Monday, November 23, 2015

Spooky Action at a Distance at Room Temperature

Physicists Can Now Achieve Quantum Entanglement at Room Temperature. "A team from the University of Chicago have demonstrated that it’s possible to entangle electrons at room temperature in a silicon carbide wafer. To do that, the team used infrared laser light to align the magnetic states of thousands of electrons in a 40 micrometer-cubed volume of the semiconductor, then applied magnetic pulses to entangle them."

The Birth of Skynet

NeuralTalk and Walk on Vimeo.

Andrej Karpathy's "NeuralTalk" code slightly modified to run from a webcam feed. I recorded this live while walking near the bridge at Damstraat and Oudezijds Voorburgwal in Amsterdam.

All processing is done on my 2013 MacBook Pro with the NVIDIA 750M and only 2GB of GPU memory. I'm walking around with my laptop open pointing it at things, hence the shaky footage and people staring at themselves. The openFrameworks code for streaming the webcam and reading from disk is available at

NeuralTalk and Walk from Kyle McDonald on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Buster Keaton - The Art of the Gag

Every Frame a Painting looks at Buster Keaton - The Art of the Gag. A few years ago I set up a TiVo Wishlist for Buster Keaton (and others for Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd) as TCM often shows a short or a feature or does a marathon for a day. They're really rewarding. As the 8 min video below points out, most still hold up and while I got to see several films with classic scenes, I also saw several less well known gems. The last one I discovered is Chaplin's The Circus, which I thought was hilarious, one of his best, and I had never heard of it before.

I didn't know Keaton did each stunt once and only once (and if he didn't get it, he removed it from the film). The stunts at 6:40 and 7:30 are amazing. To think that a star did (or attempted) them in a movie is crazy. Recently the only actor coming close to Keaton was Jackie Chan. Now I'd have to say it's Tom Cruise, and I give him lots of credit for it. But both of them do multiple takes. To realize that every stunt we see Keaton do in a film was accomplished on the first take is incredible.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My white neighbor thought I was breaking into my own apartment. Nineteen cops showed up.

The Washington Post has this crazy story, My white neighbor thought I was breaking into my own apartment. Nineteen cops showed up.

I had so many questions. Why hadn’t they announced themselves? Why had they pointed guns at me? Why had they refused to answer when I asked repeatedly what was going on? Was it protocol to send more than a dozen cops to a suspected burglary? Why hadn’t anyone asked for my ID or accepted it, especially after I’d offered it? If I hadn’t heard the dog, would I have opened the door to a gun in my face? “Maybe,” they answered.

I demanded all of their names and was given few. Some officers simply ignored me when I asked, boldly turning and walking away. Afterward, I saw them talking to neighbors, but they ignored me when I approached them again. A sergeant assured me that he’d personally provide me with all names and badge numbers.

I got no clear answers from the police that night and am still struggling to get them, despite multiple visits, calls and e-mails to the Santa Monica Police Department requesting the names of the officers, their badge numbers, the audio from my neighbor’s call to 911 and the police report. The sergeant didn’t e-mail me the officers’ names as he promised. I was told that the audio of the call requires a subpoena and that the small army of responders, guns drawn, hadn’t merited an official report. I eventually received a list from the SMPD of 17 officers who came to my apartment that night, but the list does not include the names of two officers who handed me their business cards on the scene. I’ve filed an official complaint with internal affairs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

History of Telephone Tapping

The Wikipedia page on the history of Telephone tapping is pretty interesting. There's a constant back and forth between new technology and about 10 years later government wanting easy access. There's also a long history of government exceeding legal means to tap private communications. Also this:
In the Greek telephone tapping case 2004–2005 more than 100 mobile phone numbers belonging mostly to members of the Greek government, including the Prime Minister of Greece, and top-ranking civil servants were found to have been illegally tapped for a period of at least one year. The Greek government concluded this had been done by a foreign intelligence agency, for security reasons related to the 2004 Olympic Games, by unlawfully activating the lawful interception subsystem of the Vodafone Greece mobile network. An Italian tapping case which surfaced in November 2007 revealed significant manipulation of the news at the national television company RAI.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Post Paris Stupidity

Republicans have started to say that we shouldn't take in Syrian refugees because they might be terrorists.

