Monday, March 23, 2015

The Gulf Stream system may already be weakening

Vox reports The Gulf Stream system may already be weakening. That's not good.

"In particular, many scientists have been paying close attention to the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), an ocean pattern that transports warm water from the tropics up to the North Atlantic and Nordic seas. (This is also sometimes referred to as the Gulf Stream system.)

This system is the reason why Europe has a relatively warm climate despite being so far north. But it's also a potential source of concern: paleoclimate evidence suggests the overturning circulation, or AMOC, has abruptly slowed or stopped in the distant past. Were that to happen again, it could be quite bad for both Europe and the United States.

Now, a new study in Nature Climate Change argues the Atlantic overturning already appears to be weakening. The researchers, led by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, created an index of regional climate conditions going back centuries. They find the weakness of the AMOC appears to be unprecedented in the past 1,100 years, possibly due to an influx of freshwater from Greenland's melting ice caps. (This contrasts with previous work suggesting the AMOC was still just fluctuating in natural cycles.)"

5,200 Days in Space

The Atlantic reports on 5,200 Days in Space "An exploration of life aboard the International Space Station, and the surprising reasons the mission is still worthwhile."

"We’ve got a permanent space colony, inaugurated a year before the setting of the iconic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a stunning achievement, and it’s completely ignored." I learned a few things in the article, but this was the most unexpected:

We don’t yet understand all the implications of long-duration spaceflight. “Five years ago,” says John Charles, of NASA’s Human Research Program, “we had an astronaut on station all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, my eyesight has changed. I’m three months into this flight, and I can’t read the checklists anymore.’ ” It turns out, Charles says, that all that fluid shifting upward in zero‑G increases intracranial pressure. “Fluid pushes on the eyeball from behind and flattens it,” says Charles. “Many astronauts slowly get farsighted in orbit.”

In fact, the station is now stocked with adjustable eyeglasses, so astronauts who don’t normally wear glasses will have them if they need them. Those who already wear glasses bring along extra pairs with stronger prescriptions.

Astronauts need precise, reliable vision, so its deterioration during spaceflight is hardly a minor problem. And it’s a particularly humbling one. NASA has known about the eyesight issue for decades. “We saw this on Skylab”—the first U.S. space station, which intermittently housed astronauts for up to three months at a time from 1973 to 1974—“and on the shuttle,” Charles says. The importance of it just wasn’t clear until astronauts were regularly spending months in orbit. And at the moment, NASA doesn’t know how to fix it back on Earth. Bone mass, muscle mass, blood volume, aerobic fitness all return to normal, for the most part. But astronauts’ eyes do not completely recover. Nor do doctors know exactly what would happen to eyesight over the course of a mission four or five times longer than those of today.

I also learned, "As it happens, the cost to run and sustain the Space Station is about the same as the cost to run a single U.S. Navy aircraft-carrier battle group." And okay, one more:

But station residents have to be careful about staying in one place too long. Without gravity to help circulate air, the carbon dioxide you exhale has a tendency to form an invisible cloud around your head. You can end up with what astronauts call a carbon-dioxide headache. (The station is equipped with fans to help with this problem.)

The CIA Just Declassified the Document That Supposedly Justified the Iraq Invasion

Vice News reports The CIA Just Declassified the Document That Supposedly Justified the Iraq Invasion

"Congress eventually concluded that the Bush administration had 'overstated' its dire warnings about the Iraqi threat, and that the administration's claims about Iraq's WMD program were 'not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting.' But that underlying intelligence reporting — contained in the so-called National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was used to justify the invasion — has remained shrouded in mystery until now."

"For the first time, the public can now read the hastily drafted CIA document [pdf below] that led Congress to pass a joint resolution authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, a costly war launched March 20, 2003 that was predicated on "disarming" Iraq of its (non-existent) WMD, overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and "freeing" the Iraqi people."

The NIE also said Hussein did not have "sufficient material" to manufacture any nuclear weapons and "the information we have on Iraqi nuclear personnel does not appear consistent with a coherent effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program."

