Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Leap Second

Tonight there will be a leap second to keep atomic clocks in sync with astronomical clocks based on earth's rotation. Jon Oliver suggests spending it here.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Voodoo, Jeb! Style

Jeb Bush promises 4% growth and Paul Krugman calls him out on it, Voodoo, Jeb! Style:

To be more specific, the next time you encounter some conservative going on about growth, you might want to bring up the following list of names and numbers: Bill Clinton, 3.7; Ronald Reagan, 3.4; Barack Obama, 2.1; George H.W. Bush, 2.0; George W. Bush, 1.6. Yes, that’s the last five presidents — and the average rate of growth of the U.S. economy during their time in office (so far, in Mr. Obama’s case). Obviously, the raw numbers don’t tell the whole story, but surely there’s nothing in that list to suggest that conservatives possess some kind of miracle cure for economic sluggishness. And, as many have pointed out, if Jeb! knows the secret to 4 percent growth, why didn’t he tell his father and brother?

Or consider the experience of Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through radical tax cuts that were supposed to drive rapid economic growth. ‘We’ll see how it works. We’ll have a real live experiment,’ he declared. And the results of the experiment are now in: The promised boom never arrived, big deficits did, and, despite savage cuts to schools and other public services, Kansas eventually had to raise taxes again (with the pain concentrated on lower-income residents).

Why, then, all the boasting about growth? The short answer, surely, is that it’s mainly about finding ways to sell tax cuts for the wealthy. Such cuts are unpopular in and of themselves, and even more so if, like the Kansas tax cuts for businesses and the affluent, they must be paid for with higher taxes on working families and/or cuts in popular government programs. Yet low taxes on the rich are an overriding policy priority on the right — and promises of growth miracles let conservatives claim that everyone will benefit from trickle-down, and maybe even that tax cuts will pay for themselves.

Kimble v. Marvel: Now With Spider-Man Jokes

I didn't get a chance to read any of the Supreme Court decisions last week so I'm behind. I did find out something about Justice Kagan that might make her my favorite justice. "She is a comic book fan and an avid fan of comic-book based action films, claiming that she has seen them all and that her favorite film is The Avengers."

She let this fandom leak out a little in her opinion in Kimble v Marvel Enterprises Inc.. It's a patent and contract case. Stephen Kimble invented a toy web shooter and several years later Marvel sold their own version violating the patent. They came to agreement that Marvel would buy the patent for about $500,000 plus 3% royalties on future sales. There was no time limit on this and the case comes about because what happens after the patent expires?

It turns out there's an existing 1964 case, Brulotte that found that "The royalty provisions of a patent-licensing agreement which provides for royalties for the use of machines incorporating certain patents are not enforceable for the period beyond the expiration of the last patent incorporated in the machine."

Kimble's patent expired, Marvel found out about Brulotte (neither knew about the case when drafting the contract) and wanted to stop payments, Kimble sued. The court found in Marvel's favor 6-3 citing Brulotte and stare decisis (a caution in overturning previous decisions unless really necessary). History hasn't been kind to Brulotte. Economists find it anti-completive, the opposite of its intent. The argument was that allowing contracts with royalties paid after the patent basically extends the monopoly. The argument against is that it isn't because others can enter the market without royalities and sometimes it's financially useful to extend the payment period longer (allowing smaller payments).

The court found that even if Brulotte was wrong, this case doesn't rise above the stare decisis burden to overturn it and really Congress should be the one to change the statutes. Justice Alito wrote a dissent (which was joined by Roberts and Thomas) saying that it should be overturned. I kinda agree with the dissent.

Still Kagan's opinion is fun for a different reason. She included various Spider-Man references in her writing. Vox describes them but here are my excerpts:

  • The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can).
  • Patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time.
  • As against this superpowered form of stare decisis, we would need a superspecial justification to warrant reversing Brulotte.
  • To the contrary, the decision's close relation to a whole web of precedents means that reversing it could threaten others.
  • But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “Spider-Man,” p. 13 (1962) (“[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility”).

I want to point out Alito's second to last paragraph in which I think he basically admits that Congress is broken:

Passing legislation is no easy task. A federal statute must withstand the “finely wrought” procedure of bicameralism and presentment. ... Within that onerous process, there are additional practical hurdles. A law must be taken up for discussion and not passed over in favor of more pressing matters, and Senate rules require 60 votes to end debate on most legislation. And even if the House and Senate agree on a general policy, the details of the measure usually must be hammered out in a conference committee and repassed by both Houses.