Bullshit. First off, this just shows how afraid (and stupid) they are. The refugees are the people fleeing ISIS. And young orphans aren't terrorists. And they say we're taking too many (Trump said hundreds of thousands). In fact we've said we'd take only 10,000, way less than other nations and the vetting process is quite extensive, taking 18-24 months, they must have UN refugee status, go through various interviews and background checks, biometric data and involving "the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation". Yes we should have strict vetting and we do, it's slow enough that we're way behind schedule. And now (Republican) governors are saying they won't take them into their state, as if they have any control over this. Though the Washington Post points out How Republican governors could again make life miserable for Syrian refugees. Republican Presidential hopeful (and asshole) Ted Cruz and front runner Jeb Bush have said we should only let in Christian refugees. Nope, that's not religious discrimination at all. Seriously these guys should never lecture anyone on the Constitution.

The other big thing in the news is about how terrorists use encryption and since Snowden is gotten worse and Paris is his fault. Again, bullshit. Glenn Greenwald rips this argument to threads in Exploiting Emotions About Paris to Blame Snowden, Distract from Actual Culprits Who Empowered ISIS. Terrorists use lots of technology just like anyone does. We know the terrorists used cars to travel during their attacks, why is no one talking about banning cars, or giving governments a kills switch to disable cars when we're in a yellow alert? Also, the terrorists assume the US is listening to all their electronic communications, so they don't use them much.

And Snowden's revelation wasn't that the NSA listens to terrorists (or even foreigners), that's what they're supposed to do. What Snowden revealed is that the NSA is listening to every American. Putting "backdoors" in everything will make your communications less secure to everyone, like hackers and terrorists and China. Your health care records, bank accounts, employment records, photos, emails, etc. And lets be clear, U.S. Mass Surveillance Has No Record of Thwarting Large Terror Attacks, Regardless of Snowden Leaks.

Despite the intelligence community’s attempts to blame NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for the tragic attacks in Paris on Friday, the NSA’s mass surveillance programs do not have a track record — before or after Snowden — of identifying or thwarting actual large-scale terrorist plots.

But the reason there haven’t been any large-scale terror attacks by ISIS in the U.S. is not because they were averted by the intelligence community, but because — with the possible exception of one that was foiled by local police — none were actually planned.

Even still, the metadata collection program is supposed to give valuable intelligence even if the messages are encrypted. But that's not working out so well, The Paris attacks weren’t stopped by metadata surveillance. That hasn’t stopped officials from saying it might have.

Yes, Terrorists Use Encryption But That Doesn't Mean It's A Bad Thing. "According to Canetti, Boston University cryptography professor: “[Law enforcement] developing better encryption-cracking tools is a very good thing. But they should concentrate on encryption made by bad guys. Making the everyday encryption of the general public weak isn’t going to get you what you want, [not] when it comes to coordinated terrorist attacks. There’s no silver bullet answer. It took us hundreds of years to get democracy right…It’s going to take time for us to get this right.”"

And to the idiots that can't distinguish between ISIS and Islam; would you rather fight ISIS who's size estimate is about 50,000 to 250,000 people, or Islam with over 1,500,000,000 followers. Can you keep it straight now?

Smart on Terrorism by Nancy LeTourneau. "Because once again, the Republicans are attempting to drag us into making stupid moves in order to avoid being labeled “soft on terrorism.” So it’s time for Democrats to get out ahead of this kind of fear-mongering. I’d suggest they do something similar to what former Attorney General Eric Holder did to combat the “soft on crime” message…he began a Smart on Crime initiative. When it comes to terrorism, we’d don’t need the bellicose chest-thumping we’re hearing from Republicans, we need leadership that is smart on terrorism."

The new dialog between the US and Russia is a case in point. While before, the US couldn't help Russia and Russia couldn't help the US, it turns out it might be possible for both the US and Russia to help France. And maybe even Iran, Saudi Arabia and China could too.

Here are some other interesting articles on how we shouldn't overreact.

And finally, he's a wonderful father explaining all of this to his young son. Lots of people could learn this lesson (and no you're not supposed to take flowers v guns literally).

