Saturday, February 06, 2016

National Security Agency Plans Major Reorganization

The Washington Post reports National Security Agency plans major reorganization "The National Security Agency, the largest electronic spy agency in the world, is undertaking a major reorganization, merging its offensive and defensive organizations in the hope of making them more adept at facing the digital threats of the 21st century, according to current and former officials."

"In place of the Signals Intelligence and Information Assurance directorates — the organizations that historically have spied on foreign targets and defended classified networks against spying, respectively — the NSA is creating a Directorate of Operations that combines the operational elements of each."

"“When it comes to cyber in particular, the line between collection capabilities and our own vulnerabilities — between the acquisition of signals intelligence and the assurance of our own information — is virtually nonexistent,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “What is a vulnerability to be patched at home is often a potential collection opportunity abroad and vice versa.”"

Bruce Schneier doesn't think it's a good idea: "I think this will make it even harder to trust the NSA. In my book Data and Goliath, I recommended separating the attack and defense missions of the NSA even further, breaking up the agency. (I also wrote about that idea here.) And missing in their reorg is how US CyberCommmand's offensive and defensive capabilities relate to the NSA's. That seems pretty important, too."

It seems to me that the real problem is that NSA targets use the same systems as we do, and by we I mean our government, industry and civilians. By definition a hole in these systems means we're vulnerable too and fixing that hole removes a spying opportunity. If the offensive unit isn't going to share vulnerabilities then perhaps they should be separate.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

‘The Force Awakens’ Reimagined As Calvin and Hobbes

‘The Force Awakens’ Reimagined As Calvin and Hobbes Will Make Your Heart Melt "Artist Brian Kesinger from Walt Disney animation studios drew ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ in the style of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson and it was just perfect."

His instagram and twitter accounts are the source but have other stuff. This Rickey article looks like it's being updated with new images as they come out. These two are my favorites:

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Frinkiac "has nearly 3 million Simpsons screencaps so get to searching for crying out glaven!"

Frinkiac is a search engine for Simpsons quotes. It contains nearly 3 million screenshots (every episode from season 1 through 151) indexed by the quote they are associated with and has a variety of features to help you find the exact screenshot you're looking for. Once you've found it you can share it with your friends or make a quick meme. Never again find yourself wishing you could pinpoint the second his heart rips in half. You'll feel like god must feel when he's holding a gun.

Details here.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Top 10 Closing Shots of All Time

To go with their 10 Best Opening Shots of All Time, here are the 10 Best Closing Shots...

My Bathroom Mirror Is Smarter Than Yours

Max Braun claims My Bathroom Mirror Is Smarter Than Yours. He's probably right.


I don't think I'd really like such a thing, but it is kinda neat and certainly a cool DIY project.

The Democratic Caucus Was So Close Coin Tosses Were Invovled

This is how close the Democratic caucus was, in one tweet. The tweet is, "I've come across three instances in which a Democratic caucus delegate was awarded with a coin toss. Hillary Clinton won all three." MarketWatch says, Coin toss broke 6 Clinton-Sanders deadlocks in Iowa — and Hillary won each time

The delegate totals that are reported publicly — 689 and 686 — are estimates of the delegates each candidate would have at a statewide convention. But individual caucuses don't pick state delegates — at least not directly. Each caucus picks a set of delegates to a county convention, which then selects delegates for a district convention ... which then selects delegates for the statewide convention.

That makes four levels to the caucus process — and there are a lot more delegates at the county level (the level for which caucuses assigned delegates Monday) than at the state level. So while a coin toss at a precinct caucus definitely gives the winner an advantage, it's not as straightforward as 'winning a coin toss gets you an extra delegate in the statewide count.'

The fact that so many caucuses came down to coin tosses isn't necessarily an indication that the entire race could have gone one way or the other if not for a bit of luck — although that's certainly possible. What it definitely is, however, is an indication of just how evenly divided Democratic caucus-goers throughout Iowa were. In precinct after precinct, Iowa Democrats got together and found out that equal numbers of them supported Sanders and Clinton."

