Wealthy people would get more help buying insurance, while poor people would likely get less assistance.

The Obamacare tax credits are income-adjusted, which means that people who earn less get more help. Under Obamacare, people who earn less than 200 percent of the poverty line (about $24,120 for an individual or $49,200 for a family of four) get the most generous help. They would get enough money so that a midlevel plan would cost no more than 6.4 percent of their income. People who earn more than 400 percent of the poverty line ($48,240 for an individual or $98,400 for a family of four) get nothing at all. There is no cap on what they have to pay for insurance.

The Republican plan is very different. It includes age-adjusted tax credits. Older people get more help, and younger people get less help. The idea is that older people need more support because they get charged higher premiums. But income does not matter at all. Under the Republican plan, it wouldn’t matter if a 30-year-old earned $15,000 or $150,000 — he would get the exact same tax credit.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump Fumes Over Leaks At Private Meeting With Republicans

Politico reports Trump fumes over leaks at private meeting with Republicans

The topic was prevalent in what was an otherwise jovial meeting between a band of lawmakers and the president they helped elect. Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) said Trump called the meeting when, during a recent conversation with Trump, they began reminiscing about their weekly meetings during the campaign.

Collins said the members were invited into the Oval Office for pictures around the president's desk. And he said amid broad policy discussions, he also asked the lawmakers what they were hearing from constituents in their districts.

'He wants the real, unfiltered, what’s going on,' Collins said, 'not necessarily watching CNN, MSNBC or even Fox. There were 11 of us from 11 different parts of the country able to share with him the responses we're getting when we’re at the supermarket, when we’re at Home Depot.'

Collins said he relayed that his district has swung even harder for Trump since the election, despite 'a few people who walk by and a certain finger on their hand goes to my face.'

'I'll admit' it, he said. 'But that’s one person in 20.'

These are my takeaways:

  • Trump doesn't want to be president, he wants to the be important guy in country club
  • A Congressman admitted to lying to the president (or at least misrepresenting reality to him)
  • Trump who as president has access to some of the best intelligence in the world, gets his info from cable news and laments that it's not good, so he brings in sycophants to lie to him about how great he is.

Judge orders Pruitt to release emails by Tuesday, But Vote is Tomorrow

Politico reports Judge orders Pruitt to release emails by Tuesday

A state judge in Oklahoma today ordered Scott Pruitt to release by Tuesday potentially thousands of emails he exchanged with fossil fuel interests in his job as state attorney general, according to the watchdog groups that sued seeking the communications.

That deadline will come after the vote in the Senate on Friday that is expected to confirm Pruitt as the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency."

Nope, no reason to delay a confirmation hearing to get information relevant to the confirmation. In fact, that's reason to speed it up.

Does the 9th Circuit really have an 80% reversal rate?

Last week NPR unpacked a bullshit statistic Trump repeated today Does the 9th Circuit really have an 80% reversal rate?.

‘Reviewed by the Supreme Court’ is the operative qualifier — and it’s a very, very important one. Very few cases actually get reviewed by the Supreme Court from any of the circuit courts, and most of them don’t even generate appeals to the Supreme Court in the first place. Parties file appeals to the Supreme Court, which then has to decide whether the justices want or need to review the case. If fewer than four of the justices think that the appeal has merit, the application for certiorari is denied, keeping the appellate decision in place. This happens in most cases.

What does that mean in practical terms? It means that the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari tend to favor those cases that are likely to be overturned. It’s a major selection bias, and as we’ll see, it gives a very distorted picture of what happens in the appellate court system.

Let’s take a look at the ABA report that generated this talking point. The study covered ten years (1999-2008) across all appellate circuits. During that period of time, the total number of cases decided by all appellate courts was 604,665. How many did the Supreme Court accept for their review? A mere 660 cases, or 0.109% of all decisions reached by the appellate level. The Ninth Circuit accounted for 175 of the cases reviewed, or about 26.5%, but the same circuit handled 114,199 of all appellate cases — 18.9% of the total.

They have some graphs too.

The 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest

The Atlantic shows stunningly amazing photos from The 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest "Organizers of the Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest have just announced their winning photos for 2017. The winner Gabriel Barathieu beat entrants from 67 different countries with his portrait of an octopus in the lagoon of the island of Mayotte. Prizes and commendations were also handed out in a number of categories, including Wide Angle, Macro, Wrecks, Behavior, Up & Coming, and, in British waters, Wide Angle, Compact, and Macro shots. UPY has been kind enough to share some of this year's honorees with us below. Captions written by the photographers."

