The Guardian's Observer lists 25 things you might not know about the web on its 25th birthday. I knew them.
Monday, March 10, 2014
Nilay Patel channels his inner Matt Tahibi in The Verge The internet is fucked "American politicians love to stand on the edges of important problems by insisting that the market will find a solution. And that’s mostly right; we don’t need the government meddling in places where smart companies can create their own answers. But you can’t depend on the market to do anything when the market doesn’t exist. 'We can either have competition, which would solve a lot of these problems, or we can have regulation,' says Aaron. 'What Comcast is trying is to have neither.' It’s insanity, and we keep lying to ourselves about it. It’s time to start thinking about ways to actually do something."
"This shit is insane. It is unacceptable. The smartphone revolution was about putting a powerful computer and an internet connection in everyone’s pocket; it was not about creating a new class of economic gatekeepers with the unchecked power to control and destroy markets with zero oversight and little true competition. Famed venture capitalist Fred Wilson at Union Square Ventures has called the net neutrality situation a "nightmare" for startups trying to get funded, saying that he expects telecom companies to "pick their preferred partners, subsidize the data costs for those apps, and make it much harder for new entrants to compete with the incumbents.""
"So there’s the entire problem, expressed in four simple ideas: the internet is a utility, there is zero meaningful competition to provide that utility to Americans, all internet providers should be treated equally, and the FCC is doing a miserably ineffective job. The United States should lead the world in broadband deployment and speeds: we should have the lowest prices, the best service, and the most competition. We should have the freest speech and the loudest voices, the best debate and the soundest policy. We are home to the most innovative technology companies in the world, and we should have the broadband networks to match. We should stop fucking it up."
Sunday, March 09, 2014
Pixtale shows How Our World Would Look If You Were A Bird "Famous landmarks like the Arc Du Triumph, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Sagrada Familia have been photographed countless times by photographers from around the world, and they are recognizable to most, if not all, of us. But this collection of stunning aerial photographs gives us a bird’s-eye-view of these places, casting them in a totally new light."
There's also How Our World Would Look If You Were A Bird. Part 2.
Friday, March 07, 2014
I watched the Rachel Maddow "documentary" on MSNBC last night on Why We Did It, referring to the Iraq War. Her conclusion was that it was about oil. Shocker! There wasn't much new information presented. There were meetings in the fall of 2002 before the war about oil but it fits nicely into the planning for the peace after the war and that since the Iraqi economy was based on oil, this wasn't that surprising.
A few times they showed some documents that were reports on the meetings (one was from BP meeting in the US) and they pulled a few quotes, but if you paused and read the whole document it wasn't particularly damning. They weren't talking about dividing up the oil or taking control as much as trying to figure out a system to get oil flowing after the war. Okay. Apparently the goal was to get oil flowing to keep the global price down, which to me doesn't line up with oil executives trying to make a fortune. Wouldn't they want higher prices? The one time they talked about something being previously unrevealed before this show was about a post war oil meeting happening in executive offices in Houston instead of in Washington in some military facility. That doesn't seem like a smoking gun to me.
Like many people suspected at the time, the war was about oil and the WMD argument was a lie. That's not right (and I think should probably be a war crime) but we've known that for years. But once you get past that, does it matter if the goal was to personally profit from the oil (say as a large share holder in Haliburton) or to ensure the world market was stable? Those seem like different things to me. Of course a decade of war didn't stabilize oil prices and if ensuring the long term energy needs of the west was the goal, it would have made more sense (to me) to move us off of oil and onto other sources (even as we were rapidly expanding our own fracking).
Anyway I was disappointed in the show, I didn't learn anything.
I like the distinction in Why most conservatives are secretly liberals.
In Ideology in America, Christopher Ellis and James Stimson describe a striking disjuncture. When identifying themselves in a word, Americans choose ‘conservative’ far more than ‘liberal.’ In fact they have done so for 70 years, and increasingly so since the early 1960s.
But when it comes to saying what the government should actually do, the public appears more liberal than conservative. Ellis and Stimson gathered 7,000 survey questions dating back to 1956 that asked some variant of whether the government should do more, less, or the same in lots of different policy areas. On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down. For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government).
Looked at this way, almost 30 percent of Americans are ‘consistent liberals’ — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics. Only 15 percent are ‘consistent conservatives’ — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics. Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views. The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.
Again The Daily Show was really good last night. Now I think I know why Jon Stewart laughed knowingly the other day when Jim DeMint said we had the best health care system in the world, he knew about last night's segment, Third World Health Care - Knoxville, Tennessee Edition.
I think The Daily Show is really at their best when they point out that statements someone makes, that are the basis of their platform, are completely wrong. That leads to statements like "And I'll be honest, If you're poor, stop being poor."