Ok, so it's not quite as big a deal but it's still stupid. We're voting, we're picking a president, a coin toss should have absolutely no role in this. Here's a better idea, if there are six districts tied, then split them 3-3. It's amazing to me that 16 years after the "hanging chad" fiasco in Florida we still can't manage to count. We can't even staff caucuses, It took all night to count all the votes in the Iowa Democratic caucus. Here's why.

The 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy

Vulture has a wonderful way to spend some time, they've compiled The 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy. Lots of video clips to watch.

A few notes on our methodology: We’ve defined ‘joke’ pretty broadly here. Yes, a joke can be a one-liner built from a setup and a punch line, but it can also be an act of physical comedy. Pretending to stick a needle in your eye, or pooping in the street while wearing a wedding dress: both jokes. A joke, as defined by this list, is a discrete moment of comedy, whether from stand-up, a sketch, an album, a movie, or a TV show.

For clarity’s sake, we’ve established certain ground rules for inclusion. First, we decided early on that these jokes needed to be performed and recorded at some point. Second, with apologies to Monty Python, whose influence on contemporary comedy is tremendous and undeniable, we focused only on American humor. Third, we only included one joke per comedian. And fourth, the list doesn't include comedy that we ultimately felt was bad, harmful, or retrograde."

One In Three Americans Had Their Health Records Breached In 2015

One In Three Americans Had Their Health Records Breached In 2015, As Hackers Follow The Money From Retail To Medical Data "At least 111 million individuals’ data was compromised due to hacking or information technology problems in 2015, according to a report released Wednesday by cloud security company Bitglass, based on numbers made available by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That comes after a December IBM report that found a 1,166 percent increase in reported healthcare breaches, resulting in the compromise of “nearly” 100 million records."

I find it hard to believe that last year a third of Americans had their healthcare data "compromised" (whatever that means). No one I know has mentioned such things happening to them (maybe it's just not being exploited?). I get that's it's a viable way to get information for identity theft, but again, I don't believe a third of americans had their identities stolen last year. Still it makes complete sense to me that with no oversight or consequences, healthcare providers have really crappy security.

Still a frined on Facebook was asking if when changing pediatricians could they just ask for their health records. The general response is yes, they're your's but you get a copy and the doctor keeps a copy. That sounds reasonable but she was charged $50 for copies, because...copiers. I did find it cool that I could get copies of x-rays for free on a CD at the time of the x-ray. Now if only my iMac had a CD drive :)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Donald Trump’s Twitter Insults: The Complete List (So Far)

The New York Times has an infographic Donald Trump’s Twitter Insults: The Complete List (So Far) "In the seven months since declaring his candidacy for president, Donald Trump has used Twitter to lob insults at presidential candidates, journalists, news organizations, nations, a Neil Young song and even a lectern in the Oval Office. We know this because we’ve read, tagged and quoted them all. Below, a directory of sorts, with links to the original tweets. Insults within the last two weeks are highlighted."

Paul Rudd v Stephen Hawking in Quantum Chess

Fun short film (directed by "Bill" and with a voiceover by "Ted")

Some more details about the video and the game here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

12 Years on Mars

In Focus shows12 Years on Mars. "NASA's Mars rover, Opportunity just celebrated its 12th anniversary on Mars—a mission that was originally meant to last just 90 days. Although recently eclipsed in the news by its bigger brother Curiosity, Opportunity is still going strong and making valuable scientific discoveries. Launched into space in 2003, Opportunity bounced to a hole-in-one landing in a small crater on Mars' Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004. It has since spent 4,270 Martian days, or sols, on the surface, slowly moving from target to target, exploring craters, meteorites, unusual rock formations, and finding evidence of past water activity. Over the past 144 months, Opportunity has taken more than 200,000 images, and driven a total of 26.50 miles (42.65 kilometers) across Mars—not bad for a mission designed to last only three months."

