Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Spatial Interfaces

Nice article on Spatial Interfaces. Lots of iOS examples showing how small animations, allow apps to imply functional relationships between interface elements.

The Senate’s wrongheaded IRS proposal

Apparently the Senate (and I assume that's Republicans in the Senate) want to privatize federal debt collection because everyone hates the IRS and obviously the market can do everything more efficiently. Catherine Rampell explains the insanity in The Senate’s wrongheaded IRS proposal,

The IRS has actually tried outsourcing tax collection activities to private debt collectors before, at Congress’s behest. Twice, in fact, over the last two decades.

Both times, the experiment was a disaster.

Privatizing delinquent tax collections led to complaints from taxpayers who got harassed and bullied by an industry known for rampant harassment and bullying, particularly of low-income people who don’t know their rights. In one oft-cited case, a private debt collector made 150 calls to the elderly parents of a taxpayer even after the collection agency learned that the taxpayer was no longer living at that address.

Perhaps more important, at least from a fiscal responsibility perspective, both times the program was scrapped because it actually cost taxpayers money on net, despite assurances ahead of time of the huge bounty it would lasso in."

I can't get over this giant contradiction in Iran hawks' case against the nuclear deal

Max Fisher in Vox points out I can't get over this giant contradiction in Iran hawks' case against the nuclear deal "Iran hawks are making their case in a way that exposes a very telling contradiction in their arguments, one that is so brazen and transparent it is almost hard to believe. If you look at what they've said in the aggregate, an odd position emerges: Delaying Iran's nuclear program for 10 years via diplomacy is bad, whereas delaying it for two years via war is good. What does that tell you?"

He quotes Robert Farley, a professor at the University of Kentucky:

What the hawks want is indefinite militarized confrontation between the United States and Iran. From the perspective of Israel and Saudi Arabia, this is hardly irrational. Iran supports terrorist groups and other non-state actors that like to mess with the Saudis and the Israelis, and both the Saudis and Israelis would like to have the military capabilities of the United States at their disposal. Nor is it irrational for the Saudis and Israelis to believe that the US will come through with this kind of support; the entire GOP Presidential field (with the possible, partial exception of Rand Paul) seems committed to making it happen.

... And for someone who really wants a semi-permanent guarantee that the United States will threaten to bomb Iran, only nukes work, even if nukes aren’t the central concern. As Fred Kaplan has noted, the really big problem for Israeli, Saudi, and US hawks is that the deal might work, that Tehran might take nukes off the table, and the Iran might reintegrate itself back into the community of nations.

NFL upholds Tom Brady’s four-game suspension

The Boston Globe writes NFL upholds Tom Brady’s four-game suspension. Good. The NFL found:

On or shortly before March 6, the day that Tom Brady met with independent investigator Ted Wells and his colleagues, Brady directed that the cellphone he had used for the prior four months be destroyed. He did so even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that had been stored on that phone.

During the four months that the cellphone was in use, Brady had exchanged nearly 10,000 text messages, none of which can now be retrieved from that device. The destruction of the cellphone was not disclosed until June 18, almost four months after the investigators had first sought electronic information from Brady.

I don't know why this town is supporting this cheater.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The New Enemy Within

Peter Beinart wrote in May's Atlantic, The New Enemy Within "Why are conservatives more hostile to Muslims and Islam today than they were in the terrifying aftermath of 9/11? And why have American Muslims, who in 2000 mostly voted Republican, apparently replaced gays and feminists as the right’s chief culture-war foe?"

But if conservatives no longer believe they can transform the Middle East, they still greatly fear terrorism by Muslims. A 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center found that Republicans were 31 percentage points more likely than Democrats to be “very concerned” about the threat of “Islamic extremism” around the world. The result is a mismatch between conservative anxieties and conservative methods. Although most conservatives are happy to bomb ISIS, the American right has lost its appetite for a vast overseas struggle against jihadist terror. Instead of tempering their view of the threat, conservatives have domesticated it. By reconceiving the Islamist danger as a largely domestic problem, conservatives can now fight it ferociously without having to invade any other countries.

