Thursday, March 23, 2017

Today is National Puppy Day

Today is National Puppy Day - The Atlantic "I just discovered that March 23 has been set aside as National Puppy Day—founded in 2006 by author Colleen Paige, and adopted by other groups and organizations since. The idea is to focus attention on puppies in need of adoption, and on the abuses found in puppy mills, but also to celebrate these furry little companions. In the spirit of the day, I feel obligated to share some of these adorable images of pups around the world, and through the years." Hans, a dachshund puppy, kisses a kitty while sitting in a teapot, photographed in January of 1926.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Donald Trump will resign 'soon', says top Democrat Dianne Feinstein

The Independent reports Donald Trump will resign 'soon', says top Democrat Dianne Feinstein "Senior Senator on Judiciary Committee drops hint she knows more than she can say 'right now'" Wouldn't that be nice.

Referencing recent trips to Dubai by Mr Trump’s sons, Donald Jr and Eric, where they opened a new golf club, she said: “I think sending sons to another country to make a financial deal for his company and then have that covered with Government expenses, I believe those Government expenses should not be allowed.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Standby

This is a short film about two cops that manages to express a real relationship in under 6 minutes. Really well done.

Standby from Charlotte Regan on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Here’s what’s coming to Amazon Prime in April

The A.V. Club lists Here’s what’s coming to Amazon Prime in April. I recommend The Handmaiden and Hello, My Name Is Doris.

Operation London Bridge: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death

The Guardian has a long read on Operation London Bridge: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death. "She is venerated around the world. She has outlasted 12 US presidents. She stands for stability and order. But her kingdom is in turmoil, and her subjects are in denial that her reign will ever end. That’s why the palace has a plan."

It's more than I, and probably you, ever wanted to know about the Queen's funeral plans, I made it about 2/3 of the way through it. You're milage may vary.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The puzzling way Republicans want to replace the individual mandate, explained with a cartoon

Vox describes The puzzling way Republicans want to replace the individual mandate, explained with a cartoon

Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find

The New York Times reports Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead.

Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life."

This week's Vice on HBO had a scary segment on melting permafrost. Episode 57: When the Earth Melts & The Displaced. Here's a related article on it, Canada’s permafrost is collapsing thanks to climate change.

It feels like we've already lost the climate change battle and we're just in a 50-100 year long garbage time of the game.

Update: Meanwhile Humpback whales are organizing in huge numbers, and no one knows why.

Rare Nuclear Test Films Saved, Declassified, and Uploaded to YouTube

Gizmodo writes Rare Nuclear Test Films Saved, Declassified, and Uploaded to YouTube .

They're all here.

The Trade Deal We Just Threw Overboard

Politico on The Trade Deal We Just Threw Overboard. That would be TPP but it also involves NAFTA, the other deal Trump hates.

NAFTA may be the first test of whether Trump can recast America’s role in the world through sheer force of will. But renegotiating a deal that reshaped the commerce of a continent will be a lot harder than renegotiating an unfavorable lease. It will be an incredibly painstaking and frustrating task, an epic diplomatic and political challenge. It will require patience, sensitivity and attention to policy detail not usually associated with the Trump brand. And it might not work out in the end.

This isn’t just speculation. This is well-documented history. Because the Obama administration already renegotiated NAFTA.

There was never a formal announcement of ‘NAFTA Modernization Talks.’ There were no presidential tweets mocking the original agreement. But behind the scenes, President Barack Obama’s negotiators spent more than three years haggling and battling to update and upgrade the 1994 deal, and they eventually got a lot of what they wanted. Canada reluctantly agreed to give American farmers modest but unprecedented access to its tightly protected dairy industry; Mexico grudgingly agreed to labor reforms with more bite than NAFTA’s toothless union protections. The new deal opened up service sectors like insurance, accounting and express delivery where the United States tends to excel, along with e-commerce and other digital industries that didn’t exist when NAFTA was born. The United States also secured new restrictions on government-owned businesses, new protections for intellectual property and new safeguards for the environment.