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Google Go Program Beats Go Master

Google reports AlphaGo: using machine learning to master the ancient game of Go

We trained the neural networks on 30 million moves from games played by human experts, until it could predict the human move 57 percent of the time (the previous record before AlphaGo was 44 percent). But our goal is to beat the best human players, not just mimic them. To do this, AlphaGo learned to discover new strategies for itself, by playing thousands of games between its neural networks, and adjusting the connections using a trial-and-error process known as reinforcement learning. Of course, all of this requires a huge amount of computing power, so we made extensive use of Google Cloud Platform.

After all that training it was time to put AlphaGo to the test. First, we held a tournament between AlphaGo and the other top programs at the forefront of computer Go. AlphaGo won all but one of its 500 games against these programs. So the next step was to invite the reigning three-time European Go champion Fan Hui—an elite professional player who has devoted his life to Go since the age of 12—to our London office for a challenge match. In a closed-doors match last October, AlphaGo won by 5 games to 0. It was the first time a computer program has ever beaten a professional Go player. You can find out more in our paper, which was published in Nature today.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Money Men Say, Voters Move Over, It's Not Your Election!

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship write Money Men Say, Voters Move Over, It's Not Your Election! At first they call David Brooks out for what he is:

So let’s get this straight: One of the most prominent of Republican elites in the country, who has even been touted as President Obama’s “favorite pundit” (we’re not making this up!), is calling on the donor class to rescue the party from the rabble. Game’s over, voters: The oligarchs will decide this election.

They go on to talk more about the donor class:

In the words of the veteran Washington insider Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and former chief economic advisor to Joe Biden, “There’s this notion that the wealthy use their money to buy politicians; more accurately, it’s that they can buy policy.” Environmental policy, for example, when it comes to energy moguls like the Kochs. And tax policy.

They end with:

So here’s the real value of all that campaign cash and lobbying largesse: underwriting a willingness among legislators and government officials to bend the rules, slip in the necessary loopholes and look the other way when it comes time for the rich to hide their fortunes.

This is the status quo to which the donors cling so tightly and clutch their pearls at the prospect of losing. But now, with Trump seemingly ascendant, some of those who might have been relied on to support a donor revolt are betraying Brooks’ call for a coup, weakening in their resolve and beginning to think that maybe the short-fingered vulgarian isn’t such a bad idea. Despite his populist brayings, they hope, he might well be brought into their alliance.

Which brings to mind a line from the movie version of the musical Cabaret. In pre-Third Reich Germany, the decadent Baron Maximilian von Heune is talking with the British writer Brian Roberts, explaining why the elite have allowed this Hitler fellow to get a jackboot in the door. “The Nazis are just a gang of stupid hooligans, but they do serve a purpose,” he says. “Let them get rid of the Communists. Later we’ll be able to control them.”

We all know how well that turned out.

What Paul Graham Is Missing About Inequality

Tim O'Reilly brilliantly explains What Paul Graham Is Missing About Inequality. He ends with:

When a startup doesn’t have an underlying business model that will eventually produce real revenues and profits, and the only way for its founders to get rich is to sell to another company or to investors, you have to ask yourself whether that startup is really just a financial instrument, not that dissimilar to the CDOs of the 2008 financial crisis — a way of extracting value from the economy without actually creating it.

But it's worth reading the whole thing.

GOP establishment deserves Trump, Cruz

Princeton professor Julian Zelizer says the GOP establishment deserves Trump, Cruz "But Republicans have nobody to blame but themselves. The party needs to own up to the kind of politics that we now have. The style promoted by Trump, Cruz and the entire tea party is a conscious product of the key decisions and strategic choices that mainstream Republican leaders have been making for decades."

He cites events back to Reagan, courting the Moral Majority, Lee Atwater under Bush 41, McCain picking Palin, Boehner and McConnell welcoming the Tea Party (at first). Also conservative talk radio, Fox News and Drudge.