All they need to do is prevent Muslims from Islamicizing America. Thus, in 2010, Newt Gingrich called the adoption of Sharia “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States.” To prevent an “attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government,” the GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain vowed in 2011 not to appoint any Muslims to his Cabinet. In 2012, five Republican members of Congress sent a letter to the State Department’s deputy inspector general suggesting that Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin, who is Muslim, had influenced the State Department on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The right’s new focus on the danger that Muslims allegedly pose at home is McCarthyite in a very specific sense. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, conservatives were deeply frightened by communism overseas. But many of them also worried that the Truman administration’s military spending was creating budget deficits and that America’s entrance into NATO (and later the Korean War) was undermining American sovereignty. By hunting alleged communists in the State Department, and thereby suggesting that the real threat lay not overseas but at home, Joseph McCarthy reconciled those concerns. “The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because our only powerful potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores,” he declared in his infamous Wheeling, West Virginia, speech in February 1950, “but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this nation.” By suggesting that the real Islamic threat lies at home, today’s conservatives are saying much the same thing.

He also cites the conservative fear of "a war on christianity". And since they can't demonize the feminists and gays as much as they did, they blame Muslims. This is probably why the GOP establishment is mad with Trump for bringing the discussion back to Mexicans. They already had someone to blame, now they're stuck demonizing the biggest growing segment of the voting population.

There have been 204 mass shootings — and 204 days — in 2015 so far

WonkBlog points out There have been 204 mass shootings — and 204 days — in 2015 so far. "The Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced project of the anti-gun folks at the Guns Are Cool subreddit, lists 203 mass shooting events so far in 2015. Add in the shooting at a Louisiana movie theater last night and you get 204. Incidentally, yesterday was the 204th day of the year."

"The Mass Shooting Tracker is different from other shooting databases in that it uses a broader definition of mass shooting. "The old FBI definition of Mass Murder (not even the most recent one) is four or more people murdered in one event," the site's creators explain. "It is only logical that a Mass Shooting is four or more people shot in one event.""

Sure, let's quibble on the details. Oh and it seems only one of the 34 mass shootings with an identified perpetrator was a Muslim.

After Amtrak Disaster, Rail Firms Ramp Up Lobbying to Delay Safety Regulations

The Intercept reports, After Amtrak Disaster, Rail Firms Ramp Up Lobbying to Delay Safety Regulations

"The derailment of an Amtrak train on May 15 brought a renewed sense of urgency to the federal law requiring Positive Train Control, a system that automatically keeps trains from reaching unsafe speeds. Leading experts say deployment of the technology would have prevented the Amtrak disaster, which left 8 dead and over 200 injured.

The Congressionally-mandated deadline for all train companies to implement PTC is the end of this year. But despite the renewed pressure for Amtrak and other companies to meet the deadline, Congress appears poised to provide a three year delay as the rail industry has increased its lobbying efforts.

Lobbying records suggest major rail firms began spending more on lobbying following the Amtrak crash."

Sigh, it's just so predictable.

New Horizons says goodbye to Pluto with beautiful high-resolution photos

The Verge reports New Horizons says goodbye to Pluto with beautiful high-resolution photos

Phil Pliat offers some explanation, Pluto: Ice flows and a ring of light..

More from New Horizons | NASA.

Measuring the heck out of shale gas leakage in Texas

Ars Technica reports Measuring the heck out of shale gas leakage in Texas. Researchers tracked methane leakage from the Barnett Shale (around Dallas-Fort Worth). The results seems to be that overall leakage is low but higher than expected. Also, most of the leakage comes from a small number of "super-emitters".

"One group sampled 186 sites where a well or pipeline equipment was located. Just five percent of them accounted for over half of the total methane leakage. At 30 percent of the sites, on the other hand, their instruments detected no leakage at all."

That would seem to make it easier to address.

Will massive mergers make health insurance as bad as cable?