The real reason Japan's economy keeps stumbling into recession

The real reason Japan's economy keeps stumbling into recession:

Japan is back in recession. The country's GDP shrank 0.8 percent in the third quarter of 2015 after shrinking in the second quarter, so it meets the technical definition. On its surface, this looks like a damning indictment of "Abenomics" — a program of aggressive money printing that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered upon taking office a few years back in order to jolt the Japanese economy out of its doldrums. But look closer and you'll see that the opposite is the case.

Only two people born in the 1800s are still alive today

Only two people born in the 1800s are still alive today "The two oldest living people in the world, American Susannah Mushatt Jones and Italian Emma Morano-Martinuzzi, were both born in 1899, making them the last living human links to the 1800s. The USA Today profiled both women back in June."

The Acro-Cats on Colbert

This 4.5 minute performance perfectly encapsulates cats. The Acro-Cats

Monday, November 16, 2015

GOP Blocks Veterans Bill

The Hill reports GOP blocks veterans bill.

"Senate Republicans stopped Democrats from advancing a bill that would have expanded healthcare and education programs for veterans. In a 56-41 vote Thursday, the motion to waive a budget point of order against the bill failed, as Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Republican roadblock. GOP Sens. Dean Heller (Nev.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) voted with Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to allow a GOP substitute amendment to get an up-or-down vote because it included Iran sanctions, which he said were unrelated to veterans’ issues."

While this case also has the Iran sanction angle, the reason for all of these kinds of disputes is how is the bill paid for. If Democrats had their way, I'm sure they'd just raise a tax, and to help veterans I'd hope the American people would be okay with that. But no, Republicans hate all taxes, feeling we pay enough already and so the current rules are that all expenditures must be paid for by eliminating something else we currently pay for.

In this case, "Sanders paid for the more than $20 billion bill by limiting overseas contingency funds from 2018-2021. Republicans have said the early troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and Iraq have overextended funds in the Overseas Contingency Operations account. They argue it’s not a real pay-for because those funds are essentially “off budget” and not subject to discretionary spending caps."

So now we're arguing semantics instead of helping veterans. Jon Stewart would be bringing this up on The Daily Show. He might still in whatever new capacity he can (maybe an op-ed). I doubt Trevor Noah will. Maybe John Oliver will. In the mean time, veterans pay the price.

I think Democrats should propose a bill that straight up pays for it with a tax on high frequency trading and when Republican lawmakers reject it, make them explain it to the American people.

Friday, November 13, 2015

101 Funniest Screenplays List

The WGA lists 101 Funniest Screenplays. I've seen them all and while I can disagree with the order of some (Bridesmaids and Something About Mary would be much lower for me), it's a pretty solid list.

iPad Pro and Apple Envy

A few years ago, going into an Apple Store was kinda boring for me. I had a new iMac, a recent iPhone and iPad and an AppleTV. There wasn't much there for me to covet, and even playing with stuff wasn't that interesting because it wasn't customized for me.

Today I went into the Apple Store to look at the new iPad Pro. Since getting my iPad 2 I've wanted a bigger iPad for two principle reasons. First I wanted a full sized on-screen keyboard. The one on the iPad and now the iPad Air is a little smaller. Second, I wanted the page to be a full 8.5 x 11 so that magazines and particularly comics could be seen at full sized. Lots of magazine apps found ways to cope, either by basically being a full page pdf that you zoomed and scrolled around (which sucked) or by doing that and having an Instapaper-like "reading mode" which seemed dumb. If you're a magazine and you need a separate reading mode, you're doing it wrong. Or some, like Entertainment Weekly (best) and Wired (good, at times odd) did a lot to redisign their magazine for the iPad screen. In comics, once iPad's got retina displays I could mostly read the page shown in full, though they also had a mode that zoomed in on each panel with a swipe. Comics are designed to show the whole page at once, so panel-by-panel was a lesser experience.

The Apple Store didn't have a comics app on the iPad Pro so I couldn't check that out, but it seems it does show a full page at full size. Double page spreads are still an issue compared to paper. I did play with the on-screen keyboard and it is definitely nicer than the one on the iPad Air 2. But it's still a glass keyboard with no feedback. I played with the keyboard screen cover and it was surprisingly nice. Definitely an improvement over the on-screen one. If you're going to do a lot of typing, I'd definitely consider it.