As Nancy LeTourneau sums up, The Insanity Started a Long Time Ago, "Once again today, David Brooks is pleading with Republicans to “stay sane.” His supplications completely ignore the path the GOP took that led them to where they are today. As Zeilzer notes, “the alliance, the ideas, the rhetoric and the style have all come from the heart of Republican politics.” In other words, there’s no “staying” sane. That’s because the insanity started a very long time ago."

Martin Longman analyses, Why Silver Was Wrong About Trump. He starts out saying the thought the GOP was at least reasonable and how since Gingrich he's been slowly chipping away at that notion.

The moment the organs of the GOP had to shift over to defending [Palin's] preparedness and suitability to be a heartbeat away from the nuclear codes was the moment that their brain was disconnected from the rest of their central nervous system. From there, it was a short hop to climate science denialism, Birtherism, rape-don’t-get-you-pregnantism, Benghazism, and all the rest.

But [thinking Trump support would peter out] assumes that the key animators of the conservative movement are the familiar things like low taxes, a strong national defense, and a ban on abortion. Those aren’t the keys. The keys are 1) fear 2) hatred 3) greed and 4) a need to be led. Trump encapsulates those almost perfectly.

Now, you can call my assessment harsh, but I didn’t get here lightly. I did not want to believe this. I came to this way of thinking kicking and screaming. But, since I gave up giving the Republicans credit for anything more, I haven’t been wrong yet.

So, when I saw Trump badmouthing McCain, I said it would help him when most people said it would sink his campaign. I knew the base hated McCain to begin with, hated him twice-over for losing, and they’d love seeing a strong leader kick him in the teeth.

This isn’t the kind of analysis you’ll find in a political science paper or by poring over statistics. It’s raw and visceral and human. People are responding to Trump because they’re feeling xenophobic and because they want to see the Republican establishment insulted. They don’t really care about marginal tax rates or who’s been a consistent opponent of gay rights. They want someone who will get some revenge on their enemies.

Now, finally, I don’t know that Trump will win the nomination. Maybe he won’t. But I don’t see a whole lot of distance between what he’s doing and what the rest of the candidates are doing. They’re all at least as radical as George W. Bush, and the gang they’d bring in with them is unquestionably much worse that the gang that came in in 2001. Most of these candidates are far, far to the right of Dubya on a host of issues, from Israel to climate to Islamophobia to the role of the federal government in education or medical policy.

Kevin Drum wonders, Why Do So Many People Believe Donald Trump?

This really does get at a key part of Trump's popularity: a lot of people believe him. Hell, I'd almost vote for him if I believed him. We're talking about a guy who says he's going to grow the economy at 6 percent, save Social Security, cut taxes on everyone, get rid of unemployment, crush ISIS, rebuild the military, erase the national debt, and make America great again. And the icing on the cake for conservatives is that he claims to be solidly pro-life, pro-gun, pro-religion, and in favor of nice, right-wing Supreme Court justices like Clarence Thomas. What's not to like? A few minor deviations from movement conservatism? That's piffle. Why are all those establishment Republicans opposed to him?

There are reasons, of course. But primary among them is that no one with a 3-digit IQ believes he can do this stuff. Lots of it is flatly impossible, and the rest is politically impossible. And if you don't believe Trump, then he's just a charlatan with nothing left except bad qualities: he's erratic, narcissistic, boorish, racist, thin-skinned, ideologically unreliable, opportunistic, etc. etc. It's pretty obvious why you'd oppose him.

So, really, it all comes down to whether you believe Donald Trump can do the stuff he says. It's pretty plain that he can't. So why do so many people think he can? That's the $64 trillion question.