But in an October 7, 2002 speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, then-President George W. Bush simply said Iraq, "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons" and "the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."

"As with much of the information on the overall relationship, details on training and support are second-hand," the NIE said. "The presence of al-Qa'ida militants in Iraq poses many questions. We do not know to what extent Baghdad may be actively complicit in this use of its territory for safehaven and transit."

So now (yet again) we can be sure that the President lied in order to start a war. So what should we do about that?

Akira Kurosawa - Composing Movement

Here's another installment of Every Frame a Painting. I got a lot more out of this than the previous first/last frame video. Note that one of the caption languages shows the titles of the films. I usually find Kurosawa films a bit slow and static, so this gave me a whole new way of looking at them.

First and Final Frames

"What can we learn by examining only the first and final shot of a film? This video plays the opening and closing shots of 55 films side-by-side. Some of the opening shots are strikingly similar to the final shots, while others are vastly different--both serving a purpose in communicating various themes. Some show progress, some show decline, and some are simply impactful images used to begin and end a film."

First and Final Frames from Jacob T. Swinney on Vimeo.

The films shown are listed on the page. I didn't recognize a lot of them and then saw the titles and I'd seen the film (though I haven't seen Boyhood and recognized those shots). I suppose I can just enjoy the beauty of these but I wish he'd done more work for us, collecting similar examples together. I also wish there was a way to see the titles in the video (either another version or via captions).

US Presidential Candidate Announcements

The Economist on US presidential candidate announcements: A history of hat throwing "Before the 1970s campaigns tended to be shorter. Candidates often threw their hats into the ring only a few months before election day. Campaigns grew longer after the Democrats re-wrote their party rules to give more weight to primary elections in the states rather than secretive negotiations at the nominating convention. This forced candidates to make their pitches directly to ordinary voters, which takes longer (see chart). The Republicans followed suit."

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Friday, March 20, 2015

The World's Biggest Physics Experiment Is About to Reboot

Gizmodo has a nice explainer on the LHC The World's Biggest Physics Experiment Is About to Reboot. They're gearing up for 13 TeV collisions by the end of May (up from 8 TeV in 2013). The article explains what they might find with these higher energy collisions.

50 Million Users: The Making of an ‘Angry Birds’ Internet Meme

The Wall Street Journal wrote about 50 Million Users: The Making of an ‘Angry Birds’ Internet Meme "Last week, we described a 100-page report on innovation and jobs written by two Oxford University economists that cited an eye-catching metric: It took 75 years for telephones to reach 50 million users, while the app “Angry Birds” hit that goal in 35 days. An accompanying chart showed radio took 38 years and TV 13 years. The numbers looked precise enough to appear like they were thoroughly researched."

They go on to site the origins of the meme and to look at the data. As I was reading it I kept wondering about the population size when the Internet started compared to the telephone. Thankfully they included these graphs:

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Trillion Dollar Fraudsters

Paul Krugman on the Trillion Dollar Fraudsters

"But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade."

"So, about those budgets: both claim drastic reductions in federal spending. Some of those spending reductions are specified: There would be savage cuts in food stamps, similarly savage cuts in Medicaid over and above reversing the recent expansion, and an end to Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies. Rough estimates suggest that either plan would roughly double the number of Americans without health insurance. But both also claim more than a trillion dollars in further cuts to mandatory spending, which would almost surely have to come out of Medicare or Social Security. What form would these further cuts take? We get no hint."

He also points out that Obama's fiscal forecasts have been pretty accurate, including a link to this chart showing that the deficit is less than half of what it was in 2009 (FRED's improved their graphs since I last looked).