I also played with the pencil and as the reviews have all stated, it's great. It feels very responsive while writing, much better than any stylus I've used and I had no problems with palm rejection.

I didn't try the speakers

In general I agree with all the reviews of the iPad Pro I've seen. It's big. It's heavy, though lighter than you'd expect. The pencil is great. The keyboard is good (though there need to be some more keyboard shortcuts). It seems little too big to comfortably hold with one hand, though it's doable and it might get more natural with practice. After having the iPad 2 for several years, the iPad Air 2 is practically ethereal. It would be great to use at a desk, I'm not sure about on a couch.

My iPad Air 2 is just about a year old, and runs great, even better with the new iOS 9 features. So I can wait a few years before upgrading to a Pro. Maybe the price will come down a little, and the weight, and I'm sure iOS 10 and 11 will add significant improvements to it. The on-screen keyboard could be very interesting if they could get the haptic feedback from the new touchpad or Apple Watch.

But visiting the Apple Store I realized there are lot of toys I don't have. I played with the new Apple TV and the remote is pretty nice. Since I'm all in on TiVo and movie channels from FiOS I don't really need to consume TV or movies from Apple. I looked at the Apple Watch again and it's nice. I can still wait for an update or two. While I love my 27" iMac, I'm interested in a small laptop for use when not at my desk (in the living room or while travelling). A MacBook seems like the right device, but I can wait a revision or two for a little more power. The 15" MacBook Pro seemed huge, the 13" seemed nice but a little more than I need. The Air would be pretty good, though a retina screen is starting to be the minimum for me. I suspect Apple will sort all that out in the next year or two. I tried the new keyboard and trackpad and they're nice, but I see no need to upgrade. I do wish they'd make a full keyboard with a number pad.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Incredible hack could give Apple Watch ability to detect objects you touch

This seems like magic, Incredible hack could give Apple Watch ability to detect objects you touch “Apple Watch is great at interacting with other smart devices, but a cheap hack allows it to recognize everyday (dumb) objects based on their invisible electromagnetic signals. All it takes is a $10 chip that can be installed on any smartwatch. Check out the demo below:”

The 100 is the Successor to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA You’ve Been Waiting For?

Devin Faraci (and Film Critic Hulk) say that the CW’s The 100 is The Successor To BATTLESTAR GALACTICA You’ve Been Waiting For. I watched the first 3 eps or so and wasn’t impressed, though apparently it started getting good just after this. Has anyone watched it? What do you think?

The Past, Present, and Future of DNA

Last month I went to a Harvard Symposium on The Past, Present, and Future of DNA. They’ve posted the video of the event so here are my raw notes from it (any mistakes are mine).

The one-day science symposium will focus on the explosion of knowledge about past and present DNA, and will include discussions about possible directions and applications for future research. The event will include experts in ancient DNA, de-extinction, human origins, population genetics, forensic science, ethics, business, future synthetic life, and the personal genome.

9:30am WELCOME

  • Lizabeth Cohen, Dean of the Radcliffe Institute and Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, Department of History, Harvard University
  • First isolated in 1869
  • Microbes Hunters and The Eighth Day of Creation books


  • Janet Rich-Edwards, Codirector of the Science Program, Radcliffe Institute; Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Adding nucleotides to code more codons
  • Mitochondria have their own DNA, inherit item just from mom. Have less repair mechanisms than nuclear DNA.
  • Mitochondrial Eve, 150,000 years ago in Ethiopia
  • Spider-goat - transgenic goat whose milk can be strung into fibers 10x stronger than steel.



Moderator: George Church

  • Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School

John Hawks

  • Vilas-Borghesi Distinguished Achievement Professor of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Has a blog, runs a MOOC
  • Goram caves, sites of Neanderthals
  • In last 20 years we have finally agreed on role of Neanderthals in our evolution
  • Living people today have Neanderthal ancestors, regionally distributed in surprising ways
  • East Asians more, then European, then African
  • Neanderthals come from European as well as central Asian sites
  • Denisova caves show a new humanoid species, that coexisted with Neanderthals
  • Field guide to Pleistocene Hookups
  • Every archaic human group interbred with each other
  • Every population before 40,000 years ago has been through a period of very high inbreeding
  • Neanderthals did not survive unaltered for 100,000s years. Much more dynamic
  • Europe has more mixing in it than we thought. Lots of colonization from other places, post-farming
  • Today’s populations are a mixture of ancient progenitor populations that no longer exist
  • Interbreeding with ancient populations provided raw materials for human adaptations
  • Changing excavation practices to get DNA