I wonder if that sentiment, that's it's difficult for Congress to fix things, comes into bearing in his view of the typo in Obamacare that comes up in King v. Burwell. I'm guessing not.

Gay Marriage: The Database Engineering Perspective

Now lots of states have to change their marriage license forms so that the terms "husband" and "wife" aren't quite so restrictive. It will be the same thing for the computer systems. A few years ago Things Of Interest addressed this: Gay marriage: the database engineering perspective. It walks through changing database schemas to support gay marriage and beyond.

(I'm still catching up from last week and have 5 SCOTUS decisions on my iPad to read.)

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Traveling next week, so this blog will be quiet, though I'll probably still tweet some things at @HowardLikedThis.

All 15 Pixar Movies, Ranked From Worst to Best

Vulture describes All 15 Pixar Movies Ranked.

  1. WALL-E (2008)
  2. Toy Story (1995)
  3. Finding Nemo (2003)
  4. Toy Story 2 (1999)
  5. The Incredibles (2004)
  6. Toy Story 3 (2010)
  7. Inside Out (2015)
  8. Ratatouille (2007)
  9. Up (2009)
  10. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
  11. Cars (2006)
  12. A Bug’s Life (1998)
  13. Monsters University (2013)
  14. Brave (2012)
  15. Cars 2 (2011)

I haven't seen Cars 2, so I agree it's the worst. I also haven't seen Inside Out yet but it looks really interesting to me. Otherwise I agree with all their descriptions and rankings, though I would swap The Incredibles and Toy Story. I think it's accurate to describe The Incredibles as the best superhero movie ever made (and what a Fantastic Four movie should be) and also a great spy movie (it would be in my top tier of Bond films).

Are Pixar films declining in quality? To that I'll add this graph based on my rankings. I think it's safe to say they're in a bit of a slump.

Pixar Rankings

Serious OS X and iOS flaws let hackers steal keychain, 1Password contents

I only saw a couple of articles on this and I waited until Ars wrote their typically comprehensive piece, Serious OS X and iOS flaws let hackers steal keychain, 1Password contents.

"Researchers have uncovered huge holes in the application sandboxes protecting Apple's OS X and iOS operating systems, a discovery that allows them to create apps that pilfer iCloud, Gmail, and banking passwords and can also siphon data from 1Password, Evernote, and other apps.

The malicious proof-of-concept apps were approved by the Apple Store, which requires all qualifying submissions to treat every other app as untrusted. Despite the supposed vetting by Apple engineers, the researchers' apps were able to bypass sandboxing protections that are supposed to prevent one app from accessing the credentials, contacts, and other resources belonging to another app. Like Linux, Android, Windows, and most other mainstream OSes, OS X and iOS strictly limit app access for the purpose of protecting them against malware. The success of the researchers' cross-app resource access—or XARA—attacks, raises troubling doubts about those assurances on the widely used Apple platforms."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

10 Terrifying Extreme Hacks

InfoWorld wrote Be paranoid: 10 terrifying extreme hacks

It's Time to Enable Two-Step Authentication on Everything. Here’s How.

Gizmodo has a good list of sites that offer 2FA, It's Time to Enable Two-Step Authentication on Everything. Here’s How.. As I learned it's kind of important to do this because now if someone gets your password, the first they do is change it and enable 2FA so that it's more difficult for you to get your account back. I've done this for most of the sites listed here and it's simple enough to do and after you get all your devices enabled it's no extra work.

It is important to remember that when you get rid of a device you should disable its 2FA first. Also if the site gives you one-time use codes (aka backup codes), keep them in a safe place where you can find them if you need them!

11 iPhone Settings You Should Change Right Now

The title is a little hyperbolic but 11 iPhone Settings You Should Change Right Now is a good collection of features you may like.

Krugman Reflects

In The Decade Behind Paul Krugman reviews what he got right and what he got wrong in the last 10 years.

Apple’s Bitcode Telegraphs Future CPU Plans

Interial Lemon wrote on Medium Apple’s Bitcode Telegraphs Future CPU Plans "The biggest announcement at this week’s WWDC is one hardly anyone noticed. During the Platforms State of the Union on Tuesday, Andreas Wendker briefly mentioned Bitcode, describing it as an opportunity for future compiler optimizations to be applied to already-submitted apps. He also mentioned that it allows apps to be future-proofed by letting the store add support for future CPU features without developers having to resubmit."