I first heard about Remote Area Medical from a documentary of the same name. They do giant pop-up free clinics over a weekend. The organization was originally created to help third world nations but they found a great need in their home area of Tennessee so now they work in the US almost exclusively. In the film they document a three day clinic at a speedway. Hundreds (thousands?) of people lined up over night for some care, ranging from eye glasses and dental to cancer care. The patients were so tremendously grateful.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
"We understand that as backers, you are donating the hard money you've earned"
I don't know why this set me off so much. In the phrase "hard earned money" it's not the money that's hard, it's the earning. You can't just change it to "hard money you've earned". It makes no sense unless you're asking for coins.
Last night's Daily Show was hilarious.
Then Jessica Williams did a great bit on Racism Doggy Style.
The guest was Jim DeMint and as is often the case, what was aired was heavily cut, but the full interview is online in three parts: one, two, three. To me, it seemed like DeMint hadn't ever heard the arguments that Stewart made. That seems unbelievable but it fits so well into the bubble narrative.
If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel - A tediously accurate map of the solar system is pretty cool. Just keep scrolling right (or use the planet buttons at the top)...
I thought Inside the New Arms Race to Control Bandwidth on the Battlefield was really interesting going into some of the issues of dealing with networking in an extremely hostile environment.
This Woman Invented a Way to Run 30 Lab Tests on Only One Drop of Blood "Instead of vials of blood—one for every test needed—Theranos requires only a pinprick and a drop of blood. With that they can perform hundreds of tests, from standard cholesterol checks to sophisticated genetic analyses. The results are faster, more accurate, and far cheaper than conventional methods."
Plus there's a nice video of a U2 spy plane taking off and flying which is a few years old from a TV show James May on the Moon.
Film Critic Hulk writes really great essays that are way too long and in hard to read ALL CAPS, but they're really great. My love of comics and the Marvel universe has me stuck watching Agents of Shield. Josh Whedon usually gets this stuff right, but I think the show runners need to immediately read these two HULK essays: THE AGE OF THE CONVOLUTED BLOCKBUSTER and THE IMPORTANCE OF DRAMATIZING CHARACTER.
Making the backstories of all your characters be mysteries to the audience (and to each other and even themselves) undermines our reason to care about what happens to them.
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
In Far-Traveling Objects What If answers this question:
"In terms of human-made objects, has Voyager 1 travelled the farthest distance? It's certainly the farthest from Earth we know about. But what about the edge of ultracentrifuges, or generator turbines that have been running for years, for example?"
It's really a lot of fun.
Ars Technica reports Critical crypto bug leaves Linux, hundreds of apps open to eavesdropping. Apparently GnuTLS has been broken since 2005 in a similar way as the recent Apple gotofail bug (which was introduced in late 2012). So much for the argument that open source security code is safer because of code reviews.
Monday, March 03, 2014
I thought last night's Oscar broadcast was the best in a long time. I'm not alone in that as it had the biggest audience in 10 years. I thought Ellen was funny and appropriate as host, the speeches were good or great, the rest was fine. Even though they got to the first award within 10 minutes, they still managed to go 3.5 hours and I think they should just schedule the show for that long.
They let the winners speak. I don't think anyone was really played off the stage and overall I think the speeches were good. Lupita N'yongo stole the show. She was poised and stunned, appreciative and humble. She thanked her character and had the line of the night, "When I look down at this statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you are from, your dreams are valid." I thought Cate Blanchett gave another great speech, telling each of her competitors how much she liked their performance, thanked everyone on the film and told off Hollywood for not thinking woman can carry a film that makes money. It's just what an Oscar speech should be. Jared Leto was also good, maybe he shouldn't have gone political but he did it well. He definitely did the best job I've seen of thanking his mother. Matthew McConaughey started out okay but then got weird. 20 Feet from Stardom won for best documentary and Darlene Love sang her speech. The husband and wife team that won for best song rhymed and sang their speech. Most of the rest did a standard list, often with a little joke. Whether any of them went a few seconds over it was much better without them being played off.
They left the entertaining part of the show to the host and the songs and the winners which seems right. I think ordering pizzas and getting money for a tip and taking the most popular selfie ever were a lot of fun (and a much better way to bring social media into the show than having James Franco tweet). I also really liked Pharrell Williams' "Happy" with dancing with the stars in the front row. It would have been better later in the broadcast as a seventh inning stretch. Maybe they should have switched it with "Let it Go" so kids staying up could have heard the song from the movie they loved as my friend Mike suggested. And someone I've never head of won an EGOT, that's pretty fun.