Beth Shapiro

  • Associate Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • How to Clone a Mammoth
  • Sequencing the Dead
  • Found DNA in old stuff, like dinosaur DNA in Amber, wasn’t real. DNA decays
  • Organisms have DNA repair processes but of course these require energy
  • Cold helps. Oldest known DNA from Dawson Yukon, 700,000 years old (ash layer from volcano eruptions). In bad condition but were able to sequence whole genome. A horse.
  • Field is Ancient DNA. She started in 1999. Works in Beringia (Alaska, Russia)
  • Collect bones from animals, with DNA can find population size over time
  • Modern sequencers can do amazing things with short fragments. Other fields don’t like this, but these guys only have short fragments
  • Found a new camel species
  • Looked at horse domestication history
  • Can we clone a mammoth? No.
  • Asian elephants are closest relative to mammoth. 6 millions years of difference , not very much, just 1%
  • Hemoglobin difference is in three places, expressed these, found mammoths were better at delivering oxygen when it’s cold
  • Pleistocene Park. Guy introduced big animals like were there and just their presence over a few summers has brought back grass.

Spencer Wells

  • Scientist, author, entrepreneur, and former explorer-in-residence and director of the Genographic Project at National Geographic
  • The Human Journey -migration patterns
  • Apes 23m yrs ago
  • ~16m years ago africa bumped into Asia and species spread
  • Humans are 99.9% same genetically
  • African Adam and Eve 140,000–200,000 years ago
  • Only left Africa 60,000 years ago
  • The Genographic Project
  • 700,000 participants


  • While we each might have 3% Neanderthal genome, we each have different parts of it. Combine people in this room and you probably get close to half of Neanderthal genome.
  • ~75,000 years ago humans had a near extinction event, down to just 10,000 of us and we came back, so that’s a reason there’s so little variation.



Introducer: Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr.

  • Clinical Professor of Law; Director, Criminal Justice Institute, Harvard Law School

Greg Hampikian

  • Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Joint appointment in Department of Criminal Justice, Director of the Idaho Innocence Project, Boise State University
  • Happy Wrongful Convictions Day
  • Average time on death row before exoneration is 9 years
  • We know the genes and base pairs that do eye color (blue and brown, hazel is a little more difficult)
  • Databases with DNA, crime scene DNA, can look for exact match, but if none, look for half match to find family members.
  • Y-STRs are tied to last name, mitochondrial DNA is tied to mother. Public genealogy database combine these.
  • Sperm cells are different from other cells and we can separate them from others in samples
  • Given a profile, is a sample included or excluded or inconclusive. A statistics problem and it’s not always clear
  • Given tests to different labs, get back wildly different results



Introducer: Danielle Allen

  • Director, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and Professor, Department of Government and Graduate School of Education, Harvard University

Arthur Caplan

  • Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor of Bioethics; Director, Division of Medical Ethics, Department of Population Health, NYU Langone Medical Center, NYU School of Medicine
  • Genetic Testing For Neurological Disorders: Ethical Challenges
  • We can test for Down’s syndrome and have been able for a while
  • It’s faced the ethical challenges that other testing will face
  • Given a prenatal tests, parents could do a lot of different things, some good some bad
  • Lookup Down’s on web, get different answer per website, Down’s, CDC, WebMD
  • Some states with laws about informing parents about down fetus and some banning aborting of down fetuses
  • Future is a big abortion battle based on testing



Moderator: Christine Seidman

  • Thomas W. Smith Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Jacob Corn

  • Scientific Director, Innovative Genomics Initiative; Assistant Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley
  • The Genome Editing Revolution
  • Passed around a model of some enzyme (Cas9)
  • Reading DNA is faster than writing. Reading is growing faster than Moores law.
  • 1990s Zinc Fingered clueless
  • 2009 TAL Effector Nuclease - protein based recognition engineered Nuclease
  • 2012 CRISPR/Cas9 - targeting RNA endogenous Nuclease $100 and < 1 week
  • Cas9 is a bacterial immune system
  • Cas9 does a double stranded cut, not the edit
  • Gene editing to cure blood diseases
  • Seems to work everywhere, bacteria, virus, yeast, mice, chickens, cows, humans, etc.
  • Good for science testing. On organisms that we don’t know much about can use this to edit genes and see effects.
  • A German man was cured of HIV by getting a transplant from someone with a particular mutation (by coincidence), now looking to do this via editing