And in between the front and back ends sits the LLVM IR, now known as Bitcode. LLVM turns an app’s source code into Bitcode, and then turns that Bitcode into an executable app. This design makes it incredibly simple to add support for new languages (front ends), and for new CPUs (back ends). While Bitcode itself can’t run on anything, it can be transformed into any supported CPU architecture, including ones that didn’t exist when the app was submitted.

Watch SDK apps must be submitted from day one as Bitcode. iOS 9 app submissions will default to Bitcode, and it will become mandatory in the future. OS X was not mentioned–an increasingly apparent trend.

I had kind of forgotten that llvm had it's own bytecode (obviously it had it's own internal representation, but I didn't realize it was so public like the JVM) though that's kind of it's main purpose. I didn't realize at all that watchOS apps were submitted in this representation and missed that iOS apps will be too as of iOS 9. That's quite interesting. I've seen other attempts at this, e.g. OSF's ANDF but they never went anywhere. It had seemed that virtual machines had won in this space (whether emacs lisp, java vm, python, etc.) but real compilers would be much much better. I hope this speculation is right.

Crazy Amazing Bird Photos

In Focus shows Spectacular Wildlife Photography: Winners and Runners-up From the 2015 Audubon Photography Awards "More than 2,300 photographers entered the sixth annual Audubon Photography Awards competition, submitting images in several categories, including Amateur, Professional, Fine Art, and Youth. Nearly 9,000 images depicting birdlife from around the world were judged and the winners were recently announced. The National Audubon Society was kind enough to share some of this year’s winners and runners-up with us below. To view even more great bird photography, you can also see the top 100 entries at  the Audubon website."

Unknown 500

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Plan to 3D Print a Steel Bridge in Mid-Air

Gizmodo reports on a pretty spectacular project, The Plan to 3D Print a Steel Bridge in Mid-Air "In two years, a one-of-a-kind construction project will commence over a canal in Amsterdam. It wont involve any humans at all, but rather, a six-axis robot that can craft molten metal in mid-air. Two months later, a 24 foot-long steel pedestrian bridge will arc its way across the water."

"Creating rail supports as it goes, the metal-printing bot will gradually slide forward, literally building a bridge as it crosses the canal."

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death

The NY Times has a good story, Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death.

"Mr. Gjeshbitraj said in a recent interview that he no longer called the city or the police to complain about the conditions around his building, as he had frequently in the months and years before Mr. Garner died. ‘The last time I called the cops, someone got choked to death,’ he said. ‘Eric got killed because I called.’"

Friday, June 12, 2015

Photos of the Week

The Atlantic's Photos of the Week: 6/6-6/12 includes my favorite photo in a long time.

Bon chan 500

"This picture taken on June 10, 2015 shows Bon-chan, a 19 year old male African spurred tortoise weighing about 70 kg (154 pounds), walking with his owner Hisao Mitani on a street in the town of Tsukishima in Tokyo. Bon-chan loves fruit and vegetables and is often offered carrot and cabbage pieces by cheering neighbors when he is out."

It's binge-watching season

The Orange County Register says It's binge-watching season: Here are 45 TV series you should plan on seeing . "To help with your binge decision-making, we’ve produced this handy list of the 25 series from the past year or so that you really ought to see. Once you’re caught up, we’ve tacked on the five classics you must see as well as 15 less-well-known gems from years back that you might have missed."

I've seen a lot of these, the ones I haven't seen are in italics.

I'd have Deadwood, Game of Thrones and Dexter somewhere on here. I've most recently watched the first season of Hannibal and it's good, though it's so dark it's hard to binge more than 2 at a time.


  • Mad Men
  • The Walking Dead
  • Better Call Saul
  • The Americans
  • The Affair
  • The Missing
  • Happy Valley
  • Wolf Hall
  • Veep and Silicon Valley
  • Vikings
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Transparent
  • Rectify
  • Homeland
  • Penny Dreadful
  • The Knick
  • Justified
  • House of Cards
  • The Honourable Woman
  • Orphan Black
  • Bates Motel
  • Outlander
  • Bloodline
  • Togetherness



  • The Sopranos
  • Six Feet Under
  • The Wire
  • The Shield
  • Breaking Bad


  • The Newsroom (Canadian)
  • Arrested Development
  • The Office (UK)
  • Legit
  • Freaks & Geeks


  • The Returned
  • Borgen
  • Bron/Broen
  • Prisoners of War
  • One Child


  • Naked City
  • I, Claudius
  • Hill Street Blues
  • The Wonder Years
  • The Larry Sanders Show

What is Code?

The entire issue of Businessweek is one article Paul Ford: What is Code?. I haven't read it yet but saw the author and editor on Charlie Rose last night. Looks to be very interesting.