The Daily Show: Mighty Morphin Position Changers

The opening segment last night was Jon Stewart at his best. "Fox News fails to provide coverage of the Department of Justice report that revealed widespread systemic racism in the Ferguson police department." He compares their coverage of Ferguson and Benghazi particularly after studies released reports on the issues. He ended with this:

Which brings us once again to our pain point of respect and appreciation, the beauty that is the ugliness of Fox News. They demand accountability for anger and divisiveness whilst holding themselves entirely unaccountable for their anger and divisiveness. For two years, they used Benghazi as shorthand, as a symbol for the whole concept of a corrupt, lying, tyrannical, possible murderous Obama White House. Kind of like other people used 'hands up, don't shoot' as a symbol for systemic racism, and there's only really one difference between the two phenomenon: systemic racism actually exists.

He then literally dropped the mic. Watch the whole thing:

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Brooklyn's Aniah Ferguson Isn't an "Animal," or Even an Adult—She's a Troubled Girl

The Intercept reports Brooklyn's Aniah Ferguson Isn't an "Animal," or Even an Adult—She's a Troubled Girl . I didn't know the name off-hand but semi-recognized the story of a video of teenage girls beating up another girl going viral a week ago. As terrible as they are I tend to ignore these stories as sensationalism. So The Intercept reports on how the main assailant has been arrested and describe her as:

‘Aniah always had her problems. I can’t lie. And I tried to get help but it didn’t happen,’ her mother said. ‘She was in [anger management] classes though when this happened.’ Ferguson’s mother describes her daughter’s life as a continual struggle. She was raised by a single mother (as much as one can use the past tense for a girl only 16 years old) and was lashing out long before the high-profile attack at McDonald’s. In the past eight months alone, Ferguson has been arrested a half dozen times; the charges included stabbing a brother in the arm, punching her grandmother in the face, and attacking a pregnant woman, according to court records. Prosecutors claim she belongs to a street organization known as the Young Savages — an offshoot of the Chicago-born Folk Nation gang.

So I read this and think, wow, sounds like a violent person in a gang, I'm ok with her being in jail for long time. The article goes on to describe her as a 16 year-old single mother who lives in an "apartment that Ferguson’s mother, grandmother, siblings and one-year-old daughter all share." Then I read, "Take the sentence Ferguson faces for gang assault and robbery: up to 25 years behind bars. She will be charged as an adult even though she isn’t one." 25 years sounds like way too long a sentence for this. I could imagine a similar fight breaking out at a football or basketball game and not having much more consequences then a suspension. Then of course they go on to question our whole prison system:

In all the outrage about her case, few are asking the most basic pragmatic questions. Even given Ferguson’s recent history of violence, is long-term imprisonment the correct route to take? Should a troubled and emotionally unstable teen be thrust into a harsh prison environment, when research shows she will likely pick up worse criminal habits there? Will Ferguson’s incarceration solve any of her problems — or society’s — or will it exacerbate them? The United States already imprisons 30 percent of incarcerated women worldwide.

Take The Intelligence Test That Thomas Edison Gave to Job Seekers

Take The Intelligence Test That Thomas Edison Gave to Job Seekers "But companies like Apple and Facebook don't put employees through anything quite as exhausting as Thomas Edison's test for potential employees. It was filled with trivia largely considered irrelevant to any job under Edison, but the quiz was all anyone could talk about when the questions leaked in the Spring of 1921. And if you're a trivia masochist you can take the test below."

I did not do well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Obamacare Contingency Plan

Interesting idea reported in Forbes if the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare: Sources: HHS' Obamacare Contingency Plan Is To Ask States To Contract Exchange Work To The Feds - Forbes "Two sources who have spoken to HHS about the matter have informed me that the agency does in fact have a ‘Plan B’ to deal with an adverse ruling. It involves encouraging states to declare that they are subcontracting the management of an insurance exchange to HHS, thereby ‘establishing’ an exchange as per the law."

There's an update: "On Twitter, Jonathan Ingram points out that the statutory text of the now-infamous Section 1311 of the Affordable Care Act does specify that “a State may…enter into an agreement with an eligible entity to carry out 1 or more responsibilities of the exchange,” but that such an agreement must meet a number of specifications that the federal exchange may not meet." The one requirement at issue is it must be "a person incorporated under, and subject to the laws of, 1 or more States".