The presenters mostly just announced things and didn't do minute long comedy bits. Most managed fine. John Travolta just had to get two things right, the name of the song he introduced, Let it Go and the name of the performer, Idina Menzel and he managed to call her "Adele Dazeem". Robert DeNiro and Penelope Cruz presented the screenwriting awards. He read jokes from the teleprompter just as badly as he does on Saturday Night Live. She managed to pronounce "screenplay" as "scrimptling" but unlike Travolta, it was her accent and it was funny.
I don't get people complaining about Ellen DeGeneres being a bland Oscar host, e.g. Why Ellen is the perfect Oscar host. "DeGeneres has styled herself as the safest thing going: She’s not abrasive to the more sensitive of sensibilities, like Rock, Stewart or MacFarlane. She’s not liable to offend anyone as would Goldberg or Crystal. She’s very good at telling jokes, but those jokes are so inclusive as to be amiably unspecific."
I thought her monologue was funny and not too long. I liked her opening, "For those of you watching around the world, it's been a tough couple of days here. It's been raining. We're fine. Thank you for your prayers." She was self deprecating about not having hosted in 7 years, and then did bits on various nominees. Pretty standard fare. I liked her bit about Jennifer Lawrence tripping and this year they should if she wins they should bring the award to her. I also liked how she finished it, "Anything can happen, there are so many possibilities. Possibility number one, 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two, you're all racists. Now please welcome our first white presenter Anne Hathaway."
Today I looked at monologues from old Oscar telecasts. Here's Bob Hope hosting in 1965, 1967, and 1970. He doesn't even show up until 7-12 minutes in and does about 10 minutes like Ellen did. Watching them back-to-back you realize how similar they are. Bit's about the movie titles and the new stars, politics, taxes, and how he hasn't been nominated. The pace is a little faster but it doesn't put the present day to shame by any means.
In 1973 Angela Lansbury opened with a musical number. And then Charlton Heston was late and Clint Eastwood subs for him until Heston shows up and then starts over! In 1980 Johnny Carson did similar bits to Hope and then held up wallpaper samples and asked for advice decorating his bedroom. In 1993 Billy Crystal was fun but the monologue is similar and then he goes into his Oscar Oscar bit which I don't think aged very well.
In short I think people complaining that the show isn't as good as it used to be are looking through rose colored glasses.
Some things can still be improved. I don't know why Bette Middler sang after the In Memorium instead of during. The theme of heroes didn't make much sense to me and I thought the three clips of movies (animation, real life and superheroes) were done badly. The individual clips were too short, they blatantly emphasized Disney films (they own ABC) and they showed multiple clips from the same film (4 from Shrek, 3 from The Incredibles), 3 from 42, 9 from the marvel studios movies not counting various x-men and spider-man clips). To me, if it's the 75th anniversary of Wizard of Oz, it's the 75th anniversary of 1939, the greatest year of movies. They should have celebrated that instead.
All in all it was good, certainly the best Oscar show in five years if not ten. I think for the most part reasonable films won, though clearly The Act of Killing should have won Best Documentary and been nominated for Best Picture. I still have a few well respected films from 2013 to see, then I'll do a post of my favorites of the year. What did you think of the show?
I really know nothing about what's happening in Ukraine so I hope that Michael Cohen is right, Don't listen to Obama's Ukraine critics: he's not 'losing' – and it's not his fight.
In the days since Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into the Crimea, it has been amateur hour back in Washington. I don’t mean Barack Obama. He’s doing pretty much everything he can, with what are a very limited set of policy options at his disposal. No, I’m talking about the people who won’t stop weighing in on Obama’s lack of “action” in the Ukraine. Indeed, the sea of foreign policy punditry – already shark-infested – has reached new lows in fear-mongering, exaggerated doom-saying and a stunning inability to place global events in any rational historical context.
A bunch of hyperbolic examples follow. Then
Which brings us to perhaps the most bizarre element of watching the Crimean situation unfold through a US-centric lens: the iron-clad certainty of the pundit class that Putin is winning and Obama is losing. The exact opposite is true.
Putin has initiated a conflict that will, quite obviously, result in greater diplomatic and political isolation as well as the potential for economic sanction. He’s compounded his loss of a key ally in Kiev by further enflaming Ukrainian nationalism, and his provocations could have a cascading effect in Europe by pushing countries that rely on Russia’s natural gas exports to look elsewhere for their energy needs. Putin is the leader of a country with a weak military, an under-performing economy and a host of social, environmental and health-related challenges. Seizing the Crimea will only make the problems facing Russia that much greater."
Krugman notes, It's the Gas Gas Gas "Short-run fluctuations in the inflation rate are more or less entirely about gasoline prices, which affect headline and even, to some extent, core inflation via their impact on costs...Meanwhile, gas prices have no predictive power at all for future inflation."