Software has been around since the 1940s. Which means that people have been faking their way through meetings about software, and the code that builds it, for generations. Now that software lives in our pockets, runs our cars and homes, and dominates our waking lives, ignorance is no longer acceptable. The world belongs to people who code. Those who don’t understand will be left behind.

This issue comprises a single story devoted to demystifying code and the culture of the people who make it. There’s some technical language along with a few pretty basic mathematical concepts. There are also lots of solid jokes and lasting insights. It may take a few hours to read, but that’s a small price to pay for adding decades to your career.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Longstanding problem put to rest

MIT News reports a Longstanding problem put to rest.

"The basic algorithm for determining how much two sequences of symbols have in common — the ‘edit distance’ between them — is now more than 40 years old. And for more than 40 years, computer science researchers have been trying to improve upon it, without much success. At the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC) next week, MIT researchers will report that, in all likelihood, that’s because the algorithm is as good as it gets. If a widely held assumption about computational complexity is correct, then the problem of measuring the difference between two genomes — or texts, or speech samples, or anything else that can be represented as a string of symbols — can’t be solved more efficiently."

"Theoretical computer science is particularly concerned with a class of problems known as NP-complete. Most researchers believe that NP-complete problems take exponential time to solve, but no one’s been able to prove it. In their STOC paper, Indyk and his student Artūrs Bačkurs demonstrate that if it’s possible to solve the edit-distance problem in less-than-quadratic time, then it’s possible to solve an NP-complete problem in less-than-exponential time. Most researchers in the computational-complexity community will take that as strong evidence that no subquadratic solution to the edit-distance problem exists."

Article Dump: Old Politics

These are political pieces mostly from the second half of 2013 that are still relevant.

  • Two years ago Sarah Stillman wrote this amazing piece, Taken in The New Yorker about the abuse of Civil Forfeiture. It's a must read if you missed it.

  • Also two years ago Matt Apuzzo & Adam Goldman wrote in New York about Has the NYPD’s Demographics Unit Stopped Any Terror Plots?. It's still worthwhile.

  • Shane Harris wrote in Foreign Policy, The Cowboy of the NSA, "Inside Gen. Keith Alexander's all-out, barely-legal drive to build the ultimate spy machine."

  • Two years ago Andrew Bacevich wrote in Salon David Brooks is constantly wrong and he's still right. "Takes a lot to be the voice on the New York Times op-ed page most consistently wrong about war in the Middle East!"

Jason Zengerle wrote in Oct 2013 in GQ, Ted Cruz: The Distinguished Wacko Bird from Texas. "In less than a year, Texas Republican Ted Cruz has become the most despised man in the U.S. Senate. He's been likened to Joe McCarthy, accused of behaving like a schoolyard bully, and smeared by senior members of his own party. Is this any way to get ahead in Washington? Well, Cruz is no dummy—just ask him—and his swift rise might prove that it's the only way"

Article Dump: Comics

Article Dump

Here are a few technical articles that have been in my Instapaper that I've been meaning to blog.

A couple of older pieces from late 2013:

Reassessing Airport Security

Bruce Schneier on Reassessing Airport Security

News that the Transportation Security Administration missed a whopping 95% of guns and bombs in recent airport security "red team" tests was justifiably shocking. It's clear that we're not getting value for the $7 billion we're paying the TSA annually.

But there's another conclusion, inescapable and disturbing to many, but good news all around: we don't need $7 billion worth of airport security. These results demonstrate that there isn't much risk of airplane terrorism, and we should ratchet security down to pre-9/11 levels.

We don't need perfect airport security. We just need security that's good enough to dissuade someone from building a plot around evading it. If you're caught with a gun or a bomb, the TSA will detain you and call the FBI. Under those circumstances, even a medium chance of getting caught is enough to dissuade a sane terrorist. A 95% failure rate is too high, but a 20% one isn't."

He also has a (relatively short) three part article on Should Companies Do Most of Their Computing in the Cloud? part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Nebula Awards

The 2014 Nebula Awards Winners were announced. I don't know any of the novels or even novelists. I had picked up the best novella recently on a Kindle sale for $1 so I'll get to that pretty soon now. Otherwise I don't really know any of the written works (I'm a bad sci-fi fan).

On the other hand I've seen all the movies nominated for dramatic presentation. They're all worth seeing. I'm surprised Guardians of the Galaxy won; I liked it but everyone else seems to have liked it more. I think Edge of Tomorrow would have been the better winner of a sci-fi award.

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