Friday, May 27, 2016

The Surface of Pluto

"This is the most detailed view of Pluto’s terrain you’ll see for a very long time. This mosaic strip – extending across the hemisphere that faced the New Horizons spacecraft as it flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015 – now includes all of the highest-resolution images taken by the NASA probe. With a resolution of about 260 feet (80 meters) per pixel, the mosaic affords New Horizons scientists and the public the best opportunity to examine the fine details of the various types of terrain on Pluto, and determine the processes that formed and shaped them. "

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Possible Link Between Primordial Black Holes and Dark Matter

NASA reports a Possible Link Between Primordial Black Holes and Dark Matter.

Dark matter is a mysterious substance composing most of the material universe, now widely thought to be some form of massive exotic particle. An intriguing alternative view is that dark matter is made of black holes formed during the first second of our universe's existence, known as primordial black holes. Now a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, suggests that this interpretation aligns with our knowledge of cosmic infrared and X-ray background glows and may explain the unexpectedly high masses of merging black holes detected last year.

'This study is an effort to bring together a broad set of ideas and observations to test how well they fit, and the fit is surprisingly good,' said Alexander Kashlinsky, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard. 'If this is correct, then all galaxies, including our own, are embedded within a vast sphere of black holes each about 30 times the sun's mass.'

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cary Fukanaga Will Direct Stanley Kubrick’s NAPOLEON For HBO

Birth.Movies.Death. writes Cary Fukanaga Will Direct Stanley Kubrick’s NAPOLEON For HBO "And Steven Spielberg's producing."

HBO is preparing a miniseries based on Stanley Kubrick's research for a film dubbed his "greatest never made film" — a planned story on French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's 19th century struggle to bring Europe under his total control. True Detective Emmy winner Cary Fukunaga is in talks to direct the mini, which is in development at the premium cable network. (Steven) Spielberg, Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey will exec produce the project via their Amblin Television banner.

Not sure how I feel about this, I think I'm happy. Cary Joji Fukunaga doesn't have a lot of experience. I've seen his movie Sin Nombre and True Detective season 1 (still have to see Beasts of No Nation). I'm happy that Spielberg is involved. It won't be a Kubrick film but it might be close, the way A.I. was.

I am happy HBO is doing it as a miniseries, my understanding is that length was a big reason Kubrick never made it. It's great that there are new outlets for high quality video stories of different kinds.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tea Party Demands Impeachment Scalp, Republicans Cave In

Kevin Drum writes Tea Party Demands Impeachment Scalp, Republicans Cave In

I think it must absolutely enrage Republicans that Barack Obama has very plainly run one of the cleanest, least scandalous administrations in recent history. Not mistake free, but scandal free. Nonetheless, they keep trying and trying and trying to find something that proves he's the Chicago thug they keep saying he is, and they keep coming up empty. They've spent collective decades investigating Fast & Furious, Benghazi, Solyndra, the IRS, and anything else they can think of, and they keep coming up empty handed. There's never anything there aside from a bit of the usual bureaucratic bungling you can find anyplace in a gigantic organization if you look for it.

So now they're going hold pointless impeachment hearings on an IRS commissioner who only has eight months left to serve anyway? What a bunch of loons."

IBM's phase-change memory is faster than flash and more reliable than RAM

The Verge reports IBM's phase-change memory is faster than flash and more reliable than RAM

IBM today announced a more efficient way to use phase-change memory, a breakthrough that could help transition electronic devices from standard RAM and flash to a much faster and more reliable type of storage. Phase-change memory, or PCM, is a type of non-volatile optical storage that works by manipulating the behavior of chalcogenide glass, which is how data is stored on rewriteable Blue-ray discs. A electrical current is applied to change PCM cells from an amorphous to crystalline structure, allowing you to store 0s and 1s in either state while the application of low voltage can read the data back.

The issue in the past has been PCM's limited capacity and high cost; you can typically only store one 1 bit per cell. That makes it less useful for main memory applications like laptop or mobile phone storage. Yet IBM researchers discovered how to store 3 bits per cell by tinkering with how the crystals react to high temperatures, which are required to tap into multiple states for PCM cells. The jump is significant 'because at this density, the cost of PCM will be significantly less than DRAM and closer to flash,' Haris Pozidis, IBM's manager of non-volatile memory research, wrote in a statement."

The Religious Right - Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Last night Samantha Bee did a great segment explaining the rise of the Religious Right. She provides context that the news doesn't (the only news show that I know does is Rachel Maddow's).