But none of those hard-won concessions are going into effect. That’s because the Obama team negotiated all of them as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 5,500-page Asia-oriented trade agreement among the three NAFTA nations and nine other Pacific Rim countries. TPP was at the heart of Obama’s strategic ‘pivot to Asia.’ But Trump saw it as another fleecing of America, and with great fanfare he yanked the United States out of TPP during his first week in office, before Congress could even vote on whether the deal should take effect. That means its upgrades to NAFTA—regarding dairy, labor and everything else Mexico and Canada agreed to—are probably moot.

To Obama administration officials and other free-trade advocates, this feels like a gaping self-inflicted wound, a voluntary surrender of economic and geopolitical territory captured through countless hours of intense negotiations in drab conference rooms. When I asked Obama’s trade representative, Michael Froman, what his negotiating team had given up to Mexico and Canada in exchange for their TPP concessions to America, he replied: ‘Nothing!’ Mexico and Canada were willing to play ball because TPP would give them better access to sell their products in Asian markets—and when Trump tries to renegotiate NAFTA, he won’t be able to offer that carrot now that he’s ditched TPP."

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

I learned how to do math with the ancient abacus

So the title of this Vox article is a bit hyperbolic, I learned how to do math with the ancient abacus — and it changed my life, but I found some interesting things in it.

Shortly after enrolling my daughters and myself in an abacus class, we discovered that the practice relies on a math strategy known as decomposition, which makes computation easier by breaking numbers down into their component parts. So students are encouraged to think about how certain numbers have 'complements' or 'partners.' For instance, 10 is made by partnering 7 plus 3 or by partnering 6 plus 4.

For an actual math problem, consider 5 plus 8. On the abacus, you would not add those actual figures. Instead, you would 'decompose' the numbers and add 10 to the 5 and take away 2 — or the partner of 8 — in order to get to the answer: 13.

It can take a little longer to learn math in this way. Certainly it took me a little while to fully grasp this approach. But decomposition gives people a better underlying sense of how the math actually works. (Interestingly, my kids didn’t find the approach all that novel, since a decomposition approach is embedded in the new Common Core math standards.)

Friday, March 03, 2017

Legion Gets the Mystery Box Formula Right Where Westworld Failed

I completely agree with Kwame Opam in The Verge, Legion gets the mystery box formula right where Westworld failed. Well, it's only been 4 episodes of Legion and it's very confusing what's going on, but I'm engaged and interested. I always felt detached watching Westworld because the only character I cared about was Maeve (and even now I had to look up her name). Mild spoilers for season 1 of Westworld and oddly, no real spoilers for Legion follow:

Both shows are dense, technically stylish sci-fi thrillers. Both shows weave rich mythologies across multiple timelines, with Westworld being set in a simulated Wild West peopled with robots that may or may not have consciousness and Legion set in a world filled with super-powerful mutants that may or may not all exist in the lead’s head. And both shows lend themselves to theories about who and what is real, where the plot is going, and if there isn’t something more sinister running beneath the surface.

Where Westworld differs is in privileging its mysteries and philosophical meditations over character and storytelling. Take William, who is much more an idea than a character. He doesn’t convey any fully realized motivations beyond a desire to be a good person for Dolores’ benefit, and his transformation into the Man in Black is an overreaction to the idea that suffering defines humanity, if not just a twist for twists’ sake. Or consider Maeve: she discovers that she’s a machine and that she’s being controlled, so she sets out to free herself. That’s a powerful and relatable motivation, but the series undermines it by questioning whether or not her actions are dictated by her programming. Don’t get me wrong: exploring the nature of humanity is a worthwhile pursuit, and I loved that about the show. But dancing around what it means to be human instead of creating memorable characters with goals turns the series into a lecture series instead of good TV.

Compounding the problem is how the show conceals information — no matter the illogical gymnastics — to maintain the mysteries until the final episode. So much energy is spent hiding the connection between William and the Man in Black, the true identity of Westworld employees, and the point of the Maze, that the show rapidly became a transparent Pez dispenser, slowly and arbitrarily dispensing treats even though we could see every piece of candy just waiting to be served.

Legion, on the other hand, is laser-focused on its main character by design. Despite being about a mutant with the power to alter reality itself, the story the series lays out is straightforward. David believes he’s a schizophrenic, but he might also be the most powerful mutant alive. So, after learning that people with powers are being targeted by a shadowy government organization, he chooses to learn to control his abilities to save his loved ones and maybe even the world. That’s all David knows, and, as a consequence, all we know. The show establishes David as a relatable person with an understandable purpose: in order to save the world, he needs to better himself. That the show subverts our expectations by asking us to question whether or not what’s happening on-screen is in his head is destabilizing, but always secondary. What he learns about himself drives him and the story forward. And when David learns something, we learn it, too. The show doesn’t withhold for the sake of mystery. Rather, the mystery is a product of its core dramatic premise.