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Arrival: A Response To Bad Movies

Nerdwriter has a nice piece on Arrival. It assumes you've seen the film (spoilers), which you should.

via Kottke

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Moby claims to have insider information that Trump is in 'collusion with the Russian government'

NME reports Moby claims to have insider information that Trump is in 'collusion with the Russian government'. Now I barely know who Moby is and have no reason to believe anything the singer says about politics, but if nothing else, I like his collection of rumors. In the 1% chance this is true (if that), it's nice to make some claim chowder. For those that don't see his Facebook post, here are his claims:

  1. the russian dossier on trump is real. 100% real. he's being blackmailed by the russian government, not just for being peed on by russian hookers, but for much more nefarious things.
  2. the trump administration is in collusion with the russian government, and has been since day one.
  3. the trump administration needs a war, most likely with iran. at present they are putting u.s warships off the coast of iran in the hope that iran will attack one of the ships and give the u.s a pretense for invasion.
  4. there are right wing plans to get rid of trump. he's a drain on their fundraising and their approval ratings, and the gop and koch brothers and other u.s right wing groups are planning to get rid of trump.
  5. intelligence agencies around the world, and here in the u.s, are horrified by the incompetence of the trump administration, and are working to present information that will lead to high level firings and, ultimately, impeachment.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Butterfly Nebula from Hubble

Yesterday's Astronomy Picture of the Day is the my new desktop wallpaper, The Butterfly Nebula from Hubble

Butterfly HubbleVargas 960 500

"Explanation: The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth's night sky are often named for flowers or insects. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years, NGC 6302 is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the dying central star of this particular planetary nebula has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust. This sharp close-up of the dying star's nebula was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope and is presented here in reprocessed colors. Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view, almost edge-on to the line-of-sight. Molecular hydrogen has been detected in the hot star's dusty cosmic shroud. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius)."

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months

The New York Times A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months "A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf has scientists concerned that it is getting close to a full break. The rift has accelerated this year in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures. Since December, the crack has grown by the length of about five football fields each day."

Scary. See the article for wonderful diagrams and images.

Channeling Steve Jobs, Apple Seeks Design Perfection at New 'Spaceship' Campus

Reuters reports Channeling Steve Jobs, Apple seeks design perfection at new 'spaceship' campus.

Fanatical attention to detail is a key tenet. Early in construction, Apple managers told the construction team that the ceiling - composed of large panels of polished concrete - should be immaculate inside and out, just as the inside of the iPhone’s audio jack is a finished product, a former construction manager recalled.

Thus, each of the thousands of ceiling panels had to win approval from both Apple's in-house team and the general contractor, once at the shop and then again at the construction site.

"The things you can’t see, they all mattered to Apple,” the former construction manager said.

This does seem excessive:

When Apple tapped general contractors Holder Construction and Rudolph & Sletten to finish the main building in 2015, one of the first orders of business was finalizing a door handle for conference rooms and offices.

After months of back and forth, construction workers presented their work to a manager from Apple’s in-house team, who turned the sample over and over in his hands. Finally, he said he felt a faint bump.

The construction team double-checked the measurements, unable to find any imperfections – down to the nanometer. Still, Apple insisted on another version.

The construction manager who was so intimately involved in the door handle did not see its completion. Down to his last day, Apple was still fiddling with the design - after a year and a half of debate.

I'm looking forward to all of this inhouse Apple design and management effort being redirected into products.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Republicans will try a little-used tactic to kill five Obama regulations today - Vox

Vox reports Republicans will try a little-used tactic to kill five Obama regulations today.

The stream protection rule for coal mining. This regulation, finalized in December 2016, would sharply restrict coal-mining companies from dumping waste into nearby waterways in the future. Also, before starting a new mine, coal companies would have to develop a plan and set aside money to restore affected streams once finished. Advocates say the rule is crucial to protect fragile ecosystems and limit the dumping of toxic heavy metals into water supplies. But the coal industry — which is already in sharp decline — says it would put large swaths of the nation’s untapped coal reserves off-limits and further crunch mining companies.

The methane waste rule. This Department of Interior regulation, finalized in November 2016, would require oil and gas companies to reduce methane leaks from operations on federal and tribal lands. Instead of just flaring it or letting it waft into the air, companies would have to capture the methane and sell it off. This rule was a component of Obama’s climate plan, which aimed to reduce emissions of methane — a powerful greenhouse-gas — from oil and gas drilling 40 percent by 2025. But the oil industry preferred this be regulated at the state level (which is typically looser).