Alison Murdoch

  • Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Head of Department, Institute of Genetic Medicine, International Fertility Centre for Life, Newcastle University (United Kingdom)
  • The Science and Politics of Mitochondrial Donation (In the UK)
  • Large variety of mtDNA caused diseases
  • Nuclear DNA encode 32,000 genes
  • mtDNA encodes 37 genes
  • Mitochondrial transfer in embryos idea is 5 years old
  • Done in monkeys in 2009
  • Still not legal in UK on humans, is it ethical?
  • Just became legal in Oct 2015, treatment in a few months

Floyd Romesberg

  • Professor, Department of Chemistry, The Scripps Research Institute
  • Expanding the Genetic Alphabet
  • Predominantly hydrophobic nucleotides
  • Details of finding bases that pair well and don’t interfere with existing ones


Janet Rich-Edwards


What I Learned on My Red State Book Tour

Robert Reich wrote What I Learned on My Red State Book Tour and I found it encouraging. Sure, someone going to a Robert Reich book signing is self-selecting, but it’s nice to see overlap between the left and right on economic issues.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Hospitals expect you to price shop before you give birth. Good luck with that.

Sarah Kliff wrote on Vox Hospitals expect you to price shop before you give birth. Good luck with that.

The two women are co-workers with the same insurance plan. By coincidence, they happened to become pregnant around the same time and gave birth at the same hospital. They both selected in-network obstetricians to deliver their babies. Both chose to receive an epidural from an anesthesiologist as they gave birth — and that’s where things began to diverge. Here’s more from their co-authored blog post at Health Affairs:

Layla received an unexpected bill for $1,600 for anesthesiology services and warned Erin to expect the same. Yet Erin’s bill never came. Layla happened to deliver on a day when an out-of-network anesthesiologist was on call, while Erin was seen by an in-network anesthesiologist. Purely by chance, one of us received an expensive physician bill and the other did not have to pay a dime.

The two later figure out what happened: While the hospital they chose was in-network for the health insurance plan, Layla’s anesthesiologist was an out-of-network provider. Just because he worked at the hospital, that didn’t guarantee that he was one of the doctors that the insurer had in contract."

It’s the obvious problem of treating healthcare like a market, you can’t always shop around (even if you did have enough information to compare providers or treatments). The out-of-network doctor at an in-network hospital hadn’t occurred to me. She also pointed to this NY Times story, After Surgery, Surprise $117,000 Medical Bill From Doctor He Didn’t Know.

In operating rooms and on hospital wards across the country, physicians and other health providers typically help one another in patient care. But in an increasingly common practice that some medical experts call drive-by doctoring, assistants, consultants and other hospital employees are charging patients or their insurers hefty fees. They may be called in when the need for them is questionable. And patients usually do not realize they have been involved or are charging until the bill arrives.

Obviously you want doctors to help each other when needed, but there has to be a more rational way to compensate them. Particularly when in and out of network fees are so staggeringly different:

Screen Shot 2015 11 06 at 1 45 37 PM

digby displays the requisite outrage:

If a person is in their network approved hospital they should not be charged for services by people who have not contracted with that hospital. Period. This should be something that the insurance companies battle out with the hospitals not something about which an individual should even be aware. You follow the rules and go to your designated facility that should be the end of your responsibility. How it isn’t already is just mind-boggling.

The hoops you have to go through if you’re travelling or if you’re taken to a hospital out of network are already ridiculous. Emergencies should be paid by insurance without question wherever we are in the country. But this takes it to a whole new level. You’re in an emergency medical situation and you’re expected to inquire as to whether your doctors are in your network? And what if they aren’t? Are you expected to stop treatment until they offer you someone who is? It’s crazy.

Exxon Mobil Under State Investigation Over Climate Change Research

The Verge reports Exxon Mobil under state investigation over climate change research.

Oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil is the target of a new state investigation that seeks to determine whether the company deliberately misled the public about the risks of climate change. The New York Times reports that New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena to the company on Wednesday, in which he demanded access to financial records, emails, and other documentation, dating back to the late 1970s.

The investigation will include a ten-year period from the mid–1990s to 2007, during which Exxon Mobil provided funding to groups and scientists who rejected or attacked climate change. Speaking in the wake of the subpoena, Kenneth P. Cohen, Exxon Mobil’s vice president for public affairs, said that the company ‘unequivocally reject[s] the allegations that Exxon Mobil has suppressed climate-change research.’ But recent reports have indicated that Exxon Mobil was indeed conscious of the risks of climate change, choosing to fund groups that denied concepts of global warming even as it conducted its own research that showed climate change was a real problem. In the wake of these reports, members of Congress called for an investigation into the company.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Jon Stewart to Work With HBO

Apparently HBO now releases it’s press releases on Medium. Today they posted: JON STEWART AND HBO CONCLUDE EXCLUSIVE FOUR-YEAR PRODUCTION PACT.

“Jon Stewart and HBO have concluded an exclusive four-year production pact, it was announced today by Michael Lombardo, president, HBO Programming. The partnership marks the next phase of Stewart’s groundbreaking career, beginning with short-form digital content, which will be showcased on HBO NOW, HBO GO and other platforms, and includes a first-look option for other film and TV ventures.”

  1. Yay! More Jon Stewart!
  2. “Conclude Exclusive Four-Year Production Pact”? WTF?
  3. Who calls such a thing a “pact”? Is this like a suicide pact?
  4. And how is this concluding? They’re announcing the beginning of a partnership. Concluding the negotiation process is not something you announce or anyone but your lawyers care about.
  5. I guess John Oliver had nice things to say about working with HBO.
  6. But Yay! More Jon Stewart!

The disappearing middle class is threatening major retailers

Business Insider reports The disappearing middle class is threatening major retailers “‘While overall consumer confidence is trending up, lower income consumers continue to be fragile as income and wage growth has been minimal,’ he said. ‘Higher income and more confident consumers are driving premium growth, while cost-conscious consumers are driving the value segment.’”

This is what happens when the middle class is destroyed. Hershey is having difficulties because the 1% buy better stuff and the increasing poor 99% are buying cheaper stuff (and it’s not like Hershey’s is particularly expensive). It’s true, it’s not a zero-sum game, but when all the gains go the top 1% over the last 40 years, it means the economy suffers because consumers can buy less.

Monday, November 02, 2015

New Star Trek TV Series in 2017

Star Trek New Star Trek Series Premieres January 2017 “CBS Television Studios announced today it will launch a totally new Star Trek television series in January 2017. The new series will blast off with a special preview broadcast on the CBS Television Network. The premiere episode and all subsequent first-run episodes will then be available exclusively in the United States on CBS All Access, the Network’s digital subscription video on demand and live streaming service.”

No idea how I feel about this. They don’t have a writer so I doubt they know what the show is at this point. Since the movies are based on a reboot of the Kirk crew on the Enterprise, I doubt the series will be that. So a different timeframe like TNG was? Or a different ship like Voyager? Or something else like DS9?

Kurtzman was involved with the reboot movies but his long time collaborate (and 9/11 truther) Roberto Orci isn’t. So I guess that’s good?

And this being on CBS’ streaming service instead of regular TV seems like a stunt to get Star Trek fans to pay $6/month. “We’ve experienced terrific growth for CBS All Access, expanding the service across affiliates and devices in a very short time. We now have an incredible opportunity to accelerate this growth with the iconic Star Trek, and its devoted and passionate fan base, as our first original series.” Of course, the ST fanbase is probably one of the most capable of pirating the episodes. I might wait for the end of the season and binge watch it in one ($6) month.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Third GOP Debate

I watched the third GOP debate. Meh.

Let’s have some fun taking down Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is wrong about inflation. It’s easy to rip apart Ted Cruz’s tax plan as unsound. And his best moment of the Republican debate was also completely wrong:

Cruz’s attack on the moderators was smart politics — but it was almost precisely backwards. The questions in the CNBC debate, though relentlessly tough, were easily the most substantive of the debates so far. And the problem for Republicans is that substantive questions about their policy proposals end up sounding like hostile attacks — but that’s because the policy proposals are ridiculous, not because the questions are actually unfair.