How Typography Can Save Your Life

Lena Groeger uses the National Weather Service's decision to change from ALL CAPS as starting point for an interesting article, How Typography Can Save Your Life.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Does Donald Trump Really Have a 30% Chance of Winning?

Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones, Does Donald Trump Really Have a 30% Chance of Winning?. He points to two articles that are both worth reading in full.

In the first, Trump expands the battleground…to Utah and the Deep South, Sam Wang points out

Historically from 1952 to 2012, the likely range of movement in two-candidate margin from this time until Election Day has been 10 percentage points, which is the standard deviation from the 16 past elections. Therefore, even though Clinton currently leads by a median margin of 7 percent (12 national surveys) and would certainly win an election held today, she could still lose the lead, and from a purely poll-based standpoint, is only narrowly favored to be elected President in November (probability: 70%).

It is also the case that Clinton is the only candidate who is poised for a blowout. Her “plus-one-sigma” outcome (current polls plus one standard deviation) is a popular vote win of 58.5%-41.5%. Trump’s plus-one-sigma outcome is a narrower win, 51.5%-48.5%.

He goes on to do his electoral college math and compares current state polls against 2012 election results finding only UT to be an outlier and otherwise a slight Democratic shift from Obama-Romney. The closest thing to an anti-Hillary state of the 15 tossups is NY, which is Trump's home state and even there Hillary is +20% while being -8% off Obama's results.

Every prognosticator at this point says that the election is far off and lots of things can happen, so we shouldn't be looking too closely at polls at this point. James Wimberley in Lies, damned lies and election statistics, looks at ": what reasonably foreseeable factors are capable of changing voters’ preferences for Trump or Clinton between now and the election?" He makes up a numerical estimate of risk factors which I ignore, but I found his (lite) analysis of ten factors a pretty interesting read.

Trumps Taxes

I've seen David Cay Johnston on a number of news shows over the years as a tax expert (he's good). He's spending a lot of his time on Trump now. In March he wrote, The real Trump tax scandal in USA Today.

It's all about tax rules that require you to depreciate, or reduce, the value of buildings over time, even if the market value of the structures is going up. If your depreciation is greater than your traditional income from work and businesses, Congress lets you report negative income. If these paper losses are just a dollar more than traditional income, it wipes out your income taxes for the year.

If Trump's returns show he has paid no income taxes in some years, that could be a reason he has not yet released details.

Congress says most Americans can deduct no more than $25,000 of real estate depreciation against their income. But if you work two days a week managing real estate and own enough that the depreciation exceeds your salary and other income, Congress lets you live income-tax-free. And for as long as you keep buying buildings and depreciating them, the tax does not come due."

There's debate now about what Trump might be hiding in his tax returns. Is it that he pays little or no tax? He says he works hard to pay as little as possible and people seem to support that. If using schemes like the above he manages to pay no tax, I don't think that will go over well with a lot of voters. The other theory is that they reveal that he's worth a lot less than he says. I wondered why a tax return (which reports yearly income not overall wealth) would reveal that, but the above scheme would fit with that evaluation. If he has to report depreciation on his current assets to avoid tax, returns for several years would show the value of those assets declining.

Trump Used Aliases For Much More Than Gossip

David Cay Johnston writes Trump Used Aliases For Much More Than Gossip. He cites the documentary Trump: What’s The Deal, which describes how Trump, using the alias John Barron threatened lawsuits on behalf of Trump against mistreated workers at one of his construction sites.

He admitted under oath in the federal lawsuit on behalf of the Polish workers that he had used the name John Barron, which resulted in a spate of news stories. In the aftermath Trump continued his deception, but using the name ‘John Miller.’

Later he admitted that ‘Miller’ was a phony name, too. He confessed the truth to People Magazine, two weeks after its initial story by Sue Carswell made fun of him for trying to pass himself off as ‘John Miller.’

Following a lengthy trial in federal court, the real Donald Trump was found to have engaged in a conspiracy to cheat the Polish workers. The judge who decided the case found Trump liable for pay and fringe benefits and also found that his testimony — that he was unaware of what was going on during the demolition phase on Trump Tower — was not credible. Not only was he photographed at the site, but his temporary office across Fifth Avenue had a picture window view so he could observe the whole process of tearing down Bonwit’s and putting up his eponymous tower."

This is going to be such an ugly election.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Jazz Music and Physics Have a Lot More in Common Than You Think

Jazz Music and Physics Have a Lot More in Common Than You Think. I'm surprised.

It might not seem like music has much to do with cutting-edge physics at first glance. In his new book, The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe, Brown University physics professor Stephon Alexander argues that using music as an analogy can shed light on some of the deepest mysteries in cosmology.