Sarah Kliff writes Will massive mergers make health insurance as bad as cable?

"Anthem struck a deal Friday to acquire Cigna, creating the country's largest health insurance plan. And less than a month ago Aetna announced plans to acquire Humana. If the Department of Justice approves the mergers, the big five health insurers in the United States would shrink to just three. Taken together, these three companies will cover around 132 million Americans — about half the population under 65.

Researchers have studied historical insurance mergers and have learned that two things happen when health plans consolidate. First, medical prices go down: Bigger insurers have more clout to ask for steeper discounts from health-care prices.

Second, premiums go up: Insurers don't pass along their new discounts to consumers, but instead pocket the savings as profit."

Great. Well actually, maybe not so bad: "The big question for health economists is whether a new Obamacare regulation, aimed at limiting health insurers' profits, could change all that."

Conservatives Love This Deeply Misleading Factoid About Poverty in America

Dylan Matthews at Vox writes about how Conservatives love this deeply misleading factoid about poverty in America.

The factoid is:

It’s closer to the truth that they, like all Americans, are in a much better position to succeed if they honor certain basic norms: graduate from high school; get a full-time job; don’t have a child before age 21 and get married before childbearing. Among the people who do these things, according to the research of Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, about 75 percent attain the middle class, broadly defined.

Matthews goes to the 2009 source and while the data is right, the interpretation is off, and explains why.

  • Very few obey none of the norms. More poor people obey all three than none.
  • It's wrong to list full-time work as a norm, particularly in a recession. Many can't find work. "Shockingly, earning a steady income is a good way to not be in poverty."
  • When you're poor, access to birth control is more limited
  • "Poverty brings with it hunger and food insecurity, neighborhood violence, periodic homelessness, and poor health, all of which are stressors that conspire to keep kids from poor backgrounds from making it out of high school."

"The truth is that low high school graduation rates in poor black communities are in part a legacy of systemic racism. Joblessness in poor black communities is in part a legacy of systemic racism. Single parenthood and family instability in poor black communities is in part a legacy of systemic racism. To say this isn't to reject the idea of free will. It's to acknowledge that if you're actually serious about solving these problems rather than waving them away, you need to tackle structural causes. Reasonable people can disagree about how best to deal with those causes, but just running around telling people to work hard and get married isn't a serious proposal."

Then there's this, How school district boundaries are gerrymandered to keep poor kids segregated and this, The remarkably high odds you’ll be poor at some point in your life.

Then there's James Ferguson's book Give a Man a Fish which apparently, This book will change the way you think about cash transfers for the poor. I haven't read it but I've seen a few articles over the years about this and the evidence that it works better (that is cheaper) than other things to bring the poor out of poverty.

Jared Bernstein: The Cadillac Tax, Part 2: My critics made some good points…but I still think I’m right

Jared Bernstein on The Cadillac Tax, Part 2: My critics made some good points…but I still think I’m right.

In a piece I recently posted up here, I made four arguments in support of the so-called Cadillac tax, the 40 percent excise tax on health care premium costs above caps set by the Affordable Care Act (the tax is scheduled to kick in by 2018).

First, at least initially, the vast majority of premium costs will be below the caps, meaning they won’t get hit by the tax. Second, by creating a strong incentive to hold down premium costs, the tax is likely to help slow the growth of premium costs going forward. Third, as employers put less compensation into health benefits, they’re likely to put more in wages. Fourth, the tax is expected to raise $90 billion over the next decade, so those who would get rid of it need to come up with a replacement, ideally one with some of the same incentives just noted.

You’ll rarely win friends defending a tax, and I got predictably critical responses. While some were from grumpy partisans who hate Obamacare, taxes, and especially taxes that fund Obamacare, others were sensible and deserve attention. Part of the problem was shorthand on my part and so I’ll elaborate a bit more here. And on point three above–the wage point–I was too dismissive of a legitimate concern.