The Republican primary has thus far been a festival of outlandish policy. The candidates seem to be competing to craft the tax plan that gives the largest tax cut to the rich while blowing the biggest hole in the deficit (a competition that, as of tonight, Ted Cruz appears to be winning). And the problem is when you ask about those plans, simply stating the facts of the policies sounds like you’re leveling a devastating attack.

The article (and others) then goes through specifics. I think Kasich sounds the most reasonable, but no Republican is listening to him. It looks like everyone is saying it’s going to be Marco Rubio vs. Ted Cruz.

Catherine Rampell argues, The Republicans are right. We in the media do suck. “We in the media suck because we have rewarded their rampant dishonesty and buffoonery with nonstop news coverage. Which, of course, has encouraged more dishonesty and buffoonery.”

“In the end, the biggest applause lines were all media insults. They came from Rubio, Ted Cruz and Christie. Guess whom CNBC then crowned the winners of the debate? Rubio, Cruz and Christie.”

Nate Silver argues both sides in Maybe Republicans Really Are In Disarray refering to both the whole party and the state of nomination process.

Enceladus, Saturn's Amazing Snowball Moon - The Atlantic

In Focus shows us Enceladus, Saturn’s Amazing Snowball Moon “Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, Enceladus (504 kilometers or 313 miles across), is the subject of much scrutiny, in large part due to its spectacular active geysers and the likelihood of a subsurface ocean of liquid water. NASA’s Cassini orbiter has studied Enceladus, along with the rest of the Saturnian system, since entering orbit in 2004. Studying the composition of the ocean within is made easier by the constant eruptions of plumes from the surface, and on October 28, Cassini will be making its deepest-ever dive through the ocean spray from Enceladus—passing within a mere 30 miles of the icy surface. Collected here are some of the most powerful and revealing images of Enceladus made by Cassini over the past decade, with more to follow from this final close flyby as they arrive.”

Main 1500

I didn’t realize that Cassini flew through the plums. The NY Times reported, Cassini Seeks Insights to Life in Plumes of Enceladus, Saturn’s Icy Moon.

Discovering life was not on the agenda when Cassini was designed and launched two decades ago. Its instruments can’t capture microbes or detect life, but in a couple of dozen passes through the plumes of Enceladus, it has detected various molecules associated with life: water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, molecular nitrogen, propane, acetylene, formaldehyde and traces of ammonia.

Wednesday’s dive was the deepest Cassini will make through the plumes, only 30 miles above the icy surface. Scientists are especially interested in measuring the amount of hydrogen gas in the plume, which would tell them how much energy and heat are being generated by chemical reactions in hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the moon’s ocean.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The One Thing That Makes SUPERGIRL Better Than MAN OF STEEL

Devin Faraci describes in Birth. Movies. Death., The One Thing That Makes SUPERGIRL Better Than MAN OF STEEL “There’s one thing that Supergirl gets right that Man of Steel completely whiffed, and while it’s a small thing it is, in a very real sense, the only thing that matters. In Supergirl Kara Zor-El wants to be a hero.”

And I agreed, but thinking about it a little more clarified something else for me. First off I didn’t like Man of Steel. Parts were ok but it definitely got Superman wrong and it didn’t need to be dark. The line that clinched it for me was Pa Kent telling Clark that perhaps he should have let a school bus crash (was it over a bridge) and let all of his friends die. Sorry that’s not Superman or Pa Kent.

Usually I hear that the difference between Superman and Batman is that Superman is a “boy scout” and that this is a trait that makes the character boring. I have to agree that there aren’t a lot of great Superman stories, particularly compared to Batman, but it doesn’t have to make the character boring. The 1978 film certainly wasn’t.

But what this article got me to realize is that Superman the character wants to save people. That may be a definition of hero, but it’s a different one from Batman. Batman (certainly recent incarnations of him) wants to stop criminals. Phrased as “saving people” it really describes what’s wrong with Superman in Man of Steel, because he doesn’t do that. He’s dragged into the hero role because of Zod and destroys a city and kills his adversary. None of this was about saving people (or even wanting to stop criminals, rather he was drafted into it).