Alexander is not your typical physicist. Born in Trinidad and raised in the Bronx, he developed twin passions for jazz and physics at an early age. As a graduate student, he played the saxophone in jazz clubs and mastered Einstein’s equations. It’s a unique perspective that informs his approach to both; for instance, he views John Coltrane’s seminal Giant Steps album (1960), with its trademark ‘sheets of sound,’ as the ‘sonic equivalent to Einstein’s bending of the space-time fabric.’ Gizmodo caught up with Alexander to learn more about this hidden link.

Haunting Long-Exposure Photos of Your Favorite Movies

Wired writes Haunting Long-Exposure Photos of Your Favorite Movies "Shulman’s series features long-exposure photographs of entire movies, flattening them into a single image. Yellow Submarine is a psychedelic swirl of purple, yellow, blue, and green. Duel, Steven Spielberg’s 1971 road-trip thriller, is a teal-blue sky over the burnt orange fog of the protagonist’s Plymouth Valiant. The Shining is mostly a close-up of a blurred face peering through doors."

They included my favorite film, Rear Window:


Live Taping of “The Axe Files” with Jon Stewart, hosted by David Axelrod

Snowden interview: Why the media isn't doing its job

The Columbia Journalism Review has a really nice Snowden interview: Why the media isn't doing its job. "THE TOW CENTER for Digital Journalism’s Emily Bell spoke to Edward Snowden over a secure channel about his experiences working with journalists and his perspective on the shifting media world. This is an excerpt of that conversation, conducted in December 2015. It will appear in a forthcoming book: Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State, which will be released by Columbia University Press in 2016."

Ronald D. Moore and Bryan Cranston announce Philip K. Dick anthology series

The Verge reports Ronald D. Moore and Bryan Cranston announce Philip K. Dick anthology series "The show will be written and executive produced by Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore and TV veteran Michael Dinner. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston is also executive producing, and will appear in at least one episode. The series will premiere on the UK's Channel 4 and be distributed internationally by Sony Pictures, although it's still unclear when the series will premiere and whether it will make it to US broadcast screens."

This could be exciting.

Almost Half of US Honeybee Hives Collapsed Last Year

Mother Jones reports Almost Half of US Honeybee Hives Collapsed Last Year. I assume Donald Trump blames Mexicans for this.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Gene Therapy’s First Out-and-Out Cure Is Here

Gene Therapy’s First Out-and-Out Cure Is Here

A treatment now pending approval in Europe will be the first commercial gene therapy to provide an outright cure for a deadly disease. The treatment is a landmark for gene-replacement technology, an idea that’s struggled for three decades to prove itself safe and practical. Called Strimvelis, and owned by drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, the treatment is for severe combined immune deficiency, a rare disease that leaves newborns with almost no defense against viruses, bacteria, or fungi and is sometimes called ‘bubble boy’ disease after an American child whose short life inside a protective plastic shield was described in a 1976 movie. The treatment is different than any that’s come before because it appears to be an outright cure carried out through a genetic repair. The therapy was tested on 18 children, the first of them 15 years ago. All are still alive."

Thursday, May 05, 2016

We Finally Know Why DC Had an Earthquake in 2011

We Finally Know Why DC Had an Earthquake in 2011:

But now, geologists have figured out a likely mechanism for the 2011 shakeup, which registered a 5.8 on the Richter scale. And if they’re correct, it’ll mean more seismic events in the future. Basically, chunks of the North Atlantic plate are peeling off the bottom, sinking deep into the Earth and creating instabilities in the upper crust.

Via io9

Thursday, April 28, 2016

How to End a Movie

SPOILER ALERTS: 12 Angry Men, The Silence of the Lambs, and Psycho. The other movie clips only show the last shot and don't spoil anything.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Long Game

James Kwak on < a href="">The Long Game. He uses a recent controversial quote from Charles Koch to talk about the new book American Amnesia.

Since the 1980s, if not earlier, the story of the Democratic Party has been a reasonably successful attempt to take or maintain control over the presidency at any costs—combined with a complete failure to articulate a compelling, long-term vision, or to build lasting networks and institutions that provide the infrastructure for political change. We bet everything on the political skills of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, and then we act surprised when they end up following moderate Republican policies—in part because they are blocked in by Republicans in Congress, in state houses, and in the federal judiciary. (And for those who think this is hyperbole, it was Bill Clinton himself who said, ‘I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans. . . . We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn’t that great?’ (Hacker and Pierson, p. 163).)