It's posts like these that make me like Bernstein more and more. There are details and there is a willingness to listen to legitimate arguments. I tend to see that more on the left and rarely see it on the right (e.g., on the current Iran deal, or Benghazi or Obamacare). Sure Rand Paul has softened on a few things, but he's usually so far out there to begin with he still ends up way to right for me. I don't think Trump has ever admitted that some counter-arguments might be legit.

Fire Phasers - The New York Times

Paul Krugman in the Times, Fire Phasers

"Jeb Bush doesn’t just want Americans to work more hours; he also wants to ‘phase out’ Medicare, or so he told a Koch brothers backed group. What he’s talking about, presumably, is a Paul Ryan-type conversion of Medicare into a voucher system.

Fact-checking organizations please note, by the way. The next time Democrats say that Republicans want to destroy Medicare, and Republicans start screaming that this is a lie, remember that when talking to their own people like Jeb themselves call what they’re proposing a plan to, yes, end Medicare."

Follow that link and his quote is, "They know, and I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something – because they’re not going to have anything.” Ok the link is to a Steven Benen post in the Rachel Maddow blog, but that has a link to the video in which I presume he says exactly that.

Kids React To 1st iPod

The Verge's Web Sucks

There's been a bunch of posts recently about the mobile web experience. The Verge generously commented with their perspective and it's legit, advertising is their best revenue source now and advertising on the web means giving up control to lots of third parties.

lmorchard weighs in with some data, The Verge's web sucks "TL;DR: Did you know that The Verge delivers you to around 20 companies for advertising & tracking purposes? I didn't. That might foul up your mobile web experience a little bit. Maybe we should try something different."

"Holy crap. It took over 30 seconds. In the end, it fetched over 9.5MB across 263 HTTP requests. That's almost an order of magnitude more data & time than needed for the article itself. Wow. Devtools performed a second reload of the page to get an overall performance analysis. This time it downloaded 12MB - a little over 7MB in that is JavaScript!"

Today I installed Ghostery. There's some debate about how ethical they are, A Popular Ad Blocker Also Helps the Ad Industry but they seem to be upfront about it and there's an option to enable their collection and it's appropriately turned off by default so I can't fault them for that. There's also Disconnect which I had installed but disabled. I probably tried it and ran into some issues which I've now forgotten. If get bothered by Ghostery I'll give it another try.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Clones on the Court - The Atlantic

Back in April, Constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar wrote in The Atlantic, Clones on the Court "A Supreme Court that once included former senators and governors is populated today by judges with identical résumés. Here's why that's a mistake."

Do You Code? You Should Try The New Font Monoid

CoDesign says Do You Code? You Should Try This Font "Monoid is a new programming typeface designed to be clean, uniform, and precise, just like good code."

"Programmers want a font that is clean, uniform, highly readable, and precise, just like good code. Monoid is a new font designed by Andreas Larsen that aims to do all the above, and more. An open-source font aimed at coders, Monoid has been designed, first and foremost, to be highly readable even when you're scanning through ten thousand of lines of C++, looking for that one bug-causing typo."

It's open source (so free) and you can download it here. At the bottom you can preview the font and choose from a few alternatives. I like the alternate 1 better. Note, the alternative preview doesn't work in Safari.

Kepler-452b: Earth-ish planet around a Sun-ish star.

Phil Plait writes Kepler-452b: Earth-ish planet around a Sun-ish star. "On Thursday, astronomers announced they have found another planet in its star's habitable zone: Kepler-452b. But this one is different: It orbits a star much more like the Sun. The star and planet are about 1,400 light-years away."

Bug in latest version of OS X gives attackers unfettered root privileges

Ars Technica reports Bug in latest version of OS X gives attackers unfettered root privileges

"A bug in the latest version of Apple's OS X gives attackers the ability to obtain unfettered root user privileges, a feat that makes it easier to surreptitiously infect Macs with rootkits and other types of persistent malware."

"According to Esser, the OS X privilege-escalation flaw stems from new error-logging features that Apple added to OS X 10.10. Developers didn't use standard safeguards involving additions to the OS X dynamic linker dyld, a failure that allows attackers to open or create files with root privileges that can reside anywhere in the OS X file system."