The Federal Reserve May Have Made A Huge Mistake

Matt O'Brien writes in WonkBlog, The Federal Reserve may have made a huge mistake "Markets sure seem to think that the Federal Reserve has made a big mistake. It hasn't just been stocks selling off 10 percent to start the year. It has also been bonds saying that they don't think the Fed will come close to hitting its target of 2 percent annual inflation anytime in the next 10 years. Markets, in other words, have done everything short of holding a boom box outside of Fed Chair Janet Yellen's window to beg her not to raise interest rates any more after the Fed hiked them in December for the first time in nearly a decade. And it just might work."

Krugman of course agrees, Fed Fumble.

RIP Abe Vigoda

Abe Vigoda, Beloved Character Actor, Dead at 94 - NBC News "Character Abe Vigoda, whose leathery, sunken-eyed face made him ideal for playing the over-the-hill detective Phil Fish in the 1970s TV series 'Barney Miller' and the doomed Mafia soldier in 'The Godfather,' died Tuesday at age 94."

At least as of now, abe vigoda status, an odd early website, has not yet been updated. (Update: and now it has.)

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Monday, January 25, 2016

RIP Marvin Minsky

he New York Times reports Marvin Minsky, Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 88. Virtually every colleague mentioned in this obituary is a genius who had a huge impact on the world (Alan Kay, John McCarthy, Seymour Papert, Ray Kurzweil, Danny Hillis, Stanley Kubrick, etc.)

Update: Here are more: Personal page for Marvin Minsky

Before, during, and after: the East Coast blizzard as seen from space

Vox has photos Before, during, and after: the East Coast blizzard as seen from space. My favorite caption: "This is a photo of millions of people digging out their cars."


In Focus has more, Wintry Scenes After a Freezing Week

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Scientists May Have Accidentally Found the Cure For Cancer

TomoNews reports, Scientists may have accidentally found the cure for cancer. "Malaria researcher Professor Ali Salanti from UCPH in collaboration with cancer researcher Mads Daugaard from UBC have revealed that the carbohydrate the malaria parasite attaches itself to in the placenta in pregnant women is identical to a carbohydrate present in cancer cells. Scientists have created the protein that the malaria parasite uses to attach to the placenta in a laboratory and have added a toxin. The combination of malaria protein and toxin finds cancer cells, is absorbed, then the toxin is released inside, causing the cancer cells to die."

"For decades, scientists have been searching for similarities between the growth of a placenta and a tumor. The placenta is an organ, which within a few months grows from only few cells into an organ weighing approx. two pounds, and it provides the embryo with oxygen and nourishment in a relatively foreign environment. In a manner of speaking, tumors do much the same, they grow aggressively in a relatively foreign environment," says Ali Salanti from the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Copenhagen. Research groups from the two universities have tested thousands of samples from brain tumors to leukemias and have found that the malaria protein is able to attack more than 90% of all types of tumors.

The Meaning of Ex Machina

This Quora answer by Mark Hughes is definitely the best thing I've read on Ex Machina, one of the best films of last year, At the end of the movie, why does Ava ask Caleb to stay in the room?. It's all spoilers, don't read until you've seen the film (and then watch it again).

Snowboarding with the NYPD

This just put a smile on my face. Yes it's wrong, but it's also fun.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Astronomers Find Theoretical Evidence for Distant Gas Giant Planet in Our Solar System

Universe Today reports Astronomers Find Theoretical Evidence for Distant Gas Giant Planet in Our Solar System - Universe Today

The astronomer known worldwide for vigorously promoting the demotion of Pluto from its decades long perch as the 9th Planet, has now found theoretical evidence for a new and very distant gas giant planet lurking way beyond Pluto out to the far reaches of our solar system.

The possible planet has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and is believed to be gaseous, like Uranus and Neptune, according to Mike Brown of Caltech, who became famous during the contentious debate on Pluto’s planetary status.

The giant new planet orbits the sun some 20 times farther out than Neptune in the distant reaches of the Kuiper Belt. Neptune orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles (4.5 Billion km).

The theorized ‘Planet Nine’ travels in a highly elongated path that takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to complete just one full orbit around the sun, according to Caltech statement describing the work."