The story of the conservative movement, on the other hand, is the opposite: serial failure to come up with a compelling presidential candidate—since 1988, no Republican nominee has won a plurality of the popular vote, except W. when running as an incumbent after ‘winning’ a war—combined with a consistent vision, a massive advantage in fundraising not dependent on a unique individual (like Obama or Bernie Sanders), repeated victories in state legislative and gubernatorial elections, successful gerrymandering in multiple states, a structural lock on the House of Representatives, and consolidation of the small-state bias in the Senate. Sure, things haven’t been all rosy for libertarian conservatives like the Kochs—there was the huge expansion of government under W., and now Obamacare. But they’ve reduced the chances of higher taxes to nil, they’ve blocked any action on climate change, they have Barack Obama reduced to trying to pass a ‘free trade’ agreement (because he can’t pass anything else), and they’re just one presidential election—now, or 2020, or 2024—from a massive restructuring of the tax code and all social insurance programs.

Movie Reivews: Sound of Redemption and Miles Ahead

On Sunday I went to the Coolidge Corner Theatre for a special event, Grace Kelly presents: Sound of Redemption. The movie was a documentary about saxophonist Frank Morgan, followed by a Q&A with the director and Grace Kelly who afterwards played a few songs. This is a pretty good summary of the film:

Frank Morgan was a prodigal alto sax player who, like so many of his fellow musicians of the era, saw his career plagued by drug addiction. What sets Frank apart is not just his exceptional talent, but also the amazing fact that he survived 30 years of revolving door incarceration and drug abuse and went on to a much heralded comeback career in the last 22 years of his life, during which time he served as a mentor to Brookline saxophone prodigy Grace Kelly. Morgan's story is one of brilliant promise in his youth, a journey through the depths of hell, and redemption through his art.

I didn't know of Frank Morgan before this. I also didn't know that San Quentin prison had a 16 piece jazz band populated by inmates that Morgan called the best band he ever worked with (Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper were in and out of San Quentin too). Morgan's father was a guitarist with the Ink Spots, he took a young Frank to see Charlie Parker. Frank fell in love with the sax and eventually played with Parker, learning from him not just bebop but heroin. I knew that lots of jazz musicians had heroin problems, I didn't realize that it often led to crimes to fund their addiction and not just early deaths, but regular stints in prison.

The documentary took an interesting approach around the problem of not having a lot of footage of Frank to use. They arranged for a remembrance concert to be played by people who knew him, in San Quentin for an audience of friends and loved ones as well as other prisoners. Performing are: George Cables, Ron Carter, Mark Gross, Grace Kelly, Delfeayo Marsalis, and "Smitty" Smith. Good stuff.

Right after this I watched Don Cheadle's Miles Ahead. Cheadle wrote, directed and stars in this biopic of Miles Davis. So far it's my favorite movie of the year. He had the support of Davis' family so they have his music to use, which helps a lot. But Cheadle took an interesting approach to the story.

Instead of a straight biography or really concentrating on specific event or period, he does something unique. There's a starting event, a flashback to a (rather crazy and hopefully fictitious) story which lets Cheadle act out some of Davis' famous demons then it comes back to the "present". To me at least, it gave the film the effect of a jazz song, with a statement, a bunch of improv drawing on his past experiences and a restatement. He tries to get into Davis' head and does it visually, often blending different events into the same scene. It remains coherent and while I read up afterwards to see what was true and not, I feel like I learned about Davis and wanted to hear even more of his music. It helps to know some of Davis' music (particularly the Gil Evans period) and if you do you'll know who various background characters are supposed to be, though people in the group I saw it with all liked it, regardless of background knowledge.

CERN Just Dropped 300 Terabytes of Raw Collider Data to the Internet

CERN Just Dropped 300 Terabytes of Raw Collider Data to the Internet

‘Members of the CMS Collaboration put in lots of effort and thousands of person-hours each of service work in order to operate the CMS detector and collect these research data for our analysis,’ explains Kati Lassila-Perini, a CMS physicist who leads these data-preservation efforts. ‘However, once we’ve exhausted our exploration of the data, we see no reason not to make them available publicly. The benefits are numerous, from inspiring high-school students to the training of the particle physicists of tomorrow. And personally, as CMS’s data-preservation co-ordinator, this is a crucial part of ensuring the long-term availability of our research data.’

That's pretty cool.

2016 Hugo Awards Finalists

The Hugo Awards have announced 2016 Hugo Awards Finalists. These are voted on by sci-fi fans (unlike the Nebula Awards which are voted on by writers). As is usual lately, I haven't read any of the books, but have seen all the movies.