Security is hard. At least Apple is trying to elevate it in some products. MacWorld reports Apple's security requirements are reportedly holding up HomeKit. "Apple has stringent requirements for manufacturers aiming to get HomeKit-certified for Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi accessories: those devices must use 3072-bit keys and Curve25519, the 128-bit elliptic curve, for encrypted key exchange and digital signatures. Those security standards will help HomeKit devices protect against outside attacks, but they’re also causing lags in devices that are supposed to respond quickly to user requests. For instance, a smart door lock that takes seven minutes to open using Apple’s encryption requirements, or even 40 seconds, can’t compete with a dumb door lock that opens almost instantly. The problems are at the chip level. Broadcom and Marvell are working to make their Bluetooth LE chips beefy enough to withstand Apple’s encryption standards so the lag time isn’t so lengthy."

Roughly 100 Fantastic Magazine Articles from 2014

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic lists Roughly 100 Fantastic Magazine Articles from 2014 "Each year, I keep a running list of exceptional nonfiction that I encounter as I publish The Best of Journalism, an email newsletter that I send out once or twice a week. This is my annual attempt to bring some of those stories to a wider audience. I could not read or note every worthy article that was published last calendar year and I haven't included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention and engagement."

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What The Supreme Court Has To Say About Sandra Bland's Arrest

ThinkProgress writes about What The Supreme Court Has To Say About Sandra Bland's Arrest.

Rodriguez v. United States held that police could not extend the length of a routine traffic stop, even for just a few minutes, absent a safety related concern or reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver may have committed an additional crime. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained in the opinion of the Court, ‘[t]he tolerable duration of police inquiries in the traffic-stop context is determined by the seizure’s ‘mission’ — to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop, and attend to related safety concerns.’ A police stop ‘may ‘last no longer than is necessary to effectuate th[at] purpose.’ Authority for the seizure thus ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are — or reasonably should have been — completed.’

By the time Encinia asks Bland to put out her cigarette, the ‘mission’ of his encounter with Bland is almost at completion. He has already written the citation and brought it to Bland. While she is being handcuffed, Bland even indicates that she was ‘trying to sign the fucking ticket’ before Encinia tried to pull her out of her car. Had the officer not decided to extend the length of the stop over the argument about the cigarette, it is likely that Bland would have been sent on her way very shortly after she declined to extinguish her cigarette."

This is just a crazy story and there are so many parts to it. She evidently did change lanes without signaling so the stop itself was ok. Enchain clearly escalated it because of her belligerence but that's entirely on him. The above says the escalation was illegal. I note that in the video he orders her out of the car but doesn't say she's under arrest until she asks, which seems a little backwards to me and in spite of her asking repeatedly about the charges he never answers, which I don't think he's allowed to do. So she pissed him off, which is legal, and he went too far, which isn't. There's probably excessive force involved too, but that's off camera and not clear.

Now that's just the arrest, how she ended up in prison for several days and then dead is another (very suspicious) matter. If she couldn't raise bail, the time is plausible (though ridiculous).

British man receives world’s first bionic eye implant for macular degeneration

Ars Technica reports British man receives world’s first bionic eye implant for macular degeneration. "A British man has become the first person in the world to receive a bionic eye implant that corrects for age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—the most common cause of vision loss in adults. The implant was a success: previously, the patient had no central vision at all; now, he has low-resolution central vision. The operation was carried out at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital; the recipient of the implant was Ray Flynn, aged 80."

More Misinformation about Banking Regulation

James Kwak has a great post on More Misinformation about Banking Regulation. It begins:

‘Fed Tells Big Banks to Shrink or Else,’ the Wall Street Journal proclaimed in the headline of its lead story today.* If only.