The ‘resource extraction rule.’ This SEC regulation, finalized in June 2016, would require publicly traded oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose payments they make to foreign governments. It was done under the auspices of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Its supporters say the increased transparency would deter corruption from oil companies working abroad. (They’ll also note that Rex Tillerson, the likely secretary of state, was head of ExxonMobil, which fiercely fought the bill.) Its critics say it would make it harder for US energy companies to compete abroad.

The ‘blacklisting’ rule for contractors. This rule, finalized by the Department of Labor in August 2016, would require federal contractors to disclose labor law violations from the last three years — and change their practices — before they can receive a contract. In October, a federal judge halted this rule from taking effect, saying it went beyond the authority Congress had given the executive branch.

The Social Security gun rule. Under this regulation, finalized in December 2016, the Social Security Administration would submit information on recipients of disability insurance to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System if they met certain ‘mental impairment’ criteria. Gun-rights advocates said the system could block those on disability from being able to buy guns and rallied to repeal it.

Supreme Court Nominees

It's worth noting that just before the election, several Republican Senators were making the case, that if Hillary won, they'd block any nominees of her's for four years. As the Atlantic reported at the time, More Republicans Are Vowing to Block Clinton's Supreme Court Nominees If She Wins.

Now the debate has shifted, as several Republican senators have suggested simply not allowing any Democratic selections to the Supreme Court at all. Late on Monday, CNN reported on private remarks made by Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican up for reelection. He said that there will be no lame-duck confirmation, and then added, “And if Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court.”

That aligns him with Senator Ted Cruz, who last week told Dave Weigel, “There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices. I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”

A week before that, Senator John McCain, who is also running for reelection, said, “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.” Later, however, a spokeswoman partially walked back his comments, saying the Arizonan will “thoroughly examine the record of any Supreme Court nominee put before the Senate and vote for or against that individual based on their qualifications as he has done throughout his career.”

I hadn't really heard of Garland or Gorsuch before. I've read a little on both from the sources I typically do (SCOTUSblog, Dahlia Lithwick, Jan Crawford Greenburg, etc.). Both seem like reasonable picks, they're clearly competent (which wasn't at all clear for Harriet Miers). If you look at ideology, and if "being in the mainstream" counts to you, Garland is more to the center than Gorsuch. Obama's pick would have been the most conservative of the liberal justices, between Breyer and Kennedy. Sen Orin Hatch in 2010 had called him a consensus pick. Gorsuch seems to be very much in the mold of Scalia, placing him as the second most conservative Justice next to Thomas. Of course there's no rule or even norm suggesting that a new Justice has to fill the same ideological role as the one they're replacing, as Alito replacing O'Connor shows. But there is a trend for Democrats to pick moderate-liberals and Republicans to pick conservatives ones.

So the real problem here is that Garland never got a hearing. The Republicans stole a seat and while that suggests some ownership that doesn't feel right, the sentiment is accurate. Democrats could try to take the high road and say Gorsuch is a qualified pick (and better than many others that Trump floated) but what does that get them? Republicans aren't playing fair and Democrats have no incentive to so either. This is one of the norms that has been eroded (I'd argue by Republicans), and we have to figure out a way to fix it, or our democracy is doomed.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trump says he’s “fixed” F-35 program after less than month in office

Arc Technica reports Trump says he’s “fixed” F-35 program after less than month in office "But nothing has really changed with the F-35 program since Trump took office."

SCOTUS Nominee Neil Gorsuch

Here's SCOTUSblog's Potential nominee profile: Neil Gorsuch

Here's another SCOTUSblog article, Judge Neil Gorsuch – Colorado native and Washington, D.C., veteran

And here's a take by Georgetown law professor Neal K. Katyal, an acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch

Overall he seems like a reasonable conservative pick. I'm happy to hear he's a good writer. I'm also happy that it seems he might limit the President's powers. Of course, I don't like most of his views on social issues. The real problem is that this is Trump's 12th day in office and I thought President's could only nominate Justices in their first week. Shouldn't we wait until the election so the people can make their views known?

Astronaut Twin Study Hints at Stress of Space Travel

Nature reports Astronaut twin study hints at stress of space travel "Preliminary results are in from NASA’s unprecedented twin study — a detailed probe of the genetic differences between astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent nearly a consecutive year in space, and his identical twin Mark. Measurements taken before, during and after Scott Kelly’s mission reveal changes in gene expression, DNA methylation and other biological markers that are likely to be attributable to his time in orbit."

We don't have a lot of details yet, but apparently the findings are interesting.

What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class

Just after the election Joan C. Williams wrote in the Harvard Business Review, What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class. It's the best explanation for the election outcome I've seen so far. Nothing to do with vote counts or anything, just about the mindset of people I would otherwise describe as voting against their own self interest.