The Wire Reunion

Salon posted this back in October and I finally got around to watching it. It's an hour and half long, which is why I just saved it, but any fan of The Wire will love this. The cast of “The Wire” had an incredible reunion: Here’s what we learned. There are no clips or anything so if you just want to listen and not watch it, you won't miss much.

The strange things people Google in every state

WonkBlog shows The strange things people Google in every state "Fixr created the map below with Google Autocomplete, typing ‘How much does * cost in Sacramento, California?’ into Google for each state or state capital, and then marking down the most commonly searched-for good or service."

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CFPB Shows That Arbitration Doesn’t Work for Consumers

Lina Khan writes in The Washington Monthly, CFPB Shows That Arbitration Doesn’t Work for Consumers "As I reported last year in this magazine, companies use binding arbitration clauses to insulate themselves from lawsuits brought by workers and consumers. Thanks to a suite of recent Supreme Court decisions, corporations can now couple these arbitration clauses with class action bans, effectively eliminating courts as a means for ordinary Americans to hold corporations accountable under the law."

"CFPB’s data advances the argument that arbitration is a starkly inferior way for consumers to win appropriate relief when they’ve been wronged by financial institutions. It’s predicted the agency will likely propose a rule limiting mandatory arbitration clauses in these take-it-or-leave-it contracts, and this report will help its case."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Apple iOS Hardware Assisted Screenlock Bruteforce

Clever attack: MDSec Blog: Apple iOS Hardware Assisted Screenlock Bruteforce "Although we’re still analyzing the device it appears to be relatively simple in that it simulates the PIN entry over the USB connection and sequentially bruteforces every possible PIN combination. That in itself is not unsurprising and has been known for some time. What is surprising however is that this still works even with the ‘Erase data after 10 attempts’ configuration setting enabled. Our initial analysis indicates that the IP Box is able to bypass this restriction by connecting directly to the iPhone’s power source and aggressively cutting the power after each failed PIN attempt, but before the attempt has been synchronized to flash memory. As such, each PIN entry takes approximately 40 seconds, meaning that it would take up to ~111 hours to bruteforce a 4 digit PIN. "

The melting of Antarctica was already really bad. It just got worse

The Washington Post explains The melting of Antarctica was already really bad. It just got worse. "Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again. Northern Hemisphere residents and Americans in particular should take note — when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity."

New Binocular Nova Discovered in Sagittarius

Universe Today reports New Binocular Nova Discovered in Sagittarius "Find a location with a clear view to the southeast and get oriented at the start of morning twilight or about 100 minutes before sunrise. Using the maps, locate Sagittarius below and to the east (left) of Scorpius. Once you’ve arrived, point your binoculars into the Teapot and star-hop to the nova’s location. I’ve included visual magnitudes of neighboring stars to help you estimate the nova’s brightness and track its changes in the coming days and weeks."

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Secret Apple TV Controls

iMore describes Secret Apple TV controls: Fifteen button combos to power up your viewing!.

The Apple TV remote has just a few buttons, so the simple things are simple, but anything more is hidden and non-discoverable. Basically hold down the buttons for more features, but I'd still never figure out some of these on my own.

What Did You Ever Make With Crayons?

Wax Nostalgic has some pretty amazing crayon sculptures. (via kottke)

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Oceans Are Losing Oxygen—and Becoming More Hostile to Life

Oceans Are Losing Oxygen—and Becoming More Hostile to Life

"The discovery of this behavioral quirk in fish built for diving offers some of the most tangible evidence of a disturbing trend: Warming temperatures are sucking oxygen out of waters even far out at sea, making enormous stretches of deep ocean hostile to marine life.

‘Two hundred meters down, there is a freight train of low-oxygen water barreling toward the surface,’ says William Gilly, a marine biologist with Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, in Pacific Grove, California. Yet, ‘with all the ballyhoo about ocean issues, this one hasn’t gotten much attention.’"

Friday, March 13, 2015