Start codons in DNA may be more numerous than previously thought

Yet again, genetics is more complicated than we thought. Start codons in DNA may be more numerous than previously thought

Genetic code is typically represented via sequences of four letters—A, C, G, and T or U—which correspond to the molecular units known as adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine (for DNA code) or uracil (for RNA code). Fifty years ago, the best available research tools indicated that there were only a few start codons (with sequences of AUG, GUG and UUG) in most living things. Start codons are important to understand because they mark the beginning of a recipe for translating RNA into specific strings of amino acids (i.e., proteins).

NIST specializes in the process of precision measurement, and the start codon challenge proved irresistible to the JIMB team. The collaboration was formed in 2016 with the goal of advancing biomeasurement science and facilitating the process of discovery by bringing together experts from academia, government labs and industry for collective scientific investigations.

With the use of GFP and nanoluciferase, the team measured translation initiation in the bacteria E. coli from all 64 codons. They were able to detect initiation of protein synthesis from 47 codons. The implications of the work could be quite profound for our understanding of biology.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

A software engineer is detained for several hours by U.S. Customs and given a test to prove he’s an engineer

Caroline Fairchild reported on LinkedIn (I didn't really know they did reporting) A software engineer is detained for several hours by U.S. Customs — and given a test to prove he’s an engineer .

It was Sunday, Feb. 26, and the 28-year-old software engineer had left his home in Lagos, Nigeria, to come to the United States for the first time. It was a work trip. For the last six months, Omin had been working for Andela, a startup that connects the top tech talent in Africa with employers in the U.S. Andela accepts less than 1% of applicants into its program and is backed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. For this particular role, Omin was helping NYC-based fintech startup First Access create a JavaScript application for emerging markets and had secured a short-term joint B1/B2 visa.   

After landing, Omin waited for 20 minutes and then reached the front of the line, where a Customs and Border Protection officer asked him a series of questions. It was here that Omin realized that the job might be challenging, but getting into America could now be impossible. No one at Andela had prepared him for the new reality."

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

What America Looked Like Before the EPA Stepped In

SFGate shows What America looked like before the EPA stepped in .

Shortly after, the Environmental Protection Agency was created. To help foster support for the newly created agency, Nixon sent out 70 photographers tasked with documenting 'subjects of environmental concern' all throughout the United States.

At the time, environmental laws were only just beginning to be formed and regulate the environment. 

Known as 'The Documerica Project,' the photographers captured thousands of images of rural and urban life. Back then, the images demonstrated the toll that unchecked manufacturing and energy industries had on the environment.

Today, they continue to serve as a reminder of what Nixon called the 'price tag' on pollution: 'Through our years of past carelessness we incurred a debt to nature, and now that debt is being called.'"

Rogue One: Visual Effects Revealed

(via kottke)

Moonlight Explained: Symbols, Camera & More

Spoilers for Moonlight, but a nice examination of the filmmaking techniques used to convey character and story and why it won an Oscar.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Commerce Sec Wilbur Ross was co-owner of Russian Money Laundering Bank of Cyprus

Rachel Maddow last night had an interesting opening piece, New Commerce Secretary at nexus of lucrative Trump Russian deal.

If you'd rather read, the Palmer Report wrote Donald Trump cabinet member and business associate co-owned Russian money laundering bank "But as it turns out, Deutsche Bank was laundering the money through Bank of Cyprus. The two most prominent owners of Bank of Cyprus? One is Donald Trump’s associate Dmitry Rybolovlev (source). The other is Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross (source)."

Thursday, February 23, 2017

RIP, SHA-1

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nebula Award Nominees

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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump Fumes Over Leaks At Private Meeting With Republicans

Politico reports Trump fumes over leaks at private meeting with Republicans

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

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

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

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

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

These are my takeaways:

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

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

Politico reports Judge orders Pruitt to release emails by Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They have some graphs too.

The 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest

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

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