The Center Right’s Simple Message for Trump: It Didn’t Have to be This Way

Tara Golshan in Vox, The center right’s simple message for Trump: it didn’t have to be this way "‘When Ronald Reagan spoke on foreign policy, tyrants sat uneasy on their thrones and dissidents and refugees took heart,’ Gerson writes. ‘When Donald Trump speaks on foreign policy, tyrants rest easier and dissidents and refugees lose hope.’"

After Meeting With Pharma Lobbyists, Trump Drops Promise to Negotiate Drug Prices

Matthew Yglesias writes After meeting with pharma lobbyists, Trump drops promise to negotiate drug prices "Today, after a meeting with pharmaceutical industry lobbyists and executives, he abandoned that pledge, referring to an idea he supported as recently as three weeks ago as a form of ‘price fixing’ that would hurt ‘smaller, younger companies.’ Instead of getting tough, Trump’s new plan is that he’s ‘going to be lowering taxes’ and ‘getting rid of regulations.’"

If there were ever a red line for Republicans, Trump crossed it Friday. Or not.

I really liked this Catherine Rampell opinion piece in The Washington Post, If there were ever a red line for Republicans, Trump crossed it Friday. Or not..

We have a president with pronounced authoritarian tendencies, who believes he “alone can fix it”; who signs sweeping executive orders reportedly without even briefing relevant Cabinet members on the logistical, humanitarian and national security consequences; who directs his staff and surrogates to lie about the tiniest and most ridiculous and easily fact-checkable of details; and whose staffers brought us to the brink of a constitutional crisis when they ignored federal court orders.

She goes on to list (with substantiating links) the various GOP principles he's already violated that the GOP Congress has chosen to ignore. I think it's the best summation of the case I've seen so far, though I don't think it's quite impeachable yet; but Trump is moving fast.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Hill Staffers Secretly Worked on Trump's Immigration Order

Hill staffers secretly worked on Trump's immigration order - POLITICO "Top aides to Donald Trump quietly worked with senior staffers on the House Judiciary Committee to draft the executive order curbing immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations, but the Republican committee chairman and party leadership were not informed, according to multiple sources involved in the process."

The work of the aides began during the transition period after the election and before Trump was sworn in.

Their work on the executive order meant the small group of staffers — conservative immigration hard-liners who, sources say, are close with attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) — were among the only people on Capitol Hill who knew of the looming controversial policy.

GOP leaders, however, received no advance warning or briefings from the White House or Judiciary staff on what the executive order would do or how it would be implemented — briefings they still had not received as of Sunday night. Leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), saw the final language only when reporters received it Friday night, according to multiple Hill sources.

Insiders told POLITICO that the botched rollout of the immigration executive order was coordinated for the most part by White House policy director Stephen Miller, a former Sessions staffer, and Trump senior strategist Steve Bannon.

No real surprise. Miller worked for Sessions. Both fed news stories to Bannon's Breitbart. All are immigration (not just "illegal immigration" but "immigration") hardliners. Bannon really just believes in a Eurocentric America. So they crafted all of this, Trump just let them run with it, and they tried to get their extreme views through (I assume they knew what they were doing with the green card holders). So far they've mostly succeeded, we'll see if it sticks and how many bridges they've burned.

Update: The LA Times writes White House aides who wrote Trump's travel ban see it as just the start.

Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.

The chief architects of Trump’s order, Bannon, Miller and National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn, forged strong bonds during the presidential campaign.

The trio, who make up part of Trump’s inner circle, have a dark view of refugee and immigration flows from majority-Muslim countries, believing that if large numbers of Muslims are allowed to enter the U.S., parts of American cities will begin to replicate disaffected and disenfranchised immigrant neighborhoods in France, Germany and Belgium that have been home to perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Europe in recent years.

Within decades, Americans would have “the kind of large and permanent domestic terror threat that becomes multidimensional and multigenerational and becomes sort of a permanent feature,” one senior administration official argued.

“We don’t want a situation where, 20 to 30 years from now, it’s just like a given thing that on a fairly regular basis there is domestic terror strikes, stores are shut up or that airports have explosive devices planted, or people are mowed down in the street by cars and automobiles and things of that nature,” the official said.

Counter-terrorism experts have long noted that Muslim immigrants in the U.S. are better assimilated and less likely to be radicalized than immigrants in many European cities.

Terrorism in America After 9/11

The New America Foundation has a report on Terrorism in America After 9/11 "A comprehensive, up-to-date source of online information about terrorist activity in the United States and by Americans overseas since 9/11". So far there are five parts, all short, with nice graphics.

Terrorism cases


Jihadist vs right wing