What the Federal Reserve actually did is impose new, additional capital requirements for the largest banks. JPMorgan Chase, for example, will have to hold 4.5 percentage points more capital than it would have had to otherwise. This is clearly a good thing, since it means that the banks that could do the most damage to the financial system will be a little bit safer. But it is neither a complete solution, nor is it the draconian constraint that the banks and the Journal make it out to be.

For starters, the rule will have no effect on seven of the eight banks in question (JPMorgan is the exception), since they already have enough capital to meet the new requirements. That alone should let you know how significant a rule this is.

Even so, the Journal says that banks will have to decide ‘whether to pay the cost of new regulation, which will fall to the bottom line, or change their business models.’ This is not true."

I'm so tired of news stories being completely one-sided and often false. Kwok does a great service in describing things in depth and not shying away from explaining the Modigliani-Miller Theorem (which I hadn't heard of and now kind of understand). Why can't newspapers do this? Why can't 24 hour cable news networks find the time to do this?

Most Beautiful Movies of All Time

CineFix lists their top 10 most beautiful films of all time, though they also mention a lot of other almost as beautiful films and give their reasons for their pick. Watch this in full screen. I have to go see Russian Ark, The Conformist, The Fall and Samsara. I've seen and own Lawrence of Arabia, but I'm hoping due to Omar Sharif's recent death, some local theater will show it in 70mm. If that happens near you, GO SEE IT!

The 100 Greatest American Films According To BBC Culture

BBC Culture lists The 100 greatest American films "BBC Culture polled film critics from around the world to determine the best American movies ever made. The results are surprising – Gone With the Wind appears at 97"

America’s films are among its greatest exports. Since Thomas Edison’s innovations in the medium in the 1890s, the United States has consistently been a powerhouse in the development of cinema – from the massively popular entertainments of Hollywood to independent and avant-garde film. In recognition of the astounding influence of the US on what remains the most popular art-form worldwide, BBC Culture has polled 62 international film critics to determine the 100 greatest American films of all time.

What defines an American film? For the purposes of this poll, it is any movie that received funding from a US source...Each critic who participated submitted a list of 10 films, with their pick for the greatest film receiving 10 points and their number 10 pick receiving one point. The points were added up to produce the final list. Critics were encouraged to submit lists of the 10 films they feel, on an emotional level, are the greatest in American cinema – not necessarily the most important, just the best. These are the results.

I've seen all but eight:

  • 89) In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
  • 72) The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)
  • 70) The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953)
  • 64) Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
  • 63) Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)
  • 53) Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1975)
  • 43) Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Opuls, 1948)
  • 40) Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943) - it's a 14 min short available on YouTube.

Most of the rest I'd concede are all very good films. Well maybe not Heaven's Gate. I don't know how Hitchcock's Marne made it and Rear Window didn't. and why is Kubrick's Barry Lyndon on the list, let alone his highest?

Here are the directors with more than one film in the list:

  • Alfred Hitchcock (5)
  • Billy Wilder (5)
  • Stanley Kubrick (5)
  • Steven Spielberg (5)
  • Francis Ford Coppola (4)
  • Howard Hawks (4)
  • Martin Scorsese (4)
  • Charlie Chaplin (3)
  • John Ford (3)
  • Orson Welles (3)
  • David Lynch (2)
  • John Cassavetes (2)
  • Nicholas Ray (2)
  • Robert Altman (2)
  • Robert Zemeckis (2)
  • Spike Lee (2)
  • Terrence Malick (2)
  • Victor Fleming (2)
  • Vincente Minnelli (2)
  • Woody Allen (2)

Apparently the best films of this century are: 12 Years a Slave, The Dark Knight, 25th Hour, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and The Tree of Life.

For me that list (best on an emotional level from this century) is more like: 12 Years a Slave, The Dark Knight, Inception, Where the Wild Things Are, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Winter's Bone, The Act of Killing

Here's Kim Morgan's submission, I've only seen six of these and none would have made my top 10. And here's Devin Faraci complaining about the list (though not mentioning his submissions), THE DARK KNIGHT Is Better Than Any Paul Thomas Anderson Movie.