Here’s the thing: If you listen to Fox News, or right-wing radio, or read the denier blogs, you’d have to think climate scientists were complete idiots to miss how fake global warming is. Yet despite this incredibly obvious hoax, no one ever publishes evidence exposing it. Mind you, scientists are a contrary lot. If there were solid evidence that global warming didn’t exist, or that CO2 emissions weren’t the culprit, there would be papers in the journals about it. Lots of them.
I base this on my own experience with contrary data in astronomy. In 1998, two teams of researchers found evidence that the expansion of the Universe was not slowing down, as expected, but actually speeding up. This idea is as crazy as holding a ball in your hand, letting go, and having it fall up, accelerating wildly into the sky. Yet those papers got published. They inspired lively discussion (to say the least) and motivated further observations. Careful, meticulous work was done to eliminate errors and confounding factors, until it became very clear that we were seeing an overturning of the previous paradigm. It took years, but now astronomers accept that the Universal expansion is accelerating and that dark energy is the culprit.
Mind you, dark energy is far, far weirder than anything climate change deniers have come up with, yet it became mainstream science in a decade or so. Deniers have been bloviating for longer than that, yet their claims are rejected overwhelmingly by climate scientists. Why? Because they’re wrong."
He leaves out the argument I've heard, that scientists are perpetuating this hoax because they're getting rich from all the government funding of science. Rich scientists, there's a hoax.
Saturday, March 01, 2014
Ars Technica reports NSA head floats idea: What if we only gathered terrorist communications? "The outgoing head of the National Security Agency, Gen. Keith Alexander, told a United States Senate committee on Thursday that he was open to government spooks narrowing the focus of the metadata that they gather."
"‘Chairman, I think there are three options that you put on the table,’ Alexander said. ‘You mentioned the government holding it, the ISPs holding it. I think there is yet another option where we look at what data you actually need and only get that data. Can we come up with a capability that just gets those that are predicated on a terrorist communication? I think you have those three options that I’ve put on the table. Those are three of the ones that I think need to be clearly discussed and the merits from both sides, they have pros and cons on the agility that you would have with the program.’"
What a radical idea.
Friday, February 28, 2014
The poor man's math blog shows How much is time wrong around the world? "Looking for other regions of the world having the same peculiarity of Spain, I edited a world map from Wikipedia to show the difference between solar and standard time. It turns out, there are many places where the sun rises and sets late in the day, like in Spain, but not a lot where it is very early (highlighted in red and green in the map, respectively). Most of Russia is heavily red, but mostly in zones with very scarce population; the exception is St. Petersburg, with a discrepancy of two hours, but the effect on time is mitigated by the high latitude. The most extreme example of Spain-like time is western China: the difference reaches three hours against solar time. For example, today the sun rises there at 10:15 and sets at 19:45, and solar noon is at 15:01."
Ars Technica explains How to turn a phone into a covert bugging device? Infect the printer.
The compromise begins with a booby-trapped document that when printed executes malicious code on certain models of HP LaserJet printers that have not been patched against a critical vulnerability. Once compromised, the printers connect to attack servers, creating a means for outside hackers to bypass corporate firewalls. The attackers then use the printers as a proxy to enumerate and connect to other devices in the corporate network.
Once an Avaya 9608 phone is discovered, the attackers can inject code into it that infects its firmware. The compromise, which survives reboots, activates the phone's microphone without turning on any lights or otherwise giving any indication that anything is amiss. The infected phones can be set up to record conversations only after attacker-chosen keywords are detected. Recorded conversations can be sent through a corporate network onto the open Internet, but the malware also has a secondary method for exfiltration that bypasses any devices that block suspicious network traffic. In the event that such devices are detected, the malware can turn a phone's circuit board into a radio transmitter that sends the recorded conversations to a receiver that's anywhere from several inches to 50 feet away, depending on environmental variables.
How long until printers have to run Anti-Virus software?
During the Q&A of the Apple Annual Shareholders Meeting, the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) asked a few questions. The Mac Observer reports, Tim Cook Soundly Rejects Politics of the NCPPR, Suggests Group Sell Apple's Stock.
"'When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind,' he said, 'I don't consider the bloody ROI.' He said that the same thing about environmental issues, worker safety, and other areas where Apple is a leader."
"He didn't stop there, however, as he looked directly at the NCPPR representative and said, 'If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.'"
Update: The NCPPR replies, Tim Cook to Apple Investors: Drop Dead. "At today's annual meeting of Apple shareholders in Cupertino, California, Apple CEO Tim Cook informed investors that are primarily concerned with making reasonable economic returns that their money is no longer welcome."
Apparently Apple's economic returns aren't "reasonable". This whole thing was about NCPPR not believing in climate change and Apple (like some other companies) trying to be greener.